Purity of Essence (Or, How I Learned to Start Analyzing What Is and Isn’t a Baseball Card)

I’ve been working on completing a 1936 Goudey Wide Pen set, Type 1 of course, and, I’m pleased to say, I’m in the homestretch.  I’ve got 106 of the 120 AND the two keys – Joes DiMaggio/McCarthy rookie (which I basically traded, even up, for a 1976 Walter Payton rookie card) and Hank Greenberg.  I had a pretty good jumpstart on this set; I bought 80 or so back in the early ‘90’s for, what I can only assume, was a steal.

I was showing my friend Jimmy the album with my Wide Pens and he said, “They’re not really cards, are they?”  “Sure they are,” I said, not even understanding the question, but since that day I’ve been mulling over the existential point he was trying to make – “What is a baseball card?”

The Type 1 Wide Pens were in-store premiums (not sure what the method was to acquire them – were they free? Did you have to buy a certain amount of Goudey gum products?), 3 ¼” X 5 ½” black and white portraits or posed action shots with thick facsimile autographs. Overall they’re pretty fascinating, a mix of Conlon-type close ups and various pitchers in windups, swinging hitters and, on rare occasion, a real game photo. The backs are blank. (The player selection is odd and worth a post of its own).

 

So how could this not be immediately perceived as a card? Is it only a photograph? In the corner each Type 1 says “LITHO IN U.S.A.,” so maybe they see themselves as photos.  The 1964 Topps Giants measure 3 1/8” X 5 ¼”, slightly smaller than the Goudeys, but no one would claim they aren’t cards. Is it because they’re Topps? Because they were sold in stores? Have backs?

The 1981 Topps Giant Photo Cards are huge, 4 7/8” X 6 7/8” and were sold in stores. They have something on the back, but not very much. Is this a card? Topps’ own schizophrenia on the issue – “Photo” “Cards” – makes it unclear.

This is a card?

I don’t know the answer to the question but, since Jimmy raised the point, it’s been on my mind. What is and isn’t a card? It can’t be the maker that gives it identity, because the card world has had innumerable manufacturers. Is it distribution? Can’t be. Cards have been delivered in a lot of different ways. In store premiums are not much different than box toppers or mail away offers. Is the back having content or not a dividing line? Plenty of issues have minimal to zero text on the reverse.

Give it some thought, for me.

The Gas Station Gang (Part 2)

This is the second part of my series on Signal Oil cards.  Read yesterday’s entry.

Raimondi

Signal oil upped the octane level significantly by pumping out a fully leaded set of cards that were the equivalent of introducing fuel injection in a carburetor era.  Using post card printing techniques, the ’48 Oakland Oaks cards are believed to be the first color photography used for baseball cards. Furthermore, Signal didn’t issue standard cards for Hollywood and Los Angeles. Instead, they produced color slides and a viewer. As the Signal Oil slogan implored, we will now “go farther.”

Lavagetto

As most of you are aware, card producers used various colorization techniques to transform black and white photos into “living color.” Bowman was the first major company to use actual color photos when they created the wonderful ’53 MLB set. However, Signal’s ’48 Oaks pioneered the color photo process. PCL historian and collector, Mark Macrae, provided the following details: “The 1948 Oakland Oaks cards were produced by Mike Roberts Studios in Berkeley. Less than a decade earlier Roberts had introduced what we now refer to as “Chrome” postcards at the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition. This same color technology was used by Roberts to produce the Oaks set, essentially the first American issued color photo baseball cards.” Incidentally, Roberts was known as the “post card king.” His colorized postcards included the phrase, “Wish You Were Here,” and could be found wherever Americans traveled.

Speer Stamped

There are 25 Oaks cards that measure approximately 2-1/2” X 3-1/2” and are printed on a thicker stock than the flimsy ‘47s. Once again, the cards could be acquired at Bay Area stations. As in ’47, the cards are not numbered and backs feature a biographical narrative and advertisements for the team’s radio station and Signal gas. Also, some of the stations would stamp their information over the bio.

Signal Stengel

billy_martin

48lombardi2-1 (1)

The ’48 Oaks won the PCL championship with Casey Stengel at the helm and his protégé Billy Martin anchoring second base. Their cards are in the set along with Hall-of-Famer Ernie Lombardi and Dodger legend Cookie Lavagetto. All the photos appear to be taken at Oaks Park in Emeryville.

Zernial slide

Malone slide

Signal mixed things up in the greater Los Angeles area in ’48 by issuing five color slides for both the Angels and Stars in a set accompanied by a baseball-shaped viewer. The 2” x 3-3/4” slides have a color transparency on one end a short biography on the other. A very rare slide featuring a group of Hollywood players exists as well. The viewer and slides were available for purchase at Signal outlets.

Signal Station Then

Signal station Seattle Now

In closing, repurposed Signal stations can still be found. Here is a “now and then” look at one on old highway 99 in Seattle. There might be a moldering, ’47 “Kewpie” Dick Barrett tucked away in a storage closet.

 

Sources

McCrae, Mark. Signal Oil Baseball Cards. 9-11, Jan.2018. Email Interview

Wilson, Arnie. “Wish You Were Here…Mike Roberts: The Life & Times of America’s Postcard King.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 26 July 2015, www.huffingtonpost.com/arnie-wilson/wish-you-were-heremike-ro_b_7875752.html.

Topps.com, www.topps.com/blog/bowman_history

Jrsherrard. “Seattle Now & Then: Signal Station on Aurora.” DorpatSherrardLomont, 16 Mar. 2013, pauldorpat.com/2013/03/16/seattle-now-then-signal-station-on-aurora/.

Trading Card Data Base

The Gas Station Gang (Part 1)

 

Jakucki

At a recent card show, I added another 1947 Signal Oil card-Sig Jakucki-to my Seattle Rainiers collection. The Pacific Coast League cards were produced as a premium available at Signal gas stations in the late ‘40s. Signal Oil was a California based company that had stations in seven western states, until merging with another company in the ‘50s and ceasing operation. This installment will feature the ‘47s exclusively.

Layne

PCL historian, collector and memorabilia dealer Mark Macrae kindly consented to an email interview filled in major gaps in my knowledge. However, he emphasized that most of the information has been put together by collectors over the years, since no records are known to exist from the Signal company.

Haffey

Although there were eight PCL teams in the late ‘40s, Signal only produced cards for five clubs-Hollywood, LA, Oakland, Sacramento and Seattle. Per Mr. Macrae, the supposition is that Signal could not come to contract terms with San Diego, San Francisco and Portland.

Zernialnovikoff signal

The 3-1/2” x 5-1/2” black and white cards were printed on thin stock with the front having illustrated headshots of the players, along with cartoons depicting highlights or hobbies. Many of the cards feature cartoons highlighting a players’ musical ability. Note that some of the cards feature names in script instead of the more common block letters. Interestingly, the illustrator was former Major League pitcher Al Demaree, whose signature appears on the front.

DiMaggio

Stengel

The card backs have a detailed narrative along with an advertisement highlighted the radio announcer and station call letters. For example, the “voice” of Hollywood was Fred Haney and Leo Lassen was the Seattle “spieler.”

Raimondi

The 89 cards were offered at stations free of charge, with a new card distributed each week during the baseball season. Since the Bay Area and Los Angeles had more stations, due to their large population base, Stars, Angels and Oaks cards are more common today than the Rainiers or Solons. It is not known if the LA area stations gave away both Angels and Stars cards. As with any vintage cards, prices vary depending on condition. All the cards I’ve seen have “yellowed” with time.

Pippen
Barrett

Some familiar players with MLB experience in the set include: Casey Stengal, Vince DiMaggio, Gus “Dutch” Zernial, Jim Delsing, Jimmy Dykes, Jo Jo White, “Cotton” Pippen and “Kewpie” Dick Barrett.

 

Duezabou

If I can keep my “signals” straight, I will exam the truly groundbreaking ’48 Signal cards in part two. But now I’m off to fill up with “high test” and hopefully pick up a “Dizz” Duzabou from my friendly Signal dealer.

Resources:

Macrae, Mark. Signal Oil Baseball Cards. 9, Jan.2018. Email Interview

Your Information Resource for Vintage Baseball Cards eNews, www.oldcardboard.com/eNews/2013/enews105/eNews105.htm.

Trading Card Data Base

The Chicago/Pittsburgh/Baltimore Unions

The Chicago Unions franchise was meant to be a flagship of the new Union Association, a rival to the powerful Chicago White Stockings, baseball’s premiere franchise. Instead they were one of the league’s most unstable, eventually moving to Pittsburgh in August 1884 and then folding the following month, without completing their schedule.

A.H. Henderson formed the Chicago Unions as a semi-pro outfit in June 1883. Chicago was home to a strong amateur baseball scene, with many local players who either had major league experience or would go on to play in the majors. Henderson secured some land at the corner of Wabash Avenue and 39th Street, which would be named the Union Grounds and the club debuted on June 26, 1883 against the St. Louis Browns. By the end of July, it was reported that Henderson was attempting to secure membership in the American Association along with Indianapolis. Chicago was the stronghold of the National League, so putting a rival A.A. team in the Windy City would be a bold move. The Unions officially made application to the American Association in early August.

In late August 1883, the club hired minor league umpire Ed S. Hengel to manage the club. Hengel would serve as the manager of the 1884 Unions. On August 29, it was announced that the club was going to release all of its players in order to put money and resources into fielding a first class club in 1884. Henderson reported that it was “almost certain” that the club would join the American Association. History bears out that the Unions did not join the A.A. and it is unclear that they were seriously considered for a slot as just under two weeks later at the first meeting of the Union Association in Pittsburgh, Henderson’s club was listed an inaugural member of the Union Association, with Henderson as a member of the board of directors. Some reports suggested the Henry V. Lucas, owner of the St. Louis Maroons and the president of the Union Association was the club’s true owner and bankroll, while other reports had the club being run by a brewing consortium.

In January 1884, the Chicago Unions attempted to make a splash by signing Chicago White Stockings ace Larry Corcoran. The diminutive right-hander signed with the Unions for a reported salary of $3,100 making him one of the highest paid players in baseball. But after being threatened with a blacklist by White Stockings owner Al Spalding, he quickly returned to the National League fold. The club did manage to poach the mercurial and remarkable Hugh “One Arm” Daily from the Cleveland Blues. Daily’s left hand had been blown off in an accident when he was younger. He covered the stump with a pad, that he used to help him catch thrown balls. Despite Daily’s disability, he was a tremendously talented pitcher. The 36-year-old would go on to win 27 games and strike out a staggering 469 batters for the Unions.

Daily was one of the few players the Unions could count on. In 91 games, the club burned through 35 players, with the infield being particularly volatile. 14 different players appeared at second base for the club. This included the aforementioned Daily, you know the guy with one hand. That’s how bad things were for the Unions, they used a guy with one hand as their second baseman on two different occasions (Daily also made appearances at shortstop and in the outfield). Additionally, a mystery man named Richardson appeared in one game at second base and struck out four times in four at bats, before vanishing without revealing his first name. Boston area semi-pro Dan Cronin’s sole appearance at second base for the club resulted in four errors in five chances.

Nine different men appeared at shortstop and third base respectively. Rookie first baseman Jumbo Schoeneck was the infield’s only point of stability, appearing in 90 games for the club. Despite the infield turmoil, the Unions got off to a strong start, reaching a high water mark of 21-14 on June 19. The club drew poorly on weekday home games, but did quite well for Sunday games, as the National League clubs refused to play on Sundays. A season high of 4100 people showed up to see the Unions defeat the eventual pennant-winning St. Louis Maroons in 10 innings on Sunday, June 1, 1884. But the previous day’s game only drew 250 fans and their next home game drew only 400.

The club began a 19 game road trip on June 20, and it was disastrous. The Unions lost the first 11 games of the trip and by the time the club returned home on July 22, the club was 25-29. Any chance of chasing the pennant was destroyed. Chicago’s baseball fans were firmly behind the National League’s White Stockings. In the midst of a costly road trip in August, the club was sold to Harry O. Price of Pittsburgh on August 19.

The club was transferred to Pittsburgh with A. H. Henderson retaining management of the club. The newly christened Pittsburgh Unions (not the Stogies, which appears to be the name given the team posthumously and erroneously by researchers) would play their games at Exposition Park. In a slight bit of irony, the rival Alleghenys of the American Association played their games at Union Park. The club made their first appearance in Pittsburgh on August 25 against first place St. Louis. Hugh Daily lead the club to an incredible 3-2 victory in 11 innings in front of 3,000 excited fans. The club continued to draw well in their new home, as the club drew 10,000 fans over the course of the five game series with the star-studded Maroons. The club went on the road and never returned to their new home as they disbanded on September 19. The franchise reportedly suffered an $18,000 loss on the year. The Milwaukee club from the disbanded Northwestern League took their place to complete the Union Association schedule.

A cadre of the club’s better players joined the Baltimore Unions. The Baltimore American reported that the both Pittsburgh and Baltimore shared the same management and indeed Baltimore was managed by Bill Henderson, who happened to be the brother of W. H. Henderson. So while the currently accepted belief is that the Chicago/Pittsburgh club folded, there is a reasonable case to be made that the club actually merged with the Baltimore franchise.

The joy and pain of researching the Union Association is that there is so much left to learn, but also that the more you know, the more muddled it gets.

The franchise had six players appear in the Old Judge set.

1. Bill Krieg

Bill Krieg was a 25-year-old rookie catcher for the Chicago Unions. He hit a modest .247/.276/.330 in 71 games, but in the light hitting Union Association that was good for a 103 OPS+. He was one of the league’s best defensive players, putting up a 1.3 dWAR, a mark good enough for 4th place in the league. Aside from his solid rookie year, Krieg was never able to find regular work in the major leagues, despite putting up decent numbers in short stints with the dismal Washington Nationals in 1886-87. One of the nice things about working on this project is discovering the unexpected. In this case, my discovery was that Krieg was a spectacular minor league player. You could make the case that he was the first great minor league player (only rivalled by fellow Union Association alumni Perry Werden, who will be talked about in a later post). Bill James posited that Krieg was the greatest minor league player of the 1880’s. Krieg was a masher in the minors. After his release from the Nationals in 1887, he moved on to Minneapolis of the Northwestern League, where he hit .402 with 8 home runs in just 59 games. After a down year in 1888, he would go on to over .300, eight different times in the minors, including a high of .452 with Rockford of the Western Association in 1895. Krieg’ career ended in 1901 with Terre Haute. He died at age 71 in 1930 in Chillicothe, Illinois.

Krieg is featured in a staggering 10 different poses covering his time with Washington, Minneapolis and St. Joseph’s.

Krieg’s hypnotic eyes peering through the primitive tools of ignorance will haunt your dreams forever. The sharpness of the photo really adds to the effect. Some of these cards are truly transcendent and I think this is one.

 

 

2. Jumbo Schoeneck

I wrote about Schoeneck in my post on the Baltimore Unions.

3. Gid Gardner

I wrote about Gardner in my post on the Baltimore Unions.

4. Frank Foreman

Frank Foreman was just beginning his 30+ year baseball journey in 1884. The 21-year-old right-hander from Baltimore was only with the Chicago Unions for about a month, making four starts, garnering one win against two losses. He was released and joined the Kansas City Cowboys, making one start in June and then was released. Foreman joined the Lancaster Ironsides of the Eastern League to close out his rookie year. Foreman bounced around between the majors and minors for the next couple years, before emerging as a thoroughly average starter who never stayed in one place very long. From 1889 to 1896, he appeared for Baltimore, Cincinnati, Washington, Baltimore and New York, winning 20 games in 1889. Foreman returned to the minors for several years, re-emerging in the American League in 1901. He won 12 games for the AL version of the Orioles as a 38-year-old. His major league career ended with two disastrous starts for the Orioles in 1902. Foreman and Hall of Famer Wilbert Robinson are the only two players to appear for the AA, NL, and AL versions of the Orioles. Foreman hung around baseball as a de facto scout and minor league umpire. His greatest discovery was 300 game winner Eddie Plank, whom he recommended to Connie Mack. Foreman was also the discoverer of the ephemeral Bob McKinney, one of two major leaguers with whom I share a last name (and coincidentally the subject of the first SABR biography I wrote). Foreman remained in Baltimore the rest of his life, passing away at age 94 in 1957.

Foreman is the rarest of breeds, the player with only one pose in the Old Judge set. He is pictured with the Baltimore Orioles in 1889.

5. Moxie Hengel

The younger brother of Chicago Unions manager Ed Hengel, Emory “Moxie” Hengel was a fixture of the mid-western baseball scene for over a decade. As a 26 year-old rookie in 1884, Hengel was tasked with holding down the second base job for his older brother’s fledgling squad. Hengel hit a dismal .203/.234/.257 with an .840 fielding percentage and 15 errors in 19 games at second base. Moxie’s poor play earned him the ire of his brother and his release at the end of May. Hengel quickly found work with St. Paul in the Northwestern League and held down their second base job for the remainder of the season. He made a not so triumphant return to the Union Association when the St. Paul was admitted to the league in late September to replace the recently folded Wilmington club. The club went 2-6 in eight road games and they appear to be the only major league team never to play a home game. Hengel appeared in six games for the 1885 Buffalo Bisons and then played another 9 years in the minor leagues as a good field, no hit second baseman, primarily in the Western Association. His career ended in 1896 and he died in Forest Park, Illinois on December 11, 1924.

Hengel is featured in six poses in the Old Judge set, capturing his time with the Western Association’s Chicago Maroons in 1888 and Minneapolis in 1889. In perhaps my favorite Old Judge pose, Hengel is captured sliding into a base with an unusual foreshortened perspective like the photographer was referencing Andrea Mantegna’s The Dead Christ or something.

 

 

6. Kid Baldwin

Clarence “Kid” Baldwin was a 19 year-old catcher in 1884. Baldwin was a precociously talented defensive catcher who possessed a toxic mix of youthful naiveté and unscrupulousness. He began the 1884 season involved in a contract imbroglio between the Quincy club of the Northwestern League, who had reserved him for the upcoming season and the St. Louis Maroons reserve squad, with whom he had also signed. The Kid offered Quincy a staggering sum of $500 to obtain his release, but the club wisely stood their ground and when the season began, Baldwin was Quincy’s starting catcher. He quickly became a lineup fixture due to his strong play, but the Quincy club was in financial trouble and Baldwin jumped the club in July (earning himself a place on organized baseball’s blacklist) to join the Kansas City Cowboys in the Union Association. Baldwin was offered a salary of $350 a month, which would have made him one of the highest paid players in the league. The Cowboys were hastily formed to replace Altoona after they folded in May, and despite an atrocious record and a constantly changing roster, they were one of the top drawing clubs in the league. Baldwin played 50 games for Kansas City and established himself as a strong backstop, but hit just .194. Off the field, Baldwin was already showing a tendency to spend money faster than he got it and at one point he naively endorsed a $250 check to a stranger in hopes that he would cash it. Baldwin never saw the guy again.

His sole appearance for the Chicago/Pittsburgh franchise was as an injury replacement on September 18, in the final game in franchise history. When Pittsburgh catcher Tony Suck (and boy did he) was hurt in the sixth inning, Baldwin was called in to replace him.

Baldwin joined the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the American Association in 1885 after a confusing off-season that involved signing with multiple clubs and petitioning to get off baseball’s black list. He would serve as their starting catcher until 1890. During that time, he became a popular figure in the media thanks to his outsized personality and off-field exploits. At one point he was fined $27 dollars after being arrested during a raid on a cock fight. Like so many 1880’s ballplayers, Baldwin was a drinking man and his inability to control his “demons” directly lead to him being done as a major league player in 1890 at the ripe old age of 25.

Baldwin bounced around the minors for the next few years playing all over the U.S., while his drinking continued to worsen and eye troubles began to set in. He was treated for blindness in 1895, and after his old teammates raised funds for surgery, he was able to get his sight back. Baldwin enjoyed a brief return to health, but a stint of sobriety was undermined by his job running a saloon in Cincinnati. By 1897, at age 32, Baldwin was homeless and living on the streets of Cincinnati, where he experienced bouts of madness and he was eventually institutionalized in July 1897. He died just a week later on July 10, 1897, just 12 years after his major league career began in earnest in Kansas City. Credit to David Ball’s great SABR biography for info on Baldwin’s tumultuous life.

Baldwin is featured in six poses with multiple variations during his time with Cincinnati circa 1887-1888.

A svelte and dashing Baldwin in impossibly tight pants at the peak of his all-too-short life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lifers II

Baker2016Ginter

A sequel to my first Lifers post featuring guys I missed the first time around. Most of these were mentioned in the comments so a big thank you goes out to everyone who participated. Also I did finally find an image of Dusty Baker’s 2016 Allen&Ginter Mini so I’m including it above.

Connie Mack

Mack1887OldJudge Mack1950R423StripC

64 years
1887 Old Judge–1950 R423 Strip Cards

I don’t know how I missed Mack the first time around as he’s the definition of a baseball lifer. I love his Old Judge card with the posed hanging baseball. And that strip card is TINY. Mack also has a 1940 Play Ball card as a more-traditional last card which still makes him a 54-year baseball lifer. It’s also nice to have one guy on this list where both cards look nothing like modern cards.

Don Zimmer

 

51 years
1955 Bowman–2005 Topps All Time Fan Favorites

I’m still waffling on whether or not to include Zim. Not because he’s not a lifer but because the All Time Fan Favorites set doesn’t feel like a real set to me. It’s a checklist full of players (and other figures) from baseball’s past which, while a lot of fun, isn’t the kind of thing which reflects on the current state of the game.

Still, Zim’s in the set as a current Bench Coach and since he was the successor to Jimmie Reese as baseball’s lifer mascot of sorts I’m going to put him here.

Joe Torre

 

49 years
1962 Topps–2010 Topps Heritage

A super obvious one to miss even though I did kind of forget about his time with the Dodgers. The weird thing about Topps Heritage here is how with the design reuse results the last card having a design which predates the rookie card design. So in this case it kind of looks like Torre’s first card was in 1962 and then he travelled back through time to manage in 1960.

Davey Johnson

 

49 years
1965 Topps–2013 Topps Heritage

While I’m sort of skeptical about Heritage in terms of design reuse, it’s doing a lot other things I wish Flagship were still doing. In this case that it’s the only place where manager cards can be found now is a point in its favor. Still it’s no surprise that many of the guys I missed all have manager cards which aren’t part of Flagship.

Anyway Davey Johnson is one of those guys who’s been a manager as long as I can remember that I had kind of forgotten that he used to be a player. That his name did not some up in the SABR comments either suggests that he’s slipped a lot of our minds. As with Torre I appreciate that he’s travelled a year back in time from 1965.

Tony LaRussa

 

47 years
1964 Topps–2010 Heritage

Another manager in the 2010 Heritage set. Another time traveler, this time from 1964 to 1960. And the one lifer I’m most embarrassed to have missed in my original post even though I actively try and forget about “The Genius” and his school of overmanagement.

The funny thing about this list is that everyone I missed feels like someone I should’ve thought of originally. Since these are all lifers they’re all baseball names and as such, people who I recognize immediately.

As with the first Lifers post I’d love to see more guys I missed in the comments. I arbitrarily set the cut-off at 45 years (counting inclusively). While moving to 40 years wouldn’t change things much, there’s a distinct challenge in finding guys who stay around for 45.

Mabton Mel

Almost 18 years ago, I moved to the Pacific Northwest from the Midwest. Other than Mariner Ken Griffey—who I assumed would end up with the Cincinnati Reds because .. who would ever want to play in Seattle?—I didn’t know anything about the teams.

Things have definitely changed. Now, I consider this my home, and I became a Mariner fan—although I do still question why on most days. From a baseball history perspective, it also means I essentially started with a clean slate in the Northwest, and I have a lot of catching up to do on the history of the players.

For example, I was surprised to learn from this 1965 Topps card that Mel Stottlemyre was born in Mabton, Washington in 1941.

Mel Card Front

Mel Card Back

Mabton was originally inhabited by the Yakama people until the Northern Pacific Railway arrived around 1884 and built a water tower. The town continued to grow, but the population hasn’t increased significantly since those water tower days.

Welcome To Mabton

Mel was and still is the town’s most famous citizen. After he pitched in the 1964 World Series, Mabton’s Mayor, Del Hunt, proclaimed Oct. 22th as Mel Stottlemyre Day. Mel had started three times in the recent fall classic, finishing 1-1 with a no-decision. That didn’t deter his hometown. On October 22, more than 1,000 people showed up in Mabton’s City Park to welcome home the World Series Rookie.

The event was held in the park because the gym could only accommodate 600 people, and the town’s population was fewer than the 1,000 people that showed up. Mel was given a parade and presented with a distinguished citizen’s award, an honorary membership to the Lions Club, and a deer rifle. Incidentally, he took the new rifle hunting the next day only to end up on crutches after spraining his ankle by stepping into a ditch.

Mel Parade

 

I really did not set out to give a history lesson about a small town that most people in the State it resides in probably couldn’t find on a map. Rather, I was reflecting on how many stories baseball cards tip off if you look close enough.

 

The Conlon Collection Project: Part 5 (The Finale)

1991 Conlon packs

The Conlon Project series concludes with Part 5.  These stories have been based on Conlon cards selected by our writers. This week’s final installment includes stories on Conlon figures: Max Bishop by Joe Gruber; Babe Ruth by Anthony Salazar; and Rogers Hornsby by Thomas Saunders.

 

If missed you the incredible story of the origins of the Conlon Collection by Steve Gietschier, be sure to check out: https://sabrbaseballcards.blog/2017/11/27/the-conlon-collection-project-intro/

 

As we sunset this project, I am very grateful for my newfound appreciation for the players of this era, and for the brilliant photographic work of Charles M. Conlon.  Baseball history is fortunate enough to have such a visionary.  I would also like to thank our writers for participating in this special project:

 

Alex Diaz

Anthony Salazar

Chris Dial

Craig Hardee

Doe Gibson

Jennifer Hurtarte

Jim Hoffman

Joe Gruber

Jonathan Daniel

Josh Mathes

Keith Pennington

Mark Armour

Mark Black

Mike Beasley

Nick Vossbink

Rock Hoffman

Scott Chamberlain

Thomas Saunders

Tim Jenkins

Tom Shrimplin

Tony Lehman

 

And thank you for your comments and encouragement!  Enjoy Part 5!

 

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Max Bishop

PLAYER:          Max Bishop

CARD #:           183

AUTHOR:        Joe Gruber

 

I had seen these cards before when they first were issued and may even have a few packs somewhere in my vast collection. They appeal to me because I have always liked learning about the history of baseball. I chose this particular card because I am a Red Sox fan and didn’t want a well-known player to write about.

 

Black and white photos remind me of my grandparents and that era. As I look at Max I feel like I could be looking at someone from the old neighborhood sitting on the corner talking, smoking and passing the time. My memory of men who grew up in that era is they seemed to smile about like Max is “smiling” in this picture. Even though the picture is black and white I can see the detail to the uniform and hat (less so) and would love to have a set just like them. The piping around the collar and down the front is really cool to me. It also reminds me of my first baseball uniform as an 8-year-old in 1974. I can still feel and smell that raggedy old uniform complete with real stirrup socks.

 

The final observation I have is the fact that Max had a nickname “Camera Eye”. It seems to have come from the fact that he had more walks than hits in 5 of 12 seasons he played. There are some contemporary players with good nicknames, but the vintage ones seem better and back then, that everyone had one. Maybe they sounded better or filled time while doing play-by-play on the radio.

 

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Babe Ruth

PLAYER:          Babe Ruth

CARD #:           145

AUTHOR:        Anthony Salazar

 

Little things tend to bug me to no end.  It’s not that I’m the obsessive type, but I have a hard time getting past incongruities.  The Babe Ruth card (#145) is one of them.  I don’t mean to rag on the Babe – I’m just as much of a fan as the next guy – but I’ve got major issues with this particular card that commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Red Sox 1916 World Series victory.

 

The #145 card depicts the Babe as a 21-year-old pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, though the photo has him taking a pre-game swing at home plate.  If he’s a pitcher, where’s my photo of a guy on the mound?  If you say he’s a pitcher, give the guy a ball and put him 60 feet 6 inches from a batter.  The Babe had a great year as a pitcher in 1916, going 23-12 with a league-leading ERA of 1.75 with 170 strikeouts.  This, compared to his performance as a batter, where his average was .272 with 37 hits and 3 home runs over 67 games.

 

In my efforts to locate a Conlon photo of Ruth as a pitcher, I came up empty.  Searching through the books, “Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon” and “The Big Show: Charles M. Conlon’s Golden Age Baseball Photographs,” I did discover, however, that the Ruth photo used for the #145 card was not actually shot in 1916, but in 1918!  For the record, he went 13-7 with a 2.22 ERA and 40 strikeouts that year.  Obviously not as impressive as two seasons prior.

 

I was rather disappointed with this discovery, which led me to believe that the card was apparently created to fit a specific narrative, rather than paint an accurate picture of the time and place.  Little things tend to bug me to no end.

 

Though, as photo composition goes, it’s a striking piece especially when shown next to Conlon’s 1922 photo of the Babe in almost exactly the same swing in “Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon.”  The card seems to depict a picture of what we might expect from the future Babe Ruth.

 

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Rogers Hornsby

PLAYER:          Rogers Hornsby

CARD #:           1

AUTHOR:        Thomas Saunders

 

The look of a stoic, heroic, determined Texan…that’s the first thing I see when I look at the first card in the Conlon Collections series…card number one…Rogers Hornsby holding his bat in the Cubs dugout circa 1929.  The look on his face stands out to me; his eyes glaring yet half squinted, like he is looking into the west Texas sun of his birth; his mouth with a half smirk as if he has just spied a tell in a pitcher’s delivery that he is about to exploit with a line drive back through the pitcher’s box; his hands, bare and griping his bat in anticipation, tight but not too tight as his pink finger gently rests an inch above the knob.

 

I grew up just 30 miles from Winters, Texas the place of Hornsby’s birth.  I grew up loving baseball and, as a good Texian would, the state of my birth and its heroes and while Chicago or St. Louis might lay claim to Hornsby as theirs, living so close to his birth place I laid claim to him for Texas.

 

I played summer ball against teams from Winters, who’s baseball park bared Hornsby’s name.  I remember asking my grandmother once, before the age of the Internet, to see if we could try locate the great Hornsby’s grave in Winters as the native son MUST have been buried there and I wanted to pay my respects.  She obliged, and I fondly remember searching in vain two cemeteries looking for this legend’s final resting place so I could pay my respects, but to no avail.

 

The Conlon Collection always reminds me of my childhood and series one, card number one started that set and in many ways started me on the path of reading and appreciating baseball history.  The card was later made into a special issued color card, one of a series issued every year which I strove to collect.  Card #20 in the color card set was the same card #1 of Rogers Hornsby.  Color card #21 was of Shoeless Joe Jackson who I had grown to love through the movies “Eight Men Out” and “Field of Dreams.”  As a kid I thought he was wronged and as his card suggested why shouldn’t he be in the Hall of Fame.

 

I was 10 years old when I first discovered the Sporting News’ Conlon Collection, and I collected every set and still store them in protective three ring binders.  I still strive for Jackson’s reinstatement, and I remember fondly the fruitless search with my grandmother, who died just a few years later, for Rogers Hornsby’s grave in Winters, Texas…and I still claim Hornsby as a great Texas athlete.

 

…and interesting aside is this…while visiting my home for the holidays back in Blackwell, Texas I found an envelope the Mega Card company.  In 1995 the Mega Card factory had a special mail away where if you collected a specific number of proofs of purchases and mailed them in they would send you some rare color cards. I collected them and mailed them in, and they mailed me my limited edition cards.  However, they had misspelled my name, instead of Leman Saunders they had my name down as Lee Ann Saunders…the name of my future wife…Lee Ann and I have been married for over three years now.