Tuesday, February 22, 2011

'51 Bowmans, Part IV

Gus Niarhos, ironically, may be the only card I trade from this Bowman lot, despite being in probably the best condition of all of the cards I have from this year. (If it happens, it'll be for another Bowman card, one I quite like.) This mirrors the early part of his career where, despite being touted as perhaps the best catcher in the Yankee organization, he got forced out by some kid who called himself Yogi. He's another player of this bunch who served in WWII, though it interrupted his time in the minors rather than his big league career. He lasted 9 years in the majors, winning one World Series in '49 (though he was only in one inning as a defensive replacement, having been ousted by Yogi by that time), and playing for the White Sox, Browns (another one!), the Red Sox after being traded for Part I's Les Moss (Ha! Can you believe how interconnected this small sample size of the league's players are?), and the Phillies. After his career, Gus was a longtime minor league coach and manager, most prominently with the A's, where he helped develop Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers and a whole mess of other guys, and won a few minor league championships. Let's get back to the White Sox for a second, though. Somehow, I've never actually seen a White Sox uniform with that C logo on the cap aside from this card, and I really didn't spend a lot of time reflecting on it before I started this series. Isn't it kinda weird?

If you do end up going in a trade, Gus, I'll miss you, but your sacrifice will not be made in vain!

Here's a far more recognizable uniform, and a guy who, for a number of reasons, I really should know by name, but don't. Fred Hutchinson was apparently an amazing competitor in life as well as in baseball. He was a solid pitcher and a great hitting pitcher, and had great career numbers over a 14 year span despite losing 4 full seasons to World War II, the most of any of the players I've written about so far. He did manage to sneak in a little baseball during his time in the Navy, though. He won 25 or more games twice in the minor leagues (26 in 1941, probably in response to his being sent down after a shaky start in the bigs), and 17 or more games twice in the majors. Fred played in one World Series in 1940 (sadly, his Tigers lost that one), was an All-Star in 1951, and  he became a manager at the age of 32 while still an active player, given the job because of his competitive fire and leadership skills. During a 12 year career as a manager, Fred won 830 games and the National League Pennant in 1961 (unfortunately, his Reds came up against an insane Yankees team and lost in 5 games).

Unfortunately, after the 1963 season, he was diagnosed with several malignant, inoperable tumors, but he decided to keep his job as manager of the Reds for as long as he could anyway. Hutch lasted as manager until July 27th, 1964, then returned to the club for his final 9 games on August 4th before being too ill to continue. Fred Hutchinson passed away on November 12, 1964 at the age of 45.

Fred was posthumously named SPORT Magazine's Man Of The Year in 1964, named to the Cincinnati Reds' Hall of Fame in 1965, and Major League Baseball has given out the Hutch Award annually to the active MLB player "who best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire of Fred Hutchinson". (Now, I pay attention to a lot of baseball. How have I not heard more about an award like this that's been given out for 45 years?) In addition, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer named Fred Hutchinson their Athlete Of The 20th Century, ahead of Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Steve Largent and a lot of other legendary Seattle athletes. On top of all of that, there's the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, founded in Hutch's hometown of Seattle by his brother, Dr. William Hutchinson in 1975, which is one of the world's leading cancer research institutes. When Red Sox pitcher and Washington native Jon Lester (an eventual Hutch Award winner) was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2006, he was treated at the Hutchinson Center. That is one hell of a legacy for a 45 year old man who played ball to leave behind, isn't it?

(Seriously, you guys, you know that, while I'm not the world's foremost expert in anything, I'm also not that rusty on my baseball history, and I'm also always poking away for more background on the cards I own. How did I miss all of this, and how did all of these players remain shrouded in obscurity in my card boxes for 25 years?)

This is another interesting one. Lately, I've been running into a ton of auctions for Herm Wehmeier's cards. He's been like the go-to '50s common on eBay for weeks. I think I saw someone pull him on the Million Card Giveaway before the deadline, too. So, he kept popping up everywhere, and when I went to scan the '51 cards, sure enough, he was here, too. Herm was, from what I can tell from his bio and stats, a Bobby Witt-esque starting pitcher who had decent stuff but struggled with his control. He also played the bulk of his career for second-division Reds teams that probably didn't do him many favors. An arm injury ended his playing career at 31 in 1958, but he remained in the sport as a scout for a few years, long enough to recommend to the Reds that they sign this guy. Wow, that's kind of a coup. Somewhat oddly (though the travel and the pay doesn't make scouting the world's most glamorous job no matter who you sign), Herm left baseball and got into the trucking business, where he remained until he passed away suddenly in 1973 at the age of 46.

Nice tape mark, previous owner! Very little individual biographical information is easily available on our friend Kent Peterson here, though it is known that he served in World War II, and that he was one of the Manila Dodgers (follow this link, seriously; it's an incredible story). He, like Herm Wehmeier, was also a starter on a few pretty bad post-war Reds teams, though from just a look at the numbers, you can deduce that he probably wasn't the pitcher Herm was. He looks a good deal like Billy Bob Thornton did in "Sling Blade", doesn't he? Look at the pic on Baseball Reference if the card doesn't sell you on it. I love that movie.

One more Red for the penultimate card of this series, but another without a great deal of biographical information readily available: Virgil Stallcup was the Reds' starting shortstop from '48-'51, a solid fielding player (he led NL shortstops in fielding with a .963 in '49) who, unfortunately lacked plate discipline (while he didn't strike out at a Rob Deer-esque level, he almost never walked, either). He put up great numbers in the minors on a number of stops there, making him the prototypical AAAA ballplayer. Sadly, Virgil committed suicide in 1989.

Last card, ladies and Dobermanns! Sam Zoldak (or "Sad Sam", as folks liked to call him) pitched for the Indians, as well as the Browns (Ha! Another one!) and Athletics (Double ha!) over a 9 year big league career, splitting time between starting and relieving and getting decent enough results in both roles. While he didn't play in the World Series, he was a part of the 1948 World Champion Cleveland Indians team (the last Indians team to win it all), and also played on the only pennant-winning St. Louis Browns team in 1944 though again, he did not appear in the World Series. That's a helluva thing. Maybe there's a Curse Of Zoldak in place or something! "I didn't pitch in the World Series for your team, therefore, your team will NEVER SEE THE WORLD SERIES AGAIN!" (And in St. Louis' case, they never would and never will, at least not in that guise. Zoldak is a pretty bad-ass name. It sounds like a name that a Space Ghost villain would have. OK, I'm off on a rant. Lemme rein it in a bit. He's another guy who scouted for a spell (for the Senators) after retiring as a player, and unfortunately, another one who died young, passing away at 47.

Pretty rough streak of deaths at the end of this thing, eh? Bummer. Let's try and bring the mood back up to bring things home, by repeating poor ol' Sad Sam's last name a few times, typed entirely in caps.



Well, then. That covers it for my stack of '51 Bowmans. Hopefully, that silliness at the end of this final part of the series didn't torpedo everything else I wrote. Thanks for reading!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.