Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Former/future teammate owned Clemente

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. 

When the Pittsburgh Pirates bought Bob Purkey from the St. Louis Cardinals just prior to the opening of the 1966 season there was probably nobody happier to see him in the Bucs locker room than Roberto Clemente.

The two had been teammates on the Pirates from 1955-57, until Purkey was traded to Cincinnati in the off-season.

In his seven years with the Redlegs (1958-64) and one season with the Cardinals (1964), Purkey had been Clemente's nemesis.

Clemente faced Purkey 94 times in that span and was only able to hit .195 against him. Purkey threw Clemente an assortment of knuckle balls, sliders and curves that yielded only 17 hits, just three of them for extra bases (doubles). Clemente struck out nine times against Purkey and drew just five walks. Purkey plunked Clemente once.

Purkey had a decent major league career. He had a lifetime record of 129-115 with an ERA of 3.79. He was a three-time all-star with Cincinnati, in 1958, 1961 and 1962, when he led the N.L. in winning percentage with a 23-5 record.

He had signed with the Pirates at age 18, but spent four years in the minors and two in the military before getting his shot in the bigs. He had been 11-13 with Class AA New Orleans in 1953 before getting a chance in Pittsburgh, for a team that was in the midst of four straight last-place finishes.

In his rookie year he was 3-8, and overall with the Pirates 1954-57 he was 16-29.

As a kid collector, I always liked Bob Purkey's baseball cards. His moon face had a big smile most years. Purkey had made his baseball card debut in 1954, but was missing from the 1956 set. He then was in every Topps annual issue through 1966.

Purkey also appeared in many other sets of the Sixties, including 1961-63 Post cereal, 1960 Leaf, 1963 Fleer, 1962 and 1963 Salada coins, every Kahn's Wieners issue 1958-64, and many Pirates and Reds team-issues. He's got a big grin on most of those, too.

I imagine Clemente grew to dislike that smile over the years.

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