Friday, October 18, 2013

1972 Puerto Rican Baseball Stickers #5, Santurce Team Photo

As of this writing, it was just ten years ago that Major League Baseball, then collective owners of Montreal's Expos, sent the squad to Puerto Rico for 22 home games in an effort to drum up ticket sales for a team that Quebec's ownership barely cared about. Many of Montreal's fans still bought tickets, but when corporate purse strings "can't afford" $50,000 on September call-ups to stay competitive for a Wild Card spot (details of this self-sabotage at Wikipedia), you can tell a team's doomed. Is it any wonder that former Expos owner Jeff Loria shows his current Miami Marlins the same fiscal unpredictability?

Uncut Santurce team photo (set #1-9), front

Here's that photo with identifiable player names.

Puerto Rican baseball, however, didn't begin or end with Montreal's farewell tour. Many current and future big leaguers spent formative years on their sun-bleached infields as amateurs or Winter League pros. This three-panel group photo technically includes the type card for today's 1972 Puerto Rican Baseball set, a multi-faceted release of 231 "stickers," paper-thin cards that more closely resemble stamps. As the picture's watermark attests, a Huggins and Scott near-set auction provided the only scans I've seen of its #5, the middle panel of Santurce's roster. Puerto Rico's Winter League fielded six teams in 1972 (league profile) and this shot shows another squad, the Ponce Leones (Lions).

1972 Ponce team (set #10-18)

Numbered backs include "Baseball de Puerto Rico" and "Printed in Spain" notes. While Puerto Rico gained a measure of government autonomy from colonial Spain in 1898, shared business interests continue to this day and apparently helped make this set possible.

Uncut Santurce team photo (#1-9), back

Sticker packs cost 5 cents and captured a variety of player poses reminiscent of Pee Chee subject folders from my middle school days.

Pack wrapper (5 cents)

Local icon Roberto Clemente got his own 9-sticker photo in Pirate uniform, indicating just how much Puerto Ricans loved their native son. The best-known MLBers from this set are #64 Mike Schmidt, considered a pre-rookie in 1972, and #222 Satchel Paige, whose notoriously long career included several stints in the Caribbean. Other HOFers are #132 Goose Gossage, #166 Frank Robinson, #195 Tony Perez, and #197 Orlando Cepeda.

Many collectors would've mounted their stickers in this brightly-colored album, leading to considerable back damage for those removed later and now circulating in the baseball hobby as singles. (Almost all you encounter will be VG or worse.)

The face of Winter League ball--related in part by the history of its Caribbean Series-- changed as minor league affiliations became more codified and scouting resources improved throughout the majors. Local Caribbean economies waxed and waned, so individual leagues sought a more reliable source of funding and ultimately evolved into baseball's off-season farm system. (I noted last week that Cuba will soon allow foreign teams to sign its citizens without defecting, a sea change in political and sports policy that includes a return of national representation to the Caribbean Series for their first time in 50+ years.)

Value: I purchased the complete team set (#1-9) for $57 on eBay in late 2018. When these do appear in the market today, I've seen uncut 3-card panels and team sets. No one's slicing the team photos into hodgepodge singles anymore.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace, but the demand for superstars like Clemente make it possible. I recommend buying from dealers who carry and know the Caribbean market.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

1982 TCMA Omaha Royals Baseball #5, Don Hood

Born today in in 1949, veteran pitcher Don Hood. (His mustache followed just 3 years later.)

The fact that Hood spent time back in AAA Omaha after several big league seasons says something about the pre-specialist era of relief pitching. 1980s franchises couldn't find a lasting role for his skills, so Don retired at age 33 after spells as both starter and bullpen man (career stats). These days, experienced lefties go a long way as situational relievers, aka LOOGYs.

Pinstripe Birthdays noted that Don came to New York after Goose Gossage broke his thumb brawling with Yanks DH Cliff Johnson, a "revenge trade" reminder that many transactions are about more than compiling on-field skills. That post also features Hood's 1979 Topps card and its alternate--but still impressive--lip caterpillar.

KC Royals History profiled the whole 1982 Omaha set and my favorite photo's probably Mike "I'm still badass in triple-A" Armstrong. The glasses, the pose, the grrrrrrr. Throw in fan favorite Buddy Biancalana and you've got a quality team set.

Value: Sellers at COMC ask ~$3 for this #5, but fans can find 27-card team sets for less than $20, given a lack of future stars.

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

Friday, October 11, 2013

1999 Fleer Mystique Destiny Baseball #5, Orlando Hernandez

Born today in 1969 1965, Orlando Hernandez, half-brother of Livan and son of Cuba.

El Duque hit the Yankees in a big way in 1998, as the 28 32 year-old "rookie" went 12-4 during the regular season and then made his first of 4 straight trips to the World Series. Orlando notched 9 postseason wins by the end of 2001, making this card bio a little eerie in its prognostication.

Hernandez stands out both as ballplayer and--intended or not--negotiator. Thanks to his (or his agent's) successful handling of the murky waters of defection, Cuban capture, and the US State Department's "humanitarian parole" rules, El Duque sought and signed a contract with New York first, dodging the amateur draft most players are subject to.

These angles of Orlando's story stand to change, however, should Cuba follow through with their announced plan to allow players to sign foreign pro contracts without first defecting to another country. With more money expected for local leagues and from foreign contracts, I think bĂ©isbol stands to gain from a straightforward scouting process and freer flow of skill throughout North and Central America. Ideally, we'll see politics move to the back burner for excellent players seeking a stage elsewhere.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

1947 Campo Alegre Cuban Baseball #5, Jorge Comellas

Infamous (notable, notorious, revered, reviled, etc.) dictator and baseball fan Fidel Castro would've been just 21 years old when this sepia set of profile photos hit Cuban souvenir shops. Like earlier Havana-made efforts from the 1920s and 1930s, its "cheap" look reflects a mix of photo reproduction costs (expensive) and desire to capitalize on the sport's exploding popularity (expansive). As with most ephemera, their construction hoped to catch the eyes of buyers instead of lasting for decades, so few survived to reach modern markets. In fact, this scan from's profile is the only #5 I've seen.

Card front (black bank)

This set's 50 subjects (checklist at played during Cuba's pre-revolution era, when foreign money and gangsterism held influence throughout Havana. (Indeed, Castro spoke out against this back-scratching corruption, making headlines as early as 1947 itself.) Amidst the country's political and social heat, American baseball scouts found Cuban racial integration favorable to tryouts and signings in the wake of Jackie Robinson's debut, as stateside teams added more non-white players. While helpful in a business-of-sports sense, some critics continue to find MLB's actions in Central America more exploitative of the area's poverty--pushing native sons to "escape" with a baseball contract--than supportive of local teams and fans.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention S.I. September 27 story about Cuba's announcement that athletes can sign pro contracts without defecting, a sea change in country policy that abolished paid leagues following Castro's rise to power. Not clear how (or if) this will change MLB approach to player scouting; it might just become more visible.

Owners of this gatefold album could stick all 50 players to a pair of 2x6 grids, with manager spots reserved for #1 Miguel Gonzalez above Deportivos and #2 Adolfo "Dolf" Luque (1920s MLB star) above Campo Alegre. I assume albums prove even more elusive than individual cards and appear only at auction.

Value: Haven't found a type card myself, so assume that set rarity also means prices fluctuate. 5-decade vet Minnie Minoso (#33) and Negro League star Martin Dihigo (#48) would command premiums from modern collectors.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace, but they're possible. If you're unsure of Central American set authenticity, try an expert source like the Net54 postwar baseball forum and include scans when possible.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

1976 Caruso Tucson Toros Baseball #5, Mike Weathers

I'll never get tired of the Tucson Toros, thanks in large part to their infamous 1980 toreador uniforms. But you know who else felt that nostalgic glow this summer? The current Tucson Padres, who ordered a new batch of the "Tequila Sunrise" Toros outfits for throwback games in June.

1980 TCMA Tucson Toros (various)

The best part? They had to use TCMA's 1980 minor league baseball cards as a design reference, because no one in the organization could find an original kit. (Note all the scanned shots in this TV report.)

Tucson's KGUN on the uniform's history & washroom perils (3 min)

Prior to their Astros affiliation--one inspiration for those gaudy duds--Tucson's earlier look featured a horned bull on the jersey and stripes on the cuffs, as modeled by 1976 type card Mike Weathers.

Card front (blank back)

Mike's green face isn't a scanning artifact, card publisher Caruso really did tint the whole front. Most of their other sets stuck to white--compare to a 1975 PCL team--so the effect's a little weird. (I assume that stars-and-stripes bunting marks America's bicentennial, a popular stylistic choice for 1976.)

Caruso printed 20 Toros in this set, most of them future big leaguers (in bold).
  1. Bob Picciolo
  2. Don Hopkins
  3. Keith Lieppman
  4. Gary Woods
  5. Mike Weathers
  6. Angel Mangual
  7. Bob Lacey
  8. Rich McKinney
  9. Harry Bright, Manager
  10. Wayne Gross
  11. Jim Holt
  12. Leon Hooten
  13. Alan Griffin
  14. Gaylen Pitts
  15. Craig Mitchell
  16. Tom Bradley
  17. Rick Lysander
  18. Charlie Hudson
  19. Jeff Newman
  20. Charlie Sands

In eBay's correct, Caruso didn't make the only 1976 Tucson Toros set. This similar black-and-white set looks like a team-printed version, probably numbered by uniform. (From what I can tell, it lacks a #5.)

Value: Today's #5 cost $3.50 on eBay, a little higher than I usually pay, but 1970s minor leaguers aren't easy to come by if doesn't have them. Team sets likely run $20-30 for lack of MLB stars.

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