Saturday, October 31, 2015

#31 Sammy Esposito

Sammy Esposito  Chicago White Sox

Career: Spent about a decade as a light hitting utility guy in his hometown of Chicago backing up Luis Aparicio, Nellie Fox et al. He finished up in 1963 with a short stint in Kansas City. The time he spent on the bench came in handy in his second baseball life as a collegiate coach.

In 1960: Fairly typical year for Esposito in that part of his career. He got into 57 games, came to the plate 88 times and hit .182 with one dinger. He subbed in at second, short and third and had plenty of time to contemplate how a World Series ring would have looked on his finger after the Sox came so close in '59.

WikiFacts: From Baseball Reference:
Following his big league career, Esposito was a longtime baseball coach (1967-1987) and basketball assistant at North Carolina State University. He took NC State to the 1968 College World Series, their first appearance in that event. Among those he coached at NC State were future major league mainstays Dan Plesac, Mike Caldwell, Tim Stoddard and Greg Briley.
Extra Added Info: My mother, whose maiden name was Esposito, claimed she was related to Sammy, but we all knew she was kidding. I'd always love getting his cards so in a way he was among my first PCs.

The Card: Color me perplexed. That's Sammy wearing home ChiSox pinstripes but what's with the red railings in the stadium? I can't find any evidence that Comiskey Park ever looked like that. Yellow railings, yes (see pic below) but red? Nope. Maybe they were touched up by the Topps art department so as not to detract from the yellow/red/white card. Doubtful.

If you get the cartoon reference you are pretty old. First geezer in with the correct answer wins the internet.

Yellow railings at Comiskey:

The Beatles at Comiskey:

Wait, what? Yup the Beatles at Comiskey:

Thursday, October 29, 2015

#158 Wes Covington

Wes Covington  Milwaukee Braves

Career: Over 11 seasons he played in 1075 games, all but 39 of them in the NL (see below). He was a solid if unspectacular player who had multiple double digit homer seasons. In 1958, his best year, he had a slash line of .330/.380/.622. He appeared in three World Series, winning a ring with the 1957 Braves. I became aware of him when he was part of the Johnny Callison-Tony Gonzalez-Wes Covington outfields that the Phillies had in the early 60s and that I rooted for at Shea Stadium against the Mets.

In 1960: This was his final full season with the Braves. After hitting .294 with an OPS of .840 in his first four seasons his numbers and playing time slipped a bit. Early the next season he was waived.

WikiFacts: From my 1959 Topps blog Covington post: "He had a whirlwind 1961 season as he became one of only nine players in MLB history to play for four different clubs in a season. He opened the year with the Braves, was claimed on waivers by the White Sox in May, was dealt to the A's in June and traded again to the Phils in July. I hope he didn't sign any long term leases that summer."

Here is the Baseball Reference listing for his travels in 1961:

May 10, 1961: Selected off waivers by the Chicago White Sox from the Milwaukee Braves.

June 10, 1961: Traded by the Chicago White Sox with Stan Johnson, Bob Shaw and Gerry Staley to the Kansas City Athletics for Andy Carey, Ray Herbert, Don Larsen and Al Pilarcik.

July 2, 1961: Traded by the Kansas City Athletics to the Philadelphia Phillies for Bobby Del Greco.

The Card: I've been casually collecting Covington cards, his 1961 Topps is my favorite. This one has a nice color combo and a smiling portrait of Wes. The front has some gum residue which I really should remove. The back references two of the better 'season's highlights' I've come across. The first one is a rare reference to a defensive gem and the next mentions his having the flu but still getting a pinch hit. What a trooper!

Extra Added Info!

Wes Covington was an interesting guy, well spoken, outspoken and talented. His SABR is highly recommended. You can read it here.

This is a blurb from it.

As a young player, Covington was thought to be in Aaron’s class. His skill and potential were so boundless that Aaron, in reference to the Eau Claire team, wrote in his autobiography, “At that point, if people had known that one of our players would someday be the all-time major league home run leader, everybody would have assumed that Covington would be the guy.” It was not to be. Covington’s injuries and outspokenness combined to keep his potential from ever being fully unlocked. The Phillies Encyclopedia put Covington’s career succinctly, stating, “Wes Covington lasted 11 years in the major leagues because of a bat that made a lot of noise and in spite of a mouth that did likewise.... (He) specialized in long home runs and long interviews that tended to get people around him a bit testy.”

Sunday, October 25, 2015

#208 Chicago White Sox, #222 Al Lopez and #458 White Sox Coaches

In 1960: The White Sox were coming off their '59 AL championship and World Series loss to the Dodgers. They slipped to third, 12 games behind the pennant winning Yankees and four behind the upstart Orioles. Roy Sievers, Minnie Minoso and Al Smith were the hitting leaders for the club with Luis Aparicio adding speed and defense. In an era where they were refered to as the Go-Go Sox they actually had a pretty well rounded offense. Not a ton of power but they were high in the AL ranks in such things as runs scored and OPS.

Billy Pierce, Early Wynn and Bob Shaw were the big three in the rotation.

Manager Card: Al Lopez

Career: From my post on this card on my main blog: Between 1951 and 1965 his clubs, first the Indians, then the White Sox, only finished lower than second in the American League three times. That's 12 second place finishes in 15 seasons with the outliers being a third, a fourth and a fifth coming in consecutive seasons, '60 thru '62. That's only one season finishing in the second division.

He won a pennant with each of the franchises he managed and was a pretty darn good ballplayer during his playing days as well. In 19 seasons as a catcher he made a couple of All Star squads.

Coaches card: Don Gutteridge and Tony Cuccinello I recall from back in the day. Not so for the other two. Gutteridge was an infielder for 12 seasons, mostly with the Browns and he managed the White Sox ten years after this card came out.  Cuccinello played for 15 years and got MVP votes in three different seasons and made a couple of All Star squads. Ray Berres caught for four different NL franchises from the-mid thirties to mid-forties. Johnny Cooney played 20 seasons in the majors first as a pitcher, then as an outfielder. He also was a long time coach and managed the Braves briefly.

The Card: Way off center but I'm not about to upgrade a coaches card. The floating head coaches cards always remind me of being a young collector. For some reason these fascinated my friends and I.

Friday, October 23, 2015

#471 Ned Garver

Ned Garver  Kansas City Athletics

Career: In 14 major league seasons Ned Garver was a fine pitcher who was only a real part of one winning team, the 1955 Tigers. And even that team was only four games over .500 and finished fifth in the 8 team AL. For the rest of his career Garver had to make due with the satisfaction of being the best pitcher on lousy Browns, Athletics and Tigers clubs. He was a good hitter and he led the AL in several fielding categories throughout his career. He allowed a hit and an unearned run as the starting pitcher in the 1951 All Star Game. He finished his career with the '61 Expansion Angels.

In 1960: Just a year away from the end of his career Garver went 4-8 with the Athletics. But in line with the rest of his hard luck career his stats were very good: In 122 innings he allowed only 110 hits and his 1.185 WHIP was his best in half a decade.

WikiFacts: From his SABR bio:
 Garver's [1951] season (20 wins, 12 losses, and a 3.73 ERA in 246 innings) was the most celebrated season in Browns history since George Sisler batted .420 in 1922. Garver became the first pitcher in major league history to win 20 games for a team which lost 100 games (the Browns won just 52 times), and was the first pitcher to win 20 games for a last place club since the White Sox’ Hollis "Sloppy" Thurston in 1924. Garver also batted a career-high .305 (29-for-95) with nine runs batted in. Leading all AL pitchers in WAR for the second consecutive season and all AL pitchers in total WAR from 1948-51, Garver reached the apex of baseball before a series of arm and leg problems cropped up in 1952 and affected him the rest of his career. Named to his first and only All-Star team, Garver started the game against Robin Roberts and pitched three innings, allowing only an unearned run.
Added Extra Stuff: Interesting story of a recent interview with Garver is found here:
Eighty-nine year-old former pitcher Ned Garver was simultaneously of his time and ahead of it
Of particular note is Garver's explanation of why his hitting prowess fell off so much after 1951 when he was second in the MVP voting, won 20 games for a horrific Browns club and had a better average and OPS than any of the teams regular position players.

The Card: Kind of neat that the card is done in yellow and green. The A's were still a few years away from the 'Charley Finley make-over'.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

#514 Steve Barber

Steve Barber  Baltimore Orioles

Career: Steve Barber spent 15 seasons in the majors for seven different clubs (eight if you count two spring training camps with the Brewers, 1970 and 1974, nine if you count his signing with St. Louis although he never pitched for them). His longest tenure was with his original club, the Orioles. And it was in Baltimore that he had his most success. He won 20 games for the '63 Birds, nearly a quarter of their 86 wins that year. He was the first Orioles pitcher since their move from St. Louis to win twenty in a season. He made the '63 and '66 AL All Star squads but didn't pitch either year. Elbow issues plagued him throughout the second half of his career and kept him from appearing in the '66 World Series for the Orioles.

In 1960: He was part of what became known as the 'Baby Birds' staff. Barber, Chuck Estrada, Jack Fisher and Milt Pappas all won double digit games and all were aged 21 or under. barber won his first game in his second start with a complete game, six hit performance against the Red Sox. He went on to go 10-7 with four of those wins coming against the Athletics. He led the AL in walks and wild pitches.

WikiFacts: "Barber started out the 1967 season in impressive fashion, holding the Angels hitless before Jim Fregosi doubled with one out in the ninth inning. Two weeks later, however, Barber pitched his most memorable game.

Facing Detroit in the first game of a doubleheader at old Memorial Stadium, Barber took a no-hit bid and a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning despite severe bouts of wildness. Barber walked the first two batters in the ninth, then retired the next two hitters. But he threw a wild pitch that let the tying run score and, after yet another walk, was pulled from the game.

Stu Miller relieved, and the Tigers scored the go-ahead run on an error. The Tigers wound up winning 2-1 despite getting no hits. Barber's line that afternoon: 8 2/3 innings, 10 walks, two hit
batters, a wild pitch and a throwing error." -from Barber's ESPN obit

The Card: Steve Barber has always been a favorite of mine so his cards normally get 'extra points' with me. But this one, despite being his rookie card, isn't all that special. Not a bad color combo but the photo appears to be airbrushed and the background is non-existent. What is cool is that as a late series card Topps was able to account for Barber's impressive start to the 1960 season when doing the text for the reverse. That's a rarity these days.

Friday, October 16, 2015

#390 1959 World Series Game #6 "Scrambling After Ball"

1959 World Series Game #6 "Scrambling After Ball"

The Card: This is the sixth of Topps' seven card subset commemorating the '59 Series. Game Six was the final game and as the box score indicates was won by the Dodgers, 9-3. Larry Sherry won his second game in relief.

I like to play card detective and find the circumstances around the photos that Topps uses on cards of this era. I've had some pretty good luck in the past. But this one has me stumped. I can't find the original photo at any of my usual websites for this sort of thing.

Topps doesn't necessarily often use photos that come from the game or moment that the front of their World Series or 'special' cards depict. There is no way to identify the three White Sox players on this one although if I was forced to guess I'd say the player reaching down for the ball is Luis Aparicio.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

#91 Bennie Daniels

Bennie Daniels  Pittsburgh Pirates

Career: After a couple of underwhelming years in the Pirates' chain ('51/'52)  Daniels did a stint in the military and then returned to pitch in the minors for the better part of four seasons with much more success. He debuted in late 1957 (see below) and won a spot on the Pirates' staff in 1959. After two underwhelming years he was dealt to the Senators in a trade that brought Bobby Shantz to the Buccos. Daniels had a fine first year in Washington but never could repeat it. He retired after the 1966 season which he spent in the minors. 

In 1960: He divided the season between the Pirates and their AAA Columbus club. He had started the season in the Pirates' rotation but by June he had lost that spot, was unable to right himself in the bullpen and was farmed out. he ended up 1-3 with some pretty brutal numbers.

WikiFacts: From the Institute of Sports, Media and Society's blog comes this Bennie Daniels backstory:

Ebbets Field is the nirvana, the heaven, the Elysian Fields of corporate memory for all those baseball fanatics too young to have attended a game there.  But, let me tell you a crazy story about the last game played on Ebbets’s yellowing diamond.  The game was played in a descending and gloomy darkness, September 24, 1957.
The opposing pitcher in that game was a man named Bennie Daniels.  It was his first Major League appearance.  Bennie was called up at the end of the season by the Pittsburgh Pirates and given his first Major League start, an auspicious occasion for any young pitcher.  I have seen authors of baseball trivia books ask to shake Bennie’s hand because of the honor of shaking the hand of the last opposing pitcher in Ebbets Field.
Bennie Daniels recently recorded five hours of his personal history for the USC Annenberg African-American Experience in Major League Baseball digital library.  You can find information about the library here.
Now, you would think Bennie would be a fount of information about the last night of Ebbets Field baseball.  You would think he would have glowing autumnal memories of Ebbets in its final splendor.
But, life doesn’t’ work that way.
Asked about the last game in Ebbets Field, Bennie will tell you he doesn’t remember much of it.  Asked about pitching in Ebbets, Bennie will say it was terrible.  The place was a bandbox.  Pitchers hated pitching there.  Asked about the thing he remembered most about pitching in Ebbets’s last game, he will say the only thing that really mattered to him is that he pitched seven good innings and showed the Pirates he could pitch in the Major Leagues.
Bennie Daniels would pitch in the Major Leagues well into the 1960s.  He would be the first African-American pitcher to start a game before the President of the United States on opening day (President Kennedy).  He would pitch on the great Pittsburgh Pirates team of 1960, the one that would go on to defeat the heavily favored Maris-Mantle Yankees in a classic seven game World Series.  He would pitch on the expansion Washington Senators of the 1960s.
You ask Bennie about any of those experiences and he will discuss them in the same business-like way he does the last game at Ebbets Field.
If you want Bennie to light up, if you want him to lean forward and talk about something cool, ask him about the time he played a bit role on the 1960s tv series “I Spy.”  Bennie will smile and tell you the whole story in happy detail, right down to how painful it was to drop to his knees at a run as he was supposedly shot to death.
Bennie appeared in the only “I Spy” episode that the show’s star Robert Culp both wrote and directed.  So, he auditioned for Culp, his first time meeting the star.
The Card: Daniels looks to be in Connie Mack Stadium for this shot. Those red seats and the shape of the corner stands is familiar from many 1959 cards I looked at. Any card with a pink element is A-OK in my book.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

#9 Faye Throneberry

Faye Throneberry  Washington Senators

Career: After three minor league seasons in the Red Sox' chain Throneberry debuted in 1952 in the starting lineup and stumbled out of the blocks, A month in the minors helped him turn his rookie season around and he finished with decent numbers. The he spent two years in the military and returned to the Red Sox for two very inactive seasons. He was dealt to the Senators in 1957 and in 1959 he was a semi-regular in the Nats' line-up. He totaled parts of eight years in the majors hitting .236 and finished with a couple on minor league seasons.

In 1960: He regressed to a part time role with the Senators and saw 180 plate appearances. He was dealt to the expansion Angels immediately after the expansion draft. He saw limited duty with them in '61.

WikiFacts: From his SABR bio:
Maynard Faye Throneberry was the decidedly less-colorful – and less-celebrated – of the major leagues’ two Throneberry brothers. His younger brother was dubbed “Marvelous Marv”, a player who gained infamy as a symbol of baseball ineptitude, particularly in the field and on the base paths. Faye (he was never referred to by his first name) was coldly profiled by Washington Post columnist Bob Addie as “the Calvin Coolidge of baseball… a reticent young man who feels cheated if he can’t answer every question with ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”1 Addie’s colleague at the Post, the legendary Shirley Povich, agreed; painting Faye as “workmanlike…less than highly exciting.”

The Card: You know it's a pretty ho-hum card when the back is more appealing than the front. The color scheme is one of the least interesting in the set. But the cartoon is clever and the cream colored cardboard and Seasons' Highlights are plusses.

He had a better card in 1959.

Monday, October 12, 2015

#318 Jim Baxes All Star Rookie

Jim Baxes  Cleveland Indians

Career: Baxes played only one major league season but he had a long minor league career. Beginning in 1947 he made a slow climb as a low average, high power third baseman through the Dodgers' organization. He finally made the big club and was in the Dodgers' Opening Day lineup in 1959. But by mid-May was dealt to the Indians. He totaled 88 games, mostly as a second baseman, with over 300 plate appearances and hit .246 with 17 homers. He spent a couple more seasons in the minors before retiring..His brother Mike played a couple of seasons for the Athletics.

In 1960: After his only year of major league baseball Baxes played in the White Sox system in 1960. He was in the PCL, primarily with the San Diego Padres. It's worth noting that of the 39 players on the '60 Padres Pacific Coast League club 36 played in the majors as well.

WikiFacts: From a 1950 L.A. Times game story centering on a pitching outing by Baxes for the Hollywood Stars:
Hopelessly beaten, Fred Haney used the occasion for a bit of experimenting. He pitched Jim Baxes in the eighth inning….
The slingshot-armed infielder, making his first stab at flinging, allowed only one run and one hit, but also balked once, uncorked three official wild pitches and threw several other offerings behind the batters or in the general direction of first base….
Baxes also exhibited some fine sportsmanship.
When he came to bat in the home half of the inning, Pitcher Chet Johnson, obviously encouraged by his Seal teammates, purposely sped his first pitch behind Baxes’ back. Jim grinned. And so did everybody else, because it was a funny gag. Then Johnson would up and intentionally hit Jim in the back with a steamy serve.
The fans booed this unfunny topper lustily, but Baxes (and the other Hollywoodians) were big enough to ignore what could easily have been a riot-provoking incident.
The story, and a great pic of Baxes wearing uniform shorts in that game, is found here.

The Card: Baxes rocks the 50's specs at Yankee Stadium. The cartoon, another Jack Davis production, is interesting in that it mentions Baxes being close to quitting the game before being 'bought' by the Indians. A little 'slice of life' drama you rarely see on a baseball card. Baxes was actually traded for by Cleveland, not 'bought'.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

#50 Al Kaline

Al Kaline  Detroit Tigers

Career: Hall of Famer, class act, native of Baltimore. Not much more to say.

Notable Achievements:

  • 15-time AL All-Star (1955-1967, 1971 & 1974)
  • 10-time Gold Glove Winner (1957/ML-RF, 1958/AL-RF, 1959/AL-CF & 1961-1967/AL-OF)
  • AL Batting Average Leader (1955)
  • AL Slugging Percentage Leader (1959)
  • AL OPS Leader (1959)
  • AL Hits Leader (1955)
  • AL Total Bases Leader (1955)
  • AL Doubles Leader (1961)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 9 (1955-1957, 1959, 1962, 1963, 1966, 1967 & 1969)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 3 (1955, 1956 & 1963)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 2 (1955 & 1961)
  • 200 Hits Seasons: 1 (1955)
  • Won a World Series with the Detroit Tigers in 1968
  • Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1980

In 1960: Kaline was an established star by 1960. But his numbers took a one year dip that season with his batting average dropping to the lowest he'd had since his rookie year and his other stats (HR, RBI) following suit. It turned out to be a one year glitch in the matrix of what was a sterling career for Kaline. He did make the AL All Star squad for the sixth straight year.

WikiFacts: From Kaline's Baseball Reference Bullpen page:
Al Kaline was a teen phenom from Baltimore, MD who became the regular right fielder for the Detroit Tigers in 1954 at age 19. He was signed by Tiger scout (later an executive) Ed Katalinas for a reported $25,000, who told the front office that he was a better player than the starting outfield they had. In 1955, he leaped into stardom, winning the batting championship, the youngest champion ever at 20, younger by one day than Ty Cobb. He played on for two decades, never winning another batting title but finishing in the top three in the American League five more times. He hit 399 home runs although he didn't think of himself as a slugger, and was honored with 10 Gold Gloves.
The Card: Back in the day you knew you were getting a star when you had a 'star numbered' card like #50, #200, #500 etc. Note the Season's Highlights....he had highlights from every month of the season. How very Al Kaline-like...he was consistently a great player. And that's definitely Jack Davis' cartoon artistry.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

#32 Sophomore Stalwarts

The Card: Jim O'Toole and his close friend Vada Pinson smile for the camera while posed on the dugout steps at Wrigley Field. I love the Reds' vest unis from that era. Even the roadies, while not as colorful as the spectacular home vests, were pretty sweet.

Both Pinson and O'Toole went on to solid major league careers and both have their own cards in this set which is where I will look closer at them both. For now I'll settle for a couple of personal stories.

When I was a kid I read a story about Jim O'Toole in the dearly departed Sport Magazine. It stated that O'Toole wrote "THINK" on his glove to remind himself to do exactly that while pitching. I wasn't a pitcher at any point in my brief baseball playing life but I thought that to be good advice so I did the same to my glove.

In June of 1970 in the second game of an Indians-Yankees doubleheader I witnessed the best baseball fight I've seen in person. In the top of the fifth with the Indians leading 2-1 and one man out Vada Pinson singles, goes to second on a ground out and then, when Stan Bahnsen uncorks a wild pitch, tries to score all the way from second. Bahnsen, covering home tags Pinson out with has glove to the face and Pinson came up swinging. Everyone piled out onto the field and lots of shoving and bear-hugging ensued. The haymaker from Pinson is one of the few really good punches I've ever see land in a baseball fight. I remember that we were surprised Bahnsen was back on the mound for the sixth. Pinson, btw, got tossed.