Monday, June 29, 2009

1979 Topps Comics #5, Chet Lemon

This Bazooka-style gum comic pictures today's guest as a 70s White Sox player, for whom he made two All-Star appearances, but I remember him as Detroit's speedy center fielder. Their mid-80s core of good-to-great players (Trammel, Whitaker, Gibson, Lemon, Morris, Parrish) blew everyone away with 104 wins in 1984 and cruised to the title. They worked so hard, it looked easy.

Card front (blank back)

When the 2001 Mariners set a record for wins with 116 in Tiger-like style, I recall playoff pundits asking (1984 Detroit manager) Sparky Anderson if Seattle could win its first championship. He said something about how they "had to." Oh-so-disappointing when they didn't! Remember their crafty lefty, 38 year-old Jamie Moyer, oldest pitcher to win 20 games for the first time? Hey, whatever happened to that guy?

This set of 33 comics looks a lot like the classic figure drawings from Bob Parker or Robert Laughlin. (Of course, it could also be one of them working officially for Topps.) Vertical folds on the scan show how the comic wrapped around a piece of gum. Single examples measure a couple inches square, but some larger uncut sheets also found their way into collector hands, probably from Topps' own vault. View a melange of comics in the logo of that's set pricing sheet at Dean's Cards (no endorsement implied).

Though Dean's site prices the set at more than $80, individual "commons" cost as little as a quarter elsewhere and you could assemble the whole shebang for about $50 with some searching.

Friday, June 26, 2009

1975 Fleer Pioneers of Baseball #5, Old Hoss Radbourn

If you're looking for rubber arms, go no further than today's guest and his mind-bending 678+ innings pitched in 1884. He won 60 games that year (or 59--see his Wikipedia entry for more info) and totaled 309 victories in a fairly brief 12-season career.

Surprisingly, Hoss' amazing single-season win total doesn't appear in's Top 10 of unbreakable baseball records, despite listing more reachable feats like Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. This unfortunately reflects "modern" baseball's willingness to discard 19th century play as less meaningful. Yes, the game's changed since then, but this bias seems to reflect the emergence of supporting systems like radio, newspaper coverage, and statistical anaylsis.

Check out The Fleer Sticker Project's profile of this set for some awesome research on this set's 1975 and 1976 printings, plus a glimpse into artist Bob Laughlin's Inside Pitch card newsletter from the same era. I won't even give away the famous collector it pictures therein! (But remember, awesome.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

1980 Burger King "Pitch, Hit & Run" Baseball #5, Jerry Koosman

The Corporate King of Deflowering released this 1980 Topps look-a-like to coincide with the nationwide "Pitch, Hit & Run" skills competition. 33 players and an unnumbered checklist comprise the fairly small set, which I assume went out over BK counters and at the event itself. Almost everyone in the set's well-known, so let's link to five guys you might not remember.
  • #24 Enos Cabell: Sharp Astros leadoff hitter from 1976 to 1980.
  • #27 Ron LeFlore: Discovered in prison by (noted humanitarian) Billy Martin and signed with Detroit in mid-70s. Stole 97 bases for Montreal in 1980.
  • #29 Omar Moreno: 1979 World Champ with the Pirates. 96 steals in 1980 and only man with 90+ not to lead league, courtesy of LeFlore.
  • #31 Bill North: A fast Bay Area outfielder who lacked Rickey's judgment; led league in CS four times.
  • #32 Frank Taveras: SS who suffered 1979 trade from (champ) Pirates to (6th place) Mets. Hit 2 career homers, one an inside-the-park grand slam.
The Pitch, Hit & Run challenge remains alive and well, but Aquafina now pays the bills.

One of the classic inning eaters, Jerry Koosman played from 1967 to 1985 and won 222 games. He pitched just above .500 ball for 4 different teams, but won 20+ games twice, going 20-13 for the (pictured) 1979 Twinkies.

The card back copies most of Topps' design, but swaps out the player highlight cartoon for a competition logo. (Check out for an example scan of a certain well-known player.) His 4 post-season wins included the clinching game for 1969's Miracle Mets.

How does a pitcher's environment impact their performance? Note Koosman's similar numbers in 1978 and 1979. Virtually identical games, runs, earned runs, Ks, walks, and less than 1 more inning thrown per start. Even with "just" a 82-80 record, the Twins got him 17 more wins! It's an astounding difference.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Type Site: Poor Old Baseball Cards

A blog after my own heart, the Poor Old Baseball Cards site examines what can happen on the wrong end of bike spokes, a ballpoint pen, or life's vicissitudes. Some posts feature cards that are simply low grade, others discuss kids who care too much, and one even called out Topps for questionable prognostication.

Favorite Post: I love cards old enough to show up in an antique bin. On June 14, 2009, POBC profiled one Jack Barry from the E90-1 American Caramel set. E90-1s came out between 1909 and 1911 and include a ton of big names from baseball's early years.

Although part of the $100,000 infield, Jack looks to be practicing for a "Ten Lords a-Leaping" rehearsal in front of a very pastoral setting. Not a pose you're going to find in today's manly sets!

Monday, June 22, 2009

1962 Post Cereal Baseball #5, Mickey Mantle

I wrote up the 1962 Post Cereal Canadian set in 2008, whose #5 pictures Mickey Mantle, a.k.a. The Patron Saint of Topps Cards. That year, three different sets used a nearly identical format of upper-right photo, upper-left bio, and bottom edge stat grid. Today's post shows another from the same year, 1962 Post Cereal (American).

Card front (blank back)

Aside from being more internationally authoritarian, the American Post Cereal set differs in several notable ways from its Canadian counterpart.
  • Post logo placed in politically key "Midwestern region"
  • Complete absence of non-English languages
  • Photo cropped closer to emphasize Mantle's dominance of the sport
  • Red, white, and blue colors more balanced to improve patriotic presentation
...and thus ends the geopolitical humor.

As mentioned in the previous #5 post, there's one more 1962 card related to these three. That year, LIFE magazine co-opted 1961's famous "Mantle v. Maris" home run chase with a new subscription promo. While they numbered each card as if part of the Post Cereal set, it retains more value as a complete card.

LIFE magazine insert

TCDB's 1962 Post checklist notes a modest number of variations, including color differences around the stat lines. It otherwise shares identical checklists with Canadian and JELL-O versions. Uncut panels featured three players from each league, AL in blue and NL in red.

1962 Post uncut panel scan from eBay

Value: Based on eBay completed auctions, NM Post cards go for $35-65 and VG cards about half that. That $65 listing used Buy-It-Now and looks like an outlier; the next highest NM auction (with bidding) went for $54.

Fakes / reprints: I've seen both fakes and reprints in the market, since Mantle's such a popular guy. 1960s cereal box cards used similar cardboard stock and thickness to those on store shelves today, so use that as a baseline. Also check for clear, sharp-edged type, as scanned and reprinting can blur the text.

Friday, June 19, 2009

1949 Bowman Baseball #5, Hank Sauer

Today's guest played in 15 MLB seasons with a handful of teams, but most famously with Chicago, who acquired him at 1949's mid-point from Cincinnati. He looks a trifle old on this card because the Reds waited two seasons after his war service to promote Hank to the majors, including a AAA year with 50 homers. Not one to waste time, Sauer blasted another 35 during his rookie year of 1948.

Hank won 1952's closely contested National League MVP award, edging out pitchers Robin Roberts (Phillies) and Joe Black (Dodgers) and setting career highs in total bases (301), RBIs (131), and OPS+ (143). Oddly enough, he hit just as well two years later--at age 37!--but finished 26th in the MVP race as Willie Mays dominated the batter's box, outfield, and voter's hearts.

Bowman's 1949 set gets a shrug of the shoulders from many collectors. Sure, it's a multi-series, 240-card issue from a major name, but why so lackluster? Bland backgrounds and mis-aligned color printing (apparent on the #5) dogged the whole set and made many players look hazy or just plain ugly. Cards backs include decent bios, but we're still a few years away from Topps' popularization of the stat grid.

I did learn something new researching the set, courtesy of collector Chris Stufflestreet. Normally, you expect companies to print a complete series, such as #1 through #72, all at once. In 1949, however, Bowman substituted #73 (Billy Cox) for #4 (Jerry Priddy) on their two 36-count printing sheets. This left a bedeviling early-season hole between #3 and #5 that no amount of collector purchases could fill until the next group of cards came along. It also explains why Priddy appears both with and without the "name on front" variation first seen in the second series. Summarily lame from a customer perspective, if relatively innocuous in the lens of history.

Value: 1949 Bowman's tough to finish thanks to its scarce high series. They run $10+ each in low grade, quite the investment for an ugly duckling set. This #5 Sauer cost me only $5 from eBay back in 2003.

Fakes / reprints: Some modern retro sets adopted the 1949 Bowman design, though with a better touch on the color and pose definition. Thanks to 1949's blockier color, it's easy enough to tell the old and the new apart.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

1925 Turf Cigarettes Sports of the World #5, Sprinting

Back in the 1910s and 20s, tobacco companies produced all manner of promotional cards to attract and retain customers. Most sets measured about 1.5" x 2.5" and went out one-per-pack, so frequent smokers amassed them quickly. The smaller size proved easier to collect than postcards and printing press advancements made multicolor presentation relatively inexpensive. This culminated in a card production boom that only slowed during World War I and picked up again soon after. (Countries of both sides of the Atlantic produced sets, but US issues retain much greater value overall.)

Card collecting today seems almost inseparable from commercial American sports, but not so in the early 20th century, when just about any subject could pop out of your Piedmont pack. This 1925 set from British "Turf Cigarettes" features "records" from a variety of worldwide activities. Our fifth card shows that most popular of track events, the sprint (or dash). Wooden stakes delineate lanes instead of chalk, but runner outfits differ little from what we see today: shirt, shorts, shoes, and sweat.

Card #50 from this set does feature American baseball and highlights the batting exploits of George Sisler. (Scan courtesy of Given an overseas origin, it's not surprising that the back text comes off stilted and awkward, even verging on Engrish.

"50. - BASEBALL. In America's great Ball-game, G. H. Sisler, of St. Louis (U.S.A.), put up the highest batting percentage known in the history of the American League, with his hit for 41,979. Mr. Sisler's name is to be inscribed on the $100,000 Base Ball Monument, which will be erected in Washington."

The figure "41,979" refers to Sisler's 1922 average of .420, without baseball's typical rounding to three digits and using a European-style comma instead of the American period. Did the planned D.C. "monument" eventually became Cooperstown's Hall of Fame? They certainly paid more than $100,000 for the one that stands there now.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Type Site: Project Baseball 1976

Each day brings new writers and projects to the baseball interwebs, some of which deserve special note...and not just (cough) because they follow my #5 type collection.

Arizona-based card blogger MattR started Project Baseball 1976 in March 2009 with the goal to collect, display, and describe each card from the eponymous Topps set. It started with #1, Hank Aaron's lifetime RBI record breaker and continues daily like a heady, unstoppable wave of nostalgia. A hearty salute to the research and detail that goes into each entry; my favorite's #103, Biff Pocoroba, for 2 reasons.
  1. Biff is the man's given name, surely a gateway to pro sports or casino management.
  2. His hair in 1976's picture looks just like mine did, perpetually flaring out like a sideways wind tunnel. BLAME THE 70s.
  3. BONUS: Knowing that MattR's dad also went by "Biff" as a kid.
As of June 16, the blog's wantlist is down to just a few for the complete set. Help him out with a card or two and you'll achieve online immortality--and what can compare to that?

1933 World Wide Gum Baseball #5, Babe Herman

Babe Herman, primarily a power-hitting first sacker and right fielder for the Brooklyn Robins (nee Dodgers), wielded an above-average stick in an offensively charged era, leading to some pretty gaudy numbers. How many players brush .400 twice (.381 in 1929 and .393 in 1930) without a batting crown to show for it? Who today would consider .313 an "off year?"

Somewhat unfortunately, Babe's hitting prowess came hand-in-glove with lapses of concentration in the field and on the base paths. Most infamously, he was the batter for Brooklyn's “3 men on third” misplay in 1926. David Hinckley wrote a modern recount for the Daily News in 2003, but I'll summarize this iconic moment.

3 Dodgers On Third

On August 15, Babe came to bat with loaded bases and a 1-1 tie game. He sent a moon shot to deep right field, whereupon all runners slowed, in case of a fly out, but Herman ran full-speed ahead, seeking extra bases. The ball bounced high off the wall, but pitcher Dazzy Vance couldn’t score from second and retreated to third after a rundown, only to find first-base runner Chick Fewster already there. Moments later, a hard-charging Herman joined them, leading to a tag-everyone double play. Truly classic work from Dem Bums.

Set Profile

Boston-based Goudey Gum incorporated a Canadian subsidiary, World Wide Gum, in 1933. Establishing this market made sense, as minor league teams enjoyed popularity across North America and the stateside set already included non-MLB players. (Babe Herman even signed his first pro contract in Edmonton in the early 20s.) nicely details the 1933 set, officially cataloged as ACC V353.

WWG followed this set with another look-alike in 1934 and I profiled its #5, Flint Rhem, in May 2009. These card scans, almost identical to the American issue, show why collectors also call them "Canadian Goudeys." Set size marks the primary difference. Montreal-made backs include the footnote about being "one of a series of 240 Baseball Stars," but wraps up at only #94, Al Spohrer.

Confusingly for collectors, player numbers in both sets match from #1 (Bengough) to #52 (Cohen), but vary thereafter, making it easy to confuse the American and Canadian. If you get your hands on such a card, look for "WORLD WIDE GUM CO, LTD, MONTREAL" on the back.

UPDATE: Check out this blue register printing ghost, found on

Value: This set's considerably rarer than Goudeys in the marketplace and advanced hobbyists bemoan the completion difficulty of a "master set," which includes all 94 cards with frequent (but not universal) English-only and English/French back variations. This mixed-language Babe Herman cost me about $20 on eBay in 2004, but might be double that today, even in low grade.

Fakes / reprints: Counterfeits exist for at least the biggest names and perhaps the entire set. You can also find "real" reprints of the set aimed at collectors. While scarce, a type card won't set you back enough that it's worth risking a "cheap find" only to end up with a fake.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

1980 Laughlin Famous Feats #5, Dizzy Dean

Prior to their big 660-card 1981 set, Fleer published a variety of smaller, baseball-themed issues in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Today's guest comes from a "sequel" to their 1972 Famous Feats, as artist Robert Laughlin reprised his earlier work with a 1980 "Second Series" update of 40 cards. He used a more refined style this time, with deeper backgrounds and less exaggerated features. Some catalogs list the set as "1980 Laughlin Famous Feats" and others attribute it to Fleer. They look very polished in either case, and worthy of collecting just for the art.

Card front (blank back)

The set's "feats" range from career years (like Dean) to past masters (Connie Mack manages A's for 50 years). My favorite's number 10, Lou Gehrig, shown in the field and half-shadowed. That kind of artistic touch for a classically tragic figure would be almost impossible to communicate on a normal photographic card.

Would HOFer Dizzy Dean be left out in a Hall run by Sabermetricians? His haystack of on-field bravado and later career as baseball broadcaster made "fame" a prominent reason for induction. He was truly marvelous for a handful of seasons--few pitchers won an MVP and finished second twice--but a functional starter for just 6 total, earning 150 career wins. Pedro Martinez, who's at least Dizzy's equal, if less brash, will look to players like Dean for voting comparison.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

1973 Kellogg's Baseball #5, Don Sutton

If you've seen a lot of cereal cards from the 70s and 80s, the 1973 set sticks out like a sore thumb. C'mon, where's the fake 3D background? Why on earth is it printed on card stock instead of space-age plastic? You might say Kellogg's, sir, but I've sorted them and strewn my floor with them. Mr. Sutton, you're no Kellogg's.

Political japes aside, today's guest did indeed come from specially marked boxes full of sugar-frosted something-or-other. Kellogg's use of "regular" paper and "plain" photographs in 1973 might be unique in their vintage sets, but it also feels comparatively normal, like Mario Mendoza going 1-for-5. I personally like seeing a player clearly and don't know why a cereal company, of all people, went for funky visual effects. At least their 70s commercials stuck to the basics: America, Babe Ruth, and sugar.

Don Sutton turned 23 seasons of consistency into 324 wins and a 1998 Hall of Fame induction, though not without a modicum of sportswriter grumbling. After all, he won 20 games only once and placed no higher than 3rd in Cy Young voting, losing the affection many voters have for dominant performances. Don used dogged determination to cover up any deficiencies in flash, logging 30+ starts per year and winning 15 games as late as age 41. I think that putting up similar numbers to a host of more agreeable enshrinees made the difference--he's tied with Nolan Ryan for 14th in wins and finished between Tom Seaver and Gaylord Perry in Ks.

The card back notes a penchant for allowing home runs, something that continued at a relatively high rate throughout Don's career. A 42 year-old Sutton almost allowed more than gopher balls (38) than walks (41) in 1986. He balanced this tendency by tossing several shut-outs per year from 1967 to 1977, topping out at a league-leading 9 in 1972. That year, arguably his best, included a career-low ERA (2.02), 19 wins, a Maddux-like 0.913 WHIP, and the first of 4 All-Star appearances. (Unfortunately, Steve Carlton's astounding 27 wins for a 59-97 Philly team overshadowed other Cy Young candidates.) While he claimed few individual trophies, Sutton remains the all-time Dodger leader in wins, Ks, innings, and shutouts.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

1962 Salada Baseball Coins #5, Woody Held (actually Woodie Held)

Today's peripatetic guest served for 7 teams in his 14-year career, about half of them in a Cleveland uniform. Shortstop's his position on this coin, but his Wikipedia article noted a problem with fielding ground balls, prompting a move to the outfield. (I did OK with infield grounders, it was the HBP that bothered me enough to prompt a switch--to soccer.)

This set of plastic players came individually packaged in boxes of Salada Tea and Junket pudding, so appear in some catalogs as "Salada-Junket coins." Each one features a printed paper insert pressed into a plastic backing. Originally planned for 200 coins, expansion rosters in Houston and New York pushed the total to 221 by year end. These "update" printings also switched some players to new teams and dropped others altogether, creating a few dozen variations and rarities.

Woody played in Cleveland at the tail end of the Bill Veeck era, which featured adjustable outfield fences, the MLB debuts of Larry Doby and Satchel Paige, and the Indians' first championship. Unfortunately for Held, being after those good times meant several years of second-division finishes. Many 60s fans blame poor performance on a stream of productive players leaving town, including Norm Cash, Minnie Minoso, Rocky Colavito, and Roger Maris. Future home run king Maris is especially significant, as Held came to town as part of that deal. To quote
June 15, 1958: Traded by the Kansas City Athletics with Vic Power to the Cleveland Indians for Roger Maris, Dick Tomanek and Preston Ward.
When the time came, Woodie went.
December 1, 1964: Traded by the Cleveland Indians with Bob Chance to the Washington Senators for Chuck Hinton.
Still a power hitter at age 33, Held hit 16 homers and slugged .452 for the Senators in 1965. Unfortunately, his power faded soon after, prompting three more trades before his final release by the White Sox in 1969. In turn, I'll leave you with this Held-attributed quote.

"Don't forget to swing hard, in case you hit the ball."

UPDATE: Unfortunately, today's guest passed away only days after this post. Coincidentally, I also recently encountered his 1965 Topps card in the excellent Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book, a recommended read for all card collectors. RIP, Woodie Held.

Monday, June 1, 2009

1961 Post Cereal Baseball #5, Bill Turley

The clock says lunch time, so let's check out an early food set, 1961 Post cereal. BOWL! MILK! SPOON! PLAY BALL!

Card front (blank back)

This 200-card issue covers the 16 teams that took the field in 1960. Each squad gets about a dozen players, though the Yankees kick it off with #1-18. (Hence Bob Turley clocking in at #5.) Backs are blank, so they pack demographics, stats, and a color photo into one tight layout. The stat summary is cribbed directly from the previous year's Topps set, but at least they stole from smart people.

1960 Topps design and stat layout

American League expansion added the Los Angeles Angels and a new Washington Senators (the "old" version moved to Minnesota and became the Twins) in 1961, which prompted a lot of player movement. That's a problem for a cereal company, which can't just sell everything in April. Several Post cards include a change of teams or transaction note, like "Sold to Washington." See the set checklist for a full list of these variations. (The National League added two teams in 1962, Houston's Colt .45's and New York's Mets.)

Most of these cards came right from boxes, trimmed by the hands of young fans. However, not every card came this way. Post also produced perforated, full-page team sets that you could separate into individual players. Note the edge remnants on Chuck Stobbs, scan courtesy of

With some guys only available on cereal boxes and others just part of team "sheets," collectors could go nuts trying to fill in the gaps. Refer back to the checklist to see which were BOX (cereal) only and which were COM (company-printed). Some variations exist in only one of those formats, even if you could find the number itself in both. At least players were on the outside of Raisin Bran back in 1961, so kids knew which one to badger their parents for.

Value: Low-grade Post cards cost $1 or less at shows and online. HOFers often run $5-10.

Fake / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace, as the original are plentiful enough.