Sunday, January 31, 2010

75 New Cards (including John Stephenson)

On Saturday, I received 75 1966 cards that I recently bought from, all from the first 2 series. Just by coincidence, they include at least 3 cards from each team (7 from the White Sox!), except only 1 each from the Cardinals (Curt Flood) and Athletics (Rene Lachemann), and none from the Phillies (I already have them all). Also included were 6 league leaders cards.

I had to laugh when I read the back of John Stephenson's card, where Topps proclaims "Johnny is a left-handed batter with good power to all fields." In 3 minor-league seasons, he has hit 8, 9, and 5 home runs! That's "good power"?

John Stephenson (#17) was the Mets' backup catcher. Apparently, Topps can't decide whether to call him John or Johnny, as we have 4 "John", 1 "Johnny", and 1 "Johnnny" on this card.

Rather than repeat myself, you can find more pertinent facts about John Stephenson on my 1967 blog.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Final Card: Willie Kirkland

Willie Kirkland (#434) was a starting outfielder for the Giants in the late 1950s, and later for the Cleveland Indians.

Willie (wow, he even has the right first name for a Giant!) was signed by the New York Giants in 1953, and played 4 seasons in their farm system before missing the 1957 season due to military service.

Kirkland made his major-league debut on April 15, 1958, and started 102 games in right field during his rookie season.

1959 was more of the same, as Willie the K started 105 games in right. (Felipe Alou started most of the remaining games there.) Even though Willie McCovey joined the Giants in 1959, that didn't affect Kirkland, as McCovey played only 1B that year. Orlando Cepeda would alternate between 1B and LF, which squeezed left fielder Jackie Brandt.

1960 would be Kirkland's last season with the Giants, and he went out with a bang - starting 135 games in right field. After the season, he and pitcher Johnny Antonelli were traded to the Indians for outfielder Harvey Kuenn.

Willie played 3 seasons for the Indians, the first 2 as their starting right fielder. In 1963, he shared the right field chores with Al Luplow.

After the 1963 season, Kirkland moved on to the Orioles, where he was re-united with former Giants teammate Jackie Brandt. For awhile, Willie started about half the games in right field, alternating with Sam Bowens. After July 9th, Bowens took over the job fulltime, and Kirkland was sold to the Senators on August 12th.

Willie played for the Senators until the end of the 1966 season, and was pretty much a 5th outfielder (behind Frank Howard, Don Lock, Jim King, and Fred Valentine). In 1965, he shared the right field starts with Jim King.

In 1967, Kirkland played 144 games for the Senators' triple-A team in Hawaii, before retiring from baseball.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Final Card: Albie Pearson

Albie Pearson (#83) was signed by the Red Sox in 1953, and spent 5 seasons with their minor-league teams, the last 2 with their Pacific Coast League affiliate in San Francisco. The small (5'5", 140 lbs) outfielder was traded to the (old) Washington Senators for 1B-2B Pete Runnels in January 1958.

As a 23-year-old rookie, Pearson his major-league debut in April 1958, and was the Senators starting center fielder that year, playing in 146 games and winning the Rookie of the Year award.

In 1959 Pearson was the starting center fielder for the first 11 games, then missed the next 16 games. During this time, Bob Allison became the starting center fielder, and would hold that job for the remainder of the season. Pearson returned to the starting lineup (in right field) for 10 games in mid-May, but was soon traded to the Orioles for outfielder Lenny Green. Pearson would struggle for playing time in Baltimore. He made only 23 starts for the rest of the season, and rarely started more than 2 consecutive games.

1960 was even worse for Pearson. The Orioles had Gene Woodling in left, and Jackie Brandt in center. Even with a revolving door in right field, Pearson only managed to start 17 games with the Orioles, and in fact, played 53 games in triple-A. Quite a freefall since being a fulltime center fielder in his rookie season!

Pearson's career took a tun for the better in 1961. The Angels drafted him from the Orioles, and he became an outfield fixture for the Angels for several years. In 1961 he started over 100 games between center field and right field. In 1962 and 1963, he was the Angels' regular center fielder, playing over 130 games in each season. He also made the all-star team in 1963.

What happened after that? In 1964, he split the centerfield starting job with Bob Perry, whose major-league career consisted of 2 part-time seasons ('63-'64) with the Angels. In 1965, Pearson lost the starting center field job for good when the Angels acquired rookie Jose Cardenal from the Giants.

The 1966 season is a mystery. He played a grand total of 1 game in 1966, and it was on July 16th. He had no minor-league activity in 1966, so he was either injured, or was doing some serious bench-riding.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Final Card: Johnny Blanchard

Yes folks, it's "Atlanta Braves Backup Catchers Week"!

John Blanchard (#268) was a Yankees backup catcher in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was signed by the Yankees in 1951, and spent the next 8 years either with a Yankees' farm team or in the military. Although he played in 1 game in 1955, his real major-league action began in 1959.

In his first 2 seasons, Blanchard was the 3rd-string catcher behind Yogi Berra and Elston Howard (which is to say, "minimal playing time"!)

From 1961 to 1963, Blanchard's playing time spiked. Why was that? In 1961, Berra became the regular left fielder (catching only 15 games), elevating Blanchard to 2nd-string catcher. In 1962, Mickey Mantle missed a lot of games, which moved Roger Maris to center field, and Blanchard to right. In 1963, Maris missed 72 games, while Mantle missed 97 games. Johnny was on-the-spot as a replacement outfielder.

In 1964, Blanchard returned to his 2nd-string catcher role, behind Elston Howard. In May 1965 he was traded to the Athletics. Later that season, the A's sold him to the Braves. His final game was on September 27, 1965.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Chris Cannizzaro (#497)

Chris Cannizzaro managed to stretch out a career as a backup catcher to 13 seasons.

He began playing in 1956 in the Cardinals' organization. He was there for six seasons, and played a half-dozen major-league games in each of 1960 and 1961.

After the 1961 season, he was selected by the Mets in the expansion draft, and spent the next 4 seasons with the Mets and/or their farm teams. He was New York's #1 catcher in 1965.

Chris played exclusively in the minor leagues during 1966 and 1967. Just before the start of the 1966 season, the Mets traded him to the Braves. After the 1966 season he moved on to the Red Sox, but before the 1967 season started, Boston traded him to the Tigers. Following the 1967 season Detroit shipped him to the Pirates. Although primarily a minor-leaguer in 1968, he did play some games with the Pirates. With all this time spent in the minor leagues, Cannizzaro didn't have a baseball card in 1967 or 1968.

The 1969 expansion was a career-saver for Cannizzaro. In March 1969, the Pirates traded him (and pitcher Tommie Sisk) to the Padres for infielder Bobby Klaus and outfielder Ron Davis. Cannizzaro became the Padres' regular catcher for 1969, starting 128 games behind the plate. He was also on the All-Star team. He was the regular catcher again in 1970, starting 100 games (to Bob Barton's 57 starts).

After 1970, his playing time decreased dramatically. Bob Barton took over the starting catcher's job, and in May Chris was traded to the Cubs. He was acquired by the Dodgers in the off-season, and played for them in 1972 and 1973.

The Dodgers released Cannizzaro following the 1973 season, and a few months later he was signed by the Astros. In 1974, his only playing time with the Astros came in 40 minor-league games. In August he was sold to the Padres, where he finished the season in the majors.

His last major-league game was in September 1974, but he appeared briefly in the minors after that: 4 games in 1975 and 1 game in 1979.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Howie Reed (#387)

This may be the only card I've seen where Topps eliminated all commentary and kept the player's minor-league stats. Howie's rookie card was in 1965. After 1966, we don't see him on another card until 1970.

Reed was signed by the Kansas City Athletics after the 1957 season, and spent 1958 through 1960 in their farm system. During those 3 seasons, he also played a few games with the Athletics, and spent part of 1960 with San Diego, the White Sox' triple-A team.

Just prior to the 1961 season, the Athletics traded Reed to the Dodgers for pitcher Ed Rakow. Howie spent all of 1961-1963 and part of 1964 with the Dodgers' triple-A team in Spokane. Although primarily a reliever up to this point, from 1964 on he was mostly a starter while in the minors. He finally got to play for the Dodgers for part of 1964, and all of 1965.

After 1 game with the Dodgers 1n 1966, Reed was traded to the Angels in late May for pitcher Dick Egan. He finished the 1966 season with the Angels, but was traded to the Astros in the off-season.

Reed's career with the Astros consisted of 4 games in 1967, while the rest of '67 and all of '68 found him toiling for the Astros' triple-A team.

In 1969, expansion revived Reed's career. The Expos purchased him on April 3rd, and he spent the next 3 seasons as one of the Expos' top 3 relievers, pitching over 100 innings in 1969 and over 50 innings in each of 1970 and 1971.

Curiously, after all this success (he managed to stay out of the minors for 3 full years!) he was back in triple-A for all of 1972, before retiring.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Final Card: Jim Gentile

Jim Gentile (#45) began his minor league career in 1952 with the Brooklyn Dodgers' organization. Throughout his minor-league and major-league career, he only ever played first base, except for pitching in 14 games during the 1952 season, and 1 game in his last minor-league season (1968).

Jim played in the minors from 1952 through 1959, while getting a cup of coffee with Brooklyn in 1957 and Los Angeles in 1958.

After the 1959 season, Gentile was traded to the Orioles, and became their power-hitting first baseman from 1960 to 1963. He was the runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year in 1960.

Following the 1963 season, the Orioles traded Jim to the Athletics for first baseman Norm Siebern. His stay in Kansas City was short, as he moved on to the Astros in June 1965.

This is Jim's last baseball card, but it wasn't his last team. In July 1966, the Astros traded him to the Indians. 1966 was Gentile's last major league season, but he played for 2 more seasons with the Phillies' triple-A team in San Diego.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Final Card: Bobby Bragan

Bobby Bragan (#476) was a player, manager, and baseball executive.

He played for the Phillies and Dodgers in the 1940s.

In addition to managing in the minors, Bragan managed 3 big-league teams: the Pirates (1956-1957), the Indians (1958) and the Braves (1963-1966). In 1966, he was fired after 112 games.

After his managing days were over, Bragan became the president of the Texas League in 1969, and president of the National Association of Minor League Baseball in 1975.

More on Bobby Bragan here

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Final Card: Marty Keough

Here is the final card for outfielder Marty Keough (#334).

Marty was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1952, and played in their farm system for 7 seasons. He made a few appearances for the Sox in 1956 and 1957.

In 1958, he was in the majors to stay, making some appearances as the backup centerfielder, but primarily as a pinch-hitter. In 1959, Keough evenly split the starting centerfield job with Gary Geiger.

In June 1960, he was traded to the Indians for catcher Russ Nixon. His time in Cleveland didn't last long, as he was selected by the new Washington Senators in the expansion draft after the 1960 season.

After one season in Washington (backing up all 3 outfield positions), it was on to Cincinnati, where Marty spent 4 seasons as a 4th or 5th outfielder, as well as a backup first baseman.

Keough was purchased by the Braves a few days before the start of the 1966 season, but less than 2 months later was traded to the Cubs. This would be his final major-league stop.

Marty spent the 1967 season with the Philadelphia's triple-A team in San Diego. In late June, the Phillies called up an outfielder from San Diego for the remainder of the season. Unfortunately for Keough, it was Billy Cowan.

Marty's son Matt pitched for the Athletics in the 1970s and 1980s, and his brother Joe was an outfielder for the A's and Royals from 1968-72.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Final Card: Wes Covington

Wes Covington (#484) was signed by the Boston Braves in 1952. Topps has omitted his minor-league statistics on this card. Wes played for various minor-league teams in the Braves' organization (missing 1954 due to military service), and made his major-league debut on April 19, 1956.

After backing up left field in 1956, Covington was the Braves' regular left fielder from 1957 through the 1960 season. His 2 best offensive years were 1957 and 1958.

1961 was a strange year for Covington. After coming off 4 seasons as the regular left fielder, he started 5 straight games in April, then a few weeks later was claimed off waivers by the White Sox. A month later he was traded to the Athletics. 3 weeks after that he was traded to the Phillies. He is in a rare group - having played for 4 teams in one season.

Wes got back on track with the Phillies, grabbing the regular left field job for the next 4 1/2 seasons, and batting over .300 in 1963.

After the 1965 season, he was traded to the Cubs for journeyman backup outfielder Doug Clemens, the second time in his career he appeared to be "dumped" for little or nothing in return.

After only 9 games with the Cubs, he was released on May 11th. Two weeks later, he was signed by the Dodgers, where he finished the season. His last action came in the 1966 World Series against the Orioles.