Thrift Treasures 79: Signed Vintage Minor League Baseball (15 sigs on 43-year-old ball)

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My wife and I made our annual end-of-the-year trip to a local city that has plenty of antique and thrift stores.  I know, it’s like we’re old, right? I might be 34, but I might as well be 64. I mean I like antiquing and thrifting, and I watch baseball and not the more popular choice of football.  What’s next, golf?

I digress, on these trips my wife finds all sorts of stuff that strikes her fancy: earrings, necklaces, cake platters, etc.  Me?  You know I have my eye on sports related stuff, so when I actually find something that fits my theme, I give it a good look.

Well, as it so happens, these shops usually have their fair share of sports cards, old ones too. I always hope for something new (read: old, but new to me) and exciting (read: at a decent price) but its been getting harder and harder.  I feel like I’ve picked these stores clean through the years.

And so just as we were about the end our day — me empty handed except for the bag of stuff my wife bought — we stepped into a shop that has only been in the neighborhood for about two months.  The guy had some interesting items, and even a stack of cards too, but nothing really struck my fancy.  At least not until I took one last look back before we walked out of the store.

There, on the bottom shelf hidden in the back of the showcase were a small grouping of four baseballs, two of which I could see were signed.  I asked to look at the two and quickly determined that the $25 price tag on one ball was too steep. Sure, i t was signed by four or five people, but I didn’t recognize a single name — not a one. Besides, the ball was modern and the signatures weren’t that old.

And the other ball? Well, you’re looking at it. I initially studied the ball, looking got any name that might be recognizable. None immediately jumped out at me, but the one thing about this ball that made it stand out from the other ball was the fact that it looked and felt old. I tussled with the idea of spending $25 on this thing, but I looked a the bag of stuff and reasoned in my head: This is something you’ll never see again. Besides, you spend $25 on plenty of other baseball stuff (read: crappy blasters many times over.)

By now if you’re still reading I applaud you. You must really want to know what the hell the “San Jose Bees” are. Well, here’s you’re answer: the precursor to the San Jose Giants. Before the Giants were affiliated the minor league baseball team in San Jose, Calif., they the team in the South Bay was the stomping grounds for the Kansas City Royals.  Don’t believe me? Turn over George Brett’s 1975 Topps rookie card and tell me what team he played for in 1972. Answer: The San Jose Bees.

Well, as it so happens, this here  ball is from nineteen seventy …. ONE. Yes, 1971, a year BEFORE Mr. Brett played in San Jose.  This means that his signature is NOT on this ball.  Bummer. But here’s a list of who IS on this call.  You might recognize a few, although none of them are exactly going to turn my “treasure” into a fortune.

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Buddy Peterson:  Manager of the Bees in 1971. He had two short mlb stints in 1955 with the White Sox and in 1957 with the Orioles.

Steve Myers: This player was 23 in still in Single-A ball.  I believe this was his final year in professional baseball.

Steve Busby: An eight-year Major League veteran who played with the Royals from 1972 to 1980.  He tossed a pair of no-hitters during his career and was elected/named to two American League All Star team.

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Edward Siracusa: From what I can tell, he was 19 in 1971 and this was his final year in pro baseball.

Darrell Gambero: Mr. Gambero played three seasons at San Jose and 1971 was second one.

Gary Houston: This guy made it out of San Jose and played as high as AA ball during his career before calling it quits.

Thomas Combs: Drafted by the Boston Red Sox, Combs wound up in the Royals minor league system for five years, including 1971, which was smack dab in the middle of his career. Combs was 22 and would get as high as AA ball in 1973 before calling it a career.

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Stephen Wright: In 1971 Mr. Wright was 24 and still in A ball. It was his final season in pro ball.

Doug Bird: Another MLB veteran who pitched in the Majors from 1973 through 1983. He spent time with the Royals, Phillies, Yankees, Cubs and lastly the Red Sox.

Al Autry: All minor leagues dream of getting to the Big Leagues.  Al Autry made it … once.  He had one start in 1976 while he was with the Braves. He went five innings and struck out three en route to getting a single MLB victory.

Jim Wohlford: Long-time Major League who played from 1972 through 1986 with the Royals, Brewers, Giants, and Expos

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“Duke” Wathan:  Does that name NOT look familiar?  If so, it’s because “Duke” Wathan is really JOHN Wathan, who spent more than a decade with the Royals as a player from 1976 through 1985. Then after he retired as a player, he managed the Royals for five season.  So, what is this “Duke” nickname about?  The Internet says the nickname comes from Wathan’s ability to do a spot-on impression of country actor John Wayne, whose nickname was “Duke.”

Dale Phillips: This guy was 19 when he played with the San Jose club in 1971.  He’s go on to play as high as AA in 1973 before returning to SJ and leaving pro ball.

Robert “Bob” Peters: he was a pro baseball rookie in 1971 when he played with San Jose. He’s played two additional years in Royals system until 1973 when he left pro ball at age 24.

Calvin Meier: He’d go on to play as high as AAA in 1975, but did not make it to the majors.

Total cost of these treasures: $25

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