Two mysteries this week, one unsolved, one quickly wrapped up.
The Battle of Battle Creek – Kellogg’s vs. the Atlanta Braves
I love my 3-D sets and look at them often. I’ve always wondered why, in the first two years, there were no Atlanta Braves. This is especially odd in 1970, when Kellogg’s crammed the set with the biggest names in the game (and Tim Cullen). Where was Hank Aaron? Orlando Cepeda? Phil Niekro?
Another shutout for Atlanta in 1971 and, then, in 1972, Ralph Garr makes his Brave debut. Or does he? The Roadrunner appears with a blacked out cap on the front and, even weirder, a non-existent Braves logo on the reverse. Kellogg’s clearly had a licensing deal with both the Players’ Association and MLB (both are prominent displayed on the card back), so use of logos should not have been a problem. These are not issued as MLBPA licensed only, which would have led to a lack of official team insignias and such.
What’s the deal here? Why would the Braves not be part of the overall licensing agreement? They had to be. I’d love to research this but really don’t even know where to start – Kellogg’s, MLB, MLBPA, Braves?
Help me out on this. I’d love to get an answer on the why Garr looks like a Little Leaguer and why Kellogg’s was not the Home of the Braves in those early years.
Play Ball! (Or Something Close)
I had a nice day trip yesterday to visit some friends. One of the reasons for the drive was to help dig into his card collection, recently reclaimed when his Mom moved. Like many of us of similar age, he had a nice group of mid-‘60’s to mid-‘70’s cards, but, like fewer of us, he was in a position as a kid to have the opportunity to buy some vintage, pre-war cards.
Lots of cool stuff, but one card that caught my eye was his 1939 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio. I’d never had one in hand, so took it out of its display. As many of you know, I’m not big on card backs. If they were so important, why aren’t they the fronts???? However, I can be proven wrong and I was excited to see this:
I’m not an expert on these cards, but have seen Topps seller samples online. The DiMag was authentic, no doubt, so I assumed these were legit samples. I didn’t know for sure though, so put it out that I was looking for some guidance. A few people thought they might be fakes, but that didn’t feel right.
As soon as I got home I figured I’d start searching in the Standard Catalog and, boom, there they were. A heap of the first 115 cards of the 162 card set were stamped, in red, as sample cards. The text is great, as you can read yourself. The samples are a bit harder to come by and do command a premium. I was pretty jazzed to find this out and relay that information.
It’s a remarkable thing to look at the same item over and over again and then see it for the first time. The Garr card seemed new to me, though I’d looked at it multiple times. Interesting how other collectors were unaware of the lack of Braves in the first two Kellogg’s sets. Finding fresh secrets, both easy and hard to unravel, is part of the joy, something like discovering new friends.
8 thoughts on “An Open, and a Shut, Case”
I am such a fan of this post. When we think as collectors of the great cardboard mysteries, so much attn goes to the stories behind the T206 Wagner and 1933 Goudey Lajoie cards. YAWN… (says the man hypocritically who wrote four posts on the Lajoie alone!)
As Jeff illustrates with the Garr card, there are so many other cases screaming out for cardboard detective work, and the advantage of these other cases is we can not only afford the cards but potentially solve the mysteries as well. Somewhere there are people still alive who know the answer to the Garr mystery, and I would’t be surprised if one of them is right here among our membership!
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I don’t have any actual information, but it seems to me that the most logical explanation is that the Braves had an existing deal with another cereal company or some other competitor. Kind of like how there’s a Cap’n Crunch set from 1989 with no logos even though it was made by Topps, which obviously had the logo rights. Someone else had the rights to use MLB logos on cereal. I’d start looking to see whether there was any cereal or similar product which had a Braves tie-in at the time.
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Brett’s explanation seems plausible.
There is a somewhat similar precedent in Japan for that. In the 1970s the main baseball card maker was Calbee, which distributed the cards with bags of potato chips (the company’s main business). There were 12 pro teams, but every Calbee set only featured 11 of them. The 12th team, the Orions, were owned by a company called Lotte whose main business happened to be producing snacks including potato chips. This made them Calbee’s rival in their main businesses. Since they didn’t want to provide free advertising for their rival’s baseball team, Calbee blockaded them from all of their card sets in the 1970s (which must have sucked for kids who were Orions fans). In the 1980s Calbee backed down and started including Orions players.
Today Calbee still makes baseball cards that it sells with potato chips and includes players from Lotte’s team (which changed its name to Marines).
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Here are two links that also mention the missing Braves cards:
Neither has an explanation. I thought it might possibly be a corporate issue – perhaps the Braves were owned by some person/entity that was a competitor of Kellogg’s or had a dispute with Kellogg’s. At least according to Wikipedia, the Braves had been owned by Perini Corporation (in full) from 1952-1962, and then by a group of people (including Perini Corporation). But I’m not seeing how that is related.
The first link mentions that the cards were printed by XOGRAPH Company in Irving, Texas, but I’m not sure that is correct. There might be some confusion with Optigraphics (which eventually produced Sportflics, then Score, and became Pinnacle). I don’t see the trademarked Xograph on Sportflics cards, and it looks like Optigraphics trademarked Magic Motion in 1976. I thought perhaps there might be a corporate issue between the company that printed the cards and the Braves ownership.
The only Xograph company I see is a healthcare technologies company. Further research on Xograph shows that it is actually a technique developed by Cowles Communications and Visual Panographics. There’s a thesis on it here: https://digital.library.ryerson.ca/islandora/object/RULA%3A3247. There’s also a book by Kim Timby on 3D and Animated Lenticular Photography. The trademark for Xograph belonged to Visual Panographics. I don’t know enough about how trademarks work to know if Optigraphics could have printed the Kellogg’s cards, but it’s clear from the 1968 Kellogg’s test cards that Visual Panographics was the creator:
So basically it’s a history on corporations that dealt with lenticular printing in baseball cards without much else (Nick has better discussions about the actual technique of lenticular printing https://sabrbaseballcards.blog/2018/12/03/topps-3d/). Using Brett’s idea, there is a 1969 Nabisco Team Flakes Hank Aaron card, but that has players from multiple teams. I don’t really see any Braves team issues from the early 1970s listed in Beckett that suggest a competitor of Kellogg’s.
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Lots to digest here. XOGRAPH is listed on the card back, but they’re not the issuer. Probably needed to credit their process.