Milk Carton Kids (And Sparky Anderson)

I recently snagged a VGEX 1960 Leaf Series 2 Sparky Anderson card, bringing me within two cards of a complete second series and full set. We all make fun of how old Sparky looks when he was, in fact, young. He’s 26 here and looks it (if you cover up the gray hair over his left ear).

The arrival of this card set me thinking about one of my favorite Sparky cards, leading off the 1966 Foremost Milk St. Petersburg Cardinals set. It’s a lovely issue of 20 cards, glossy 3 ½” X 5 ½” photos of the Florida State League Cards. A Class A ballclub rarely looked so good. (I don’t know how these were distributed. If you do, let me know in the comment section.)

It’s nice that Sparky can lead off the set, if paged alphabetically (and what other way would you arrange a non-numbered set?). Also of interest is Lenny Boyer, the seventh son of the Boyer baseball clan. Lenny spun his wheels in the minors from 1964-1970, never making the bigs. He does have that Boyer look, sort of a Ken and Clete mashup.

It’s important to me that everyone knows there was once a pitcher named Phil Knuckles. He put up a few decent years in the low minors, from 1965-71.

(Not sure why the Foremost logo is missing on Morgans’ card)

One of the joys of minor league sets is a peak at future major leaguers of note. Maybe Harry Parker isn’t of real note to many, but as a member of the 1973 NL Champ Mets pitching staff, he looms large for me. (Jerry Robertson never played for the Mets, but that didn’t stop Topps from giving him a 1971 cards of him in a Mets uniform, sort of.).

I have no tidbits of real interest about any of these guys. I welcome any stories, about these eight, or any other members of the team.

While the 1966 St. Pete Cards are mostly known, if not only known, for being an early stop in Sparky Anderson’s Hall of Fame managerial journey, they also are part of a forgotten bit of baseball history. That season, they played a 29-inning game versus the Miami Marlins, the longest game until eclipsed by the 1981 Pawtucket-Rochester 32 -inning classic. The latter featured Cal Ripken, Jr. and Wade Boggs, but if you want to read the exploits of “Sweet Pea” Davis, Archie Wade and Jim Williamson, there’s a fascinating story to behold.

Overanalyzing 1933 Goudey, part four

Author’s note: This is the fourth in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of facts, unknowns, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic sets, 1933 Goudey. This installment examines the relative scarcity of the various cards.

Unlike Topps Project 2020 or Topps Now, where print runs are published directly on the Topps website, older sets generally come with little to no information as to quantities produced. Yes, there are exceptions, such as the 1914 Cracker Jack set…

…where the card’s reverse tells us, correct or not, that “Our first issue is 10,000,000 pictures.” In most cases, however, we simply make educated guesses or leave the topic alone entirely.

In this article, I’ll share my own educated guess at the 1933 Goudey set, but perhaps more importantly I’ll “show my work” and by doing so offer a framework that collectors might find applicable to several other sets.

Population report – Fact or fiction?

Despite the various limitations and distortions inherent, I’ll begin with the PSA Population Report for 1933 Goudey, pulled on November 10, 2020. If you’re not familiar with such reports, what they show is the number of times the grading company has assigned a particular grade to a card in the set.

We can see (or not see, if you’re reading this on your phone) from the report, for example, that PSA has assigned a grade of 8 to Dazzy Vance twelve times. We can similarly see (with a little math) that PSA has graded Dazzy Vance cards 441 times in all, including half grades and qualifiers. Move down the list to Hugh Critz and we find his card graded 323 times.

We avoid the conclusion that Hugh Critz’s card (POP 323) is more scarce than Dazzy Vance (POP 441) since it is common knowledge that Hall of Famers are more likely to be submitted for grading than common players. In reality, both Critz and Vance belonged to the same printing sheet and therefore were very likely produced in identical quantities.

The question, then, is whether we can conclude anything at all from population reports, given their inclination to distort reality.

Order amid chaos

This graph shows the PSA population for each card, 1-240, in the 1933 Goudey set. Good chance you can pick out the Ruth and Gehrig cards, not to mention Napoleon Lajoie.

Here is a look at the same data, this time sorted first by sheet number and next by population. For example, the first 24 cards graphed correspond to cards 1-5, 25-35, and 45-52 (i.e., Sheet 1), and the most frequently graded subject from the sheet, Jimmie Foxx, is shown first. For lack of a better spot, I put the Lajoie card, printed in 1934, at the very end of the graph.

There are now three discernible patterns of interest.

  • Each sheet in the set includes several players whose cards are graded disproportionately often. You’d be correct to imagine Hall of Famers and stars here, along with Benny Bengough and Moe Berg.
  • Each sheet in the set includes a large number of cards (“generic players”) graded much less frequently: the Hugh Critzes, Ed Morgans, and Leo Magnums of the set.
  • Within a sheet, the population for generic players is relatively uniform.

Here is a closer look at Sheet 4, where the tall bars correspond to seven Hall of Famers and the short bars correspond to far less sought after players.

A final property of interest, true for all sheets and not just this one, is that the star player populations cover very wide range (744 – 476 = 268) while the generic player populations cover a much narrower one (334 – 283 = 51). Another measure of the same thing is that the standard deviation is 96 for the first group and 18 for the second group.

Estimating relative scarcity

We know, therefore, that while a graph like this one might be interesting it may not be telling us anything real about relative scarcity. Perhaps all it’s really showing us is which sheets have the best players.

The standard deviations corresponding to each bar (130, 100, 238, 116, 162, 293, 190, 109, 126, and 109) sound further alarms for treating our data as clean or uniform.

To arrive at data that are meaningful and useful we need to eliminate the undue impact of star players. There are many ways this can be accomplished. The one I’ve chosen is to restrict my data set to the bottom eight players per sheet. In the case of Sheet 4, that would mean the players in the orange rows below.

Examining the sheet’s entire roster, you might wonder why I limited myself to the bottom eight when even the bottom 17 would seem to have worked. The main reason is that some of the other sheets in the set have far more stars than this one. Also, 8 from 24 gave me a nice simple fraction, the bottom third, that I wouldn’t have if I’d used the bottom 9 or 10 players.

At any rate, here is what happens when we restrict our interest to the “bottom eight” on each sheet. I’ll also mention that standard deviations are now 13, 12, 18, 5, 6, 12, 10, 12, 11, and 12, which tell us the data has almost no variability within a given sheet.

Mostly just for fun, here are the two preceding graphs plotted together.

At first glance, perhaps the data aren’t all that different after all. However, there are at least a few instances where the shift from the full data set to the bottom third is instructive–

  • Sheets 1 and 2 – Our original graph suggested Sheet 1 cards were more plentiful than Sheet 2 cards. However, our new data suggests cards from each sheet are equally plentiful.
  • Sheet 6 – Our original graph suggested Sheet 6 cards were quite common. Our new data suggests Sheet 6 cards are among the more scarce in the set.

YOU REALLY TRUST THIS?

If all we had were these graphs, then it would be reasonable to worry that random variation was the biggest factor behind the differences from one bar to the next. However, the very small standard deviations associated with each data set convince me that the differences here are real. That said, I’d be either crazy or lazy (and have been accused of both!) not to corroborate my results against other sources.

SGC data

Second only to the PSA population report the next largest source of 1933 Goudey data comes from rival grader SGC’s population report. Across the Goudey set, SGC has graded between 25 and 30% as many cards as PSA, hence more than enough to be of interest. The graph below shows “bottom eight” numbers from SGC alongside the PSA numbers.

Multiplying the PSA data by 0.27 (or any number in the vicinity) puts the numbers on roughly the same scale and facilitates at-a-glance comparison.

As you can see there is very little difference between the PSA and SGC data. This is further evidence to me that the numbers are genuinely meaningful.

Other ways to remove the effects of stars

I mentioned earlier that I landed on a “bottom eight” approach to be sure I didn’t accidentally include any star players from some of the more loaded sheets. Still, it’s worth looking to see how robust the patterns in the data are against other methods.

Since the PSA and SGC data were quite consistent I’ll use this new graph that adds the two as my new baseline for comparisons against other methods.

Bottom half

Here are the sheet averages when restricted to the bottom twelve cards per sheet. There is virtually no change to the data.

Medians

Another approach that eliminates the impact of stars is to take the median. An advantage is that this approach also avoids any outliers at the bottom of each data set. As long as the number of star cards on all sheets is less than 12, it may be that the median will reflect the true card populations better than anything I’ve used thus far. Here I will revert to using PSA data only since the PSA and SGC counts are too different to produce a meaningful median. (It would often end up being the average of the least graded PSA card and the most graded SGC card.)

Again, the relative ordering of the bars remains nearly identical. A careful look will show that Sheets 5 and 6 have flip-flopped, but the differences are small enough to regard the two sheets as virtually tied under either measure.

Conclusions

While population reports can be misleading on the whole, I believe they can offer reliable data on the relative scarcity of cards in the set provided disproportionately graded cards can be removed from the analysis in a systematic way.

Where a set is issued in multiple releases or series, the “bottom third” approach offers a methodology that does not require any card-by-card judgments be made, though a global judgement that the set has enough generic players to support the approach would still be required. As has been seen, the bottom third approach could likely be replaced by a bottom half or median without impacting results unduly.

Examples of sets that should be amenable to the same approaches used here include the various Topps flagship sets from 1952-73, though care would need to be taken where a particular series is already known to be particularly tough. For example, the final series of 1967 Topps is so famously difficult that it’s easy to imagine even its common players being disproportionately graded.

While I’ve (mostly) opted for objective data over speculation in this series of articles, I’ll nonetheless close with the reasons this analysis is most interesting to me personally.

As important as the 1933 Goudey set is to the history of the Hobby, it is surrounded by unknowns. It is my hope that various high-effort-low-yield attempts to learn more about the set will ultimately fit together into a coherent and more complete narrative than what we have today.

While population information may be of interest to some collectors on its own–perhaps some of you will head to eBay and start buying up Sheet 9 cards as a result of this article!–I believe it also offers hints at other topics of interest such as the set’s chronology. For example, a conjecture of mine is that the first two sheets of the set comprised a single 48-card release. Such a conjecture is strengthened by the two sheets having nearly identical population data. Meanwhile, the likelihood that Sheets 3 and 4 formed paired releases appears unsupported by population data.

Interesting outlier

I’ll end with a mini-mystery unrelated to the “big picture” of the set but instead confined to a single card. In reviewing population numbers for literally 240 different cards there was one card that stood out. Maybe you can spot it among the PSA populations for Sheet 2.

In addition to having at least “minor star” status, Jimmy Dykes also has the only known significant variation in the set. (I’m ignoring proof cards, print defects, and copyright cards here.) In case you’re not familiar, Goudey corrected his age from 26 to 36 at the start of the third bio paragraph.

As tends to happen when an error is corrected, both the original error version and the corrected version each acquire relative rarity within the set. As such, I would expect both versions of the card to be disproportionately graded, and I would certainly expect to see a lot more Dykes cards graded than George Blaeholders!

My own conclusion is that the Dykes card is genuinely rarer than the rest of the cards on Sheet 2. Given that the cards were printed together, my personal theory is that Goudey didn’t simply swap in the new Dykes for the old one at some point but instead pulled Dykes entirely during some portion of the interim.

Of course an alternate theory is simply that Dykes no longer gets the Hobby love he once did and that the card’s variations are largely off the radar. Either way, I hope the example illustrates yet another potential use of the population data to tell a larger story about the set.

I’ve got a few more topics to cover before closing out the series, so come back soon!

1987 Fleer Joe Sambito: A Modern Mystery (Solved)

In the summer of 2019, a small cadre of baseball card enthusiasts from the Chicago SABR chapter gathered at the home of Jason Schwartz to open a mound of junk wax packs, talk baseball, and devour pizza. Ever since, we have endeavored to gather every few months to bust packs and enjoy an evening of laughs and nostalgia.

At our latest gathering, collector-extraordinaire Rich Ray brought a fresh 1985 Donruss wax box and a 1987 rack pack box. [Rich always puts the rest of the group to shame with his generous contributions!]

While opening the 1987 Fleer packs, Jason noticed a player in the background on the Joe Sambito card and wondered whether it was Wade Boggs. Unfortunately, the upper righthand corner of the player’s second number was obscured by the winsome Sambito, so it was not immediately clear whether the full uniform number was a “26” or “28.”

If you read this article, you may know that Wade Boggs is my favorite non-Cub player and that I was previously under a mistaken notion that I had an impressive collection of Boggs cardboard. I quickly made a trade for the Joe Sambito card (sending some unwelcome Steve Garvey* cards Jason’s way), on the chance it was Boggs.

In order to solve the mystery, I turned first to Baseball-Reference.com with the hope there was no player on the 1986 Red Sox roster with the number “28.” Unfortunately, twirler Steve Crawford was a “28” so I had to turn to elsewhere.           

The collecting community responded swifty and decisively. Wade Boggs super collector David Boggs (no relation) found a Steve Crawford jersey and observed that the left side of the second letter was different for a “6” and an “8.” Things were looking good.

Next, Wade Boggs super collector Richard Davis evoked his medical training and observed, sans palpation, that the appearance of the player’s forearm proved it was Boggs.

The ultimate confirmation, however, came from Mr. Boggs himself, which included a good-natured poke at Steve Crawford’s girth. Only in the age of social media could such a groundbreaking baseball card mystery be solved so quickly and resolutely.

If you collect cards that happen to feature Wade Boggs in the background, you may now want to add the 1987 Fleer Joe Sambito (#43) to your album along side the 1985 Fleer Jackie Gutierrez (#160), 1993 Donruss Carlos Baerga (#405, on back), and 1997 Denny’s John Jaha (#8).  

Notes:

*As a Padre in 1984, Steve Garvey broke this Cub fan’s little heart. I have not forgiven him, so it is unfortunate that Garvey remains Jason Schwartz’s favorite player from childhood.

Sources:

Baseball-Reference.com, David Boggs, Richard Davis, Wade Boggs

Strike a Pose, There’s Nothing to It

I attended just one game at “old” Yankee Stadium, before the extensive remodel shut it down for two years. That game was on Sunday, June 7, 1970, notable because it was Bat Day. (The above photo is from that game, according to website from which I borrowed it.) I grew up two hours away, in Connecticut, and Bat Day was the major draw for a few busloads of local families that my father’s company organized. I was 9 years old, and what I most remember about the game (a 4-3 White Sox win in 12 innings) is the majesty of the Stadium (when compared with Fenway Park, the only other venue I had experienced), and the crowd: 65,880, the largest baseball gathering I will likely ever witness.

This all came to mind a few days ago when Lindy McDaniel passed away. McDaniel pitched for 21 years and was one of the great relief pitchers of his time, a time when relievers were deployed much differently than they are today. In my 1970 game, he pitched the final 5 innings, allowing just the single run in the 12th to lose. There were only four pitchers used in the game, in fact: Fritz Peterson (7 innings) and McDaniel (5) for the Yankees; Tommy John (9) and Wilbur Wood (3) for the White Sox.

I recall being struck by how hard McDaniel was throwing. Granted, this was my second live game, and the other three pitchers in the game were crafty southpaws. But I vividly recall the crack of Thurman Munson’s mitt, remarked upon by the children of Southeastern Connecticut.

Anyhow, after McDaniel’s death, my Twitter feed lit up (as per the depressing 2020 custom) with old baseball cards. One of the best McDaniel cards is from 1971 Topps.

I have owned this card for 49 years, but when I looked it over I was struck by the large crowd, coming at a time with the Yankees did not draw well. And it hit me: this *might* be the very game I attended. There is not much to go on–McDaniel pitched 28 games at Yankee Stadium, likely half during the day. The best evidence is the crowd–the Yankees averaged around 12,000 fans per game, and rarely saw a crowd like this down the left field line. So, it’s possible.

In 1971 Topps used photos from actual games for the first time (on their base player cards), a total of 52 photos taken at either Yankee Stadium or Shea Stadium. Why this had not occurred to me in 49 years I cannot say, but a couple of days ago I decided to check out the other Yankees and White Sox “action” cards to see if I could find possible matches for my game.

Of the nine Yankee action cards, four of them clearly show an opponent that is not the White Sox: Thurman Munson (A’s), Gene Michael (Angels), Curt Blefary (A’s), and Jake Gibbs (Indians). Three do not show an opponent: McDaniel, Danny Cater, and Fritz Peterson. And two clearly show the White Sox: Ron Woods and Roy White.

Woods turns out to be the key card in this story, because my June 7 game is the only time he batted against the White Sox during a 1970 day game. Unless this is from a prior year (highly unlikely), I witnessed this plate appearance. What’s more, our seats were on the first base side at ground level up behind the dugout–so this is roughly the angle I had. Bonus clue: someone in crowd (at the far right, just above the dugout) is holding up a bat.

The Roy White card is from the same game–though the angle is slightly different, if you look closely you can see some of the same people in the crowd behind the Chicago dugout. Duane Josephson is behind the mask in both photos.

So that’s two cards from my game. Let’s look at the two White Sox action cards from the 1971 set.

Tommy John pitched just one game in Yankee Stadium that season, so this becomes our third match. This looks to be the same angle as our McDaniel card above (which may or may not be from this game), though (based on the shadowing) perhaps from a couple of hours earlier.

McCraw played first base in three 1970 day games at Yankee Stadium, but the other two games had crowds of 10,000 and 9,000 people; the packed bleachers out in distant centerfield makes it almost certain this is the June 7 game. That makes four cards. (The baserunner looks to be Gene Michael–the Stick had two singles and walk in this game. This photo was likely taken after his ninth inning single; his earlier walk loaded the bases; and his later single was after McCraw had moved to right field.)

For completeness, I will show the two other Yankee action cards (other than McDaniel) that do not show an opponent.

Not much to go on here. The key is whether these crowds look like sell outs, which the blurry background kind of obscures.

I generally do not play the role of card sleuth, which others have done so well. (Example: Ten cards from the same game?) The early 1970s is ripe for this sort of investigation, since Topps did not crop very well in those early action days. This left a lot of clues on the card to help place the game, or even the play.

I find it very satisfactory to discover color photos from a game I attended 50 years ago, the only game I ever saw at the original House that Ruth Built, in a card set I have studied as much as any I have ever owned. (The next time I went to Yankee Stadium was post-remodel, a Tiger game in 1977. I suppose I need to study the 1978 Topps set next?)

As for Lindy McDaniel, who started off this post, I hope he rests in peace, and left the world knowing how much pleasure he gave kids like me all those years ago.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Sets

I have been buying vintage Topps cards for 40 years (since I first walked into a “baseball card shop”), sometimes one or two at a time, sometimes in lots. There have been long stretches of inactivity for a year or five, as I dealt with jobs and children and whatnot, stretches where my cards were in moving crates, unseen for months at a time.

Acknowledging that everyone in this hobby gets to make their own rules, I have learned a few things along the way that might help others as you consider your own paths.

Set Collecting Lesson #1: Vintage cards are not a good investment, using any reasonable definition of that term.

I can only speak to post-1950 cards, so feel free to save for college on pre-war cards. According to the January 1991 Beckett guide, the 1965 Topps set (Near Mint) was selling for $3,300, which is $6,300 in 2020 dollars. The most recent Beckett Vintage Collector (thanks @nightowlcards) lists the set for $5,000. The 1967 Topps set has performed even worse, from $4500 ($8600 in today’s dollars) to $5000.

Vintage cards exploded in the 1980s, seeing a ten-fold increase in value, but have severely lagged inflation in the subsequent three decades. There are certainly individual cards that have increased in real value, but good luck figuring that out.

In my young adult years, coinciding with the 1980s boom, I filled in my early 1970s childhood sets and then moved backwards. From 1985 to 2010 I completed back to 1964, with the bulk of that time (and money) spent on 1966 and 1967. I continued to accumulate earlier (pre-1964) cards, content that set completion might never happen. By 2018, I had between 62% and 98% of the 1956 through 1963 sets. Even then, I was not committed to finishing any of them and occasionally contemplated selling one or more of the near-sets.

In May 2019, the Baseball Hall of Fame opened its new permanent exhibit celebrating baseball cards. I had helped with some of the exhibit planning, and I was trying to justify the expense of flying across the country to attend (while also rounding up several card friends to join me). My solution: abandon my 1959 and 1960 sets, by selling off my star cards. 1960 is my least favorite vintage Topps set, and while I like 1959 a bit more, I decided that going to Cooperstown was more important.

I got more than enough money to fund the trip, and it was it was an absolute blast from beginning to end. Looking forward to our next group “meeting” — Chicago 2021? Do I miss my 1959 and 1960 cards? Honestly, not really.

A few months ago, spending day after day shut in the house and having no other extra-curricular outlets, I again took stock of my collection. I now had the majority for six sets (1956-58, 1961-63) , rather than eight.

I decided to push forward.

Set Collecting Lesson #2: Try not to stock up on commons and leave the stars for the end. (A variation of this, which I read over this past weekend: Until you get the Mantle, you aren’t really committed. Fortunately, I had all six Mantle base cards.)

It feels great to say you have half of the 1967 set but (assuming completion is your goal) you want to think of “half” as meaning “half the value.” If you have no high numbers and still need Mantle, Mays, Clemente, and Aaron, you don’t actually have half the set. You have 15% of the set. I have made a concerted effort over the years to mix this up–if I was buying a 100-card lot of 1963 commons, I’d try to add Aaron and Koufax to the pile to stay in balance.

After revealing in an unrelated blog post that I needed just 22 cards from the 1956 set (and no big stars), a few SABR friends (including Chris Kamka and Dixie Tourangeau) contacted me to ask what I needed. And just like that–I was down to 15. (Have I mentioned how incredible SABR is?) Over the next few weeks, having been sufficiently nudged, I spent some time on eBay and bought the missing cards. On August 11, card #251 (Yankees team) arrived and I was finished. My first completed vintage set in more than a decade, and one of the most popular in Topps history.

Set Collecting Lesson #3: Don’t forget the team cards, especially the New York teams.

Because I had always considered team cards to be “commons”, and because they never showed up as commons when I was buying, my “need list” included a lot of team cards. The Yankees and Dodgers teams are priced like star cards.

About this time, another SABR friend sent me 100 cards from the 1950s–what he had saved of his childhood collection. It was an extraordinary act of kindness, one I plan to repay once the pandemic is over. Some were beat up, but many were not, and all are wonderful.

I now had five targets (1957-1958 and 1961-1963), each of which would require several hundred dollars (at least) to finish off. Candidly, I was contemplating abandoning one or more other sets in order to acquire the funds to carry on. Instead, I decided to take the long overdue step of reducing some of my excess cards and memorabilia.

Over the past few months, I have sold a lot of material, including

  • the last several years of Topps Heritage
  • all of my remaining 1959/60 cards
  • vintage baseball doubles (stars and lots)
  • old programs/yearbooks
  • vintage football/hockey/basketball
  • some older oddball stuff that I never looked at

My collection is considerably smaller than it was in July, and my office shelving has become considerably neater.

As my sales were starting to pile up I had an exchange of DMs with Jeff Katz (@splitseason1981). I told him that I was struggling with (for example) selling a stack of baseball cards for $300 and then buying other cards for $300 without thinking “Why am I spending $300 on baseball cards?” He urged me to think of them as “very long trades.”

Set Collecting Lesson #4 (via Jeff Katz): Using card sales to fund other card sales is properly justified as a trade, not a betrayal of the family budget.

This proved to be a crucial reframing. I will spare you the details, but since late July my PayPal balance has repeatedly grown, and has been repeatedly cashed in. I have not kept precise track of this, but it was essentially a break even enterprise for three months. This has slowed down, because I have run out of excess to sell. I have been glancing suspiciously at some of my old board games, but have thus far resisted.

So, how’d I do?

1963

I needed 12 cards, but unfortunately one of them was #547.

The 1963 Topps Pete Rose card (#547) is just awful. When considering its ugliness and its market price I could argue that it is the worst baseball card in the hobby. (I wrote about this before.) The “rookie card” phenomenon began in the early 1980s at a time when Rose was the biggest name in baseball, and that status in combination with the card being in the final series, made his card skyrocket. The card might have cost $1 in the late 1970s, but it was $500 in the 1986 Beckett guide (in 2020 dollars, $1175).

Employing Lesson #4, I built up some funds, searched for a few weeks for something in my price range at an acceptable condition (VG?), and bit the bullet. The other cards came along and I wrapped up the set on August 27.

Imagine lookin at this page, knowing nothing about card “values” and choosing the Rose card ahead of the Clemente just below it? Seriously, people?

1961

I needed 106 cards, and this proved to be the most difficult ($$) of the sets I was pursuing. While I had followed Lesson #2 by having nearly all the stars (exception: Juan Marichal rookie), I had done a relatively poor job with the high numbers, the special subsets, and the Yankees. I had not consciously avoided the Yankees, but when I was buying commons for 50 cents years ago, or $1 more recently, there were never any Yankees at that price.

The 1961 Yankees are a popular team with their fans, a championship team that featured a famous home run chase. Not only do you have the base cards of Mantle, Maris, Ford and Berra to contend with, you also have to pay a premium for Bill Stafford and Bob Cerv. What’s more, the subsets are littered with Yankees: the MVP set includes Mantle, Maris and Berra; the World Series cards feature Mantle, Ford and Richardson; the Baseball Thrills has cards for Mantle, Ruth, Gehrig and Don Larsen. I am generally a “base card” person, so I dislike paying premium prices for a Baseball Thrills card. But here I was.

This all culminates, of course, in the excellent All-Star subset of 22 cards, in the final series, that includes Mantle, Maris, Ford and Skowron (plus Mays, Aaron, Banks, etc.) If you are Yankee fan, I’d recommend cashing in everything you own and focusing on the 1961 set. If you are not, good luck, but … it’s a truly outstanding set.

Sorry for the lighting in my office.

When Ron Perranoski showed up on September 14, the set was conquered.

1962

I needed 74 and found a way to buy 36 at once to put this set in my sights.

Several years ago I made a giant spreadsheet listing all the cards I needed in various sets, and for the last eight cards of the 1962 set I typed “591 Rookie Parade”, “592 Rookie Parade”, etc. Which was accurate! None of them were big stars so I didn’t bother to list the player names. Each card contained 4 or 5 floating player heads, cards that I was predisposed to dislike. If I saw them at a show over the years, I am sure I just skipped right by.

It turns out that these eight cards are a Who’s Who of 1960s cult heroes, which makes them premium cards in a premium series. Sudden Sam McDowell, Dick (The Monster) Radatz, Bob Uecker, Bob Veale, Jim Bouton, Bo Belinsky, Ed (The Glider) Charles, Joe Pepitone, Phil (Harmonica) Linz, Rod Kanehl, Jim Hickman. My own fault, obviously, but seeing those prices on eBay one day was a bit off-putting.

It took quite a few vintage card sales to build up the balance for these floating heads. On October 2, the mailman dropped off #502, a gorgeous Hector Lopez, and the set was conquered.

1957

The 1957 Topps sets is one of the most important sets in baseball card history. It was the first to use the 2.5″ x 3.5″ size, which remains the standard 63 years later, and its simple design allows the gorgeous photography to dominate the face of the card. In my humble opinion, it is the second best set of Topps’ monopoly years.

While so many Topps vintage sets are beset with a challenging final series, in 1957 the tough series is actually the fourth (of five) series (265-352). Back in July, I needed 147 cards to finish this set, and nearly half of those were from series 4. Because I have always loved this set, I had picked up most of the stars over the years.

Having held my nose already to pay for the 1963 Rose, the next toughest card in my quest proved to be the 1957 #328 Brooks Robinson. Hall of Famer, rookie card, tough series, it checked all the boxes. Although everyone loves Brooks, and I love Brooks, it is not a particularly attractive card (especially obvious in such a stunning set) and I personally don’t value rookie cards. So, how much should I pay? I actually spent a few weeks finding and rejecting options, and was prepared to walk away from the set entirely if this card could not fall in my price range.

Set Collecting Lesson #5: Figure out what card condition you need.

My core childhood sets (1967-71) are at least EX-MT, maybe Near Mint, not that I know what that means exactly. I have spent quite a bit of energy going through the sets and upgrading them if I noticed a corner defect I had not previously seen. As I started to move backwards in my collecting focus 30 years ago, the hobby was putting more and more of a premium on condition, and I had to modify my standards if I was going to have any success. Without really understanding card grading, I discovered that the condition I wanted was:

  • centered enough so that you don’t notice centering at a glance
  • no creases/wrinkles/scarring on the main image; wrinkles near the edge are of less importance
  • nice corners preferred, but some rounding OK if eye is not drawn to it
  • no writing/marking

As we venture back in time ($$) my standards become looser, but all of the above principles are how I ultimately would score the card. Obviously, I would prefer the card be perfect, but my sweet spot (judging by eBay listings) is VG-EX, though I have found VG and even Good examples that meet my criteria and save me a lot of money.

I don’t buy graded cards as a rule. When I do it is because the card is at a good price based on my own personal criteria. I remember the early days of eBay when people would buy/sell without photos, but with the photo quality today I feel like I know what I am getting. I have bought a few cards that had a flaw that I had not seen, but nothing egregious.

My main objections to graded cards are: (1) you generally pay a premium for something I don’t care about, and (2) they screw up my card storage.

I bring this up because I bought a few graded 1957 cards and now I don’t know what to do with them. I have cracked a few PSA cases in my day, so I suppose that is what will happen but I have not yet taken this step.

This Brooks Robinson is worse than I normally want, but it represents great value for me because its flaws are in the 5% of the surface I care least about. If it had sharp corners but a crease on Brooks’s neck it would get a higher grade but I would had much less interest.

My final 1957 card (#306, Darrel Johnson) arrived on October 6.

1958

I love the 1958 set, though I am not sure precisely why. After the majestic photography of 1957, Topps switched gears and used either a head or body shot on a solid background, a model they have never used before or since. (The next year they split the difference by showing a little background within a keyhole circle–this does not work as well for me, though others seems to love it.)

In July I needed 189 cards from 1958, but a lot of them were commons which you can find in U-pick lots, and there is no really tough series. This is actually a pretty easy set to put together if you have the stars (which I did). I had to hunt for the Roger Maris rookie card, which proved much easier than I had feared.

One of the last cards I needed was #340 Don Newcombe. I bought a copy of the card on eBay in late August (before most of the above sets were finished) and a few weeks later it had not arrived. Understanding that the postal service is imperfect, I wrote to the seller, got no response, wrote again, no response, and finally requested a refund through eBay. I got the refund and bought another card. Too late, I realized I used the same seller! And, believe or not, the same thing happened again. I have no idea whether the guy ever sent either card–I got both refunds, and neither card ever showed up. I finally ordered from someone else.

On November 1, 9 weeks after ordering the card, I finally got Newcombe.

And I was done. Six finished sets in three months, stored horizontally a few feet away.

Set Collecting Lesson #6: Vintage cards are not a good investment, BUT putting money into vintage cards does not carry much risk.

Think of this way: you could buy a really nice 1957 Willie Mays for $400, put it in a frame on your office desk, and if you got sick of it in five years you could sell it and get most or all of your money back. With eBay and other on-line businesses available, the price of buying and later selling is pretty low.

And, importantly: you get to have a 1957 Willie Mays on your desk for five years. Assuming you don’t damage the card, you are merely borrowing it for a time.

And who wouldn’t want that?

Bartolo Colon: Free Agent

Topps Update has increasingly felt like a set consisting of several other set ideas all jammed together. All-Stars, Trades, Free Agent signings, and Rookie debuts are all things that used to be somewhat distinct sets or subsets. Update kind of throws them all into the same template and churns out something that’s kind of the Swiss Army Knife of cards sets: lots of things going on and handy to have but none of them particularly satisfying to handle.

This year of course threw Topps for a loop. No All Star Game. A season that started after the deadline for including new players. As a result the only traditional Update cards that made it into the set were players who changed teams during the offseason. Without Rookies or All Star cards Topps had to figure out how to fill the checklist.

One of their solutions was an “Active Leaders” subset which showed the active players who currently lead the league in various categories. This subset resulted in an amazing Bartolo Colon card. Colon hasn’t pitched  for two seasons now but since he hasn’t retired he’s still technically active and as a result, the active leader in Wins.

So despite not appearing on any cardboard as an active player last year. And despite not being on any teams’ rosters this year, Colon found himself with a real 2020 baseball card. The photo is at least four years old* and depicts him with the Mets instead of his most-recent team but what I find amazing is that he’s listed as a Free Agent with the Major League Baseball logo being used where the team logo would normally be.

*Actually over 6 years old.

We did a quick check of the hive mind on Twitter about whether Topps (or anyone else) has ever done something like this before and came up blank. As far as we know we’ve never had a card of an active player which depicts him as an unaffiliated player (let alone a free agent).*

*Suggestions that Curt Flood’s 1970 should’ve been done this way are noted and have me wanting to make a custom version which indicates how he was unaffiliated in 1970.

I usually just grab Giants cards from Update but I think I might snag one of these if I come across one because it’s so different. If Colon does in fact retire without playing in the Majors again this will become an especially interesting addition to Jason’s Ghost card concept.

I also can’t help but wonder if perhaps this might be a better approach to dealing with free agents in Series 1. Seems weird to commit to putting them on the wrong team if you know they’re free agents and now that the method has been established maybe we’ll see more of these in the future.

Overanalyzing 1933 Goudey, part three

Author’s note: This is the third in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of facts, unknowns, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic sets, 1933 Goudey. This installment examines the chronology of the 1933 release based on three different sources.

When did the cards come out?

When did 1933 Goudey come out? On one hand, the question is like asking who’s buried in Grant’s tomb. Lajoie card notwithstanding, isn’t the answer 1933? (Or Grant, if you’re still stuck on the other question.) Okay, but when in 1933?

I’m not aware of any exact answers to the question, but there are at least three different sources that I believe, separately or taken together, offer a richer and more complete picture of the release.

First-hand account

The November 1970 issue of “The Ballcard Collector” (great name, by the way!) featured a terrific first-person account, “Only One for a Penny? No Doubles, Please!” from Elwood Scharf, who in 1933 collected the cards at the age of 13. As we’ll see later, his memory of the release calendar had some errors, but I’d have no article (some would say “no articles PLURAL”) if rigor were my primary requirement.

Not having any back issues of “The Ballcard Collector” at my disposal, I first encountered Mr. Scharf’s article in the Net54 Baseball forum. (Net54 Baseball members can read the entire article here, but I don’t believe non-members will be able to view the scans.) The overall article, worth a read in its entirety, offered a vivid picture of what it was like to collect the Goudey cards in real time, but I’ll settle here for excerpting only the portions most pertinent to the set’s release schedule.

  • “Big League Baseball [cards] hit like a bombshell in the early spring of 1933 and was an instant success.”
  • “They were released in series of 24 cards, and the first two series, through number 48, appeared in quick order.”
  • “After that, Goudey began to get a little tricky and started to skip numbers. The third series included numbers 49 to 52, 58 to 67 and 75 to 79 and 92 to 96…”
  • “…and the fourth series jumped way up to include number 141.”
  • “The first seven series of 167 cards were distributed by early July and are easily identified by the BIG LEAGUE CHEWING GUM panel across the bottom of the picture.”
  • “There was a long wait after the early panel cards, and we began to think that our town had been passed over. The first series of the final three, numbers 190 to 213 finally arrived in mid-August…”
  • “…and was followed by the second series in September.”
  • “Another long wait ensued. The baseball season ended, the World Series became history and still those empty spaces were there. With footballs in the air we were certain that this time we had been forgotten. However, Goudey was busy that October and it wasn’t until the end of the month that the tail-enders reached our neighborhood grocery.”

Analysis

Right off the bat, this recollection challenges a tacit assumption I’d made in the first installment of this series. According to Mr. Scharf, the first two series consisted of cards 1-48. Meanwhile, we know that the first two sheets included the less orderly selection of cards shown below. (Sheet 1 shown in blue and Sheet 2 shown in yellow.)

While it’s possible that Mr. Scharf’s memory is inaccurate on this point, it’s also possible that the Goudey releases didn’t correspond exactly to the uncut sheets. For example, Goudey could have printed the first several sheets up front and then pulled from them just the ones they wanted for packs. More work, yes, but certainly possible.

Something I don’t want to ignore in this he said sheet said is that Mr. Scharf offered two distinct memories on this point. One was that the first two series ran through card 48, and the other was that the skip numbering began after the second series. Barring any new information, I’d probably put my money on Mr. Scharf having it right. However, we will see one piece of information at the end of this article that may tip the scales in the reverse direction.

Either way, let’s take “early spring,” hence late March through late April, as the window for the first 48 cards, whether this means Sheets 1-2 or a 48-card combination built from most of Sheet 1, all of Sheet 2, and some of Sheet 3.

From there we have no specific information regarding sheets 3-6, but Mr. Scharf identifies early July for the release of Sheet 7, mid-August for Sheet 8, September for Sheet 9, and the end of October for Sheet 10.

We can plot the information on this 1933 calendar, which we will add to as we examine other sources. As additional context, Opening Day was April 12, and the final game of the World Series was October 7.

While the overall picture seems logical and plausible enough, I believe there are three questions that arise.

  • Are the memories correct? If not, which ones are wrong?
  • Is any further refinement possible, particularly with Sheets 3-6?
  • Did Goudey really crank out the World Series cards that fast??

Even as we look to other hints at the set’s release schedule, there is a certain fuzziness that will be left in our answers to each of these questions. Still, I think we will know more than we do now.

Team changes

An entirely different set of chronology clues we will examine comes from players who changed teams just before or during the 1933 season. To illustrate how this approach will be useful, let’s take a quick look at the Rajah.

Hornsby’s first card comes from Sheet 4 and depicts him with the St. Louis Cardinals. Meanwhile, his second card, from Sheet 7, depicts him with the St. Louis Browns.

As this transaction occurred on July 27, 1933, we can draw the following conclusions.

  • Sheet 7 could not have been finalized until at least July 27.
  • Assuming at least 3 more weeks to get cards on shelves, the earliest possible release would have been mid-August. (In contrast, Mr. Scharf recalled early July for this release.)

There is only one other player in the set, Lefty O’Doul, who appears on two different teams. (As a totally unrelated aside, he and Hornsby also have the two highest career batting averages among players in the set.)

Lefty’s first card comes from Sheet 3 and depicts him the Brooklyn Dodgers. His second card comes from the World Series sheet and has him with the New York Giants. The transaction took place on June 16 and ultimately tells us very little. Assuming Goudey tried its hardest to remain up to the minute on team changes, hardly an airtight assumption, all we can conclude is:

  • Sheet 3 was finalized on or before June 16.
  • Sheet 10 was finalized on or after June 16.

Neither of these findings is an eye-opener. The first probably would have been assumed absent any evidence, and the second is obvious simply by virtue of being the World Series sheet.

Coming up empty will be a common theme in examining team changes, but I’ll go through all of them for completeness. Fortunately, as with Hornsby, at least some of them will produce a payoff.

Sheet 1

Sheet 1 features two players who changed teams in 1933.

That Vance’s card shows him as a Cardinal indicates that Sheet 1 was finalized after February 8. If there’s anything to be learned here, it’s simply that Goudey hadn’t finalized the set’s early cards too far ahead of Opening Day. The McManus transaction provides us with nothing at all as there was never any doubt that Sheet 1 was released before October!

Sheet 2

Sheet 2 includes numerous players who changed teams in or just before 1933, including Fresco Thompson and Taylor Douthit who moved twice.

If we assume Goudey tried to keep cards current with team changes, then the data suggest Sheet 2 would have been finalized before April 29. Otherwise Douthit would have been shown as a Cub. This is consistent with Mr. Scharf’s reporting, which more than likely would have required the cards to be finalized a good month or more earlier than that.

Sheet 3

Sheet 3 featured several more team changes, collectively involving four players, with a takeaway similar to that of Sheet 2.

The Hoyt card on the Pirates indicates the sheet was finalized after January 21 while the Jack Quinn card on the Dodgers suggests the sheet was finalized before April 29.

Sheet 4

Sheet 4 is also rich in players who changed teams but the timing of the most of the changes offers relatively little insight.

The exception is George Uhle, who moved from the Tigers to the Giants on April 21. That his card shows him on the Tigers suggests the card was likely finalized before April 21. We’ll use this later.

Sheet 5

Sheet 5 includes only one player who changed teams, and the timing is uninteresting.

The Dodgers card of Carroll indicates the sheet was finalized after February 8, and there is no hint as to how late the sheet could have been finalized.

Sheet 6

Sheet 6 features four players who changed teams, including the first in-season transaction to be reflected in the set.

Leo the Lip began the season as a Red but moved to the Cardinals on May 7. His Goudey card not only puts him with St. Louis but even notes the move in his bio. (“Traded by Yankees to Cincinnati 3 years ago and remained with Reds until traded to St. Louis Cardinals this season.”)

This Cardinals card of Durocher guarantees Sheet 6 was finalized after May 7. Meanwhile the Dodgers card of Joe Judge suggests the sheet was finalized before July 25.

Note: Fellow Goudey enthusiast Matthew Glidden just published a piece last week in which he connects Durocher’s team change to Sheet 6’s double-printed Ruth card and ultimately the famous Lajoie card. His work is always worth a read, and you can find this particular article here.

Sheet 7

Sheet 7, the same sheet that included Hornsby’s crosstown move, reflected three other transactions that same month.

The final transaction, that of Bob Smith, pushes the finalization of this sheet four days past what we already had from the Hornsby card.

Sheet 8

Sheet 8 includes two players who changed teams in early May, both of which are shown with their new teams in the Goudey set.

Given that Sheet 7 has already taken us to the end of July, these transactions offer no new information.

Sheet 9

None of the 24 players on Sheet 9 changed teams during the season, so there are no clues as to chronology.

Sheet 10

Sheet 10 features two players who changed teams: Lefty O’Doul and Luke Sewell.

Because we already know these cards were produced after the World Series, the team changes themselves provide no new information. What I will share, however, is the fact that Luke Sewell’s World Series card, according to Sewell himself, shows Steve O’Neill!

Summary of Team Changes

We’ll use the same style of calendar as before to summarize the team change data, noting that one major difference is that now each band indicates the potential window for the finalization of a sheet as opposed to when cards would have been available in stores.

On its own, this calendar would not do much for us, but now let’s see what the calendar looks like if we further assume that the sheets were finalized in order.

The overall picture is improved but still only partially useful when attempting to answer a question such as “When did Sheet 6, the one with all those Babe Ruth cards, come out?”

Really all we know with certainty is that the cards were finalized on or after May 7 (Durocher team change), and we add to that (at our own risk) some conjecture that the cards were finalized before July 25 (Joe Judge team non-change). If correct, we still have to convert this very lengthy window for finalizing the cards into a date or window for releasing the cards.

Provided Goudey were in a rush, we might add three weeks and presume the cards hit shelves sometime between the end of May and late August. However, there is also the possibility that Goudey “sat on” the cards rather than releasing them right away, in which case our answer would be sometime between the end of May and who knows when.

Thankfully, there is at least one other set of clues to investigate.

U.S. Copyright info

One last bit of Goudey history comes to us courtesy of “copyright cards” originally filed with the U.S. Copyright Office. The one shown below corresponds to Babe Ruth’s card 53 in the set.

These copyright cards include three dates–

  • Date of Publication
  • Copies Received
  • Affidavit Received (generally same as Copies Received date)

Of these dates, the Date of Publication is of greatest interest since it refers to when the cards were made available to the public. Therefore, if the copyright cards were completed accurately, we’d be staring right at the Goudey release schedule with both certainty and precision. The question, then, is “Were these cards completed accurately?”

If I simply list the Dates of Publication for each of the 30 copyright cards I’ve seen, the result is somewhat chaotic.

However, if we sort by Sheet rather than card number, a much more orderly progression emerges. All cards (from my research sample) from the same sheet carry the same Publication Date on their copyright cards.

We’re now in a position to match up these Dates of Publications with each of the two calendars already derived in this artice.

First, here is the Scharf calendar, with “C” added to denote Copyright Office dates.

The several “C” markers that fall outside the blue bands represent incompatibilities between Mr. Scharf’s memory and the copyright cards. In general, the copyright cards suggest Mr. Scharf remembered the second half of the set coming out much earlier than it did, something the Hornsby team update reinforces.

Furthermore, the copyright cards may provide a tiebreaker on an earlier matter we looked at, namely whether the set’s first two releases corresponded to cards 1-48 or to cards 1-40 +45-52. The copyright dates for cards 44 and 49 in the table suggest the former, though it’s again important to note that this is only true if the cards were filled out correctly.

We’ll turn now to the Team Change calendar, again using “C” to signify the Copyright Office dates.

Recalling that the bands on this calendar correspond to theorized finalization (rather than release) dates for each sheet of cards, there are no conflicts in the data. At most the gaps indicate that Goudey may well have sat a bit on some releases rather than rushing them onto shelves.

So are the copyright cards correct?

I would love to offer a resounding YES! but there are a few things that give me pause–

  • The December 23 date for the World Series cards feels very late.
  • The separation between Sheet 3 (May 19) and Sheet 4 (May 24) seems odd.
  • Ditto for Sheet 7 (September 1) and Sheet 8 (September 5).

And of course, as soon as you start to doubt some of the cards, you wonder if you can trust any of them!

WHERE ARE WE?

Though I’m hopeful there are more clues out there, the unfortunate conclusion I’m left with from the clues I’ve reviewed is that we lack a definite picture of what cards came out when. Instead, we have three separate calendars that describe the release in the manner three witnesses might describe a car crash. The individual accounts might all have their own errors and omissions, but the accounts taken together–even when contradictory–might still offer a coherent and mostly correct picture.

At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. If you’ve got a different one, put it in the comments or tell it to the judge!

In the next installment of the series, I’ll offer some methods for estimating the relative scarcity of cards in the set.

Meet the Mets – 25 (Now 51) Years Later

On Election Day, I was looking for ways to occupy my mind. Luckily, I got a message from Yastrzemski Sports that the Spectrum Mets set I’d been looking for was in! I probably would’ve killed some time on Tuesday with cards anyway, but this was too perfect.

The anniversary set celebrating the 1969 Mets World Champs was issued in 1994 (though the three promos in the box are dated 1993) to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the team of my youth. Here’s how the Standard Catalog describes it:

The 1969 Miracle Mets card set, produced by Spectrum Holdings Group of Birmingham, Mich., was part of what the company called “an integrated memorabilia program, with the 1969 Mets card set as the centerpiece.” The 70-card set measures the standard 2-1/2″ x 3-1/2″, with UV coating on both sides and gold foil on fronts. It was sold complete at $24.95, and limited to 25,000 sets. A reported 1,000 numbered sets were signed by all 25 living players, including Hall of Famer Tom Seaver and future Cooperstown resident Nolan Ryan.

I don’t know who Spectrum Holdings was, or what an “integrated memorabilia program’ means, but this set is nice. The box is sweet and simple, numbered to 25,000, a far cry from the 1 of 1s we see today. (I’ve got #19,980!).

The cards are reminiscent of 1956, though vertical, posed pictures in the foreground, action photos in the background (unlike 1956, the photos aren’t painted over). Glossy and crisp, quite beautiful.

Once the players are covered, there’s a wonderful series of season highlights, and post-season showcases, including the Mets win over the Braves. Good to see. Those games are often lost in the shuffle except to die-hard Mets fans.

There does seem to be some dispute over the number of signed sets. The Catalog says 1,000, but the promotional information says 750. I’d go with the latter. Thanks to the original owner saving peripheral material and folding it under the card tray, we’ve got some better factual material.

I wouldn’t have paid $244.95 back then for a signed set, and I wouldn’t now. I did search for them on eBay and COMC, because I’d rather have an autographed Bobby Pfeil and/or Jack DiLauro card than a Seaver or Ryan. They’re pricey – $15-75 – though it doesn’t look like they actually sell for those prices. Strangely, it looks impossible to tell whether the signed cards offered are from the 750 sets issued, or regular cards signed later on. I don’t see any markings denoting “limited to 750” or something like that.

Regardless of where you sit politically, Election Night (and morning and, I’m guessing, the coming days) was stressful. It was soothing to look through the Spectrum Mets sets. Cards have kept me sane these last four years. Looks like I’ll need them to work hard for the next four!

Overanalyzing 1933 Goudey, part two

Author’s note: This is the second in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of facts, unknowns, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic sets, 1933 Goudey. This installment looks primarily at the set’s sequel and how the two sets might fit together.

1934 Goudey Basics

“1934? Don’t you mean 1933?” No, not a typo. Just a very long detour.

We’ll start with some basic information about the 1934 Goudey set.

  • The set included 96 cards, a significant drop in the size from the previous year’s 240-card offering.
  • While the set included two cards Lou Gehrig and single cards of several Hall of Famers, Babe Ruth is conspicuously absent from the set.
  • Cards 1-79 and 92-96 feature a blue “Lou Gehrig says…” banner while cards 80-91, all National Leaguers, feature a red “Chuck Klein says…” banner.

With that background out of the way, we’ll jump into the checklist.

1934 Goudey Checklist

Just as the 1933 set was produced on sheets of 24, the 1934 set used at least three sheets of 24 and a fourth sheet of 25. “That’s 97 cards,” you say, and indeed it is! A careful look at the sheet of 25 will reveal a card not formally considered part of the set: the “1933” Napoleon Lajoie.

I don’t know if all copies of the 1934 set’s final sheet were 5 x 5 and included the Lajoie, or if some/most copies were 6 x 4 and minus the Lajoie. (As always, let me know in the comments if you have information on this.)

Sheet 1

The first sheet in the 1934 set was by far the most star-studded, highlighted by Grove, Dean, Foxx, Hubbell, and others. In fact, 13 of the set’s 20 Hall of Fame cards live among the set’s first 24 cards.

Unlike the 1933 set, cards on Sheet 1 bear the numbers 1-24, though the numbering within the sheet is so random even I have literally zero to say about it.

The most salient (but not immediately evident) characteristic of the set’s first sheet is that every single one of the cards is recycled from the 1933 set, artwork and all.

First, here are cards 1-6 from the 1934 set…

1934 1-6.GIF

And their counterparts from 1933.

1934 origins 1-6.GIF

And here are the next six cards, 7-12, in the 1934 set…

1934 7-12.GIF

…along with their 1933 doppelgangers.

1934 origins 7-12.GIF

And finally we round things out with cards 13-24.

1934 13-24.GIF

And once again…

1934 origins 13-24.GIF

Study the artwork carefully enough and you’ll spot some changes. One of the more notable updates is the coloring of Lefty Grove’s hat to reflect his move from the A’s to the Red Sox.

Add Ruth and Gehrig and this sheet would be nothing more than “1933 Goudey’s Greatest Hits!” Care to guess how many of the next 72 cards in the 1934 set reuse their 1933 images? [Cue “Jeopardy theme” while reader thinks.] Zero! This first sheet provides the only instances in the entire set and does so by going a perfect 24 for 24.

Sheet 2

Given the star power of Sheet 1, it’s no surprise that the second sheet has far fewer luminaries. Appling, Hafey, Lombardi, and Gehrig are the sheet’s lone Hall of Famers, but oh what a Gehrig! The next sheet will feature a Gehrig as well, but this yellow one, Card 37, seems to be the one nearly everybody wants more.

Cards are numbered 25-48 but again are scrambled within the sheet in a seemingly random manner. But hey, since it’s what I do, I’ll offer at least one thing not random about the numbering. Cards 25-36 are in the top two rows and cards 37-48 are in the bottom two rows.

Feel free to read a much earlier post on 1934 Canadian Goudey for more detail, but this is as good a time as any to note that its crazy hodgepodge of a checklist corresponds exactly to this sheet (numbered more sensibly), the preceding sheet, and Sheets 4 and 5 from the 1933 U.S. set.

Sheet 3

Reminiscent of the early 1933 sheets, we finally encounter a sheet arranged by color, this time progressing from yellow to green to red to blue. We are down to only two cards of Hall of Famers, though they represent two of the three top cards in the entire set: the Hank Greenberg rookie card and the green Gehrig. This Gehrig will also be the only instance of a repeated player in the set.

Card on this third sheet are numbered 49-72 but again in no particular order. A bit of trivia is that the mini-Gehrig icon that lived in the “Lou Gehrig says…” banner on Sheets 1-2 has now been updated to a new mini-Gehrig icon. The Coleman (Sheet 2) and Bolton (Sheet 3) cards below show the change at a size you can maybe even see on your phone.

Sheet 4

I started off the post with a picture of this final sheet, which not only includes cards 73-96 but the “1933” Lajoie as well.

If every instance of Sheet 4 looked like this, then we are forced to conclude that, at least off the press, the Lajoie card was no more rare than, say, Lloyd Johnson. Of course, very few Lajoie cards (I’ve seen estimates around 100) ever made it to collectors, which leads to the inescapable conclusion that a gigantic pile of these cards were simply thrown away…either that or make for one helluva find someday.

What kind of set is it?

You’re forgiven if you’re wondering what the question even means, but let’s take a quick detour nearly 40 years ahead and I’ll explain.

The first card below is from the 1981 Topps flagship set: 726 cards issued around the start of the 1981 baseball season, and largely a redo of similar sets from previous years (e.g., 1980, 1979, …).

The next two cards are from the 1981 Topps Traded set, which was very much not a redo of the flagship set but an extension of it. Were you to imagine a world where the flagship set never came out and only the Traded set were issued, collectors would no doubt be irked. No Garvey, Bench, Reggie, Ryan, Rose…just a bunch of rookies, benchwarmers, and traded guys!

Redo sets stand on their own. Extensions do not. What extensions do well is improve upon a prior set. What they do so poorly as to not do at all is replace a prior set.

Returning to the 1934 Goudey set, I consider the first 24 cards a redo, albeit a lazy one artistically and of course a much smaller one. Had Goudey only issued those 24 cards as their 1934 offering, we’d conclude that they simply wanted to go small that year. Good set, lots of stars, updated teams and bios, a new design…only ten percent the size.

As for cards 25-96, my conclusion is just the opposite! Of these 72 cards, 64 were of players absent from the 1933 Goudey checklist, which largely meant rookies, backups, and lesser stars. Had Goudey wanted an even bigger set in 1933, these 64 cards would have fit the bill perfectly.

Now what about the other eight cards, the players repeated from the 1933 set?

Two were the Gehrig cards already identified. With Gehrig the front man for the set, his two cards make sense, even if they “ruin” the clean run of nearly all new players. The next three cards will make sense also, even if the star power is several notches turned down from the Iron Horse.

First up is Mark Koenig, whose new card shows his move from the Cubs to the Reds.

Next up is Marty McManus, whose new card shows his move from one Boston club to the other.

Finally, Adam Comorosky’s new card shows his move from the Pirates to the Reds.

What remains are three players whose card in the 1934 set feels more mysterious to me. All were stars of the era but by no means the top stars from which to choose.

Even with these multiple exceptions, I choose to believe the final three releases of the 1934 Goudey set were an extension of the 1933 release more than any sort of redo. Along these lines I do not believe the set was small for financial reasons alone. I believe it was small for the same reason the 1981 Topps Traded set was small. Coming one heels of a release that already averaged more than a dozen different subjects per (Major League) team, were there really that many more cards left to add?

Thinking about the 1934 Goudey set as we would a more modern day Traded Set answers several questions at once:

  • Why no Ruth? He didn’t get traded!
  • Why so much smaller? It’s a traded set!
  • Why so many no-names? It’s a traded set!

In reality, I believe these same questions, particularly the first two, have other answers as well. Still, I believe the notion of the 1934 set adding to or updating the 1933 set is a mostly correct and mostly useful way to understand the two sets that for most collectors are synonymous with the Goudey brand.

In the next installment of the series, following up on a question from Nick, I’ll examine the chronology of the 1933 release based on three different sources.

Overanalyzing 1933 Goudey, part one

Author’s note: This is the first in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of facts, unknowns, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic sets, 1933 Goudey. This installment looks primarily at the set’s unusual numbering scheme.

Founded in 1919, the Goudey Gum Company produced baseball cards from 1933 to 1941. Much like the Wallflowers, Counting Crows, and N.W.A., nearly all their greatest hits were packed into their debut offering. For those who not only collect cards but research them and write about them as well, the 1933 Goudey set provides near endless opportunity for inspiration, speculation, and frustration, much of which I intend to share in what is about to become a very long series of very long posts, even by Jason standards.

The basics

Before plunging into the deep end, I’ll start with some basics about the set, designated as R319 in Jefferson Burdick’s American Card Catalog.

  • The set officially includes 240 cards. Of these, 239 were produced and distributed in packs in 1933. The set’s final card, a very scarce Napoleon Lajoie, was produced in late 1934.
  • The set includes four cards of Babe Ruth, along with multiple cards of Gehrig, Foxx, and many other Hall of Famers.
  • The majority of the cards in the set are instantly recognizable from the red “Big League Chewing Gum” banner along the bottom of the card fronts. However, nearly a third of the set omits the banner, in my opinion yielding some of the most attractive trading cards ever made.
Author’s personal collection

the missing banners

The banner-less cards in the set stirred my initial interest in 1933 Goudey as an object of research. It felt odd to me that Goudey would arbitrarily omit their advertising banner at all, let alone across a random (so I thought) scattering of cards across their checklist, indicated by the yellow cells below. (The blue cell is the Lajoie card, which lives in a category all its own.)

Were the only cards missing a banner to be found at the very end of the checklist, I might have supposed Goudey simply forgot (!) the banner, ran low on red ink, or made an intentional decision that the cards looked better without a banner. But then what of these oddball occurrences like 97-99 or 142? Was I asking too much that there be some rhyme or reason to the approach?

mystery solved

I should emphasize here that for serious students of the Goudey set there never was a mystery. They already knew what I did not. Namely, the set was produced on printing sheets of 24 cards each, numbered rather haphazardly.

For example, here is the set’s fifth production sheet, with card numbers 53-57, 68-74, and 80-91.

Those random yellow cells of banner-less cards in my table then? They simply reflect Sheets 8-10!

While we still don’t know the why we at least have a better understanding of the which.

much, much, much, much more on the sheets

If you’ve been reading my posts for long, you know there is little I love more than wholly frivolous analyses of checklist patterns. Imposing order, however forced, on randomness is kind of my thing, at least when it comes to baseball cards. (As for the rest of my life, I’m more inclined to the opposite.) Therefore, is it any surprise that the oddball numbering patterns of the Goudey sheets captured my attention immensely?

In the eleven sections that follow, I’ll offer a description of each sheet (one of them twice!), along with a mini-analysis of numbering.

Sheet 1

For veteran Goudey collectors, the first sheet is quickly identified by “leadoff man” Benny Bengough in the top left position. Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and several other Hall of Famers are easy to spot as well. The sheet also features an orderly background progression from red to yellow to green to blue, a feature that will characterize early sheets in the set but not later ones.

The chart below shows the card numbers for the 24 cards on the sheet.

About the most notable feature of the numbering here is that it’s not 1-24. The cards themselves cluster into three separate streaks of 5, 11, and 8 while leaving two sizeable gaps: one from 6-24 and one from 36-44.

My personal theory, based on separate research, is that these 24 cards were not released as a single series but released concurrently with the second sheet.

Sheet 2

The second sheet is a little lighter in star power but still pretty loaded. This is 1933 Goudey after all! Aesthetically, I particularly like the purple-brown backgrounds in the sheet’s third row.

The card numbers on the second sheet (yellow cells) completely fill one of the major gaps from the first sheet and partially fill the other gap.

Compulsive set collectors of the era, who likely had no idea the cards were produced in sheets of 24, might have found themselves buying more and more packs in hopes of landing the elusive run of cards from 41-44. And if so, they would have been disappointed, just not for long.

Sheet 3

The third sheet introduces the set’s first landscape card (top left) but more importantly includes Lou Gehrig. Retired great Eddie Collins, in the set as an executive, seems a mysterious choice for inclusion, but he will soon enough be joined by another retired great, not even counting the Nap Lajoie card that will complete the set the following year. We also have some rich dark blue backgrounds to add to our growing color palette.

Numerically, that eyesore of a gap from 41-44 is finally closed, but four new gaps are created.

Sheet 5

Yes, I skipped Sheet 4, though we will come to it soon. Sheet 5, which I wanted to show first, includes the yellow Ruth (card 53) as well as the second retired great (Tris Speaker). Perhaps surprisingly, nine minor leaguers (counting Speaker, who appears with the Kansas City Blues) are included as well.

The reason I bumped this sheet ahead of Sheet 4 is the numbering of its 24 cards. Here’s how they fall in the checklist.

Sure enough, the addition of Sheet 5 to Sheets 1-3 provides for a clean run of cards, 1-96, uninterrupted. It would be possible (and perhaps even correct!) to read nothing of significance into this fact, but I prefer to believe that this collection of cards represented a possible stopping point in the set.

Yes, the card backs from the very beginning promised 240 cards, but it was not uncommon at that time for a large set to span multiple years. Goudey’s 216-card Indian Gum set that debuted the very same year was such an example, though in fairness its card backs did not initially promise all 216 cards.

Could there have been a “Plan A” to cap the initial release at 96 cards, or was this a “Plan B” to invoke only if sales proved low? Or is the way the numbering of the fifth sheet fills the holes from the first three sheets merely interesting but insignificant? Either way, “merely interesting” is still interesting.

Sheet 4

Instead, Sheets 1-3 were followed by (of course!) Sheet 4. Whatever good news this sheet brought to young collectors was probably overshadowed by the fact that they’d now been buying gum cards for months and still hadn’t pulled a Bambino. “Could it be he wasn’t even in the set,” they might have wondered.

As preposterous a proposition that might have seemed, it applied perfectly well to several other sets of the period including 1933 DeLong, 1933 George Miller, 1934 Goudey, and 1934-36 Diamond Stars.

Still, at least for the collectors keeping count, the numbering of these new cards offered comfort that there were still more cards to come. Just look at all these gaps!

Sheet 5 (again)

I’ve already introduced this sheet once, but now I can give you its actual impact on the Goudey checklist.

I’ll also show what might have been an explicit attempt to offset collecting mutiny. “Kids, we promise! Babe Ruth is in the set. We repeat: Babe Ruth is in the set.”

Finally, I’ll point out a somewhat overlooked feature of the set’s first 120 cards (i.e., Sheets 1-5). All 120 subjects to this point are different. Though a hallmark feature of the 1933 Goudey set is its multiple cards of top stars, they would all come in the set’s second half.

Sheet 6

If Sheet 5, particularly if issued out of sequence, would have tidied up the release, Sheet 6 is the one that blew it up. Still, if there was a time to buy Goudey cards, this was sure it! Just look at the sheet’s last column: Ruth, Ruth, Foxx, and Gehrig. You’ve also no doubt spotted a third Ruth on the sheet, and perhaps you even spied that Moe Berg!

Now let’s see where these 24 cards fell on the checklist.

Much like Sheet 4, this sheet filled none of the gaps left by prior releases. The numbering for this sheet is consecutive (143-165), something we had not seen earlier though we will see it again with Sheets 7 and 8. Most notably, however, the sheet includes only 23 card numbers. The two Ruth cards in the second row are both numbered 144 and represent the set’s only double-print. Much more on this later.

As the Ruth cards make immediately evident, the Goudey set now includes multiple cards of select players.

  • Lou Gehrig – Card 160 identical to card 92 (Sheet 3)
  • Jimmie Foxx – Card 154 identical to card 29 (Sheet 1)
  • Babe Ruth – Cards 144 and 149 both different from card 53 (Sheet 5), though all three came from the same Charles Conlon image

Feel free to read a much earlier post on 1933 Canadian Goudey for more detail, but this is as good a time as any to note that its crazy hodgepodge of a checklist corresponds exactly to Sheets 1, 2, 3, and 6 from the U.S. set.

Sheet 7

It wouldn’t. Yes, there is a fourth Ruth, card 181, and yes, that is the great Charlie Berry in the lower left hand corner. And yes, we even get the set’s first “traded card” in the person of Rogers Hornsby (Cardinals infielder to Browns manager) along with new poses of star players Joe Cronin and Heinie Manush…

But we also get six cards of minor leaguers and a (barely) image variation of a player I can’t imagine kids really wanted or needed. On the left I present George Walberg’s card 145 from Sheet 6; on the right, his card 183 from Sheet 7. “Why two,” you might wonder. Fair question. (Also see Al Corwin, 1953 Bowman.)

My own guess is it was a mistake, plain and simple. The cards are similar enough to constitute an image variation of the dullest degree but different enough to require actual work. I’d even hazard a guess that the cards were made by two different artists. Plus, if this was just Goudey being lazy, why go with two different bios!

Now truth be told, Walberg was hardly the only non-superstar to earn two cards in the set. However, as we’ll see on Sheet 10, the other ones all had a very logical explanation.

As for the checklist, Sheet 7 simply picked up where Sheet 6 left off, annoying any set collectors hoping to finally rubber band the set’s first 100. Goshdarnit, Goudey! Where the heck are cards 97-99?!

Unlike Sheet 6, in which the numbering of the cards within the sheet was a bit haphazard, Sheet 7 is numbered in perfect sequence.

Sheet 7 also marked the end of one of the set’s most defining features, the Big League Chewing Gum banner. As such, the remaining cards in the set are less iconic but more attractive.

Sheet 8

Sadly I was unable to locate any images of Sheet 8, so I have done my best to reconstruct it here. As such, the order of the cards may well be incorrect. (If you have a true image, please get in touch or post a link in the comments.)

Mel Ott’s first (but not lowest numbered) card in the set appears in this release, also highlighted by Hall of Famers Gabby Hartnett, Hack Wilson, Earl Averill, and Rick Ferrell. I’m a particular fan of the card of Tigers ace Tommy Bridges, which itself is part of a Goudey mini-mystery I will return to later in this series of articles.

The Ott card, among other cards on this and later sheets, should also put to rest any theory that the “Big League Chewing Gum” banner was omitted to save on red ink.

While the new card design is easy to spot, a more overlooked property of the sheet is that all 24 players are brand new additions to the set, reversing a trend toward duplication in the prior two sheets.

Rather than fill any checklist gaps, Sheet 8 kept the foot on the gas and brought the checklist well into the 200s.

Sheet 9

The next sheet in the set brought 24 more beauties–again all new players–and the end of the regular season releases. If I had to guess, I’d also assign the lowest production run of the set to these 24 cards. Too bad.

There was still room on the checklist for this sheet to rattle off the next 24 slots. However, for the first time in a while, some early gaps were at least partially filled. For the set collectors out there, it must have been particularly satisfying to finally kill off cards 97-99 and 142.

Sheet 10

The final release of the 1933 Goudey set is known as the “World Series sheet” and features the top stars from that year’s Fall Classic between the Giants and Senators. Note that I didn’t say the previous year’s Fall Classic. This was a real-time, ToppsNow-like look at the World Series that just happened.

I can’t say I like these cards as much as the previous 48, possibly the result of some “hurry up” to get the cards out before the interests of kids moved on from baseball to other things. Though the sheet included several players already featured earlier in the set, Goudey nonetheless went the extra mile by producing genuinely new artwork for 23 of the players. The only duplication came with Joe Cronin, whose card 109 (Sheet 10) was very similar to his earlier card 189 (Sheet 7).

This final collection of 24 cards not only added new art to the set but new bios as well, updated to reflect the results of the World Series.

“Led the Senators to the American League championship in his first season as manager of the club, although his club was beaten in the World Series with the Giants…”

At this point there is little suspense as to how the final 24 cards filled the checklist. Still, here it is for completeness. Only one hole remained, card 106, along with the question of why.

chase card?

Conventional Hobby wisdom tells us that the omission of card 106, later filled by Napoleon Lajoie, was intentional, a tactic designed to keep youngsters buying gum in their futile pursuit of a complete set. In modern parlance, card 106 was a “chase card.”

My own take differs.

For one thing, the Goudey set was very large. Completing the set, even assuming no duplicates, would require averaging a pack a day from Opening Day through Christmas. I’m not sure how many kids could manage this level of collecting in Depression-era America, even ignoring the competition from other gum cards on the market. True, the more compulsive collectors out there could augment their sets by cajoling or pilfering away the cards of their friends, but I still don’t see big numbers able to go 240 or bust.

Second, at what point in the set’s release would collectors even notice that card 106 was missing? Had the cards been released in numerical order, the missing card would have been evident mid-release–i.e., when even the most complete collections out there looked like this, give or take the substantial stacks of doubles needed to get this far.

Instead, set numbering was so haphazard that the hole at 106 (or equivalently, the brick wall at 239 cards out of 240) was largely undetectable* until the release of Sheet 10, a good month or so after the World Series ended. By then, even if collectors wanted to embark upon buying sprees, it’s unclear how much longer fresh packs would keep hitting shelves.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe the haphazard numbering and gaps in the set, evident from the very first release, were an intentional tactic to boost sales. I just don’t believe card 106 itself played any outsized role. Why was it there then? Much like that second Walberg card, my personal belief is it was simply an oversight.

In the next installment of the series, I’ll offer a similar sheet-by-sheet analysis of the 1934 Goudey set (thankfully much smaller!) and highlight an easily overlooked connection between the 1933 and 1934 issues.