Because of the very nature of the small size of the Double Play images, very few of the cards have much photographic drama, but I always liked the way the crafty old Cubbie hurler Larry French gripped the ball on this card. French, who is rated #61 of the greatest Cubs of all time by BleedCubbieBlue.com, was the only star player to leave the bright lights of baseball after serving in World War II to pursue a career in the military. He retired after 27 years service in the Navy. French pitched seven seasons for the Cubs, posting a 95-74 record, with 21 shutouts.
French is teamed with Vance Page on this card. Page didn’t make the majors until he was 32. The pride of Elm City, North Carolina, Page had a pretty uneventful four year career, but did get into the 1938 World Series.
Billy Herman may be the most faceless of relatively recent hall of famers. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, he was a defensive star in an era when offensive stars were the gold standard. Though he stayed around the majors as a coach, he wrapped up his career prior to the 1950s. His stats were pretty ordinary for a hall of famer, batting .304, with more than 2300 safeties, and no power numbers of note. In all fairness, his stats would have probably been buoyed a bit had he not missed two years to the War and he seemed to be very well regarded by his contemporaries, landing on ten all-star teams. Herman shares the major league record for most hits on opening day, with five, set April 14, 1936. The other reason is that the name just doesn’t jump out at you. There are a lot of good players…Bill Lee, Lee Smith, Dave Smith, Larry Jackson, Joe Carter…who are quickly forgotten despite considerable skill because of a, well, forgettable name.
Smilin’ Stan Hack played his whole career with the Cubs and actually his stats are pretty comparable to those of Billy Herman’s…about 2200 hits and a .301 average, little power, good glove. He drew a lot of walks and actually had the highest on-base percentage of any 20th century third baseman until Wade Boggs came along. He was a leadoff hitter who played very well in his World Series appearances. A popular player and five-time all star, he may well be as deserving selection Hall of Fame selection as Herman. But, come to think of it, his name isn’t all that exciting either.
Linus Frey was a good infielder who made three All Star Teams, plus he played on two world champions. Oddly, he started his career as a switch hitter, but six years into his career began batting exclusively from the left side of the plate.In 1961 Frey was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, and in 1969, as part of the franchise’s 100th anniversary, was selected the Reds all-time second baseman.
Whenever anyone says Johnny Vander Meer, the first thing anyone thinks of is that he is the only man in history to hurl back-to-back no-hitters in 1938. There was a lot more to the ballplayer than that…Vander Meer is one of only three NL pitchers since 1940 to lead the league in strikeouts in three straight seasons and he landed on four All Star Teams. In 1952, having washed out of the majors, Vander Meer was still hanging on to the game, pitching in the Texas League for Tulsa. Fourteen years after he made history in the majors, Vander Meer no-hit Beaumont 12-0.
Paul Derringer is the Reds all time winningest right-handed pitcher with 161 career victories for the team. He peaked at 25-7 for the 1939 club that won the NL pennant. He won 223 games on his career and was an exceptional control pitcher, walking less than two batters per nine innings pitched. This particular card does not show him at his best and is perhaps the worst photo in a set that has very few good ones. Derringer was a member of the first Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame class.
Bucky Walters came up with the Braves as a third baseman but would become a top-notch pitcher who helped the Reds to back-to-back pennants in 1939 and 1940. He was the 1939 MVP, winning the pitching triple crown by leading the league in victories (27), ERA (2.29), and strikeouts (137, tied with Claude Passeau). He was a 6-time All Star pitcher but never lost his touch with the bat and was sometimes called on to pinch hit.
I am a lifelong Reds fans, and the 1941 set included several players from a Cincy team that had won back-to-back pennants, including a World Championship in 1940. First sacker Frank McCormick was a big reason, earning the MVP in 1940. He, Ginger Beaumont and Rogers Hornsby are the only three players to lead the NL in hits for three consecutive seasons.
Before becoming a fairly successful major league third baseman, Bill Werber was the first basketball player from Duke University to receive All-American honors. He was also the first player ever to bat in a televised game. The 1940 World Championship over the Tigers would be the only Series win the Reds would have between 1919 and 1975.
Jimmy Ripple appears on two cards in the Double Play set. You can find a more extensive writeup on him in the previous write-up on the vertical card he shares with Bucky Walters. He made his mark as a minor leaguer, with a long career as an International League star.
Ernie Lombardi had a huge bat and, especially late in his career, a huge girth. He was quite possibly the the slowest player ever to wear a big league uniform. I once heard an announcer say that late in his career the shortstop would often play well into left field…even beyond the limits of their arm. They would field the ball, and try to sprint back into the infield in time to throw the Schnozz out. He was a truly gifted hitter…in fact, the last catcher to lead a league in hitting until Joe Mauer did so more than a half century later. He had a lot of trouble adjusting to life after baseball, which included a well=publicized suicide attempt in 1953. He later worked as a Giants pressbox attendant and at a gas station. An eight-time All Star, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986.
Alex Kampouris is considered to be the first major leaguer of Greek descent. The highlight of his eight years in the majors was when he hit three home runs in one game for the Reds vs. the Phillies. On August 13, 1937, Kampouris was honored at Wrigley Field by the Chicago Hellenic Society as a visiting member of the Reds. He was given a car and praised before the game, only to commit three errors in one inning against the Cubbies that day.
John “Whit” Wyatt was a high school pitching phenom, and once struck out 23 college hitters in a game. In 1941, was credited with the Dodgers’ only win in the World Series on top of 22 wins in the regular season. He had a reputation as a bit of a head hunter with Joe DiMaggio calling him the meanest guy he ever saw.
During the 1941 season, Mickey Owen set a record for most errorless fielding chances by a catcher with 508 perfect attempts and finished with a .995 average. Ironically, Owen earned a place in baseball lore for a costly error that he committed during the ’41 World Series. The Yankees held a 2-games-to-1 lead entering Game 4 at the Dodgers’ but with 2 outs in the top of the ninth inning and the count 3-2 on the Yankee’s Tommy Henrich the Dodgers led 4-3. Henrich swung and missed at strike 3 which would have been the final out of the game, but the ball eluded Owen and Henrich made it safely to first base. The Yankees then went on to rally to score four runs in that inning and held on to win the game 7-4. Despite being best remembered for a costly error, Owen made four All Star teams and in 1942 he became the first player to pinch-hit a home run in an All-Star game.
A bona fide hall of famer, Paul Waner had a career batting average of .333. He was a four-time all star and won the 1927 MVP.
Arthur Lavagetto, better known as “Cookie,” is best known as the pinch hitter who broke up Bill Bevens’ no-hittter in the 1947 World Series. He was a coach and big league manager after his career.
Pete Reiser was the very rare player (Ken Griffey, Jr is a recent variety, though not to the extent of Reiser) who just tried too damn hard. A rookie sensation in 1941, he won the NL batting title on the way to leading the Dodgers to the pennant. He ran into walls, plowed into opposing players, and generally made a wreck out of his wonderfully gifted body for the love of the game. He was carried off the field on a stretcher 11 times, which is probably a record if anyone bothers to record such things. Leo Durocher said “Pistol Pete” was as gifted as Willie Mays. Even after his battered body could no longer hit, he retained his speed. In 1946 he stole home a record seven times.
Jimmy Wasdell got around in his 11 year career playing for five different teams. He helped the Dodgers to the 1941 NL flag and in all honesty is a fairly peculiar inclusion in the set, never being more than a part-time player prior to his appearance in the set. Wasdell got his chance to play regularly when many of the regulars were off to war. Given the chance, though against watered-down competition, he played pretty well.
Dolph Camilli had a great year in 1941 winning the NL MVP, leading the league in home runs and RBI. A powerful slugger, he held the Dodgers franchise record for career home runs from 1942 to 1953. Part of an athletic family, his brother, who boxed under the name of Frank Campbell, died of a cerebral hemorrhage after a match against Max Baer. His son Doug played in the bigs in the 1960s.