Saturday, May 30, 2020

#171 Johnny Groth

Johnny Groth  Detroit Tigers

Career: After drawing attention playing ball on Bob Feller's team in 1945 Groth signed with the Tigers for a nice bonus. He got some looks from the Tigers with three call-ups before he claimed the starting center fielders job in 1949. He had a terrific opening month before cooling off and eventually having his rookie year cut short with an injury. He finished fourth in the RoY balloting.

Groth was an outstanding fielder and hit at or near .300 for his four seasons with the Tigers. He was traded to the Browns in 1956, was beaned (by Billy Pierce 😧) and never played up to the level of his early seasons. He was traded several times and finished with another stint with the Tigers.

In 1960: This was Groth's final spin around the majors. He was serving as a pinch-hitter and doing well in his limited chances (.397 in less than 20 at-bats) when the Tigers optioned him back to AAA with a promise to give him a manager's job in their system the following year.  They made good on their promise and Groth spent a couple of seasons in their lower rungs as a skipper.

Off The Charts: Groth is one of the few players I've come across with more than one entry on the SABR site. This one is the standard (very detailed as always) bio page. The other one is a nice sidebar that looks at his debut month the hype that grew as he got off to a hot start. Both make for entertaining reading.

Friday, May 29, 2020

#133 Manuel Javier Sport Rookie Star

Manuel Javier  Pittsburgh Pirates

Career: Manuel (better known as Julian) Javier, a native of the Dominican Republic, never played an inning for Pittsburgh despite being depicted as a Pirate on his rookie card. He was traded to the Cardinals after moving up the Bucs' system since 1956. He had been deemed expendable because the Pirates had Bill Mazeroski ahead of him. He went on to a 13-year career that included a couple of All-Star squads and two World Series rings. His glovework and speed made him a valuable member of the Cardinals through the 1960s.

In 1960: He began the year as he had the previous four, playing for a Pirates' farm club. But a month into the season he was dealt to the Cards, stepped into the starting second baseman's job, and didn't let go of it until 1971. Playing in 119 games he led the team in stolen bases and was fifth in hits and runs scored.

Off The Charts: The stadium in his hometown of San Francisco de Macoris is named in his honor.

The Card: Javier's birth date on the back of this card is listed as August 9, 1937. Every source I checked gives the year as 1936. It wasn't uncommon for players coming from Latin America to 'fudge' their age a bit. His 1961 card also has the '37 date but after that Topps corrected it to 1936. This is also the only card (of any kind as far as I can find) that has him depicted A) as a Pirate; B) without glasses; and C) as 'Manuel', at least on the front of the card. Topps' 1970 card gives his name as Manuel Julian Javier on the back.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

#132 Frank Howard Sport Rookie Star

Frank Howard  Los Angeles Dodgers

Career: Howard, who had one of the great nicknames (The Capitol Punisher), was known for his size and prodigious homers. His 16-year big league career was divided between the Dodgers and Senators/Rangers, with a brief spin in Detroit at the end. He had a run of 44, 48, and 44-homer seasons from 1968-1970 when offense was at a premium in baseball. He was also able to keep a .273 career average and hit exactly .296 on three occasions. His homer off Whitey Ford in Game Four of the 1963 World Series helped the Dodgers wrap up a sweep of the Yankees.

Ted Williams took over as manager of the Senators in 1969. He persuaded Howard to lay off pitches that were not in his wheelhouse. Howard responded with a much better ration of walks to strikeouts and upped his batting average while continuing to hit with power.  Howard later said of Williams: “I was ready to hit if it was my pitch, but if it was something other than I was looking for, I took it. I was laying off some bad pitches, getting more counts in my favor, and all because of Ted Williams. He’s one in a million! A marvelous, marvelous, man!”

In 1960: He started the year at AAA Spokane but his .371 average through 26 games prompted a late May call-up to the Dodgers. Hondo didn't disappoint, either. He slashed 23/77/.268/.320 and won Rookie of the Year honors in the NL.

Off The Charts: Howard played for seven seasons with Washington, and he led the team in homers and RBIs in all seven of them. In addition to the interest he drew for his baseball skills Howard was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors of the NBA following an All-American college hoops career at Ohio State.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

#170 Del Crandall

Del Crandall  Milwaukee Braves

Career: One of the top catchers of his era, Del Crandall kind of gets lost in the shadows behind Roy Campanella and Yogi Berra. But Crandall was an eight-time NL All-Star and won four Gold Gloves after finishing second in the 1949 Rookie of the Year balloting behind Don Newcombe.

Crandall played for 13 seasons with the Braves in Boston and Milwaukee, losing a couple to military service. For an eight-year stretch, from 1953 through 1960, he made seven All-Star squads and led the NL catchers in every defensive category multiple times.

While he didn't hit much in the two World Series that he played in (1957 and 1958) he did homer once in each. 

After a falling out with Braves manager Bobby Bragan Crandall was dealt to the Giants for 1964 and finished his career with single seasons in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. He later managed the Milwaukee Brewers and Seattle Mariners for a total of six years.

In 1960: He had a standout season, hitting .294 and driving in a career-best 77 runs while winning his fourth and final Gold Glove. He also had a homer in the first of the season's two All-Star games.

Off The Charts: Crandall is one of a handful of catchers to be behind the plate for consecutive one-hitters by the same pitcher. He backstopped Sam McDowell's April 25 (vs KC) and May 1 (vs Chicago) one-hit shutouts in 1966. As an added point of interest, longtime AL umpire Bill Haller was behind Crandall for both games.

Before signing with the Braves he was being pursued heavily by the Dodgers. According to his SABR bio "Del rejected their $20,000 signing bonus (about 20 times the family’s income in 1946) because of the “bonus baby” stipulation requiring him to remain on the big-league roster for two years and lose invaluable minor-league experience." It also mentions that his father urged him not to sign with the Dodgers, Yankees or Cardinals because their farm systems were already so stocked with talent.

The Card: That's Wrigley in the background and a Jack Davis cartoon. Crandall's batting helmet has a blue brim and I'm thinking the Braves' helmets usually matched their caps and had a red brim. I need to look closer. Not that anyone else cares. LOL

Sunday, May 24, 2020

#169 Jake Striker

Jake Striker  Chicago White Sox

Career: Not many pitchers could boast of a perfect record but Wilber 'Jake' Striker won his only big-league decision when he beat the Athletics in late 1959. He was with the Indians and had come thru their system after being signed out of Heidelberg College in 1952. Not long after that September win, he was sent to the White Sox in a deal that was headlined by Minnie Minoso going to the Sox and Norm Cash heading to Cleveland. Striker totaled just over 10 innings in the majors and left baseball after a few minor league stops through the 1962 season.

In 1960: He made the Sox staff in 1960 and pitched in back-to-back games against the Tigers in April with one good and one not-so-good result. He headed back to the Sox AA level club and never returned to the majors.

Off The Charts: 'Striker' is a perfect name for a pitcher. He worked for the Timken Company for thirty years after baseball. I found no evidence that he went on to coach high school baseball as the card's cartoon sez was his goal. He passed away in 2013 having survived his wife and oldest child. This is his only Topps card but I came across one newspaper photo of his and his young family. 

The Card: This is probably the fourth copy of this card to pass through the binder. The first one, part of my original lot buy, was brutal. I bought one or two that had flaws that I hadn't noticed in the eBay pics. This one is miscut but it'll do.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

#168 Alex Grammas

Alex Grammas  St. Louis Cardinals

Career: An Alabama native and WWII vet, Grammas spent most of his life in baseball. Originally signed by the White Sox, he played 10 seasons with a variety of NL clubs, mostly in St. Louis. Of his ten seasons he spent three as a regular but was most often filling a utility infielder's role. His versatility and defensive skills kept him in the majors more than his erratic bat. After the 1963 season he stayed in the game as a coach and manager. He took over the Pirates for a few games at the end of the 1969 season and then managed the Brewers, without much success, in '76/'77.

In 1960: This was his second tour with the Cardinals and, after holding down the starting shortstop job in 1959, he gave way to Daryl Spencer. It was his last year to play in as many as a hundred games. He played at short, second, and third as a the spare infielder and hit .245, but he did have a career-high four homers.

Off The Charts: From his SABR bio...After retiring, he was a third-base coach for a quarter-century, mainly for teams managed by Sparky Anderson. Forever proud of his ancestry, Grammas in 1976 became the first Greek-American ever to manage a major-league team for a full season.

His father ran the Magic City Candy Co., and during his early baseball career he would go back to Birmingham and pack candy during the off season. Alex Grammas died last September at the age of 93.

Friday, May 22, 2020

#131 Ed Hobaugh Sport Rookie Star

Ed Hobaugh  Chicago White Sox

Career: Hobaugh was a hard-throwing Michigan State pitching star who signed with the White Sox in 1956 and pitched a no-hitter for his Class B minor league team three weeks later. He served two years in the Army and then pitched for the Sox at AA for a couple of years. He had some success but never got a shot at their big league roster. He was taken by the Senators in the expansion draft and pitched in parts of three seasons in Washington from 1961 to 1963. Hobaugh hung around the minors for most of the decade after that, mainly in the Pirates chain, and then managed in the low minors. He finished with a 7-9 career record in just over 200 innings for the Nats.

In 1960: Pitching for the Sox' AAA club in San Diego, Hobaugh saw his numbers dip from previous seasons which is likely why he was left available in the expansion draft.

Off The Charts: At Michigan State his teammates included major leaguer Ron Perranoski and professional football legend Earl Morrall on a club that finished third in the CWS in 1956.

After baseball Hobaugh became a physical-education teacher and assistant baseball coach (yeah!) – serving under his eldest son, Bradley, the head coach – in the Armstrong (Pa.) School District.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

#161 Ray Narleski

Ray Narleski  Detroit Tigers

Career: Ray Narleski, a Jersey native, was signed out o high school by Cleveland and experienced a tough first year as a pro in 1948. When a promised AAA-level raise wasn't forthcoming Narleski sat out a season. He returned in 1950 and had a successful four-year tour of the Indians' system.

He made the team in 1954, was put in the bullpen, and helped the Indians win the AL title. Narleski pitched in '54 Series against the Giants and had two effective outings. He allowed only a single (to Willie Mays in Game Three) over four innings.

With the Indians, he became part of a bullpen tandem with Don Mossi and the pair became friends. Narleski led the AL with 19 saves in 1955. He was eased into getting more starts as his career moved along. He had been a starter in the minors and preferred that role. He made two AL All-Star teams. He was traded (along with his pal, Mossi) to the Tigers following the 1958 season. His year in Detroit was hampered by injuries and turned out to be the end of the line for him.

In 1960: Narleski had back surgery early in the year and spent the season on the DL. He returned to the team in 1961 but left baseball rather than accept a potential minor league assignment.

Off The Charts: According to his SABR bio, Narleski played semipro ball in New Jersey and Delaware. He went to work as a mechanic/truck builder. His father, Bill Narleski, had played two seasons for the Red Sox as a platoon/utility infielder.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

#130 Frank Herrera Sport Rookie Star

Frank Herrera  Philadelphia Phillies

Career: Frank Herrera (aka Pancho) began playing pro baseball in Cuba in 1950 as a teenager. He came stateside and began in the Phils organization in 1955 and slugged his way to cameos in 1958. He stuck for good in 1960 and earned enough Rookie of the Year votes to finish second to Frank Howard of the Dodgers. Truth be told his numbers were better than Hondo's. His hitting fell off in 1961 (but his strikeouts didn't) and he found himself back in the minors where he played through 1969. He continued playing in the Mexican Leagues, played winter ball, and managed in Mexico as well. He even made an occasional pitching appearance and got some at-bats as a player-manager as late as 1974. He never lost his ability to hit the long ball or miss a lot of pitches.

In 1960: Coming off the 'triple crown' year in AAA Herrera grabbed the Phils' first base job and held it all year. He slashed 17/71/.286/.348 but led the league in strikeouts.

Off The Charts: From my 1959 Topps blog post that featured his prior rookie special card...
Herrera is one very interesting guy. When he debuted for the Phils at the age of 23 he had already been in organized ball for about 8 years. He began at 15 or so around Havana as a member of a group of youngsters called gitanillos, or little gypsies. These players worked with Cuban pro teams during practices but sat in the stands with the other fans during games. Occasionally they were called on to actually fill-in for a regular.

He was also boxing (until him mother saw him KO'd and made him quit) and an agricultural student around that time. But baseball called and he signed to play pro ball in Cuba in 1950. He was obtained by the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League in 1952. His contract was purchased by the Phillies and he began in their organization in 1955.
Herrera's SABR bio is an entertaining one. Well worth the read.

The Card: More interesting than the card up top is the fact that Herrera was one of those players who had received a 'regular' Topps card before being featured on a 'rookie' one. In fact, his 1958 Topps card is one of the more valuable 'error' cards of the late '50s. A printing defect caused the final letter of his name to be mostly obscured on some that were issued in packs.

He. like a couple others in the Sport Magazine subset, had another rookie card in 1959.

And his 1960 Leaf card is kind of fun. He looks pretty happy to be in the bigs!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

#166 Chuck Essegian

Chuck Essegian Los Angeles Dodgers

Career: Chuck Essegian was a baseball nomad who played, mostly as a spare outfielder and pinch-hitter, for six clubs over six years. He was known for his power and his career highlight was blasting two pinch homers in the 1959 World Series for the Dodgers. His card's highlight section is a recap o that feat. Interestingly, he had begun '59 with the Cardinals, was sent down, traded to the Dodgers, played in their minor league system, and then was recalled in August. From that point to the end of the season he hit .304 and was a big help in their pennant-winning drive. His best season came with the Indians in 1962 when he played nearly full time and had 21 homers while driving in 50 runs.

At the bottom of this post you'll find the highlights video from the '59 series. It's narrated by Vin Scully. Al Smith's infamous beer shower comes at the 8:00 mark, Essigian's dingers at 8:45 and 31:20. It's worth watching if only to see Big Klu flex those bare arms.

In 1960: Coming off his outstanding '59 adventures he was a disappointment in 1960 batting only .215 in 58 games, mostly as a pinch-hitter.

Off The Charts: Lots of neat stuff with this guy!

He was a two-sport star at Stanford playing baseball and football. He became the second guy to play in both the Rose Bowl and World Series. The first was Jackie Robinson.

His degree was in biology, and he considered becoming a doctor or dentist before deciding baseball was where he belonged.

He was also an accomplished violinist and could have had a career in music according to a few bios I read.

After he retired he got a law degree and was a practicing attorney in Southern California until retiring in 1987. 

Essegian was traded with Jerry Walker from the Orioles to the A's in 1961 and was traded for Jerry Walker as he went from Cleveland to (again) the A's.

And he spent 1961 as part of four franchises. His contract was purchased by the Orioles from the Dodgers on February 1. The Orioles traded him to KC just after Opening Day. The Athletics sold him to the Indians in May.

He got exactly one at-bat with the Orioles in 1961, but he was pictured on his Topps card with them that year. I posted it below.

He's a member of the Armenian American Sports Hall of Fame.

The Card: Another one of the cards I remember from when it was fresh out of cello packs I picked up at the EJ Korvette store in Hicksville, Long Island.

The very brief bird sighting.

Monday, May 18, 2020

#129 Bob Hartman Sport Rookie Star

Bob Hartman  Milwaukee Braves

Career: Hartman had spent five seasons climbing thru the Braves minor league chain, winning 20 games at the AA level in 1958. In '59 he had a taste of the majors with three scattered appearances while spending the bulk of it in AAA. Those were his only innings with the Braves but he had eight appearances for Cleveland in 1962 after they picked up his contract. He finished with a loss as his only decision but overall he pitched decently in the few innings the Indians gave him. He left baseball after a few games in the minors in 1963.

In 1960: Hartman spent the season in Louisville with the Braves AAA club. He was 10-11 with a nice statistical showing overall. That didn't stop the Braves from trading him to the Athletics after the season. He was returned to the Braves in April of 1961.

Off The Charts: After he retired, Hartman worked as a sports director for a Christian school.

The Card: Hartman looked so clean-cut the cartoonist showed him signing while wearing a Boy Scout uni.

He had a Rookie Star card in the '59 set as well.

Friday, May 15, 2020

#139 Carl Mathias Sport Rookie Star

Carl Mathias   Cleveland Indians

Career: After four fair-to-middling years in the lower minors, Carl Mathias found his game with the Indians' AA Mobile club in 1959. That, and a nice start to the 1960 season in AAA, earned him a look in the Cleveland pen mid-year. He was taken that winter by the Senators in the expansion draft and got generally lit up in four appearances in 1961. That was it for his big league career.

In 1960: He made it into seven games between July 31 and the end of the season. Hard to say if he was up and down between the Indians and AAA or just not used too often. He actually held his own in those seven appearances, 15 innings, 14 hits, and a 3.52 ERA. The rest of the year was split between the Indians and Phillies AAA clubs. How he got involved with the Phils isn't clear. His final tally in the majors showed him losing both of his decisions.

Off The Charts: Mathis was so very close to a big-league win in 1961. It was his first start for the Senators and came in Boston on June 18. He started and was staked to a 7-5 lead going into the ninth. The Nats put what seemed like icing on his cake with five in the top of the inning. Mathias took the mound in the bottom of the ninth leading 12-5. Let's let the game unfold from there courtesy of Baseball-Reference:

If you can't read that I'll tick off the ugly details...

Mathias gets Vic Wertz to groundout to first. Don Buddin singles. Billy Harrell pinch hits for the pitcher and whiffs. So Mathis is an out away from his first (and what would have become only) major league win. A seven-run lead, two outs and a man on. What could go wrong?

A hell of a lot.

Chuck Shilling singles and so does Carroll Hardy.  A run scores but the lead is still 12-6 and we only need an out. But Mathias walks Gary Geiger to load the bases. You'd think this was still a good spot for the Senators. Force anywhere, play back because you're not really worried about having to throw home. Just get a damn out and we can play Game Two for the day. But, no.

Nats' manager Mickey Vernon, watching Mathias in real action for the first time, has seen enough. He brings in his closer, Dave Sisler. Sisler knows how to pitch in Fenway, he had been with the Red Sox for many years. He's got seven saves on the year. Mathias still has to be feeling good. I bet he stayed in the dugout to watch and get the backslaps on his win.

But Sisler walks Jackie Jensen. it's 12-7. Then he walks Frank Malzone, it's 12-8. Up steps Jim Paglaroni, a .230ish hitter who was 0-4 at this point. He has eight career homers.

Make it nine. Pags launched one over the Green Monster and, son-of-a-bitch, we are tied, 12-12. No win for Mathis (who is probably in shock). Vernon is understandably too stupified to make it to the mound for a pitching change and Vic Wertz, who started the inning, walks.

Vernon finally makes a move and brings in Marty Kutyna, but at this point, it doesn't matter. Mathias can't get a win and is probably already having a few beers in the clubhouse. Anyway, Kutyna gives up hits to Don Buddin and pinch-hitter Russ Nixon and that scores Pete Runnels who was running for Wertz. The Red Sox have a 13-12 win. Unbelievable.

BTW...the Red Sox won the second game of the doubleheader in 13 innings. Mickey Vernon did not jump off the roof of the hotel that night. But only because the Nats had a train to catch.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

#128 Bill Harris Sport Rookie Star

Bill Harris  Los Angeles Dodgers

Career: Harris had a long minor league career before he made it onto a Topps card. He had debuted as a pro in 1951. Harris was able to pitch once for the Dodgers in Brooklyn in 1957 and once for them in Los Angeles in 1959. Both appearances came in the last days of the season. He hung around pitching in the minors until 1965 enduring bottom rung, 'B' classification, independent ball at one point.

In 1960: Back in the day some bigger organizations had more than one AAA-level farm club. Harris pitched for both of the Dodgers' teams, Spokane and Montreal. He was a combined 8-6 with an ERA in the mid 3.50s.

Off The Charts: Harris (in his first game) was the starter in the last game caught by Roy Campanella on September 29, 1957. Campy pinch-hit on the 29th and never played again after his accident that following winter.

The Card: He was 29 when the 1960 season opened and was among the oldest of the Rookie Stars in this set. It's his only Topps card.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

#157 Rocky Nelson

Rocky Nelson  Pittsburgh Pirates

Career: In 13 MINOR league seasons, stretching from 1942 through 1962, Glenn Richard 'Rocky' Nelson did this...produced a .319 batting average, 234 home runs, three MVP's, three batting championships, all while averaging just under 35 strikeouts per season. In the majors, he didn't have that sort of success. He banged around over parts of (sometimes all of) nine seasons playing for the Cardinals (twice), Browns, Dodgers (twice), White Sox, Indians, and Pirates (twice!). He was generally a platoon first baseman/outfielder and pinch-hitter. It wasn't until 1960, at the age of 35, that Nelson had his moment in the baseball sun.

In 1960: 18 years after turning pro, Nelson had his first and only .300 big league season. He split the 1st base job with Dick Stuart and contributed to the Pirates pennant run. In the Series against the Yankees (his second, he had played for the Dodgers in the 1951 Classic) Nelson started Games Two & Seven, went three for nine, and contributed a first-inning homer in that wild deciding game.

Off The Charts: Here's a clip of Nelson's World Series homer via the Pirates Twitter. At least I hope it is...I've never linked to a tweet before. It doesn't seem to be on YouTube which is surprising since I have found dress rehearsals for The Last Supper on YouTube.

Rocky Nelson just looks like a ballplayer, doesn't he? Along with Bridges and Colavito, he was one of three 'Rocky's playing in the majors in 1960.

Monday, May 11, 2020

#156 Art Ceccarelli

Art Ceccarelli Chicago Cubs

Career: Ceccarelli had much more success in a long minor league career than he had in the bigs. He was originally signed in the late 40s by the Brooklyn Dodgers. He spent four seasons in their lower minors and a couple of years in the military during the Korean War.  The Yankees obtained him from the Dodgers hat began a journey that took him through the systems of the Yanks, Athletics, Orioles, Cubs, Yanks (again), and Indians. Along the way, he pitched in 79 big league games, won 5, and had a career ERA above 5.

In 1960: He began the year on the Cubs' staff but in seven appearances wasn't very successful and was traded to the Yankees in May. He was with the Yanks' AA club the rest of the way and never did return to the majors.

Off The Charts: Here is Ceccarelli's view of pitching in Wrigley Field: "It wears pitchers down. The winds are unbelievable. Willie Kirkland once hit a home run off me that Ernie Banks called for at shortstop."

The Card: Red/Yellow/Black/Red is a great combo on these cards. And cards with pics taken at Wrigley get bonus points.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

#127 Ronnie Hansen Sport Rookie Star

Ronnie Hansen Baltimore Orioles

Career: Born in Nebraska and raised in California, Hansen was a multi-sport high school star who turned down scholarship offers to sign with the Orioles in 1956. After a promising pro debut year in 1956 in the Orioles' chain, he sat out the 1957 season due to required back surgery. His back gave him problems throughout his career.  He was a tall (6'3")  shortstop with a great glove and range. Hansen wasn't a great hitter over the course of his career but he was above average at a position that usually didn't require a big bat to make a lineup back then. He played 15 seasons in the AL for the Orioles, White Sox, Senators, Yankees, and (briefly) the Royals.

He ranked #1 in various defensive categories during the early 60s. 

In 1960: He had a heck of a rookie season in 1960. Taking control of the Orioles' shortstop job he hit 22 homers, drove in 86 runs, hit .255, and garnered enough MVP votes to rank fifth in the AL. He started both of the All-Star games and got three hits in six trips. He topped it off by being awarded the AL Rookie of the Year award. As an Orioles fan, I find it cool that all the first-place votes went to the flock of 'Baby Birds' as they were known. Hansen got 22, Chuck Estrada and Jim Gentile received the others (one each).

Off The Charts: From Wikipedia...
On July 30, while playing for the Senators in a game against the Cleveland Indians, Hansen turned the eighth unassisted triple play in major league history and the first in 41 years. In the bottom of the first inning, Hansen caught a line drive off the bat of Joe Azcue, touched second base to put out Dave Nelson, then tagged Russ Snyder coming from first base. In the at-bats following the triple play, Hansen struck out six consecutive times – four times on July 30, and twice more on July 31.

The Card:  This signed copy came from a stash of autographed cards I picked up years ago from Larry Dhuly, a card dealer I've known since we worked together at the Houston Post in the early 70s.  He closed his storefront some years ago but still promotes shows across Texas and sets up at TriStar shows here.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

#154 Jim Davenport

Jim Davenport  San Francisco Giants

Career:  Jim Davenport played his entire 13-year career with the Giants in San Francisco, debuting in 1958 when he snagged the starting job at third base and kept it until 1970. He was a baseball lifer who spent over five decades with the Giants in many different capacities. He was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner in 1962 which was his best season in the majors. He didn't have a lot of power for a corner infielder, topping out at 14 homers in '62 but he was steady and his defensive skills were invaluable. He led the NL in fielding percentage at third from 1959 thru 1961.

In 1960: He had a typical Davenport season hitting near his career .256 mark and committing only 10 errors in 103 games at third.

Off The Charts: When Davenport passed in 2016 MLB.Com had a nice tribute, one worth reprinting here...
Davenport was enormously popular in the San Francisco Bay area, building his following among fans while spending his entire 13-year Major League playing career with the Giants. He was the club's everyday third baseman as a rookie in 1958, when northern Californians ardently embraced the freshly imported Giants. In '82, fans elected him as the third baseman on San Francisco's 25th-anniversary dream team.
Davenport, who sparkled defensively, was often overlooked in a Giants lineup that included Hall of Fame sluggers Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey. He eventually was displaced by Jim Ray Hart, another power hitter.
Yet in terms of personal integrity, few rivaled Davenport. Racial tension remained prevalent in society and baseball during the late 1950s and early '60s, but Davenport, a native of Siluria, Ala., rose above the fray.
"He was really one of the best teammates, for whites, Latinos and blacks," said former Giants outfielder Felipe Alou, a native of the Dominican Republic. "There was not a trace of racism in him. He was an incredible friend and teammate."
Said McCovey in a 2014 interview with "There was not a prejudiced bone in his body, and that's what I admired about him so much. He was just a regular guy."
The Card: Haven't done much commenting on colors lately but this three-color combo is a favorite of mine. Fun cartoon as well.

From the looks of those 'Season's Highlights, Davenport had a big June.

Friday, May 8, 2020

#153 Bobby Thomson

Bobby Thomson  Boston Red Sox

Career: Thomson famously hit the "Shot Heard 'Round The World', the pennant-winning homer off Brooklyn's Ralph Branca in the third game of the 1951 playoff series between the Giants and Dodgers. He's known for that, the most iconic homer in baseball history, but he was a durable, versatile, and dependable player for many years. Playing for the Giants, Braves, and Cubs in the NL and briefly for the Red Sox and Orioles as well, Thomson had 264 homers and a .275 career average. He was a three-time All-Star in a league loaded with All-Star talent in the outfield.

In 1960: This was Thomson's swan song. After being traded to the Red Sox the previous December by the Cubs, he played in 40 games, was hitting .263, and was released on July 1st.  He signed three days later with the Orioles but barely saw the field before being sent on his way at the end of the month. He then went to work as a sales executive in the NY area and spent much of his life re-telling the story of his famous home run.

Off The Charts: Odds and ends from various sources on the web...
  • Willie Mays was the on-deck hitter when Thomson hit that homer off Branca.
  • He hurt his ankle in the spring of 1954 which opened up and opportunity for Hank Aaron to gain a foothold in the Braves' lineup.
  • Thomson and Ralph Branca became close friends in the years following their playoff meeting.
  • The Shot game placed second on ESPN's SportsCentury ranking of the Ten Greatest Games of the 20th Century, behind the 1958 NFL Championship Game. Sports Illustrated ranked Thomson's home run fifteenth on its list of the 100 Greatest Moments in Sports History
On the off chance someone hasn't seen/heard this already, here is a mashup of Russ Hodges' famous call on top of the game video.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

#125 Dick Ellsworth Sport Rookie Star

Dick Ellsworth  Chicago Cubs

Career: Ellsworth was a top half of the rotation pitcher for the Cubs in the mid-60s. He signed with the Cubs just days after finishing high school in June 1958 and made his big league debut the 22nd of that month when he was handed a start in Crosley Field against the Reds. He took his lumps that day but when he returned to the majors in 1960 he settled in as a reliable starter. He best season came in 1963 when he went 22-10 games for a club that finished barely over .500 and in 7th place. He became the Cubs winningest pitcher of the decade before being traded to the Phils and then on to Boston. The California native had one final standout year there with 16 wins. He finished his career with a couple of less-than-stellar turns in Cleveland and Milwaukee.

In 1960: He was called up to face the Pirates on May 4th and pitched a complete game in a 5-1 Cub win. He finished the year pitching in 31 games (27 starts) and, although he only won seven games, he showed he belonged in the majors with really nice overall numbers.

Off The Charts: Ellsworth's SABR bio makes a point of how his lack of support led to a poorer record than many of his contemporaries with lesser skills who pitched for better clubs. That may be behind some comments he's made about the organization including in this interview where he is quoted saying this:
“The Cubs had talent, players like Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert and Randy Hundley. I had already been there seven years in 1966, the year I lost 22, when I realized that all the raw talent never got help from the organization in terms of making them better ballplayers. The guys who did go on to be great players – Banks, Santo and Williams – did it by themselves. The Cubs were just not an organization that contributed to anyone’s development. I think history will prove that correct. We just didn’t play good baseball.”

The Card: This is one of the cards that I remember very well from my early collecting days. As I have noted, this Rookie Star subset made an impression on me back then, some more than others. Bill Short's card was another I remember vividly.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

#124 Jim Donohue Sport Rookie Star

Jim Donohue  St. Louis Cardinals

Career: Donohue pitched in 70 games over the course of two major league seasons for three different teams, none of which were the St. Louis Cardinals. After four and a half seasons in the Cards' chain, he was traded to the Dodgers in 1960 and was subsequently taken in the Rule 5 draft by the Tigers, traded to the Angels and then on to the Twins. All within 23 months. He made nine starts over those two seasons and put up a 4.29 ERA with a 6-8 record.

In 1960: Traded mid-year from the Cards to the Dodgers, Donohue went from the Rochester Red Wings to the St. Paul Saints. Both the Cardinals and Dodgers had huge, loaded farm systems. 33 players with Rochester in 1960 had, or would have big-league experience. 18 players with St. Paul fell into the same category. Donohue went 9-7 in 38 games (11 starts) between the two AAA teams.

Off The Charts: Donohue was a St. Louis native and graduate of Christian Brothers College High School where one of his teammates was Mike Shannon, future Cardinal infielder and broadcaster. He was also the son of a St. Louis policeman. He was once asked why he didn't follow his father into law enforcement. He replied: "I'd rather pitch than get shot at." Fair enough.

The Card: His cap got an oversized airbrush job on that '60 card. Topps reused the photo in 1961 with a different airbrush. Now it showed Donohue with the Tigers. Still not very well done.