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.