Monday, January 30, 2012

An Alternate Hockey League

At one point in the 1970s, three of the four major sports had rival leagues playing against each other. Baseball had its own labor problems, but the other sports had to deal with competition. Basketball had the American Basketball Association, the World Football League took the gridiron and hockey had the World Hockey Association.

The WHA was brought about in part to circumvent two things that plagued NHL players by 1972: first, they were paid the lowest avearge salary of any major sport, and they were also tied to a team for an entire career by a reserve clause. Yes, they could be traded, but that was up to the teams rather than the players. In 1972, players were attracted to the new league by the promise of higher salaries and the elimination of the reserve clause from any contracts. The league wasn't initially considered to be a threat because it attracted college players, retired NHL veterans and the occasional star like Bernie Parent.

However, things changed when superstar Bobby Hull signed up. In an interview, he jokingly said he'd jump to the new league for a million dollars a year, a ridiculously large amount at a time when the average hockey player earned $25,000 a season. The Winnipeg Jets offered him that amount, and he took it. Other NHL stars followed, like Gordie Howe, Jacques Plante and Gerry Cheevers, but the league also scouted for new talent overseas. Europe and the Soviet bloc were largely ignored by the NHL, but were attractive to the WHA.

Collectors of Topps hockey cards might have never even known that another league existed because the company never acknowledged the WHA in any of its sets until the league fell apart. However, the Canadian-issued O-Pee-Chee featured them.

First was the 1972-73 base set. It was the new league's first season and OPC's final series that year included nothing but WHA players:

Since there weren't really any pictures of players in their WHA uniforms, they were airbrushed in...and in some cases, they didn't even look to be suited up at all.

For four years beginning in 1974-75, O-Pee-Chee issued separate sets of WHA cards that weren't part of their base NHL set. The first year was a 66-card  that features a horizontal design and a generic team banner:

The first card in that set featured Gordie Howe, a legend who came out of retirement to play in the WHA, along with his two sons on the same team.

In 1975-76, the WHA set expanded to 132 cards. One subset was added, and this card is from that:

The first and second team All-Star squads ran through the halfway point of the set (cards 61-72). The stars and "All-Star" banner are simply an addition to the base card design.

In 1976-77, the WHA set remained at 132 cards. The All-Stars return, along with six cards showing the league leaders in several different categories and three that recap the postseason games. However, the base cards were given a little more design to look like they're hockey cards:

In 1977-78, the WHA set was cut back to 66 cards and all of the subsets (except for the one checklist card that appeared in each of the league's sets) were eliminated. There was one card commemorating Gordie Howe's 1,000th career goal, but the rest looked like this:

The WHA played its final season in 1978-79. At the time, the league was struggling financially and several of its teams were folding. Sensing their inevitable doom, they tried to negotiate a merger with six teams going into the NHL. Eventually, four teams would make the transition: the Edmonton Oilers, New England Whalers, Winnipeg Jets and Quebec Nordiques. Perhaps realizing the ship was sinking, no WHA cards were issued during that final season.

In 1979-80, the four teams began playing in the NHL and appeared as part of both Topps' and O-Pee-Chee's base hockey sets. In Topps' set, a card was issued that showed the logos of the NHL's newest teams:

As you can see, the New England Whalers changed their city name. Today, all four franchises are still in the NHL but only Edmonton remains in the same city or has the same team name.

Friday, January 27, 2012

More Breakfast Table Reading

Today's post features a card that shows up from time to time but can confuse collectors because they don't feature any identification on them:

The thin yellow border is the thing that gives these away. This is from the 1969 Nabisco Team Flakes set and is one of 24 cards, including 11 Hall of Fame players (as well as Pete Rose, who had a Hall of Fame career and screwed it up by thinking rules didn't apply to him). Among the players in the set is Tony Horton, who didn't appear on a lot of cards during his career and never in a Topps base set.

These blank-backed cards were issued on the backs of boxes of Team Flakes cereal, with eight to a package. Here's an image I swiped from eBay, which calls the cards "Mini Posters":

So three boxes was all a collector needed to get a complete set. They corresponded to larger posters that could be ordered separately. Team logos were airbrushed off the helmets and uniforms of the players.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

In the Mood For Some Dessert?

Today's post features a card that was subjected to torture by a young handler bearing a pair of scissors, and still shows the scars from that encounter:

All things being equal, the previous owner could have done a lot worse. Originally, the card made up the back of a box of dessert mix (gelatin or pudding, I'm guessing). The bottom edge of the card shows where the package was folded.

This is from the 1950 Royal Desserts set, which is a misnomer as the set was actually issued over a three-year period. There were 24 cards that made up the base set, but the biographies were updated through the set's run and some players eventually had two, three or four variations. In all, there are 47 different cards for collectors to chase.

Dick Sisler was one of three players with four different cards in the set (Andy Seminick and Ray Scarborough were the others). The variations can be ascertained by the final sentence in the biography, and the military service mention was on what is considered the first variation.

Monday, January 23, 2012

"Raised" Cards, the Prequel

Last week, I showed a couple of cards that were given a contoured look and mentioned that they were perhaps inspired in part by the 1965 Topps Embossed cards.

The set was inserted into wax packs of Topps' regular cards that year as an insert set. The cards were made on gold foil and were embossed so that the player's image was given a raised contour. There are 72 cards, and each league has 36 players featured. The thing about the set that has bothered some collectors is the way they appear. Here's Brooks Robinson's card, for instance:

It really doesn't look like him at all. For that reason, it's nice that he's identified on the card. Like all American League players, he's given a blue-colored inset. National Leaguer were given a red inset, like this Hall of Famer:

For the record: despite several instances of Clemente being called "Bob" on Topps cards in the 1950s and 1960s, it appears he went by his full name Roberto. And that's what I'm going to call him.

There are a few cards that have been reported to have silver leaf instead of gold (I don't own any, nor have I ever seen one). Due to the way they were made, they show damage pretty easily, which is another reason some collectors have stayed away. However, it's one of those issues of the 1960s that offers a nice chance to complete a set cheaply. There are few cards to pick up, many are really cheap and even the stars (even Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax) can usually be reasonable.

Friday, January 20, 2012

What's On the TV Set?

Last week, I showed some cards sent to me by a fellow collector from the 1951 Bowman set. Here are some other cards that came with them from the 1955 Bowman set. There are four in all, and three are Yankees players:

The other card came from the team that had just beaten them for the American League pennant in 1954.

Mike Garcia was known as "The Big Bear" and made up a solid starting rotation of the early 1950s along with Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Bob Lemon and Early Wynn. In '54 he had led the league in ERA and shutouts in what would be his last truly effective year. He remained with the Indians through 1959 and then pitched a season with the White Sox and one for the Senators before retiring.

Born in California and being of mixed Mexican and American Indian heritage, Garcia aspired to become a jockey before he filled out into his 6'1", 200-pound frame. Before playing in the majors, he served in the Army as a signalman during World War II. After hanging up his glove, he stayed in Ohio and ran a dry cleaning business in Parma. He passed away in 1986, on the day of his 35th wedding anniversary.

One of Garcia's later teammates will be remembered by a line drive from this guy:

In 1957, Gil McDougald hit a line drive that struck Herb Score in the right eye. Score had been a promising pitcher who tore up the league the previous two seasons, but that was ended by one unfortunate placement of a ball. While things like line drives are part of the game, McDougald was shaken by the incident, saying he'd walk away from the game if Score were blinded. Fortunately, he came back from the injury in 1958 and it was arm trouble (not a lack of vision) that led to Score's decline.

Despite that one unfortunate incident, McDougald was a solid hitter who remained with the Yankees for his entire ten-year career. In that decade, he appeared in eight World Series and was on the winning team in five of them. In fact, when Bill Mazeroski hit that home run to win the 1960 World Series, he ended more than the Yankees' would be the last time McDougald (who was standing near third base) would play in major league game.

McDougald later became the coach for Fordham University's baseball team and passed away in 2010.

I'm not sure which Yankees players are lining up for their turn in the batting cage in the picture above, but McDougald could be one of them.

Tommy Byrne was part of the Yankee rotation in the late 1940s, earning the nickname "Wild Man" because of control trouble. He led the league in walks issued three times and in hit batsmen five times. He was also dangerous with the bat, hitting 14 home runs and two grand slams. In 1951, he was traded from the Yankees to the St. Louis Browns, a team that lost more than 100 games. After splitting 1953 with the White Sox and Senators, he returned to the Yankees in 1954 and remained with them through 1957.

He had attended Wake Forest, and returned there after retirement. He even served as the mayor of Wake Forest, North Carolina from 1973-'87. He passed away in 2007.

In 1955, Byrne led the American League in Winning Percentage. He didn't lead the team in wins, however. This guy did:

It's not the prettiest card, but it's still welcome in my binder.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"Raised" Cards

Today's entry goes outside what is normally the scope of this blog. However, the cards aren't found all that often.

Topps is known for occasionally testing ideas for new avenues when it comes to items that featured pictures of baseball players on them. In many cases, the cards were simply a re-introduction of a previous innovation. In 1985, the company issued a set of 30 cards that was a combination of the "Super" cards they issued in 1980 and the Embossed cards of 1965:

The scanner I used really doesn't do well with items that aren't flat, and I apologize for that.

These cards are from the 1985 Topps 3D set. They are essentially 4 1/4-inch by 6-inch plastic slabs with rounded corners which have the player features raised. The backs are entirely blank, except for a pair of small adhesive strips that allowed them to be stuck on a wall.

The- Bruce Sutter card is a portrait, which really doesn't demonstrate the full effect of the raised area. They called for action shots, as this Rick Sutcliffe card exhibits:

They were originally issued in packs, with one card inside (at a price of fifty cents). They have never been commonly collected, which have kept their prices low. In fact, a sealed wax box can be bought for $8.50 today.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Orientation...Not that There's Anything Wrong With That...

(Just a quick note...this is the 300th entry to this blog. Hopefully, there's enough gas in the tank for 300 more...)

 A couple of months ago, I ran an entry about the 1971-72 Topps hockey set. As part of my position writing content for the Cardboard Connection Website, I am learning new things about sets that I never knew before. Among those are the various hockey sets that were totally off my radar as a young collector but really need to be given more exposure, because the cards have a history that stretches back even farther than football or basketball when it comes to mainstream issues.

Beginning in 1968-'69, Topps and O-Pee-Chee began issuing separate hockey sets. While OPC generally had the larger set and featured many more stars, the designs were largely shared, except that the OPC cards were bilingual and were generally printed on lighter cardboard stock (and had a "Made in Canada" copyright line). There was a big difference in the designs when the 1971-'72 set rolled around. Let's take this card of a legendary goalie:

The front design was the same between 1971-'72 Topps and OPC. This card was #45 in both sets. That was common in some years, but it wasn't always a consistent thing.

Now, here's the Topps back:

Notice the back is oriented vertically. Since Dryden was a rookie, it's not obvious that the set was the first to use year-by-year career stats on the back, instead of a simple previous year/career line used nearly every year before this. A lot of yellow is used on the back as well.

Now, here's the O-Pee-Chee back:

The words are the same, and so is the cartoon. Both have French translations added to the back. However, the back is laid out horizontally, with the elements in a different location. The cartoon is larger and clearer. The stats are similarly year-by-year (though that still can't be seen in Dryden's example). And no yellow at all is used here. It's one of the few cases where Topps' back is brighter than the one used on its OPC counterpart.

Friday, January 13, 2012

RIP "Goodie"

While I like to focus on the cards and sets that form the main interest of vintage sports cards, it is impossible to build a Hobby without people. So, when a pioneer leaves us, he deserves mention.

Earlier this month, Goodwin "Goodie" Goldfaden passed away at the age of 97. He was one of the few remaining "old school" dealers who were active before the Hobby; in fact, he was a seller of sports-related memorabilia for more than 80 years.

George Vrechek wrote an article about Goldfaden that appeared a few years ago in Sports Collectors Digest which can be read here. This photo appeared in that column and shows Goodie at a California convention in 1976:

He was one of the first dealers based on the West Coast, and there are some remembrances out there about his small shop on Santa Monica that was only big enough to accommodate a few people at one time. It was remembered that a collector would simply go to the front and tell Goodie what they needed and he would go back into the store and find it.

Though he was one of the early sellers, he didn't seem to consider himself a "pioneer" but simply a businessman. However, his passing still silences the memories of a Hobby back when it was a totally different type of pastime. He'll be missed.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"Stand-Up" and Take a Swing

Here's a card Topps issued in 1964:

Beginning in 1960, Topps issued a wide variety of cards to be sold on their own, rather than as inserts with their base cards. These are called Stand-Ups, due to the way they were designed. They were die-cut around the player and the top half was perforated to allow the cards to "stand up" after being folded.

There were 77 cards in the set. On the printing sheet, 55 of the cards were double-printed, which made the other 22 cards a little scarcer. Many of the short-printed cards include Hall of Fame players, such as the McCovey card shown above, Carl Yastrzemski, Warren Spahn and Don Drysdale.

Full cards are in the same standard 2 1/2-by 3 1/2 format used for regular Topps cards. As you may have guessed, cards that have been used as they were designed are much less valuable than those that have been untouched.

Monday, January 9, 2012

1951 Bowman Cards on Parade

I recently had a stack of cards show up in my mailbox from another collector. Included in the stuff I placed into my binders were these well-loved beauties from the 1951 Bowman set:

Card #125 -- Bill Rigney, New York Giants

Rigney didn't get to play in the majors until he was 28; however, that was in 1946 and he was like many other players who needed to focus on an entirely different problem for the few years prior. He spent much of World War II in the Coast Guard. Despite the late start, he was a regular in the Giant infield pretty quickly and was quick to pay attention when Leo Durocher became manager in 1948. Once his talent diminished due to age, he would later become a manager himself, leading the Giants during their move West and later with the Angels and the Twins before one last hurrah with the Giants in 1976.

Rigney passed away in 2001.

Card #64 -- Bill Werle, Pittsburgh Pirates

Bill Werle was also a World War II veteran (he served in the Army late in the war) and a manager, although his teams were minor league clubs. A PCL star before and after his time in Uncle Sam's employ, Werle broke into the majors in 1949 with Pittsburgh. In 1952, he got a hard time from the team's management and would be traded to the Cardinals in May. After that season, Boston picked him up, and he played with the Red Sox for a couple of years before returning to the PCL. In 1967, Werle was 46 and coaching with the Giants when it was discovered he was only 19 days shy of receiving a players' pension. He was activated for a short time so he could get it. He became a scout after his managing days were over.

Werle passed away in 2010 after suffering from the onset of Altzheimer's.

Card #131 -- Cliff Chambers, Pittsburgh Pirates

Cliff Chambers spent World War II in the Army Air Corps, which delayed his big league debut until he was 26 years old. His major league career lasted from 1948-'53...and his lifetime record was 48-53. In 1951, he tossed a no-hitter against the Boston Braves but still found himself traded to the Cardinals mid-season.

Cliff Chambers is still around today and living in Boise, Idaho. He appears to be warming up next to a radio transmitter in the picture on the card.

Card #132 -- Cass Michaels, Washington Senators

Cass Michaels' real name was Casimir Kweitniewski, and he played under that name as a rookie in 1943. He was 17 that season, a little young to be called to service. He would spend twelve seasons in the majors -- mostly with the White Sox -- and had recently joined the Senators in 1950. He went back to Chicago in 1954, but a beanball thrown by Marion Fricano left him with blurry vision and ended his career.

He later ran a neighborhood bar in his native Detroit. He passed away in 1982.

Card #161 -- Wes Westrum, New York Giants

Wes Westrum was also in the Army during World War II. While in the service, he managed a ballclub made up of soldiers from Greenhaven, New York, a place that was not only a disciplinary post, but also served as a POW camp for captured enemies. The experience would be helpful when he became the second manager of the New York Mets in 1965.

In 1951, he was a key component to the Giants team that won the National League pennant. The team's regular catcher, he led the league in baserunners thrown out. He was also the catcher shown on the very first cover of Sports Illustrated magazine in 1954. Sadly, cancer took Westrum in 2002.

Card #173 -- Hank Arft, St. Louis Browns

Hank Arft's World War II service career saw him in the Navy, where he was on hand in Tokyo harbor during the Japanese surrender on V-J Day. His major league career lasted from 1948-'52 and saw him mostly as a fill-in player. 1951 would be his busiest season in the big leagues. Unfortunately, his career was spent with the St. Louis Browns, a team that would lose over 100 games in '51. He later became an embalmer after retiring.

Sadly, Arft was also claimed by cancer in 2002.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Cereal-Box Treasures

This weekend, the Pittsburgh Steelers line up against the Denver Broncos for the first round of playoff action. So here are a couple of cards from my collection of Steelers cards:

This Roy Jefferson card is from the 1970 Kellogg's set. It could be obtained either inside a box of cereal or through a complete-set box-top redemption. The 1970 set can be distinguished by the blue helmet and the lack of a border. The background is layered and the Xograph process gives it a three-dimensional look.

Here's the back of the card:

Interesting to see that Jefferson led the league in pass receiving in 1968 and '69, as the Steelers were one of the worst teams in football and traditionally favored a ground attack. That said, these numbers don't include AFL teams, where the most potent passers and receivers were.

The other Steeler among the set's 60 cards includes this quarterback, whose name makes the perennial fourteen year-old boy inside me chuckle:

Dick Shiner's card exhibits the cracks that frustrate the more condition-conscious collectors. Since the process used to give the cards a 3-D look are prone to cracking even if the card has been encapsulated, there are collectors who don't even bother with Kellogg's cards.

Here's the back of Shiner's card:

Unlike Kellogg's baseball sets (which ran every year through 1983), the football sets were issued only in 1970 and '71. The '71s are much harder to find, as they weren't available through the company as complete sets as they were in 1970.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Little Prespective on Hall of Fame "Stats"

I was listening to another argument about who should and shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame recently, after the news broke that Ron Santo was going to be inducted. It reminded me of something I noticed a few years back when I added this guy's card to my 1961 Topps set:

This card was printed about midway through Sandy Koufax's career. He had six major league seasons behind him, and six more before he called it quits after the 1966 World Series. Now, take a look at the back of this card:

Halfway into a Hall of Fame career, Sandy Koufax had a losing lifetime Win/Loss record. He was 36-40, despite playing on two teams that won the World Series. This isn't the stat line you expect to see in the middle of what we now consider an illustrious career.

Of course, it was what Koufax would do over the next six years (129-47, two more World Series rings, 3 seasons with 300+ strikeouts, 3 unanimous Cy Young awards, 4 no-hitters including one perfect game) that would get him into Cooperstown. Few dispute that he wasn't the most dominant pitcher in baseball between 1961 and '66, but the career stats shown above aren't what you'd expect to see out of a top-notch performer midway through a career.

Monday, January 2, 2012

In Action Cards - Series 3

This is a continuation of a series on this blog that shows what was on the backs of the 1972 Topps "In Action" cards. As with all series, there were 12 cards in Series 3 that were part of a 24-card subset that was seeded base/action. Two of the cards repeated the previews of upcoming series: one was for Series 3/4 and the other was for Series 5/6. The other ten were a new feature to baseball cards.

They use a game situation, using the names of actual players, and ask the owner to determine what the result would be, according to the rules (and assuming that the umpire actually makes the call according to "The Book."). It's a feature that was adapted from a regular column in Baseball Digest but apparently wasn't popular, since it never appeared again in a Topps base set.

Reading through them, I got some right and some wrong, just as I did when I was a regular reader of the magazine. Here they all are; see how good you can do (right-click if the letters are too small):