Thursday, December 29, 2016

#82 Ronnie Kline

Ron Kline (I never heard him called 'Ronnie') got off to a very inauspicious big league career losing all seven of his decisions for Pittsburgh in his rookie campaign of 1952. He served in the military for a couple of years after that and when he returned to the Pirates he continued to struggle as a starter. He led the NL in losses twice.

It wasn't until he moved to the bullpen that he found success. He moved around quite a bit until settling in as the Senators' closer in the mid-60s and he led the AL with 29 saves in 1965. He pitched a total of 17 seasons with nine different clubs. He retired after pitching briefly for the Braves and in the PCL in Hawaii in 1970. He ranks fifth on the list of pitchers with the most appearances without a postseason game.

He was 13-16 in 1958 but his stats look better than his W/L would indicate. The Pirates finished 2nd that season. During much the 50's the Pirates pitchers wore batting helmets while on the mound as mandated by owner Branch Rickey. This is the first card I've posted from this set that shows a pitcher wearing one other than the Vern Law card in the header. This article gives a lot of the background.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

#12 George Crowe

Big George Crowe played all or parts of nine seasons with the Braves, Reds and Cardinals before he retired in 1961. In 1958 he was coming off his one season as a true full time starter. He hit 31 homers in 1957 and had 92 RBI. Both were easily the best totals of his career. He made the NL All Star team in 1958. He had fairly mundane numbers at season's end but was hitting well over .300 on the strength of a red hot first half of the season so the selection was justified.

This is one of numerous uncorrected errors in the '58 set. The card lists Crowe's year of birth as 1923 when it actuality it was 1921. It's also one of several cards that was given 'plain' first letters as part of the name on the back. Check out the difference below. I haven't yet counted how many cards carry each style but the 'plain letter' one is much less frequent. I can find no common denominator among the cards with different lettering.  And I haven't turned up anything about this online. Most of the focus is one the 'yellow letter' variations in the first one hundred or so cards on the checklist.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

#158 Cleveland Indians

The 1958 Cleveland Indians finished 4th in the AL with a 77-76 record. They were managed by Bobby Bragan for the first half of the year before he was replaced by Joe Gordon. Rocky Colavito led the club in homers (41) and RBI (113) while Vic Power topped the club with a .317 batting average. Cal McLish, Ray Narleski, Gary Bell and Mudcat Grant formed the rotation with Don Mossi and Hoyt Wilhelm fronting the bullpen.

The card shows the '57 Indians team with Kerby Farrell at the helm. I have a slight obsession with team photos. I keep a magnifying glass on my desk and enjoy spotting familiar faces on team cards. The '58 set is one that lists the players on the front which kind of takes the fun out of it. But it's still nice to see rookie Roger Maris on this one. The '57 set had much better team cards IMO. The had team stats on the back and also listed the players pictured.

The card is in decent shape..until you turn it over. A former owner extended the checklist with a pen. I have this on  'upgrade...someday' status.

Monday, November 7, 2016

#100 Early Wynn

Early Wynn won 300 games (exactly) in a big league career that stretched from 1939 through 1963 for the Senators, Indians and White Sox. He was a seven time All Star and the 1959 AL Cy Young Award winner. Wynn pitched for a couple of World Series teams, the '54 Indians and those '59 Sox. He went 1-2 in five Series starts overall.

He had double digit wins every year from 1949 to 1960 and managed to go 17-15 for the 1947 Senators who only won 65 games total. In 1958 he went 14-16 and led the league in strikeouts for the second consecutive season. He tossed a 1-2-3 inning and was the winner of that year's All Star Game in Baltimore.

Wynn stares mournfully out at us from his card. The S-O-X logo has been added to what is probably an Indians cap. In December of '57 he was brought over to Chicago in a deal that sent Minnie Minoso to Cleveland.

A bit of surface wear doesn't take much from this card which is one of the better ones I got in my original large lot purchase. The scan makes the corners look better than they are but they are still pretty solid.

WikiFacts: Wynn was the last active major leaguer who played in the 1930s, becoming one of only 29 players in baseball history to have appeared in major league games in four decades. His durability helped him lead the American League in innings three times (1951, 1954, 1959) and propelled him to an AL record for most years pitched (23).

Wynn was remembered for his toughness and for the frequency with which he threw at batters. He once stated, "I'd knock down my own grandmother if she dug in on me." He also said to reporters: "Why should I worry about hitters? Do they worry about me? Do you ever find a hitter crying because he's hit a line drive through the box? My job is getting hitters out. If I don't get them out I lose. I don't like losing a game any more than a salesman likes losing a big sale. I've got a right to knock down anybody holding a bat." When he was then asked whether he would have the same opinion if the batter were his own mother, he paused and responded, "Mother was a pretty good curveball hitter."

In fact, when Wynn was with the Indians, he actually threw a pitch at his own 15-year-old son, Joe. Wynn was throwing pre-game batting practice to Joe, and Joe hit two long drives in a row. Ushers in the nearly empty stadium began to clap. Moments later, Joe was lying flat on his back in the batting cage, frightened by his father's knockdown pitch. Wynn said later, "He was leaning in on me, and I had to show him who was boss.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

#351 Braves' Fence Busters

This my first posting of the 'multi-player specials' were scattered through Series 4 & 5. The Braves were defending World Champs in '58 and appear on three of the nine specials. This one obviously revolves around two Hall of Famers, Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews. 

Filling out the lineup of Milwaukee sluggers are catcher Del Crandall and first baseman Joe Adcock. Interestingly Adcock was coming off an 'off'' year. He was fifth on the Braves in homers in 1957 with a dozen. He was behind Aaron (44), Mathews (32), outfielder (and personal fave of mine) Wes Covington (21) and Crandall (15). Adcock missed a large portion of the '57 season and to be fair to Topps he did hit 38 dingers in 1956 so it wasn't like they stuck a scrub on the card.

My first thought was that this is a shot from Wrigley but now I'm thinking the photo was taken in the Polo Grounds. At least that's my semi-educated guess. The place had those 'windows' behind the upper deck seating and I think I can spy the high-rise apartment buildings of Coogan's Bluff that sat outside the stadium.

It's a neat card which is why I didn't mind overpaying a bit for a good copy. Hank+Mathews+those Braves' unis combine to make this one a winner.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

#356 Bob Malkmus

Bobby Malkmus made a long slow climb thru the Braves' organization and was given a shot at being their starting second baseman in June of 1957. He couldn't hit much and the Braves turned to Red Schoendienst who they picked up in a mid-season trade with the Giants. The Braves went on to the World Series while Malkmus went on to Washington via the Rule V draft that December.

He played sparingly in 1958 for the Nats hitting .186 over 74 at bats. After spending most of the following season in the minors the Nats gave him up to the Phils via the draft and he finished his career with Philadelphia. He had his most productive big league season in 1961 when he managed to get into over a hundred games in a utility role and was picked on one writer's MVP ballot (he finished 22nd with one vote) by hitting .231 with seven homers.

Topps repainted the photo used with this card to show a Braves-clad Malkmus in a Washington uni. The card is off center but overall very nice. It was a replacement for the original card that came in my large lot purchase.

WikiFacts: On September 16, 1960, 39-year-old former teammate Warren Spahn threw the first no-hitter of his illustrious career against the Phils, striking out 15. He struck out every player in the starting lineup except Malkmus.

Non-WikiFact: Malkmus was a product of Newark N.J.'s South Side High School and played football and baseball there. I'm from nearby Nutley and NSS was one of my home town's football rivals. He was before my time though.

Below is my original Malkmus card. The new one is a 101% upgrade. It was a no-brainer upgrade. I don't mind well loved cards but I do have (some) standards.

Friday, October 28, 2016

#199 Don Blasingame

Known as 'Blazer' Don Blasingame was a hard-nosed, hustling infielder over two decades in the majors and Japan. He began his career with St. Louis and played for the Giants, Reds, Senators and Athletics. He caught a nice break in April of '61 when the Giants dealt him to the Reds and he went on to play in the World Series that year. It was his only postseason appearance. 

After 12 seasons stateside he went to Japan where he extended his career by playing three years then coaching and managing. He became the third American to pilot a Japanese team. His dugout career in Japan lasted through 1982.

In 1958 Blasingame saw his numbers slip a bit from the previous season but he made the NL All Star squad. It was his only All Star experience and he flew out to center pinch-hitting for Warren Spahn in the game. 

WikiFacts:  "For all those years Blasingame and his wife and children spent half the year in Japan and half in the United States. After it was all over, Blazer said living in Japan was a good experience. “We lived in an international community. The kids made friends from all over the world that they still hear from.”15 The Blasingame youngsters learned to speak fluent Japanese." -From his SABR bio

Thursday, October 27, 2016

#135 Mike Drabowsky

Despite what the card tells us this isn't "Mike" Drabowsky...this is Moe Drabowsky. How Topps made this mistake is a mystery. Moe was born Miroslav Drabowski in Ozanna, Poland and immigrated here to the U.S. with his family as they escaped the spreading Nazi influence in Europe. He was given the Anglicized name of Myron Walter Drabowski. His last name was misspelled as 'Drabowsky' in school but he never bothered to correct it.

Moe, one of baseball's best practical jokers, pitched for eight franchises over a 17 season span from 1956 through 1972. He never made and All Star team or received any big award votes but he did have some sterling moments. He won two World Series championships with the Orioles.

In 1958 Drabowsky began the season in the bullpen. But in May he was inserted into the rotation and  made twenty starts for the Cubs. He went 9-11 for a team that was 10 games under .500 and finished fifth.

Yellow cards abound in this set and this is yet another one. I scan four cards at a time and I've tried to do two yellows and two other colors when I can. This is the first of a couple dozen '58s I am scanning that I picked up from COMC. They are in general the best conditioned cards that I have for this set build so far. Not perfect, and some are off center or have some marks on the reverse, but they have really good corners and crease-free un-scuffed fronts.

WikiFact: In the opening game of the 1966 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Drabowsky entered the game in the third inning with one out and the bases loaded. After striking out the first batter, he walked Jim Gilliam to force in Lou Johnson for a run to cut Baltimore's lead to 4–2. That would be the last run the Dodgers scored in the entire series, however, as the Orioles would sweep the Dodgers 4–0, their next three wins coming on shutouts from Jim Palmer, Wally Bunker and the starter Drabowsky had relieved in Game 1, Dave McNally. He set a still-standing one-game World Series record for relievers by striking out 11 batters, including tying Hod Eller's 47-year record of six consecutive strikeouts in the 1919 World Series.

Monday, October 24, 2016

#224 Bob Grim

Bob Grim spent four years in the Yankees' farm system and a couple in the service before debuting in 1954. He won the A.L. Rookie of the Year award for his 20 win season. Even with that impressive beginning he was transitioned in a relief role and in 1957 he led the A.L. with 19 saves. 

In 1958, coming off that big year which saw him make his only All Star team, he had a terrible start and was traded to the Athletics in June. KC converted him back to a starting role and once he got regular turns he thrived. He went 7-7 for a bad club and dropped his ERA over a run and a half. 

He went back to the bullpen in 1959 with the A's who dealt him to the Indians during Spring Training in 1960. He was traded twice more that same year (to the Reds and Cards) and returned to the A's for a final fling in 1962.

My copy is off-center and has a stained back but isn't bad overall. I bought it as part of a group through COMC and it carried no 'Yankee tax'. 

WikiFact: Grim missed the 1952 and 1953 seasons due to military service during the Korean War. He returned to become the last American League rookie to win 20 games.

Friday, October 21, 2016

#381 Hal Brown

After his debut with the White Sox in 1951 Hal 'Skinny' Brown pitched for five different clubs until he retired in 1964. He was a knuckleballer known for working quickly on the mound. He pitched for the Orioles for 8 seasons and went 62-48 for them during a period when they were routinely AL 'also rans'. 

In 1958 he pitched in only 19 games making 17 starts. Checking out his game logs for that year it appears he missed most of April and May, probably due to an injury. He managed to go 7-5 with a 3.02 ERA. 

This is the first posed 'action' shot I've posted. It gives us a chance to check out the Orioles' awesome late-50s road unis. Love the cartoon-ish Orioles patch and the three color stirrups! And there are a lot of great memories for me wrapped up in that Orioles logo featured on the card.

WikiFact: [During World War II Brown was] a gunner on a medium bomber, he flew combat missions with the 8th Air Force, including air support over Omaha Beach on D-Day. His plane was shot down once after a raid on submarine pens around La Havre, France.

WikiFact #2: In 1961, Brown pitched a franchise-record 36 consecutive scoreless innings. But Skinny's most unusual accomplishment probably came during a loss. On August 31, 1955, Bill Wight started for Baltimore against Cleveland rookie Herb Score. The Indians roughed up Wight for five 1st-inning runs. "Skinny" started the 2nd inning for the Orioles in relief and proceeded to pitch eight innings of no-hit ball, striking out a career-high 10 batters, but the Indians won 5-1 behind Score's 13 strikeouts.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

#362 Ray Jablonski

Army vet Ray Jablonski played eight seasons in the majors and a lot more in the minors as a 'good hit/no field' third baseman. He had two very good years for the Cardinals, even making the All Star team in 1954, before he lost his spot to an emerging Ken Boyer. 

In 1958 he was in his second season with the Giants and played behind Jim Davenport but still managed to slug a dozen homers. He was dealt to the Cardinals in 1959 and then spent his final years with the Athletics before a career closing minor league stint.

He's seen on this card with a cap adorned with a Topps artists' imagined rendition of the SF Giants logo. It strongly resembles that of the old PCL SF Seals' cap and will be seen throughout this set on Giants players' cards. The light blue background is one of the rarer ones. 

WikiFact: Jablonski is one of only two players with a single, double and homer in each of the first two games of a season. He pulled off the feat in 1956.  Adrian Gonzalez did it for the Padres in 2015.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

#187 Sandy Koufax

Welcome to the first post of this blog dedicated to the glory that is the 1958 Topps baseball set. I hope you will come to enjoy these cards as much as I do.
I've mentioned in other places that this set contains the first baseball cards I ever held in my hands, or saw for that matter. Having just moved out from Brooklyn I was a second grader in Jericho, Long Island and a girl who lived in our neighborhood had some. I don't remember her particularly, or which cards she had but I remember being enamored with the bright, colorful cardboard photos.

I was just becoming a fan and the cards connected me to players I was beginning to learn about by watching and listening to Yankee games with my Dad. It was right around this time that he began taking me to ballgames and I was soon hooked..a status I've maintained (with the exception of the post-1994 strike/lockout period) ever since.
I don't think I owned any '58 Topps cards. My collecting began the following season with some '59 packs I received at Easter and grew to a 'hobby' in 1960. Those three sets form the 'cornerstone' of my decades long collecting 'bug'.

This is the final one of the three that I am chasing and blogging. It's been a fun adventure so far and I hope you will make this a regular stop on your blog reading journey. Let's get started. And there are few better ways to kick off a new blog than with a post featuring Sandy Koufax, am I right?

In 1958 Sandy Koufax was still a few years away from being Sandy Koufax!! He went 11-11 in 26 starts as he moved into the Dodgers' rotation on a nearly full time basis. He led the NL with 17 wild pitches and walked 6 per 9 innings. Both of those indicating that he had yet to harness his incredible 'stuff'. 

The first of many 'head shots' in the '58 Topps set (hence the blog's title) Koufax has a Brooklyn Dodgers' cap on here. The card's back touts 'bigger things to come' for him. I'd say they were correct.

WikiFact: On September 29 [1957] Koufax became the last man ever to pitch for the Brooklyn Dodgers before their move to Los Angeles, by throwing an inning of relief in the final game of the season.