Monday, April 23, 2012

Perfect Gamers and Hall of Famers

As a Mariners fan, bittersweet congrats to Philip Humber on baseball's 21st perfect game, an efficient effort that consumed just 96 pitches. His Gatorade coronation's a great baseball image.

Baseball Almanac already breaks down the basics of each perfect (and near-perfect) game. My trading friend Tom from went the extra base by listing elected and potential HOFers faced by the winning pitchers.

  • Lee Richmond, WOR vs. CLE 6/12/1880: Hanlon
  • John Ward, PROV vs BUF 6/17/1880: Galvin
  • Cy Young, BOS vs. PHI 5/5/1904: Rube Waddell
  • Addie Joss, 10/2/1908 CLE vs.CHI: Walsh, Davis
  • Charlie Robertson, CHI vs DET 4/30/1922: Cobb, Heilmann
  • Don Larsen, NYY vs BKN 10/8/1956: Reese, Snider, Robinson, Campanella
  • Jim Bunning, PHI vs NYM 6/21/1964: none
  • Sandy Koufax, LA vs CHI 9/9/1965: Williams, Santo, Banks
  • Catfish Hunter, OAK vs. MIN 5/8/1968: Carew, Killebrew
  • Len Barker, CLE vs TOR 5/15/1981: none
  • Mike Witt, CAL vs. TEX 9/30/1984: none
  • Tom Browning, CIN vs LA 9/16/1988: none
  • Dennis Martinez, MON vs LA 7/28/1991: Murray
  • Kenny Rogers, TEX vs. CAL 7/28/1994: none
  • David Wells, NYY vs. MIN 5/17/1998: Molitor
  • David Cone, NYY vs MON 7/18/1999: none
  • Randy Johnson, AZ vs ATL 5/18/2004: none yet (Chipper Jones)
  • Mark Buehrle, CWS vs TAM 7/23/2009: none yet (Longoria? Crawford?)
  • Dallas Braden, OAK vs TAM 5/9/2010: none yet (Longoria? Crawford?)
  • Roy Halladay, PHI vs. FLA 5/29/2010: none yet (Uggla?)
  • Phillip Humber, CWS vs SEA 4/21/2012: none yet (Icihiro?) 

Don Larsen's effort gets extra respect for being both in the World Series and facing four Cooperstown inductees. Seattle's no offensive powerhouse these days, but as they said when David Wells shut down the woeful Twins lineup in 1998: "he still got all of them out and that's what counts."

Friday, April 20, 2012

1967-68 Coca-Cola White Sox Baseball #L5, Hoyt Wilhelm

As of April 19, Mariano Rivera stands atop baseball's career saves list with 606. He's also the last active player with uniform #42, grandfathered in for those who wore it prior to 1997's league-wide retirement. Thanks to this longevity, Mariano's number also matches his age, a distinction Jamie Moyer will share when he turns 50 later in 2012.

Coke produced bottle crowns for a bunch of teams in 1967-68, one of the players union's first big endorsement deals. 1967 includes the player position (P for Hoyt), which 1968 omits, but he's White Sox #5 in both years.

The blacked-out caps indicate no agreement with MLB Properties, who own the team logos, though 1960s card collectors also saw them when Topps showed a player on a new team they don't have a "real" picture for. Wilhelm changed teams so often, it happened to him more than once.

1969 Topps Deckle #11A, Hoyt Wilhelm

I mention Mariano as a modern parallel to Hoyt Wilhelm, the first pitcher to make 1000 appearances and receive Cooperstown induction as a relief specialist. It surprised (shocked?) me to learn Hoyt didn't start in the majors until age 29--thanks to WWII military service--and still broke four digits.

Like Rivera and Moyer, "Old Sarge" Wilhelm briefly wore his age (#47) as an Atlanta Brave in September 1969 (career stats and uniform numbers). Hoyt's closest contemporary was Lindy McDaniel, a 21-year vet who also played for several franchises and finished 13 appearances short of 1000. We'll give some extra respect to Mariano for spending his whole career with one team.

All four of these brands remain on store shelves today. Tab served as Coca-Cola's diet cola before there was Diet Coke, mostly to compete with RC Cola's Diet Rite brand and target women specifically. Its body-image-heavy 1967 slogan: "Be a Mindsticker."

Value: This 4-cap combo's priced at $32 on eBay. Seems high to me, but it'd be a challenge to gather all four brands for one player in any grade.

Fakes / reprints: Doubt someone could make any money faking Coke caps, given the required plastic liner and stamping equipment.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

1960 Mayrose Cardinals Football #5, King Hill

In 1960, Chicago's Cardinals--football's oldest professional franchise, founded in 1898--packed up shop and moved south to St. Louis, leaving the Windy City to Da Bears. The growing post-WWII popularity of suburban living and expanding sports leagues spurred adventurous issues like today's Mayrose Meats team set. Any new team wants to get their product onto the lips of potential fans, so why not cross-promote yourself with hot dogs and bacon?

King Hill is one terrific sports name and befitting of both a career signal-caller and key member of its first pro players union. (Learn more about his labor contributions at King's Wikipedia page.)

As with the recently-profiled Peggy Popcorn baseball, collectors could redeem Mayrose cards for prizes like footballs and game tickets. (See the scan for contest details and prizes, including a trip on the team plane!)

Thanks to trading friend Steve for Mr. Hill's type card, one of these rare sets that came plastic-wrapped to protect itself from food stains. Mayrose wasn't alone, though--the blog's already covered three similar meat-packed baseball sets.

The NFL lagged far behind baseball in 1960s attendance and it'd be 20+ years until the two sports stood shoulder-to-shoulder in fan support. Many argue football holds the 21st-century popularity throne; I credit bacon.

Value: Based on completed eBay auctions, low-grade singles cost $5 or less. Its checklist lacks stars, so collectors should be able to build a set affordably.

Fakes / reprints: It'd be hard to fake a plastic-coated card like this one, let alone make a profit at it. You'd do better just selling the bacon.

Monday, April 16, 2012

1920s W542 Sports Drawings #5, Athlete (and Hughie Jennings)

Today's 10-card set popped up in a recent eBay search, and though it's not baseball-specific, I liked its art enough to snapshot the two 5-card strips that comprise the whole thing.

This simple, woodblock style reminds me of turn-of-the-century book engravings, with its childlike proportions and primary colorization. Like most such sets, kids bought them in vertical or horizontal strips from carnival vending machines for a penny or nickel.

Finding this full set scan made it easy to checklist.
  1. Training (boxing)
  2. Cricket
  3. Tennis
  4. Boxing
  5. Athlete (weight-lifting)
  6. Roller Skating (field hockey?)
  7. Ice Skating
  8. Hockey
  9. Catcher
  10. Pitcher

Old Cardboard's W542 set profile calls out its similarity to the unnumbered 1919 W552 set, which Mayfair Novelty printed not on strips, but as a 3x4 sheet.

Mayfair's lower-right "first baseman" card is a knock-off of HOF Detroit manager Hughie Jennings' well-known half-leap, seen often in the coaches box during early century Tigers games.

Hughie appears in vintage sets from time-to-time and often in the same pose, even if transitioned back to "batting."

1972 Laughlin Great Feats #23 (red)

Jennings turned his EE-YAH! yell into a catchphrase, similar to the Marines "ooh-rah" of today, and you can read his biography under that same title.

Value: W542 singles cost $5 or less in low grade.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace. I think they're too unknown (and unpopular) to be worth faking.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

1920 Peggy Popcorn Baseball #5, Kid Gleason

Some sets are so rare, that even in the Internet age it's impossible to find much beyond a third-hand scan. T206 Wagners might be more valuable, but at least we know around 50 exist. Today's pre-war, 20-card Canadian popcorn set, on the other hand, only numbers to six cards total, one example each of a half-dozen players. Its #5 card (of Black Sox manager Kid Gleason) is unique, barring further hobby discoveries from the Great White North.

Card front (scan from SCD magazine article)

Chicago won the 1919 pennant in Gleason's first year leading the team, a thrill that turned sour upon learning that several players conspired to throw the series itself to Cincinnati. He continued to helm the White Sox through their "Eight Men Out" trial and banishment, but returned to bench coaching not long after and never took another job as manager.

Kid Gleason (center) prepares for the 1919 World Series

Discovered as a six-player lot at Toronto's largest card show in 2008, this handful of known Peggy Popcorn cards possesses special marketing significance as one of the hobby's earliest redemption sets. According to card backs, collectors could swap all 20 for "a Fountain Pen, Eversharp Pencil, Ball, Bat or Cap."

Card back from #1, Joe Dugan

It's unknown if Peggy added special markings to distinguish their prizes from dime store versions, so prizes might exist without an obvious connection to their origin. Companies typically short-printed at least one player to keep collectors from earning free stuff, so we assume that's what Peggy did, too.

With just six known players and varying front designs, there's debate how Peggy built its checklist and exactly when it came out. Here's a breakdown of the half-dozen players and why they'd be included (checklist info from
  • #1 Joe Dugan (Philadelphia A's): star third baseman
  • #2 Harry Heilmann (Detroit Tigers): star first baseman
  • #3 Chick Gandil (White Sox): star first baseman, major figure in Black Sox scandal
  • #5 Kid Gleason (White Sox): 1919 pennant-winning manager
  • #7 Babe Ruth (NY Yankees): early card in Ruth's Yankee career
  • #16 Dazzy Vance (NY Yankees): photo likely Brooklyn's star pitcher Burleigh Grimes (1977 #5 set profile)

1920 overlaps best as year of origin, if you assume Peggy got Dazzy's attribution wrong, since he spent 1918 with NYY & 1919 in the PCL and wasn't well-known until the mid-20s. I think their editor haphazardly copied images from newspapers or baseball guides with an eye toward popularity instead of accuracy, a scenario that fits the Vance/Grimes card. (Find more set discussion on the Net54 forums.)

Knowing that I'll never own #5 Gleason doesn't bother me, given its rarity and value. At some point, every vintage collector finds a card that's one step beyond what you want to pursue, type collection or no type collection. :-)

Value: Robert Edwards Auctions sold #1 Joe Dugan for $2,644 in 2009, the only recent (and public) transaction of the six known cards; the other five purportedly reside in a private collection. One can only imagine how much the Ruth would cost!

Fakes / reprints: With so few cards known (and all of them now graded), finding one at a show would be unlikely. Almost all transactions at this point will happen in the auction market.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Captioning Jefferson Burdick

Stale Gum posted a new-to-me Jefferson Burdick photo last week, asking people to caption it. Here's my vintage take on a thoughtful moment for the hobby pioneer.

Couldn't resist tweaking Burdick for creating a great classification system that also added awkward titles like T206 to our collective language.

Tri-Star's Burdick Obak mini

Here's the original desk photo for your own re-titling.

UPDATE: Title more Burdicks yourself with The Most Interesting Card Collector in the World and Pissed Off Card Collector.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

1963 Fleer Baseball #5, Willie Mays recently achieved a major milestone for stats fans by publishing Negro League data for a big chunk of the pre-integration era, 1920-1948. It comes with caveats and significant gaps in history, but represents a big step toward recognizing so many players otherwise missed by baseball history.

One gentleman who started his pro career in Birmingham for the Negro League: Willie Mays. So far, they've uncovered partial 1948 batting stats for the 17 year-old Say Hey Kid, whose Black Barons competed against five other teams spread loosely across the Midwest and South.

Mays didn't tear up the 1948 league based on the numbers we have, but few teenagers do and Willie matured plenty fast for the majors. By his early 20s, the Mays award shelf already contained ROY (1951) and MVP (1954) awards.

After publishing hand-tinted sets of retired players in 1960 (set profile) and 1961 (set profile), Fleer took on the Topps baseball monopoly more directly with this full-color issue of active players.

To Fleer's credit, they made some interesting design choices instead of mimicking Topps. 1963 is the only time I've seen a centered card number and the text-centric back with limited stats reminds me of early 1950s Bowman sets. (Those green borders do chip easily, making high-grade sets hard to build.)

1963 Fleer baseball wrapper

Fleer tried to dodge legal hassles by including a cookie, gambling that Topps' exclusive right to sell gum with cards would survive a courtroom challenge. It unfortunately did not, so just one series of 66 cards reached the market. Its clean look remains popular with collectors and the stars include Mays, Clemente, and Koufax.

The "cherry-flavored" cookie, by the way, proved dry, tasteless, and a hazard to any cards it made contact with. Not sure if that factored in the legal decision, but I bet few kids missed it when it was gone.

Value: Low-grade Mays cards can be had for $20, if you're patient. The rare Joe Adcock and checklist cards prove hard-to-find and thus unexpectedly expensive. Beat-up singles cost a dollar or less.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any direct reprints, but uncut sheets have appeared at auctions and someone could fake singles based on one of them.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Happy Birthday, Steve Soderstrom

Barring a Moyer-esque debut by some 40 year-old rookie, only one player with MLB experience shares my day-month-year birthday, former San Francisco Giants 1st round pick, Steve Soderstrom.

Several companies printed 1994 Soderstrom cards, thanks to his "drafted sixth overall" expectations (more scans at his COMC player page). This is Upper Deck's Electric Diamond parallel; note the sparkly, hard-to-scan text at far right.

Soderstrom earned a late September call-up in 1996, where we went 2-0 in 3 games. Both wins were quality starts (6+ innings, <=3 earned runs), but he was back at AAA for 1997. Steve kept pitching through 2000 and collected his first homer that year for the Louisville RiverBats as a teammate of, among others, future football HOFer Deion Sanders.

Happy birthday and good luck wherever life takes you, Steve!

Monday, April 2, 2012

April Fools from 1973 Topps: Del Unser and Willie Horton

Sift through your vintage cards and the darndest things pop out. For example, here's a normal-looking Del Unser, sporting Cleveland's cherry-flavored batting helmet from the early 1970s.

1973 Topps #247, Del Unser (front)

Unser played great defense for most of his 15-year career and stuck around as a pinch-hit specialist long enough to be part of Philly's first title in 1980. He owns the off-field distinctions of being traded by Texas during the 1971-72 off-season, before they ever played a game as the Rangers, and then swapped for collector favorite Oscar Gamble prior to 1973.

Nothing unusual about finding Unser's card in my trading box, right? Well, that's until you turn him over.

1973 Topps #433, Willie Horton (back)

The April Fools joke must be on me, because that's a Willie Horton back, stats and all. I nicked the scan from COMC to save time, but the real Unser/Horton card's on my desk.

Willie Horton with his statue in Detroit

It's doubly surprising to find these guys sharing cardboard, given that Del and Willie come from different series in the 1973 set, which Topps printed, packaged, and sold separately. Putting both on flip sides of the same card probably meant an error at the printer and it's anyone's best guess what time of year it hit the market.

Del Unser trivia: First player to hit 3 consecutive pinch-homers. Box scores: June 30, July 5, and July 10, 1979.

Willie Horton trivia: Horton wore the same batting helmet throughout his career, repainting it as he switched teams.

I've seen a few other wrong-backed early-70s cards online, but they're more common in the all-at-once sets printed from 1974 on. Any other collectors out there have a favorite mismatched front/back combo?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Winner for Minnesota Twins giveaway

Six readers entered last week's final spring training giveaway for a fistful of Twins cards, including stars like Puckett and Killebrew.

I assigned all six names to a die and rolled for the winner.
  1. Matt
  2. Captain Canuck
  3. Mad Guru
  4. Rhubarb_Runner
  5. Superduperman99
  6. pgree327

The die came up 3, so congrats to Mad Guru and thanks for his stories about Minnesota's custom usher shoes and his personal significance of scoring the 1987 World Series.

"When I interned at the Hall of Fame, there was a fellow there who was a diehard Twins fan. He was in the summer after his junior year of college and had been an usher for the Twins for years. The Twins apparently give their ushers white sneakers with the Twins logo on the side. The Hall didn't have usher shoes in their collection and they asked him if he'd donate his shoes at the end of his internship which he did.

Also, the first ballgame I ever scored using the Project Scoresheet methodology was a 1987 Twins World Series game which caused my interest in baseball to explode a gazillionfold. One of those things where I wonder how my life would have turned out had I not done it."

Bring on the regular season!