Sunday, January 20, 2019

A Season for the Birds - The 1956 Topps Baltimore Orioles Team Set

One of the fun things about a completed set is deciding how you want to organize it. I have the 1956 Topps set in a binder, sorted by team, in the same order that the teams finished in the 1955 Standings. In 1955, the Baltimore Orioles finished 7th in the AL with a record of 57-97.

The team just completed a move from Saint Louis, with the American League wresting control of the Saint Louis Browns from Bill Veeck and encouraging a sale to a Baltimore-led group of businessmen. The last vestiges of the Browns were flushed away with the hiring of Manager and GM Paul Richards in September of 1954. Richards wasted little time re-making the team, engineering a massive trade involving 17 players that off-season.  

The 1956 Topps Set had fantastic team cards. The team photo on the front, and the back includes some relevant stats and a cool aerial view of the team's home ballpark.

The team's best hitter in 1955 was a midseason waiver pickup of 35 year-old outfielder Dave Philley. Dave hit .299 for the O's and led all Baltimore hitters with a .418 slugging pct (that is not very good). Philley would be back on the road again in 1956, after being traded to the White Sox in May along with the Orioles' lone 1955 All-Star Jim Wilson in exchange for future Hall of Fame 3rd baseman . . . George Kell.

Sorry Dave. He missed 3 seasons early on during WWII, and didn't have a full major league season under his belt until his age 27 season. He was regarded a good fielder with a plus arm in his youth, and led the AL in outfield assists 3 times. Philley was a member of the 1954 Cleveland World Series team, playing in 4 games.

The team's best starting pitcher Bill Wight was in twilight of his career, as depicted on his card, with a ghostly light slowing gaining on him . . . uhh. Let's lighten the mood. Despite a hard luck 6-8 record in 1955, Wight managed to lead the O's starting staff with a sparkling 2.45 ERA, backed up by a sabrmetrically shiny 3.13 WHIP and an ERA+ of 154 (lg. avg is 100).

Wight was a mid year acquisition, and just like Philley came to the team via the shores of Lake Erie. Wight came over in a July trade with Cleveland for Hoot Evers, and would remain an Oriole through the 1957 season. Wight was used exclusively in relief for Cleveland, and was used by GM Paul Richards as a swingman in Baltimore. He started 14 games in 1955 for the team, with 8 complete games and 2 shutouts. He also finished 5 other games, and earned 2 saves for the effort.

No Hall of Famers in the team set, as they had not yet traded for George Kell, and their other future Hall of Fame third baseman had just been signed that summer out of high school. Brooks Robinson would make his MLB debut at the tail end of the O's 1955 season. The best rookie on the squad was probably reserve corner infielder Bob Hale. Like Philly, Hale had an OPS+ of 119, which is 19 pct better than the league average hitter. Hale played in just 67 games but hit a robust .357 and led the O's in on base pct as well at .376.

The average and OBP ended up as career highs, as did his 29 RBI and 65 hits. His fielding was not an asset, ranking in the top 10 in errors for the AL twice despite never playing in 100 games. He would be used as a pinch hitter in later years.

In the binder, I have the first page of each team set with the position players that had the biggest impact in 1955 and 1956 in order - Catcher, First Base, Second, Short, Third, Left Field, Center, Right. Gus Triandos led the Orioles in 1955 with 12 homers, and would later shift behind the plate as the team's primary catcher, representing the O's on the All-Star roster 4 times.

As mentioned earlier, Jim Wilson was the 1955 Oriole All-Star, winning 12 games for Baltimore. George Zuverink had a great season out of the bullpen, striking out nearly twice as many batters as he walked and was equally stingy with the gopher ball. Hey, it's our first coach card! Harry Brecheen was a Cardinals pitcher in the 40s, hurling shutouts in 2 different World Series games, and was the winning pitcher in three games of the 1946 World Series against Boston including 2 Complete games, and one of those aforementioned shutouts. When Bill Veeck raided the Cardinal roster in the early 50s of their aging veterans for his St. Louis Browns squad, Brecheen joined them. He was the lone holdover from Saint Louis, and was an Orioles' pitching coach for 14 seasons, guiding the squad's hurlers to league leading ERAs and a 1966 World Series sweep.

The 1955 Orioles were trying to tap into the mystique and lore of past Baltimore champions, and distancing themselves from the years of mediocre play in Saint Louis. Brooks Robinson would be back to stay in 1959 after several years shuttling between the minors and the big league club, as would Hoyt Wilhelm, converted by Brecheen into a starter that season. A team built on pitching and defense added the final piece of a championship puzzle in 1966 with Brooks' brother from another mother, Frank Robinson. The team would enjoy a sustained run of excellence for the balance of the 60s and a good portion of the 70s and early 80s.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Puck Stops Here - and Contest Winners

There used to a be a White Castle a few blocks from my house, but last year they replaced it with a Tim Horton's. In between donuts, I started to think about my card collection, and how it could use some Hockey Hall of Famers.

The big COMC order from last week included a little starter lot of vintage hockey. I don't plan on adding many more to this group, but it was fun to pick these out. My main Hockey collection goal is cards with the Stanley Cup, and that will continue.

This was the big ticket item, and also the reason why I decided to add several more hockey cards to my cart. The Bobby Orr card was part of the recent sale on COMC, and because there is a little paper loss on the back, it was a steal. It looks like someone had pasted the card into a book or notebook with a dab of glue in the middle. Thankfully the front of the card looks great!

I went after at least one card from each year from 1970 to 1979, I just went year by year, filtering the results by "Hall of Fame," getting these for a buck or two (or less) for each card.  I tried for a variety of teams, with an emphasis on the more successful teams of the decade.

I picked O-Pee-Chee over Topps when it was affordable, and certainly for the Canadiens, I had to get English and French on the backs!

I don't why, but the phrase "Most Points, Period" was funny to me. I realize they meant most points scored in a single period, but I read it as Bryan Trottier has scored the "Most Points, period, END OF STORY."

I had to pick up some goalies too - Mr. Zero himself, Tony Esposito, had some great cards in the 70s. Rogie Vachon is shown here with the Buffalo Sabres. Whoops - Los Angeles Kings - thanks for the correction. Baseball is my first language. 


I plan on keeping 23 cards from the 100 Card + One Pack repack, so Brett Alan is the big winner, getting the exact number!

I currently have 445 Kirby Puckett cards according to Trading Card Database, Tom from Angels in Order was the closest with his guess of 444.

Brett and Tom, please send me an email with your current mailing addresses and if you have a preferred decade for your unopened pack (1980s or more recent is what I have).

( brian dot d dot oneal at gmail )


Friday, January 18, 2019

Forgotten Franchise Friday

Did you know that the Minnesota Vikings were not the first NFL franchise in the North Star State? The early NFL was the wild wild Midwest, with many teams concentrated in and around Chicago. Ohio had several teams in smaller cities like Canton and Marion, and Wisconsin boasted teams from Kenosha as well as the Packers from Green Bay.

Duluth, a thriving port town on the Southwestern edge of Lake Superior, had an NFL team as early as 1923. They played three weather wracked seasons as the Kelleys, named for a Duluth Hardware Store that sponsored the team. In 1926, Duluth (along with the Los Angeles Buccaneers, the Buffalo Rangers, and the Louisville Colonels) became primarily a traveling team, playing the vast majority of their games on the road. They were able to do this by drafting MN-born Ernie Nevers, who was fresh off a tremendously successful collegiate football career at Stanford. The team called themselves the Duluth Eskimos, or other times just "Ernie Nevers' Eskimos," and tied their fortunes to the star fullback. Injuries derailed his career following the 1927 season, and the Duluth franchise folded with no North Star Statesman to guide them. Nevers returned the following season with the Chicago Cardinals and played 3 more seasons. The Duluth team wasn't the first NFL Franchise from MN, either. Minneapolis had a team called the Minneapolis Marines that formed way back in 1905 and played in the NFL from 1921-1924, then again in 1929 and 1930 (as the Minneapolis Red Jackets).

Do you have a favorite forgotten franchise?  If Duluth had a pro football team today, would that be awesome, or what?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Signature Required - And Another Contest!

I made a big order from COMC just after the New Year, and for the first time ever a signature was required to get my mitts on it. I was a little sheepish about signing for it, as the post office marked it as "signature required - adult material" and I can't decide if it's more or less embarrassing that the package didn't contain any booze or sex toys.

The only Puckett card out of the 100+ cards in the order emphatically states that it is the opposite of adult material- it's Sports Illustrated for Kids! I have more cards of Kirby Puckett than any other individual player, and yet, I don't even have 20% of the cards made with him on it.


I currently have somewhere between 400 and 500 unique Kirby Puckett cards. Guess the exact number (or the closest wrong guess) of unique Kirbys in my collection and win a custom made mix of 100 Cards + One Pack repack. So basically, pick a number between 401 and 500 to enter!


Winner will be announced in Saturday's post. Entries still accepted in yesterday's post, too. Someone may or may not have already guessed correctly!

The COMC order will help me with some return packages on trades, and for several upcoming blog posts, so the rest of the haul will have to wait.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

repack regrets + a contest for you!

You know, I made such a big stink about these 100 Cards + one Pack repacks from Walgreens a while back, one would think I could take my own advice. Here are the oldest cards in the bunch - A pair from 1981 and a pair from 1983. I mean, it was just $5, but there were probably better ways for me to spend it.

Just one Minnesota Twin in the group of 100. 1984 Fleer has some great cards in it, and I'm a fan of the design.

4 cards featuring one-time Twins - Viola right after the trade to New York, then again with his 3rd team. Charlie Manuel played sparingly for the Twins in the late 60s/ early 70s - Don Baylor was on the 1987 championship team, joining after the trade deadline on waivers.

A no doubt Hall of Famer, a brand new Hall of Famer, A Hall of Famer in the record books, and a Hall of Famer in our hearts (or maybe just in our knuckles).

Horizontal Heroes! A Joe Mauer cameo, too.

Nick! Do you need this Jim Walewander? Is that guy in the background delivering mail, or is he about to go on safari? I guess there are at least 25 Tigers nearby...

These were some of my favorites from the bunch. The pack was 1988 Donruss. I could see through the wrapper that the card on the wax sealed side is Cal Ripken, Jr.


Anyone want the pack of 1988 Donruss? Just claim it first in the comments and it's yours.


Guess how many cards out of the 100 I considered "keepers" - closest guess wins a reverse engineered 100 Card + 1 pack Repack of their very own. I'll put together a mailer and send it over.

Basically, just pick a number between 0 - 100.

CONTEST! Will announce a winner with Saturday's post.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Junior Varsity - The 1982 Topps Traded Set

There's little question about the most iconic card in the 1982 Topps Traded Set - Cal Ripken, Jr was quite the phenomenon.

The Topps company moved quickly onto the Cal Jr train, naming him to the 1981 Topps All-Star Rookie Team - then boldly naming him to the team again in 1982! Granted, he only played in 23 games in 1981, so that selection that season may have been premature.  Not to mention the fact that there are no Rookie Cup trophies on his 1982 card or his 1983 card, so it is one of those bits of trivia that don't come up often.

Some other notable rookies in this set include a pair of Twins, Tom Brunansky and Bloomington, MN born Kent Hrbek. Chili Davis and Steve Sax get their first full cards from Topps as well in the set. All four of these guys joined Ripken on the 1982 Topps All-Star Rookie squad.

In addition to Ripken, there were four other Hall of Fame players in the set. Reggie Jackson triumphantly returned to SoCal after some legendary seasons in New York. Fergie Jenkins and Gaylord Perry appeared here at the tail end of impressive careers. Perry would win his 300th game as a Mariner. Last but not least is Ozzie Smith in his first appearance as a Cardinal - the trade with San Diego would profoundly impact both franchises, and for Smith it was a catalyst to refine his skills as a hitter. The dedication and hard work would ultimately pay off for the defensive wizard, who would go from being a glove only, to a glove first short stop.

1982 Topps Traded was a good year for Twins representatives. Along with Bruno and Hrbie, the set included rookie cards of Bobby Castillo, Randy Johnson (not that one), and Ron Washington (yes, that one). Ron Davis became the Twins' closer and had a few successful seasons, but ultimately was more remembered in MN for the games that got away.

Some of the gems hidden in the 82 Topps Traded set. Tim Blackwell's iconic moustache makes its debut, along with Rookie Ron Gardenhire's mullet. Steve Kemp is rocking a great White Sox uniform (their unis are rarely boring, I'll give them that over the Twins). Frank Tanana was coming off a rough season in Boston, and still a few years from finding his second wind in Detroit.

I'll leave you with the the Bluest Blue Vida Blue. He looks happy, though!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Hall of Fame Past, Present, and Future

It was on this day in 1987 that the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced the induction of two new legends - Jim "Catfish" Hunter, and Billy Williams.

Hunter was the ace of the Oakland A's dynasty in the 1970s, and made his way to New York just in time to win 2 more championships with the Yankees. He won the Cy Young in 1974, leading the AL in Wins and ERA. He won 20 or more games in 5 straight seasons from 1971 through 1975.

Billy Williams was the 1961 Rookie of the Year, and was known for year after year of consistent excellence. Williams was an iron man - playing in 1,117 straight games for the Cubs, which set a NL record that would stand until Steve Garvey surpassed him in the 1980s. Williams finished his career in Oakland, hoping for one last chance to play in the World Series, but the A's lost in the 1976 ALCS to the Red Sox.

Looking at the online BBHOF tracker, There are currently 4 players on track to be inducted via the BBWAA vote. The final totals are still being counted, and the new inductees will be announced next Tuesday, January 22nd.

Mariano Rivera, of course, appears to be an absolute lock, the question will be how close to 100% will he get (there have already been a couple voters that decided not to vote for Rivera, they've missed their chance to be part of something special.).

The late Roy Halladay had a storied career and looks well on track to be inducted on his first ballot.

Edgar Martinez is on his final ballot, and so far he's trending in the right direction. The bar for the writers to elect a DH may well be set with Martinez, who had very impressive offensive numbers, but very little defense or baserunning stats to bolster his case.

A pleasant surprise is the underrated Mike Mussina getting some love on the ballot. With about 42% of the ballots accounted for, he's right on the edge of having the votes to make it in as well.

On the outside looking in are four candidates that have Hall of Fame stats, but various extraordinary circumstances that are counting against them.

More than enough digital ink has been spilled for Bonds and Clemens, so I won't bother presenting their cases for or against in this post.

Curt Schilling's stats are maybe on the fringes, with his post-season resume putting him over the top for many voters. He's trending right along with Clemens and Bonds for the ballot count, just shy of induction. He has some years of eligibility remaining, and the distance from his playing days may or may not work in his favor.

Larry Walker is being penalized for being ... too good? The air in Colorado is easier on hitters, but the flip side of that coin is the injury risk and recovery time needed for players spending half of their season without the same supply of oxygen. Walker's career stats in the games immediately following a home stand show how the Coors effect works against Rockies players on the road. He had outstanding skills as a hitter, defender, and baserunner for a long time. He will hopefully get in soon.

The bottom of the ballot still has several intriguing players- some with PED baggage, and others with less solid resumes. Placido Polanco is not a Hall of Famer, but he does have the highest fielding percentage All-Time among Second Basemen . . . AND among Third Baseman! It won't make him a member of Cooperstown's Hall, but it's a nice bit of Sports Bar Trivia. Andruw Jones had a short but stratospheric peak, ultimately voters will be looking for more longevity. Jeff Kent... I don't know what's not to like- probably the lack of Championships? Andy Pettitte probably doesn't make it before Clemens or Schilling or Mussina, and even then there's some question about his success relative to the team he played for. He reminds me in a way of Scottie Pippen, he has great stats, he's got championship rings, but for some reason people were looking to find reasons why he wasn't the reason for his own success. Granted, he did have a PED incident, but the consensus seems to be that he wasn't using for the bulk of his career.

How many of those top 4 will make it this year? Who's getting snubbed unfairly? 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Branch Rickey's Pittsburgh Pirates

One of the fun things about a completed set is deciding how you want to organize it. I have the 1956 Topps set in a binder, sorted by team, in the same order that the teams finished in the 1955 Standings. The Pittsburgh Pirates finished 8th in the National League in 1955 with a record of 60-94. 

The 1956 season ended slightly better with a 7th place finish, but the future was bright with a pair of future Hall of Famers getting their feet wet in the majors that would soon make the team perennial contenders. 

The 1956 Topps Set had fantastic team cards. The team photo on the front, and the back includes some relevant stats and a cool aerial view of the team's home ballpark.

The best player on the 1955 team was First Baseman Dale Long. Long had 16 homers to go along with 19 doubles and a league leading 13 triples.

Long was a career minor leaguer before coming to Pittsburgh in 1951 - as the cartoon above shows, he was a converted catcher. He followed up the 1955 season with an All-Star appearance and career highs in Homers and Runs Batted In. He set a then-record for consecutive games with a home run at 8 straight games.

Bob Friend was the team's best pitcher in 1955. He started 20 games and appeared in 24 more as a reliever. He finished the season with a team high 9 complete games and 2 shutouts. His 2.38 ERA was best in the National League.

Friend's age 24 season was stellar, and he would become the team's most reliable starter in the coming seasons. In 1956, he led the National League in games started and innings pitched, appearing in his first All-Star game. While he went 0-2 with a 13.50 ERA in the 1960 World Series, he helped the team get there.

The Pirates' only Hall of Famer in the 1956 Topps Set was Roberto Clemente. Clemente was the Pirates' choice in the 1954 Rule V draft, despite the Dodgers' efforts to disguise his talent in Montreal. The Pirates had a bit of inside information into the Dodgers' system, as the Pirates' General Manager was none other than Branch Rickey. Clemente was scouted by Clyde Sukeforth in the International League, the same scout that helped sign Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers.

Clemente, of course, could be covered in a series of posts all by himself. 1955 was his first full major league season, and the Pirates were required to have him on the Active roster for the entire season per the terms of the Rule V draft, or they would have to return him to the Dodgers. At 20 years old, Clemente still had 11 triples, and 23 doubles as a rookie. It would be several seasons before he would become the superstar that would lead the Pirates to the 1960 World Series. In 1956, however, he did something that had never been done before or since - a Walk-off Inside-the-park Grand Slam! This fantastic article by Martin Espada chronicles "The Greatest Forgotten Home Run of All Time"

In the binder, I have the first page of each team set with the position players that had the biggest impact in 1955 and 1956 in order - Catcher, First Base, Second, Short, Third, Left Field, Center, Right.

What's up with all the Pirates' hats? If you notice on the head shots, the Pirates have oddly rounded hats - but they are actually helmets. Branch Rickey had stock in a company that developed the head gear, and the Pirates became the team to experiment with the protective gear. Rickey required every player to have one. At first they wore the helmets in the field as well as at the plate, but they proved to be cumbersome to fielders so they only used them at the plate.The Pirates had a young rotation in 1955, only Max Sukront was over the age of 25. The growing pains of the mid 50s led to greater success throughout the 1960s.

Curt Roberts was the first African-American player to play for the Pirates, also signed by Branch Rickey. The Pirates had a poor record during Branch Rickey's tenure. In 1953, he traded away one of their greatest players, Ralph Kiner, who was asking for a raise. Rickey was reported as saying that if the Pirates could finish in last place with Kiner, they could finish in last place without him. While the team lost many games in his tenure- it was his moves that provided the foundation for their future success.