A few things jump out at me from the back of this card. First, “Sam” is apparently not an abbreviation of Samuel but rather a shortened version of “Sabath.” I don’t know the story behind such a unique name, but as one of seven children in the Mele household perhaps his mother thought highly of resting after creation.
The second item to catch my attention is a brief mention in the biographical text that Mele was a star athlete at NYU. I thought it might refer to baseball, but Brooklyn-based Topps may have thought it common knowledge that the locally-born outfielder attended school on a basketball scholarship.
Mele’s career looked promising when this card was issued. He had an excellent 1947 rookie campaign and was just coming off a 94-RBI season with the low-scoring Senators. It turns out this card pictures him near his peak. After more than 1,000 games and a decade playing in the majors, Mele retired in 1956. Five years later he replaced Cookie Lavagetto as the manager of the newly-renamed Minnesota Twins. The team did well during his tenure, adding high performers like Tony Oliva and upping their running game. In 1965 the Twins captured their first league championship and took the Dodgers all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. Mele won Manager of the Year for this performance but was replaced just over a year later.
Further reading: Be sure to check out Bill Nowlin’s entry for Sam Mele at SABR’s Biography Project. It is one of the better ones I have come across and really brought some personality to seeing this card.
Fun Fact: Mele is one of the few tattooed ballplayers of his time. While Topps opted for a headshot in 1952, that year’s Bowman card (above) shows some ink just above his right elbow.