Monday, February 14, 2011

'51 Bowmans, Part III

Let's continue our Bowman adventure with the first of four Pittsburgh Pirates, and the first of two horizontal cards. One of the things that's great about doing a series like this is that, while you're doing research, you end up coming across resources that totally blow you away. That description definitely applies to the Baseball in Wartime Blog and their piece on Clyde McCullough. What a terrific, well-researched article, and author Gary Bedingfield has written tons just like it about the ballplayers who served in World War II. I could tell you some things about Clyde here, like his distinction as the only player to play in a World Series who hadn't played in a regular season game that year, that he was a two time All-Star, that he caught Sam Jones' no-hitter in 1955 and that he helped develop Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Jerry Koosman and Tug McGraw, but compared to what Gary has on his site, that's hardly anything. Seriously, check his piece on Clyde out, and when you're done, add his site to your RSS feeds, because it looks like a gem.

Seriously, I'm not kidding about Gary's site. For those of you who are just too lazy to go read a site that blows away anything you'll read about these guys here, Tom Saffell had a short, mostly unremarkable big league career that spanned four years. He played for the Pirates between '48-'51 and returned to the club in '55 before finishing up with the Kansas City A's. His big league career is really kind of a footnote in the grand scheme of things, though. With the exception of a five year span in the mid-'70s, Tom had a career in professional baseball that spanned seven decades, counting his time as a player, coach, manager, or as president of the Gulf Coast League (a position he held for three decades and only retired from in 2009 at the age of  88). It's also worth mentioning that he was a pitcher on "Home Run Derby" TV series (one of the only tidbits I got from Wikipedia instead of Gary's piece on Tom), and that he flew 61 missions as a fighter pilot in World War II. What a life.

Danny O'Connell falls outside of the scope of Gary's site, but there's a fair share of information out there on him, so I should be able to wing this one. He was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946 and, being a Jersey guy (not quite Sandy Koufax local, but local enough), would've been a pretty big hit in Brooklyn had he made it to the bigs with them. Alas, he was traded to the Pirates in October of '49. Remember how, in Part II, I mentioned that Bob Miller came in second in the 1950 NL Rookie Of The Year voting? Well, Danny here came in 3rd! Amazing how these seemingly unrelated players all seem to be intertwined somehow. Right after his '50 campaign, though, Danny served for two years in the Korean War. Could you imagine if, say, a Buster Posey or a Madison Bumgarner dropped everything and went over to Afghanistan, or worse, was drafted? The world would turn upside down. The only example I can think of recently where a "name" athlete left sports to serve in the military is Pat Tillman (and that didn't end well at all), but back in the '40s and '50s, it was a pretty common occurrence. Johnny Podres went into the service right after winning the World Series for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Danny here did it after a very solid rookie campaign. Upon returning, he had a solid '53 campaign for the Pirates and followed it up with one for the '54 Milwaukee Braves after being traded there in a deal that sent (Ha! I told you that all of these guys were connected!) '50 NL Rookie Of The Year Sam Jethroe to Pittsburgh. From there, his numbers dropped off a bit, but he still enjoyed a solid 10 year career, going to the Giants in '57 in a deal that involved both Bobby Thomson and Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst, became the Opening Day second baseman for the San Francisco Giants, scored the first run in a West Coast Major League Baseball game and wrapped things up with the expansion Washington Senators in '61-'62. Sadly, he died all too young at the age of 42 in a car crash in 1969.

OK, folks. No laughing at his name! Have some respect for Murry Dickson! He fought in The Battle Of The Bulge, for cryin' out loud! Lotta ballplayers were there with him, including Ralph Houk, Warren Spahn, Hoyt Wilhelm and a bunch of others. Some, unfortunately, didn't come home. Murry did, though, and he had a long, interesting career as both a starting and relief pitcher with 5 different teams. He won World Series rings with the Cardinals ('46, a year where he led the NL in winning percentage) and Yankees ('58) in addition to appearing in the '43 Series against the Yanks, won 20 games in 1951, the year this card was produced (in a season that saw the Pirates only win 64 total games, no less), led the league in losses for the following 3 years, losing 20 in '52 and '53, made an All-Star appearance in 1953 despite eventually finishing with a 10-19 record, and led the league in fielding percentage for pitchers with a perfect 1.000 twice, in '42 and '58 (16 years apart!). He retired at the age of 43 with a career won-loss record of 172-181 and a career ERA of 3.66. Had he played for contenders, he's the kind of guy we might be having the Hall of Fame discussion about, but instead, he's known as a "crafty right-hander" if such a thing exists, who was nicknamed "Thomas Edison" by a manager for his many deliveries and his longevity.

Onto some Senators to wrap up today. Two-time All-Star Cass Michaels started young in the bigs, 17 to be exact (they were short on warm bodies in the majors during the war, so a lot of guys started playing really young), and finished pretty young as well because of a tragic beaning incident that almost cost him his life. In between those two events, though, he played for 12 seasons, filled in for the great Luke Appling (who was serving in the war) at shortstop in 1945, made the aforementioned All-Star appearances in '49 and '50, was traded to the Senators only because Nellie Fox was ready to take over for him in Chicago, and amassed a really solid 1142 hits by the age of 28 while playing for the White Sox, Senators, Browns, and Athletics. Unfortunately, that was to be it for him, as on August 27th, 1954, Michaels was hit by a Marion Fricano pitch that left him in critical condition, with him getting last rites at the hospital. Cass recovered, but his vision didn't, so a promising baseball career ended way too soon.

Canadian Baseball Hall Of Fame member Sherry Robertson was an unspectacular but reliable utility infielder, mostly for the Senators for reasons we'll get into shortly, with a brief tenure for the Athletics at the end of a 10 year career, with some time off for WWII (Sherry's the first Canadian I've found during this series, so naturally, he's the first Canadian ballplayer I've run into who fought in World War II). He was also noteworthy as the nephew of Hall Of Fame pitcher, manager and Senators owner Clark Griffith and brother of later Senators and Twins owner Calvin Griffith (who Clark adopted after his father passed away; interesting family history there), which led to him being an executive with the Senators and Twins, and later a bench coach with the Twins in 1970 before passing away in an auto accident shortly after that season. Seriously, though, quite a family. Sherry had two other brothers, Jimmy and Billy, who became executives with the team, pitcher Joe Haynes married into the family and became an executive with the team, and his other brother-in-law was a fella by the name of Joe Cronin. That is a lot of baseball right there.

One more batch of '51s to write about after this. Look for it this week.

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