Friday, October 18, 2013

1972 Puerto Rican Baseball Stickers #5, Santurce All-Star Team

As of this writing, it was just ten years ago that Major League Baseball, then collective owners of Montreal's Expos, sent the squad to Puerto Rico for 22 home games in an effort to drum up ticket sales for a team that Quebec's ownership barely cared about. Many of Montreal's fans still bought tickets, but when corporate purse strings "can't afford" $50,000 on September call-ups to stay competitive for a Wild Card spot (details of this self-sabotage at Wikipedia), you can tell a team's doomed. Is it any wonder that former Expos owner Jeff Loria shows his current Miami Marlins the same fiscal unpredictability?

Uncut Santurce team photo (set #1-9), front

Puerto Rican baseball, however, didn't begin or end with Montreal's farewell tour. Many current and future big leaguers spent formative years on their sun-bleached infields as amateurs or Winter League pros. This three-panel group photo technically includes the type card for today's 1972 Puerto Rican Baseball set, a multi-faceted release of 231 "stickers," paper-thin cards that more closely resemble stamps. As the picture's watermark attests, a Huggins and Scott near-set auction provided the only scans I've seen of its #5, the middle panel of Santurce's roster. Puerto Rico's Winter League fielded six teams in 1972 (league profile) and this shot shows another squad, the Ponce Leones (Lions).

1972 Ponce team (set #10-18)

Numbered backs include "Baseball de Puerto Rico" and "Printed in Spain" notes. While Puerto Rico gained a measure of government autonomy from colonial Spain in 1898, shared business interests continue to this day and apparently helped make this set possible.


Uncut Santurce team photo (#1-9), back

Sticker packs cost 5 cents and captured a variety of player poses reminiscent of Pee Chee subject folders from my middle school days.

Pack wrapper (5 cents)

Local icon Roberto Clemente got his own 9-sticker photo in Pirate uniform, indicating just how much Puerto Ricans loved their native son. The best-known MLBers from this set are #64 Mike Schmidt, considered a pre-rookie in 1972, and #222 Satchel Paige, whose notoriously long career included several stints in the Caribbean. Other HOFers are #132 Goose Gossage, #166 Frank Robinson, #195 Tony Perez, and #197 Orlando Cepeda.


Many collectors would've mounted their stickers in this brightly-colored album, leading to considerable back damage for those removed later and now circulating in the baseball hobby as singles. (Almost all you encounter will be VG or worse.)


The face of Winter League ball--related in part by the history of its Caribbean Series-- changed as minor league affiliations became more codified and scouting resources improved throughout the majors. Local Caribbean economies waxed and waned, so individual leagues sought a more reliable source of funding and ultimately evolved into baseball's off-season farm system. (I noted last week that Cuba will soon allow foreign teams to sign its citizens without defecting, a sea change in political and sports policy that includes a return of national representation to the Caribbean Series for their first time in 50+ years.)

Value: I've never seen a #5 sell singly, so value is uncertain. If you're selling, I'd pay $20-30 for a VG version to add to my type set.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace, but the demand for superstars like Clemente make it possible. I recommend buying from dealers who carry and know the Caribbean market.

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