Monday, July 29, 2013

Top 5 Hitters, "Other" Edition

After three decades poring over card backs and statistical records, it's exciting to discover novel wrinkles or nuances that, in turn, point to unusual players and achievements. While researching my recent Pinch-hitting's Sad Lexicon post, I discovered the defensive position other, a record-keeping designation for pinch-hitters (or pinch-runners) who come to the plate again in the same inning. They're not batting for anyone else that second time, so aren't pinch-hitters, but haven't taken an assigned defensive position.

This scoring oddity crops up about ten times per year and three times so far in 2013. Today's post looks at five notable "others," either as career achievers, one-inning wonders, or both.

5. Eric Young, Jr., April 11, 2012 (5th inning)

Coors Field played to run-scoring stereotype as the Rockies hung 6 on Tim Lincecum in 2+ innings, then gave 7 back to the Giants in the 4th. Nursing a 9-7 lead, Eric Young pinch-hit for reliever Matt Reynolds to start the 5th and bunt singled past the pitcher. He stole second and scored easily on a Marco Scutaro double.

In most cases, "one AB, one hit, one run" marks a successful pinch-hitting day, but Colorado turned five more hits and a walk into Eric's second chance. By the time he pulled up at third with a triple, the Rockies led 16-7 and went on to thump San Francisco 18-7. His line: 1B, 3B, R, RBI, SB.

4. Al Zarilla, June 10, 1952 (4th inning)

Zarilla pinch-ran for cleanup hitter Eddie Robinson with the Chisox leading 6-0, but that was just the beginning. Two batters later, Hector Rodriguez's inside-the-park homer brought Al home, and they piled on run after run until he came around again.

The A's started that 4th inning down just 3-0 and struck out pitcher Billy Pierce to lead off, leaving good odds of minimal damage. But by the time Zarilla capped its scoring with his own 2-run homer off Ed Wright (their third pitcher), Chicago led 15-0. Al went on to finish the game in right field, but is one of baseball's few to turn pinch-running into an "other" at-bat...and then homer doing it. His line: 2R, HR, 2RBI.

3. Willie McGee, May 9, 1996 (8th inning)

McGee wasn't the burning speedster of old in 1996, but could still hit and play outfield, so platoon master Tony LaRussa found a way to get Willie into 123 games that year. He entered this game with St. Louis down 8-5 and two men on. Willie promptly singled in fellow LaRussa specialist John Mabry and came around on Luis Alicea's single two batters later, knotting the game at 8.

Willie watched as everyone following him reached base, save an Ozzie Smith bunt sacrifice, giving McGee a second shot, this time with the bases loaded. He went over left-center to unload them, becoming one of only 5 players to grand-slam in their "other" at-bat. His line: 2-for-2, 2R, HR, 5RBI.

2. Bill Robinson (August 12, 1969 & August 14, 1982)

Robinson is one of only two "others" to drive in multiple runs twice and both stand out as highlights in otherwise lackluster years. On August 12, 1969, the Yankees blew open a close game against the Twins with 8 runs in the 8th inning, including Robinson's two-run single that brought home Ron Woods and rookie Thurman Munson. Bill entered the game as a pitcher's pinch-hitter (since 1969 was before DHs), a frequent need during the Yankees' lean years in the late 60s. His line: H, R, 2RBI.

13 years later, Philadelphia acquired Robinson from Pittsburgh mid-season to bolster their outfield. Philly stood neck-and-neck with St. Louis by mid-August and Bill hit the biggest blast in their highest scoring game of the year, an 8th-inning comeback over Montreal on August 14.

Down 8-4, Robinson entered the 8th inning as pinch-hitter for George Vukovich, singled to center, and scored on Bob Dernier's sac fly. Expos pitchers failed to record an out for eight straight batters, bringing Robinson back to the plate with the bases loaded. His grand slam gave Philly a 5-run cushion, en route to their 15-11 win. A ho-hum 4-2 contest after 6 innings, the Phillies and Expos combined to score 20 runs in the last 3. Bill's line: 2-for-2, 2R, HR, 4RBI.

TRIVIA: Jeff Stone is the "other" guy to twice drive in multiple runs from the "other" slot, doing it on July 6, 1986 (2B & HR) and September 16, 1987 (BB & 2B), also for Philadelphia.

1. John Cangelosi (1987-95)

If the "other" slot has royalty, Cangelosi is its king, having taken six bites at that rare fruit. It even happened three times in one year, thanks to Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla priming Pittsburgh's lineup to bat around frequently. Here's his first five "other" batting lines, all as a Pirate.

Five years later, the 32 year-old Cangelosi posted career-best numbers in 90 games for Houston, who fell one game short of the playoffs, losing the NL wild card to third-year wonder Colorado. John saved his best "other" at-bat for last, helping turn another average outcome (4-2 after 5 innings) into a 19-6 pasting of Chicago.

June 25, 1995: John pinch-hit in the 8th inning and, as in multiple games before, walked, stole second, and scored. In this game, the Astros followed with six 2-out runs off reliever Bryan Hickerson, bringing back Cangelosi, who clubbed a 2-2 pitch over the fence in left. Houston couldn't blame their playoff failings on his line of BB, SB, 2R, HR, 3RBI.

Seen any other pinch-hit wonders I should know about? Let me know in the comments. They seem to happen a lot in Pennsylvania...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Top 5 Interesting 1951-52 Bowman Cards

The paintings-over-photos look on 1951-52 Bowman stands out as some of the finest work seen on vintage cards and something not easily replicated in modern, digitally-produced sets. I could go on and on cataloging the virtues of their nearly 600 total cards, but will stick to five distinctive examples for this post.

5. 1951 #118, Preacher Roe

In "Hands up," Night Owl wrote about pitchers shown in a hands-above-head windup, noting it rarely appears in modern sets and wondering when pitchers changed their approach. I went back to 1951 Bowman in search of similar poses and located just two, Preacher Roe being the best. The shaded blues, bloused pants, and Ebbets Field stands make this card a classic look for Dodger fans.

4. 1952 #156, Warren Spahn

Everything about this card is fun. Boston's big B, Spahn's facial expression, the curveball release, a GRAND arrow pointing right to Warren's head. The whole look's a popcorn machine of personality.

3. 1951 #17, Pete Castiglione

3B-SS Pete Castiglione pulled a paycheck for his defensive prowess, but you'd never know it given this mythic presentation. That orange-sky-and-evergreens backdrop gives Pete the poise of an axe handle lumberjack, felling pine timber to feed his rugged Northwestern family.

2. 1952 #84, Sam Jethroe

Jethroe, Jackie Robinson, and Marvin Williams first tried out for the Red Sox in 1945, two years prior to Jackie's debut. The team declined to pursue any of the trio, so their tryout became a footnote in the franchise's segregationist history. Boston's Braves, on the other hand, gave Sam his major league shot after Robinson proved a star in Brooklyn. Jethroe integrated the Braves in 1950 and, like Jackie, also won Rookie of the Year honors; he still holds the "oldest ROY" record at the (then-underreported) age of 32. This card does great work with lighting and Sam's uniform details, from its jersey zipper pull to those long sleeves.

1. 1951 #305, Willie Mays

Mantle's rookie card is better-known and one of my favorites, but Mays intrigues me. Have you ever seen a tarp get center stage? It sure looks like his photographer set up behind a training field and wanted to control the light with an artificial backdrop. Instead of playing along and cropping to a tight horizontal portrait, Bowman left the canvas and shed on Willie's card. After reviewing the whole set, only #116 Bruce Edwards might be using the same backdrop--and his photo took care to make it less obvious, even scattering balls on the field as a visual distraction. Weird. Interesting. Baseball!

Honorable mention: #313 Ray Mueller


Monday, July 22, 2013

1966 Fleer All Star Match Baseball Game #5, Game Piece

Following Topps Gum's purchase of former competitor Bowman in early 1956, others sought to challenge their virtual monopoly on baseball gum cards with limited success. Fleer stands out as the most dedicated, in sports card publishing (trying both baseball and football) and the court room. Decades of less-successful legal actions built to their 1975 suit for the license to show active baseball players, which a judge eventually granted, breaking Topps' exclusive deal and opening the way for the Fleer and Donruss debuts in 1981.

Fleer desperately wanted permission to show active players because of blasé offerings like All Star Match Baseball. An earlier Topps injunction against Fleer's 1963 set (#5 was Willie Mays) left them with faceless options in the mid-60s. No names, no teams, just "American" or "National" under a swinging right-hander and some rules to follow. These 66 cards barely count as "collectible," outside of their numbering (F1 through F66) and one major league tie-in called out on their wax wrappers.

As Donruss included puzzle pieces instead of gum in the 1980s, Fleer collectors in 1966 could flip any card over for a bit of Dodgers star Don Drysdale. Pretty sure this one's his right hip. ("Who can trade me a right shoulder for this jersey swatch?")

Thanks to a 2008 auction of 132-card uncut sheets, we know finishing the puzzle takes a full 66-card set. Fleer's limited 1966 production run and likely poor sales make this a challenging acquisition for modern LA or Drysdale fans.

Back of 132-card uncut sheet, two Don Drysdale puzzles

If that pose looks familiar, a very similar version (albeit with 3/4 sleeves) showed up on 1967 Topps #55. While not an exact match, I doubt this was coincidence between competitors.

Value: This #5 cost $5 on eBay and complete All Star Match sets usually run a few hundred dollars.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Top 5 Tommy Davis Cards (1969 Topps Edition)

Tommy Davis parlayed good contact hitting into an 18 year career, following his LA prime (1960-67) with stops in 9 other cities, including four 1960s expansion clubs (Mets, Pilots, Astros, and Royals). His best "skill," assuming you put stock in it, was his clutchness. Of the 254 players to drive in 1000+ runs, Davis ranks fifth all-time in situational Win Probability Added at 7.5; only Tony Gwynn, Pete Rose, Yogi Berra, and Bill Buckner were better (full results).

Being "clutch" is a pernicious reputation to have when you can't field or run well, the latter thanks to a 1965 broken ankle. A team with long-term planning wants more prospects than spot performers, so Tommy appeared on a lot of transaction sheets after leaving Los Angeles in 1966. So many, in fact, that even though Topps included Davis in five different 1969 sets, all used photos several years old, starting with the base set.

1969 Topps #135 (LA Dodgers jersey)

Oct 15, 1968: The Seattle Pilots pick Tommy during their expansion draft. These days, an autumn transaction would give Topps plenty of time to snap photos at a "uniform debut" press conference or spring training, put it on cardboard, and be ready for opening day.

But Tommy Davis isn't wearing a Pilots uniform. It's not even a Mets or White Sox jersey, the teams he played for between LA (1958-66) and Seattle (1969). So why did Topps recycle a hatless photo already seen on 1967 Topps #370 and 1968 Topps Game #10?

1969 Topps Deckle #15 (airbrushed LA Dodgers)

The MLB Players Association started humbly in the mid-1960s, without much negotiating leverage or legal success challenging baseball's reserve clause. What they could control beyond the field of play was licensing of player images for advertising, products...and trading cards. When the MLBPA instructed players to refuse new card photos in 1968 (pending a license fee increase), Topps dug into their archives to cover active players on new teams. Many late 60s and early 70s sets look bland and static, thanks to dozens of hatless or airbrushed portraits; Topps did a little of both to all these 1969 Tommy Davis cards.

1969 Topps Super #32 ("Angeles" visible on jersey)

Dropping Tommy's hat couldn't mask that we're looking at the same mid-60s Dodgers jersey and warmup jacket in 1969, complete with Los Angeles script. The 1969 Supers test issue re-used the photo from 1968 Topps #265, with cropped-out jersey script.

1969 Topps decals (airbrushed LA Dodgers)

You can make out the obscured "LA" here, but it's otherwise almost identical to Tommy's hatless shots above. In all likelihood, every 1969 photo came from the same mid-60s Dodgers spring training in Vero Beach, Florida.

1969 Topps team poster (airbrushed LA Dodgers)

None of the players on the Seattle team poster wear Pilots hats or jerseys, but their blue and gold colors made Tommy's LA gear an acceptable airbrush option for Topps editors. Hard to tell if they used the same looping signature for both the Super and team poster sets, but they might've had several of those to choose from.

Tommy Davis as a Pilot (for Garvey Cey Russell Lopes)

At last, Tommy Davis as a Pilot! It's not the "real" 1970 card, though, it's a custom creation by GCRL, shared to his blog in 2012. (Seattle traded Davis to Houston before the end of 1969, so Topps put him onto a featureless "Astros" uniform). GCRL also cataloged the full list of Tommy's transactions, according to Topps.

You don't often see five different archive photos for one player in one year, and if anything identifies late-60s Topps baseball for me, this is it. As seen on 1969 OPC #5, Ken Harrelson received near-identical treatment that year. If you've got a favorite "years out-of-date" look from another card, let me know in the comments.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

1975 Caruso Sacramento Solons Baseball #5, Toby (a.k.a., Tommy) Bianco

Those are some very warm ears. It's not exactly Oscar Gamble circa 1974, but Toby Bianco owns admirable 1970s head insulation.

This card's a microcosm of most minor leaguers who taste the big leagues. Bianco showed power with AAA Sacramento (44 HR in 1974-75), earning a couple of 1975 call-ups, but collected just 5 singles and a double over 18 games with the Brewers, an extended cup of coffee that proved to be his whole MLB career.

Toby followed Milwaukee's AAA shuffle to Spokane in 1976, becoming their "most popular player" with fans, but the crowded MLB infield of Sal Bando, Robin Yount, Don Money, and Cecil Cooper (with Jim Gantner waiting in the wings), pushed Bianco to the streets in 1977.

Apr 6, 1977: the low point for Bianco fans

Toby ultimately did catch on elsewhere, spending three more seasons in the Tiger, Expo, and Oriole systems before retiring in 1979 (career stats).

Caruso printed 22 blank-backed cards for this set and those in bold went on to MLB careers, if not stardom. They didn't include any for the coaches, so I added this card of Solons manager Harry Bright, a baseball lifer whose playing, coaching, and scouting career stretched from age 16 to 70.
  1. Bob Hansen
  2. Dave Lindsey
  3. Tommie Reynolds
  4. Jack Lind
  5. Toby Bianco
  6. Bill McNulty
  7. Duane Espy
  8. Bob Sheldon
  9. George Vasquez
  10. Art Kusnyer
  11. Rob Ellis
  12. Jimmy Rosario
  13. Steve Bowling
  14. Rick Austin
  15. Tom Widmar
  16. Carl Austerman
  17. Carlos Velasquez
  18. Gordy Crane
  19. Roger Miller
  20. Bill Travers
  21. Pat Osborn
  22. Juan Lopez

Value: This #5 cost $3 at The annual SCD priced a full set at $15-20 and I haven't seen any in the marketplace to say otherwise.

Fakes / reprints: It'd be easy to reprint with modern equipment, but hard to find a market for them.

Friday, July 12, 2013

1975 Caruso Albuquerque Dukes Baseball #5, John Hale

Judging by the depth of that shadow mask, John Hale is Batman AND Zorro.

Card front (blank back)

There's not much to say about the card itself, so let's look at the uniform. By the mid-1970s, most pro teams wore synthetic (and economical) pants and jerseys, as betrayed by the elastic triple-stripe on John Hale's waist and inseam. Some teams kept belts and other traditional details in the mix, but many minor leagues saved on sewing and laundry costs with simple two-piece outfits. Pitcher and author Dirk Hayhurst (The Bullpen Gospels) noted this skinflint practice lives on into the 21st century, as minor league players scramble to find pants and stirrup socks that fit from the limited stock many teams provide.

As LA's AAA affiliate, Albuquerque sent several guys onto future major league careers (in bold) and the "young me" remembers both John Hale and Joe Simpson from their years with Seattle. Hale logged a career-high 107 games for the 1978 Mariners but posted just a 56 OPS+, mostly appearing as a defensive replacement by the second half (career stats). This Caruso-printed set includes 20 of his teammates.
  1. Orlando Alvarez
  2. Joe Simpson
  3. Jerry Royster
  4. Lee Robinson
  5. John Hale
  6. Bobby Randall
  7. Terry McDermott
  8. Terry Collins
  9. Cleo Smith
  10. Wayne Burney
  11. Dick Selma
  12. Greg Shanahan
  13. Rex Hudson
  14. Stan Hudson
  15. Pablo Peguero
  16. Rick Nitz
  17. Stan Wall
  18. Jim Allen
  19. Jim Haller
  20. Dennis Lewallyn
  21. Wayne Miller

BONUS: To make up for John Hale being so occluded, here's 1921 Yankees outfielder Chicken Hawks.

Look at those blousing wool pants and feel the pooling knee sweat. Ugh.

Value: This #5 cost $3 at Team sets are scarce, but should be affordable for lack of major league stars.

Fakes / reprints: It'd be easy to fake with existing equipment, but haven't seen any in the marketplace.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

1967 Coca-Cola Washington Senators Baseball Crowns, #5 Camilo Pascual

Master of the curveball and 5-time All-Star, Camilo Pascual showed uncommon durability for a strikeout specialist, totaling 18 major league seasons and becoming just the 13th man to collect 150 career wins and 2000 strikeouts. Few pitchers manage the feat then or now, even in an era of free-swinging hitters and better physical conditioning (full list at B-R).

Camilo's also one of a handful to play for both Washington Senator franchises. He debuted in 1954 and followed the first version to Minnesota when they moved west in 1961. The Twins then traded him back to the "expansion" Senators prior in late 1966 and all but two of his 174 career wins came wearing a Washington or Minnesota jersey (career stats). I prefer the Senators long-sleeve-red-under-pinstripe.

Coke added players for most teams to their bottle caps for 1967, but cut back to just a handful (and no Washington) for their 1968 series. See also Fleer Sticker Project's profile of the Coke overlaps with Dexter Press, another early set licensed by the emerging Major League Baseball Players Association.

The Senators Coke checklist doesn't include many enduring stars, but I've met my share of Frank Howard and Ken Harrelson fans over the years. (Any Fred Valentine aficionados out there?)
  1. Bob Humphreys
  2. Bernie Allen
  3. Ed Brinkman
  4. Pete Richert
  5. Camilo Pascual
  6. Frank Howard
  7. Casey Cox
  8. Jim King
  9. Paul Casanova
  10. Dick Lines
  11. Dick Nen
  12. Ken McMullen
  13. Bob Saverine
  14. Jim Hannan
  15. Darold Knowles
  16. Phil Ortega
  17. Ken Harrelson
  18. Fred Valentine

TRIVIA: These nine guys played for both the pre- and post-expansion Washington Senators.
  • Rudy Hernandez
  • Hector Maestri
  • Don Mincher
  • Camilo Pasqual
  • Pedro Ramos
  • Johnny Schaive
  • Roy Sievers
  • Zolio Versailes
  • Hal Woodeshick

BONUS TRIVIA: Hector Maestri appeared in two career games, 1 for the 1960 Senators and 1 for the 1961 Senators (career stats). He technically moved with the Twins after 1960, but Washington selected him during their expansion draft.

Value: This #5 cost $3 on eBay. Most caps (a.k.a., crowns) turn up for a dollar or less at collector shows.

Fakes / reprints: Can't imagine how someone would fake a Coke cap and it'd be interesting to see someone try.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

1909 "Boston Herald" Baseball Supplements #5, Bill Dahlen (Braves) & Heine Wagner (Red Sox)

I started my first job at age 13, slinging morning papers from a bike seat for Seattle's Post-Intelligencer. It turned over $130 a month, such a princely sum! Enough to keep me flush in candy and baseball cards and what else does a young fan require?

Each morning started at 5am, when a corded bundle of 20-to-30 papers dropped outside my front yard. On most days, a second bundle of advertising inserts kept it company. A carrier's first task: insert those ads into my papers, so sponsors paying the newspaper's bills would get their money's worth. Based on today's promo "cards," which accompanied Boston papers a century ago, it's been a familiar strategy since the dawn of modern baseball.

Issued as two 7.5" x 9.5" pages, joined by center seam (blank back)

Sifting newspaper and morning inserts presented my first moral dilemma. Ditching those ads would've saved the trouble of lugging them around, but eventually get me in hot water, since sponsors paid the paper and the paper paid me. Imagine if those inserts were baseball collectibles, as the Herald offered for their hometown Braves and Red Sox in 1909. Double dilemma! I'd probably still have a stack of them, squirreled away between issues of Boys Life.

The Herald added these paired pages--one player per team--to 12 consecutive Sunday issues, starting June 6th, 1909. That opening date means this #5 came out four weeks later on July 4th. (America! Apple pie! Baseball!) The Sporting News printed their own league-wide take on this design over a four-year period starting the same year, since cataloged for collectors as M101-2 (set gallery). Both rate as rarities in the 21st century and I finally came across one in 2013, ten years after starting the type collection.

Value: I paid $45 for a low-grade single page of Dahlen. Complete versions with both Dahlen and Wagner would run considerably more.

Fakes / reprints: Might be easy to fake with modern technology, but I think these sets are obscure enough that it'd be tough to find enough uneducated buyers.