A closer look at the 1936 Diamond Stars release

In my previous post I provided not only an overview of the 1934-36 Diamond Stars set but a deep dive into the cards that came out in 1935. Unless you are already an expert in Diamond Stars I recommend that you read that article or at least its introduction before jumping into this one.

My goal in this second article is to examine the 1936 Diamond Stars release, which consisted of cards 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 22, 26, 30, 31, and 73-108. Here is the checklist depicted graphically.

Particularly if you already know the very tidy subsets of cards that comprised the 1934 and 1935 releases, this listing of cards will appear quite haphazard at first glance. 73-108, that makes sense, but what’s with the random looking run of cards at the beginning?

That’s a question I’m very interested in attacking here, but before I do I should toss in a curveball. Going back to the run of cards 73-108, I’d like to split it into three groups, with the third one proving the most mysterious.

  • Cards 73-84: Repeated cards from 1935 release
  • Cards 85-96: Brand new cards for 1936
  • Cards 97-108: Renumbering of earlier cards in the set

Bill Dickey’s card #103 in 1936 is a good example of this third category as a nearly identical card numbered 11 was part of the 1934 and 1935 releases.

Now that you know the final twelve cards are renumbered repeats of earlier cards, you probably want to know which earlier cards. Here you go! The blue cells in the first four rows are the original versions of the twelve cards in the final row.

We now have a second way, though more imprecise than we’d like, to describe the 1936 release.

  • Largely a repeat of cards 1-36, though twelve are renumbered 97-108
  • Total repeat of cards 73-84
  • Twelve brand new cards, 85-96

If you’re like me that first bullet bothers you. What’s with card 46? And why not just repeat all of 1-36, or since 24 cards were selected, 1-24?

I’ll start with a partial answer to the second question. Card #7 is an example of one that is not recycled for 1936. It belongs to Lew Fonseca.

For more detail on Fonseca’s 1934 and 1935 cards, see my previous article. At present, suffice it to say that Fonseca’s final game as a player was way back in 1933 and even his managing stint only lasted until May 8, 1934. Therefore, a card in 1936 would be an odd thing indeed.

I suppose my same logic would dictate that a Fonseca card in 1935, which definitely did happen, was nearly as odd. However, that Fonseca card was fait accompli once the plan was made to recycle the entire 1934 issue in 1935.

But hey, if it’s 1936 and the plan is to not re-release the whole stack, Fonseca’s is an absolutely perfect candidate to exclude. So do all the “blanks” from that first run of 36 cards have a similar story? Unfortunately, the very first omission, card #1, provides an answer in the negative. Shazbot!

If there’s a story to the skipped cards in the early part of the checklist, it looks like it will be a complicated one. I’ll return to the matter at the very end of this article, but for now let’s look at the other oddity in the early part of the checklist.

Recall that card #46 was recycled (as card #106) seemingly out of the blue. Though you might anticipate the card to be a “must have” superstar, it actually belongs to Red Lucas. Hmm, that’s random.

Or is it?

Something you may remember from my previous article is that the Red Lucas card from 1935 had an uncorrected error. Despite being a member of the Pirates since the start of the 1934 season, the Lucas bio still had him with Cincinnati.

A-ha! Then the new card of Red was to correct the error? That makes sense! But…

The part of me that likes to believe there is order in the baseball card universe might imagine that Lucas was included in 1936 to correct the error, only someone goofed and forgot to do it. Of course, readers who prefer to abide by Occam’s Razor and other such advances in post-Medieval thought are welcome to regard the selection of Lucas as arbitrary.

We’ll come back to all of this soon enough, but for now let’s abandon these detours in favor of the main questions I took on for the 1935 cards and hope to repeat for 1936.

  • Were all the cards released at the same time?
  • Roughly when during the year were the various cards released?

As before, I’ll look at four categories of clues.

  1. Team updates
  2. Structure of uncut sheets
  3. Biographical clues
  4. Population reports

TEAM UPDATES

Al Simmons (#2) went from the White Sox to the Tigers on December 10, 1935, so his Diamond Stars cards from 1934 and 1935 showed him with Chicago naturally enough. For the 1936 release National Chicle took the trouble of removing “SOX” from Al’s jersey. (If you’re interested I have a separate article on all such uniform variants across the set. There are five or six in all, depending how you count.)

This jersey update tells us the Simmons card was finalized after December 10, not exactly big news but still something tangible that supports what we might have otherwise merely assumed.

This next player, based on the date involved, becomes much more exciting. The St. Louis Browns selected Roy Mahaffey (#10) after he was waived by the Philadelphia Athletics on January 29, 1936. The removal of the “A” logo from Mahaffey’s jersey on his 1936 card tells us the card was finalized after January 29.

We looked at Dixie Walker’s card #12 in my 1935 article, but we can now look at it again based on his May 1, 1936 move from the Yankees to the White Sox. His 1936 card (far right) never identifies a team. However, the references to his daunting destiny of having to replace Babe Ruth on the Yankees have been removed.

Whether the text was removed because the Yankees waived him or simply because George Selkirk emerged as Ruth’s true replacement in 1935 is something we can’t say for sure, but I find the latter to be more likely. Had the card’s production followed the team change, I’d expect some reference to it on the card (i.e., “former Yankee” or “new Chicago outfielder”).

Heinie Manush (#30) left the Senators for the Red Sox on December 17, 1935. Again National Chicle responded with a jersey update, omitting the “W” from Heinie’s sleeve.

Kiki Cuyler (#31) changed teams midway through the 1935 season (waived by Cubs on July 3, signed by Reds on July 5), which would normally be outside the window of interest for the 1936 release. I’ll include his card here nonetheless since his 1936 version captured the team update. (I’ll also speculate later that a possible reason for his inclusion in the 1936 series was to make this update.)

Irving Burns (#75) went from the Browns to the Tigers on April 30, 1936. However, his (very cool!) 1936 card—like his 1935 card—portrayed him as a Brown. (See cap logo and first sentence of bio.) We can infer, therefore, that his 1936 card was likely finalized before April 30.

John Babich (#82) went from the Brooklyn Dodgers to the Boston Bees on February 6, 1936, and we see the change reflected in his uniform. We can also conclude that his card was finalized after February 6.

Ethan Allen (#92) went from the Phillies to the Cubs on May 21, 1936. However, his 1936 Diamond Stars card portrays him with Philadelphia. (See cap logo and first line of bio.) We can infer, therefore, that his 1936 card was likely finalized before May 21.

Al Lopez (#97, originally #28) went from the Brooklyn Dodgers to the Boston Bees on December 12, 1935. As no logos or team names appeared on his Dodger card, only his card back was updated to reflect the change (see last sentence of bio, “Al Lopez, of the Bees…”).

This completes our study of team changes. Since there were so many players involved, I’ll do a quick summary before moving on.

Repeated cards from early part of checklist

  • Simmons (#2) – Finalized after December 10
  • Mahaffey #10) – Finalized after January 29
  • Dixie Walker (#12) – No conclusion
  • Heinie Manush (#30) – Finalized after December 17

Repeated cards from end of 1935 release

  • Irving Burns (#75) – Finalized before April 30
  • John Babich (#82) – Finalized after February 6

Brand new cards for 1936

  • Ethan Allen (#92) – Finalized before May 21

Renumbered cards from earlier releases

  • Al Lopez (#97) – Finalized after December 12

Ultimately, this feels like a case where a lot of information doesn’t (yet) add up to anything. In particular, the data above are perfectly consistent with the entire 1936 release occurring as one big clump of 48 cards around Opening Day but equally consistent with a staggered release of some kind. Finally, even for a staggered release, we have no clues to suggest the order of the groupings.

Still, so we don’t walk away feeling totally empty-handed, I’ll update my graphical depiction of the checklist, using bold red to indicate cards where a significant update was made, either a team change or the revamped Walker bio. What emerges, if only barely, is a possible logic to the selection of the early repeats on the checklist.

On the other hand, there were six players in the 1935 set whose later team changes would have made them excellent candidates for 1936. However, none cracked the set.

UNCUT SHEETS

As I have encountered no additional uncut sheets beyond the one examined in the last article, we’ll simply speculate as before that cards were released in multiples of 12. Notably, the number of cards in the 1936 release is 48, which is 4 times 12, and we have already seen that the cards naturally divide themselves into four logical groupings, each containing exactly twelve cards.

CLUES IN BIOS

Beyond what already came up under “Team Updates” I went 0 for 19 in hunting for clues in the set’s first 19 bios. This next card takes me to 0 for 20 but it’s worthy of sharing nonetheless. You may recall the Chiozza card from my 1935 article where I noted his bio incorrectly billed the second year player as “new to the major leagues this year.”

Well, here he is in 1936 with that very same write-up. Louis Chiozza, the eternal rookie! Perhaps like Red Lucas his card was included specifically so it could be corrected…only it wasn’t. In other news, if I’m looking at the picture right, it looks like the batter has managed a rare 9-3 ground out.

Worth mention is card 87, Steve O’Neill. As he had not played since 1928, he was in the set purely as Cleveland’s manager. There were clearly more accomplished managers who could have been included in his place, so O’Neill’s is not a card I would have expected to fill one of only 12 new slots in the set. Then again, he did replace Walter Johnson, as the bio notes, and his card provided a means for documenting this within the set. (Note that Bucky Harris is another long retired player included in this portion of the set as a manager.)

There is also a small bread crumb pertaining to timing at the very end of his bio, essentially a prediction for the coming season. (Spoiler alert: The Guardians finished in fifth place, 22.5 games behind the Yankees.) More than likely such text signals a bio that was written either before the season started or before it was much underway.

The next card in the set, George Selkirk (#88), again offers no help with our timing questions but does provide a nice bookend for the Dixie Walker card back trilogy.

As with the O’Neill card, the card of Ray Hayworth (#90) offers a small clue as to timing. Notably the last sentence tells us “the Tigers are favored to repeat in the 1936 pennant race.”

Though the team rebounded to a respectable second place finish, the Tigers started the year poorly and were as low as sixth place 60 games into the season. This suggests to me that the bio was written before the season or very near the beginning rather than any sizable number of games into it.

We’ve already looked at the Al Lopez card, but I’ll now call attention to a detail not previously discussed.

The second to last sentence in the bio refers collectors to a different card in the set, card 9, to learn more about catching. As you might imagine, young collectors in 1936 would have been justifiably frustrated if there were no way to obtain that card from packs. Thankfully, card 9 (Mickey Cochrane) was in packs, as one of the “random” repeats from the early part of the checklist.

Once again, a lot of hunting landed very little in the way of clues, but we can now update our previous summary with at least a modicum of new information, shown in italics.

Repeated cards from early part of checklist

  • Simmons (#2) – Finalized after December 10
  • Mahaffey #10) – Finalized after January 29
  • Dixie Walker (#12) – No conclusion
  • Heinie Manush (#30) – Finalized after December 17

Repeated cards from end of 1935 release

  • Irving Burns (#75) – Finalized before April 30
  • John Babich (#82) – Finalized after February 6

Brand new cards for 1936

  • Steve O’Neill (#87) – Probably finalized before season
  • Ethan Allen (#92) – Finalized before May 21
  • Ray Hayworth (#90) – Probably finalized before season

Renumbered cards from earlier releases

  • Al Lopez (#97) – Finalized after December 12

As before, we do not yet have enough information to draw any interesting conclusions. Thus far nothing precludes a single, early season 48-card release, nor does anything suggest it.

PSA POPULATION REPORT

Happily, the PSA population report seems to tell us a lot.

Before interpreting the rest of the data, we’ll focus on the very tiny bar for card 12 (Dixie Walker) so it doesn’t bias our broader read of the data. For whatever reason, Walker’s 1936 card didn’t report his 1935 stats at the bottom, as would have been typical for other 1936 cards. As a result, PSA has misidentified many of Walker’s 1936 cards as 1935, even though the blue ink and other biographical clues clearly distinguish the card as 1936.

Ignoring the anomalous Walker bar, along with the “spikes” corresponding to more frequently graded star players, we see at least three groupings of cards evident in the graph.

  • Cards 2-84 (i.e., the “random repeats” and the 12 repeats from the end of 1935)
  • Cards 85-96 (i.e., the brand new cards in the 1936 set)
  • Cards 97-108 (i.e., the renumbered repeats from 1935)

I furthermore believe there is enough differentiation in that first grouping to arrive at four distinct groupings.

Though none of our earlier analysis even hinted at the nature of the 1936 release, I think this graph provides everything we need to conclude the 1936 Diamond Stars set was issued as four separate series. I think there is more we can say as well. What follows is an admittedly speculative narrative but one that seems to make sense empirically and logically.

The very low populations of cards 73-84 can suggest a series that was available only briefly. Recalling that the best way to ensure cards by Opening Day is to go with cards you already have, I suspect this series kicked off the 1936 release right around Opening Day, buying National Chicle a bit of time to prepare cards 85-96, which featured all new players for 1936. The gap between the two series wouldn’t have been long at all, with 85-96 likely hitting shelves by early May.

At some point the brand new cards ran their course, and one would normally assume another all new series would take its place. Clearly there were still numerous players available, so I have to assume there were business decisions that dictated otherwise.

Rather than throw in the towel entirely, National Chicle opted for the more economical path of simply recycling their cards from the early part of the 1935 release. These cards hadn’t been in packs for a while and they even featured some important team and bio updates. Unfortunately, as the population report suggests, collectors more or less yawned at the reissues.

Not ready to give up just yet but also unwilling or unable to pay the higher price of legitimately new cards, this is where National Chicle resorted to some trickery. Renumbering their next series as 97-108 seems to have provided a decent bump to sales but not enough of one to continue the strategy. After all, even recycled cards carry printing and distribution costs, not to mention opportunity costs. Whether there was more bang for the buck elsewhere or simply no more bucks to bang, the Diamond Stars set that was originally to have included 240 players came to an end after 96 players and 108 cards.

I suspect other storylines are possible, but this is the one that makes the most sense to me. It’s also one that allows me to return to the original question of why the 1936 repeats at the top of the checklist appear so haphazard.

Viewing the set as completed according to plan, the skips and randomness beg explanation. However, if we view the set as something abandoned while still in progress, then the skips make sense. The question is no longer why Lefty Grove was omitted. We might simply infer that his card was destined for a later grouping. From the looks of things, perhaps all of 1-36, 1-48, or even 1-72 was destined for reissue.

As for why a non-consecutive approach prevailed, this is something we also saw with the 1933 Goudey set. Missing cards 1, 3, 6, and 7, for example, keep their unwitting customers buying packs in desperate search for cards they have no idea aren’t there. Provided all the blanks are eventually filled in, no harm done, and I do think this was the original plan. So yes to Lefty Grove, and what the heck…yes to Lew Fonseca also!

Of course, none of this was to be, thereby ending one of my favorite sets of all time not with a proverbial bang but a whimper, notwithstanding the actual banging on the boardroom door by a defiant creative director.

“But guys…guys! We’ve got some new cards ready!”

“Too late, pal. And what’s with all the crazy zig zags anyway?”

A closer look at the 1935 Diamond Stars release

I suggested in my previous post that I might dig in a bit more on the release schedule for 1934-36 Diamond Stars. Rather than go in order, I’ll start in the middle with 1935 since the Cy Blanton card is already fresh in my mind.

You may already know that the Diamond Stars set was released over a three-year period, according to the following sequence.

  • 1934: Cards 1-24
  • 1935: Cards 1-84
  • 1936: Cards 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 22, 26, 30, 31, and 73-108

You’ll quickly notice that there is overlap across the three years, with cards 1-24 from 1934 repeated in 1935 and 24 more haphazardly numbered cards from 1935 repeated in 1936. Among other things, this led to a handful of cards (2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, and 22) being released all three years.

Buddy Myer is one such example and his card backs offer the opportunity to show that even the repeated (or three-peated) cards nonetheless changed from year to year. The most prominent and documented change comes in the updated stat lines. For example, the 1934 version notes Myer’s 1933 batting average while the 1935 version notes Myer’s 1934 batting average. Additionally, Myer’s age is updated from card to card to card. There is also variation in copyright lines, though it’s not as straightforward as 1934 to 1935 to 1936.

Beyond what’s evident from the numbering schemes, there is a second category of repeated players in the set. The final dozen cards from 1936, numbered 97-108, are virtual repeats of earlier cards from the first two years, though new numbers on the back render them a different class of repeats from those already noted. Bill Dickey, whose card was numbered 11 in 1934 and 1935, returns to the set in 1936 as card 103. (There is probably a story to this, but you won’t get it here.)

Now that we’ve covered the basic structure of the three-year release, we are ready to take a close look at the 84 cards that make up the 1935 series. These 84 cards fall quite naturally into two subsets: 1-24, which debuted in 1934, and 25-84, which reflected 60 brand new players.

Absent further scrutiny, I’m tempted to view 1-24 in the same way I view cards 1-24 of the 1934 Goudey set, which you may recall were repeats right down to the artwork of their 1933 Goudey counterparts. How better to put new packs on shelves pronto than to update some stats and ages but otherwise go with what you’ve already got? My conjecture, therefore, is that cards 1-24 came out together, presumably at the beginning of the season, ahead of the rest of the set.

One question then is whether there is evidence for this. Another question is how the remaining cards would have been released. For instance were all 60 issued together, or did they comprise multiple, smaller releases?

Following my approach with the Goudey sets, I’ll rely primarily on small bread crumbs in attempting to answer these questions. As such, I’ll state in advance that my results are truly speculative and should not be viewed as airtight. As for the categories of bread crumbs at my disposal, they primarily fall into four categories:

  1. Team updates
  2. Structure of uncut sheets
  3. Biographical clues
  4. Population reports (optional)

TEAM UPDATES

My very first article on the Diamond Stars set focused on players who changed teams across the set’s three-year release. As my current focus is the 1935 series, the players of greatest interest are those who changed teams in 1934 or 1935.

Among the first 24 cards on the checklist, the first relevant team change was George Blaeholder, who went from the Browns to the Athletics on May 21, 1935. That Blaeholder’s 1935 card (below) still has him with St. Louis suggests that the card was finalized before May 21.

The next card to reflect a team change is that of Dick Bartell, card 15 in the set. Bartell moved from the Phillies to the Giants on November 1, 1934, and his 1935 card reflects this by removing the Philadelphia logo from his jersey and cap. In terms of a release schedule, Bartell’s card only indicates finalization after November 1.

While not a team change per se Lew Fonseca went from team to no team in early 1934. He entered that season’s Spring Training as not only Sox manager but a contender for the starting first baseman’s job, only to hang up his playing spikes for good before the season began. While he did continue as manager, his stint lasted only 15 games before Lou Comiskey gave him the axe.

Fonseca’s 1934 Diamond Stars card identifies him as “first baseman and manager of the Chicago White Sox,” whereas his 1935 card identifies him as “formerly first baseman of the Chicago White Sox.” Of course, since the status change was so far back in the past, all it really tells us is that Fonseca’s 1935 card was finalized sometime after May 8, 1934, the day Fonseca was let go.

A final card to include in this grouping is that of Dixie Walker, card 12 in the set. In truth, Walker remained a Yankee throughout the entire 1935 season. However, it’s a different player’s team change that will interest us here.

Walker’s 1934 bio establishes him (no pressure!) as “the man who is expected to fill Babe Ruth’s shoes when the great Yankee slugger retires.” However, his 1935 card modifies the language to read “the man who is expected to fill the gap left by Babe Ruth moving to Boston (Braves).” We can put a date to the Bambino’s move (February 26) that also serves as the earliest date Walker’s 1935 card could have been finalized.

Among the block of cards from 25-84, the first player on the checklist to change teams during 1934-1935 was Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler, who was released by the Cubs on July 3 and signed by the Reds on July 5. While Cuyler’s 1936 Diamond Stars card places him on the Reds, his 1935 card still has him with Chicago (See final sentence of bio.) We can therefore infer that his card was likely finalized before July 3.

The next team change belongs to Blondy Ryan (card 40), who moved from the Phillies to the Yankees on August 6, 1935. As Ryan’s 1935 card keeps him with the Phillies, we might assume it was finalized prior to August 6.

The case of Red Lucas (card 46) is an odd one in that Lucas began the 1934 season with the Pirates but was nonetheless depicted on his 1935 (and 1936!) cards with the Reds. I simply regard this as an error rather than any clue to the card’s release date.

Card 53 in the set belongs to Oscar Melillo, who went from the Browns to the Red Sox on May 27, 1935. His card, one of my favorites in the set, depicts him with St. Louis, suggesting finalization prior to May 27.

The situation is similar with Glenn Myatt, card 58 in the set. Though he moved from the Indians to the Giants on May 26, 1935, his card⁠—another beauty⁠—still shows him with the former.

So far then we have seen nothing that conflicts with my theory of the 1935 release. However, we have also seen nothing conflicting with the idea that all 84 cards might have come out all at once at the beginning of the season. If there’s a bread crumb to point us elsewhere we haven’t found it yet.

That all changes with this next card, number 72, of Tony Piet who moved from the Reds to the White Sox on June 4, 1935. (His card bio notes he is “now with Chicago White Sox” though it curiously ignores his tenure with Cincinnati.) Because Piet enters the set with the White Sox we can infer rather positively that his card was finalized after June 4. This is exciting to someone like me!

As no other team changes occurred during the period of interest, we are left for now with the following conclusions.

  • Some of the 1935 cards were likely finalized early in the season.
  • At least one of the 1935 cards was finalized after June 4.

CLUES FROM UNCUT SHEETS

In contrast with the Goudey sets, there appears to be only one uncut sheet of Diamond Stars upon which to base any research, and even then it’s front is blank! On the bright side, it does come from our year of interest, 1935.

Rather than have you get out your magnifying glass, I’ll simply list the numbers:

63 72 65 64 63 72
69 66 67 70 69 66
61 62 71 68 61 62
63 72 65 64 63 72
69 66 67 70 69 66

Though there are 30 cards on the sheet, it’s worth noting that only 12 different cards are shown, specifically cards 61-72. Rows 4 and 5 are simply repeats of rows 1 and 2, while columns 5 and 6 are repeats of columns 1 and 2.

Again, this is not airtight, but my inference from this sheet, because it includes the Tony Piet card, is that this entire grouping of twelve cards was finalized after June 4.

Though less supported by any evidence, I would further suppose similar for cards 73-84 since they at least numerically come after the cards on this sheet.

CY BLANTON AND OTHER ASSORTED CLUES

The card that sparked my interest in the 1935 Diamond Stars release schedule was that of Pirates hurler Cy Blanton, card 57 in the set.

As noted in my previous article, his bio establishes him as among “the most effective pitchers in the major leagues” despite having almost no major league services prior to 1935. We can infer from the bio that Blanton’s card was finalized during rather than before the 1935 season and specifically late enough in the year for his hot start to register as more than a fluke.

If we assume Blanton would have need to pitch at least three good games to warrant such a write-up we conclude that his card would have been finalized after April 28. If we further assume Blanton’s card would have been part of a sequentially numbered sheet of 12 (plus repeats) we can then conclude cards 49-60 were similarly finalized after April 28. Notably, this sheet would have included two players we examined already, Oscar Melillo (53) and Glenn Myatt (58), whose cards we inferred were finalized before May 27 and May 26 respectively. The suggestion, therefore, is that this sheet was finalized between April 29 and May 26.

John Whitehead

A player with a somewhat similar story to Blanton’s is John Whitehead, a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox. He did not make his big league debut until April 19, 1935, yet is described on his card as “the sensational White Sox pitching find.” While this could be based solely on his strong record in the Texas League or an impressive spring training, I’m more inclined to believe the moniker came from his remarkable start to the 1935 season. His record after 8 games? 8 wins, no losses, and nary even a no decision!

Of course the only place to go from there is downhill, and downhill Whitehead went! Following his undefeated April and May, he went winless in June, losing all six games he pitched and posting an ERA of 4.41.

As with Blanton, I’ll assume it would have taken at least three games to achieve “sensational” status. If so, Whitehead’s card would have been finalized after April 28. This is the same date noted for Blanton, and the two cards are on the same sheet. In my book this is another bread crumb supporting cards 48-59 having been finalized between the end of April and late May 1935.

Jimmie Foxx

Fellow SABR Baseball Cards author Randy Robbins dedicated a full article to the Diamond Stars Jimmie Foxx card in May 2020, owing to its unusual depiction of Foxx as a catcher and the bio’s citing of his split time behind the plate and at first base “since Micky [sic] Cochrane became manager of Detroit.”

Randy noted in his article that Foxx did not catch at all in 1934, Cochrane’s first year with the Tigers, but did begin the 1935 season at catcher. In fact, Foxx was the starting catcher in 24 of the team’s first 26 games before reassuming the reigns at first base. This led Randy to speculate that Foxx’s card was issued sometime during the 1935 season, a theory that I fully endorse.

From what I can tell, the decision to have Foxx catch in 1935 was announced well ahead of the start of the season. Here is the October 2, 1934, Rutland (Vermont) Daily Herald, for example.

Therefore it’s certainly possible the Foxx bio could have included the information about catching in anticipation of the coming season. However, it seems more likely that the text would have been written after Foxx had caught some number of games in 1935. If we assume Foxx had at least three games under his belt, then we’re looking at April 20 or later.

As the Foxx card is number 64 in the set, it was part of the uncut sheet seen previously that also included the Tony Piet card. We have already established the Piet card, hence likely all cards from 61-72, as being finalized after June 4, a window that makes the Foxx bio even more apt. (By June 4, Foxx had started 12 games at first base to go with his 24 starts at catcher and two starts at third base.)

Lou Chiozza

The bio for Lou Chiozza, card 80 in the set, reads as though 1935 was his debut season. On the contrary, he played 134 games in 1934, suggesting his bio is simply in error or was written the year before.

At the moment I’ll simply regard this card as an oddity and avoid any inferences as to the set’s 1935 release schedule.

CONCLUSIONS

In order to synthesize all of this information into a coherent release schedule, a couple assumptions are helpful.

  • Cards were finalized and released in groups of 12 or multiples of 12 such as 24 or 36.
  • Groups were finalized and released in order.

Earliest group of cards

Our look at Dixie Walker’s card (#12) and its Babe Ruth reference established that his card (hence cards 1-12 at least) were finalized after February 26 while our look at George Blaeholder (#13) suggested that cards 13-24 were finalized before May 21. In other words, the door is wide open to having all these cards ready by Opening Day, even if the late change to the Walker card might have created a bit of a hurry-up.

It’s possible that cards 25-36 if not 25-48 fall into this same grouping since all we saw is that Kiki Cuyler (#31) and Blondy Ryan (#40) were likely finalized before July 3 and August 6 respectively.

May grouping

Based on the Oscar Melillo (#53) and Glenn Myatt (#58) cards, we concluded cards 49-60 were likely finalized before May 26. On the other hand, the Cy Blanton (#57) and John Whitehead (#51) cards suggested finalization after April 29. Give or take a couple days, we can infer that cards 49-60 were finalized sometime in May, hence likely to have hit shelves either in late May or sometime in June.

There is no evidence to refute any of the cards from 1-48 from landing in this grouping. However, I’ll stick to my guns that 1-24 would have been on shelves by Opening Day, leaving only 25-48 uncertain.

June and beyond

The Tony Piet (#72) card required that cards 61-72 be finalized after June 4, a fact supported by the Jimmie Foxx (#64) card as well. This means cards 73-84 would have been finalized after June 4 as well, either with cards 61-72 or afterward.

Something I haven’t touched on yet is that cards 1-72 from 1935 feature green ink on the back while cards 73-84 can be found with green or blue ink.

My takeaway from this is that cards 61-84 were not produced together and that cards 73-84 formed their own final release.

Obviously there is significant guesswork throughout my analysis, so my conclusions may well be incorrect. Nonetheless I’ll sum up my speculative release schedule as follows.

  • By Opening Day – Cards 1-24
  • Probably later – Cards 25-48
  • Late May or June release – Cards 49-60
  • Late June or later release – Cards 61-72
  • After that – Cards 73-84

As always I’m happy to hear in the Comments if you have information that either supports or casts doubt on my findings. Down the road I’ll take a largely similar approach to the 1934 and 1936 Diamond Stars releases.

EXTRA FOR DIE-HARDS

While it’s often (correctly) said that population reports neither reflect true population nor scarcity, I’m a believer that certain inferences from population reports are nonetheless valid, including what I’m about to apply to the Diamond Stars release.

With apologies to those viewing on their phones, here is the PSA population report for 1935 Diamond Stars.

One thing that’s easy to spot is that the graph has numerous spikes, i.e., bars that are much taller than their neighbors. Card 44 is one such example, as are 50 and 64. Not surprisingly these anomalies in the data represent Hall of Famers and stars more likely to be graded than commons from the set. If you like, the three cards noted are Rogers Hornsby, Mel Ott, and Jimmie Foxx. Conversely, the graph has other bars that are about the same height as other bars in their neighborhood. Cards 55-58 are good examples of this and correspond to Tony Cuccinello, Gus Suhr, Cy Blanton, and Glenn Myatt.

If we train our eyes on the graph and ignore the spikes, an interesting pattern emerges. The graph begins with a neighborhood of low bars, and it corresponds precisely to cards 1-24. The graph then progresses through a set of significantly taller bars. This occurs precisely from cards 25-48. Following that, the bars continue at an intermediate height, which you can either associate with cards 49-84 or perhaps segment into two groupings: 49-72 (slightly taller) and 73-84 (slightly shorter).

I’ve added vertical red bars and horizontal pink bars to the graph to illustrate these neighborhoods.

You’ll recall from my initial analysis that there was some uncertainty as to whether cards 25-48 were released with cards 1-24 or comprised all or part of a later release. I believe the population graph now makes this clear, while perhaps also suggesting the set’s initial 24 cards were offered only briefly as if to buy time to get the new cards ready.

You’ll also recall from my initial analysis that cards 49-60 and 61-72 were presumed to have been finalized at different times. However, the graph is fairly flat across the entire interval from 49-72. There are a few ways this apparent discrepancy can be reconciled.

  • While the cards may have been finalized in distinct batches of 12, the two batches certainly could have been released at the same time.
  • The two batches could have been released separately but simply in similar quantities to one another.
  • While difficult to discern visually there is in fact a small but not necessarily significant difference in the bar heights with 61-72 being slightly taller than 49-60.

Were I to refine my original and highly speculative release schedule based on the population report data, I’d probably end up with something like this.

  • Cards 1-24: Early April ahead of Opening Day
  • Cards 25-48: Late April, after Opening Day
  • Cards 49-60: Mid-June or so, with much longer delay than from first release to second release.
  • Cards 61-72: Late July or so
  • Cards 73-84: Early September or so

If you made it this far, I have good news! The fun continues in my next article with a similar analysis of the 1936 release.

Cards in the Time of COVID

As for many people in the time of COVID, it was a real struggle to feel a connection with other people when everything shut down. Part of it was the fact that schools, workplaces, stadiums, museums, and so many other spots were closed, but it was also the shock of facing a huge public health crisis at the same time as a social justice crisis, and a political crisis, that created both a desire to connect with people and a fear of being out in the open.

Under that mindset, I joined SABR in June 2020. I had thought of being a member for a while, but the possibility of having found a place where I could share experiences with like-minded people was a very good one. Now that it has been a year, I have been spending some time reflecting on the community and how great it’s been to find new outlets and joys.

One of the first things that I did was become involved with a few committees, and I have Jason Schwartz and the Baseball Card Research Committee to thank for that. I don’t have all my cards from when I first started collecting them in high school, but around the time that I joined SABR, I started taking stock of the handful that I owned and what they meant to me. I visited the grave of Walter Johnson, the great Senators pitcher who is the namesake of my high school. I also listened in on a panel discussion with this committee that looked at the future of baseball cards with Jason, joined by Nick Vossbrink, Micah Johnson, Scott Hodges, and some really talented card artists who were starting to make their mark. This got me thinking about the possibilities of baseball cards as something more than ephemera, but as expressions of popular culture that have their own unique relationship to and comments on the art and culture around them.

This realization began a few months of thinking about that relationship, and doing some research and examining how cards and art are related. I learned that, despite notable examples like the Burdick Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, that are in renowned collections, it’s actually rare for cards and other ephemera to be in major curated collections, often because of the sheer volume. (When collector Jefferson Burdick approached the Met to donate his card collection, the museum accepted it only on the condition that he catalogue it himself, which he did over a period of decades.)

I contemplated the original 1952 Topps set that used photorealistic player paintings set with reproduced signatures, a look that is at once timeless and, even seventy years on, innovative; the 1961 design, which uses set of squares of color like Piet Mondrian’s paintings; and the 1972 set, which had a Pop Art theme that has stood the test of time, especially while being reproduced by Topps at least twice since.

I presented what I had learned to the Baltimore Babe Ruth SABR chapter, which became a very illuminating discussion that touched on sets I had never heard of, Japanese baseball cards, which are incredibly colorful and beautiful and distinctly their own, and got me thinking about how to create something new from something old.

And then I started painting again. I say “again” because I took art and photography in high school, and even as an adult often carried sketchbooks, pencils, and watercolors around with me. As the research I had done marinated in my mind, the idea of creating something new — small paintings — from something old — baseball cards that were decades old — took shape.

Around December, I started making paintings, pulling mostly from the Fleer 1991 and Donruss 1988 set that I had picked up a few years ago and that followed me as I moved a few times. 

I experimented with my process a little bit and found that if I wanted to create a robust surface to paint on, I needed to start with a one or two layers of gesso. I made paintings that recalled the golden icons that I grew to love while I was studying Russian history and politics at college; others that used fields of contrasting color, often showing a lot of motion; still others that were landscapes during different seasons; and some that didn’t fit neatly within any category.

Over time, I’ve created some special galleries focused on Jewish baseball players; women who played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League; parents and children in professional baseball; and currently I’m working on a set of the “Black Aces,” Black pitchers who have won at least 20 games in a major league season. You can see many of them on my Section 514 blog, or on my Twitter and Instagram feeds.

I’ve also had the great honor of participating in the just-finished art show and contest led by the Negro Leagues Baseball Marketplace and the Josh Gibson Foundation to draw attention to the effort to rename the baseball MVP award for the great Black catcher who passed away at the age of 35, before he could have broken the color barrier in the major leagues. To be one of 75 card artists contributing their work, exhibited in a virtual gallery and rubbing shoulders with some true giants in this area of art was a singular experience. I’m awed by the amount of creativity in the card art world, and hope to see it continue to develop.

As I write this post in July 2021, things are still very uncertain about when, or if, we will return to a life that is totally normal. It’s a not insignificant blessing, though, to have been able to use the time of COVID to find new ways of creating, based on old things that we love.

Player Collection Spotlight: Representing the 772 (or 561 or 407 or 305)

Our collecting habits are almost certainly influenced by time and place, and my own certainly are. The players I collect were primarily active in the 1980s and 1990s, the team I collect was on top of the baseball world in 1986 with their spring training site moving about two miles away from my house, and, with my formative collecting years being the late 1980s and early 1990s, I find having a single card producing company with a full MLB license maddening.

At some point, probably in the early 2000s, I began collecting “cards” of players from the area in which I grew up. “Cards” is in parentheses because I have other items of the non-card variety, including Starting Lineup figures for the few who had them as well as other assorted card-like items. While the definition of a card varies by individual, my own definition of a “card” is broad.

Port St. Lucie was small when I lived there – the title of the post shows how much the area codes changed due to population growth over the span of about 15 years. There was not actually a high school in the city of Port St. Lucie until 1989 (I was in the second class that could possibly have attended the school all four years) – so I branched out a little into the rest of St. Lucie County as well as neighboring Martin and Indian River counties. But despite its size there were a few players who made it to the show.

The most famous player from the area is almost certainly Rick Ankiel. A highly touted pitching prospect who likely would have gone higher in the draft if he didn’t have Scott Boras as his agent, he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to Rafael Furcal then proceeded to struggle with control against the Braves and Mets in the playoffs. He of course made it back to the majors as an outfielder, which, according to his book, may not have happened had he not had Boras as his agent. It’s that story which likely elevates him to the most famous player from the area.

Charles Johnson went to Fort Pierce Westwood and was drafted in the first round twice – once out of high school and once out of the University of Miami. I believe his dad was the baseball coach at Westwood for many years. He is probably the best player (at least according to WAR) to come out of the area, or at least he was until Michael Brantley came along. Again, there are dividing lines for a collection – I don’t collect Brantley because I had left the area before he became a local player. He was in the right place just at the wrong time. Brantley’s time in that area did overlap perhaps an even more famous individual from the area – you may have seen Megan Fox in a movie or two.

There are other players from the area, more minor players in the history of the game. Ed Hearn, who was born in Stuart and went to Fort Pierce Central, was a favorite of my best friend’s mom. He also happened to play for the 1986 Mets, which is good enough for me. Like Charles Johnson, Terry McGriff is a catcher out of Westwood and is actually Charles Johnson’s uncle. He’s also a cousin to Fred McGriff (who I also collect in a limited fashion though that has nothing to do with location – it has everything to do with time). A friend of mine in elementary school got Terry McGriff’s autograph when Terry visited my friend’s elementary school. Eventually that card ended up in my collection through a trade of some sort.

Danny Klassen, who went to John Carroll High School, is the closest in age to me, and while I didn’t play baseball with him (I was on the north side of Port St. Lucie and played at Sportsman’s Park; he was playing on the south side at Lyngate Park) I know many people who played on teams with him in Little League and Legion Ball. I believe he has a World Series ring with his time on the Diamondbacks. Wonderful Terrific Monds was a player I didn’t know much about, but (1) a good friend of mine’s parents couldn’t stop talking about how good he was and (2) his name is awesome. He never made it to the majors, but he has minor league cards and a handful of cards from mainstream sets due to being in the minors at the right time (a prospect in the early 1990s).

I should probably have a Jon Coutlangus collection, but alas, I think he was a year too late. At one point I identified Joe Randa as the best MLB player to attend Indian River Community College (which is now Indian River State College), so I started a Randa collection, though I don’t remember much about his IRCC career.

The more prominent players (Ankiel, Johnson, and Randa) have some game-used and autographed cards; most have parallel cards in one product or another. Okay, Ankiel has over 100 different autographed cards and over 50 memorabilia cards according to Beckett; he was a hot prospect at a time when there were multiple fully-licensed producers. He’s also popular enough that he has autographed cards in recent Topps issues, well after his retirement from baseball. Hearn, McGriff, Monds, and Klassen only have a handful (or what I would call a handful – less than 75) of cards. It’s usually easier to find the rarer cards of the bigger names because sellers will list them, with the cards of the less popular players coming up occasionally.

While the cards of these players aren’t going to set records at an auction or allow me to buy an island, the collection provides a tie to my formative baseball playing and baseball card collecting years. For me, those types of connections are why I collect.

The hottest rookie card of 1935

Imagine yourself a young card collector in early 1935. Okay, fine. I’ll help you.

“What’s the point? Maybe I’ll just throw all these away…” you think to yourself as you rifle through the sack of Goudey cards you dutifully collected over the last couple years. Let’s face it, the 1935 four-in-one design just isn’t doing it for you. Compared to the cards of years past, the (often recycled) pictures are tiny, you loathe the extra work of cutting them yourself, and the puzzle backs don’t even seem to go together!

A couple friends in the neighborhood tried to get you into National Chicle Diamond Stars in 1934, but you declared yourself a Goudey loyalist, at least outwardly. The truth is you just didn’t have the spare change to start collecting multiple sets. And even if you did, why chance where that slippery slope could lead?

Still, you had to admit the cards were attractive….and the baseball tips just might help your game, which wasn’t exactly attracting the attention of Pittsburgh brass!

It was a small set too. Only 24 cards in 1934, with Lloyd Waner the only Pirate. Maybe you should have made the move from Goudey. Then again, the Diamond Stars set appears to have been a one-and-done in your part of town. You try asking the man behind the counter if the new Diamond Stars are in only to receive a blank star in return.

So yes, what’s the point of even collecting anymore? You hate the four-in-ones, but they appear to be the only game in town. Shouldn’t it be possible to follow your hometown Pirates without the need for a stack of cards at your side? Plus, you’d read their Goudey card backs so many times you pretty much had them memorized. Arky Vaughan? Bats left handed but throws right. Weighs 175 pounds. Bill Swift? “One of the main reasons why the Pirates win ball games!”

And then Blanton-mania struck. As SABR biographer Gregory Wolf tells it, “Cy Blanton broke in with the Pittsburgh Pirates in a blaze of glory.” What kind of blaze? Think Jake deGrom. And no, I’m not talking about rookie deGrom. I’m talking about present day deGrom.

The numbers don’t lie.

“The hard-throwing right-hander with an array of screwballs, curves, and sinkers” (SABR Bio) became your new obsession, completely surpassing your love for Big Poison and Little Poison. When pops fished out his T206 Wagner, declaring Hans the greatest Pirate of them all, you muttered “…until Blanton” under your breath before puzzling for a moment as to why a grown man would even own a baseball card.

Plus, if baseball cards were so great, why was there no Blanton card?

The thought was interrupted by the screech of bike tires followed by banging on the front door. Was someone dying? Was the world coming to an end? Why such urgency from little Jackie who was usually quite reserved?

“Look who I got! Look who I got!”

“Wait, what?!” There really is a Blanton card? But how could that be? He didn’t even play last year, did he? [Author’s note: He did, but just one game.]

“Lemme see! Lemme see!” you demand, practically ripping the card out of Jackie’s hand to admire it. That quick, your love of cards not only returned to you but completely consumed you. You need this card more than you need air and water. If we’re being honest, you need this card more than you need your friend Jackie, am I right?

After offering your entire collection, which included all four 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth cards, for the Blanton, a deal Jackie refuses due to A) Blanton-mania, and B) brand loyalty, you beg, borrow, and steal from your folks until you have more money in your pocket than you’ve ever had in your entire life: nine cents.

Eight packs in, you have a mouthful of gum but little else to show for the small fortune you arrived with: Stan Hack, Billy Urbanski, Cliff Bolton, Buck Jordan, Glenn Myatt, Billy Werber, Fred Frankhouse, and an oddball card of Jimmie Foxx as a catcher! But then, like a pre-Hobbsian Roy Hobbs (movie version, not book), you come through with a monster rip in the ninth.

For reasons unknown, even later in life, your mind raced to an exciting World of Tomorrow where humans could not only propel themselves to the moon but digital currencies as well, and card collectors communicated with each other by electromagnet technology so small it could fit in their pockets. Without understanding the means or the mechanism, you imagined yourself “sharing” your pull with friends even two or three towns away, along with the rhetorical, unorthodoxly capitalized, and interrobanged phrase that would unwittingly become standard only 85 years later—

“dID i dO gOoD?!”

“I’ve never had a kid faint from a pack of baseball cards. You’re lucky I had my smelling salts handy.” [Author’s note: I too fainted from a pack of baseball cards. 1981 Fleer, “C” Nettles error.]

Yeah, fainting was weird, but you didn’t have time to dwell. The Blanton! Where’s the Blanton!

Grabbing it off the floor you turn it over to read the back, a feat made difficult by lingering dizziness.

Eventually, the card comes into focus.

It was official. May 29, 1935, was the best day of your entire life. No less and authority than Austen Lake, right there on the back of your Blanton card, told you to “save your best stuff for the pinches” and you did. Ninth pack, Darrell E. Blanton, ’nuff said.

Little did you know that this phenom hurler was about to surrender 16 earned runs across his next four games, more than doubling his ERA from 1.00 to 2.01. He would still finish the season with a league-topping 2.58 to go with 18 victories, but like many phenoms he would pursue the shadow of his rookie campaign unsuccessfully for the rest of his career. Even still, your Blanton hording only grew, particularly when word hit the neighborhood that he had a Goudey also! (If memory serves, you traded your dad’s prized Wagner card for it.)

Blanton with three George Canales

When the 1940 season began sans Blanton [Author’s note: He joined the Phils in May], you looked back at your paper-clipped stacks of his rookie card, shaking your head in much the same way 1990s collectors looked back on their screw-down holders of Kevin Maas and Todd Van Poppel or modern collectors may someday view their PSA slabbed cards (if they ever ship) of Akil Baddoo and Wander Franco.

Of course the thing about baseball cards is that it may not matter what a card is worth later on. What matters most is that immediate and magical feeling of thinking you have something really special and therefore are something really special. There may be healthier and more sustainable paths to self worth, but for nine cents…this is a helluva deal!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

In other news, happy birthday to Cy Blanton, who would be 113 today were he still around. And for the Diamond Star junkies out there, here is what may be an interesting tidbit from the back of his card.

You may already know that the Diamond Stars set was issued over three years, according to this release schedule:

  • 1934: Cards 1-24
  • 1935: Cards 1-84
  • 1936: Cards 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 22, 26, 30, 31, and 73-108

The Blanton card, numbered 57 in the set, was part of the 1935 release. The above decoder ring aside, you can note his complete 1934 (International League) record at the bottom of the bio, along with a 1935 copyright date.

However, the portion of the bio I’ve highlighted in red tells us that this card would not have been out at the start of the season. I would imagine it would have been at least early May before anyone would seriously include Blanton among “the most effective pitchers in the major leagues.” Add however long it takes to print, slice, pack, and truck the cards to retailers, and I can’t imagine this card hitting the shelves before June 1935.

Was this the case with the entire 1935 issue, only the new additions (25-84), or some even smaller subset? For those who enjoy these things, I suspect there is some fun to be had in checking the backs of all the 1935—if not 1934 and 1936—Diamond Stars for clues. This is something I did earlier this year ad (hopefully not yours) nauseam with the 1933 and 1934 Goudey sets, so perhaps it’s something I’ll take on with Diamond Stars. In the meantime here is some additional reading on the set.

MORE DIAMOND STARS ARTICLES HERE ON THE BLOG

The best baseball card set of 2021?

This summer I’ve been fortunate to be part of—okay, co-organizer along with Mr. Shake of—the very cool Josh Gibson MVP “Card Art” tournament. The tournament includes more than 70 artists from five countries and was created to help make the case for naming MLB’s (nameless since 2020) MVP trophies after Josh.

Many of this blog’s readers no doubt roll their eyes at the concept of “Card Art” and prefer to stick to “real cards” thank you very much, but here’s the thing. These are real cards. I don’t mean this in any philosophical sense either. The majority of the cards in the tournament are being produced with the support the Josh Gibson Foundation, which not only approves the cards but has provided certificates of authenticity.

Josh Gibson card from Montreal artist Josée Tellier with JGF COA

The result is that Josh Gibson, whose sky-high profile among baseball’s pantheon received a serious boost last week from Baseball-Reference, now has several dozen new, independently produced, licensed trading cards, many of which are downright stunning, to go along with the recent Topps Project 70 offerings from artists Efdot and Chuck Styles.

The tournament, hosted by the Negro Leagues Baseball Marketplace, began May 10 and is expected to run through July 12. The first phase of the tournament consisted of a series of weekly competitions, with weekly winners determined by a combination of Twitter engagement and website voting. (Feel free to follow the tournament at the NLB Marketplace twitter account.)

Ultimately the overall winner will be selected through a Tournament of Champions, itself consisting of two phases. The first will be an NCAA Tournament-like bracket to determine the Final Four. From there, a panel of celebrity judges ranging from MLB All-Star Al Oliver to Dodger EVP Janet Marie Smith to a who’s who panel of top artists and entertainers will crown a champion.

Judges from tournament Arts and Entertainment division

As a participant in the tournament, a practitioner and collector of Card Art, and a super-fan of Josh Gibson, yes, I’m biased, but I tend to think the Josh Gibson MVP Card Art set is hands down the set of the year. One could quibble with whether the 70+ cards truly form a set since every card has a different design and has been produced by a different artist/studio. Additionally, I should note that a few of the cards are not being released in physical form, such as this 1988 Score-inspired, HTML/CSS-generated rainbow from Baseball-Reference savant Adam Darowski, making the full tournament set an impossibility to complete.

For cards that have been made available to collectors, distribution has generally ranged from 10-50 cards per artist, based on agreements between individual artists and the Josh Gibson Foundation. To my knowledge the card with the highest production run, 100, is card #12 from Montreal-based artist Josée Tellier. Notwithstanding print runs of zero, the lowest print runs are attached to various handcrafted 1/1 cards such as this stained glass piece from Indiana artist Joel Hofmann.

…and this original pencil drawing (!) from Manitoba-based artist Robb Scott.

The set’s most recent weekly winner, from accomplished Topps artist Josh Trout, will be another very challenging card for collectors to add. It will only be available as a 1/1 card as part of the 2021 Topps Canvas Collection.

The tournament was open to all interested artists, and some used the Tournament to make their (at least public) debut into the world of Card Art.

“Having a seat at the table of trying to incorporate Negro League history into the baseball mainstream,” is what motivated Arizona-based Roger Nusbaum to join the tournament, citing his participation in the Josh Gibson MVP campaign as “an honor and a purposeful endeavor, a chance to try to achieve something important.”

Forty-Year-Old Versions of our Ten-Year-Old Selves is another relative newcomer “honored to be part of the campaign, even if I’m just playing a tiny part in the grand scheme of it all.”

Other artists, such as SABR member Mike Bryan (aka Obi-Wan Jabroni) of Tallahassee, connected with the Josh Gibson MVP campaign on an even more personal level, cherishing the “opportunity to be involved in such a worthy movement and show my own interracial daughter that for every crazy look she gets when we’re out in public, there is someone willing to stand up and fight for what’s right.”

Mike is far from the only SABR member with a card in the set. Andrew Wooley of Millburg Trading Cards, who was also the official card artist of the late Dick Allen, put out this fantastic card week one.

SABR Chicago member John Racanelli has one of the few cards released through the first seven weeks that is not already sold out. (In case you’re wondering a $10 donation to the Josh Gibson Foundation is all it takes to add this card to your collection, while supplies last.)

That same week of the tournament also featured SABR members Adam Korengold, who paints directly onto existing baseball cards, and Donna Muscarella, who combines cut Allen & Ginter cards with her own original photography.

SABR member and water color artist Michael Lewis (aka Mighty Lark) had an entry back in week three of the tournament.

This will be a big week for the Josh Gibson MVP Card Art set as nearly 20 new cards will drop, setting the table for next week’s Tournament of Champions. Winning the tournament will undoubtedly mean a lot to whichever artist takes home the trophy, but a common theme among the artists is that they are much more teammates than rivals. The real prize, if it happens, will be seeing Josh Gibson’s name on Baseball’s MVP trophies.

“I can be quite competitive, but to be honest, its been nothing but an honor to be a part of this tournament,” says Daniel Kearsey of Sixty-First Street Cards. “I was up against some amazing artists the week I submitted my art. It was so awesome to see everyone’s work. It didn’t matter if I won or lost. What mattered is getting Josh the recognition he deserves.”

Josh Gibson card by DINK

As Dom Czepiga (aka DINK), a card artist who has collaborated with Orioles star Trey Mancini puts it, “My vision was for a highly respectful simple yet regal feel befitting one of the best baseball players in the history of the sport. It had to be exceptional as it will take its place in history as part of the campaign to rename the MVP Award the Josh Gibson Memorial MVP Award.”

The card art entry from Atlanta-based pop artist Scott Hodges, produced one of the tournament’s most memorable images, one of Josh the Basher “breaking through the barriers of the past” as a Joker-like Commissioner Landis looks on.

However, the last word on the MVP campaign goes to Sean Gibson, whose hand-signed statement accompanies the back of John Racanelli’s special edition card 1/50. This, more than anything else, is the goal of the set and the tournament.

Reverse of card 1/50 by John Racanelli

Here is the Project #JG20MVP set’s complete checklist of 75 cards, not including SP and SSP variants, along with a pic of the cards I’ve managed to collect so far. (UPDATE: You can now see all 75 cards thanks to this video!)

Card #ArtistRelease Date
1Mr. ShakeMonday, May 10
2Cheaha CardworksTuesday, May 11
3Andrew Woolley / MillburgWednesday, May 12
4Heavy J Studios/JasonThursday, May 13
5LunchmadeFriday May 14th
6Woody’s Cards/ Mike MottoleseMonday, May 17
7zetaw cardsTuesday, May 18
8Ice CatWednesday, May 19
9Matthew BurkeThursday, May 20
10Gummy ArtsFriday, May 21
11Craig LeshenFriday, May 21
12Josée TellierTuesday, May 25
13Monarch RoyaltyTuesday, May 25
14MIghty LarkWednesday, May 26
15Daniel Kearsey / Sixty First StreetWednesday, May 26
16Stockyard CardsThursday, May 27
17Robb ScottFriday, May 28
18Philip WoodwardMonday, May 31
19JabroniMonday, May 31
20Offbeatallstars / BryanTuesday, June 1
21GullD3CardArt- Don GullicksTuesday, June 1
22Tom PaintsWednesday, June 2
23Optimus VoltsWednesday, June 2
24JCP CardsThursday, June 3
25Charles LaBongeFriday, June 4
26Biggens Card ArtFriday, June 4
27The Card CarverMonday, June 7
28MIchael EllingsonMonday, June 7
29RP BaileyTuesday, June 8
30Noah StokesTuesday, June 8
31Mike JamesWednesday, June 9
32Garcia StudiosWednesday, June 9
33JR_WAVYThursday, June 10
34Hit By Pitch CardsThursday, June 10
35Eric Kittelberger/Triple Play DesignFriday, June 11
36Baseball’s Greatest Player PlayoffFriday June 11
37Bullies Card ArtMonday, June 14
38Aaron McIsaacMonday, June 14
39Adam DarowskiTuesday, June 15
40Kevin GreeneTuesday, June 15
41Todd RadomWednesday, June 16
42Kevin GustWednesday, June 16
43DINKThursday, June 17
44Andy BrownThursday, June 17
45Joel HofmannFriday, June 18
46Jamie ThomasFriday, June 18
47Adam KorengoldMonday, June 21
48Josh TroutMonday, June 21
49John RacanelliTuesday, June 22
50Gumstick StudiosTuesday, June 22
51From the Lens of Donna MuscarellaWednesday, June 23
52Southside SharpieWednesday, June 23
53Scott HodgesThursday, June 24
54Roger NusbaumThursday, June 24
55Third Dan ArtFriday, June 25
56Luke the CardistFriday, June 25
57Mr. FMonday, June 28
58Michael AugustineMonday, June 28
59Seth WardMonday, June 28
60Derek PerezMonday, June 28
61Lost Ballparks/Mike KoserTuesday, June 29
6240-Year-Old VersionsTuesday, June 29
63Blender of ZombieTuesday, June 29
64Kevin EspinaWednesday, June 30
65Slayton Evans Wednesday, June 30
66Cheng Sue VangWednesday, June 30
67Bad Boys of Summer Card ArtWednesday, June 30
68McCardThursday, July 1
69Mike GyamfiThursday, July 1
70JengThursday, July 1
71Pixel Hall of FameFriday, July 2
72Sergio SantosFriday, July 2
73JT RaeFriday, July 2
74Jason DrumhellerFriday, July 2
75Anika OrrockFriday, July 2

Collecting your favorite player’s baseball cards

There are so many different ways to collect baseball cards, and no single way is the right way. On the contrary, “collect what you like!” is the advice most commonly given to new collectors who ask. I’m not here to discredit such advice, but I am here to augment it. After all, part of collecting what you like involves knowing what’s out there and what the options are.

My focus in this article is on what is known in the Hobby these days as “player collecting,” i.e., collecting cards of specific players. Our blog already includes Player Collection Spotlights on Tim Jordan, Jim Gantner, Brooks Robinson, Keith Hernandez, and Ozzie Smith, and I’m hopeful that other SABR members who collect specific players will submit additional articles.

Before jumping into the state of the modern Hobby, I’ll back up a bit to around 1981 when things were much simpler but card shows were frequent enough that I was able to collect far more than what was on the shelves of my local 7-Eleven. Favorite players at the time were Steve Garvey, Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, and George Brett, all of whom were well represented in contemporary sets but also had cards that pre-dated my own entry into the Hobby.

The way I approached collecting these players matches what I’ve found to be the understanding of others around my age who have recently re-entered the Hobby. For example, someone hoping to start a Roberto Clemente collection might initially presume a checklist of 19 Topps cards, one per year from 1955-1973. Perhaps they’d also remember that the Great One might have graced some All-Star or League Leader cards–maybe even a food issue or two. What they wouldn’t expect would be the nearly 6000 (!) cards they’d see when looking up Clemente on Trading Card Database.

Yikes!! How the Hobby has changed since 1981! And with these changes, two questions arise?

  • Is it even possible to collect all of my favorite player’s card?
  • Is there any point to collecting my favorite player’s cards?

Assuming the favorite player is a popular Hall of Famer, the answer to the first question is almost always no. Taking Clemente as an example, he had 20 different 1/1 (“one of one,” meaning only one such card was ever produced) cards from last year’s Topps Project 2020 alone. Were you lucky enough to find one, good chance its price tag would be several thousand dollars or more. Good luck picking up all twenty!

I am fortunate in that Hank Aaron “only” has 5,335 cards, but of course this number goes up (by a lot!) every single year. Do I plan to do what the old boxes and wrappers said and “COLLECT THEM ALL?” Not a chance, and I call myself a Hank Aaron collector?!

Still, as collectors there is something in our DNA that compels us to complete sets. Were we to acquire the aforementioned Roberto Clemente Topps run of 1955-1973 with the exception of a single card, we’d spend more time agonizing over the missing than enjoying the 18 in front of us. We are programmed to be “completists,” meaning there are only two ways to go when we figure out we can’t be:

  1. Give up.
  2. Make a new plan.

I’ll focus on the second of these strategies.

Keep it Simple?

In the face of an overwhelming and seemingly infinite checklist, an approach many collectors take is to focus solely on Topps base cards from each year’s main (“flagship”) set. This is the approach Dave wrote about when he first shared his Jim Gantner collection with us. Of course most of us in the Comments completely lost our sh*t: “Only Topps?! What? Not even Fleer and Donruss????”

Really, though, this is a fantastic option for collectors. Not only is it (typically) easiest on the wallet but it also provides (for most players of the Topps era) a year-by-year record of the player’s career that collectively tells the story of the player in baseball card form. What teams did he play for? How did he look when he was young? How did he look when he was old? What position was he most known for each year?

Flagship Add-Ons

Barring an expensive rookie card (e.g., Clemente) or demands for gem mint, the above approach is generally tenable, which is a good thing until it isn’t. For weeks, maybe months, or maybe even years, the mission was to collect the whole set, and now all of a sudden it sucks to be done! Psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar calls this the Arrival Fallacy, the belief that when we attain a certain goal we’ll be happy when in reality we feel let down and lost.

Fortunately, there are often some simple ways to extend a player collection without (yet!) sliding down the slippery slope to completism. One of the most standard ways is to stay within Topps flagship but add other cards that feature the player prominently:

  • All-Star cards
  • Record Breaker or Highlights cards

In the case of Hank Aaron, cards like this become additions to the checklist.

Another Topps flagship card many star players–particularly from the 1950s and 1960s–might have is what Trading Card Database calls a CPC (“combination player card”). In the case of Aaron, there are several. Here are two of my favorites.

Other simple extensions to the player collection focus, still within Topps flagship, are League Leader cards and Team Cards. Personally, I don’t chase these cards for my Aaron collection, but many player collectors do.

An extreme case I’ve been asked about but not encountered personally is collecting the generic set checklists within flagship, provided the player’s name appears. Does this really look like a Hank Aaron card to you? (But if it does, go for it!)

Up to now I’ve covered most (but still not all) of the ways one might define a player collection within Topps flagship. While my example has been Hank Aaron, the picture isn’t tremendously different for other Hall of Famers of the Topps era.

Sticking with Topps

Most years, Topps issued more than just its popular flagship set. Examples that showcase the variety of such offerings are 1955 Topps Double Headers, 1965 Topps Embossed, 1975 Topps Minis, and 1985 Topps Traded. Go much later than the 1980s and be prepared to encounter an absolutely seismic increase in number.

Of the non-flagship offerings, I consider Traded/Update sets to be the most essential. This doesn’t impact my Hank Aaron collection, but it does, for example, demand that the 1984 Topps Traded Dwight Gooden card be part of my Gooden collection. My standard temptation in this realm is to want everything. However, many of the Topps releases were “test issues” with very limited production and distribution, hence very pricey.

Two such examples in my Hank Aaron collection are the 1969 Topps Super test issue and the 1974 Topps Deckle Edge test issue. I am glad I have these cards today, but I’m not glad enough to pursue other Aaron test issues such as his 1974 Topps Puzzle. My advice to collectors here is first to learn what’s out there, which is easy to do thanks to the PSA Registry or Trading Card Database, and then next to get a sense of prices. From there you can decide whether you want all, some, or none. “Some” is of course a spot most collectors hate. All I can say is it’s my current spot, and I’m learning to live with it more and more.

Another point I’ll add that may factor into which cards the player collector chooses to pursue is that many non-flagship sets are unusually sized, either much larger, smaller, or rounder than standard baseball cards. If an important goal for your player collection is to display it, size and shape can be important considerations. Of my tougher Aaron cards, I love that my 1958 Hires Root Beer, 1960 Lake to Lake Dairy, and 1969 Topps Super cards all fit my 50-card Pennzoni display case. Conversely, I hate that my 1974 Deckle Edge is much too large for it.

Defining the Era

If your player collection involves a retired player, one of the most important decisions to make is whether you’re interested in cards from any year or solely from his playing (and/or managing/coaching) career. My approach tends toward the latter, though it’s still occasionally fun for me to pick up a low priced modern card of the retired players I collect.

For example, I am thrilled to have this 1961 Topps card of Roy Campanella and this 2021 Topps card of Hank Aaron. What I’m not looking to do is chase every post-career card of these players that comes out. There are a few reasons.

On one hand, it’s the post-career cards of most retired greats that multiply their player collector checklists tenfold if not more. Second, so many of the cards are extraordinarily expensive due to their manufactured scarcity–e.g., intentional print runs of 1 or 5 or 10. Finally, when you produce dozens if not hundreds of Hank Aaron cards each year, it’s just basic math that a whole bunch will be ugly.

Beyond Topps

Collecting more than just Topps cards is a decision I’d encourage for most player collectors. However, the numbers do multiply quickly, particularly once you hit the late 1980s when it seems like everybody and their cousin were issuing baseball card sets.

Keeping my focus on the Topps era (1951-present), I’ll offer that most non-Topps cards thru about 1990 fell into these convenient categories–

  • Bowman (1951-55 and…shoot, if you insist…1989-1990)
  • Leaf (1960)
  • Fleer (1963 and 1981-1990)
  • Donruss (1981-1990)
  • Score (1988-1990)
  • Leaf* (1990)
  • Foreign issues (e.g., Venezuelan Topps, O-Pee-Chee, 1985 Donruss Leaf)
  • Oddballs

*Referring here to the premium U.S. issue, not the Canadian Donruss releases of the mid-1980s

That last category is extraordinarily large and some would argue it’s where the most fun is. However, from a completeness perspective, I tend to view it as less essential than the first six categories. For example, Hank Aaron’s 1955 Bowman card was a “must have” for me, as would have been the case were there cards of him in 1960 Leaf or 1963 Fleer. Though I do have several O-Pee-Chee Aaron cards and many, many oddballs, I’m not sure I’d regard any as essential to my collection.

Again, my advice is to learn what’s out there, get a sense of prices, and choose accordingly. For the top players, the oddball category proves too large to collect everything. Of course, there are so many great cards in it that collecting nothing doesn’t feel very good either.

Order from Chaos

Though it’s where I’ve landed with my own player collections, I’ll be the first to admit there’s something icky about pursuing a largely amorphous checklist. How satisfying it would be to say “I’m collecting all of Hank Aaron’s cards” or even “I’m collecting all of Hank Aaron’s cards from his playing career” as opposed to “I’m collecting Hank Aaron’s Topps/Bowman flagship playing career base cards, most of his Topps playing career non-base cards, some of his playing career Topps non-flagship, some of his playing career oddballs, and a pretty random mix of his modern stuff.” Of course, the cost of a simpler sentence might be triple, and there is little chance the joy of collecting would be commensurate.

The important thing, again going back to collector DNA, is not so much what’s on your list but that you have a list, even if it ultimately evolves. Your list may defy any simple explanation beyond “the cards of Player X that I want.” Though it’s subjective and won’t necessarily match the list of any other collector, it’s still a list that enables you to pursue a goal, check things off, and someday “collect them all!”

It’s also where I believe we are forced in the modern Hobby, where new offerings are too plentiful to keep up with and older cards quickly leave many collectors priced out.

Overall then, my guide to player collecting is simple:

  • Learn what’s out there
  • Get a sense of prices if not sizes
  • Create your own checklist, in stages if you like
  • Modify as needed, but be thoughtful

Before wrapping up, I’ll elaborate on that final point. Once you complete your checklist, of course you’ll want to add more cards to it. Almost always, the cards you add in latter phases aren’t as “must have” as the ones from earlier phases, but they often cost just as much if not more. As I grapple with adding on to my Hank Aaron collection, I’m very conscious of the fact that what I spend for the 110th through 120th Hank Aaron cards I want could probably fund an entire Topps run of Frank Robinson or Ernie Banks!

My final advice is to look beyond the what and why of your player collection to the how. Whatever cards you collect will almost certainly be more enjoyable if they build relationships in the Hobby. Share your goals with the collecting community, post the occasional pickup, and be willing to spend a couple bucks more if it means buying from a “real person” as opposed to an anonymous eBay seller. In the end, the collection is just cardboard, but the relationships and memories can be gold.

From the Negro League to MLB

7th Inning

Everybody get up for the 7th inning stretch! As I get close to completing this wonderful project, I’m learning so much more about the lesser known Negro League stars. Many have such amazing, and inspiring stories. Not only on the baseball field, but off the field, family, etc. Sam Jones just finished his warmup tosses, let’s play ball…

Sam Jones 1960 Leaf PSA 6. ’60 Leaf was a black and white set with only 144 cards, pretty rare. Sam had a stellar MLB career. He finished his 12 year career with 102 wins and 101 losses with a 3.59 era. A 2x All-Star, he won 21 games for the Giants in ’59 sporting a 2.83 era. 16 complete games, 4 shutouts, and 5 saves! Jones was a big dude, 6′ 4″ 200lbs, he was the first African-American to throw a no-no. Jones played for the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro American League.

🐐fact: Jones was nicknamed “Toothpick Sam”, since he routinely had a toothpick in his mouth.

Dan Bankhead 1951 Bowman RC. ’51 Bowman is one of my favorite sets, such amazing color, so ahead of it’s time. This card is centered really well for that era, really clean card minus the lines. Dan was the first African-American pitcher in MLB. He played 3 seasons, all with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He homered in his first MLB at-bat. Bankhead was leading the Negro League in hitting (.385), when his contract was purchased by the Dodgers in 1947.

🐐fact: Dan played for the Birmingham Black Barons and the Memphis Red Sox. He served our great country, and was a sergeant in the Marines. Word has it that Dan struggled as a pitcher during his time in MLB due to him being “scared to death” of hitting a white ballplayer. “Dan was from Alabama, you know what I mean? He heard all those people calling him names, making those threats, and he was scared. He’d seen black men get lynched.” – Buck O’Neil.

Charlie Neal 1960 Topps 1959 World Series Game 2. This is such a great looking card. Charlie broke into MLB with the Brooklyn Dodgers, had a solid career spanning 8 years including three All-Star appearances. He played all over the infield, and enjoyed his best year in 1959 when he hit .287, 11 triples, 19 home runs, 83 ribbies, along with 17 swipes. He also won a World Series that year, along with a Gold Glove.

🐐fact: Neal played for the Atlanta Black Crackers, and despite being only 5′ 10″ and 165 lbs, he belted 151 home runs during his minor and major league career.

Bill Bruton 1953 Topps RC. Great looking card, ’53 is an all-time classic set. Bruton was a .273 career hitter over a 12 year career with the Milwaukee Braves and Detroit Tigers. Bill came up in ’57, and had a promising rookie season. Playing in 151 games as an OF, he had 18 doubles, 14 triples, 26 swipes, and hit .250. He finished 4th in the ROY voting. He was 27 by the time he reached MLB. He led the league in triples twice, and stolen bases three times (’53-’55). In 1991 Bruton was inducted into the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame.

🐐fact: Bruton’s father in-law was Hall of Famer Judy Johnson. Judy helped Bill get a tryout with the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro League.

Donn Clendenon 1962 Topps RC. Donn was 6’4″, solid hitter, struck out a lot, played mainly at 1B. His best year was in ’66 with the Pirates, 28/98/.299. He was MVP of the 1969 World Series with the Miracle Mets. He was a 3 sport star at Morehouse College, receiving contract offers from the Cleveland Browns and the Harlem Globetrotters. Donn played briefly for the Atlanta Black Crackers.

🐐fact: Super cool fact. When Donn arrived as a freshman at Morehouse in 1952, each student was assigned a “Big Brother”. A former Morehouse grad volunteered to be his, Mr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Bob Boyd 1958 Topps PSA 7. Boyd had a career average of .293 over ten seasons in MLB. Hit over .300 4 times at the age of 36, 37, 38, and 40. Bob was a 1B and OF who only struck out 114 times in 2152 plate appearances, wow! He was the first black player to sign with the Chicago White Sox. An excellent fielder as well, he started his professional career with the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro Leagues hitting .352, .369, and .371.

🐐fact: Boyd had a famous nephew who played in the majors as well, Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd. Bob is a member of the National Baseball Congress Hall of Fame.

Dave Pope 1955 Bowman RC. A very well centered ’55 Bowman. Look at that classic glove and flannel Cleveland jersey. Dave didn’t reach MLB until the age of 31. He played 4 seasons for the Cleveland Indians, and 2 with the Baltimore Orioles. A .264 career hitter, he was an excellent defensive outfielder. Pope played for the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords in the Negro League, as did his older brother Willie. Pope was brought into Game 1 of the ’54 World Series in the late innings after “The Catch” by Mays. In the 10th, Pope came close to robbing Rhodes of his game winning HR.

🐐fact: “When you look at a hit like Dusty Rhodes’s, which was what – 200-and-something down the right field line? And when you think of a 250-foot home run and you think of a 410-foot out, it’s just something that doesn’t seem to match. But that’s the way the game goes.” – Dave Pope

Harry Simpson 1952 Topps RC. How can you not love the 1952 Topps set? Such great color, and name plate. Harry started his professional career with the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro National League. Simpson had two cool nicknames, “Suitcase” for his size 13 shoes that were large as a suitcase. Also “Goody” for his willingness to help his neighbors in his hometown of Dalton, GA. Harry played 8 years in MLB, his best was in 1956 for the Kansas City Athletics. Earning his only All-Star birth, he led the league with 11 triples, hitting .293 while smashing 21 HR and driving in 105.

🐐fact: Simpson once hit a HR onto Brooklyn Avenue, outside of Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium. There was a concrete wall atop a 40-foot-high embankment in right field, making it a near impossible feat. A barnstorming Babe Ruth even had trouble hitting the target during exhibition games.

Dave Hoskins 1954 Topps RC. These cards are really tough to find well centered. Dave had an impressive rookie campaign with Cleveland. 9-3 with a 3.99 era. Starting 7 games, finishing 9, 3 complete games, and one save. Hoskins was the first black player to appear in the Texas League. He received many letters threatening his life, but still won 22 games with a 2.12 era and hit .328!

🐐fact: Hoskins played for a handful of Negro League teams during his early years. His best season was with the Homestead Grays in 1944, he hit .324 and went 5-2 on the mound as the Grays won their 8th consecutive National League pennant.

Hal King 1970 Topps RC PSA 8. Hal was one of the last Negro League players to make it to MLB. He was a lefty hitting catcher who had his best year in the majors in 1970 with the Braves. He hit .260 in 89 games, with 11 HR and 30 RBI. King barnstormed with the Indianapolis Clowns before signing with the Angels in ’65. Hal celebrated his 77th birthday on February 1st of this year.

🐐fact: On April 15, 1968 King was involved in a record-setting game between the Astros and New York Mets at the Astrodome. Starting behind the plate, he ended up catching the complete 24-inning marathon that lasted 6 hours and 6 minutes.

J.C. Hartman 1963 Topps RC. Hartman was a SS who spent two years with the Houston Colt .45s in 1962-1963. Hartman appeared in the 1955 East-West All-Star Classic as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs. In ’56 he was drafted into the Army. He was a well trained barber who cut other players’ hair during Spring Training. Hartman turned 87 on April 15 of this year.

🐐fact: J.C became a police officer after baseball, he was the first black supervisor in the Houston Police Department.

Bob Thurman 1957 Topps RC. ’57 Topps, such an innovative set. First time they used color photographs, reduced the size of the card from 2-5/8 by 3-5/8 to 2-1/2 by 3-1/2. Also, it was the first time they printed multiple-year player statistics on the back of cards. Thurman is part of the 4th series of the ’57 set, which is noticeably harder to find than other cards in the set.

Thurman did not make MLB until he was 38 years of age. He spent 5 seasons with the Reds. In ’57 he hit 16 HR in 74 games as a 40 year-old. Thurman played for the Homestead Grays with such legends as Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and Buck Leonard. In his first year with the Grays (1946), he hit .408. In ’47 he raked .338, and then in ’48 he hit .345 with a 6-4 record as a pitcher, helping the Grays win the pennant.

🐐fact: Thurman was originally signed by the Yankees. He was one of the best pinch-hitters of his era, smashing 6 career pinch-hit HR. If Bob was given the chance to play in MLB during his prime, who knows, he could of been a perennial All-Star.

Charlie White 1955 Topps RC PSA 6. Charlie was a catcher who played two years in MLB for the Milwaukee Braves. He started his professional career with the Philadelphia Stars in 1950. The next year he signed with the St. Louis Browns, by owner Bill Veeck. He was traded the next year to the Braves.

🐐fact: White was known for his humor on and off the ball field. He was a native of Kinston, NC.

George Spriggs 1967 Topps RC. Spriggs was actually featured on 3 different Rookie Stars cards. His first was with the Pirates, then in ’68 he had one with the Red Sox, and then with the Royals in ’69! George was an OF who played 5 years in MLB. He was the only Negro League player to play for the Royals. He was a part of the 1959 Kansas City Monarchs barnstorming team.

🐐fact: George built a baseball field behind his house named “Geno’s Field,” in honor of his late son. It was the home of the Tracey Twins, a team Spriggs was affiliated with for several years. George passed away last December at the age of 83.

George Smith 1965 Topps RC. George was an IF who played 4 seasons in MLB (3 with DET, 1 in BOS). Smith started his professional career with the Indianapolis Clowns. He signed with the Tigers in 1958 and was assigned to the Durham Bulls (Carolina League). He played sparingly with the Tigers, but during his one year with Boston he appeared in 128 games, smacking 8 HR and 19 doubles.

🐐fact: Smith was injured in Spring Training of 1967, even after getting released in July, he remained the Red Sox property. The Sox did the right thing for Smith, awarding him a one-third share of the World Series money.

Walt Bond 1960 Topps RC. The ’60 set is so unique, great looking card here. Bond came up as a 22 year-old with the Cleveland Indians. His best year in MLB was with Houston in ’64 when he belted 20 HR along with 85 RBI and batted .310 over 148 games. Walt stood 6′ 7″ and batted lefty. He battled leukemia during the latter part of his career. He got his feet wet in pro ball with the Kansas City Monarchs.

🐐fact: Bond passed away at the age of 29 due to complications from leukemia.

Lou Johnson 1960 Topps RC. Lou was an an OF who played 8 seasons in MLB. His best years were with the Dodgers in the mid-60s. In 1966 he hit .272 with 17 HR and 73 RBI. Johnson played in the Negro Leagues with the Indianapolis Clowns and the Kansas City Monarchs.

🐐fact: “If I had a wish, I would have God get all of the Negro league players, make them 30 years younger, and have them take the field again. This way, white folks could see them and what we’re talking about. I’d love for those fans to stand up, cheer, show their appreciation, recognizing them for what they’ve done.” – Lou Johnson

Willie Smith 1965 Topps RC. Willie was an OF/pinch hitter, a journeyman in MLB, playing for 5 teams in 9 years. His first full year, was actually his best pro year when he hit .301 with 11 HR and 51 RBI for the Angels in 1964. Smith played for the Birmingham Black Barons, and was selected to play in the East-West All-Star Game in 1958 and 1959. He was a highly touted pitching prospect, sporting a 14-2 record with a 2.11 era for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs in ’63.

🐐fact: During his MLB career, Smith pitched in 29 games, netting 3 starts, 61 IP, and a 3.10 ERA. During his 7 years in the minors, he was 49-27 with a 2.93 ERA. He also hit .304 in more than 1,200 plate appearances. If it was a different time maybe Willie would have been the first two-way star!

Billy Harrell 1959 Topps. Billy was an IF who played three seasons with the Cleveland Indians and his last with the Red Sox. He was known to be a defensive wiz. Described by Kirby Farrell, his manager at Cleveland and several minor league stops, as having “such tremendous hands, he could play the infield without a glove.” He received a basketball scholarship to Siena University, and during his time there they sported a 70-19 record. He also hit over .400 in his sophomore and junior seasons. Started his career with the Birmingham Black Barons in ’51, playing SS.

🐐fact: In 1966, Harrell became the third alumnus to be inducted into the Siena Athletics Hall of Fame. In 2006, he also became the first Siena basketball player to have his jersey number (#10) retired by the school.

Artie Wilson 1949 Sporting News/1946 Birmingham Black Barons Negro League Retort Signed Postcard. This was a really cool find. The Sporting News clipping details his time playing for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. The postcard (Wilson is 4th from left in back row) has Wilson’s auto along with Lyman Bostock, and Lester Lockett, his teammates on the 1946 Birmingham Black Barons. Artie did not have a MLB card. He played only one season for the New York Giants in 1951 at the age of 30. Wilson played for the Barons from 1942-1948, and considered the best SS during that time. He was the starting SS at the All-Star Classic four times in five years, only to get beat out by Jackie Robinson in 1945. In ’48, he batted .402, as well as mentoring a young Willie Mays.

🐐fact: Another player who was never given the chance in MLB despite his amazing talent. After his retirement, Wilson worked at Gary Worth Lincoln Mercury in Portland for more than 30 years, and stayed on there until the fall of 2008 at the age of 88 (what a legend!). He was named to the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1989, and the PCL Hall of Fame in 2003. He passed away in 2010 at the age of 89.

End of 7. Thanks to you all for reading and chiming in on the comments. I hope you enjoyed it so far. The “9th Inning” will be filled with many of the greats. How about that!

Were the All Star FanFest Cards from 1994-2000 the Precursor for Topps Project 2020?

As a baseball card collector and enthusiast, I feel that I am living through the Renaissance era of baseball card art. My Twitter feed is filled daily with spectacular images of cards from many artists that are working with a variety of mediums to produce their own interpretations of what cards of past and present players should look like. A number of these artists are also using their artwork to support charitable causes.

There was certainly an undercurrent of fine baseball card artwork being produced long before 2020, but the Topps Project 2020 brought to the surface a tidal wave of beautiful cards from a wide variety of artists.

Was Project 2020 an original idea or was it a variation on a project from the Junk Wax era? A case can be made that Project 2020 can be linked back to the All Star FanFest Cards from 1994 to 2000.

The two projects are similar in that they have multiple artists and designers coming up with unique cards of a single player and they also share some common player subjects – Roberto Clemente (1994 – Pittsburgh FanFest), Nolan Ryan (1995 – Dallas FanFest), and Jackie Robinson (1997- Cleveland FanFest).

The other player subjects for the All Star FanFest sets were Steve Carlton (1996 – Philadelphia FanFest), Lou Brock (1998 – St. Louis FanFest), Carl Yastrzemski (1999 – Boston FanFest), and Henry Aaron (2000 – Atlanta FanFest).

Ray Schulte was responsible for the All Star FanFest cards from 1994 to 2000. At the time he was working as an event consultant for MLB Properties, and cajoled some of the major baseball card producers of the 90’s to design and distribute unique cards of an iconic player from the city that was hosting the All Star Game. To obtain the cards a fan had to redeem 5 pack wrappers of any baseball product of the manufacturer at their FanFest booth.

I was introduced to the cards when I attended the All Star FanFest event held at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston in 1999. I attended the event with my family and upon learning about the cards from a Fleer representative sent my two kids on a mission to purchase 5 packs of cards produced by each of the four manufacturers from dealers at the event so we could exchange the wrappers for the Carl Yastrzemski cards designed just for the 1999 FanFest.

Now let’s take a closer look at the All Star FanFest sets which feature players that overlap with the Topps 2020 Project.

1994 All Star FanFest Set – Roberto Clemente

1994 was the first year that FanFest cards were issued and with Pittsburgh hosting the All Star Game the player subject was Roberto Clemente. Topps, Fleer, Upper Deck, Donruss, and Pinnacle issued cards for the event.

Fleer and Topps decided not to mess with perfection and produced cards that were essentially reprints of Clemente’s 1955 Topps rookie card and his 1963 Fleer card with 1994 All Star logos. Upper Deck issued a metallic looking card of Clemente that contains career stats and accomplishments on the front. Upper Deck would utilize the “metallic look” design for player subjects for the next 6 years. As you would expect, an image of a Dick Perez painting of Clemente is on the front of the Donruss Diamond King card.

1995 All Star FanFest Set – Nolan Ryan

With the 1995 All Star Game being held in the home park of the Texas Rangers the logical choice for the player subject for the FanFest cards was Nolan Ryan who retired in 1993.

The 5 card manufacturers who designed cards for the 1994 All Star FanFest also produced cards for 1995 All Star FanFest event held in Dallas.

Topps produced a re-imagined 1967 Rookie card of by eliminating the Jerry Koosman photo and enlarging the Nolan Ryan image to fill the front of the card. In microscopic print, Nolan’s complete major league pitching record is on the back of the card. Steve Carlton got the same treatment a year later when Topps enlarged his airbrushed 1965 photo to produce a new version of his Rookie card. Fleer issued an Ultra Gold Medallion version of a Ryan card. Upper Deck continued with its metallic design for a Ryan card. The Pinnacle card featured a Nolan Ryan painting and Donruss produced a Tribute card.

Get out the magnifying glass. Back of Topps 1995 Nolan Ryan All Star FanFest card.

1997 All Star FanFest Set – Jackie Robinson

With the All Star Game 1997 marking the 50th year of his major league debut, Jackie Robinson was the correct selection for the player subject for the 1997 set.

Topps released a reprint of his 1952 card with a All Star logo on the front and his complete major league batting record on the back. Leaf distributed a reprint of Jackie’s 1948 “rookie” card with small All Star Game logo in the upper right-hand corner. Fleer choose a nice posed photo of Jackie looking like he is going to tag out the runner for its Ultra card. On the back of its Tribute card, Pinnacle included a great action shot of Robinson coming in head-first at home plate with the catcher about to make a tag. The photo leaves you wondering – Which way did the call go? Upper Deck once again used a metallic design for its Jackie Robinson FanFest card.

Other All Star FanFest Cards

1997 All Star FanFest Larry Doby Cards

Depending on your definition of a complete set, collectors should be aware that Fleer and Pinnacle released Larry Doby cards to coincide with the All Star game being held in Cleveland. Included below are photos of the Fleer Ultra card and the Pinnacle 3-D Denny’s card.

2000 Henry Aaron FanFest Error Card

For some reason Topps decided not to make a reprint of Aaron’s 1954 Rookie card part of the official 2000 All Star FanFest set. Instead, Topps designed a unique card that featured a spectacular color photo of Aaron in a posed batting stance. Topps did however print some of the 1954 Rookie reprints with an All Star Game logo. These Aaron Rookie reprints are considered “error” cards.

Costs

Almost all the All Star FanFest sets can be purchased for under $12 on eBay. The exception is the 1994 Roberto Clemente All Star FanFest set. Each manufacturer produced 15,000 cards for the event. Less than 10,000 of each card were distributed at FanFest. The rest of the cards were destroyed. A Clemente set will set you back about $60.

Cover Boys

A few months ago, after we lost Henry Aaron, there was discussion on Twitter suggesting that Aaron had been short-changed by magazine covers during his career, especially by Sports Illustrated and SPORT. I will set aside SI for now (later, I hope), but I might be able to help with the SPORT issue.

I am an avowed fan of the heyday of SPORT. The magazine debuted in September 1946, and was a haven for long-form sports articles for 30 years. (It hung on into the 1990s, though I can not speak the later years.) I have written about SPORT before, so read this if you want the full story.

I own a complete run of SPORT through 1976, and I have used the magazine dozens of times for my own writing–for my own books, but especially for countless BioProject articles. We have made much progress in our ability to do research via the internet–many newspapers are on-line, the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated. But not SPORT, and really there was nothing else like it. So my hardcopies remain.

A couple of years ago, I spent some time creating postcard-sized copies of every SPORT cover and putting them in a binder. Long-term I want to place a subject index in each pocket so that my binder would also be useful. I’m But for now, I just have the postcards.

I recently went through my binder to count the number of times people appeared on a cover. Before presenting the answers, I wanted to explain how I counted. SPORT has employed many different cover designs over the years. Often they have just shown a single player as the cover subject, sometimes they have two or more players share a cover, and occasionally they will have one primary subject but one or more secondary subjects. Rather than make things overly complicated, I decided to keep two counts: primary, and secondary. A few examples should help.

On the left, Willie Mays is the primary subject. On the right, Ted Williams and Stan Musial are each primary subjects.

On the left, Dick Groat is the primary subject and Mickey Mantle and Jim Taylor are secondary subjects. On the right, there are 20 secondary subjects (none named, which tilted the decision).

There are some judgment calls, and one could argue that I really needed four categories, or eight categories. Ultimately, I didn’t feel the subject warranted Yalta-level deliberations.

To return to where we started, Henry Aaron was a primary subject on four SPORT covers.

It is unfortunate that neither the June 1962 or July 1968 photos filled the entire cover. Surely they would today be mounted and framed all across this land. They may still be.

Is four covers a low total? Baseball dominated SPORT covers and articles throughout much of Aaron’s career, at least until the late 1960s. SPORT was a monthly magazine, so there were generally only 7 or 8 baseball covers per year to go around and lots of other stars.

The all-time leaders (through 1976, counting only covers as a primary subject, and counting only baseball players) are Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, with 16 covers each.

This August 1959 cover is the only one they graced together, albeit with two other players.

Here are the primary cover leaders:

  • 16: Mantle, Mays
  • 9: Ted Williams, Stan Musial
  • 7: Joe DiMaggio
  • 6: Rocky Colavito, Sandy Koufax, Jackie Robinson
  • 5: Frank Robinson, Duke Snider, Warren Spahn
  • 4: Aaron, Yogi Berra, Eddie Mathews, Pete Rose, Carl Yastrzemski, Maury Wills

All of these players are Hall of Famers with the exceptions of Colavito, Rose, and Wills, with Rocky by far the most surprising entry.

Colavito was a fine player, a six-time all-star who hit 30+ home runs seven times. He was no Henry Aaron, even in on his best day, but he was a very popular player in Cleveland and Detroit. SPORT was trying to sell magazines, and under no obligation to put the “best player” on the cover. However, it must be said that Colavito also bested Aaron inside the magazine, with 12 feature stories during his career to Aaron’s 11, despite Henry being a great player long after Rocky had washed out of the league. (Both Mays and Mantle had 30).

It would be naive to ignore race in this matter. Perhaps not directly–Aaron was well-liked and celebrated often in the pages of SPORT. But the magazine’s belief in Colavito as a story or cover subject, and the popularity of Colavito generally, stands out in a time when most of the bright young stars entering the game were Latino or African-American.

Roberto Clemente and Ernie Banks were featured on the cover of SPORT once each, shown above. Both were frequent story subjects (Banks 12, Clemente 11) but could not crack the cover code. Bob Gibson, the best and most famous pitcher in the world in the late 1960s, never graced the cover of SPORT magazine. On the other hand, Joe DiMaggio, who retired in 1951, made the cover five times in the 1960s.

SPORT did put Mays on the cover 16 times, and gave him their biggest honor on their 25th anniversary issue. SPORT loved Mays, as did every other sports magazine of the era. Heck, he also graced the covers of Look, Life, and Time. Mays is in his own special category.

SPORT’s baseball covers in the 1960s seemed to rotate between the nostalgia (DiMaggio, Ruth, Williams), a new emerging hero (Dean Chance, Johnny Callison) or a superstar. When they wanted the latter, Mantle and Mays were often the chosen ones, and famous stars like Gibson, Clemente, or Brooks Robinson (1 cover) were left out.

If I can find the time, I might make postcards for Sports Illustrated baseball covers. (Lawyers: I am not selling anything, just putting them in a binder for my own use.)

In the meantime, I will settle for 30 years of SPORT.