In only one week's time, the featured 'unpossible" Orioles autograph jumps from Oriole #510, Francisco de la Rosa, to #215, "Toothpick or Sad" Sam Jones. The reason for this is not because Sam was the next most recently debuted Oriole to die (in fact 26 players who debuted between de la Rosa in 1991 and Jones in 1964 have passed away) but because I have already featured the autographs in my collection of those 26 others. So now it's time to talk about Sam.
I want to first discuss his two nicknames. He earned the moniker "Toothpick" because he always like to chew on toothpicks as opposed to smoking/chewing tobacco. So as far as habits go, that doesn't seem too bad. He was named "Sad" Sam due to the dreary look that he typically had on his face. This nickname made differentiating his autograph from the original "Sad" Sam Jones ,who played professionally from 1914-35, something of a task, but I'm confident that the right signature is in my collection.
"Toothpick" began his pitching career in the Negro Leagues in 1947-48 before jumping to the Major Leagues in 1951. He spent twelve total seasons in the Majors between '51-64 and, at times, was one of the most dominant and erratic pitchers throughout baseball. Between 1955-59 with the Cubs ('55-56), Cardinals ('57-58) and Giants ('59), he once led the National League in losses('55), wins, E.R.A, and shutouts ('59), struck out the most batters three seasons and allowed the most walks in four. During those years, he also tossed the first ever no-hitter by an African-American player in 1955, was a two-time All-Star ('55 & '59) and was the Cy Young runner-up to the White Sox' Early Wynn, also in '59. He would've won the N.L. Cy Young award, but that was back before there was a separate award for each league.
Sam's time with the Orioles came in 1964, at the tail-end of his MLB career: his Orioles debut came on September 4th, and he pitched in seven games over the final month of the season to the tune of a 2.61 ERA over 10.1 innings of work.
He dealt with neck cancer and the ensuing treatment during the 1962 season, and a recurrence of the disease sadly ended his life in 1971, when he was only 45 years old.
When I was trying to track down an autograph of Sam, I always figured that his autograph was so hard to find since he passed away way back in 1971, but it turns out that he was a heckuva pitcher too, which I'm sure contributes to the price and scarcity of his autographs on the market.
My autograph of Sam is an old cut signature that is glued to a 3x5 index card. No Orioles cards were produced of him during his lifetime so this bad boy is a permanent member of the collection.