Robby Goes to the Birds

Although it may be a fool’s errand to follow a masterful post by Jeff Katz with a similar topic, I humbly present my own Frank Robinson post. In a personal note, I was a huge fan of the Orioles in early ’70. With the Pilots gone and the Mariners still to be born, I selected Baltimore as my team. I’m still not over the shock of his trade to the Dodgers after the ’71 season.

Of course, the most famous deal involving Frank occurred after the ’65 season when he was sent to Baltimore by the Reds. This controversial trade brought a great deal of attention to Frank during ‘66 spring training in Miami. Magazine and newspaper reporters and photographers flocked to South Florida to cover the story. Topps sent photographers as well.

Dressed to 9s 66

Frank’s trade to Baltimore coincided with a 1966 uniform change. The Orioles adopted the familiar “cartoon bird” logo for the cap (replacing the “chirping body bird “) and added an orange bill. Additionally, the home uniforms had a new lettering font and orange became the dominant color over the previous black. Finally, the plain black stirrups were replaced with black, orange and white ones.

al_1965_baltimore_01

However, the new “togs” were not worn until the ’66 regular season. The Orioles continued to use the ’65 uniform model in spring training. Thus, Frank is depicted on cards, magazine covers and publicity photos in a uniform that he never actually wore in an official game. Furthermore, Topps continued to use ’66 spring training photos through ’69.

66 Topps  66 Back

Topps’ ’66 Robinson card has the classic “in case of trade” photo. Frank has a head shot-sans cap- while still wearing his Reds’ vest uniform. The back has the frequently used cartoon graphic of a uniformed player carrying a suitcase with an arrow sign pointing to his new city. By the way, that same season Topps pictured Frank in a Reds cap on the NL RBI Leaders card.

67 FR  67 LL-Check

The ’67 card uses a ’66 spring training photo of Robby in the “chirping bird” cap and ’65 uniform. Also, he wears the cap on all three league leader cards and the checklist for the 1st series.

68 LL-Check

For Robinson’s ’68 card, Topps managed to get a photo of Frank in the cartoon bird cap. However, the photo-used twice on league leader cards’ in 67-shows up on the AL Batting Leaders card and the 6th series check list.

69 Super

Although I’m not 100% sure of this, I believe the ’69 Topps Super card is a ’66 spring training photo as well. The piping on the uniform is a match for the ’65 uniform.

 

Sport Service 66  Bethlehem Steel 67

Other types of collectibles that fall in the card or collectible category have Frank in the uniform he never wore during a “championship season.” Sports Services (left) – who I believe produced photos for concessionaires — issued a “chirping body bird” card/photo in ’66 and Bethlehem Steel (right) issued one in ’67. (Oriole fans may know if this was a giveaway.)

The great “Sport” magazine photographer, Ozzie Sweet, did a photo shoot in ’66 spring training. This results in an iconic magazine cover. “Pulp” magazines such as “Super Sports” were still using their ’66 Miami images as late as ’69.

67 H&B Annual

For decades, “Hillerich and Bradsby” issued an annual titled, “Famous Slugger Yearbook.” They took a different tack than other publications in ’67 by airbrushing the “cartoon” bird on the cap but not altering the ’65 model uniform. This photo is from one featuring both Frank and Brooks Robinson.

ASA FR 2

The ’66 spring training photos reappear in several retrospective cards. A company known as ASA did a Frank Robinson set in ’83 that contains at least two cards with ’66 spring training shots. Additionally, Upper Deck issued one in the ‘94 “American Epic” set.

90 Topps

The Orioles returned to a “body bird” in the ’90s. Thus, Manager Frank Robinson wore a sold black cap with a similar bird in a regular season game at last.

Highjacked to the Suds City

Six days prior to the 1970 baseball season opener, the second-year Seattle Pilots were awarded by a bankruptcy judge to a Milwaukee ownership group headed by car dealer Allan “Bud” Selig. The Pilots were re-christened the Brewers and headed to “Suds City” to open the season. The broken heart of a seven-year-old boy in Selah, Washington was collateral damage. He never recovered, resulting in a life dominated by obsessions revolving around a “winged wheel.”

The late transfer of the franchise meant that Topps was stuck with cards depicting the now defunct Pilots. Even the 6h and 7th series feature the Pilots name. For Pilots collectors, this means that a one-year team has two sets of Topps cards.

70 Segui

Northwest collectors opened packs in early spring to find that card number two — in the numerical sequence — was Diego Segui. No matter that he had been traded to Oakland, young fans were undoubtedly thrilled to see a Pilot is his road uniform at Yankee Stadium. The crushing blow had yet to arrive.

In addition to using photos taken in ’69, Topps photographers were in Tempe, AZ for ’70 spring training. There are several cards of Pilots who had not been with the team in 1969, and were expecting to make their home debut in April 1970. SABR member Dave Baldwin, Ted Kubiak and Bob Bolin are examples.

70 bristol

The glorious reign of Joe Schultz ended with his firing after the ’69 season. The Pilots hired former Reds’ skipper Dave Bristol as the new “pilot” of the ‘70 Pilots. Dave was thus featured on a card wearing the gorgeous Pilots’ livery.

70 Team

The Pilots team picture card is also included in the ’70 set. This is the second official team picture, taken in September. The Pilots used 53 different players, which meant that many of the players in the first team picture — taken before a game with the Red Sox in June –were no longer in Seattle.

The photo gives a good shot of the Sick’s Stadium grandstand and expanded press box –where the media had to deal with a toilet that wouldn’t flush (due to poor water pressure) — even if only a modest crowd showed up.

Young “cheese heads” had to wait until the spring of ’71 to collect the first Milwaukee Brewers’ Topps cards. Journeyman catcher, Phil Roof, fills the role of first Brewer. This is one of several cards with photos taken during the Brewers first 1970 trip to Yankee Stadium. Danny Walton’s card shows his helmet with missing paint, probably the result of removing the “S” and “scrambled eggs.”

The Brewers “star” was Tommy Harper. In addition to his card, Tommy was featured on a ’71 Topps coin insert. The “M” stickers for the batting helmets must have arrived later in ’70.

71-579Bk

The Pilots legacy was not completely erased in ’71. The airbrushed photo on the back of Marty Pattin’s card clearly shows the “bar” on his Pilots’ cap.

1970-McDonalds-1st-Year-The-Original-Milwaukee-Brewers

As Jeff Katz told us in a resent post, there is a 1970 McDonald’s Brewers set. The cards were issued uncut, six players to a sheet. The caricatures are less than stellar depictions of the players.

70 Hovley Flavor est

In addition to this set, a fan named Bob Solon issued a set for “Flavor-est” Milk. These blue tinted cards are oddly sized at 2-3/8” x 4-1/4”. I am unsure of the distribution method. I own the reprint set.

The Pilots only live on in the troubled minds of the haunted few. You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping the legacy of the “proud Seattle team” and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.

Next, in this invaluable series, we will head to “Big D” (Arlington actually) to see which of “them, thar good ol’ boys” will be the first Texas Rangers.

 

 

The Babe Ruth of the Palm Tree Division

Many of us derive pleasure from collecting the cards of our favorite player. Often, the player was childhood hero and/or a superstar like Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski or Willie Mays. However, this doesn’t explain my decision to collect Steve Bilko cards.

My fascination with Steve began after attending a Bilko presentation by author Gaylon White at a NWSABR chapter meeting. Subsequently, I purchased White’s biography, The Bilko Athletic Club, which chronicles Bilko’s struggles to establish himself as a productive Major League player, his PCL “halcyon days” and his many legendary drinking feats.

“Big” Steve developed an almost cult-like following in Los Angeles during the mid-50s, when he was racking up 50+ home run years for the PCL Angels at LA’s Wrigley Field. The bandbox ballpark featured absurdly friendly dimensions in left field, thus helping the “Slugging Seraph” cement his status as a long ball legend. Since the Angels’ games were telecast throughout Southern California, Steve’s power exploits made him as famous as a movie or TV star with the local populace.

Silvers-Bilko

Speaking of TV stars, most of you are familiar with the fact that Phil Silvers’ character in the mid-50s sitcom, “Sergeant Bilko,” derived his name from portly power hitter. The writers wanted to honor the man who had captivated Los Angeles.

51 Bowman

The Cardinals originally signed Bilko in ’45–at the tender age of 16–and he made his major league debut in ’49. Steve’s first card appeared in the ’51 Bowman set. The colorized photo provides a good looked at his powerful physique. Also, Bowman includes Steve in the beautiful ’53 color photography set and in the toned down ‘54s.

52 Topps

55 Double Header

Bilko’s gets his first Topps card in ’52 and continuing uninterrupted through ’55. In addition, he is paired with Bob Milliken on the strange Double Header set issued by Topps in ’55.

55 Bowman

The Cardinals’ “brain trust” was concerned with Bilko’s ever-growing waistline and his penchant for striking out, resulting in his trade to Cubs in ’54. The classic “color tv” design of Bowman’s ’55 set seems to barely accommodate Steve’s girth. Unfortunately, Steve’s poor performance got him shipped to the AAA Los Angeles Angels, a Cubs’ affiliate

During Bilko’s three-year (’55-’57) stint as “the Babe Ruth of the Palm Tree Division,” no regional cards were issued for the PCL Angels. According to PCL historian Mark McCrae, a memorabilia collector and dealer, a ’57 team issued card set exists. I was unable to find an example.

58 Topps

After walloping 148 home runs in three years with the PCL “Seraphs”, the Reds decided to give Steve another shot at the majors. With George Crowe and Ted Kluszewski ahead of him, Steve was once again unable to break in as a regular. Topps brought Bilko back-after a two year absence-and produced a classic, airbrushed uniform photo on his ’58 card.

59 Topps

Midway in the ’58 season, the newly transplanted LA Dodgers acquire Steve-primarily to drum up fan interest for their fading ball club. Steve provides a thrill for his devoted fans by smashing a three-run homer in his first at bat in the Coliseum. He then settles into a part-time role with limited success. The ’59 Topps card shows a corpulent specimen swinging the bat at the Coliseum.

60 Topps

60 Leaf

The Dodgers optioned Steve to AAA Spokane after the ’59 season, but he was picked up by the Tigers in the minor league draft. Bilko spends most of ’60 in Detroit, platooning with a young Norm Cash. This results in ’60 Topps card with a headshot taken at the LA Coliseum and an “action” photo on the Reds. Also, Steve shows up in the ’60 black and white Leaf Portrait set, which was recently examined in a post by Jeff Katz.

The American League’s expansion Los Angeles Angels couldn’t pass up an opportunity to bring Steve back to Wrigley Field (LA) in hopes of rekindling his PCL magic. He hit 11 home runs at Wrigley with a total of 20 for the season. The ’61 card is a typical expansion team one, with a bare-headed Bilko wearing a Tigers uniform.

62 Topps

In ’62, Steve moved with the Angels to Dodger Stadium (Chavez Ravine) where he managed to hit only two dingers. However, his card was a “grand slam.” Taken during training, Steve sports the classic Angels jersey and cap. His image is that of a man who could hit the ball a “country mile.”

63 Post

Also, during his time with the MLB Angels, Post Cereal produced cards for Steve in ’62 and ’63. The ‘63 was a career “capper,” since he didn’t play in the majors after ‘62. Additionally, a Bilko card could be found on JELL-O boxes in ’62 and ‘63.

Bilko is included in various oddball issues throughout his career. An Exhibit card exists from the early ’50s, picturing Steve on the Cardinals. He is in the regional Hunter Wieners sets in ’53 and ’54. Jay Publishing issues several Bilko photos in the early 60’s as did the Angeles concessionaire, Sports Services. Manny’s Baseball Land even issues a photo in ’61. Finally, in ’62, Steve can be found on Salada and Shirriff coins and in Topps’ stamp set.

Steve is the definition of the “cult” ballplayer. His notoriety and fan loyalty far outstripped his ability. It goes without saying that a man who can drink a case of beer without showing any signs of intoxication deserves a place in the cult section of baseball lore.

I highly encourage you to check out Warren Corbett’s BioProject piece on Bilko.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be Sure to Wear … Some Jet Black Caps Over Your Hair

Almost from the moment Charlie Finley purchased the Kansas City Athletics prior to the 1961 season, the Chicago-based insurance magnate sought greener pastures. Like so many other cities in the post-war era, Kansas City experienced “white flight” to the suburbs–meaning that many fans had to drive to the ballpark. Since Municipal Stadium was located in an impoverished part of the city with limited parking, attendance suffered accordingly. Of course, abysmal teams and the pre-Finley perception that the A’s were merely a “farm team” of the Yankees didn’t help. Despite Finley’s promotions and gimmicks, the fan base continued to dwindle.

Finley feuded constantly with government officials over ballpark improvements and ultimately the construction of a new stadium. He threatened a move to Dallas-Ft. Worth, but the scheme was quickly squelched by the American League. In early 1964 Charlie tried to relocate to Louisville, but the AL put the kibosh on this plan as well. With the construction of the Coliseum in Oakland and “Finley fatigue” in KC, Charlie finally found a landing place that was acceptable to the American League. The team moved prior to the ’68 season.

As far as cards are concerned, Topps followed its formula of eliminating the previous city’s insignia from the caps or using bare head shots. A’s cards in the first five series featured caps and helmets with completely “blacked out” crowns, leaving only green on the bill. In the 6th and 7th series, Topps took a different approach, as we shall see.

68 hershberger f

The first Oakland A’s card depicts a bareheaded Mike Hershberger (#18 in the numerical sequence). The design necessitates turning the card over to see that the player is indeed on Oakland.

The ‘68s include Sal Bando’s first solo card and two later Hall-of-Fame inductees: Jim “Catfish” Hunter and Tony LaRussa.

gosger

Jim Gosger — who will later be the opening day center fielder for the 1969 Seattle Pilots — has an intriguing card. The reflection of the obliterated “KC” on the front cap panel can be seen on the green bill.

Perhaps inspired by the psychedelic color explosion of the ‘60s, Topps designers decide to ditch the black and go with green airbrushing for the 6th and 7th series.   This results in a “hypnotic splattered mist” of two-toned green. The bill is left alone but the crown is doctored in a “lighter shade of pale” green. (Pilot-in-waiting) Diego Segui and Lou Krausse model the “mod” lids.

 

69 a's stars

Bay area fans had to wait until ’69 to get the first card of a player with the Oakland lettering on the vest jersey and the old English “A” on the cap. Paul Lindblad has the honor of first representing the new East Bay entry, with card #449 in the 5th series. With the Major League Baseball Players’ Association boycott of Topps no longer in effect, several other A’s had card photos taken at ’69 spring training, including this great shot of three A’s Stars. The boycott had also led Topps to purchase several photos from third parties, including this famous Reggie Jackson rookie card.

Though I may have to down a whole bottle of Zoloft to ward off severe depression, my next installment in this series will look at the first cards of the Brewers- which include some awesome ’70 Pilots spring training photos.

 

To learn more about Charlie Finley and the A’s, I highly recommend Jeff Katz’s book: The Kansas City A’s and the Wrong Half of the Yankees https://www.amazon.com/Kansas-City-Wrong-Half-Yankees/dp/0977743659

 

 

 

Real Ballplayers of Orange County

The early years of the Los Angeles Angels were overshadowed by the glamorous and winning Dodgers. After an inaugural season at Wrigley Field (the previous home of the Pacific Coast League’s Angels), the “Halos” cemented their second fiddle status by becoming tenants at Dodger Stadium in 1962. Fortunately for the Angels, this was a temporary arrangement until the owner, Gene Autry, could secure financing for his own ballpark.

The Angels needed to create a fan base separate from the Dodgers to succeed. After futile efforts in LA and Long Beach, the “Singing Cowboy” lassoed the public funds he needed from the city of Anaheim. The new stadium was ready for opening day in 1966.

In anticipation of the pending move to Orange County, Autry made a “quick draw” and re-christened the Angels “California” on September 2, 1965.  This rebranding necessitated, for the following April, new caps with an interlocking “CA” replacing the “LA.”

For their 1966 set, Topps (per their pattern) did not want to use the old Los Angeles uniforms/hats for the newly branded California Angels, which resulted in the usual assortment of bare head shots, airbrushed logos, upturned faces and “mug shot” profiles. Topps apparently didn’t send a photographer to Holtville or Palm Springs for 1966 spring training so there are no ’66 Angels’ cards with players wearing the “CA” cap, even in the last few series.

fregosi 5fregosi back 5

The first card for the new “Disneyland” entry is the 1966 Jim Fregosi, card #5 in Topps’ numerical sequence. Interestingly, Topps decided to use California for the ’65 statistical line, even though the club was Los Angeles for the first five months of the season.

Several of cards are interesting, despite their generic nature. I like the almost interchangeable profile shots of veterans Jimmy Piersall and “Little” Albie Pearson.

I could no more give up oxygen than to not mention that George Brunet and Merritt Ranew would become Seattle Pilots. Merritt strikes a classic, catchers pose in a Cubs uniform. Topps loved this flattering photo of George so much that they used it in ’65 and again in ’66. The head shot precludes any chance of determining whether he is wearing undershorts.

angels rookies

This photo of Jim McGlothlin — apparently taken at age 12 — on the Angels Rookie Stars card serves as a foreshadowing of the first true California card. But, the young collectors would have to wait until ’67 to purchase packs containing authentic California Angels.

67 mcglothlin 19

Jim McGlothlin’s solo card (#19) in 1967 is the first authentic California Angels card. The promising young hurler is shown with a “CA” on his cap and Angels on his road uniform in a photo taken in Cleveland. By the way, in 1969 Jim was the Angels’ opening day starter versus the Seattle Pilots in their inaugural game.

rudolph red

In a final note, Gene Autry missed out on a great promotion by not signing Don Rudolph and having him “don” a red nose appliqué while pitching.

Though you may hope I’m ambushed along the way, I will be “back in the saddle again,” riding north on El Camino Real to Oakland. Once there, we will “flash back” to ’68-when Topps’ airbrush guys took full advantage of the available “performance enhancers” over in Haight-Ashbury to produce some “far out,” psychedelic A’s’ caps.

 

 

 

 

On That Midnight Train to Georgia

After 13 seasons, the Milwaukee Braves “struck the Wigwam” and headed south to Atlanta for the ’66 season. Lou Perini — who brought the Braves from Boston in ’53 — sold the club to the Chicago based LaSalle Corporation, led by William Bartholomay, in ‘62. Despite phenomenal attendance in the ‘50s and respectable turnstile counts in the ‘60s, the new owners saw no room for economic growth in the “Brew City.”

The new ownership foresaw television as a major revenue stream that would make the franchise profitable. Unfortunately, Milwaukee was doomed to be a small media market in perpetuity. The franchise could not penetrate the Chicago market to the south and the Twins had captured the airways to the west. Thus, the untapped Southeastern market was too alluring to pass up.

cloninger 10cloninger back10

As with the Twins, and the four expansion teams in ’61 and ’62, Topps didn’t create a hypothetical cap emblem for the new Georgia entry. Cards in the first four series consist, mostly, of head shots without caps or blanked out logos. Also, some players are pictured in profile or with upturned heads designed to obscure the Milwaukee “M.” Since the template for the ’66 cards featured only the team nickname, collectors had to turn over card #10 — in the numerical sequence — to see that Tony Cloninger was the first Atlanta Brave.

I found a few of the headshot cards to be interesting. Clay Carroll ignores Satchel Paige’s advice and “looks backward” in this sweaty pose, with his oily pompadour mussed up by a phantom cap. Mack Jones’ profile would have made a nice silhouette for his mother’s broach. Also, Mike de la Hoz sports an Indians vest jersey complete with a “fat-burner” undershirt. By the way, Mike was a speaker on the Cuban Baseball Panel at SABR 46 in Miami. He was kind enough to sign my “Mike de la Hoz” endorsed glove.

If you are one of the hardy few who have read my other “first card” posts, you know that Topps was determined not to show the logo of the teams’ previous cities. I assume they didn’t want to confuse the young collectors. However, Topps sent mixed signals when it came to the League Leaders cards in ’66. Tony Cloninger and Hank Aaron maintain the Milwaukee “M” on their caps, but the team name is shown as Atlanta.

ken johnson 466

It was probably May or June before a “Hotlanta” youth “ripped wax” to find a true Atlanta major leaguer. Ken Johnson (#466) show ups in the fifth series wearing the script “A” on his cap. Other players with spring training photos depicting the “A” include: manager Bobby Bragan, Gene Oliver, Chi Chi Olivo and the Braves Rookie Stars (immortals Herb Hippauf and Arnie Umbach).

aaron

Fortunately, Topps waited until the sixth series to issue the Henry Aaron card (#500). “Hammerin’ Hank” was spared the indignity of being airbrushed or depicted sans cap.

rookie stars

Another Atlanta player shows up on Topps Rookie Stars card in the final series. The Braves’ Pat Garrett (who should have been paired with Angels’ rookie Billy “The Kid” Kelso#) is teamed with the Angels’ Jackie Warner.

This coupling provides a perfect segue to my next installment, which looks at the first cards for the ’66 California Angels. Coincidentally, Topps introduced the “team color” accents (same color for a team in each league) in ’66. Lavender was the color used for both the “new’ teams.

Sources:

Lou PeriniSaul Wisnia, SABR’s Bio Project.

Trading Card Database

 

# I made up “The Kid” as a nickname for Bill Kelso.

 

From the Land of Sky Blue Waters

As with the previous franchise shifts in 1950’s, the Washington Senators’ move to Minnesota prior to the 1961 season was driven by socio-economic forces, shifting demographics and an outmoded ballpark.  The owner, Calvin Griffith, wanted to move earlier than ’61 but was blocked by the American League owners, who didn’t want to leave the nation’s capital without the “national pastime” and risk the wrath of Congress. 

The AL solved this conundrum by creating two new franchises.  Griffith was granted permission to relocate to the “Land of Ten Thousand Lakes,” and a new Senators expansion franchise would fill the void in DC.   The Los Angeles Angels were born in ’61 as well, which gave the AL an even ten teams.

To avoid slighting either Minneapolis or St. Paul, the transplanted squad was christened Minnesota.  Plus, Metropolitan Stadium was not located in either city but in the suburb of Bloomington. Thus,  baseball’s first team representing a whole state joined the junior circuit.  The club adopted a “TC” emblem for the caps to recognize the “Twin Cities.”

Unlike the other transplanted teams of the ‘50s, Topps didn’t try to guess as to the uniform design or cap emblem.  The Twins cards in the first four series all feature players without caps or with the cap logo airbrushed over.  For example, Harmon Killebrew shows off the effects of “male pattern baldness” and future Seattle Pilot Don Mincher appears to wonder what happened to his cap emblem. 

The first Twin shows up early in the first series at card #4 in the numerical sequence.  A bare headed Lenny Green appears to be “dazed and confused” at the prospect of no longer calling DC home.

 

But, the “real” first Twin on a card is Italian born and Canadian bred Reno Bertoia. with card #392 in the fifth series.  This is obviously an authentic “TC” emblem from a photo taken in spring training in 1961.  Other players wearing real caps are: Billy Consolo, Ralph Lumenti and Jose Valdivelso.

My favorite 1961 Twins card is the Earl Battey All-Star card, in the sixth and final series.  The card back states that Earl was a participant in the first of the two All-Star games in ‘61. However, Earl wasn’t on the roster for either game. His first AS appearance didn’t happen until ’62. Topps must have guessed Earl would be selected, based on his good first-half of the season.  This is the only 1961 card that shows the Twins’ new uniform.

As with the players’ cards, Topps didn’t try to make the ’60 Senators appear as Twins on the team picture card.  It is noted on the front that these are the former Senators.

Interestingly, Topps couldn’t settle on whether to abbreviate “Minnesota” on the card backs or even which abbreviation to use.  There are three variations:  Minnesota Twins, Minn. Twins or Min. Twins.  Interestingly, it doesn’t always appear to be related to the length of the players name. The font size should allow for Minnesota to be printed on all the cards.  

Even though it evokes “Grinch-like” responses from readers of this blog, I will soon gift you with another installment of the “first card” for transplanted teams series.  But first, I’m going to leave this “Cookie” for Santa.