Saturday, March 17, 2018

Meet the Brewers #41: Dick Ellsworth

On August 7, 1970, the Brewers purchased Dick Ellsworth's contract from the Cleveland Indians. Ellsworth hurried to Kansas City from Cleveland -- where his final two appearances were both walk-off losses over the previous weekend against the Chicago White Sox. Ellsworth arrived in Kansas City in time to give up three earned runs in mop-up time in the second game of a doubleheader. Luckily for Ellsworth's future employment, however, those would be the final runs he allowed all season as he finished the year with the Brewers on a run of 15-1/3 scoreless innings.

1971 Dell Today's Team Stamp, issued in the Brewers team set.
Richard Clark Ellsworth was born in Lusk, Wyoming, in 1940. Thankfully, Ellsworth has a SABR Biography, so I am drawing liberally from that biography. Ellsworth's family moved to Fresno, California, when he was three years old. Ellsworth grew up there and became the ace for a Fresno High School team that featured (including Ellsworth) three noteworthy future major-league players -- including Jim Maloney and Pat Corrales. Other noteworthy Fresno HS alumni include Frank Chance, Dutch Leonard, Tom Seaver, and former Brewer Sean Halton.

Ellsworth was quite heavily pursued for his signature on a contract out of high school. As his SABR biography quotes him, "Before I graduated I received at least one Christmas greeting from a scout on every major league club." Based on getting a cool $60,000 bonus (nearly $521,000 in today's money), he signed up with the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs decided to start him in their annual crosstown charity event against the White Sox, and Ellsworth promptly pitched a complete-game shutout three days out of high school. So, the Cubs kept him on the roster and let him start against the Reds -- who rocked the kid for 4 earned runs in 2-1/3 innings.

The Cubs were pretty hard up for pitching at that point of their existence, so Ellsworth became a rotation fixture just two years later, in 1960. At the age of 22 in 1962, Ellsworth joined a club of dubious membership -- finishing the season with a 9-20 record (and a 5.09 ERA) for a team that was the first in Cubs history to lose 100 games. 

The next year in 1963, however, the team around him was far better, and Ellsworth got both better run support and super lucky on giving up hits (going from over 10 hits per nine innings to 6.9 hits per nine). He finished 22-10 in 290-2/3 innings pitched and, according to WAR, he edged MVP Sandy Koufax out for being the best pitcher in the NL (Willie Mays beat both of them). The team being better mattered because Ellsworth relied on a sinker as his out pitch, and he learned a slider. Offseason rule changes to expand the strike zone also helped.

1971 Topps
That 1963 season led to Ellsworth being an All-Star in 1964 at the age of 24. He did not get to pitch in a game which the NL won by putting up four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning against Boston's closer Dick Radatz. That 1964 Cubs team came into the season with great expectations that were deflated quickly by the off-season death of Ken Hubbs in a plane crash in Utah (as Ellsworth himself said here). Yet, by far, that 1963 season was the pinnacle of Ellsworth's career.  1965 and 1966 saw the Cubs return to the depths of 1962, and Ellsworth's win-loss records reflected that -- 14-15 in 1965 and another 20-loss season in 1966 (finishing with an 8-22 record).

Since in 1960s baseball being a 20-game loser meant you were morally a bad person -- even if, as Willie McCovey said, the players recognized that Ellsworth's win-loss records was "misleading" -- the Cubs traded Ellsworth to the Phillies in December of 1966 in exchange for Ray Culp and cash. He struggled in Philadelphia, and so he found himself traded again after the 1967 season to the Boston Red Sox. Coming off the "Impossible Dream" season, the Red Sox were trying to improve their pitching, and Ellsworth did exactly that. 

Unfortunately, Boston ace (and future Brewer) Jim Lonborg got injured in a ski accident shortly after Ellsworth was acquired, so Ellsworth ended up as the Red Sox Opening Day starter in 1968. Still, a 16-7 record with a 3.03 ERA (well-deserved, with a 3.04 FIP) despite missing several starts in August thanks to contracting the mumps in August was a good return for the Bosox. But, when it came to 1969, Ellsworth chipped his ankle during spring training. The injury -- along with Boston's self-scouting hinting that he'd lost some speed off his fastball -- led Boston to trade him to Cleveland.

1994 Miller Commemorative Set
Looking at Ellsworth's stats may give a little support for the Red Sox view on his fastball. His strikeouts declined from 4.9 K/9 in 1968 down to 3.2 K/9 in 1969. Then, in 1970 with the Indians, Ellsworth was down to just 2.7 K/9 and up to 2.9 BB/9 prior to his sale to Milwaukee. Ellsworth's great results down the stretch in 1970 did not carry over into 1971, however, and Ellsworth made just 11 appearances for the Brewers in 1971 before he was released at the end of June. He never played in professional baseball again.

But, he was not done with baseball. He was very successful in real estate with Grubb & Ellis/Pearson Realty in Fresno and he is still a Senior Vice President with that company's successor company, Newmark Knight Frank. In fact, he was so successful that he purchased an ownership stake in the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies. He also had the privilege of getting to see his son Steve Ellsworth make 8 appearances in 1988 for the Boston Red Sox. Steve did not have as long or as successful a baseball career as his dad did, though.

I have three of the four baseball cards that the Trading Card Database has Ellsworth listed as a Brewer. The one I am missing -- and which is missing from here -- is Ellsworth's 1971 O-Pee-Chee card #309. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thanks, Jenny

A new-to-me blogger and Twitter card collector is Jenny Miller who blogs at Jenny's Card Collecting. I was excited to get rid of some Twins cards -- even though I'm about 98% sure I'll be attended a Twins/Brewers game at Target Field in May, that doesn't mean I have to keep Twins cards around the house, you know. I knocked off a bunch of Jenny's Twins Project needs from the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In return, Jenny sent me a couple of cards that I needed for my collection. It being a Thursday night I figured I'd go for musical accompaniment. Then again, I might say that about any day. I just like musical accompaniment. Believe it or not (I know, you believe it), I actually put a spreadsheet together of all the songs I've used on my blog. I'm up to 806 right now (before this post)! Crazy.

Anyway, let's see what Jenny sent:

Yes, it's a Maverick from 2018 Topps. With the logjam in the outfield brought about by the off-season trades, Mav will probably end up at Triple A unless the team keeps him over Broxton as the guy who can fill in at CF behind both Cain and Yelich. Then again, since both Cain and Yelich can play center and with Braun, Thames, and Santana all still available, why would the team keep either Broxton or Phillips in the major leagues? Tough situation.

I unwittingly told two or three people that I needed only Brett Phillips to finish out my Series 1 Topps run for 2018. Thing is, I still need a Ryan Braun because I spaced out and forgot I need two of those. So, I duplicated Phillips just like I'm duplicating this song. I know I've played Cowboy Mouth's "Jenny Says" before -- my spreadsheet tells me so -- but I like the song, the band is from New Orleans, and I'm going to New Orleans next month. So there.

Speaking of needing two Brauns for my base sets, here's a 2017 Stadium Club that I needed. This one was, in fact, for my team set as the second of the Brauns from that year. It's always good to get closer and closer to completing team sets.

This reminds me to say two things about team sets and how I'm collecting. First, I will gladly take any and all inserts and parallels of non-player-collection Brewers that you want to send my way. But, I'm not as militant about feeling like I need to collect those going forward from sets from this year forward. 

Second, I am also happy to take any and all Brewers cards of any genre, year, or make that you might want to send to me. That may seem intuitive, but there were times I really was not a huge fan of all the duplicates. Now, though, I'm saying bring 'em on. Of course I prefer cards I don't have -- but I'll take the others too.

I shouldn't use a song using the past tense about Jenny so soon -- I know that. But I really like this song off Hot Fuss by The Killers. As much as Brandon Flowers comes across as a self-important ass at times, the band's first major label album was one of the best albums of the mid-2000s in my opinion. It didn't hurt that I was in a major Brit Pop phase and this album worships at the altar of New Order, The Cure, and Depeche Mode.

Finally, Jenny sent me a Zach Davies 2017 Stadium Club card. Zach is an interesting guy. He looks like he should be delivering the morning paper on his bike like it's 1984 until you see his tattoos all over the inside of his left arm. Nothing wrong with that at all -- but it adds a little edge to him as a result. Davies benefited from good run support last year, and his strikeout rates were troubling for his future growth. Then again, he's only 24 years old so perhaps that will come in the next couple of years.

Let's close this out with a little Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels. They are almost certainly known best for their cover of the Motown song "Devil with a Blue Dress On." This song, "Jenny Take a Ride," was the band's first top 10 hit, selling over a million copies and going gold. 

But...there's one more song that needs to be's a cliche at this point, but so what:

Jenny, thanks for the cards. Hope we can trade again soon.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

From One Brubaker to Another

Over the weekend, I wrote up the bio for the fortieth player that the Brewers used in the 1970 season, Bruce Brubaker. The first person to comment on that blog post is my good trading pal and member of the Twitterati Bru a/k/a @marcbrubaker there. Bru is a great guy who runs "Remember the Astrodome" and knows my love for oddballs.

For whatever reason, I never discussed colleges with Bru until recently, when I learned that he is a former Texas A&M Aggie. I was a bit surprised when A&M joined the SEC several years ago, though it makes sense if the Aggies are trying to get out of the sizeable shadow of the Longhorn Network. A&M people are a different breed. They don't have a fight song, for example. They have a "war hymn."

Granted, their infatuation with the University of Texas within this "war hymn" reminds me of the inferiority complex that grips the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets when it comes to their big brothers from the east, the Georgia Bulldogs. 

Yeah, but I like Bru. Even if my brother-in-law is a two-time University of Texas graduate. 

At any rate, let's see what Bru sent to me.

Let's start with the baseball cards that are just sort of normal, run-of-the-mill Topps and Upper Deck and Fleer -- and that sneaky appearance of B.J. Surhoff on a 1993 Leaf checklist. When I sort through cards, I find myself really liking pretty much every Fleer Ultra set, though if that was all I could collect I'd get bored quickly. They are straightforward full-bleed photos that tend to have similar designs. But, I really end up liking that 1993 Leaf set. For whatever reason, they just look good -- they look and feel special.

So, when you get down to it, that Aggie Cadet precision and drilling doesn't seem to lend itself to a thriving music scene in the same way that liberal arts schools like UGA and Texas do. Yup, sometimes having that school that doesn't help you get a job but encourages creativity helps foster a real music scene. 

I looked to try to find some College Station bands or Texas A&M-graduate musicians. About all I could come up with were some American Idol contest and Lyle Lovett. Lyle Lovett it is. And that's right -- I'm not from Texas. Bru, are you originally from Texas?

The second item is identified on the back of this 8x10 glossy photo of Ted Higuera as a "TV Sports Mailbag" item. Now, this photo is labeled as being from 1988 on the back. In 1989, TV Sports Mailbag got an entry on the Trading Card Database (here is the Ted Higuera from that set), perhaps because the photos are numbered and the backs have full licensing identification, copyrights, player names, and team names. 

It's a great oddball, though, to get that set's predecessor.

Lyle Lovett's sound is an old-school sound for country/blues, big on fiddles and strings and acoustic guitars and without the flash or rock-lite sounds featured by folks like Luke Bryan or Jason Aldean. Here, Lovett is covering a song that Townes Van Zandt wrote in 1977. Van Zandt is a tragic figure who died far too young in 1997 at the age of just 52 years old. His music, too, is worth a listen.

And finally...

These are incredible items. All of these are 8x10 photos on cardboard. Based on design, font, photo quality, and the like, all of us Twitterers decided or figured out that they were issued by a company called T&M Sports. We figured this out because the design is eerily similar to that used by T&M for its 1989-1990 Senior League set. I already had a couple of these in the past and never knew who had issued them. I'm still not sure I've ever seen a complete set list for this set either. So, I have no idea if I have all the Brewers or not. And that's the fun part of these large cards.

It's too bad I couldn't find a good video for Lyle Lovett's biggest song, "It's Not Big, It's Large" so instead we are on "The Road to Ensenada". This is a really good song anyway.

Of course, I'm still not sure how he ended up marrying Julia Roberts. It must have been that Texas Aggie charm.

Bru, thanks for these great oddballs! 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Meet the Brewers #40: Bruce Brubaker

On August 5, 1970, Wisconsin native Gene Brabender got knocked out of the box early in the game -- getting hammered by the Chicago White Sox for 6 earned runs on 4 hits and 3 walks in just 1-2/3 innings. Bob Humphreys relieved Brabender ably, giving the team 4-1/3 innings and allowing only one unearned run. To finish out the game, Dave Bristol brought in a 28-year-old pitcher who had made only one other appearance in the majors (and it was in 1967) to finish the game -- Bruce Brubaker. That August 5, 1970 game would be Brubaker's only Brewer appearance, and it would be his last in the majors.

1994 Miller Commemorative Set
Bruce Ellsworth Brubaker Jr. was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on December 29, 1941. He graduated high school in 1959 at the age of 17 and was a schoolboy phenom -- having pitched in 5 games and giving up a total of 4 hits in those games. Thanks to his high school success, a bidding war for his services broke out, with the Phillies, Orioles, Dodgers, Pirates, Reds, Tigers, White Sox, and Braves all in the competition. Oddly enough, the winner was neither the Pirates nor the Phillies, but instead the Milwaukee Braves, who gave Brubaker a $35,000 bonus to sign.

The Sporting News cited Braves scout John Ogden as saying that Brubaker had a great wrist snap on his pitches and had pinpoint control. Credit for that wrist snap was given to Bruce's father, Bruce Sr., but not because of his baseball skills. No, Bruce Sr. was cited as being "the world's champion bait-caster for accuracy, having won the title [in 1957] in Brussels, Belgium." So, when Bruce Jr. was able, his dad started taking him fly-fishing and teaching him how to use a casting rod.

I was able to get in touch with Brubaker via email. He had fond memories of his time with the Braves. No one gave him a hard time about that big signing bonus at all and no one hazed him at all either. Instead, he only had great memories about dinner and a night out on the town in Bradenton, Florida, with the great Ed Mathews and pitching star Bob Buhl.

Being as young as he was, Brubaker worked his way up fairly slowly through the Braves system. It took him until his fifth season in the minors to reach Triple-A -- by which time he'd already been traded to Detroit for pitcher Pat Jarvis. On multiple occasions with the Tigers, Brubaker received plaudits for being a top pitching prospect and for having the best curveball in the International League. These honors gave him opportunities to go to spring training with the Tigers to win a roster spot, but the results in spring often did not follow his talent level. 

Looking at his minor league stats, it looks a bit like Brubaker was brought down by the lack of understanding of stats beyond wins and losses. He had very good control for most of his minor league career, giving up just 3.0 BB/9 innings, and his strikeout levels tended to run in the 6 K/9 range -- which at the time was excellent.

Brubaker only has one Milwaukee card. I found this through Google Images.
Eventually, the Tigers left Brubaker off their roster and available for the Rule 5 Draft. The Phillies pounced, but once again his work in the spring led him to be sent to the minors. Syracuse (Detroit, really) passed on reacquiring him, so the Phillies sent him to the Pacific Coast League in 1966 to be a Padre. 

He only lasted a year with the Phillies system. His talents led the Los Angeles Dodgers to pick him up in the Rule 5 draft. He got his first taste of major league ball there as a 25-year-old, pitching 1-1/3 innings in mop-up duty early in the year. He was optioned to the minor leagues again, and he spent all of 1967, 1968, and 1969 in Spokane. After the 1969 season, the Dodgers traded him to the Brewers in exchange for pitcher Jerry Stephenson, who had pitched in five seasons for the Boston Red Sox before being a Pilot for a year.

After making his single Brewers appearance in 1970, he found himself back in the minor leagues in Portland in 1971. But 1971 was the beginning of the end of Brubaker's baseball career. As Bruce told me by email, he had a game against Indianapolis where he threw over 200 pitches and, unbeknownst to him, he strained his shoulder. He started the American Association All-Star game, and then went on the DL. For the rest of 1971, he rested his shoulder and hoped it would heal -- but it did not. So, after just three games and five innings in 1972 at Evansville, he retired. 

Some other tidbits from my correspondence with Bruce Brubaker:
  • Some of his favorite teammates included Wade Blasingame, John Miller, Sal Bando, Pat Dobson, Ray Orlikowski and Arnold Umbach
  • Bruce became a successful businessman after baseball. He started as a car salesman for Ford. He parlayed success as a salesman into purchasing a Ford-Lincoln-Mazda dealership in Owensboro, Kentucky. 
  • That dealership was successful enough that he was able to purchase two more dealerships that his sons Bruce III and Tyler run
  • He and his wife Leda will celebrate their 50th Wedding Anniversary this year. They have homes in Owensboro and in Naples and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and he is happy to sign autographs for people resourceful enough to find an address for him.
Brubaker never appeared as a Brewer on a baseball card during his career, so his 1994 Miller Brewing Company card is the only one for him in my collection. He appeared on two Topps cards, though -- in 1965 as a Tiger Rookie with Bill Roman and in 1967 as a Dodger. Then, in 2016, Topps featured him in Heritage as a "Real One Autograph" on his 1967 card.

It's great to get to correspond with guys like Bruce Brubaker. As he put it in closing his email to me, he had "no regrets and I don't know of anything I would have done differently. Playing for all those different managers sure showed me how to manage people and also some showed me how not to!"

My thanks to Bruce Brubaker for taking the time to answer my emailed questions and to you for reading.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Cards From the Attic

If you follow Cards from the Attic on Twitter, you may have done as I did and partook in the wonderful sale of reasonably priced vintage singles. The man behind the account has a website also called Cards from the Attic where his cards for sale are listed along with other cool things like giveaways, videos, and trade wrap-ups.

I dove headfirst into his sale and bought a bunch of Braves that I needed for the Braves team set (and a few for my player collections). Let's go in year order -- 1960 through 1965 -- and see what I bought for a total of $50. What does $50 buy these days?

Two cards from 1960 -- a Lou [sic] Burdette and a Chuck Cottier without those strange lines that the previous Cottier I received had on them. Chuck and Lew are just the opening acts, of course. But with these two cards, my 1960 Braves want list is down to 8 cards: Hank Aaron, one Eddie Mathews, two Warren Spahns, Stan Lopata, two Eddie Mathews All-Stars, a Hank all-Star, and a Del Crandall All-Star.

Moving on to 1961, I got five cards, all of which go into my team collection. I feel like it's a rare thing to have cards like the Bob "Hawk" Taylor card with the player nickname in quotes. I mean, we've seen the "Rock Raines" cards, and frankly many of Taylor's cards just list him as "Hawk," but including the nickname (which he got in childhood because his favorite movie serial was "Hawk of the Wilderness," according to his SABR Bio). Hawk was a bonus baby so he made 7 appearances and got to bat once for the 1957 Braves. Unfortunately, he never even appeared enough as a Brave from 1957 through 1963 to lose his rookie eligibility.

But that name just seems weird to me. Anyone have any idea about that?

1962 is like the second wood-grain set, if you count Bowman's wood-grained TVs as being a wood-grain set. If you think about it, 1962 + 1968 = 1987. You can call 1968 "burlap" but that light tan made into wood grain literally is 1987. 1987 being 25 years after 1962 probably isn't a coincidence either.

At any rate, you can see Topps getting lazy with my Midwest players already -- using the same photo for Joe Adcock for 1961 and 1962 is 100% lazy, or Topps's photographers were simply negligent and failed to take his photo enough.

Also, Carl Willey has three different variations of his card -- two of which show him in a cap (one with a weird green tint) and this one, which does not.

Finally, Mike Krsnich is not the only major league baseball player to have his name start with four straight consonants. I can confirm this because his brother Rocky Krsnich also played major league baseball (for the White Sox in 1949, 1951, and 1952). The Krsnich brothers grew up in West Allis, Wisconsin, and attended West Allis Central High School. For what it's worth, Mike made 4 appearances in 1960, didn't play in the majors in 1961, and played in 11 games (and hit 12 times) in 1962 -- and that was it for his career. Of course, he was already 30 years old in 1962. His only three cards ever issued were this card, a 1966 James T. Elder Postcard, and...a 1962 buyback that came out with 2011 Topps Heritage.

Yes, there are more. As everyone knows, the 1963 Topps set was the design-father for 1983 Topps. This Lou [sic] Burdette was needed for the Burdette PC. You can really tell, though the terrible attempts at painting M's on the small photos for guys like Constable, Cline, and Johnson. The sizing is all off. And did the Braves have uniforms with the huge numbers on the sleeve like Cline has on? Nope...but the Cleveland Indians sure did.


I've been lucky to find a lot of 1964 Topps at card shows in the past, so my want list did not correspond all that well with what was available. McMillan came over to the Braves in December of 1960 from Cincinnati in exchange for Joey Jay and Juan Pizarro. Jay was just 25 years old when he was traded, and he promptly rattled off two straight 21 win seasons for the Reds. Pizarro was flipped by the Reds to the White Sox on the exact same day he came in for the Reds to get Gene Freese. McMillan stayed in Milwaukee for three years and 8 games (total of 399 Games) before he was traded to the New York Mets.

And finally, it's 1965. Billy O'Dell's photo kind of weirds me out, to be honest. Billy attended Clemson after he graduated from Whitmire High School in Whitmire, South Carolina. O'Dell was the Braves closer in 1965 racking up 19 saves in 62 appearances and finishing 42 games while throwing 111-1/3 innings with a 2.18 ERA. It being 1965, O'Dell also started a game. Joining him in the bullpen for most of the year were Dan Osinski (61 games, no starts, 26 GF, 6 SV) and Phil Niekro (41 games, 1 start, 21 GF), both of whom saved 6 games.

Toys in the Attic begets Cards from the Attic, after all.

So, what do your $50 of 2018 Topps Heritage look like? That's like what, 2 blasters and a hanging pack?