Poor Japanese Catcher, Anonymous—from the Handbuch des Sports Album, Part II

I know next to nothing about baseball in Japan. Here’s what I do know: baseball is big in Japan, very big; folks have been playing baseball in Japan for roughly one hundred and forty years; and, as in the Americas, baseball cards appear to be popular collectables, with menko being just one of several types of vintage Japanese baseball cards.

That’s not all. Today’s MLB teams are filling their ranks with both veteran stalwarts and younger talents who hail from Japan. Of course many fans may be familiar with current Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, who previously played ball in what’s known as Japan’s Pacific League. (Although far from peak form, Suzuki’s BA, OBP, and OPS figures are slightly up from last season.) Nori Aoki plays for this year’s surprising (re. winning record) Kansas City Royals; he’s Japanese as well. Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is also from Japan–and with his 2.47 ERA, he remains a promising feature member of New York’s starting rotation (despite some elbow issues). This is just to name a few. Here are some more.

It may further surprise you to know that Tom Selleck was quite the ballplayer and made a name for himself in Japan with the Chunichi Dragons.

(Note: most of this information I’ve gleaned from the million-legged Wikipede and something called Mr. Baseball, which I caught on TV late one night.)

Finally, there’s this guy. . . .

1933 Sanella, Japanese Catcher

It’s a 1933 Sanella–so a German card of a Japanese baseball player. Apparently, he was a catcher. Again, though, that’s all I know. His name is nowhere to be found on either his card or the trading card album in which his card appears. However, he must have been pretty good, as he’s only one of two ballplayers featured in the entire Handbuch des Sports.

She Wore Blue Velvet–and Drank it, too

Kerr-McGee Blue Velvet Motor Oil--I'll Buy That! Ed

It holds an appeal in the strangely still vibrant colors amidst apparent decay. Indeed, those intriguing hues of a night-draped veil, what velvety blues, and the brackish yellow and gold—along with the starkly promoted automotive content in the curiously branded oil can—all fooled my eyes from afar. Up until the point when I grazed the surface and edges with my fingers, I would have sworn that this was some toasted, porcelain sign. But no: ’tis only cardboard—beaten, worn, yet painted (printed) bright.

Likewise the story holds an appeal: how I’d locked my keys in my car for probably the dozenth time in my life and was temporarily trapped at a delightful hole in the wall antique store, which to me aptly recalled an ill-lit vintage baseball card shop I once knew that was actually called The Hole in the Wall due to a literal gaping hole in the storefront’s crumbling adobe. In any case, I had ample time to stare, debate purchase, and admire the subject matter and design—time enough to learn that the piece came from the consigned collection of some local picker called Nestor, Roscoe, or some such name that seemed nicely evocative of engine parts and kinematic viscosity.

Even some cursory research on the Kerr-McGee company’s history proves equally, if not murkily rich as well with their less than stellar environmental or simply ethical record.* For example, Kerr-McGee lost a drawn-out legal battle against the Navajo Tribe in a dispute vitally pertinent to Native American rights and sovereignty of reservation lands; eventually, the case was decided by the Supreme Court. In addition, Kerr-McGee owned and operated the plutonium production plant where Karen Silkwood worked, whose life and activism inspired the film Silkwood (1983).

I also learned that Kerr-McGee was headquartered in Oklahoma City, which is less than a few hours driving distance from the previously mentioned antique shop wherein this sign was found.

Yet most appealing of all is the inside joke to myself: how there’s few more perfectly idiosyncratic, cunningly sideways allusions to be unearthed and appropriated for the personal display of a David Lynch devotee.

*It’s somewhat difficult to read from the image, but the Kerr-McGee company name is seen on the upper-left corner of the illustrated oil can.

To read more about the Kerr-McGee company history, visit the Kerr-McGee wiki page.

(Poor) Nap: 1913 Napoleon Lajoie Card Game, Red Tint

1913 Napoleon Lajoie Card Game, Red Tint

If you’ve ever seen these rosy hued lovelies floating about the scattered cards and carddust of the universe, then you might wonder why a pre-1920s card of a Hall of Famer from the dead-ball era can easily be found for the paltry ballpark figure of thirteen dollars and fifty cents.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that his name isn’t George Herman Ruth or Ty Cobb—or that a self-titled Hollywood biopic has yet to be filmed. Maybe it’s because of foolishly xenophobic prejudices against anything European and his background as a Frenchy (or at least a French immigrant’s son) who nevertheless excelled in, nay, dominated the “National Pastime.” Perhaps the card value is also diminished by its condition being a little rough around the edges, as well as by the characteristic chicken-scratch handiwork of some surely long-since deceased juvenile delinquent who saw fit to deface the card’s back with uninventive profanities and bawdy stick figure sketches (or maybe that last detail suffers from a bit o’ embellishment). More likely still: maybe the average seller of ungraded cards is restrained from advertising lofty asking prices on these Napoleon Lajoie card issues primarily on account of that age-old law in the land of misfits and cardboard—a fickle dynamic known as supply and demand. In as much, that purveyor of family fun and trusted household name in the realm of board games, Parker Brothers, didn’t manufacture just hundreds of these cards for their popular Napoleon Lajoie Card Game; in fact, as each game came with a set of fifty cards or game pieces with Lajoie’s likeness printed on the front, well, you needn’t even bother with the math. The population count is probably in the thousands. And despite whatever its relegated status as an “oddball” card, suffice to say that’s a lot of Naps flooding the marketplace.

So why do I value this flimsy game piece all the more? Call it nostalgia, nonsense, or simply respect for the past and a player well worth his weight in silver slugged (or perhaps that’s an anachronism, as the Silver Slugger award only began in 1980). In any case, when Lajoie batted a .426 average during the season of 1901, he set a mark that has gone unsurpassed to this day by any subsequent player in major league ball. In that same season when “he abandoned the National League in favor of [the American League], Lajoie almost single-handedly legitimatized the AL’s claim to major league status,” as his SABR biography explains.[1] Lajoie’s career numbers remain equally impressive, too, with 3,252 hits and an average of .339.

However, there’s much more to love about Lajoie than merely what’s in the record books. His power was the stuff of legends, except that these legends are true: in fact, “Lajoie swung so hard and met the ball with such force, that on three separate occasions in 1899 he managed to literally tear the cover off the ball.”

Whether by his own foolhardy stubbornness, bad luck, or a little of both, Lajoie also went through just about everything that a ballplayer can in the bizarre spectrum of possible experiences on and off the field, as his SABR bio again attests:

In 1900 Lajoie lost five weeks after breaking his thumb in a fistfight with teammate Elmer Flick. Two years later, legal squabbles between the American and National Leagues cut into his playing time. . . . [Then] in 1905, Nap’s leg nearly had to be amputated after the blue dye in his socks poisoned a spike wound.

And who doesn’t love a ballplayer with an absolute disdain for authority? Actually, Lajoie’s behavior is probably worthy of some psychological case study. Indeed, considering his antics and “famous run-ins with umpires,” I doubt that a better example of chronic ump rage exists:

In 1904 he was suspended for throwing chewing tobacco into umpire Frank Dwyer’s eye. After one ejection, Lajoie, who stubbornly refused to leave the bench, had to be escorted from the park by police. And in 1903, Nap became so infuriated by an umpire’s decision to use a blackened ball that he picked up the sphere and threw it over the grandstand, resulting in a forfeit.

Perhaps befitting his uneven temperament, did I mention that Nap’s card also comes in assorted hues of cool blue and angry red?

[1] And while some may argue that Lajoie’s incredible success had much to do with an uncompetitive American League, it seems prudent to note that the AL did have some other strong talent, including an utterly exemplary pitcher by the name of Young, first name Cy, who also threw one of the best seasons of his career that same year.

More player info: Napoleon Lajoie at SABR’s Bio Project. Batting records at Baseball-Reference: Single-Season Batting Average and 1901 American League Batting Leaders. Card info at PSA Card Facts.

(Poor) Roger Maris, 1964 Topps

Poor Roger Maris, 1964 Topps, ed

Pocket-weary, scuffed, and battered, Roger Maris gazes skyward in defiant optimism. More than anyone, he should know how pinstripes can suppress the ecstasy of flight. At age 29, the navy blue cap sits atop a ravine-furrowed brow, conceals bald patches and tufts of gray—distressed vestiges from 1961. An expanse of black netting looms behind his back. In high, deserted tiers, no crowd of a thousand empetalled faces quivers with applause. But even bold trajectory always dips eventually. So Roger plays with bone chips, a broken hand; he wracks his knees on grandstand dives; and, come retirement, he combats the Hodgkin’s lymphoma whose cytology reveals periwinkle profusions among white blood cells. What history has since transpired: wrinkles extend in cellulose varicose veins from center to edges frayed. Yet still he stares through folds of time; he lifts his head, as if to trace the measured beat of ash wood—its resonant, aerial song arcing through the pale-blue down above.

*Previously appeared in Harpur Palate 13.2 (Winter/Spring 2014), page 63.

(Poor) Bull Durham, 1909-1911 T206 #156

1909-11 T206 156 Bull Durham

Player name: Louis Raphael Staub

A.K.A. / stage names / monikers:

Charles Staub, Louis Raphael Durham, “Bull Durham”

Roles cast in: pitcher; “Coach Nolan” in The Pinch Hitter (1917), see trivia below

Teams / Clubs / Allegiances:

Brooklyn Superbas (1904)

Washington Senators (1907)

New York Giants (1908-1909)

Era: dead-ball

In the show: 1904, 1907-1909

On the farm: 1902-1904, 1906-1909, ?-1913

Off/on dreaming of both: 1877-1960

Highlights: in 1908, earned a 19-7 pitching record and won five double headers, in the minors

Bobbles: ERA of 12.60 with the Senators in 1907

Trivia and/or trivial: silent movie actor in Hollywood, 1914-1922; later worked as a “geologist”; surprisingly, no connection with the story in Ron Shelton’s film Bull Durham (1988)

Under the cool, wet grass: Pleasant Valley Cemetery in Bentley, Kansas

More player info: Bull Durham at Baseball-Reference Minors and Majors, Bull Durham Wiki page, Bull Durham at IMDB, and “In Pursuit of Bull Durham” at SABR’s Research Journals Archives

Image courtesy of COMC.com.

(Poor) Bob Darnell, 1955 Bowman

1955 Bowman, Bob Darnell

I amuse myself in imagining how on one early crisped, freshly mown morn during the spring training session of 1955 some nameless Bowman photographer likely set up his tripod and checked his Logaphot light “extinction” meter—unawares he was about to lose his job later that year in what would be a monopolistic harbinger in the acquisition of Bowman by the notorious Topps company. But before that happened, this Kodak-wielding idealist spectacularly captured the magical moment wherein Bob Darnell defied the laws of physics and threw his fastball so fast that it subsequently vanished in flames and traveled the way of a nuclear-powered, time-bending DeLorean. And now—nearly sixty years later—it just crashed straight through the television screen!

That’s not all: Bob’s career stats also boast a lossless pitching record during his time in the majors. On the other hand, Darnell’s time in the show was so brief that he never won a game either. Yes, that’s right: poor Bob held an 0-0 record during his two-year stint with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the team who subsequently up and left town for sunny California by 1958.

Darnell’s minor league numbers tell a slightly different story. After playing roughly nine years and almost exclusively in AAA, kicking around from St. Paul to L.A. to Montreal and elsewhere, he amassed 778 strikeouts. Sure, his career ERA of 4.06 wasn’t exactly exemplary, but to have experienced that rush of fanning so many batters must count for something, right?

In any case, with the 1956 season—his second and last time called up from the minors to play for Brooklyn—Darnell only pitched one major league game (indeed, only “1.1” innings), during which he failed to strike out any batters and then allowed a hit.

But he tried, didn’t he? Goddamn it! At least he did that.

♦ ♦ ♦

Bob Darnell major league and minor league info and stats found at Baseball-reference.com.

Image courtesy of COMC.com.

Ephemera Found When You Move, Part III: Nolan Ryan Signed Baseball

Signed Nolan Ryan Ball--after the family dog had his way with it

Please humor me for a moment to follow (and perhaps check) my math here: according to Major League Baseball’s sanctified Official Baseball Rules, the distance from home plate to the pitcher’s plate at the mound is 60 feet and 6 inches or 60.5 feet. Now this means when Nolan Ryan hurled his fastest recorded pitch at 100.9 miles per hour in an official major league game that it took all of .408 of one second for the ball to travel from the origin of the mound to the destination of home plate.[1] You may also note that this time is not far off from the average blink of the human eye.

So while the length of time that the featured Nolan Ryan autographed baseball (above) remained in mint condition certainly exceeds that of Ryan’s official fastest pitch, this particular piece of memorabilia nonetheless existed in pristine form for a still relatively brief period.

The story goes that my physician father-in-law received the autographed ball as one of those curious gifts given by some traveling pharmaceutical salesperson. And whatever you may feel about that particular, perfectly legal and not uncommon practice and the lamentable ethics of the broader pharmaceutical industry, I can say with confidence in knowing this discriminating man (my father-in-law, that is, not the traveling pharmaceutical salesperson) that he more than likely said “why, thank you very much—that’s very generous,” while in the same breath, “but no thank you to that worthless poison you’re peddling.”

My father-in-law couldn’t care less about baseball or Nolan Ryan, though, so he in turn gave the signed ball to his teenage daughter (my future partner-in-crime). At the time, she was an avid sports enthusiast, immersed in all manner of scores and statistics, nightly basking in the glow of broadcasts from the soon-to-be imperial ESPN. In fact, she even once attended a Texas Rangers and New York Yankees baseball game.

This inked orb of ephemeral memorabilia did not remain long in her possession, however, before a younger sibling (of yet fully developed capacity for appreciating material values) looked up towards a lofty bedroom display shelf and gazed upon said perched orb. Of course, the first thought that popped into this young child’s noggin proved just too tempting to resist: now isn’t that the perfect little bauble for me to throw and to catch and to play with—with my dog. Thus shortly thereafter Nolan Ryan’s still freshly scrawled autograph met with much smudged and slobbered disaster in the jaws of the family dog. . . .

But the ball survived just fine, albeit a bit lopsided, smeared, and worse the wear.

[1] After much nocturnal, numeric agony and my own feeble math skills, the calculations first require conversion from mph to ftps, or miles per hour to feet per second; hence 100.9 is multiplied by 5280, since 5280 feet equal one mile, and then that product of 532752 is divided by the 3600 seconds that comprise one hour. This yields 147.986 ft./sec. Given this rate, then divide the distance of 60.5 feet by 147.986 ft./sec. (as t = d/r, or time = distance/rate), all to arrive at the .408 seconds travel time.

 

Best Worst Mickey Mantles, Part II

It’s time to expand the digital collection of the best worst Mickey Mantles. Some of these appear just mildly, colorfully marred–while others belong in a category specially reserved for the utterly wretched, shipwrecked, and weather-wracked. . . . And, again, if you happen to have a beautifully ruined Mickey Mantle that you’d like to share, then by all means please feel free to comment to this post with a link to your own poor Mickey Mantle.

 

1956 Topps 135 Mickey Mantle

1957 TOPPS BASEBLL #95 MICKEY MANTLE YANKEES GREAT LOOK

1959 Topps Mickey Mantle 10

1961 Topps Mickey Mantle 300

1962 Topps 18 Managers Dream Mickey Mantle Willie Mays

1962 TOPPS 200 MICKEY MANTLE

1962 TOPPS BASEBALL 471 MICKEY MANTLE ALL STAR

1963 Topps 2 A.L. Batting Leaders Mickey Mantle

1963-mantle-bombers-ed1

1965 Mickey Mantle 350

1965 Topps 350 Mickey Mantle

1965 Topps Micky Mantle

1968 Topps 280 Mickey Mantle

Mickey Mantle 1959 Topps Bazooka

Mickey Mantle 1968 TOPPS GAME 2 Baseball Game Card - Needs a good home

 

Pulp Ephemera Featured on Sports Collectors Digest

Hey folks, I have a featured piece this week on Sports Collectors Digest! In case you’re new to SCD, it’s a great resource with some fun writing–and it’s an old haunt of Keith Olbermann’s, who was an occasional contributor for the publication. So that definitely made my day. In any case, you can read the Poor Mickey Mantle(s) essay here.

 

Poor Kenny Washington, 1948 Leaf

1948 Leaf, kenny washington

Or Kenneth “Kingfish” Washington–the first African American signed to an NFL team in the modern era. He played college football with Jackie Robinson at UCLA and was considered by many to be a standout athlete in his own right. After some gigs with a couple of minor professional football leagues and more than a few knee injuries later, the NFL finally ended a prolonged ban on black players when Washington joined the Los Angeles Rams. However, too much time and too many injuries had already transpired. Playing only three seasons with the Rams, Washington retired in 1948–but not before at least one vibrant, beautiful card issue could be made. Now it’s been gradually unmade by man and the brutal process of deterioration. Now it’s been beautifully wrecked with all of the fitting metaphoric potential. Colors appear faded, corners indicate signs of dogeared folds, and an almost evenly divided quadrant of creases seems to segregate poor Kenny from himself. But it’s still here holding on strong to an ever slipping, tenuous existence. And while in the hushed arenas of collective memory his stat. lines may yield only whispers, Kenny Washington’s breakthrough should instead summon from bottom to uppermost tiers a resonant, undulant roar.

Visit the Kenny Washington Wikipedia entry here.

Image courtesy of COMC.com.