Free Agent Draft

Most collectors have a cringe inducing story surrounding the desecration of cards or related products during their youth. A classic example is Jeff Katz gluing ’71 coins onto a board. Of course cards were designed to provide fun and entertainment for kids. At the time, the alterations we made brought us joy. However, I was enough of a collector as a kid to only mess with duplicates. The following is a tale of desecrating a ’69 Pete Rose card-amongst many others-in the pursuit of fun.

Parker Brothers produced a board game called “Pro Draft,” which utilized ’73 Topps football cards. I very much coveted this game but never obtained it. Being a clever lad, I decided to create my own game using baseball cards. I called the game “Free Agent Draft.” My best guess is I created it in ‘75 after the Messersmith/McNally case resulted in free agency.

Borrowing liberally from the rules of Monopoly, I crafted a board game where the first player to obtain a card for each positon–plus a manager–would be the winner. The players had different values, much like the properties in Monopoly. Drawing from my vast number of duplicates, I proceeded to write dollar values, ranging from 50 to 500, on the front of cards. This resulted in not only Pete Rose being defaced but Luis Aparicio, Boog Powell and Bill Mazeroski as well.

My “Monopoly like” board had spaces for drafting players, winning or losing money, being forced to trade a player or pay opponents fees. I had a “Community Chest/Chance” space called “Hit or Error” resulting in good or bad outcomes depending on which card was drawn. Examples included: “3 game winning streak: move forward 3 spaces” and “Pay $100 to pension fund.”

Competitors could raise money by placing players on “waivers,” receiving half value from the bank. An opponent could put in a waiver claim if you couldn’t meet your financial obligations. Obviously, I stole this from the mortgage option in Monopoly.

Participants could purchase multiple players for the same position in an attempt to block opponents from filling out a team. Conversely, you could take a player you needed if you landed on a “trade” space.

Initially, I drew the game board-poorly- on the back of a roll of Christmas paper and glued it to a checker board. Later, the board was significantly improved by my buddy, Ted, utilizing a piece of plywood and etching the spaces with a wood burner tool. We even varnished it.

Since we played this game for hours, it must have been somewhat compelling. I remember having to alter the rules several times since flaws would creep up. Eventually, we nailed down a fun game.

During a furnace installation in my grandparent’s basement, the board and the “Hit or Error” cards disappeared. I saved some of the adulterated baseball cards, which you are viewing.

If I had sold this concept to Parker Brother or Milton Bradley–not the player–I might have made a fortune. Alas, I’m sure copyright infringement would have been an issue.

I also created a game called “Jenk-o-Matic” baseball, but that is a topic for another post.

 

California is the Place Topps Oughta Be

The relocation of the Dodgers and Giants to the West Coast after the ’57 season not only broke the hearts of fans but meant Topps didn’t have a NL base in New York at which to photograph players. So, Topps decided to follow the departed clubs and shoot the National League teams in sunny California. This results in several sets of cards with photos taken at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Seals Stadium in San Francisco.

I’m sure most of you know the story of the Dodgers initial plan to use the PCL Angels facility (Wrigley Field) as their home turf. But the prospect of selling 60-70,000 seats per game instead of 20,000 caused Walter O’Malley to select the cavernous Coliseum, despite its track and inflexible football field configuration.

There is no mistaking the Coliseum cards since many clearly show the Peristyle from which burned the Olympic flame during the 1932 Olympics (1984 too). Also the arches are apparent in numerous photos. The haziness may be a result of the infamous LA “smog,” which was particularly bad in the days before auto emission control devices came along in the ‘70s.

59 hodges59 Burgess   60 Robinson

The ’59 card of Gil Hodges is a prime examples of a card with the Peristyle and arches in the distance. The ’59 Smokey Burgess and ‘60 Frank Robinson clearly show that the visitors were also photographed in the Coliseum.

60 Zim  61 Drysdale  62 Koufax

The shots continue to show up over the next three years-as attested by the ’60 Don Zimmer, ’61 Don Drysdale and ’62 Sandy Koufax.

After the move west, the Giants were content to use Seals Stadium, knowing that a new ball park (Candlestick) was scheduled to open in ’60. Additional seats were added to bring the former PCL venue’s capacity up to around 22,000. This single deck stadium in the Mission District is very distinctive with orange box railings.

Sauer   61 Antonelli Bazooka   61 Alou   59 Robbie   61 Aaron   62 White

Former NL MVP Hank Sauer in ’59, Johnny Antonelli in ’60 and Felipe Alou in ‘61 are all at Seals Stadium. The ’59 Frank Robinson,’61 Aaron and ’62 Bill White are opposition player examples.

Seals Seat

When Seals Stadium was razed after the ’59 season, the wooden seats along with the light towers made their way to the new Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Washington. The seats remained in use until being replaced in 2005. I purchased one, which is now displayed in my memorabilia room. I have at least one piece of memorabilia from all the San Francisco and Tacoma teams displayed on the seat.

 

 

 

Action-packed Packs

A recent post by Jeff Katz provided a look at horizontal Topps cards from ’74, comprised mostly of game action photos. Of course Topps previously used horizontal orientation for entire sets and specialty cards (league leaders, world series etc.). This brought to mind some of the great “colorized” action shots from the classic ‘56 set, which utilized the horizontal design. The photos were used as background images behind the portraits. Let’s take a look at a few.

seivers

Prototypical slugger, Roy Sievers, could apparently “flash some leather” as well as pummel it. This shot shows him making a great catch-or attempting to- while wearing cool “shades.”

Pope

Dave Pope makes a great leaping grab against what appears to be the Grand Coulee Dam. The “blue” Orioles cap rounds out this cardboard oddity.

Bridges

Peering into the future to channel “Charlie Hustle,” Rocky Bridges “flies” into second in spring training- complete with an airborne helmet.

reese

Executing a fantastic aerobatic leap to avoid an aggressive slide, Pee Wee Reese fires to first for a “twin killing.” The ball frozen in mid-air adds to this wonderful image.

Minoso

The great Minnie Minoso seems to defy gravity as he hurls toward second base.

Killebrew

A very young Harmon Killebrew has either made an error or is picking up a foul “dribbler.” Not exactly the most scintillating of action shots.

Schoonmaker

Perhaps Topps wanted to depict the moribund Nationals in their continued state of ineptitude as outfielder Jerry Schoonmaker appears to be chasing a misplayed ball.

Piersall

Fear “struck out” once again as Jimmy Piersall shows no hesitation in taking on Yogi in a play at the plate.

hodges

The great Gil Hodges kicks up some dust as he heads into third.

Smith

Although this is a staged photo, I could resist include this Mayo Smith image. Managers often coached 3rd base in this era, so Mayo is apparently giving the “stop sign.” I suppose it is possible that he is demonstrating the size of fish he recently caught or showing how far the Phillies were from being a contending team.

Valo

Elmer Valo makes a spectacular over the fence grab.

Rivera

“Jungle” Jim Rivera “runs one down” in the corner.

66739

roberto-clemente-photo

I’ll end with the phenomenal Roberto Clemente making a spectacular grab against the Ebbets Field wall in right. I’ve included the original photo Topps colorized.

There are many more classic shots from this iconic set. A surprising number of the original photos can be found online.

The Bad Choice of a New Generation

As an aficionado of “odd ball” sets, I’ve accumulated many over the years. Amongst the quality commemoratives, reprints and regional sets lurk some real “clunkers” that make me question why I collected them in the first place. The “Pepsi Griffeys” is a prime example of a real “stinker.”

Mother's cookies

91 Star

90 Star Aqua

The unique aspect of a father and son playing together coupled with Ken Griffey Jr.’s emergence as a super-star resulted in at least four sets featuring dad and son. Mother’s Cookies produced a nice four card set with regional distribution in ‘91. The cards were imbedded in bags of cookies. The Star card company made two sets (aqua in ’90; red in ‘91) each with 11 cards.

Pepsi Jr.    Senior Pepsi    Pepsi Jr & Sr

The ’91 Pepsi sponsored set contains eight cards, which were included in 12 packs of Diet and regular Pepsi and distributed in the Northwest. Each set depicts the Griffeys singularly and together.

Outfitting the Griffeys in Pepsi themed uniforms creates a terrible aesthetic. The uniforms are devoid of lettering with only a number on the front. A Pepsi script or “Griffey” would have looked more natural. The sleeves and caps feature a Pepsi logo patch. The caps would be right at home on the head of a delivery truck driver.

Pepsi Back    Pepsi Jr. #3

The card design is basic with only the names appearing on the front. The backs are white with black lettering and contain various statistical information and highlights. The tight shots and blurred backgrounds make it impossible to determine the location of photo shoot with the possible exception of card #3 which could be the Kingdome center field wall. Incidentally, the 12 pack boxes had a 6”x7” picture of Jr. identical to card #3.

Many advertisers have issued sets with logos and scripts eliminated to get around paying royalties to MLB. This creates a bad look, but it is definitely better than product placement uniforms.

Are there other sets out there featuring players in product themed uniforms? Please comment or tweet.

You Can Put It On The Cardboard…..Yes!

Love him or hate him, Ken “Hawk” Harrelson has been an outsized character in baseball for six decades. From his battles with Charlie Finley in Kansas City to his “mod” wardrobe featuring “Nehru” jackets, he was a distinctive individual within the staid baseball world of the ‘60s. As a player, the Hawk had one exceptional season for Boston during the “Year of the Pitcher” in ’68. Injuries and desire to be a professional golfer prematurely ended his career in ’71. Of course, he would go on to be a broadcaster, most notably with the White Sox. His zealous support for the White Sox grates on many people, creating a love/hate dichotomy.

During Harrelson’s relatively brief career, he had some beautiful cards. The green and gold A’s combo and classic Indians vest uniform created great visual appeal. In addition the Topps photographers captured Hawk in some classic poses. On the flip side, the player boycott resulted in some duds as well. So button up your “Nehru” jacket, “grab some bench” and get ready to view some great cardboard. Mercy!

64 Hawk  65 Hawk

Hawk’s ’64 and ’65 cards are routine spring training shots, but the navy and red accented, vest uniforms-worn briefly by KC in the early ’60s-provides a novelty factor.

66 Hawk

The ’66 card is a personal favorite. The classic first baseman’s “stretch” pose coupled with the green and gold trimmed uniform combines to make a classic. The Yankee fan heckling Hawk during the photo shoot is a great example of backgrounds making cards more interesting.

67 Hawk

Harrelson’s conflicts with A’s owner, Charlie Finley, resulted in Hawk’s departure to Washington during the ’66 Season. Topps’ photographers took multiple shots of Ken in a Senators uniform in 67 spring training and early in the season at Yankee Stadium. The latter resulted in another wonderful card. Hawk looks down at his bat as if assessing its weight and worthiness. Topps often used this shot for “sluggers.”

Charley Finley was notorious for having “trader’s remorse” and would reacquire players he previously jettisoned. Hawk comes back to the A’s in mid-season of ‘67 only to become embroiled in a controversy surrounding Finley’s firing of Manager Al Dark, resulting in his release. After losing Tony Conigliaro the Red Sox need a power bat, so they pick up Hawk for the stretch run and World Series.

68 Hawk

However, the players’ boycott of Topps resulted in Ken never being pictured in a Red Sox uniform.  A “nostril” shot is used in ’68, which clearly defines why Ken was nick-named Hawk. The red piping on the hat is a clear indication of his time with the Senators. His “League Leader” photos are also from his Senators stay.

69 Hawk  69 All Star Hawk

The ’69 regular card and All-Star card has him sans cap with his A’s green and gold uniform.

69 Deckle Hawk

The “deckle edge” also has him on the A’s but with a not too convincing Boston “B” drawn on the cap.

69 decal

Topps reverts back to a Senators photo for the decal insert.

70 Hawk

Much to the consternation of Red Sox fans, Hawk is dealt to the Indians early in ’69, which results in a ’70 card that is truly a wonderful creation. The colorful uniform, Yankee Stadium location and the “two bats on the shoulder” pose all add up to perfection. Note the golf gloves for batting. Hawk is often credited with popularized the use of batting gloves, although others had used them before Ken. Also, Hawk appears to have taped his wrists.

71 Hawk

Since “he gone” from baseball at the end of the season, ’71 marks Ken’s final card  This “candid” shot shows him in mid-laugh under a shock of shaggy hair.

What all these cards have in common is a uniqueness that, in my humble opinion, has been missing from Topps regular issue cards over the past 20 years. The Heritage cards are an improvement, but the staging eliminates oddities in the background.

If you can, track down “Don’t Knock the Hawk” (a novelty song from ’68). And read his BioProject article written by Alexander Edelman.

 

Stardom “Staehled”

68 Bench                          

Topps’ ability to project stardom for young players has always been mixed. For every Nolan Ryan and Johnny Bench who appeared on the “Rookie Stars” cards of the ‘60’s and ‘70s, there was a Mike Brumley or a Ron Tompkins. Of course we all know baseball is the most difficult sport to project success beyond potential. Nonetheless, the talent evaluators in Brooklyn could be decidedly dogged in their insistence that some youngsters had star potential. Thus, there are several instances of the same players featured on multiple “Rookie Stars” cards.   I included the ’63 version-which is not team specific- in the survey.

64 Piniella

69 Staehl

In most instances statistical evidence did not back up Topps’ talent appraisals, with a few exceptions. The most well known is “Sweet” Lou Piniella who appears on three cards for three different teams. Lou vindicated Topps loyalty by emerging as a solid player for the Royals and Yankees. Darrell Knowles is another multiple card rookie who had a good but not spectacular career. One of the “Miracle Mets” chief “linchpins,” Tommy Agee, was another excellent player who-like Piniella- earned Rookie-of-the-Year honors.

63 Simpson

64 Simpson

65 Simpson

66 Simpson

However, the majority of the guys who appear two, three or four times never lived up to Topps’ lofty expectations. For instance Dick Simpson is on four different cards starting with in ’63.  He bounced around with five teams before his potential ran out in ’69 after a stint with Seattle. Bob Davis shows up three times and Ron Stone has a “triple” as well. The before mentioned Ron Tompkins, Roberto Rodriquez, Darrell Osteen (who appear together in ’68 for Reds) and Richie Scheinblum (paired with Lou Piniella as ’68 Indians) all had “doubles.”

65 Staehl

66 Staehl

69 Staehl

Marv Staehl is a classic example of overhyped potential. He appears on the White Sox “Rookie Stars” cards in ’65 and ’66 and for the Pilots in ’69. Marv played a total of 47 games for the “Pale Hose” but never played with Seattle, having been optioned to AAA Vancouver at the end spring training. He does hold the distinction of being the first player with major league experience signed by the Pilots.

After being dealt to the Expos, Marv finally exceeded his rookie status in ’70 by playing in over 100 games. The Expos are not impressed and cut him in April of ’71. He latches on with the Braves but is released after 22 games and a .111 average. Though his major league career ends, ’71 is not all bad for Marv. Topps finally gives him a card of his own, even if the cap emblem was inexpertly airbrushed away.

71 Staehl

Several months ago erstwhile blog contributor and Mayor of Cooperstown, Jeff Katz, informed me that Marv Staehl was once his insurance agent in Illinois. Marv had to be an All-State agent since he was known for having “good hands” around second base.

If I missed a multiple “Rookie Stars” player, let us know.

 

Fleer Funnies

Like many of you, any card series that dealt with sports sparked my interest as a kid. Fleer offered several collecting options beyond traditional picture cards. I collected the cloth logo and cap emblem stickers, “Famous Feats” in ’72 and “Wildest Days” in ‘73 as well as the ’70 and ’71 World Series.

The World Series sets featured cartoons or caricatures of baseball players and managers. The cartoons do a nice job of conveying the prime event or factor that led to outcome of that particular year. Robert Laughlin was the cartoonist who came up with this concept. He self-produced a set in the late ‘60s and then sold the concept to Fleer.

WS32 (70)
1970 Fleer

 

WS 32 (71)
1971 Fleer

The two sets are not duplicates. 1970 consists of 66 standard sizes cards with a narrative of the series printed in blue on the back. In ’71, Fleer produced 68 cards (issuing a card for the 1904 series that was not played, and adding 1970), and uses a completely new cartoon and the MLB logo to the front. Also the backs are different with scores for each game and a different narrative printed in black.

Since I’ve completed the ’70 set recently, it will be the focus of the post.

14WS

The “Miracle Braves” rocketing to an incredible upset of the “Mackmen” is a good example of a generic cartoon players telling the series story. Also it demonstrates that one of Laughlin’s aims was “kid appeal.”

WS 09

One of my favorites is the ’09 card which has great caricatures of a maniacal Ty Cobb and a dignified Honus Wagner. Notice the nick-names on the crossed bats.

WS 19

The “Black Sox” card is an excellent example of Laughlin capturing the essence of a particular series.

WS 48

Native-American themed logos should be consigned to the “dust bin” of history, but as an eight year old I loved this ’48 Series card.

WS 60

This ’60 World Series depiction nicely sums up the underdog aspect of the Pirates’ win.

WS 69 Front

The “Cinderella” Mets ride in style at the expense of the Orioles on this ’69.

WS 69 Back 

The lack of specific players’ names within the narrative on the back is the result of Fleer not securing the rights from the MLB Players’ Association.   All mention of active players was omitted from the narratives.

 

To find out more details, check out this “Sports Collectors Digest” article.