Monday, February 28, 2011

More Players on the Tube

My entry on Friday showed different sets that used a television design, and it occurred  to me after I posted it that I really could have given a little more attention to the most famous set that used it, the 1955 Bowman. Yes, I put up a link to an article I wrote about them, but I overlooked the set after that. This post should help rectify that somewhat.

The final baseball card set issued by the Bowman Gum Company before Topps bought them out was designed to look like a color TV set:

Card #4 -- Eddie Waitkus, Baltimore Orioles

The woodgrain border gave it the right look, since televisions then were built inside a wooden box, not the plastic shell most of us are familiar with. The "picture tube" is curved, and the design even features a border that looks like the one that separated the screen from the exterior. The card also featured this element that made the visualization even more perfect:

A faceplate. While this one didn't use a logo for RCA, Admiral or any other maker of televisions, you can see two knobs. The volume knob is on the left and the channel selector (VHF) is on the right.

No, there was no vertical hold on the back. Instead, the cards looked like this:

Most of the cards feature a short passage with a title like "My Biggest Thrill," "The Toughest Pitcher (or Batter) I've Ever Faced" and "My Advice to Youngsters." Reading through these cards, it seems Ted Williams and Stan Musial were the most respected hitters (although neither appear in the set) and Bob Feller was named often among the pitchers.

I'm going to stop for a moment and show something from the Waitkus card shown above:

That's quite a way to begin a story. I'm not going to rehash it -- that can be a topic for another post -- but Eddie Waitkus's story is interesting. I'd recommend looking it up if you're not familiar with what happened to him.

The first 64 cards in the set were given a blonde-colored wood border, but it was decided that the pictures stood out with a darker color. So, just like the models in the showroom at the appliance store, a new border was added:

Card #95 -- Sal Maglie, New York Giants

Sal looks a little bit disturbed, so I'll move on...

The change from a blonde wood to cherry wasn't sudden. The new color was introduced along with the older, as this Dick Cole card can attest:

Card #28, Dick Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates

There is a streak of a cherry-colored border down the left side. Some collectors need to know that cards like this are occasionally found short, since collectors sometimes trimmed off the extra border. Other collectors, however, didn't stop there:

Card #108 -- Lou Kretlow, Baltimore Orioles

While that's an extreme example, the darker borders are very susceptible to damage. They are frequently found trimmed or recolored to hide some of the damage. I knew a collector who was well on his way to building a killer top-grade set and eventually quit out of frustration after finding that some of his cards had been altered when he began submitting them to a third-party grader.

As you may have noticed, many of the photos used in the set have noticeable towers in the background. They were taken at Shibe Park in Philadelphia, which had been home to the Bowman Gum Company as well as two major league teams. While there are other stadiums used (notably Ebbets Field and Yankee Stadium), most of the pictures were taken there during the 1954 season. Unfortunately, the A's moved to Kansas City for the 1955 season, so Bowman would not have had the benefit of two leagues passing through their home city to get photos for '56. Topps took care of that little problem by purchasing the company.

Card #239 -- Edwin Rommel

The final series of 1955 Bowman cards included a subject that had never been seen on baseball cards: umpires. There were 31 in all. While the kids of '55 likely had issues with cards of old men in their uniforms, collectors find them intriguing, since a number of the arbiters are now Hall of Fame members and these cards represent their only appearance in a mainstream set.

Several errors appear in the set as well. Here's a card for a young player from the Detroit Tigers:

Card #204 -- Frank Bolling

There are two different backs for this card:

Frank and Milt Bolling were brothers who played at the same time. Despite being on different teams, Bowman still managed to confuse them. Not only did they mess up card #204, the same error was found on card #48 (Milt Bolling's card).

Bowman also managed to confuse the non-related Don and Ernie Johnson (cards 101 and 157) and also had to go back and correct Harvey Kuenn's card after spelling his last name as "Kueen." In all cases, the corrected versions are the rarer ones. Additionally, Card #195 of Erv Palica can be found with or without a line on the back saying he'd been traded to Baltimore. I'd show mine, but a former owner already placed the notation on the back for me.

Despite not being able to get their Bollings straight, another brother combo was given their own card:

Card #139 -- Bob and Bill Shantz

Interestingly, each brother had his own card in the set as well. There was no confusion, though. Perhaps being in Bowman's home city was a benefit.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Rest In Peace, Duke

Sad news today.

Duke Snider passed away this morning at 84.

The picture on the card above shows Duke shaking hands with teammate Pee Wee Reese after a home run shot. Tonight, the two can shake hands once more on the Field of Dreams. In fact, a full '55 Dodgers squad can now take the field there, as Duke was the last remaining person alive who was on the field for the final out of that series.

He'll be missed.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Players on the Tube

On Monday, I revisited an article I'd written several years ago. Today, I'll do it again.

In 2004, I wrote a newsletter article about the 1955 Bowman set and the then-new invention of color TV. The article appeared again in 2007 in the SMR magazine that PSA puts out. Click here to read it (in PDF format).

However, what many collectors don't realize is that the '55 Bowman set wasn't the first to use a television design. That honor goes to the 1950 Drake's set:

Card #22 -- Eddie Stanky

While many collectors remember Drake's for the cards they included on the packaging of their various snack boxes during the 1980s, in 1950 they were a smaller regional bakery and these cards were available in packages of oatmeal cookies or "Jumble" cookies. The cards aren't impossible to collect, but they weren't widely collected when they were new and the black borders make them tough in high condition.

For more about the 1950 Drake's set, here's a link to the set description in my main site.

After 1955, the TV-inspired design never went away. Topps would return to the concept in 1966, for both its football and hockey cards:

The football design used cherry-colored woodgrain, similar to the one used in the '55 Bowman set. However, they removed the "Color TV" faceplate and the knobs below the picture tube to place the player's name, team and position.

The used the exact same design for their hockey cards that year. I borrowed the image of this Mikita card; it very well may be an O-Pee-Chee, judging by the Canadian-styled spelling of "Centre." (Edited: the explanation appears in the Comments section.)

Too bad Topps didn't use the TV-design for its 1966 baseball set. The design they went with is often pointed out as one of the more unimaginative of the 1960s, and even a horizontal design may have been neat, since there hadn't been one of those since 1960.However, Topps didn't toss the TV out the window:

In fact, they used the design as part of the next two years' World Series recaps. That was a good use for the designs, since many fans watched the games on their own televisions.

They even revisited the concept a couple of years after that:

But of course, that was a TV show, so the design was perfectly suited for it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Short Bits

In the spirit of my last's a few cards I've recently added to my collection:

1949 Bowman #134 -- Hank Borowy

1949 Bowman is a neat set, but one that will be a very long-term process for me.

Hank Borowy is a largely forgotten name today, but he was a participant in three World Series in the 1940s. Starting out with the Yankees in 1942, he pitched against the Cardinals in both the '42 and '43 World Series and went 1-0 with a no-decision. However, being an effective pitcher from 1942-'45 wasn't considered such a feat because the major league rosters had been slowly transformed by a different type of draft altogether...the one from Uncle Sam. As the war in Europe ended and star players began to be mustered out of service, several players began to see their limited window of opportunity closing. For Borowy, the end seemed to come in July '45 when the Yankees placed him on waivers despite a 10-5 record and 15 teams passed on him.

Then, the Cubs picked him up and added him for their pennant run. He went 11-2 during that stretch and was a big part of the National League pennant. In the World Series, he took the mound for four games against the Tigers. After a masterful shutout in Game 1, he lost Game 5. Undaunted, he came back to win Game 6 with a relief appearance that not only saved the game but the Series. However, When he took the mound for Game 7 as the starter he'd been used up. After three batters, he was pulled and the Cubs lost the Series.

As of today, that relief effort in Game 6 makes Hank Borowy the last Cubs pitcher to win a World Series game. He was also the first player in history to win 10 games each for two different teams in the same season. He appeared on three Bowman cards, and this was his first. Despite being shown in a Cubs uniform here, he pitched with the Phillies in 1949 and is identified with his new team on the back of the card.

Last summer, I showed some of the program for the '84 National in Parsippany, New Jersey. Borowy was one of the guests signing autographs there:

Hank Borowy died in 2004.

1951 Bowman #67 - Roy Sievers

1949 was the year they split the Rookie of the Year award. At first, it was awarded to the top rookie in baseball, but later it was decided that each league would honor its own first-year players. The first American League Rookie of the Year was given to Roy Sievers.

Through the 1950s, he played with the St. Louis Browns and then the Washington Senators. Since those were perennially awful teams, he's been forgotten by fans who don't bother looking outside the New York City-based teams that enjoyed much of the success of that era. What's interesting about Sievers, though, is that he still managed to hit 300 homers in his career at a time when that was a much bigger milestone than it is today. He was the 18th player in history to reach it and was the first who didn't get into the Hall of Fame.

Roy Sievers is still living in the St. Louis area.

1956 Topps #330 -- Jim Busby

One of the things collectors like about the 1956 Topps set is the way the action shots nicely add to the card. Many of those photos are great game-action shots with plays at the bag (or the plate). However, this one just looks odd. Busby appears to be sliding into second, but the fact that there's no fielder present might give the impression that he's blown the play and is watching that ball get away.

1956 was the only full season Busby spend with the Tribe. He was on original member of the Houston Colt .45s in 1962, when he retired and became a coach. He was still coaching in 1977, when he was part of the first Seattle Mariners team in 1977.

Jim Busby died in Augusta, Georgia (a town where I once lived as well) in 1996.

Monday, February 21, 2011

I Reverently Call it "The Book"

As you may have guessed, I have a bookshelf loaded with reference material related to baseball cards. All I have to do is look over my right shoulder and and wheel over to it in my swivel chair.

One of those books is this one:

It's the 1991 paperback re-issue. The original 1973 edition came as a hardcover book.

I've mentioned this book in the blog before. Once, I mentioned it in this entry about a trade I made with Phungo, to which he immediately commented that he was proud to be mentioned in the same post with this book. He also said he believed that Boyd and Harris were possibly "the first fun baseball card reviewers/bloggers/snarks." Though the Internet was merely a text-based toy for academia and the military when the book was originally written in 1973, he may be onto something with his statement. The entire section of the book that shows and comments on the cards reads amazingly like a series of blog posts.

Several years ago, I wrote an email newsletter. In 2003, I wrote one of my best-received articles about this book. I'd like to share it here, for your enjoyment.


For some of the earliest collectors of "bubblegum" cards, it wasn't intended to be an adult hobby. The kids who opened packs of Goudey, Delong and Tattoo Orbit gum in the 1930s had to grow up quickly because of the Depression and World War Two. Older kids often were compelled to find a job to help out during the slow economic era; the war effort saw many former collectors drafted into the service, and the paper drives claimed a lot of cards. After the war ended and the times got better, those kids who had collected in the 1930s had grown up and many of them simply let the things of their youth slip into a distant memory.

Baseball cards had a special place in the lives of many kids who grew up during the 1950s as well. The children of those Goudey-era collectors developed their own type of collecting. Like their fathers, they would use cards as currency on playgrounds and schoolyards. They flipped cards against brick walls in an effort to win their friends' cards; some kids even cheated by dipping the cards in paraffin. It was much easier to get a spare nickel or two to spend on cards from fathers who had remembered how they only had to pay a penny for a gum pack. They would trade their dupes in an effort to get a card of their favorite player. Some would even try to complete the entire set, but while every other kid in the neighborhood already had a Duke Snider card, nobody could produce the one Toby Atwell or Paul Minner card needed to finish up the set, But unlike their fathers, many of those kids decided to carry the hobby into adulthood in greater numbers. Though a lot of those kids stopped actively collecting when they decided to pursue girls and cars, many of them came back to the hobby as adults. Two of those kids grew up and unwittingly helped advance the hobby simply by writing a book.

In 1971, Fred Harris and Brendan Boyd worked in a Boston bookstore. One day, a customer came into the store and asked whether there was a book about baseball cards. Certain that there must have been one, they checked around but couldn't find a single book anywhere. Neither Harris or Boyd could believe that nobody had ever written a book about baseball cards. As kids, both had collected them and so had most of the kids in their neighborhoods. It seemed odd that somebody hadn't written a book on the subject.

Harris told Boyd, "we should write one." So they each took out their old cards and wrote a book around them. Boyd covered American League players and Harris focued on National Leaguers. Ironically, they couldn't get any publisher to consider printing their book until Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer raised interest in 1950s baseball nostalgia. Finally published in 1973, The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book wasn't a blockbuster, but it is still regarded as an important hobby book more than thirty years later. Even though most of the players whose cards are shown have faded from many fans' memories, they remain in their "glory days" in the book.

The book has an introduction which recalls the author's experiences of their 50s childhood in a rapid-fire delivery, followed by a report about a visit to the Topps factory complete with an interview with Sy Berger. The book ends with a list of different things a collector could do with cards (and included a short glimpse into a hobby that was about to explode, though the authors didn't realize that at the time). The meat of the book, however, is in between Berger's comments about Topps' operation and descriptions about how to properly flip cards. Most of the book is a section titled "Profiles." In that section, cards -- mostly from 1951-'63 but some later cards appear -- are pictured along with a comment about the player or his career. The comments are a mixed bag; sometimes respectful, usually irreverent, and thouroughly entertaining.

Most books covering baseball of the 1950s spend a lot of ink covering the important players and outstanding feats, but this book is different. The players aren't all Hall of Famers. In fact, of the 221 baseball players featured, only 15 are enshrined in Cooperstown. In 1973, four of those were considered longshots but eventually made it to the Hall (Richie Ashburn, Larry Doby, Enos Slaughter and Nellie Fox). Satchell Paige gets the following comment: "he could have been the greatest pitcher in major league history, if he'd been given the chance." Stan Musial was mentioned simply because he rarely showed up on cards and made it hard to play any type of baseball card game as the Cardinals without him. Yogi Berra was a natural player for the book's format. Ernie Banks was remembered as a great player who had the misfortune of playing with some terrible teams. Sandy Koufax's rookie card is called his "bar mitzvah picture" because he looked so young. Cards of Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente appeared together on a page with no comments; in a book that was irreverent, this was a respectful way to remember the early passing of both players just prior to the book's publication. Since Boyd was a Boston native and by extension a Red Sox die-hard, Ted Williams makes an appearance very early.

Hank Aaron doesn't show up in the book, but his brother Tommie is featured because he had the guts to play on the same team (and at the same position) as his more gifted brother. Niether Brooks nor Frank Robinson appear on any of its pages, nor do Al Kaline or Carl Yastrzemski. Roger Maris is mentioned but not shown. The three famed center fielders of the New York City teams aren't even spotlighted; Willie Mays and Duke Snider share a card in the section about Topps' specialty cards, but Mickey Mantle isn't shown at all. In the final section, Harris writes the following about "the Mick:"
"I remember one year, 1955 I think, when I must have had fifteen Mickey Mantles. You couldn't even use him for flipping because no one wanted another Mickey Mantle. Everyone on my block was sick of Mickey Mantle. And that was long before such emotions were popular."
Spoken like a true son of Boston.

Anybody can read about the superstars of the 1950s in just about any baseball book ever written about the era. Focusing on lesser-known players instead of the stars makes this book more special, because the writers choose to comment on players they recall from their own youth. The perspective is unique and the stories personal.

Then there are the cards. Gus Zernial's 1952 Topps card shows him holding up a bat with five baseballs attached to it. Bob Cerv's 1958 Topps card is needled because he appears to be smacking himself in the head with a bat. As a change of pace, a football card of Johnny Unitas is even tossed in. The 1969 Topps card of Aurelio Rodriguez shows a 14 year-old Angels batboy instead (Rodriguez "could very easily be mistaken for a batboy, except that most bat boys could easily outhit him," they cracked). Coot Veal, "Cot" Deal, Foster Castleman, "Spook" Jacobs and Whammy Douglas are spotlighted for their names.

One of the neat things about the book is that it's not a linear story. That is, each card shown has its own separate commentary, and only rarely do they blend. That way, you can always open the book to just about any page and start reading it. The writing is often quixotic because it jumps quickly from subject to subject, but is thoroughly entertaining to anybody interested in 1950s baseball (but not the black-and-white newsreel highlights shown repeatedly since).

Some of the stories are classic, like the account of Pumpsie Green and Gene Conley trying to catch a flight out of Idlewild (now JFK International) airport to Israel in what is described as "a markedly inebriated condition" two days after they jumped the Red Sox team bus in New York City traffic following a game against the Yankees. Ned Garver was remembered for winning 20 games with the 1951 St. Louis Browns, a team that won only 52 games all season. Even personal stories are shared, like the time Harris went to a store to meet some Red Sox players and how Billy Klaus sneered at him and his friends when they weren't allowed in because they were too young.

One page features the pictures (but not the TV borders) of umpires Chylak, Secory, Driscoll, Hubbard, Boggess and Barlick from the 1955 Bowman set. The rest of the page is red, and one word is repeated over and over behind them: "Boo." Another page shows cards of three players nicknamed "Bubba" (Morton, Church and Phillips). The 1962 Mets got their own page, with Casey Stengel's comment, "can't anybody here play this game?" as its headline. Another page pays homage to Kahn's Boys of Summer and shows four Brooklyn Dodger cards. A page featuring coach and manager cards starts out saying, "of course if you are really lousy at what you do, there's always a chance that you can work your way into management."

Marv Throneberry and Dick Stuart are remembered for their lack of finesse with a glove. Likewise, Casey Wise and Eddie Miksis are celebrated as players who could claim truly embarrassing offensive statistics. Johnny Antonelli and Joey Jay are lauded because each was drafted by the Braves and then showed their promise later by beating up on the Braves on the mound after getting traded. Ken Hubbs and Harry Agganis are remebered for their far-too-early exits from the baseball diamond.

The chapter describing the visit to Topps' offices is a terrific look into the world of Sy Berger. Though it never explicitly says so, the 1973 Topps set was in production. The little comments flesh out the details: the cards were still being released in series, each player had his own file with numerous photos, an artist was airbushing Diego Segui's card, and Berger mentions about how the "kid pictures" subset was being included again in the new set and how they were going to include more action shots. Berger also mentions about how the "new design" would be among the best Topps ever issued, but it's interesting to have the hindsight of time because that 1973 Topps set is on few collectors' "best of" lists. The "kid pictures" subset never appeared again after '73, and collectors often criticized the action shots in that set because it was hard to tell which player was being featured (in fact, Joe Rudi's 1973 card shows four A's celebrating a Gene Tenace home run, but Rudi isn't even among them).

In 1991, Boyd and Harris came out with a new edition. The 1973 edition was reprinted intact, with new introductions by each author. They acknowledged how the hobby had changed after 1973 and how they handled their short period of fame. Boyd recounted how they tried to get a celebrity endorsement for the book, but unfortunately the celebrities they approached were rubbed the wrong way by the book. Jim Bouton took exception to being called a "big mouth" (though he should have been intimately aware of the effects of somebody's written words thanks to Ball Four), and Joe Garagiola wasn't happy that Sy Berger told how he had signed an exclusive contract with Bowman and still pretended he was interested in signing with Topps. Boyd then related about how his baseball card collection was stolen along with his car.

Harris added in his introduction that they had written "the book that wouldn't die." He explained, "even when all the editions were out of print, somehow the spirit of this book never died." He mentioned that they had planned on featuring additional players from the 1973-'90 era in the new edition but it seems the idea never came to fruition. Still, The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book remains to be an integral book for any hobbyist's reference shelf. The book is mentioned on the website for the OBC group as "The Book," and a few collectors have sought to obtain all the cards featured in its pages. Even 30 years after its original publication, it remains a great hobby book.

If somebody wanted to use the idea to write a similar book using players from the 1970s and 80s, it could be interesting. Imagine being able to open a book filled with cards from the 1970s and 80s and stories of some of the characters of the era. Featured cards could include the 1984 Fleer Glen Hubbard, showing him with a large snake, or the '86 Fleer with Mickey Hatcher holding a giant glove. Some of baseball's goofballs could once again take center stage, like Bill "Spacman" Lee, who once told a reporter that he ate marijuana pancakes for breakfast, or Joe Charbonneau, who was a noted party animal just before becoming a hobby footnote. Mark Fidrych could be remembered for his proclivity for talking to his baseball while on the mound. A card of Ivan DeJesus would be accompanied by a commentary about how he was traded to the Phillies in 1981 for Ryne Sandberg. Finally, some of the obscure players could once again be recognized; guys like Buddy Biancalana, Joaquin Andujar and Bobby Meacham can be seen in their mid-80s glory. Lenny Dykstra, Dave Concepcion and George Foster could be recognized as great players who probably won't get to Cooperstown without paying admission. Finally, names like Shooty Babbitt, Joe Zdeb and Jerry Dybzinski can be brought out for the way that kids mangled them while trying to pronounce them. Then there's guys like Don Aase, Pete LaCock and Rusty Kuntz (a name that should have never been allowed in any 12 year-old's card collection), but maybe not for a family-oriented book.


If you've read this far and would like to get your hands on a copy of this book, here's a link that will let you pick one up:

Pick it up if you enjoy reading blogs like this. I guarantee you'll love it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Vintage Paneling

No, I'm not talking about the wooden paneling in the basement that looks like it inspired the 1962 Topps set.

Today, here's a card image that I find neat:

This is a 1959 Bazooka box panel (though not a full box) featuring Del Crandall. Crandall's card is the example shown in my website's description of the 1959 Bazooka set, but it's neat to see that not all the cards in this set were subjected to the wrath of young collectors armed with scissors.

I'd like to point out the little box at the bottom of the panel. It mentions that there are 9 cards in all, even though a complete '59 Bazooka set contains 23 cards in all. The first series contained nine cards -- Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, Del Crandall, Jim Davenport, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Bill Mazeroski, Roy McMillan, Bob Turley -- and an additional 14 were issued later in the year. Those 14 are considered short-prints.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My Oldest Yankee Card

It's been a little while since I shared one of the cards with "character" from my collection. Here's one today from a set that doesn't get seen all that often:

It's a T213 Coupon and was printed around 1914. There are three types of T213 (each with a different back and different years of issue), and this card is a Type 2. The player is Jeff Sweeney, who is also found with Richmond as a team name. I'd show the back, but there's not a lot of it still attached to the card. But it's nearly 100 years old, and it's an early Yankee (they had changed their name from Highlanders in 1913).

There is sometimes a little confusion with this set, since it shares a similar design with T206 cards and even uses the same photos. However -- and this is a little hard to see on my card -- the text at the bottom is blue, which a T-card collector should notice right away. Blue ink is found on Type 2 and 3 cards, while brown ink is used for Type 1.

The Old Cardboard website has a quick breakdown of T213 cards, including years of issue and back images.

Monday, February 14, 2011

1963 Fleer...A Glimpse

After releasing specialty sets since 1959, the Frank H. Fleer Corporation decided to really get in the ring with Topps in 1963 and issue a set of cards featuring modern baseball players. The design of the set was not bad, as this Willie Mays card attests:

Card #5 -- Willie Mays, San Francisco Giants

Featuring a nice, main picture, there was a drawing of a baseball player in the corner, along with the name, team and position. While some may point out that the 1963 Fleer design wasn't too far off from the one Topps used that year (that is, if you placed a second player photo in place of the drawing), the back of the cards were a lot different from anything you'd see come out of Topps:

Card #5 -- Willie Mays (Back)

The biggest major difference was the way the back had its number placed right in the middle of the card. With Topps, Post, Jell-O, Bazooka, and even earlier Fleer cards, the numbers were normally located in a place where they'd be easily seen if you were thumbing through a stack. But not in 1963. Fleer put them right in the middle of the card, inside a baseball with two bats. The write-ups were better than what Topps used in its limited space; in fact, the vertical alignment of the text makes this card stand out.

There were 66 cards in the set. There were likely plans to make more, but Topps decided it really didn't need to have anybody to to them what they themselves had done to Bowman only a decade before. Instead, they took Fleer to court and argued that the cards infringed on their "exclusive" rights to sell pictures of players on gum cards. Fleer argued that they didn't include gum -- even though it was their company that had invented bubble gum -- and instead used a cookie inside the packs.

The term "cookie" is a general one. Since they needed to reduce the sugar content in order to avoid stepping on Topps' toes, they were generally considered to be terrible. In fact, court testimony recorded shows that a Topps executive said -- on the record -- that the cookie tasted rather like a dog biscuit. Eventually, the court sided with Topps and halted the Fleer set at one series.

However, that didn't stop thousands of sets from making their way into collectors' hands. Here are some of the memorable Fleer cards from 1963:

Card #42 -- Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers

In 1963, the Los Angeles Dodgers returned to the World Series and faced their old nemesis from the days they played in Brooklyn: The New York Yankees. Showing that this team wasn't the lovable Bums of olden days, they sent the Yankees home in four straight. It was the first time the Yankees had ever lost in a sweep, and Koufax set the tone early, by striking out 15 batters in the first game. The newspapers had the following headline after that performance:


Card #56 -- Roberto Clemente, Pittsburgh Pirates

A little-known fact about Clemente was that he was a member of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves from 1959 through 1964. He had been in a car accident in 1955 that had given him some back problems and sometimes limited his effectiveness on the field. However, once he was forced to serve in the military (as many American boys -- including ones from Puerto Rico -- were then) he became a Marine. Those who've paid attention know that Marines are infantrymen first, and the training helped his on-field performance. There would not be a comfortable desk job waiting for him there. After '59, Clemente's back problems went away. At the same time, his power and speed made him one of the more dangerous players in baseball.

"Semper Fi!"

Card #8 -- Carl Yastrzemski, Boston Red Sox

"Yaz" was in his third season in 1963 and enjoyed a breakout year by winning the American League Batting crown. Later, he won a Triple Crown in 1967 and was the only batter to hit .300 in the entire league in 1968. He was a part of two pennant-winning Sox teams (1967 and '75) but never managed to get a World Series ring. When Fleer was finally able to resume active player cards in 1981, Yaz was one of only two players still remaining who had been in the 1963 set.

Jim Kaat was the other one.

Card #43 -- Maury Wills, Los Angeles Dodgers

Actually, Maury Wills ended up being included in the 1981 Fleer set too, except he was featured as the manager of the Mariners, a team that didn't exist in 1963.

This card was obviously designed to remind collectors that there were some players who were missing from their Topps sets. Wills famously refused to sign with them after they declined to offer him a contract during his days in the minor leagues because they assumed he wasn't going to make it into the majors. In 1962, he set a new record for stolen bases, becoming the first modern player to swipe over 100 in a season. However, the mention of his '62 N.L. MVP award on the card itself seemed to give a raspberry toward Fleer's competitors in Brooklyn.

Card #11 -- Dick Donovan, Cleveland Indians

Another big difference between Topps and Fleer was the way they handled players who switched teams. Instead of using a "hatless" picture or airbrushing a new logo, Fleer just used an old photo and designated the new team. The only issue with Dick Donovan, though...was that he was traded to the Indians after the '61 season and played all of 1962 for the Tribe. In fact, even Topps used a picture of him in an Indians uniform on his '63 card.

Card #46 -- Joe Adcock, Cleveland Indians

Another fellow Cleveland player was Joe Adcock, who actually was new to the club for the '63 season. In the case of this Adcock card, it's better remembered as a short-print than it is for his playing. Fleer printed a checklist, but needed to make room for it on the printing sheet. Thus, Adcock's card was bumped to allow for it.

The checklist card looks like this:

(Unnumbered) 1st Series Checklist Card

The use of the words "1st Series" indicates that Fleer definitely planned on issuing more, but Topps' injunction prevented them from doing so. It's not known who may have appeared in a second series, but there are always collectors who can imagine.

Friday, February 11, 2011

An Early eBay Story

In 1999/2000, I discovered the great little online yard sale known as eBay. At the time, it was still a neat little auction site...this was before it became the big behemoth it is now that I mostly avoid today.

It was a nice boost to my collection, too, since it gave me a way to look for cards without having to search through card shops or calling dealers, only to have them look for half an hour and then either being a higher price than I wanted to pay or being told that there wasn't much in the way of vintage material there.

So, having a way to toss out small bids on cards and knowing what I was going to get was a great way to justify my internet connection.

I was also looking to work on my 1956 Topps set. My first wantlist page consisted only of 1956 Topps cards. One day early in 2000, I saw this card being auctioned off:

I put in a bid, and ended up winning it, for about $4 plus shipping. So, I mailed out a money order, placed the line for Hoyt Wilhelm in red (which I still do sometimes when I know something's coming) and waited for the card to show up in my mailbox.

About a week and a half later, an envelope from the seller showed up. And this was the card inside it:

While I was satisfied about getting an older card than expected, I was working on a 1956 Topps set and really wanted that card. I wrote a quick email to the seller explaining that the wrong card arrived and asked if I could get the one I actually won for my '56 set in progress?

Of course, I said I'd return the '54 once it arrived. However, I'd lost or tossed away his address and needed it again so I could send it back to him.

He wrote back, apologized for the mix-up and told me my card would arrive as soon as he could get to the post office. And sure enough, in a few days it arrived. However, he didn't put a full address on his envelope and never sent it in his reply. When I had the card in hand, I sent another email thanking him and asking once again for an address so I could give back the original card he sent me.

He told me I could keep it, since he screwed up the order. So, $4 plus shipping got me two cards of a great Hall of Fame pitcher from the 1950s. I really wish I could remember who the seller was, though. I'd love to give him a plug if he's still around.

eBay was great before it became bloated.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Slap Shot to My Mailbox!

Last week, Tom -- a long-time trading buddy and occasional reader of this blog -- sent me the very first hockey cards to go into my collection.

That's right, a guy who writes a blog featuring vintage cards from all types of sports never bothered to add one of those sports to his collection. And this after growing up near the Canadian border and even following the Montreal Canadiens and Guy LaFleur as a kid. Sorry, but they simply didn't have any hockey cards for sale where I grew up and I never really went out of my way to collect them.

I really should have, though. They have a richer history than football and basketball cards, going back to the same 1910 era as the T-cards and several sets from the 1930s as well.

Tom sent me six cards, and they were all from the 1972/'73 Topps hockey set. That's actually a good set to start out with, since I also appeared that hockey season (made my own debut on December 2, in fact). Here's the big hit of the package:

Card #56 -- Stan Mikita, Chicago Black Hawks

Considered the NHL's premier center during the 1960s, Stan Mikita played with the Black Hawks from 1959-'80 and went to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983. I don't know the wait period for the HOF, but three years after retirement is pretty quick.

Knowing I'm a collector who always has an eye for historical things, Tom also included this card in the stack:

Card #170 -- Art Ross Trophy

The Art Ross Trophy is given each year to the top scorer in the NHL. Although the official trophy began to be awarded after the 1947/'48 season, the back of this card shows the leading scorers for each season going back to 1917.

And Stan Mikita won it four times. In fact, Mikita is the only NHL player to ever win the Art Ross Trophy, Lady Byng Trophy (for sportsmanship) and the Hart Trophy (for the MVP) in the same season. And he did that twice, in 1966/'67 and 1967/'68. His card is a great start to a small hockey collection.

So thanks, Tom!

Monday, February 7, 2011

1970s Hoops Cards

Now that football season is over and Spring Training hasn't yet begun,let's focus on another sport that's still active.

Back in October, I showed off what were then the only basketball cards that were in my collection. Now, since I've added a few more that have filtered in from other deals, I'd like to do a short about these new additions.

Topps was out of the basketball card market for a long time. After a set in 1957, they waited until 1969 to make a second set. The sets in 1969/'70 and 1970/'71 were both large-sized sets, much like 1964 Topps hockey and 1965 Topps football had been. Since basketball players tended to be taller, the format was actually appropriate.

In 1971, Topps reduced their basketball set to the same standard size all their mainstream sets had:

Card #58 -- Calvin Murphy, Houston Rockets

In a way, these were similar to the design of 1969 Topps football, with a player photo in front of a solid color. A very 1970s font is used at the top to denote the player's team's city, while red sets apart the player's initials and position. Cards 1-144 feature NBA players while series 2 (145-233) feature players from the old ABA.

I only have a small handful of cards from this set, but I did notice this:

(Love the old ABA basketball seen on Cannon's card)

1971/'72 was the first season the Rockets played in Houston after four seasons in San Diego. Since NASA was in Houston, the "Rockets" name was a fit there. However, they weren't the only professional basketball team to play with the name. Denver was an original ABA team in 1967 and also called themselves the Rockets. As the ABA/NBA merger appeared to be working out during the mid-1970s, the Denver team changed its name to Nuggets, a name it still uses to this day.

1972/'73 saw a new design that wasn't going to hearken back to any other designs:

Card #238 -- Gerald Govan, Memphis Tams

Again, the set was broken down between the leagues. Cards #1-176 featured NBA players, and #177-264 were from the ABA. There were also subsets for playoffs and statistical leaders in each Series as well.

Here's an interesting card I noticed in my stack:

Card #2 -- Stan Love, Baltimore Bullets

The back of Stan Love's card says, "Stan's brother, Mike, sings with a rock & roll group."

Mike Love. Why couldn't Topps just say he was a member of The Beach Boys? There must have been a licensing issue that prevented it.

For the 1973/'74 set, here's a card featuring somebody familiar to fans outside of basketball:

Card #71 -- Phil Jackson, New York Knicks

At the time this card was being printed, Phil Jackson had just helped the Knicks to the 1973 NBA championship. He didn't get any more titles as a player before retiring in 1980, but he made up for that as a head coach, leading 11 teams to NBA titles. This is part of another set split between two leagues: #1-176 are NBA players and 177-264 are ABA pros. Again, there are subsets for league statistical leaders and playoff series.

Here's a card from the set worth showing:

Card #179 -- Steve Jones, Carolina Cougars

Yes, it's a victim of Topps' sometimes lousy QA control. There are two things here that I immediately think of:
  1. That Afro is too big for the card to hold
  2. "Cougars" has a very different connotation today
Like I said back in October:

As a guy who is not only a vintage collector but also a 1970s style connoisseur (which is a fancy word for "freak"), it would logically follow that I'm also a fan of 1970s basketball cards. However, I never really started picking up the cards despite the fact that the sets are often quite small and not overly tough to collect. I'll probably be pretty easily hooked if I ever chance upon a nice starer set somewhere.
Well, somebody actually took me up on that, and any further additions to my collection will only help me as I keep showing the cards here.

Friday, February 4, 2011


I got this email last weekend, and am sharing it because of what the follow-up email explained. Alana writes:


"I was viewing your website, mainly because I Googled these baseball coins to see what they are worth...Would it be possible to tell me what I may have?

Juan Marichal  Giants Pitcher   coin number 125

Thanks for any help.

(Not the Marichal coin, but an example from the same set)

I wrote about the 1964 and 1971 Topps coins on my blog last October. You'll get some nice background info here.

Your coin is from 1971, and it was originally inserted into the packs with 10 cards and a stick of gum.

As for what it's worth...depending on condition, I see that Marichal coin at card shows for $3-5 depending on condition. If it has any rust on it, it'll impact the price.

(Another 1971 Topps Coin to show off)

And here's the part of the question I find to be cool:

This was a standard reply that took a moment or so to return. She replied, thanking me for getting back so quickly and telling me that she was about to visit Las Vegas with her family. While there, they were going to stop and visit the pawn shop shown in the TV show Pawn Stars and get something small pawned there just to say she did it.

As it turned out, I was the "expert" she consulted with before going, and that Marichal coin she found laying around was the little piece she decided to take with her. They may give her 50 cents for it, but that makes me feel good to know that somebody read what I'd written on the Web and thought enough to send me an email to give her an opinion. Stuff like that just makes my day.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pre-"Big Game" Post

You may have heard there is a big football game being played this weekend. Long-time readers know I have an affinity for one of the teams that will be playing. However, as a fan of football the way it used to be played, the other team is also a team I appreciate due to their long-term history. Yes, I'm a Steelers fan. However, you'll never hear me trash-talking about it, as I prefer to let the team do its own talking on the field. As a fan of history...watching two teams with so much tradition go at it for all the marbles is just a great thing for the game. I just hope it's not a blowout either way; there's nothing worse than losing interest during the third quarter because the game's gotten out of hand.

So, this post will focus on something from my Steelers collection. That said, it'll still be written to inform collectors about a couple things they may never have realized.

But, before the football part...a little baseball card talk. In 1952 Bowman was definitely caught off guard by Topps and its baseball set. Therefore, they made the decision to enlarge the size of their cards for 1953 to (almost) match the larger size Topps used. Before making that decision, however, they decided to print their 1952 football set in the two sizes:

That's a great pose on this Jerry Shipkey card, one that is close to the image used for both his 1950 and '51 cards. He looks like he's giving a command to one of his blockers to open up a hole for him.

The card on the left is the same size as 1951 and '52 Bowman baseball cards. The card on the right is the same size as 1953-'55 Bowman baseball cards. Each of the 144 cards of Bowman's set was made in both sizes, with some scarce cards in the larger-sized set. Cards that are divisible by nine are tougher to come by, with the numbers 72 and 144 being the hardest.

In fact, one of the three cards I still need for my '52 Bowman Large Steelers set happens to be #72, featuring John Schweder. I don't expect to add that one for a while, but if I do, you'll see it here.

Although Topps wasn't intruding on their football license in 1952, Bowman added some extra cards to their set that weren't part of their previous sets. Several rookies were featured in their college uniforms -- and while Topps released college football sets in 1950 and '51, they wouldn't do another until 1955 -- and each team had its head coach included. This included mainstream cards for legendary coaches like George Halas, Paul Brown and Steve Owen.

The Steelers' head coach was taking over as the 1952 season began:

It was Joe Bach's second stint as the Pittsburgh coach, after leading the team (then called the Pirates) in 1935-'36. One of the members of the very first Notre Dame team to win the National Championship in 1924, he was a teammate of the vaunted "Four Horseman." The back of the card says more:

Bach played both offense and defense, which was common in those early days. However, one thing shows up on the card that shows how history was being made. It mentions that Bach was eliminating Pittsburgh's single-wing offensive formation in favor of the T-formation. The single-wing was developed by "Pop" Warner and involved the ball being thrown to the quarterback rather than snapped. It's a precursor to the modern "shotgun" formation but had the backs in different locations.

While this card mentions the "temporary" loss of the single-wing, the history books still show that the Steelers were the last team to use it, and that they abandoned it in 1952.