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.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

#447 Ray Monzant

Ray Monzant was the second Venezuelan pitcher in major leagues when he debuted with the '54 Giants. He made seven July relief appearances that year coming off his MVP season in the Carolina League when he won 23 games. He bounced back and forth between the big club and the minors for a couple of years before he stuck in 1957.

Of his 106 games with the Giants 32 were starts and exactly half of those came in '58. That year he was 8-11 in a spot starting role. Unfortunately he also hurt his arm and missed the '59 season. He pitched in the minors (with one San Francisco appearance) in 1960 but was forced to retire due to his arm problems.

It's a colorful card with a posed action shot and nice corners. And Monzant's name on the back is done in yet another different font/style combo.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

#406 Vic Power

Vic Power was born in Puerto Rico as Victor Felipe Pellot. He won seven Gold Gloves, had four AL All Star appearances and eventually sported one of the best baseball names ever. He came up with the Philadelphia A's in 1954 but he had begun his pro career with in Canada's Provincial League in 1949. He was scouted and signed by the Yankees who dealt him to the A's after a couple of strong seasons in their chain. The reason the Yanks got rid of Power isn't certain but his Wikipedia page states this:
[In 1953] Power led the league with a .349 batting average. However, despite his skills he was not invited to spring training in [1952 or 1953].The Yankees' owners at the time, Del Webb and Dan Topping, felt that Power's playing style and personality wasn't suited for the conservative style that they wanted a "black" player to represent as a member of the club. Power dated light-skinned women, leading George Weiss, the general manager of the Yankees, to say that Power was "not the Yankee type".
Take that for what it's worth. Elston Howard eventually broke the color barrier for the Yankees in 1955. This and much of Power's colorful career is discussed in detail on his SABR bio.

Power played 12 years in the majors, nearly all of that time was in the American League with the Indians, Twins and Angels following his time with the A's. He played very briefly back in Philadelphia in 1964 but that was with the Phils. He retired with a .284 average to go along with 126 homers.

He began the 1958 season with the A's but in mid-June was traded along with Woodie Held to the Indians for Roger Maris, Dick Tomanek and Preston Ward. Hitting .302 and riding a 22 game hitting streak at the time of the trade Power raised his average to .312 by season's end. In checking his game logs on Baseball Reference I noticed that Power and the A's played six doubleheaders in just the first half of June that season. They played on on May 30th as well. That's seven 'twin bills' in a little over two weeks. Power played every inning of all of them. He led the league with 10 triples that season as well.

My lasting memory of Vic Power comes from the early 60s. He was playing first base for the Twins or Angels and the Yankees were hitting in the bottom of the ninth. Mickey Mantle grounded out to end the game but as you watched the screen you expected to see Mantle crossing 1st base. But all you saw was Power making the put out and then looking toward home plate. The Mick had pulled a hamstring or a calf muscle and was in a heap halfway to first. Weird the things you recall from your youth. I have no idea why I know it was Vic Power at first after all these years but I'm dead sure of it.

I really like this card, partially for the all-too-rare light blue color but also because Power was such a fun player to watch in my early years as a fan. It's a bit the worse for wear but not so bad that I feel the need to upgrade it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

#341 Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates finished second in the NL in 1958. Danny Murtaugh was in his first full season as manager having taken over from Bobby Bragan late in the '57 season. Frank Thomas led the team with 35 homers and 109 RBI which was second best in the league in both categories. Bob Skinner's .321 batting average was tops on the team.

Bob Friend anchored the rotation. He had a 22-14 season. Elroy Face had 20 saves as the closer in a time when saves were less common. To put it in perspective only one other National Leaguer, the Dodger's Clem Labine (14 saves) had more than 11.

Roberto Clemente was 23 years old and just coming into his own. He hit .289 and that was the last time he hit under .290 in his career. He's in the team photo on this card, second from the right in the front row.

The Pirates lined up for their team photo (probably late in 1957) in front of the ivy covered outfield wall of Forbes Field. I tend to forget that Wrigley was  not the only park in the majors with that feature.

The checklist on the back is only marked a couple of times. This is one of the last cards I acquired for this set. I had scratched it off my wantlist by mistake and it wasn't until I was putting the binder together that I figured that out.

I had family living in West Mifflin in western PA in the 60's but I never got to visit them or go with them to Forbes Field. I sure wish I had seen it in person.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

#29 Ted Lepcio

There is more to Ted Lepcio than meets the eye. He was the Opening Day second baseman for the Red Sox in 1952 after just 89 minor league games. His double play partner? Jimmy Piersall.

Lepcio became friends with Ted Williams as a rookie and went on to play as a platoon/utility infielder for seven full seasons with the Sox. He played in 100 games only once, in 1954. He hit .247 with a little pop in his bat (50+ homers) for Boston during his time there. The card highlights his 16 dinger effort in 1956. He was traded to the Tigers in May of '59 and went on to finish his career with stays with the Phils and Twins.

In 1958, his last full season in Fenway, Lepcio played in only 50 games and his average went below the Mendoza line for the first and only time in his career. Both SABR and this Boston baseball history site have  interviews/stories well worth your time.

Lepcio is alive and kicking today at the age of 87. He was, as of 2015, a Sox season ticket holder.

Lots of yellow cards in this set. This is another one but the 'action' pose breaks up a page full of head shots.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

#329 Bob Cerv

Bob Cerv made three tours of the majors with the Yankees during his 12 year career but his best season (by far) came with the Athletics in the year this card was issued, 1958. Cerv had come up with the Yankees in 1951 after signing out of the University of Nebraska and a brief minor league tuneup. For six seasons he played in a reserve/pinch hitting role and returned to the minors a time or two.

He was traded to KC for the '57 season and got his first shot as a starter. He had a decent season but there was nothing to indicate what was in store for Cerv in 1958. That season, despite playing for months with a jaw wired shut as the result of a home plate collision, Cerv hit 38 homes, drove in 104 runs while hitting .305 with a .592 SLG. He made his only All Star squad that year and batted cleanup for the AL.

He fell off as quickly as he rose and after the '59 season he bounced back to the Yankees and then was drafted by the Angels in the expansion draft of 1961. The Angels traded him back to the Yanks and in 1962 he was sold to the Houston Colt.45s where he played about a month before being released. That was the end of his playing career.

Cerv played in three World Series with the Yanks and won a ring in 1956. There is a funny story concerning Cerv and Casey Stengel that gets retold a lot. It goes like this:
According to sportswriter Robert Creamer, interviewed for the Ken Burns film Baseball, one afternoon, Yankees manager Casey Stengel approached Cerv in the Yankees' dugout, sat down nearby, and commented "There's not many people that know this, but one of us has been traded to Kansas City."
Problem is that Cerv was sold to Kansas City, not traded. And the deal was done a week or so after the 1956 World Series was over. It's pretty unlikely that Cerv and Stengel were on a bench anyplace at that point. But the story does sound like Casey!

Cerv is 91 now and living in Nebraska. There is a nice article about him in an online Saturday Evening Post from 2010. Well worth the read. And the picture of the fateful home plate collision with Tiger catcher Red Wilson is there.

Not many of the light green backgrounds show up in the '58 set. I'm not crazy about them but they are sort of a welcome break from all the yellow ones. Topps used the same color in 1959 and it works better in that set IMHO.

Friday, February 17, 2017

#485 Ted Williams All Star

Such a great card! First of all the '58 All Star design is just about my favorite subset ever. Add to it the fact that Ted Williams doesn't have a whole lot of Topps cards and the fact that he's, well, Ted Williams and you have a card worth chasing. 

For me the gravy is the stat breakdown that was used on the back. I absolutely loved this stuff when I was a kid. And I still do today. These All Star cards and their 'stats versus opponents' is even better than the team cards which used to list pitchers W/L versus each team. Here is the whole back:

And here is the stat section as a larger image:

Look at Ted's numbers against the '57 Indians....9/20/.474 in 57 at bats. I don't need Sabermetrics to know that is some serious hitting. He hit over .400 versus three teams and no lower than .333 against anyone. The Orioles held him to one dinger and 7 RBIs. That was a miracle.

Also dig the write-up. How often did Topps say "Space does not permit a detailed listing...". Good stuff.

I'll try not to gush over all the All Star cards in this set. But that won't be easy. As for this copy specifically I can only admit that it's not the best one you'll come across. That spot on Ted's cheek is on the card not a scanner hiccup. Corners are soft and the surface is worn. But when I'm am building a vintage set I have to weigh cost and condition very carefully. I usually set a price I'm willing to pay and then find the best example I can for that price. I can't remember what I paid for this one as it was a few years back when I was chasing just the All Stars. But whatever it was, it was worth it.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

#41 Dave Hillman

Dave Hillman (given name: Darius Dutton Hillman) worked his way up the Cubs' ladder from 1950 until he broke into the majors in 1955. As the cardback notes he suffered a sore arm but rebounded in 1956 and the next season he had a spot starters job in Wrigley.

In 1958 Hillman went 4-8 with 16 starts among his 32 appearances.

After a career high eight wins in 1959 he was traded to Boston where he worked out of the pen for a couple of years with mixed results. In 1962 he was bounced back and forth between the Red Sox and Reds before being dealt to the expansion Mets where he finished out the year (and his career).

Two things I really like about this card...1) the full team name the Cubs wore in that era and 2) the fun 'Hollywood' cartoon on the back.

One thing I don't's miscut bigly. Sad!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

#365 Tom Morgan

For a relatively unknown guy Tom Morgan had a very serviceable career. He pitched for 12 seasons from 1951 through 1962 and finished with a 67-47 record and a 3.61 ERA for five different AL clubs.

He began as a starter in the Yankees system in 1949 and had a very impressive two plus seasons which earned him a call-up to a stacked Yankees staff. Over the next five seasons in the Bronx he pitched very well as he spent a year in the military and was transitioned into a reliever. He pitched in three World Series in pinstripes, winning two rings. He lost his only Series decision in Game Two of the 1956 Classic versus the Dodgers. In a wild 12-6 Dodger win Morgan was knocked around in two innings of middle relief. But also in that game he got a hit (and score a run) in his only career World Series at bat so he will forever hold a 1.000 post-season batting average.

With a drop off in his numbers in '56 the Yanks dealt him to the Athletics for 1957 and he was moved to Detroit as part of a 12 player deal a year later. He went on to pitch for the Senators and Angels until 1963. He was so effective out of the pen for LA in 1961 (8-2 2.36 10 saves) that he earned some MVP votes.

In 1958 Morgan served as a middle reliever for the Tigers. His 2-8 record doesn't reflect his otherwise solid statistics.

I love pink cards and this set has 'em. Morgan is wearing what surely is his Yankee uni with an airbrushed cap.

Below I have a Morgan montage. I've snipped his '52, '58 and '53 Topps cards. I think are all variations of the same original photo. Anyone want to weigh in?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

#264 Jack Sanford

Jack Sanford was coming off a terrific rookie season when this card was being pulled from packs. As a 27 year old in 1957 he went 19-8 for a Phils club that played exactly .500  baseball. He led the league with 188 K's (and 12 WP, not the last time that would happen). He made the All Star squad and grabbed R-O-Y honors.

He had been a rookie but he was no kid. He'd pitched for seven seasons in the Phils' chain and done a military service hitch. His numbers fell off in 1958 and the Phils traded him to the Giants for Ruben Gomez and Valmy Thomas. He had an solid career in San Francisco and helped them win the 1962 pennant winning 24 games. He pitched three games in the World Series that year going 1-2 but his work exceeded that W/L record. He pitched a shutout in Game Two over the potent Yankees and pitched well in the deciding seventh game as well.

As always SABR has a really well done bio posted for Sanford. A lengthy but worthwhile read.

I like the red/blue combo Topps used. It shows off the Phillies' logo well. My copy is in pretty good shape. I had to re-scan it a few times while making calibration adjustments because the orange-ish tone to the red background  keeps looking 'mottled'. I never did get it to reflect how the card looks in hand.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

#304 Tigers' Big Bats

Two of the better hitters in the American League for the decade of the Fifties grace this special. Al Kaline is of course an all-time great.

But Harvey Kuenn is often lost in the conversation but he was an All Star for eight consecutive seasons beginning with his Rookie of the Year 1953 campaign.

I love knowing where card photos were taken but this one had me a bit bewildered. These are Tigers road unis of the era. I knew that the lack of bunting meant it wasn't an All Star game. So I searched through all the vintage shots of AL parks I have saved. The 'windows' looked a bit like those in Fenway but the girders didn't match.

I finally came up with these two pics that I'm sure were from the same photo shoot. Note the fact that Kuenn is wearing a collared jacket under his jersey in all these as well as on the card:

I finally dug around Getty images long enough to find this entry for one of the same shots. If the link doesn't work I'm posting the cut line:

LAKELAND, FL - 1950's: (L to R) Infielder Harvey Kuenn and outfielder Al Kaline, of the Detroit Tigers pose for a portrait in the dugout during Spring Training during the 1950's in Lakeland, Florida. (Photo by: Kidwiler Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
So there ya go. Joker Marchant Field in beautiful Lakeland. It makes sense because the background sort of looks as if it's not a full fledged big league park. Why they are wearing road unis is anyone's guess. I was there a couple of springs ago and thought it was a wonderful old park. I bought the best grilled cheese sandwich I've ever had at a kiosk behind the third base stands. Guy also sold made-from-scratch tomato soup. Said he sold out every game no matter how warm the weather got. I believed him.

I'm glad I solved this. At my age it's the little things that mean a lot. I'm passing on a spring training trip this year although the invite to the opening of the new Nats/Astros complex in West Palm Beach was mighty tempting. I'll head over there next year I hope.

And no, I don't know who 'Ray Tisler' is! Look at the scan of the card back to see what I'm talking about. I actually found a guy by that name in a White Pages search who's age would be about right. I was tempted to call him and ask him if he remembers stamping 1958 Topps cards with his name. But I figured that would be kind of awkward.

In a comment Jon points out how young Kaline looks on this card. Assuming it was taken in 1957 he was 22 years old. But he could pass for a high schooler. Kuenn OTOH would be 26. He looks 35. Must be the tobacco chaw. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

#234 Carl Sawatski

Carl Sawatski played in all or parts of 11 seasons spread over 16 years from 1948 (cup'o'coffee with the Cubs) through 1963. He spent two years in military service and was a feared minor league slugger.

His big league stats never approached his farm system ones but he carved out a nice career as a back-up and platoon catcher for five different clubs. He hit .293 with nine homers and 43 RBI in 1959 for the Phillies. That was probably his best overall season.

In 1958 he was coming off a World Series title with the Braves. He had gotten a couple of at bats in the '57 Series as a pinch hitter. In June of '58, after just a handful of at bats for the Braves he was dealt to the Phillies and split the catching duties with Stan Lopata.

He retired after the 1963 season having finished up with four seasons with the Cardinals. Following his playing days he served as GM of the Arkansas Travelers and president of the Texas League. The MiLB blog has a cool entry on Sawatski including the story of his first stolen base (it came in his last season!).

This is another off-center card that suffers from the '1958 Topps back discoloration' syndrome. Pretty typical of the ones in my binder. The light green is one of the more rare card colors. Add in the Braves old school logo and it's a great '58!