Tuesday, August 26, 2008

1963 GAD Fun Cards #5, Lou Gehrig

It's not made of unusual materials or packaged with ice cream, but the GAD Fun Cards set is certainly an oddball. No photos, just sketches of people who might be players, might be from New York, and so forth. Some cards talk about real players and others go the "wacky" route. This #5 does a little of both by slapping a red cap on the theoretical (and unhappy) Gehrig. We can only hope the Iron Horse felt a little better about fielding his position each day than what we see here.

Card front

This card came from eBay recently for what I considered a reasonable price. Many, many similar cards went by in recent years, usually from sellers who saw the name of a HOFer and decided it must be worth the big bucks. Unfortunately, there's not much to a card that could easily be a "caption this cartoon" contest!

An above-average number of GADs end up in PSA slabs, given the high grade you usually find them in. That implies the card maker distributed them in a small area, sold only sets, or stashed them somewhere safe for a while. Even at 45 years old, it's difficult to add much to a card's value when most of the others are in the same shape. No doubt lots of modern collectors run into the same problem when they get cards graded. You're better off hunting down a comparatively rare or nice card before taking the trouble.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Comparison of Allen & Ginter Retail and Hobby Boxes

Enough of the #5s for now, it's time for a adrenaline rush of brand new cards! This year's Allen & Ginter design and contents very effectively floated my boat, so I picked up a few boxes to check out what can be ripped and enjoyed.

Collectors who spend below $100 per outing (that's me) have two basic options, the "retail" box of 24 packs and the "hobby" box of 24 packs. The hobby packs include 8 cards instead of the retail 6 cards, so the extra $25 you pay approximately evens out.

Retail box: 24 packs x 6 cards per pack = 144 cards (1 gross, as they say on the farm). BIN from eBay (+ postage) for $58 = .40 per card.

Hobby box: 24 packs x 8 cards per pack = 192 cards (1 gross plus, as they say in France). BIN eBay (+ free postage!) for $81 = .42 per card. The box includes a "topper" card, which could be a variety of different insert cards, such as over-sized "cabinets" or N43-style cards with an inset frame. (Mine was an N43 Joba Chamberlain.)

Most packs include an American state card for one of the 50, featuring its flag and an active player from that locale. Some players aren't great, but at least they covered the whole map. (Maybe they'll expand this to all the MLB countries next year?) You also get a parallel card, typically a "mini," in almost all packs. Occasionally, a rarer card comes along, but not frequently--just often enough to keep you going.

Retail box highlights:
1. Arkansas state card w/Torii Hunter: I like the state set quite a bit and Torii's a fine addition. The picture captures him mid-salute, like he knows the flag is just to his right.
2. Jed Lowrie RC: All Red Sox welcome here in Boston.
3. Lisa Leslie: Excellent subject to include in the set, especially with the USA Olympic team capturing gold. (There's a decidedly Olympic theme to the 2008 set, no big surprise.)
4. Rollins / Sizemore / Carlos Pena / Soriano / Derrek Lee in same pack, plus the Swiss mini World Leader card! (You get one or two of those per box.)
5. Mary Shelley a la Frankenstein! I love the writer / philosopher bent in this set.
6. Yadier Molina, the StL catching version of The Flyin' Molinas. All three have World Series rings, unique among sibling trios.
7. Nice throwing pose of Hanley Ramirez. Sadly, the card says "Marlins" instead of "Red Sox."
8. Jeanette Lee, the billiard world's Black Widow. She's got the pool equivalent of the Dave Stewart stare.
9. Feliz Hernandez: Almost makes up for getting Jason Schmidt in the same pack.
10. Magglio Ordonez: Dig the hair! Is it time to watch Shampoo again?
11. Marie Curie: Another in the line of interesting inclusions.
12. Same pack: Lowell / Johjima / Neshek / Pierzynski swatch / Bram Stoker / Trinidad & Tobago World Leader / nice Luke Scott hitting pose
13. Pluto / Charon: This is a cool card; Topps could've expanded the set to include more astronomy.
14. Andrew Miller: Nice cover-the-mouth pitching shot.
15. Mark Spitz contest card! Great timing, with the Olympics still in swing.
16. Jim Thome: One of the best personal poses in the set. You know it's Thome, name on the uni or not.
17. Golden Gate Bridge: The buildings are interesting enough to include a few. "Ancient Wonders" might've been better.
18. James Fenimore Cooper: not enough Natty Bumppos in the world today.
19. Bengie Molina vs. Jered Weaver: the A&G artistic styling isn't uniform and these two show how. Weaver looks mottled and bored with his washed-out speckling. Molina shines smoothly like a smooth-and-shiny thing.
20. Jay Bruce: sharp-hitting Cincy call-up who I saw in Louisville early this year, Mr. Bruce and I share birthdays.
21. David Eckstein: nice post-spinach forearms.
22. Nietzsche: People forget how his thinking on the "now" so permates today's world.
23. B.J. Upton mini: Looks about 15, but can play when he wants to.
24. Kazuo Fukumori RC: Intense pitching pose, something all sets could use more of.
25. Callix Crabbe: That's a heckuva name, pardner.

Retail Box lowlights:
1. Kevin Van Dam, a champion bass fisherman. I'm sure you're very skilled Mr. Van Dam, but I'd trade you for the planet Pluto without thinking twice.
2. Andrew Litz: Air guitar champion on YouTube = entertainment. In my card pack = teh lame.
3. Corey Hart: Any particular reason they didn't put him in sunglasses? I mean, come on.

Totals: 1 swatch, 2 World Leaders, 4 black minis, 6 checklists, 11 states, 18 regular minis, 108 base cards

Hobby Box Highlights:
1. Tim Wakefield: Nice pose for the veteran knuckler
2. Linen Balloon mini: Sweet picture that could've come right out of Oz.
3. James Bowie mini: He of the legendary knife and another famous death at the Alamo.
4. Carlos Guillen: A super-highlight if Seattle hadn't let him go.
5. Nate McLouth: Looks good in the Pirates uni, which can't be said of everyone.
6. Matt Cain "Rip It Card" 16/99: Topps challenges you to rip it open and expose the internal card. Some people will avoid doing so to "preserve the condition" and thus miss out whatever lies within. Ha! I RIPS IT! (Inside is one of the mini parallels, Nick Swisher. It looks to be a little thinner than normal minis.)
7. Takashi Saito mini: I love that the stats include WHIP and Saito's is a sparkling 0.82.
8. Davy Crockett: Both famous Alamo personalities in the same box! Rightfully shown without the eponymous cap.
9. John Maine: Laconic expression is dead-on Joel Hodgson.
10. Holy firetruck! Mark Spitz swatch back-to-back with Bruce Jenner card! Olympic fever!
11. Jim Thome swatch! Evan Longoria mini! Hiroki Kuroda RC! Same pack!
12. Kerri Strugg back-to-back with Bonnie Blair: OK, it's an Olympic year, I gets it.
13. Oscar Wilde mini: now we're talking my kind of sardonic phrase-turnings.
14. Charles Dickens: Another fine writin' machine. (Not to be confused with Charles Dikkens, the well-known Dutch author.)
15. Albert Pujols: and looking very serious about knocking the ball into next month.
16. Last pack has Davey Crockett mini and Albert Einstein!

Hobby Box Lowlights:
1. Carl Crawford: Seriously, is this whole image airbrushed?
2. Carlos Zambrano: Whoa, the eyebrows! He's officially every sci-fi movie villian, ever.
3. Derek Jeter mini: on the plus side, people will no doubt trade for this.
4. Les Miles: College football coaches in my baseball pack? Whaaaa?

Totals: 1 Rip It #/99, 1 N43, 2 contest cards, 2 swatches, 2 World Leaders, 2 black minis, 16 states, 21 regular minis, 146 base cards

Summary: The Allen & Ginter boxes make for good pack ripping. After a few, I've already got most of the base 350-card set. Really, though, it's not so much about the base set, which you can buy for fairly small money. With so many parallels and non-sport subjects, it's easy to pick out specific sub-collections to focus on. It's also tempting to send the cards out en masse for autographs and my first attempt went to Dean Karnazes, the crazy-long distance runner.

Friday, August 15, 2008

1975 Topps Mini Baseball #5, Nolan Ryan highlight

As we now know, the Ryan Express just got started by fanning 300 batters in a season for the third year in a row. He had help, of course, and not just from hitters flailing at 100 MPH fastballs. The era's four-man rotation and "finish the game" assumption meant Nolan started 41 games in 1974. These days, that's almost two seasons. He never started that many again, but did break 300 Ks three more times: 1976, 1977, and 1989 (at the age of 42).

Ryan critics--and there are some--point out how many guys he walked. Control problems no doubt contributed to his so-so W/L percentage, but he also didn't pitch for great teams, making the post-season in only 5 of 27 years. If there's a connection between the two, it might be that he took good advantage of the free-agent system and considered paydays more significant than playoffs.

Since the web can make an image any size, is it hard to tell that this is 1975's "mini" test issue? If memory serves, Topps distributed them only in specific areas of the Midwest. When I started buying cards in the 1980s, minis only showed up in small numbers, but the rise in collecting interest over the last twenty years apparently scared them out of the woodwork.

Nolan pitched his last game in September 1993 against my Seattle Mariners. The tour finale ended on a sour note with a first-inning arm ligament tear. His last hit allowed was a grand slam by Dann Howitt, a light-hitting outfielder best known for, well, his grand slam off of Nolan Ryan. As Steve Bartman can attest, there are worse questions to be the trivia answer to!

Value: Any Ryan will be a key card in its set, including this highlight. This one runs $5-10 in low grade.

Fakes / reprints: Topps reprinted several 1975 star cards as a vintage element in modern sets, so watch for glossier cousins of today's matte-finish cardboard.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

1975 TCMA WWII "Guam" Baseball #5, team picture

TCMA published a ton of oddball sets during the 1970s and 1980s. Most of them used vintage black-and-white photos to construct "theme" sets like what you see here. I assume that as collectors, T.C. and M.A. owned a wide array of player pictures and this proved a satisfying way to make them available to the hobby.

The 1975 Guam set steps beyond the role of typical "card" to tell the story of a few dozen players who toured the Pacific Theatre during WWII. Card fronts show them socializing, playing, or posing for photos. White labels ID the visitors, with enlisted men and military brass making up the rest. #5 includes several current and former MLBers.

Joe Becker: Played two years (and only 40 games) for the Cleveland Indians. Of his 20 career hits, 8 went for extra bases.

Johnny "The Dutch Master" Vander Meer: Pitched thirteen seasons, most of them for the Reds. Only MLBer to throw back-to-back no-hitters.

Hal White: Pitched twelve seasons, mostly for Detroit. Threw 12 innings in 1949 without allowing a run. Had a 102 ERA+ in 1952 and still went 1-8, as the Tigers won less than a third of their games.

Red McQuillen: Played four seasons in the outfield for the Browns. Placed in the top 5 for both triples (12) and double plays (21) in 1942. So was he slow to first, but superfast rounding second?

Connie Ryan: Played 12 seasons, mostly as a left-side infielder for the Braves. Led the majors in games played in 1952, but saw only a single game--his last--in 1954.

Del Ennis: Mr. Reliable, he played in just about every game for the Phillies from 1946-1956 and amassed more than 2000 hits.

The set comprises an entire essay broken up piece-by-piece, so the back text doesn't usually relate to the front. It's certainly an atypical way to approach American history!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

1967 Topps #5, Whitey Ford

This last card of the great Whitey's career includes a curious pitching pose. With his upper body released forward and legs oddly at rest, I see "mislaid G. I. Joe figure" instead of "Hall-of-Fame pitcher with highest career winning percentage." Most of Ford's cards treat him with a little more gravitas, or at least good humor. This shot looks like a photographer saving time between spring training workouts.

Card front

Other than its twin 1967 O-Pee-Chee card, this is the only time Whitey Ford shows up on a #5. Some other memorable cards bear his image, though. Two generations before Griffey, Jr.'s RC started Upper Deck's seminal 1989 set, 1951 Bowman led off with Whitey's first card. Despite pitching in only 20 games, a 9-1 record in 112 innings with 59 Ks and amazing 153 ERA+ placed him second in the 1950 Rookie of the Year balloting behind Walt Dropo. His smiling mug missed the next two seasons serving in Korea, but returned in 1953 for another great Bowman card photo. He doesn't really take a bad photo, even if the 1967 card caught him apparently off-balance.

First-year performances like Ford's happen every now and then. Just two years ago, Anibal Sanchez of the Marlins picked up a few RoY votes after a remarkably similar 10-3 season in 114 innings with 72 Ks and 152 ERA+. (He also no-hit the Diamondbacks on September 6th.) Unfortunately, most of his next two seasons vanished--poof!--due to shoulder problems and he only returned to the mound on July 31st of this year. Young pitchers prove as mercurial as ever to develop, no matter how much baseball owners hope, pray, and pay for them.

This scan is not of the card in my #5 collection. (It's probably from Google Image Search.) I know because mine features a handwritten note on the front. It says, in red pen, "non major leaguer." Truly, Ford retired in the middle of 1967, so maybe a young collector wanted to avoid confusion. ("Don't root for this guy! He doesn't play anymore!") Whatever purpose it served then, I know that in today's terms, the power of low-grade collecting gained me a legend for $1.50 + postage.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

1960 Bell Brand #5, Rip Repulski

Today's owner of an excellent sporting name, "Rip" Repulski, also knew how to ride baseball's trade winds. Six years into his career, Rip swapped from last-place Philly to the 1959 Dodgers, just in time for their first left coast championship. Only a season later, he moved to the Red Sox and hit a grand slam in his first AL at-bat. While no Bronx Bomber, his respectable career stats include 100+ homers and an All-Star appearance in 1956.

Card front

50 years in Brooklyn rendered but one World Series title in 1955. A scant two years after moving to LA, however, the emerging arms of Koufax and Drysdale quickly powered the Dodgers to another. While former "bums" like Snider and Hodges eventually returned to their New York roots, the team thrived on the West Coast's hunger for big-league sports. Seeing no need to turn away paying customers, all three local games in the '59 series drew over 90,000 fans, topping out at a baseball record 92,706 for game 5.

Local potato chipper Bell Brand capitalized on the team's move to brilliant California sunshine and green, green grass with several team sets. 1958's initial issue numbered only 10 cards, frustratingly hard to complete because of big names and single-prints. 1960 doubled down with 20 cards and covered most of the championship team, though surprisingly omits the aforementioned Drysdale. Originally wrapped in plastic and issued one-per-bag, you don't find many cards without oil residue or marks on the market. If you do, be prepared to pay more than a handful of chips for them. My own Repulski features a tape stain, numerous creases, and trimming on at least two sides. (Tipton mint, as they say.) Pretty sure I scored this jewel--and maybe even a cow--for no more than a handful of magic beans.

Monday, August 11, 2008

1948-49 Leaf Baseball #5, Virgil "Fireball" Trucks

Witness my decidedly low-grade #5 Leaf card, procured from eBay for around $20. A complete version of the card includes white borders all the way around and a block-letter name along the bottom. It's hard to miss the blaring red color in any condition, something typical of this set's Warhol-like color design. Although it qualifies as post-WWII's first "big" set with almost 200 cards, the checklist includes numerous long-retired legends, including Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner.

Trimmed card front

Something about the print eccentricities of my Virgil Trucks card made him look, to be frank, undead. Are his eyes rolled back into his brain? Does he wield laser-beam pupils and a gold-tinted Glove of Death? I suspect only Indiana Jones can find the right Aztecan talisman to send him back to Detroit.

I needed to spend an Andrew Jackson on this half-card because it's one of 1948's notorious and plentiful short-prints. That's nowhere near enough for a mid-grade version of Mr. Trucks, which'll set you back several Ben Franklins. Locating the final hits to a Leaf set drives collectors nuts, given their scarcity and resulting demand.

#5's front shows what you get from most cards, tinted black-and-white photos with questionable print quality. The back text resembles the pre-war Play Ball sets and captures some basic info: 1) good fastball, 2) quality W-L record, and 3) there's a "whiffing department" that includes a top 10. (The olfactory Hall of Fame?) The design breaks no new ground, but at least it helped get cards back on their feet after the era of wartime rationing.

Trimmed card back

Speaking of the war, Trucks himself lost almost two full years to naval service. He managed a release mere days before the 1945 World Series and joined Detroit in time to beat the Cubs 4-1 in game 2, his lone victory of the season. Fortunately, the Tigers went on to win what proved to be Virgil's only shot at a title.

Check out the set's virtual gallery for images of many 1948 Leaf cards. There are plenty of interesting fellows, but few you'd call good-looking. Just about every set since treats their subjects more kindly; even Ted Williams looks prematurely haggard. It reminds me most of the collector-produced 1976 SSPC set, whose feeling of amateur energy felt obscured by dodgy composition.

Friday, August 8, 2008

1954 Red Man NL #5, Monte Irvin

In 1951, future Hall of Famer Montford Merrill Irvin teamed up with Hank Thompson and Willie Mays to form the major's first all-black outfield. A WWII veteran and standout player in both the Negro and Mexican leagues, Monte didn't serve in Mays' shadow, like so many other outfielders could have. He led the NL with 121 RBIs and proved key in the Giants overtaking my dad's beloved Brooklyn Dodgers for the pennant. (Following Thomson's famous homer, they lost to the Yankees in six games, though Irvin brought his A game and batted .458 in the series.)

Card front

Most pictures of Monte show him smiling or even goofing around. I like this card's use of focus, with eyes on the ball and hands held high. The same attention served him well off the diamond, with a post-playing career as a scout and league administrator under Bowie Kuhn that stretched into the 1980s. Elected to the HOF primarily for his Negro League performance, it's not surprising that he continues to campaign for players from that era as a member of the Veterans Committee.

New cards continue to feature Mr. Irvin, most artistically the Allen and Ginter sets. The classic color-tinted style of Red Mans is great to look at, though, and it only helps that they came on stock even larger than contemporary Topps designs. If you like the look but not the prices, try for the modern reprint sets, as they used the same size and sacrifice little (if any) of the original appearance.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

1980 TCMA Tucson Toros Baseball #5, Gary Wilson

Not long ago, another card blogger described Ron Robinson of the 80s Reds hilariously as "pret-a-porter clown," given his sunny demeanor and frizzy hair. Unfortunately, not everyone in makeup and floppy shoes is happy. Everything that Mr. Robinson captured in color and outlook, Gary Wilson twists through a mirror darkly. His face hides in shadow, a camera obscura of the baseball diamond. Bright orange, red, and yellow pants aggravate and disturb all who witness the pitcher's labored delivery. Finally the pitch arrives--and grips its receiver with feelings of loss and acute paranoia. Sometimes you catch the ball. Other times, it catches you.

OK, I get that the uniforms reflect the garish attire of bullfight toreadors and Tucson is close to the Mexican border. Still, Wikipedia sums up the feeling of anyone with eyes to see.

"In 1980...following the lead of the [Astros]...the Toros introduced what some consider the ugliest uniform in the history of organized baseball: orange pants with yellow and red stripes, and a jersey with a turquoise back, yellow raglan sleeves, and a front resplendent in yellow, avocado, red, orange, and lime green stripes of various widths."

TCMA issued a clutch of minor league sets in 1980 and most share this design of large, red borders with blocky team names. Yet again, the guileless photographer took his photos at noontime, drowning Gary's face in shadow. Some contemporaries show better composition, but most serve a simple purpose: get the players onto cards and into the hands of fans.

Wilson's major career consisted of six games as a 1979 Astro, yielding 15 hits, 6 walks, and 10 earned runs in 7 1/3 innings. People probably enjoyed his play better at the AAA level; at Tucson in 1980, he won 12 games with a team-low 3.47 ERA. Gary's teammates included many future MLBers like Jim Pankovits, Danny Heep, and others with names more interesting than their ultimate performance. At least, they might've thought, I'm out of that Toros getup and into a more sensible Astros uniform.

Monday, August 4, 2008

1980 Superstar Baseball #5, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio

Today's #5 turned up at the 2008 National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago. Also called the "annual" or "big show," each massive summer-time gathering's basically a hangar full of everything sports-related and collectible. 90% of it relates to baseball national pastime, but there are plenty of other sport and non-sport items. The sheer quantity and variety of stuff overwhelms one if you look up. Of course, plenty of any show's big-ticket items involve Yankees--and these guys stand out.

Gehrig and DiMaggio played together from 1936 to 1938, both reaching milestones and titles worthy of legends. As amazing their actual hit production, a sense of hindered potential follows both; Lou died from ALS before reaching 40 and Joe lost prime years 28, 29, and 30 to WWII. Imagine what they'd have done with full careers!

Card backs offer few hints at their publisher or year of issue, but the SCD catalog credits this Superstar set to Card Collectors Closet, a shop in Springfield, MA. Their initial 45-card set came out in 1980 and a similar effort followed in 1982, originally sold complete for $3.50 each.

Value: While laden with all-timers, singles cost just a few dollars due to limited collector awareness and demand. This might be the least-expensive Gehrig / DiMaggio card out there.

Fakes / reprints: I doubt anyone would take the trouble, given their low value.