Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Re-habbing my 1955 All-American Unitas

Without a doubt, the custom card with which I was the least pleased upon my first effort was my 1955 All-American style Johnny Unitas.



Obviously, no updating to that classic college football card set would have been complete without a Johnny U card, but my initial effort really fell short of the mark.

When I originally searched for a contemporary photo of Unitas during his college days I found only a few rather poor images. They were all too small or too fuzzy, but I chose the best of the bunch and did what I could to colorize it and sharpen it up for use on my card.


As if the photo wasn't bad enough, I somehow managed to "over expose" the black-and-white background action photo. washing out much of the detail and giving it a ghastly ghostly appearance that was not at all in keeping either with the original Topps cards or with my own latter-day reconstructions.


I even muffed the choice of school logo, picking the most insipid cardinal when I really should have gone with a more feisty bird. Like Topps did in 1955, I like to avoid using official school logos on my cards; it gives them more of my own personal touch.


I've known for a long time that I would someday replace my original Unitas effort, but had pretty much despaired of finding a better photo. Imagine my surprise then, the other day when I image-googled "Unitas Louisville" to find that the football Hall of Fame had acquired a much better college image. The photo on their site had the posed action shot outlined in white, indicating it was probably used as a newspaper photo some time in the past.


With a couple of hours of work with Photoshop, I was able to clean up and colorize the picture.



I dropped a new background photo into my existing Unitas card "frame," replaced the cardinal logo and had my new and improved Johnny Unitas All-American card. It is a great improvement to my set.

As with the other cards that I have replaced, I was able to use my original card back, so the new card was done in a releatively short time.

Now, if I could just find a really nice Jim Brown Syracuse photo . . .























Monday, December 28, 2009

Tales of T212 #26 : William (or Walter) B. Stevens

Back in the early 1980s I thought I'd combine my interests in minor league baseball and vintage baseball cards by assembling a collection of the Obak cigarette cards that were distributed on the West Coast in 1909, 1910 and 1911.I didn't realize it then, but those cards are so much rarer than most of the contemporary T206 cards from "Back East" that putting together complete sets of the Obak could take decades to accomplish -- and that's if a guy had more money than God to buy the cards when they became available.At about the time I started my Obak collection I also started researching the players who appeared in the sets. Over the course of several long Wisconsin winters I pored over microfilms of The Sporting News and The Sporting Life from the period several years before to several years after the Obak cards circulated, making prodigious notes on 3x5 file cards for each player in the set.I gave up trying to collect the T212s (that's the catalog number Jefferson Burdick assigned the three sets in the pioneering American Card Catalog in 1939), long ago, and have since sold off all my Obaks, one-by-one, first on eBay, then on the Net 54 baseball card forum. As I was selling each card, I included interesting tidbits about each player from my notes. The bidders seemed to like learning a little bit about these guys on the cards, so I thought I'd now begin sharing their stories here. Please excuse the lo-res nature of the card pictures; they were scanned for my auctions many years ago.

The evergreens in the background of Stevens' 1910 Obak card (it was his only year in the cigarette company's three years of issues) just scream Northwestern League. It is those backdrops that give the Obaks a unique look that attracts many collectors.


Now we just have to figure out who the guy on the card is. My file card indicates that it is William B. Stevens. The SABR Minor League Database thinks it is Walter B. Stevens. Could both be the same guy? Their records in the SABR database don't overlap, they were both outfielders and there is no biographical information about either Bill or Wally.


The player identified as Walter B. Stevens debuted with Duluth (Minn.) of the Northern Copper Country League in 1906, then took a big step from that Class C circuit to Milwaukee in 1907, My research failed to turn up the Duluth connection, but does note that Stevens was traded from the Brewers to Spokane of the Northwestern League for 1908. During the 1909 season he went from Spokane to Tacoma, for whom he also played in 1910. That's where the SABR data loses track of Walter Stevens and picks up the record of William Stevens.


Both SABR and I agree that Stevens (whether William or Walter) began the 1911 season with Helena in the Union Association (Class D). When the Boise Irrigators released Stevens, he went to Boise, from whom he was purchased by Rock Island of the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League.


The 1912 season found Stevens back in the UA, with Ogden. His baseball trail ends there.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tales of T212 #25 : Bobby James, Anson Mott

Back in the early 1980s I thought I'd combine my interests in minor league baseball and vintage baseball cards by assembling a collection of the Obak cigarette cards that were distributed on the West Coast in 1909, 1910 and 1911.I didn't realize it then, but those cards are so much rarer than most of the contemporary T206 cards from "Back East" that putting together complete sets of the Obak could take decades to accomplish -- and that's if a guy had more money than God to buy the cards when they became available.At about the time I started my Obak collection I also started researching the players who appeared in the sets. Over the course of several long Wisconsin winters I pored over microfilms of The Sporting News and The Sporting Life from the period several years before to several years after the Obak cards circulated, making prodigious notes on 3x5 file cards for each player in the set.I gave up trying to collect the T212s (that's the catalog number Jefferson Burdick assigned the three sets in the pioneering American Card Catalog in 1939), long ago, and have since sold off all my Obaks, one-by-one, first on eBay, then on the Net 54 baseball card forum. As I was selling each card, I included interesting tidbits about each player from my notes. The bidders seemed to like learning a little bit about these guys on the cards, so I thought I'd now begin sharing their stories here. Please excuse the lo-res nature of the card pictures; they were scanned for my auctions many years ago.

Two of the emptiest note cards in my file box of Obak cigarette card subjects are those of Anson Mott and Bobby James. Other than their names, their positions and the teams on which they appeared on these baseball cards, there is nothing of note to report.

Digging into the SABR Minor League Database helps flesh out their baseball careers, which, while undistinguished, were still such as to earn them each two baseball card appearances.


Bobby James was born Robert E. James in Seattle, though the date in not found in baseball records. Naturally enough he began playing pro ball for the Seattle Siwashes in 1904, as a first baseman. He started the 1905 season with Seattle, but after hitting just .225, he was sent down to Bellingham.

His one baseball job off the West Coast came in 1906 with Indianapolis, who tried him at third base. He batted a modest .244 and was returned to the Northwest League, where he spent 1907-1909 with the Spokane Indians as their second sacker.

The 1910-1912 seasons were spent with the Vancouver Beavers, also in the Northwest League. He played secodn base in 1910, third in 1911 and was tried out on the mound in 1912. Despite a remarkable record of 29 wins and only seven losses, he returned to Seattle to end his pro career in 1913-1914, again at third base. The fact that he appeared in only 69 games in 1913 suggests that an injury to his throwing arm may have forced him off the mound after the 1912 season.

The date and place of James' death are not found in baseball records.


Anson Mott appeared in both the 1909 and 1910 Obak sets; in the former he was with Vancouver, in the latter he is pictured as a Tacoma Tiger.

Over a seven-year minor league career, Mott played at first, second and third base, and in the outfield. He was born in 1882, but when and where are unrecorded. He began his pro career at second base with Dallas and Corsicana of the Class C Texas League in 1904. He split 1905 with Oskaloosa in the grandly named Iowa League of Professional Baseball, a Class D circuit, and Colorado Springs/Pueblo in the Western League.

Mott reached the pinnacle of his career in the Pacific Coast League with Seattle (1906), Portland (1907 and 1909) and Vernon (1909) , never hitting above .250. In 1908 he played for Fresno in the outlaw California League.

His last engagement in professional baseball appears to have been with Tacoma in 1910, at the age of 28.






Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tales of T212 #24 : Jimmy Wiggs


Back in the early 1980s I thought I'd combine my interests in minor league baseball and vintage baseball cards by assembling a collection of the Obak cigarette cards that were distributed on the West Coast in 1909, 1910 and 1911.I didn't realize it then, but those cards are so much rarer than most of the contemporary T206 cards from "Back East" that putting together complete sets of the Obak could take decades to accomplish -- and that's if a guy had more money than God to buy the cards when they became available.At about the time I started my Obak collection I also started researching the players who appeared in the sets. Over the course of several long Wisconsin winters I pored over microfilms of The Sporting News and The Sporting Life from the period several years before to several years after the Obak cards circulated, making prodigious notes on 3x5 file cards for each player in the set.I gave up trying to collect the T212s (that's the catalog number Jefferson Burdick assigned the three sets in the pioneering American Card Catalog in 1939), long ago, and have since sold off all my Obaks, one-by-one, first on eBay, then on the Net 54 baseball card forum. As I was selling each card, I included interesting tidbits about each player from my notes. The bidders seemed to like learning a little bit about these guys on the cards, so I thought I'd now begin sharing their stories here. Please excuse the lo-res nature of the card pictures; they were scanned for my auctions many years ago.
The back of Jimmy Wiggs' 1911 Obak card (he was also in the 1909 set) describes him as a "giant in statute," and at 6' 4" and 200 lbs., he was much larger than the average ballplayer at the turn of the 20th century.
Wiggs was born in Norway in 1876, but he was not the first Norwegian to play major league ball in the U.S. That was John Anderson, who debuted with Brooklyn in 1894.
Wiggs began his pro career in 1902 with Helena, in the last season of the Class B Pacific Northwest League. His record at Helena in unrecorded, but it was good enough to gain the big right-hander a trial with the Cincinnati Reds at the start of the 1903 season. With no won-loss record and a 5.40 ERA, he was quickly returned to the minors, where the PNWL had expanded and moved up to Class A status as the Pacific National League. Wiggs returned to Helena, then moved on to San Francsico and Portland/Salt Lake City. He won 23 games that year, losing 18.
When the Pacific Coast League was formed in 1904, the PNL lost half its teams and returned to a Class B circuit. Wiggs remained on the staff for Salt Lake City, then went to New Orelans, where he finished the season with a 14-5 record.
That earned "Big Jim" another call-up to the major leagues, with Detroit. Through '05 and into the first half of 1906, Wiggs was 3-3 for the Tigers. When Brooklyn owner Charlie Ebbets bought Wiggs from Detroit, and offered him less money than he had been making, he left Organized Baseball to pitch for Altoona in the outlaw Tristate League. When the TSL joined the official minor leagues in 1907, Wiggs was removed from the blacklist and won 15 games.
He jumped (his other nickname was "Grasshopper") back to an independent league, the California State circuit, with Fresno for 1908. In 1909 he joined Oakland in the PCL. Wiggs had a couple of memorable outings for the Oaks against the San Francisco in 1909. He no-hit the Seals in May, then on June 8 went the distance in a 24-inning 1-0 loss. He won 19 games that season, and lost 24.
The 1910 season found Wiggs with Montreal, for whom he was 8-16. He was back on the Coast in 1911, again with Oakland. When he started the season at 3-5, he was sold to Seattle of the Northwest League, where he won 19, losing seven.
Wiggs went back to the independent California League with Tulare in 1912, and if he played pro ball after that, it is unrecorded.
In the off-seasons, Wiggs was an accountant for an insurance firm. He died in Xenia, Ohio in 1963 at the age of 86.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Do-overs on my first custom cards

I don't remember now what convinced me to try my hand at creating custom cards. It was probably the fact that a computer I bought three or four generations ago came with a Photoshop Elements program in its software package.

I do know that since a was a childhood collector in the 1950s I had wanted to make my own cards. Like many of you, I suppose, I tried my hand at creating my own cards with crayons, pictures cut out of magazines, etc.

Once I was armed with a computer graphics program and a " . . . for Dummies" book to get me started, I was on my way to a fun new hobby.

My first card was created in the late summer of 2003. It was a Peyton Manning card done in the style of one of my childhood favorite sets, the 1955 Topps All-American college football cards.

To get the photo I needed, I google-searched Peyton Manning and found what at the time I thought was a suitable photo; it's the bare-headed chest-up portrait shown here. After years of creating cards and refining my processes, I now realize that the original Manning photo was too low-resolution.

The background I chose for my first card was that used on the original '55 card of Bowden Wyatt. I had to touch up a few of the black-and-white figures once I had dropped my Manning picture into the frame. If you looked closely at that first custom card, you'd notice that I added a left arm to player #98 at the left end. I doubt you can see the touch-up on this scan, but by my current standards, it was a clumsy attempt. I was more successful in removing some typography from the area of Manning's left shoulder; if I deidn't mention it, I doubt anyone would notice.

After studying more of the original All-American cards over the years as I worked on completing my set of the 1955s, I later realized that I had erred in not extending Manning's left arm and elbow into the green inner border. Regardless, by the time I was done with that first card in my "update" All-American set, I was pretty pleased with myself.

A couple of years after the first Manning card was completed, I saw a college football magazine for sale that had a great cover photo of Manning in a posed action shot. It dawned on me that since I was the creator of my custom card series, I was free to revise my work. The result was the version you see here, with the L.A. Coliseum background. I had to do more touching up on the background photo, but by that time I had gotten better at it and the improvements are seamless.

I'm still not 100% satisfied with my second-edition Manning card because the borders came out a bit more "aged" than I would have liked. On most of my custom cards I avoid using snow white borders, adding a bit of tint to give them a look more befitting what we commonly think of when we think of 40-50 year old cards.

I have also done a second edition of the card I numbered 102 in my "Second Series" of All-Americans.

As a teen-ager I had enjoyed countless times listening to one of Bill Cosby's comedy albums on which he recounted his days of playing college football at Temple.

From early on, I knew a Cos card was going to be part of my set. I had to wait quite awhile to find a photo of Cosby that I could use, and when I did, it was a picture that would take work. The black-and-white photo that I purchased on eBay pictured Cosby is a sweatshirt, but it was a portrait of the actor in his earlier years, so it seemed appropriate for a football card picturing him in his college days.

To put Cosby in uniform, I copied the picture of Johnny Luljack from his 1955 Topps card and substituted Cosby's head. I had colorized the portrait and changed the color of the jersey to the Temple colors.

I never really thought about doing a second version of my Bill Cosby college card until I was perusing the eBay offerings of a New York dealer who regularly has stellar offerings of great vintage sports and celebrity photos. Among his pictures was what was probably a Temple athletic department publicity photo of Cosby in his playing days.

From my perspective as a custom card creator, the right-click, "Copy Photo" function is one of the greatest things about the internet. While I was outbid in my attempt to buy the original black-and-white print, I had taken the precaution of copying the image from the auction, so I had access to the new, more contemporary, photo. A little bit of colorization and I had what I feel is a nice upgrade to my Cosby card.





























Saturday, December 19, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #36a : 1954 A's stickers checklist update

We have an update to our posting of Nov. 28 concerning the 1954 Philadelphia A's player stickers.

Nothing new to report as to who issued them or how they were distributed, but thanks to reader Bill Bareuther, we can add four more players to the checklist.

Bill reports the existence of Charlie Bishop (pitching pose), Tom Giordano (fielding), Carl Scheib (pitching) and Bill Upton (pitching).

That brings the number known to 24.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tales of T212 #23 : Harl Maggert -- Bad-ass Ballplayer

Back in the early 1980s I thought I'd combine my interests in minor league baseball and vintage baseball cards by assembling a collection of the Obak cigarette cards that were distributed on the West Coast in 1909, 1910 and 1911.I didn't realize it then, but those cards are so much rarer than most of the contemporary T206 cards from "Back East" that putting together complete sets of the Obak could take decades to accomplish -- and that's if a guy had more money than God to buy the cards when they became available.At about the time I started my Obak collection I also started researching the players who appeared in the sets. Over the course of several long Wisconsin winters I pored over microfilms of The Sporting News and The Sporting Life from the period several years before to several years after the Obak cards circulated, making prodigious notes on 3x5 file cards for each player in the set.I gave up trying to collect the T212s (that's the catalog number Jefferson Burdick assigned the three sets in the pioneering American Card Catalog in 1939), long ago, and have since sold off all my Obaks, one-by-one, first on eBay, then on the Net 54 baseball card forum. As I was selling each card, I included interesting tidbits about each player from my notes. The bidders seemed to like learning a little bit about these guys on the cards, so I thought I'd now begin sharing their stories here. Please excuse the lo-res nature of the card pictures; they were scanned for my auctions many years ago.

Of all the bad boys to be found on the checklists of the 1909-1911 Obaks, perhaps none was badder than Harl Maggert. He's not as well known because, unlike future Black Sox Chick Gandil and Buck Weaver, Maggert confined his transgressions to the minor leagues, where he had a long and productive career.

Maggert was born in 1883 in Cromwell, Ind., and began his pro career close to home at the Class C level in 1906, at age 23, with Ft. Wayne and Sharon (Pa.) A speedy outfielder, he had decent power with the bat and for 1907 moved up to the Class B Central League at Wheeling, from whose roster the Pittsburgh Pirates picked him up in September.

Maggert was hitless in six at-bats for the Bucs and was turned back to Wheeling to open the 1908 season. In mid-season he went East to join Springfield of the Connecticut State League, where he hit .313. He was batting .307 for the Ponies in 1909 when Springfield sold him for $1,500 to Oakland of the Pacific Coast League . . . at the top of the minor league ladder.

With the Oaks in 1910 he led the PCL with 58 stolen bases. After batting .314 with eight home runs in 1911, the Oaks sold Maggert to the Philadelphia Athletics for the 1912 season. He played the full year with the A's, batting .256 and filling in as a fourth outfielder.

Maggert was returned to the PCL for 1913 and spent the next five years with the Los Angeles Angels. His last year (1917) with the Angels was turbulent. Manager Frank Chance fined and suspended Maggert for beating up the club trainer. On July 28, at Sacramento, he fought with umpire Red Held, accusing him of betting on the game. Maggert's accusations prompted an investigation by league officials, who cleared him, causing the president to threaten a $100 fine and suspension to any player, "who ever mentions the betting scandal."

Maggert was dealt to San Francisco for the war-shortened 1918 season. In 1919 he went to Salt Lake City for two years -- his last in pro ball. Ironically, Maggert was suspended in late 1920 for fixing ballgames during the pennant race of 1919. Blacklisted by Organized Baseball, Maggert went into the coal business. In the off-seasons he had worked in his father-in-law's coal business un Berkeley. Maggert died in 1963 in Fresno.

A son, Harl W. Maggert played briefly with the Boston Braves in 1938.

Maggert appeared only in the 1911 Obak set, though he can be found on many other PCL issues of the 1910s.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #41 : First Bakersfield Globe confirmed


In our Oct. 17 posting about the Globe Printing Co. and its body of work in the field of minor league baseball cards in the early 1950s, we mentioned that the exitence of an album for a set of 1952 Bakersfield Indians cards had been reported, but that no cards from that set had yet been confirmed.

We're now able to confirm the first card from that set. As "predicted," the card is of manager Gene Lillard. The report comes from veteran Maryland collector Al Moore, who has promised to provide us with some more fodder for our columns as he digs through his collection of heretofore uncataloged cards.

Al's example of the Globe Lillard card appears to have been authentically autographed, in fountain pen, no less.

In 1952, Lillard, who had played major league ball with the Cubs as a shortstop and third baseman in 1936, and as a pitcher in 1939, also pitching for the Cardinals in 1940, was the playing manager for the Class C Bakersfield Indians of the California League in 1952.

With Bakersfield that year, at the age of 38, he pitched in 13 games, and filled in as a second baseman, third baseman and catcher, batting .292.

Like many of our correspondents, Al would like to expand his holdings of Globe Co. minor league cards; his particular goal is to acquire one card from each team set.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Billy Clyde Puckett Gets a Football Card

This is another in a semi-regular series of blog postings about my custom card creations. For more than six years now, I have been creating "cards that never were" in the formats of some of favorites from the 1950s as well as some of the card hobby's most popular designs of the last century.
I have now completed something like 125 different cards in a dozen or more designs, but the format that started it all was the 1955 Topps All-American Football set, a childhood favorite.

As much as possible when creating fantasy cards, I stick to the real world of actual ballplayers and classic designs. Early on, though, in my "update" to the All-American set, I stepped outside the box to create a football card for Billy Clyde Puckett.

Billy Clyde is a fictional football hero who starred for the TCU Horned Frogs and the New York Giants in several novels by Dan Jenkins: Semi-Tough, Life Its Ownself, Rude Behavior and You Gotta Play Hurt. He also pops up in cameos in some of Jenkins' other works.

If you've ever read Dan Jenkins, you understand why I made a Puckett card. If you haven't read any of Jenkins, you really should start. Jenkins' books are simply among the funniest I have ever encountered. I began reading him in college and have never stopped. In fact, while compiling the list of football books above, I found a new Jenkins title that I haven't yet read and ordered it from Amazon. (OT sidebar: How can those used-book seller on Amazon make any money selling books for a penny? Sure, they probably make a little on the $3.98 postage/handling charge, but even so . . . )

I've not only read most of Jenkins' novels, I've read many of them two or three times. They are laugh-out-loud funny, decidedly politically incorrect and whether he's writing about football, golf (Dead Solid Perfect, etc.), or the worlds of big "bidness" or magazine journalism, his characters, insights into human foibles and, especially to me, his turns of phrase, made him one of my all-time favorite authors. I see that he has also authored, co-authored or edited quite a number of non-fiction books as well, including biographies of several football stars.

Do yourself a favor and check out a Jenkins book at your local library . . . you'll go back for every one they have on the the shelf.

Anyway, back to my Billy Clyde card. Recognize him? That's actually Burt Reynolds in a photo from his football days at Florida State. Since Burt played Billy Clyde in the movie version of Semi-Tough, he seemed like the natural choice to embody Puckett on my card. Reynolds is also included among my '55-style cards on an FSU card of his own. You can see that, and many of my other creations, in my Photobucket albums at www.tinyurl.com/customcards.







Saturday, December 12, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #42 : 1921 O's

One of the better-kept secrets among those who hoard "uncataloged" cards has been a regional issue of the 1921 Baltimore Orioles that was issued as inserts in loaves of White's Big Tip-Top bread.

In that era, the O's were an International League dynasty, winning seven consecutive (1919-1925) championships under Jack Dunn (1907-1914, 1916-1928), who was most famous for bringing Babe Ruth into Organized Baseball.


The White's baseball cards are printed in sepia tones on 3-1/4" x 5-1/2" thin cardboard stock, and are blank-backed. Because there is nothing on the cards to identify their issuer, odds and end from the set have sat unidentified in various collections in and around Baltimore for decades.

Only a select few cognizeti were privy to the source of these rare cards, by virtue of contemporary newspaper advertising that had proclaimed the availability of "Gravure Photos of the Enite Team of 1921 'Orioles'". The ad, which pictured three of cards, including those shown here (in the ad, the "T" on Maisel's cap had been artlessly changed to a "B") said "A Different One Each Day Will Be Wrapped With Each Wrapped Loaf of White's Big Tip-Top Bread".

The cat was let out of the bag relative to this card set when a group of 14 was brought through the door of a Baltimore card shop and subsequently was consigned to the Dec. 10 Huggins and Scott auction. Thirteen of the team's lesser lights were offered in a single lot -- confounding vintage minor league type card collectors -- while the superstar card from the set, a pre-rookie card of Lefty Grove (ignominiously misspelled "Groves", was offered seperately.

The 13-card lot, all graded by SGC in a range from "Authentic," through Fair and Good to Very Good, sold for $32,250. The Grove, SGC-certified as Fair, went for $29,563 -- good for the consignor and auction house, not so much for the buyer when the second, third, etc., examples come to market.

The actual extent of the White's Orioles set remains unknown, but veteran Maryland collector Al Moore, who provided the examples shown here, believes the set is complete at 21 or 22 cards.

In a blast from the past, Al sent us an honest-to-goodness U.S. Postal Service package the other day with information about the White's cards, photocopies of several of his cards (as well as the first confirmed card from a Globe minor league team set) and of the ad that had appeared in the Baltimore Sun in 1921 (not suitable for reproduction here).

Al has been rummaging around in his safe deposit box and has promised to send more information about current uncataloged cards that have come his way over the years. We look forward to those packages and will be sure to share his finds with you.

By the way, poking around the SABR Minor League Database in an effort to find out what team's cap Maisel is wearing on his White's card, I cam up dry. The "T" on the cap doesn't seem to fit any of Maisel's previous placements in O.B. Between 1911 and 1928 (when he took over the reins of the Orioles from Dunn), Fritz had played only for the Orioles, the N.Y. Yankees and the St. Louis Browns.

We'll wrap up this posting with the list that Al provided of 19 of the 1921 White's Baltimore Orioles cards, in alpha order:

  1. James Aitcheson
  2. Max Bishop
  3. Rufus Clarke
  4. Ducky Davis
  5. Jack Dunn
  6. Ben Egan
  7. Harry Frank
  8. Lefty Groves (Grove)
  9. Bill Holden
  10. Merwin Jacobson
  11. R. (Rudy) Kneisch
  12. Otis Lawry
  13. Wade Lefler
  14. Jimmy Lyston
  15. Fritz Maisel
  16. Lefty Matthews
  17. Jimmy Murphy
  18. Jack Ogden
  19. Jim Sullivan

Friday, December 11, 2009

1953 Cardinals photo book update


I'd kind of despaired of getting any useful information about the 1953 St. Louis Cardinals player photo book that was featured in our Oct. 31 posting. I'll wait here while you go back through the archives and refresh yourselves on the original post.
Today, however, I received an e-mail from a former Sportsman's Park/Busch Stadium concessions employee with first-hand knowledge of this great memorabilia item. You might know my correspondent, it was George Michael, former "Sports Machine" broadcaster.
He wrote, "I was selling scorecards in 1953, saving my money for school. For weeks I had admired this little book with these great glossy photos. It was for sale for $5.00, which was a fortune to me.
"Anyway I finally bought the book and got 22 of the original photos because some of the guys in the book at the start of the year had been traded. Because there was only 22 photos, I was thrilled to get a discount." He continues, "This book is one of my most cherished items because I really could not afford it, but thought it was the coolest thing I ever saw.
"I told my mom I bought it, and instead of getting mad at me, she told me to get everyone to sign it and she would be impressed." George recalls, "I went to work on the players and got most of them to sign it. Stan Musial signed it twice because the pen didn't write well on the photo. Even today these autographs rate a mint '10.'"
George listed 16 players who signatures he obtained in the photo book. He doesn't, however, have Rip Repulski or Harvey Haddix. "I do not know how I missed them because both were very good guys."
Another autograph missing from George's book is manager Eddie Stanky. George recalls, "He was a 100% jerk! Three times I waited for him until late at night after games to sign and he would always tell me to get lost. I showed him the whole thing one night and said I would be very grateful if he would sign it for me. He told me to go home and never bother him again."
George calls Stanky, "the worst Cardinal I ever dealt with." He continued, "Solly Hemus asked me if I wanted him to get Stanky to sign it and I told him 'No, tha nks.' I wanted to remember Mr. Stanky forever!"
I guess that's why Stanky's nickname was "The Brat."
George has offered his assistance identifying any of the player photos that are still in question.
This welcome first-hand information dispels my notion that because the photos do not have printed identification the photo book was likely not a souvenir stand type of item.
As George points out, $5 was a fortune in 1953. The Cards' yearbook was only 50 cents. Five bucks would buy a kid more than four boxes of baseball cards back then. I imagine that steep price explains the scarcity of the photo book today.
It's also interesting to learn that when players left the team, their photos were excised from the book. That would make a complete 28-player example all that much scarcer.
UPDATE: I've just learned that George Michael passed away on Dec. 24. That's a real shame. I'm guessing he would have been a regular contributor to this blog and we'd have all learned a lot and been entertaind.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tales of T212 #22 : Jimmy Agnew

Back in the early 1980s I thought I'd combine my interests in minor league baseball and vintage baseball cards by assembling a collection of the Obak cigarette cards that were distributed on the West Coast in 1909, 1910 and 1911.I didn't realize it then, but those cards are so much rarer than most of the contemporary T206 cards from "Back East" that putting together complete sets of the Obak could take decades to accomplish -- and that's if a guy had more money than God to buy the cards when they became available.At about the time I started my Obak collection I also started researching the players who appeared in the sets. Over the course of several long Wisconsin winters I pored over microfilms of The Sporting News and The Sporting Life from the period several years before to several years after the Obak cards circulated, making prodigious notes on 3x5 file cards for each player in the set.I gave up trying to collect the T212s (that's the catalog number Jefferson Burdick assigned the three sets in the pioneering American Card Catalog in 1939), long ago, and have since sold off all my Obaks, one-by-one, first on eBay, then on the Net 54 baseball card forum. As I was selling each card, I included interesting tidbits about each player from my notes. The bidders seemed to like learning a little bit about these guys on the cards, so I thought I'd now begin sharing their stories here. Please excuse the lo-res nature of the card pictures; they were scanned for my auctions many years ago.
Jimmy "Toots" Agnew was born in Portland, Ore., in 1890, and never left the West Coast during his injury-shortened career in professional baseball. When the sporting press first took notice of him, he was described as a "college pitcher from Seattle."
According to the SABR Minor League Database, Agnew's first pro gig was in the Pacific Coast League, with Los Angeles, in 1911. However, he appears in the 1910 Obak cigarette card set with L.A., so either SABR dropped a stitch or Obak jumped the gun. Considering that his 1911 Obak card says his pitching record for 1910 was "unavailable," it's more than likely that Agnew was Angels' property in 1910, but never actually played.
In 1911, Agnew lost 20 games, winning only five. That caused him to be sold to Vancouver (Class B, Northwestern League) for the 1912 season. He was reported traded to Tacoma (without an y record that he actually pitched for them), then to Portland (NWL).
With Portland again in 1913, he injured his arm in May. According to the baseball custom of that era, he was paid for two weeks at his regular salary ($200 per month), then for another two weeks at half-pay, per the standard injury clause of the day's contracts. The team then put him on as a gatekeeper, and we hear no more of Jimmy Agnew.
Besides his 1910 and 1911 Obak cards, Agnew appeared in 1911 sets from Pacific Coast Biscuit and Zeenuts candy.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #40 : 1953 Lincoln Chiefs


Many of the set listings in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards started with only one or two cards and over the years grew as additions to the checklist were confirmed. Whether or not that will be the case with this early 1950s Lincoln Chiefs minor league set remains to be seen, but thanks to dedicated Nebraska baseball collector/historian Dan Bretta, we'll at least get a start when this set is listed in the 2011 SCBC.
So far, these are the only two cards known from this set. Because both players were on the Chiefs in both 1953 and 1954, it is impossible to pinpoint the year of issue.
Dan leans towards 1953, since that was the year that Lincoln changed affiliations and nicknames in the Class A Western League, becoming a farm club of the Milwaukee Braves. Seems logical, so unless or until another player card surfaces to contradict that notion, we'll go with it.
The cards are printed in black-and-white on think, blank-backed card stock, about 3-1/4" x 4-1/2". They carry on front the advertising of Weaver's Wafers, which was a local potato chip company that went out of business only in recent years. The cards also have an ad for radio station KOLN, which broadcast the Chiefs' games.
The manner of distribution for the cards is unknown, but again, their owner has a theory. The staple holes at the top of each card suggests they may have been stapled directly onto the top of the bag of potato chips.
Neill was one of seven 1953 Chiefs who had formerly played in the majors (the others were Clarence Beers, Norm Brown, Jack Daniels, Fred Hancock, Walt Linden, Red McQuillen); one other Chief (Fred Waters) would in the future.
With only two players known from this set, and each card being unique, the catalog listing will carry a "Value undetermined" notation rather than pricing.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Baseball Players on Football Cards

Many of my regular readers know that for the last 6+ years I have been engaged in creating custom baseball and football cards -- cards that never were. I started the series by creating some cards in the format of one of my childhood favorites, the 1955 Topps All-American Football set.

One of the earliest cards in what I call my All-American Second Series is the Lou Gehrig card shown here. Early on in my research I was surprised to discover that a fair number of baseball's stars over the years had also played some college football.

As I read up on their gridiron days, it became apparent that several of these two-sport collegiate stars could have easily made the the grade in professional football. Most of them, however, seem to have eschewed pro football because there was little money to be made in the game's early decades.

I was able to acquire the football photos I used on my Jackie Robinson and Lou Gehrig cards from books I found in the public library. Gehrig's photo was in a book about Ivy League football, while Robinson's was in one of the several biographies about him. Each picture was in black-and-white, so I had to colorize them in my Photoshop Elements graphics program for use on the cards.

Besides these Hall of Famers, I have done 1955 AA-style cards of Christy Mathewson (Bucknell), Kirk Gibson and Steve Garvey (Michigan State) and Bo Jackson (Auburn). You can find images of those cards in my Photobucket albums at www.tinyurl.com/customcards.

I still have some baseball players on my "most wanted" list to be used in creation of All-American cards; I'd love to find photos of these guys in their college football uniforms: Bill "Moose" Skowron (Purdue), Ted Kluszewski (Indiana) and Frank Thomas (Auburn).





Friday, December 4, 2009

My Only (Intentional) '55 All-American Variation

Among the more than 125 baseball and football cards that I have created since 2003, the only intentional variations have been this pair of Troy Aikmans. (I have however, on occasion, been forced to make "corrected" versions of some of my cards to fix stupid mistakes, typos, etc., and I don't count the cards on which I have replaced subpar photos as variations, since the old versions have been destroyed except for my two personal file copies.)
Until I started researching 1980s college football for my various custom card creations, I was unaware that Aikman had played for both the Sooners and the Bruins.
I like Aikman as a TV football analyst. He's knowledgeable, understated and knows his limitations (i.e., he doesn't try to be funny). I didn't like him so well when he and the Cowboys were regulary kicking Packer keister back in the day.
I decided to create two varieties of Aikman All-American cards when I was poring over Sports Illustrated back issues for card-worthy photos and found pictures of him with both Oklahoma and U.C.L.A. While the original Topps 1955 All-Americans don't include any front variations (there are scarce wrong-back variations of Gaynell Tinsley and Whizzer White), there was a precedent for at least acknowledging two schools on card #99 Don Whitmire, who is listed with both Alabama and Navy.
Besides changing the color phots on my two Aikmans, notice in the background that while I used the same black-and-white photo, I flopped one of them so that #27 is shown running to the left on the Oklahoma version, and to the right on the U.C.L.A. card.
One nice thing about the variations is that I could use the same back for both cards.








Ponche Crema - Venezuelan Xmas in a glass

December is here and it's time to break out the glasses and share a cordial round of Ponche Crema, Venezuela's most typical festive drink.Made from alcohol, milk, egg-whites, sugar and a few a closely-guarded secret ingredients, Ponche Crema has been infusing Venezuelan family gatherings with Christmas spirit since Eliodoro Gonzalez P. first came up with the concoction in 1900.It wasn't the first

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #37 : 1980 Topps Stickers Prototypes

A recent reader inquiry about the issue that is listed in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards as "1980 Topps Stickers Prototypes" got me to thinking and wondering. The set has been listed for about 4-5 years, but looking back on it today, I am at a loss to remember why it is listed among the Topps issues, and why it was attributed to 1980.

Phil, our correspondent, wrote to inquire whether we had any information about the issue that has not been included in the catalog, and to point out that the player photos on the Bench-Wills sticker that he owns were actually taken from 1977-dated issues of Sports Illustrated magazine.

Phil's sticker, like all other reported examples, is unique and is stuck to a piece of cardboard. The actual sticker measures 3-1/2" x 2-1/2". On its face there is nothing to suggest any connection between the sticker and Topps. Yet, I'm quite sure that I would not have listed it as a Topps issue if there hadn't been some sort of proof provided when the issue was first cataloged. Though it hasn't been that many years ago, today I have no recollection of the circumstances surrounding the stickers' discovery, such as who, where, etc. (It's hell to get old!)

If this was, indeed, a Topps prototype, it appears to have been produced to test techniques for mass-producing die-cut peel-off stickers, something that Topps had never done to that point.

I'm going to rely on my original judgment and keep the stickers in the Topps section, at least for the 2011 edition of the "big book," but there are going to be some changes made to the introductory paragraph. In keeping with some other Topps prototype listings, I'm going to eliminate pricing for this set in the new edition. Each sticker pair seems to exist in but a single example, makig any pricing we may provide problematical.

Here is the checklist of known examples of this issue:

  1. Johnny Bench, Maury (photo actually Bump) Wills
  2. Nino Espinoza, Roy Cey
  3. Dwight Evans, Carlton Fisk
  4. Don (Ron) Guidry, Dave Parker
  5. Regie Jackson, J.R. Richard

Monday, November 30, 2009

Tales of T212 #20 : George Wheeler

Back in the early 1980s I thought I'd combine my interests in minor league baseball and vintage baseball cards by assembling a collection of the Obak cigarette cards that were distributed on the West Coast in 1909, 1910 and 1911.I didn't realize it then, but those cards are so much rarer than most of the contemporary T206 cards from "Back East" that putting together complete sets of the Obak could take decades to accomplish -- and that's if a guy had more money than God to buy the cards when they became available.At about the time I started my Obak collection I also started researching the players who appeared in the sets. Over the course of several long Wisconsin winters I pored over microfilms of The Sporting News and The Sporting Life from the period several years before to several years after the Obak cards circulated, making prodigious notes on 3x5 file cards for each player in the set.I gave up trying to collect the T212s (that's the catalog number Jefferson Burdick assigned the three sets in the pioneering American Card Catalog in 1939), long ago, and have since sold off all my Obaks, one-by-one, first on eBay, then on the Net 54 baseball card forum. As I was selling each card, I included interesting tidbits about each player from my notes. The bidders seemed to like learning a little bit about these guys on the cards, so I thought I'd now begin sharing their stories here. Please excuse the lo-res nature of the card pictures; they were scanned for my auctions many years ago.

Ferreting out George Wheeler's identity was one the more challenging during my Obak biography quest. I had it wrong for a long time, attributing his Obak cards to George Harrison Wheeler, rather than the correct George Louis Wheeler. The George Wheelers' careers overlapped around the time of the cigarette card era.

Again it was the SABR Minor League Database that straightened things out for me. This George Wheeler was really even a Wheeler, he was born George L. Heroux in Methuen, Mass., on either July 30 or Aug. 3 (sources differ), 1869. George was a right-handed pitcher who is said to have thrown lefty on occasion; he was a switch hitter, as well. Naturally enough he began his pro career in the northeast, at the age of 22 in 1892. Between 1892-1896 he played in the Class B New England League for Manchester/Lawrence, Lewiston and Bangor.

In mid-September of 1896 he made his major league debut with the Philadelphia Phillies. He was 1-1, earning a permanent spot in the 1897 rotation. He had an 11-10 record that year and pitched part of each of the next two seasons with the Phils, playing with Rome of the N.Y. State League in between major league tours (and also in 1900-1901). His overall big league record was 21-20 with a 4.24 ERA.

Wheeler also pitched in the American League, but it was in 1900 for the Milwaukee Brewers, before the A.L. was considered a major league. After opening the 1902 season with the Syracuse Stars of the NYSL, Wheeler took his act to the West Coast, where he spent the rest of his baseball days, increasingly filling the role of a utility player and pinch hitter. He played with Los Angeles in 1902 and 1903, before the formation of the Pacific Coast League as aClass A minor league. He opened 1904 wiht L.A., then moved to San Francisco through the 1907 season. He was traded back to the Angels in 1908 and closed out his playing days with them in 1911. He appears in al three Obak card sets of the era.

In 1913-1914 he managed Fresno in the outlaw California League and in mid-season 1914 joined the Northwestern League's umpiring staff. When his baseball days were over, Wheeler retired to farming. He died in Santa Ana, Calif. on March 21, 1946.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #36 : 1954 A's Stickers




Considering that the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards' 20th edition is in the works, the set which is listed as 1954 Philadelphia A's Stickers is a relatively new addition to the comprehensive guide.

It was added about four years ago with a checklist comprising 10 players, and it was noted that "The issuer of this novelty set and the exact scope of its checklist are currently unknown."

We still don't know who issued it, or how it was distributed (my best guess would be a stadium concession stand souvenir). We do, however, have a better idea of the set's scope, thanks to reports from a couple of collectors, most recently including Scott Roberts, who provided the scans shown here.
The stickers are black-and-white, printed on gummed paper. They are uniformly about 4-1/2" wide, but range in height from about 6-1/2" to 8-1/4", depending on the pose. An instruction printed on each piece says, "Moisten back. Paste on Cardboard and cut out."
In 1954, The Athletics were in their final season in Philadelphia. They ended the season with a 51-103 record, 60 games behind the pennant-winning Cleveland Indians.
Here's the revised checklist for the sticker set:
  1. Joe Astroth
  2. Don Bollweg
  3. Bob Cain
  4. Joe DeMaestri
  5. Marion Fricano
  6. Forrest Jacobs
  7. Eddie Joost
  8. Alex Kellner
  9. Morrie Martin
  10. Ed McGhee
  11. Arnold Portocarrero
  12. Vic Power
  13. Bill Renna
  14. Jim Robertson
  15. Bob Shantz
  16. Pete Suder
  17. Bob Trice
  18. Elmer Valo
  19. Leroy Wheat
  20. Gus Zernial
As you can see, there were no Hall of Famers on the team, and only a few players who are recognized as even minor stars today -- Zernial, Shantz, Power. The checklist stands at 20, which is a nice round number. The only regular missing is third baseman Jim Finigan. Whether or not this checklist will stand remains to be seen.
The "big book" currently lists the stickers at $25 in NM, $12.50 in EX and $7.50 in VG for most players, with a few of the bigger names at $35, $17.50 and $10.50. That seems cheap to me considering the age and scarcity of these collectibles, but the few that have sold recently at auction haven't generated sufficient demand to warrant raising the prices.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tales of T212 #19 : Harry Scharnweber


Back in the early 1980s I thought I'd combine my interests in minor league baseball and vintage baseball cards by assembling a collection of the Obak cigarette cards that were distributed on the West Coast in 1909, 1910 and 1911.I didn't realize it then, but those cards are so much rarer than most of the contemporary T206 cards from "Back East" that putting together complete sets of the Obak could take decades to accomplish -- and that's if a guy had more money than God to buy the cards when they became available.At about the time I started my Obak collection I also started researching the players who appeared in the sets. Over the course of several long Wisconsin winters I pored over microfilms of The Sporting News and The Sporting Life from the period several years before to several years after the Obak cards circulated, making prodigious notes on 3x5 file cards for each player in the set.I gave up trying to collect the T212s (that's the catalog number Jefferson Burdick assigned the three sets in the pioneering American Card Catalog in 1939), long ago, and have since sold off all my Obaks, one-by-one, first on eBay, then on the Net 54 baseball card forum. As I was selling each card, I included interesting tidbits about each player from my notes. The bidders seemed to like learning a little bit about these guys on the cards, so I thought I'd now begin sharing their stories here. Please excuse the lo-res nature of the card pictures; they were scanned for my auctions many years ago.
Known variously in his playing days as "Henry" or "Harry," Scharnweber was a light-hitting shortstop. He was born in Iowa in 1882 and spent his early years as a professional ballplayer around the Midwest.
He debuted in the Three-I (Illinois-Indiana-Iowa) League in 1902, playing for both Bloomington and Rockford at the Class B level. When he hit only .179 for the year, he was sent down to Class D Grand Forks for 1903 and Waterloo for 1904 (the team carried the unlikely nickname of the Microbes).
Scharnweber returned to the Three-I League for 1905, and spent the next four seasons with Springfield, including managing the team in 1907 at the age of only 25 (they finished third). In 1909 he moved out West to the Vancouver Beavers of the Northwestern League, also a Class B circuit. He played with Vancouver for six seasons -- remarkable consistency for the minor leagues in that era. He man aged the team in 1914 and won the NWL pennant. The team finished fourth in 1915 under Scharnweber.
His whereabouts from 1916-1919 are unrecorded. In 1920 he joined the newly formed South Dakota League as manager of the Mitchell Kernels, and at the age of 38 played some shortstop and hit .295. The Kernels won the pennant that year, and also in 1921 and 1922 with Scharnweber at the helm. One of Scharnweber's prize players in 1920 was future Hall of Famer Jim Bottomley, playing in his first pro season. The league folded in mid-1923.
Scharnweber must have hung around the Mitchell, S.D., area after his playing days, because that's listed as his locale on the U.S. Patent (#2,088,753) he was granted in 1937 for an automotive air cooling apparatus!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Standard Catlog Update #35 : 1966 Mantle anomaly

Some weeks back reader Steve Stazenski contacted us about an unusual 1966 Topps Mickey Mantle card he had in his collection. The card is unusual in that its number on back appears to
have been printed in green, rather than the usual orange/red ink.

My first thought was that this might be a Venezuelan-issued '66 Topps. While I'd never heard that the card numbers of the South American version Topps cards were green, I'd never heard that they weren't.
I posed some inquiries on some of the baseball card forums and a couple of the top Venezuelan specialists informed me that the card numbers on that issue were not green, they were the same color as the player name and stats box, just like on the Topps U.S.A. cards.
One or two collectors raised the idea that the "50" on this card may have turned green as a reaction to chemical exposure. I'm not inclined to accept that theory, because there is no indication that any of the other red ink, nor the black, nor the card stock had been altered by a foreign substance.
The theory that seems most plausible to me, but which I have been unable to verify, is that this particular Mantle was cut off the three-card salesman's sample strip that Topps used back in the 1950s and 1960s to alter retailers on the look of the product. While the backs of those strips usually were predominantly given over the a sales pitch, at least one card on the strip was usually presented with a full back, again to give the retailer an idea of what the new cards had to offer.
I'm hoping that one of you can provide a scan of such a 1966 sales strip to verify this notion. Otherwise this card will have to be considered merely an anomaly or curiosity.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

1952 Red Man Mickey Mantle Custom Card

I've expanded my custom card repertoire with this latest creation. It's a "what might have been" fantasy card of Mickey Mantle in the format of the 1952 Red Man tobacco cards.

My custom Mantle is in the original 3-1/2" x 4" format. To better replicate the original Red Mans, I used a thinner cardboard stock for this one. It really has the "feel" of the originals.

As opposed to most of my custom cards, on which the back -- which usually has biographical details, stats, cartoons, etc. -- takes more time to create than the front, this one was a snap. Since the backs of 1952 Red Mans (and 1953, 1954, 1955, as well) were "generic," I only had to scan an original and clean it up a bit.

The front is essentially a mashup of three elements. The background is from the front of a 1955 Red Man Whitey Ford card. With one click in my Photochop Elements graphics program, I flopped the image and moved the Yankee Stadium details from the left to the right side of the card.

The coupon at bottom started out on a scan I found on an auction site of a 1952 Red Man Ted Williams card. I changed the card number and cleaned up the typography and color bars.

Mantle's picture came from the cover of the 1953 Dell Baseball Annual. I had to do a lot of trial-and-error cutting and pasting to find a size and positioning that would allow for maximum detail yet still leave room for the text box.

I've always been frustrated that the Photoshop Elements program doesn't have the ability to create justified text . . . at least not that I've ever been able to find on my ancient 2.0 version.
After giving the matter some thought and trying a few workarounds, I determined that if I wanted to create justified text such as usually found on baseball cards, I'd just have to bite the bullet and do it the hard way. After writing my text in the designated space, I nudge every single word of it into a position that creates a pretty good approximation of justified type.

There's currently one more Red Man-style card on my to-do list, though I don't know when I'll actually get it into production. You'll see it here first.

As always, you can access images of many of my custom card creations at www.tinyurl.com/customcards. If you think you'd like any of the actual cards as holiday gifts, contact me for details at scbcguy@yahoo.com.



Standard Catalog Update #34 : You like Globes? We got 'em!



Among the subjects we regularly touch on in this space, one of the most popular appears to be the early 1950s Globe Printing Co. minor league team sets.
One of Globe's biggest fans and most ardent collectors, though he, like all other Globe collectors has a tough time finding specimens to add to his holdings, is Mark Bowers.
Mark recently sent in some enhancements to the checklist for the 1952 Dallas Eagles set which we share with you herewith.
Like all Globe minor league sets, there is nothing on the cards to identify the Dallas set as being a Globe product. And, while the Dallas cards are not identical in format to other known Globes, they have more in common than they do differences. The Dallas cards, as exemplified (BTW: Why isn't it "examplified?) by the Don Mossi pre-rookie shown here, have a white border. They are, however, in the same 2-1/4" x 3-38" size with full-length player photos in a stadium setting and a simple name strip. So, it is more likely than not that they are from Globe.
Another difference between the Dallas set and most other Globe issues, is that there are currently 21 known players on the checklist. Most other Globe sets top out at 18 cards. Since it appears that most Globes were printed on six-card sheets, we might reasonably expect to see three more Dallas Eagles cards in the future.
The Eagles were the Class AA Texas League farm club of the Cleveland Indians. Looking over their roster for 1952, about the biggest name that has not yet been seen in the set is pitcher Jose Santiago, though there were a few other cup-of-coffee future major leaguers on the team.
Here, then, is the revised checklist for the Globe Printing Co. 1952 Dallas Eagles team issue (Mark's recent additions are in bold):
Ralph Albers
Dick Aylward
Jodie Beeier
Bob Bundy
Johnny Creel
Bob Cullins
Hal Erickson
Dave Hoskins
Bud Hutson
Edward Knoblauch
Joe Kotrany
Joe Macko
Allan Maul
Peter Mazar
Dutch Meyer
Don Mossi
Clyde Perry
Ray Peters
Harry Sullivan
Frank Tornay
Edward Varhely

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tales of T212 #18 : Franklin J. Spencer

Back in the early 1980s I thought I'd combine my interests in minor league baseball and vintage baseball cards by assembling a collection of the Obak cigarette cards that were distributed on the West Coast in 1909, 1910 and 1911.I didn't realize it then, but those cards are so much rarer than most of the contemporary T206 cards from "Back East" that putting together complete sets of the Obak could take decades to accomplish -- and that's if a guy had more money than God to buy the cards when they became available.At about the time I started my Obak collection I also started researching the players who appeared in the sets. Over the course of several long Wisconsin winters I pored over microfilms of The Sporting News and The Sporting Life from the period several years before to several years after the Obak cards circulated, making prodigious notes on 3x5 file cards for each player in the set.I gave up trying to collect the T212s (that's the catalog number Jefferson Burdick assigned the three sets in the pioneering American Card Catalog in 1939), long ago, and have since sold off all my Obaks, one-by-one, first on eBay, then on the Net 54 baseball card forum. As I was selling each card, I included interesting tidbits about each player from my notes. The bidders seemed to like learning a little bit about these guys on the cards, so I thought I'd now begin sharing their stories here.

"Stub" Spencer was nearing the end of a lengthy, though undistinguished, minor league career when he made his lone Obak baseball card appearance in the 1911 set. (By the way, I'm long overdue apologizing for the quality of the card pictures I use in these postings. They are lo-res images that I scanned from my Obak collection many years ago. The cards are now long dispersed in other collections, so I'm stuck with what I had.)

We don't know when or where Spencer was born. The SABR Minor League Database records his first professional engagement as being with St. Paul in 1901. A player's first pro team is often, though by no means not always, close to home, so it's possible Spencer was a "western" boy. He did, in fact spend his entire pro career west of the Mississippi River.

Spencer started out as an outfielder. In 1902 he was with three of the six teams that made up the short-lived (1902-1903) Class D Iowa-South Dakota League: the Sioux City Cornhuskers, Sioux Falls Canaries and Le Mars Blackbirds. Though the league's stats appear to have been unrecorded, Spencer earned a berth on a Class A team, Seattle of the Pacific National League, for 1903. In 1904 he was with Butte, also in the PNAL.

In 1905, Bellingham of the Northwestern League moved Spencer went behind the plate, where he remained for the rest of his playing days. It looks like Spencer spent most of his career as a second-string catcher, obviously because of his light hitting. Between 1903-1913, he never hit above .248, and four times failed to break out of the .100s. He had only two career home runs.

Spencer rarely spent more than a single season with any team. In 1906 he was with Davenport. He played for both Vancouver and Aberdeen in 1907, and split 1908 with Aberdeen and Butte. In 1909 he was with Spokane. He played for Seattle and Tacoma in 1911 and ended his professional career in 1913 at Edmonton. In looks like Spencer was out of Organized Baseball in 1910 and 1912.

As with his birth specifics, the date and place of his death are unknown.


UPDATE: Veteran collector Dave Eskenazi, who specializes in early professional baseball in the Northwest, has provided some further details about Stub Spencer. Armed with his findings, it looks like we've also found Spencer's whereabouts during the 1910 season.


In 1910 the Edmonton Eskimos of the Western Canada League had a catcher named Spencer. Since biographical details (such as furst names) for that Class D minor league circuit are hard to come by, we can't be sure, but it looks like that was ol' Stub. He hit a decent .280 that season.

After his return to the NWL with Seattle and Tacoma in 1911, Spencer was back in the WCL in 1912, with the Red Deer (Alberta) Eskimos, where he hit .251. That's Spencer's photo, provided by Dave, at left.

We noted earlier that he had ended his pro career with Edmonton of the WCL in 1913, but Dave found both a photo and a record that show that Spencer caught for the Saskatoon Quakers of the WCL in 1914, when they won the league pennant, though Spencer contributed only a .146 batting average to the effort.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #20-21a : Another Globe Discovery

O.K., I think I've got it now. Another piece of the puzzle that is the Globe Printing Co. minor league opus of the early 1950s has come our way . . . and forced a correction to what we had posted here on Aug. 25.

In that post we listed a checklist of nine Globe Printing Co. Ponca City Dodgers, speculating they were probably part of a set of 18, since it appears that Globe printed six-card sheets. The next day we posted about a Globe card for Fred "Rip" Collins, that had been reported by the same collector who turned up the P.C. Dodgers. We speculated that the Collins was probably part of a Globe team-set of the Independence Browns.

The other day, in response to the SCD Update #20-21, we heard from collector Chuck Hensley, woh has a friend who has a 1952 Globe Ponca City Dodgers album, with all nine of the checklisted P.C. Dodgers. What really caught my attention, though, was that the scans he sent also included the Rip Collins card, along with two other non-Dodgers.

Earlier I had been willing to believe that the inclusion of the Collins card with the first group of P.C. Dodgers was an anomaly, but when the same card turned up in a second grouping, it dawned on me that Collins was actually part of the Ponca City issue.

The two other non-Dodgers cards that Hensley has in the album are Hershel Martin and Al Reitz. It then became clear that Globe's issue for the P.C. Dodgers included not only their manager Boyd Bartley, but also the managers of at least three other teams from the 1952 Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League. Collins, as mentioned was one of them. A little poking around on the SABR Minor League database confirmed that Reitz and Martin were also K-O-M skippers in '52.

Reitz was plying manager for the Blackwell (Okla.) Broncos, the Chicago Cubs affiliate in the Class D K-O-M. Martin was manager of a Pirates farm team that moved from Bartlesville, Okla., to Pittsburg, Kans. during the 1952 season, the final year for the K-O-M.

Reitz was a career minor league player and manager whose career spanned 1924-1953. He made it as far as Milwaukee and Buffalo, but never saw any major league meal money. With the Broncos in 1952, he was still pitching at age 48.

Martin, in contrast, did enjoy a modest major league career, albeit mostly during the WWII years. After having been playing professionally since 1932, he spent the 1937-1940 seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies. He appears in both the 1939 and 1940 Play Ball card sets. After stints wiht Jersey City, Tulsa and Milwaukee, 1940-1944, he was traded to the New York Yankees, for whom, he played in 1944-45. After the war he played in 1946-1947 for Oakland in the Pacific Coast League, where he appeared on such regional minor league issues as the 1946-1947 Remar Bread Oaks, and the 1947 Signal Oil Oaks. He remained in the minors as a player and/or manager through 1957. With the K-O-M Pirates in 1952, at the age of 42, he managed and played some at first base and in the outfield, batting .298.

With those three managers and the nine known P.C. Dodgers, we come up with 12 cards -- two press sheets if Globe followed its usual format. Whether or not there was a third six-card sheet with a few more of the P.C. Dodgers and [the other managers of the K-O-M League, Woody Fair of the Iola Indians and John Davenport of the Miami Eagles, remains to be seen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Harry Decker: Catcher, inventor, convict . . . missing


One of the more interesting players to be found among the 500 or so in the Old Judge tobacco card series of 1887-1890 is Harry Decker. He not only played four seasons of major league ball and was immortalized on a baseball card, but he was also an inventor and a felon.

Decker was born in Lockport, Ill., in 1864. His given name was Earle Harry Decker, but in the course of his lifetim, he was known to have adopted several aliases, making the tracking of his life outside of baseball impossible.

He began playing pro ball with Evansville as a teenager in 1884, before Indianapolis, then in the major league American Association, signed him later that season. After just a handful of games with the Hoosiers, he joined a second short-lived major league, the Union Association, with the Kansas City Cowboys.

Though the UA folded after just one season, Decker remained with the Kansas City team in the Western League for 1885.

He opened the 1886 season with Macon, then it was back to the bigs, with both Detroit, then Washington, of the National League. He was not a strong enough hitter to stick in the majors, even as a second- (or third- ) string catcher and utilityman, so he played the 1887-1888 campaigns with Toronto in the International Association.

Decker was again called to major league service in 1889 with Philadelphia, but was released in late July. He caught on with the Phillies again to start the 1890 season, then was sold in June to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, with whom he batted .274 and hit all five of his major league home runs.

Decker's last known gig in professional baseball was in 1891 with the New Haven Nutmegs of the Eastern Association.

He next pops up publicly in 1904, when he filed for a patent on a catcher's mitt. According to Decker's application, "My invention relates to certain new and useful improvements in base-ball gloves, and has more particular reference to that type known as 'catchers' mitts.'

"The primary object of my improvement," Decker claimed, "is to provide a glove which is thumbless and, further, one in which the padding can be adjusted or regulated to suit the user."
The specifics of Decker's glove can be seen by searching on his name in a Google Patent Search, for, indeed, Decker was granted U.S. patent number 812921 in February, 1906.

Somewhere along the road, Decker fell into a life of crime, and in the 1910s his home was in San Quentin prison in California, where he was serving time under the name Earl Henry Davenport.
An item in the March 7, 1915, Sporting Life by an unnamed writer mentioned Decker, "The star base ball team of San Quentin prison, to which the Venice and Los Angeles teams sent uniforms last season, has sent Manager Hogan [of the L.A. Angels] an autographed photo of their team.

"They are led by a player who calls himself Davenport, but who is E.H. Decker, who is said to have been a catcher for the Detroit team years ago. When the writer knew him he was catching for the Keokuk, Iowa, team, and was a good man in the field in his position."

According to baseball historian Peter Morris, who is active in the SABR Biographical Committee, Decker was released from San Quentin in 1915, but can be traced no further due to a "very long career of crime" and the many aliases he used. The committee would like to be able to attached a date and place of death to Decker's records.

Decker appears on no fewer than five different poses in the Old Judge cigarette cards, all with Philadelphia. His cards are priced as "commons," but like many Old Judge cards, finding a specific player in the hobby market at any one time can be a challenge.