Sunday, June 30, 2013

Serena showed big power for small man

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.

Bill Serena never hit more than 17 home runs in any of his big league seasons (1949-54).

But in 1947 with Lubbock in the Class C West Texas-New Mexico League, Serena slugged 70 home runs.

I was somewhat taken aback when I read that in a headline in the March 10, 1948, issue of The Sporting News. I have more than a passing familiarity with mid-century minor league baseball and I was quite sure I knew all of the players who had hit more than 60 home runs in a minor league season, even in the lower level circuits of the Southwest with their livelier balls and thinner air.

It turns out that while the feature on Serena was correct, he had only hit 57 of his home runs during the regular season. Thirteen of his round-trippers had been slugged during the 14 post-season games in which the Hubbers had added the league playoff championship to the regular-season pennant they had copped.

I was also surprised to read that this big hitting had come from a little guy. The article stated that Serena was only 5’9” and played at 175 pounds. I guess I would have known that if I had read the his Topps and Bowman baseball cards. I’d also have learned of his 70 homers on the back of his 1952 Topps card.

In the TSN article, Serena attributed his home run rampage not only to his abnormally strong wrists, but also to his accordion.

He explained that playing the squeeze box kept him relaxed and hitting. When he reported to Lubbock for 1947 he left his accordion at home. He quickly fell into a slump. His manager asked him what was wrong and Serena said he felt lonesome and homesick and missed his accordion. The manager went out and rented an instrument for Serena and he went on to bat .374 during the regular season, with 57 HR, 22 triples, 13 doubles and 190 RBIs.

Serena’s slugging at Lubbock earned him a promotion from Class C to Dallas in the Class AA Texas League for 1948. He told the TSN writer that he was taking his accordion to Dallas, but that he would be happy if he could squeeze out 20 or so home runs in the faster circuit. “I’m not taking any chances,” he was quoted. “The ol’ squeeze box comes along. I hope the Dallas players like music.”

For 1948 Serena did top 20 home runs. He had nine in 78 games with Dallas and 13 in 63 games with Class AAA Buffalo. He returned to Dallas for 1949, hitting 28 home runs and batting .281. The Cubs purchased him at the end of the Texas League season and brought him to Chicago.

In 1950 he took over as the Cubs regular third baseman. A dozen games into the 1951 season, he broke his wrist sliding into second base. 

When he returned for 1952, he was unable to win his job back from Ransom Jackson and spent the next three years filling in at second and third base. After the 1954 season he was sold to the  crosstown White Sox, but never played for them, or returned to the major leagues.

Serena played three more seasons in the high minors, retiring as a player after the 1957 season. He spent the next 38 years as a scout for the Indians, Braves, Rangers, Tigers and Marlins. He retired in 1994 and died in 1996.

Serena appeared on mainstream baseball cards with Bowman in 1950-51 and 1953-55, and Topps in 1952.

While it is a shirt list of Bill Serena cards, there are some interesting notes about several of them.

His 1951 Bowman card has a typographical error on the back, with "1941" appearing instead of "1947."

After two years with Bowman, Serena switched to Topps for 1952, and his card appears in the scarce high-number series as one of the popular horizontal-format cards.

Serena went back with Bowman in 1953. His 1954 Bowman is one of the nearly three dozen cards in the set that had statistical errors corrected during the print run, creating a variation. His card can be found with the previous year's fielding average as either .983 (correct) or .977.

His 1955 Bowman card is among the short-print high-numbers. It pictures Serena with the White Sox, though the photo originally pictured him in a Cubs uniform and was retouched to give him a CWS cap.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Henry Oana, Hawaiian playboy prince, joins custom card team

More than 20 years ago (Aug. 2, 1991 issue) I wrote a lengthy article in SCD about Henry Oana and the paucity of baseball cards on which he appeared.

Known as Prince Oana in deference to a fanciful story that he was of Hawaiian royal blood, Oana's lack of "real" baseball cards can be laid to the fact that while he enjoyed a professional baseball career that spanned from the 1920s to the 1950s, he played only three seasons -- 30 games -- in the major leagues, mostly during World War II when few cards were being produced.

I wish I had the capability of reproducing my long-ago article from SCD, or that it was available somewhere online, because his story is interesting to anybody who likes baseball history.

Failing that, I can strongly recommend Rory Costello article on Oana that appears on the SABR baseball biography site: . 

Reading that will give you a flavor for why Oana's Major league days were short, and thus opportunities for baseball card appearances. 

I chose to model my custom card in the 1934 Goudey format. That's a new style for me, and I enjoyed working in that medium.

While I would have liked to make my Oana card one of the "Lou Gehrig says . . . " variety, I chose instead for greater historic accuracy.

If Goudey had made a '34 card for Oana, it would most likely have been in the high-number series. And in that series, all of the National Leaguer's cards featured commentary by the Cubs' Chuck Klein.

I would have liked to have done my Oana card in the 1941 Play Ball style, but by then the slugging pitcher was in the middle of a three-year stay with Fort Worth in the Texas League. That's not so say that I categorically reject making minor league cards in major league formats, but I resisted the temptation in this case.

Most of Henry Oana's career-contemporary baseball cards are minor league issues. He appears with the San Francisco Seals in the 1929 and 1932 Zeenuts PCL sets. The '32 card that I borrowed from Larry Fritsch to illustrate my 1991 article appears in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards. He is also the card pictured in that book with the 1943 Grand Studio Milwaukee Brewers. That's the portrait that I used to create my custom card.

As a major leaguer, Oana had only one card, in the scarce 1934 Al Demaree die-cuts (R304). He is also included in the 1934 silver-bordered series of Diamond matchbook covers.

All of those vintage Oana cards are scarce to rare, and finding just one of them could involve a lengthy search and considerable cash outlay.

Perhaps my custom card can fill the gap.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

NFL, Hollywood pioneer Strode my latest custom card

Normally this time of year, the time I have available for making custom cards is spent working on baseball subjects.

After watching The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance on TV last week, however, I decided to switch things up and check off a 1955-style All-American football card that has been on my to-do list for a number of years: Woody Strode.

Strode's role as John Wayne's sidekick Pompey in that Western wasn't the finest of his 90-some movie roles between 1941 and 1995, but even in a small role, Strode was an arresting character.

There are lots of good internet biographies of Strode, so I won't do much more than hit the highlights here.

With Kenny Washington and Jackie Robinson (for whom I've already created custom cards) Strode was one of three black starters for UCLA at a time when most major college football programs had none. That lineup paid off for the Bruins in 1939 when they had an undefeated 6-0-4 season, including a 0-0 tie with Southern California to earn the Pacific Coast Conference Co-championship.

He teamed up with Washington to play minor league football for the Hollywood Bears after graduation. During the war he served in the U.S. Army Air Corps on the gridiron in California and in the Pacific Theater.

After the war he again teamed with Washington on the 1946 L.A. Rams, reintegrating the NFL for the first time since the early 1930s.

In the off-seasons at college, he and Washington worked as gophers at the Warner Brothers movie studios and by 1939 he was getting a few uncredited walk-on parts, including in John Ford's Stagecoach.

Pretty much typecast throughout his Hollywood career, Strode's chiseled visage and 6'4" physique made him a natural whenever a film needed a Nubian gladiator, an Ethiopian king or an African warrior to bedevil Tarzan.

You can check his filmography on the Internet Movie Database at: .

While he was getting his movie and TV career rolling in the 1950s, Strode was also performing as a popular professional TV wrestler on the California circuit.

My perusal of his film credits tells me that if I want to get the true flavor of Strode's acting chops, I need to catch the 1960 film Sergeant Rutledge the next time its on.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

"World record" penicillin course saved Russell

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.

I have to take the medical details with a grain of salt, but an article in the May 18, 1949, issue of The Sporting News definitely makes the case that, as its headline read, Boston Braves outfielder Jim Russell was “The Luckiest Man Alive”.

The piece was written by Les Biederman . . .

            Jim Russell, former Pirate who lives in Fayette City, just outside of Pittsburgh, calls himself the luckiest man alive today.
            He was close to death last summer, but today is roaming the outfield for the Braves. Russell had a background of rheumatic fever as a youngster and when he developed two abscessed front teeth, the poison affected the valves of his heart.
            Russell was stricken ill last year after the All-Star Game and spent the next three months in hospitals in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and at the Charleroi-Monessen Hospital near his home.
            “I had a sub-acute bacterial endicarditis and only the fact that they fed me 8,000,000 units of penicillin a day for 70 days pulled me through,” he said. “They told me that 99 per cent of these cases are fatal and doctors wrote off my recovery as a miracle.
            “I understand the medical journals published the case in full and the penicillin injections broke every record known to medical science.
            “Doctor William Mullins of Mercy Hospital, Pittsburgh, pulled me through. My weight dropped to 167, but now I’m back up to 195.”

            The Braves paid all of Russell’s hospital bills, amounting to $4,000.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

It took seven Reds to put out Musial

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 a single play  in a 1949 game, six Cincinnati Reds got an assist and one a putout in a rundown of Stan Musial.

In a game at Crosley Field on July 8, Musial doubled to right in the top of the first inning to drive in the game’s first run.
He overran second base and it took seven Reds to put him out.

Right fielder Johnny Wyrostek fielded the ball and threw to second baseman Bobby Adams, who relayed to first baseman Ted Kluszewski (why Adams threw to first, behind the runner, I couldn’t tell you).

Klu, seeing that Musial was halfway between second and third bases, fired the ball to third baseman Grady Hatton. Hatton ran Musial partway back to second base and threw to shortstop Claude Corbitt, covering.

Musial reversed course and ran for third. Corbitt threw to left fielder Danny Litwhiler, who had come in to protect the hot corner. Litwhiler chased Musial back towards second, gave up trying to catch him and threw to Adams, who ran The Man part way back toward third base again, then threw to catcher Walker Cooper, who was now covering third base.

Cooper had to take only a couple of steps to put the tag on the now exhausted Musial and get credit for the putout. The only other Reds on the field at the time who didn’t get an assist were pitcher Ewell Blackwell and center fielder Harry Walker.

The Cardinals won the game 6-1. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

1959 Taylor, Nitschke, Version 2.0

I've been making custom baseball and football cards for about 10 years now. (Some day I'll have to try to figure out exactly when I made my first cards.)

 Most of my earliest efforts were in the format of the 1955 Topps All-American college football cards, a favorite set from my childhood.

Among the first cards I created in a different format were a trio of 1959 Topps-style Green Bay Packers cards for Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke and and an "All-Star Rookies" card featuring the two together.

I was moved to make those cards by acquiring a 1959 Green Bay Packers program that included black-and-white photos of Taylor and Nitschke in their College All-Star Game uniforms.

Topps had issued a Jim Taylor card in its 1959 set, but it pictured the wrong Jim Taylor. Instead of the Packers fullback, Topps used a photo of a Chicago Cardinals center-linebacker of the same name. That Taylor was out of the NFL by 1959. Topps repeated the wrong-photo fiasco in its 1960 set. They got it right in 1961 and thereafter.

Nitschke was never in Topps' 1959 set. He didn't get on a Topps card until 1963.

When I put together my '59 Packers cards, my computer skills were not what they are today. I think the colorizing went OK, but in picking up the Packers' photos from that program, I also picked up a fairly noticeable dot-pattern from the halftones. 

I hadn't yet learned how to use the Gaussian blur filter in Photoshop Elements, so when I printed the cards, the prominent dot pattern on the player photos was distracting.

A few years back I found a better rookie-year photo of Nitschke and created a new version of a '59 style card. Don't you think the All-Star Game portrait of Nitschke looks like Woody Harrelson?

I didn't get around to doing a remake of my '59 Jim Taylor until the other day when a collector requested an example of each of my Green Bay Packers football card creations. Frankly I felt a bit abashed at the contrast in quality between by original '59 Taylor and the other Packers cards I have made since then.

So I determined to reissue my 1959 Taylor. 

Surprisingly, early-NFL career photos of Taylor are not all that plentiful. However, I did spot a posed action shot that immediately put me in mind of Lew Carpenter's 1959 Topps card and I knew I had found what I needed.

The photo required colorizing and I dithered a bit about whether to go with the blue-and-gold uniform that Carpenter wears on his '59 card, or the black-and-gold that most of the other Packers are shown wearing.
Figuring that the blue jerseys were obsolete by the time the photos were taken for the 1959 cards, I opted to go with the black. 

I'm much more satisfied with this version of a "corrected" 1959-style Jim Taylor card.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

'52T style custom card for Duke Markell

It's no surprise that Duke Markell didn't have a major league baseball card; he pitched in only five September games with the last-place St. Louis Browns in 1951.

Because I found his career to be interesting, I made him the subject of my most recent custom card, produced in the style of 1952 Topps.

While Markell's major league days were unremarkable, he did enjoy a lengthy and successful career pitching in the high minors.

Markell was the only French-born player in the major leagues between 1915-78. He was born in Paris in 1923 as Harry Duquesne Makowsky; his parents brought him to America as a seven-year-old.

Duke grew up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium. Probably because he shared his Jewish heritage, Markell's favorite ballplayer gowing up was Hank Greenberg. I read somewhere that Markell was one of the neighborhood kids that shagged batting practice balls for Greenberg.

Markell served with the U.S. Army in the Philippines during World War II. He began his pro ball career in 1945, spending three years with N.Y. Giants farm teams in the lower classifications. 

In only his second start as a pro, Markell pitched the first of his three minor league no-hitters with Hickory in the Class D North Carolina State League. Still in Class D, in 1947 he set an Eastern Shore League record with 274 strikeouts in 249 innings for Seaford.

The next season Markell was in the Philadelphia Phillies chain, where he spent the 1948-49 seasons, rising as high as Class A ball with Utica in the Eastern League. He set another league record in 1948 with Schenectady in the Canadian-American League, striking out 270 in 250 innings, including 21 in a game against Rome.

Markell won 19 games in 1950 with Portsmouth in the Piedmont League (Class B). He jumped to AA ball for 1951 with Tulsa in the Texas League and had a 13-19 record before he was called up by the Browns.

For 1952 the Browns returned Markell to the highest level of the minors, Class AAA, in the International League, where was 14-8 with Toronto. He led the IL that season with 120 strikeouts.

After the season he was traded to the New York Yankees for Bobo Holloman and $35,000. The Yankees assigned him to Syracuse in the International League for 1953. His record that season was 11-17, but he pitched his second professional no-hitter on Aug. 3, defeating Toronto, and came within one K of leading the league with 155 strikeouts.

Markell remained in the International League into the 1957 season, with Syracuse (Yankees/Phillies) in 1953-54 and Rochester (Cardinals) 1954-57. With Rochester in 1955, he pitched his third career no-hitter on April 29, beating Columbus.

He closed out his professional career with Indianapolis and Charleston of the American Association.

It's too bad that to maintain the illustion of a 1952 card, I couldn't mention on my custom creation that Markell was a New York City policeman. He joined the NYPD in 1953, and for five years would play a full season of pro ball, then walk a beat until spring training. Following his baseball days, Markell became a full-time cop in New York in 1958. 

He died in Florida in 1984.

Besides my '52-style custom,  Markell had a "real"  baseball card in the 1952 Canadian Parkhurst set while with Toronto. He's also appeared on at least one modern collectors' issue card, in the Jewish Major Leaguers set of 2003.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Happy hundredth, Coach Lombardi

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vince Lombardi.

I take this occasion to show off a custom card I made some years ago as part of my series of 1955 Topps All-American style college cards.

When Lombardi was shepherding the Green Bay Packers from NFL doormats to dynasty, I didn't appreciate the man or his mission. At that time he represented all that I loathed about the "establishment."

I highly recommend the TV special Lombardi's Legacy that is replaying tonight on ESPN2 at 9 p.m. (Eastern). 

"Hard luck" stifled Shinners' big league career

One of Ralph Shinners' few baseball
cards is this 1922 E120 American Caramel.

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.

Early in 1948, former N.Y. Giants outfielder Ralph Shinners was named road secretary for the Milwaukee Brewers, at that time a team in the Class AA American Association.

Shinners was a Milwaukee hometown favorite. He had played college ball at Marquette University, and to this day is the only former Warrior to have played major league ball.

In announcing Shinners’ appointment to the Brewers’ staff, The Sporting News ran a feature story by Sam Levy, the dean of Milwaukee baseball writers in that era. The article’s headline called Shinners the “Hard-Luck Guy of the Majors.” The angle was that Shinners had been denied a significant major league career by a run of bad luck that began in his rookie season.

Shinners had gone from Marquette right to the highest level of minor league baseball, joining the Indianapolis Indians (American Association) in 1920. He played 111 games that season, and in 1921, batted .346 and stole 70 bases.

Shinners was exceptionally fast for what was, at that time, a big man. He was 6' tall and played at 180 lbs.

Personally scouted by manager John McGraw, Shinners was purchased by the Giants for, depending on which source you believe, $65,000 and three players (1948 Sporting News) or $25,000 and four players (1922 N.Y. Times).

Let’s pick up the story as it ran in TSN . . .

            Shinners was a hard-luck guy. In 1922, his first year with the Giants, he was beaned in mid-season by Pitcher George Smith of the Phillies.
            “I was hitting around .390 at the time,” [actually, he was batting .282] Shinners recalls, “when I was knocked out of commission with a slight concussion. McGraw never forgave Smith for that. Some time later, when the Phils played us at the Polo Grounds, McGraw sent Smith a note: ‘Meet me back of the clubhouse after we knock you out of the box in the seventh inning.’ Sure enough, the Giants chased Smith in the seventh. McGraw headed for the battle site and told me to follow him a minute later, “because I may need some help.”
            ‘When I reached the battle ground, Smith and McGraw were sparring. Then I stepped in. I landed one punch and knocked Smith to the ground. That ended the fight.”
            "McGraw was a great guy," adds Shinners. Although he was farmed to Toledo after he recovered from the beaning, Ralph, through McGraw’s efforts, received a full World Series cut.       
            In 1923, when he rejoined the Giants, Shinners was again stalked by hard luck through a pennant-winning campaign.
            “I became ill in Cincinnati just after we clinched the pennant there and McGraw sent me back to New York to rest. I had Pleurisy, typhoid fever and the flu. The day the World Series opened the Giants players received word in the clubhouse before the game that I had died. I was unconscious for 21 days. No visitors were allowed in my hospital room.
            “The day the World’s Series ended, McGraw sneaked up the fire escape to my room. He brought me a dozen autographed baseballs and my World’s Series check for $4,500. Before he left, he said: ‘Keep fighting, boy, I’m figuring on you for my center fielder next year.’"
            “McGraw sailed for Europe that night. He wrote me from England: ‘You’ve had a run of tough luck since I bought you. We’ll win the championship again next year. Even if you don’t play a single inning, you’ll stay with my club.’”
            And Shinners was with the Giants the following season and collected another World’s Series check. [Levy was mistaken. Shinners was sent to Toledo in the American Association for the 1924 season].
            “There was only one John McGraw, a great guy and a great manager,” concluded Shinners.

In 1925 Shinners returned to the National League with the Cardinals, but not before suffering another bit of bad luck. In a spring training game in March he sprained his ankle and wasn't able to play (other than three pinch-hit appearances) for most of the first month of the season.

He was sent down to the Pacific Coast League in 1926 and spent six more seasons in the high minors, batting over .300 in three of those years. 

In 1947, Shinners was manager for the Kenosha Comets of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. He served athe Brewers traveling secretary for a couple of seasons. He died of a heart attack in 1962 at the age of 66.


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Triple home plate wedding for 1949 Cats

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.

Four members of the Ft. Worth Cats were married at home plate at La Grave Field on Aug.21, 1950, in what was believed to have been an unprecedented baseball nuptials extravaganza.

 With three different ministers – Methodist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran – and a district judge performing separate ceremonies, the ballplaying bridegrooms and their betrothed were: pitcher John Rutherford and Martha Jo Day of Dayton, Tenn., second baseman Joe Torpey and Marilee Cook of Pueblo, Colo., shortstop Russ Rose and Patricia Ann Thayer of Van Nuys, Calif., and third baseman Don Hoak and Phyllis Warner of Coudersport, Pa.

Probably with financial aid provided by the several national magazines, including Life, and newsreels that covered the event, the four brides-to-be were flown to Ft. Worth for the quadruple ceremony.

A Cats fans’ committee that was organized to make the arrangements and provide for gifts suitably decorated the recently constructed La Grave Field with a reported $980 worth of flowers, an altar, a carpeted aisle from the pitcher’s mound to home plate and other suitable touches.

The benedicts’ teammates served as ushers while the team president, manager, assistant manager and a local sports writer served as best men.

More than 60 of the couples’ friends and relatives traveled to Ft. Worth from six states to witness the ceremonies. They were joined by 9,817 fans. Music was provided by the La Grave Field organist, male and female soloists and the nationally famous 21-voice Denton Civic Boys Choir.

Gifts from more than 100 donors included cash, Savings Bonds, household utensils and groceries.

Following the vows, the grooms changed from their tuxedos into their uniforms and defeated Oklahoma City 6-4. Pitcher John Rutherford did not appear in the game. Second baseman Torpey got a hit and an RBI in four trips, handling four chances in the field perfectly. Rose, at shortstop, made three sparkling plays, though failing to hit in two official plate appearances. Hoak played errorless ball at third base and was 2-for-4 at the plate.
Don Hoak's 1950 home plate wedding didn't "take."
In 1961 he married former teenage pop star Jill Corey.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Melillo predicted Veeck's midget batter two years earlier

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.

I found an interesting story in the March 30, 1949, issue of The Sporting News that almost certainly had some connection to Bill Veeck’s use of midget pinch-hitter Eddie Gaedel two years later.

Cleveland Plain Dealer sports writer Gordon Cobbledick was reporting from the Indians’ spring training site in Tucson.

The crux of the article was about a wager between Indians coach Oscar Melillo and Satchel Paige.

Paige had only recently arrived in camp, two weeks later than the rest of the pitchers. With the permission of manager Lou Boudreau, the ageless Paige had been conditioning on his own at Hot Springs, Ark.

When Melillo first encountered Paige he said (I’d guess Cobbledick took some liberties in quoting the parties involved), “I hear you got control.”

“Man, you didn’t hear no lie,” Paige was quoted as replying.

After a bit more back and forth, with some kibitzing from other players, a wager was proposed by Melillo that Paige couldn’t throw eight of ten pitches for a strike.

Paige scoffed when a catcher’s shin guard was placed in the outfield to serve as a substitute home plate. “I c’n throw a thousand outa a thousand over that big old thing,” he was quoted. “Put a baseball cap down there. That’s all the plate old Satch needs.”

The writer went on to recount how Paige repeatedly hit the mark with both fast balls and curves, until he had run the count to seven strikes and two balls.

Then Melillo said, “You’re in trouble. You’re in bad trouble. Because you want to know why? Because the other ball club just sent in a pinch-hitter. A midget. He’s only this big,” the coach said dropping to his knees. “To make it worse, he hits from a crouch. You only got about six inches between his shoulders and his knees.”

Cobbledick then picked up the action, “(Paige) tied his long body into a tortured knot and as he unwound his whip-like arm came down. Then it halted suddenly in the familiar pattern of Paige’s famous hesitation pitch. Then it resumed its motion and the ball left the black hand and whizzed across the cap.”

Serving as umpire, catcher Jim Hegan called, “Strike!”

Paige won the Coke that had been wagered, but Melillo may have painted a scenario that would become baseball history.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Broken neck didn't keep Limmer out of majors

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.

You’d think a broken neck would be a career-ending injury, but for Lou Limmer it was just a bump in the road on his fast rise through the minor leagues on his way to a modest two-year  major league career.

Limmer, from the Bronx, was signed by Philadelphia out of Manhattan School of Aviation. He began his professional career in the North Carolina State League in 1946-47, before being promoted to Lincoln in 1948.

In a late-August game at Lincoln in the Class A Western League, Limmer slid into third base. He was rising to his knees when the third baseman took the throw from first then stepped awkwardly across the bag, striking Limmer’s head with his knee.

Limmer later told teammates, “Everything went black for just a second, but there wasn’t much pain. What scared me was that I was temporarily blind. I remembered everything else, even being lifted onto the stretcher.”

Limmer spent three weeks with his broken neck in traction and another three weeks in a cast. At the time of his injury Limmer was leading the Western League with 28 home runs. While Limmer laid in a hospital bed, Carl Sawatski, on the final night of the season, captured the home run title, setting a modern league record with 29.

Limmer returned the next season as Lincoln’s first baseman. He batted .315 for the A's, with 29 home runs in 1949. Philadelphia put him on their 1950 roster, but in a move that was very unusual for the time, optioned him to St. Paul, a Brooklyn Dodgers farm team in the Class AAA American Association.

Limmer was vying for playing time with the Dodgers’ own Danny Ozark, and became an early-season sensation.

In his first game with the Saints he had a 5-for-5 day at Kansas City, including a home run. He continued to hit well through the end of May, batting .373 with five home runs and 23 RBI.

Though he continued to hit well through the season, Limmer seemed jinxed at his home field, Lexington Park. Purely a pull hitter, Limmer was unable to slug home runs at home, where the right field fence was 375 feet from home, and up a 10-foot embankment, besides. It was August 10 when he hit his first home run in St. Paul; at that point in the season he had 22 home runs on the road.

Limmer’s first home homer was not without suffering, however. The 400-ft. drive over the scoreboard came one pitch after he had fouled a pitch off his ankle.

The jinx also affected his base hitting, as the season neared its end, he was hitting .366 on the road, but only .202 at home. He looked forward to eventually making the A’s roster, as the right field fence at Shibe Park was only 331 feet down the line.

Limmer spent all of  1950 at St. Paul, as he was not eligible for recall until the end of the season. He hit .277 for the season. For his success at St. Paul, Limmer was named the American Association Rookie of the Year.

The parent club recognized Limmer's big year in the high minors and gave him a major league berth, though it was mostly a spot on the bench behind Ferris Fain, who hit a league-leading .344 that year. Limmer batted just .159 at the big-league level in 1951.

He returned to the minor leagues with Ottawa in the AAA International League for all of 1952-53.

He was called back up to the A's for 1954 and hit .231 with a respectable 14 home runs. 

When the A's brought up Vic Power for 1955, it spelled the end of Limmer's major league days. He continued to play in the high minors through the 1958 season. 

Though Limmer appeared in both the Topps and Bowman
card sets in 1955, he didn't make the move
to Kansas City with the A's that year.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Are Babe's clubs still on the wall?

I don't know if the golf course is still in business, or if it is whether Babe Ruth's clubs are still displayed there, but a year after the Babe's death, the Bayside Golf Club in Queens announced plans to display his driver and putter in the clubhouse.

In the “Caught on the Fly” column.of the Aug. 24, 1949, Sporting News, it was reported . . . 

            "The driver and putter used by Babe Ruth when he played at the Bayside Golf Club on Long Island, N.Y., will be framed and hung in the clubhouse. The other golf sticks that the late Yankee slugger left at the club when illness forced him to relinquish the game were given to First Baseman Johnny Mize of the Giants at the request of Mrs. Ruth."