Tuesday, September 5, 2017

#275 Elston Howard

A native of St. Louis, Elston Howard played for three seasons onder Buck O'Neil with the Kansas City Monarchs before he was signed by the Yankees in 1953.

Howard became the first African-American player to join the Yankees in 1955, eight years after Jackie Robinson made his Dodgers debut. In 1963, eight years after his rookie season, Howard won the AL MVP award. He was the first African-American to win it.

Howard played in ten World Series, nine with the Yankees and one with the Impossible Dream Red Sox in 1967. He won four rings as a player and a couple more as a Yankees coach and front office member. He was a nine-time All Star and won two Gold Gloves.

He passed away as a result of heart disease in 1980. He was only 51 years old. Wikipedia has this to add, something I'd never heard before:
"Howard is ... credited with being the first to use the extended index and pinky finger (corna) to indicate that there were two out in the inning, this being more visible to teammates in the outfield than the usual "two" gesture of the index and middle fingers."
My 'set copy' of this card was once in the possession of one Ray Tisler. I have a bunch that he stamped with his name. They all came as part of a group I bought from a dealer at a hotel show. My other copy, in my Howard PC is a little rougher.

I really like the back of this one. Topps used the word 'livery' in the blurb which is kind of quaint. Cool cartoons as well.

Monday, July 31, 2017

#177 Al Smith

Al Smith began his baseball career in the Negro American League playing for the Cleveland Buckeyes. He then signed with the Indians in 1948. After a stint in the minors Smith made his big league debut in 1953.

He went on to play for 12 seasons with four American League clubs and gained a reputation as a fine defensive outfielder. He played in the 1954 World Series with the Indians (he homered) and the '59 Series with the White Sox (no homer but a classic photo):

His best year in the majors was 1955 when he led the league with 123 runs scored. He made the AL All Star squad that season and finished third in the MVP balloting. In 1960 he again made the ASG and racked up another Top 10 MVP finish. In 1958 he was in his first season with Chicago and he hit .252 with a dozen homers.

Growing up in Missouri Smith played football as well as baseball as was a Golden Gloves boxer. After his baseball days he managed the Chicago park district's baseball program. He also was the supervisor of recreation for the city of Ogden Park, Illinois and worked for the White Sox as a community relations representative.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

#348 Chico Fernandez

Cuban-born Humberto 'Chico' Fernandez spent six seasons in the Brooklyn Dodgers' system beginning in 1951. Moving up the ladder he had hopes of replacing Pee Wee Reese as shortstop but in his 34 games with the big club in 1956 he didn't hit much. The Dodgers traded him to the Phils and he became their starter at that spot for two seasons. In 1957 he had a career best .262 average.

His numbers tumbled in 1958 as his average dropped by 30+ points. In limited duty in 1959 he continued to lose traction. A trade to the Tigers revived his career if not his average but he did handle the shortstop job regular in Detroit for three seasons. He hit 20 homers in 1962 having never hit more than six at any level prior (and never again approached double digits).

His BR Wiki page has the following tidbit: on May 8, 1963, he had the distinction of being traded twice in the same day. He was dealt by Detroit to the Milwaukee Braves, who then swapped him to the New York Mets.

Fernandez finished up his big league career with a stint with the Mets in 1963 but continued to play professionally in Mexico, Japan and back here stateside in the high minors through 1968. He worked for 20 years after baseball as an insurance agent for Met Life. He passed away in Florida last summer at the age of  84.

His is not the only Phillies player on a yellow card but it is the only one on which the yellow logo sits on the yellow background. That bugs me for some reason.

Friday, May 19, 2017

#139 George Brunet

This is George Brunet's rookie card. He had debuted with the A's in 1956 and spent several years bouncing between the minors and majors before establishing himself with the 1965 LA Angels.

He spent the 1958 season in the minors and rehabbing from the effects of a blood clot in his arm. His story..spending time with nine major league teams, becoming a Hall of Famer in the Mexican League where he pitched into his 50s, his crazy off-the-field life...all of it is included in this article on the Hardball Times site. Rather than recount it here I urge you to click thru the link and read the story. I remember Brunet as a character the Jim Bouton immortalized in Ball Four.

One note that jumped out at me when looking at his Baseball Reference page...in 1968 with the Angels he led the league in losses for the second consecutive year but had an ERA of  2.86 and a WHIP of 1.05.

Including his years in the Mexican Leagues he pitched 36 years of organized ball. I kid you not.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

#51 Del Rice

Del Rice played for 17 seasons in the majors after signing with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1941. He made the Cardinals as a platoon in '45. He became the Cards' primary backstop in1950 and held that role through the 1953 season. He played in three games of the 1946 World Series splitting time with Joe Garagiola behind the plate. He went three for six in the Series and was catching when Harry Brecheen pitched a shaky top of the ninth to nail down Game Seven and the Cardinals' title.

1953 was the year he made his only All Star team (Campy played the whole game). His playing time decreased in 1954 and in June of  '55 he was dealt to the Braves.

Rice backed up Del Crandall through the second half of the decade as the Braves made two World Series appearances, winning the title in 1957. He caught Games 3 & 6 of the Series and picked up a hit in six at bats.

In 1958 he hit .223 in very limited duty behind Crandall. He did not get into the World Series that year but would have played in Game Six had Frank Torre, who was hitting for Crandall, been able to tie the game in the bottom of the 10th. Torre ended it by lining out to Yankees' second baseman Gil McDougald with Hank Aaron on third.

His playing time dwindled and by 1960 he was off on a tour of four big league towns to wind things up. He even got one at bat with the Orioles that year! He retired after spending the 1961 season with the expansion Angels.

Rice, who had also played pro basketball early in his career, managed, coached and scouted for a couple of organizations after his playing days.

Like most of the Braves in the set Rice resides on a green background. His name on the card's back is rendered in the less frequent 'plain' font. I really need to look into this aspect of the set in more detail.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

#306 Whammy Douglas

Whammy Douglas (born Charles William Douglas) was coming off his rookie (and only) major league season when this card was issued. He had a 3-3 record with the Pirates in 1957 in 11 games. He had eight starts after being promoted to the big club in July.

Douglas had a 27 win season in the low minors in '54 and climbed the ladder to the majors from there. The card credits him with 273 K's in that '54 season but his Baseball Reference page can't confirm that.  He spent the 1958 season with the Buc's AAA team in Columbus but apparently Pittsburgh gave up on him after that.

Douglas was traded to the Reds in January of 1959 and was given a sweet (heavily airbrushed!) card in that year's set but he never pitched in the majors again. He hung around with the Reds and Senators organizations through 1961.

Douglas, who lost the sight in one eye because of a childhood accident, was profiled in this neat MiLB article from 2008. I linked it on my '59 Topps blog and it's worth a look if you didn't read it then.

Whammy Douglas passed away in 2014.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

1958 Topps' Colors, Team by Team

I've been interested the color breakdown of the 1958 set since I started chasing it. I had the same obsession with the '59 set. I decided to tally up the colors and make my observations as I did to the '59. 

The colors used in '58 were repeated exactly in 1959. The same issues I had with the red/orange colors in the '59 set cropped up in this one. For a closer look at the colors and their variations see my previous post. 

BTW...if you are interested in how the 1959 set was color aligned you can click these links to that set's American League cards and National League cards

There are 447 single player cards in the 1958 set. The American League has 224 to the NL's 223. We can assume that the never issued #145 Ed Bouchee card would have evened that number up. 

The chart below breaks out each team and the background colors used. As noted in my previous post I have not done much research into the combinations of background and secondary colors (player name/color bar/team/position). Nor have I looked at the colors by series which might be interesting. Once I'm retired in a year or so I might have a few projects to tackle. 

Take a look at the chart which breaks the set by team. Following it are a few observations I made from the chart itself and some of the notes I took as I was doing my tally.

1958 Topps by Background Color

Note: This chart covers the regular one-player cards. The team cards (all had yellow blocks), multi-player specials (no color background) and All Star (AL:red or NL:blue) are not included. The League Presidents card  (#300) is also not included. It has a yellow background.

Random thoughts and chart observations:
  • I would have bet that the Yankees would have had the most cards. I was surprised to find that they tied for the least amount (26) with the Dodgers, Athletics and Cardinals. 
  • Yellow backgrounds appeared on more cards than any other two colors combined. Only Kansas City lacked one.
  • Yellow was the predominate color for six teams. Red was the most prevalent for four teams. Blue led three teams, orange two and dark green one, the Braves. 
  • Thirteen of the sixteen clubs were dominated by one color i.e. had more of one color than other colors combined. The exceptions are the Tigers (14 red/14 other colors), the Athletics (12 red/14 other), and the Cardinals (13 red/13 other).The Phils (15 blue/13 other) and Pirates (15 yellow/14 other) came close.
  • One team, the Dodgers, had all the cards with a yellow background. They were the only club with all their cards with the same color. All but one of those had the exact same combo: yellow background/red name/black bar/red position/white team name. 
Let's pause and check it out.....one of these is not like the others:

Don Zimmer, card #77, had a green bottom bar and a black position designation. His is also one of the cards that comes with the yellow team name lettering variation. If all of the above is related is a question for another day. I wonder why they decided that all the Dodgers would get yellow backgrounds? Why is Zimmer's card different than the others? Is there a correlation between his card having a green bar and it being one of the variations? Sooo many questions.
  • The Reds came very close to having one exclusive color background. Two of them came with black backgrounds while the other 27 were yellow. 
  • Cleveland had 28 yellow cards, the most that any one team had of a single color. They also had 1 each of orange, red and light green. The orange card is the rather valuable Roger Maris rookie. 
  • The Cubs and Red Sox had cards of six different colors. Both those clubs' cards colors followed similar patterns, one predominant color, one color that showed up on a handful of cards and exactly four cards that were the only one of that color among the team's cards. Six other teams had five different colors.
  • The NL shutout the AL in black cards, 6-0. The AL beat the NL in the all-important pink card category, 11-1.
  • The largest disparity between the leagues comes with the orange cards. There are 49 of them among the American Leaguers but only five NL cards sport that color. 
As I was paging through the binder I found the following things interesting;..starting from the first page and moving forward the Yankees were the first club to be seen in three different colors... the Cubs the first to four, five and then six different colors....the Reds' first 20 cards to appear in the set are yellow with Bob Purkey's black #311 finally breaking the pattern..all 27 of the Reds' cards with the yellow backgrounds have red players names, a black bar with red position and white team lettering. There is no 'Don Zimmer' outlier...all of Cleveland's yellow cards have a green bottom bar with black team name and white position.

Fun with cards section.

First yellow card in the set...#1 Ted Williams

First red card #3 Alex Kellner

First blue card #5 Willie Mays

First orange card #9 Hank Bauer

First dark green card #10 Lou Burdette

First light green card #114 Irv Noren... and one card later we get the....

 .....First pink card #115 Jim Bunning, yeah!! (Yeah for pink, not for Jim Bunning)

First light blue card #128 Willie Kirkland

First black card #171 Harry Anderson. It took over one third of the set to get to the first black card.

More fun....

Let's look for a second at Wally Moon in this set.

I scribbled his name in the margin of my tally sheet because I had to ponder the color to mark down. At first glance it appears his card would fall into a new category, 'medium green'. But it also looks darker than Lou Burdette's card which I classified as dark green since that's what nearly all the braves cards are. It's a bit washed out but I had no issues with dark green for Burdette. 

So where does Moon land? Definitely darker than Irv Noren's card. But I'm picking light green. Why?

Because when you place it between the two indisputably dark green Cardinals it just doesn't come close to matching. The black name convinced me that Wally Moon is light green. That he has an impressive uni-brow was never in dispute.

And I'll end with a card that typifies the red/orange conundrum.

Oh, if you were wondering why Don Rudolph's card led off this post....read this.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Defining the Colors..not as easy as it sounds

I'm a card color geek. One of the reasons I dig the 'turn of the decade' sets that I've blogged is that (along with the nostalgia attached) I love how colorful they are. As I did with the 1959 set I'm going to delve into the colors Topps used in 1958 over the course of a couple of posts. 

First I'm just showing the colors. They are the exact same ones Topps would use a season later. As of now I have not cataloged the coloring of the lettering or the combos used in conjunction with the position/team info block at the bottom. I'll save that for this summer if I have the time. Besides, once I start messing with that I have to contend with the well known variation of the 33 (or so) cards found within the first 108 on the checklist that have either the player or team name in yellow or white. 

As I'm putting this together I'm also preparing a post that relates to which teams were featured on which colors. That is what really held my attention. 

Meanwhile below are the eight basic card background colors. And a few 'tweeners. 

Dark Green  There are a few slight color variances among the dark green cards but nothing to make me doubt they were all intended to be, well, dark green. 

Yellow  By far the most common color. There are numerous different combos used with the lettering and color bar.

BTW... the Dodgers will be significant in the next post when I look at the teams and the colors they 'wore' on their '58s. So remember that Koufax card.

Pink  My favorite. Some of the backgrounds are seen only with the same other colors of lettering and bottom bar thru the set. Pink is one of those.  Every pink background card had black lettering for the name and a black bar with red and white position/team name.

Dark Blue  Like Dark Green there are shades that vary within the blue background but not enough to make a difference.

Light Blue This is rare enough to be a nice change while flipping through the binder. Plus it's the color of Brooks Robinson's card!

Light Green  Like the light blue these cards start to show up a bit later in the set. It's as if the designers decided to mix it up after a few weeks of looking at the same colors.

Black I love the black background. Harry Anderson's card isn't a good example of this but with really well preserved examples the black is really sharp looking. Black is also the least common background color and appears on the cards of only two teams. More on that in the follow-up post.

Now things get murky, in more ways than one.

Red  Most of what I have categorized as 'red' cards are obviously that color. Very bright, very bold, very red. But let's press on.

Orange (version 1) Orange cards come in two varieties. And I can't tell if they are supposed to be separate colors or not. I go back and forth on this. Tony Kubek's card is definitely orange.

Orange (version 2) But now look at Jim Lemmon. I suppose I could just assume that the card has had it's color fade over the decades due to exposure and whatnot. But there are enough cards like this to assume that's just not the case. It's obviously a lighter shade than the Kubek. Did Topps intend this to be a different color (light orange, similar to light blue and green) or is it just a factor of the printing process that probably took place on different presses over time?

And then there are the cards that are only classified as orange because they aren't 'red' enough to qualify as red. Eddie Kasko's card is red, but what about Joe DeMaestri? It looks like a washed out red but it could be and off register orange. I think I went with red but I'm not very confident in doing so.

But look at Mack Burk's card. Orange? Red? I say orange if only because it sure looks like it compared to his cap. Sometimes a team has an overwhelming number of cards in one color so I assume the questionable ones were intended to be in that color as well. That wasn't the case with the Phils. Below that Bill Renna's card fits in there somewhere on the red-orange spectrum. It doesn't help that his is the only Red Sox card that would be considered either color.  I went red but it's close.

I went through this, spending a few hours on my Spring Break, knowing full well that I'm probably the only fool in the world who cares. But that's OK. It's one of the things I enjoy about cards so if it's important to me that's all that matters.

Next post will have a team-by-team breakdown and some general observations I made about the set as I flipped through my binder.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

#70 Al Kaline

The impossibly youthful-looking Al Kaline was in the fifth full season of his Hall of Fame career in 1958. He was still just 23 years old. Here is the list of career accomplishments found on Kaline's BR Bullpen Wiki page:

Notable Achievements:
15-time AL All-Star (1955-1967, 1971 & 1974)
10-time Gold Glove Winner (1957/ML-RF, 1958/AL-RF, 1959/AL-CF & 1961-1967/AL-OF)
AL Batting Average Leader (1955)
AL Slugging Percentage Leader (1959)
AL OPS Leader (1959)
AL Hits Leader (1955)
AL Total Bases Leader (1955)
AL Doubles Leader (1961)
20-Home Run Seasons: 9 (1955-1957, 1959, 1962, 1963, 1966, 1967 & 1969)
100 RBI Seasons: 3 (1955, 1956 & 1963)
100 Runs Scored Seasons: 2 (1955 & 1961)
200 Hits Seasons: 1 (1955)
Won a World Series with the Detroit Tigers in 1968
Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1980

And with all that Kaline has always seemingly been a gentleman of the highest order. He won the very first Roberto Clemente Award.

In the year this card was issued Kaline's power production took a slight dip, falling from 23 homers to 18. And his RBIs were down a bit but he hit .313 and made the AL All Star team. He entered the game in left field as a sub for Ted Williams in the ninth inning.

This is a decent card in terms of condition, about average for the star cards I've put together for this set build. Like me and Babe Ruth, Kaline was born in Baltimore. I'm third in that trio when it comes to career numbers.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

#277 Virgil Trucks

Virgil Trucks pitched for five different AL clubs in a career that spanned two wars. After three years honing his craft in the minors Trucks made a quick appearance with the Detroit Tigers in 1941. He established himself with a combined 30 wins over the '42 & '43 seasons. Then he spent two years in the service on active duty in the Pacific with the Navy.

In 1944 and '45 Trucks pitched for Navy baseball teams alongside big league stars including Phil Rizzuto, Johnny Mize, Dom DiMaggio, Pee Wee Reese and Johnny Vander Meer. His career win total of 177 would have likely topped 200 had he pitched those two years in the bigs.

He was injured and discharged from the service in the summer of '45 and rejoined the Tigers just in time to appear in the 1945 World Series. He made two starts against the Cubs and won Game Two.

Twice an All Star Trucks, in 1952, became the third pitcher to throw two no-hitters in a season. He won 20 games in 1953 with the Browns and White Sox and 19 the following season in Chicago. 1958 was his last big league season and he was clearly hanging on to the game he enjoyed.

The Yankees traded for him that year in a June deal with the Athletics. After an up and down second half of the season he was left off the World Series roster and reduced to a role as batting practice pitcher. In 1959 he was released during Spring Training by the Yanks, pitched some for the Orioles farm club in Miami and then retired. His final card is in the 1959 set.

Trucks died at the age of 95 in 2013 and was known as a good TTM signer.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

#185 Ray Boone

Ray Boone, father of one big leaguer and grandfather of two more, began his pro career in 1942 with a productive season in the Indians' chain. He then spent three years in the military and the same in the minors on his return before getting a shot in Cleveland in 1948.

He took over as the Indians third baseman in '49 and held that job until he was traded to Detroit in 1953. It's not often that a guy traded in June ends up with a Top Ten MVP finish but Boone slashed 26/114/.296/.390 that season. With the Tigers he had some outstanding seasons including 1955 when he led the league with 116 RBI. he made the AL All Star team in '54 and '56.

In June of 1958 Boone was traded by the Detroit Tigers with Bob Shaw to the Chicago White Sox for Bill Fischer and Tito Francona. He was hitting just .237 at that point and the trade to Chicago didn't help improve that much. He finished at .242 with 13 homers. That trade was just the first of three straight 'in-season' deals he was a part of. He bounced to Milwaukee and Boston before retirement after the 1960 season.

This card has a couple of fun cartoons on the back and gets bonus points for the red background. It was part of my original lot purchase. A second copy I bought that looked nice in an eBay picture (better corners, nicer color) turned out not to be in lesser condition so this one remains in the binder.

Monday, February 27, 2017

#37 Mike McCormick

Does he look familiar? He should if you looked at yesterday's posted player. This is indeed Ray Monzant and NOT Mike McCormick. Topps got the photo wrong. As Joe Shlabotnik pointed out in a comment on the Monzant post Baseball Reference's Wiki page says the two looked very much alike. You be the judge:

In both of these that's McCormick on the left.

I can see it. I suppose I can even forgive Topps the fact that Monzant threw right handed while McCormick was a lefty.

Anyway Mike McCormick had a 16 year career that began as a 'bonus baby' signee of the Giants in 1956. That meant that he mostly kept a bullpen chair occupied that season. He got into 24 games in '57 and his career was off and running. He had double digit wins for four straight years but was hampered by arm problems in 1962.

He saw limited action that year and was not involved in the '62 Series against the Yankees. The Orioles traded for him but in two seasons there and two more with the Senators he never could shake his problems. The Giants gambled and won big by trading for him in 1967. He won 23 games and the Cy Young Award.

McCormick pitched through 1971 in the majors without ever duplicating the success he had in 1967. He spent two seasons in the minors at the end of his career but that didn't lead to a big league job.

In 1958 McCormick established himself in the Giants' rotation with 28 starts. He went 11-8 but his other numbers don't reflect an above .500 pitcher. He had a 4.59 ERA and a WHIP that topped 1.40 but two seasons later he was the league's best starter.

Nothing special about the card other than the obvious, the uncorrected error. So to give McCormick his due I'll post my favorite card of his (by far), the 1965 Topps.