Tom Dempsey 1971 New Orleans Saints

After being kicked off the football team at Palomar College for punching one of his coaches, Dempsey was brought into the N.F.L. by Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers in the hopes of turning him into a kicker/offensive lineman in the mold of Lou Groza. But for the first time in his football life, Dempsey was heavily outmatched physically by the famed monsters on the Packers’ defensive line.

“I got beat up pretty bad every day in practice,” said Dempsey, who never played a game in a Packers uniform. It was then, he says, that he decided, after a stint playing for a semipro team in Massachusetts, that he wanted to focus exclusively on being a kicker.

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Dempsey joined the New Orleans Saints in 1969—a year before he made history. Going into the final seconds of the game, the Saints trailed the Lions 17–16 that momentous day.

He says it was cool that day but also humid. Says he didn’t sleep at the team hotel the night before because, for the first time all year, there was no team hotel: The Saints were 1-5-1 and had fired coach Tom Fears the week before, so this was J.D. Roberts’ first game. Unlike his predecessor, Roberts let players sleep at home before home games.

The Saints trailed the Detroit Lions 17-16. With 11 seconds left to play, the Lions seemed to have ensured victory when Errol Mann kicked an 18-yard field goal. But after the ensuing kickoff, Saints quarterback Billy Kilmer connected with receiver Al Dodd for a 17-yard connection to the sideline. That play stopped the clock with two seconds left to play.

“I had called timeout, and I asked our offensive coordinator Don Heinrich, ‘Have we got anything set for this?'” Roberts recalled. “He said, ‘Not really. We could go trips and throw it up for grabs.’ Dempsey was standing there with us, and he said ‘I can kick it.’

“If I’d known it was 63 yards, I might have messed it up,” he says.

Said Roberts of Dempsey, who entered the game having converted just 5 of 15 field goal attempts: “He had the leg. He could kick it a long way. It was just a matter of where it was going.”

Dempsey didn’t learn it was a record until after the game, when a TV reporter told him that he’d bested the previous mark by 7 yards (56 yards by Baltimore Colts kicker Bert Rechichar in 1953).

That night, he and some teammates went to Dempsey’s favorite bar, the Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street, and downed Dixie beer until 7 a.m.

“We stayed out all night,” he says. “Pretty typical.”

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The record Dempsey set more than 42 years ago has since been equaled by three others (Jason Elam, Sebastian Janikowski and David Akers) but has stubbornly gone unsurpassed, a rather remarkable feat given the advanced, year-round training and conditioning programs modern N.F.L. players almost universally participate in.

Dempsey typically spent his off-seasons at home in Southern California working as a bricklayer and as wrestler on the local professional wrestling circuit.

Tom accomplished a lot for a guy who was missing a large part of his kicking foot, due to a birth defect. Here is the actual shoe he wore with New Orleans:

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In his time off during the season and during the off-season, Dempsey, who was also born without the fingers on his right hand, drank a lot. In fact, the night before he kicked his record-setting field goal, he was down in the French Quarter tying one on!

This card was issued by Monarch Corona

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Billy Sunday 1888 Pittsburgh, later a world famous Christian evangelist

In June and July of 1887, Centerfielder Tom Brown of Pittsburgh was playing the worst baseball of his career.

Tom Brown conquered his demons and later became a star again at Boston.

Fun-loving Tom Brown eventually conquered his demons and later became a star player again at Boston.

A solid batter for years, Tom was no longer a .300 hitter. He was no longer a .250 hitter. Brown, who was one of the fastest runners in baseball, was now getting thrown out, and he was making more fielding errors than ever. A man who had recently been a star was sinking fast.

sunday1Tom Brown didn’t have some rare illness, and he wasn’t getting too old to play the game. It was the booze. He had been drinking since arriving in Pittsburgh, and it was destroying him. On August 15th, manager Horace Phillips gave Brown some bad news: He was being dropped from the team. Phillips was going to have to find a new outfielder. One of his coaches told him about Billy Sunday, who played for Spalding’s team in Chicago.

The worst thing you could say about Billy Sunday was that he was always trying to save souls and get the other players to go to church with him. By his own admission he didn’t drink much, and seldom gambled. Manager Phillips wanted to get a man like that, someone who could stay sober and set a good example. That’s exactly what he got when he obtained Billy.

sunday2Billy had just batted .291 at Chicago, and Pittsburgh was probably hoping for something more than a .236 hitter, but that was all Sunday could muster during his first season at Pittsburgh. He did steal 71 bases, and lived an exemplary life off the field.  In Billy’s second season with Pittsburgh, the team was doing horribly. Billy was again having a weak season at the plate. The team went through three managers that season. One of them, Ned Hanlon, was asked about Sunday, and what a fine young Christian man he was. Hanlon observed that he would just as soon have a Free Thinker who could hit the ball than a Methodist who couldn’t. His idea of a fine example was someone who could produce some runs and win some games.
More and more, Billy was being called by God to preach. It wasn’t that he was a loafer – he had received a higher calling. If Sunday had put as much heart into baseball as he did preaching, he would have been as good as anyone in the sport for a long time.
In 1890, when the Players League formed, Pittsburgh lost all of their experienced players, except Billy and the manager.  The team was terrible, finishing 23-113 and of course in last place.  The team was so broke by then that they sold Billy to Philadelphia in August for $100 cash and two untried rookies! Soon afterwards, Sunday left baseball to become a full-time evangelist. He couldn’t ignore the call of God, and the rest is written large on the pages of history.

billy preacher
Billy Sunday was the most important man in America for over a decade.  More than anyone else, it was Billy Sunday who convinced the average American to support Prohibition of alcohol sales. Carrie Nation and her hatchet act were just a sideshow – it was Reverend Billy Sunday who preached the sermons which convinced an entire nation.
Billy also addressed other social issues of the day. He supported women’s suffrage, he called for an end to child labor, and he included blacks in his revivals, even when he toured the deep South.

This card was issued by Dave Stewart

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Ed Lopat, Pitcher, 1953 New York Yankees

It was a hot July day in 1937 at a swampy little place named Jeanerette, Louisiana.  Ed Lopat, in his first year of pro baseball, was on his way back home, and to a career mending shoes. His hitting had been anemic, even after being demoted from Greensburg in the Penn League to the Jeanerette Blues of the Class D Evangeline League. It was the poorest team in the weakest league in the country, the lowest rung of the professional baseball ladder. And Ed was a .218 hitter with a slew of fielding errors.

lopat1(click image to enlarge)

lopat2Although he had been signed as a 1st baseman, Lopat was riding the bench because he was such a poor hitter and fielder. Just to keep him busy, Blues Manager Carlos Moore assigned Ed to play catcher in the bullpen.  Lopat knew this assignment was going nowhere – there aren’t any left-handed catchers.
He could see that his short career as a baseball player was about to crash and burn.
Out in the bullpen one day, he was catching while an old  veteran named Eli Birmingham pitched. Eli had about a dozen different pitches, and Lopat started mimicking him. When Birmingham threw a curve, Ed curved it right back to him. When he threw a screwball, he got the same right back. When he threw a fastball, a drop, and a shine ball, they all came right back to him. The other players in the bullpen were amused at this, and Manager Carlos came over to watch. He liked what he saw, and two days later, Ed was starting his first game ever as a pitcher. It would take him 7 years to finally make it to the big leagues.
Lopat never had a blazing fastball, and by ‘53 he had slowed down considerably. Yet that was the year when Ted Williams said Ed was the hardest pitcher for him to face in the American League. What was his secret?
Ed was constantly coming up with new pitches, varying his speed, and throwing sidearm, overhead, and three-quarters. He was the most effective pitcher in baseball that year, but he was often called “the Junkman” because of his motley assortment of pitches. He baffled hitters with a mix that included various curves, sliders, knuckleballs, palmballs, and sliders – all thrown at varying speeds.

This card was issued by Monarch Corona

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Pete Hill, 1913 Chicago American Giants Negro League

It was Memorial Day of 1946 in Buffalo, New York. In a local park, a large picnic was being held.  Most of those in attendance were Negro employees of the Curtiss-Wright Airplane factory in Buffalo. There was sadness in the air, because the company had laid off most of the workers and announced the plant would close by December.
But a war had been won, and that was what mattered most of all.

petehill1(click image to enlarge)

petehill2Off to one side, a pickup baseball game was being played. Boys from eight years and up had divided up into two teams, which included mostly adults.
The oldest player was “Uncle John” who was well into his 60s. John wasn’t a good runner anymore.
He had suffered a couple of bouts with the gout, and so he was dispatched to play first base that day.
Uncle John moved slowly, and he liked to crack jokes and grin a lot. But when he stood at the plate, he became quite serious. Time after time he came up to bat and walloped the horsehide into oblivion.
The strong young men there were amazed as they watched the elderly gent repeatedly slam baseballs over the heads of the outfielders and into the woods.
It was Pete Hill’s last game of baseball, the sport he loved.
Although he is not remembered today, Pete Hill was one of the all-time greats. He was comparable to Ty Cobb, but with more power. He was a great fielder and a dangerous base runner. Like Cobb, he had a fiery disposition.
He got into a disagreement with an umpire once, and the ump pulled a pistol and used it to club Pete on the nose. The stadium erupted into a riot and the game was forfeited.
Hill spent 27 years in Negro baseball as both a player and manager. During most of his career, he was the best hitter, fielder, and baserunner in black baseball.
He retired when team transportation switched from trains to buses – Uncle John always hated to ride in a bus.

This card was issued by Lone Star Printing

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1937 Satchel Paige, Ciudad Trujillo Dominican League, chocolate bubble gum card

In ‘37 the Pittsburgh Crawfords held their annual spring training at New Orleans, one of only a few cities in the south where black people were more accepted.  The city has always had an international flavor, Latin and French and Caribbean are the primary flavors. It was a great spring for Satchel Paige, because he absolutely loved New Orleans.  The place was filled with pretty ladies, and he was the highest paid member of the National Negro League champions.  He stepped out frequently.

paige1One night on Toulouse Street, Satchel noticed he was being followed by a pair of short, heavy set Latin men wearing three-piece suits. He wasn’t too worried as the men followed him from one speakeasy to the next. They were dressed too well to be muggers or stickup men. If they were pickpockets, they weren’t going to get close to Satch – he knew that game.

paige2When he left the second joint, the men were waiting just outside the door. “Come with us, we wish to speak to you,” one of them said.  Paige resisted, but the other man pulled out a pistol, and Paige let them lead him a block over to an outdoor café. They explained that they worked for Rafael Trujillo, the Dictator of the Dominican Republic.
Trujillo wanted a great baseball team in the city he had named after himself. He was willing to spend $30,000 to do so – a huge sum at that time. He had sent them to find Paige, and offer him the job of assembling the team. It was a team which would include Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Dan Bankhead, and the legendary Petrucho Cepeda, They went there to make a good paycheck, but they ended up as hostages.
The ballplayers were kept in a hotel which was guarded by armed soldiers. They were only allowed out to play or practice. All of the games were played while dozens of machine-gun toting soldiers patrolled. A tough season.

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After winning the “championship” series, Paige and the others couldn’t get out of there fast enough. They never came back, and Trujillo found a new hobby: Creating new military medals, then awarding them to himself!

This card was issued by King Cards

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1959 Hank Bauer, New York Yankees, Baseball Goes to War, USMC WW2 Bronze Star

Before Pete Rose ever ran to first base after a walk and slid headfirst into bases, Hank Bauer had spent his entire career doing so. Whitey Ford gave Rose the nickname “Charley Hustle” during spring training in Florida while making fun of the rookie. Ford would have certainly thought twice before making fun of Hank Bauer. He was as tough as cowhide.

Image1In fact, one day after a game at Yankee Stadium in which Whitey had performed poorly after a night on the town, Bauer pinned Ford up against the wall and told him in grave tones, “Don’t mess with my money!”

Image2Hank also had a heart of gold. Once day in 1951, the Yankees had just called up a new rookie from “the sticks” and the kid showed up with just one suit, a plaid outfit that just didn’t look the part of a Yankee.
Bauer took the kid out and bought him two brand new suits. That kid was Mickey Mantle.
Bauer served as a Marine during WW2, where he was a real hero. In 1945 at Okinawa, he led 65 men ashore. Only six of those men would survive, including Hank, although he was seriously injured by an exploding artillery shell during the invasion. By the time the war ended, he had accumulated 11 battle ribbons, two Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts, while earning five promotions.
Sadly, his brother Herman didn’t survive the war. Herman was the White Sox top prospect as a catcher, batting .300 in two minor league seasons before the war. He was killed in the Normandy invasion of 1944 and buried in the huge cemetery there with thousands of other Americans. It was Herman who had obtained a tryout for Hank in ‘41.
In the 1958 World Series, Hank was the Yanks’ big hero. He hit 4 home runs with a .323 batting average. The rest of the Yankees batted .210 against the Braves.
Bauer was almost never seen without a cigarette. In fact, he was fined $100 by Kansas City Blues manager Rowdy Bartell for smoking in the outfield during a game in ‘47.

This card was issued by Miller Press

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John Dillinger, 1924 Martinsville Athletics rookie, played pro ball before he robbed banks

How good a ballplayer was Dillinger?  What we know is that he was the best hitter on the Martinsville team, and it was his rookie season in pro baseball.
True, he was in the lowest reaches of the minor leagues, but he acquired the nickname “Jackrabbit” that season, so he must have been fast.  No professional manager puts a guy with a concrete glove at shortstop, so one must also conclude that young John Dillinger was an able man with the glove as well.

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Would he have made it as a big leaguer? Almost certainly not, the odds were stacked against him.  There were at least  5,000 men playing pro baseball, and only about 400 in the major leagues at that time.
On the other hand, John Dillinger proved in many cases that he was the sort of fellow who would find a way to get what he wanted. He was young, intelligent, and determined. He had baseball skills, and he was hungry. You can never count such a man out.

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Minor league pay wasn’t so good in those days, and Johnny was only making $75 a month during the season. When the season ended, he was unemployed and having a hard time paying the bills. He had recently married, and there was a lot of financial pressure on the young couple.
About two doors down from the Dillinger house, a man named Ed Singletary rented a room. Ed had a rap sheet with the police and had done a couple of stints in jail. He was in his 40s, and he too was unemployed and in need of money. Dillinger knew him: Singletary had been an umpire that season, and worked most of the Athletics home games. The two men struck up a friendship.
Singletary had a plan. He had been “casing” a local grocer, and felt like a robbery might be an easy way to get some quick cash. He discussed it with Johnny in August, but that month Dillinger received a welcome surprise: The Old Hickory Furniture Company awarded him $25 as the team’s top hitter.  John rejected Singletary’s rash plan and continued looking for work.  Dillinger was mechanically inclined, and found a few odd jobs, but nothing steady could be found, and he was soon broke again.
After coming home to find his young wife weeping with an eviction notice attached to his door, and under renewed pressure by Ed, Johnny agreed to help rob the grocer.
Singletary equipped Johnny with an old cheap .25 caliber revolver, and the pair laid in wait, surprising the 58 year-old merchant as he was locking up.
They picked the wrong man. He refused to hand over his cash box, and went on the attack. Singletary ran away, Dillinger’s gun went off during the struggle, wounding the grocer in his left foot. As soon as the gun fired, he too ran away, leaving the cash box behind. As he ran, he heard the victim shout, “I know who you are, you’re Dillinger!”
It seems the man had been to a number of Athletics games, and had seen Dillinger run.  Now he was looking at the same “Jackrabbit” running away, and he suddenly knew.
The two foiled robbers met at Dillinger’s place, and Johnny told Ed that he had been recognized. He would have to skip town immediately. He left town that evening, alone, and went to stay with a friend who lived about 40 miles away.
But Dillinger’s father soon tracked him down, and told Johnny he would intercede with the District Attorney on John’s behalf if he would turn himself in.  John’s dad went to the District Attorney and explained that John was a good kid, had never been in any kind of trouble, and no money had actually been taken. The District Attorney agreed to show leniency if Dillinger would voluntarily turn himself in. He did, but the District Attorney lied.
Without a lawyer to represent him, John was convicted of armed robbery, and the D.A. asked the judge to give him the maximum: Ten years.  The judge did it.
Something inside John Dillinger died that day.  It was the death of his dream of becoming a big league ballplayer.  And something else came alive inside of him: A hatred for the legal system that betrayed him. But until the day he died, he was always a diehard baseball fan.

This card was issued by Dave Stewart

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Ted Williams, 1938 Minneapolis Millers minor league card

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In 1938. young Ted Williams was finally earning a pretty good paycheck – especially for a minor league player.  He sent money home to his mother in San Diego, and rewarded himself with a brand new Buick Roadmaster convertible.  He proudly parked it in front of the family home on Utah Street.  It must have been a very attractive sight.

38 Buick RoadmasterIt was a perfect car for a guy who liked to play golf and go hunting and fishing, just throw the gear in the back seat and hit the gas.

ted2One day just before Thanksgiving, Ted’s brother Danny made arrangements for a family friend to take the two brothers saltwater fishing aboard his cabin cruiser.  But at the last minute, Danny found an excuse to stay home, while Ted went fishing.   When Ted returned the following day, his beautiful new car was sitting up on blocks, and had been stripped of tires and wheels. Brother Danny had stolen them and sold them!

williams familyTed Williams with his mom and brother Danny

In spite of the Buick episode, 1938 was a very good year for Ted Williams.  His family was no longer the poorest on the block; neighbors looked up to him as a man for the very first time; even the ladies gave the slender kid a second glance.  He stayed in shape playing basketball down at the neighborhood playground, and in the spring he won a place on the Red Sox, where he was to become the greatest hitter of all time.  It was not so much of a good year for little brother Danny, who was only 17 years old.  He spent 10 months of that year in the local juvenile home, and went on to other criminal exploits before he finally settled down and earned an honest living.

This card was issued by Monarch Corona

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Lefty O’Doul, San Francisco Seals pitcher, 1921 won 25 games & batted .338

One day Lefty O’Doul visited a bar in downtown San Francisco, after learning that the owner of the joint was holding a bad check in Lefty’s name.  “It’s not me” Lefty said.  He had been traveling with the Phillies at the time the check was accepted, and although he was batting .400 at the time, there had been some criticism of his fielding ability in the press, particularly in his hometown of San Francisco.

“I see a thousand people a week” the bar owner said, “They all start to look alike…”

“Here’s what you do,” Lefty told the bar owner, “Next guy who comes in here and says he’s Lefty O’Doul, you toss him a salt shaker. If he catches it, then it ain’t me!”

Odoul1In an era where major league baseball did not go south of Baltimore or west of St. Louis, the Pacific Coast League was the Alpha and Omega of western baseball.  And one of the heroes of the west coast was (and remains) Lefty.

lefty2O’Doul was 32 years old before he actually got a chance as an everyday player in the big leagues, and he responded by winning a pair of batting titles back to back. His 32/122/.398 season in ’29 is among the best seasons ever by a big league hitter.  His career average of .349 is in the top five all-time batters.

Lefty may have made his greatest contributions to baseball with his many trips to Japan. He trained countless Japanese in the skills of the game and fostered communication and interaction between those in the Japanese and American games both before and after the Second World War. He is also credited as one of the founders of Nippon Professional Baseball. For his efforts, O’Doul was the first American elected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

This card was created and issued by Dave Stewart

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Roman Gabriel, rookie season 1962 Los Angeles Rams & baseball executive

Roman Gabriel has done so many different things in his life, both in and out of sports.  If you’re a fan of Gilligan’s Island, you might remember his portrayal of a headhunter.  He also appeared in Perry Mason and in several movies.

gabriel1Although he is best remembered as the peerless leader of the Los Angeles Rams during most of his career, his greatest performance on the football field was as a Philadelphia Eagle in 1973.  That was the year he was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

gabriel2Roman came to an Eagles team which had finished a dismal 2-12 and scored only 12 TDs the season before.  He made a big difference, leading the NFL in completions, yards, and TD passes.

But let’s talk baseball. Fast forward to the late 80s and early 90s in Roman’s home state of North Carolina.  Roman Gabriel is the President of two minor league clubs: The Gastonia Rangers and the Charlotte Knights.  He is ultimately responsible for the early development of young minor league players, which include Ivan Rodriguez, Curt Schilling, Jim Thome, Gregg Olson, and others.  He does a great job, and the Charlotte team is promoted from AA to AAA.  He brings in Tug McGraw, a close friend he knows from his time in Philadelphia to coach some of his young pitchers at Gastonia in ’89 and ’90, and lets McGraw start a game each season.  For the first time, Roman hears Tug McGraw’s young son sing and play a guitar. He’s impressed, and reaches out to his show biz contacts.  Tim McGraw soon becomes a huge star in the world of country music!

This card was issued by Lone Star Printing

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