Saturday, August 11, 2012

Slides were once state of the art

Regular readers know I have several times in the past used this space to present interesting advertisements I've found in vintage magazines; generally rambling on about the huge strides technology has made in the last 50-60 years.

Today, while I was reading the Sept. 22, 1958, issue of Sports Illustrated, an ad caught my eye that directly related to a conversation earlier that morning around the table at coffee break.

I maintain a "retirement office" on Main Street in Iola, in a building owner by my former boss, Chet Krause. Chet created and built the hobby publishing empire known as Krause Publications from 1952 through the early 1980s, when he began to turn the reins over to others.

Today, at age 88, he uses this office setting to write monographs on subjects that interest him, to conclude the disposition of a lifetime of collecting, to conduct his philanthropic and civic endeavors and, generally, to maintain contact with three generations of local and visiting friends, former employees and colleagues.

Much of this socialization occurs mid-mornings when the coffee pot is on and the table in our small breakroom contains an assortment of homemade baked goods, fruit or the contents of a gift basket. A day rarely goes by that somebody from the community or from afar doesn't join us.

My wife compares the ambiance to the cracker barrel at the old general store where everybody feels free to drop by and join the conversation.

Topics of discussion run the gamut from town gossip to world politics, from the Packers to local history and everything in between.

Today, a principal topic was slides; the photographic medium, not the playground staple. One of the fellows sitting around the table mentioned that he had a friend that was in the process of converting 6,000 slides to digital format. The friend had some connection with the FAA, and many of the slides were crash scene photos and pictures of aircraft from decades past.

The friend was using one of those $100 conversion units that quickly and efficiently convert 35mm slides to digital images. Chet mentioned that he had recently thrown into the trash his own lifetime accumulation of vacation and business trip slides. It was generally conceded that slides were an obsolete medium, especially for sharing pictures in this age of Facebook, camera phones and tabletop picture frames that store and randomly show hundreds of images. Our guest remarked that he still owned three slide projectors -- none of which work -- on the floor of an upstairs closet.

I'm sure that those of you who share the "Boomer" designation of our age group, can remember sitting through slide shows at family gatherings, business meetings and club functions. Such presentations became a cliche, though I was rather a fan. I usually enjoyed wall-sized images of far-away people and places shown on a bright white screen much more than I did flipping through an album of snapshots.

As a photographer early in my career, I was also a big fan of slides and transparencies (as larger-format color positives were known). I found that slides offered color that was more pleasing to my eye than color negative film.

I may be completely wrong about this, but I believe I heard that color transparencies held their image and color for a greater time than film images. I know that some of the images of antique autos and other subjects that I shot on 2-1/2" square transparencies are as bright now as they were when they were made 30+ years ago. 

I've also, on occasion, purchased large lots of 35mm slides on eBay. These are often family collections of vacation scenes, new cars, prom dresses, pets, etc. These offer a nostalgic look back to the mid-century. I save the best of them for some, as yet undetermined, future use, and trash the rest. While I have yet to buy one of those slide-to-digital converters, I'll do so some day. For now, I have an otherwise obsolete scanner that includes plastic templates that allow for such conversion.

In my collection of baseball images acquired from many sources over the years, I have many 35mm slides, and transparencies of various sizes up to 8" x 10". Some of my favorite transparencies are those that I have purchased from Topps on eBay. For a number of years, under the Topps Vault label, the card company has been auctioning images from its archives dating back to the 1950s. They are advertised as "Original negatives," but they are positives. 

A number of them have provided images that appear on my custom cards. Opening bids on them are $9.95, where many of the "common" players sell. Superstars like Mantle, Koufax,  Ryan and others can sell for hundreds of dollars, whether they be the pictures that were actually used on cards, or "out takes" that never made it to cardboard.

I recently read that the last processor of one major type of slide film -- I don't remember whether it was Kodachrome, Fujicolor or whatever -- had issued its last call for film. The day is nearly at hand when there will be no place the average person can have slide film developed. 

This has been my long way of introducing the ad that I saw in SI, and share with you here. As I am wont to do on such occasions, I am compelled to compare the advertised retail price with today's dollar. In this case the $149.50 spent on a deluxe Kodak Cavalcade slide projector would translate to over $1,100 today.

From the idyllic portrayal of the family unit shown in the ad, it looks as if they enjoy their technology purchase as much as a family today enjoys its flat screen color TV at about the same relative expenditure. Today, these projectors go begging on eBay for lack of a $15-25 opening bid.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

'52 Eau Claire Bears photo may be Aaron's first OB collectible

I don’t know if this is actually the first time Henry Aaron was mentioned in a national sports publication, but the earliest such mention that I can recall seeing was this item in the June 18, 1952, issue of The Sporting News.

Under the headline “Clowns Sell kid Shortstop flash to Boston Braves,” Chicago baseball writer Russ J. Cowens, who frequently covered Negro Leagues goings-on for TSN, wrote, “The pace-setting Indianapolis Clowns lost a promising young infielder last week, but came up with two recruits who loom as potential stars.

“The Clowns, who added to their lead in the Negro American League by splitting four games while the Kansas City Monarchs were dropping three, sold Henry Aaron, 17-year-old rookie shortstop, to the Boston Braves, who are to assign him to a farm club. Aaron was slugging the ball at a .427 pace, led the league in doubles with seven, and in homers with eight. He also was the top man for runs batted in with 26.”

The two “potential stars” that the Clowns signed to replace Aaron were Tom Cooper, “a former student at West Virginia State College, and Herbert Benson, a first baseman.”

On the morning of June 9 that season, the Clowns had played to a 17-8 record to lead the NAL.

This early mention of Henry Aaron reminded me that I have squirreled away in my “archives” what I now realize may be the first collectible item ever issued of Aaron . . . at least the first while he was in Organized Baseball.

It is an 8” x 10” black-and-white team-issued glossy photo of the 1952 Eau Claire Bears.
Aaron is shown seated at the left end of middle row. The Bears were a Boston Braves farm team and Aaron’s first club in Organized Baseball.

Three other future Major Leaguers are shown in the team photo – two of them managers. Aaron’s future outfield teammate Wes Covington is pictured in the back row, third from right. Also in the photo are Bears manager Bill Adair, who had a 10-game stint as manager of the Chicago White Sox, and Johnny Goryl, who played for the Cubs 1957-59 and the Twins 1962-64, managing the Twins in 1980-81.

The 1952 Eau Claire Bears finished third in the Class C Northern League in 1952. Aaron led the team (and was third in the league) with a .336 batting average. His nine home runs in 87 games were only fourth best on the team (Covingtonled with 24).

Aaron is pictured on an earlier postcard of the Indianapolis Clowns, predating his career in Organized Baseball. 

Eau Claire baseball historian Jason Christopherson was able to add a couple of tidbits about some of Aaron's '52 Bears teammates.

He wrote, "Back row, far left is Charles "Chet" Morgan Jr., son of Chet Morgan Sr., an outfielder briefly with the Tigers in the 1930s.

"And in the second row, third from the left, is Chuck Doehler, who just passed away a month or so ago. Though he never made it far professionally (he was a late-season fill in for the injured "John" Covington in 1952) as a player, Doehler has one of the most unique baseball connections you could ever imagine. Chuck was one of the last to see the earthly remains of Babe Ruth (long story, but Claire had the casket re-opened so that Chuck and his late-arriving Babe Ruth League teammates could place a ball with Babe), and one of the first to welcome the new HR King, Henry Aaron. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

How to order my custom cards

I get a fair amount of inquiries about the availability of my custom card creations.

By making this blog entry, and updating it as necessary, readers should be able to find virtually the entire body of my work in this field.

As I've mentioned in the past, I make my cards in extremely small numbers. I generally print a sheet of nine cards when working in the modern (1957+) format, and eight when working with the old large-size Topps/Bowman issues of 1956 and earlier. 

Since I generally only need two of each of my cards for my "master" sets, the other half-dozen or so extra cards are theoretically available. I'm not in the "business" of selling my custom cards, but it is easier on everybody if I just put a price on them to help cover my materials and time, than to explain to serious collectors of a particular player, team or set, why I don't make my cards available.

And I'll admit it, it's gratifying to my ego when somebody likes what I have created enough to want one for their own collection.

Virtually all of my cards are available at $7.50 each, $6 each for three or more (feel free to mix and match). All prices are postpaid. Because I offer these cards for individual collectors, rather than for resale, I reserve the right to limit quantities.

Cards can be ordered by sending a check or money order to: Bob Lemke, P.O. Box 8, Iola, WI 54945. I will also accept PayPal. If you want to remit via PayPal, you'll need to email me at to get my account name.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Pirates 1951 exhibition benefited blinded player

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

            A benefit game for Julius “Moose” Solters was played on July 9, 1951, at Forbes Field between current Pittsburgh Pirates players and former Pirates active on other teams.
            Solters, who had played nine Major League seasons, all in the American League, had been blinded as a result of an accident on the diamond during the 1941 season and had been trying to support his wife and five children by operating a tavern in the Beltzhoover district of Pittsburgh.
            After outfield practice at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 1, Solters got in the way of a baseball thrown by teammate Joe Kuhel to Luke Appling. “I was crossing the field, heading for the dugout, when I saw my two brothers-in-law in the stands. I waved to them and that’s all I remembered,” he said later. 
            The ball struck Solters in the left temple. He was hospitalized for two weeks with a fractured skull.
            He returned to action on Aug. 14, but by the end of the month, had to remove himself from the line up frequently, sometimes for days at a time.
            The next season he his eyesight began to fail and he eventually became totally blind.
            The 1951 benefit was organized by former Pirates infielders Lee Handley and Frank Gustine..
            The Solters benefit game was the Pirates’ third charity exhibition in a month. The first two had been a home-and-home series with the Cleveland Indians.
On June 11 at Municipal Stadium, in a game dubbed the Health and Welfare Exhibition, the Bucs had beat the Indians 9-5 before a crowd of 8,568.
A return engagement at Pittsburgh on June 25 was a benefit for the Children’s Hospital. A home run derby, an accuracy throwing contest for catchers and a base-running race, preceded that game. Winning wrist watches for their performances in the pre-game contests were Ralph Kiner, with five home runs, Joe Garagiola, who was the only catcher to throw a ball into a bucket at second base, and Bobby Avila, who circled the bases in 15.4 second. In the game, the Pirates defeated the Indians 5-2 before a crowd of 9,517.
The Pirates turned over their share of the gate, $6,640 to the Children’s Hospital, while the Forbes Field union employees donated their night’s pay, $1,418.
In the July 9 Solters benefit game, the current Pirates defeated the former Bucs 1-0, before a crowd of 9,533..
In the line-up for the current Pirates was a “ringer” in the person of shortstop Danny O’Connell. O’Connell was then serving in the U.S. Army, stationed in Virginia. He had returned to Pittsburgh on a three-day pass. That pass was extended when U.S. Senator Herman Welker of Idaho phoned O’Connell’s commanding officer and requested the extension so that O’Connell could participate in the benefit game. Welker was an accredited scout for the Pirates. Since army colonels don’t say no to U.S. senators, O’Connell was OK’d to play.
The “former Pirates” had their own ringer. Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller, coming off his third career no-hitter, did a bit of relief work. Feller had been snubbed by American League manager Casey Stengel for the All-Star team, and paid his own way to Pittsburgh for the Solters benefit. Feller had been a teammate of Solters with the Indians,  1937-39. Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, Feller was tagged with the loss.
In a short speech at home plate after he was presented with a check for the game’s proceeds of $15,633, Solters, according to Pittsburghbaseball writer Dan McGibbeney, “‘looked’ around spacious Forbes Field and, with a sob in his voice, said:
“‘It is the most wonderful feeling to know that I have so many friends. As I stand here tonight I can see in my mind the beautiful green trees and grass which make such a wonderful backdrop beyond the outfield walls. This wonderful gesture you are making tonight proves once again to me that baseball and its people are truly the best sports in the world.’”
Besides the game’s proceeds, the fund for Solters was bolstered to more than $16,000 with other donations, including $250 each from the American League, the National League and the Commissioner’s office.
The 14 Pirates’ alumni who played in the game were: Stan Rojek, Wally Westlake and Cliff Chambers (Cardinals), Bob Elliott and Ebba St. Claire (Braves), Dixie Howell and Jimmy Bloodworth (Reds), Ken Heintzelman (Phillies), Gene Woodling and Johnny Hopp (Yankees), John Berardino and Dale Long (Browns), Hank Borowy (Tigers) and Clyde Kluttz (Senators).
The current Pirates’ lineup played the entire game, with O’Connell (3b), Rocky Nelson (1b), George Metkovitch (cf), Gus Bell (rf), Pete Reiser (lf), Ed FitzGerald (c), Monty Basgall (2b), George Strickland (ss) and Junior Walsh (p).
The Pirates’ principal star and drawing card, Ralph Kiner, was not at the benefit game. He was in Detroit at a meeting of league and player representatives held the day before the July 10 All-Star Game.
Though he had begun playing baseball in the sandlots around his native Pittsburgh in the 1920s, Solters had never played for the Pirates. He spent his entire big league career in the American League.
His pro career began in 1927. After hitting .393 with Binghamton in 1932 and .363 with Baltimorein 1933, he entered the major leagues with the Boston Red Sox in 1934, batting .299. He was traded in mid-1935 to the Browns. Prior to the 1937 season he was traded to the Indians, where he had his best season, hitting .323. He returned to the Browns on waivers late in1939. In 1940 he was traded to the White Sox.
Following his injury, Solters sat out the 1942 season. He returned to play in 42 games as a fourth outfielder for Chicago in 1943, hitting just .155 against wartime pitching.
Solters appeared in several of the major baseball card issues contemporary with his career, notably 1934 Goudey, 1934-36 Diamond Stars (shown at top), 1939 and 1940 Play Ball (shown above) and 1941 Double Play. He died in 1975.