An Unusual Pair of PM10 Pinbacks
This column is mostly about two PM10 pinbacks that have a curious history.
The first is a 1.75” PM10 pin of Walter Johnson. It defies an exact classification among pinbacks. A reproduction is a remake of an original pin. This pin is not a reproduction. A fantasy is a pinback that depicts an image (usually of either a team or player) that was never originally a pin. The image may have originally appeared on a card or a form of advertising, but only in its re-creation does it appear as a pin. A vintage pin is an original, made at the time of the player or team depicted.
This pin of Johnson is most certainly not vintage. Johnson last pitched in 1927. Johnson died in 1946; this pin was made following his death. The inner portion of the pin (within the circle) was derived from a vintage pin of Johnson from the 1920s. As such, the original image was reproduced, now featuring his name below the circle and the full team name above the circle. I feel it would be harsh to classify (and basically dismiss) this pin as both a fantasy and reproduction, yet it contains elements of both. The pin itself is quite old; it was made over 60 years ago. Its origin is the second half of this column
As a team the Pittsburgh Pirates had relatively few pins made of them. Yet there is a group of pins that defy conventional logic. Many player pinback buttons (i.e., PM10s) are of notable players or players on popular teams. Neither applies to this group. Eight pins have been identified. They are: Ralph Kiner, Bill McCollough (misspelled as “McCollouhg”), Bill Meyer, Danny Murtaugh, Stan Rojek, Eddie Stevens, Bill Werle, and Wally Westlake. Here is the Westlake pin.
Kiner was the star of the team, and the pin of him from this group is not scarce. Meyer was the manager. Only a devout Pirate fan would recognize the other six players (Murtaugh would later gain recognition as manager of the 1960 and 1971 World Series champion Pirates). These eight individuals had overlapping careers on the Pirates for only two years, 1949 and 1950. The Pirates in 1949 had a record of 71-83, and in 1950 of 57-96. As such, the players on this team are highly unlikely to be recognized by having pins made of them. Furthermore, I believe there are additional pins to the group, as Werle is the only pitcher. Aside from Kiner, these pins are exceedingly scarce.
To add to the mystery, players from some other teams were also featured on pins of this distinctive design. Nine of these pins have been identified, and eight of them are of star players. Two are from the Cleveland Indians: Luke Easter and future Hall-of-Famer Bob Lemon. Two are from the Brooklyn Dodgers: Don Newcombe and future Hall-of-Famer Roy Campanella. Three are from the New York Giants: Hank Thompson and future Hall-of-Famers Willie Mays and Monte Irvin. While these individuals played for their respective teams for many years, I believe these pins are all from 1951. The basis for my conclusion is the ninth player. On June 15, 1951, Wally Westlake was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. A pin was made of him not only in the same pose as on his Pirate pin, but he is still wearing his Pirate cap, with only a different team name at the top of the pin.
Perhaps the pinmaking company did not have the equipment for airbrushing, a technique used to alter pins of traded players starting in the mid-1950s. Westlake was with the Cardinals for a very brief time. In 1952 he was traded twice, from the Cardinals to the Reds and then to the Indians.
Why was this pin made of Westlake as a Cardinal? Was it out of a sense of loyalty to Pirate fans that Westlake was no longer with the team? I conclude this distinctive PM10 design, an encircled image of a player with names above and below the circle, originated with a pinmaking company in Pittsburgh. I can think of no other reason why non-descript players (excluding Kiner) on non-descript teams would have pins made of them. Pins of the Dodger and Giant players are highly plausible as desirable items to be purchased by fans as their teams visited Pittsburgh. Making pins of Luke Easter and Bob Lemon, American League players, is difficult to fathom (other than Cleveland was the closest American League city to Pittsburgh). Crafting a new (in 1951) pin of a deceased star is plausible, but the choice of Johnson who was born in Kansas and played in Washington, DC is less so. Finally, the Cardinal version of the Westlake pin is an enigma. Perhaps he was a popular player in Pittsburgh, and the pinmaker thought fans would buy his pin even though he was playing for an opponent. We will never know.
Next up: Any Ideas (Part I)?