Friday, February 14, 2020

#84 "Babe" Birrer - Detroit Tigers


Werner Joseph Birrer
Detroit Tigers
Pitcher

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  6'0"  Weight:  195
Born:  July 4, 1929, Buffalo, NY
Signed:  Signed by the Detroit Tigers as an amateur free agent before 1947 season
Major League Teams:  Detroit Tigers 1955; Baltimore Orioles 1956; Los Angeles Dodgers 1958
Died:  November 19, 2013, Clarence, NY (age 84)

Babe Birrer pitched in 56 games over parts of three seasons for the Tigers, Orioles and Dodgers, but it was his performance on July 19, 1955 that he'll most be remembered for.  Birrer relieved Frank Lary (#191) in the sixth inning and pitched four shutout innings to earn the save.  But at the plate, Birrer hit two, three-run home runs to stun the Orioles along with pitchers George Zuverink (#276) and Art Schallock.

Birrer's career record was 4-3 with a 4.36 ERA and four saves.  Most of his success came in the minor leagues, where he pitched for 18 seasons and compiled a lifetime record of 131-127 in 518 games.  He threw a no-hitter in 1957 while pitching for the Los Angeles Angels, the Dodgers' top farm team.

Building the Set
October 10, 1998 in Winston-Salem, NC - Card #163
In what had to have been a post-birthday purchase, I spent $52 in the Season Ticket baseball card store in Winston-Salem for 10 1956 Topps cards.  This Birrer card cost me $4.  I say it had to have been a post-birthday purchase as I didn't have a lot of disposable income back then, but I made sure that any birthday money from my parents went towards something fun and not towards something practical.

I spent 5 years living in Winston-Salem, but I still managed to get lost driving around in those pre-GPS days quite frequently.  Season Ticket was one of the few locations in the city that I memorized and I could drive to without having to ask someone to remind me of the directions.  I mean no disrespect to the former owners, but the place was a glorious dump.  Baseball cards were stacked precariously and haphazardly throughout the store, there was hardly any flat surface without something piled on it, nothing was ever in order and if you asked for something specific the owners may or may not remember the generally direction of where they had last seen it.

And I loved it in there.  I took my Dad a few times when my parents visited me, and he couldn't wait to get out of the store and back into some fresh air.

The Card
This is the third card so far in the set to represent a player's first and last Topps card, along with Nelson Burbrink (#27) and Jose Santiago (#59).  Birrer's facsimile autograph on the front features his real name, Werner.  Topps made Birrer a year older than he actually was, giving him a birth date in 1928.

Tigers Team Set

1956 Season
On April 5th, Birrer was selected off waivers by the Orioles, and he'd appear in only four games for the club from mid-April to mid-May.  He had a 6.75 ERA for the Orioles over 5 1/3 innings, allowing four earned runs on nine hits.  Most of his season was spent with the San Antonio Missions, and he led that team with 13 wins.  Birrer went 13-8 for the Missions with a 3.75 ERA and 15 complete games.

1961 Buffalo Bisons team photo
Phillies Connection
His Baseball Reference page doesn't provide any details of how he came to the organization, but Birrer pitched for the Phillies' top farm team in Buffalo for parts of three seasons between 1960 and 1962.  With the Bisons, Birrer appeared in 74 games, going 19-18.

Other Notable Baseball Cards
First Mainstream Card:  1956 Topps #84
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (1):  1956
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  1956 Topps #84

8 - Birrer non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 1/1/20.

Sources:  
https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/birreba01.shtmlBaseball 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, February 7, 2020

#83 Karl Spooner - Brooklyn Dodgers


Karl Benjamin Spooner
Brooklyn Dodgers
Pitcher

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Left  Height:  6'0"  Weight:  185
Born:  June 23, 1931, Oriskany Falls, NY
Signed:  Signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers as an amateur free agent before 1951 season
Major League Teams:  Brooklyn Dodgers 1954-1955
Died:  April 10, 1984, Vero Beach, FL (age 52)

Karl Spooner's biographies from SABR and Wikipedia both utilize the adjective "meteoric" within the first sentences to describe the start of the pitcher's career.  In two September starts for the Dodgers in 1954, Spooner recorded back-to-back complete game shutouts, striking out a total of 27 batters and allowing only seven singles.  He set the records for strikeouts in a debut with 15 and recording six consecutive strikeouts in a debut.  His 27 strikeouts over two games was one less than Bob Feller's (#200) record of 28 over two games.

However, he entered a spring training game in 1955 without properly warming up and suffered an arm injury that would derail the rest of his career.  Spooner struggled throughout the 1955 season, going 8-6 with a 3.65 ERA.  His final appearance came in Game 6 of the 1955 World Series in which he lasted just 1/3 of an inning and gave up five runs on three hits and two walks to the Yankees, including a three-run home run to Bill Skowron (#61).

Left unprotected by the Dodgers in the 1957 minor league draft, he was selected by the Cardinals.  Spooner continued his comeback attempt with the Cardinals over the next season but retired after spring training in 1959.

Dad and Doug - March 4, 2007
Building the Set
February 7, 2007 in Voorhees, NJ - Card #289
This is one of six cards I purchased at the Echelon Mall Baseball Card show in February 2007, spending $70 total, including $7.50 on this Spooner card.  At the time, Doug was a few days away from turning two months old and we had just celebrated my Dad's 63rd birthday a few weeks earlier.

I think Jenna had been out shopping on this day when she texted (or called) me to let me know there was a baseball card show being held at what used to be the Echelon Mall.  The former mall has since been converted as part of the Voorhees Town Center.

The Card
Spooner only appeared on two Topps cards, and both his 1955 and 1956 cards use the same close-up photo.  The back of the card rightfully focuses on Spooner's first two big league starts and his successful minor league campaign.  The "Year" row of statistics tells the story of his 1955 struggles, and by the time this card was issued, Spooner's big league career was over.  The card was reprinted, along with all 1956 Topps Brooklyn Dodgers cards, in the 1995 Topps Archives Brooklyn Dodgers set.

Dodgers Team Set

1956 Season
Still hampered by arm injuries, Spooner only appeared in four games in 1956, pitching for the Double-A St. Paul Saints.  His Baseball Reference statistics are incomplete for the year, only showing that he went 0-1.  He was a September call-up for the Dodgers, but he didn't appear in any games.

1955 Topps #90
Other Notable Baseball Cards
First Mainstream Card:  1955 Topps #90
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (2):  1955-1956
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  2005 Topps Dem Bums #KS

15 - Spooner non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 1/1/20.

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, January 31, 2020

#82 Bill Renna - Kansas City Athletics


William Beneditto Renna
Kansas City Athletics
Outfield

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  6'3"  Weight:  218
Born:  October 14, 1924, Hanford, CT
Signed:  Signed by the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent before 1949 season
Major League Teams:  New York Yankees 1953; Philadelphia Athletics 1954; Kansas City Athletics 1955-1956; Boston Red Sox 1958-1959
Died:  July 19, 2014, San Jose, CA (age 89)

After serving in World War II, Bill Renna played in parts of six seasons in the majors, enjoying his best season in 1954 with the Athletics, the final year the team played in Philadelphia before moving west to Kansas City.  That season he hit .232 with career highs in runs scored (52), home runs (13) and RBIs (53).  Originally signed by the Yankees, Renna hit .314 in 1953 and was on the club's World Series roster that year, but never made it into a game.  He was one of 11 players swapped by the A's and Yankees on December 16, 1953.  Renna headed to Philadelphia along with Don Bollweg, Jim Finigan (#22), Johnny Gray, Vic Power (#67) and Jim Robertson while Loren Babe, Harry Byrd, Tom Hamilton, Carmen Mauro and Eddie Robinson (#302) were packaged to New York.

In the final two years of his career with the Red Sox, Renna served as a back-up to Ted Williams (#5).  In total, he hit .239 with 28 home runs and 119 RBIs over 370 games.

Building the Set
October 2, 1993 in Winston-Salem, NC - Card #119
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 $9 for this Renna card (probably too high) and $6 for the Ray Narleski (#133) 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.  (Before I get to the Narleski card, I'll need to check with my Mom to see if a picture of my Dad and me exists from this visit.)

The Card
Renna's main photo is recycled from his 1955 Topps card.  I don't talk enough about the design of the 1956 Topps set, but this card has always been aesthetically pleasing to me.  I think it's the combination of the bright colors (red, yellow, blue, green) and the symmetry of the white line around the on-deck circle and the third base foul line.

Topps shaves two years from Renna's birth year, as he was actually born in 1924.

Reference is made to Santa Clara University on the back of Renna's card, and he was one of the first of a few Santa Clara graduates to make it to the majors.  Among his contemporaries to have played at Santa Clara are Duane Pillette and Lou Berberet (#329).  Bruce Bochte, Mike Macfarlane and Randy Winn would all come through Santa Clara in later decades.

1956 Season
Renna opened the 1956 season as the back-up to the A's everyday right fielder, Enos Slaughter.  He hit .271 over 33 games for the A's before the club traded him back to the Yankees on June 14th with Moe Burtschy for Eddie Robinson (again) and Lou Skizas.  The Yankees sent him to their farm team in Richmond, where he'd stay for the rest of the 1956 season.  With the Richmond Virginians, Renna hit .312 over 87 games and he led the club with 20 RBIs and 76 RBIs.

He was dealt to the Red Sox during spring training 1957, and he'd spend the entire 1957 season with the San Francisco Seals (the Red Sox top farm team) before getting another chance in the majors in 1958.

1954 Topps #112
1955 Topps #121
1958 Topps #473
1959 Topps #72
Other Notable Baseball Cards
First Mainstream Card:  1954 Topps #112
First Topps Card:  1954 Topps #112
Last Topps Card:  1959 Topps #72
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  2008 Topps Heritage Real One Autographs #ROA-BR
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (5):  1954-1956, 1958-1959

20 - Renna non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 12/1/19.

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, January 24, 2020

#81 Wally Westlake - Philadelphia Phillies


Waldon Thomas Westlake
Philadelphia Phillies
Outfield


Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  6'0"  Weight:  186
Born:  November 8, 1920, Gridley, CA
Signed:  Signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers as an amateur free agent before 1940 season
Major League Teams:  Pittsburgh Pirates 1947-1951; St. Louis Cardinals 1951-1952; Cincinnati Reds 1952; Cleveland Indians 1952-1955; Baltimore Orioles 1955; Philadelphia Phillies 1956
Died:  September 6, 2019, Sacramento, CA (age 98)

The start of Wally Westlake's big league career was delayed while he was serving in World War II, but once he made his debut at 26 with the 1947 Pirates he proved to be a consistent hitter for several seasons.  Westlake was an All-Star with the Cardinals in 1951 (following his trade from the Pirates) and was a member of the 1954 Indians team that lost the World Series to the Giants.  Over his 10 year career, Westlake hit .272 with 127 home runs and 539 RBIs.  His best seasons came in 1948 and 1949 with the Pirates when he hit .285 and .282 with 65 and 104 RBIs respectively, while also hitting for the cycle twice.

Building the Set
June 20, 1992 in Ocean City, NJ - Card #106
This is one of 11 cards (and the 8th 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 106th 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.

It would seem as if we paid the full admission price of $6 as we didn't relinquish the postcard below to receive $0.50 off.  I still have a collection of these postcards and flyers dating back to the early 1980s from the various Ocean City baseball card shows.


My Dad wasn't much of a night owl, which explains why we wouldn't have waited around for an autograph from Del Ennis the Saturday of this show.  It's a shame too.  Ennis was one of my Dad's favorite players and it would have been an amazing keepsake if I had somehow gotten a picture of the two of them together.

The Card
I've looked at this card hundreds of time, and it was only within the past 10 years or so I realized Westlake is wearing a Cardinals uniform in the photo of him swinging a bat.  He had last played for the Cardinals in early 1952.  It's amazing to me that writing these posts has resulted in me learning (or re-learning) new things, even things that were probably obvious to everyone else.  A quick search of Getty Images also turns up the source of the close-up photo of Westlake.  That photo was taken during the 1953 season at Yankee Stadium and I've included it above.

The first panel on the back states Westlake is a veteran of 13 seasons, which is accurate if you count his minor league years.  Westlake played in the minors between 1940 and 1942 before heading off for military service, and then he played 10 seasons after that between 1946 and 1955.  His 1948 cycle came on July 30th against the Dodgers, and his second cycle came on June 14, 1949 against the Braves.

1956 Season/Phillies Career
1977 Fritsch One-Year
Wonders #17

Westlake was released by the Orioles on July 9, 1955 and he finished the remainder of the 1955 seasons playing for the Oakland Oaks and the Portland Beavers in the Pacific Coast League.  The Phillies signed him on November 7, 1955.  Now a 34-year-old veteran, Westlake wrapped up his 10-year big league career playing five games for the Phillies in 1956, all on the road and all as a pinch-hitter.  He went 0 for 4 with a walk and three strikeouts and the Phillies released him on May 18th.  By the time kids were getting this card of Westlake in their packs of 1956 Topps (Series 1), he had signed to play with the unaffiliated Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League.  Westlake hit .273 for the Solons over 90 games to finish out the 1956 season and his professional career.

Other than this 1956 Topps card, Westlake's only other Phillies card can be found in the Elder Postcards set released in the 1960s.  He also signed a reprinted version of his 1956 Topps card for inclusion as in insert available in packs of 2005 Topps Heritage.

Westlake may have been motivated to sign with the Phillies in late 1955 as his younger brother, Jim Westlake, was playing in the Phillies system at the time.  Jim Westlake appeared in one game for the Phillies on April 16, 1955, pinch-hitting for reliever Jack Spring and striking out against the Giants' Jim Hearn (#202).

When Wally Westlake died this past September at the age of 98, he passed on the title of the oldest living Phillies alumnus to former coach Billy DeMars, now 94.  (Per a Tweet from Larry Shenk.)

1949 Bowman #45
1951 Topps Red Backs #27
1952 Topps #38
1953 Topps #192
1954 Topps #92
Other Notable Baseball Cards
First Mainstream Card:  1949 Bowman #45
First Topps Card:  1951 Topps Red Backs #27
Representative Phillies Card:  1956 Topps #81
Last Topps Card:  1956 Topps #81
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  2005 Topps Heritage Real One Autographs #RO-WW
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (6):  1951-1956

40 - Westlake non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 11/30/19.

Sources:  
Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
The Phillies Room
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, January 17, 2020

#80 Gus Triandos - Baltimore Orioles


Gus Triandos
Baltimore Orioles
First Base


Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  6'3"  Weight:  205
Born:  July 30, 1930, San Francisco, CA
Signed:  Signed by the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent before 1948 season
Major League Teams:  New York Yankees 1953-1954; Baltimore Orioles 1955-1962; Detroit Tigers 1963; Philadelphia Phillies 1964-1965; Houston Astros 1965
Died:  March 28, 2013, San Jose, CA (age 82)

A slugging catcher who enjoyed his best seasons in the late 1950s, Gus Triandos was a three-time All-Star who hit 167 career home runs over his 13-year career.  Triandos enjoyed his best years with the Orioles between 1955 and 1962, hitting at least 17 home runs in five seasons.  His best season statistically came in 1958 when he hit a career high 30 home runs and drove in 79 runs.  That was also the season he was named the starting catcher for the A.L. All-Stars, ending the eight-year reign of the Yankees' Yogi Berra (#110).  It was the Yankees who had originally traded Triandos away to the Orioles in November 1954 as part of a blockbuster 17-player trade.  I first wrote about that trade with the Bob Turley (#40) card here.

Triandos was also known for his defense behind the plate, leading the A.L. in the caught stealing category in both 1957 and 1959, and finishing in the top ten for fielding percentage as a catcher in three different seasons.  After a year with the Tigers in 1963, he was traded to the Phillies where he shared catching duties with Clay Dalrymple.  After a 24-game stint with the Astros in 1965, Triandos retired and served as a part-time scout for the Dodgers in the mid-1970s.  He was elected into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 1981, the fifth member enshrined following Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Dave McNally and Boog Powell.
Christmas Eve 2004

Building the Set
December 25, 2004 from San Diego, CA - Card #257
This is the fifth of six cards my Dad gave me for Christmas in 2004, and I've already covered the cards for Andy Carey (#12), Bob Kennedy (#38), "Windy" McCall (#44) and Johnny O'Brien (#65).  My Dad never told me how much he paid for the six cards he ordered from Kit Young Cards in San Diego.  Kit Young was a favorite of my Dad's, and I can picture him making the long distance call to California with a dollar amount in mind for this purchase.

And only after researching and composing this post did I realize I've been saying Triandos' name wrong my whole life.  I've always pronounced his last name "Trinidos" like the country Trindad, completely omitting the "A."

The Card
Triandos had his rookie card in the 1955 Topps set, and this card borrows the same main picture.  The action shot shows Triandos in a Yankees uniform, wearing the #26 he wore in 1953 and 1954 with his original team.  Triandos wore #11 during his time with the Orioles.

With Hal Smith (#62) the regular catcher for the Orioles, Triandos moved to first base in 1955 after being acquired from the Yankees.  He played 103 games at first, and still managed to catch 36 games as the back-up to Smith.  He ran away with the team lead in home runs with 12, with Dave Philley (#222), Cal Abrams and Hoot Evers finishing a distant second place, all tied with six.  His 65 RBIs topped the 52 from Smith.

1956 Season
Triandos resumed his duties behind the plate in 1956 and the Orioles traded away Smith on August 17th.  In 131 games, Triandos hit .279 with 21 home runs and a career high 88 RBIs.  Working with manager Paul Richards, Triandos became one of the best catchers in the league, both from a defensive and offensive standpoint.

Phillies Career
On December 5, 1963, Triandos was traded to the Phillies from the Tigers along with Jim Bunning for Don Demeter and Jack Hamilton.  It turned out to be a fairly lopsided trade in favor of the Phillies as Bunning would go on to add to his Hall of Fame career numbers.  Triandos was behind the plate on Father's Day 1964 when Bunning threw his perfect game, collecting a pair of hits, driving in two runs and scoring a run.  Wearing #9, Triandos quickly got out of the way following the final strikeout of Bunning's masterpiece as his teammates mobbed the mound.

He shared catching duties in 1964 with Dalrymple, with Dalrymple starting 110 games to Triandos' 52.  Following the historic Phillies collapse of 1964, Triandos was back as Dalrymple's back-up to start the 1965 season.  When the Phillies decided they wanted to get a better look at young catching prospect Pat Corrales, Triandos was sold to the Astros on August 20th.  In 103 games with the Phillies, Triandos hit .226 with eight home runs and 37 RBIs.

Bunning's perfect game - Triandos is behind the plate wearing #9
He's listed as a Phillie on his 1964 Topps card, but he's pictured wearing a Tigers uniform.  His 1965 Topps card is his sole mainstream baseball card to actually picture him in a Phillies uniform.

1955 Topps #64
1959 Topps #330
1962 Topps #420
1964 Topps #83
1965 Topps #248
Other Notable Baseball Cards
First Mainstream Card:  1955 Topps #64
First Topps Card:  1955 Topps #64
Representative Phillies Card:  1965 Topps #248
Last Topps Card:  1965 Topps #248
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  1986 TCMA All-Time Baltimore Orioles #6
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (11):  1955-1965

75 - Triandos non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 11/30/19.

Sources:  
Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
The Phillies Room
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, January 10, 2020

#79 Sandy Koufax - Brooklyn Dodgers


Sanford Koufax
Brooklyn Dodgers
Pitcher


Bats:  Right  Throws:  Left  Height:  6'2"  Weight:  210
Born:  December 30, 1935, Brooklyn, NY
Signed:  Signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers as an amateur free agent, December 14, 1954
Major League Teams:  Brooklyn Dodgers 1955-1957; Los Angeles Dodgers 1958-1966
Hall of Fame Induction:  1972

On Sandy Koufax's biography page on the National Baseball Hall of Fame website, the first quote about the all-time great lefty comes from former Phillies great Richie Ashburn (#120):  "Either he throws the fastest ball I've ever seen, or I'm going blind."

In a 12-year career shortened by arthritis in his left arm and Koufax's desire to retire at the top of his game, the Hall of Famer won the N.L. Cy Young Award in 1963, 1965 and in his final season, 1966.  He also won N.L. MVP honors in 1963, a season in which he went 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA, 20 complete games, 11 shutouts and led the league with 306 strikeouts.  Koufax was a six-time All-Star and helped the Dodgers to three World Series titles in 1959, 1963 and 1965.

He threw four no-hitters including a perfect game on September 9, 1965.  Despite a relatively short career, his 2,396 strikeouts at the time of his retirement ranked seventh all-time, second only to Warren Spahn's (#10) 2,583 among left-handers.  One of the top Jewish athletes in American sports, Koufax's decision to not pitch in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series on Yom Kippur brought attention to the conflict between the sport and his personal religious beliefs.

Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972, his first year of eligibility, Koufax became the youngest player enshrined at the age of 36.  His #32 was retired by the Dodgers that same year.  Following his playing days, Koufax continued to work for the Dodgers as a minor league coach, a pitching instructor and an overall goodwill ambassador for the game.

Building the Set
Christmas 1999

December 25, 1999 from Raleigh, NC - Card #192
I believe my Dad and I attended the Sports Card Show in Raleigh in early October 1999 together, purchasing eight cards I knew about and one card, this Koufax card, I didn't know about.  My parents gave the Koufax card to me on Christmas morning in 1999 and at a price tag of $95, it was the fourth most expensive card we acquired for our set behind the cards of Mickey Mantle (#135), Hank Aaron (#31) and Ted Williams (#5).  Given the great shape of the card, it seems we got the card for a good price 20 years ago.

The Card
Koufax's rookie card can be found in the 1955 Topps set, and this is his second Topps card.  Of the 61 subjects to appear in the 1956 Topps set so far, Koufax is only the second player after Ed Roebuck (#58) to have a different photo used for his 1955 and 1956 cards.  It may not be a coincidence that both Roebuck and Koufax played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the location of the Topps headquarters, which could have made it easier to track down photos of the Dodgers players.

While Topps credits Koufax with 58 strikeouts over 30 innings during his one season playing for the University of Cincinnati, his SABR biography has the total at 51 strikeouts over 31 innings.  His SABR biography also gives the breakdown of his bonus baby salary as a $14,000 bonus and a salary of $6,000, for a total of $20,000.

The game referenced in the final panel came on August 27, 1955 against the Reds.  While it was Koufax's second career start, it was his seventh career game with his other five appearances coming in relief.  The Dodgers won the game 7-0 with Gus Bell (#162) accounting for four of Koufax's 14 strikeouts.

1956 Season
1956 was Koufax's second season in the Majors, and at only 20 years old he appeared in 16 games, making 10 starts.  He finished the season with a 2-4 record and a 4.91 ERA, striking out 30 and walking 29 over 58 2/3 innings.  His SABR biography notes that while Koufax was used sparingly in 1956, he did spend time listening to and learning from the veteran Sal Maglie who was purchased by the Dodgers from the Indians on May 15th.  Maglie would sit in the bullpen and educate Koufax and his teammate Don Drysdale on the strategy of the game being played on the field.  Manager Walter Alston (#8) included Koufax on the Dodgers' World Series roster, but the young pitcher didn't appear in the series.

1955 Topps #123
1959 Topps #163
1963 Topps #210
1965 Topps #300
1966 Topps #100
Other Notable Baseball Cards
First Mainstream Card:  1955 Topps #123
First Topps Card:  1955 Topps #123
Last Topps Card:  1967 Topps #238 (Koufax appeared on 3 League Leader cards in the 1967 Topps set)
Most Recent Topps Card (post-career):  1990 Topps #665
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  125 different cards issued in 2019 per the Beckett database
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (15):  1955-1967, 1975, 1990

1,493 - Koufax non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 11/27/19.

Sources:  
Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
National Baseball Hall of Fame
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, January 3, 2020

#78 Herman Wehmeier - Philadelphia Phillies


Herman Ralph Wehmeier
Philadelphia Phillies
Pitcher


Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  6'2"  Weight:  185
Born:  February 18, 1927, Cincinnati, OH
Signed:  Signed by the Cincinnati Reds as an amateur free agent before 1945 season
Major League Teams:  Cincinnati Reds 1945, 1947-1954; Philadelphia Phillies 1954-1956; St. Louis Cardinals 1956-1958; Detroit Tigers 1958
Died:  May 21, 1973, Dallas, TX (age 46)

Despite his occasional wildness, Herm Wehmeier built a solid 13-year big league career, accumulating a record of 92-108 over 361 games.  He led or tied for the league lead in earned runs allowed in 1950, walks allowed in 1949, 1950 and 1952 and wild pitches in 1949 and 1950.  His best season came in 1951 with the Reds when he went 7-10 with a 3.70 ERA over 39 appearances.  Born in Cincinnati, he was a constant target of boos from Reds' fans while pitching for the hometown team as he never quite lived up to the expectations set of him.

He turned his career around somewhat after leaving the Reds.  With the Reds in parts of nine seasons, he was 49-69 with a 5.25 ERA.  With the Phillies, Cardinals and Tigers over parts of the next seven seasons, he was 43-39 with a 4.11 ERA.  As told in his SABR biography, he never regretted signing with his hometown Reds despite the fans' constant booing while he was with the club.

Following his playing days, he moved to Texas and became a manager for a trucking company.  In 1973, Wehmeier was called to testify at a federal court trial against an employee accused of stealing a shipment of pants off a truck.  Wehmeier suffered a heart attack while on the witness stand and passed away at the age of 46.

Building the Set
December 18, 1994 in Winston-Salem, NC - Card #134
Visiting Tommy's Collectibles before heading home for winter break, I paid $10 for this card and the Ron Negray (#7) card.  I was a junior in college and my best guess is I snuck these two cards into my Dad's stocking as cards for "his collection."  Dad was always a good sport when I did this, and the cards would migrate from his collection into our set within a matter of a few short hours.

September 1994
I had no idea at the time, but I was about to enter one of the first tumultuous periods of my life.  My parents had decided to sell our house on 12th Street, a house they had owned since the early 1970s and the house my sister and I had grown up in.  My long-time (and long distance) high school girlfriend was about to break up with me through the method of what the kids these days call "ghosting."  No returned phone calls, no returned letters, just a complete disappearance and not much I could do about it from 500 miles away in college in North Carolina.  I was also trying to decide on a college major, essentially determining the trajectory for the rest of my life.  Looking back, all these events combined don't seem as earth shattering now as they did to the 21-year-old me, but of course it's all relative.  It wasn't a great stretch for me personally and a Herm Wehmeier baseball card wouldn't have meant much to me at the time.

Given the abundance of change coming my way, it's not a huge surprise that collecting our 1956 Topps set got pushed into the background.  We added only one new card in 1995, and only six cards the year after that.  It took me until the summer of 1997 to finally emerge from my post-college haze and even then the next couple of bumps were only a few short years away.

The Card
The same head shot is used on Wehmeier's 1954 and 1955 Topps cards, and the original photo from his 1954 Topps card features a Reds logo on his hat.  The action shot on the front of the card may very well be Wehmeier, although he hadn't worn #45 since the 1949 season with the Reds.  It seems odd that Topps would need to use a seven-year-old picture of Wehmeier, from a time before the company was even producing baseball cards.  He wore #22 during his time with the Phillies.

The artist for the cartoon panels on the back of the card is clearly stretching when it comes to material to use.  Wehmeier's success in youth baseball and the fact he pitched in eight seasons for the Reds take up the first two panels.  It was actually 8 1/2 seasons, as he was sold to the Phillies in June 1954 after spending the first few months with the club.

1979 TCMA '50s #126
1956 Season/Phillies Career
Struggling with the Reds, and with the fanbase consistently deriding him, the Phillies purchased Wehmeier on June 12, 1954 for $10,000.  After a rough first outing against his old Reds teammates on June 20th (1/3 inning, four runs on four hits and four walks), Wehmeier turned his season around and finished 1954 with a 10-8 record for the Phils and a 3.85 ERA.  As part of the Phillies rotation in 1955, Wehmeier benefitted from the slider taught to him by teammate Murry Dickson (#211) as he went 10-12 with a 4.41 ERA.  He was the club's third starter behind Robin Roberts (#180) and Dickson for a Phillies team that finished with a .500 record (77-77) in 1955.

At the start of the 1956 season, Wehmeier went 0-2 for the Phillies with a 4.05 ERA over three starts.  On May 11th, he was traded with Dickson to the Cardinals for Ben Flowers, Harvey Haddix (#77) and Stu Miller (#293).  Wehmeier appeared in 34 games for the Cardinals, starting and relieving, setting a career high in wins with 12 and owning a decent 3.69 ERA.

His Phillies career lasted 59 games and he went 20-22 with a 4.17 ERA.  Wehmeier has Phillies cards in the 1955 and 1956 Topps sets along with oddball Phillies cards in the 1955 Phillies Felin's Franks, 1955 Topps Double Header and 1956 Topps Pins sets.  He's also in the 1979 TCMA '50s set in a Phillies uniform, but the team designation on the back of the card is the Reds.

1948 Bowman #46
1951 Topps Blue Backs #47
1952 Topps #80
1957 Topps #81
1959 Topps #421
Other Notable Baseball Cards
First Mainstream Card:  1948 Bowman #46
First Topps Card:  1951 Topps Blue Backs #47
Representative Phillies Card:  1955 Topps #29
Last Topps Card:  1959 Topps #421
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  1994 Topps Archives 1954 #162
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (9):  1951-1959

Of interest probably only to me, Topps went with Herman for his 1951 through 1956 cards and switched to Herm for his 1957, 1958 and 1959 cards.

37 - Wehmeier non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 11/24/19.

Sources:  
Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
The Phillies Room
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.