Orioles Card "O" the Day

An intersection of two of my passions: baseball cards and the Baltimore Orioles. Updated daily?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Walt Dropo, 1961 Topps #489

Why does hulking first baseman Walt "Moose" Dropo look so troubled? Is it because dusk seems to be falling in the stadium and he's afraid of vampires? Is he unnerved by the somewhat-demented facial expression of the decapitated bird on his left sleeve? If you ask me, the answer is yes on both counts. But it is a Friday, and I'm probably just punchy. It's more likely that he's just thinking back to Walt Dropo Day.

Walt Dropo's parents were immigrants from Yugoslavia who settled on a farm in Moosup, Connecticut, just outside of Hartford. Walt grew up playing sandlot ball with his brothers, and attended the University of Connecticut. After school, the 6'5", 220-pound Dropo was offered an NFL contract by the Chicago Bears but signed with the Boston Red Sox to play baseball. He is best remembered for his outstanding rookie year of 1950, when he established what would be career highs in all three Triple Crown categories (.322 AVG, 34 HR, 144 RBI) and easily outpaced runner-up Whitey Ford for the AL Rookie of the Year Award. In 1952, he earned a place in baseball's record books with base hits in twelve straight plate appearances! But from that high, the next year brought a humbling low for Dropo.

In 1953, Walt and the Detroit Tigers played an exhibition game in familiar territory: Hartford, Connecticut. The townspeople honored their local boy by declaring it to be "Walt Dropo Day". He was honored with several pre-game speeches and gifts, including a new car. Unfortunately for Moose, there was still a game to play. On Walt Dropo Day, the man of the hour was 0-for-6 at the plate and committed three errors at first base. He probably considered himself fortunate that his hosts didn't ask for the car back!

Walt Dropo's career came to an end in 1961, the year this card was issued. After hitting .259 with one home run in just fourteen games, the Orioles released him on May 24. But history has remembered him primarily for his early-career slugging feats, and not for a notorious performance in an unofficial contest. Now eighty-five years old, Dropo still lives in New England (Boston, to be exact). One of my favorite quirks of Baseball Reference is that anyone can sponsor a player's page for a small fee (usually $5-$10), and they get the ad space to include a personalized message and/or web link. Walt Dropo's page is simply sponsored by "The kids", and their message reads: "Grandpa Walter!". I'm going to trust Wikipedia and assume that some or all of Walt's five grandchildren are "the kids" in question. I thought that was pretty sweet.

1 comment:

NMboxer said...

What a great card, and a great story.

Here is another poignant bit of Walt history: http://apse.dallasnews.com/contest1999/writing/100-250.hartford8.html