A Pitching Evolution, Of Sorts

I’ve always loved getting mail. When I was seven-years old (that would’ve been in the summer of 1970, for those keeping score at home), I sent letters to baseball teams asking for a slew of autographs from each. I didn’t get any autographs back, but I did get an assortment of pictures, decals, schedules, etc. Two years later I honed my letter writing skills, pinpointing individual players. Mail started pouring in, and some disasters were averted. My mother almost threw out a letter for me that had this on the envelope:

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She thought it was from a circus. Inside was a Hank Aaron autographed picture. (And why would she want to throw out any letter that was addressed to me anyway? It’s a question I still ponder.)

 

So I still get jazzed when the mail comes, and, lately, there are a lot of good card mail days. Most deliveries are fairly routine – a few cards of the same year – but sometimes there’s a combination of cards that is exquisite in its randomness.

 

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Nothing connects these three other than they are pitchers and they’re all part of sets I’m working on.

 

Ivy Andrews

Finishing the 1933 Tattoo Orbit set is a pipe dream (for now). I’ve never spent as much money on a card as I’ll need to for Jimmy Foxx and Dizzy Dean, but I’ll worry about that towards the end. Right now I have 24 of the 60.

 

Andrews is a short print, books high, but I got this for less than 20% of the VG price (if you’re a frequent reader you know I use the 2009 Standard Catalog). Who was Ivy Andrews and why did he deserve any print run, short or other?

 

When this card came out, Andrews had already been traded from the Yankees to the Red Sox along with Hank Johnson and $50,000 for Danny MacFayden. Andrews performed well for the BoSox from his mid-season arrival in 1932. He was fine in 1933, nothing special, and was traded with Smead Jolley and cash to the Browns in December 1933. Beleaguered by arm problems for much of his eight year career, Andrews is a member of the Hall of Fame – the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

 

Andrews was hardly needed in a 60 card set, but, as I’ve written about regarding the 1936 Goudey Wide Pens, the selection of players in these sets is odd. The Andrews transaction register is a Who’s Who of long forgotten players that pepper 1930’s sets – MacFayden, Jolley, Lyn Lary, Orel Hildebrand and so on.

 

Of course, Ivy’s nickname was “Poison.”

 

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Jim Brady

 

I don’t spend a lot of time on card backs, to the chagrin of SABR Baseball Cards Committee HQ, but I have been reading the backs of 1956s. The three cartoons grab me.

 

The back of Brady card got me interested because there’s no statistical information. That was for the best. A Notre Dame alum, he caught the eye of Tigers’ farm director John McHale, another ex-Fightin’ Irishman. Brady was a bonus baby, netting $37,500 from Detroit and, as the rules required, had to spend two years on the big league roster, whether he was ready to pitch or not. He wasn’t. He did pitch for the Tigers in 1956 – 6 1/3 IP, 28.42 ERA.

 

Brady’s success came off the field. He garnered three degrees from Notre Dame, was chair of the economics department at Old Dominion, a member of the eco faculty at ND and Jacksonville U. president from 1989-1996. Solid career, just not in baseball.

 

Tug McGraw

 

I don’t have anything to say about Tugger that hasn’t already been said and isn’t already known. There are few players that always bring a smile, and Tug is one of those. As a still-Mets fan in 1973, “Ya Gotta Believe” is permanently stamped in my heart, and McGraw getting dumped in exchange for Mac Friggin’ Scarce is second only to the Seaver trade in abominably anti-fan front office work for a team that specializes in that trade.

 

And now Tug has a place in my card history – the final one for my 1969 set. It’s a high number (evidenced by the same season info on the card back) and was a bit pricier than I hoped, but for McGraw, it’s worth it. I wouldn’t have felt the same about Bill Voss.

 

 

I think of myself as a well-above average baseball scholar. I’m not top of the heap by any means but I’m pretty high up. At the core of the hobby is finding out about players who I’ve never heard of and lives I knew nothing about. At least that’s a big part of the appeal for me (and probably you too.)

Let Your 2009 Standard Catalog Be Your Guide

I’ve got a lot of price guides and checklists books scattered around the house. It’s the price one pays for collecting for over 40 years.

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My go-to sourcebook these days is the 2009 Standard Catalog. It’s the first (and so far only) price guide I’ve bought with a downloadable version and that has come in very handy.

2009? Are you mad? Those prices are hopelessly out of date! I’ve heard that from some other collectors, some who I’ve traded with and have asked me what I’ll pay for, say, 1968 and/or 1969 commons. When I tell them my price,  they demur, telling me there’s no way I’m getting cards for those prices these days. When I tell them I do, almost always, I’m accused of picking off some poor dealer who has no idea of value. I have never been unable to get commons, low numbers and high, and semi- to real stars, even superstars, for what the ’09 catalog quotes.

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My reality has been that I’m never far off from paying 2009 guide prices and have consistently finished sets well below book. I struggle sometimes to get those decade old prices, but I do end up getting them. When I have to pay a bit more, it’s usually for a better condition card than my usually EX, or something truly has gone out of whack. (The 1952 Parkhurst Bob Betz springs to mind, a card that seems more scarce than the books think it is.) When I feel like I may have missed some seismic shift in the market, I either have someone online email me a scan of a more recent price guide or I sneak a peek at Barnes and Noble. There’s usually been no real change.

The biggest fluke in all this is how lucky I’ve been to use 2009 as a baseline. It was clearly a good pricing year. This week I closed the door on my 1968 Topps set, getting a solidly EXMT Ryan rookie for $230. More than the $175 I was hoping to pay for in EX, but a much nicer card and a bargain for an EXMT. I turned to my older books out of curiosity.

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The 2000 Standard Catalog has the Ryan at $400 in EX. The 1993 Beckett has the card in VG-E (an interesting lumping of two different conditions) for $650! Thank the heavens for 2009!

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I’ll stick to 2009 as long as that’s tenable and there’s no sign it won’t be. In fact, I’m slowly putting together a 1933 Tattoo Orbit set and, while I know I’ll pay up for some big stars, the Ivy Andrews, a short print that booked for $225 in VG in 2009 was mine for $39.06 (and in VG-EX to boot!).

Card Shows — Who Needs ‘Em?

On February 9, 2017, I declared eBay the clear winner over card shows. The hassles, unfriendliness and time spent (as well as back pain) that come with card shows was, for me, a thing of the past. Didn’t miss ‘em, didn’t care.

Then I went with my friend Greg to the East Coast National in White Plains and, as to be expected, had a lot of success, whittling away at my 1960 Topps, 1964 Coins and 1971 Kellogg’s want lists. It was, I’ll admit, kind of great.

More surprising was a local show in Albany that I went to earlier this year. A fine show – manageable, with binders of commons. Right up my alley. I made huge headway with my 1968 and 1969 lists. Yesterday there was another Albany show put on by the same promoter. I had high hopes. Why wouldn’t I?

Sheets of paper in hand, I had already played out in my mind that I’d get the last cards I needed to wrap up a few sets and, once I did that, I could really focus on the remaining commons and semi-stars I need for my 1956 Topps set. My son Joey, his interest in cards recently revived, came along. Everything seemed the same to me; Joey pointed out it was a new hotel and, when we walked in, it was a new cast of dealers. A cursory walk around showed that this was going to be a colossal disappointment. It was.

It took a ton of work to find 2 1969s and 3 1956s that I needed, at good prices. Best find – a ’69 Ed Charles, which goes for $4 or so on eBay, was mine for a buck. (I’m now down to one – Tug McGraw. I feel I should pay a buck for it; I’ll end up paying $5. It’s the premium of the last card which we all have paid.).

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All of my show gripes from Feb ’17 came roaring back. I went through a small stack of 1956s and pulled out a Billy Martin, Ted Kluszewski and Giants team, all in EX (maybe EXMT) to me, all unpriced.

“How much for these three?” I asked.

The dealer opened his book (not sure what it was) and said “They book for $245.”

“Not in this condition,” I said.

“I can give you 40% off.”

“No thanks.” He was shocked I walked away from such a deal.

But it wasn’t a deal, never is. He took NM book prices, slashed a big percentage off, but the result was a specious bargain. The price was still too high. I know I can get all three for $75 tops, with some patience, but why even play this game. It made no sense to offer him $60; he was already a self-proclaimed martyr because of the price drop he deemed enormous.

Joey, freed from my world of lists and completion needs, found a dealer with a solid assortment of old non-sports. He picked up some Horrors of War and Red Menace cards. Very nice.

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I left the show pretty down, trying to come to some conclusion on how I feel about shows. I still don’t miss them that much, but a good one is worth it. Once I got home I headed to eBay to see if I could work on what I’d hope to accomplish at the show. I immediately nabbed a couple of cards, bid on some more that I think I’ll get and knocked another 5 1969 Topps decals off my list. By the end of the day the bad vibes of the show had gone.

It’s Your Thing (Collect What You Wanna Collect)

Look at this card:

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Now look at this one:

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I’m not bothered by off center cards, but nearly miscut cards do irk me (The one that’s miscut on the Koosman side bothers me less than the miscut on the Ryan side). However, and it’s a big however, there is a balance between cost and condition, A card with these corners and well-centered is going to cost at least $100 more. Will I be happy with a Ryan rookie at $150 if it looks like this? I’m not 100% sure but I’m leaning yes.

Maybe it’s a residual of my pack opening years that makes me unaffected by off-center cards. If I gave you an opened pack of 1975 Topps, the odds of pulling a full 10 well centered cards would be a million to one.  But, they’d all be sharp as hell, razor tight corners, beautiful color and gloss, and fine by me.

That works in my favor because in this graded world where centering has a regal place, I can get discounts. My pal Jimmy is a stickler for centering. He preferred this card:

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to this one:

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He said that might sound insane to me, and it does, but the disparate criteria we all bring to the hobby and what we collect is part of the joy. Over at Baseball Card Freaks on Facebook, Bailey Walsh has posted and commented on what he calls his “PSA 1 Project.” He has his criteria (which I want him to write about for this blog), but what he doesn’t mind is interesting – a staple hole, some gunk, marks on the back, etc. He just got this card and, I have to say, it’s lovely.

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Now I don’t know if I could handle a PSA 1, though if it was raw I wouldn’t know it was PSA 1. That made me think hard about what grading means. It has skewed our view of a nice card in ways that are, for me, anathema to the fun of collecting and how we view what is, or isn’t a nice card.

Those of you in the hobby for a long time will remember Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen. Rosen garnered a well-deserved reputation for making huge finds of unopened material. When the grading boom began, he wrote something that stuck with me. If he were to hand you a fresh pack of 1952 Topps, by the system we use, all the cards in that unopened pack are presumed minute. True, right? They went from the factory to the pack to some kid’s hands.

Yet, if you opened this pack of mint cards, they became not mint and if you pulled a pristine Mantle rookie that had 80/20 centering, well, you were screwed. It would only be an 8. How can that really be true and how can that hypothetical Mantle card have lost value upon its reveal? It’s bizarre.

Furthermore all of us seem to love most dearly the cards we collected in our youth and prize those above what we purchased later on. When I recently went through my 1975 set, I was thrilled about how nice they were AND how some were cut less than perfectly. Didn’t bother me one bit.

I have nothing earthshattering to say here. To each his own is not a profound thought. Still, I marvel at what bothers some and doesn’t bother others and how we are told now what makes a great card and what makes an OK card. It’s nonsense.

I can tell you one thing – writing this post is likely to make me buy a way off center Ryan rookie that looks like it came right out of a pack and I’m going to be damn happy about it!

Talking Sheet(s)

I’ve always been a box guy – they stack easily, protect corners, are easy to label and easy to find. With finite space for card storage, boxes are the most efficient way to go; least costly too.

I haven’t been a purist on this. Non-standard sized cards, from the small (1949 Bowman baseball) to the large (the assorted Topps basketball), inevitably had to be housed in sheets and albums. Otherwise they sat in shoeboxes, shifting with each movement of their container, potentially dinging corners. One can’t have that.

Then, as I began completing some older sets, it became clear to me that sheets were the way to go. It became too unwieldly to pull out a box of 1970 baseball, of course positioned in the middle of a stack of 4 or 5 boxes, then pull out all the cards to place, say, #596 Mike Hershberger, in its rightful place. Having the cards in sheets made life a bit easier.

I’ll have to admit I got a  bit  hooked on sheets and albums and thought, “Hmm, maybe I have complete sets that would be better suited for albums and take up the same space as boxes.” A spreadsheet ensued. Conclusion: over time I’d put my 1970’s era Topps Hockey and Basketball in sleeves. (Not football. Most 1970’s sets aren’t very nice.)

This mini-project has provided an enormous amount of fun, maybe 1 ½-2 hours to fill 70 or so sheets. For a cost of $20-25 for a box of 100 Ultra-Pro 9-pockets and an album, I get solid entertainment. That’s good bang for the buck.

Not only to I get to rediscover old sets I haven’t looked at in years, I also get great Twitter content. This 1975 Topps hockey page stirred some emotions.

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Still, I’m not completely sold on the idea of shifting to sheets and albums. There are too many cards to move and, since I store albums flat, rather than upright, I run out of room fast. (I’ve never liked storing albums like books. Seems to me the pages would droop below the bottom edge of the binder and dent. Thoughts?)

I’m likely to be all done after a few more albums, unless I buy an old complete set that either comes in sheets or needs to be put in them. I’m a partial convert, partial because there’s still nothing better than to have cards in hand, rather than in vinyl. That can’t be beat.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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