Sunday, July 26, 2015

Elmer Valo's Topps Run: 1951 - 1961

I've done it - I finished a complete run of Elmer Valo's Topps cards from his playing days - let's take a look:

 Topps Red Back # 28 - "hustling" is an adjective you'll see often in reference to Elmer, his 10 Homers in '51 were a career high..

Valo is tied with Joe DiMaggio for career on base percentage at .3983.

Elmer only appeared in 50 games in 1953, he struggled with injuries to his leg and probably lingering effects of concussion(s) (undiagnosed at the time) suffered in '52.

As the Athletics had a hard time drawing fans in Philadelphia, Valo had a hard time drawing time in the lineup. His injury plagued 1953 campaign had won him no favors from the manager, and he scuffled to the tune of a .214 batting average in a little over 100 games, mostly coming off the bench.

Valo had the best season of his career in 1955. He reached high water marks for batting average, on base percentage, and a gaudy 155 OPS+. Valo even received MVP votes, as the now Kansas City Athletics rose from the cellar to a respectable 6th place in the American League.

Valo was known as a fearless defender in the outfield, crashing into walls and robbing home runs. This also meant frequent injuries - Elmer robbed a Ted Williams home run in '46, crashing into the wall so violently that he had to be carried off the field. During the Athletics' improbable run in 1947, Valo took a hit away from Yogi Berra in the 8th inning of a close game, his third such catch of the contest. He did not hear the raucous crowd's reaction at first, his collision with the wall had knocked him temporarily unconscious.

no copy here - just enjoy the beautiful card...

Upon being traded to the Dodgers Philadelphia sportswriter Red Smith called Valo "The Most Sincere Fella" and "Whipping Boy-Elect." He said he hoped the fans would boo Duke Snider instead of Valo because Snider would "give it back to them, whereas Valo would agree with them." Elmer was in the lineup for the final game at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn for the Dodgers, and made the move to Los Angeles, playing part time in the outfield and pinch hitting.

Why no 1959 card? Valo had no offers from MLB clubs following his 1958 campaign, so he signed on to play and coach in the PCL with the Seattle Rainiers. He led the league in hitting, which earned himself a new gig in August of '59, playing for Cleveland. While getting on base at .424 clip, his efforts at the plate and in the field were not enough to earn Cleveland the AL pennant. He was able to latch on with the Yankees in the off-season, only appearing in 8 games (strictly as a pinch hitter) for the Bronx Bombers before moving on to the Washington Senators.


For the third time in his career, Valo was playing for a relocated franchise in 1961. The Senators moved to Minnesota to become the Twins and Valo split the final year of his playing career between the Twins and the Philadelphia Phillies, his second stint with that club.

Rumor has it that Elmer was actually a four-decade player, getting a single at bat from Connie Mack's Athletics in the 1939 season. The story goes that Valo was traveling with the team after his minor league season ended, and Mack asked him to get up from the bench and pinch hit, not realizing that Valo was not yet officially on the roster. This at-bat was later expunged from the official record at Mack's request; playing Valo without being on the roster would have resulted in a hefty fine for "The Tall Tactician."

Much of the information from this post comes from the great biography on Valo found online at the SABR bio project. Please click through to read the whole thing here. More Bios from the author Mel Marmer can be found HERE.


  1. Great run Brian, and like you said that '57 is a beaut'! I love the camera in the background on that one...

    1. I'm so glad they didn't try to run that same closeup headshot from the previous three years . . . That 1957 card is one of the best cards Topps has ever made.

  2. the 57 is a must have! though I've seen this card around, I'm kicking myself for not yet owning a copy.

    1. This was my first Valo card, and actually the first card purchased at a card show! I found out about it by reading some of the blogs, and it started a pretty exciting journey.

  3. I'm a big Valo fan as well, and, yes, that '57 is one of the most beautiful baseball cards ever produced.

  4. Topps using the same photo for three years in a row (54-56)? They've been at this game for years!

  5. Late to the party but like several above...I love the '57 most of all.