A Summer Project Aiming to Yield a “C”

As a Cubs fan, I’ve maintained a small baseball-card collection of the team’s players. Some are from my and my brother’s childhood collection in the late 1960s and early 1970s, others are from store-bought packs in recent years, and still others are from card-dealer shops. Until this year, I just kept these cards laying around. One day last spring, however, I looked at the roundtable in my office and was inspired.

I realized that I could use the shape of the table to organize a display of cards and, with some cardholder sleeves, a scissors, and some extra-clear Scotch tape, make a huge Cubs “C” out of Cubs baseball cards. The first thing I did was get a bunch of standard 3 X 3 vinyl cardholder sheets. I then cut each vinyl sheet vertically into three separate columns, each holding three cards.

I then temporarily attached each column (already filled with cards) to the table, so that the straight edge of the outermost card fit as closely as possible with the curved edge of the table. I used masking tape to keep the first column (and every few columns thereafter) in place. I used small pieces of Scotch tape to connect adjacent columns to each other, so that all the columns would eventually form one single piece.

Note that the cards touching the outer edge of the table will be fully visible without being “eclipsed” by adjacent cards. The cards midway down in each column will be slightly eclipsed by the neighboring cards, and the cards nearest the center of the table will have nearly half of their surface eclipsed by neighboring cards. I therefore decided to reserve the outermost slots for the most prominent Cubs (Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Jake Arrieta, as shown above), with less well-known players generally confined to the innermost layer. Because so much of each innermost card was obscured, it was a real challenge making sure nobody’s face got cut off!

More exciting than creating the structure to hold the cards, of course, was acquiring the necessary cards themselves. Of the 120 cards (40 columns of three) needed to fill in the slots, I probably had only one-third that many at the start. A couple of trips to a local card store brought up my total somewhat, but to finish the project by the end of the summer, I also needed to shop online. I had two main guidelines for which players’ cards to obtain: (1) I wanted to have a card of every member of the 2016 World Series championship team (including manager Joe Maddon); and (2) I wanted to have cards for who would be considered every significant Cub of the last 50 years. Nearly all of the cards I purchased at the stores and over the Internet cost between 40-50 cents. Occasionally I had to splurge for cards worth $1 or so!

Most days during the summer, I put in 10-15 minutes of work on the project, although as things neared completion I put in longer stints. The circle began to grow, as illustrated in the near-complete design in the following picture. Most players appear only once in the “C,” but of those who appear multiple times, their cards are always from different years. Hence, there are no exact duplicates in the “C.” There are at least three Ron Santo cards in the mix.

One tricky issue is that, if I placed the tops of the baseball cards (i.e., where the players’ heads were) by the edge of the table all the way around, the cards at the bottom of the “C” would be upside-down. What I did, therefore, was change the orientation of the cards halfway through the “C” (after 20 columns). This is illustrated in the next two images, one a schematic of the process and the other, a close-up of the actual cards.

By switching after 20 columns from having the players’ heads toward the outer edge of the table to having their feet toward the outer edge, players at the top and bottom of the “C” came out rightside-up.

Once all the card slots were filled and the columns taped together, it was time to apply a red cardboard background to the design. I cut up a bunch of red rectangles and linked them together underneath the baseball cards. I used a lot of masking tape on the underside of the red cardboard to keep the pieces connected in a sturdy manner, and I used double-sided Scotch tape to affix the baseball-card part to the underlying cardboard.

Finally, it was time to place the “C” on one of the walls in my office, which I accomplished using red push-pin tacks at various points in the red outline.

I feel I largely accomplished my mission to include all of the significant Cubs of the past 50 years. Hall of Famers  Ernie Banks, Andre “Hawk” Dawson, Leo Durocher (manager), Fergie Jenkins, Greg Maddux, Ryne Sandberg, Ron Santo, Bruce Sutter, and Billy Williams all appear in the “C.”

All-Star players and fan favorites of the different decades also appear. A non-comprehensive list of the players in the “C” includes:

  • Randy Hundley, Glenn Beckert, and Don Kessinger, who bridged the 1960s and ’70s; along with their teammate Jim Hickman, a trivia-question answer as the player whose hit led to Pete Rose’s run-scoring collision with catcher Ray Fosse to end the 1970 All-Star Game.
  • 1970s favorites Rick Reuschel (1972-1981, 1983-1984) and Manny Trillo (1975-1978 and 1986-1988). They are among the Cubs whose names are referenced in the play “Bleacher Bums.”
  • Star 1980s pitchers Rick Sutcliffe and Lee Smith, and catcher Jody Davis.
  • 1990s mainstay Mark Grace, and Kerry Wood, who came on spectacularly in 1998 and pitched all or parts of 12 seasons on the North Side.
  • Mark Prior, Ryan Dempster, Aramis Ramirez, and Derrek Lee  of the 2000-aughts.
  • Joe Girardi, who came from Northwestern University to play two stints with the Cubs (1989-1992 and 2000-2002).

Sammy Sosa, though tainted by steroids, is included, as are three players who will probably best be remembered for defensive difficulties on particular plays: Moises Alou, involved in the Steve Bartman play vs. Florida in the 2003 NLCS; Leon “Bull” Durham, who let a key grounder go through his legs in the 1984 NLCS vs. San Diego; and Don Young, who failed to catch a couple of fly balls in a crucial 1969 series vs. the Mets. As bitter as some of the memories involving these players are, they are still very much a part of modern Cubs history. So is Keith Moreland, who is mentioned (not favorably) in the classic Steve Goodman song, “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request.”

A couple of cards exceeded the scope of the past 50 years: Joey Amalfitano (Cubs player 1964-1967, coach 1967–1971 and 1978–1979, and manager 1979-1981), and a reissued Frank Chance (1898-1912) of “Tinker to Evers to Chance” fame.

In reflecting on whether I missed some players I should have included, one that came to mind was Bill “Mad Dog” Madlock. His Cubs’ stint was brief (1974-1976), but it included two National League batting titles. My Texas Tech colleague and fellow Cubs fanatic Michael O’Boyle suggested I add Dave Kingman.

Also, if 2018 late-season acquisitions Cole Hamels and Daniel Murphy keep up their hot play, I’ll have to add them (Yu Darvish remains an open question). The nice thing about the cardholder sleeves I used is that I should be able to change some of the players in the “C” without much problem.

I would think fans of other teams could create similar displays. However, logos featuring letters with diagonal components (such as “A” or “M”) would probably be harder to bring about.

Teachers can even use the story of the baseball-card “C” to illustrate the formula for the circumference of a circle (2 * pi * r). The table’s diameter is 46 inches (to the precision I could measure it), so its radius is 23 inches. The formula yields a circumference of 144.5 inches.  My “C” did not, of course, form a full circle, but I determined that it would take the widths of approximately 51 cards (compared to the 40 comprising the “C”) to complete the circle along the table’s edge. With each card having a width of approximately 2 3/4 inches, summing the card-widths around the table yields 140.25 inches. The difference between the actual circumference of the table (144.5) and the approximation by baseball cards (140.25) stems from the cards’ straight-edge widths being an imperfect fit for the table’s curved edge. A mathematical principle states that the match would improve as each baseball card (hypothetically) got narrower.

The Torch is Passed to a New Franchise (First in a Series)

Within a few months of John Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961, the expansion era in baseball begins–as the Los Angeles Angels and a new version of the Washington Senators (the original team moved to Minnesota) debut. Here is a look at the initial card for each of the first four expansion clubs, as well as the the first card with a player photographed wearing the team’s uniform.

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The first player to appear (by card number) as a Los Angeles Angel is slugger Ted Kluszewski, who is pictured wearing a White Sox cap in the 1961 Topps set. Ted is card #65 in the first series, so Topps may have only had time to change the team name before the print run.

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The Angels faithful had to wait until card number #413 in series five to see Eddie Yost in the team’s new livery. “The Walking Man” was the first batter in Angels history but struggled in two seasons with the “Seraphs.” Three other Angels were depicted in authentic Angel uniforms in 1961: Del Rice, Rocky Bridges and Gene Leek.

61 Long

The inaugural card for the new Senators was that of Dale Long, #117 in the second series. The veteran Long is best remembered for hitting home runs in eight consecutive games in ’56 — which established a record since equaled by Don Mattingly and Ken Griffey Jr. Also, Dale played in two games with the Cubs in ’58 as an emergency catcher, even though he was left handed.

Veal

Coot Veal is the first expansion Senator photographed wearing the team’s cap and uniform. His card shows up in the 6th series at #432. The journeyman Veal had an unremarkable career but a very memorable nickname. There are five other Senators with photos taken in the newly minted togs: Harry Bright, Joe McClain, Pete Burnside, R.C. Stevens and Marty Kutyna.

62 DeMerit

The following year, Topps wasted no time in introducing the card collecting world to the expansion New York Mets in ‘62 by placing Joe DeMerit at #4. Joe, a draft pick from Milwaukee, played outfield in 14 games with a .188 batting average. This lackluster performance marked the end of his short MLB career.

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The first card featuring the royal blue Mets cap was # 464: Al Jackson in the 6th series. Al was a woeful Mets stalwart starting pitcher for five seasons, in which he lost 20, 17, 16, 20 and 15 games. Only one other 1962 card features a solo player in a Mets uniform, Ed Bouchee #497. Three “Rookie Parade” cards have headshots with players in Mets caps: #593 Bob Moorhead and Craig Anderson, #597 Rod Kanehl and #598 Jim Hickman.

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The new Houston Colt .45s were also given a card early in the first series, featuring manager Harry Craft at #12. Harry appears confused in this photo, but he will pull it together to manage the Colts during their first three seasons.

Apparently, Topps didn’t send a photographer to Houston’s spring training site or to the Polo Grounds when the Colt .45’s came to New York. Therefore, there are no cards in ’62 set with players wearing a Houston uniform.

The first proper Houston Colt ’45 card is #9 in the ’63 set. The .45’s cap adorns the “floating” head of Dick “Turk” Farrell on the NL Strikeout Leaders. Fifteen cards later, Bob Bruce appears on the first solo card at #24. Bruce spent several years in Detroit before closing out his career with the .45’s in ‘62.

In a future post, I will continue to “expand” your knowledge with a look at the first cards in the second wave of expansion. This will be done not because it is easy, but because it is hard!

 

Coming Out of the Closet

Most of us have participated in debates and discussions pertaining to the best way to store cards. The “boxes versus binders” debate is one that isn’t likely to ever see consensus. No matter the method of preservation, the cards must occupy a physical space. The storage conundrum becomes more acute if your collection spans over a half-century. Furthermore, if you are an “omnivore” collector–someone who collects anything sports related–your home may resemble that of the Collyer brothers.

Collyer

Attempting to ward off an intervention for hoarder’s syndrome, I have spent the last two summers working on storage solutions. Fortunately, my son moved out in the spring, freeing up a large closet. This enabled me to move all my publications, media guides, programs and other miscellaneous objects out of the card closet.

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The card closet is long and narrow with a severely slanted wall, due to the house being a Cape Cod style. This provides me with four rows of binder shelving stretching for 10 feet. Additionally, there are two three-tiered book cases at each end and an old hi-fi cabinet. Plus, there is a two-shelf, three-foot homemade case.

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I augmented the binder space by adding an old library book cart and freeing up two book case shelves. The space behind the book cart lends itself to binder storage on the floor, which I have filled with “junk wax” era football, basketball and hockey. Adding a homemade shelf will double the capacity.

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In theory, I’ve bought a few more years before having to rethink binder storage. Of course, it all depends on my rate of acquisition.

Thanks to Jeff Katz’s post on the potential dire ramifications of publicizing one’s collectibles, I will probably be burgled and not have to worry about future storage. My paranoia now “runs deep.” Thanks for making me keep my “guard” dog, Yaz, in the closet, Jeff.

Yaz

Joining Team Flake

I’ve been looking to get a set of 1983 Topps Foldouts, five oversized mini-sets (leaders in pitching, batting, home runs, stolen bases and relief). It’s easily gettable for under $10, but I’m holding out to save every dollar. (It’s actually kind of silly how single dollar sensitive I can be).

I was wondering whether the cards, unfolded, would fit in 4-pocket sheets, so I went to the pdf of my always at hand 2009 Standard Catalog to check the size. The first comparable set I thought of, that I had in sheets, was a late-‘70’s Minnesota Twins team issued postcard set. Alas, the foldouts are bigger.

Knowledge attained, I aimlessly scrolled down, looking for nothing in particular, past Montreal Expos player pins and matchbook covers, when I ended up at “N.” First entry – 1969 Nabisco Team Flakes.

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Usually I’m not a big fan of sets that are nearly only found hand cut, but now that I am committed to completing the 1975 Hostess set (the only year that I cut out the cards), I’m changing my tune a little. Reasonably well hand cut cards have started to appeal to me.  And, if you’re a frequent reader, you know I’ve been looking for new sets to pursue. A 24-card, hand cut set is right in my sweet spot.

I’d heard about these cards, but never paid them any mind. I had a vague picture in my mind of dark, unattractive, crooked cards, but NO!, the cards are mini-replicas of late 1960’s Sports Illustrated posters and, as I looked at each card online, I was, like Proust via madeleine, taken back to my room in Canarsie, and then in Lake Grove, Long Island. Much of my posters of that time are gone – Aaron, Yaz, Ken Harrelson – but one has survived, travelling with me through college, Chicago and Cooperstown.

Seeing a mini – Mays seems to be enough to make me go for this set. I’ve seen uncut boxes, but I prefer hand cut. Unlike Hostess, which provided space between the dotted-lined cards, there’s no separation between the Team Flakes cards, which makes nice copies hard to find, helpful in pricing. But what I really want to know is who the hell ever ate Team Flakes?

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So now I have another target, one that seems easily attainable. We’ll see if that pans out, but I’m sure it’s easier to buy these cards than try to buy back my old posters. I don’t have the room or wall space for those.

Airbrush with Destiny

When it came to their baseball cards, frequently traded players in the ‘50’s and ‘60s suffered the indignity of the blacked-out cap insignia or a bare head shot, when Topps or other companies affixed their images to cardboard. Of course, the ‘70s saw Topps go “over the top” with whole caps and uniforms unartfully altered by the overzealous art department. No player suffered a worse fate at the hands of the airbrush artists than the late Ken Brett, who went under the airbrush six times.

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Brett had a spectacular start to his career in ‘67. A late season call up by the Red Sox, the 19-year old pitched effectively in two World Series games. After two years in the minors, Ken received his first card in ‘69 — coupled with Gerry Moses. I must draw attention to Ken’s short bio on the back. The writer was very excited by the fact that Ken was left handed.

After being featured on the Red Sox in ‘71, Brett’s vagabond odyssey begins. Traded to the Brewers in October 1971, the next spring Topps gave him a traditional traded pose, featuring an upturned bill to obfuscate the cap insignia. However, part of the Boston script is visible on his uniform. Then the fun begins. A trade to the Phillies results in an airbrushed classic cap and poorly altered jersey trim in ‘73. Ken is on the move again ‘74, resulting a true masterpiece.

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His trade to the Pirates necessitates an airbrush job using a mustard yellow palate. Apparently, the “air brusher” forgot that the Pirates cap featured a black bill. The spectacular all yellow cap has a nice velour look, reminiscent of Dock Ellis’ flocked helmet in the ‘71 All-Star game.

1971 All Star Dock Ellis Batting Helmet

After two unaltered cards, it’s back to the paint jobs. Ken has a “Traded” card in ‘76 with drawn on Yankee pinstripes. This is followed by an ersatz Angels cap in ‘78, Dodgers in ‘80 and Royals in ‘81.

There may be another player with six or more airbrushed cards, but I’m crowning Ken Brett “King of the Airbush Era.”

It’s Fun to Share, But…

A great joy that comes with the SABR Baseball Cards Committee is sharing what we have, what we want or what we discover. I genuinely enjoy that and, in many ways, it’s a key part of why we like collecting. Telling people what we own is an important piece of the equation, whether it comes from pride or bragging. There’s an old Cindy Crawford joke about that. (See bottom of post; I won’t interrupt my flow here.)

I wonder, though, what becomes too much information. If I had a case of unopened 1952 Topps high number packs (I don’t), would I share that? Should I share that? It strikes me as dangerously provocative and, though I like you all, I don’t know you.

“Hey, did I ever tell you guys about that unopened case of 1952’s I have? I keep them next to my desk in my office.” That seems like an excessive share and a tad dangerous.

1952Topps Case2

I wonder too if there’s etiquette on asking what a fellow collector has. “Hey dude, I see you collect pre-war cards. Do you have the T206 Sherry Magee error card? That’s really valuable.” Maybe I’m overly suspicious, but that kind of approach makes me paranoid.

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I’ve been thinking about this as I see various collectors’ posts, whether here our on our Facebook page (or on the Baseball Card Freaks Facebook page, which, I believe, is a closed group). I don’t want to be a downer and start promoting my concerns, but I often wonder why people post about excessive pricey items they own.

Anyway, it’s been on my mind, so I’ve got nothing more to add as per usual, about cards I’m looking for, sets I’m collecting, or general hobby stuff. I am very curious if others have these same thoughts, or at least similar ones. Let me know.

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Now here’s the Cindy Crawford joke, though I used to hear it about Claudia Schiffer too:

A young single guy finds himself stranded on a deserted island. As he washes ashore, he sees a woman passed out in the sand. Able to perform CPR on her, he saves her life. Suddenly, he realizes that the woman is Cindy Crawford. Immediately, Cindy falls in love with the man. Days and weeks go by, and they’re making passionate love morning, noon and night.

One day she notices he’s looking kind of glum.

“What’s the matter, sweetheart?” she asks. “We have a wonderful life together and I’m in love with you. Is there something wrong? Is there anything I can do?”

He says, “Actually, Cindy, there is. Would you mind, putting on my shirt and pants?”

“Sure,” she says, “If it’ll help.”

He takes off his shirt and pants and she puts it on.

“Okay, would you put on my hat now, and draw a little mustache on your face?” he asks.

“Whatever you want, sweetie,” she says, and does so.

Then he says, “Now, would you start walking around the edge of the island?”

She starts walking around the perimeter of the island. He sets off in the other direction. They meet up half way around the island a few minutes later. He rushes up to her, grabs her by the shoulders, and says, “Dude! You’ll never believe who I’m sleeping with!”

Little Black Rectangles (Or, In the Eye of the Beholder)

In my quest for sets to complete, manageable sets, not too expensive for a one-time purchase, I’ve begun to look, in earnest, at old Topps inserts. I’ve got my share – 1969 Deckle and Decals (see last post), a random assortment of others – but there’s always room for more.

I’d like to grab some 1968 and 1972 posters.

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I don’t have any of them and they’re pretty nice, much nicer than the 1970 posters I do have

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(though not as nice as the 1967 pinups). But, since I have none, will I really put together a set? I’m pretty doubtful. Still, I’ll occasionally look for a lot and, if I do end up snatching some, we’ll see what happens.

What’s been grabbing me are the 1970 and 1971 Topps Scratch-Offs. Why? Not because of looks. These are the most unattractive inserts that Topps ever produced. Ugly little head shots on the front, a centerfold of black rectangles and a back that clearly didn’t take too long to design, all housed on rough cardboard (that’s how I remember them).

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It’s in the remembering that the scratch offs live.  They’re inserts I had, unlike the posters which I never did, so don’t have any feelings about one way or the other. I have a connection to these scratch offs that is real and, though they repulse me in most ways, they attract me in others.

Interestingly, I don’t recall them in 1971 packs, only in 1970. Turns out there is a distinguishing mark to tell the two apart – 1970’s are white inside, 1971’s red.

70-71T-Scratchoffs-backs

Both sets are 24 cards, both should be pretty reasonable to buy unscratched (though a NM 1970 set recently sold for $117.50, way more than I’d consider.)  I’m thinking $65 for 1970, $75-80 for 1971, harder to come by, which is why I don’t remember them.

I’ve also been slightly obsessed with the 1970 Topps Football Glossy inserts, but that’s for another blog.

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