Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Baseball's Top 5 Non-All-Stars (Hitting Edition)

Some years, it doesn't take much to be an All-Star. Every team gets at least one rep, after all, even the crappy rebuilding franchises riddled with injuries, inexperience, and low expectations. Toronto's Alfredo Griffin took his 48 OPS+ onto the AL's 1984 squad. Pittsburgh closer Mike Williams was a NL rep in 2003 despite a dodgy 25-of-39 save rate. It happens.

1962 Topps #263, Richie Ashburn

But being a questionable choice doesn't mean the team had nowhere else to go. New York's pitiable expansion Mets still had the privilege of sending future HOF Richie Ashburn to 1962's pair of All-Star games. (More on Richie's performance at Paul's Random Baseball Stuff.) The Seattle Mariners of my youth sent a quality starter each season despite otherwise uninspired play. Mediocre All-Stars seem as likely to be situational picks; Griffin made the 1984 roster as an injury sub because he was already at the game with teammate Damaso Garcia.

What about the guys who post great numbers year-in and year-out, but circumstances otherwise conspire against them? They might play a crowded position (talent-wise), lose a close fan vote, or excel in a year the league coaches didn't like them. Here's my top 5 list of those guys, the men whose "good" was never quite "good enough" for a voting public or team manager (sorted by OPS+).

1. Travis Hafner (12 seasons, 134 OPS+)

2007 Topps Turkey Red #156, Travis Hafner

How does a guy with two 1.000+ OPS seasons (both top-10 MVP finishes) miss the All-Star Game? Oh, he played for 4th place Cleveland? Yeah. :-(

2. Bob Nieman (12 seasons, 132 OPS+)

1960 Topps #159, Bob Nieman

Nieman garnered his own top-10 MVP finish in 1956 and posted a handful of other quality seasons, but might've moved around too much to get consistent respect for his solid hitting (career stats).

Sept 14, 1951: Bob Nieman starts his career with two straight homers, baseball's first hitter to do so. He added a single and OF assist for good measure. The Browns lost anyway.

3. Hal Trosky (11 seasons, 130 OPS+)

1934 Goudey Big League Gum #76, Hal Trosky

Since 100 is "average," Trosky's 130 career OPS+ means he reached base or slugged 30% better than middle-of-the-pack hitters. Hal posted a pair of top-10 MVP finishes and 6 seasons with 25+ homers, so he wasn't invisible by any means, just not able to crack 1930s All-Star lineups in a decade replete with future Hall of Famers.

4. Tim Salmon (14 seasons, 128 OPS+)

2002 Fleer Tradition #323, Tim Salmon

Salmon's known in trivia circles as baseball's career home run leader (299) for guys who never played in the All-Star game, so it's no surprise to also see him here. Tim hit like crazy throughout the 1990s, but suffered by playing in an era crowded with excellent All-Star outfields. Still, a unanimous Rookie of the Year award and two more top-10 MVP finishes makes his exclusion stand out.

5. Oscar Gamble (17 seasons, 127 OPS+)

1977 "Topps" White Sox custom card, Oscar Gamble

It's easy to forget (I sure did) that Gamble was both well-traveled and produced everywhere he suited up. After some early-20s growing pains, Oscar consistently hit .260-.290 with power, despite changing addresses almost every off-season (career stats).

The official Topps sets managed to miss Gamble's monster year in Chicago by airbrushing him into a Yankees uni for 1977 and San Diego for 1978, but Oscar posted 31 homers and a .974 OPS for the White Sox anyway. Because to heck with those guys--All-Star voters included--who don't respect the afro.

It was nice to find some surprises in that list, as I'd never considered Nieman or Trosky as consistent career performers prior to building the post. Are there other All-Star Game exclusions that get your goat? And do you think players should only be judged by their first-half numbers or should performance from other seasons also play a role in voting?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

1977 Chong Modesto A's Baseball #5, Ricky (Rickey) Henderson

Today's hazy black-and-white set is an ugly duckling that became, at least for collectors, the beautiful swan. Many minor league collectors even consider this 1970s rarity their Mona Lisa. With an estimated 500 team sets printed (and many discarded since 1977), singles go for four figures in the current marketplace; PSA's article on Rickey notes that one team set sold for over $1300 in 2007.

1970s card publisher Chong Enterprises included a lot of bat in Henderson's photo and didn't quite get his name right, but captured Rickey's squinty focus. ("Rickey might have bad days, but Rickey would never spell Rickey without the 'e.' Don't worry, Rickey, you're still the best.")

This particular image isn't well-known, but it reappeared in a 1980s "Klector's Mints" series by NYC cab driver and baseball fan Bernard Kleckner. He recolored black-and-white sports photos with chalk and printed cards for taxi customers as a way to generate repeat business.

Kleckner handed out 400 of each card in his series, similar to the print run of Chong's Modesto team set, but demand and cost for the 1977 original runs far higher, the hobby being what it is.

Chong printed a 22-card team set for Modesto, Oakland's affiliate in the single-A California League, and players in bold went on to appear in the majors.
  1. Ted Smith
  2. Barry Wright
  3. Craig Minetto
  4. Dominic Scala
  5. Ricky (Rickey) Henderson
  6. Jesse Wright
  7. Mike Rodriguez
  8. Ernie Camacho
  9. Pat Dempsey
  10. Randy Green
  11. Mike Patterson
  12. Mace Harrison
  13. Rod Patterson
  14. Monte Bothwell
  15. Bart Braun
  16. Rich Oziomiela
  17. Tom Trebelhorn, Manager
  18. Rod McNeely
  19. Ron Beaurivage
  20. Brian Meyl
  21. John Eisinger
  22. Juan Gomez / Tom Trebelhorn

#22 shows both Juan Gomez and team manager Tom Trebelhorn, but it's not clear to me whether this Gomez is the same Juan Gomez drafted out of a New Jersey high school in June of 1977 by Detroit. (That Juan Gomez didn't appear in a pro game until 1978, so I assume this Juan Gomez was a trainer or team official.)

Value: Lew Lipset auctioned a "Ricky" for $750 in 2011. It's fair to say you'll pay hundreds, if not more, for one of the few that remain in the open market. (The latest one I saw was a Buy-It-Now listing on eBay for $15K+ and hasn't been sold; completed auctions are hard to come by.)

Fakes / reprints: As a Hall of Fame pre-rookie, Henderson's at high risk for fakery. Chong also reprinted this card (with a new border and back text) for their 1989 Modesto Alumni set, so anything that says "alumni" is from that issue.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Top Five Interesting Things About 1958 Topps

1958 marks a point of significant transition for modern set design. Here are five things that distinguish this one for baseball fans and collectors.

1. California adds first MLB franchises at New York's expense

Brooklyn Dodgers in LA...
...and New York Giants in SF

2. A little too much yellow ink

Thirty-three of the first 108 cards have yellow player or team names, giving variation fans some extra work. Best-known is #30, Hank Aaron.

3. First All-Star cards (#474-495) & the return of Stan Musial

This Topps set debuted All-Star Game lineups (from 1958's game in Baltimore) and its late-season series featured the first mass-produced Stan Musial card since Bowman's 1953 photo set. It's even possible Topps added this All-Star subset thanks to Musial's return; they made it a regular feature soon after.

TRIVIA: Given the 1958 All-Star Game's proximity to Washington, D.C., MLB invited Vice President Richard Nixon to throw out its first pitch, a task he repeated many times as President.

4. Ed Bouchee, You're Outta Here (no #145)

Major League Baseball suspended Ed Bouchee for most of 1958, so Topps did the same.

While Ed appears on this checklist at #145, no card of Bouchee exists outside of hobby creations like the one by SCD editor Bob Lemke.

5. Team Card are Checklists and Checklists are Team Cards

#44 above is also the Washington Senators team card, as Topps first integrated set tracking into the "regular" series.

Topps left 1956 & 1957 checklists unnumbered, assuming kids would discard them after filling all the boxes. Customers might've requested this change, or at least responded well to it, because Topps made it a part of numbered sets going forward.

The Hall of Thanks

OldBaseball.com friends Wes Shepard, Mark Zentkovich, Lynn Miller, Sal Domino, Kevin Martens, and Don Rice all aided my upgrade quest; several hits shown below.

Jan 22: four-pack of upgrades from Mr. Haverkamp!

For posterity, here's the Walt "Moron" card he upgraded. Ouch.

Aug 4: Upgraded #227 Vern Stephens at the 2014 National!

July 30: Five six upgrades from OldBaseball.com brothers at the 2015 National!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

1969-70 Transogram Baseball Figures #5, Jose Cardenal

Every now and then, a company produced actual baseball statues, just right for collectors to build little ballparks on their desks and bedroom floors. Toy company Transogram produced just such a lineup in 1969, crafting 60 different 3.5" plastic players in all.

Each one came in a cellophane display box and, over time, jostling could leave figures in unsettling poses. Arms are not supposed to flap like wings, even for guys named after a bird species.

Card number and photo from box flap

Numbers appear on the inside top flap and back panels included a trim-away card, which are easier to find than the boxes or statues.

The actual statues look generic, apart from a player name slapped on the back (full checklist).

Al Kaline statue with glued-on label

Transogram statues came out a few years before my time, so I know Kenner's similar line of "Starting Lineup" sets much better. They debuted in 1988 and most collectors picked up at least a few of their favorite players.

1988 Starting Lineup, Don Mattingly

Value: Transograms should be much rarer than Starting Lineup, but I found many of the players on eBay for affordable money. What you'll spend depends on how you want to collect them.
  1. Full boxes start at $25 and go up quickly. Mantle can push $1000 in NM condition.
  2. Cards trimmed from the box cost a few dollars for "commons" and $20+ for stars
  3. Statues alone price about the same as cards, though fewer of them survive
  4. Numbered card flaps cost $1 (commons) to about $20 (Mantle)

Fake / Reprints: Haven't seen reprints in the market, but it would be fairly easy for both cards and box flaps, so familiarize yourself with the set first if you're going to buy ungraded superstars.

Friday, January 17, 2014

1921 W516-2-1, W516-2-2, and W516-2-3 Baseball #5, Ty Cobb

I've written in the past about the strip cards dubbed W516, four classifying characters in a hobby whose apex of collectibles is the sprawling T206 set, dubbed "The Monster" by those who attempt it. While filled with variety, this umbrella covers a much smaller patch of ground.

On close inspection, W516 contains two different checklists (of the same 30 players) with two or three hand-written and typeset design permutations, for five total subsets. The #5 card for W516-1's checklist (two subsets) is Tris Speaker and for W516-2 (three subsets), it's Ty Cobb.

Thanks to eBay and auction listings, I've located scans for all three W516-2 Cobb variations. They're Ty's cheapest cards to acquire from his active career, due to limited collector interest in strip cards, so-called because most were bought in (and cut from) multi-card strips from vending machines at 1920s fairs and arcades.

W516-2-1: Typeset name, flipped image and IFC © 

W516-2-2: Hand-written name, flipped image and IFC © 

W516-2-3: Typeset name, correct image and IFC © 

Of these variations, only W516-2-3 correctly shows Cobb as a righty. The "IFC ©" points to William Randolph Hearst's International Feature Service, which I talk about more in my W516 Tris Speaker profile.

It'd be interesting to build the W516 subsets and might be the most affordable way to add legends like Ruth and Cobb to your collection. Good luck to any who accept that challenge! Find a thorough subset breakdown and galleries at OldCardboard.

UPDATE: As noticed by Commishbob, the W516-1-* subsets moved Ty Cobb to #6 with otherwise similar designs.

W516-1-1: Hand-written name, correct image and IFC © 

W516-1-2: Hand-written name, flipped image and IFC © 

Value: I bought a beat-up W516 Cobb for $20 not many years ago, so hold to the thought that $50 or less is reasonable for low-grade versions (with bad trimming or other damage). Some dealers assume any Ty Cobb card is worth hundreds of dollars, so prices vary significantly.

Fakes / reprints: I make the blanket assumption that all vintage Cobbs have been reprinted or faked in the past, so recommend working with a dealer you trust for these kind of purchases.

Monday, January 6, 2014

1951 Packard Sports Library #5, Baseball's 1924 World Series (Giants vs. Senators)

2014 marks two World Series "anniversaries" for John McGraw. First, it's been 110 years ago since he turned down a post-season series against AL pennant-winners Boston, calling his NY Giants champion "of the only real major league."

NL executives later realized how much they stood to gain financially by staging post-season exhibitions and McGraw went on to manage in several World Series, winning three. His final such appearance (1924 vs. Washington) is captured on #5 in this "Sports Library" series of digests produced by Packard Motor Cars. (McGraw is at lower-left, opposite Washington manager Bucky Harris.)

In 1924, New York marked the first time a team had played in 4 straight World Series, with the Giants winning in 1921-22 and losing to the AL in 1923-24. The series itself went a full seven games and the photo below captures Washington on the cusp of winning it all, as Earl McNeely's grounder bounced over third and scored Muddy Ruel in the bottom of the 12th inning. (It'd be Washington's only franchise title until after their move to Minnesota.)

Packard Motors printed their 5"x7", 16-page magazines for placement in showroom lobbies and service stations from 1951 to 1957 and this #5's from the initial year. Its 2-hole punch implies it came in a binder with other Sports Library issues or car sales info. Issues without punches, like Babe below, probably went out by mail.

1952 Packard Sports Library #15, Babe Ruth

Packard customized most magazines with a business address and many issues in the hobby today survive thanks to collectors who obtained autographs from 1950s stars like Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson on their covers.

1955 Packard Sports Library #4, autographed by Jackie Robinson

While not exactly cards, these issues make for interesting Americana, as an overlap of the post-WWII boom in automobiles and sports fandom. Individual articles read like time capsules from an era of classic sportswriting and are worth checking out just for that sweet 1950s art style.

Value: Single issues are easy to find on Amazon or eBay and non-baseball covers generally cost less than $20. Baseball stars in decent shape, like the Ruth cover above, might run more.

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