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.

 

The Wild, Wild West

The ‘70s and early ‘80s saw a sartorial explosion of color in Major League Baseball. The Astros “Tequila Sunrise” jersey and the Padres various brown, yellow and orange togs are the gaudiest examples. This movement from home whites and road grays was not exclusive to the “bigs;” the minor leagues saw a similar profusion of color.

In addition to decades’ worth of Mariners farm team cards, I have accumulated many other minor league sets. Recently while browsing through a binder of late ‘70s and early ’80 Pacific Coast League cards, I was assaulted with some true “retina burners.” Here’s a look at some seriously questionable uniform designs.

Sexton Toros

This ’80 TCMA Tucson Toros card show the most egregious example of “double-knit” debauchery. Obviously, the Toros were inspired by the Astros but went too far. The desert earth tones, diagonal lettering and orange base add up to a real mess. The caps only make the outfit worse. Supposedly, the colors would “run” when laundered, making for an even more psychedelic effect.

Pietroburgo Tigers  Alston Tacoma

Not to be out done by Tucson, the Tacoma Tigers created a “dog’s breakfast” design as well. These ’80 TcMA cards show two hideous combinations. I know all too well that eight months of gloomy, Pacific Northwest weather can do strange things to the mind, but what were they thinking?!

Harris Vancouver

Tacoma’s Canadian brethren to the north got into the uniform perversion act as well. The Vancouver Canadians sported these mono-chrome Navy “jobs” in this ‘80 TCMA.

Beavers  81 Beavers

The other Northwest entry, Portland, went nuts as well. These ’81 Beavers cards show the mix-and-match style popularized by the Pirates. In ’81, Luis Tiant signed with the Pirates but spent most of the year at AAA Portland where he tossed a no hitter.

Rocky-Bridges 82   Jones Giants

Phoenix Giants donned this forgettable ensemble in ’82. Not even the signature “chaw” in his cheek could make Rocky Bridges look anything else but ridiculous in these “babies.” The “pill box” caps are the perfect accessory to this abomination. This ’81 Tommy Jones shows the uniform in its full glory.

80 Ogden

The ’80 Ogden, Utah A’s had fairly staid uniforms, but what’s up with the cap? It would be more appropriate on the head of a trucker. The yellow undershirt from the parent club worn by Milt Ramirez doesn’t quite match the overall color scheme. Like many of the TCMA cards of this era, this photo was taken at Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium.

Allen Lynn

Lastly, I switch to the Eastern League to present this ’80 TCMA Lynn Sailors card of future Mariner Jamie Allen. The uniform manufacturer somehow sold the same awful design worn by Tacoma to the Sailors management as well.

 

Popcorn Refill

My previous post on Seattle Rainiers and Angels popcorn cards from the ‘50s and ‘60s omitted a unique promotion that allowed kids to trade the popcorn cards for photos. Much to the chagrin of modern collectors, this exchange unintentionally created a scarcity of high grade cards from certain years.

AD

From ’56-’58 a local drive-in chain (Gil’s) and grocery store (Ralph’s Thriftway) sponsored the card exchange promotion. The merchants gave away an 8X10 glossy photo–identical to the card or a full version of the cropped card shot–in exchanged for nine popcorn cards. The accompanying ad from a 1956 Rainiers program whetted kids’ appetites for popcorn and the card swap. Former major league star Vern Stephens is featured in the ad.

Balcena card
Popcorn card

 

Balcena 8x10
8×10 photo
glynn
Popcorn card

 

57Popcorn8x10Glynn
8×10 photo

These Bobby Balcena and Bill Glynn cards and photos are examples of the exchange. By the way, Balcena was the first Filipino-American to play in MLB. He had a “cup of coffee” with the Reds in ’56. Glynn played for the Phillies and Indians in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s.

SmithLombardi

Employees at Ralph’s and Gil’s would stamp, punch or mark the cards before returning them to the kids in order to prevent them from presenting the same cards to get additional photos.   The Vic Lombardi card shows both a stamp and mark. Note the ad promoting the card/photo exchange on the backs. Lombardi was in the starting rotation of Brooklyn Dodgers in the late ‘40s. He started and lost game two of the ’47 World Series. The Milt Smith card shows a hole punched by a “soda jerk” at Gil’s. Milt had a brief stint with the Reds in ’55.

58PopcornBasinski

I will conclude this “corny” narrative with a player whose off season job was atypical for a “jock.” Eddie “Fiddler” Basinski was Brooklyn’s starting shortstop during the war year of 1945. With the return of the regulars from the war effort, Eddie took up residence with the Portland Beavers of the PCL for 11 seasons. He played for the Rainiers in ’57 and ’58. After the season, Eddie returned home to Buffalo where he was a violinist in the Buffalo Symphony.