Sunday, June 29, 2008

1953 Topps Project - Post #20

#53 - Sherman Lollar - Chicago White Sox

I've been nursing a post-Pearl Jam concert hangover for the better part of the day, but it's been a week since I posted so I'm going to take care of another 1953 Topps Project post, although this might end up being a short one. Today's subject is Sherman Lollar of the Chicago White Sox.

Sherman bounced around with 3 other teams in his early career before finally settling in with the Chicago White Sox in 1952 for what would become an 11 season stint. Sherm was actually a 7 time All-Star for the White Sox and was awarded a Gold Glove for his play behind the plate in 1957 (the first year Gold Gloves were presented), 1958 and 1959.

Lollar would retire with the highest career fielding percentage for a catcher, and would then spend 5 years as a coach with the Baltimore Orioles. Sadly, Sherman passed away due to cancer at the age of 53. That's about all I can muster today...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

1953 Topps Project - Post #19

#79 - Johnny Wyrostek - Philadelphia Phillies

The next card in the 1953 Topps project is Johnny Wyrostek of the Fightin' Phillies, the first Phillie in my collection. In keeping with the other recent post subjects, Johnny had a largely uneventful career. He was signed out of high school by the St. Louis Cardinals, yet didn't see steady playing time until 1946 with the Phillies.

Here we see Johnny pictured in his second stint with the Phillies, a five year stretch with the Cincinnati Reds was sandwiched in between. I'm not sure why Philadelphia would've wanted to sign him back. He did club a career high 17 HR and 76 RBI in his first season with the Reds in 1948, and was selected to the N.L. All-Star team twice while a member of Cincinnati, however he never eclipsed the 10 home run plateau again in his career and never had a great batting average either, with the exception of the 1951 campaign when he hit .311.

On a side note, if I had it my way the Phillies would still be referred to as the Fightin' Phillies on modern day baseball cards.

Friday, June 20, 2008

So Long Curt

I live in New England and work in downtown Boston a couple of days each week. On those days I like to listen to sports talk radio while sitting in the cluster that is Boston traffic. While tuning in today, I was surprised to hear Curt Schilling's announcement that he's shutting it down for the season cause so much of a stir. The local talk show personalities were so ramped up I thought they were going to pyewp.
The prognosis was grim to begin this season. When the Red Sox stated that they anticipated Schilling pitching after the All-Star break, I thought it seemed unrealistic. It appeared as though the severity of the wear on his arm would combine with Schilling's age to spell the end of his season, and possibly career. Well, today Boston Red Sox fans got the bad news that they were somewhat expecting. Curt will be shutting it down for the year (and for good in my opinion) to undergo surgery. He claimed that he will not be ready to pitch again until after the 2009 All-Star break, a possibility that I would say is highly unlikely at best.
Curt is not the most popular player in the majors. He's got one of those personalities where he feels the need to chime in on every topic. He makes his political views (which I often disagree with) public, and I don't think he helped his reputation with fellow players when he chided steroid users in front of Congress a few years back. Some people accuse him of faking the "bloody" sock incident during the 2004 playoffs.
In the end, no matter how you feel about him or his sock on a personal level, Curt contributed significantly to the Boston Red Sox during his tenure here. He stated publicly upon arriving in Boston that he was here to help the team win a World Series, and that he did twice. He was marvelous in the post season with the Sox, a trend that continued from earlier in his career. When there was a pressure situation (like in last year's playoffs against Cleveland), you felt comfortable when Schilling took the mound.
Curt will now become one of the marginal players as far as hall of fame voting goes. Some will look at his 216 career wins and say that there is no way he should be admitted. Others will look at his 300 strikeout seasons, his strikeout to walk ratio (which he led his league in for a 5 year stretch earlier this decade), or his 10-2 postseason record and say he deserves to be elected. What do you think?

Friday, June 13, 2008

1953 Topps Project - Post #18

#208 - Jim Wilson - Milwaukee Braves

Well, for today's 1953 Topps Project post we have another average ballplayer. To make matters worse, Jim Wilson's incredibly ordinary name makes it a bit difficult to find much information on him. He pitched for 13 years in Major League Baseball, from 1945 to 1958. Jim did make 3 consecutive All Star Game appearances between 1954 and 1956.

Unfortunately for me, I'm a day late on this post. I randomly picked out today's card only to find out that Jim pitched the only no-hitter of the 1954 season 54 years ago yesterday.

Since I can't find a whole lot of information about Jim, I have some questions of my own to ask, if anyone's reading maybe they can help me out. Why is it that the last 1953 Topps Project card I posted is a member of the Boston Braves, whereas Jim is designated as a Milwaukee Brave on his card? Isn't this the same team? From what I understand, the Boston Braves became the Milwaukee Braves after the 1952 season, is that correct? Did Topps just randomly use Boston Braves on some 1953 cards and Milwaukee Braves on others? Both teams have the same logo portraying a Native American. Speaking of Native Americans, is that a longhouse pictured in the background of Jim's card beyond the outfield wall? I'm confused...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Cards Featured on the Blog

Going forward, you'll see a slideshow in the right margin displaying cards featured on the blog. I think this will be a great way to get a snapshot of what I've posted recently. Plus, I think one of the reasons I like collecting is that I'm completely anal, so this will give me another thing to organize.
So, why the random Jerges Baca card? Well, I think the Whalers need some representation in the slideshow. Secondly, Jerges Baca is just a funny name. I don't think he was ever any good, I have no memories of seeing him play, but I remember having his cards as a kid just because his name is so strange. This is probably the only chance Jerges Baca will have of ever making the blog, so here you go...

1953 Topps Project - Post #17

#91 - Ebba St. Claire - Boston Braves

OK, so I got a little sidetracked there with the hockey posts. I definitely had a case of Stanley Cup fever, but it's time to get back on track with another 1953 Topps project post. Today's subject is Ebba St. Claire, catcher for the Boston Braves.

Ebba's brief career in the majors was unspectacular, and that's an understatement. Wikipedia describes him as a "prototypical defensive-minded backup catcher", how exciting! After college, St. Claire played for almost a decade in the minor leagues before finally being sent to the Boston Braves, in part to tutor young pitchers in their organization. All in all, St. Claire appeared in 164 major league games over a 4 season span. His batting average was poor and he didn't have a lot of power at the plate, although his fielding percentage as catcher was decent.

While Ebba never enjoyed much success in his brief Major League career, his son Randy lasted about a decade as a relief pitcher between the mid 80s and the mid 90s, and is now the pitching coach for the Washington Nationals.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Congratulations Detroit!

The 2007-2008 NHL season came to a close last night as the Detroit Red Wings downed the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 to win the Stanley Cup finals (their 4th cup title since 1997). While I have to admit that I was rooting for the young underdog Pittsburgh team, Detroit has a few veterans that are still around from my first go as a hockey fan in the late 80s/early 90s, and it was fun to see some of them win another Cup.

As an impromptu tribute to the hockey team from the motor city, here are a few random Red Wings cards I was able to find and scan in my early morning stupor before leaving for work today.

Team captain and veteran NHL defenseman Nick Lidstrom has been a member of the Wings for each of their 4 recent championships:

Kris Draper was relatively quiet during the series, but he was deemed scan-worthy because he's been around for a long time and has also been on the Wings for the last 4 championships:

Dominik Hasek isn't quite as acrobatic in net as he was in the 90s, but he's still a reliable goaltender. Although he didn't see any action in the finals, he did split goaltending duties during the regular season for Detroit and will still have his name inscribed on the Stanley Cup:

Chris Osgood was outstanding this post-season, posting shutouts in the opening two games of the finals. Not to mention, he posted those shutouts while wearing the odd-style goalie helmet that he's worn since coming into the league (as exemplified in his 1993-1994 Parkhurst rookie card below). Even though Chris became the second goalie to score a goal in the NHL against my beloved Hartford Whalers, he obviously deserves mention here:

Finally, one of the younger faces of the franchise, and this year's Conn Smythe Trophy winner for playoff MVP, Henrik Zetterberg. Based on the way he played this season I think it's obvious that he's going to be one of the NHL's top scorers for years to come:

On a side note, I think this year's Upper Deck hockey release looks outstanding. Great, high quality action photography and a simple layout just like the baseball set (which is better than '08 Topps baseball in my opinion). I'm only about 40 cards short of the set, if you have any that I need I will make a trade worth your while.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Card of the Month - June 2008

1991 Pro Set - #101 - Wayne Gretzky

With the 2007-2008 NHL season likely to end tonight in my opinion (I hope I'm wrong as I was really looking forward to a high-scoring 7 game series between the Wings and the Pens), it seems only right to continue with the hockey theme for this month's Card of the Month.

I don't think it was possible for a kid who began playing hockey at age 5 in the late 80s not to become a Wayne Gretzky fan. Most hockey fans will tell you that he is the best to ever play the game, and it's hard to argue against that. Wayne finished his career with the most goals, most assists and most points (by almost 1,000!) of all time. He led the Edmonton Oilers to 4 Stanley Cup championships within a 5 year period, is the only player to ever tally 200 points in a season (a feat he accomplished an astonishing 4 times) and is the only player in NHL history to have his jersey number retired for all teams! Very few athletes in history have dominated their sport on the level that Gretzky did.

As a 9 year old, I had been collecting hockey cards for a year or two when I decided I would send the Great One a letter containing a 1991 Pro Set card in search of an autograph. I wrote my letter out, asked my mom for a ride to the post office, and dropped the envelope in the mail, fully expecting never to see the card again. A few weeks went by, until one day I arrived home from school to find an envelope addressed to me in the day's mail. My jaw dropped when I opened it and found a letter from Wayne inside. Folded inside the letter was my Pro Set hockey card with a huge signature (including #99) right on the front. The letter was nothing great, I'm sure it was the same exact letter hundreds of other fans received back in the mail, but nonetheless I've always been thankful that Wayne Gretzky took the time to sign my card.

Looking back on it, there are a couple of things that really amuse me about this card. First of all, I chose a Gretzky card with an awful lot of black on it, especially considering most athletes sign in black sharpie. This was a calculated decision though, as I didn't own many Gretzky cards and this particular card featured a photo where Wayne is facing my favorite team, the Hartford Whalers. Luckily, the signature is dark enough that it shows through pretty clearly on the card. Secondly, I sent the French version of the card (Pro Set issued English and French-Canadian versions of their hockey cards). This was also a calculated decision. Obviously the English versions were more valuable to me so I decided to send the French version in case the card never made it back to me. Pretty amusing that I was too nervous to send a Pro Set hockey card (which literally is not worth the cardboard it's printed on) in the mail.

These little quirks just make me love the card that much more though. Any time I look at it I laugh and recall some really fond memories from my youth. This is the only card I've ever sent out to a player in the mail to be signed, and it's also the only card in my collection that I will absolutely never part ways with...

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