On a sunny afternoon in January 1992, a line of fans stretched from inside the Huntington Beach High School gymnasium, out into the parking lot. That Saturday, the gymnasium was the scene of a sports card show. And though eight-time MLB All-Star and former National League Rookie of the Year, Darryl Strawberry, and the L.A. Raiderettes were on site attracting their own throngs of fans, those standing in the longest line were not waiting to meet them. Instead, their line snaked its way to a table, behind which sat 19-year old Marc Newfield, a baseball player who to that point had never played a game above AA. Newfield was a hometown kid who, just a couple years before, played basketball in this same gymnasium versus rival Huntington Beach High School as a member of the crosstown Marina High School Vikings varsity basketball squad.
It was during his time at Marina High School that Newfield established himself as a star baseball player, one of the most heavily scouted hitters in the nation. In June 1990, the Mariners selected Newfield in the first round of MLB Amateur Draft. As a 17-year-old, he tore up the Arizona Rookie League, clubbing a mammoth homerun (some said it went nearly 500 feet!) in his first professional game on his way to batting .313/.394/.495 with 6 HRs and being voted the league’s MVP. Then, as an 18-year-old in 1991 in the High-A Cal League, his first full-length season, Newfield continued to flourish. In 125 games, he hit .300/.391/.439 and was named a Cal League All-Star and the MVP of his San Bernardino Spirit.
But at this card show, organizers had hired Newfield to appear and sign autographs. After signing for two straight hours, he paused for a respite, observing “My hand’s killing me. All these people…I never expected anything like this. I don’t know what’s going on.” The painfully humble Newfield was bewildered by the gaggle of grown adults waiting in a lengthy line on a Saturday afternoon for his signature.
Many of the dealers and collectors in attendance that day viewed Newfield as a commodity and believed his early professional success would help them make a buck. One vendor was selling his cards for $1.75 each and explained, “He’s $2.50 according to the book. Somebody else here is selling them for $3.50.” Another vendor was laminating Newfield’s cards, mounting them to small wood plaques, and selling the simple displays for $15. A Huntington Beach card shop proprietor on site that afternoon claimed to have 10,000 Newfield cards stocked away in his inventory, lecturing: “The idea is to buy his card cheap now and sell high when he’s made it.” He then held up a box, “There are 1,000 Marc Newfields in here. Hopefully, someday, this card will be worth $70 [similar in value to a Frank Thomas rookie card at that time], too. That’s $70 times 1,000.”
As demonstrated at the January 1992 card show, Newfield’s first two professional seasons launched him into the stratosphere of the baseball card hobby. Baseball card manufacturers, too, wanted a piece of the teenager. At the end of the 1991 season, Upper Deck had scrambled to send a photographer to San Bernardino’s Fiscalini Field to snap shots of Newfield in a Seattle Mariners uniform in what was described as a “just in case session.” Upper Deck did not want to run into the same issue it had a couple years earlier when it did not have a photo of Ken Griffey, Jr. in a Mariners uniform and was forced to airbrush his San Bernardino Spirit hat a lighter shade of blue in order to include him in its 1989 set. Similarly, here Upper Deck wanted to account for all contingencies in the event that Newfield, like Griffey, leapfrogged higher levels in the Mariners minor league system and reached the big leagues in early 1992.
That August 1991 day at Fiscalini Field, Upper Deck provided Newfield a #24 Mariners jersey to wear during the shoot. At the time, Newfield—who was more focused on his own season than the goings-on at the big-league level—had no idea that this #24 jersey with no name sewn on the back was that of Ken Griffey Jr. Even without the knowledge that this jersey was Griffey’s—and the added sense of pressure that such a comparison would inevitably stir in a teen—the modest Newfield, who at that point had not played higher than Class-A, was already uncomfortable being put on a pedestal. Lacking even the slightest hint of ego, he sheepishly confessed on the day of the Upper Deck shoot that though he was honored to be photographed and presented as a big-league talent, “It’s kind of embarrassing. It just seems like it’s not the right time.”
That whole season, Newfield had done his best to navigate the attention thrown his way. He’d been an attraction at ballparks around the Cal League, signing for young fans. He didn’t mind doing this—it came with the territory. But he admitted getting irritated “when the same people ask for me to sign over and over again. They bring 10 cards one day and five the next.” Though this constant attention might have led some young athletes to develop an attitude or sense of entitlement, Newfield handled it like a professional well beyond his 18 years. Tommy Jones, his manager at San Bernardino, explained in 1991, “He’s handled the off-field pressures of the season very well: baseball-card companies, national magazines, TV, radio, all the media,” adding that Newfield never let the attention affect his play or his relationship with his teammates.
Everybody in the baseball card hobby wanted a piece of Marc Newfield. In January 1992 Baseball Cards magazine named Newfield its “Hot Rookie” in a feature story. The Beckett Focus on Future Stars profiled Newfield twice—in August 1992 and April 1994. And Beckett Baseball Card Monthly showcased the young ballplayer, interviewing him for its April 1994 edition.
I was no different. I had my own Marc Newfield collection. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and by 1992 I was 7 years old and developing my own interest in baseball cards. When I acquired a Seattle Mariner, I put it in a special binder with other Mariners cards. I recently dug out that old Mariners binder and found six different Marc Newfield cards dating 1991 through 1993.
Two of those cards have always stood out to me, and I’ve long wondered the story of those cards and the player pictured in them. I ran an internet search for Marc Newfield and quickly discovered that since his professional baseball career ended in the late 1990s, the once-shy kid from Huntington Beach has, perhaps unsurprisingly, lived outside the public spotlight.
Fortunately though, after a little effort, I was recently able to track down Newfield and speak to him about his personal and professional journey, and of course, about his baseball cards. Like all of us, he’s grown up in the intervening three decades since these cards were issued. But he maintains a sharp memory of those early days of his pro baseball career. He’s also patient and generous with his time. The humble kid from the early 1990s maintains a low profile these days, and, consistent with the personality he showed as a teenage baseball star, he’s still eager to come through for others. It was a real pleasure discussing his cards, and as a result of those conversations, I’m now a bigger fan of his than when he was a hero of mine as a youngster.
The first card I’ve always loved is the 1991 Topps “#1 Draft Pick” (#529). It shows a 17-year old Newfield in his senior year of high school, wearing his Marina Vikings pinstripes. On one knee in a traditional amateur baseball pose, an aluminum bat leaning into his body, a Mizuno batting glove on his left hand, and stirrups showing from below mid-calf, Newfield displays the widest, most sincere smile ever featured on a professional baseball card. The obvious happiness in his face reminds me of the great joy that baseball has brought so many of us. Newfield told me that, indeed, the most fun he ever had on the diamond occurred, not during his ten professional seasons or when he was in the major leagues, but in high school. He specifically recalls the summer of 1989 following his junior year, when he was learning to play first base on a Mickey Mantle 16U team that won tournaments all over the nation before securing a National Championship at Waterbury, Connecticut. The reverse side of the card lists this accomplishment along with Newfield’s high school offensive statistics and many prep accolades, the sort of eye-popping achievements that explain the swarms of scouts in attendance at his high school games.
As a child, I did not understand why this Seattle Mariners baseball card did not show a player in a Mariners jersey. It made no sense. But it also made the card unique. None of the other cards in my collection had players wearing another team’s uniform. And back then, the card’s uniqueness made it stand out against others.
Perhaps my favorite card, though, is the 1992 Upper Deck Top Prospect (#51) checklist. I liked it for the same reason as the 1991 Topps card: it was unique. Newfield is not even in a baseball uniform, but rather street clothes, looking like a teenager waiting for a bus. And here, the card shows two players, a second unique trait!
Newfield stands with Montreal Expos prospect Rondell White, and each has a team-issued duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Newfield sports a San Bernardino Spirit hat, and his oversized outfielder’s glove pokes out of his unzipped bag. But I’ve wondered: why doesn’t he have a bat in his bag the way White does?
The card shows the two young men standing in grass, seemingly along a road. Newfield pointed out that in the card, he is wearing two different shoes—I’d never observed this detail before. The grey shoe on his left foot is actually a medical boot. Following the 1991 season, he had undergone a surgery to try to correct a foot issue that had been bothering him for years and had become increasingly painful. He was recovering from that surgery when Upper Deck staged this photo. That surgery, however, did not alleviate the pain, and he was forced to undergo a much more invasive foot surgery in 1992 that cut short his season at AA Jacksonville.
White’s right hand rests on Newfield’s left shoulder, like a nurturing big brother. Interestingly, Newfield explained that he and Rondell White had no prior relationship—they were not friends, nor did they enjoy a personal connection. Upper Deck simply paired them together for this card. Nevertheless, the men gaze, together, into the dream-filled distance.
Behind them is a short wire rope fence, and a post rises over their heads with two signs attached. One sign points left toward Seattle; the other right to Montreal—with this signage, the photo should have been taken in central North America at a geographic point between those two big-league cities. But rather, Upper Deck had flown White out to Orange County, California, where Newfield lived in Huntington Beach and was recovering during the offseason. They staged the photo nearby, along California’s iconic Pacific Coast Highway.
Newfield has his own favorite cards from his playing days, though unlike me, he was never much of a baseball card collector growing up. Early in his career, he admitted that seeing himself on baseball cards was exciting and surreal, if not a little odd: “I’ll get a card, or my friends get the cards, and we kind of laugh because we all grew up together. It’s weird that one of us would be on a baseball card.” In 1994 he told Beckett magazine that his favorite of his cards was the 1994 Fleer Major League Prospects (#26), in which he is shown following through on a swing, in front of a Mariners logo.
But these days, his favorite card is the 1996 Select Team Nucleus (#22) that pictures Newfield, with Padres teammates Tony Gwynn and Ken Caminiti. He smiles and suggests how “ridiculous” it was that Select included him on a Team Nucleus card in 1996. After all, the Padres had acquired Newfield from the Mariners at the 1995 trade deadline, and he’d played just 21 games in a Padres uniform by the time the card was produced. But those 21 games represented the first time in Newfield’s young career in which he was afforded the opportunity to play every day and adjust to big league pitching without fear of imminent demotion or losing his place on the lineup card. And Newfield excelled, hitting .309/.333/.491 during that stretch. That late season performance in 1995 landed Newfield on this 1996 Team Nucleus card alongside first-ballot Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn—Mr. Padre himself—and Ken Caminiti, who would win the NL MVP after that 1996 season and eventually land in the Padres Hall of Fame. And though he still thinks the card is ridiculous, Newfield values this card because he was featured alongside two baseball legends. It is also not lost on him that, of the three ballplayers on the card, he’s the lone survivor.
Though the vendors at the January 1992 Huntington Beach card show may be disappointed that Newfield’s cards won’t finance a lush retirement, I still enjoy flipping through my Marc Newfield collection and adding more to my growing set. Each card tells its own story. And now, after I’ve had the good fortune of meeting Marc Newfield and getting to better know the man pictured in the cards, they are more valuable to me than any others in my collection.
 Mike Penner, “Investing in Stars of the Future,” Los Angeles Times (Orange County Edition), February 2, 1992: 1.
 Mike Penner, “Investing in Stars of the Future,” Los Angeles Times (Orange County Edition), February 2, 1992: 1.
 Gregg Patton, “Majors seem in the cards for Newfield,” San Bernardino County Sun, August 23, 1991: C1.
 Gregg Patton, “Majors seem in the cards for Newfield,” San Bernardino County Sun, August 23, 1991: C1.
 Jim Callis, “On the Mark,” Baseball Cards, January 1992: 55.
 Matt Hayes, “Focus on Marc Newfield,” Beckett Focus on Future Stars, April 1994, No. 36: 20.
Keith Hernandez (L) and Frank Thomas (R) – 2022 Mets Old Timers Day
“I’m so thankful that my dad was able to go to Old Timers’ Day. “It meant the world to him to see his old teammates. I was thrilled with how the fans greeted him. I was so happy to see him in uniform again. We will treasure those memories forever.”
Maryanne Pacconi (Frank Thomas’s daughter)
Frank Thomas, who passed away at 93 on Monday, January 16th, was a bright spot on the 1962 Mets team that won only 40 games. Frank had one of his best seasons in 1962 smashing 34 home runs and driving in 94 runs.
Road Trip to Citi Field
In early July my daughter and I had a wonderful time visiting Frank at his home in Pittsburgh. We talked about his playing days and our families. During the visit several Casey Stengel stories came up during our conversation. One of them was about the time he hit two home runs in three consecutive games during the ’62 season. “When I hit my first home run to start the streak, I was wearing glasses with yellow lenses. It was a twilight game, and the yellow lenses made it look like it was daylight. I circled the bases and then sat back down in the dugout. Casey looked over at me and asked – Where did you get the glasses? I said the trainer gave them to me. Casey said – Tell him to order a gross of ‘em for the other players.”
Towards the end of our visit, Frank mentioned that he was going to be at the Mets Old Timers on August 27th. “It’s probably my last one,” he said. And then a big smile came across his face, and he added – “The Mets called me up and wanted my measurements. They are going to make me a uniform!”
I told Frank that I would be there, and after returning home from Pittsburgh, I bought two tickets for the game. This was going to be the first Mets Old Timers Day since 1994. The game was heavily promoted by the Mets organization and was a sellout.
I went to the Old Timers game with a high school buddy of mine – another baseball fanatic – who also lives near Boston.
We left early in the morning and got to the park in plenty of time to see Frank make his red-carpet entrance into the stadium along with the other former players. He was using his walker but moving at a brisk pace. I am certain that getting to the Old Timers game was a major effort for Frank since he had a bad fall prior to the event.
Howie Rose, longtime radio broadcaster for the Mets, was the master of ceremonies and introduced each player before the game. The pre-game festivities also included retiring Willie Mays’ number 24.
It was obvious that the former players who had come back for the event had a great time. On the field I saw lots of laughing, high fives, hugs, and pictures being taken. The program stated that each Old Timer received a ring with their name on one side and the number 60, representing the team’s 60th anniversary on the other side. That was a nice touch.
Mets Cards of Frank Thomas Issued by Topps
Topps issued cards of Frank for each year he played for the Mets.
The Mets being an expansion team in 1962 created a problem for Topps. They could not get pictures of players in their proper uniforms and meet production schedules. As a result, Topps used a picture of Frank without a cap and wearing a Cubs uniform for his 1962 card – #7. Topps used a similar solution for just about all of the other Mets players with cards in the 1962 set. The exception being the Al Jackson card – #464 – which was a late production run 6th Series card.
1962 Topps Card #7
The 1963 card of Frank – #495 – is my personal favorite. I have always liked the design of these cards and the photographer took a nice color head and shoulders shot of Frank for the main image on the card.
1963 Topps Card #495
The batting stance picture used on his 1964 card – #345 – is similar to the batting stance pictures on his 1957 Topps card – #140 and his 1960 Topps card – #95.
If there was a Hall of Fame for major league ball players that signed Through The Mail (TTM), Frank would be in it.
In his autobiography Frank recalled his youth and stated: “I’d wait outside of the clubhouse after games and try to meet the players and get their autographs. Many guys would walk right by us kids with no acknowledgement whatsoever. It was very disappointing to see. That’s one of the reasons that I made a point to ALWAYS sign autographs as I left the clubhouse. I didn’t want some young fan’s recollection of me to be that I walked right past home as he held out his autograph book for me to sign.”
Since 2019 Frank and I had been communicating on regular basis, primarily by mail. Frank was old school. He did not text and he did not have a computer. I would bang out a letter on my computer, and Frank would respond back with a handwritten letter. He would answer my baseball questions in his letters and give me updates on his health and his children. The nominal fee that he asked for signing baseball cards went to two charities: – Camp Happy Days-Kids Kicking Cancer and Courageous Kidz. I gladly contributed to his charities and sent him cards that spanned his career to sign. I always received the cards back promptly – beautifully signed – along with a thank you note.
Letters from Frank were signed…
The Original One
I always got a kick out of that.
Apparently, anyone that contributed to his charities made the Christmas card mailing list. To my amazement, I received my first custom Christmas card from Frank in 2019.
2022 Christmas Card from Frank Thomas
Through baseball card collecting, I had the opportunity and privilege to become friends with Frank Thomas. I will miss him.
Planning a Return Trip to Citi Field
My two teams have always been the Red Sox and the Pirates; however the whole experience on August 27th really left quite an impression on me and has turned me into a Mets fan too.
We’ve been following each other on Twitter for a few months now and when it became clear how popular the baseball card graphics were with this community I asked him if he’d agree to answer a few questions about himself, his designs, and his relationship to card collecting. Garrett graciously agreed to answer my questions and put a lot of thought into his responses. What follows here required basically no editing.
Nick: Looking at the Fox Sports story cards as well as your portfolio shows a lot of designs that distinctly reference physical prints. From things like worn edges, wrinkled paper, and scotch tape to seriously geeky things like reproducing halftone rosettes, creating two-ink looks, and including printing crop marks and registration it’s clear that you appreciate the history of graphic design and the fingerprints of its production. Can you talk about your design influences and whether the baseball cards are a natural progression from this or if they were something special for you?
Garrett: I make it a point to include a decent amount of texture and familiar printing techniques in my work so that it doesn’t feel digital and synthetic. Sometimes, all the little extra things that you mentioned can really elevate a design. It shows attention to detail. I used to go to antique stores a lot in college, and would keep an eye out for fine details that I could incorporate in my work.
While in college, I loved the work of Fraser Davidson, Michael Schwab and Darrin Crescenzi. Although they have extremely different styles, I was really drawn to each of them. Davidson has a fun and playful side to his work that I really love. He is also probably the best sports logo designer in the world. Schwab has an iconic and vintage style that is timeless. Lastly there’s Crescenzi, whose work is so elegant and modern. I always thought he had the coolest style of any designer. He made a pretty sweet Game of Thrones poster you should check out.
These days, I’m influenced by Neil Jamieson, Matt Lange, and TRAN LA. Most of the time I try not to pull inspiration for my work. I just try to make the best design with the images I find. I’m also inspired by the social team at FOX Sports. It’s pretty awesome that I have access to their PSDs* — not only because I can incorporate them into my work, but because I can dive in and see how they did something.
*.psd is the native Photoshop file format which preserves all layers, masks, etc.
I think making baseball cards at some point is a natural progression, but I just need to keep working hard and learning. There are so many great designers out there to learn from.
Nick: How did you choose the card designs you’ve been using since they’re as old as you are? Do you just like the “junk” era of cards or is that part of the general nostalgia marketing that’s currently directed at my generation?
Garrett: I gravitate to the ’90s era of card design simply because it reminds me of my childhood. I started asking my mom to buy me cards around at 10 years old, so that would be around 1996–97. I had mostly Topps and Upper Deck — which I always revered the most because I loved the shiny logo. Another reason for this is that I didn’t have the money to afford the “premium” cards.
Nick: Making digital web graphics look like physical objects is something I’ve thought about for long time with things like the Topps Bunt App. Sometimes I feel like it’s not fully embracing what digital is best at. Other times it’s a reminder that we have centuries of practice about what works best for communication. Outside of the way they look, what are your thoughts as a graphic designer about what it means to maintain and reference the concept of a physical object in the digital realm.
Garrett: I think it’s nice to have a little bit of both. Sleek and polished digital design certainly looks awesome when it’s executed the right way, which is how a lot of my favorite NFTs look. But adding the printed or real-world mistakes and imperfections just shows me that the designer took the time to add another layer of detail. I think there should always be room for digital art that looks organic or is a reference to mixed media. It gives things a warmer feel. Take a look at the work by Sergio Santos (@elsantosbaseball). He does this to the extreme, mostly because he paints everything, but also because he doesn’t care if it’s perfect, which is why I love his work.
Nick: Both regarding cards and regarding the other reference materials you’ve used (like the Harry M. Stevens scorecard), what’s your reference library like and is it part of your personal collection?
Garrett: My reference library includes a ton of cards from my youth, about 100 Sports Illustrated magazines that I saved (mostly from the late 90s) and hundreds of Starting Lineups. I also love buying printed things on eBay, like old postcards, money, and recently, a map of The Masters golf course at Augusta National. Aside from that, my main reference sites are Behance, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, IMP Awards, The Cardboard Connection, and Automobilist.
Nick: If you have a personal collection what do you collect and how long have you been collecting?
Garrett: I have a respectable junk card collection that isn’t worth anything from a collecting standpoint. Upper Deck and Topps were my favorite brands as a kid, and I would jump at an opportunity to work with either of them. Although I love cards, what I cherish most are my Starting Lineups. I love the packaging and they’re just nostalgic for me. My favorites are the 1991 Michael Jordan, and two Kobe Bryants (1996, 1998). They’re all in very good/mint condition, but I’ve never sent them in to be graded. I’m too nervous they will get banged up in delivery.
I bought three (Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Steph Curry) of the newly released NBA series, but I was underwhelmed. I really don’t like the new branding, and the size and packaging style of the originals can’t be beaten.
Nick: Your portfolio shows off the vertical images. Fox Sports however tends to emphasize the horizontal versions due to mobile site and social media preview reasons. I appreciate that the two versions are actual redesigns. Which aspect ratio do you prefer (if any) both in terms of creating the cards and in terms of the final product?
Garrett: I start with the vertical since that’s what the user sees first on the Home Screen. The art used to go full-bleed on the home screen before the FOX Sports app was recently redesigned, so that was always the main priority. I typically prefer the vertical also, since it’s more similar to one-sheets I’ve designed in the past.
Garrett: It’s a huge compliment. It’s always nice to see people appreciate your work, with whatever you do. I appreciate the time they took out of their day to do something like that. It’s really cool.
This article was written by Bruce Markusen. You can find Bruce on Twitter at @markusen_s.
There’s little doubt that Nate Colbert enjoyed his 76 years on this earth. Colbert, who died earlier this month, always seemed happy. And he loved to smile. Evidence of that can be found on his 1969 Topps card, where he flashes a full and uncontrolled smile for the cameraman. Although Colbert was still an unproven player at the time the photograph was taken, his card seems to reflect his sheer happiness over simply being in the major leagues.
Aside from his extreme and ever-present smile, something else stands out about Colbert’s 1969 Topps card. He is not wearing a cap, not for the team that first signed him (the St. Louis Cardinals), not for his previous team (the Houston Astros), or his new team (the San Diego Padres). The decision to have players pose capless was a common technique used by Topps at the time. In the event that a player changed teams over the course of the winter or during spring training, the capless photographs maintained a more generic appearance. With the capless pose, Topps could easily crop the photo so as to eliminate the name or logo of the old team on the jersey.
In the case of Colbert, other factors were at play. As an expansion team, the Padres had yet to play a game, which would have theoretically limited Topps’ opportunities for an updated photograph showing Colbert wearing his new team’s colors. More pertinently, in a development involving all major league players in 1969, a lingering dispute between Topps and the MLB Players Association caused havoc with the production of baseball cards. Unhappy with the paltry compensation given to players for the rights to use their images on cards, Marvin Miller had instructed players to refuse posing for photographs in 1968, both during spring training and the regular season. That explains why so many of the cards in the 1969 Topps set feature photographs that are two or three years old (or even older). Those photos often depict traded or otherwise relocated players without caps, or sometimes show them from angles that obscure the logos of their old teams.
In contrast, Colbert would appear on Topps cards in his full Padres regalia from 1970 to 1974. By 1970, the union had negotiated a new and far more favorable deal with Topps, allowing the card company to resume its business of taking updated photographs. Of that series of Colbert cards, the most memorable is the 1973 version, which once again gives us a smiling Colbert. Even more noticeable is Colbert’s uniform, the Padres’ all-yellow uniforms that they first introduced in 1972.
Those duds, arguably the gaudiest uniforms of an outlandish era, may have been ugly, but as Colbert pointed out during a 2008 visit to the Hall of Fame, he looked at that uniform with a philosophical approach. “The yellow ones, which were called ‘Mission Gold’—I don’t know where they got that name from—when I first put them on, I felt really embarrassed. But I looked at it like, this is the major leagues; this is the uniform I was required to wear,” said Colbert. “I took a lot of ribbing, especially from the Reds and Pirates players. Even my mother used to tease me. She said I looked like a caution light that was stuck.”
While Colbert would become most associated with the Padres’ yellow-and-brown look, his career path could have gone far differently; he might very well have worn the more conservative cap and uniform of the New York Yankees. As an amateur free agent in 1964, the year before the major league draft came into being, Colbert was pursued aggressively by the Yankees. They had promised to exceed any offers given to him by any other team, but ultimately Colbert chose to go elsewhere.
If the Yankees had signed Colbert, they presumably would have brought him to the majors by the late 1960s. That would have been good timing for a struggling franchise filled with aging players and prospects who were not up the standards of the organization during its glory years. In particular, the Yankees had an unstable situation at first base. The retirement of Mickey Mantle at the start of spring training in 1969 forced the Yankees to switch Joe Pepitone from the outfield to first base. But Pepitone himself would depart after the 1969 season, via a trade with Colbert’s old team, the Astros.
From 1970 to 1973, the Yankees struggled to find anyone capable of giving them the ideal power expected from a first baseman. Role players like Danny Cater, Johnny Ellis, and Mike Hegan, the oft-injured Ron Blomberg, and an aging Felipe Alou took turns playing the position. Blomberg was the best hitter of the group, but injuries curtailed his production, while his poor defensive play made him a better fit at DH starting in 1973. Even if healthy, it’s doubtful that Blomberg would have matched the production of Colbert. A young Colbert would have supplied some much-needed right-handed power to a Yankees lineup that leaned heavily to the left.
But Colbert-to-the-Yankees never happened. He briefly considered the Yankees’ offer before choosing to sign with his hometown team, the St. Louis Cardinals. That was Colbert’s dream; he had always wanted to play for the same team as one of his boyhood heroes, Stan Musial. Unfortunately, the Cardinals did not think Colbert was ready to succeed Bill White at first base and had no room for him in left field (where Lou Brock resided). After the 1965 season, the Cardinals left Colbert unprotected in the Rule Five draft.
The Astros jumped in and picked up Colbert, who by the requirements of Rule Five had to stay on the major league roster the entire season or be offered back to the Cardinals. In the spring of ’66, Colbert made his major league debut. According to Colbert, he became the second member of his family to play in the major leagues, after his father, Nate, Sr. The younger Colbert claimed that his father was a catcher who was a onetime batterymate of the great Satchel Paige, but there is no official record of Nate Colbert, Sr. having appeared in an official Negro Leagues game.
As for the junior Colbert, he played in only 19 games for the Astros, accumulating a mere seven at-bats without a hit. For some reason, Astros manager Grady Hatton refused to use Colbert in the field, instead giving him only the handful of bats and a few pinch-running appearances. It turned out to be a wasted summer for the 20-year-old Colbert.
By 1967, the Astros were free to send Colbert back to the minor leagues, where he could accrue both actual playing time and badly needed experience. They assigned him to the Amarillo Sonics, their Double-A affiliate in the Texas League. He then returned to the Astros midway through 1968 and was later given a September looksee at first base, but he did not hit well and showed a propensity for striking out. He also clashed with Astros manager Harry Walker, who tried to force Colbert into becoming a contact hitter who hit to all fields. Colbert wanted to pull the ball—and hit with power.
Still, Colbert found his fair share of fun away from the field. Some of that came through sharing a clubhouse with the most colorful teammate of his career. During his visit to Cooperstown in 2008, where he regaled visitors with stories from his major league days, Colbert recalled playing with Doug Rader, the quirky and unpredictable third baseman who was forever playing pranks and testing the limits of sanity. “When we were with the Astros,” Colbert said, “[Rader] and one of the guys, another player on the team, went down to the pet store. That’s when it was legal to own alligators. And they bought three alligators, baby alligators. They waited until we were all in the shower, and they let them loose in the shower, down in Cocoa, Florida. We were trying to climb the walls, these little baby alligators all around us.”
Rader made life in Houston memorable for Colbert, but he longed for an opportunity to do more on the field. A much-needed break would soon come his way. After the 1968 season, the National League added the Padres and the Montreal Expos as expansion franchises. The Astros left Colbert unprotected in the expansion draft, giving the Padres the chance to select his contract. With the 18th pick of the draft, after such obscure selections as infielder Jose Arcia and pitcher Al Santorini, the Padres took Colbert. He would soon become their best player.
After starting the season in a platoon role at first base, Colbert caught the attention of his new manager, Preston Gomez. At first, the Padres planned to platoon Colbert with the lefty-hitting Bill Davis, who was six-feet, seven-inches tall and was known as “The Jolly Green Giant.” Colbert went on a short hot streak, impressing Gomez. The Padres soon traded Davis, clearing the way for Colbert to play every day.
From 1969 to 1972, Colbert put up huge power numbers, twice hitting 38 home runs in a season and twice posting slugging percentages of better than .500. Those numbers become even more impressive given his home ballpark, San Diego Stadium, which featured a distance of 420 feet to center field and outfield walls that stood 17 feet high. In 1972, Colbert’s best year, he collected 111 RBIs, accounting for nearly 23 per cent of the Padres’ run total for the season. That remarkable 23 percent figure remains a major league record.
Colbert was never better than he was on August 1 that season, when the Padres played a doubleheader against the Braves at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium. Colbert hit two home runs in the first game, one against Ron Schueler and one against Mike McQueen, and then smacked three more in the nightcap, victimizing Pat Jarvis, Jim Hardin, and Cecil Upshaw.
The fifth home run matched the doubleheader record set by his boyhood hero, Musial. (To make the story even better, Colbert claimed that he was one of the fans in attendance at Sportsman’s Park the day that Musial hit his five home runs.) Rather dramatically, Colbert hit the record-tying home run in the ninth inning against Upshaw, a tough right-handed reliever who threw with a submarine delivery. That home run gave Colbert 13 RBIs for the doubleheader, establishing a record for a single day.
Colbert’s years with the Padres provided other memorable moments, including the infamous night in April of 1974 when new team owner Ray Kroc took over the public address system on Opening Night at San Diego Stadium. “Well, we had just gotten thumped in LA,” said Colbert, setting the scene. “And we came home… and were getting thumped again [by the Astros]. So I was the hitter, and somebody comes on the mike and says, ‘People of San Diego…’ It scared me, I thought it was God. You know, I thought, oh gosh, the rapture was coming, and I’m not ready. And he said, ‘I want to apologize for such stupid baseball playing.’ So in protest, I said to myself, I’m not swinging.’ I just stood there and I walked… We eventually got a rally going. We scored five runs [actually three runs]. He [Kroc] apologized to us later. And I told him, ‘You own us. You can say what you want!’ ”
That same season, Colbert struggled in making the transition to the outfield. The Padres moved him there to make up for wintertime acquisition Willie McCovey, who took over first base. That was also the summer that Colbert’s chronic and longstanding back problems worsened. Diagnosed with a congenital condition caused by degermation of his vertebrae, Colbert’s hitting mechanics were severely affected by 1974, leaving him with a batting average of .207 and a paltry 14 home runs. That winter, the Padres traded Colbert, sending him to the Detroit Tigers for a package of shortstop Eddie Brinkman, outfielder Dick Sharon, and a minor league pitcher named Bob Strampe.
Colbert would spend an unproductive tenure of two and a half months in Detroit before being sold to the Montreal Expos at the June 15th trading deadline. (That explains why Colbert appeared on only one Topps card as a member of the Tigers. Appropriately, the 1975 card shows him with an upturned cap and another large smile.) He would fare little better with the Expos before being released in June of 1976.
Later that summer, Colbert signed with the Oakland A’s. Although he appeared in only two games and went hitless in five at-bats for the A’s, he enjoyed his time playing for another controversial owner, one who surpassed Ray Kroc for unpredictable behavior. “As far as Charlie Finley, I loved Charlie Finley,” Colbert said. “I thought he was awesome. When he traded for me, he told me that he always wanted me to play for him. He told me couldn’t afford me the next year , but he wanted me to have a good time that year . He told me if I needed anything, just call him. He treated my wife and I very well.”
Becoming a free agent after the 1976 season, Colbert drew little interest from teams. One team, the expansion Toronto Blue Jays, offered him an invite to spring training as a non-roster player. Colbert took the offer, but his back problems persisted, resulting in his release early in spring camp. The release officially ended his major league career.
It was during his brief tenure in Oakland that Colbert met his wife, Kasey, to whom he remained married for the rest of his life. The couple would have nine children and 22 grandchildren. They both became ministers and co-owners of an organization that provided advice and counseling to amateur athletes considering careers at the professional level.
While Colbert did a lot of good work with kids, his post-baseball life also involved controversy. In 1990, Colbert was indicted on 12 felony counts of fraudulent loan applications. He listed real estate assets that he did not actually own on several loan applications to banks. Under the maximum penalty, he could have faced 40 years in prison, but Colbert eventually pled guilty to only one charge and served six months in a medium-security facility.
After his release from prison, Colbert returned to his ministry and opened up several baseball schools. He also served briefly as a minor league manager in two independent leagues before again returning fulltime to his ministry work.
In more recent years, Colbert hosted a weekly radio show on KBAD Radio, an affiliate of NBC. He also hoped to write a book about his experiences, including his work as a minister, though he never did embark on such a project. But for Colbert, his ministry was clearly his obsession. “I love to pray,” Colbert said during his visit to the Hall of Fame. “And I love to teach. I love the involvement with other people.”
Given the broad smile on his 1969, 1973, and 1975 Topps cards, Nate Colbert’s affinity for people should have come as no surprise. He made life fun for many of his teammates and helped a lot of youngsters along the way. And there’s little doubt that he enjoyed just about every day that he spent playing our game.
It seems like an impossible job—condense the history of baseball in the 19th Century to a set of one hundred cards. After all, it took Harold and Dorothy Seymour three hundred pages to cover the same ground in their collaborative volume Baseball: The Early Years. But that was the task undertaken by a small band of researchers in a set titled “The Origins of Baseball 1744—1899.”
Presided over by Jonathan Mork, the team included David Martin for artwork and Mer-Mer Chen for graphic design and photo restoration. Jonathan’s brother Jeremy authored the stories on the back of the cards. Issued by the American Archives Publishing Co. in 1994, the boxed collection logically balances most of its imagery between player and executive portraits, team photographs, playing fields and notable events. The year 1744 in the title refers to the date of an English woodcut of a game of Rounders included as card 3 in the set, below.
More than twenty-five years after printing, the cards need gentle handling. The black finish of the borders easily flakes.
Images were carefully selected from photographs and other illustrations maintained by the Hall of Fame’s National Baseball Library. The full-length studio photographs are especially striking in the card format. Clockwise from upper left: Jack Chesbro (card 92); Tony Mullane (card 66); Sam Thompson (card 93); and Paul Hines (card 37).
Noted personalities of the game include pioneering sportswriter Henry Chadwick (card 11), the grand old man of the game Connie Mack (card 84), and umpire Tom Connolly (card 72). The surprise is the 17th President of the United States, Andrew Johnson (card 14). Said to be a fan of the game, Johnson is honored for allowing government clerks and staffers to clock out early when the Washington Nationals were scheduled to play an important game.
Team cards are an important part of the set. The collection naturally includes the founding Knickerbockers (card 5) and the undefeated 1869 Red Stockings (card 19).
The three powerful early Brooklyn teams are also pictured: the Atlantics (card 16), the Eckfords (card 9), and the Excelsiors (card 12). The Atlantics virtually monopolized the early championships of the sport. The Eckfords notched a pair of flags themselves. The third and deciding game of the 1860 championship match between the Atlantics and the Excelsiors produced one of the game’s first great controversies. With his team leading 8-6 in the sixth inning, Excelsior captain Joe Leggett pulled his club off the field when gamblers and Atlantic partisans in the crowd shouted one too many insults against his players. The two great teams never faced each other again. Leggett may have been incorruptible on the diamond; off was a different matter. Over the years, his hands found themselves in a number of tills to feed a gambling habit he could not afford. He disappeared in 1877 with $1,000 missing in liquor license fees from the Brooklyn Police Department Excise Bureau.
Teams of the 1880s are well-represented in the set. The Boston Beaneaters (card 98) were the most successful National League team of the 1890s, winning flags in 1891, 1892, 1893, 1897 and 1898. The City of Chicago lent its broad shoulders to the development of baseball behind the likes of National League founder William Hulbert, star pitcher and later sporting goods magnate Albert Spalding, and five-time pennant winner Cap Anson. The 1886 team is pictured on card 45. The 1887 National League Detroit Wolverines (card 51) played a 15-game championship series that year against the American Association St. Louis Browns. Eight of the games were played on neutral grounds. Detroit claimed the flag in Game 11, played in the afternoon in Baltimore after a morning tilt in Washington.
The set doesn’t sugarcoat the game.
Above: Jesse “The Crab” Burkett of the Cleveland Spiders (card 88) earns a spot in the set for his role in a post-game melee in Louisville that saw the entire Cleveland team hauled off to jail. Edwin Bligh (card 31) scandalized the game when he was accused of fathering a child with a 17-year-old girl.
Below: Hard drinking plagued the early years of the sport. A detective once trailed Mike “King” Kelly (card 48) into the early morning hours, reporting the Chicago catcher enjoying a glass of lemonade at 3 a.m. at a local watering hole. Kelly denied the allegation. “The detective is a complete liar. I never drink lemonade at that hour. It was pure whiskey.”
Ed Delahanty’s attraction to the spirits had a grim ending (card 74). The only player to win batting titles in both the American and National Leagues, the outfielder was thrown off a train in 1903 near Niagara Falls by a conductor for being drunk and disorderly. He fell off a bridge into the Niagara River and was swept to his death.
Several cards highlight the playing fields of the day. A diagram of a New England version of the game is shown on card 10:
The decades of the 1850s and the 1860s are summarized on individual cards.
Top: Elysian Fields, the ancestral homeland of the game, is shown card 7. A game between the Brooklyn Atlantics and the Philadelphia Athletics is shown on card 18. Gamblers congregate in the lower left. Seated umpires and the official scorers at their table take up station between home and first base.
Abraham Lincoln is featured on card 13 of the set. Commentary on the back of the card includes an early debunking of the theory that returning Civil War soldiers spread the game to the American South. As the back of the Lincoln card states, an especially robust strain of the game emerged in New Orleans before the Civil War. It sure did.
At least half a dozen baseball clubs were playing regularly by 1859. The Magnolia and Southern clubs squared off in one series; the Empire and the presiding elder Louisiana Base Ball Club played one match series against each other. The Louisiana club didn’t appear to take things as seriously as their younger counterparts. In one game, the patriarchs were forced to start with just eight players present, and in another with just seven. Other nines played side against side. The Orleans Club was active on and off the field of play, leading a political parade on horseback in red velvet caps on one occasion and giving a Mardi Gras masquerade ball on another.
The Magnolia and Southern clubs seemed especially well-suited to each other. After one game, the teams exchanged badges and then marched together to the United States Hotel for a round or two of drinks.
The clubs had trouble finding spaces for their games. The Third District, where many of the teams were located, had only three open fields. One behind Claiborne Circle was the province by seniority of the Black Racket clubs. White Racket clubs claimed the grounds near the Old Paper Mill behind the Pontchartrain Railroad by the same rights of prior occupancy. An open square on Claiborne Street was guarded by neighborhood youths known as the Squatters. When a Les Quatre club tried to use the field one day, the Squatters drew knives and pistols and ran them off.
The New Orleans Crescent described Racket as “the game of all games for the spectator,” a spirited Creole affair of base and ball with a high reputation for entertainment value, played with a short one-handed bat—the racket.
A box for a game between Les Quatre clubs shows a scored and umpired game of runs played in innings with 12 men to a side. By the following spring, the teams were described as baseball clubs.
City newspapers approved of all the play. The Sunday Delta observed:
Lately a furore has been started among us, which, if it only goes on progressing in the same spirit it has commenced, will make cricket and other games of ball as common in this section as they are in England. Whether it continues long or not, it will exercise a good influence as long as it lasts, and we see no reason for its abatement, as the better these games are generally understood, the more popular do they become.
The New Orleans Crescent apologized for not being to attend all the games. “There are now so many Base Ball and Cricket and Racket Clubs, and they play so frequently, appearing in the field nearly every day, up town, down town, and over the river, that we cannot keep the run of them.”
Up and down the great rivers of the United States the game still thrives, from town to town as the Crescent saw so long ago. One hundred cards cannot tell the whole story of the 19th Century game, but each card provides a path to a different chapter in the story. It’s a fine set, worthy of time and study. Listed for $25 or so on eBay, it’s a steal.
Images in this article have been brightened from original scans for presentation purposes. Master heckler William Gleason on card 36 is pictured before (top) and after modification (bottom).
Author’s note: The most detailed analysis I’ve seen on this set comes from the December 1995 edition of “The Vintage and Classic Baseball Collector” magazine, with a corresponding web version here. If you only have time for one article, I encourage you to stop reading mine and head straight to that one.
A package last year from SABR president Mark Armour sparked my interest in a set I’d previously ignored, both as a writer and a collector, even though it’s the logical sequel to two sets I’ve written about extensively.
Having recently added two of the three Dodger cards in the 1935 Goudey 4-in-1 set, I’m now feeling qualified, if not compelled, to do a deep dive. This first article will examine the basic structure of the set and highlight 11 players who have a special status on its checklist.
THE BASIC SET
The 1935 Goudey 4-in-1 (R321) set consists of 36 different unnumbered cards (ignoring back variations), some red bordered and some blue, each consisting of 4 players who are often but not always teammates.
In what I imagine was a disappointment for at least some collectors, many of the set’s images were recycled from previous Goudey issues. For example, here are the 1933 cards of Tommy Bridges and Bob O’Farrell, easily matched to their 1935 cardboard above.
In fact, most of the 1934 Goudey cards borrow all four of their images from the 1933 and 1934 sets, allowing collectors to “round the bases!”
THE MASTER SET
Adding a twist to the set is the presence of 2, 3, or 4 different backs for each of the cards in the set. For example, the Piet-Comorosky-Bottomley-Adams card below comes with four back variations, labeled by Goudey as Picture 1 card H, Picture 3 card F, Picture 4 Card F, and Picture 5 card F. (Following the VCBC article referenced earlier, I’ll use the notation 1H, 3F, 4F, and 5F from here on.)
The various card backs across the set combine to form nine puzzles in all, each with 6 or 12 pieces. Here is the Joe Cronin puzzle, also known as “Picture 5,” built from backs 5A-5F.
The full list of puzzles (pictures) is as follows. All use six pieces unless otherwise noted.
Picture 1 – Detroit Tigers (12 pieces)
Picture 2 – Chuck Klein
Picture 3 – Frankie Frisch
Picture 4 – Mickey Cochrane
Picture 5 – Joe Cronin
Picture 6 – Jimmie Foxx
Picture 7 – Al Simmons
Picture 8 – Cleveland Indians (12 pieces)
Picture 9 – Washington Senators (12 pieces)
Were one to attempt a master set, there would be 114 different cards in all. The number is a bit oddball but is the result of varying numbers of backs per card, specifically:
12 cards with two backs each = 24
6 cards with 3 backs each = 18
18 cards with 4 backs each = 72
Among the various sources available, my “go to” for the configuration of the 1935 Goudey master set (i.e., all possible front/back combinations) is Table 1 of the November 1995 VCBC article. Just note that the “Card Fronts” section of the table includes one typo (the 1J back listed for Bill Terry should be 1K), and the “Puzzle Backs” section of the table includes numerous errors.
THE SIX PANELS
Again following the naming conventions of the VCBC article, I’ll now introduce the six panels that make up the set. You can think of a panel as a group of cards whose backs generate the same set of puzzles.
The six cards in this panel correspond to six-card puzzles 3, 4, and 5 as well as the right half of 12-card puzzle 1. (That is, each of the cards shown comes with four different backs, one for each of the puzzles just named.) Interestingly, each of the six cards features a single National League team. Star power is significant, highlighted by Babe Ruth on his brand new team, the Boston Braves.
Artwork for all 24 players comes from previous Goudey sets.
The six cards in this panel correspond to six-card puzzles 2, 6, and 7 as well as the left half of 12-card puzzle 1. Five of the six cards feature American League teams, with the Cardinals being the lone National League team.
Again all artwork is from previous Goudey sets.
Panel III (blue borders)
The six cards in this panel, the only one with blue borders, correspond to six-card puzzles 2, 4, and 7. Where cards from panels I and II featured only one team each, we now see three cards that include multiple teams. Note for example Glenn Wright (White Sox) on a card with three Pirates on the second card shown.
You’d be smart to wonder if Wright’s inclusion on the Pirates card is the result of a late-breaking team change. For example, had he been a Pirate during the set’s planning stages, only to have an astute Goudey editor update his team the instant a deal went down? Well, Wright did in fact play for the Pirates, but it was from 1924-1928! 😊
Still, before we accuse (or credit!) Goudey with being completely random here, it’s worth noting that many of the photos from its 1933 set were taken years earlier. Therefore, the original photo used for Wright’s card may well have come from their Pirates stash.
On the other hand, such an explanation would not extend to the next card shown, which features Charlie Berry (Athletics), Bobby Burke (Senators), Red Kress (Senators), and Dazzy Vance (Dodgers). In this case, there is no single team for which the full quartet played.
Of added interest are two panel III players who also appear on panel I, though background colors differ: Gus Mancuso (Giants, shown below) and Ed Brandt (Braves).
I can almost hear the conversation now of young card swappers back in the day:
“Anyone have the blue Mancuso?”
“You mean blue borders and red background?”
“No! That’s the red Mancuso. I mean red borders and blue background!”
Backgrounds and very minor retouches aside, however, all artwork is again recycled from earlier Goudey sets. Stay tuned, however. This is about to change.
The six cards in this panel correspond to six-card puzzles 3, 5, and 6 as well as the right half of 12-card puzzle 1. Four of the cards are dedicated to single teams (Browns, Red Sox, Tigers, Phillies) while two feature multiple teams.
Again, we have duplicated players, this time in the form of four players we previously saw on panel I or II. Conveniently enough they appear right next to each other at the end of the bottom row: Comorosky, Bottomley, Kamm, and Cochrane.
Of particular note is the player in the bottom left position of the Phillies card: Clarence “Bubber” Jonnard, the first new player we’ve encountered thus far.
Jonnard, a coach with the Phillies in 1935 (whose later accomplishments included managing the Minneapolis Millerettes of the AAGPBL and signing Mets Ed Kranepool and Ken Singleton), literally played in one game all season, had one at-bat, and struck out in a blowout loss…a good six years after his previous major league plate appearance. Nonetheless someone at Goudey must have really wanted Bubber in the set. Not only did they find a spot for him on the checklist but they even sprung for art!
The six cards in this panel correspond to the right halves of 12-card puzzles 8 and 9. All six cards are dedicated to single teams (5 AL, 1 NL), and no players appear on any other cards.
One player you might recognize from a previous Diamond Stars article is rookie Cy Blanton (bottom row), who got off to a blazing hot, Fernandomania-like start in 1935. I doubt anyone would have been working on his card before the season started, but it wouldn’t have taken many starts before someone at Goudey decided to add Blanton to the set.
Both Blanton and his cardboard neighbor Tom Padden required new artwork. Ditto for Tigers ace Schoolboy Rowe (bottom right corner of first card).
The six cards in this panel correspond to the left halves of 12-card puzzles 8 and 9. Five of the cards are dedicated to single teams (3 AL, 2 NL), and one card includes a mix of Giants and Dodgers. Each of the 24 players makes his only appearance of the set on this panel.
Here is where we see the bulk of the set’s new artwork: Rollie Hemsley of the Browns, all four Reds (Gilly Campbell, Bill Myers, Ival Goodman, and Alex Kampouris), Zeke Bonura of the White Sox, and Bill Knickerbocker of the Indians.
All in all, the 1935 Goudey set introduced eleven new players–less than 10% of the set. Why only eleven players, and why these eleven players, I don’t know. The most intriguing theory would be that Goudey already had the artwork from a prior project (e.g., an unissued fifth series of 1934 Goudey) and saw a chance to use it here.
Unfortunately, such a theory is quickly rebutted by the specific players selected. Here is a snapshot of each player’s career from 1933-1935, using plate appearances for the position players and innings pitched for the two pitchers.
Looking at the 1934 data for Blanton, Campbell, Myers, and Goodman, it’s hard to imagine they would have been candidates for an extended 1934 Goudey set. At the same time, ten of the eleven players seem quite sensible additions to a 1935 offering, and even the one exception, Jonnard, had something of a “fun factor” going for him.
Though I’ve treated the 1935 artwork as if it was lifted directly from earlier sets, this wasn’t necessarily the case. Compare, for example, the Hank Greenberg artwork from 1934 and 1935, and you’ll see several subtle differences. (Plus, how would Goudey even execute such a thing using 1930s technology?)
Just as the 1934 Goudey set featured Gehrig but no Ruth, the 1935 set features Ruth but no Gehrig.
Youngsters successful in completing the entire 1933-35 Goudey run would probably find Joe Medwick to be the best player absent from their collections. Fortunately, Goudey managed to get its “ducks” in a row over the next three years with Medwick cards in 1936 Goudey Premiums, 1936-37 “Canadian Goudey,” 1937 Thum-Movies, and 1938 Goudey.
Ten Hall of Famers appeared in all three Goudey sets from 1933-35: Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, Dizzy Dean, Chuck Klein, Paul Waner, Frank Frisch, Heinie Manush, Bill Terry, Charlie Gehringer, and Kiki Cuyler.
When I revisit this set I hope to offer some hints as to how the cards were divided into series and when each series might have been released. Oh, and more importantly, I hope to grab the final card I need for my Dodgers team set!
The 1938 Goudey issue known as “Heads Up” was an odd release in multiple ways. For one thing, card numbering begins at 241 as if a long delayed continuation of the 240-card 1933 Goudey set. For another, each of the 24 players in the set appears twice: in the first series (241-264) with a plain background and in the second series (265-288) with a cartoon background.
This article will focus on the second series and some of its more notable cartoons.
PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE CAMEOS
Two of the cards in the set may hold special interest to Pacific Coast League collectors. The cards of Frank Demaree and Bobby Doerr note their tenure with the Sacramento Senators and Hollywood Stars, respectively.
The Goudey set also offers some places, big and small, of interest to collectors of particular regions or geographies.
Hank Greenberg’s scholastic bona fides also received mention.
Long before San Jose was a hotbed for dot-coms, microchips, and crypto, it earned some ink on the card of Marvin Owen.
The set also includes a “pre-rookie card” of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, not opened until the following year, though the card is hardly a cheap one! (It’s possible, however, that the phrase Hall of Fame may be intended here figuratively, as was the case on the back of Carl Hubbell’s 1933 Goudey card 230.)
Other places featured by the set include the “corn country of Iowa” (Bob Feller), the smokestacks of Pittsburgh (Julius Solters), the palm trees of Tampa (Al Lopez), and the sandlots of Cleveland (Joe Vosmik). We’ll also take a closer look at Pageland, South Carolina, toward the end of this article.
While Zeke Bonura himself has his own cards in the set, Zeke collectors (and yes, that’s a thing!) will want to note his shout-out on the card of Joe Kuhel.
Two Hall of Famers also appear in the set’s cartoons…as managers! Here are Bill Terry and Mickey Cochrane on the cards of Dick Bartell and Rudy York.
I’ll also offer, completely tongue-in-cheek, this Little Poison cameo.
Previous baseball cards had included women, dating all the way back to the 1880s. This Babe Ruth card (or others) from the previous decade may also ring a bell. But speaking of ringing a bell, here’s the 1938 Goudey card of Zeke Bonura.
More notably, 1938 Goudey is the first U.S. baseball set to include African Americans. Sadly, the depiction is just as cringeworthy as one might expect for the era.
A VERITABLE “WHO’S ZOO” OF ANIMALS
On a lighter note, a scattering of animals across the set’s cartoons comes as no surprise, particularly when we have players named Moose (Solters) and Ducky (Medwick), not to mention various Detroit Tigers. Still, how about a jackrabbit…
or Boston Bees backstop “Señor” Al Lopez as an actual bee…
or–last but not least–a freaking octopus?!
Well, that’s all, folks, at least for the moment, but ‘toon in next time for more wacky baseball card hijinks, courtesy of yours truly!
Author’s Note: This is the fourth, and final, installment in a multi-part series that explores the legal backstories that have shaped (and continue to shape) the baseball card industry.
Worth a Gamble?
In 1996, a group of plaintiffs filed lawsuits against card manufacturers in federal courts across the country claiming that including insert cards in their wax packs constituted illegal gambling activity under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) and that they were entitled to damages for not having received one of the rare autographed cards in the packs purchased. “RICO, in pertinent part, defines ‘racketeering activity,’ as ‘any act or threat involving … gambling. which is chargeable under state law and punishable by imprisonment for more than one year.’ 18 U.S.C. § 1961(1)(A).” Plaintiffs claimed all elements of gambling were met, which required (1) consideration [price of the pack], (2) chance [chase cards were inserted randomly] and (3) a prize [chase cards had significant value on the secondary market].
The first of these cases to be decided was the lawsuit filed against Pinnacle Brands in Texas. On April 2, 1997, the court dismissed the case because the purchasers of the packs of cards “got exactly what they paid for,” namely “six to twenty cards in a pack with a chance that one of the cards may be of Ken Griffey Jr.” Accordingly, the plaintiffs “had not suffered any injury to their business or property.” Without a tangible financial loss, plaintiffs had no standing to pursue a RICO action. This decision was affirmed by the Fifth Circuit Appellate Court on April 22, 1998.
While the Pinnacle case was ongoing, a RICO action was pending in California against Upper Deck. That court, however found that because plaintiffs alleged that “a portion of the purchase price” was paid as consideration for the chance of winning a chase card, they had adequately alleged a cause of action under civil RICO. Upper Deck’s motion to dismiss the case was denied.
The court held that the value of the chase cards were “readily ascertainable in Beckett’s monthly trading card magazine.” Further, “when someone enters a hobby shop or trading card shop and purchases a package of Upper Deck cards, that person can immediately sell any chase cards he receives to the shop owner for the value quoted in the price guides.” (Though the assumption a shop owner would pay full price for a card is a leap of logic.) This potential arrangement made the chase cards “almost as good as cash,” tantamount to a winning scratch-off lottery ticket.
The court also made an astute observation that seemingly persists to this day—pack buyers “do not care whose face is on the card; they only care about its value in the secondary market.” In the footnotes, however, the court warned that if the odds on the packages were set correctly, there would be no net gambling losses, though the record did not divulge whether the odds stated correctly reflected the value of the chase cards on the secondary market.
Eight of these similar baseball card-RICO cases were eventually consolidated in California where the court was asked to decide whether the random inclusion of limited-edition cards in packages of otherwise randomly assorted cards constituted unlawful gambling in violation of RICO. The district court ultimately dismissed all of the lawsuits trading card purchasers “were not injured in their business or property” as required by the RICO statute. The district court’s opinion was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit on August 20, 2002, which held that “disappointment upon not finding an insert card” was not an injury to property and did not give the plaintiffs standing to sue for civil damages under RICO. Likewise, the plaintiffs could not recover for having developed a “habit” of buying cards to find the chase cards.
Upper Deck and Ken Griffey Jr. take on Topps
Although the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) had negotiated a licensing agreement with Upper Deck for use of players’ names and likenesses, that agreement did not control game-used items obtained directly from the player. Several stars including Ken Griffey Jr., Sammy Sosa, Jose Canseco, and Alex Rodriguez executed “highlight agreements” with Upper Deck that purported to give Upper Deck the exclusive right to sell cards that incorporated game-used equipment and memorabilia.
When Upper Deck learned that Topps was advertising certain cards in its 2001 Topps Gold Label issue would include tiny sections of game-used jerseys and bats, Upper Deck and Ken Griffey Jr., individually, sued to stop Topps from releasing cards of those players with whom they had contracted. They alleged that Topps did not have a license or permission from the players or the MLBPA to produce cards containing game-used equipment.
Topps countered that it had a licensing agreement with Ken Griffey Jr. that was valid through 2003 and dated originally to 1987, “before Upper Deck even existed.” This agreement gave Topps the non-exclusive right to use Griffey’s name and likeness, “the very right that Upper Deck purports to have obtained exclusively through a later agreement.” Topps argued that it legally obtained the Griffey jersey on the secondary market “at a relatively modest cost and at no injury to Griffey.” Topps even mentioned that Upper Deck had already litigated and lost the same issue when they tried to stop Score Board, Inc. from selling autographed Mickey Mantle memorabilia (as covered in Part III).
Upper Deck’s motion for temporary restraining order was denied on March 6, 2001. The case was dismissed voluntarily without prejudice on June 12, which gave Upper Deck the right to refile if they had so chosen. Regardless, Topps issued its special edition 2001 Gold Label award winner cards, including cards honoring Ken Griffey Jr.’s 1997 MVP season that incorporated bat and jersey relics.
Squeeze Play: Topps and Upper Deck Survive
Production of distinct baseball card products peaked in 2003 as card companies inundated the market with 91 separate major issues packaged under brand names including Bazooka, Bowman, Donruss, Finest, Flair, Fleer, Leaf, Playoff, SP, Stadium Club, Topps, Ultra, and Upper Deck. Another 87 major issues followed in 2004 and 90 in 2005. (You may recall that the MLBPA had admitted to a “glut” in the trading card market a decade earlier in the Cardtoons litigation.)
On July 21, 2005 the MLBPA made a major announcement—it was scaling back its baseball card licenses to just two manufacturers: Topps and Upper Deck. The MLBPA’s Director of Trading Cards and Collectibles, Evan Kaplan, explained “the presence of fewer products in the marketplace will reduce consumer confusion and clutter on retail shelves” with a goal to have no more than 40 MLBPA-endorsed baseball products. The MLBPA also mandated that a rookie card logo would be required to appear on cards of players who had made their MLB debuts and that “rookie cards will no longer be issued before they reach the Majors.”
Venerable manufacturer Fleer had closed its doors in May 2005, unable to service $30 million in debt. Fleer filed an assignment for the benefit of creditors action in Burlington County, New Jersey (a state court process akin to a federal Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing) and was appointed a lawyer to manage the repayment of its debts. As part of the liquidation, Upper Deck purchased Fleer’s intellectual property and diecast toy car business for $6.1 million in July—a fraction of the $25 million Upper Deck had reportedly offered Fleer just a year prior. On September 9, an auction was held in which Fleer’s remaining office furniture, equipment, sports cards, and a memorabilia stockpile was sold off.
Major issues in 2006 plummeted to just 38 sets, all manufactured by Topps and Upper Deck. Still viable, Donruss was left out in the cold, but this was not the last time we would hear from the company.
Cool Papa Bell and the Cards that Shouldn’t Have Been
Connie Brooks was James “Cool Papa” Bell’s daughter and executrix of his estate following his death on March 7, 1991. Brooks granted licenses to Upper Deck to issue Bell cards in 1994 and 2001, along with other licenses for clothing, throw blankets, and Wheaties boxes in 1996.
In late 2004 Topps called Brooks to negotiate a license to issue Bell cards in 2005. At the time of this call Brooks did not know—and the Topps representative did not mention—that Topps had already issued seven different Cool Papa Bell cards in 2001 and 2004. Following the call, Topps sent Brooks a licensing proposal dated December 17, 2004 that offered $5000 in exchange for the right to use Bell’s name and image for 2005. The cover letter sent with the blank agreement stated that Brooks had agreed to the arrangement during the call, though she denied having done so. Brooks did not sign or return the proposal.
Not long thereafter Brooks learned that Topps, in 2004, had already produceda Cool Papa Bell card without her knowledge or permission. She contacted Topps and was provided a copy of the 2004 eTopps card and 2004 “Tribute Hall of Fame” card featuring Bell, along with a promise the company was “still looking for other cards Topps may have published depicting Bell.”
Later in 2005 Brooks learned that Topps had also issued Bell cards in 2001. She took exception to the narrative on the back of the 2001 card, which stated, “Cool Papa, who once stole more than 175 bases in a 200-game season, earned his nickname after falling asleep right before a game.” Brooks asserted the description was false and derogatory. William (Bobby) Robinson’s daughter Patricia Hawkins wrote to Judge Cote imploring that Bell “was a credit to his family, his race, his teammates and history as set by examples of his life and lifestyle, both impeccable.” Brooks added that Bell “never indulged in alcohol, smoked cigarettes, or used drugs. He was not a clown, drunkard, or nodding buffoon.” Without any pension provided by the Negro League, Bell worked 22 years as a custodian and night watchman at the St. Louis City Hall until his retirement.
Brooks complained that “Topps’ false statement [regarding the origin of the ‘Cool Papa’ nickname] will be read by many children and may be their only glimpse into the world of Negro League baseball and my father’s career.” Topps responded with an offer of $35,000 in exchange for Brooks executing a settlement agreement and release of liability. She refused and demanded a listing of all Bell cards Topps had produced.
By letter dated January 31, 2006, Topps provided Brooks with a list of “all cards of Cool Papa Bell produced by Topps from 2001-2005.” Brooks responded by filing a lawsuit against Topps on March 27, 2006 claiming Topps had used Bell’s “name, likeness, signature, intellectual property rights, and publicity rights” without authorization and had published defamatory information about Bell. Brooks asserted formally that Bell earned the nickname “Cool” for remaining calm under pressure and his manager Bill Gatewood added “Papa” to the end.
Topps countered that Bell’s right of publicity died with him and the company was free to use his image on baseball cards without needing permission from Brooks. Alternatively, Topps claimed it had been granted permission by Major League Baseball to use Bell’s likeness on the cards it issued (though Topps never produced any evidence to support this doubtful contention). Further, Topps responded that it had taken the information regarding the source of Bell’s nickname from the book Players of Cooperstown: Baseball’s Hall of Fame, published in 1997.
On December 21, 2007 Judge Denise Cote issued her decision granting Topps’ motion for summary judgment. Unfortunately, Brooks had not filed the right of publicity case within the one-year statute of limitations afforded by the underlying state law. The court found that the most recent Bell card was published on November 1, 2004 and refused consider Brooks’ argument that the card really had not been truly “published” on that date because it was distributed in sealed packages. Moreover, Topps had not made affirmative misrepresentations regarding the prior publication of Bell cards to Brooks within the year that those most recent cards were marketed. Brooks’ claims of false endorsement, false advertising and unfair competition also failed; Judge Cote found in Topps’ favor. In other words, Topps was free to have issued over 87,000 individual cards depicting Cool Papa Bell without permission.
Brooks filed an appeal, which was dismissed on November 3, 2008, presumably because the parties had reached a voluntary settlement.
Major League Baseball v. Donruss
Major League Baseball (MLB) reported revenues from baseball card licensing in excess of $75 million for the decade preceding 2009. However, a shift in demand had decreased the total market for all trading cards from approximately $1 billion at its height to $200 million. Further, the baseball card segment within the trading card market (including non-sport cards) had decreased from 75%-80% in the mid-1980s to just 15%-20%. In light of the prevailing market conditions in the mid-2000s, MLB had chosen to pare down its list of companies licensed to manufacture baseball cards to help stem further diminution of trading card licensing value.
When its licensing agreement with Donruss expired on December 31, 2005, MLB chose not to renew. That expired license agreement provided explicitly that Donruss would not use any MLB trademarks “in any capacity” without prior written consent, to include “primary colors of the MLB clubs in combination with baseball indicia or the MLB Clubs’ geographic designation.” Donruss eased its way back into the baseball card market in 2007 with its Elite Extra Edition set of 143 cards, which showed draft picks in their college uniforms or business suits and referenced the drafting team only by city name and an “AL” or “NL” league designation.
The Donruss Threads issue in 2008, however, caught MLB’s eye because the set included “numerous cards depicting former Major League Baseball players in the MLB Uniform Trade Dress and featuring various other MLB Marks.” MLB acknowledged that Donruss attempted to obscure or alter team logos, but the uniforms remained readily identifiable. (MLB also objected to the use of Minor League Baseball trademarks in the set pursuant to an agency agreement by which the names and likenesses of MiLB ballplayers were controlled by the respective parent MLB club.)
The matter was settled for a confidential dollar amount. A consent judgment was entered on August 14, 2009 in which Donruss was permanently enjoined from using any MLB marks and went as far as to prohibit Donruss from using an image featuring “a component of a Major League Baseball uniform that is airbrushed, intentionally blocks or covers, or otherwise alters, any of the MLB marks.” All offending product that had not been previously sold was to be destroyed. Finally, Donruss was precluded from opposing, cancelling, or interfering with the use or registration of MLB trademarks.
Panini bought Donruss in March 2009 and the newly christened “Panini America” issued Donruss Elite Extra Edition sets in 2009 and 2010 featuring draftees in their college uniforms and listing their drafting club only by city name. The 2011 Donruss Elite Extra Edition was a 25-card set that featured current MLB players, but Donruss cleverly had each player pose in generic pants and a plain t-shirt (and probably with a company lawyer in attendance).
Exclusive Details: MLB Cuts Ties with Upper Deck
In August 2009, Major League Baseball Properties (MLB) announced that it had awarded Topps a multiyear deal effective January 1, 2010 to become its exclusive trading card partner, with the hope that by dropping Upper Deck, Topps could “invigorate card collecting, especially with young fans.” Former Walt Disney Company CEO, Michael Eisner, who had acquired Topps in 2007, declared “it’s been difficult to promote cards as unique and original.”
In the wake of the news, Upper Deck voiced its intention to continue manufacturing cards and that they were going to analyze whether they could really be banned from depicting MLB logos and jerseys as MLB claimed. Perhaps not surprisingly, Upper Deck continued to market cards, often showing MLB logos and would have to engage in a separate fight with Topps of the alleged appropriation of trademarked Topps card designs from the 1960s and 1970s.
The major card set offerings in 2010 (21) would be the leanest since 1991 (25).
Topps v. Upper Deck
Canadian bubblegum manufacturer O-Pee-Chee (whose mark was based on a robin named “Opechee” in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem “The Song of Hiawatha”) had a licensing agreement with Topps from the late 1950s through 1992 under which O-Pee-Chee produced trading cards using O-Pee-Chee trademarks for sale in Canada. During this time, Topps and O-Pee-Chee produced nearly identical baseball card sets but for card stock differences, branding, occasional photo variation, and the O-Pee-Chee versions including bilingual wording on baseball cards (required as of 1970 after the Canadian Parliament enacted the Official Languages Act in 1969, which gave English and French official status).
Throughout their longstanding relationship, however, none of Topps’ card design copyrights were transferred to O-Pee-Chee—theirs was strictly a licensing arrangement. In 1992, O-Pee-Chee severed ties with Topps and independently issued sets of baseball cards in 1993 and 1994 featuring original card designs.
In 2001, Upper Deck issued its first “Vintage” set comprised of cards—both front and back—that strongly resembled the 1963 Topps set. Similar Upper Deck Vintage sets followed in 2002 and 2003, each of which strongly resembled the 1971 and 1965 Topps sets, respectively. [Presumably Topps was not flattered by the imitation, but the author has not uncovered any litigation pertaining to Upper Deck’s production of these cards.] The final Vintage offering in 2004 sort of resembled 1954 Red Heart card fronts but featured completely different backs.
In 2007, Upper Deck announced it had acquired rights to relaunch the O-Pee-Chee brand name. Upper Deck produced hockey sets under the O-Pee-Chee banner immediately and in 2009 announced it would issue a 600-card baseball set under the O-Pee-Chee name. Available insert cards included separate series that resembled Topps’ 1975 baseball issue and Topps’ 1979-1980 hockey issue.
Upper Deck’s early promotional materials for the 2009 baseball set included mockup cards for Ichiro and Albert Pujols that were dead ringers for the 1971 Topps set design, with an additional insert set that resembled the 1977 Topps baseball card fronts. Ultimately, however, the 2009 Upper Deck O-Pee-Chee issue utilized a unique card design that did not appear to resemble any prior Topps products.
Topps took issue with the perceived design misappropriation and sued Upper Deck in federal court claiming that Upper Deck had not acquired any Topps’ copyrights when it made the deal with O-Pee-Chee. Topps also objected to Upper Deck’s use of autographed Topps cards having been incorporated into SP Legendary Cuts insert cards. Topps sought damages and an injunction to prevent Upper Deck from selling the cards that allegedly infringed on their copyrights.
Ultimately, Upper Deck’s attempted end around to use Topps designs by acquiring O-Pee-Chee rights was unsuccessful. Upper Deck settled for an undisclosed amount at a mediation held on November 2, 2009. No further O-Pee-Chee baseball sets were issued after 2009.
Upper Deck Thumbs its Nose at Major League Baseball
Despite its licensing agreement with MLB having expired on October 31, 2009, Upper Deck issued its 2009 Signature Stars and 2009 Ultimate Collection sets in January 2010. Upper Deck was also about to issue its full-blown 2010 flagship baseball card set (“Series I”) totaling 600 cards and complimented by a multitude of separate insert sets. The cards in each one of these sets, however, included photographs depicting MLB logos and marks that Upper Deck was no longer authorized to use.
While the cards were licensed by the MLBPA, Major League Baseball sued Upper Deck in February 2010 to stop the sale of the cards and prevent the distribution of additional planned issues including a planned second series for the 2010 flagship set (cards 601-650). In its complaint, MLB alleged Upper Deck displayed “a pattern of utter disrespect for the contractual and intellectual property rights of those from whom it licenses valuable trademarks.” MLB otherwise claimed Upper Deck had defaulted on payments totaling over $2.4 million across a number of licensing agreements.
The parties reached a settlement in which Upper Deck agreed to pay $3,065,824.92 to Major League Baseball and on March 17, 2010, entered a consent judgment in which Upper Deck acknowledged it had used MLB’s marks without permission in its 2009 Ultimate Collection, 2009 Signature Stars, and 2010 Series I issues. Upper Deck was permitted to sell any remaining cards that had been manufactured on or before February 1, 2010.
As part of the agreement, Upper Deck was permanently enjoined from using MLB’s marks: “in whole or in part of current or former players, coaches or managers wearing any item resembling a Major League Baseball uniform,” including “jerseys, pants, jackets, caps, helmets, and catchers’ equipment.” The judgment also prohibited Upper Deck from using an image featuring “a component of a Major League Baseball uniform that is airbrushed, intentionally blocks or covers, or otherwise alters, any of the MLB marks.”
On February 29, 2012, Major League Baseball had to file a subsequent lawsuit against Upper Deck in an effort to collect the remaining $265,000, plus interest, that Upper Deck had failed to pay under the settlement agreement reached in 2010.
How to Catch a Buzz
Topps issued an “American Heritage: American Heroes Edition” set in 2009 that featured cards of famous athletes, politicians, scientists, and other historic figures and events on cards using designs from Topps’ past. Several of these cards honored NASA space missions and depicted patches, rockets, and the Space Shuttle.
After being unable to negotiate a licensing fee with Topps, Dr. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin took exception to several cards in the set Topps issued anyways that featured his name and likeness. He was also upset the product box used the famous “Visor Shot” photo of Aldrin taken by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 moon landing—along with Mickey Mantle and Abraham Lincoln. (Aldrin objected even though his face is not visible, and he can be identified only if one were to focus in on his name badge.) The card for the Gemini XII mission, in particular, included this historical description on the reverse:
“Astronauts had operated outside the spacecraft before, but astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s smooth, multi-tasking 140-minute space walk outside of Gemini XII was what finally confirmed NASA’s highest hopes for extravehicular astronaut activity. Gemini XII’s flawless, computer-guided re-entry marked the end of Project Gemini; America was ready to shoot for the moon.”
On December 27, 2010, Aldrin filed a lawsuit against Topps in California claiming his name, image, and likeness were used improperly. Topps countered that it was permitted to use the photos and descriptions of Aldrin and his historic accomplishments because they were matters of free speech and an issue of public interest. Ultimately, the court found that Topps had a First Amendment right to use Aldrin’s name and likeness without need for permission or payment. The cards simply used “Aldrin’s name in the course of conveying information about his historically significant achievements” and were not advertisements for some other, unrelated product. Further, the photo used on the box was deemed a “mere adjunct” to the cards themselves and was also protected.
A Case of Mistaken Identity?
Fausto Carmona went 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA for the 2007 Cleveland Indians, a season in which he finished fourth in Cy Young Award voting and garnered MVP votes. Carmona was an All-Star in 2010, and the Indians’ Opening Day starter in 2011. On January 19, 2012, Carmona was arrested in his native Dominican Republic for allegedly using a false identity. It was revealed that Carmona’s real name was Roberto Hernandez Heredia, and he was 31, three years older than he had claimed.
Ohio educator Aaron Cookson had invested heavily in his Fausto Carmona personal collection consisting of “323 rookie cards of Carmona/Hernandez, mostly autographed cards with a lot of high-end and high-grade examples.” Cookson estimated he had spent in excess of $5,000 for the cards and he felt betrayed by the false identity revelation.
On August 1, 2012 Cookson filed a small claims lawsuit against Roberto Hernandez in Franklin County (Ohio) Municipal Court seeking $3000 in damages (the statutory maximum). Cookson protested, “as you know, the age of an athlete plays an important factor in his/her on-field performance and how collectable investors/collectors view their cards or memorabilia. I spent a lot of time and money collecting and investing in a guy that I thought was three years younger than he really was. I believe I was defrauded.”
According to Cookson, who remains an avid card collector, the parties reached a confidential settlement subject to a non-disclosure agreement and the case was dismissed. Pitching under his actual name, Hernandez was ineffective in three starts for Cleveland in 2012 and was released after the season. He bounced around for another four more years but was never able to recapture the magic of his 2007 campaign.
The Mastro Auctions Scandal
As of February 2009, Mastro Auctions had reportedly auctioned off more than 100,000 lots and sold in excess of $300 million worth of collectibles, including high-end baseball cards and memorabilia. Principle, Bill Mastro, was indicted in 2012 on federal mail fraud charges for his role in artificially inflating auction lot prices through shill bidding practices (i.e., bogus bids used to create illusion of demand and boost final auction prices) and for his role in altered sports memorabilia items.
On October 10, 2013, Mastro entered a guilty plea in which he admitted to the shill bidding scheme and specifically to having personally trimmed a T-206 Honus Wagner before selling the card in 1987. He failed to disclose his alteration of the card during his involvement with an auction of the card in 1991 by Sotheby’s (when the card was famously purchased by Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall for $451,000), when the card was submitted to PSA for grading in 1992 (famously the first card ever submitted to PSA for grading), and at a subsequent online Robert Edwards auction in 2000 for $1.1 million plus commission (famously the most ever paid for a single baseball card at the time). Mastro also admitted to having known that laboratory test results on the “1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings Trophy Ball” sold by Mastro for $62,000 revealed that it contained paint manufactured after World War II.
Based on his guilty plea to the felony charges, Mastro was sentenced to 20 months in federal prison and assessed a fine of $250,000.
When famed collector and New York Yankees minority owner Barry Halper announced he would be auctioning off his sizeable collection in 1999, it caused quite a stir. The collection was so renowned the catalog became a collectible in its own right and auction house Sotheby’s produced a set of baseball cards to commemorate and promote some of the most important pieces up for auction. The Halper Collection auction was wildly successful and reportedly accounted for $21.8 million in sales.
The 16-card set produced by Sotheby’s featured photos on the front of famous events combined with select items up for sale. The set contained several Babe Ruth cards, a Pete Rose card with the Expos jersey worn when he smacked his 4000th hit (signed of course), a Black Sox card, Jackie Robinson card, and a Lou Gehrig card promoting the auction of his “final glove,” among others. The back side of each card bore an uncanny resemblance the 1953 Topps issue, complete with a cartoon.
A Willie Mays card featured a photo of “The Catch” on the front and a 1950s Willie Mays Giants travel bag and signed hat up for auction. The reverse side offered auction estimates for a 1951 Willie Mays New York Giants signed rookie road jersey ($25,000-$35,000), travel bag ($1000-$1500), and signed hat ($100-$200).
Pennsylvania collector Michael Jacobs was the high bidder two items at the September 1999 sale, having paid $63,000 for the rookie Mays jersey and $8625 for the bag. In July 2012, Jacobs had the jersey appraised by Leland’s of New York for insurance purposes. It appraised for $400,000.
About June 2013, Leland’s brokered a deal to buy the jersey from Jacobs for $675,000 in order to sell it immediately to a third-party buyer. Unfortunately, a subsequent examination deemed the jersey inauthentic—apparently, the name and number had been added sometime after the fact to a standard 1951 New York Giants jersey. Also, it was discovered that the stenciling on the travel bag was inconsistent with the style used at the time.
Jacobs sued the Halper estate, Sotheby’s, and Grey Flannel Collectibles, Inc., the company that had authenticated the jerseys according to the auction catalogue, which stated “Grey Flannel Collectibles, Inc. is honored to have had the opportunity to evaluate and authenticate this wonderful collection of uniforms and jerseys belonging to Barry Halper.” Grey Flannel undertook a basic authentication (e.g., comparing the jerseys to photos or genuine exemplars) and removed approximately 100 jerseys from the auction it could not confirm as authentic.
The auction catalogue also included a five-year authenticity guarantee that would serve to rescind the purchase of an inauthentic item and refund of the purchase price. Jacobs was well beyond the five-year timeframe when he learned of the issue but argued that defendants could not hide behind the guarantee when they fraudulently misrepresented that Grey Flannel had authenticated the jersey.
Ultimately, the court found that Jacobs could not show “Sotheby’s displayed an extreme departure from the standards of ordinary care applicable to auction houses in selecting and relying upon third-party authenticators for sports memorabilia.” The case was dismissed on July 26, 2016, a true example of “may the buyer beware.”
The Jacobs lawsuit was just another in a long line of cases in which the parties sparred over what appeared on a baseball card—and somewhat fittingly, a card (back) that resembled one of those early 1950s Topps issues where this all began.
Fanatics bought Topps for about $500 million in early 2022. As of 2026, Fanatics will have the exclusive right to design, manufacture, and distribute baseball cards per licensing agreements with both the MLBPA and MLB. Will this put an end to baseball card-related litigation? Not likely.
In October 2022, a Michigan man was sentenced to 30 months in prison for selling packs of vintage baseball cards that were opened, had the valuable cards removed, and resealed to look like unopened packs. Bryan Kennert had reportedly engaged in schemes to sell counterfeit sports cards and searched packs for at least 30 years. In fact, federal agents found bogus sports cards at his home that would have been worth $7.3 million if authentic.
Elsewhere, lawsuits roll on dealing with Topps redemption cards, Upper Deck logos on counterfeit cards, and a man in New York who has sued his mother to seek the return of valuable baseball cards she has refused to return to him.
More things change, the more they stay the same.
A sincere thank you to anyone who has enjoyed this series in light of its length and often tedious legal discussions. There are dozens of other cases that could have been included and may be given separate treatment down the road. If you know of a particular baseball card-related matter you think would make for an interesting article, please let me know.
Also, a hearty thank you is necessary for Jason Schwartz for his generous time with review and in making suggested edits along the way.
www.tcdb.com “Major Issues” comes straight from the Trading Card Database website. The author was unable to find a defined methodology for what constituted a “Major Issue,” but it seems like the sets listed were typically sold nationally (U.S. and/or Canada) in individual packs.
Price v. Pinnacle Brands, Inc., 96CV2150 (N.D. Tex. 1997).
Schwartz v. The Upper Deck Co., 956 F.Supp. 1552 (S.D. Cal. 1997).
Dumas v. Major League Baseball Properties, Inc., 104 F.Supp.2d 1220 (S.D. Cal. 2000).
Dumas v. Fleer/Skybox International, LP, 99CV1793-B (AJB) (S.D. Cal. 6/21/2000) (S.D. Cal. 2000). Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. v. Price, 105 F.Supp.2d 46 (E.D. N.Y. 2000).
The Upper Deck Company and Ken Griffey Jr. v. The Topps Company, Inc., 01CV00329 (S.D. Cal. 2001). The reason why Upper Deck gave up on the case is not clear but if a settlement had been reached, the dismissal would have been with prejudice.
Chaset v. Fleer/Skybox Intern., LP, 300 F.3d 1083 (9th Cir. 2002). Eight similar cases were consolidated against the ever-expanding list of defendants to include not only trading card manufacturers but the Major League Baseball Players Association, Major League Baseball Properties, Inc., NBA Properties, Inc., NFL Properties, Inc., National Football League Players Association, National Hockey League Enterprises, NHL Players Association, Walt Disney Company, Nintendo of America, Inc., Wizards of the Coast, Inc., and others. Judgments were entered dismissing the RICO claims without leave to amend and dismissing the supplemental state law claims without prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c).
The Upper Deck Co., LLC v. Federal Ins. Co., 358 F.3d 608 (9th Cir. 2004). Upper Deck submitted the RICO claims to its insurance carrier, Federal Insurance Company, claiming that the alleged acts were covered under its policy. Federal refused to cover the claims on the grounds that there was “no accident or occurrence” as required under the policy. Despite having prevailed in the RICO cases, Upper Deck filed suit against its insurance company seeking to recoup the money it spent defending the case. The court found in favor of the insurance company, agreeing with the Federal there was no “occurrence” to have triggered the policy and, accordingly, there was no duty on the part of Federal to pay for Upper Deck’s attorneys.
Miller v. Collectors Universe, Inc., 65 Cal.Rptr.3d 351, 154 Cal.App.4th 1047 (Cal. App. 2007).
Brooks ex rel. Estate of Bell v. The Topps Co., Inc., 2007 WL 4547585 (S.D. N.Y. 2007).
Card / Release Date / Total Number of Cards in Series / Total Number of Bell Cards in Series
(1.) 2001 Topps Series II Baseball (base card) / April 16, 2001 / 51,800,000 / 34,800
(3.) 2001 Topps Chrome (refractor parallel card) / May 21, 2001 / Same series as (2) above / 5000
(4.) 2004 Topps Tribute Hall of Fame (base card) / November 1, 2004 / 217,000 / 2170
(5.) 2004 Topps Tribute Hall of Fame (gold parallel card) / November 1, 2004 / Same series as (4) above / 74
(6.) 2004 Topps Tribute Hall of Fame (Cooperstown Cut Signature Card) (“2004 Signature Card”) / November 1, 2004 / Same series as (4) above / 1
(7.) 2004 eTopps Classic (base card) / August 2, 2004 to August 9, 2004 / N/A / 938
Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. v. Donruss Playoff, L.P. and Donruss, LLC, 09CV00593 (S.D. N.Y. 2009).
The Topps Company, Inc. v. The Upper Deck Company, Inc., 09CV3780 (S.D. N.Y. 2009). The first O-Pee-Chee baseball card set was produced in 1965.
Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. v. The Upper Deck Company, LLC, 10CV00732 (S.D. N.Y. 2010).
Aldrin v. Topps Co., CV1009939 (C.D. Cal. 2011). After the ruling in their favor, Topps filed a motion to recover attorneys’ fees. Aldrin filed an appeal. The motion for attorney’s fees was denied and on May 2, 2012, the appeal was voluntarily dismissed, presumably because the parties were able to reach some type of confidential agreement.
Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. v. The Upper Deck Company, LLC, 12CV01512 (S.D. N.Y. 2012).
Cookson v. Hernandez, Franklin County (Ohio) Municipal Court, Case No. 2012 CVI 029028.
United States of America v. William Mastro, 12CR00567 (2012). The Mastro-trimmed T-206 Wagner was the first card ever submitted to PSA and received an 8/10 grade, but would not have been eligible for a number grade if the alteration had been disclosed or independently discovered by PSA.
Jacobs v. Halper, 14CV06515 (E.D. Pa. 2014); 116 F. Supp. 3d 469 (E.D. Pa. 2015). Note: The checklist for the “1999 Sotheby’s Barry Halper Collection of Baseball Memorabilia” set found on www.tcdb.com is inaccurate. Here is the actual checklist: 1. Sotheby’s header card, 2. The Babe’s Last Bat, 3. Lou Gehrig Day, 4. Joe D’s Rookie Year, 5. The Black Sox Series, 6. The M&M Boys, 7. Willie’s Catch, 8. The Shot Heard ‘Round the World, 9. King of Competition (Ty Cobb), 10. Pine Tar Rhubarb, 11. A Whole New Ballgame (Internet Auction), 12. Pete Rose’s 4000th Hit, 13. Babe Ruth Shows Kids How It’s Done, 14. Babe Ruth, Newspaperman, 15. The Barnstormers (Bob Feller and Satchel Paige), and 16. Jackie’s Promise.
Upper Deck v. Miguel Flores, 21CV01182 (S.D. Cal. 2021).
Wheeler v. The Topps Company, 22CV02264 (S.D. N.Y. 2022).
Alan Walker, “Hey! Wow! Lookithat! Look at all that bubble gum!,” Calgary Herald, May 8, 1971: 77, 79, 81.
Daryl Slade, “Company is bringing back rookies,” Calgary Herald, September 13, 1992: 57.
Rod Hirsch, “Wagner card is heavy hitter for collectors,” The Courier-News (Bridgewater, New Jersey), June 29, 2000: 91.
“Wagner card sells for $1.265M,” The Daily Times (Salisbury, Maryland), July 19, 2000: 21.
Bill Wagner, “Topps, Upper Deck still in baseball as competitors axed,” Record Searchlight (Redding, California), July 24, 2005: 21.
Erik Schwartz, “Outta here: Bidders get Fleer assets,” Courier-Post (Camden, New Jersey), September 10, 2005: 9.
“’Cool Papa’ was no buffoon, sez lawsuit,” Daily News (New York, New York), November 23, 2007: 8.
There’s been a lot of baseball parks in Chicago. Before there was Wrigley, there was Comiskey. Before Comiskey, there was the West Side Grounds, and before that, Brotherhood Park, and Southside Park, and Lakefront Park, and others, all the way back to Dexter Park.
Located just south of the Chicago Stockyards between 43rd and 47th and Halsted Streets, Dexter Park was the Windy City’s foremost ball ground in the mid-1860s. It hosted the 1867 tournament that saw Rockford’s Forest City Base Ball Club shock the previously undefeated Washington Nationals, 29 to 23, on July 25. The Nationals avenged the loss two days later by hammering the Chicago Excelsiors 49 to 7, and then giving the same treatment to the home-ground Chicago Atlantics after another two-day break, 78 to 17.
With the amateur game giving way to the professional version, the Chicago White Stockings claimed the park in time for the 1870 season. Twenty-thousand fans are said to have witnessed the home team defeat the visiting Cincinnati Red Stockings in mid-October, 16 to 13.
But before there was Dexter Park, there was Dexter himself. Described as “high-spirited, nervous, wide-awake and intelligent,” Dexter was America’s most famous horse during his short career. Racing from 1863 until he pulled up lame in 1867, years before he would’ve reached his prime, Dexter ran 55 times and won 50. He was Inducted as an Immortal to the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 1956.
Dexter beat all of the other famous flyers of the time—Stonewall Jackson, George M. Patchen, Jr., General Butler, Commodore Vanderbilt, Toronto Chief, Lady Thorne and others. Along the way, the equine powerhouse set speed records for the day in mile heats, best three-out-of-five heats, two miles, three miles, in harness, saddle and wagon.
In 1866, Dexter was stabled in Chicago and owned by George Trussell, a notorious Windy City gambler. One of Dexter’s most-anticipated races was scheduled to be held at the Chicago Driving Park Association grounds on September 4. Trussell expected a big day. But torrential rain soaked the Windy City that morning and a three-way $5,000 match against Patchen and General Butler was postponed. It still turned out to be a big day for Trussell, when Mollie Cosgriff shot him dead.
Trussell spent the last afternoon of his life at the Driving Park, drinking and gambling with friends despite the race postponement. The party moved downtown in the evening with a tour of bars. It was said that Trussell had a strong attraction to the spirits of the time, and so it wasn’t a surprise when he drifted into Seneca Wright’s tavern on Randolph for a nightcap and a song toward the 11 o’clock hour.
What was a surprise, was when Mollie Cosgriff showed up at the saloon, wanting a word or two with George. She looked, according to one newspaper, as if she had just come from a dancing party, wearing a striking white moire dress to the occasion, a shawl draped over her shoulders, drunk, and carrying a revolver in a pocket.
Mollie was no stranger to the tavern side of life. She ran a well-known house of ill-repute on Fourth Avenue.
George and Mollie were no strangers to each other. Mollie had fallen into the demi-monde in Chicago after moving to the city from her home in Ohio. Her attractive figure and alluring beauty naturally gained the temporary attention if not the permanent affection of Chicago’s fast young men, of whom George was no exception. An affair evolved, and a son by Mollie’s calculation, and the couple drifted apart, but Mollie never lost her devotion to the man.
The lingering feelings were not reciprocal. George didn’t feel much like talking with Mollie that night, and he tried to usher her out the front door of Wright’s place. There was some pushing and shoving at the entrance. Seneca stepped from behind the bar, separated the two quarrelers, and then went back to his duties. The former lovers continued to scuffle. One witness said that George struck Mollie. Others said he didn’t. Mollie pulled her gun and shot him in the side.
George careened back toward the center of the saloon. Mollie followed, and fired again, the bullet striking him in the back. George stumbled toward a side door. Mollie shot him a third time. He staggered out the door, into the entrance of Price’s livery stable, and collapsed.
As if just coming out of a trance, Mollie raced out of the saloon and fell on his body, shrieking frantically, “O my George! My George! He is dead.”
A notorious gambler and owner of a famous horse, killed in his prime. A jilted lover, a keeper of a lewd house, a drunken murderess. Newspapers across the Northeast quarter of the country followed the story with salacious glee. It was a sensation, pure and simple, and it seemed like it would be a tough act to follow. But Chicago was a tough town, and racing soon resumed.
“There is great excitement in sporting circles,” the Chicago Tribune declared on Friday morning, September 21, 1866, “about the great race…between General Butler and Cooley, for a purse of five thousand dollars a side, and set for tomorrow on the track of the Chicago Driving Park Association.”
General Butler was a popular harness horse whose career overlapped the Civil War. His likeness circulated on Currier & Ives and other lithographs.
Cooley was a black gelding and a favorite on Chicago race tracks. Locally owned, the fast trotter was described as “a big little horse” with “an eye full of intelligence and kindness.”
Heavy betting underscored the excitement for the sulky race between the horses. “The knowing ones seem to be about equally divided in opinion as far as odds are concerned,” the Tribune computed, “though the majority seem to think the General stands the best chance.”
The match between the horses was also a match between the drivers of the sulkies they pulled. Manager Bill Riley drove Cooley. Two men would steer General Butler that afternoon—jockey Samuel Crooks for the first two races, and quarter-owner William McKeever the remainder of the way.
McKeever was a cool customer, and a good enough athlete to have played for two of New York City’s premier baseball clubs. He began as an infielder with the Gotham club in 1859 before taking on pitching duties for the rough and tumble Mutual club in 1863.
In 1861, McKeever pitched for New York against Brooklyn and the great Jim Creighton in the famous New York Clipper Silver Ball Match. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle called McKeever “the most effective medium-paced pitcher in the country.” Creighton outpitched McKeever that day in Hoboken, but Creighton isn’t called great without a reason.
Now nearing 30, McKeever had traded away the mound work for the less taxing pursuits of harness racing and gambling. A half-hour delay after the scheduled start of the Driving Park match drew the disapproval of the crowd of thousands in attendance. Odds favored Cooley 25 to 10 when the match finally began at 3:30 p.m.
General Butler pulled ahead in the first heat, building a five-length lead at the half-mile post but the horses were equal at the final turn. A late surge by Cooley earned the win by a neck.
Cooley won the second heat by 15 lengths. Bettors on General Butler, suspicious of the slow times turned in by Crooks and on the verge of seeing their wagers wiped out, begged McKeever to make a switch. As the odds climbed to 100 to 25 on Cooley, McKeever took the lines for the third heat. The move paid off with a win by 20 lengths for General Butler and the odds reversed themselves.
Trouble began in the fourth heat. A half-an-hour was lost in fits and starts and ill-words between the drivers. With darkness rapidly falling, the heat finally reached its start. Two hundred yards into the race, McKeever suddenly swerved in front of Riley’s buggy, scraping Cooley’s nose. General Butler won the race by a half-length. Many in the crowd argued that the foul should have resulted in a dead heat, or the award of the race to Cooley. Disarray prevailed when the track judges stuck with the win for General Butler.
By the time order was resolved, night had fully fallen and only moonlight illuminated the racing grounds for the fifth and final match. More argument ensued, with half the crowd for the race to be called off due to darkness, and the other half demanding it continue. A start was made despite the conditions. General Butler broke in front along the rail as the horses disappeared in the darkness.
In due course, Cooley returned to view, heading down the home stretch toward the winning line. General Butler careened behind, without a driver. A search quickly located McKeever, bloody and unconscious, face down in the cinders on the back stretch. He was quickly carried to the home of J. R. Gore, a physician who lived nearby on Michigan Avenue.
Examination revealed extensive fractures to McKeever’s skull, with particular injury to the left temple, as if McKeever had been struck in the head by a hard object. Gore extracted three broken pieces of the cranium. Hopes were raised that the procedure would relieve pressure on the brain and allow McKeever to regain consciousness. It soon became apparent that the patient could not recover from the injury.
With foul play evident, police launched an investigation. After taking Riley into custody, suspicion fell on Peter and Tom Hickey, brothers who owned a tavern near the race track. Police arrived at the saloon at two a.m. Sunday morning and arrested the two after a desperate fight that left the officers and suspects bitten, battered, billy-clubbed and pistol-whipped.
McKeever died Sunday afternoon without ever coming out of his coma. His body was returned to his brother’s care in New York and internment at Greenwood Cemetery, final resting place of so many of the game’s pioneers. Remembering their former pitcher, the entire Mutual Base Ball Club attended McKeever’s funeral.
Back in Illinois, the Cook County Coroner opened an inquest on McKeever’s death. Chicago’s sporting crowd packed the Central Police Station to view the proceedings. A string of witnesses testified. Two said they saw Peter Hickey on the track between the fourth and fifth heat. There were other figures in the shadows. Tom Hickey denied any knowledge of the events surrounding McKeever’s death. Bill Riley testified he didn’t have anything to do with it, either. He closed with one admission. “I did say, ‘If I could win the race, I would.’”
The coroner’s jury returned its verdict on October without charges, finding only that a plot existed among unnamed friends of Cooley to prevent General Butler from winning the match, and that the result of this plot caused McKeever’s death. A later history of the Chicago Police Department named Tom Hickey as the killer.
Mollie Cosgriff went on trial that same month for the Trussell killing. The charge was manslaughter, for which a sentence of up to life could be applied. There was no argument that Cosgriff killed Trussell. The only argument was whether she was justified in pulling the trigger, in fear for her own life when Trussell tried to push her out of Seneca Wright’s tavern. The jury didn’t buy the entire bill of goods, but came close. After deliberating just over three hours, the jury returned with a guilty verdict and the minimum sentence allowable, a year in the penitentiary.
It might be expected that a woman of Mollie’s notoriety and profession would have some connections. In prison, she was given a private cell and allowed to receive visitors and wear her own clothes, but that was just a nickel ante in a smaller game. Mollie had bigger cards to play: she was pardoned by Illinois Governor Richard J. Oglesby after serving just a month of her sentence.
The Driving Park Association did not survive McKeever’s death. With its reputation completely ruined by the autumn’s gruesome murders, the grounds were sold at auction in December of 1866 and soon demolished. Dexter Park, specifically named after the trotter, opened in July of 1867 to replace the disgraced track. The spacious infield of the racing oval contained the baseball diamond.
A tobacco card celebrates Dexter
The horse Dexter had a short career. So did the park named after him. It burned to the ground in 1871, a victim of the Great Chicago Fire.
William McKeever has never appeared on a baseball card.
Way back at the end of 2018 Mark Armour wrote a post about how where most SABR committees produce something concrete like a database, book, or online project, the Baseball Cards Committee ended up building a community. Twitter has been a huge driver of that community with so many fantastic and fun discussions centering around @SABRBBCards. Mark gave us a great start and Jason has carried the torch wonderfully.
For my part, I would not be collecting cards, a member of SABR (let alone a committee head), or enjoying Twitter nearly as much had this committee not ended up there half a dozen years ago. Which is why Twitter’s current instability feels like such a gut punch. I’m not trying to predict the future here but I’ve already seen too many people bail from the platform as well as enough warning signs that I’ve been dipping my toe in Twitter alternatives.
No, none of them are the same; for starters the community isn’t there. Yet. But there are a lot which feel very promising and it’s amazing how few people you need for things to start feeling fun the way they used to be.
To whit. In the scenario that Twitter becomes unusable for you,* you can find us in the following locations.
*For whatever technical, social, ethical, political, personal reason you choose.
SABR’s in-house group feature
This is an old-school email list which will remind those of us who were around for it of the late-90s, early-2000s internet. Subscribing is easy enough, just email firstname.lastname@example.org. Once you’re subscribed you can access the webpage at sabrgroups.org/g/sabrbbcards and configure your email delivery settings or browse the archives.
Mastodon feels a lot like Twitter. It can get complicated but thankfully one of the Sports Reference guys set up an instance at hellosports.page which is really simple to sign up for. Jason and I are on there at @HeavyJ and @vossbrink respectively. No blog account yet but for now most of the active accounts on there are us.
As with SABR’s group email list, Discord feels very much like the halcyon days of Internet Relay Chat. A few of us have se up servers to discuss things like custom card design or through the mail autograph returns but the nature of those chat rooms is such that they often become more free-wheeling discussions about cards in general. Since Discord is sort of an invite thing I have no good permanent links to put here but if this seems interesting to you hit me up in the comments on this post and I’ll try to get you in contact with someone.
There are also a few other legacy platforms where the community is present. I’m no longer there but we do have a Facebook presence/group if the Facebook experience if more your style. A lot of people are also migrating to or increasing their Instagram presences.
And yeah, I can’t say that this community isn’t going anywhere because it very much is. It is however way too big to disappear. I’ll miss what I had on Twitter since I suspect that the best-case scenario is something like the post 1994 strike MLB world where a lot us just fell out of the baseball habit for a few years. But I’m absolutely looking forward to reconnecting and keeping in touch with as many of you as possible.
This blog isn’t going anywhere and if we end up with discussions in the comments like we used to have in the glory days of blogging that’ll be just fine too.