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.

 

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.