Moskau Memories

Jason Schwartz, one of the new co-chairs of our Committee, does a little game on our Facebook page. He takes little sections of four different cards and we’re supposed to guess who the player is.  Here’s a “Cardboard Detective” from May 15:

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Immediately I knew it was Paul Moskau. For reasons unknown, his 1978 Topps cards is indelibly burned in my brain. I’m not quite clear why Paul Moskau holds a secure place in my memory, but I have some theories.

Not that I didn’t have a keen eye on the Big Red Machine, but after Tom Seaver was traded to Cincinnati mid-1977, I was more attentive. Moskau was, as far as I recall, heralded as part of the new wave of Reds starters. He, along with Mike LaCoss, Bill Bonham, Mario Soto, and Frank Pastore were the pitching staff that would continue where Don Gullett, Jack Billingham and Clay Carroll left off.

Not sure why, at least where it comes to Moskau.  He had success in the low minors, but was clearly mediocre in AA. He didn’t get better in the big leagues.

Seaver was definitely the entry point, but I was hooked on these Reds pitchers. Moskau was my favorite, and I think a lot has to do with his 1978 card. It’s a solid picture, making him instantly known. I assume I saw him pitch, either at Shea Stadium or on TV, but, really, my knowledge of Paul Moskau’s look is through his cards. The cards, as they often did, came first.

Moskau floundered in the majors, his best ERA+ coming in the 1977 season, when he was slightly below average (98). He bottomed out at 57 with the Cubs in 1983 and was gone.

The Cubs? I had no idea he was with Chicago, and with the Pirates the year before? No way. If you had asked me about Paul Moskau’s career, and there’s no reason why you would have, I would have bet that he was a lifelong Red. Why? BECAUSE THERE ARE NO CARDS OF HIM ON ANY OTHER TEAM! I read a lot of books and magazines about baseball back then, and watched a lot of games, but it was in the cards that I relied on where players played and how they appeared.

I’m glad I recently discovered this about Moskau. I still have a fond spot for him in my baseball memories. Here’s something I have, picked up in Cooperstown for a couple of bucks.

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Splitting Hairs

Last week I Tweeted this:

  • 2001 Upper Deck Decade 1970s. Always liked these. Bought the 75 I needed to complete the set via @Sportlots. Even with postage it was about .25 per card. @SABRbbcards

To which, Rob Neyer replied, “Aren’t you the guy who doesn’t like Heritage?” (I paraphrase.)

Yes, that is me, the guy who doesn’t like Heritage, for reasons stated here. Why do I like Upper Deck’s version of a classic Topps design? It got me thinking.

I’m not anti-nostalgia, which I think people assume goes hand in hand with my disdain for Heritage. Collecting cards is, by definition, a nostalgic enterprise and even buying new packs and sets is an attempt to recreate an old, warm feeling.

What I like about the Upper Deck set is that it isn’t marketing itself as some kind of replica product, updated, which has always been a false claim of any Heritage set. The differences between Heritage and the originals are deep, as I posted about, and mar the effort for me. They don’t feel the same; they come across as less than accurate knockoffs. They’re replicants and their flaws come out.

Upper Deck doesn’t try to mimic the past. Rather the Decade set is an homage, stealing a design as close to 1975 Topps as likely legal. The pictures are nearly all great (some black and white photos negatively affect the overall look) and the set evokes the era nicely.

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The subsets are swell, a mini-history of the ten years. All in all, there’s a lot crammed into a 180 card base set.

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As Tweeted, I had more than half the set and, at .18 per card (pre-postage), it was more than worth my while to finish the whole thing. I got a big stack of cards and a complete set.

I try very hard not be generation based, and avoid at all costs the “everything was better when I was a kid” mentality (it wasn’t). One of the things I enjoy about this Committee, and the Twitter baseball card world, is that collectors younger than I have the same feeling about 1989 Topps as I have about 1971 Topps and that’s as it should be. Cards are like music – what you love as a kid stays your truest love. There’s a reason that John Lennon always preferred Chuck Berry. Lennon was a kid when he first heard him.

And maybe that’s at the root of my Heritage problem. I don’t need to see today’s players framed as if they were players then. Baseball is the only sport whose fans insist that the players of today are lesser than the players of their youth. “Clayton Kershaw isn’t half the pitcher Jim Bunning was. You know Bunning used to throw 300 innings a year?” We’ve all heard variations of this insipid argument. Spare me.

So let today’s players have their own design and let the ‘70’s players have theirs, or something close.

 

Trying to Stamp Out a Mystery

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I don’t remember where I got this 1970 Sports Stars baseball stamp album, but I can’t remember ever not having it. (Dave McNally has always had that mustache drawn on his face). It’s always been around, somehow never quite making it into the card collection, always somewhere adjacent.

It’s a weird collection. I can’t quite figure out how this assembly of stickers came together. I have all the National League stamps, though for some reason Johnny Bench and Cookie Rojas are gone.

I have some American League, but I’m missing three Angels. After a solid start, the pages go bare.

I have only Denny McLain from the Tigers, no Royals, only Harmon Killebrew from the Twins, all the Yankees except Curt Blefary, no A’s or Pilots or Senators, except Frank Howard.

There are so many mysteries. Most stamps are logo-less, which makes sense since it’s a Players’ Association issue, but then why do some photos have logos? I’m puzzled.

How was it sold? Were there different starter sets in different geographic areas? Unlikely, since that kind of distribution doesn’t follow the holes in my collection.

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I was going to do a little digging, but the crew over at Net54 already had done the work for me. There were two issues of these stamps. The 1969 one of 216 were sans logo. The following year, the same 216 were printed (probably leftovers) and 75 more stamps were put out with logos, plus a 12 stamp sheet of All-Stars (which explains the random McLain, Killebrew and others.)There are also variations that have to do with dotted lines, some back text, and other minutiae. You can read more here.

That explains some of it. I still don’t know exactly how I got the stamps I have. Clearly the 12 stamp set came with the album, and now I know that there were four series, one for each division. Series 1 had Oakland, Minnesota, Chicago, Kansas City, Seattle and California, and that almost mirrors what I don’t have, but not quite. So I have still have some gaps in the story. Maybe one of you know the answers.

I do like them though, regardless of how they came about. The colors are radiant, the stock is thin but glossy and the player selection is fun. They’re not as nice as the 1971 Dell Stamps, but do make for a solid lead in for those.

I’d like to finish the set, but I’m not seeing many out there. You’d think to get hand cut stamps as crappily scissored as mine would only run about $.20 per item. I can’t imagine people have doubles of these. We’ll see how it plays out.

Did I mention there’s also a football set?

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So Cool, So What

Cool card, right? Hall of Famer, glove on hip variation, rare back, sharp corners, a real beauty.

Why do I have it? Well, around 20 years ago, I decided that it would be awesome to try to get a card of every HOFer from their playing days. I started accumulating some, but knew, in my heart, I’d never get there. Expense, rarity, fluctuations in income and time would prove me right. This was a pipe dream.

Pipe dreams can be fine; having a Holy Grail has its merits. It’s not for me. I like to collect sets, manufacturer ordained sets. I’m not a Personal Collector, looking for every Max Alvis card (though I’ve thought about doing that), or a Team Collector, or a Type Collector. Great pursuits all, not my thing.

So now I’m left with a bunch of nice pre-war cards that, because of my nature and the reasons I acquired them, have no emotional hold on me. Mark Armour and I spent a long time on the phone last week talking about emotion and collecting, and how, for us, they’re inextricable. I think we all know this. The cards in our collection that we’ve known since we were kids feel different to us than the cards we’ve purchased along the way. I can assure you that the 1977 Burger King Yankees set that I got last week brings me more joy than ol’ Muggsy’s T206.

You’ve read about my travails in grading and I can report that I sold the Ruth and Cobb for about as much as I think I can, based on lots of offers and auction results. I only had a little post-partum blues, but they faded fast. The main reason I sold those was to buy a nice 1956 Mantle, which I did.

What’s interesting to me is that a 1956 Mantle is about equal in my mind (and heart) to the McGraw. Mantle retired around when baseball started to blossom for me and, even when I started collecting cards in the early 1970’s, he was never a guy I dug. So why, in effect, trade a Cobb Domino Disc for a ’56 Mick?

I think I do have a reason. When I was first buying old cards, I fell in love with the 1956 set. For years, it was the vintage set I had the most of (about 40 cards). I started pursuing the set in earnest a couple of years ago and needed Mantle.

Rather than bringing me back to my youth as a pack buyer, which, I have to say, finishing low value insert Football sets – 1970 Super Glossy, 1971 Game and Posters – did in spades,

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the 1956 Mantle brings me back to my youth as a collector. I can see 12-year old me with his first ‘56s, remember buying beautiful Pee Wee Reese and Whitey Ford cards, and there’s a certain pang that comes with those cards.

We’ll see where this all goes. In reality, there’s a limited amount of cards from my growing up that I don’t have, or still want. In retrospect, I should’ve bought the 1979 Topps Hockey set instead of this McGraw card. Maybe that’s my next deal, selling Little Napoleon to buy The Great Gretzky’s rookie card.

 

Finally Having It My Way

The ‘70’s were a wasteland for cards. There simply wasn’t a lot of product, especially not compared to the flood soon to come. (Après moi le deluge indeed!) So when Burger King issued Yankees cards in 1977, it was a big deal, such a big deal for me that I didn’t have the set. Not only didn’t I have the set, but I didn’t have a single card.

Why? I can’t quite figure that one out. I was collecting seriously, and in 1978 and 1979, I finished complete BK Yankees sets with doubles to spare. The 1977 cards passed me by and I don’t understand it to this day.

Some background info (from the Standard Catalog):

The first Topps-produced set for Burger King restaurants was issued in the New York area, featuring the A.L. champion Yankees. Twenty-two players plus an unnumbered checklist were issued at the beginning of the promotion with card #23 (Lou Piniella) being added to the set later. The “New York Post” reported production of the first 22 player cards at about 170,000 of each. The Piniella card was issued in limited quantities. Cards are 2-1/2″ x 3-1/2″ and have fronts identical to the regular 1977 Topps set except for numbers 2, 6, 7, 13, 14, 15, 17, 20 and 21. These cards feature different poses or major picture-cropping variations. It should be noted that very minor cropping variations between the regular Topps sets and the Burger King issues exist throughout the years the sets were produced.

Here are the variations, regular Topps on the left, Burger King on the right.

No All-Star banner. Burger King is an egalitarian enterprise.

Better cap, same puzzled look.

Nice to see Torrez in an airbrushed Yankee cap, but he’s still stuck in the Coliseum. Updated card, though not a better one.

NEVER play without a cup!

Bucky gets two great cards in ’77.

No point in the difference in cropping. The Topps card is nicer, with more of the new stadium in view.

The Topps issue for Reggie that year is one of the worst cards for a marquee player. The Burger King card remedies that, and shows Jax looking a bit nervous in NY. Airbrushed Reggie seems more cocky.

You’d think The Toy Cannon would be happier moving from the Braves to the Yankees. Doesn’t seem like it.

Good cards, same backdrop. Key detail – Yankees don’t choke up!

#23 of a 22 card set.

At the time, the story about the Piniella card was that George Steinbrenner, always used to having things his way, was incensed that Lou, a personal favorite and Tampa native, was passed over in the initial run. Besides the typical Boss tirade, it is odd. Piniella was certainly more important to the team at the time than Paul Blair or Jimmy Wynn.

I bring this set up because my 40+ years of drought has ended. I picked up a beautiful set this week, with Piniella. It makes me very happy to have them in hand after all these years.

 

My Grading Experience – PSA 1 (Poor)

When grading hit the hobby in the late 1990’s, it was, for me, a death knell. As a set collector, seeing nice commons get sucked out of the market in raw form put me on a baseball card hiatus that lasted about 15 years (except for my annual sets and some occasional new things that caught my eye). I still don’t like buying graded cards (I crack them out of cases if I happen upon one for a set I’m working on) and I’ve never graded a card. Never, that is, until this past month.

As my friend Greg will tell you, my thoughts on grading my pre-war cards stretches back at least a year or more. I’ve been thinking of selling those off to support my current hobby interests. (Here’s a post from last July, which puts some kind of date on this exercise.)

In a very real sense, my back was against the wall when it came to my George Ruth Candy Company cards. A rash of fakes hit the market at the turn of the century, and, though I listed one of the two I have, it was clear that I’d need to get it graded to alleviate any fears of counterfeiting. PSA won’t grade these cards anymore because of the frauds, but SGC will. I sent off #3, the one I want to sell. It’s a pretty nice looking card, nicer than some I’d seen grade EX. I had high hopes.

Ruth front

Ruth back

To SGC’s credit, they promise a quick turnaround. To their discredit, they didn’t deliver on that promise, and I had to call to find out why it was taking so long to get back. I got good help, and, it was during that conversation, that I found out the grade, a 3, VG.

I couldn’t believe it. Not only is the card now valued much less, but I had to pay about $80.80 (including my priority postage to send it) for the privilege.  The whole ordeal made my stomach hurt.

Still, I had an extremely nice Ty Cobb Sweet Caporal Domino Disc to look forward to grading, this time by PSA. I searched around and found some EX ones that sold for well over $1,000, and I was at least in that condition ballpark. While PSA cost less SGC, $49.80, they take longer.

I checked the PSA site often, almost daily, and the card was in processing for a long time. Finally, the grade appeared – PSA 4 (VGEX). I was appalled.

I was once told “Buy the card, not the grade.” That’s good advice, but getting lower (though still good) grades feels terrible. Not only will I end up with less money via sales, but the grades have affected how I feel about these cards. Though I made the intellectual decision to sell them, I enjoy (enjoyed) having these, especially the Cobb, which I loved. Not anymore. Now it feels lousy and I don’t know what to do moving forward. I really would prefer not to have my other pre-war cards graded, but I wonder if I can sell them at a fair price without that. It’s a trap and, for a Katz, I feel pretty mousy.

Overall, it was a Pretty Shitty Adventure. I can’t give it a worse grade than that.

Kodak Moments at Comiskey Park

May 24, 1988, White Sox v. Indians. It was a Tuesday night game at old Comiskey Park, when it was simply called Comiskey Park. A solid game, with the Indians winning 4-3 behind Greg Swindell’s near CG, upping his record to 9-1. It was over and done after 2 hours, 42 minutes.  I was there, part of a crowd, if you can call it that, of 8,956.

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That night’s program heralds a baseball card connection. There’s a 1957 Jim Landis prominently displayed, a Harold Baines card that I can’t quite place, and maybe that’s Scott Fletcher? Turns out, there was a giveaway that night, and a pretty good one.

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1988 was the first year of Kodak White Sox cards. They were huge – 8” X 12” – and the series was a small one. Only 5 cards make up the entire set, an interesting checklist of Guillen, Fisk, Rick Horton, Calderon and Baines. I’ve got Ozzie (actually two Ozzies. Whoever went with me that night didn’t care about the card).

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It’s a beautiful piece of work. I guess you’d expect that if Kodak was willing to put their name on it.  The 1989 set is super-cool, with current players and ex-players who manned the same positions, featured in one over-sized picture.

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The Kodak Sox cards would continue through 1995, growing from 5 cards to 30, shrinking from 8” X 12” to 2 5/8” X 3 1/2”. There’s even a Pirates set in 1995.

While the Sox sets don’t seem to be very pricey, based on my trusty old Standard Catalog, I’m not finding any complete sets, at least for the earlier ones. I’m a bit hooked on those, less interested in the smaller, ‘90’s sets that, of course, are the easiest to find (and cheapest). I may go after those anyway, because I can never have enough Lance Johnson cards.

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If anybody has a lead on these, let me know. I’m on the hunt.