Monday, April 27, 2009

#57 Cardinals Team Card

#57 Cardinals Team Card
The two things that stand out about this team card (other than the lemon yellow background) are the classic striped stirrups and the grinning bus driver in the middle row, far right. It was nice of the Cardinals to let Jackie Gleason in on their team portrait. At the time this photo was taken, this was Johnny Keane's St. Louis team. Of course, we've already seen him bolt to the Yankees, leaving the Cards in the hands of Red Schoendienst.

The Cardinals won the whole ball of wax in 1964, besting an end-of-an-era Yankee team in a back-and-forth seven-game World Series. In the regular season, they had the same 93-69 record that they had compiled the previous season. Whereas they finished six games behind the Dodgers in 1963, the Redbirds managed to eke out the National League pennant by a single game over both the Reds and Phillies the following year. The Giants (three games) and Braves (five games) also finished within striking distance in a thrilling pennant race. St. Louis scored 715 runs (second-best in the N.L.), and allowed 652 (fourth-worst), and outplayed their run differential by five wins. 1,143,294 fans piled into Sportsman's Park in 81 home games, placing their attendance squarely in the middle of the league.

How did the Cards outscore their peers? They topped the senior circuit with a .272 average, and their .324 on-base percentage and .392 slugging mark were #2. Lou Brock provided an unexpected spark, hitting .348 with 33 steals after a midseason trade from the Cubs. Curt Flood (.311) was also a table-setter at the top of the order. Third baseman and N.L. MVP Ken Boyer (.295, 24 HR, 119 RBI) and first baseman Bill White (.303, 21 HR, 102 RBI) were the big run producers. Boyer, Flood, White, and shortstop Dick Groat (.295, 35 doubles) were All-Stars. Last but not least, catcher Tim McCarver (.288, 9 HR, 52 RBI) packed a pretty good bat for a backstop.

While the pitching hung near the back of the pack in total runs allowed, a 3.43 ERA is no small potatoes. Future Hall of Famer Bob Gibson (19-12, 3.01 ERA, 285 K) was starting to hit his stride, reaching new career highs in wins, complete games, and strikeouts. 35-year-old Curt Simmons, discarded by the Phillies a few years earlier, came back to haunt them (18-9, 3.43). Young Ray Sadecki (20-11, 3.68) led the club in wins. Journeyman Barney Schultz (1.64 ERA, 14 saves) was invaluable in relief down the stretch.

After hovering around .500 in their first two seasons under Red Schoendienst, the Cardinals returned to the World Series in both 1967 and 1968, beating the Red Sox in the former and bowing to the Tigers in the latter. St. Louis wouldn't return to the postseason afterward until 1982, when Whitey Herzog's team won its only world title in the first of an eventual three 1980's trips to the Fall Classic.
#57 Cardinals Team Card (back)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

#56 Ron Kline

#56 Ron Kline
It's time for a stream-of-consciousness reaction to Ron Kline's card photo:

-Very short sleeves.
-Odd-length undersleeves.
-Hairy forearms.
-Wilson glove.
-Engineer's hat.

Fun facts about Ron Kline:

-Signed as an amateur free agent by the Pirates in 1950.

-Known for a strange ritual in which he'd touch his cap, belt, and shirt in succession before each pitch.

-At age 20, went 0-7 to start his career in 1952 and then missed the next two seasons for military service.

-Lost his first two decisions in 1955 before finally getting his first career win by shutting out the Cardinals. Unfortunately, winning wasn't contagious; he had a losing record (with double-digit L's) in each of the next five seasons. Ron led the N.L. in losses in 1956 and 1958 despite pitching well (3.38 and 3.53 ERAs, respectively).

-Served up the first of Willie McCovey's 521 career home runs.

-The Cardinals moved him to the bullpen in 1960, but he didn't really take off until joining the Senators in 1963. From 1963-1966, he posted ERAs between 2.32 and 2.79 and double-digit saves in each year. Peaked with a league-leading (and team record) 29 saves in 1965.

-Also had his first winning record (10-7) in 1963, the first of five such seasons in a row. This run culminated with a return to Pittsburgh, where he went 12-5 with 10 straight victories and a 1.68 ERA in 1968.

-An added benefit of his conversion to relief work was less at-bats. Kline hit just .092 with 3 extra-base hits in 491 at-bats in his career. Still, he was 3-for-7 with an RBI against Lew Burdette - go figure!

-Ended his 17-season career with the Braves in 1970, having won 114 games against 144 losses, 108 saves, and a 3.75 ERA.

-Afterward, he served as mayor of Callery, PA (pop. 444), his hometown. He passed away in 2002 at age 70 after struggling with kidney and heart ailments.
#56 Ron Kline (back)

Friday, April 24, 2009

#55 Tony Conigliaro

#55 Tony Conigliaro
Hey, it's Tony C! What a great card. The deep red piping on the classic Red Sox jersey, Tony's intense thousand-yard stare, and of course the majestic All-Star Rookie trophy. The background is even a reasonable facsimile of the Green Monster. Of course, it's probably not the real thing; there's no Citgo sign visible. But the best part of this card may be the use of the phrase "great-guns" on the back.

Fun facts about Tony Conigliaro:

-The Red Sox signed young Tony (from nearby Revere, MA) when he was only seventeen, in 1962.

-Made his major league debut in 1964, hitting a home run in his first at-bat against Joe Horlen of the White Sox.

-Hit .290 with 24 homers that year, but missed time with a broken arm and broken toes.

-Bucked the sophomore jinx by leading the American League with 32 roundtrippers.

-In 1967, made his only All-Star team and became the youngest player to reach 100 career home runs.

-On August 18, 1967, he was hitting .287 with 20 home runs and 67 RBI when he faced Jack Hamilton of the Angels. Tony failed to duck out of the way of an inside pitch, and was hit in the cheekbone. The fastball shattered his left cheekbone and severely damaged his left retina, and shelved him for the rest of the year and all of the next season.

-Made a remarkable return in 1969, hitting 20 HR and 82 RBI to win Comeback Player of the Year honors.

-Teamed with brother Billy to form two-thirds of the Red Sox outfield in 1970, and also reached career highs with 36 longballs and 116 ribbies.

-His eyesight never fully bounced back, and after a rough half-season with the Angels in 1971, his career was essentially through at age 26. He attempted a comeback with the BoSox in 1975, but it lasted only 21 games.

-The tragedy didn't end with Tony's retirement. In 1982, the 37-year-old suffered a massive heart attack and soon lapsed into a coma. He remained in poor health until his death eight years later from kidney failure and pneumonia.
#55 Tony Conigliaro (back)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

#47 Tommy Harper

#47 Tommy Harper
Tommy Harper knows that the week is more than half over, and he couldn't be happier about it! I don't know about you, but I'm with him all the way.

Fun facts about Tommy Harper:

-Originally from Louisiana, he played high school ball in California, where he was teammates with Willie Stargell and Curt Motton.

-Signed with the Reds in 1960 as a 19-year-old.

-In his second full season, he stole 22 bases in 1964, the first in a run of 11 seasons out of 12 in which he swiped 20 or more bags.

-Led the National League with 126 runs scored in 1965.

-Hit safely in 24 straight games in 1966.

-After a few subpar seasons, was exposed to the expansion draft in 1969. Became the Seattle Pilots' second-round pick, and led the ill-fated team and the league with 73 steals (including four in one game vs. the White Sox!). He was the first batter in Pilots history, and the following year he repeated the feat as the first-ever Brewers batter.

-Had a career year in 1970, establishing personal bests in doubles (35), home runs (31), RBI (82), and average (.296) while making his only All-Star team. He also stole 38 bases, making him the fifth-ever member of the 30 HR/30 SB club.

-A year after joining the Red Sox in a ten-player trade that included George Scott and Ken Brett (George's brother), Tommy won his second stolen base crown in 1973 with 54 thefts (a Boston team record). He also hit .281 with 17 home runs and was named the team's MVP.

-Retired in 1976 after spending his final two seasons bouncing from California to Oakland to Baltimore. His 408 steals are 61st all-time.

-Coached for the Red Sox (1980-1984, 2000-2002) and Expos (1990-1999).
#47 Tommy Harper (back)

Monday, April 20, 2009

#44 Wade Blasingame

#44 Wade Blasingame
Sheesh, I didn't think I'd be going a week without posting. Busy times at work, and an even busier weekend - I was home for a grand total of four hours from Friday through Sunday. But let's get back on track with our second Blasingame in the last three cards. Wade Blasingame is not related to Don, believe it or not. I'm not sure of the significance in the two ink lines at the top of the card; maybe it was the second copy of this card that a previous owner pulled, or perhaps Wade was his 11th-favorite player.

Fun facts about Wade Blasingame:

-Hailing from Deming, NM, Wade signed with the Milwaukee Braves for a $100,000 bonus in 1961.

-Made the leap to the majors in late 1963 at age 19.

-Had a promising rookie season, going 9-5 with a 4.24 ERA as a swingman in 1964. Manager Bobby Bragan said that he had the best curveball in the league.

-His first major league win was a complete game, 7-1 victory over the Cubs on July 5, 1964.

-Broke out in 1965 with a 16-10 record, 10 complete games, and a 3.77 ERA, all career bests.

-Started the last Braves home game in Milwaukee on September 22, 1965. He was chased in the fifth inning, having earned six runs. He did outlast the opposing starter, Sandy Koufax (5 ER in 2 IP).

-Suffered from a fractured finger and sore arm the following year, which seriously curtailed his effectiveness.

-Spent parts of six seasons with the Astros following a 1967 trade from Atlanta. His only full season as a starter in that span was 1971 (9-11, 4.60).

-In 1971, hit the last of his three career home runs, a solo shot off of Steve Carlton.

-Finished his career in 1972 with the Yankees. In ten seasons, he was 46-51 with a 4.52 ERA.
#44 Wade Blasingame (back)

Monday, April 13, 2009

#42 Earl Wilson

#42 Earl Wilson
Earl Wilson is pitching right in front of the visitors' dugout. If I were his unidentified teammate down below (number twentysomething?), I would be a little more alert. Just sayin'.

Fun facts about Earl Wilson:

-A son of Louisiana, he signed with the Red Sox in 1953, at age eighteen.

-Missed 1957-1958 due to military service.

-Became the first black pitcher in Beantown when he debuted in 1959.

-On June 26, 1962, he no-hit the Angels and hit a home run in a 2-0 BoSox victory.

-Posted double-digit wins in eight straight seasons (1962-1969). After defying management's wishes by speaking out about a Boston bar's refusal to serve him, he was traded to Detroit in June 1966. Earl responded by posting a 35-17 record through the rest of 1966 and 1967. 1967 brought a career-high 22 wins against 11 losses.

-Posted a career-low 2.85 ERA in 1968 for the World Champion Tigers. Was knocked out in the fifth inning in his only World Series start, allowing three Cardinal runs.

-Could hold his own with the bat, notching a .195 career average with 35 home runs (including 33 as a pitcher, fifth all-time among moundsmen) and 111 RBI. Twice went deep seven times in a year.

-Retired in 1970 with a career 121-109 record and a 3.69 ERA in eleven seasons.

-Post-baseball, Wilson founded an auto parts company in Detroit and served as president of the Baseball Assistance Team, which provides financial assistance to former baseball players and personnel.

-Died of a heart attack at age 70 in 2005. (I hope I get to write up a living player again soon, especially in light of a tragic week in baseball.)
#42 Earl Wilson (back)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

#21 Don Blasingame

#21 Don Blasingame
After a false start, we're back to my trade with Don. The next card is a player named Don - what are the odds? I think I actually like this Senators hat, with the red "W" and piping on navy, rather than the white-on-red or white-on-navy that the Nationals went with in the mid-2000s. Don Blasingame certainly wears it well, anyhow.

Fun facts about Don Blasingame:

-A native Mississippian, Don signed with the Cardinals in 1953.

-Replaced Red Schoendienst as the Cards' everyday second baseman in 1956, his rookie season.

-One of his St. Louis teammates in 1956-1957 was his future father-in-law, catcher Walker Cooper!

-Had one of his most productive seasons in 1957, hitting .271 with career highs of 8 home runs and 58 RBI, 21 steals, and 108 runs scored.

-Was an All-Star in 1958, when he hit .274 with 20 steals and 10 triples.

-Was one of the hardest batters to double up in baseball history; he grounded into one double play per 123 at-bats, second all-time behind Don Buford.

-His .289 average and 26 doubles in 1959 were personal bests.

-Four times in his career, Don collected his team's only hit in a game; Cesar Tovar and Eddie Milner hold the record with five such hits each.

-Spent parts of twelve seasons (1955-1966) in the majors with the Cardinals, Giants, Reds, Senators, and Athletics, hitting .258.

-Extended his career in Japan, playing, coaching, and managing from 1967-1982.

-"Blazer" died of heart failure in Fountain Hills, AZ in 2005; he was 73.
#21 Don Blasingame (back)

Friday, April 10, 2009

#231 Jerry Adair

#231 Jerry Adair

This is a first for me when it comes to vintage card collecting. I've seen homemade "traded" cards before, but this is the first homemade error card that I can recall. The anonymous designer had correctly designated Jerry Adair as a Kansas City Royal following his selection in the 1968 expansion draft, but then second-guessed himself. Perhaps he was still confused by the Athletics' recent relocation from Kansas City to Oakland and hedged his bets. Then again, maybe this card was altered again during Adair's coaching stint with the A's. Poor Jerry looks just as confused as the previous owner of his card.

Fun facts about Jerry Adair:

-An Oklahoman through and through, he signed with the Orioles for a $40,000 bonus in 1958 after starring in both baseball and basketball at Oklahoma State University.

-Had his finest all-around season with the bat in 1962, his second year as a regular: .284, 29 2B, 11 HR, 48 RBI.

-Carved out a reputation as an excellent defensive player, setting a record with 89 straight errorless games (a total of 458 chances) at second base in 1964.

-Led the American League with a .994 fielding percentage in 1964 and a .986 mark in 1965.

-Had a reputation as a tough player who often took the field with various nagging injuries. During the first game of a doubleheader against the Tigers in 1964, he was struck in the mouth with an errant throw and suffered a laceration that required 11 stitches. He was reportedly back in uniform for Game Two.

-After spending a year on the south side of Chicago, changed socks via a June 1967 trade to Boston. Played an important role for the "Impossible Dream" Red Sox, hitting .291 and filling in at three different infield positions (shortstop, second base, third base).

-Unfortunately, hit .125 (2 for 16) in Boston's seven-game World Series loss to the Cardinals.

-His major league career ended in 1970 with the Royals. In parts of thirteen seasons, he batted .254 with 57 home runs and 366 RBI.

-Played one season in Japan with the Hankyu Braves before embarking on a brief coaching career with the Athletics (1972-1974) and Angels (1975).

-Liver cancer ended his life prematurely; he passed away in 1987 at age 50.

#231 Jerry Adair (back)

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

#188 Sam Bowens

#188 Sam Bowens
Whoops! I went a bit out of order in posting the AL Batting Leaders card from Don. Before I traded with him, I got a couple of well-loved Orioles from Ed in one of our face-to-face swap meets. First up is Sam Bowens, whose card redefines the term "rounded corners". I like it.

Fun facts about Sam Bowens:

-Born in Wilmington, NC, Sam played for the Nashville Elite Giants of the Negro League and attended Tennessee State University before signing with the Orioles as a free agent in 1960.

-Spent parts of three years in the minors with the Rochester Red Wings, where he was acknowledged by some as the fastest player in the league.

-After hitting .333 in 15 games in Baltimore in 1963, was one-third of the team's starting outfield in 1964 (along with Jackie Brandt and Boog Powell).

-Hit .263 with 22 home runs and 71 RBI that year, tying an Orioles rookie record for longballs that has since been broken by Cal Ripken, Jr.

-Could not follow up on his strong freshman effort, struggling with a leg injury, alcoholism and a 1965 beaning. He hit no higher than .210 in any subsequent season.

-Hung on as a major leaguer for six seasons in total, largely on the strength of his glove and powerful throwing arm.

-Though he played for the Orioles in 1966, he did not get into a single World Series game.

-Finished his career with the Senators. When they optioned him to the minors in 1969, he took his sweet time reporting...13 days total.

-Hit 6-for-13 (.462) with a double and three home runs in his career against Jim "Mudcat" Grant, a two-time All-Star.

-Sam died in Wilmington in 2003 at age 64. He was survived by three children, all of whom lived in Indianapolis, IN at the time of his death.
#188 Sam Bowens (back)

Sunday, April 05, 2009

#1 AL Batting Leaders: Tony Oliva, Brooks Robinson, and Elston Howard

#1 AL Batting Leaders
Now we're getting into a chunk of cards that I received from Don in exchange for various set building needs of his (mostly 1993 Donruss). I also sent him a stack of Tigers, as he's a team collector as well. I haven't run into many Tigers fans in trading. It's mostly Red Sox and Mets and to a slightly lesser extent, Yankees. But that's just my experience. Anyway, the first card from Don is one of the bookends of the set. I remember reading in a Beckett magazine that the first and last card of vintage sets are among the hardest to find in good condition, as kids in those days would keep their cards in place by binding them together with a rubber band. This one's in good shape though.

This is the second time we've seen Brooks Robinson on a leaders card, coming off of his MVP season of 1964. He was runner-up in batting average to Tony Oliva, who hit .323 to win the crown as a rookie. Oliva would repeat in 1965 (.321), and recently schooled his grandson in Wii Sports baseball. Brooksie hit .317 as part of a top ten finish in each of the Triple Crown categories (1st in RBI: 118, tied for 10th in HR: 28). Ellie Howard was the first black Yankees player, and had his last great season, hitting .313 at age 35. I enjoy the in-depth listing of the top batters on the card back, as Topps goes fifty deep. You can see that the pitching was pretty strong, with Mickey Mantle, Floyd Robinson, and Bill Freehan being the only other hitters in the American League to bat .300. Although he hit just .246, I'm sure Tom Tresh slept well at night knowing that he was the fiftieth-best batter in the league in 1964!
#1 AL Batting Leaders (back)

Friday, April 03, 2009

#333 Tommie Reynolds

#333 Tommie Reynolds
I really need to get cranking with these entries, because I got a significant box of 1965 Topps cards in the mail today. How significant? I haven't even had time to sort them yet! Thanks to reader Jamie, who hopefully will get to see some of his contributions sometime before 2010. Today's special is Tommie Reynolds, who sneaked into a box of Orioles that Jim of the Garvey, Cey, Russell, and Lopes blog sent me. In return, I sent a parcel of Dodgers and Twins. Thanks, Jim!

Fun facts about Tommie Reynolds:

-Hailed from Arizona, LA. Signed with the A's as an amateur free agent in 1963.

-Hit .332 with 27 home runs with the A-level Burlington Bees in his first pro season to earn a late-season promotion to Kansas City.

-His first career home run was a three-run shot off of the Tigers' Mickey Lolich on April 30, 1964, part of a career-best 4-RBI game. He owned Lolich throughout his career, hitting 15-for-28 (.536) with a triple and two home runs (the only pitcher he took deep twice).

-Was a Rule V draftee twice in his career: the Mets claimed him from the Athletics in 1966, and then the A's claimed him back two years later.

-Despite a strong minor league track record (he hit over .300 eight times - min. 200 AB), he never hit enough to stick in the majors. His career-best performance was in 1969, when he hit .257/.343/.308 and played 89 games in the outfield (mostly in left).

-Twice notched four hits in a game: Sept. 2, 1965 and Aug. 26, 1969.

-His major league career ended after a swing through Milwaukee in 1972, but the career .226 hitter continued to play well at AAA for the Brewers until 1978.

-His cousin, Floyd Robinson, hit .283 as an outfielder (primarily with the White Sox) in the 1960s.

-Had a 198-221 record as a minor league manager in the Oakland organization, 1986-1988.

-Coached at the major league level for the A's (1989-1995) and Cardinals (1996).
#333 Tommie Reynolds (back)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

#330 Whitey Ford

#330 Whitey Ford
We're wrapping up another handful of cards from Max with yet another Hall of Famer. Not just any Hall of Famer: the Chairman of the Board. Whitey Ford looks like he was born in those pinstripes. For some reason, he also looks a bit wall-eyed, but never mind.

Fun facts about Whitey Ford:

-A native New Yorker, Whitey signed with the Yankees in 1947.

-Hit the ground running with a 9-1 record and 2.81 ERA as a rookie in 1950. Finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to Boston's Walt Dropo, who batted .322 with 34 HR and 144 RBI. Dropo was five years older than Ford, for what that's worth.

-Lost the 1951 and 1952 seasons, as he served in the Army during the Korean War.

-Returned in 1953 to go 18-6. His .750 winning percentage set the stage for a long run of thirteen straight winning seasons (fourteen, if you include 1950). He didn't post a losing mark until he was 36 years old in 1966, when he went 2-5 and only started nine games. Overall, his .690 winning percentage is a record for pitchers with 200 or more wins.

-Pitched in eleven World Series with the Yankees (the team went 6-5), going 10-8 with a 2.71 ERA. Holds several Fall Classic records, including wins, strikeouts (94) and Game 1 starts (8).

-Won ERA crowns in 1956 (2.47) and 1958 (2.01).

-His best season was 1961, when he went 25-4 with a 3.21 ERA. The ERA was actually his second-highest, but a career-high 283 innings pitched combined with a record-breaking Yankee offense (led by Mantle and Maris' pursuit of Babe Ruth's home run record) gave Whitey his first 20-win season. He won the Cy Young Award and the World Series MVP (2-0, 6 H, 0 ER in 14 IP).

-Retired during the 1967 season, his 16th with New York. Overall, he was 236-106 (A Yankee record for wins) with 156 complete games, 45 shutouts, and a 2.75 ERA.

-Was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974, and had his #16 retired by the Yankees that year. His son Eddie was drafted in the first round by the Red Sox that summer, and reached AAA as a shortstop before his career stalled.

-Post-retirement, he admitted to doctoring the baseball, which was a poorly-kept secret in the first place. He used his wedding ring (and later a sharpened belt buckle) to scuff the ball, and relied on catcher Elston Howard to "lose his balance" and brace himself with the hand holding the ball, thereby coating it in mud before throwing it back to the mound. Stories like this make me wonder if much of the steroid furor in baseball is just a tad hypocritical.
#330 Whitey Ford (back)