Monday, March 31, 2014

Yankees welcomed comeback pitcher with bunt barrage

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.

All's fair in love, war . . . and the American League.

In 1942, Washington Senators pitcher Emil "Dutch" Leonard broke his ankle in his second game of the season, April 23.

On Sept. 5 he faced the visiting N.Y. Yankees for the first time since his return to action.

As they emerged from the dugout before the game, each of the Yankees greeted Leonard, asking "How's the ankle, Dutch?" All declared they were glad his rehabilitation was coming along all right.

Then the first seven Yankees to come to the plate bunted on him.

Leonard lost the game 6-2, giving up five hits. I don't have the play-by-play, so I don't know how many of those hits may have been on bunts.

Dutch Leonard had a 20-year major league pitching career, specializing in the knuckleball. He won 191, lost 181 and had a 3.25 ERA from 1933-53 (he was with Atlanta in 1937), with the Dodgers (1933-36), Senators (1938-46), Phillies (1947-48) and Cubs (1949-53).

His bubblegum card legacy is lengthy. He was in the Play Ball sets of 1939 and 1941, in Bowman's issues 1948-53 and 1955 (as a Cubs coach), and with Topps, 1952-53.

UPDATE: It turns out that The Sporting News account was not really correct. A regular reader of the blog sent this . . . 

According to the 9/6/42 N.Y. Times, the first inning against Dutch and his ankle went like this:

"Hassett started by outgalloping a bunt. Red Rolfe popped out, but Selkirk walked and when DiMaggio laced a single to center, Hassett dashed home. Keller fanned, but Gordon and Bill Dickey weighed in with lusty singles, each hit driving in a run, and Rizzuto sent the fourth tally home by upending the Washington inner defense with another bunt. Curiously, Leonard pitched a whale of a game after that. He allowed the Yanks no more hits..."

Sounds like two bunts and three hard hit singles, producing four runs.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

New Ralph Branca customs: 1954 Tigers, 1955 Yankees

Wow, that was quite a coincidence.

For the past two weekends I've been putting together a pair of custom cards of Ralph Branca from his post-Dodgers days.

On Saturday my wife and I watched the movie Parental Guidance (2012) that we had recorded during a recent HBO free weekend.

A plot line in the movie concerns one of the kid stars using Russ Hodges' call of the 1951 Bobby Thomson playoff home run as a way to overcome his stutter. The scene takes place at a young musicians' audition where his sister was to perform.

When the camera scans the four or five judges at a table, I thought that one of them looked familiar. When the boy was recreating the "Shot Heard 'Round the World" call there was a quick closeup of the judge and I said, "That looks like Ralph Branca." It was.

Maybe I remembered Branca's face from the days when he and Thomson made autograph appearances together on the card show circuit. 

I recently read that after appearing together for a number of years, Branca became disillusioned when he discovered that Thomson had apparently been tipped to the pitch that he hit to give the Giants the 1951 pennant.

It is said that coach Herman Franks was sitting in the Giants clubhouse out past center field with a telescope to read the catcher's signs, then using a buzzer to relay the pitch to the bullpen where it was flashed to the batter. 

My decision to create a couple of later-career Ralph Branca custom cards had been made when I found some pictures of him as a Tiger and a Yankee and realized that he had no major career-contemporary baseball cards after 1953 Bowman black-and-white. Branca had also been in Bowman's sets 1950-52, and in Topps' 1951 Blue Backs and 1952.

He's been on quite a few card company and collectors' issues since the 1970s. Topps created two 1953-style cards, one showing him as a Tiger in the 1991 Archives set, and one using the same photo in a Brooklyn cap in the 1995 Dodgers Archives set.

Branca hurt his back in a spring training clubhouse accident in 1952 and appeared in only 126 games that season. In July, 1953, he was waived out of the National League and signed by the Detroit Tigers. He was 4-7 for Detroit the remainder of 1953, and was 3-3 in early July 1954, when he was released.

He signed on with the Yankees as a batting practice pitcher and was activated late in July, going 1-0 in five appearances before September callups of prospects forced him to the bench as the Yankees fell apart the last month of the season and finished in second place.

Branca spent the 1955 season in the minor leagues with Minneapolis, a top farm team of the Giants, but arm weakness limited his effectiveness and he was released with a 3-3 record over 25 appearances. 

At an Old Timers' game at Yankee Stadium in 1956, Branca's arm showed enough life that the Dodgers signed him for the last month of the season, took him on their post-season exhibition tour of Japan and invited him to spring training. There he realized it was really over and he retired at just 31 years of age.

My 1954 and 1955 Topps-style custom cards give a look at those later stages of Branca's career. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Rosar first to go errorless as catcher

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 other day (March 17) I shared a discovery I made concerning variations on Buddy Rosar's 1949 Leaf card while researching an item for the blog. Here's what I was looking into . . .

In 1946 Rosar became the first major league catcher to play 100+ games in a season behind the plate without an error. He compiled that perfect 1.000 fielding average over 117 games with the Philadelphia Athletics.

It was the second time he'd led the American League in fielding at his position. In 1944 he fielded .989 in 98 games. He later led the league in catcher's fielding with .996 in 1947 and .997 in 1948.  

A contemporary baseball writer commenting on Rosar's 1946 record noted that he achieved that fielding perfection while using one of the smallest catcher's mitts in baseball.

Rosar not only was good with the glove, he had a great arm, as well. He led American League catchers in the number of runners caught stealing in 1946 (37) and 1947 (38). Three times he led the league in percentage of baserunners gunned down: 61.3% in 1943, 67.9% in 1947 and 65.6% in 1948.

The Yankees had signed Rosar in 1934, but with future Hall of Famer Bill Dickey catching for the big club, Rosar spent five years climbing the organization's minor league ladder. 

In 1938, his second season at Newark, he led the International League in hitting with a .387 average, and led the IL catchers with three errors in 91 games for a .991 mark. 

Those figures eared him a spot of the big club's bench as Dickey's primary back-up through the 1942 season.

After he went AWOL for a few days in 1942 to take the police department entrance exam back home in Buffalo, Yankees' manager Joe McCarthy traded Rosar to the Indians. 

Rosar spent 1943-44 with Cleveland, then was traded to the A's (1945-49) before closing out his career with the Red Sox (1950-51). In his 13-year major league career Rosar was a .261 hitter, though he lacked the power that managers typically looked for in a catcher; he had only 18 home runs in that span. 

He was a five-time A.L. star, left on the bench in 1942-43, getting in the game in 1946 and starting in 1947-48.

Rosar's errorless season record as a catcher has been matched four times since 1997. Charles Johnson of the Florida Marlins was 1.000 in 1997 over 123 games. The Cardinals' Mike Matheny set the current record in 2003 in 138 games. In 2008, two catchers were flawless, Colorado's Chris Ianetta (100 games) and Chris Snyder of Arizona (112 games).

Looking into these errorless streaks a little deeper, by adding in games from the seasons previous to and after the 1.000 season, I came up with these figures:

Matheny (2002-2004) 253 games
Snyder (2007-2010) 245 games
Charles Johnson (1996-1997 postseason) 175 games
Chris Ianetta (2007-2009) 156 games
Buddy Rosar (1947-1947) 147 games

As far as Rosar's bubblegum card legacy . . . His rookie card is found in the 1941 Goudey set. He was in the aforementioned 1949 Leaf set. Rosar is also included in every Bowman set from 1948-51.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Kapp custom was on my to-do list a long time

Many of you probably know Joe Kapp, if you know him at all, from the YouTube video of November, 2011, showing the 73-year-old Kapp getting into an on-stage fist fight with 74-year-old Angelo Mosco at the CFL Alumni Legends luncheon in Vancouver.

The fight resulted from bad blood between the two dating back to the 1963 Grey Cup championship game when Mosco laid what many saw as a dirty hit on Kapp's teammate Willie Fleming, knocking him out of the game, and possibly costing British Columbia the game.

I was a fan of Joe Kapp during his short NFL career. Like Joe Namath, he wore his hair long and had the reputation as a rebel. That appealed to me back in those days.

You can read all about Kapp's career at several places on the internet, so I won't take up space here.

I'll just share a couple of highlights . . . 

Kapp is the only quarterback to play in the Rose Bowl, the Grey Cup and the Super Bowl. 
He lost the Rose Bowl to Iowa in 1959, won the Grey Cup in 1964 (losing in 1963 and 1965) and lost Super Bowl IV to the Chiefs following the 1969 season. 

On Sept. 28, 1969, he tied an NFL record by throwing seven touchdown passes in a 52-14 win over the Colts.

He was the first Minnesota Viking to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. On the July 20, 1970, the magazine labeled him "The Toughest Chicano."

He appeared in dozens of TV shows and several popular movies in the 1970s-1980s. Tall, dark and handsome he frequently played to type as a football player (The Longest Yard, Semi-Tough) or an Indian/Mexican badmash (Breakheart Pass, The Frisco Kid).

For as long as he played pro football and as successful as he was at it, Kapp has a sub-par career-contemporary football card legacy.
From 1960-69 Topps
used the same photo
on six Kapp cards.

He appeared in Topps' Canadian Football League sets from 1960-64 and on Topps' NFL cards 1968-71. He was also in the 1963 Canadian Post cereal box issue.

The trouble with Kapp's cards, however, is that Topps used the same college-vintage photo on every card except one from 1960 through 1969. That run included 1960, 1961, 1963 and 1964 Topps CFL and 1968 and 1969 NFL, plus the 1969 4-in-1. A different photo was used on Kapp's 1962 CFL card, when Topps used a black-and-white format.

Finally for 1970 Topps took a new photo and used it on the regular card, the glossy and the super. Unfortunately, though he is pictured in a Vikings uniform and  his team is given as such, Kapp played for the Boston Patriots in 1970. 

He has a 1971 Topps card which pictures him in an airbrushed helmet in game-action against the Jets . . . but Kapp retired prior to the season.

I'm glad to be able to add another Joe Kapp card to the hobby supply.

Monday, March 17, 2014

1949 Leaf Rosar variation discovered

If I was still editor of the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, I'd add it to the next edition . . . and I'd credit myself with the discovery!

Recently while researching a column on Buddy Rosar, I discovered that there are two distinct variations of his 1949 Leaf card, #128.

On one version the triangle under his butt at the right margin is white; on the other version, the triangle is blue. There are a couple of other minor differences at that area of the card, but the blue vs. white triangle is the most obvious.

As far as I know, this variation is heretofore uncataloged.

On a recent day there were 47 examples of the '49 Leaf Rosar on eBay. Thirty-four of the cards were of the blue-triangle variation (72%); white-triangle cards numbered 13 (28%). I don't know if that ratio is significant enough to cause collectors to pay a premium for the scarcer white-triangle card. With its truly scarce short-prints, there aren't all that many collectors looking to complete a 1949 Leaf set, much less a master set.

But I thought I'd put it out there and let the hobby decide.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Clarke's 8 HR in 8 AB are OB record

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

One of the most prestigious feats of home run hitting in Organized Baseball can't be verified though readily accessed official records. Fortunately a first-hand account survives in a 1947 account in The Sporting News.

In an interview, apparently supported by a newspaper box score, Clarke recounted his historic day at the plate.

Hard to Believe - - But Box Score Says It’s True
Eight Homers in Eight Trips in Single Game!
Nig Clarke Recalls Amazing Slugging Feat
In 51 to 3 Texas League Tilt 45 Years Ago


Nig Clarke has seen his share of raised eyebrows.
“Well, really, Mr. Clarke,” people say to him, “you can’t expect us to believe that anyone hit eight home runs in eight times at bat in a single game.”
Yet, the prodigious batting feat is fully documented. It was in 1902 that a rookie catcher for Corsicana of the Texas League smashed the ball over the wooden right field fence eight times in a row. The catcher was Jay Justin Clarke, an 18-year-old kid from Detroit, who was to become the durable Nig Clarke of the Cleveland and three other major league clubs.
“We were playing Texarkana that day (July 11, 1902)” recalled Clarke. “I remember it as though it were yesterday. Texarkana hadn’t been drawing so the game was moved to Ennis, Tex. That’s not far from Corsicana and just a short distance from Dallas.

27 runs in First 3 Innings
“Well, sir, the stands were built on an angle. Out in right field they angled to the playing field. There was a white pole on the right field line, I’d say about 200 or 210 feet from the plate.”
Cy Mulkey was the pitcher for Texarkana that day, Clarke recalled. He was a big, rawboned righthander, who later settled down to become a sheriff in Texas.
“We got 27 runs the first three innings,” said Nig with a wink. “The first time up—I was batting seventh, just ahead of the shortstop—I pulled the ball to right field. It sailed over the fence eight or ten feet inside the white pole. The umpire waved me around the bases.”
It is Clarke’s impression that he batted four times in the first three innings, each time duplicating his first hit, a line drive over the fence near the foul line.
“Mulkey was out of there by this time, of course,” he added slyly. “Two other fellows finished—I don’t recall their names—but Mulkey walked to the hotel took his bath and strolled back to the ball park. Imagine his surprise when he saw the game still going on. It lasted three hours and 45 minutes, and the score was 51 to 3.”
When Clarke blasted his fourth straight homer, one of the spectators stepped out of the stands and handed him a $50 bill. The donor was identified by someone in the dugout as a wealthy cattleman.
The next time up he lashed another homer. By this time, he recalled, a favorable hot Texas wind had blown up. When Clarke crossed the plate, another spectator sidled up to him and thrust a crumpled $50 bill into his sweaty hand.
“He was the rival cattle baron,” smiled Clarke. 
By this time the crowd acclaimed Clarke wildly each time he stepped to the plate.
“Put it right in there and let the kid hit another,” they pleaded to the beleaguered Texarkana pitcher.
“They fed the ball to me all right,” Clarke admitted. “High and on the inside. I got the sixth and seventh up in the air and the wind carried them right over the fence. The last one just got over. I’m sure it came in the ninth inning.”
The good citizens of Ennis were not going to let this noble batting feat go unrewarded. They passed the hat and collected $85 more for that home run hitting Corsicana kid.
“That $185 was quite a windfall—more than a month’s salary,” he exclaimed. “Besides, when I got back to Corsicana, I was all set. I got enough hats and shoes and shirts to last me for years.”
As he talked, Clarke sat in the comfortable living room of his modest frame house in the Detroit suburb. The sun was beating down mercilessly. The temperature had soard into the nineties.
“It was a hot day like this in Ennis,” he said. “The ball sailed a mile.”
Clarke is a man of few pretensions. At 63 he works five days a week on the night shift of a steel plant nearby, serving as a welder’s helper.
“I just try to keep out of the way of the guys who do the work,” he chuckled.
He had to be prodded into talking about his eight home runs. He preferred to let his mind dwell on those glorious days when he was Addie Joss’ batterymate at Cleveland [editor's note: Clarke caught Joss' perfect game on Oct. 2, 1908], or in subsequent major league service with the Browns, the Pirates and the Phillies.
It wasn’t until many years later that baseball gave his epic slugging some recognition. The late Al Munro Elias came across a box score of the 1902 game. Clarke once had a yellowed clipping of the box himself, but loaned it to a friend, and it hasn’t been returned.

Mate Also Had Eight Hits
“It’s easy to remember though,” Nig said, “because of all the eights. I had eight times at bat, eight hits, eight runs, eight putouts and eight assists.”
First baseman Mike O’Connor, who batted just before Clarke, had seven hits in eight trips, including three homers. Bill Alexander, Corsicana’s keystoner, also had eight hits in eight trips, two of them homers.
“How many runs did you drive in that day?” we asked.
“I’m sure it was over 20. It seems to me there were ‘ducks on the pond’ every time I came up.”
Clarke is particularly proud of his wide travels in baseball and his two periods of enlistment in the U.S. Marines. He took time out from the game in the first World War to serve with the Marines in Europe. He returned for five more years, starting in 1921, having a hand in establishing baseball fields at Pacific outposts where soldiers, sailors and Marines played.
“I swung a bat nearly halfway around the world,” he asserted.
As for baseball travels, he claims to have played for more than 20 cities in a 25-year period. He started as a semi-pro at Adrian, Mich., while still attending Assumption Collegiate at Windsor, Ont., and finished in 1925 at Salisbury, Md.
“You seem to have traveled more than Bobo Newsom,” suggested the visitor. 
“Say, that Newsom in nothing but a tramp,” he grinned. “He’ll have to go some to catch me.”
Clarke takes great pride in another batting feat. In 1906 he compiled a .358 average for Cleveland, matching George Stone of the Browns, who is recognized as the champion. Old Nig played in only 57 games. 
“I beat the Frenchman (Nap Lajoie) by three points that year,” he exclaimed. “Why, I even beat out the great Ty Cobb in the batting averages that year.”
With his Marine bonus, Clarke purchased a home. His 85-year-old mother lives with him. He is still wrapped up in baseball, but hasn’t been at Briggs Stadium in three years.
         “I don’t think they have the hustle they did in my days,” he remarked. “But maybe that’s a sign I’m getting old.”

Clarke's stats in the 1902 season with the Corsicana Oil Citys and Little Rock do not appear on the web site, and his 1903-04 stats with Little Rock do not include home runs. 

For the minor league seasons between 1912-25, however, Clarke is credited with just eight home runs; never more than three in a season.

As a major leaguer (Detroit 1905, Cleveland 1905-10, St. Louis Browns 1911, Philadelphia Phillies 1919, Pittsburgh Pirates 1920) Clarke hit six homers over nine seasons.

Friday, March 7, 2014

My 1971-style Cecil Cooper Cardinals custom gets a makeover


While looking through some baseball player photos recently I found a spring training image from 1971 of Cecil Cooper in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.

It occurred to me that the photo would be an improvement on the 1971-style custom card I'd made of Coop-as-a-Cardinal a couple of years ago. (See my entry for Aug. 31, 2012).

So I made the switch.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Appling's fouls cost Sox $2,160 in 1940s

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 years of recreationaly reading microfilm of back issues of The Sporting News, I’ve learned not to accept everything I see there as gospel truth.

By its nature, much of the content in the paper was, at best, second- or third-hand information. They often rewrote or reprinted material that had been published elsewhere, which may or may not in itself have been completely accurate.

One such item that I found in the Feb. 1, 1945, issue causes me to ask, “Can that be true?”

In a short article headlined “Appling’s Absence Nets $2,160 Savings in Balls,” it was stated that with shortstop Luke Appling in the Army for the 1944 season, the Chicago White Sox had realized a significant savings in baseballs not fouled into the stands.

The article quoted a team official as having figured that Appling was responsible for 75 percent (1,080 of the 1,440) of the baseballs lost annually. American League “Publicitor” Earl Hilligan was quoted as saying the Appling fouled an average of just over 14 balls per game into the hands of fans.

“At $1.50 a ball,” the article continued, “Appling represented an investment of $2,160 in fouls, in addition to his $15,000-a-year salary. With Luke in the Army, the White Sox have been saving that much, but at the expense of their standing in the league race and of their run-making ability. The erasing of the team’s shortstop worries, alone, would be worth the $2,160, but Appling won’t be back until the war is over.”

I suppose it’s possible that a discerning hitter such as Appling could have converted three or four balls into souvenirs during each trip to the plate, but I found it surprising that the team and league had kept such exact data on the subject.

In his 20-year major league career Appling was a lifetime .310 hitter. His 162-game average was 87 walks with just 35 strikeouts.