That Championship Season (Sort of)

program

It may seem odd to commemorate the one decent season of a dismal franchise with a card set. But Washington Senators (1961-1971 version) fans, of a certain age, fondly remember 1969; the only winning season in the expansion team’s history.

Joe D 38 Goudey

In 1998, a Senators reunion was held to celebrate the storied season. Attendees at the reunion breakfast received uncut sheets of cards featuring caricatures of the players. The individual cards were reminiscent of the 1938 Goudey “Heads-Up” (like the DiMaggio above).

The 1998 cards were produced by legendary card dealer Larry Fitsch. He cut card stock into 2 ½ x 2 7/8 inch cards and packaged them as a set of 28. In addition to statistics and trivia on the backs, there is a commentary by radio personality Phil Wood. I purchased a set in the early 2000s.

The second incarnation of the Washington Senators began in 1961 in conjunction with Calvin Griffith moving the first Senators team (1901-1960) to Minnesota. Pressure from Congress to keep the “national pastime” in the nation’s capital compelled the American League to create the expansion Senators with nothing but an off-season separating the tenures of the two teams.

The existing AL teams provided a poor-quality player pool for the expansion draft, resulting in four straight 100 loss seasons. Over the span of eight years, the Nats averaged 96 losses never finishing higher than 6th in the 10-team league.

Williams

Before the 1969 season the sports gods smiled on the downtrodden Washington fans by providing a savior so legendary that his nickname evokes the sport itself: “Teddy Ballgame.” Senators owner Bob Short needed a big name to get the fans excited, so he convinced Ted Williams to put down his rod-and-reel and manage the club.

Bosman

Epstein

Brinkman

Ted did inherit a few good pieces. In addition to hulking, super-slugger Frank Howard, the Senators had two good starting pitchers in Dick Bosman and Joe Coleman as well as bullpen stalwarts Darrell Knowles and Casey Cox. Del Unser and Mike Epstein were promising youngsters, while Eddie Brinkman and Ken McMullen anchored the left side of the infield.

Howard

The enthusiasm surrounding Williams’ dugout presence rubbed off on the players. The club overachieved by posting a winning season with 86 victories. They still finished 23 games behind the division champion Orioles; nevertheless, fans were hopeful for the future.

Of course, the success was not sustainable. The club resumed its losing ways and followed the same script as the original Senators by moving to Texas in 1972.

Valentine

French

So, if you are dying to relive the glory year of Jim French, Bernie Allen, Tim Cullen, Fred Valentine and Dick Billings, the set is still available. http://www.fritschcards.com

 

Sources:

Baseball-Reference

Larry Fritsch Cards: 1969 Heads-Up Senators product page

Trading Card Data Base

Mistaken Mario Brothers

63 Landrum

A kid who “cracked the wax” on a pack of Topps in 1963 may have found the Cubs Don Landrum. Undoubtedly some astute kid from Chicago’s north side uttered, “whaaaat da faaauck.”   This reaction is understandable since the photo on the card is Ron Santo.

57 Snider, 58 Boiling, 59 Lumenti, 60 Martin, 66 Ellsworth, 75 Haney, 75 Busby, 77 Collins

57 Snyder

Bolling

lumenti

60 Martin

66 ellsworth

75 Busby

75 Haney

77 Collins

Vintage card collectors are undoubtedly aware the Topps periodically erred and put the wrong player’s photo on a card. Examples include: ’57 Jerry Snider is Ed FitzGerald, ’58 Milt Boiling is Lou Berberet, ’59 Ralph Lumenti is Camilo Pascual, ‘60 J.C. Martin is Gary Peters, ’66 Dick Ellsworth is Glen Hubbs, ’75 Larry Haney is Dave Duncan, ’75 Steve Busby is Fran Healy and ’77 Dave Collins is Tommy Smith.

69 Rodriguez

The most famous mistaken identity card is the ’69 Aurelio Rodriguez. The photo is that of the Angels bat boy, Leonard Garcia.

Korince Wrong

Real Korince

The main reason for the mix ups had to be similarity in appearance of teammates. The one exception is James Brown, an African-American, being mistaken for the white, Canadian George Korince on a ’67 Rookie Stars card. Kornice is correctly depicted on a different Rookie Stars card in a later series in the set.

79 Cox

80 Cox

The one photo mix up that definitely can be explained by similarity occurred in ’79 with Dave Rader being mistaken for Larry Cox. Both players were catchers of similar build with quintessential ‘70s era “porn stashes.” Additionally, both could have been the inspiration for the Mario Brothers of video game fame. Incidentally, Cox managed to have two stints with both the Cubs and Mariners.

The_Mario_Bros.

I’m sure my list of photo errors is not complete. Please let us know of others, particularly in more recent sets.

From Buckeye to Branch’s Bonus Baby Buc

Autumn means post-season baseball and clashes on the college and NFL gridirons. Most fans of the two sports are aware that a few players managed to carve out careers in both sports. The obvious examples are Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, who successfully played both sports professionally in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Jim Thorpe and George Halas were two early 20th century examples players who dabbled in both sports.

The aforementioned Jackson won the Heisman Trophy in ’85 before embarking on his professional careers in baseball and football. Thirty-five years earlier, another Heisman winner played both sports professionally: Vic Janowicz.

51 Football
1951 Topps Football

Although Vic was on the watch list of several MLB teams in high school, he decided to attend Ohio State to play football exclusively. He won the Heisman in ’50 as a two-way player seeing action as a tailback and safety. In addition, Vic handled the punting and place-kicking chores for the Buckeyes. In a game against Pittsburgh, he single-handedly scored 46 points. Against Michigan, Vic punted 21 times for 685 yards. His first card is from a ’51 college football set produced by Topps.

Janowicz surprised the sports world by initially forgoing pro football and signing with the Pirates in ’52, even though he hadn’t played baseball since his senior year in high school. The $10,000 signing bonus given to him by Pirates GM, Branch Rickey, resulted in Vic becoming a “Bonus Baby.” Under major league rules, “Bonus Babies” (players who sign for more than $4,000) had to remain on the big-league roster for two years.

Predictably, Janowicz saw limited action with the Pirates, which stunted his development. Used mostly as a third catcher, he hit .214 in ’53 and ’54, earning him a release at season’s end.

53 topps
1953 Topps
54 Topps
1954 Topps

Despite his benchwarmer status, Janowicz had several cards. Topps included him in the ’53 set, and both Bowman and Topps issued cards for Vic in ’54. His final card is a ’55 Bowman “Color TV” card, even though he didn’t play that season.

54 Bowman
1954 Bowman
55 Bowman front
1955 Bowman

The ’54 and ’55 Bowmans feature Janowicz wearing the helmet all the Pirates wore-including pitchers-at the behest of Branch Rickey. His goal of preventing head injuries was sound, but the helmets were composed of heavy plastic making them extremely uncomfortable. Maybe that explains the 100 loss seasons the Pirates endured in this era.

55 Bowman back
1955 Bowman back

Interestingly, the cards all mention that Vic was an All-American at OSU but omit his winning the Heisman. I assume the award didn’t have the same lofty status that it holds today, since there were many clubs and organizations that sponsored awards in the ‘50s.

55Bowman FB
1955 Bowman
56 Topps FB
1956 Topps

With his baseball career aborted, Janowicz gave the NFL a try, signing with the Redskins who had drafted him in ’51. He plays two season for Washington, leading them in rushing in ’55 while handling the place- kicking duties as well. Bowman’s ’55 NFL set has a Janowicz card and Topps issued one in ’56.

Vic’s career ended tragically in a car accident in ’57. The resulting head injury left him paralyzed on the left side of his body.

Bo “knew” football and baseball, so did Vic.

Sources:
New York Times: February 29, 2009, Vic Janowicz Obituary
“From Heisman to the Diamond:” Baseball Hall-of-Fame Website
Trading Card Database

Poor Little Lamb

Indians Album

In exchange for whacking down the weeds that constitute his yard, my neighbor will periodically reward me with memorabilia. Recently, he gave me a 1971 Cleveland Indians Dell Stamp album. The stamps are uncut and in excellent shape. As a kid, I was only able to acquire the All-Star version, so I was quite pleased to receive a team album. The image on one of stamps is so unique that I felt compelled to post my discovery.

Ray Lamb Dell Stamp

In blog posts and on Twitter, many of us have commented on the bad airbrushed photos Topps churned out in the ‘70s. One of the Indians stamps may be the worst altered photo in the history memorabilia production. Ray Lamb’s stamp appears to have been drawn by an elementary student. It is probably a bad colorization attempt of a black-and-white photo from his Dodgers days. In any event, you would be hard pressed to find a more amateurish alteration.

Lamb 72

Not to be outdone by Dell, Topps produced a hideous airbrushed photo of Ray in ’72. Obviously, he is in a Dodger uniform with the wishbone C painted on. Never mind the fact that the Indians have never worn royal blue caps. Why Topps decided to reach back into achieves is a mystery, since they produced a nice shot of Lamb in ’71, decked out in the short-lived pinstriped uniform.

Ray Lamb 71 Topps

The Trading Card Data Base and the Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards consider the Dell stamps to be cards. This is one of many examples of collectibles that are not truly cards being lumped into the card category. I’m interested in soliciting opinions on what constitutes a baseball card. Excepting inserts-which accompany cards-my feeling is a product can only be a card if printed on card stock. Perhaps we can engage in a Twitter conversation around this topic.

Incidentally, Jeff Katz did a post a few months back offering expert analysis of the Dell stamps and albums.

 

Cards with Balls

 

Brock

As an inveterate collector, I have saved almost every sports related piece of memorabilia though all of life’s transitions.  The one big exception is the loss of my Chemtoy “superballs” with imbedded baseball player photos.  My brother and I easily had 60-70 of these 1” diameter “high bounce” balls.  With the exception of Lou Brock and Don Mincher, the collection is lost.

Team
Major League box
AL and NL Boxes
League boxes

Many of you may remember that the balls were sold in vending machines as well as at drug, candy and variety stores.   My only source was a drug store in the “big city” of Yakima, WA, which had the mixed box of AL and NL players. Chemtoy also distributed the balls in separate NL and AL boxes or regionally by teams.  The balls sold for 10 cents each.  1970 was the only year of production, but the balls lingered in stores for several years

Each team had 11 or 12 players and a manager.  The inch diameter picture disk was a head shot without any MLB insignia on the caps.  Obviously, Chemtoy only bought rights from the MLBPA.  The backs were blue for the NL and red for the AL and contained the player’s name, team, position and an inventory number.

The pliable, clear plastic material served to magnify the picture when viewed straight on.  Unfortunately, the balls tended the turn “cloudy” with age, obscuring the picture. I remember that excessive bouncing could lead to the ball splitting at the center seem leaving you with a 1” baseball card.

Over the years, I’ve collected eight Seattle Pilots, paying up to $25 (ouch!) each.  I was recently narrowly outbid on a banged up Gene Brabender.

Chemtoy produced an AFL and NFL set in 1969 as well.

Here is a link with more information on these quasi-cards.

Free Agent Draft

Most collectors have a cringe inducing story surrounding the desecration of cards or related products during their youth. A classic example is Jeff Katz gluing ’71 coins onto a board. Of course cards were designed to provide fun and entertainment for kids. At the time, the alterations we made brought us joy. However, I was enough of a collector as a kid to only mess with duplicates. The following is a tale of desecrating a ’69 Pete Rose card-amongst many others-in the pursuit of fun.

Parker Brothers produced a board game called “Pro Draft,” which utilized ’73 Topps football cards. I very much coveted this game but never obtained it. Being a clever lad, I decided to create my own game using baseball cards. I called the game “Free Agent Draft.” My best guess is I created it in ‘75 after the Messersmith/McNally case resulted in free agency.

Borrowing liberally from the rules of Monopoly, I crafted a board game where the first player to obtain a card for each positon–plus a manager–would be the winner. The players had different values, much like the properties in Monopoly. Drawing from my vast number of duplicates, I proceeded to write dollar values, ranging from 50 to 500, on the front of cards. This resulted in not only Pete Rose being defaced but Luis Aparicio, Boog Powell and Bill Mazeroski as well.

My “Monopoly like” board had spaces for drafting players, winning or losing money, being forced to trade a player or pay opponents fees. I had a “Community Chest/Chance” space called “Hit or Error” resulting in good or bad outcomes depending on which card was drawn. Examples included: “3 game winning streak: move forward 3 spaces” and “Pay $100 to pension fund.”

Competitors could raise money by placing players on “waivers,” receiving half value from the bank. An opponent could put in a waiver claim if you couldn’t meet your financial obligations. Obviously, I stole this from the mortgage option in Monopoly.

Participants could purchase multiple players for the same position in an attempt to block opponents from filling out a team. Conversely, you could take a player you needed if you landed on a “trade” space.

Initially, I drew the game board-poorly- on the back of a roll of Christmas paper and glued it to a checker board. Later, the board was significantly improved by my buddy, Ted, utilizing a piece of plywood and etching the spaces with a wood burner tool. We even varnished it.

Since we played this game for hours, it must have been somewhat compelling. I remember having to alter the rules several times since flaws would creep up. Eventually, we nailed down a fun game.

During a furnace installation in my grandparent’s basement, the board and the “Hit or Error” cards disappeared. I saved some of the adulterated baseball cards, which you are viewing.

If I had sold this concept to Parker Brother or Milton Bradley–not the player–I might have made a fortune. Alas, I’m sure copyright infringement would have been an issue.

I also created a game called “Jenk-o-Matic” baseball, but that is a topic for another post.

 

California is the Place Topps Oughta Be

The relocation of the Dodgers and Giants to the West Coast after the ’57 season not only broke the hearts of fans but meant Topps didn’t have a NL base in New York at which to photograph players. So, Topps decided to follow the departed clubs and shoot the National League teams in sunny California. This results in several sets of cards with photos taken at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Seals Stadium in San Francisco.

I’m sure most of you know the story of the Dodgers initial plan to use the PCL Angels facility (Wrigley Field) as their home turf. But the prospect of selling 60-70,000 seats per game instead of 20,000 caused Walter O’Malley to select the cavernous Coliseum, despite its track and inflexible football field configuration.

There is no mistaking the Coliseum cards since many clearly show the Peristyle from which burned the Olympic flame during the 1932 Olympics (1984 too). Also the arches are apparent in numerous photos. The haziness may be a result of the infamous LA “smog,” which was particularly bad in the days before auto emission control devices came along in the ‘70s.

59 hodges59 Burgess   60 Robinson

The ’59 card of Gil Hodges is a prime examples of a card with the Peristyle and arches in the distance. The ’59 Smokey Burgess and ‘60 Frank Robinson clearly show that the visitors were also photographed in the Coliseum.

60 Zim  61 Drysdale  62 Koufax

The shots continue to show up over the next three years-as attested by the ’60 Don Zimmer, ’61 Don Drysdale and ’62 Sandy Koufax.

After the move west, the Giants were content to use Seals Stadium, knowing that a new ball park (Candlestick) was scheduled to open in ’60. Additional seats were added to bring the former PCL venue’s capacity up to around 22,000. This single deck stadium in the Mission District is very distinctive with orange box railings.

Sauer   61 Antonelli Bazooka   61 Alou   59 Robbie   61 Aaron   62 White

Former NL MVP Hank Sauer in ’59, Johnny Antonelli in ’60 and Felipe Alou in ‘61 are all at Seals Stadium. The ’59 Frank Robinson,’61 Aaron and ’62 Bill White are opposition player examples.

Seals Seat

When Seals Stadium was razed after the ’59 season, the wooden seats along with the light towers made their way to the new Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Washington. The seats remained in use until being replaced in 2005. I purchased one, which is now displayed in my memorabilia room. I have at least one piece of memorabilia from all the San Francisco and Tacoma teams displayed on the seat.