#111 Don Elston
Just because I’m collecting a “hobby-grade” set, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a few nice cards that slip through the cracks. This isn’t NM-MT by any means, but Don Elston is among the sharpest I have in the ’64 set, both front and back (though the top-bottom centering leaves a bit to be desired). While 1964 was Elston’s last year in the Major Leagues, Topps did produce a card for him in 1965. This is a common card, and SMR lists a NM example for $8.
The typical awkwardly-written trivia question on the back asks “What team scored 12 runs in the 9th inning?” While the answer on my card is not scratched off, you can read the answer on these cards by holding them at a certain angle against the light. The answer provided on the card is the San Francisco Giants, in a 1936 game against Cincinnati. Now, this is wrong for two main reasons:
1) The Giants didn’t play in San Francisco until 1958.
2) The Giants didn’t score 12 runs in any inning in 1936, let alone a ninth inning versus the Reds.
After some digging, I was able to determine that Topps had the correct team and opponent, but was 25 years off on when it happened. I found the full text of a book called The Giants of San Francisco online, and page 105 references a game in 1961:
The Giants scored 12 runs in the ninth inning against Cincinnati one day in August and a delighted Horace Stoneham telephoned from his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, and gave all the Candlestick workers a day off.
Retrosheet tells us that indeed, on August 23rd, 1961, the Giants scored 12 runs in the top of the ninth inning of a 14-0 win over the Reds at Crosley Field in Cincinnati (how Topps confused the year 1961 with 1936 is a mystery we may never solve). It was quite an inning, featuring back-to-back homers by Orlando Cepeda and Felipe Alou, three errors by the Reds defense (two by Gene Freese and one by Don Blasingame), and a three-run inside-the-park homer by Jim Davenport. All in all, only three of the 12 runs were earned. This record has since been eclipsed by the 1978 Angels and 2001 Tigers, who each scored 13 runs in a ninth inning.
As an aside, the Giants lineup that day featured Willie McCovey, Willie Mays, and Cepeda hitting back-to-back-to-back, and Juan Marichal on the mound. Wow.
Anyway, back to Elston.
Don Elston pitched all but one inning of his Major League career with the Cubs. He was originally signed by Chicago in 1947 at age 18, but didn’t make it to the bigs until 1953, when he had a cup of coffee with the Cubbies (8 ER in 5 IP). He was traded to the Dodgers in 1955, but didn’t make another big-league appearance until 1957, when he pitched a scoreless ninth inning in Brooklyn’s 10-7 loss to Milwaukee on May 5th. He was soon traded back to the Cubs, and began an eight-year run as the anchor of the team’s bullpen.
Elston led the NL in appearances in 1958 and 1959 (69 and 65, respectively), and was named an All-Star in 1959. He threw the ninth inning to save a 5-4 win for the NL in the first of two All-Star games that year. Since he played almost exclusively for the Cubs, you won’t be shocked to learn that he never appeared in a postseason game.
Elston had consecutive standout years in 1962 and ’63, but fell off the proverbial cliff in 1964 — which led to the Cubs eventually pulling him from their pitching staff in 1965. In 54 1/3 innings in ’64, the 35-year-old Elston was 2-5 with a 5.30 ERA and 1.88 WHIP. After the Cubs released him in ’65, he pitched for Salt Lake City in the Pacific Coast League, but he never was given another chance in the Majors.
Don lived in the Chicago suburbs after his retirement, and he died in 1995 at the age of 65.