Monday, November 23, 2020

Barrier Breakers: Tom Alston, St. Louis Cardinals


The integration of the Cardinals was a complicated story. First, the Cards' owner from 1947-1953, Fred Saigh, was opposed to signing any black players.  When he pled guilty to tax evasion, he was forced to sell the team to August "Gussy" Busch Jr.   Busch is credited as saying "Wow can it be the great American game, if we don't have any negro players? We've got to get colored ballplayers." That sentiment was less progressive than it was pragmatic.  He followed that up with "Hell, we sell beer to everyone."

The rest of the story is a tale of two players, Tom Alston and Len Tucker.  In 1953 the Cardinals signed Len Tucker as their first black player. Tucker was an all around college athlete at Fresno State. He was a track star, he led the Basketball team in points per game and led the baseball team in homers and RBIs.  Despite performing well in the  Cardinals minor league system but never got promoted to the bigs.  

Instead the Cardinals went with a more proven player.  They purchased Tom Alston from the San Diego Padres of the Pacific League.  They immediately experienced buyer's remorse.  Alston was two years older than they had thought and asked for $20,000 of the $100k they spent on him to be returned.

Alston was hitless in his first seven at-bats, but his first two MLB hits were both over the fence. By mid-May he was batting over .300 with 4 homers.  After that, he cooled off quite a bit. By the end of June he had the same 4 homers and an average of .246. He spent the rest of the season in the minors. He played in just 25 more MLB games over the next three seasons.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Barrier Breakers: Hank Thompson, St. Louis Browns

Hank Thompson began his career as a 17 year old outfielder for the 1943 Kansas City Monarchs. He spent the next 2 1/2 seasons in the Army.  He was a machine gunner at the Battle of the Bulge.  In 1946 he rejoined the Monarchs in the midst of a championship run.

In 1947 he and teammate, Willard Brown were signed by the St. Louis Browns.  Thompson made his field debut first on July 17th.  Two days later, Brown made his debut.  Neither player would be on the Browns after the '47 season.  Although Willard Brown played only a partial MLB season, he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame for his Negro League accomplishments in 2006.  Hank Thompson would go on to be the first black player on the New York Giants in 1949.

The card itself was an invention of mine.  Bond Bread did produce baseball cards in 1947 but they were little more than black and white photos. I took some liberties by altering some non-sports cards of theirs from that era.  I wanted a color card that was the modern standard dimensions of 2.5" x 3.5".

Monday, November 16, 2020

1974 NFL Rookies of the Year

 In 1974 there were nine different Rookie of the Year awards. The Associated Press (AP) and Pro Football Weekly (PFW) awarded the top Rookie on Offense and defense. The Sporting News (TSN) and United Press International (UPI) awarded the top rookie from the AFC and the NFC. The Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) awarded just one overall Rookie of the Year.

The unanimous ROY winner from all five organizations was Chargers running back Don Woods. Woods was a quarterback from the University of New Mexico.  The Packers drafted him in the 6th round but dropped him before the start of the season.  San Diego picked him up and used him as a running back.  He set the  rookie record for rushing yards despite not playing in the first 2 games of the season.  A knee injury limited him to 5 games in the 1975 season.  With the addition of Rickey young to the Chargers backfield in 1975, then Lydell Mitchell in 1977, Woods' touches were greatly reduced. His numbers never matched those of his rookie season. 

The Steelers linebacker jack Lambert was the Defensive Rookie of the Year according to both AP and PFW.  The second round pick from Kent State was selected to the Pro Bowl in nine of his eleven NFL seasons. He has four Super Bowl rings and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.

The Sporting News and UPI disagreed on the NFC Rookie of the Year.  TSN chose 49ers running back Wilbur Jackson who was the first black football player to receive a scholarship at the University of Alabama.  Jackson was San Francisco's first round pick in the 1974 draft.  He ran for 705 yards his rookie season.  In all he played 8 seasons for the 49ers and Redskins.

UPI's pick for NFC Rookie of the Year went to Giants' guard John Hicks.  Hicks was the #3 pick of the 1974 draft. In 1973 he was runner up for the Heisman Trophy, All-American, All Big Ten and the winner of  both the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy for best college lineman. After his Rookie season, injuries took their toll. His entire career was just 4 years with the Giants. In 2001 he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Barrier Breakers: Sam Jethroe - Boston Braves

The 1950 NL Rookie of the Year was the 33 year old centerfielder, Sam Jethroe.  I made this card despite the fact that Jethroe was relatively well represented on cardboard during his short MLB career.  He had Bowman cards in 1950-1953 and Topps cards in 1951 and 1952. Although his MLB career was just 3 years as a Brave from 1950-52 and a short stint on the Pirates in 1954, his professional baseball career spanned 18 seasons.  He played minor league ball in Toledo, Montreal and Toronto. He also played Negro League ball in Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Cleveland.

As I said, Jethroe already had a card in the 1950 Bowman set.  So the card itself is a creation of my own based on the 1950 Drake TV Baseball Series. The Drake Cookie cards were a black and white tv card similar to the 1955 Bowman cards and measured 2.5" by 2.5". The 1950 Bowman measured 2 1/16" by 2 1/2".

 I wanted a more standard 2 1/2" by 3 1/2", color card. So I modeled it on the huge console TVs of that era. The screens were actually more rounded and small compared to the piece of furniture that housed them.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Barrier Breakers: Bob Trice - Philadelphia Athletics


My new project is to create cards of each MLB team's first black player.  Some are well known  superstars others are not as well known. I will be posting these in alphabetical order by team, starting with the Athletics, ending with Yankees.  There are just 16 teams as by the 1961 expansion all teams had integrated to a degree.  The cards themselves will be from the year of their first MLB appearance.  This will require me to take a little artistic license.  I will re-imagining certain cards that are pre-Topps/Bowman/Leaf.

Bob Trice was a September call up in 1953.  By that time he had already won 21 games for the Ottawa A's.  He won 2 of his 3 starts for the major league A's in 1953. A former member of the Homestead Grays, he would only play 3 MLB seasons all for the Athletics, two in Philly and one in Kansas City. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

1980 Topps Sadaharu Oh


On this day in 40 years ago, Sadaharu Oh announced his retirement.  This was after 22 years and 868 homeruns. He played his entire career for the Yomiuri Giants in Tokyo.  His home stadium during that time was Korakuen Stadium which has the dimensions of 288 feet down the line, 396 in center and 361 in the gaps.  I give these numbers not to dispute his HR numbers but to give a comparison with Hank Aaron, his MLB counterpart.

The dimensions at Fulton County Stadium were 325-330 down the lines, 400-402 in center and 375-385 in the gaps. These dimensions changed a couple times during Aaron's career.  Most of that time it was 330-375-400. Milwaukee County Stadium was 315 down the lines, 362 in the gaps and 402 in center.

So there may be an argument that the fences were a little closer.  But another argument is that the seasons were much shorter in Japan.  The length of the regular seasons varied from 114-140 games, most were in the 130 neighborhood. Although comparisons are difficult, you cannot discount his accomplishments.