Saturday, April 30, 2016

Ray Sadecki's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

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 headline on the article in the June 16, 1962 issue of The Sporting News was an eye-catcher, reading . . . 

Cards Calm Again After
Sadecki Sad-Sack Show

Written by St. Louis baseball beat writer Neal Russo, the lead was, “Ray Sadecki, bombed, blasted fined and suspended, all within 24 hours, returned to the good graces of the Cardinals, June 7, after a long conference with General Manager Bing Devine and Manager Johnny Keane.”

Russo continued, “Keane, usually a soft-spoken man ripped into Sadecki verbally and then plastered him with a $250 fine after the lefthander was raked for five quick runs in a relief role during the Cardinals’ come-from-behind 10 to 9 victory over the Reds, June 5."

The Cardinals' manager was quoted, "It was the poorest exhibition I’ve ever seen on a major league diamond. Everybody else has been going all out to win and he goofs off.

"We didn’t put him in there to take a beating," Keane continued. "We put him in there to win a ball game. We were losing only by 4 to 1 at the time. If Ray was pouting because he was put in as middle relief, he’ll have to learn differently. We’ve even done it with Bob Gibson."

Russo speculated that Sadecki “undoubtedly avoided a stiffer fine” because the Cardinals won the game.

Sadecki was already in Cardinals management’s doghouse because he had held out in spring training after winning 14 games in 1961.

Russo went on to detail Sadecki's travails in the June 7 game, “Bob Purkey, the Cincy pitcher who came into the game with three hits in 41 times at bat, belted Sadecki’s first pitch for a home run. Then Eddie Kasko singled to left. Marty Keough bunted to the left of the mound. Sadecki made a swipe at the ball and missed for an error.

“Next Don Zimmer hit a bouncer toward the mound. Sadecki fielded the ball and threw it into center field in attempting a force play at second. Kasko came home on the two-base error. Frank Robinson followed with a three-run homer and Keane trotted out to remove Sadecki before eventually leading him to the woodshed."

Sadecki lamented to the press, “I pitched lousy and I don’t mind being chewed out, but he (Keane) had no cause for slamming my effort. I never heard of a fine for pitching bad. How about Purkey? He blew an eight-run lead.”
“The 21-year-old lefthander, after brooding over the bawling out and the fine, announced the next morning that he wanted to be traded," Russo wrote. When he failed to report for the Cardinals’ game that night, he was suspended by Devine. The G.M. said he would not trade the southpaw.

Devine convened a meeting away from Busch Stadium between Sadecki and Keane on June 7. After what was termed a “long conference,” Devine announced, “Manager Keane and Ray Sadecki discussed their problems and resolved their differences. As a result, Sadecki’s suspension was lifted and he will be in uniform for tonight’s game.”

Sadecki had been incorrect stating Bob Purkey had blown an eight-run lead. He was up by only five in the bottom of the 9th, 4-9, when he gave up three more Cardinals runs. Reliever Ted Wills had given up the tying runs on three singles, a pair of wild pitches and a Ken Boyer home run.

The score remained knotted until the bottom of the 11th when Stan Musial hit a walk-off home run.

Purkey was doubly fortunate in the June 5 loss. He was not charged with the loss, thus preserving his '62 season record at 9-1 (he'd go on to win his next four starts). And he hit his first home run of the year off Sadecki. He'd been batting .073 going into the game.

Sadecki's come-to-Jesus meeting with Cardinals management seemed to have a positive effect on his pitching -- initially. In his next two games, June 9 and June 15, he had complete-games wins over the San Francisco Giants. Then, after losing in Philadelphia June 24, he shut out the Cubs at Wrigley on June 27.

July was not kind to Sadecki, though. He lost four of his five decisions, his only win for the month coming in relief. On July 31 he was sent down to Atlanta. At the time he had a 6-8 record and team-worst 5.56 ERA. 

Manager Keane told Sadecki he was being sent to AAA because the staff was going from six to four starters and he didn't want Sadecki ;anguishing the bullpen.

"I didn't give up on this year," Sadecki told reporters, "but I guess the club gave up on me. Maybe I haven't pitched so well this year, but I haven't pitched much either." Asked whether his June blow-up was the reason for his demotion, Sadecki said, "I won't say that it did."

Sadecki won his first four decisions for the Atlanta Crackers, on the way to a 7-1 record and 2.55 ERA.

Sadecki's 6-8 record for St. Louis in 1962 was his first losing mark since coming up to the Cardinals in 1959. Back with the big club in 1963, he was 10-10. In 1964 he won 20 games. Sadecki pitched in the major leagues for 18 years with the Cards (1959-66, 1975), Giants (1966-69), Mets (1970-74, 1977), Braves (1975), Royals (1975-76) and Brewers (1976). He has a lifetime record of 135-131 with a 3.78 ERA.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Pirates '50s phenom gets 1952 Topps custom

In my reading of early 1950s microfilm of The Sporting News I learned a great deal about baseball's first $100,000  bonus baby, Paul Pettit, who signed out of high school with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1950.

Arm injuries early in his career -- some sources say even before he ever pitched an inning in pro ball -- derailed what had been projected to be a great future.

On March 17 on this blog I presented my 1956-Topps style fantasy card of Pettit later in his career as a position player with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League.

My new 1952 Topps-style custom card imagines what Pettit's Topps rookie card might have looked like.

For as big a splash as Pettit made going from high school superstar to the pro game, there are not all that many photos of him readily available in a Pirates uniform; certainly none in color. I colorized a pitching-pose photo and it seemed to fit in well with the horizontal format used for some Topps cards in 1952.

The stats box on back is not what I would ideally like to have there. Certain pitching statistics such as runs allowed and strikeouts for his three minor league stops were beyond my ability to hunt them down. I would have preferred the stat box to have lines for his 1951 cup of coffee with Piittsburgh and for his cumulative 1950-51 minor league numbers.

As it is, I'm not unhappy with how this custom card -- my 12th in the 1952 Topps style -- turned out.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

'52 Topps veteran Perkowski passes at 93

The fifth oldest man on the list of surviving players who appeared in the 1952 Topps set, Harry Perkowski, died April 20 at the age of 93. Perkowski's death brings the total of surviving players who appeared in the 1952 Topps baseball card set to 45.

Perkowski pitched at the major league level in 1947 and 1949-55, all but the final season with the Cincinnati Reds. He played in 1955 for the Chicago Cubs. His lifetime record was 33-40 with a 4.37 ERA.

Early in his career, Perkowski was a proficient hitter. He batted .333 in 1949 and hit .318 in 1950, making 16 pinch-hitter appearances that year. 

Here's the current list of living players from '52 Topps.

PLAYER                     1952 TOPPS   BIRTH
                        `           CARD NO.      DATE

Wally Westlake           38                    11/08/1920
Eddie Robinson           32                    12/15/1920
Sam Mele                    94                    01/21/1922
Gil Coan                      91                    05/18/1922
Red Schoendienst       91                    02/02/1923
Solly Hemus                196                  04/17/1923
Bob Kuzava                 85                    05/28/1923
Ed Fitz Gerald             236                  05/21/1924
Turk Lown                   330                  05/30/1924
Charlie Silvera             168                  10/13/1924
Irv Noren                     40                    11/29/1924
Wayne Terwilliger         7                      06/27/1925
Bobby Shantz              219                  09/26/1925
Bob Addis                    259                  11/06/1925
Ned Garver                 212                  12/25/1925
Ralph Branca              274                  01/06/1926
Bob Borkowski            328                  01/27/1926
Randy Jackson           322                  02/10/1926
Howie Judson             169                  02/16/1926
Bob Miller                    187                  06/16/1926
Bobby Morgan             355                  06/29/1926
Johnny Groth              25                    07/23/1926
Roy Sievers                 64                    11/18/1926
Carl Erskine                250                  12/13/1926
Carl Scheib                 116                  01/01/1927
Charlie Maxwell           180                  04/08/1927
Cloyd Boyer                280                  09/01/1927
Bob Kelly                     348                  10/04/1927
Tommy Brown             281                  12/06/1927
Dick Gernert                343                  09/28/1928
Joe Presko                  220                  10/07/1928
Bob Ross                    298                  11/02/1928
Joe DeMaestri             286                  12/09/1928
Curt Simmons             203                  05/19/1929
Ted Lepcio                  335                  07/28/1929
Ike Delock                   329                  11/11/1929
Del Crandall                162                  03/05/1930
Vern Law                     81                    03/12/1930
Johnny Antonelli          140                  04/12/1930
Dick Groat                   369                  11/04/1930
Bob Friend                  233                  11/24/1930
Willie Mays                  261                  05/06/1931
Tony Bartirome           332                  05/09/1932
Dick Brodowski           404                  07/26/1932
Bobby Del Greco         353                  04/07/1933

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Wilcy Moore . . . who do you believe?

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.

It is not infrequently that I read something in a back issue of The Sporting News that piques my curiosity and seems like it might be something you'd enjoy on my blog, but that doesn't agree with the "official" record. By and large I accept as being the "official" record . . . it is certainly the most comprehensive source I know of for baseball facts and figures.

Such a dichotomy presented today concerning Wilcy Moore, an important part of the World Champion 1927 N.Y. Yankees. Moore is considered the first in a long line of relief pitchers who contributed to the Yankees' winning ways over the past 90+ years.

His story was introduced to me in the Aug. 25, 1962, Sporting News "Over the Fence" column by Dan Daniel, long-time New York sports writer who is said to have published more words in The Sporting News than any other contributor.

Daniel was writing about great Yankees relievers and started his column with Wilcy Moore's story.

As Daniel told it, Moore had labored for many years in baseball's bushes before he had a big season with Greenville of the Class B South Atlantic League in 1926, winning 32 games.

However, because he was 33 years old, Greenville owner Dan Michaelove could get no interest from big league clubs in purchasing Moore. Daniel said Michaelove had to "beg" Yankees general manager Ed Barrow to buy Moore's contract for 1927 at $3,000 if Moore was still with the Yankees on Opening Day.

Daniel wrote of Moore, "He had hands as big as hams. His thumbs were twice the ordinary size. He was strong and he was hungry. He had been knocking around for many years. He had a good fast ball, very tricky and a deadly sinker."

Moore appeared in 50 games in 1927, for what Daniel characterized as "the greatest of all Yankee clubs." He had a 19-7 record including six complete-game starts. He led the major leagues with a 2.28 ERA. 

"Moore never had seen much money," Daniel wrote, "He never got more than $2,500 for a season in the minors."

Daniel said that Moore received  $5,000 salary from New York in 1927, and cashed a World Series winners' share check for $5,782. 

Moore decided to use his windfall to build a barn on his cotton farm near Hollis, Okla. During construction, Moore fell off the roof and injured his shoulder. "He failed off badly thereafter," Daniel concluded his account.

Moore spent the next two seasons with New York. He had a 10-8 record on an ERA in excess of 4.15. Following the 1929 season, he was traded to St. Paul in the American Association. With the Saints in 1930, Moore rebounded with a 22-9 record and was taken by the Boston Red Sox in the post-season Rule 5 draft.

In a season and a half with the BoSox, Moore was 15-23 but in 1931 led the AL for the third time in saves (8). On Aug. 1, the Yankees reacquired Moore from Boston in a trade. He went 2-0 for the remainder of the season and helped the Yankees to another World Championship by winning Game 4 of the sweep over the Chicago Cubs. Moore had come on in relief in the bottom of the 1st inning after the Cubs had taken a 4-1 lead.

Moore was 5-6 for the Yankees in 1933, his last year in the majors. He pitched seven more seasons in the high minors before retiring at the alleged age of 43. 

I say "alleged" age because while the site gives that as Moore's age, Daniel, in his 1962 column, wrote that Moore had actually been born in 1894, not 1897. That's just one of the contradictions between Daniel's column and the "record."

Another significant difference is Moore's win total for the 1926 season. Daniel says 32, baseball-reference says 30. 

A baseball bio written by Fred Glueckstein for the Society for American Baseball Research points up other differences from Daniel's account. For instance, the SABR bio claims the Yankees pad $3,500 for his contract; Daniel said $3,000. Daniel said Moore was paid $5,000 salary for 1927, Glueckstein says the figure was $3,000. 

Linked here is the SABR bio: Wilcy Moore bio.

My dilemma remains . . . which source should I rely upon in my blogging (and my custom card making)? Are contemporary accounts in TSN more accurate than latter-day compilations? Daniel penned his column only a few months after Wilcy Moore's death, and presumably knew him from his days covering the Yankees in the 1920s-1930s.

My general rule of thumb is to trust what is presented by though I will have to reserve the right to occasionally go with other sources.

Moore's baseball card legacy
Wilcy Moore's major league career spanned the years 1927-1933. As such, he preceded the days of the first great bubblegum card craze. While I suppose he may have been included in some of the more obscure regional card/memorabilia sets in his day, none come immediately to mind.

That all changed in the mid-1970s when collectors' issue baseball cards began to proliferate from such companies as TCMA. As a key member of the 1927 Yankees, Moore was included in many such sets; post-career cards of the first great Yankees' reliever -- such as those that ilustrate this entry -- are thus readily available.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Jim McCarnes, this Wheaties custom is for you

An item in the Nov. 18, 1944, Sporting News column "In a Minor Key" had a tidbit that caught my eye. The column offered bits and pieces about minor leaguers around the country.

One of them read, "Outfielder James (Wheatie) McCarnes, Jr., Atlanta Crackers, acquired his nickname by saving baseball pictures from cereal boxes."

I'm not aware of any other ballplayers whose nickname stemmed from his baseball card collecting interest.

The mention of McCarnes being with the Atlanta Crackers is a bit of a mystery. His page on does not show him ever playing with the Crax. In fact, McCarnes isn't shown with any team in Organized Baseball prior to 1946. 

That doesn't mean he wasn't at least on the roster of the Atlanta Southern Association club in 1944 or 1945. Those were war years and players were scarce, so the 19- or 20-year-old McCarnes may have had a trial with Atlanta.

McCarnes was born in 1925 around Albemarle, N.C. In 1940 he was the right fielder on the Stanly County (N.C.) team that won the American Legion Junior National Championship.
James "Wheatie" McCarnes played on the 1940 American

Legion Junior World Championship team.

The record shows McCarnes got his start in pro ball in 1946, at age 21, with Waycross in the Class D Georgia-Florida League. His ,336 batting average was tops in the circuit for any player in 90+ games and he was named to the All-Star team.

In 1947 McCarnes appears to have been picked up by the N.Y. Yankees organization. He split the season between Class C Joplin, where he hit .303, and Class B Quincy (.107).

McCarnes had his best season, stats-wise in 1948 with Longview in the Class C Lone Star League, batting .305 with 11 home runs. He never had more than two homers in any other season. He was again named to the league All-Star team.

In 1949 "Wheatie" played in 11 games at the Yankees' Class A team at Binghamtom (.241), and in five games at Double-A Beaumont, where he was 1-for-2 at bat. That appears to have ended his professional baseball career.

McCarnes died in an auto wreck in 1964, at the age of 38.

Now, about that custom card . . .
Off and on during my days with Sports Collectors Digest and the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards I entertained the notion of collecting Wheaties box-back cards of the 1930s.

I never got around to starting such a collection, but I admired their variety of sizes, art deco designs and the star power of the players that appeared.

Some time ago I found a posed action photo of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Sammy Baugh during his one season (1938) with the St. Louis Cardinals AAA teams at Columbus and Rochester.

I was struck by the similarity of the pose to some of the Wheaties cards of the era. The result of pairing that photo with an original Wheaties card of Arky Vaughan is as you see it here.

I cheated a bit chronologically in working up my custom. The design I used was not from 1938, but rather from Wheaties Series 6 6-1/4" x 8-1/4" box-back issue of 1937, "How to Star in Baseball". Given the complexity of Wheaties designs in the late 1930s, I doubt that any but the most die-hard of Wheaties collectors would notice the deception.

There probably won't be many, if any, further Wheaties-style cards from my custom studio, but I did enjoy the process of making this one.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Custom baseball card of Sammy Baugh

One of the greatest nicknames in NFL history was that of Slingin’ Sammy Baugh, the TCU All-American, Hall of Fame Washington Redskins quarterback and arguably the best all-around pro football player of the 20th Century.

Most fans and collectors, however, don’t know that the nickname was given to him by a Texas sportswriter in tribute to his ability to throw a baseball, rather than a football.

Baugh was All-Southwestern Conference third baseman at Texas Christian in 1936-37.

In the summer of 1937, between graduation and reporting to the Washington Redskins, Baugh took a job at a Pampa, Tex., lumberyard owned by the mayor and played semi-pro baseball for the Pampa Oilers.

The team went to the prestigious Denver Post Tournament where they met the best semi-pro teams in the country.

At the tournament, Baugh was scouted and signed by Ray Doan of the St. Louis Cardinals, to report to spring training in 1938.

As a rookie quarterback, Baugh’s Redskins defeated the Chicago Bears for the NFL Championship in 1937.

Following the title game, the Redskins and Bears embarked on a post-season barnstorming tour. In the last game of the exhibition tour, Baugh separated his throwing (right) shoulder, but was good to go when he reported to Cardinals’ manager Frankie Frisch at St. Petersburg for spring training in 1938.

He said that if he made good in the major leagues he’d give up football. While he was a terrific drawing card in the exhibition season, Baugh was farmed out to the Cardinals’ American Association team at Columbus when the season started. Early on in spring training he was being projected as the St. Louis Cardinals opening day third baseman, but as his baseball weaknesses began to show, the team decided to convert him to a shortstop and sent him down.

Writing in the Dec. 17, 1942, Sporting News, Merrell Whittlesey of the Washington Post, recalled, “His lack of experience, weak hitting and his bad shoulder left him too much of a risk for the Cardinals to carry him into the regular season.”

Columbus installed Baugh at shortstop. For the first two weeks of the season Baugh led the Red Bird hitters, then opposing pitchers began to curve him and throw change-ups. He lost his starting spot.

After a month with Columbus, Baugh was traded to Rochester of the International League in a five-player deal between the Cardinals’ AA clubs.  With the Red Wings, Baugh found himself playing backup to future MVP and perennial All-Star Marty Marion.

Whittlesey said of Baugh, “His fielding was fair and his arm was good in throws across the diamond.” Baugh hit only .183 with Rochester, bringing his season’s average down to .200, with little power (two doubles, a triple and a home run among his 26 hits).

In August he left the team to report to the Redskins.

Baugh was assigned to Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League for the 1939 season, but the Cardinals’ organization said he would not be allowed to leave Aug. 1 to join the Redskins, so he opted to end his professional baseball career.

The rest is football history.

It's not surprising that there are no career-contemporary baseball cards of Baugh. He played only a single season of pro ball and never got into an official major league game.

There are, however, a decent number of black-and-white 1938 spring training photos of Baugh in the uniform of the St. Louis Cardinals. One of those was so compelling that I recently decided to stretch my usual custom-card "rules" to create a 1940 Play Ball-style card of Baugh. 

It would have been less of a stretch to work in the format of 1939 Play Ball, but that design is just so . . . plain.

I'm currently working on another Sammy Baugh baseball card. It, too, is a bit of an anachronism, but it provides a good excuse to expand my repertoire. Watch this space for future developments.  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Little Leaguer's cap cost Bolling home run

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.

Decades before Steve Bartman's spectacular case of fan interference in a rare  Chicago Cubs post-season appearance, a similar situation made headlines in Milwaukee.

I’ll present here what Bob Wolf, sports columnist for the Milwaukee Journal, wrote in The Sporting News issue of July 28, 1962, under the headline . . .

Post’s ‘Ghost’ Catch Takes
“HR’ Away From Bolling
          Everything happens to the Braves. At least that’s what Birdie Tebbetts and his struggling athletes were beginning to think in the light of a freakish play in the second game of the double-header with the Reds here July 15. It was the weirdest in a long line of weird incidents which have marked this trying season for Milwaukee’s sixth-place club.
           The Braves won the first game, 5-0, and held a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning of the second when Frank Bolling hit a long drive to left field. Wally Post leaped against the wall and for an instant it appeared that he had caught the ball, but he came down without it. Bolling paused at second until he made sure that Post didn’t have the ball then continued around the bases for what he thought was a home run. But suddenly Umpire Ed Sudol called him out, declaring that a fan had interfered with Post’s attempt to make the catch.
             There were many versions as to what happened to the ball, but the most reliable came from spectators in the left field bleachers. They recounted the strange occurrence as follows:
              A boy about eight years old caught the ball in his cap, another boy, identified as Gary Murray, 11, of Beloit, Wis., grabbed the ball out of the cap and took it home with him.

Ball ‘Disappeared’ in Boy’s Cap
            The first boy, who presumably was one of 3,500 Little Leaguers who were guests of the management and paraded past home plate between games, was walking along the bleacher rail between the 360 and 392-foot signs on the left field wall. When he saw the ball from Bolling’s bat heading toward him, he pinned his cap to the railing by the visor and let it hang over the railing into fair territory.
            The ball landed in the boy’s cap just as Post leaped against the wall. If Post felt the ball in his glove, as he insisted he did, he also left the boy’s cap.
            What apparently happened was that Post’s glove came up under the cap and knocked the ball over the railing, then the ball plopped into the hands of young Murray. But the younger boy, described by witnesses as “a little tike” in a black sweatshirt, had disappeared with his magic cap.
            Post, still trying to figure out what had become of the ball, said, “I felt the ball in my glove as I leaned against the wall and then it wasn’t there.”
            Sudol said, I ran out from second base and called the batter out because I saw a fan lean over the railing of the bleachers and I thought the fan had caught the ball.”
            What would have happened if the small boy had stayed in his seat? There were conflicting opinions on that point, too, but the few adult witnesses in the first row of the bleachers agreed that Post would have had a good chance to catch the ball.  Bolling, then, either would have had an extra-base hit or would have been out anyway.

            As it turned out, the play may have cost the Braves the game. The Reds rallied for two runs in the ninth to beat them, 3-2.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Custom '55T for Reds barrier-buster Escalera

For most major league teams, naming the first "black" to play in a regular-season game for them is straight forward: Dodgers -- Jackie Robinson, Indians -- Larry Doby, Yankees -- Elston Howard, etc.

For the Cincinnati Redlegs of 1954, however, there is some disagreement. Many sources cite Nino Escalera; others say it was Chuck Harmon.

The controversy seems to center around whether Escalera, a dark-skinned Puerto Rican, was "black enough." Harmon was an Indiana-born African-American.

Many of those who want to collect a baseball card of each team's first black performer would prefer that Harmon be credited with that distinction; he appeared in the 1954 Topps set (and 1955-58). Escalera never appeared on a Topps card.

In fact, of the pair, Escalera was the first to appear in a game for Cincinnati -- by a couple of minutes.

In the 1954 season opener, Escalera came to bat in the top of the seventh inning at Milwaukee, pinch-hitting in the eighth spot for catcher Andy Seminick, with the Redlegs behind 1-5. He singled off Lou Burdette.

Harmon followed Escalera to the plate, pinch-hitting for starting pitcher Corky Valentine. Harmon popped out to first.

Neither Escalera nor Harmon stayed in defensively.

Escalera didn't have any Topps or Bowman cards. He has a card in the team-issued postcard series, a portrait photo that I adapted for use on my custom card. Prior to coming to the majors, Escalera was included in the Toleteros sets of Puerto Rican winter league players in 1948-49, 1949-50 and 1950-51.

Most collectors who want a card of Escalera acquire one from the set of One-Year Winners issued by Larry Fritsch Cards in 1977.

Escalera played sandlot ball in his hometown of Santurce, Puerto Rico. In 1946 he was named, at age 16, the MVP of the Amateur Baseball World Series in Colombia. He began playing professionally the next season with the San Juan Senators in the P.R. League.

He played winter ball in Puerto Rico for nearly two decades, 16 seasons with San Juan, and a final year with Caguas.

He entered Organized Baseball in 1949 with Bristol in the Class B Colonial League. He hit .347 and returned to Bristol to start the 1950 season. He was batting .389 in July, when he was purchased by the N.Y. Yankees. 

The Yankees sent Escalera to Amsterdam in the Canadian-American League (Class C) where he finished the season batting .337. 

For 1951 Escalera was moved up to Class A ball at Muskegon (Mich.). He batted .374, second-best in the league, a handful of percentage points behind teammate Jim Greengrass. Escalera also got into 20 games that season with the Yankees AAA farm club at Syracuse, batting .274.

With the major league Yankees still a couple of years away from integration, Escalera was sold in January, 1952, to the Toledo Mud Hens, a Class AAA (American Association) farm of the Chicago White Sox. Following the June 11 game, the team went on a road trip . . . from which they never returned; the franchise was moved to Charleston, West Virginia, to complete the season. In July, Escalera was sold to the Cincinnati Redlegs for delivery the following season. He end 1952 batting .249.

Escalera went to spring training with Cincinnati in 1953, but manager Rogers Hornsby sent him down to Tulsa in the AA Texas League. He hit .305 there. punching his ticket for another spring training with the big club. Also in 1953, Escalera appeared in six games with Class AAA Indianapolis, but I haven't been able to find stats for that stint.

Escalera's versatility earned him his spot on the Redlegs' roster. Besides pinch-hitting more than 30 times and being used as a pinch-runner nearly as often, Escalera played all three outfield positions, first base and even at shortstop.

Escalera's turn as perhaps the last of the left-handed big-league shortstops came in the bottom of the 8th inning when Cincinnati manager Birdie Tebbetts sent him in for shortstop Roy McMillan at St. Louis. The Redlegs had a 4-2 lead when Stan Musial came to the plate with two out and Red Schoendienst on first. Instead of taking the usual infield position of a shortstop, Escalera was placed in the shallow outfield between right and center in a shift Tebbetts hoped would keep Musial from becoming the tying run. He needn't have bothered, Art Fowler struck out Musial to end the inning. When the Redlegs took the field in the bottom of the 9th, Rocky Bridges had replaced Escalera at short. The Redlegs went on to win 4-2.

For all his versatility, Escalera wasn't able to hit his weight and after 73 games with Cincinnati in 1954, his major league days were over.

He spent the next four seasons with Cincinnati's AAA team, the Havana Sugar Kings, of the International League. After the 1958 season he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates and spent three years at AAA with them in Columbus. His last year in organized ball was with Rochester in 1962.

Escalera remained active in the Puerto Rican League for a number of years and served as a scout for the N,Y, Mets and S,F. Giants. As this is written, he lives in retirement in Puerto Rico at age 86.

Veteran collectors of vintage Topps cards might think it incongruous that I chose the red background for my 1955-style custom card. All but one of the original '55T Redlegs cards used the yellow background. The lone exception was Bud Podbielan, whose color scheme I adopted for my Escalera card.

On back you'll see that I opted to use Escalera's 1954 figures for both the Year and Life stats. My preference would have been to use his 1954 Redlegs stats for "YEAR," and cumulative minor league numbers for "LIFE." Runs and RBI stats for his early minor league years are hard to come by, however, and I draw a complete blank for his six games at Indianapolis in 1953. 

Though my card is unofficial, at least collectors who champion Nino Escalera as Cincinnati's first black player now have another alternative.

Now . . . we need to sort out whether Carlos Bernier (1953) or Curt Roberts (1954) broke the color barrier for the Pirates. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Rookie turned his debut game around

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.

Today, let’s look at a rookie’s debut day that started off badly but turned around.

On July 11, 1962, the last-place Washington Senators traded Dale Long to the Yankees for outfielder Don Lock, then on the roster of Richmond in the International League. Lock had spent four and a half seasons in the Yankees' organization without ever making it to the big club.

He made his major league debut in the first game of a July 17 twi-night double-header against the White Sox in Chicago.

Through the first six innings, Lock’s debut was highly forgettable. He struck out in his first  two at-bats against Juan Pizarro in the second and fourth innings.

In the bottom of the sixth he called for a pop fly to short left field but the ball dropped in front of him for a fluke double by Joe Cunningham.

Lock then redeemed himself in the top of the seventh inning when his first hit in the major leagues was a home run that gave the Senators and Dave Stenhouse a 1-0 victory over Pizarro and the White Sox.

Lock went on to an eight-year major league career with the Senators (1962-66), Phillies (1967-69) and Red Sox (1969). He appeared in Topps baseball card issues every year from 1963 through 1969.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Airstream custom World on Wheels card

My latest custom non-sports card in the 1954-55 Topps World on Wheels genre pairs my passion for that card set with my fascination with Airstream travel trailers, particularly the mid-century models.

I'm a Fifties guy, so these mirror-finish aluminum trailers really strike a chord with me.

I actually owned an Airstream for about a year a decade or so ago. If I recall the specs correctly, it was a 27' 1967 International Land Yacht.

It was purchased on eBay for $1,500. My wife and I planned to plant it in the yard of our place in Wisconsin and use it for a home office, guest bedroom, etc.

We had grand plans to restore it to its original glory, but like about 95% of those who buy Airstreams with such intentions, it didn't get done.

We did have a friend rewire the 120-volt electrical system so the air conditioning could be used, and my wife reupholstered the front couch and made new curtains in a retro parakeet fabric. 

She used the trailer that summer as a place to have an early morning cup of coffee while watching her horses in the adjacent field. I used it as a place to spread out and sort the nearly one million sports cards I bought from Krause Publications when I left their employ in 2006. It is a blessing to have space to work on your hobby activities without having to pack up and put away everything the next time the kitchen table is needed at mealtime.

We were overmatched, though, when it came to restoring the exterior finish. Like all Airstreams, the aluminum skin oxidized over time and our amateur attempts to bring back the gloss were unavailing.

I sold it after about a year for $2,500. My wife still reads the Airstream ads on various internet sites, but I doubt we'll ever again take the plunge. If we do, it will definitely not be a project trailer.

Creating this custom card reconnected me briefly, but enjoyably, with the world of vintage Airstream trailers. That satisfied the urge for the time being.