A Card Too Far

The vast majority of my collection consists of either (a) complete sets, or (b) sets I am working on. I completed 1968 through 1971 in the 1980s, and in the past 30 years I have managed to push it all the way back to … 1964.

I do not work on one set a time — I work (slowly and randomly) on a bunch of things, which gives me more flexibility when I see an affordable lot. I might go months without buying anything, and then see some 1954 Topps commons that look great. I have no timetable. I would be content not finishing another set. We shall see.

Here is where I stand at the moment on my 1952-63 Topps sets.

Year Total Have Need %
1952 407 33 374 8%
1953 274 42 232 15%
1954 250 56 194 22%
1955 206 46 160 22%
1956 340 207 133 61%
1957 407 243 164 60%
1958 495 300 195 61%
1959 572 360 212 63%
1960 572 348 224 61%
1961 587 472 115 80%
1962 598 508 90 85%
1963 576 543 33 94%

I have 23 1952 cards, and I have 543 1963 cards.

Logically, 1963 seems like the next set that I should finish — look how close I am! But it’s just not gonna happen.

One of the cards I need is #537.

169887

I have nothing against Pete Rose. Or, for that matter, Ken McMullen, Al Weis, and Pedro Gonzalez. Heck, I liked Pete Rose as a player, and I wish we had a player like him around today. He gambled a bit? Zzzzz.

But I consider this a rather ordinary card, perhaps even a bit ugly. I like the 1963 base design quite a bit, but I gotta be blunt here: the rookies and leaders subsets, both of which employ the “floating heads” technique, are pretty lame. (Do people disagree? Anyone?)

If I am patient enough, and compromise a bit on condition, I might be able to find this card for $500. We all have our budgets, but I just can’t see myself spending $500 for this. Its probably worth $5-10 to me as a card, and perhaps as much as $50 as a “I must complete this set!” card.

But if I have $500 laying around (spoiler: I really don’t), I could instead buy all of these 1955 cards (also “needed”) in the same condition.

Oh, and I’d have about $250 left over. Not really a difficult call for me.

I first heard of the concept of the “rookie card” almost 40 years ago, when a dealer explained to me why some of his cards seemed to be oddly priced. I thought, and still think, the whole thing is contrived. There was no increased demand for a Rose rookie card until dealers jacked the price up.

Dealers: “This card is scarce and desirable.”

Collectors: “OK, I must buy this card.”

Dealers: “Cool, its now actually a bit scarce.”

Its a not a card anyone would otherwise care about.

wpeE2

But even if there is additional demand for the first Pete Rose card, wouldn’t this be a better choice? For my money, this is actually Pete Rose’s first real card. Isn’t this, objectively, 10 times the card of the 1963 … thing? This is one heck of nice card, to be honest. And it is less than 20% of the price.

I like the multi-person rookie cards that came along later in the decade. They are a fun subset, like the World Series cards or the league leaders cards. But the “demand” for them is way overblown and makes set collecting unnecessarily expensive.

The Nolan Ryan rookie card is a cute little addition to the 1968 set. But the Bob Gibson (the best player in baseball at the time) is absolute magic.

 

 

 

Its Miller Times Two

There are many players in baseball history who shared the same name. Not quite as common are identically named men being active at the same time. Here is look at some of the “same name” players who, for at least one year, had cards in the same set.

Bob L miller 1Bob G miller 2

Perhaps the most famous example are the two Bob Millers who played for the original ’62 Mets. Bob L. Miller (on the left) was the Mets #1 expansion draft pick from St. Louis. He would play for 10 different teams in a career that stretched into the ‘70s. Bob G. Miller was on the way out when he joined the first year Mets. His stint at the Polo Grounds would mark the end of his mediocre career. Using Retrosheet I was able to find at least three instances where they both pitched in the same game. Incidentally, Bob G. came over from the Reds in a May ‘62 deal for Don Zimmer. This resulted in Don Zimmer’s ’62 card having him pictured as a Met but on the Reds.

geo H Burns 22 BosGeo J Burns 22 Cin

The oldest two-name examples I found were ’22 Exhibit Supply Co. cards for the two George Burns. Both Georges were excellent players in the early 20th Century. First baseman George H. Burns had a stellar 16 year career highlighted by winning the 1926 AL MVP for Cleveland. I found out after reading Joseph Wancho’s SABR BioProject piece that his post-baseball career was sheriff’s deputy for King Country, Washington where I live. George J. Burns played outfield for John McGraw’s Giants from ’11-’16 before being traded to the Reds after the ’22 season. His solid 15 year career included leading the NL in runs scored five times and stolen bases twice. R. J. Lesch’s BioProject entry is very informative. As far as I can determine, neither man had a wife named Gracie Allen.

hal W smith piretshal R smith 1

The fact that both Hal Smiths played catcher undoubtedly led to some confusion. Hal W. Smith played for five teams in a career lasting 10 years. His home run in the 8th inning of the 1960 Worlds Series put the Pirates ahead, only to see the Yankees tie it in the top of the ninth. Hal could have been the hero instead of Mazeroski. Hal R. Smith was mainstay with the Cardinals from ’56-’61. He resurfaced for a few games with the Giants in ’65.

58 Bob G SMith Pit58 Bob W Smith Bos

If that pair of Smiths wasn’t confusing enough, there were two pitchers named Bob Smith in the late ‘50s. Bob G. had a six year career with five teams. Bob W. Smith played for three clubs in the span of his two years in the “bigs.” Coincidently, both broke in with the Red Sox.

Frank Baker Jr.Frank W Baker

1971 saw cards for two Frank Bakers. Outfielder Frank Baker Jr. played for Cleveland in total of 125 games in ’69 and ’71. Infielder Frank W. Baker came up with the Yankees in ’70 and finished up with Baltimore in ’74 having played a total of 146 games.

Dave W. RobertsDave A Roberts

In ‘72 the Padres selected Dave W. Roberts, from the University of Oregon, #1 overall in the amateur draft. He replaced Dave A. Roberts who they traded to Houston after the ’71 season. Dave W. never came close to living up to his lofty draft position. He never developed into a major league catcher and struggled to find a position with three teams. Dave A. Roberts was a decent pitcher for eight teams from ’69-’81. His best year was ‘73 when he won 17 games as an Astro.

81 kevin_J brown Mil.81 Kevin D Brown Pit.

Kevin D Brown   Kevin J. Brown

These two 1991 Donruss cards proves the existence of another pitcher named Kevin Brown. Kevin D. Brown pitched for three teams from ’90-92 racking up three victories. Kevin J. Brown was one of the most prominent pitchers of the ‘90s totaling 211 career wins. He was a key part of the ’97 Florida Marlins championship and helped San Diego reach the World Series in ’98.

Greg A Harris Red SoxGreg W Harris Padres

Greg A. Harris and Greg W. Harris are pictured here in ’90. Greg A. had a 15 year stint in the majors with eight teams winning 74 games. Greg W. pitched for eight years primarily with San Diego notching 45 victories.

M. G Brown Red Sox 84M.C Brown Angels 84

Mike G. Brown was part of a trade deadline deal in 1986 between Seattle and Boston which sent Dave Henderson east. Red Sox fans fondly remember “Hendu’s” post-season heroics that year. Mike G. didn’t fare so well in Seattle closing out his career in ’87 with a total of 12 MLB wins. Outfielder Mike C. Brown had a similarly lackluster career with the Pirates and Angels form ’83-’86.

pat kelly o's1980- D Pat Kelly BJ

The two Pat Kelly’s had cards in 1980. Outfielder Pat Kelly had a 15 year career and was an original KC Royal in ‘69. His speed on the base paths made him a valuable asset to the White Sox and Orioles as well. He is the brother of ‘60s-‘70s Cleveland Browns running back Leroy Kelly. Dale Patrick “Pat” Kelly had a “cup of coffee” with the Blue Jays in 1980. He appeared in only three games before becoming a long tenured, minor league manager.

Brian R Hunter Sea.Brian L Hunter

Personally, the two most confusing “same name” players are the Brian Hunters. Both players’ careers spanned roughly the same era and each had a stint the Mariners, my home team, in the ‘90s. Brian R. started with the Braves in ’91 and then bounced around for the better part of a decade playing outfield and first base for six different teams. Brian L. was a speedy outfielder for seven teams between ’94 and ’03.

Penas

The great Pirates catcher Tony Pena’s son Tony F. Pena Jr. was a shortstop for Boston and KC from ’06-’09. He was the Royals starter in ’07 but didn’t see sustained success. Breaking in the same years was Ramon Antonio Pena a pitcher. This Tony started with Arizona and “hung them up” after the’11 season with the White Sox.

Darrell David Carp.david carpenter 1

Darrell David “Dave” Carpenter and Dave L. Carpenter experienced mediocre pitching careers. David L. achieved one win in 4 seasons from ’12-’15 while Darrell “Dave” won 11 times from ’11-‘15.

Chris R Young P 14C B Young Out.

A basketball player at Princeton, 6’10’ Chris R. Young chose baseball and has put together a 12 year career with five teams. He won 12 games twice and has total of 79 from ’04-’16. Chris B. Young has played for five teams as well from ’06-’16. As a starter for Arizona in ‘10, he had 91 RBI. According to Baseball Reference, the two have never faced each other.

bobby J Jonesbobby M. Jones

Bobby J. Jones was a serviceable pitcher from ’93-’02 amassing 97 wins. Bobby M. Jones played from ’97-’05 with middling results.

Pedro A martinezPedro Martinez HOF

To say the career of Pedro (Aquino) Martinez’s career was over-shadowed is a gross understatement. He toiled for 4 teams from ’93-’97 accruing seven wins. Hall-of-Famer Pedro Martinez finished with 219 wins.

Alex Gonzalez Marlins    Alex S. Gon

Playing primarily with the Marlins, shortstop Alex Gonzales was a solid performer for 16 seasons from ’98-’14. He was an All-Star in ’99 and finished with lifetime average of .290. His contemporary, Alex S. Gonzalez played from ’94-’06 with six teams.

MayMaye

ServaisService

I will conclude with players with the same pronunciation of their names but different spellings. Scott Servais and Scott Service played concurrently as did Lee May and Lee Maye.

If you know of other cards, please let us know in the comments or on Twitter.

 

Die Cuts (or, as German card collectors call them, The Cuts)

Die cut cards have been around for a long time, 19th century style long time. I’m not going to write about the history of die cuts; that’s not my style. You want to know more about them, go for it. You’re not gonna get that here.

In the mid-‘80’s, Donruss put out Pop-ups in conjunction with their set of All-Stars. Here’s a Wade Boggs card:

IMG_2473

 

Here’s the eye-popping special effect:

IMG_2474

The worst Kellogg’s set did a better job of 3-D. Most die cuts don’t even try that hard. You just pop out the player and stick him in a little paper stand. Not very believable, if you ask me.

Every once in a while a die cut set catches my eye.  The 1973 Johnny Pro Orioles set is all kinds of awesome. Great players, good pictures, and even a couple of harder to come by cards – Brooks Robinson, Bobby Grich and Jim Palmer got two poses each! I’m still on the trail of Brooks batting and Palmer in his windup. The supply seems very scarce, but, fortunately for me, the demand is low. If I ever track them down they shouldn’t set me back too much. Orlando Pena’s card, oddly, is not die cut. Pena probably wasn’t worth the price of the labor!

IMG_2475

The next year Johnny Pro put out a Phillies set. While the O’s got 28 cards, the Phils got only 12. The Orioles deserved more cards, they were good. The Phillies were lousy, but, and it’s a big Kardashian-sized but, the Johnny Pro set had a Mike Schmidt card. Though both sets have a solid color background, there’s something unfinished about the Phillies set, all in white. The green of the Orioles cards seems somehow more polished. I have no idea what Johnny Pro Enterprises did, but their corporate filing was forfeited in 1979. The significance of that also something I have no idea about.

IMG_2476

The only other die cut set I went gaga over was a Dodgers team issued pinup set from 1963. A most incredible set of actual head shots on cartoony hand drawn bodies; it seems likely that this set, in its super cool envelope, was sold at the ballpark. They look a lot like the 1938 Goudey Heads-up cards, but so much better. They’re really big, 7 ¼” X 8 ½”.

IMG_2477

People are probably most familiar with the 1964 Topps Stand-ups. Weird that I never dug those; I can’t figure out why. They seem right in my wheelhouse and I probably could’ve gotten them relatively cheaply in the ‘70’s, when cards like that were easy to find and inexpensive.  I should at least have a Wayne Causey in my collection.

mthw_meHhxsWIf2OSu5Mwiw

It Falls Between the Lines

68 Lines Front68 Lines Back

All collectors have experienced the disappointment of opening a pack and finding mostly cards you already possess. The joyous anticipation of peeling open a wax pack or tearing the Mylar wrapper is quickly extinguished when only duplicates appear. Equally frustrating is getting numerous cards of the same player. Of course I only have anecdotal evidence, but occasionally it seems the random sorting process goes awry and the same player ends up in most of the packs.

70 Syd O'Brien

In 1970, I remember getting five Syd O’Brien cards out of six or seven packs I purchased. I can still see him with his arms spread in a mock infielders pose. But the multiple “Syds” pale in comparison to the deluge of Dick Lines cards I received in ’68.

1968 was my first year collecting which probably explains why I vividly remember opening pack after pack containing the Senators reliever. After acquiring a few more from my brother and friends, I ended up with 10. I must have derived some pleasure from hording the Washington southpaw. The card left such an impression on me that I still remember that the answer to the cartoon trivia question on the back is Darold Knowles. Dick’s pitching follow though pose at Yankee Stadium may be more familiar to me than memories of my wedding or birth of my son!

Ironically, Lines didn’t even pitch for the Senators in ’68 and never appeared in the majors again. He did have a great year in ’66, appearing in 53 games, winning five and losing two, with a 2.28 ERA and three saves. Dick’s two year major league totals include: seven wins, seven losses and a 2.83 ERA. He spent 11 seasons in the minors, retiring after the ’69 season. 1967 is the only other year a card was produced for Dick.

Lines 67

According to Baseball Reference, Dick was born in Montreal and is still living at the age of 78. Perhaps I should contact him and let him know what an outsized impact he’s had on me. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Dick’s short, mediocre career may have contributed, psychologically, to my own general mediocrity. Perhaps at six years of age, Dick Lines’ career line on the card’s back convinced me of life’s limitations. If only Henry Aaron had been in all those packs, I might be rich and famous. Curse you, Dick Lines!

 

The Game’s The Thing

The late 1960s and early 1970s were a golden age for kids who liked Topps inserts and separately packaged oddball sets.  You could dabble in coins, deckle-edged cards, posters, cartoon booklets, giants-sized cards, stamps, decals, and more.  All Topps.  Unlike the inserts of today, many of which are homages to this period, they were not used as “chase cards” or “short prints” — they were just more things to collect, and for the most part readily available.

The best Topps insert set — I will brook no argument here — were the “Game Cards” found in packs of 1968 Topps cards, specifically the 3rd series.  I was seven at the time, and a rabid collector.  As I have written before, I did not start collecting baseball cards because I loved baseball — it was quite the reverse.  I fell in love with cards first, and then thought, “Hey, these same guys are on TV playing too?  I think I’ll watch, and use my cards to follow along.”

With the 1968 Game Cards, I could not only play a game — with a friend, or even by myself — but I also could learn who the good players actually were.  The Topps base set was basically democratic — Paul Popovich and Roberto Clemente each got a card — but with this insert Topps was elevating 33 players to special status. Moreover, within those 33 players there was a method to Topps’ madness.  When it came to time to dole out the game events, Topps took the process seriously.

KChanceKLonborgKHarganKMcCormickKPetersHBPOsteen

I admit that there was a brief period when I thought Topps was insulting these six players.  Eventually I figured out these were PITCHERS, and being on these cards was a complement.  Strikeouts and double plays were, my TV announcers helpfully told me, pitchers’ best friends. As I pulled this Lonborg card, my region was praying for his recovery from a broken leg, which … never mind, I still can’t talk about it.

Those are the only six pitchers in the set, so happiness all around.  In the case of Peters, who allowed a stolen base on his strikeout, it was a bit of mixed bag.

FoulMcCarverPopGonzalezFoulSanto

As I worked it out, it made sense that McCarver, a catcher, would get the Foul Out card.  Again, this is a GOOD event.  Stretching things a bit, surely Santo caught a lot of pop ups in the Wrigley sun.  I am sure this card made him happy.  As for Tony Gonzalez, well, at least he got to be in the set.  Gonzalez was a fine player — which I knew, because he had earned the second slot on the NL Batting Leaders card (between Roberto Clemente and Matty Alou).  Nonetheless, he’d have to settle for a Pop Out this time around. Do it again, maybe we’ll give you a stamp next year.

GBCarewGBRoseGBTorreGBCepedaGBFregosi

These cards posed a bit of a problem for a kid learning the game.  Note that the Carew and Rose cards specify no runner advancement, while the others have the runners moving up.  How did that work?  You have runners on first and second, and a ground out advances no one? I eventually assumed Topps meant this to be a fielder’s choice with the lead runner retired.  Still, they could have made this clearer.

Carew and Rose would have many more go-rounds as Topps honorees, but in 1968 they were just establishing themselves as top-flight players.  Torre and Fregosi were stars, certainly, but there was tough competition for the big events to come.  Cepeda, the reigning MVP, wasn’t even getting respect.  Hey, the game needs outs.  This was 1968 for crying out loud. Its a wonder Topps didn’t just make them all outs.

FkyWynnFlyAlleyFlyMondayFlyKalineFlyStaub

Clearly Topps should have made Alley a ground out, and moved Rose into this group of outfielders.  The interesting cards here are Monday — because Topps always insisted on having at least one person from every team in all of their oddball sets — and Wynn/Staub, who are hatless because of the shenanigans with the Astros. This is one of best cards of Staub’s red hair.

Kaline and Staub, you will notice, get the RBI if there is a runner on third.

LineScottLineHowardLineAllen

When I played, I always loved turning one of these cards over.  Sure I just stranded runners on second and third in a one run game, but that ball was a ROCKET.  And Topps knew what they were doing, choosing three muscle-bound sluggers for these wonderful cards.

ErrorAlou

My first reaction, like yours, was “What did poor Matty do to deserve this?”  But I soon realized the, err, error of my thinking.  Obviously Alou got this card because his speed made the other team commit errors.  They didn’t throw the ball into the stands (note that the card specifies only one base of advancement).  It was more like the infielder got so anxious he bobbled the ball and likely burst out crying.  Safe at first!

9503-11FrHBPBRobinsonWalkDavis

Even as a child I was excited to get these cards because I knew that on base percentage was much more important than batting average and that the most important thing was not making hard contact, but avoiding making outs.

LOL, not really, I probably thought, “swing the bat Freehan, I have better things to do than waste time watching your weak crap.”

SingleMantleSingleYazSingleAaron

OK, now things are getting serious.  Mickey Mantle was no longer MICKEY MANTLE when I started watching the game, but I had plenty of people around me that let me in on what I had missed.  As a Red Sox fan, Yastrzemski was becoming my hero, and was coming off of one of the greatest seasons of all-time.  Aaron was, well, everything.  How is Topps gonna beat these guys?

9503-6FrDoubleKillebrew9503-7Fr

OK, not bad.  I would have put Clemente on the triple — he tripled more than twice as often as Robinson — but these were three top-flight stars at the heights of their powers.  You will note that Killebrew’s double cleared the bases; I assume that he and Robinson both hit the ball over the centerfielder’s head, perhaps in Tiger Stadium, but Killer had to lumber into second while Robby hustled around second with nary a glance to his right, and slid into third ahead of the throw.

And if you think I didn’t literally provide play-by-play to that effect while playing the game, we obviously have not met.

 

HRMays

 

You were expecting someone else?

 

What’s in a base set?

All together, the first 66 Topps base sets (1951-2016) included 41,892 cards (not counting variations), of which 35,911 (86%) are base player cards, and 5981 I have categorized as “something else.”

Over the past year or so I have been working on a spreadsheet to help me categorize all of the Topps sets. When I wrote my recent post on Topps multiplayer cards, I was able to identify these cards pretty quickly. If I want to know what years Topps had Turn Back the Clock cards (1977, and 1986-90), or Boyhood photos (1972-73), I have that information. What year did Topps have the highest number of non-base cards? 1972, with 206 out of a 787 card set.

1972-Fregosi-BP-214x300

The next time I want to impress the woman sitting at the bar, I will tell her that Topps has had 417 cards focused on the post-season, starting with 1960. (Fortunately, I am happily married.)

My information is a bit weaker (meaning: there may be errors) in the past 20 years or so. I only have a handful of the sets, and Topps has gotten a trickier with their non-base cards. You might see Mike Trout on a checklist, when it is really the Angels team card or something. It occurred to me recently that I might try to find some help (a) categorizing the post-1994 Topps sets, and (b) expanding the study to cover other brands. It might be fun to see how many sets we could break down.

If people are interested I would post the spreadsheet on Google, and people could help me update it.

What year did Topps put out the most “base player cards” per team? 1959, with 29.8 (477 cards for 16 teams). What about the least (not counting pre-1956, when they did not have all the rights)? 1999, with 12.6. That’s quite a spread.

BASE CARD
NOT A BASE CARD

I should be clear on what base player cards are. These are cards that have the standard front and back for that year — one card per player. No managers, coaches, executives. No Jackie Robinson in 1997. If the card has a trophy on the front, or a star, or text that says “Rated Rookie” that’s still a base card. The Carew above is a base card.

If the card has a completely different design — like the 1985 Olympic cards, or all the 1990s Draft Picks, those are not base cards and are categorized separately. There are grey areas to this, and I suppose I could be talked out of some of it.

Anyhow, here is a graph.

Untitled

It is possible that a more discerning look at the recent sets will dig into those totals a bit, but things have gotten better since the dreary mid-late 1990s.

Note: I do not wish to imply that the base player cards are the only cards that matter. Absolutely not. Only that if you make a spreadsheet of the set, you can pull out the teams and the managers and the league leaders, and give them their own columns.  The player cards are what is left — the cards you sort by teams and make rosters out of.

If this is of interest, let me know what else we can do with it.

 

Veale Revealed

Recently, my son purchased two “hobby boxes” of 2017 Topps Heritage cards which feature the 1968 template. Within each box there are “buy back” cards. These are original cards with a special stamp applied. In a strange coincidence, the two cards he received were Pirates pitchers Tommy Sisk and Bob Veale.

Veale 68

The Bob Veale jogged my memory of his ’68 card which depicted him in a mock- pitching motion with two fingers extended to simulate the pitch grip. There is much to like about this card besides the “two-seamer” pose. Veale’s distinctive eyewear, the classic Pirates vest uniform and “410” marker on the outfield wall all add up to a great image.

Veale 62

Almost all of Bob Veale’s Topps cards are distinctive. The primary reason is his variety of safety glasses worn from year-to-year. The ’62 “Rookie Parade” card marks Bob’s Topps debut. His disembodied head provides the first glimpse of his gold-rimmed googles.

Veale 63Veale 67

The ’63 and ’67 cards feature the googles again and appear to be from the same photo session since Candlestick Park is the setting.

64 VealeVeale 65

The ’64 and ’65 feature different frames in spring training photos.

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In ’66 we find Bob at Shea Stadium with yet another new set of spectacles.

Veale 69'67 Veale sticker

1969 has Bob with the same “specs” but he has donned a letterman style jacket. The ’67 “test issue” sticker is the only Topps product with a photo of Veale sans glasses.

Veale 70

A new decade meant new eyewear as Bob changes styles once again, sporting aviator glasses.

Veale 71Veale 72

He seems to have settled on the aviator look since they reappear in ’71 and ’72. The Pirates have entered the “mustard” gold era as his cap clearly indicates. Veale really “styles” in his warmup jacket with great leather sleeves framed by the “mod” look of the ’72 card design.

73 Veal

A radical change occurs in ’73 as Bob is now with Boston and he has added a mustache. His last card features Bob with a windbreaker under the Red Sox double-nit, sans-a-belt uniform. He reprises his ’68 pose with the two fingers extended in a delivery simulation.

65LL66 LL

67 LL69 LL

In Veale’s BioProject profile Joseph Gerard stated that, “Bob Veale was one of the hardest-throwing and most intimidating strikeout pitchers in the National League from 1962 through 1972.” This is supported by the fact that Veale led the NL in strikeouts in ’64 and posted a career best 276 in ’65. His command issues coupled with poor eyesight put fear in the hearts of even the best hitters. The 6’6,” 212 pound lefty would finish with 120 wins. He worked mostly out of bullpen in the ’70s as arm and back injuries took their toll. On September 1, 1971 Bob pitched in the first game that featured an all-minority starting lineup for Pittsburgh.