Tuesday, June 30, 2015

'Bama booter Tim Davis added to '55AA customs

As an Ole Miss fan I don't go out of my way to add to my All-American-style customs players who were nemeses of the Rebels.

Because he was such a great college and AFL player, with an interesting post-pigskin career, it wasn't too hard to make a Billy Cannon yard 10 years ago.

Now I've created a card for 1961-63 Alabama placekicker Tim Davis. 

Truthfully, until I read about the 1964 Sugar Bowl in a January, 1964, issue of The Sporting News, I had never heard of Tim Davis. If you're also unfamiliar with Davis' big day, here's an excellent account.

1964 Sugar Bowl

A couple of points not made in that article were . . .

  • the Jan. 1, 1964 Sugar Bowl was the first meeting between Ole Miss and Alabama since 1944. Since they were both in the Southeastern Conference, I'm not sure why that was the case.
  • the three inches of wet snow that fell on New Orleans on New Year's Eve was the biggest snowfall there since 1895.
  • the teams went into the Sugar Bowl with undefeated (7-0-2) Mississippi ranked seventh in the nation and 8-2-0 Alabama ranked eighth.
  • in part because Joe Namath had been suspended in December for a team-rules infraction, Ole Miss was a 7-1/2 favorite.

Tim Davis was the first of four brothers who kicked field goals and PATs for Alabama. Tim scored 139 points for the Crimson Tide, 1961-63. Steve Davis scored 112 points, 1965-67, Bill was the team's kicker, 1971-73 and Mike booted for 'Bama in 1975.

All were sons of Alvin "Pig" Davis, who was the first player recruited by Bear Bryant when he became an assistant coach in 1936. Pig Davis was a fullback on 'Bama's 1938 Rose Bowl team. Besides the four football-playing sons, Pig sent another son, Robert, to Alabama, where he graduated in 1967 with the highest grade point average in the university's College of Arts and Sciences. All five of Pig's sons went on to become doctors of medicine or dentistry.

Tim Davis, like his brothers, played high school football at Columbus, Ga., with their father as head coach. He was a promising quarterback, but tore up a knee. He perfected his kicking game and with his father's advice to pick a school with formidable linemen, he accepted a scholarship to Alabama.

He was the placekicker on the 11-0-0 1961 Alabama National Championship team that outscored its regular-season opponents 287-22. On New Year's day, in 'Bama's 10-3 win over Arkansas, Davis set a Sugar Bowl record with a 32-yard field goal.  

Despite his record-breaking performance in the Sugar Bowl, and the fact that the NFL and AFL were in a bidding war for player talent, Davis was undrafted. He went to medical school and later formed a practice in Mobile, Ala., with his brother Mike.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Here's to Hornsby!

The more I read about Rogers Hornsby is the back issues of The Sporting News, the more I like him as an old-school ballplayer.

While perusing the Jan. 19, 1963, issue of TSN, I found several items that reinforced that image.

In an editorial in that issue, TSN said . . . 

Rogers Hornsby was tough, he was demanding. He was never schooled in the niceties of diplomacy. 
But it must be remembered that he not only was one of the game's greatest hitters, but a man who held baseball in such high esteem that he could not tolerate those who did not.

As an example of Hornsby's single-mindedness where baseball was concerned, the sporting paper described how he had blown off his mother's funeral to prepare for the World Series.

Hornsby's mother had died in Texas shortly after the Cardinals, whom he managed, had clinched the 1926 NL pennant in the East in the final week of the season. The World Series was scheduled to start the next week in Yankee Stadium. 

"I've got a job to do here," Hornsby explained, "getting this club primed for our games with the Yankees. Mother would have understood," he added. "She always stressed doing the job we had to do." 

The Cardinals split the first two games of the '26 Series at Yankee Stadium, then went on to win the World's Championship in seven games.

Such traits did not endear Hornsby to large segments of baseball's family. In 1924, the year he batted .424, Hornsby didn't even win the NL MVP Award.

That went to Dazzy Vance, who was 28-6 for the second-place Dodgers. 

Hornsby lost the MVP when Jack Ryder, Cincinnati's representative on the NL MVP Committee refused to name the Rajah on his ballot. "Hornsby is a Most Valuable Player to himself, not to his club," Ryder said. Besides the award, Hornsby lost out on a $1,000 cash prize, paid in gold coin.

Hornsby didn't mellow any when his days as a player and manager were over. 

At sprig training in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1962, when Hornsby was a coach for the expansion N.Y. Mets, photographers tried to get a picture of him posing with baseball's new home run king, Roger Maris.

Maris refused to pose with Hornsby over comments Hornsby had made about Maris' .269 batting average while hitting 61 homers. Hornsby exploded, "That thick-skulled busher! There never was a time when he could have carried my bat."

Friday, June 26, 2015

Houston name change stymied Topps

Many baseball card collectors believe that potential litigation over the team nickname "Astros" resulted in Topps using the city name "HOUSTON" in the banner of the First Series of Astros cards in its 1965 set.

That wasn't the case at all. 

When the dome opened in 1965 the field was natural Bermuda grass blended for indoor use. When players complained that the semi-transparent Lucite panes that made up part of the done's ceiling made fielding difficult, they were painted over . . . and the grass died. Most of the 1965 season was played on painted dirt and dead grass.

The artificial surface was not laid until 1966, and then in stages, since supply of the material was tight. At that time, the product was named ChemGrass. It was soon rebranded as Astro Turf. If any litigation was forthcoming, it seems it would have been the team suing Monsanto, the turf's manufacturer.

In actuality, the fact that "HOUSTON" appeared on the First Series 1965 Topps cards stems from the fact that there WAS legal wrangling over the team name. The legal posturing, however, was between the team and Colt Firearm Co.

The nickname "Colt .45s" for the expansion Houston National League team had been the result of a "Name the Team" contest. Initially, the gun maker reportedly had no objection to the team using the name and a smoking six-shooter as its logo.

By 1964, however, Colt was voicing concerns about the team sub-licensing the name and logo to manufacturers of souvenirs and novelties. While it was no doubt couched in terms of "maintaining control, brand integrity, blah, blah, blah," it obviously came down to money; Colt wanted royalties.

Team president Judge Roy Hofheinz, being loath to give up the revenue or share the profits, decided he'd rather switch than fight. There was no fan contest this time. 

A couple of months after the end of the 1964 season, Hofheinz announced he was going to change the team nickname to Astros, in recognition of Houston's role as the hub of the U.S. space program. The 18-story, $24 million stadium subsequently dropped its original Harris County Dome name and adopted the Astrodome label to be in synch with its principal tenant.

A reported early favorite of Hofheinz' was "Stars," but local pundits felt it would be too pretentious a name for a team that didn't have any.The  Sporting News weighed in to suggest that the team revert to the nickname "Buffs," which had been used for Houston's American Association team for the three years prior to the N.L. expansion of 1962. Houston's minor league team had been known as the Buffaloes nearly every season between 1896-1958, which nickname was often affectionately shortened to "Buffs."

That change from Colt .45s to Astros came too late for Topps to reflect in its First Series 1965 cards, so the first five Astros cards (#16 Rookie Stars, #31 Mike White, #48 Claude Raymond, #80 Turk Farrell, and, #109 Walt Bond) are found with only "HOUSTON" on the banner at lower-left. Beginning with the Second Series, the banner was changed to read "HOUSTON / ASTROS", except on the later-series "Rookie Stars" cards, which continued to use the "HOUSTON" banner.

Another baseball card result of the name change is that there is no Houston team card in the 1965 Topps set. All the other 19 American and National League teams have a team card, but nothing for the Astros.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Former/future teammate owned Clemente

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. 

When the Pittsburgh Pirates bought Bob Purkey from the St. Louis Cardinals just prior to the opening of the 1966 season there was probably nobody happier to see him in the Bucs locker room than Roberto Clemente.

The two had been teammates on the Pirates from 1955-57, until Purkey was traded to Cincinnati in the off-season.

In his seven years with the Redlegs (1958-64) and one season with the Cardinals (1964), Purkey had been Clemente's nemesis.

Clemente faced Purkey 94 times in that span and was only able to hit .195 against him. Purkey threw Clemente an assortment of knuckle balls, sliders and curves that yielded only 17 hits, just three of them for extra bases (doubles). Clemente struck out nine times against Purkey and drew just five walks. Purkey plunked Clemente once.

Purkey had a decent major league career. He had a lifetime record of 129-115 with an ERA of 3.79. He was a three-time all-star with Cincinnati, in 1958, 1961 and 1962, when he led the N.L. in winning percentage with a 23-5 record.

He had signed with the Pirates at age 18, but spent four years in the minors and two in the military before getting his shot in the bigs. He had been 11-13 with Class AA New Orleans in 1953 before getting a chance in Pittsburgh, for a team that was in the midst of four straight last-place finishes.

In his rookie year he was 3-8, and overall with the Pirates 1954-57 he was 16-29.

As a kid collector, I always liked Bob Purkey's baseball cards. His moon face had a big smile most years. Purkey had made his baseball card debut in 1954, but was missing from the 1956 set. He then was in every Topps annual issue through 1966.

Purkey also appeared in many other sets of the Sixties, including 1961-63 Post cereal, 1960 Leaf, 1963 Fleer, 1962 and 1963 Salada coins, every Kahn's Wieners issue 1958-64, and many Pirates and Reds team-issues. He's got a big grin on most of those, too.

I imagine Clemente grew to dislike that smile over the years.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Thrown bat cost Gibson 20-win season

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

A bat thrown in retaliation after he'd been plunked cost Bob Gibson his first opportunity to win 20 games in a season.

In the May 4, 1964, game in St. Louis, Gibby was cruising with a 5-1 lead when he came to the plate in the bottom of the 4th against the Phillies. 

Jack Baldschun had come on in relief and Gibson was the second batter to face him, McCarver having grounded out to open the inning. 

Baldschun hit Gibson with a pitch and the fiery Cardinals pitcher threw his bat at Baldschun -- who caught it!

Gibson was ejected despite his plea that the bat had slipped out his hands. He told the umpire he wasn't foolish enough to pass up such an easy chance for a victory, but he was tossed anyway. 

Not having pitched the requisite 4-1/2 innings, Gibson was ineligible for the eventual 9-2 win (it went to Roger Craig). 

Gibson's mound record was 2-0 at the time. He went on to win 17 more games in the regular season, finishing with a 19-12 mark. From 1965-70, Gibson had 20 or more wins five times.

Actually, Gibson won 22 games in 1964. He had two World Series victories over the Yankees, including the Game 7 clincher. Named the Series MVP, Gibson won a 1965 Corvette.

I'm sure if a guy scoured contemporary newspaper accounts of the game, or of the Cardinals-Phillies recent past, he'd have a good chance to find a reason that Baldschun hit Gibson. But there's always the possibility that the pitch was one of those that just got away.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

'63 Topps-style custom gives Dalkowski own card

When viewing Steve Dalkowski's minor league pitching record, I don't really question why he never made the major leagues, but rather how he managed to hang on in professional ball at all.

From 1957-62 he never progressed higher than Class A on a 26-62 record and 6.15 ERA. Baltimore Orioles officials, however, were so enamored by his speed that they continued to hope, season after season, that he could learn some control -- both over his fast ball and hs thirst.

In 1962, despite a 3-12 record at Class B in 1961, Dalkowski was promoted to Class A Elmira in the Eastern League. There, he hooked up with manager Earl Weaver, who convinced him that by taking something off his fast ball, he'd be better able to control it.

Though his record with Elmira was only 7-10 in 1962, he dropped his ERA from 8.39 to 3.04. His rate of bases on balls per nine innings dropped from 17.1 to 6.4. His strikeout rate also declined, but much less dramatically, from 13.1 to 10.8 per nine innings.

When the Orioles took Dalkowski to spring training in 1963, Topps evidently believed he would make the big club, so they included his "floating head" portrait on card #496 "1963 Rookie Stars" in the high-number series.

Unfortunately, as spring training drew to a close, Dalkowski injured his arm, tossing a come-backer over to first base. He never reached the big leagues, though he pitched for three more seasons in the minors in the Orioles, Pirates and Angels organizations.

Topps might have just as easily given Dalkowski his own rookie card in 1963. Since they didn't, I've taken on the task.

There really aren't many good in-uniform photos of Dalkowski to work with; color photos are especially scarce. I decided to work with a black-and-white pose and colorize it for my card. I believe the picture shows Dalkowski in a minor league Orioles jersey.

In putting together my card back, I was fortunate to find a chart on the internet with his complete record. Even the usually comprehensive baseball-reference.com web site is incomplete for a couple of Dalkowski's seasons in the lower minors.

Dalkowski was certainly an inspiration in the mythical Sidd Finch character created as a 1985 April Fool's joke by George Plimpton in Sports Illustrated.

Here's a good summary of Dalkowski from the baseball-reference.com site:
Steve Dalkowski biography

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Player's "prank" would be child abuse today

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

A player's "prank" 50 years ago rated a visit by the sheriff, but today would likely have resulted in child abuse charges, a suspension and a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

According to a report in the Aug. 8, 1964, issue of The Sporting News, detailed under the headline "Chaw Spells Trouble for Rainiers," a former Seattle (Pacific Coast League) player was in hot water in Spokane.

Prior to the Rainiers' game in Spokane on July 21, Seattle manager Edo Vanni was visited by a Spokane County sheriff's deputy seeking to serve a complaint on outfielder Pete Jernigan. Luckily for the ballplayer, he was no longer with the team, having been sent to Albuquerque (Texas League) a month earlier.

In the complaint, Mrs. Doreen Buechler charged that when Seattle had been in town on May 11, a player wearing uniform #40 had given her 13-year-old son a chaw of tobacco that made him ill. Jernigan, the Rainers' manager confirmed, had worn number 40 at that time.

The complaint alleged that young Buechler had asked the player for a baseball. Jernigan told the kid he'd give him a ball if take a chew of tobacco and hold it in his mouth for 10 minutes. The boy was later found lying in the middle of a lavatory floor at the park "violently ill."

When told of the threatened legal action, Jernigan said it was "only a prank."

I failed to find any further mention of the incident in TSN, so I don't know if Jernigan ever suffered any consequences.

At the time of the "prank" Jernigan was a 23-year-old outfield prospect of the Boston Red Sox. He'd started playing pro ball at 19 in Class D ball in 1960. By 1962 he'd made the jump to AAA Seattle.

In 1963, again with Seattle, Jernigan was suffering a significant decrease in production, both in average and power. He was also in Vanni's doghouse. He'd been disciplined early in the season for insubordination. On June 19 in Seattle he'd been called out of strikes. When he threw his bat in the air he was thumbed from the game and "threw a tantrum." That (more likely his .208 average) cost him his job with the Red Sox organization.

The L.A. Dodgers picked him up for their AA team in the Texas League. The change of scenery, and possibly change in attitude, did Jernigan good, and he ended the season batting .333 for Albuquerque.
With Albuquerque again to start 1964 he was hitting .258 when Boston reacquired him, assigning him to Seattle -- and Vanni -- once again.

Jernigan hit just .245, with no power, for Seattle in '64. The next season he was demoted to Class AA Pittsfield, but was again cast loose by the Red Sox' organization agter hitting just .212. He caught on with the San Francisco Giants and spent four seasons with their Pacific Coast League AAA club at Phoenix, hitting a cumulative .259 before leaving pro ball after the 1969 season.

Jernigan never got to the major leagues, but he still made it onto a Topps card. He's one of the four bug-sized portraits on the 1963 "Rookie Stars" card #253.

You can also find Jernigan on three Pacific Coast regional issues form 1963. He's included in the Seattle Rainiers popcorn insert cards and the related 8X10 premium pictures (shown below). He's also in the very scarce Milwaukee Sausage set of Rainiers. If you're lucky enough to find one of those, it'll set you back a short stack of $100s.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Hondo owned Henley in 1963-64

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. 

From time to time in this space I've presented baseball statistical anomalies that piqued my interest.

Here's another.

For a period in 1963-64 Frank Howard had what baseball writers used to insensitively call the "Indian sign" on pitcher Bob Hendley.

In five consecutive plate appearances between May 29, 1963, and May 2, 1964, Hondo homered off Hendley.

Then after Hendley retired Howard in the middle innings of the May 2 game, Big Frank went yard once more . . . six home runs in eight at-bats.

Here's the chronology.

May 29, 1963
In a Wednesday night game at Milwaukee Count Stadium, Hendley induced Howard too ground out, ending the top of the 1st inning.

Up again in the 3rd, Howard homered in the gloaming with two out and one on as a dense fog began to creep in. He put the Dodgers ahead 3-0.

When Howard was on deck in the 5th, Ron Piche relieved Hendley; Howard struck out swinging.

The Braves scored three in the bottom of the 6th (and Henry Aaron hit his 300th career double). With two out in the top of the 7th, the game was called on account of the fog, ending in a 3-3 tie. It was replayed as part of a July 21 doubleheader.

July 19, 1963
Leading off the 2nd inning in Milwaukee, Howard homered off Hendley. With two out in the 4th, he repeated. 

Frank Funk came on in relief in the 7th. Howard reached on an error that inning and struck out in the 8th.

The Dodgers won 4-2.

Aug. 15, 1963
Again at County Stadium with Hendley on the hill, Howard hit a 1st-inning HR with two out and one on. 

When Howard came to the plate in the third, Hendley was relieved by Hank Fischer. Howard grounded out to end the inning. In the 6th, Fischer struck him out swinging. 

Against Bobby Tiefenauer in the 8th, Howard singled.

Los Angeles won 7-5.

After the 1963 season, Hendley was traded to the San Francisco Giants.

Hendley's 1964 season didn't start out any better when facing Howard.

May 2, 1964
Howard homered to lead off the 2nd inning in Dodger Stadium.

Finally, Hendley was able to retire Howard when he grounded into an inning-ending double play in the 3rd. Howard grounded out again in the 6th.

Hendley was still on the mound when Howard came to bat in the 8th. With two out and nobody on, Howard again hit the long ball, increasing the Dodgers' lead to 4-2.

With  the score 4-4, Bob Shaw came in the relieve Hendley. He issued an intentional walk to Howard in the 10th.

The Giants had gone ahead 5-4 in the 12th. With Wes Parker on base, Howard represented the winning run when he came to the plate. Shaw got him to ground into a double play to end the game. 

There was probably not a happier pitcher in the National League when the Dodgers traded Howard to the Washington Senators after the 1964 season.

Overall in his career against Bob Hendley, Frank Howard had faced him 47 times. His batted .366 against him, with eight home runs, 16 RBIs, three doubles and four singles. Hendley struck out Howard six times over four seasons, walking him six times; three of those bases on balls were intentional.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Williams was lone American in NHL 1963-64

1963-64 Topps

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

I've never been much of a hockey fan and have never collected hockey cards.

But while reading 1965 issues of The Sporting News, I found a short article that surprised me.

According to the report, in 1963-64 there was only one American skater in the NHL -- Tommy Williams of the Boston Bruins. 

The league was a six-team affair that year, with two clubs representing Canada and four in the U.S. I don't know what the roster size was 50 years ago, but it probably wasn't much different than that of today (min. 20, max. 23). And, of course, there may have been more than one American on the ice in the NHL over the course of the 1963-64 season, but at one point Williams was the lone American.

The article appeared in the Oct. 9, 1965, issue of TSN, citing testimony before a Senate Monopoly Subcommittee in Washington on Jan. 31, 1964. The testimony came from NHL President Clarence S. Campbell.

Campbell told the solons that only four of the then-26 teams in professional hockey in North America were located in Canada. The NHL had Montreal and Toronto. Vancouver was in the Western Hockey League and Quebec played in the American Hockey League. The NHL prexy told Congress only 10-15 Americans were playing in the WHL, AHL and CIHL at the time. He also estimated there were about 185,000 Canadians playing in leagues across Canada.

Today the NHL comprises 30 teams, with seven of them based in Canada. Recent numbers show that U.S.-born skaters account for about 22% of NHL players. Canadians, of course, dominate the league with more than 51%. Native Swedes account for nearly 9% of NHL rosters and Russians number just about 4%.

Tommy Williams, who was born in Duluth, Minn., had a long career in major league hockey. 

In the 1960 winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, he scored 10 points for the U.S. team that won all seven of its games and the gold medal.

He joined the NHL in 1961-62 with Boston, and remained with the Bruins through the 1968-69 season. He spent a season and a half each with the Minneapolis North Stars and California Golden Seals between 1969-72. From 1972-74 he was in the World Hockey Association with the New England Whalers. He closed out his career back n the NHL with the Washington Capitals, 1974-76.

Williams was only 51 when he died in 1992.

1968-69 O-Pee-Chee

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

1952 Topps survivors now stand at 50

The death of Al Rosen on March 13 brought to 50 the number of surviving subjects from the iconic 1952 Topps baseball card set. (That number is predicated on the accuracy of biographical data on the baseball-reference.com web site, and my reading thereof. We should not discount the possibility that the death of one or more of the players in '52T have passed without the web site being aware.)

Considering the '52T set was issued 63 years ago, I would not have guessed that 12.3% of the players appearing on those cards are still alive today.

As of today, here is a list of those survivors by their current age, oldest to youngest.

Between the 82-year-olds, Del Greco is the youngest, having been born April 7, 1933. Brodowski was born July 26, 1932. Del Greco was only the third youngest player in the major leagues in 1952. Bill Bell was born Oct. 24, 1933 and Jim Waugh was born Nov. 25, 1933. All three were teammates on the 1952 Pittsburgh Pirates. Neither Waugh nor Bell was included in 1952 Topps. Waugh made his lone bubblegum card appearance in 1953 Topps, and Bell was never on a mainstream baseball card.

Another peculiarity is that 10 of the surviving players -- 20% -- are named Bob or Bobby.

The first player in 1952 Topps to die was Howie Fox, who was killed Oct. 9, 1955 in a bar fight at a tavern he owned in San Antonio; he was 34.

Two other '52T subjects died in the 1950s. Billy Meyer, who was the Pirates' manager in 1952, died in 1957 at age 59. Snuffy Stirnweiss, who is pictured in 1952 Topps with his last major league team, the Indians, was 39 when he died in 1958.

Eighteen of the players, coaches and managers from 1952 Topps died in the 1960s. In the 1970s, 31 more passed. The 1980s saw the death of 50 more. From 1990-99, the loss was 86. Deaths since then have been: 2000 --10, 2001 --10, 2002 --15, 2003 --11; 2004 --8, 2005 --7, 2006 --13, 2007 --14, 2008 --10, 2009 --7, 2010 --21, 2011 --13, 2012 --10, 2013 --8 and 20014 --8.

So far in 2015, players from 1952 Topps who have died are Rocky Bridges, Don Johnson, Minnie Minoso and Rosen.

Considering that more Americans are living longer today, and that at least for some portion of their adult lives, the players of 1952 were active athletes, its impossible to speculate on how long the remaining 50 will be with us. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

'63 Spahnie buttons funded scholarships

One of the greatest bargains among original Milwaukee Braves souvenirs of 1963 is the "Spahnie" pinback button issued in conjunction with Warren Spahn Night at County Stadium on Sept. 17.

Even today, an example of the 2" diameter red, white and blue button in like-new condition can be had for less than $10.

The low price for a 50+-year-old bit of Braves Hall of Famer memorabilia can be largely attributed to the fact that, extrapolating from news accounts, there may have been as many as 200,000 of the buttons issued. A contemporary newspaper account indicated that as much as $50,000 was projected to be raised by sales of the 25-cent buttons.

The button sales were designed to create, along with private gifts, initial funding for the Warren Spahn Scholarship Foundation. The foundation was created to annually provide two sophomores at Wisconsin colleges or universities $1,000 scholarships for their junior and senior years.

A cursory google-search failed to provide any indication that the foundation is still in existence today.

A good luck at the festivities that comprised Warren Spahn Night has been written by Milwaukee Braves fan extraordinaire Dave Klug. With his permission I'm excerpting here . . .

(On) September 17th, 1963, the Braves and the good folk of Milwaukee and fans far and wide held a gala Spahnie Night Celebration.

Fans were encouraged to buy and wear their Spahnie buttons ... all monies realized from button sales (went to) a Spahn Scholarship Fund. During the planning stages, Spahn insisted that there be a minimal amount of gifts to him or his family and that all monetary gifts go to the Scholarship Fund.

The festivities actually got underway at a 12:30 P.M. kick-off luncheon at the Wisconsin Club on Wednesday the 16th.

Among the notables at the luncheon were Fred Haney, Bob Feller and Lefty Grove . . . and Spahn's catcher from his army days, Roy Reimann. Spahn admitted to being "a little choked up" and gave credit to his teammates as "the real guys who are responsible for me being up here".

The largest crowd of this year -- 33,676 -- turned out to pay tribute to one of their long-time heroes. Most of them remembered to wear their Spahnie buttons. The program started late due to multiple traffic jams on the Freeway.

Every one who was there -- from Lefty Grove, Johnny Sain, Carl Hubbell and Gabby Hartnett to the ardent fan in the stands to the media people to the fans who couldn't attend -- had their own special memories of Warren Spahn. Some got to voice them, some just had them in their hearts. A well-known baseball fan, President John F. Kennedy sent a letter that said in part: "Dear Warren . . . You are one the few men in the history of baseball who has the distinction of establishing new records of achievement and new historic landmarks in each game in which you play. Your . . . years of success . . . have been a testimony to your strength and character, competitive zeal and physical stamina. Few athletes in our time have won the universal admiration which you have in your many years as a player". The crowd was in whole-hearted agreement. There was a sign in the stands that read "Wisconsin nominates Warren Spahn for President".

Each National League Club sent a player -- in uniform -- to make that team's presentation. Frank Bolling was selected as the Braves team representative at the celebration. The team gave Spahn wood-working machinery for his wood-shop at home in Hartshorne, OK. Lorene Spahn and son, Greg also received gifts.
(Mrs. Spahn received a jewelry box and Greg, then age 14, got a Western saddle). 

When the already-legendary left-hander finally came up to speak, the crowd gave him a two-minute standing ovation. When things quieted down a bit, he said, "I'm sure there have been more fortunate people but, I'm the luckiest guy in baseball. I'm sure these guys would agree (pointing to the Giants team -- that night's opponent -- everyone laughed). My sincere thanks from the bottom of my heart for making this occasion and this Scholarship Foundation possible. God bless you."

The whole atmosphere of the evening was celebratory with the Stadium decorated in bunting plus a fireworks display. Organizers announced that they had already received $30,000 toward the scholarship fund and estimated they'd probably be getting another $40-$45,000. 

While the Spahn Night celebration was universally acclaimed a success, the ensuing game was not.

Seeking his 21st win of the season and 348th of his career, Spahn took the mound against Bobby Bolin of the Giants. He was shelled for five hits and four runs before being taken out after three innings. The Braves lost 11-3. It was their eighth loss in a row and dropped them from fourth to sixth place in the NL.

Spahn closed out his season with three straight wins, bringing his total to 23 and matching his career best.

While the Spahnie buttons are ubiquitous, a related piece of memorabilia is much scarcer today. A large, heavy cardboard sign, measuring 14" x 22" and advertising the sale of the buttons, is worth $600-750.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Dick Allen custom as 1977 A's

I pretty much "missed" Dick Allen's entire playing career.

By the time he came to the majors in 1963 I was no longer following baseball, and by the time I got back into the game in the very late 1970s (watching the Braves and Cubs on the cable superstations),
Allen was gone from the scene.

During the run-up to the December, 2014,  vote for candidates from the "Golden Era," 1947-72, I caught a few pieces on television about Dick Allen, his legacy and his candidacy. I was surprised and disappointed when he came up one vote short for enshrinement.

I can't intelligently parse the arguments for or against Allen's joining the game's elite in Cooperstown, nor can I assess the impact his playing-days image as -- shall we say -- a non-conformist has had on his rejection by HoF voters. 

Among the things I learned from those largely-promotional TV segments was that Allen closed out his career playing the 1977 season for the Oakland A's. I'd guess my ignorance of that stemmed from the fact that I could not recall seeing any Dick Allen baseball cards with the A's.

There's a good reason for that. Topps did not issue a Dick Allen card in 1977. He'd been granted free agency by the Phillies in November, 1976. He didn't catch on with the A's until March 13, 1977. By that time Topps had long since completed printing its 1977 baseball card issue.

Theoretically, Topps could have issued a 1978 Dick Allen card, since he did officially draw his release from Oakland until March 28, 1978. The gum company, however, must have known Allen was through before they finalized their 1978 checklist,

When I determined to create a Dick Allen/A's custom card, I felt I could logically choose either the 1977 or the 1978 format. 

After a false start at making it 1978, I opted to move ahead with the 1977 format, I won't rule out ever doing a '78 "career wrap-up" Allen card, but suitable pictures of him in an A's uniform are not plentiful, so I'll hold out unless or until something catches my eye.

As I've been reading 1964 and 1965 issues of The Sporting News, I'm starting to see Allen's name more often. 

Another thing I had not known about Allen is that the Phils' release of Frank Thomas in July, 1965, was precipitated by an on-field fight with Allen. If I recall the TSN account correctly, Allen, tired of Thomas' hazing him and calling him "boy," poked the veteran in the chest and Thomas retaliated by hitting Allen in the shoulder with a bat. In the aftermath, Allen missed a handful of games with a sore shoulder and Thomas was sold to the Astros.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Hidden ball hijacked Napoleon's homer

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 ofThe 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. 

There's nothing more embarrassing in baseball than being caught by the old hidden-ball trick. It's so abashing, in fact, that today's more professional professional ballplayers don't seem to try it anymore so as not to make their colleagues appear foolish.

I recently read in the July 11, 1964, issue of The Sporting News of a different take on the hidden-ball trick that wasn't so much embarrassing to the "victim," but rather than to the perpetrator and the umpire who was fooled by it.

Here's how the story was reported . . .

Outfielder’s ‘Catch’ a Hoax;
Batter Gets Delayed Homer

             BINGHAMTON, N.Y.—A high fly by Dan Napoleon of Auburn (NYP) soared toward the outfield fence, June 25, heading toward home-run territory, but Burlington (sic) outfielder John May leaped and came down with the ball, making a spectacular catch—at least that is the way it looked.
            Some 15 minutes later, May admitted that he did not catch the game ball, which went over the fence. He said he went through all the gestures, but actually had substituted a ball he had in his uniform pocket.
            Umpire Ed O’Hara, on the bases, said afterward: “I had my eye on the ball all the way and when I saw it was going to leave the park, I started to signal for a homer. But then just before the ball went out, I heard a crash—May bumping into the wall—and took my eye off the ball. Then when I saw May with a ball in his glove, I changed my signal.
            O’Hara was not the only one who thought the ball had gone out of the park. Auburn Manager Clyde McCullough came racing out and insisting that Napoleon’s shot had left the park.
            The two went to the fence and consulted with a boy who had a ball which, he said, was the one Napoleon had hit and had gone through a tree behind the bleachers. Here plate umpire Larry Bowman joined the discussion and the three marched toward the Triplet dugout to confer with Manager Andy Pafko.
            Pafko called May out of the dugout and he finally admitted that the ball he “caught” was one he’d taken out of his uniform pocket and was not the one Napoleon had hit.
            So 15 minutes later, Napoleon rounded the sacks to officially earn his homer.
            After it was over, May apologized to Manager McCullough for his action. Pafko, after talking to May said he would take no action against the player. He declared: “In all my years in baseball, I have never seen anything like it.”
            President Vince McNamara of the league, appraised of the facts, appeared to think that May’s embarrassment was enough and that he would take no further action.
            Incidentally, Auburn won the game 8-2.

 At the time of incident, Napoleon, who was in his first season of pro ball, leading the New York-Pennsylvania League with a .367 average. His 18 home runs and 60 RBI were also at the top among the league’s batters. In his first week in Organized Baseball, through May 10, he'd hit five home runs in six games.

 He finished the season batting .351 (6th) for the pennant-winning A-Mets. He led the Class A league with 175 hits and 134 RBIs, and his 36 home runs were second-best.

Those numbers earned Napoleon a promotion to the National League to open the 1965 season. He hit a pinch-hit single in the bottom of the 11th inning of his first major league appearance with the Mets, later scoring in the 6-7 loss against the Astros.

As a trivial aside, Napoleon was responsible for Casey Stengel's 3,000th win as a professional manager. On April 24 at Candlestick Park, the Mets trailed the Giants 4-6 with bases loaded and two outs in the top of the 9th inning. Stengel put Napoleon in to pinch-hot for Roy McMillan and he delivered a triple to give the Mets the 7-6 victory.

Napoleon appeared in 57 games for New York through Aug. 3, mostly as a pinch-hitter, though getting some time in left field and even a few games at third base.

He was sent out to the top club in the Mets' farm system, Buffalo of the International League, who were languishing in last place. He hit .274 for the Bisons and was included in the Mets' September call-ups. He ended his rookie season in New York with a .144 mark.

Napoleon was back in AAA for 1966, with the Mets' new IL team, the Jacksonville Suns. He hit .261 with a little power and was again a September call-up. 

With New York in 1966, Napoleon played in a dozen games, mostly in left field. He hit .212 to bring his major league career average to .162. He never returned to the bigs.

Napoleon played two more years at AAA with Tulsa, Hawaii and Denver, in the Cardinals, White Sox and Twins organizations. He ended his pro career with three seasons at Class AA Arkansas in the Cardinals' chain as a player/coach.

In 1970, Napoleon achieved a bit of post-career fame when he was named to Jim Bouton's "all-ugly nine" in the book Ball Four.

While I wouldn't use that term to describe Napoleon, his visage as portrayed on his only Topps baseball card, in 1966, does show him to have been a man of, shall we say, stern countenance ("penitentiary face," perhaps).

Looks aside, Danny Napoleon appears to have enjoyed a strong fan base, as related on reports at the Ultimate Mets Database site at http://ultimatemets.com/profile.php?PlayerCode=0088&tabno=7.

Napoleon died in 2003 at age 61.

As for the perpetrator of the hidden home run-ball hoax, John May never made it to the major leagues. He played five seasons in the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves organization, never getting above Class A ball, despite batting over .300 overall. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

1963 HoF busts were squirt-gun spin-off

This large ad in the April 18, 1964, was the original offering
of a series of 6" plastic Hall of Fame player busts
that remain popularly collected today.
When reading the microfilm of back issues of The Sporting News I am always delighted to find content relative to actual contemporary sports cards and collectibles.

Such was the case in the April 18, 1964, issue that had an article, complete with photo, about the plastic Sports Hall of Fame busts. Not surprisingly, a few pages deeper in the issue there was a 1/3-page or thereabouts ad offering the statues by mail order.

Reading the article and ad added only a few tidbits to what was already known about the 6" white plastic statuettes, and included in the set's listing in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards.

While we knew that the issuer of the ballplayer busts was Sports Hall of Fame, Inc., of New York, the article revealed that the man behind the statues was Harry Lodmer, known in the toy business at that time as "Mr. Water Gun." 

In the article Lodmer was quoted, "I was the first to create the automatic water gun and for 15 years I would sell more than 20 million of them a year."

There was only a hint as to why there appears to be two tiers of scarcity for the busts. Lodmer told TSN that one of his biggest challenges in marketing the statues would be the disparity in demand for top-tier stars such as Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio, and lesser lights among the Hall of Famers such as Paul Waner, Cochrane and George Sisler. He indicated he'd have to figure out to meet demand for the biggest stars while not overproducing some others.

The SCBC says that the first 12 statues on the checklist, as enumerated on the illustrated box back, are scarcer than the final eight pieces. After doing a little recent research on eBay, I'm now inclined to believe that the split between the two tiers was actually 10-10.

On a random day on eBay there were more than 200 listings for individual HoF busts between the active and completed auctions/fixed price offerings. After de-duplicating the listings I found a distinct difference in the numbers offered per player.

Here's the breakdown, arranged by the pictures on the box:

Babe Ruth           20
Ty Cobb              14
Joe DiMaggio      12
Rogers Hornsby   19
Lou Gehrig           12
Pie Traynor           11
Honus Wagner     10
Bill Dickey           23
Walter Johnson     11
Christy Mathewson 8
Jimmie Foxx            1
Tris Speaker            0
Joe Cronin               1
Paul Waner              2
Bob Feller                6
Hank Greenberg      0
Jackie Robinson      2
George Sisler          0
John McGraw         0
Mickey Cochrane   1

In the TSN article, Lodmer said that becoming a licensee of the Hall of Fame was a time-consuming process, with both the Hall, and for reasons not specified, the office of the Commissioner of Baseball insisting on direct oversight of the statues' creation and marketing.

As a example, Lodmer said it was insisted that the plaques that appear on the statue's pedestals be an exact reproduction of those that hang on the Hall's walls. He said he did get permission for one variance. The original Hall of Fame plaque for Tris Speaker had an archaic position designation as "centrefielder". Lodmer got permission to use the modernized "center fielder" on his bust.

Lodmer revealed that the only player who had a problem with his bust's specifications was Bob Feller, who felt the nose as originally presented was too broad. It was corrected in pre-production and subsequently approved.

Confessing that Joe Cronin would probably not approve of it being made public, Lodmer said that Cronin had directed that all his royalties from statue sales should go to the Cardinal Cushing Centers, a Massachusetts charity.

While the busts' packaging indicated "Many More" statues would be forthcoming, and Lodmer said as much in TSN, no more than the original 20 pieces were ever produced. From that it must be assumed that sales were not spectacular.

In the same vein, while doing my research on eBay it became apparent that "book" values in the Standard Catalog are vastly overstated. 

The catalog lists NM busts at between $75-100 for "common" players and $160-260 for "high numbers" with Foxx at $335 and Greenberg at $350. The catalog says to add $25 for a box and $50 or more as a premium for an unopened box with cellophane.

While there were no reported sales for Foxx and Greenberg in the period in which I looked, all other sales would indicate the values given in the catalog are about 2X too high.