Friday, March 30, 2012

Print run on '51 Cardinals postcards revealed

Photo courtesy Frank Kealoha Ward.
Specific data on print runs of vintage baseball cards is virtually non-existent.

In most cases that information was never recorded in any sort of archive that survived the passage of half a century or more and made its way into hobby hands.

An exception to that norm has been unearthed in the "Major Flashes” news roundup column of the March 14, 1951 issue of The Sporting News. 

In its entirety, the item read:


The Cardinals are introducing their rookies by a series of postcards being mailed to fans who have bought box and reserved seats over a period of years. Ten rookies were selected for the postcard medium of presentation, each card featuring one player, with his picture and data on his career. A batch of 25,000 cards on Infielder Solly Hemus was delivered last week.

Specialty team collectors will recognize these as one of several series of player postcards that the Cardinals issued in the postwar era. Most of the series are known as "Dear Friend" postcards because that's the salutation of a message purportedly by the pictured player thanking the recipient for his past and future support of the team.

The Dear Friend postcards seem to have been used most often to satisfy fan requests for player pictures and autographs.
We never included the Dear Friend and other Cardinals team-issued postcards of the 1940s-1970s in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards for lack of a definitive checklist. Some of the players were issued year after year, sometimes with new photos, sometimes not.

In today's internet age, there has been a lot of progress made on checklists for these issues and a catalog listing could probably be compiled.

I know that if I was still involved with the catalog, I'd go at least as far as creating a listing for the 1951 "The Cardinals Introduce . . . " series referenced in TSN. Of course I'd want to get a better picture to illustrate the set.

The 10 players mentioned by The Sporting News were divided into two formats, horizontal and vertical. 

The horizontal cards, which closely mirror the Dear Friends format, were: Don Bollweg (debut Sept. 28, 1950), Larry Ciaffone (April 17, 1951), Jack Cohan (never played in majors), Bob Habenicht (April 17, 1951), Solly Hemus (April 17, 1949), Larry Miggins (Oct. 3, 1948), Don Richmond (MLB debut Sept. 16, 1941, Philadelphia A's, Cardinals debut May 13, 1951)and Bill Sarni (May 9, 1951).

Appearing on vertically formatted cards were Kurt Krieger (April 21, 1949) and Tom Poholsky (April 20, 1950).

In typical condition, usually postally used, these cards sell for $25-35 each, with Hemus commanding a bit of a premium. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

1958 Topps-style Ed Bouchee "completes" set

Kids looking to complete a set of 1958 Topps baseball cards back in the day were confounded by the inability to locate card #145, Ed Bouchee. 

The Second Series checklist on the back of the Washington Senators team card (#44) confirmed that the Phillies slugging young star first baseman was card #145. But, hold on. The Second Series checklist on the back of the Phillies team card (#134) had no name beside the box for card #145. 

Was there, or was there not, a 1958 Topps card #145 Ed Bouchee?

There was not. 

At least until now . . . sort of .

My latest custom card creation is a 1958 Topps-style card #145, Ed Bouchee.

I'm not going to go into the reasons Topps did not issue the card. It's a sad story that serves no purpose in the retelling. 

Even today, some collectors are not 100% certain that Topps did not print the Bouchee card and that at least a few made it into gum packs. I'm of the opinion that the card was never printed. If it had been on the Second Series press sheet, I'm certain that at least a few would have slipped out. Despite internet rumors to the contrary, nobody has ever seen an authentic '58 Topps Bouchee.

Bouchee made his Topps rookie card appearance in the scarce 1957 #265-352 series. Batting .293 with 17 home runs and 76 RBIs that season, he came in second to teammate Jack Sanford in N.L. Rookie of the Year voting. The Sporting News, which divided its own Rookie of the Year awards between pitchers and position players, made Bouchee its N.L. position player winner.

In the remaining five years of Bouchee's major league career, he never again matched his '57 hitting numbers, and ended big league days as a member of the original 1962 N.Y. Mets expansion team. 

With the exception of 1958, Bouchee appeared on Topps cards every year between 1957-62.

It may be coincidental, but the only other major multi-team baseball card issue of 1958, the Hires Root Beer carton stuffers set of 76, also has an unissued card. There is no card #69. However, since there is also no checklist, we'll never know if Bouchee was intended to be part of that set.

For my custom card, I chose to go with the dramatic black background that, if my memory serves me correctly, was only seen on Phillies cards in the 1958 Topps set. I liked those as a kid, and I like them now.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Update: Kyle Rote's Short, Sweet Minor League Career

Most of us remember Kyle Rote as an important part of the N.Y. Giants NFL dynasty of the 1950s when he was the go-to receiver for Charlie Connerly and Y.A. Tittle.

The things he did to catch the football and rack up those important yards-after-catch were often a deciding factor in the epic Giants-Packers games of the era. We Packer fans would have gladly traded his cousin, our quarterback, Tobin Rote to the Giants for Kyle (especially after Bart Starr came along in the late Fifties).

Prior to coming to prominence in the NFL, Kyle Rote had a collegiate Hall of Fame career with Southern Methodist University. I recapped his college days (in 100 words or less) on the back of my 1955 All-American style custom card pictured at the bottom of this post, but there was no room for these interesting tidbits:

  • In the biggest game of his collegiate career, Rote took over at tailback for injured starter Doak Walker in the final game of 1949, playing undefeated Notre Dame. Against the Irish he ran for 115 yards, passed for 146 yards, punted for a 48-yard average and scored all three of SMU's touchdowns in a 27-20 loss. The Texas Sportswriters Association later voted that performance as the finest by a Texas athlete in the first half of the century. Texas' oil and cattlemen probably also had some accolades for Rote, as they had bet their ranches, rigs and lungs on the Mustangs to beat the 27.5 point spread by which Notre Dame had been favored.
  • In 1950, Rote was runner-up in the Heisman Trophy balloting to Ohio State's Vic Janowicz, who went on play in both the NFL (Redskins 1954-55) and MLB (Pirates 1953-54).
  • He appeared on the cover of Life magazine's Nov. 13, 1950, issue in a dramatic portrait.
In the months before Rote reported to the Giants training camp in 1951 and began earning the reported $20,000 salary that a #1 draft pick commanded in those days, the San Antonio native tooks a few swings in minor league baseball. He signed with the Corpus Christi Aces of the Class B Gulf Coast League. He was given uniform #44, the number he wore at SMU.

He proved to be more than just a box office attraction, though. His hitting earned him a promotion from a pinch-hitter to a starting outfielder. He played in only 22 games, but in 66 at-bats had seven home runs, including three in one game on April 26. Team owner George Schepps said one of those homers was the longest ever hit in the Corpus Christi ballpark. Rote hit .348 with a .712 slugging average. The Aces went on to win the GCL pennant by 12 games, but by then Rote was long gone to the NFL.

In pre-game ceremonies prior to the Aces' April 11, 1951, home opener Rote participated in a football punting contest with other members of the team. But he didn't win! His 60-yard punt was bested by "spindly pitcher" Eddie Johnson, who booted the ball 65 yards.

For the ceremonial first pitch, the Corpus Christi mayor threw outa football, instead of a baseball.

Rote played his entire NFL career with the Giants. When he retired after the 1961 season he was the team's career leader in receptions (300), receiving yards (4,795) and TD catches (48). He had played in NFL Championship games four times (losing to the Colts in 1958 and 1959 and to the Packers in 1961 and earning the big ring against the Bears in 1956) .
The real measure of a man is not what he accomplishes between the lines. How he is perceived by his contemporaries is a more important gauge of the worth of a man. Rote was not only the Giants' captain for many years, but was also a force in the founding of the NFL Players Association and was its first elected president. Perhaps most telling of all, though, is that it is reported that 14 of his teammates named sons after him.

Following relatively minor surgery in 2002, Rote developed pneumonia and died at the age of 74.

I'd love to be able to give credit for the baseball photo of Kyle Rote in 1951 with Corpus Christi to the fellow collector who gave it to me, but I lost his name in a hard-drive crash of my computer last winter. He had offered the picture on eBay as Tobin Rote and received no bids. I'm sure that wouldn't have happened if he had properly identified it as Kyle Rote (it is correctly identified in the Associated Press cutline on the back). When I contacted him after the auction with an offer to buy it, he sent it to me free.

Coincidentally, I once owned a 1951 Corpus Christi team autographed baseball that included Rote's signature. I had bought it in a group of about 10 lower-level minor league balls from Texas clubs of the 1950s. I sold them all on eBay several years ago.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Yankees gave Carey shirt off Joe DiMag's back

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.

Andy Carey was one of the least-heralded regulars in the Yankees' dynasty of the 1950s. He was a solid, rather than spectacular, major leaguer, holding down third base from his debut as a 20-year-old rookie in 1952 until New York "farmed him out" to the Kansas City A's in 1960.

During the 1951-52 off-season, after signing a $65,000 contract with the N.Y. Yankees, rookie infielder Andy Carey received at his Bay area home a package from the team. It was a gray flannel uniform for Carey to use in his winter workouts before joining the team at spring training. In the era, Yankees' manager Casey Stengel, who lived in Glendale, Calif., used to conduct pre-spring training workouts out there for rookies, rehabilitating players and those who might be considered for a position change. Try getting the players' union to agree to that today! 

The name tag on the jersey read, “Joe DiMaggio.” (Most likely, the tag simply read “DiMaggio,” but let’s not let the minutiae of early 1950s Yankee uniform tagging detract from a good story.)

In the April 9, 1952 issue of The Sporting News, Curley Grieve, a San Francisco baseball writer, picked up the story in a sidebar headlined, “DiMag’s Suit Was Yankees’ Sign of Confidence in Andy”.

“Joe’s old uniform—for me!”, Grieve quoted Carey (almost as if he had been there himself). “Gosh—I wish I could put it in a glass case and keep it. I’m the proudest guy in the world.” Carey obviously had a baseball memorabilia collector’s instinct.

Grieve continued, “The Yanks do nothing by accident. When they sent that treasured suit to Carey, it meant even more than Manager Casey Stengel’s oft-repeated statement; ‘We’re counting on Andy Carey.’”

The reporter noted that when Carey graduated from high school, after being named to several important prep all-star teams, he turned down a bonus offer of $6,500, played college ball for a year and a half, then received ten times that sum.

Introducing Carey to his readers, Grieve reported, “Andy doesn’t smoke, drink or keep late hours. A reporter called Carey’s home one evening and learned he was in bed. It was 9 o’clock.

“Andy’s financial windfall has in no way gone to his head,” Grieve continued. “He drives a Ford, dresses informally, hunts and fishes for a hobby and, in his spare time, finds pleasure in building himself a hydroplane at Lake Merritt.”

Addressing a concern that was significant to all of baseball, from ownership to the fans during the height of the Korean War, Grieve reported, “The new pride of the Yankees has been classified 4-F in the draft. He has a back condition that was first discovered when he injured himself sliding at St. Mary’s College. After X-rays, doctors said there was cartilage missing in his lower spine and the vertebrae are not properly joined to the pelvic bone.

“In cold weather, his back tightens up a little and even once in a while he can feel pain in the hot weather.

“But it’s not serious enough to hurt my batting or fielding,” Carey was quoted.

Carey had batted .288 with 14 home runs for Kansas City, the Yankees' American Association farm club, in 1951. Stengel was looking for him to help solidify an iffy infield for 1952. Billy Martin had broken his ankle in the off-season. He had pretty much nailed down the second base job for 1952, but the injury forced the Yankees to consider shifting Gil McDougald to the keystone spot. Bobby Brown, who had platooned with McDougald at third in '51, was awaiting induction into the Army, though he wasn't actually called up until early July.

As it turned out, McDougald did start the season at third base. 

When Carey made his big league debut on May 2, any magic that may have been in DiMaggio's jersey didn't appear to have rubbed off on him over the winter. In his first game he committed two errors in four chances and was 0-for-4 at the plate. In his first five games at 3B, he hit only .176, with no extra-base hits. The Yankees, however, won all five games. 

Carey was sent back to Kansas City, to develop his batting eye and to work out at shortstop. He hit .284 with 16 home runs with the Blues before he was called back to New York on Aug. 2. 

His second stint with the Yankees went even worse. He was 0-for-16 in six games over the first half of August. 

He was farmed out again, this time to Syracuse in the International League. Where he hit a modest .255 with two homers.

The Yankees called Carey back up at the end of the season for three games. He went 3-for-7, raising his rookie season batting average to .150 with no extra-base hits and a single RBI.

In the 1953 season, Carey solidified himself as the Yankees' regular third baseman for the remainder of the 1950s.

Carey died last December at the age of 80. I wonder if he ever got that DiMaggio jersey into a glass case up on his wall?


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Frank Baumann was one lucky lefty

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.

Timing was everything for Frank Baumann. 

In 1952 he was the most heralded player in high school baseball. In the Missouri state high school tournament he pitched four no-hitters, two of them perfect games. His Central (St. Louis) High School team won its third consecutive state championship and Baumann repeated as Missouri high school MVP.

Baumann was the subject of a full-page photo feature in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 8. His graduation three days later set off one of the gaudiest bidding wars of the era. 

Baumann was fortunate that he turned pro when he did because it was in the period when Major League Baseball was in between bonus rules. The previous bonus rules had expired during the 1950 winter meetings, and a new set of rules that would require "bonus baby" players to be placed on the major league roster for two years was not voted in until 1953.

Thus, there were no holds barred in signing free agents excepting that high school players could not be signed until their class had graduated. 

Bill Veeck, owner of the hometown St. Louis Browns, reportedly opened the bidding at $30,000. A week later, Baumann's father inked a contract on his behalf with the Boston Red Sox for $85,000. It was reported that Baumann had turned down a $95,000 offer from the Cleveland Indians.

While it was first reported that Baumann was getting $125,000 from Boston, more extensive digging by The Sporting News revealed that $85,000 was the correct figure. Even at that, TSN said it was believed to be the highest price ever paid for a free agent, "taking into consideration the fact that estimates of bonuses given to young prospects usually are exaggerated."

TSN reported that the $85,000 bonus was to be spread out over five years. Frank Baumann's father was to receive $9,000 in each of the first two years, while the pitcher pocketed $8,000 each year. In the third, fourth and fifth years of the contract, Frank received $17,000 a year. The contract was guaranteed "against call into armed forces, injury, even death," said TSN.

Baumann's signing was reportedly the first time that negotiations were carried on with outside parties instead of the player and his family. The Baumann's were advised by Michael Aubuchon, an attorney experienced in handling sports (primarily boxing) contracts and Jim Fox, a CPA and close friend of Baumann's father. Fox was said to be an expert on income tax structure. 

On June 19, the date the contract was signed, the Red Sox were wrapping up a three-game series in St. Louis. Boston manager Lou Boudreau said that if the contract had been signed that morning, he  would have been willing to start Baumann that night against the Browns. The contract was not signed until that night, however, so Baumann's big league debut had to wait.

Putting the $85,000 contract that Baumann signed into perspective, that figure probably represented more than the annual salary of 98% of contemporary major leaguers. In today's terms, it would be like signing a kid out of high school for $20+ million.

Baumann's began his professional career on June 22, pitching for the Red Sox' top farm club, the Louisville Colonels of the American Association (where he earned $600 a month). He won his first pro game 5-0, shutting out the Columbus Redbirds in the seven-inning second game of a Sunday doubleheader. In his debut he gave up four hits, walked a pair and struck out five.

For all the hoopla, Baumann's first year in pro ball was only a modest success. He started 14 games, winning four and losing six on a 4.06 ERA. In 88 innings he struck out 69, walked 55 and gave up 83 hits.

In his second season at Louisville, Baumann really began to live up to his potential. He ran up a 10-1 record, effectively leading the league in winning percentage and ERA (2.55). He was named to the AA All-Star team.

Baumann spent the 1954 season and most of 1955 in the army. He made his major league debut on July 31, 1955, coming on in relief against the Tigers to earn a 3-2 win. 

He remained with the Red Sox for four more seasons, spending parts of the 1956-58 seasons in the minors. 
From 1955-59 with Boston he had a 13-8 record. 

Following the 1959 season, Baumann was traded to the White Sox. and enjoyed something of a resurgence.  he had a 13-6 record and tied for the A.L. ERA title at 2.67. 

He pitched for Chicago through the 1964 season, with a 32-29 record. 

Baumann was dealt to the Cubs for 1965, but pitched only four games for them (0-1 record) before ending his major league career on May 8.

Baumann followed his playing days as a salesman (autos, appliances, liquor, linens), managing an ice rink and working for the Missouri State Lottery Commission.

Like his major league career, Frank Baumann's baseball card legacy was somewhat late in getting started, considering the publicity his signing engendered. He appeared on Topps cards from 1958-65 and in the 1961 Post cereal set.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

New custom marks Don Maynard's CFL days

In my Feb. 2 entry, I presented my 1958 Topps-style "rookie card" of future Jets star receiver Don Maynard.

On the occasion of the unveiling of my second Maynard custom card, I'm going to reprint what I had to say about him from that earlier post . . .  

One of my favorite players on the World's Champion 1968 New York Jets was Joe Namath's favorite receiving target, Don Maynard.

In those pre-internet days, I didn't know too much about Maynard and it was only many years later that I became aware that he had begun his pro football career with the New York Giants of the NFL. They had made him a 5th round "future" pick in the 1957 draft.

The Giants used Maynard primarily as a kick returner. When the team's coaching staff moved on the following year, Maynard was cut in training camp by the new regime, who didn't think his West Texas look and personality fit the big city New York image. Maynard later said he could never understand why he had been let go, since he could run faster backward than most of the Giants' receivers could run forward.

I learned something else new about Maynard recentyly. He played the 1959 season for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. That season Hamilton lost the Grey Cup to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. 

This custom card, my first in a Topps Canadian/O-Pee-Chee format, is my interpretation of what Maynard's card might have looked like if he had been included in that set.

Maynard joined his third professional league in three years when he became the first player signed by the New York Titans of the American Football League.

With the Titans/Jets, Maynard blossomed into a Hall of Fame (1987) receiver, leading the AFL with 14 touchdown catches in 1965 and 1,434 yards in 1966. In the 1968 AFL Championship game he teamed with Broadway Joe on six receptions for 118 yards and two touchdowns to beat the Oakland Raiders 27-23 and advance to the historic Super Bowl III against the Colts.

Rather than attempt an extensive review of Maynard's life and career, I'll refer you to a 2005 posting by Jim Sargent on The Coffin Corner web site

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Note to family . . .

If you're going going to buy wood chips to use on the grill for seasoning, don't store the opened bag on the kitchen counter where the potato chips, Doritos, etc., are usually kept.

They're hard on the teeth and they taste awful.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Trucks was minor league no-hit master

Uncommon commons. Based on contemporary accounts from The Sporting News; tidbits that as a collector of baseball and football cards I found interesting because they help 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.I consider myself more than a casual baseball historian, especially of the era of my greatest baseball card interest, the 1950s.

Last time I relayed the story of Johnny Vander Meer's third no-hitter.

This time I'll tell you about another major league pitcher who had two no-hitters in one season . . . and four in the minor leagues.

In 1952, Detroit Tigers pitcher Virgil Trucks no-hit the Washington Senators on May 15, for a 1-0 win. On Aug. 25, he notched another no-hitter, a 1-0 victory over the N.Y. Yankees, to become only the third major league pitcher to throw two no-hitters in a season (Vander Meer in 1938, Allie Reynolds in 1951; they have since been joined b y Nolan Ryan in 1973 and Roy Halliday in 2010).

It is less well-known that Trucks almost became the only pitcher to have three no-hit games in a season. In between his gems, on July 22 he was again pitching against the Senators. Mickey Vernon led off the game with a single . . . the only hit he allowed in a 1-0 shutout he walked three).

In 1938, his first year of professional ball, while pitching for the Andalusia Bulldogs under questionable contract status in the Class D Alabama-Florida League Trucks also had two no-hitters. He was 25-6 that season, with a 1.25 ERA. He set a modern professional record with 418 strikeouts; that record stood for eight years.

With Beaumont in the Texas League in 1940, Trucks threw his third no-hitter.

Trucks' fourth minor league no-hitter came in 1941, with Buffalo of the International League. But he lost that game. Trucks had his gem going into the 10th inning when Montreal scored to win 1-0. Under the rules of that time, it still counted as a no-hit game. 

In 1991, MLB's Committee for Statistical Accuracy ruled that a "An official no-hit game occurs when a pitcher (or pitchers) allows no hits during the entire course of a game, which consists of at least nine innings." Technically, this would negate Trucks' fourth no-hit game.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Johnny Vander Meer's third no-hitter

Uncommon commons. Based on contemporary accounts from The Sporting News; tidbits that as a collector of baseball and football cards I found interesting because they help 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.I consider myself more than a casual baseball historian, especially of the era of my greatest baseball card interest, the 1950s.

That's why I was surprised to learn that the only pitcher of back-to-back major league no-hitters had a third no-hitter . . . 14 years later after he had returned to the minor leagues.

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Vander Meer is justly famous for having thrown no-hitters on June 11, 1938, against the Boston Braves, 3-0, then in his next game, June 15, the very first night game ever played in Ebbets Field, no-hitting the Dodgers in a 6-0 win.

In 1952, the Dutch Master had been out of the major leagues for a year, and was pitching for the Reds' Class AA Texas League farm club in Tulsa.

On July 15, against Beaumont, Vander Meer threw his third professional no-hit game, a 12-0 win that brought his season's record to 6-7.

Only five Roughneck batters reached base in the game, three on walks, one on an error and one hit batsman.

There were only 335 paid admissions at Beaumont that night to witness that bit of baseball history.

The feat was of special interest to Beaumont manager Harry Craft. Craft was in center field behind Vandy on June 15, 1938, in Brooklyn, and caught Leo Durocher's fly ball for the last out.

Later in the 1952 season, Vander Meer ran up a string of 22 scoreless innings, but his pitching heroics were not enough to get the Oilers above 6th place in the league that year. The 37-year-old lefty finished the season with an 11-10 record.

In 1953, Vander Meer began a decade-long run managing for Reds farm clubs in Class B and D leagues, occasionally taking a turn on the mound as late as 1955.

Next time I'll tell you about another major league pitcher with two no-hitters in a season who topped Vander Meer by having four no-hitters in the minors.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Where are King Faisal's balls?

This LIFE magazine photo shows Iraq's King Faisal in the Brooklyn dugout
between manager Chuck Dressen and Jackie Robinson, holding a team-autographed baseball. 
In arranging a visit to the United States in 1952, the 17-year-old King Faisal II of Iraq expressed an interest in seeing a Brooklyn Dodgers game and meeting Jackie Robinson. The scion of the Hashemite Dynasty is said to have become a fan of American baseball while attending school in England during World War II.

That request was accommodated on Aug. 13, when the boy king was the guest of Dodgers' president Walter O'Malley in his box at Ebbets Field for a doubleheader against the N.Y. Giants. 

A reporter said Faisal "proved to be a calm, somewhat confused. baseball fan as O'Malley explained plays to him." Faisal was reported to have been impressed with a Bobby Thomson home run in the opening game, which the Dodgers lost 5-4.

In a pre-game photo op, the king visited the Dodgers' dugout, where Robinson presented him with a team-autographed baseball. The reporter noted that Faisal "was pleased when Manager Chuck Dressen planted a Dodger cap on the royal noggin . . . but his uncle (Prince 'Abd al-llah), the regent, scowled and took the cap off."

Following the game, Faisal was also presented with an autographed ball from the Giants.

The collector in me wonders where those souvenir balls are today. 

Did they survive the July 14, 1958, coup d'etat in which a faction of the Iraqi army lined up the king, members of his family and servants in a palace courtyard and machine-gunned them? Did they survive the Saddam Hussein rule?

Or perhaps the balls returned to the U.S. in the dufflebag of an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran who "found" them in the palace, museum or archives in Baghdad?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Adding Larkin, Clark to '85T Olympics subset

Dairy Queen sort of stole my thunder on these back in 1992, but when the original images crossed my path on the internet a while back, I decided to "add" Barry Larkin and Will Clark to the Olympics subset that was part of the 1985 Topps set.

You'd think that with all the fuss that was made over the '85 Topps Mark McGwire card in the late 1990s, that it would be common hobby knowledge when and where the photos of the Team USA players were snapped. But I only learned recently, after posting these images on one of the baseball card forums that I frequent, that the pictures were taken July 20, 1984, at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. The occasion was an appearance on the Team USA pre-Olympics summer schedule of exhibitions. In Cleveland they faced a team of "local all-stars."

Besides the DQ cards, there has been a "broder" (unauthorized collector issue) card of Clark in his blue Olympics uniform circulating in the hobby for at least 15 years. 

If your baseball memory doesn't go back 25+ years, you might not realize that baseball was only a demonstration sport in the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. The U.S. won the silver medal, being defeated by Japan in the finals. Chinese Taipei beat South Korea for the bronze. There's no telling how the medal order might have changed in Cuba had participated, but they sat out the '84 Games in solidarity with the U.S.S.R., which called for a Soviet-bloc boycott in retaliation for the U.S. having boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980.  

Larkin and Clark were among the players on that Team USA squad that did not appear in the Topps set because they were still amateurs. Both opted to enter the June, 1985 MLB draft, but by then the presses had rolled. 

Both had been drafted in 1982, out of high school. Larkin was the second-round pick of his hometown Cincinnati Reds, while Clark was a fourth-round selection by the Kansas City Royals. Larkin turned down a $50,000 signing bonus to take a football scholarship at Michigan, while Clark spurned the Royals' $35,000 offer to attend Mississippi State.

The rest, as they say, is baseball history.