JOHN RACANELLI is a Chicago lawyer with an insatiable interest in baseball-related litigation. When not rooting for his beloved Cubs (or working), he is probably reading a baseball book or blog, planning his next baseball trip, or enjoying downtime with his wife and family. He is probably the world’s foremost photographer of triple peanuts found at ballgames and likes to think he has one of the most complete collections of vintage handheld electronic baseball games known to exist. John is a member of the Emil Rothe (Chicago) SABR Chapter.
On Saturday, September 20, 1997 the Cubs held Ryne Sandberg Day in honor of the future Hall of Famer’s official—and this time permanent—retirement as a player. [You may recall he had walked away from the game following the 1994 season and did not play in 1995. Ryno returned to play in 1996 and 1997.] The Cubs produced a special commemorative program for the occasion that included “The Sandberg Collection” on the inside back cover—an eclectic mix of baseball cards representing each of the seasons he played in Chicago.
Sunday, September 21 was the Cubs’ final home game of the year and a merciful end to an abysmal season on Chicago’s north side. In the first inning, Sandberg put the Cubs up 1-0 with a ringing double off Phillies’ starter Curt Schilling. After he singled off Schilling in the fifth, Sandberg was lifted for a pinch runner. As he jogged off the playing surface at Wrigley Field for a final time, Ryno paused and tipped his helmet to the crowd. A raucous, goosebumps-inducing standing ovation followed. The Cubs went on to win the game 11-3.
To mark the occasion of Ryne Sandberg’s final home game, the Cubs issued a single commemorative baseball card for the September 21 contest. Sponsored by LaSalle Bank, the card was produced in a standard 2½ x 3½ size, and included a list of career accomplishments on the back, along with Sandberg’s Major League and Cubs career statistics, up-to-date through September 14, 1997. (The slight discrepancies attributable to six plate appearances for the 1981 Phillies.)
Jim Thome (2007)
On September 16, 2007, White Sox DH Jim Thome appeared in his 2000th MLB game at U.S. Cellular Field. Thome broke a 7-7 tie in the bottom of the ninth inning by smacking his 500th career home run off of Angels twirler Dustin Moseley, becoming the 23rd member of the 500 home run club and the first ever to do so in walk-off fashion. The Sox won 9-7.
After Thome’s historic blast, ballpark ushers came down the aisles to hand out large (4 x 6) cards in celebration of accomplishment. I was not there for this game, but my neighbor was—and she knew I collected cards. She saved hers especially for me.
Fittingly, the man voted nicest player in baseball used the back of the card to thank the fans, endorsed with a large facsimile signature.
The White Sox later commemorated a pair of Thome blasts hit in 2008 with a bronze plaque—but not cards—highlighting the first two baseballs ever to reach the Fan Deck at the ballpark, hit on June 4 and September 30, the latter of which accounting for the only run scored in game 163 against the Twins, giving the White Sox the 2008 Central Division championship.
Throughout the years, team-produced card sets were staple giveaway items. These Sandberg and Thome cards, however, were one-offs specially commissioned by the Cubs and White Sox to celebrate a retirement and momentous career milestone, respectively.
No reliable information regarding the quantity of each card produced has been found, and because the cards were simply handed to fans in an unprotected state, the number of cards that survived in top condition is presumably limited. Further, because these cards do not really have an official name, searching for them on eBay or otherwise proves problematic.
What Other Cards Are Out There?
Are you aware of any other occasions on which teams issued similar one-off baseball cards to celebrate a single player’s retirement, accomplishment, or otherwise?
In January 1998, the Cubs hosted their 13th annual fan convention. The 1997 season ended with the Cubs in NL Central basement—16 games back of the Houston Astros—resulting in an appreciably thin retrospective “highlight” reel. As of 1998, Cubs fans canonized the 1969 team (a talented and personable team that had suffered a heinous September collapse), along with the 1984 and 1989 NL East championships. That was as much success as the franchise had enjoyed in over half a century. Outfielder Andy Pafko represented the 1945 squad at the 1998 convention, the last Cubs team to have appeared in a World Series at the time.
Each fan who attended the 1998 Cubs Convention was given a set of baseball cards packaged in a boxy envelope, sealed with a plain white sticker. Unlike the beautiful cards produced for the 11th Cubs Convention, this set incorporated a much less appealing design. At 30 cards, the set was three more than its 1996 counterpart; however, the card size shrunk to 3” x 4” and only 14 individuals were given a card of their own. The remaining 16 cards featured two players/broadcasters, with frustratingly tiny photos. Each card also incorporated a wholly unnecessary tan border on either vertical side.
Primarily designed for gathering autographs at the convention, the card backs included biographical information, lifetime statistics, career highlights, and the uniform number for active players. Nearly every Cubs celebrity appearing at the 1998 convention was represented in the set, save pitcher Scott Sanderson and general manager Ed Lynch, who had also pitched for the Cubs from 1986-87.
The fact checkers for this set were less then stellar. Glenn Beckert and Geremi Gonzalez had their names spelled incorrectly, and Jody Davis apparently enjoyed a Methuselah-like big league career spanning from 1081-1990. The designer also lazily used the same photo from 1996 for both Beckert and Randy Hundley. The Gary Matthews card features a slightly different photo from the same at-bat depicted in the 1996 set.
New acquisitions Jeff Blauser and Mickey Morandini shared a card sporting the caps of their former teams, conjuring the legitimate longing for a Topps airbrush artist of yore.
A perfectly wonderful card set for Cubs and individual player collectors, the set includes Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Andre Dawson. Ford Frick award winners Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse were given cards of their own—Caray would pass away less a month after the convention and Brickhouse in August. Almost fittingly, this was the final Cubs Convention card set produced by the Cubs.
The 1998 Cubs would capture their first wildcard berth in 1998, only to fall unceremoniously to the Braves in the NLDS. A certain Cubs slugger featured in the set would go on to have an historic 1998 season at the plate, and a rookie pitcher would fan 20 Astros in a single contest on May 6. Cubs fans would celebrate the 1998 team at the 1999 convention and enjoy a much more robust highlight reel, despite the familiar disappointing end of the season.
Here is the checklist for the set (numbers included are for reference only):
1. Ernie Banks
2. Ron Santo
3. Billy Williams
4. Mark Grace
5. Sammy Sosa
6. Terry Adams
7. Harry Caray
8. Scott Servais
9. Andre Dawson
10. Steve Trachsel
11. Jack Brickhouse
12. Kevin Orie
13. Jim Riggleman
14. Rick Sutcliffe
15. 89er’s – Mike Bielecki/Vance Law
16. Flame-Throwers – Kevin Foster/Mark Pisciotta
17. 1969 Infield – Glen (sic) Beckert/Don Kessinger
18. Booth Banter – Pat Hughes/Josh Lewis
19. Behind the Plate – Randy Hundley/Jody Davis
20. Mound Mates – Mark Clark/Jeremi (sic) Gonzalez
21. Outfield Greats – Andy Pafko/Gary Matthews
22. 1969 CUBS – Dick Selma/Willie Smith
23. Catching Corps – Mike Hubbard/Tyler Houston
24. Future Stars – Kerry Wood/Pat Cline
25. Hot Prospects – Robin Jennings/Rodney Myers
26. NEW CUBS – Jeff Blauser/Mickey Morandini
27. Alumni Club – Oscar Gamble/Larry Bowa
28. Alumni Club – Carmen Fanzone/Paul Reuschel
29. No-hit Hurlers – Milt Pappas/Don Cardwell
30. VETERAN HURLERS – Bob Patterson/Kevin Tapani
Self-proclaimed as the greatest off-season event in all of sports, the Cubs Convention was the brainchild of Cubs’ marketing director John McDonough (now president and CEO of the Chicago Blackhawks). The 2020 Cubs Convention will be the 35th such event to offer fans up-close panel discussions, autograph and photo opportunities, and just about any Cubs-related merch a Die-Hard Cubs Fan could ever desire.
The Cubs hosted their first-of-its-kind fan convention in 1986 and quickly established a tradition of creating special gifts for attendees such as hats, thermal mugs and team calendars. For their 11th annual convention in 1996, the Cubs introduced a set of baseball cards featuring the players, coaches and broadcasters who appeared at the weekend-long event.
The eclectic set of 28 cards was packaged in a boxy envelope, sealed impenetrably with a circular white sticker on the back. (If you are purchasing a sealed box, know that the cards can be removed from the box without disturbing the seal.) One set was given to each convention goer at registration.
The image on the front of the box depicts Brian McRae jumping atop an apparent walk-off celebration. Shawon Dunston and Mark Grace are easily identifiable, as well. (Dunston does not appear in the set, as he was granted free agency by the Cubs following the 1995 season.)
Measuring a robust 4” x 5½”, the sexy black-bordered cards are printed on a relatively thin stock. The top border is an homage to the famous Wrigley Field marquee and features the distinctive mid-1990s Cubs logo. Cards of active players included career statistics on the back. Retired players’ cards had highlights and career statistics on the rear. The cards are not numbered.
Most of the cards feature a single individual, like these Hall of Famers, including a bespectacled Ferguson Jenkins, the Cubs then pitching coach:
Six of cards combine multiple individuals:
The final card is an advertisement for the now-defunct Vineline magazine with Ernie Banks on the cover. A closer look at the card reveals a posthumous (but presumably misprinted) enticement for 1995 postseason tickets. (By the time of the 1996 Cubs Convention, the 1995 Cubs had already finished 3rd in the NL Central.)
The Cubs Convention is a bonanza for autograph collectors and these cards are perfect for that purpose, like this Andy Pafko signed for the author:
The Cubs have never disclosed convention attendance figures, so it is unclear how many of these sets were produced, although it is likely in the 10,000-25,000 range. If you are a Cubs fan or individual player collector, these are great oddball cards to add to your collection.
That 1996 Cubs Convention also included a special Donruss exhibit, where you could get custom card produced. This baby-faced slugger 1/1 is the rarest card in my collection:
Set checklist (numbers just for reference):
1. Terry Adams/Turk Wendell (Young Guns)
2. Ernie Banks
3. Ernie Banks (Vineline Ad)
4. Glenn Beckert
5. Larry Bowa
6. Jack Brickhouse/Vince Lloyd (Golden Voices)
7. Scott Bullett/Ozzie Timmons (Dynamic Duo)
8. Harry Caray
9. Jose Cardenal/Rick Monday (Sensational 70’s)
10. Frank Castillo
11. Jody Davis
12. Mark Grace
13. Richie Hebner/Keith Moreland (Wrigleyville Sluggers)
14. Randy Hundley
15. Fergie Jenkins
16. Don Kessinger
17. Gary Matthews
18. Brian McRae
19. Andy Pafko
20. Milt Pappas/Tim Stoddard (Flashback Favorites)
21. Jim Riggleman
22. Ryne Sandberg
23. Ron Santo
24. Scott Servais
25. Steve Stone
26. Rick Sutcliffe
27. Steve Trachsel
28. Billy Williams
In the world of sports and pop culture there are stars, heroes, and models—and then there are superstars, superheroes, and supermodels. Similarly, the baseball card collecting world has both collectors and super collectors.
I used to think I had a pretty sweet collection of Wade Boggs cards, but oh how does my Boggs binder pale in comparison to the astonishing collections of Richard Davis and John Reichard, undisputed Olympians of Wade Boggs super collectors. In the spirit of fake Bill Murray’s sentimentality above, I shall be your Cavia porcellus, here merely for reference.
Richard Davis (45) is a physician assistant from the Joliet, Illinois area and was introduced to the Chicago Cubs as a young boy. Some of his earliest childhood memories include watching Bill Buckner and the 1982 Cubs on WGN with his 82-year-old great-grandmother. Not unlike the author, his love affair with the Cubs—and first broken heart—began with the 1984 team. Davis has been hooked on baseball ever since.
On Christmas morning 1985, Davis received a card collector’s kit containing an unopened 1983 Donruss pack, in which a Wade Boggs rookie card was fortuitously found. He knew it was a “hot” card and was thrilled to have it, despite not really knowing much about Boggs at that point. He began to follow Boggs’ career and collected all the Boggs items he could find. In fact, Davis has now accumulated over 200 copies of that Donruss rookie and is closing in on a staggering 600 copies of Boggs’ 1983 Topps rookie card.
John Reichard (47) is a loan officer from central Pennsylvania whose love affair with baseball coincided with the launch of his Little League career in 1978. Despite growing up far from Fenway Park, he rooted for the Red Sox because his mom was originally from Massachusetts. He was first turned on to card collecting when hunting for the infamous 1979 Topps Bump Wills (Blue Jays) error card became a bit of a sensation. His first collecting focus was on building sets, but as new manufacturers inundated the industry, trying to piece together all the issues simply became too daunting.
Because Reichard was already a Red Sox fan, Wade Boggs was an easy choice when he shifted his focus to collecting cards of a certain player. Not only was Boggs a phenomenal player, but there was already a good variety of different cards to collect. Reichard picked up a 1998 Topps Gold Label Class 2 One to One Red 1/1 card and was off to the races. Enamored (rightly so) with the 1984 Topps Boggs, Reichard has now amassed over 1000 copies of the card.
As for me—if anyone is still interested in my tale of mundane—the 1980s Cubs and Red Sox had such parallel, curse-hardened fandoms such that I was naturally drawn to Boston baseball as I sought an American League team to follow. Wade Boggs was a lefty batter (like me!) who hammered balls off the Green Monster (just like I dreamed of doing!). When Topps first italicized the league leaders on the backs of its 1986 base cards, Boggs’ incredible 1985 campaign (240 hits and a .368 batting average) just came to life. It was impossible not to idolize him.
For measuring stick purposes, my collection includes a lone Donruss rookie card, two 1983 Topps copies (one signed), a handful of 1984 Topps, and over nine copies of his 1985 Topps!
Author’s Boggs rookie cards
Look at all of those 1985 Topps Boggs cards
If we must count, however, John Reichard has nearly 10,000 total Wade Boggs cards, including 4900 different cards—enough to stuff a monster box. He has 165 1/1s and over 500 serial numbered cards numbered between 2 and 10, along with over 700 autographed cards.
Among his favorite cards are a 2014 Topps Triple Threads handprint jumbo relic and autograph card (numbered 6/10), a 1992 Donruss Super Diamond Kings, and a 2012 Topps Tier One Bat Knob 1/1 card. His memorabilia collection includes a game-used Red Sox bat from the early 1990s, a pair of game-used Yankees batting gloves, a game-used Red Sox batting glove, and a pair of game-used Yankees cleats, along with a number of signed jerseys and bats.
2014 Topps handprint jumbo relic 6/10
1992 Donruss Super Diamond Kings
Reichard’s loaded bat rack
Richard Davis’s collection is so massive, he can only estimate the number of Boggs cards he has—knowing that it runs well into the thousands. At his last count he had over 550 autographed items. He recently added his 30th copy of Boggs’ 1981 TCMA Pawtucket Red Sox issue. Showing about 75% of his collection in his very own “Boggs Tavern,” Davis has another seven storage bins full of items that he has not yet displayed.
His favorite item is probably a three-foot tall bobblehead autographed by Wade Boggs. Only 26 were made and Boggs, himself, confirmed that this was the only one he had ever signed. The strangest items Davis owns are pairs of shower shoes—both Red Sox and Yankees’ versions—used and autographed. Davis’s mission is simple, “If Wade’s likeness or image is on it then I want it.”
Behind the bar
At the bottom of the stairs
You may think that these mega collectors are bitter rivals, locked in an eternal struggle to outbid each other. Turns out, however, that John and Richard have become great friends who work together to help find items for each other. In fact, Reichard and Davis run joint Twitter and Facebook accounts to showcase their collections. On the Twitter account, they post a new Boggs card every day—chronologically by year of issue. Having missed only a day or two since November 2014, the Twitter posts are only up to 1996. Reichard expects that they can continue unabated for “another eight years without having to post a duplicate.”
I met Wade Boggs at a card show in the late 1980s and I have no recollection, whatsoever, of the encounter other than being starstruck as he signed by 8×10. That photo and a signed ball I later received a gift comprise the Wade Boggs items on display in my basement mancave:
The museum-quality displays constructed by Davis and Reichard, on the other hand, are simply mind boggling.
Davis and Reichard have each met Boggs several times and he now knows them by name. Wade Boggs even knows Davis’s son by name, “the little kid collector and fan inside cannot help but get giddy over this fact.” Boggs follows both their personal and joint Twitter accounts. For Davis, this is the pinnacle of super collecting.
Whether serious or not, Boggs has told Davis he would like to see Boggs Tavern for himself. “The bar fridge will be stocked with Miller Lites if he does.” Reichard invited Boggs to his wedding, but Wade politely declined—despite a stuffed chicken breast entrée—since he was going to be in Alaska celebrating his birthday at the time.
Both Reichard and Davis average two to three Boggs “mail days” per week. Reichard suffers “withdrawal if he goes more than three days without something” new arriving. Davis is still looking for a game used fielder’s glove. Reichard is on the lookout for a home Red Sox jersey and game worn cap. Luckily, their wives are supportive—if not fully understanding of the passion.
Richard Davis’s pipe dream is for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown to open a wing dedicated to baseball super collectors, where perhaps he could get a plaque in the “Hall of Collectors” alongside John Reichard and other Boggs super collectors Kevin McInnis, David Boggs (no relation), John Hall, Jeremy Weikel, Robert Howell, Nathan Flemming, James Miles and Chris Thrane.
While my pedestrian Wade Boggs collection will never measure up to those of super collectors Richard Davis or John Reichard, at least I have two items I know they do not have!
Author’s c. 1987 freshman English class poem
Author’s c. 1988 drawing, complete with snazzy 1980s graphics
*Footnote: I cannot draw feet.
Interviews with John Reichard and Richard Davis.
Photos courtesy of John Reichard, Richard Davis and author.
A very long time ago I saw a comedian who found it funny to give people lotto tickets as gifts. Because the chance of winning was so remote, he quipped that the gesture was akin to giving someone “nothing.”
From 2003 through 2008, the Chicago Cubs held promotional dates in which prizes were given to a select few fans at several ballgames, typically no more than 100-500 of each. Although the chances of winning the prizes—autographed baseballs, jerseys, gloves, bats, and other sweet items—were slim, the Cubs did offer a bit of a consolation prize, at least for baseball card collectors, which was certainly better than nothing.
In 2003, the Cubs promotional schedule included 11 dates in which the giveaway was an official Rawlings baseball autographed by one of several players, such as Sammy Sosa, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams or Corey Patterson. The giveaway, however, was limited to 500 and given only to winners of a scratch-off game. All fans were given a game card, which was essentially a cool, though oddly sized, card for the player whose prize was being awarded that day. These cards measure 2” x 4” and are all set in a horizontal format.
On June 5, 2003, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays faced the Cubs at Wrigley Field for the rubber match of the three-game series. Paid attendance for the game was 28,713 and the Cubs were giving away 500 baseballs autographed by Ryne Sandberg that afternoon. Fans were given cards that featured a photo of Ryno superimposed on a sun swept Wrigley day; to the right was a shimmering golden scratch-off circle. The back of the card listed Sandberg’s career statistics and the sweepstakes’ entry rules. By my math, the chance of winning that day one was roughly 1.7%, without accounting for unused tickets and others who may have taken advantage of the “no purchase necessary” entry method, and assuming the game cards were distributed to all who attended. Not surprisingly, I was not a winner.
The Cubs ramped up the promotion in 2004, issuing a total of 21 cards and offering both autographed baseballs and Mitchell & Ness Cooperstown Authentic Collection jerseys of players such as Andy Pafko (1945), Ernie Banks (1958), Bill Buckner (1978) and Greg Maddux (2002). On September 29, the Cubs lost the Reds in twelve innings. I did not win a baseball autographed by Ron Santo.
In 2005, the Cubs issued the largest set yet, ballooning to 27 cards and peppering the giveaways with Wilson A2000 gloves, signed photos and Mitchell & Ness jerseys for Cubs legends Hack Wilson (1930), Gabby Hartnett (1938) and Bruce Sutter (1979).
The Cubs scaled back slightly in 2006 with 25 cards, but continued to offer fantastic prizes, which included catcher’s mitts signed by Michael Barrett, official bases signed by Ernie Banks and Ron Santo, and a helmet signed by Aramis Ramirez. They also offered jerseys of Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente. (Unfortunately, it appears as though the game cards for these non-Cub legends may have featured only a photo of the jersey, not the person.) Some of the game cards in 2006 went full postcard size at 4” x 6.” On May 27 the Braves beat the Cubs 2-1. I did not win a Derrick Lee autographed baseball.
The Cubs cut the giveaway promotion by over half in 2007, issuing only 12 cards and scaling back the prizes. They also did not bother providing any statistics on the flipside. On June 29 the Cubs beat the Brewers but, not shockingly, I did not leave with a photo signed by Alfonso Soriano.
The last hurrah for the promotion was in 2008, when the Cubs held just five giveaway dates. Perhaps the Cubs learned that giving away prizes to so few was not a great way to attract fans. Or maybe the players were simply fed up with having to sign so many things.
Through the years, it was not uncommon to see the losing cards folded on the ground or tossed in the garbage bins. Although there were presumably 30,000 to 35,000 of each of these cards manufactured, the number that survive at this point is appreciably thin, especially in good condition.
Overall, the Cubs issued 101 player cards, including one for the 1908 Cubs infield featuring the famous trio of Frank Chance, Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker, along with oft-forgotten third baseman Harry Steinfeldt. By my count, Derrick Lee and Ron Santo appeared on the most cards with eight. The winning cards were hole punched and returned to the winner with the prize. Accordingly, there are at least two versions (winner/loser) for each card, if you are into variations!
Completing the entire six-year run of these cards would be a daunting task. The cards are not numbered, apart from the serial number on the face of the card, and there is no hobby consensus as to what to call them. Some sellers label these card as a stadium giveaway (“SGA”), which is appropriate—though not fully accurate—in that these were not the giveaway, just a means to randomly distribute the giveaway. It does not appear that these cards are terribly plentiful—either scanned or for sale.
A full checklist can be found here, showing the date of each card giveaway and the prize offered. A second list shows the number of cards for each individual.
Looking through an album of Cubs teams sets recently, I came across the Topps cloth stickers of Bill Madlock and Jose Cardenal. As you may know, Topps issued a test set of these stickers with the same front design as their regular set in 1977. The disposable peel-off backs of the cards were different than the regular issue, however, swapping a full complement of statistics for select career highlights for each of the 55 players featured in the selective set. One of those sticker-back highlights on Madlock’s cloth card conceals a pretty cool story.
Following the action on Saturday, October 2, 1976 Reds right fielder Ken Griffey was atop the NL leaderboard with a .338 batting average, poised to win his first batting title. After an oh-for-four on October 2, Bill Madlock was sitting at .333.
On the final day of that Bicentennial season, October 3, Madlock started at third base for the Cubs at Wrigley Field in a game against the Montreal Expos. “Mad Dog” would knock singles in the first, third, fourth and sixth innings, off of three different pitchers, driving his season batting average up to .3385—just enough to eclipse Griffey when rounded up to .339. When Madlock’s spot in the order came up in the bottom the eighth, he was lifted for pinch hitter Rob Sperring (who also singled).
Meanwhile in Cincinnati, Mike Lum started in right field in place of Griffey, as the Reds played their final regular season game against the Braves. This was a meaningless contest in that Cincinnati had cruised to the NL West division championship, with the team looking ahead to facing Philadelphia in the NLCS.
Presumably after getting word that Madlock had just done the unthinkable in Chicago—raising his average six points in a single game!—Griffey entered the game in Cincinnati as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning. After a Pete Rose single, Griffey struck out. Uh-oh. Griffey’s average had just dropped to .337.
By the bottom the eighth inning, the Reds were leading 4-0 and Griffey was due up sixth, in need of a miracle. Even if Griffey were to hit safely in this at-bat, his average would still fall short of Madlock’s .339. But…if he were to get a hit and the Braves forced extras, it would still be possible for Griffey to tie Madlock with a 2-for-3.
In that eighth, Lum singled, Dave Concepcion singled, Doug Flynn singled, Bob Bailey singled and Rose walked. Ken Griffey got to the plate in the eighth, but whiffed. The dream was over for Griffey, as the Reds tacked on seven runs in the bottom of the eighth to put the game out of reach for the Braves.
Griffey would go on to win his second consecutive championship with the Big Red Machine in 1976, but that season’s NL batting title race was one for the ages.
1977 Topps Sticker Front
Cloth Sticker Back
The back of the cloth Bill Madlock boasts that he went 4-for-4 on the final day of the 1976 season to lead the NL in batting. True, but this tidbit obfuscates the absolute badassery Bill Madlock displayed on October 3, 1976 to take his second consecutive batting crown.
Madlock was featured in the 1977 Topps cloth sticker set, Ken Griffey was not.
Main Street Toy Company was a 10-person outfit that was formed in the wake of Coleco’s demise. Main Street’s founder, Gene Murtha, was a former vice president of marketing for Coleco. He assembled a small team of executives to run a new toy company poised to “learn lessons from Coleco’s mistakes.”
Main Street found quick success with Slap Wraps, a plastic-coated steel strip that would automatically curl around the wrist when slapped on one’s arm. The company sold upwards of $4 million worth of Slap Wraps in 1990. Unfortunately, this was the only successful product in its lineup and by 1991, Main Street had been gobbled up by a competitor and dissolved.
But, what does all of this have to do with baseball cards you ask?
Well, Main Street Toy Company marketed the worst baseball card set ever in 1989. Patented by video game stalwart Eric Bromley and assigned to the fledgling company, Main Street Baseball was an electronic game that used statistics for individual MLB players to help determine game play outcomes. According to the box, you could “Steal a base like Vince Coleman” or “Pinch hit like Kirk Gibson.” Wow!
Player information was embedded in bar codes that were printed onto small stickers designed to be affixed to the back of that player’s baseball card. In theory, this was not a bad idea at all. In practice, however, the kids who wanted to play Main Street Baseball were encouraged to deface baseball cards of their favorite players and then slide them through a slot to scan the bar code. Oh, the humanity!
The game included bar codes that contained the 1988 statistics for over 100 players, along with an offer to purchase bar code stickers for each of the 26 teams in MLB at the time. And have I mentioned that the Main Street Baseball game was packaged with the worst baseball card set ever?
Officially licensed by the MLBPA, Main Street was authorized to use the names and statistics for the superstars of the day and produced a 24-card set that featured standard-sized cards. The complete set includes:
NL players: Bobby Bonilla, Will Clark, Andre Dawson, Kirk Gibson, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser, Tim Raines, Nolan Ryan, Ryne Sandberg, Benny Santiago, Ozzie Smith and Darryl Strawberry.
AL players: Wade Boggs, George Brett, Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Dennis Eckersley, Carlton Fisk, Don Mattingly, Paul Molitor, Kirby Puckett, Alan Trammell, Frank Viola and Dave Winfield.
The backs of the cards are unnumbered and list only biographical information and rudimentary statistics from each player’s 1988 campaign— batting average, home runs and stolen bases for position player and won-loss record, ERA and strikeouts for pitchers. And, of course, a spot was designated for the bar code sticker.
Although the production run is unknown, these cards can be difficult to find. So why would a difficult-to-find set comprised of half Hall of Famers be so brutal, you may be asking?
Well, the cards do not include photos or illustrations of the players.
What? Wait a second. A set of cards that was licensed by the MLBPA does not include any player photos? Not even pictures with the team logos airbrushed out?
Strictly for completionists, the Main Street Baseball cards are the worst ever—unless you have a thing for wholly generic baseball art and a dearth of statistical information. As for the game—who knows. I was never willing to destroy my cards to play it.
Anthony Ramirez, “Turning Profits Hand Over Wrist,” New York Times, October 27, 1990.
Pamela Klein, “Fad Wanes, But Marketers, Creators Still Feud,” Hartford Courant, September 2, 1991.
“Canadian Firm Gets Main Street Toy Lines,” Hartford Courant, November 27, 1991.
United States Patent Number 5,026,058, issued June 25, 1991.
The best baseball cards are evocative—tangible reminders of a particular period of life, memories of rooting for a favorite player, or the circumstances in which one came to acquire a prized possession. In 1988, I was 16 years old and deep in the throes of collecting every single baseball card I could get my hands on, especially oddball releases of my favorite players. At that time, nearly every store, food manufacturer, restaurant, and dozens of other companies were anxious to cash in on the baseball card craze and contributed myriad releases to the Golden Age of Oddball.
Kenner debuted its Starting Lineup figures and cards in 1988 with a set of 124 baseball players. Sister company, Parker Brothers, released Starting Lineup Talking Baseball, an electronic baseball game that was packaged with a set of 40 baseball cards featuring the biggest stars of the day. With an initial retail price between $89.99 and $99.99 (approximately $200 today) this set of cards was essentially the Holy Grail of oddball sets.
The game was amazingly sophisticated and unlike the ubiquitous Mattel, Coleco and Entex baseball games of the 1980s, the Parker Brothers version featured programmable lineups, real players, and an announcer who would offer play-by-play accounts of the action on the field. Unfortunately, it was often difficult to find willing opponents due to the complicated nature of game play.
Each of the players on the American and National League All-Star teams packaged with the game contained a photo on the front and statistics on the back. The cards are an odd size (2 5/8″x 3″), however, and are almost too wide to fit in a standard baseball card album page. Licensed only by the MLBPA, none of the cards included team logos. The cards are not numbered in the traditional sense and only have a “Player Number” that corresponds to programming the lineup to include that particular player.
This alphabetical listing of the set includes the Player Number in parentheses and the * indicates that player is in the starting lineup:
Kennedy, Terry (11)* 36. Valenzuela, Fernando (28)
Mattingly, Don (14)* 37. Whitaker, Lou (17)
Morris, Jack (25) 38. Winfield, Dave (24)*
Murphy, Dale (18)* 39. Worrell, Todd (27)
Murray, Eddie (13) 40. Yount, Robin (26)
These All-Star players were pre-programmed into the game. A cartridge was also included that featured legendary Hall of Famers, so right out of the box a game could be played pitting Don Mattingly, Wade Boggs, Kirby Puckett and the American League All-Stars against Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson and the Hall of Fame team.
Starting Lineup Talking Baseball was customizable with the rosters of each of the 26 Major League Baseball teams at the time, available on eight cartridges that initially retailed for about $19.99 each:
No. 4001 – Tigers/Blue Jays/Indians/Brewers
No. 4002 – Yankees/Red Sox/Orioles
No. 4003 – Royals/White Sox/Rangers/Twins
No. 4004 – Angels/A’s/Mariners
No. 4005 – Cubs/Expos/Cardinals
No. 4006 – Pirates/Phillies/Mets
No. 4007 – Giants/Padres/Dodgers
No. 4008 – Reds/Astros/Braves
Each of these packages included a separate set of cards for the teams on each cartridge. In total, there were 546 of these cards issued – 20 players and a checklist card for each team. These cards are the same odd size as those included with the game; however, the team set cards feature illustrations of the players on the front, not photographs. Here is a link to the complete checklist:
The cards included with the game cartridges are somewhat representative of each of the teams but the fact checkers for this game made some glaring mistakes! The first sign that the product might be prone to errors was evident on the game’s playing surface. The designer was apparently unfamiliar with the layout of the bases and (maddeningly) positioned second base parallel with the front edge of home plate.
This massive oddball set features several players who appear on cards for two different teams. One of those players, Lee Smith, is actually included in the Cubs team set with Calvin Schiraldi – one of the players he was traded for! Elsewhere, Billy Ripken’s last name is spelled wrong, even though he was listed alphabetically right next to brother, Cal, whose name was spelled correctly.
Here are players who appear on cards for two different teams:
Bradley, Phil (Mariners/Phillies)
Butler, Brett (Giants/Indians)
Clark, Jack (Cardinals/Yankees)
Davis, Chili (Giants/Angels)
Davis, Mike (Dodgers/A’s)
Dernier, Bob (Cubs/Phillies)
Gibson, Kirk (Dodgers/Tigers)
Knight, Ray (Tigers/Orioles)
Moreland, Keith (Cubs/Padres)
Parker, Dave (Reds/A’s)
Slaught, Don (Yankees/Rangers)
Smith, Lee (Cubs/Red Sox)
Wilson, Glenn (Mariners/Phillies)
Taken as a whole, this is one unusual set – numbering nearly 600 – replete with oddly-sized cards, curious player selection, and a strange distribution method. Regardless, the Starting Lineup Talking Baseball cards evoke pleasant memories of playing the game with the precious few who were patient enough to play, driving all over the Chicagoland area with my card collecting buddies trying to track down missing cartridges/cards, and generally, that halcyon time of my life when I was less burdened with adult responsibilities. I still like to flip through these cards and reminisce. But if only I could find someone to play to play the game with…
Toys R Us advertisement, Chicago Tribune, November 24, 1988.
Jerry Morales was—at least anecdotally—a slick-fielding outfielder known for his unorthodox habit of catching routine fly balls below his waist and out in front of him. He led PCL outfielders in fielding percentage in 1970 and 1971 and was a top defensive NL outfielder in 1975 and 1976 by standard metrics – including assists, range factor, double plays, and fielding percentage. Morales was also known for his sweet mustache, ranked here as the 12th best in Cubs history.
In his 15-year Major League career, Morales amassed nearly 5000 plate appearances and displayed decent power, belting double-digit home runs in five seasons. Morales was an All-Star in 1977 with the Chicago Cubs and was hit by a Sparky Lyle pitch in his only All-Star plate appearance. He would end the regular season .290/.348/.447, with 11 home runs and 69 knocked in. Advanced metrics have not been kind to Morales as a defensive outfielder, however. According to Baseball-Reference, Morales was worth -0.7 WAR in his 1977 All-Star season and finished his career with a -2.0 WAR, including a lifetime dWAR of -12.4.
On the other hand, center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. was a perennial Gold Glove recipient, winning ten consecutive awards from 1990-99 with the Seattle Mariners. Although the second half of his career, mostly with Cincinnati, was marred by injuries and declining defensive value, Griffey finished his Hall of Fame career with a lifetime 2.2 dWAR, upstaged by his offensive prowess and a trophy case overstuffed with Gold Gloves. Griffey appeared in 13 All-Star Games and compiled a .440/.464/.640 slash line in 25 at-bats, with a home run and seven driven in.
Junior was also known for wearing his baseball cap backwards, although his reason for doing so began of necessity, not style. “My dad had a ‘fro, and I didn’t, so I wore his hat and it always hit me in the face, so I just turned it around and it just stuck. It wasn’t like I was trying to be a tough guy or change the way that baseball is played. It was just that my dad wore a size 7 1/2, and I had a 6 1/4. It was just too big.” Griffey participated in 1993 Home Run Derby with his cap on backwards and concluded his 2016 Hall of Fame induction speech by donning his hat in that oh-so-familiar way.
So why all the fuss about Jerry Morales? Well, as it turns out, he was the first non-catcher to ever appear on a Topps baseball card with his hat on backwards, years before Ken Griffey Jr. became associated with the style. On his 1981 Topps card, Morales is pictured hanging out at the batting cage with his New York Mets cap on backwards.
Sure, catchers were often depicted on cards with their caps on backwards, but mainly because they wore them that way under their masks.
1968 Topps #251
1956 Topps #131
1952 Topps #230
The last catcher to be pictured on a card with his hat on backwards was Rick Dempsey in this 1991 Score edition.
But Jerry Morales will always be a fashion pioneer.
Bogovich, Richard. “Jerry Morales.” In Maxwell Kates (Author, Editor), Warren Corbett (Author), Gregory Wolf (Author), Leslie Heaphy (Author), Rory Costello (Author), Rob Neyer (Author), Bill Nowlin (Editor), Len Levin (Editor), Carl Riechers (Editor), Time for Expansion Baseball, Phoenix: Society for American Baseball Research, 2018, 215-22.
Slocum, Frank, “Topps Baseball Cards: The Complete Picture Collection” (New York: Warner Books; 1st Edition, 1985)