Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Donation from Fleerfan, Part Five: Simmons, Mahaffey, Geiger, O'Dell

This wraps up my breakdown of a great gift from reader and fellow blogger Fleerfan. If you've enjoyed my tidbits about these cards and the players featured on them, you can contribute to my next round of posts! You know the drill, send me a trade offer if you've got 1965 Topps to spare. Even if you don't, I'll trade my doubles for almost anything. I have specific want lists over to the left of this post, of course. I've already made a couple big trades that I'm very happy with...I'm getting closer to completing my late 1980's Topps sets!

I've previously mentioned the excellent book October 1964, and the first two players in today's post are players in that story as well. Curt Simmons had started his career with the Phillies, his breakout season coming during the 1950 "Whiz Kids" campaign (17-8, 3.40 ERA). He had several more strong seasons for the Phils, winning 115 games total for them. But arm injuries cost him most of 1959 and contributed to a poor start in 1960, and Simmons was released on May 17. The Cardinals picked him up three days later, and he quickly returned to form, winning 59 games over the next five seasons. The Cardinals' 1964 World Series win over the Yankees would not have been possible without the three aces at the top of their starting rotation: Bob Gibson (19-12, 3.01), Ray Sadecki (20-11, 3.68), and the 35-year-old Simmons (18-9, 3.43). Of course, the Cardinals won the NL pennant in thrilling fashion, surging from behind to overcome Simmons' former team from Philadelphia. Speaking of which...

#446 Art Mahaffey

Much has been written about the historic collapse of the 1964 Phillies, who blew a six-and-a-half game lead in the season's final twelve games by losing ten straight. If manager Gene Mauch had a little more faith in Art Mahaffey, maybe things would have been different. Mahaffey was about league-average for a starting pitcher for most of his career; even in 1962, when he won a career-high 19 games, his 3.94 ERA was higher than the mean. Still, Art was fairly solid in that 1964 season, winning 12 and losing 9 with a 4.52 ERA. During the Phils' slide, he pitched some good games. He lost the first of the ten, a hard-luck 1-0 game against the Reds. He waited until game six for another turn, leaving in the eighth inning with a thin 4-3 lead over the Braves that was surrendered by the bullpen. Finally, he made one more appearance in relief, tossing a scoreless third inning in the ninth consecutive loss after Dennis Bennett was chased early by the Cardinal bats.

Rather than give Mahaffey his last regularly scheduled start or two, Mauch was running Jim Bunning and Chris Short (his two top starters) to the mound on extremely short rest, with predictably poor results. Art would last for just two seasons beyond 1964, his career finished at age twenty-eight. His manager's lack of confidence may have affected Art, but it was more likely the residual effects of an arm injury in 1963 that had sapped him of his velocity.

#452 Gary Geiger

Gary Geiger looks somewhat baby-faced for a 27-year-old outfielder. He also might be suppressing a laugh at the expense of that excellent vintage Red Sox logo. So much better than the ho-hum pair of non-anthropomorphic socks they have now. Gary had a rough year in 1964, as he dropped to 135 pounds (from a playing weight of about 170) following an operation for a bleeding ulcer. He played in just five games that year. Other fun (but unfortunate) facts: he wore false teeth from the age of 22 onward (his own teeth were too soft to have the cavities filled, so he had them pulled), and he had a fear of flying. As a player, he was a pretty good pitcher in the minors before switching to the outfield. He hit 70 of his 77 career home runs in his first five years in Boston, but the medical emergency in 1964 marked the end of his days as a regular.

#476 Billy O'Dell

We're going out in style! This is my favorite card yet in my budding 1965 Topps set. Why? Just look at Billy, with his no-nonsense flattop (Flattop #2 in my set, following Hal Woodeshick) that you could set a watch to. His wide, aw-shucks grin illuminates every crag and crease in his weathered face; if Gary Geiger is the youngest 27-year-old around, Billy O'Dell may be the oldest 32-year-old. He looks like he stepped right out of a John Wayne movie.

I also love this card because Billy is one of the earliest of the ex-Orioles. He was signed as a bonus baby in June 1954, joining the team just two months after they debuted in Baltimore. His earned run average was well below league average for each of his three full seasons in orange and black, and he made two All-Star teams in that span. His most memorable moment may have been the 1958 Midsummer Classic, when he shut the door on the NL boys with three perfect innings (including strikeouts of Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Bill Mazeroski). O'Dell earned the save in front of the hometown fans in Memorial Stadium.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Donation from Fleerfan, Part Four: Woodeshick, Hinton, Bearnarth, Stanek

And Hal represents Part Two of the Great Houston Kerfluffle. Topps has finally figured out that the team will be called the Astros, and kept the "Houston" text so no one will be confused. No logo, of course. Hal, in addition to his sharp flattop and rugged gaze, was a pretty good reliever. He made the All-Star team in 1963 by winning 11 games and saving 10 others without the benefit of a single start. The following year he led the National League with 23 saves, which actually is impressive for the era. His 2.76 ERA that year was actually his highest between 1963 and 1966.

Hey, another All-Star! Chuck is fresh off of his 1964 season, in which he represented the Senators in the Midsummer Classic. Oddly enough, his performance that year (.274, 11 HR, 53 RBI) wasn't nearly as good as his 1962 campaign (.310, 17 HR, 75 RBI), for which he did not receive an All-Star nod. Here we see another example of the Hide-the-Hat phenomenon. Topps scrambled to cover up any indicators that Hinton had been a Senator; Washington traded him to the Indians on December 1, 1964. Chuck even had ties to the Orioles, having been signed by the team in 1956 as a free agent. Before he ever made his big league debut, the Senators grabbed him in the 1960 Expansion Draft.

Larry is a college boy, having been signed by the Mets after graduating from St. John's University with an English degree. Yep, that's one thing that Larry and I have in common. New York sent him straight to AAA Syracuse, where he went 2-13 with a 6.67 ERA. Still, the Mets were so awful that they promoted him the very next year, and he saw action in 58 games (third-most in the N. L.). He was much improved, sporting a 3.46 ERA. But his major league performance peaked in that first season, and by 1967 he was back in the minors to stay...or was he? In 1971, he made his return to the bigs with the Brewers, tossing three terrible innings. He found new life in baseball as a pitching coach, spending the next quarter-century mentoring pitchers in the Expos and Rockies organizations. Larry passed away on December 31, 1999.

Believe it or not, Al didn't even pitch in the majors in 1964. He'd debuted with the Giants the previous year, struggling in 11 relief appearances. Topps seems to have given him a card in 1965 on the strength of his efforts in AAA Tacoma, where he won 13 games with a 2.83 ERA and led the Pacific Coast League in strikeouts with 220. Unfortunately, Stanek never made it back to the bigs. Maybe his control problems had something to do with it - along with those 220 K's, he also allowed 108 walks. If anyone has more information on the demise of Al's career, let me know. He's last mentioned in The Sporting News archives in 1967, at which time he was still twirling in the minors.

Next time: the last four cards from Fleerfan! (Spoiler: they're the best cards in the group.)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Donation from Fleerfan, Part Three: Lanier, Daniels, Duffalo, Mikkelsen

Hal Lanier is a rather sad case of what could have been, as his golden (yellow, anyway) Rookie Cup can attest. He turned heads by batting .274 in 1964, but it would be his best offensive performance by far. The after-effects of a 1965 beaning left him with epilepsy, and he never hit above .233 for the rest of his career. He did have some success as a manager, winning the Manager of the Year award in 1986 for guiding the Astros to a 96-66 record and an NL West title in his first season at the helm.

#129 Bennie Daniels

Check out that nifty Senators logo, with the batter following through on a mighty wallop out in front of the Capitol. Bennie Daniels was a decent pitcher for the second incarnation of the Washington Senators, the team that eventually became the Rangers (the first DC team moved to Minnesota and became the Twins). Bennie was on both the winning and losing ends of history. He took the 'L' in the final games ever played at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and old Griffith Stadium in Washington. However, he was victorious in the first game ever played in District of Columbia Stadium, which would later be known as RFK Stadium. Daniels went the distance that day, allowing 5 hits and besting the Tigers 4-1 with President Kennedy in attendance. According to baseball historian Lee Allen, he also notched the win in the 100,000th game ever played in the MLB, a 7-2 decision over the Indians in 1963.

Not much information to be found about Jim Duffalo. He appears to have been a solid reliever for the Giants in the first half of the 1960s, with back-to-back ERAs of 2.87 and 2.92 in 1963 and 1964, but they used him sparingly. His career highs were 35 games and 75 and 1/3 innings pitched. He was traded to Cincinnati in May 1965, and that season would prove to be his last. He was just 29 when he pitched his final game. A perfunctory search of Sporting News archives on indicates that he pitched in the minor leagues until 1972 without getting the call back to the big time.

#177 Pete Mikkelsen

Pete is the second bespectacled hurler in my 1965 set so far. He was a former Marine who threw a mean sinker. His performance out of the Yankees' bullpen as a rookie (7-4, 12 saves, 3.56 ERA) helped them get to the 1964 World Series. However, he surrendered a game-winning three-run home run to Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver in the tenth inning of Game Five. St. Louis would go on to win an exciting series in seven games. I highly recommend the late David Halberstam's excellent book on the two teams and that World Series, October 1964.

More to come soon!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Donation from Fleerfan, Part Two: Oliver, Ribant, Checklist, Thomas

Okay, here's the second group of four from the Fleerfan pile. More to come!

Nate "Pee Wee" Oliver's father, Jim Oliver, Sr., played in the Negro Leagues in the 1940's. Nate was a light-hitting backup infielder throughout the 1960's. In 1965, he was actually coming off of his best season as a major leaguer, for what it's worth: his 99 games played, 9 doubles, 21 RBI, and .243 average and .309 on-base percentage were all career highs. He appeared as a pinch runner in Game Four of the 1966 World Series, which my beloved Orioles won to sweep the favored Dodgers. Just had to squeeze that in, you know.

I don't know about you, but I really miss the days when the Mets wore only blue and orange, without all of the black nonsense. It's a pretty shallow excuse to move more merchandise. One of my favorite destinations on the Web is Paul Lukas' Uni Watch Blog. Paul is a diehard Mets fan and a scholar of uniform minutiae, and he also masterminded the Ditch the Black campaign, which aimed to...well, it's self-explanatory. The Mets' uniform as it was originally conceived was a great nod to the tradition of baseball in New York: blue to represent the old Brooklyn Dodgers, and orange for the departed New York Giants. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

#79 Checklist 1

I don't really have much to offer about this checklist, except to say that it arrived with three of the boxes on the back filled in with blue pen. I generally don't fill out my own checklists any more; I tend to keep inventory on spreadsheets and online tools. But there's something charming about those little dark blue ink blots and remembering back to a time when I would have used a checklist for its intended purpose.

George almost seems to be sporting a sneer in his photo, perhaps an indication that his career hasn't been moving along as planned. The Tigers signed him as a "bonus baby" on August 5, 1957, and he got to make his debut that September at the age of 19. He wouldn't be in the bigs to stay until 1961, when the Angels acquired him for cash. His official rookie season was one of the best of his career. He hit .274 with 13 home runs and 59 RBI, and his offensive production was about league-average. The only year he even came close to that performance was 1964, the most recent campaign at the time of this card's production. Back with the Tigers following a June 1963 trade, Thomas batted .286 and went deep 12 times. Though he stuck around until 1971, George never topped 80 games played in another season. Post-retirement he did coach baseball at his alma mater, the University of Minnesota (1979-1981).

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Donation from Fleerfan, Part One: Ramos, Arrigo, Raymond, Bryan

Hey, I actually have an update for you! Reader Fleerfan, who writes the informative Fleer Sticker Project, was generous enough to send me a package containing 20 cards from the 1965 Topps set! To make this whole thing more manageable, I will take a closer look at the cards in increments of four. So I'll have new content on a consistent basis for the next week or two, which is a good start.

Here's a classic Topps cheat. Ramos joined the Yankees via trade with the Indians in September 1964, so they didn't have time to photograph him in his new uniform. Instead of airbrushing (as they would in later years), they simply picked a picture of him hatless. Sure, he's still wearing an Tribe jersey; you can see the red piping instead of the expected navy pinstripes. But who's counting? Pedro's got an interesting stat line: he had a 12-10 record in 1956 as a 21-year old sophomore with the Senators, the first of seven consecutive seasons with both double-digit wins and losses. For the next six years, he logged losing records, including an 11-20 campaign in 1961 with the Twins. As a result, Pedro finished his career with a gruesome 117-160 won-lost record. But the Yankees caught lightning in a bottle with him, as they used him exclusively in the bullpen in September 1964 and he saved 8 games with a 1.25 ERA, a 0.60 WHIP, and a ridiculous 21-0 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Without him, the Yanks might not have gone to the World Series; they finished just one game ahead of the White Sox and two games up on the Orioles.

#39 Gerry Arrigo
Gerry's changing places as well, as Topps is somewhat on the ball. The cartoon on the back indicates that Gerry was traded to the Reds in December 1964. I'm not sure why they didn't just identify him with the Reds on the front, but what the hey. I do love the old-school Twins handshake logo. There aren't enough sports team logos featuring signs of affection. The only other one I can think of is the Kenosha Tree-huggers of the NBDL, which I just made up. A quick check of Baseball Reference tells me that the player the Twins received for Gerry was Cesar Tovar. I'd go ahead and say that Minnesota got the better end of that deal.

#48 Claude Raymond
Get a load of this handsome devil. Love those clear-rimmed specs - Chris Sabo, eat your heart out. You may notice something strange about this card; it simply says "Houston" instead of the team nickname. As you can see from Claude's hat, the Houston franchise entered the National League as an expansion team in 1962, along with the Mets. They were known as the Colt .45s, or the Colts for short. Unsurprisingly, the Colt Firearms Company took issue with the team making money off of their brand. The team changed their name to the Astros in December, presumably too late for Topps to make the change. I suppose they new the change was coming, as they went with the city name and generic state-of-Texas graphic on the early series cards. They would make a change in later series of the set, as you will see in a future post. (Ooh, cliffhanger!)

#51 Billy Bryan
Believe it or not, Billy Bryan is twenty-five years old in this photo. Maybe it's the funny protruding ears, maybe it's the peach fuzz or the unconventional kelly green and yellow uniforms that were Charlie O. Finley's brainchild, but he looks much younger. There's something great about the color scheme of the card itself; the red pennant on the black base really makes it pop. Billy was mostly a bench player in eight seasons, with a .216 average that would make Mario Mendoza proud. However, considering the pitcher-dominated era he played in, his numbers weren't that much lower than the league average. Besides, my good friends at Baseball Reference tell us that his career most resembled that of the cult hero Sal Fasano, so he can't be all that bad.

Well, now that I worked in a Sal Fasano reference, I think I can call it a day. Be back soon with the next foursome!