Saturday, May 30, 2015

Mays' 500th HR ball whereabouts unknown

With all the controversy surrounding Alex Rodriguez surpassing Willie Mays for fourth-place on the career home run list with #661 on May 14, it is interesting to note that at least as of 2001, the whereabouts of the ball that Mays hit for his 500th career home run in 1965 are unknown.

Mays' milestone came on Sept. 13 at the newly opened Astrodome. Leading off the 4th inning he homered to center field off Don Nottebart to tie the score 1-1. The distance was estimated at 410 feet. The Giants went on to win the game 5-1, running their winning streak to 11 straight on the way to 14.

The ball was grabbed up by Mrs. Sallie B. Norman, a local woman. Eddie Logan, the Giants' equipment manager, rushed to her seat in left-center and offered her an autographed ball in trade, but she held onto the home run ball.

After the game, Mays told the media, "Don't make her look bad. Don't make her do nothing. It's hers and she can do what she wants." Mays was given the woman's phone number but he said he doubted he would call her. "She can have it," he said.

On April 20, 2001, a few days after Barry Bonds' 500th homer, Mays told USA Today, "I don't know where mine is. I wish I could find it."

The Bonds' #500 ball was fished out of McCovey Cove by a city parks worker who, as far as I can tell from my cursory google-search, still has it today.

Any price tag put on the Mays' 500th HR ball is, of course speculative. 

Some examples of public 500 HR ball sales are: Eddie Murray's 500th went for $280,000 in 1996. In 2007, Mickey Mantle's 500th sold for $144,000. The same year, Alex Rodriguez' milestone 500 ball sold for $105,000. Also that year, the ball Frank Thomas hit for his 500th was returned to him by a fan, as was Ken Griffey Jr.'s #500 in 2004.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Piccolo newest '55-style All-American custom

There's nothing new I can offer anent the legend of Brian Piccolo; there's already been so much written and filmed.

Like all football fans in 1970, I was sorry to hear he had lost his battle to cancer. But I had never been a "fan." He was, after all, a Chicago Bear and insomuch as I followed any team in the NFL, I was a Packers backer.

I recently completed a Brian Piccolo card for my on-going custom card tribute to the 1955 Topps All-American college football set. 

It's not my finest work, largely because there are very few usable pictures of Piccolo from his days at Wake Forest. But I'd always wanted to add a Demon Deacon card to my set, and you can't do better than Brian Piccolo.

As I noted on my card back, even in the heyday of NFL-AFL player draft wars, Piccolo went undrafted. This despite the fact that in 1964 he led the nation with 17 TDs, 111 points and 1,044 yards. He also had only one fumble in nearly 400 carries in his varsity collegiate career.

This is not my first Brian Piccolo custom card. Several years ago, after Topps had offered a couple of really nice Piccolo photos in its "Vault" auctions, I created a 1966-style Philadelphia Gum custom of Piccolo with the Bears. His truncated NFL career had previously limited his football card appearances to just the 1969 Topps set.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Nostalgic look at Sept., 1970 Playboy

A couple of years ago, in preparation for retirement, I purchased (for $45, if I recall correctly) a complete 1970 run of Playboy magazines.

When the issues were new, I was 19 years old and not yet a regular reader of Playboy. Around 1972 I subscribed, and kept getting the magazine for the next 10-15 years, until I accepted that I was never going to be an urbane man-about-town.

These 1970 issues are right in my nostalgia wheelhouse, though. Just as would happen later in the decade, the 1970 Playboys offer me fiction that introduces writers I've come to enjoy such as Jean Shepard, P.J. O'Rourke, George MacDonald Fraser and Dan Jenkins. The ads are a look back at the products I enjoyed or aspired to in my youth. The monthly Playboy Interview subjects are names that resonate with my younger days.
Joe Namath was in his prime in 1970 when he
appeared in this Playboy ad for Dingo boots.
I drank a lot of SML in my 20s. This ad seems to
belie the beverage's stereotypical market audience.

The articles, letters and forums are a quaint mix of liberal claptrap of the day, espousing anti-war fervor, legalization of marijuana, reproductive rights, etc., and promoting a consumerist hedonism. I especially enjoy, from a 20-20 hindsight perspective, the article that looked into the future. I believe many of those articles were slanted to support the Playboy philosophy rather than to provide a reasoned prediction of man and mankind 25-50-100 years hence.

One of my favorite monthly features is Playboy After Dark, generally devoted to reviews of books, dining-drinking, movies, recordings and theater. I especially enjoy reading what the editors had to say about my favorite authors, musicians and movies when they were new.

For instance, in the Sept., 1970, issue, there was a review of Kelly's Heroes, one of favorite movies. Most years I watch the flick when its runs on TV over the Memorial Day weekend.

Here's what Playboy had to say about the movie.

Kelly's Heroes, another feather in the cap of cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, is an expertly filmed World War Two comedy in which, again, the action churns around the great stone face of Clint Eastwood. Also on hand are, Don Rickles, the sultan of insult, as a conniving supply sergeant named Crapgame and swinging Donald Sutherland, as a bearded tank corpsman called Oddball. Kelly's Heroes are a company of raffish volunteer soldiers on an undercover mission--their goal is to thrust 30 miles behind enemy lines and snatch 14,000 bars of gold bullion (worth $16,000,000) from a Nazi-held bank in France. Heroes proceeds on the assumption that men who are completely cynical about fighting for ideals--or against fascism--may be considered funny, recognizable and human if they slaughter Germans and destroy villages purely for financial gain. It's an oddly corrupt idea for comedy, particularly in the character played by Sutherland as a don't-bug-me forerunner of the love generation who happens to be a carefree killer, spewing death from an armored tank.

As an aside, I have probably listened to the soundtrack CD of Kelly's Heroes (it's paired on the disc with the soundtrack of The Cincinnati Kid) more than 2,500 times. I got the CD out of the freebie box into which the editor of Goldmine magazine threw countless review copies of CDs sent in by music publishers.

This particular issue of Playboy includes what was a regular September feature of the magazine for many years, Playboy's Pigskin Preview. Often authored by Anson mount, the magazine termed the feature a "pre-season prognostications for the top college teams and players across the nation."

The feature was well-illustrated and included lists of "Top 20 Teams," its pick of an "All-America Squad" and a list of "This Year's Supersophs." Each year the magazine flew a coach and a couple of dozen players to Chicago for group photos of "Playboy's Preview All-America" offensive and defensive teams. Notable names in the 1970 pix include Dan Dierdorf and Archie Manning. Look for the Manning photo to appear on one of my 1955 Topps All-American cards in the future, as the posed portrait is an improvement over the action photo I originally used on my card 10 years ago.

Caption: "Is that what sex education
teaches you in school, girl? To be 
uppity to yore elders?"

Caption: "How long have you had these
feelings of inadequacy and frustration, boy?"

I wonder if Playboy's cartoon editor ever looked into the future and imagined that a "mere" 45 years down the road, some of the cartoons in the magazine's pages would not stand a chance of seeing print in even an adult-oriented mainstream magazine. Just like All in the Family, which would debut in 1971, would never make the cut in today's hyper-politically correct culture, some of what was seen as edgy humor in 1970 would send 21st Century liberals into apoplectic fits.

And the women. These, too, I aspired to circa 1970. The women in 1970 Playboy are more "natural" to my now-mature eye. There doesn't seem to be as many breast-augmented models. And, you might be surprised to learn that in 1970 Playboy, a woman's preference in hirsute pubic presentation was left to the imagination through the use of skillfully placed props, camera angles and contortionist poses.

One of the biggest surprises I discovered about retirement is that I don't find or make the time I thought I would for reading. Thus I suspect my cache of 1970 Playboys will outlive me.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

"The Rock" custom card gets a rehab


Being retired, holiday weekends don't mean the same thing to me that they did when I was on somebody else's clock.

When I was working, holiday weekends usually meant I had the time to work up a new custom card.

Now, I can work on my custom projects just about any time the notion strikes, but I still find myself gravitating to my to-do list on holidays.

This past Memorial Day was no exception.

My principal project for the weekend was re-habbing my 1955 Topps All-American custom card of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

I originally created the card 7-8 years ago. Shortly thereafter, however, a mini disaster struck and I lost the computer files for three or four of my custom cards, including my '55 Rock.

These days, I have more backup for my custom card files. Some might suggest I have gone into overkill backup. I have a set of files on both my home and office computer hard drives, and I have complete sets on two different flash drives. 

Since I had already printed my archives copies of the card, I was able to recreate the file by scanning my card. That, however, didn't produce a truly first-rate result; the card now had a re-screened look. That might not have been readily apparent to the average person, but it nagged at me.

Surprisingly, my Dwayne Johnson '55 custom is not a card for which I have had a lot of requests from collectors and fans over the years, so there was never a great impetus for me to re-create the piece.

The other day I had occasion to do an internet search for images of Johnson in his Miami Hurricanes uniform and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the number of such images has grown a bit in recent years.

When I originally made my card about the only usable picture available to me was a shot of Johnson standing with his hands on hips . . . satisfactory, but not exceptional.

To re-do my card I chose a shot of Johnson in a celebratory pose that fits nicely into my cards' horizontal format. Shown here are the before and after photos.

While I was working on the back, I noticed a typographical error on my original card. In the first line I had omitted the word "a" between "earned" and "National". That's now corrected.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Nen's debut homer helped clinch pennant

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 1963 Dick Nen had one of the most auspicious debuts in major league history . . . then faded into mediocrity.

Nen's start in pro ball was also auspicious. He was signed out of college at age 21 by the L.A. Dodgers in 1961 and assigned to  Reno in the Class C California League. Playing first base with the Silver Sox, Nen led the league with 34 doubles, 32 home runs, 144 RBIs, 315 total bases and a .625 slugging average.

He was second in the circuit with 102 walks and 121 runs scored. His 177 hits were third in the league and he was fourth with a .351 BA and 25 stolen bases.

Reno won the pennant by 15 games. Surprisingly, Nen did not win the MVP; that went to Reno shortstop Don Williams, who'd led the Cal League with a .363 BA but was otherwise statistically inferior to Nen in most offensive categories.

Nen was advanced all the way to the Pacific Coast League for 1962. At the AAA level he hit a modest .268 with little power for last place Spokane. He remained with the Indians for 1963 and the team nearly went from worst-to-first, winning the PCL North Division by 17 games before losing to Oklahoma City in the playoffs. Nen had upped his BA to .288.

With Los Angeles in a tight pennant race, Nen was called up by the Dodgers on the morning after the PCL season ended. He'd gone 1-for-4 in the Indians' loss to the 89ers.

He flew to St. Louis where he joined the Dodgers at their hotel just in tie to catch the team bus for Busch Stadium. 

Nobody had been hotter than St. Louis in the month of September. The Cards were seven games behind on Aug. 30 after they beat the Phillies to begin a phenomenal run in which they won 19 out of 20 games.

As the teams' final three-game series opened on Sept. 16, Los Angeles had a one-game lead. The Dodgers won the first two games and faced Bob Gibson on Sept.18. 

Gibby had a 1-5 lead as the eighth inning opened with Nen pinch-hitting. He lined out, but the next four Dodgers batters touched Gibson for three singles and a walk, scoring twice. Bobby Shantz came on in relief and was tagged for another run.

The Cardinals went out in order in the eighth. 

Ron Taylor, who had relieved Shantz the previous inning took the mound for the top of the ninth with the Cardinals holding on to a 4-5 lead. After Ken McMullen flied to second base, Nen homered on an 0-1 pitch. 

When first reported in The Sporting News, Harry Caray's call was reported as, "Here comes the pitch . . . " (deadly pause) "Oh my God, it's over the roof!" Caray later said that he never mentioned God in his report.

Nen's home run tied the game 5-5, and the Dodgers went on to win 6-5 in 13 innings. In sweeping St. Louis, the Dodgers took a four-game lead, sending the Cardinals into a tailspin (the lost eight of their final 10 games to finish six out)  and all but mathematically eliminating them from the NL pennant race.

Taking over at first base for Norm Larker, Nen grounded out in the 11th and was intentionally walked in the 13th. 

His dramatic homer was the only hit Nen got in 1963, and his only hit as a Dodger. In six more games, mostly in pinch-hit appearances, he was 0-for-7, ending the season at .125.

Nen was not placed on the Dodgers' World Series roster as Los Angeles swept the Yankees 4-0. 

For his role in clinching the pennant, the players voted him a $1,000 cash award from the World Series winners' share; quite a bump from his reported $7,000 salary.

Nen was returned to the PCL for the 1964 season. He hit .270 for third-place Spokane.

In the off-season, the Dodgers traded Nen to the Washington Senators. He opened the 1965 season back in the PCL, at Hawaii, but was called up in July and became the Senators' more-or-less regular first baseman until just before the 1968 season, when he was sold to the Cubs. Nen had batted .231 in three years with Washington, with a consistent six runs each season.

Back in the National League for '68, Nen pinch-hit for Chicago, occasionally platooning with Ernie Banks at first base. He hit just .181 with two runs in 81 games. At the end of the season he was sold back to the Senators.

Washington sent him to their AAA team at Buffalo for 1969. He spent virtually all of his final three pro seasons at Denver, save for a six-game stint with the Senators in mid-1970.

Nen had spent all or part of nine seasons in the minor leagues between 1961-72, eight of them at the AAA level. In that span he batted .291, averaging just under a dozen dingers per year.

At the major-league level he hit .224 in 367 games over six seasons (1963-70) with 21 home runs.

In its list of the "100 Greatest Home Runs of All Time," ESPN ranked Nen's homer #99.

Nen's baseball card legacy included appearances on a 1964 Topps Dodgers Rookie Stars card, and with the Senators on 1965-68 Topps cards. 

He has a legacy of another sort. His son Robb played in the major leagues 1993-2002 for the Rangers, Marlins and Giants.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Koufax knew K's, from both ends of bat

No doubt about it, Sandy Koufax knew strikeouts. In 12 major league seasons (1955-66) he threw 2,396 of them. That puts him at #42 all-time, #15 among left-handers. His career record is 9.3 K's per nine innings; good enough to lead the NL six times and the major leagues three times.

But Koufax also knew strikeouts from the other end of the bat.

In his rookie season of 1955, Koufax never went to bat without striking out. In his 12 games that year, Koufax was 0-for-12, with 12 K's. Those whiffs included six times caught looking, a missed bunt and a fouled bunt.

Moreover, the Dodgers' record in Koufax's dozen games in 1955 was 2-10. The only games Brooklyn won when Koufax pitched in 1955 were the complete-game two shutouts he threw. To be fair, as a bench-sitting bonus baby, Koufax was mostly used in '55 as a mop-up pitcher in games in which the decision was already determined.

It was seven games into his second season, June 3, 1956, before Koufax ever got on base or put wood to ball in a meaningful way. His former teammate Russ (The Mad Monk -- one of baseball's great nicknames) Meyer, then with the Cubs walked him in his first AB. Koufax also grounded out and was struck out looking by Meyer in that game, and walked again in the ninth off Vito Valentinetti. Koufax won the game 4-3 for his first victory of 1956.

Koufax's first major league hit came in his next game, June 8. He started in Cincinnati but was not in on the decision in a 4-6 Dodgers loss, Facing Johnny Klippstein, Koufax struck out in the third and in the fifth got a ground-ball single.

He got one more hit in 1956, off Willard Schmidt in St. Louis in his July 22 4-3 win over the Cardinals. That brought his career BA to .071.

0-for 1957
Once again in 1957, Koufax went hitless. In 26 at-bats over 34 games he had neither a hit nor a walk, though he did score one run. On Aug. 1 at Wrigley Field, Koufax reached first base on a throwing error, worked his way around on singles by Jim Gilliam and Carl Furillo and scored on a Gil Hodges home run. He won that game 12-3.

At that point in his career, his batting average was .032.

For the 1958-64 seasons, Koufax hit .090, between .064 and .122. He averaged just under 65 strikeouts per season. 

In 1958 he got his first extra-base hit, the first of nine doubles he'd rap in his career. The initial two-bagger came Aug. 7, again in Chicago, in his 3-1 win over the Cubs. Serving up the double was Marcelino Solis. 

Koufax never hit a triple. He had two home runs, both in Milwaukee. In 1962 he had a solo shot off Warren Spahn, and in 1963 he hit a three-run blast to take a 1-3 lead against Denny Lemaster.

In 1965, the reason(s) for which I've found no explanation, Koufax went nuts with the bat. He more than doubled his lifetime BA by hitting .177. It was second on his Cy Young seasons and the Dodgers won the World Series that year against Minnesota.

Koufax had not appeared in the 1955 or 1956 World Series against the Yankees. He was 0-for-2 against the White Sox in 1959 and 0-for-6 versus New York in 1963. He got his lone post-season at bat in the 1965 Series against the Twins, an RBI single off Jim Perry in Game 5. He was again hitless in the 1966 Classic versus the Orioles. Overall, in 19 at-bats in four World Series, Koufax hit .053 with one walk and eight strikeouts.

For his regular-season major league career, Koufax batted .097. He struck out 386 times in 776 at-bats, walking 43 times. 

Surprisingly, Koufax has only the fifth-lowest batting average among Hall of Fame pitchers, though those below him were all primarily relievers, with far fewer at-bats. The numbers . . . 

Pitcher                       AB   H   BA     SO
Tommy LaSorda        14    1   .071       4
Hoyt Wilhelm            432  38   .088   166   
Bruce Sutter             102    9   .088     50
Satchel Paige           124  12   .097     32 
Sandy Koufax           776  75   .097   386

As hapless as he generally was with a bat, Sandy Koufax was masterful with the ball. It was his pitching that earned him legions of fans, three Cy Young Awards, an MVP, three World's Champion rings and a pair of World Series MVPs. All that, and one of the best nicknames of his generation: The Left Hand of God.

It is one of baseball great misfortunes that arm troubles forced him to cut short his major league career at the age of 30.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

7 new "1963 Post" cereal cards created

The second segment of my current custom-card project to create new cards in the formats of the cereal-box issues of 1961-63 is now ready for presentation.

In my blog entry for April 24, I showed off my 1961 box-back creations. I jumped over 1962 for the time being to work on my 1963 cards.

Actually, I'm having a bit of a design issue with the 1962 baseball cards. That year Post presented the player names on the cards in a script font. I have thus far been unable to duplicate that script. If you have any ideas, I'd welcome them. Please email me at

For my initial try at recreating 1963 Post baseball cards, I chose to use the seven-card box-back format that was originally found on several family-size boxes of the cereals.

While Post included 200 players in its set, there were plenty of guys that didn't make the cut, so finding new subjects was not a problem. In fact, besides the seven players I put on my new cards, I have a list of nearly two dozen others -- rookies, veterans, and traded players -- that I could have picked. Some of them will certainly show up on future creations.

Here's the first look at the seven 1963 Post-style cards I recently completed. In most cases, it should go without saying, choices for inclusion were partially based on the availability of good color photos consistent with those used by the cereal company in 1963. 

Jim Bouton. The iconoclastic insider who scandalized the establishment by writing about what really went on with ballplayers in the 1960s was a fresh-faced sophomore on his way to a starring role on the Yankees' staff in 1963. 

Jim Umbricht. If Umbricht had been included by Post in its 1963 set, it would have been just about a year prior to his death from cancer. I've recently been reading back issues of The Sporting News from 1963-64 and was struck by the tragedy of Umbricht's untimely passing. I really wanted to use a photo of him in his home jersey (I love the smoking six-gun design), but I struck out in my search.

Lou Brock. The future Hall of Famer was a second-year stalwart with the Cubs in 1963. In researching the player bio, I was surprised to learn how quickly Brock developed as a player in college and the minors.

Duke Snider. Sure, Snider DID appear in the original 1963 Post set, but he was pictured with the Dodgers. There are surprisingly few good color photos of Duke as a Met.

Bo Belinsky. The handsome young hurler whom the sporting press loved to characterize as a Hollywood playboy was also a frequent subject in my reading of TSN. In 1963 his reputation was being made more off the field than on, despite a rookie-year no-hitter, so it's not surprising Post passed him over in his second big-league season.

Jake Gibbs. I'd never miss a chance to make a card of an Ole Miss alum, especially a two-sport collegiate star. Gibbs had nine years as a Yankees catcher, mostly backing up Elston Howard and Thurman Munson.

Bob Uecker. Creating a Uke card was the most challenging of this group. Color photos of him as a Milwaukee Brave are virtually non-existent. In fact, I get the impression that during his playing days he was usually reticent to have his photo taken. For my card I had to colorize a black-and-white shot, and superimpose the portrait on the background of Roberto Clemente's '63 Post card.

Though I mentioned there are many more 1963-format Post cereal cards that may see the light of day in future, I'm going too hold off working on those while I complete a set of 1963 Post baseball. 

Surprisingly, the list of players whom Post missed in '62 that have piqued my interest is really not very long. It does, however, include five Hall of Famers and one who should be,.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

BP tragedy befell Danny Breeden

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

While playing Class A ball in 1964 an unimaginable tragedy befell future major leaguer Danny Breeden. 

The 22-year-old second-year pro catcher had struck up a friendship with 13-year-old Jerry Highfill while playing for Wenatchee (Wash.) in the Northwest League. Highfill was a shortstop on a local Babe Ruth League team and Breeden became his baseball mentor.

On July 30, the youngster had spent part of the afternoon at Breeden's home and then rode  to the

ballpark with him.

During batting practice, Highfill was shagging balls for the Chiefs, working behind the pitcher's screen, taking throws from the outfield to keep the BP pitcher supplied. He strayed to the third-base side of the screen to field a ball, with his back to home plate.

Breeden was taking his cuts and hit a screaming liner towards left field that struck Highfill squarely in the back of the head.

Players rushed to the fallen youngster, who managed to address several of them by name before he was rushed to the hospital, where he died a short time later.

Breeden had to be sedated and another two of his teammates were too grief-striken to play in that night's 10-0 loss to Lewiston.

Members of the Wenatchee club served as Highfill's pallbearers at his Aug. 2 funeral.

Breeden had been signed by the St. Louis Cardinals as an amateur free agent in 1963. After the season he was picked by the Cubs in the 1963 first-year player draft. The Cardinals bought him back after the tragic 1964 season.

He played four seasons at the upper levels of the Cardinals' minor league system before being traded to San Diego after the 1968 season.

Breeden appeared on a Topps "Padres Rookie Stars" card in the high-numbers of the 1969 set, but he never played in the majors for San Diego. Coincidentally, the card back mentions that he was optioned to Elmira in the Eastern League before the 1969 season began . . . but he also never played for Elmira. He opened the year at Class AAA Syracuse, the Yankees' International League club (probably on loan) where he was a teammate of Thurman Munson. 

On June 30 he was sold to the Cincinnati Reds, who assigned him to their American Association farm club at Indianapolis, then called him up for three games in late July to fill in when Johnny Bench was sidelined for 10 days. Breeden got a single off Gary Gentry in his first major league at-bat; it was his only hit with the Reds in eight at-bats (.125). 

Breeden showed up on his second (last card) Topps card in 1970, #36, Reds Rookie Stars, but he spent the entire 1970 season back at Indianapolis. After the season he was traded back to the Cubs.

He spent most of May and June with the Cubs, appearing in 25 games, including five with his younger brother, Hal. The rest of the year he played at Chicago's AAA team at Tacoma. It was another season at AAA in Wichita in 1972.

Just prior to the 1973 season, the Cubs sold Breeden back to the Padres. He split that year between Hawaii and Phoenix in the Pacific Coast League. It was his last year in pro ball.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

1956 Prize Frankies Indians checklist now at 7

The Prize Frankies Cleveland Indians card set was first listed in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards in the mid-1980s.

Attributed to 1956, the checklist for the issue remained at one player -- Vic Wertz -- for nearly 30 years.

My recollection is that the set was included in the "big book" at the time that I traveled to Maryland to photograph the collection of rarities owned by Al Strumpf. The front and back photos of the Vic Wertz card that has been used in the catalog since that time has the hallmarks of a roll of film that I took that accidentally was partially exposed.

Here's the introduction to the set that was originally presented in the SCBC . . .

Though the backs of the cards say 24 Indians cards were issued, only one player has been seen -- and precious few of him. The 2-1/4" x 3-3/8" cards have a black-and-white photo on front with the player's name and number in black in the white border at bottom. Backs have an Indians logo and instructions to redeem complete sets of the cards for a pair of box seats. It is unlikely this alone accounts for the scarcity of the cards. More likely this card was made as a prototype for a promotion that never materialized.

That last sentence was supposition on my part, and was at least partially disproved at last year's National Sports Collectors Convention in Cleveland last year when three more Prize Frankies players' cards were exhibited: Al Smith, Bob Lemon and Jim Hegan.

Now, any notion that the Prize cards were not actually issued should be considered completely debunked as the result of three more players' cards having surfaced.

Collector Jason Lange made what I consider one of the deals of the year when he purchased three Prize cards on eBay on April 26 for $77. The report of his purchase adds to the checklist Bobby Avila, Mike Garcia and Don Mossi.

Given the great interest shown by Cleveland Indians collectors in recent years, I find it surprising that the trio sold for such a low price. While woefully outdated, the Standard Catalog has priced single cards at $180 in Very Good and $300 in Excellent for many years.
Lange categorizes the three cards he bought as VG-EX.

Jason said of his discovery, "I purchased the three cards from a seller who claimed they were part of an estate find. Looking at the seller's other items being sold at the same time, there were numerous housewares and silverware, etc., but the only other sports related items were a few Cleveland Browns items (including a vintage bobble head, pinback, armband, and mini football) and a Cleveland Indians vintage bobble head. The seller had no other sports related items, and especially no other cards, in this 'estate find.'  I conclude that the seller is not in the habit of selling baseball cards per se, unless they are part of  a larger sale of items from an estate that he/she may have purchased together for resale. 

Lange notes that the Don Mossi Prize card shares an image from a team-issued set of player portrait postcards issued in 1955. The Avila and Garcia photos are different, he said, and he could not comment on whether the Hegan, Smith and Lemon photos were shared with the postcard set.

"I don't know about you, but I'm excited!," Lange added. "My guess is that the full checklist of 24 will one day be known." 

That was always one of my goals as a card cataloger. 

Looking back on this issue, I can't recall why the set was cataloged as a 1956 issue. There's no redemption date on the card back, and Wertz played for Cleveland from 1954-58. The style of cap he wears on his card was current from 1954-57.  All of the currently known players in the set were teammates from 1954-57. 

Perhaps if the Prize Frankies checklist continues to move towards completion, a more definitive issue-date can be pinpointed.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Jameis Winston, Melvin Gordon drafted into my All-American custom set

The NFL draft is annually one of the highlights of my college football season. 

By this time of year, it's been too long since the last college bowl game. And, while I've greatly enjoyed the coverage of many schools' spring intersquad games, I was ready to see which players on the college teams I follow went where, when, and how the Packers and Steelers helped themselves.

The annual draft has become way too much of a television spectacle, but by recording the proceedings, I can fast-forward to the players and picks that I really care about.

After last season's bowl games, I decided that two of the nascent pros were definitely going to be added to my on-going 1955-style All-Americans custom card set. I did most of the prep work for new cards of Jameis Winston and Melvin Gordon. I only had to wait for draft night to get the information I needed to complete the cards' backs.

With that information finally available, I finished the cards and present them herewith.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Was Benny Kauff wrongly banned? Part 6

(Continued from May 5)

1994 Conlon Collection.
Kauff's baseball career was, indeed, over following the 1920 season, but nobody knew it. In February, Benny signed a contract for 1921 with the Giants. As spring training neared, however, it seemed Kauff might not be making the trip south with the team, owing to a projected March court date.

At the same time, Kauff's name was turning up with alarming frequency in connection with the various gambling scandals which were rocking baseball's world. The shadowy Billy Maharg told investigators of the World Series sham that Kauff had been involved with the fix. Banned ballplayer Heinie Zimmerman told all who would listen that Kauff had accepted dirty money to throw ballgames in 1919, and further volunteered that he would be glad to tell a New York grand jury what he knew about Kauff's dealings in other people's automobiles.

While anything that was said by Zimmerman had to be taken with a grain of salt, a potentially damaging story surfaced in the March 10 Chicago Tribune, quoting American League president Ban Johnson about a meeting he'd had with Arnold Rothstein, the reputed money man behind the fixed World Series. Rothstein is alleged to have told Johnson that he had already turned down one proposal from Abe Attell to finance the fix, when he had been approached by Kauff and a Rhode Island gambler named Henderson, seeking $50,000 to spread around as bribe money among the Black Sox. The mobster claimed he upbraided Kauff for his suggestion and reported the whole matter to McGraw.

Prior to the opening of spring training, a rumor surfaced in the Hot Stove League that the Giants were working on a deal to send Kauff to the Boston Braves. The Braves' new manager, Fred Mitchell, had once called Kauff the most dangerous hitter in the National League and the batter he most dreaded to see stepping up to the plate against his team at a critical point in the game. McGraw, the press speculated, was becoming embarrassed by Kauff's situation and would welcome the opportunity to move him out of town.

Nothing came of the trade talk, however, and Kauff left for spring training in Texas with the Giants. During the second week of March, Kauff was summoned to Chicago for a one-on-one with Judge Landis. In an article headlined "Kauff on Landis' grill," The Sporting News reported the commissioner had summoned Kauff, "to learn what sort of an alibi Kauff could put up against the charges made by Henry Zimmerman and others against him."

Following that meeting, the paper editorialized, "The guilt or innocence of Kauff before the law will be established in good time  perhaps long before the opening of the championship season. If innocent he deserves every reparation of character; if guilty he should have no further part in the game which already has suffered much at the hands of dishonest players. There has been too much sidestepping in this particular case. It is an issue which Organized Baseball should have insisted upon being brought to a showdown when it first cropped out."

The criminal case against Kauff had languished for more than a year but was renewed, according to The Sporting News, when "certain busy bodies began to clamor for his trial." The paper prophesied, "Benny Kauff probably will not be seen in a Giant uniform for some time, if ever again."

Following their meeting, Landis had suggested Kauff return to New York to await his decision. Instead, Kauff returned to his home at Lancaster, Ohio, suffering from an acute attack of diphtheria. He was quarantined on March 25 and anti-toxin was administered. By early April Kauff was on the mend. He grew impatient, and announced his intention to rejoin the team for its trip North from Texas. On April 7 the commissioner declared Kauff ineligible to play in Organized Baseball.

In rendering his decision, Landis said, "The case is still pending and undetermined, and the question is: May a player thus circumstanced play in Organized Baseball? Of course the mere return of an indictment does not imply guilt. The grand jury inquisition is ex parte. The defendant has no opportunity there to defend against the charge. But indictment does imply that, in the judgement of the grand jurors, there is probable cause to believe the accused guilty.

"More than 13 months have elapsed since the filing of formal charges of the commission of felony. The record does not show that this long pendancy of the accusation was altogether over the player's protest. On the contrary the conclusion is irresistible that the reverse is true. It is perfectly apparent that earnest insistence upon a hearing by the defendant would before this have brought the matter to a finality." Apparently the fact that Kauff did not force himself before a jury gave rise to Landis' suspicion that he had something to hide.

The judge concluded, "Section 2 of Article 4 of the Major-Minor League Rules, relating to players under indictment for conduct detrimental to the good repute of baseball, applies here. An indictment charging felonious misconduct by a player certainly charges conduct detrimental to the good repute of baseball." In other words, as long as Kauff remained under indictment, he was out of baseball.

An unsigned article in The Sporting News commented on Landis' decision in tones indicating its sympathy for Kauff was about expended. The piece was headlined: "It's on and off, and finally off, for Auto Benny Kauff." Continuing, "Benny Kauff, who has been on and off the New York Giants since he was accused of being connected with a gang of automobile thieves in New York, has had his status definitely determined at least until he is cleared of the charges now pending against him in the courts. The New York Club neither can use him, nor can it trade him to any minor league club  as it did last year when things got too warm for him in the big city, recalling him later.

"Kauff reported to the Giants this spring, but Commissioner Landis called him away from camp to explain his case. Benny's explanation was far from satisfactory. He had been under indictment for more than a year but had made no great effort to clear himself and there were hints of 'influences' that kept the case from coming to trial.

"One thing remains for Kauff and that is to clear himself of the charges against him in the New York courts. If he can do that he may be reinstated, but Commissioner Landis has made it plain that in the new baseball deal no player under indictment for a felony such as is charged against the New York outfielder is fit to have a part in the national game."

The paper concluded, "Not only does Kauff stand under charges of thievery, but he also was accused in a sworn statement of Henry Zimmerman of offering to accept bribes for throwing ball games. Commissioner Landis has not as yet given any sign that he had reached a decision as to the truth or falsity of Zimmerman's charges."

There may have been something to the paper's insinuation that powerful men were keeping Kauff's case out of the courtroom, perhaps even the influential Giants ownership. On Feb. 22, the New York Times reported that at the insistence of the district attorney, Kauff's trial had been placed on the court's "preferred" calendar, with the promise of action within two weeks. The paper reported that Kauff's attorney, noted former magistrate Emil Fuchs (who in 1923 would become a major stockholder in the Boston Braves), had indicated willingness to proceed in that time frame, as his client "was anxious for an immediate trial to clear his name."

A month later, The Sporting News was warming up to the task of burying Kauff's chances for reinstatement. The lead editorial in its April 14 issue, titled "Sign of new morality," lauded Landis' ruling as "refreshing evidence of the new moral consciousness in Organized Baseball. The ranks of some of the independents may still be open to a player accused of stealing an automobile (Author's note: This is no doubt a reference to rumors that Kauff might take up with a semi-pro team until his case was settled), just as they have been opened to accused and confessed cheaters, but clubs and leagues which recognize the authority of the government of which Commissioner Landis is the head must close their doors to him."

The paper said Landis' verdict "means an end to the stalling and camouflaging that have been practiced in this particular case.

"If he can prove his innocence of the charge of dealing in stolen automobiles, then doubtless the ban will be lifted," the editorial continued, "though there still will remain the issue which Henry Zimmerman raised when he made affidavit that Kauff accepted, or agreed to accept bribes to throw games.

"And, we presume, should Kauff go to trial, be found guilty and sent to prison, he would again become eligible to play when his sentence expired, on the theory that having paid the penalty his rights are restored."

The editorial continued, "The public, we think, will fully endorse the sentiments of the Commissioner when he says the presence of Kauff in the game while under charges 'would be so unjust to the other players, so deeply offensive to the baseball public and so strongly suggestive of a lack of appreciation of elemental morality on the part of those charged with protecting the good repute of the game that it is an obvious impossibility.'"

The paper then slapped the players and, presumably, team and league officials for failing to take action against Kauff. "It is to be regretted that the players have not as yet shown such a marked awakening in morals that they evince any concern. And some of those who are--or should be--regarded as protectors of the game's good repute hardly can be credited with having co-operated to any great extent with Commissioner Landis in the inquiry which has led him to take his action in the Kauff case. Note, also, that the Commissioner acted only when his hand was forced. There was no effort by any others who might have exercised their authority in this case to 'protect the good repute of the game.'"

1920 W516 strip card.
In the midst of his criminal troubles, Kauff found himself before a New York judge on a civil matter. An insurance agent had obtained a judgement against the ballplayer for $317. Kauff refused or was unable to pay, and took a vacation to Ohio instead of making a March 14 court appearance to examine his assets. The judge hauled him before the bench on a contempt of court citation and fined Kauff $350, but allowed him to make payments through July 1 on penalty of being jailed.

With no baseball income, Kauff finally persuaded the court to call the case. His attorney told the court that since Kauff's suspension would not terminate until the trial was over, and that since any further delay would "seriously menace the player's means of livelihood," Kauff was "prepared to show his innocence."

On May 9, the trial began. The prosecution's case seemed solid. Kauff had, in fact, sold two stolen cars out of his automotive supply business. Moreover, the key witnesses in the state's case were two of Kauff's employees who testified that they were with Kauff when he boosted one of the cars.

Kauff's associates testified they had dinner with Benny on the night of Dec. 8, 1919. Kauff, they averred, said he had a customer for a late-model Cadillac and that they walked the streets around Broadway looking for the inventory to fill that order. According to the prosecutor, the trio spotted the car they were looking for on West End Ave., where the owner had parked it while visiting his father. Kauff and his alleged accomplices made off with the vehicle, gave it a new set of tires, repainted the body, got a new license for it and sold it for $1,800, splitting the profits three ways.

The following day, Kauff took the stand. He said he had purchased the car legitimately from a resident of the Cumberland Hotel in late October, and that he'd had a bill of sale for it when he sold it in December. When it was proven the car had been stolen, Kauff refunded the purchase price to his customer. Kauff's wife testified she had had dinner with her husband on the night the state's witnesses claimed Kauff had met with them to divide the swag. It was further brought out that the state's chief witnesses were both ex-cons. Kauff's partner, Giants pitcher Virgil Barnes, supported Kauff's contention that they did not know the car they sold was hot. McGraw and teammate George Burns appeared as character witnesses.

Friday the 13th was Kauff's lucky day. The case went to the jury, which deliberated for less than an hour before delivering a verdict of acquittal.

On May 17, Kauff applied to Landis for reinstatement. Despite all of the intimations that an innocent verdict would clear the way for Kauff's return to the good graces of professional baseball, and mirroring the action he had taken earlier that year in the cases of the acquitted White Sox, Landis dropped a bombshell on Benny when he refused to lift the ban.

After studying the trial transcript, Landis wrote Kauff on Aug. 25 that "the evidence disclosed a state of affairs that more than seriously compromises your character and reputation. The reasonable and necessary result of this is that your mere presence in the lineup would inevitably burden patrons of the game with grave apprehension as to its integrity." He added that Kauff "could not be restored to good standing without impairing the morale of the other players and without further injury to the good name of professional baseball."

The former federal judge later called Kauff's not guilty verdict, "one of the worst miscarriages of justice that ever came under my observation."

There is no indication that the Giants made any effort to get Landis to reconsider. They were on their way to their first National League pennant since 1917 and a World's Series win over the Yankees. George Burns, replacing Kauff in center field, would hit .299 for the season. In late July, the Toronto team made inquiry as to having Kauff reinstated as Vernon Spencer, who they had dealt to New York for Kauff in 1920, was having leg troubles.

After months of threats and legal maneuverings, on Sept. 12, Kauff got a New York court order directing Landis, National League President John Heydler and Giants officials to show cause why Kauff should not be reinstated and allowed to play.

Kauff's attorney summarized the case, "The question is whether or not they (baseball officials) can exercise jurisdiction with regard to matters which were alleged to have happened off the baseball field, particularly in view of the fact that the player has been acquitted by a jury."

Besides seeking reinstatement to the team, Kauff asked for payment of his contract and a share of the projected World Series pool. Saying that it was unfair to compare him to the "traitors of the 1919 World's Series," Kauff blasted the commissioner, "I say that I am every inch as much of a gentleman, and have as high a sense of ethics and character as this man Landis, who has no standing as far as I am concerned, and who has maliciously and cunningly conspired to further his position at my expense without regard to conscience, standing or duty."

The baseball officials were able to get continuances through the end of the season. There was talk of trading Kauff to the Cincinnati Reds, for their own problem child, Heinie Groh, but when the reserve lists were promulgated in late November, Kauff appeared on the Giants' list as "ineligible." Kauff continued to be carried on the Giants' roster as ineligible as late as the end of 1925.              

The Sporting News described that listing as a challenge to Kauff to press his suit. "New York might have wiped his name off, made him a free agent and thus permitted him to get a job anywhere that he could  but it has not done so. Whether or not the New York Club has made a mistake remains to be seen. It certainly does not intend to use Kauff, and it is hardly likely any other club could find room for him, so there really was no necessity of continuing his name on its reserve list. By so retaining him, the club is liable to a test of right that might as well be avoided, for all know what courts may do whatever the justice of a cause before the bench."

The paper needn't have worried. On Jan. 17, 1922, the Supreme Court of the State of New York denied Kauff's application for a permanent injunction restraining baseball from continuing his suspension. While Justice E.G. Whitaker stated "an apparent injustice has been done the plaintiff (Kauff), this court is without power to grant him the relief he asks."

There was not a lot of legal paperwork and precedence to wade through, according to the court. The simple fact, they pointed out, is that Landis, the league and the Giants had been shrewd enough to delay the hearing on the matter until the end of the 1921 baseball season, when Kauff's contract with the National Exhibition Company of New York (the Giants) simply expired. The state court had no grounds on which to act.

Once again on its editorial soapbox, The Sporting News on Jan. 26 said of the dismissal, "The grounds for the decision may be technical, but they satisfy.

"Kauff alleged that if Landis would lift the suspension the Giants would re-engage him," the editorial continued. "No official of the New York Club was willing to admit that, however. Commissioner Landis faced the suit against him boldly; he answered Kauff's charge by saying that even if a criminal court had not convicted the former player Kauff's own statement of his dealings in stolen automobiles was not satisfactory and convinced the Commissioner that morally he was not fit to be in baseball." The paper then welcomed the court's decision as a precedent that the various Black Sox seeking reinstatement would find hard to hurdle. "They, too, like Kauff, are 'innocent' in the eyes of a trial court, but the court of public opinion has its own notions regarding them."

The editorial concluded, " ... presumably we have heard the last of Benny Kauff in baseball. It is well."

Kauff is shown with an unidentified woman
in this undated photo, probably circa 1910s.

New York baseball writer Joe Vila caught up with the ballplayer following the unfavorable ruling. Vila found Kauff, "handsomely dressed and wearing a sparkler in his tie," walking up Broadway. "They've made me the goat," Kauff told Vila with a grin, but I know how to take my medicine. I probably would have been allowed to play ball if I had agreed to tell certain things to Judge Landis. But I'm no squealer and that's all there is to it."

As Kauff bought and passed around some 50-cent cigars, Vila queried, "Do you intend to sue anyone for damages?"

"Not while I'm starving like this," Kauff replied with a laugh before jumping into a friend's big touring car and speeding off.

                                                            * * *

Following his baseball career, Kauff worked as a salesman for the John R. Lyman Co., in Columbus, Ohio. On Nov. 17, 1961, he was stricken with a cerebral hemorrhage and died at the hospital there at the age of 71. He is buried in Union Cemetery in Columbus.

(This concludes the six-part series on Benny Kauff.)