Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hollywood always paid better than MLB

I had to look it up to confirm, but I suspected that major motion picture stars make more money than even the top names in major league baseball.

In baseball, Alex Rodriguez is the top earner, at $32 million this season. Another handful of players are in the $20 million+ category. In Hollywood, guys like Adam Sandler, Leonardo DiCaprio and JohnnyDepp haul in $25-50 million+ per picture.

That disparity was even greater in the early 1950s.

For 18 weeks of filming The Jackie Robinson Story in 1950, Robinson was paid a reported $50,000. His salary that year -- the most the Brooklyn Dodgers had ever paid a player -- was $35,000.

On an hourly basis, N.Y. Giants manager Leo Durocher did even better in 1952 for his cameo in Main Street to Broadway.

It was reported for 2-1/2 hours of work, filming one scene. Durocher was paid $5,000. His contract as Giants manager that season was reported to be $50,000.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Public reaction to Williams' 'obscenity'

This concludes our presentation of Sport Life magazine's assualt on Ted Williams in its May, 1951, issue. The series began with our June 24 posting and continued on June 26.

We're running in its entirety the article penned by veteran Boston sports (and baseball card) writer Austen Lake.

The article picks up with reaction to a display of what was termed obscene, or at least vulgar, gestures made by Williams to a booing crowd at Fenway Park.

In at least a nod towards journalistic fairness, the author also reported on Williams' generosity, possibly to the chagrin of the editors who assigned the piece.

by Austen Lake
The ball writers, secretly delighted, unboxed their toy-typewriters and pained Ted as a fungus-growth on baseball, a vulgarian who threatened junior morals and a coarse bumpkin whose posterior should be publicly shingled.

A typical editorial was that which one paper headlined in bold type face, "Keep it clean" and went on to scold, "With public gestures as old as obscenity itself, Ted Williams removed himself from the ranks of all decent sportsmen. There were kids in the stand who idealized him as baseball's greatest hero and who imitate his every action.

If your young son was there are came home making obscene gestures, take it out on Ted Williams. If your young daughter was there and arrived home with somewhat timid questions as to what this gesture and that means, don't suspect her of travelling with lewd company. She saw them directed at her by baseball's so-called Great Man."

It created a considerable civic tizzy until Ted delivered a ho-hum apology by proxy. He, himself, said nothing for direct quotes. But the Sox front office issued a bulletin, saying "Ted is sorry. He obeyed a foolish impulse." But Theodore Samuel went his way wearing his contemptuous manner like a pirate flag nailed to the mast of a buccaneer's ship.

Still, on the next appearance of the Red Sox at home, Fenway Park was jammed to the rafters. Ticket scalpers did a boom business along Jersey Street. And the crowd came in a vast, eager horde, not so much to witness the scientific beauties of baseball, as to watch for more Williams antics and act as his judge, jury and attorney.

Thus, as the most controversial figure in baseball crouched in the little lime-marked circle waiting to take his inaugural cut at the ball, he gave no sign of any tumult which may have raged inside his soul. He flicked his bat, toyed with his toys, fidgeted with his cap and waggled his fluid hips in a way to suggest nonchalance.

As he prepared to march the 30 fateful feet to the batter's box, he knew the crowd would either give him a happy, endorsing holler or a loud, condemning hoot. He knew, too, that once the collective verdict was fixed there would be no appeal, no influence and no revision to alter the attitude of future Boston crowds. As THIS crowd did, so would all succeeding throngs--the brief instant which affected his already tumultuous career.

Did the Whizzeroo hesitate or cringe? Did he glance around with a shy appeal for mercy? He did not! He strutted forward with the posture of a springtime robin. His step was jaunty, his chin level. Yet undoubtedly every fibre of his auditory nerves were centered on the sound which began slowly and swelled to a great crescendo--a curiously mixed noise with a heavy, guttural growl that was gradually drowned in a hearty bellow of welcome which bounced back from the green-painted fences.

Even in the midst of its vitriolic attack on
Ted Williams, the magazine's editors
were forced to concede his generosity,
especially with children.

 It was not, by far, an unanimous cheer. But predominantly it was a vote of confidence even though strong minority undertone persisted beneath the applause.

His critical moment was over, temporarily. For with Ted, it's always a question of removing one critical moment to make way for another, later critical moment. You don't know how, when or why the next one is going to happen. But you KNOW it will!

There is a habitual pattern in the crowd's daily attitude toward Ted at Fenway Park, stemming from the mob's love for inciting any hot-headed party who fizzes up like a bottle of soda pop. The fans usually reserve their goads for foreign, or opposition, athletes like Joe Page of the Yankees or Jimmy Dykes of the Athletics. But Ted is so easily agitated that the home-town crowd can't resist touching a match to his emotional fuse.

Thus the patrons remain respectfully silent or give an apathetic patter of applause when Dom DiMaggio's and Johnny Pesky's names are mentioned by the electric trumpets. But when Ted's name is announced the sound is like the autumn wind moaning through an apple orchard. Still, I have heard visiting ball authors liken it to a barnyard cacophony of duck squawks, mule-brays and hen-cackles.

Usually Ted pretends not to notice, though sometimes he fires back some forensics which would make a longshoreman blush with envy. The "human clothes prop", as he is sometimes termed, or sometimes "flamingo legs" or "spindle shanks", stands in left field calling back insults at his nearest detractors by curving the palm of his glove around the corner of his mouth. And the fans in adjacent areas seem to enjoy being slurred right back, though, for appearances of refinement, they issue howls of indignation.

There are times, too, usually in the early sun-tanning training period of Florida, when Williams peels of his moroseness and hobnobs fraternally with one and all. No snarl curls his lip! No bulge of irritation swells his jaws! He is cordial! He smiles! He chats in his airedale yipp.

At such times the press box begins to speak about the "New Ted Williams." But shucks, it's only the Jekyll and Hyde in his makeup. Next day his happy humor dissolves like the soapy mist of a busted bubble. Like that day when he arrived in his Sarasota Terrace room and found the overworked chamber maid was tardy with her housework. His bed wasn't made. The linen in his bathroom hung limp and moist. Last night's clutter still strewed the floor.

On that instant impulse was born. "Quick," whispered Ted's inner counsel, "Retaliate!" So he snatched up the telephone directory and shredded it into tiny fragments, scattering the flaky bits in a big snowdrift around the room. When the mess was complete and an hour's extra toil was insured for the maid, Ted recovered his good humor. That sort of thing is duplicated hundreds of times, as his whimsy dictates.

One summer morning, recently, Ted was squatting on the slopes of Fenway's grandstand with a high-powered rifle, after using the park pigeons for target practice. He was board with winging the soaring birds. He then spotted the red and green scoreboard lenses which, during gametime, flash the balls and strikes.

Without pausing to meditate, Ted fitted the rifle to his shoulder, drew a marksman's bead on the colored globes and, with the unerring accuracy of a Hopalong Cassidy, he shot out the three green bulbs and the two red ones! It cost the Red Sox $400 to replace the damage to the internal wiring. Which is nothing to what the expense might have been if one of the scoreboard crew had been working inside the little enclosure and had intercepted one of Ted's 30-calibre slugs.

Perhaps the most apt diagnosis of Ted's ailment was made by Dizzy Dean, himself a one-time verbal gymnast and general baseball nuisance. Diz, now a soft-spoken philosopher of television was toasting himself in the humid sunshine of St. Louis, while Ted was doing some laboratory research with his bat, in an effort to find out what ailed him homerun swing. "Jus' like ah wuz ten yeahs ago," murmured Diz, with a sage wag of his head.

In his southern burr, Diz made a curious confession. "Ah thought ah had the world by the tail" he said, "So duz Ted." So I suggested: "Why don't you talk to him?" "Naw," he grunted, "Yuh cain't tell'm nuthin', no more'n you coulda told me. Us kinds guys learn the tough way."

Yes, there was an odd similarity between the two. In that other time Diz's mind also worked at tangents, his ideas leap-frogging each other in mid-flight, so that his recitations were full of challenges and frowns. "They tell me Ted has talk-jags too," said Dean. I said, "Only if he likes you, which is seldom. If he doesn't, he clams up." There is a strong strain of loneliness about Williams that is almost psychopathic in its nature.

His closet chum among the Red Sox is Johnny Orlando, the middle-aged clubhouse steward, errand runner and valet, to whom Ted endorsed his $2,500 World Series check in October, 1946--all of it! Ted, far from being stingy, a trait common among ball players, is an addicted check grabber and has often picked up the tab for a whole roomful of people. Also, he has been most lavish in mailing fat drafts to his mother, who is a West Coast Salvation Army worker, and to his remarried father, who is notoriously loose with a buck in his hands.

Last year a news service carried a nation-wide dispatch quoting Ted's dad as bleating a pitiful tale about being flat as a poorhouse purse. Dad said he was about to lose his little camera shop. He was living in squalor and on the crusts of handouts.

The implication was that Ted, then drawing an estimated $100,000, was a negligent, ungrateful son. Nothing is farther from fact! Williams, Jr., had mailed Willams Sr., a $6,000 check only a year before with the understanding he (Dad) was to restock his shop and devote himself to serious commerce. From unimpeachable sources close to this writer, Ted has given away a large part of the $400,000 he has drawn from baseball, advertising endorsements, radio, sport-show appearances and a hundred what-not ventures. His recent statement, "I can't quit baseball, much as I'd like to spend my life fishing. I need the jack," has the ring of honesty. Money is so much mardi-gras confetti to him.

Yet he has an animal cuteness with certain financial angles. When Hollywood beckoned with a substantial offer for a series on one-reelers, he blurted a flat "No!" He said he didn't want to get into any more high income-tax brackets to "Uncle Whiskers." Besides, he said, it would spoil his winter fishing. He makes a tough product for his personal business manager, Freddy Corcoran, to sell at the agent's commission of 15 per cent. "He kicks an awful lot of money in the teeth," complains Freddy.

It's a long call back to the 1939 March day in Florida when Ted made his first Red Sox appearance as a fresh, brash, impertinent kid, whom the veterans watched with lowering eye-brows. "Betche" he told me then, "In another year I lead the league in batting and homeruns." He did. That was when, in a fit of pique at some now-forgotten antic, Manager Joe Cronin called him a "fresh busher". To which Ted retorted, "Well, I ain't gonna go stale any." He hasn't! Just curdled and turned gradually more rancid.

Sport Life was by no means the only media outlet that demonized Ted Williams in that era. Virtually all of his press detractors had to eat their words, though, following Williams' deployment as a Marine jet fighter pilot in the Korean War. He spent virtually all of the 1952 and 1953 baseball seasons flying combat missions and returned a bona fide decorated war hero.

The honeymoon between Williams and the press/fans didn't last long, however, as all parties reverted to old habits by the mid-1950s.
Writer Austen Lake reported that Ted Williams once shot
out the red and green ball-strike indicator lights on the
Green Monster at Fenway Park.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sport Life assailed Willams as vulgar, unstable

Besides assailing Williams with words,
the editors of Sport Life chose a
particularly unflattering photo to open the
five-page article in the May, 1951, issue.

This presentation continues Boston sports (and baseball card) writer Austen Lake's first-hand assessment of Ted Williams, as presented in the May, 1951, issue of Sport Life magazine.  The first installment appeared on June 24.

by Austen Lake
Ted is an All-American pop-off whose emotional cackles--sometimes amusing, sometimes disgusting--date back to August 10, 1940, when he threw his first public tantrum by demanding he be traded by the Red Sox. That was the day he blew his top to this writer in a mouthful of profane fire-crackers--words that any parent of an adolescent lad would have washed out with laundry soap.

After listening to a quarter-hour of his lava, fire and brimstone I asked, "Is this off the record, Ted?" He vaulted over the grandstand piperails at Fenway Park, snarling as he went, "No! You can print the whole $%&(*@# mess, just like I said it."

That was the beginning. He was twenty-two then! Ten years haven't changed him!

In the intervening years, he has thrown countless wing-dings, latest of which came early in December when, before submerging in Florida's Everglades, he blew off a final gust of verbal halitosis to Miami's newsmen. He would write his own training ticket at Sarasota next March, as his mood of the moment dictated. He didn't owe the baseball public anything! Sure, baseball had been good to him, but he'd been just as good to baseball. The benefits of both sides had cancelled out. Sports writers were a lot of buzzards who feed on other people's flesh.

It was a typical explosion. For Ted is good for at least half a dozen frenzies a year--tantrums which range from charcoal black to churlish brown to tolerant gray to tractable white to amiable rose. He's what newspaper folk call "good ink." Not that he plans it that way! He's just Ted Williams, the reincarnation of Julius Caesar, Napoleon and Kubla Khan all rolled into one.

Question most often asked is, "How long will baseball tolerate Ted's crudities?"

The answer: "Just as long as Ted can field and hit at top major league standard." A fair money value for the tempestuous bat-genius might be $500,000, of which $200,000 is for playing skills and the rest for his eccentric muscle jerks, wind-blown moods, and the mental rubbish he fished up from his cranial frog-pond. That's called "turnstile magnetism."

Example: Several winters ago Boston ball writers, in a curious spasm of quixotic charity, voted to give Ted a token of their affection. They bought him a $350, hand-forged shotgun, a magnificent example of gumsmithery. Then they wired Ted, who was sojourning in the alligator lagoons and tangled wildwood of the Everglades, to be their featured guest at the annual mid-winter food folderol.

Did Ted graciously accept? He did not! He replied tersely that he was too busy potting and hooking the feathered and furry creatures of the jungle. Period! Blackout! So Joe Cronin, the Sox' affable G-M, accepted the expensive gift on Ted's behalf and, the following June, presented it to him in a homeplate ceremony at Fenway Park.

Ted accepted the gun with a churlish bob of his curly head and the incident appeared closed.

But it wasn't! Only a few weeks ago this writer learned the curious denouement to the incident.

Ted, after a bad day at bat, took the gun and jumped into his big convertible auto to keep a dinner engagement at a Dorchester friend's house. He arrived in a deep-purple mood. Brandishing the leather-encased gun he gave a loud baritone description of the @#$%^&+ writers and their {*&^%$# gift. At the top of his foaming, the friend's 13-year-old daughter walked in. Ted pushed the gun at the child and said, "Here! It's yours!" The girl said she didn't want any shotgun. Ted said he didn't want that one either. And there the $350 gun stayed when Ted left.

Typical? Yes! Just as typical as the scores of times he has visited some crippled kid in uncounted hospitals, always making the price of his appearance--anonymity. "Yeh" he agrees, "I'll come. But don't tell those @#$%^& writers. I don't to give 'em any cheap copy." Crippled or sick kids are Williams' weakness. Healthy kids--n'agh! Figure for yourself whether his internal miasma traces to something in his own curdled kidhood.

Here's an incident that makes a carbon copy of Ted's many waspish actions during a season--any season! Last September, during the Sox' last, collapsible tour of the west, a group of Boston news attaches were standing behind the Detroit batting screens while Ted, convalescing from his elbow injury of the All-Star Game, was taking some practice swings to test the newly-healed arm.

He watched a few pitches drift by. "Great day, ain't it, Ted?" chirped the Sox practice catcher. Ted swivelled his goose-neck around and saw the ball-boswells with the tail of an eye. Instantly his cheery grin melted. "Yeh" he snapped, "great day if those @#$%^&+ writers didn't stink it up." He's full of such gratuitous insults.

Again, after the final game of 1949, several of the Boston writers visited the Sox clubhouse to gather final color. "Anything to say Ted," asked a junior reporter. "Yeh" rasped Ted, inhaling a full lungful of air. "I want to say what a no-good *&^(%$#@ bunch of (deletion) you writers are," he said, furling back his tusks like an angry boar.

From adjoining lockers several of the Sox shook their heads ruefully, but stayed tactfully silent. For, though Ted's clubhouse unpopularity is based on his cold amber-eyed glares, his fountains of profanity, his hogging of the limelight, he is still an important personality whom the Sox players treat as a patient spouse might deal with a hysterical helpmeet. For his owner Tom Yawkey's private pet and along Tom's own temperamental kidney.

Article author Austen Lake is a name
familiar to veteran card collectors as
having written the backs of the 1934-1936
Diamond Stars. 

Tom gets a secret kick out of Ted's thumb-to-nose finger-twiddles at Boston fans, his bicarbonated burps at the press, and his crown-prince posturings. So, apparently, does a large portion of Boston's ball public, from the tone of their mail. A multitude of people pay between $1.60 and $3.30 on the trust, if fortune is kind, Williams will fire one of his copyrighted fits before the afternoon is over.

Not that Ted means to sell the stuff. It's just a natural oozing of his internal venom.

Like that day last June when Ted struck out at Fenway Park and was greeted with a locust noise of many tongues bubbling against fat lips--a noise generally identified as the "Bronx cheer." Ted's rabbit ears went crimson with irritation. Impulsively he extended his fingers fanwise, till the tip of a thumb touched his nose. Then he waggled the hand suggestively in an indelicate gesture of backlot-boyhood which is known as an anatomical invitation."

He also made moose-antlers with his hands and twiddled them at his ears. There was a lot more which delicacy forbids to mention lest the postal authorities fine this magazine for sullying the mails.

The unvarnished assault on Ted Williams by Sport Life magazine in its May, 1951, issue, will conclude in this venue on June 28.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ted Williams was Sport Life's target

The May, 1951, issue of Sport Life magazine not
only included a lengthy feature article critical of
Ted Williams, but also took a slap at him on
the editorial page.

I recently bought a small group of early 1950s magazines with baseball covers . . . three Sport and a Sport Life. Besides using the covers and inside photos/art for some of my custom card creations. These old mags made great bathroom reading.

The issue of Sport Life that I bought is dated May, 1951. I'm sure I'd encountered other issues of the magazine in the past. My impression is that it was something of a poor man's Sport. Similar content without the full-page color photos.

I was surprised to find out how virulent "The Big Sports Magazine" was, at least in its May, 1951 issue, in its condemnation of Ted Williams. The magazine was published in New York. The publisher listed on the mast head was Martin Goodman; editor was Brice Jacobs.

Besides, as ballyhooed on the cover, a feature article on Williams, there was an even more vitriolic condemnation on the Sports Fan Fare page up front.

Credited to "the editors of Sport Life," the front piece read, in its entirety:

In these times it is sheer fatuousness to give Ted Williams' utterances, invariably composed with the skill of a television potboiler, and making as much sense, equal billing with the remarks of a Trygve Lie or a George Marshall. (Editor's note: Trygve Lie was the first secretary-general of the United Nations. George Marshall was the founder of the Washington Redskins.)

For a mature man, in years anyway, to fill the air with such inanities about the game that has been so kind and so generous to him since he joined San Diego in 1936, marks Theodore Samuel as an advanced Neanderthal, with the reasoning powers of a backward five-year-old. Williams is concededly a ballplayer of stature, so long as he has a bat in his hand, and two feet poised on the turf next to home plate.

Whether based on a reasoned rancor, or just
trying to boost sales, Sport Life lit into Ted
Williams. The editors even characterized
the smiling fisherman in this photo as
"despondent and morbid."
When he changes his venue during his leisure moments, and especially during the off-season, the baseball public, including millions of kids who unfortunately look upon him as a hero and an idol, are privileged to hear some of the most ludicrous and baseless outpourings since a pompous little man assailed his subjects from a balcony in Rome.

What we don't understand is why Ted Williams continues to play baseball. In this democracy of ours when a man begins to tire of his occupation, or despises him employer, or finds his surroundings making him morbid and despondent, he looks for another trade. Taxi drivers, school teachers, artists, lawyers and grocers have been known to make drastic changes in their pursuit of happiness--so why not an outfielder named Ted Williams?

Williams should be at the height of his tempestuous career right now. He has a splendid war record. He is presumably an adult, with a wife and family to support. One would think Ted would be delighted as Punch to have his health, money and baseball career in this frightening and altogether gruesome era of world history.

Instead, he fumes, pouts, raves, and rants, without purpose or design. He deserves little sympathy, unless he mends his ways.

Given the prominence and vitriolic nature of the magazine's coverage of Williams in its May, 1951, I have to wonder what he did to incur the wrath of the publisher or the editor. Did Williams never hear the quote "Never pick a fight with someone who buys their ink by the barrel" (variously attributed to Ben Franklin, Ben Johnson, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and others)?

Perhaps the magazine's "feud" with Williams was merely a ploy to boost newsstand sales and subscriptions. Regardless, it is of a type of sports journalism that we don't see much today. Or at least I don't see it. But that may be because I don't read much current sports writing.

The feature article was penned by Boston American sports writer Austen Lake. Veterasn baseball card collectors may recognize Lake as the author of the player biographies and playing tips that appear on the backs of 1934-1936 Diamond Stars cards.

We're presenting the text of Lake's article in its entirety. Perhaps, like me, you'll enjoy the style of writing that predominated in the mass-appeal sports magazines of 60 years ago.

Sure, some of the references are dated, but this is an opportunity to learn how one of the card  hobby's Most Valuable Players was seen by a knowledgeable contemporary.

Lake was a staple of Boston journalism for 40 years. He had been a football star at Lafayette College (Pa.), and played professionally for a time in pre-NFL days. 

Before the U.S. entered World War I, Lake served in France as an ambulance driver. When the U.S. declared war, he joined the tank corps. He was a war correspondent in World War II, covering the London Blitz, D-Day and the liberation of Paris.

At the time he wrote this feature, he would have been about 56 years old, and a veteran observer of baseball and baseball players.

by Austen Lake
of the Boston American
It's too late to cure Ted Williams of his deep-seated conviction that all baseball fans and all sports writers are pernicious pests fit only for tanglefoot paper or to be swatted with snubs. Ted is 32 now, and his character has jelled.

Still it is nothing new to sport. There have been many pickle-pussed grampuses who regard the public and press as irritating mugs to be treated with snarls or lofty disdain. There were Jack Sharkey, Bill Terry, Tommy Farr, George P. Marshall, Max Schmeling--to mention just a few. (Editor's note: Tommy Farr was a Welsh boxing champion.)

But the diamond suspender buckle for long-distance hatred and pure cussedness goes to the Red Sox whizz-kid whose sandpaper personality annually scuffs the toughest skins in the business.

In our next presentation, on June 26, we'll continue the presentation of Austen Lake's first-hand assessment of Ted Williams as published in the May, 1951, issue of Sport Life magazine.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

1948 Speedway Tigers checklist grows

The series of 8" x 10" blank-back, black-and-white premium "Tiger of the Week" pictures sponsored and given out by Speedway 79 gas stations in 1948are not readily identifiable as such.

The gas stations were a sponsor of Tigers radio broadcasts, but their advertising does not appear anywhere on the pictures. They are non-descript player portraits, bordered in white with a facsimile autograph for identification.

For many years the checklist for the set has stood at 14. Now, though it is too late to incorporate into the 2012 edition, we have a new player and a variation to add to that list.

The variation comes with the picture(s) of Vic Wertz (whom the checklist has misidentified as "Bill" Wertz for many years). The Wertz picture can be found either with the salutation "Sincerely," or with a "Best Regards," salutation. Perhaps Wertz was Tiger of Week twice during the promotion.

Now, courtesy of John Rumierz, we have a 15th player to add to the set, Johnny Groth.

The 21-year-old outfielder was called up to the Tigers in late September, after hitting .340 for Buffalo in the International League and leading the team with 199 hits, 97 RBI and 30 home runs.

In six games with Detroit between Sept. 25 and the end of the season, Groth went 8-for-17, batting .471 with three doubles and a home run.

That seems to have been enough to earn him recognition as a Speedway 79 Tiger of the Week, and his picture was added to the issue. Because the other pictures were probably prepared and printed well in advance of Groth's arrival, his Speedway 79 portrait is in a slightly smaller size, at 6-3/4" x 9-1/2," according to Rumierz. The format is otherwise identical to the rest of the set.

It also appears as if the Speedway 79 set is due for a catalog value increase. The 2011 books carries the complete set price at $175 in Excellent condition, but the recent auction of a set in that condition for $660 indicates a bump is in order.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Famous Mantle ball once went missing

At the time, some baseball writers tried to explain a brief outburst of moon-shot home runs early in the 1953 season to everything from that year's unusually cold, wet spring weather to pitchers having tired arms from overworking them in winter ball.

On April 17, Mickey Mantle rocketed a shot out of Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., that a Yankees PR man claims to have recovered 565 feet away.

Today the Mantle ball resides in the Hall of Fame, but it was nearly lost to baseball history.

Mickey Mantle posed with the
soon-to-be-stolen 565-ft. home run ball.
Facing Chuck Stobbs on a windy spring day in Washington, Mantle caught hold of a belt-high fast ball in the fifth inning. While tens of thousands of fans have since claimed that they were in the ballpark that day to witness the feat, recorded attendance was only 4,206.

Yankees public relations man Arthur "Red" Patterson claimed to have found the ball in the possession of a youngster who lived across the street from the ballpark. The Yankee employee said he paid the kid a dollar for the ball and promised him two autographed balls in exchange. He said he came up with the flight distance of the ball by pacing off from where it left the stadium to where the kid said it was found.
While the Guiness Book of World Records accepted Patterson's account, many skeptical fans and scientists claim it is impossible for a baseball to be batted 500 feet, let alone 565 feet.
Regardless, in early 1953 the baseball world was agog at the feat. The ball, and the bat that propelled it, were quickly put on display in a glass case in the main lobby of Yankee Stadium, preparatory to their being forwarded to the Hall of Fame. The 33-oz. club used by Mantle, by the way, was borrowed from teammate Loren Babe, and Mantle was tinkering with his equipment in the midst of a mini power slump.

On May 31, a maintenance man opening up Yankee Stadium in the morning discovered the famous baseball was missing from the glass case. The wires with which the bat was secured in the display had also been compromised, but the lumber was still there.

Officials later surmised that the thief or thieves had hidden in a restroom after the May 28 game and emerged after the stadium had been vacated to steal the ball.

In reporting the theft in The Sporting News, publisher J.G. Taylor Spink offered a "no questions asked" lifetime subscription for the ball's return.
On June 7, three 10-year-old boys showed up at the stadium with the home run ball. They claimed they had gotten it from two "older lads." The boys and their fathers were team owner Dan Topping's guests at the June 16 game, and the ball and bat were duly forwarded to Cooperstown.

A second notable home run in that first week of the 1953 season occurred on April 29. New Milwaukee Braves first baseman Joe Adcock became the first major leaguer to deposit a home run ball in the centerfield bleachers of the Polo Grounds. (Only Hank Aaron and Lou Brock would ever match the feat). Adcock's homer, off Giants pitcher Jim Hearn, was said to have traveled 475 feet.

I don't believe I've ever read whether the Adcock home run ball was ever recovered and preserved or whether it went home with a fan as a souvenir.
Topps memorialized Mantle's moon shot in the Baseball
Thrills subset of its 1961 baseball card issue.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

1974 Topps/OPC Gary Carter customs

Like many of you, I was surprised and saddened when the news broke last month that Hall of Famer Gary Carter was diagnosed with inoperable brain tumors.

From the mid-1970s through the early 1990s, Carter was one of baseball's stars who, unless my memory fails me, was never connected with any sort of negativity on or off the field. In short, he was one of the game's good guys.

If I had any "problem" with Carter, it was that in his final years as a catcher with the Expos in the early 1980s, he was the roadblock that was keeping one of my all-time favorite players, Razor Shines, from advancing to the majors.

When I found a photo of Carter attributed to 1974 on the internet, I decided to put a custom card for Gary Carter at the top of my to-do list.

I considered doing a 1975-style since Topps had relegated Carter to one of its four-player rookie cards that year. In the end, I decided to go with a 1974-style "pre-rookie" card.

Sure, a 1974 card of Carter as an Expo is technically an anachronism, since he didn't play his first game in the majors until Sept. 16 that year. However, the world didn't end when I did a similar 1974-style card for Robin Yount, so I opted for the '74 format.

Particularly observant collectors might also realize that in 1974 Topps didn't use an All-Star Rookie trophy on any of its cards. But I like the way it looks on my 1974 Yount and George Brett cards, so I put on on my Carter.

My last big decision was whether to go with a Topps or an O-Pee-Chee card. Identical on their fronts, 1974 OPC cards differed from Topps in their use of yellow, rather than green, on the backs. Too, the Canadian version is by and large bilingual.

As with the 1972-style OPC football card I did of actor Carl Weathers some months back, I solicited some help from our northern neighbors in getting the Canadian French portion of my Carter card "right." Translating English to French via the usual internet sites isn't really a great choice, since the French spoken in Canada has distinct differences from the continental version.

I prevailed on one of the pre-eminent authorities on OPC hockey cards, Bobby Burrell, to hook me up with a French Canadian speaker, and got a quick response that is manifested on the OPC version of my card. back.

I'm going to be temporarily (two weeks or so) relocating to my Pennsylvania locale about the time you read this. While I intend to spend some time working on my custom cards, I won't be posting the results until I'm back in Wisconsin and settled in.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sport magazine nostalgia

I recently bought a handful of early-1950s Sport magazines and similar titles.

I like to scour the magazines for cover photos and those great full-page color photos that I may be able to use for my custom card projects. I keep the stack in my bathroom for leisurely perusal.

One of my recent purchases was the April, 1951, (four months before I was born) issue.

I found the artwork on the cover wonderfully nostalgic, and thought you might like to see it, as well.

The cover shows that, for all the interest there was in spring hockey playoffs and basketball, big league baseball was still No. 1 with Americans.

Interestingly, 1951 was the year that the NCAA basketball tournament expanded for eight to 16 teams.

As much as I like this cover, a letter to the editor in that issue indicated not every reader was as fond of the artwork covers.

Reader Tom Sande of Pembina, North Dakota, wrote to the editor:

For the past three years, I have been an ardent reader of SPORT and have enjoyed every issue of it. But I feel--and I'm sure others will agree--that there is one change needed.

My gripe is--your covers. Ever since a few issues back, fine portraits by Ozzie Sweet, etc., were appearing on your covers. Lately, they have been replaced by mediocre paintings which aren't appealing at all. Let's get back to covers that make SPORT look like a real honest to goodness sport magazine--how about it?

Opinions--everybody has one.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Collector scored Anson auto ball in 1953

My perusal of the entire run of The Sporting News from 1953 turned up surprisingly little in the way of sports memorabilia hobby items.

One exception was in the Nov. 11 issue, when a short article appeared under the headline, "ADDS RARE BALL TO COLLECTION".

In its entirely, the article read, "(Name redacted to discourage harassment of his heirs) of South River, N.J., whose hobby is the collection of autographed balls, has added the signature of Cap Anson, who played for and managed the Chicago White Stockings before the turn of the century.

"He was given a ball -- signed by Anson -- by Mrs. C.C. Cherry of Chicago, a daughter of the diamond immortal.

"The addition of Anson's name makes (him) the possessor of one of only three baseball said to have been autographed by Cap. "Mrs. Cherry has one, the other is unaccounted for.

"(The collector), who makes annual trips in the spring to Florida, to collect autographed balls, has some 3,000 of various vintages."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Surkont freely admitted "greenie" use

Surkont's only career-contemporary
card as a Milwaukee Brave was in
the 1953 Johnston Cookies team set.

Uncommon commons. Contemporary accounts of tidbits that as a collector of baseball and football cards I found interesting because they helped bring to life the faces on the cards I collected. I figure that if I found these items of interest, so would other vintage card collectors.

When the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee for the 1953 season, one of the more popular players among the fans was pitcher Max Surkont.

With a large Polish population in Milwaukee, Surkont had a big fan following before he threw out the first pitch. And Max did, literally, throw out the first pitch for the Milwaukee Braves. He was the opening day starter in Cincinnati on April 13.

Even the non-Polish fans in Milwaukee became Surkont fans when he won that first game 2-0, giving up only three hits. By mid-May, when the Braves, who had finished in 7th place in Boston in 1952, took over the lead in the National League, Surkont was 5-0.

His biggest day as a Braves came on May 25, again facing the Redlegs, this time in Milwaukee. Surkont was cruising on a six-run cushion the Braves had put up in the first inning. He struck out the last batter in the third inning, then struck out all three batters in both the third and fourth innings.

At that point, he had tied Hooks Wiltse (1908), Dazzy Vance (1924) and Van Lingle Mungo (1936) for the modern major league record of seven strikeouts in a row. 

Then the rains came. After a half-hour rain delay, Surkont fanned Andy Seminick, the first batter in the Redlegs' fifth, to set a new modern record of eight consecutive strikeouts.

Another rain delay threatened to wash out the game and the record, but after 40 minutes, the game was allowed to continue. Surkont finished the game with a 10-3 win, notching 13 strikeouts and bringing his record to 6-0. The Hall of Fame requested and received the ball he used to set the record.

That record stood until 1970, when Tom Seaver fanned 10 consecutive San Diego Padres.

Surkont lost his next start, on June 4 in Brooklyn, then won two more against the Giants (June 8) and Pirates (June 12) to bring his record to 8-1 when the Braves returned home from the eastern road trip.

On June 16, his 31st birthday, Milwaukee's fan held a "Max Surkont Night" at the ballpark. He was showered with gifts, including a $1,000 savings bond, while his wife received flowers and gifts, and his son got a new bicycle. Max pitched the second game of the doubleheader against the Phillies that night and ran his record to 9-1.

Braves' pill pusher, trainer Charles 
Lacks, appears in the 1954 and 1955
Johnston Cookies team sets. 
The aging right-hander wasn't getting by solely on natural skills, nor guile, according to a late-season account in The Sporting News. In a time before performance-enhancing drugs were considered the bane of baseball, Surkont freely admitted that team trainer Dr. Charles Lacks "gives (me) a daily diet pill that does wondrous things." Surkont added, "It's supposed to cut your appetite and make you feel peppy. Before I started taking them I always felt tired."

The "diet pills" of course were amphetamines, the "greenies" which were ubiquitous in major league clubhouses for several decades after World War II.

Even the pep pills, however, couldn't keep Surkont pitching like a kid. Between June 26-July 11, he lost his next three starts. He then won two and lost another before the end of the month. Bringing his record to 11-5, where it remained for the rest of the season; he never got another decision in 1953.

There was at least one player who had Surkont's number in the 1953 season, however. In the first five games in which he faced Surkont in 1953, Duke Snider hit him for a .583 average, with two doubles, two triples and two homers.

The day after Christmas, Surkont was traded with five other players and $100,000 to the Pittsburgh Pirates for second baseman Danny O'Connell. He pitched into the 1957 season with the Pirates, Cardinals and Giants, then pitched for six more years in the high minors, most of it with Buffalo, another city with a heavy concentration of Polish sports fans. 

After leaving Milwaukee, Surkont never had a winning season in the majors. He ended his big league days with a 61-76 record and 4.38 ERA. He died in Florida at age 64 in 1986.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Finally -- A Play Ball Dizzy Dean

I never understood why Dizzy Dean was not included in the various mainstream national bubblegum card sets of the immediate pre-WWII era. His absence from the 1939-41 Play Ball and the 1941 Goudey and Double Play sets is glaring.

To be sure, by the late 1930s, when the Cardinals sold him to the Cubs, his glory days were gone, along with his fast ball.

Still, he had a 7-1 record with Chicago in 1938, was 6-4 in 1939 and 3-3 in 1940. And he was still the only National League pitcher to have won 30 or more games in a season since Grover Alexander in 1917.

Perhaps, considering the relatively small number of players in each of those sets, it was just a matter of, "What have you done lately?"

Dean's omission from those card sets leaves collectors with relatively few career-contemporary memorabilia choices from his days with the Cubs. The pictures from the team-issued photo packs are probably the most often encountered.

In researching and working on my 1941 Play Ball-style Vallie Eaves card (presented in my June 4 posting), I found a nice picture of Dean as a Cub.

A spent a day dinking around with the black-and-white photo in an attempt to come up with a creditable replica of a 1941 Play Ball card. Not entirely happy with the result, I decided to create my Dizzy Dean card in the 1940 Play Ball format. Since the typography and format of the back is identical to the 1941 style, the project came together fairly quickly. 

As I revisit the work I did on the 1941 style, it's not as bad as I recalled, but I still can't get that pastel look of the originals. Maybe some day if I run out of new card creation projects (as if) I'll revisit the 1941 PB Dean.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Lasorda featured in 1956 A's set

For many years I had in my "futures" files of material for eventual use in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards a photocopy of what looked like the front of a postcard picturing Tommy Lasorda pitching for the Kansas City Athletics.

I must not have had an image of the back, or I would have added it to the listing for 1956-58 team-issued postcards.

Now, based on information forwarded by John Rumierz, we can formulate an entirely new regional set listing for a group of cards issued to promote a specific game at Municipal Stadium in 1956.

The cards are about postcard size, at approximately 3-1/8" x 5-1/4". From the message printed -- in a union shop, no less -- on the back it looks like these cards were distributed by one or more groups sponsoring "Kansas City Live Stock Night" at the ballpark. Butcher shops or grocery stores would seem to be logical places for the cards to have been handed out.

 If that was, indeed, the manner in which the cards were issued, it's likely they were distributed one at a time, making acquisition of a complete set a real challenge.

The promotion helped draw a crowd of 13,371 to the game, which the A's lose to the Red Sox, 6-3.

The checklist provided by Rumierz has 23 players. Whether that constitutes the totality of the issue is currently unknown.

The card of Lasorda is the only one of which I am aware that shows him with the A's. After pitching in eight games with the 1954-55 Brooklyn Dodgers, with no decisions, Lasorda appeared in 18 games with the '56 A's between April 17-July 8, with an 0-4 record and 6.48 ERA. Those were his last major league games as a player. He spent the rest of the season with Montreal. 

  • Mike Baxes
  • Lou Boudreau
  • Cletis Boyer
  • Jack Crimian
  • Joe DeMaestri
  • Jim Ewell
  • Jim Finigan
  • Joe Ginsburg
  • Tom Gorman
  • Johnny Groth
  • Alex Kellner
  • Lou Kretlow
  • Tom Lasorda
  • Hec Lopez
  • Rance Pless
  • Vic Power
  • Jose Santiago
  • Bobby Schantz
  • Harry Simpson
  • Enos Slaughter
  • George Susce
  • Charles Thompson
  • Gus Zernial

Monday, June 6, 2011

Newest custom creation: A 1958 multi-player feature card

Back in the early 1980s, for an article I did in Baseball Cards Magazine, I coined the term "multi-player feature card" for the special cards issued off-and-on by Topps and Bowman beginning in 1953 (there were, of course, cards of this nature issued as early as the 1920s, but the article's focus was on cards of the '50s and '60s). 

Over the holiday weekend, I completed what is only the third such card I have done in my career as a custom card maker. 

A picture of pitchers Johnny Antonelli and Don Newcombe in their California Dodgers and Giants uniform was the inspiration for the card I made in the style of 1958 Topps.

I titled the card "Renewing the Rivalry." Its premise is that the long-time pitching foes who had faced each other in Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds, would henceforth be taking their mound battles to the Coliseum and Seals Stadium.

In fact, Newk and Antonelli were the starters in the third game of the 1958 season, April 17, at Seals Stadium. As had been the case in several previous match-ups, Antonelli came away with a no-decision and Newcombe took the loss in the 7-4 game.

That was the last time the pair faced each other in their Dodgers and Giants livery. After going 0-for-6 in his eight starts between April 17 and June 15, Newcombe was traded to the Cincinnati Reds.

I know Antonelli and Newcombe faced each other a time or two between mid-1958 and mid-1960, when Newcombe was sold to the Indians, but since the specifics weren't pertinent to my faux-1958, I didn't dig up the data.

As I wrote on my card's back, Newcombe and Antonelli both came to the National League in the late 1940s. 

Twice in September, 1949, on the 6th and the 29th, they appeared in the same game. Newcombe started both games and pitched complete-game victories, 10-2 and 8-0. Antonelli, then a bonus baby with the Boston Braves, pitched three-plus innings of relief in each game, with no decisions.

They met again in September, 1950, in the first game of a doubleheader on the 27th. Newcombe was the starter, going five-plus innings, but getting no decision in the Dodgers 9-6 win. Anotonelli faced two batters in relief, also getting a no-decision.

One or both of the pair were in the Army during the entire 1951-1953 seasons, and when both were back in the big leagues for 1954, Antonelli now with the Giants, they didn't meet the entire year.

They didn't face as starters in the 1955 season, either, though they both appeared in games of April 24 and July 8, with no decisions between them.

Like many, maybe all, of the actual 1958 Topps multi-player feature cards, the picture on my custom was colorized from a black-and-white photo. I tried to work the background in the green hues that are found on so many of the "real" '58 multi-player cards.

Friday, June 3, 2011

McDermott punched his way off Red Sox

Uncommon commons. Contemporary accounts of tidbits that as a collector of baseball and football cards I found interesting because they helped bring to life the faces on the cards I collected. I figure that if I found these items of interest, so would other vintage card collectors.

On Dec. 8, 1953, the Boston Red Sox traded pitcher Maurice "Mickey" McDermott along with outfielder Tom Umphlett to the Washington Senators for Jackie Jensen. It was a trade that was six months coming.

In early June, McDermott had been involved in a clubhouse fist fight with Boston Globe baseball writer Bob Holbrook. (Ted Williams wasn't the only Red Sox player who feuded with the Boston press in those days.)

Witnesses agreed that McDermott had thrown the first punch. When he asked manager Lou Boudreau to be traded, Boudreau said, "If anyone will take you, I'll trade you." Boudreau was later quoted as saying, "We all felt McDermotto was wrong when he swapped punches with Holbrook."

No trade was immediately forthcoming, and McDermott went on to win 18 games that season. During the year he acquired some control to go with what writer Shirley Povich said was "the most fiery left-handed fast ball in the league."

McDermott's fast ball was especially effective after dark. He won 10 straight games under the lights during the 1953 season.

He also batted .301 that season. Throughout his career, McDermott was often used as a left-handed pinch-hitter.

Suddenly, he was marketable.

What caused the fight that led to McDermott's exile from the Red Sox. Observers said it was remarks Holbrook made about the pitcher's singing.

McDermott often sang in Boston night clubs, and in 1952-53 had an off-season gig as a lounge signer at Steuben's, a popular Boston night club.

According to Chicago Daily News writer John P. Carmichael, McDermott had a "rich tenor" voice and specialized in Irish ballads.

Following the trade to Washington, McDermott never had another winning season in the major leagues, until he was 1-0 in his last year, 1961, with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City A's.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sharing a swell photo

In honor of the second anniversary of this blog, I'm going to offer something different for my 333rd posting.

This time I'm not sharing any reader discoveries, or showcasing my latest custom card creation or giving you a baseball history tidbit.

I just wanted you to see this cabinet card that I've had -- actually on my vintage booze collectibles shelf in my living room display cabinet -- for many years.

It's just a turn-of-the-last-century studio image of three swells shooting the breeze, sipping some Schlitz and chewing on stogies.

I don't know who they are or where the photo was shot. Penned on the back is the name "Shepard".

It was a more elegant time, wasn't it?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

1952 Topps NOT Canadian? UPDATE: 5/31

1952 Topps 3rd Series "Gray Back" cards, popularly known
as 1952 Topps Canadian cards, can be found with
both gray (left)and white (right) fronts.
Ever since we first listed in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, 6-8 years ago, a set called 1952 Topps "Canadian" there have been questions as to the accuracy of that description.

There exists in the hobby, Third Series 1952 Topps cards that have a distinctly gray back, rather than the cream-colored card stock normally associated with the series. Because a similar 1954 Topps run with gray backs is known to have originated in Canada, it was presumed by many collectors that the gray-back 1952 Topps #131-190 also traced their origins to Canada.

Not all vintage collectors have bought into that theory.

A most cogent argument against Canadian origins has been advanced by veteran collector John Rumierz.

Rather tha paraphrase his logic, I'll present it to you as he presented it to me in a recent e-mail.

"I will apologize for this long winded piece but . . .
"I have an active wantlist on the 1952 Gray Back 3rd Series since 1970 and I have an almost parental interest in the issue. Back in '70 I was the only guy who pursued them until (another collector's name redacted) followed soon after.

"1.) I have done 20-30 buying trips in Canada from St John's to Vancouver from '72-'96. I saw thousands of '52s with 100s of High Numbers and many Mantles however I NEVER saw ONE gray backed 3rd Series card.

"2) I never talked with any collector who said he got one in Canada.

"3) The "story" back in the early '70s was that the cards came with Kleenex or Doeskin tissues. (Another collector's name redacted) and I have looked unsuccessfully for decades to try to find confirming evidence.

"4) The usual find of these is 1-3 in a large group of 1952s. It's obvious that the entry route was not the same as the standard gum card route.

"5) The inferior picture quality of these cards lends credence to the idea that Topps supplied them to another firm under contract while still assuring the Topps product would look better and be preferable to the "other guy's".

"6) Now the very interesting aspect of the gray backs is that they also come with the standard glossy front. See scans. These apparently resulted late in the run when the white paper ran out. The glossy/grays are even more difficult than the gray/grays. I have 56/60 of the latter and 24/60 of the former.

"7) The Canadian distributor contracted for the same number of cards from Topps from each of the Series 2-6. That's the reason why High Numbers are "common" in Canada. First Series cards are rare/nonexistent in Canada."

Like Rumierz and his fellow researcher, I have long heard hobby tales of some baseball cards having been distributed in the early 1950s by a tissue maker. Also like them, I have never seen any confirming evidence. We do know that 19655 Topps Rails and Sails cards WERE distributed in some fashion by Doeskin tissues. This may be the genesis of the supposition that baseball cards were similarly distributed.

If not a general consumer product in Canada, or a Kleenex-box ridealong, where did the Gray Back 3rd Series 1952s come from? I am not averse to changing the title of this set from 1952 Topps "Canadian" to 1952 Topps 3rd Series Gray Backs if evidence of Canadian origins is not forthcoming.

UPDATE: May 22

Veteran collector Larry Leonard provided his perspective to the issue of 1952 3rd Series Gray Backs after reading the account in SCD. He writes,

"For a ten-year period beginning in the late 1990s, I actively searched for 1952 Topps third series gray backs. I managed to collect the entire third series (131-190) plus many duplicates. Of the approximately 90 gray backs I have had, only about eight or nine have had the glossy front. I must emphasize that I have never found any third series gray back in Canada. The great majority were found in the Midwest, in states such as Indiana (the state in which I reside), Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. I never had success in finding gray backs in New England or the Southeast U.S.

"Given how baseball cards often change hands, I suppose one might speculate that, somehow, almost all gray backs found their way to the U.S. even though they originated in Canada. However, this speculations seems dubious. For example, I have the entire (1-50) run of 1954 Topps gray backs (and a few duplicates) and I found at least 80% of them in Canada. So, even though some proportion of 1954 gray backs are making their way to the U.S. (especially in the past five years or so), it was certainly easier to find them in Canada when I searched for them, which was during the same era of my search for 1952 third series gray backs."

UPDATE: May 31

Collector John Hall has also been a collector of this anomaly for some time, and offers the following observations and theory.

1) I have never been to Canada looking for gray back cards. I do have contacts who are collectors of gray back cards who live in Canada. I have never received a gray back card from any person who lives in Canada.

2) I know many gray back collectors. As far as I know, none of their gray back cards have come from Canada.

3) The Doeskin tissue theory has never been proven to me.

4) I have found that people have gray back cards have them in bunches. I have gotten 20 from one seller and 16 from another seller. I find that if some accidentally has one, they will have more. I have never gotten one by accident.

5) I believe John's paragraph 5 is a theory with no proof. I have a theory also. I will give you mine at the end of my response.

6) I agree that the cards with white borders and gray backs are more rare than the gray backs with brownish borders.

7) I have no knowledge about the Canadian distributor and how that worked.

In conclusion, I agree with John. The term Canadian is a misnomer.

My theory regarding gray backs is that the gray back 131-190 cards were produced by Topps using the gray back cardboard that they used for series 1 and 2. Most of them should have been rejected because they were miscut, off center, and had printing defects that look like overspray or printing dots. They got out of the factory by mistake. Topps ran out of gray paper. They went to cream or white paper. Then with the 4th series they went back to gray paper.