Tattoo Me

On one of my frequent trips to Baseball Nostalgia, my favorite go-to card shop in Cooperstown, I was telling long-time collector, owner and friend Pete Henrici that I was going to try and complete the 1933 Tattoo Orbit set.

“Oh, you like ugly cards,” he said.

I kinda get it. Unlike, say, the 1933 DeLongs or, going further back, T205s, the Tattoo Orbits look a bit amateurish, a tad half-assed. They’re not particularly artful. Still, there’s something I like about the slightly colorized photos superimposed on the bright, generic backgrounds.


But let’s be real, aesthetics aside, it’s a set I can complete because there are only 60 of them, I already have 23 and commons can be had relatively cheaply. I’m looking for VG cards, though most of the cards I have are more EX. Actually, I’m looking for VG prices. For commons, I can usually nab a nice example for 1/3 to ½ of book. I’ve been pretty nimble at picking off stray bargains.

I’ve got a bunch of stars, though I still need Jimmie Foxx, Dizzy Dean, a few short printed cards and a handful of middle of the road Hall of Famers of the Chick Hafey variety. This one will take a while to finish, due to both availability and price. There’s no way I can get eBay type deals at card shows, so it’s going to take some time.

Making it even harder is my desire for raw cards. That cuts two ways, both badly. Cards of this vintage are almost always graded, regardless of condition, which sucks and limits the supply. However, I am a “price first” person, so if the graded card is attainable at the level I’m willing to pay, so be it. I have a few sets that are all in albums, save one or two graded cards. I don’t like it, but having is better than not having.


Raw cards carry their own risks. Trimming, miscuts, and other problems, come with the territory and scans alone don’t reveal all the flaws. I recently got a beautiful Smead Jolley card, but, though it had all the characteristics of a regular Tattoo Orbit – shiny feel, thin paper stock – something felt off. I compared it to all of the other cards I had and it’s either trimmed or miscut. The seller was very understanding and we arranged a suitable solution, but the uncertainty I fell around that card tapped into some fears I have about old raw cards.


Over the last two years I’ve been pretty quick on finishing sets. Either I was working on Topps or other hugely available cards or I was lucky enough to have such a head start on harder sets that what I needed I could grab. This Tattoo Orbit set is definitely going to be an exercise in patience (and, to my memory, I’ve never spent as much on a single card as I’ll need to spend on Foxx and Dean). It took me 18 years to finish the 2000-01 Topps Heritage Basketball set with all its short prints. The 1933 Tattoo Orbit set may take as long, but it’s bound to be much more rewarding to have.

1936 Goudey – Wide Pens and a Why? Checklist

My set collecting these days has been a mix of the ridiculously attainable (1960’s Topps), the slightly difficult (1971 Kellogg’s) and the preposterously obscure (1952 Parkhurst Canadian minor leaguers). Then there are the 1936 Goudey Wide Pens.

For reasons I can’t recall, I once bought a bunch of Wide Pens (Type 1 – there are five types between 1936 and 1937). I must have fallen into two cheap lots in the early ‘90’s. It came as a big surprise to me last year, when I was looking for sets to finish, that I had 80 of the 120. Not a bad start for an 80+ year old set.

Thankfully the cards, 3 ¼” X 5 ½” black and white photos (portraits, posed action, real action) are reasonably priced. Even the rookies of Joe DiMaggio (along with Manager Joe McCarthy) and Hank Greenberg aren’t that expensive. (Frequent readers know I snagged a DiMag/McCarthy in a one for one swap for a 1976 Walter Payton rookie card).

It’s an odd grouping of players. Around 20% are Hall of Famers, two players get two cards each (Dick Bartell and Clydell Castleman), three cards have player/manger pairings and the rest is a hodgepodge of guys who, even in 1936, seem to be odd choices to make the cut.

“Rabbit” Pytlak was a good-field, no- hit catcher for the Indians. Tony Piet was a classic weak infielder. In 1936 he was 29 years old and the third baseman for the White Sox. Think Maicer Izturis. “Rip” Radcliff would  put in a solid year for the Browns in 1940, but in 1936 was a 30 year old outfielder in his second full season for the White Sox. For some reason I can’t fathom,  he was an All Star and finished in 16th place in the AL MVP voting.


I’ve got no quarrel with having Wally Berger in this set. Berger was a four time All-Star, garnering MVP votes five years in a row.  1936 was the last year of both runs, though decent years still ahead. George Blaeholder was a middle of the road starter who was in his last year in 1936, putting the finishing touches on an 11 year career that ended up with a 4.54 ERA (to be fair, that number equated to an ERA+ of 103, average, not awful).  Cy Blanton was, for one year, worth of his first name. Forgotten now, Blanton had a phenomenal rookie year with the Pirates in 1935, going 18-13 with a league leading ERA of 2.58 (ERA+ of 159). He’d get progressively less effective and be gone after the 1942 season; his last decent year coming in 1938. Still I get why he’s here.  Cliff Bolton, in his fourth season in 1935 finally became a regular in the Senators outfield. Why he gets a card is lost on me, especially considering who’s not in this set (thankfully, since they’d cost a ton) – Lefty Grove, Carl Hubbell , Mel Ott, Dizzy Dean, Luke Appling, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx.


It’s not that there aren’t Hall of Famers; one of every five cards has one.  Alphabetically and numerically, this is a superior run of cards with Charlie Gehringer,” Goose” Goslin and “Lefty”Gomez.  And Charlie Gelbert. Gelbert put in a nine year career as an infielder with a 9.3 WAR. Four of those years he had a negative WAR, in three others he was below 1. Sure, Gelbert over Appling in player selection, why not.


The quirky roster of players in Wide Pen Type 1 is part of why I like it. It’s rare for me to encounter so many major leaguers I know nothing about. (The backs are blank, so no help there). I’ve been steadily marching to completion; I need 11 more. Some are Hall of Famers, but I should be able to get Bill Dickey, Earl Combs and Gabby Hartnett for $15-25 each. The others are commons, some with name recognition today (Phil Cavaretta, Frank Crosetti, Bucky Walters) but they’ll likely set me back around $10 each. The demand is so low that I’ve been able to get cards regularly between $5 – 12.

It’s a great set. Look at this Gee Walker card and tell me it’s not.


Getting Down with Upgrades

A few months before the glorious reinvigorating of the SABR Baseball Cards Committee, I was easing my way back into the hobby. I realized that I was about 50 cards shy of a complete 1971 Topps set. What always stopped me from finishing it was the condition; on the whole what I had was VGEX on average (or at best), well below my normal standards. When it dawned on me that consistency of condition within the set was key, I was freed from my bonds. I could get a Nolan Ryan in EX and not break the bank. This is all very good justification.

I finished that set and then, as we all do, looked for what was next. I was further away from a full 1970 Topps set, but the overall condition of those cards was better than my 1971s. A couple of big gifts from friends put me in line for a set in EX.

Still, happy as I was with competed sets, I knew there were some real dogs in each. When I went through them both recently, again looking for some kind of uniform condition, I counted up about 55-60 cards per set in need of serious upgrading.


This Yankees Team card from 1970 is so awful – worn, creased, with the soft pliability of a wet paper towel. Even within a sheet (and we know sheets provide some cover for imperfections), it looks like shit. Only Jim Bunning has the nerve to look in its direction. Up close it’s like the Phantom of the Opera, mask off. It clearly is not welcome and things need to change.


What to do? I whittled a little off the list with two trades (here’s a good example of a before and after from 1971)


and, shockingly, to me, I had doubles that were in better condition than the cards I had in my set. (Remember to always check your doubles!). When the dust cleared I was down to about 30 cards needed per set.

A card show will take care of most of these, but, with some time to spare last night, I visited COMC. I’ve ordered only once from them and I didn’t love the experience beyond getting the final card of a set I’d been working on for 17 years (2000-01 Topps Heritage Basketball). I spent too much that time, $3.99 postage for one card that I should’ve gotten for a little less.

One of the nice things about our card community is the sharing of information (and cards) and I was tipped off to the trick of COMC. You can load up a cart and qualify for the same $3.99 payment. I ended up finding 35 cards at good prices, the scans showing exactly the condition I’m seeking. I’m still a bit nervous to see what they’re like in person, but I feel tentatively good about it.

Kind of. I’m down to needing 31 cards for both sets to be in a state I can accept, with a few superstars in the mix (1971 Clemente is the priciest). Is this money well spent? I don’t know. For what it’ll end up costing me to upgrade, I could buy all the 1956 commons I need in EX. The reality is one spend doesn’t preclude another spend. I’ll end up buying all the upgrades I need, sort of as an extracurricular project, not exactly counting it when I tally up my card costs. That’s seriously flawed justification, but I’m coming to terms with it.

Ticketron Legacy

Jack White is playing at Brewery Ommegang on May 27. Tickets went on sale this morning at 10 AM and by 10:05 I had bought four. Done and done!

When Ticketron ruled the world, I had to go to an outlet, maybe a record store or a department store (at least in New York), check the chalkboard for what shows/events were coming and when tickets went on sale. If I was lucky, there wasn’t a line when I came back to buy and the actual purchasing process was miserable.

“Do you have two in Section 104?” I’d ask with seating chart in hand.


“OK, do you have two in Section 106?”


“OK, what do you have?” This hunting and pecking would go on forever. I’d leave with my tickets and the memory of a horrible experience. It was barbaric compared to today.

At least in California, at least in 1971, you got cards to ease the pain. Both sets – 20 Dodgers and 10 Giants – are things of beauty.

The Dodger set is borderless and bigger than the Giants’ set. Of the 20 cards, 19 are players and one is Jerry Doggett and Vin Scully, who did seem to appear in a lot of regional card issues. Not sure that happened very much with other broadcasters.


The backs are horizontal schedules/promo pieces for the team and Ticketron. I assume you got a card every time you visited. Maybe they were distributed one per week (Player of the Week, get it?). I don’t know.


The Giants’ set is smaller, in number and size, but 40% of the set are Hall of Famers. Because of this, or maybe they were produced in fewer number, the Giants’ set costs about twice as much as the Dodgers’ one.


The backs are the same, though the Giants are vertical.


When I first found out about these sets, I was able to buy the Dodgers pretty quickly/ It took forever to track down a Giants’ set. They are both well worth having. There’s also a Ticketron Phillies set from 1972, but I never looked for that one. Maybe I will now.

Are they cards though? Ah, forget it. That’s last week’s post.

Purity of Essence (Or, How I Learned to Start Analyzing What Is and Isn’t a Baseball Card)

I’ve been working on completing a 1936 Goudey Wide Pen set, Type 1 of course, and, I’m pleased to say, I’m in the homestretch.  I’ve got 106 of the 120 AND the two keys – Joes DiMaggio/McCarthy rookie (which I basically traded, even up, for a 1976 Walter Payton rookie card) and Hank Greenberg.  I had a pretty good jumpstart on this set; I bought 80 or so back in the early ‘90’s for, what I can only assume, was a steal.

I was showing my friend Jimmy the album with my Wide Pens and he said, “They’re not really cards, are they?”  “Sure they are,” I said, not even understanding the question, but since that day I’ve been mulling over the existential point he was trying to make – “What is a baseball card?”

The Type 1 Wide Pens were in-store premiums (not sure what the method was to acquire them – were they free? Did you have to buy a certain amount of Goudey gum products?), 3 ¼” X 5 ½” black and white portraits or posed action shots with thick facsimile autographs. Overall they’re pretty fascinating, a mix of Conlon-type close ups and various pitchers in windups, swinging hitters and, on rare occasion, a real game photo. The backs are blank. (The player selection is odd and worth a post of its own).


So how could this not be immediately perceived as a card? Is it only a photograph? In the corner each Type 1 says “LITHO IN U.S.A.,” so maybe they see themselves as photos.  The 1964 Topps Giants measure 3 1/8” X 5 ¼”, slightly smaller than the Goudeys, but no one would claim they aren’t cards. Is it because they’re Topps? Because they were sold in stores? Have backs?

The 1981 Topps Giant Photo Cards are huge, 4 7/8” X 6 7/8” and were sold in stores. They have something on the back, but not very much. Is this a card? Topps’ own schizophrenia on the issue – “Photo” “Cards” – makes it unclear.

This is a card?

I don’t know the answer to the question but, since Jimmy raised the point, it’s been on my mind. What is and isn’t a card? It can’t be the maker that gives it identity, because the card world has had innumerable manufacturers. Is it distribution? Can’t be. Cards have been delivered in a lot of different ways. In store premiums are not much different than box toppers or mail away offers. Is the back having content or not a dividing line? Plenty of issues have minimal to zero text on the reverse.

Give it some thought, for me.

No Suits

When I was growing up, the baseball history books I read always put executives (and umpires) on the same high level as players. Yes, the Babe was the king of them all, but Bill Klem got fairly equal billing as a titanic figure, as did Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Ed Barrow, George Weiss and other guys who sat behind desks. I’m not saying these guys didn’t contribute to baseball, I’m saying who gives a crap. The man who was VP in charge of sales for EMI doesn’t get credit for being in The Beatles.

Today it seems somewhat archaic to me to make executives so lofty, lofty enough to be Hall of Famers, and when new businessmen and umpires get in (Pat Gillick and Doug Harvey, for example), it strikes me as so old-fashioned, that a GM or ump is still seen as plaque worthy, in fact, as it stands now, more plaque worthy than Barry Bonds. The elevation of authority figures is so last century or should be.

Even Topps bought in to the “executive as baseball legend” meme. How else to explain this card?


American League President Will Harridge, is the first card of the 1956 and so what? Such a seemingly consequential figure, celebrating, as the card back notes, “his 45th year of outstanding service to Baseball” (with a capital “B”).  And the number two card is NL President Warren Giles! Hmm, in 1956 who could possibly have been more worthy of the top one or two cards in the Topps set? I don’t know, Johnny Podres, Duke Snider, any  one of the finally World Champion Brooklyn Dodgers? Were kids really looking for bespectacled old men in a 5 cent pack?


At least Topps condensed these two quasi-nonentities into one card in both 1957 and 1958, though reverted back to a single Giles (and a Ford Frick, Harridge was gone) in 1959, replaced by even then Hall of Famer Joe Cronin. Of course, Cronin didn’t deserve his own card!

I’m working on the 1956 set and picked up a Giles in VGEX for $2-3. The Harridge card picture above just sold for $46.97 at an eBay auction. I’ll get it in time, but the idea of spending as much for Will Fucking Harridge as I will for 20-25 commons in EX drives me batty. There’s no joy in that equation.

Christmas Cards

The week before Christmas has been a good one for cards. That’s too bold; the week before Christmas has been a good one for me getting cards. I have no idea how cards in general are doing. A few random stories:

Though a long time collector, my re-immersion into the hobby the past year and a half has come with some re-education. I am consistently surprised by the variations in pricing and how, with patience, there’s always an opportunity to get what I need at a price I can bear.

My pursuit of a 1956 Topps set has been slow in comparison to the pedal to the metal pace of my 1960, 1968 and 1969 set building. I’ve gotten lots on eBay of cards in EX or better for less than $3 a card, low numbers and high, but there are usually too many cards in those lots that I already have. I never end up selling my doubles for more than $2 per card.

On Monday an eBay seller, justcollectcards, had a big 40% off sale. I was almost late for a lunch appointment because I went through all their EX listings. It was worth it though. I got 60 cards, including Minnie Minoso and a couple of teams, for $2.75 each. That put a huge dent in my checklist. Now I know I’m not going to get the big dollar cards for any discount from book, but if I keep getting the rest of the set for about 1/3 of stated value, I should have enough savings to make the Mantle and Ted Williams somewhat easier to swallow.

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Cooperstown definitely needs more general interest stores, but that’s a difficult hurdle to jump with a year round population of around 1,800, slightly more if you add the surrounding area. Are there too many baseball stores? Sure. Do I want there to be no baseball stores? Absolutely not.

I’m not a binder and sheets person by nature but it has definitely been easier to put sets together when I can add a few cards into pages, rather than pull out boxes and sort through all the cards to put the new ones in their proper numerical place every time I get two new cards.

Yesterday Joey met me at Yastrzemski Sports on Main St., where I usually buy my supplies. I decided I’d put my 1967 set in sheets, since all my pre-1970 sets seem to have ended up stored that way. Joey needed sheets for his hoped for misprinted, psychedelic card collection.  

We got what we needed plus I found a 1988 Pacific Eight Men Out set for $5! Any set with four Studs Terkel cards is worth having.


From there we headed to Baseball Nostalgia by Doubleday Field. I’m sure I’ve written how BN is my favorite store, filled with cards, cheap autographs, yearbooks and more. It’s been in Cooperstown, in a few different forms, since the mid-1970’s. Pete at the store had read the post I wrote about Joey’s quest for cards with messed up printing and he emailed me to say that he had a bunch of 1976 SSPC misprints. (Baseball Nostalgia began as a TCMA flagship.)

Boy, did he have misprints! Joey bit the bullet and bought all 140 of them, each a trippy nightmare of color mistakes. The Bruce Bochte card (left) looks like a still from a Peter Fonda movie and our buddy John D’Acquisto (right) seems to have two sets of eyes. Freaky stuff.


A signed Jose Cardenal baseball Legends card caught my eye. You can’t beat the price!


And so, that’s how my card year is ending. The 1956s are on their way, as are 4 more 1936 Goudey Wide Pens.

I’ll wrap things up as I did last year, with great thanks to Mark Armour and Chris Dial for not only restarting the SABR Baseball Cards Committee, but dragging me, quite willingly, into participating in a big way. That’s been the best gift of all.