Monday, October 31, 2011

Phils, Red Sox, Cardinals: Lend Me Your Ears (‘50s Version)

My son Conor (age 14) is a pretty good ballplayer.  He’s also very conscious about his ears, poor guy.  They’re actually not that bad, but they definitely stick out.  My wife and I always try to downplay the topic whenever it comes up.

Maybe I could point him to all the famous people and celebrities over the years who’ve had big ones too: Obama, Prince Charles, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Clark Gable, Dumbo …  Probably what would be most meaningful to him, though, would be to show him some major leaguers who suffer from the same “ailment” (like me, he’s got that baseball gene).

So here they are, Conor, some real live major leaguers with ears much worse than yours …


Now, these aren’t that bad.  Actually, they’re not big so much as they’re just not where they’re supposed to be. 

I think, though, I really just liked the name.  I mean, how many Romans do you know?  Okay, Gabriel, Polanski …  Um … Er …  Did I say Polanski?  I know!  Semproch!  Yeah, Roman Semproch! 

Interestingly, this was the only year Roman was Roman.  For his other cards, he suddenly became Ray. 

Even more interestingly, Ray/Roman, had a second nickname, “Baby.”  If you can find a card out there with “Baby Semproch” on it, it’s probably a misprint and worth millions.

Here we are again.  Shouldn’t you move those things a little higher up your head?

Bob Oldis was up for seven seasons, with four different teams (including the World Champion Pirates in 1960).  A true backup catcher, he managed only 236 at bats (and one homer) during that time. 

He's not a real looker either, is he?

Like I said …  Ears don’t go there.  Please take them and place them a couple of inches higher.  Thank you.

You probably remember this guy as a manager.  In fact, Bill Rigney managed 18 years, with the Giants, Angels, and Twins.  He also played eight seasons with the Giants, four as a starter. 

Nicknames include “Specs” and “Cricket.”  Wait a minute.  Wasn’t Cricket who Ken dumped Barbie for?

Okay, this is more like it.  Real, honest-to-goodness jug handles.  And see where they start (and then keep going and going)?  Much better.

Ewell Blackwell is a pretty cool name too.  Plus, his nickname was “Whip.”  Though that’s not all that surprising when you combine being 6’6” and 195 pounds with a sidearm delivery

Pretty good player, with one incredible year.  In 1947, he led the league in wins and strikeouts and came in second in MVP voting.  He also pitched a no-hitter and took another one into the 9th on his next start.

Now, these don’t stick out quite as much as Ewell’s, but they do seem to cover the whole length of his face.

Everett Kell, known as “Skeeter,” was Hall of Famer George Kell’s brother.  He was only up one year.

After his playing days were over, this Eddie Munster look-alike started a successful sporting goods business.  In fact, if you Google “Skeeter Kell,” three of the first five hits are for his business.

Les is a fairly good-looking guy, but those ears (highlighted by the glowing nimbus behind him) are just too much.

Les Moss was a catcher, mostly back-up, for 13 big-league seasons.  His main claim to fame was catching a no-hitter, by Bobo Newsom.  He also did a little managing, finishing with a 39-50 record.

More of the same, south of the border. 

Hmm, looks like there are a couple of Ruben Gomezes out there.  Wikipedia’s got a baseball player, football player, musician, and cyclist.

Our Ruben was arguably the first real baseball hero in Puerto Rico.  There, he was known as “El Divino Loco,” the Divine Madman.  ¡Asombroso!


Rudy Arias was from Cuba, and was only up in the bigs one year.  The White Sox did, however, manage to make it to the Series that year.  Unfortunately, Rudy didn’t see any action – though he did have a pretty good view, as well as receive a nice little check, for just spectating.

Hey, we’ve got a couple of things going on here.  Big ears, toothy smile, goofy look …

Mel Parnell was one of those rare things, a successful left-handed starter with the Red Sox.  He pitched a no-hitter for them and won 20 twice.  It was pretty much all over after ’53, though.  After tearing a muscle in his arm, he went from 21 wins to 3, and was never again in double digits.

And let’s not forget … Parnell was actually the one who came up with the term “Pesky’s Pole.” 

* - author has this card

Next week's edition features a special look at 1956, a year in which ears were especially humongous. Find out why! And here are some from the '60s and '70s as well.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chaw ('50s Version)

It tastes horrible, it stains everything, it gives you cancer, and it makes you look stupid.   What’s not to like?

Hard to believe, but there was a time when sticking a soggy mass of carcinogenic glop in your cheek was as accepted as sunflower seeds are today.  Of course, pregnant women drank and smoked back then too.  Ah, the ‘50s.

So, here it is, a gallery of guys doing their best to look like intellectually-challenged chipmunks …

This straight-on shot shows how disfiguring even a little wad of chew can make you look. 

Poker-faced Jim here actually had a pretty good career.  Over a thousand games, mostly in the outfield for the Senators.  King hit 24 dingers for them one year, but could never really get that average up (.240 lifetime). 


It’s not easy to chew and smile at the same time. 

Billy Gardner looks like one of those scrappy little middle infielders, doesn’t he?  Man, I hate those guys.  Sure enough, Wikipedia has him pegged as “a scrappy, light-hitting second baseman.”  Oddly, however, he didn’t have any speed (10 SBs lifetime), and was nicknamed “Shotgun” for his rifle arm.  As for the latter, I’m 1) wondering what’s he doing at 2nd and 2) thinking shotguns are really not all that accurate.

Hey, Billy's still chewin' away in those wild and crazy '60s.

Even Hall of Famers got caught chewing.  Looks like ol’ Nellie’s managed to shoehorn a couple of bags in there.

Nellie Fox is another one of those light-hitting, good-fielding types who have made it into the Hall somehow over the years.  His is a great story, though, from getting signed at 16 by Connie Mack at a local tryout to dying heartbreakingly young from lymphatic cancer.  It’d make a great movie.

More Nellie right here, here, and here.

Between the poor illustration and the bulging ‘bacca jaw, Vic Raschi manages to looks like some kind of ‘50s comic book character.  Seeing as he’s a Yankee – especially a Yankee of the ‘50s – maybe comic book villain would be better.

He was known as the “Springfield Rifle.”  Because he was from Springfield, MA …  And they made rifles there …  (Wait, they made rifles there?)  And he threw really hard …  Like a rifle, I guess.  Nah, I don’t get it either.

And here's another one of Vic comin' right at ya.

* - author has this card

Sorry there are so few cards on this post.  I actually think chewing tobacco was something the card companies frowned upon in that incredibly innocent decade.  So, I guess these guys are real rebels to boot.  Don’t worry, though, we’ll have plenty of chewers in those rebellious ‘60s.

Monday, October 17, 2011

There’s Something Odd About Maurice McDermott

I don’t know, there’s just something not quite right about this guy.  His are just some of the stranger cards I’ve ever seen.  I’m not sure what it is, but there’s definitely something going on here.

A quick look at the backs of these cards gives me a couple of clues.  First, he’s a man of many names: “Maurice,” “Maury,” “Mickey,” “Lefty.”  Second, a couple of the cards mention that McDermott spends his offseason as “a singer at a Boston nightclub.”  Wow!  Now, that’s definitely not your typical job driving a delivery truck or doing construction.

Very interesting.  Moving over to the Internet, I find: 
  • His father faked his birth certificate so he could get him signed at 15.  Part of the signing agreement included several truckloads of Ballentine beer.
  • He lost a no-hitter at the age of 17.
  • He pitched two more no-hitters in the minors.
  • He was the topic of a Normal Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover (see below).
  • He went 18-10 for the Red Sox one year, 7-15 the next.
  • He was playing in a baseball game when Castro took over Havana.  Several fans and players were shot.
  • He palled around with Kerouac and Sinatra.
  • He won seven million in the Arizona lottery.

Holy Harry Caray!  Why haven’t I heard of this guy before?  What a story.  Could it all be true?

Anyway, it’s not terribly surprising that very little of this was reflected in his baseball cards (the timing’s off, if nothing else).  But I’ll show them and have some fun with them anyway. 

Not a baseball card, I know.  But it’s based on a picture and story Rockwell saw in Life detailing McDermott’s call up to the Red Sox at 19.


Maurice looks about 15 in this pic.  And this is after the Red Sox!  He was actually 25.

Still looking like a choir boy (albeit a slightly jaded one).   Heck, he looks like he’s wearing his big brother’s jersey.  And what in the world are those funny things under his arms (armpit cups?)?

Hmm …  This one just looks weird.  The skinny face, the ears, the expression …

This may be the strangest card I’ve ever seen.  Maurice looks like he just got out of a prison camp.  How much did this guy weigh?  Also, could he look any more fey?

My God!  He’s aged twenty years in the space of five cards.  And he did it going backwards!  Remember, he played with the Red Sox before he played with Washington

This whole set of cards is just plain strange.  I’m at a loss for what to say (and that’s saying a lot right there).

* - author has this card

Monday, October 10, 2011

Are You Sure You're a Ballplayer? ('50s Version)

John Kruk once famously said, “I’m not an athlete, lady.  I’m a baseball player.”  Now, you’re not going to see me playing 162, 3-hour games in a year.  That said, there is an awful lot of waiting around in baseball. 

And, if you think about it, not many sports regularly have guys playing – and starring – into their 40s (no, golf doesn’t count!).  And, heck, the sport’s all-time hero had a body mass index of 27.6 (well into the overweight category and halfway to obese). 

So, here they are, some guys who look a lot more like John Kruk, or you or me, than they do real athletes …

Let’s start out with some fresh-faced youngsters, shall we?  Bill here is not only fresh-faced, but definitely kinda weird looking too.  The glasses, the eyebrows, the (total lack of a) chin …  

For me, it’s particularly funny to see this extremely youthful portrait.  My image of Bill Virdon is of the much older player, coach, and manager with my beloved Pirates.  Are you sure this isn’t some other Virdon?  Bob?  Byron?  Biff?


Okay, Dick here does look like he’s old enough to drive.  I just don’t see him on his high school’s ball field though.  In the AV room perhaps.  But the ball field?  Definitely not.

The cartoon on the back of Cole’s rookie card says, “When Dick went for an examination the doctor said it was impossible to play without glasses.  Dick heeded the doctor’s advice – and how!  He now owns 18 pair of glasses.”  Attaboy, Dick!

Dom’s nickname was “the Little Professor.”  For the first part of that, being 5’9” might qualify you.  For the latter, all it took back then was wearing glasses, especially if you were a jock.

Dom was the youngest (and smallest) of the three DiMaggio brothers.  He was an excellent outfielder and speedy runner.  David Halberstam called Dom “probably the most underrated player of his day.”

Here's another unflattering pic of poor Dom.


So, what do you think Bobby was called by his teammates?  “Lurch”?  “The undertaker”?  “Death warmed over”?  “The living corpse”?

"Bob Young" is such a generic name.  Google lists seven different athletes, including boxers, track stars, football players, and soccer players.

Our Bobby was up for eight seasons as a second baseman, four of them as a starter and most of those eight for the Browns/Orioles.

Yup, he really did look like that.  Poor guy.

Honestly, does this guy look like the 1950 NL MVP?   Granted, back then it didn’t take much to impress the voters when it came to relievers.  Jim Konstanty's big year included only 22 saves, though he did win 16 and also set a record for games appeared (a sad little 74 however). 

It was a real flash in the pan though.  Before the MVP year, Konstanty had bounced around with three teams in four years.  The year after, he was 4-11, and only broke double figures in saves again one other year.

I see Eddie working down at the garage and playing beer league softball on Tuesday nights.  How ‘bout you?

Eddie Kasko was a light-hitting infielder for four teams over ten years.  He stayed on with his last team, the Red Sox, though, for stints as minor league manager, scout, executive, and major league manager.  He’s in their hall of fame.

Just looking at Joe depresses me.   

Joe’s nickname was “Professor” (again), but he actually did something to earn that sobriquet other than just wear glasses and look dour.  After college, Ostrowksi put off baseball for three years and taught high school.  After his short professional career was over, he returned to the same school and taught for another 25 years.

I’m guessing he taught something really depressing, like math or accounting or physics.


I saved Art for last.  He looks like a fan, the kind of fan who drives a beer truck or works at the local pizza place.  He seems more likely to be watching the game in front of the TV with a cold one and some chips than on the mound himself.

Art Ceccarelli’s career was pretty undistinguished.  Over five seasons and three teams, he had a 9-18 record and a 5.05 ERA. 


The many moods of Art Ceccarelli …  He looks even more pumped to be out there again this year.  A new team, a new season, a new start.  That’s our Art.

It wasn’t unusual to see the same photo used for different years, especially in the early days of baseball cards.  Usually, though, the guy was on the same team.  I really like how the artist painted in the new logo and moved the frame up a little to make “Orioles” disappear.  I also really like the addition of the clouds.  You’d never even know!  As for Art, it doesn’t look like any of it fazed him one bit.

* - author has this card

And here are some more of the same from the '60s and '70s.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Are You Sure You're Famous (‘50s Version)

Who are these guys?  Well, a quick look at the first few cards below tell me that a lot of them are simply younger (much younger) versions of some ballplayers we’re already pretty darn familiar with.  We’re just more familiar with them when they were old enough to vote, or drive, or shave.

But, heck, even Don Zimmer must have been a rookie once, right?  By definition, there’s a rookie card of some sort out there for every grizzled veteran who ever played or managed. 

Actually, one of my favorite kinds of cards are the playing-days ones of the  Harvey Kuehns, Red Schoendiensts, and Tommy LaSordas of the world.  I know those two people are related somehow, but I just can’t put my finger on it …

So, here they are: the driver’s license and high school yearbook photos (and some just plain weird looks) of some people you may already be familiar with …

You may know him as "Sparky" - and probably with some sideburns and a little grey hair too. 

Yup, ol' Spark was up for a year in the bigs, with the Phillies in 1959.  Interestingly, it wasn't just a cup of coffee.  He was their starting second baseman, getting almost 500 at bats, but hitting only .217 with no dingers.  Not sure why he was never given another chance.  Pretty good manager I hear though.

Bob Gibson was one of the fiercest competitors ever to play the game.  In my mind, I see him looking in for the sign, glaring at the batter as if he meant to take his head off with the very next pitch. 

This is not that.  I realize this is his rookie card (’59), but he sure does look like the neighborhood kid who cuts your lawn or is in the local Scout troop. 

Don’t worry.  That expression will change. 

I always though of Sandy Koufax as one of the sharpest-looking guys to ever play the game.  It’s nice to know that even he was a gangly teenager once.  Yup, this is his rookie card too. 

Koufax was always one of my personal favorites.  Super classy guy and, man, could he bring it. 

Another look at the master.

Looks like Tommy enjoyed the pasta even back then.  Or is that just baby fat?  How old is he here?  Thirteen? 

Many people may not realize it, but LaSorda actually made it to the majors for a couple of years.  Lifetime, he pitched 58 innings, gave up 56 walks in those 58 innings, had an ERA of 6.48, and never won a game.  I don’t believe that’s how he made into the Hall of Fame however.

Warren Spahn wasn’t always the best looker in the bunch.  Is there a picture out there, though, that does a better job focusing a spotlight more on all his worst features? – jug ears, big nose, long face, bushy eyebrows.  At least he probably had his hair back then.

Another one of my favorite players.  His black ink numbers are off the charts.  He comes in as the #4 pitcher of all time, right behind two other under-appreciated favorites, Walter Johnson and Lefty Grove.

Here's another great look at ol' Hooks.

Just so we're not all fresh-faced youngsters, this is one of Hall of Famer Larry Doby at the end of his career, looking more than a little peeved.  Do you think some kids just stepped on his lawn or what?

We all knew Yogi was ugly.  Usually, though, he looks ugly in a cute, cuddly kind of way (that trademark goofy grin helps a lot, I’m sure).  

This one, though, is a little scary.  He looks angry.  Or perhaps a little like a caveman.  I know, he’s an angry caveman!

Did it matter?  I don’t think so.  As Berra so aptly put it, “So I'm ugly.  So what?  I never saw anyone hit with his face.” (Brainy Quotes)

And here's a whole post on this one ugly dude.

Not sure what this is all about.  I do have a theory though.

The ‘53 Topps cards all started out as painted portraits.  My guess is the painter of this one may not have been asked back.  Somehow, he’s managed to turn Whitey Ford into an illustration from a kids’ book.  The puffiness, the winsome look …  Aww!  Look, it’s Whitey the Friendly Bear™!

Interested in seeing a card of Whitey playing Hamlet in the graveyard scene?

Whoa!  Looks like they did give that guy another chance.  I'm pretty sure "Gus" never looked so pretty in his entire life.

Always had a soft spot for this guy.  Early Wynn played for 25 years in the majors, won 300, and made it into the Hall, but always looked like some good ol' boy at the local bait shop or feed store.  In other words, a lot different from this card.

By the way, Early is the guy who said he'd hit his own mother if she were crowding the plate (Baseball Almanac).

And here's Early looking, uh ... really weird.

“Oh my God!  What is that awful smell?  Do you smell it?  Holy crap!  That is disgusting!”

Actually, I’m not totally sure what’s going on here.  The photographer may have simply asked Brooks to look as stupid as he possibly could.

Brooks Robinson may have been my first true baseball hero.  My family was living in Baltimore at the time, and the O’s were unbelievable back then.  Brooksie, Frank, Boog, Palmer, Cuellar, McNally …  First game I ever saw was at old Memorial Stadium.  I was maybe five, and I still remember every detail to this day.

Of course, I have more of Brooks - here, here, and here.

Hey, check out these unlikely looking stars from the '60s and the 70s.