As baseball fans wait for games to be played, we’re reminded that there is never a shortage of memories linked to baseball history…and baseball cards.
Since the late-1940’s, youngsters have learned about their favorite players from collecting those magnificent cardboard creations manufactured by Bowman, Topps and many others. In most cases, you don’t even need to look at the back to determine the season because the format of that year is seared into your memory.
As a purveyor of baseball cards, my opportunities are endless due to private collections coming across the counter. Each one has stories that are unique…the players, the teams and the moments. The real fun is remembering the players who weren’t necessarily stars, but added to the history of the game nonetheless.
A recent collection included cards from the late-50’s & early-60’s, so let’s do some browsing through the ones from the 1963 Topps set. No Pete Rose Rookie Card or a classic Mickey Mantle, but names you might remember.
> Earl Wilson, Red Sox P – Boston was the last major league team to have a player of color in their line-up. One week after Pumpsie Green joined the BoSox, Wilson became the 2nd Black player on the roster. His career was much more successful than Green’s, as he won 121 Games in 11 seasons and pitched a no-hitter in 1962. That “No-No” is highlighted on the back of this card.
> Bo Belinsky, Angels P – Another pitcher who threw a no-hitter in 1962, Belinsky had 10 Wins as a rookie but won only 18 more games in his career. His reputation as a playboy was much more impressive than his pitching. He dated celebrities such as Ann-Margret, Tina Louise & Connie Stevens and was engaged to Mamie Van Doren.
> Charlie Lau, Orioles C – Only hit .255 in 11 seasons as a back-up, but became one of the most famous batting instructors in the game…George Brett was his star pupil.
> Steve Barber, Orioles P – ’63 was his best season with a record of 20-13…won 121 games in 15 seasons.
> Bob Buhl, Cubs P – Was 18-7 for the Braves when they won it all in 1957…had 166 lifetime wins.
> Curt Simmons, Cardinals P – Even in his mid-30’s, he compiled 33 wins for the Redbirds in ’63 & ’64. Pitched for the Phillies for over a decade and had 193 lifetime wins.
> Bobby Bragan, Braves Manager – A baseball “lifer”, he played for seven seasons in the 40’s and managed for ten years in the 50’s & 60’s. Later served as the President of the Texas League and as an assistant to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
> Ron Fairly, Dodgers OF – Played 21 seasons in the big leagues with 1,900+ hits and 215 HR’s. Then spent 30 years in broadcasting for the Dodgers, Giants & Mariners.
> Ken Hubbs, Cubs 2B – Every era has tragic stories and this was the last baseball card for this player. After two promising seasons, he died in a plane crash at age 22. He was the NL Rookie of the Year in ’62.
> Jim Gilliam, Dodgers 2B – If you’ve been to Dodger Stadium, the ten retired numbers of the franchise are easy to see. Only one of them is not a Hall of Famer, which tells you the impact made by “Junior” during his career. His 14 seasons with the club began with his Rookie of the Year award in 1953. He was part of four World Series championship teams.
> Billy Pierce, Giants P – A mainstay of the White Sox staff through the entire decade of the 50’s, he still had enough left to finish 3rd in the Cy Young balloting by going 16-6 for the pennant winning Giants in ’62. Won 211 games in his 18 year career.
> Dave Debusschere, White Sox P – The Rookie Card of this dual-sport athlete who pitched in 24 games for the ChiSox with an ERA of 3.09. In 1964, he was 15-8 at AAA but the 6’6” hurler made the decision to switch sports and concentrate on basketball. Was it a good decision? He was inducted into the Basketball of Fame in 1983.
> Tommie Aaron, Braves OF – Just getting to the big leagues is a significant accomplishment, but playing in the shadow of your Brother would not be an easy task. Five years younger than Hank, he had a solid rookie season in ’62 but never got regular playing time again. He batted .229 in seven seasons and hit a total of 13 HR’s.
> Frank Howard, Dodgers OF – Another dual-sport athlete, the 6’7″ slugger was an All-American basketball player at Ohio State before turning to baseball. He hit 382 HR’s and led the AL twice as a member of the Washington Senators (’68 & ’70).
> Bo Uecker, Braves C – You know him as Harry Doyle in “Major League”, a sitcom star in “Mr. Belvedere”, a beer pitchman for Miller Lite and the voice of the Brewers. Was he really as bad a ballplayer as we think? Seven seasons in the majors with a .200 BA and 14 lifetime HR’s.
There are 15 great stories from the 1963 set. Just for the record, a complete set contains 576 cards.