God Bless Manny Sanguillen!

When I first started collecting autographs back in the 1960’s I had ballplayers sign pictures or pieces of paper. In those days it was quite common for ballplayers to add “Best Wishes” to their autograph without any prompting.

More recently I have had ballplayers add a number of interesting things along-side of their signatures, again with no prompting.

Dock Ellis added the date of his LSD no-hitter on the sweet spot of a baseball under his signature.

Steve Lyons added his nickname “Psycho” under his signature on a bat with autographs of other members of the 1986 Red Sox team. I do have to admit that I was going to ask him to add his nickname, but I thought he would be offended.

Several ballplayers have added a Bible reference alongside their signatures on baseball cards. Not being a Bible scholar, these always cause me to look up the reference.

Tim Foli card with Bible reference.

But the biggest surprise was when I got my first Manny Sanguillen autograph and he added “God Bless”.

Manny’s career overlapped with Johnny Bench, so he did not get the recognition that he deserves. Manny compiled a .296 lifetime batting average over 13 seasons in the majors. He has two World Series rings and played in three All Star games. He was also involved in one of the most interesting baseball trades of the 1970’s when the Pirates traded Manny in 1977 to the Oakland Athletics for then A’s manager Chuck Tanner. After one year in Oakland Manny was reacquired by the Bucs.

Even now, 40 years after his last at bat in the majors Manny is a fan favorite. He is a goodwill ambassador for the Pittsburgh Pirates appearing at Fantasy Camps, PirateFest, and team signing events. And if you are lucky you can also find him at some ball games holding court at Manny’s BBQ at PNC Park.

Over the last 15 years I have collected six signatures of Manny on baseball cards. He added “God Bless” to 4 of them.

I would be interested in hearing about unprompted additions to autographs on baseball cards from others. If you have an interesting addition, please share it by way of a comment.

Manny if you are reading this post – God Bless!

Tobacco Cards See Daylight Again After the Walls Come Down

Carriage house walls come down in 1979.

The first house that an old high school buddy and his wife owned was built in 1850. Adjacent to the house was a carriage house that had been converted into a garage. Shortly after moving into the house in 1979 it was apparent that some of the support beams in the carriage house needed to be replaced.

To get at the support beams the walls in the carriage house needed to come down. Much to the surprise of my friend, behind the sparse insulation and the horse-hair was a mishmash of early 1900s Americana that included advertising signs, newspapers, pins, and tobacco cards that were also being used as insulation.

Some of the historical artifacts were carted off to the dump along with the debris from the construction. Some items, like the “Modern Women Use Crisco Instead of Whale Blubber” sign, were tossed in 2012 due to mold build up. However, for some reason my friend decided to keep the tobacco cards and the pins that he found behind the walls.

T206 Nap Lajoie Portrait card found behind the wall.

The tobacco cards and pins remained tucked away in a drawer for over 40 years until last month when he posted a couple of group shots of the items on Facebook. In the post he asked – “Does anyone know if they are worth anything?”

I immediately called him and gave him some information about the cards, pricing guides, and grading services. I also emailed him links to online sources of information that included checklists.

It was impossible to determine which tobacco cards he had from the group shots, so I asked him to email me individual photos of the front and backs of each card.

From the photos I determined that he had T205, T206, and E91 baseball cards and T-218 Champions and Prize Fighters cards.

Behind the Walls Checklist

I have listed below the cards by set that my friend found behind the walls. I have also included the photos of the individual cards that my friend sent me organized by set.

T206 Set (all have Sweet Caporal backs)

Jack Hayden

Tom Jones

Nap Lajoie (Portrait)

Matty McIntyre

William O’Neil

Mike Powers

T205 Set (all have Sweet Caporal backs)

Bill Bailey

Frank Lang

E91 American Carmel (American Caramel back)

Robert “Bob” Unglaub

T-218 Champions and Prize Fighters (Mecca backs)

Tom Collins

Harry Lewis

Melvin Sheppard

My friend also saved some assorted pins that he found, including a President McKinley pin.

President McKinley pin and Perfection Cigarettes pin.

My friend and his wife sold the house in 1982. When I asked my friend if he had taken down all of the garage walls. He replied – “I am not sure. It might have been only two walls.” My follow up question was – “Did you take down any of the walls in the house?” He said – “No. We just wallpapered over the walls in the house.”

My buddy and I are now planning a road trip to see the current owners of his first house. We want to see if they would be interested in some free wall demolition work on the condition that we do a 3-way split on the proceeds of any T206 Honus Wagner cards that might be found during the wall removal process.

1973 – Ugliest Topps Baseball Set Ever

“This is the best series I think we’ve ever done. I’m very excited about the whole thing already.” Sy Berger, Topps president, prior to 1973 cards hitting the shelves.

(Quote from the book – Baseball Card Flipping, Trading And Bubble Gum)

Rather than binge watch the Tiger King I decided to spend the last 3 nights cataloging my 1973 Topps Baseball cards to see how close I am to having a complete set. I obtained these cards after the great basement flood of 1987. The cards originally belonged to my younger brother. He had stored his baseball card collection in the basement of my parent’s then new home in Maine. Due to some faulty landscaping some water came into the basement during a downpour and damaged some his collection.

My brother no longer wanted the damaged collection and instead of throwing out the cards my mother miraculously called me to see I wanted them. I told her I would gladly take all the cards. A week or so later my parents arrived at my house with a large cardboard box stuffed with cards. My mother had dried out the cards that got wet by laying them on a dry floor and running a fan across them.

The box contained a mishmash of Topps cards that ranged from 1966 to 1980. Most of the cards were in good shape – either no water damage or only a very small water spot. There were also some cards that had seen better days.

There were a lot of cards of hall of famers from various years including this nice 1967 Mickey Mantle.

The bulk of the collection was comprised of 1973 cards. Almost all of the 1973 cards came through the ordeal in nice shape. Even before cataloging the cards I knew I almost had a complete set. I have nearly all the cards of the hall of famers, including the Mike Schmidt rookie card.

Mike Schmidt Rookie -Card Number 615

The Bad and The Ugly

It was also clear before cataloging these cards, that this was the ugliest set ever produced by Topps.

From a pure printing perspective all of the cards lack brightness and pop. The design of the ’73 cards lacks imagination and the white borders contribute to the dullness of the cards.

My biggest beef with these cards is the photography. The quality of the action images used in a significant percentage of the cards is in many cases very low. Most of the action shots were taken during afternoon games creating high contrast situations with the caps shading the faces of the players and the white uniforms reflecting too much light. In a post from 2016, Topps, according to baseball photographer extraordinaire Doug McWilliams, insisted on the use of slow ASA 100 film. This did not help matters when it came to freezing the action, resulting in fuzzy images or images that required a lot of massaging in order to make them acceptable.

I have included in the slide show below a sampling of problematic cards of future hall of famers and stars from this era. There are photos that are zoomed so far out you don’t know who the subject is (image on Bobby Bonds card would have been a better choice for the Willie Stargell card). There are photos where faces are in shadows and photos which have been airbrushed beyond all recognition. There are a few photos that have been cropped bizarrely (I still can’t find Steve Garvey). And there are photos were the composition is mind boggling (Willie McCovey and Johnny Bench checking out a foul ball. The Hit King popping up. Is that really Thurman Munson?).

Slide Show Featuring Some of Ugliest Topps Cards of Hall of Famers and Stars Ever Produced

If you are a Joe Rudi fan you are out of luck. You get another card of Gene Tenace.

The Good

There are some really nice cards in this set. Call me old school, but most of the cards in this set that work for me are the ones with the posed shots. Cards that also work for me are the action shots of Aaron and Clemente which are two of the best in this set. And it was nice that Topps brought back the cards of the playoffs and the World Series.

Slide Show of Good Cards

After cataloging the cards, I have found out that I am only 50 cards shy of having a complete set of 660 cards (not counting the variations in many of the managers / coaches cards). Only two of the missing cards are Hall of Famers.

I even have 22 of the 24 Blue Team Checklist cards that were supposedly only inserted in the last series.

I would be interested on your take on the 1973 set. Let me know by way of a comment if you agree or disagree with me on the 1973 set being the ugliest set that Topps has ever produced.

Creating Your Own Cards with the Rookies App

It is scary out there. And probably not the best time for a post, but writing helps me keep sane during these trying times. I also thought that there might be a few of you looking for a diversion as we shelter in place.

One of the posts that I read when I first came across this blog was by Nick Vossbrink about creating your own baseball cards. I thought that was a pretty cool thing to do and was very impressed by the images of the creations in the post. In the post Nick mentioned that Matt Prigge was using the Rookies App to create his cards, so I decided to give it a try.

I downloaded Rookies App from the Apple App Store (it is free) and installed it on my iPhone.

Overview of the Rookies App

The Rookies App is extremely easy to use.

To get started you click on the Create Your Own button. A template pops up, but you can change it by tapping on the 4 small squares at the bottom left of the screen. From there you can choose from 24 templates. In each template there will be a plus sign button or buttons (some templates allow you to have 2 images on a card) for uploading images. You can choose images stored in you photo library on your phone, take a photo with you camera and use that image, or choose photos from your Facebook library (you will need to sync the app with Facebook library). You can resize the image by pinching up or down on your photo.

Once you choose you image or images you can enter text in the various fields on the front of the by tapping the Aa letters at the bottom of the screen. By tapping the ink dropper icon on the bottom of the screen you can change the colors used in the template that you have selected. You can even add information on the back of the card by tapping on the icon with 2 boxes. This will allow you select one of 5 different template to add information to the card.

You will also need to enter information for a credit card if you want to order cards. You order 20 cards at a time. The price with shipping and taxes is $16.99 (will vary slightly depending on where you live). 

Once you place your order you will get your cards in about 10 days. The cards arrive in packs of 20.

The quality of the cards are excellent.

Unopened pack of 20 cards.

Using Published Photos

There are tons of possibilities for utilizing already published photos of players for your cards – magazines, picture books, scorecards, yearbooks, etc. I have found that if you have a steady hand and a smart phone with a good built-in camera that you can take photos of published pictures that are fine for your cards. A few things to keep in mind are to make sure the image is as flat as possible and that there are no shadows.

Included below are some cards from my Pittsburgh Pirates Team Set using photos from the 1979 Pirates Yearbook.

Photos copied from 1979 Pittsburg Pirates Yearbook.

Using Original Photos

I enjoy taking photos and the Rookies App allows me to merge my two hobbies – photography and baseball cards. I have included below some of my favorite cards that I have made using photos that I have taken. Under each card are some details about the picture.

Taken during Pittsburgh Pirates Fantasy Camp in Bradenton, Florida.
Taken at Pittsburgh Pirates Fantasy Camp in Bradenton, Florida.
Taken during Pittsburgh Pirates Fantasy Camp in Bradenton, Florida.
Elroy was one of the former players signing at a card show outside of Pittsburgh. Luckily I had a baseball with me and I asked him to show me how he used to grip the fork ball.
Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz warming up prior to a Spring Training in 2004 against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field (now LECOM Park)in Bradenton, Florida.
A good friend of mine is a Red Sox season ticket holder and invited me to go with him to the pre-Duck Boat parade World Series celebration inside Fenway Park in 2013. In this photo Big Papi proudly displays his World Series Championship belt while standing on top of the Red Sox dugout. Note the Duck Boat in the background.
In a scheduling fluke that will probably never happen again in my lifetime the Red Sox opening series in 2017 was against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Captured this photo of my favorite current player from my seat near the Red Sox dugout.

Take care and be safe.

The Story Behind The Card – Frank Thomas “The Original One” (Chapter Two)

For my birthday last October my son gave me a wood number supposedly from the old Forbes Field scoreboard. My son obtained it from a business colleague who said that his grandfather got it directly from the Pittsburgh Pirates sometime in the 1970s. There was no documentation with the number. Being a huge Pirates fan and having gone to a number of games at Forbes Field I was thrilled with the gift.

Wood scoreboard number from Forbes Field?

A few hours after my birthday party ended, I started a journey to authenticate the number. I scoured the internet for images of the Forbes Field scoreboard. What I found was encouraging. Although there were no close-up shots of individual numbers, the images of the scoreboard with a 2 did seem to match the sharp angles of the 2 that was gifted to me. I also searched on eBay to see if there were any Forbes Field scoreboard numbers for sale, but I came up empty.

My journey then took me to Hunts Auctions in Exton, PA. They are very knowledgeable when it comes to Pirates memorabilia and even have a stand at PNC Park. I emailed them some photos of the number from different angles. One of their experts got back to me with some disappointing news. The scoreboard numbers that he has come across “have been made of thin (but heavy) sheet metal.” He did state to “not give up hope, since there are always anomalies, and this could be number a number used a different part of the stadium.”

Soon afterwards I reached out to the Pirates directly. They put me in touch with their unofficial Forbes Field historian. He actually had a metal Forbes Field scoreboard number which he emailed me pictures of. He was not aware of any wooden scoreboard numbers but did post the pictures of my number to the Forbes Field Facebook page. No one in the group posted any comments about encountering any wooden numbers. However, this exchange did result in a positive outcome. The dimensions of my wooden number were almost identical to the dimensions of the metal number. The unofficial historian also thought that the colors on my number looked correct.

I also contacted the co-chairs of the SABR Ballparks Research Committee, but they did not have any information Forbes Field Scoreboard numbers.

Just as I was about to give up the journey, I found Jeff Barto’s article about the last game at Forbes Field titled – Human Locusts Have Their Day – that was published in the SABR publication – Moments of Joy and Heartbreak – 66 Significant Episodes in the History of the Pittsburgh.

In the article Jeff states that – “They hung from the scoreboard with one hand while flinging the wooden numerals through the air like Frisbees.”

Last game at Forbes Field.

Things were now looking up and it was time to kick it up a notch.

I attended the SABR 2018 Annual Convention in Pittsburgh and remembered that Frank Thomas “The Original One” was a panel member for the “Branch Rickey: The Pittsburgh Pirates Years” session. Frank was a last-minute substitute for Dick Groat who was sick that day. Frank had some stories about dealing with Branch Rickey at contract time that were brutally honest and very entertaining. I also remember him talking about some charities that he was involved with.

Frank came up with the Pirates in 1951 and for the next 4 years played exclusively in the outfield. After being traded by the Pirates 1959 he continued to play for National League teams before retiring in 1966. Frank was definitely someone who was familiar with the Forbes Field scoreboard.

On December 19th I wrote a letter to Frank Thomas that walked him through my authentication journey and asked him if was aware of the scoreboard numbers ever being wood or some wood numbers being used in other areas of Forbes Field. I enclosed a donation for his charities and a self-addressed stamped envelope. I was hoping to get back a short reply. Just a yes or no answer.

The day after Christmas I received a large envelope from Frank. Inside the envelope was a two-page hand-written letter from Frank, along with an autographed picture of when he was with the Milwaukee Braves. Also included was a custom Christmas card with a picture of Frank as a Pittsburgh Pirate with Forbes Field in the background.

Christmas gift from Frank Thomas – Letter, Card, and Autographed Photo

In the letter Frank thanked me for the donation and provided me information on his charities. He also gave me a run-down of the historic game on June 8, 1961, when four home runs were hit in succession in the same inning by four different players (first and only time in major league history). The four players were Eddie Matthews, Hank Aaron, Joe Adcock, and Frank. All four are in the autographed picture.

As far as my scoreboard number goes, he did say – “To your question – I have no idea. All I know that when playing left field all the numbers I have ever seen, even when I would go into the scoreboard, have always been metal. If SABR can’t help you I have no idea who might be able to help you. I’m sorry.”

This past Christmas season there were definitely some positive Frank Thomas vibes out there. On December 26th Sports Collectors Daily published an article about Frank and the work that he does to help kids with cancer. If you are interested in writing to Frank the article contains his address. There was also an article on Frank’s chartable work that appeared in the Crux on December 25th.

The Card

In early January I sent Frank a Thank You note for taking the time to write back to me and sending me the photo and Christmas card. I enclosed another small donation.

Much to my surprise I received another large envelope from Frank. Included in the envelope was a short note thanking me for the donation and an autographed photo of all Frank’s baseball cards. Also included was an autographed 2001 Topps Archives card.

Autographed photo of Frank’s baseball cards
Autographed 2001 Topps Archives Card

For the moment I have hit the pause button on my authentication journey. If anyone has any suggestions for my next destination point please provide directions by way of a comment.

The Story Behind the Card – “The Hawk” 1968 (Chapter 1)

In case you missed it because of the holidays, the Hall of Fame announced last month that Ken “The Hawk” Harrelson, the former major league ballplayer and professional golfer, was selected as the recipient of the 2020 Ford C. Frick Award. The Award is given out annually for excellence in broadcasting.

The flamboyant Harrleson started his broadcasting career with the Boston Red Sox back in 1975. He left the Boston booth after six years and joined the Chicago White Sox broadcasting team in 1981. He was a fixture in the White Sox booth for 33 years. However, those years were not continuous as he did a couple of short stints as the White Sox general manager (end of 1985 to 1986) and then a broadcaster for the Evil Empire (1987). He retired at the end of the 2018 season.

The announcement on December 11th brought back memories of my brief encounter with “The Hawk” back in the summer of 1968.

In August of 1967 a bidding war for the Hawk ensued after he was placed on irrevocable waivers by Charlie “Cheapskate” Finley for calling the impulsive A’s owner “a disgrace to baseball” after Charlie O fired Alvin Dark, the A’s manager. The boneheaded move by Finley turned Hawk into a free agent. After mulling over multiple offers, he agreed to join the Red Sox for $150,000 (he was making $12,000 at the time).

Harrelson, the first major leaguer to don a batting glove (it was actually a golf glove), officially joined the Red Sox “Impossible Dream” team on August 28, 1967. The Sox were in a very tight pennant race and needed a big bat and outfield help after the beloved Tony Conigliaro was almost killed by an errant Jack Hamilton fastball on August 18th.

Still have the The Impossible Dream Album.

Hawk Harrelson soared in Boston, and with the fans and media behind him, helped the 1967 team capture the AL flag in what has been called the greatest pennant race in the history of baseball.

In the summer of 1968, the Hawk was in full flight mode and having a spectacular year. One in which he socked a carrier high 35 home runs and led the league in RBIs with 109. The Fenway faithful cheered him on the field, and we dug his Nehru jackets and dune buggy.

Hawk and his Dune Buggy.

The Card and the Story

I briefly met “The Hawk” after a game in the summer of 1968. I was a chartered member of the Hawk fan club and desperately wanted his autograph.

The best place to get autographs after a home game was on the Van Ness Street side of Fenway Park along the chain link fence that outlined the area where the players parked their cars. That summer day the area was jam packed with kids trying to get autographs.

Hawk came out, signed some autographs, got into his car, and left. Determined to come away with his autograph I decided to run after his car and hope that he would have to stop at an intersection. Luckily, he took a right on Jersey Street which meant he would have to stop when he came to Brookline Avenue. I was a pretty fast runner back in ’68 and caught up to the car at the intersection. I tapped on the passenger window which startled the Hawk. He smiled, leaned over and rolled down the window. I asked him to please sign my baseball card. I handed him my 1966 Topps card which featured him as player on the Kansas City A’s and a ballpoint pen. I was embarrassed that I did not have current Red Sox card of him and said – “I am sorry about the card, but it is the only one I have.” He said that was OK and signed my card. I thanked him and he drove off.

Determination does pay off! The autographed 1966 Topps card.

In this excellent post back in 2017, Tim runs down all of the Hawk’s cards and points out that that Topps NEVER issued a card of the “The Hawk” in a Red Sox uniform!

Two weeks into the 1969 season the Red Sox broke my heart and traded the Hawk to the Cleveland Indians. I am still not over it.

Something else you may have missed since it did not get the promotion it deserved is Ken’s very informative and entertaining autobiography titled –Hawk I Did It My Way that was published in 2018. I highly recommend it.

Stouffers 1995 Baseball Set Deserves A Standing Ovation

My vote for the best baseball cards that came with a food product are the Stouffer’s cards from the overlooked Legends of Baseball set from 1995.

When my kids were in grade school in the 1990’s we tried every frozen pizza product available before settling on the Stouffer’s offering as the best of the bunch.

In 1995 we increased our consumption Stouffer’s pizza due to the inclusion of one of 5 different baseball cards in each package. It is worth noting that every card is a hall of famer. The checklist is as follows:

1) Yogi Berra

2) Gary Carter

3) Don Drysdale

4) Bob Feller

5) Willie Stargell

These cleverly designed and well manufactured cards were just about the same size as a standard card, but with much thicker cardboard. Just about every surface of these cards contains either a photo and / or information about the ball player.

The front of the card has an action photo of the player. The caps and the uniforms have been airbrushed so the team logos and names are not visible.

The back contains a head shot with biographical information and airbrushed caps.

Front and back of card number 5

By slightly bending the card to loosen up the die cut of the player and then pulling the tab the front image of the player pops up and also revels the players career major league stats and a Legendary Moments write up.

There have been other cards with unique designs such as the 1955 Topps Double Headers and the 1964 Topps Stand-Ups, but the 1995 Stouffer’s cards with multiple moving parts are the best engineered baseball cards that have been issued to date.

The most amazing thing about this set was that by sending in a number of proof-of-purchase seals (can’t remember how many) from the box packaging you could get an autographed card of one of the hall of famers in the set.

When I sent in my proof-of-purchase seals, Stouffer’s sent me back an autographed Yogi Berra card along with a Certificate of Authenticity.

Yogi Berra autographed card and Certificate of Authenticity

By doing a little searching on eBay you can put together an entire set of these cards for under $20.

My Favorite Common – A Fam-A-Lee Connection

The recent posts about Favorite Commons sparked my interest in contributing to this blog.

My favorite common is just about any card of Steve Nicosia in a Pirates uniform.

1980 Topps – Number 519

However, if I had to pick just one it would be his 1982 Fleer card pictured below.

1982 Fleer – Number 488

In this Spring Training shot, the photographer pressed the shutter button at just the right time to capture Steve blowing a bubble that covers the lower half of his face. Steve is also wearing the – I luv em – you hate em – black and yellow uniforms complete with the Pill Box ball cap.

In the 1973 amateur draft, Pittsburgh selected Steve in the first round and he went straight from North Miami Beach High School to A ball with the Charleston Pirates.

1979 was Steve’s official rookie year and he was a key member of the World Champs batting .288 primarily against left-handed pitchers in 70 regular season games while sharing the starting catcher duties with Ed Ott.

Steve started 4 games in the 1979 World Series. He was only 1 for 16 at the plate but made some key defensive plays and was masterful at calling pitches in Game 5. He was behind the plate for the last out of Game 7 and can be seen at the end of the game throwing some hay makers at a fan who tried to steal his face mask.

During his additional time with the Pirates (1980 -August of 1983) he platooned with Ott and then was a backup to Tony Pena who was brought up in 1981.

He was traded to the Giants late in the season in 1983 and played another year in San Francisco before finishing his career with the Expos and then the Blue Jays in 1985.

Being a diehard Pirates fan, a card of Steve in another uniform just doesn’t look right to me.

1985 Topps Traded – Number 87T

A Fam-A-Lee Connection

During Steve’s time at North Miami Beach High School my uncle was his baseball coach (my uncle was also a biology teacher). It was a nugget of information that stuck in my head from a conversation over a few beers with my uncle back in the late 1970’s.

In 2009 I was spectator at the Pirates Fantasy Camp in Bradenton, Florida and noticed that Steve was one of the alumni Pirates who was coaching and playing against the campers. I waited for the right moment and leaned over the fence and told him that my uncle, Sam Viviano, was his baseball coach in high school. He immediately smiled and asked me how my uncle was doing. He mentioned that he had not spoken to him in a long time. I told him that I would be back to tomorrow and put him in touch with my uncle on a cell phone call.

I arrived early the next day and got my uncle on the phone first and then called out to Steve. He came over and I handed the cell phone to him and told him my uncle was on the line. Steve shouted, “Coach Viv” and then proceeded to walk around the field for the next 20 minutes smiling as he conversed with my uncle.

I called my uncle back after the call and he told me how great it was to catch up with Steve and how surprised he was that I remembered that he coached Steve in high school.

Steve Nicosia owned Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton hitting .339 against him in 60 at bats. My uncle was Steve Carlton’s biology teacher in high school (my uncle was not the baseball coach at the time).

Topps 1973 – Number 300