Don’t Forget Baseball’s Team Trainers!

Kyle Smego’s hobby legwork
yielded a return letter filled with
impressive baseball memories.

Don’t “he never” yourself out of a great collection.

For instance:

He never starred anywhere.

He never played in the majors.

He never played ANYWHERE.

Never say never. Behind that little-known name might be some classic baseball tales.

Kyle Smego, the driving force behind the “Autograph Addict” website, found that out when he acquired some vintage minor league cards. Being a true collector, he contacted EVERYONE in the set.

One of the classiest responses came from a 1980 El Paso Diablos team trainer.

Don Smelser was in the right place at the right time. He saw Tom Brunansky flirt with an epic five homers in one game. Smelser watched “The Famous Chicken” make his minor league debut, being a part of some now-classic routines. For days off, Smelser found a Hall of Famer for a golf buddy, pitcher-turned-coach Warren Spahn.

Kyle reaped this history bonanza through kindness. He began his letter offering to snare an extra card for Smelser, if the former trainer didn’t have one. A good lesson for us all: think about what you’re giving, not just what you hope to be getting.

Well done, Kyle!

Coming Wednesday: Remember the short-lived Senior League? One collector is getting tough autographs for a “song.”

Baseball Sculptor Lou Cella Reveals His Game Plan For Ernie Banks Wrigley Field Statue

Posted November 22nd, 2011 by Tom Owens and filed in Ernie Banks, Lou Cella, Warren Spahn



Mr. Cub at the 2008
Wrigley Field unveiling.
(Photo courtesy Lou Cella)

 Baseball has a Lone Ranger. Maybe a whole team of hard-to-spot superheroes!

I remember the masked man who saves the day and rides away quickly, while us grateful townsfolk mutter, “We didn’t have time to thank him.”

Fast-forward to sculptor Lou Cella. Outside ballparks, he’s creating great baseball bronze artworks. He works with The Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany, often teaming with fellow artistic talents like Oscar Leon. Just when it’s time to take bows, the sculptors are off to the next opportunity to three-dimensionalize baseball’s past.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to attempt to thank these creators this week.

I received a wondrous letter from Cella. I wrote to him to praise his understanding and appreciation of baseball. He began by explaining his vision for the Ernie Banks statue, writing:

“While working on any ball player, I am always trying to focus on a particular period in their career. I am usually narrowing this down to a specific year, and, on occasion, an exact date.

Case in point: The Cubs wanted to depict Ernie Banks as he looked in one of his MVP years (1958 or 1959). The uniform changed a bit in 1959 to what it more traditionally looks like today. The Cubs also asked to have Ernie shown smiling at bat. This is not normal, of course, but as much of a purist as I am when it comes to baseball, I still consider capturing the essence and personality of the person a critical part of the total presentation. This is, after all, a piece of art, and certain ‘licenses’ are going to be taken.

Ernie loved the game was always seen as a man who was having fun playing the game. He comes across as a happy man all the time. Therefore, I was very pleased that the Cubs wanted to go this route. Would Ernie be smiling at bat? No, of course not. But it still works. I think it works better than if we had been strictly realistic. I would never have considered this with Carlton Fisk or Ty Cobb. So you consider the pose and the person as you do this.

Another element I added to the history of this piece is exactly when the moment in time was. Upon telling a close friend of mine, Gary Colobuono, what I was doing he became very excited and told me this story.

August 29, 1959 was the first time Gary went to a baseball game. His father brought Gary and his brother to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs take on the greatest left-handed pitcher ever, Warren Spahn (respects to Koufax) and the Milwaukee Braves. At a certain point, the Cubs were losing, 2-0, with two runners on base. With Ernie Banks on deck, Spahn walked the bases full. So, on August 29, 1959, with Warren Spahn on the mound, the Cubs down by two, the bases loaded, and Gary Colobuono in the stands with his Dad, Ernie Banks hit a Grand Slam.

When Gary told me this story, I immediately decided that any time I was asked when this statue was supposed to be taking place, it would be right before Ernie hit that Grand Slam off Warren Spahn. That is one example of my understanding of baseball. A father, a son, and for them, a moment that will live forever.”

Enjoy this 2009 feature detailing Cella’s college days and his Illinois connections.

(Thanks to http://www.retrosheet.org/ for the Banks grand slam report.)

Coming Wednesday: Sculptor Cella’s views on collectibles.

When Norm Sherry Topped Warren Spahn

Posted January 18th, 2011 by Tom Owens and filed in Bob Lurie, Gene Autry, Norm Sherry, Walter O'Malley, Warren Spahn
Debuted at age 27

Although Norm Sherry owns just 18 career home runs, he nicked a future Hall of Famer for two of the dingers.

“Hitting homers off [Warren] Spahn was something for ME. [His upper-case emphasis!] The first one came late into a game at home in L.A. and tied the game up. We went on and played 11 innings before we won. Second came in New York as a Met. Both came off fastballs over the middle of the plate.”

Sherry’s comeback as a major leaguer came in 1976, when he became manager of the California Angels. Although his stint as skipper didn’t last two years, he found a lengthy assignment as a San Francisco Giants coach. His assessment of three big league bosses intrigued me.

“Gene Autry was a real baseball fan and was ever present. Always in the clubhouse before the game and after. A real super man.

The owners that I played for? Walter O’Malley was a very nice man. They just didn’t pay well in those days.

At S.F., Bob Lurie was the best. Very serious.”

Tomorrow: a letter from the heart and soul of the 1960s California Angels, Jim Fregosi