Unless you live under a rock, you know that St. Louis baseball has been all over the news for the past few days. Unfortunately for them, it's not because the Cardinals somehow manage to keep being an unstoppable winning machine despite half of their key players being disabled ( I maintain that it's a deal with the devil; after all, their primary color is red....)
No, it's because someone or someones in that organization were bitter towards Jeff Luhnow and decided to hack the Astros computer system - very haphazardly and recklessly at that. The FBI is involved and there's likely going to be some jail time involved.
But you know what St. Louis baseball club isn't involved in a high-tech computer hacking scandal? The St. Louis Browns, that's who! Mostly because they played their last season way back in 1953 and computers were still the size of gymnasiums; but, that's beside the point.
Last week, I picked up this lovely, oddball set of 50's-themed baseball cards from one of my LCS's for a few bucks. It was released in 2003 and designed by Ronnie Joyner - a sports cartoonist who has created several fascinating sets of baseball cards. The Washington City Paper recently spotlighted Ronnie and it is a fascinating read; check it out here.
The set at hand honors the 50th anniversary of the final edition of the St. Louis Browns, who immigrated from the Gateway to the West in the opposite direction and became the Baltimore Orioles after the 1953 season.
The complete set includes 40 cards, including all 38 players who saw game action and two cards that could be combined to make a large, floating-head team card (seen in the middle). These were sold in complete packages, which even came with a fancy, foil seal (so you know it's a big deal):
Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Tony, you're a pretty strict Cubs collector, what possible use could you have for such a niche set of a long-forgotten team?"
Well, first of all, I've long had a fascination with teams from days gone by; ever since I pulled a "weird" card of Walter Johnson on some "weird" team from Washington, I've always set aside cards of Senators, Browns, Pilots, Colt .45's, etc. etc. I'm a baseball nerd AND a history nerd.
Second of all, this set contains one of only two cards that were produced of a guy who saw some time with the Cubs way back when. The other was also a commemorative set, this one done by Larry Frtisch, in 1998 for a team reunion; but, that's not important right now.
So, when I saw this random, obscure set sitting on the discount table of local store, I couldn't pass it up.
Ed Mickelson got three separate cups of coffee (must've been free refills?) for three different teams in the 50's: the Cardinals, the Browns and the Cubbies. The first baseman only totaled 18 at-bats through all three stints and posted a collective .081 batting average in that time; you can see why he didn't get much of a look.
He didn't head to Baltimore with the rest of his '53 teammates, as he was purchased by the Shreveport Texas League club the following April. Mickelson bounced around the bushes for several more seasons before the Cubs gave him a final look in 1957; he was hitless in 12 plate appearances.
Unfortunately for him, Eddie wasn't long for this town
Image courtesy of Kevin Baskin
I'm very happy to finally be able to add Ed to my CATRC, as it was getting frustrating seeing my saved Ebay search populated by nothing but Phil Mickelson memorabilia. I don't particularly care for the gentleman's game.
However, it turns out that Eddie wasn't the only card I was able to add to the CATRC.
Les Moss never actually played for the Chicago National League ball club; but the grisly, old backup catcher did serve as the Cubs pitching coach in 1981 after toiling as a manager in their beleaguered farm system for a few years.
The split-season '81 squad went a combined 38-65, leading to the firing of general manager Bobby Kennedy that May and the dismissal of skipper Joe Amalfitano in the off-season. Les was a casualty of replacement manager Lee Elia bringing in his own staff, so he went to Houston and guided their pitching staff from 1982-89, including an NL West title in 1986.
Les somehow smiling the dismal 1981 season
(must be early on, before the true misery, judging by the browned ivy)
Image courtesy of MemoFX
I recently decided to actually pursue collecting coaches and giving them their own special section in my CATRC binder (which is players, managers and coaches) after merely setting their cards aside and doing nothing with them for many years.
You might say that they were just gathering "Moss" in the interim; "Les" is more after all.
Okay... Fozzy Bear wouldn't even have laughed at those puns. I apologize.
There were a few other '53 Browns who logged time in Chicago; however, I already have cards of them in their proper blue uniforms. That said, I'll gladly hang on to these for their miniscule player collections.
Obviously, the biggest name here is Mr. Larsen. Now, despite looking like a senior citizen in this particular rendering, Don was a fresh-faced, 23-year old rookie - long before the notoriety he would gain for his World Series perfecto or his Cubs debut no-hitter.
Here is what the backs of the cards looks like: very similar to the flagship designs of the time, except clearer, crisper and easier to read with modern printing techniques. Each included a unique cartoon about the player (unlike the recycling Topps likes to do in their retro-themed sets) along with a detailed bio and the player's stat line from that final season.
I chose to show off the back of Littlefield's card because I found it the most amusing. I suppose the modern day equivalent would be a player looking at his Twitter feed or MLBTradeRumors.com.
Original image courtesy of Kevin Baskin
Two-bit, hackjob editing courtesy of me
The rest of the cards in the set hold no particular interest to me, so if anyone wants a few, let me know. I highly doubt there are many Browns bloggers on the interwebs (maybe more than the Marlins though?), but who doesn't love nifty oddballs such as these?
The set includes HOFer Satchel Paige and other notable names like Marty Marion, Virgil Trucks and Johnny Groth - see the picture at the beginning of the post for the full list - don't go hacking my computer to find out who else is available.
Oh, wait, that's more like a Cardinals thing than a Browns thing.
Sorry Cards fans, I couldn't help but take that parting shot; here's hoping that whole nasty situation gets resolved as quickly as possible with minimal damage to the sport.