Monday, January 31, 2011

1975 SSPC New York Mets Baseball #5, Wayne Garrett

The 1973 World Series matched two teams best known by their abbreviations, the Athletics and Metropolitans. It lasted an entertaining seven games, the home teams winning almost every one, and Oakland ultimately captured their middle title of a back-to-back-to-back championship run. It doesn't come up in conversation much now, but only two franchises managed this feat ever, the A's from 1972 to 1974 and (much better known) the Yankees on multiple occasions.

So why a 1973 discussion for this 1975 card? Like most Vietnam-era seasons, pitching dominated the series and both lineups managed only six homers combined. Even series MVP Reggie Jackson hit just one. So who has two thumbs and slugged a pair by himself? This guy.

Card front

Eyes on the prize, a.k.a. those right field stands.

Card back

Today's profile is also part of the eventual end of Topps' baseball card hegemony. Mike Aronstein's SSPC (Sports Stars Publishing Company) printed several "small" sets as a run-up to their 630-card 1976 issue, including this New York combo of 23 Yankees and 22 Mets. He sold them by mail order (not at stores or candy counters) and charged a few dollars for each 45-card set.

I like SSPC's smaller sets and think this one used better photography than the bigger 1976 version, with good lighting--note no shadows on Wayne's face--and fewer "ouch, the 1970s" shots.

1976: iffy lighting and lots of hair explosions

Topps considered SSPC enough of a challenge to issue a cease-and-desist court order in 1976, but their sets remain available and affordable via eBay,, and other Internet card sites. I pick Tom Seaver for "best" on the 1975 Mets checklist, unless you give manager Yogi Berra credit for his playing career.

Value: Most SSPC singles cost less than $1.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any reprints in the market.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Herschel Walker wins second bout as MMA fighter

Did the former NFL star use my #5 blog profile questioning his return to football as pre-match motivation to knock the stuffing out of Scott Carson just 3 minutes into round 1? Whether he did or not, the big man's now 2-0 in the ring.

Sorry about that, Mr. Walker--you can go ahead and do whatever you want. Just don't kill me.

Friday, January 28, 2011

1979 Kellogg's Baseball #5, Jim Palmer

This week (late Jan 2011), former NFL star (and current mixed martial arts fighter) Herschel Walker said that he'd like to return to football at age 48. Not sure if that's predicated on the looming work stoppage and some kind of replacement team for locked-out union players, but his comment made for an interesting pre-Super Bowl distraction and tangentially reminded me of 70s underwear model and Oriole HOF pitcher, Jim Palmer.

Card front

Palmer retired in 1984 with 268 wins, 3 Cy Young awards, and 3 World Series rings, all excellent support pillars for HOF election in his first year of eligibility. Many considered him a shoo-in for Cooperstown by the late 1970s, both for his personal fame ("underwear model" will do that) and as a key piece of Baltimore's great success in the 1960s and 70s.

Walker's announcement took me back because Jim also un-retired in 1991--a year after reaching the HOF--and joined Baltimore for spring training. Jim's comeback only lasted two innings of a single game, however, before he hung 'em back up--and that's in a non-contact sport. There's no questioning Herschel's toughness (MMA at 48!), but expect the same story to play out should he try a gridiron return.

Card back

Kellogg's settled into their sorta-3D niche by the late 1970s and this 60-player set repeats what worked for them throughout the decade. According to the Key Man Collectibles 1979 profile, three print runs spawned a bunch of variations, so the master set contains over 100 cards.

Value: Most Kellogg's cards cost a dollar or two and even less if they have any surface cracks. Find Palmer and plenty of others at Check Out My Cards.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any Kellogg's fakes in the marketplace.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

1980 Kellogg's Baseball #5, Bert Blyleven

2011 Hall of Fame inductee Bert Blyleven played for 5 different teams across his 22 seasons, but one of his seasons, Pittsburgh's 1979 title winner, stands out as enigmatic for a guy used to taking the mound every scheduled day, year after year. Could it possibly be odder than those black-on-gold beehive hats and wide-wale pant striping? Let's find out.

Card front

Blyleven went 12-5 in 1979 and struck out 172 batters, totals that seem low for his 3.8 WAR (wins above replacement), which placed tops on a pretty good Pirates staff. Seventeen decisions looks like a guy who spent time on the DL, but Bert took the mound every scheduled time, 37 starts in all. So how did all those appearances become "only" a dozen wins?

Based on 1979's box scores, Bert went two weeks between decisions five different times, a steady pulse in the arc of his season. On opening day, Blyleven threw 7 innings of 2-run ball, but Pittsburgh lost in 10 innings. By my count, he started 9 different games that went to extra innings, a lost cause for pitcher wins no matter how good their curveball. I'm sure he doesn't begrudge the World Series ring, but there must've been frustrating days watching from the bench.

Card back

"Bert's clutch pitching, during which he displayed the finest curveball in baseball, enabled the Pirates to Cincinnati in the NL Playoffs and the Orioles in the come-from-behind World Series. The Pirates certainly knew what they were doing when they acquired Blyleven from the Rangers in December, 1977."

UPDATE: Kellogg's offered this 60-player set in various brands of cereal, but specifically featured Raisin Bran on card backs. Collectors could acquire them one-per-box or buy the complete set by mail order.

Value: Kellogg's singles run a dollar or two. Cards quality improved by the late 1970s and their plastic fronts tend to crack less than early sets.

Fakes / reprints: Doubt anyone would try faking Kellogg's cards and haven't seen any in the market.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

1911 T3 Turkey Red Baseball #5, Sam Crawford

This card shows "Wahoo Sam" playing catch with someone off-panel, but folks in those days knew him as a top-tier batsman. Crawford started playing in the 19th century, before parks used outfield fences consistently, so power hitters often placed among the leaders in triples, a skill modern fans associate more with speed. (No fences meant no automatic homers back then--batters had to hit the ball deep and run it out.)

Card front

Collectors know these artful 6" x 8" cards by three terms: T3s (catalog number), Turkey Reds (associated tobacco brand), and, more generally, "cabinet cards" (for their large and presentable size). This bigger surface meant more chances for damage--note several dings and marks on its "frame"--but there's no denying their appeal. I'd even call them "classy."

Card back

Turkey Red backs show the entire checklist, a mixture of baseball players, on-field action shots, and pro boxers. Individual panels start around $100 and HOFers cost much more, so building a complete set takes real money and dedication.

Value: Low-grade Crawford cards run a few hundred dollars, given his HOF status and popularity with Detroit fans.

Fakes / reprints: Several T3 reprints exist and there's no doubt people faked the most valuable stars. Modern companies also adapted the painted look for 21st century players, one of the best throwback designs to choose from.

Monday, January 24, 2011

1973 Johnny Pro Orioles Baseball #5, Brooks Robinson (batting)

Johnny Pro Enterprises printed this 28-card Orioles set during Baltimore's amazing run of five AL East titles in six years (1969-1974), a great era for the hometown fans. Brooks Robinson anchored 3rd throughout, appeared in 15 straight All-Star games (1960-1974), captured 16 straight Gold Glove awards (1960-1975), and wore their (since-retired) #5, making him an ideal fit for the type collection.

Card front (blank back)

You can punch out both picture and stand to create an array of 5" tall players, but most cards still in the hobby remain like today's example, un-punched and flat.

This blog profiled Johnny Pro's other Brooks Robinson card, the "fielding" variation that better fits his reputation, in Feb 2010. Check it out at 1973 Johnny Pro Orioles #5.

Value: I found this card, autograph and all, on eBay for $10.

Fakes / reprints: Folks don't reprint over-sized cards very often, so the Brooks autograph's a bigger "risk" for fakery. (Fortunately, I picked this up for the card itself.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

1955 Topps Hocus Focus Baseball #5, Ted Williams

After more than 100 years of collecting, how many mysteries remain? Cards-as-investment frenzy peaked in the 1990s, coaxing forgotten treasures from attics and estates as folks hoped to score a big-money find. Tons of little-known ephemera entered the market, leaving experts to puzzle out authenticity and market values. Alan Alda and Matthew Broderick even personalized the hunt for cardboard gold in a 2008 movie.

Hobby knowledge grew by leaps and bounds in the last 20 years, leaving remaining unknowns in a realm of the completely obscure and dismissible. Imagine a kitschy photo paper that started blank, but revealed pictures if you rubbed water (or spit) on it and let it dry in the sun. Would you keep them around? That's the rare (and still mysterious) Topps Hocus Focus.

 Card panel front

Bob Lemke, editor of our hobby's annual Standard Catalog, recently wrote about two final Hocus Focus discoveries, #42 Hal Smith and #8 Mel Parnell, that turned up in a group lot with HOFer Jackie Robinson. Baseball players make up only a portion of this 120+ subject set and it took 55 years to verify that one 18-player checklist, so you can imagine how scarce these cards are. (The last one on Ted's strip reminds me of my favorite palindrome: "A man, a plan, a canal: Panama.")

Card panel back

Hocus Focus collectors continue to publish their research into this ugly duckling set on forums like, including this essential thread of scans and publishing schedules. It appears Topps developed (no pun intended) the "water and light" photo effect over several years, with 1955 as its apex--or at least their final set based on it.

Not sure if buyers would take to this photo technique in the 21st century, but Allen and Ginter's always full of surprises. Would you be interested in Topps bringing back their spit-developing cards as a gimmick?

Value: Complete, well-developed Hocus Focus strips cost several hundred dollars and up, with individual star players running somewhat less. (Due to scarcity, you're more likely to find baseball singles at auction than on eBay.)

Fakes / reprints: This set's valuable enough to fake, but relatively low-demand. Check out the Net54 thread for info on each set, so you know how to distinguish them.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

1949 Smack-A-Roo Baseball #5, Scoring an uncaught throw

I've always been intrigued by the fluid nature of baseball's scoring. More than 90 percent of on-field plays are easily identified as hits, Ks, or fielding outs. Ghastly errors also stand out and make fans like me feel a little better about our limited skills. At the borderline between "clear hit" and "awful play" lives the official scorer...and controversy.

Card front (blank back)

Let's say this happened in a Yankee game. Who would YOU give the "no catch" error to, MVP candidate Robinson Cano or HOFer Derek Jeter?

Smack-A-Roo candy used an interesting package design and this numbered card's actually a back panel for the product itself, like 1970s Hostess snack cake boxes. The three perforated edges held it together and kids got to its candy by pulling on the "smooth" side.

Front of sealed box

Back of sealed box

Tearing apart a box to get at its contents means very few Smack-A-Roo panels survived initial purchase, let alone into the modern age. (More kids also would've saved real players over Q-and-A about scoring decisions.) They're unusual cards and little-known within the hobby.

Value: values VG commons about $35, but I found this panel on eBay for $20.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the market and it'd be tough to fake the weird shape.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

1948 Bowman Basketball #5, Single Cut Off Post

Baseball fans fidget throughout January, waiting for pitchers and catchers to report. Clocks tick in slow-motion, gloves stiffen for lack of use, and team caps gather dust. This season can hit especially hard in New England, since a snowplow seeing its shadow means several more weeks of winter. Our collective test of endurance drips by so snail-like that a single-serving website measures it at (This Feb 14, send your favorite fan some candy hearts that say PLAY BALL--they'll love you for it.)

Card front

Of course, baseball isn't EVERYTHING to the sports world, since two of our "big 4" pro leagues hit their stride when flakes start falling. Today's #5 profile pictures one of those, basketball, and matched the NBA's third season tip-off in late 1948. It also coincided with an expansion from eight to twelve teams, reflecting the roundball's growing success and fan base. (Two of its founding franchises--Boston Celtics and New York Knicks--retain their original city and moniker.)

Bowman's hand-tinted coloring of black-and-white photos precedes their 1949 baseball issue, so is the first appearance of this love-it-or-hate-it design. The set also interspersed bird's eye diagrams (like this #5) with their player photos, probably to help new fans understand on-court strategy and action. Its 72-card checklist contains the Mona Lisa of basketball rookies, Hall-of-Famer George Mikan.

1948 Bowman Basketball #69, George Mikan

Compared to Mikan's detailed bio back and "famous make pencils" ad, the diagrams read like simple "INSERT TAB A IN SLOT B" instructions from high school shop class. Most of these plays remain basketball staples, despite the overall evolution and sophistication of modern offenses.

Card back

Value: Based on eBay searches, dealers charge $10-20 for low-grade 1948 diagram cards. Actual players cost more and stars (mostly Hall of Famers) jump much higher, given the rarity and demand.

Fakes / reprints: Bowman reprinted this set as an insert in 2009, so look for that date on card backs.

Friday, January 14, 2011

1977 O-Pee-Chee Baseball #5, Victory Leaders (Jim Palmer, Randy Jones)

Awesome, big, and crazy baseball hairstyles and loud uniforms remain my favorite features of 1970s cards. Oscar Gamble led the charge of caps perched on Afros and Cleveland fielded the most garish all-orange outfit, but today's example rates a solid 2-for-2, given Jim Palmer's feathered mop and Randy Jones' chocolate-dipped-banana Padres uni. (3-for-3, if you throw in the blond frizz.) There's zero doubt this card comes from the disco era.

Card front

Both pitchers dominate the photo foregrounds, but also check out their backgrounds and those rakish, left-slanted sidelines. Oh My O-Pee-Chee's recent post on Claudell Washington pointed out that 1977 Topps went a little overboard on these "action angles," enough so that OPC re-cropped a few photos to look more level. (#5 photos look the same in both sets.)

Card back

OPC took a more active role in 1977's set design than their card-for-card Topps reprints from previous years. The checklist itself stopped at #264 but also featured a new team in Toronto, so they reworked some multi-player cards into solo Blue Jays. Others got the aforementioned re-cropping and still more dropped distinctive features like the league All-Star banners and All-Star Rookie trophies. (See all these differences in Oh My OPC's 1977 articles.) League leaders cards add only a few French words on the back, along with the usual PRINTED IN CANADA tag line.

Two names on the leader lists caught my eye, Nolan Ryan (AL, 17 wins) and Jerry Koosman (NL, 21 wins). Card collectors know Ryan's rookie card well (and probably remember Koosman by association) as one of a handful of ungraded Topps to fetch above $1000 back in the market's glory days. It gave you quite a thrill just to pick one up! They still cost a few hundred now, but nowhere near that 4-digit peak.

1968 Topps #177, 546 wins between them

Koosman and Ryan stand remarkably similar by statistical and relative measure. They finished high in Cy Young and even MVP voting multiple times without taking home any hardware. Both struck out twice as many batters than they walked, pitched "above average" for their careers (Jerry at 110 OPS+, Nolan 112), and own nearly identical WHIPs. Outside of raw strikeouts and walks, any 5-season slice from their careers looks almost identical--but Ryan pitched 8 more years than Jerry, helping him win 102 more games and a Hall of Fame nod. Two great pitchers, but one showed extraordinary durability and reaped the honors that went with it.

Value: Most OPC cards cost a dollar or two, even with HOFers like Palmer on the front.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any OPC reprints in the market.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Type Site: Section 36

Wow, been a while since we've profiled a site follower in the Type Site series, so let's jump back in with Section 36, a Boston-area chap who authors a baseball blog by the same name.

Hmm, wonder who he writes about?

Section 36 blog burned up 2010 with 281 articles posted, a great total for even professional writers. Find everything from articles on baseball cards and memorabilia to personal stories and open questions (i.e., Are the Sox actually sending Julio Lugo paychecks?).

One my favorite Yankee-Red Sox digs came from the Blogs from Other Teams request, where he asked folks to nominate other fan writers to follow. Check out this pair of comments.

Adam_The_Yankee_Fan said...

"Here are two great blogs from the greatest team in the land!"

Section 36 said...

"Adam, I think you gave me the wrong links. Those were Yankees blogs."

ZING! With apologies to Adam, that's quality comeback-ery.

Section 36 also runs off-season contests (for cards + other booty) and 2010's version remains OPEN until Feb 9, 2011! Check his 2010 Scavenger Hunt post for details and then go hunting for those photos.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

1972 Venezuelan League Baseball #5, Jose Lopez

I've long been fascinated with winter baseball, since many players follow warm temperatures south once America's regular season wraps up. Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic all own long league histories, with a vast number of Latino players starting their careers there. Since it's effectively another "minor league" (but stocked with big-league talent), MLB maintains an active presence there and every organization fields dozens of farm system prospects.

Card front (blank back)

Being 1972, this isn't Jose Lopez, the former Seattle (and now Colorado) infielder. Instead, it's Jose Angel Lopez, a Venezuelan native who spent 7 years in the Houston and St. Louis farm systems (minor stats at It was nigh-impossible for fans to track multi-country prospects in those days, but now gathers off-season pro ball in five countries under their Winter League home page umbrella. These links alone all taught me things I didn't know.
  1. Vinny Castilla announced his full retirement after 21 (!) seasons as a pro
  2. Most winter leagues are in playoffs now and 2011's Caribbean Series starts Feb 7
  3. Track your favorite MLB team's prospects on the Winter League Statistics page

Aqua on yellow? Must be 1972 Topps

Venezuela loves baseball with a capital "L" and local leagues printed their own cards as far back as 1916. Many post-war designs crib directly from Topps American sets or follow them in spirit. Their 1972 issue took a stab at the psychedelic look, with high-contrast borders and player name on the bottom edge. (Card numbers move to the front, since they're really blank-backed stamps destined for mounting in team albums.) The excellent Caribbean card site hosts a more-or-less complete gallery of past Venezuelan sets.

Value: Mr. Lopez cost $10 on eBay a few years ago. Venezuelan cards are affordable if you avoid the big league stars.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen many foreign fakes in the market and it'd be tough to make money reprinting 1970s Latin American sets.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

1975 O-Pee-Chee Baseball #5, Nolan Ryan

This blog recently featured Tom Seaver breaking the record for consecutive 200-strikeout seasons, a record he later stretched to nine (1975 OPC #5 profile). Nolan Ryan would've tied this mark if not for 1975, when injuries limited him to 28 starts and 186 K's. The Express and his 100mph fastball otherwise dominated 1970s hitters, fanning 300+ five times and leading the AL seven seasons total.

Card front

After a few years off league leader boards in Houston, Nolan moved to Texas (Rangers) and captured four more AL strikeout titles, all after the age of 40. This durability also pushed Ryan well over 300 wins, despite playing for mostly mediocre teams. (He never led the league in victories or won a playoff series after 1969, thanks to top-notch competition like Jim Palmer / Catfish Hunter in the AL and Tom Seaver / Steve Carlton in the NL).

Card back

O-Pee-Chee matched Topps' 1975 checklist card-for-card, but printed backs in bilingual English-French and added the "O.P.C. PTD IN CANADA" tagline. Record breakers like Ryan (#1 to #6) frame their tilted "newspaper" against its red background--that's not a printing mis-cut, though plenty of cards also suffer that ignominy.

Just a few of 1975's many miscuts

Value: Ryan's one of the few superstars that retained decent value after the card market crash. This OPC #5 cost me $10 on eBay in 2007.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any OPC reprints in the market, though Topps likely reused this image for one of their throwback sets.

Friday, January 7, 2011

1979 O-Pee-Chee Baseball #5, Joe Morgan

1979 marked the 15th season that Montreal-based candy maker O-Pee-Chee licensed a baseball set design from Topps for their Canadian customers. It included "only" 374 cards, just half the 726 found in America's set, but otherwise matched its spirit and execution. Canada loves them some hockey, so I'm pretty sure OPC designed and printed baseball cards late in the NHL season (i.e., April) and sold them during the puck-free summer months. This brief selling window probably led to its shorter (and less expensive to print) set size.

Card front

In my opinion, Topps action photography really improved by 1979 and Morgan's just one example. Face shadows aside, that's great timing on a high shot to right field.

Following his HOF playing career, Joe moved on to announcing and ultimately occupied ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball color commentator chair for many years. That run ended after 2010, a move hailed by fans who consider Morgan a virtual statue in the press box, unwilling to allow for modern perspectives on statistics and players from past eras. (I see him as a classic storyteller and self-aggrandizer, something that worked 20 years ago, but that few fans in the current ESPN demographic find interesting.)

Card back

OPC started with the Topps template in 1979, but mixed things up a bit in both checklist and card design.
  • All cards feature individual players--no league leaders or record breakers.
  • Players who changed teams before opening day get "now with..." notes on the front.
  • Many star players were double-printed to fill out the card sheets

See the annotated checklist at for more on these details and a comparison of each team change at Oh My O-Pee-Chee's 1979 card profiles.

Value: Like most 1970s-1980s stars, ungraded Morgan cards cost a couple dollars at most.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any OPC reprints in the market.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

1976 O-Pee-Chee Baseball #5, Tom Seaver Record Breaker

Tom Terrific comes right to mind in any discussion of all-time pitchers, given his overpowering fastball and full award shelf, including 1967's Rookie of the Year, 1969's World Series title, a trio of NL Cy Young awards (1969, 1973, 1975), and 13 All-Star selections. While his career after age 32 slowly dropped to just "great," that first decade rates as "otherworldly."

Card front

Other than their required French translations, O-Pee-Chee's 1976 set matched Topps player-for-player, shot-for-shot, and (ugh) airbrush-for-airbrush. Check out the blurred "batter" that #5's art editor inserted, weird helmet and all. It's a baffling addition to that standing pose and Tom would be better served with a full windup. Why, Topps, why?

Card back

I picked this card in part to recognize 2011 Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, another of a pitching handful to dominate batters one-on-one, year-after-year. Both Seaver and Blyleven ran active 200+ K streaks as of the card's printing and then extended them into 1976, totaling 9 and 6 seasons respectively (career stats at Congratulations, Bert!

Value: Hall of Famer or not, mid-70s cards don't cost much; 1976 Topps #5 is just 25 cents at Check Out My Cards. OPC versions are harder to find, but not much more valuable.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any OPC reprints in the market.