The Elephants Walk

By 1955, the two dynastic periods of the Philadelphia Athletics were fading in the collective memories of the A’s dwindling fanbase. The popularity of the Phillies “Wiz Kids,” persistent losing, family power struggles and mounting debts all contributed to the “pachyderms” packing up and “goin’ to Kansas City.” For the full story behind the franchise transfer, I highly recommend Jeff Katz’s book: The Kansas City A’s and the Wrong Half of the Yankees and the SABR Fall 2010 “Baseball Research Journal” account by Robert Warrington: “Departure Without Dignity.”

The American League approved the sale of the Athletics and the move to Kansas City on November 8, 1954 — which gave Topps and Bowman enough lead time to make sure their A’s baseball cards were designated as Kansas City. Neither company appears to have included an actual Kansas City card (photographed after the move) in their 1955 sets.

55 Dressed to the Nines

Kansas City’s uniforms were changed in several ways from the ones wore by Philadelphia in ’54. Most significantly, the main accent color was changed to navy blue from the traditional royal blue. The year before the move saw the A’s switch to a script Athletics with red trim on the uniforms — instead of the traditional “Old English A.” The distinctive “A” remained on the cap but with a red outline.  This design was continued in the Midwest, but a yoke was added on both home and road uniforms and the cap “A” was changed to red. Lastly, a sleeve patch-with the “white elephant” logo — now featuring the pachyderm on top of a ball — was added to the new duds.

55 Topps Finigan

Jim Finigan is the first Kansas City card and features the airbrushed red and white “KC” on the cap. Topps anticipation that the team would want to represent the new city did not prove prescient. The A’s would not adopt “KC” for the cap insignia until ’60. Note that Finigan is pictured in a ’54 royal blue accented Philadelphia uniform, without the yoke piping or sleeve patch.

55 Topps Limmer

One might believe that Lou Limmer’s “in action” could be authentic, since the photo shows him in a yoked uniform. However, this is a pre-1954 A’s uniform that had the chest piping, since Lou never played in Kansas City.

main_1490385002-1955-Topps-Double-Header-15-Rube-Walker-16-Lou-Limmer-PristineAuction.com

As an aside, I discovered this odd ’55 Topps Double Header card for Limmer. The Double Header set features two colorized player photos on opposite sides of the card. When folded, the legs of the player on the front serve as the legs of player on the back. Lou is coupled with Rube Walker-and his legs. Topps has drawn on the “KC” emblem, but the photo used as a model is from ’51, since Lou is wearing the “Golden Anniversary” patch worn by the AL teams that season.

55 Bowman Shantz Bros

Bowman bowed out of the card business after producing the wonderful “Color TV” set in ’55. Apart from two cards, all the Bowman cards feature the Athletics wearing the royal blue and red home uniforms from ’54. Many of the cards in this set are taken at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia, the home city of Bowman.

55 Bowman Boudreau

The before mentioned two oddities are cards for Manager Lou Boudreau and Cloyd Boyer. Both have dark caps with poorly rendered red A insignia on the caps. Boudreau’s photo is probably from his stint as manager of the Red Sox. The dugout pose is like his ’53 Bowman card.

56 Astroth

56 Lopez

So, it was up to Topps to produce the first true Kansas City Athletics card in ’56. As you might expect there are caveats. Card #14 in the numerical sequence is that of Hector Lopez. He was a rookie with Kansas City in ’55 and never played in Philadelphia. The “in action” pose clearly shows Hector in a KC uniform, complete with yoke and the “elephant on a ball” shoulder patch. But, the “colorizer” painted his cap “A” white, instead of red. Topps finally comes through with a proper cap on card #106: Joe Astroth.

Since I want to make sure everything is up-to-date in Kansas City in terms of accuracy, please let me know if I earned an “F” instead of an “A” by missing an “elephant in the room.”

Though you may wish to give me the “bum’s rush” for continuing this blog series, I will next leave Kansas City from the corner of 12th Street and Vine and head to Brooklyn for look at the cards resulting from The Bums’ rush to LA.

 

They Went East — Not West — to the Orioles’ Nest

After World War II, the urban centers of the West Coast, Texas and Midwest saw tremendous population growth.  Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Dallas, Minneapolis and Kansas City all set their sights on becoming “big league” sports markets.  So, naturally, the American League moved the failing St. Louis Browns to Baltimore before the 1954 campaign.

Several factors went into the decision to “go East,” not the least of which involved the desire to rid the league of Browns owner, Bill Veeck.  Ultimately, the AL only allowed the Browns to move if Veeck was out of the picture.  Thus, Veeck sold the Browns to a Baltimore ownership group, and the “Charm City” embraced the major league Orioles.

Since the announcement of the transfer occurred on September 28, 1953, Topps and Bowman had ample time to prepare Baltimore Orioles cards for the ’54 sets. Topps included cards with players/coaches wearing the new uniform and cap, but Bowman did not.  Both brands went with the minor league Orioles “body bird” on the cap, which was adopted by the major league team.  I’m not sure if this was a guess or known at the time.

54 Young

It is appropriate that Bobby Young was the first Orioles player in the Topps set, since the back of the card informs the reader that he is a Baltimore native.  The airbrushed black cap and positioning of the bird is not a bad representation of the actual cap. Bobby’s uniform is clearly airbrushed in the action pose.

Topps colorization process creates issues when attempting to determine the authenticity of the cap and uniform.  The artist or the printer inexplicably used blue for the cap color.  The natural inclination is to assume all the photos are ersatz Orioles. However, a closer examination reveals that at least four of the card photos are from ’54 spring training.  The “body bird” is correct on all, and three of the four cards have “in action” black and white photos featuring ’54 Orioles uniforms.

Jehosie Heard’s card provides the conclusive evidence.  The photo is the exact one used by the Orioles for the ‘54 team issued, picture packs. Also, the photos were colorized and used for the ’54 Esskay Hot Dog set.  I couldn’t locate an Esskay card for Heard, even though the “Trading Card Database” lists one.  Dick Kryhoski and Harry Brecheen have card photos that look as if they were taken in the same photo session. Also, coach Tom Oliver is wearing the ’54 livery.

54 Spring Training

At first, I was perplexed by the fact that the striping on the stirrups didn’t match that worn in the regular season.  This conundrum is explained by examining photos from spring training in Yuma, Arizona, which clearly shows players sporting wide stripes.

 

 

54 Bowman Hunter

William “Billy” Hunter’s card demonstrates that Bowman’s artists had some interesting takes on how the uniforms might look.  He has ORIOLES painted in orange block letters with a bird above the “O” on his jersey front.

Lenhardt Bow 54

Most of the Bowman’s Orioles feature the “two birds on a bat” concept employed by the AAA International League Orioles.  This is rendered well on the Don Lenhardt and Duane Pillette cards.

On the other hand, Clint “The Toy Bulldog” Courtney and Johnny Groth have lettering and bat size issues.  Also, it must be noted that the Bowman artist used questionable punctuation, since he put in an apostrophe before the “s” in Orioles.

55 Bowman Coleman

The classic ’55 “Color TV” card of Joe Coleman leaves no doubt as to who the first player is to wear Orioles togs on a Bowman card.  Joe’s first year with the Orioles was ‘54 and he is clearly clad in ’54 Orioles garb.

Let me know if you have evidence that disputes my findings. I will not be driven to Homicide: Life on the Street” if proven wrong.

I know most of you would like to hang me on the “wire” for continuing this series. But, after walking the streets of Baltimore, I’m goin’ to Kansas City.  Kansas City here I come!

 

Lusting in My Heart for Tommy Smith

The Summer of 1976 saw Mark Fidrych seemingly come out of nowhere to be a rookie sensation.  His surprising success was mirrored in politics when an obscure, peanut farming governor ascended to the highest office in the land.  President Jimmy Carter will occupy the Oval Office for approximately two months before the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays take the field for the first time in April of ‘77.

Starting in ’74, Topps began distributing all the cards in their base set at once (they did this in select markets in 1973), meaning there was no longer an opportunity to take photos in spring training and include them in later series.  Therefore, all the Blue Jays and Mariners cards feature poorly rendered, airbrushed cap insignia.

77 Smith

As a kid growing up in Washington State, it would be an understatement to say I was “stoked” at the prospect of Major League Baseball returning to Seattle.  I certainly “lusted in my heart” at the prospect of collecting Mariners cards.  I began purchasing-by mail-complete sets in ’74.  Once my ’77 set arrived, I discovered that the first ever Mariner card was that of Tommy Smith.  Who!?

Tommy was a little used outfielder made available by the Indians in the expansion draft.  The Mariners waited until the 58th pick to add him to the roster. Smith didn’t make the squad out of spring training but found his way to Seattle later in the season.  After 21 games with the M’s, Tommy’s career in organized baseball ended.

The first Blue Jay on a card was veteran Steve Hargan.  Before an elbow injury in ’68, Steve appeared to be destined for greatness with Cleveland.  An All-Star year in ’67 led to his inclusion in the ’68 Topps game insert subset.  He’s easily the most obscure player in the set and was selected by Topps over teammates Sam McDowell and Luis Tiant.   Picked in the 39th round of the expansion draft from Texas, Steve was the oldest pitcher on the Blue Jays roster.  He was a Jay for only a short time before being dealt back to the Rangers on 5/9/77.

Whether coincidence or not, Topps featured the two winningest pitchers for the Blue Jays and Mariners during the ’77 season as the first to debut their teams uniforms in the next year’s set.  The “Tall Arkansan,” Glenn Abbott, won 13 games in the inaugural season for Seattle.  He went on to be the M’s best starter in the early years.  His fellow 13 game winner, Dave Lemanczyk, is the Blue Jays first card.  Like Abbott, he will be a mainstay in Blue Jay rotation during the lean, expansion years.

By the way, the ’77 set contains an error card for Mariner Dave Collins.  He was first batter in Mariners history, leading off as the DH against Frank Tanana and the Angels.  Of course, Dave struck out–thus launching me on a 40-year (ED: so far) “trail of tears” as a long-suffering Mariners fan.  The photo on Dave’s card is that of his ’76 Angels teammate, Bob Jones.  The O-Pee-Chee set has a correct photo (right, above) of Collins.

 

Bill Beer

Although you may need a six-pack of “Billy Beer” to wash away the memory of this post, I shall forge ahead with a look at the ’93 and ’97 expansion teams in a future post.  Neither “killer” rabbits, vengeful Ayatollahs or a “malaise” can stop my quest.

 

 

 

The Cards That Made Milwaukee Famous

On January 20, 1953, General Dwight D. Eisenhower became President of the United States. “Ike” and the First Lady, Mamie, scarcely had time to settle into the White House before the Milwaukee Braves debuted on April 13.

The “Brew City” offered a new, publicly funded stadium (County) located out of the downtown area with acres of parking. Since the Braves would always play “second fiddle” in popularity to the Red Sox in Boston and with financial losses mounting, owner Lou Perini pulled up stakes and headed for the upper Midwest.

However, the final approval to shift the franchise wasn’t given until March 18, 1953. Topps and Bowman had already produced Boston Braves cards. The two companies will have to add Milwaukee cards, but they take different tacks.

53 Topps Crowe

The first eight Braves in the Topps set are painted (like all 1953 Topps) Boston cards and are from “series” 1 and 2. The ’53 set was released in “waves” but not formal series with checklists. George Crowe is the initial Braves card numerically. Interestingly, he is shown with the Yankee Stadium “frieze” in the background, despite never having played in the American League. Spahn, Matthews and Sisti are amongst the others wearing the Boston “B” on their caps.

53 Topps Crandall

Del Crandall is the first Brave to represent Milwaukee — on card #179 in “series” 3. A plain block “M” has been painted on his cap to signify the new city. The six other Milwaukee cards also have the fake “M” insignias. As best as I can determine, there are no cards showing Braves wearing an authentic Milwaukee cap in ‘53.

53 Bowman Grimm Front53 Bowman Grimm Back

Topps’ rival, Bowman, produced a groundbreaking set utilizing color photography for the first time by a major company in ‘53. All the Braves in the set have Boston caps or with the insignia not visible. Perhaps Bowman didn’t want to mare this beautiful set with excessive airbrushing. There are three Braves depicted as being on Boston, with Sam Jethroe being the first coming in at card # 3. Manager “Jolly Cholly” Grimm is the first Milwaukee card at #69. Since this set has no lettering on the front, the back has the only indication of the franchise shift.

53 BW Bowman Cooper

A set of cards with black and white photos was produced by Bowman as well. Bowman may have intended this set as a third series of color cards but decided to save money by not printing it in color. But, the cards are not a direct continuation of the color set, since they are numbered 1-64. All the Braves cards have Milwaukee on the backs, which lends additional credence to the idea that this set was printed last, with the intent to use it as a final series. As with the color cards, the Braves either have a Boston “B” on the caps or the insignia isn’t visible.

54 Topps Crandall   53 Crandall Spick and Span

Since Topps still used colorized photos in ’54, it is difficult to know definitively if the first Milwaukee Brave in the set, Del Crandall, is wearing a real Milwaukee “M.” I speculate that it is authentic, since the “M” font is correct and there were many photos taken of Del in ’53. (The accompanying photo used for the “Spic and Span” set is an example.) The next six Braves cards could possibly be airbrushed, but the speculation stops with card #128: Hank Aaron.

54 Topps Aaron   MJ Aaron Photo

As many of you know, one of the leading authorities on sports images is one of our most well-known committee members: Keith Olbermann. In an exchange of emails, he sent images of Aaron from a March 18, 1953 photo session for the Milwaukee Journal newspaper. The position of the cap and exposed forehead clearly indicates that the Topps card image is from this photo session. Furthermore, I found another image on the Wisconsin Historical Society website that was taken seconds before or after the card picture.

I learned from Olbermann that — to the best of his knowledge — Topps didn’t take their own photos until at least ’56. Instead, they relied on team or press produced shots. This explains how the Milwaukee Journal photo ended up on their 1954 card.

54 Topps Jay

Additionally, Olbermann pointed out that Joey Jay and Mel Roach signed with the Braves in ’53. Their card photos are undoubtedly from ’53 as well.

Logan Bowman 54   54 Wilson Bowman

Bowman doesn’t use the same vivid, color printing process in ’54 as ‘53, resulting in washed-out images. Thus, the “M” on the caps is not crystal clear. However, I believe that card #16, Jim Wilson, was taken during the ’53 season — since several of the Braves cards use photos taken at the Polo Grounds with similar poses and lighting. Johnny “Yatcha” Logan (#80) is definitely from ’53, due to the photo being taken at County Stadium in Milwaukee.

The Eisenhower era of the ‘50s was a “brave” new world in many respects, including the shifting of long established franchises to new cities. The Browns, Athletics, Dodgers and Giants all followed the Braves gambit. The nation liked “Ike” (not Delock), and I would like you to prepare for the next installment in my quest to pin down the first card for each transplanted team.

Please let me know if you have evidence that disproves any of my speculations. The cards that made Milwaukee famous may have made a fool out of me.

 

 

 

 

Alou’s the One!

“Nixon’s the One!”

This campaign slogan became reality on election night in 1968. Richard Nixon was a genuine baseball fan, but the new President may have found reading the standings a little “tricky,” since Major League Baseball launched the second wave of expansion and divisional play in ‘69. The American League replaced the recently-departed Athletics with the Royals in Kansas City and ventured into uncharted territory with the Seattle Pilots. The National League followed suit by planting the Expos north of boarder in Montreal and the Padres just over the border from Mexico in San Diego.

In part to accommodate the four new teams, Topps produced its largest set to date: 664 cards. Also, (after a lengthy battle,) they reached an agreement with the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, thus allowing photographers to capture the infant clubs in their new uniforms and caps. However, these photos didn’t appear until the fifth series, so it’s bare headshots and airbrushed insignia in the first four series.

Alou

Ironically, the first Expos card (#22) features a player who never played for Montreal: Jesus Alou. Many of you remember that the youngest Alou brother was sent to Houston as part of the deal that salvaged the Rusty Staub trade, after Donn Clendenon refused to report to the Astros.

Cline

The first card depicting an Expo in the “tri-color beanie” is Ty Cline at #442. The journeyman Cline will end up with the Reds in ’70 and play a key role in defeating Pittsburgh in that season’s NLCS. Other Expos shown in the new uniforms in the 1969 set are: #466 Boccabella, #496 Jaster, #524 Rookie Stars: Laboy/Wicker, #549 Brand, #578 Bosch, #625 Mack Jones and #646 Rookie Stars: McGinn/Morton.

McBean

Drafted by the Padres from Pittsburgh, pitcher Al McBean has the honor of being Topps’ initial “Friar” with card #14.   The Virgin Island native was only a Padre briefly. After appearing in one game, he was dealt to Dodgers in April of ’69.

Ferrara  

Veteran Dodger outfielder Al Ferrara is the first player to don the Padres distinctive brown and gold on card #452. Al was a starter during the first two seasons, proving to be one of the Padres most consistent hitters. Of course, Ferrara’s biggest claim to fame is appearing on TV in episodes of “Batman” and “Gilligan’s Island.” Other players in authentic Padres uniforms that year are: #506 Rookie Stars: Breeden/Roberts, #637 Rookie Stars: Davanon/Reberger/Kirby and #659 Johnny Podres. Yes, Podres of the Padres.

Morehead

Former Red Sox phenom Dave Morehead holds the distinction of being the inaugural Royals card at #29. Morehead tossed a no-hitter against Cleveland in ’65 but a shoulder injury derailed a promising career. Dave lasted two seasons with Kansas City before his release in ’71.

Ribant

Card # 463 shows pitcher Dennis Ribant in a Royals uniform from spring training ’69. But, Dennis never wore the royal blue during the championship season, since he was traded to the Cardinals before the late in spring training. Other “real” Royals: #508 Drabowsky, #529 Kirkpatrick, #558 Burgmeier, #569 Billy Harris, #591 Hedlund, #619 Rookie Stars: Pat Kelly, #632 Warden, #647 Wickersham and #662 Rookie Stars: Drago/Spriggs/Oliver.

Marshall

It goes without saying that I could prattle on about the Seattle Pilots incessantly. So, I will self-edit and limit my commentary about the first Pilots player on a card: Mike Marshall (#17). The eccentric Marshall was in the Pilots original starting rotation but struggled, resulting in a demotion to the minors. Marshall eventually becomes a multi-inning relief pitcher, winning the Cy Young for the Dodgers in ’74, appearing in a record 106 games.

Gosger

By the time I “ripped wax” on the pack containing card #482, Jim Gosger was probably already traded to the Mets-having been sent as the “player to be name later” for Greg Goosen. Jim is pictured wearing the basic Pilots spring training uniform. The undeniably unique uniforms, complete with captains’ stripes and “scrambled eggs” on the cap bills, would not debut until opening day. There are five other “immortals” who are photographed as Pilots: #534 McNertney, #563 Pattin, #612 Aker, #631 Kennedy and #651 Gil.

Although a “silent majority” of blog readers wishes they could “kick me around some more” for continuing this series, I will not allow my topic judgement to be “impeached.” Thus, “resign” yourselves to the coming third installment and “pardon” my obsession.

In closing, if you decide to purchase some of these cards, make sure to buy only from trusted sellers. After all, you want a dealer who can proclaim: “I am not a crook.”

 

 

The Torch is Passed to a New Franchise (First in a Series)

Within a few months of John Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961, the expansion era in baseball begins–as the Los Angeles Angels and a new version of the Washington Senators (the original team moved to Minnesota) debut. Here is a look at the initial card for each of the first four expansion clubs, as well as the the first card with a player photographed wearing the team’s uniform.

Klu

The first player to appear (by card number) as a Los Angeles Angel is slugger Ted Kluszewski, who is pictured wearing a White Sox cap in the 1961 Topps set. Ted is card #65 in the first series, so Topps may have only had time to change the team name before the print run.

Yost

The Angels faithful had to wait until card number #413 in series five to see Eddie Yost in the team’s new livery. “The Walking Man” was the first batter in Angels history but struggled in two seasons with the “Seraphs.” Three other Angels were depicted in authentic Angel uniforms in 1961: Del Rice, Rocky Bridges and Gene Leek.

61 Long

The inaugural card for the new Senators was that of Dale Long, #117 in the second series. The veteran Long is best remembered for hitting home runs in eight consecutive games in ’56 — which established a record since equaled by Don Mattingly and Ken Griffey Jr. Also, Dale played in two games with the Cubs in ’58 as an emergency catcher, even though he was left handed.

Veal

Coot Veal is the first expansion Senator photographed wearing the team’s cap and uniform. His card shows up in the 6th series at #432. The journeyman Veal had an unremarkable career but a very memorable nickname. There are five other Senators with photos taken in the newly minted togs: Harry Bright, Joe McClain, Pete Burnside, R.C. Stevens and Marty Kutyna.

62 DeMerit

The following year, Topps wasted no time in introducing the card collecting world to the expansion New York Mets in ‘62 by placing Joe DeMerit at #4. Joe, a draft pick from Milwaukee, played outfield in 14 games with a .188 batting average. This lackluster performance marked the end of his short MLB career.

Jackson

The first card featuring the royal blue Mets cap was # 464: Al Jackson in the 6th series. Al was a woeful Mets stalwart starting pitcher for five seasons, in which he lost 20, 17, 16, 20 and 15 games. Only one other 1962 card features a solo player in a Mets uniform, Ed Bouchee #497. Three “Rookie Parade” cards have headshots with players in Mets caps: #593 Bob Moorhead and Craig Anderson, #597 Rod Kanehl and #598 Jim Hickman.

62 craft

The new Houston Colt .45s were also given a card early in the first series, featuring manager Harry Craft at #12. Harry appears confused in this photo, but he will pull it together to manage the Colts during their first three seasons.

Apparently, Topps didn’t send a photographer to Houston’s spring training site or to the Polo Grounds when the Colt .45’s came to New York. Therefore, there are no cards in ’62 set with players wearing a Houston uniform.

The first proper Houston Colt ’45 card is #9 in the ’63 set. The .45’s cap adorns the “floating” head of Dick “Turk” Farrell on the NL Strikeout Leaders. Fifteen cards later, Bob Bruce appears on the first solo card at #24. Bruce spent several years in Detroit before closing out his career with the .45’s in ‘62.

In a future post, I will continue to “expand” your knowledge with a look at the first cards in the second wave of expansion. This will be done not because it is easy, but because it is hard!

 

Tom Terrific and Ted Who?

68 Wrapper
1968 Wax Pack

The splendor of baseball card collecting was germinated 50 years ago when I opened my first “wax pack.” I distinctly remember two of the cards I pulled that day: Tom Seaver and Ted Kubiak.

IMG_20180201_20045267 Seaver

The Seaver card-which is pictured above- is pressed in my memory, mostly due to my brother’s attempts to take it away from me. This is Tom’s first solo card after being paired with Bill Denehy on what has become a rare and extremely pricey ‘67 Rookie Stars card (also pictured). My brother must have known that Seaver was an up-and-coming star. I only knew that he wanted it, so I was not about to give it up easily.

68 Seaver Back

Tom’s card is a classic portrait coupled with the Topps ’67 All-Star Rookie trophy. The card back informs us that: “The young righthander is the most exciting young pitcher to ever wear a New York Met uniform.” Of course this statement turned out to be extremely accurate, but it didn’t take much to be the best young player in Mets history in ’68.

68-79Fr

The Seaver card is memorable for a variety of reasons. But Ted Kubiak? The wisp of silver hair sticking out from Ted’s slicked back locks has stuck with me from first sight. The close- cropped head shot was used on many A’s cards in ’68, since that was the year Charlie Finley moved the A’s to Oakland from Kansas City. Players depicted wearing caps had the “KC” airbrushed away.

Ted was a classic “good glove, bad bat” guy. The back of his card essentially predicts his career arc: “Ted is capable of playing several infield positons. Ted is a great defensive player.” His one opportunity as an everyday player came in 1970 with the Brewers, where split time between 2nd and shortstop. Of course, he would have been a regular for the Pilots if they had still existed in ’70. Incidentally, Kubiak was one of many players traded away by Finley, only to be reacquired later.  Ted was on all three of the A’s championship teams of the ‘70s, primarily as a utility man.

Ted’s card suffered water damage from a sprinkler when I left it on the porch railing. I may have disposed of the card, since it wasn’t with my other ’68 duplicates.

Although I’m not 100% certain they were in the first pack, Tom Tresh and Al Downing cards were contained in my first few packs.

Anyone else remember a specific card pulled from the first pack?

 

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 Fritsch. 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

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.

 

 

 

Whither the Astros?

One of the unresolved (to me, at least) mysteries from collecting baseball cards from the late 1960s was how Topps handled the Houston Astros. As you likely know, the Houston expansion team was known as the Colt .45s for its first three seasons (1962-64) before becoming the Astros in 1965, coinciding with their move into the brand new Astrodome that April. Houston tried grass for a year, before contracting with Monsanto to install artificial turf (soon known as “Astroturf”) in 1966. That much we know.

armour-part04-1966-robinsonfrankTopps made a point in this period of trying to never show a player in the “wrong” uniform; if a guy was traded from the Reds to the Orioles early enough in the off-season, Topps could correctly move him to the Orioles but would not yet have a photo of him with his new uniform. Instead they would use a headshot with no hat, or with the hat logo blackened out, or some other solution that would protect young kids from the horror seeing Frank in his old Reds togs. Of course kids could usually tell, but at least they tried. In the 1960s this was a particular problem, because there were 8 expansion teams and 5 franchise moves between 1961 and 1971. This led to a lot of blackened or missing hats.

Which brings us back to the Houston Astros.

In 1965, Topps did not react to the Houston name change right away, referring to the team as “Houston” in the early series (and showing the old .45s hats) and “Houston Astros” (with no visible old logo) thereafter.

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But for the next two years (1966 and 1967) Topps put out two great sets and treated the Astros with dignity — the correct name, the correct hats and uniforms. Problem over?

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Not so fast.

In 1968, suddenly the name Astros was not used on either the front or back of any of the cards, nor were the hats or uniforms shown. (The cards for the other 19 teams used the team nickname, not the city.) I was 7 at the time and an avid collector, but I did not really take notice of the missing Astros name until a few years ago. I spent some time tryi86d0f5e8620b13e1f37a5a5ae38ee092ng to figure out why this happened, contacting Topps, former Topps employees, the Astros historian, Rusty Staub, and several knowledgeable bloggers. The most common reaction was. “I can’t believe I never noticed that.”

The most plausible explanation I have heard is that Monsanto was in a dispute with the Astros over the use of the name — though the baseball team used the name first, it was Monsanto that actually trademarked it (says the theory). Topps, seemingly uninvolved, took the cautious approach and decided to avoid using the name.

When this was going on I was already a rabid card collector — especially the cards of my beloved Red Sox. If I had grown up in Houston following the Astros, collecting an entire team’s worth of bland hatless logoless cards like this Jim Wynn card, might I have turned to other pursuits? Maybe 166083become a productive citizen?

The Astros did not stop using the name, nor the logo, nor did they or Major League Baseball stop authorizing the use of the logo to other entities. Dexter Press came out with a beautiful set of postcard-sized cards in 1968 and had several gorgeous Astros photos (like this one of Joe Morgan). If I was a kid in Houston, I would have found these a better option.

In 1969 Topps again avoided the name Astros, and avoided the uniform in the first three series. Starting with Series Four, sometime around June, the uniform finally returned (though not the name). The dispute, whatever it was, had been resolved, but Topps likely decided to keep the team name consistent throughout the set.

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Topps finally restored the Astros to full citizenship in 1970, giving many of us our first good look at the Astros uniform, especially these gorgeous home unis, in several years. It was great for me, but for the kids of Houston, Texas, it must have been glorious.

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