The Making (Actually, Building) of a Complete Set

It’s a daunting task to start collecting a full vintage set from zero. I only did it once, about 25 years ago or so, an old set of over 200 cards. In those pre-eBay days, it wasn’t quite clear what a complete set really went for in the open market. All you could go on was price guide prices and, since they were usually higher than actual, going for a set from scratch wasn’t necessarily an economic mistake.

It would be now. There’s no way you can put together a vintage set for a better price than buying it straight out, unless you either have a good critical mass of cards to start from or you can trade. Or, and herein lies this post, it’s a small enough set that prices won’t get out of hand.

Until a few months ago, I didn’t have a single 1969 Topps Decal in my collection. Why? Who knows. Never interested me, my 1969s weren’t my original cards from packs so I didn’t have the inserts, and so on. They’re interesting items, small and glossy with plain white paper backgrounds, the photos almost the same as the regular issue cards. They ain’t no Deckle Edges, I can tell you! (By the way, can anyone tell me which series the Deckles were inserted in, and which series had the Decals? I’d like to know that.)

Earlier this year, Mark Armour and I, hot off a huge trade of 1970’s basketball for 1968 and 1969 baseball, bandied about what we may still have to swap. It came down to Hostess, Kellogg’s, Fleer Cloth patches (from me) and other oddballs for some Post Cereal and, when I saw them calling out to me, 1969 Decals.

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I was on my way. From zero to 10, in one swoop, 20% of the way to the end. All I needed was a good, cheap lot, ideally with a bunch of stars. That came my way soon after.

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The nice thing about this lot was that now I had doubles to sell, which I did. Oddly, I couldn’t buy commons for less than $2-2.50 and couldn’t sell them for more than about $1.75. Still, selling extras helped me whittle down my cost (I still have a nice Hoyt Wilhelm, if anyone is interested).  I even sold the backless Pete Rose for over $4 and bought a super nice one for $10.

With Joey Foy now in hand, I’m down to one, Reggie Jackson. I want to pay $10-15, EX or better, but it’s likely to run me $15-20. Weird, because there’s no way there are more of these out there than Reggie’s rookie card, which goes for way more. The Decals are definitely a lowish supply, lower demand kind of issue.

As to the price? I’ll have ended up spending around $150 for the complete set in overall EX (some VGEX, some EXMT, hard to know with Decals) and sold listings show most sets in this condition going for $200-300. Not that I’m selling, but it’s nice to know that, after the dust settles, I ended up with a bargain.

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Father and son

So being a relatively new member (if ‘relatively new’ can mean ‘a few years’) to the organization, and a first time attendee, one goal I had for SABR 48 was to introduce myself to a number of committee chairs. Considering myself a relatively abysmal conversationalist, I wanted to try and think up some hook of an idea to engage folks. It usually involved a slightly unique question.

Now, if you’ll humor me, I’ll pose the question (and reason for it) that I had approached Mark Armour with, in the hopes that someone can come up with something more on the topic.

Does anyone know when the earliest Kennesaw Mountain Landis card was produced? When I had asked Mark, all we could think of were examples from those early ’60s Fleer old-timer sets. A quick ebay check shows something called a Callahan with him on it from around 1950, but I can’t locate anything earlier.

The reason I ask this is: I have recently become enamored with those mid 1930s National Chicle sets. The cards are brilliantly-colored, art-deco masterpieces. Unfortunately, the baseball set involves star cards that are a bit out of my budget. Meanwhile, the football set involves star and non-star cards that are, for the most part, out of everyone’s budget.  However, in 1934-35, a set was made that highlighted famous aviators from the previous 31ish years called Sky Birds, which provides a neat gateway to learning about aviation (and a lot of WW1 aviation) history. The set also happens to be downright affordable, especially if you’re not looking for slabbing material. So I’ve picked up a bunch.

Learning about the stories of these pilots has been fascinating. Get a card, do a Wikipedia search, and you find out about the Lafayette Escadrille, or the greatest WW1 flying ace from (insert country here), or some other tidbit (I have a beaten up dupe of the guy who flew the first non-stop, coast-to-coast flight, for anyone interested). They’re all pretty great. But there is one particular card that includes a flying ace from WW1 with a name and facial structure that looked somewhat familiar to me. He wasn’t anyone I had known of before, but then I’ve always been pretty ignorant when it comes to ‘The Great War.’ His name was Reed Landis, and based on his Wikipedia bio, he has been credited with twelve aerial victories.

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And as you’ve probably logically determined by now, he was a relative of Judge Landis’s. Specifically, a son.

I’m not going to give you some kind of fleshed out rundown of his backstory (or frontstory) here, because I’d essentially be copying info from a much more detailed Wikipedia entry. But I will pose the question again in slightly altered form: does anyone know if Kennesaw made it on cardboard before his son did? It’s interesting  to think that, quite possibly, one of the most powerful men in baseball history was beaten to the medium of collectible cards by his own flesh and blood.

The Andy Warhol Triple Play “Pete Rose” (1985) Extra Innings

Last month I gave a presentation titled “The Andy Warhol Triple Play” at the SABR48 conference in Pittsburgh. The name refers to the three major baseball artworks that Warhol painted during his prolific career.

Most importantly for members and fans of this blog the idea to research this topic began with a baseball card.

Or more accurately a silkscreen based off of a baseball card design.

When I saw this image the geography synapses somehow connected Warhol to Pittsburgh and continued to SABR48 which was held at the home of the Pirates. I then vaguely recalled seeing “Tom Seaver” (1977) at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown a few years prior and started wondering about Warhol & Baseball.

I quickly found that Kristin Spangenberg of the Cincinnati Art Museum had previously curated an exhibit of Warhol’s baseball art in 2015 to coincide with the city hosting the MLB All-Star Game. It tuned out there was a third Warhol painting simply titled “Baseball”. All of the sudden I had an idea: Three Baseball Paintings + Andy Warhol = Andy Warhol’s Triple Play.

I have chronicled each of the pieces separately on my own blog Phungo. Here are links to the related pieces

Extra Innings

Twenty minutes may seem like a long time to talk about anything but when it comes to baseball most of us can drone on for hours. This was the case with the Andy Warhol baseball paintings and myself. I ended up cutting about 100 slides down to a few dozen, and I had to race to get through those.

When this happens something inevitably has to get dumped. This includes some very good stuff – after doing the research and living with the subject for a while it is similar to seeing a favorite player get released.

I am referring to this leftover information as “Extra Innings”. I have written columns on these missed subjects over at Phungo. So far postings have discussed the original photo Andy Warhol used for “Pete Rose”, A few of Andy’s Tom Seaver Polaroids, and the various flavors of the “Tom Seaver” portrait.

For various reasons I ended up purging the best Pete Rose anecdote.

Originally there was supposed to be a Pete Rose sitting, similar to what Andy Warhol did with Tom Seaver. Unfortunately in 1985 both Andy and Pete were pretty busy – and to be honest, I don’t think Rose was much of a sitter.

Warhol agreed to do the portrait from a series of photographs.

Andy got the pictures and he was perplexed. He called Carl Solway, the man who had commissioned the artwork with a question:

“In some photos he has the bat on his left shoulder and in some photos he has the bat on his right shoulder, and I am wondering why that is,”

Solway told Warhol “It’s because he’s a switch-hitter”

What happened next was described by SI scrbe Kostya Kennedy in “Pete Rose: An American Dilemma

When Carl Solway related the story to me he mentioned that after finding out that “Switch-Hitter” was a baseball term the artist became significantly more interested in the project.

Kostya Kennedy used this story to promote his book in various forums and you can see him discuss the anecdote on Seth Meyers show if you have hulu.

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I plan to do more Extra Innings postings in the future. Most of the columns will appear at Phungo, but I expect to author the trading card related items here. From time to time I will Tweet items under #WarholBaseball.

Acknowledgements

I have always had a significant fear of public speaking – I am perfectly comfortable in a social setting, but yeah never had a desire to speak in front of a roomful of people … until I joined SABR and saw some great presentations.

I then realized I wanted to contribute something to the community.

I would like to thank the Connie Mack Chapter for putting up with my various presentations over the last couple of years, they got to see the raw minor league me. Also I would like to thank the facilitators at the SABR conference. In my case it was Bob Sproule, these folks are great for calming the nerves of any novice presenters like myself.

If you’re a true amateur as I am, I recommend trying out a Speech/Communications group. I joined Toastmasters in advance of going to Pittsburgh. I only went to perhaps a dozen meetings prior to going to #SABR48 but the experience was very valuable.

Sources and Links

Andy Warhol Index at Phungo

Pete Rose: An American Dilemma – Kostya Kennedy

Carl Solway: e-Mail interview

CityBeat – various issues

Cincinnati Art Museum

#SABR48 Warhol Triple-Play audio

#SABR48 Warhol Triple-Play slides

Spring 2019: (Sort of) Mark Your Calendars

National-Baseball-Hall-of-Fame0-f989cee95056a36_f989d01c-5056-a36a-0708e425a78aa7b7There is nothing like a visit to Cooperstown, New York, on a nice spring weekend. I have not been in a few years — thinking … gosh, its been since 2013 — because I live a few plane rides away and I have kids and a job and stuff like that. Cooperstown is a fine relaxing town fit for a cold beer, walking around and about, window shopping and immersing yourself in the history of baseball. Little known fact: The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is there.

The Museum is a wonderful place, as many (most?) of you know. But next spring it will become even more wonderful.

For next spring is when the Baseball Hall of Fame will be unveiling this.

The page I link above was set up as a fund-raiser, but a few days ago I was told that the goal has been met and the permanent exhibit will open in 2019. They are aiming for Memorial Day weekend, when the summer season (and extended hours) kick in, but officially they are only saying “Spring 2019.”

In the past several months, as this exhibit began to crystallize, Chris Dial, Jeff Katz and I have been discussing a gathering of this committee (open to everyone) the weekend (still TBD) of the Grand Opening. What would this gathering entail? Not sure yet, but we envision speakers and events of some sort.

(One possible hiccup is that we also don’t yet know the dates/place of the SABR convention next summer. Obviously we would prefer that these two events be spaced apart.)

It would great if many of you began to think about setting aside a few days to head to Cooperstown next spring. Let’s face it — you’ve been putting off going to the Hall for a few years/decades, always saying “I’ll go next year.” Well, next year is next year.

Sorry for the lack of specifics. We shall keep you informed. If you have bright ideas, pass them on.

Induction and Cards – The Reese’s Cup of Baseball

It’s taken four days to unwind from Hall of Fame Induction Weekend. While being an ex-Mayor made this past weekend a different, less immersive experience (I don’t get invited anywhere anymore), much of the four days were the same – non-stop eating and drinking, a house full of guests, a seemingly continuous party from Friday through Monday and, of course, baseball cards.

Though most locals don’t love it, Cooperstown has a high percentage of baseball stores, many of those card shops. They’re all different in their stock. Some are classic local card shops, with old and new cards, pricey and cheap cards, everything you’d expect from a full service dealer. Others are more specialized. They either don’t focus on cards or have their own niche.

I know I’ve written about Baseball Nostalgia before. For over four decades the shop has been in Cooperstown, in one form or another. It’s amazing and a key part of what we do on Induction weekend. My pal Jimmy explained it best. Baseball Nostalgia is the kind of store you can go into and say, “I’m looking for something in an Elroy Face” and, within 20 seconds, you’re holding an awesome (and authentic) signed picture.

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I had a few successes, adding two more 1972 Fleer Famous Feats, whittling my want list down to seven cards. Jimmy went to town, scouring rack after rack, diving into the quarter bin. When we got back to my house to look at his haul, I saw a 1994 Fleer Frank Thomas. I always liked the look of those (though somehow I don’t have the set).

“Wait a minute,” Jimmy said, went out to his car and handed me a complete 1994 Fleer Sunoco set, 25 super nice cards. He happened to have bought two. I’m telling you, cards surround us on Induction weekend.

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We didn’t break out a box of unopened packs this year. Last year we had 1992 Upper Deck. I had a box of 1991 Topps ready to go, but totally forgot to bring it down. That set has a Chipper Jones rookie card which, though not incredibly valuable, was apropos for Laaaaarrrrry’s special weekend.

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The inextricable connection between the game, its history and baseball cards is never more clear to me than on Induction weekend. I couldn’t imagine the two being separated. The weekend wouldn’t be as much fun without the cards.

As Jimmy said after another round of card shopping, “I can’t believe it. Where else can I go where I give a guy some money and he gives me a pile of baseball cards that I need?” There’s nothing better than Cooperstown and cards, together.

Hey! Getcher Managers in Action Baseball Cards Here!

What in the world are they hollering about and pointing at?

We’ll get to that in a moment.

The first set I was introduced to at age six was the Topps 1964 set. Card #413 caught my eye. “Johnny Keane, manager” for the St. Louis Cardinals. Maybe it was the colorful Cards uni or the fact I could see the inside of his hand cupped around his mouth. It’s a terrific piece of flash photography and in a galaxy of it’s own compared to portraits of graying former players leaning against a railing. At least Keane is actually doing some managing for crissakes!

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“Hey, Johnson! You’re gonna hit .320 this year, but you’ll be doing it in Altoona!”

The Keane card sent me down a rabbit hole to capture some of my favorite manager cards from the past, along with some new gems I dug up.

Leave it to the hapless Cubs to come up with the hare-brained notion of the “college of coaches,” which started in 1960. After the Wreck of the Hesperus season of 1962, when the Flubbies recorded a super-stinky 59-103 campaign, Philip Wrigley decided a head coach could just as easily drive the ship into the iceberg as the whole gang. Kennedy’s action head coaching cards reveal much about the man and the trauma he suffered.

The ’63 Kennedy pictured is full steam ahead, icebergs be damned. He’s confident in his spring training garb, barking orders to his crew for the fight ahead, “By God, we’ve got Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Lou Brock, Larry Jackson and Dick Ellsworth! The sky’s the limit!” Huzzah! The 1963 Cubs went 82-80, good for 7th place in the NL. Would there be better days ahead?

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“You guys look like Molly Putz out there! Snap out of it!”

The 1965 Kennedy card says it all. Here is Kennedy, baking under the Arizona sun and his head being driven in his shoulders by the weight of expectations for continued success. He’s holding his hat off his head wondering how in the world he’s supposed to win with 2/3 of his outfield manned by the immortal duo of Billy Cowan and Len Gabrielson (Cowan wasn’t horrible: 19 HR, 50 RBI, 16 doubles, 4 triples in 139 games, but a .268 OBP, BA of .241 and whiffing 25% of the time can be tough on a guy. Cowan also wore the mill stone of “Clubhouse Lawyer” around his neck for much of his career, playing for a total of 6 teams in 8 years). The cavalry was supposed to arrive in the infamous trade that sent the struggling Lou Brock to the Cardinals in exchange for a washed-up and injured Ernie Broglio. It never got there, as Kennedy and his furry flounderers went meekly into that good night with a 76-86 record, in eighth place.

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“Good gravy. I’m doomed.”

Perhaps Kennedy could have used the sagacity of the 1963 Keane, who went from managing St. Louie to the Yankees after his Cards whupped the Bronx Bombers in the 1964 World Series? Alas, it was not a good fit, as the aging skipper had zero control over a clubhouse of wild party animals and free spirits like the Mick, Whitey Ford, Pepi, and Jim Bouton. Keane delivered an odious cadaver, finishing 6th, the Yankees’ first losing season in 40 years. When the Yanks barfed on themselves to start the 1966 season, going 4-16, Keane and his barf bag were sent packing.

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“What was I thinking? I should’ve stayed in St. Louis with Bob Gibson, Curt Flood, and Ken Boyer.”

Then there is the manager who was also a time traveler: Connie Mack. The 1951 Topps All-Star card pictures Mack resplendent in his suit and tie, and telling us the man was born in 1862. 1862! The guy was alive during the Civil War and managed from 1896-1950. The Mack in the ’51 card is sporting some killer two-toned dress shoes and appears to be ambling his way to the nearest Blue Plate Special.

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“Dig my crazy Buster Browns!”

Walter Alston always appeared in my ‘60s baseball cards like an old fart battling weekly brain aneurysms. How wrong I was. Walt was a tough SOB who challenged slug-a-bid players and recalcitrants to fistfights. He’s got his right index finger extended and looks like last night’s crab louie didn’t settle well in his 1962 Bell Brand beauty. He is much more cheerful in his 1972 Peter Max-infused Topps card, smiling the smile of a man who knows retirement isn’t far off.

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And who is the man who would be king when Alston rode off into the blue? It’s Tommy Lasorda, who is quite active in his Topps cards of the 80s, gesticulating like a man ordering waiters around at an Italian restaurant. The 1988 Topps shows Lasorda after he’s polished off two deep-dish pizzas, a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, and a carton of chocolate ice cream with some garlic dip on the side. You wouldn’t be able to move either, which is why baseball’s greatest gourmand is pictured seated in a golf cart.

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“I’d like to order another plate of rigatoni and clams, please.”

I could die and go to Heaven if there was ever a card of the Seattle Pilots’ Joe Schultz in action, or at least hefting a can of Bud in one hand and a liverwurst sammich in the other. We’ll have to settle for this faux 1969 card instead, as Joe looks out to the field wondering why rookie Lou Piniella is such a huge red ass.

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“God help me.”

The Little General, Gene Mauch, used to have a sign on his desk when managing the Phabulous Phillies of 1964, “Isn’t this a beautiful day? Watch some son-of-a-bitch louse it up.” The sardonic hilarity continued when he made the trip to Montreal, as his 1970 Topps card suggests. Left arm extended, Mean Gene is no doubt showing the way out to a failed Expos pitcher.

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“Hey, you! You’re done!”

I was pleased to find not one, but two cards of John McGraw. The Topps 206 from 2002 features a fusty, colorized Muggsy making a point with his right index finger. His 1911 Conlon beauty might be the greatest of manager action cards: cap pulled low, on the field, legs apart, left knee slightly bent; his right arm is extended as if delivering a right cross to Jack Johnson. By Gar, this is a manager worth his salt.

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Managers in action baseball cards I would have loved to see that don’t exist (or couldn’t find): Earl Weaver and Billy Martin bench jockeying opponents and tearing into umpires. Oh well, I’ll always have Bob Kennedy.

 

1989 Bimbo Cookies Super Stars Discs

I have an affinity for oddballs. Even here at the SABR Blog, my two contributions have focused on Brewers Police cards and the Milwaukee Braves Spic-n-Span offerings from the 1950s.

My affinity for oddballs stems both from them being “odd” and in finding out about the companies that issued them. I started writing my own blog about 1980s Oddballs last year, and I thought that I would share one of the posts from that blog. This post is about a very small, weird set: the Bimbo Cookies Super Star Discs set from 1989.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SET
Bimbo Bakeries is a Mexico City-based multinational bakery known as Grupo Bimbo that is said to be the world’s largest bakery. The company was started in 1945 in Mexico City, perhaps coming about as the result of a name change from “Super Pan” (that’s super bread in Spanish) and grew quickly to become a huge corporation.

The name “Bimbo” — despite its less savory connotations here in the US — has an etymology that is checkered at best. Wikipedia says that the most likely hypothesis is that it is a mashup of the word bingo and Bambi, though it may also mean baby in Italian and it might sound like the word that means bread in China.

Bimbo entered the US market in 1986 with the purchase of Pacific Pride Bakeries in San Diego. Since 1986, Grupo Bimbo has purchased Mrs. Baird’s Bakeries in Texas and, later, the rights to brands such as Oroweat, Entenmann’s, Thomas’s (the English Muffins), and Boboli. That established Bimbo in the western US, and its purchase of Weston Foods in 2008 made it the largest bakery company in the United States.

These days, Bimbo is known for all of the brands above and for owning Sara Lee. In addition, Bimbo sponsors the Philadelphia Union in MLS, Rochester Rhinos in the USL, Chivas de Guadalajara, Club América, and C.F. Monterrey in the Mexican soccer league, and C.D. Saprissa in Costa Rica.

When this disc set was issued in 1989, Bimbo was attempting to get its name recognized more. Now, the 2011 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards notes that this disc set was distributed “in Puerto Rico in boxes of cookies.” I do not know what Bimbo’s history in Puerto Rico is, but focusing on baseball was not a bad idea.

EXEMPLARS

With only 12 discs in a set issued only for one year, my choices are limited.

(Front and back images courtesy of The Trading Card Database)

DETAILS
As mentioned above, this set contains a total of 12 players. While the Standard Catalog says that the set contains a “dozen Hispanic players,” a little bit of research online reveals that the set actually includes a dozen Puerto Rican players. The discs are 2-3/4″ in diameter and are licensed only by the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Michael Schechter Associates printed and licensed these discs. As is typical for MSA discs starting in 1975 and ending when MSA stopped getting licensed by MLBPA, these cards do not include logos. Interestingly, this must have been before MLB started protecting its trademarks in team names since the discs include the team names in full on each.

The Bimbo bear appears at the top center of the disc. This bear is apparently the most well-known trademark for Bimbo, and Bimbo markets plush stuffed animals of the bear as a collectible for kids as well. Indeed, there are a ton more Bimbo bears on eBay than there are Bimbo discs.

Stats on these discs are lacking, as is also typical of MSA. You can see that you get the very basics — at bats, hits, homers, RBI, and average for the most recent year (1988) and for the player’s career.

With this being a small set, I’ll give you the checklist:
1 Carmelo Martinez
2 Candy Maldonado
3 Benito Santiago
4 Rey Quinones
5 Jose Oquendo
6 Ruben Sierra
7 Jose Lind
8 Juan Beniquez
9 Willie Hernandez
10 Juan Nieves
11 Jose Guzman
12 Roberto Alomar

HALL OF FAMERS
The only Hall of Famer out of the twelve is Roberto Alomar.

ERRORS/VARIATIONS
Trading Card Database does not list any errors or variations. But, as frequent SABR Blog contributor Jeff Katz noted to me on Twitter, the Roberto Alomar disc actually is a photo of his brother Sandy Alomar. I’ve sent a note to the folks at the Trading Card Database, but that is definitely an uncorrected error.

What are your thoughts on this set? Do you like discs? Do you like Oddballs?