Thursday, December 31, 2009

1946-47 Caramelo Deportivo #5 League Umpires

By the 1940s, America saw baseball cards as a kid-and-candy product, but other countries still marketed them with tobacco and another "grown-up" novelties. Cuba's "Caramelo Deportivo" brand published this set of paper-thin cards across the country's 1946-47 winter league season.

Card front

I believe Caramelo also made an album for this set, so surviving single cards usually sport glue stains or missing paper. (I traded with an experienced Caribbean collector to get this clean example.)

Card back (front printing visible)

Long-time Cuban umpire Raul Atan makes his second #5 blog appearance on this card, preceding the beautiful 1952-53 Victoria set.

Value: The hobby's discovered many more Caribbean sets over the last decade and values jumped as people learned enough about them to become interested. Commons from this year run $10 to $40, depending on condition and provenance. (Guides like the annual SCD have more detailed pricing.)

Fakes / Reprints: It's likely reprints exist for this set, since they definitely do for early 50s Cuban issues. Real examples come on thin, glossy paper that you can almost see through. (Note the ink ghosting on both sides of the scan.)

Monday, December 28, 2009

1967 Venezuelan #5, Octavio Rojas (a.k.a. Cookie Rojas)

This entry was my first profile for 1967 Topps Venezuelan baseball. I've since updated and reposted it as part of a full series about that country's card sets. Find it at 1967 Venezuelan Baseball #5!

Few can Ca-Rock-as the specs like Mr. Rojas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

1975 TCMA International League All-Star Baseball #5, Mike Reinbach

This photo shows Mr. Reinbach dressed in "generic baseball uniform," topped with "typical cap," and sporting a "standard 70s mustache." All you need is a Schlitz sign to capture the whole decade.

Mike's actually wearing a 1974 Baltimore Orioles kit with the hat logo airbrushed off. He started that season on their opening day roster, but didn't perform well enough to stick around--.604 OPS in 12 games--and finished up with AAA Rochester.

Prior to the 1970 Miami stint, Reinbach played with the Alaska Goldpanners in 1969 (team photo), a long-lived amateur team that recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. Alums of this remote franchise include several famous MLBers, including HOFs Tom Seaver and Dave Winfield.

UPDATE: Learned this set's for the Rochester Red Wings (of the International League), so updated the post title.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Image archive poll wrap-up: it's a push

Thanks to everyone who voted in last week's poll, "should I create a high-res archive of #5 type card images?" Got answers for all three options--yes, just for charity, and no--with no clear winner.

Since there's some support for the archive concept, I'll start collating images as time permits, let folks know where to look, and might set up a charity tip jar. (Higher-res images should also find their way back into older posts--everybody wins!)

Expect to see more info in 2010 posts, including how often I've seen each card and any reprints or counterfeits. Add a comment with any special requests or other card info you'd like to see and have a good holiday season.

UPDATE: Why not include a card scan for the heck of it?

Card front: 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle RC

Saturday, December 12, 2009

1967 Topps Baseball Pin-Ups (aka Posters) #5, Carl Yastrzemski

Though technically a mini-poster, great composition and lighting make this portrait my favorite Yaz card. It comes appropriately from his Triple Crown year, when Boston won their 1st AL pennant since 1946.

Topps made annual poster-style inserts from the late 60s to the early 70s and 1967 is smallest at 5” x 7”, but its checklist includes an array of stars, from Aaron to Mantle to Yaz. Mid and late series 1967 wax packs included these posters at one per pack. Each came folded in quarters, so only proofs (and reprints) avoid vertical and horizontal creasing.

Value: The 1967 Topps Baseball blog critiqued several inclusions in the poster checklist. I agree that Rose and Gibson would’ve made better choices than Knoop or Hunt, but lesser-known players also make the set easier and more affordable to complete. This wrinkled Yaz cost me $1 at an oddball show table.

Fakes / reprints: O-Pee-Chee followed with a copy-cat version for Canadian release in 1968, but changed their numbering: OPC #5 is New York Met outfielder Cleon Jones.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

New Poll: Create a #5 Scan Archive?

The #5 type collection currently contains a few hundred examples and about 85% of known numbered, pre-1980 sets. Players range in fame from Babe Ruth to Bob Buhl. Cards measure from postage stamps up to cereal box panels. There's everything from the over-produced to the super-rare, including a bunch of foreign issues.

1962 Topps Venezuelan card front

1962 Topps Venezuelan card back

Many folks focus on newer sets and only "collect" old stuff vicariously through Google Image Search and baseball blogs. (Indeed, a solid 50% of this blog's visitors come directly from GIS!) Since it would take quite a while to read through everything on the site, there looks to be value in a hi-res, front-and-back archive of vintage #5s.

Let me know if you're interested (or not) in a buyable archive via the new poll, which I'll keep open through Dec 17, 2009. Scans would include a #5 site watermark and cost would be low. (I consider $19.95 expensive, so more like $10.)

If people prefer that proceeds go to charity, I would send it to a Child's Play children's hospital or one of the school projects. They're both excellent groups that I contribute to each year.

Also add your thoughts to the comments!

1920 W519 strip card #5, Babe Ruth

30 Helens Agree: "It's hard to beat a vintage Babe Ruth card."

This #5 still looks hale and hearty, though a previous owner slimmed it down significantly with some scissors. Fortunately, they left behind the name, number, and the Babe's sly smile. That's enough to catalog it as a W519, part of a 1920 set of 20 strip cards.

W519 card front

This blog already profiled a mirror twin to today's Bambino, the 1921 W521 #5. Both sets probably used the same distribution, as horizontal paper strips sold for a few cents at stores, carnivals, or arcades.

W521 card front

Old Cardboard's profile for W519 notes several design and numbering variations, but the serious collectors at Net54Baseball are still exploring and developing the set's full scope. See a December 8, 2009 thread for discussion, checklist questions, and example scans.

The Babe Ruth Cards site includes scans of several W519s, all slabbed and ready-to-buy. (No connection or endorsement implied.) Of note, the PSA and SGC graders didn't originally distinguish W519-1 and W519-2 varieties, but some recent Net54 scans include that detail.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

1915 Cracker Jack E145 #5, Ward Miller

As the tobacco era of baseball cards waned, candy and snack makers stepped in with similar cross-promotional ideas. Cracker Jack, already immortalized in the chorus of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," produced a pair of such sets, now cataloged as E145-1 and E145-2, across 1914 and 1915.

Unlike the narrow, ad-back cards produced for smokers, Cracker Jack went with broad images on the front and detailed player bios on the back. 1914's text refers to a "complete set of 144 pictures," but 1915 numbers to 176, their easiest distinguishing feature. Card stock also changed between the years, probably to match up with 1915's collectors album. (See Old Cardboard's profile for further production details.)

If you had a family hand-me-down set of Cracker Jacks, where would you take it? Perhaps an Antiques Roadshow in Kansas? It happened in 2008 and the show appraiser provided some set details (and value) in the transcript.

Cracker Jack started with 144 cards for their 1914 set and expanded to 176 in 1915. Look for the "complete set of 176 pictures" card text (or "144 pictures" in 1914) to tell them apart.

Ward Miller played for the St. Louis Terriers of the outlaw Federal League, an 8-team attempt to compete directly with the American and National Leagues. They were rewarded with his finest seasons at the plate--122 OPS+ in 1914 and 125 OPS+ in 1915--and league-average work in the field.

When the Federal League dissolved after 1915, Terriers owner Phil Ball "joined" the AL by purchasing the St. Louis Browns and merging both teams' rosters. Miller stayed with the franchise through 1917, so is one of the few players to play in all 3 "major" leagues: American, Federal, and National.

Value: This #5 cost $30, an OK price for low-grade singles. Unfortunately, the sheer quantity of graded and faked Cracker Jacks in the market makes it difficult to find low-grade authentic cards at any price.

Fakes / reprints: So many counterfeit and reprint Cracker Jacks cards exist that I recommend you buy a graded type card or work with dealers who know pre-war vintage inside and out.

1988 Topps #5, Niekro Brothers Record Breaker

Mark of the eponymous blog Mark's Ephemera recently sent a nice package of #5s and its plethora of years, sports, and types looked like an cardboard cornucopia. The box included 1988 Topps #5, which honored Phil and Joe Niekro passing Jim and Gaylord Perry for brotherly victories. (I don't normally profile post-1980 sets, but wanted to thank Mark for the great gift!)

Card front

This blog recently profiled the knuckleball brothers when Joe appeared in the 1978 Burger King Astros. Coincidentally, he and Phil both went 7-13 in 1987 and split the year between multiple teams. Phil made 22 starts with Cleveland prior to short stints with Toronto and Atlanta. Joe began the year in pinstripes, but finished with the champion Minnesota Twins and threw 2 innings in game 4 of the World Series.

Card back

Phil retired (at age 48!) after 1987 and Joe pitched part of 1988 for the Twins before hanging them up. He collected the last of their 539 victories on April 12th by pitching 2 scoreless relief innings in a 7-6 result over Cleveland.

Monday, December 7, 2009

1940 Wheaties Champs of the USA #5, Joe Medwick

Like the recent 1939 Wheaties Series 12 profile, General Mills published today's "set" as a group of box panels during 1940. Each measures 6" square and features 3 sportsmen, all recent champions of their chosen profession.

Card front

The full panel checklist includes several variations, though none are known for #5. I've embellished the card text with a few links of my choosing.

Joe "Ducky" Medwick: "A terror at bat! Holds a three-year-straight record for runs batted in; voted most valuable player in National League 1937; led the league in batting! Houston got Joe in '31 from a Carteret, N. J. prep school, where he starred in basketball, football, track--and baseball! Cards signed him in '33, following his meteoric two years with Houston. Teammates call him 'Ducky.'"

Medwick made 7 straight All-Star games for St. Louis's Gashouse Gang from 1934 to 1940 and placed in the top-10 MVP voting 4 times.

Madison "Matty" Bell: "Head football coach of Southern Methodist University's Mustangs. Starred four years at Centre College (last two on undefeated teams). Coached at three colleges, became S.M.U. head coach in '35, inspired team to Southwest Conference Championship, same year to the Rose Bowl--the first and only Southwest team so honored! Coaching record: 112 wins, 12 ties, only 63 losses! Stands 6', weighs 190."

Centre College, my parents' alma mater, played strong football in the early 20th century, going 25-2-3 during Bell's years as a player. Their 1921 defeat of Harvard was called the "The Upset of the Century."

Abbott "Ab" Jenkins: "Acclaimed America's safest, fastest driver! Born near Salt Lake City, Utah. Began his steel-nerved career very young. First raced on a motorcycle. Then bought a car, began setting speed records. Invited English drivers to Utah's world's-best race course, broke the records they set! Holds nearly 750 world speed marks. Has driven over 1,400,000 accident-free miles!"

A devout Mormon, Ab's great popularity resulted in a term as SLC's mayor from 1940 to 1944. See Barracuda Magazine's more detailed tribute to the "Racing Mayor," with pictures of his Mormon Meteor III.

Friday, December 4, 2009

1980 TCMA Portland Beavers #5, Rob Ellis

Do you like those red-on-white TCMA minor leaguers the way I do? This team set serves up the Portland Beavers, a 1903 Pacific Coast League charter franchise and current AAA affiliate for San Diego.

Card front

Baseball's seen a few men named "Rob Ellis" take the field. This one--middle name Walter--skipped the minors entirely after the 1971 draft and played 29 games that year for the Brewers. Only a handful in baseball history made that jump, with HOFer Al Kaline being the most successful.

Portland's 1980 team finished 7th, just one in a series of mediocre years. From 1978 to 1988, they used 11 different managers and even Charlie Manuel--2008 champion Philly manager--guided them to an awful 45-96 campaign in 1987.

Card back

Unfortunately, Milwaukee sent Mr. Ellis down for development after a punchless .494 OPS in 1971. Aside from a pair of mid-70s call-ups, Rob's career continued at the AAA level until his 1980 retirement, with stats for those who care to see them. This TCMA set contains the last of his 5 known baseball cards.

Paul Lukas's Uni Watch recently talked up Portland's classic 1956 uniforms in several columns. His links include an excellent Flickr album with both posed shots and in-game action.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

1939 Wheaties Baseball Series 12 #5, Jimmie Foxx

General Mills' iconic breakfast flake started cross-promoting with baseball in 1927 and continues to the present day. In the 1930s, their increasingly sophisticated ads expanded to outfield walls, radio shows, TV broadcasts, and lots of players on cereal boxes. The 1939 All-Star game rosters featured an absurd 46 Wheaties player-spokesmen.

While not sets in the traditional sense, General Mills printed rolling groups of pro endorsements, many with playing tips, on 1930s and 40s Wheaties box panels. They created no less than 17 different series in all! 1939's "Series 12" placed Jimmie Foxx (the reigning AL MVP) at #5 and its text helped kids with their batting stance.

Card front (click for detail)

Alex Rodriguez recently passed Foxx as the youngest player to hit 500 homers. Unfortunately, "Double-X" tailed off considerably after that milestone, finishing his career with 3 part-time seasons and only another 34 long balls. "What if he played today"discussions often mention Jimmie, since elite sluggers fade more gracefully with modern conditioning (and whatever else they've got going on).

Monday, November 30, 2009

1978 Burger King Astros Baseball #5, Joe Niekro

This card's baby blue sky and super-orange everything else reminds me strongly of the classic 1933 Tattoo Orbit set. Joe's door knocker nose and ear-flap hair look so charmingly anachronistic, I can almost ignore the pink script and lime green borders. We heart the 1970s!

This blog already examined Burger King team sets from 1979 and 1980, but didn't say much about the card fronts, as Topps used relatively neutral designs. Their quartet of 1978 issues, on the other hand, revel in a plethora of pinata color combos. (For maximum entertainment, links go to actual pinatas.)

1978 marked Joe's career mid-point, 10 years removed from a 1967 Cubbie debut and 1987-88 swan song for Minnesota. 11 years as an Astro marked his longest tenure for any team; peep the classic "Houston black hat" look at his Wikipedia page.

Joe and brother Phil won a sibling record 539 games, including a shared wins lead (21 each) in 1979. In 1980, Niekro pitched a 10-inning, 1-0 shutout in the NLCS. Houston lost that series, but he went on to win a World Series ring with the Twins in 1987, not long before Jack Morris threw his own legendary 10-inning shutout for Minnesota's 2nd title. On the flip side, Phil never won a title in 26 years of throwing knuckleballs, but did reach Cooperstown in 1997.

Friday, November 20, 2009

1977 Fritsch One-Year Winners #5, Bob Thorpe

Many 1970s oddball sets seem like a Google Image Search for "old baseball photos." The sheer quantity of player images out there, even for obscurities like Robert Joseph Thorpe, would fill out a ton of issues, if actually organized and printed.

Card front

Collector and businessman Larry Fritsch pulled together a bunch of otherwise hard-to-find fellows as One-Year Winners. 1977 was the first of 3 "OYW" series and its 18 card checklist includes Eddie Gaedel and Chuck "The Rifleman" Connors.

Many OYW stories could also be called "one-game wonders," such as pitchers who made a single impressive appearance or batters who went 3-for-3 and never played again. Bob Thorpe didn't blow anyone away for the Cubs, but he did go 69-44 in the minors.

Card back

Against all odds, there's at least one autographed OYW card out there. Mr. Fritsch still offers complete series on his web site and individual cards on eBay, where #5 (and other "commons") cost $2 or $3.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

1976 ISCA Hoosier Hot-Stove All-Stars #5, Amos Rusie

Today' guest made a home state debut in 1889, winning 12 games for the Indianapolis Hoosiers as a fresh-faced 17 year-old. He started 22 games and finished 11 as a reliever, hurling 225 innings total and striking out 109 batters. That's a full season by today's pitching standards, but barely hinted at Amos' next decade as a moundsman, when he'd average over 400 innings and total 245 victories.

Card front

The Indiana Sports Collectors Association published this bicentennial-themed 26-card set in 1976 to honor local players and teams who contributed to baseball's considerable history. The checklist contains plenty of name-worthy guys; Don Larsen and Gil Hodges are 2 of the non-HOFers. I assume sets went out to ISCA members, making them hard to come by today.

Card back

Two things stand out on Rusie's card, "strong candidate for [the] Hall of Fame" and "brief 10 year career." Indeed, the Veterans Committee voted Amos onto a plaque for 1977, validating the ISCA's editorial acumen. Fellow Hoosier (and card #14) Hodges nearly joined him the same year by receiving 58% of the BBWWAA vote.

So is it better to burn out than to fade away? Like previous #5 guest Dizzy Dean, Rusie's career included a block of dominant performance followed by a quick fade. 3 appearances for Cincinnati in 1901 count as a "season," which snuck him past the HOF's 10-year career minimum. It's not clear if anyone remained alive to lobby on Amos's behalf--as former Gashouse Gang members benefited from Frankie Frisch--so his selection's probably deserving, if plucked from a different epoch.

Monday, November 16, 2009

1974 Topps and O-Pee-Chee Baseball #5, Hank Aaron Special

At the end of 1973, Hank Aaron stood on the cusp of breaking Ruth's signature record of 714 homers and it seemed a certainty the Hammer would pass Babe early the next year. Following a tradition of leading their set with a major achievement, 1974 Topps #1 proclaimed him The New All-Time Home Run King and led off a 9-card Hank Aaron Special subset. (Aaron himself confirmed their minor act of prognostication with homer 715 on April 8.)

1974 Topps card front

The front of each Special reprints Topps Aaron cards four at a time--a nice treat for younger collectors--and backs recount his considerable career achievements in 10-year chunks. The front of #5 covers 1966 - 1969 and its back summarizes each year from 1954 to 1963.

1974 Topps card back

Montreal-based candy maker O-Pee-Chee (OPC) continued to license Topps baseball sets for distribution in their Great White North, but did some extra legwork for the Hank Aaron Specials. Pursuant to Canadian law, card backs had to include both English and French. Two languages meant less room for commentary, so they chopped the specials down to 2 front images and backs listed bilingual 5-year highlights (instead of blocks of 10).

1974 OPC card front

Both sets cover the same ground at different "speeds," so OPC #5 gets Topps 1962 and 1963 on the front and 1954 to 1958 highlights on the back.

1974 OPC card back

Topps covered the Hammer's 20 years of service in five cards and then switched to "regular" players, so the first 9 cards include 3 other guys. (Checklists courtesy of
  1. Hank Aaron Home Run King
  2. Aaron Special 54-57
  3. Aaron Special 58-61
  4. Aaron Special 62-65
  5. Aaron Special 66-69
  6. Aaron Special 70-73
  7. Jim Hunter
  8. George Theodore
  9. Mickey Lolich
OPC's 2-images-per-card approach took 9 cards to cover fully, displacing Hunter, Theodore, and Lolich to later numbers in the set. Including those players, in turn, bumped other cards from the set entirely.
  1. Hank Aaron Home Run King
  2. Hank Aaron Special 54-57
  3. Hank Aaron Special 58-59
  4. Hank Aaron Special 60-61
  5. Hank Aaron Special 62-63
  6. Hank Aaron Special 64-65
  7. Hank Aaron Special 66-67
  8. Hank Aaron Special 68-69
  9. Hank Aaron Special 70-73

Short story, the loser in this game of musical chairs is Jim Fregosi, dropped from OPC in favor of HOFer Catfish Hunter. Sorry, Jim, you'll have to blame Canada!

These scans show all the 1974 OPC Aaron Specials, #1 at upper right. (Click them for the full-size images.)

OPC #1 - 9 card fronts
OPC #1 - 9 card backs
Value: Aaron cards from the 1970s remain affordable. I picked up each #5 on this page for less than $10.

Fakes / reprints: Hank Aaron cards turn up in plenty of Topps retro sets, but I haven't seen any fakes of his 1970s cards.

Friday, November 13, 2009

1936 National Chicle "How To" Baseball (R344) #5, How To Run Bases

Massachusetts-based National Chicle Gum published their 192-card Batter-Up set in 1934 and 1936, as explored in more depth by Jason Schwartz on SABR's baseball card blog. Packages of their high series (#81-192) contained today's promotional bonus, a 20-booklet insert of "How To" pamphlets. At 3" x 4", they're larger than the actual cards, so came folded in quarters. Collectors folded it along the vertical spine to make a tiny book. Check the scan's vertical "guide," with back page to the left and title on the right.

National Chicle attributed this series to HOFer Rabbit Maranville, who played 23 seasons of energetic middle infield and chipped in 1 partial season as Cubs player-manager. While not a superior player, his firecracker personality and showmanship made Rabbit widely known. My second scan shows its interior pages and the meat of Rabbit's advice.

These 20 booklets (Old Cardboard gallery here) cover basic playing skills, but include interesting esoterica like "how to pitch the out-shoot," "in-shoot," and "drop." (In modern parlance, those are the slider, screwball, and sinker.) "How to Run Bases" covers the main points for any level of player: run everything out, move with the pitch, and watch your coaches.

Base running remains a major issue for teams, fans, and baseball writers. Today's era of more powerful lineups mean that managers worry less about scratching out single bases, yet team performance suffers if they neglect the station-to-station basics. (I will consider offers from MLB front offices hunting for Rabbit's helpful guide on base running. :-)

Value: Scarce premiums like this vary by seller. I picked up my #5 for $15 on eBay several years ago and now add to the set of 20 when I can find them for under $40.

Fakes / reprints: While it would be easy enough to photocopy National Chicle's "how to" set, limited collector demand also makes it a poor choice for fakery. Even so, be wary of a complete set of high-grade examples. Most booklets in the market today will be lower grade, since they were folded for packaging.

One legitimate reprint set does exist. Goudey acquired these instructional illustrations as part of National Chicle's bankruptcy sale in 1937 and added "how to" diagrams to the back of their 1938-39 R303 baseball premiums. Card sellers offered these to kids as a post-purchase promotion.

Can't blame the kid for gluing that back to something when R303 fronts look this good.

1930s cards feature a lot of leaping fielders and I'm here for it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

1916 Sporting News M101-4 #5, Leon Ames

Venerable magazine The Sporting News (aka TSN) distributed a pair of 200-card sets in 1915 and 1916 as promos for their weekly publication. The 1.5" x 3" cards feature players from their photo catalog, printed on thick stock with heavy front gloss. Fortunately for modern collectors, this combo's also durable and a large number survived into the 21st century.

Most "competing" sets from that era used hand-tinted images or awkward drawings, making TSN's photography superior by default. The set suffers from time-lag, however, as Cardinal-in-a-Giants-uniform Leon "Red" Ames amply demonstrates. Let's track the time line!

  • Pre-1913: TSN takes photo for today's card of Ames as Giant
  • May 1913: Giants trade Ames to Reds
  • May 1913 - July 1915: Ames goes 28-40 for Reds
  • July 1915: Ames sold to Cardinals
  • Post-1915: TSN produces Ames card as "St. Louis"

While we call TSN's 1915 and 1916 issues "sets" and catalog them as 1916 M101-4 and 1915 M101-5, I have a feeling the magazine itself wasn't that organized.'s excellent combined checklist details the numerous differences, including swapped players, pose changes, and editorial corrections. (Their card back gallery is also impressive.) M101-4/5 seems like a rolling release, updated sporadically over at least 2 years, that we--90 years later--are reassembling like a puzzle, in search of a coherent image.

Value: My card's trimmed down to the photo and player name, so cost me only $15. Full cards with a complete, white border cost significantly more.

Fakes / reprints: People have reprinted both sets and singles for TSN and fakes can be hard to distinguish for modern collectors. Look for white stock that's slightly thinner than modern cards with a yellowy gloss on the front. (When in doubt, buy from dealers who specialize in pre-war.)

Friday, November 6, 2009

1978 Post Cereal Baseball -- Steve Garvey #5, Fielding a Pop-Up

I manned first base in little league and my dad's a huge Dodger fan, so Steve Garvey made a natural favorite player for many years. In the mid-70s, Garvey seemed almost more "traditionally American" than hot dogs and John Wayne. (Sport Magazine even featured him on a 1976 cover eating apple pie, don'cha know.) A star for several years, Steve fell just short of the HOF, though some think otherwise.

His personal foibles aside, Steve could hit the ball, won 4 straight Gold Gloves, and helped the Dodgers reach the playoffs several times, so Post Cereal saluted him with a 12-panel set in 1978. Each cut-away card includes Garvey's mug, several sentences about a particular skill, and baseball-stitch edging. They came on the outside of cereal boxes, so are blank-backed.

Card front (blank back)

Notice the upper-left corner, where Steve's head overlaps the top of this "card." Doesn't that invite well-meaning kids to simply chop off the top of his head? It's a fairly subtle curved cut around the cap. Think of the children!

Speaking of kids, check out the opening paragraph.

One of the easiest looking and potentially most embarrassing plays is the pop-up. It must be practiced continuously and an emphasis must be placed on proper body positioning.

The 1989 movie Parenthood included several baseball scenes, focusing on Steve Martin practicing pop-ups with his son, a key skill for middle infielders. The extra work eventually saves a game, as his son catches a pop fumbled by another (obnoxious) player, redeeming their time spent together. Baseball, apple pie, American families.

Single panels don't turn up often, so I purchased the entire set for $12 to obtain this #5. Don't see any Post panels in the market right now, but will include some search links, just in case.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

1979 Burger King Yankees Baseball #5, Jay Johnstone

Back in mid-1978, Philadelphia traded veteran outfielder Jay Johnstone to New York, perhaps as depth for their run to October. He pinch-hit, played some OF, and DHed five times, as the Bombers went on to beat the Royals in the ALCS and LA in a 6-game World Series.

After a slow start in 1979, more trade winds took Jay to San Diego, and he eventually landed in LA for the 1981 rematch series, won by the Dodgers. That raises an interesting question--how many players captured titles with both the Yankee and Dodger franchises?

Like the 1979 Burger King Phillies, the Yankees set differs from Topps' normal offering in renumbered players and a separate checklist card. Off-season acquisition Tommy John also got his own Yankee card (#9), instead of Topps #255 (as a Dodger).

Value: Though loaded with stars like Reggie Jackson, Thurmon Munson, Ron Guidry, and Catfish Hunter, you can find complete Yankee sets for under $10 and single cards for ~$1.

Fakes / reprints: No reprints that I know of, but people sometimes confuse BK cards for the regular Topps.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

1980 Burger King Phillies Baseball #5, Manny Trillo

As of Nov 3, 2009, the Phils need a pair of wins on hostile turf to defend their 2008 championship. From the other dugout, the Yanks can do what Steve Carlton and Tug McGraw did to KC in 1980 by finishing the series at home in 6 games.

Manny Trillo won the first two Silver Sluggers for NL shortstops in 1980 and 1981, batting around .290 (with over 100 OPS+) each year. While he didn't burn up the base paths or hit for much power, 3 Gold Gloves and 4 All-Star appearances say something about his overall contributions to the team.

Like the 1979 Burger King Phillies set, 1980's version licensed Topps' own design, front and back. They added a BK logo, used different poses for a few players, and created a new card for manager Dallas Green, but otherwise let the layout speak for itself. (Capewood Cards did a nice profile of the whole set in 2008.)

Manny's the 1st player to start the All-Star game for different leagues in consecutive years. He represented Philly in 1982, but went to Cleveland for 1983 in the widely disparaged 5-for-1 Von Hayes trade. 88 games and 1 AL All-Star start later, the Tribe sent Trillo to Montreal for a minor leaguer and cash. He finished the season with Les Expos, became a free agent, and signed with San Fran prior to 1984. After a mediocre couple of years in the bay, he played productively for Chicago from 1986 to 1988 and retired after a handful of games with Cincy in 1989.

UPDATE: recently added a "Card of the Week" feature, profiling both cards and stats related to the pictured player. Its first entry featured the 1981 Fleer card of Lonnie Smith. Despite being on a 1979 Rookie Stars card, Topps didn't make a normal 1980 card for Lonnie. They did, however, craft a version for Burger King, #14 from today's set.

Read more at B-R's Card of the Week!

Monday, November 2, 2009

1979 Burger King Phillies Baseball #5, Larry Christensen

Philadelphia won their first World Series (over Kansas City) in 1980. As Wikipedia notes, that made them the last original MLB franchise to capture a title. Today's guest started game 4 of that series, threw 22 pitches, allowed 4 runs, committed an error, and retired exactly 1 batter. Willie Aikens took him deep, his 1st of 2 homers on the day in an eventual 5-3 KC win. (Fortunately for Larry and the Phils, they won in 6 games.)

Burger King published a number of oddball sets from 1977 to 1987, including a handful of team-specific sets. Who did they pick for this honor in 1979? Why, it's the Phillies and Yankees! Such odd prescience for a company focused on quick turn-around.

Topps licensed their 1979 design to Burger King as-is, so collectors often find them "mixed in" with the regular set. While the numbering obviously differs--Christenson is Topps #161--the 22-card burger checklist includes a few notables.

  • 1st Pete Rose PHI card (compare Topps #650 to Burger King #13)
  • Danny Ozark gets a separate manager card (the Yankees use a team photo)
  • 6 players, including Rose, use different (or re-cropped) photos

The profile of the PHI and NYY sets includes an image of the Philly checklist and summary of both releases. I like team-based releases, so will add more Burger King #5s soon.

Friday, October 30, 2009

1978 Hostess #5, Bruce Sutter

One of the first relievers elected to the HOF, Bruce Sutter pioneered the use of the split-finger fastball and held the NL saves record from 1982 to 1993. Known primarily as a dominant closer for the Cubs, Bruce won a World Series ring with the Cardinals in 1982 and saved his 300th (and final) game with Atlanta in 1988.

Card front

Did you know Sutter only pitched in 12 big-league seasons? The Hall of Fame set a 10-year minimum to be considered for induction, so he overcame both "short career" and "relief pitcher" in reaching Cooperstown.

Like other Hostess sets profiled on this site, 1978 cards came on panels of three players. My scan shows the varying quality of trimming, with only a bit of dotted line visible along the bottom and uneven top and left edges.

There are enough Hostess cards and panels around to keep prices relatively low. A friend sent this Sutter card in a trade, but you can find it on eBay for under $3 and on a complete panel for less than $10.

Monday, October 26, 2009

1940 Gum, Inc. "Play Ball America" Baseball (aka "Play Ball") #5, Monte Pearson

When Gum, Inc. did a 3-year run of prewar baseball (1939-41), they also added some details rarely seen on cards from other eras. The easiest to call out is that "1939 Pennant" marker, which AL powerhouse New York took home regularly in that era. "Monte" did particularly well in 1939, tossing a 2-hit shutout in game 2. He was so efficient, the 4-0 NYY win lasted just 87 minutes.

1939 marked the 4th straight World Series for the Yankees and Pearson, who also threw the 1st no-hitter in Yankee stadium, a 13-0 whitewash of Cleveland on August 27, 1938 (more at This Day In Yankees History). Monte won 63 games in 5 years for the Bronx Bombers, working as a solid 3rd starter behind dominant stars Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez.

Gum, Inc. published 3 card sets from 1939 to 1941. In 1940, they tried to punch up the front with ornate borders and player nicknames (like "Monte" for Montgomery), but it feels lackluster compared to 1939's "basic black" and 1941's hand tinting. Nicknames work well when it's "Hot Potato" Hamlin and "Stormy" Weatherly. Plain eponyms like "Ted" (Williams) and "Mel" (Ott) fall a little flat.

1940's 240-card checklist dwarfs sibling 1939 and 1941 card counts. They took an unusual step in the "high series" (#181-240) by featuring retired and HOF players like Joe Jackson and Honus Wagner. Many of these cards show a contemporary 30s-era photo, forcing modern collectors to spend a lot of money on old-looking guys. While a unique set feature, finding all those stars--and on unflattering cards--makes building the set frustratingly slow.

Value: This #5 runs $5 or less in low grade, as most vintage Yankees carry a price premium compared to lesser-known teams. (A common Philly from the same set might be $2 or $3.)

Fakes / reprints: Several modern publishers reused the 1939-41 Play Ball designs with both current and past stars. While not reprints, they do muddy the waters by including new poses of older players. I've also seen faked Hall of Famers in the marketplace, detectable by different paper stock, spotty scanning or inkjet printing, and sloppy "aging" (weird creasing or coffee spots).

The Network54 forums tackled several Play Ball fakes over the years, including these examples.

Play Ball's the best-known option for early cards of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, so take care when buying stars or type cards. If the dealer doesn't know much about what they're selling, I recommend finding one who does.

Friday, October 23, 2009

1980 TCMA Wichita Aeros #5, Bill Hayes

TCMA specialized in 2 kinds of 70s and 80s releases, vintage team salutes and minor leaguers. This set's solidly in the latter category and profiles an American Association franchise that lasted from 1970 to 1984, when it moved to Buffalo and became the Bisons. At this set's issue, they were a Cubs AAA affiliate.

Card front

Today's guest played exactly 5 games in the big leagues, all as a Cub, and collected 2 hits in 9 ABs. He also fielded 11 chances without an error. These minimal stats belie a lifetime of commitment, as Bill's now in his 4th decade of pro ball. Currently bullpen catcher for the Giants, also breaks down his 15 years of minor league management experience from 1988 to 2002.

TCMA sets don't stand out for design, as they're really about getting local teams onto cards for fans as cheaply as possible. (I.e., no re-takes for squinty guys like Bill.) With predictably small print runs, collectors can search for a long time for individual players, and often purchase a full team set to get one guy. The 1980 Aeros checklist includes former save king Lee Smith, so will cost more than average.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

1980 TCMA 1950 Whiz Kids #5, Curt Simmons

Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies, as they return to defend their 2008 World Series trophy. With over a century of franchise history and only a pair of titles to show for it, the chance to go back-to-back seems like spitting against a stiff October wind. Fortunately, they continue to improve year-to-year and look more than ready to face either the Yankees or L.A.'s younger brother.

2009 marks only the 2nd time Philly reached the playoffs 3 consecutive seasons, matching a run from 1976 to 1978. In the 60 years prior to America's bicentennial, only 1 of their teams made the post-season at all: 1950's "Whiz Kids." In 1980, TCMA recalled this high-energy squad in a 31-card set; #5 pictures 17-game winner Curt Simmons. (And hey, The Phillies Room blogged this set just last month!)

Card front

Card back

The 1950 and 2009 teams both stand out for their average age, but at opposite ends of the spectrum. Future Hall-of-Famers Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts, both only 23, headed 1950's collection of "kids." Only 1 position regular had reached 30 and closer Jim Konstanty was the pitching staff's "old man" at 33. This year, guys like Jamie Moyer (46), Pedro Martinez (37), and Chan Ho Park (36) make new acquisition Cliff Lee (30) below Philly's average age.

1950's lineup hit for an OPS+ of 102 and pitched a lights-out ERA+ of 116. With a competent lineup and superior pitching, which outcome's most surprising?

  • The Yankees swept their series in 4 games
  • Philly sank back to last place by 1958
  • The photographer took midday pictures without shadowed faces

Should Philly face the Yankees, it'll be their first post-season meeting since that 1950 series and you can expect a few callbacks to the Whiz Kids. Hat tip to for the gents from that roster who are still with us.