Wednesday, June 14, 2017

This Post is a Total Ump Show

An "ump show" is when one of the officiating umpires decides to showboat a little bit and take the focus of the game at hand off of the players on the field and squarely onto their shoulders.  Few things are more annoying to baseball fans; but, don't let this "ump show" scare you off, as I'm actually quite excited about it.  Allow me to explain.

Frank Secory was an outfielder who saw the bulk of his playing time come during the War Years.  With this in mind, sadly, that means that despite seeing action in five separate Major League seasons, taking 324 trips to the plate, and appearing in a World Series during that time, Secory never appeared on a legitimate trading card.  After all, Goudey was MIA for the vast majority of that time and the War Effort sucked up the majority of raw material for more important tasks, which created a nice, big black hole for cardboard during Secory's playing career.  There are many players from the decade of the 40's that have been giving me and my CATRC fits, including Mr. Secory.

Sadly, the former outfielder never made so much as a cameo appearance in any of the more modern retrospective sets, i.e. Conlon, TCMA, Renata Galasso, etc.  However, with that in mind, Secory is not completely without baseball card representation:

Once he hung up his spikes, Frank stuck around the game for another couple of decades as an umpire.  Thankfully, his fourth year working for the National League was one of the few where a major card manufacturer, Bowman, decided to show a little love to the most thankless profession in the game.  The iconic 1954 "Color TV" set included 30 cards dedicated to the MLB umpires, allowing for Secory's first and only traditional baseball card appearance and an opporunity for me to be able to cross his name off of my "needs" list. 

That said, his and all of these unique cards appear in the third, high number series of the set, making them a tad more scarce.  Furthermore, these umpire cards were understandably unpopular with contemporary children and were often pitched, with great disappointment, by kids who were hoping to pull Yogi Berra or Mickey Mantle.  As such, Secory's only card a bear to track down in my price range.

After years of failed quests at card shows and fruitless saved searches on Ebay,  I was thrilled to track down a copy of this elusive card for just a tick over five bucks - keep in mind, this is a card that I've often seen sell for 3 or 4 times as much as that price.  Of course, it comes with it's trade-offs:  a significantly softened lower-left corner, rounded corners all around, and some chipped edges.  Nevertheless, the surface is clean and I'm not looking for resale value here - it's still aesthetically pleasing and allows me to add another coveted name to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder.  As you might already know, that is, by far, my greatest thrill when it comes to collecting cardboard.

The back of his Bowman beauty gives us a little taste of Secory's background (he's Bohemian, eh?) baseball acumen, even briefly mentioning his time spent with Cubbies.  Even so, I'm left wanting more; so, let's take a deeper look into the story of one Frank Edward Secory.

Secory (and fellow, future Cubs) with the minor league Milwaukee Brewers in 1944.
Image courtesy of Borchert Field.

He was originally signed as a Detroit Tigers prospect for 1936 and eventually and made his Big League debut with the Michigan club in 1940.  However, after receiving only one, single, pinch at-bat in one, single game (a strikeout against Cleveland's Al Milnar on April 28th - a 11-9 loss), Secory was exposed to waivers.  The Tigers must have seen all they needed to see from that solitary at-bat, as the Tigs allowed the 27-year old fly-chaser to be claimed by the Cincinatti Reds, who promptly assigned him the minors.

The next season, while trying to impress the brass of his new franchise, Secory unfortunately fractured his leg while sliding into second base as a member of the Syracuse Chiefs, further hindering his development.  Once healthy, he did earn another cuppacoffee later in '42 season with the Redlegs; however, once again, Secory found himself quickly disposed of, after just two contests (no hits in 5 AB's and three walks) - he was sold to the old Milwaukee Brewers, who were then a farm club for the Chicago Cubs.

Secory during his years with my beloved Chicago Cubs.  
Images courtesy of Kevin Baskin on Pinterest and Historic Images.

After a couple seasons of regular playing time in the American Association, Secory's contract was purchased by the Northsiders for the 1944 season, where he would finally settle into a groove.  For the next three seasons, Secory was able to call Wrigley Field home.  He responded well, having a career year in '44, slashing .321/.387/.554 as a back-up outfielder and then getting a bit of revenge against his former club in the 1945 World Series.  In Game 6, with the score tied 7-7, Secory whacked a pinch-hit single with one out in the 12th frame; a pinch runner later came around to score, give the Cubs an 8–7 win, and send the Series to a game seven.  Who knows?  If the Cubs managed to seal the deal in that series, their most recent World Series appearance until last fall, Secory's name might be better remembered in the Windy City.

The Iowa native stuck around for one more season in the second city, after his World Series heroics; however, with the War over, playing time for the outfielder began to dwindle.  Mid-season, he was either sold to or placed on the waiver wire and claimed by the New York Yankees, who stashed him in the minors as depth and then again was dumped back on the Tigers partially through the 1947 schedule.  Secory never made his way back up the ladder in either either of these stints and unceremoniously retired after '47.  That said, even though his time as an active player was done, his life on the diamond was far from over.

Secory emphatically calls the Dodgers' Carl Furillo safe at home at Ebbets Field, August 5, 1957.

After calling it quits as a player, Secory found a second baseball life on the other side of the baselines - as an umpire.  Secory worked his way up the minor league ladder, much as he did as a prospect in the Tigers organization, first calling the shots in the Class-C West Texas-New Mexico League, then the AA Texas League, before eventually being purchased by the National League in 1952.  From there, the former Cub began a 19-year long tenure in the Majors.  While he was never more than a bit-player in the outfield, Secory was a big-shot behind the dish.

During this time on the NL crew, Frank set a National League record by umpiring in nine official no-hitters.  In case you were wondering, the record-setter just so happened to be Dock Ellis' infamous acid trip in 1970, where he worked first base.  Later, Paul Pryor eventually outdid Secory by working his tenth such game in 1978.  Further hats in Secory's little hat include working four World Series ('57, '59, '64, & '69), six All-Star games, and involvement in Jim Bunnings perfect game on Father's Day of 1964.  All in all, I'd say he had a much more eventful career as an umpire than he did as a player!

Secory and Casey Stengel have a little "discussion" at home plate in 1963.
Image courtesy of Getty Images.

And there you have it, the tale of Frank Secory - baseball player and umpire extraordinaire, as well as a welcomed new resident in my CATRC binder.  See?  That ump show was actually quite exciting, at least in my humble opinion.

The search for more obscure Cubs from the pre-Topps era continues.  Secory was one of my bigger wants, but the list of players who plied their trade pre-1951 that still remain elusive to me is quite long.  With Frank, I was lucky that he remained in the game for several decades after the close of his playing career and even luckier that a set of umpire cards were made during that time; obviously, I will not always be so fortunate when it comes to plugging those gaps.  It is a never-ending quest filled with vintage roster jenga, oddballs, and tons and tons of research; but, that's all part of the fun to this collector.  After all, the journey is almost always more fun than the destination, right?

For now, I will happily add Secory to the binder, cross his name off of my want-list and begin the quest for the next new addition.  Who will it be?  Only time will tell.


  1. Nice pickup! I've always been fascinated by these player-turned-umpire stories.

  2. This is interesting! Thanks for taking the time to write this up.

  3. Very interesting story- thanks for sharing, Tony!

  4. Very educational post! And that song... wow... that brought back memories. That was my jam back in the day.