Thursday, December 31, 2015

White Sox tried to sell Indians "jinxed" souvenirs

Early Wynn notched his 299th major-league win with the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 8, 1962, with a 6-3 complete game victory over the Washington Senators at Comiskey Park.

It was the seventh win for the 42-year-old American League veteran that season, balanced against 12 losses. At the time, the White Sox were in fourth place in the then-10-team American League.

To maximize the gate attraction of a White Sox pitcher winning his 300th game before the home crowd, the team interrupted Wynn's usual five-day rotation by holding him out of a six-game Minneapolis-Washington road trip Sept. 12-16. In doing so they may have spoiled Wynn's chance to win his 300th game that season, or possibly hit that magic number at all.

When the White Sox returned to Comiskey on Sept. 18, the team promoted the possibility of the milestone with an "Early Wynn '300 Club' Night". The Tuesday night crowd of 14,498 that turned out was nearly a 45% increase from recent home games.

Besides having the chance to see baseball history made, the fans were given a four-page commemorative program. They also had the opportunity to purchase a 2" blue-and-white steel tab featuring a portrait photo with a facsimile autograph and "300 CLUB".

The souvenir was union-made by the Green Duck novelty firm in Chicago. It featured a tab that could be bent over to attach the button to a pocket or lapel. I'd guess it was offered at the concession stands and by vendors for 25 or 50 cents.

Gus went just five innings against the visiting Red Sox, giving up 12 hits and a walk and being charged with a 10-5 loss, his 13th of the year.

Five days later, on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 23, the visiting Yankees avoided a three-game sweep, by winning 5-1. Gus gave it his all, pitching a 10-inning complete game. He allowed just one run in the first nine innings when Phil Linz singled to open the game, stole second and then was doubled home by Tom Tresh.

On the mound for New York was Bill Stafford, who shut out Chicago until the bottom of the ninth when Joe Cunningham doubled, then came home on Floyd Robinson's ground-rule double.

Button sales probably jumped among the 30,032 fans as they saw the chance for Wynn to earn his 300th win.

Alas, in the top of the 10th, Wynn gave up four runs as Bobby Richardson singled, Mantle walked and both came home on a single by Hector Lopez and an error by right fielder Mike Hershberger. Elston Howard homered, bringing Lopez around.

The White Sox went three-up, three-down in the bottom of the 10th, and Wynn lost his 14th game of 1962.

Chicago ended its season with a road trip to New York. Wynn got the start in the first game, Sept, 28, going the whole way for the White Sox but losing 7-3. One game short of the 300-win mark, Wynn was released by the White Sox after the season.

In 1963 it looked like Wynn might never achieve the milestone. He went unsigned for all of April and May and most of June. On June 21, the fourth-place Cleveland Indians signed Wynn and gave him the ball that night to face the visiting White Sox.

He was a fan favorite in Cleveland, having starred on  the mound there from 1949-1957, winning 163 games in nine seasons, including four seasons of 20 or more victories.There were 19,177 on hand, hoping to see Wynn gain his 300th against the team that had cut him loose.

It was not in the cards, though. Wynn pitched the entire game but came up on the short end of a 2-0 score.

After three no-decision appearances, Wynn finally notched his 300th win, on the road at Kansas City on July 13.

He started the game and got a run to work with in the top of the second. In the 5th Wynn opened the inning with a single and was one of four runs scored. In the bottom of the 5th, he gave up four runs himself. Jerry Walker came on in relief at the top of the 6th. He kept the A's from scoring again while Cleveland added two more runs. Wynn was credited with the 7-4 win and became the 14th major-league pitcher to join the "300 club."

Wynn never won again in the bigs. He appeared for Cleveland 15 more times, all but once in relief as the Indians remained solidly in the second division of the AL. He was 300-244 when the season ended.

The Indians released him as a player on Oct. 14 and signed him as the pitching coach. After two years in that role, he took a similar job with the Twins. In the 1980s he provided color radio commentary for the Blue Jays and White Sox.

The Cy Young Award winner (1959) and seven-time All-Star was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972, his fourth year on the ballot. He died in 1999.

In mid-1963, The Sporting News reported that Chicago White Sox general manager Ed Short approached the Indians in an attempt to sell them "several hundred" Early Wynn 300 Club buttons.

Cleveland gm Gabe Paul rejected the offer, reportedly telling Short the buttons were "double hexed" because White Sox fans wore them in two Wynn loses at the end of the '62 season.

Almost certainly, Paul refused the offer because Wynn was wearing a White Sox cap in the portrait on the souvenir.

Today's collector will have no trouble finding one of the Wynn/300 buttons. There are usually several for sale on eBay at any given time. Depending on condition they sell for $10-25 dollars.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

It's winter; time for non-sports customs

Over the years my custom card creation efforts seem to have become somewhat seasonal.
I tend t make baseball cards in the spring and summer and football cards in the autumn.

Last winter it seems as if I spent most of my card-making time on non-sports issues. That trend may continue this winter.

I've just completed another card in my extension of the 1954 Topps Rails & Sails issue.

The new card features the Skytop parlor-lounge car that was a feature of the Milwaukee Road's Twin Cities Hiawatha streamliners from 1948 through early 1971.

With World War II shortages and restrictions largely gone by the wayside in 1948, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Rail Road undertook a major overhaul of its rolling stock.

One of the features of the project was the creation of the Skytop parlor-lounge cars that brought up the rear of the Twin Cities Hiawathas that ran twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon between Chicago and Minneapolis.

This is Brooks Stevens' original rendering of the concept of
the Skytop parlor lounge cars for the Twin Cities Hiawathas.

The Skytop cars were designed by Brooks Stevens, a Milwaukee industrial designer who created everything from custom cars, motorcycles and household appliances to the Miller Brewing Company's red "soft cross" logo still being used today. (I crossed paths with Stevens a time or two at car shows in 1978-79 when I was editor of Old Cars Weekly newspaper.)

The Skytop lounge cars were built in the Milwaukee Road's own shops. A total of four were produced. They were named the Cedar Rapids, Coon Rapids, Dell Rapids and Priest Rapids. The first three named cars still exist in various states of preservation while the Priest Rapids was scrapped in 1970.

This is a contemporary photo of the Skytop parlor-lounge car.

A companion line of Skytop sleeper lounges was built in 1948-49 by Pullman-Standard. There were a total of six built for use on the Milwaukee Road's Olympian Hiawatha runs between Chicago and Tacoma, Wash. That route was discontinued in 1961 and all six of the sleepers were sold to the Canadian National Railway. Three of those remain extant, the others having been scrapped.

My newest Rails/Sails custom reflects my personal interest in mid-century railroading. I have 10-12 images of great locomotives from the 1930s through the 1960s that may make their way onto custom cards in the future.

As I stated in my blog post of Dec. 13, I am unable to offer examples of my new card to collectors; physical limitations of my hands have made the actual printing and cutting of my cards too difficult an undertaking.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Browsing Around the Lot, Part 2

In my perusings of back issues of The Sporting News, I often encounter tidbits that I believe are worth sharing, but that are not of sufficient length to stand alone as a blog posting.

I'm going to present them, from time to time, in trivia compilations (I presented the first on Sept. 14)
. When a former colleague of mine did similar columns, he called it "browsing around the lot." hence my title.

* * *

Buzzy Wares, long-time St. Louis Cardinals coach, was left behind in Montgomery, Ala., by the St. Louis Browns in payment for the Browns’ use of the Rebels’ facilities during spring training.

Wares hit .275 for Montgomery that season, and was called up the Browns in 1913.

                                  * * *

Buddy Blattner was a world-class ping pong champion before he became an infielder in the National League (1942-49).

In high school Blattner won the St. Louis District table tennis championship. In 1936-37 he was the Missouri state champion in singles and doubles. Just before the outbreak of World War II he toured Europe as part of the U.S. table tennis team, participating in tournaments in London, Vienna and Prague.

                                  * * *

1940s Dodgers teammates Pete Reiser and Pee Wee Reese had “boring” names when their surnames were rendered in American Morse code by telegraph operators working the games . . . they were all “dots,” no “dashes.”

R . ..
E .
E .
S ...
E .

R .  ..
E .
I ..
S ...
E .
R . ..

                                 * * *
In 1962, L.A. Angels outfielder Ken Hunt became stepfather to a budding actor and future child star when he married Patty Lilley. She was the mother of Patrick Alan Caples, who became famous as Eddie Munster on the 1964-66 CBS-TV show The Munsters.

Hunt appeared in a 1965 episode of the show, Herman the Rookie. He played an L.A. Dodgers catcher who was supposed to warm up Herman Munster but was scared off the field by the big guy’s fastball speed.

For clarity, this Ken Hunt was Ken L. Hunt. Ken R. Hunt was also a major leaguer,  pitching for the Cincinnati Reds in 1961. Each appeared in the 1962 Topps set.

Butch Patrick by the way, is also a collector of 1960s-1970s pop culture memorabilia, specializing in items associated with the Beatles.

                                * * *
In the 1965 All-Star Game, the champion managers of the previous season did not manage the AL and NL squads. Johnny Keane who had won the World Series with the Cardinals had been fired and had joined the Yankees as 1965 manager. Yogi Berra, who had been skipper of the AL champion Yankees in 1964, had been fired as was picked up by the Mets as a coach.

For the 1965 All-Star contest, the team were managed by the skippers who had come in #2 the previous season; Al Lopez of the White Sox and Gene Mauch of the Phillies.

Not only weren’t the World Series managers of the previous year on the All-Star teams, but not a single member of either the 1964 Yankees or Cardinals had been picked as an A-S starter.

                                * * *

Washington Senators pitcher Jim Duckworth had a real fear of flying, avoiding air travel whenever he could. In an effort to ease his anxiety, the team paid for him to take flying lessons in the 1964-65 off-season and he earned his pilot’s license.

While Duckworth never appeared on a Topps card during his career (1963-66), he has two cards in the 1978 TCMA “The 1960’s” set. Both cards are portraits in a Senators uniform. Card #23 has on back only height, weight, etc. Card #151 adds a paragraph of biographical information.
                                                                  * * *

Ed Rakow (Dodgers 1960, K.C. A’s 1961-63, Tigers 1964-65) once lost his job to Johnny Unitas. Rakow was the quarterback and defensive end for the Bloomfield Rams, a semi-pro football team in Pittsburgh in 1955.

The following season, after Unitas was cut by the Steelers and joined Bloomfield, Rakow was relegated to defensive end, where he earned $5 a game until his hand was stepped on an broken while making a tackle.

In 1957, the Dodgers signed Rakow out of a semi-pro league and he was assigned to Class C Reno. After four years and a 55-38 record in the Dodgers’ system, he was called up to Los Angeles.

                                * * *

With the Seattle Rainiers in 1963, Bob Heffner was the starter in the night game of the season home-opener double header. In the first inning, three hits, an error and a walk gave the Denver Bears two runs, with one out and the bases full. The fireballer then retired the last 26 Bears’ batters in order for a 4-2 victory.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

1956 "rookie" card for Colavito

As I've mentioned, creating 1956 Topps-style custom cards is a mixed blessing. 

The set was one of my childhood favorites, but the nuts and bolts of creating the cards make it one of the most difficult formats in which to work.

I had the good fortune while making a 1956 Rocky Colavito card to be able to repurpose the trio of cartoons that I had already used on my 1956 Bob Hazle, so the work went much easier.

Topps could have chosen to include Colavito in its 1956 set, as he ad made his big-league debut with a bang in late 1955. This custom should help make up for that lapse.

I'd already done a pair of Rocky Colavito customs. I used an original Topps flexichrome to make a 1960 Topps-style multi-player feature card with Harmon Killebrew and I did a 1978-style coach's card.

Colavito has always enjoyed a collector following that rivals many Hall of Famers.

There is a good baseball biography of Colavito on the SABR baseball biography site, written by Joseph Wancho: Rocky Colavito bio .

This does not exhaust the possibilities for future Colavito customs. I've got photos to work with for a 1982 or 1983 Kansas City Royals coach's card, and a good picture of Colavito in his last playing gig with the New York Yankees in 1968. 

So Rocky's fans can look forward to seeing those in the future.

Friday, December 11, 2015

38-year old Reds rookie on 1957 Topps custom

In the days before the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement began scrutinizing foreign-born ballplayers' identification papers it was common for Latinos to take liberties with their birth dates.

To make themselves more attractive major league prospects they often promulgated a "baseball age" that was a few years younger than their actual age. If they made it in the majors, those missing years were generally recouped when it came time to apply for the players' pension benefits.

The player who is believed to hold the record for fudging his true age to make it to the majors was Pat Scantlebury, who got a cup of coffee with the Cincinnati Redlegs in 1956 as a "30-year-old" rookie. In fact, Scantlebury was eight years older when he made his big league debut.

Born in the Canal Zone, Panama, in 1917, Scantlebury was pitching for the national team by 1941. He came to the U.S. during World War II, pitching for the New York Cubans of the Negro Leagues 1944-50. He appeared in or was named to the Negro Leagues' East-West All-Star games in 1946, 1948, 1949 and 1950.

He played winter ball in the Panamanian Winter League every season 1945-46 through 1963-64 except 1951-52, when he plied his trade in Mexico. He often distinguished himself in the Caribbean Series.

Here's a link to a good summary of Scantlebury's career:

In 1952, Scantlebury was traveling with the Roy Campanella All-Stars barnstorming tour. He pitched or played first base for the Negro League All-Stars that provided Campy's big-league aggregation with competition all over the South and West for the month following the World Series. 

The major leaguers were so impressed with him that at least three of them recommended him to their teams. Monte Irvin was the most persuasive, convincing the N.Y. Giants to purchase his contract from the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League for $10,000.

The book on Scantlebury was that he had good control, a lively fast ball and a deceptive delivery on his variety of breaking pitches.

He debuted in Organized Baseball with Texarkana of the Class B Big State League in 1953. He led the circuit in wins (24) and strikeouts (177). He was second in innings pitched (286) and led in hits allowed (314). He tied for second in the BSL with five shutouts and paced the circuit with 28 complete games (in 33 starts). 

Scantlebury won 20 games again in 1954, 18 for Dallas in the Texas League and two with the Havana Sugar Kings of the International League. He pitched the entire 1955 season with Havana, winning 13 and losing nine with a 1.90 ERA.

He was invited to the Redlegs' major league camp for spring training in 1956, and had such a good spring that he made the club. Scantlebury was on the mound in Cincinnati to start the second game of the season against St. Louis on April 19. He went five innings, giving up eight hits including home runs to Stan Musial and Bill Sarni. The Reds won the game 10-9, but Scantlebury was not part of the decision,

Five days later in St Louis he got the start and took the 3-5 loss, giving up seven hits including a three-run homer by Ken Boyer. 

When teams had to cut their rosters in mid-May, Scantlebury was sent out to Havana. He was recalled on July 25 and appeared in relief in two games before being sent down to Seattle in the Pacific Coast League. The six games in which he appeared with Cincinnati were the totality of his major-league career. Redlegs manager Birdie Tebbetts was quoted as saying he didn't buy the fiction of Scantlebury's age.

He spent five more years in the minors at the AAA level. Back with Havana in 1957 he was 12-15. In 1958-61 with Toronto he was 36-23, mostly as a reliever.

It's easy to see why Pat Scantlebury never appeared on a Topps card, but they took a nice photo of him early in the 1956 season. The photo looks to have been taken at Milwaukee County Stadium and has the "feel" of a 1957 Topps cards . . . so I made one.

Scantlebury did, however, have a pair of career-contemporary baseball cards during his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He appears in team sets issued in 1960 by Shopsy's Frankfurters and in 1961 by Bee Hive Starch. Both are hard to find today.

He can also be found in a couple of modern collectors' issues such as the 1986 Larry Fritsch Cards set of Negro League Baseball Stars.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Ballplayers struck out as slumlords

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

Dozens of professional athletes, including major league baseball players, were shown they were not in the big leagues when it came to slimy Chicago politics in 1963 when their investments in “slum” real estate went south, leaving them holding the bag for up to a reported one million dollars.

The ballplayers were among the backers of Consolidated Investment Associates, an Illinois corporation that fell into receivership in early 1963.

That company owned or controlled 22 buildings in what a Chicago newspaperman termed “various Chicago slum areas.” CIA was headed by R. Patrick Wagner, who the reporter described as a “pal of many major leaguers.” The company was formed around 1957.

Wagner reportedly induced many of those ballplayers to put money into his corporation and, for a time, came through with the promised 20 percent annual dividends.

Then, as the 1962 baseball season was drawing to a close, Wagner went incommunicado, leaving the players in the dark as to the state of their investments.

Louis Wexler, an assistant corporation counsel for the City of Chicago, was in charge of prosecuting building violations cases against Wagner’s CIA. At one time city building inspectors reportedly found a total of 2,693 violations in 18 of the 22 buildings owned by CIA.

In late February, 1963, Wexler said, “It now appears that investments made in Wagner’s companies are a total loss.”

In his defense, Wagner was quoted as saying that “pressure men” had brought down his real estate venture. “There are 150,000 buildings like ours in the city, and we own 22 of them. It should seem obvious that we are the victims of harassment.”

The slumlord blamed the University of Chicago for his plight. “The university did not want buildings in this area repaired,” he charged. “The university wanted them torn down so the tenants would be driven into other neighborhoods.”

Wagner seems to have been able to induce the ballplayers and other investors into putting up money in a “sure thing.” Rentals of from $65 to $100 a month in the dilapidated buildings were being paid not by individual tenants, but by the Cook County welfare department, insuring a continued revenue stream.

While most of the ballplayer investors preferred to keep their involvement under wraps, CIA corporation papers at the time showed Walt Dropo, recently retired 13-year major league veteran, as executive vice-president, with Billy Pierce, Ken Boyer, Bob Shaw, Jimmie Dykes and Jim Rivera listed as members of the board of directors.

Two of the players, cited anonymously in an article by Jim Enright in the March 2, 1963, issue of The Sporting News, said they had lost $5,000 each in the venture. The headline on the TSN article was, “Slum-Property Deal Backfires on Ball Players”.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Mantle's changing sig caused contract controversy

The evolution of Mickey Mantle's signature, so well documented in the baseball card/memorabilia hobby, once created a kurfuffle among team owners.

At a press conference on Feb. 27, 1963, at the Yankees' spring training headquarters in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Mantle signed his 1963 Yankees contract -- as television cameras rolled -- calling for a salary of $100,000.

With Mantle's permission, the team had engineered the unprecedented publicity stunt to advertise the fact the Yankees were so successful that they could make Mantle the highest-paid player in baseball.

Later, "photostatic" copes of the contract were sent to the print media. 

Immediately, San Francisco Giants president Horace Stoneham questioned the legitimacy of the contract. He contended that the image of Mantle's contract promulgated by the Yankees was not the "real" contact, intimating that the Yankees were not paying Mantle $100,000 for the '63 season.

Stoneham had a vested interest in the matter because he had recently agreed to terms with Willie Mays for the 1963 season at a reported salary of $100,000. Mays, however, had not yet signed his contract in late February so Mantle was in actuality at the top of baseball's salary scale.

The Giants' executive no doubt felt compelled to question the Yankees' deal with Mantle because New York had garnered the publicity that Stoneham was expecting when Mays inked his 1963 contract.

It seemed to be Stoneham's contention that Mantle's "real" contract was at a figure less than 100 Gs. 

Writing in the March 16, 1963, issue of The Sporting News, San Francisco baseball writer Bob Stevens said Stoneham "indicated a slight doubt as to its authenticity by saying out loud, 'Mickey doesn't print his signature; he writes it.'"

Stevens commented, "A closer inspection (of the contract) supported this theory." 

Giants catcher Ed Bailey pointed out that on the contract shown to the media, the date of Mantle's acceptance had not been filled in, nor did the document carry the authorizing signature of  Roy Hamey, the Yankees' general manager.

At the end of the article either Stevens, or possibly a Sporting News' editor, wrote, "A comparison of Mickey's signature on the new contract with that penned in The Sporting News' annual book, 'The Baseball Register,' also strongly indicated that the Yankees had not shown the real McCoy to newsmen."

Accompanying the TSN article was a picture of the Mantle contract on which the paper's editors had superimposed the image of Mantle's signature from the Register

Today's collectors will recognize that the Register signature is consistent with Mantle's style early in his career; on his 1952 Topps card, for example. The signature shown on the body of his 1963 contract is in the style evolved later in his career and generally used for the remainder of his life.

Responding to Stoneham's veiled accusation, Yankees' exec Hamey told The Sporting News, "I've got the contract in my safe. And it's the same one he signed for the TV cameras that day.

"It's as real as the Rock of Gibraltar," Hamey added. "There never was a more legitimate $100,000 contract than the one Mickey signed at the press conference. When one of our ball players is good enough and box office enough to earn a $100,000 contract, we want the whole, wide world to know it's the real McCoy and not a publicity stunt."

Since 1963, the once-controversial contract has made its way into the sports memorabilia hobby. It was publicly sold as early as 2005 in an American Memorabilia auction. In a Grey Flannel Auctions sale on June 5, 2013, it sold for $17,216. 

The auction lot description addressed those 1963 Giants concerns that the contract was undated and did not bear G.M. Hamey's signature. "The procedure in sealing this agreement entails three separate, but identical, contracts - one for the player (signed by a franchise executive), another for the team's files (usually penned by the player only), and yet another (signed by both parties) submitted to the President of the American League, who ultimately sanctions the contract. This is presumably the team's copy as it bears Mantle's signature only."

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Brooks Robinson custom is my 12th 1956-Topps style

I hadn't realized before now, but in my 13 or so years of making custom/fantasy cards I've done more cards in the 1956 Topps baseball format than any other (except for the 170 or so 1955 Topps All-American college football cards). My recently completed '56T Brooks Robinson makes it an even dozen.

On the one hand it's not surprising because the  1956 Topps set was one of my childhood favorites. On the other hand, working in the '56T style is one of the most challenging. Besides needing both a portrait and an action picture for the front of the card, three cartoons are needed for the backs.

 The process of rounding up the cartoons is one of the hardest parts of assembling a "new" '56. I generally start by plotting out five or six possible highlights. Then I go through my stack of 100 or so original 1956 cards to try to find cartoons that can be re-purposed. Re-using original cartoons helps give an authentic look to my card backs.

In a pinch, if I can't find anything appropriate among my '56s, I sort through the 1989 Topps "Big" cards, which used a similar style of cartoons on the back.

You might not realize it, but another challenge in recreating the '56 format is getting the autograph for the front. Guys like Brooks Robinson are easy; I prefer to pull them from the old Baseball Register, where they are in clean black-and-white. However, while I used to have complete runs of Registers (and Guides) when I worked at Krause, my current library of those volumes is quite limited.

Among the 1956 customs that I've done, acquisition of three autographs was especially challenging. Charley Peete played only 26 games in the major leagues for the 1956 Cardinals, and died in a plane crash later that year. Similarly, Tom Gastall played just parts of the 1955-56 seasons for the Orioles, also dying in a plane crash in 1956. Stu Locklin had a 25-game big league run with the Indians in 1955-56, but he is still alive and signing today.

One of the next '56s I've got on my to-do list, Paul Cave, played nine seasons in the minors in the Boston/Milwaukee Braves organization without ever making the majors. But as a kid I looked -- in vain -- for a long time for his baseball card because he was shown and named on the 1956 Topps Milwaukee Braves team card.

Getting back to my '56 Brooks Robby, I spent considerable time putting the card front together. The background comes from a circa 1963-65 premium picture taken in spring training. I no longer remember where the action photo came from; it's been in my files for quite a while. It was also a spring training photo, and I cropped out a sliding Cleveland Indian and colorized the Robinson figure.

My original plan for the portrait photo was to use the picture that Topps used on his 1957 rookie card, but in a last minute google search I found a different early portrait that would give my card a more original look. I had to colorize that photo, as well as adding a new oriole image to his cap.

There's really nothing I can tell you about Brooks Robinson that you don't already know, so I'll just give you the first look at my newest 1956 custom.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Legitimacy confirmed of W514 H.A. Robinson "Our Hero," "Robinson Cruso" peanuts ad back

More than six years ago (Aug. 11, 2009) this blog carried news of the discovery of a previously uncataloged version of the 1920-21 strip card set known by its American Card Catalog number of W514.

Back in 2009, this type of ad-back W514 was known within the hobby in only one, or possibly two, surviving examples. The card pictured on the blog was owned by veteran W514 collector Bob Zych of New York. It pictured on front Chicago Black Sox pitcher Ed Cicotte. This card bears on its back the advertising of a Lynchburg, Va., peanut company, H.A. Robinson.

I wrote at the time, "Perhaps it is because this (heretofore) unknown back is found on a Black Sox card, but there are those in the vintage card community who are not convinced this is a legitimate, circa early-1920s, overprint.

I indicated that I was "on the fence, but leaning towards legitimate," for the following reasons . . .
  • The lack of specimens in the marketplace argues against someone having contrived this variation to cheat collectors. Granted, the Cicotte example had only recently been made public, and if it was a fake, the maker could be waiting for hobby buzz to develop before cashing in by leaking other creations into the market. That didn't happen, in the intervening six years, not a single other example of a peanut ad-back W514 ever surfaced (to my knowledge).
  • The subject matter of the ad-back is rather mundane. A con man might be inclined, if he was going to fake an ad-back, to go with a better-known brand name, a more glamorous type of product, or a more exotic location for the issuer.
  • The details of the advertising are, with a little work, verifiable. There was an H.A. Robinson peanut company located in Lynchburg in the past. Two brands of five-cent peanut packages are mentioned on the card, "Our Hero" and "Robinson Cruso" (it was not unusual to spell the surname without an "e" in times past). A good guess would be that one baseball card was packaged with each peanut purchase, and the Cicotte card certainly shows evidence of having come into contact with some sort of greasy substance.
"If the Robinson Cruso brand rings a bell," I continued, "it might be because the brand still exists today as Robinson Crusoe (now with an "e") Salted Home-style Virginia Peanuts, and was on the list of peanut products recalled in the salmonella scare earlier this year. The brand is now the property of Peanut Corporation of America, which is in bankruptcy and the subject of numerous pending criminal and civil investigations as a result of it being "ground zero" for the salmonella outbreak."

Then I went on to detail my own reservations, "Besides the aforementioned appearance on a "star" card that is so low-grade as to not risk losing much value if it was proven to be phony, the nagging doubt I can't quite shake is that there is a decided lack of corroborative, verifiably vintage, advertising for the two named peanut brands. A company that went to the trouble to create baseball cards to promote its product was certainly savvy enough to have used other types of promotions and premiums, yet these are not to be found by the casual researcher."

Recently, however, I was made aware of this image of an apparently vintage Crusoe-brand peanuts can by hobby buddy Mike Rothstein. He also noted that reproductions of glass counter-top jars from "Robinson Crusoe Salted Peanuts" are regularly found on eBay. 

Additionally, in June, 2013, an eBay seller offered an original, unused five-cent box for "Our Hero" roasted peanuts. A side panel of the box indicates, "A Prize in Each Five Cent Package." It's certainly possible that one of the prizes could have been a baseball card. 

More thorough google-searching turns up images for other Crusoe peanut packaging such as bags and other sizes/styles of cans.

A listing for H.A. Robinson ad-back W514s appeared in the 2011-dated edition of the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, but was inadvertently dropped when the book was downsized to its current vintage-only format.

All of the above is by way of introducing a newly reported example of an H.A. Robinson ad-back W514, card number 87, Cubs catcher Wade Killefer (misspelled Killifer on W514s).

The Killefer W514 was found among the belongings of the parents of a north Georgia woman. It was the only baseball card in the trunk. I was able to acquire the card for study, specifically a detailed study of the ad on back. I am able to now state with certainty that the advertising on back was printed before the card was placed into circulation. In my mind it proves the legitimacy of the issue.

The card also shows the expected signs of its 90+ years on this earth, though the printing -- front and back -- remains bright. There is a corner crease at top-right and, unfortunately, the bottom right corner has become separated and is now held on by a small strip of clear tape.

It remains to be seen whether the hobby will have to wait another six years before an additional example of an H.A. Robinson ad-back W514 surfaces.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Custom 1960T card for Marshall Bridges

As you may have read in my posting of Nov. 17 about my custom Jim Brosnan card, I recently finished rereading Brosnan's books The Long Season and Pennant Race.

 I mentioned that I enjoyed Brosnan's recounting in the latter book of some of his interactions with Reds teammate Marshall Bridges. Probably not something that an author would do today, but in his book, Brosnan quoted Bridges in black Southern dialect. Doing so made Bridges more "real" to me. Brosnan called Bridges "Fox," and Bridges called Brosnan "'Fess," short for Professor. 

Bridges was also known in his playing days as "Sheriff," a takeoff of his first name. Some teammates called him "Rug," because the tales he spun in the bullpen and clubhouse of hunting and fishing in his native Mississippi and of his baseball prowess were often met with a derisive, "You lie like a rug!"

For a number of years I've wondered why Bridges had no Topps baseball cards. He spent all or parts of seven seasons, 1959-65, in the major leagues. An integral part of the Reds' 1961 pennant-winning team and the World Champion 1962 Yankees, Bridges was a left-handed relief specialist.

A veteran collector told me he was "pretty confident" that Bridges had signed an exclusive baseball card deal with Fleer, like other players who are conspicuously absent from Topps sets of the early 1960s, like Maury Wills, Chris Short and Jack Reed. While Bridges does not appear in the 66-card 1963 Fleer set, he may have been slated for a later series that never materialized due to litigation with Topps.

We do know that Topps did take photos of Bridges in spring training circa 1959-60, as a Cardinal and as a Red. I used two such photos in creating my 1960-style custom card.

Marshall Bridges got his start in Organized Baseball after impressing members of Roy Campanella’s barnstorming team of black Major Leaguers on its 1952 post-season tour on the South. The Campanella All-Stars featured a changing roster of black big leaguers, with a few minor leaguers and occasional local talent sprinkled in. They were even able to recruit Willie Mays for a game in Birmingham, while he was on furlough from the U.S. Army.

Financially successful at a time when virtually all other post-season barnstorming tours were fiscal failures, Campanella’s aggregation averaged a paid attendance of 2,500 fans for its 25-game schedule that saw the major leaguers win 21 of the games.
Bridges was a pitcher on the Negro American League All-Stars team that provided the principal competition against Campanella’s team. 

The 22-year-old right-hander was a three-year veteran of the NAL’s Memphis Red Sox. When not pitching he was good-hitting outfielder.

Bridges' performance on the mound and at first base on days he didn't pitch impressed the big leaguers, and at least three of them brought Bridges to the attention of their teams.

In recommending Bridges to the Dodgers, Campanella raved about his assortment of pitches and asserted that he had the best natural curve ball he had ever faced. Campy’s batterymate Joe Black also urged Brooklyn to sign Bridges.

Bridges was also the subject of recommendations made by Campanella tourists Harry Simpson of the Indians and Monte Irvin of the Giants to their teams.

The New York Giants were successful in the ensuing bidding war for Bridges; they paid Red Sox owner Dr. W.S. Martin $10,000 for Bridges’ contract.

The young pitcher was assigned to the Giants’ AAA farm team at Minneapolis in the American Association, then farmed out to Sioux City, a Giants affiliate in the Class A Western League.

The Giants seemed more interested in Bridges' potential as a first baseman than as a pitcher. He appeared in only four games on the mound. In six innings he struck out eight, but walked seven and gave up nine hits. His ERA was 9.00. Playing 129 games at first base, Bridges hit .247 with six home runs.

In 1954, Bridges was dropped to Class B ball with New York's Danville team in the Carolina League. He didn't pitch at all that season, and player just 15 games at first and in the outfield, hitting just .211.

In a transaction that calls "unknown," Bridges was acquired by the Milwaukee Braves, who put him back on the mound for 1955. Starting out in the Class AA Texas League at Beaumont, he was 0-2 as a pitcher in eight appearances. As a first baseman-outfielder he hit just .111 before being demoted to Amarillo. He found Class B ball more rewarding, compiling a 14-1 record to lead the West Texas-New Mexico League with a .933 winning percentage. He struck out 177 in 139 innings, walking 97. As a 1B-OF, he batted .233 with nine home runs in 120 at-bats.

For 1956, Bridges was advanced to Class A Topeka. He again proved dominant on the mound, leading the Western League with 18 wins against 11 losses. In a league-leading 242 innings pitched, his 213 strikeouts were best in the circuit. He also led in walks (154). Again putting in some time at first base and in the outfield, Bridges batted .272. 

Another "unknown" transaction prior to the 1957 season sent Bridges to Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League, where he was 12-16 in 1957 and 16-11 in 1958, when he again led his league in strikeouts (205) and walks (111) in 232 innings on a 3.69 ERA.

Impressed with his 16 wins, which tied for tops in the Class AAA PCL, The St. Louis Cardinals purchased Bridges from Sacramento after the 1958 season.

Bridges opened the 1959 season with the Cards' AAA farm club at Rochester (International League). By mid-June he was 3-3 in 10 starts, with a 3.55 ERA. Needing a left-handed reliever, St. Louis called him up. He made his first major-league appearance on June 17, winning against the Phillies in a 5-inning relief effort. He ended the 1959 season with a 6-3 record out of the bullpen.

St. Louis used him principally as a late-innings reliever in 1960. He was 2-2 on Aug. 2 when the Cardinals placed him on waivers and he was picked up by Cincinnati.

The Reds used Bridges almost exclusively as a set-up man and closer.  In 14 games he compiled a 4-0 record with two saves and an ERA of just 1.09. He struck out 26 and walked just seven in 25 innings.

The following season, Bridges became part of a major league record, but not in a good way.

On June 8 the Reds were hosting the Milwaukee Braves. Cincinnati starter Jim Maloney took a 10-2 lead into the top of the 7th inning. Frank Bolling singled to open the inning. Maloney then gave up back-to-back home runs to Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron.

Bridges was called in from the bullpen. He then gave up back-to-back home runs to Joe Adcock and Frank Thomas. The home runs to four successive batters was a new big league record. Bridges then got the next three batters out, leaving the game with the Reds’ lead cut to 10-7. Mathews homered again in the 8th, but the Reds hung on for the 10-8 win.

After just three more appearances and with an 0-1 record and inflated 7.84 ERA the Reds sent Bridges down to Jersey City in late June. In the AAA International League, Bridges was used as a starter, working to a 6-8 record.

At the 1961 winter baseball meetings, the Reds traded Bridges to the New York Yankees for catcher Jesse Gonder. As the Yankees' closer in 1962, Bridges was the ace of the bullpen with an 8-4 record and 3.14 ERA. His 18 saves were nearly more than the rest of the relief corps' combined 22.

Bridges appeared twice in the World Series as New York defeated the Giants 4-3.

In Game 4 Bridges came to the mound in the top of the 7th inning in relief of Jim Coates. The socre was tied 2-2. There were two men on, second and third, with one out. He issued an intentional walk to Bob Nieman to load the bases, then induced a pop out from Harvey Kuenn for the second out. Facing Chuck Hiller, Bridges gave up the first National League grand slam home run in World Series history. Because two of the runs scored were on Coates' account, he was saddled with the eventual 7-3 loss.

Bridges also appeared in Game 6, closing out the Yankees' 5-2 loss. 

Bridges became the first Yankees casualty of 1963 when he was shot in a nightclub during spring training.

Police reported that the player was shot with a .25 automatic pistol after “some sort of argument” Feb. 13 at the Pride of Fort Lauderdale Elks, a “Negro club.” The 21-year-old female shooter, Carrie Lee Raysor, was booked on charges of aggravated assault.

Bridges was shot in the left calf, damaging muscle and breaking a bone. He didn’t require surgery, but was hospitalized for nine days. He was ready to go for the Yankees by the second week of the regular season.

His bosses downplayed the shooting in the press. Manager Ralph Houk said, “It appears he was a victim of one of those things.” GM Roy Hamey clarified, “He wasn’t drunk. It happened about 9:30 p.m., so it wasn’t after hours.”

Raysor told police she shot Bridges after the pitcher “put his arm around me and pulled me over and I didn’t like that kind of mugging.” A barmaid said Bridges was trying to kiss the woman just before the shooting.

Bridges, 31 at the time and married with three children, declined to press charges. He said he had had only one drink while waiting for a friend to go to dinner. The Yankees took no disciplinary action against Bridges.

On June 20, 1963, Bridges won in relief for the N.Y. Yankees against the Senators. He pitched 11 more times for the Yankees that year, with no decisions. In Nov., 1963, the Yankees sold Bridges to the Washington Senators. 

 He was 0-3 for Washington in 17 relief appearances through June 20 when he was sent down to Toronto (International League). He didn’t win again until Sept. 1, when he beat Syracuse. That was Bridges' only win in 17 games for the Maple Leafs that year.

The Senators sent Bridges to Hawaii to open the 1965 season. He was 2-0 when he was recalled to Washington for his last hurrah in the major leagues. From May 16, when he appeared in both games of a double-header, through the end of the year, Bridges was 0-2 in 40 games.

His major league record was 23-15 with 25 saves and a 3.75 ERA.

Bridges closed out his professional career with two more seasons in Hawaii. In 1966 he was 2-2 in 48 games. In 1967 he pitched only nine times with a 1-0 record.

Returning to his native Jackson, Miss., Bridges died there of cancer in 1990 at the age of 59.

As mentioned earlier, Marshall Bridges did not appear on any Topps cards. In fact, I know of only two career-contemporary cards for Bridges. 

In 1958 he was one of 10 Sacramento Solons players in a black-and-white team set distributed by Union 76 gas stations. In 1964 he was included in the "Challenge the Yankees" card game set of 50.

In his post-playing days, there are two more Bridges cards. He is pictured in a Washington Senators uniform in Series 1 of the 1978 TCMA "The 1960s" collectors' issue. In 1992 he was included in the WIZ/American Express "Yankees of the 50's Card Series," part of a set that attempted to include all New York Yankees players. 

There are photos extant that would have allowed me to create a 1961 Reds card, a 1962 or 1963 Yankees card or a 1964 or 1965 Senators card. There is even a great black-and-white Cardinals portrait that I contemplated turning into a 1960 Leaf custom. Ultimately the image of a 1960 Topps-style Marshall Bridges custom card spoke to me most clearly.