Baseball cards chronicled careers of New Orleans area major leaguers – Crescent City Sports


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The history of baseball has been captured in multiple forms of media over the years. One of the most popular has been baseball cards. There was a time when baseball fans, especially youngsters, relied heavily on the biographical and statistical information on the back of baseball cards to learn about major-league players. Retrosheet, Baseball-Reference.com and other baseball-related internet sites weren’t available to keep up with player information until the mid-1990s or so.

Trading cards showing baseball players were produced as far back as the earliest days of the game. While they are considerably more expensive nowadays, they still remain a favorite of sports memorabilia collectors.

New Orleans has produced its share of major leaguers over the years. According to Baseball-Reference.com, John Peters was the first New Orleans area major-leaguer in 1874, as a member of the Chicago White Stockings in the National Association. But it wasn’t until Gretna native Mel Ott signed with the New York Giants in 1926 as a 17-year-old that a player from the metropolitan area became one of the sport’s main stars.

Ott appeared on his first significant baseball card in 1929 along with three other Giants players in what became known as the 4-on-1 Exhibits card set. The future Hall of Famer later appeared on more recognizable sets named Goudey, Diamond Stars and Bowman Play Ball in the 1930s and early 1940s. Due to the age and small print runs of these early sets, these cards have become valuable. Beginning in the 1960s, card manufacturers began producing sets that included former major-league stars. Ott, who retired in 1947, was one of the more popular players, since he had been the career home run leader in the National League, until Willie Mays broke his record of 511 in 1966.

Starting in the early 2000s, Ott has been frequently included in subsets of Topps’ major issues. His iconic batting stance with the leg kick is often the pose Topps has used.

Connie Ryan was an All-Prep player for Jesuit High School and the first player to earn a full baseball scholarship at LSU in 1939. He made his major-league debut with the New York Giants in 1942. He was named to the National League All-Star team in 1944. His first baseball card came in 1951 when Bowman produced a color set, with an artist’s rendering of the players, which competed with newcomer card manufacturer Topps Gum Company. Other major sets Ryan appeared in included 1952 Topps and Bowman sets and the 1953 and 1954 Topps sets. Ryan retired after the 1954 season and served as a coach for the Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers and as a scout for several organizations.

A major-league contemporary of Ryan was former Fortier High School pitching star Howie Pollet. The left-hander appeared in three seasons (1941-1943) with the St. Louis Cardinals before missing two seasons due to World War II. He returned from military service and led the Cardinals to a World Serie championship in 1946 with a 21-10 record with a 2.10 ERA. He had another 20-win season with the Cardinals in 1949. Pollet was a three-time All-Star. From 1949 to 1955 he appeared in Topps and Bowman issues as a member of the Cardinals, Cubs and Pirates. His last season was in 1956.

Mel Parnell, who pitched for the Boston Red Sox from 1947 to 1956, was known as the “Yankee Killer” for his five victories in five starts against the Yankees in 1953. A product of S. J. Peters High School, Parnell was a three-time All-Star whose best season came in 1947, when he posted a 25-7 record, 2.77 ERA and 27 complete games in 33 starts. His first baseball card was in the 1950 Bowman set.

Larry Gilbert (1914) and his sons Charlie (1940-1943, 1946-1947) and Tookie Gilbert (1950, 1953) had brief major-league careers, but only Tookie made it on a major baseball card issue, in the popular 1952 Topps set. The brothers were included in a locally-produced collectors’ set of former Jesuit High School products that went on the big-leagues.

Before former Holy Cross High School standout Lenny Yochim became a renowned long-time scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he toiled as a player in the minors for 10 seasons while making only 12 appearances in the big leagues in 1951 and 1954.

In the infancy of modern baseball cards in the early 1950s, Yochim signed an agreement with Bowman Gum Inc. in March 1952 to allow his image to be used in their baseball card sets. He was initially compensated $10 for granting Bowman exclusive rights to produce his card and was to earn $100 each year he was on a major-league roster for at least 31 days. However, because Yochim never became a major-league regular, he never appeared on a Bowman card, although he did collect $100 for the 1954 season. In 2008, Panini card manufacturer produced a set of baseball card stickers with former players in the Venezuelan Winter League. Yochim was included since he had pitched the league’s first no-hitter in 1955.

Rusty Staub signed out of Jesuit High School in 1961 with the Houston Colt ‘45s (predecessor of the Astros). He went on to play 23 seasons in the majors, with Houston, New York Mets, Montreal, Detroit and Texas. The six-time All-Star collected over 500 hits for each of his teams, except the Rangers and totaled 2,716 for his career. Staub first appeared on a 1963 Topps Rookie Stars card with three other major-league prospects. He appeared in Topps sets for each of his five major-league teams, including the first Donruss and Fleer sets in the 1980s. He finished his career with the Mets in 1985.

Mike Miley was a standout shortstop and quarterback at East Jefferson High School and went on to play both sports at LSU. He was selected twice in the first round of the June amateur drafts, by Cincinnati in 1971 out of East Jefferson and by the California Angels in 1974 after finishing his junior season with LSU. He signed with the Angels in 1974 and reached the majors in 1975. He also played briefly for the Angels in 1976. His life was cut short in January 1977 when he died in an automobile accident. His only baseball cards were in the 1976 and 1977 Topps sets.

Like Miley, Frank Wills was a baseball and football player for De La Salle High School who later played both sports for Tulane. He was the first-round selection (16th overall) of the Kansas City Royals in 1980.

The right-hander ended up pitching nine seasons in the majors, primarily as a reliever. In addition to the Royals, Wills played for the Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays spanning 1983 and 1991. His 1987 Topps card is a noteworthy “error” card because it contains Will Clark’s stats of the back. He also had cards in Fleer, Donruss and Score sets.

Will Clark, a Jesuit High School product, played in Babe Ruth World Series, American Legion World Series, College World Series and the Olympics before signing with the San Francisco Giants in 1985. The Golden Spikes Award winner was the second overall pick in the 1985 amateur draft.

Clark went on to a 15-year career, playing for the Giants, Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals. He was a six-time All-Star with a career slash line of .303/.384/.497. His first major-league baseball card was produced in 1986 as part of the Topps Update set. He appeared on cards for each of his four teams. Due to the proliferation of baseball card sets starting in the mid-1980s and the advent of parallel sets of major card issues in the 1990s, Clark has easily appeared on over 1,500 different cards. He retired in 2000, yet he remains a popular player in archive and anniversary sets produced by Topps.

One of the more recent major-leaguers from the New Orleans area is Aaron Loup. He prepped at Hahnville High School and went on to pitch for Tulane.

A relief pitcher during his entire career, his first major-league team was the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012. Loup’s rookie card came in the 2012 Topps Update Series. He was a member of the 2020 American League champion Tampa Bay Rays. His best season came with the New York Mets in 2021, when he went 6-0 with a 0.90 ERA. He appeared in multiple issues throughout the remainder of his career which ended in 2023.

The baseball card hobby has evolved to the point where most kids can no longer afford to buy cards. Premium vintage baseball cards are now considered art, commanding fine art-like prices. Some of the currently produced cards, which are only available as digital non-fungible tokens (NFTs), are treated by collectors as investments, but can only view their baseball card assets on-line.

Despite the above trends, there will always be something special about flipping through pages in a binder of baseball cards showing Ott, Parnell, Staub, Clark and the rest of our hometown heroes.



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