Monday, March 26, 2012

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a UFO

The year was 1958.  Local theatres were showing The Blob, I Married a Monster from Outer Space, and It! The Terror from Beyond Space.   There were over 100 recorded UFO sightings that year.  The first widely recognized alien abduction (Antonio Villas Boas) had occurred just the year before.  The Hill abduction was just a few years away.  It was the 10th anniversary of Roswell. 

Why are these ballplayers scouring the heavens?  Was there something up there?  What are they looking at?  Why do they look so concerned?  What is it the Topps company is trying to tell us here?

Of course, my other theory is that Topps simply hired an artsy-fartsy photographer that year and these poor guys had to follow his directions.  You see a couple of these each year, it seems, but never was there such a plethora (nice word, “plethora”) like that particular year at the end of the decade.


“Unh, lookie over there …”

See here for more on Dixie.  By th way, Dixie’s real name was Millard.


“Would you look at that thing move!”

Norm Zauchin was up for six years, with the Red Sox and Senators.  He had one great year, ’57, where he hit 27 homers and came in third for the Rookie of the Year Award.  Norm once had 10 RBIs in a game.


“Gosh …”

As a rookie for the Cleveland Indians in 1956, Aguirre struck out Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams the first time he faced him. After the game, Hank asked Williams to autograph the ball. Reluctantly, Williams complied. A couple of weeks later Aguirre faced Williams again. This time the "Splendid Splinter" smashed Hank’s first offering for a home run. While circling the bases, Williams yelled to Aguirre, "Get that ball, and I'll sign it, too.”

Check out a much older Hank right here.


“I can barely see it any more.”

Sam Esposito played 10 years with the White Sox and coached baseball at NC State for 20 more.  With the Pack, he captured three consecutive ACC titles, finished third in the ‘68 College World Series, and never had a losing season.

“Here comes another one.”

Hey, they even got future Hall of Famers to look dorky. (More dorky Koufax right here.)


“Holy shit!”

By the way, those groovy sideburns – at least 12 years before these became fashionable – are really just an optical illusion.  Willard was cool, but not that cool.


“Gee …”

Not to be confused with the English educator and cricketer.  Thanks for clearing that up, Wikipedia.  I always get those two confused.

“Duh, wud is dat thing?”

Everyone’s heard of Moose Skowron.  What’s interesting about him, though, is how he got his nickname.  Turns out he was actually nicknamed after Mussolini.  Some weird story about a haircut that I couldn’t make much sense of. 

That does remind me of Benny Distefano, though, a Pirate from the ‘80s and ’90s.  His real name was Benito, and he actually was named after Mussolini.

* - author has this card

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Separated at Birth (‘50s Version)

Remember Spy magazine?  Don’t worry, no else does either.  It was one of those rare birds, an American adult humor magazine.  It lasted about 10 years, and was on the magazine stands during the late 80s and early 90s.

One enduring thing that Spy gave us was its famous separated-at-birth feature.  It basically paired two celebrities with an unlikely resemblance (Mick Jagger and Don Knotts, say).  They got a couple of books out of it, and the idea entered American culture.

No reason we can’t do that with ballplayers, right?  So, here they are, identical twins separated at birth, on and off the diamond …


Same skinny frame, same wide eyes, same prominent eyebrows, same prominent ears.  They may not be identical twins, but they’ve got to be fraternal. 

Bert Hamric had 10 career at-bats.  Billy Moran, though, was something of a minor star, beating out Bobby Richardson to start at second in the ’62 All Star game.


At first, I thought this was a misprint.  Could two guys look less likely to be major league ballplayers and more like each other at the same time?

Interestingly, Jim Bolger towered over Ernie Oravetz, 6’2” to 5’4”.  Otherwise, these two are identical twins.


Ditch the glasses and grow the hair, Dave, and you could guest-host on American Idol.

Yup, that last name is a familiar one.  Dave was Hall of Famer George Sisler’s son. 


Dave and George.  I still think Dave looks more like more like Steven Tyler though. 

One thing Dave and his Dad did not have in common was baseball skills.  Dave managed to pitch in the majors for seven years, but never had double-digit wins and finished with a WHIP over 1.50. A little more Dave, right here.

Wow, these two are unbelievably alike!  Wait a minute.  Actually, these two are a little too alike.  Alright, who pulled this stunt? 

A little snooping around the Internet tells me that this is straight out of the first Naked Gun movie.  It’s a little too much to explain in this small space though.  Suffice it to say, whoever came up with this stunt is an incredible unheralded genius and we should all send him money.


Just to give you an idea of what these cards really looked like.  (Yup, they really did do cards for umps that year.)  These are two of my particular faves.  The guy at the top looks like he should be riding with Brando in The Wild Bunch.  The guy on the bottom ...  Well, the guy on the bottom ... just looks really, really funny.

* - author has this card

And here are some identical twins from the '60s and '70s.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Poseurs (‘50s Version, Non-Pitching Division)

Last week, we looked at some pretty piss-poor pitching poses.  This week, we’ll look at the other guys on the diamond.  And there are plenty of opportunities to look stupid there too, whether batting, catching, fielding, managing, or just posing for a portrait.  Here we go …


I have a funny feeling the photographers loved Marv.  “Pretend it’s sneaking around a pole, Marv.  That’s right.  Is it goin’ out or ain’t it?  Perfect!”  [click]

Marvelous Marv Throneberry was the living symbol of the ineptitude of the early Mets.  He couldn’t field, he couldn’t hit, and he couldn’t run.  Perhaps the most famous of many stories told about him is when he hit a triple but was called out for not touching first.  When Casey Stengel came out to argue, one of the umps told him, “Casey, I hate to tell you this, but he also missed second."

“Hold on, my head’s on a little loose.  Let me make sure it’s on good and tight.”  Alternatively, this could be Phil’s preferred pose for a high pop-up straight up the shoot.  Gotta protect the ol’ noggin.

Phil Masi had a long career, primarily as a backup catcher.  He’s most well known for a controversial pickoff call in the 1948 World Series.  He was the runner, and was called safe, though later photos seemed to show just the opposite.  He revealed that he was indeed out only on his deathbed.

It’s a little know fact, but in addition to cats and jackals and falcons, the ancient Egyptians also worshipped catchers.  Here we have a statue of the god Delmar. 

Del Crandall was one of the better catchers of the ‘50s.  He won four Golden Gloves, caught three no-hitters, and made the All-Star team eight times.  His 45% caught stealing rate ranks eighth all time.  Not a bad hitter either.

And this is Bastet, the cat god.  Note the resemblance.

“Ooh, ooh, throw it to me!  Over here, guys, over here!”

You may know Alfonso better as “Chico.”  He was actually quite a trailblazer.  He was the first of a long line of Venezuelan shortstops – Luis Aparicio, Dave Concepción, Ozzie Guillén, Omar Vizquel – and also was the first Latino to make it to the All Star game.  Hopefully, someone there did indeed throw him the ball.

Poor managers.  Poses are even more limited for them.   Basically, managers just stand there.  At the top step of the dugout is a very popular location for this.

Hall of Famer Bill here got a little creative.  I hope he’s not sharing anything too secret here.  I have a funny feeling the other team might be able to hear him.

When I coached, one of my favorite things to emphasize was to “get your butt down!”  I had exercises like the “crab walk” and fielding while sitting on a bucket to bring the lesson home.  Looks like Nellie would have passed with flying colors. 

Actually, isn’t this one of the more difficult yoga positions?  I think it’s called the “ready fielder” or something like that.


Why so fey, Nellie?  Why so fey?

And here;s Nellie hustling his little tail off, with his mouth full of chaw, and with his mouth full of more chaw.

* - author has this card

Monday, March 5, 2012

Poseurs (‘50s Version, Pitching Division)

When it comes to posing for your baseball card, there are really only a few choices.  If you fancy yourself a hitter, you’ve basically got two – your stance and your follow-through.  More of a fielder?  How about the ol’ ready position?  Waiting for a throw?  Scooping up a grounder?  Waiting for that fly ball?   Hey, the choices are endless.

I’m sorry, did you say you were a pitcher?  Well, you’ve got your basic set position, wind up, follow-through …  Catcher?  Okay, squat down.  Now, take off your mask.  No, I’m afraid that’s it.  Oh, alright, pretend you’re taking your mask off to get a foul pop.  Sheesh!

Let’s start this thing with some denizens of the mound, otherwise known as pitchers.  So, here they are, a passel of poseurs pretending to pitch …

“Ah, what does he want now?  Another fastball?  How about a slowball instead?”  Can’t decide if Don here is peeved, really tired, really bored, or some combination of the three.

Did you know Don Newcombe was the only player in baseball history to win the Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, and MVP awards?  He doesn’t look too pumped about that here, though, does he?

“Can barely lift arms above head.  So tired …”

Alex Kellner was a decent pitcher who unfortunately was stuck most of his career with the Philadelphia and Kansas City A’s.  He was in the odd position of winning 20 one year (1949) and losing 20 the next (1950).  And somehow in that 20-game-winning season, he managed to walk more (129) than he struck out (94).  How can that even be possible?

Hey, wanna see what Alex's got under his hat?


Rip Coleman had a pretty undistinguished career, cool nickname aside.  His career record was a woeful 7-25.  He did get in a World Series game though.  Unfortunately, all that amounted to was giving up five hits in one inning.  Really just more of the same, I guess.

His real name was “Walter.” Pretty wide gulf between that and "Rip," doncha think?


“Take that!  Pow!  And that!”

Ralph here looks more like a boxer than a pitcher.  He actually became a professional golfer, not a boxer, after retiring from baseball.  Terry's probably most famous for giving up Maz’s homer in Game 7 of the 1960 Series.  Kind of like being famous for blowing a 2-foot putt on the 18th hole at Augusta.

Aw, shucks, Early.  Umm, just what’re you trying to do here anyway? 

I have a funny feeling I can cross-reference this one under Just Plain Goofy.  Actually, there are so many interesting cards of this Hall of Famer, I might just have to give him his own page.

Hey, it’s the hunchback of Forbes Field. 

Not sure what’s going on with ol’ Vern here.  I do know he was a pretty good pitcher though.  Vern Law pitched 16 years for the Pirates, and won the Cy Young Award for them during the 1960 championship season. 

Vern and his wife, VaNita, had six children: Veldon, Veryl, Vaughn, Varlin, VaLynda, and Vance (Vance made the majors).  Very veird.

* - author has this card

Be sure to check out my next post, where some batters and fielders make fools of themselves.