Be Sure to Wear … Some Jet Black Caps Over Your Hair

Almost from the moment Charlie Finley purchased the Kansas City Athletics prior to the 1961 season, the Chicago-based insurance magnate sought greener pastures. Like so many other cities in the post-war era, Kansas City experienced “white flight” to the suburbs–meaning that many fans had to drive to the ballpark. Since Municipal Stadium was located in an impoverished part of the city with limited parking, attendance suffered accordingly. Of course, abysmal teams and the pre-Finley perception that the A’s were merely a “farm team” of the Yankees didn’t help. Despite Finley’s promotions and gimmicks, the fan base continued to dwindle.

Finley feuded constantly with government officials over ballpark improvements and ultimately the construction of a new stadium. He threatened a move to Dallas-Ft. Worth, but the scheme was quickly squelched by the American League. In early 1964 Charlie tried to relocate to Louisville, but the AL put the kibosh on this plan as well. With the construction of the Coliseum in Oakland and “Finley fatigue” in KC, Charlie finally found a landing place that was acceptable to the American League. The team moved prior to the ’68 season.

As far as cards are concerned, Topps followed its formula of eliminating the previous city’s insignia from the caps or using bare head shots. A’s cards in the first five series featured caps and helmets with completely “blacked out” crowns, leaving only green on the bill. In the 6th and 7th series, Topps took a different approach, as we shall see.

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The first Oakland A’s card depicts a bareheaded Mike Hershberger (#18 in the numerical sequence). The design necessitates turning the card over to see that the player is indeed on Oakland.

The ‘68s include Sal Bando’s first solo card and two later Hall-of-Fame inductees: Jim “Catfish” Hunter and Tony LaRussa.

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Jim Gosger — who will later be the opening day center fielder for the 1969 Seattle Pilots — has an intriguing card. The reflection of the obliterated “KC” on the front cap panel can be seen on the green bill.

Perhaps inspired by the psychedelic color explosion of the ‘60s, Topps designers decide to ditch the black and go with green airbrushing for the 6th and 7th series.   This results in a “hypnotic splattered mist” of two-toned green. The bill is left alone but the crown is doctored in a “lighter shade of pale” green. (Pilot-in-waiting) Diego Segui and Lou Krausse model the “mod” lids.

 

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Bay area fans had to wait until ’69 to get the first card of a player with the Oakland lettering on the vest jersey and the old English “A” on the cap. Paul Lindblad has the honor of first representing the new East Bay entry, with card #449 in the 5th series. With the Major League Baseball Players’ Association boycott of Topps no longer in effect, several other A’s had card photos taken at ’69 spring training, including this great shot of three A’s Stars. The boycott had also led Topps to purchase several photos from third parties, including this famous Reggie Jackson rookie card.

Though I may have to down a whole bottle of Zoloft to ward off severe depression, my next installment in this series will look at the first cards of the Brewers- which include some awesome ’70 Pilots spring training photos.

 

To learn more about Charlie Finley and the A’s, I highly recommend Jeff Katz’s book: The Kansas City A’s and the Wrong Half of the Yankees https://www.amazon.com/Kansas-City-Wrong-Half-Yankees/dp/0977743659

 

 

 

The Tallest Mexican: Remembering Hank Aguirre

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A more than a decade ago, I found an intriguing book at the Seattle Library Book Sale that caught my eye for several reasons.  It was called, “The Tall Mexican: The Life of Hank Aguirre, All-Star Pitcher, Businessman and Humanitarian.”  The cover art featured a beautiful painting of a brown pitcher in a Detroit Tigers uniform.  As a Chicano baseball historian, the appeal is pretty obvious.  What’s cool is that I had never heard of Hank Aguirre and was not aware of his work on the diamond, or life after baseball.

The book breaks down into two parts, the first covering his life in baseball, and the second part addresses his life in the business world.  Both sections paint an incredible image of a great guy, to which I found great pride.  It’s not that often that Mexican-American ballplayers craft such successful careers for themselves that galvanize many communities over one lifetime.

With that pride buoying my heart, I went in search of more info on Hank Aguirre, and surprisingly found very little.  Aside from the book, and an obituary, there was not much on Hank.   The basics were this: over the course of a 16-year pitching career with the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs, Aguirre went 75-72 with an ERA of 3.25 in over 1,375 innings pitched over 447 games and two All-Star Game appearances.  The bulk of his career, of course, was with the Tigers.

At some point, I’ll write a SABR BioProject article on Hank, but in the meantime, I satisfied myself with obtaining every one of his Topps baseball cards, beginning with his 1957 Cleveland Indians card (#96).  I have 14 cards, indicating that his first two season with the Tribe, where he played a total of 10 games did not warrant a baseball card.

I had never amassed the total collection of any one player before.  But Hank seemed to resonate with me.  He was a southern California Mexican-American like me, and a tall, brown dude, like me.  Though Hank has a couple of inches on me, his 6-4 to my 6-2.  Regardless, over the years I have sifted through the 14 cards looking at the styles of cards over the years, looking at his poses, and how he had aged over the years.  His 1957 card (#96) has a similar pose to his 1961 card (#324).  His 1969 card (#94) pretty matches up with the 1968 card (#553), both indicating his affiliation with the Dodgers, while obviously sporting his Tigers uniform.  Topps recycled numerous photographs from the 1968 series, and cropped the photos differently for use in the 1969 set.  Though, Hank is sporting a blacked out ballcap in his 1969 shot.  It’s unfortunate that the Southern Californian never had a card in his Dodgers uniform.  That would have been pretty cool!  In the book, though, there is a great shot of him in a 1969 Dodgers uniform posing next to Willie Mays.

The majority of his cards depict a smiling Hank.  The smile is infectious, and you think, wow, he looks like a nice guy.  In other years, he is pictured in a serious, albeit thoughtful demeanor.  Flipping though the cards also provided me the opportunity to refresh my knowledge and instant recall of the card style of the vintage era.

Hank’s last card is with the 1970 Chicago Cubs (#699), though he makes a cameo appearance on the 1973 Topps Whitey Lockman card (#88).  Lockman was the Cubs manager that year, and Hank was the pitching coach, and was pictured along with other Cubs coaches including Ernie Banks and Pete Reiser.

For now, Hank’s cards will stay tucked in their plastic pocket pouch until I decide what to do with them next.  Maybe matte them in a single collage or something along with his photo.  To me, he will always be the tallest Mexican!

 

Prehistory of the Topps World Series cards

The first Topps World Series card I pulled from a pack was bittersweet. On one hand it was Reggie, the biggest star in the game; on the other hand, it memorialized his merciless dismantling, five homers and all, of my hometown Dodgers. Though I wasn’t yet enough of a fan in 1977 to have watched the Series, I remember the gloominess and despair that took over the faces of my classmates. Tears were shed.

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Most collectors already know that 1978 was just one of many years that Topps included a postseason subset. For a complete catalog from 1958-1981, see this excellent post from Adam Hughes of Wax Pack Gods.

My goal here is to connect these Topps World Series cards to their long ancestry across the hobby’s history. Rather than jump straight in to the years before 1958, I’ll set the table by beginning at 1960, the year of the first true Topps World Series subset.

1960 Topps

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Though Topps would include single cards connected to the World Series in each of the prior years, the 1960 release marked the first year of an actual multi-card subset. The subset spanned cards 385-391, including the only Maury Wills card Topps would issue before 1967.

1959 Topps

There was no World Series subset in the 1959 Topps issue. However, the Hank Aaron card in its “Baseball Thrills” subset was dedicated to the Hammer’s game 4 home run and overall awesome performance in the 1957 Fall Classic.

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As we consider the ancestry of the World Series subsets, this card presents us with two “mutations” from the classic subsets that would follow.

  • It is the only postseason card in the set (and in fact from an entirely different subset)
  • It does not feature the prior year’s Fall Classic, instead reaching two seasons back.

As we go further back in time, most of the cards we look at will share these or other departures from the classic Topps World Series subsets of later decades. As usual, were we not to bend the rules a bit, there would be very little article to write!

1959 Fleer Ted Williams

I have featured this set in every one of my prehistory articles to date with the exception of Traded Cards. (And who the hell would even think of trading Ted Williams, right?) Sadly, it is impossible to tell the story of the Splendid Splinter without bringing up the heartbreak of the 1946 World Series, memorialized by card 31 in the set.

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As an aside, the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set comes across largely as a (justified) hagiography of the greatest freaking hitter who ever lived. It is odd then that their “Sox Lose the Series” card makes no mention of the fact that Williams played the series injured and instead attributes the Kid’s disappointing performance to a slump.

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1958 Topps

It is the Hammer once again in the 1958 Topps set, and this time he brought a friend. Okay, a foe! (As an aside, it would be fun to trace the use of the word “foe” on baseball cards over the years. We used to see it a lot more, and I worry we are lesser today for its absence.)

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Oddly the card’s reverse makes no reference to the World Series but simply finds (quite easily) nice things to say about each of the featured players.

1948 Topps Magic Photos

Though off the radar (and out of the price range) of casual collectors, the very first Topps baseball cards came four years before the iconic 1952 set. The majority of the set’s baseball checklist was devoted to all-time greats such as Ruth, Cobb, and Wagner. However, 5 of the 19 cards were dedicated to the 1948 World Champion Cleveland Indians. These cards are light on detail, but the two cards known as “Cleveland Indians 4-1” and “Cleveland Indians 4-3” reference games 2 and 7 respectively.

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1948 Swell “Sport Thrills”

Sorry, Dodger fans. Here comes another heart breaker. Mickey Owen’s dropped third strike from the 1941 Fall Classic was one of eight cards in this 20-card set to feature World Series highlights.

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The earliest World Series highlight featured is Grover Cleveland Alexander’s bases loaded strikeout of Tony Lazzeri to end the 1926 Series, and the most recent is the “Greatest Catch” by Al Gionfriddo in the 1947 Series. The other World Series years featured in the set were 1932, 1935, 1936, 1941, and 1943 (twice).

1948 Swell “Babe Ruth Story”

The Sport Thrills set wasn’t the only baseball set that Swell issued in 1948. They also issued a 28-card “Babe Ruth Story” set to go along with the movie of the same name. While the Bambino did appear on some of the cards, he was more often portrayed by William Bendix, the actor who starred in the film. Card 15 features Babe Ruth’s (okay, William Bendix’s) “called shot” home run from the 1932 World Series.

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1940 Play Ball

For a brief stretch from 1939-1941 Play Ball cards sat atop the cardboard universe. The 1940 Play Ball release is known mostly for the cardboard return of Shoeless Joe. A less ballyhooed aspect of the set was the pennant flags adorning the cards of the Yankees and Reds players. (Oddly, the managers and coaches received no such decoration.)

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Unlike the majority of the cards discussed so far, these “Pennant” cards also doubled as the main (only) card of each player in the set. An interesting comparison will be the 1933 Goudey set, where this is true for some but not all of the players.

1936 R312 National Chicle Pastels

My favorite thing about writing these articles is discovering cards I didn’t know about originally. In this case, the prize goes to these beautiful premiums from National Chicle. The full set contains 50 unnumbered cards with significant star power, including (arguably) a Joe DiMaggio rookie card. There are also a large number of multi-player cards, such as this one of Arky Vaughan receiving playing tips from the great Honus Wagner.

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Most relevant to our topic, however, are several cards that explicitly reference the 1935 World Series between the Tigers and the Cubs.

First, here is Gabby Hartnett after his World Series home run in game 4.

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Next, here is Schoolboy Rowe drawing a crowd, even in enemy territory. No wonder they call it the “Friendly Confines!”

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And finally, although Tommy Bridges pitched the Tigers to a 4-3 complete game victory in the clincher, here is Alvin Crowder looking very much like he just won it all for the Tigers. In fact,  the “General” is shown here following his own complete game to take game 4.

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Finally, there are four other cards, a disproportionate number for the set, that include multiple Cubs or Tigers. The photo sleuths among us might let me know if these photos are from the World Series or just “random” shots from during the season.

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1936 R313 National Chicle Fine Pen Premiums

Collectors had choices when it came to the 1935 Fall Classic. Among the 120 cards included in this 1936 release was at least one World Series card, #120, showing the throw from Lon Warneke to Phil Cavaretta arriving ahead of Goose Goslin.

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As with R312, there are also some multi-player cards that may or may not be connected to the World Series. Card 116, showcasing the “Fence Busters” on the Chicago squad, is one of a few examples.

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1934 Gold Medal Foods (R313A)

First a tip of the hat to Net54 member PowderedH2O for alerting me to these cards.

The parent company of Wheaties, Minneapolis-based Gold Medal Foods, issued a set of postcard-sized cards to commemorate the 1934 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the “Gas House Gang” St. Louis Cardinals.

The “Standard Catalog” lists only 12 players while PSA lists 19 while indicating the set has 22. This suggests to me there may yet to be cards discovered here, either to the delight or chagrin of Hank Greenberg supercollectors.

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1933 Goudey

Forgive Goudey for its numbering antics, but sure enough cards 107-114, 121-127, and 232-240 were created specifically to highlight the participants in the 1933 World Series. Those not as familiar with the set might wonder if 1933 was a typo. After all, this is 83 BTN (before “Topps Now”) we’re talking about. “Are you sure you don’t mean THIS World Series?”

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Sure enough, the folks at Goudey were hard at work in late 1933 pushing out the tenth and final release of their iconic baseball debut. The sheet featured twelve participants from each of the pennant winners (New York Giants, Washington Senators) and even included records and results from the Series, as evidenced by this card of Master Melvin.

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Something important to consider in assessing the place of these cards in our prehistory is that they weren’t merely cards issued late enough in the season to include tidbits about the Series in the bios. Rather, they reflected an explicit World Series issue, and a 24-card one at that! Quite remarkable really.

As a final note, nine of the Giants and nine of the Senators already had “base” cards in the set, meaning the World Series cards could be thought of as dedicated postseason extras for these 18 players. However, for six of the players, the World Series card reflected their only representation in the set.

1928 Fro-Joy Ice Cream Babe Ruth

Among the six cards in this 1928 set entirely devoted to Babe Ruth is this one, highlighting the first of his two home runs in the 1927 World Series against the Pirates.

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1919-1920 Cincinnati Reds postcards

Black Sox Scandal completists will want to collect this 24-card set of postcards featuring players from the 1919 World Champion Cincinnati Reds team. There are two variations of each card. Later printings include the caption “World’s Champions” whereas early printings include only “Champions of National League.”

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As an aside, Anson Whaley of Pre-War Cards just published an excellent five-part series on the baseball card legacy of the Black Sox Scandal. Part one is here.

1921 Koesters Bread (D383)

Hat tip to Net54 member brianp-beme for this one. This 52-card set uses the same card fronts as the 1921 American Caramel (E121) set but has different backs and restricts its checklist to only Yankees and Giants, the two participants in the first Subway Series.

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If you have a minute, you may want to look at the fantastic card of Hall of Fame hurler Waite Hoyt.

1912 Technical Book Publishing postcards

Not for the budget collector, but these postcards were sold at the World Series itself and doubled as scorecards on the back. The card on the left shows the Boston Americans, and the one on the right shows the New York Giants.

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1911 Philadelphia Athletics (E104-I and D359)

I’ll take some liberty here and merge what pre-war collectors would normally regard as two or three different sets. Certainly they will look more alike than different to the casual collector. In each case, I am a huge fan of the World Champions designator.

The first card, Frank “Home Run Baker,” comes from the 1910 E104-I (sometimes seen as E104-1) Nadja Caramels issue. Variations abound, including cards without the “World’s Champions 1910” banner. The next two cards, Charles “Chief” Bender and Harry Davis, could be construed as Baker cards as well, in that they come from the 1910 D359 Rochester Baking and Williams Baking issues respectively.

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For any of the card displayers or binder folks out there, I have to imagine the variety of background colors would make these cards look incredible arranged as a group.

1910 Tip Top Bread Pittsburgh Pirates

It’s funny how life works sometimes. Just as I’d reached the end of my personal knowledge, augmented by the easier digital searches available to me, I did what I always do: reach for my Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards. But this time I didn’t even have to open it. Here was the 1910 Tip Top Bread Honus Wagner right on the cover, with the caption “WAGNER, World’s Champions.”

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Indeed, this was a 25-card set honoring the 1909 World Champion Pirates team that bested Cobb’s Tigers four games to three. Here is team president Barney Dreyfuss from the same series.

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1910 American Caramel Pirates (E90-2)

This tough regional release of American Caramel focused exclusively on the 1909 World Champion Pirates team. Unlike the Tip Top set of the same year, the cards themselves do not refer to the championship. (Hat tip to Net 54 member steve B for this one!)

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1907 Geo. W. Hull Chicago White Sox postcards

These 16 postcards honor the 1907 World Champion Chicago White Sox, as noted by the “World’s Champions” caption below the player name. You might imagine the “Every One A Pennant Winner” title above the lines of hanging white stockings is another standard feature of the postcards in this set. However, that is just one of many titles used. Others include “A String of World Beaters” and “A String of Game Fish — No Bull Heads,” whatever that means!

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1905-06 Lincoln Publishing Am. League Champs

The Philadelphia Athletics lost the 1905 World Series to the New York Giants, but they did not come up empty on the cardboard side of the ledger. All 20 postcards in this set were devoted to the American League champs and featured the achievement prominently in the card design.

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1902-1911 Sporting Life Team Composites (W601)

For ten years, Sporting Life offered readers the chance to be individual team cards or the complete set as a bound volume. In addition to these very large poster-cards (13″ x 14″), postcard-size team composites were also offered some years.  Pennant winners and World Series winners were specially noted below the team name.

Readers may be puzzled by the “1904 National League Champions” marker here since the Pirates finished the 1904 season in fourth place, 19 games behind the Giants. One thing to note is that the “National League” portion of the marker simply indicates the Pirates were a National League team. This can be seen by comparing the Pirates composite against others in the series. Finally, the “Champions” portion of the marker should be read as “defending champs,” which is how the 1904 Pirates began their season, fresh off the first ever World Series of the modern era.

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At this point you might imagine we’re done. You can’t get much earlier than the first World Series, right? Not so fast…if you’ve read my other posts you know I love to go WAY back, even if it means bending the rules a bit, kind of like how a biologist might spend 58 minutes of the lecture talking about man’s descent from apes and the final 2 connecting us to amoebas or something.

1888 H.D. Smith and Company (formerly known as Scrapp’s Tobacco) die-cuts

Some recent detective work has added to our knowledge of this ridiculously old set and its origins. At first, you might just see too old-time ballplayers with caps you wished you owned.

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However, these aren’t just any players, though that had been my first guess. Thanks to the 1976 SSPC reboot, I now know these are the participants from the 1887 World Series between the St. Louis Browns and Detroit Wolverines! Here is a look at one of the 1976 cards. Kudos to SSPC for their work on this beautiful reissue, which admittedly is almost harder to track down than the 1888 original!

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Source: http://www.number5typecollection.com

1887 Tomlinson Studio Cabinets

If 1888 just isn’t old enough for you, you may be in luck. Even the “Standard Catalog” is stumped in terms of the reach of this set and the extent of the checklist, but here is at least one.

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1887 Old Judge Browns Champions

And for those of you saying, “Hey, was that even a baseball card?” I’ve got an even better one for you! (Hat tip to Net54 member Gonzo for this one.)

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It is at this point in the tour that the bus finally runs out of gas. As always though, I hope the result is an appreciation of some older cards you might not have known about and further reinforcement of the adage that “what’s new is old,” at least when it comes to the baseball card “innovations” of our youth.

As always, additions and corrections are welcome.

Appendix – Ancestry Report

Something I’ve toyed with and was encouraged to dig into more deeply based on a reader comment is an “ancestry report” that evaluates each entry against the key traits of the standard Topps World Series subsets. I won’t belabor the coding scheme or column headers unless asked, other than to acknowledge that blue represents mutations that go beyond the Topps standard. (In this case, I used blue for cards that feature the current-year World Series rather than the prior year.)

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Anyone wanting to play with the raw data can find it here. Let me know if it’s useful at all. If so, I can do similar for Record Breakers and other prehistory work I’ve done.

Yay Team?

I see a lot of team collectors out there – Orioles, Pilots, Red Sox obsessives (an endless number of Red Sox obsessives). It’s not my thing. I’ve been a man without a team for 40 years. Some of you know the story.

I was a die-hard Mets fan.  Like the team, my first season was 1962 (though I was a mid-September call up). It couldn’t have been any better – World Series win at age 7, another World Series appearance at age 11, and Tom Seaver, always Tom Seaver. Until….

When the Mets traded Tom Terrific on June 15, 1977, it broke my heart and I realized I loved Tom Seaver way more than I loved the Mets. I was liberated from team based rooting, appreciated the game without the emotional swings that are the fun, and the noise, of being franchise bound in one’s reactions. I instantly had a player-centric point of view that created a straight line that led to the writing of Split Season:1981. Better still, I got to tell both Nancy and Tom Seaver my story and how his trade changed my whole outlook on the game. They both approved.

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Still, there are teams that pique my interest. The Indians always seemed to need fans, so I kept an eye on them, starting in the late ‘70’s. I always had a soft spot for the Giants and Dodgers.  But there are some clubs that never make me feel much of anything. So how did I end up with their cards?

Here are a few sets you may not know about. I don’t know why I know about them, and it’s even more confusing why I have them.

1970 McDonald Brewer panels

If you’ve ever beheld the gorgeousness of Volpe prints, then this set isn’t for you. Like the hastily repurposed Pilots uniforms made Milwaukee when the team moved, this 6-panel set is a cut rate job.

It’s pretty damned ugly, though certainly worth having. The whole thing is easily gotten for less than $20. If you have first year Brewer sentiment, or one year Pilot grief, these cards serve a purpose.  Not so much for me, though I do love a good Max Alvis card.

 

1970 Washington Senators Traffic Safety

Distributed by the D.C. DMV, this is one of the first police sets. The pictures are black and white, basic enough, but come in two tints. Pink, used in the first run, is much harder to get than yellow, used for the second and third printings. Of course, I have yellow

While the cards are 2 ½” X 3 7/8”, my set is an uncut sheet, not a particular area of interest for me. (In fact, I’m looking to unload a beautiful uncut sheet of Michael Jordan cards from 1994). It’s not a very attractive group of cards, and the checklist is what you’d think, though it would be a bit more exciting if Manager Ted Williams were included. (Then I would’ve been fending off those Red Sox maniacs).

 

1977 San Diego Padres Schedule cards

I still firmly believe that Mike Champion and Billy Almon are the double play combo of the future, just not in this dimension. In this chaotic set, they get a lot of attention.

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A team issue, this set contains 89 cards, some with promo information on the back, some with blank backs. I’m sure I bought it because, back then, there weren’t too many card issues in a given year. I thought I had the whole set, but I learned that maybe I don’t, and now I’m annoyed.

Several Winfields make it desirable, and there’s a Dave Friesleben card in a Washington uni years after this was a dead story, but it’s quirky, in a way the Padres have always been quirky – in a dull, frustrating kind of way.

I have other team sets that are inexplicable to me. I’ve got no interest in the team or the players on the team, and the designs are lackluster. Still, you know, they’re cards. What are you gonna do?

Touring the Minors

For the last year, I’ve been trying to organize my card collection after a quarter century of neglect. I started with the outlying stuff – non-sports cards, hockey cards, misc., then worked through basketball and football to the big prize.

It was fun to go through the cards of my youth (first set, 1958 Topps) and those of my early collecting years (a stash of T-206s, reprints and Laughlin cards from the 1970s). So far, I’d logged almost 70,000 major league cards with several boxes of doubles still to go.

And then I decided I’d better tackle my minor league sets. Going through old minor league sets, 1974-1993, is a slog of entire Rookie League teams who never produced a major leaguer, of cards of trainers and p.r. directors and batboys and owners, and owners’ sons. On the other hand, there are teams that featured pairs such as Juan Gonzalez and Sammy Sosa or Pedro Martinez and Mike Piazza, and Triple A Teams where nearly everybody got at least a cup of coffee.

It was interesting to watch the cards themselves change over the years. The minor league cards of the mid-1970s were black and white photos set inside a one-color design. As art, they were less than stimulating. The sets were plagued by mis-identified players, mis-spelled names and missing players.

 

By the 1980s, as Topps responded to competition in the major league sets, the minor league producers (TCMA, Cramer, Fritsch) began to respond to the color photography and better graphics of firms such as ProCards, Best and Star.

But besides stumbling over the Hall of Famers, some of the best moments were finding cards of people who became famous for something else. I’m not talking about the promo cards featuring Kevin Costner.

I’m talking about the Florida State League (High A) 1977 St. Petersburg Cardinals, which included future major leaguers Kelly Paris, John Littlefield, John Fulgham, Ray Searage and Tommy Herr. It also included an infielder named Scott Boras. He had an OPS of .863 at St. Petersburg, was promoted to Double A and traded to the Cubs. But after 1977, approaching 25, he retired, went to law school and entered another line of work.

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Another who entered a somewhat different line of work was on the 1989 Billings Mustangs of the Rookie level Pioneer League. He was a young shortstop named Trevor Hoffman. He had an OPS of .607 that year, and slumped further the next year at Charleston, WV of the South Atlantic League. In 1991, the Reds decided he might be better used elsewhere and within two years he was in the majors.

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And then there was John Elway on the 1982 Oneonta Yankees.

Future managers spiced up the slog: Jim Leyland on the 1975 Clinton Giants, Jim Riggleman on the 1977 Arkansas Travellers, Bob Brenly on the 1977 Cedar Rapids Giants, Bruce Bochy on the 1977 Cocoa Astros, Ron Washington on the 1980 Toledo Mud Hens, Bud Black on the 1981 Lynn Sailors, Felipe Alou (with Randy Johnson) on the 1986 West Palm Beach Expos, Torey Lovullo on the 1988 Glens Falls Tigers,

And then there were the front office people: Dave Stewart on the 1980 Albuquerque Dukes, Omar Minaya (and broadcaster Harold Reynolds) on the 1981 Wausau Timbers, Billy Beane (with Darryl Strawberry) on the 1982 Jackson Mets, Ken Williams on the 1983 Appleton Foxes, Kevin Towers on the 1984 Beaumont Golden Gators, Steve Phillips on the 1985 Lynchburg Mets, MLBPA head Tony Clark on the 1986 Daytona Beach Islanders.

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For the star seekers, minor league teams occasionally had Hall of Famers as managers (Frank Robinson, 1978 Rochester Red Wings). More commonly, they brought back Hall of Famers as coaches or for a promotional night, and issued cards of them as well. Hoyt Wilhelm, Orlando Cepeda, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller and Warren Spahn pop on various teams.

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Overall, it proved an interesting tour of both the players of that era and the evolution of the card industry. 

 

Learning to hit from a baseball card

Not all of us are lucky enough to get personalized batting tips from Jesse Barfield or have worked on our swing with these guys.

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Fortunately, there is no shortage of cardboard we can turn to when our hitting falls below the Mendoza line. Here are a nice assortment of cards and sets to get you through your batting slump. And of course we begin with “the greatest [insert optional expletive] hitter who ever lived!”

1978 Post Cereal Steve Garvey Baseball Tips

What? You were expecting Ted Williams? No worries, we’ll get to him soon enough. But first the face of Dodger baseball in Los Angeles when I first fell in love with the game. Show me a single kid in L.A. who would have said no to Raisin Bran the year these box panels were out. There were twelve in all, with four addressing hitting. (Note to younger fans. Though they are no longer used at the Major League level, “bunting” and “hitting to the opposite field” used to be essential parts of the game.)

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1962-1963 Sugardale Weiners

A regional food release spanning two years, the 1962 release included 19 players on the Indians or Pirates while the 1963 release included 31. Star power was not immense, but sometimes all it takes is one!

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1959 Fleer Ted Williams

If only all you had to do was read the backs of four baseball cards to hit like the Splinter! Still, any advice from Teddy Ballgame is welcome. While the other 76 cards in the set provide information about Ted’s life and playing career, cards 71-74 provide advice for collectors to bring with them to the batter’s box.

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1952 Coca Cola Playing Tips

This ten-player set hearkens back to the days when six packs came in cardboard carrying cases rather than the plastic rings now filling up our oceans. The front of each six-pack insert featured a player from a New York team (sorry, no Mantle), along with that team’s schedule, while the back featured tips to help aspiring ballplayers.

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1939 Goudey Premiums

This 48-card set known as R303-A (or 24-card set known as R303-B) is the first of several 1930s sets to include batting tips. There is a simplicity to the instructions on the back of the Foxx card that almost makes you forget this is the hardest thing in all of sports.

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Canadian collectors will also find these same cards and tips as part of the parallel 1939 World Wide Gum (V351) release.

1936 National Chicle Rabbit Maranville “How To”

In case hitting advice from the Beast is too daunting, this 1936 set provides a full array of baseball tips (including how to umpire!) all from a decidedly less intimidating player, Hall of Fame shortstop Rabbit Maranville. Card 11 (How to Bat) and card 13 (How to Bunt) address the offensive parts of the game.

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1935-1941 Wheaties

The backs of Wheaties boxes during this period featured a multitude of designs across a number of different years and series. Really, any box of Wheaties will help a young hitter on nutrition alone, but Series 5 (1936), Series 6 (1937), and Series 12 (1939) would have provided an extra boost.

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1935 Schutter-Johnson

This 50-card set resides beneath the radar of many collectors; however, it is an outstanding set for aspiring ballplayers. Each card features one of baseball’s biggest stars sharing a “Major League Secret.” While the tip is alluded to on the card front, the card back supplies significant detail and makes it clear that the advice is directly from the player.

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Modern fans of launch angle may cringe at the Frisch card until they learn he is instructing kids on the chop bunt. Then again, fans of launch angle probably aren’t fans of bunting either and may prefer simply to collect 49 of the 50 cards.

A final interesting tidbit about this set comes from the artist signature on the cards. This is the same Al Demaree who pitched from 1912 and 1919, winning 80 games (combined) for four different National League teams.

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1934-1936 Diamond Stars

The mid-1930s were a magical year when it came to cardboard-based batting instruction. As part of the multi-year Diamond Stars release, Al Simmons and Joe Vosmik explain the importance of a good follow-through, Max Bishop warns against hitting bad balls (and has the .423 career OBP to prove it!), and Dixie Walker urges hitters to be relaxed at the plate–and that’s all from the first twelve cards in this 108-card set!

The level of detail in the tips is impressive, as illustrated by Pie Traynor’s advice on where to stand.

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“…Study your needs and find the spot that best suits your style. Long armed boys should stand back farther than those with short arms, because of the difference in reach. In recent years, since free swinging from the end of the handle has become usual, major leaguers have tended to stand well in the rear of the box and back from the plate. Remember, the ball must cross some of the plate to be a strike. Hence stand where you can stretch your bat at arm’s length and cover the plate. Study “Pie” Traynor, Pirate manager for the correct batting style.”

1928 Fro-Joy Ice Cream

Card number 5 in this six-card set, no longer authenticated by PSA or SGC due to prevalent forgeries, provides collectors with an up-close look at how the Bambino gripped his bat. Just as Hack Wilson let us know in 1935, long-ball hitters do not choke up!

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Though his career turned out just fine, it’s too bad a young Henry Aaron didn’t own this card as he was figuring out his own grip!

Q.

Is it true that at first you batted cross-handed, holding your left hand over your right on the bat handle?

A.

Yes. One day, I batted that way during batting practice before a game in Buffalo, and the Braves had sent a scout to watch me. The scout walked over to me, told me to take my right hand and put it over my left. I did it and hit two home runs that day and I never looked back.

Source: New York Times interview with Henry Aaron, published March 19, 2011.

1909 Nadja Caramels

I always like to close with the really old stuff, so here goes. Hitting a baseball is a VERY difficult act to master. We can’t all be .400 hitters or even .100 hitters, but no matter. I think this Al Bridwell (of Merkle Boner fame) card offers the best advice of all. Find yourself a beautiful day and a nice patch of grass, play ball, and eat caramels! A bad day doing that is better than a good day doing just about anything else.

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Author’s note: These same sets (exception Fro-Joy, Ted Williams) provide tips on other parts of the game as well: pitching, fielding, running, umping, and even setting up the field! I just chose batting so I could focus and cut down on distraction, another great batting tip by the way!

Real Ballplayers of Orange County

The early years of the Los Angeles Angels were overshadowed by the glamorous and winning Dodgers. After an inaugural season at Wrigley Field (the previous home of the Pacific Coast League’s Angels), the “Halos” cemented their second fiddle status by becoming tenants at Dodger Stadium in 1962. Fortunately for the Angels, this was a temporary arrangement until the owner, Gene Autry, could secure financing for his own ballpark.

The Angels needed to create a fan base separate from the Dodgers to succeed. After futile efforts in LA and Long Beach, the “Singing Cowboy” lassoed the public funds he needed from the city of Anaheim. The new stadium was ready for opening day in 1966.

In anticipation of the pending move to Orange County, Autry made a “quick draw” and re-christened the Angels “California” on September 2, 1965.  This rebranding necessitated, for the following April, new caps with an interlocking “CA” replacing the “LA.”

For their 1966 set, Topps (per their pattern) did not want to use the old Los Angeles uniforms/hats for the newly branded California Angels, which resulted in the usual assortment of bare head shots, airbrushed logos, upturned faces and “mug shot” profiles. Topps apparently didn’t send a photographer to Holtville or Palm Springs for 1966 spring training so there are no ’66 Angels’ cards with players wearing the “CA” cap, even in the last few series.

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The first card for the new “Disneyland” entry is the 1966 Jim Fregosi, card #5 in Topps’ numerical sequence. Interestingly, Topps decided to use California for the ’65 statistical line, even though the club was Los Angeles for the first five months of the season.

Several of cards are interesting, despite their generic nature. I like the almost interchangeable profile shots of veterans Jimmy Piersall and “Little” Albie Pearson.

I could no more give up oxygen than to not mention that George Brunet and Merritt Ranew would become Seattle Pilots. Merritt strikes a classic, catchers pose in a Cubs uniform. Topps loved this flattering photo of George so much that they used it in ’65 and again in ’66. The head shot precludes any chance of determining whether he is wearing undershorts.

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This photo of Jim McGlothlin — apparently taken at age 12 — on the Angels Rookie Stars card serves as a foreshadowing of the first true California card. But, the young collectors would have to wait until ’67 to purchase packs containing authentic California Angels.

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Jim McGlothlin’s solo card (#19) in 1967 is the first authentic California Angels card. The promising young hurler is shown with a “CA” on his cap and Angels on his road uniform in a photo taken in Cleveland. By the way, in 1969 Jim was the Angels’ opening day starter versus the Seattle Pilots in their inaugural game.

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In a final note, Gene Autry missed out on a great promotion by not signing Don Rudolph and having him “don” a red nose appliqué while pitching.

Though you may hope I’m ambushed along the way, I will be “back in the saddle again,” riding north on El Camino Real to Oakland. Once there, we will “flash back” to ’68-when Topps’ airbrush guys took full advantage of the available “performance enhancers” over in Haight-Ashbury to produce some “far out,” psychedelic A’s’ caps.