Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Baseball color barriers still being broken in 1952, Part 2

Yesterday I detailed how some Southern prohibitions to interracial professional baseball were still  being challenged in 1952.

The Sporting News in 1952 had many other articles that showed black players were still facing racial barriers five years after Robinson had entered the major leagues.

In his April 2 "from the Ruhl book" column, Oscar Ruhl reported an incident involving Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella during spring training in Florida.

Ruhl reported that the Dodgers were returning to Miami from a game in Tampa when Robinson and Campanella were refused a ride from the airport to the team hotel downtown in "white cabs."

They were told they had to wait for a "Negro taxi" to be summoned. The white cabbies, according to Ruhl, claimed they had no objection to transporting Robby and Campy, but that they would face a $50 fine for doing do. 

The black Dodgers caught their segregated cab, but Ruhl reported they were "soaked" $10 for the ride.

Elsewhere in Florida about the same time the minor league Milwaukee Brewers made their own stand against segregation.

An article titled, "Brewers Shun Clubhouse Barred to Negro Teammate," reported that when the Brewers arrived in Bartow, Fla., for an exhibition game with Buffalo, first baseman Jim (Bus) Clarkson was barred from the clubhouse by a "Whites Only" sign on the door.

He was told he could dress at a National Guard armory across the street. The other Brewers declared "We dress where he dresses," and followed Clarkson to the armory.

For the first time in 1952, the Florida International League, the southernmost minor league at the time, fielded black players. A pre-season survey of the eight clubs in the league by the St. Petersburg Times showed seven of the teams had no objections to lifting the color line; the Lakeland club demurred with a “no comment.”

The liberalization in the league was no doubt less influenced by human rights concerns than with the fact that black fans had flocked to Miami Stadium all spring to see major league exhibitions that featured black players, but had stayed away from FIL games.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Baseball color barriers still being broken in 1952, Part 1

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 9,098 fans who paid to see the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves in an exhibition game at Chattanooga on April 6, 1952, as the teams made their way North from spring training were treated to a no-hitter.

Most of the fans, however, had been hoping for more offensive fireworks. According to Boston baseball writer Ross McGowen, reporting in the April 16 Sporting News, more than 50% of the crowd on hand were “colored,” and they were there to see Jackie Robinson put on a show.

The game was historic in that it was the first time that black and white ballplayers had played with and against each other at Engel Stadium, home of the Southern Association Chattanooga Lookouts.

But the best Jackie Robinson could do in breaking yet another color line in baseball was to produce two long fouls off Braves’ lefty Warren Spahn in his first at-bat. McGowen reported, “Jackie drew more cheers for two fouls than anybody save Willard Marshall, who hit the game-winning homer in the ninth inning.” Marshall’s blow, with two out in the top of the ninth, gave the Braves a 1-0 win.

Robinson didn’t hit a ball out of the infield and struck out once in his three at-bats. Roy Campanella gave the partisan fans a little more to cheer about when he drew the only walk off of Spahn and stole second base.

Boston’s black centerfielder Sam Jethroe, “drew a mild hand,” according to McGowen, when he got a hit off Dodgers’ pitcher Preacher Roe. The only other black player to appear for Boston was future Milwaukee Braves star Billy Bruton, who pinch-ran for Sid Gordon in the ninth.

Spahn pitched seven innings of hitless and near-perfect ball, then was relieved by Ernie Johnson, who completed the no-hitter.

White Sox teammates Minnie Minoso (left) and Hector Rodriguez, shown
here on their 1953 Bowman cards, integrated professional baseball in
New Orleans during spring training in 1952.
A day after the Dodgers and Braves integrated the ballyard at Chattanooga, the color line was similarly broken at Pelican Park in New Orleans with a Monday night exhibition game between the White Sox and Pirates. Originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon, the game had to be postponed due to the effects of a hurricane that had skirted New Orleans.

Writing in the New Orleans Item, Hap Glaudi wrote, “(Minnie) Minoso and (Hector) Rodriguez were the first members of their race to play baseball with white men in the history of the sport in New Orleans.

“A throng of 9,502 paid to see this new era in baseball.” Of that gate, Glaudi said, “A total of 2,882 Negroes saw the game from their section of the stands.”

The black Cubans who integrated baseball in New Orleans that night each had a double in the game.

Glaudi continued, “It was a sports event which contributed far more for the betterment of race relations in this area than do organizations dedicated to the same purpose.

“It will assist tremendously in erasing the impression which some organizations give our people that there is something wrong with the way god distributes his color,” Glaudi concluded.

More on this topic tomorrow.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Red Man cards got Sporting News' notice

Early in the 1952 baseball season, Red Man advertised
its new baseball card issue in the pages of The Sporting News.

Baseball cards received a modicum of attention in the Aug. 27, 1952, issue of The Sporting News.

In an unsigned item at the bottom of the editorial column on Page 10 was . . .

            In the early days of the century, the collection of picture cards of major league players was a favorite pastime among youngsters. There was keen competition for the distinction of having the largest collection, and the trading of cards that went on among the small fry equaled in intensity the negotiations between rival club officials in deals involving players. All this contributed to the popularity of the game, especially among the rising generation.
            Now the picture cards are being revived by the Liggett & Myers Tobacco Co., with the cards being included in packages of Red Man chewing tobacco. The move immediately met with a favorable response, and the cards are in demand, with dad, uncle and big brother being importuned by youngsters to save the cards for them. Many sports editors and writers have requested collections of the cards for young members of their families. Adults, too, are assembling their own collections in many instances.
            Collecting always has been an American hobby, whether of stamps, coins, autographs of famous people or other items. The enthusiasm with which the revival of player picture-cards has been greeted proves that the urge for collecting can be turned to the advantage of the game and to the pleasure of the collectors.

I found it curious that TSN singled out Red Man for mention in its editorial. That nod no doubt came because L&M had taken frequent 1/8-page ads in the paper to tout its chew and the accompanying baseball cards.

Yet, Bowman Gum Co., which had early in the 1952 season, also run a handful of similar ads, was not mentioned in the paper’s editorial.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Paul Lehner was baseball Gulliver in '51

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.

It wasn't unprecedented, but it was unusual enough for The Sporting News to take note in 1951 that Paul Lehner had played for major league teams that season.

Specifically, TSN noted that Lehner had appeared in the Yankee Stadium visitors' clubhouse in the uniforms of the Philadelphia A's (twice), Chicago White Sox (once), St. Louis Browns (twice) and Cleveland Indians (twice).

Lehner was an undersized (5'9", 165 lbs.) outfielder of only average defensive ability and below-average batting numbers.

After serving in the Navy in World War II, Lehner was signed by the St. Louis Browns for their Class AAA Toledo team in 1946. He hit .319 with 10 home runs for the Mud Hens and after the close of the American Association season, debuted in the American League. 

With the Browns in September, Lehner hit an underwhelming .222, but the team so hard-up in those years, he was able to stick around through the 1949 season, after which he was traded to the Philadelphia A's.

In 1950 Lehner hit .309 -- 80 points above his 1949 mark. That was enough to convince the Chicago White Sox to insist on Lehner as a throw-in in a six-player three-team trade on April 30, 1951, even though he was batting only .143 at the time.

Lehner lasted little more than a month with the White Sox, and was batting just .208 when he was traded back to the Browns on June 4.

His hitting fell off even further, and after less than seven weeks in which he batted only .134, Lehner became a victim of new owner Bill Veeck's housecleaning and Lehner was put on waivers.

He was claimed by the Cleveland Indians on July 19, but appeared in only a dozen games for them through the rest of the year. Despite that limited service with Cleveland, the team voted him a 1/3 share -- $407.82 -- of the team's cut of World Series proceeds; the Indians had finished in second place in the American League. 

His final 1951 batting numbers were a .172 average with a single home run and seven RBI in 65 games.

It was probably about that time, after having played for half of the American League's teams in a single season, that Lehner acquired the nickname "Gulliver."

That became even more appropriate the following season, when Lehner played for five different teams, although only one of them was in the majors.

He opened the 1952 season with the Indianapolis Indians, moved on to the Toronto Maple Leafs after a month, then went to Oakland in the Pacific Coast League. He got his final major league opportunity in late June, when the Boston Red Sox picked him up on waivers. He lasted only a week with Boston, but was hitting .667 when they returned him to the PCL, to play for Seattle. 

Lehner ended his pro career the next season with Memphis, a Class AA White Sox farm club. 

As a major leaguer over seven seasons and 540 games, Lehner hit .257 with 22 home runs and 197 RBI.

He died in 1967 at the age of only 47.

For all his travels, the Bowman baseball card people were able to pin Lehner down long enough to issue a 1949 card as a Brown, and 1950 and 1951 cards in the uniform of the A's. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Jocko Thompson was unsung WWII hero

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.

At Grave in the Netherlands the Maas River is spanned by the Lt. John S. Thompson Bridge, in honor of the 82nd Airborne platoon leader who wrested the span from the German army in September, 1944, then held it until reinforcements could make Allied occupation permanent.

It is surely the only bridge in Europe named for a life-time 6-11 major league pitcher.

This is another instance in which the full story has been told earlier and better. You can check out Gary Bedingfield's blog on the topic at

I'm just here to provide the baseball card perspective and a bit of commentary. 

The little-known baseball hero of World War II can be found on mainstream cards in the 1949, 1950 and 1951 Bowmans sets. He also appears on a couple of 1970s TCMA team sets honoring the 1950 Phillies "Whiz Kids."

Thompson was one of at least four major league pitchers who were World War II veterans of the 82nd Airborne. Also on that list are Bob Porterfield, Ernie White and Hank Grodzicki.

In today's all-volunteer military, there are few professional athletes, Pat Tillman notwithstanding, who have taken time out from, or entirely risked, their lucrative athletic careers to serve. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My '55 All-American set expands with Jurgensen

There's really not too much to say about the newest card in my series of 1955 Topps All-American style customs.

I've added quarterback legend Sonny Jurgensen to my Third Series checklist. I was happy to add a Duke player to my series because as a kid, next to the Army logo, the Blue Devil on Ace Parker's card in the original 1955 Topps A-A set was my favorite. 

In researching the write-up that appears on my card back, I learned a lot about this gutsy, versatile ballplayer.

You can google him yourself on Wikipedia, the Pro Football Hall of Fame site, etc., so there's no need for me to sing his praises here or recap his career.

The most interesting thing I found was a quote from Vince Lombardi, who coached Jurgensen in his waning years in the NFL. The man who coached Bart Starr to numerous NFL and Super Bowl championships said of Jurgensen, "He may be the best the league has ever seen. He is the best I have seen."

Though he was drafted by the Eagles in 1957 and appeared in the 1958 Topps set, Jurgensen was a backup quarterback and was not in Topps' 1959 or 1960 sets. As he career wound down, Topps also failed to include him in its 1973 and 1974 sets. Jurgensen did get half a card in the 1975 set, sharing the NFL Passing Leaders card with Kenny Anderson.

I've been encouraged by collectors in the past to create 1973 and 1974 style Jurgensen custom cards, but doubt that he'll make my to-do list in the foreseeable future.

Monday, May 21, 2012

When Piersall "exchanged autographs"

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.

One of the most heralded rookies of 1952 was Boston Red Sox outfielder Jimmy Piersall. While he hit for only a .267 average with no power, he was a sparkling defensive player with speed to run down fly balls and a strong throwing arm. 

His "antics" in the dugout and on the field, which infuriated his own manager and teammates, opponents, umpires and league officials made his a fan favorite. They also presaged a breakdown that saw him admitted to a mental hospital for seven weeks and was chronicled in the movie Fear Strike Out.  

Piersall's first major league home run (his only home run with the Red Sox in 1952) came on June 9 against Art Houtteman of the Tigers. Piersall's blow came in the fourth inning, landing in the right field seats where a group of students from Northwestern Junior High School of Somerville, Mass., were sitting.

Some of the kids autographed the ball in pencil and threw it to Piersall in the top of the fifth when hr took his position in right field. 

Piersall returned the favor by getting a team-autographed ball and tossing it to the boys when he took the field in the seventh inning.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Zoldak's only HR washed out

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.

Lots of major leaguers have gone their entire careers without hitting a home run. Since 1900 there have been more than a dozen players (more than half were shortstops!) who went to bat more than 1,000 times without ever hitting a home run. 

Pitcher Sam Zoldak is unusual, perhaps even unique, among players in that he did hit a home run -- but it was washed away in a rainout.

Zoldak was a left-handed pitcher who got his chance in the big leagues when manpower was scarce due to World War II. He compiled a major league record of 43-53

He had made a tentative start in professional baseball in 1938, with Palatka in the Class D Florida State League. After he lost both  of the two games he started, he was released. 

He then played at Fordham University, and in 1941 was signed by Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's. Zoldak pitched for three seasons for the A's in the Class A Eastern League, and after he won 20 games in 1943, was called up to the big club. As a hitter, Zoldak had about 175 minor league at-bats without a home run.

Before he could actually pitch for the A's, he was traded to the St. Louis Browns. Though he had a 23-27 record with the Browns through mid-1948, Cleveland owner Bill Veeck paid $100,000 and pitcher Bill Kennedy to acquire Zoldak for the pennant race. Early in 1951 he was part of a big three-team, six-player trade (that included such stars as Gus Zernial and Minnie Minoso) that sent him to the Philadelphia A's, where he ended his major league days in 1952.

Though he played on the American League Champion St. Louis Browns in 1944, and the World Champion Cleveland Indians in 1948, Zoldak did not appear in either World Series.

Zoldak had only 286 major league at-bats over 250 games, being used as a relief pitcher and occasional spot-starter. His lifetime batting average was .175.

His big day at the plate came on July 27, 1949, when the Indians were visiting Yankee Stadium. In the third inning of the game, Zoldak homered off Ed Lopat. Then the rains came and the game was called. Zoldak's lone professional home run was among the statistics wiped out.

Zoldak was among the major league "extras" who appeared in the 1949 movie, The Kid from Cleveland."

He died of cancer in 1966 at the age of 47.

Zoldak's nickname was "Sad Sam," but on the few photos I've seen, and on his 1949 Bowman baseball card and Indians team-issued photo, he's got a smile on his face. Zoldak appeared on Bowman cards 1949-51, in the 1952 Topps set, and on several 1970s TCMA collectors' issues.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Original ad offered Callahan HOF set for 60 cents

Nothing too profound this time . . . just an ad that I thought collectors of 1950s baseball cards would enjoy seeing from a 1952 issue of The Sporting News.

I never had any interest in collecting the little cards that are known to the hobby as Callahan Hall of Fame, but they predated Topps cards and have informative back write-ups. The artwork on front varies greatly in quality, in my opinion.

If you're not familiar with the issue, I don't think I can do a better job of presenting their background than what I wrote for the set's introduction in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards many years ago.

"These cards, which feature artist Mario DeMarco's drawings of Hall of Famers, were produced from 1950 through 1956 and sold by the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and at major league ballparks. The cards measure 1-3/4" x 2-1/2" and include a detailed player biography on the back. When introduced in 1950 the set included all members of the Hall of Fame up to that time, and then new cards were added each year as more players were elected. Therefore, cards of players appearing in all previous editions are more common than those players who appeared in just one or two years. When the set was discontinued in 1956 it consisted of 82 cards, which is now considered a complete set. The cards are not numbered. B.E. Callahan of Chicago, the publisher of 'Who's Who in Baseball,' produced the card set."

The checklist in the catalog notes a number of back-text variations. In the 2012 edition of the catalog, the original boxed set of 62 cards is valued at $500 in Near Mint condition, with the complete 82-card set listed at $600.

I see that there are hundreds of the Callahan cards offered on eBay at any given time, many of them slabbed in high grades by the certification companies, due to the fact that the cards were issued in boxes and may not have been handled much. While some optimistic sellers try to get thousands of dollars for complete PSA-graded sets, single cards of many players can be had for under $5 each.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Custom card came to me in a dream

I'll admit it . . . I'm card-queer.

I have been since the mid-1950s. 

Even now, more than half a century later, I remain afflicted.

One of the way my mania is manifested is that I sometimes dream about baseball cards.

One such recent dream was the impetus for my latest custom card, a fantasy based on 1956 Topps.

In my dream I encountered a 1956 Topps card that had advertising on the back at bottom for a hamburger chain using a pair of square-topped red arches for a logo. The front of the card was just like any regular 1956 Topps card. 

Other images that I recalled from the dream were a polar bear and igloo and the name "Donovan."

The image of that ad-backed card stuck with me for weeks, until, while working on the 1956 Bill Mazeroski card that I debuted yesterday, the pieces all fell into place.

I decided that based on my dream card, Maz would get a second '56 Topps-style card, but one that conformed to my dream.

I started googling fast-food restaurants that used a red arch logo. While I discovered that Burger Chef used such a logo in its early days when it was giving McDonalds a run for its money as the nation's dominant fast food burger chain, I found nothing about a "Donovan's" restaurant. 

So I decided to improvise based on my dream.

As I envision it, my fantasy Maz card is part of a West Coast promotion created by Topps for distribution by Donovan's Drive-In restaurant . . . perhaps as a free card with every kid's meal purchase.

Instead of merely reusing the Topps major league player cards, I fantasized that Donovan's cards used players from the Pacific Coast League. Thus my card has Bill Mazeroski as a player with the Hollywood Stars.

I had to do a bit of modification of the original Topps back design to allow the logo and advertising message to be big enough to make sense. Basically, I had to squeeze some of the stat boxes to give me room at the left end to place the logo, while eliminating the "Life" line. I don't think it's too glaring of a departure from the basic 1956 Topps format.

For the front of my card I combined the background of an original Topps #46, Pirates' third baseman Gene Freese, with a mid-1950s Hollywood photograph of Mazeroski I found on the internet and colorized. 

With all of the stars who played in the Coast League in 1955-56, including some of my personal favorite players from that era, many of whom didn't have "regular" 1956 Topps cards, this fantasy Donovan's Mazeroski may only be the first in a series of my creations.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

If Bill Mazeroski had a 1956 Topps card . . . might have been something like this.

This is my latest custom baseball card. 

As I've said before, 1956 Topps was one of my childhood favorite sets, and remains so today.

Making "new" 1956 Topps-style cards is, however, among the more challenging of the formats in which I create custom cards. It requires both a portrait and an action picture, and three cartoons for the back. 

To maintain the feel of the originals, I like to use cartoons from original '56 Topps cards, but that's not always possible. The 1988 Topps "Big" cards, which copied the 1956 design, offers a wider range of cartoon choices, but even then it's not always possible to find good matches for the career highlights that need to be illustrated.

For my '56 Mazeroski card, I chose to repurpose two of the cartoons I'd used on earlier '56 customs. The cartoon on the left comes from my Charlie Grimm card' the center cartoon was first used on my Frank Robinson card. I picked the cartoon on the right off of Maz's 1959 Topps card.

To create my card front, I used the background from an original 1956 Topps card of Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop-outfielder Eddie O'Brien (#116). The portrait photo came from a 2005 Upper Deck SP Legendary Cuts card; I flopped the orientation and colorized it.

I had to do a bit of mental gymnastics to figure how to handle the stats on the back of the card. 

In 1955, Mazeroski played most of the season for Williamsport in the Class A Eastern League, along with a month at Hollywood in the Pacific Coast League. Because the Eastern League did not promulgate fielding stats for that season, it was impossible to use complete fielding stats in either the "Year" or "Life" lines. I did the best with what I had. 

Check in again tomorrow to see another Bill Mazeroski custom card. It is a fantasy piece based on a dream I had.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Charley Pride's game Boise career detailed

As I mentioned in my last posting, I was recently moved to finally compile the 1953 Organized Baseball stats of country singing legend Charley Pride. (See also my blog entries for Aug. 18, 2009, and Feb. 14, 2010 for more detail about Pride's baseball career.)

Rounding up the data for Pride's two-game stay with the Fond du Lac Panthers of the Class D Wisconsin State League was relatively easy, since I only had to travel 75 miles to access local newspaper microfilm. 

First-hand perusal of such source material relative to Pride's one-game "career" with the Yankees' Class C Pioneer League farm club at Boise, Idaho, was not feasible.

In today's tech-enhanced world of research, there are several once undreamed-of resources. One is, a subscription site that offers on-line access to millions of pages of historical newspapers spanning more than 200 years. 

Unfortunately . . . the archive doesn't offer access to any Boise newspapers.

Fortunately . . . other newspapers in cities represented in the Pioneer League did an excellent job of covering the circuit for their readers.

Thus, with only a couple of hours of searching, I was able to find an Associated Press account of Pride's lone effort for the Boise Yankees. Complete with a full box score, the article appeared on the lead sports page of the May 1 Ogden (Utah) Standard-Examiner.

Only 17 years old (actual or possibly "baseball" age), Pride took the mound on April 30, 1953, against the visiting Salt Lake City Bees. On a cold (the AP called the weather "near freezing") and/or wet night in Boise, there were only 203 paying customers in the stands.

Pride worked the first five innings in a slugfest. He gave up three runs on three hits and five walks, hitting one batter. He struck out two and left the game with a 4-2 lead. He had no-decision in the 9-8 Boise victory. At bat, Pride singled in two trips to the plate. 

Without being able to read the Boise papers, I still don't know when Boise optioned Pride to Fond du Lac, where he debuted May 12. Maybe someday I'll find myself in Boise and can look it up at the local library.

The information I found allowed me to create a "corrected" version of my 1954 Topps-style fantasy card of Charley Pride with the Negro American League Memphis Red Sox. My earlier version of the card had mostly blanks in the stat lines.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Chronicling Charley Pride's Panther days

For more than 20 years, ever since I learned in a trivia book that country singer Charley Pride had played two games of minor league baseball in 1953 for my hometown of Fond du Lac, Wis., I've wanted to learn more.

Unfortunately, if a player appeared in fewer than 10 games for a team, his stats generally weren't recorded in the "bible" for such things, the annual Sporting News Guide. Today's new standard the internet site, which drew much of its data from the old Guides, also can be very lean on stats for short-term players.

Knowing that scratching that itch for Pride's FDL stats was only 75 miles away in the microfilms of the Fond du Lac Commonwealth Reporter at the public library there, it still took me two decades to find the time and make the effort to dig up that data.

Finally, while returning from Milwaukee from my six-month knee replacement follow-up doctor's visit on May 4, I detoured onto familiar streets in Fond du Lac and sat down at one of those new-generation microfilm readers that allows not only viewing, but also printing and downloading onto a flash drive.

I spent about three and a half hours scanning the old sports pages, often finding myself distracted by other hometown news and ads from my childhood.

Fortunately, the local paper provided excellent coverage of the Fond du Lac Panthers in 1953. That was the final season of the Class D Wisconsin State League, an eight-team circuit that was killed by television and the arrival of the Milwaukee Braves.

Fond du Lac, which had been a farm team of the New York Yankees for several seasons, operated independently in 1953. Attendance boomed and the team was able to finish in the black, even selling a few prospects at the close of the season. (I'll have more about one of those prospects in a future column.)

Because I had seen an ad in the Aug. 12, 1953, issue of The Sporting News, in which the team was looking for a second baseman and a pitcher, I incorrectly guessed that Pride, who had begun the 1953 season with the Yankees' Class C Pioneer League team at Boise, Idaho, had come to Fond du Lac late in the season.

Thus I began my microfilm scanning at the end of the season in early September, and working backward. Finding that rather clumsy, after a couple of hours I jumped to the start of the season.

One of the surprising things I discovered is that, operating on a shoestring, the Fond du Lac team didn't have the money to go South for spring training. They worked out in the cold, wet Wisconsin April at home, playing a few intrasquad games and a tune-up match with the University of Wisconsin freshman team as the season opener approached in early May.

I found what I was looking for in the Friday, May 13, issue of the paper. There in the center of the sports page was a portrait photo labeled "PRIDE".

Datelined Appleton, the article led with, "Pride of the Yankees--Charley Pride, that is--gave up only eight hits but his Fond du Lac mates could collect only six themselves here Thursday here Thursday night as the Panthers lost their first outing of the current road trip 7-1 to the Appleton Braves."

The article detailed that Pride pitched the complete game but got off to a shaky start, giving up five runs in the first three innings. Besides the eight hits (one was a home run), Pride walked three, struck out six and had a wild pitch. Generally a good hitter, Pride was 0-for-3 at the plate in his Wisconsin State League debut.

It was mentioned in the article that Pride was with the Fond du Lac club on option from Boise.

Pride's second and final appearance for Fond du Lac was on May 18, again facing the Braves when Appleton visited. Pride pitched 4.1 innings, giving up two runs on three hits and six walks, while striking out three. He left after loading the bases in the fifth inning with one out, though he had a 5-2 lead. Perhaps I was a little groggy after more than three hours staring at the screen, but I neglected to record the game's outcome. All I know is that Pride got a no-decision. He singled in two at-bats. The unnamed sportswriter commented that Pride, "looked in good form except for momentary streaks of wildness."

I found no mention of Pride's release from the team. I did find that he was gone before the June 1 cutdown date when the roster had to be reduced to 16; he was not among the four players named as being cut.

Pride returned to Memphis after his stint in Fond du Lac, and pitched for the Red Sox of the Negro American League.

Based on the box scores and game accounts in the Reporter, I was finally able to satisfy my curiosity about the time that C&W legend Charley Pride pitched pro ball for Fond du Lac.

Another of the assumptions I'd held about Pride's short stay in Fond du Lac was partially disabused by my perusal of the papers. I assumed he had been the only black player on the team, but I was way wrong. During the 1953 season, the Panthers also fielded at least one other American black, two black players from Panama and one black Cuban.

I guess my assumption had been based on my perception from growing up in Fond du  Lac in the late 1950s that the town was as racist as any city its size in Alabama or Georgia. Perhaps my recollection of that is also faulty. Maybe I'll explore that topic in a future entry.

I did find in reading game accounts and columns in the FDL papers that the Panthers had been the target of considerable racial baiting while playing at Green Bay during the 1953 season, despite the fact that the Green Bay Blue Jays had fielded its first black player that season.

Something else I found on that May 13 sports page was also a memory jog. An article just to the right of the Panthers' game piece is headlined "Father Fox Set / To Compete in / A.B.C. Masters'".

Father Ray Fox was the pastor of my parish, Sacred Heart, when that church/school was founded about 1960. I'm not sure where he was stationed in 1953, but the article did bring to mind a recollection that Father Fox was an accomplished bowler, though he may have given up competitive bowling by the time I knew him.

Finding the stats of Charley Pride's record with Fond du Lac was a big step in allowing me to "complete" the 1954 Topps-style custom card I created two years ago. You can read about that card and more about Pride's pro ball career on my blog from Feb. 14, 2010. My 1954 Bowman-style custom was covered on my blog on Aug. 18, 2009.

In my next entry, I'll tell you about finding the Boise stats I needed to update my '54T card. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Whose Maz autograph did Topps use?

I'm working on a custom card of Bill Mazeroski that requires the use of a facsimile signature (I'll bet you can guess what it is). 

Since 1959 was the first Topps card on which Maz's facsimile autograph appeared, I looked into picking it up from that card. 

I was surprised to find that the signature on that card (the same signature was used on his 1971 Topps) was very unlike any of the other Maz autographs I had found around the internet.

For example, compare the Topps version with the signature that appeared on the 1957 Kahn's Weiners Maz card . . . 

Here;s another Kahn's Maz card, from 1964 . . . 

Also shown here is his autographed added to a Perez-Steele Hall of Fame postcard, probably in the 1990s.
So, I have to ask: Did Topps use a "real" Bill Mazeroski signature on its 1959 and 1971 cards?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Creepy kids and outsized bank found on old checks

In my entry on April 12, I detailed a bit of my interest in collectible old checks.

I thought I'd revisit that topic and share a couple of interesting late 19th Century specimens on the Union Bank of Winchester, Va.

The earlier check is dated 1882. The lithography work was by A. Hoen & Co., of Baltimore. The check is large (about 8-3/8" x 3-1/2") and colorful, with lots of ornate typography. 

The vignettes of a pair of little girls, however, are just creepy. 

The moppet at upper-right isn't too bad, the child just has a melon head.

It is the little girl at left that sends a chill down my spine. She is positively demonic. I don't know what sort of potion she has dipped her index finger in, but the look in her eyes dares you to remonstrate her for it. The fact that there is some sort of gargoyle supporting the table she's leaning on just underscores the dark nature of the engraving.

By 1900, the bank had switched printers, to the Milwaukee firm of J. Knauber Litho. Co.

The 1900 check is similar in size and general format to the 1882 instrument, but has a different pre-printed orange two-cent U.S. Internal Revenue stamp at center. (You used to have to pay a tax on every check written. The 2-cent tax on a check from 1900 is equivalent to about 52 cents today.)

Also different on the 1900 Union Bank check is the vignette. The spooky kids are gone, replaced with a large view of a multi-story stone building identified as the issuing bank.

If you look closely at the vignette, however, it becomes evident that the building is wildly disproportionate to the people and horses in the street. The man on the bank steps generously measures about 3.5 mm. Assuming he was of typical height in that era, say 5'9", the front doors on the bank would be just under 20 feet tall. The building would be about 90 feet tall . . . or more than six stories. 

Note that the Knauber engraver included a derbied gent on a bicycle in the street scene.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Bowman's '52 baseball plans fell short

In the spring of 1952, Bowman placed an eighth-page ad in several issues of The Sporting News, heralding its forthcoming baseball card issue.

The use of a photographic image of Bobby Thomson on its "sample" card may have been somewhat misleading, in that the company again used color paintings for the cards.

What was plain wrong, however, was the headline that the 1952 set would include more than 400 cards. In reality, the 1952 Bowman baseball set comprised just 252 cards, a decrease of nearly 25% from the company's 324-card issue of 1951.

It seems obvious that Topps' stepping up its own baseball card efforts for 1952, utilizing a much larger format and including more than 400 cards, had an effect on Bowman's issue. Bowman's downsizing probably was due to a combination of sales lost to Topps and contract troubles with the players whom Topps had signed to exclusive bubblegum-card contracts. 

While some unused baseball player paintings that were intended for Bowman cards that year are known to exist, it's interesting to speculate how many of the paintings for the projected 400+ cards were actually begun or completed . . . and where they might be today. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A final (custom) card for Bill Skowron

I've mentioned before that Topps generally showed no sentimentality towards retired players in the 1950s-1970s. If they knew about a player's retirement before the presses started to roll on its new series of baseball cards, the player was omitted from the new year's checklist.

This resulted in there being no "career wrap-up" card for many players. showing the entirety of their major league record.

Such was the case with the late Bill Skowron. He ended his career after the 1967 season. Early that season he had been traded from the Chicago White Sox to the California Angels. He is pictured on his final career-contemporary Topps card (1967) in a White Sox uniform.

Skowron doesn't need me to enhance his baseball card legacy. Besides appearing dozens of regular and subset cards between his 1954 rookie season and 1967, he can be found on tons of regional issues, many of them quite scarce. And, of course, when the card companies began using former stars in retro and tribute sets, etc., Skowron appeared on many more cards. 

However, since he didn't get a card in the 1968 Topps set as an Angel, I decided to create the custom card you see here.

I always liked Moose Skowron . . . as far as 1950s Yankees went. I was fortunate enough to meet him a decade or so ago at one of the Chicago card shows. He had struck up a relationship with Alan Rosen, and would show up to hang out with Mr. Mint when there was a big show in Chicago, where he lived in retirement.
It was a real pleasure to talk 1950s baseball with one of the era's stars.

Regular readers of this blog may remember that this is not my first Bill Skowron custom card. A couple of years ago I made a 1955 All-American style football card marking his career at Purdue.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Karl Drews was well traveled, had first-round pick grandson

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.

Karl Drews pitched professionally in four decades; somebody in Organized Baseball was always willing to take a chance on a big (6'4", 192 lbs.) hard-throwing right-hander . . . even if he was a bit wild. He played for 20 teams in 21 seasons.

Drews was born in Ellingville on Staten Island, N.Y. in 1920, and the hometown Yankees signed him as a 19-year-old free agent in 1939.

Drews had an impressive start in pro ball. With the Yankees' Class D Butler farm club he led the  Pennsylvania State Association with a 16-5 record on a 3.66 ERA. He was, however, second on the circuit in giving up bases on balls--23 in 192 innings.

That was the pitching pattern for much of Drews' career; he often won more than a dozen games a season, but frequently was among his leagues' leaders in walks; giving 110 or more free passes in five seasons.

From 1940-42, Drews made six stops on Class B and C  clubs in the East and South: 1940--Akron and Norfolk, 1941--Amsterdam, August and Norfolk, and 1942--Norfolk and Evansville.

Drews apparently spent the 1943 season in the military. In 1944 he made the jump to top Yankee farm teams at Binghamton and Newark, winning 15 games and losing 11.

In 1945 he remained with Newark in the International League for the entire season, leading the Bears with 19 wins.

He had 14 wins at Kansas City, the top Yankees' minor league team, before being called up in September. With New York from September, 1946 through July, 1948, Drews had an 8-12 record. He appeared in relief twice during the 1947 World Series win over the Dodgers.

In August, 1948, Drews was sold to the St. Louis Browns. He was 3-2 with an 8.05 ERA during the rest of 1948, and after a 4-12 season in 1949, he was farmed out to Baltimore, then in the International League. He had a 6-2 record with the Orioles in 1950, and after a 17-13 season with the O's in 1951, he returned to the major leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Drews spent the 1952-53 seasons with the Phils, then was sold to Cincinnati in June, 1954. Overall with Philadelphia he had a 25-25 record. After his 4-4 stint with the Redlegs, Drews left the major leagues for good.

One of the worst-hitting pitchers in major league history, Drews was 1-for-the-1940s. Coming up to the majors in 1946, he had only one at bat that season. On May 31, 1947, he got a hit off Bob Feller, then went 0-24 for the rest of the season.  He went 0-48 in 1948, and 0-46 in 1949, ending the decade with a .010 BA. He was 0-2 at bat for the Yankees in the 1947 World Series.

Drews spent the 1950 season and most of 1951 in the International League, with the Baltimore Orioles. He batted .142.

When he was called up by the Phillies in September that season, he snapped his 0-for-84 slump on Sept. 22 with a single off Brookyln's Bud Podbielan in a game he won 7-3. For good measure, he singled off Carl Erskine on Sept. 30, raising his major league lifetime average to .027. 

In three more major league seasons, Drews batted .110 (1952), .119 (1953) and .125 (1953). His final lifetime major league batting average was .083. 

He pitched for six more seasons in the high minors with Oakland (1955), Buffalo (1956-58), Indianapolis (1958), Nashville (1958), Miami (1959), and Mexico City (1959-60). In the minor leagues between 1939-60, he batted around .154.

During his major league days, Drews had worked in the off-seasons as a Police Athletic League recreation director in New York City. After retiring from baseball, he took a similar position with the Hollywood, Fla., recreation department.

On Aug. 15, 1963, he was driving his daughter to an athletic engagement near Denia, Fla., when his car stalled. He got out and attempted to flag down a passing motorist, who struck and killed the 43-year-old former pitcher. That driver was charged with drunk driving.

On the day (Oct. 2, 1947) that he pitched in his first World Series game, Karl Drews' son, Ronald, was born. Karl set aside the Yankees cap he wore in the game for his son.

At the age of 11, the younger Drews pitched two consecutive no-hitters in Little League ball. He went on to star in baseball and basketball at Old Dominion, and in 1969 was drafted by the N.Y. Mets. 

Ron Drews never played pro ball, becoming a banking executive in Sarasota, Fla.

In the first round of the 1993 MLB draft, the New York Yankees made Matt Drews, Karl Drews' grandson, their first-round pick (#13 overall). After getting the call from the Yankees, Matt was presented with his grandfather's World Series cap by his father.

Matt Drews signed for a $620,000 bonus. He began his pro career by leading his Yankees' farm clubs in wins each of his first two seasons; 7-6 with Oneonta in 1994 and 15-7 with Tampa in 1995. He never again had a winning season. In 1996, he had a 1-14 record combined for Tampa, Norwich and Columbus in the Yankees' chain, and Jacksonville in the Tigers' organization. He was 8-13 in 1997 with Jacksonville and Toledo. In 1998-99 with Toledo he had a 7-31 record. His last pro season was a single game in 2000 at Durham, in the Devil Rays organization. 

Matt Drews retired from pro ball after seven seasons with a 38-71 record and 5.14 ERA. As a first-round Yankees draft pick, he appeared on numerous minor league and major league prospects cards during the late 1990s.

Karl Drews, for all of his 21 years in pro ball, appeared in only a handful of mainstream card sets: 1949 and 1953-54 Bowman, and 1952-53 Topps.