December 30, 2011

Baseball deaths: nearly 140 former big leaguers departed in 2011

Vivian and Frank Barning with Duke Snider at a card show in 1980

As we count the days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, we should also remember the major league players who passed away in 2011. Approximately 340 died, including Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew, Duke Snider and Dick Williams. The only active player to leave us was 24-year old Greg Halman of the Seattle Mariners who was allegedly murdered by his brother in their native Holland.

You can use a Google search to find a complete list, but I just want to mention those who meant the most to me, for various reasons. I've been a baseball fan since I started to collect. My introduction to the joys of the game began with the 1951 Bowmans, so my fandom goes back 60 years.

Of all those for passed, I grieved most for Duke Snider. The patch on Dodgers uniforms during the 2011 season, with his No. 4 on one of the sleeves, was a constant reminder that a member of my extended family was no longer alive. Vivian and I met him several times at baseball card shows and spent a fair amount of time with him.

She had the privilege of doing a Home Shopping Network show with him 20 or so years ago. Vivian appeared as a guest expert on baseball collectibles. At the time, she and I were consultants for The Score Board Inc., which was behind the shows. The late Paul Goldin was the head of Scoreboard. She also had appeared with Eddie Mathews at another time.

Vivian reminisces, "One of my main memories of the Home Shopping Network weekend was that Duke had a deal with Scoreboard to sign lithographs for them. If I recall correctly, he had been paid to sign 500. His agent, Mead Chasky, a well-known East Coast hobby personage, was there and Mead was counting the lithos to make sure that some extras hadn't been slipped in. Duke looked at him and said, 'You must be kidding. Do you know what they are paying for me to sign these? If they slip in a few extra it would be my pleasure to sign them.'

"If only all celebrities had a similar attitude," she concluded.

Others on my most memorable 2011 deaths list, in no particular order, are: Ryne Duren, Spook Jacobs, Bob Rush, Ernie Johnson, Gino Cimoli, Wes Covington, Marty Marion, Eddie Joost, Joe Frazier and Matty Alou. Most played in the 1950s.

Joe Frazier, who briefly managed the New York Mets (1976-77), posed with our son Randy for a picture during spring training in 1976. Spook Jacobs was a regular at Philadelphia-area card shows and often stopped by the Baseball Hobby News table to chat.

Ryne Duren had the nastiest fast ball this side of Nolan Ryan. Did you know that Ryne Sandberg was named for him? Dick Williams began his playing career with the Brooklyn Dodgers and managed the San Diego Padres to the 1984 World Series. I started as a Brooklyn fan back in the Bowman days and became a Padres fan when we moved to San Diego in 1982, after 20 seasons as a Mets fan.

We lost Snider in 2011 and Mickey Mantle left us in 1995, but we're still "Talkin' Baseball." Willie is showing the years, but he is still around.



Don Mueller, the New York Giants outfielder who helped set the table for Bobby Thomson's famed "Shot Heard 'Round the World" against the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the 1951 National League pennant, died on Wednesday, December 28.

December 24, 2011


Many years ago, Vivian and I collected holiday greeting cards sent out by Major League Baseball teams. We had dozens and all but the one shown here were eventually sold on eBay. They were rarely available to collectors and they were hungrily scooped up, especially by people specializing in a particular team.

My favorites were the ones signed by front office personnel and the occasional manager. Oddball baseball collectibles were a favorite category of ours, and the ball shown here under the Atlanta Braves cap is surely an odd looking ball.

Happy holidays from your blogger.

December 2, 2011

1982 Topps Carlton Fisk In Action won the card-of-the-year award from Baseball Hobby News; presentation made at Yankee Stadium

Click on photo to enlarge

Vivian and Frank Barning with Sy Berger of Topps and future Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk at Yankee Stadium in 1982


For several years, the readers of Baseball Hobby News (BHN) were invited to vote for the baseball card-of-the year. In 1982, the winner was the Topps Carlton Fisk In Action. This was an important award for the card companies and when the votes were tallied, I called Sy Berger at Topps.

Excited by the news, Berger, the long-time head of the baseball card division at Topps, volunteered that he could arrange for Vivian and me to present the BHN award to Fisk at Yankee Stadium the next time that the Chicago White Sox were in New York and that one of his photographers would shoot a photo. And so a date was arranged with the ever gracious Mr. Berger.

On the appointed day, we picked up credentials at Yankee Stadium that allowed us on the field. Carrying a plaque for Fisk and a duplicate for Topps, we hooked up with Mr. Berger in the White Sox' dugout. He introduced us to his photographer and explained that as a catcher Fisk had a busy pregame schedule but eventually would have a few minutes for a photo. He told us to hang out in the dugout until Fisk was available.

Hanging out in a dugout at Yankees Stadium was like a dream. Players and manager Tony La Russa and his coaches were coming and going in preparation for the game. It was so businesslike and trying to stay out of the way, Vivian and I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible.

We were carrying the plaque for Fisk and only one of the White Sox was interested, busy as they were. He inquired what was going on and asked to see the plaque, with an interesting chat ensuing. I recognized most of the White Sox' but had no idea with whom we were conversing

Eventually, the photo with Fisk, Berger and the Barnings was taken and the future Hall of Fame catcher was most gracious in accepting his award. Fisk was wearing what is now a vintage uniform and the Yankee Stadium background was perfectly captured.

When we got to our seats for the game, we just had to find out from our scorecard who the man was who took the time to find out about the plaque. It was a name we did not know, but from then on we followed his career. He was Jim Leland, La Russa's third-base coach. It was his first year in the big leagues after more than a decade in the minors and he stayed with the White Sox until 1985. On November 20 of that year, Leyland was named the 33rd manager in Pittsburgh Pirates' history.

Although our day at Yankee Stadium was about Fisk, Berger and the card-of-the year award, my strongest memory is of Leyland. In 20 years as a manager, he has won 1,588 games with two pennants and one World Series title (1997 Florida Marlins). Among managers, he ranks 18th in victories.

We treasure the photo from that day.