Friday, May 7, 2021

#148 Alvin Dark - New York Giants

Alvin Ralph Dark
New York Giants

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  5'11"  Weight:  185
Born:  January 7, 1922, Comanche, OK
Signed:  Signed by the Boston Braves as an amateur free agent, July 4, 1946
Major League Teams:  Boston Braves 1946, 1948-1949; New York Giants 1950-1956; St. Louis Cardinals 1956-1958; Chicago Cubs 1958-1959; Philadelphia Phillies 1960; Milwaukee Braves 1960
As a Manager:  San Francisco Giants 1961-1964; Kansas City Athletics 1966-1967; Cleveland Indians 1968-1971; Oakland Athletics 1974-1975; San Diego Padres 1977
Died:  November 13, 2014, Easley, SC (age 92)

Al Dark spent 27 years in the majors first as an All-Star shortstop between 1946 and 1960 and then as a successful manager between 1961 and 1977.  Dark was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1948, batting .322 with 48 RBIs.  He was a three-time All-Star (1951, 1952 and 1954) and earned MVP votes in six different seasons.  Dark led the league in doubles with 41 in 1951, the year he helped the Giants reach the World Series.  He'd have to wait until 1954 to win his first World Series ring when he batted .412 during the series while helping the Giants sweep the Indians.  Dark finished eight seasons in the top five for fielding percentage among all National League shortstops and he led the league in double plays turned three times.  In 1,828 career games, Dark batted .289 with 126 home runs and 2,089 hits.

After retiring as a player, Dark began his managerial career with the Giants in 1961, guiding the team to the National League pennant in 1962.  After stints with the Kansas City Athletics and Indians, Dark took over the Oakland Athletics in 1974 and led the team to its third straight World Series.  (The team had won in 1972 and 1973 with Dick Williams as the manager.)  He was 994-954 as a manager, just missing the 1,000-win plateau.

Building the Set
December 4, 1999 in Raleigh, NC - Card #190
This is one of four cards I acquired at the "Holiday Sports Classic" baseball card show held in Raleigh in late 1999.  I paid $10 for the Cubs team card (#11) and another $5 for three commons - this Zauchin card, Alvin Dark (#148) and Chico Carrasquel (#230).  Given the timing of this show right before the holidays, I would have attended by myself but I most likely called my Dad back in Millville, New Jersey to update him on my purchases later that day.

From the notes I took on the flyer shown here, I didn't have much of a budget for this show as I spent $15 for the four cards for our 1956 Topps set and a whopping $6.30 for five cards for my 1972 Topps set.  It's also interesting to look back at this flyer and remember how bonkers the Beanie Baby craze was in the late 1990s.

The Card / Giants Team Set
Dark returned to Topps sets after being exclusively in the Bowman sets in 1954 and 1955.  On the back of the card, Topps shaved a year off Dark's age as he was actually born in 1922.  The first cartoon panel on the back highlights his time at Louisiana State University, where he lettered in baseball, basketball and football.

1956 Season
Dark was the Giants' opening day shortstop and in 48 games with his long-time club he batted .252.  But the team got off to a rough start, mired in seventh place in the National League by early June and Giants' management decided a shake-up was in order.  On June 14th, Dark, Ray Katt, Don Liddle (#325) and Whitey Lockman (#205), along with cash, were traded to the Cardinals for Jackie Brandt, Dick Littlefield, Bill Sarni (#247), Red Schoendienst (#165) and two players to be named later.  Given the popularity of Dark with the Giants and Schoendienst with the Cardinals, I'm assuming it was a shocking deal when first announced.

Dark settled in as the everyday shortstop for the Cardinals, batting .286 over 100 games with 37 RBIs.

Phillies Career

Dark came to the Phillies in the trade that saw popular Phillie and future Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn (#120) depart the franchise.  On January 11, 1960, the Phillies acquired Dark, John Buzhardt and Jim Woods from the Cubs for Ashburn.  With Dark at 38, only Dave Philly (#222) was older on the club at 40.  Dark was the Phillies' opening day third baseman in 1960 and he was a regular in the line-up until the team traded him on June 23rd to the Braves for Joe Morgan.

His first hit of the season in the team's home opener on April 14th was the 2,000 of his career, a sixth inning infield single off pitcher Don McMahon.  With the Phillies, Dark hit .242 over 55 games, with 3 home runs and 14 RBIs.  His short time with the club earned him a 1960 Topps card, released late in the season.

1949 Bowman #67
1951 Bowman #14
1958 Topps #125
1960 Topps #472
1978 Topps #467

Other Notable Baseball Cards

First Mainstream Card:  1949 Bowman #67
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (19):  1952-1953, 1956-1964, 1966-1970, 1975, 1978
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  2011 Topps Lineage Autographs #RA-AD

137 - Dark non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 5/5/21.

Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
The Phillies Room
The Trading Card Database

Friday, April 30, 2021

#147 Earl Torgeson - Detroit Tigers

Clifford Earl Torgeson
Detroit Tigers
First Base

Bats:  Left  Throws:  Left  Height:  6'3"  Weight:  180
Born:  January 1, 1924, Snohomish, WA
Acquired:  Traded by Seattle (PCL) to the Boston Braves for two players to be named later (Tony York and Bill Ramsey), January 5, 1946
Major League Teams:  Boston Braves 1947-1952; Philadelphia Phillies 1953-1955; Detroit Tigers 1955-1957; Chicago White Sox 1957-1961; New York Yankees 1961
Died:  November 8, 1990, Everett, WA (age 66)

Earl Torgeson enjoyed a 15-year big league career with five different teams, leading the league in runs scored with 120 in 1950 and finishing in the top ten for fielding percentage by a first baseman in five different seasons.  His best seasons came with the Boston Braves.  In 1950, he hit a career high .290 with 23 home runs and 87 RBIs, and the following season he reached his career high in both home runs (24) and RBIs (92).  Torgeson was adept at drawing a walk, finishing in the top ten in the league seven times and his 980 career walks currently ranks 129th all-time.  He was also deceptively speedy, stealing a career high 20 bases in 1951 and finishing in the top ten in seven seasons, during an era when stolen bases were relatively rare.

1950-1969 Phillies Photo Cards
For his career, Torgeson appeared in 1,668 games and batted .265 with 149 home runs, 740 RBIs and 133 stolen bases.  When baseball expanded to his home state in 1969, he briefly managed in the Pilots' minor league system and suited up as the Pilots' hitting coach for the final weeks of the team's existence.

Building the Set
December 2, 2000 from Raleigh, NC - Card #212
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 / Tigers Team Set
This card marks Torgeson's return to Topps after a three-year absence.  For the record, Torgeson is one of seven players and eight total cards in the set featuring the subject wearing glasses.  The others are William Harridge (#1, and the A.L. President), Ernie Oravetz (#51), Clint Courtney (#159), Bill Virdon (#170), Tom Gorman (#246), George Crowe (#254) and Jim Konstanty (#321).  I'll need to check this as I go along, but the action shot has to be one of the only instances of showing someone with their back completely turned to the photographer.  Torgeson wore #9 for the first 10 seasons of his career with the Braves, Phillies and Tigers.

On the back, the cartoon panels highlight his move from Philadelphia to Detroit, and his success as a pinch-hitter.  Torgeson was a career .269 pinch-hitter (59 for 219) with a .419 on-base percentage to go along with 7 home runs and 47 RBIs.

1956 Season
In his first full season in Detroit, Torgeson appeared in 117 games while batting .264 with 12 home runs and 42 RBIs.  He was the club's opening day first baseman and made 75 starts at the position with Jack Phillips and Wayne Belardi receiving 55 and 25 starts respectively.  Torgeson was lucky to have been playing at all as in January 1956 he flipped his convertible, suffering cuts and bruises but no broken bones.  He was fined only $50 for reckless driving while drinking and for not having a driver's license.

Phillies Career

Torgeson came to the Phillies on February 16, 1953 as part of a four-team, five-player trade.  Torgeson went left the Braves with the Phillies sending cash to the Braves and Russ Meyer (#227) to the Dodgers.  He was the team's opening day first baseman in 1953, 1954 and 1955, succeeding Eddie Waitkus as the club's regular at the position.  He suffered a few freak injuries in 1954, tripping over his dog and dislocating his shoulder and then later breaking his thumb.  With his power numbers suffering as a result of his injuries, the Phillies sold Torgeson to the Tigers on June 15, 1955.  Marv Blaylock and Waitkus received the bulk of the playing time at first for the Phillies for the rest of the 1955 season.

In 293 games with the Phillies over 2 1/2 years, Torgeson hit .272 with 17 home runs and 135 RBIs.  He's featured with the Phillies in the 1954 and 1955 Bowman sets, as well as on a team-issued photo card.

1949 Bowman #17
1951 Bowman #99
1954 Bowman #63
1959 Topps #351
1961 Topps #152

Other Notable Baseball Cards

First Mainstream Card:  1949 Bowman #17
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (8):  1951-1952, 1956-1961
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  1985 TCMA 1947 Play Ball #32

42 - Torgeson non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 4/3/21.

Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
The Phillies Room
The Trading Card Database

Friday, April 23, 2021

#146 Washington Nationals Team Card

Topps included full team photos in its baseball card set for the first time in 1956, having previously experimented with team cards in a limited edition 1951 stand-alone set.

Building the Set
December 28, 2007 from Dad's eBay purchase - Card #317
I first shared this story with the Roberto Clemente (#33) post, but I'll repeat myself here.  The way my Dad and I finished the 1956 Topps set was somewhat anti-climatic but nevertheless a joyful memory.  Leading up to the Christmas of 2007, my Dad (with the help of my Mom) scoured eBay and other online baseball card stores for the remaining 29 cards we needed to complete the set.  Throughout the weeks and months leading up to the holidays, he knew we had completed the set but he kept it quiet, wanting to surprise me on Christmas morning.  I have no idea, and I'll never know, what the true last card was that he acquired to finish off the set.  And I have no record, nor was he able to tell me, how much they had paid for any of these final 29 cards.

December 24, 2007 - Dad with his first grandson
Our son Doug had just turned one, and on Christmas morning 2007, we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our families to our house to celebrate the day.  I've had a few rough Christmases, but this was one of the worst as my Dad ended up in the hospital that day and it was the beginning of his health struggles that would continue until he passed away in late 2011.  He was discharged from the hospital three days later, and it was only then we celebrated Christmas together, on December 28th, and I opened the package containing the last of the cards needed for our 1956 Topps set.

Dad was understandably distraught that Christmas, but not solely because of his own health issues.  Because of his unselfish nature, he was worried that he had ruined Christmas for everyone since we had spent the holidays in a hospital.  He was also upset that his surprise package containing those last 29 baseball cards sat in the back seat of his car for three days until he recovered enough to come home.  I was just happy to have him out of the hospital, but I do remember feeling confused and somewhat hopeless as we weren't quite sure yet what was wrong with him.

I don't have any pictures from December 28th, which is unusual for me.  I'm assuming I was just happy that Dad was out of the hospital and taking pictures never crossed my mind.

The Card / Nationals Team Set
According to this recent article, the Washington Senators were formed in 1901 with the team officially changing its name to the Nationals in 1904.  I had always assumed Nationals was the team's nickname with Senators its official name, but it seems it's the other way around.  News accounts confused matters over the next five decades by referring to the club as the Nationals, Nats or Senators.  Prior to the 1956 season, the team changed its official nickname back to the Senators and a few short years later in 1960, the franchise relocated to Minnesota.  Listed below are the players, coaches, batboys and club personnel featured on the card, in a photo that took place prior to a game against the Tigers at Griffith Stadium.  (If you look closely, you can see "DET" on the scoreboard in the background.)

  • Front Row
  • Ernie Oravetz (#51)
  • Pete Runnels (#234)
  • Coach Cookie Lavagetto
  • Coach Joe Fitzgerald
  • Manager Chuck Dressen
  • Coach Ellis Clary
  • Coach Joe Haynes
  • Jose Valdivielso (#237)
  • Clint Courtney (#159)
  • Carlos Paula (#4)
  • 2nd Row
  • Trainer George Lentz
  • Roy Sievers (#75)
  • Tom Umphlett
  • Bruce Edwards
  • Chuck Stobbs (#68)
  • Harmon Killebrew (#164)
  • Dean Stone (#87)
  • Bob Chakales
  • Jerry Schoonmaker (#216)
  • Boby Kline
  • Back Row
  • Johnny Groth (#279, Athletics)
  • Johnny Schmitz (#298, Red Sox)
  • Pedro Ramos (#49)
  • Ed FitzGerald (#198)
  • Spec Shea
  • Mickey Vernon (#228, Red Sox)
  • Mickey McDermott (#340, Yankees)
  • Ted Abernathy
  • Bob Porterfield (#248, Red Sox)
  • Eddie Yost (#128)
  • Camilo Pascual (#98)
  • Juan Delis
Topps misspelled coach Ellis Clary's name as "Cleary," and pitcher Bob Chakales' name as "Chackles."  Batboys Crump, Hoover and Baldwin are seated in front.  The photo was taken at some point during the 1955 season after June 7th, as that's the day the Nationals acquired Chakales, Clint Courtney and Johnny Groth from the White Sox for Jim Busby (#330).  The Tigers visited Washington for a four-game series between June 24th and June 26th, again for a three-game series from August 2nd to August 4th, and finally for a double header on September 11th.  I'd guess this photo was taken during the June series with the Tigers.  Mickey Vernon, referenced on the back, was in his second stint with the club between 1950 and 1955.  Following the 1955 season, Vernon was part of a nine-player trade with the Red Sox.

Flipping to the back, here are the updated categories, including records since set by the Minnesota Twins beginning in 1961:

Most Hits - 1,633 in 1996
Most Home Runs - 307 in 2019
Most Double Plays - 203 in 1979
Most Games Won - 102 in 1965
Most Runs Scored in One Game - 24 in 1996
Additional Pennant Winning Teams - 1965, 1969, 1970, 1987, 1991, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009, 2010, 2019
Additional Championship Teams - 1987, 1991

1956 Season
The Nationals were in the midst of seven consecutive losing seasons, and Washington wouldn't see a team with a winning record until the expansion Washington Senators (who would become the Texas Rangers) won 86 games in 1969.  Guided by manager Chuck Dressen, the Nationals went 59-95 with only the Kansas City Athletics and their 102 losses keeping the club out of the American League basement.  Starting pitcher Chuck Stobbs was the team's best pitcher and potentially its MVP.  Stobbs went 15-15 with a 3.60 ERA over 37 games.  Pedro Ramos won 12 games for the team with no reliever recording more than 4 saves.  First baseman Pete Runnels led the club with a .310 batting average with left fielder Roy Sievers having the most home runs (29) and right fielder Jim Lemon driving in one more run (96) than Sievers.

Nationals Cards That Never Were
If I were put in charge of a fifth series for the 1956 Topps set, here are the Nationals cards I'd include:
  • Chuck Dressen (manager) - After guiding the Dodgers to the N.L. pennant in 1952 and 1953, Dressen managed the Nationals between 1955 and 1957.  His record with the club was a dreadful 116-212.
  • Jim Lemon (right field) - Every day right fielder Lemon received cards in the 1954 Topps and 1955 Bowman sets, but Topps skipped over him in 1956.  He led the American League in 1956 in triples with 11 and strikeouts with 138.
  • Whitey Herzog (center field) - Future Hall of Famer Herzog received his rookie card in the 1957 Topps set.  He played 117 games for the Nationals in 1956, batting .245.
  • Herb Plews (second base) - Making his big league debut on April 18th, Plews played more games at second base (66) for the Nationals than any player other than Runnels (69 games).  Like Herzog, Plews' rookie card can be found in the 1957 Topps set.
  • Hal Griggs (relief pitcher) - My last two picks here aren't as obvious, but reliever Hal Griggs appeared in 34 games for the Nationals, pitching 98 2/3 innings.  He'd have to wait until the 1958 Topps set to receive his rookie card.
  • Bob Chakales (relief pitcher) - Bob Chakales appeared in a team-leading 43 games and had a decent 4.03 ERA over 96 innings pitched.  His 4 saves tied him for the team lead with Bud Byerly.
Baseball Reference

Friday, April 16, 2021

#145 Gil Hodges - Brooklyn Dodgers

Gilbert Raymond Hodges
Brooklyn Dodgers
First Base

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  6'1"  Weight:  200
Born:  April 4, 1924, Princeton, IN
Signed:  Signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers as an amateur free agent, September 6, 1943
Major League Teams:  Brooklyn Dodgers 1943, 1947-1957; Los Angeles Dodgers 1958-1961; New York Mets 1962-1963
As a Manager:  Washington Senators 1963-1967; New York Mets 1968-1971
Died:  April 2, 1972, West Palm Beach, FL (age 47)

Jackie Robinson (#30) called Gil Hodges, "The core of the Brooklyn Dodgers."  Originally a catcher, Hodges moved to first base for the Dodgers in the late 1940s where he'd be a mainstay for the club throughout the next decade and including their move west to Los Angeles.  Hodges had seven straight seasons of 100 RBIs or more between 1949 and 1955, and his bat helped lead the Dodgers to World Series titles in 1955 and 1959.  He never won an MVP, but the eight-time All-Star was a perennial MVP vote getter.  Considered one of the finest defensive first baseman of his era, he won three Gold Gloves.  His 361 career home runs are second on the Dodgers' all-time list behind Duke Snider's (#150) 389.  Hodges finished his playing career as a member of the expansion Mets and in 1,921 career games he hit .273 with 370 home runs and 1,274 RBIs.

Hodges retired as an active player when the Mets traded him to the Senators on May 23, 1963 for Jim Piersall (#143), and Hodges assumed managerial duties for the departed Mickey Vernon (#228).  His years with the Senators were fairly dismal as the team never finished above sixth place.  He took over at the helm for the Mets in 1968 and led the club to their first improbable World Championship title in 1969 with a miraculous victory over the heavily favored Orioles.  Hodges passed away unexpectedly during spring training 1972, felled by a heart attack after a round of golf with his Mets coaches.

Hodges is considered to be one of the best players from his era not currently in the Hall of Fame.  His #14 was retired by the Mets in 1973 and he was elected into the Mets Hall of Fame in 1982.

Some text for this post originally appeared on my 1965 Topps blog.

Building the Set

December 25, 1998 from San Diego, CA (Kit Young Cards) - Card #173
I'm not sure what inspired me to take the picture shown here back in November 1998, but it shows the view from my couch in my apartment in Raleigh, North Carolina at the time.  I had (and still have) way too many CDs, and my 1956 Topps binder is open to the page showing cards #41 to #48.  That's Art Fowler (#47) and Jim Hegan (#48) blurry on the bottom.

This Hodges card would have been missing from that binder at the time, as my parents gave me this card for Christmas in 1998.  It was my "big" present and my Dad let it slide that he had paid $50 for it from Kit Young Cards, his baseball card dealer of choice.  It was a lean year for building our 1956 Topps set, as we added just 14 new cards throughout all of 1998.

The Card / Dodgers Team Set
Unless Hodges' head is blocking the fielder holding the ball, I'd say the sliding Hodges is safe at third in the action photo.  Baseball card collectors had become familiar with the headshot of Hodges by now, as it had also appeared on his 1954 and 1955 Topps cards.  His power numbers are celebrated on the back.  Hodges drove in at least 100 runs for seven straight seasons between 1949 and 1955.  He'd dip down to 87 RBIs in 1956 and almost crack the 100-RBI plateau in 1957 with 98.  His 162-game average for his career, over 18 seasons, was an impressive even 100 RBIs with 29 home runs.  Hodges' four-home run game came on August 31, 1950 against the Braves at Ebbets Field against four different Braves pitchers - Normie Roy, Warren Spahn (#10), Bob Hall and Johnny Antonelli (#138).

This card was reprinted as part of the 1995 Topps Archives Brooklyn Dodgers set.

1956 Season
Hodges appeared in 153 games for the Dodgers as their regular first baseman.  He batted .265 with 32 home runs (second on the club behind Snider's 43) and 87 RBIs.  In the World Series, won by the Dodgers over the Yankees, Hodges played every inning in all seven games, batting .304 (7 for 23) with a home run and 8 RBIs.

1949 Bowman #100
1952 Topps #36
1959 Topps #270
1972 Topps #465
1989 Topps #664

Other Notable Baseball Cards

First Mainstream Card:  1949 Bowman #100
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (22):  1951-1952, 1954-1972, 1989
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  2020 Panini Absolute Legends #AL2

511 - Hodges non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 4/1/21.

1965 Topps Blog

Friday, April 9, 2021

#144 Leroy Powell - Chicago White Sox

Robert Leroy Powell
Chicago White Sox

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  6'1"  Weight:  190
Born:  October 17, 1933, Flint, MI
Signed:  Signed by the Chicago White Sox as an amateur free agent, June 9, 1955
Major League Teams:  Chicago White Sox 1955, 1957
Died:  April 26, 2014, Muscle Shoals, AL (age 80)

Known as Leroy to baseball card collectors, but preferring to be called by his first name, Bob Powell appeared in two major league baseball game as a pinch-runner for the White Sox.  Signed by the White Sox as a bonus baby, Powell was required to stay on the White Sox roster and he spent most of his few years on the club trying to convince manager Marty Marion to give him a shot, or throwing batting practice.  He requested his release in 1957, citing a lack of playing time, and was assigned to the top farm team of the White Sox in Colorado Springs upon clearing waivers.  There he found success at the plate, hitting .307 over 131 games and on the mound, going 6-5 with a 4.86 ERA over 28 appearances.  Powell stuck around Colorado Springs for the start of the 1958 season, retiring after 12 more games at the age of 24.

April 23, 2000 - Easter Sunday
Building the Set
April 22, 2000 in Raleigh, NC - Card #198
I paid $2 for this card at the Sports Card & NASCAR Collectibles Show held in Raleigh, North Carolina 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 / White Sox Team Set
If that's truly an action photo showing Powell, and I'd be extremely impressed if it was, it's from his major league debut on September 16, 1955 against the Athletics.  Powell ran for Ron Northey who had walked, and was forced out at second when Minnie Minoso (#125) grounded into a double play.  The Athletics shortstop, presumably shown here, was Jerry Schypinski.  Schypinski appeared in only 22 games for the 1955 Athletics, and ironically enough never appeared on a baseball card.  Even though it kind of looks like a Yankees uniform on the shortstop, I'm going with Powell and Schypinski in the photo as it makes a better story.  Complicating things somewhat with my theory is that according to his Baseball Reference page, Powell did wear #17, but not until 1957.  They list 21 as his uniform number in 1955.

Topps reprinted this card for Powell to sign as part of its 2005 Topps Heritage Real One Autographs set. 

1956 Season
Powell again began the season on the White Sox roster, but was left to languish on the bench.  He had been used as a pitcher during spring training, but was never given the chance in a game situation.  With no playing time imminent, he reported to the U.S. Army where he served at Fort Bliss, Texas between May and November.

2005 Topps Heritage
Real One Autographs #RO-LPO

Other Notable Baseball Cards

First Mainstream Card:  1956 Topps #144
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (1):  1956
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  2005 Topps Heritage Real One Autographs #RO-LPO

3 - Powell non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 2/14/21.

Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
The Trading Card Database

Friday, April 2, 2021

#143 Jim Piersall - Boston Red Sox

James Anthony Piersall
Boston Red Sox

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  6'0"  Weight:  175
Born:  November 14, 1929, Waterbury, CT
Signed:  Signed by the Boston Red Sox as an amateur free agent before 1948 season
Major League Teams:  Boston Red Sox 1950, 1952-1958; Cleveland Indians 1959-1961; Washington Senators 1962-1963; New York Mets 1963; Los Angeles Angels 1963-1965; California Angels 1966-1967
Died:  June 3, 2017, Wheaton, IL (age 87)

If you only know one fact about Jimmy Piersall, it should be this:  On June 23, 1963, Piersall hit his 100th career home run of Phillies pitcher Dallas Green and circled the bases - first to home - while running backwards.  Piersall battled personal demons throughout his career and eventually played in parts of 17 big league seasons, earning two All-Star Game berths and winning two Gold Gloves for his stellar center field defense.  Given the tag of "spirited," Piersall had several run-ins with opposing players, teammates, umpires and his manager Lou Boudreau in 1952 before getting demoted to the minors.  With his behavior increasingly erratic, he finally agreed to seek medical attention and was diagnosed with manic depression, which evolved into what we know today as bipolar disorder.  He authored his autobiography, Fear Strikes Out, in 1955 which was made into a movie with Anthony Perkins starring as Piersall.

In between the ejections and the psychological struggles, Piersall appeared in 1,734 major league games and had a career .272 average with 104 home runs and 591 RBIs.  He finished in the top ten in the American League for hits on three different occasions, and earned MVP votes in five different seasons.  After retiring as a player, Piersall broadcast games for the Rangers and was paired with Harry Carey for White Sox games between 1977 and 1981.  He served as a roving minor league outfield instructor for the Cubs between 1986 and 1999, and was a long-time radio personality in Chicago until his retirement in 2006.

1957 movie poster for Fear Strikes Out
1994 Upper Deck All-Time Heroes #13
June 1992 - Before graduation ceremonies

Building the Set
June 20, 1992 in Ocean City, NJ - Card #107
This is one of 11 cards (and the 9th I've covered on this blog) my Dad and I bought in June 1992 at the Ocean City baseball card show held on the boardwalk at the Music Pier.  We paid $60 for the lot of 11 cards, which at the time was most likely a steal.  Chronologically, I have this listed as the 107th card we added to the set.  Like the other cards in this lot, this card is gorgeous with four sharp corners.  I'd love to get into my time machine and buy whatever other 1956 Topps cards this dealer had for sale as they're some of the finest cards in our set.

I graduated from high school in 1992, so this trip to Ocean City came after my high school days were over and my college days had yet to begin.

The Card / Red Sox Team Set
Piersall had appeared in Bowman sets between 1951 and 1955, and this is his first Topps card.  That has to be Yogi Berra (#110) making yet another cameo on a 1956 Topps card.  It's hard to tell if Piersall was safe or out, but Berra does appear to be sitting on his foot.  If Berra held the ball, Piersall was presumably out.  His above average fielding is highlighted in the first cartoon panel on the back.

The card has been reprinted as part of the 2001 Topps Archives and Archives Reserve sets, as well as the 2002 Topps Archives set.  Piersall also signed versions of this reprinted card included as an autographed insert in the 2002 Topps Archives release.

1956 Season
In one of the best seasons of his career, Piersall was the regular center fielder for the Red Sox, appearing in 155 games.  He led the American League with 40 doubles and had 14 home runs with a career-high 87 RBIs.  That mark was second on the team to right fielder Jackie Jensen's (#115) 97 RBIs.  Piersall also led the league with 12 sacrifice flies, putouts as an outfielder with 455 and fielding percentage among all outfielders with a .991 mark.  The Boston sports writers voted him the team's MVP following the season.

1951 Bowman #306
1954 Bowman #210
1961 Topps #345
1963 Topps #443
1967 Topps #584

Other Notable Baseball Cards

First Mainstream Card:  1951 Bowman #306
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (12):  1956-1967
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  2010 Topps Tales of the Game #TOG-10

131 - Piersall non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 2/14/21.

Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
The Trading Card Database