Friday, March 22, 2024

1956 Topps baseball #171 "Jim Wilson, if that is your real name"

I researched game situations for several 1956 Topps cards in my 17-March post, including #171 Jim Wilson. This post revisits and revises my initial take and then updated it again on 2-May. This might be the most ink spilled about his card since Jim's retirement in 1958.

Baltimore purchased Jim from Milwaukee a few days into the 1955 regular season and he proved their most dependable pitcher, even if going 12-18 meant leading the AL in losses.

I guessed this #171 action photo shows Richie Ashburn running to first, with someone other than Jim catching that high throw. Pittsburgh's Paul Smith, perhaps?

Another writer encourged me to look at the Giants instead, given Topps penchant for photos in New York stadiums, so #25 Whitey Lockman could be a better choice for that fielder. Compare "Jim Wilson" to Whitey's own card of Dodgers #3 Billy Cox trying to beat out a throw to first.

1956 Topps #205, Whitey Lockman

Our runner's sleeve stripe means Brooklyn wore road jerseys, placing us at Giants home turf, the Polo Grounds.

Pittsburgh fielders wore safety helmets in that era, as on #116 Ed O'Brien (left). I think the first baseman reaching behind Ashburn for an errant throw lacks that headgear, so Whitey Lockman seems our guy instead of Paul Smith.

Fielding helmet on Pirates 2B

No helmet on Giants 1B

Lockman and the Giants hosted Philly many times in the 1950s, so picking out a single play will be tough until we locate this card's original photo. Their long undershirts imply a chilly spring evening, making the second game of a doubleheader on April 25, 1954, our possible match.

Topps #171's action shot might indeed be Giants 3B Hank Thompson tossing wide of first on Richie Ashburn's grounder from 1954. Our peripheral evidence supports that location and play result.

One other game, a 6-5 Giants win on May 30, 1955, shows Ashburn legging out a leadoff single to third that became Philly's first run.

Either scoring decision could fit this leaping throw to first, so correcting its players proves more satisfying than nailing an exact moment in time.

Did Topps make twice the error?

My earlier post showed how an artist added anachronistic red details for Pudding' Head Jones. Philly's used sleeve and neck stripes on pre-1950 uniforms, which also featured blue hat and stockings. Topps painted those details in red for his 1956 card.

Consider the action shot for #171 "Jim Wilson" one more time.

Since Topps card editors worked from black and white photos, that could be Brooklyn's #1 Pee Wee Reese (blue sleeves) instead of Philly's #1 Richie Ashburn (red sleeves). Dodgers uniforms would look similar on contemporary pictures, unless dated or described well. They already struck out on player identification, so retain a critical eye.

MAY 2024 UPDATE: Did Topps make thrice the error?

Mea culpa! I missed this lookalike card (#91 Gail Harris) during my initial research into #171 Wilson, which uses our same image apart from its runner wearing a blue cap.

Gail did play first several times for New York during his 1955 rookie season. Our problem comes down to that uniform number, #25 Lockman vs. #15 Harris. Blue cap or not, #91 also got our first baseman wrong.

Confusion conclusion

1956 cards #91 and #171 feature a Hall of Fame cameo either way, with Ashburn or Reese dashing past Giants first baseman Whitey Lockman.

Thanks to several resources for research help.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Identifying background photos in 1956 Topps baseball


I spent this week inspecting 1956 Topps baseball cards in more detail than usual. Many cards with background action show actual games and some contain enough context to suss out date and situation.

Play at the plate for ol' Puddin' Head, but which one?

Today's post investigates several of them, seeking clear dates and situations. I rely on for box scores, Dressed to the Nines for uniform design, and compare my take to the 1956 Topps blog, which wrote in detail about all 340 player cards.

Things to consider when investigating 1956 cards

Photos for 1956 cards came from wire services or professional photographers. As a New York company, pictures from Yankee Stadium, Ebbets Field, and the Polo Grounds could be convenient for Topps, so I lean toward New York ballparks when location's otherwise unclear. Spring training, regular season, postseason, and staged photos all appear, with many taken before 1955. 

Card editors touched up images as needed, such as this terrific shot of Pope's leap for a game-winning drive by Dusty Rhodes in 1954's World Series opener, one best known for "the catch" by Willie Mays two innings earlier. (Rhodes earned 1955 Topps #1 honors thanks to his postseason heroics.)

Topps removed "Cleveland" from Dave's jersey and painted that ball onto his glove as partial redemption.

1956 Topps #154 Orioles OF, Dave Pope

One wonders what Pope himself thought of the change, as I bet he remembered that moment!

#132 Bobby Avila and the hidden Hall of Famer 

Bobby Avila's enjoying post-homer congratulations. With all those numbers crowded around home plate, can we nail down what just happened? Easy enough, it turned out, based on Avila's home run log and teammate uniforms.

That's #6 Bill Glynn and #32 Al Smith greeting Avila after his game-tying home off Baltimore's Don Larsen on August 14, 1954. #14 Larry Doby waits on deck for his chance to chase Larsen from that game. (Cleveland won 4-3 in extras.) 


The 1956 Topps blog post about #132 agreed on this play and its cameo by Hall of Famer Larry Doby.

#42 Sandy Amoros: Yogi and the Series

Sandy's about to score Brooklyn's first run of 1955 World Series game four, a preface to overcoming the Yankees 8-5, as Yogi Berra receives his relay too late to make a play.


Alternate angles expand our scene to include #1 Pee Wee Reese (on deck) and batboy Charlie "The Brow" DiGiovanna, who collects Flash Gilliam's bat after his double scored Amoros.

Umpire Frank Dascoli left no doubt about his call and the 1956 Topps blog agrees on this play.

Sandy's card back calls out his catch of Yogi's game seven drive against the left field fence and key hitting in that series.

#26 Grady Hatton: Two more Hall of Famers

Grady's wearing his road uniform and sliding past Yogi Berra in Yankee Stadium, which tells much about how to identify the play.


Hatton spent less than three years in Boston, so I checked each game he reached base in Yankee Stadium for contested plays at the plate. One candidate stands out, July 7, 1954, when he scored from first on a bases-clearing double off Marlin Stuart.

While the 1956 Topps blog leaves #26 open to showing Detroit based on the catcher's uniform, I'm confident we see New York and Yogi again. Home umpire Nestor Chylak reached the Hall of Fame in 1999, adding another cameo from Cooperstown. This proved its final play before rain the game with New York ahead 17-9. If correct, Yogi's plate block either failed to stop Grady or Berra missed his tag.

#130 Willie Mays: Out at home

This sweet slide went for naught, as Cardinal catcher Bill Sarni tagged Mays out attempting to score from first on a Don Mueller double, Sept 13, 1954, at the Polo Grounds.



This photo from a split-second before shows Sarni making the bang-bang play. Their box score reveals Willie already scored in the first inning and Johnny Antonelli's shutout made it stand up for a 1-0 Giants victory. This time, the 1956 Topps blog for #130 proved inconclusive, and I used wire photo research to locate a similar shot with helpful details.

Back to #127 Puddin' Head

The striped collar and sleeves on Willie tell us its original photo comes from 1947-49, when Philly wore that kind of jersey flair. His socks, hat, and undershirt all show up as solid red, which points to 1949, yet exposes a problem. Dressed to the Nines claims they went with blue!

Puddin' Head's problem could be the age of its source photo. Compare his 1956 card to this 1949 slide behind Cardinals catcher Joe Garagiola.

How would a Topps artist add color to this black-and-white scene for their 1956 card? You might look at Philly's latest uniforms.

Paint that 1949 uniform (left) with 1955 colors (right) and you get his 1956 slide. Now consider that catcher's uniform, dugout, and umpire.

Ebbets Field used a square dugout design, backing up my earlier lean toward New York stadiums.

Brooklyn's 1949 catcher looks more like Bruce Edwards than Roy Campanella, narrowing us to two games with Jones, Edwards, and a reason to slide at home, each sacrifice flies.
My gut says we're looking at August 17 because rookie Mike Goliat advanced to third, implying a play elsewhere: at the plate. Puddin' Head beat Gene Hermanski's throw en route to Philly's 11-7 win.

#171 Jim Wilson: Lost on Arrakis

Check out on the second player on Wilson's card. Those red sleeves and #1 jersey belong to Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn, who ducks by on his safe dash to first base.

In context, it looks like the first baseman fielded a ball away from the bag and threw to second for a force out, followed by a wide return throw to Wilson covering. Where would Baltimore and Philly face off, though?

City Island Ballpark, 1940
Baltimore's 1955 spring training site

These teams held spring training in Florida for 1955, whose parks contained enough infield sand to support Jim Wilson's background image. A problem for this scenario: Baltimore aquired Wilson two games into the regular season on April 13, 1955, after he played all of spring training as a Brave.

Coverage of Wilson's first game for the birds

Look closer at the fielder and his partial "2" jersey number, plus piped uniform pants.

Wilson wore #19 for Milwaukee and #36 for Baltimore, so I believe they misidentified its team as well as its player. His pants piping looks more like the Pirates or Giants. Which works better?


That's six or seven 1956 cards identified, depending how you count Pope. I'm sure to go after more in the future! Any that you've wondered about?

Saturday, March 9, 2024

1951 "Baseball Tat-oos Book" featuring Robin Roberts and Joe DiMaggio

Things can exist in the hobby for decades, yet never pierce my veil of collecting awareness! I discoverd this slim book of "tat-oos" via an overseas site in late 2023 and am fascinated by how well it survived. That ink still looks fresh off the presses.

I believe this pose, familiar to many Philly fans, ended up on its cover following an NL Pennant run by their "Whiz Kids," which made that young ace Roberts an eye-catching choice for kids who followed baseball.

"Tat-oos" behave like most other skin transfers and this book spreads 16 images across four pages. Hold one of them against a moist surface, often a licked forearm, and its ink would leave an image that lasted until scrubbed off.

Transfer images from this book include Joe DiMaggio finishing his swing and others that suggest Yankee uniforms, which supports my hypothesis it came from that 1950 World Series matchup (Philly vs. New York). The small "Japan" text identifies its point of manufacture.

If you recognize any other players or photos, let me know in the comments!

This tat-oos line covered a range of subjects and 1951's baseball book stands apart for its two identifiable stars, Roberts and DiMaggio. Perhaps that clarity also led to complaints, since an alternate version's figures look more generic.

You can find at least two other sport-themed books for sale on eBay.

Prominent licensing from "Harvey Famous Name Comics NYC" appears on similar books for Sad Sack comics, who debuted in 1944 and ran for decades after WWII. These transfers focus on the military labors of its title character.

I bet transfer picture books showed up in a whole range of stores from that era, considering how many survived to the present day.

I find this actor book most intriguing, given its star power and high level of detail on transfers. The presence of James Dean, who died in 1955, implies a release before that year.

This'd be a solid addition to any Hollywood star collection and #5 from its sheet of actresses appears to be Audrey Hepburn, best remembered today for Roman HolidayBreakfast at Tiffany's, and Sabrina. Her own career took off in 1953, which helps date this book to between then and James Dean's death.

Value: Intact transfer books start about $5 and go up, depending on their subject (example "1950s japan transfer picture book" search).

Fakes / reprints: I bet these prove too obscure to fake, since cheap ink transfers hold less fascination for today's young buyers.