Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cardboard appreciation: 1956 Topps Vic Power

(In keeping with my study of various "appreciation" days/weeks/months, this week is National Playground Safety Week. It's snowing here today, so I don't think we have to worry about little Aiden or Amelia cracking their head open on the Tilt-a-Whirl. Time for Cardboard Appreciation. This is No. 62 in a series):

I have decided to start another little series on the blog, and I'm debuting it today on Cardboard Appreciation.

I'm calling it '56 of the Month. Each month I will feature a different 1956 Topps card that I have. In the process, I have set a goal to have the entire set completed by the time I finish this series.

That is why it is called '56 of the Month, rather than '56 of the Week or '56 of the Day. I am going to need lots and lots of time and lots and LOTS of money to complete this task. Who knows if I'll actually finish it? But I want to take a crack at it. I think I would be more proud of owning this completed set than any other one that I currently have.

Anyway, I selected Vic Power to start the series, because from the very moment I saw this card as a teenager, I thought it was awesome. When my brothers and I were splitting up the '56 cards that we received from my dad's co-worker, after all of the "known" players were selected, I went right for the Power card.

First, Power has a terrific grin on his face. Secondly, that's a cool play-at-the-plate image. Did you know Power once stole home twice in one game? He did. It was on Aug. 14, 1958 when he played for the Indians. Cleveland was playing Detroit and Power stole home the first time in the eighth inning. Then, in the 10th, with the bases loaded, Power stole home for the winning run of a 10-9 victory.

Power is known for his speed and his flashy and proficient glove play at first base -- he was a seven-time Gold Glove winner. But probably the thing about him that most people bring up is his famous quote, which illustrated grace under pressure in a repressive age. Power, like all African-American players in the '50s, endured unending racism. He could have been the first African-American to play for the Yankees. But accounts say Power was traded to the Athletics after he dated a white girl.

Anyway, Power entered a "whites-only" restaurant. A waitress told him the restaurant didn't "serve Negroes." Power, also known for his wit, said there was no need to worry. He didn't eat "Negroes." He just wanted some rice and beans.

The site of the restaurant is in dispute. Some accounts say Power said the restaurant was in Little Rock, Ark. Others say it was in Syracuse, where Power was a Yankees prospect. Syracuse is about as far from the south as you can get. So that might give you an idea how entrenched segregation was 60 years ago.

Once I obtained the card, I was quite pleased when I looked at the back. I knew nothing about Power at the time, but when I saw those 190 hits and .319 batting average, I knew the guy could play.

What I didn't know was Power wasn't his real name.

You'll note that the name at the top of the card says, "Victor Pellot Power." His birth name was Victor Felipe Pellot Pove. He was born in Puerto Rico and is considered one of the best players ever to come from the country (he finished with 126 HRs and a .284 average in 12 years in the majors).

Pellot was Power's father's surname and Pove was his mother's surname. As is common in Hispanic culture, Power went by his father's name and was known as Victor Pellot. But while playing professional baseball in Quebec, fans started snickering when his name was announced. It turns out his last name sounded similar to a slang word for "vagina" in French-Canadian. Preferring not to be known as "Victor Vagina," Pellot took his mother's name.

But his mother's name had been altered when she was young. According to a well-maintained wiki page, a grade-school teacher changed her name from "Pove" to "Power."

And, so, Vic Power was born.

I admit, part of my fascination with the card was the name. The guy's name was "Vic Power"! He had to be good!

So, yeah, if I knew his real name was Pellot, part of me would have been disappointed.

Sadly, when you are born after a player ends his career, names and stats and stories are all you have.

Power later went on to establish a baseball academy in his native country and also managed an amateur team. He still holds several major league fielding records, was a four-time all-Star, and was named one of the Indians' 100 all-time players. He will forever be known as the first Latin American to play for the Athletics.

He was a friendly guy, got along with everyone, and joked on the field until it was time to play. Then he got serious. Once, after a particularly distressing day in the field, he came back into the clubhouse and cut his glove into bits.

Power died at age 78 in 2005.

I never saw him play. But it's one of my favorite baseball cards. And it's a great way to kick off the '56 of the Month.

The mission has begun.


  1. That is a piece of cardboard I can appreciate. I'm looking forward to May already.

  2. Great set choice. This is my favorite set of the 1950s.

  3. My Dad and I started collecting the '56 set together back in 1987, and we completed the set in 2007. I can pretty much tell you when and where we obtained each of the 342 cards in the set, including the checklists.

    I'm looking forward to tracking your progress!

    (I had to look it up, but our Vic Power card came from a baseball card show in Raleigh back in October 1999.)

  4. good choice on the 1956 topps set.

    I like the design so much that I"m collecting the budget-minded man's version, 2005 Topps Heritage, of that set.

  5. Very nice story about Mr. Power. His '56 Topps card is one of my all-time favorites, too.