Tuesday, August 28, 2018

#10 Lou (Lew) Burdette

Lew Burdette won over 200 games pitching for 18 seasons with six different clubs. But he was best known as Warren Spahn's mound mate with the Braves in the 50s. He helped them to a couple of World Series appearances and the '57 title. His three WS wins that year (all complete games, two shutouts!) earned him Series MVP honors.

The card companies never seemed to agree on whether his first name was spelled 'Lou' or 'Lew'. Sometimes, as here in '58, they covered their bases by using the two versions on one card. From what I've read Burdette himself switched back and forth as well.  And given his well-known sense of humor, he probably did it with a wink.

Here's a quick look at how Topps (and Bowman as noted) spelled his name on his base cards. Bowman cards either used a facsimile sig or no name on the front. 

1952-Lew (Bowman, name only on back)
1953-Lew (Bowman B&W, name only on back)
1954-Lou (Bowman, name only on back)
1955-Lou (Bowman, name only on back)
1958-Lou (Lew on back of card)
1973-Lew (as coach on Mrg. Eddie Mathews' card)

Post Cereal switched the spelling a few times as well. 

Burdette also fancied himself a singer and released a record or two during his career. Here's his best known ("Mary Lou" was his daughter's name):

Added bonus:

Here's a newsreel short of the 7th game of the '57 Series. I had to re-run a moment at the 1:14 mark where Yankee pitcher Tommy Byrne tosses the ball from his glove to his hand as he begins his windup. I never have seen that before.

And his famous 'trolling' of the Topps photograper...posing as a lefty:

Saturday, August 18, 2018

#9 Hank Bauer

I read a quote at some point that said something along the lines of  "Hank Bauer had a face like a clenched fist."  And it's hard to argue that point. And he had a reputation to go along with it.

EDIT: Pulling up his Wikipedia page and I see that quote there. Unattributed.

And his Wiki page has some great info on this 14-year veteran who was an instrumental part of the Yanks' 50s dynasty. Bauer won seven rings in New York before he played out his on-field days in Kansas City. Check out this excerpt::

Born in East St. Louis, Illinois as the youngest of nine children, Bauer was the son of an Austrian immigrant, a bartender who had earlier lost his leg in an aluminum mill. With little money coming into the home, Bauer was forced to wear clothes made out of old feed sacks, helping shape his hard-nosed approach to life. (It was said that his care-worn face "looked like a clenched fist".)

While playing baseball and basketball at East St. Louis Central Catholic High School, Bauer suffered permanent damage to his nose, which was caused by an errant elbow from an opponent. Upon graduation in 1941, he was repairing furnaces in a beer-bottling plant when his brother Herman, a minor league player in the Chicago White Sox system, was able to get him a tryout that resulted in a contract with Oshkosh of the Class D Wisconsin State League.
Of course, I'm a Bauer fan thanks to his days as the manager of the Orioles and the 1966 Series title he led them to.

There are not a lot of cartoon references to military service among Topps late 50s sets. But there were still plenty of guys active that had served in WWII and especially in Korea. Bauer's days as a Marine were much discussed so it's not a surprise to see them depicted on the back of his card. I like the orange background in the 58s. The Yanks and Senators got the majority of them. The Athletics had a handful as well. It's been quite a while since I did my post tracking the colors used in this set. You can check it by clicking here.

Friday, August 17, 2018

#8 Eddie Kasko

Eddie Kasko spent a lifetime in baseball as a player, manager, scout and team executive. His ten years in the majors came mostly with the Reds but he also played for the Cardinals (as seen on this card), the Colt 45s/Astros and finally the Red Sox. That last season on the field in Boston led to his managing in their chain and then for four seasons in Fenway.

Kasko was originally signed by the Giants and passed through the Browns organization and saw military service before he landed with the Cardinals and made their squad in 1957. 

His hitting was nothing special but he had a good glove at both short and third. He also seemed to shine when the spotlight was on. He hit .318 (7 for 22) for the Reds in his only World Series, the '61 five gamer versus New York. And his only All-Star at-bat (in the first of the '61 ASGs) produced a single.

As a manager for the BoSox from 1970 through 1973, he led them to two second- and two third-place finishes. The Sox finish just a half-game behind the Tigers in 1972. Despite his clubs playing 50 games over .500 in his four seasons, he was replaced as manager by  Darrell Johnson in 1974. But he worked for Boston for many years and was eventually selected for induction in their Hall of Fame.

He actually posted on Twitter as recently as 2013. I'd have to believe there can't be many others with cards in this set who have been active on that social media platform. 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

#7 Dale Long

Here's a challenge for someone with time on their hands....make a flowchart depicting lefty first baseman Dale Long's travels through all the baseball organizations he was a part of. Here is his transaction listing from Baseball Reference:
  • May 1945: Traded by Middletown (Ohio State) with Kenneth Braden (minors) to the Cincinnati Reds for Dick Oder (minors) and Joseph Turczak (minors).
  • June 1947: Released by the Cincinnati Reds.
  • June 1947: Signed as a Free Agent with the Boston Red Sox.
  • November 24, 1948: Drafted by the Detroit Tigers from the Boston Red Sox in the 1948 minor league draft.
  • December 5, 1949: Drafted by the New York Yankees from the Detroit Tigers in the 1949 minor league draft.
  • November 16, 1950: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates from the New York Yankees in the 1950 rule 5 draft.
  • June 1, 1951: Selected off waivers by the St. Louis Browns from the Pittsburgh Pirates.
  • December 5, 1951: Purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates from the St. Louis Browns.
  • May 1, 1957: Traded by the Pittsburgh Pirates with Lee Walls to the Chicago Cubs for Gene Baker and Dee Fondy.
  • April 5, 1960: Purchased by the San Francisco Giants from the Chicago Cubs.
  • August 21, 1960: Purchased by the New York Yankees from the San Francisco Giants.
  • December 14, 1960: Drafted by the Washington Senators from the New York Yankees as the 28th pick in the 1960 expansion draft.
  • July 11, 1962: Traded by the Washington Senators to the New York Yankees for Don Lock.
  • August 2, 1963: Released by the New York Yankees.
Bottom line is that he played ten seasons for six different clubs and for years was known as the guy who homered in eight consecutive games in May 1956. That record has since been matched by Don Mattingly and Ken Griffey Jr. but never exceeded.

I recall as a kid how that dinger streak impressed the hell out of me and my friends and we coveted Dale Long cards as if he was a star. 1956, in addition to being the year he made headlines for that run of homers as a Pirate, was his best season in the majors. He had 27 home runs and 91 RBIs while hitting .263 and making the NL All-Star Game.

He sandwiched better batting average seasons around that '56 campaign and hit 20 homers or more a total of three times. He appeared in two World Series with the Yankees, 1960 and 1962 when he won a title. Interestingly he was a mid-season pickup by the Yankees in both of those seasons. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

#6 George Zuverink

George Zuverink was signed by the Cardinals in 1946 but debuted with Cleveland in 1951 after three strong seasons in their minor league chain. Without much success in a couple of looks with the Indians, he was sold to the Reds for the '54 season but was not there long as the Reds sent him on to the Tigers late in April. He enjoyed pitching for his 'home' club (he was a Michigan native) for about a year before being waived and claimed by the Orioles.

The Orioles put him in their bullpen and he won 23 games with 36 saves over parts of five seasons. He found himself back in the minors in 1960 as the Orioles were on a youth kick. He retired to Arizona after the season and sold insurance for several decades. He died in 2014 at the age of 90.

Two intersting notes from his obituaries...he was a dedicated blood donor throughout his adult life and twice in 1957 he and Orioles catcher Frank Zupo formed the majors only "Double Z" battery.

I've noticed that the name on the back of the card appears to be yet another variation in the set as it looks like the font is not italicized and not bolded. Check these two examples out and see if I'm looking too hard at this.

This is his next to last Topps card as he had one in the 1959 set. He had some certified autographs in modern Heritage sets. My favorite though is his '57 Topps.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

#5 Willie Mays

Willie Mays joins Ted Williams in the first five cards in the '58 set. Imagine opening a Series One pack that spring and pulling both of those cards!

My longest lasting memory of Mays comes from the #7 subway ride out to Shea Stadium. Growing up my best friend was a Giants fan, as was his father. I didn't get to nearly as many games in Queens as I did in the Bronx but I saw my share of Mets-Giants confrontations. We always took the subway from Grand Central and for Giants games there was a definite Giants flavor to the crowd. More often than not Mays was the topic of the day. And little wonder.

Most fans, at least older ones like me, have heard the story of Mays as a 20-year-old rookie struggling to adjust to major league pitching after his May 1951 call-up. Legend has it that he went to manager Leo Durocher crying and begging Leo to return him to the minors. Of course, it turned out the Giants' faith in Mays was justified. I'd never thought to do it till now but I looked at Mays' '51 game logs. Willie was hitting .038 on June 1. After the June 17 doubleheader he was at .297 and sailing. He never looked back.

In 1979 Mays was elected to the Hall of Fame by being named on 409 of 432 ballots. Which means 23 baseball writers didn't think Mays warranted their vote. Mull that over. "Vote for a twenty-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year winner and two-time MVP...a guy who at one time or another (multiple times in most) led the league in runs, hits, triples, stolen bases, batting average, OBP, OPS, total bases, and won 12 Gold Gloves? Nah, I'll pass."

This card isn't my favorite Mays card. But it does capture him pretty well I think. Blue backgrounds are nice in this set. A better Mays card? Well, I really like the '64 Topps Giant but my best Mays is one I picked up just a few months ago:

#4 Hank Foiles

It's becoming apparent that my scanner is none too fond of these '58s. Hank Foiles' card isn't nearly as scuzzy in hand as it appears at the top on this post. Nothing I can do about it though. I'll just endeavor to persevere.

Hank Foiles was a career back-up and platoon catcher who spent eleven seasons in the majors toiling for seven franchises. That's not counting the Yankees who originally signed him in 1947. He was in the Yankees' system for four years before he was drafted away by the Reds in 1951. But he came away with one nice perk of his time with the Yankees...he formed a friendship with Joe DiMaggio that lasted through the years.

He was known for his defensive skills rather than his bat but he made the 1957 All-Star squad as a Pirate by hitting over .300 into July. He had an interesting 1960 season which I will amplify on over on the 1960 set blog when his card comes up. In brief, he was with five different teams (one of them twice!) between December of 1959 and November of 1960.

Foiles wrote a book about his career in 2011 and still makes appearances in the Virginia area it appears. My favorite Foiles card (and for a guy who hit a career .230 he had quite a few) is his 1959 pink framed gem.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

#3 Alex Kellner

Alex Kellner made a splash in his rookie season of  1949 as a 20 game winner for a Philadelphia Athletics club that won 81 games finishing fifth in the AL. He was voted second in the ROY balloting behind Roy Sievers.

Kellner never could replicate that '49 and actually lost 20 games the next year as the A's crashed to a 52-102 mark the was the end of Connie Mack's long managing tenure. But Kellner persevered for nine seasons in the A's rotation before being waived and then claimed by the Reds in 1958.

He finished up his career in St. Louis in 1959 and won his 100th game there that year. He led the AL in fielding percentage twice and in 1953 had the top mark in Fielding Independent Pitching (whatever the hell that is).

He comes from a baseball family. According to Baseball Reference his younger brother, Walt, was a teammate with the Athletics in 1952 and 1953. His nephew Frank Kellner and father Pop Kellner both played professionally.

This card lacks gloss but has pretty nice corners. The back suffers from the gum/glue stains I see a lot in this set. Back when I first started blogging the '58 set I noted that the player names on the reverse have variations. Some have the first letter in both first and last names in a cartoonish thick red font. Some, like Kellner's, are black. There doesn't appear to be any pattern to this although a quick flip through my binder seems to show that the plainer, black font letters are more prevalent in the first few series. 

Compare Kellner's name on the card above to the name on Ted Williams' card:

Friday, August 10, 2018

#2 Bob Lemon

The 1958 set rolled out future Hall of Famers at spots #1 and #2 (and at #5, coming up soon). Bob Lemon was an infielder and outfielder in the Indians chain prior to his Navy service during WWII. He evolved into a successful starting pitcher in the mid-40s and went on to win over 200 games. He helped the Indians win the 1948 World Series with a couple of victories but lost both his games in the '54 Series against the Giants.

He was a seven time 20 game winner and spent his entire big league career in Cleveland. Those Indian clubs he played on had some of the best staffs in the history of the game. They featured, not only Lemon, but Bob Feller, Mike Garcia and Herb Score.

Following his playing career he stayed in the game as a coach, scout and manager. After a nice run skippering in the PCL  he managed the Royals, White Sox and most notably the Yankees with whom he won the 1978 Series. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1976.

The front of this card suffers from the same 'scuffed' look as the Ted Williams. It's one on many in my '58 binder with glue/gum/whatever staining on the reverse.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

#1 Ted Williams

Not much to say about the storied career of Ted Williams, one of baseball's immortals.  If you are interested in his remarkable statistics you can check out his Baseball Reference page. When you're done with that though check out the wonderful 1960 magazine article written for the New Yorker by Pulitzer winner John Updike. It's an account of Ted's final game. It's a free read and definitely worth the time.

As for the card, well let's just say it isn't the worst conditioned in my '58 binder. But it's close. But when you are assembling a vintage set on a budget you have to decide what's an acceptable star card. This is one that came pretty cheaply and also one I might someday upgrade.

It's one of three Williams cards in the 1958 set. He also appears on a special card with Ted Kluszewski and on an All-Star card. These are the final playing era cards of Ted from Topps. He teamed with Fleer in 1959 to produce a set devoted to his life and career. He didn't appear on a Topps card until 1954 and his run with them lasted just five seasons. Of course, he appeared as a manager just over a decade later.

And so Ted Williams kicks off the 'reboot' of this blog. More to come, soon I hope!