Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ballplayers' babes: Ralph Kiner

Continuing with my periodical presentation of vintage photos amassed over 30+ years in the sportscard publishing world is this selection of photos of baseball players with their wives, fiancees, girlfriends or others. 

This presentation contains some of a large grouping of similarly themed press photos that were collected over the years by former colleague Tom Mortenson, who was a long-time editor of Sports Collectors Digest.

All of the photos this time are of Ralph Kiner and the women in his life. 

Ralph Kiner had the reputation as a ladies man during his early major league days. Bing Crosby, who was part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, took Kiner under his wing and introduced him to the celebrity circuit around Hollywood.

This photo shows Kiner at dinner with a 17-year-old Elizabeth Taylor, in 1949.

In 1951, Kiner married tennis pro Nancy Chaffee. At the time she was the 6th ranked women's tennis player in the U.S. The couple divorced in 1968.

This photo, which must have been taken in 1953 or 1954 when Kiner was with the Chicago Cubs, shows him with Miss Junior Rose Bowl.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

New/old bridge makes Christmas merrier

I found a pleasant surprise awaiting me when we arrived at our west-central Pennsylvania home for the winter.

For most of the past two years, the old bridge over the Juniata River that allows backroad access from our rural home to the village of Alexandria has been in the process of being replaced.

I was sad to see the old bridge go. Besides allowing me to get the post office without having the venture out on the state highway with its couple of tricky intersections, the bridge on the turnpike was one of those vintage steel-girder structures that I refer to as an Erector Set Bridge. 

For reasons I can't pinpoint, I was saddened to lose the old bridge. Imagine my pleasure then, when I found that instead of just replacing the bridge with a concrete slab, the township (or the county or the state, or whomever) had refurbished the steel superstructure and put it back in place, with a fresh paint job.

I'm not sure whether the steel serves any structural purpose, but for me it surely enhances the aesthetic. 

We won't be having a white Christmas this year, but because somebody in our municipality made the decision not to lose a piece of the township's history, it's a merrier Christmas for me.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bridges survived gun-totin' ex-husband

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.

Tommy Bridges, star pitcher for the Detroit Tigers throughout the 1930s, didn't live to a ripe old age, dying at 61, but his demise almost came much sooner at the hands of a jealous ex-husband.

An early 1950 account in The Sporting News told the story . . . 

Verle Penney, a 41-year-old Portland (Ore.) trucking contractor, was booked in Hollywood, Calif., January 14 [1950], on suspicion of assault with intent to murder Tommy Bridges, former Detroit pitcher, now the property of the San Francisco (Pacific Coast) Seals. The contractor, who last year filed a $20,000 alienation of affections suit against the pitcher, was arrested after an affray which involved the two and Penney’s former wife. The Penneys were married in 1929 and were divorced last August. Bridges told police he and the divorced wife had been going together since last September and that when they came out of a drug store where Mrs. Penney was employed, Penney shoved a pistol in his ribs, saying: “This is it,” then hit him three times on the head with the gun. Passersby seized Penney and held him for the police.

Charges were dropped against Penney less than two weeks later by Municipal Court Judge Joseph F. Chambers, who ruled there was insufficient evidence to warrant prosecution for assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder.

Penney had testified that after he "persuaded" Bridges and his ex-wife, Ione, into the alley behind the drugstore, Bridges attacked him with his fists.

Penney's suit against Bridges charged that Bridges had alienated his wife's affections "by flattery, gifts, exchange of love letters and secret and open meetings at dances, taverns or clubs." 

Ione left Verle on May 21, 1949, and sued for divorce three days later, charging that he "treated her cruelly and inhumanly by assaulting and threatening her.

Bridges married Ione on May 17, 1951.  

Friday, December 21, 2012

First card for most feared tackler of 1950s

I guess the reason I never heard of Hardy Brown until a couple of years ago is that he never appeared on a football card--until now.

My latest custom card honors Brown, one of the most haters players of the 1950s. 

I first heard of Brown while having lunch at a local bar where the NFL Network was on TV, airing a show about Top 10 Most Feared Tacklers of the NFL. There at #5 was Hardy Brown. I was familiar with the other guys on the list--Butkus, Lawrence Taylor, Jack Tatum, etc.--but Brown was new to me. 

The piece on Brown only consumed about four minutes of the show, and is widely available on the internet.

You'll also find many other internet offerings on Brown, so I won't go too in-depth here about his life and career.

The digest version is that when he was four year old he was in the room when two men gunned down his fathers. Six months later he was also present when family members killed one of his father's murderers. Shortly thereafter he was sent to an orphanage in Ft. Worth with his brother and sister.

He joined the Marines as a paratrooper in World War II. After the war he played football at Tulsa.

He was drafted #104 by the N.Y. Giants in the 1947 NFL draft but never played for them.

In 1948 he started his pro football career with the Brooklyn Dodgers of the All-America Football Conference. He spent the next season with the Chicago Hornets of the AAFC, then in 1950 played for the "old" Baltimore Colts and the Washington Redskins in the NFL.

From 1951-55 he was with the San Francisco 49ers. He opened the 1956 season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League, then was traded back to the NFL, to the Chicago Cardinals. 

Brown was out of pro football from 1957-59, working construction in Texas and tending bar in Las Vegas.

At the age of 36 he signed with the Denver Broncos of the new American Football League, playing in 13 games before ending his football career.

Brown was one of only two men to play in the AAFC, the NFL and the AFL (the other was Ben Agajanian). I suspect he was the only man to play in those three leagues plus the CFL.

Brown is credited with popularizing the use of face masks because of the damage he did with a signature shoulder smash into the chest or chin of opposing players. He once said he knocked out some 75-80 players during his career; teammate Y.A. Tittle credits him with at least 20 KO's during the 1951 season.

Brown was so hard on opposing runners that the 49ers eventually banned him from intersquad contact drills and scrimmages. 

Long before the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal, Brown was the target of a bounty scheme by the L.A. Rams--nobody ever collected.

His later years were not good. Heavy boozing, the damage done playing football and his early childhood trauma combined to produce dementia that forced him to be institutionalized prior to his death in 1991 at the age of 67.

As I said, you can read all about Hardy Brown--which I strongly recommend--on the internet by doing a google-search, but I want to specially note a piece written in 1993 by former SCD writer Dwight Chapin of the San Francisco Examiner, for The Coffin Corner, the publication of the Pro Football Researchers' Association.

It's a pdf, so I can't link it here, but you can find it at:

A piece you can't find on the internet is a feature in the Nov. 4, 1953, issue of The Sporting News, headlined, “Hardy Brown ‘Hatchet Man’ of the 49ers.”

San Francisco sports writer Walt Gamage led with, “’The most feared man in football!’ That’s the awesome title tagged on Hardy (Hatchet Man), San Francisco 49er linebacker, by rival National Football League players.”
            Gamage’s feature carried the subtitle, “Demon blocker Tips Scale at Only 185 Pounds, But Every Ounce in Dynamite”.

            “Brown has struck terror in the hearts of opposing ball carriers,” Gamage explained, “by means of his unique shoulder tackle or block. He accomplishes his deadly wallop by uncoiling his shoulder with a quick trip-hammer blow as he makes contact with an enemy player.

            “Those on the receiving end of one of Brown’s sleep-producing socks declare it produces the same sensation as being hit over the head with a baseball bat,” the writer continued.

            “Brown, who is small by pro league standards, weighing only 185 pounds, is becoming something of a legend around the pro circuit.

            “Before a game last season, the Detroit Lions requested the referee to examine Brown’s shoulder pads to see if he was carrying hunks of metal in the padding,” Gamage related.

            “Y.A. Tittle, 49er quarterback, in recalling the incident said he ‘almost died laughing at the sight of the ref shaking down my roommate as if he were some gangster.’”

            Gamage then relayed the tale that after Brown had sidelined Rams halfback Glenn Davis and fullback Dick Hoerner “with his lethal shoulder block,” that at the start of the 1952 season each Rams player put $5 into a pool to be awarded to the Los Angeles player who “got” Brown.

            “After three games between the two teams,” Gamage reported, “all the Rams players got was their money back. Hardy took the best shots of the Los Angeles gang and in return got in a couple of cracks with his much feared shoulder.”

            In the TSN article, former 49er quarterback Frank Albert was quoted, “If you had a team of 11 Hardy Browns the league would never complete its schedule. There wouldn’t be any backs around the carry the ball by the end of the season.”

            Gamage continued, “Teammate Gordy Soltau, high-scoring end, explained why Brown is never elected to the league all-star teams. He says all the opposing coaches hate Brown so much they wouldn’t think of voting for him.
            “’I’m glad I’m not a halfback who has to play against the 49ers,’ Soltau added. ‘When the quarterback called upon me to hit the line, it would be on my mind that Brown would be out there some place ready to strike like a cobra.’

            “The strange part about Brown’s devastating should block is that it is perfectly legal” Gamage said, “he has yet to draw a penalty for unnecessary roughness.”

            Gamage recapped Brown’s background to that point. “Brown, who played out his collegiate career at Tulsa, is in his seventh season of pro ball. Before coming to the 49ers he played with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago Rockets and Baltimore Colts of the (All-American Football Conference) and later with the Washington Redskins.

            “The tough 49er linebacker is a man of few words,” Gamage reported. “When asked to comment about his reputation as the ‘most feared man in football,’ he replied: ‘shucks, that’s a lot of talk. I never hurt anyone. I just give him a little nudge with my shoulder.’

            “According to the backs around the league, Gamage concluded, “they fear the ‘nudge’ of Brown more than one of Rocky Marciano’s roundhouse rights.”

            Accompanying the TSN feature was a photo of Brown labeled “Butcher Boy”.

Making a custom card of Hardy Brown wasn't an easy task . . . there are just not a lot of suitable pictures available. The picture I used is from a 1955 team-issued 49ers photo.

I initially envisioned doing a 1956 Topps-style 49ers card, but that was before I knew Brown's last season with S.F. was 1955.

My plan defaulted to a 1955 Bowman-style card, and I really like the way it turned out.

I would greatly enjoy making a 1960 Fleer AFL Broncos card of Hardy Brown, but I haven't yet found any pictures of him with Denver.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Or was it Rae/Ray Scarborough?

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 my December 15 posting I stated that Herb Score may have been the first “Million Dollar” ballplayer.  

I guess I was off by a few years.

In 1950, when the perennially last-place Senators were being besieged with offers for pitcher Ray Scarborough, Washington owner Clark Griffith said he’d let the pitcher go . . . for $1,000,000.          

Scarborough had won 15 games in 1948 while losing eight. It was his first winning season since his rookie year in 1942.

I don't see what stimulated all the demand.  He was 13-11 in 1949 and started the 1950 season with Washington at 3-5 before he was traded to the White Sox on May 31 in a six-player deal and a reported $150,000 cash. He never again showed any million-dollar promise. 

With the White Sox for the remainder of 1951 he was 10-13; after the season he was traded to the Red Sox. He had a 12-9 record with Boston in 1951; it was his last winning season. He was 1-5 for Boston through Aug. 22, 1952, then was sold to the Yankees for the pennant drive.

He performed brilliantly with New York for the final month of the season. He had a 5-1 record and 2.91 ERA. After starting the 1953 season with the Yankees, he was released on Aug. 4, when his record was 2-2. He caught on with the Tigers as a free agent, and was 0-2 the rest of the season; it was his last in pro ball.
On a baseball-card related note, did you ever wonder why Scarborough’s name was spelled “Rae” on his 1949-50 Bowman cards, and “Ray” on his 1951-53 cards?

According to a sidebar in a May 10, 1950, Sporting News feature speculating on Scarborough’s future, it happened like this:

Scarborough Scraps Rae;
Record Proves It's Ray
            For years Ray Scarborough of the Senators signed his first name as Rae, and it so appeared in the Baseball Register until the pitcher changed the spelling to Ray for the 1949 edition.
            Deciding that Rae sounded feminine, Scarborough had sent an inquiry to Mount Gilead, N. C., where the vital statistics revealed he had been christened Ray Wilson Scarborough.

That account is at odds with what I generally consider to be my final authority:, which says Scarborough’s birth name was spelled Rae. However, I’m a firm believer that a person can choose what name he wishes to be known by, so for me, it’s Ray.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Do Ty Cobb-signed bank notes exist?

Artist's conception of a Ty Cobb-signed National Bank Note
of Lavonia, Ga. (Note photo courtesy Heritage Auctions.)

Most collectors have an item atop their want list that is often known in hobby parlance as their "holy grail" or "white whale."

It is an item that may not even exist, and often -- even if found -- would be beyond the collector's means. However, if collecting did not present challenges of varying degrees of difficulty it would not be a hobby, but merely shopping.

Presented herewith for consideration of addition to the wish lists of collectors in both the paper money and baseball memorabilia fields is an item for which I searched in vain for several decades. Now I'll pass the quest on to future generations.

What I sought unsuccessfully was a National Bank Note signed by Ty Cobb.

Among the investments that made Cobb a rich man during and after his career as a Hall of Fame outfielder for the Detroit Tigers in the early decades of the 20th Century was his ownership of a considerable portion of the stock of The First National Bank of Lavonia, Ga. 

That bank had been chartered in 1906 under the title The Vickery National Bank of Lavonia. The title was changed to The First National Bank of Lavonia in January, 1913. Under the new title, the bank issued only large-size $10 and $20 notes of the Series 1902 Blue Seal Date Backs and Plain Backs.

I first got wind of the story of National Bank Notes signed by Ty Cobb more than 20 years ago, while reading microfilm of The Sporting Life, a weekly sports newspaper headquartered in Philadelphia. 

In a roundup column titled "Latest News By Telegraph Briefly Told," The Sporting Life picked up an Associated Press article virtually verbatim in its Sept. 27, 1913, edition.

As written by AP, the article read:

(By the Associated Press)
Washington, Sept. 22.--Collectors doubtless will be on the lookout soon for some national bank notes which were signed a few days ago by "Ty" Cobb, centerfielder of the Detroit baseball club.
When the star player was here recently he visited the Treasury Department. While being shown through he asked to see some of the bank notes of the First National Bank of Lavonia, Ga. On informing the office in charge that he was a director in that bank, and as such was entitled to sign money printed for that institution, the ball player placed his signature on several sheets of the notes.

More recent googling around the internet revealed that Cobb's actions that day at the Treasury had repercussions.

The Pittsburgh Press, Sept. 24, 1913, carried a short article headlined, 


Datelined Washington, D.C., the article read:

Fans at the Treasury Department got a severe calling down today from Acting Comptroller of the Currency Kane for granting Ty Cobb unusual freedom of the building when the famous ballplayer was sightseeing. Cobb was permitted to enter money vaults, and to autograph several national bank notes issued on the Lavonia (Ga.) bank, of which he is a director.

Despite the fact I served two terms as editor of Bank Note Reporter in the 1970s-1980s, I either never knew or have forgotten which bank officers were authorized to sign National Bank Notes during the large-size issuing era. I do know that some notes exist with vice president as signatories, and perhaps assistant cashiers.

I have my doubts that bank directors had that privilege,m but I do not doubt that if they were so empowered, the fiscally astute Cobb would have known about it.

I like to think that when he signed those sheets of Lavonia notes, Cobb used the green-ink fountain pen that he so regularly used  in his later years.

Given that Treasury officials were not amused by Cobb's autographing, it's possible that the Cobb-signed notes were never actually issued. 

Again, my recollection of NBN history indicates that in the large-size period, four-note sheets of national currency were conveyed to the issuing bank unsigned. At the bank, the cashier and president (usually) would affix their signatures and cut the sheets into individual notes. 

It shouldn't be ruled out that the Comptroller of the Currency withheld the notes bearing Cobb's signature from subsequent shipments to Lavonia. 

It is also uncertain whether Cobb would have preempted the space for the cashier's or the president's signature. All Series 1902 notes of The First National Bank of Lavonia that I have seen show purple rubber-stamped signatures of Walter N. Harrison as cashier and C.A. Addington, president. 

A green-ink autograph of Ty Cobb on such a note would have made a colorful collectible. 

Surviving large-size notes of the bank are not rare, and in typical mid-range grades have a retail value of $600-900 or so. That's about the same as recent sales of checks authentically signed by Ty Cobb, It cannot be assumed, however, that if a Cobb-signed Lavonia National was to come to market, its value would be about the sum of its two parts. I'd guess such a note would sell in the mid- to high-four figures.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Score was first "Million Dollar" player

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.

            Just prior to the opening of the 1957 season, there was not much fuel for the hot stove league.
By February, Jackie Robinson’s retirement after being traded to the N.Y. Giants and his subsequent ripping of former teammates, opponents and Organized Baseball in general had faded into the background.
The only big trade of the off-season had been the Brooklyn Dodgers “trade” to the Chicago Cubs of its Ft. Worth franchise in the Texas League, a working agreement with Portland in the Pacific Coast League and a reported $3,250,000 for Wrigley Field (the one in Los Angeles) and its resident PCL team, the Angels. (That trade, of course, was soon proven integral to major league baseball’s expansion to the West Coast.)
            Thus in the final weeks before Opening Day, the baseball world worked itself into a frenzy over what was likely just the idle chatter of a pair of general managers taking the sun during an exhibition game at Sarasota.
            As reported on the front page of the March 27 Sporting News, Cleveland Indians general manager and Joe Cronin, his counterpart with the Boston Red Sox, were “discussing every possible type of deal and getting nowhere” when Greenberg asked, “What would you give me for Score?”
            Left-handed pitcher Herb Score had been the rookie pitching phenom of the American League. After breaking into the bigs with a 16-10 record in 1955, he had been 20-9 with an ERA of 2.53 and 263 strikeouts in 249.1 innings in 1956.  Score had led the American League both seasons in strikeouts.
            Perennially pitching poor, the BoSox exec replied, “One million dollars.”
            The two shared a chuckle and parted ways.
            Later that day, Greenberg mentioned in passing to some of the writers that he had turned down a million-dollar offer for Score.
            Always skeptical, the baseball writers sensed they were being kidded, but not wanting to risk being scooped, they tracked down Cronin, who was having dinner at the home of one of his players. Cronin verified that the offer had been made. Further, he added, “If Greenberg had shaken hands on the deal, I would have called Yawkey (Red Sox owner) for approval.”
            With that the story was off and running. Everybody who was anybody in the world of baseball was approached for, or volunteered, an opinion,
            In the same issue, Cleveland beat writer Hal Lebovitz, penned a column from the Tribe’s spring training base in Tucson, reporting on the ribbing that his teammates were giving Score as the “million-dollar baby.”
            The good-natured pitcher, who had signed with the Indians in 1952 for a $60,000 bonus, took it in stride. He had heard similar talk before. After his 22-5 season with Indianapolis, the Indians’ AAA team in the American Association in 1954, the Cincinnati Redlegs had offered $500,000 for Score.
            When one of his teammates noted that his value had doubled in two years, Score grinned and said, “Inflation.” Bob Lemon told Score, “You signed your contract too soon, kid.”
            Bob Holbrook, who had broken the story on Page 1 of TSN, mentioned Score’s contract in a serious vein.
            First, he speculated that the whole affair had the mark of a Bill Veeck stunt. Veeck, after all, had recently formed a public relations firm and had signed the Indians as a client.
            “To date,” Holbrook wrote, “neither party (Greenberg and Cronin) has said it was a joke. But figure it out for yourself.”
            He added, “The gag, however, may backfire in certain ways. Ball players will wonder what owners are thinking of when they start throwing a million dollars at one another—even if only in conversation. It might prove difficult to sign some of these players in the future.
            “Herb Score—central figure in this springtime pipe-dream—could ask for $100,000 salary next season and feel justified.”
            The sports’ weekly’s unnamed editorial writer echoed that sentiment in an editorial page column headlined with Score’s own quote that, “No player is worth a million dollars.”
            The editorial said, “Perhaps Cronin and Greenberg felt that the Yankees were getting too much of the spring training spotlight and wanted to seize some of the headlines for their own clubs.” (It was almost universally conceded that the Yankees would repeat as American League pennant winners in 1957. And coming off his Triple Crown season, the big question was not whether Mickey Mantle would break Babe Ruth’s home run record, but my how much.)
            “Perhaps, too,” the editorial continued, “the fantastic cash prizes being awarded on television quiz shows are making the mention of huge sums commonplace. But whether or not the offer was ‘serious,’ both Cronin and Greenberg know that the sale of a great star for cash would be the public relations boner of the year for a club making such a sale.”
            Noting that the Supreme Court had recently denied anti-trust immunity to professional football and warning “baseball continues to be an exception on the ‘sufferance’ of Congress,” the paper said, “the publicizing of such a proposed deal is particularly ill-timed."
            Sure enough, Rep. Patrick Hillings (D-Calif.), sponsor of a bill to put baseball under the anti-trust laws, said, “When one team can offer another team a million dollars for a pitcher, that is as much a business deal as when the motion picture industry offers a million-dollar contract, or any other business pays such a sum.”
            Franklin Lewis, sports editor of the Cleveland Press, weighed in, “I cannot imagine that Commissioner Frick, knowing he must face a legal and moral fight to keep baseball alive and away from the sticky fingers of the politicos, was overjoyed about the Score story.”
            Lewis continued, “You can dismiss the Score gag in a paragraph . . . good baseball players cannot be bought today . . . there are too few of them. A team could not hope to replace a Score, who comes along once in a generation.”
            Besides, the columnist noted, Uncle Sam would be the biggest winner in such a sale. Under corporate tax rates then applicable to the sale of ballplayer contracts, the selling team would have $520,000 of its windfall skimmed off the top by Uncle Sam.
            Speaking of the putative million-dollar player, Lewis concluded, “As for handsome Herbie, it was a hike to his ego and unlike many headline figures, Herbie could use it. There’s nothing fathead about him, thankfully,”
            Tragically, the baseball world never got to see if Herb Score was truly deserving of being baseball’s first million-dollar player, on May 7, 1957, he was hit in the face by a Gil McDougald line drive, sidelined for the rest of the season and never able to regain his form, though he continued to pitch in the major leagues into early 1962.  
            Ironically, at the time of Score furor, Joe Cronin still held the record as the player sold for the highest price in major league history. In 1935 Tom Yawkey had paid Clark Griffith $250,000 to bring Cronin to the Red Sox from the Washington Senators. 
Herb Score was shown in this July, 1957, news photo
with his wife Nancy giving the OK sign after a
favorable medical prognosis.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mean Joe Greene added to my '55 customs set

I don't know how he came to be called Joe, since his birth name was Charles Edward, but while researching my newly created 1955 All-American-style custom card of Joe Greene, I found out that he got the nickname "Mean Joe Greene" because his college football team (North Texas State when he played in the late 1960s; today, University of North Texas) was known as Mean Green.

Most people today know Greene more for his iconic Coca-Cola commercial during the 1979 Super Bowl, but he was a fearsome competitor during the Pittsburgh Steelers' dynasty years.

Quality photos of Greene during his college days are not plentiful, but since I'm now spending half the NFL  football season in the heart of Steelers' country, I jumped my Joe Greene card to the head of the list last Sunday while waiting for the games to start.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Johnny Manziel's first football card

I don't believe I've ever done one of my custom cards for a college football player before he was drafted.

I've made an exception for Johnny Manziel, creating this card in the style of 1952 Bowman.

While I didn't want to wait two or three years until Manziel comes out in the NFL draft, the principal reason for making a card now is that I had such a clear vision.

There was only one Texas A & M player card in 1952 Bowman (none in 1955 Topps All-American), Yale Lary. Since childhood, I have always liked the "drill sergeant" cartoon logo that Bowman placed on that card. I'm glad I got a chance to use it on one of my customs.

Manziel brought a lot of excitement to college ball this season, and livened up the SEC in the school's first year in the conference. And anybody that knocks 'Bama off the unbeaten list is OK in my book.

We won't know for some time what Manziel's legacy will be in the college or the professional game, but I felt that his exceptional season was worth commemorating now.

You'll notice on this beta version of my card back I've already credited A & M with defeating their former Big 12 rivals Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. I'll have to wait for the game to be played before I print my Manziel cards . . . here's hoping I don't have to change the copy.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Preferred Products sued Braves players over cards

This pair of Preferred Products Braves collectibles appeared in
a recent Huggins & Scott auction.
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 1955 Preferred Products Co., of Milwaukee sued 10 Braves players for a total of $68,000, contending the players had violated an agreement giving the firm exclusive rights to their autographed pictures.

Preferred Products contended that the players' deals to allow Spic & Span (a Wisconsin dry cleaners chain), Tops (sic) Gum Co. and Johnston Cookie Co. to produce baseball cards violated the earlier contracts they had signed.

The genesis of the suit was the signing of contracts in the Braves' clubhouse in April, 1954, between the named players and Scott Douglas, Inc., of Milwaukee. The contracts were for the use of player pictures and autographs. No dollar amount was ever mentioned in news accounts of the subsequent legal proceedings.

In June, 1955, Preferred Products, to whom Douglas assigned the contracts, filed suit in Milwaukee circuit court seeking $10,000 damages from Warren Spahn and Eddie Mathews, and $6,000 each from Joe Adcock, Bob Buhl, Lew Burdette, Del Crandall, Ernie Johnson, Dave Jolly, Johnny Logan, Chet Nichols and Andy Pafko. 

Spahn and Mathews were subject to the higher amount because Preferred said they enjoyed greater popularity.

As the case crawled through the courts for the next two years, Jolly, Johnson and Nichols were dropped from the suit, and Billy Bruton added. None of the three pitchers are known to have actually appeared on a Preferred product.

In the sportscard and memorabilia field, three principal types of Milwaukee Braves collectible are known. 

There is a set of 8" x 10" sepia artwork portraits that was sold in 1954 in an envelope marked "Braves Team Autographed Portraits." The 12 portraits that comprise the set are Adcock, Bruton, Buhl, Burdette, Crandall, Logan, Mathews, O'Connell, Pafko, Jim Pendleton, Spahn and Bobby Thomson. 

Also issued in 1954 was a set of 4-7/8" round heavy felt patches with player portraits and facsimile autographs. Currently, only 10 players are known in that issue, being the same players as in the 12-picture portrait set, with the exception of Pendleton and Thomson, who may yet be reported someday.

In a hearing held before a court commissioner in May, 1956, it was brought out that the players' contracts with Douglas had the phrase "these items . . . will be exclusive with us" inked out. Preferred claimed the obliteration of the key phrase was done after the contracts were signed. The players said it was done before the signings.

Eddie Mathews testified, "We knew we had outstanding contracts and couldn't give exclusive rights."

The players attorney, Harry Zaidins, said the contracts only covered cloth items. he said the players understood their photos and facsimile signatures were to be used on t-shirts and babushkas (scarves).

The players further contended that Scott Douglas Inc.'s assignment of the contracts to Preferred Products was not valid. Warren Spahn argued that the players shouldn't be required to do business with a party that they had never met and about whom they knew nothing. 

Assignment of the contracts, according to the players' lawyer, required written consent by the players. The attorney for Preferred Products argued that the players had verbally consented; the players denied having done so.

In late January, 1957, Circuit Judge William L. O’Neill ruled that the type of contract involved required written ratification by the players.

Since there was none, the judge granted a motion for summary judgment dismissing the $10,000 suit against Warren Spahn and $6,000 suit again Del Crandall.

Attorney Zaidins said the cases against the eight other Braves would fail as a result of the ruling. That appears to have been the end result.

Though Preferred Products’ attorney Earl J. Kuehl said he would appeal the Spahn-Crandall decision to the Supreme Court, no record was found of further action.

Indeed, a third Preferred Products Braves issue of another set of player portrait photographic pictures (without facsimile autographs) issued between 1957-1960 indicates that the 1955 lawsuit didn't irreparably damage relations between the parties. Among the 12 players known in that set, Adcock, Bruton, Buhl, Burdette and Logan are included. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Frank Lary was Jeckyll/Hyde in '56

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 1956 season was a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde affair for Detroit Tigers pitcher Frank Lary. From the season opener through Aug. 7, he was 10-12 with an earned run average of 4.45.
            From that point on, however, he won 11 and lost only one on an ERA of 1.00.
            His season totals for 1956 included a 21-13 record with 3.15 ERA. His 21 victories were tops in the American League. He also led the league with 294 innings pitched. 
            That was also the season that Lary earned his nickname of "The Yankee Killer."
In six decisions pitching against New York, Lary won five. Over the course of his major league career he faced the Yankees in 56 games, winning 28 and losing 13 with an ERA of 3.32.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ballplayers get the best babes: Part 10

Continuing with my periodic presentation of vintage photos amassed over 30+ years in the sportscard publishing world is this selection of photos of baseball players with their wives, fiancees, girlfriends or others. 

This presentation contains some of a large grouping of similarly themed press photos that were collected over the years by my former colleague Tom Mortenson, who was a long-time editor of Sports Collectors Digest.

Pictures of players and their babes were common in decades past. It's not something you see much today.

In this installment, I'll show you three Cleveland Indians and their (temporary) wives.

This photo is undated. It shows Hank Greenberg, who joined the Cleveland Indians front office in 1948 with his wife, Caral. 

Caral was the daughter of Bernard Gimbel, of the Gimbel's and Sak's retail empire.

The couple married in 1946 and divorced in 1959.

This wedding photo shows long-time Indians star slugging third baseman Al Rosen on his wedding day, Oct. 17, 1948. His wife, the former Evelyn Silverstein, sued for divorce barely six months later, charging "general indignities."

This photo shows Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller with his first wife, Virginia, on the occasion of "Bob Feller Night" at Municipal Stadium on Aug. 18, 1951. They divorced in 1971. 

That's Cy Young at left.

Monday, December 3, 2012

My '55-style card honors Tommy Lee Jones' college football career

It has been several months since I added a custom card to my 1955 Topps All-American-style set. The latest is Tommy Lee Jones.

It was only in recent years that I discovered that Jones had played college football at Harvard. And, while suitable photos are readily available, I just hadn't given the card a high priority. Perhaps the impetus to finally create the card came from Jones' appearance in the current Lincoln movie.

I've enjoyed Jones in many roles over the years, none more so than his portrayal of Texas Rangers Capt. Woodrow Call in the TV mini-series Lonesome Dove. Jones has shown the great range that I use as my benchmark for considering a person a great actor.

You can google-search TLJ all day, so I won't rehash his biography here. I'll just share a few of the highlights that I found especially interesting.

Jones was an offensive lineman on the Harvard varsity teams of 1967-68. In 1968 he played in what many consider to be the most famous game in Ivy League history, "The Tie." 

Both teams were 8-0 when Yale visited on Nov. 23. The Bulldogs held a 13-point lead in the last minute of the game when Harvard scored two touchdowns in the final 42 seconds for a tie. The student paper, the Harvard Crimson, headlined its story "Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29".

At Harvard, Jones was a roommate of future vice president Al Gore. Their pal Erich Segal later claimed that elements of both Jones and Gore went into the character of Oliver in his novel, Love Story. One of Jones' first movie appearances was a small part in the 1970 movie adaptation of Segal's book.

While I imagine his active participation has slowed a bit now that he is in his late 60s, Jones was a serious polo player and has gifted Harvard's polo team with a number of ponies and annually hosts a "spring training" for the squad at one of his Texas ranches.

Now that I am in my winter quarters in Western Pennsylvania, I hope to be able to spend more time on custom card projects that have been back-logged.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Microfilm yields answers on Phillies' Kennedy

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.

            A couple of months ago (Sept. 12 posting), by way of introducing my 1958 Topps-style custom card of John Kennedy, the first black player on the Philadelphia Phillies, I presented some information on Kennedy and his career.
            There were some gaps, however, that I wanted to fill in.
            For instance, information I could find on the net only said that Kennedy earned a spot on the Phils’ roster on the basis of a strong showing in spring training.
            The easily available biographical information also intimated that the team soured on him after finding out he had lied about his age—by more than a couple of years.
            I wasn’t able to lay hands on a 1957 Phillies’ team roster, which would have shown his “baseball age,” so when it came time to work up the back of my ’58-style custom, I relied on an account that said he’d told the team he was 21.
            Now, as the result of what I found on my recent trip to my Pennsylvania home, where I have my microfilm back issues of The Sporting News, I was able to plug those gaps in my knowledge.
            I’ll definitely be changing the date of birth on the back of my card to reflect the fib he told about his age, and I may even rework the career highlights paragraph and/or the cartoons.
            My first search of the TSNs from 1957 was for the Phillies’ winter roster. Back then TSN printed each team’s roster in the pre-season, complete with birth dates. Unfortunately, Kennedy was not on that roster.
            Thus I began an issue-by-issue search for the information I needed.
            The first mention of John Kennedy I found in the 1957 Sporting News was a box on Page 33 of the March 6 issue.
            Headlined “John Kennedy Breaks Color Line at Phils’ Spring Camp,” the short article, datelined Clearwater, Fla., read:
             "John Kennedy, Kansas City Monarchs’ shortstop last year, is the first Negro ever to undergo spring training with the Phillies.
            Kennedy, 5-10, 175 pounder from Jacksonville, Fla., is signed to a Schenectady (Eastern) contract, but he did so well in the Phillies’ second annual rookie school he was one of five players held over to train with the regulars. The Phillies are desperately seeking a shortstop with Granny Hamner’s ailing left shoulder forcing him to attempt the conversion to pitching." 
            While there had been several articles in the sporting weekly earlier about the Phillies rookie school for some 50 of the team’s best prospects, I had never seen Kennedy’s name mentioned previously.
            In the March 13 issue, Kennedy was profiled – complete with a portrait photo – by Allan Lewis in an article headlined “Kennedy, in O.B. Bow, Could Rate Berth With Phils”.
            Lewis gave Kennedy’s age as 23, which we now know was a seven-year understatement. The writer called Kennedy “the No. 1 scholar at the kids’ college” (the Phillies special early spring training camp for young prospects).
            He reported that Kennedy “performed exceptionally well for the Phillies’ rookie team in its recent 4-1 victory over the Cardinals youngsters here. He was credited with two singles and also drew a walk. He handled his position well in the field and attracted notice not only from Philly officials but also from the Cardinal brain trust.”
            Phillies manager Mayo Smith was quoted, “He’s surprised us. When we signed him last August we weren’t too high on him, but he gets the job done. He gets the ball away fast and puts the bat on the ball pretty good.”
            The writer reported that Kennedy was born November 23, 1933 (I found it unusual that Kennedy lied not only about the year of his birth, but also about the month and day) and that he “fibbed about his age so that he might put in a hitch in the Army before going into baseball. He served with the engineers at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., in 1949 and ’50. He returned to high school in ’50 but left shortly afterward.”
            The article cited Kennedy’s 1956 record with the Monarchs as featuring a .385 batting average with 17 home runs in 100 games, which induced Phillies’ scout Bill Yancey to sign him to a Class A contract with Schenectady.
            Lewis’ assessment of Kennedy’s baseball skills read, “He’s of average speed and has been more of a line drive hitter than a home run slugger this spring. He has good reflexes, an adequate arm and fair range.”
            Given that review, and manager Smith’s faint praise, it’s surprising that Kennedy made the big club, however, briefly. Evidently the Phils really were that desperate for a shortstop before the trade with the Dodgers that brought Chico Fernandez to Philadelphia. I can’t help but think social pressure on the team to add a black player was also a factor. Along with the Tigers and Red Sox they were the only major league team without black players on their rosters.
            Kennedy’s name popped up again the March 27 issue, where Lewis wrote:
            “Kennedy was the big news of the rookie school and was held over to train with the parent club. With the regulars, Kennedy began to come apart a little in practice. His fielding was not as sure and his stickwork fell off.
            “Then he was given a chance in the second week of exhibitions and his play was top-grade. Used at both shortstop and third base, Kennedy was flawless in the field and drilled line drives to left field. He was batting .500 after the first nine exhibitions and had not made an error in the field.”
            By the time the team had 16 exhibition games in the books, Kennedy was leading the Phillies regulars with a .409 batting average and Lewis upgraded his assessment of Kennedy’s fielding to “(he) has been a steady, and sometimes flashy, performer at shortstop.”
            With Opening Day two weeks away, Kennedy had the rug (turf, actually) pulled out from under him.
            Doing his customary post-game running in the outfield, he fell and badly bruised his right shoulder.
            The Phillies reacted by finally making a trade for a shortstop. They sent veteran outfielder Elmer Valo, pitchers Ben Flowers and Ron Negray, two career minor league infielders and a reported $75,000 to the Brooklyn Dodgers for Chico Fernandez, who had gotten into 25 games in 1956, backing up Pee Wee Reese and seeming destined to play behind Don Zimmer for the foreseeable future.
            Phillies general manager Roy Hamey said, “I feel we got youth, speed and defense, and our scouts tell us he’s a cinch to make the grade.”
            While seemingly sold on Fernandez as a “sure, graceful fielder who has a strong arm and can make the double play,” according to Lewis, the Phillies hoped to get an added bonus of speed on the basepaths with Fernandez batting second behind consummate leadoff hitter Richie Ashburn.
            Kennedy’s bruised shoulder may have been the impetus for acquiring Fernandez, but Lewis wrote that the team was not convinced Kennedy would have been the answer to their long-standing problem at short. “The stocky Jacksonville native did everything that was asked of him at the shortstop post before he was injured,” Lewis wrote, “although Phils’ officials were not sure that his arm was strong enough for the job or that he would continue to hit as well as he did during the exhibition season.”
Kennedy ended spring training with a .343 batting average. Because of his injury, he played sparingly after March 22; of the 14 box scores I found between March 23 and the end of the Grapefruit League season, Kennedy appeared in only five games, batting just .182. The Sporting News did not carry box scores of the four-game series between the Phillies and Red Sox working their way north between April 10-14.
            Nonetheless, the same day the Fernandez deal was announced, Kennedy was told that he had made the major league roster.
            Making a claim I have never previously heard, Lewis also described Fernandez as a “Negro” in a sidebar to his April 17 column.
            Headlined, “Phillies, Last in N.L. to Add Negroes, Now Have Couple,” the item read, “The Phillies became the last National League club to include a Negro on its roster when Shortstop Chico Fernandez was acquired in a trade with the Dodgers and Infielder John Kennedy was promoted from Schenectady to the parent club.”
            Fernandez was Cuban-born but not particularly dark-skinned for a Latino. Whether he would have been able to “pass” the unspoken color bar that Jackie Robinson had breached 10 years earlier is certainly open to question. If, indeed, Fernandez was a “Negro,” it would make him, not Kennedy, the first of his race to play for the Phillies; Fernandez made his debut in Phillies’ livery in the season opener on April 16; Kennedy on the 22nd. 

On May 6, after five games with the Phillies (three as a pinch-runner), Kennedy was optioned to High Point-Thomasville (N.C.) in the Class B Carolina League, never to return to the majors.