Thursday, March 31, 2011

1971 Topps Greatest Moments Baseball #5, Sal Bando

The Fleer Sticker Project already wrote the intriguing story of how Topps made Fleer wait on their own highlights set by putting out this horizontal test issue of active players doing notable things, so check it out for some cool card history.

Fellow card blogger Dave Hornish (who wrote the history of Topps special issues and now runs The Topps Archives) called today's horizontal highlight set curiously unpopular, considering its black border style (similar to the well-liked 1971 regular set), multiple photos, and interesting newspaper presentation.

I agree Greatest Moments starts with a nice assemblage of parts, but think the whole is less than their sum. Collectors are notoriously fickle about odd-size releases and this one's tall enough that you need six-pocket pages to hold them. Also, Topps chose bland "highlights" when Sal Bando's everyday play trumps his 59 extra-base hits in 1969 during a pitching-dominant era. (His subtitle's not even correct, as Bando played partial seasons in 1966-67 before taking over as starting 3B--1968-69 weren't his "1st 2 years.")

So what would have worked with collectors? Something with a standard size that highlighted specific great performances in color sounds better to me. Black-and-white photos work better as a real look into the past (instead of recent history), as Topps did with their boyhood series in 1973.

What would you put on a similar Greatest Moments set for the last few years? I'd start with Josh Hamilton's comeback and Ichiro breaking the single-season hits record. (Seattle fans take what we can get for highlights!)

Value: Sal cost $5 at a show several years ago and runs about the same now.

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

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

1922 William Paterson Baseball (V89) #5, Joe Bush

Apparently Joe Bush is "authentic but altered." Aren't we all, really? (Joe's alteration is a piece of tape on the lower-right corner.)

Card front (blank back)

This obscure set from Canadian candy maker William Paterson (cataloged in guides as V89) contains 50 cards and features many all-timers from baseball's first century, including Babe Ruth, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Ty Cobb, and Walter Johnson.

Individual cards rarely appear outside of professional auctions, given the understandable rarity of anything sold a) to kids, b) with candy, c) in a different country, and d) 90 years ago. This is a set best pursued by experienced collectors, since you have to both spend big money and carefully scrutinize each potential purchase for authenticity.

Value: $125 obtained this #5 from eBay. Star players in decent shape cost into the thousands.

Fakes / reprints: Given the set's value, I bet fakes exist--at minimum--for Ruth and Cobb, but possibly the entire set.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

1979 TCMA Syracuse Chiefs Baseball #5, Mark Wiley

We're creeping ever closer to baseball's Opening Day, 2011, where everyone's tied for first and looking at a magic number of 162. (Or maybe it's 163--I'm better at scoreboard math than the real thing.) As teams trim rosters down to 25, players learn whether they'll be suiting up for San Fran's defending champion Giants...or the Flying Squirrels of Richmond, VA.

Every spring, some vets hang up their gloves and switch to coaching, usually hoping to reach the bigs again as a teacher. Mark Wiley made just such a move after 1980, trading in 11 pro seasons (2 in the majors) for pitching coach responsibilities. He most recently worked with Florida's overachieving 2009 squad, but their starting rotation suffered enough ups and downs that upper management relieved Wiley of his dugout duties and made him a special assistant. ("Mark Wiley philosophical about dismissal.")

Following that 11-11 season in Hawaii, San Diego traded Mark to Toronto--MLB parent of Syracuse--for Andy Dyes, star of 1979 TCMA Islanders #5. Dyes and his rainbow towel definitely got the better card picture out of it.

Value: Mark cost $2 on Beckett Marketplace, about right for 1970s minor league players.

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

Monday, March 28, 2011

1948-49 Leaf #75 Dom DiMaggio, aka "The One That Got Away"

On Sunday, blogger Steve (of  White Sox Cards) wrote about a "Well Loved Card That Was Almost Mine." It turned out to be 1948-49 Leaf #59, Luke Appling, no doubt a precious commodity for Chicago's South Side collectors.

Real nickname: "Luscious Luke"

Not many collect those old Leafs, so it'll help to know that its checklist includes a ton of short-printed, really expensive cards. My #5 Virgil Trucks profile shows one of them and it took three trimmed edges to make the card affordable at $20.

Luke isn't just one of better Leaf cards; it also serves a personal connection, first made at a show back in 1999, when I found a $5 box with two beat-up players in it, #59 Luke Appling and #75 Dom DiMaggio.

"My" card was in much worse shape

Having no Leafs in my own collection, this was a perfect chance to pick up my first. Both guys played well during their careers, but Appling made the HOF, so I ultimately chose him over "The Little Professor." Upon returning home, I compared their book values, figuring Appling would have an edge. Both were low-grade, so probably couldn't be resold for more--so I thought.

Short, sad-for-me story: Appling valued around $50 in NM, making $5 a decent price, but DiMaggio, being a short-print, booked for over $500! I blinked and re-checked it several times. The dealer had dropped a big-time card in a small-money box and it went right by me. To quote Charlie Brown...

Like all good one-that-got-away stories, I went back to the same dealer at ensuing shows, but that DiMaggio was long gone from his $5 box and you'll never find one for that now. They all live inside PSA holders instead! Thanks to Steve for bringing back a singular memory. :-)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Type Site: The Topps 300 (and then some...)

Not long ago, Topps asked collectors to pick their "top 60 cards" (from 100 choices) that would resurface as special inserts in 2011 baseball packs. Many long-time collectors scoffed at the editorial taste displayed in their original 100, packed as it was with every Mantle and significant rookie card available, regardless of card composition or quality.

Yes, this 'stache was a Topps 100 choice

Better writers than me critiqued Topps' choices by choosing their own "best card ever" lists. Start by checking out Here's Your Top 60, Part 1 by Night Owl. (He breaks down 20 cards in each post, three parts in all.)

Inside part 1, Night Owl pointed back to another excellent series that I completely missed before, The Topps 300 (and then some...).

"Topps 5" from 1957"

Thanks to card blogger JayBee for composing a top 5 every year from 1951 to 2010. He even remembered to include Big Klu's "gun show" card from 1957, unlike certain card companies I could name. The whole roll's worth a read as we creep closer and closer to opening day 2011.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

1979 TCMA West Haven Yankees Baseball #5, Dan Schmitz

On March 22, Atlanta announced plans to retire Bobby Cox's #6 this August, honoring a long and successful run managing the Braves to many division titles and a World Series ring in 1995. His 4 decades of experience covers more than one franchise, though, reaching back through Toronto into the Yankee 1970s farm system and West Haven, Connecticut.

Card front

West Haven captured the Eastern League title in 1972 under Bobby's guidance, the first of four titles in just 10 years as a Yankees affiliate. After good success in the minors, Cox reached the big leagues (as first base coach) by 1977, just in time to help their strong farm system--and free agent signees Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter--win a World Series.

Card back

TCMA apparently couldn't track down Dan Schmitz's 1978 stats--find them today at He played pro ball for 7 seasons and kept a favorable BB/K ratio, but never developed enough power to "stick" in the big leagues, given the overall strength of New York's talent. Schmitz now manages at Bowling Green.

Value: Bought this for $2 from

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

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

1979 TCMA Portland Beavers Baseball #5, Vance Law

Portland recently added a second "major" sports team with their MLS soccer franchise, the Timbers. Unfortunately, moving that team up from USL--a level below Major League Soccer--also pushed the AAA Beavers out of town for lack of a stadium. Tucson now hosts this San Diego farm team as the Padres, but they'll move again to Escondido, CA when a new park's ready.

Card front

I used to own a pair of these glasses, but Vance represents just the tip of a baseball iceberg. When you're done here, check out Night Owl's post Best Glasses in the History of Baseball Cards.

Card back

Vance played 11 MLB seasons for Pittsburgh, Chicago (AL & NL), Montreal, and Oakland, and picked up a great defense-minded nickname, "Long arm of the Law." He made the NL All-Star team in 1988 as third baseman for the solid Cubs infield (with Mark Grace, Ryne Sanderg, and Shawon Dunston).

Value: Picked this up for $2 from, typical for 1970s minor leaguers.

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

Monday, March 21, 2011

1979 TCMA Rochester Red Wings Baseball #5, Willie Royster

Baltimore drafted and signed a fresh-faced, 18 year-old Willie Royster in 1972 and immediately assigned him to their Appalachian rookie league, where he caught 41 games for the bucolic-in-name Bluefield Orioles. Today's card shows him in Rochester, their AAA team from 1961 to 2002.

Card front

For three years, from expansion in 1962 to 1964, Houston called themselves the Colt .45s in honor of the West's signature sidearm and featured a rarely seen "number logo." HOFer Joe Morgan started his MLB career wearing this hat, as did fellow #5 profilees Rusty Staub and John Bateman.
Seeing Royster's "50" hat brought that Houston team right to mind, but it actually marks Rochester's 50th anniversary as a MLB affiliate. Originally connected to St. Louis in 1929, the Red Wings now play for Minnesota and reign as pro baseball's longest-lived franchise. Check out my 1980 TCMA Rochester #5 profile for more team history.

Card back

Willie Royster got the briefest cup of major league coffee, just 4 games as a September call-up in 1981, but spent 11 seasons as a pro in the Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Detroit farm systems.

Value: This card cost $2 from, about right for non-star minor leaguers.

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

Friday, March 18, 2011

1979 TCMA Richmond Braves Baseball #5, Larry Owen

There something about a player whose mustache gap matches his tooth gap, which in turn matches his helmet logo gap. Symmetry, thy name is Larry Owen.

Card front

Atlanta signed Mr. Owen in 1977 and shepherded him through three minor leagues before a cup of coffee with the Braves in 1981. He never hit well, but catchers--especially backups--get a break on offensive demands, since they spend a ton of time warming up relievers, timing opposing pitchers, and performing other manager-like duties.

Larry spent just one full year in the bigs, playing 76 games with Kansas City in 1987, and set career highs in homers (5) and RBIs (14). He retired following their 1988 season, as career catchers often do once the years catch up with their knees.

Card back

Value: Bought this for $2 from

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any TCMA fakes in the marketplace.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

1979 TCMA Arkansas Travelers #5, Jim Riggleman

Self-professed baseball nerd Keith Olbermann frequently fills his spring training columns with "back in the day" photo scans that show active managers on cards from their minor league days. The Washington Nationals' Jim Riggleman already appeared in at least one of those ("A Hairstyle is Temporary; A Baseball Card is Forever"), but I'm happy to feature him in another. Check out that boyish enthusiasm!

Card front

Looks like #23 emblazoned on the bat handle, even though Jim's uniform number is a single digit. Perhaps the photographer just said "grab one off the rack and let's shoot a photo?" Good thing he didn't pick up one of Billy Ripken's by mistake.

Card back

So far, Riggleman has a better winning percentage managing the Nationals (.430) than he did in 2008 with my Mariners (.400). Washington won't have Stephen Strasburg this year, but still hopes to improve on a 69-93 record from 2010. Every team's tied on opening day, right?

Value: This Riggleman cost $2 at, about right for a non-star from that era.

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

1976 SSPC 1963 Mets Baseball #5, Norm Sherry

It's odd to see Norm Sherry out of a Dodgers uniform, given his famous pairing with older brother Larry as sibling battery mates in Los Angeles, far removed from New York's boroughs. The Mets' debut did that to a lot of guys, though, as former Brooklyn Dodgers like Roger Craig, Don Zimmer, and Gil Hodges all played for their expansion team under Casey Stengel. Early years seemed more about reminding fans of their departed team and players than winning games--they set a modern record for futility by going 40-120 in 1962.

Card front

SSPC "honored" the Mets' second year of existence with this 18-photo set, numbered by player uniform. Duke Snider also returned to New York prior to 1963, immediately becoming its most valuable card. (Stengel's the other HOFer, so stands as runner-up.) Carl Crawford Cards will appreciate that the set also includes Pumpsie Green.

Early in 2011, blog Baseball By the Letters captured great moments for the Sherry brothers, including a 10th-inning homer by Norm that won a game for Larry over the Phillies. They also shared in LA's 1959 World Series title and Larry captured the MVP award by finishing four games and winning two of them.

Card back

If I ever made a pro team, my line would look like Norm Sherry's, just without the homers. Are the 1962 Mets looking for a third-string first baseman? I'm in the book.

Value: Singles from this cost a dollar or two, with Snider and Stengel running about $5.

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

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

1977 Tom Daniels "Burleigh Grimes" Baseball #5, Winning Combination

This friendly photo and 16-card set profiles the last of baseball's legal spitballers, Burleigh Grimes. League officials prohibited players from "loading the ball" (adding moisture and other foreign substances) in 1920, but grandfathered in established pitchers who already relied on it. Grimes remained active for another 14 years and threw the funnyball well enough to receive MVP votes 4 different times, placing 3rd in 1928 and 4th in 1929. (Career stats at Baseball-Reference.)

Card front

As a sphere with ridged stitching, baseball aerodynamics contain odd movement potential when spun or floated properly. Modern hurlers work at the seams and cover, trying to create enough wrinkle or imbalance to add an extra dip, ideally with fingers only and not "additives" like spit or vaseline. Enough guys get caught to remind us that cheating persists, but it's not something you see very often.

Card back

Best I can tell, Tom Daniels was a collector or printer who financed this direct-to-collectors set with Grimes' personal assistance (and photos). HOFer Burleigh personally signed at least one card in each set, making autographed versions relatively easy to find. Legendary Auctions even sold a completed version for just under $200 in 2005.

A 40 year-old Grimes played part of his final season with the Yankees in 1934, just beating out Babe Ruth for oldest team member. They both moved on in 1935, Ruth to Boston's Braves in search of a managing opportunity, and Burleigh to retirement. (He ultimately got the chance to manage that Babe never landed, helming the Brooklyn Dodgers 1937-38.)

Value: Cards cost a dollar or two, with autographed versions running $10-20.

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

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Wrap-Up from 2011 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

Do you like baseball, moneymakers, and advanced math? For March 4th and 5th, Boston was the place to be, as MIT's business school hosted their annual sporting shindig, the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (SSAC for short). What started in 2007 as a small collection of panels for hard-core number-crunchers ballooned this year to 1500 attendees and 2 full days, keynoted by author Malcolm Gladwell.

SSAC attracts a wide spectrum of folks, from fan bloggers to top sports franchise executives. (New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, Dallas Mavericks, Boston Red Sox, and English Premiere League soccer, to name just a few.) Organizers stream it live to the Internet and plenty of reporters attend each panel, but discussions still feel candid and offer direct advice to the conference's significant following of MBAs and amateur researchers hoping to break into the sports business.

Some consider Gladwell's writing a strike against good analytics, since he often combines factors that hold a tenuous relationship to each other, instead of solid case studies. I think Malcolm moderated the kickoff panel deftly, as a mix of sports folks discussed the theory that mastering a skill requires 10,000+ hours of dedicated practice. His takeaway quote: "A lot of what we call talent is the desire to practice."

I shot this video (moderated by journalist Andrea Kremer) to give a flavor of conference participants and topics. Panel discussion moved quickly to The Decision, a widely criticized (and hugely watched) ESPN show that announced--after an hour of fawning--LeBron James' choice to sign with the Miami Heat. (John Walsh clearly shows mixed feelings, but would make the same decision if given a second chance.)

I also gave away a bunch of baseball cards at the conference, mostly to the researchers and small businesses looking for an industry toehold. One big hat-tip to Carl Crawford Cards, who sent me this signed 1950 Bowman Virgil Trucks in 2009--that card's now in the hands of esteemed baseball writer Rob Neyer.

ADDENDUM:  I enjoy giving away cards as a gesture of support to other baseball fans, collectors, and writers. Trucks turned up in Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends and Rob also mentioned his remarkable 1952 season in a column, wherein Virgil went 5-19 but hurled a pair of no-hitters; find that recollection at CBS Interactive. My 1950 Bowman card felt like a good match and Rob looked happy to have it (compared to, say, Yuniesky Betancourt). He joked it'd join a "burgeoning Tigers collection," alongside a signed Hank Greenberg picture gifted not long before. That's great to hear--but what Detroit tribute would be complete without Don Mossi?

"Just flew back from Boston--and boy are my ears tired."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

1975 Hostess Baseball #5, Joe Morgan

This Joe Morgan's a virtual repeat of my recent Twinkie article, since the company printed very similar 150-card sets on snack cake boxes and as inserts for plastic-wrapped Twinkie packages. This one lacks yellowy stains, though, a solid hint it was trimmed from a box panel. Sponge-cake liners readily soaked up cake oil, as seen in my 1975 Hostess Twinkie set profile.

Card front

Hostess used rounded-off player pictures in 1975, similar to View-Master's classic corners and TV sets like 1955 Bowman. They returned to full-photo versions in 1976, a much cleaner design that doesn't look like something you picked up from a corner Fotomat.

Card back

Card backs follow the typical Hostess style by summarizing a player's recent performance and totaling their career. Twinkie versions include black bars above and below the stat box--which this #5 doesn't have--so we know this one came from a snack box panel.

Hostess 3-player panel

Value: Low-grade cards, even HOFers, cost a dollar or two. Trimming cards by hand often left jagged edges, which many Hostess collectors just consider part of the territory.

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