From the Negro League to MLB

7th Inning

Everybody get up for the 7th inning stretch! As I get close to completing this wonderful project, I’m learning so much more about the lesser known Negro League stars. Many have such amazing, and inspiring stories. Not only on the baseball field, but off the field, family, etc. Sam Jones just finished his warmup tosses, let’s play ball…

Sam Jones 1960 Leaf PSA 6. ’60 Leaf was a black and white set with only 144 cards, pretty rare. Sam had a stellar MLB career. He finished his 12 year career with 102 wins and 101 losses with a 3.59 era. A 2x All-Star, he won 21 games for the Giants in ’59 sporting a 2.83 era. 16 complete games, 4 shutouts, and 5 saves! Jones was a big dude, 6′ 4″ 200lbs, he was the first African-American to throw a no-no. Jones played for the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro American League.

🐐fact: Jones was nicknamed “Toothpick Sam”, since he routinely had a toothpick in his mouth.

Dan Bankhead 1951 Bowman RC. ’51 Bowman is one of my favorite sets, such amazing color, so ahead of it’s time. This card is centered really well for that era, really clean card minus the lines. Dan was the first African-American pitcher in MLB. He played 3 seasons, all with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He homered in his first MLB at-bat. Bankhead was leading the Negro League in hitting (.385), when his contract was purchased by the Dodgers in 1947.

🐐fact: Dan played for the Birmingham Black Barons and the Memphis Red Sox. He served our great country, and was a sergeant in the Marines. Word has it that Dan struggled as a pitcher during his time in MLB due to him being “scared to death” of hitting a white ballplayer. “Dan was from Alabama, you know what I mean? He heard all those people calling him names, making those threats, and he was scared. He’d seen black men get lynched.” – Buck O’Neil.

Charlie Neal 1960 Topps 1959 World Series Game 2. This is such a great looking card. Charlie broke into MLB with the Brooklyn Dodgers, had a solid career spanning 8 years including three All-Star appearances. He played all over the infield, and enjoyed his best year in 1959 when he hit .287, 11 triples, 19 home runs, 83 ribbies, along with 17 swipes. He also won a World Series that year, along with a Gold Glove.

🐐fact: Neal played for the Atlanta Black Crackers, and despite being only 5′ 10″ and 165 lbs, he belted 151 home runs during his minor and major league career.

Bill Bruton 1953 Topps RC. Great looking card, ’53 is an all-time classic set. Bruton was a .273 career hitter over a 12 year career with the Milwaukee Braves and Detroit Tigers. Bill came up in ’57, and had a promising rookie season. Playing in 151 games as an OF, he had 18 doubles, 14 triples, 26 swipes, and hit .250. He finished 4th in the ROY voting. He was 27 by the time he reached MLB. He led the league in triples twice, and stolen bases three times (’53-’55). In 1991 Bruton was inducted into the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame.

🐐fact: Bruton’s father in-law was Hall of Famer Judy Johnson. Judy helped Bill get a tryout with the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro League.

Donn Clendenon 1962 Topps RC. Donn was 6’4″, solid hitter, struck out a lot, played mainly at 1B. His best year was in ’66 with the Pirates, 28/98/.299. He was MVP of the 1969 World Series with the Miracle Mets. He was a 3 sport star at Morehouse College, receiving contract offers from the Cleveland Browns and the Harlem Globetrotters. Donn played briefly for the Atlanta Black Crackers.

🐐fact: Super cool fact. When Donn arrived as a freshman at Morehouse in 1952, each student was assigned a “Big Brother”. A former Morehouse grad volunteered to be his, Mr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Bob Boyd 1958 Topps PSA 7. Boyd had a career average of .293 over ten seasons in MLB. Hit over .300 4 times at the age of 36, 37, 38, and 40. Bob was a 1B and OF who only struck out 114 times in 2152 plate appearances, wow! He was the first black player to sign with the Chicago White Sox. An excellent fielder as well, he started his professional career with the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro Leagues hitting .352, .369, and .371.

🐐fact: Boyd had a famous nephew who played in the majors as well, Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd. Bob is a member of the National Baseball Congress Hall of Fame.

Dave Pope 1955 Bowman RC. A very well centered ’55 Bowman. Look at that classic glove and flannel Cleveland jersey. Dave didn’t reach MLB until the age of 31. He played 4 seasons for the Cleveland Indians, and 2 with the Baltimore Orioles. A .264 career hitter, he was an excellent defensive outfielder. Pope played for the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords in the Negro League, as did his older brother Willie. Pope was brought into Game 1 of the ’54 World Series in the late innings after “The Catch” by Mays. In the 10th, Pope came close to robbing Rhodes of his game winning HR.

🐐fact: “When you look at a hit like Dusty Rhodes’s, which was what – 200-and-something down the right field line? And when you think of a 250-foot home run and you think of a 410-foot out, it’s just something that doesn’t seem to match. But that’s the way the game goes.” – Dave Pope

Harry Simpson 1952 Topps RC. How can you not love the 1952 Topps set? Such great color, and name plate. Harry started his professional career with the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro National League. Simpson had two cool nicknames, “Suitcase” for his size 13 shoes that were large as a suitcase. Also “Goody” for his willingness to help his neighbors in his hometown of Dalton, GA. Harry played 8 years in MLB, his best was in 1956 for the Kansas City Athletics. Earning his only All-Star birth, he led the league with 11 triples, hitting .293 while smashing 21 HR and driving in 105.

🐐fact: Simpson once hit a HR onto Brooklyn Avenue, outside of Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium. There was a concrete wall atop a 40-foot-high embankment in right field, making it a near impossible feat. A barnstorming Babe Ruth even had trouble hitting the target during exhibition games.

Dave Hoskins 1954 Topps RC. These cards are really tough to find well centered. Dave had an impressive rookie campaign with Cleveland. 9-3 with a 3.99 era. Starting 7 games, finishing 9, 3 complete games, and one save. Hoskins was the first black player to appear in the Texas League. He received many letters threatening his life, but still won 22 games with a 2.12 era and hit .328!

🐐fact: Hoskins played for a handful of Negro League teams during his early years. His best season was with the Homestead Grays in 1944, he hit .324 and went 5-2 on the mound as the Grays won their 8th consecutive National League pennant.

Hal King 1970 Topps RC PSA 8. Hal was one of the last Negro League players to make it to MLB. He was a lefty hitting catcher who had his best year in the majors in 1970 with the Braves. He hit .260 in 89 games, with 11 HR and 30 RBI. King barnstormed with the Indianapolis Clowns before signing with the Angels in ’65. Hal celebrated his 77th birthday on February 1st of this year.

🐐fact: On April 15, 1968 King was involved in a record-setting game between the Astros and New York Mets at the Astrodome. Starting behind the plate, he ended up catching the complete 24-inning marathon that lasted 6 hours and 6 minutes.

J.C. Hartman 1963 Topps RC. Hartman was a SS who spent two years with the Houston Colt .45s in 1962-1963. Hartman appeared in the 1955 East-West All-Star Classic as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs. In ’56 he was drafted into the Army. He was a well trained barber who cut other players’ hair during Spring Training. Hartman turned 87 on April 15 of this year.

🐐fact: J.C became a police officer after baseball, he was the first black supervisor in the Houston Police Department.

Bob Thurman 1957 Topps RC. ’57 Topps, such an innovative set. First time they used color photographs, reduced the size of the card from 2-5/8 by 3-5/8 to 2-1/2 by 3-1/2. Also, it was the first time they printed multiple-year player statistics on the back of cards. Thurman is part of the 4th series of the ’57 set, which is noticeably harder to find than other cards in the set.

Thurman did not make MLB until he was 38 years of age. He spent 5 seasons with the Reds. In ’57 he hit 16 HR in 74 games as a 40 year-old. Thurman played for the Homestead Grays with such legends as Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and Buck Leonard. In his first year with the Grays (1946), he hit .408. In ’47 he raked .338, and then in ’48 he hit .345 with a 6-4 record as a pitcher, helping the Grays win the pennant.

🐐fact: Thurman was originally signed by the Yankees. He was one of the best pinch-hitters of his era, smashing 6 career pinch-hit HR. If Bob was given the chance to play in MLB during his prime, who knows, he could of been a perennial All-Star.

Charlie White 1955 Topps RC PSA 6. Charlie was a catcher who played two years in MLB for the Milwaukee Braves. He started his professional career with the Philadelphia Stars in 1950. The next year he signed with the St. Louis Browns, by owner Bill Veeck. He was traded the next year to the Braves.

🐐fact: White was known for his humor on and off the ball field. He was a native of Kinston, NC.

George Spriggs 1967 Topps RC. Spriggs was actually featured on 3 different Rookie Stars cards. His first was with the Pirates, then in ’68 he had one with the Red Sox, and then with the Royals in ’69! George was an OF who played 5 years in MLB. He was the only Negro League player to play for the Royals. He was a part of the 1959 Kansas City Monarchs barnstorming team.

🐐fact: George built a baseball field behind his house named “Geno’s Field,” in honor of his late son. It was the home of the Tracey Twins, a team Spriggs was affiliated with for several years. George passed away last December at the age of 83.

George Smith 1965 Topps RC. George was an IF who played 4 seasons in MLB (3 with DET, 1 in BOS). Smith started his professional career with the Indianapolis Clowns. He signed with the Tigers in 1958 and was assigned to the Durham Bulls (Carolina League). He played sparingly with the Tigers, but during his one year with Boston he appeared in 128 games, smacking 8 HR and 19 doubles.

🐐fact: Smith was injured in Spring Training of 1967, even after getting released in July, he remained the Red Sox property. The Sox did the right thing for Smith, awarding him a one-third share of the World Series money.

Walt Bond 1960 Topps RC. The ’60 set is so unique, great looking card here. Bond came up as a 22 year-old with the Cleveland Indians. His best year in MLB was with Houston in ’64 when he belted 20 HR along with 85 RBI and batted .310 over 148 games. Walt stood 6′ 7″ and batted lefty. He battled leukemia during the latter part of his career. He got his feet wet in pro ball with the Kansas City Monarchs.

🐐fact: Bond passed away at the age of 29 due to complications from leukemia.

Lou Johnson 1960 Topps RC. Lou was an an OF who played 8 seasons in MLB. His best years were with the Dodgers in the mid-60s. In 1966 he hit .272 with 17 HR and 73 RBI. Johnson played in the Negro Leagues with the Indianapolis Clowns and the Kansas City Monarchs.

🐐fact: “If I had a wish, I would have God get all of the Negro league players, make them 30 years younger, and have them take the field again. This way, white folks could see them and what we’re talking about. I’d love for those fans to stand up, cheer, show their appreciation, recognizing them for what they’ve done.” – Lou Johnson

Willie Smith 1965 Topps RC. Willie was an OF/pinch hitter, a journeyman in MLB, playing for 5 teams in 9 years. His first full year, was actually his best pro year when he hit .301 with 11 HR and 51 RBI for the Angels in 1964. Smith played for the Birmingham Black Barons, and was selected to play in the East-West All-Star Game in 1958 and 1959. He was a highly touted pitching prospect, sporting a 14-2 record with a 2.11 era for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs in ’63.

🐐fact: During his MLB career, Smith pitched in 29 games, netting 3 starts, 61 IP, and a 3.10 ERA. During his 7 years in the minors, he was 49-27 with a 2.93 ERA. He also hit .304 in more than 1,200 plate appearances. If it was a different time maybe Willie would have been the first two-way star!

Billy Harrell 1959 Topps. Billy was an IF who played three seasons with the Cleveland Indians and his last with the Red Sox. He was known to be a defensive wiz. Described by Kirby Farrell, his manager at Cleveland and several minor league stops, as having “such tremendous hands, he could play the infield without a glove.” He received a basketball scholarship to Siena University, and during his time there they sported a 70-19 record. He also hit over .400 in his sophomore and junior seasons. Started his career with the Birmingham Black Barons in ’51, playing SS.

🐐fact: In 1966, Harrell became the third alumnus to be inducted into the Siena Athletics Hall of Fame. In 2006, he also became the first Siena basketball player to have his jersey number (#10) retired by the school.

Artie Wilson 1949 Sporting News/1946 Birmingham Black Barons Negro League Retort Signed Postcard. This was a really cool find. The Sporting News clipping details his time playing for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. The postcard (Wilson is 4th from left in back row) has Wilson’s auto along with Lyman Bostock, and Lester Lockett, his teammates on the 1946 Birmingham Black Barons. Artie did not have a MLB card. He played only one season for the New York Giants in 1951 at the age of 30. Wilson played for the Barons from 1942-1948, and considered the best SS during that time. He was the starting SS at the All-Star Classic four times in five years, only to get beat out by Jackie Robinson in 1945. In ’48, he batted .402, as well as mentoring a young Willie Mays.

🐐fact: Another player who was never given the chance in MLB despite his amazing talent. After his retirement, Wilson worked at Gary Worth Lincoln Mercury in Portland for more than 30 years, and stayed on there until the fall of 2008 at the age of 88 (what a legend!). He was named to the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1989, and the PCL Hall of Fame in 2003. He passed away in 2010 at the age of 89.

End of 7. Thanks to you all for reading and chiming in on the comments. I hope you enjoyed it so far. The “9th Inning” will be filled with many of the greats. How about that!

Were the All Star FanFest Cards from 1994-2000 the Precursor for Topps Project 2020?

As a baseball card collector and enthusiast, I feel that I am living through the Renaissance era of baseball card art. My Twitter feed is filled daily with spectacular images of cards from many artists that are working with a variety of mediums to produce their own interpretations of what cards of past and present players should look like. A number of these artists are also using their artwork to support charitable causes.

There was certainly an undercurrent of fine baseball card artwork being produced long before 2020, but the Topps Project 2020 brought to the surface a tidal wave of beautiful cards from a wide variety of artists.

Was Project 2020 an original idea or was it a variation on a project from the Junk Wax era? A case can be made that Project 2020 can be linked back to the All Star FanFest Cards from 1994 to 2000.

The two projects are similar in that they have multiple artists and designers coming up with unique cards of a single player and they also share some common player subjects – Roberto Clemente (1994 – Pittsburgh FanFest), Nolan Ryan (1995 – Dallas FanFest), and Jackie Robinson (1997- Cleveland FanFest).

The other player subjects for the All Star FanFest sets were Steve Carlton (1996 – Philadelphia FanFest), Lou Brock (1998 – St. Louis FanFest), Carl Yastrzemski (1999 – Boston FanFest), and Henry Aaron (2000 – Atlanta FanFest).

Ray Schulte was responsible for the All Star FanFest cards from 1994 to 2000. At the time he was working as an event consultant for MLB Properties, and cajoled some of the major baseball card producers of the 90’s to design and distribute unique cards of an iconic player from the city that was hosting the All Star Game. To obtain the cards a fan had to redeem 5 pack wrappers of any baseball product of the manufacturer at their FanFest booth.

I was introduced to the cards when I attended the All Star FanFest event held at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston in 1999. I attended the event with my family and upon learning about the cards from a Fleer representative sent my two kids on a mission to purchase 5 packs of cards produced by each of the four manufacturers from dealers at the event so we could exchange the wrappers for the Carl Yastrzemski cards designed just for the 1999 FanFest.

Now let’s take a closer look at the All Star FanFest sets which feature players that overlap with the Topps 2020 Project.

1994 All Star FanFest Set – Roberto Clemente

1994 was the first year that FanFest cards were issued and with Pittsburgh hosting the All Star Game the player subject was Roberto Clemente. Topps, Fleer, Upper Deck, Donruss, and Pinnacle issued cards for the event.

Fleer and Topps decided not to mess with perfection and produced cards that were essentially reprints of Clemente’s 1955 Topps rookie card and his 1963 Fleer card with 1994 All Star logos. Upper Deck issued a metallic looking card of Clemente that contains career stats and accomplishments on the front. Upper Deck would utilize the “metallic look” design for player subjects for the next 6 years. As you would expect, an image of a Dick Perez painting of Clemente is on the front of the Donruss Diamond King card.

1995 All Star FanFest Set – Nolan Ryan

With the 1995 All Star Game being held in the home park of the Texas Rangers the logical choice for the player subject for the FanFest cards was Nolan Ryan who retired in 1993.

The 5 card manufacturers who designed cards for the 1994 All Star FanFest also produced cards for 1995 All Star FanFest event held in Dallas.

Topps produced a re-imagined 1967 Rookie card of by eliminating the Jerry Koosman photo and enlarging the Nolan Ryan image to fill the front of the card. In microscopic print, Nolan’s complete major league pitching record is on the back of the card. Steve Carlton got the same treatment a year later when Topps enlarged his airbrushed 1965 photo to produce a new version of his Rookie card. Fleer issued an Ultra Gold Medallion version of a Ryan card. Upper Deck continued with its metallic design for a Ryan card. The Pinnacle card featured a Nolan Ryan painting and Donruss produced a Tribute card.

Get out the magnifying glass. Back of Topps 1995 Nolan Ryan All Star FanFest card.

1997 All Star FanFest Set – Jackie Robinson

With the All Star Game 1997 marking the 50th year of his major league debut, Jackie Robinson was the correct selection for the player subject for the 1997 set.

Topps released a reprint of his 1952 card with a All Star logo on the front and his complete major league batting record on the back. Leaf distributed a reprint of Jackie’s 1948 “rookie” card with small All Star Game logo in the upper right-hand corner. Fleer choose a nice posed photo of Jackie looking like he is going to tag out the runner for its Ultra card. On the back of its Tribute card, Pinnacle included a great action shot of Robinson coming in head-first at home plate with the catcher about to make a tag. The photo leaves you wondering – Which way did the call go? Upper Deck once again used a metallic design for its Jackie Robinson FanFest card.

Other All Star FanFest Cards

1997 All Star FanFest Larry Doby Cards

Depending on your definition of a complete set, collectors should be aware that Fleer and Pinnacle released Larry Doby cards to coincide with the All Star game being held in Cleveland. Included below are photos of the Fleer Ultra card and the Pinnacle 3-D Denny’s card.

2000 Henry Aaron FanFest Error Card

For some reason Topps decided not to make a reprint of Aaron’s 1954 Rookie card part of the official 2000 All Star FanFest set. Instead, Topps designed a unique card that featured a spectacular color photo of Aaron in a posed batting stance. Topps did however print some of the 1954 Rookie reprints with an All Star Game logo. These Aaron Rookie reprints are considered “error” cards.

Costs

Almost all the All Star FanFest sets can be purchased for under $12 on eBay. The exception is the 1994 Roberto Clemente All Star FanFest set. Each manufacturer produced 15,000 cards for the event. Less than 10,000 of each card were distributed at FanFest. The rest of the cards were destroyed. A Clemente set will set you back about $60.

Cover Boys

A few months ago, after we lost Henry Aaron, there was discussion on Twitter suggesting that Aaron had been short-changed by magazine covers during his career, especially by Sports Illustrated and SPORT. I will set aside SI for now (later, I hope), but I might be able to help with the SPORT issue.

I am an avowed fan of the heyday of SPORT. The magazine debuted in September 1946, and was a haven for long-form sports articles for 30 years. (It hung on into the 1990s, though I can not speak the later years.) I have written about SPORT before, so read this if you want the full story.

I own a complete run of SPORT through 1976, and I have used the magazine dozens of times for my own writing–for my own books, but especially for countless BioProject articles. We have made much progress in our ability to do research via the internet–many newspapers are on-line, the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated. But not SPORT, and really there was nothing else like it. So my hardcopies remain.

A couple of years ago, I spent some time creating postcard-sized copies of every SPORT cover and putting them in a binder. Long-term I want to place a subject index in each pocket so that my binder would also be useful. I’m But for now, I just have the postcards.

I recently went through my binder to count the number of times people appeared on a cover. Before presenting the answers, I wanted to explain how I counted. SPORT has employed many different cover designs over the years. Often they have just shown a single player as the cover subject, sometimes they have two or more players share a cover, and occasionally they will have one primary subject but one or more secondary subjects. Rather than make things overly complicated, I decided to keep two counts: primary, and secondary. A few examples should help.

On the left, Willie Mays is the primary subject. On the right, Ted Williams and Stan Musial are each primary subjects.

On the left, Dick Groat is the primary subject and Mickey Mantle and Jim Taylor are secondary subjects. On the right, there are 20 secondary subjects (none named, which tilted the decision).

There are some judgment calls, and one could argue that I really needed four categories, or eight categories. Ultimately, I didn’t feel the subject warranted Yalta-level deliberations.

To return to where we started, Henry Aaron was a primary subject on four SPORT covers.

It is unfortunate that neither the June 1962 or July 1968 photos filled the entire cover. Surely they would today be mounted and framed all across this land. They may still be.

Is four covers a low total? Baseball dominated SPORT covers and articles throughout much of Aaron’s career, at least until the late 1960s. SPORT was a monthly magazine, so there were generally only 7 or 8 baseball covers per year to go around and lots of other stars.

The all-time leaders (through 1976, counting only covers as a primary subject, and counting only baseball players) are Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, with 16 covers each.

This August 1959 cover is the only one they graced together, albeit with two other players.

Here are the primary cover leaders:

  • 16: Mantle, Mays
  • 9: Ted Williams, Stan Musial
  • 7: Joe DiMaggio
  • 6: Rocky Colavito, Sandy Koufax, Jackie Robinson
  • 5: Frank Robinson, Duke Snider, Warren Spahn
  • 4: Aaron, Yogi Berra, Eddie Mathews, Pete Rose, Carl Yastrzemski, Maury Wills

All of these players are Hall of Famers with the exceptions of Colavito, Rose, and Wills, with Rocky by far the most surprising entry.

Colavito was a fine player, a six-time all-star who hit 30+ home runs seven times. He was no Henry Aaron, even in on his best day, but he was a very popular player in Cleveland and Detroit. SPORT was trying to sell magazines, and under no obligation to put the “best player” on the cover. However, it must be said that Colavito also bested Aaron inside the magazine, with 12 feature stories during his career to Aaron’s 11, despite Henry being a great player long after Rocky had washed out of the league. (Both Mays and Mantle had 30).

It would be naive to ignore race in this matter. Perhaps not directly–Aaron was well-liked and celebrated often in the pages of SPORT. But the magazine’s belief in Colavito as a story or cover subject, and the popularity of Colavito generally, stands out in a time when most of the bright young stars entering the game were Latino or African-American.

Roberto Clemente and Ernie Banks were featured on the cover of SPORT once each, shown above. Both were frequent story subjects (Banks 12, Clemente 11) but could not crack the cover code. Bob Gibson, the best and most famous pitcher in the world in the late 1960s, never graced the cover of SPORT magazine. On the other hand, Joe DiMaggio, who retired in 1951, made the cover five times in the 1960s.

SPORT did put Mays on the cover 16 times, and gave him their biggest honor on their 25th anniversary issue. SPORT loved Mays, as did every other sports magazine of the era. Heck, he also graced the covers of Look, Life, and Time. Mays is in his own special category.

SPORT’s baseball covers in the 1960s seemed to rotate between the nostalgia (DiMaggio, Ruth, Williams), a new emerging hero (Dean Chance, Johnny Callison) or a superstar. When they wanted the latter, Mantle and Mays were often the chosen ones, and famous stars like Gibson, Clemente, or Brooks Robinson (1 cover) were left out.

If I can find the time, I might make postcards for Sports Illustrated baseball covers. (Lawyers: I am not selling anything, just putting them in a binder for my own use.)

In the meantime, I will settle for 30 years of SPORT.

That’s amore.

“There are two laws of the universe – gravity, and everyone likes Italian food.” – Neil Simon, supposedly.

The photos on baseball cards have the power to fire imaginations. A player fresh up from Evansville with four big-league games under his belt can convince a young collector (OK, grown-ups too) that he’s a future Hall of Famer, just from the tilt of his cap and the confident look in his eye. A lad so strapping and foursquare must have The Right Stuff, no?

Another example: Every team on an old-fashioned team card looks like a well-oiled machine. Looking at those orderly rows of players in their clean uniforms, it’s tough to imagine them running into each other, or watching a fly ball drop uncaught, or air-mailing a throw to the cutoff man.

What’s shown in the background of cards can also get the imagination going. I recently noticed a recurring sign in the Montreal Expos’ long-ago spring-training ballpark in Daytona Beach … one of those things you don’t stop seeing once you’ve picked up on it.

And ever since I noticed it, I’ve been craving Italian food.

75ErnieMcAnally

It shows up most clearly behind Ernie McAnally’s left shoulder in 1975, next to the crudely painted sign where the “Cola” tilts askew from the “Coca.” See it? PAESANO.

76OPCFryman

Either Topps used an old pic in ’76 or the sign was still there at City Island Park a year later, because it shows up pretty clearly on Woodie Fryman’s card. PAESANO.

75SteveRenko

Going back to ’75, it’s not quite as clear on Steve Renko’s card. But once you’ve seen it elsewhere, you know it’s the same sign. PAESANO.

75BalorMoore

Like the melody of a lonesome accordion trickling in through an open window, it’s only hinted at on Balor Moore’s ’75 card. But again, once you’ve seen it, you recognize it. PAESANO. (The ’75 Don DeMola cheats us cruelly of a fifth PAESANO, though it surely gladdened the heart of your neighborhood Coca-Cola bottler at the time.)

Other bloggers have pointed out that Topps seems to have intentionally obscured outfield signs on several 1977 Expos cards. Perhaps if they had done the same thing here, I would not currently be dreaming about a dimly lit old-school ristorante at which mammoth plates of spaghetti are accompanied by bottles of affordable yet forthright red wine.

(This is a key part of my PAESANO fantasy. In my head, it’s not just an Italian place; it’s a Seventies Italian place, like my grandparents might have known. There’s vinyl involved, and those wrapped Chianti bottles, and Chevy Impalas like the one my grandfather owned parked outside.)

I’ve devoted entirely too much time to researching this on Newspapers dot com over the past few days … and of course I know nothing more than I did when I started. I don’t even know for absolute certain that PAESANO was a restaurant. It could have been an ad for Richie Paesano & Sons 24-Hour Towing.

I’ve found old print references to at least two Florida restaurants called Paesano or Paesano’s, though, as I recall, neither of them were in Daytona Beach nor tremendously close.

Intriguingly, back issues of the Montreal Gazette indicate that a restaurant called Paesano — complete with distinctive typeface — was a mainstay of that city’s formal dining scene in the early to mid-1970s. (The ad below ran in the Gazette on March 18, 1974.)

Expos spring training reportedly attracted a flood of Quebeckers each year, and it would have been a slick trick for a Montreal business to take advantage of their mal du pays and promote something they could enjoy when they got back home. That seems like a little bit of a stretch to me, though.

paead

I’ve scoured the Gazette and the Orlando Sentinel in search of a clear, unencumbered photo of the sign, to no avail.

The Sentinel used to write up the games of the Daytona Beach Dodgers, who played in the same park, but they never seemed to send a photographer. The Gazette cared enough to send a lensman to Expos spring training each year — but they only ran one of his photos each day, perhaps because they ate up space that could be devoted to the Montreal Canadiens’ latest playoff run.

The only view I’ve found so far is in a photo that ran February 28, 1975. Five Expos pitchers are hamming it up, giving the cameraman the ol’ prosciutto, and peeking out between two of them is just a hint of PAESANO.

feb281975

Of course this view raises more questions than it answers. The partial word “ANCA” is visible between Chip Lang and Dan Warthen at far left. I can only think of one food-related word in English that involves the letters “ANCA,” and it’s “pancakes” … not exactly the kind of food you find at a fancy-night Italian place. (Might PAESANO have been a diner instead?)

I might never know the full story of PAESANO. But it doesn’t really matter.

Once again — has it happened a thousand times since I was a boy? Ten thousand? — I’ve been reeled in by the image on a baseball card. My brain has locked in and started sparking, setting scenes, telling stories. I relish that feeling. It’s part of what keeps me buying cards, and paging through binders, and picking up cards and holding them in my hand. Without that connection, it’s all just piles of cardboard.

Push the crushed red pepper flakes a little closer, won’t you?

A “most valuable” Josh Gibson card

The formula for Topps Project 70 is a seemingly simple one. An artist, typically from outside the sports card world, chooses a player, chooses a design from among the “70 Years of Topps,” and combines the two, adding in their own artistic style and spin.

The Brittney Palmer card of A-Rod (1980 design) and Jonas Never card of Justin Turner (1982 design) are good examples of the concept in action.

Occasionally, however, an artist adds a third dimension. In the case of DJ Skee, it’s a curated Spotify playlist of music and storytelling. In the case of Alex Pardee, there’s an epic comic book-like plot unfolding, and in the case of Eric Friedensohn, (better known as Efdot), there is that complex but omnipresent realm many collectors only begrudgingly stomach: real life.

We profiled a couple of Efdot’s cards last year when he was part of the Topps Project 2020 lineup. His Jackie Robinson card was influenced by the protests and national reckoning following George Floyd’s senseless murder, and his masked Dwight Gooden card, a nod to the worldwide COVID pandemic, not only made a real doc out of “Doc” but made our “SABR 50 at 50” list as the defining card of 2020.

This year, readers of Apple News were treated to a sneak preview of yet another Efdot card that is meeting the moment.

On May 24 (TODAY!), Topps is releasing the first (but hopefully not only) Josh Gibson card of Project 70, which not only pays tribute to the legendary Negro Leagues slugger but also calls attention to an effort underway to name Baseball’s MVP trophies in Josh’s honor.

The card will only be available thru May 27 at noon ET, after which point no additional cards will be released. (Pro tip: Do NOT show up at 11:59 on the last day. Allow for at least a few minutes of captcha hell before Topps.com lets you complete your purchase.)

There’s a lot to unpack, but let’s start with the choice of Josh Gibson, a player Topps did not initially make available to Project 70 artists. For insights into the card and the story behind it, I checked in with Efdot, the card’s artist, and Sean Gibson, the executive director of the Josh Gibson Foundation, not to mention the great-grandson of the Hall of Fame slugger.

UPDATE: You can also tune in to Beckett Live Presents for a live discussion with Efdot and Sean. (If you miss it, the same link will take you to the recording.)

Jason: Eric, your earlier cards in the set were of Mike Schmidt, Ozzie Smith, Ronald Acuña, and Wade Boggs. What led you to choose Josh Gibson?

Efdot: Leading up to Project70, getting to choose my own players was incredible. I knew I wanted to illustrate a diverse group of both retired and young current players. I had not seen many cards representing Negro League players, and knew they deserved more recognition for their contributions to baseball. 

I had done extensive research on Jackie Robinson last year for Project2020 and learned more about the athletes that were forced to play only in Negro Leagues, never making it to the Major Leagues. I dug deeper and got inspired by Josh Gibson’s images, his story and the positive, engaged community around the Josh Gibson Foundation.

Jason: Once you knew you wanted to do a card of Josh, what was the process to make that happen?

Efdot: I worked with my friend, writer/editor Matt Castello, to help me finalize my player selections. Topps told me I could request players outside of the given list. Josh Gibson was at the top of my list for players that I wanted to illustrate, so I asked Topps if they could make it happen. I’m not sure what negotiations happened between Topps and the Josh Gibson Foundation/Estate, but after a few weeks, Topps informed me that I was able to make the first Josh Gibson card for Project70.

Jason: Sean, what did it mean to you to have an artist select Josh Gibson for this project?

Sean Gibson: I’d like to answer here not just for myself but on behalf of the entire Gibson family. Number one, it’s always exciting to see Josh Gibson on a baseball card. In addition, it’s particularly exciting for the card to be done by Efdot. I’m a big fan of his work, and I’ve really enjoyed the cards he’s done in the past. So yes, having a Josh Gibson card from Efdot is very special.

Jason: Eric, you had your choice of designs from seven decades of Topps baseball cards. What motivated you to choose 1972 for this card?

Efdot: I was initially interested in 1972 Topps from a design perspective, because it seemed like it would work well with my style. I found out that the 1972 set’s informal nickname among collectors is “the psychedelic tombstone set,” which is a reference to the design’s outer border and how each picture is presented within an arch. 

The way the team name is written across the top of the card, almost looking like a marquee sign shining bright. I recognized the font from comic books and art deco-style buildings that I’ve seen in Midtown Manhattan. (I had also created multiple lettering pieces in the past, referencing this same type style.)

Once I learned that Josh Gibson’s Hall of Fame induction happened in 1972, I decided it was the perfect pairing.

Author’s note: The 1972 design also proved fortuitous when Topps let Eric know much more recently that they wanted to add a “chase card” to the Josh Gibson release. Here is “Josh Gibson MVP…In Action!”

Jason: Eric, many of your cards feature small “Easter eggs” that help tell a broader story when found by the collector. On this card, the letters “MVP” are too prominent to qualify as an Easter egg, but there is still a story to them. You’re specifically referencing the Josh Gibson MVP Award campaign that’s underway right now, correct?

Efdot: Yes. I don’t recall exactly when I found out about the Josh Gibson MVP campaign, but it was something I resonated with immediately. Right away, I had the idea to change that marquee sign to say GIBSON MVP, loud and proud, instead of the team name. I wanted it to line up with the #JG20MVP campaign as a powerful combination of messaging and design.

Josh Gibson is such an important player with a rich and unrecognized history of accomplishment in home runs, batting average, and sheer power that deserves to serve as the standard across the league.

I believe the naming of the MVP award should be given to someone not only who represents the accomplishments in sports through their performance on the field, but also a good role model for young athletes and current players alike.

Jason: Sean, you had a peek at the card early. Tell me what it was like to see your great-grandfather brought to life by Eric’s artwork?

Sean Gibson: When I first saw the card I thought it was amazing. Now the most important part of the card is the lettering that reads “MVP.” When I first spoke with Efdot about the Josh Gibson MVP campaign he was the one who suggested putting MVP right on the card.

After that, I love the colors and the details. I particularly like the glove and how Efdot has the addreess of 2217 Bedford Avenue. For the readers who might not know, 2217 Bedford is the location where Josh first started playing baseball for the Pittsburgh Crawfords sandlot team. The field there is known today as Josh Gibson Field.

Jason: Eric, how does it feel to have created this special card, and what place do you hope it has in the Hobby?

Eric: I knew from the start that working on this card wouldn’t be like any other. I was so grateful for the opportunity to work with the Josh Gibson Foundation and Sean Gibson directly to help me truly understand the importance of Josh’s legacy and to help create a piece of work that will hopefully be used to celebrate that legacy for years to come.

Jason: And finally, Sean, what would it mean to your family and the families of other Negro League legends to have baseball’s MVP trophies renamed for Josh?

Sean Gibson: I would say this. The Hall of Fame is Josh’s biggest accomplishment. That said, I was three years old when Josh was inducted, so I have no recollection of the experience. For the younger generations and the rest of the Gibson family, this would be the most significant accomplishment of our lifetimes with respect to Josh.

Overall, it would be the second greatest accomplishment of Josh’s career, with the Hall of Fame being the first. However, this award would not only honor Josh but acknowledge and recognize the other 3400 men who were denied the chance to play Major League Baseball solely due to the color of their skin. Josh would be carrying all of these players on his shoulders.

Jason: Gentlemen, my genuine thanks to both of you for taking the time to talk to SABR Baseball Cards. Best of luck with the card and of course the MVP campaign! Finally, on a personal note, now that Josh finally has an official MVP card I can stop making my own! (But I probably won’t.)

ON THE WEB:

ON SOCIAL

Albert Pujols, next man up!

I had to see it with my own eyes to believe it, but there he was: Albert Pujols in Dodger Blue.

Photo: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Following the Pujols signing, baseball savant Jay Jaffe was quick to point out that Albert was in good company.

Ditto Chris Kamka.

While late to the party, I’ll carry on the theme with the baseball card angle. We’ll blow right past Jackie, Sandy, Pee Wee, and the Duke and focus on the players you don’t normally think of as Dodgers.

THE BROOKLYN ERA

Chief Bender

There’s a great reason you don’t think of Bender as a Dodger. He never was. Yet, here he is in the 1916 Mother’s Bread set representing the Brooklyn National League club!

Without doing a ton of digging, I’m going to assume this is simply an error card. The same set also has Bender (same image) as a Philadelphia Athletic, which would have been equally incorrect. (Bender was a Baltimore Terrapin in 1915 and a Philadelphia Phillie in 1916.)

Roberto Clemente

The Great One, as is well known, never suited up for Brooklyn. Instead he was smartly and fatefully signed by the Pirates after the Dodgers left him unprotected in their farm system.

The 1994 Topps Archives set chose to include Roberto as a “1954 PROSPECT” of the Brooklyn Dodgers, depicting Clemente in a Montreal Royals uniform and aping the 1954 Topps design.

Charlie Gehringer

Okay, now you know there’s something funny going on here. The Mechanical Man as a Dodger? Heavens no! However, the uniform must have looked close enough that someone logged the card this way in Trading Card Database. (And don’t worry. I’ve submitted a correction.)

Still, it may well be that your Albert Pujols Dodgers card looks this jarring 50 years into the future. (Perhaps your Albert Pujols Angels cards will as well!)

Tony Lazzeri

Here’s one thing we know. If a player even spent a minute as a Dodger the 1990 Target Dodgers megaset took note.

In Lazzeri’s case, it was only 14 games, but he did have the highest OBP, SLG, and OPS of his entire career!

Babe Ruth

Lazzeri wasn’t the only member of the Murderers Row to have a Dodger baseball card. The Bambino, who coached for the squad, had several, beginning with this one from the 1962 Topps “Babe Ruth Special” subset.

If my eyes don’t deceive me, the next time Cody Bellinger steps to the plate for the Dodgers (hopefully soon!) his uniform number 35 will take on new significance.

Paul Waner

Thanks to Don Zminda for reminding me in the comments that Big Poison also had some Dodger cardboard.

Vintage collectors will prefer his 1941 Double Play card, shared with the season’s most ill-fated backstop. However, if beauty is what you’re after then this 1973 card will fill you will “Glee.”

Hack Wilson

Perhaps the only thing that could have diminished the thrill of my fellow SABR Chicago member John Racanelli landed his “holy grail” Hack Wilson card was flipping it over to see the team on the back.

Like Pujols, Wilson had his best seasons behind him, though he did knock a total of 38 homers for Brooklyn across 2+ seasons.

THE LOS ANGELES ERA

Dick Allen

This Dick Allen card is better known as the first major release with a mustache since T206 but is more importantly a must in any Dodger collection.

Unlike Pujols (at least we assume!), Allen’s best years weren’t behind him at all when he joined the Dodgers. He would of course win the American League’s MVP award in 1972 as a member of the White Sox, where he would also garner back-to-back Topps All-Star cards in 1974 and 1975.

Jim Bunning

Don’t worry. I didn’t remember this either.

Three wins, one loss, and a respectable 3.36 ERA.

Whitey Ford

Wait, what?! The Chairman of the Board? Yes, if his 1962 Post Cereal (Canadian) issue is to be believed.

Don’t panic. It was only an error card.

Rickey Henderson

While it seems like Rickey played for just about every team at some point, it sometimes takes cardboard proof to reassure me I wasn’t just imagining him in Dodger Blue.

So thank you, 2003 Fleer Tradition…I think.

Greg Maddux

Buy the time Maddux came to L.A. in 2006, by way of the Cubs, the Dodger faithful may have worried he had little left in the tank.

As his 2006 Upper Deck Season Highlights card reminds us, he could still get outs, tossing six no-hit innings in his first game as a Dodger. The magic didn’t last long though, as he went on to surrender 28 hits over his next three games.

Juan Marichal

Of course the Target Dodgers set was there for it, but we’ll go 1983 ASA instead.

The picture is sure to feel like a dagger to the hearts of Giants fans, but they could of course parry with an equally blasphemous Jackie.

Frank Robinson

Robby may have entered the Hall as an Oriole, but that didn’t stop SSPC from immortalizing him as a Dodger.

Naturally, many other cards include Frank Robinson’s Dodger stint, including his 1973 Topps flagship issue.

Jim Thome

Hall of Famer Jim Thome (or J M H M if your eyes are as bad as mine) had a brief pinch-hitting stint for the Dodgers in 2009, batting 17 times in 17 games with 4 singles.

Still, that cup of coffee was enough to make him one of THREE 600 HR club members Dodgers collectors can claim, along with Babe Ruth and now…

Albert Pujols!

Man, remember when we had to wait a year for this kind of thing!

2021 Heritage Geek Out

I’ve been looking forward to 2021 Heritage for a couple years now. This is partially because 1972 was the first set which stood out as the oldest cards in my childhood collection, but the main reason is because it’s just an incredibly challenging design to reproduce. Up to 1972, Topps’s designs are pretty restrained. Nothing complex is going on with the fonts and even the colorful sets feature solid blocks of color.

1972 though. Hoo boy. Custom type for the team names. Bright and colorful with different-colored borders. I could see the potential for a major trainwreck and I was split between hoping for such a wreck and hoping that Topps instead got it all right.

The reality of course lies between those two extremes. For the most part 2021 Heritage looks about right and the differences aren’t really worth complaining about. Those differences though are however the kind of thing I happen to find really interesting.

So let’s start out just comparing a bunch of 1972 Topps cards with their 2021 Heritage equivalents. Not a whole lot worth noting. Some color differences but most are really just shifts in darkness. Only the change from magenta to red on the Indians and Cubs cards is particularly noteworthy.*

*Side comment here but I’ve yet to see anyone post a tribute to the Billy Cowan card and that seems a massive missed opportunity. I am however not at all surprised that there’s no tribute to the Billy Martin card.

Zooming in though shows the usual interesting (to me at least) comparisons between printing technology in the 1970s and today. Or in the case with most of the Heritage cards, they show how the design workflow is different.

So let’s look at some details. 1972 on the left, 2021 on the right. I’m not going to look at the pairs in order, instead I’m grouping them based on how they differ colorwise.

Or, as is the case with this first group, how they don’t differ. The red, yellow, and greens are all solid. These all feature 100% yellow ink. The red also features 100% magenta and the green features 100% cyan. The difference in color between the two greens is a reflection of how heavy the cyan ink was printed.

In the borders and text sections you can see how the trapping and registration differs between 1972 and 2021. This is especially obvious on the 1972 red card since the black plate is a bit misregistered and doesn’t cover up the transitions between yellow, orange, and red.

And in the white text on the 2021 green card you can just make out the faint yellow screen that Topps printed to warm up the white card stock.

There’s also some weird stuff on a couple of the 2021 cards—a yellow edge in the S on the yellow card and a white edge between the green solid and black hairline—a which suggests that something else is going on. Since this oddness continues in the other examples I’ll wait until the end to address it.

The oranges are also pretty close. Still 100% yellow but now you can see the magenta screen. 2021 Heritage uses a much much finer line screen which could account for some of the color shifting.* The blues are completely different but we’ll cover those later.

*Also the bottom of the S on the Tigers card is yellow instead of white but I think this is just a mistake.

The oddness in the blacks—both the S and the hairline borders—in the 2021 cards continues here. The edges of the black components of the design just aren’t crisp. This is similar to the black edges in 2020 Heritage but has a very different shape in the way that the edge is screened.

The blue cards show the most-serious changes since they’ve gone from being just cyan ink to being a mix of all the inks. In 1972 the dark blue is 100% cyan and the light blue is like 40% cyan. In 2021 you can see multi-color halftone rosettes.*

*These changes can also be seen in the green and blue details on the Angels cards I showed in the previous orange section.

Nothing new to note in the blacks except that to my eyes the edges on the blue are even rougher.

To the last two pairs. Not much to say about Topps changing pink to red except to wonder if they had the same problem printing magenta-only that they had printing cyan-only and in the same way hat the blue cards ended up being a richer blue, maybe the pinks became more reddish until someone decided they should just be all red.

What’s weirder is that the In Action cards do not feature solid inks and instead the Magenta ink is screened. This is the definitive tell of a computer trying to match a target color instead of printing the input color* but the fact it only appears on this one color mix could just be a fluke.

*Back in the days before computer-generated print screens, it wasn’t just easier to print colors as solids, that was how the entire workflow went. For most things you picked the simple screen mix you wanted and what came off the press is what you got. With computers, the process is reversed. The designer picks the final desired color and then the computer decides what physical screen mix will achieve that.

Instead, I need to point out the difference in the black edges between the “In Action” text and the player name since this highlights how differently Topps created each element

If I had to guess I would say that Topps created the design of this set as continuous-tone artwork instead of linework. Continuous tone art consists of individually colored pixels such as you’d have in photographs or other Photoshop creations. They don’t scale well and the transitions between colors often end up being dithered and fuzzy instead of clean and crisp. Linework is also known as vector graphics and consists of shapes—whether simple like a box or complicated like a font—which the computer draws via a formula. Such shapes can be scaled and maintain crisp edges at multiple sizes.

The edges of the blacks in the team names, as well as the way that the ™ and ® symbols are fuzzy, suggests that Topps produced the borders in Photoshop instead of Illustrator.* This isn’t the way I’d want to design these since the flexibility of linework would allow for much better printing in terms of the crispness of the edges, control of the color, and trapping along the color transitions.

*They also provide an example of one of the first things to look for with counterfeited cards. Those kind of fuzzy edges are an obvious sign that something has been scanned and reprinted.

While I’m pretty sure that  Topps produced the artwork  using Photoshop, I’m a bit confused at how they created the text in the team names. While the type in the 22 team names that existed in the 1972 set* looks correct, the type in the eight new names** is a disaster.

*There were 24 teams in 1972 but the Expos became the Nationals and the A’s became the Athletics.

**Six expansion teams plus the Nationals and Athletics.

The arch effect in 1972 is simple vertically-arched lettering.* All the vertical lines are supposed to remain vertical and only the horizontals follow the curve. The 1972 font highlights this by having the engraved lines which should all be parallel. None of the eight new team names are able to do this however.

*For you custom card makers out there, in Illustrator, using “Type On Path” with the “skew” option instead of “rainbow” will do this with zero effort. And yes I’m assuming Topps has the font for this.

The least offensive is the Rays where only the stem of the Y really shows how things are going bad. The others have multiple letters (or in the case of the Marlins and Blue Jays, all of the letters) tilted incorrectly.  On top of this, some letters—all the Es for example—are bizarrely malformed and there’s also the backwards first A in Diamondbacks to contend with.

This all feels like some one tried to warp things in Photoshop and failed miserably and the end result shows off all the worst things about Heritage. A shame since there’s a lot of good stuff going on otherwise and I do like the 1972 design.

Oh and the postseason card is included here because the choice to mix italics into the arched lettering is such a bad choice that it ends up looking like the same kind of warping weirdness that bedevils the team names.

Moving to the backs. Yes there are legitimate problems with the font size Topps used on some of the cards. But that’s a basic choice (or lack of caring) and isn’t that interesting. What I did find interesting is how Topps is printing the backs using 4-color process instead of just black and orange ink and how the actual paper “color” is now a printed design element.

This faked grey card stock thing is why the back colors are different card-to-card. Keeping that kind of color consistent is really hard. A slight deviation in any one of the ink densities throws the whole color slightly warm or cool.

I scanned these two cards together so that the color differences came form the cards and not my scanning. Zooming in shows no discernible difference in the screening so the final color differences are just printing variations. These zooms also show how all three colors (the only black in appears to be in the text and lines) are also present in the orange portions of the design.

This is something I’m used to on Archives but it’s a bit of a disappointment to see shortcuts like this in Heritage. Especially when it results in visibly highlight printing differences in a stack of cards.

Hollywood Stars Were in the Cards: Part 4

One of baseball’s enduring little mysteries arose the day I opened a pack of Topps in 1979 and pulled out a Rick Honeycutt: “Is Rick Honeycutt the son of Korean War veteran, Capt. B.J. Hunnicutt, U.S. Army Reserve?” I mused. It was, after all, just the sort of question an 11-year-old experiencing a sugar high from an alarmingly excessive amount of Topps bubble gum would ask himself on a warm spring day. The immediate and obvious answer, thanks to the spelling of the surname, is no. However, such variation in relations is not unheard of, nor are baseball cards free from error, so I decided to delve deeper once I got some free time—which I’d hoped would arrive before the summer of ’79’s conclusion but, unfortunately, didn’t present itself until last Tuesday.

As is well known—or should be, considering the Korean War is little taught in schools, sadly contributing to its lamentable sobriquet, “the Forgotten War”—the armistice declaring a permanent ceasefire (officially known as the Korean Armistice Agreement) was signed 27 July 1953. Although many American troops remained in South Korea until 1954 due to this fragile peace, Capt. Hunnicutt, a surgeon stationed at the 4077th MASH at the time of the ceasefire, was, like many officers, rapidly returned to the United States. (Being an officer, he almost certainly traveled by aircraft. Remember: in the waning days of the conflict, Capt. Hunnicutt got as far as Guam before his erroneous orders to rotate home were rescinded and he was sent back to the 4077th—all in a time frame possible only by air travel.) This means that Hunnicutt would have arrived home in Mill Valley, California, within the first days of August—to the great delight of his wife, Peg, and his young daughter, Erin. (Even had he been shipped home by sea, Hunnicutt still would have walked in his front door before the end of August.)

Rick Honeycutt was born 29 June 1954, in Chattanooga, Tennessee—which means that he was conceived in late September 1953. Baby booms are commonplace in the first weeks and months after wartime, as overjoyed and undersexed servicemen return to their wives or sweethearts. So, Rick Honeycutt’s conception falls right when we’d expect it to occur.

But why would Rick Honeycutt be born in Chattanooga if B.J. and Peg were living just north of San Francisco? One possible reason could be that, sometime in 1954, B.J. decided to honor his parting promise to Swamp-mate, Capt. B.F. Pierce, that they’d see each other back in the States, so he and Peg set out for the East Coast—surely with a stopover in Quapaw, Oklahoma, through which the major highway of the day, Route 66, conveniently passes, to visit Peg’s parents. Yet because this predated construction of the Interstate Highway System, travel by car was significantly slower than by standards of the late 1950s, causing the pregnant Peg Hunnicutt to unanticipatedly give birth to Rick in Chattanooga, either on the way to, or returning from, their easterly destination.

But that is a scenario fraught with geographic variables, and I believe the case to be much more along the lines of B.J. Hunnicutt attending a medical convention at Chattanooga State Community College—possibly traveling there on the yellow 1932 NSU 501 TS motorcycle on which he departed the 4077th (B.J. easily could have bribed an airman to stow it on the cargo plane taking him home). While at the convention, he had a fling with a local woman—a precedent had been set between the supposedly true-blue Hunnicutt and an on-the-rebound 4077th nurse, 1LT Carrie Donovan—and this latter affair produced a son, whose mother, either out of shame or ignorance of spelling, named the boy Rick Honeycutt. If this is the case, then it’s entirely possible that B.J. never knew of the existence of Rick.

As if additional evidence were needed, the 6’1” Rick Honeycutt apparently inherited the 6’3” B.J. Hunnicutt’s height and lean frame. (His 1979 Topps card also displays an extremely high crown to his cap, indicating that Rick likewise inherited his father’s abnormally spacious forehead.)

Honeycutt attended high school in nearby Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, so, at some point, his mother up and left Rick’s birthplace, taking her son from the disapproving eyes of Chattanoogans and across the state line, where her sordid past might not be the talk of the town.

After returning to Tennessee for his collegiate years, where Rick developed into a crackerjack first baseman and pitcher, Honeycutt was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pitching well in AA ball, he became the “player to be named later” in an earlier trade with the expansion Mariners, making his major league debut for Seattle in August 1977. This must have pleased Capt. Hunnicutt, a keen baseball fan who, during his time in Korea, had predicted big things from a little-known rookie named Mays, helped fabricate a radio broadcast of a Yankees-Indians game, and whooped it up to Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.”

Rick’s years in Seattle, however, proved no better than the stalemate in Korea, as poor teams kept him on the losing end despite an ERA near league average. His frustration piqued during a start in Kansas City on September 30, 1980, as Honeycutt resorted to taping a thumbtack to the middle finger of his glove hand in an effort to covertly cut the baseball. But his ploy was spotted in the bottom of the third inning—as was the gash on his forehead after absent-mindedly wiping his face with his glove hand—resulting in immediate ejection from the game. Honeycutt quickly incurred a ten-game suspension and a $250 fine for his transgression.

Such unscrupulousness lends support to the theory that Rick was a product of an extramarital affair, because Dr. Hunnicutt would not have been around to imbue Rick with the strong moral foundation that would keep him from, ironically enough, doctoring a baseball.  

Whether the thumbtack incident hastened Honeycutt’s end in Seattle is debatable, but an 11-player swap just 10½ weeks later deputized him as a Texas Ranger, where, except for a disastrous 1982, his fortune improved.

Soon after the 30th anniversary of the armistice that brought Capt. Hunnicutt back to the United States, Texas packed off Rick to the Los Angeles Dodgers, despite Honeycutt owning the lowest ERA in the league (which would hold up after the trade, giving Rick the American League crown at season’s end despite now wearing a National League uniform).

The 1980s also, presumably, meant that B.J. now could follow Rick’s sojourn through the majors thanks to the newfangled gizmo known as cable television—a predilection that might have intrigued Peg and Rick’s half-sister, Erin, to see B.J. watching, or eagerly waiting for scores about, Rangers and Dodgers games rather than the hometown Giants.

Honeycutt experienced a homecoming of sorts when Los Angeles dealt him to the Oakland A’s in August 1987. Now just across San Francisco Bay from Mill Valley, Rick could reside close to his parents, or, if the scenario involving an illicit affair were, indeed, the cause of his birth, B.J. could clandestinely attend Athletics games and spend time with his son afterward—either of which made all the sweeter by Rick’s impending appearance in three consecutive World Series (including a championship against the Giants, though I have yet to discover a press photo of a champagne-soaked Rick celebrating with B.J.—perhaps Capt. Hunnicutt found San Francisco’s loss too dispiriting to celebrate and could not bring himself to join Rick in the clubhouse).

Some of this evidence might seem inconclusive, even far-fetched. However, what, for me, cements Rick Honeycutt’s lineage to Capt. Hunnicutt is the message he left the world after his final game, when Rick pitched an inning of mop-up for St. Louis at Shea Stadium in May 1997—a message in rosin bags that conclusively demonstrated Rick to be his father’s son…

The Clown Princes of Baseball Cards

The Globetrotter-Baseball link is well known. The team’s founder, Abe Saperstein, was extremely active in Negro League Baseball (SABR bio here). Bob Gibson played for the Globies in the ‘50’s

and Fergie Jenkins did the same a decade later.

Lou Brock also played and Mookie Betts was drafted by the Globetrotters in 2020, but in a head-scratching career move stayed a Dodger.

But the Globie-baseball card connection? I’ve got it covered.

It’s hard to overstate the cultural pervasiveness of the Trotters during the 1970’s. In the first half of the ‘70’s, the Globetrotters were an ABC Wide World of Sports highlight, not to be missed. There were books about them

they had their own Saturday morning cartoon show

they starred in a Scooby-Doo movie

and they had not one, but two, trading card sets.

The 1971 Fleer Globetrotter set was 84 glorious cards, a simple photo on the front and well-written prose on the backs. They must’ve come in packs of 8. I just finished the set but started with 56 cards I’d bought back then (8 cards per pack is the best math I can come up with). Each pack had a team logo sticker, which I both don’t remember and, shockingly, have none of. If I bought 7 packs back then, I should have at least 6 intact stickers around, I don’t.

The second set is a shorter version of the first, 28 cards, but with facsimile autographs on the front and the Cocoa Puffs logo added to the back.

So what’s this got to do with you? I’ve written before about finding baseball cards in non-sports sets. The Fleer and Cocoa Puffs sets both have two cards of the Globies “Baseball Play” skit.

Card #70 (#3 Cocoa Puffs) is a complete baseball card. It’s got Meadowlark Lemon sliding and the back referencing the act.

Card #71 (#7 Cocoa Puffs) is half a baseball card, but it’s a great photo. The back has 1970-71 Highlights, no baseball stuff.

There are scads of hysterical Meadowlark Lemon memories, but I’m pretty sure my favorite may have been part of the baseball act. Lemon would slide and start howling “My leg! My leg!” The trainer and concerned teammates would come out and minister some aid to the injured leg.

“It’s my other leg!” Lemon would wail. A great punchline. It might be from a different skit, but I like it my way.

The Globies are still doing there thing . Here’s the baseball play, with a special Yankee guest.

From the Negro League to MLB

5th Inning

As we hit the midway mark of the project, the hobby has reached unprecedented times. Due to a huge boom in card collecting, PSA recently shut down its services for the foreseeable future. Backloaded with millions of cards not yet processed or graded, I believe they made the correct move to shut down and restart. SGC also recently raised their prices from $25 per card to $75. I do love the look of vintage cards in the SGC “Tuxedo” slabs, so I was pretty bummed when they made the decision to jack prices to that level.

In saying all this, my plan was (and still is) to have every card/item in this collection graded/authenticated. Due to the shutdown of PSA, that will have to wait. Many of the lesser value cards in my project were originally planned to be sent out via bulk submissions. Not happy about it, but this project is more about the process than anything else. Okay, enough of the rant, first up to bat (I mean pitch) is…

Jose Santiago 1956 Topps RC. One of my favorite sets, ’56 Topps. Nicknamed “Pantalones” which means pants or trousers in Spanish, he earned this name during Winter ball in his native Puerto Rico. Santiago pitched for the Negro Leagues as an 18 year-old, playing for the New York Cubans. Jose reached the majors in 1954 with the Cleveland Indians appearing in only one game. In 1955, he had a really impressive year, finishing 6 games, and sporting a 2.48 era in 17 appearances. 1957 was his last season in MLB, but Jose was a baseball lifer, spending 16 seasons in the Puerto Rican Winter League.

🐐fact: Santiago lived to 90 years old, he was inducted into the Puerto Rico Sports Hall of Fame in 1987, as well as the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame.

Pancho Herrera 1958 Topps RC. Pancho was a 6’3″ 220 lb Cuban who had plenty of power. Herrera played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League before being purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1954. In 1960 he finished second behind Frank Howard in NL Rookie of the Year voting. In 145 games he batted .281, slugged 17 HR to go along with 71 RBI. Herrera had an extensive Minor League career that spanned into his 40’s. He was elected to the International League Hall of Fame in 2008.

🐐fact: Pancho’s 1958 Topps card featured a rare error version that blocked the black printing dye where the “a” in his last name should’ve been. The “a” is barely legible, and must have been noticed very early by a Topps employee since there’s very few cards that have surfaced. To this date there’s only 50 cards graded in the PSA database, four PSA 8, one PSA 9, and none ever graded as a 10!

Junior Gilliam 1960 Topps. What a great set, Gilliam was an All-Star in 1959 his 2nd appearance in the Mid-Summer classic (1st was in 1956). Junior was born in Nashville, TN and played for the Nashville Black Vols (Negro Southern League) as a teenager for $150 a month. After spending 6 years with the Baltimore Elite Giants he was signed by the Dodgers organization in 1951. In 1953 he was NL ROY, leading the league with 17 triples.

🐐fact: Junior was a 4x World Series champ (appeared in 7 total), and spent his whole career (14 seasons) with the Dodgers.

Jehosie Heard 1954 Topps RC. This was an easy choice since it was the only Topps card Jehosie appeared on. He was the first African-American to play for the Baltimore Orioles. He appeared in 2 games as a 34 year-old in 1954. The Georgia native first picked up the great game of baseball on an Army base during the war. After serving our country he joined the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro League. Heard had success as a lefty pitcher for many years but was also an excellent hitter. In 1951 he hit .396 and played the outfield when he was not pitching.

🐐fact: Heard stood only 5′ 7″ and weighed 155 pounds.

Henry “Hank” Mason 1960 Topps RC. Like Heard, Mason appeared on only one Topps card. He was a right-handed pitcher, and played for the Phillies in 1958 and 1960. Hank began his professional career with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League. He was the starting pitcher of the 1954 East-West All-Star Game. Mason was dominant in the Minor Leagues, posting records of 12-4 (1955) and 14-7 (1956) leading the league in shutouts for the Schenectady Blue Jays, a Phillies farm team.

🐐fact: On Opening Day in 1952 for the Monarchs, Mason pitched 16 innings to defeat the Philadelphia Stars, 3-2.

Carlos Paula 1955 Topps RC. Paula was a Cuban born right-handed hitting outfielder. ’55 is such a great set, Paula has a great smile and a really cool picture of him in a throwing motion with a clean Senators uni! Paula was built like a prizefighter, 6′ 2″, great speed, and could hit for power. On September 6, 1954, the Senators became the 12th of 16 teams to integrate their roster. Paula had a double, and single in his first MLB game. Paula was definitely one of many that did not get his fair chance of playing time. Often outplaying fellow white ballplayers, but as we know this was a common trend during these unfortunate times. During a 22 game stretch in 1955, from mid-August to September, Paula hit .450 with 36 hits, 14 for extra bases, while only striking out 4 times.

🐐fact: In 1954 Topps issued a card of Angel Scull who was thought to be the first player to integrate the Senators, but he never appeared in a Major League game!

Al Smith 1955 Bowman. Love the ’55 Bowman’s, such a unique set, one of a kind. Smith started his professional career with the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro League. He had a very good career in MLB. Amassing 1458 hits over a 12 year career. Posting a lifetime batting average of .272, along with 164 dingers. In ’55 he was an All-Star, finished 3rd in the AL MVP race, playing in all 154 games, 725 plate appearances, 123 hits, leading the AL in those categories. Not to forget his 22 HR, 77 RBI, and .306 AVG.

🐐fact: Smith played in the 1954 and 1959 World Series. After playing baseball, he went on to work for the city of Chicago, and managed the city-wide baseball program for 18 years.

Elston Howard 1962 Salada Coin PSA 8. This is really cool, especially that these coins came in packages of Salada Tea and Junket Dessert products. They came in six different colored borders, with over 260 players in the master set. Elston was a fan favorite in my family. My grandfather, and uncle always raved about him. A 9x MLB All-Star (1957-1965), MVP winner, 2 Gold Gloves, and don’t forget his 4 World Series Championships. In 1961 he hit .348 in 129 games, smashing 21 homers and 77 RBI.

🐐fact: Elston played 3 seasons with the Kansas City Monarchs, starting in 1948 at the age of nineteen.

John Wyatt 1966 Topps PSA 4. I’m not the biggest fan of the ’66 Topps set, but as you know I’m a jersey fanatic. I loved how the players wore those jackets under the uniform back in the day. No matter what city the Athletics played in, they had incredible uniforms. Really love this card. Wyatt was a right-handed pitcher who played in MLB for four teams over a nine year span. He finished with a 42-44 record, and a respectable 3.47 era. His best year was with Kansas City, when he appeared in 81 games (led the AL), 9 wins, 20 saves, a 3.59 era, and earned a trip to the Mid-Summer classic.

🐐fact: John started his professional career with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League in 1953. In ’54 the St. Louis Cardinals offered him $1,000 to sign, “I never seen that kind of money in one lump sum and I wasn’t going to let it slip away.”

Chuck Harmon 1954 Topps RC. Great set, awesome looking rookie card. Harmon broke into the majors at the age of 30 with the Reds. He was a 6′ 2″ utility player, who batted righty. Chuck was one of many who started their pro career with the Indianapolis Clowns. He deserved to be in the Big Show long before 1954. He hit .374 and .375 in consecutive seasons in the minors.

🐐fact: Harmon was a very talented basketball player in his high school days. He was the first African-American to coach in professional basketball and led the Utica team in the Eastern League as a player/coach.

Curt Roberts 1955 Topps. ’55 is a classic set. This is Roberts 2nd year card. He had an excellent rookie campaign, the back of this card states, “reputation as a top Major League prospect”. Curt was a highly touted defensive second baseman. He played in 134 games his first year, but only 37 more games over two seasons. By the age of 26 he played his last MLB game. Roberts was the first African-American to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sadly, at the age of 40 he was killed by a drunk driver while changing a flat tire on the side of the highway.

🐐fact: Roberts started his professional career with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League. He was also a mentor to the great Roberto Clemente during his time in Pittsburgh.

Charlie Dees 1964 Topps RC. Like Roberts, Dees had a very productive rookie year. Charlie was 28 years of age in 1963 when he hit .307 in 60 games for the Los Angeles Angels. By 1965 he was out of MLB. Dees started his professional career in 1957 with the Louisville Clippers of the Negro Leagues.

🐐fact: Dees led the Texas League in batting in 1962, hitting .348, 179 hits, 23 HR and 115 RBI for the El Paso Sun Kings.

Jim Pendleton 1953 Topps RC PSA 5. Great shot of Jim in that Milwaukee Braves cap. Pendleton started his career in 1948 with the Chicago American Giants of the Negro League. The Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jim after the ’48 season but spent four years in the minors, mainly due to Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese at shortstop. In 1953 he was traded to the Milwaukee Braves and converted to an outfielder.

🐐fact: Pendleton spent 8 seasons in MLB, with 4 teams. He served our country in WWII.

Gene Baker 1959 Topps PSA 7. Gene was a 6′ 1″ infielder who reached the Big Show for a cup of coffee during the 1953 season with the Chicago Cubs. In ’55, as a 30 year-old Baker played in all 154 games, and made his one and only All-Star Game. He hit .265 over an eight year career with the Cubs and Pirates. Gene started his professional career with the Kansas City Monarchs and was their regular SS for the ’48 and ’49 seasons.

🐐fact: Not only was Baker part of the first African-American keystone combination in MLB (along with Mr. Ernie Banks), but he was also the first African-American to manage in the majors. During the ’63 season, then coaching with the Pirates, manager Danny Murtaugh and coach Frank Oceak were tossed, Baker took the reigns (not in the record books).

Bob Trice 1954 Topps RC. Trice was a 6′ 3″ right-handed pitcher from Newton, GA who played 3 seasons in MLB. The ’54 Topps was his only card. Bob was the first person of color to play for the Philadelphia Athletics. Bob spent three years with the Homestead Grays of the Negro League.

🐐fact: Bob started his professional career as an outfielder, but with the help of veteran Sam Bankhead he transitioned into a pitcher.

Jim Proctor 1960 Topps RC. This a really cool “Rookie Star” card, big fan of this look. Proctor appeared in only 2 MLB games (1 start) in 1959 with the Detroit Tigers. He started his professional career with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League.

🐐fact: Before being called up in September of ’59, Proctor had a fantastic year with the Knoxville Smokies (Sally League), sporting a 15-5 record, with a 2.19 era.

Larry Raines 1958 Topps RC. Raines was a well traveled ballplayer, mainly playing 3B, SS, and 2B. He started his pro career with the Baltimore Elite Giants in 1952. He went off to Japan to play in the Pacific League in 1953. Playing for Hankyu Braves, he led the league with 61 stolen bases in ’53. In ’54 he led the league in average (.337), runs (96), and hits (184). In 1957 (27 years old), he appeared in 96 games for the Cleveland Indians, hitting .262.

🐐fact: Raines is recognized as the first ballplayer to perform professionally in Minor League baseball, Negro League baseball, Japanese baseball, and MLB.

Joe Caffie 1958 Topps RC. Good looking ’58 card here. Caffie was a teammate of Larry Raines during the ’57 season. Joe had a fantastic rookie year, hitting .342 over 12 games. In a short span in MLB, he finished with a .292 avg (127 AB’s). Caffie broke in as an OF for the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro League. He hit well at every level. As you see with most of the Negro League players, they were either brought up to MLB too late in their career, or not given the proper playing time, even though most deserved it.

🐐fact: Joe was nicknamed, “The rabbit”. Here’s a quote by former Negro League star Luke Easter, “I have seen a lot of fast ones, but Caffie is the fastest, and that includes guys like Sam Jethroe.”

Joe Taylor 1958 Topps RC. Another ’58 Topps, great smile by Joe here. Taylor had a 4 year career in MLB, joining the Philadelphia Athletics as a 28 year-old. He started his professional career with the Chicago American Giants. In 1954 he was an All-Star hitting .323 and 23 HR for the Ottawa A’s (AAA).

🐐fact: Taylor battled alcoholism for much of his career, he had tremendous talent, here’s a quote from the great Maury Wills. “Joe Taylor should have been a superstar in the big leagues.”

Maury Wills 1972 Topps PSA 7.5. Speaking of Mr. Maury Wills, he will be up last in the “5th Inning” segment. I love this Wills card, two reasons, the ’72 set is one of my favs, and second, it’s his last Topps player card. Great Dodgers uniform here, exceptional piping down the shoulder and sleeve. Maury was the glue to those great Dodgers Championship teams. A 7x All-Star, 3x World Series champ, 2 Gold Gloves, and MVP of 1962 when he hit .299, smacked 208 hits, stole 104 bases, and legged out 20 triples. Wills was born in Washington, DC, a 3 sport star in basketball, football, and baseball. He played briefly for the Raleigh Tigers of the Negro League. He finished his MLB playing career with 2,134 hits, 586 stolen bases, and a .281 average.

🐐fact: Maury, now 88, is still a member of the Dodgers organization. In 2015, he missed getting elected by the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Golden Era Commitee by 3 votes.

Well that’s all for now folks, I hope you enjoyed the “5th Inning”. We’re headed to the 7th, see you soon!