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.

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