Friday, December 30, 2011

A Deeper Look - 1941 Play Ball

Before 2011 comes to an end, let me go in depth on a set that celebrated its 70th birthday this year. I've already covered 1941 Goudey and 1941 Double Play, so here's the last nationally-issued set of that year.

(This text has been largely swiped from this Web page about the set, but I wrote that also.)

1941 was the last of the run of "Play Ball" sets issued by Gum, Inc. before the second World War halted production of new baseball card sets for seven years. This was a smaller set than either the 1939 or 1940 Play Ball issues, having only 72 total cards.

Just as they had done in 1940, Gum, Inc. improved upon their previous design. The 1941 Play Ball set was, in some ways, a colorized version of its 1940 set but without the baseball gear. Many of the players' cards featured the same picture shown on their 1940 cards, only with color added. Beneath the picture, there was a banner with the player's name (often with his nickname in quotes) that stretched across the card.

Here's an example of a card from the set:

Card #26 -- Harry "Gunboat" Gumpert, New York Giants

This card is a sentimental favorite, as one of the readers of my old newsletter was the nephew of Harry Gumbert and sent me an email once about playing catch in the backyard with "Uncle Harry." That must have been an awesome memory.

The card backs, like all Play Ball issues, featured a lengthy biography; there is no copyright date, however. At the very bottom of most cards in the set is a caption: "Watch for other famous sports stars, famous fighters, tennis players, football heroes, etc. in this series." The set seems to have been intended as part of a larger "Sports Hall of Fame" set, but the other cards never surfaced. The cards that are missing that caption feature an advertisement for Blony gum.

And here's what the back of Gumbert's card looks like:

Having color on the cards wasn't the only thing that makes these cards stand out, it's the way that color was used: backgrounds are vivid and sometimes multi-colored, shadows and perspective are shown. For some, the look was too much like comic book art and just needed the captions of 1938 Goudeys, for others, it was the best work on cards since the Art Deco that marked Diamond Stars cards in the mid 1930s. In any case, it was bold.

The key cards in this issue feature Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, both of whom had memorable seasons in 1941 (DiMaggio had a record 56-game hitting streak and Williams batted .406; no other player has since reached .400). This set is notable as the only issue featuring all three DiMaggio brothers, and a rookie-year card of Hall of Fame shortstop Pee Wee Reese can be found here as well. Of the three Play Ball sets, this one is probably the easiest to complete due to its small size.

This would be the last major baseball card set for the next seven years, as card production was halted when the United States entered World War II. Not only were the paper, cardboard, and printing supplies were needed for the war effort, so were the players; DiMaggio, Williams, Charley Gehringer, Bob Feller, Pee Wee Reese, and many other players left the league and joined the military to do their part. By 1948, Gum, Inc. (which by that time would be renamed Bowman) would begin a new era of collectible baseball cards.

Play Ball cards were issued in four wrappers. The design was the same, but the colors were different. They came in green:



and yellow:

As you can see from the wrappers, a penny bought two cards and a piece of gum.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Loss in Our Little Fraternity

Last year, I featured these cards, which led to my very first giveaway on this blog:

In that post, I mentioned these cards came from another trader (who wasn't a blogger). With these cards -- which put me past the halfway point in the 1952 Topps set -- he also sent this one, which was a signed mock-up of a book about a player whose World War II story is inspirational:

These were sent to me by a trading buddy named Ryan Diselrath.

Today, I received a message that Ryan passed away last month. He was only 31 years old. Here's a link to his obituary.

What that article doesn't tell you is that Ryan had some issues with seizures. One of those seizures in 2007 ended up making him a quadriplegic with only limited use of his left hand. Despite that, he still collected. He really enjoyed the cards, even the ones that weren't anywhere near pristine. He also lived his life to the fullest extent possible...which is an admirable thing to do in any situation.

I realize very few who read this will have had any interaction with Ryan. But as a member of our little fraternity of collectors, it's sad news indeed.

Rest in peace, Buddy.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Topps Wax - 1971-'80

A lot of unwrapping was done over the weekend. So, here are some packages that are still wrapped up (not mine, however...the temptation to rip them open would be too great). For many, these will be a walk down memory lane; for others, they'll be an interesting time capsule:

1971 Topps Pack

The '71 pack is unique because of its artwork. A notation appears at the bottom about an insert (which was a coin).

1972 Topps Pack

The font Topps used to spell out "Baseball" was interesting, especially considering the design of the cards in 1972 (some of my collecting buddies have nicknamed them "Psychos").

1973 Topps Pack

There were actually several different designs used in 1973. This one shows a manager having a casual discussion with an umpire (he looks a little like Dick Williams); the others showed a batter, a catcher and a pitcher. Packs from the final series also included cards from earlier series, and those wrappers have a notation on them about that.

1974 Topps Pack

1974 was the first year Topps issued the entire set at one time rather than in series. The packs that year let the kids in on the news.

1975 Topps Pack

Topps made their 1975 cards in two different sizes. The regular-sized cards were issued nationally and mini cards were tested in specific areas. Both had the same pack design covering them up. Though I wasn't collecting cards at this time (I was 3 that year), I recognize the design from this card that came in my possession about 5 years later:

1979-80 Wacky Packages, Series 3

It's interesting that the year was placed at the top of the Wacky Package (as it was on the 1975 edition of Wacky Packages), since the original baseball wrapper didn't include that info.

But I digress:

1976 Topps Pack

Topps recycled its 1974 design two years later, but made sure they placed the year underneath the baseball in case anybody thought it was an "old" pack.

1977 Topps Pack

This has become a memorable design over the past few years. It was incorporated into the design of this book cover:

It is also part of the design around the Baseball 1977 blog.

1978 Topps Pack

Topps used a similar font for "Baseball" (but tilted) for its 1978 pack. they also went with a catcher on its pack for the first time since 1973.

1979 Topps Pack

Now, here's a pack I remember. 1979 was the first year I busted open new packs of baseball cards, and that image of a batter standing beside a catcher and getting ready for the pitch will always be emblazoned in my mind.

1980 Topps Pack

As the notation indicates, there were three more cards included in the pack. If memory serves correctly, the price of the packs went from 20 cents to a quarter (or from a quarter to thirty cents), so Topps was giving the impression that they were offering more value. Once again, the 1974/'76 design was used, only with a blue background instead of red. This would be the basic design Topps would continue to use through 1992, with a yellow banner on top of the ball giving the year of issue, and a rotation of blue, green and red for the background colors.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Cards Inside Other Cards

Christmas is on Sunday, and since this is the the last scheduled post before the Holiday, here's a card I recently had sent to me from a fellow collector from Indiana named Randy:

It's not the best looking card in my 1972 set, but it fills one more hole in my binder. The '72 set is my birthyear set, so every step closer I get is a positive one.

Wilson is part of the semi-hi numbers, the fifth series of six in the set. The semi his are fairly tough (unless you want to shell out the money to buy them) and the hi numbers are even tougher. I still have about 115 cards to go on the set (making it the only set I'm working on since 1967 that has a wantlist over 100 cards).

The reason I'm showing it here today is because it came inside a different type of that looks like this:

Nothing like vintage cardboard to spread the Holiday cheer around.

Merry Christmas! May all your stockings be filled with cards and wax packs.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

In Action Cards - Series 2

Last week, I showed the backs of the "In Action" cards from the first series of 1972 Topps. In the second series, there were also 12 "In Action" cards, with six of them repeating backs that showed the features planned for series 3 through 6. The other six cards looked at the past:

Two of the cards showed the batting leaders through the seasons, one for the American League (above) and another for the National League:

It's a shame there wasn't enough space to fit the averages on the card, though. That would have been interesting to see how batting .400 was fairly common in the first few decades of the 20th century, especially considering the lower averages in the late 1960s.

Two of the cards featured the top pitchers, based on their ERAs, and this time the numbers are included:

Once again, the American League leaders are above and the National Leaguers are below:

The stats omitted results prior to 1913, but those have since been tabulated by baseball historians and can be found on Baseball-Reference's site. What's interesting is that in 1971, the leading pitcher's ERA was under 2 in both leagues. That was accomplished again in 1972, but never again.

Finally, there were two cards that showed the pennant winners:

As you might expect, the New York Yankees are named frequently. However, it's worth pointing out that during the league's first two decades, Boston and Philadelphia were the stalwarts (with Detroit and Chicago getting the rest of the pennants).

Here's something you may not have known: Brooklyn won the National League pennant (and the World Championship, by default) in 1900. They also won it in 1899, but that isn't shown on this card. So, 1955 really wasn't their first time with a title...but it was before the American League appeared, so for whatever reason, it isn't considered to be "legitimate." If I were a Brooklyn fan, I'd argue that it definitely was.

Monday, December 19, 2011

New Resource for T206 Cards

Over the weekend, this site popped up on the Web:

T206 Resource

It's a resource to help understand the subtle nuances of what we call the T206 set, and also a tool to help solve some of the puzzles that are still presented by that set more than 100 years after it was issued in several brands of tobacco products. Although Jefferson Burdick applied a generic T206 designation to what he referred to as the "White Border" set, it was actually a series of interconnected sets that was issued with a wide variety of brands. In effect, it was several sets (since each brand differed in who was featured) united by a front design.

One part of the site that I found interesting is this one that contained several articles about the set. As an information geek and a writer of a handful of hobby articles myself, it's nice to see anything that compiles info in one handy location.

There's also a gallery section. Not only are the individual cards, the checklist and the different backs featured, but some additional items such as proofs, print advertisements and even the source photos.

Here's an example of an advertisement:

The picture in the ad may be seen as inappropriate today, but keep in mind that in 1910...the Civil War had ended just 45 years before. However, notice that the picture in the corner shows more than one card included in the cigarette pack. I believe there were actually two cards in each Old Mill pack.

There are some interesting photos as well. Take a look at this one:

Notice that the original photo of Frank Bowerman has him wearing a New York Giants jersey. He played there from 1900 through 1907, but went to the Boston Doves in 1908. In 1909, Bowerman was named the manager of the Boston team but was fired halfway through the season because of his foul temper. As you can see from the picture, his team affiliation was corrected by the artist.

Another picture (featuring the set's most famous card) shows that not every uniform had letters on them in that era:

I have spoken with the owners of the T206 Resource site, and there are plans to add more information to the site as they get permissions, more submissions and additional photos. I've placed a link to the site on my sidebar, feel free to bookmark it and check back on it to see what else can be added.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Shiny, But Vintage

Once again, I'll celebrate the weekend by pulling something out of my Steelers collection:

This is a 1970 Topps Glossy card of Roy Jefferson. They shouldn't be confused with the larger-size Topps Super cards of the same year. These were inserted into the first series wax packs of 1970 Topps football cards, with 33 cards making up the complete set. They were printed on much thicker cardboard than the standard cards were and given a heavy gloss, which can be seen in the back scan:

Thanks to being printed on thick cardboard and getting a heavy coat of gloss, these cards are fairly easy to pick up in high grade today.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hey There Boo-Boo...

It's been a while since I've shared one of the "beaters" from my collection, so here's another one of the cards I'm holding onto while I wait for a more complete version to surface in a price range that is more in line with what I want to pay:

It's what would otherwise be a terrific example of a 1952 Topps Yogi Berra card, but a previous owner decided it needed to match up better with the cards Topps issued after 1956 and trimmed the edges away.

That said, I'll probably be waiting for a while until this one gets upgraded. I can't buy an awful lot of caviar when all I have is hamburger money.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Coming Attractions

Last Friday, I showed off an "In Action" card from the 1972 Topps set and threatened to feature the backs in an upcoming blog entry. Well, there's no time like the present to get started on a project...

As I said last time, there were six different series of cards issued by Topps in 1972 and each one consisted of a 24-card subset that had a player's base card followed by an "action" card. Many showed game-action shots, but several featured odd pictures like this one:

This definitely isn't a game-action shot. "Tom Terrific" looks to be responding to somebody walking up to the plate with a bat placed between his legs to signify how large his "Schwartz" is.

One manager even got an "action" card. Appropriately enough, it was "Billy the Kid," explaining his position with an umpire:

Truth be told, I would have liked to see him kicking dirt on the umpire's shoe. I also would have liked to see Earl Weaver get a card as well.

The backs of the "In Action" cards featured highlights as well. In series 1, all 12 of the cards served as previews of features in the upcoming series.

The league leaders were part of series one, on cards 85-96. Each league was represented by its '71 leaders in six separate offensive or pitching categories. Series two featured a recap of the postseason on cards 221-230. There were single cards for each LCS, a card for each of the 1971 World Series games and a recap card celebrating the Pirates' win. I featured them in this entry a year ago. Interestingly, the postseason preview shows a card of a Yankees player; the Yanks hadn't been in the postseason since 1964.

For series three and four, the subsets teased eventually ended up on the backs of the "In Action" cards. Ten cards in series three featured game situations, as well as the "answer" according to the rules of the game. For series four, eleven cards recapped highlights of the 1971 season. These will be shown in detail in a later entry to this blog.

The top mentions childhood photos of star players, which appeared in both series three (cards 341-348) and four (cards 491-498).

Series five and six each show two subsets. Series five teases a subset featuring the winners of several awards, but cards 621-626 ended up showing pictures of the awards themselves. It might be likely that the original plan called for the cards to feature players but weren't ready when the series needed to be printed up. The puzzles of Joe Torre and Carl Yastrzemski were on the backs of the "In Action" cards; each player had six pieces.

The "traded" cards in series six appeared on cards 751-757 and featured Steve Carlton, Joe Morgan, Frank Robinson, Denny McClain, Jim Fregosi, Rick Wise and Jose Cardenal. Interestingly, the series didn't include the player who was traded away for Fregosi: Nolan Ryan. Once again, the puzzle pieces of Tony Oliva and Tom Seaver were on the backs of the "In Action" cards, with each player getting six pieces.

Friday, December 9, 2011

More New Arrivals For the Collection

Christmas isn't here yet, but the beauty of collecting is that it's a year-round pursuit. In that sense, Christmas can happen just about any day the mail arrives.

Here's a couple of cards I recently added to my collection:

1963 Topps #44 -- Terry Fox, Detroit Tigers

Terry Fox was Detroit's closer during the early 1960s. In 1961, Fox delivered the pitch that would become Roger Maris's 58th home run. It was hit in the 12th inning and was one of only 5 games that year (and the first since June) that saw him pitch for at least 3 innings. While that was a rather negative "highlight" of the year, Fox ended up notching a 1.41 ERA and was a very important cog on a Tiger team that finished in second place and was still contending late in the season.

1972 Topps #710 -- Jim Kaat in Action

Anytime I can chisel a piece off this set, I'm happy. And when it's a card that far back in the set, I'm doubly happy.

I like the In Action cards of 1972. There were 12 cards in each of Topps' six series that year, with every one being featured numerically after the same player's base card, and set within its own part of the series. That's right, each series had a 24-card subset that was base/action/base/action. Each series had its own feature on the back of the "In Action" cards, too:

Series 1 - Previews of specialty cards in upcoming series (though these appeared in later series as well).
Series 2 - League Leaders and Pennant Winners through the years.
Series 3 - "So You're a Baseball Expert": game situations where the owner guesses the ump's call.
Series 4 - Highlights of 1971.
Series 5 - Puzzle cards of Joe Torre and Carl Yastrzemski.
Series 6 - Puzzle cards of Tom Seaver and Tony Oliva.

I should probably make this an article for a future blog entry.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Day Which Will Live in Infamy

70 years ago today, Bob Feller was driving to Chicago. He was heading up there from his home in Iowa for a meeting that had been scheduled for the next day. As he came over the bridge at Moline, Illinois, he heard a news flash: there had been a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor.

When he arrived in Chicago, he contacted former boxer Gene Tunney and said he was ready to do his part for his country. Since he worked on a farm in the off-season, was an only son and his father had been fighting cancer, Feller was not in line for the draft. He chose to join the Navy anyway.

1952 Topps #88 -- Bob Feller

When Feller joined the service, he was given a job coordinating calisthenics and physical fitness programs. He was given the rank of chief petty officer (which was offered to all of the professional athletes who joined the Navy under Tunney's program) and was able to play service ball as well. However, he wanted to do more and volunteered to get closer to the action as soon as he was able. Serving as a gunner aboard the USS Alabama, he had his chance. By the end of the war, Feller had earned four battle stars.

The news of the Pearl Harbor attack also called this Hall of Famer to action:

1936 Goudey -- Hank Greenberg

Hank Greenberg was called into the Army early in the 1941 season as part of the first peacetime draft in U.S. history. His term was up on December 5th and he was discharged. Two days later, he was back at his old post. He would remain in the Army until the end of the war.

They weren't the only major leaguers to go into the service. There were many, but what has been forgotten to history is a change that was set to happen in 1942 that was halted as a result of the war.

This man is Donald Barnes, who was the president of the St. Louis Browns:

Frustrated by years of disappointments -- both on the diamond and from the gate receipts -- the St. Louis Browns were ready to move to another city...Los Angeles, California. In order to get the move approved, the other seven teams in the American League worked out the logistics of travel (flying commercially was still seen as dangerous over the Rocky Mountains, and the trains would take extra time), but the idea of larger crowds in California and larger receipts for the visiting team was an incentive to work out a deal. The meetings were scheduled for December to seal the deal.

Then, the news of Pearl Harbor arrived. Since the military was going to need the trains for troop movement and airplane pilots were being called into duty, the Browns were forced to remain in St. Louis. Perhaps that fateful day of infamy in Hawaii set Brooklyn fans on the collision course 16 years later.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Snowy-Day Fun

Today, I'll feature this item from my Steelers collection:

It's a 1971 Topps Pin-Up and was inserted into wax packs of that year's football cards. While I usually have no problem with damaged cards, the two creases you see here are found on these, as they were folded twice to fit in the packs.

I will interject that there could have been a better color choice for the card than pink. I know Topps was a company that made its money selling bubblegum, but pink has little place in football. It's like crying in baseball.

Here's the back of the Pin-Up, which has a field and instructions for a football game:

If you right-click the image, you can read the rules and see how the game was meant to be played. I have a couple of questions, though: where the rules mention that the game is played with a "Ball Marker" (as it's called in the instructions), does that mean a game piece was also included in packs...or were the players simply encouraged to use something laying around, like a penny or a piece from the Monopoly game every house seemed to have? Also, I notice that the rules don't say anything about a clock.

One thing I do that the rules mention using cards to determine game play. Those cards were also included in Topps wax packs during 1971:

They even used the same picture on both items for Russell. But longtime Topps fans know they were very good at recycling their images.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Another Anniversary

I've shown this picture here before:

This was taken on December 2, 1989, exactly 22 years ago. That's me behind the table at a card show, selling what were essentially my own dupes in exchange for money. I took much of that cash and spent it on the tables around me to enhance my own collection. That was the very first show they held in the small Upstate New York town where I grew up; there were several others through 1992 or '93 and I set up at several. I always made back my table money, but most of my profits were sunk right back into the pockets of other dealers.

Doing those shows, I realized that it would be really difficult to be a collector and a successful dealer at the same time. I'm not going to say it's impossible...but it definitely is a tough balance to maintain. This past year, I helped at a seller's table during The National in Chicago. It was the first time I'd been on the other side of the table since those early '90s shows. I remembered a lot of the lessons of my young entrepreneurship, but I also remembered the part about it being difficult to balance a collection with a business. I hope to be behind Irv Lerner's table again in Baltimore next year.

One other thing I see in the picture above is what is gone. That six-pack physique that is under the sweater resembles a case now. The hairline has receded like the value of Mark McGwire's rookie card. Even the finger touching the glass is partially missing, thanks to an on-the-job mishap that included a dog that didn't particularly care for me.

This picture appeared in the weekly paper of my hometown, which I reprinted on my Website. In it, you'll see other reason this particular day was special to me. It was also my 17th birthday.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Incredible, Unbelieveable Story...

Over the weekend, I was contacted by a reader who found me through my Website. He asked me this:

(Removed...I was contacted six weeks after writing this blog entry and told to remove his email, even though I never named him, or even identified his city of origin. Basically, he bought a card from the Cracker Jack set and told me that it had been picked up from a seller who claimed it was taken from a box of Cracker Jacks while attending Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show.)

(This is the card in question. It's not his scan, but one that I grabbed on the Internet.)

Over the years, I've learned to be wary about any item that was accompanied by letters, notes, documents or other items that were meant to "prove" their authenticity. But, being the history buff that I am, I looked up some information and found out one little problem with the story he was given:

Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show went bankrupt in 1913 and ceased its performances at that time.

I sent him a polite reply asking for a scan of the card, and mentioned the historical discrepancy that picked his story apart. His reply:

(Once again, this was requested to be removed...he told me that the show came to town in 1911.)

And here's a copy of the note that came with the card:

(Removed by request of the sender...Permission to show it was refused after this was written.)

Nice. Verification that a show was held in 1911 still doesn't explain how a card from 1914 shows up there. Not without time travel or some type of science fiction scenario.

I got one more email from the gentleman saying that he checked further and since Cashion was active in 1911, it had to be an authentic card. His scan was too blurry to know for sure, but I'm still waiting for an answer about the type of cardboard stock or the edges (which usually answer authenticity questions with Cracker Jack cards). If he responds, I'll be happy to update this; in the meantime, it should be a warning to use due diligence in checking out any claims before you hand over your money for something that might not be the real thing.

I really want to hope it's just the effects of time mixing up certain details. As I'm getting older, I'm beginning to understand that the ol' mind isn't what it used to be. That's why I'm writing down what I know in these blogs.  

(Update...which was written before this gentleman contacted me to remove the above items: I received a better scan since writing this and  it looks like the card is probably real. While I'll chalk this up to long-term memory recall issues, it is still a warning about relying on stories as the sole basis for buying a card.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

The "Leafs" Have Fallen...

For today's entry, I'd like to show off the 1948 Leaf football cards in my Steelers collection:

Card #2 -- Steve Suhey

1948 Leaf football was very similar in design to the company's baseball set that spanned the years 1948-'49. Leaf also issued football cards in 1949, but it was a different issue that contained players who also appeared in 1948. Fortunately a copyright date on the back makes it easy to tell which year the card was printed in case a checklist isn't handy:

The 1948 Leaf set features several college players as well as pros, which is a nod to the fact that the schools were often on a par with the NFL in those days. However, the 1949 set featured no college players at all, and the players who were still in school during the '48 set are shown with their pro teams in '49.

There were three Steelers included in the '48 set. Besides Suhey, there was this player:

This card shows the registration issues that plague the set (as well as the baseball set). In many cards, the colors don't align properly and in some case, they're skipped entirely.

The last Steelers player in the '48 Leaf set is Ray Evans, who was included in the high-number series. Though the high numbers aren't anywhere near as scarce as they are in the baseball set, they're still difficult. As a result, the Evans card is still on my wantlist.

For some odd reason, there were no Steelers at all in the 1949 set.