Eddie O’Brien, Gone At Age 83

One half of one of the most amazing Topps cards of the 1950s is gone.

Eddie O’Brien amazed me in 2010 with a letter that told about that famed card with his brother, his brief stint as a Pirates pitcher and getting scouted by Bing Crosby.
The always-amazing www.sportscollectors.net tallied 152 responses in 166 tries for Eddie O.
Eddie was famous, too, for taking the 1954 card (or the Archives) to his brother John for a second autograph. I don’t think most TTM collectors requested the effort. It was usually a surprise. Two autographs, one stamp, giving “double play” new meaning.
Great friends to the hobby remain. Write them while you can.

Charlie Thompson, Brooklyn Dodger Mystery

A Topps puzzler…

You know that guy, uh, what’s his name?

Don’t expect any help from a certain 1950s catcher by the full name of Charles Lemoine Thompson. The always-impressive Baseball Almanac website shows his autographed 1954 Topps card, signed “Charlie,” as indicated on the card. They file the catcher under “Tim Thompson,” his nickname.

On his 1957 card, Topps spells his first name “Charley.”

Thompson’s last card, in the 1958 Topps set, says he’s “Tim Thompson.”

I blame Topps for scattering the catcher throughout history. I asked if the card company mixed up his name.

“No.”

That’s all Mr. Thompson had to say.

Imagine all the 1950s kids lining up their differently-named cards. Compounding the confusion, starting in 1957, Topps shows the catcher wearing glasses. Shades of Clint Courtney! I asked if this was difficult or dangerous back then.

“Far-sighted.”

Hmmm…

The website Baseball Reference notes Thompson’s success as a scout for decades after his career ended. I asked if he had a couple of signings or discoveries he was proudest of.

“Brian Jordan, Tom Herr.”

Oh. About his proper, or even preferred first name?

I’ll never know. Mr. Thompson never bothered to sign the letter!

Coming Thursday: Two succinct signers.

Pitcher John Hetki Tamed 2 Hall of Famers!

Pic from Havana, Cuba?!?

Topps told me!

I saw that Pirates pitcher John Hetki was photographed in a batting helmet on his 1954 Topps card. Looking at his stats, I saw he had 11 hits in one season — including two triples in one week of 1953. Don’t DH this guy. He responded:

“I had to work hard during the winter months. I worked also in making my arms and legs strong.”

On April 27, 1947, then-Cincinnati moundsman Hetki hurled a 12-inning victory against the Pirates. Two memories top that day:

“Shutting out Hank Greenberg and Ralph Kiner without a hit.”

We may never know the full story of all the 1953 Topps paintings. Photos were adapted. Some freelance artists would recreate every detail. Others would enhance.

Well, Hetki’s 1953 forested background suggests that he might have gone camping in uniform. Was there such lush shade at Forbes Field, or was this spring training? Hetki’s guess?

“The picture might have been taken in Havana, Cuba.”

Hetki summed up his letter by listing his career ironies.

“At the end of the 1949 season in Syracuse, I pitched 4 games with two days rest. I lost all four games, being shut out, 1-0, 2-0 and 2-1. I lost the last game, 8-0. Six of the runs were unearned. I never got the chance to be a regular starter in the majors. I also threw a lot of batting practice without the screen.”

Tomorrow: Harvey Meiselman offers major deal for “minor” names.



Now Pitching, Pirate Infielder Ed O’Brien?


A position player pitching? You mean blowout game, mop-up duty?

Don’t tell that to Ed O’Brien.

I confess, I wanted to ask about that famous 1954 Topps card, picturing the O’Brien twins. Forget the Olsen twins. Skip those sisters. I’d rather see Ed and John turn a double play.

However, www.Retrosheet.org amazed me again. Going to “top performances” I found results from September 14, 1957, a day in which the Cubs ate humble pie. One infielder took the mound and confounded Chicago.

Ed O’Brien replied in magnificent calligraphy-like penmanship:

“With Dick Groat at shortstop and Bill Virdon in center field, the Pirates were using me as a utility player. In all, I played seven positions. Because I had a strong arm, they decided to see if I could pitch. At Columbus AAA I had 3 or 4 pitching appearances while still playing in the field. Dan Murtaugh started me against the Cubs in Wrigley Field. I won, 3-1, complete game, throwing fastballs and hard sliders.

Both of us on the Topps 1954 card was their (the company’s) idea. They sent copies to all those signed with them. Everyone received the same compensation. Nothing like today’s figures.”

I had asked if Topps paid both brothers an individual fee, even if they shared one card…

Lastly, I wanted to know about a fellow Washingtonian and famous Pirates fan.

“Bing Crosby came to Seattle on three occasions to talk to us (John and I) about signing with the Pirates. He was a minority owner. He would attend spring training every year and became a lifetime friend.”

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