Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the 2022 Topps Opening Day baseball set, which is scheduled to be released in March:
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6The Allen & Ginter set has always been one of my favorites. It has enough history, pop culture, politics and offbeat subjects to keep my interest.
This year is no exception.
Every year, my wife asks me what I want for my birthday, and invariably I request a hobby box of the newest Topps Allen & Ginter set. And that’s what happened this year.
A hobby box typically yields three hits, but mine had four, so I was lucky in that sense. Three were memorabilia cards and the fourth was a Murad T-51 framed cloth card, numbered to 51.
But first, the basics.
The A&G set contains 300 base cards and 50 short prints. It is a nice touch that card No. 1 this year is Hank Aaron, since “The Hammer” died earlier this year. There are 24 packs to a hobby pack, and eight cards to a pack. Every pack has a least one mini card — either a parallel from the base set or an insert.
The box I opened had 126 base cards and 12 short prints. What is wonderful about Allen & Ginter sets is the attention paid to the Hall of Famers. The box I opened had 26, including three short prints.
What has set this product apart from others is its diversified checklist. In addition to the current stars, rookies and Hall of Famers, there is a broad spectrum of other celebrities to collect.
For example, my hobby box included Alissa Nakken, the first full-time female baseball coach. There were also comedians (Roy Wood Jr., Jimmy Pardo and Sarah Tiana), hockey announcers (Mike Lange), actors (Mark Anthony, Jason Biggs, Steve Carlson and Jeff Garlin), baseball announcers (Daniel Kim), baseball GMs (Kim Ng), football players (Trevor Lawrence and Jaylen Waddle), chefs (Jose Andres), BMX stars (T.J. Lavin), reporters (Jesse Sanchez), softball players (Kelly Wrangham) and soccer players (Rose Lavelle).
There’s even an alter-ego (Uncle Larry, played to the hilt by Andrew McCutchen).
And for odd uniform choices, Jose Canseco is featured in a Devil Rays uniform (who remembers the “Hit Show”?)
This year’s design is not as blocky as the 2020 product. Last year, players were framed in a rectangular gray outline, with the Allen & Ginter product name flush left at the bottom of the card. This year’s version features the player in a more ornate setting, with his photo placed inside a rounded design. The Allen & Ginter product name is centered and bolder looking in gold lettering. The background surrounding the player is a subdued gray.
The design for the card backs remains the same, with plenty of information. As always, statistical numbers are always spelled out, which has always been kind of a snooty nod to the Gilded Age of U.S. history — from which the original 1887 Allen & Ginter set was a part.
There were 10 base mini parallels in the box I opened — including one short print — plus six others with Allen & Ginter advertising backs. There were also three black-bordered parallels.
Collectors should be on the lookout for other parallels, including No Numbers, of which there are 50 copies pers player; gold-bordered retail; Brooklyn backs, numbered to 25; a hobby exclusive wood parallel, numbered 1/1; and 1/1 glossy and framed printing plates.
As usual, there is an eclectic mix of inserts.
The T51 Murad Reimagined set contains 50 cards, and I pulled six of them. The set pays tribute to the college series sets of the early 1900s, complete with a team pennant and seal.
Historical Hits is a 50-card subset that highlights some of the most significant hits in baseball history. I pulled six inserts, which included cards of Honus Wagner, Willie Mays, Scott Podsednik, Magglio Ordonez, Cal Ripken Jr. and Salvador Perez.
Tree lovers will enjoy the 15-card Arboreal Appreciation insert. I pulled four of these inserts. Deep Sea Shivers explores the various species of sharks with a 16-card insert set, and I also had four of them.
Birds of a Feather, meanwhile, is a 10-card subset that concentrates on parrots. The hobby box I opened had two of these inserts. Rallying Back also concentrates on animals, but on endangered species. There are also 10 cards in this insert set, and I also pulled two of them.
There are mini inserts, too, and I found two Far Away cards, one Good For You card (gotta love those green beans), one World’s Largest card and one Mascots in Real Life card.
The big hits in the hobby box were two uniform swatches (JaCoby Jones and Gio Urshela), a framed bat card of Nolan Arenado and a T51 Murad Cloth frame card of Jose Altuve, numbered 11/51.
Every hobby box also offers several times of boxloaders. I pulled a large card of Giants catcher Buster Posey.
All in all, a very nice haul.
The Allen & Ginter set is always fun to collect, although completing the short prints can be a pain. Some collectors even like to chase and complete the base and SP parallel minis, which can certainly be a chore.
But since 2006, Allen & Ginter has been my midsummer night’s dream. This year is no exception.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the Fanatics deal with MLB nd MLBPA in securing baseball card licenses:
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Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the 2021 Bowman's Best baseball set, which will be released in December:
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Speaking about earning a victory after a long drought, former University of Florida football coach Charley Pell once said that his team “was like a thirsty man in the desert.”
I felt the same way when I went to my local Walmart and saw blaster boxes of sports cards on the shelves for the first time in months.
So I grabbed a blaster box of 2021 Panini Contenders Draft Picks, since NFL minicamps are coming up soon.
The Contenders product line features current draft picks, of course, but also established NFL players pictured during their college days.
A blaster contains seven packs, with six cards to a pack. Pulling an autograph from a blaster is unusual, but the fates were with me as I found a College Ticket insert red parallel of Cal defensive back Camryn Byrum, who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings.
Doesn’t matter to me that the autograph was on a sticker, although like any collector, I prefer an on-card version.
Remember: Thirsty man on a desert. That card was a nice oasis.
The base set has 100 Season Ticket cards, and I pulled 35 from the box I bought.
The design is clean, with a lot of foil, and, as the product name implies, has a ticket theme. The photograph on the card front shows the player in action, with the college team logo in the upper right-hand part of the picture.
The player’s name and position appear across a small black banner, framed by a white border and positioned underneath his photograph.
“Season Ticket” is in bold black, italic letters beneath the player’s name, with a seat, row and section randomly chosen and stamped in silver foil. There are three diagonal bars stamped in foil above the team logo, which breaks up the white border that surrounds the photograph.
The card back features a smaller, but uncropped photo of the player on the left-hand side. A UPC bar code above the photograph lends more credence to the “ticket” concept.
The player’s college team logo dominates the upper-right hand side of the card and is positioned under the card’s number. The player’s name is featured in white type inside a black box, and there are 10 lines of ragged right type that provide highlights and statistics about the player’s college career.
In addition to the base cards and autograph, the blaster box I bought had two Game Ticket red parallels and four inserts. The Game Ticket cards featured Big Ten rivals Tom Brady (Michigan) and Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State). The ticket “stub” is stamped in red foil.
The inserts include two Legendary Contenders cards, which are part of a 20-card subset. The cards I pulled were Peyton Manning (Tennessee) and Russell Wilson (Wisconsin). Unlike the base cards, the photographs of the players in this insert set are displayed in black and white against a blurred reddish background. The Wilson card was a red parallel.
Interestingly, the type detailing the players’ careers were ragged left, a slight change from the base set.
Draft Class is a 40-card insert set, and I pulled a Zach Wilson rookie card red parallel. Ragged right type on the back of this card, too.
The final insert I pulled was a Front Row Seats card of Terrace Marshall. This insert also has 40 cards, but the design is horizontal on the front. Back to ragged right for the type on the back.
Overall, a clean-looking set. Collectors who enjoy delving into the past of NFL stars and upcoming rookies will enjoy this concept.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1962 Topps Football Bucks insert set:
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the record-setting 1914 Baltimore News card of Babe Ruth. There is plenty of history and legal intrigue behind this card:
He was known as Alexander the Great, and during a seven-year stretch Grover Cleveland Alexander was one of baseball’s top pitchers.
From 1911 through 1917, only Walter Johnson won more games. Alexander had a 190-88 record and led the National League in strikeouts five times. Johnson, meanwhile, went 197-99 during that stretch and led the American League in strikeouts six times.
But something happened to Alexander. He went overseas to fight during World War I, serving in France as a sergeant in the 342nd Field Artillery Regiment. He effectively missed the 1918 baseball season, appearing in three games and going 2-1.
When he returned, Alexander seemed fine physically, but the war haunted him. He began drinking heavily, and his bouts with epilepsy became more of a concern but remained hidden from the public view. Alexander likely suffered from “shell shock,” which is now called post-traumatic stress disorder.
Alexander would be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938 but by then his life was a haze of alcoholism. In November 1950, Alexander was found dead in a hotel room in his hometown of St. Paul, Nebraska.
Alexander “wasn’t the relaxed discharged soldier he appeared to be,” Jim Leeke writes in his latest book, The Best Team Over There: The Untold Story of Grover Cleveland Alexander and the Great War (University of Nebraska Press; $29.95; hardback; 247 pages). “And effects of combat jangled his nerves and his psyche.”
Alexander would win 27 games in 1920 to lead the N.L. for a sixth time. He won 181 games from 1919 through 1930 and achieved immortal status for coming out of the bullpen and striking out Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series.
But he was an effective pitcher and a troubled man for most of the 1920s.
Some writers believed Alexander was washed up. For example, an Aug. 18, 1921, headline in the Grenola (Kansas) Reader noted that “Alexander Nearing End of His Career.”
What many people knew about Alexander came from a rather sanitized — and at times inaccurate — portrayal by Ronald Reagan in the 1952 movie, “The Winning Team.”
Leeke helps add context and accuracy to the legend of Alexander, touching on the years before and after World War I but concentrating on the pitcher’s time in the military.
Leeke, an Ohio native who worked in a newspapers as a reporter, columnist and sportswriter, is no stranger to World War I history. Among his works are Ballplayers in the Great War: Newspaper Accounts of Major Leaguers in World War I Military Service (2013), which he compiled and annotated; the award-winning From the Dugouts to the Trenches: Baseball during the Great War (2017); and Nine Innings for the King in 2018.
Before the war, Alexander was nearly unstoppable. He won 28 games as a rookie in 1911 and became the only other pitcher besides Christy Mathewson to win 30 or more games in three consecutive seasons. During his career he won more than 20 game nine times and tied Mathewson for the National League record in victories with 373.
“That a youth with ‘Grover Cleveland Alexander’ wished on him at birth could succeed in any line of endeavor is strange,” a June 1911 wire story began. “Most hopefuls nicked with the monacher (sic) of eminent citizens are flagged at the post.”
“He knows nothing that resembles fatigue; he never sulks; he is always ready,” a wire dispatch noted two months later.
In 1915, Alexander led the Philadelphia Phillies to their first N.L. pennant by winning 31 games, throwing 12 shutouts, completing 36 games and posting an ERA of 1.22. Alexander led the National League in innings pitched seven times and topped 300 innings nine times.
And Alexander was a favorite of fans and teammates.
“Alexander is admired, he is loved by every member of his team,” St. Louis sportswriter Sid C. Keener wrote on the eve of the 1915 World Series.
Men named their children after him. The Butte (Montana) Miner reported in September 1916 that Jerry Kennedy a popular cigar clerk a local saloon, named his 12-pound, firstborn son Grover Cleveland Alexander Kennedy. That’s a mouthful.
A wire story in March 1917, when Alexander was holding out for $15,000, noted that “his long arm reached down in the baseball depths about eight stories and pulled a team that was chronically near the tail end up to a commanding position on the heights.”
The Phillies, despite enjoying success through Alexander, traded the pitcher and catcher Bill Killefer to the Chicago Cubs two weeks before Christmas 1917, news that was “a hefty lump of coal” for Philadelphia fans.
“The deal gutted the Phillies,” Leeke writes.
It was a pre-emptive move by Philadelphia. Team officials believed Alexander would be drafted, so they took the money and ran. So, the Phillies took the money and ran. As it turned out, Alexander was drafted, despite originally believing he would receive a low classification because his mother was dependent upon him.
“The Philadelphia-Chicago deal smells little better today,” Leeke writes.
Alexander’s drinking increased when he returned from Europe. He was also treated for a stomach condition while in France, Leeke writes, even though he said he had never been sick during his time the Army.
“The Great War put an end to my day dreaming of various records,” Alexander would say.
The war certainly ruined any chance of Alexander winning 400 games. He would lead the N.L. in innings pitched seven times and topped 300 innings nine times.
Leeke helps the reader understand what the men who served during World War I faced. He traces Alexander from his enlistment until he returned from Europe. Alexander received his training with the 342nd Field Artillery Regiment at Camp Funston in Kansas. The outfit was organized as “a motorized heavy-artillery outfit,” Leeke writes. Leeke draws from the regiment’s history to paint a picture of the fast-paced training Alexander and his colleagues went through.
What made this regiment stand out was its athletic talent, Leeke writes. In addition to Alexander, athletes in the regiment included Clarence Mitchell of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Otis Lambeth of the Cleveland Indians, Win Noyes of the Philadelphia Athletics and Chuck Ward of the Dodgers. Football star George “Potsy” Clark, who coach the Detroit Lions to an NFL championship in 1935, also was a member of the regiment.
In a nice touch, Leeke begins every chapter of The Best Team Over There with a war poem from famed sportswriter (and WWI Army lieutenant) Grantland Rice.
“They were surprisingly good,” Leeke told podcaster Dean Karayanis on the “History Author Show” in April. “Not what I expected. You know, some of his sport poems are very light and casual and funny. But the war poems, by and large, were not that.
“They have real emotion to them, some of them have real power to them.”
The doughboys at Camp Funston, meanwhile, were suffering through training because of the Kansas prairie’s extreme seasonal changes.
Soldiers found the camp “too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter, and too unpredictable in between,” Leeke writes.
As for Alexander, he had time for a quick wartime wedding, marrying Amy “Aimee” Marie Arrant on June 1, 1918, in Manhattan, Kansas. Alexander and his outfit shipped to Camp Mills, New York, two days later and headed overseas on June 28, Leeke writes.
Leeke devotes chapters to Alexander’s unit sailing to Great Britain and then to France. The 342nd arrived in Liverpool on July 10 after what Alexander called “a splendid journey.” Four days later they arrived in France and traveled to Camp de Souge, nicknamed “The Little Sahara.” The troops had to learn how to put on gas masks immediately, and that was always a concern.
Leeke writes that Alexander was soon promoted to corporal and had at least one epileptic seizure while in France. His promotion meant that he had less time to play baseball, although “the sport was wildly popular among Yanks serving in France.” Alexander would say that he pitched in five games during his time in France.
Alexander and his unit finally saw action in the St. Mihiel offensive, digging in at Bouillonville. Alexander heard the shelling by the Germans and at one point watched a shell bounce past him; fortunately, it was a dud, Leeke writes.
Alexander would be promoted to sergeant on Oct. 3, 1918, and became a gunner. Alexander would be praised for coolness under fire, exhibiting the same calm demeanor he had on the mound, Leeke writes. War, of course, has higher stakes, so Alexander’s men would come to appreciate his steely persona.
Leeke provides plenty of detail, putting the reader into the trenches.
It is unclear when Alexander became affected by PTSD, and he never discussed it directly.
“But none could have been unaffected by the sights, smells, and sounds of war,” Leeke writes, “The awkward spread of dead animals, the terrifying whiff of gas, the deafening tom-tom-tom of the howitzers.”
No wonder “John Barleycorn had begun tightening his grip” on Alexander, who first began drinking hard liquor in France.
A decade later, Alexander “never budged” during a spring training game when some children set off fireworks in the grandstand.
“He just sat there stiff as a board, teeth clenched, fist doubled over so tight his knuckles were white,” teammate Bill Hallahan recalled.
Alexander’s unit remained in occupied Germany until early 1919, and Alexander finally returned to the United States that spring. After losing a 1-0 decision to Cincinnati on May 9, Alexander finished the year with a 16-11 record and a league-leading 1.72 ERA and nine shutouts.
Alexander always insisted he was sober when he came into Game 7 of the 1926 World Series to fan Lazzeri to save the Cardinals’ lead. The Winning Team movie used it as its final scene, but Alexander pitched two more scoreless innings, helped when Babe Ruth was caught stealing for the final out of the game.
Life was not kind to Alexander after baseball. His wife divorced him and he worked in a penny arcade and flea circus in New York’s Times Square. After making an appearance at the opening of the Hall of Fame, “the broken-down pitcher resumed his rocky road to nowhere,” Leeke writes.
In November 1940 he received treatment at a Veterans Administration hospital in the Bronx. In 1944 police found him wandering around the streets of East St. Louis, Illinois, in his pajamas at 2 a.m. In May 1949 he fractured a vertebra in his neck after falling down a flight of stairs at an Albuquerque hotel. Later that year he was admitted to a Los Angeles hospital to be treated for skin cancer.
Alexander’s final association with baseball game in 1950, when he visited Yankee Stadium for the final two games of the World Series, which featured the Phillies in the Fall Classic for the first time since Old Pete led his squad in 1915. He died several months later.
Leeke was not writing a definitive biography about Alexander. Rather, he concentrated on the pitcher's time in the military while bookending his life before and after World War I.
The research is detailed and extensive, with 24 pages of end notes and a meticulous bibliography.
Leeke’s writing is straightforward and clear, and his narrative is entertaining.
The Best Team Over There is a fine work of sports and military history. It gives the reader some new perspective about players who went overseas to fight during World War I, and perhaps answers some questions about why Alexander could not escape his demons after returning.
Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg are the Rodgers and Hammerstein of baseball history.
That may seem like an odd comparison, but read the collaborative efforts of Spatz and Steinberg. Their prose sings.
Their latest effort is perhaps their most challenging project together, but one both baseball historians tackled with relish to produce a very interesting narrative.
Comeback Pitcher: The Remarkable Careers of Howard Ehmke and Jack Quinn (University of Nebraska Press; hardback; $39.95; 473 pages) is a look at two pitchers whose careers spanned the deadball and lively ball eras of the 1910s and 1920s.
Neither are really household names, which is interesting when one considers that Quinn won 247 games during his 23-year major league career — including a two-year stint in the Federal League. Ehmke pitched 15 seasons in the majors and had a 166-166 record.
The authors note in the book’s preface that many major leaguers “are not headliners but rather men who contribute to their teams’ success while occasionally flirting with stardom.”
That captures Ehmke and Quinn perfectly.
Ehmke confounded the experts when he struck out a record 13 hitters as a surprise starter in Game 1 of the 1929 World Series. Quinn held the record of being the oldest pitcher to win a game, a mark that stood for nearly 80 years.
Quinn was 49 years, 70 days old when, pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers on Sept. 13, 1932, he went five innings in relief to pick up 6-5 victory in the first game of a doubleheader against the St. Louis Cardinals. Jamie Moyer was 49 years, 141 days old on April 17, 2012 when he went seven innings as a starter for the Colorado Rockies and beat the San Diego Padres 5-3.
That is, we think that is how old Quinn was. He was one of the last legal spitball pitchers before his career ended in 1933 with the Cincinnati Reds, and during his playing days he was coy about his origins — or perhaps, he simply didn’t know.
Quinn’s birthdate and place of birth “were one of baseball’s enduring mysteries,” the authors write. “He added to his enigma by his vagueness and differing stories.”
The authors title their first chapter, “Jack Quinn, Man of Mystery,” and it is easy to see why.
It took a family relative by marriage, after a decade of genealogical research, to finally nail down Quinn’s birthdate of July 1, 1883, in the Slovakian town of Stefurov, which at the time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The relative, Mike Scott, concluded that Quinn never told his age because “he never knew.” Quinn’s mother died shortly after the family moved to the United States, and his father worked long hours in the Pennsylvania coal mines.
John Picus Quinn’s middle name was an Americanization of his father’s surname, Pajkos. The authors note that Quinn changed his last name to Quinn because there were very few Eastern European baseball players, and prejudices ran high. “Quinn” sounded like an Irish name, and baseball had plenty of Irishmen at the turn of the 20th century.
These nuggets of information are typical of a Spatz-Steinberg collaboration, and their latest work is deeply researched and has 81 pages of end notes. Their bibliography runs an additional 20 pages and includes books, magazines, websites, articles from the Society of American Baseball Research and even a 2016 letter from then-Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
Spatz and Steinberg are award-winning writers who have collaborated on two previous books: “1921: The Yankees, the Giants and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York” in 2010, and 2015’s “The Colonel and Hug: The Partnership that Transformed the New York Yankees.”
Separately, Spatz has written several books, including 2011’s Dixie Walker: A Life in Baseball, Hugh Casey: The Triumphs and Tragedies of a Brooklyn Dodger, in 2017, and New York Yankees Openers: An Opening Day History of Baseball’s Most Famous Team, 1903-2017.
Steinberg’s body of solo work includes Urban Shocker: Silent Hero of Baseball’s Golden Age in 2017, and The World Series in the Deadball Era in 2018.
Their partnership is a smooth one, with “a true collaboration” bringing out the best in every subject they research. It is not a choppy book, where one writer’s style stands out so it is easy to determine which author wrote a particular chapter. Other than a few overlaps here and there, it is a seamless work.
“As with a personal relationship, when it works well, it is rewarding and enriching,” Steinberg told SABR writer Bill Lamb in an interview. “But it takes more effort than a solo project.”
Speaking of partnerships, Quinn and Ehmke were teammates for several years. Both played for the Boston Red Sox from 1923 through 1926, and for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1926 to 1930.
Throughout their careers, the authors write, both men were written off as washed up and over the hill. Quinn, who debuted for the New York Highlanders (now Yankees) in 1909, was written off as a has-been as early as 1912. And yet, he went 26-14 for the Federal League’s Baltimore Terrapins in 1914 and had 10 seasons with double-digit victories. He won 18 games with New York in 1910 and 18 a decade later with the Yankees. In Philadelphia he went 18-7 in 1928.
“I was as strong as an ox … and could throw pretty smart,” Quinn once said.
Having a spitball in his arsenal helped, too. Quinn kept defying the odds, even when newspaper accounts noted that there were “plenty of folks in New York willing to testify that Quinn is through as a top-notcher.
Quinn had the last laugh. He was durable and still pitching in semipro leagues into his 50s.
Ehmke, meanwhile, also won at least 10 games 10 times during his career. He had a baffling array of pitches and windups, including a submarine delivery that seemed to come from the ground. Ehmke could also throw sidearm and overhand. He won 20 games in 1923 for a Red Sox team that only had 61 victories and followed it up with 19 in 1924 for a seventh-place Boston squad that won just 67 times.
Ehmke was hailed as “the next Walter Johnson” when he played for the Detroit Tigers in 1916. Ehmke pitched six seasons in Detroit, but the friction between him and Ty Cobb in 1921 and 1922, when the Georgia Peach was the Tigers’ manager, is intriguing.
Before Cobb became manager in 1921, Ehmke made it known that he wanted to be traded. “He and Cobb had not had an open breach in 1920, but both thought it best they stay apart,” the authors write.
Cobb would later refer to Ehmke as “indifferent,” and intimated that he lacked courage, while the pitcher called his manager “Detroit’s greatest pennant handicap.”
When Ehmke was traded to Boston and faced the Tigers in May 1923, he hit three batters, including Cobb. When Ehmke went under the stands after the game, Cobb was waiting for him, the authors write. Cobb won the fight, but Ehmke said he had more satisfaction from winning the game.
“I’d still rather be the winning pitcher than the winner of the fight,” he said.
Both Ehmke and Quinn found a home in Philadelphia, just as Connie Mack was returning the Athletics to prominence.
The authors write that during most of the 1929 season several of Philadelphia’s top players “had little use” for the Ehmke, including Al Simmons, who reportedly exchanged punches with the pitcher.
But Ehmke was 35 and wanted to pitch in a World Series, and Mack sent him to scout the Cubs during the final month of the season. That was no secret; the stunner was that Ehmke would start the series opener.
“The thought was that Ehmke was scouting the Cubs for the benefit of Mack and the A’s players,” the authors write. “Little did they realize he was scouting them for himself.”
The Cubs were primarily fastball hitters, and Ehmke’s “lazy motion and slow stuff” tripped them up.
Mack, appearing in a World Series for the first time since 1914 and winning a postseason game for the first time since 1913, called that Game 1 victory his greatest day in baseball.
“Ehmke had risen above the criticism and injuries he had endured those sixteen years to pitch the game of his life,” the authors write, noting that his 13 strikeouts topped the World Series record set in 1906 by Ed Walsh.
When Carl Erskine struck out 14 Yankees in Game 3 of the 1953 World Series, Ehmke sent the Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher a congratulatory telegram, the authors write.
Erskine had no idea he had set a record and did not know who had held it.
“I’m still not sure that I can even spell that fellow’s name right,” Erskine told reporters.
Ehmke would be released in May 1930. He later went on to have a successful business career producing sports tarpaulins for outdoor sports events. He remained close to Connie Mack and Philadelphia baseball events, attending old-timers’ games. He also was an enthusiastic golfer who shot in the low 80s, playing in tournaments up until a week before his death in 1959.
At 46, Quinn became the oldest pitcher to start World Series game when he opened at Shibe Park in Game 4. However, he was trailing 6-0 when he left the game after facing four batters in the sixth.
Fortunately for Quinn, that effort is hardly remembered, because the Athletics pulled off the biggest comeback in World Series history, scoring 10 runs in the seventh inning to win 10-8 and take a 3-1 lead in the Fall Classic.
The following year Quinn became the oldest player to appear in a World Series game, pitching the final two innings of Game 3 in a 5-0 loss. He was released after the Series and was picked up by the Dodgers, where he led the National League in saves in with 13 in 1931 and nine in 1932. He got into 14 games with the Reds in 1933 before he was released, pitching his final game a week after he turned 50.
While Ehmke had a comfortable retirement, Quinn scrambled to stay in baseball, pitching for semipro teams and even managing the House of David squad. However, his world was ripped apart in July 1940 when his wife Georgiana (known as Gene) tripped on a sprinkler and fell over a park bench during a family gathering. Her leg injury led to gangrene and she died two days later.
“It was a blow from which he would not recover,” the authors write.
Quinn began drinking heavily and died in 1946 from cirrhosis of the liver.
“He drank his sorrow — to death,” a family friend said.
Comeback Pitchers might be a niche read, but it is a fascinating look at two pitchers who made their mark, particularly during the free-swinging 1920s. Spatz and Steinberg lift both pitchers out of the haze and obscurity and show them for what they were — very good pitchers in an era that focused on hitters.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1963 Topps Peel-Offs baseball insert:
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1961 Nu-Card Scoops set, a product that looked like a newspaper front:
I like when authors select a baseball season and put it in the context of history, pop culture, politics, literature and media. It’s a wonderful combination, and David Krell has chosen an interesting year to examine.
In 1962, I was 5 and getting ready for kindergarten in Brooklyn, New York. At that age I was probably oblivious to what was going on in the world (although I could name every president of the United States), but there was a great deal to absorb.
The Cold War was ramping up to a possible confrontation over missiles in Cuba, and the U.S. was cutting into the Russians’ lead in the space race. Musically, listeners were caught between the Elvis phenomenon of the late 1950s and the British invasion that would be spearheaded by The Beatles in 1964. Television was coming into its own with new and inventive programs, and movies and books were beginning to push the boundaries of staid, traditional fare.
Baseball completed its first round of expansion with new National League franchises in Houston and New York, capped by a memorable playoff between ancient rivals and a riveting World Series.
That is the backdrop for David Krell’s latest book, 1962: Baseball and America in the Time of JFK (University of Nebraska Press; $34.95; hardback; 335 pages).
Krell has a natural love for baseball, and it shows. Meshing the national pastime with popular culture has been a strength; in 2019 he edited “The New York Yankees in Popular Culture: Critical Essays,” and last year he edited “The New York Mets in Popular Culture.” In 2015, Krell wrote “Our Bums: The Brooklyn Dodgers in History, Memory and Popular Culture.”
Krell’s writing philosophy is summarized neatly on his website: “Writing is a demanding process. At times, terrifying. And I love it!”
The process is made easier by an extensive bibliography in 1962, with more than 145 books, comic books, movies and television stations referenced.
The notes are meticulous and exhaustive, too. Krell not only pulls materials from newspapers, magazines, television episodes, movies, and archives. He also makes extensive use of contacting sources via telephone, email and even snail mail (that was big in 1962, by the way) from Mary Frances Early, the first Black graduate at the University of Georgia. The telephone interviews include primary sources — Sherri Chessen, the “Romper Room” hostess whose “private choice to terminate a pregnancy became a public story,” is one example — along with relatives such as Sara Karloff, the daughter of actor Boris Karloff; Jayne Barbera, the daughter of the Joseph Barbera (of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon animation team); and Dinn Mann, the grandson of former Houston Colt .45s (and Astros) owner Judge Roy Hofheinz.
There is plenty for the reader to chew on in 1962, particularly Krell’s exploration of popular culture. But he throws a curve in the first paragraph of the first chapter, noting that Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ’Round the World” was “music to the ears of Brooklynites.” Unless Krell meant a sad trombone sound or a Chopin’s “Funeral March” funeral dirge. I cannot conceive of any Dodgers fan who found that musically magical unless I am misreading it.
After that shaky start, Krell settles into a smoother pattern. He concentrates on five key teams during the 1962 season. The expansion teams are awarded plenty of attention, along with the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants and the New York Yankees. Krell gives brief capsules about each team’s players. There is a great deal of detail about the birth of the Houston franchise, which tends to be overlooked because the Mets grabbed the spotlight because of their lovable ineptitude.
However, bringing baseball to the Lone Star State was a big deal, and Krell touches all the bases.
While Krell does not delve too deeply into the nuts and bolts of baseball in 1962 — there is no need for play-by-play or minutiae, since that can be read elsewhere — there is enough narration to keep baseball fans interested. Krell takes a broader view, focusing his attention on the political, social and cultural shifts that were taking place.
There are good baseball stories, too. Krell revisits Bo Belinsky, who threw a no-hitter in 1962 and married actress Mamie Van Doren. The statuesque Van Doren posed for Playboy and admitted that life with Belinsky was “a circus” but also “a wild ride and a lot of fun.” As for Belinsky, Krell writes that “the more (Belinsky) pushed aside his conscience, the more fun he had.”
Krell also digs into the television shows of the era, like “Car 54, Where Are You?” “77 Sunset Strip,” “The Real McCoys,” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.” That is because watching television “was a nationwide habit heavily rooted in our DNA by the early 1960s,” Krell writes.
Book plots are also discussed. “Seven Days in May” (one of the great Burt Lancaster-Kirk Douglas pairings when it was adapted to the silver screen in 1964) and “Fail-Safe,” are novels that played on the paranoia of power grabs, nuclear disarmament and nuclear weapons.
“Hollywood’s output in 1962 is staggering,” Krell writes about the movies that were prominent in 1962: “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “Lolita,” “The Longest Day,” “How the West Was Won,” “Cape Fear,” “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” and the Oscar-winning “Lawrence of Arabia.” The star power was big, too, with John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Cary Grant, Doris Day, Lee Marvin and Steve McQueen landing prominent roles. The Oscars for best actor and actress would go to Gregory Peck (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) and Anne Bancroft (“The Miracle Worker”).
For all of its plusses, 1962 does contain some errors, particularly on the baseball side. Powel Crosley, the former owner of the Cincinnati Reds, is spelled as “Powell.” That’s a common mistake, something I would liken to the Bidwill family that owned the Cardinals football team (often misspelled as Bidwell, for example).
Krell notes that Lou Gehrig made his “Luckiest Man” speech in July 1939, “three years before his death.” Gehrig actually died in June 1941, nearly two years after his emotional farewell speech.
In a capsule about Tommy Davis, Krell writes that the Dodgers’ slugger was 18 when Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947. Davis, who was born in 1939, was actually 8 years old at the time.
Krell notes that Jim Gilliam’s “body of work” resulted in five pennants and three World Series titles while he was a player for the Dodgers. Gilliam actually played for seven pennant winners in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, and four World Series champions (1955, 1959, 1963 and 1965).
Elvis Presley made his first television appearance in 1955, Krell writes; if so, it must have been on a local station. The King’s first national appearance occurred on Jan. 28, 1956, on “The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show” in New York. The Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, meanwhile, is referred to as the “Fountainbleu” during an interview with Carla Kirkeby. That just might be poor transcription; the hotel has been misspelled hundreds of times through the years.
Krell also writes that Ralph Houk “helmed” the Yankees from 1961 to 1973. I guess “helmed” could be taken to mean Houk’s tenure as the team’s general manager (1964 to 1966), because he did not manage then. Yogi Berra (1964) and Johnny Keane (1965 and part of 1966) did; Houk returned to the dugout when Keane was dismissed 20 games into the 1966 season.
And while the telephone interviews were instructive and fascinating, some of them covered several pages. Krell’s phone interview with Chessen, while fascinating, was spread across five pages. I am not sure whether some paraphrasing might have worked better, particularly since the interview does not reference the questions asked. Or did Krell just ask one question and Chessen took off on a long explanation? It’s possible, I suppose.
I did not find the long interview distracting — this was stuff I didn’t know about, so I was hanging on every word — but perhaps others might have.
Overall, 1962 is the type of book Krell excels at — a cultural deep dive that examines what was trending in a particular year, and how it impacted how we saw the world. The book was slanted more toward politics and popular culture instead of baseball, and John F. Kennedy was not the central figure of the book. Politically he was prominent, especially with the Cuban Missile Crisis in October and his determined goal of winning the space race. Jackie Kennedy’s tour of the White House with CBS correspondent Charles Collingwood was unprecedented and gave Americans a glimpse into the country’s most famous address.
The 1962 baseball season ended with a rocket of a line drive off the bat of Willie McCovey, snared by Bobby Richardson to preserve the Yankees’ 1-0 win in Game 7 of the World Series. Later that month, civilization teetered on the brink of a nuclear holocaust because of rockets based only 90 miles away from the Florida mainland.
It’s an interesting parallel.
Krell’s book is a nice, well-rounded view of a year that was promising and turbulent, sometimes at the same time. He goes beyond nuts-and-bolts baseball in 1962, presenting the United States as it looked midway through Camelot.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a woman who shared her aunt's photographs taken in Atlanta on the night Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home run record:
I love to blog about sports books and give my opinion. Baseball books are my favorites, but I read and review all kinds of books.