Uninspired and Uninspiring

Give My Regards to Broad Street. Ring a bell? It was big box office flop, brought to us by Paul McCartney in 1984. As much as a fan I was (and still am), I didn’t have the nerve to see it then. Never have.

I do have the soundtrack though. There are some decent originals, and many new versions of Beatles songs. Maybe not so new. They’re fine, but they’re not the same, merely pointless imitations of finer originals. (When asked about them, George Harrison said “I didn’t notice that they were new versions.”)

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My thoughts on Topps Heritage are well known and previously written about. Bringing back old designs, almost the same, but not quite, does nothing for me. The old designs are wrapped in the romance of their time, and how old we were when we got them.

Like these two:

No one‘s going to tell me these cards aren’t awesome, near mirror images of two, by time of issue, ex-Mets, Shea Stadium a glorious backdrop.

I love those two cards. In fact, the Bobby Pfeil is my single favorite card in that set, the one I think of when I think of 1970 baseball cards. It’s only special because I was 7 years old and it’s wrapped in gauzy nostalgia.

I was in Target a few days ago and checked out the card shelves. There was one lonely pack of Heritage tucked away. I held it, put it down, picked it up, walked away, thought that maybe I’d hit something worthwhile, walked back, grabbed it, put it back down, thought about how, though I’d never know, maybe if I didn’t buy it I would’ve left a Pilots autograph behind, went back, grabbed it and bought it.

Here are the nine cards. Completely uninspired and uninspiring, not a single thing to make me buy any more.

Now here’s a random sample of nine 1970 cards.

Why does the original matter more? It’s not because of the look – muted gray, standard era photos. The magic is in what they were and who I was when I was buying these packs. That cannot be claimed for Heritage, not this year or any year.

And yet, there’s nothing intrinsically more worthy of Frank Quilici than of Victor Arano (though time may prove me wrong on Arano). Both are pretty non-descript. Yet, the Quilici card has a quality the Arano doesn’t. It doesn’t seem quite as antiseptic, not so perfectly rendered. Maybe it’s the naked guy in a towel at the left of the 1970 card. There’s a sloppiness there that wouldn’t pass today, unless it was intentionally created as a short print for collectors to buy more hobby boxes than retail boxes.

Anyway, many of you enjoy Heritage, and my curmudgeonly ways mean little. However, my disdain for the product leaves more packs available for all of you and for that, you’re welcome.

Jewels in the Dross

Soon after we moved to Cooperstown, a neighbor, now knowing I liked cards (or assuming Joey, then 8, liked cards), gave me (or us) boxes of mid-1990’s basketball cards. The neighbor’s son clearly saw gold in them thar hills, loading up on Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf cards, but, as we know, all that came crashing down.

I hadn’t looked at those cards since, other than to combine them into as few boxes as possible. A couple of days ago I dragged them out. Nothing of monetary value there, but, I have to say, I was struck by how nice nearly all the different sets and subsets were. The 1997-98 Fleer homage to 1934 Goudey is so nice that I pulled it out of the pile.

Tucked into the scads of hoop cards were some other sports. Very little baseball though, but I stumbled across these two, both Eddie Murray.

They’re from the 1997 Donruss Limited set, a fancy 200 card series that were $4.99 a pack twenty years ago! (And you only got five cards.) Some thoughts:

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  1. I was struck by how incredibly wonderful the Murray/Jefferson card is. It’s super-glossy on the front, without being as noisy as a lot of refractory cards tended to be. They feel good too, not overly slick.
  2. The “Exposure – Double Team” card is also very nice, though less so. Simple, not as shiny, but solid.
  3. Eddie Murray as an Anaheim Angel in the Disney togs is something I’d forgotten long ago. Seeing him in that vest, which I kinda love, is a surprising treat.
  4. In various blog posts/Tweets/Facebook comments, we’ve engaged in the idea of “junk wax.” I, like others, deplore the name. They are fairly worthless dollar-wise, but the cards of that era (maybe 1986ish-2000? I don’t’ know that anyone has bracketed the period in detail) are almost always beautiful, in all sports. In a highly competitive market, innovation in design was a must. Some fell flat, others soared, but because they aren’t sellable, fantastic looking cards have been left behind. I don’t believe I have ever seen a 1997 Donruss Limited card until now.

Now that I’ve seen these cards, I’m not sure what to do. As a die-hard set collector, it’s all or nothing for me. Usually. Sure, I poked around eBay to see if I could find a set, but nothing is listed right now. I saw a complete set of 200 sold for somewhere less than $100.

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Maybe it’s that I don’t feel like having to store another late-‘90’s box, or that, perhaps, the glow I have from the two cards won’t hold through 200. Or, maybe, I’ve fallen victim to the “junk wax” tag and have a subconscious resistance to buying any set from the time, unless it’s $5-10.

Regardless, nothing will get in the way of enjoying these two cards. I like them so much I haven’t put them away yet, keeping them close by to sneak an occasional peek.

An Open, and a Shut, Case

Two mysteries this week, one unsolved, one quickly wrapped up.

The Battle of Battle Creek – Kellogg’s vs. the Atlanta Braves

I love my 3-D sets and look at them often. I’ve always wondered why, in the first two years, there were no Atlanta Braves. This is especially odd in 1970, when Kellogg’s crammed the set with the biggest names in the game (and Tim Cullen). Where was Hank Aaron? Orlando Cepeda? Phil Niekro?

Another shutout for Atlanta in 1971 and, then, in 1972, Ralph Garr makes his Brave debut. Or does he? The Roadrunner appears with a blacked out cap on the front and, even weirder, a non-existent Braves logo on the reverse. Kellogg’s clearly had a licensing deal with both the Players’ Association and MLB (both are prominent displayed on the card back), so use of logos should not have been a problem. These are not issued as MLBPA licensed only, which would have led to a lack of official team insignias and such.

What’s the deal here? Why would the Braves not be part of the overall licensing agreement? They had to be. I’d love to research this but really don’t even know where to start – Kellogg’s, MLB, MLBPA, Braves?

Help me out on this. I’d love to get an answer on the why Garr looks like a Little Leaguer and why  Kellogg’s was not the Home of the Braves in those early years.

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Play Ball! (Or Something Close)

I had a nice day trip yesterday to visit some friends. One of the reasons for the drive was to help dig into his card collection, recently reclaimed when his Mom moved. Like many of us of similar age, he had a nice group of mid-‘60’s to mid-‘70’s cards, but, like fewer of us, he was in a position as a kid to have the opportunity to buy some vintage, pre-war cards.

Lots of cool stuff, but one card that caught my eye was his 1939 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio. I’d never had one in hand, so took it out of its display. As many of you know, I’m not big on card backs. If they were so important, why aren’t they the fronts???? However, I can be proven wrong and I was excited to see this:

 

I’m not an expert on these cards, but have seen Topps seller samples online. The DiMag was authentic, no doubt, so I assumed these were legit samples. I didn’t know for sure though, so put it out that I was looking for some guidance. A few people thought they might be fakes, but that didn’t feel right.

As soon as I got home I figured I’d start searching in the Standard Catalog and, boom, there they were. A heap of the first 115 cards of the 162 card set were stamped, in red, as sample cards. The text is great, as you can read yourself. The samples are a bit harder to come by and do command a premium. I was pretty jazzed to find this out and relay that information.

It’s a remarkable thing to look at the same item over and over again and then see it for the first time. The Garr card seemed new to me, though I’d looked at it multiple times. Interesting how other collectors were unaware of the lack of Braves in the first two Kellogg’s sets. Finding fresh secrets, both easy and hard to unravel, is part of the joy, something like discovering new friends.

F. Robby, Card Icon

When I first started going to baseball card shows in 1973, prehistoric times, I was then, as I am now, a collector first. Investment potential has never been a driving force for me. As an 11-year old, I knew there were certain guys I wanted to collect, at least get all their Topps base cards. I wasn’t on the prowl for Mantles (never a favorite) or even Mays or Aarons (though I loved those two). I’d always buy those guys as the mood took me. There were some players though, that felt compelled to buy. Frank Robinson was one of those.

For a kid coming of age in the late ‘60’s-early’70’s, F. Robby was at the top layer of baseball, as a player and as a person. When he became the Indians manager in 1975, he soared above all others, save Aaron, who had only the year before become the All-Time Home Run leader.

I’m not going to go through a comprehensive list of Frank Robinson cards, just some that stuck with me. I’ll say this about Frank – there was something in his look that made his cards standout, always, year after year.

1957 Topps

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Yes, it’s a rookie card, but that’s not why it’s here. It’s hard to stand out in a set that is perfect from #1 to #407, but look at this, really look at it. The calm confidence of a kid who knows what lies ahead, even if we don’t. This is the face, and the pose, of a man who is quite aware he belongs. The uniform, slight choking up and stadium background make this as good as card as ever made.

1970 Topps Poster

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This oversized (8 11/16” X 9 5/8”), much folded vision of a much older Robinson, shows the two sides that seemed ever present – the ferocity of the player, swinging fiercely, and the joy of the man, smiling broadly. Robinson was never mistaken for “The Say Hey Kid” in exuberance, but it was there. This is a favorite.

1974 Topps

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Truly his last player card (though 1975 has him as a DH, even though he was a player-manager). Wistful, contemplative, with all the traits that made him the obvious choice to be the first. We all knew he would be, it was only a matter of time, and that time was one year away.

1975 Cleveland Indians postcard

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Great team issue set, featuring Frank solo and with his coaching staff. HIS coaching staff. Everyone looks happy, none more so than Robinson, and deservedly so.

1976 SSPC

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A fantastic set, and Frank, still swinging, poses as more player than manager. He looks like he can still bring it at the plate, but those moments were few and far between. The Shea Stadium backdrop, home of the Yankees from 1974-1975, adds a little period charm.

Robinson was an electric figure, but, for all his history making achievements as player, a manager, and executive, there’s always been a sense that he never got  his just due, then, and now, overshadowed by Mantle, Mays, Aaron, the tragedy of Clemente. For me, he was in their class, often rising above them, a very special person.

During the 1999 World Series, my friend Rick and I stayed at a hotel in Atlanta and, we ended up on the elevator with Frank. That’s it, nothing to really to tell. We said hi, left, end of story, except it was friggin’ thrilling. WE MET FRANK ROBINSON! Years before I moved to Cooperstown and became mayor, running into someone of his caliber was rare for me, but even after all my experiences over the last 10+ years, that I once rode in an elevator with Frank Robinson is still exciting to recall, a priceless memory, that could only be valued in this kind of currency.

Food for Thought

Now that I’m (mostly) past the flu, my thoughts turn back to food, and food issues. I’ve realized that, though I think I pursued every sort of card in the 1970’s, the reality is that, when it came to cards, what I ate, and how I ate it, was the leading indicator.

I’ve written about 1961 Post (though it predates me), 1970’s Kellogg’s 3-D (right in my wheelhouse) and, of course, Hostess, the pinnacle of my taste and card preferences. Here are five other issues of the ‘70’s, and how I approached them.

1971 Bazooka (but really all Bazooka)

All of the Bazooka cards, starting in 1959, are nice enough, but I never, never, collected them, even when my gum chewing days began (let’s guess 1967). Why? Because I we didn’t conceive of buying gum by the box! Gum was an impulse purchase, and impulse easily satisfied for a penny.

That being said, I used to see those full boxes of Bazooka at the supermarket and they were glorious. Imagine, and entire box of gum, at home! It was too much to process and I don’t recall asking for it.

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1971 Milk Duds

I have never met a single child who had Milk Duds at the top of their candy list. Even in 1971, they seemed like the preferred candy of the 1940’s. I’ll assume adding cards to the back of nickel boxes was an attempt to entice kids away from better candy, but I can assure you that it didn’t work on me. I have never bought Milk Duds voluntarily. They end up always being part of a Halloween assortment bag, and I eat them when there’s no better alternative. To be fair, they are worlds better than Tootsie Rolls, which is the Devil’s candy.

Looking at them now, I find it hard to believe I never bought a single box, even if it meant tossing the candy and keeping the card.

 

 

1972-1975(?) Slurpee Cups

When we moved from Brooklyn to Long Island in December 1971, there were innumerable culture shocks. It felt like I time-traveled from 1971, long-haired and fringe-jacketed, to 1961, crew-cutted, Gentile, and mean. There were good things to come, some took time, others were immediate. 7-Eleven was immediate.

I’d never seen or heard of 7-Eleven before moving to the middle of Suffolk County, but it was a looming presence out there, and the Slurpee ruled. Not only were they the best icy drinks (Coca-Cola Slurpees are the pinnacle of man’s inventions), but Slurpees cups had baseball, football and basketball players, even Hall of Fame baseball cups (which portrayed players as old men. Weird.)

Not only did they let me pick the cup I wanted (thereby avoiding doubles), but they’d sell empty cups. Maybe they were a quarter? I ended up with towers of Slurpee cups.

 

 

1974-75 Sugar Daddy

Though not a baseball player to be found, these cards do tip their cap to the 1938 Goudey “Heads Up” cards. Both years have 25 card sets, with a mix of football, basketball and hockey. The ‘74’s are pretty simple looking; the ‘75’s have a shield as background and are commonly referred to as “All-Stars.”

In those two years, I ate 7 Sugar Daddys. I know this because that’s how many of the cards I have. Funny, I’ve grown to love Sugar Daddys, but, back then, they were only a slightly better option than Milk Duds.

 

1977-79 Burger King Yankees

All of the above deserve a main course. The BK Yankee cards were great. Most mirrored the regular issue Topps sets, but often there was a new picture of another Yankee free agent signing. Those cards made the sets extra special.

For some reason, I didn’t get any 1977s, but the 1978s and 1979s were plentiful and, if memory serves, you could get extra packs at checkout. Maybe they charged, maybe not. Either way, it was easy to put a set together. (And, there was even a poster in 1978!)

 

Yay Team?

I see a lot of team collectors out there – Orioles, Pilots, Red Sox obsessives (an endless number of Red Sox obsessives). It’s not my thing. I’ve been a man without a team for 40 years. Some of you know the story.

I was a die-hard Mets fan.  Like the team, my first season was 1962 (though I was a mid-September call up). It couldn’t have been any better – World Series win at age 7, another World Series appearance at age 11, and Tom Seaver, always Tom Seaver. Until….

When the Mets traded Tom Terrific on June 15, 1977, it broke my heart and I realized I loved Tom Seaver way more than I loved the Mets. I was liberated from team based rooting, appreciated the game without the emotional swings that are the fun, and the noise, of being franchise bound in one’s reactions. I instantly had a player-centric point of view that created a straight line that led to the writing of Split Season:1981. Better still, I got to tell both Nancy and Tom Seaver my story and how his trade changed my whole outlook on the game. They both approved.

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Still, there are teams that pique my interest. The Indians always seemed to need fans, so I kept an eye on them, starting in the late ‘70’s. I always had a soft spot for the Giants and Dodgers.  But there are some clubs that never make me feel much of anything. So how did I end up with their cards?

Here are a few sets you may not know about. I don’t know why I know about them, and it’s even more confusing why I have them.

1970 McDonald Brewer panels

If you’ve ever beheld the gorgeousness of Volpe prints, then this set isn’t for you. Like the hastily repurposed Pilots uniforms made Milwaukee when the team moved, this 6-panel set is a cut rate job.

It’s pretty damned ugly, though certainly worth having. The whole thing is easily gotten for less than $20. If you have first year Brewer sentiment, or one year Pilot grief, these cards serve a purpose.  Not so much for me, though I do love a good Max Alvis card.

 

1970 Washington Senators Traffic Safety

Distributed by the D.C. DMV, this is one of the first police sets. The pictures are black and white, basic enough, but come in two tints. Pink, used in the first run, is much harder to get than yellow, used for the second and third printings. Of course, I have yellow

While the cards are 2 ½” X 3 7/8”, my set is an uncut sheet, not a particular area of interest for me. (In fact, I’m looking to unload a beautiful uncut sheet of Michael Jordan cards from 1994). It’s not a very attractive group of cards, and the checklist is what you’d think, though it would be a bit more exciting if Manager Ted Williams were included. (Then I would’ve been fending off those Red Sox maniacs).

 

1977 San Diego Padres Schedule cards

I still firmly believe that Mike Champion and Billy Almon are the double play combo of the future, just not in this dimension. In this chaotic set, they get a lot of attention.

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A team issue, this set contains 89 cards, some with promo information on the back, some with blank backs. I’m sure I bought it because, back then, there weren’t too many card issues in a given year. I thought I had the whole set, but I learned that maybe I don’t, and now I’m annoyed.

Several Winfields make it desirable, and there’s a Dave Friesleben card in a Washington uni years after this was a dead story, but it’s quirky, in a way the Padres have always been quirky – in a dull, frustrating kind of way.

I have other team sets that are inexplicable to me. I’ve got no interest in the team or the players on the team, and the designs are lackluster. Still, you know, they’re cards. What are you gonna do?

“M is for the Many Cards They Gave Me”

One of the great joys of this blog and its Facebook page, and baseball card Twitter, is the discovery of other peoples’ interests and the resulting desire to join in on newly discovered cards. There’s a lot of trading that goes on on Twitter, and most people put up pictures of their new additions.

It’s a doubled edged sword, sharing information and creating possible new competitors for subsequent bidding wars, but, in reality, that’s a non-issue. I’ve been so happy to inspire other collectors to dive into 1952 Parkhurst and 1960 Leaf.  Now it’s my turn to become equally motivated.

I love Mother’s Cookies cards and have 12 team sets from the late ‘80’s to early ‘90’s (I have A’s, Mariners, Dodgers, Giants, Astros and Rangers over those years). They’re beautiful – super glossy, nice smaller size, cool little envelope – what’s not to love?  Richard Borgstrom wrote about his Mother’s Giants experience on the blog.

A few days ago, someone (I can’t remember who), posted a few pictures of oddball cards he was sent. In the lot were some Mother’s Cookies cards, but not the kind I was used to seeing. The team sets I have are of the then-current squads. These were different and I had no idea they existed.

Here they are, in their entirety: the 1987 Mother’s Cookies All Time Oakland A’s All-Stars. Behold the magnificence:

Such a great collection and, despite Canseco’s current place in history, it was way cool that he and Reggie were teammates in Jax’s last year. A card commemorating that is worth having. (I saw Mr. October’s last game, at Comiskey Park. He doubled of Floyd Bannister and singled off Bobby Thigpen).

The nice thing about this set is that there are plenty out there, all around $10 or less. I’ll pick one up in January (I’d already spent my December self-imposed card allowance). I have no fear of getting boxed out by my readers, so go for it!

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Happy New Year to you all. Hope 2018 treated you fairly well (I wish it did for me!) and that 2019 is a great one, bringing you all the cards you want.