The Awards Subcommittee of the SABR Baseball Cards Research Committee is appreciative of the many nominations from membership. At this time we are pleased to announce the five finalists for our inaugural Jefferson Burdick Award for Contributions to the Hobby and particularly gratified to see that the process resulted in such a broad range of nominations.
The Award was not designed to honor the biggest or best collection or the person who made the most money through the hobby—not that either of those things would be disqualifying. Rather, it was simply created to recognize individuals who in any variety of ways have made the Hobby better for the rest of us.
Our first finalist is Robert Fitts. Dr. Fitts, our committee’s featured speaker at #SABR49, boasts an impressive resume of accomplishments and scholarship including the 2006 Sporting News-SABR Research Award, the 2012 Doug Pappas Award for best oral research, the 2013 Seymour Medal for Best Baseball Book of 2012, and the 2019 McFarland-SABR Baseball Research Award.
He is best known in the Hobby for his unmatched expertise and research in the area of Japanese baseball cards. While this committee has primarily focused on U.S. card releases, Fitts’s expertise and enthusiasm for Japanese cards and the way they interact with the hobby in the U.S. expands our understanding of what cards can be. This is not just a US-centered thing and baseball is a worldwide game.
Our second finalist is Mike Noren, the artist behind Gummy Arts and Cecil Cooperstown. Mike’s whimsical baseball card creations are currently featured in the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s “Shoebox Treasures” exhibit, and his set of 1919 White Sox strip cards were a crowd favorite at SABR’s Black Sox Scandal Centennial Symposium.
Mike’s cards have inspired many collectors to reconnect with the Hobby, and his daily posts to social media platforms have inspired numerous other baseball card artists. He references designs from the entire history of baseball cards and in so doing, transforms old designs into wholly new and modern creations. Meanwhile his pop-culture creations hint at the long history of collecting photos and cards and confirm how the concept of a Baseball Card™ transcends the sport.
Our third finalist, Dr. James Beckett, has a name nearly synonymous with the unprecedented growth of the Hobby in the 1980s and 1990s, though his continuing contributions to the Hobby span nearly half a century. In the tradition of our award’s namesake, Dr. Beckett has contributed to the identification and cataloging of numerous sets, and his publications such as the Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide (with Dennis Eckes) and the Beckett Monthly brought both checklists and price guides to the mainstream of the Hobby.
For the generation of collectors who came of age in the 1980s, Beckett is their Burdick. It is impossible to imagine the hobby without him and his publications were not merely price guides but captured the zeitgeist of an entire collecting generation.
Our fourth finalist is broadcasting legend Keith Olbermann, whose contributions to the Hobby began while he was still in high school as an editor for “Collectors Quarterly” and the writer for the card backs of the 1975 Sports Stars Publishing Company (SSPC) baseball set. He would go on to contribute photos to 1981 Donruss while amassing a world class collection of cards and memorabilia.
Keith has used his collection as reference material for his encyclopedic knowledge of the Hobby, which he frequently shares in articles and social media posts. Whenever we have a question about the Topps photo archive or who produced a set of cards, he is our resident expert. Keith was our committee’s featured speaker at #SABR47 and represents how baseball cards can turn someone into a baseball fan.
Our last finalist and the winner of the 2020 Jefferson Burdick Award for Contributions to the Hobby is Michael Aronstein. Best known as the “MA” in TCMA, the company he co-founded with Tom (the “TC” half) Collier in 1972, Mike’s Hobby resume also includes:
- Card show pioneer, having arranged and hosted (in his basement!) one of the very first “conventions” in 1970 and having gone on to co-organize the biannual American Sports Card Collectors Association shows in New York City;
- Publisher of Collectors Quarterly magazine;
- One of the Hobby’s first full-time dealers, providing collectors with alternatives to mainstream sets along with collecting supplies such as plastic sheets before they were widely available anywhere else;
- Producer of hundreds of minor league team sets, including the “pre-rookie cards” of Rickey Henderson, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Wade Boggs, and re-launching the minor league card industry in the process;
- Challenger of the Topps monopoly with his Sports Stars Publishing Company (SSPC) 660-card set consisting almost entirely of current players;
- Exclusive distributor of the 1981 Donruss set (but we won’t hold that against him!);
- Founder of Photo File, supplying the Hobby with high quality 8×10 photos to be signed by athletes.
More importantly, TCMA cards were touchstone for many, if not all, of us as the only cards we could find/afford of baseball legends. In a way that no book can touch, TCMA cards taught kids about baseball: who the legends were and why, what they looked like, etc. If Topps is the card of record representing which players were relevant for the current season, TCMA were the cards of history and how we learned about baseball itself.
We look forward to honoring Mike at our national convention, SABR 50, in Baltimore. We hope you’ll make plans to join us as we celebrate Mike’s lifetime of contributions to the Hobby. Over the next couple months we’ll share more information about this and other baseball card happenings planned for SABR 50.