Friday, July 31, 2020

#108 Laurin Pepper - Pittsburgh Pirates


Hugh McLaurin Pepper
Pittsburgh Pirates
Pitcher

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  5'11"  Weight:  190
Born:  January 18, 1931, Vaughan, MS
Signed:  Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as an amateur free agent, June 14, 1954
Major League Teams:  Pittsburgh Pirates 1954-1957
Died:  February 4, 2018, Ocean Springs, MS (age 87)

Laurin Pepper is probably better known for his football career, both as a player and a coach, than his short career as a big league pitcher.  Pepper, who appears to have gone by Laurin for his baseball career but Hugh everywhere else, was an All-American halfback at the University of Southern Mississippi, and was selected sixth in the 1954 NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.  He opted to sign as a "bonus baby" with the Pirates, ending his football career, and requiring the Pirates to keep him on their roster for the entire 1954 season.  He appeared in only 14 games that season, making eight starts and earning a record of 1-5 with a 7.99 ERA.  Over parts of four seasons with the Pirates, Pepper compiled a record of 2-8 with a 7.06 ERA.  He pitched in the minors between 1958 and 1963 with affiliates of the Cardinals, Pirates again, Angels, Dodgers and Phillies.  He had multiple stints within the Pirates' minor league system.

After retiring from baseball, Pepper served as a high school football coach for nearly three decades at Ocean Springs High School.  He had 25 winning seasons and his teams won 12 Gulf Coast Conference championships.  Pepper was elected into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1977.

Building the Set
December 2, 2000 from Raleigh, NC - Card #209
I went nuts and bought 16 common cards for our 1956 Topps set on this day at the Sports Card & NASCAR Collectibles Show in Raleigh.  My records show the 16 cards set me back $55 which I would have considered to be a small fortune back then.  I hadn't yet moved back north yet, so I was still living in Raleigh at this time planning for my eventual escape.  I would have provided my Dad with an updated checklist following this show as he was back in New Jersey.

The Card
Like a few of the Pirates cards before this, Pepper is shown wearing the helmet required by then Pirates General Manager Branch Rickey.  I found this summary from SABR explaining Rickey's introduction of the helmets in September 1952, to be worn at all times by Pirates players and coaches - at bat and in the field.  Clicking on the link below for the Pirates team set will take you to a gallery of Pirates cards found in the set so far, with a majority of the players wearing these helmets.

Pepper's only two mainstream baseball cards can be found in the 1955 and 1956 Topps set, and both cards use the same photo.  The cartoons on the back of this card do a great job of summarizing Pepper's career path up until that point.  This card was reprinted in 2005 for Pepper to sign and for inclusion in the 2005 Topps Heritage Real One Autographs insert set.

Pirates Team Set

1956 Season
Pepper appeared in just 15 games in 1956, making 11 appearances with the Pirates and four starts with the Triple-A Hollywood Stars.  With the Pirates, he went 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA over seven starts and four relief appearances.  His sole win came during the second game of a double header on June 24th, when he shut out the Cubs through five innings.  The game was ultimately called due to rain and a curfew in place in Pennsylvania at the time.

Phillies Connection
Pepper pitched in 12 games in 1962 for the Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers, an American Association team affiliated with both the Phillies and Angels.  He went 0-5 with a 5.68 ERA.

1955 Topps #147
Other Notable Baseball Cards
First Mainstream Card:  1955 Topps #147
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (2):  1955-1956
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  2005 Topps Heritage Real One Autographs #RO-LP

5 - Pepper non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 6/13/20.

Sources:  
Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
The Trading Card Database
Wikipedia

In some cases, the first and last cards listed above are subjective and chosen by me if multiple cards were released within the same year.  Most recent mainstream card may also be subjective and does not include extremely low serial numbered cards, buybacks or cut autograph cards.

Friday, July 24, 2020

#107 Ed Mathews - Milwaukee Braves


Edwin Lee Mathews
Milwaukee Braves
Third Base


Bats:  Left  Throws:  Right  Height:  6'1"  Weight:  190
Born:  October 13, 1931, Texarkana, TX
Signed:  Signed by the Boston Braves as an amateur free agent before 1949 season
Major League Teams:  Boston Braves 1952; Milwaukee Braves 1953-1965; Atlanta Braves 1966; Houston Astros 1967; Detroit Tigers 1967-1968
As a Manager:  Atlanta Braves 1972-1974
Hall of Fame Induction:  1978
Died:  February 18, 2001, La Jolla, CA (age 69)

Eddie Mathews is widely acknowledged as the best National League third baseman of his era, having made nine All-Star teams, winning a World Series ring with the Braves in 1957 and accumulating 512 career home runs.  He led the league in 1953 and 1959 in home runs, finishing as the runner-up for the N.L. MVP award in both those seasons.  Mathews drove in 100 or more runs in five different seasons and hit 30 or more home runs in nine straight seasons between 1953 and 1961.  He had his final 30-home run season for the Braves in 1965.

A long-time member of the Braves franchise, he's the only player to play with the club during each of their three city stops in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta.  A well-known and star player in his third big league season, Mathews appeared on the cover of the very first issue of Sports Illustrated in 1954.  Later in his career, Mathews won a second World Series ring as a member of the Tigers in 1968.  He accumulated 2,315 career hits and a .271 career average, and when he retired he ranked sixth on the all-time home run leaders list, and first in games played at third (2,181), assists at third (4,322) and chances at third (6,371).

Following his retirement, Mathews had his #41 retired by the Braves in 1969.  He coached for the Braves in 1971 and managed the team between 1972 and 1974, compiling a managerial record of 149-161.  He was the team's manager when Hank Aaron (#31) hit his record-breaking 715th home run to pass Babe Ruth on the all-time list, but he was fired shortly thereafter.  Mathews was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978, his fifth time appearing on the ballot.

Building the Set
Summer of 1983 or 1984 in Millville, NJ - Card #8
This Mathews card was one of the Original 44 and it's a gorgeous looking card.  The last time I told the full story of the Original 44 was over a year ago within the Pedro Ramos (#49) post, so I'll repeat it again here.  The next Hall of Famer coming up from this original haul is Yogi Berra (#110).

Technically speaking, my Dad and I actually began collecting the set in the summer of 1987, but this card (along with the other Original 44) first entered my collection three or four years before that.

I think it was either the summer of 1983 or 1984 when a shoebox of vintage baseball cards, football cards and a few non-sports cards arrived into my world.  The box contained about a hundred cards dating between 1950 and 1956, and for the most part, they were all in excellent shape.  A friend of the family was in the process of cleaning up and moving into her new house when she found the old shoebox and she wondered if the only kid she knew who collected baseball cards (me) would be interested in looking through it – maybe even taking the box off her hands.

She dropped the box off to my parents and asked them to have me look through the box and take what I was interested in. Turns out, I was interested in everything.  Up to that point, the oldest cards in my collection were cards from the early '70s I had obtained through trades or cards that my Dad had picked up for me at yard sales or small baseball card shows.  (My Dad had given me a few dog-earred ’59 Topps cards – Juan Pizzaro and Jim Busby – a few years prior, and I completely forget how or why he had purchased these cards for me.)

My parents asked me to pick out a few cards from the box, and then we’d return the rest to the family friend.  Problem was, I wanted them all.  I really wanted them all.  I diligently and meticulously went through one of my price guides and determined the “value” of the treasure chest. I probably used my Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide No. 4, edited by Dr. James Beckett, and I had no way to value the football or non-sports cards.  My memory is fuzzy, and I can't find the original tally, but I think I came up with the box being worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 to $400, which I knew my parents definitely did not have in their discretionary spending budget.  But they could tell how much I wanted those cards, as I lovingly studied each and every one and handled each as if it were some long-lost artifact.

I don’t know the exact details, but I believe my Dad went back to the friend and told her we’d take the whole box, but only if she let him give her some money for it.  I believe she was genuinely shocked that the box of old cardboard pictures had some value, and that someone was willing to give her cash for it.  My Dad shared the list I had created showing the “book value” of the cards and he mentioned how it was going to be close to impossible to get me to pick and choose which ones I wanted.  When all was said and done, the family friend, who had absolutely no intention of making money on this endeavor, walked away with (I think) something in the neighborhood of $100 for the whole lot.

Within the spoils were 44 cards from the 1956 Topps set – by far the most cards from any one set.  I studied them, I sorted them, and I pretty much memorized every detail of those 44 cards.  

And so a few years later, in the summer of 1987 while on a family vacation, I was giddy with excitement when we came across a few ’56 Topps cards in the Walker Gallery on the main drag in Cooperstown, New York.  My Dad and I studied the cards for sale and he casually asked me the question, “Why don’t we try to put together the whole set?” We bought four cards that day for $9.25.  Those cards, along with the 44 from the magic shoebox, became the basis for our 1956 Topps set.

The Card
That's Mathews taking out a Dodgers middle infielder, and reaching second base safely as the ball rolls away.  You can see the "1" in Mathews #41 on the runner's back.  The main photo is the same as used for his 1955 Topps card, but a different photo than that used for his 1954 Topps card.

This is also the first green-blue color bar combination to appear in the set.  The Gail Harris (#91) card used a blue-green color bar combination.

Braves Team Set

1956 Season
Mathews and Aaron paced the Braves offense in 1956, as the team finished in second place in the National League with a 92-62 record.  They had led the league by 3 1/2 games as late as Labor Day, but the Dodgers overtook them in the standings to win the pennant.  Mathews was second on the team in home runs (37) and RBIs (95) behind slugger Joe Adcock (#320).  He hit .272 and started 149 of the team's 155 games at third base.

1952 Topps #407
1954 Topps #30
1959 Topps #450
1968 Topps #58
1974 Topps #634
Other Notable Baseball Cards
First Mainstream Card:  1952 Topps #407
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (19):  1952-1968, 1973-1974
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  2020 Diamond Kings #45

962 - Mathews non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 6/13/20.

Sources:  
Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
National Baseball Hall of Fame
SABR
The Trading Card Database
Wikipedia

In some cases, the first and last cards listed above are subjective and chosen by me if multiple cards were released within the same year.  Most recent mainstream card may also be subjective and does not include extremely low serial numbered cards, buybacks or cut autograph cards.

Friday, July 17, 2020

#106 Joe Astroth - Kansas City Athletics


Joseph Henry Astroth
Kansas City Athletics
Catcher

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  5'9"  Weight:  187
Born:  September 1, 1922, East Alton, IL
Signed:  Signed by the Philadelphia Athletics as an amateur free agent before 1945 season
Major League Teams:  Philadelphia Athletics 1945-1946, 1949-1954; Kansas City Athletics 1955-1956
Died:  May 3, 2013, Boca Raton, FL (age 90)

After serving in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II, Joe Astroth spent his entire big league career with the Philadelphia and Kansas City Athletics.  Known for his defense, his throwing arm and as a favorite receiver to many pitchers, Astroth was a career .254 hitter with 13 home runs and 156 RBIs over 544 games.  He spent the bulk of his early A's career as a back-up catcher to Mike Guerra in 1949 and 1950 and Joe Tipton in 1951.  In 1952 he appeared in a career high 104 games and that year's A.L. MVP, Bobby Shantz (#261), credited Astroth for helping him win 27 games.  In 1953, he led all A.L. catchers in caught stealing percentage (72.1%) and double plays turned (13).

My bedroom in 1991 -
Baseball card binders are stacked on the shelf of my desk
Building the Set
Sometime in 1991, no record of purchase - Card #97
So this is a little embarrassing, and as diligent as I was in my record-keeping skills between 1987 and 2005, I have absolutely no record of how or when this card came into our collection.  There are four such cards we added to our set without me writing down the date of purchase, and the worst thing is one of those four cards is a fairly high profile card.  I'll get to it soon enough, but at some point in 1987, when we had decided to start collecting this set in earnest, the Robin Roberts (#180) card was purchased and I have no idea when or how much we paid for it.

Based on my review of checklists we had kept at the time, this Astroth card, along with the card for Max Surkont (#209) entered our set at some point in 1991.  Our checklists from 1990 have us needing the Astroth and Surkont cards, and then our checklists from 1992 have those cards crossed off.  It's a mystery.

My only excuse here is I would have been a junior in high school in the first part of 1991, and then a senior in the fall/winter.  I had college, girls, friends and general high school stuff on my mind and I'll forgive my younger stuff for not recording the purchase of two 1956 Topps cards.

The Card
Wherever the card came from, we got it in fantastic shape, although it's a little off-center.  This marks Astroth's return to Topps sets, as he was absent in 1954 and 1955.  He must have been one of the players with an exclusive Bowman contract, as he's in each Bowman set between 1951 and 1955.  This is also the last card issued for Astroth as an active player.

The back is full of great information.  The 6-RBI inning for Astroth happened on September 23, 1950 when Astroth hit a sixth inning grand slam and then added a two-run single later in the inning.  The A's won the game, 16-5 against the Senators, thanks to their 12-run outburst in the sixth.  The middle panel on the back refers to Astroth being a favorite among his pitching counterparts, while the final panel recognizes his public speaking talents.  I couldn't find anything on the internet about his public speaking skills, but his obituary did mention that he and his wife were known for their jitterbug dancing.  Astroth sounds like he would have been a great guy to know.

This card was reprinted for Astroth to sign as part of the Real One Autographs set included within packs of 2005 Topps Heritage.

Athletics Team Set

1956 Season
With Joe Ginsberg and Tim Thompson ahead of Astroth on the Athletics' catching depth chart, Astroth only appeared in 8 games before being sold to the San Diego Padres in the Pacific Coast League on May 16th.  He had gone 1 for 13 (.077) during the first month of the season with the A's.

With the Padres, then associated with the Indians, Astroth hit .246 over 96 games with 6 home runs and 45 RBIs.  He was the team's primary catcher with fellow veteran Dick Sisler as the team's regular first baseman.

1951 Bowman #298
1952 Topps #290
1953 Topps #103
1954 Bowman #131
1955 Bowman #119
Other Notable Baseball Cards
First Mainstream Card:  1951 Bowman #298
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (3):  1952-1953, 1956
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  2011 Topps Lineage Autographs #RA-JA

30 - Astroth non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 5/30/20.

Sources:  
Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
The Trading Card Database
Wikipedia

In some cases, the first and last cards listed above are subjective and chosen by me if multiple cards were released within the same year.  Most recent mainstream card may also be subjective and does not include extremely low serial numbered cards, buybacks or cut autograph cards.

Friday, July 10, 2020

#105 Al Smith - Cleveland Indians


Alphonse Eugene Smith
Cleveland Indians
Outfield

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  6'0"  Weight:  189
Born:  February 7, 1928, Kirkwood, MO
Signed:  Signed by the Cleveland Indians as a free agent, July 11, 1948
Major League Teams:  Cleveland Indians 1953-1957; Chicago White Sox 1958-1962; Baltimore Orioles 1963; Cleveland Indians 1964; Boston Red Sox 1964
Died:  January 3, 2002, Hammond, IN (age 73)

A corner outfielder and third baseman throughout his 12-year big league career, Al Smith was a two-time All-Star with the Indians in 1955 and the White Sox in 1960.  Statistically, he enjoyed his best season in 1961, hitting career highs in both home runs (28) and RBIs (93).  Smith played in two World Series (1954, 1959) and hit a lead-off home run off Giants starting pitcher Johnny Antonelli (#138) to start Game 2 of the 1954 Series.  He led the A.L. in runs scored with 123 in 1955.

Smith was traded to the White Sox with Early Wynn (#187) for Fred Hatfield (#318) and fan favorite Minnie Minoso (#125) on December 4, 1957.  A slump part way through the 1959 season motivated owner Bill Veeck to hold "Al Smith Night" to hopefully jumpstart his regular left fielder.  Instead, Smith went 1 for 4 and dropped a fly ball that led to the eventual winning run for the Red Sox.  During the 1959 World Series, Smith was photographed getting a beer accidentally dumped on his head following a home run over the left field wall by the Dodgers' Charlie Neal (#299).  Smith would later remark he had probably signed over 200,000 copies of the photo.

Smith compiled a lifetime batting average of .272 with 164 home runs and 676 RBIs.  His early career success in Cleveland led him to be honored by the team in 2001 as one of the "100 Greatest Indians of All Time."

Building the Set
September 25, 2005 in Ft. Washington, PA - Card #261
This was a late edition to our set and one of 11 cards we purchased at the 92nd Philadelphia Sports Card Show held at the convention center in Ft. Washington.  My records show we paid $4 for this card. With the Ocean City baseball card shows long gone by now, our only options for local baseball card shows were the "Philly Shows" held in Ft. Washington at the time or the occasional mall baseball card show.

Dad and me at Yankee Stadium, August 2005
My Dad didn't like the drive to Ft. Washington, and this would have been one of only a few shows we attended together in this location.  Our next show together was a few months later in December, also in Ft. Washington.  Looking at my records of when and where we purchased our cards, a full year would go by before we'd add any more cards to the set after that December show.

The year-long hiatus in collecting the set came at a time my wife and I were expecting our first son and as we moved into our first real house, so we had a pretty good excuse not to be purchasing baseball cards at the time.

The Card
The photo is the same used for Smith's 1954 and 1955 Topps cards, with his 1954 Topps card showing he was also holding a bat.  The bat has been removed in 1955 and 1956.  If I had to guess, the action shot looks as if Smith is trying to get back to second base on either a fielder's choice or perhaps attempting to avoid a line-out double play.

The cartoon panels on the back of the card highlight Smith's successful 1955 campaign.  His .306 average led the Indians and he also topped the club with 27 doubles and 11 stolen bases.  Smith finished third in the 1955 A.L. MVP voting, behind Yogi Berra (#110) and Al Kaline (#20).

Indians Team Set

1956 Season
Smith's numbers fell off following his big year in 1955.  He appeared in 141 games for the Indians in a super utility role, starting games in right field (56), left field (37), third base (23) and center field (21).  Smith hit .274 with 16 home runs and 71 RBIs, with his RBI total second on the team behind Vic Wertz (#300) and his tally of 106.

His numbers slipped again in 1957 and when he was informed he'd be moved permanently to third base to start the 1958 season, Smith requested a trade.  The Indians honored his request by shipping him to the White Sox that December.

1954 Topps #248
1957 Topps #145
1959 Topps #22
1962 Topps #410
1964 Topps #317
Other Notable Baseball Cards
First Mainstream Card:  1954 Topps #248
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (11):  1954-1964
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  1994 Topps Archives 1954 #248

67 - Smith non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 5/8/20.

Sources:  
Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
SABR
The Trading Card Database

In some cases, the first and last cards listed above are subjective and chosen by me if multiple cards were released within the same year.  Most recent mainstream card may also be subjective and does not include extremely low serial numbered cards, buybacks or cut autograph cards.

Friday, July 3, 2020

#104 Bob Lennon - New York Giants


Robert Albert Lennon
New York Giants
Outfield

Bats:  Left  Throws:  Left  Height:  6'0"  Weight:  200
Born:  September 15, 1928, Brooklyn, NY
Signed:  Signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers as an amateur free agent before 1945 season
Major League Teams:  New York Giants 1954, 1956; Chicago Cubs 1957
Died:  June 14, 2005, Dix Hills, NY (age 76)

Finding most of his success in professional baseball at the minor league level, Bob Lennon appeared in 38 games in parts of three seasons for the Giants and Cubs.  Originally signed by his hometown Dodgers, Lennon was left unprotected and drafted by the Giants in the November 1947 minor league draft.  He was a veteran of six minor league seasons when he missed all of the 1951 season serving in the Korean War.  In 1954, he enjoyed his career year with the Nashville Volunteers, hitting .345 with a record setting 64 home runs and 161 RBIs.  Lennon was a September call-up for the Giants following his big season.  As he was not eligible for the postseason, he sat in the stands with other fans as the Giants swept the Indians to win the World Championship.

His sole home run came as a member of the Cubs in 1957 in Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, where he had cheered for the Dodgers growing up.  In 16 minor league seasons between 1945 and 1961, Lennon hit 278 home runs and batted .281 in 1,784 games.

Easter Sunday, 2000
Building the Set
April 22, 2000 in Raleigh, NC - Card #197
I paid $2 for this card at the Sports Card & NASCAR Collectibles Show held in Raleigh, NC a week after tax deadline day and the day before Easter.  I bought six cards that day, paying a grand total of $20.  Pictures from this time in my life are few and far between, but it looks as if my parents paid a visit to Raleigh for Easter weekend as I have photos of them dressed for what has to be for a church service.  We're standing outside the apartment complex where I was living at the time.  And it's quite possible my Dad attended this baseball card show in Raleigh with me, which would have been a rarity in those days.

This day is also notable as it's almost 10 years to the day before our youngest son Ben was born.  There were some bumpy roads coming up for a few years following this picture, but eventually things got back on track.

The Card
The photo is the same used for Lennon's 1955 Topps rookie card.  Once again, the cartoons used for the back of this card are fantastic.  Lennon's minor league home run prowess is on full display here as is the fact his father, Martin Lennon, was a New York City policeman.

For the record, there have been four Lennon's to play in the majors - Bill (1871-1873), Ed (1928), Bob (1954-1957) and Pat (1991-1999).  There have been no McCartney's in the majors, but Baseball Reference lists six McCartney's to have played minor league baseball.  George Harrison Wheeler appeared in three games for the 1910 Reds.  And there have been four players with the surname of Starr in the majors, but no Starkey's.

Giants Team Set

1956 Season
Lennon bounced between the Giants and the Minneapolis Millers (the Giants top farm team) in 1956, all the while battling ankle and shoulder injuries.  He appeared in 26 games for the Giants, making 11 starts in right field and three starts in left field.  In his limited playing time for New York, Lennon hit .182 (10 for 55) with just one extra base hit, a double.  With the Millers, Lennon hit .266 over 78 games with seven home runs.

1955 Topps #119
1957 Topps #371
Other Notable Baseball Cards
First Mainstream Card:  1955 Topps #119
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (3):  1955-1957
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  1957 Topps #371

6 - Lennon non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 4/26/20.

Sources:  
Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
SABR
The Trading Card Database

In some cases, the first and last cards listed above are subjective and chosen by me if multiple cards were released within the same year.  Most recent mainstream card may also be subjective and does not include extremely low serial numbered cards, buybacks or cut autograph cards.

Friday, June 26, 2020

#103 Willie Miranda - Baltimore Orioles


Guillermo Miranda
Baltimore Orioles
Shortstop

Bats:  Both  Throws:  Right  Height:  5'9"  Weight:  150
Born:  May 24, 1926, Velasco, Cuba
Signed:  Signed by the Washington Senators as an amateur free agent before 1948 season
Major League Teams:  Washington Senators 1951; Chicago White Sox 1952; St. Louis Browns 1952-1953; New York Yankees 1953-1954; Baltimore Orioles 1955-1959
Died:  September 7, 1996, Baltimore, MD (age 70)

Willy Miranda bounced around the first four seasons of his big league career with the Senators, White Sox, Browns and Yankees, before finding a home with the Orioles.  His best season came in 1955 as the club's regular shortstop when he hit .255 in 153 games.  The statistic wasn't tracked at the time, but he finished in the top 10 for defensive WAR in four different seasons throughout the 1950s.

Miranda received acclaim in his native country of Cuba for playing on the Yankees for a few seasons during that club's 1950s dynasty.  He was on the team's roster for the 1953 World Series, but did not appear in a game.  Miranda played for seven seasons with the Orioles, appearing in 607 games and hitting .218.  For his career, he owned a .221 batting average and epitomized the stereotype of an all-glove, no bat middle infielder.  According to his SABR biography, both Tommy Lasorda and Tony Taylor said that Miranda was the best defensive shortstop they had ever seen play.

Building the Set
February 7, 2007 from Dad's eBay purchases - Card #287
Our first son Doug was born in December 2006, and this happy event led directly to my Dad visiting us on a more regular basis.  Dad was living by himself at this point in Mays Landing, New Jersey and he detested the 40 minute ride north to our house.  Among all the very positive memories I have of my Dad, one of my few negative memories is the fact he absolutely seemed to loathe driving and that loathing increased exponentially if there was traffic or if it were dark.  But he made the trips anyway, sometimes staying no more than an hour, because he was so incredibly anxious and excited to spend time with his grandson.

By the time his second grandson (Ben) was born in April 2010, my Dad's health had begun failing and whatever visits we had were pre-arranged or consisted of us visiting him.  Which is why these visits during Doug's infancy and first few years are so special to me.  My Dad would show up, ecstatic to see Doug, there would be some small talk and we'd complain about the Phillies, and then he'd leave.  But on his way out, he'd always say he'd see us again in a few days and I'd look forward to these visits.

Dad with Jenna, Doug and me riding a merry-go-round
in Ocean City, August 2007
This background is needed to better explain how this Willie Miranda card came into our set.  (I first shared all of this a few years ago in the post for the Jack Harshman card - #29.)  In 2007, My Dad's days mostly consisted of an occasional round of golf, calls and visits to his kids - my sister and me, watching cable news, an afternoon nap and scouring eBay.  Most (but not all) of his eBay purchases benefitted me in the form of 1956 Topps cards we needed for our set.  He'd show up at our house for a visit with Doug and nonchalantly hand me one of his recent purchases.  He handed me this Miranda card on February 7, 2007, along with the Jim Wilson (#171) card.

Throughout 2007, I suspect he had a backlog of purchased 1956 Topps cards piled up on his desk at his house, and he'd grab one or two to deliver to me as he was heading out the door to make the 40 minute drive to visit Doug.  Not to ruin the ending for this blog, but this is how we finished the 1956 Topps set.  Not with one last glorious purchase at a baseball card show, but with my Dad systematically and methodically checking off cards from our checklist through eBay purchases.

Together with my Mom, he'd deliver the last 29 cards we needed to complete the set in 2007 as a Christmas present to me that year.

The Card
It's fitting for Topps to use an action photo of Miranda playing the field rather than showing him up at bat.  I'm pretty sure you can make out pinstripes on Miranda's uniform, meaning the photo was taken during his time with the Yankees.  The head shot is the same used for his 1955 Topps card, but a different photo than his 1954 Topps card.  It's the 11th instance of a player having cards in both the 1954 and 1955 Topps set with a different photo used for the 1954 Topps card.

The middle cartoon is very generous.  Miranda's batting average was in fact steadily increasing - .211 in 1952, .219 in 1953, .250 in 1954, and .255 in 1955.  He'd break the streak in 1956 (see below).  Miranda was included in the massive 17-player trade in November 1954 between the Orioles and Yankees.  I detailed the trade in my post for Bob Turley's (#40) card.

Orioles Team Set

1956 Season
Again serving as the everyday shortstop for the Orioles, Miranda appeared in 148 games and batted .217.  Still steady on defense, his offense continued to struggle and he endured an 0 for 41 slump in August.  His infield mates on that 6th place Orioles team included Bob Boyd at first, Billy Gardner at second and George Kell (#195) at third.

His SABR biography notes Miranda had been invited by teammate Tom Gastall to take a flight with him in a small plane Gastall had recently bought.  Miranda declined the invitation and warned Gastall not to "go up in that thing."  Sadly, Gastall didn't heed Miranda's warning and the back-up catcher died when his plane crashed on September 20th.

Gastall is featured in the team's photo on the Orioles team card (#100) and Bob Lemke created a card for the late catcher in the style of the 1956 Topps set.  I'm showing it here and here's a link to Lemke's original post from May 2011.

1953 Topps #278
1954 Topps #56
1957 Topps #151
1958 Topps #179
1959 Topps #540
Other Notable Baseball Cards
First Mainstream Card:  1953 Topps #278
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (7):  1953-1959
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  1994 Topps Archives 1954 #56

26 - Miranda non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 4/25/20.

Sources:  
Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
SABR
The Trading Card Database

In some cases, the first and last cards listed above are subjective and chosen by me if multiple cards were released within the same year.  Most recent mainstream card may also be subjective and does not include extremely low serial numbered cards, buybacks or cut autograph cards.