Monday, October 31, 2011

1964 Topps Baseball Coins #5, Dick Groat

Congrats to 2011 World Series winners St. Louis, who captured their 11th overall title with a string of amazing comebacks in game 6 and a dominant game 7. I had no horse in the series, so enjoyed each twist and turn for its own sake, as great October baseball.

Today's oddball coin set coincides with St. Louis' 1964 series win over the Yankees, their first since Stan Musial led the Cardinals to three titles in the 1940s. Topps packaged individual coins in baseball card wax packs that year, with 120 regular players (#1 - 120) and 44 All-Stars (#121 - 164).

These three All-Star variations run the master set (normal + variations) to 167 total.
  • #131 Mickey Mantle AS (left- and right-handed poses)
  • #161 Wayne Causey AS ("NL" vs. "AL")
  • #162 Chuck Hinton AS ("NL" vs. "AL")

All-Star coins dropped the "collect the entire set of 120 All-Stars" headline, since their own numbers exceeded 120. As with other sets, the (c) T.C.G. tagline stands for Topps Chewing Gum, since just about everything they created was sold to move sweetened gum or candy.

Dick Groat's All-Star coin, #147

Groat pulled a hidden-ball trick on Mickey Mantle in 1964's World Series, one of only two known successful instances in the post-season. Dick faked a return throw to pitcher Roger Craig in the third inning of game four and caught Mantle off second when he took a lead. The play ended New York's threat and Ken Boyer's grand slam powered St. Louis to a 4-3 win. Haven't seen someone try that lately in a major league game--anyone witness one this year?

Value: Low-grade coins cost $1 or so, up to several dollars for HOFers like Mantle.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace and it'd be a hard set to fake.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Third Decade of Topps Baseball, 1970 - 1980

Prior to a looming seventh game of the 2011 World Series, let's wrap up my childhood memories of the 1970s and those waxy packs of Topps cards. The salad days of youth and cardboard!

1970 Topps #5, Wes Parker

Parker might be L.A.'s most underrated first baseman, little-known behind guys like Gil Hodges, Steve Garvey, and Eric Karros. I bet his name comes up about as often as Greg Brock, despite the good hitting and streak of Gold Gloves. Take heart Wes, we remember you!

1971 Topps #5, Thurman Munson

What more is there to say? One of the best-ever cards by Topps.

1972 Topps #5, John Bateman

I love to visit Montreal and am always bummed that they lost their baseball team.

1973 Topps #5, Ed Brinkman

My set profile poked fun at Ed's odd pose here, but it could be worse. It could be raining.

1974 Topps #5, Hank Aaron Special

Funny that 1968 and 1969 Topps used the same photo, but color-balanced it so differently that the bat looks yellow and the background's a green fog. Baseball cards are weird.

1975 Topps #5, Nolan Ryan Highlight

Nolan Ryan (as Rangers owner) is again front-and-center for the 2011 World Series. Given the back-and-forth games, I imagine he wanted to pick up a glove again and brush back some batters on more than one occasion.

1976 Topps #5, Tom Seaver Record Breaker

Pretty sure Seaver can strike anyone out, but that retouched red helmet gives me the willies.

1977 Topps #5, Victory Leaders

Jim Palmer's average season was 17-10 with a sub-3 ERA. You better believe that's a HOFer.

1978 Topps #5, Pete Rose Record Breaker

Little League baseball helmets have earflaps on both sides, so either lefties and righties can use them. As a kid, I assumed switch-hitters like Rose would also use them. Nope. As this picture demonstrates, MLB teams can afford two helmets, one for each side.

1979 Topps #5, Victory Leaders

Trivia: Ron Guidry and Willie Randolph captained the Yankees together from 1986-1988, the only time New York featured team co-captains.

1980 Topps #5, Garry Templeton Highlight

Another switch-hitting highlight! Always respected guys who can hit well from either side. It seems like a superpower.

Any other collectors who started buying packs in the 1970s? If so, what's the first card or player you remember picking up?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Second Decade of Topps Baseball, 1960 - 1969

The 2011 World Series hits game 6 soon and the Texas Rangers get two chances to close out their first title. As we await its first pitch, here's a profile of the 60s, Topps' second decade of baseball sets.

1960 Topps #5, Wally Moon

Do collectors ever get tired of Wally Moon's unibrow? No, we do not.

1961 Topps #5, Johnny Romano

I love this black hat + warmup jacket look.

1962 Topps #5, Sandy Koufax

The definition of going out on top, Koufax won three Cy Youngs and an MVP in his final four seasons.

1963 Topps #5, ERA Leaders

Topps plucked Sandy's head right off 1962 #5 for this leader card. (The three Bobs and Don also came from earlier sets.)

1964 Topps #5, Strikeout Leaders

That's 3 straight Koufax cards, thanks to his record-setting strikeout totals. Koufax broke Bob Feller's modern mark with 382 whiffs in 1965; that stood until Nolan Ryan send down 383 batters in 1973.

1965 Topps #5, RBI Leaders

Collectors must've taken to these leaders cards, as Topps kept them going for decades. It's the cheapest way to get Mantle cards from his career.

1966 Topps #5, Jim Fregosi

Topps showed hatless Angels for more than a year across 1966, Fregosi included. (I assume it was because of their name and logo change from L.A. to California.)

1967 Topps #5, Whitey Ford

Yogi's final active card came in 1965, Whitey in 1967, Mantle in 1969. It took a decade (and the dawn of free agency) for the Yankees to put a championship roster back together.

1968 Topps #5, Home Run Leaders

That's an early-60s picture of Ron Santo, possibly even his rookie year. Topps never forgets!

1969 Topps #5, Home Run Leaders

Willie Horton swung a big stick for the expansion-era Mariners, so was one of my favorites. He now has a statue outside Tiger Stadium and rocks a world-class mustache.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

First Decade of Topps Baseball, 1951 - 1959

As the 2011 season draws to a close, let's look back at Topps first full decade of set production, the 1950s. They tinkered with sports as early as 1948 (Magic Photos set profile), but 1951 ushered in their unbroken run of baseball-only cards that continues to the present.

There were many fewer teams in 1951, just 16 total spread across 10 cities. New York (3), Chicago (2), Boston (2), St. Louis (2), and Philadelphia (2) hosted multiple teams and 1950s Topps #5s pulled players from just four: New York, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco. (Click through each card to read its set profile.)

1951 Topps Blue Backs #5, Johnny Pesky

60 years later, Johnny Pesky still works for the Red Sox. Amazing.

1951 Topps Red Backs #5, Phil Rizzuto

Scooter at his best, in 1950's MVP season.

1952 Topps #5, Larry Jansen

Larry's counting his seven children.

1953 Topps #5, Joe Dobson

Like the painted clouds and skies in this set in spite of myself. Kind of Bob Ross-y.

1954 Topps #5, Ed Lopat

"D. M." added by young collector. Dungeon Master? Dirty Money? Double Moonpie?

1955 Topps #5, Jim Gilliam

A patient man at the dish, Junior Gilliam walked 100 times (!) in his 1953 Rookie of the Year campaign. 2011's NL leader (Joey Votto) only had 110.

1956 Topps #5, Ted Williams

One of my favorite-ever cards. But is Ted hitting a pop-up?

1957 Topps #5, Sal Maglie

Sal "the Barber" Maglie, but not the kind you want close shaves from.

1958 Topps #5, Willie Mays

First year after moving to San Francisco, Willie led the league in runs, steals, and on-base-plus-slugging (OPS). Finished second in MVP to Ernie Banks, who hit 47 homers. Award voters dig the long ball.

1959 Topps #5, Dick Donovan

Always thought of 1959's circle-inset photos as the "James Bond" set. It just needs a crosshairs and some silhouetted ladies.

Friday, October 21, 2011

1980 Topps Baseball #5, Garry Templeton Highlight

Since 1900, only five switch-hitting shortstops have played long enough and well enough to amass 2000+ career hits. Maury Wills was the first, Larry Bowa the second, and Omar Vizquel continues to motor along (2841 hits as of 2011). The other two were contemporaries and flip sides on one of the 1980s most significant trades: Ozzie Smith (who went from SD to StL) and Garry Templeton (vice versa).

On paper, the trade made sense, as StL needed more defense and SD wanted to resolve contract issues with Smith. Ozzie boasted a better glove and Templeton swung a bigger stick. If things stayed simpatico, both teams could shore up overall weaknesses.

Unfortunately for Garry, his best year hitting for the Padres barely equaled his worst for St. Louis. Ozzie, meanwhile, went on to appear in 14 All-Star games, became the superior hitter, and played five years longer than his trade partner. Both went on to win pennants on their new teams, but Templeton never reached his apparent potential. (Cardboard Gods summarized the after-effects back in 2007.)

1980 marked the first year I really got into baseball cards. Down the street, my friend Brandon picked up a bunch and buying my own proved an excellent excuse to hang out and swap. We both followed the Mariners, but Seattle didn't field players worthy of these highlight cards until the 1990s, when Ken Griffey, Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Alex Rodriguez started doing what they did best.

Value: Most 1980 singles cost a dime or nickel and the stars top out at a couple of dollars. Rickey Henderson remains the key rookie card.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen Topps include any "highlight" reprints in their modern sets.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

1979 Topps Baseball #5, Victory Leaders (Ron Guidry, Gaylord Perry)

That's quite a pair of expressions, with Guidry lost in thought and Perry so mischievous. Not sure how I would handle a pitcher who looked in and seemed to be snickering. Why is he laughing like that? Are my shoes untied? Is my zipper down? I would not feel comfortable in the batters box facing that.

Gaylord's shoulder patch commemorates the 1978 All-Star game, hosted at San Diego Stadium. The AL and NL played a close game until Yankee closer Goose Gossage allowed 4 runs in the 8th and the Nationals won 7-3. Perry himself didn't make that All-Star squad; Vida Blue started and future HOFers Phil Niekro, Tom Seaver, Rollie Fingers, and Bruce Sutter helped fill out the NL bullpen.

1978's All-Star Game didn't decide World Series home field advantage like it does today, but according to Padre reserve Dave Winfield, it was the first time fans could enter the stadium early enough to watch players practice. These days, the All-Star weekend's completely fan-focused, with several days of events preceding the game itself.

Some believe Perry threw doctored balls on a regular basis, but Gaylord wasn't ejected for it until 1983, his 21st season. More likely, he found a reputation for spitters useful, to make batters unsure what kind of pitch was coming.

Value: Low-grade 1979 singles run a quarter or so. Even a card with two greats like Perry and Guidry tops out at about a dollar.

Fakes / reprints: Topps includes vintage reprints in their modern sets, but I haven't seen any of the multi-player cards reappear. Some even reduced the number of players to show only big stars. See the Phillies Room for several such Schmidt RC reprints.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

1978 Topps Baseball #5, Pete Rose Record Breaker

Wild-card cinderella St. Louis and AL West champ Texas kick off the 2011 World Series tonight in a contest that experts predict will break records for calls to the bullpen. The Rangers boast a strong rotation and powerful bats, but Albert Pujols hits plenty himself and Tony LaRussa loves to play chess with his relievers; I bet grandmaster lefty Arthur Rhodes makes at least 3 appearances.

Charlie Hustle participated in six World Series, first as a key cog in the 1970s Big Red Machine and later as veteran support for the early 1980s Phillies. His teams won three, CIN in 1975, 1976, and PHI in 1980. Neither total is close to a record, but I'm surprised that someone who never played in New York reached the series so many times. Yankees dominate the top 20 list of players with multiple rings and former ChiSox/A's star Eddie Collins is the only non-NY player to win more than five titles.

Back in 1979, SABR took a "Baseball's Best Switch Hitter" poll and Rose finished second to Mickey Mantle. Pete had 3164 hits by that point and taking this poll silently implied his productive days were done. As we know now, Rose took the field for another 7 years, setting records for both hits (4256) and games played (3562). He never challenged Mantle's power numbers, but I expect some teams would prefer his multi-position, IF/OF versatility. Rose played anywhere they needed him and fell just 10 short of logging 600 games at an amazing 5 different position. (He played 590 in RF.)

Value: This #5 runs about a dollar and low-grade 1978 singles cost a quarter or less.

Fakes / reprints: Topps includes vintage reprints in their modern sets, but I haven't seen any "special" cards like the record breakers.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

1977 Topps Baseball #5, Victory Leaders (Jim Palmer, Randy Jones)

1970s hair is a special breed of hair. It feathers, it fluffs, it 'fros, and it Farrahs. Oh boy, does it Farrah.

Farrah Fawcett at peak fluffiness

Topps snagged a couple of classic 1970s hairstyles for their 1976 victory leaders card, courtesy of Jim Palmer's feathery waves and Randy Jones's blond frizz. The latter might not have become a famous Jockey underwear model like Palmer, but did plenty of great work on the mound. (Randy's 92 wins are tied for second all-time by a Padre pitcher, trailing only Eric Show's 100.)

Both pitchers garnered Cy Young awards for their work and beat out competitors by a healthy margin (voting results at The AL's 2nd-place finisher Mark Fidrych picked up Rookie of the Year honors and the NL split theirs between two guys you might not have heard of, Padre reliever Butch Metzger and Reds starter Pat Zachary. Not many seasons bestow ROY hardware on one pitcher, let alone three!

I've always thought of 1977's wide borders, double-green backs, and ALL CAPITALS as a little stale. 1978, on the other hand, made a nice jump to script fronts, All-Star badges, and...product placement.

Wear BRUT, guys. You'll be a good-looking, All-Star underwear model, just like Jim Palmer.

Value: You can find this #5 for a dollar or two.

Fakes / reprints: O-Pee-Chee did their own version of this card, which differs by card stock and French (1977 OPC set profile). Topps reprinted several 1977 stars as Archives inserts for modern sets, differentiated by glossy finish and foil stamping.

Monday, October 17, 2011

1976 Topps Baseball #5, Tom Seaver Record Breaker

Topps used their number five slot to mark strikeout records in both 1975 and 1976, first Nolan Ryan's three-season 300K streak (1975 set profile), and then for Seaver's eight-season 200K streak.

I don't know quite what to think about this card. Topps started with a presentable (if static) photo of Seaver looking in for a sign and then couldn't decide what to do with the nebulous foreground player. Airbrush away his blurry edges? Replace his batting helmet with an upside-down gravy boat? Some of both?

2008 Stadium Club #100

Sometime at Topps liked this picture, because it resurfaced for their 2008 Stadium Club set. This version's a big step up in quality, both for Seaver's clarity (no face shadows) and the batter's more consistent blur (if that's not an oxymoron). The photo finally comes across in a way 1976 card production technology couldn't deliver.

Seaver and Blyleven ran their respective streaks to nine and six in 1976, before falling short of 200 in 1977. Note that most of the pitchers on that card played during the 60s and 70s, a high-point for moundsmen dominance; only a dozen or so clear 200Ks these days and rarely string together consecutive years.

Anyone you think can make 6 in a row in today's game? My vote's for Felix Hernandez, who's sitting at three (2009-11) and looks as sturdy as ever.

Value: You can find this Seaver for less than $5, but I recommend picking up one of his mid-delivery cards. (The Fleer Sticker Project posted a good one for its "Topps - I've Found Your Secret Photo Stash!" post.)

Fakes / reprints: Don't know of reprints other than Seaver reappearing in Stadium Club.

Friday, October 14, 2011

1975 Topps Baseball #5, Nolan Ryan highlight

"Need something to draw on? OK, son, just grab some paper from daddy's desk. Wait, is that my Nolan Ryan? Noooooo..."

Whoops. That's coloring outside the lines for sure.

First in modern baseball history? That implies a cutoff around 1900, but a look back in the 1880s pushes numbers even higher. In 1884 alone, 14 different pitchers struck out more than 300 batters. 4 of those (Hugh Daily, Dupee Shaw, Old Hoss Radbourn, and Charlie Buffinton) cleared 400. The all-time record goes to 20 year-old rookie Matt Kilroy, who sent down 513 batsmen in 1886 for the original Baltimore Orioles.

Nolan Ryan's 1973 mark of 383 still stands as the modern single-season standard, an amazing feat considering the runner-ups (Sandy Koufax and Randy Johnson) both played in the NL and got to strike out other pitchers every couple of innings.

Value: Thanks to all the ink, this Ryan cost $1. Nolan's a key card in any set, so I take the cheap ones where I can get them.

Fakes / reprints: Topps reprinted plenty of Ryans for their Archives series and other vintage-style inserts. Not sure if they included this record breaker, but it's possible. Look for a glossier finish and foil stamping on newer versions.