Joan Weston, the Blonde Bomber, 1965 SF Bay Area Bombers roller derby

It was 1964 in San Francisco, and a softball game was about to get underway at the Treasure Island Navy base.  The Navy Wives Club was playing against a team of Navy officers. The women were expected to lose, but they had sneaked a “ringer” into the lineup – a girl who was not a Navy wife – in fact, she wasn’t even married.  That girl was Joan Weston. She came to bat six times during the game, and hit a home run each time, six for six. She also pitched, and held the officers to 5 runs, as the Navy Wives won 9-6.

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weston2Whether it was softball, surfing, sailing, or skating, Joan Weston was a tremendous athlete who could compete with anyone.  She became famous during the roller derby craze of the 60s and 70s, but professional sailors knew her as the Hawaiian Outrigger champion. Surfers knew her as probably the best female surfer on the west coast. Her softball feats were legendary = she played for Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles, where she once hit 8 home runs in a game.

Joan was the highest paid female athlete in the world during the 1960s.

This card was created and issued by Superior Card Co.

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Fidel Castro, 1959 Barbudos, Havana Cuba, pitcher

Fidel was probably a pretty good amateur pitcher by all accounts.  Whether he was ever major league (or even minor league) material is a subject of debate.

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(click image to enlarge)

This card describes Castro pitching in an exhibition, after he became the leader of Cuba, and about a decade after he last played baseball regularly.  Regardless of his talent level, Fidel really loved baseball. Today’s Cuba speaks volumes about his love for the sport.  In spite of the fact that the island has been poverty-stricken for 5 decades, Castro’s government found the money to build lighted baseball diamonds in every neighborhood. On any evening, all across the country, baseball parks light up the night and working men of all ages walk down to the neighborhood ball field to play, watch, and talk baseball.

This card was created and issued by Gary Ceiradkowski

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Frank McCormick – NL Most Valuable Player 1941 – Cincinnati Reds

This forgotten superstar of baseball may have had the best hitting eye in the history of the sport.  Despite being a power hitter, Frank almost never struck out.  In over 6,000 trips to the plate, he only struck out 189 times.  Hell, Ryan Howard struck out more than that in only one season, and he did so three times!

frank1(click image to enlarge)

frank2McCormick was an All-Star 8 times in a row, and was named the National League MVP in 1940.  He is still regarded one of the top fielders among all first basemen in major league history,

Frank was assigned Johnny Vander Meer as a roommate during his minor league season with the Durham Bulls in 1936. The following year at Syracuse in the International League, Vander Meer was again his roommate.  In August of that year, both were called up to play at Cincinnati, and once more they roomed together.  The following spring, again assigned as roommates, both of them made the team, and again found themselves rooming together on road trips.  They spent long hours discussing hitting and pitching, and invented a game using a ping pong ball and a souvenir bat (like the kind sold at ballparks) so they could play in their hotel room.

Here is a 1941 Huskies Cereal card of both players:

huslies cereal cardAlthough the Miller Press card above says “1941” on the back, it was actually printed in 1987, as one of 4 cards in the 1941 series.

This card was created and issued by Miller Press Printing Co.

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Bill Thomas 1947 Houma Indians pitcher, Louisiana Evangeline League won 40 games

Bill Thomas won more games in the minor leagues than any other pitcher in history.  He started his professional career in 1926 with the Hanover Raiders of the Blue Ridge League, finishing the season with a 15-12 record.

Bill1For the next 20 years, Bill pitched just one step below the majors, playing mostly in the Pacific Coast League, American Association, and Southern Association.  During the war years from ’41-45, Bill was a valuable commodity, as so many of the younger players were serving in the military. In ’46, when they were coming home, Bill found his services weren’t needed in the high minors, and he scrambled to find a team willing to let an “old man” pitch – even though he was already the winningest pitcher in minor league history.  So it was that in his 21st season, Bill Thomas landed at Houma, Louisiana in the Evangeline League.  Even though he was 41 years old, Thomas was to become the premiere pitcher in the circuit, winning 35 games during the regular season, then compiling a 5-0 record in the playoffs.

bill2Houma won the pennant and the playoffs, but after the season allegations were made that players had accepted bribes from gamblers to throw games during the playoffs. One of those mentioned was Bill Thomas.  Thomas testified that another player had introduced him to a bookmaker, but that he had told the man to get lost immediately.  He was adamant that he had nothing to do with throwing games, correctly pointing out his 5-0 record during the playoffs.  Although there was scant evidence of any wrongdoing, Minor League Commissioner Judge W. G. Bramham summarily placed all five players named (including Thomas) on the ineligible list, apparently ending their baseball careers.

After his suspension, Bill became a roustabout at Texaco’s Houma oil refinery, and pitched in semi-pro industrial baseball.  Given his age, he could hope to return only to the lower minors, but he continued his efforts to clear his name and at length succeeded. Thomas was restored to eligibility by George M. Trautman, Bramham’s successor, on August 22, 1949, and was allowed immediately to return to Houma, which was in a hot pennant race. Thomas helped win the 1949 Evangeline League pennant with three victories in the last 12 games of that season. With Houma and Lafayette in 1950 he was 23-8 at the age of 45. He continued for two seasons, bringing his long career to a close at age 47 with Owensboro in the Kitty League in 1952 with a lifetime record of 383 victories.

 

This card was created and issued by Dave Stewart

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Orlando Cepeda, 1975 Kansas City Royals final season

Here is Orlando Cepeda in his final Major League uniform, at Kansas City in ’74.

cepeda1He was released by the Red Sox in April, and didn’t play for the Royals until August, spending most of the summer playing for the Yucatan Leones in Mexico.

cepeda2Instead of playing baseball in ’75, Cepeda pursued his latest hobby: Marijuana.

In December 1975 he was arrested for taking delivery of 170 pounds of marijuana. Although he admitted to being a marijuana user, he claimed that he was expecting only a small amount for himself, and that he was not a dealer. Puerto Rico had made Cepeda a hero after the tragic death of Roberto Clemente three years earlier, but his arrest made him a pariah on the island. He and his family received death threats. He lost all of his money on his legal case, which caused him to miss child-support payments and led to more legal trouble. He finally stood trial in 1978, was found guilty, and was sentenced to five years in prison. He served ten months in a minimum-security facility in Florida.

In the years afterwards, Cepeda has turned things around and lived an exemplary life.  He was elected to the Hall Of Fame in 1999.

This card was created and issued by Bob Lemke

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Satchel Paige pitcher 1949 Cleveland Indians 42 year old rookie

Satchel was signed by owner Bill Veeck in the summer of 1948 to play for the Cleveland Indians. That milestone occurred on July 7, Satchel’s 42nd birthday.

satchel1His earned run average for the remainder of that season, a sweet 2.48, was second best in the American League. His performance over the half season he played so impressed the nation’s baseball writers that, when the Associated Press polled them, 12 voted for Satchel as Rookie of the Year in the American League, enough to place him fourth.  His 6-1 record was the highest winning percentage on an outstanding Indians staff and a crucial factor in the team capturing the pennant, which it did by a single game over the Red Sox.

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Each game he won had fans and writers marveling over what he must have been like in his prime and wondering how many other great Negro players had been lost to segregation.

 

This card was issued by Monarch Corona

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Woody Guthrie 1938 Los Angeles KVFD radio

Woody Guthrie remains the patron saint of American folk music and protest songs.  His songs described what it was like to be a poor working man in the Great Depression.

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Below is a recording of one of his songs, “Mean Talking Blues”

 

This card was issued by Monarch Corona

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Mysterious Walker, 1911 San Francisco Seals Pacific Coast League pitcher

During the last half of August, 1910, the Pacific Coast League was in the midst of a tough pennant race, with the Portland Beavers and San Francisco Seals battling it out.  The Beavers had the arms: Vean Gregg (31-18  1.53); Gene Krapp (29-16  1.28) and Bill Steen (27-17  1.78) were the mainstays.  San Francisco needed pitching more than anything, and one day a young man applied for the job.  He insisted that his identity be kept secret, and called himself “Fred Mitchell” (His real name was Frederick Mitchell Walker). He was quietly signed on as a pitcher.

mwalkerWhen the new pitcher started winning games, the press got curious about him. Who was he, and where did he come from? Neither Walker nor the Seals management would give out any information.  The press clamored for information when Walker pitched and won complete games in both ends of a doubleheader.  But Walker wouldn’t sit for an interview, and refused to allow his photograph to be taken.

The other members of the team didn’t like him much.  He never socialized or fraternized with his teammates, and acted like a prima donna, like he was so much better than them.  When photographers set up on the sidelines, he took to wearing a mask.  Seals fans were enthralled by their new pitcher, and the ballpark filled up whenever he pitched.

Sketch published by a San Francisco newspaper in 1910

Sketch published by a San Francisco newspaper in 1910

After six weeks of speculation, the truth finally came out.  Walker was mostly known as a football player and coach, and had just finished leading the University of Mississippi to the Southern collegiate championship that spring. He had been a college football and baseball star at the University of Chicago.  Walker had played semi-pro baseball during the summer, and made a name for himself around Chicago as a pitcher. In the spring of 1910, the Cincinnati Reds offered a contract, and he joined their bullpen. He rode the bench for a few weeks, got into just one game, and was let go.  The Giants quickly picked him up, and he went to New York, where manager John McGraw assigned him his roommate: Bugs Raymond, the most notorious drunken fool in the history of pro baseball.

Before Walker ever got a chance to pitch for the Giants, there was a drinking bout and a violent altercation at the hotel room where Walker and Raymond were staying.  A young chambermaid at the hotel claimed Walker had assaulted her. When she screamed for help, the elevator man came running, and was severely beaten up by Walker, who fled the scene.

A warrant was issued for the assaults, but Walker had “mysteriously” disappeared.

The sensational story made headlines all across the country.

When Seals fans found out their hero was actually a fugitive from justice and a villain, they weren’t as impressed by him, and besides, he wasn’t pitching so good lately. He was released by the team in the final week of the season.  The New York charges were eventually dropped.

Walker was a great athlete in any sport he tried his hand at. He went on to pitch again in the major leagues, but never with any great success.  During the winter of 1912-13 he played professional basketball with Pittsburgh.  He earned a spot in the starting rotation with the Pittsburgh Rebels of the ill-fated Federal League in 1914, but had a poor season with an awful team (4-16  4.31).

After bouncing around the minors for a couple more seasons, Walker became an itinerant collegiate sports coach.  He coached baseball, football, and basketball for almost 3 decades.  He served as head coach in one or more sports at Utah State, University of Mississippi, Oregon State, Carnegie Tech, Washington & Jefferson College, Williams College, Dartmouth, Michigan State, DePauw, Loyola, University of Texas, and Wheaton College, among others.

Walker retired from coaching in 1940, and became successful as a stockbroker in Chicago.

This card was issued by Monarch Corona

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Hank Aaron, 1952 Indianapolis Clowns Negro League – chocolate bubble gum card

1952 was Aaron’s only season in the Negro Leagues.  It was tough for young Henry Aaron, being away from home and traveling around in a rickety bus.  Most of the guys on the team were twice his age, and they didn’t go out of their way to make friends with the quiet young man who arrived batting cross-handed.  In fact, Hank had decided in June of that year that he would quit baseball and head home to Mobile, and maybe find a job or join the Army like his older brother.  He said as much in a letter sent home to his mother.

aaron1Henry’s mother mentioned the letter to Hank’s older brother Herbert, an Army soldier stationed at Ft. Benning, Georgia, when he came home for a visit on a weekend pass.

aaron2Herbert placed a long distance call to Henry, who was in Minneapolis practicing for a game at the time.  When he finally got through, they had to call Henry in from the field to take the call.  He worried, Why would his brother be calling long distance? Was something wrong at home? He rushed into the clubhouse to take the call.  It was his brother, just calling to cheer Hank up.  Henry admitted he was homesick, and declared he would be coming home in a few days.  His brother pointed out that he had felt the same way when he first went off to Army basic training.  Herbert told him, “I don’t have much time to talk, so listen.  You need to stay up there and play baseball. Mama and Daddy are getting along just fine.  Don’t quit, concentrate on playing baseball like I know you can.”

In those days, long distance calls were expensive. The coins spent on that call made it necessary for Herbert to hitchhike back to Fort Benning – he didn’t have enough left for bus fare.  But the encouragement he gave little brother Henry was enough to keep him in baseball. It was the most important phone call in Hank’s life – including the one he received from the President of the United States when he broke Babe Ruth’s record!

This card was issued by King Cards

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Bo Belinsky, 1963 Los Angeles Angels rookie phenom

Former pool hustler Bo Belinsky pitched California’s first major league no-hitter in 1962. He dated Los Angeles’s most beautiful women. Then he succumbed to alcoholism. By the time he found Jesus, he had no one left to hustle

bo1Even before Belinsky arrived at the Angels’ 1962 spring training camp in Palm Springs, he was already famous. He had done what in those days was unthinkable for a rookie—held out for more money. He was insulted by the Angels’ $6,000 offer. Anything under $8,500, he said, and he would stay home hustling pool in Trenton, New Jersey. After the club agreed to renegotiate his deal at midseason, he accepted the $6,000, but his labor action had made big news. When he reached the team’s Desert Inn headquarters, he was whisked to the swimming pool, where reporters had gathered for a press conference. Turned out in dark sunglasses, cashmere sports jacket, yellow sports shirt, tight pants and suede shoes, Bo dazzled this hardened bunch.

bo2By age 10 Bo had smoked his first cigarette, by 12 he had lost his virginity and by 14 — thanks to evenings spent at Joe Russo’s Pool Hall — he was an accomplished pool shark.  As he would later proclaim, “You gotta remember the laws of hustling. You never hustle anybody. They hustle themselves. You never try to snow a snowman.”

Baseball was never as important to Belinsky as partying was.  He was sent to the minors several times to play for the Hawaii Islanders, and he loved it.  He met and married a Playboy Playmate there.  Honolulu was just one big party for Bo, and he didn’t mind the demotion.  How do you help a guy who actually wants to pitch in the minors?

In the 70s, after his last chance (with the Reds in 1970) fizzled, Bo became a drug-using hippie biker, and then spent several stints in rehab.  He married twice more, tried to kill himself at least once, then finally found salvation at Trinity Life Church in Las Vegas.  He died in Las Vegas in 2001 of a heart attack.

 

This card was issued by Monarch Corona

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