Granny’s Close Calls

Granny Hamner, a Philadelphia Phillies shortstop with a good glove and even better* name, might as well have starred in a maritime version of Final Destination. Hamner could not swim, putting him in peril when his boat sank during a 1970s fishing trip in the Chesapeake Bay.

Half a decade later he was in Florida checking on a hotel he had invested in. Hamner was driving on I-275 out of St. Petersburg on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge when a squall arose and sent the 579-foot-long bulk carrier MV Summit Venture crashing into two support pillars of the bridge. The ship bounced off one pillar and buckled the second, taking down much of the southbound lanes with it. Multiple cars and a Greyhound bus plunged 150 feet along a quarter mile stretch of the collapsed bridge. Hamner was able to stop his vehicle before it too went over the edge.

*Hamner didn’t like being called Granny, but the nickname appears on most baseball cards issued during his career.

What Do You Do When You Blow Out Your Shoulder? Become an MLB Pitcher

Hamner had put together an impressive defensive record with the Phillies in the mid-1940s and 1950s, serving as an infielder with three National League All-Star teams. He toyed around with a knuckleball in his spare time, catching the eye of the Phillies’ coaches in the early 1950s. He injured his left shoulder diving for a ball in 1955, prompting a reconsideration of his playing ability. His offense fell off a cliff (a low one but it dove nonetheless) for the next two years. Hamner’s injury did not affect his right arm, so he was able to be tested across several relief pitching appearances when game outcomes did not appear to be on the line. An injury to a regular member of the starting rotation granted him a start in August 1956 but he was soon taken out the game. One final relief appearance came the following season before he retired as a player. Hamner took a job as a player manager in other baseball leagues, appearing solely as a pitcher when on the field. Five years after his last Major League game he was signed by the Kansas City Athletics and appeared in three games for the team.

Not a bad card for $2.40 at the 2022 Chantilly card show: 1952 Topps #221 Granny Hamner.

Another Card to Look For

The Granny Hamner card I find most interesting was issued alongside cases of Hires Root Beer in 1958. A woodgrain card resembling peeking through a fence came attached with a coupon to join the Hires Baseball Club. I’ve never seen the How to Play Baseball book that is promised in the ad, but have to imagine there are a lot of them considering how few of these cards are still intact. The knot-hole design is interesting as Bowman had prepared to issue a nearly identical design in 1956 prior to being acquired by Topps. Hamner is card #20, but is only the 11th card in the set given an odd numbering system that omits multiple cards.