Friday, January 22, 2021

#133 Ray Narleski - Cleveland Indians

Raymond Edmond Narleski
Cleveland Indians

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  6'1"  Weight:  175
Born:  November 25, 1928, Camden, NJ
Signed:  Signed by the Cleveland Indians as a free agent before 1948 season
Major League Teams:  Cleveland Indians 1954-1958; Detroit Tigers 1959
Died:  March 29, 2012, Clementon, NJ (age 83)

South Jersey's own Ray Narleski was one of the game's top relievers in 1955, appearing in a league-leading 60 games and securing a league-leading 19 saves.  His record that season was 9-1 with a 3.71 ERA over 111 2/3 inning pitched, earning him 6th place in the A.L. MVP voting.  Narleski would be named to two All-Star teams in 1956 and 1958.  He gradually worked his way into the Indians' starting pitching rotation, winning 11 games in 1957 and 13 games in 1958.  In November 1958, Narleski was traded with Ossie Alvarez and Don Mossi (#39) to the Tigers for Al Cicotte and Billy Martin (#181).  He and Tom Morgan were the two top relievers for the Tigers in 1959, with Narleski appearing in 42 games and converting 5 saves.

Narleski missed the entire 1960 season following back surgery that left him hospitalized for six weeks.  Attempting to make a comeback in 1961, Narleski refused an assignment to the minor leagues and was released by the Tigers.  In six short seasons in the majors, he compiled a record of 43-33 with a 3.60 ERA and 58 saves.

Interestingly enough, and since we're also from South Jersey, my family knows Narleski's family.  His daughter-in-law became a family friend when our sons attended her music classes as toddlers.  It was her classes that had a huge impact on both our sons, but especially our youngest son Ben as he's since become an excellent piano player.

Building the Set
October 2, 1993 in Winston-Salem, NC - Card #120
This is one of two cards purchased right before my 20th birthday in 1993 from Tommy's Collectibles in Winston-Salem, not far from the Wake Forest campus.  We paid $6 for this Narleski card and $9 for the Bill Renna (#82) card.  As a college freshman in the spring and a sophomore in the fall, we only added 13 cards total to our 1956 Topps set in 1993.  This is the first of seven cards we purchased for our set from Tommy's Collectibles between October 1993 and December 1996.

I have mostly wonderful memories of my early college years, as I was in that sweet spot between leaving behind high school and figuring out what I would do next.  Majors hadn't yet been declared and while there was plenty of studying, I also recall having my share of fun too.  My family visited for my birthday in early October 1993, and I suspect this card was purchased while they were visiting.  One of my favorite pictures from this time is one of my Grandmother, my Mom and me standing on the Wake Forest Quad during their visit.

The Card / Indians Team Set
The large photo is the same used for Narleski's 1955 Topps rookie card.  The back of the card pays tribute to Narleski's league leading appearances in 1955, and the middle panel contains a clever (for the time) allusion to the Wild West and the cowboys and indians trope popular throughout the 1950s.  The final cartoon panel refers to the one start Narleski made in 1955, during the second game of a double header against the Red Sox on June 17th.  He went all nine innings, allowing an unearned run on four hits.

Narleski would have cracked the Indians' starting pitching rotation earlier than he did, but at the time they possessed perhaps the best rotation in baseball with Early Wynn (#187), Herb Score (#140), Bob Lemon (#255) and Mike Garcia (#210).

1956 Season
Narleski was nearly unhittable at the start of the 1956 season, and he went 24 2/3 innings without allowing a run between May 25th and June 20th.  On July 2nd, he suffered an elbow injury that cost him two months of the season.  Selected to the All-Star Game, Narleski was unable to participate because of the injury.  He finished the season with a record of 3-2 and a 1.52 ERA over 32 relief appearances.  Due to the time he missed, closing duties fell to Don Mossi (#39), who recorded a team-leading 11 saves.

1955 Bowman #96
1957 Topps #144
1958 Topps #439
1959 Topps #442
1960 Topps #161

Other Notable Baseball Cards

First Mainstream Card:  1955 Bowman #96
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (6):  1955-1960
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  1960 Topps #161

24 - Narleski non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 1/8/21.

Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
The Trading Card Database

Friday, January 15, 2021

#132 Bobby Avila - Cleveland Indians

Roberto Francisco Avila
Cleveland Indians
Second Base

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  5'10"  Weight:  175
Born:  April 2, 1924, Veracruz, Mexico
Signed:  "Jumped" from Puebla (Mexican) to the Cleveland Indians before 1948 season
Major League Teams:  Cleveland Indians 1949-1958; Baltimore Orioles 1959; Boston Red Sox 1959; Milwaukee Braves 1959
Died:  October 26, 2004, Veracruz, Mexico (age 80)

Bobby Avila was a three-time All-Star who enjoyed his best season in 1954 when helped lead the Indians to an American League pennant while winning the league's batting title.  His .341 average that season earned him honors as The Sporting News American League Player of the Year.  He finished third in A.L. MVP voting behind Yogi Berra (#110) and teammate Larry Doby (#250).  A fine defensive second baseman, Avila was the regular at that position for the Indians between 1951 and 1957.  He finished first in fielding percentage at second base in 1953, first in assists in 1953 and 1954 and was in the top ten for putouts at second seven times.  After brief stints with three teams in 1959, Avila returned to Mexico for one final season as a professional player.  He hit .333 for the Mexico City Tigers and set a record with 124 walks.  In 1,300 Major League games, Avila batted .281 with 1,296 hits.

Following his playing career, Avila owned the Veracruz Eagles in the Mexican League and eventually became the league's president.  Avila was inducted into the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.  He also entered politics, serving two terms in the Mexican national legislature after earlier being elected mayor of his hometown, Veracruz.  He was the first Mexican-born player to find success in American baseball, becoming a national hero and serving as an inspiration for future Mexican-born players, including Fernando Valenzuela.  

Building the Set
August 29, 1996 in Winston-Salem, NC - Card #145
I attended college at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  On humid days, or after a heavy rain, the air was heavy with the faint smell of tobacco.  I absolutely loved my time as a Demon Deacon and I realize how lucky I was to be able to attend such a phenomenal college.

There was a baseball card store called Season Ticket on Silas Creek Parkway I discovered half-way through my senior year, and I'd frequent the store whenever I had a little extra spending money - which honestly wasn't very often.  Given the timing of this purchase, I don't remember if my Dad was with me or not.  Save for a visit north for the 1996 All-Star Game, I spent the summer of 1996 living in Winston-Salem and this might have been a pre-start of the semester purchase that I made on my own.  I paid $10 for a lot of four cards needed for our 1956 Topps set, which included this Avila card.  $10 would have bought a lot of Taco Ball back then (and it still would now) but adding four more cards to our set was worth the sacrifice.  Joining the Avila card were the cards of Carlos Paula (#4), Jim Owens (#114) and Joe DeMaestri (#161).  The checklist shown here would have been the one I had with me for this purchase.

I haven't been back to North Carolina in almost 20 years and whenever I get around to taking my wife and my sons on a road trip to visit my old campus, I'd love to see if Season Ticket is still there.

The Card / Indians Team Set
I have to imagine somebody somewhere has already gone through this exercise, but I decided to try to figure out when the action photo of Avila crossing home plate was taken.  No one with the Indians wore #6 in 1955, so my starting point was 1954 when Bill Glynn wore #6, Doby wore #14 and Al Smith (#105) wore #32.  Within a minute or so, and with the help of Baseball Reference, I found this photo was most likely taken on August 14, 1954 at Cleveland Stadium against the Orioles.  With the Orioles up 3-0, Avila hit a three-run home in the bottom of the 8th off Orioles pitcher Don Larsen (#332), scoring Glynn and Smith.  Doby was the on-deck batter.

The birthday on the back is completely different than what Baseball Reference lists.  The cartoons on the back highlight Avila's 1954 battle title victory along with his strong fielding skills.  His one minor league season referenced came in 1948 with the Baltimore Orioles, then the top farm team for the Indians.

This is Avila's first appearance in a Topps set since 1952, and he must have been under an exclusive contract with Bowman during those missing years.

1956 Season
This was a tough season for Avila, and it marked the beginning of the second baseman's steady decline over the next three seasons.  Appearing in 138 games, Avila hit just .224 for an Indians team that finished in second place largely due to strong starting pitching from Early Wynn (#187), Herb Score (#140) and Bob Lemon (#255).

1951 Bowman #188
1952 Topps #257
1954 Bowman #68
1957 Topps #195
1960 Topps #90

Other Notable Baseball Cards

First Mainstream Card:  1951 Bowman #188
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (6):  1952, 1956-1960
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  1983 Topps 1952 Reprint Series #257

57 - Avila non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 12/14/20.

Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
The Trading Card Database

Friday, January 8, 2021

#131 Bob Roselli - Milwaukee Braves

Robert Edward Roselli
Milwaukee Braves

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  5'11"  Weight:  185
Born:  December 10, 1931, San Francisco, CA
Signed:  Signed by the Boston Braves as an amateur free agent before 1950 season
Major League Teams:  Milwaukee Braves 1955-1956, 1958; Chicago White Sox 1961-1962
Died:  November 6, 2009, Roseville, CA (age 77)

Bob Roselli enjoyed a few cups of coffee in the Majors with the Braves in 1955 (6 games), 1956 (4 games) and 1958 (1 game) as the back-up to regular catcher Del Crandall (#175), before seeing more action with the White Sox in the early 1960s.  Roselli started his professional career in the Braves' minor league system before missing all of 1954 and most of 1955 while serving in Korea.  In his 11 games with the Braves, he hit .250 with one home run.

Selected by the White Sox in the 1960 annual rule 5 draft, Roselli settled in for two seasons as the back-up to Sherm Lollar (#243).  He appeared in 22 games in 1961 and a career-high 35 games in 1962, batting .216 with 9 RBIs.  He retired after the 1963 season in which he played for the Angels' Triple-A team, the Hawaii Islanders.  Roselli served as a scout for the Orioles and Reds following his playing days.

Building the Set
December 2, 2000 from Raleigh, NC - Card #210
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 / Braves Team Set
It's a great-looking card, but I'm surprised Roselli earned a card in the set, as he had only appeared in 6 games with the Braves going 2 for 9 (.222) at the time this card was issued.  No offense to Roselli here, but if Topps was looking to produce a card for a Braves' back-up catcher, Del Rice would have been the more deserving candidate.  Rice appeared in 27 games in 1955 to Roselli's 6.  The back of the card pays tribute to Roselli's military service and includes the incorrect prediction that his "long ball hitting should help the Braves this year."  He hit one home run in 1956, on July 21st against the Phillies' Harvey Haddix (#77), and it was to be his last hit in the Majors until 1961.

1956 Season
Roselli's four appearances (1 in April, 1 in June, 2 in July) all came as late-inning replacements as he didn't play earlier than the 7th inning.  With the Braves, he hit .500 (1 for 2) with his one hit being the home run off Haddix.  With the Wichita Braves, Roselli appeared in 24 games and batted .203 with a pair of RBIs.

1961 Topps #529
1962 Topps #363

Other Notable Baseball Cards

First Mainstream Card:  1956 Topps #131
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (3):  1956, 1961-1962
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  1962 Topps #363

9 - Roselli non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 12/1/20.

Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
The Trading Card Database

Friday, January 1, 2021

#130 Willie Mays - New York Giants

Willie Howard Mays
New York Giants

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  5'10"  Weight:  170
Born:  May 6, 1931, Westfield, AL
Signed:  Signed by the New York Giants as an amateur free agent, June 20, 1950
Major League Teams:  New York Giants 1951-1952, 1954-1957; San Francisco Giants 1958-1972; New York Mets 1972-1973
Hall of Fame Induction:  1979

1959 Topps #464
In many ways, these posts covering the cards of well-known Hall of Famers are much harder to compose than the posts for the cards of short-time, little known players.  What could I possibly write here about Willie Mays, the "Say Hey Kid," that hasn't already been written or that properly pays tribute to one of the greatest baseball players of all time?

The first line of Mays' Hall of Fame plaque sums up his career fairly well:  "One of baseball's most colorful and exciting stars, excelled in all phases of the game."  Mays was the 1951 Rookie of the Year, the National League's MVP in 1954 and 1965, a 24-time All-Star (a record), a 12-time Gold Glove winner, and the batting champ in 1954, the same season he led the Giants to their first World Series title since 1933.  His Baseball Reference WAR of 156.2 is third all-time for position players behind his godson Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth.  Upon his retirement, he ranked third all-time in home runs (660), runs (2,062) and total bases (6,066).  Mays' #24 was retired by the Giants in 1972, and the World Series MVP trophy was renamed for him in 2017.

He played the game with joyful abandon, and I would have loved to have seen him play live.  This is the perfect card to kick off my 2021 series of posts of cards from the 1956 Topps set, my sixth active year with this blog, and what I hope is a healthy, happy and joyful year for anyone reading this.

Building the Set
Summer of 1983 or 1984 in Millville, NJ - Card #12
One of the Original 44, I recently re-told the story of how my Dad and I started collecting this set with the Ed Mathews (#107) post.  Given how many times I handled those 44 cards throughout the 1980s, it's amazing this card is still in the great shape it's in.

At some point in August 1987 before we purchased the first four cards to compliment the Original 44, I set about chronicling all the baseball cards in my growing collection that I considered to be "Oldies," or cards released between 1950 and 1969.  The list here (front and back) shows the result of this enjoyable summer exercise with this Mays card as the most expensive card in my collection at the time with a book price of $75.  This was followed in price by the 1966 Topps Mickey Mantle card, which will one day serve as the cornerstone of a 1966 Topps set I plan on completing, the 1956 Topps Yankees team card (#251) and the 1967 Topps Steve Carlton card.

This Mays card was (and still is) considered to be one of my most valuable treasures, and I couldn't believe then such a card had found its way into my collection.

The Card / Giants Team Set
Maybe this has been researched somewhere more thoroughly, but I can only assume the catcher in the photo is a Phillies catcher, and I'll further assume the play took place in early 1955.  Given the "Giants" across Mays' jersey, this would have been during a home game and the first instance of Mays scoring in what could have been a close play at the plate against the Phillies came in game two of a double header on April 17, 1955.  In the fourth inning, Mays scored on a Monte Irvin (#194) sacrifice fly with Phillies catcher Smoky Burgess (#192) behind the plate.  The large head shot photo of Mays was also used on his 1954 and 1955 Topps cards.  

The cartoon panels on the back of the card neatly summarize Mays' offensive and defensive prowess.  This card was reprinted in 1997 in three different sets - 1997 Topps Willie Mays Reprints, Reprints Finest and Reprints Finest Refractors.

1956 Season
Mays appeared in 152 games for the Giants, starting all but four of their games in center field.  The two players to receive starts in center for the Giants in 1956 other than Mays were Jackie Brandt with 3 games and Whitey Lockman (#205) with 1 game.  Mays nearly won the team's triple crown, leading with 36 home runs and 84 RBIs, but his .296 average fell a few points short of Brandt's .299.  Mays' 40 stolen bases led the league and started a streak in which he'd lead the league four seasons in a row.  On May 6th, his 25th birthday, he stole four bases against the Cardinals.  To go along with his power and his defense, Mays added speed on the base paths to his tool box, bringing back the stolen base as an offensive weapon for the first time since the days of Ty Cobb. 

Mays went 1 for 3 in the All-Star Game, hitting a home run off Whitey Ford (#240) in the fourth inning.

1951 Bowman #305
1954 Topps #90
1961 Topps #579
1965 Topps #250
1973 Topps #305

Other Notable Baseball Cards

First Mainstream Card:  1951 Bowman #305
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (25):  1952-1975, 1986
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  2020 Topps Archives #297

So far within the 1956 Topps set, only Hank Aaron (#31) has appeared in more Topps flagship sets than Mays, with 28.  Roberto Clemente (#33) and Chuck Tanner (#69) have both appeared in 23.

2,088 - Mays non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 11/29/20.

Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
National Baseball Hall of Fame
The Trading Card Database

Friday, December 25, 2020

#129 "Jake" Martin - Pittsburgh Pirates

Paul Charles Martin
Pittsburgh Pirates

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  6'6"  Weight:  235
Born:  March 9, 1932, Brownstown, PA
Signed:  Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as an amateur free agent, June 28, 1955
Major League Teams:  Pittsburgh Pirates 1955
Died:  October 11, 2011, San Diego, CA (age 79)

Paul "Jake" Martin was a big right-handed pitcher singed as a bonus baby in 1955.  He appeared in only seven games for the Pirates in 1955 before suffering a career-ending arm injury.  Martin made his big league debut on July 2, 1955 against the future World Champion Brooklyn Dodgers.  He pitched two shutout innings, striking out three batters - Don Zimmer (#99) and Jackie Robinson (#30) twice.  Martin's next six outings all resulted in at least one run scored with his final appearance on August 16th leading to five runs scored by the Phillies in two innings of work.  His career line was 0-1 with a 14.14 ERA with 3 strikeouts and 17 walks.  Martin was released by the Pirates on April 27, 1956.

Building the Set

October 3, 1988 in Millville, NJ - Card #67
This was one of three 1956 Topps cards my parents gave me for my 15th birthday, the others being Ray Moore (#43) and Dean Stone (#87).  I'm 95% certain my Dad purchased these cards at a baseball card show held at our local YMCA in August and then gave them to me a few months later.  I have in my records that this card cost him $3.  I was more focused on building our 1973 Topps set in the summer of '88, as those cards were more readily available and much cheaper.  My allowance from mowing lawns only went so far.

We didn't get autographs from either of the show's guests, Spook Jacobs or Chris Short and I included the front and back of the show's flyer in previous posts.  I'm kicking myself now, over 30 years later, for not spending the $2 it would have cost me for an autograph and a picture with Short.  

I worked at the Millville YMCA in the summer of 1990 before it closed its doors for good that August.  In 1997, the building was repurposed as an apartment complex with the pool and gym renovated and updated and it's now operated as The Holly City Family Center.

The Card / Pirates Team Set
This is the one and only baseball card issued for Martin during his playing days, given his professional career lasted 7 games.  The card was reprinted for Martin to sign as part of the 2005 Topps Heritage Real One Autographs insert set.  Topps had to act quickly to get pictures of the big righty, as he was only active between early July and mid-August.  This is the first full on profile photo used in the set and Martin's nickname "Jake" is present in his signature.

Flipping to the back, the first two cartoon panels tell the story of Martin's arrival and big league debut against the Dodgers.  The third panel shows Martin's goal of becoming a minister.  I found his obituary, where it mentions he did attend Nyack Theological Seminary in New York and he served as a minister for a short time.  His true calling was has a long-time chiropractor in San Diego, where he lived for nearly 50 years.  As a respected chiropractor, he apparently traded his "Jake" nickname for "Doc."

1956 Season
There's nothing to report here.  Martin was released by the Pirates in April and would never again play professional baseball.  He's the third player to have a card in the set who had already appeared in his final game, joining Nelson Burbrink (#27) and Karl Spooner (#83).

Other Notable Baseball Cards
First Mainstream Card:  1956 Topps #129
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (1):  1956
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  1956 Topps #129

4 - Martin non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 11/27/20.

Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
The Trading Card Database

Friday, December 18, 2020

#128 Eddie Yost - Washington Nationals

Edward Frederick Yost
Washington Nationals
Third Base

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  5'10"  Weight:  170
Born:  October 13, 1926, Brooklyn, NY
Signed:  Signed by the Washington Senators as an amateur free agent before 1944 season
Major League Teams:  Washington Senators 1944, 1946-1958; Detroit Tigers 1959-1960; Los Angeles Angels 1961-1962
As a Manager:  Washington Senators 1963
Died:  October 16, 2012, Weston, MA (age 86)

As the long-time regular third baseman and lead-off man for the Washington Senators, Eddie Yost earned the nickname "The Walking Man" by topping the American League in walks in six different seasons.  His 1,614 career walks still ranks him 11th on baseball's all-time list.  Yost led the league in doubles in 1951 with 36 and was an All-Star in 1952.  After 14 seasons with the basement-dwelling Senators, Yost was traded to the Tigers in December 1958 to make room for the up and coming Harmon Killebrew (#164).  With the Tigers, Yost enjoyed two of his best seasons, leading the league in runs scored (115) in 1959 and on-base percentage in both 1959 and 1960.  He was selected by the Angels in the 1960 expansion draft and holds the distinction of being the first ever Angel to appear in a game as he was their lead-off hitter in the franchise's first game on April 11, 1961.  Yost retired after 18 seasons with a career .254 batting average, 139 home runs and a .394 on-base percentage.  A fine fielder too, he owned a lifetime fielding percentage of .957.  His 28 lead-off home runs were the most ever until Bobby Bonds broke in his record in the 1970s.

After his playing career, Yost began a 23-year career as a coach.  He briefly served as a player-coach with the 1962 Angels and then began a five-year stint as a Senators coach in 1963.  When his former teammate Mickey Vernon (#228) was fired as Senators manager, Yost served as an interim manager for one game (a loss) before Gil Hodges (#145) took over.  Yost followed Hodges to the Mets where he served as a coach between 1968 and 1976, and he earned his only World Series ring as the third base coach for the 1969 "Miracle Mets" team.  His final coaching job came with the Red Sox under managers Don Zimmer (#99) and Ralph Houk between 1977 and 1984.

Building the Set
Summer of 1983 or 1984 in Millville, NJ - Card #11
One of the Original 44, I recently re-told the story of how my Dad and I started collecting this set with the Ed Mathews (#107) post.  Given how many times I handled those 44 cards throughout the 1980s, it's amazing this card is still in the great shape it's in.

The Card / Nationals Team Set
In order to be able to spell out Yost's "third base" position, Topps shortened the team name to just "Nats" for the first time in this set.  Presumably under exclusive contract with Bowman, this card marks Yost's return to Topps sets for the first time since 1952.  The back of the card highlights his fine play at third base and his ability to draw walks.  The last cartoon panel mentions his degree from New York University.  I'm assuming he earned his undergraduate degree in 1950, as his Wikipedia biography states he earned his Master's degree in physical education in 1953.

1956 Season
Yost appeared in 152 games for the Senators, leading the league in walks with 151 and earning an on-base percentage of .412 despite a batting average of only .231.  To date, that's the lowest batting average for any player with an on-base percentage over .400 in any season.  Late in the summer, it appeared as if Yost may be on track to break Babe Ruth's record for most walks in a season (170).  However, Yost's 151 walks fell short but still easily lead the league with Mickey Mantle (#135) finishing a distant second with 39 fewer walks.  In mid-September, Yost was replaced at third base by Killebrew for the Senators' final 18 games - a sign of things to come.

1949 Bowman #32
1952 Topps #123
1959 Topps #2
1962 Topps #176 (Batting)
1974 Topps #179

Other Notable Baseball Cards

First Mainstream Card:  1949 Bowman #32
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (10):  1951-1952, 1956-1962, 1973-1974
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  2011 Topps Lineage Autographs #RA-EY

77 - Yost non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 11/27/20.

Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
The Trading Card Database

Friday, December 11, 2020

#127 Willie Jones - Philadelphia Phillies

Willie Edward Jones
Philadelphia Phillies
Third Base

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  6'1"  Weight:  188
Born:  August 16, 1925, Dillon, SC
Signed:  Signed by the Philadelphia Phillies as an amateur free agent before 1947 season
Major League Teams:  Philadelphia Phillies 1947-1959; Cleveland Indians 1959; Cincinnati Reds 1959-1961
Died:  October 18, 1983, Cincinnati, OH (age 58)

2006 Toyota Phillies Wall of Fame Postcards
Willie "Puddin' Head" Jones was an All-Star for the Whiz Kids, and before Mike Schmidt came along was considered the best third basemen in Phillies franchise history.  Following his time serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Jones was the regular third baseman for the Phillies between 1949 and 1958, accumulating 180 home runs with the club while batting .258.  He was the top defensive third baseman in the National League in the 1950s, leading the league in fielding percentage at that position six times and currently sitting at 49th on the all-time list.  He topped the league in putouts seven times (11th all-time), assists twice and double plays turned twice.  Jones' best season came in 1950 with the pennant-winning Whiz Kids when he batted .267 while hitting his career highs in home runs (25) and RBIs (88).

Jones retired after 15 seasons with 1,502 career hits and he was inducted posthumously into the Phillies Wall of Fame in 1995.

According to his SABR biography, his "Puddin' Head" nickname allegedly came from a 1933 song performed by Rudy Valllee and his Connecticut Yankees:  "Oh Puddin' Head Jones was fat and funny / Dumber than sticks and stones. / Now that is just why the kids all called him / Wooden head, puddin' head Jones."

Building the Set
May 21, 1989 in Millville, NJ - Card #73
My notes indicate we purchased two cards at the "Millville Baseball Card Show IV" on this day - this Jones card for $7,50 and the Granny Hamner (#197) card for $10.  My memory is hazy here, but I think this was a very small show (maybe 12 tables?) held inside the cafeteria at Millville Memorial Junior High School on Broad Street.  My Dad was a guidance counselor there for 30-plus years, and I would have been a student there at the time about to finish up 9th grade.

The Card / Phillies Team Set
Jones embraced his nickname, as evidenced by the facsimile autograph here including his Puddin' Head nickname and not Willie.  In the action shot, it doesn't look as if the home plate umpire has made the call yet so I'm declaring Jones safe at home.  The main head shot is slightly different than what Topps used on Jones' 1954 Topps card.

Two of the three cartoon panels on the back of the card rightfully focus on Jones' defensive skills.  The middle panel mentions his four-double game in 1949.  He accomplished that feat on April 20, 1949 against the Boston Braves, driving in three runs in the process, but with the Phillies still losing to the Braves, 6-5.  Jones hit his doubles off Braves' pitchers Bill Voiselle (3 times) and Nels Potter.

1956 Season
A veteran with the Phillies at this point in his career, Jones appeared in 149 games while batting .277 with 17 home runs and 78 RBIs.  Both home run and RBI marks were third on the club behind catcher Stan Lopata (#183) and left fielder Del Ennis (#220).  Jones started all but five games at third for the Phillies in 1956, missing four games at the start of the season and with Bobby Morgan (#337) filling in for him.

Phillies Career
In 13 seasons with the Phillies, Jones appeared in 1,520 games and his 1,495 games at third base for the team are second only to Schmidt and his 2,212 games.  His RBI total of 753 is currently 10th among all Phillies, and he's also in the franchise top 10 for walks (8th with 694).

As told here in a wonderful article that appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer several years ago, Jones also sold Christmas trees during the offseason.

He was somewhat unexpectedly traded to the Indians on June 6, 1959 for Jim Bolger and cash, and less than a month later the Indians swapped him to the Reds.

1949 Bowman #92
1951 Bowman #112
1953 Topps #88
1959 Topps #208
1961 Topps #497

Other Notable Baseball Cards

First Mainstream Card:  1949 Bowman #92
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (10):  1951-1954, 1956-1961
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  1994 Topps Archives 1954 #41

55 - Jones non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 11/22/20.

Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
The Phillies Room
The Trading Card Database