Wednesday, September 30, 2015

For nine years, Carl Mays owned the A's

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.

The word association most fans make upon hearing "Carl Mays" is "Ray Chapman," the Cleveland Indian killed by a ball pitched by Mays on Aug. 16, 1920.

In reading microfilm of the March 31, 1938, issue of The Sporting News, I found a less well-known fact about the submariner. 

According to Al Demaree's "Diamond Glints" cartoon feature, Mays had an incredible mastery of the Philadelphia A's in his nine seasons in the American League, (Boston 1915-19, N.Y. Yankees 1919-23).

Mays' record against the A's was 35-3, a winning percentage of .921. From 1919-22, Mays never lost to the A's, winning 21 in that stretch.

1915: 2-0. Mays was credited with a win over the Athletics in his first major league appearance. He pitched the final three innings of a 5-3 win in Philadelphia on April 15, 1915.

1916 4-1. Among his four wins over the A's in 1916, Mays won both ends of the June 24 double-header in Boston. He came into the game in the top of the 9th inning after Babe Ruth had pinch-hit of starter Dutch Leonard. Mays held the score to 2-1, then got the win when Boston scored a pair in the bottom of the inning. He started the second game and won 3-7.

1917: 2-0. In his first game against Philadelphia in 1917, Mays started the contest on April 19. He held the A's scoreless through six innings, then gave up a run in the seventh and two in the eighth. He was pulled with one out in the ninth. Herb Pennock got the loss when the A's scored a run in the bottom of the 12th inning.

1918: 5-1. After Babe Ruth had won the season opener on April 15, Mays defeated the A's 1-0 on one hit on the 16th. While the A's got nine hits off him on the 25th, Mays got a complete-game 6-1 win. Mays again one-hit the A's on June 21, winning 13-0; it was his third consecutive shutout in nine days. Mays' only loss to the A's came at Shibe Park in the second game of the July 4 doubleheader. He gave up only one run through 10 innings, but the Red Sox only managed one run. He lost the game when the A's scored in the bottom of the 11th. Mays won his 20th game of 1918 with a 12-0 shutout of Philadelphia at Fenway on Aug. 30. He won his 21st the same day, with a complete-game 4-1 victory in the second game of the DH.

1919: 3-0. The Red Sox' season started late in 1919; Mays pitched the opener at Yankee Stadium, defeating New York 10-1. He first faced the A's on May 29, winning 7-1 in a complete game. He last pitched against Philadelphia as a Red Sox on July 7, being credited with a save. On July 30, Mays was traded to the Yankees. He first pitched against the A's wearing the New York pinstripes on Aug. 31 and won a 6-0 shutout. His last appearance on the mound that season was a complete-game 8-2 win on Sept. 26.

1920: 5-0. All of Mays' wins over Philadelphia in 1920 were complete-game efforts; the last three were shutouts, though he gave up as many as six hits.

1921: 7-0. Mays had his best season against Philadelphia in 1921, beginning on opening day with an 11-1 victory. On the penultimate day of the season, he and Babe Ruth beat the A's in both games of the Oct. 1 doubleheader. It was Mays' 27th win of the season, leading the major leagues. Ruth's 7-6 win marked his final appearance on the mound until 1930. He started the game in left field then went to the mound in the eighth with the Yankees leading 6-0. Ruth gave up six earned runs and nine hits, earning the win when New York scored in the last of the 11th inning.

1922: 6-0. Mays was again perfect against the A's in 1922. The first of his six wins took him 11 innings to notch the 6-4 victory on April 24. He followed that on May 6 with a two-hit shutout.

1923: 1-1. In his last year in the American League, Mays had three no-decisions against the A's in the month of May. His only win over Philadelphia came near the end of July. On Oct. 4, he lost 6-7, giving up 10 hits in five innings in his last appearance as a Yankee. After the season he was sold to the Cincinnati Reds.

After five years with the Reds, Mays played his final big-league season in 1929 with the N.Y. Giants. He retired with a lifetime 207-126 record (.622 winning percentage) and 2.92 ERA.
He'd had five seasons winning 20 or more games. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Mike Tomlin introduces my '55 format change

One hundred and seventy cards, and 13 years, into my "updating" of the classic 1955 Topps All-American college football series, I've determined it's time for a format revision.

If I'd known then, when I made my first-ever custom card (a '55-style Peyton Manning), what I've learned since, I would have started the project differently. For instance, I would have done a better job of matching the fonts Topps used on the card backs. I would have also justified the lines of type. But back in 2003, I didn't know how to justify type in Photoshop Elements.

I've just completed card #271 (Topps did the first 100) in my set. While working on the back of my Mike Tomlin card, I reflected for about the 171st time how hard it was to digest a footballer's career into 90-100 words. I decided that eliminating the cartoon trivia question on back would give me more freedom to present the player's biography.

It turned out that really wasn't the answer. The finished no-cartoon format just didn't look like a 1950s bubblegum card. Shifting gears once again, I decided to retain a cartoon element, but rather than using a generic cartoon that had nothing to do with the subject of the card, I would make the cartoon relevant to the player. I would also use the space below the cartoon that used to carry the upside-down trivia answer to add 10-15 words to my career summaries. 

I think that's the right choice. I've decided not to change the fonts I've been using. At this point; preserving the "look" of my cards
seems to be more important that conforming to what Topps did 60 years ago. For the same reason (really, it's not just because it's easier), I'm not going to justify the type.

Here, then, is the first of my revised-format All-American cards.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Berra's death dimishes '52 Topps survivors

On June 10, this blog featured a necrology of the players (and managers and coaches) who had appeared in the iconic 1952 Topps set.

On that date, there were 50 surviving players. Billy Pierce died  on July 31.

With the passing of Yogi Berra on Sept. 22, now there are 48.

The 1952 Topps card was never one of my favorite Berra cards; maybe it's because he looks so somber, absent the smile that was often seen in photos and on his other cards.

Berra's death leaves three surviving Hall of Famers who appeared on the 1952 Topps set:
Monte Irvin (age 96), Red Schoendienst (92) and Willie Mays (84).

Here's the current roster of surviving subjects from 1952 Topps.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Meschery went from internment camp to NBA All-Star

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.

No matter how often Tom Meschery may have traveled on the basketball court in his six seasons in the NBA (1961-67 Philadelphia/San Francsco Warriors, 1967-71 Seattle SuperSonics), it was nothing compared to his travels as a youngster making his way to the United States from Japanese-occupied Manchuria.

Kids who took the time to read the backs of the 1961-62 Fleer basketball cards found this tantalizing tidbit on the card of Philadelphia Warriors forward Tom Meschery.

“An All-American at St. Mary's of California, the Manchuria born youngster was the Warriors' first draft choice last summer. At the time of the heaviest fighting during World War II, he was smuggled out of Manchuria by the Christian Brothers when he was three years old and taken to San Francisco."

But that card blurb glosses over the story of Meschery’s early childhood.

Bud Furillo of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner in the Feb. 9, 1963, Sporting News provided a more complete account.
Meschery’s father was a soldier in the White Russian army at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution following World War I. He fled to Harbin, Manchuria, where Tom was born in 1938.

The elder Meschery was a dental technician who came to the U.S. a year after Tom’s birth to secure a job and a home for his family.

When the boy was three, he boarded a train with his mother and sister, headed to the Chinese port of Mukden, where they prepared to board a ship for the U.S. The date was Dec. 7, 1941.

Furillo wrote, “The Japanese uncorked a few surprises that day to change plans for the Meschery family. Everyone on the ship bound for the U.S. was taken off and placed aboard another for Yokohama.”

After arrival in Japan, the Meschery family was sent to an internment camp for women and children near Tokyo.

“My first recollection of the place was scenery,” Meschery told the reporter. “It was a pretty setting, with courtyards in front of the camp.

“We were lucky, I guess,” Meschery continued, “because there was no suffering in our camp. There were 300 of us there, seven or eight to a large room. We were fed well.

“It was like a game to me. I wasn’t any quiz kid who could grasp what was going on from the time I was three until I celebrated my eighth birthday in the United States.

“When the war was drawing to a close, my sister Ann and I used to climb a ledge in front of a window. We would look out to watch the bombings. Frankly, I didn’t know who the good guys or bad guys were.”

Meschery remembered, “It just seemed like a fascinating game, watching dogfights in the sky and planes being hit. You have to understand that a kid at the age I just wasn’t aware of war’s horrors.”

The ballplayer recalled that there were only three other small children in the internment came besides himself and his sister, a year older.

“About the best friend I had was the son of the camp director,” Meschery said. “We played together all the time. Up until five years ago, I corresponded with him and used to send him packages. Then he sent me a letter which let me know he was doing rather well and wouldn’t need any more help.”

Besides his native Russian, Meschery picked up French and English while interred. His mother taught him French and a British missionary gave him his first schooling, teaching him English.

After the war, Meschery and his family were classified as displaced persons and encountered months of frustration trying to rejoin his father in America.

“First we were taken to a hospital in Tokyo,” he said. “From there we went by plane to Okinawa, then to Formosa, the Philippines, Hawaii—and finally San Francisco.

“They ran a picture in the newspapers of my father being reunited with us. I still have it.”

Meschery led the NBA twice (1961-2, 1965-66) in games played and appeared in the 1962-63 All-Star Game. Following his playing days he was head coach for the Carolina Cougars in the ABA 1971-72, and assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA, 1974-76.

The globetrotting Meschery appeared on three mainstream basketball cards during his playing days: 1961-62 Fleer, and 1969-70 and 1970-71 Topps.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Updating Flags of the World Iran card

My recent creation and blog posting about an Isis flag card in the style of the 1956 Topps Flags of the World set generated a lot of comment . . . as it was intended to do. I really hoped, however, that more readers would understand that the card was political commentary in the same way that bubblegum cards sometimes were in the 1930s-1950s.

I've now undertaken to update the Iran flag card that originally appeared in the Topps Flags issue.

Those who didn't understand my Isis card probably won't "get" my Iran card, either. Tough.

This card expresses my outrage at the Obama administration's deal that will allow Iran to achieve offensive nuclear capability sooner, rather than later, while continuing to fund terrorism worldwide. The lame duck president has attempted to justify his Nobel peace prize at the peril of our greatest ally in the Mideast, if not of the USA itself.

As a kid I was a big fan of the Flags set, and as an adult I painstakingly pieced together the set in nice EX-MT or better condition. Along with my TV Westerns, World on Wheels and Space sets, my Flags cards are likely to remain part of my core collection for as long as I'm above ground.

Early in my days of creating custom cards, I had concluded that adding new cards in the Flags format was beyond my abilities. But as my experience in card-making has progressed, I'm happy to find that I can do a creditable job of recreating the feel of the issue.

There may be a few more Flags customs in the future.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Browsing around the lot. No. 1

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. When a former colleague of mine did similar columns, he called it "browsing around the lot." hence my title.

* * *

I enjoy watching early 1960s contemporary movies with their nostalgic cars and period d├ęcor.

The other night I was watching – believe it or not for the first time – the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, when I noticed in one Manhattan street scene a dark green box van in the background with “Rogers Peet / Makers of Fine Clothes” painted on the side.

Rogers Peet, a quality men’s haberdashery, operated from 1874 into the 1980s and produced a set of multi-sport cards in 1929-1930.

* * * 

At spring training with the Dodgers in Vero Beach on March 26, 1949, Sam Jethroe was unofficially clocked at 6.1 seconds in the 60-yard dash. That time tied the world’s record, and he had done it in full uniform and baseball spikes.

By comparison, Rickey Henderson ran the 60 in 6.4 seconds.

The current record for the outdoor 60-yard dash seems to be 5.99 sec.

* * * 

While playing with Independence in the Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League in 1949, Mickey Mantle hit an inside-the-park home run on Aug. 28 when his long fly ball hit the outfielder on the top of the head, knocking him unconscious.

The hapless fielder was Bill Hornsby, son of Rogers Hornsby. The younger Hornsby played five seasons of minor league ball, virtually all of it in Class C and D leagues.

* * * 

In 1962 Cincinnati Reds pitcher Bill Henry became the first full-time pitcher to pitch in more games (40) than innings pitched (37.1). The lefty relief pitcher was 4-2 that season.

Today, of course, in the era of specialty set-up men and closers, such a ratio is common.

After four years in the Red Sox’ rotation, 1952-55, Henry returned to the major leagues as a National League reliever with the Cubs (1958-59), Reds (1960-65), Giants (1965-68), Pirates (1968) and Astros (1969), starting just two games in those 12 years.

His lifetime record is 46-50 with an ERA of 3.26.

* * * 

To start the 1949 season, the Leavenworth Braves (Class C, Western Association) lost what was believed to have been an Organized Baseball record of 22 straight games.

On July 19 of the same year, they topped that with a second major losing streak of 23 games.

Not surprisingly, other than manager Bill Cronin, there were no former or future major leaguers on the team. That was the last team to represent Leavenworth in Organized Baseball.

* * *

Larry Doby, who integrated the American League with the Cleveland Indians in 1947, is also credited with integrating the American Basketball League.  

On Dec. 30, 1947, he signed a contract with his hometown Paterson (N.J.) Crescents (sometimes called the Panthers). The team finished second in the league that season.

* * *

Among the most common of the 1887-1890 Old Judge cigarette cards are those of Arthur Irwin. He can be found on at least 13 different photo/team variations.

Irwin is credited by some with inventing the infielder’s glove.

He played, managed and coached in the major and minor leagues from 1880 through 1921.

On July 16, 1921, while on the S.S. Calvin Austin en route from New York to Boston he fell, jumped or was pushed overboard. His body was never recovered.

* * *

Ben Chapman, was a four-time All-Star, had a World’s Series ring, was once banned from Organized Baseball for a year for slugging an umpire and is often accused of being the loudest and most bigoted of Jackie Robinson’s detractors in 1947.

He was also an ambidextrous bowler. In 1945-46 he had a 180 average bowling right-handed and a 165 average as a leftie. Chapman owned a bowling center (they were called bowling allies back then) in Montgomery, Ala.

* * *
Myril Hoag had unimaginably small feet for a ballplayer. Despite standing 5’11” and weighing 180 lbs., he was reported by some sources to have worn a size 4 shoe on his right foot, 4-1/2 on the left. A photo in the Aug. 3, 1944, Sporting News showed Hoag comparing shoe sizes with a teammate and said Hoag wore a 5-1/2 or his right foot and 4-1/2 on his left.

During his big season with Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League in 1930, when he hit .337 with 17 homeruns, he was being scouted by many major league teams. One remarked, “How can you tell your club to pay $35,000 for a guy wearing a lady’s size shoe?”

The Yankees took a chance and in 1931 Hoag began a 13-year career in the American League.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Vincent Black Shadow added to World on Wheels

In the closing years of the 1960s, I rode a motorcycle, Wisconsin weather permitting. In my circle of associates from the neighborhood and at McDonalds, where I worked throughout high school, it was the preferred mode of transportation.

I rode a Yamaha 250. John Kurzynski had a Honda 160, Davey Kuhn had a Bugatti, Sputzie Steinke had a Suzuki 250. Crazy Roger had a Triumph. There wasn't a Harley to be seen among us for several more years.

In fact, it wasn't the Harley that was our dream bike of choice; we all aspired to a Vincent Black Shadow. We only knew of that English classic by reputation, none of us had ever seen one on the streets of Fond du Lac, Wis. I don't believe I've ever seen one on the ground, even now.

Technologically advanced, hand-assembled, expensive and with fewer than 1,700 bikes produced between 1948-53, the Vincent Black Shadow was everything a bad-ass motorcycle should be. The bike got its name from its striking appearance; everything that wasn't chrome was painted in stove-enamel black. Its reputation came from it status as the fastest production motorcycle of its day . . . and for years beyond.

The Black Shadow had a 55 hp, 998 cc V-twin engine and a 4-speed transmission. It sported an oversize speedometer that registered to 150 mph. It could make a pretty good run at pinning that needle, but actually topped out at about 125 mph.

With a sticker price of about $1,700 (in Great Britain), the Vincent Black Shadow was about 25% more expensive than an Indian or Harley Davidson. I could no more afford a Black Shadow today (even if I could still ride a motorcycle) than I could in 1969. In England, a nice original Vincent sells for around $25,000, while a restored bike can bring $50,000 or more. That's Jay Leno territory.

My latest World on Wheels custom card pays tribute to the legendary Vincent Black Shadow and the dreams of a Wisconsin kid 45 years ago.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

My century-old family baseball heirloom

My family of my parents generation were not collectors. I suppose it was the result of coming into adulthood during the Depression.

Having been in the hobby publishing business from 1974-2010, I came to believe that a person either was born with the collecting gene or would have no interest.

It must be a recessive gene, since I'm the only one of six siblings that did more than dabble in coins, baseball cards, etc.

Thus I was never disappointed that there was nothing to pass down to my hands from earlier generations.

I was therefore surprised and delighted some 25 years ago when my Aunt Corrine handed me an eminently collectible baseball postcard that she had found while consolidating her household in preparation for moving into an apartment.

It was even more meaningful because the postcard had been mailed in 1910 to  Theo. Freund in Malone, Wis. Freund was my mother's surname. I'm unsure how Theo was related to my grandfather, possibly a cousin. 

Actually, I know nothing of Theo Freund, and anybody in the family who would know has passed.

My dad told me once that he believed Theo Freund to have been "slow" and that he liked baseball, the latter of which probably accounts for the subject matter on the front of the post card.

In 1910 he was living in Malone, Wis., in the area east of Lake Winnebago in Fond du Lac County known as "The Holyland." That fits what I know of my grandfather's relatives a century ago.

Nor do I know anything about the post card's sender, John Bassel (if I'm reading his signature correctly), in Chicago at the time. Bassel's mention of "Uncle Jake Polzean" (more likely Polzin), also draws a blank.

The whole of the message to Theo Freund is:

Chicago, Nov. 19-10
Hello. Theo.
Received you(sic) postal some time ago. How is every body getting along. Where is Uncle Jake Polzean. Let me know where he is at. Am getting along fine. Hope to hear from you.
Good Bye. John Bassel.
3824 Drake Ave.

A Google map search shows that address to be a three-story, hip-roofed residence that may well have been a boarding house in 1910. The house is little more than a block north of Waveland Ave., not too many blocks east of Wrigley Field.

Wrigley, of course, wasn't around in 1910, the Cubs played their home game at West Side Park, about three miles south and west of Wrigley.

I like to think that Bassel picked up this post card while attending the World Series against the Philadelphia A's. Maybe he was there for Game 5, when Mordecai Brown defeated Chief Bender 4-3 for the Cubs' only win of the Series.

The 5-1/2" x 4" divided-back post card was published by Burke and Atwell, which firm produced a similar card for the 1910 A's. It was locally printed by F.J. Lupp.

A couple of examples have appeared on the market in recent years, and sales indicate a value in the $300-500 range.

Despite the fact that I'm in a divestment mode right now, selling the last of my life-long collection of baseball cards and collectibles, I believe I'll keep this post card.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

My third Civil War News custom: sharpshooters

I've just completed my third custom card in the format of Topps 1962 Civil War News.

You can see my previous creations in my blog entries of July 11 and Aug, 3. On Dec. 18, 2014, I detailed the background of my interest in Civil War history and collectibles. On Dec. 20, I presented by Rails and Sails customs of the U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia.

I'm finding the creation of Civil War News-style cards to be a welcome palate cleanser from my usual work in baseball and football cards. Doing the research for my CWN card backs reminds me how into "The First War for Southern Independence" I was during the Centennial.

It was no different in working up this latest custom card.

The inspiration was a photo I found on line of Dale Gallon's 1994 paining "Breechloaders and Greencoats".

His painting depicts soldiers of the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters engaging the enemy at Gettysburg. Technically, my card describes action by a Vermont company of the 1st regiment, but I'll claim artistic license.

As a Civil War buff from Wisconsin, I was aware that the 1st USSS had a company of Wisconsin volunteers, so I was vaguely familiar with the history of the units formed by Col. Hiram Berdan shortly after the commencement of hostilities in 1861.

Berdan himself is an interesting historical figure. He was an accomplished inventor and a champion marksmen. He also knew how to navigate the muddy waters of Washington, D.C. wartime politics.

To get approval for his concept of units comprised of the finest marksmen in the Union, armed with the finest long-range rifles, Berdan invited President Lincoln to his training grounds outside the Capital and gave the president the opportunity to test fire the Sharps breechloader. That tableau would make a wonderful subject for Gallon or one of the other Civil War artists now working. It would also make a great Civil War News card.

In doing my research I read tales of the sharpshooters' prowess with the rapid-firing Model 1859 Sharps, including reported kills at 1,000 or 1,500 yards. 

To be accepted as a volunteer in Berdan's unit, a soldier had to place 10 out of 10 shots into a 10-inch target at 200 yards from his choice of firing position. He also had to put 10 out of 10 shots into a five-inch target at 100 yards, firing off-hand,

At the beginning of the war, members of the sharpshooters were invited to bring their own weapons on the promise -- fulfilled only sporadically -- of a $60 allowance from the army. When the impossible logistics of supplying ammunition for a wide variety of rifles became apparent the troops were first provided with Colt five-shot revolving rifles. These were, in turn, replaced by a specialized version of the .52 caliber Sharps rifle -- to the great relief of the sharpshooters.

While the soldiers carried the Sharps into battle, they were usually followed by a wagon carrying state of the art target rifles, some weighing as much as 30 pounds, equipped with telescopic sights.

"A Good Shot" by Dale Gallon.

Gallon has done another painting of Berdan's sharpshooters employing such a long-range weapon. It's titled "A Good Shot".

If you like my Civil War News custom cards, I'm sure you'd enjoy seeing more of Dale Gallon's art. You can find his web site at: Dale Gallon's website . When I finally get to Gettysburg, I'm going to make it a point to visit Gallon's studio there.

As I've said before, because the front of my card is basically lifted wholesale from Gallon's painting, I won't be offering examples for sale. 

At this point I don't have any further Civil War News customs on the drawing board, but that could change at any time.