Monday, July 30, 2012

Going on hiatus

This blog will be going dark for a week or 10 days.

I'm leaving today for the National Sports Collectors Convention in Baltimore.

I expect to have some new postings before long.

In the interim, feel free to click on "Older Posts" to see what you may have missed in the past couple of years.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

WWII shortstop became Elvis' bodyguard

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.

            One of Elvis Presley’s bodyguards circa 1960 was a former major league ballplayer.
            That’s according to St. Louis sports writer Ed O’Neil (no, not Ed O’Neill the former Youngstown State football player/AlBundy/Jay Pritchett).
            Writing in his “Breezes From Press Box / Picked Up by Bended Ear,” column in the July 6, 1960, Sporting News, O’Neil revealed,
            “Elvis Presley’s bodyguard is a fellow with a brief major league background.
            “Bitsy Mott, paid as a ‘security’ man by Presley, is the same Elisha Matthew Mott who played in 90 games and hit .221 for the 1945 Philadelphia Phillies, playing second, third and shortstop.
            “Mott was a special deputy on the Tampa, Fla., sheriff’s staff before going with Elvis into teen-age combat. In Presley’s G.I. Blues movie, Mott plays a sergeant, tongue-lashing Elvis. He uses the oratorical style he acquired while debating heatedly with umpires.”
            In 1961, Mott appeared, again uncredited, as a state trooper in the Elvis Presley movie, Wild in the Country.
            Mott, whose nickname came from his 5’ 8”, 155-lb. frame, got the Presley gig because his sister married Elvis’ agent, Col. Tom Parker.
            Mott’s pro career began in 1939 and ended in 1957. He played all over the Eastern U.S., mostly in lower-classification leagues in the Southeast. He never played higher than a single game of Class AA ball, with Little Rock of the Southern Association. He was the prototypical “good field, no hit” infielder, batting around .255 for his career.
            As far as I know, Mott never appeared on a baseball card.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Could'a-been, should'a-been '58 Campy

As a seven-year-old card collector, besides the Milwaukee Braves' cards, some of the most eagerly anticipated cards in the 1958 Topps set were those of the Dodgers and Giants . . . the teams that had moved to California.

I wanted to see what some of my favorite "enemy" players looked like in their new uniforms: Mays, Hodges, Antonelli, Snider, Campanella.

I felt gypped (I know, no loner a p-c term) when all Topps gave us was pictures with new logos airbrushed on their caps.

As the season wore on, and new Topps series came and went without the appearance of a Roy Campanella card, I began to suspect that Topps had given up on Campy's chances to come back from that fateful auto wreck on Jan. 28.

After dinner that night, Campanella had left his Glen Cove, Long Island, home to drive to Manhattan for a television appearance. The appearance was postponed and Campanella drove on to his liquor store in Harlem. After closing up shop he was returning home in a rented 1957 Chevrolet about 3:30 a.m. when he failed to negotiate a curve and wrecked the car. 

Campanella broke his neck in the crash and was left paralyzed from the chest down.

Marshaling the power of wishful thinking, all of baseball hoped and prayed for Campy's recovery and return to the diamond. That never happened.

We got our Campanella card in 1959 Topps, a high-number titled "Symbol of Courage. The card pictures the fallen Dodgers star in a wheelchair. On back is an inspirational message over the signature of National League president Warren Giles. It was the first time Topps had issued such a "tribute" card. 

(A copy of that card is one of last vintage cards I added to my personal collection. I bought one in 2000, when I was confined to a wheelchair for several months, and feeling a special empathy for Campanella.)

Since 1961, Topps has included Campanella card in many, many sets. Companies like Fleer and Upper Deck also had Campy cards in some of their vintage-retro-throwback issues. And of course he appears on many collectors' issues from the 1970s onward.

There was a Roy Campanella card issued in 1958. Bell Brand chips issued a regional set to welcome the Dodgers to Los Angeles. The Campy card in that scarce set makes no mention of the accident. 

More than half a century later, we'll probably never know why Topps didn't issue a Campanella card in 1958. Unlike card #145 that was initially listed on the checklist as Ed Bouchee, but was never printed, Campanella's name didn't appear anywhere on the Topps checklists. Whomever made that decision correctly, but lamentably, concluded that Campanella wouldn't be playing for Los Angeles that season.

Perhaps Topps bigwigs also felt that producing some sort of tribute card in the 1958 set would send the wrong message . . . that Campanella was never coming back.

I've decided for my latest custom card project to create the 1958 Topps Roy Campanella card that never was. I present it herewith.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Who was Jane Searles and why was Ty Cobb paying her $8 a month? UPDATED W/ANSWERS!

I've mentioned a time or two that one of my retirement projects has been helping my former boss with the disposal of a 40+-year collection of bank checks, stocks, bonds and related fiscal paper.

We recently uncovered a handful of checks that were signed by famous baseball players -- three of them by Ty Cobb. 

Many collectors believe that checks are an excellent way to insure that an autograph is authentic. After all, in most circumstances, signing another person's name to a check is considered criminal forgery. While a name penned on a check is not an absolute guarantee of authenticity, it can usually be relied upon as genuine.

The earliest of the three checks is dated May 3, 1930, and drawn on Cobb's account at the Georgia Railroad Bank of Augusta, Ga.

The check was payable to "Jane Searles" in the amount of $8. 

In researching the check, I discovered that this example is not unique; several other Cobb checks on the Georgia Railroad Bank payable to Jane Searles for $8 have been sold within the hobby in recent years. They appear to have been issued at one-month intervals.

Which raises the question . . . who was Jane Searles and why was Ty Cobb paying her $8 a month in 1930?

The example of the Cobb-Searles check that my boss has appears to have been purchased circa 1981 from The Franklin Autograph Society of Hatfield, Pa. He has a gold foil-sealed certificate of authenticity to that effect. His records don't indicate what he paid for the check. 

The FAS was founded in 1975 and appears to have authenticated and sold to collectors all manner of documents bearing famous signatures. Whether they had the expertise to truly authenticate those autographs is anybody's guess.

I wouldn't be surprised if the several Cobb-Searles checks in circulation in the baseball memorabilia hobby all came from FAS. It is not uncommon for large numbers of a famous person's check to be sold to one buyer and then parceled out to collectors. 

Obviously, if Jane Searles' connection to Ty Cobb was readily discernible via a Google-search, I'd have done so and presented the findings here. Perhaps details can be found in one of the Cobb biographies.

Eight dollars in 1930 money is equal to about $105 today. Whether these checks payment for housekeeping, dog-walking or some other type of regular personal services is a matter for speculation. 

The collectible check itself is typical of the early decades of the 20th Century. The body measures about 8-1/4" x 3-1/8". At the left end, where there is a large vignette of the Augusta bank's august stone headquarters, a check stub has been pasted, also made out in Cobb's hand with the date, amount and payee. If you look closely, you may be able to see at center an underprint image of a steam train, with "Georgia Railroad" and the date 1833.

The endorsement(s) on back would be useful in solving this riddle -- if they were decipherable.

Searles has endorsed the check, as "Janie Searles," at top. Beneath that is a company name, perhaps "Henderson Gas Co."? The signature of Rose S. Baron appears below that. Towards the bottom is a purple rubber-stamped receipt of the Savings Teller, The National Exchange Bank, Augusta. 

As you can see, the check has suffered some damage at the bottom-right, gnawed on by silverfish, mice or similar varmints. 

Still, because  it bears an unmistakably genuine autograph of Ty Cobb, it should be worth the average price of about $800 that Ty Cobb checks have been bringing in today's market. The check will be offered in a forthcoming sale later this year.

Reader Mark Aubrey has provided the answer to this puzzle. He writes, 

"I looked at and found a Janie Searles, age 22, living in Augusta, Georgia in the 1930 Census.

She is one of at least two daughters to Robert Searles, a widowed barber.

Janie's occupation is listed as a cook in a private home.

She is single and listed as "Negro" in the 'color or race' column and can read and write.

She and her parents were born in South Carolina."

Mark reports that 1940 Census showed she was still a cook in a private home. "I noticed in the 1940 Census that Janie was making $240.  I assume that is per month, although I haven't checked it out.  She was also working 58 hours per week.  If she was Cobb's cook, either he did a lot of entertaining, was real hungry or she was a slow cook."

Ed McDonald is a Florida card collector and dealer who shares a lot of my interests in the hobby and baseball. He was able to shed additional light on this Ty Cobb check.

He wrote: 

"I have a little info on the Cobb checks.     I was at the baseball card show in Atlanta when those checks were "discovered".    I believe it was the spring of 1976 (give or take 1 year).     It was several years before the first National in LA in 1980.

"It was already dark on a Saturday evening, not long before the show closed.    This very old tall thin gentleman, wearing overalls and a ball cap, wandered into the show with the entire checkbook.    3 checks per page, all glued back onto their stubs ... hundreds of pages of checks.    The chec ks were separate, but the stubs were still uncut and still in the 3-ring check binder.     He wanted $75 per sheet of 3 checks, cash only.     I bought 3 pages (9 checks) ... I still have some.    In fact, I was the first person to look at the checks (and to hear the story).     My table was out in the hall, just outside the show room.

"The old guy related that he was a distant relative of Cobb's and had inherited, from Cobb, an old rusted 30's-40's car, with no keys, and having not run for many years (supposedly Cobb' s but even he was not sure).   Cobb died in 1961 so I assume this took place in the year or two afterwards, when the estate was settled.

"The car sat for quite a few years in a barn that the old guy had.    In the early 1970's, he decided to try to sell the car.   When a locksmith came, they got the trunk open and there were the checkbook, a bat and a pair of cleats.    He didn't want to sell the latter two items but saw the card show advertised, and there he was, with the checkbook in tow.

"That was his story to me."

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Babe Ruth left $360,000 estate

            While digging through an old issue of The Sporting News, I discovered some data about the estate Babe Ruth left upon his death at the age of 53 on Aug. 16, 1948, According to a New York tax appraisal, the estate was valued at $360,000 (that's about $3,230,000 in today's dollars). 
            In his 24 years of professional baseball, his baseball earnings were estimated to have been about $1,425,000. His total income in that period, of course, was much higher due to many lucrative endorsements.
            Of Ruth’s estate, $179,611 was in a trust fund in which his widow, Claire Ruth, was left a life interest. He also left her a $5,000 bequest.
            Ruth bequeathed $5,000 each to his adopted daughters, Julia Ruth Landers of Kearsage, N.H., and Dorothy Sullivan Ruth Tirone of New York.
            His sister in Baltimore, Mary H. Moberly, received $10,000.
            Upon the passing of his widow, 10% of the trust fund was to go to the Babe Ruth Foundation that he had established for “the kids of America.”

Friday, July 20, 2012

Artie Wilson was 'Wally Pipp' to Willie Mays

Among the PCL regional card sets in which
Wilson appears in this 1952 Mother's Cookies.

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.

 In our last presentation, we covered Willie Mays' preferment from the N.Y. Giants' Class AAA farm club in the American Association to the major leagues on May 24, 1951.

To make room for Mays on the roster, the Giants optioned infielder and left-handed pinch-hitter Artie Wilson to Ottawa of the International League. Wilson never again played in the major leagues. After two games with the O-Giants, he was sent to Minneapolis as a sop to Millers fans who were upset about the loss of their slugging star, Mays.

Wilson’s stay in Minneapolis was also brief. On June 20, at the behest of Oakland Oaks manager Mel Ott and owner Brick Laws, the Giants optioned Wilson to the Pacific Coast League, where it was hoped his presence would improve the Oaks’ gate, which at the time was lagging some 125,000 behind the previous year’s pace. Wilson had starred for the Oaks in 1949 and 1950, after five years playing in the Negro Leagues. He was the key man in the infield for the team that took the PCL pennant twice in three seasons, and led the Coast League in batting (.350) in 1949. He hit .311 with Oakland in 1950; after the season he was traded to the Giants.

Saying goodbye to Minneapolis with a bang, in his last game as a Miller, Wilson had a perfect night in his finale. Playing left field in the first game of a doubleheader, Wilson hit an inside-the-park home run, a triple and two singles. He also drew a walk and drove in four runs. Immediately after the game he was rushed to the airport to catch an airplane for the coast.

Playing Winter League ball in the Puerto Rican
League in 1949-50, Wilson hit .367 to lead the
Mayaguez Indians to the title. This is his

1950-51 Toleteros card.
Oakland fans arranged for the presentation of floral pieces at home plate when Wilson suited up for his first game with the Oaks on June 22. His presence was the impetus for the team’s biggest home crowd of the season, more than 8,500.

He didn’t disappoint the local fans in his homecoming, hitting two singles and a ninth inning sacrifice fly that brought home a run that proved to be margin of victory in a 5-4 Oakland win over San Francisco. As attendance swelled to 23,000 for the first three games upon Wilson’s return, Oakland won four out of six games.

Wilson was one of the Oaks’ most popular players in that era. Oakland baseball writer Ed Schoenfeld described him as the “skinny little Negro jumping-jack shortstop,” and predicted he would be the spark needed for the Oaks to capture the 1951 pennant. They finished fifth in the Coast League, 19-1/2 games behind. Wilson had hit .255 for the year. 

Wilson spent the next six years in the Pacific Coast League, batting .315 between 1952-57 with Seattle, Portland and Sacramento. After a five-year layoff, Wilson returned to the PCL briefly in 1962 at the age of 41, hitting just .164 in 25 games with Portland. He was elected to the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame in 2003, and died in 2010, just after his 90th birthday.

In his 19 games with the Giants in 1951, Wilson had only four hits in 22 at-bats--all singles--a .182 average. For his time with the Giants, Wilson was awarded a 1/8th share from the team’s World Series pool: $618.88.

It's not surprising that Wilson didn't have any mainstream baseball card appearances in his brief major league career, but he can be found on a number of regional cards issued Out West during his PCL days, and on 1949-50, 1950-51 Toleteros Puerto Rican League cards.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

TSN cartoon helped Mays to majors

Some of the earliest publicity that Willie Mays received in the national sporting media appeared in the May 23, 1951, issue of The Sporting News.

There was a large cartoon montage by famed sports cartoonist Murray Olderman on Page 27 of that issue.

On the following page, in the section devoted to American Association news and box scores was a short article . . .

Mays Amazes Miller Fans,
Hits .607 on Home Stand
            MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.—Willie Mays, young Negro flychaser, enjoyed one of the most productive two weeks at bat ever experienced in O.B. during Minneapolis’ first home stand, which ended May 13.
            In 14 games, the Miller rookie tagged opposing pitchers for 34 hits in 56 times at bat—a .607 pace. Mays drove in 13 runs during the span, and 13 of his blows were for extra bases—eight doubles, one triple and four drives over the Nicollet Park wall.
            Mays failed to connect safely in only one of the 14 contests, while on three occasions he had a perfect record at bat, once with five hits and twice with three.

On May 24, the Giants called Mays up to New York. At the time he had a 16-game hitting streak going, having batted .567 since the skein began on May 6. It was later said that the TSN article, and particularly Olderman's cartoon, had brought Mays to the attention of Giants' owner Horace Stoneham and precipitated his call-up.

 On the Sunday following Mays preferment, Stoneham made a conciliatory gesture to the Minneapolis fans by taking out a large ad in the Minneapolis Tribune to offer this explanation . . . 

            “We feel that the Minneapolis baseball fans, who have so enthusiastically supported the Minneapolis club, are entitled to an explanation for the player deal that on Friday transferred Outfielder Willie Mays from the Millers to the New York Giants.
            “We appreciate his worth to the Millers, but in all fairness, Mays himself must be a factor in these considerations. On the record of performance since the American Association season started, Mays is entitled to his promotion and the chance to prove that he can play major league baseball.
            “The New York Giants will continue in our efforts to provide Minneapolis with a winning team.”

At the time Mays was promoted, the Millers were in third place in the American Association. With their leading batter gone, Minneapolis quickly dropped to the middle of the league's standings, and ended the season in the second division, 17-1/2 games out of first place.

Mays’ promotion to the major league was judged costly not only to the Millers’ pennant hopes, but also to ticket sales throughout the American Association. One official of the Milwaukee Brewers told the New York News that Mays’ absence was a $250,000 loss  to the league.

In his 35 games with Minneapolis, Mays had batted .477.

When he joined the Giants, Mays was given #14. He took his famed #24 when Jack Maguire went to the Pirates on waivers May 28.
Giants’ fans must have wondered what was going on, however, when Mays went 1-for-26 in his first seven major league games—a .038 average. (His first big league hit came on May 28, a home run off Warren Spahn of the Boston Braves.)
In his next 10 games with New York, though, Mays was 15-for-37, a .405 average, bringing his batting mark up to .254.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Schmitz "unhappiest ball player" of 1952

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.

Journeyman pitcher Johnny Schmitz was tagged by Robert L. Burnes, sports editor of the St. Louis Globe Democrat, as the "unhappiest ball player" of 1952. 

Burnes was referring to Schmitz having been dealt away from both pennant-winning teams that year and presumably missing out on World Series bonus money.

Schmitz had been traded from the perennially second division Cubs in mid-1951 to the always-contending Brooklyn Dodgers.

Schmitz began the 1952 season with Brooklyn, who won the National League pennant. After going 1-1 for the Dodgers, Schmitz was put on waivers on Aug. 1. 

By what must have seemed like a stroke of good luck, Schmitz was picked up by the N.Y. Yankees, who were in first place in the American League at the time and were the eventual World Champions.

After less than a month, the Yanks traded Schmitz to the seventh place Cincinnati Reds. He left the Yankees with a 1-1 record on Aug. 28. 

The Reds finished the 1952 season in sixth place, out of the running for post-season bonus pay.

A full World Series share for the Yankees in 1952 totaled just over $6,000, which probably represent most of a year's salary for Schmitz at that time. The N.L. Champion Dodgers set a full share of their cut of World Series proceeds at $4,200.

As it turned out, though, Schmitz was not forgotten in divying up what the Sporting News of the day liked to term, the "melon." While the Dodgers stiffed him, the Yankees voted Schmitz a one-fourth share, amounting to $1,496.66. 

Schmitz was not the only recipient of Yankees' largesse with their post-season split. Charlie Keller, a long-time Yankees slugging star who had spent the 1950-51 seasons in exile with the Detroit Tigers, returned to the Yankees as a free agent on Sept. 5, 1952. In his three weeks on the roster, he struck out in his only at-bat. Probably more in gratitude for his earlier years of service in pinstripes, Keller was voted a $1,000 share of the World Series pool.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bruton was early Milwaukee fan favorite

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.

Unless you were a Milwaukee Braves fan at the time, or like myself are a serious student of the Braves of that era, you’d probably never guess who was the team’s first fan favorite.

It wasn’t future Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews, though he led the National League with 47 home runs that season. Nor was it staff ace Warren Spahn, another Hall of Famer who led the league with 23 wins and a 2.10 ERA.

No, the first player to capture the town’s attention was centerfielder Billy Bruton.

In their first game as the Milwaukee, rather than Boston, Braves, the team had defeated the Reds 2-0 in the 1953 season opener at Cincinnati on April 13. Bruton had batted 2-for-4 with a double, but the writers said his greatest contribution was in centerfield; they estimated he took six runs away from the home team with his fielding.

The next day, against the Cardinals and Gerry Staley, the Braves played their first official game at the brand new Milwaukee County Stadium. Despite a 47-degree temperature for the home opener, attendance was 34,357 – a larger draw than any series the team had played at Boston in 1952. There was no TV coverage for the opener and one wrtier described downtown Milwaukee as deserted at gametime.

After flying out to left in the first and popping up in the infield in the third, Bruton led off the sixth inning with a single. In the bottom of the eighth, with two out. Bruton tripled. He scored on Sid Gordon’s single to break a 1-1 tie.

The Cardinals answered with one in the top of the ninth, but in the bottom of the 10th, Bruton hit a walk-off home run – a storybook ending to the Milwaukee Braves first official home game.

In the team’s first two games, Bruton had five of the Braves’ 15 hits, three of their five runs and the team’s only stolen base.

Wet, cold weather forced cancellation of the rest of the home series with St. Louis. The Braves returned to Cincinnati on April 17 and Bruton continued to be hot. The Braves lost 10-9, but Bruton was 3-for-5, raising his batting average to .571.

In St. Louis on the 19th he was “only” 2-for-4 in the Braves 4-3 loss, and his average dropped back to .556.

Bruton went on to get at least one hit in each of the Braves first seven games of 1953
and he was batting .424.

He cooled off considerably as the year progressed. By the end of the season his BA was .250, the lowest total over the course of his .273 career spanning 12 years.

I may be incorrect in this, but I believe that Billy Bruton was the first player to be honored on the cover of the Milwaukee Braves program.

If I’m not mistaken, the team’s first cover, prepared for its exhibition games against the Boston Red Sox, had a picture of County Stadium at center. For the official season, manager Charlie Grimm, who had managed the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association 1941-44 and 1951-52, initially had the place of honor on the program’s cover.

I believe that Bruton then became the cover boy on the basis of his torrid play in the first week of the season. He appeared on the program cover for homestands later in the season, as well, rotating with such other Braves stars as Eddie Mathews, Joe Adcock, etc.

Milwaukee was predisposed to get behind Bruton as their first big league hero, as 1953 was actually his second season playing there. He had spent the 1952 season there with the Brewers, batting .325 and stealing 30 bases in dilapidated old Borchert Field.

Early in the 1953, amid a host of “days” and “nights” for most of the team’s regulars, the fans had given Bruton a television and an apartment full of furniture.

Though his hitting had leveled off by the last month of the season, a formal “Billy Bruton Day” was held on Sept. 13. On that occasion he was presented with a $5,500 down payment on a new house. He also received a watch, a suit, golf clubs and two $1,000 savings bonds. His wife was presented with diamond earrings.

And speaking of Bruton . . . 

I don't guess I'll find another excuse to share this vignette of Billy Bruton, so I'm going to append it here. It reflects a time when the Boston Braves, with whom Bruton went to spring training in Florida in 1952, had to find alternative accommodation for their black players, who were not welcome in the team hotel in Bradenton.

From April 2, 1952, Sporting News, “Harold Kaese, writing in the Boston Globe from Bradenton, Fla., reported, ‘Sam Jethroe, George Crowe and Bill Bruton live at Mrs. Gibson’s boarding house here. As rookies, Crowe and Bruton arrived several days before Jethroe. Bruton requested that grace be said before meals. This was all right with Mrs. Gibson. Then Sam arrived. When his first meal was ready he plunged right into Mrs. Gibson’s good victuals, as usual, giving the impression that the pork chops were base hits. ‘Just a minute, Sam,’ admonished Mrs. Gibson. ‘We have some new rules since Mr. Bruton joined us. We are asking a blessing on our meals.’ Sam dropped his fork and stood up respectfully with the rest of them while Mr. Bruton said grace.”

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Lake ended MLB career 0-for-1950

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.

While he has a 1951 Bowman baseball card, Detroit Tigers utility/backup infielder Eddie Lake was out of the big leagues by then. He had ended his three-decade (1939-1950) major league career by going 0-for-1950.

But in his first game of 1951, he hit a home run for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. He finished that season batting .261. His 27 home runs that season were tied for sixth-best in the league.

For most of his major league career, Lake offered a combination of speed and power in the middle infield for the St. Louis Cardinals (1939-1941), Boston Red Sox (1943-1945) and Detroit Tigers (1946-1950). He also fielded well, whether at second, short or third. 

The one thing he didn't do well in the majors was hit for average. In his first five seasons in the majors he hit only .189, albeit he never played in more than 75 games in any of those seasons. 

He blossomed in his final season with Boston, 1945; he hit .279 and took 106 walks to lead the American League with a .412 on-base percentage. Though he was 30 years old in 1946, the Tigers traded Rudy York to Boston for Lake and made him their lead-off hitter. 

He continued to hit fairly well for a shortstop, batting .254 in 1946 and talking 103 bases on balls. His 120 walks in 1947 were again third-best in the A.L., but his average dropped to .211. In 1948 the Tigers brought Johnny Lipon up from the Texas League and Lake was relegated to part-time work.

By 1950, he was mainly used as a pinch-hitter (0-for-9) and a pinch-runner (nine games). In 20 games he had only seven at-bats and no hits, walking once and striking out three times. He appeared in the field only once at shortstop and once at third for any inning each without handling any chances.

As mentioned earlier, Lake returned to the minor leagues in 1951, and continued to play out west through the age of 40 in 1956. He was a playing manager for some truly bad teams in the lower levels in 1955-1956.

In 1955, managing the Spokane Indians of the Class B Northwest League he finished 33-1/2 games out of first place, but was the league's second best hitter at age 39, batting .336. In his last year of pro ball, at Class C Salinas in the California League, he hit. 312 and his team finished in seventh place, 38 games off the pace. In those two seasons as a minor league manager he did not have a single player who would ever appear in the majors.

Besides his 1951 card, Lake also appeared in the 1949 and 1950 Bowman sets, and can also be found as a Boston Red Sox on an Exhibit card in the 1947-1966 series, though by then he had been a Tiger for two seasons.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bowman advertised in 1951 Sporting News

The other day I showed you a couple of Mickey Mantle artworks that had appeared in 1951 issues of The Sporting News.

This time I'd like to share some images of ads that Bowman gum ran in TSN. In perusing microfilm of the 1951 issues of the sporting weekly, I found the first ad in the April 18 issue. 

The ad featured a picture of Giants pitcher Sal Maglie in the same pose that was carried on his card, #127 in the 1951 Bowman set.

This first ad loosely used the term "Action Color Photos" to describe the cards. In actuality, the cards featured color paintings based on photos.

This initial ad also over-promised the scope of the set, indicating 340 cards. Probably because Topps had begun to sign players for its 1951 Red/Blue Back sets, the actual number of '51B cards issued was 324.

The next ad in the series appeared a month later, in the May 16 issue. It featured "Puddin' Head" Jones. The picture in the ad was quite different from the portrait image of Jones that actually appeared on card #112. The ad still touted 340 cards.

The final ad for Bowman cards was late in the season, in the Aug. 22 issue. It promoted the "New Star Series," and now stated "Over 300" cards. Again, the ad showed an action pose of the Yankees pitcher, while the actual card, #25, was a portrait.

I found it interesting that my review of 1951-53 issues of TSN contained ads for Bowman and Red Man cards, but Topps never sprang for the dough to promote its cards to the readers.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A new (football) card for Jackie Jensen

Jackie Jensen was one of those fair-haired California golden boys of whom the sporting press was much enamored in the late 1940s and 1950s.

He was a San Francisco native and two-sport All-American at the University of California following service in the U.S. Navy at the end of World War II.

He was a pitcher and outfielder for the Golden Bears in 1947 when they won the inaugural College World Series in 1947, beating George H.W. Bush's Yale. In the regional final he had pitched Cal to a win over Bobby Layne and the University of Texas.

As a junior in 1948, he became the first U. of C. player to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season as Cal ran up a 10-0 regular season record. In the Jan 1., 1949, Rose Bowl (the first of three consecutive appearances for Cal), Jensen scored a 67-yard touchdown, though the Bears were upset by Northwestern.

Jensen was a consensus All-American in 1948 and was fourth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy.

In 1949 he left school and signed a reported $40,000 contract to play pro ball for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. Oaks owner Brick Laws had come to know Jensen through his son; Bill Laws was a fraternity brother and golfing crony of Jensen at Berkeley, and Jensen was a frequent visitor to their home.

Jensen spurned a number of big league overtures to sign with Laws. Among the most publicized was that of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pirates general manager Roy Hamey and vice president Bing Crosby visited Jensen and offered him a reported $35,000 signing bonus and three-year contract at $15,000 a year. 

In 1949 he married his high school sweetheart, Zoe Ann Olsen, who had won the silver medal for diving in the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. The star athletes' wedding was big news around the nation.

Though he hit only .261 with nine home runs in 1949 with Oakland, he was sold along with Billy Martin to the New York Yankees at the end of the season for a reported $140,000, of which $100,000 was said to have been Jensen's price.

The Yankees were initially unsure whether Jensen would pitch or back up the aging Joe DiMaggio in the outfield. In part-time outfield duty he hit only .171 with no power. He did make it into the 1950 World Series, as a pinch-runner in Game 3. That appearance made him the first athlete to play in a Rose Bowl and the World Series. Chuck Essegian matched that feat in 1959 when he played with the Dodgers in the World Series. He had also played in the Rose Bowl in 1952, when his Stanford team was beaten by Illinois. Jensen, however, has the singular distinction of also appearing in an East-West Shrine Game and baseball's All-Star Game.

In 1951, he was in competition with Mickey Mantle for the center field job, and we all know how that came out.

Nevertheless, Jensen hit .298 in 1951, giving him enough trade value that he was sent to the Senators in a six-player deal. After two years in Washington, he was dealt to the Red Sox, where he laid claim to right field and became a perennial contender for the RBI crown. 

He had been an All-Star with the Yankees in 1952, and was named to the A.L. squad again in 1955 and 1958. He won the American League MVP Award in 1958 and a Golden Glove in 1959.

In 1960, Jensen shocked the baseball world by announcing his retirement. While the principal reason put forth was that he wanted to spend more time with his family, it appears that Jensen's fear of flying was the greater motivation. 

As airplanes had replaced trains for much big league travel, Jensen's phobia deepened to the point where he suffered panic attacks in the airport. The team paid for hypnotherapy, but it was ineffective.

Among the most vocal critics of Jensen's decision to retire was The Sporting News.

In the lead editorial in the Feb. 17, 1960, issue, headlined “JENSEN’S OBLIGATION TO GAME,” The paper said, “Jackie Jensen, the unhappy warrior of the Red Sox, finally has made good his long-standing threat to quit baseball. Even though the finality of his decision in refusing to sign with the Red Sox for the new season caught some Bostonians by surprise, none could say he hadn’t been warned. Jensen had threatened to pull up stakes for several years.
            “Throughout his major league career Jensen has moaned about his separations from his family. In announcing his retirement, he also mentioned his pressing business interests on the West Coast. Finally, there were reports from others that Jensen intensely disliked flying.
            “There are those who will say that these are good and sufficient reasons for quitting, and to an extent they are. It is difficult to question the stand of a father who wants to be with his family.
            “But isn’t there some obligation to baseball on Jensen’s part? Baseball has been good to him. It supplied him with a substantial bonus which enabled him to endow his family with earthly goods long before the average family acquires them. And baseball supplied the revenue which set up his business interests.
            “If Jackie Jensen were the only ball player separated from his family, with important connections and a fear of flying, his arguments would be completely sound. But there are others with the same problems who face up to them because they believe they owe baseball that much, because they believe that their example will be an inspiration to the youth of the country.
            “This country would be in bad shape if all of us quit whatever we were doing because it was inconvenient.”

 In his column, “Bob Addie’s Atoms” in the March 2 Sporting News, Addie wrote, “You could say that the decision of Jackie Jensen to quit baseball came as quite a surprise to the Boston Red Sox . . . In fact, the Red Sox’ brochure (Editor’s note: Probably the early edition of the team’s press guide), just off the press, confidently listed Jensen on the roster, and, of course, gave him quite a bit of space in the biographical sketch. . . . Ah, sadness.”

On March 20, at a Red Sox-Cubs exhibition game at Las Vegas, Red Sox broadcaster Curt Gowdy interviewed Jensen, who was on a four-day visit to the Red Sox camp with his wife . . . curious behavior for a newly retired player.

Jensen told Gowdy “there isn’t a chance” of his returning to the team. “I want the Boston fans and the Rex Sox organization to know that I hope I haven’t hurt them by retiring. It’s something I just had to do. If I’ve hurt any of the baseball people or the fans, I’m sorry. I certainly didn’t want to hurt anybody.”

In a contentious session with Boston baseball writers on May 21, team owner Tom Yawkey, perhaps sensing it wise not to burn any bridges, said the retirement of Jensen had “obviously” hurt the team.

 “Jensen had a decision to make,” Yawkey said, “It was a difficult one. I had hoped he would be able to make it in favor of baseball. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. His family was involved and I hope the decision he made to retire turns out best for Jackie.

 “There’s something more to life than baseball,” Yawkey continued. “A family comes first and I admire Jackie for making the decision he did, although the decision wasn’t good for our ball club, the American League and baseball in general.”

After a year's layoff, Jensen returned to the Red Sox for the 1961 season, but at the age of 34, he was not able to return to the level of his previous performance. With the American League having expanded to California and the resulting increase in air travel, Jensen made his retirement permanent following the '61 season.

In retirement, Jensen worked in radio and television. In 1970 the Red Sox coaxed him back to Organized Baseball as manager at Class A Jamestown in the New York-Pennsylvania League). He coached at the University of Nevada (1970-71) and the University of California (1974-77), then moved to Virginia to raise Christmas trees and operate a baseball camp. He suffered a fatal heart attack in 1982. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1984.

Jensen's ballcard legacy began with his appearance in the 1948 Leaf football set as a collegian. He made his baseball card debut in the 1949 Remar Bread regional set of Oakland Oaks players. His major league rookie card was in the 1951 Bowman set. He remained a stalwart with Bowman through 1954.

He first appeared on a Topps card in 1955 and was a regular through 1959. With his retirement in 1960,  Jensen was scratched from the 1960 Topps set, but did appear on a Bazooka box-bottom card.

When he was back with the Red Sox in 1961, Topps included him on three cards: #173 Beantown Bombers multi-player card, #476 MVP subset, and #540 regular-issue. He was also in the Topps stamp insert set in 1961.

Though he was re-retired in 1962, he appeared that year on a Post cereal card and in the Salada plastic coins series.

Someday I may do a custom card of Jackie Jensen in the 1960 Topps format, but for now my 1955-style All-American card will have to stand as my tribute the two-sport star.


Friday, July 6, 2012

'51 Sporting News yields familiar images

While I was reading microfilm of the 1951 issues of The Sporting News, I espied a couple of familiar images of Mickey Mantle, rendered as black-and-white line drawings by a pair of famous sports artists.

Mickey Mantle was all the rage during spring training in 1951, and there was a lot of ink devoted to him in TSN. One article, in the April 4 issue, featured artwork by Karl Hubenthal that drew heavily on the United Press International photo of Mantle that was the basis of his 1952 Topps card.

An original print of that famous photo, by the way, recently sold for something like $60,000.

Another Mantle image that all serious collectors will recognize was found on Page 1 of the April 25 issue of TSN. The photo of Mantle that was the basis of his 1951 Bowman rookie card was adapted by Willard Mullin (of Brooklyn Bum fame) for yet another feature on the Yankees' can't-miss prospect.

I thought you might enjoy seeing how those iconic baseball card images were used in a contemporary setting.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Ryan was master of hidden ball trick

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.

Do they even try the hidden ball trick in major league baseball any more? Or is it considered too unprofessional?

In the early 1950s, Cincinnati Reds second baseman Connie Ryan was a master of that deceptive stolen out.

In the first game of a May 6, 1951, doubleheader at the Polo Grounds, the Reds had pulled ahead 4-3 in the top of the 10th inning on a home run by shortstop Virgil Stallcup.

The Giants opened the bottom of the 10th with a single by Whitey Lockman. Al Dark dropped down a sacrifice bunt and was thrown out by first baseman Ted Kluszewski to Ryan, who covered first.

A moment later, the stadium was in an uproar. Third base umpire Al Barlick had called Lockman out at second. Ryan had kept the ball in his glove when he returned to his post at the keystone bag and tagged Lockman out when he stepped off the base.

According to one account, Ryan asked Lockman to step off the bag so he could straighten it, then put the tag on him when Lockman obliged. Lockman vigorously denied that he had been coaxed off the base, and insisted that he had never taken his foot off the bag at all. “I was shifting my weight when he tagged me. The next thing I knew Barlick was calling me out.”.

After the game Ryan refused to comment on the particulars other than to say, “There were 27,766 spectators in the ball park today and I don’t believe more than four saw me put the ball the ball on Lockman.”

Among those who missed the tag was second base umpire Lee Ballanfant. Barlick was able to make the call from 90 feet away because he had been tipped off by Reds third baseman Grady Hatton that Ryan might try something.

Barlick said,  “I had seen Ryan pull the trick on Del Rice of the Cardinals two years ago and I’ve been watching him closely ever since. I saw him keep the ball after he made the putout at first and suspected he might try to get Lockman. Sure enough, Lockman made a quick step, Ryan put the tag on him and I called the runner out. Ballanfant looked at me and I said, ‘Yes, he’s out.’ Why do the Giants take it out on me? Why don’t they blame their coaches?”

As Barlick’s thumb went up, Giants manager Leo Durocher raced out of the dugout. “Like most of the people in the park, I never saw the play,” said Durocher. “But all I wanted to know was why the umpire on top of the bag didn’t call the play and why one at another base did call it. When Barlick told me he made an immediate call of the play, I told him he was a liar. Everyone knows it took some time before he motioned ‘out.’ The next thing I knew, I was out, too—out of the game.”

Lockman called Ryan’s maneuver a “bush trick.” That was apparently among a host of other things he said, for two days later National League President Ford Frick fined Lockman $25 for the use of “foul and abusive language.” Frick also assessed Durocher a $50 plaster.

After the brouhaha had settled, Monty Irvin grounded to Ryan to end the game.

You’d think the Giants would have been especially vigilant of Ryan. He had successfully pulled the hidden ball trick on them a year earlier when he nabbed pitcher Monte Kennedy in a game at Cincinnati. The out had spiked a Giants threat in a game that Kennedy eventually lost 1-0. Coincidentally the winning Reds run in that game had been a Virgil Stallcup home run.

Ryan had been using the hidden ball ruse since his minor league days. He explained that he only tried it when he made the out at first base on a bunt. He’d hide the ball in his glove and go back to second, hoping to catch the runner napping.

“It doesn’t cost anything,” Ryan said. “If it works, it can mean a ball game. If it misses, the worst you can get is a laugh from the stands.”

Twenty-five years ago when I was playing softball for the Krause Publications team, our second baseman, Dan Albaugh, who was ad manager of SCD, pulled the same trick in a game. He asked the base runner to step off second so he could straighten the bag, then applied the tag. 

I honestly don't remember what the outcome was. I'm not even sure that maneuver is permitted in slow-pitch softball. I just know that everybody in the park thought it was a dick move, even his teammates.