Thursday, May 31, 2012

1976 Laughlin Indianapolis Clowns Baseball #5, Richard King

Baseball artist Bob Laughlin stepped away from his usual stylized drawings for this 42-card retrospective of a shifting squad of Negro League-era ballplayers and entertainers, the Indianapolis Clowns. From 1929 through their last games in 1988, various rosters played in both barnstorming tours and Negro League games, winning the title in 1950. This set's a mix of solo and multi-player photos, including one 1952 photo of young shortstop Hank Aaron, who the Clowns sold to Milwaukee for $10,000 after the season.


Unlike Aaron's one-and-done time in uniform, Richard King ("King Tut") spent three decades with the Clowns and sports an oversized prop mitt as one element of his on-field mix of exaggerated costumes and baseball skills. The card back goes on to praise King's personality, which no doubt helped as both entertainer and teammate.


#34 shows Hank Aaron in Clowns cap and jersey, just two years before Bobby Thomson's broken ankle in spring training opened an everyday playing opportunity.


30 years of entertaining gave King Tut plenty of time to build out a stunt repertoire and he appears in jacket and tails as part of the juggling sequence from this Clowns highlight film. (The clip itself focuses mostly on teammate and future Globetrotter Reece Tatum.)


40 numbered cards feature players and Laughlin added unnumbered title and "laff book" cards to round out his set. Find its full checklist at OpenChecklist and Laughlin's art sets in my type archives.

Value: The top PSA graded set auctioned for $237 in 2009. Non-star singles cost a few dollars and #21 Satchel Paige and #34 Hank Aaron run $10-20 in nice shape.

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

1969 Topps Deckle Baseball #5, Jim Fregosi

34 years ago today, Pirates infielder Jim Fregosi pinch-hit in the 9th inning with the score tied 3-3 and a go-ahead run on second. Phillies manager Danny Ozark brought in fireballer Tug McGraw, who sent Fregosi down swinging. It would be Jim's final strikeout in an 18-year career and he retired as a player (and unofficial bench coach) two days later.


Jim had a special motivation for retiring mid-year, as he'd struck a deal to return to LA as the new Angels manager. California finished 62-54 under him, not bad for a rookie skipper, and just 5 games off the AL West pace set by Kansas City.

Note that May 29th marked Fregosi's last strikeout, but not his final game in Pirate pinstripes. Read my 1966 O-Pee-Chee #5 profile for a breakdown of his last month as a player, Chuck Tanner's love of double (or triple) switches, and Jim's one career inning at second base.


This decorative "deckle edging" gave today's 35-player set (33 original + 2 variations) its name. Of Topps' many promotional inserts, Deckles (DECK-uhls) remain one of the easiest to find online and at shows, but don't confuse them with 1969 Decals (example below), a different--and also prevalent--insert set from the same year.


Two of the set's original players changed teams mid-year, so Topps subbed them for other, less transient players: #11 is either Hoyt Wilhelm or Jim Wynn and #22 is Rusty Staub or Joe Foy. (Find the full checklist at Dean's Cards.)

UPDATE: Did you know Fregosi is the Angels leader in batting WAR? Thanks to High Heat Stats for the tip.

Value: Low-grade singles cost $1 or so, more for enduring stars like Clemente. (The variations carry no special premium.)

Fakes / reprints: 2012 Topps Archives included a 15-player deckle subset with 7 current players and 8 vintage HOFers. Haven't otherwise seen fakes or reprints in the marketplace.

2012 Topps Archives Deckle Edge #5, David Freese

Saturday, May 26, 2012

1963 Topps Baseball #5, NL ERA Leaders

Topps spared no expense putting this league leader card together. They bought the best pair of scissors available, tossed back some Falstaff Beer, and turned five archive photos into tiny bonsai baseball players.


Topps sourced two floating heads from past sets; the other three appear to be alternates from on-field sessions that produced the regular card.

This reuse shows up throughout the decade and Don's 1963 head shot even popped up six years later (!) as 1969 Topps checklist #314.


Thanks in part to their pitcher-friendly home park at Chavez Ravine, Drysdale won 1962's NL Cy Young and Koufax followed with three more from 1963-65. Bob Shaw and Bob Purkey both reached at least one All-Star team, but never the stature of GIBSON, KOUFAX, and DRYSDALE.


Today's card sat below #30 Harvey Kuenn on the printing sheet, as seen on this mis-cut.


Topps leader card design changed to larger photos in 1964 (with more Drysdale and Koufax) and added team-specific leaders in the 1980s, with occasionally hilarious results.

Speaking of Falstaff Beer, have you enjoyed the manly pleasure of jumping from a plane right to your local bar?


Impossible to park outside the bar; parachutes are the answer.

Value: League leaders cost less than regular player cards, but the presence of three HOFers bumps this up to about $5 in low grade.


Fakes / reprints: Topps reused the 1963 style for their 2012 Heritage set, so floating heads (and--ugh!--trademark symbols) are back, with one Dodgers still pitching lights-out.

Friday, May 25, 2012

1980 TCMA 1960 Pirates Baseball #5, Harvey Haddix

Tomorrow marks the 63rd anniversary of Harvey Haddix's 12 perfect innings, as he sent down 36 straight Milwaukee Braves (back-to-back pennant winners, no less!) before losing to a single unearned run in the 13th. His expression on this card says a lot.


The box score's almost painful to look at, as Pittsburgh collected 12 hits without scoring against Milwaukee's Lew Burdette. How rare is that? Just 17 teams ever collected more than a dozen hits and were still shut out. MLB's all-time record is an extra-inning game between--naturally--the Pirates and Braves (August 1, 1918 box score).


Harvey's effort stands out so well in history that Sports Illustrated called it The Greatest Game Ever Pitched and musicians The Baseball Project honored Haddix (and all of baseball's perfect games) with this eponymous song.


But don't feel too sorry for Harvey, as he took home a title soon after. Today's TCMA set revisits those 1960 World Champion Pirates, who memorably beat the Yankees 10-9 in game 7 on a walk-off homer by Bill Mazeroski.


"You can deploy a lot of script writers and pay a lot of money, but try and write a better finish! Drama...excitement...this game had everything."

TCMA liked this Pirates team so much, they printed direct-to-collector sets in both 1977 (set profile of #5, Don Hoak) and 1980 (today's post). Front and back designs differ enough to avoid confusion, other than why TCMA "re-honored" the same team so soon after. Find 1980's 41-player checklist at MillerCards.net.

Value: TCMA charged a few dollars each for these nostalgia sets at printing and prices haven't climbed much. Clemente and Mazeroski singles run $5+ in nice shape, but Haddix and other lower-profile teammates sell for a dollar or two.

Fakes / reprints: Other than replicating the spirit of their 1977 set, I haven't seen any reprints in the marketplace.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

1968 O-Pee-Chee Baseball Pin-Ups (aka Posters) #5, Cleon Jones

Cleon Jones, 1969 All-Star and key member of the Miracle Mets (series highlights at SABR), made his first oddball set appearance in these Topps posters (a.k.a., All-Star Pin-Ups), which the company inserted singly into 1967 wax packs as late-season enticements for kids. O-Pee-Chee replicated this promotion for their own release in 1968, so Cleon got a second trip to the plate.


Fitting the 5"x7" poster size next to regular cards meant folding them into quarters; the detailed scan shows light creases at the mid-points. T.C.G. is Topps Chewing Gum on that tagline and PTD. IN CANADA draws a line in the snow between O-Pee-Chee and Topps posters. For unknown reasons (editor mistake?), O-Pee-Chee used the same players, but changed their numbers. Cleon got lucky #13 in the U.S.A. version.


There's a lot going on here for such a straight-forward photo. First off, Cleon is one of just 32 posters, rubbing shoulders with superstars like Mantle, Mays, and Yaz (full visual checklist). And speaking of baseball royalty, that's all-timer Yogi Berra in Mets uniform on the right border. His appearance as a coach helps date the photo to 1965, as does the New York World's Fair patch on Cleon's sleeve, which the team wore from 1964-65 (more uniform info at Ultimate Mets). Final confirmation comes from the fragment of 3 (from #34) on his back, which Cleon ditched for #21 in 1966.

1964-65 Mets World's Fair sleeve patch

Cleon's the only Mets player in this poster set, perhaps by virtue of being an All-Star Rookie on 1967 Topps #165. The 1967 Topps blog rightly critiqued several of the publisher's checklist choices, but available photo quality--key for a 5"x7" release--likely drove player selection.


As mentioned above, Topps published their posters in 1967 (American set profile of #5 Carl Yastrzemski) and OPC replicated them in 1968. Canada's release schedule competed with hockey & CFL seasons, which left little time for multiple baseball series (and local fans were still a year away from the debut of Montreal's Expos).

Given these other commitments, I assume OPC baseball posters went into wax packs right away, instead of using Topps' strategy as late-season perks.

Value: I found Cleon for $.50 at a show table. Lesser-known singles cost a dollar or so, but stars like Clemente and Mantle can exceed $10.

Fakes / reprints: In addition to the full set, Topps reportedly made some sticker-back proofs with the same design, but somewhat smaller. I've seen collectors mention Clemente specifically, which would be quite a find.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

1967 Topps Pirates Baseball Stickers #5, Juan Pizarro

Some days I feel like Juan looks here. Sweaty. Exhausted. Distracted. In need of a beer or two.


This picture came from Juan's time in Chicago, where he pitched from 1961-1966. He spent 1967 and part of 1968 as a Pirate, but Topps might've designed this set after his trade to Pittsburgh and prior to the arrival of spring training photos.

Using a hatless picture of Juan for this blank-backed sticker doesn't give a type collector much to go on for identification; no team name, no logo, and no bio. It's actually one of Topps' many 1960s "test sets," targeted at the Pittsburgh area and sold in separate wax packs.


All 33 stickers feature Pirate players or team insignia and are important finds for Clemente and Stargell player collectors, HOFers who appear twice in the set. Find its full checklist at PSA and also see my profile of a similar set for Red Sox fans.


Topps caught a happier Juan in his Milwaukee days, as shown on 1960 #59. They could've re-run this shot each year for a decade straight and done OK by themselves.

Value: This mid-grade sticker cost $5 on eBay a few years ago. Expect Clemente and Stargell stickers to run many times that.

Fakes / reprints: Don't know of any in the marketplace, but it's a risk that some exist, at least for Clemente. I recommend buying scarce type cards from a reputable dealer, since they'll have more cards to compare potential reprints to.

Friday, May 18, 2012

1969 Topps Baseball Team Posters #5, Baltimore Orioles

Born today, All-Star, Hall of Famer, and glove legend Brooks Robinson. Happy birthday to the Human Vacuum Cleaner, who turns 75. As a very partial observer, I note that Brooksie wore #5 on his uniform for 20 years (1957-1977) and it's now one of Baltimore's seven retired numbers.

Actual size is 12" x 20"

I consider 1969 the most ambitious year for Topps test issues, as they ran the gamut from tiny rub-on decals to this wall-ready poster set.

Team posters sold singly (and folded into wax packs) for ten cents each. All 24 franchises get a poster with several players, including the four expansion clubs (Montreal, Seattle, San Diego, Kansas City). The visible folds aren't considered condition issues unless they tear or start to flake off ink.

Value: Several posters prove popular and hard to come by, including the Series champion Miracle Mets, Yankees (Mantle's final active appearance), Pirates (Stargell, Clemente, Mazeroski), and aforementioned one-year Pilots. I've never seen an unfolded proof, but they might exist, and would command a hefty premium. The Orioles include two HOFers, so runs more than "lesser" teams. This mid-grade #5 cost me $40 on eBay.

Fakes / reprints: It'd be tough to fake the complete look, but they might exist. Make sure you're buying a 12" x 20" poster and be suspicious of any without folds.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

All Summer In A Day (aka Nate Colbert's 5 Homers)

Earlier this month, Josh Hamilton became the 16th slugger to mash 4 homers in one game, a feat that sits between perfect games (21) and inside-the-park grand slams by a catcher (12) for rarity. Hamilton called it his biggest baseball thrill, other than playing in the World Series, and I can believe it.

For all Hamilton's batting excellence, two men in MLB history have gone deep 5 times in one day, thanks to doubleheaders: Stan Musial and Nate Colbert. We're close to the 40th anniversary of Colbert's August 1, 1972 assault on the Atlanta Braves, which also set RBI (13) and total base (22) records. See the record-setting ball and hear Nate talk about the game at Seth.com.


Artist Robert Laughlin included this artful appreciation of Nate's power in his Diamond Jubilee set, made to honor the National League Centennial and American League Diamond Anniversary. I've always enjoyed the set's bright colors and it's worth picking up if you like 1970s oddballs.


Frank Robinson's own unique accomplishment as baseball's first African-American manager appeared as 1976 Laughlin Diamond Jubilee #5. I hope he would've made the set regardless of that homer, but it added some oomph to the headline.

MLB.com has it own feature on Nate Colbert and Jackie Robinson, complete with highlights of their encounter and a Bob Costas-narrated video of Nate's big day at the plate. Anyone know if San Diego plans to honor its anniversary this year?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

1968 Topps Baseball #5, NL Home Run Leaders

Today's #5 captures the only National Leaguers to hit 30+ homers in 1967, three HOFers and Sports Nickname All-Star Jim "Toy Cannon" Wynn. Multiple-player leader cards often include a one-year wonder or two, but these guys excelled for 15+ years each. Santo had the lowest career OPS+ of the four at an impressive 125. (Wynn a tick better at 129, McCovey at 147, and Aaron a monstrous 155--Hank still holds the records for RBIs and total bases.)


Career stats and power numbers aside, wondering why Wynn's wearing an airbrushed black hat? Topps used this picture because baseball cards are also a business--and one that felt pressure from two fronts in 1968.

On the union side, MLBPA head Marvin Miller told players to refuse Topps permission to take new pictures during spring training. He wanted a (much) better deal than the $125 players received and it took several months to agree on their new contract. Topps went with archive pictures in the interim, some several years old. A noticeable problem in 1968, it became painfully obvious after MLB expansion the following year. Four new teams meant scads of airbrushing and mismatched uniforms for the 1969 set. (See my 1969 OPC profile of Ken Harrelson for a vivid illustration.)

To compound things, collecting lore says team ownership either stonewalled MLB over use of the Astros logo for the late 60s or Houston itself balked at depicting their "Eighth Wonder of the World" (the Astrodome) without additional compensation. Less hard evidence exists for this theory, but their franchise changed names (from Colt .45's) in 1965 due to licensing demands from Colt Firearms, so it's plausible. Read You Can't Call Them ASTROS! at the Fleer Sticker Project for more info on that transition.

Short story, Topps went back to their archives for Jim Wynn's pre-1965 Colt .45's uniform...and then blacked out the hat. Business is business!


I like that Topps tracked each grand slam for 1968 and think the most dramatic blast belongs to Phillies rookie Rick Joseph, who pinch-hit a walk-off job in the 11th inning for his first career homer, beating the Dodgers 8-4 on September 16.

MORE RICK JOSEPH FACTS: Joseph had an interesting talent for hitting from behind. According to Baseball-Reference, Rick pinch-hit 6 of his 13 career homers and all 13 came with his team tied or trailing. Wonder who hit the most homers in MLB history with his team never in the lead?

Value: Low-grade leader cards come cheap, even those with 3 HOFers. You can find this on eBay for about $5.

Fakes / reprints: O-Pee-Chee did a similar version of this card with darker borders and PTD IN CANADA text; find scans in my 1968 set profile.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mothers Day 2012

A fond Leon Day card and best wishes to all mothers near and far!


HOFer Leon Day hit his own high point on July 23, 1942, striking out 18 batters to set the Negro League single-game record. He later joined the US Army, played on (integrated) military teams for two years, and landed with the Allies at Normandy on D-Day, an anniversary just three weeks off (June 6).


See my 1978 Long Ago Black Stars set profile for much more about Leon Day the player. I'd write more, but it's time to give mom a call.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

1977 Bob Parker's Baseball Hall of Fame, #5 Charles "Chief" Bender

Former Topps card artist Bob Parker turned his love of baseball into a profitable sidelight for much of the 70s and 80s, sketching out single-tone sets that he sold to collectors at shows and by mail order. Like this #5, Parker embellished player profiles with extra cartoons, highlights, and details on each blank-backed postcard. (As mentioned in the "More Baseball Cartoons" profile, his design evokes 1938 Goudey, a nice callback for any set to make.)


One event this #5 doesn't mention is the 1911 World Series, where Bender did something unseen in the 100 years since. He threw three complete games in a six-game series, winning twice and giving up just 8 total runs to John McGraw's Giants. That's the same series where "Home Run" Baker earned his nickname by hitting crucial homers off Hall of Famers Rube Marquard (game 2) and Christy Mathewson (game 3) en route to an Athletics title. (Parker's Hall of Fame set numbers 54 cards total and turns up often enough on eBay or at shows that Bob must've sold a bunch.)


If you love HOFers but don't want to spend the scratch, check out Every Hall of Famer instead, artist (and fan) Summer Anne Burton's chronicle of each member of Cooperstown. That's her take on Marquard, a Vets Committee selection railed against by stat-driven fans, but central to the drama of Home Run Baker and the 1911 series. Rube was elected in 1971, so is a relatively recent addition to her site; see the archive for dozens more.

Value: Single postcards run a few dollars, with legends like Ruth and Cobb costing more.

Fakes / reprints: It'd be easy to reprint these with good paper and modern equipment, but I doubt it's a risk, given their low profile in the hobby.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Review: Knuckleball! the Movie (2012)

I had the good fortune to catch Knuckleball! (the movie) last weekend at Boston's Independent Film Festival. It's a documentary treatment of baseball's least-predictable pitch and several men who made throwing it their profession.

Filmmakers and knuckleballers show their grip

The movie focuses most of its energy on New York's R.A. Dickey and Boston's Tim Wakefield as baseball's latest knuckle practitioners, with several asides on retired specialists Charlie Hough, Phil Niekro, Wilbur Wood, and Jim Bouton. A few others from the past appear in photos and conversation, including Phil's brother Joe and HOFer Hoyt Wilhelm. (I didn't plan ahead by writing his 1967 Coke crown profile last week, but there he was on the big screen. Serendipity!)


Top 5 Favorite Things About Knuckleball!
  1. I particularly enjoyed the movie's visual design, with meditative shots of slow-motion pitching and no-spin knucklers. Filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg said they contracted its time-changing effects to a separate design team, to great effect. (They took special advantage of R.A. Dickey's "bear face," which is a meme in its own right.)
  2. The directors expressed well how knuckleballers in their 30s and 40s run counter to baseball's notion of time and tide, as the opposite of 100MPH heaters and the power of youth.
  3. You might expect a Moneyball-era baseball movie to go overboard breaking down why the knuckler "works" and how much teams should expect to pay for guys who throw it. To their credit, it focuses instead on the community between pitchers, sharing advice in their small fraternity of specialists.
  4. Jim Bouton's segments use a different format and color style, mirroring his general ostracism from players and teams after the publication of Ball Four. (I assume the style choice was intentional.)
  5. The golf scene with a Wakefield/Dickey/Niekro/Hough foursome is wonderful.

Knuckleball! is doing film festivals and select screenings right now, with a DVD release on the horizon. I consider it worth the time for any pitching fan, whether or not you like the Red Sox or Mets. Too many baseball movies focus on teams and championships instead of the men who play and families they're part of, both nuclear and extended. Find video clips and screening schedules at KnuckleballMovie.com.