Saturday, October 11, 2014

Bob Thorpe, '55 Cubs, added to my custom cards

            It's not surprising that Bob Thorpe didn't have any Bowman or Topps cards while he was active in pro ball. Despite an impressive minor league record, he played only two games in the majors, both with the Cubs in 1955.
           One has to be careful when discussing Bob Thorpe of the early 1950s; there were two of them in the big leagues. Benjamin Robert Thorpe was an outfielder for the Boston/Milwaukee Braves 1951-53. Robert Joseph Thorpe was a pitcher for the 1955 Chicago Cubs. It is the latter who is the subject of my most recent custom cards.
Thorpe had been named the outstanding high school athlete of Southern California in 1952, when his San Diego High School team won the Southern California state championship. He then pitched his San Diego American Legion Junior team to second place in the national finals and was named American Legion Player of the Year.
Signed by the Cubs for a reported $15,000, Thorpe pitched for Class C Stockton of the California League in 1953, with a 16-8 record. From his first year in pro ball, he was widely heralded as a pitcher, rather than just another teenage thrower. He didn’t have a great fastball, but kept hitters off balance with off-speed pitches and an outstanding change-up. He threw a curve that dropped off the table and he could deliver it with pinpoint accuracy.
Returning to Stockton in 1954, the young right-hander tied a league record with 28 wins, the most in Organized Baseball that season. He started 33 games and finished all but one of them, pitching 300.1 innings. His 2.28 ERA led the league. He was named California League Most Valuable Player.
That performance earned him a call-up from the Cubs for 1955, the first time the team had ever advanced a player from Class C to the majors.
The Cubs debuted Thorpe before the Wrigley faithful in the final game of the 1955 exhibition season, with the White Sox visiting.
Starting before the crowd of 19,504, Thorpe was only able to last two innings. While he struck out four, he walked five and gave up four runs on four hits.
That outing appeared to shake the confidence of Cubs manager Stan Hack and he limited Thorpe to mop-up appearances in two games with no decision before he was optioned to Des Moines on May 9, where he was 10-10.
He developed arm trouble and in the next two seasons in the Pacific Coast League was 14-22.
In the Rule 5 minor league draft after the 1957 season, the Pirates drafted Thorpe for 1958, but he spent the entire season on the disabled list after undergoing an operation to remove bone chips from his right elbow.
He tried a comeback with Columbus in the Sally League in 1959 but retired after three games.
Working for his father-in-law as an apprentice electrician on a power line near San Diego, Thorpe was fatally electrocuted March 17, 1960. He was splicing a high-powered 2400-volt electric cable. He instinctively jumped back as the power hit his palm and his elbow grounded against a metal transformer box. The force of the current burned his fingerprints into the metal base of the awl he was using to apply insulating fluid.
Thorpe had only one "real" baseball card during his playing days. He is found in the scarce 1955 Old Homestead franks team set of the Des Moines Bruins.
I chose to create two different Bob Thorpe cards. My 1955-format card is what might have been when he was a highly touted rookie. My 1958-style card is an optimistic look at what Topps might have done if Thorpe had not been injured.
As hard as it was to find suitable photos of Bob Thorpe to make the '55-style custom, getting the photo of Thorpe was a purely a stroke of good fortune. 
The spring training picture of Thorpe as a Pirate has been in my files for two or three years, if not longer. In fact, I don't remember now from whence it came. I do know that a google-search for Bob Thorpe photos does not return this image.
For those who have an interest in my custom card-making process, tomorrow I'll share some of the challenges I faced in making the 1955-style card.

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