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Ramblings: Dealing with Shadowy Figures Make These Guys Fun to Collect

After I read the Yasiel Puig story about his harrowing escape and talk of a Mexican drug cartel’s involvement in bringing him to freedom, I started thinking about other players that my memory banks seem to indicate had certain issues with let us say, undesirable characters.

American Caramel 1911 Chick GandilThanks originally to Eliot Asimov’s great book Eight Men Out and the subsequent movie about the 1919 Chicago “Black Sox”, that team is probably more famous in their infamy then the great Pilgrims/Red Sox, A’s, Cubs or Giants teams which dominated the first two decades of the 20th century. The most well-known of these eight players was, of course, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson who without this scandal would have been in the Hall of Fame.  A couple of other players from that group might have finished their career as potential Hall of Famers, too.  All of the cards of the Black Sox bunch are treated as far better than commons.  Buck Weaver, Chick Gandil, Eddie Cicotte, Swede Risberg and the others are all highly sought after by collectors who love the game’s history.

In 1947, Leo “the Lip” Durocher was suspended for a year from managing for “association with gamblers”.   Leo was able to get his reputation back and even led the 1954 New York Giants to a World Championship but there is little doubt that year’s suspension delayed his eventual induction into the Hall of Fame.  Leo’s Goudey cards from the 1930s and the others he appeared on are standouts.

1952 Topps Herman WehmeierOne of my favorite stories relates to Herm Wehmeier who in terms of baseball cards was best known for being #80 in the 1952 Topps set.  High grade Herm Wehmeier cards are very difficult to find. Because of the way the Topps sets were constructed in 1952, those cards were in the lower corner on uncut sheets and thus the quality control would not be as good as cards in the middle of the sheets.

Wehmeier’s death was certainly interesting back in 1973.  He was in the process of testifying in an federal embezzlement case here in Dallas when he was stricken with a fatal heart attack at age 46.  According to a Sporting News report of the day, the case “involved theft of merchandise from a shipping company of which Wehmeier was an official”.  As far as I know, this is the only former major leaguer to actually die on a witness stand. Having just had a jury duty experience in which I was not called, I will assure you that would have been a fascinating, if not macabre courtroom moment.

The 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox supposedly was helped by a little accident Denny McLain had in September 1967. Denny McLain 1969 Topps decalThe official story goes McLain hurt himself as is foot feel asleep while watching television and he stubbed the toe when he got up. There is also a story McLain kicked a water cooler the day before and jammed his toes but my favorite story as reported in a 1970 Sports Illustrated Story that some unsavory elements had stomped on his toes to get some debts paid.

McLain is still living and still very popular on the show circuit for his short and mercurial baseball career. He is still the final pitcher to win more than 30 games in a season and he was the first American League pitcher to win consecutive Cy Young awards. With all that pitching, he was through as a major leaguer before his 30th birthday. In card collecting terms, his best card by far is his 1966 Topps high number, which is a short print.

And then, we have a story in which nothing occurred but is, more than 50 years later, a funny story from Joe Pepitone’s Joe, You Coulda Made Us Proud biography.  Apparently some of Joe’s friends offered to break Bill Skowron’s legs so Joe could become the starting first baseman. Joe declined the offer and became the starter the following year. Joe’s toughest card is his 1962 Topps high number rookie prospect card.

Topps Pete RoseAnd, how can we do a story such as this and not mention Peter Edward Rose, who as Cincinnati Reds manager bet on his team to win. Now, there is nothing I can add that thousands of pages of documents as well as Pete’s eventual admission makes him the most recent person to be suspended for life for gambling or other similar misdeeds. Say what you want about Rose, but do not confuse his greatness as a player with the issues he had later in his life. In terms of cards, his best card is by far his 1963 Topps rookie card but Hall of Fame or not, collectors recognize his achievements on the field.

And that short but sweet tour leads us to the present and stories such as those of Mr. Puig. Among “topical” subsets this may be an unusual one, but this shows just how unique you can make your collection. If you have an idea for a collection that’s a little off beat, drop me a note via the email address below.

About Rich Klein

Rich Klein has spent almost his entire life collecting baseball cards having begun at the tender age of seven. He has spent more than three decades in the organized hobby including editing the first 12 editions of the Beckett Almanac of Baseball Card and Collectibles. He lives in Plano, TX along with his wife Dena and their two dogs. You can reach him at [email protected].

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