Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Friday, January 21, 2011

Vintage Fridays: Bob Nieman, 1959 Topps #375

I'm going to conclude Four-Eyes Week with the first good bespectacled player the Orioles ever had, unless I'm overlooking someone. Given the quality of the team in those early years, I'm confident in my declaration. Bob Nieman was a professional hitter through and through. He hit for average, took walks, and had some pop. For a guy with a career batting line of .295 AVG/.373 OBP/.474 SLG and a 132 OPS+, he seems to have faded from memory. I suspect that he would be better-known if his career had been a bit longer; he attended college at Kent State University (a rarity for ballplayers in the 1940s) and got a late start. His first full season was with the Browns in 1952, when he was already 25. By 1960, he was through as a starting player and his career totaled 12 seasons in all.

Bob did his best to make up for lost time, however. In his debut with the Browns on September 14, 1951, he became the first player in big league history to homer in each of his first two at-bats. He proceeded to hit .284 with 82 doubles, 54 homers, and 239 RBI through the 1955 season, not a bad start at all. But it was a trade from the White Sox to the Orioles in early 1956 that seemed to push Nieman into a higher gear. In 114 games with the O's that year, he hit .322 with an absurd .442 on-base percentage (still a team record for a single-season OBP). Despite playing in only 74% of the club's games, he led them in every major offensive category except for home runs and RBI. His totals of 12 HR and 64 RBI trailed only slugging catcher Gus Triandos for the team lead, and he was a top-ten player in the American League in several categories. Bob finished seventh in A.L. MVP balloting despite playing most of the year for a 69-85 team.

After a "down" season in 1957 (.276/.363/.429; still good for a 123 OPS+), Nieman had a career year sidetracked by injury. He was batting .367/.449/.560 on June 2 when he was struck on the basepaths by a Bob Boyd line drive. The outfielder missed more than a month, but still finished with a line of .325/.395/.522, an OPS+ of 157, 20 doubles, 16 home runs, and 60 RBI in 105 games. The following season was both his last in Baltimore and his last as a regular. He left Charm City on a high note with a career-high 21 home runs as well as 60 RBI in 118 games. He batted .292/.367/.528 with a 146 OPS+, leading the team in slugging.

Bob was traded to the Cardinals prior to the 1960 season for the immortal Gene Green, who would play exactly one game in an O's uniform. He served as a pinch hitter and backup outfielder for the Cards, Indians, and Giants before playing one last season in Japan in 1963. His final stats as an Oriole (609 games): .301/.384/.486, 140 OPS+, 100 2B, 19 3B, 82 HR, 336 RBI. He has the seventh-best career slugging percentage in team history, the fifth-best on-base percentage and OPS, and the fourth-best adjusted OPS+. Not bad for a guy with something less than 20/20 vision.


Commishbob said...

I'm not sure but I believe the '59 Nieman is the first O's card I ever owned. First one I remember having anyway.

Rob said...

Used to use Nieman in all my ESPN Classic Baseball leagues when I would have all O's teams...

Kevin said...

Bob - It's hard to say which was my first...I think a was given a box of cards early on. The oldest of them were 1981 Topps Rich Dauer and Al Bumbry.

Rob - Good move. Better than Earl Williams, certainly.