Top 11 of 2011 – a clown, the old ball yard and a moment of rememberance for Johnny Wilson

Before getting back into the list of cards, I wanted to take a minute to remember Johnny Wilson – former NHL player and coach and uncle to current Leafs coach Ron Wilson.  Johnny passed away on the 27th at the age of 82. 

He broke into the NHL with Detroit in 1949-50.  He played just a single regular-season game but was with the big club for the playoff run, dressing in eight games and winning the 1950 Stanley Cup.  He’d see spot duty for the next couple of years but played enough playoff games to get his name etched on the Cup again in 1952.  He scored four playoff goals that year, to boot.

Johnny became an NHL regular in 1952-53 and established himself as a rugged, dependable player.   He didn’t miss a game from ’52-53 through the end of ’59-60 and set an NHL record with 580 consecutive games played.  He won two more Stanley Cups with the Wings in 1954 and ’55 before moving on to Chicago, Detroit again, Toronto and the Rangers.

In Toronto, he added some veteran depth to a young club that was climbing its way out of a disappointing decade.  His larger contribution, though, came in the form of some advice he gave to Leaf coach/GM Punch Imlach. 

Freshly-arrived from Detroit, Johnny knew that Wings GM Jack Adams rather liked a young Leaf rearguard named Marc Reaume.  When a Wings/Rangers trade involving Red Kelly fell apart and Kelly walked away from the game, Wilson suggested to Punch that the rights to Kelly might be secured for Reaume.  Punch asked, Adams agreed and the deal was made.  Kelly was moved from defense to centre and was a key piece of a Leaf team that would win four Cups in seven years.  John didn’t get to take part in that, moving on to the Rangers during 1960-61.  He would retire the following season.

Condolences to the Wilson family on their loss.

Card #7 of 2011 – 1961 Fleer Nick Altrock

I didn’t even know I was getting this card until it arrived.  It was a throw-in in a lot of old OPC baseball.  When I saw it, I had absolutely no idea what it was.  I’d never seen ’61 Fleer and had never heard of Nick Altrock.  I thought he sounded like a lost Flintstone.

But I looked him up – it wasn’t that I thought the card had any real value, I was just curious who this person was and how he could be one of the more colourful people in baseball as late as the 1960s and yet I’d never heard of him.  The “Altrock and Schack coaching and clowning team of Washington” sounded like it could be interesting.

And it was.  An excellent biography of Nick Altrock is here, and I won’t repeat all of it, but Nick Altrock was a top-end lefthanded pitcher for the Boston and Chicago (both AL) from 1902-1909.  His peak years were from 1904-06, during which he won 62 games and outdueled Mordecai “Three Fingers” Brown in Game 1 of the ’06 World Series. 

He was a bit of a clown even as a player and didn’t really take the game that seriously.  By 1909, he was nearing the end and finished up with Washington.  He became a minor league coach whose claim to fame was his antics in the coaches’ box.  I’ll quote this because I don’t think I can describe it otherwise:  (from the SABR Project

Altrock barely hung on in the minors for three years pitching and coaching. Then one day in 1912 when Nick was coaching third base for Kansas City in the American Association, he decided to imitate a film he had seen the previous night of a shadow boxing exhibition featuring featherweight champion Johnny Kilbane. Altrock opened with a roundhouse right to his own chin and fell to the ground. Then he picked himself up and went at himself again, as the crowd roared in bemused delight. Nick finished by knocking himself out to raucous applause.

Nick ended up fired in KC, but wound up performing with the Washington Senators, often paired with another funny coach in Al Schacht.  The two were renowned for their antics and were probably as much of an attendance draw as anyone on the team.  He’d get into the occasional game well into his 50s and remains the oldest person to hit a triple, doing so at age 47 in 1924.  He coached for the Senators until the 1957 season, when he was 81.

This was all interesting enough, but the SABR Project bio made reference to another little thing that I hadn’t known – Nick Altrock was a Toronto Maple Leaf.  He was brought in to shore up the Toronto pitching staff in 1901.  He went 16-13 with a 3.55 ERA for the Leafs after having been acquired by manager Ed Barrow, a rather famous figure himself.  Barrow’s club would win the Eastern League pennant in 1902 (this was rated #76 on the list of the top 100 minor league teams of all time).  Barrow would become far more famous for his roles in building the championship teams in Boston and New York, both involving Babe Ruth.

So a card that was basically filler led me down a great little path of discovery, both in the history of major league ball and also a long-gone local team.  Not bad for a throw-in.

Card #6 of 2011 – Maple Leaf Stadium (c. 1928)

This isn’t really a card per se, but rather an unused postcard.  It’s undated, but I’ve seen it listed as being c. 1928 and the cars in the parking lot bear that out.  There aren’t any there that suggest the 1930s.

This was Toronto’s brand new ballpark – Maple Leaf Stadium – opened with great fanfare for the start of the 1926 season.  Located at Bathurst and Lakeshore, it was billed as the most modern park in the minor leagues and though it was variously rated between a capacity of 14000 and 18000 (various renovations, maybe?), certain games during the 1950s could draw as many as 22000.

The Leafs played here for 42 years, enjoying great times during the 1920s (enough so that the local hockey team would adopt their name, no matter what they say is the reason) and 1950s and plenty of lean times during the Depression and the later 1960s.  The advent of major league baseball on TV and owner Jack Kent Cooke’s own efforts to move a major league team to Toronto did them in.  The team (which is now the Pawtucket Red Sox) left in 1967 and the stadium was demolished shortly thereafter.

I spent a lot of this past year on a Maple Leaf baseball kick.  I got a number of postcards of both this stadium and the prior one on Hanlan’s point.  Both are gone, leaving little more than a marker behind.  In fairness, I don’t know just what could have been done with this building, given that it needed repair and lacked a tenant.  It’s just sad to have lost it.

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