Friday, February 22, 2019

#38 Dick Gernert

Dick Gernert was a multi-sport star at Temple University before beginning his pro career. With the Red Sox, he played a couple of minor league seasons before starting the '52 campaign in Boston. He was farmed out in May but returned in June and was installed as the regular first baseman. He started again in '53 and hit 21 homers. After a couple of years split between the Sox and the minors, he spent four years as a 'most of the time' starter.

He was tall and strong and was able to launch the ball over the Green Monster in Fenway. Beginning with a trade to the Cubs for 1960 he began a busy few years of playing for them, the Tigers, Reds, and Colt 45s. He was a member of the NL champion 1961 Reds and had four pinch-hit appearances against the Yankees. He played in the minors, again for the Red Sox, for a couple of seasons before retiring after the 1964 season.

He was then a coach, minor league manager, and scout for many years.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

#36 Ted Kazanski

Ted Kazanski played six seasons with the Phillies and had rather pedestrian numbers but he did have one fine moment in the sun. On September 25, 1955, he had an inside-the-park homer and started a triple play in a 3-1 win over the Giants in the Polo Grounds.

This page has some details about Kazanski's big day including his recollections and a newspaper account.

“I remember the triple play because it ended the season," Kazanski said. "It was the last play of the season and I think it was the last game that Leo Durocher managed the Giants. I remember that part of it. They got the first two men on. [Joey Amalfitano singled and Whitey Lockman walked.] We were winning the game 3-1. I think Bobby Hofman pinch hit. I was playing closer to second base for a possible double play. He hit a line shot right at me, I flipped to Bobby Morgan and he threw to first [Marv Blaylock] and the season was over! I don't remember the home run too much. The left and right center gaps were a mile away.”

Kazanski played quite a bit of minor league ball and was a member of the old IL Baltimore Orioles when that club was an affiliate of the Phils. He was 4th in fielding pct in the NL in 1956 which was his busiest year in the majors.

When I was assembling my first vintage set, the 1959 Topps, his card was the last one I needed to complete it and it was sent to me by fellow Orioles collector, Ed Schott. It was one of the very first of many generous card 'gifts' I've received since I began blogging and I remember it well. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

#35 Don Mossi

It's the ever-popular Don Mossi! Here's a Mossi tidbit...he led the AL in fielding three times.

Don was 101-80 over 12 seasons, all in the AL. He was on the '57 All-Star squad and was credited with a hold. He appeared in the 9th inning in old Busch Stadium in St. Louis, entering in relief of Billy Pierce who had gotten himself into a jam. Mossi stuck out Ed Mathews and allowed a single to Ernie Banks but Gus Bell was thrown out at third on the play. Bob Grim came in to relieve Mossi and finished off the NL by retiring Gil Hodges.

This copy of Don's card is not long for the set binder. I had marked it for upgrading (see the homemade editing?) but it got lost in the shuffle of chasing other sets. I rectified that on eBay the other day after I forgot to scout for a reasonable priced replacement at the TriStar show on Saturday.

My upgraded copy arrived just a few hours after posting. Quick service from a company just north of here, Battersbox.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

#34 Bob Thurman

Big Bob Thurman is one of the more interesting players you'll come across in this set. He didn't reach the majors until he was nearly 38 but that doesn't mean he wasn't playing ball. He played amateur and semi-pro ball around Wichita where he was raised and continued playing in the Army during WWII when he was on active duty in the Pacific Theater.

He played in the Negro Leagues after the war and played in the Dominican and Puerto Rico winter leagues. He signed with the Yankees in 1949, spent a few years in their chain as well as the Cubs' system and then signed on with a Dominican League that was outside the authority of organized ball. He did that because the money was better than he would have gotten playing in the minors stateside. That is the real meaning of the cryptic "After 2 inactive seasons..." blurb on the back of the card.

Thurman finally debuted with the Reds in 1955 and carved out a career as a lefty stick off the bench. During his five years (some partial) with the Reds, he became a mentor and unofficial traveling secretary to the team's young black players.  He retired after a minor league stretch in the early 60s.

After his playing days, he became a scout for several clubs, played a lot of golf and working in marketing in Witchita. His SABR bio is long but it's a great read. Thurman's card is another example of one that opens a door to learning much more about the game's history.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

#33 Cal Neeman

Cal Neeman signed with the Yankees in 1949 and started a long climb thru their system with a two-year military stint along the way. He reached the AAA level but wasn't going to push Yogi Berra or any of the other Yankee catchers aside and was taken by the Cubs in December 1956 in the old Rule 5 Draft.

 He made the Cubs roster without much fanfare in 1957 but won the starting job and had a solid rookie year. He was named to The Sporting News' rookie squad after hitting .258 with 10 homers in 122 games. He had a nice season behind the plate as well as he led the NL in several defensive categories. The card even notes that he caught more games than any other NL catcher in that 1957 season.

For a variety of reasons he never approached that amount of playing time again. He played for four different clubs after his three-plus years in Chicago, always serving as a back-up.

After baseball Neeman returned to college and became a teacher and coach. He was later a school supply sales rep. He passed away in 2015 at the age of 86.

Monday, January 28, 2019

#32 J.W. Porter

J.W. Porter (the J.W. doesn't stand for anything, btw) had already been traded to Cleveland when this 1st Series card was issued in 1958. Porter was a hotshot baseball prospect who signed a contract with the Browns in 1951. On a side note...the scout that nabbed Porter spotted Frank Robinson in the same games and signed him to a smaller bonus(!).

Porter played for several clubs as a catcher and general utility guy through the 1959 season, never getting more than 140 at-bats. In a way, his career came 'full circle' when he finished it in the same city he had started it in, St. Louis. But his second stint in the Gateway City came with the Cardinals.

After his playing days, he managed in the minors. Here is a great mini-interview, and some cool pics, published in November by a site devoted to catchers.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

#31 Tex Clevenger

Truman 'Tex' Clevenger was a California kid who broke in with the Red Sox in 1954. He was later traded to the Senators and from 1957 through 1960 was one of the busier pitchers in the AL having finished in the top ten in saves, appearances, and games finished each year.

He was drafted by the expansion Angels but had the good fortune to be traded to the Yankees where he played for two consecutive World Series-winning clubs. Following his career, he sold insurance and owned a Ford dealership.

When blogging his '59 card I found the following anecdote concerning his nickname:

.....found a chapter in this book on Google in which Clevenger himself says he was nicknamed by Red Sox teammate Johnny Pesky who felt Clevenger resembled an old teammate, Tex Hughson. Clevenger goes on to say that players from Texas would ask him what part of the Lone Star State he was from and he drew weird looks when he told them he'd never even been to Texas.