Tuesday, June 24, 2014

World Champion of Baseball, Sir Hensley Meulens

Born on June 23, one of the hottest names of the rookie card explosion and future World Champion, Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens.

1989 Upper Deck #746, Hensley Meulens

According to Beckett.com's checklist, the late 80s presumptive Yankees star appeared on 108 different baseball cards, few more treasured than this Upper Deck RC. New York media loved the prospect of Hensley anchoring their left field spot, which pumped his collector interest to equal that of Ken Griffey, Jr., at least until Bam Bam proved underwhelming in just a half-season of work in 1991.

Once pinstripes management decided Hensley couldn't play above AAA, the market lost interest as well. As years passed, the "MEULENS" name even became a metric for evaluating show dealers. Through 1990, Hensley had his own display section and then 1991 marked his plateau. By 1993, any dealer with that divider still in their table boxes communicated laziness, as they long since should've replaced it with someone newer. The card market had moved on from Hensley Meulens.

Hensley Meulens, Order of Orange-Nassau

Meanwhile, Bam Bam himself resurfaced in Japan, where he slugged the Yakult Swallows to a Japanese national title. Since 2010, his work as Giants hitting coach contributed to a pair of World Series wins. The Netherlands even knighted him in 2012, an honor unique among Major Leaguers. He's become the success story one can't predict with baseball cards.

No long ago, SBNation published a solid profile of Hensley's life, coaching style, and decent odds of becoming a big leaguer manager, a job he's performed capably at other pro levels. Happy 47th birthday to the once and future prospect!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

1925 Holland Creameries World's Champions Baseball #5, Sam Rice

I've already written about the 1924 World Series, thanks to the 1951 Packard Sports Library series of car dealership sports magazines. Reportedly a candidate for "best-ever" Series, it's one of a handful to end in game seven's extra innings, as Muddy Ruel scored the winning run on a bad-hop single in the bottom of the 12th. For HOFers Sam Rice and Walter Johnson (and many of their Washington Senators teammates), it'd be their only year as "World's Champions." (While SGC slabbed this as 1926, it makes more sense as issued in 1925, one year after their 1924 title.)

Beyond the Series and players, what do we know about the card set? First off, "Holland" is Holland Creameries, a Winnipeg-based milk and ice cream distributor. Their small set, similar in size and design to 1920s candy issues, is that entity's most enduring creation and its PSA collection registry comes in at the top of their Google results. It's hard to imagine any other way you'd discover that kind of defunct corporation, unless you're a fan of Canadian ice storage journals.

If you did want to find the company, the earliest mention I came across refers to Holland Creameries executives exploring expansion into new facilities in and around Winnipeg.

Refrigerating World, April 1921

Prospective expansion gives an air of corporate health, but by mid-1928, fellow dairy Canada Pure Milk took over Holland's in-city deliveries, probably as a new owner of its assets and customers. Thanks to Google, I even found their transition notice in local papers.
"STARTING FRIDAY, JUNE 1st, a fleet of 15 wagons will commence delivering to customers in Winnipeg and St. Boniface. This service will be extended, as development warrants, to cover the city and suburbs. Pure Milk is the product of Canada Pure Milk Ltd., a new Winnipeg firm which has taken over the plant of the Holland Creameries Co., Ltd., which includes up-to-date pasteurization and homogenizing equipment...We will continue to serve all former patrons of the Holland Creameries, and as soon as conditions warrant, will extend our service to all parts of the city." - ad from Winnipeg Tribune, May 31, 1928

Prior to its demise, I imagine kids obtained cards from Holland delivery drivers or stores that carried their products. On-card promotions invited local collectors to redeem all 18 for a selection of ice creams, but Holland limited giveaways by short-printing #16, Roger Pickinpaugh, and stamping all redeemed cards to prevent "re-use." This #5 shows no redemption marks, so never made it to the factory.

That a Manitoba dairy saw money to be made from an American team says a lot about the reach of pro baseball in those days, but it wasn't their only dalliance with sports promotions. Earlier in the 1920s, Holland first printed what you'd expect of a Canadian company, a collection of hockey stars.

Based on the careers of its 10-player checklist, Holland distributed this set in or after 1920, as pictured players had Winnipeg connections beginning at that time. Most catalogs and grading companies date Holland's hockey set to 1924. I think sports ephemera was less "seasonal" in those days, so it's entirely possible they started printing cards in 1920 and just didn't stop, even after players like Frank Frederickson left town; he skated for Victoria by 1925, but was likely still remembered by local fans.

Here's an apparent full-set redemption, with hole punches as evidence that a kid got their ice cream.

UPDATE: More scans from this rare set, including Walter Johnson and several "utility men."

Value: Holland Creameries baseball and hockey sets are rare and valuable, so expect to pay $100+ for cards in any condition. I bought my #5, one of this set's key HOFers, for $1400 from another collector in 2022.

Fakes / reprints: I imagine fakes and reprints exist, with the caveat that only advanced collectors are likely to seek out this set, so hopefully wouldn't be taken in by a forgery.