Friday, August 31, 2012

1970 Topps Teamates (Grow Power) #5, Credit Department

It's easy to imagine creators of your childhood as working in ivory towers and possessing supernatural abilities. Aren't they what made walking to the store, plunking down 25 cents, and taking home a fresh pack of cards so exciting? If we'd seen the mighty and powerful TOPPS COMPANY as a small collection of NY and PA offices, would we have believed it?

This "widescreen" set (note the longer left-to-right length) offers a rare glimpse inside Topps itself and covers 18 groups or individuals that turned ideas into products, products into cardboard, and cardboard into childhood memories. It seems they only printed sets for employees, explaining their extreme rarity today. I'd never seen a Teamates card until their appearance on Topps Archives in 2010 as Team Building Exercise.

"They're quick to give credit where credit is due--but not past due!" That's the kind of slogan I would take credit for coming up with.

Thanks to the Topps Archives blog for its series of posts breaking down the "Teamates" [sic] set and key employees pictured therein, including Woody Gelman on #15 Product Development and Bill Haber on (probably) #17 Sports Department. See all known cards in Growing a Checklist and all Archives posts under the tag 1970 Topps Grow Power.

Value: Robert Edwards Auctions sold a near-set of 17 NM cards for $6518 in 2012, confirming there's enough interest in Topps rarities to pull big price tags. You might never see an individual card for sale outside of an auction. If you do, $100 or more looks likely.

Fake / reprints: Don't know of any fake cards in the marketplace. It's possible someone would try it given their current value, but super-rare counterfeits are a Catch-22. When you fake something that's going to auction, it'll also be inspected more than something sold at a show, so it's more likely to be detected.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How Far Do You Have To Go

Back from a European vacation and "The Continent" is exactly like you've heard.

Saturated with American stuff.

Here's a short list of non-soccer teams I saw on hats, jerseys, coats, t-shirts, and various furniture spread across Scandinavia.
  • Miami Dolphins
  • New York Giants
  • Miami Heat
  • SF Giants
  • Oakland A's
  • LA Dodgers
  • Boston Red Sox
  • New York Yankees
  • New York Yankees
  • New York Yankees

How Yankees is Europe? You can buy these fine items just off Oslo's main square at a respectable-looking optometrist.

Other functional glassware also exists in non-medical stores.

I see the Red Sox everywhere living in Boston, but thought we'd be clear of them in Iceland and Norway. Then we found this hat on a pier, looking new-but-abandoned.

Europe has so much American sports stuff, people just leave it lying around!

Next trip, we'll try to escape America by heading to...Northern Siberia? They probably wear Derek Jeter jerseys.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

1955 Robert Gould All Stars Baseball #5, Jim Hegan

Today's profile features more than just a card, easily sorted and stored. You'll need a modern baseball cube to hold this 3" x 3" statue of Cleveland catcher Jim Hegan and the green-and-white card his statue came rubber-banded to in its original product box.

The rare Robert Gould set features 28 players from both leagues, all well-known if not strictly "All Stars" from 1954. (Hegan, for example, last played for the AL squad in 1952.) Each appears as a solid white line sketch and statue, even African-American stars like Willie Mays. As implied by this scan, statue poses match what you see on the card.

The NY Giants won that year's World Series and Mays picked up the 1954 NL MVP, so he deserved spot #1 on the Gould checklist. His basket grab of Vic Wertz's 420-foot drive remains the definitive baseball "Catch." (Video at YouTube.)

Those notches and small holes held each statue to the card with a rubber-band, so aren't considered "damage." (I've never seen a card without them, so would suspect a fake if they were missing.)

UPDATE: Gould also published this album of all players, front/back cover and two interior scans below.

Interesting that you could get them in both singles and sets! Haven't heard of a special "set box" or the like before--anyone know of anything like that?

Value: So few reach the market that it's hard to set a price, though collectors do pay more for cards over statues. That said, eBay dealers who ask hundreds for singles are dreaming; $75 for non-star card + statue is more likely.

Fakes / reprints: Only advanced collectors know much about these statues, making it hard to find an audience for fakes of what's honestly a bland set.

Monday, August 13, 2012

RIP Johnny Pesky

Heavy-hearted farewell to Johnny "The Needle" Pesky, who passed away today at age 92.

Pesky continued to make public appearances and sign for fans whenever his health allowed. I like the Fenway Park shots and bat barrel on this one.

In addition to being the namesake of Pesky's Pole and "Mr. Red Sox" to pretty much everyone in New England, Johnny was one of two living players from David Frishberg's song "Van Lingle Mungo." See my January 2012 post for more on his connection to that unusual piece of Americana.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

2000 Upper Deck Gold Reserve Baseball #5, Troy Percival

Born on August 9, Troy Percival, who holds the record for birthday saves with four.

Troy closed this quartet of August 9 games.

He wore an Angels cap for the first three, as shown on this 2000 Upper Deck Gold Reserve #5. His 2008 save came as closer for Tampa Bay, the final stop in a 14-year, 358 save career (career stats).

Troy Percival started just once in his career and it was a doozy. Anyone remember the final STL game of 2007? St. Louis and Pittsburgh combined to use 18 pitchers, five different Cardinal relievers logged holds, and the box score is a nightmare of crossed-out names. Full credit, by the way, to Tony LaRussa's ability to find gold in Percival's rehabbed arm--he didn't log any saves that year, but posted a phenomenal 246 OPS+ in situational work.

Upper Deck's "Gold Reserve" is a 300-card parallel to their 2000 standard set, with a double-handful of serial-numbered inserts and relics; Baseballcardpedia breaks them down for you.

Happy birthday to one of baseball's all-time closers!

Monday, August 6, 2012

1951-52 Denia Winter League Baseball #5, "Atkins Mofa, Polanco Safe"

Caribbean baseball owns a long, nuanced past as both supporter and rival of MLB attention and its member countries continue to supply and develop talent at every professional level. While the Dominican Republic produced more big league players since integration, Puerto Rican nearly equals it in both history (first league founded in 1898) and significance (first native player in 1942). Their pro teams currently play under the banner of PR's first Hall of Famer as Liga de BĂ©isbol Profesional Roberto Clemente.

Card front (blank back)

Outside interest in Puerto Rican pro leagues blossomed during the post-WWII economic boom, thanks to new ballparks and growing participation from MLB players, who enjoyed the island's warm weather and a chance to play during their normal off-season. Across-the-board racial inclusion also meant Negro Leaguers, MLBers, and local players suited up together in an expanded version of stateside integration.

Winter league seasons span two calendar years ("1951-52") and local publishers released sets from 1948 to 1952; see the full index at Today's #5 shows a typical "in action" photo, taken in black-and-white for later color-tinting.

NYC-based Denia also fashioned an album for their multi-sport Deportivos set, as published by local printer Jose Angel Garcia. Collectors mounted these paper-thin "cards" onto its pages like stamps, a typical practice for most of the Caribbean and Latin America. That habit makes glue and back damage a common sight, so most cards grade VG at best.

The album back shows a tin of Denia powdered milk and PR's baseball  broadcast stations. I'd love to see interior page scans, which might've shown the whole set or larger team photos. hosts a 144-card checklist with many gaps, cards that are still unknown due to rarity. The "in action" series belongs to a larger Denia set of baseball, basketball, and boxing cards, 394 in all. Quite an undertaking for a powdered milk company!

Value: This EX+ #5 sold on eBay for about $60 last month. It should be no surprise that Negro League and MLB Hall of Famers (Sam Bankhead, Barney Brown, Raymond Brown, Willard Brown, Perucho Cepeda, Francisco Coimbre, Leon Day, Tetelo Vargas) cost significantly more.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace. You could fake them with modern equipment, given the set's thin paper, limited color, and blank backs. Best to buy from experienced sellers when picking up foreign type rarities like this one.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

1977 Cramer Salt Like City Gulls Baseball #5, Gilberto Flores (and Leonard Garcia)

Washington-based Cramer Sports Productions--the future Pacific Cards--published this Salt Lake City set, a well-composed effort that stands out against its black-and-white minor league equivalents (e.g., 1977 TCMA Spartanburg Phillies). Coca-Cola added their sponsorship logo to the front and possibly underwrote its use of full-color.

Morman legend credits sea gulls with miraculously saving Salt Lake area crops during a 19th-century insect plague (the Miracle of the gulls), precursor to their becoming both Utah's state bird and this team nickname from 1975 to 1984. As AAA affiliates for the Mariners and Angels, its best-known alums, including Ken Landreaux, Harold Reynolds, and Danny Tartabull, started with those franchises.

Gil went on to play for the Angels and Mets, adding some big-league pizzazz to his upper lip along the way. Saucy!

This SLC Gulls set means something extra to vintage card collectors because it includes team trainer Leonard Garcia. If that name doesn't sound familiar, how about 1969 Topps "Aurelio Rodriguez?"

Thanks to photo-collecting complications, this card shows a correct name, but the picture's really California bat boy Leonard Garcia. Keith Olbermann wrote this about the labor circumstances surrounding 1969 Topps #653, full story at his blog.

This is the 1969 card of the “original” A-Rod, the late brilliant defensive third baseman, Aurelio Rodriguez. It’s a great photo, but it’s not Aurelio Rodriguez. It’s Leonard Garcia, a rather mature-looking Angels’ batboy from 1968. 
For years Topps has taken the rap for the mistake – there have even been understandable suggestions of an ethnic slur implied by the screw-up. In fact, it wasn’t entirely the company’s fault. In the winter of 1967-68, the newly-powerful Baseball Players Association was squeezing Topps into dealing with it, rather than on a player-by-player basis. Topps, which theretofore had been able to sign guys for a down payment as low as a dollar, resisted. The MLBPA promptly forbade its members for posing for Topps during Spring Training, and in fact throughout the entire regular season, of 1968. 
Thus, guys who changed teams in ’68 or the ’68-69 off-season are shown hatless in old photographs in the first few series of the 1969 set. But 1968′s rookies for whom Topps had no photo? It had to get them in the minor leagues (the Topps files were filled with photos of nearly every Triple-A player in 1968), or buy shots from outside suppliers. At least a dozen images in the ’69 set, including Reggie Jackson and Earl Weaver – and “Aurelio Rodriguez” – were purchased from the files of the famous Chicago photographer George Brace. Somebody at Topps should’ve known, but the original Rodriguez/Garcia goof appears to have been Brace’s. 
Incidentally, eight years later Garcia got his own card under his own name, in the Cramer Sports Pacific Coast League Series. By this point he was the trainer of the Angels’ AAA team in Salt Lake City. The biography on the back makes reference to the 1969 Topps/Brace slipup.

The grown-up Leonard Garcia actually received multiple Salt Lake City cards. Here's his 1977 version, this set's only unnumbered card.

Garcia's 1978 card back refers, as Keith mentioned, to the 1969 Topps "Aurelio Rodriguez" snafu.

Online checklists for 1977 Cramer show gaps at #3 and #23, which might be players pulled after they moved on to other teams.
  1. Jimy Williams, Manager
  2. Fred Frazier
  3. [No player]
  4. Rance Mulliniks
  5. Gilberto Flores
  6. Chuck Dobson
  7. Danny Goodwin
  8. Tom Donohue
  9. Thad Bosley
  10. Pat Cristelli
  11. Dave Machemer
  12. Fred Kuhaulua
  13. Orlando Alvarez
  14. Frankie George
  15. Bob Nolan
  16. Luis Quintana
  17. Stan Perzanowski
  18. John Caneira
  19. Frank Panick
  20. Dick Lange
  21. Mike Barlow
  22. Willie Aikens
  23. [No player]
  24. Mike Overy
  25. Butch Alberts

Value: This #5 cost $2.50 at and others in the set would be the same, unless they're special fans of guys who made the majors (bolded on the checklist). As far as I know, Garcia's card is a collector curiosity with no value premium.

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