Wednesday, September 23, 2020

#262 Hank Bauer




Hank Bauer  Kansas City Athletics

Career: Bauer, whose reputation as a tough ex-Marine is widely known, had a 14-year playing career, twelve of those seasons were with the Yankees. His career peaked with the powerhouse early-to-mid 50s Yankees clubs and Bauer was an All-Star from 1952 through 1955. He picked up MVP votes in five straight years beginning in 1952 as well.

Bauer played in nine World Series with the Yanks, winning seven including five straight from 1949 to 1953. He is sixth on the list of World Series at-bats and hit seven Series homers including four in the '57 Series. The card's cartoon mentions the fact that Bauer holds the record for hits in consecutive World Series games. He still holds the record. His streak included 1956 WS games 1-7, 1957 WS games 1-7, and 1958 WS games 1-3. warren Spahn's two-hit shutout of the Yanks in Game Four of the '58 Classic ended Bauer's run. He got the last laugh though, as he homered off Spahn in his first at-bat in Game Six and he got his ring in the end.

He finished his career with the Athletics in '60/'61. He was the As' player/manager for part of his final active season.

Bauer managed the A's in both KC & Oakland, as well as the Orioles and he won another ring when the '66 Birds swept the Dodgers.

There is a lot more to the Hank Bauer story than I can include here so I'll point you to his SABR bio for a long but entertaining read.


In 1960: Bauer came to the Athletics in the December '59 trade that sent Roger Maris to the Yankees. He got into 95 games and hit a respectable .275 which is right about his career average.

Off The Charts: Bauer's WWII Marine story as told by Wikipedia...
One month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Bauer enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served with the 4th Raider Battalion and G Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines. While deployed to the Pacific Theater, Bauer contracted malaria on Guadalcanal, however he recovered from that well enough to earn 11 campaign ribbons, two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts (for being wounded in action) in 32 months of combat and the Navy Commendation Medal. Bauer was wounded his second time during the Battle of Okinawa, when he was a sergeant in command of a platoon of 64 Marines. Only six of the 64 Marines survived the Japanese counterattack, and Bauer was wounded by shrapnel in his thigh. His wounds were severe enough to send him back to the United States to recuperate.
Hanks's next-to-last career homer was an inside-the-park job off his pal, Whitey Ford in June of 1961 at Yankee Stadium. I bet they laughed about that one over beers a time or two. Baseball-Reference's home run log says it was hit to 'deep' centerfield. In Yankee Stadium that likely means it rolled to the monuments.

The Card: Topps had their artist paint the A's logo on to Bauer's cap but so little of it is visible on the color shot you wonder why they bothered.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

#261 Pete Burnside

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Pete Burnside  Detroit Tigers

Career: Burnside was a high school phenom who wowed the scouts with a blazing fastball. His control, however, was another matter. He never quite got a handle on where his ball was going. And too frequently it went over the fence.

He'd signed with the Giants in 1949 but his road to the majors was a bumpy one. His results never matched his talent and he suffered a few injuries and got detoured by Uncle Sam. He finally stuck with the Giants in 1957 but two rough years later he was traded to the Tigers.

Burnside still had that tantalizing arm strength but his results never matched it. He pitched for the Senators, Orioles, and in Japan for a few seasons without ever having much success.

In 1960: After a season in the Tigers pen, he was given a shot at starting. He started 15 of his 30 games and went 7-7. That win total was the best of his career. His other numbers were pretty lackluster and the Tigers let him go in the expansion draft.

Off The Charts: Coming out of New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois Burnside was sought after by the Cubs, his favorite team. But Burnside wanted to attend Dartmouth College and the Cubs didn't sign him. He was offered (and accepted) a deal by the Giants that allowed him to attend school and report to the team when his spring semester ended. In 1952 he graduated with a double-major in history and sociology.

During his time in the service, pitching for the Fort Leonard Wood (Missouri) Hilltoppers in October 1953, he gained national attention by striking out the first 17 batters in an inter-service game.

After his two seasons in Japan ended he returned to Illinois, got his Masters at Northwestern, and began his second career as a teacher and coach at New Trier. He retired from there in the early 90s. 


Sunday, September 20, 2020

#260 Power Plus




Power Plus (Rocky Colavito and Tito Francona   Cleveland Indians)

The happy couple posed at Yankee Stadium for this Topps Special.

This card was probably a painful one for Cleveland fans in 1960. In April, on the eve of Opening Day, Rocky Colavito, the 1959 AL home run champ and an immensely popular figure in the city, was traded to the Tigers for the defending AL batting champ Harvey Kuenn.

Cleveland.com has the story (as do about 500 other online sites). The deal was huge at the time. Even I remember the stir it caused in baseball.

Colavito's 1960 season in Detroit wasn't up to par for him but he bounced back in a big way in 1961. Meanwhile, Kuenn hit .308 for the Indians. That was well off his .353 of 1959 but he did make the All-Star team. What I hadn't realized until I was doing some poking around for this post was the season opener for both teams...yup, you guessed it...was the Indians in Tiger Stadium. I bet that was a fun day for Frank Lane.

Tito Francona, Terry's father, had a solid season. His .292 average was below his ..363 of 1959 (when he was fifth in MVP votes) but he had another .300 year just around the corner in 1961 when he also made his only All-Star team.

On a side note...Francona was flirting with .400 through most of the summer of 1959. He'd forced his way into the Indians' lineup with a super hot bat. His average, as the card back notes, was 10 points higher than Kuenn's but he lacked having quite enough at-bats to qualify for the batting crown.


Friday, September 18, 2020

#259 George Altman




George Altman  Chicago Cubs

Career: George Altman is another two-sport college star who found his way to major league success. He attended Tennessee State (then Tennessee A&I) to play basketball and did so for four seasons. Tenn A&I didn't begin their baseball program until Altman's junior year but he signed up and excelled. Altman reports (in this really nice interview) that the school played a very limited baseball schedule but it did include games against Army base teams and Negro League clubs.

He gravitated to baseball over hoops (he wasn't drafted by the NBA) and when he graduated he was recruited to join the Kansas City Monarchs where he spent the summer playing for Buck O'Neil's club. He played for the Monarchs in the summer of 1955 and drew interest from the Cubs. They signed him and he began a climb to the majors that took him through two minor league seasons wrapped around two with the US Army.

Altman made the Cubs team in 1959 and nailed down a starting outfield slot. His numbers over his first couple of seasons were hampered by nagging illnesses and injuries. He found his footing and had his most productive years in 1961 and '62. He was an All-Star both years. That was no small feat considering the NL outfield talent at the time and the fact that with Ernie Banks on the club so there wasn't any 'every team has to be represented' bias in his selection. He hit over .300 both years and contributed with speed and plenty of extra-base hits.

Rather surprisingly he was traded to the Cardinals for the '63 season. The Cards had wanted him to take advantage of the short rightfield fence in old Busch Stadium. His season was disappointing and he was then traded again, this time to the Mets. The year, 1964, was his last as a starter in the majors. He was dealt back to the Cubs where he platooned for a few years and spent most of 1967 in the minors.

He has a very successful career playing in Japan that ended with a bout with colon cancer in 1975 (he beat it). He then returned to Chicago and began a second career as a commodities broker. Altman has maintained his health and was the keynote speaker at SABR's 19th annual Jerry Malloy Negro Leagues Conference in 2016. He and his wife are active in charitable and youth-oriented programs in the Chicago area.

In 1960:  He didn't quite get into as many games as he had in his rookie season of 1959. This was due in large measure to the Cubs adding Richie Ashburn to the outfield mix. Altman started games at all three OF spots and some at first as well. His numbers across the board were better this year than the previous one. He hit .266 with 13 homers and drove in 51 runs. But he was still a season away from his All-Star days.

Off The Charts: Wikipedia sums up his career in Japan this way:

He was a spare outfielder in both 1965 and 1966, and then, in 1967, he spent part of the year at Triple-A, where at age 34 he played regularly and regained his batting stroke. It served him well the following season, when he began his career in Japanese baseball. He played from 1968 through 1975 for the Lotte Orions and the Hanshin Tigers, and enjoyed seasons of 39, 34 and 30 homers—and four more years with 20 or more blasts—and batted over .300 six times. Highlights from his NPB career included leading the Pacific League in hits (170), runs (84), and RBI (100) in 1968; and being named to the "Best Nine" Pacific League team in 1968, 1970, and 1971. He credited martial arts training for baseball success in Japan.
Altman is a pretty remarkable guy. Interesting and outspoken in many areas. His SABR bio is recommended as the interview linked above. Warning...if you are an Ernie Banks fan you may want to skip that linked interview. Just sayin'

Here is Altman at the Malloy SABR Conference in '16 and a shot from his days in Japan:




The Card: I like seeing some of Wrigley behind him. You usually get pics with the walls or scoreboard in the background but here you see a piece of the cage and the stands to the third base side of home plate. When we visited there in 2013 that's where we sat.

And his pose is more interesting than the standard headshot. This exact color combo is used on four Cubs' cards. The Cubs have eleven different combos across the set which is the most of any team. The most frequent combo for them is nearly the same but with white letters for the team and position. That one is used on seven cards and that total is the lowest 'most frequent combo' of any of the 16 clubs. Now you know.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

#258 Dick Groat




Dick Groat  Pittsburgh Pirates

Career: Dick Groat's baseball career ran alongside his basketball career for a while and both of those came after his top-notch collegiate career at Duke. Well, maybe it was sort of the other way around. I dunno. What I do know is that Groat was a multi-sport star at every level. He was an All-American and National Player of the Year for the Blue Devil hoops team in his senior season of 1951-52. He was a first-round pick of the Fort Wayne Pistons and played one season before the money available in baseball turned him away from what was his favorite sport.

Branch Rickey signed Groat for the Pirates in 1952 as soon as he finished his 4-year athletic commitment to Duke. Rickey had attempted to sign him the previous summer but Groat was intent on finishing at Duke and took a handshake promise from Rickey that he would sign the following summer. He did. 

Groat went straight to the majors and played almost a hundred games that first year. He hit .284 and was third in the RoY balloting. After a stint in the service, Groat returned to the Pirates and played short, next to Bill Mazeroski through 1962. Along the way, he won a ring with the Bucs in 1960.

He was traded to the Cardinals in 1963 and won another ring the following year as the Redbirds beat the Yankees. During his career he was an ironman, rarely missing a game and making five NL All-Star teams. 

Groat, finished his playing career with some (very) short stays with the Phils in 1967. After retiring he built and managed a gold course with former teammate Jerry Lynch. He was the color commentator for Duke basketball for 40 seasons until he left the job in 2019.

In 1960: Not a bad year for Groat, all-in-all. He won the first of his World Series rings and made the All-Star team. Groat also won the National League Most Valuable Player. He slashed.325/.371/.394 with 32 extra-base hits, including 26 doubles, four triples, and two home runs. On the defensive side of things, he lad the league in Defensive WAR and some other stat geek categories like Total Zone Runs.

Off The Charts: Lots of fun Groat trivia and stories floating around. Here are a few from online newspaper stories, Wikipedia, and SABR:

Groat is one of 13 athletes that played in both the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball. The thirteen are: Danny Ainge, Frank Baumholtz, Gene Conley, Chuck Connors, Dave DeBusschere, Johnny Gee, Groat, Steve Hamilton, Mark Hendrickson, Cotton Nash, Ron Reed, Dick Ricketts and Howie Schultz.

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Groat began playing for the Pistons while still a student at Duke so he could finish those credits. But the university had a rule at the time, he said, that if you missed three classes, you were out, just like at the plate. He missed one while playing for the Pirates that year, then missed another while playing for the Pistons when his flight from Detroit to North Carolina was grounded. So he called Pistons owner Fred Zollner and told him he could no longer play basketball for him.
 
“I only was allowed three cuts at Duke,’’ Groat says. “My father would have killed me with the grades I had if I hadn’t graduated from Duke.”

The colorful Zollner, perhaps the richest NBA owner at the time who became the first in the league to purchase an airplane to charter the Pistons to games cut a deal with Groat through GM Carl Bennett. They offered to provide a private plane to fly Groat back and forth to Duke from wherever the Pistons played so he would not miss another class.

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Critics [...] pointed to his lack of range at shortstop and weak arm. Fellow shortstop Alvin Dark defended him. “They say he doesn’t have much range at shortstop. What’s range but getting to the ball?” Dark said. “You watch Groat. He’s always in front of the ball. He’s smart and he knows the hitters and plays the position as well as anyone I ever saw. Maybe he doesn’t have a great arm, but he makes up for it by getting the ball away quicker than anyone else.”

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At the end of his career, he ranked ninth in major league history in games at shortstop (1,877) and fourth in double plays (1,237), and was among the NL career leaders in putouts (10th, 3,505), assists (8th, 5,811) and total chances (9th, 9,690).

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Groat is the great uncle of the golfer Brooks Koepka, who won the 2017 and 2018 U.S. Open, and the 2018 and 2019 PGA Championship.

Monday, September 14, 2020

#255 Jim Gilliam




Jim Gilliam  Los Angeles Dodgers

Career: Jim 'Junior' Gilliam was a baseball junkie from his youngest days. He left school at 14 to play ball for some semi-pro clubs around his native Nashville, Tennessee. He soon found himself signed and playing for the Baltimore Elite Giants of the Negro National League. It was there that veteran George Scales got him into switch-hitting, a tool that helped make him so valuable in later years.

Gilliam signed with Brooklyn in 1951 after four years with the Elite Giants and he reported to the AAA Montreal Royals. Wikipedia reports that he wasn't sent to the AA Ft. Worth Cats because black players were not welcome in the Texas League. No mention of that in Gilliam's SABR bio which is usually pretty thorough. SABR does, however, tell us that Gilliam was 'loaned' to the Cubs organization in 1950 by the Elite Giants on a conditional deal but the Cubs were not impressed enough to sign him. His Baseball-Reference stats don't show and numbers with either of the Cubs' farm teams mentioned so perhaps it was a winter ball sort of thing.

But, anyway, Gilliam had solid two minor league seasons in Montreal and made his major league debut with the Dodgers in 1953. He made a real splash in Brooklyn and won the NL Rookie of the Year Award easily over Harvey Haddix of the Cardinals. He was an iron man, playing second, left, and right and rarely missing a game it seems. He had over 700 plate appearances, a plateau that he reached several times both in the majors and minors. He also led the NL in triples.

Gilliam played his entire fourteen-year career with the Dodgers. Many years he rotated through the starting nine, playing second, third, and two or all three outfield slots.

He was a part of seven World Series clubs and took home four rings. His Series average was only .211 but he hit two homers in his first, the 1953 Series against the Yankees. He was a two-time All-Star and homered in front of the hometown Los Angeles crowd in the second ASG in 1959.

Gilliam coached for the Dodgers after he finally retired (he had been a player/coach at the end). He had hoped to become a manager (there had, of course, been no black managers in the majors at that point) but the opportunity never came his way. He stayed with the Dodgers as a coach until he passed away in 1978.


In 1960: His .248 average was the lowest of his career to that point but his OBP remained fairly high due to his ability to draw walks. His other numbers, RBI,  runs, extra-base hits, etc. remained on a par with his previous few seasons.

Off The Charts: Gilliam was named the Dodgers' first base coach in 1965 as his skills were on the decline. But struggles by his intended replacement at third, John Kennedy, inspired the Dodgers to push Gilliam back to full-time playing status. He responded with a .280 season and a key defensive play in the '65 Series. SABR relates this story of the meeting where he was asked to return to the field...

Buzzie Bavasi called a meeting of the front office and dugout management. According to Bavasi: “We talked over several possibilities… Finally, I said, ‘Let’s reactivate Old Slowfoot.’ Gilliam, attending the meeting as a coach, looked at me out of the corner of his eye. We were playing the Cardinals that night. He said, ‘You picked a fine day to bring me back. We’re going against [Bob] Gibson tonight. Wait until tomorrow.’”

Here are a few quotes from the same SABR bio:

“Junior played to win ballgames,” Fairly said. “He didn’t care who was the player who won the game so long as the Dodgers won the game. Jim didn’t worry about personal things like that.”

The difficult to please and proud of it coach Leo Durocher, said of him, “He never – and I mean never – misses a sign. He does everything right. He’s a double pro.”

Added Gilliam’s long-time skipper, Walter Alston: “He doesn’t make any mistakes…He gives you 100 percent, day in and day out. He never moans. He’s a good team man. If I had eight like him, I wouldn’t have to give a single sign.”
The Card: Nice shot of Gilliam at the Polo Grounds. This color combo (blue/yellow/black/red/black) is the most common one in the '60 set. It appears 50 times and is the 'standard (most used) for the Indians, Braves, and Dodgers.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

#254 Arnie Portocarrero




Arnie Portocarrero  Baltimore Orioles

Career: A New York native of Puerto Rican descent, Arnie Portocarrero was signed by the Philadelphia Athletics in 1950 after a very successful high school career. He spent two seasons in the low minors, two years at my favorite Army base, Ft. Dix in New Jersey.

When he returned to the A's he jumped into the starting rotation and became the ace, at least for a season. His nine wins led the club. Arnie wasn't as successful in '55 and when he got off to a tough start in '56 (he'd hurt his arm in winter ball) he was shipped to the minors. 1957 was a mixed bag and early in 1958, he was dealt to the Orioles. Charm City revived him for a bit and he had some nice outings there including back-to-back shutouts in May/June over the red Sox and Tigers. He finished with a 15-11 mark, the most wins on the team, and in his career.

Arnie never came close to replicating that '59 season and after a couple of seasons with the Orioles and in their farm system, he retired. He went to work for U. S. Rubber as a salesman and stayed active playing amateur baseball around Kansas City.

In 1960: This was in for Arnie. He was on the O's staff through mid-June. He got into thirteen games making five starts and pitching about 40 innings. His results weren't ugly (3-2, 4.43) but the Baby Birds staff was formed and there apparently wasn't room for a 28-year-old journeyman. He was sent down to AAA Miami and made ten starts there the rest of the way.

Off The Charts: Arnie Portocarrero made it into a few fun oddball issues in the 50s. He had two cards in the 1955/56 Rodeo Meats Athletics regional issue. There are some color variations in there as well. Plus he had a 'premium' card related to the set. Getting the straight scoop on how the premiums were distributed is difficult. In fact, everything I come across about the Rodeo sets conflicts with whatever story I read previously.



Below is a Rodeo Meats 'Premium' of Portocarrero. This is part of a set of 16(?) which were apparently not premiums in the normal hobby sense. I believe they are more along the lines of the team-issued picture packs that were a common thing back in the 50s and 60s. Sold by the team at the stadium or through the mail as a complete set.


He's also paired with Curt Roberts in Topps' 1955 DoubleHeader set.

Roberts as seen with the card unfolded:


Our guy Arnie on the reverse:


Flip it and fold it and here's Arnie with feet: