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.

Monday, January 21, 2019

#30 Hank Aaron

It's Henry Aaron! In 1958 Hank was 24 years old. He already had, at least once, led the league in hits, runs, doubles, homers, RBIs, and total bases. And he was getting fitted for his 1957 World Series ring. Talk about sitting on top of the world!

He was on his way to a second consecutive NL title with the Braves. In 14 Series games his stat line was: 3/9/.364/.417 which isn't too shabby. I posted the following list on his entry in my '59T blog. cribbed from Baseball Reference's Bullpen page:

  •     1953 MVP South Atlantic League Jacksonville Tars
  •     24-time All-Star (1955-1975)
  •     NL MVP (1957)
  •     3-time NL Gold Glove Winner (1958-1960/RF)
  •     2-time NL Batting Average Leader (1956 & 1959)
  •     4-time NL Slugging Percentage Leader (1959, 1963, 1967 & 1971)
  •     3-time NL OPS Leader (1959, 1963 & 1971)
  •     3-time NL Runs Scored Leader (1957, 1963 & 1967)
  •     2-time NL Hits Leader (1956 & 1959)
  •     8-time NL Total Bases Leader (1956, 1957, 1959-1961, 1963, 1967 & 1969)
  •     4-time NL Doubles Leader (1955, 1956, 1961 & 1965)
  •     4-time NL Home Runs Leader (1957, 1963, 1966 & 1967)
  •     4-time NL RBI Leader (1957, 1960, 1963 & 1966)
  •     20-Home Run Seasons: 20 (1955-1974)
  •     30-Home Run Seasons: 15 (1957-1963, 1965-1967 & 1969-1973)
  •     40-Home Run Seasons: 8 (1957, 1960, 1962, 1963, 1966, 1969, 1971 & 1973)
  •     100 RBI Seasons: 11 (1955, 1957, 1959-1963, 1966, 1967, 1970 & 1971)
  •     100 Runs Scored Seasons: 15 (1955-1967, 1969 & 1970)
  •     200 Hits Seasons: 3 (1956, 1959 & 1963)
  •     Won a World Series with the Milwaukee Braves in 1957
  •     Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1982

    And here is a list of the records he holds:
    • Most home runs, right handed batter, career, 755
    • Most home runs, one club, career, 733 (Milwaukee-Atlanta Braves)
    • Most home runs, brothers, 768 (Hank, 755, Tommie, 13)
    • Most extra-base hits, career, 1467
    • Most extra-base hits, right handed batter, career, 1467
    • Most extra-base hits, National League, career, 1429
    • Most at bats, right handed batter, career, 12364
    • Most hits, right handed batter, career, 3771
    • Most intentional walks, right handed batter, career, 293
    • Most plate appearances, right-handed batter, career, 13940
    • Most RBI, career, 2297
    • Most RBI, right handed batter, career, 2297
    • Most RBI, National League, career, 2202
    • Most total bases, career, 6856
    • Most total bases, right handed batter, career, 6856
    • Most total bases, National League, career, 6591
    • Most seasons with 100 or more runs, 15
    • Most seasons with 100 or more runs, consecutive, 13 (tied)
    • Most seasons with 150 or more hits, consecutive, 17
    This card supposedly has 'variations'.... there are copies out there that appear to be blue rather than green. But whether they are truly print variations or merely the result of color fading is a matter of conjecture.

    Lastly...that cartoon. 👀😯

    Saturday, January 19, 2019

    #28 Jim Busby

    After excelling in football and baseball at TCU and (in the service) Jim Busby enjoyed a three-year climb thru the White Sox chain and then a 13-year career as a speedy, defensive-minded outfielder for five clubs.

    He did two tours with both the Orioles and White Sox and played for the Indians, Senators, and Red Sox in the AL. He ended his career with a quick look in Houston in 1962. Along the way, he consistently ranks in the top ten in several fielding categories. 

    Online bios mention his lack of hitting prowess but his .262 career average is not to be ignored. He had a couple of 80 RBI seasons and flashed a bit of power although in his time the big-hitting outfielders got the glory. In his one All-Star appearance, he took over in left field for Ted Williams late in the 1954 game. He was on deck with some runners on base when George Kell fanned to end the game and any chance for Busby to bat.

    Thursday, January 17, 2019

    #27 Bud Freeman

    Bud Freeman pitched in the Red Sox system for seven seasons and got a few looks in Boston along the way. In 1955 he was sold to the Reds and he became their 'stopper' in an era that relievers toiled under the radar for the most part.

    In four years in Cincy, he went 28-11 with 36 saves. His best year was 1956 when his 17 saves were second in the league. Of course, back then saves were not an official stat and it's unlikely anyone noticed his standing. On the other hand, he did get a few MVP votes that year. Worth noting is the fact that he 'finished' 47 games. The term 'closer' hadn't come into use then but that is essentially when Freeman was. The cartoon uses the term 'fireman' which has since gone out of style.

    In the year this card was issued he pitched a few games early for the Reds and was traded to the Cubs in May. He made a few appearances for them with minimal success and was out of the majors in early June. He remained involved in baseball though. He worked for the Reds as a scout and minor league manager. Later he went into teaching, coaching, and counseling in Florida.

    This is the only card issued of 'Bud' Freeman. But he is included in several other sets listed with his given name, Hersh Freeman.

    Wednesday, January 16, 2019

    #26 Ron Jackson

    The 6' 7" Michigan native was a dual sport (baseball/basketball) star at Kalamazoo High and later at Western Michigan. He was later inducted into the Halls of Fame of both entities.  He played six seasons for the White Sox as a back-up first baseman behind Walt Dropo and later, Earl Torgeson.

    He had originally signed as a 'Bobus baby' which required that the Sox keep him on their roster for a couple of seasons or risk losing him. He managed to get into 40 games in each of those two seasons which is more than a lot of those bonus guys got. 

    Although he played at the beginning and end of the Sox' title season of 1959 he was not on their World Series roster. He finished his big league career with a short stint in Boston after a trade in the winter of 1960. He played one more season of minor league ball in the Braves' chain before retiring to run an insurance agency in Kalamazoo. He died in 2008. 

    Friday, January 11, 2019

    #25 Don Drysdale

    Seems to me that Don Drysdale got a disproportionate number of portrait shots on his Topps cards. Here's another one.

    Drysdale, a Hall of Fame pitcher who spent his entire career with the Dodgers, won 209 games and a Cy Young while earning three WS rings in six tries. He had a reputation as a guy who was unafraid to throw inside and was a fine hitting pitcher as well. It was not unusual for him to hit eighth in what was traditionally a light-hitting Dodgers lineup for much of the 60s. Paired with Sandy Koufax they made one of the most dominant 1-2 pitching combos ever. 

    In 1968, a year 'owned' by pitchers, Drysdale had a streak of six consecutive shutouts and a run of nearly scoreless 59 innings. As an aside (not a judgment), in 2018 no pitcher in either league had more than one shutout or two complete games 

    He did some television acting while an active player and was a broadcaster after his playing days. He died of a heart attack at the age of 56 in 1993.

    Here's a clip of him on the popular Donna Reed show in 1964. 

    Thursday, January 10, 2019

    #24 Hobie Landrith

    Hobie Landrith caught for seven different clubs over 14 seasons. He was mostly a backup but twice got into over a hundred games in a season. His first major league team was the 1950 Reds but he saw 'big league' action at the age of 15. Here's how he described it in an interview from this baseball history site named "This Great Game":

    “When I was 15 years old, a Tiger scout approached me and asked if I would want to come down to Tiger Stadium and catch batting practice while they were trying to get Hank Greenberg into shape...I jumped at the chance.”
    After a decade spent with the Reds, Cubs, Cardinals, and Giants, Landreth was the first player taken by the Mets in the 1961 expansion draft. Casey Stengel is supposed to have been asked why he took a catcher and replied: “You gotta have a catcher or you’re gonna have a lot of passed balls.” Despite Casey's 'endorsement' the Mets traded Landrith to the Orioles in June after he'd played just 23 games for them.

    Landrith went on to play for the Senators in 1963 before retiring. For his career he hit .233 with 24 homers.