Friday, May 29, 2009

1946-1947 Propaganas Montiel #5, Tommy Burns

Late last night--when people get real work done--Poor Old Baseball Cards reached into Cuba's past and pulled out the vintage tobacco set 1946-47 Propagandas Montiel. I couldn't help but follow suit, given the issue's unique look.

As the P.O.B.C. blog entry mentions, this multi-sport tobacco set leans heavily, but not exclusively, on baseball. Number 5, in fact, featured early 20th century pugilist Tommy Burns. Now a member of boxing's International Hall of Fame, this youthful pose shows off the standard fighter physique for his day.

Card front

Besides holding the crown for some time, Tommy's known for accepting a title challenge from Jack Johnson, who beat Burns in Sydney, Australia to become the first African-American heavyweight champ.

As with most Latin American sets, Propagandas Montiel also produced an album to hold the paper-thin cards. You'd mount them to a page like stamps, which usually meant a messed-up back when removed. Fortunately, the #5 that turned up at a show last year only showed corner damage.

Card back

The special albums and paper stock made this more like a North American stamp set. Topps did several of those, but rarely put this much editorial effort into it. I like the Propagandas' design and its checklist of 180 cards includes a number of luminaries. See the Century Old Cards site for front-and-back scans of #73, Carl Hubbell, and some additional set details.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

1953 Red Man Tobacco AL #5, Nellie Fox

I love to write up the Red Man Tobacco cards. They're real art pieces, each player captured on what look like hand-colored versions of black-and-white photos. 1953 Topps used a similar technique, but their smaller size cropped out many details. Second-tier stantions loom behind today's guest, adding perspective and Golden Age flavor to an already memorable image.

Card front

Nellie served with distinction for 14 years as the Chicago White Sox second sacker and on-base machine. The lifetime .288 average somewhat obscures his base running skills and great bat control. Fox ranks as one of the hardest men to send down swinging ever, leading the majors in plate appearances per strike out 11 times between 1951 and 1964. (Baseball Cube's list of league leaders includes another distinguished #5 man, Joe Sewell.) Yankee ace Whitey Ford supplied the perfect quote on Fox's Wikipedia page.

"Nellie was the toughest out for me. In 12 years I struck him out once, and I think the umpire blew the call."

The White Sox reached the 1959 World Series on his MVP performance and Nellie hung a .375 average (and .964 OPS) on LA pitching. His side actually outscored the Dodgers during the 6-game series, but dropped 3 crucial games by a total of 4 runs. That loss would be their only appearance until 2005's memorable sweep of the Houston Astros.

One fellow collector likes these tobacco sets so much, he created a virtual shrine to them at My World of Red Man. The site includes plenty of nice card scans and checklists for all four sets, 1952 to 1955. Any vintage collector would love to have a single well-presented HOFer, let alone two pages of luminaries. My eyes just about popped at the prices on the Market Report page, which focuses on PSA and SGC graded versions. For the record, Mr. Fox (without the bottom-edge tab) ran me about $10 on eBay back in 2004.

Friday, May 22, 2009

1972 Topps Posters #5, Mickey Lolich

Today's highly skilled guest set the gold standard for Detroit Tiger pitchers and, for a time, lefty pitchers in general. From 1964 to 1974, he annually won at least 14 games, topping out at 25 in 1971. That year's performance included a league-leading 308 Ks and placed him a close second in Cy Young voting to Vida Blue. He pitched even better in 1972, lowering his ERA to 2.50 and raising his K/BB ratio to a career-best 3.38. A world champ with 1968's squad, he memorably threw 3 complete game victories in the World Series, the only lefty to do so in MLB history.

Poster front (10" x 18")

Mickey's Wikipedia article gives an interesting story about his handedness. While born a righty, a childhood accident pushed him to favor his left side. This continued into his baseball life, where he worked as a southpaw pitcher and switch-hitter. (It doesn't say which he use to serve up the donuts.)

Topps used above-average photography in this 24-count set of 10" x 18" posters, a nice change from the questionable choices made in other 70s sets. (Really? A half-shadowed Hank Aaron tracking a pop fly? That's the best you got?) Companies should remember that collectors appreciate more than just the name on the card.

1972's better set quality probably explains the higher values, as they cost more than most contemporaries. (Only the super-sized, full-team posters from 1969 price higher.) I bought Mickey Lolich in an eBay lot of 3 posters for $25 total, which included Tom Seaver and Willie McCovey. Philly Sports Cards' stock page (no personal connection) pictures a good chunk of the set and currently lists #5 at $10.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

1978 O-Pee-Chee Baseball #5, Victory Leaders (Carlton, Goltz, Leonard, Palmer)

Today's card serves up a treat, four players for the price of one, and two Hall-of-Famers to boot. All of them made at least 36 starts and logged 280+ innings. Pitchers at the top of leader boards almost always rely on above-average teams, though the 1972 version of Steve Carlton managed to win 27 times for the 54-97 Phillies, an astounding 50% of all team wins. (Let's agree that doesn't happen very often.)

Card front

The Yankees took home rings in 1977, but didn't play the only good baseball that year. Putting each "leader" in context illustrates better who did what for whom.

  • Carlton, PHI: No longer saddled with a team that sucked, Steve won 23 games for the 101-61 Phillies. His 153 ERA+ easily outdistanced the other four starters, none of whom reached 100. 17 complete games also totaled more than the rest of the staff put together. As thanks for all this work, the Dodgers knocked him around twice in the NLCS en route to the pennant.
  • Goltz, MIN: Tied Palmer for AL lead in starts. More worryingly, led league in hits allowed. Twins go 84-77 mostly on his indefatigable arm and Rod Carew's pursuit of .400. Otherwise unheralded "closer" Tom Johnson wins 16 games, second-most on the team, as starters 2, 3, and 4 make "average" look good.
  • Leonard, KC: Best pitcher on only Royals team to win 100+ games. Shared the love with Colborn, Splittorff, Bird, and Pattin, all of whom garner at least 10 victories. Dennis struck out 244 batsmen, by far his best yearly total, and serves up a sweet 'stache.
  • Palmer, BAL: Led AL in complete games, innings pitched, and underwear ads. Unfortunately, Orioles finish 2.5 games behind Yankees, a team now linked to "disco" performance enhancers. (Speaking of unmentionables, sponsors Jim's Baseball-Reference page. Stay classy, Baltimore.)

Many O-Pee-Chee sets copy their Topps contemporaries card-for-card, adding only French flourishes and occasional "NOW WITH" notes for players on new teams. 1978 OPC mixed things up a little by shortening the checklist to 242 cards and swapping the Record Breakers, typically the first several cards, with the League Leaders. That turned 1978 Topps #5 into a Pete Rose card (RB for most lifetime switch-hits), while Canuck collectors got today's barbershop quartet of Winners. Zut alors, I like the choice to show LLs first.

Card back

Value: OPC versions come in short supply compared to Topps, but values don't differ significantly. Leader cards, even those with HOFers like Carlton and Palmer, only cost a few dollars ungraded. Sellers that highlight them as "signficantly rarer" and "brimming with investment potential" should, IMHO, switch to decaf.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any OPC reprints in the market.

Monday, May 18, 2009

1980 L.A.P.D. Dodgers #5, Johnny Oates

As mentioned in the 1980 S.F.P.D. Giants #5 post about Mariner manager emeritus Jim Lefebvre, local police departments started printing baseball sets in the late 70s as a way to connect positively with fans (and mostly likely kids). Typical police issues show a posed shot, position, handedness, and other basic player info. Backs have public service tips, warning kids not to take candy from strangers, play with matches, or root for the Cubs (South Siders only).

The pictured card shakes up "typical" police issues with a heady action shot, as a Houston Astro (Cesar Cedeno?) arrives at home plate in a cloud of dust. Somewhat unflattering to Mr. Oates, the ball clearly got away and probably bounced to the backup. (If I had the following of Rich Lederer's Foto Friday, the Internets would no doubt ID the players, game, and score by 5pm Eastern Daylight Time.)

Though a lefty batsman, Oates fielded with the more backstop-appropriate right hand. He fashioned a decade-long career with six teams by being, it seems, quiet and easy to work with. In Johnny's own words, "I still don't know how I got to the big leagues, because I wasn't that good...I kept my mouth shut. I couldn't throw. I couldn't throw a lick." Catchers hit even less in the 70s than they do now, so a .250 slap hitter shouldn't be seen as an aberration. With apologies to today's guest, there were many more of his caliber than equals of Thurman Munson, Darrell Porter, and Ted Simmons.

Johnny Oates won AL's Manager of the Year award in 1996 after leading the Texas Rangers to their first playoff appearance. He rode a lineup of sluggers to division titles in 1998 and 1999, but resigned in 2001 after poorer finishes due in part to management choices, such as signing Alex Rodriguez for 50 million Rocky Colavitos. The franchise retired his #26 in 2005.

Friday, May 15, 2009

1963 Bazooka All-Time Greats Baseball #5, Herb Pennock

Winner of 240 career games, Mr. Pennock's career highlights include three World Series titles with the Yankees, spread across a decade of decent-to-excellent performance. He received MVP votes for three straight years, 1924-26, perhaps due to the sheer number of appearances (40, 47, 40) and innings pitched (286, 277, 266) for such a well-known team.

High-innings pitchers create a classic dilemma for managers. Do I stick with the hot-armed guy? Is he just going to burn out at a younger age if I do? Writers like to harp on Dusty Baker for abusing young pitchers, which might or might be the case. Pennock clearly dropped off in total innings after that pounding from age 30 to 32, but who doesn't decline by 35? Herb remained effective as a reliever and spot-starter into his late 30s, even if his .500+ W/L record seems buoyed by that killer Yankees lineup.

1963 Bazooka cards came in two flavors, the regular photo set (that #5 features Warren Spahn) and the pictured foil treatment of "olde tyme" baseballers. Buyers of the large 5-piece gum boxes got active players printed on the package and (bonus!) All-Time Greats cards as inserts, most with a gold background and some with silver. (The latter's somewhat rarer.)

These card backs feature the only player bios from any Bazooka set (the rest came printed on gum boxes) and they helped kids appreciate players long since retired. The card stock's similar to contemporary Topps sets and surface foil scratches easily, but examples otherwise hold up well over time. Don't overpay for the cards, which should be $5 or less for low-grade "commons," if you can say that about a HOFer. There's basically Ruth, Gehrig, and Cobb for ~$50 and everyone else for significantly less.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball's first commissioner, makes an unusual guest appearance in this set. 1956 Topps printed league presidents William Harridge and Warren Giles on cards #1 & #2, but executives rarely show up on cardboard. After all, did kids want to be a stuffed shirt with slicked-back hair...or did they want to be Willie Mays?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

1957 Swift Meats Baseball #5, Ed Bailey

Today's oddball set ranks as one of the most bizarre marketing creations since "snails as food." Available only by mail from Swift Meats, the collection of 18 punch-out cards came in an envelope with a baseball game board.

Assembled card

Once opened and splayed onto the table, they must've looked disturbingly like a pile of butchered baseball players. Kind of like Re-Animator, you'd breathe new life into them by popping each piece out of the frame and following the tabbed instructions. In the end, you get a 3-D version of a 2-D tradition. I think it's very weird, and it would completely creep me out if the figures smelled at all like lunch meat.

Building both 9-man teams no doubt took some time, but Swift's tasty plan didn't stop at skeletal reconstruction. Plant your zombie baseball army atop its diamond-shaped game board and follow the instructions for a lite version of the spinner-based, Cadaco All Star Baseball experience. Unfortunately, there's no indication any single player performed better than another. Cadaco paid careful attention to each player's career performance and rendered it differently than all the others. This gave you a reason to pick different lineups and personalized the game. Swift's generic treatment of both it and the player pictures don't compare favorably. But hey, packaged meat products!

Card front (unassembled, blank back)

Credit Marty's PSA Graded Cards for the flattened picture of #10 Junior Gilliam and see a 2006 Robert Edwards auction for pictures of the unpunched set, envelope, and "field." My only example's the looming figure of #5, Ed Bailey, complete with hand-written digit above his name. Discarding the paper frame meant losing track of the checklist order, a curious design choice with all that extra space next to the player name and position. I'm sure it made sense at the time, when you're already dealing with the chopped-up bits of Frank Robinson. Oh, the humanity.

Monday, May 11, 2009

1961 Golden Press #5, Bill Terry

Today's card shows a Hall-of-Famer taking a nice, artistic cut with good follow-through. As a southpaw, Mr. Terry gets an extra step toward first base and probably used that edge to beat out a few of his record-setting 254 hits in 1930. Bill holds the all-time lefty record with a .341 average, but don't discount his power—the 2193 hits included almost 400 doubles and more than 150 homers.

(My own left-handed bat probably yielded an extra hit or two at the Little League level. It also helped that most 10 year-olds struggle to throw from third to first without a cutoff man.)

Card front

Although Bill's swinging at an imaginary ball in front of empty stands, the colored retouching makes the charade seem pastoral, like Kevin Costner playing catch with Joe Jackson in a corn field. “Build it...and Bill Terry will smoke line drives off the wall.”

This Golden Press set, their only issue, came in a 33-card album and featured exclusively retired HOFers. Big names include Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Cobb, though students of the game should recognize the whole checklist. Cards from the front and back pages show more wear and command slightly higher prices, but it's relatively easy to build the set or find individual players. A friend gave me this #5 after finding it in a $1 bin in 2004.

Card back

Don Mattingly HOF supporters often mention today's guest as a comparison case. They both played well, but overall, it's a tough case to make. Their hitting stats match up well enough, but Terry also won multiple pennants (and a title) in NYC during his run as player-manager. You can't blame poor Yankee performance in the 80s on Don, but Bill gets an extra measure of respect for simultaneously handling strategic duties and logging big numbers at the plate.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

No - L@@K eBay card buying

One of the baseball blogs I follow, A Cardboard Problem, wrote on May 6 about card 'rare-ity' on eBay. To summarize, "RARE" shows up so frequently in card listings it means almost nothing these days. As a buyer, you're better off ignoring it entirely, like a "FINAL CLEARANCE" sign at a foreign rug merchant.

ACP's posting spurred me to consider eBay terminology and how it's thrown around these days. Isn't it obvious to sellers that they're shooting themselves in the foot? That somewhere beyond the critical mass is a critical detritus driving buyers away? (It's not just the lousy economy.)

The problem lies in what the seller's saying about their audience. Are they looking for sports buyers? Collectors? Investors? My money's on "people waiting in a supermarket checkout line."

Listing cards as "rare" (9,399 listings) or "L@@K" (1,622 listings) or "OLD" (842 listings) sounds like something culled from "eBay for Dummies." It made sense back when in-your-face marketing still worked. Today, a single minus sign will get your shouting out of my face.

As a buyer, I want rare stuff--indeed, that's my whole wantlist--but on eBay the term almost guarantees you're trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. All of my wide-ranging searches specifically omit it and look for set names instead.

Briefly put, eBay's growth as a selling platform meant death to its former pool of accidental bargains. Away with the poorly described (but original) cards found in an attic that you won for no money! Here to stay, overproduced 80s and 90s cards listed as "eBay's greatest baseball card find!" Purchasing from a gaudy, overwrought listing doesn't guarantee a bad deal, but isn't the Internet here to save us from used-car salesmen? Cheap shoppers better serve themselves by looking for specific needs, side-stepping the vast, murky pool of description dreck.

If you're determined to tease out cards with bad descriptions, develop your search-fu to a fine, razor edge of misunderstood card text and malapropisms. Of course, whether you share them with others--your bidding competitors--is up to you. My favorite's the "T C G" abbreviation (for Topps Chewing Gum), printed on its older card backs in lieu of the full name. That search usually yields a grab bag of 50s, 60s, and 70s cards from all sports with well-meaning (if low-knowledge) sellers. It hasn't netted any bargains lately, but gives me a refreshingly small bin to sift through, compared to, say, "LOW POP" (2,106 listings).

Monday, May 4, 2009

1950 Bowman #5, Bob Kuzava

Bob Kuzava pitched professionally for 20 years, about two decades more than most of us. Cleveland signed him in 1941, but three years in a US Army uniform delayed his appearance in the major league version. He finally pitched regularly for the White Sox in 1949, going 10-6 and earning this first card, 1950 Bowman #5. As you can see from the image, someone did a number on this guy, rendering him The Man Without Eyes. I picture a back pocket trip through the clothes washer or many, many games of flipping.

Card front

Collecting maxim #23: “When you see a card with a messed up front, don't count on a pristine back.” As seen in the back scan, a previous owner tracked Bob's progress through the majors with his ink pen, updating the White Sox name on the card back to “Yankees.” He pitched there from mid-1951 to late 1954, netting three World Series titles, including game 7 appearances in both 1951 and 1952. Unfortunately, New York saw his last effective years as an MLB spot-starter and long reliever. Bob mopped up with the Orioles, Phillies, Pirates, and Cardinals, leaving the bigs for good at age 34 in 1957.

Card back

As of May 2009, Kuzava's still with us, and re-appeared as a signatory for the 2004 Bowman Heritage set, which replicates his 1955 color TV card. Many old school players rely on card and appearance-related revenue to bring home the bacon and I doubt Bob's an exception. When you meet older players at shows, make sure to give them your best and consider how much work it is to spend your golden years traveling between convention centers. If you see today's guest, ask about his disposal of the mighty Brooklyn lineup in 1952. As Don Larsen said when asked if he got tired of talking about his World Series perfect game: “Of course not! Why would I?”