Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What should SABR's new baseball card committee do?

Not gonna lie to you Marge, it's exciting to see the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) add a card-specific history committee.
It's not clear what spurred the group's creation, but their charter includes interesting goals. Here are their 3 "high points" and some personal thoughts of my own.

1. Encourage more interactive knowledge sharing about the history and importance of baseball cards as a representation of the game itself. This research will help document the link between the baseball card industry and the game's popularity.

Cards tell you a ton about the spread of baseball both geographically and culturally. According to Mint Condition, 19th century kids got hooked on tobacco baseball cards in advance of actual smoking. Pictures of sports stars, bathing beauties, and adventurers took collectors to worlds far beyond the everyday, so I can understand the attraction. (TV had a similar effect 50 years later and effectively forced the MLB into nationwide expansion.) I think the triune distractions of baseball, advertising, and picture cards grew together, inseparably.

2. Research the history of the relationship between statistics and baseball cards. (i.e. when baseball cards starting publishing RBI, Stolen Bases, etc.)

This seems a lot drier, since it's more certain when card makers added specific stats for the 1st time. I suppose it's still useful to compile an authoritative reference.

3. Provide a forum for discussion on the following aspects of the baseball card industry:
I.    Memorable, important and famous series designs
II.  The late 80s, early 90s influx of new card sets and limited edition inserts, and their effect on the hobby's health
III. Documentation on all of the major card companies and important figures in the evolution of the baseball card industry
IV.  Research into the evolution of the game as viewed through the lens of baseball cards (batting gloves, player/managers, the DH, record-setting achievements, the steroids era, etc.)

Some of these are clear-but, others completely open to interpretation. Everyone knows the first guy to bat as DH was Yankee Ron Blomberg, right?

1974 Topps #117, Ron Blomberg

But wait, not so fast! Blomberg's the first to appear as a DH on the field, not to be tagged DH in a Topps set.

1974 Topps #55, Frank Robinson

That's right, another first for big Frank. And is that a "I'm just talking 'bout Shaft!" expression or what?

What kind of things do you think the history committee should research or write about?

Monday, July 26, 2010

1975 Circle K Phoenix Giants Baseball #5, Tony Gonzalez

Since I'm nominally on vacation in the southwest, let's check out a local from the erstwhile Phoenix Giants and still-very-much-alive Circle K Stores, America's second-largest chain of convenience stores. (They trail only 7-11, who also occasionally publish baseball sets.)

To my Boston-based eye, this gentleman looks a lot like Manny Ramirez, at least in his short hair days. His AAA franchise represented San Francisco in the Pacific Coast League from 1958 to 1997, first as the Giants and later redubbed the Firebirds. (VROOM!)

Tony hoisted some sharp numbers for St. Pete in 1973, but had middling success beyond. He went 5-9 for Phoenix in 1975 and lasted just 2 more years in pro ball before moving on to other pursuits (career stats at Baseball-Reference.com). Despite throwing 4 years at the AAA level for SF and Cleveland, he never made it to the bigs.

Value: Like most minor leaguers, Tony's cards cost a few dollars on eBay or Beckett Marketplace.

Fakes / reprints: I doubt anyone would fake a minor league set unless it contained eventual major league stars and that didn't happen for Tony.

Friday, July 23, 2010

How do you track visitors or readership?

With a growing number of sports cards bloggers out there--trust me, there are hundreds, if not thousands--I often wonder how many keep track of their readers. Sports and non-sports cards still sell at Targets and Wal-Marts around the country, but it's not clear how many folks also read about the hobby in their spare time.

I included visitors and readership in the title, since blogs have both occasional visitors (often via search results) and older-school, read-it-all subscribers.

On Blogger.com-hosted sites like this one, Google provides the easiest-to-find tracking tools. I took a quick screenshot of each and linked to more info.

1. Google Analytics (the "hard numbers")

This dashboard tracks my last month of "hits," which I think are visits by unique visitors. Note the significant drop between July 5 and 17, during my summer posting vacation. It jumped back to normal levels upon my return, showing that consistent work makes a difference!

Google Analytics includes a ton of info and reports. This single graph only scratches the surface.

2. Google Friend Connect (kindred spirits)

These 44 folks all created a Blogger account and chose to Follow my (or your) site. They might not read each post, but are adding their stamp of approval to what we do.

It's up to each blog author to include this or not, using the layout designer. The icons do occupy screen real estate and look a little primitive, so I can understand folks omitting it.

3. Google Reader subscriptions (RSS feeders)

Google Reader is a pretty slick way to read anything with an RSS feed, from the latest card news to crowd-sourced stories of hellacious clients. It also provides another take on "subscribers," but from the visitor's point of view. (I.e., "did I read everything posted this week?")

Find this graph by selecting the feed name from Reader's sidebar and then clicking Show Details in its upper-right corner. The blue and orange bars compare how often this site publishes something to how much I read. 61 folks total get The #5 Type Collection via Google Reader; 60, if you don't count me.


These are just what they sound like--folks who took the time to read your post, endure Google's "prove you're human" shenanigans, and add a thought of their own.

Social psychologists say active engagement comes from less than 5% of your total readership. That means each real comment is actually worth 20 or 30 "Beckett value" comments. :-)

5. Others?

The first 4 methods keep a finger on the pulse of blog readers and how often they visit. Got any more readership trackers you use or want to know more about? Let me know below!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

1978 Indianapolis Indians Baseball #5, Mike LaCoss (unleashed!)

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows. More specifically, the Face Shadow. Its tendrils creep under your skin and peel away the facade, leaving only blistered palms and the burning starkness of a noonday sun.

See that Gatorade sign 363 feet away and another 22 feet up? You think Mike LaCoss can't throw a gosh darn forkball right through the 'O'? Think again, chump.

Read more about his philosophy of life, love of Freedom Fries, and off-season hobbies at Mike LaCoss: Unleashed. (And never forget: FORKBALL!)

OK, this card has a mediocre photo, but check out the rest! They got a nickname, 4 years of stats, player bio, autograph, and some advice to youngsters all on one back. Compared to most oddball 1970s cards, the Indians design guys did efficient work.

Value: I bought this Mike "Buff" LaCoss for $2.70 from MinorLeagueSingles.com. Dave (the owner) went the extra mile tracking down almost 30 obscure #5s and gets my hearty recommendation.

Fakes / reprints: Don't think we'll see a fake LaCoss anytime soon, thanks to the threat of forkball reprisals.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

1975 TCMA 1950's PCL Baseball #5, Elmer Singleton

As of July 2010, Jamie Moyer's midway through his 27th pro season, mixing 10 minor league squads with another 7 in the majors. Taking the field day-in-and-out for 20+ years puts him in rare company, a clan of mostly pitchers. Most folks know its Hall of Famers, like Nolan Ryan and Satchel Paige. Another of them? Today's guest, the extremely well-traveled Elmer Singleton.

1949 Bowman baseball #148, Bert Singleton

This vintage rookie card--and what appears to be a paste-on ball cap--marked Elmer's second stop in the majors. He debuted with Boston in 1945, but moved to Pittsburgh by the time Bowman resumed post-war card production in 1948. (Career stats at Baseball-Reference.com.)

Card front

More critical to today's set profile, Singleton spent 20 years in the minor leagues, including 12 in the Pacific Coast League. Along the way, he picked up the colorful nickname "Smoky." Pitchers often get called "smoke" if they can bring the heat, but I suspect Elmer got it for some other reason. (Not sure why 1949 Bowman went with "Bert," since it's actually his first name.)

UPDATE: I'm wrong! Smoky's granddaughter confirmed on this post that his fastball earned the nickname. Great to learn it from an original source.

Card back

Value: Cards from this obscure, 18-card set shows up every so often on eBay. I probably overpaid on this #5 at $15, but sometimes rarity trumps financial pragmatism.

Fakes / reprints: While it'd be easy enough to reprint one of these black-and-white cards, famous players are at highest risk of counterfeiting. I doubt many, if any, fakes exist.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

1972 TCMA Cedar Rapids Cardinals Baseball #5, Jethro Mills

Today, Mark of Mark's Ephemera pointed me to MiLB.com's 2010 Minor Moniker Madness, an NCAA-style player name contest. Check it out for some great baseball names and help pick a winner. (I hope Zach Outman hits for a high average, just to prove 'em wrong.)

Card front

Jethro Mills is no slouch of a baseball name and gets the position of honor (#5) on this, TCMA's earliest minor league set. Interesting that a NY-based card maker would start with a A-league Iowa farm team, but perhaps they were the only willing customer!

While only 20 years old in this photo, it's Jethro's last year in a pro uniform. He pitched just 2 seasons in the St. Louis system before moving on to other pursuits. (Career stats at Baseball-Reference.com.)

Card back

Value: TCMA singles usually don't cost very much, but this is from one of their rarest sets. I paid $10 for Jethro and didn't feel bad about it.

Fakes / reprints: It would be pretty easy to fake this set with the right card stock, but I haven't seen any in the market.

Monday, July 19, 2010

1980 TCMA Evansville Triplets Baseball #5, Michael Chris

Here's a stately pose by the man with two first names, southpaw Mike Chris. I bet the ladies swooned for that cleft chin and those angular features!

Card front

Mr. Chris spent almost 10 years in pro ball, split between 6 minor league teams and 2 more in the bigs. Mike debuted with Detroit at mid-season in 1979 and made 13 appearances, winning 3 times despite a 6.92 ERA. His finest performance was probably this 3-1 win over Tommy John and the Yankees on Sept 9th.

Card back

Evansville's Triplets played at Bosse Field, America's oldest minor league baseball stadium. Only Fenway Park and Wrigley Field have seen longer continuous use! (The movie A League of Their Own used its classic lines for several scenes.)

 photo courtesy Wikipedia

Value: This card cost me $1 on Beckett Marketplace, a typical price for 1980 TCMA singles.

Fakes / reprints: Fortunately, there's little chance of fakery for minor league "commons."

Sunday, July 4, 2010

What locker room questions would you ask?

Don Carman's recent #5 profile mentioned a list of "stock answers" posted on his Phillies locker in 1990. When a reporter asked something that didn't require much thought, I assume Don pointed to the 37 different soundbites and invited them to pick one they liked. My favorite?
"We need two players to take us over the top: Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig."
See Baseball Almanac for the full list of Don's "answers."

In the comments for that Carman card profile, Night Owl pointed out that writers have to tell a story, stock phrases or not. If they see Don's list posted on a locker, that's an invitation to talk about different questions the player wants to answer.

The answer is "42"

If you wore the reporter's hat, what question would you ask?

Friday, July 2, 2010

1980 TCMA Holyoke Millers Baseball #5, Frank Thomas

Not sure why they snapped this photo next to a driveway and tennis court. Perhaps Holyoke, Massachusetts, packs all of their sports surfaces onto a single city block.

Card front

Today's guest is only one of many gents named Frank Thomas to put on a pair of spikes. The Big Hurt is our generation's best-known, but a 3-time All-Star with the same name hit 286 homers between 1951 and 1966. (That older Frank signs his cards as "The Original One.")

Card back

This Thomas, given name Franklin, is one of four to play only in the minors, which he did from 1978 to 1984. Like many singles hitters, Frank's career slugging (.314) measurably trailed his OBP (.339). He muscled out 4 total homers in 651 games, including a career-high 3 with AAA Vancouver in 1981.

Value: 1980 TCMA singles costs a dollar or two. Do dealers charge extra for Frank's intense expression? No, that should come free.

Fakes / reprints: I've never seen a faked 1980 TCMA card in the market and don't see a wave of them starting up anytime soon.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

1980 TCMA Peninsula Pilots Baseball #5, Don Carman

What's the best part of any minor league stadium? Did you say, "outfield fence advertising?" This card's background features both Col. Hawkins' Truck Service and Atlantic Char-(something, char-broiler?) Service.

Hey, it pays the bills.

Card front

Mid-Atlantic minor league fans know two incarnations of the Peninsula Pilots.

Single-A team, Carolina League (1976 - 1992): You can guess the circa-1980 Phillies connection from Mr. Carman's purple-and-pinstripe uniform. The parent club won their first World Series in 1980, which is probably still exciting for the minor league affiliates.

Amateur summer team, Coastal Plain League (2000-present). Summer leagues invite top college and high school players to relocate for a few months, play some baseball, and make it easy for pro scouts to find them. The 2010 Coastal Plain League season runs from late May to early August.

Card back

Dan debuted with the Phillies in 1983 and pitched in the majors through 1992. I loved this excerpt from his Wikipedia page.
Carman was also known for his sense of humor; tired of repetitive postgame questions from sports reporters, in the 1990 season he posted a handwritten list of 37 standard responses on his locker and invited reporters to take their pick. The list, including clich├ęs like "I'd rather be lucky than good" and "We're going to take the season one game at a time," was eventually published in several newspapers in its entirety.
Fans don't like stock questions and answers either, so why do writers keep asking them?

Value: Most minor league singles cost a dollar or two on eBay or Becket Marketplace.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any out there, at least not from the 1980 TCMA sets.

Poll wrap-up: Longest eBay transaction + 300th post

Thanks for your votes! A few other folks waited a month or more for their transaction to wrap-up, so I don't feel so bad about my current "purchase-and-exchange" stretching out to almost 8 weeks. It's a hard truth that moving everyone's home business to the web (a la eBay) also adds new potentials for delay.

If my math is correct, yesterday's 1980 TCMA Richmond Braves profile of manager Fred "Scrap Iron" Hatfield marked my 300th post to the #5 type blog. While certainly a goal from day one, what blogger confidently expects to reach that kind of post count?

Thanks to everyone who's read an article, commented, or sent me precious cards from their own collection! It's been a personally rewarding trip.

I'll be taking a week off around the 4th of July, returning with more profiles and at least one giveaway by mid-July. Have a good holiday to everyone doing the same! (Wish I could relax in this #5 Yankee Stadium seat that went up for auction earlier this year...)