Coming Out of the Closet

Most of us have participated in debates and discussions pertaining to the best way to store cards. The “boxes versus binders” debate is one that isn’t likely to ever see consensus. No matter the method of preservation, the cards must occupy a physical space. The storage conundrum becomes more acute if your collection spans over a half-century. Furthermore, if you are an “omnivore” collector–someone who collects anything sports related–your home may resemble that of the Collyer brothers.

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Attempting to ward off an intervention for hoarder’s syndrome, I have spent the last two summers working on storage solutions. Fortunately, my son moved out in the spring, freeing up a large closet. This enabled me to move all my publications, media guides, programs and other miscellaneous objects out of the card closet.

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The card closet is long and narrow with a severely slanted wall, due to the house being a Cape Cod style. This provides me with four rows of binder shelving stretching for 10 feet. Additionally, there are two three-tiered book cases at each end and an old hi-fi cabinet. Plus, there is a two-shelf, three-foot homemade case.

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I augmented the binder space by adding an old library book cart and freeing up two book case shelves. The space behind the book cart lends itself to binder storage on the floor, which I have filled with “junk wax” era football, basketball and hockey. Adding a homemade shelf will double the capacity.

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In theory, I’ve bought a few more years before having to rethink binder storage. Of course, it all depends on my rate of acquisition.

Thanks to Jeff Katz’s post on the potential dire ramifications of publicizing one’s collectibles, I will probably be burgled and not have to worry about future storage. My paranoia now “runs deep.” Thanks for making me keep my “guard” dog, Yaz, in the closet, Jeff.

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Joining Team Flake

I’ve been looking to get a set of 1983 Topps Foldouts, five oversized mini-sets (leaders in pitching, batting, home runs, stolen bases and relief). It’s easily gettable for under $10, but I’m holding out to save every dollar. (It’s actually kind of silly how single dollar sensitive I can be).

I was wondering whether the cards, unfolded, would fit in 4-pocket sheets, so I went to the pdf of my always at hand 2009 Standard Catalog to check the size. The first comparable set I thought of, that I had in sheets, was a late-‘70’s Minnesota Twins team issued postcard set. Alas, the foldouts are bigger.

Knowledge attained, I aimlessly scrolled down, looking for nothing in particular, past Montreal Expos player pins and matchbook covers, when I ended up at “N.” First entry – 1969 Nabisco Team Flakes.

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Usually I’m not a big fan of sets that are nearly only found hand cut, but now that I am committed to completing the 1975 Hostess set (the only year that I cut out the cards), I’m changing my tune a little. Reasonably well hand cut cards have started to appeal to me.  And, if you’re a frequent reader, you know I’ve been looking for new sets to pursue. A 24-card, hand cut set is right in my sweet spot.

I’d heard about these cards, but never paid them any mind. I had a vague picture in my mind of dark, unattractive, crooked cards, but NO!, the cards are mini-replicas of late 1960’s Sports Illustrated posters and, as I looked at each card online, I was, like Proust via madeleine, taken back to my room in Canarsie, and then in Lake Grove, Long Island. Much of my posters of that time are gone – Aaron, Yaz, Ken Harrelson – but one has survived, travelling with me through college, Chicago and Cooperstown.

Seeing a mini – Mays seems to be enough to make me go for this set. I’ve seen uncut boxes, but I prefer hand cut. Unlike Hostess, which provided space between the dotted-lined cards, there’s no separation between the Team Flakes cards, which makes nice copies hard to find, helpful in pricing. But what I really want to know is who the hell ever ate Team Flakes?

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So now I have another target, one that seems easily attainable. We’ll see if that pans out, but I’m sure it’s easier to buy these cards than try to buy back my old posters. I don’t have the room or wall space for those.

Airbrush with Destiny

When it came to their baseball cards, frequently traded players in the ‘50’s and ‘60s suffered the indignity of the blacked-out cap insignia or a bare head shot, when Topps or other companies affixed their images to cardboard. Of course, the ‘70s saw Topps go “over the top” with whole caps and uniforms unartfully altered by the overzealous art department. No player suffered a worse fate at the hands of the airbrush artists than the late Ken Brett, who went under the airbrush six times.

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Brett had a spectacular start to his career in ‘67. A late season call up by the Red Sox, the 19-year old pitched effectively in two World Series games. After two years in the minors, Ken received his first card in ‘69 — coupled with Gerry Moses. I must draw attention to Ken’s short bio on the back. The writer was very excited by the fact that Ken was left handed.

After being featured on the Red Sox in ‘71, Brett’s vagabond odyssey begins. Traded to the Brewers in October 1971, the next spring Topps gave him a traditional traded pose, featuring an upturned bill to obfuscate the cap insignia. However, part of the Boston script is visible on his uniform. Then the fun begins. A trade to the Phillies results in an airbrushed classic cap and poorly altered jersey trim in ‘73. Ken is on the move again ‘74, resulting a true masterpiece.

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His trade to the Pirates necessitates an airbrush job using a mustard yellow palate. Apparently, the “air brusher” forgot that the Pirates cap featured a black bill. The spectacular all yellow cap has a nice velour look, reminiscent of Dock Ellis’ flocked helmet in the ‘71 All-Star game.

1971 All Star Dock Ellis Batting Helmet

After two unaltered cards, it’s back to the paint jobs. Ken has a “Traded” card in ‘76 with drawn on Yankee pinstripes. This is followed by an ersatz Angels cap in ‘78, Dodgers in ‘80 and Royals in ‘81.

There may be another player with six or more airbrushed cards, but I’m crowning Ken Brett “King of the Airbush Era.”

It’s Fun to Share, But…

A great joy that comes with the SABR Baseball Cards Committee is sharing what we have, what we want or what we discover. I genuinely enjoy that and, in many ways, it’s a key part of why we like collecting. Telling people what we own is an important piece of the equation, whether it comes from pride or bragging. There’s an old Cindy Crawford joke about that. (See bottom of post; I won’t interrupt my flow here.)

I wonder, though, what becomes too much information. If I had a case of unopened 1952 Topps high number packs (I don’t), would I share that? Should I share that? It strikes me as dangerously provocative and, though I like you all, I don’t know you.

“Hey, did I ever tell you guys about that unopened case of 1952’s I have? I keep them next to my desk in my office.” That seems like an excessive share and a tad dangerous.

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I wonder too if there’s etiquette on asking what a fellow collector has. “Hey dude, I see you collect pre-war cards. Do you have the T206 Sherry Magee error card? That’s really valuable.” Maybe I’m overly suspicious, but that kind of approach makes me paranoid.

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I’ve been thinking about this as I see various collectors’ posts, whether here our on our Facebook page (or on the Baseball Card Freaks Facebook page, which, I believe, is a closed group). I don’t want to be a downer and start promoting my concerns, but I often wonder why people post about excessive pricey items they own.

Anyway, it’s been on my mind, so I’ve got nothing more to add as per usual, about cards I’m looking for, sets I’m collecting, or general hobby stuff. I am very curious if others have these same thoughts, or at least similar ones. Let me know.

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Now here’s the Cindy Crawford joke, though I used to hear it about Claudia Schiffer too:

A young single guy finds himself stranded on a deserted island. As he washes ashore, he sees a woman passed out in the sand. Able to perform CPR on her, he saves her life. Suddenly, he realizes that the woman is Cindy Crawford. Immediately, Cindy falls in love with the man. Days and weeks go by, and they’re making passionate love morning, noon and night.

One day she notices he’s looking kind of glum.

“What’s the matter, sweetheart?” she asks. “We have a wonderful life together and I’m in love with you. Is there something wrong? Is there anything I can do?”

He says, “Actually, Cindy, there is. Would you mind, putting on my shirt and pants?”

“Sure,” she says, “If it’ll help.”

He takes off his shirt and pants and she puts it on.

“Okay, would you put on my hat now, and draw a little mustache on your face?” he asks.

“Whatever you want, sweetie,” she says, and does so.

Then he says, “Now, would you start walking around the edge of the island?”

She starts walking around the perimeter of the island. He sets off in the other direction. They meet up half way around the island a few minutes later. He rushes up to her, grabs her by the shoulders, and says, “Dude! You’ll never believe who I’m sleeping with!”

Little Black Rectangles (Or, In the Eye of the Beholder)

In my quest for sets to complete, manageable sets, not too expensive for a one-time purchase, I’ve begun to look, in earnest, at old Topps inserts. I’ve got my share – 1969 Deckle and Decals (see last post), a random assortment of others – but there’s always room for more.

I’d like to grab some 1968 and 1972 posters.

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I don’t have any of them and they’re pretty nice, much nicer than the 1970 posters I do have

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(though not as nice as the 1967 pinups). But, since I have none, will I really put together a set? I’m pretty doubtful. Still, I’ll occasionally look for a lot and, if I do end up snatching some, we’ll see what happens.

What’s been grabbing me are the 1970 and 1971 Topps Scratch-Offs. Why? Not because of looks. These are the most unattractive inserts that Topps ever produced. Ugly little head shots on the front, a centerfold of black rectangles and a back that clearly didn’t take too long to design, all housed on rough cardboard (that’s how I remember them).

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It’s in the remembering that the scratch offs live.  They’re inserts I had, unlike the posters which I never did, so don’t have any feelings about one way or the other. I have a connection to these scratch offs that is real and, though they repulse me in most ways, they attract me in others.

Interestingly, I don’t recall them in 1971 packs, only in 1970. Turns out there is a distinguishing mark to tell the two apart – 1970’s are white inside, 1971’s red.

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Both sets are 24 cards, both should be pretty reasonable to buy unscratched (though a NM 1970 set recently sold for $117.50, way more than I’d consider.)  I’m thinking $65 for 1970, $75-80 for 1971, harder to come by, which is why I don’t remember them.

I’ve also been slightly obsessed with the 1970 Topps Football Glossy inserts, but that’s for another blog.

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The Making (Actually, Building) of a Complete Set

It’s a daunting task to start collecting a full vintage set from zero. I only did it once, about 25 years ago or so, an old set of over 200 cards. In those pre-eBay days, it wasn’t quite clear what a complete set really went for in the open market. All you could go on was price guide prices and, since they were usually higher than actual, going for a set from scratch wasn’t necessarily an economic mistake.

It would be now. There’s no way you can put together a vintage set for a better price than buying it straight out, unless you either have a good critical mass of cards to start from or you can trade. Or, and herein lies this post, it’s a small enough set that prices won’t get out of hand.

Until a few months ago, I didn’t have a single 1969 Topps Decal in my collection. Why? Who knows. Never interested me, my 1969s weren’t my original cards from packs so I didn’t have the inserts, and so on. They’re interesting items, small and glossy with plain white paper backgrounds, the photos almost the same as the regular issue cards. They ain’t no Deckle Edges, I can tell you! (By the way, can anyone tell me which series the Deckles were inserted in, and which series had the Decals? I’d like to know that.)

Earlier this year, Mark Armour and I, hot off a huge trade of 1970’s basketball for 1968 and 1969 baseball, bandied about what we may still have to swap. It came down to Hostess, Kellogg’s, Fleer Cloth patches (from me) and other oddballs for some Post Cereal and, when I saw them calling out to me, 1969 Decals.

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I was on my way. From zero to 10, in one swoop, 20% of the way to the end. All I needed was a good, cheap lot, ideally with a bunch of stars. That came my way soon after.

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The nice thing about this lot was that now I had doubles to sell, which I did. Oddly, I couldn’t buy commons for less than $2-2.50 and couldn’t sell them for more than about $1.75. Still, selling extras helped me whittle down my cost (I still have a nice Hoyt Wilhelm, if anyone is interested).  I even sold the backless Pete Rose for over $4 and bought a super nice one for $10.

With Joey Foy now in hand, I’m down to one, Reggie Jackson. I want to pay $10-15, EX or better, but it’s likely to run me $15-20. Weird, because there’s no way there are more of these out there than Reggie’s rookie card, which goes for way more. The Decals are definitely a lowish supply, lower demand kind of issue.

As to the price? I’ll have ended up spending around $150 for the complete set in overall EX (some VGEX, some EXMT, hard to know with Decals) and sold listings show most sets in this condition going for $200-300. Not that I’m selling, but it’s nice to know that, after the dust settles, I ended up with a bargain.

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Father and son

So being a relatively new member (if ‘relatively new’ can mean ‘a few years’) to the organization, and a first time attendee, one goal I had for SABR 48 was to introduce myself to a number of committee chairs. Considering myself a relatively abysmal conversationalist, I wanted to try and think up some hook of an idea to engage folks. It usually involved a slightly unique question.

Now, if you’ll humor me, I’ll pose the question (and reason for it) that I had approached Mark Armour with, in the hopes that someone can come up with something more on the topic.

Does anyone know when the earliest Kennesaw Mountain Landis card was produced? When I had asked Mark, all we could think of were examples from those early ’60s Fleer old-timer sets. A quick ebay check shows something called a Callahan with him on it from around 1950, but I can’t locate anything earlier.

The reason I ask this is: I have recently become enamored with those mid 1930s National Chicle sets. The cards are brilliantly-colored, art-deco masterpieces. Unfortunately, the baseball set involves star cards that are a bit out of my budget. Meanwhile, the football set involves star and non-star cards that are, for the most part, out of everyone’s budget.  However, in 1934-35, a set was made that highlighted famous aviators from the previous 31ish years called Sky Birds, which provides a neat gateway to learning about aviation (and a lot of WW1 aviation) history. The set also happens to be downright affordable, especially if you’re not looking for slabbing material. So I’ve picked up a bunch.

Learning about the stories of these pilots has been fascinating. Get a card, do a Wikipedia search, and you find out about the Lafayette Escadrille, or the greatest WW1 flying ace from (insert country here), or some other tidbit (I have a beaten up dupe of the guy who flew the first non-stop, coast-to-coast flight, for anyone interested). They’re all pretty great. But there is one particular card that includes a flying ace from WW1 with a name and facial structure that looked somewhat familiar to me. He wasn’t anyone I had known of before, but then I’ve always been pretty ignorant when it comes to ‘The Great War.’ His name was Reed Landis, and based on his Wikipedia bio, he has been credited with twelve aerial victories.

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And as you’ve probably logically determined by now, he was a relative of Judge Landis’s. Specifically, a son.

I’m not going to give you some kind of fleshed out rundown of his backstory (or frontstory) here, because I’d essentially be copying info from a much more detailed Wikipedia entry. But I will pose the question again in slightly altered form: does anyone know if Kennesaw made it on cardboard before his son did? It’s interesting  to think that, quite possibly, one of the most powerful men in baseball history was beaten to the medium of collectible cards by his own flesh and blood.