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.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Stange paced bowling ballplayers in '63 tourney

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.

As major league baseball expanded in the early 1960s, there was a scramble among spring training sites in Arizona and Florida to attract the teams. This was above and beyond the regular jockeying between cities to try to steal a club away from its current spring home.

With a lot of tourist dollars as the prize, as well as the considerable spending by the teams themselves to house and feed several hundred ballplayers, prospective sites were often creative in their presentations to attract or keep teams. 

High-visibility events that showcased a town's attractions were popular in that era. Golf, bowling and fishing tournaments for the players were often part of the spring scene.

In Tampa, Florida, beginning in 1962, city fathers organized an annual Major League BaseBowl Championship tournament. This was right up the alley of a lot of ballplayers, as for a time in the 1950s, investing in bowling centers had become particularly popular among them. Players such as Gil Hodges, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra and Nellie Fox owned and sometimes operated bowling alleys in the off-season.

The second annual major league bowling tournament was held in Tampa March 18, 1963, at East Gate Lanes, and covered in-depth by The Sporting News.

The tournament was sponsored by the city of Tampa, AMF pinspotters and Major League Bowling  and Recreation, Inc., owners of the bowling center where the meet was held.

There were three divisions in the competition: 1) Active major league players, 2) “officials,” which included managers, coaches, umpires and other baseball men, and, 3) press.
AMF provided first-, second- and third-place trophies in each division. The Florida State Development Commission awarded a trophy to the ballclub with the three highest scoring players. The Sporting News Trophy went to the player with the highest single game.

A cash prize pool of $2,000 were offered in the current-players division with first-place money of $500 and paying down 10 places to $50. An additional $25 was paid to the player on each team with the highest score. The officials and press division competitors rolled for a $200 first prize, with five places paying down to $25.

The format of the competition had the bowlers in each division roll two games. The two high scorers in each division then had a one-game match to determine first and second places.

There was no public admission to the tournament. It was felt that open doors would create a problem with crowd control in the confines of the bowling center. Tampa newspaperman Bob Smith said, “the players enjoyed the free and easy camaraderie of their privacy.”

One of the early favorites to win the $500 players’ top money was Minnesota Twins pitcher Jack Kralick, who had rolled a 300 game that winter to go along with his 1962 no-hitter.

Kralick lost out, however, to moundmate Lee Stange. Stange threw a 227 game to win the top-game prize. Stange’s other game was 224. His 451 two-game series put him into the tournament finals with Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect Marv Fodor, who had scored a 410. In the roll-off, Stange defeated Fodor 170-156.

Second-place money for Fodor was $350. Third place was won by Bob Johnson of the Orioles, who pocketed $225 with a first-round total of 405 for the two games. Phillies outfielder Billy Klaus came in fourth with a 396 to win $175.

The “B” division was won by Whitey Wietelmann, then coaching in the Reds’ farm system with San Diego. His 213 game bested Tigers coach Phil Cavarretta’s 167.

The press division was won by Stan Hochman of the Philadelphia Daily News over Ed Haver of the Clearwater Sun, 178 to 164 in the deciding roll-off.

In an article in the March 30 Sporting News, Stange described himself as “strictly a fill-in bowler” during the baseball season, managing to get in a few games in a Friday night league when the Twins were in town. His average in that league was 196.

Tampa writer Bob Smith analyzed the final roll-off, “The Twins’ pitcher used a smooth swing with a big follow-through to stroke his ball into the pocket.”

Smith wrote of the runner-up, “Fodor threw a hard ball that swept the pins back fast, but left him with two frustrating splits that put him behind early in the game. The Reds’ rookie put on a great finish, getting two strikes in the ninth and tenth frames and appeared in the running until Stange posted a strike at the start of the tenth frame and finished with a spare.”

Barney Kremenko, baseball writer for the New York Journal-American, was in charge of recruiting bowlers for the tourney. He rounded up 153 entrants, who each bowled two games in the preliminary round, with the two highest scores in each division going into a roll-off in front of the television cameras.

The Cincinnati Reds were the best-represented team in the “A” division for current major league players, with 25 bowlers. The Mets had 14 bowlers, the Phillies 13.  There were nine each of Tigers and Cardinals, six White Sox, five Twins and four Orioles.

The Minnesota Twins won the Florida State Development Commission trophy as the team with the three highest-scoring players. Besides Stange’s 451, Don Mincher rolled a 370 and Joe Bonikowski a 347, for 1,168. They narrowly edged the Reds’ trio of Fodor (410), Marty Keough (374) and Harry Bright (366), whose total was 1,150.

Commentary for the local television broadcast of the finals was furnished by national championship bowler Dick Weber, who had bowled an exhibition during the tournament, and New York Yankees television broadcaster Jerry Coleman.

Stange was able to convert his Tampa tournament win into an off-season contract with the Brunswick bowling company to do a promotional tour of Minnesota, Iowa and the Dakotas.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

'64-style custom caps Brosnan's career

I recently finished rereading Jim Brosnan's diary-style baseball books, The Long Season and Pennant Race. The former detailed his 1959 season, the year  he was traded from the Cardinals to the Reds. The latter was his account of the Cincinnati Reds' pennant-winning season of 1961.

I first read the books in the very early 1980s. In 1982 I sent Brosnan an autograph-request letter, briefly detailing my enjoyment of the books.

He responded with a note that I framed up with a couple of his cards, including the autographed 1963 Topps card I had sent. The note read: "Dear Bob Lemke -- Thanks for the kind words about The Long Season and Pennant Race. You read the books the way I wrote them! Jim Brosnan."

More than 30 years after I'd first read Brosnan's books, with many of those years having been spent in the baseball card publications business, I found them eminently entertaining. His accounts of clubhouse and on-field interactions with teammates and opponents really brought to life for me the guys on the baseball cards of the era that I had collected as a kid and recollected as an adult.

While baseball's bigwigs considered Brosnan's books to be something of a betrayal of the clubhouse code, there is very little about any other player or manager that put them in a negative light. Brosnan even bowdlerized their language in quotes; there isn't any word stronger than "hell" or "goddamn" to be found.

Some of Brosnan's own words are not politically correct by today's standards. He often refers to women as "broads" or "chicks."

And the PC police would surely censure him for quoting teammate Marshall Bridges in Southern, perhaps even Southern Negro, dialect. 

The impetus to reread the books came from my review of microfilm of The Sporting News issues of 1964. In the early issues that season, the paper detailed Brosnan's contract dispute with the Chicago White Sox.

Pitching for the White Sox in 1963, Brosnan had been paid $30,000. On the basis of a 3-8 record out of the bullpen in 1963 (though with a decent ERA of 2.84), for 1964, the team cut his contract the maximum allowable 20%, to $24,000.

When Brosnan balked at the new salary and held out, Ed Short, White Sox general manager, said, “We have a lot of young pitchers and we want to give them every opportunity to make the club." When those young pitchers faded in spring training, the White Sox still refused to deal with Brosnan and added Don Mossi to their bullpen.

The real crux of the contract dispute, however, was the team's demand that Brosnan neither write nor publish any baseball books or articles during the upcoming season. Brosnan reasoned such a restriction was doubly onerous; besides impinging on his rights as an author, the team was preventing him from earning back the money that had been cut from his contract.

Brosnan tried to pressure the White Sox to back off its in-season writing ban by enlisting the aid of the Illinois American Civil Liberties Union Freedom of Communications Committee. The ACLU’s John E. Coons wrote to White Sox owner-president Arthur Allyn appealing Brosnan’s case in a missive filled with baseball jargon. Allyn called it “balderdash” and consigned it to the wastebasket.

In the March 7, 1964, issue of TSN, Brosnan ran an ad offering his pitching services.

There were no takers and in the May 30 issue, The Saturday Evening Post took out an ad in TSN touting its forthcoming issue featuring an article by Brosnan. The ad read . . . 

"Why can’t pitcher Jim Brosnan get a job in Baseball?

The word “blacklist” horrifies the organization men in baseball. Call it, then a remarkable coincidence that since the White Sox canned pitcher Jim Brosnan, was back in February, not one other club in either league has done business with him.

Neither owners nor managers seem to question his competence on the mound. What they question is his irreverent view of the National Pastime, and the disturbing facility with words that has made him an author. Put them together, and he’s poison to the Front Office.

For a concrete example of Jim Brosnan’s kind of baseball heresy, read “Businessmen Are Wrecking Baseball” in this week’s Saturday Evening Post.

From now on the Editors of The Post may have to buy their baseball tickets under assumed names—but you have a box seat at one of baseball’ most celebrated hassles. Get the May 30 Post today—and have a ball."

With no real pitching prospects for the upcoming season, Brosnan was hired in April as a weekend radio broadcaster for ABC. He did two five-minute spots every Saturday and Sunday.

For an excellent review of Brosnan's life, career and the place his baseball writing had in American sports literature, I can recommend the obituary penned by Bruce Weber in the July 4, 2014, issue of the New York Times. Jim Brosnan obit .

Brosnan had a nice run of career-contemporary baseball cards beginning with a 1955 Bowman rookie card and including Topps issues from 1957-63, along with many team-issued and regional cards and memorabilia.

He never made it on a card as a member of the Chicago White Sox, however. Since it was virtually Opening Day before it became apparent that Brosnan wouldn't be pitching for the White Sox, it would not have been out of the question for Topps to have included him in his new uniform in the 1964 set.

My tribute to Brosnan is a '64T-style custom card. 

I was only able to find a single color photo of Brosnan with the White Sox. It's a decent, but not a great, photo; it's a bit too low-resolution. However, it worked up into a card that I don't feel would be out of place in a stack of original 1964 Topps.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Drabowsky's disastrous AL debut

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.

After pitching for six and a half years in the National League, Moe Drabowsky came to the American League on Aug. 13, 1962, purchased by the Kansas City Athletics from the Cincinnati Reds.

Drabowsky (born Miroslav Drabowski in Poland in 1935), had been a bonus baby, signed by the Chicago Cubs in July, 1956, for a sum variously reported as $40,000-80,000.

With Chicago for five seasons he pitched with only moderate success, with a 32-41 record, before being traded to the Braves prior to the opening of the 1961 season. Milwaukee used him as a reliever and he was 0-2 after the first week of June, when he was sent down to AAA.

In the off-season, Cincinnati selected Drabowsky in the Rule 5 minor league draft. When he was 2-6 as a combination starter and reliever the Reds accepted a cash offer from the A's for Drabowsky.

American League teams teed off on Drabowsky from the get-go. I don't know if it's any kind of record, but in 28 innings over the rest of the season, Drabowsky was touched for eight home runs.

His AL debut on Aug. 18 in K.C. wasn't all that bad. He pitched in both games of a doubleheader against the Yankees. In the first game he held New York hitless in the 7th and 8th innings to help preserve a 5-4 win.  Called upon in the 5th inning of Game 2, with the A;s ahead 6-5, he gave up a home run to Clete Boyer to tie the score, being charged with a blown save in the 11-7 loss.

On Aug. 22, Drabowsky was the winning pitcher against the Boston Red Sox, 4-2, though in 7.1 innings he have up a pair of solo home runs, to Ed Bressoud and Gary Geiger.

The wheels really came off in his next appearance on Aug. 28 when he started against the L.A. Angels. With a 4-1 lead, he opened the top of the 4th inning by giving up back-to-back-to-back jacks to Lee Thomas, Leon Wagner and Buck Rodgers. Wags went deep on him again in the 6th. Drabowsky was pulled from the game and tagged with the 10-5 loss.

In his final six games for the A's in September, Drabowsky gave up just one home run, a three-run shot to Frank Malzone in a 12-4 loss at Boston.

Not surprisingly, the A's sent Drabowsky down to AAA Portland to start the 1963 season. When he was 5-1 with a 2.13 ERA, he was called back up to Kansas City in mid-June. By then, however, he had missed various Topps deadlines and he didn't have a baseball card in 1963.

Taking advantage of the new shoulder-to-knee strike zone, Drabowsky was able to hang around the major leagues for another 10 years, with the A's (through 1965), the Orioles (1966-68, 1970), the Royals (1969-70), the Cardinals (1971-72) and the White Sox (1972).

When the 1962 season closed, Drabowsky had given up a home run for every 3.5 innings pitched in the AL. For the season combined, his home run ratio was one per 5.29 IP. Overall, in his 17-season major league career, Drabowsky's averaged a home run surrendered every 9.02 innings.

Drabowky's lifetime big-league record was 88-105 with a 3.71 ERA. The highlight of his career came when he started Game 1 of the 1966 World Series, striking out 11 Dodgers in a 5-2 win to start the Orioles' four-game sweep of Los Angeles. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Custom card for war hero Brian Stann

(UPDATE: A reader correctly informs me that the player photo I used on my original Brian Stann card (shown below) is not Stann; that midshipman is Eric Kettani. I've updated my card, as shown above.)

Ten years ago I made a 1955 Topps All-American style custom football card for former Sun Devil Pat Tillman. The honor (such as it is) was posthumous, following Tillman's death by friendly fire in Afghanistan.

I've now made a custom card for a living American war hero, Brian Stann.

Not being a follower of mixed martial arts fighting, I had never heard of Stann prior to seeing a feature about him on a preseason college football program. 

As I watched the story of this remarkable man, I knew a '55-style custom card was now at the top of my to-do list. 

It wasn't on the basis of his football career at Navy. Nor even because he was a bona fide combat hero of the Iraq War. The card certainly didn't result from Stann's success in the MMA ring and cage. The tipping point was Stann's on-going efforts for veterans as president and CEO of  Hire Heroes USA.

To learn for yourself why I've made a card of Stann, a good start can be had at his web site: .

Monday, November 9, 2015

Rodgers so good he gets two All-American customs

Did you ever wonder why NFL players doing their in-game "talking head" introductions on TV once in a while cite their high school, rather than their college, affiliation?

Is it because they hated their college coach and/or give greater credit to their high school coach for their success? Is it because they were dismissed from college? I suppose if you asked the players you'd get a myriad of reasons.

Aaron Rodgers sometimes introduces himself in those features as being from "Butte Community College," rather than the University of California. He has said that he does so because it was with Butte that he won his first football championship, in the NorCal Conference of the California Community College Athletic Association.

In recognition of his junior college success prior to starring for the Golden Bears at UC-Berkeley and embarking on a Hall of Fame career with the Green Bay Packers, I've created a second Aaron Rodgers custom card in the style of the 1955 Topps All-American college football set. Some years back I did a Rodgers '55AA custom with California.

This is only the second time I've done two '55AA customs for a player with two different colleges. Years ago I created different cards of Troy Aikman with Oklahoma and with UCLA, although those cards share a card number and back.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

My 100,000-mile milestone

On a quiet country road early on a recent morning, on my way to my retirement office, the odometer on my 2002 PT Cruiser turned to 100,000 miles.

These days, I guess that's not such a big deal. My daughter had a 1990-something Chevrolet Cavalier that had more than 260,000 miles before it was traded last winter.  With the advances made in automotive technology in recent decades, 300,000 miles is the new 100,000 miles.

This isn't the first car I've owned when it turned 100,000 miles. Thirty years ago I had a 1975 Cadillac Fleetwood that hit that milestone as I was pulling up to a local tavern. Coincidentally, the tavern was the same one that I once backed into with the Caddy as I was parallel parking . . . the sidewalk was very narrow and the Cadillac was very long. I'll mention that I hit the bar as I was going in, rather than coming out.

I had not owned the Fleetwood for all of its life, however. I bought it when it was 10 years old and had something like 60,000 miles on it. I don't remember how long I owned the Caddy after hitting 100,000 miles. I believe I sold it or traded it in in 1986 when I bought the first of a succession of custom vans.

The Cruiser, on the other hand, I have been the sole owner of these past 13+ years. I personally was behind the wheel for virtually all of its 100,000 miles.

I was an early fan of the PT Cruiser when it was introduced in 2001. I liked it's retro styling (my younger brother called it a "baby hearse").  In fact, my current Cruiser was the second I'd owned. In the car's inaugural year I bought a basic black example. Surprisingly, my wife suggested we should have 1950's style hot rod flames added; it really dressed up the car. My own personal touch was the addition of a decal of the Harvey Comics cartoon devil "Hot Stuff" on the rear hatch.

We had the black PT until late 2009 when we traded it in on a Dodge soccer-mom van more conducive to long-distance travel we were making by then between out seasonal homes in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The dealership immediately stripped off the flame decals before putting it on the lot. You can't account for taste.

By the summer of 2002 I was one year into recovery and rehabilitation of a devastating staph infection that had ravaged my right ankle. At the time I was still working and my daily driver was another 10-year-old Cadillac, a 1992 four-door Seville. 

I required a walker to get from my parking space to the office, where I used an electric wheelchair to get around. Getting in and, especially out, of the Seville was a serious challenge due to the low seat height. The PT Cruiser, on the other hand, has a seat height that was quite accommodating to my decreased flexibility.

Once again my wife was the agent of change. She came home one day in August and told me she'd seen a gold PT Cruiser on the lot of the nearby Mopar dealer. The next day we were in the showroom signing the papers on a 2002 Dream Cruiser, a limited edition of 1,500 with exclusive "Inca Gold" paint color.

To create something of a matched pair, I took the gold Cruiser to the same auto detailing shop that had applied the flames to the black car. They still had the template for the flames used on my black 2001, so I had them added to the new car. In place of the Hot Stuff decal on back, I had them add the figure of "Sparky," the mascot of the Arizona State Sun Devils, at the time one of my favorite college football teams.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, the decal material that was applied to my gold Cruiser was of inferior quality. Within six or eight years the flames had faded so badly I had them removed. Doubly unfortunate was that all areas of the flames that had been dark red had some sort of bad interaction with the Inca Gold paint and their removal left very striking bleached areas on the car. I had to have the hood, front fenders and both doors repainted to the tune of about $800 to restore the original finish.

I've been meticulous about maintenance of my Cruiser -- with the exception that I no longer buy into Big Oil's big lie that you should change oil every 3,000 miles.

I wouldn't be surprised if I'm still behind the wheel when my gold PT Cruiser turns 200,000 miles. I have not found many newer cars that have the seat height I like and the pedal clearance I need to accommodate the oversize boot I have to wear on my deformed right foot. 

My only major complaint with this car after 13 years and 100,000 miles is the gas mileage. For a relatively small auto, the gas consumption seems excessive; typically 22-25 mpg per tank in basically suburban driving,

For some years now, a photo of my gold PT Cruiser has been my icon on several of the hobby forums in which I participate. On the Collector's Universe forum, my user name is "AUPT". I don't expect t have to change those identifiers for some time to come.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Custom '52T for Hall of Famer Sharman

Bill Sharman is a double-inductee to the basketball Hall of Fame, as a player (Washington Capitals 1950-51, Boston Celtics 1951-52 through 1960-61) in 1976 and as a coach in 2004.

You can read about Sharman's basketball career elsewhere on the internet. Here're a few of the highlights . . . 

Four-year player on USC Trojans after service in U.S. Navy during WWII. First team All-American in 1949-50.

Second round 1950 draft pick of Washington Capitols. Played there 1950-51. Selected by Ft. Wayne Pistons in dispersal draft 1951, traded to Celtics. Played 10 seasons with Boston 1951-52 through 1960-61.

Led the NBA in free-throw percentage seven seasons.

Played in eight consecutive NBA All-Star Games, 1952-53 through 1960-61.

Coached the Cleveland Pipers to American Basketball League championship in the league's only full season, 1961-62. Coached San Francisco Warriors 1966-67 and 1967-68. Coached Los Angeles Stars in the American Basketball League 1968-69 and 1969-70. Coached the Utah Stars to ABA Championship 1970-71. Coached L.A. Lakers to NBA Championship 1971-72.

Continued as Lakers coach through 1975-76 when he became the general manager through 1982.

Named to NBA 25th Anniversary All-Time Team, 1971. 

Named one of the 50 Greatest NBA Players in 1996.

Early in his professional career, Sharman had thoughts of being a two-sport major leaguer. He signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers for a bonus variously reported as $15,000-30,000 in 1950 and played five seasons in the Dodgers' minor league system. 

In 1950 he split time between two of Brooklyn's Class A farm teams, Pueblo and Elmira, hitting .288 with a dozen home runs.

After spending the 1951 season with AA Ft. Worth in the Texas League, batting .286 with eight home runs. Sharman was called up by Brooklyn in September. 

Manager Chuck Dressen intended to have Sharman spell the regular outfielders, particularly Duke Snider in center field, in the late stages of the pennant race and the expected run-up to the World Series.

However, things didn't go as planned for the team or for Sharman. 

When Sharman arrived in Brooklyn about Sept. 20, the Dodgers had surrendered most of what had been a 13-game lead in the National League as late as Aug. 11, and were in deep decline. Brooklyn was up by four games on Sept. 21; a week later they were tied with the Giants. Dressen needed to keep his regular players in the lineup and Sharman never got into a game.

In 1971 he recalled, "I was dying to get into a game . . . in the outfield, as pinch-hitter, anything. And five times, I almost did. Charlie Dressen called on me to pinch hit five times, But strange things kept happening. Before I could get up to the plate, somebody'd hit into a double play and end the inning, or somebody'd get picked off a base." 

It is part of baseball lore that while Sharman never got into a major league game, he did get thrown out of one. 

With tension running high and the Dodgers clinging to a one-game lead on Sept. 27 in Boston, a controversy erupted at home plate in the bottom of the eighth inning when Bob Addis scored on a fielder's choice to break a 3-3 tie. The resultant rhubarb precipitated the ejection of Roy Campanella and coach Cookie Lavagetto.  

When Sid Gordon grounded into a double play that would have ended the inning if the play at the plate had been called in Brooklyn's favor, the Dodgers' bench laid into home plate umpire Frank Dascoli once again. 

Dascoli ordered the Brooklyn bench cleared and the players were shepherded to clubhouse.

Technically, however, Sharman and the other Dodgers were not thrown out of the game; they were merely removed from the field. Wayne Terwilliger was called from the clubhouse in the top of the ninth to pinch-hit and theoretically, any of the other exiled Bums could have been brought into the game.

Brooklyn lost the game 4-3, cutting its lead to half-a-game and eventually leading to Bobby Thomson's dramatic walk-off home run to give the Giants the NL pennant in the one-game playoff on Oct. 3.

Sharman played the entire 1952 season at St Paul in Class AAA, where he hit a career-high .294 with 16 home runs.

He dropped to AA ball in 1953 with Mobile, hitting just .211 with 5 HR.

With his basketball career in full swing in 1954, Sharman decided not to play baseball. He later said that he felt year-round pro sports was putting too much of a strain on his legs and with seemingly little chance of making a go of it in major league baseball, he would concentrate on basketball.

He did return for one more minor league season in 1955, when the Dodgers placed him back at AAA St. Paul, where he hit .292 with 11 home runs.

While researching Sharman's baseball career for the back write-up on my 1952 Topps-style custom card, I ran into another bit of what I believe is unfounded lore related to Sharman's baseball career.

In several spots on the internet, it has been stated that Sharman was the first baseman on the USC 1948 team that defeated George H.W. Bush's Yale squad in the first-ever College Baseball World Series.

My admittedly cursory study of the official USC athletic sites and a few other places failed to turn up any confirmation of that claim. He's not listed on the Trojans roster before 1949 and the official team photo of the 1948 college championship team does not include Sharman.

Since he never played major league baseball, it's not surprising that Bill Sharman did not appear on any baseball cards. During his career as an NBA player, Sharman was on a pair of mainstream basketball cards, the 1957-58 Topps set and the 1951 Berk Ross multi-sport issue. By the time Fleer came out with its basketball set in 1961, Sharman was coaching. Sharman appears on a couple of dozen basketball cards issued since the 1990s.

When I originally conceived the idea of doing a 1952 Topps-style baseball card of Bill Sharman, I envisioned a horizontal-format card, based on one of the better contemporary photos of him in a Dodgers' uniform.

I later found what I consider to be a superior photo, and fortunately, it als lent itself to the horizontal format.