Friday, October 26, 2018

Terry Sawchuk

Terry Sawchuk - Played senior baseball and had interest from the Majors before becoming an NHL star.

The card: 1954/55 Topps

What it says about baseball: "Terry, a top flight athlete, turned town Baseball to play Big League Hockey."

   Terry Sawchuk, like teammate Gordie Howe and other Western Canadian hockey players, spent the summers early in his career playing semi-pro baseball. Sawchuk, however, did not just play baseball, he starred.
   Sawchuk grew up playing ball and a childhood baseball injury had shortened his right arm. "He never had a flexible right arm after that," said former teammate Johnny Wilson. "Yet he refused to let that hamper him."(1) 
  Sawchuk quickly became a star baseball player in Manitoba. In 1948, and not yet 20, he joined the Elmwood Giants of the Manitoba Senior AA Baseball league. That year he batted .376 to win the league's batting crown playing against men much more experience and older than he was. Sawchuk spent 3 seasons with the Elmwood Giants playing semi-pro baseball. Records suggest that by 1951, then a full time NHL player, he had largely switched focus to the hockey rink.(2) 
  December 19, 1959 MacLeans published an article about Sawchuk's career. In it, they touched on his baseball background and noted offers from Major League Baseball, supporting information on his Topps hockey card about refused baseball offers.
He weighed 175 when he departed for Omaha, and when he returned to his home in Winnipeg in the spring his parents met him at the station but they didn't recognize him. He'd added thirty five pounds. He figured two-ten was his playing weight for a couple of years, and he held that weight in the off-season by playing baseball for the Elmwood Giants in the Mandak League, comprised of teams from Manitoba and North Dakota. He led the league in hitting .376 and received letters from the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates, suggesting triads. He decided to stick to hockey, playing ball only to retain his condition, and discovered when the season ended that his weight had climbed to 228. (3)

June 30, 1948 Winnipeg Free Press

Sawchuk western Canada baseball, 1949

(1) Bob Duff. Terry Sawchuk: 100 Greatest NHL Players. January 1, 2017.
(2) Western Canada Baseball - 1948 Season Stats.
(3) Trent Frayne. The awful ups and downs of Terry Sawchuk. MacLeans: December 19, 1959.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Johnny Gottselig

Johnny Gottselig - NHL Player who was a All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Manager.

The cards: 2004/05 ITG Franchises
                  1995 Fritsch All-American Girls Professional Baseball League

The story:

   Johnny Gottselig is best remembered for being a long-time member of the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks. He was a key member of the team for 17 seasons during the franchise's early years. He helped Chicago win 2 Stanley Cups, including a 1938 victory when he was team captain. After retiring as a player, Gottselig returned to the NHL as head coach of the Blackhawks. At the same time he had a very different occupation during the summer months, he managed a girls professional baseball team.
   Going from NHL player to baseball manager wasn't all that much of a leap considering Gottselig was a good baseball player in his youth, before an injury forced him to give up the sport. He had been a excellent pitcher in college and won a couple provincial championships as a ball player. Towards the end of his playing career, Gottselig managed a local girls ball team in Moose Jaw. During the second World War, managers of the MLB feared that the league would shut down and risk loosing fans. They created a professional women's league, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in 1943. It operated until 1954 and Gottselig managed three teams over that period.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Ted Irvine

Ted Irvine - NHL player with baseball reference on hockey card

The card: 1968/69 Topps

What it says about baseball: "Besides hockey, Ted has played baseball, football and tennis."

The story:

Here's an early hockey card with a baseball reference and accompanying image. Ted Irvine grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba excelling in a number of sports, including baseball and hockey. Irvine spent a decade in the NHL, playing well over 700 games. He dressed for the Bruins, Kings, Rangers and Blues. He excelled in hockey but appears to have only played baseball recreationally.
Ted is perhaps most notable for having a famous son who excelled in something unrelated to hockey. Ted's son is famous wrestler Chris Jericho.

Adam Oates

Adam Oates - Hockey Hall of Famer with baseball-hockey card.

The card: 1992/93 Upper Deck

The Story:

  It is well documented that Hockey Hall of Famer Adam Oates was a star hockey and lacrosse player growing up. However, as we can see from this hockey card, Oates had a third sport he occasionally played, baseball. September, 2012 Oates conducted an interview with reporter Chuck Gormley. Oates was asked about his early years and noted that he did played baseball and even played ball against a young Wayne Gretzky. "I ran track against him, I played baseball against him, hockey, lacrosse. He beat me in everything."(1)  As evident by this card, Oates continued to play recreational baseball throughout his NHL career.

(1) Gormley, Chuck. Adam Oates unplugged: The early years. Sept. 25, 2012.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Lorne Henning

Lorne Henning - NHL alumni and youth baseball standout

The card: 1977/78 Topps

What it says about baseball: "Lorne is a guiding force behind Islanders softball team"

The card: 1979/80 Topps

What it says about baseball: "Lorne is the shortstop on the Islanders softball team"

The story:

   Lorne was a standout baseball player in his hometown as well as a top hockey prospect. He was a noted youth baseball star but the Saskatchewan native pursued his dream of playing hockey. During the off-seasons, Henning rekindled his love for baseball and was shortstop and pitcher on the Islanders' rec softball team. He was always one of the best players on the field, so much so that he has two hockey cards with baseball/softball related sketches and facts. Henning was also a known threat on the summer Saskatchewan club baseball circuit.
   As a hockey player, Lorne Henning played in over 500 NHL games during the 1970s.

Scott Hunter

Scott Hunter - Grandfather was a pro hockey player

The card: 1999 Bowman Chrome

 What it says about hockey: "Grandfather (Fred) was a professional hockey player."

The story:

   According to this baseball card, Scott Hunter's grandfather was a professional hockey player. I searched extensively to uncover more information about this family connection to hockey but I couldn't come up with anything. Since there is no "Fred Hunter" who fits the bill, it could be from his mother's side of the family and have a completely different last name. In any case, please comment on this post if you have more information about this baseball-hockey connection.
   Although Scott Hunter appears to have family ties to hockey, by the time Hunter reached high school his two sports were baseball and football. Hunter spent a decade playing professional baseball. He made it to AAA but could not break into the MLB. Hunter was recently named the Director of Scouting for the Seattle Mariners.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Jeff Francis

Jeff Francis - MLB Pitcher who was nicknamed after hockey great

The card: 2005 Topps

What it says about hockey: "Francis grew up in a 'baseball family' in the hockey hotbed of British Columbia."

The card: 2007 Topps Triple Threads

 What is says about hockey: "Canadian who was nicknamed "Boomer" by parents after hockey great "Boom Boom" Geoffrion.

The story:

   As noted by these two baseball cards, Jeff Francis grew up in a hockey hotbed and was surrounded by the sport that gave him his nickname. Jeff's grandfather called him Boom Boom after Montreal Canadiens Hockey Hall of Famer Boom Boom Geoffrion. Even with so much hockey around him, Francis never took to the game. The Canadian was always a baseball player though and through.
   Francis spent a decade in the Majors, pitching for the Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Cincinnati Reds, Oakland Athletics, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays. He also helped Canada win a Gold medal at the 2015 Pan American Games.