Friday, December 30, 2016

Final Card: Vic Wertz

Here is the final card for slugging right fielder/1st baseman Vic Wertz (#348). Vic played 17 seasons (1947-63), and was a regular from 1949-61.

Wertz was signed by the Tigers in 1942 and played in the minors from 1942-43, and 1946. During 1944-45, he was in military service.

Vic made his major-league debut at the start of the 1947 season. He was an outfielder for the first half of his career, and was the Tigers’ 4th outfielder from 1947-48, backing up the corner spots.

He became a regular in 1949, starting every game (155) in right field, including 150 complete games. Vic followed that with 145, 129, and 113 starts in right field over the next 3 seasons. He also hit 20, 27, 27, and 23 homers in that 4-year span, and made the All-Star team in '49, '51, and '52.

His final start for the Tigers was on July 20th. Three weeks later, he was traded to the St. Louis Browns in an 8-player deal. He started 36 of the remaining 39 games as the Browns' right fielder.

Wertz was the regular right fielder in 1953 (117 starts in his 128 games played). When the team moved to Baltimore for the 1954 season, he was the regular right fielder through the end of May, but was traded to the Indians for pitcher Bob Chakales.

Vic moved in to first base with the Indians, starting almost every game there for the season's final 4 months. He is probably best remembered as the player on the wrong end of "The Catch". Wertz hit a long fly ball over Willie Mays’ head in the 1954 World Series, but Mays somehow caught it running full-speed with his back to the play.

Wertz missed all but 74 games in 1955 due to contracting polio, but recovered and returned to full-time status in '56 and '57. Vic made his final All-Star team in 1957. That would be his last full season for the Indians, as he missed most of the 1958 season, returning in late-July and only seeing action in 25 games, mostly as a pinch-hitter.

After the '58 season he was traded to the Red Sox with outfielder Gary Geiger for outfielder Jim Piersall. Wertz and 2 others each started about 1/3 of the games at 1st base in 1959, but Vic bounced back in 1960 to start 110 games there. He start started 82 games over the first 5 months of 1961, then was claimed by the Tigers in September.

Vic spent the 1962 season on Detroit's bench, only making 14 starts, and was released in May 1963. The Twins picked him up in June, only to release him at the end of the season.

After his playing career, he formed a group that raised millions for the Special Olympics Winter Games.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Final Card: Eli Grba

Long before there was Lowell Palmer, there was Eli Grba (pronounced GUR-bah). Actually, this photo (#231) is of Grba's teammate Ryne Duren, but that's a story for another day.

Eli was signed by the Red Sox in 1952, and made his way to the Yankees' organization in March 1957.

After missing the '57 and '58 seasons while in military service, he made his major-league debut with the Yankees in July 1959. He pitched in 19 games in the second half of the '59 season, but found himself back in AAA in 1960. After his mid-June call-up, he pitched in 24 games that season.

Grba was the #1 pick of the expansion Los Angeles Angels prior to the 1961 season, and was the opening-day pitcher in their inaugural season. He was one of their top 2 starting pitchers in their first 2 seasons, winning 11 and 8 games.

In 1963 he was converted to a reliever, but after pitching 7 games in April, Grba was sent down to the minors. He returned in late-July to pitch in 5 more games, but his final game of the season (and of his major-league career) came on August 4th.

Eli played for the Senators' AAA team in '64 and '65, then played in Mexico in 1966. He retired after 5 games with the White Sox' AAA team in 1967.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Final Card: Billy Smith

This is the first and last card for Phillies' pitcher Billy Smith (#241). By the time this card was issued, Smith's major-league career was already over.

Smith was signed by the Cardinals in 1953 and played 7 seasons (1953-59) in the Cards' farm system. He also played 2 games in '58 and 6 games in '59 with St. Louis. Smith was mostly a starting pitcher in the minors, but was a reliever during his 3 brief stints in the majors.

After the 1959 season, he and outfielder Bobby Gene Smith (no relation) were traded to the Phillies for catcher Carl Sawataksi. Bill played for the Phillies AAA teams from 1960 to 1964 (3 seasons in Buffalo, followed by 2 seasons in Little Rock, AR).

His lone action with the Phillies came in 24 games (5 starts) during the 2nd half of 1962.

He retired after the 1964 season with a 1-5 career record in 31 games. His only win came in 1962 against the Giants' Juan Marichal.

Smith passed away in 1997 at age 62.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Johnnie Wyatt (#376)

John Wyatt was a Cardinals signee in 1954 following work in the Negro Leagues. He spent a year in their system, another year in the Negro American League (as best as I can determine) and then passed through the Braves organization briefly before landing with the Athletics.

His journey to the majors was sidelined by two years in the military, a year in the Mexican Leagues and he finally debuted with the A's in September of 1961. He won ten games in 1962 while making some spot starts but mostly working out of the bullpen. After '61 he never made another start in the majors. He led the league in appearances in 1964 and made the AL All Star squad and pitched one (bumpy) inning. He pitched for Kansas City until a trade in June of 1966 sent him to Boston.

He got his only World Series experience with the '67 Sox. He pitched a couple of innings in Game One and did his job, holding the Cards off the scoreboard as the Red Sox tried (unsuccessfully) to mount a late rally versus Bob Gibson. And then he was the winning pitcher in Game Six after blowing the save opportunity.

His career wound down over the next couple of seasons as he pitched briefly for the Yankees, Tigers and A's again before retiring following the 1969 season.

Some random bits and pieces about Wyatt.....

From Baseball Reference:
Wyatt holds the all-time single-season record for most home runs given up by a relief pitcher. For the Kansas City A's in 1964, he gave up 23 homers while making no starts. No other pitcher has ever given up at least 20 home runs while making three starts or fewer.

From SABR:
Wyatt finished his big league career with a 42–44 record, 103 saves, and a 3.47 ERA. During his playing career, he had begun work as a real estate developer in Kansas City, Missouri, in the off-season. Wyatt’s mother had owned some property in Buffalo and made a living off the rent, so John resolved to do the same. He saved $7,000 over his first seven years in pro ball and built a 12-unit apartment building on East 29th Street in Kansas City. “No one had ever built a new housing facility in Kansas City for Negroes,” he told Will McDonough. “It was a long shot, but I’m a long shot player…you can’t win if you never take the chance.…The proudest day of my life came with the construction of that building. In one day, I sold three apartments and got a citation from the president [Lyndon B. Johnson].”
John Wyatt died in 1998 at the age of 62.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Final Card - Billy Klaus

Here is the final card (#551) for infielder Billy Klaus. Billy was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1946, and played 9 minor-league seasons in the Indians’, Cubs’, Braves’, and Giants’ organizations.

He made his major-league debut with the Boston Braves in April 1952, playing 7 games before returning to the minors for the rest of the season. He also played 2 games with the Milwaukee Braves in 1953.

After his 1954 minor-league season, the Giants traded him to the Red Sox, and he was in the majors to stay beginning in 1955. Billy was the BoSox’ regular shortstop in 1955, finishing 2nd in the AL Rookie of the Year voting (to Indian’s pitcher Herb Score).

Klaus moved over to 3rd base the following season to accommodate rookie shortstop Don Buddin, but returned to shortstop in 1957 when Buddin lost the season to military service. Buddin returned in 1958, and with 1957 rookie sensation Frank Malzone entrenched at 3rd base, Klaus was relegated to the bench. Billy only played in 61 games that season – mostly as a pinch-hitter.

Klaus was traded to the Orioles after the 1958 season, and spent 2 years as the backup SS-3B behind Ron Hansen and Brooks Robinson. The expansion Washington Senators drafted him before the 1961 season, but he only managed to fill a backup role with the first-year team.

Billy’s last stop was the Phillies, manning their bench for all of 1962 and the first 2 months of 1963 before getting his release on May 24th. He finished the 1963 season in Japan, then played for the Senators’ AA team in 1965-66.

Klaus passed away in 2006 at age 77. His brother Bobby was also an infielder for several clubs in the 1960s.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Lew Krausse (#104)

Lew Krausse Jr. was signed right out of high school to a $125,000 bonus contract with the Athletics. A week after signing in June of 1961, he pitched a six-hit shutout against the Angels. That must have made the scout who signed him doubly proud. That scout was his dad, Lew Krausse Sr. The elder Krausse pitched for the Philadelphia A's in the early 30's and had a long minor league career.

Lew, Jr. ran into rough times the remainder of that rookie season as he lost five straight before ending his year with his second complete game win in September. Arm issues and wildness kept him off the Athletics staff for four years with the exception of a few brief looks by the big club.

But Krausse returned with a vengeance in 1966 as he won 14 games with a sub-3 ERA. He remained in the A's rotation with varying degrees of success through the 1969 season. He had an interesting relationship with A's owner Charles Finley. The franchise was in free fall late in 1967 when Finley fined Krausse for 'misconduct' on a team flight. The whole thing escalated until Finley ended up firing manager Alvin Dark and releasing outfielder-first baseman Ken Harrelson who went on to help the Red Sox nail down their AL title.

The A's moved to Oakland the following year and Krausse was unable to reclaim the effectiveness he had in '66. Over the winter following the 1969 season he was dealt to the expansion Seattle Pilots who moved to Milwaukee just days before the season opened. Krausse was the 'Brewers' Opening Day starter and he won 21 games in the two seasons he spent in their rotation.

Krausse spent the final four years of his career bouncing between the Red Sox, Cardinals and Braves and getting a couple of more shots in the A's minor league chain before he retired after 1975. He owned and operated a business in Kansas City after his playing days.

Krausse was also known as the victim of one of prankster/pitcher Moe Drabowsky's best tricks. From Krausse's SABR page:

(In 1966) Krausse found his way into baseball lore as one of the victims of a prank pulled in Baltimore by Orioles pitcher Moe Drabowsky. A former Athletic, Drabowsky dialed the Kansas City bullpen and told coach Bobby Hofman to “get Krausse hot!” Hofman complied, and moments later, the phone rang again: “Okay, sit him down.” To the guffaws of his teammates, Drabowsky repeated this procedure with the compliant Hofman. On the third call Drabowsky asked for Krausse and inquired, [Are y]ou warm, Lew?” Recognizing the voice of his friend and former teammate, Krausse realized they’d been spoofed, and the story made the major-league rounds to the embarrassment of both.
This card has the look of being a 'paint-enhanced' photo. Topps used the same photo on Krausse's 1964 card:

Here are the images, side by side: