From the Negro League to MLB

1st inning – 

My name is Joe Genovese, curator and founder of the popular @GoatJerseys Twitter handle. I fell in love with jerseys as a kid in the late 70s and early 80s. The uniforms back then were full of wonderful colors, stirrups, and neatly fitted pants and jerseys.

My mother was a huge Yankees fan, and started buying me baseball cards in 1978 when I was a little over four years old. I’m thankful she introduced me to a hobby I would enjoy for many years. As High School set in, hanging out with girls and friends became more important than buying packs and trading cards. I stopped collecting.

Fast forward to March 2020, the pandemic hit and I was home like most Americans in our country. I was trying to keep myself busy so I went into the attic and stumbled onto my childhood card collection. As I looked through all the sneaker boxes full of sets and cards from 1978 to 1990, it brought back great memories. Like every kid in the 80s I thought my 1985 Topps set, Don Mattingly, Tony Gwynn, and Mark McGwire rookies would make me rich one day. I was always super OCD with my my cards and kept them in great condition, so I was happy to see they how they looked after so many years. Especially my 1988-1989 Jordan cards which were in protected sleeves, definitely gradable!

My then five year-old daughter started helping me sort through the boxes, and just like that she was hooked! We started buying some packs from Target and Walmart, and soon after I found an LCS that was close by. I had a card partner just like the old days, we traded, we sorted, and we drove the wife nuts! It really made me love the hobby again after all these years.

In saying all that, I decided to come up with a project that would keep me busy, but also one that was very informative. I’ve always been an aficionado of the Negro Leagues. The history, the players, stats, fields, and their remarkable stories. I had the pleasure of interviewing the great Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro League Baseball Museum. I knew if I had any questions or inquiries on players I could reach out. So I decided to start a project called, “From the Negro League to MLB.”

Notwithstanding the December 2020 MLB announcement, there were 87 players who played in the Negro Leagues and in Major League Baseball. Harry Chappas was a white ballplayer and he was signed to play in the Negro Leagues for the Indianapolis Clowns who were barnstorming in those days, sort of like the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball. I know some other players did the same, but Harry didn’t have to go through what they had, so I’m not counting him. So here’s the deal, my goal is to collect a graded card, or an authenticated photo, and/or a piece of memorabilia from the other 86 players.

This past September I started my research, about two hours a day on eBay, Google, PSA, Beckett, and any website or forum where I could find information. Out of the 86 players, 16 did not have a MLB card. Lino Donoso was only featured on a 1956 Topps Pittsburgh Pirates team card, and John Kennedy only appeared on the 1958 Topps Philadelphia Phillies team card. 6 players only appeared on one MLB card. As I searched more in-depth, I started to see that many of these players were connected from the Negro Leagues, to Minor League ball, and even to the Mexican League. So many of these talented ballplayers, not only African-Americans, but Panamanians, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans didn’t get their shot in MLB until way after their prime.

This project has become an addicting hobby, and I really wanted to share my journey with the masses. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I have.

Billy Parker 1972 Topps Rookie Stars. I started off buying some of the cheaper graded cards that were available and easy to purchase. Parker was my first, he was the last Negro Leaguer to play in MLB. Billy played for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1961, and like I said above by this time they were more of a barnstorming team, so technically Ike Brown (below) is the last to play. Parker played sparingly for the Angels from 1971-1973 as a backup IF and OF.

🐐fact: Like many back then, Parker passed himself off as five years younger than he actually was.

Ike Brown 1974 Topps. Check out the frames, mustache, and sweet Tigers road uni’s. (The background is from my old Pursue the Pennant board game from the 80s.) He played 6 years in MLB, all with the Detroit Tigers. Brown spent 9 years in the Minor Leagues, as well as time in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs.

🐐fact: Ike was a jack of all trades, played every position except CF and catcher. He was also nicknamed, “Showboat” for his slow HR trot, and aggresive approach at the plate.

Paul Casanova 1975 Topps MINI. Huge fan of the ’75 Topps set, and the mini’s are pretty cool. Love those Braves hats from that era. It was also Brown’s last MLB card. Casanova was born in Cuba, an excellent defensive catcher, played for the Washington Senators from 1965-1971, and with the Braves from 1972-1974. Paul also played with the Indianapolis Clowns during their later years as Billy Parker did.

🐐fact: Casanova caught Phil Neikro’s lone no-hitter. “After the game, I raised him up on my shoulder. We drank a 12-pack of beer and Phil gave me $1,000.”

John “Blue Moon” Odom 1972 Topps IA. Great shot of John in those beautiful Oakland uni’s from the 70s. The “In Action” shot made this card an easy choice. John had a 13 year career in MLB, 12 of them with the A’s. In 1968-1969 he earned back to back All-Star nods, going 16-10 2.45 and 15-6 2.92 respectively.

🐐fact: Odom played for the Raleigh Tigers in the late stages of the Negro American League. He was paid mainly “meal money” per day by cheapskate owner Arthur Dove.

Bobby Prescott 1960 National Bank Tacoma Giants. This is pretty rare (POP4 PSA), Prescott was one of the players who did not have a MLB card. He played in only 10 games, all in 1961 for the Kansas City Athletics. He was a legendary Minor League Home Run hitter, smashing 398 over his 20 plus years in baseball.

🐐fact: Prescott was born in Panama, played for the little known Jacksonville Eagles of the Southern Negro League. He also won a HR title in the Panamanian League in 1951.

Clarence “Choo-Choo” Coleman 1961 Topps Rookie Card. Really cool shot of Clarence in his catching stance. I’m always a sucker for the old rookie cards with the star in the corner, plus that catchers mitt and the clean Phils threads. Another player who joined up with the Indianapolis Clowns in the late 50s. Coleman played in only 4 MLB seasons, 1 with the Phillies, and 3 with the New York Mets.

🐐fact: Coleman was a catcher for the expansion Mets in their inaugural season. The legend Casey Stengel said about Choo-Choo, “I’ve never seen a catcher so fast at retrieving passed balls.”

Hal Jones 1962 Topps Rookie Card. Loved that “C” the Indians used back then. Hal played two years in the majors, 17 total games, all with Cleveland. He spent 9 years in the Minor Leagues playing mainly 1B.

🐐fact: Hal played for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1956, appearing in the East-West All-Star classic.

Ernie Banks 1980 Laughlin PSA 10. Another very rare card (POP7 PSA10). Not an expensive card, but I really love the look of this one. Robert Laughlin used cartoons to illustrate some really cool cards. Banks was a 14x All-Star, 2x MVP, and smashed 512 HR. I wish Ernie had a chance to show his stuff in the postseason.

🐐fact: Cool Papa Bell saw Banks playing in a semi-pro game and signed him to the Kansas City Monarchs. Played for KC in ’50, hit .250, left to the army for the next two years, came back in ’53 and raked .347!

John Kennedy 1958 Topps Philadelphia Phillies team. John never had his own MLB card, so this was an easy choice. I could not find anything on John for a long time until I came across his name in a forum while I was doing research. There I found out he was featured in ‘58 team card since he was in Spring Training with the Phillies in ’57. He played a few games in April and May of ’58 before being sent down. The more you dig, the more you find! Kennedy was an IF, and the first black player in Phillies history.

🐐fact: Kennedy played in the Negro Leagues for the Birmingham Black Barons and the Kansas City Monarchs where he hit .385 with 17 HR before signing with the Phillies.

Monte Irvin 1954 Red Man Tobacco. I love this card, one of my favorite in the collection. The Red Man cards are tough to find in good condition. It has great color, and it captures an awesome expression on Monte’s face. A lot of the Red Man cards do not have the bottom attached to it since that was the part you would tear off to get a free “Big League Style Hat” after you collected 50 stubs. Monte was a super talented OF who played with and mentored Willie Mays in the spacious Polo Grounds. During his time with the New York Giants Irvin hit over .300 3 times (.299 in ’50). Irvin didn’t make it to MLB until he was a 30 year-old. He played 8 years, 7 with the Giants, and his last year in Wrigley.

🐐fact: “Monte was the choice of all Negro National and American League club owners to serve as the No. 1 player to join a white major league team.” – Hall of Famer Effa Manley, owner of the Newark Eagles.

I hope you all enjoyed the 1st inning of “From the Negro Leagues to MLB.” 2nd inning will be up soon!

Don Sutton, 1945-2021

If you avidly collected baseball cards in the 80s, like I did, Don Sutton was a constant presence. From his last couple of Dodgers issues in 1980 and 1981, through his years with the Astros, Brewers, A’s, Angels and eventual return to the Dodgers in 1988, you never cracked a box of wax packs without getting a Don Sutton. The only thing that seemed to change was the color of his trademarked tight-knit and voluminous puff of curly hair. Steel grey for 1980 Topps to stark white in 1988 Score. Don Sutton always showed up and you were happy to have him.

Similarly, Don Sutton was always there for his team when called upon. In fact, in his 23 years in the Major Leagues, he never missed a start due to injury. Think about that amazing feat. He answered the bell through the presidencies of LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan without missing a single start. Also, Don Sutton did not just show up every four days, he excelled every four days. 324 wins, 3,574 strikeouts, a 3.26 career ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. An amazing feat, especially for someone who pitched in the shadows of other legends like Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton.

Perhaps the most amazing fact about Don Sutton is that he is the only Dodgers Hall of Famer who never played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Duke, Sandy and Pee Wee all played at Ebbets Field and Mike Piazza dons a Mets cap on his plaque in Cooperstown.

So, there he is, Don Sutton, standing alone as the only Los Angeles Dodgers Hall of Famer, at least until he is eventually joined by Clayton Kershaw. So, tonight after work, go on eBay and buy a box of mid-80s junk wax. When you get a Don Sutton card, and you will get a Don Sutton card, don’t rush by it to search for a bigger star. Turn over that Sutton card, check out his stats for yourself, and just appreciate his consistency and excellence.

Magnifying glass not included

Rest In Peace, Don Sutton.

Hank Aaron, 1934-2021

“We still have Henry.”

As we lost Hall of Famer after Hall of Famer last year, this was my mantra. As the calendar turned to 2021, which we might now more correctly call “2020 Update,” and we lost Lasorda, then Sutton, “We still have Henry.” There were mornings I’d wake up and check espn.com for one sole purpose: to make sure Henry Aaron was still with us.

And now, of course, he isn’t.

It would be impossible for me to put into words the excellent life he lived or the greatness of his career. The best you’ll find all in one place is the outstanding biography, “The Last Hero,” by Howard Bryant.

Instead I’ll share a couple stories and some collection highlights as a personal tribute to my favorite player of all-time.

Don’t meet your idols?

When an event sells out in all of about ten seconds there’s no need to publicize it much. Such was the case with the “Chasing the Dream” benefit put on by the Milwaukee Brewers Community Foundation off and on over the past decade or so.

An afternoon hanging out with Hank Aaron at the ballpark? Yes, please! The first year I’d heard about the event it was of course too late. No tickets left. Try again next year. I did, and I was right about to enter my credit card info when I realized I had a business trip I couldn’t reschedule. Strike two. Still, like the Hammer, I knew to keep swinging.

Come 2016 I had my Google Alerts set up and started “hammering” the Brewers event staff any way I could with calls, emails, calls to see if they got my emails, emails to see if they got my calls, etc. Had the blocked my number and put me on their spammer list, the only fair question would have been “What took you so long?” Instead, one day I got an email from an employee that read something to the effect of, “Jason, I think you are the person who keeps calling us about the Hank Aaron event. Tickets are going on sale tomorrow. Or if it’s easier for you, just let me know how many you need.”

Fast forward to the morning of the event and I’m up at the crack of dawn sorting through my Hank Aaron collection for just the right item to get autographed. Since my wife (then girlfriend) Jodee was joining me, I’d no doubt bring a second item she could have signed. Of course I couldn’t decide so we hit the car with 5-6 articles and, me being me, I worried the whole drive that maybe I left something even better behind.

“Wait, if the event is at 3, why are we leaving here at 11?”

Fair question.

“I want to make sure we’re not late.”

Milwaukee was about 90 minutes from where I lived, so I’d added another hour in case of traffic, thirty minutes in case we needed to stop somewhere, and another thirty minutes for making our way through the stadium. Oh, and another half hour just in case.

“In case of what?”

“I don’t know. Just in case we need it.”

We didn’t.

Not only were we the first car to arrive at the stadium, but the parking lot itself was not yet even open. I would have asked someone why the gates were locked, but we were so early there was not even anyone to ask.

About 45 minutes later another car pulled up behind us, and this was vindicating to me. “Yep, good thing we left when we did.”

Once the gates opened I parked as close as I could to the gate where our event paperwork directed us.

“Why are you running?” I heard a woman call out some distance behind me. It was Jodee. I slowed down.

“We need to hurry so we can get good seats.”

We compromised by speed-walking the rest of the way. There was only one problem. I had no idea where I was going. Most of the directions we were able to get from the handful of employees already working were of the “Hmm, not sure. Maybe up a couple more levels” variety.

Finally we came to a cozy, mid-sized room filled with tables, chairs, a stage, trays of meats and cheeses, and walls covered with Hank Aaron décor. Somehow we were too early. Nobody was here yet but us, meaning there wasn’t even anyone who could help us figure out our table.

When someone did come in, I was a little worried she was there to kick us out. Maybe this was some sort of VIP room, and the actual event I had tickets to was in a different part of the stadium. Damn.

“Are you here for the Hank Aaron event?”

“Yes, is this the right place?” I asked, hoping my Hank Aaron Milwaukee Braves throwback jersey would make me seem a little more VIP than I really was.

“Yes, you’re a little early, but feel free to have a seat.”

“Okay, do you know where?”

“You two are first, so anywhere you like.”

And yes I was gonna be that guy who grabs the table right in front of the stage where he’ll be literally three feet from Hank Aaron the entire time. I had better seats than Billye Aaron, and perhaps I should have offered to trade. Then again, it’s not like she didn’t see Hank Aaron all the time.

The event was unbelievable. Hank Aaron telling stories and taking questions from the crowd for over an hour, about as up close and personal as can be. The ten pounds of cheese and roast beef I ate were awesome too, but that’s another story. I sat there mesmerized the entire time, in the presence of baseball royalty. A true American hero in literal spitting distance from Jodee and me.

At the event’s conclusion there was time for each attendee to shake hands and get their picture taken with the Hammer. Mr. Aaron complimented me on my jersey, which I thought was funny. I had imagined that morning that half the crowd would be reppin’ #44, but it turned out I was the only one not in some variation of Dockers and a dress shirt. How Jodee predicted this I have no idea!

The collection

Hank Aaron had been an idol of mine since I first learned, around the age of 9, that he was the Home Run King. I had a book that included various leaderboards, and there was Hank Aaron’s name above even that of Babe Ruth. Little distracted by sabermetric nuance at that time, I simply figured things this way: Home runs are the best hit you can get, and Aaron has the most home runs. Ergo…

I practically shat myself in 1979 when I opened a pack of Topps cards and pulled a Hank Aaron. A friend at school had Aaron’s 1976 Topps but he would have sooner traded his whole house and family than let go of that card, so an Aaron of my own seemed impossible. And then it wasn’t.

Over the next few years, some friends and I made it to enough card shows and did enough trades that at various times I might have enough Hank Aaron cards to keep one in each of my pockets. This obviously did little for the condition and value of the cards but did wonders for my self-esteem.

With a series of unfortunate events nearly biblical in proportion, my Hank Aaron collection (along with my entire collection) would ultimately dwindle down to zero by high school, only to be rebuilt around my junior year of college when I figured out I could buy some top notch cardboard if only I stopped spending my work-study checks on overpriced textbooks. I proved to be worse at bookless school than I thought I’d be, but my (generous) C in Mathematical Analysis and F in Quantum Mechanics were a small price to pay for the Hank Aaron rookie card that remains in my collection to this day.

Over the next few years I continued to add to my collection through card shows and the Kit Young catalog. Hank Aaron wasn’t my sole focus, but I was slowly working toward a goal of collecting his entire career. This was pre-internet, so I had no idea just how many cards this would entail.

Fast forward more than two decades and I’m 44 (!) years old, sitting on a beat up couch in a small rental where for the first time in forever I open a box containing about 100 cards in yellowed top loaders. Along with my guitar and a coffee mug, this was the only thing I took with me when I separated from my ex-wife. There were some great cards in the box: Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Hack Wilson, … but the cards that brought back the fondest memories were the Aaron cards. After making it once through the stack, I went back through it again to pull and sort the Aarons. I had 12 cards from his Topps base run, roughly half his career. Instantly I had a goal.

Hobby Rip Van Winkle that I’d become, my first thought was to look for a card show heading to town. A few web searches later I discovered that cards were really, really easy to buy nowadays. I found eBay too intimidating and ended up at Dean’s Cards where the selection was ample and the searches didn’t turn up tons of reprints and fakes.

It was a very tough stretch in my life but one made far better by the Dean’s shipment that hit my mailbox every week or so. Once I had my base run, I moved on to All-Star cards, off brands, combination player cards, etc. As the want list got smaller but exponentially pricier, I diversified my collecting to include magazines, bobbleheads, artwork, and other Hank Aaron collectibles.

Hell, I even ran Hank Aaron 5Ks!

With the arrival of Hammer’s elusive 1960 Lake to Lake Dairy card last week and his 1969 Topps Super last year, I have finally reached the point where my Hank Aaron collection may well be complete, give or take a handful of League Leader cards. Either way, my love and admiration for Hank Aaron will never fade.

It was a somber thing today to walk through our basement bedroom, affectionately dubbed the Hank Aaron Suite. What was once my Tribute is now my Memorial to the Hammer.

The great Hank Aaron who survived so many other baseball legends in 2020 and early 2021 has now joined them. Henry Aaron is still with us, but only in our hearts, our memories, and our record books.

The King is dead. Long live the King.

UPDATE: Watch Jason’s SABR presentation, “The History of Baseball Cards as Told by Hank Aaron.”

Dick Allen and the Very, Very, Very Useful Photo

In the summer of 1985, Pete Rose was inching closer by the day to breaking Ty Cobb’s all-time hit record of 4191. My friends and I made a five-dollar bet, the winner of which would be whomever among the three of us could compile the most different Pete Rose cards by the time he broke the record. 

1982 Topps Kmart Pete Rose card nos. 24 and 44.

A few years earlier, Kmart issued a small boxed set that reprinted the Topps card for each player who was awarded a league MVP award from 1962 through 1981, in honor of the store’s 20th anniversary. The set was one that had collected dust on card dealers’ tables for years, eschewed by collectors (especially me) who viewed the set as a box of reprint trash. 

For purposes of winning a bet, however, the Kmart set was golden (especially in the days when there were not 500 different cards of every star player printed each year). I knew that Rose would have a Kmart card for his 1973 MVP award and was pleasantly surprised to find the set also included a highlight card, which commemorated Rose having eclipsed Stan Musial’s all-time National League hit record on August 10, 1981. These two Rose cards helped push me over the top. That we were betting on Pete Rose at the same time he was betting on baseball is just a fun coincidence.

An unintended consequence of buying the Kmart set, however, was actually enjoying the remainder of the cards. One that struck me in particular was the 1972 Dick (“Rich”) Allen card because it was, quite frankly, a strange profile view so unlike the standard poses and action shots that Topps typically used. I knew this was a real card I needed to have.

1982 Topps Kmart no. 21; 1972 Topps no. 240.

The oddity of the photo used on the 1972 card was highlighted when researching the appearance of mustaches on baseball cards, which culminated in this ground-breaking SABR Baseball Cards Committee article. Allen was identified as having been the first ballplayer to appear on a Topps issue sporting a mustache in his 1971 high-number Dodgers card. 

Which one of these is not like the other? 1971 Topps no. 650; 1972 Topps no. 240, 1973 Topps no. 310.

As a member of the White Sox in 1972, Allen slashed .308/.420/.603; led the American League with 37 home runs, 113 runs batted in, and 99 walks; and led all of baseball in facial hair with his trademark mustache and pork chop sideburns. Curiously, however, the 1972 Topps card depicts a youthful, clean-shaven Allen. The 1973 issue corrected the incongruity and featured Allen’s hirsute silhouette, still discernible despite his face having been obscured by shadows.             

As Tim Jenkins will attest, Topps made a habit in the 1960s and 1970s of using the same photograph of a player across different issues. The 1972 Dick Allen is no exception in that the same photograph was used for his 1970 issue, while Allen was a member of the Cardinals.

1970 Topps no. 40; 1972 Topps no. 240.

Thanks to some airbrush magic, the photo was purposefully vague in its identification of a particular team, but was happily consistent with Cardinal red and the White Sox color scheme of the time.

It appears, however, that this photo was actually taken while Allen was a member of the Phillies. The clean-cut photo of Allen used in 1970 and 1972 also appears to have been used as the basis for the 1965 Topps Embossed Dick Allen card, which would date the photo to 1965, or earlier, and confirms it was used by Topps to depict Allen on three different teams across eight different seasons.  

These all appear to be the same photo. 1965 Topps Embossed no. 36; 1970 Topps no. 40; 1972 Topps no. 240.
1965 Topps Embossed superimposed on 1972 Topps. Nearly a perfect match but for the length of the bill.

Dick Allen and Pete Rose may never have been teammates but they certainly share a sacred bond as members of the Kmart boxed set.

Postscript

The 1965 Ernie Banks Topps flagship card featured a profile pose. Similarly, it appears that this same photo was used as the basis for Banks’ 1965 Topps Embossed issue and helps to document that the Topps embossing process included trimming the length of the ballcap’s bill so the image would fit more comfortably onto the more slender card.  

1965 Topps Embossed no. 58; 1965 Topps no. 510.
1965 Topps Embossed superimposed on 1965 Topps. Again, nearly a perfect match but for the length of the bill.

Juan’s Double Prints

In several previous posts (too many for most of you!), I have highlighted Topps’ tendency to recycle photos.  The Major League Baseball Players Association boycott of Topps in 1967-68 exacerbated this practice, but earlier examples abound.  My latest obsession is focused on the 1960s cards of Juan Marichal.

In either 1960 or 1961, a photo session took place in San Francisco at Candlestick Park, which opened in 1960.  The photographer captured three different poses of Marichal.  The photos are distinctive due to Juan’s white undershirt.

Since the undergarment does not have a collar, it appears to be a rubberized jacket seen frequently on vintage cards whose photos were taken in spring training.  The shirt was designed to help “burn off” fat accumulated over the winter. However, in this instance, the slender Dominican is undoubtedly using it for insulation, to ward off the Arctic like conditions at Candlestick Park. Also, it is a good bet that Marichal was not starting that evening.  The white sleeves would have been deceptive to the hitters.

The first use of the white sleeve photos shows up on Juan’s 1962 card. He is shown with his arms above his head.  1963 has Juan in a slightly turned stretch position.  The small black and white photo on the 1963 card reuses the 1962 picture.

In 1964, the third pose is used.  This straight on shot turns up on Juan’s “Stand Up” card as well.  The 1962 image makes a comeback on the Pitching Leaders card, while the 1963 Topps pose is used on the Wheaties Stamp.

Topps was far from done using the photos.  The 1964 image turns up on the 1968 checklist as well as Juan’s Bazooka cards from 1965 and 1968. Meanwhile the 1963 Topps pose turns up on the 1967 checklist and 1965 Pitching Leaders card.

We are not done yet.  The 1962 photo spans the decades and appears on the 1970 Pitching Leaders card.

Sometime prior to 1965, Topps snapped three additional photos, probably in spring training.  Although it is hard to prove definitively, the pictures were probably taken at the same time, due to the mock turtleneck undershirt in all three.

Topps will recycle two of the three portraits.  Juan’s partially turned headshot is found on the 1965 card, the 1966 ERA Leaders, the 1967 ERA and Pitching Leaders cards, and the 1967 poster insert. The same image returns on the Deckle Edge insert in 1969.

The second photo, depicting Marichal holding a ball, is used on the 1964 coin insert and the 1966 Bazooka.

The third image may be the best of all.  The 1964 “Giant” shows a smiling Juan.  I could not find another instance of this one being reused.

Topps put out the recycling again, using a newer photo taken a Candlestick.  It is used on the 1967 and 1968 cards, the 1969 Pitching Leaders and the 1969 and 1970 Transogram.

Of course, Juan Marichal is not unique in having reused images.  The League Leader cards have many duplicate images of star players.  I still find it interesting that an image can show up eight years after it first appeared.

SABR Century Project – Baseball Cards of 1921

Author’s note: The newly formed SABR Century Research Committee has invited SABR’s other committees to share in the celebration of all things baseball a century ago. In our case, that means the baseball cards of 1921.

As I begin typing up this post I must confess to owning no baseball cards from the year 1921. Like a lot of collectors–even vintage collectors–my collection has a 20+ year gap between the tobacco and caramel cards of the early 1910s…

…and the gum cards of the early 1930s.

Of course if past habits prove true, I may find myself trying to bridge that gap by the time I reach the end of this post. (No joke! Every card pictured above came from my stint here at the SABR Baseball Cards blog.)

I will therefore approach this article not as any authority on the subject but through the eyes of a collector window shopping the offerings of the year 1921 as if I were trying to pick out a card, which of course I just might do, though I may need to add a side hustle to find the cash.

1921 American Caramel

The first set that comes to mind when I think of 1921 is the American Caramel set known as E121. American Caramel had been making cards on and off since 1908. In fact, the leftmost card in my first image above is from their 1909-11 set known as E90-1. However, in the years leading up to 1921, American Caramel had been mostly off, with their 1915 E106 issue being their lone set produced between 1912 and 1920. Much of the absence might be attributed to World War I and the flu pandemic since almost nobody was producing baseball cards between 1917 and 1919.

Their 1921 set then perhaps came as a welcome surprise to collectors and chewers, and for those who’d saved or remembered their earlier caramel cards the new cardboard would have looked quite different.

Gone were the color paints and here for the remainder of the American Caramel decade were black and white photos. And though none would have realized it at the time, the 1921 issue was also a next step in the decidedly haphazard evolution toward standard baseball card size. A side-effect was that some collectors trimmed the sides off their 1921 cards, likely to fit with their earlier cards better.

Player selection for the set of 80 included spanned 15 of the 16 Major League franchises. Perhaps surprisingly based on their Pennsylvania headquarters the one team not represented was the Philadelphia Athletics.

Positioned at the close of the Deadball Era the checklist was a mix of small ball and long ball. (And yes, the Bambino is still sporting his Red Sox jersey!)

Other “top shelf” Hall of Famers included Grover Cleveland Alexander, Rogers Hornsby, and Walter Johnson. Absent from the set are all “Eight Men Out” despite most having played full seasons in 1920. This was consistent with most card sets of the era and even into the present, as most sets aimed to produce cards for the current season rather than the prior one.

1921-23 National Caramel

Not to be confused with American Caramel, another Pennsylvania-based caramel company put out a set. The cards had the same basic look as the American Caramel cards, and many even used the same photographs. The set is known as the E220 National Caramel set and included 120 cards over a three year period.

A comparison of the card backs between the two sets suggests a common designer or at least printer was used by both companies.

I’d wondered for a bit if they were in fact the same company, perhaps thru merger, but my brief research seems to indicate their was no business relationship beyond competitor. (Related: A group of executives from American Caramel did leave in 1925 to establish York Caramel, which put out a set of cards in 1927.)

I wish I could say no one was hurt in the making and packing of these baseball cards, but this September 2, 1921, article from the Lancaster News Journal may suggest otherwise.

Now I know you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, wait a minute! Isn’t that the same kid who got injured in a different explosion six years earlier?”

And don’t even get me started on the murder plot! (Of course I’m serious, even dead serious you might say.)

1921 Exhibit Supply company

The year 1921 also saw the debut of a family of baseball card sets that would extend all the way to the early 1960s. Exhibit Supply Company out of Chicago began producing postcard-sized photo cards with blank backs known to collectors simply as “Exhibits.” The initial offering featured 64 players, an even four per team, and again black and white photography carried the day.

Over the years and decades the look of these Exhibits cards changed relatively little, as these examples from 1939-46 and 1962 show, though in 1962 the innovation of adding statistics to an otherwise blank back occurred.

As for star power, the top-shelf Hall of Famers in the 1921 Exhibits exactly matched that of the American Caramel set, including the key cards of Ruth and Cobb.

Strip cards

No need to avert your gaze if you’re a non-collector simply reading this as part of your Century Committee scholarship. These is not some “adults only” release or deck of cards to be used in strip poker. Rather, these cards get their name for being issued in long strips that candy sellers would cut for their young baseball-crazy customers.

Various issues released in 1921 went by the (later) classifications W516, W521, W551 (shown above), and W9316 and were joined by some earlier releases that remained in circulation. The most popular of the earlier releases is the 1919-21 W514 set. Among its 120 cards are a dozen White Sox, and it remains the most affordable (but not very) way to collect contemporary cards of seven of the Eight Men Out. (Can you spot who’s missing?)

Despite their relative affordability (okay, explaining their relative affordability), many collectors find strip cards to be too cartoony and unattractive for their collections. To illustrate that this sort of artwork is harder than it looks I asked my son to draw three baseball players of the era, and I think you’ll agree he was no match for the pros. Wait, check that. These are actual cards from the 1921 W9316 issue!

Though many collectors would just as soon forget strip cards ever existed, they do feature importantly in the history of the Hobby. In 1923 a new set of strip cards would emerge. The front of the cards would look just like another strip card set known as W515. However, this new set featured advertising on the back from a gum maker who would 36 years later make a bigger splash in the Hobby and 58 years later make an even bigger one.

Zeenut Pacific Coast League

While most baseball card production ground to a halt during the war and pandemic years, one set managed to renew itself annually from 1911 until 1930. The 1921 issue featured 169 blank backed cards, 1-3/4″ x 3-11/16″ in size, significantly narrower and incrementally taller than today’s baseball cards.

While the checklist includes only one Hall of Famer, Sam Crawford of the Los Angeles Angels, there is no shortage of ex-MLBers, future MLBers, and other notables.

Pictures of these cards are hard to find, so I’ll illustrate by means of a quiz some of the top players on the checklist. Their 1921 Zeenut team is in parentheses.

  • Holds the fourth highest career batting average among qualifying players. (San Francisco Seals)
  • One of eight players with over 4,000 professional hits across MLB, MiLB, and NPB. (Los Angeles Angels)
  • Has the same name as the player with the most professional hits across MLB, MiLB, and NPB. (Salt Lake City Bees and Sacramento Senators)
  • Six-time National League home run champion (Salt Lake City Bees)
  • Pitcher-turned-baseball card illustrator (Seattle Rainiers)
  • Had the best relief outing of all time (San Francisco Seals)

Okay, ready for the answers? Lefty O’Doul, Jigger Statz, Peter Rose, Gavvy Cravath, Al Demaree, and Ernie Shore. Pretty fun names for a minor league set!

Bread cards

Though the releases described so far define 1921 to most pre-war collectors, I’ll offer that really 1921 was the “Year of the Bread Card.” Bread cards had been around for at least a decade, as evidenced by the 1910 Tip Top Bread “World’s Champions” set honoring the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Bread cards also continued well past 1921, as evidenced by Tip Top’s popular 1947 set and two from Bond Bread, one dedicated entirely to a history-making Dodgers rookie.

The years from 1980-2000 saw numerous bread issues as well, but of course those same years saw multiple cards sets from hardware stores, macaroni brands, fast food joints, toilet plungers, firearms, pacemakers, and bobby pins. (Okay, just kidding about some of those.)

What distinguished 1920 then wasn’t simply that there were bread cards, but that there were so many different ones.

  • 1920-21 Mother’s Bread
  • 1921 Clark’s Bread
  • 1921 Koester Bread New York Giants/Yankees
  • 1921 Mrs. Sherlock’s Bread Pins (shown below, and yes, I’m stretching the definition of baseball card a bit here)
  • 1921 Standard Biscuit
  • 1921 White’s Bakery Baltimore Orioles
  • 1921 Wool’s American-Maid [sic] Bread

I don’t knead to tell you that’s a lot of bread! What the focaccia was going on back then? Challah if you feel my pain. Can’t stop now, I’m on a roll.

The Bambino

From among the many other–mostly very obscure–sets issued in 1921, I’ll close with one most collectors have never heard of that nonetheless occupies and important slot in the evolution of the Hobby and in my opinion features the best design of any set of the era. (And yes, you have seen that last Babe Ruth pose already in this article.)

As the packaging notes, kids needed only to 250 boxes (wait, seriously?!) of this candy to win a baseball signed by Babe Ruth. What’s more, according to my research, this seven-card set (or six plus a variation, I would argue) was the largest set to date featuring a single player.

As was the case often with Babe Ruth in 1921 the record he beat was his own since the only (!) single-player baseball card sets I could find prior to 1921 were three (slightly) different Babe Ruth “Heading Home” movie card sets of 2-3 cards each from 1920.

Conclusion

Though 1921 was not the turning point in Hobby history it was situated within a brief 2-3 year period that saw many notable Hobby trends: the rise of Ruth, a return to photography, the debut of Exhibits, the peak of bread/bakery cards, the resurgence of caramel cards, and the demise of the Black Sox. The once ubiquitous tobacco cards that ruled the Hobby a decade earlier had largely disappeared from the landscape and would not return (in a major release) for 30 more years with the Red Man sets of the early 1950s.

Something else we know about the cards from 1921, however much or little we think about it, is that these cards tell us the story of a segregated game. Invisible from the sets of the day were many of the era’s top players:

  • Oscar Charleston of the St. Louis Giants
  • Cristobal Torriente, Dave Malarcher, and Bingo DeMoss of the Chicago American Giants
  • John Donaldson, Jose Mendez, and Bullet Rogan of the Kansas City Monarchs
  • Louis Santop of the Philadelphia Hilldales
  • Cannonball Redding and Dick Lundy of the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants
  • Pop Lloyd of the Columbus Buckeyes
  • John Beckwith of the Chicago Giants
  • Andy Cooper and Pete Hill of the Detroit Stars
  • Biz Mackey of the Indianapolis ABCs
  • Smokey Joe Williams of the New York Lincoln Giants

The omission of these players is not surprising, but it certainly diminishes the card sets of the era, at least in this collector’s eyes.

Less significantly, mustaches were absent from 1921 baseball cards and a good 50 years away from making their comeback.

As you and I ponder this Dick Allen card, which some of you may have even obtained in a pack (!) and I will at least recognize as coming from the same decade I entered the Hobby, I’ll close with a sobering thought. This Dick Allen card is as old today as the cards from 1921 were when the Dick Allen card came out. Putting it another way, that Dick Allen represents the midpoint between these two baseball cards:

At first glance, you might be drawn to the differences between these cards. How much has changed in a hundred years! But look again, and you will also see—quite remarkably—just how much has stayed the same. Therein resides the beauty of the Hobby, if not the Game.

My Mount Rushmore of Vintage Sets

As collectors we all have our favorite sets—the sets that stood out and caught our attention the second we laid our eyes on them. In this article I’m going to be discussing the four sets that are at the top of my list and form my personal Mount Rushmore of vintage baseball sets.

1933 DeLong

First up we have my all-time favorite set, 1933 DeLong gum cards. These cards never fail to amaze me. From the first time I laid my eyes on the set, I fell in love. This 24-card set featuring 15 Hall of Famers is brought to life by a bright and colorful background. The players appear to be larger than life as they stand or slide (i.e., Pepper Martin) on the diamond.

One very unique part about these cards is that the players are printed in black and white but certain parts of their uniforms like their hats, socks and jersey-lettering show some color. One more small detail that I’ve always loved is the much smaller ball players that appear behind the main player pictured on the card.

Going beyond the front of the card, the backs are also perfectly done, each card eloquently offering tips on fielding, throwing, hitting, running, etc., written by Austen Lake, a columnist for the Boston Transcript. Lake was no stranger to the game of baseball, having tried out for the Yankees before going overseas to serve in World War I.


The uniqueness of these cards, front and back, are what gives this set a slight edge over the next set that I will discuss.

1934-36 Diamond Stars

Second on my Mount Rushmore—my Thomas Jefferson—is the Diamond Stars set produced between 1934 through 1936. This entire set is nothing short of a work of art, the Salvador Dali of baseball cards, if you will. This set is truly one of a kind, it will catch your eye instantly, and will keep your attention the more you look through each and every card.

This set produced 108 beautiful cards, with the final twelve repeated players from earlier in the set. The first 96 cards are all unique in their own way. You can look through all 96 and you won’t find any card quite like another, which is what makes this set so fun.

This may be the only set where the background of the card, using its Art Deco style, can often be every bit as captivating as the player the card features. From the wide use of colors from purple, to red, to blue, to yellow, to green, this set was truly the first of its kind and maybe the last of its kind.

One of a few things this set has in common with the previously discussed 1933 DeLong set is that the backs of the cards are also written by Austen Lake, who again does an incredible job. Not only does Lake add tips on fielding, batting and pitching in this set but certain cards also feature a player bio.

T206

Next up we have what can arguably be considered the most popular baseball set of all time. This set is massive, especially for its time, consisting of 524 cards including over 100 minor league ball players. Numerous players have multiple cards in the set, often a combination of portraits and “action shots”.

This set from start to finish is absolutely stunning. Every single card in this set could be blown up and hung in an art museum and would not look out of place in the slightest. Though the player images are incredibly well done, the backgrounds of the cards are what captivates me the most.

Not only do the bright blue skies suck you in, but the spectacular blend of orange and yellow skies truly capture the essence of a time period when the most honest form of work was working in mines, in a factory, or some sort of construction or road work, when smoke filled the sky in almost every city in America at the turn of the century.

Going beyond the front of the cards, another special feature of the set is the 16 different variations of the backs of the cards, from the simplicity of the Piedmont and Sweet Corporal backs to the more elegant and rare backs like Carolina Brights, Cycle Cigarettes, and my personal favorite, Polar Bear.

1952 Topps

To wrap up my Mount Rushmore I’m going with an iconic set that features some truly iconic cards, most notably the legendary Mickey Mantle card, Eddie Mathews’ rookie card, and Willie Mays’ second year card.

It was a close call between this set and the 1953 Topps set that from the following year. I’m not sure there’s exactly a wrong answer between the two but I personally have always loved the 1952 set since I was first introduced to it.

This set does an incredible job of mixing simplicity with outstanding photography. The legendary stadiums that appear in the background of the cards and the various colors used as the backdrops for some of my personal favorites (Clem Labine, Roy Campanella, Bob Feller, Jackie Robinson, Johnny Sain) are nothing short of mesmerizing.

Going beyond the players on the card and the backgrounds, the star studded borders that go around the nameplate with the player’s facsimile autograph and the old time team logos add the perfect touch on the perfect set to summarize 1950’s baseball.

Dating McCarthy Postcards, Part 1- Unshuffling the Cards

As a player postcard aficionado, it has always bothered me that some checklists have fallen into broad-based categories such as ranges of year or types (usually based on uniform, printing styles, etc.).  And to be fair, most of these items were issued haphazardly, even by the teams themselves- poses were repeated, “sets” were sold that amounted to mongrels of past issues, and many of the cards lacked basic indicia.

Recently, a contributor to Trading Card Database (TCDB) started a list called “1950-80 JD McCarthy St. Louis Cardinals Postcards,” which I felt was much too broad, given the specific nature of most of the checklists that comprise the site. JD McCarthy, the Michigan-based prolific baseball postcard producer (as well some football, hockey, and horse racing) published over 2000 items during his career, of all teams, not just the Cardinals.

     So that got my juices flowing.

     Fortunately, I’m friends with Bob Thing of Maine, a legendary collector who’s always had a soft spot for team-issued postcards and photos.  I visited Bob in June of 2020 with my scanner, and took photos of his entire collection, which is short only a handful of known cards.  Perhaps more importantly, he showed me three checklists of McCarthy postcards which were done in the 1960s by another legend, Charles “Buck” Barker of St. Louis, of which I had not been previously aware.  That, combined with the massive list done by Rich Suen of California (aided by the late Dan Even of Dubuque, IA) would form the foundation of my new project- associating years with these cards.

      Barker’s lists were done in May of 1963, June of 1964, and December of 1966.  While not perfect, they figured to give me some guidelines as to what was done when, at least from the early 1950s to 1966.  Coupled with some baseball knowledge, other images from TCDB.com, my copy of Marc Okkonen’s Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century, and some common sense, I figured I could at least come up with good guesstimates for most of what was out there.

     After the cards were scanned, I started grouping cards by era and approximate year.  Working on the premise that McCarthy probably didn’t make many special trips (especially outside of going to Tiger Stadium) for the sake of taking photos of one player, I began to see similarities in pose locations and photo exposures.  Using players who only played for one season with a team helped me connect veterans to certain years.

     The St. Louis Cardinals players were not big customers of Mac’s, likely because the team issued photocards regularly during this era.  The version of the Suen Checklist that I’ve been using lists 42 cards, and Thing had 37 of them, minus a Ken Boyer, a Ray Sadecki, a Curt Simmons, and two variations of Dick Groat.

Seven players played only one season with the Cardinals, making them easy to date- Al Cicotte (1961), Gino Cimoli (1959), Vic Davalillo (1969), Leon Durham (1980), Minnie Minoso (1962), Jerry Morales (1978) but with two different cards, and Carl Taylor (1970).

I was intrigued by Hall of Famer Steve Carlton’s card, which looked to be taken at Wrigley Field.  He’s wearing a pullover away jersey, and according to Okkonen’s book, the first year the Cards wore them was 1971, Lefty’s last year with the team.  Lou Brock’s card, also taken at Wrigley, fit as a match in terms of pose location and uniform.

     Nelson Briles looked to me as if it were taken at the same time as the Carl Taylor, so I attributed it to 1970, which turned out to be Briles’ last year in St. Louis.

    Curt Flood had a long run with Cardinals, of course, so he might be difficult.  Here’s where Barker’s lists came in handy.  There is no mention of Flood’s card in any of them.  Therefore, there’s a good chance that the card is from 1967-1969.  I posted it as a 1967.

The photo of Bob Gibson is a pretty popular one. I’ve seen it on color 8x10s over the years, and I believe it’s one of the postcards that was reproduced plentifully in the 1980s when hobbyists got hold of McCarthy’s printing plates. Because Barker’s lists do not mention any Gibson cards and because he’s wearing a button up uniform, the (original) postcard can be connected with a 1967-70 time frame. I posted it, too, as a 1967, for lack of any other clues. Maybe someone can use his sideburns to further specify a date?

     There are 13 cards which are from the late 1970s to 1980.  For most of them, tossing a coin could just as easily determine the year from one to the next. Because Jim Kaat’s career in St. Louis started in 1980 and because it seems McCarthy’s work was diminishing by then, I assigned 1980 to the left-hander’s card.

     As his career was winding down, Darold Knowles spent 1979 and 1980 with the Birds.  He has two different cards, and I felt the one with his hands on his knees was a sibling of the Kaat.  That meant the other pose was 1979, given the unlikely chance that he ordered more than one batch of postcards from Mac a year.

    

Acquired in the winter of 1975, Pete Falcone went on to pitch three seasons in St. Louis.  However, judging from team-issued photos, it looks like he had a beard in the spring of 1976.  Therefore, I assigned 1977 to this less-hirsute postcard. 

     Tom Herr got 10 at-bats with the club in 1979.  Logic dictates that he probably didn’t have enough of a firm footing in the big leagues to orders postcards until the following year.  I decided to piggyback two other cards with Herr, based on looks- Dane Iorg and Mark Littell.  Could I be off a year on those two?  Absolutely.

Catcher Terry Kennedy got into 10 games in 1978 as a September call-up and 33 games in 1979 as a spare part from June to September before the 1980 season, when he participated in 84 contests.  Since he was traded following that campaign, I figured 1980 was the best fit for this postcard.

     Tom Bruno was acquired on March 18, 1978 from Toronto and spent the next two seasons on the Cardinals staff before being released at the end of Spring Training, 1980.  Two days after Bruno was released, the Redbirds parted ways with veteran OF-PH Roger Freed.  Neither would ever play in the Majors again.  Since it is also unlikely that, two weeks before the end of 1978 spring training, McCarthy would have been in St. Petersburg to shoot Bruno and that either would have produced cards after being given their walking papers, I’m attaching 1979 to both.  Maybe Freed is off by a year, as he spent 1977-79 on the roster.

This is the part where the hand-banging and nit-picking begin.  Here’s three-quarters of the Cardinals infield at the end of the 1970s- Keith Hernandez (first base), Mike Tyson (second base), and Garry Templeton (shortstop).  Tyson was gone after 1979.  I decided to categorize them as 1979, only because it seems other players with similar photos were taken that year.

Dick Groat joined the Cardinals in 1963 and played three seasons before being dealt to the Phillies.  Buck Barker’s second list has Groat as the lone addition from St. Louis to his update.  Over time, five versions of the card have been reported.  Check out the placement of the JM logo in each of the cards to the left- white lettered logo to the left, white lettered log left and black lettered logo right on the same card, and black lettered right- each with cropping differences.   For now, they are all classified as 1963s until someone can help differentiate by year.

With one year player Gino Cimoli as the guide, I grouped together under 1959 these three players based on poses, facsimile autographs, and service time with the club- Ken Boyer, Gene Green, and Ray Jablonski.

Similarly, I took the same approach with these three, which I considered from 1960- Ken Boyer, Ronnie Kline (whose first year with St. Louis was 1960), and Curt Simmons (who also debuted with that year.)  Interestingly, the Simmons card is an ad back for a hotel he co-owned in Wildwood Crest, NJ with Philadelphia Eagles running back Pete Retzlaff.

No mention of utilityman Phil Gagliano in Barker’s lists, so that starts the guessing at 1967, and he was with them until 1970.  I’ll call it 1967.

     Which brings us to the greatest Cardinal of them all, Stan “The Man” Musial.  Surprising, no mention of it among Barker’s checklists.  Interesting, considering the top player postcard collectors of the day were after these cards.  In addition to Barker and Even, hobbyists Bob Solon and Elwood Scharf contributed to the lists.  All four had strong Midwest connections.

     St. Louis wore that uniform style from 1958-61.  However, the cards I’ve catalogued as 1959 and 1960 were made from photos that were signed in felt marker of some kind, and this one is free of signature.  Of course, Musial was a big enough star that McCarthy would make a special trip solely to take photos of him if requested.

     If I operate on the premise that the card wasn’t published until 1967 because it doesn’t appear on Barker’s list, what would explain its existence?  Was it done at behest of Musial post-retirement?  The name in the white box might suggest mid-1960s in terms of publication.

     For now, in deference to Barker and his compatriots, I’m listing it as a 1967 until I can be convinced otherwise.

     I hope that seeing this article inspires anyone with a collection of McCarthy postcards to check out the backs for possible postmarks.  I’m no expert in philately, but it seems that it became rare to have these cards used traditionally after the mid-1960s.  Presumably, the player stuck the card in an envelope and sent it on its way.  Those postmarks can be valuable when it comes to dating these pieces, especially when looking at older players.

     Additionally, maybe there is someone who knows “the code,” if one does, in fact, exist.  I am operating under the belief that there was no rhyme or reason to the type of back McCarthy used, the location and color of his JM logo, or the style of name plate used.  But what do I know?  I can use all the detective help I can get- including using uniform history when possible.

      The one advantage we have nowadays is the scanner.  So much time and effort was devoted by Barker and Suen to try to describe the cards succinctly using abbreviations and codes. 

     Now, we can see what we’re dealing with- it’s just time to date them.

RIP Tommy Lasorda (1927-2021)

Editor’s note: We welcome SABR’s newest member, Brian Kritz, to the Baseball Cards blog. Brian is a longtime Dodger fan and collector who was gracious enough to share this remembrance of Tommy Lasorda literally minutes after joining SABR.

Most baseball-loving kids who grew up in Southern California in the 1970s and 1980s likely have a similar story. The day they met the ultimate Dodgers legend, Tommy Lasorda. Yes, the Tommy Lasorda of the career 0-4 record and a 6.48 ERA (or for the younger stat heads, a -1.3 career WAR).

But to a couple of generations of Southern California kids, Tommy was the biggest and most important Dodger of them all. Bigger than Garvey, Lopes, Russell, or Cey. Bigger than Dusty Baker, Reggie Smith and even bigger than Orel Hershiser and Fernando Valenzuela. When Kirk Gibson hit his game winning home run in Game One of the 1988 World Series, to whom did NBC pan? It was Tommy, trotting in joy out of the Dodgers dugout.

When I was 11 years old, I visited the Dodgers clubhouse before a game against the Atlanta Braves. After meeting and getting autographs from Dodgers greats such as Jerry Reuss and Bob Welch as well as obscure former Dodgers such as Terry Whitfield and Jack Fimple, I was taken to meet Tommy in his office. He was sitting behind his desk, larger than life, with pictures of him with Frank Sinatra and Ronald Reagan in the background.

He rose from his desk and made me feel like the most important person in the world when he told me to sit in his chair. I was floating on air and asked him to sign my copy of his 1982 Donruss card. He did, and then pulled out a postcard of himself from his desk and signed it To Brian, a future Dodger, Tom Lasorda.

Being a very literal kid, I pretty much figured that Tommy had just signed me to a contract and that I would play for the Dodgers some day. Tommy would see to it personally. He was Tommy Lasorda, he could do anything. Having collected baseball cards for the last forty years, and having turned my baseball card hobby into a business since eBay came along, I have seen probably three hundred signed Tommy Lasorda items with that same tag line, To [Fill In Your Name], a future Dodger, Tom Lasorda.

That was Tommy. He made you feel special, he made you feel like you could be a Dodger one day, he made you Bleed Dodger Blue. Rest in Peace, Tommy. Thank you for making us all feel special.

Topps “Bunt 20” (E-Card) Year in Review

Now that 2020 is over, and with it my first full year using Topps Bunt digital cards on my smartphone, I wanted to share two things: (1) what I thought were Bunt 20’s most noteworthy developments regarding the cards themselves; and (2) some things I learned about managing one’s cards and account.

Card-Related Developments

One obvious thing that stood out to me was the large number of card versions that were created for some players (below, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.). This trend may well have begun prior to 2020, but as I said, it really captured my attention in 2020. A larger theme within the sports-card community is the increasing prominence of graphic artists in designing ever-more creative products.* This seems to me a likely explanation for all the versions of player cards.

Something I’m pretty sure originated in 2020 was “Free Pack Friday, with a nice-looking card of a leading player marking the date. These are some of my favorites…

Another new feature was the extension of the “Topps Now” concept to Bunt. Shown below (left) is a Now card for the September 13, 2020 no-hitter pitched by the Cubs’ Alec Mills. Other current events depicted in Bunt cards (although not apparently under the “Topps Now” heading) were the Dodgers’ World Series championships and Adam Wainwright’s receipt of the Roberto Clemente award for service to one’s community.

One last feature I enjoyed — though not unique to 2020 — were the retro cards of all-time greats, including two of the Hall of Famers who died in 2020 (Gibson and Kaline).

Managing One’s Cards and Account

Next, I discuss some issues from the user’s point of view in managing one’s cards and account (for background on some of Bunt’s features, see this earlier posting of mine).

I remain content to use the free gold coins as my Bunt currency and, therefore, I have maintained my record of not spending a single penny of my own. However, I did have my first experience getting to spend diamonds (which normally must first be purchased with actual cash).

Over the summer, Topps held a “make your own baseball card” contest. Users could go to a website and use the camera on their computer to take their own photograph, which Topps inserted into a baseball-card template. (Topps announces these kind of Bunt activities on its Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/officialtoppsbunt/ )

Users must supply their own jersey, as I did, if they want to be photographed in one. I chose number 62 for my year of birth and second-base as my position, as I once made a good defensive play at second in an intramural softball game in college.

For making my own card, I received a reward of diamonds, 150 of them, if I recall correctly. I don’t know if diamonds were given to everyone who participated in card-making, or just some people. As I learned, the packs of cards one can buy with diamonds contain more cards than the ones available for gold coins. Also, diamond packs are guaranteed to contain some minimum number of special cards, as opposed to gold-card packs, which carry only a small probability of containing a special card.

Two other things I learned more about were “Crafting” and “Missions.” Crafting might be better termed “Exchanging,” as one can give up two Tier 1 cards to receive a random Tier 2 card, give up two Tier 2 cards to receive a random Tier 3 card, and so forth, up to exchanging Tier 4 cards for a Tier 5 one. I lack a good understanding of what qualifies a card for a certain tier. In the comments to my earlier post, someone suggested crafting as a way to rid oneself of the voluminous unwanted duplicates one inevitably accumulates. In principle, yes, but once someone has accumulated thousands of cards, crafting to cull one’s collection would take too long.

Missions award supplemental gold coins for accomplishing small tasks, such as acquiring a certain number of cards, engaging in crafting, or initiating a trade. Rather than actively pursuing these goals, I take a totally passive approach to missions. Every few weeks, I check the missions area and see if I have inadvertently satisfied some of the tasks.

I still have not initiated any trades, nor I have I tried to learn the meaning of the point values on the back of some of the cards.

One final piece of trivia: Statistics show the Bunt app to be downloaded fewer than 5,000 times per month. Bunt may not be setting the nation afire, but I enjoy it.


*The SABR Baseball Cards Committee hosted a Zoom meeting on this topic (June 28, 2020). Here is the link to a YouTube video of the event.