Monday, October 28, 2013

#53 Joe Moeller

The Polo Grounds on Coogan's Bluff at the north end of Manhattan makes for a wonderful baseball card background. Here on Joe Moeller's card we can see the apartment buildings on what I believe to be 159th Street through the openings in the back walls of the grandstands and the Howard Clothing sign that was down the left field line. If a player hit that sign he won 'points' towards some big prize at year's end. A car or a boat as I recall.

Anyway we are here to discuss Joe Moeller. The righty flamethrower signed as a seventeen year old with the Dodgers in 1960. In 1961 he put in a year of minor league service winning a total of 20 games with three clubs and put up impressive numbers overall. He made the Dodgers' staff in 1962 and found himself overmatched. In July his 5.25 ERA and his wildness earned him a trip back to the minors. He spent '63 winning 16 games at the AAA level and by 1964 he was back for another shot at the big leagues.

His walk totals had improved in '64 but his 7-13 record combined with a Dodger staff good enough to win the NL kept Moeller in the minors in '65. He came up again in 1966 and worked out of the bullpen. He was the guy who relieved Don Drysdale in Game One of the 1966 Series against the Orioles. He pitched two innings in that game and says it was the highlight of his career.

His roller coaster career continues as he bounced back and fourth between the Dodgers and their minor league clubs for two seasons. Interestingly he appears in the 1968 Topps set as a member of the Houston Astros. Moeller had been selected by them from the Dodgers in the Rule V draft in November of 1967 but was returned to the Dodgers prior to Opening Day of '68.

Finally, in 1969 he found a place in the Dodger bullpen and worked three respectable seasons there. He finished his career with a couple of seasons in the Padres' chain. His major league totals show a record of 26-36 with a career ERA a touch over four.

Moeller works as advance scout for the Miami Marlins. In the video below he talks to baseball campers about his career, pitching in the World Series, opponents and teammates and baseball in general.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

#398 Boog Powell

Letting my prejudice show I'll say that this is one of my favorite cards in the '63 Topps set. It features one of my favorite players wearing my favorite Orioles' road uni. The really cool Topps Rookie Top Hat trophy is a bonus.

This card came out a year after Boog Powell's rookie season, That was a year he gave just glimpses of the hitting that would help the Orioles become a powerhouse franchise in the 60s and 70s. I was lucky enough to witness one of those 1962 moments. I was attending my first Orioles games in Memorial Stadium on June 22 when in the second game of the doubleheader against the Red Sox he became the first player to hit a home run over the center field hedges. It was measured at 469 feet and was the longest homer in the old ballpark up to that time.

Boog went on to hit 339 homers in a career that stretched to 1977 when he finished up with the Dodgers. His last year as a full time player had been 1975, playing for Frank Robinson as Robby became the first full time black manager in the major leagues. Boog hit .297 that year with 27 homers which represented a resurgence from his declining stats in his previous two seasons in Baltimore.

Powell made four AL All Star teams although he probably was squeezed out by the crowded field of great players that held down first base in his time. He finished third in the MVP balloting in 1966 but wasn't an All Star!

He did win the AL MVP in 1970 after finishing 2nd the previous year. Boog hit six postseason homers and won World Series rings with the Birds in 1966 and 1970. I was also in Memorial Stadium for the 1969 Playoff games against the Twins. Boog homered in the ninth inning of Game One to tie the game which the O's went on to win and scored the winning (and only!) run in the bottom of the 11th of Game Two. He scored from second on a single by Curt Motton and ended a spectacular pitching duel between Dave McNally and Dave Boswell.

As an Orioles fan of more that 50 years, all I can say is "Those were the days!!"

Nowadays Boog serves up BBQ at his stand in Camden Yards. Last time I was Ocean City, Maryland he had a place on the Boardwalk there as well.

Here is a great publicity still of Boog taken in 1964 with Oriole Teammates Harvey Haddix and Luis Aparicio. They were posed with Big Boog because they were the smallest Orioles on that club.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

#83 Charley James

Hi Charley..err...Charlie...ummm...which is it? Topps didn't seem to know exactly but nevertheless here is Mr. Charley/Charlie James in all his colorful 1963 card glory. Since he autographed cards with 'Charlie' I'm going with that.

James was a Missouri boy all the way. Raised in a Webster Groves near St. Louis he was a prep baseball and football star who lettered in football at the University of Missouri. A thigh injury that landed him in the hospital got him to thinking about how football threatened his intended baseball career so he left to play pro ball. (He later received his degree from Washington University of St. Louis.)

Signed by the hometown Cardinals in 1958 he showed enough pop and promise to earn an extended trial with the club in August of 1960. From 1961 through 1964 he played the outfield for the Redbirds if not full time, then something close to it. He hit in the .260s or so in the three years he played as a 'mostly regular/fourth outfielder' but by 1964 his playing time diminished as his average fell off and the Cards decided a guy by the name of Lou Brock fit their plans in leftfield better. He stayed with the Cards long enough to earn a World Series ring in '64, pinch hitting three times in the Series, but was traded off to the Reds that winter.

After a year in which he served as a pinch hitter off the Reds' bench he was out of the game. Here is a fun blog entry detailing a 1962 game that was billed as a Bob Gibson vs. Sandy Koufax showdown that didn't turn out that way and was the game that saw James his his only career grand slam. It came off the great Koufax.

But back to the Charlie v. Charley thing. Topps seemed to have a difficult time deciding. Here are James' other cards (images from the net):

1960 'Charley' James. He was Charley front and back on his rookie card.

1961 saw him still as Charley on both sides of his card.

By 1962 he'd become 'Charlie'. Note that he signs his name that way.

Ok, it's '63 and we are back to 'Charley'.

In '64 he was both. 'Charley' on the front, 'Charlie' on the back. 

And finally, on his last card in 1965 Topps goes out with a bang by reverting to 'Charlie' front and back. 

Of course none of this matters to anyone except me and perhaps Charlie who, btw, is still talking and thinking baseball.

Monday, October 14, 2013

1963 Rookie Stars (#582)

It's been about six weeks since Jim from Downingtown offered me the chance to contribute over here on the '63 Topps blog. But life has a funny way of interfering with plans. Travel, computer issues and other projects combined to throw me further and further behind. But I'm here now and figured I'd make up for lost time with a 4 for 1 post featuring one of the '63 Topps' 'floating heads' rookie cards.

This one features pitchers, and one of these four is not like the others. One of them had an impact on the game both on and off the field. Let's look at the other three first.

Conrad 'Randy' Cardinal was Tiger signee out of Long Island, New York in 1962. An impressive minor league season at the 'D' League level caught the attention of the Houston Colt 45s who drafted him away from Detroit that winter. He made the 45s roster to start the 1963 season but in six appearances (including one start) he took a beating and was sent down in May. He pitched in the Houston system into 1965 before leaving the game.

Don Rowe and Ken Rowe are not related, at least by blood, but they have much in common. Both spent a decade toiling in the minors before getting to pitch in the majors. They debuted within six days of each other in April of '63. They both had exactly 26 major league appearances. And they both became major league pitching coaches.

Ken Rowe signed with the Tigers in 1953, spent three seasons in their chain, and was drafted away by the Dodgers. He pitched seven seasons toiling away in the Dodger's pitching-rich system before making his debut in 1963. That year he split time with the big club and Spokane going 1-1 with a save in 14 games for the Dodgers. He'd been a starter for most of his minor league days but in the majors he was exclusively a bullpen guy. Don't know if he got a ring as part of their championship team but I'll bet he got a partial share of the money.

In 1964 he was back in Spokane and he pitched in 88 games, all in relief. He was purchased by the Orioles late that year and got into a handful of games with them. With the exception of 6 games with the Birds in '65 he finished out his career in the Orioles' minor league system, pitching last in 1968. After his playing days he managed and coached in the minors and was a pitching coach for the Orioles following Ray Miller.

Don Rowe was signed by the Pirates in 1954 after a year of independent ball. He pitched for eight seasons in the minors, mostly in a starting role but he did spend a season or so as a reliever. The Mets drafted him away from the Bucs in 1962 and the following year he made their staff. He appeared in 26 games between Opening Day and mid-July and set a record for the most innings pitched without a decision or a save (54.2). He started one game in April and went five+ innings allowing three runs. The Mets' bullpen lost the game.

Back to the minors he went for the remainder of that season and the next several before he retired. He spent six seasons as pitching coach the White Sox and Brewers. He also did some college coaching.

Dave McNally stands out on this card as being the most accomplished (by far) major leaguer. The Billings, Montana native pitched two years in the Orioles' chain following his 1960 signing and he got a taste of the bigs with a single September start in 1962. He made a splash that day with a complete game shutout of the A's.

He was a sub .500 pitcher for the Orioles for the next two seasons but emerged in 1965 as a contributor, winning 11 games and posting a 2.85 ERA. He was a key member of the young Baltimore rotation that took the Birds to the World Series in 1966. He started Game One of the World Series that year against the Dodgers. Wildness forced an early exit in favor of Moe Drabowsky who went on to win the game. McNally returned to pitch and win the clincher in Game Four and the picture of him about to catch a high-flying Brooks Robinson after the win may be my favorite baseball shot ever.

He was sidelined for part of the '67 season with arm problems but came back to again be an integral part of the Baltimore staff beginning in 1968 and continuing through the 'glory days' of 1971. He won 20 or more games in each of those seasons and 46 more in the three years following that. He had a 7-4 postseason record for the Orioles including one of the best games I've ever seen pitched in person. In Game Two of the 1969 playoffs against the Twins McNally went all the way with 11 shutout innings in the Orioles 1-0 victory.

Traded to the Expos for 1975 McNally made 12 starts and then decided to retire. He had been pitching without a signed contract because he was not satisfied with the Expos terms. He, along with Andy Messersmith, challenged the prevailing baseball reserve clause claiming that they had pitched under their 'option' year and were thus free agents. McNally had no intention of ever pitching again but he wanted there to be more than one player involved in the legal fight he knew would ensue.

The arbiter ruled in the players' favor and the fabric of the game was changed forever. The story is told in more detail in McNally's New York Times obit.

Here's the 1966 clincher defined. I can't help it, I'm an Oriole lifer.