Mother, should I build a wall?

When I was a kid my dad had his own small collection, not of cards but of Argus posters. These posters, at least the ones my dad decorated the house with, tended to feature beautiful nature scenes and inspirational quotes. They were essentially the memes of our analog home.

Much like today’s memes are intended to do, the messages on these posters tended to stick with me and become baked into my worldview.

There are no Argus posters in my memorabilia room, but one could argue that my entire memorabilia room is an Argus poster! No, not one of the many reminding us that happiness comes from relationships or experiences, not things, but a different one, which I’ll get to soon enough.

What I do have on my walls and loose on shelves are my very best cards, no matter the value. For example, here is my Roy Campanella collection, rookie card and all.

Just to its left is my Hank Aaron collection, again rookie card and all.

Wander around a bit and you’ll find more card displays to enjoy, including my own personal Cardboard Cooperstown.

Obviously there are risks to doing what I do. Theft? Maybe. Fading? Probably, though we tend to keep things pretty dark down there. Moisture? Flooding? Odor? Alien abduction? All possible!

But here’s what’s definite. When I walk past these cards they make me happy in a way that my cards in boxes or binders do not.

I know where some of you are. You would love a card wall, but you’re nervous about protecting your investment. Far be it from me to tell you how to collect, but I will plant at least two seeds in your mind. First off, the cards you display really don’t have to be your most valuable ones. For example, I’m sure I paid less than $30 total for all the cards in my Cobra frame.

Maybe add ten more dollars and the same holds true for my Steve Garvey collection.

So that’s the first seed I’ll plant. The cards on your wall don’t have to be expensive. They just have to be cards you like.

As for the second seed, I’ll take you back to my dad’s poster that made the greatest impression on me. It showed a boat taking a beating from the waves and rain, on the precipice of capsizing but somehow, barely, still afloat.

Here was the caption, which also serves as the unofficial motto of my card walls.

“A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

John A. Shedd, “Salt from my Attic” (1928)

Enjoy your cards!

Heritage before Heritage

I reached a collecting milestone last week by completing one of my all-time favorite sets. It’s a set that’s off the radar of most collectors (until now!) and has few cards, if any, worth more than a dollar. Its value to me is purely sentimental but still sky high in that it’s the set that started my lifelong love affair with baseball’s all-time greats.

Before getting into the set itself, I’ll start with a card not in it.

You may recognize this as the 1960 Leaf card of Brooks Robinson. The first time I saw it 10-year-old-me took the glow around Robinson’s head for a halo and suspected only I could see it. (UPDATE: Rob Neyer also saw the halo!)

To other collectors (but not our own Jeff Katz) the set is perhaps a bit more boring, despite the fact that it has to be the most exciting set ever to come with marbles instead of gum! (And did I mention the packs had cards of “Your Favorite Major League Star?”)

Marbles aside, we are looking at a black and white set produced long past the era of black and white sets, whether to you the Grayscale Age of Baseball Cards was the 1920s or the 1880s. “Your Favorite Major League Player” notwithstanding, the Leaf checklist strikes many collectors as lackluster, with the Human Vacuum Cleaner and Duke Snider perhaps the only top shelf Hall of Famers.

Various articles note design similarities between the 1960 Leaf set and its predecessor 11 years prior. My own opinion is that the two sets aren’t that close, but I’ll let you judge for yourself.

I chose Elmer Valo to compare these sets because his placement in the 1960 set comes with a little bit of a story. As reported in the May 4, 1949, Boston Globe, Valo was one of six ballplayers to sue Leaf for using their likeness in the 1949 set. The fact that he found himself back on the checklist in 1960 says something about the ability to forgive or forget, whether on the part of Leaf, Valo, or both.

Now fast forward to 1977 and one of the nation’s best known mail order dealers is planning a set of 45 cards as her very first entrée into the card making business. The next 10+ years would see her company produce dozens more sets including…

A 1983 tribute to the 1969 Seattle Pilots…

A 1984 “Art Card Series” featuring acclaimed baseball artist Ron Lewis of Negro Leagues postcard fame…

And six single-player sets from 1984-86 of several big name ballplayers and cult leaders! (Wait, that’s Pete Rose? Are you sure?)

While these later sets drew on new designs, the last few of which just scream 1980s, her very first set, much like Topps Heritage does today, mimicked a set from the past. T206? Nope! 1933 Goudey? Nope! 1952 Topps? Nope again. As you’ve no doubt guessed already, that set was 1960 Leaf!

Here is card #5, Roy Campanella, from Renata Galasso’s debut set, “Decade Greats,” featuring top stars from the 1950s.

Perhaps Ms. Galasso had a sentimental attachment to 1960 Leaf or maybe she just held a special admiration for her fellow challengers of the Topps monopoly. More than likely, her reasons for copying the Leaf set were more pedestrian. Black and white was cheaper than color, and it would have been tough to get too close to Topps without getting even closer to their lawyers. Finally, a collection of 1950s players made more sense in a decade-capping 1960 set than, for example, 1922 American Caramel.

Particularly for her rookie offering, Renata Galasso did a fantastic job capturing the look and feel of the 1960 set. Put the cards side-by-side and you’ll spot some differences, most notably the missing halo, but to paraphrase Maya Angelou the cards are much more alike than unalike.

As the small print on the back of the Campanella card shows, Renata Galasso received an assist from Mike Aronstein’s company, TCMA, which had already been making its own cards since 1972.

The 45-card set was evidently popular enough to engender a sequel two years later, this time numbered 46-90. While you might have expected this continuation set to focus on the 1960s, TCMA had already beat Galasso to the punch the year before with a stunning color issue (left) reminiscent of 1953 Bowman (right) in yet another case of Heritage before Heritage.

TCMA had similarly put out a 1930s set five years earlier, but the half decade gap left enough breathing room for Galasso to put her own “1960 Leaf” touch on the decade.

Where I had previously seen sharp photos of Aaron, Mays, Mantle, and other 1950s stars in my reading books, this 1930s set was the first time I had ever seen such vivid images of earlier stars. To a certain extent, Galasso’s set transformed these 1930s heroes from cartoon characters into men, which somehow made their records and feats all the more impressive. As the card footer shows, TCMA was again a partner in the effort.

Renata Galasso extended her set once again the following year, issuing Series Three in 1980. This time her decade of choice was the 1920s. This was around the time I started taking the bus to card shows, and the Galasso cards were a frequent purchase for me out of bargain bins. While I regret turning down a T206 Cobb for $14, I have no regrets about scooping this one up for a dime.

Once again, TCMA was in the mix, and once again the cards looked fantastic. In my view, all they needed was stats on the back instead of that humongous logo and they would have been perfect.

Series Four, numbered 136-180, came the very next year and featured stars of the 1910s. You don’t even have to look at the rest of the checklist to know the key card in this series is the Cobb, with its iconic Conlon photo.

In a move that foreshadowed the later work of SABR, you’ll notice that Cobb’s hit total was reduced between his 1980 and 1981 card backs. I’ll also credit Galasso (or TCMA) with splurging for a brand new bio where other card makers might have simply recycled the back from the previous series.

The Decade Greats set, now up to 225 cards, would continue in 1983 with a 45-card series, sometimes numbered 181-223 (plus two unnumbered cards), commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1933 All-Star Game.

I say “sometimes numbered” because the same 45 cards are also numbered 1-43 (plus two unnumbered), reflecting either a clever marketing move to co-brand this series as a standalone or just an oops by someone who forgot numbers 1-180 were already spoken for.

On top of that, the sequencing of the 43 numbered cards comes in the exact opposite order of their 181-223 counterparts. For example, here is my version of the Hubbell card, numbered 16 instead of 208, which of course is the 16th number counting backward from 223.

Card footers no longer mention TCMA, which I take to mean Renata Galasso was either producing these cards solo or experimenting with new vendors. Perhaps connected to the absence of TCMA, the quality of the cards drops off some with centering/miscut issues and minor typos being the main culprits.

The sixth and final series was released in 1984 and commemorated highlights and records. One of my favorite cards in the set provides a much sharper image of Jackie Robinson than his 1948 Sport Thrills card, even as both cards drew from the same George Burke photo.

As with the fifth series, quality falls short of the first four series. Look closely at the Robinson card, and you’ll see the name and caption are poorly centered relative to his portrait. This proves to be the case for the majority of the cards. This final series also includes a “BILL MAZEROWSKI” UER and the awkward Koufax caption “PITCHES 4TH NO HITTERS.”

There are also some really bad looking photos, especially compared to the earlier cards. For example, compare the elegant Mays from Series One to the practically reptilian Mantle of Series Six.

Finally, there is notable drift from the original 1960 Leaf design that inspired the set. Photos now are more squared off, the big letters have gotten smaller, and the small letters have gotten bigger. The resemblance is still there though perhaps more amateur.

The final two series are the hardest to find, a sign of declining production and sales. That no Series Seven or Eight was ever produced affirms the reduced interest in sets of this kind. We had reached the mid-1980s after all. Collectors now preferred future Hall of Famers to actual Hall of Famers, but why not! What could King Carl do to make his cards go up in value? Certainly not win 400 games like Dwight Gooden would!

Even where some collectors still wanted old-time stars for pocket change, there was no shortage of color offerings to choose from, including a gorgeous Dick Perez collaboration from Donruss in 1983 and various other Perez-Steele offerings that had gained popularity with autograph hounds.

Regardless of its flaws, its waning popularity, and its uselessness in funding my retirement (I just picked up the “tough” Series Five for $0.99 plus shipping), the 270-card “Decade Greats” set, also called “Glossy Greats,” will always be a favorite of mine.

It is a set that might have seemed lazy at the time, an unimaginative reboot of a set from two decades earlier. What we didn’t know then is just how ahead of its time that was…Heritage before Heritage if you ask me!

Extra for experts

The 1977-84 Renata Galasso Decade Greats set is a relatively early example of “Heritage before Heritage,” but it’s certainly not the only example or even the first. Go back six years and Allstate Insurance (of course!) put together a small set evoking the 1933 Goudey design. Here is the Ted Williams card from the set.

One could perhaps even consider the 1955 Topps Double Header issue a reboot of the 1911 Mecca Double Folders (T201) design, even as the cards differ in many ways visually.

There is also enough similarity across many tobacco issues that perhaps one could regard just about any of the sets Heritage-style remake of some other from a couple years earlier, though I would argue here that this is less about paying homage and more about paying less!

I’m curious what your examples are of early Heritage before Heritage. Ideally the visual match would be strong and the difference between the sets would be a good decade or more. Let me know in the Comments, either here or on Twitter.

Solving the border crisis

A common complaint among vintage collectors who run across newer issues is that we miss the good old days when baseball cards had borders. Looking at cards like these 2017 Astros leaves us feeling (ahem!)…cheated.

The borders we overlooked as kids have come to symbolize all that was right about baseball cards. Joni Mitchell had us pegged. You really DON’T know what you’ve got till it’s gone. No, we’d never pave Paradise to put up a parking lot, but we sure wouldn’t mind a thin cement edge around it.

The borders on our cards have taken on almost a spiritual significance with “meaning of life” level implications. We ponder koans such as, “Is a card without a border even a card?”

The sages teach us that without nothing there could be no something. Cardboardismically speaking, the border is the yin to the image’s yang. Form needs outline.

The vintage collector therefore must find “border in the chaos,” else risk serenity and sanity alike. Should he even consider collecting cards post-2015, his best, nay ONLY, option is Heritage!

Whatever you hear on TV, friends, THIS is the real border crisis, but fear not…

Tengo un plan para eso…and it won’t even raise your taxes! (Checks new eBay policy. “Okay, so maybe a little.”)

Add just THREE CARDS to your collection and you’re gonna win on borders so much you’ll be tired of winning on borders.

1960 Fleer ted williams

Let’s start with Ted Williams. Compare his 1960 Fleer card with that of Hack Wilson or any other player in the set. That’s some serious border! Where some perfectly centered cards are said to have 50-50 centering, Teddy Ballgame comes in at 150-150!

Back in the day you might have found this card an eyesore, but that was then. Now you probably look at the card and wish the borders were even bigger!

1936-37 World wide gum Lou Gehrig

The second must-have for the border hoarder is the 1936-37 World Wide Gum card of Lou Gehrig. (Note that this issue is catalogued as 1936, but Matthew Glidden makes a compelling case that 1936-37 is more correct.)

At first you may shrug away Larrupin’ Lou’s border as nothing special, no different than that of teammate Dickey. Look closer though and you’ll see that Gehrig’s image comes to a refreshing end more than a quarter inch from the card edge. After unremarkable offerings in 1933 and 1934, World Wide Gum definitely put the Border in “North of the Border!”

1934 Butterfinger Paul Waner

Finally we come to the 1934 Butterfinger card of Paul Waner, the card that I believe sets the standard when it comes to border-to-image ratio.

While the Dizzy Dean image from the same issue flirts tantalizingly close to the card edge, the Waner card has more margin than Gould selling hammers to the Pentagon. If the card had any more border we might forget it was a baseball card altogether and assume it was a Home Depot paint sample for Gotham Gray. If Big Poison were any smaller on the card he would have been Little Poison.

Teddy Ballgame, the Iron Horse, and Big Poison. Three players who made the Hall of Fame by a wide margin, but even more importantly, three cards who made the wide margin Hall of Fame. Border crisis averted, at least for now.

A most valuable discovery

As a kid I used to dream about finding my way into some ancient attic and unearthing boxes and boxes full of old baseball cards. For whatever reason, I imagined I’d need to be on the East Coast somewhere, which made the fantasy all the less attainable coming from my West Coast mind, but it was still fun to picture thumbing through these old stacks of cards and finding Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and Joe DiMaggio if not Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Honus Wagner.

While this dream of mine never did come true, I did have the pleasure of meeting a fellow collector this year whose real life experience came awfully close.

David grew up in the Kansas City area but lives in Phoenix these days. Like me, he fell for card collecting hook, line, and sinker from the moment he was introduced to his first baseball cards, despite the fact he barely knew a thing about baseball or any of the players. While my love affair with cards and baseball began with 1978 Topps, David got going five years earlier and still remembers the thrill of pulling a 1973 Topps Hank Aaron card.

David was mainly a Hank Aaron and Kansas City Royals collector early on and started a paper route to feed his fix for packs. Once Hank Aaron retired, David branched out into the older stuff, mainly pursuing pre-1973 Hank Aaron cards and other stars he’d heard about from his dad. David was even lucky enough to have a teacher at school who would trade old 1950s cards for contemporary stars. While these swaps usually worked in David’s favor, he harbors at least some regret over a 1975 Gary Carter RC for 1955 Topps Tom Hurd swap.

Fast forward a bit and David eventually headed off to college. Like so many other collectors he left his cards at home–Hank Aaron, George Brett, Tom Hurd, and all. With David away at school his parents downsized and moved most of his stuff into storage. After his father passed away, David’s mother forgot about the storage unit, whose contents were ultimately sold off to the highest bidder.

The end. Right?

Not quite. I’ll let David’s twitter bio take over from here.

“Recently found my entire card collection I thought was long lost. Sharing my find w/twitter…”

While I grew up dreaming of finding boxes and boxes full of incredible cards, David actually did it. The twist, of course, is that the boxes he found were his own!

Evidently, David’s dad didn’t want to put the cards in storage and had a friend of his hang onto them instead. David remained in contact with this family friend, who one day, decades later, remembered he had a bunch of boxes somewhere with David’s name on them.

David’s first few twitter posts as “Cigarbox Cards” definitely got my attention!

The first card David posted was a well loved 1956 Topps card of Mr. Cub. The next day David posted a video of himself rifling through stacks of cards including early Topps issues of Gary Carter (but not the 1975!) and Dennis Eckersley while a 1949 Leaf Ted Williams sat untouched in the distance.

An autographed Yaz rookie was next, followed by a Red Man Willie Mays. In the days that followed David posted a Brett RC mini, a 1954 Bowman Mickey Mantle, and a 1974 Topps Tom Seaver. I always enjoyed the way David juxtaposed his featured finds with background elements that enhanced their presentation. This is a theme we’ll come back to shortly when I show you what David’s up to now.

Most of the online replies consisted of emojis like 😱 and 🔥 🔥 🔥 but I suspect certain collectors were wondering if David’s cigar box finds included any really good cards.

Then David dropped the Hammer.

And even more Hammer! (Click blue arrow twice to activate.)

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Though the cards are not mine, I still feel a thrill each time David posts an amazing card from his original collection. To think how close these cards came to being lost forever and then to see them pop up in my twitter feed is downright magical. It’s like flipping through my own personal attic find, even if the cards aren’t mine to keep–just like the dreams I had as a kid right down to waking up in the morning with the same collection I had before!

Beyond showing off some great cards David introduced some fun interactive features to his posts, among them his “Out or Hit” series…

…or his “In Action” baseball card gifs.

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Of course it was only a matter of time before this happened.

The cards kept coming and coming, almost obscenely so, but what really caught the eye of many collectors was the creative ways David was finding to display his cards, something many of us spend undue time considering.

Here’s another one that really caught my eye with bonus points for the bunting!

And if you’re wondering what the most creative use for a yellow drinking straw in a baseball card collection is…

Or for the Yankee fans…

I could go on and on, but you’d probably have more fun scrolling through all David’s posts yourself. Other than of course SABR Baseball Cards 🤣, it’s hard to think of another baseball card account as consistently awesome as his.

As I consider his collecting story I come back once again to my own and that of so many other collectors. How many of us dreamed of that elusive find, those boxes and boxes of cards filled with stars of yesteryear? If you’re like me, not only did that imagined cardboard haul never arrive but even the cards you did have were nowhere to be found by the time you realized you missed them.

What I didn’t know when I shuffled through my 1978-80 Topps cards as a kid was that the boxes right in front of me would someday be more valuable than any cards I might find elsewhere. Even today the memories of those cards mean more to me than the actual cards I’ve purchased since.

This post (below, right) from David makes the point well and was ultimately the catalyst for my writing this article.

Let’s face it. You can dream all you want about things you don’t have, but few fantasies or realities will ever come close to that of your first love, whether lost, lasting, or in David’s case both.

Author’s note: For another SABR Baseball Cards article inspired by collectors’ online posts, see “Fathers and Sons.”

A vintage guy buys the new stuff

While in Portland a couple weeks ago I was lucky enough to have lunch with SABR president/author/mensch Mark Armour and baseball author/analyst/commissioner extraordinaire Rob Neyer. Despite our gawdy SABR Baseball Cards Research Committee resumes, Rob was able to completely stump us with some baseball card trivia he may turn into an article soon, so stay tuned.

Following lunch, Rob had to go back to work (THE WEST COAST LEAGUE DOESN’T RUN ITSELF!) while Mark and I proceeded to hit up a card shop in the Portland suburbs. Our eyes were mainly drawn to the shop’s vintage racks, but I also thought it would be fun to try something I hadn’t done in nearly 30 years: buy a pack of baseball cards from a current set.

In fact I bought two, one for Mark and one for me. In contrast to many of today’s buyers there was no big “hit” I was after or set to complete. Mostly I just wanted to re-live the thrill of opening packs and bring my baseball card knowledge at least a little bit more up to date.

What follows is a recap of my pack buying and opening experience, including my reflections on the cards themselves. I know the whole “what I got in my pack” sub-genre of baseball card blogging is pretty saturated already, but perhaps my contribution will distinguish itself by its utter lack of current knowledge.

the choice

I wanted to buy whatever pack felt closest to the “good old days” when you could get 15 cards for 30 cents or so. Of course there was nothing among the 2019 offerings that fit that description, though I suspect the shop owner still had some leftover 1991 Donruss he might have let go at that price.

The next best thing appeared to be 2019 Topps Series One or Series Two, but Mark already had complete sets of each. Ultimately we landed on the much pricier 2019 Topps Update, which I think had only been out a week or two at the time. Coincidentally, I had just the day before seen an article Ryan Cracknell published for Beckett that had cool looking cards of Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson, so I had at least a couple players I could hope for as I opened my pack.

The $5 price tag was at first hard to swallow, but then I remembered how I used to pay $3 per pack for Upper Deck high numbers in 1989 back when $3 was a lot more money in my life, so what the heck. Unfortunately, neither Mr. Mays nor Mr. Robinson made it into my pack, but the 14 cards I ended up with did exactly what I’d hoped they would do. They were fun to flip through, and they gave my ancient baseball card knowledge a much needed Update.

the results

The cards in my pack fell into seven categories. This was in contrast to the two categories (rookies, team changes) I remembered from the last Topps Update product (1984 Traded set) I ever purchased. All this variety felt overwhelming to me at first, but it probably made some otherwise ho hum cards seem more exciting. Here is how my pack broke down.

Team changes

My four team change players were Adam Ottavino, Jordan Lyles, Anibal Sanchez, and Yonder Alonso. Sanchez had just pitched a postseason gem, and I knew Ottavino mostly from his Babe Ruth commercial. Alonso was of course the wrong Alonso to pull this year and kind of reminded me of pulling a Kevin Bass vs Kevin Maas back in 1990 or a Tommy Boggs vs Wade Boggs in 1983. Of this group, the player I was thrilled to land was Jordan Lyles (not to be confused with his near namesake), who I’d written about in an earlier SABR Baseball Cards blog post.

With the season now over I can provide a quick update on where Jordan Lyles now sits in relation to the all-time worst career ERA record. When I wrote my original article in July, Lyles had an ERA of 5.29 through 851 innings, and the record stood at 5.37 for pitchers with at least 1000 IP. In other words, Lyles would not only have to get a little worse but also keep his career going another 149+ innings, neither of which seemed impossible.

Well, an amazing thing happened the day I published my article. Jordan the Pirate who had gone 5-7 with a 5.36 ERA became Jordan the Brewer (that very day!) and managed to go 7-1 record with a miserly (and record jeopardizing) 2.45 ERA. As a result he now sits at 5.11 with 909.2 innings in the books and may be a longshot to break the record unless he can somehow recapture his early season unmagic and carry it forward to 2020 and beyond.

Rookies

Thanks to a recent innovation, love it or hate it, I didn’t have to think hard to identify the five rookies in my pack. There was an MLB “rookie card” shield in the upper right or left corner of each of the cards. The players themselves were Harold Ramirez, Elvis Luciano, Darwinzon Hernandez, Oscar Mercado, and Devin Smeltzer.

At the risk of sounding unqualified for my co-chairmanship here at SABR I’ll admit to not knowing who any of these players were. (Feel free to let me know if I landed a huge hit and can pay off my mortgage now.)

What I did note was that all but one of the players had Latin names. Flipping the cards over, the four Latino players were born in Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and (yes I know it’s in the United States…) Florida. Likewise, none of the five rookies were African American.

While sample size here is fairly small, my pack at least hinted that the historic dearth of African Americans in MLB is not on the verge of changing. In reality, I would only expect to see the trend reverse when teams invest as much in our inner cities as they do in Latin America. I’m not holding my breath.

Finally, I had to at least check to see if any of the players were born in (gasp!) the 21st century, as if I needed anything more than aching knees and a giant bald spot to remind me of my advancing age.

Sure enough, my Elvis Luciano not only listed a February 15, 2000, birth date but indicated in the bio that Luciano was in fact the first player born in the 21st century to appear in the big leagues!

Party-poopers will no doubt impugn the coolness of my card and the quality control at Topps by noting that the 21st century did not technically begin until January 1, 2001, but are we really gonna go there?

Home run derby

Though I tend to root against the Astros as part of my 2017 World Series grudge, I was happy to pull an Alex Bregman Home Run Derby card. Before he was an Astro Bregman was an LSU Tiger, which makes me a fan at least by (imminent) marriage. He’s also just a damn impressive baseball player.

Perhaps as testament to my poor memory, it took this card to make me realize these guys don’t wear helmets when they Derby. I also wondered if Topps had somehow enhanced the veins popping out of Alex’s arm or if one of the game’s smaller players (at only six feet, 180 pounds) was really that jacked.

all-star game, part one

The “normal” ASG pull from the pack was Brad Hand. Without recalling the entire rosters of both leagues, I have to imagine Hand would have been among the 3-4 players I would have been least excited to pull. In fact, he had a helluva first half and pitched just fine in the Midsummer Classic. I’m just enough of a curmudgeon to view relief pitchers in the same way many fans view designated hitters.

All relievers do is remind me of how much I miss the old days of complete games and having no idea what a guy’s pitch count was. I know and respect all the arguments for why today’s game has evolved toward increased bullpen use. I just miss the old days from an entertainment perspective and because missing the old days is what old guys do.

What can you do though? Sometimes life just deals you a Brad bad hand.

all-star game, part two

The other All-Star Game card I pulled was of Twins ace Jake Odorizzi, who gets his own category due to the card’s gold-ish (but non-metallic) border and serial numbering on the back.

Now I can’t say I was as excited to pull this variation as I was in 1979 to pull a Bump Wills or (especially) in 1981 to pull a Craig [sic] Nettles. Still, the hobby shop guy was pretty stoked for me and even busted out a penny sleeve so I could protect my investment.

My high school Social Studies teacher used to tell a story that inflation was so bad in postwar Germany that a guy had to bring an entire wheelbarrow full of money to a hardware store to buy a hammer. Evidently the clerk told the man he’d take the wheelbarrow but had no use for the money.

I just assumed Mr. Johnson made the whole thing up, but then I just looked it up and found the exchange rate in 1923 was one trillion Deutschmarks to the dollar. Shows what I know, but I guess that’s why I went into baseball cards and not history or economics.

Oh, so what was the point of this detour? Right, the penny sleeve. Crazy as it sounds I’m happier to have the penny sleeve than the card! Behalt Dein Geld! Ich werde die Schubkarre nehmen.

2019 season highlights

Continuing the theme of “worst in class” cards for these categories, my 2019 Season Highlights card celebrated Albert Pujols and his 2000th RBI. Were I a modern fan you might imagine that my objection to the card was the now popular belief that RBIs are overrated and nearly meaningless. Nope! On the contrary, I LOVE RBIs, and you’ll never take that away from me.

Mainly, and perhaps unfairly, I tend to see Pujols as a juicer, rendering his numbers and achievements (in my mind) meaningless and empty. Beyond that the card kinda sucks in that the back is simply a too small to read checklist for cards 61-120. While I needed checklists back in the day, I have to imagine nobody actually uses them these days. First, the full checklist is always on the internet, and second, we’ve all been trained not to take a pen or marker to our cards anymore. As such, I’d much prefer to read about a highlight, however cheap, than see a bunch of tiny names and checkboxes, including the unchecked box for this very card, which is kind of funny when you think about it.

Finally, it’s hard to recall Pujols and his RBI totals without being reminded of the oddball recalculation of Babe Ruth’s RBI numbers. Hey, it’s one thing to turn Hack Wilson’s 190 RBI into 191 for accuracy’s sake, but it’s another to subtract hundreds of RBIs from the Babe just because the stat itself wasn’t yet official. Please, Baseball, do you even think about how long some of us spent memorizing all these stats and records as kids? I’m gonna say 4,191 hours!

none of the above (I think)

My Miguel Castro card didn’t seem to fit any of these other categories in that there was no special logo (e.g., Rookie Card, Home Run Derby) nor had Castro changed teams since 2017. Without looking anything up I’ll simply assume that Castro didn’t quite make the cut for the base sets, hence was still available to fill a slot on the Update set roster.

Perhaps making up for the card’s undistinguished status in the set, the card may well be the most attractive pull from my pack. Check out the bird peeking out of his jersey and the chains flying, along with what are either earrings, long hair, or really long ear lobes forced back by the strength of his motion.

NOW WHAT?

My main goal here was to open a fresh pack rather than actually add new cards to my collection. As such, anyone who does trades with me over the next few months will likely find themselves with one or more of these cards added to the envelope.

In the meantime, I’ll have to wrap my head around the fact that more than 40 years after starting my prized baseball card collection my rarest card is…

Good God, this can’t be right, can it?

Holy smokes, it is!

…a 2019 Topps card of Jake Odorizzi!

Baseball cards that remember the past

When I got back into collecting around 2014, my first goal was to finish my Hank Aaron collection, which at that time included just over a dozen of his base cards, a few assorted all-stars and record breakers, and a handful of cards that came out after his playing career. Having been gone from the hobby for more than 20 years I assumed another 10-15 cards would finish the collection, maybe 20-30 if I really needed to have everything.

Of course the true number was in the thousands! At the time I’m typing this Trading Card Database puts the Hammer at 4,255 different cards, and by the time you read this I suspect that number will be even higher.

There’s a stat people love to quote about Hank Aaron. Take away his 755 home runs and he would still have more than 3,000 hits. My guess is you could take away every card from Aaron’s playing career and he’d still have more than four thousand cards!

Though my collector gene at least beckons me to collect them all, the “often needs to blend in as a normal adult” gene in me somehow proves dominant and forces me to restrict my collection’s personal Hammer Time to the years 1954-1976. Still, whether through overly broad eBay searches or through the generosity of fellow collectors who send me stuff I do manage to at least notice if not add at least some of Aaron’s post-career cardboard. In fact, one of my favorite mail days of the year was when fellow collector Matt Malone sent me this gorgeous 2019 Topps Heritage “box loader” card for nothing!

If I had to create a Favorites category it wouldn’t be the shiny stuff, the serial numbered stuff, the relic stuff, or the “anything else” stuff. It would 100% be the regular stuff that looks like all the other regular cards in the set. For example, here is a 2019 Topps Series 1 “Legends” card next to a base card of Clayton Kershaw…

…which finally brings me to the actual subject of this article!

While the modern and welcome tradition of mixing retired greats in with current players is new compared to the heyday of my collecting (very extended) youth (roughly 1978-1992), just as most things cardboard and in life it’s not something truly new.

“Ahem,” you say! “There were tons of retired greats in the sets of your youth, Jason,” thinking I can somehow hear you right now, so let me explain. I’m not talking about cards like this…

…even if they came in the same packs as these.

I’m talking strictly about the cards that blend right in with the rest of the set. Otherwise I’m afraid this article would practically go on forever. (Editor’s note: It already has!) What follows is hardly a comprehensive list, so as always I invite readers to add their favorites to the Comments.

The first instance of these “legends in disguise” that I became aware of as a collector was the 1949 Leaf card of the (at the time) very recently deceased Babe Ruth, even if 1) I thought of it as 1948 at the time, 2) it’s pretty hard to disguise Babe Ruth, and 3) even if many of the “current players” are legends themselves by now.

Beyond the Bambino it’s worth noting that Honus Wagner also had a card in this same set. Though you’ll see soon enough how inconsistent my criteria are, I won’t quite count Wagner since he’s in the set as a coach and not a retired great. (You could easily dispute this and probably win in that Wagner is the only coach/manager in the set, a fact that strongly suggests Wagner was in the set as Wagner vs coach.)

Of course the tradition didn’t originate with the Leaf set. Just months before a tiny entrant into the gum card market showed up with a large set of cards, not all baseball, that mixed the likes of Ruth, Hornsby, Mathewson, Wagner, and Cobb with Lou Boudreau!

By the way, these cards are known as 1948 Topps Magic Photos. While I don’t dispute the date it’s worth noting that the non-legend portion of the baseball set focuses on the 1948 World Series, hence the Boudreau, which of course didn’t occur until October. As such, it wouldn’t shock me if much like the Leaf set this particular set did not arrive on the scene until early 1949.

Speaking of 1949, readers of my earlier article on the 1949 M.P. & Company baseball issue may recall that the set included a Jimmie Foxx card, recycled from six years earlier, alongside active players like Mel Ott Alvin Dark.

Evidently nostalgia ran large in the 1948-1949 as there was yet a third issue that mixed the old with the new. The 1948 Blue Tint (R346) checklist made room for Lou Gehrig whose last game was in 1939 while mainly consisting of modern stars such as Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, and Joe DiMaggio.

One could place the R346 Hank Greenberg card in either category. On one hand he played a full season in 1947 with the Pirates so a card in 1948 wouldn’t be completely unusual (though more so back then than now). On the other hand the lack of a team designation followed the design of the Gehrig in the set as opposed to the active players. (The set also includes a Mel Ott manager card with no team noted. However, this was later corrected to indicate “N.Y. Giants.”)

Lest you imagine this kind of thing could only happen in America, I’ll highlight the Cuban 1946-1947 Propagandas Montiel issue as yet another set from the era open to all comers.

At any rate, the battle for first place involves none of these late 1940s issues. After all, the most sought after card from the start of the decade is one of many “Former Major League Stars” that Play Ball camouflaged into its 1940 set.

Did I mention my criteria were pretty inconsistent? Oh, good, because otherwise I’d have no place taking us into the 1933 Goudey set where not one, not two, but two-and-a-half retired legends make an appearance. The first of these is Shoeless Joe’s 1919 White Sox teammate, Eddie Collins, who technically cracks the set as a vice president and business manager, two categories so far fetched that it’s safe to say he simply cracks the set as Eddie Collins.

Next up is the part-owner of the Kansas City Blues because of course every set needs a card of a part-owner!

And batting third is the set’s Holy Grail, Napoleon Lajoie, who is 100% retired great, 0% owner, vice president, business manager, or otherwise.

In fact, old Larry was so far removed from the business of baseball by then as to be the Lloyd Dobler of his time. (“I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.”)

Still, while Lajoie’s status as pure “retired great” is uncontaminated there are a few reasons to assign his card only partial credit in meeting the criteria for this article.

  • One, his card couldn’t really be said to blend in with the rest of the set seeing as it wasn’t even released with the rest of the set. As is well known, Goudey didn’t issue the card until 1934 and only then to the relatively small number of collectors who sent them hate mail about their missing card 106.
  • Two, the card’s design doesn’t even match the rest of the 1933 (or 1934) set, instead reflecting a hybrid of the two designs.

While we’re on the subject, there is yet another retired baseball legend who cracks a 1933-1934 Goudey checklist, but this time it’s with the “Sports Kings” issue, where Ty Cobb slides in alongside two active players, Babe Ruth and Carl Hubbell.

My approach so far has been to start with 1949 and work my way backward. As I’m not aware of any examples (aside from coaches/managers) before 1933, I’ll close the article with a few post-1949 honorable mentions.

The 1960 Fleer Baseball Greats set technically qualifies as a set that mixed old and new. The checklist consists of 78 retired stars and exactly one active player, Ted Williams.

The 1967 Venezuelan Topps set includes a “RETIRADO” subset that doesn’t at all blend in with the set’s other cards. However, the design of the retired players reflects at least some attempt to match the base cards of active players.

The next honorable mention comes in 1982 from both Topps and Fleer.

I’m sure there was no intent to include the great J.R. Richard as a retired legend. Nonetheless, with J.R.’s final trip to the mound coming in 1980, his spot in the 1982 sets proved unusual. Naturally, Topps and Fleer were banking on a successful comeback that unfortunately never materialized.

Overall I’m a big fan of packing retired legends into modern sets. I can only imagine how much I would have loved it to open packs of 1978 or 1979 Topps and pull cards like these!

Of course, if the kids opening packs today are like the players I coached in Little League a few years ago, they may not have the same reverence for yesteryear that we once did. To quote one of kids on the squad, “Hank Aaron? Is he from the 1900s or something?”

A 1943 mini-mystery 79% solved

In a previous article I detailed the 1949 M.P. & Company baseball set and paired up each of its 24 cards with their recycled artwork from the original 1943 issue. For example, the Del Ennis below comes from the 1949 set and reuses the same art, Giants uniform and all, as the Carl Hubbell from the 1943 set.

A question I only barely touched on, largely because I had no answer, was where the artwork for the 1943 cards came from. The closest I came was in speculating that Vander Meer’s artwork may have been based on a 1938 press photo due to his wearing number 57 on the card.

The Standard Catalog is equally mum on the artwork’s origins, noting only that “the cards feature crude color drawings that have little resemblance to the player named,” a sentiment echoed by the minds at PSA:

“The cards were produced as crudely drawn cartoons presented in bold colors, but show little resemblance to the players themselves.”

Perhaps I would have dug deeper someday but chances are I would have gone to my grave believing a cartoonist somewhere simply drew generic baseball men and attached the names of famous players to them. Then I got an email from fellow collector Jack Q. Spooner.

Jack’s message immediately grabbed my attention with this photo of Johnny Vander Meer.

Not only did the picture include Vander Meer’s 1938 uniform number, but EVERYTHING in this Charles Conlon (!) photograph matched up to Vandy’s 1943 M.P. & Pressner card.

Contrary to my press photo guess, Jack identified the Vander Meer photo as a Baseball Magazine Player Poster, designated M114 by Jefferson Burdick and released in 1938.

Had Jack’s email stopped there it would have already been one of the highlights of my inbox this year, but it kept right on going. Here is what Jack sent me for Mel Ott.

Not only did Jack match the Ott card to his M114, this one from 1933, but he even showed a match to Ott’s subsequent 1946-47 Propagandas Montiel card.

Then I opened the attachment Jack included with his message. You can probably guess where this is going.

Sure enough, Jack had supplied M114 matches for 19 of the 24 cards in the 1943 set. The only players missing from the match were Bill Dickey, Stan Hack, Tommy Henrich, Lou Novikoff, and Pee Wee Reese.

While there are other possibilities I now picture that the M.P. & Company artist had these posters in front of him (or her) when sketching the 1943 card set. Only one fact makes this seem improbable, at least at first. The Vander Meer poster was five years old, and the Ott poster was ten years old. Unless someone was a collector, where would all these posters come from?

The answer is that while the Baseball Magazine M114 issue was released more or less continuously from 1910 to 1957, nearly all posters remained available until sold out. In other words, anyone with about two dollars to spend could have ordered all 19 of the posters shown just about anytime, for example in late 1942 or early 1943.

For fun we’ll take a look at when each of the posters in this article were first released. I’ll also include the non-matches in yellow for completeness. (For reasons I’ll save for the Comments if asked, there is some uncertainty to the entire exercise but not enough to worry about unduly.)

Before proceeding I’ll note the asterisk for Johnny Mize is that the Standard Catalog, at least my Fifth Edition (2015), lists his only M114 posters as from 1937 and 1946. However, since his “match” poster shows him with the Giants, we know it can’t be from 1937. Likewise, since the M.P. & Company set came out in 1943, we know the source poster can’t be from 1946. Because the M114 checklist is known to be incomplete and because Mize joined the Giants in 1942, I feel confident his source poster was issued that year.

When I got through Jack’s email it was KILLING me that five of the 24 M.P. & Company cards were left unmatched. In his message, Jack had indicated to me that he had already checked the M114 posters for four of them and confirmed the non-matches. Thanks to the unbelievable online gallery hosted by Doug Goodman, I was able to track down the fifth one (Novikoff) as well. Here they are next to their 1943 cardboard.

At the moment, then, the mystery of where the 1943 M.P. & Company artwork came from appears to be 79% solved. I would love it if any of you can solve the rest of the mystery by tracking down the source photos for these final cards. That said, 79% isn’t a bad place to be considering I was at 0% yesterday!

Quick note: The original version of this article included speculation that the M114 posters of other players could have been the source for the five “missing” players. That was before I found Doug Goodman’s flickr site and reviewed all 961 posters from his collection. None matched the missing five.

TWENTY-FOUR HOURS LATER

I still haven’t found photo matches for the missing five players, though I’ve gone down than more than my share of rabbit holes in the 24 hours since this article was first published. While I came up completely empty in terms of photo sources I did find some images that at least came close in some instances.

While you might imagine bottomless searches through the archives of the Sporting News or newspapers.com, it turns out that these images were right in front of my nose the whole time. I know these aren’t really correct, but they sure looked good to me through the eyes of desperation!

And while we’re at it, who’s that guy batting behind Pee Wee Reese? He sure looks a lot like Hank Greenberg! 😄

Cards of Cards of Cards

As a kid few things sucked more than being dragged to Kmart by my mom. All that changed one day in 1982 when I saw these on the shelves by checkout.

I don’t recall the price, but it was damn low for a set that included Mantle, Mays, and Aaron, and it was even low enough for me to somehow twist my mom’s arm into adding it to our cart. On top of that, these were no ordinary cards. These were a Limited Edition!

Opening the box on the way to the car, I was pretty thrilled with the look of the cards, the first 41 of which featured images of earlier Topps baseball cards. At least that’s what I thought.

In fact, the set not only included cards of cards but also cards of cards that never were.

The set also gave me my first Topps Traded card since the designers smartly eschewed the 1981 Rollie Fingers base card in favor of his Brewers update.

However, the most intriguing cards in the set were these five. Even as a Dodger fan, I had to love the idea that these were cards of cards of Cards!

Thanks to some trades and card show visits, I already had some cards of cards from 1975 in my collection.

Three cards in the 1975 Topps MVP subset even included cards that never were.

The Wills card appears to be the same one used seven years later by Kmart, which leads me to wonder if a “real” 1962 Topps Maury Wills was created but never released or if someone in 1982 simply said, “Hey, wait a minute! No need to make a fake Wills. We still have that one from ’75.”

The 1951-style Campanella seems to work well, but the 1955 is a bit of an eyesore. Not only did Topps aberrantly go black and white on the head shot but they “capped off” the anachronism by placing Campanella in L.A. three years early. (Collectors of the 1958 or 1962 Jay Publishing sets may recognize the source of the 1955 Campy fauxtaux.)

But I digress. What you really want to know is were there cards of cards of Cards, and of course the answer is YES! As the set’s theme was identical to the Kmart set and the time frame wasn’t too different either, we see the same cards of cards of Cards as Kmart, minus Keith Hernandez who of course hadn’t won his MVP award yet.

And just the year before that Topps recapped the entire cardboard career of the Hammer with its five-card “Hank Aaron Special” subset.

North of the border, the same subset was issued but with some twists I never understood until reading Matthew Glidden’s terrific article on the subject. While the first and last cards are largely the same as the U.S. issue, the middle three cards were split into six.

On the heels of their 1974 and 1975 successes, Topps created another “cards of cards” subset for 1976. Though there were no cards of cards of Cards, the “Father & Son” cards featured five (then) current players along with the 1953 or 1954 Topps cards of their Big League dads.

I’m not aware of other cards of cards between the 1976 Father/Son cards and the Kmart set. However, cards of cards had a strong run from 1985-1990 thanks to another Father/Son series, featuring (yes!) a card of a card of a Card…

…and the five-year reboot of a classic Topps subset that debuted in 1977.

Where the 1977 subset used ordinary (or sometimes extraordinary) photos, these later sets adopted a Kmartesque cards of cards design. There were five cards in the 1986 subset, but none were cards of cards of Cards, nor were there even cards of cards that never were. The closest we come to a novelty is the use of Fernando Valenzuela’s 1981 Topps Traded card.

The 1987 subset again featured five cards but sadly no cards of cards of Cards. What it did include was the by now familiar Maury Wills card that never was.

Finally in 1988 were are rewarded with two cards of cards of Cards, and these weren’t just any old Cards but two of the greatest ever to wear the uniform.

The 1989 subset had just about everything under the sun: a card that never was of Tony Oliva, a card of a card of a Card, and a card of my cardboard crush, the Topps XRC of Dr. K. Oh, and Hank Aaron and Gil Hodges are in there too!

Following the subset into 1990, equipped with airplane bag to stomach its design, we find no cards of cards of Cards, but we do see a tighter cropping of the Kmart Fred Lynn, more closely matching his actual RC, and a card reminding Cards fans of recent postseason agony.

The 1986 Topps set also doubled down on the Hank Aaron Special design to honor Pete Rose’s breaking of Ty Cobb’s career hits record.

Where Topps had already turned the multiplayer RC of Fred Lynn into a solo card for Kmart (and would do similar for Oliva and Lynn again), Topps left Rose’s iconic 1963 rookie card in its original format. Also breaking with card on card tradition, Topps ran with Rose’s main 1984 issue rather than his update card on the Expos. In retrospect we might regard this as the beginning of the end for Montreal baseball.

Before closing the article, I want to highlight one more card on card that depending on the release date may in fact be the first of its kind. The same year Topps issued the Hank Aaron Specials, Fleer and Bob Laughlin blessed the baseball world with a 42-card set of Baseball Firsts. Card 12 in the set describes the first baseball cards and the front depicts a tobacco-style card that never was of Beaneater hurler (pardon the visual!) Kid Madden (SABR bio).

Oh how I would have loved it had Madden been a Cardinal so I could end with a card of a card of a Card. About the closest I can come is to note that the James O’Neill mentioned on the back of the card did spend seven years in St. Louis, but of course his team was the Browns.

I’m curious to know if you’re aware of any cards of cards earlier than 1974 or know whether the Fleer set beat Topps to the shelves (or mail order catalogs). For those of us trying to collect the baseball card’s rookie card, if not the master set, this kind of thing matters a lot!

From our readers

Thanks to @DonSherm for supplying us this “cards on card” card a year before the Hank Aaron Specials and the Fleer Kid Madden.

The card back shows several cards, though it’s impossible to know whether any are cards of Cards or even cards of cards of Cards!

Now going way back, I’m reminded that some very early non-baseball cards of cards were issued in 1906 (!).

I’ll let you read about this fantastic six-car set over on my co-chair’s blog.

The ghost of Gaylord Perry

As an eight-year old collector it was a thrill to pull this card (or any Record Breaker) from a pack.

Trivia question: Who were the two American Leaguers referenced in the card back’s final sentence?

An obvious thing the card had going for it was that it was of Brooks Robinson, who I’d already read about as the greatest fielding third baseman ever. A more subtle thing it had going for it was that Robinson had no other card in the 1978 Topps set.

“Can they do this?” I wondered once I’d figured that out. I checked all my other Record Breakers, and sure enough they all had base cards. Weird. The concept of an error card hadn’t yet entered my consciousness, but I tended to treat my Brooks Robinson card as something very special and prized, maybe even the one thing even better than a baseball card of a superstar: a mistake made by a grown-up somewhere.

My whole universe of baseball cards consisting of a thousand or so 1978 Topps cards, a rubber-banded stack of 43 cards from 1974 that I bought at a carnival for 50 cents, and the lone pack I bought at the end of the 1977 season, I was unaware that this Brooks Robinson Record Breaker card had precedent. For example, the 1976 Record Breaker cards featured a player whose previous Topps card (outside of Venezuela) came in 1964!

And just two years before that there was half the answer to my earlier trivia question.

Aside from a single card, Topps had no Highlights/Record Breaker cards in the 1974 set, but thanks to its World Series subset we hadn’t yet seen the last of the Say Hey Kid.

Though I’ve looked backward thus far, the Brooks Robinson card was hardly the last of its kind. Two years later, Lou Brock’s entry into the 3000 hit club would earn him a bonus card in the 1980 set.

Then came the flood. Gaylord Perry received two bonus cards, one of which doubled as a bonus card for fellow Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski.

I’ll take a quick detour here just to acknowledge what a terrific job Topps did with the final base cards of each of these three players.

After 1984 players who lacked base cards but earned last hurrahs practically disappeared. Committee co-chair Nick reminded me of one more from 1988 (the Phil half), and I hope you’ll let me know of others in the comments.

As for the very modern, I wondered if maybe Ichiro could be a 2019 example thanks to his #ToppsNow cards from the Japan series, but then I saw he managed 700+ other cards this year, just as he may well have 700+ cards next year and every year after.

Though I initially considered my Brooks Robinson card a fluke, if not a mistake, you can see here that at least for the 1974-1984 stretch it was practically a feature of the Topps sets to include bonus cards of players who had otherwise reached cardboard retirement.

Bonus cards like the Brooksie and Brock will always carry something bittersweet about them. On one hand, we get one last cardboard look at a legend of the game. On the other hand, we are staring at a ghost. The player’s main card has vanished from the set, and this specter is all that remains, as if to remind us of another season gone, another career in the books, and a fate that will eventually reach us all.

P.S. The other answer to the trivia question? Definitely not Gaylord Perry! It was Brooks Robinson! 🤦 Pretty tricky, Topps!

Extras from our readers

I’ll use this space to acknowledge all the additions to the list supplied by readers, either here or on our Twitter/Facebook sites.

1967 Topps Sandy Koufax – No base card but three League Leader cards as the winner of the Triple Crown for pitchers.

Author’s note: A few days after publishing this piece I stumbled upon a very similar article on the terrific Wax Pack Gods site. Had I seen it earlier I probably wouldn’t have bothered with my article. Still, I think mine does enough that’s different to keep it here. Either way, all credit goes to Adam at Wax Pack Gods for getting there first.

Bowman’s encore performance

The first Bowman baseball card sets might technically be considered the 1939-41 Play Ball sets produced by Gum, Inc. However, the first baseball cards to use the Bowman name were released in 1948.

The 48-card set used black and white photographs and looked very much like miniaturized versions of its 1939 Play Ball predecessor.

Bowman followed up its 1948 offering with a set five times the size. The appearance of the cards differed from the 1948 cards primarily in using color over the player images and using one of several solid colors for the background. The backs also used color ink.

Bowman changed things up again in 1950. Player images used a fuller color palette and backgrounds were quite remarkable in their mix of color and detail. Among full-color baseball card sets, this was almost certainly the most lifelike one ever produced.

When the 1951 season rolled around collectors had been treated to fresh, if not revolutionary, new designs each of the past two years. How could Bowman possibly keep the wheels of progress turning? What would they do for an encore? Would the 1951 cards be 3-D? Scratch and sniff? (Let’s hope not!) True color photographs? Let’s take a look.

Well those cards sure look familiar, don’t they? Aside from adding names and making the cards taller, Bowman seemed content to put out more or less the same product as the year before.

In almost all cases, Bowman (or rather their artists at the George Moll Advertising Agency) employed a standard formula for turning the 1950 images into the 1951 images.

The 1950 image was enlarged about 25%, its full height was used, and excess width on each side was discarded, possibly unevenly. For players whose 1950 Bowman card used a landscape image, Bowman took an analogous approach.

Having just written about the laziest set ever, the thought crossed my mind that 1951 Bowman might at least warrant a seat at that table. However, reuse of prior images, and generic ones at that, was employed by MP & Company for its entire 1949 set, while reused Bowman images were at least based on actual player photos and in fact made up barely a third of the total set.

118 of the 1951 Bowman set’s 324 cards featured repeated players and images from the year before, such as the six I’ve shown. (See this article’s Appendix for a link to the full list.) I should note here that I’m referring to repeated source images, even if modifications were made to reflect team changes. For example, this Peanuts Lowrey card is counted among my tally of reused images.

Another 116 cards were of players who had no card at all in the 1950 release, including these two particularly famous ones.

Finally, there were 90 repeated players from the 1950 set whose cards used new images. While I’ve chosen two superstars to illustrate the point, it’s not evident to me that star power was a primary factor in selecting which players would receive image makeovers…

…nor was the player’s position on the checklist. For those of you with Ted Williams 20/10 vision or really large computer monitors, I’ve plotted the entire checklist using the color scheme from the pie chart (e.g., the top row of blue dots represents repeated players with new images.)

As much as I was hoping to spot a pattern, the dots strike me as largely random other than the unsurprising clustering of brand new players in the set’s final three series.

While my research into the set didn’t turn up any big find, there was at least one card pair that I was glad to stumble upon, not because it confirms any particular theory I had but because it does the opposite.

At first glance these Eddie Lake cards appear a lot like the landscape cards of Mueller, Kerr, and Snider that I showcased earlier. However, a closer look at Lake’s rear end on the 1950 card shows it just about (ahem) butting up against the card edge while the 1951 card leaves room for a sliver more of infield dirt. Likewise the 1951 card shows (nearly) full bodies of two players in the background while the 1950 card barely shows more than one.

These are minor details, but they are enough to illustrate that not all repeated artwork followed the simple crop strategy I showed earlier. In Lake’s case, previously unseen elements were added to the card whereas all earlier examples only showed elements subtracted. Had Bowman followed the standard formula, the result would have been the Fake Lake on the right instead of the Honest Eddie on the left.

Admittedly, I’d be a bigger fan of the 1951 Bowman set had it used all new images rather than recycling more than a third of them. Still, the subtle differences in the reused images–the cropping necessary to produce a new aspect ratio, the occasional team/uniform updates, and the bonus art of the Lake card–provide ample reason to take some of these cards out for a second look, an encore if you will.

Take a Bow…man!

Appendix

Want to do your own comparisons? I’ve created a Google Sheet with the 118 cards from the 1951 set that recycled images from the 1950 set.