Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Baseball snubbed Bobo's funeral

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.

While reading early 1963 issues of The Sporting News the other day, I found an item that baffles me.

I've been reading microfilm of TSN for nearly 10 years. I've completed the 1940s, the first half of the 1950s and the first few years of the 1960s. 

It has been my sense that throughout that period itinerant pitcher Louis  "Bobo" Newsom was a well-known, well-liked "character" in professional ball.

There weren't many issues in which you wouldn't find Newsom's name in connection with salary wrangle or a trade rumor. Perhaps he had been a favorite of the sporting weekly's editors or was oft-cited by the beat writers because he provided color to their columns.

What I read in the Jan. 5, 1963, issue of TSN, however, gives me pause to think that my assessment of Newsom's popularity has not been well-founded. 

In his Bob Addie's Atoms" column, Washington baseball writer Bob Addie reported just a month after Newsom had died on Dec. 7, 1962, that the only "baseball man to attend Bobo Newsom's funeral in Orlando was former teammate Sid Hudson."

Addie added, "And, incidentally, Newsom, who won 211 victories in his career, belongs in the Hall of Fame. He was colorful and he was courageous on that mound."

I don't think anybody today would stump for Bobo for the Hall of Fame. In 20 major league seasons between 1929-53, Newsom had a major league record of 211-222 and an ERA of 3.98.

Though he was a four-time All-Star, he led his league four times in losses. He sometimes also led in games started (4X) and completed (2X), as well as innings pitched, batters faced and other indicators of durability. 

No doubt, if he hadn't usually been pitching for second-division teams, Newsom's won-loss record would be much rosier.

Newsom came to the majors in just his second season in pro ball, at age 21 in 1929. Here's the summary of his major league travels:
  • 1929 Brooklyn Robins
  • 1930 Brooklyn Robins
  • 1932 Chicago Cubs
  • 1934 St. Louis Browns
  • 1935 St. Louis Browns
  •          Washington Senators
  • 1936 Washington Senators
  • 1937 Washington Senators
  •          Boston Red Sox
  • 1938 St. Louis Browns
  • 1939 St. Louis Browns
  •          Detroit Tigers
  • 1940 Detroit Tigers
  • 1941 Detroit Tigers
  • 1942 Washington Senators
  •          Brooklyn Dodgers
  • 1943 Brooklyn Dodgers
  •          St. Louis Browns
  •          Washington Senators
  • 1944 Philadelphia A's
  • 1945 Philadelphia A's
  • 1946 Philadelphia A's
  •          Washington Senators
  • 1947 Washington Senators
  •          New York Yankees (He won a World Series ring.)
  • 1948 New York Giants
  • 1952 Washington Senators
  • 1953 Philadelphia A's

Prior to, and in among, those major league stops, Newsom played in nine minor league seasons:
  • 1928 Greenville
  •          Raleigh
  • 1929 Macon
  • 1930 Macon
  •          Jersey City
  • 1931 Little Rock
  • 1932 Albany
  •          Reading
  • 1933 Los Angeles
  • 1949 Chattanooga
  • 1950 Chattanooga
  • 1951 Chattanooga

His minor league record was 131-106 on a 4.13 ERA.

My best wild-ass guess in that in all his travels, Newsom had 1,000 or so teammates and dozens of owners, managers, general managers, coaches, etc. In the Baltimore Orioles' inaugural AL season of 1954, Newsom hosted the team's Blue Ribbon (bread, not beer) Knot-Hole Club for kids and the pre-game television broadcasts.

You can read a good career bio of Newsom written by Ralph Berger for SABR at Bobo Newsom . The tone of that biography leaves me all the more puzzled about the lack of baseball's representation at his funeral.

For his 25+ years in pro ball, much of it in the heydays of bubblegum cards, Newsom was under-represented, at least so far as mainstream baseball cards.

His first issues were in 1936, when he appeared in Goudey's game-card set. That year he was also included in Goudey's "Wide Pen" and National Chicle's "Fine Pen" premiums.

In 1939 he was again in a Goudey premium set (R303-A). In the Gum Inc. 1941 Double Play set he is paired on a card with Tigers teammate Hank Greenberg.

His next card was in the Topps 1953 set. This is a memorable card from my childhood. While Topps (and Bowman) had a sprinkling of "old guys" in their card wars years of the early 1950s, most of the white-haired gents were managers or coaches, but the '53T recognizes Bobo as "Pitcher".

The real stumbling blocks to putting together a Bobo Newsom player set are cards on which he appears in 1954 and 1955 in the Esskay hot dogs Baltimore Orioles team sets. Even in typical wretched condition, those rare regionals can set you back several hundred dollars.

Besides baseball "cards" Newsom was included in a handful of team-issue photo pack issues such as 1948 Giants and 1940s-1950s Philadelphia A's.

In both 1960 and 1961, Newsom was included in Fleer's "Baseball Greats" issues. Since 1981, he can be found in eight or ten inexpensive collectors' issues.

Perhaps as I read deeper into the 1960s issues of The Sporting News I'll get a better feel for what, to me, is the mystery of baseball's snub of Bobo Newsom.

Well, that didn't take long . . . 

In his column in the Feb. 2 issue, Addie reported receipt of a "gentle correction" from Tigers coach George Myatt, who also attended Newsom's funeral. Myatt indicated to Addie that there he saw "many baseball people" at the proceedings.

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