My 1887 Old Judge…not!

Just so everybody here doesn’t think that as a defender of card grading, I’m a shill for PSA, I’ll share a weird experience I had a few years ago with an amazing goof on a card I sent to be graded.

I needed a graded card of Hall of Fame umpire Hank O’Day to add to my “unrestricted” set of Hall of Fame cards. “Unrestricted” means any card of any year, even if it’s long after a person played or lived, including graded Hall of Fame plaque postcards or Dick Perez portrait postcards. Generally, people create such sets with cards they already have from other more standard issues, but obviously folks like me buy other PSA graded cards to fill holes in these kind of sets. To each, his own. It’s how collecting works.

Yes, I know. I don’t consider these postcards really standard baseball cards but – rationalization here – some HoF members have very few real cards, and the one or two that exist are outrageously expensive in any form. So sometimes, I have settle for HOF postcards (which, proudly, I bought at the HOF gift shop in Cooperstown. The clerk was interested to know why I was buying these obscure players’ and execs’ postcards.)

Well, I sent PSA a Conlon card (early 1990s. obviously) of Hank O’Day to be graded. Silly me, I thought it looked pretty good and might rate a PSA 7 grade. Duh. It came back as a 5.5; pretty much worthless in graded form for a card from this set. (I eventually added it anyway as a Conlon to my set.)

Remarkably, PSA had somehow encapsulated this Conlon card as an 1887 N172 Old Judge. Gosh, I wish that had been what it really was! At that point, it was in the PSA registry as if the company had graded a 1887 Old Judge 5.5, which would be quite a find.

hank O'Day goof_NEW

I posted this card for sale with the scanned image on eBay, clearly pointing out that it was NOT an 1887 Old Judge. Since I had another raw O’Day card, I was hoping to recoup the grading cost and mailing fee (both quite steep, as those who submit cards to PSA know well). Normally when I list a nice card on Ebay, I might get half a dozen bids and maybe two dozen page views. If I recall, this card got more than 15,000 views in a day.

Immediately, the administrative assistant to PSA’s CEO contacted me, asking that I take down the listing and send the card back to be re-slabbed. Well, I wasn’t born yesterday (literally). PSA does correct what it calls mechanical errors free of charge, and I have taken advantage of this a couple of times, much to my benefit. Player’s names or years sometimes are incorrect on PSA cards out there. Mistakes happen.

But this Old Judge snafu seemed especially egregious, and I wasn’t inclined to send this card back to PSA just to get something pretty much worthless in return. I asked for a couple of free gradings, which were agreed to (though l still had to pay shipping) in addition to the corrected holder for my 5.5 Conlon card back. I probably could have driven a better deal, but I wasn’t looking to cheat or hurt anyone.

I do not share this experience to knock PSA. I understand the grading critieria. I pay to be a Collectors Club member, and I enjoy reading the monthly magazine articles about different sets, many of which are written by SABR member Kevin Glew, a journalist who is a major Canadian baseball authority (and who I have encouraged to post here). I enjoy and appreciate the Set Registry, which is free to participate in.

PSA told me the mistake happened after the card itself was graded. I accept that, but my gosh, I hope a better final checking process is now in place. I’m sure thousands of images of this card were downloaded when it was up for sale on Ebay, so I don’t hesitate to post it here.

Before Ohtani, there were …

Before Shohei Ohtani arrived with the Angels as both a pitcher and position player (or least, a designated hitter), few major leaguers in recent years had played with some regularity on the mound and as hitters. We’re not talking about guys sent in to finish up blowouts, but those who actually were major-league-level pitchers and good enough hitters to play other positions.

The two most noted examples this century have been Rick Ankiel, who came up as a pitcher, and Brooks Kieschnick, who added pitching to his role as an outfielder and pinch-hitter to extend his career. Ankiel stopped pitching in 2001, except for a brief appearance in 2004. He reinvented himself as a power-hitting outfielder in the minors before returning to the Cardinals. Both have numerous cards with them on the mound and at bat.

The Angels have another two-way possibility in Jared Walsh, who was up briefly earlier this season. Although he has pitched in earnest at the AAA level, his only work on the mound with the Angels so far has been in lopsided affairs.

The most famous pitching convert obviously is Babe Ruth. Contemporary cards of Ruth as a pitcher—the 1916 Sporting News version being the most familiar—are expensive and hard to find. A few of Ruth’s contemporaries also pitched and played some at other positions, but since World War II, it’s rare to find a player with significant time in the majors as both a pitcher and a position player. And almost always, those who did it made a permanent conversion.

Kieschnick was one of the few who kept doing both with the Brewers, who for a while were happy to have him as a two-way player. Another was the 1950s Pirates infielder Johnny O’Brien. He switched mostly to pitching in 1956 and had a decent year, playing 10 games at short and second and hitting .300. But he was so bad on the mound in ’57 that he went back to being a full-time infielder. He had Topps cards before he pitched and after, but none listing him as a pitcher. His ’58 Topps card mentions his having pitched. Johnny’s brother and fellow Pirates infielder, Eddie, also pitched in a few games.

The Pirates also had a light-htting infielder/outfielder in Dick Hall, who has a card in the ’55 Topps set. Hall spent that year in the minors, working on his pitching (and still hit .300). He was back with Pirates mostly as a pitcher in 1956 and went on to a long career in the bullpen with the Orioles.

Until Ohtani resumes pitching (if he does), the only “modern” card era player who pitched in 15 games or more and played substantially at another position in the same season is far more obscure: Willie Smith of the 1964 Angels. Smith came up as a pitcher with the Tigers and was traded to the Los Angeles to bolster the bullpen. He ended up as a regular in the outfield and hit over .300.

Smith never had a card showing him as a pitcher, although the back of his 1965 Topps card raves about his pitching. Although primarily an outfielder after the middle of the ’64 season, he pitched a few times for the Indians and Cubs after he was traded by L.A., never yielding a run.

Two other players in the ‘60s came up as outfielders before switching to pitching. Mel Queen with the Reds was the most successful and converted quickly. His 1967 card lists him as “P-OF.” Danny Murphy was an outfield prospect with the Cubs and played a bit in 1960, ’61 and ’62. He made the long road back to Chicago, but to the South Side with the Sox, in 1969 and ’70 as a pitcher.

Going back farther, Hal Jeffcoat came up with the Cubs in 1948 as an outfielder before converting at the big league level to pitching in 1954. He spent the rest of the decade on the mound. Jeffcoat appeared on Bowman cards as an outfielder from 1951 through 1954 and on Topps cards in 1952 and 1953. His 1955 Bowman card is his first as a pitcher, and his 1956-59 Topps cards follow suit.

Baseball Reference.com has a listing of every non-pitcher who ever pitched and played more than five times as many games at other positions, if you’d like to see how rare it is for players of the past 100 years to make the switch.

I’ve always been fascinated with these two-way players. It led me to write the BioProject essays on Willie Smith and Hal Jeffcoat. If you know of others from the Bowman/Topps card era I’ve missed, please let me know.

All the ‘Famers

A recent National Pastime Museum article by Scott Ferkovich focused on the Kellogg 3-D sets, including the 15-card 1972 set of Hall-of-Famers who were voted (as Scott notes, in a less-than-representative way) the best at their positions. Scott wondered if this is the only card set that features just Hall-of-Famers. The answer is no, although in 1972, it likely was.

In 1976, the five Shakey’s Pizza Parlors in the Seattle area distributed a 160-card set (156 different images, three variation cards and an un-numbered coupon card) of every member of the Hall of Fame, as of that year — in order of induction. (Full disclosure: I have the top PSA-graded set of these cards on the registry.) The set was created in conjunction with the 1976 convention of the Washington State Sports Collectors Association. The cards were distributed at the convention and at the Shakey’s restaurants in 1976 into 1977.

To include every member, the set had to feature images of 19th century players as well as executives, umpires and Negro League stars. There just aren’t many cards in any sets of some of these guys. Supposedly, up to 2,000 prints of each card were produced. Perhaps two thirds are still around.  Even so, the cards are relatively easy to find on eBay and aren’t expensive in excellent condition.

The cards are standard size and feature black-and-white images with a red, white and blue color scheme on the front. The backs are red and black on white and feature short bios and a few stats. For reasons that aren’t clear, the back of each card identifies the Hall-of-Famers by one of four designations: “Immortals,” “Greatest Players,”  “All-Time Greats” or just “Hall of Fame.” You’d assume the non-players would be among “Baseball’s Immortals,” yet, for example, Morgan Bulkeley, the National League’s first president, and American League founder Ban Johnson are both identified among “Baseball’s Greatest Players.”

The cards with the different designations were distributed at different times, creating in effect four sub-sets: First series cards had the “Hall of Fame” designation, second series had “Greatest Players,” third had “Immortals,” and fourth had “All-Time Greats.” To add to the confusion, Hall-of-Famers from each of the four sub-sets were randomly distributed numerically in the overall set. The first five inductees, although numbered 1 through 5,  have four different designations. None of that matters much to anybody collecting the set today.

The photographs for the cards were provided by late Chicago area photo seller Jim Rowe, according to The Baseball Hobbyist in Edmonds, Wash., a longtime card dealer that often features cards from this set.  Rowe’s collection included many images taken by the Chicago-based photographers George Burke and George Brace.

I’m an East Coast guy, so I didn’t get any of these cards when they were issued. I came across this set about 10 years ago when I started trying to put together a collection of all the Hall of Famers, either with contemporary cards or from sets like the Shakey’s  –  or the ’60 and ’61-’62 Fleers or the TCMAs from the ’70s, for example. It’s a challenge, but that’s part of the fun of collecting. I don’t know if any sets similar to the ’76 Shakey’s have been produced since, but I’m not aware of any. Let me know if any of you know otherwise.

 

 

What’s good about grading and slabbing

From the posts I’ve read (and I read ’em all. It’s great being retired), more than a few members of this group don’t think much of card slabbing. I have plenty of ungraded cards, but I admit that I have my favorite sets encased in plastic by PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator, as I imagine most of you know). I don’t especially like how PSA dominates the grading market, but I do appreciate, as self-serving for PSA as it is, the set registry. You can list your cards, even your ungraded cards, by the way, on the registry for free, even if you are not one of the PSA “Collectors Club,” members.

The basic advantages, from my standpoint, of slabbing is preservation of condition,  a record of ownership (each card has a certification number) and, to a lesser degree, an assurance of quality — this applies mainly when you are buying a card. If you’re buying a card online, you’re trusting the seller’s description, no matter how good the scan looks. And I don’t find having the card in a plastic slab a distraction or detraction.

Is it worth it? That depends. If you submit cards directly, rather than through a dealer, you generally have to fork over $6 or more to get PSA to grade a card, and that’s if you use the changing offers of the Collectors Club ($100 or more year but with a few free gradings and a monthly magazine), often having to send in at least 25 cards at a time. And the return shipping charge starts at a minimum of $18. But I get most of my PSA cards on ebay or from dealers, which keeps me from going bankrupt.

When I submit cards to PSA, I’m often disappointed at the grades, although I have become better at knowing what will drag a grade level down. Honestly, it’s still hard for me to tell the difference between a PSA 8 and a PSA 10. I assume most of us here would consider an “EX 5”  to be a pretty nice card, too. I have a bunch of ’64 Topps that are 5s, and I’m perfectly happy with them. On the other hand, my 1984 Topps set, which ranks no. 2 on the registry, has only 9s and 10s. Once you get out of the ’70s, you probably would not want a slabbed card with a grade less than 9, although you should be able to get those lower grades for next to nothing.

I suppose there are people who view graded cards as an investment. (I’m not one of them.) Certainly, graded cards command higher prices than their ungraded equivalents.

I’m not trying to convince anybody to have his or her cards graded, but it’s good to keep an open mind about it. Collectors like me are glad there are collectors like everyone else with SABR who still loves baseball cards — slabbed or not.

Hatless photos in 1963 Topps

Topps had used the technique of using photos of traded players without their baseball caps in earlier years, but the use of small silhouetted action photos on the 1963 cards posed new problems. Topps designers tried to disguise the old uniform with airbrushing and some creative artwork. The results were often laughable.

Of the lee-wall-63-topps576 cards in the ’63 set, 70 players are pictured without hats. Most but not all had been traded in the off-season. The majority of the 70 cards feature the player in the uniform of his previous team — the piping is usually the giveaway — along with a crude attempt at obliterating the old team name on the small action shot and by drawing the new team’s letter or logo on the cap.
The first base card in set (following the 10 cards of 1962 league leaders) is one of the hatless 70 — Lee Walls. Although he had played with the Dodgers in 1962, his color head shot shows him in a Cubs uniform. with whom he last played in 1959. His small action shot has the team name airbrushed out and a Dodgers interlocking “LA” drawn on his cap. Perhaps someone knows why Topps began its set with a player for whom they did not have any recent pete-burnside-63-topps-19photos.

Being an old Senators fan, one of my favorite cards represents one of the most obviously
botched cards in the set: lefty Pete Burnside’s #14. He is shown following through on a pitch in a full Senators home uniform, even though he is properly identified as a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles. (He had been traded to the Orioles in December 1962, a few months before this first series card hit store shelves.) Compounding matters, his small action shot shows him with the team name on his old Tigers’ jersey (back in 1959 or 1960) airbrushed out and a crude “W” drawn on his cap.

The only other player in the set shown wearing his previous team’s hat is pitcher Stan Williams (#42). He has on his Dodgers hat in the large photo, but the Topps artists vainly tried to draw the Yankees’ interlocking “NY” on his action photo cap.

Six traded players — including Dick Groat, Bob Turley and Don Zimmer — are pictured in their color photo wearing caps that have the previous team’s logo airbrushed off. The new team’s letter or logo is drawn on the action photo’s cap.

luis-aparicio-69-toppsFive players who had been traded to the Orioles posed a real challenge for Topps. The Orioles players wore caps with a relatively wide horizontal bird on them. Results of the attempts to draw an oriole on the five action photo hats were mixed, to be charitable. Attempts to recreate the Tigers’ old English “D” also proved difficult.

In most cases, the airbrushing did little to hide the identity of the player’s previous team and, given the crude results, you have to wonder why Topps bothered.

Nonetheless, the ’63 set is highly regarded by collectors for its overall design and sharp color photos. The bright, orange on white-stock, backs of the cards were far more readable than those of previous years.