Tuesday, August 31, 2010

New Set Added to My Website: 1948 Blue Tints!

I just put another set description on my Vintage Baseball Cards Website:

1948 R346 Blue Tints

This is a set that actually has very little known about it. While we know the cards were issued in strips of eight for a penny -- which should make it a W-series strip card set rather than an R-series set -- it's not known who made them. Even the experts are at odds about what year the set appeared. I have 1948 (as do others) but some say it came out in 1947 and other like SCD have indicated they could have been distributed into 1949.

Here's the card I used to illustrate the page:

They're called Blue Tints because of their appearance, and aren't widely collected because they often seem to be of low quality. However, the set is filled with stars and Hall of Fame players, including Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Bob Feller. Early cards of Jackie Robinson and Warren Spahn are part of the set, as well as final cards of Hank Greenberg and Mel Ott from their playing days (they both retired in 1947). There is also a Lou Gehrig card, which is especially odd since he had died before the set was made. For a set of 48 base cards, there's a lot of star power.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Classic Film Scene

Pride of the Yankees was made in 1942, which was a really long time ago when it comes to collecting habits.

Watch the following video...at the three-minute mark, the young Lou Gehrig pulls cards out of his pocket:

While trying to get into a neighborhood baseball game, he offers Sweet Caporal cards as a bribe.

One of the cards he says he has is Hans Wagner, but it's more likely that the scriptwriter considered names of the baseball stars of 1914 (a date seen on the wall young Lou crawls under) than having any idea that Wagner's T206 card was scarce. It also explains how Gehrig says he has a Grover Cleveland Alexander card when no T206 card exists of him.

However, the part with Babe Ruth's card shows the difference between collectors than and now: when the older kid looks at the last card, he scoffs, "Babe Ruth...a rookie?!" before tossing the card down. Back in the early days of the hobby, kids weren't interested in untested rookies. Compare that to the current era where players like Stephen Strasberg and others with high potential but little on-field performance are made into bigger stars than certain Hall of Famers entirely due to speculation. Even though he's scheduled for arm surgery, it remains to be seen whether he'll become the next Nolan Ryan or will join the ranks of past hobby busts like Joe Charbonneau, Ron Kittle and Jose Canseco.

By the way, if you look closely at that card scene, the actors are using scraps of paper as props, while the one shot of a Babe Ruth rookie card is seen as a quick close-up in the palm of a hand (probably stock footage taken elsewhere).

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hot Dog!

(Note: this email was sent to me after an auction from one of the major houses...Perhaps Memory Lane, or even the now-defunct Mastro. The email was sent to me a few years back so the hammer price mentioned is likely high today. This was run in one of my old newsletters, but included today so I can show off one of my cards. Enjoy.)

Mark writes:

"I noticed that a 1954 Wilson Franks Ted Williams card sold for over $95,000. Who is Wilson Franks and what can you tell me about this set?"


95 Grand?  That must have been a high-quality card, or else there was one intense bidding war.

The cards were issued with packages of hot dogs (Wilson franks) and are often found with grease stains, so I can see some high-end collectors fighting over the Ted Williams card if it wasn't damaged.  Here's a link to my page covering the set, and here's a card I own:

Well, most of it, in any case...

Yes, that's a really poor example, but it's mine. Wilsons aren't exactly cheap, so I'm grabbing anything that fits within my budget. One of my favorite things about this set is the way that every card has an image of a Wilsons package. There are two ways of looking at these cards: either the player pictured is thinking about lunch...or else he's blissfully unaware that he's about to be hit in the side of the head by a flying pack of hot dogs.

In addition to my beat-up card, here's a link to page showing all 20 of the set's cards.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

When Words Come Back to You...

Following up on Monday's entry about 1953 Topps...

While I'm still relatively new to baseball card blogs -- this one started just this April -- I've known a few bloggers before by way of being a longtime collector. One of the guys I've known for years is Mattew Glidden of the Number 5 Type Collection since we're both members of an online trading group called OBC (Old Baseball Cards).

OBC may seem like its own secret society of collectors. We go to shows wearing a special hat, some dealers even give us special offers and there's even a super-secret group handshake. The group is a great collection of old-school hobby guys who are more into the cardboard and stories than they are about things like investment value and pop reports. You can bet that every person in the group is crazy.

Crazy, that is, about their cards! Seriously, if you're into older cards and are looking to work on pre-1980 sets and don't mind getting cards that might look like some of the ones I show here, you should check out the collectors listed on OBC's membership roll. You'll know they're decent collectors and will deal with you fairly.

(Putting away the recruiter badge and remembering I was writing about another blogger...)

Back in May, the Number 5 Type Collection had this post about 1953 Bowman cards. I made a comment about the back and the way blank spaces were left for 1953 statistics so their owners could fill in that player's numbers for the year. Mentioning that I've never seen any that were ever filled in, this card was posted there:

Not just Steve Souchock, but Mister Steve Souchock. Impressive. Now I've seen a '53 Bowman card that has been filled in and can go on with my life without ever saying something like that comment again.

Fast forward three months. What appears in my mailbox but these:cards:

Mr. Souchock and three of of his friends and fellow players. Three of the four cards have the stats filled in, with the card on top (Herman Wehmeier) also being a "Mister."  Cool stuff, thanks for thinking of me Matt!

Another New Set Added...

For the second time this week, I've added a set description to my Vintage Baseball cards website. I've been really slow about getting new material up there for several years, and have decided to spend a little time adding some set descriptions that are sorely missing.

Today, I've added the T208 Fireside set to my site. Here's what they look like:

T208 cards are very tough. In fact, that scan might be the closest I ever come to actually owning one.

Hopefully, I should get around to adding some more 19th and 20th century tobacco set descriptions soon.

Monday, August 23, 2010

New Set Added to My Website

Do you know what set this card is from?

(It's OK if you don't...nobody is keeping score.)

I've added another page to my vintage baseball cards website about the T200 set.

Read about it here.

Hopefully, I'll be adding more T-series sets to my site soon, with checklists and more of the same helpful info that's always been found there.

1953 Bowman (and its Overlooked Kid Brother)

After a few years as the leader among gum companies issuing cards, the Bowman Gum Company was effectively blindsided by the onslaught of Topps in 1952. As a result, they went all out to make a better set in 1953. In the opinion of many hobby experts, the 1953 Color set is Bowman's most accomplished in that it may actually be a better issue than one Topps issued that same year. There is some debate about that, however, because the '53 Topps set is considered to be a nice set as well.

For the first time, full-color photographs were used, instead of the hand-painted pictures that had been in use for several years. Bowman used the most basic card design possible in its 1953 sets: just a photo of a player, a white border and a black line separating the two. There are no names, positions, team logos or facsimile autographs anywhere on the card front. Going back to its days as Gum, Inc., this was actually the fourth time the company resorted to a picture-only design for a baseball card issue, but the sharp photography really made this set stand out. This uncluttered design has made this set a classic that is still considered one of the best-looking sets ever produced. Here are two of the cards from my own collection:

In response to Topps' larger cards, Bowman increased the physical dimensions of their cards to 2 1/2" by 3 5/8". They were just as tall as the one Topps sold, but slightly thinner. The competition took its toll, however; Bowman spent so much money in production costs with the color cards that instead of a new series of cards later in the year, they put out a small set of black and white cards. Among my collection are these two Hall of Famers:

The 1953 Bowman Black and White set is similar in all respects to the color set, except that player photos lack color. Even the card backs are similar; however, rather than continuing the set at card #161, the black and white cards are numbered from 1 to 64. Despite seeming like a low-cost, lesser version of its more famous "sibling," Bowman Black & White cards are scarcer and sometimes more expensive than their color counterparts. While there are fewer stars and their lack of color doesn't make the photos as bold, they are still attractive. Casey Stengel, Johnny Mize (shown above on the left) and Hoyt Wilhelm highlight this set.

Friday, August 20, 2010


This one comes from Alex:

Q: "I recently bought a violin at a flea market and at the bottom of the case, I found an autographed 1954 Billy Hunter card, and I was wondering how much it would be worth."

A:  You didn't say whether the Hunter was a Topps or Bowman card, but both 1954 sets had an autograph in their design, so what you see is likely a facsimile. Topps included an autograph wherever it fit into the card's design, which for Hunter's card was along the bottom. Bowman used a solid-colored box in its set design that contained a player's signature. While a few cards were given block letters instead, Hunter's wasn't one of them.

Interesting that Hunter's signature is actually different on each card. Topps has his sig as "Gordon W. Hunter" while Bowman shows "William Hunter." The W and the last name are similar on both cards, but perhaps he signed his contracts differently for each company as a result of the battle between the two companies about which one had the rights to certain players.

Common 1954 cards in VG-ish condition (or, what you'd expect for a card that has been in a violin case for years) usually fetch about $2 or so at card shows.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Another Card Dilemna


Say you're a fan of a team and they get a hot rookie who doesn't show up in that year's card set. Then, let's say your rookie becomes a starter or joins the rotation. If you like to have your cards to be as up-to-date as possible, what do you do?

Today, this isn't as much of a problem. With eBay and traders who are linked via the Internet as well as staggered card issues, it doesn't take all that long to locate a card that will show your team's new addition. However, in 1956 collectors didn't have eBay, the Internet or many other devices at their disposal. They also didn't have several sets per year, nor the proclivity for preserving cards in top condition that many collectors exhibit nowadays. Therefore, you may find stuff like this:

Johnny O'Brien was famous to 1950s card collectors for sharing a 1954 Topps card with his brother and teammate Eddie. However, in 1956 he lost the Pirates' starting second baseman job in midseason to a 19 year-old newcomer named Bill Mazeroski. Since Maz didn't get his first Topps card until '57, it necessitated an eraser to remove O'Brien's name and a blue ink pen to make a one-of-a-kind Mazeroski "rookie card."

But the updates didn't stop there.

Unlike O'Brien, who lost his job as an everyday position player, Roebuck was still an active cog of the Dodger pitching machine and would remain with the team for several years after the move West. However, as a spot reliever he wasn't quite as visible as another 19 year-old newcomer named Don Drysdale, who was taking the mound in '56 as both an occasional 5th starter and as a reliever. However, he also didn't appear on a Topps card until 1957. Perhaps the original owner had this Roebuck as a duplicate and figured there would be no problem changing it to become a unique "rookie card" of an eventual Hall of Fame player.

Final note: both of these cards are duplicates for me (actually, I've picked up versions that weren't given any after-market adjustments). If any reader would like to give one or both of these guys a home, drop me an email.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Remembering Card Shows of the 1980s

Last week, I showed a couple of photos taken at cards shows back in the 1980s. There was this newspaper photo and caption:

This appeared in the August 21, 1989 edition of the Watertown (NY) Daily Times. As a color photo, it should have been on the front page (I believe this is the paper that employs fellow blogger Night Owl, perhaps there's a way he can find out). The photo was taken at a show held each summer at Watertown's State Office Building. I was in attendance at the show; in fact, that's me on the left in my 80s threads.

The other photo I posted was taken on December 2, 1989. It was a cold Saturday morning, as well as my 17th birthday. It was also the date of the very first card show ever held in my little hometown of Carthage, New York. The show was held in the basement of the local Catholic school and I was behind one of the tables:

This picture would also appear in a newspaper article. That was written by Ray Hansen (who also took the photo) and showed up in the December 13th issue of the Carthage Republican-Tribune, a weekly local paper. While pulling out these photos to scan, I found a couple more to share.

This picture was taken at the same show as the one above but not used in the article. I ended up with both photos one day when I stopped in to thank Mr. Hansen for running the article (I did mention that Carthage was a small town, right?). Here's another angle of me being helpful:

While it looks like there's a tear in my customer's jacket, there's actually some missing paper from the photo.

Two things jump out at me in these photo (well, besides the fact that I no longer have a full head of hair and those six-pack abs are long gone). First, there's a pad of paper and a pen, where I kept track of every transaction. The table had cost $35 and my mother had paid it. Once I made that money back, I was allowed to keep whatever else I made. Since I was also buying from customers and other sellers, I dutifully kept track of what moved. The second thing I notice is something I mentioned in my last post: all the cards have prices on them. I spent about three hours before the show with my latest price guide and made sure I had everything priced fairly. It was something I did before every weekend show I ever did. I wish more sellers could do the preparation even a 17 year-old high school senior thought necessary.

The last photo is one that is very special to me:

This picture was taken in July 1989 at the annual collectibles show in Clayton, New York. It was a show that featured a wide range of items for sale. Along with cards, you could find stamps, coins, books, military and other items. I went to the show every year as a kid and this was the very first table I sought once I entered. The seller is Vin Minner, who lived in New Jersey and still advertises in The Wrapper, a non-sports publication. I mentioned Mr Minner, the Clayton show and my small hometown in a blog post a few months ago. In that post, I mentioned that I bought my very first 1952 Topps cards at this table:

$2 for the pair of semi-hi numbers. Even at 15, I wasn't that concerned about condition when I saw a great deal. Those cards started my '52 journey, which is still in progress. I now have about half the set.

Mr. Minner was one of the first sellers who encouraged my collecting. While he seemed impressed at my understanding of cards as a young teen (gained mainly through books to that point), he would talk with me about his own days as a young collector. At a time where some sellers were annoyed at the kid who asked a lot of questions, Mr. Minner would patiently answer those questions. As a result, I made sure to visit him at the show every year until I moved away. A lot of the collecting spirit that shows in this blog was instilled by Mr. Minner. I'm in the photo as well, standing at the left with my mother, another large influence on my collecting habits.

That was a great time to be in the hobby. It seemed there was a card show nearly every weekend within driving distance, the shows were well-attended and even small-time sellers like me could sell off his duplicates and take home a little spending cash. More importantly, I learned about business, dealing and customer service and had such a blast that here I am 21 years later recounting the time. What's funny about that is the fact that I may not be able to tell you what I ate for breakfast yesterday without thinking, but the memories of those card shows are still fresh in my mind.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Slight Detour...

Excuse the slight swerve from my usual vintage focus, but I would like to direct attention to a very well-written opinion about the modern hobby. The National convention last week kicked up a bunch of discussion about the hobby, which always seems to happen just after the largest card show of the year packs up.

On Tuesday, the Sports Cards Uncensored blog ran an article about the state of the hobby. It was a balanced article, listing five good things and five bad things about the hobby's direction. Here's a list of his points:

Rather than recounting the article, I suggest reading it for yourself, along with the comments. I do have a few points to make, however:

I sincerely hope more serious attention can be given to the online collecting community. While this blog tends to stay nostalgic and somewhat humorous, there are some very good blogs focusing on hobby happenings -- A Cardboard Problem, Stale Gum, Voice of the Collector and others -- that I try to read daily. They don't get linked from this blog since they are mainly focused on modern cards, but their reports on the pulse of the hobby help keep collectors informed about what's going on.

About the money aspect..."what is this card worth?" seemed to find its way into an awful lot of the questions in the Q&A section of the several hobby magazines I read even back in the 1980s. That part isn't new at all. As for the assertion in the comments that the era of cards as a kids' hobby ended when Upper Deck arrived with their $1 foil packs in 1989, that's not entirely accurate. While trading cards was a kids' pastime through the 1970s or so, it was adults (namely, adult Baby Boomers) who fueled the Hobby Boom once they started acquiring those cards their mothers tossed out. So the argument that the hobby had been taken away from the kids is an old one.

Sadly, there just doesn't seem to be any real effort by the card companies to make cards palatable to young collectors. But from a business standpoint, why worry about kids' pocket change when adults are willing to hand over several dollar bills?

That was a rhetorical question, by the way.

The point about the lack of creativity in card design is well-put. When I was a kid, it was fairly easy to identify all the Topps issues going back to 1951 as well as the various Fleer and Donruss designs. However, when many collectors can't identify many of the designs among cards of the past 20 years (and I'm guilty of that myself) and the sets that mimic designs from decades ago like Allen & Ginter and Topps Heritage are more memorable than base sets, something isn't right.

In the comments section, I mentioned that when I was attending shows during the 1980s, there were many sellers who offered both vintage singles and cards from the current year's sets. Sometimes the new stuff was in commons boxes and the stars were available on the table, sometimes they had unopened wax packs on the table. For example, here's a picture from the August 21, 1989 edition of the Watertown Daily Times showing the brisk selling
 You'll notice that this seller has unopened wax for sale. What isn't seen in the picture are the single cards that were being looked through by the 16 year-old kid at the left wearing a Spuds MacKenzie shirt and a Swatch watch (which is me, by the way. While I'm not exactly proud to admit I was wearing a shirt promoting beer at that age, I just thought the shirt was cool). The cards were mostly 1980s but had some vintage mixed in.

However, the sellers today seem to be focused on vintage or modern, with very little overlap. That shows a disconnect that may make good business sense but doesn't seem to point towards a rosy future.

I say this as a person who once sold at Weekend shows. The picture on the right shows me in December 1989, at a show in the little town in upstate New York where I grew up. That's me in the sweater. I was 21 years younger than I am today, with more hair on my head and less girth around the waist.

While I'm showing off this picture, I'd like to point out one more thing. You might notice that all the cards visible have stickers on them. I made sure every card I offered was clearly marked with a price. Although those prices were negotiable, I took a few hours before every show to make sure each one was ready to be sold, allowing for condition. Also, if I bought or traded for a card at the show, a price was placed on it before it was placed on the table. There was no need to pull out the latest price guide whenever a customer asked, "how much do you want for this one?" I see that often at shows I attend and it annoys me to no end because it makes a seller appear unprepared. Sorry if you're a seller and I just described you; should I happen to visit your table, I probably won't spend much there. I'm more likely to walk away than wait for you to check out the book value. And I'm probably not the only one who'll act that way.

Okay, end of that tangent. Back to the SCU article.

While I'm in agreement with much of what was said in the piece, his last point settled in an uncomfortable place for me. Since I do not wish to take his statement out of context, here it is, lifted whole:

"Kids not collecting cards is not the problem. That’s pretty much it. That argument holds as much water as a generic brand baloon on a cold day. Kids are not the future of this hobby, casual sports fans are. When the collecting base is populated by as many twenty somethings as it is, the manufacturers should not be wasting their time trying to compete with XBOX and DVR. Kids are gone, and they are not coming back - at least until they start cheering for a sports team and buying their own stuff. Because that usually happens around age 16-20, that is where the focus needs to be. Kids spending 2 bucks on a base Topps pack at wal-mart is not going to drive the hobby to a point where it needs to be. Getting the billions of casual sports fans interested in buying AUTHENTIC autographs and memorabilia from their favorite sports players will."
If you read the comments section below that article, you'll know that I don't exactly agree with that statement. While I agree that young kids likely won't treat memorabilia cards kindly, saying that a lack of young collectors isn't an alarming trend is a little disconcerting. A lack of younger collectors now means fewer adults in 20 years looking to rekindle the flames of their old hobby. That won't be good for anybody still in the business two decades from now. And now that some of those Baby Boomers who began the hobby upswing 30 years ago are beginning to leave us, it's worth investigating a way to keep young collectors interested.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Now THAT'S Provenace!

In 1969, Topps included insert cards in a few series of its wax packs. The cards looked like old photographs from a family album, with scalloped edges. Known as Deckle Edges, the cards look like this:

There were 33 numbered cards in the set. However, trades forced two players to be dropped and replaced with others to keep at least one player per team in the set...even though the team wasn't actually listed on the card. Card #11 is either Hoyt Wilhelm or Jim Wynn, and card #22 is either Rusty Staub or Joe Foy. As a result, there are 35 different players in a complete 1969 Deckle Edge set. As of right now, it's also the only set from before my birth I've managed to complete.

The two cards above once belonged to a young collector named Tony Havens. I've never met Tony nor have any idea where he lived. Tony didn't trade me these cards...so how do I know they were his?

The cards told me.

Monday, August 9, 2010

1936 Goudey

Last month, I ran a profile on the 1941 Goudey set. While that set is one of the lesser-known issues by the Boston-based gum pioneer, the company's 1936 set gets perhaps the least amount of hobby attention.

On my Vintage Baseball Cards website, I have written a page about the '36 Goudey set. What follows is a revamped description from that page, as well as some items from my own collection.

The United States was still trying to come out of the Great Depression in the mid- to late-1930's, and the design of baseball cards issued at the time began to show the effects. After three years of innovative and very well-designed sets, Goudey stepped back and issued what turned out to be its smallest baseball set in 1936. Not only did the set contain the smallest number of cards found in any Goudey baseball set, it featured a design that may have looked foreign when compared to the brightly colored pictures found in the company's sets from previous years. At the same time, more "premium" cards (larger-sized glossy photo cards) were made by card companies as a way of limiting production but seeming to improve quality. Whether this step back in design was a result of economics or from competition with National Chicle may have been lost to time; however, neither Goudey nor any other manufacturer would come out with a nationally-issued baseball card set in 1937.

While the wax wrapper was somewhat colorful:

The cards themselves were devoid of color at all. The bright solid backgrounds of 1933 and '34 were gone, as were the brightly colored borders of 1935.

Goudey's 1936 issue contained 25 unnumbered cards. Card fronts feature a black and white player photo, surrounded by a white border and adorned with a facsimile autograph (not the player's signature, as all are in the same handwriting). As an example, here's Walter Berger's card:
While it looks like Walter has a nose ring in the picture...it's actually a scratch on my card. Nose rings weren't yet fashionable in 1936 and wearing one could have led to what were then called "fisticuffs."
Card backs have a very short statistical write-up -- missing from the 1935 set, but much less than the info found on the backs of Goudey's first two sets -- along with instructions that could be used for some type of baseball game. The card backs actually contained two different possible plays, as seen on the back of Berger's card:

The progress of the game depended on which side was facing the top when the card was tossed down. As was the case in 1935, there are many front/back variations known to exist in this set due to all the different plays used for the game.

There really are no "key" cards to be found in this set, even with nine Hall of Famers present in these 25 cards. Babe Ruth had retired, Joe DiMaggio was only starting out in the majors, and Lou Gehrig -- so prominent in the 1934 Goudey set -- is not featured here. However, despite this set's status as the smallest and least valuable of all the major Goudey sets, it has been overlooked (or ignored altogether) by collectors, and its relative scarcity makes it a tough set to complete.

 That said, I have several cards from the set in my personal collection. While many of my pre-World War Two cards are essentially type cards, I am only ten cards away from finishing my 1936 Goudey set. Being a smaller set helps considerably, as does the fact that many collectors and even sellers are unenthusiastic about it. Supply is actually quite low, but so is the demand.

I've explained in this blog already that I'm not exactly a condition-sensitive collector. That means that when I find a decent deal on a card that may have sustained damage, I'll pick it up merely to fill the void in my set. While fewer collectors follow that strategy with their post-WW2 sets like I do, a lot more pre-WW2 collectors are likely to do that since those cards are scarcer. Therefore, I end up with some cards that look like this Oral Hildebrand:

That's a card that certainly shows 74 years of age. Plus, I also have some cards like this great-looking example of a Yankee Hall of Famer:
 While this Crosetti card certainly looks good, it was a bargain for me because the back looked like this:

That's okay, though. I can always upgrade...the ones I've upgraded in the past -- like a Jimmy Dykes with trimmed borders -- have quickly found new homes with other collectors also eager to plug holes in their collections. That's one of the things I love most about this hobby; it's big enough for all types of collectors, and there are many different approaches to building a collection. Some hobbyists are particular about condition and strive for perfection, while others are just happy to have anything, even if it may not necessarily come in one piece. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.

Friday, August 6, 2010


Since many collectors are in Baltimore this weekend at the National Sports Collectors' Convention, it's a good chance many of this blog's regular readers won't be checking in today. I wish I could be there too; I usually try to get to the National but it wasn't an option for me this year. Next year, the show's in Chicago. I plan on being there, hopefully my blogging can get me into a position where I can go in a professional capacity.

With the hobby activities this week, I'll get away slightly from the cards themselves and touch on ways of storing them. Jeff asks:

"I have questions about storing a collection in binders. 

1. Does anyone store cards in binders that stand in bookshelves without concern of warping the cards? I would like to store in binders but not if I have too store them all laying flat.

2. What is the preferred binder for 800 card sets?"

(Shown above: the binder housing my complete 1973 Topps set. These are the cards I feature -- three times each week -- on my other baseball card-related blog.)


I think that cards look better in binders. It's great to open up my cabinet, pull out a random book and flip through the cards. I also display them in the pages so I can read the backs (at least, the ones with readable backs, that is). My preferred binder is a 4" D-ring. they are wide enough to accommodate those monster Topps sets.

Some of the binders I use were tossed out by big businesses after being used to hold proprietary information. Many of them were formerly corporate training manuals and include plastic dividers that support the pages inside. Those help keep the plastic sheets straight, and for my pre-'66 sets (where I often have multiple sets in the same binder), I use several plastic dividers; they are great for dividing sets in addition to supporting the cards. For example, I use a 4" D-ring binder for my 1953/54 sets. Inside are 1953 Topps, '53 Bowman Color, '53 Bowman B&W, '54 Topps and '54 Bowman. That's 5 sets, with 4 dividers. My '52 binder, however, was put in place when I had no more dividers, so the pages look like this:

As you can see above, having a half-filled binder sometimes causes uneven storage, which might be a source of irritation for some.

I have gotten every 1948-'80 set I'm working on into sheets. As I placed them into the binders, I left spaces for all the cards I needed; that way, whenever I received something needed I was able to quickly slide the cards into their respective slots. There's nothing like inserting the final card for an 8- or 9-pocket sheet because it's a way of seeing your progress that leaving the set in a box can't. As you can see from the picture below, I've still got quite a way to go with my 1952 Topps binder:

Also, there's the fact that whenever you get a hankering to look at some good ol' cardboard, you can pick a year or a set and flip through them. In my collection I've placed the cards so that I can read the backs as well and it's a nice trip through time.

As for my post-'80 sets...they stay in boxes. Maybe eventually they'll get the binder treatment but for now they stay in a stack of boxes that my wife occasionally complains about. My pre-'48 stuff is too sparse to put into a binder but they'll probably be placed into one before the '81+ sets are.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The National

Today marks the beginning of "The National," the annual sportscards convention. This year's event is being held in Baltimore and runs through Sunday. Although this National is closer to where I live than at any time since 1999, I am unable to be there this year.

So...instead of dwelling on the fact that I can't make this year's show, I'll take a glimpse at another show from the past.

The National has been held every year since 1980 and has rotated through several cities. The '80 show was in Los Angeles and would travel to Detroit, St. Louis and Chicago after that. The rules in place allowed several dealers to "bid" on the next year's show and the election would be held at the convention. The prospective sponsors would make their case before the assembled dealers and officers of the committee. Once the votes were tallied, the winner would be announced. For the fifth show in 1984, the event would be held in Parsippany, New Jersey. It was just across the river from New York City and widely hailed as the "New York National."

Attendees of that show were able to pick up this program:

While the artwork featuring the '56 Topps cards is neat, the rendering of the two brothers sitting on a wooden crate and looking at their cards is awesome. I especially like the way they have the opened wax wrappers and extra cards tossed about the ground. For collectors like myself who were told to be extra careful with our cards to avoid damaging them, the picture is a glimpse into a different era.

The group that won the right to sponsor the '84 National are assembled in this photo from the program:

Standing are Tom Reid and Mike Gordon (a former contributor to The Trader Speaks and the man who sold me this program at a later National in Chicago). The two men seated are Mike Aronstein (the "MA" in TCMA, a company that printed collector cards in the 1970s and '80s) and Lew Lipset, author of The Encyclopedia of Baseball Cards and publisher of The Old Judge. (Edited to add: the program didn't give any photographer credit...but I've since discovered that this photo was taken by Frank Barning of Baseball Hobby News.)

For those who haven't been to a National, it's worth going just to see the stuff on display. Along with the cards, memorabilia from sports and entertainment are available, autograph guests sign throughout the weekend and many hobby names will be on the floor. While attending other Nationals, I've met Penny Marshall and Dr. Jim Beckett walking the floor as collectors and even Howard Bedell, who was on a 1962 Topps card as a player.

In the case of Howie Bedell, he walked up to a table, looked at a binder with some 1962 Topps cards in it, found the one with him on it and asked the seller, "is this one even real?" The seller assured him that it was authentic, especially for a "no-name" player. Bedell handed over his business card and said something about how that was certainly not a "no-name" player. Perhaps noticing that I (standing 4-5 feet away) was chuckling to myself over what I just saw, Bedell have me a slap on the shoulder and asked me how I was doing. Meanwhile, the seller was asking him if he'd do the honor of signing his card but Bedell politely declined. I actually enjoyed being there for that, if only to see a seller get reminded of the importance of not automatically downgrading a player on a card.

One thing that I wish would still be a part of the convention is a series of seminars. For one day, many subject matter "experts" would discuss a topic for an hour. The '84 National program had a list of the schedule:

The schedule shows a wide range of interesting topics that could hold somebody's interest. While "Collecting and the I.R.S." doesn't seem like it would be good for anything besides catching up on some sleep, Bill Henderson is always good for some stories about the way things used to be in the hobby (I always seem to hear something new from him each time I speak with him). An oratory about prices by Dr. Jim Beckett -- remember, this was before he had started his price guide -- also had potential. My introduction to 19th century baseball cards was a book co-written by Keith Mitchell; that would have been a neat discussion to sit in on. I'll also mention that Rich Klein is still active with The National and posts on Net54. He usually has a table near the show entrance; if you can get to this year's show, stop by and chat with him for a moment (and tell him I'm sorry I couldn't make it this time).

Another feature of the National was a luncheon. In recent years, there have been several groups that have luncheons and dinners with interesting speakers from auction houses and grading companies, but none are officially recognized by the National committee. In most cases, you need to belong (or know somebody who belongs) to a group to know about them. However, here's an event that was listed in the '84 program:

Having lost that very 80s-vintage mustache long ago, Keith Olbermann is known today as a national political commentator for MSNBC and former ESPN Sportscenter host. As a teen in the 1970s he was quite active in the hobby. He wrote the text that shows up on backs of the underappreciated 1976 SSPC set (printed by TCMA, mentioned earlier) and even took some photos that wound up in the 1981 Donruss set. At the time of the '84 convention he was the sports guy for the nightly TV news in Boston. Jean Potvin was likely added to help skew the baseball focus that most hobbyists had; however, he was a member of the Islanders teams so popular in the New York area at the time and likely had some colorful insights.

As for autograph guests, the list is rather short and includes mainly players who were local:

While many of these former players are now deceased, there's a definite lack or "star quality" that marks shows like this today. For an example, compare this list with the schedule of autograph guests at this year's show. That might be due to the fact that in '84, these autographs were included in the admission price. Today, all autographs are a separate fee and even the VIP package sold to collectors only includes a limited number of free autographs.

Another thing missing from current National programs that should be there are articles. Fortunately, the 1984 program has several, like this one:

This article explains the battle between Topps and Bowman, both in the candy stores and in the courtrooms. Other articles cover Barry Halper's collection, the first National in '80, world series rings, collecting nonsports subjects and different methods of collecting. Compare that to the program for 2009's National in Cleveland, which consisted of a directory of sellers and advertisements from sponsors but no reading material. I kept a program for my collection, but was disappointed to see what wasn't included.

Though I'm not able to make this year's show, I'm looking forward to being there next year in the Chicago area.

Monday, August 2, 2010


This was a newsletter article I wrote in 2004, commemorating anniversary of Thurman Munson's plane crash. Today marks 31 years and I feel it should be shared again:

On August 2nd, 1979 a two-engine Cessna Citation with the number 15NY approached the Canton-Akron airport in Ohio. It was a Thursday afternoon and most people were just finishing their workday, but the pilot was Thurman Munson of the New York Yankees and Thursdays were often off-days for the team. Thurman was spending his day off at home as he often did; in fact, he had begun flying in 1977 to spend more time at home and avoid moving his family to New York for six months a year. Munson had just built a family home and conducted business and real estate deals in his native Canton.

Munson had only recently bought the plane and it was an upgrade for him, so he needed some additional lessons to fly it. His flight instructor David Hall and friend Jerry Anderson joined him on this particular flight.  Munson was having some issues with the plane and wanted Hall and Anderson to check them out while in the air and also to get some practice taking it off and landing it.

As they approached runway 19 at 3:02 PM, Thurman came in too low.  The plane hit some trees a thousand feet from the runway and lost its wings. It crashed just past Greensburg Road, rolled to an embankment near the airport and caught fire. Once the plane came to a stop, Hall kicked open the side door and Anderson followed him out. Both men noticed that Thurman was still in the plane, motionless, head tilted sideways.  They tried to pull him out of his harness until a fuel tank caught fire and the flames forced them to move back. Their clothes singed, they were found exhausted and gasping for air when the first police officer arrived five minutes after the crash.

Yankee captain Thurman Munson was thirty-two years old. The official cause of death was given as smoke inhalation, and the coroner determined that he had died even before his friends tried to pull him out. He left behind his wife Diana -- his high school sweetheart -- and three young children, Tracy, Kelly and Michael. He also left behind 24 teammates, several coaches, the entire Yankee organization and a legion of fans.

Though Thurman was known for having the stoic and unemotional makeup often attributed to many of those who share his German heritage, the news of his passing caused a lot of emotion to spill over among his teammates and friends. George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin had spent much of the 1979 baseball season feuding in the press, but both broke down crying over the phone when Steinbrenner told Billy the news. Bobby Murcer had been Munson's closest friend on the team and immediately flew to Ohio to help comfort the Munson family.

Steinbrenner had longtime clubhose superintendant Pete Sheehy clean out Munson's locker. Sheehy left Thurman's uniform and catcher's mask on the hooks, a Yankee cap on the shelf and a metal plate above the stall with the number 15 on it. Sheehy died in 1985, all Thurman's teammates have since retired and George Steinbrenner, Catfish Hunter, Bobby Murcer and Billy Martin have also passed away, but the locker remained that way in the Yankees' locker room until it was demolished. When the Yankees moved to their new home in 2009, Munson's locker was moved there and remains to be a permanent reminder of what he meant to the club.

The Yankees played again on August 3rd against the Orioles in Yankee Stadium. As the Yankee players ran out to their positions before the top of the first inning that evening, eight took the field and the catcher position stayed empty. Thurman Munson's face was shown on the scoreboard and the fans applauded for eight minutes. Once the tribute had settled down, rookie catcher Jerry Narron quietly took his position as the game began.

The entire team traveled to Canton the following Monday for a memorial service. For many of the players, it was the first time they had to deal with the death of somebody so close to them. For Graig Nettles, his way of dealing with it was through humor. Remembering that Thurman loved junk food, he quipped, "only Thurman would be buried next to a Burger King and a pizza parlor" when they approached the cemetery.

Now that several years have passed, there are still a few vocal fans who want to see Munson enshrined in Cooperstown. They point out Thurman's resume: 1970 A.L. Rookie of the Year, 1976 A.L. MVP, three pennants, two World Series championships and the fact that he was the acknowledged "heart and soul" of those teams. However, in retrospect the Rookie of the Year award doesn't help Munson any more than it helped Fernando Valenzuela, Fred Lynn or Lou Whitaker. The MVP award is nice for a trophy room, but it didn't help Keith Hernadez, George Foster or (again) Fred Lynn get in the Hall of Fame either. Each award is given for an exceptional season, but to get in the Hall of Fame a player needs to put together an entire career.

Thurman played in the 1970s and was a contemporary of two catchers who are among those immortalized in Cooperstown -- Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk. Bench was the best catcher of his generation and deserved the first-ballot election he received once he was eligible. The one time Bench and Munson met in the postseason was for the 1976 World Series, and the Reds swept the Yankees. If you compared the year-by-year stats of Fisk and Munson for the years 1970-'79 they look comparable, but the fact of the matter is that if Fisk's career ended in 1979, he wouldn't have gotten into the Hall of Fame either. Fisk's decade with the White Sox was just as much a part of his induction as his decade with the Red Sox. By '79, Munson was playing designated hitter and first base (where he played his final game) because his legs were too tired to allow him to be an everyday catcher. In his autobiography, Munson wrote that he was hoping to play for the Indians by 1981, but he likely wouldn't have been able to supplant Bo Diaz or Ron Hassey as their regular catcher.

Of the resume items mentioned earlier, that leaves the fact that his teams won three pennants and two World Series. If that were all a person needed to enter the Hall, then other catchers with Series rings -- guys like Bill Freehan, Gene Tenace or Bob Boone -- would get more consideration. Besides that, playing for multiple championship teams didn't get earlier Yankees like Bobby Richardson, Roger Maris or Mark Koenig into the Hall, nor did it help another Yankee catcher with similar credentials as Munson...Elston Howard. A '63 MVP award, four Series championships, eight pennants and an ability at his position that caused Yogi Berra to be switched to the outfield surpassed his trivial status as the first black Yankee. If those achievements aren't enough for Elston Howard, then perhaps Munson's omission wasn't an accident.

None of those issues should detract from Thurman Munson as a player or as a man. He was a gifted catcher with a strong arm and surprising speed. He was an agressive player and a quiet leader. Off the field, he was a devoted family man. In person, he came across as moody, but his teammates insisted he was very sensitive and needed time to warm up to others. Whatever the viewpoint, Thurman Munson's passing more than thirty years ago was a loss for all who knew him, and he's still missed.