Lights, Camera, Action!

snider1959

mccormick1962

While baseball cards often depict action, I’ve become interested in the ones which try to depict moving action. In both 1959 and 1962 Topps released a couple of multiple-image cards which showed frame-by-frame action. Some of these were devoted to special plays like Mays’s catch in 1954 but a lot of them feel like their just trying to show action in an age where closely cropped action shots were impossible.

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Williams1959_1

The 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set also has a number of these cards. I especially like the overhead angle on the batting shot but the 4-panel landscape card is also pretty cool.

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Fleer did much the same again in 1985. This makes sense as there wasn’t any other way to do this and the only major difference between these and their counterparts 23 years earlier is in the quality and sharpness of the photos.* The Fleer cards however do make for interesting comparisons between different hitters and how they swing the bat.

*I’ve asked around on Twitter and the like and no one seems to remember anything similar except for the 1968 Bazooka box panels. Those panels, while relevant to the discussion, aren’t really the same thing.

Valenzuela_Sportflics

In the late 1980s though Sportflics came on the scene. We’d had lenticular printing on cards before with the Topps 3D and Kelloggs All Stars which used the lenticular effect for three-dimensional purposes. And we’d had other oddballs like the mid-1980s 7/11 discs which used it to flip between multiple images.

Sportflics though realized that this kind of thing could reanimate the still images on the Fleer cards. The resulting three-frame animation of baseball action very quickly became one of my favorite things. Despite being always 🔽 in the Beckett hot list Sportflics was always 🔼 in my heart. I recently showed them to my kids and they thought they were super cool too.

It’s also worth noting that Sportflics realized that it could animate the text as well. One box of text on the card front could display twice as much information and give us a larger picture as a result.

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In 1989 Upper Deck came around with some very-cool multiple exposure cards. These were crisper images than what you could see in Sportflics and there was something about the multiple images which told the story of a standard motion—typically pitching—in the way that Doc Edgerton’s photos do where the resulting layered images become their own beautiful thing.

Upper Deck had these for a lot of years and even played with the form a bit with their Deion Sanders card which took the action thing and turned it into a transformation.

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By 1994 other brands had started doing similar multiple exposure cards. Donruss’s Spirit of the Game inserts in 1993 had a bunch of these and Topps flagship went the Upper Deck route and just used this effect on select base cards. Because of my age I tend to see all these as copying Upper Deck but it was also interesting to see the approach get more diverse in the different ways that the multiple exposures were layered.

At the same time Upper Deck launched there was also a product called Flipp Tipps which, while not exactly baseball cards, totally deserves to be mentioned here since they’re collectible flipbooks. Lots of frames and I like the concept of making them somewhat educational as a way of breaking down how Brett Butler bunts or Will Clark swings.

*Copyrighted 1989 but given how they include Kevin Mitchell’s barehanded catch I’m inclined to say they came out in early 1990.

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Sportflics meanwhile found its gimmick to be outdated in the mid-90s once motion holograms were invented. These showed up on Denny’s 1996 Pinnacle Holograms and have the benefit of many more frames to animate motion. Unfortunately they’re even harder to see than that Sportflics. The light has to be perfect and there’s no cue as to what direction you have to tilt the card.

Still, the Ozzie Smith backflip card beyond cool. Instead of being standard baseball action they’ve captured one of Ozzie’s trademarks.  That this set also includes Hideo Nomo’s windup and Gary Sheffield’s menacing swing shows that the designers really thought about which players had distinctive movements which were worthy of motion capture.

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Topps also released its own version of these with Stadium Club instavision in 1997. It’s a smaller hologram but much easier to see. These cards were about specific highlights instead of capturing a general sense of the player.

It’s also worth noting that in 1997 Topps also went back to lenticular motion with Screenplays. Unlike Sportflics these had 24 frames of animation. Unfortunately I don’t have one of these available to GIF.

The ultimate action card though has to go to 2000 Upper Deck Powerdeck. Rather than being a motion card this was a baseball-card-sized CD-ROM with effectively a miniature website on it when you inserted it into your computer. Anyway the YouTube video speaks for itself. It’s a neat idea though sadly one which is already obsolete and unviewable while the 1959 Topps Baseball Thrills cards are as interesting as ever.

“Where the f- are my cards?”

I went to a card show at, I think, the Roosevelt Hotel in NYC, in, I think, 1985. I was a year out of college, single, working, and unembarrassed to be back into collecting. I had a 1967 Topps set to finish and nothing was going to stop me now!

At that show I bought a nice Clemente, probably near-mint. I have no idea what something like that cost back then. Anyway, Clemente and other cards in hand, I hopped from dealer to dealer, putting my purchases down as I looked some more. When I got home, the Clemente was gone.

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There was no foul play; I just didn’t have a good system for storing what I had already bought while I searched for more to buy. As distraught as I was to lose that card, and a few others, it was my fault and it made me develop a system of how to carry stuff at a show. Boxes, top loaders, lists, etc., would now be placed in a bag that never left my side. It’s worked ever since.

In the last two years I’ve bought a lot of cards online and thank the Lord for the tracking number. It feels foolproof and gives a security that lets me sleep soundly at night. I have paid for cheaper postage, and even shipped that way, but at least in those instances there’s a sense of shared risk – the buyer knows he’s paying a buck for an envelope and a stamp and I’m able to sell lower value cards. None of those non-tracking numbered mailings have been lost.

So it’s crazy to know that 29 1969 Topps I ordered from someone on Sportlots.com has vanished. Weirder still is that it got to the Cooperstown Post Office, was scanned as “Out for Delivery” and disappeared. I think it’ll turn up. One of the nice things of living in Cooperstown is that there’s a real connection to the people at the local Post Office, so they’re on it. If it doesn’t show, I’ll file a claim. After all, it did arrive!

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I learned one thing from this – don’t mark your checklists before the cards are in hand. I’ve been crossing things out as I order or trade so I know what I still need, but, man, now I have to go back and undo that, which is going to look ugly.

I guess I learned another thing – with all the postal advances there remains vulnerability. Psychologically, there’s an adrenaline rush to see that there are cards “Out for Delivery.” Really, it’s pretty exciting, at least for me (and, I’m guessing, you, considering you’re reading this). I’d hate to see this hiccup spoil a (formerly) predictably good feeling. That would suck.

Mistaken Mario Brothers

63 Landrum

A kid who “cracked the wax” on a pack of Topps in 1963 may have found the Cubs Don Landrum. Undoubtedly some astute kid from Chicago’s north side uttered, “whaaaat da faaauck.”   This reaction is understandable since the photo on the card is Ron Santo.

57 Snider, 58 Boiling, 59 Lumenti, 60 Martin, 66 Ellsworth, 75 Haney, 75 Busby, 77 Collins

57 Snyder

Bolling

lumenti

60 Martin

66 ellsworth

75 Busby

75 Haney

77 Collins

Vintage card collectors are undoubtedly aware the Topps periodically erred and put the wrong player’s photo on a card. Examples include: ’57 Jerry Snider is Ed FitzGerald, ’58 Milt Boiling is Lou Berberet, ’59 Ralph Lumenti is Camilo Pascual, ‘60 J.C. Martin is Gary Peters, ’66 Dick Ellsworth is Glen Hubbs, ’75 Larry Haney is Dave Duncan, ’75 Steve Busby is Fran Healy and ’77 Dave Collins is Tommy Smith.

69 Rodriguez

The most famous mistaken identity card is the ’69 Aurelio Rodriguez. The photo is that of the Angels bat boy, Leonard Garcia.

Korince Wrong

Real Korince

The main reason for the mix ups had to be similarity in appearance of teammates. The one exception is James Brown, an African-American, being mistaken for the white, Canadian George Korince on a ’67 Rookie Stars card. Kornice is correctly depicted on a different Rookie Stars card in a later series in the set.

79 Cox

80 Cox

The one photo mix up that definitely can be explained by similarity occurred in ’79 with Dave Rader being mistaken for Larry Cox. Both players were catchers of similar build with quintessential ‘70s era “porn stashes.” Additionally, both could have been the inspiration for the Mario Brothers of video game fame. Incidentally, Cox managed to have two stints with both the Cubs and Mariners.

The_Mario_Bros.

I’m sure my list of photo errors is not complete. Please let us know of others, particularly in more recent sets.

From Buckeye to Branch’s Bonus Baby Buc

Autumn means post-season baseball and clashes on the college and NFL gridirons. Most fans of the two sports are aware that a few players managed to carve out careers in both sports. The obvious examples are Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, who successfully played both sports professionally in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Jim Thorpe and George Halas were two early 20th century examples players who dabbled in both sports.

The aforementioned Jackson won the Heisman Trophy in ’85 before embarking on his professional careers in baseball and football. Thirty-five years earlier, another Heisman winner played both sports professionally: Vic Janowicz.

51 Football
1951 Topps Football

Although Vic was on the watch list of several MLB teams in high school, he decided to attend Ohio State to play football exclusively. He won the Heisman in ’50 as a two-way player seeing action as a tailback and safety. In addition, Vic handled the punting and place-kicking chores for the Buckeyes. In a game against Pittsburgh, he single-handedly scored 46 points. Against Michigan, Vic punted 21 times for 685 yards. His first card is from a ’51 college football set produced by Topps.

Janowicz surprised the sports world by initially forgoing pro football and signing with the Pirates in ’52, even though he hadn’t played baseball since his senior year in high school. The $10,000 signing bonus given to him by Pirates GM, Branch Rickey, resulted in Vic becoming a “Bonus Baby.” Under major league rules, “Bonus Babies” (players who sign for more than $4,000) had to remain on the big-league roster for two years.

Predictably, Janowicz saw limited action with the Pirates, which stunted his development. Used mostly as a third catcher, he hit .214 in ’53 and ’54, earning him a release at season’s end.

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1953 Topps
54 Topps
1954 Topps

Despite his benchwarmer status, Janowicz had several cards. Topps included him in the ’53 set, and both Bowman and Topps issued cards for Vic in ’54. His final card is a ’55 Bowman “Color TV” card, even though he didn’t play that season.

54 Bowman
1954 Bowman
55 Bowman front
1955 Bowman

The ’54 and ’55 Bowmans feature Janowicz wearing the helmet all the Pirates wore-including pitchers-at the behest of Branch Rickey. His goal of preventing head injuries was sound, but the helmets were composed of heavy plastic making them extremely uncomfortable. Maybe that explains the 100 loss seasons the Pirates endured in this era.

55 Bowman back
1955 Bowman back

Interestingly, the cards all mention that Vic was an All-American at OSU but omit his winning the Heisman. I assume the award didn’t have the same lofty status that it holds today, since there were many clubs and organizations that sponsored awards in the ‘50s.

55Bowman FB
1955 Bowman
56 Topps FB
1956 Topps

With his baseball career aborted, Janowicz gave the NFL a try, signing with the Redskins who had drafted him in ’51. He plays two season for Washington, leading them in rushing in ’55 while handling the place- kicking duties as well. Bowman’s ’55 NFL set has a Janowicz card and Topps issued one in ’56.

Vic’s career ended tragically in a car accident in ’57. The resulting head injury left him paralyzed on the left side of his body.

Bo “knew” football and baseball, so did Vic.

Sources:
New York Times: February 29, 2009, Vic Janowicz Obituary
“From Heisman to the Diamond:” Baseball Hall-of-Fame Website
Trading Card Database

1959 Fleer #28 The Williams Shift

Defensive Shifts in baseball have been implemented significantly more in recent years, but avid baseball fans know that they have been around for decades.

Perhaps the best known of these shifts is the “Williams Shift” which was designed to neutralize Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams. This shift was once captured on cardboard.

1959 Fleer Ted Williams #28 The Williams Shift

There is no player image here but that does not detract from the beauty of the card. While the shift was not based on statistical data, its still considered an early glimpse into SABRmetrics. Think about it, have you ever seen a card dedicated to the defensive alignment versus a hitter (or perhaps the players spray chart) prior to say 2010?

This shift was conceived by Cleveland Indians manager Lou Boudreau. The Indians lost the first game of a July 14 1946 Double Header to the Red Sox 11-10. Eight of those 11 runs were driven in by Ted Williams on three Homers, including a grand slam. As can be seen on the graphic on the card Boudreau — who was also the starting shortstop for the Indians — moved most of the fielders to the right side of the field.

Flip

1959 Fleer Ted Williams #28 The Williams Shift (b-side)

The back of the card goes into further discussion of the Williams Shift. The shift did not help much as the Tribe also lost the back end of the double header 6-4.

1959 Fleer Ted Williams

Notice the card has a source for “All Card Data” and the credit is given to an E. Mifflin. I did a little on-line digging and it appears that E. Mifflin is Edward Mifflin who wrote for the Sporting News in the 1950s and became friends with Williams.

I contacted SABR director and Ted Williams biographer Bill Nowlin to see if he had any insights on Edward Mifflin and Bill came back with a quick response including a bio from Mike Shatzkin’s “The Ballplayers”.

It turns out Mr Mifflin was quite an important figure in Ted Williams’ career.

In 1954 the Saturday Evening Post published an article announcing the retirement of Teddy Ballgame.

Following the article’s release, Mifflin ran into Williams at a Baltimore train station. Mifflin told the slugger that retirement at that time may jeopardize his baseball legacy.

The Mifflin Bio from “the Ballplayers” included this excerpt:

Mifflin explained. The success of Williams’s career would be measured one definitive way: Would he be elected to the Hall of Fame in the first year he became eligible? Williams had missed so much playing time in WWII and Korea that his career totals weren’t yet impressive enough. And baseball writers were the voters for the Hall of Fame. “Ted, you barely have 350 home runs. You don’t have 1,500 rbi. You don’t even have 2,000 hits.

And these writers hate your guts; they didn’t even vote you the MVP twice when you won the Triple Crown. You needs stats that are undeniable. These aren’t.”

Ted Williams perhaps boosted by Mifflin’s suggestion did not retire and returned to baseball. He played the bulk of six more seasons racking up 155 more Homers and 700+ additional hits. In 1966 he became a first ballot Hall of Famer with 521 Home Runs and 2600+ hits.

The 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set is 80 cards and a spot-check via Check Out My Cards revealed that all the cards had the E Mifflin credit.

Philadelphia folks may be interested to know that Edward Mifflin was a representative in the PA State legislature from 1963 until his death in 1971. His daughter Lawrie went on to become a New York Times sportswriter; she was cited in a recent NPR story which discussed NFL Quarterback Cam Newton’s poor judgement in comments to a female reporter.

Sources and Links

Fleer

The Ballplayers – Mike Shatzkin

SABR Bio Ted Williams – Bill Nowlin

NPR

TitleIX.info

Baseball-Ref

Cardboard Connection

Phungo List of Game Dated Cards

“It’s a good book, but it is not the only book.”

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Do people still watch Inherit the Wind? In my house, it’s a staple, one of those movies that is always watched to the end, regardless of when we happen upon it. Spencer Tracy, as Henry Drummond, man of reason, makes the above quoted point about the Bible. The film is a true classic, timeless in its portrayal of science vs. religion, progress vs. regression, thought vs. belief. “Plus ca change…” and all that.

I’m not a slave to the Standard Catalog and its prices, but it serves its purpose very well. For me, it’s an upper limit of cost – most cards, especially commons, can be had for way less than book value. I’ve been spending about half the quoted price for 1960 Topps commons, about one-third of book for 1956 Topps commons, low and high numbers. Granted, EX condition is a wider lane to drive in, so there’s more play, and commons are different from stars. If I can get big names for any amount less than book, I’m happy.

Now that I’m down to the last 18 cards for my 1960 set, I’ve run into a bit of a wall. I see by sold listings on eBay that there’s a low range that I’m shooting to claim as well. I do like my bargains. Maybe I can get a Mantle All-Star for $65 instead of $75, but it’s not going to get better than that. (I know firsthand because I missed out on one at that price last week).  I’m not looking to pay 1985-era prices in 2017, just the lowest possible price within the realm of reason. I will prevail. There’s no reason to panic on 1960 Topps of any kind. They’re out there in force.

For other sets I’ve nearly finished, there are cross purposes at work. I desperately want to wrap up some sets but I’m finding that either book prices are not an indication of the present market, or I have to fight my impatience to complete and move on. I fight the feeling that I should pay way too much just to be done. I need the Jackie Jensen card to finish the 1949 Remar Bread set. That’s it. They aren’t plentiful, but I see them priced way beyond book, Sometimes they sell, sometimes they languish. I’ll sit back and wait. Then there’s crazy mispricing. I need two commons to finish my 1952 Parkhurst set. I don’t see them appear often, but when they do I can get them for $10. There’s a dude who wants $45 for a Jim Hughes card. Good luck buddy!

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Then there are cards that have clearly have reached a price point. I’m down to the last three cards for the 1971 Kellogg’s set. Wayne Simpson, Reds flash in the pan, is card #1 and there is zero possibility I’m going to get one in EX for $6.75, or NM for $13.50. Near Mint versions, graded or un-graded, are going for $50-60 and more. I’ve saved enough on the other cards that I wouldn’t feel too bad paying $20-30, but I don’t know if that’s going to ever happen. I may have to keep climbing that price ladder.

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What’s interesting about book is that, though I’m working with a 2009 edition, prices haven’t moved on vintage stuff, at least not in the sets and condition I’m interested in. Still, we’d all be nowhere without some kind of guide to tell us what to expect the market to be and to make us feel great when we get a deal and terrible when we pay too much. Much like the Bible itself, the Standard Catalog can lead to bliss or shame.

Pulling Dubs and Saying Goodbye

All of my cards are mine. Redundant? Nonsensical? Inscrutable? Perhaps, but I’ve always had an attachment to each and every one of my cards. They all feel like my children, if, like a seahorse, I had thousands and thousands of babies. That attachment to what is mine has made it nearly impossible to make sensible choices.

As a kid I was told that I shouldn’t love things, that things can’t love you back. Maybe that’s so, but things have provided me a lot of joy and if that’s not love, what is? So it’s been a major step forward to start selling extra cards and, in a grand sense, make the change from “all of these cards are part of me” to “wow, I have a lot of assets I can leverage.” The former is emotional, the latter as clinical as can be.

I wrote about making huge bulk trades a few weeks ago. Though I’ve only been through one trade, it was a great one – I’m getting around 350 1968 and 1969 Topps baseball and I’m giving 525 Topps football, basketball and hockey, 1969-1974. As trading partners, Mark and I sort of eyeballed value, but not too much. Clearly more of my commons were needed to match his commons, but there are a lot of stars and Hall of Famers in the mix and my guess is, if we really went through each card meticulously, we’d come out pretty close in dollar value. But that’s not really the point, nor where the fun is.

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I was in Chicago last week, missing my cards but picking up 150 1968s and 1969s from my longtime pal Jimmy. We’ve engaged in pretty loose back and forth trading. I came into a bunch of 1970 Topps last year and gave him what he needed. He returned the favor and I’ll return it right back once I get his mid-1970s want lists. Once I got back to Cooperstown, it was time to start pulling cards for the big Mark deal.

It was an interesting process for me. On one hand, going through boxes and boxes of cards from my prime pack buying days was pleasantly emotional, eminently enjoyable. Card after card, each one bringing back vague nostalgia and visions of little Jeff Katz ripping packs on the concrete step by the front door of his Long Island house.  I could see the old shoeboxes I stored them in, feel the thin wood doors of a cabinet that I put the boxes in. On the other hand, I knew I was saying goodbye to them all, sending them to a home where they’d become prized singles, not neglected doubles and triples.

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Cards are in transit, from East Coast to West, from West Coast to East and, I have to say, I feel great about it. I’m excited to get a box of cards and I know Mark feels the same.  Once I go through my new babies, I’ll likely be $100-200 away from a complete 1969 Topps set, unless one of you wants to join in and trade with me. I still have thousands of doubles I’m ready to part with, though I’ll miss them. Maybe they’ll keep in touch.