Friday, June 26, 2020

#103 Willie Miranda - Baltimore Orioles

Guillermo Miranda
Baltimore Orioles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orioles Team Set

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

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

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

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

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

Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
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.

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