Monday, January 23, 2012

The Little Guy (‘54 Version)

For a couple of years (‘54 through ‘56, as well as ‘60 and ‘63), Topps treated you to two views of your baseball heroes.  One was the classic head shot. 

The other was a little full-length figure off to the side.   This mini-me typically came in one of several basic poses: batting stance, wind up, etc.

It’s very easy to look at the head shot and totally ignore the little guy.  If you do so, though, you may be missing out on some pretty interesting action. 

The 1954 set featured a disembodied Verne Troyer floating around on a stark single-color background (which included plenty of unattractive blues and sickly greens).  Take it away, mini-me’s …


“I am so depressed.  I can’t seem to get anyone out.  They’re going to send me back to the minors, I just know it.”

The back of this card says that “versatile Jim's a school teacher in the offseason” and “is also quite a hand with the golf clubs,” but that “baseball comes first.”  But of course it does.


Managers and coaches simply didn't have the same great poses that players did.  Well, I guess you could always try the latest dance moves, like Johnny here. 

Johnny (I don’t think anyone called him John) Riddle was a baseball lifer.  He played or coached from 1927 to 1959.  He had seven seasons in the majors as a backup catcher, scattering those seven seasons over 19 years and getting in less than 100 games total.


Looks like this guy’s just lost it.  He seems to be berating himself – and laughing his head off at the same time. 

The only way John Fitzpatrick could get to the majors was as a coach.  He appeared in almost 2000 games over 21 seasons as a minor league player, never once getting that cup of coffee in the Show.  His nicknames were “Foghorn” and “Eagle Beak.”


Here, Fred’s mini-me is taking a little rest on his shoulder.  It gets tiring being a major league manager.

Another lifer, Fred Haney played, managed, coached, broadcast, or was a GM for 50 years.  A pretty non-descript third baseman in the ‘20s, Fred started his managerial career in much the same vein, piloting the Browns in the late ‘40s and the Pirates in the early ‘50s.  Things turned around when he went to Milwaukee, though.  There, he led the Braves to two World Series, winning one and losing one to the dreaded Yankees.


Joe Black liked to go around with his mini-me perched on his shoulder.  It was like a little ventriloquist’s dummy.  “Hey, mini-me!”  "Hey, Joe."

One of the first real modern relievers, Joe moved over from the Negro Leagues to become the NL Rookie of the Year in 1952. 

Joe showed that there is life after baseball.  He was an executive for a Fortune 500 company, had a column in Ebony, was a guest actor on the Cosby Show, and wrote an autobiography.  The MVP award for the Arizona Fall League is named for him.


“Help, I’m falling off …”  Going around with your mini-me sitting on your shoulder wasn’t always the safest idea.  And that’s a long way down when your big guy is 6’3”.

Other than his totally awesome name, Thornton Kipper really didn’t leave much of a mark.  He was up for three years with the Phillies, winning three games during that time and posting a 5.07 ERA.


“Looks like you gotta lotta wax in there, Ted.  A big hunk just dropped into my glove.”

Nope, this is not the Unabomber.  That’s Ted Kaczynski.  This is Ted Kazanski.  Totally different guy.  Possibly a better hitter too.


“Fine, then, mini-me, you just dig away.”

Jim Rivera was a pretty decent outfielder with the ChiSox.  He led the AL in steals in 1955, and came in second six times (curse you, Luis Aparicio!).

His nickname was “Jungle Jim,” purportedly due to:
  • “His unorthodox playing style”
  • “His highly extroverted personality”
  • “The way [he] ran the bases head first”
Nope, none of these make any sense to me either.


Whoa!  Looks like Ray’s mini-me has had enough.  He’s thrust a large ice pick into Ray’s ear and pulled down, turning Ray into a lobotomized zombie. 

Or at least that what it looks like to me.  Could be something totally different.  I dunno.

Ray Blade’s main claim to fame seemed to be instituting a no-drinking policy on the Cardinals.  Surprisingly, it didn’t go over well.  Perhaps that’s what had Ray’s mini-me all upset.

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Check out the next post for 1955's little guys.

Monday, January 16, 2012

You Know, I Don’t Feel So Good (‘50s Version)

“Man, it’s hot.  April in Tampa, huh?  When is that stupid photographer gonna be done with Arnie?  Geez, I’ve got better things to do.  Is there some place I can get out of the sun here?  That workout this morning wasn’t so easy, was it?  Especially after sitting on the couch all winter, eh?  I don’t know about you … but those beers from last night aren’t sittin’ too well right now … not to mention the Crown Royal …”


“Oh man, I think I’m gonna hurl.  Get it?  I’m a pitcher.  Hurl?  Ah, forget it.”

We all know the Bells and Boones as three-generation MLB families.  Not everyone’s so familiar, though, with the Colemans.  So, Joe here begat Joe Jr. [‘60s and ‘70s], who begat Casey [currently with the Cubs].  And all of them pitchers.


You okay, Earle?  You sure?  Is there anything I can get you?  Little Metamucil maybe?

You’re probably more familiar with Earle Combs from his playing days.  He played for the Yankees for his whole 12-year career, batting leadoff for what were some incredible teams in the ‘20s and ‘30s.  It was enough to get him into the Hall of Fame.

It’ll be okay, Tom.  Really.  But if you have to go, lean far over the railing, okay?

A nice design, by the way.  It looks a lot like the classic ’56, but has its own style too.

Another hurler.

A hurler from the South.

Dixie shares something in common with Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson, and Jim Thorpe.  All played in both Major League Baseball and the NFL. 

It was in college, though, where Howell really was a star.  His days as an All-American fullback at Alabama earned him a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame and a mention in To Kill a Mockingbird (Scout tells her brother Jem he looks like Dixie in order to cheer him up).

Here's another view of Dixie.

The bathroom’s right this way, Stan.  Make sure you put the toilet seat up, okay?

(Click here for a very interesting play Stan was involved in.)

“You know, standing around out here isn’t going to make me feel any better, Skip.”

I’m glad I could include a card of the immortal Sibby Sisti.  What a name!  It was short for Sebastian, by the way.

Poor Sibby.  Looks like he was always feeling a little poorly.

"Forget it, Joe.  It’s too late.  This one’s already gone.  Just put him on the stretcher and we'll head on back to the morgue."

(Hey, cool!  Carl has his own site)

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More illness here ('60s) and here ('70s).

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Many Moods of Herb Plews

I had this funny feeling Herb was never really comfortable in his own skin.  I didn’t have a lot to base that on – really, just these pictures.  Doing a little research on Google, though, definitely gave me some ideas.

Maybe it was because he was from Montana.  The Nation’s Capital (he broke in with the Nats) might seem a little overwhelming after that.  Pretty easy to feel a little unsure of yourself in the big city.

Perhaps it was starting out with the Class B Quincy Gems.  Or getting hit by a pitch there and getting your skull fractured.  That’d make me a little gun-shy.

Or it could be wearing specs.  Few ballplayers did back then.  And you can tell he was self-conscious about them, as he never wore them for any of his cards.

I do know one of the Washington sports writers compared Herb to “the terribly earnest math teacher who likes to play ball with his students.” (Wikipedia)  Ouch!  That sort of treatment wouldn’t be likely to make me more self-confident.

I’m not sure what it was, but it definitely showed.  Here’s Herb on his years with DC’s lovable losers:

“I was kind of in and out. The Senators, we had a pretty good ballclub, but we just never seemed to get in the winning ways. The way they played it, if you didn’t get any hits and you lost, you probably were on the bench for a while. So that’s the way my career was, in and out.”  (SABR Bio Project)

But here he is on getting out of DC and getting traded to the Red Sox:

“I could never understand that trade. I don’t know why they traded either one of us, but at the time Mike Higgins was the manager of the Red Sox, a fine manager. The Red Sox were kind of in a slump and they were giving Mike a bad time. I no sooner got there than they fired Mike. He was the kind of manager that if he liked you, you had it made. When they fired him, they hired a coach from Washington to manage the Red Sox.”

Hmm …  And here’s Herb on that new manager, Billy Jurges:

“I got along OK with Bill, but he never saw eye to eye with me, more or less. He no sooner came than they sent me out. Of course, at that time, they were putting the pressure on the Red Sox to get a colored ballplayer. They didn’t have any colored ballplayers. So they brought up this boy from Minneapolis, Pumpsie Green, and they sent me out then and that was the end of my major-league career. I never did get back. Jurges … like I say, I didn’t know what he thought of me, but it wasn’t all that important. I couldn’t understand them hiring him.”

Am I detecting a theme here?  A little resentment perhaps?  A small dash of blaming others maybe?  Just a hint of always having fate against you possibly?


Deer in the headlights.


Okay, big smile.  Herb … that’s not a smile.  The corners of your mouth should go up.  C’mon.


That’s a little better.  We still got a ways to go, though, don’t we, huh?

I’ve always liked this card design, by the way.  Pretty simple, but I think that peephole look is very effective.

Little Herby Plews, happy at last.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Just Plain Goofy, Up Close and Personal (‘50s Version)

Goofy-looking guys?  We got 'em.

Unlike the guys in my last post, though, these guys didn’t have to pose to look goofy.  All they had to do was just look at the camera. 


We all know Joe Garagiola from his long tenure as a comic announcer.  Not as many people realize, though, that he’s enshrined in Cooperstown (alright, in the announcer, not the player, wing).  You’d never know he was in the hall of fame for anything, though, from this shot.

By the way, wasn’t this one of the lamest designs ever?  It looks like the signature was simply placed onto the card with a piece of tape.

I think this is Luis Aloma (his signature is worse than mine).  He was a reliever for the White Sox for four years, finishing with an incredible 18-3 record.  I have no idea whatsoever why he seems so terribly perplexed here.

Billy Loes was a classic Bum, pitching for Brooklyn in the prime years between 1950 and 1956.  He had a reputation as a prime-time flake. 

Not sure what Billy’s staring at here.  I think I’ve seen this pose before in the front row at the local topless bar though.

And here's Billy in an action shot.


Paul Giel was a baseball and football star, and an All-American in both sports.  He was particularly gifted in football, where he was a star QB for Minnesota, came in second in voting for the Heisman, and is in the College Football Hall of Fame.  This shot, though, makes Giel look like the guy on the barstool next to you at the local tavern.


“Hey, hey, …  Guess what I got in my glove?”

Poor Carlton Willey – the teeth, the goofy expression, the name …  Oh, he also was a Yankee fan who happened to  live his entire life in tiny Cherryfield, ME:

“While you may be hard pressed to find anyone who knew Carlton Willey that didn't love him, his close friends say, nobody's perfect.  ‘Unfortunately for living in Cherryfield he was a Yankees fan,’ says Joanne Willey, ‘and those of us who belong in Red Sox nation didn't forgive him for that.’”  (WABI obit)

Now, what I know is, was Joanne a relative?  Did she hate him too?  Ah, Red Sox Nation … you gotta love ‘em.

Carlton probably deserves his own post. I've also got him with a particularly large chin and needing a little dental work.

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