Monday, November 29, 2010

Not Just a Computer Brand

Among oddball issues from the early 1970s is the Dell Stickers. While the name Dell today might remind us of a brand of computers and maybe even the "You're getting a Dell, Dude!" pitchman, it's also the name of a publishing company that is today a part of Random House.

In 1971, they issued a series of 25 booklets about baseball players. There was one book for each of the 24 major league teams in existence and one All-Star booklet. The cover looked like this one:

Each team collection was available separately, and also in groups. They could be purchased as division sets, where each team in a division would be represented (the A.L. East would consist of the Red Sox, Tigers, Indians, Brewers and Orioles as well as the Yankees then). All four divisions -- plus the All-Star book as a bonus -- were available via an order form included in the book (cost: $5 including shipping, which is less than just what the S&H would set you back for such a package today).

One page toward the back featured an advertisement for the full series:

Inside the book, there were two sheets of stamps with 12 players each, some statistics for every player featured on a stamp, a full 1971 game schedule, a basic history of the team and some of its past stars.

By 1971, the Yankees were a shell of their former selves, with several names that aren't remembered by many fans of the team at all:

There are some names here: Thurman Munson is the second player in the top row, while Roy White and Gene Michael show up in the bottom corners.

On the second sheet, Mel Stottlemyre and Bobby Murcer appear in the middle row.

Considering these were the types of items that were sold in school book fairs and other methods directed at school-age kids, they won't provide a treasure trove of information. Nor are they ever going to be a high-dollar investment item. However, as something designed to be torn apart and stuck to things...and sold to the very people who had no problems doing just that, it's neat to see that this one managed to survive nearly 40 years unscathed.

Friday, November 26, 2010



"Could you explain why the 1963 Fleer Joe Adcock card is so valuable? He was a good player but not at the same level of Koufax, Yaz, Mays and Clemente, whose cards sometimes sell for less than his."


When Fleer issued its set in 1963, the company printed a 66-card set plus a checklist card. Figuring that a 66-card set could fit twice onto a 132-card sheet, they did one of two things: they either shorted one of the cards from one half-sheet to allow the checklist to fit, or they dropped a card altogether and replaced it on the sheet. In any case, this is the card that was short-printed:

(Interesting how Adcock is shown as a Brave but listed as an Indian. Perhaps Topps had a monopoly on airbrush artists, too.)

The designation as a member of the Cleveland Indians was no mistake, as Adcock was traded to that team after the 1962 season. '63 would be his only season playing in Cleveland, however. He would be traded to the Angels and play the final three seasons of his career with that club.

Looks like Joe Adcock was getting used to getting moved around.

The checklist card that replaced his looked like this:

It's actually a really colorful card on the front,with its drawing of fielder snagging a fly ball and making what appears to be an "OK" sign with his right hand. The back of the checklist, though, uses the same color Fleer used with the set's base cards:

The '63 Fleer checklist card is given a premium when it comes to value, but that's likely due to the same reason all 1960s-era checklists get a bump: many were marked up, and many were simply tossed out because nobody wanted duplicates. That said, the way its inclusion effectively short-printed Joe Adcock's card is the reason his card is considered the key card to the set.

I may end up doing a full-blown treatment on the 1963 Fleer set here eventually. Keep a look out for it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Player's Been Traded! The 1965 Topps Edition

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, so here are some of the "turkeys" I have in my dupes box from 1965.

As I've written this blog, I've shared some of the cards that show the way kids in the 1950s and 60s dealt with things during the era of one card set per year. When a player was traded, or a new player arrived, those kids weren't about to let something like a monopoly baseball card company get in their way of having a complete team set. With a little American ingenuity and a ball point pen, anything was possible.

First, we have a guy who was traded:

Billy Cowan will be best known to baseball card collectors for the way he posed on his 1972 Topps card, with the halo of the old Angel sign over his head. However, before he posed for that card, he is shown here as a Cub. For whatever reason, he didn't get the "capless" treatment Topps usually gave players who had been traded. He actually began the 1965 season with the New York Mets (which aren't mentioned on this card)  and ended it with the Braves (who are). The card shows his updated status as he played for the Phillies (1967), Yankees (1969) and Angels (1969-'72).

As for Bob Tiefenauer, he would begin the '65 season in Milwaukee. Before the season was over, though, he'd be sent to both the Yankees and Indians. the Yankees are noted at the bottom of the card and the Tribe at the bottom of the pennant. He would finish his career in '68 with the Cubs, as indicated by the card.

Chris Cannizzaro actually lasted with his team the entire '65 season. Then, he was back in the minors for two years. In '68 he came back up with Pittsburgh, before becoming an original member of the San Diego Padres. While "Tigers" is shown on the card at the bottom of the pennant, Cannizzaro was with the organization during his minor league stint in '66-'67 but likely wasn't needed to back up Bill Freehan. He would go on to play with the Cubs in '71 and the Dodgers in '72, but those aren't reflected here. Looks like the kid had put away his collection sometime after 1969.

In the case where somebody came up to the majors before his card was printed, collectors needed to do something different. Here's an example:

George Culver began playing with the Reds in 1968. Jim O'Toole, on the other hand, was gone after '67. An easy adjustment.

Likewise, when a team trades away a veteran for a hot prospect, like the Reds did after the '67 really helps if both players have the same first name. Bench didn't get his first card until '68 and didn't appear by himself on one until '69, but that wasn't a problem when this was a handy solution.

This last card, though, is a puzzler:

Bill Henry was with the Giants by the close of the '65 season, so I understand the idea of tossing him from the Reds' pile. However, Sandy Koufax was appearing in the Topps set on his own card. Since he appeared on card #300, perhaps it was necessary to "make" a Koufax card to play baseball card "games" with early in the season as a way of waiting until Sandy showed up in the gum packs. Aside from being left-handed and in the National League, there's not a lot of similarity between the two pitchers.

As I said earlier, all these cards are sitting in my dupes box. If you'd like one (even if you don't have anything to offer in trade), drop me a line.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Winners Have Been Chosen

Last Wednesday, I offered up these cards as part of a free giveaway:

One entry was given to anybody who commented, and an extra entry was given to the bloggers who mentioned the contest. After using a low-tech decision-making method involving paper, scissors and a hat, the results are in.

Clyde Kluttz goes to Cam.
Bob Kuzava goes to Baseball Nut.
Hank Thompson goes to Collective Troll.

Congratulations to the winners! Drop me an email with your addresses and I'll get them sent out.

And thanks to all who participated. I'll probably get another vintage card giveaway up in the future.

Football Discs

With Thanksgiving coming up his week, it's time for a football card article.

Who was Michael Schechter? He was the chief executive of Michael Schechter Associates, which handled a variety of promotional objects featuring professional athletes, including sports cards. While many longtime collectors might not recognize the name, they will know his products. From the mid 1970s through the 1990s, his name (as well as MSA) was mentioned a number of times in the hobby press.

If you've been collecting long enough, you're bound to run into one of MSA's products. During those years, many generic-type cards -- many showing similar pictures -- filtered into the hobby as a way of promoting businesses, products and services. There was one small issue that often frustrated some collectors, though: the cards were always airbrushed to remove logos and distinctive insignia. MSA was in the business of making cards.  They acquired the necessary licenses from the different players' unions that gave them permission to use their images, but decided to keep costs down by not getting licenses from the leagues.

While many baseball fans might have dismissed those logo-free designs, 1970s football fans didn't have a lot to complain about. Their major card company was Topps also prevented from featuring logos on their cards at the time. MSA released a series of discs in 1976 featuring baseball players that were sold through a number of stores and items, and later that year they issued a similar set featuring football players.

Here's one of those 1976 discs:

These were sold along with Crane's potato chips (one major sponsor of the '76 baseball discs). A basic head shot, with the necessary info (name, team, position) in the white area and the rest (vital statistics, etc.) in a green ring around the edge. You'll notice the NFLPA logo inside the circle and a copyright line at the bottom.

Here's another, featuring the same player:

 While much of the information is retained, there are a couple of differences here. First, the ring around the disc's edge is now orange, and the "Crane" logo has been replaced with stars. This was for discs sold through other means. This Bradshaw is from Buckman's ice cream store in Rochester, New York, while another set was sold through a place called "Saga." I don't have any Saga discs yet, but they were evidently issued in a promotion involving school lunches in the Philadelphia area.

 The discs are easily identified through their backs. Crane's discs have the same logo used on the 1976 baseball discs:
If you look closely, you'll see the MSA lettering just below the goose in that picture. (It has been pointed out that I should understand the bird is a crane...something I probably could have figured out without any help.)

The Buckman's discs also have the MSA lettering, along with an advertisement for the business:

While Crane's discs aren't hard to put together, the more limited distribution of Buckman's and Saga discs make them harder to find, with Saga being much more scarce than the others. It's also worth noting that the checklists are slightly different among the sets: Terry Bradshaw appears in all three, but Joe Greene appears in the Crane and Saga sets but not Buckman's, which has a Franco Harris disc instead.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Reminder: 1952/'53 Topps Cards Giveaway

On Wednesday, I ran an entry in my blog about a giveaway for these three cards:

The cards aren't for the faint of heart,but if you're a collector who doesn't have them in your collection, they're great. I've extended to deadline to 10 PM Eastern time tonight (7 on the West Coast), in case anybody still wants in. Just go to the original post and make a comment.

In addition, I have offered to give an entry to anybody who makes a post on their own blog about this offer, and that is still open as well (cutoff will be 30 minutes before the final deadline). If you haven't let me know you made a post, drop me a line to make sure I toss your name into the giveaway as well.

Good luck to all who entered, I'll post the winners later.

Friday, November 19, 2010


John writes:

"I have a variation for you that doesn't  seem to be in the available checklists. The 1963 Topps #473 New York Mets team card has both a red bar and orange bar version.  

(In the attached scan, it's worth mentioning that the Mets 
logo has the same shade of orange on each card.)

There seems to be a fair division between the two based on the eBay listings where it's pretty easy to distinguish between them. 

Now maybe some will say that this is just a printing artifact and shouldn't be recognized as a true variation. However, the orange or black color of a much smaller bar on the 1956 Topps 5¢ wrapper makes quite a big difference in its value to collectors.

I wonder if similar variations exist among other cards in this set."


I happen to be one of those hobbyists who considers these cards printer-caused variations rather than one caused by an error, recropped picture, etc. While I don't begrudge others for collecting that way, I don't usually get excited about flaws in the printing process that cause slight color variations. In my way of seeing it, a company can make an unlimited number of variations simply by altering the process.

Oh, wait. The companies do that now with their "parallel" sets. I guess that's just the purist in me that thinks it's a ridiculous thing. But, I digress...

With 1963 Topps, the color scheme -- especially with blue and red -- called for a more intense shade than usually found on cards. When you find a card with bright colors, they look great...and the lack of lower borders make them stand out even more. However, at certain times in the print run, the colors weren't as bold because the ink used was running low (or had a different mixture) and the bright red resembled an orange...or the bright blue was more of a sky blue. A similar effect happened with T210 cards from 1910...While the design had bright red borders, the 3rd series had several cards that appeared to have orange borders (just like your Mets card has) due to a shortage of the ink used that lessened the intensity of the border color.

Here is a Yahoo Group set up for collectors of errors and variations. There are several pictures in the photo galleries of color variations from several sets through the years. There are some examples of '63s in their image library (but not the Mets cards), and there are some collectors there who can tell you a lot more about color variations than I can.

That's one of the great things about this hobby...there's plenty of room here for all types of collectors. I'm a curmudgeon on this point, but there are others who are a lot more open and knowledgeable.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mail Call and a Free Card Offer

I received a package in the mail that I really appreciate. I would have really loved to have it here last week, though, because a couple things would have fit in so well then. I'll explain:

A trading buddy (who is not another blogger) sent along these cards in exchange for a 1941 Play Ball card:

They're not pretty, but every step closer toward the 1952 Topps set is a positive direction. But there was a significance to this package: these four cards took my wantlist for the set down to 202 needed. These cards moved me past the halfway point, which is huge. I do realize that the set is beginning to get an awful lot harder to add to (I still have 95 high-number cards and a lot of Hall of Famers to pick up), but I'll keep looking to get more when I can.

The card at the left features Leo Kiely of the Red Sox. Last week, I mentioned him as the first American-born player who wasn't ethnically Asian to play professional baseball in Japan. That card would have been a great image to place in the blog entry.

Ryan also sent this card along as a surprise:

It's a business-card sized reproduction of a book cover, signed by former player Lou Brissie (also a player in the 1952 Topps set). If you aren't familiar with Brissie's story, it's an interesting one. He was one of many baseball players from all levels who served in the military during World War 2. In December 1944 he was serving with the Army's 88th Infantry division in Italy. One night, his unit came under fire from German artillery. One of the shells shattered his tibia and shinbone.

Brissie was evacuated on a stretcher and sent to a field hospital, where the doctors considered amputating his leg. Somehow, Brissie managed to convince them to save it during the operation. It took two years and 23 operations, but he regained enough strength to play baseball again. He was signed by the Philadelphia A's and made the big leagues in 1947.

Had I been able to get this last week, this could have been a great thing to show on Veteran's Day. Overcoming that kind of an obstacle is a story that's worth being told. If this has interested you in the book, here's a link to check it out on Amazon:

And many thanks to Ryan for sending this stuff my way.

And...while we're on the subject of trades...Here's an offer that ties into Monday's post about my oldest card.

A while back, I had a post showing some of the gems I have in my duplicates box. Here's the picture from that post:

Two 1952 Topps and one 1953 Topps, which have been given an after-market adjustment by a young owner and a pair of scissors. I'm looking to find some good homes for them. These are open -- for free -- to anybody who wants one. I'm not even asking for anything in return for these.

There's a catch, though: this must be the oldest card you own when you get it.

Simply leave a comment indicating which one you want. It there are three comments (or only one for any particular card), I go in order of the first post. If there are more than one people claiming any of these cards, I will use another time-honored method involving paper, scissors and a hat (and let my daughter do the honors).

Additionally, I'll even give one extra chance to any blogger who lets me know he's listed a link to this giveaway in their blog (leave a comment about it or send me an email so I know, and tell me which card you want). And since this blog isn't always the first thing anybody reads, I'll give this a few days to run. The cutoff is 6:00 P.M. Eastern time on Sunday, November 21. I'll announce the winners on Monday.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Oldest Card I Own

Last week, Greg over at the Night Owl blog had a great post about the oldest card he owns, and his personal evolution as time went on. I make a point to read that blog every day, not because we both come from the same part of the country (Northern New York), or because he and I possibly could have bumped into each other at a show without ever realizing it 20+ years ago..but it's a well-thought out blog. Any blog that occasionally takes me back to my early hobby days (since we have similar backgrounds, even if they weren't exactly on a concurrent timeline) and causes me to think is going to be a great thing to keep reading.

Plus, in a way, it's rather interesting to go into a lion's den (I'm a Yankee fan from the age of 6, he's a rabid Yankee-hater) sometimes.

So here's my own hobby story:

Last May, I gave some background info about my hobby roots. In that post, I mentioned that I didn't start out as a baseball collector. The first cards I ever collected were these:

These are 1977-'79 Star Wars cards that show the markings of once belonging to a 6-year old kid who loved them. The first cards I owned were from the Yellow series (Series 3). In fact, that yellow-bordered card above is one from those first few packs I ever tore open. At some point, I began to wonder why my cards didn't seem to come numbered below 133. So, by asking a few friends, I found out that there were Star Wars cards with blue and red borders as well.

So, I began to trade for some of those, and I ended up with this card:

(Not my original one, I've upgraded since then)

The Yankees had won the 1978 World Series. Since that was the first time I paid attention, I became a fan of the team (Likewise, the same thing happened when the Pittsburgh Steelers won Super Bowl XIII a few months later). And this picture of Reggie taking a big swing was perhaps the best thing a young fan like myself could own.

For the next several years, I picked up a lot of different cards from lots of different sets: baseball, football, basketball, hockey...Wacky Packages, Star Wars and its sequels, Superman, Star Trek, Jaws 2, Grease, Mork & Mindy, etc. There really wasn't a focus at the time. I just liked the cards.

By 1983, I was in the sixth grade. My middle school library had a book that pretty much changed my life forever: The American Premium Guide to Baseball Cards by Ron Erbe & Keith Mitchell. That book taught me about vintage card sets. And I immediately wanted to get some cards from those sets.

So, I went and actually organized my card collection. While I had plenty of stuff from 1979 onward, there were only a few 1978 cards to join Reggie and these were my oldest cards:

In five years, I had only managed to go back one additional year in my collection. That set me on a quest. Sometime early in 1984, I managed to get one of my friends to let me have this card:

That was a cool gesture...a Yankee, a pitcher everybody told me was great (I saw him at the very end of his career) and a possible future Hall of Famer (which he would be, in 1987). The thing I thought odd was the fact that everybody called him "Catfish" but Topps. But more than that, it was my oldest baseball card.

I tried to see if I could get any others, but met some dead ends: a friend who had some 1975s but wouldn't give them up, somebody's older brother who had a shoebox full of stuff from his mid-70s childhood who promised them to me but ended up giving them to his cousin, and a friend of my Mom who said he'd dig out his old cards for me but never did.

As winter turned to spring, a new series of baseball cards arrived. I also found out about something for the first time: a real live card dealer. At some point, the U.S. Army was doing some maneuvers at Ft. Drum that were open to the public. I went and saw the tanks and a simulated infantry assault, but what I remember most about the event happened after we walked to the parking lot. Some tables were set up and a flea market-style thing was there. And one of the tables had a card seller.

He had a box of cards on the table for a dime apiece and I was allowed to get a dollar's worth. Finally! The opportunity to extend my collection was upon me, and all ten cards would be older than that '76 Hunter. However, one card would be my crowning achievement:

Cesar Tovar is about as common as you can get. But that didn't matter to me at 11, because he was now on my oldest baseball card. However, this time, I had reached a very significant milestone in my collection: With this card, I now owned a card that was older than I was.

A year later, I attended my very first card show. It was an annual event they had at the State Office Building in Watertown, New York. I talked about it a little bit in this blog post from last May, but I dug this one from a quarter box a dealer (the same guy who sold me the Tovar card):

Again, I walked away from the show with several cards that were now older than the Tovar card, but this one was the first from the 1950s for me. That was another personal milestone.

A few years later (1988), I went to another show (discussed here back in August) in Clayton, New York. At that show, I met a true gentleman dealer named Vin Minner and bought these two cards from him:

(Price: $2.00 for the pair)

After reading about the 1952 Topps set for nearly 5 years, I now owned two of the cards. That was big.

A trip to the Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame followed during the early spring of '89. A visit to a card shop just down the road from the Museum gave me this card:

My first T206. Before getting any Bowman cards or any '30s gum issues, I picked up a card from "The Monster."

And in 21 years, I've never really gone and added a pre-1909 card to my collection. I have other cards from that year (an E92, an E90-1 and a few other T206s). I may consider picking up a 19th Century card if I find one at a decent fact, I'd really like to find an Old Jugde or Kimball's card of Joe Hornung (sometimes misspelled "Horning"), as he was born in my hometown.

Someday, I may get one. If I do, I'll make sure I show it here.

Friday, November 12, 2010

More Foreign Flavor, Part 3

This week, I've been doing a little bit about Japanese baseball. Today, I'll do one more before I return to cards that are more familiar to us (mainly) American fans.

In Monday's post, I mentioned that I sometimes found Japanese baseball hard to understand. While the rules and fundamentals are the same, it's a little hard to follow some of the differences. Where we know the New York Yankees play in New York...the most visible Japanese team is the Yomiuri Giants (the team that Sadaharu Oh played with in the 1960s and 70s), and they play in Tokyo. Rather than the city/team designation we use here, the Japanese baseball teams are named after corporate sponsors. So, the Tokyo team is named after the Yomiuri media conglomerate. It would be the same as the pre-Steinbrenner Yankee team being referred to as the CBS Yankees.

Since the best-known team in the league is owned by a large media conglomerate, it's safe to say that information about them is manipulated to fit whatever image the corporation wants to project. In the United States, sportswriters covering teams have an influence because they can write whatever they want; in Japan, that behavior can lead to being banned from the park. Therefore, much of what is available about the game in Japan is close to propaganda.

As part of gaining a better understanding, I picked up the following book:

I also mentioned in Monday's post that the book's author (Robert Fitts) is an old card trading buddy of mine from several years ago. He sent me a copy of his book for two reasons. First, after I asked him about this card I posted here in June, I said I'd love to find out some more information about that part of the game. Second, as a guy who writes a blog, he likely figured I'd let others know what I found.

Rather than writing a book about the history of the game in Japan, Fitts presents the book as an oral history, as told by 25 former players, managers and executives from the NPB (Japan's major league). Some of the people were Japanese natives, while others were American players who went over. By giving several interviews and weaving the answers together, the result is a narrative that tells about a game that is similar to us, but surrounded by a different culture halfway around the world. In essence, the story stretches from the weariness of a war-torn nation around 1950 to the late 1990s, the period where Japanese players could make their way to the United States to play. The first few stories mention how things were after the war, while the last one mentions Ichiro.

There were several stories about getting used to a different culture. Some American players told about how Japanese umpires used different strike zones with them than they did with Japanese players. Some explained how different managers' styles were. Many explained fighting homesickness. A few, especially at the beginning, explained that there was a general lack of trust; understandable, considering the fact that just a few years before that, these same people were bitter enemies. However, there's a measure of respect as well. Many eagerly named which Japanese players could have made it in the major leagues. Most had a very favorable opinion of their time there.

Remembering Japanese Baseball is a good place to gain some understanding about the men who played the sport. It's not being presented as a full report, or even as a "tell-all" story like the ones that frequently come out about the American game.While it sometimes seems as if it's a nostalgic trip taken by when old-timers begin telling their old Army stories, in a way it's also a glimpse of what it's like to be immersed in a culture that is totally alien; the rules are the same but the pace, the practice, the work ethic and the crowds are very different.

Should you get a desire to raed more about Japanese baseball, here's another book worth picking up:

You Gotta Have Wa was written in 1980 by Robert Whiting (who also wrote the forward for Remembering Japanese Baseball). Wa is team spirit, which some Japanese critics say is lacking in the American game. The book gives a broader history of the game in Japan and perhaps a better understanding of the Japanese way of playing. That said, consider adding both of these books to your reading list.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

More Foreign Flavor, Part 2

Keeping With the Japanese theme of this week's posts, here's another one of the "cards with character" that sits in my dupes box:

1964 Topps card #252, Ken Aspromonte

This would be the final Topps card for Ken Aspromonte until 1972, when he was the manager of the Cleveland Indians. After playing for the Cubs in 1963, he would play the 1964 season for the Chunichi Dragons.

The original owner of this card made the necessary notation that Aspromonte was no longer a Cub for 1964. He even misspelled "Japanese."

In my last post, I mentioned Hawaii-born Wally Yonamine as the first American-born player in the Japanese League (which is formally called Nippon Professional Baseball), when he went over there in 1951. However, as a player whose ancestry was Japanese, he was better accepted there than non-Asian Americans may have been that soon after the end of World War Two. By the end of the 1950s, a handful of foreign-born players -- known as gaijin, a term that is now sometimes considered disrespectful -- also made their way to Japan. At first, many were either Nisei (Americans of Japanese descent) or former Negro League players. In 1953, Leo Kiely would be the first former major league player there.

By the 1960s, enough American players had come over to force the NPB to limit the number of gaijin on any team to three. For many, the Japanese League was a way to keep playing after they could no longer make a big league club. Don Newcombe, Larry Doby and Aspromonte were among those players. Eventually, younger players would opt to go to Japan...and Japanese players would complete the circle. Though Japanese players weren't a constant presence in the majors for 30 years, the first would take the mound in 1964:

1965 Topps Card #282 -- Giants Rookie Stars

Masanori Murakami pitched for the Giants from 1964-'65 before returning to Japan, where he continued to pitch through 1982. His American playing days saw a contract dispute...not between him and the Giants, but between the Giants and his team in Japan that was so contentious commissioner Ford Frick had to settle it. In the end, Murakami went back, but not because of disputes or homesickness or anything having to do with America. He made a promise to the owner of his team in Japan that he would return, and it would not have been honorable to go back on his word.

Monday, November 8, 2010

More Foreign Flavor

This week, my post will be focusing on baseball in Japan, which I have found interesting even as I've often had a hard time understanding it. Back in June, I posted this little bit about a Japanese baseball card I have in my collection.

This time around, I have this:

This isn't a vintage card. It's a custom job by Gary Cieradkowski of The Infinite Baseball Card Set blog (check his stuff out, it's well worth the time) and sent to me by Rob Fitts, a historian, author and an old trading buddy of mine from way back. It shows Wally Yonamine, a Japanese Hall of Fame baseball player who comes from the U.S.A. Born in Hawaii and growing up just as World War Two began, his story is interesting. While he didn't play major league baseball in the U.S., he did manage to suit up for the San Francisco 49ers in 1947 (making him the first pro football player of Asian descent). By 1951, he was playing baseball in Japan; however, as an American just after World War Two, he was seen in a different light; however, looking like a native but not understanding the language or customs was likely even worse for him. Despite the problems, he went on to change the Japanese version of baseball by incorporating a heads-down, more aggressive style.

He went on to play and manage in the Japanese League for 37 years. When other Americans began playing over there beginning in the late 1950s, Yonamine was something of a cultural adviser.

While most Americans know few other players from Japan besides Sadaharu Oh and those who've been able to play in the major leagues (Hideo Nomo, Hieki Matsui, Ichiro Suzuki, etc.), it's worth mentioning that Yonamine was a big influence on Sadaharu Oh.

Again, this card (actually, two of them) was sent my way by Rob Fitts. He has written a book about Yonamine, which is available at Amazon:

Please check out the reviews there. In fact, feel free to go ahead and buy the book. I've known Rob for several years now. He's an author who looks at things from a historical standpoint (much like the way I like to add historical points right here on this blog). I'm willing to say that if you like the way I present the facts on this blog and also have a slight interest in Japanese baseball, you'll really enjoy this book.

In fact, if you click the link above and buy the book...the first person who sends me an email with their name and address and a note saying I talked you into getting a copy, I'll send along the card shown above to use as a bookmark.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Dan writes:

"I happened to come across a set of Berk-Ross cards. It is the 4th set 1 thru 18. All 9 of the panels are intact and are in what i would guess in ex/m shape with only a small trace of corner wear. The holder is still intact although the back flaps are soft. i am attaching some photos so you can get a look at them. I understand that with all the panels still intact they are worth more. I'm trying to get a ball park guess at the value of this set would be. Could you possibly give me an idea of what you think they are worth?"

In 1951, Berk Ross cards came out as a series of 2-card panels, each belonging to a series. There were 72 cards but each was numbered 1-1 through 1-18, 2-1 through 2-18, 3-1 through 3-18 and 4-1 through 4-18. Each series had 10 baseball players but as you can see from the image above, various other sports were represented as well.

The most notable players in series 4 are Whitey Ford and Robin Roberts, neither of whom show up in the image above. They came in packages that looked like the one Dan has:

10 cents for 18 cards...a better deal than Bowman in 1951 (10 cents bought two 6-card packs) but not as good as Topps, where a dime bought 10 2-card packs. Here's the back side of that package:

It's nice to see that some packs survived nearly 60 years, without having the panels separated and the boxes that held them tossed away.

The cards still show up on eBay from time to time as part of complete packages. For whatever reason, Series 4 seem to be the most common of these. Recent auctions have gotten $100-200.

Finally, here's the scan of the backs of those cards shown above. Thanks, Dan, for including these scans with your email. They're great to see.

(I'll add this here...Berk Ross was only a card-making company for two years, but has lived on thanks to hobby message boards. A few years back, somebody went on the CU board -- run by the PSA people -- and asked for some Yogi Berra cards other than what were found in the mainstream sets. Somebody asked if he was interested in a 1952 Berk Ross.

"No, thanks, I'm only interested in Yogi Berra," was the answer. It still gets brought up on several message boards, not just at CU. Since it's taken on a life of its own, some collectors think more of that moment when Berk Ross is mentioned than from the cards themselves.)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's a Rodeo!

Here's another type card I have sitting in my collection:

While many of the cards I show here are stained and damaged, this one is often found that way.

It's one of the many regional 1950s sets that was issued with hot dogs and other meat products. When the A's moved from Philadelphia to Kansas City before the 1955 season, a local company called Rodeo Meats did their part in welcoming the team to the town. They included pictures of the city's new baseball team with packages of their hot dogs, which was not an uncommon method then (Wilson's Franks, Hunter's Wieners, Sugardale, Morrell, Kahn's, etc.)

There were 38 players featured in the set, which means they included about every conceivable player from the club, manager Lou Boudreau and his coaches. Among the better-remembered A's players: Enos Slaughter, Johnny Sain, Vic Power, Bobby Shantz and Gus Zernial. There were also some variations in pictures and colors, as well as a error win the spelling of Shantz's last name that was subsequently corrected -- he was called "Schantz" at first even though his brother Wilmer Shantz had his own name spelled right all along -- so there are a total of 47 cards in the complete set.

That was a very large number for a 1950s regional set (most were 20-30 cards in total), but unfortunately, they're pretty scarce because their area of issue was much less populated than most other major league cities. Also, the fact that they were packaged inside of hot dog packages makes them almost always found with some kind of stain, like my example above. High-grade examples of these cards are quite expensive, and even lesser-grade versions are expensive enough to keep many collectors from wanting to try putting the set together a card at a time.

The backs of '55 Rodeo cards featured an offer for a team scrapbook, available for a label from any Rodeo product and a quarter:

Rodeo issued another set in 1956. That set only included 13 cards, all of which had players and images from the 1955 set. However, they're easy to identify in person, as the scrapbook offer wasn't on the backs of those cards.

Monday, November 1, 2010

World Series Cards

The World Series is going on now, so what better time is there to show off some great Topps subsets through the years showcasing past Series?

As Topps expanded the size of its sets beginning in the late 1950s, some extra subsets appeared as well. In 1960, a short series covered the previous year's World Series. There were cards for each game and a final Series summary card. While some kids may have felt cheated to get one of these cards in their nickel packs instead of "real" cards showing players, they were a great way for fans of the teams that played to get some extra cards.

In the 1960 Topps set, the subset featured the '59 Series between the Dodgers and the White Sox. It was the first Series since 1948 that didn't have a team from New York playing -- that is, if you didn't still think of the Dodgers as a team that had only been in Brooklyn just two years before that -- and marked the first appearance in a Series for the White Sox since their fateful trip in 1919. The Dodgers won, the first of five Championships they would win in L.A.

1960 Topps #389 -- Luis Swipes Base

There is some strong argument about this card in hobby circles. It's well known that Maury Wills refused to sign a contract with Topps out of principle after they decided during his minor league days that he'd likely never reach the majors. As it turned out, Wills would be one of the era's best baserunning threats, becoming the first player to reach 100 stolen bases in a year. He was the 1962 N.L. MVP and didn't appear on a Topps card until 1967. Except perhaps on this one. There are fans who debate whether that's Wills or second baseman Charley Neal covering the bag in the shot on this card.

So, the 1961 Topps set was able to feature this postseason classic:

1961 Topps #311 -- Ford Pitches Second Shutout

While people always remember Bill Mazeroski's home run, it's sometimes forgotten just how much the Series was a back-and-forth battle between the two teams. The Series MVP was Bobby Richardson, who played for the losing team. On paper, the Yankees dominated offensively, outhitting and outscoring the Pirates; however, all the numbers that win Fantasy baseball leagues didn't manage to get them four wins.

One of the things that Yankee fans immediately questioned was holding Whitey Ford until Game 3. Whitey had been the Yankees' Game 1 starter in every other Series they played since 1955. Whitey would help the naysayers, pitching complete-game shutouts both times he took the mound. Making him available for three games instead of two may have given the Yankees the title. Management may have agreed, as they sacked manager Casey Stengel shortly after the Series.

So, instead of another year of Yankee Glory, Pirates fans got to celebrate for a year and Bill Mazeroski took the one surprising moment of a very steady (and very good) career into the Hall of Fame. So what happened wasn't exactly a bad thing.

The reason I used the card of Whitey Ford from the '60 Series instead of Mazeroski's was to show this one from the 1962 Topps set:

1962 Topps #235 -- Ford Sets New Mark

After pitching two shutouts in '60, Ford came back and threw two more in '61. In Game 4 (as shown on this card), he passed Babe Ruth's record for most consecutive scoreless innings in the World Series. Which means that two long-held Ruth records fell in 1961 and both were broken by Yankees.  Ford would be able to add to that mark the following year...

1963 Topps #147 -- Pierce Stars in 3-Hit Victory

However, when Willie Mays scored in the second inning of 1962's Game 1, the streak was halted at 33 2/3 innings. The 1962 World Series between the Yankees and Giants would go to the seventh game, thanks in part to the Billy Pierce pitching gem in Game 6 shown on the card above. He beat Whitey Ford in that game, something no other pitcher had managed to do since Warren Spahn in 1958.

Game 7 was a fight. Although the Yankees won it 1-0, it was a nail-biter right up until the end. The Yankees held on and won their 20th Series in 40 years (yes, they won exactly half the World Series between 1923-'62). They would get a couple more chances to add to that total...

1964 Topps #136 -- Koufax Strikes Out 15

Except the Dodgers they faced in 1963 weren't the same group they had beaten in 1941...and '47, '49, '52, '53 and '56. While a few of the players they faced from the old Brooklyn days were still there, they weren't ready for Sandy Koufax. He made the Yankees look ridiculous in Game 1, striking out 15 (including the first five he faced). The Dodgers immediately showed they weren't the lovable Bums of olden days, giving the Yanks the first-ever four game Series sweep they ever suffered. 

The Yanks repeated as American League champions in '64 and were probably happy  to see that the Dodgers didn't come back to meet them again.

1965 Topps #137 -- Bouton Wins Again

Instead, they faced the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that had its own monster pitcher in Bob Gibson. As shown in the card above, Jim Bouton won a pair of games and Mel Stottlemyre tamed Gibson in Game 2, but the Cardinal ace closed the door on the Yankees in Game 7.

Two interesting bits of trivia: the Yankees and Cardinals both started brothers at third base. Ken Boyer was the Redbird third baseman and Clete Boyer handled the "hot corner" for the Bronx Bombers. Also, after the Series, Cardinal skipper Johnny Keane was made the new manager for the team he beat.

The Cardinals would make two more World Series during the 1960s, but it was the end of the line for the Yankees. The next time they appeared in a World Series, another generation of players would be taking the field.

For 1966, Topps didn't bother to run a 1965 World Series subset. That was a disappointment for fans of the champion Dodgers (who still think Topps was upset with the way they beat the Yankees in 1963) and for the surprising Minnesota Twins, who were surprise pennant-winners.

While I'm not guessing Topps snubbed the Dodgers, what happened in the '66 Series adds some fuel to their fire... 

1967 Topps #154 -- Orioles Win 4th Straight

That year, the heavily favored Dodgers were swept by another surprise contender in the Baltimore Orioles. Topps used a similar design that would later appear in the company's football set that fall, with a photo inside a "TV screen" and a woodgrain panel that looked a lot like the console units used then. The design (loosely based on the 1955 Bowman set) would also show up in that winter's hockey set and a couple years later for the Brady Bunch.

The card shown above captures the moment after the last out of the Series was made. Look at Brooks Robinson leaping into the air as he runs toward Dave McNally on the mound. Catcher Andy Etchebarren is also making his way to the mound, while Dodger third base coach Preston Gomez (wearing the #18 jersey) is letting it sink in that his season is mercifully over.

1968 Topps #156 Petrocelli Socks Two Homers

For the second year in a row, the World Series subset was designed to look like a TV screen. However, the burlap pattern from the 1968 set is here as well, looking as out of place on a TV mock-up as the previous year's woodgrain did among the other 1967 Topps cards.

The 1967 World Series was memorable because of the "Impossible Dream" represented by the presence of the Boston Red Sox, a team that was still searching for its first Series win since Babe Ruth was their ace. Once again, Bob Gibson was on hand to shut the door, winning three games in a superb performance. Undaunted, the Red Sox stayed alive by winning three games on their own. As shown in the card above,  Rico Petrocelli hit two homers in the game. His second blast was actually part of a barrage in the fourth inning, when he followed homers hit by Carl Yastrzemski and Reggie Smith. It was the first time in World Series history a team had hit three home runs in a single inning.

1969 Topps #164 -- McCarver's Homer Puts St. Louis Ahead

I had actually planned on using a different, more presentable card at first. However, I noticed that Roger Maris (who retired after the '68 Series and didn't get his own card in the regular 1969 Topps set) was part of the celebration at home plate.

The Cardinals repeated as National League champs in '68 but faced another beloved team in the Detroit Tigers, another team that had gone some time without any World Series titles. Again, Bob Gibson was on fire, winning two games (striking out 17 in Game 1 alone) en route to helping the Cardinals take a 3-1 advantage in the Series. However, the Tigers came back and won three games when they needed it, on the strength of Mickey Lolich and 31 game-winner Denny McClain. The seventh game was a classic, pitting Gibson against Lolich in a battle between the two best pitchers for a 3-0 Series record.

In 1969, baseball expanded once more and realigned. With that, there were four divisions within the two leagues and a playoff round before the World Series. Topps responded by issuing playoff series cards as well as Series cards beginning in 1970. That will be the subject for another entry later on.