On November 27, I introduced the Conlin Collection Project. This is Part 1 of a the resulting series of articles.
PLAYER: George Burns
CARD #: 309
AUTHOR: Alex Diaz
After opening the pack, I realized that many players took their photos without smiling, simply looking serious. Some players turned away from the camera. However, Mr. Burns did not. He looked right into the camera and purely smiled. His joy can be felt as soon as you see the card. If Mr. Burns was with us today, I believe this is what he will say: For the love of the game.
Every day, I button up the rough uniform, put on the old hat, and do what I love most, play baseball. Truth is, at the end of the day, baseball is a game. Nothing more, nothing less. What many people don’t realize is that life is a game, too. Sometimes you might hit a single and have everyone cheer for you. Sometimes you might hit a grounder and have everyone dislike you. Sometimes you might hit a homerun and feel like king of the world. While sometimes you might strikeout with bases loaded at the bottom of the ninth and cry yourself to sleep. You don’t know what each trip to the plate will bring to you, just like you don’t know what life will bring your way.
Life is a game, and I love to play it.
PLAYER: Mel Almada
CARD #: 234
AUTHOR: Anthony Salazar
By 1936, Almada was a 23-year-old veteran, having spent over three seasons with the Boston Red Sox. He had performed fairly well with the club, appearing in 151 games the year before, sporting a .290 batting average with 176 hits. In 1936, his batting verage would fall to .253. I think the card reflects some of the intensity he was looking to re-capture from previous seasons. Unfortunately, he would be traded from Boston to the Washington Senators the following season.
The card shows Almada in an away jersey, playing probably in Yankee Stadium against the Bronx Bombers. He’s taking a few cuts before game time, probably awaiting his turn in the batting cages. The away jersey is gray, though the stirrups are mostly red with blue and white stripes of different widths. Of course, I’m looking at a black and white photo, but thanks to the Baseball Hall of Fame’s “Dressed to the Nines” online color exhibit, the 1936 stirrups are easy to tell.
Mel, or really, Baldomero Melo (Quiros) Almada, a native of northern Mexico, grew up in Los Angeles, and later spent a couple of seasons with the Seattle Indians (1932-33), playing with his brother, Lou. I was excited to see his card, because I identified with him in a number of areas. My family hails from northern Mexico, and settled in Los Angeles. As I am based in Seattle, the Almada brothers are two of the early pioneers of Latinos in Seattle baseball history that I have admired. It’s unfortunate that his career was not more widely known outside the Boston area. I am glad, however, that Almada is featured in a great SABR Biography.
PLAYER: Bob O’Farrell
CARD #: 175
AUTHOR: Chris Dial
My favorite part of the Conlon Collection is that there are photos of everyone. No need to be a star; it’s as if Conlon’s entire thought was towards baseball cards. In this pack, it’s a leisurely stroll – which player do I know the least about? Which ones are the most obscure? Or who is the most famous player that is “uncommon”?
One such player that came up was Bob O’Farrell, the catcher for the 1926 St. Louis Cardinals. I’d never heard of him. I know all his teammates – Rogers Hornsby, Sunny Jim Bottomley, Billy Southworth. Even more from playing Diamond Mind, I knew of Les Bell, Taylor Douthit, and Ray Blades. This card said even more – O’Farrell was the National League’s Most Valuable Player. He caught nearly every game, and posted a 112 OPS+.
The most amazing part of learning O’Farrell’s name, and then going to Baseball-Reference.com and reading his career stats, was the light bulb that turned on: O’Farrell was a key actor in one of the most famous moments in World Series history. He was the catcher that threw out Babe Ruth trying to steal to end the 1926 World Series. A piece of trivia I have bantered about for most of my life, and I never knew who the catcher was until this pack of cards.
PLAYER: Johnny Evers
CARD #: 15
AUTHOR: Craig Hardee
“Tinker to Evers to Chance” is the classic phrase that describes the Chicago Cubs infield of the early 1900’s. But the Johnny Evers card of the Conlon collection pictures him in a Boston Braves uniform in 1929.
By then, Evers was 47 years old, and had not played major league baseball since 1922, when he appeared in one game for the Chicago White Sox. His last significant action was in 1917, when he split the season between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Boston Braves. Evers appeared in one game for the Boston Braves in 1929, on October 6, 1929. He’s not listed as a coach or manager of the Braves that year.
A mystery? Perhaps the Braves signed him so he could retire as a Boston Brave. He was a member of the Braves in 1914, when the Miracle Braves went from last place on July 4 to win the World Series. He was the National League MVP that year.
The back of the card reveals that Evers had two nicknames: “Crab” and “Trojan.” He was on the small side, listed at 5’9” and 125 lbs. To compare, the Yankees Aaron Judge is almost a foot taller than Evers was, and is more than twice Evers’ weight.
Evers was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946, shortly before his death in 1947.
PLAYER: Chief Bender
CARD #: 20
AUTHOR: Dawn Gibson
There are certain players in the big league whose smiles shine as bright as the sun. Many of these men are the beloved bearers of a poetic athleticism that blends the bashing of balls with the graceful maneuvers of ballet. Baseball is a beautiful game. Baseball is all encompassing, from the ace on the mound to the dreamers looking down at the game play from their seats in the stands. One is not indifferent to baseball. Either you love baseball, or you do not. Baseball is simple that way. When the gods play ball, we cheer with a hope and a joy that that unites the fans with the players, and when our heroes laugh, kid, and smile for all to see, we smile in return. Smiles are the knowing winks that fans and players alike use to confess their love of the game.
Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, had that smile. I cannot look at a baseball card of Ernie Banks and not smile. The Conlon Collection has a card bearing one of these glories of baseball. Chief Bender, who in 1926, was a coach for the Chicago White Sox. Bender was born of Chippewa blood in 1884, the same year that a US Supreme Court decision declared Native Americans ineligible to vote because they were not considered to be citizens of the United States. In 1919, women were afforded the right to vote. It would be another five years before the US Congress finally ‘granted’ citizenship to all Native Americans, clearing the way for Native Americans to become part of the voting population. However, it wasn’t until 1956 that all states complied with voter rights laws.
Chief Bender died in 1954, one year after his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. As a Native American, he faced the adversities of that era of US history, and he overcame them. He overcame them with a heart for baseball and as a big league pitcher with a career 2.46 ERA. Baseball is an exquisite equalizer. It gave an outcast in his own homeland the chance to excel and become one of the best baseball players in history. It warms the heart to see a challenge fiercely met and conquered. Done so with a smile to prove there is indeed something deeply beautiful about the game of baseball. Wink.
NEXT WEEK: PART 2