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. 

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