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.

1 comment:

  1. Gotta admit... I didn't recognize a single name in this team set. No matter... they're still truly beautiful cards.