Thursday, May 30, 2013

1956-57 Chicle Cuban Baseball #5, Silvio Garcia

According to hearsay history, this two-line play closed the door on Cuban-born star Silvio Garcia's shot to break baseball's color barrier with Brooklyn...instead of Jackie Robinson.

[lights rise on Havana, winter of 1944-45]

Dodgers GM Branch Rickey: "Silvio, your skills stand out from high-level Cuban, Canadian, and Negro League competition. Our manager even compared you to Rogers Hornsby. We have just one more question: what would you do if a white man slapped your face or insulted you?"

Silvio Garcia: "I kill him."

[lights fall]

I think this oft-printed story's meant to illustrate how Rickey scouted players by character as much as skill. Regardless of truth, it also casts a Cuban-born player as reactionary and dangerous, common American sentiment following Castro's Communist revolution in 1959, so also consider the zeitgeist when people would've first written about the Dodgers' search as "history."

More likely, Brooklyn used its on-field scouting to make the final decision on candidates. By 1945, Garcia's legitimate skills were overshadowed by irregular performance and the language barrier facing many Caribbean players. Rickey wanted as sure a Sure Thing as he could find, so the search for Jackie Robinson continued.

By the time of wider integration, Garcia was 35 and no longer seen as a viable prospect, so he continued playing in other leagues--card text mentions the US, Cuba, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), and Puerto Rico--experience that no doubt helped his coaching.

This Chicle gum set's 40 thick-stocked cards mark the final Cuban Professional League release prior to Fidel Castro's seizing of power in 1959. Team rosters included both major leaguers and prospects, so vintage collectors might recognize names like Camilo Pascual, Gil Torres, and Pedro Ramos. See its gallery checklist at, which also provided this collectors album cover scan.

Value: Beat-up singles, often suffering back damage from album removal, sell for $15-20 on eBay. With only 40 cards and no big names, it's financially possible to complete the set, but extremely hard to find anything above low-grade.

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

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Prewar and vintage cards going to eBay

I've started listing prewar and vintage cards on eBay (seller ID late_innings) and will add more as time permits. They'll range in time period from 19th century to 1980 and cover a wide variety of sets; the first listings are two 1962 Topps Venezuelans and an 1887 Allen & Ginter. Here's one of the former, a 1962 leaders card with Norm Cash and Al Kaline.

Note the darker orange ink (salmon-y) and lack of a USA tagline on the back. This distinguishes 1962 Venezuelan cards from American Topps, at least those without Spanish text translations.

1962 American Topps uses this ink shade and says "(c) T.C.G. Printed in U.S.A."

Most of my collection's low grade, but a couple dozen PSA/SGC cards will show up at some point. This isn't a full collection sell-off (and the type collection's staying put), but this eBay money will help keep things going between jobs. It's been awhile since selling cards there, so let me know if you have any questions or pointers. :-)

Pardon the interruption and back to profiles next time!

UPDATE: Fixed the seller link, thanks Mark!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

1980 Elmira Pioneer Red Sox Baseball #5, Brice Cote

Today's minor league mugshot's an alum of Mercer County Community College, a mild-mannered school in name that generated a notable 20 draft picks from 1976 to 1985, including Brice Cote and four 1st-rounders. Future MLBer Dave Gallagher went high in the 1980 draft twice, ultimately joining Cleveland in June after not signing with Oakland in the April phase.

Cote's bushy brows ride the optimism of rookie league ball, where Brice played two seasons in Elmira (NY) and Florida, then decided to move on to other things. These days, he heads the anti-shenanigans unit for New Jersey thoroughbred tracks, following a decade-long career as track investigator for their state police.

TCMA printed a whopping 44 players for Elmira's set, including future Boston fan favorite Oil Can Boyd and former Red Sox players Sam Mele and Frank Malzone.
  1. Alan Barnes
  2. Tom Bolton
  3. Allan Bowlin
  4. Dennis Boyd
  5. Brice Cote
  6. Steve Garrett
  7. George Greco
  8. Ty Herman
  9. Ron Hill
  10. Kevin Keenan
  11. Jeff Hall
  12. John Ackley
  13. Mark Weinbrecht
  14. Bob Sandling
  15. Brandon Plainte
  16. George Mecerod
  17. Tom McCarthy
  18. Mitch Johnson
  19. Don Leach
  20. Tim Duncan
  21. Jeff Hunter
  22. Tony Stevens
  23. Ron Oddo
  24. Wolf Ramos
  25. Mike Bryant
  26. Gus Burgess
  27. Mike Ciampa
  28. Simon Glenn
  29. Dick Berardino, Manager
  30. Parker Wilson
  31. Brian Zell
  32. Gilberto Gonzalez
  33. Bob Crandall
  34. Marve Handler
  35. Bill Limoncelli
  36. Bruce Butera
  37. Sam Mele, Instructor
  38. Frank Malzone, Instructor
  39. Charlie Wagner
  40. Jay La Bare
  41. Charlie Lynch
  42. Alan Mintz
  43. Rodolfo Santana
  44. Miguel Valdez

Value: This #5 cost $2 at and team sets run $20-40.

Fakes / reprints: TCMA reprinted several team sets, possibly including this one, for "collectors kits" in the late 80s. Those cards have black backs and originals use blue backs.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Top 5 Carlos Peña Impersonators

I have a soft spot in my heart for Carlos Peña, who turns 35 today. Houston's slugging first baseman doesn't club them into the seats at the same pace he used to, but his 5 years in Tampa Bay were so good, he comfortably holds the Rays franchise HR record at 163.

Peña's similarity scores from turn up more of the same, big first basemen and designated hitters who regularly posted 120 OPS+ thanks to their power stroke. His top five cover a nice range of years and players, where "nice range" means "after the DH's installation in 1973."

1. Gorman Thomas (1984 Donruss Champions #5)

If that uniform looks odd, it's because the Brewers traded Gorman, a fan favorite, to Cleveland in mid-1983. I happened to attend one of his "Milwaukee return games" on June 26 (box score), the first time I can remember home fans cheering when a visiting player homered. (Thomas went deep off reliever Tom Tellmann in the 8th.)

2. Tony Clark (1998 Pinnacle Performers Swing For The Fences #5)

Soon after my move to Boston, the Red Sox signed Tony Clark to a $5M contract, fresh off his 2001 All-Star season in Detroit. Clark proceeded to post a 47 OPS+ and everyone in the seats hated him, hated the team, and hated the owners. He followed that folly with a handful of decent years elsewhere, so I assume Tony never felt comfortable with Boston itself, his teammates, or contract.

3. Jason Thompson (1985 Fleer, what a color combo)

Thompson made 3 career All-Star games and struck out nowhere near the totals posted by free-swinging power guys today. Given his 120 career OPS+, I'm surprised he didn't get more opportunities after age 30. Montreal cut ties with Jason after two bad months in 1986 and that was it for his career.

4. John Mayberry, Sr. (1978 Topps #550)

Houston drafted Mayberry with high expectations, but he never hit well in spot-duty and they unloaded him to Kansas City for Lance Clemons and Jim York, two pitchers who combined to win 9 games for the Astros. Six years, two All-Star appearances, and 143 HRs later, it's fair to say the Royals got the better end of that trade (career stats).

5. Jesse Barfield (1989 Score NatWest Banks Yankees #5)

This is one of the first cards to show Jesse Barfield as a Yankee, after Toronto swapped him early in 1989 for a youthful Al Leiter. Jesse could still reach the seats in New York, but without the consistency shown earlier in Toronto. Like Jason Thompson, Barfield was finished by his early 30s, but might've stuck around longer with the surfeit of teams playing today.

Monday, May 13, 2013

1980 TCMA Batavia Trojans Baseball #5, Mike Kolodny

Mike Kolodny, you look like every guy I hung out with in the bowling alley parking lot on weekends. Can I bum a sip of New Coke? How about a quarter for some Ironman Stewart's Off Road Racing? You're a true friend, Mike Kolodny.

It's easy to poke sophomoric fun at TROJANS, but trying out team names is the sacred duty of minor leagues franchises, be they great, goofy, or groan-worthy. Toledo has its Mud Hens; Vermont its Lake Monsters; Albuquerque its Isotopes. Franchise affiliates that matched MLB names top-to-bottom would feel trite and unmoored from local fan bases, so here's to keeping names individual and interesting. (Batavia currently plays as the Muckdogs and their 2013 season kicks off this week. Good seats still available!)

Without any "previous year" stats to distract me, today's the first time I've really noticed TCMA's address in that tagline and P.O. Box #2 is a pretty low number. So where were 1980 collectors actually writing for those free lists of photo fact cards?

Amawalk (the NY town) is near Connecticut's western border and this rambling white house is their post office, where founder Mike Aronstein or another TCMA employee would collect your letters from box #2 and send back their mail order catalog. If you count both major and minor leagues, TCMA  printed 61 sets that year alone!

30 Batavia Trojans appear in today's set, future big leaguers in bold.
  1. Angelo Gilbert
  2. Terry Norman
  3. Mark Baius
  4. Todd Richards
  5. Mike Kolodny
  6. Kirk Jones
  7. Tom Blackmon
  8. Tom Burns
  9. Monty Holland
  10. Mike Schwarber
  11. Orestes Moldes
  12. Chuck Hollowell
  13. Tom Stiboro
  14. Brian Meyer
  15. Rick Elkin
  16. Luis Duarte
  17. Chuck Melito
  18. Darold Ellison
  19. Kevin Malone
  20. Andy Alvis
  21. Kelly Gruber
  22. Rick Colzie, Manager
  23. Justo Saavedra
  24. Matt Minium
  25. Dave Gallagher
  26. Pat Grady
  27. Chris Rehbaum
  28. Jeff Moronko
  29. Nelson Ruiz
  30. Mark Wright

This set's biggest name is future 2-time All-Star Kelly Gruber, who hit a high peak in 1990 by capturing the AL's 3B Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards for Toronto. Unfortunately, Kelly lost the second half of his career to a degenerative neck injury, ultimately retiring after a 1997 comeback attempt in AAA.

BATAVIA TRIVIA: in 1986, Batavia set the obscure short-season record of eight future Major Leaguers on one roster, fielding Jim Bruske, Tommy Hinzo, Tom Lampkin, Troy Neel, Bruce Egloff, Jeff Shaw, Joe Skalski, and Kevin Wickander. (Of those, Lampkin and Shaw saw the longest MLB careers, logging more than a decade each.)

Value: This #5 cost $2 at I've seen eBay sellers asking as much as $55 for the full set, but that's out of character for a team thin on future MLB stars.

Fakes / reprints: TCMA reprinted several 1980 team sets for "collectors kits" later that decade. Those cards come with black ink backs, while originals have today's blue ink.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

1980 TCMA Memphis Chicks Baseball #5, Greg Bargar

In the spirit of SBNation's recent additions to their Baseball Name Hall of Fame (class of 2013), I further recognize the cultural context of guys like Greg Bargar, complete with camelback hat and "aspiring wrestler" mustache. You know, for the Chicks. (Montreal's AA affiliate Memphis Chicks.)

While a fan of minor league baseball and interesting names, I'm of two minds on this team. A squad intentionally named the "Chicks" already borders on gaudy, but did you know they played in Tim McCarver Stadium, so named in 1968 for the Memphis native, then a pretty-good catcher, now (in)famous as Fox's tenured professor of broadcasting? A park that combined AstroTurf infield and outfield grass? There's your purported Memphis Chicks. I submit this team might not have actually existed outside the mind and pen of George Plimpton.

Wikipedia claims Tim McCarver Stadium was demolished in 2006. I propose it collapsed beneath the weight of self-aware expectation. (Will this wandering anecdote about the folly of designated hitters ever end? No...? *girder rending noise*.)

Greg's teammates from that 1980 Arizona team included future manager Terry Francona, durable lefty Craig Lefferts, and Casey Candaele, son of former AAGPBL outfielder Helen Callaghan. Casey and Helen are the only mother/son combo in pro baseball history, which is pretty cool. (To complete today's team name circle, AAGPBL's own "Chicks" debuted in Milwaukee and later moved to Grand Rapids.)

TCMA's 1980 Chicks team includes several Hall of Fame names in their own right; my sentimental favorite is #19. (Future big leaguers marked in bold.)
  1. Steve Lovins
  2. Charlie Lea
  3. Anthony Johnson
  4. Tom Gorman
  5. Greg Bargar
  6. Joe Abone
  7. Larry Goldetsky, Coach
  8. Larry Bearnarth, Manager
  9. Mike Gates
  10. Glen Franklin
  11. Ray Crowley
  12. Leonel Carrion
  13. Terry Francona
  14. Kevin Mendon
  15. Brad Mills
  16. Tony Phillips
  17. Pat Rooney
  18. Dennis Sherow
  19. Tommy Joe Shimp
  20. Bryn Smith
  21. Chris Smith
  22. Doug Simunic
  23. Bob Tenenini
  24. Grayling Tobias
  25. Tom Wieghaus
  26. Rick Williams
  27. Steve Winfield
  28. Frank Wren
  29. Bud Yanus
  30. Audie Thor, Trainer

Value: Non-star 1980 TCMA singles cost a dollar or two. Most team sets are under $20, but the title-winning success of Terry Francona might push this one close to that.

Fakes / reprints: TCMA reprinted several minor league sets for "collector's kits" later in the 1980s. Those reprints have black backs, while originals have blue.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

1980 TCMA Glens Falls White Sox Baseball (Color) #5, Mark Esser

Red borders and blocky white text must mean TCMA's back in town! Today's set marks an encore performance for Chicago's AA team in Glens Falls, a franchise that started 1980 with a black-and-white set, whose #5 was shadowy Mark Platel. I assume that offering proved popular enough to merit this mid-season bump to full color.

I see you there, Budweiser

1980 was also a busy year for Esser, who'd started 1979 with Chicago's White Sox after doing great things against single-A hitters in 1978. He lasted less than a month on the South Side, pitching 1.2 innings, garnering a 16.20 ERA, and striking out one batter (Dave Roberts) before being sent  down to the AAA Iowa Oaks, where he was managed by young (34 year-old) manager Tony LaRussa.

LaRussa built his strategic reputation on revitalizing pitchers in Oakland and St. Louis, but Tony didn't do much for Mark, who unfortunately never made it back to the bigs. Based on 1979's stats in Iowa, I suspect a minor but lingering injury that didn't improve until the off-season.

Esser broke 1980 spring training with single-A Appleton, probably a kick in the gut when you'd started on a major league roster the previous year. Mark once again blew away low-minors competition, going 4-0 in 5 starts, then jumped to both AA Glens Falls (today's card) and AAA Iowa with mixed results. He spent 1981 in denouement, then pitched a final year with Glens Falls before retiring (career stats).

TCMA printed 30 cards for this color set, adding #20 "Sox Infield" to the black-and-white version's 29 player checklist. Players in bold reached the majors.
  1. Ron Perry
  2. Len Bradley
  3. Mark Teutsch
  4. Randy Johnson
  5. Mark Esser
  6. Andy Pasillas
  7. Kevin Hickey
  8. Rick Seilheimer
  9. Mark Platel
  10. Julio Perez
  11. Vince Bienek
  12. Fran Mullins
  13. Rick Wieters
  14. Dom Fucci
  15. Randy Evans
  16. Steve Pastrovich
  17. Luis Rois
  18. Reggie Patterson
  19. Ted Barnicle
  20. Sox Infield
  21. Mike Pazik, Manager
  22. Abner Haines, Trainer
  23. Bob Bolster, Clubhouse Manager
  24. Duane Shaffer, Coach
  25. Orlando Cepeda, Instructor
  26. Lorenzo Gray
  27. Ray Torres
  28. Tom Johnson
  29. Batboys
  30. A.J. Hill

Find scans of most of the set on Auctiva, an image hosting site. Wish I could go back in time and tell those photographers to stop taking players photos at noon.

Value: 1980 TCMA cards remain easy to find, so $1-2 for non-star singles is reasonable and team sets run $10-15.

Fakes / reprints: TCMA reprinted several team sets for "collector's kits" in the late 1980s. Reprints come with black ink backs and originals have blue ink.