Lusting in My Heart for Tommy Smith

The Summer of 1976 saw Mark Fidrych seemingly come out of nowhere to be a rookie sensation.  His surprising success was mirrored in politics when an obscure, peanut farming governor ascended to the highest office in the land.  President Jimmy Carter will occupy the Oval Office for approximately two months before the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays take the field for the first time in April of ‘77.

Starting in ’74, Topps began distributing all the cards in their base set at once (they did this in select markets in 1973), meaning there was no longer an opportunity to take photos in spring training and include them in later series.  Therefore, all the Blue Jays and Mariners cards feature poorly rendered, airbrushed cap insignia.

77 Smith

As a kid growing up in Washington State, it would be an understatement to say I was “stoked” at the prospect of Major League Baseball returning to Seattle.  I certainly “lusted in my heart” at the prospect of collecting Mariners cards.  I began purchasing-by mail-complete sets in ’74.  Once my ’77 set arrived, I discovered that the first ever Mariner card was that of Tommy Smith.  Who!?

Tommy was a little used outfielder made available by the Indians in the expansion draft.  The Mariners waited until the 58th pick to add him to the roster. Smith didn’t make the squad out of spring training but found his way to Seattle later in the season.  After 21 games with the M’s, Tommy’s career in organized baseball ended.

The first Blue Jay on a card was veteran Steve Hargan.  Before an elbow injury in ’68, Steve appeared to be destined for greatness with Cleveland.  An All-Star year in ’67 led to his inclusion in the ’68 Topps game insert subset.  He’s easily the most obscure player in the set and was selected by Topps over teammates Sam McDowell and Luis Tiant.   Picked in the 39th round of the expansion draft from Texas, Steve was the oldest pitcher on the Blue Jays roster.  He was a Jay for only a short time before being dealt back to the Rangers on 5/9/77.

Whether coincidence or not, Topps featured the two winningest pitchers for the Blue Jays and Mariners during the ’77 season as the first to debut their teams uniforms in the next year’s set.  The “Tall Arkansan,” Glenn Abbott, won 13 games in the inaugural season for Seattle.  He went on to be the M’s best starter in the early years.  His fellow 13 game winner, Dave Lemanczyk, is the Blue Jays first card.  Like Abbott, he will be a mainstay in Blue Jay rotation during the lean, expansion years.

By the way, the ’77 set contains an error card for Mariner Dave Collins.  He was first batter in Mariners history, leading off as the DH against Frank Tanana and the Angels.  Of course, Dave struck out–thus launching me on a 40-year (ED: so far) “trail of tears” as a long-suffering Mariners fan.  The photo on Dave’s card is that of his ’76 Angels teammate, Bob Jones.  The O-Pee-Chee set has a correct photo (right, above) of Collins.

 

Bill Beer

Although you may need a six-pack of “Billy Beer” to wash away the memory of this post, I shall forge ahead with a look at the ’93 and ’97 expansion teams in a future post.  Neither “killer” rabbits, vengeful Ayatollahs or a “malaise” can stop my quest.

 

 

 

The Cards That Made Milwaukee Famous

On January 20, 1953, General Dwight D. Eisenhower became President of the United States. “Ike” and the First Lady, Mamie, scarcely had time to settle into the White House before the Milwaukee Braves debuted on April 13.

The “Brew City” offered a new, publicly funded stadium (County) located out of the downtown area with acres of parking. Since the Braves would always play “second fiddle” in popularity to the Red Sox in Boston and with financial losses mounting, owner Lou Perini pulled up stakes and headed for the upper Midwest.

However, the final approval to shift the franchise wasn’t given until March 18, 1953. Topps and Bowman had already produced Boston Braves cards. The two companies will have to add Milwaukee cards, but they take different tacks.

53 Topps Crowe

The first eight Braves in the Topps set are painted (like all 1953 Topps) Boston cards and are from “series” 1 and 2. The ’53 set was released in “waves” but not formal series with checklists. George Crowe is the initial Braves card numerically. Interestingly, he is shown with the Yankee Stadium “frieze” in the background, despite never having played in the American League. Spahn, Matthews and Sisti are amongst the others wearing the Boston “B” on their caps.

53 Topps Crandall

Del Crandall is the first Brave to represent Milwaukee — on card #179 in “series” 3. A plain block “M” has been painted on his cap to signify the new city. The six other Milwaukee cards also have the fake “M” insignias. As best as I can determine, there are no cards showing Braves wearing an authentic Milwaukee cap in ‘53.

53 Bowman Grimm Front53 Bowman Grimm Back

Topps’ rival, Bowman, produced a groundbreaking set utilizing color photography for the first time by a major company in ‘53. All the Braves in the set have Boston caps or with the insignia not visible. Perhaps Bowman didn’t want to mare this beautiful set with excessive airbrushing. There are three Braves depicted as being on Boston, with Sam Jethroe being the first coming in at card # 3. Manager “Jolly Cholly” Grimm is the first Milwaukee card at #69. Since this set has no lettering on the front, the back has the only indication of the franchise shift.

53 BW Bowman Cooper

A set of cards with black and white photos was produced by Bowman as well. Bowman may have intended this set as a third series of color cards but decided to save money by not printing it in color. But, the cards are not a direct continuation of the color set, since they are numbered 1-64. All the Braves cards have Milwaukee on the backs, which lends additional credence to the idea that this set was printed last, with the intent to use it as a final series. As with the color cards, the Braves either have a Boston “B” on the caps or the insignia isn’t visible.

54 Topps Crandall   53 Crandall Spick and Span

Since Topps still used colorized photos in ’54, it is difficult to know definitively if the first Milwaukee Brave in the set, Del Crandall, is wearing a real Milwaukee “M.” I speculate that it is authentic, since the “M” font is correct and there were many photos taken of Del in ’53. (The accompanying photo used for the “Spic and Span” set is an example.) The next six Braves cards could possibly be airbrushed, but the speculation stops with card #128: Hank Aaron.

54 Topps Aaron   MJ Aaron Photo

As many of you know, one of the leading authorities on sports images is one of our most well-known committee members: Keith Olbermann. In an exchange of emails, he sent images of Aaron from a March 18, 1953 photo session for the Milwaukee Journal newspaper. The position of the cap and exposed forehead clearly indicates that the Topps card image is from this photo session. Furthermore, I found another image on the Wisconsin Historical Society website that was taken seconds before or after the card picture.

I learned from Olbermann that — to the best of his knowledge — Topps didn’t take their own photos until at least ’56. Instead, they relied on team or press produced shots. This explains how the Milwaukee Journal photo ended up on their 1954 card.

54 Topps Jay

Additionally, Olbermann pointed out that Joey Jay and Mel Roach signed with the Braves in ’53. Their card photos are undoubtedly from ’53 as well.

Logan Bowman 54   54 Wilson Bowman

Bowman doesn’t use the same vivid, color printing process in ’54 as ‘53, resulting in washed-out images. Thus, the “M” on the caps is not crystal clear. However, I believe that card #16, Jim Wilson, was taken during the ’53 season — since several of the Braves cards use photos taken at the Polo Grounds with similar poses and lighting. Johnny “Yatcha” Logan (#80) is definitely from ’53, due to the photo being taken at County Stadium in Milwaukee.

The Eisenhower era of the ‘50s was a “brave” new world in many respects, including the shifting of long established franchises to new cities. The Browns, Athletics, Dodgers and Giants all followed the Braves gambit. The nation liked “Ike” (not Delock), and I would like you to prepare for the next installment in my quest to pin down the first card for each transplanted team.

Please let me know if you have evidence that disproves any of my speculations. The cards that made Milwaukee famous may have made a fool out of me.

 

 

 

 

Alou’s the One!

“Nixon’s the One!”

This campaign slogan became reality on election night in 1968. Richard Nixon was a genuine baseball fan, but the new President may have found reading the standings a little “tricky,” since Major League Baseball launched the second wave of expansion and divisional play in ‘69. The American League replaced the recently-departed Athletics with the Royals in Kansas City and ventured into uncharted territory with the Seattle Pilots. The National League followed suit by planting the Expos north of boarder in Montreal and the Padres just over the border from Mexico in San Diego.

In part to accommodate the four new teams, Topps produced its largest set to date: 664 cards. Also, (after a lengthy battle,) they reached an agreement with the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, thus allowing photographers to capture the infant clubs in their new uniforms and caps. However, these photos didn’t appear until the fifth series, so it’s bare headshots and airbrushed insignia in the first four series.

Alou

Ironically, the first Expos card (#22) features a player who never played for Montreal: Jesus Alou. Many of you remember that the youngest Alou brother was sent to Houston as part of the deal that salvaged the Rusty Staub trade, after Donn Clendenon refused to report to the Astros.

Cline

The first card depicting an Expo in the “tri-color beanie” is Ty Cline at #442. The journeyman Cline will end up with the Reds in ’70 and play a key role in defeating Pittsburgh in that season’s NLCS. Other Expos shown in the new uniforms in the 1969 set are: #466 Boccabella, #496 Jaster, #524 Rookie Stars: Laboy/Wicker, #549 Brand, #578 Bosch, #625 Mack Jones and #646 Rookie Stars: McGinn/Morton.

McBean

Drafted by the Padres from Pittsburgh, pitcher Al McBean has the honor of being Topps’ initial “Friar” with card #14.   The Virgin Island native was only a Padre briefly. After appearing in one game, he was dealt to Dodgers in April of ’69.

Ferrara  

Veteran Dodger outfielder Al Ferrara is the first player to don the Padres distinctive brown and gold on card #452. Al was a starter during the first two seasons, proving to be one of the Padres most consistent hitters. Of course, Ferrara’s biggest claim to fame is appearing on TV in episodes of “Batman” and “Gilligan’s Island.” Other players in authentic Padres uniforms that year are: #506 Rookie Stars: Breeden/Roberts, #637 Rookie Stars: Davanon/Reberger/Kirby and #659 Johnny Podres. Yes, Podres of the Padres.

Morehead

Former Red Sox phenom Dave Morehead holds the distinction of being the inaugural Royals card at #29. Morehead tossed a no-hitter against Cleveland in ’65 but a shoulder injury derailed a promising career. Dave lasted two seasons with Kansas City before his release in ’71.

Ribant

Card # 463 shows pitcher Dennis Ribant in a Royals uniform from spring training ’69. But, Dennis never wore the royal blue during the championship season, since he was traded to the Cardinals before the late in spring training. Other “real” Royals: #508 Drabowsky, #529 Kirkpatrick, #558 Burgmeier, #569 Billy Harris, #591 Hedlund, #619 Rookie Stars: Pat Kelly, #632 Warden, #647 Wickersham and #662 Rookie Stars: Drago/Spriggs/Oliver.

Marshall

It goes without saying that I could prattle on about the Seattle Pilots incessantly. So, I will self-edit and limit my commentary about the first Pilots player on a card: Mike Marshall (#17). The eccentric Marshall was in the Pilots original starting rotation but struggled, resulting in a demotion to the minors. Marshall eventually becomes a multi-inning relief pitcher, winning the Cy Young for the Dodgers in ’74, appearing in a record 106 games.

Gosger

By the time I “ripped wax” on the pack containing card #482, Jim Gosger was probably already traded to the Mets-having been sent as the “player to be name later” for Greg Goosen. Jim is pictured wearing the basic Pilots spring training uniform. The undeniably unique uniforms, complete with captains’ stripes and “scrambled eggs” on the cap bills, would not debut until opening day. There are five other “immortals” who are photographed as Pilots: #534 McNertney, #563 Pattin, #612 Aker, #631 Kennedy and #651 Gil.

Although a “silent majority” of blog readers wishes they could “kick me around some more” for continuing this series, I will not allow my topic judgement to be “impeached.” Thus, “resign” yourselves to the coming third installment and “pardon” my obsession.

In closing, if you decide to purchase some of these cards, make sure to buy only from trusted sellers. After all, you want a dealer who can proclaim: “I am not a crook.”

 

 

The Torch is Passed to a New Franchise (First in a Series)

Within a few months of John Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961, the expansion era in baseball begins–as the Los Angeles Angels and a new version of the Washington Senators (the original team moved to Minnesota) debut. Here is a look at the initial card for each of the first four expansion clubs, as well as the the first card with a player photographed wearing the team’s uniform.

Klu

The first player to appear (by card number) as a Los Angeles Angel is slugger Ted Kluszewski, who is pictured wearing a White Sox cap in the 1961 Topps set. Ted is card #65 in the first series, so Topps may have only had time to change the team name before the print run.

Yost

The Angels faithful had to wait until card number #413 in series five to see Eddie Yost in the team’s new livery. “The Walking Man” was the first batter in Angels history but struggled in two seasons with the “Seraphs.” Three other Angels were depicted in authentic Angel uniforms in 1961: Del Rice, Rocky Bridges and Gene Leek.

61 Long

The inaugural card for the new Senators was that of Dale Long, #117 in the second series. The veteran Long is best remembered for hitting home runs in eight consecutive games in ’56 — which established a record since equaled by Don Mattingly and Ken Griffey Jr. Also, Dale played in two games with the Cubs in ’58 as an emergency catcher, even though he was left handed.

Veal

Coot Veal is the first expansion Senator photographed wearing the team’s cap and uniform. His card shows up in the 6th series at #432. The journeyman Veal had an unremarkable career but a very memorable nickname. There are five other Senators with photos taken in the newly minted togs: Harry Bright, Joe McClain, Pete Burnside, R.C. Stevens and Marty Kutyna.

62 DeMerit

The following year, Topps wasted no time in introducing the card collecting world to the expansion New York Mets in ‘62 by placing Joe DeMerit at #4. Joe, a draft pick from Milwaukee, played outfield in 14 games with a .188 batting average. This lackluster performance marked the end of his short MLB career.

Jackson

The first card featuring the royal blue Mets cap was # 464: Al Jackson in the 6th series. Al was a woeful Mets stalwart starting pitcher for five seasons, in which he lost 20, 17, 16, 20 and 15 games. Only one other 1962 card features a solo player in a Mets uniform, Ed Bouchee #497. Three “Rookie Parade” cards have headshots with players in Mets caps: #593 Bob Moorhead and Craig Anderson, #597 Rod Kanehl and #598 Jim Hickman.

62 craft

The new Houston Colt .45s were also given a card early in the first series, featuring manager Harry Craft at #12. Harry appears confused in this photo, but he will pull it together to manage the Colts during their first three seasons.

Apparently, Topps didn’t send a photographer to Houston’s spring training site or to the Polo Grounds when the Colt .45’s came to New York. Therefore, there are no cards in ’62 set with players wearing a Houston uniform.

The first proper Houston Colt ’45 card is #9 in the ’63 set. The .45’s cap adorns the “floating” head of Dick “Turk” Farrell on the NL Strikeout Leaders. Fifteen cards later, Bob Bruce appears on the first solo card at #24. Bruce spent several years in Detroit before closing out his career with the .45’s in ‘62.

In a future post, I will continue to “expand” your knowledge with a look at the first cards in the second wave of expansion. This will be done not because it is easy, but because it is hard!

 

Coming Out of the Closet

Most of us have participated in debates and discussions pertaining to the best way to store cards. The “boxes versus binders” debate is one that isn’t likely to ever see consensus. No matter the method of preservation, the cards must occupy a physical space. The storage conundrum becomes more acute if your collection spans over a half-century. Furthermore, if you are an “omnivore” collector–someone who collects anything sports related–your home may resemble that of the Collyer brothers.

Collyer

Attempting to ward off an intervention for hoarder’s syndrome, I have spent the last two summers working on storage solutions. Fortunately, my son moved out in the spring, freeing up a large closet. This enabled me to move all my publications, media guides, programs and other miscellaneous objects out of the card closet.

Photo 1

Photo 2

The card closet is long and narrow with a severely slanted wall, due to the house being a Cape Cod style. This provides me with four rows of binder shelving stretching for 10 feet. Additionally, there are two three-tiered book cases at each end and an old hi-fi cabinet. Plus, there is a two-shelf, three-foot homemade case.

Photo 3

Photo 4

I augmented the binder space by adding an old library book cart and freeing up two book case shelves. The space behind the book cart lends itself to binder storage on the floor, which I have filled with “junk wax” era football, basketball and hockey. Adding a homemade shelf will double the capacity.

Photo 5

In theory, I’ve bought a few more years before having to rethink binder storage. Of course, it all depends on my rate of acquisition.

Thanks to Jeff Katz’s post on the potential dire ramifications of publicizing one’s collectibles, I will probably be burgled and not have to worry about future storage. My paranoia now “runs deep.” Thanks for making me keep my “guard” dog, Yaz, in the closet, Jeff.

Yaz

Airbrush with Destiny

When it came to their baseball cards, frequently traded players in the ‘50’s and ‘60s suffered the indignity of the blacked-out cap insignia or a bare head shot, when Topps or other companies affixed their images to cardboard. Of course, the ‘70s saw Topps go “over the top” with whole caps and uniforms unartfully altered by the overzealous art department. No player suffered a worse fate at the hands of the airbrush artists than the late Ken Brett, who went under the airbrush six times.

69 Front69 Back                                

Brett had a spectacular start to his career in ‘67. A late season call up by the Red Sox, the 19-year old pitched effectively in two World Series games. After two years in the minors, Ken received his first card in ‘69 — coupled with Gerry Moses. I must draw attention to Ken’s short bio on the back. The writer was very excited by the fact that Ken was left handed.

After being featured on the Red Sox in ‘71, Brett’s vagabond odyssey begins. Traded to the Brewers in October 1971, the next spring Topps gave him a traditional traded pose, featuring an upturned bill to obfuscate the cap insignia. However, part of the Boston script is visible on his uniform. Then the fun begins. A trade to the Phillies results in an airbrushed classic cap and poorly altered jersey trim in ‘73. Ken is on the move again ‘74, resulting a true masterpiece.

74

His trade to the Pirates necessitates an airbrush job using a mustard yellow palate. Apparently, the “air brusher” forgot that the Pirates cap featured a black bill. The spectacular all yellow cap has a nice velour look, reminiscent of Dock Ellis’ flocked helmet in the ‘71 All-Star game.

1971 All Star Dock Ellis Batting Helmet

After two unaltered cards, it’s back to the paint jobs. Ken has a “Traded” card in ‘76 with drawn on Yankee pinstripes. This is followed by an ersatz Angels cap in ‘78, Dodgers in ‘80 and Royals in ‘81.

There may be another player with six or more airbrushed cards, but I’m crowning Ken Brett “King of the Airbush Era.”

On Top of Old Smokey

15 Wood

Many of us can open a binder or box and pull out a “Smoky” Burgess or Walter “Smokey” Alston card. Some “pre-war” collectors may even have a “Smoky” Joe Wood from the 1915 Cracker Jack set. But, as unlikely as it may seem, the most prevalent “Smokey” in the hobby may be Smokey the Bear.

The ‘80s and early ’90 saw numerous regional sets sponsored by the US Forest Service. The cards had the iconic bear logo or featured a “real” bear posing with a player. The backs often imparted a message on how to prevent forest fires. Most were given away at games. This post will examine some of the “ursine” sets, but it is not intended to be a complete list.

84 Harvey

The first MLB Smokey cards I found were Angels and Padres sets in ’84. The card backs commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Smokey the Bear. Notably, the Padres set has the “rookie card” for Umpire Doug Harvey. Both clubs continued to issue annual Smokey sets through ’91 for the Angels and ’92 for the Padres.

Other teams jumped on Smokey’s “fire wagon” as well. The “brave bruin” shows up on cards featuring the Dodgers, Athletics, Cardinals, Royals, Astros, Braves and Rangers. The Royals and A’s had sets featuring players’ caricatures

As a vintage collector, I find the commemorative sets to be the most “bearable.” I own the ‘89 All-Star Angels, which has players from the Angles early years. There are several photos I’ve never seen in any other context. Also in ’87, the Dodgers issued a 25th Anniversary set and ‘89 saw “A Century of Dodgers Greats.” A retrospective set for the ‘62 Houston Colt .45 came out in ’89 as well.

The US Forest Service really “bared it all’ in ’87 by producing 3” X 5” cards featuring AL and NL All-Stars. Each card has a star player posing with the “grizzled” grizzly.

Salinas

MLB teams were not the only baseball clubs who came “bearing” cards for fans.  In ’85 the Fresno Giants caught Smokey on a “fire break” and produce the earliest minor league set I found. Somewhere near Salinas, Smokey found his “bearings” and made a set with the Salinas Spurs set in ’87. College sets exist for UNLV, San Diego State and USC.

Other sports embraced Smokey in a “bear hug” as well. The LA Kings, Golden State Warriors, 49ers and the USFL’s Oakland Invaders issued cards.

Please remember: “Only you can prevent cardboard fires.”