Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Just Plain Weird: A ‘50s Miscellany (Part the Second)

It was a pretty weird time wasn’t it?  In fact, there was so much weirdness in the 1950s that I had to devote two posts to it.  Now, in last week’s post, the organization was … um … er … totally random.   So, in this week’s post, the organization will be … er … uhm … completely arbitrary.  I guess that’s all you can do with this stuff.

“I’m a little bit country …  Well, actually, I’m a lot country.”

Heck, the guy’s nickname was “Vinegar Bend.”  It comes from his birthplace, a small community in Alabama.  As if “Wilmer” wasn’t bad enough. 

Mizell had a pretty good career, finishing 90-88 with a 3.85 ERA and one All-Star berth.  It was after baseball, though, where he really made his mark.  He was an NC congressman from 1969 to 1975 and then served as an official in the Ford and Reagan administrations.

Hey, Mizell's hometown made it onto my funny town names blog.


Looks like we’re missing a few things here.  I’m thinking bat, left arm, right arm from the elbow down …  Hey, be careful with that X-ACTO knife, will ya?

Gino Cimoli bounced around the majors for 10 years, accumulating 3000 at bats and a .265 average.  He was an All Star in ’57 and led the AL in triples in 1962.   He was the first batter on the West Coast, leading off the Dodgers-Giants season opener in San Fran in 1958. 

Wondering what Gino's got under that cap? Click here.

Mr. Giles: “So, a blonde, a Pollock, and a rabbi walk into this bar …”
Mr. Harridge: “Are you trying to tell me a joke dealing with sexual and ethnic stereotypes as well as alcohol?”
Mr. Giles: “No, no.  I mean, er …  Heh, heh, heh.  Ya gotta hear this one.  It’s really good …”

Hard to believe Topps thought 10-year-olds would be interested in Oscar and Felix here, even if they both would make it to Cooperstown.


I could probably do a whole other blog on the backs of cards.  In particular, I love the cartoons.  You know what I mean.  There’s usually some little tidbit like “Bob led the Pioneer League in steals” or “Jim enjoys hunting and fishing.”  Then there’s some lame cartoon illustrating that point.  For the base stealer, for example, it might be a guy dressed up like a burglar (cloth cap, eye mask, striped shirt) with a base under each arm.  Get it?

For Hal Griggs, though, all the fine folks at Topps could come up with was that the poor guy really just couldn’t throw a strike.  I particularly love how they illustrated that with a guy getting beaned, who says, “Aww, Hal.” 

And don’t forget to read the more lengthy little bio.  Turns out Griggs has a “flashing fastball” and an “eerie curve.”  You can only use “blazing” and “deadly” just so much, you know.


And here he is in the flesh – Hal “the Praying Mantis” Griggs.

Okay, so how bad was it?  Lifetime, he was 6-26 (.188), had an ERA of 5.50 and a whip of 1.67, and once lost 18 straight games. 

Like a number of ballplayers, Griggs was married at the ballfield, but on the pitching mound, not at home plate.  Asked why, he pointed out that "I couldn't hit, so there was no sense getting married [there]."  Hate to break it to you, Hal, but you weren’t so good on the mound either.

Yup, it’s a true story.  Eddie Waitkus had a real live stalker, a 19-year-old girl by the name of Ruth Ann Steinhagen.  She followed Waitkus to Chicago, invited him to her hotel room, then shot him in the stomach with a .22 rifle.  She was committed to an asylum, but released three years later.  The story is the basis of Bernard Malamud’s The Natural.  I guess you could call all that a "thrill."

“I see a fastball in your future.  Yes, yes. it’s becoming clearer now.  I see it coming right under your chin …”

You’ve met Billy Loes before, here and here.  One thing I didn’t point out previously is that he was famous for quotes that were positively Stenglesque:
  • “I lost it in the sun [on a groundball he booted].”
  • “Never win 20 because they'll expect you to do it every year.”
  • “The Mets are a good thing.  They give everybody a job, just like the WPA.” [on being picked by the Mets in the expansion draft]

Monday, May 21, 2012

Just Plain Weird: A ‘50s Miscellany (Part the First)

Not everything can be put into a nice, neat little category, can it?  Not everyone has bushy eyebrows, or a unibrow, or weird-looking glasses, or big ears, or a funny name now, do they?  So, what're you going to do with all these other guys, huh?  Just throw them together in a big, messy heap?

Yup, that’s what I’m going to do.  So, here it is, my big, messy, 1950s heap …

You all knew Hank was right-handed, right?  If you doubt me, just take a look at the 4 under his left (in this shot, right) arm. 

I’m so glad he was playing with a team in a town that began with a bilaterally symmetrical letter.  This sort of thing just wouldn’t fly in Philly or Cleveland or Kansas City.

More weird Hank right here.


So, if that was a 4, then this is a ... 6? ... b? ... Cyrillic?

Chuck Cottier was a light-hitting middle infielder who managed to parlay his limited skills into nine years in the bigs. He had one year as a starter, with the lowly '62 Senators. He also had two seasons with an average under the Mendoza line.

Chuck was also a manager, going 98-119 with the mid-80s Mariners. He's still in organized ball, as a special consultant for the Nats. He's been to spring training for 55 of the last 58 years!


Really … weird … look …  What exactly is going on here?  What is he looking at?  What did the photographer prompt him with to get this?

Hmm, a rookie star of 1959, eh?  You’d think I would have heard of him.  Heck, I’ve heard of Willie McCovey and Bob Allison (the ROYs for that year).  Who’s this Eddie Haas guy?

Well, as it turns out, 1959 was the year that was not to be for Eddie.  He broke an ankle before the season started, missed the whole year, and that was pretty much that.  Lifetime, Haas only had 70 at-bats

Hey, Don, where’d you get those lips?  Angelina Jolie must be so jealous.

Don Lee bounced around for nine seasons, with seven clubs.  His father, Thornton Lee, was also a major league pitcher.  Interestingly, Ted Williams homered off both father and son, the only time that feat’s ever been accomplished.

Wanna see Don again? Click here.


No, no, Bob, let go of the ball.  The ump’s going to call a balk on you for sure!

Bob Keegan had a pretty interesting career with the Chisox.  Overall, it wasn’t that impressive – six years, 40-36 record, 3.66 ERA.  He did, however, throw a no-hitter.  He also had an All-Star year, where he went 16-9.  Other than that, it was pretty average. 

Oh, by the way, his nickname was “Smiley.”  Is that irony?

They let this guy do this?  Cut off his sleeves?  To show his muscles?  In the straight-laced ‘50s? 

Ostensibly, Klu did it because his massive biceps wouldn’t fit into the standard uniform: “They got pretty upset, but it was either that or change my swing — and I wasn't about to change my swing.”  (Wikipedia)

And what a swing it was.  He hit 40 or more homers three times; led the league in HRs, RBIs, and hits; and was a four-time All Star. 

Is it just me, or would Hank look exactly like the mascot if his ears were only a little bit pointier?

Hank Edwards was a decent outfielder who lost some prime time to WWII and a host of injuries.  Some highlights of his career include:

·         Winning a triple crown in the minors
·         Leading the AL in triples in 1946
·         Batting .364 in 1950 (over 110 at bats)
·         Making it into the Norwalk (Ohio) High School Hall of Fame


Is his shirt not tucked in, or has Hank just been drinking a few too many brews after the game? 

Well, his playing height and weight were 6’0” and 195 lbs.  Hank was a big boy.

Over 11 seasons, Hank Foiles tallied 1500 at bats, but got over 300 in a season only twice.  He finished with a .243 average and 46 dingers.

Somehow or other, though, he managed to get an All-Star appearance and also a biography out of that classic backup career.

There’s a story here, I’m sure of it.  What that story is, however, is not so clear.  Perhaps Topps asked Salvador Dali to design a few cards that year.  “Eyeballs on a stick?  Sure, I can do that.”

Wait a minute.  It’s starting to come to me.   I’m thinking this might have something to do with the number six … within the context of batting … and that this may perhaps have been a good thing, maybe even something of an accomplishment on the part of Gus.

Yup, turns out  Gus hit six home runs in three games to tie a major league record.  A tad obscure, but congrats nonetheless, Gus Zernial!

* - author owns this card

More weirdness right here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

’53 Bowmans (Lame Yet Odd)

I’m honestly not sure I consider these real baseball cards.  On one side, all you’ve got is a photo.  There’s nothing to identify the player, not even a scrawled signature.  On the other side, you’ve got a little blurb and a handful of statistics.

These remind me of the incredibly lame card sets before the ‘50s.  I’m talking Goudey, Double Play, Signal Oil, Tip Top Bread, and Swell Sports Thrills (and I’m not making any of these up, by the way).  They looked like they were clipped out of the newspaper and glued to some piece of cardboard.

There was something about those ’53 Bowmans though.  Something unusual.  Something different.  Something just plain downright weird.  I think it might have been the photographer.  Here, let me show you what I mean …

Let’s start out with a nice shot of the Florida sky.  I like it.  Makes the guy look really tiny.  That way, I haven’t a clue who this actually might be [it’s some dude named Bob Feller, by the way].

Okay, this is good.  Most of the shot is taken up by sky.  And I like how you’ve got the guy, whoever he might be [Howard Fox], off center like that.  Nice touch. (More Howie here and here.)

Even better.  Lots of sky, and the guy [Ted Gray] is practically almost out of the picture.  I like those nice tight crops.  Why put the subject in the middle of the frame when you can just cut off some bits of his anatomy?  (More Ted right here.)

Great!  It’s good to know we can do the same for batters too.  I especially like how you’ve been able to crop off bits of this dude [Don Mueller] on both the left and the right.

Not bad.  I like how we’ve still got plenty of sky, and the guy [Vic Wertz] is definitely a little askew.  I’m a little worried, though, about the camera angle.  Did you have to kneel to get this shot?  I’m not sure that’s the effect we’re after here.

Hmm.  Same camera angle.  I’m assuming you’re doing this on purpose now.  But, you know, I’m really not sure what’re you trying to do here.  [Bubba Church]

Oh geez.  I get it.  You’re trying to be creative, aren’t you?  Is that it?  Sigh …  [Jim Dyck]

Yeah, I get it.  More creativity, huh?  It’s like the ball is coming right at me!  I’m supposing you’re handing out 3D glasses with this one, right?  [Vic Raschi]  (It was a popular pose for Vic, by the way.)

You’re kidding me, right?  Do you think this guy [Minnie Minoso] – or any self-respecting baseball player for that matter –  would ever strike a pose like this in real life?  What did you threaten him with to get this shot? (More Minnie right aqui.)

Good Lord, man!  This is a Hall of Famer here [Pee Wee Reese].  Getting him to do something like this is just plain demeaning (not to mention the guy on the ground).  Do you have naked pictures of these guys in the showers?  What’s the deal here? (And here's another Pee Wee.)

Have you no shame?  Getting Whitey Ford to talk to his baseball like he was Mark Fydrich is just plain wrong.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say it was just plain un-American.  Think it’s okay to mock our National Pastime, do you?  Are you some kind of commie, or what? (And another Whitey.)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Topps' First Year

It was 1951, Topps’ first year.  They had a long history as a chewing gum manufacturer (ever heard of Bazooka?) and had even issued some cards (though of Hoppalong Cassidy).  Bowman, however, dominated the baseball card market.  Maybe that’s why Topps opted to go with some kind of odd baseball card game.  I’m not sure how it was played – and, actually, don’t really care. 

What I do like is how downright off some of these cards were.  I detect a couple of themes here.  One was really bad representations of eyes (see Something Wrong with the Eyes for more on this recurring theme).  Another was an oddly Japanese feel.  And, finally, you’ve got your typical collection of dumb looks, bushy eyebrows, and so on.

Oh, almost forgot …  Each card has one or two sentences describing the player.  They typically try to cover about 32 facts in the space of about 20 words.  Such compression makes them sound a little bit like haiku:
  1. “Clouting first baseman of the Dodgers, he’s the sixth player in baseball history to hit four homers in one game.”
  2. “Walloping the ball at a .321 clip, the left-handed Brooklyn Dodger outfielder hit 31 homers and 107 runs batted in.”
  3. “Tossing his right-handed slants for Cleveland, he led the A.L. with a low earned run average of 3.20 while winning 18.”
  4. “Long-ball hitting lefty, Gene playing the outfield for the Brooklyn Dodgers, finished the 1950 season with a .259 B.A.”
Can you guess who these guys are?  Answers at the bottom.

Ah, yes, the eye theme.  These hooded, beady little babies quite frankly give me the creeps.

Harry Brecheen, though pretty much forgotten today, had a great career with the Cards.  He won three games in the ’46 Series, posted an 0.83 ERA over three fall classics, and led the NL in ERA and K’s in 1948.

His nickname was “the Cat,” ostensibly for his fielding ability, though I’ve definitely seen those same eyes staring back at me in a dark alley or two.

On the flip side, here’s a positively goofy looking pair of peepers.

Billy Pierce was a genuine star in the ‘50s and should, I believe, get some consideration for the Hall of Fame.  He led the AL in wins, ERA, and strikeouts, all in different years. 

Baseball-reference.com has him as the 83rd best pitcher ever.  His peers include Lefty Gomez, Chief Bender, and Catfish Hunter, all boys in the Hall.

Here's another look at Billy, a little later in his career.

Now, these are just bizarre.

Johnny Groth bounced around for 15 years, mostly with the Tigers, who hailed him as the “next DiMaggio” when he came up.   He was not.

More bizarre.

Gerry Staley had a 15-year career, successfully making the transition from decent starter with the Cards (winning 19, 17, and 18 for them three years running) to decent reliever with the White Sox.  He was a three-time All Star.

And these, oddly, seem totally natural.  No weird touch-ups here.  Bob Eliot seems to be able to scare young boys with his piercing stare solely using his own God-given talent.

Bob was known as “Mr. Team,” for his unselfish play.  He was the NL MVP in 1947, was an All Star for six seasons, and finished with over 100 RBIs six times.  He seems like he was a genuinely nice guy too.

Another straight-ahead stare, but this time, let’s take “scary eyes” and substitute “dopey expression.”  Hard to believe Dom was known as “the Little Professor.”  Except perhaps for the glasses, he’s not really looking too bright here.

You’ve already met up with Dom before, under Are You Sure You’re a Ballplayer?  Remember?

And here’s that Japanese look I was talking about.  Is it my imagination, or does Irv looks like some samurai in a 19th Century Japanese print?

Irv Noren managed over 3000 at bats over 11 seasons with six teams.  His main claim to fame was playing in the NBA for a year.

Del’s got that same kind of Eastern look, but maybe more sumo wrestler than samurai.  And is that kanji on his cap?

Del Ennis, a Philly native, spent 11 of his 14 big-league seasons with the Phillies, averaging 24 homers and 102 RBIs.  For some reason, though, he was relentlessly booed by the Phillie fans.  Well, they booed Santa too, didn’t they?

Switching now to just general ephemera …

Wow, those are some major-league eyebrows ya got there, fella!  You’ve already made Roy’s acquaintance, under Just Plain Ugly.  Sounds like this guy’s got a lot going for him.  And, of course, there’s a whole post about eyebrows, for those of you out there who are into that sort of thing.

Just plain goofy. 

You’ve met “Paul” before, where he sported a much more interesting pair of specs.

“Grrr!  I’m mad!  I pitched a no-hitter, and nobody’s ever heard of me.  Grrr!!”

Answers: 1) Gil Hodges, 2) Duke Snider, 3) Early Wynn, 4) Gene Hermanksi