Wednesday, December 17, 2008

1965 Topps Baseball #5, AL RBI leaders

The 1964 AL league leaders include a range of players and teams, all skilled with the bat. (Most are known for more besides.)
  • Ah yes, Mantle, Topps icon and regular run producer. He continued to light up the scoreboard, even as the late-1960s Yankees sank to the second division.
  • Harmon Killebrew's towering shots equaled the Mick in force, if not in lasting fame. Like other tailing sluggers from the mid-70s, Killer dipped a toe in the new free agent market to finish his career in Kansas City. One year, 14 HR, .199 batting average.
  • Dick Stuart, a.k.a “Dr. Strangeglove,” tallied more errors than round-trippers some seasons. Observers agree that every play at first felt like an adventure.
  • Finally (and firstly), Brooks Robinson, who took advantage of his prime of life to pound out 118 RBIs in 1964 and set career highs in many offensive categories. “The Human Vacuum Cleaner” added an MVP to his credentials that year, beating out a second-place Mantle.

    Card front

    Topps debuted league leader cards in the 1960 set and they continue to this day. Multi-player cards stretch back significantly further, both post-war and pre-war. As baseball fell increasingly under the spell of statistics, the cachet of plating the most runners or striking out more hitters than the next guy also rose. Hence, I assume, the desire to add this kind of subset to the mix. Perhaps it's also an easy way to get less-than-the-best photos onto cardboard. This LL card shows alternate poses for each player, kind of like home-and-away jerseys. One particular player jumped around enough that we need the Internet just to keep track of things.

    • The Mick's regular card shows him batting righty, kind of a cool switch from this lefty close-up.
    • Killebrew's #400 moves the portrait to a different angle.
    • Brooksie's smiling mug dominates his “regular” card, not far removed from 1957's rookie pose.
    • Dick Stuart's card throws a bucket of cold water over the whole process. First, the picture's clearly a hatless Pirate uni, probably taken in 1962. Pittsburgh traded him to Boston prior to spring training 1963. He indeed finished runner-up in 1964 AL RBIs, but the Sox shipped him to Philadelphia around Thanksgiving. Topps slapped a PHILLIES flag on the old photo and voila, he appears for both American and National League teams in the same set.

      Monday, December 15, 2008

      1960 Bazooka Baseball #5, Milt Pappas

      Once cigarette cards petered out in the early 20th century, gum companies stepped in to pick up the mantle with their own sugary products. Post-WWII, Topps and Bowman took over the field with large-count sets, echoing Goudey Gum's pre-war success. In both cases, it was hard to tell which came first financially, the gum or the cards, but at least the players are still with us.

      Card front (blank back)

      Before long, the newly crowned Topps Goliath cast about for ways to expand the baseball market. Enter their subsidiary Bazooka, my childhood synonym for bubblegum. They printed cards directly on gum boxes for trimming with scissors, much like Post cereal sets from the same era.
      The 1960 set featured 36 numbered cards and our #5 guest, Baltimore righty Milt Pappis. See this cool proof sheet for a good overview of the set itself, if divorced from the final, gum-protecting product. Relative to their over-sized 1959 set, the three-panel layout made for small individual cards and less impressive photos. Physical limits aside, Bazooka did capture some nice images, and Milt's one of the few that look stoic and static.

      Although one of the 1960s' strongest starters, today's guest could've been even better in ideal career circumstances. For all his boyish good looks and pitching acumen, personality conflicts crowded Mr. Pappas like a hard-breaking slider. His Wikipedia entry mentions a number of issues with managers, fans, and umpires, even lingering to the present day. Of course, a greater man than I would be sore to miss out on a perfect game with a walk. At least make the batter work for it, ump!

      Tuesday, December 9, 2008

      1954 Topps #5, Ed Lopat

      Junkballer Ed Lopat made the most of a career in the Yankees organization, winning 163 games in 12 pinstriped seasons. He hurled at least 20 games each season, completed almost as many as he won, and led the league in ERA and W/L% in 1953, the year prior to today's card. The Yanks beat the Bums in 6 games for another World Series win and “Steady Eddie” tossed all 9 innings in game 2, winning 4-2 on the strength of late inning homers by Billy Martin and Mickey Mantle.

      Card front

      Note the eccentric top border, an edge-bleed color that overlaps one side of the print row to those above. The printer laid out the 100-card sheet with flip-flopping rows to achieve this effect, something visible in the Topps Archives blog profile. The overall look resembles a mis-cut, though spacing on the other three edges can confirm the centering as good, bad, or ugly.

      Card back

      The 1954 design clearly bridges the early big-card efforts to the mid-50s. Black-and-white body photos accent a tinted portrait against a solid background. This multi-image presentation moved to a landscape in 1955 and included full-field action shots in 1956, but saved full-color for 1957.

      Friday, December 5, 2008

      1954 Red Man AL #5, Sherm Lollar

      Sherm Lollar played catcher in the AL for 18 seasons and 4 different teams, starting with the Cleveland Indians in 1946 and finishing with 11 quality years on the (as pictured) Chicago White Sox. He made 7 All-Star teams and garnered MVP votes in six different years. Several skills stand out as even more valued now than then.

      1. Walked more often than struck out in every full season
      2. Batted at least 100 OPS+ in half his seasons, including 5 in a row from 1955-1959
      3. Three Gold Gloves, including the combo AL/NL award for 1957
      4. Took one for the team a lot, finishing in the top 10 HBP 11 times

      Card front

      Germane to the type collection, Mr. Lollar managed the Tucson Toros for a couple of years in the early 70s. Yes, the very same team of the worst uniform ever (and not just in Arizona). Viva Toros!

      Thursday, December 4, 2008

      1953 Johnson Cookies Braves Baseball #5, Lew Burdette

      Lew's the first player to appear in my type card profiles that I met personally. A couple years prior to Mr. Burdette's death from lung cancer in 2007, he toured New England area card shows, signing pictures and cards for $10 each. (My dad, a childhood Braves fan, received that Lew-modified 1961 Topps card.)

      A few things stood out upon meeting the man himself. He must've been 78 at the time, but damn he still seemed tall, slim, and farmhand strong. Hands big enough to put a curve on a cantaloupe swallowed up my city boy fingers like combat boots eat shoelaces. Sharp eyes, exact facial features, and a rumbling voice completed the image of a former elite athlete in his golden years.

      The only weakness on that championship frame seemed to be hearing, as a friend of Lew's did a lot of “translating” by repeating what you said into his right ear. Over a couple of minutes, I got across how important the Braves were to my 10 year-old dad and thanked him for making the trip north from sunnier Florida. Along with Eddie Mathews (by mail), former Milwaukee players make up the only two times I've paid for an autograph.

      How about the cards themselves? As you can guess from the set title, they came with packs of cookies and profiled the local Milwaukee team. Manager Charlie Grimm led off the set and 24 players followed, including the HOFers Spahn and Mathews. See the full TCDB gallery for its portraits and these glossy collars on Braves undershirts!

      Friday, November 28, 2008

      Memorial to 19th Century player Frank Grant

      I joined several friends at the summertime Williamstown Theatre Festival (aka W.T.F.) earlier this year. During a stroll through the main business area, we discovered this sturdy memorial to Frank Grant, one of the most prominent 19th Century players and a 2006 HOF inductee. (That's 103 years after the end of his career for those scoring at home.)

      The memorial's stoic quality impressed me and I'm happy to learn a little more about this pioneer of the game, whether you think of him as an African-American player, or just a power-hitting second basemen. This rock-and-plaque sits in Williamstown, but Frank's hometown is nearby Pittsfield, MA. You can catch games featuring the Pittsfield American Defenders (formerly "Dukes") during the summer at its Wahconah Park, one of the last American parks to feature wooden grandstands.

      Tuesday, November 25, 2008

      1932-34 Orbit Baseball Pins (numbered, PR2) #5, Frank Grube

      Orbin published two sets of baseball pinbacks in 1932, one with numbers (cataloged PR2) and one without (cataloged PR3). Their tiny presentation area doesn't allow for much expression, so Frank Grube looks kind of squinty and irritable, packed into that upper-third of old-school catching gear.

      This set parallels two other Orbit Gum releases, as the company sought to make more with less effort. As mentioned, the PR3 pin issue re-used the same pictures and players, but left off the numbers. The images showed up yet again in 1933 on the R305 Tattoo Orbits, a set notable for bright colors in a black-and-white era. The full PR2 checklist includes both skip-numbering and a handful of variations.

      The above scan is hard-to-find Near-Mint pin, currently on eBay for $50 BIN. Most Orbit pins look more the dinged and scratched Grube below; that's the one I actually own.

      Value: Low grade commons cost $5-10. Many collectors grade and slab the nice ones just to keep them stored flat, since buttons don't fit well in binders next to cards.

      Fakes / reprints: It would be tough to fake a pin, but the set does include several Hall of Famers, so I recommend buying a type "card" from dealers with vintage expertise.

      Sunday, November 23, 2008

      1941 Double Play Baseball #5, Linus Frey

      This interesting set from Gum, Inc. (also the producers of Play Ball) pictures two teammates on each card. Simple demographics and performance info (i.e., "batted .266") fill out the details and make for a very minimal appearance. At two each, 75 pieces of cardboard total 150 players, including a variety of well-known and forgotten players. See the complete checklist for all of the card combos.

      Card front (blank back)

      Mr. Frey's teammate, (and #6) Johnny Vander Meer, went missing at some point, making this card perfectly suitable for this type collection. Most of the pictures look like Linus, vertical portraits with decent lighting. A few (mostly in the middle of the set) capture them at distance or in action, including a nice double batting shot of Ted Williams and Joe Cronin.

      Though some show up as "individual" cards (probably thanks to kids from the 40s), most modern collectors go for intact Double Plays. They're not particularly hard to find, but anything pre-war and in decent shape commands high prices these days. I had the good fortune to score a complete set that'd been trimmed into pairs (and later reassembled using tape) for $300 last year on eBay.

      The composition quality varies quite a bit, so look for a nice pair of photos if you want a type card of your own. #77/78 shows one of the better choices; Bob Feller always takes a good picture and his fellow Indian Joe Krakauskas looked happy to be paired with him, even if he couldn't crack the Cleveland rotation itself.

      Monday, November 17, 2008

      1945-46 Caramelo Deportivo Baseball #5, Quico ("Kiko") Magrinat

      I miss the classic cap-and-tie umpire fashion shown on today's card, since retired in favor of more utilitarian hats and polo shirts. While a good deal more comfortable and movement-friendly, it's nowhere near as natty.

      Creasing and fading aside, Quico Magrinat presents well for mid-1940s camera and printing technology. He’s part of a 100-card set from Cuba's Caramelo Deportivo cigars dubbed Felices. They packaged each paper-thin player in packs of tobacco products and most collectors pasted them into an album (see below) directly over pictures of the cards themselves.

      Even when cards didn’t end up glued in place, their fragile nature means that almost any example you find will be low-grade. My own copy is creased and stained, but otherwise legible.

      American umpires occasionally made cameos in sets and their best showing's from the high series of 1955 Bowman. (Putting umps on cards helped the flagging company fill out their checklist at a time of fierce competition with Topps over "real" players.)

      1955 Bowman #303, HOF umpire Jocko Conlan

      My favorite contemporary card is of Bob Motley, the former Negro League umpire who appeared in 2008 Allen & Ginter.

      2008 Allen & Ginter #261, Bob Motley

      Caramelo Deportivo printed this colorful collector album for its 1945-46 set.

      The album's opening page includes the league umpires, with #5 Magrinat at right.

      This particular album's mentioned in The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball by Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, who calls it "a relic of an age about to end."

      Google Books excerpt from The Pride of Havana

      The "age about to end" was Cuba's first era of Cuban-run professional baseball, which re-aligned with USA leagues and owners for the decade prior to Castro's 1959 revolution. International tourism rose, American games started appearing on Cuban TV, and kids bought packs of Bowman or Topps in Havana candy stores. Domestic card production continued through 1958 (see for examples), but never reached the quality seen stateside. Post-revolution Cuba broke diplomatic ties and disbanded their pro league, leaving these post-WWII sets as our readiest pictorial record of the teams and players.

      Value: I picked up the pictured #5 for $15 from Most cards on eBay are position players and former Negro Leaguers generate the highest prices.

      Fakes / reprints: It'd be easy enough to counterfeit these black-and-white cards with modern equipment, but fakers might find limited interest from collectors, given the set's low profile (and pictured umpire).

      Friday, November 14, 2008

      1980 O-Pee-Chee Baseball #5, Ron Jackson

      Many consider O-Pee-Chee (aka, OPC) a Topps hanger-on, or simply the Canadian version of an American classic. Surely the relationship's more nuanced, but it's easy to understand the impression. Collectors, focused as we are on cardboard, could assume as much from OPC's re-used designs and very similar checklists. Until the late 1970s, the two companies differed primarily in two things: paper stock and the inclusion of French.

      1980's OPC set again mirrors the American design, but the checklist and overall set focus differs notably. Topps led off with 6 “Highlight” cards that celebrated 3000-hit plateaus and a handful of record breakers. (Their #5 is Garry Templeton cracking 100 hits from each side of the plate for the first time.) OPC, on the other hand, went right into “normal” players. Craig Swan received #1 after his excellent 1979 campaign. Twins outfielder Ron Jackson bats fifth, a more glamorous (to me) position than Topps #18.

      With 28 active teams, the set should include about 26 players each. Does OPC's Canadian roots mean a greater share for Toronto and Montreal than more geographically distant teams?
      • Montreal Expos: 28 cards
      • San Diego Padres: 26
      • Texas Rangers: 29
      • Toronto Blue Jays: 27
      Numbers say the answer is "no." Canadian sets (including OPC and Leaf) would later dedicate a larger share to their countrymen, but that's just not how they rolled in 1980.

      Value: Only superstars cost more than a quarter or so for cards from the 1980s.

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

      Thursday, November 13, 2008

      1941 Play Ball Baseball #5, Buck McCormick

      A number of side stories lurk peripherally near 1941's Play Ball set. First, there's the building war in Europe, which sapped both headlines and raw materials stateside. Second, color printing finally arrived in a major set, something that came and went for a decade before Topps and Bowman finally made it the default in the 1950s. Third, Play Balls maintain enough appeal (and demand) that modern collectors should be cognizant of reprints and especially counterfeits. Of the half-dozen fakes from my own history of eBay purchases, three of them were from 1940 and 1941.

      Card front

      With all that extra stuff going on, the cards themselves can become just incidental holes to fill in a binder. Don't let that happen to your PBs! Even this picture of Buck McCormick, a strong-but-forgotten player, shows off some interesting design and fan-friendly features.
      1. A nickname replaces his given name, Frank. (1940 Play Balls did this too, but that (much larger) set included a number of retired players as a “bonus.”)
      2. The three bands of color imply practice swings in front of an outfield wall, but look abstractly artful.
      3. Minimal borders mean more space for interesting use of perspective and a paint-by-numbers feel.

      Card back

      Several players feature pop-off-the-card design concepts. (Vince DiMaggio is one of my favorites.) See the full complement of coolness at Dan Austin's Virtual Card Collection page.

      Friday, November 7, 2008

      1953 Canadian Exhibits #5, Vic Raschi

      Chicago's Exhibit Supply Co. created over-sized sets of photo cards for several decades, usually one--but occasionally four--players each. They came in penny arcade machines, like how my GenX childhood brain remembers Ford Gum. Almost every “issue” went out without a numbering system (and thus, lacking #5), probably because they thought about fan interest more than collecting interest. Buyers of non-sport subjects (movie stars, boxers, etc.) don't worry about “seasons,” so the company didn't either.

      Card front

      That said, all hail the Canadians! This 1953 set does focus on baseball and numbers each of its 64 players. The checklist mixes USA heavyweights like Jackie Robinson, Musial, DiMaggio, and Williams with Montreal minor leaguers, including (among others) future HOF managers Walt Alston and Tommy Lasorda, the latter a full year before his first Topps card.

      Yankee pitcher Vic Raschi's sweeping follow-through fills in #5 and, like the rest of the set, comes in a pair of colors, depending on series. (1-32 come in purple or green and 33-64 are blue or brown.) Vic's nickname, “The Springfield Rifle,” caught my eye, since it came from his Massachusetts hometown, a place where I also lived back in the 1990s. Until I write a much-celebrated and venerated Great American Novel, it's rightly known for the basketball HOF and Dr. Seuss.

      Monday, November 3, 2008

      1977 Hostess (and Twinkie) #5, Thurman Munson

      Thurman Munson served as sixth captain of the New York Yankees from 1976 until his death in a 1979 plane crash. He performed brilliantly at bat and behind the plate, becoming the only Yank ever to capture both the ROY (1970) and MVP (1976). The team retired uniform #15 in 1979, signifying the magnitude of his contributions despite the relative brevity of his career.

      Card front

      Badly in need of a boost out of their 1960s malaise, homegrown talent like Munson and free agent signees like Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson drove them to three consecutive World Series appearances from 1976 to 1978. The volatile combination of George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, and Jackson provided lots of grist for the media mill, even as the team itself returned to prominence. With Jim Rice and Fred Lynn leading a parallel resurrection in Boston, the inter-team rivalry reached a frenzied peak now familiar (and fatiguing) to baseball fans from other cities.

      This particular Hostess set continues the theme and distribution style from those released earlier in the 1970s. Each snack box contained a panel of three players surrounded by a dotted line, all the better for scissoring into individuals. (Munson's panel is 4-5-6, sandwiching him between Yaz and Bench.) A relatively large number of panels made it to the modern day uncut, so some collectors build it entirely intact.

      If you see a full, uncut card without left-and-right companions, it's actually part of the Twinkie set. That “parallel” set packaged one card with each sponge cake, which made for somewhat easier trimming. (Twinkie cards more frequently show a dark yellow stain from the cake.) Card fronts for both sets show the same picture and differ only slightly on the back, where Twinkie cards include a black bar (or rectangle) along one edge. “Regular” Hostess card backs show stats but no bar.

      Wednesday, October 29, 2008

      1980 TCMA All-Time Yankees #5, Babe Ruth

      I suppose it doesn't get more All-Time Yankee than Babe Ruth. This 1980 TCMA set numbers 12 cards, one for each meaningful position on the field, with two starting pitchers (Red Ruffing, Whitey Ford), a relief pitcher (Johnny Murphy) and manager (Casey Stengel). The Bambino serves as right fielder.

      Card front

      Card back

      TCMA pumped out six different All-Time sets in 1980, using roughly the same format for the Cubs, White Sox, Yankees, Tigers, Giants, and Dodgers and most say "All-Time [Team Name]" on the front somewhere. The Yankees are an exception, showing only the player name and an old-style portrait frame. It's an interesting enough set, though there's no problem finding other oddball examples for most of the players—and probably with better pictures at that.

      Value: I pulled this Ruth a few years back from a dealer's $3 box at the Fort Washington (aka Philly Show) card expo.

      Fakes / reprints: Not even Ruth and Gehrig make this kind of set worth reprinting, so the risk is pretty low!

      Monday, October 27, 2008

      1970-71 Dayton Daily News M137 Baseball #5, Frank Robinson

      This Frank Robinson newspaper “card” comes from way back in 1970, two years before my own name appeared in the birth section. His career still in full swing, Frank both started for the 1970 AL All-Star team and won the series for the Orioles over his previous team, the Cincinnati Reds. As good as he was then, Frank's gaudy numbers from the pitching-friendly 60s could've been even bigger under the fitness and power-first practices of today's game.

      Card front (newspaper back)

      These “bubble-gumless cards” came from a Dayton newspaper, who created that year's set to support Cincinnati's hosting of the 1970 All-Star Game. The paper printed a set of 160 players and covered every corner of the country, not just Orioles and Reds.

      After Cincinnati won the NL pennant in 1970, Dayton reran a similar (but not identical) checklist for 1971, adding 1970 season stats, alternate photos, and swapping some players who changed teams or retired. This created a maddening number of variations for collectors who like to work on such challenges. Good thing I'm happy with just a type card!

      Portion of 1970-71 checklist

      The (currently inactive) blog Uncatalogued Baseball Cards checklisted both years of "cards" in their entry for Dayton Daily News. See that link for a downloadable PDF of the full checklist. Note that checklist says #196 is "unknown," but it's since been ID'd as Bob Matheson in a Dayton set variations thread from Net54.

      Johnny Bench is one of a handful with three variations: his "2b" version adds "All-Star" and red tinting to recognize his hometown appearance in the 1970 All-Star game at Cincinnati's Riverfront Park.

      July 11, 1970 "All-Star" variation

      While this set's technically "catalogued" in the SCD annual vintage guide, no less than erstwhile SCD editor Bob Lemke agreed these bits of newspaper could be dropped in future editions, if space in the annual guide became a premium. This forum thread on Net54 debated if newspaper cutouts meet a minimum bar for "cards" and could thus be excluded. Decades later, debates about our hobby remain with us!

      Update: Frank Robinson picked up this variation one year later with a new photo and fresh stats. Thanks to another collector who laid out their dates and differences.

      Value: An oddball dealer at the National Sports Card Collectors Show of 2007 sold me this #5 for $10. The red ink pen (somewhat visible at the lower right) notes Frank was “Triple Crown Winner in 1966," which no doubt knocked a little off the final price.

      Fakes/reprints: It would be easy to copy and reprint these newspaper clippings, so its saving grace are the scant awareness and low demand for this kind of set. Type cards should cost you a few bucks at most, unless you want its biggest names.

      Friday, October 24, 2008

      1910 Philadelphia Caramel Baseball (E96) #5, Red Dooin

      Early Philadelphia catcher Red Dooin couldn't hit much, but understood pitchers well enough to parlay limited physical talents into a 15-year career, 5 of them as player-manager for the Phillies. He debuted on the dugout steps in 1910, the same year this caramel set hit candy stores.

      Many credit Red with the emergence of HOFer Grover Cleveland Alexander, a diamond discovery for any scout or coach. I credit Philadelphia Caramel with hand-tinting Red's hair for their set.

      Tobacco companies collectively exited the baseball card market in the early 20th century, just as commercial candy production became viable. These Philadelphia Caramels, also known by their E96 American Card Catalog number, feature a tinted portrait on the front and 30-player checklist on the back. Although there's no prominent "number 5," the card itself catalogs Red that way.

      I'm not sure where the March 27, 1912 stamp came from, but one possibility is a stock marking. Stores often marked merchandise upon arrival, and earlier issues sometimes show a date in pencil. However, most E96 cards came in candy packages, so it's more likely someone wanted to stamp things and tested the ink on some nearby paper--their card of Mr. Dooin.

      Facts of great importance: The 1915 pennant-winning squad featured a rookie named Bud Weiser.

      Value: Based on completed eBay auctions, low grade E96s go for $25-50. (Some dealers price graded singles $200 and up, where they go unsold, week after week; eBay's an odd marketplace these days.)

      Fakes / reprints: Reprints exist for the whole set and that goes double for the big-name players. (While not a star himself, it's possible someone reprinted this Dooin and went to great lengths to conceal that fact by trashing the card itself; it's a common strategy on fakes of high-value Ruths and Cobbs.)

      Friday, October 17, 2008

      1948 R346 "Blue Tint" Baseball #5, John Lindell

      This postwar oddball set probably came from fairway vending machines, several cards to a vertical strip. A certain number would be trimmed by the machine itself and eager collectors with scissors would handle the rest. Many card photos I've seen look like copies of studio shots taken for team publications. (John's picture even shows most of a facsimile autograph along its bottom edge.)

      My #5 card back features the "mirror" John see below. It's likely a printing accident, where someone placed one card sheet directly onto another, still wet from the press.

      Card back (transferred ink)

      Surprisingly, several players from the set's short checklist still resonate with today's collectors. Lou Gehrig makes an unexpected posthumous appearance amid active luminaries like DiMaggio, Williams, Jackie Robinson, and Spahn. Despite the low-quality printing, some vendors charge a pretty penny for the big names. If you really want a Ted Williams card from his playin' days, stick with the normal (and beautiful) 1950s Topps cards and leave R348s to the rarity-obsessed.

      Coincidental with the year of issue, the set numbers 48 cards, but includes a number of variations for picky collectors. Some show different teams, a few come in black-and-white instead of blue, and others lack a number on the front. Master set builders--and you know who you are--probably find the set tough going because few circulated in the first place, let alone any subgroups.

      UPDATE: Johnny Mize's card features an odd STL logo I've never seen on another card. To double up the mystery, he last played for the Cardinals in 1941, several years before this set came out. Anyone have an idea where or when this picture came from?

      Value: This #5 cost $6 on eBay, typical for low-grade cards. Superstars like Williams, Robinson, and DiMaggio run far more, even in low-grade.

      Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any, but they probably exist for the big names. Go for the lesser-known players if you want a type card to avoid that risk.

      Thursday, October 16, 2008

      1957 Topps #5, Sal Maglie

      Three things to love about this card:
      • Sal's nickname, "the barber," came from his willingness to throw beard-trimming brush back pitches.
      • Something held this card fast before being forcibly removed. Whatever plucked it away didn't use anything so cunning as a razor. Did a young collector tape it to his bedroom wall?
      • It's a Brooklyn Dodger! 1957 marked Topps' first year of full-color photos and the Bums moved to LA for 1958, so we don't see much of Ebbets Field on classic cardboard.

      Card front

      Most of my 1957 set looks like Sal not only brushed it back, but went in and stepped on it, too. The cards feature a lot of writing, creasing, and paper loss of varying sizes. The PSA folks might cringe, but I find (for example) Mr. Maglie's card more entertaining than a high-grade equivalent.

      Card back

      Even at low-grade, the short-printed middle series takes a while to put together. Rookie cards of the Yankee middle infielders Tony Kubek (#312) and Bobby Richardson (#286) both command high prices. When I gave a 1957 Milwaukee Braves team set to my dad, it originally lacked Wes Covington (#283) since I simply couldn't find it, high-priced or otherwise.

      1956 remains my favorite Topps set, but a number of collectors prefer 1957's color photography and improved rookie class. (Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, and Don Drysdale count as three of the best.) I give the edge to 1956's two-picture composition and larger, horizontal cards. Fortunately, that just splits hairs between two of the best options. It's nothing like deciding what's worse, 1969's hatless expansion set or 1968's burlap sack borders.

      Tuesday, October 14, 2008

      1973 Topps Baseball #5, Ed Brinkman

      In the age of excellent card photography, this big glasses, helmet-less, hunchback composition of Mr. Brinkman looks like a red-headed stepcard.

      The cameraman probably caught Ed awaiting batting practice and surprised him with a head-high paparazzi fastball. My short play Waiting for Brinkman captures the moment.

      Cameraman: "Hey, Ed!"

      Ed Brinkman: "WHAT?" [Ed spins and hunkers down, ready to protect himself from a bullet or shaving cream pie.]

      Cameraman: Cheese! [He takes a photo. Curtain.]

      This might be Ed's lamest card. 1964's "Ennui" Brinkman comes close, but at least we know what he actually looks like. 1973's version looks like generic 70s Detroit Tiger.

      As an everyday player and fan favorite for the 1960s Senators, Ed set many franchise records with the glove and even placed highly with the stick due to longevity. Fielding prowess led to some MVP votes in 1973 despite a .205 (!) batting average. His last hurrah came in 153 games with the 1974 Tigers, where he produced a career-high 14 homers and 54 RBIs.

      Unfortunately, Mr. Brinkman passed away on Sept 30th at age 66. RIP, Steady Eddie!

      Thursday, October 9, 2008

      1960 Leaf #5, Frank "Pancho" Herrera

      Mr. Herrera looks pleased as rum punch to take the field for the Phillies, despite 1960's last place finish and 59-95 record. The Leaf set's high-contrast black-and-white compliments his Cuban skin and the backlight halo makes him positively beatific. You need this kind of attitude on last place teams, given how quickly the losing can grind players down.

      Card front

      Pancho played almost every game at first base in 1960 and hit productively enough to finish runner-up in the ROY voting. He also posted 17 appearances at second base, something rare by today's standards. An overall fielding percentage of .988 reveals real limitations with the glove, but his stick led the team's regulars in 2B, 3B, HRs, RBIs and only Tony Gonzalez slugged better as a regular player (but with half the ABs).

      It's evident Herrera hit like a classic first-baseman. Perhaps unfortunately for his career, he struck out like the modern version. Many now think that 136 Ks don't matter much when you excel at hitting for power and are otherwise productive. Someone who did so in previous generations, unfortunately, needed to be a star to escape the "swing at anything" stigma. Setting the major league record for Ks (as he did) in your rookie season makes for a challenging first impression.

      Considering his two years of above-average production, it intrigues me that Pancho never appeared in a game after 1961. Herrera spent 1962 at Triple-A Buffalo and the Phillies eventually traded him to Pittsburgh as part of a deal for a fading Don Hoak. Although only 29 in 1963, the Pirates apparently couldn't find a position for him and that was, as they say, "it." Occasional appearances at Philly old-timer games tell the remainder of his story in uniform.

      Monday, October 6, 2008

      1965 Topps Embossed #5, Bill Skowron

      One could argue there's not much to say about this shiny (but otherwise unremarkable) Topps insert set from the mid-1960s. Another card blog I know, Things Done to Cards, recently profiled the important elements. Smaller size than typical, 72-member checklist, usually seen in gold foil but sometimes in silver, etcetera.

      Card front

      To add at least a smidge of original content, consider the set's similarity to another popular hobby: coin collecting. Its sensitivity to rarity, condition, and context parallels ours in the baseball world, but some objects of desire double as actual money. (Valueless fiat currencies, such as the Confederate Dollar, trade like cards on the collecting market.)

      As coins circulate, they wear much like Mr. Skowron's profile shows here. Raised features smooth out slightly, details fade into the background, and flat elements abrade or scratch. Surface wear kills the value for most cards, since image is everything. Coins better withstand life's vicissitudes, made as they are for handling and exchange.

      It's interesting our hobby escalates a paper image over metal coins, which usually turn up only as oddball issues. Aluminum, nickel, and steel all hold higher innate values, but something the size of a quarter doesn't capture baseball's dynamic nature. The ball can move hundreds of feet in just a few seconds, whip around the base paths, or become a treasured souvenir. Something about a photo card captures that possibility and I feel that's the failing here. This embossed set stultifies the players into busts appropriate for a museum. They go stiff and dumb when we expect and anticipate action. Great sets turn on creative design that opens up the holder's mind or captures a kinetic moment. Ungreat sets pin things to a single outcome or point of view. I'd rather have the potential.

      Thursday, October 2, 2008

      1965 Bazooka Baseball #5, Dean Chance

      Bazooka cards often end up in low-grade collections like mine because of the hazardous fallout of a baseball-loving kid who may or may be handy with scissors. Fortunately, whoever liked this Dean Chance card thought enough of him to separate it carefully and with a steady hand. The photo composition does a good job with very little space and even avoids the deadly lighting from above. Props to the camera guy!

      Card front (blank back)

      I met Dean at the National Card Show a few years ago through a friend of mine who's a big Chance fan. Not many pitchers, even those from the pitching-friendly 60s, finished their career under 3.00 ERA. (He ended up at 2.92 with a .527 winning percentage.) A decade or so ago, he founded the International Boxing Association, so it's good to know he didn't rest on any laurels. Based on my brief encounter, he seemed an outgoing guy and ready to talk basketball, boxing, or the news of the day.
      Most years, Dean pitched over 250 innings, which makes the performance even more impressive, but likely shortened his career. 2007's Josh Beckett, as a modern comparison, won the same 20 games as Dean's 1964 Cy Young season in 75 less innings. Josh pitched 1 complete game, 14 less than Chance.

      "Save the pitcher's arm" is an easy drum to beat, but there's another component beyond simple wear-and-tear. Fewer pitches thrown means less data for an opponent to analyze in search of pattern and weakness. In a similar vein, argues that quarterbacks do better than expected in their first few games because opposing defenses don't have game film to plan against. Recall how a pitcher's task becomes more difficult each time through the opposing lineup. Baseball's depth of statistical analysis means they need more than one or two good pitches to lean on. To my eye, throwing fewer innings meets both the long-term need (save the arm) and the short-term goal (save the game).

      Tuesday, September 30, 2008

      1950 Big League Stars Baseball #5, John Simmons

      Time for more multi-lingualism! The Big League Stars set features French and English on each card, all the better to socialize your medicine with. (Sorry, that's "appeal to its Canadian audience.") This batch of 48 blank-backed cards represents World Wide Gum's (WWG) first post-war effort and profiles the International League, which included both American and Canadian teams. Montreal's Royals, Brooklyn's AAA farm club known for prepping Jackie Robinson a few years earlier, won the 1949 title and WWG probably capitalized on the interest by making these cards.

      Card front (blank back)

      The 1950 set breaks WWG tradition by presenting all-new content, not just recycling Goudey's look-and-feel. (Boston-based Goudey owned Montreal-based WWG and they worked together on earlier Canadian sets a la the more recent Topps and O-Pee-Chee relationship.) It seems a misnomer to call a minors-only set "Big League," but that's in the modern context of huge money sports. Montreal, at least, owned multiple recent titles and the prestige of being connected to a New York parent. (Unknowingly, they even fielded the strong bat and arm of The future Rifleman.) You couldn't call this set "Major League," but many of its players would end up in the the bigs sooner than later.

      John Simmons didn't have much of an MLB career, just one year with Washinton in 1949. However, I can't ignore the statistical oddity of his batting line. 20 hits in 93 at bats, a .215 average. More specifically, he had 20 singles in 93 at bats for a matching .215 slugging percentage. 11 walks against only 6 Ks bumped his OBP a bit, but is it mean of me to suspect that a few of those walks were cursory and intentional, just to get to the pitcher?

      Friday, September 26, 2008

      1962 Post Canadian #5, Mickey Mantle

      Sometimes I wonder at the arbitrariness of how we collect and value cards. OK, we like the Mick. His picture still looks good. A wrinkled patch of whiteness, though? That matters? A half-inch square of murky upper-left corner that you can still read through? What about all the French on the card? Would a true patriot want this in their collection? He's a Yankee, right? Ah, a conundrum.

      Card front (blank back)

      Politics aside, I've always enjoyed other languages on cards. Before Topps and O-Pee-Chee's overlap kicked off in the mid 60s, Post jumped in with this appealing cereal box set. It represented a big investment, as 1962's design spread across three different issues: domestic Post, Canadian Post, and Jello. Two cards, Mantle and Maris, even turned up in Life Magazine as advertising. All share the same design elements, though Canada got reduced player text in exchange for its second language.

      Post and Jello collectors often define their collection by the number of short prints obtained and remaining. Frustratingly, the SP numbers vary by set, so #55 Wynn is rare in the Posts and more commonly available in the Jellos. Collectors or dealers who don't understand the set history can easily buy or sell the "wrong" kind of rarity. At least the Canadian versions distinguish themselves with "RECORD DES FRAPPEURS." As for the others...bon chance, mes amis!

      Value: This low-grade gem cost me about $15 on eBay. Multiple classic features like creasing, tape stains, and missing paper knock down the "condition," but none of them make Mickey any less Mantle.

      Fakes / reprints: They're possible, but I haven't seen any fake Canadian cards in the marketplace.

      Thursday, September 25, 2008

      1960 Topps #5, Wally Moon

      Sweet mercy, is that the mono-est monobrow that ever lived a life in California? Witness the calling card of Wallace Wade Moon, 1954 ROY for the Cardinals and later a fine outfielder for the LA Dodgers. A smart and more-than-capable hitter, even as a rookie he prompted St. Louis to ship future HOFer Enos Slaughter off to the Yankees to make room in the outfield.

      Card front

      Wally shares my birth date, if a couple of generations removed. We join Marlon Brando and Doris Day as coming from the traditional 93rd day of the year, though I'm only someone who wants to live in CA, compared to an actual former Dodger and some Hollywood types. (Sure, Brando and Day got the big bucks, but Mr. Moon garnered plenty of LA fans. What he lacked in screen presence, he made up for in bat speed and arm strength.)

      Some people really enjoy the 1960 Topps set's horizontal layout. It recalls the classic 1956 sideways design and again features dual pictures. Its colors, though--hmm. The alternating, blocky typeface weighs down the front like an anchor made of cast-iron mediocrity. I think enlarging the player photo and minimizing the text would really improve things. After all, the 50s card really showed off players by capitalizing on the larger stock size and integrated portrait + action shot. Everything flowed together. In this case, unfortunately, the black-and-white photo, color photo, and overdone label work against each other.

      The remainder of their 1960s sets went back to "vertical," so I assume sales didn't support this change in design. Classic elements like 1962's wood grain and 1965's pennants made for more memorable sets, though you'd see the occasional horizontal card again in 1973 and 1974.

      Tuesday, September 23, 2008

      1963 Salada Tea / Junket Dessert Coins #5, Juan Marichal

      This coin features an optimistic, youngish Marichal, only three seasons into his dominant Hall-of-Fame career. 1963 proved Juan's first outstanding season, with a league leading 25 victories and 2.41 ERA. (He did make an amazing 40 starts and finished another game for 41 total appearances and 321 innings. Yow.) This performance garnered a few MVP votes, but Cy Young support? Blame it on bad timing, as our friend Sandy Koufax won the award unanimously and netted an MVP by going 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA in LA. (Juan's famous high-kick went on win at least 25 games twice more during the 60s and more than any other pitcher in the decade overall.)

      This issue does a nice job considering the small size provided by a dollar-sized coin. Its clean layout includes a full-color photo, some player text on the reverse, and a raised edge to protect the front from scratches and other shenanigans. Most oddball releases fall significantly below the bar in release quality or content, but the Salada / Junket amalgam turned out a nice product that rivals Topps own coins from the 60s and 70s.

      The 63 different coins in their 1963 "All-Star" set comprise most top players of the day, Hank Aaron to Maury Wills (who still hadn't appeared in a Topps set). Only one complaint, really--could we get more action shots? I know head shots take up less space, but it's always excellent to highlight players with such an individual style like Marichal's. It gets you that much closer to the game and shouldn't be overlooked, even today.

      Tuesday, September 16, 2008

      1980 TCMA 1914 Miracle Braves #5, Gene Cocreham

      TCMA is best known for two things, minor league team sets and retrospectives that show off their stock of vintage photos. This set falls into the latter category and features the 1914 Miracle Braves. They're almost lost to history at this point, but represent one of the greatest turnarounds in sports, going from last place in July to World Series champs in October. (Thanks to Wikipedia for the link and see its article for an excellent game 3 photo of Fenway Park.)

      Card front

      Mr. Cocreham pitched infrequently for Boston that year, starting only three games and participating not at all in the series itself. That doesn't mean the card lacks interest, though. My little eyes spy a certain square-jawed Hall-of-Famer in the background, Johnny Evers. That penultimate member of the poetic Cubs double-play combo won his third championship with the Braves in 1914, following two with Chicago.

      While critical to one's chances in Canton, the baseball HOF voters often look past "number of titles" as a prime determinant for one's candidacy. In the case of Tinker-Evers-Chance, however, the 1907 & 1908 series wins could be the main reason the 1946 Veterans Committee proved willing to induct a trio of decent-but-not-great players into Cooperstown--not just the creative efforts of Franklin Adams. Some fans support inducting the 1970s Dodgers infield as a unit and this is basically the old school equivalent. (In that vein, sometimes baseball research will turn up the question "Who was Harry Steinfeldt?" He was the Cubs third basemen--the "Ron Cey"--for those championship teams.)