Thursday, October 31, 2013

Attempt made to steal Gehrig's ashes

Perhaps it was an overzealous collector. If the card companies had been around, it might have been one of them looking for material for insert cards.

Whomever it was, an attempt was made on July 25, 1947, to steal Lou Gehrig's ashes from Kensico Cemetery in Westchester County, N.Y.

Police reported that parties unknown appeared to have succeeded in jimmying open the bronze crypt inside of Gehrig's headstone, but were not -- so far as it was known -- able to get into the urn that held his remains.

Rattled by the attempt, Eleanor Gehrig contacted the Baseball Hall of Fame about possibly accepting the ashes and placing them in a vault beneath Gehrig's plaque. Those negotiations broke off, however, when officials at Cooperstown began kicking around the idea of creating a "repository for the immortals" at the museum. Too, there was the question of satisfying requests of spouses, children, etc., who wished to repose in perpetual proximity to their ball playing loved ones.

Upon the death of Eleanor Gehrig in 1984, the vault was again opened to receive her ashes. Contrary to her expressed wishes to have her ashes commingled with Lou's, they were interred in a separate urn. Attorney George Pollack, representative of the Gehrigs' estate, resisted the urge to pop open Lou's urn to settle the question of whether they were still reposing there.

Some years later, concerned over not having mixed the couple's ashes, Pollack determined to do so. When he attempted to unlock the crypt, however, he was unsuccessful because a penny had been jammed into the lock and he was unable to remove it. Pollack took that as a sign and the ashes of both Lou and Eleanor (presumably) remain in situ today.

Lou Gehrig's tombstone, by the way, contains an error in his birth year, reading 1905, rather than the correct 1903. While cemetery officials are aware of the mistake, there are no living relatives to authorize a correction. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

1948 Indians W.S. pennants number found

Occasionally in my perusal of back issues of The Sporting News I will uncover information that is directly relevant to the sports card and memorabilia hobby.

Such was the case in an October, 1948, issue where I spied a photo of a novelty company officer holding an armload of Cleveland Indians A.L. Championship/World Series felt pennants.

According to the photo's caption, that particular style of pennant had been produced to the number of 50,000 pieces. TSN found it remarkable that the company had produced the pennants prior to the Tribe's actually winning the American League title. That was the year, recall, that the Indians beat the Red Sox in a one-game playoff, then went on to win the World's Series against the Boston Braves.

The pictured pennant was just one of several styles that were produced by a couple of different manufacturers. I've seen it in both red and green.

An original pennant of this style can bring $200 or more. A modern Mitchell & Nash reproduction can be ordered for $29.99.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

1953 Johnston Cookie Braves set updated by two

As a fan of Johnston's "tiger stripe" cookies, the Milwaukee Braves and baseball cards in the 1950s, it's no surprise that the 1953-55 card sets issued by the Milwaukee cookie company remain among my favorites.

In tribute to those great old sets, I recently created a pair of custom cards in the format of the 1953 "cookie Braves." To the original 25 cards that Johnston published in '53, I've added two more: Harry Hanebrink and Joey Jay.

Jay, of course, couldn't have been part of the original Johnston set because he didn't join the team until the end of June after signing a bonus contract various reported as being worth $20,000-40,000. 

If you go back to my blog post for May 9, 2011, you'll get a feel for why I wanted to do a Joey Jay card in this format.

The portrait I used for my Johnston-style card came from a Jay Publishing Co. Braves picture pack.

No doubt you've noticed the blank stats boxes on the back. That isn't an error; that's the way Johnston indicated a player wasn't in Organized Baseball during a previous season.

You may recognize the player picture on my Harry Hanebrink card as virtually the same one I used for my 1953 Topps-style Hanebrink "rookie" card presented here on Oct. 12.

Since I had already done the work colorizing that photo, all I had to do to make use of it on my Johnston card was change the cap logo from a "B" to an "M". Johnston did the same thing on a few of its cards in 1953. 

I think the addition of these two players will likely be the end of my updating of 1953 Johnston. The 1954 Johnston cookie Braves are my least favorite among the three, so I don't envision I'll be doing any updating of that set. I do envision that someday in the future I'll probably try my hand at something in the 1955 Johnston format. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Auction exposes Bianci as super-common in 1940 Crowley's Milk Binghamton team set

While paging through the Goodwin & Co. catalog for their Sept. 19 auction, I lingered at Lot 18, a complete set of the 1940 Crowley's Milk Binghamton Triplets with each card graded by SGC.

I've always had a fondness for this set because it includes one of the few baseball cards of Jimmy Adlam (more about this card later), who managed my home town Fond du Lac Panthers in the Class D Wisconsin State League in the mid-1940s and early-1950s.

The Crowley's set  was issued at time when there were few minor league team sets being produced on the eve of U.S. participation in World War II.

The Binghamton Triplets were the Class A affiliate of the N.Y. Yankees. In the year of this set's issue, they won the Eastern League championship.

The 1940 card set was sponsored by a local dairy. The 3" x 5" blank-back cards featured blue duotone full-length poses of 16 players, plus a card of the trainer and a card of the manager with the bat boy, "Filbert". (The Trips' manager in 1940 was former major leaguer Bruno Betzel, whose given name was Christian Frederick Albert John Henry David Betzel -- no wonder they called him Bruno.)

Ten players from the 1940 Binghamton roster would eventually have at least a cup of coffee in the major leagues.

What piqued my attention in the Goodwin auction listing was a chart detailing the SGC grade of each of the set's cards. Goodwin described it as "the ONLY Professionally Graded Complete Set in Existence!" 

According to the chart, the graded cards range from VG to EX/MT+, with the average grade of 57.8 (VG-EX) on the SGC 100-point scale.

I was particularly interested, however, to note that according to the auctioneer the combined number of 1940 Crowley's cards slabbed by PSA and SGC stood (at the time the catalog was compiled) at 47 . . . of which 13 were Johnny Bianco cards! 

Why in the world are more than 25% of the graded Crowley's cards those of Johnny Bianco?
None of the other cards in the set are known to have more than four graded examples.

Bianco never played in the major leagues. In 1940 he was a 20-year-old pitcher for Binghamton, playing in his second professional season. He won four and lost two that year on a 2.11 ERA. 

He was out of pro ball for the 1942-45 seasons, presumably in military service. He returned from the war and pitched with the Yankees' AA and AAA teams and in the Pacific Coast League through 1948. He retired with a 43-29 minor league record.

Most likely the 1940 Crowley's cards were stadium giveaways, probably distributed one per game on baseball-card promotional days/nights. Were the Bianco cards really given away at a rate more than three times the others, or is some other factor responsible for the over appearance of that card at the grading companies' doorsteps? We may never know.

Name                             SGC Grade                Total SGC & PSA Count
Aaron Robinson           50/4                             2
Al Gurske                      55/4.5                          1
Bill Bevens                     40/3                             2
Billie O'Donnell             50/4                             2
Bruno Betzel                 80/6                             2
Earl Reid                       82/6.5                         4
Frankie Silvanic           80/6                             4
Fred Collins                  45/3.5                         1
Herb White                   40/3                             1
Jack Graham               55/4.5                          2
Jimmy Adlam               60/5                             2
Johnny Bianco             50/4                           13
Mike Milosevich           60/5                             2
Pete Suder                   80/6                             2
Randy Gumbert            60/5                             3
Ray Volpi                     45/3.5                          1
Russ Bergman             50/4                             1
Vince DeBiassi            60/5                             1

As mentioned earlier, Jimmy Adlam was included in the 1940 Crowley's set. That's mystery #2.

Why was Adlam in this set. In 1940 he played the entire season -- according to -- in the Eastern League -- but he played for Springfield. I have to crawfish here a bit. The internet reference specifies that Adlam played 98 games for Springfield. It's possible that he may have played a few games for Binghamton, and that the source material for the listing -- usually the Spalding Official Baseball Guide -- didn't publish that fact.

Adlam did play for Binghamton in 1941 and 1942, before going off to war.

One more tidbit about the 1940 Crowley's Milk set: in his facsimile autograph, Vince DiBiasi misspelled his name as DeBiassi.

The graded set in the Goodwin auction sold for $4,985.


Reader Mark Aubrey sent me the following, 

"I did some quick checking and have found Adlam playing 2B for Binghamton throughout 1940 in various online newspapers.

Also, regarding the Spalding Baseball Guide you mention in the article:

In 1940 and 1941, the American Sports Publishing Company, which had put out both the Spalding and Reach guides since 1935, consolidated both into a single edition, called the Spalding-Reach Official Base Ball Guide."

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Bear Bryant added to my '55 AA-style set

I was surprised to find a nice contemporary pose of Bear Bryant as an Alabama player circa their 1934 National Championship in a recent online auction.

It inspired me to add him to my 1955-style All-American set.

For a number of years I have contemplated doing a sub-set of legendary college coaches in the '55 style, but haven't yet begun the project. If and when that happens, you'll certainly see Bryant in his more familiar image complete with hounds tooth hat.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

College football season spawns updates to my '55 All-American set

I suppose it's only natural that my custom/fantasy card making has a seasonal aspect. 

I tend to focus on baseball subjects during the spring and summer and football cards in the fall and winter.

Lately I've had some good fortune in finding some excellent photos of former college and pro stars in their collegiate days, so I'm planning on creating some additions to my "updating" of the venerable 1955 All-American set.

When I saw this photo, I couldn't resist putting together an AA card for Green Bay Packers star Jerry Kramer, who many consider to be the best player who is not in the pro football Hall of Fame. Ironically, the HoF named Kramer to its All-1960s Team and the NFL selected him for its 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.

Vince Lombardi counted on Kramer pulling out of his right guard position to lead the famed Packers sweeps that were integral to the team's success in the early- to mid-1960s. Of course he is best remembered for "the most famous block in NFL history," clearing the way for Bart Starr to score the winning touchdown in the Dec. 31, 1967, "Ice Bowl" to defeat the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC Championship.

I remember reading his book Instant Replay, chronicling that 1967 season, when it was enjoying its 37-week run on the New York Times best-seller list.

Ironically, considering how many games Kramer lost to injuries, or simply played hurt, he remains in good health today at age 77. It would be great if the Hall of Fame's Seniors Committee would see fit to recognize Kramer with induction while he's still here to enjoy the honor.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Woodling led four minor leagues in batting

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.

Gene Woodling a good, but not a great, outfielder for the New York Yankees between 1949-54 and later with the Orioles, Indians, Senators and Mets before retiring in 1962.

During his minor league days, he had the distinction of winning batting titles in four different circuits.

In his professional debut at age 17 in 1940 he led the Ohio State League (Class D) hitting .398 for Mansfield.

The next year, with Flint he topped all Michigan State League (C) hitters with a .394 mark.

Moving up to the Class A Eastern League at Wilkes-Barre in 1942 his hitting dropped more than 200 points, to .192. In 1943, again at W-B he rebounded to a .344 average -- second-best in the circuit.  That earned him a September call-up to the parent Cleveland Indians, where he posted a .320 mark in eight games.

Woodling spent 1944-45 in military service, then returned to Cleveland for 1946, batting just .188. In the off-season he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for future Hall of Fame manager Al Lopez (for whom he played at Cleveland in 1955-56).

He had another September call-up with the Bucs in 1947, batting .266. He was traded in the off-season to the San Francisco Seals in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League.

In 1948, he hit .385, to lead his fourth minor league in batting. At the end of the season he was sold to the New York Yankees, ending his minor league days.

Woodling's six seasons with the Yanks earned him five World Series rings and five World's Series checks. In the 1949 Series he hit .400 against the Dodgers and in 1950, versus the Phillies, he hit .429. In his five Series with New York he batted .318.

Following the 1954 season, Woodling was part of a 16-player, three-team deal that sent him to the Orioles in 1955. He moved on to the Indians later that year. He was traded back to Baltimore in 1958, then went to the Senators for 1961 and part of 1962, before ending his career with the expansion Mets in 1962.

Woodling never challenged for a major league batting title. The closest he came was third in 1957 when he batted a major league career high of .321. He did hit .300 or better in five of his American League seasons. His lifetime big league hitting mark was .284.

Woodling first baseball card was in his 1948 title year with S.F., when he appeared in a team set sponsored by Sommer & Kaufmann's boy's shop. In 1950 he was part of the tiny vending machine strip card set known as R423.

He made his major baseball card debut in 1951 Bowman and appeared in Bowman sets through 1954. He was on Topps cards between 1952-63. His 1963 Topps card, "Veteran Masters," pictured him with Mets manager Casey Stengel, though he was gone from the Mets by then.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Harry Hanebrink's new "rookie card"

Harry Hanebrink's 1958-59 Topps cards (his only Topps cards) were a childhood favorite. 

Besides being a new face among the Milwaukee Braves on my cards that year, Hanebrink looked so darn young. In reality, he was 30 years old when he made his rookie card debut.

Hanebrink had broken into the major leagues five years earlier, as a 25-year-old rookie when the Braves moved to Milwaukee.

His first major league hit was a home run. True . . .  it came after nine fruitless pinch-hitting appearances, and did nothing to alter the course of a 6-2 Braves loss to Robin Roberts and the Phillies, but it's one more big league homer than you or I have.

Hanebrink was a "good field, no hit" player in the Braves' organization for most of 10 seasons. After spending almost all of 1953 up with Milwaukee, he was relegated to AAA Toledo and Wichita for all of 1954-1956, and most of 1957, getting a September call-up. 

He stuck with Milwaukee for the 1958 season, and even got a couple of at-bats (0-for-2) in the World Series.

Prior to the 1959 season -- as reflected on the back of most of his '59 Topps card -- he was traded to the Phillies. He ended his pro career with Philadelphia's AAA team at Buffalo in 1959-61.

To expand on Hanebrink's baseball card legacy, I created this 1953-style "rookie card". 

Vintage card collectors may recognize the background as basically that used on George Crowe's '53T.

Purists may realize that while I gave my Hanebrink card one of the "missing" numbers from the high series, he is pictured with a Boston cap. By the time the high series was printed in 1953, Topps had changed player caps to an "M" logo and reflected the team's relocation to Milwaukee. I preferred the look of the Boston cap . . . my card, my rules.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

'86T-style custom card created for Roberto Clemente (Jr.)

Recently on his Olbermann program (god, I wish ESPN2 would quit dicking around with its programming so that I could know when to set my DVR), Keith Olbermann interviewed Roberto Clemente, eldest son of the Pirates legend.

Clemente fils was on the show to plug the new book Clemente: The True Legacy of an Undying Hero. The book is a collaboration by Roberto Clemete's widow and three sons. I haven't read it yet, but you can find reviews all over the internet.

The interview prompted me to move a Roberto Clemente (Jr.) custom/fantasy card to the top of my to-do list.

For many years I've had in my files a black-and-white photo of the younger Clemente in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform. The picture was taken by Bob Bartosz during spring training circa 1984-85. Bob was a sports photographer for one of the Philadelphia papers and occasionally contributed photos for Sports Collectors Digest

Clemente played two undistinguished seasons in the Phils' organization and one as Padres property before a bad back forced him to give up pro ball. 

For my card I chose the format of 1986 Topps Traded. In creating the card, I took some liberties with both the concept and the execution of the card. If Topps had actually produced a Clemente card in 1986, it would have been in a Padres uniform

I colorized the player photo and dropped it into the background of Charlie Kerfeld's card in the Traded set. In working up the back, I discovered that Topps had utilized a number of type fonts that I do not have at my disposal. I settled for "close" and unless my card is compared side-by-side with a real '86TT, few are likely to notice.

not many collectors are likely to know that this is not Roberto Clemente's first baseball card. As a member of the Class A Charleston Rainbows of the South Atlantic League, he appears in a 1986 ProCards minor league team set.

Roberto's younger brother, Luis, also played a season of low-level pro ball, in 1985 with the Pirates' Gulf Coast League team. I've never seen a contemporary photo of him in uniform.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Blue-cap 1949 Marion mystery

Reader Jim McKinley has made inquiry about an unusual 1949 Bowman Marty Marion card #54 that he recently acquired.

Instead of the red Cardinals cap that Marion is shown wearing on all other '49B cards, this card has a blue cap. Whether coincidentally or part and parcel of the aberrant cap color, the back of the blue-cap Marion has what McKinley describes as bleed-through of the blue ink.

Given the thickness of '49 Bowman stock, I'm inclined to think that blue ink on back is the result of wet-ink transfer, with the sheet containing the Marion card having been laid atop a sheet of card fronts on which the blue ink had not yet dried.

Without personally examining the unusual card it's hard to say whether it left the Bowman print shop that way or whether a kid collector 60+ years ago changed the cap color.

Bowman's use of the red cap was, after all incorrect. The Cards' caps in that era were blue.

I posted this mystery card on the Net54 vintage baseball card forum ( The collectors there posted these comments . . .

To me it looks like someone colored, note red glove and jersey pinstriping. (Jim65)

I agree. If the cap was printed in blue you would expect the WST back to also have a blue cap. It doesn't. (Exhibitman)

You can also see a faint red cap on the WST on the back of card which suggests the printing off the sheets had red caps when they were printed. (Andy H.)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Topps passed on Goss as Colt .45

There's really not a compelling reason for me to present these pictures of Howie Goss from the J.D. McCarthy archives. Other than the fact that I've always liked the 1962-64 Houston Colt .45's home jerseys and that Goss' long professional career was under-represented in the baseball card world.

Those smoking gun jerseys are gloriously politically incorrect. Today, a kid would get thrown out of school for wearing a replica.

Based on the number of Houston player photos that were in the collection of McCarthy photos that I acquired, the photographer seems to have visited the team's spring training site for several years in the early- to mid-1960s.

It's too bad Goss had such a short big league career that Topps never produced a card of him as a Houston player.

Topps only had two Howie Goss cards. In 1962 he was one of five bug-sized floating heads on a high-number Rookie Parade Outfielders card. In the 1963 set, he got his own card, pictured with the Pirates. By the time that card was issued, however, Goss was gone from Pittsburgh and playing for Houston.

Goss had played the 1962 season with the Pirates after spending nine years in the minor leagues. While working his way up the Pirates' organizational ladder, Goss had shown several flashes of power prowess. He had hit 27 home runs in 1955, 1956 and 1961, his best HR year being 2960 when he 29 at AAA Vancouver. He generally batted around .260 during his apprenticeship.

Getting his chance in the bigs as a 27-year-old rookie, Goss was not able to match his minor league record.
He showed little power (two home runs and six doubles in 89 games), while hitting .243.

While Topps was in the process of printing his 1963 card, Goss was traded to the Colt .45's for Manny Mota.

Goss was Houston's regular center fielder throughout the 1963 season, but was able to hit only .209 (largely because he was second in the National League with 128 strikeouts) with nine home runs and 44 RBI. By striking out at least once in each of Houston's first 14 games in 1963, Goss set a major league record that stood until broken by Adam Dunn in 2012.

For 1964, Goss was replaced in center by Jimmy Wynn. After spending the season in the Pacific Coast League, he retired from pro ball.

Besides Goss' pair of Topps cards, he appeared in two Columbus Jets player-photo issues in 1957 and 1958, but you could spend a long time trying to find one.