Tuesday, November 30, 2010

1970 Topps Super Baseball #5, Tom Seaver

Today's photo catches Seaver right off 1969's Amazing Mets championship season and his own NL Cy Young award. Tom Terrific went on to average nearly 18 wins a year for the next decade in New York and Cincinnati, a phenomenal run rivaled by few of his contemporaries (just Steve Carlton and Nolan Ryan come to mind). 99% of HOF voters put him on their ballot in 1992, a great measure of the respect he earned over 20 seasons (career stats at B-R.com).


Topps followed their 1969 Super test issue (set profile) with this set of 42 postcard-sized cards. 1971 also used that larger size and it's what most people think of as "Supers," given 1969's scarcity. (See this scan gallery for 1970's full checklist.)


1970 Topps adopted this yellow-and-blue design for both regular and Super sets; Seaver's includes a cartoon about his early contract snafu with the Atlanta Braves, which Wikipedia expands on.
"In 1966, [Seaver] signed a contract with the Atlanta Braves, who had drafted him in the first round of the secondary June draft (20th overall). However, the contract was voided because his college team played two exhibition games (although Seaver hadn't played). Seaver intended, then, to finish the college season, but the NCAA ruled him ineligible. After Seaver's father complained to Eckert about the unfairness of the situation, and threatened a lawsuit, Eckert ruled that other teams could match the Braves' offer. The Mets were subsequently awarded his signing rights in a lottery drawing among the three teams (the Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Indians being the two others) willing to match the Braves' terms."
Hard to imagine Seaver in a Braves hat, but it could've (should've?) happened!

Value: Topps short-printed eight 1970 Supers, including this number five, pushing those prices up a bit. I found mine on eBay for $5 several years ago, but they're likely higher now. Non-star cards cost a dollar or two.

Fakes / reprints: Some of Topps' best vintage photography appears on Supers. It's likely they re-used some star player photos for modern sets, but I haven't seen any direct reprints.

1960 Nu-Card Baseball Hi-Lites #5, Johnny VanderMeer Pitches 2 No Hitters

Few modern collectors know of the Nu-Card company, who made a handful of sport sets in 1960 and 1961. Both of their baseball issues ("Hi-lites" and "Scoops") feature a newspaper format with single-game "stories," a mix of retired and active players, and trivia questions on the back.


Nu-Card probably chose this unorthodox format--postcard size, black-and-white photos, no stats--to avoid legal problems with Topps, who reigned supreme over cards after buying out rival Bowman in 1956. The company turned out a few hundred cards (if you include 1961's college football) of decent quality across two years, so it's surprising they vanished without a trace. (Collectors might've wanted the color photos and statistic grids available in Topps, so didn't buy them.)


Many of the set's 72 cards point elsewhere in the set. Number five redirects this Yankee Stadium question to #50, which covers its longest recorded homer.


Mantle's homer hit Yankee Stadium's upper facade, a near-miss to leaving the park itself, a feat no player achieved in a regulation game.

An alternate black-and-white printing of this set covered just the first 18 cards, came with blank backs (eliminating the trivia questions), and carried the CVC copyright instead of NCI in the "newspaper" header.


Price guides report CVC cards as scarcer than NCI, but both cost about the same thanks to the variation's crudity and low demand for this set in general.

Value: You can find individual "hi-lites" for $5 and less, with some superstars running several times that.

Fakes / reprints: According to the SCD catalog, someone counterfeited the 1961 Nu-Card Scoops set (released the year after this Hi-Lites issue), but I haven't seen any faked 1960 cards in the market.

1969-70 Bazooka Baseball #5, Lou Gehrig Hits 4 Homers

As you might guess by the name, Topps kicked off Bazooka brand gum following World War II. News coverage and Hollywood movies of that era featured all kinds of military hardware, with jeeps, guns, and ships proving especially popular with kids, so advertisers took advantage. Their parent company first cross-promoted its gum by printing baseball players on box panels in 1959 (here's one uncut panel) and Bazooka continues to the present day as an element of Allen and Ginter cards.

Card front (box panel, blank back)

This blog recently profiled Bobby Lowe as the first to hit 4 homers in one game (1970 SCFC #5 profile), but that happened in 1894, before baseball's "modern" cutoff of 1901. Several matched Lou's feat since; as a Seattle fan, my favorite's Mike Cameron in 2002.

Bazooka's printed 12 panels of black-and-white photos and achievements from the pre-WWII era.
  1. No-Hit Duel by Toney and Vaughn
  2. Alexander Conquers Yankees
  3. Lazzeri Sets AL Record
  4. Home Run Almost Out of Stadium
  5. Four Consecutive Homers by Gehrig
  6. No-Hit Game by Walter Johnson
  7. Twelve RBIs by Bottomley
  8. Ty Ties Record
  9. Babe Ruth Hits Three Homers in Game
  10. Calls Shot in Series Game
  11. Ruth's 60th Homer Sets New Record
  12. Double Shutout by Ed Reulbach

Full boxes include 4 more "All Time Greats" on its side panels, 2 visible in this scan (Frank Chance and Mickey Cochrane).

Full box #5

Value: Full boxes get pretty expensive, but I snagged this ragged-edge panel for $10 on eBay.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace and I doubt modern collectors would buy an oversized, black-and-white set if Topps tried reprints.

1978 Papa Gino's Baseball Discs #5, Dennis Eckersley

For most collectors, baseball means stackable, sortable 2" by 3" rectangles of cardboard. Topps prints an apparently unending supply these days, year after year, reliable as death or taxes, with competitors Panini and Upper Deck major factors in other sports. While this hardly excludes other shapes, even the word "card" implies something squared-off and angular. Today's #5 eschews both descriptions.

Card front

Rectangle cards remain primary, but aren't the only kid on our block. Turn back your clock a bit and remember that new discs turn up every decade or so--four specific eras come to mind.

Pre-war disc sets also exist, usually as dessert or snack lids that kids pulled off and (ideally) hung on to. They're close cousins of cereal box panel and other food promo sets, since nothing about Papa Gino's pizza or raisin bran explicitly says "baseball."

Card back

MSA (Michael Schechter Associates) is the same maker who licensed a larger version to advertisers in 1976-1977, including Pepsi's 1977 capliner cards (#5 Mike Hargrove profile). Papa Gino's sponsored this 40-player set and customers could get one (or more) with each meal. I assume it proved successful, since they turn up at shows and online frequently.

Value: Complete sets list for as little as $20, so singles should cost a few dollars at most.

Fakes / reprints: This would be a hard set to reproduce, given low collector interest and value. I haven't seen any in the marketplace.

Monday, November 29, 2010

1974 TCMA Baseball Autograph Series #5, Jesse Haines

TCMA printed this direct-to-collectors set of (then) living players with a blank box for autographs, encouraging fans to mail them out or (possibly) seek out a personal appearance. But wait, why write a personal letter or drive down to that new car dealership? Modern collectors bid those days of the 20th century farewell! Today, folks can expect sets to include player signatures, either as pack hits or promotional send-aways from Topps and Panini. Compared to postal requests (a.k.a., "TTM" for through the mail) or waiting for players at the team bus, it's a whole new world of searching for inked cards.

Card front (blank back)

While all 36 players in its checklist were alive at issue date, only a few remain with us, marked in bold. After 18 years pitching for St. Louis--still a franchise record--Jesse Haines spent 1938 coaching in Brooklyn, as pictured. This both explains the "B" on his cap and makes it a hard-to-find card for Dodger team collectors. (He passed away not long after, so a signed #5 might be nigh-impossible.)
  1. Satchel Paige (d. 1982)
  2. Phil Rizzuto (d. 2007)
  3. Sid Gordon (d. 1975)
  4. Ernie Lombardi (d. 1977)
  5. Jesse Haines (d. 1978)
  6. Joe Cronin (d. 1984)
  7. Bill Terry (d. 1989)
  8. Bill Dickey (d. 1993)
  9. Joe DiMaggio (d. 1999)
  10. Carl Hubbell (d. 1988)
  11. Fred Lindstrom (d. 1981)
  12. Ted Lyons (d. 1986)
  13. Red Ruffing (d. 1986)
  14. Joe McCarthy (d. 1978)
  15. Bob Feller (d. 2010)
  16. Yogi Berra
  17. Ford Frick (d. 1978) and Whitey Ford
  18. Sandy Koufax
  19. Ted Williams (d. 2002)
  20. Warren Spahn (d. 2003)
  21. Al Rosen
  22. Luke Appling (d. 1991)
  23. Joe Bush (d. 1974)
  24. Joe Medwick (d. 1975)
  25. Lou Boudreau (d. 2001)
  26. Ralph Kiner
  27. Lloyd Waner (d. 1982)
  28. Pee Wee Reese (d. 1999)
  29. Duke Snider (d. 2011)
  30. Sal Maglie (d. 1992)
  31. Monte Irvin
  32. Lefty Gomez (d. 1989)
  33. George Kelly (d. 1984)
  34. Joe Adcock (d. 1999)
  35. Max Carey (d. 1976)
  36. Rube Marquard (d. 1980)

Value: Unsigned cards like my #5 cost a few dollars or more for prominent HOFers. Signed versions of players who died in the 1970s run significantly more.

Fakes / reprints: I'd worry more about signature authenticity than a faked card, given the set's otherwise low profile and demand.

Update to 1976 Laughlin Jubilee Baseball #5, Frank Robinson

Back in 2008, I wrote up one of Bob Laughlin's most colorful sets, a 32-player "Diamond Jubilee" collection honoring the American League's 75th anniversary. Card number five commemorates Frank Robinson's debut as player/manager for Cleveland, which he topped off with career homer #575.

My original write-up claimed Diamond Jubilees came with blank backs, which proved wrong wrong wrong. Laughlin actually included a note about each AL honoree, "Diamond Cards" sketch logo, and card number. (Hard to be #5 without it, right?) With all apologies to Mr. Robinson, the updated post now includes both scans and an updated description: 1976 Laughlin Diamond Jubilee #5.

Here's my favorite modern Robinson card.


Nice auto and good close-up--that's some smoooooth card action.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

1936 Wheaties Series 5 Baseball #5, Joe Medwick

Wheaties published a pair of "how to" panel sets in 1936, one called "How to Star in Baseball" and today's, "How to Play Winning Baseball." Both show batting or fielding tips on cartoon panels adjacent to a large player picture, like today's shot of Gashouse Gang member Joe "Ducky" Medwick.

Card front (click for detail)

My favorite how-to cartoon is #3 ("look over your fielding area"), since pro parks today have almost no chance of ruts, holes, or anything save luscious greenery. (Of course, plenty of young players face that "bad field" problem, both then and now.) The complete set numbers 12 panels.
  1. Lefty Gomez
  2. Billy Herman
  3. Luke Appling
  4. Jimmie Foxx
  5. Joe Medwick
  6. Charlie Gehringer
  7. Mel Ott
  8. Odell Hale
  9. Bill Dickey
  10. Lefty Grove
  11. Carl Hubbell
  12. Earl Averill

Value: My scan trimmed away the ragged edges that make Medwick decidedly low-grade. He cost $15 on eBay in 2005, on the low side of a set filled with Hall of Famers. Complete boxes run much higher, since so few survive today.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any fakes in the marketplace, but it's possible they exist, given the set's big names.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

1939 Wheaties Baseball Series 13 #5, Catcher's Mask

Today's #5 tracks the genesis of protective masks for catching, first donned by Harvard's backstop for a cross-state game in 1877. Catchers of all eras deserve respect for a willingness to field baseball's most hazardous position and their gear's nickname--"the tools of ignorance"--says more about the gritty mentality needed than any shortage of smarts.

Card front (click for detail)

This box panel looks esoteric to 21st century eyes, since most fans worry more about changing power numbers (scoring, homers, strike outs) than particulars of its equipment. Would Topps or Panini attract catch anyone's eye with something like this today? (Of course, anything's fair game for Allen and Ginter--they might prove me wrong.)

Wheaties published this "100 Years of Baseball" series assuming 1839 as its "creation," a year linked to Abner Doubleday. No less than commissioner Bud Selig recently brought this debunked starting point back to public commentary, leading many to question his knowledge of the game's history. (Read Keith Olbermann's summary at his Baseball Nerd blog--and remember that off-season's a time for debating stories we ignore during playoff races.)

I think of this set as an early poetic history, focusing on fan-visible shifts in play. Without recognized players, there's not much collector interest, but it does demonstrate Wheaties' willingness to try out different ideas. Its checklist numbers eight panels.
  1. Design of First Diamond
  2. Lincoln Gets Nomination News on Baseball Field
  3. Crowd Boos First Baseball Glove
  4. Curve Ball
  5. Catcher's Mask
  6. Baseball Gets Dressed Up
  7. Modern Bludgeon Enters Game
  8. Casey at the Bat

Value: This mid-grade panel cost $10 on eBay in 2006 and others should run the same, excepting perhaps Lincoln and his Americana appeal.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace and it'd be an odd choice to reprint.

UPDATE: By request, here's a scan of #2, the Lincoln panel, from TimePassagesNostalgia.com.

1936 Wheaties Baseball Series 6 #5, Arky Vaughan

When Wheaties starting signing players to endorsement contracts in 1934, they certainly hoped for a future where their cereal and "sports" went together in the public consciousness. And here we are, with "better eat your Wheaties" and "Breakfast of Champions" still commonly-known phrases in the 21st century.

Card front (click for detail)

Today's set of box back panels includes positional playing tips, highlighted by this leaping shot of HOFer shortstop Arky Vaughan. This takes nothing away from Arky's hitting, which peaked at .385 (!) in 1935 and remained above .300 for 12 of his 14 seasons.

Everyone on this checklist made the HOF, save Zeke Bonura and Buddy Lewis. Wheaties usually featured established players, so that's not surprising--Zeke and Buddy were just young players who couldn't turn their early good performance into long-term success.
  1. Bill Dickey - How to Catch
  2. Red Ruffing - Pitching the Fast Ball
  3. Zeke Bonura - First Base: Make More Outs
  4. Charlie Gehringer - Second Base as the Stars Play It
  5. Arky Vaughan - Shortstop: Play It Right
  6. Carl Hubbell - Pitching the Slow Ball
  7. John "Buddy" Lewis - Third Base: Field Those Hot Ones
  8. Heinie Manush - Fielding for Extra Outs
  9. Lefty Grove - Pitching the Outdrop Ball
  10. Billy Herman - How to Score: base running
  11. Joe DiMaggio - Bat Like a Home Run King
  12. Joe Medwick - Batting for Extra Bases

Value: Low-grade panels like Arky run about, oh, "this much." (Picture hands held $10-15 apart.) Complete boxes cost many times that, being exceedingly rare.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any faked panels in the marketplace, but be wary of buying superstars like DiMaggio unless you're already familiar with Wheaties issues.

Friday, November 26, 2010

1974 Capital Publishing Co. Baseball #5, Roger Connor

Many "oddball" sets earn the name by featuring unexpected players, using oversized card stock, or choosing less-than-great photos. The Capital Publishing Company covered all 3 bases with this collection of pre-WWII players, probably assembled from caches of old, old pictures.

Card front

Based on what I've read, Capital Publishing wrote a short biography pamphlet for each player, so a "complete" set would include both card and bio. Unfortunately, it's unclear how many really exist! SCD's annual catalog numbers them to 104, with #102 labeled "unknown." Others claim a checklist of 110 or more. (I've only owned this Connor card, so welcome input from a set collector.)

It does seem that Capitol released cards in bunches, perhaps as they sold enough to pay for more materials. The company's small size contributed to our limited info now, since fewer employees meant fewer people who could save printing details for future collecting generations.

Card back

Connor's best known for hitting 138 homers, the career record Babe Ruth broke on his way to 714. (Current stat records differ for several listed seasons, adding 2 homers and almost 250 RBIs.) By the time Roger died in 1931, Ruth already hit more than 500. Consider a 21st century record-holder watching their mark fall six times over! You can see why "Ruthian" remains a powerful term, more than 80 years later.

One curiosity of this particular card: there's no explicit #5! Originals should include a "Number # in a series" tagline on the back, so I assume this is a reprint, probably done by Capital itself after-the-fact. (Unlikely anyone else would take the trouble, given its lackluster appearance and low value.)

Value: Connor cost about $5 on eBay in 2006. I've seen superstars listed at $10 or more.

Fakes / reprints: Capitol printed multiple runs of cards starting in 1974, so it depends what you mean by a "reprint." My scan comes from a later run that lacks numbering.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

1977 Pepsi Baseball Stars #5, Mike Hargrove

Happy Thanksgiving to my 2010 readers! Here's a food-related issue for everyone to warm up with before that third serving of turkey comes around: the 1977 Pepsi-Cola Baseball Star discs, shown with perforated "capliner."

Card front (click for detail)

Pepsi inserted these gloved discs one per carton, intending collectors to punch them out for easier storage. The included checklist numbers to 72 players, but Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt each came in 5 color variations, for a master set of 80.

Card back

Based on their listed players--2 Cincinnati Reds and 2 Cleveland Indians--Pepsi test-marketed these glove-shaped liners in Ohio or nearby states. They show up frequently at shows and online, often mixed with other 70s disc issues. (See a recent Vintage Sportscards Blog article for some football examples.)

I've never seen one of Pepsi's personalized shirts for sale, which either means they weren't worth saving or few people took the trouble to send away for one in the first place. 

Value: As of writing, many eBay sellers list disc-with-glove HOFers for $5 and under. This remains an affordable (if plain) set to put together.

Fakes / reprints: Several makers created baseball disc sets, but they're not actually reprints. Check for company names on the front or back to distinguish them--many collectors try to complete a set of specific advertisers.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

1938 Wheaties Baseball Series 10 #5, Carl Hubbell

Today's "card," actually a cereal box back panel, retells one memorable inning from baseball's 2nd All-Star Game in 1934, played at New York's Polo Grounds. Starter Carl Hubbell allowed the first two men to reach, with Ruth, Gehrig, and Foxx coming to bat. This box tells the rest, with kid-like excitement.

Card front (6" x 8", click for detail)

As a Giant at his home park, many of the game's 48K ticket holders would be rooting for Hubbell and I can only imagine the thrill in seeing all three sluggers strike out, with two HOFers (Al Simmons and Joe Cronin) following next inning.

Check out the excellent "Wheaties and Sport" article at PopHistoryDig.com for a ton of Wheaties baseball history. It shows several of their box designs, pictured players, and related magazine ads.

Value: A lot of Wheaties stars became HOFers, but low-grade panels don't cost that much, probably for lack of collector demand. I found Carl on eBay for $20 in 2004.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen anyone fake a Wheaties panel. It would be tough, given the larger size and mix of colors.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

1948 Smith's Oakland Oaks Baseball #5, Lloyd Christopher

For most of the late 1940s, California's Remar Baking Co. produced annual team sets for Oakland's Pacific Coast League team, the Oaks. In 1947, they doubled up with Smiths clothing store, as both companies distributed similar 25-player collections. 60 years later, these cards are about all that remains of both companies, other than some photos and one factory building!

Card front

Smiths sets feature these black-and-white fronts, with photos taken at their home field, Oaks Park. Oakland fielded a title-winning team in 1948, but history better remembers their manager, Casey "The Old Perfessor" Stengel, who later captured 7 World Series helming the Yankees. (Find a ton of info about Casey and his team at the Oakland Oaks of 1948 page.)

Card back

Speaking of Oakland managers, Chuck Dressen took over the Oaks when Casey turned his 1948 PCL title into a job with the Yankees. Mr. Dressen won his own championship in 1950 and immediately jumped to the Dodgers for 1951. These former Oaks-men proved so successful in New York and Brooklyn that they met for two World Series (1952 and 1953), with Stengel taking both.

Value: Lloyd Christopher cost me ~$5 on eBay. Casey Stengel and Billy Martin are the "stars," so run several times more.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any reprints of Smiths cards in the marketplace.

Top 5 Number Fives

Earlier today, blogger Night Owl kicked off a series called "Here's Your Top 60," which critiques Topps' flawed 60th Anniversary contest. He includes an initial gallery of 20 great cards (with more to come) and spurred me to find some of my own.

Night Owl's perspective of what makes a great card stands in welcome contrast to Topps plan of reprint every Mantle one...more...time. And even if they do keep Mickey on the payroll, why leave out this legitimately great card? Topps bought out Bowman's assets back in early 1956!

1951 Bowman #253

Thick-lined borders make The Mick jump off this card and I love the cloudy sky. Doesn't matter to me that it's his first card, but it should to Topps and Bowman, as "Home of the Rookie Card!"

Picking "best ever" cards means more than "most expensive" and "most popular." Subtle combinations of pose, design, and context can make for awesome results. Even my focused group of #5s includes several choices that improve on Topps' nominees--the following handful of players represent my top 5.

1934 Batter-Up #5 Carl Hubbell

Poses like this turn a single moment to something iconic. Hubbell's windup is Evel Knievel's motorcycle flying over 20 cars or Bo Jackson running out of the Kingdome.

1952 Bowman #5 Minnie Minoso

This wonderful piece of art happens to be 5-decade player Minoso's rookie, but I just love its post-swing detail and optimistic look over the collector's shoulder.

1956 Topps #5 Ted Williams

The best cards remind you of complete baseball stories, like Ted Williams' career in Fenway Park. Its unusual dimensions helped The Splinter thrill fans year after year, even if Boston could never deliver a title. 1956's whole set is a wonderful collection of cards, driven by competitive pressure from then-rival Bowman.

1964 Bazooka #5 Warren Spahn

Topps should include Bazooka sets in their retrospective--after all, they've owned the gum brand from day one! Smaller cards don't have to mean lousy pictures, as this Spahn amply demonstrates.

1971 OPC #5 Thurman Munson (front and back)

What a great action shot! You could pick Topps' own #5 based on the front alone, but I wanted OPC's lemon-flavored back and its invitation to learn "Rookie of the Year" in French.

This barely scratches the surface of awesome cards. Got some favorites of your own?

Monday, November 22, 2010

1947 Remar Bread Oakland Oaks Baseball #5, Mickey Burnett

As a charter member of the Pacific Coast League, Oakland's Oaks were in their 5th decade of play when WWII ended. Many considered the PCL a "third major league" in talent level, but clubs rarely affiliated directly with MLB counterparts and worked hard to build and maintain quality rosters. Oakland made a brief alliance with the Yankees in the mid-30s, but their biggest contribution to New York followed the era pictured on today's card.

Card front

This two-sizes-too-big uniform makes Mickey Burnett look more like Mickey Rooney, or maybe "Dorf on the Diamond." (Smaller PCL revenues meant simpler uniforms and maybe--just maybe--ones that didn't fit so good.) Western teams often played in the looming shadow of mountain ranges, an alien sight for 1940s MLB teams.

These Oaks played under Casey Stengel, as the future HOFer "rehabbed" his managing career with minor league titles in Milwaukee (1944) and Oakland (1948) prior to taking over the Yankees in 1949. His use of platooning and strategic play helped guide New York to an astounding 10 AL pennants and 7 World Series titles in only 12 years. (20 year-old rookie Billy Martin followed Stengel out of Oakland and contributed to several of them.)

Baseball history fans should check out the Oakland Oaks of 1948 fan site, 1946 PCL intro movie, and (for PC only?) the 27-minute Casey and the Nine Old Men documentary. This wealth of videos, photos, and player profiles fills out a story I can only touch on.

Card back (with "Micky" misspelling)

Remar's set includes 25 Oaks players and measures 2" x 3", slightly smaller than modern cards. They printed similar sets each year from 1946 to 1950 and most share a design with 1947-48 issues from Smith's Clothiers. (Find more set details at CenturyOldCards.com.)

Value: Less-heralded players like Mickey cost $5 or so in low grade. Casey Stengel is about triple that as the set's "star."

Fakes / reprints: While not impossible to find, Remars are rare enough that collectors might've reprinted them, especially the Stengel. Set builders in high grade should familiarize themselves with similar sets and buy from experienced dealers.

Friday, November 19, 2010

1951 Topps Red Backs Baseball #5, Phil Rizzuto

The end of 2010's season means it's time to bestow league awards! Just 60 years ago, Phil Rizzuto nabbed the AL MVP over Boston's Billy Goodman and teammate Yogi Berra, who went on to win it in 1951, 1954, and 1955. (Modern statisticians might've gone with Yogi in 1950; both played key roles with their hitting and defense, so it's a toss-up for me.) New York also swept up another World Series over Philly, just one year in their great run of 1940s / 50s pennants and titles.

Card front

Interesting that Phil's 20-word bio uses both diminutive and 5'6" prior to honoring his 1950 MVP award. Topps clearly wanted to give kids a visual impression of the Scooter, which would contrast strongly in stature and technique with modern counterparts like 6' 3" Alex Rodriguez.

Card back

Topps printed two 52-player collections of Doubles in 1951, hinged together and folded at a perforated top edge. Collectors and reference books call them Red Backs and Blue Backs, with the former printed in larger numbers. Its design won't blow you away, but low-grade versions remain an affordable way to get into older cards. (Most stars are cheaper in these sets than, say, 1952.)

Value: My VG card cost $15 in 2003 and might be more now. Yankee fans (and collectors) love Rizzuto, but his cards remain a level below superstars like Mantle and Ruth.

Fakes / reprints: Topps reprinted star players from these Red and Blue Backs and adopted its design for other throwback releases, but I haven't seen any fakes of the originals in the marketplace.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

1959 Topps Baseball #5, Dick Donovan

While the White Sox didn't capture a World Series between 1917 and 2005, they fielded plenty of strong players and teams. 1959's squad won 94 games and captured the AL pennant, but lost a close 6-game series to the Dodgers. How close? LA won three of their games by four runs total. (Dick Donovan lost 3-1 in game three, but came back to save game 5 just two days later, preserving a 1-0 victory over Sandy Koufax.)

Card front

I cannot help comparing Mr. Donovan's expression to Droopy Dog. Perk up, man, you're the top righthander on a pennant-winner! (He and southpaw Billy Pierce paced the staff with 122 and 137 ERA+, respectively.) Dick's jersey prominently displays 22 on the shoulder, a design introduced in the 1950s and nicknamed "TV numbers," given the sideline placement of most cameras.

Card back

Back when many players held down off-season jobs, being a good golfer was more unusual. These days, just about every pro can afford to play regularly from Oct to Feb.

Value: At shows, you'll find low-grade 1959 singles in 50-cent and 25-cent boxes. Nicer condition cards go for $1 and up.

Fakes / reprints: Topps reprinted plenty of 1959 star players, but I don't think they did the whole set.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

1950 - 1953 Royal Desserts Baseball #5, Warren Spahn

At the 19th century advent of baseball cards, business owners didn't consider kids a useful target audience. Only adults earned money and owned stuff, so why go after customers who have to scrounge for pennies? This seemed sensible to tobacco companies at the turn of the 20th century, but candy companies would take over their market within a generation by targeting that small change.

Card front (blank back)

By the time 1950 rolled around, it'd become obvious that kids prompted family spending. Post-WWII suburban living meant televisions, supermarkets, and mass produced goods, all the better to "program" into family consumption habits. (That's not meant politically--it's largely the approach advertisers took to build up reliable income.)

Paper boxed products made excellent card material and Royal Desserts is just one of many companies to take advantage of baseball cross-promotion with this 24-player set. Collectors trimmed away "extra" cardboard, which often included portions of the player himself (see my Spahn). Full boxes closely resemble JELL-O's 1962 set.

1962 JELL-O #191 Bob Lillis

Royal reused the same images through 1953, updating bio text and teams as trades shuttled them around. Some guys have up to 4 variations, so a "master set" contains 47 different cards. (More info at Old Baseball's set profile.)

Value: Mis-cut versions of stars cost up to $20, with nice ones running more. Complete boxes can cost a lot, given their rarity. 

Fakes / reprints: This would be an easy set to fake, so familiarize yourself with its players and variations before making a big purchase.

1952 Topps Baseball #5, Larry Jansen

I originally wrote up my 1952 Topps #5 card for the Things Done to Cards blog in 2008, still readable there. That post rambled a bit, so let's see updated scans and take a more practical tack.

Card front

This hammered 1952 Topps #5 features pitcher Larry Jansen, a workhorse for the New York giants. He's holding up one finger for each of his seven children, something I'd be amused to see on a 21st-century player's card.

Card back (mostly)

Amazing wear on the back, yet the card number and bio survived. Judging by its blob of pink paper at top right and missing chunk in the middle, it looks to have been mounted in an album and later forcefully removed.

Here's a #5 version you could actually take home to mom.

So clean!

Value: CheckOutMyCards.com lists the mid-grade scan above for $17.50. My thrashed version should run a few dollars, assuming a dealer stocks it at all.

Fakes / reprints: Topps went back to 1952 again and again, reprinting star cards, high numbers, and (at least twice) the complete set. No doubt folks also faked them, so be wary of too-good-to-be-true deals and online auctions with fuzzy scans.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Oldest Card in My Collection

Last Monday, Greg of Night Owl Cards followed up his ALCS contest win with an excellent "Oldest Card in My Collection" post. It tracks the growth of his collection from a 1970 Topps Fred Norman back to 1950 Bowman and 1933 Goudey (my contest prize). Chris of Vintage Sportscards followed it with "The Oldest Card I Own," which follows a trail from his childhood 1976 Star Wars sets back to T206 tobacco baseball and its massive player checklist.

So much blue...

My own baseball collection kicked off in early 1980 and as a recent transplant to Washington state, Tom "Wimpy" Paciorek's card stood out. (Love that white-blue helmet and double batting gloves!) After three years of the expansion-era "Trident M," Seattle's logo evolved to this angular, star-shaped background in 1980.

Only a few months into my pack habit, the growing stack of cards got an unexpected bump back with a 1974 Hal Lanier. Wow, I remember thinking, that's a seriously old card. This is what real collectors own, and now it's mine. (Also compare those "banner flag" 1974 and 1980 set designs, where one obviously cribbed from the other.)

Nice auto! (Sadly, not my card)

Sometime in 1981, a garage sale turned up this 1971 Kellogg's Jim Palmer. It was only one of many in a 25-cent plastic bag, but stood out as both a great player and older than I was.

Good photo, weird background

Things got murky over the next decade as I moved in and out of regular collecting, but this card represented my move into the sport's golden age. That early 50s hand-painted look is still fabulous and cost $2 on eBay, circa 1999.

1952 Bowman #73 Jerry Coleman

Once the #5 blog kicked into gear, all kinds of oddball cards found their way into my collection. Most of the oldest sets went unnumbered, so won't end up there, but a couple of 19th-century (!) issues qualify. The oldest now--and likely to stay that way--is an 1886 tobacco issue featuring women posed as baseball players. (A close look at this slightly blurry scan reveals a prop string holding the ball in place.)

1886 Sub Rosa Cigarettes #5

Move back any further from 1886 and you're looking at seriously rare and expensive stuff. (I consider it a minor miracle this #5 ever turned up, let alone proved affordable.) Should it remain my collection's oldest card, you won't hear any complaints.

Thanks for the posts, Greg and Chris, I enjoyed filling out the concept!

Monday, November 15, 2010

1970 Sports Cards for Collectors "Sports Stuff" Baseball #5, Bobby Lowe

A few years before co-founding TCMA, Mike Aronstein self-published a handful of sets under the moniker Sports Cards for Collectors. (Some catalogs and sellers shorten it to SCFC.) Most feature old-school players, either hand-drawn or reprinted from vintage photo negatives. Today's "Sport Stuff" set recalls guys who played prior to 1920, the last of whom probably passed away around the time it came off the press.


According to a 2009 interview (read it here), Mike's uncle Myron Aronstein drew these originals. Number 5 is 19th-century second baseman Bobby Lowe, who starred for the Boston Beaneaters, ancestors of today's Atlanta Braves (B-R franchise page). Others in the postcard-sized set feature multiple players, like #6 Tinker to Evers to Chance below.


If you don't already know about this classic Cubs infield, check out these set profiles.


Bobby Lowe played for Boston in the 19th century, a truly different era. The year he hit 4 homers in one game, their lineup averaged nearly 10 runs each time out! Many record-keepers cut off "modern" baseball at 1901, given the gaudy numbers put up by early stars. (Five members of Lowe's 1894 squad drove in 100+ runs and two pitchers won 25+ games--yowza.)

Value: This postcard cost $10 on eBay, one of the few I've seen offered singly. Full set closing prices at auction sites range from $70 to $100.

Fakes / reprints: Doubt there's enough demand for reprints, but it wouldn't be a hard set to fake, so look for authentic wear and know your dealers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

1980 TCMA Baseball All-Time Cubs #5, Gabby Hartnett

This photo captures a wonderful classic uniform, including short-billed cap, bloused pants, striped socks, jersey piping, and bear-in-the-C Cubs logo. When teams host throw-back nights, this is exactly what I hope to see on the field.

Card front

HOF backstop Gabby Hartnett hit well for a catcher and played stout defense, an ideal combo for any lineup. He frequently garnered MVP votes and finally won the NL award in 1935, at age 34 (!). There can't be many catchers who give their strongest seasons after 30; even "Young Pudge" Rodriguez won his MVP at 27 and "Old Pudge" Fisk never finished higher in the voting than 3rd.

Gabby also appeared in 4 World Series for Chicago, once every 3 years from 1929 through 1938, the last as both catcher and manager. That decade marked their second-strongest era, trailing only an amazing 4 pennants in 5 years from 1906 to 1910. (See my 1970 Fleer World Series #5 and 1971 Fleer World Series #5 profiles for more.)

Card back

As the bio notes, Hartnett spent one year (his last) away from Chicago, catching part-time and pinch-hitting for New York's baseball Giants in 1941. He could still hit and catch, logging a 119 OPS+ and .994 fielding % in 34 games, but they released him at year's end.

Here's the 12-card checklist, with 8 position players, 3 pitchers, and a manager (3 time pennant-winner Charlie Grimm).
  1. Billy Williams
  2. Charlie Root
  3. Ron Santo
  4. Larry French
  5. Gabby Hartnett
  6. Emil Kush
  7. Charlie Grimm (MGR)
  8. Kiki Cuyler
  9. Billy Herman
  10. Hack Wilson
  11. Rogers Hornsby
  12. Ernie Banks
Note that Grimm also player-managed for Chicago from 1932 to 1936, preceding Hartnett's 3 years at the helm. Charlie went on to serve a second stretch from 1944 to 1949 and took them to the infamous "Curse of the Billy Goat" World Series in 1945.

Value: Singles run a dollar or two, as with other TCMA All-Time sets, and I expect HOFers like Hartnett and Banks to cost somewhat more.

Fakes / reprints: Don't expect to see any in the market, given the set's low profile and value.