Monday, November 30, 2009

#8 Lloyd Waner

Standing 5'9, and weighing a slight 150 pounds, Lloyd Waner turned his small stature into a Hall of Fame Career that saw him finish with just under 2500 hits and a .316 average.

Waner burst on the baseball scene in 1927, following his brother (and fellow Hall of Famer) Paul, who debuted with the Pittsburgh Pirates one year prior. He batted .355 that rookie season, as the Pirates won the National League Pennant before running into the buzzsaw known as Murderer's Row: The 1927 Yankees.

Waner and his brother were a formidbale duo, but despite over 5600 hits between the two of them, the sweep the Pirates got at the hands of the Yanks was their only World Series appearance.

After 17 season in Pittsburgh, Waner was traded to the Braves in 1941 for Nick Strincevich, and bounced around until 1945 before retiring. He remained on with the Pirates as a acout, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967. He also served Oklahoma City as a clerk, and died in 1982 from emphysema at the age of 76.

Much has been written about Paul and Lloyd Waner's nicknames: Big Poison and Little Poison. Even Paul and Lloyd disagreed. Lloyd's story is that a fan in Brooklyn called them "Big Person" and "Little Person," but the Brooklyn accent sounded like "poison" to a sportwriter. Of course, the "big" and "little" connotation is based on age, since I doubt a fan in the outfield seats would notice from 20 yards away that Paul was a half-inch taller and 3 pounds heavier.

The Autograph: Lloyd's autograph is highly common. I bought this card from a dealer, and it did not make a dent in my wallet. And I have a small wallet.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

#7 Al Lopez

Al Lopez was a very capable catcher for 20 season in the major leagues, mainly for Brookyn, the Boston Braves and the Pirates. He was a two-time All-Star, and his 1918 games behind the plate was a record that stood for many years until Carlton Fisk. He then turned into a successful manager, heading the Indians and the White Sox from 1951-1969. He won two pennants (one with each club) and retired with a .584 winning percentage. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a manager in 1977.

Upon Lopez' death in 2005 at the age of 97, he had the longest lifesapan of any member of the Hall.

The Autograph: Lopez had an interesting outlook on autographs. For many years he freely signed, and then abruptly stopped, returning items unsigned sent to him. He started signing again, and then stopped.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

#6 Waite Hoyt

Waite Hoyt is proboably the most famous pitcher from the legendary Yankee teams of Ruth and Gehrig. It's safe to say that he got a large portion of his wins thanks in part to the offense of the Yanks, but the really shouldn't diminish the effect he had as a pitcher.
Hoyt came up with the New York Giants in 1918, and was traded to the Red Sox the next season. He wound up following the Babe to New York, and was Ruth's teammate for over a decade. Despite all those years of being teammates, Ruth always thought his name was "Walt"
He won 237 games in his career, but Hoyt always maintained that he would have had a more successful career had he stayed away from the bottle. Like many players of the day, the pursuit of alcohol was as strong as the pursuit for a pennant.
Hoyt followed his playing career with a popular career as a broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds from 1942 to 1965. His stories and anecdotes were legendary, and he even recorded two albums of his tales, "Waite Hoyt In The Rain" and "Waite Hoyt and Babe Ruth."
Hoyt was still visible after his broadcast career, regularly attending old-timer games. He also was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969, his candidacy no doubt buoyed by his high profile career as an orator.

In 1977, he recorded a series of interviews that appeared on Cincinnati Public Television. Parts 5-8 can be seen here.

Hoyt died in 1984 just 2 weeks shy of his 85th birthday.

The Autograph: I got this card signed through the mail, not more than a few months before his death. Hoyt's autograph is in high supply, even 25 years after death.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

#5 Hank Greenberg

Hank Greenberg is not the first Jewish player in the Major Leagues (Lip Pike). He is also not the greatest Jewish player in baseball history (I'll take Sandy Koufax). He was not the only Jewish player of his era. (Harry Danning, Buddy Myer, Lou Boudreau....). So why is he the posterboy of Jewish athletes?

In the late 1990's era of Political Correctness, different minority groups took to their own icon. Jackie Robinson was honored and heralded by the black community, Roberto Clemente by the Latino, and Hank Greenberg by the Jewish community. Three legendary players, highly skilled and loved, not just by "their people" but by the country as a whole. Greenberg was the face of athletic Judaism, and he was well aware of the importance of how he conducted himself on and off the field. America was still a Protestant nation, and players of a differing religion or ethnicity received much derision from bench jockeys. Greenberg was able to garner much respect, both with the way he carried himself on the field, his boldness in standing up to entire team's verbal assaults, and the fact that the man could flat-out hit. He had an incredible work ethic, part from of his upbringing, and part of the necessity bourne from the Depression.

Born of Romanian immigrants, Greenberg enrolled in NYU but departed quickly to play baseball. After a short stint with the Tigers in 1930, he returned in 1933 to become one of the most feared sluggers in the post-Ruth era. He challenged Ruth's single-season home run record, falling short with 58 in 1938. As part of the G-Men, along with Charlie Gehringer and Hank Greenberg, lead the Tigers to consecutive pennants in 1934 and '35. He was part of the 1934 infield with Billy Rogell, Marv Owen and Charlie Gehringer that knocked in 462 runs, the most by a single infield. Also notable about that infield was those four played every single game that year, with the exception of Greenberg who sat out on Yom Kippur.

Greenburg was indcucted into the Army on May 7, 1941. He was released from duty on December 5 of that year, because the army was allowed to discharge men over the age of 28. Three days later, Greenberg was at the enlistment office following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Greenberg served in the Pacific theater, and returned to the Tigers in 1945, and lead the Tigers to a pennant for the fourth time. He went to the Pirates in 1947 to wrap up his career, and then became part owner of the Cleveland Indians with Bill Veeck. He followed Veeck to the Chicago White Sox, and upon his executive retirement, lived out his remaining years in Beverly Hills.

Following his death, Greenberg's legacy has grown more than almost any other athlete. He went from being a cult hero in Detroit and the Jewish community to being one of the bigger names in baseball lore. His career numbers may not be as fearsome as his contemporaries, but factoring in 4.5 seasons lost to World War 2, and another to a broken wrist, it is easy to believe he would have reached 500 home runs, a total that at his retirement had only been achieved by Ruth, Mel Ott and Jimmie Foxx. Greenberg's name lives on, while Ott and Foxx have faded. A documentary was released in 1998 entitled "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg," which is a great look at his exploits and those who revered him.

Interesting fact: Greenberg's son Steve is the brainchild behind the Classic Sports Network, which debuted in the 90's and was soon purchased by ESPN to become ESPN Classic.

The Autograph: Hank Greenberg was the first player I ever wrote to who charged for his autograph. I was shocked at the 5 dollar price tag per autograph. That was a lot of money, and took a big chunk of my paper route money, but being a big Tiger fan, I didn't balk at sending money in and getting this card signed. What I thought was cool is that the proceeds all went to the Beverly Hills Humane Society. I wish I would have had the forsight to send a baseball to get signed, too. He even kept up with fan mail as cancer ate through his body, and Hammerin' Hank died in September of 1986.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

#4 Dale Alexander

Dale Alexander was born in Greeneville, Tennessee, and upon signing with Toronto in the International League, won the leagues Triple Crown in 1928. He burst onto the Major League scene with the Detroit Tigers in 1929. He batted .349 in his rookie season, and followed that with a .326 average. In 1931, he won the AL batting title, hitting .367. His batting title is a contention, due to his low number of plate appearances. He did qualify under the rules of the time, but some contend that Jimmie Foxx should have won, which would have given Foxx the AL Triple Crown that year.

In his first four seasons, Alexander had a .338 average and was one of the most feared hitters in the AL. Who know what would have happened with his career, if it weren't for a freak injury.

On Memorial Day weekend in 1932, Alexander sprained his knee in a game against Philadelphia. He was given diathermy as a treatment, and wound up receiving third degree burns. He almost lost his leg to gangrene, and this essentially ended his major league career.

After his playing career, he spent a few years as a scout.

The Autograph: Alexander died in March of 1979. His autograph on a Grand Slam card is fairly rare, but not impossible. However, there are reports that his wife ghost-signed a lot of mail requests in the few months before his death. There are subtle differences in the autograph, and authenticity is muddied by the fact he did sign on his own after a stroke, and that signature is also subtly different from his pre-stroke signature.
I bought this card from a dealer, and it matches some certified examples I've seen. But I am not 100% sure of its authenticity.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

#3 Earl Averill

Howard Earl Averill was a Hall of Fame outfielder for the Cleveland Indians, finishing up his career with a short stay in Detroit and Boston's Nation League team. A deadly hitter, he is best known for a line drive that ended the career of a nother Hall of Famer, but his years in Cleveland set team records that stood for 50+ years.

Born in Snohomish, Washington (a city whose name I doubt I pronounce correctly), Averill got his start, like many of his contemporaries, in the Pacific Coast League, tearing it up with the San Francisco Seals from 1926-1928 before his debut with the Indians just a month shy of his 27th birthday. He made the most of his major league career, hitting 238 home runs and batting .318. His career had a rapid decline after 1938 due to a congential back problem that forced him to change his batting stance to a less-effective one.

In the 1937 All Star Game, he hit a line drive that broke the toe of NL hurler Dizzy Dean. Dean tried to come back too early, and altered his delivery to compensate. This new delivery lead to an arm injury and ineffectiveness, bringing an end to ol' Diz' career. This would not be the only time a vicious Averill line drive took someone out. He also retaliated to a Bobo Newsom brushback pitch with a line drive that broke Newsom's kneecap.

Following his playing career, Averill returned to Snohomish, where he became a florist, and then owned and operated a motel for many years. He was finally enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975. He died in August of 1983 at 81 years of age.

The Autograph: Averill was a great signer throughout his life, both in person and through the mail. There is one story about him I recall reading. I do not remember the publication, I think it may have been Sports Collectors Digest. There was an autograph collector, and part of me wants to say it was Barry Halper, but I am not certain. I'll refer to him as "Barry" anyway. Anyhow, Barry was talking about how he attended the All-Star game in Chicago on July 6, 1983. It was the 50th anniversary of first All-Star Game, and most of the surviving participants of the first game were in attendance. One of which was Averill. Barry got an item signed by all the old-timers, but needed Averill to complete it. He went to the hotel, and found out Averill's room, late at night following the game. He badgered Averill's lackey to get him to sign this item. After much persistence, the lackey went and got Mr Averill to come out and sign. Averill was not feeling well, and his sickness developed into pneumonia by the time he got back home to Washington. He entered the hospital on July 11, and never recovered, dying on August 16. Barry said he was very happy to have gotten Averill to sign the item, and he thought he most likely got the last autograph Averill ever signed. All I thought was Barry killed Earl Averill.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

#2 Bob Lemon

Lemon was a Hall of Fame pitcher who started out as an infielder for the Indians, but came back from World War 2 as a pitcher with a devestating sinker. He wound up being a mainstay in the Cleveland rotation for years. Upon his retirement, his 37 home runs at the plate are still the second highest total for a hurler, one shy of Wes Ferrell. He also holds the single-season fielding record for doubleplays by a pitcher (15).

Lemon, like our previous entry Durocher, also appeared in Hollywood. He portayed Hall of Fame pitcher Jesse Haines in the Pete Alexander biopic, "The Winning Season," starring Ronald Reagan. He also played himself in the baseball film, "The Kid From Cleveland."

Lemon was also part of George Steinbrenner's tilt-a-whirl of managers in the 70's, along with Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Gene Michael, and so on. In the off-season, his 26 year-old son was killed in a motorcycle accident, and this personal tragedy distracted him throught the early part of the 1979 season. After being dismissed in early 1979, he took the reins of the Yanks again in 1981 and lead them into the World Series.

After his managerial days, Lemon's hobby of hard drinking began to take its toll. He lived in failing health, before succumbing to complications from a stroke in 2000. He was 79.

"The two most important things in life are good friends and a strong bullpen."

"I've seen the elephant, heard the owl and flown with the screeching eagle. I've never looked back and regretted anything. I've had everything in baseball a man could ask for. I've been so fortunate. Outside of my boy getting killed. That really puts it in perspective. So you don't win the pennant. You don't win the World Series. Who gives a damn? Twenty years from now, who'll give a damn? You do the best you can. That's it."

The Autograph: Lemon's autograph is very common. I received this one through the mail, as I did many other things from Lemon through the years.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

#1 Leo Durocher

Leo Durocher played 17 years in the major leagues before becoming one of the game's legendary managers. After playing for the Dodgers, Reds, Yankees and Cardinals, Durocher won over 2000 games a manager, winning 3 pennants and one World Series title (1954 with the New York Giants).
Durocher was one of the more recognizable faces in baseball during his managing career, landing cameos as himself on popular TV shows like "Mister Ed" and "The Munsters." You can even see him crooning along with Judy Garland here.

He finished his managing career with a short stint in Houston in 1972 and 1973, and managed the Taiheiyo Lions in Japan in 1976 before retiring for good. He was married four times, and died in 1991 at the age of 86. He was elected posthumously to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994, an honor he deserved in life.

The Autograph: Most posthumously-elected Hall of Famer's find their autographs priced at a premium, but Durocher was always a willing signer, both in person and through the mail, and his autograph is not rare. One can be found in the 20 dollar range for a signed card. I got this card through the mail in the mid-80's.


A friend of mine has this pretty sweet baseball card-related blog, where he is going through an entire set of cards, and giving nifty little tidbits on the cards and the players. Through him, and his 1980 Topps blog , I found others were doing the same thing with different sets. Now I cannot even pretend to think that I will be able to go through a 700 card set like that, especially when so many others are so proficient at it.

But I am going to contribute. This blog is going to look at an odd set, the Grand Slam set.

Brought to you by the same people who brought you the 1977 Touchdown set, which was a 50-card collection of past football players, the Grand Slam set was a 200-card set of cards, in pixilated black-and-white photos, printed in 1978. Only 2000 sets were printed, and the cards are a rudimentary design. The cards featured 200 prominent retired baseball players - all living - and the set came with an address list so you could get the entire set signed. As the set went to press, former White Sox outfielder Carl Reynolds died. His card was replaced with Sal Maglie, but only 500 Maglie cards were printed, as 1500 Reynolds were already done.

I first discovered the cards in 1981, and with Jack Smalling's Address book, I set about the task of getting them signed. Slowly. In fact, it wasn't until later that I bought a set of unsigned cards that contained the address list. With frequent breaks from the hobby, I slowly amassed signed cards, and after 28 years, I have accumulated 199 of the 200 cards signed (excluding Reynolds). Hopefully, I will find the ultra-rare card I need by the time I get to it in this blog, but I am not holding my breath.

There are a lot of ways to go with this blog, and most of the players are well-known. I am not going to throw out a bunch of statistics, but will try to find interesting nuggets and morsels of information about the players.

I do not know how often I will update. Hopefully not too far in between, but I am shooting for at least twice a week.