The Great Wax Pack Derby: A New Participation Project

wax pack derby

Based on the success of the Conlon Collection Project, we are embarking on a new – and hopefully interesting – project.  We’re calling this The Great Wax Pack Derby!  It’s a group writing collective, like Conlon project.

The idea is to get donations of somewhere between 50 to 100 wax packs of baseball cards that might include Topps, Bowman, Fleer, Upper Deck, etc., ensuring that they are in fact, wax packs

Once we have gathered up a critical mass of wax packs, we will send out a solicitation to SABR Baseball Card Committee members who may be interested in receiving a wax pack.  The idea, again, like the Conlon Project, is that those members who receive a wax pack are then obligated to select one card from that pack to write about.

Once we have gathered large groups of stories, we will post them – at least five stories a week – to the SABR Baseball Card committee blog.  It would be ideal to have this project completed by the end of Spring (in time for the SABR Convention in San Diego)!

So, if you are interested in donating a few wax packs from your collection to this project, we would be very grateful for your contribution.

Again, this is a group writing collective that benefits our SABR Baseball Card Committee.  Send me an email, and let me know if you are willing to donate a few wax packs from your collection.  I’m at salazar8017@yahoo.com

 

Thank you!

Anthony Salazar

The Tallest Mexican: Remembering Hank Aguirre

aguirre collection

A more than a decade ago, I found an intriguing book at the Seattle Library Book Sale that caught my eye for several reasons.  It was called, “The Tall Mexican: The Life of Hank Aguirre, All-Star Pitcher, Businessman and Humanitarian.”  The cover art featured a beautiful painting of a brown pitcher in a Detroit Tigers uniform.  As a Chicano baseball historian, the appeal is pretty obvious.  What’s cool is that I had never heard of Hank Aguirre and was not aware of his work on the diamond, or life after baseball.

The book breaks down into two parts, the first covering his life in baseball, and the second part addresses his life in the business world.  Both sections paint an incredible image of a great guy, to which I found great pride.  It’s not that often that Mexican-American ballplayers craft such successful careers for themselves that galvanize many communities over one lifetime.

With that pride buoying my heart, I went in search of more info on Hank Aguirre, and surprisingly found very little.  Aside from the book, and an obituary, there was not much on Hank.   The basics were this: over the course of a 16-year pitching career with the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs, Aguirre went 75-72 with an ERA of 3.25 in over 1,375 innings pitched over 447 games and two All-Star Game appearances.  The bulk of his career, of course, was with the Tigers.

At some point, I’ll write a SABR BioProject article on Hank, but in the meantime, I satisfied myself with obtaining every one of his Topps baseball cards, beginning with his 1957 Cleveland Indians card (#96).  I have 14 cards, indicating that his first two season with the Tribe, where he played a total of 10 games did not warrant a baseball card.

I had never amassed the total collection of any one player before.  But Hank seemed to resonate with me.  He was a southern California Mexican-American like me, and a tall, brown dude, like me.  Though Hank has a couple of inches on me, his 6-4 to my 6-2.  Regardless, over the years I have sifted through the 14 cards looking at the styles of cards over the years, looking at his poses, and how he had aged over the years.  His 1957 card (#96) has a similar pose to his 1961 card (#324).  His 1969 card (#94) pretty matches up with the 1968 card (#553), both indicating his affiliation with the Dodgers, while obviously sporting his Tigers uniform.  Topps recycled numerous photographs from the 1968 series, and cropped the photos differently for use in the 1969 set.  Though, Hank is sporting a blacked out ballcap in his 1969 shot.  It’s unfortunate that the Southern Californian never had a card in his Dodgers uniform.  That would have been pretty cool!  In the book, though, there is a great shot of him in a 1969 Dodgers uniform posing next to Willie Mays.

The majority of his cards depict a smiling Hank.  The smile is infectious, and you think, wow, he looks like a nice guy.  In other years, he is pictured in a serious, albeit thoughtful demeanor.  Flipping though the cards also provided me the opportunity to refresh my knowledge and instant recall of the card style of the vintage era.

Hank’s last card is with the 1970 Chicago Cubs (#699), though he makes a cameo appearance on the 1973 Topps Whitey Lockman card (#88).  Lockman was the Cubs manager that year, and Hank was the pitching coach, and was pictured along with other Cubs coaches including Ernie Banks and Pete Reiser.

For now, Hank’s cards will stay tucked in their plastic pocket pouch until I decide what to do with them next.  Maybe matte them in a single collage or something along with his photo.  To me, he will always be the tallest Mexican!

 

Cha-Cha and the Circle K

Cepeda_1985 Circle K

You know how it goes.  For me it was several years ago — I think it was at the Long Beach SABR event — when I came across a baseball card bearing the image of Orlando Cepeda, one of my favorite players.  The card was not your typical Topps product, but I didn’t care.  I thought it looked interesting, so I bought it for a few of bucks.  I tucked it away in a book that I had just bought as well, and promptly forgot about it.  It happens!

Not too long ago, I was sorting through a few baseball books and came across the Cepeda card.  “Oh yeah,” I said to myself, renewing my interest, now with a little more clarity and frame of mind.  I wondered a bit more about the card.  Here’s what I got:

The Cepeda card is #24 of a 33-card Topps set distributed in 1985 exclusively by Circle K, the convenience store chain.  The set reminded me of the Woolworth set I wrote about last year.  This series featured all-time home run hitters, with Hank Aaron occupying the top spot, of course.  Other players include Willie Mays (#3), Billy Williams (#18), Mike Schmidt (#19), and Norm Cash (#25).  Interestingly, because Topps could not come to an agreement with Joe DiMaggio, who was 31st on the all-time home run list in 1985, his card was omitted from the set.  Consequently, the series list skips #31, going from #30 to #32.

Aside from his photo, the card indicates Cepeda’s name and nothing else.  No position, no cute graphic.  Just a serious, albeit young-looking, Cepeda photo, probably in the early stages of his career with the San Francisco Giants.  The reverse side of the card in blue and red ink, features a run down of his MLB career with a highlight noting his Rookie of the Year Award in 1958, and 1967 NL MVP Award.  The Circle K logo is featured prominently in the upper left side, with the Topps logo and card number to the upper right.

I don’t have a lot of specialty cards such as this, so I’ll just keep this one displayed somewhere on a shelf.  It will remind me of when Cha-Cha ruled the City by the Bay. And maybe if something else catches my eye at a SABR conference, I won’t forget about it for years at a time!

 

It doesn’t make you any less of a man; or One picture is worth at least 500 words

Once every so often I flip through the vintage Topps cards I was gifted last year (greedily wishing for more – is that bad?!?), just looking at the cards and appreciating the artwork and the style, perhaps feel a bit nostalgic.  There’s a 1957 Luis Aparacio, 1965 Zoilo Versailles, 1959 Hector Lopez, among others, and then there’s the 1963 Mike Fornieles.

 

In all my readings and various research projects, I must admit I had

Mike Fornieles_1963 correctnever heard of Mike Fornieles.  Even as I had flipped through these cards at least a few times over the past year, he was such an anonymous player to me that I had failed to notice one bizarre feature of this 1963 “treasure” until the

other day.  I was working on my annual SABR Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration posts looking for ideas, and thinking about recent discussion on the SABR Baseball Cards page about whether or not people liked the idea of Topps “recycling” their vintage designs when applying them to modern players.  I wrote that I hoped the idea encourages others to appreciate the vintage style as I do, and I’m sure as many of you do, as well.

 

So, flipping through the cards I come across the Fornieles card (#28) and realize of the first time that somFornieles incorrect 1ething is amiss.  You might recall that the 1963 Topps series was a 576-card set featuring a large player photo with a smaller photo in the lower right size, about the size of a postage stamp.  Well, my card features half the guy’s body missing in that lower right section.  Take a look at the photo.  There’s some kind of pencil marking, I think, that separates the larger photo and the player identification section.  Further, while the card has a gloss or sheen to its face, the section where Fornieles’ smaller photo would be, is more of a matte finish than glossy, like someone took an eraser and rubbed out the poor guy’s face.  It’s a mystery as to how the card wound up this way.  The card is otherwise in impeccable shape.  Nice corners, no creases, excellent condition, I’d say.

 

As for the player Mike Fornieles, the Cuban-born pitcher broke in with the Washington Senators as a 20 year-old in 1952, throwing in only 4 games going 2-2 towards the end of that season.  Over the next 11 years he spent time on the mound for the Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, and was traded to the Minnesota Twins to close out his career in 1963.  Over his 12 year-career, he went 63-64 with a 3.96 ERA in 432 games with over 1156.2 innings pitched.

 

I don’t know if this 1963 Mike Fornieles #28 Topps card is worth anything in this condition, but it does make for an interesting story.  Once again, I was pleasantly surprised to find yet another treasure in the gift that keeps on giving.  Fornieles’ story is an interesting one.  I would certainly encourage you to read his SABR biography by Thomas Ayers: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/5889829b

 

The ’87 cards at 69¢ a pop

1987 Topps box

The summer’s treasure trove of baseball cards continues:  Among the shoeboxes I was gifted, there was a baseball card pack box full of over 750 loose cards.  When I saw the box, I had a bit of fantasy that inside I would find wax packs.  There’s something special about opening a pack of cards, especially an old pack.  Would I find 17-card packs with sticks of gum?  Alas, the box was full of loose cards.  Oh well.  A boy could dream.

Pile by pile, I picked up each stack and quickly flipped through the familiar names making note of the card design as well.  The 1987 Topps set (792 cards) was touted as a “blast from the past” giving collectors memories of the 1962 Topps set with its use of a border with its simulated wood-grain finish.  The card features a large player photo with the team logo at the upper left corner and the players name in bold font inside a colored box next to the Topps logo at the bottom of the card.  The player’s position, however, is not indicated, which is the first time since 1972 that Topps did not include this detail.

1987 Topps inside.jpg

As I flipped through the cards, I thought about the 1962 counterpart and about what I didn’t like about this card design.  The wood border is fine, yeah, another flashback that Topps has done before.  What bothered me was the missing player position, and the team logo.  I like the uniformity of other card sets depicting the team name in the same font.  To me, the logo sort of throws the uniformity of the card off.  I believe this set is the first time since 1965 that a logo has been added to the card, though in that set, the logo was incorporated with the team name in the same font imposed on a pennant.

I knew that noted “rookies” of interest in this set included Ruben Sierra (#261), Mike Greenwell (#259), Wally Joyner (#80), Barry Bonds (#320) and Mark McGwire (#366), who had first appeared on a card in a 1984 U.S. Olympics Topps subset issued in 1985.  Among this box, I found a Greenwell, couple of Joyners and a McGwire.  These cards, like the rest of box, are in tip-top shape.  Sharp corners, no wear, vivid pictures, like the previous owner never played with them at all.  It’s amazing to me that of all the thousands of cards that were gifted to me in this summer collection, they are almost all in pristine condition, save for the dozen vintage cards I wrote about earlier.

I realized too, in thinking about the 1987 year, that I didn’t spend time at all collecting baseball cards during most of the 1980s because I was in college spending my extra funds on girls and beer.  Some 20 years or so later, I was able to go back and start collecting those years I had missed.  This 1987 set isn’t my favorite, but I did enjoy seeing all the familiar names and certainly appreciate opening the box and making yet another great discovery.

Another Discovery: The 1985 Woolworth’s Card Set

Woolworth cards

Since the end of the summer, I’ve been going through the treasure trove of gifted shoeboxes filled with various baseball cards.  I’ve written a bit about my discoveries, and the most recent find is a 1985 Topps 44-card boxed set from Woolworth’s, the old five-and-dime store.

This set is touted as a limited edition All-Time Record Holders Collectors Series, featuring players from Hank Aaron to Walter Johnson, and Tris Speaker to Ernie Banks. The cards, measuring 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ are in color as well as black and white. The checklist can be found on the box in alphabetical order by player’s name.

This was the first year that Woolworth’s put out such a set, with subsequent cards that followed until 1991.  Though after its initial run, the card set dropped from 44 cards to 33 cards, and only depicted current stars.

Hoping to leverage the craze of the baseball card collecting mania of the time, a number of retail outlets from Woolworth’s to K-Mart to Kay-Bee Toys released their own card sets.  A shopper could find these boxed sets next to the cash register as impulse items.  The box I have has a price tag of $1.99.

Thanks to my recent experience with the Conlon Collection, I found myself paying more attention to the black and white images.  That is, I carefully examined the photos of the men, their expressions, their uniforms, and what they might have been thinking when the photo was taken.  Sam Crawford, for example, is sporting a 1916 uniform with a plain script “D” rather than the Old English “D” that we are accustomed to seeing on the Detroit Tigers jersey.  Hub Leonard of the Boston Red Sox is depicted with his cap askew, looking a bit worried, if not determined.  And Rogers Hornsby of the St. Louis Cardinals, meanwhile, sports a devil-may-care smile with a confident expression.

Did you know that Rudy York set a major league record with 18 home runs in August 1937?  I did not.  Did you know that Stan Musial set the National League record by leading the league in triples five times.  I did not.  Did you know that Willie Wilson set a major league record with 705 at-bats in 1980.  I did not.  I’m not much on the baseball trivia aspect as my fellow SABR brethren, but I can certainly appreciate the intrinsic value and essence of this 1985 Woolworth’s boxed set.  It was another treasured discovery found in an old shoebox.

 

The Conlon Collection Project: Part 5 (The Finale)

1991 Conlon packs

The Conlon Project series concludes with Part 5.  These stories have been based on Conlon cards selected by our writers. This week’s final installment includes stories on Conlon figures: Max Bishop by Joe Gruber; Babe Ruth by Anthony Salazar; and Rogers Hornsby by Thomas Saunders.

 

If missed you the incredible story of the origins of the Conlon Collection by Steve Gietschier, be sure to check out: https://sabrbaseballcards.blog/2017/11/27/the-conlon-collection-project-intro/

 

As we sunset this project, I am very grateful for my newfound appreciation for the players of this era, and for the brilliant photographic work of Charles M. Conlon.  Baseball history is fortunate enough to have such a visionary.  I would also like to thank our writers for participating in this special project:

 

Alex Diaz

Anthony Salazar

Chris Dial

Craig Hardee

Doe Gibson

Jennifer Hurtarte

Jim Hoffman

Joe Gruber

Jonathan Daniel

Josh Mathes

Keith Pennington

Mark Armour

Mark Black

Mike Beasley

Nick Vossbink

Rock Hoffman

Scott Chamberlain

Thomas Saunders

Tim Jenkins

Tom Shrimplin

Tony Lehman

 

And thank you for your comments and encouragement!  Enjoy Part 5!

 

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Max Bishop

PLAYER:          Max Bishop

CARD #:           183

AUTHOR:        Joe Gruber

 

I had seen these cards before when they first were issued and may even have a few packs somewhere in my vast collection. They appeal to me because I have always liked learning about the history of baseball. I chose this particular card because I am a Red Sox fan and didn’t want a well-known player to write about.

 

Black and white photos remind me of my grandparents and that era. As I look at Max I feel like I could be looking at someone from the old neighborhood sitting on the corner talking, smoking and passing the time. My memory of men who grew up in that era is they seemed to smile about like Max is “smiling” in this picture. Even though the picture is black and white I can see the detail to the uniform and hat (less so) and would love to have a set just like them. The piping around the collar and down the front is really cool to me. It also reminds me of my first baseball uniform as an 8-year-old in 1974. I can still feel and smell that raggedy old uniform complete with real stirrup socks.

 

The final observation I have is the fact that Max had a nickname “Camera Eye”. It seems to have come from the fact that he had more walks than hits in 5 of 12 seasons he played. There are some contemporary players with good nicknames, but the vintage ones seem better and back then, that everyone had one. Maybe they sounded better or filled time while doing play-by-play on the radio.

 

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Babe Ruth

PLAYER:          Babe Ruth

CARD #:           145

AUTHOR:        Anthony Salazar

 

Little things tend to bug me to no end.  It’s not that I’m the obsessive type, but I have a hard time getting past incongruities.  The Babe Ruth card (#145) is one of them.  I don’t mean to rag on the Babe – I’m just as much of a fan as the next guy – but I’ve got major issues with this particular card that commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Red Sox 1916 World Series victory.

 

The #145 card depicts the Babe as a 21-year-old pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, though the photo has him taking a pre-game swing at home plate.  If he’s a pitcher, where’s my photo of a guy on the mound?  If you say he’s a pitcher, give the guy a ball and put him 60 feet 6 inches from a batter.  The Babe had a great year as a pitcher in 1916, going 23-12 with a league-leading ERA of 1.75 with 170 strikeouts.  This, compared to his performance as a batter, where his average was .272 with 37 hits and 3 home runs over 67 games.

 

In my efforts to locate a Conlon photo of Ruth as a pitcher, I came up empty.  Searching through the books, “Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon” and “The Big Show: Charles M. Conlon’s Golden Age Baseball Photographs,” I did discover, however, that the Ruth photo used for the #145 card was not actually shot in 1916, but in 1918!  For the record, he went 13-7 with a 2.22 ERA and 40 strikeouts that year.  Obviously not as impressive as two seasons prior.

 

I was rather disappointed with this discovery, which led me to believe that the card was apparently created to fit a specific narrative, rather than paint an accurate picture of the time and place.  Little things tend to bug me to no end.

 

Though, as photo composition goes, it’s a striking piece especially when shown next to Conlon’s 1922 photo of the Babe in almost exactly the same swing in “Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon.”  The card seems to depict a picture of what we might expect from the future Babe Ruth.

 

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Rogers Hornsby

PLAYER:          Rogers Hornsby

CARD #:           1

AUTHOR:        Thomas Saunders

 

The look of a stoic, heroic, determined Texan…that’s the first thing I see when I look at the first card in the Conlon Collections series…card number one…Rogers Hornsby holding his bat in the Cubs dugout circa 1929.  The look on his face stands out to me; his eyes glaring yet half squinted, like he is looking into the west Texas sun of his birth; his mouth with a half smirk as if he has just spied a tell in a pitcher’s delivery that he is about to exploit with a line drive back through the pitcher’s box; his hands, bare and griping his bat in anticipation, tight but not too tight as his pink finger gently rests an inch above the knob.

 

I grew up just 30 miles from Winters, Texas the place of Hornsby’s birth.  I grew up loving baseball and, as a good Texian would, the state of my birth and its heroes and while Chicago or St. Louis might lay claim to Hornsby as theirs, living so close to his birth place I laid claim to him for Texas.

 

I played summer ball against teams from Winters, who’s baseball park bared Hornsby’s name.  I remember asking my grandmother once, before the age of the Internet, to see if we could try locate the great Hornsby’s grave in Winters as the native son MUST have been buried there and I wanted to pay my respects.  She obliged, and I fondly remember searching in vain two cemeteries looking for this legend’s final resting place so I could pay my respects, but to no avail.

 

The Conlon Collection always reminds me of my childhood and series one, card number one started that set and in many ways started me on the path of reading and appreciating baseball history.  The card was later made into a special issued color card, one of a series issued every year which I strove to collect.  Card #20 in the color card set was the same card #1 of Rogers Hornsby.  Color card #21 was of Shoeless Joe Jackson who I had grown to love through the movies “Eight Men Out” and “Field of Dreams.”  As a kid I thought he was wronged and as his card suggested why shouldn’t he be in the Hall of Fame.

 

I was 10 years old when I first discovered the Sporting News’ Conlon Collection, and I collected every set and still store them in protective three ring binders.  I still strive for Jackson’s reinstatement, and I remember fondly the fruitless search with my grandmother, who died just a few years later, for Rogers Hornsby’s grave in Winters, Texas…and I still claim Hornsby as a great Texas athlete.

 

…and interesting aside is this…while visiting my home for the holidays back in Blackwell, Texas I found an envelope the Mega Card company.  In 1995 the Mega Card factory had a special mail away where if you collected a specific number of proofs of purchases and mailed them in they would send you some rare color cards. I collected them and mailed them in, and they mailed me my limited edition cards.  However, they had misspelled my name, instead of Leman Saunders they had my name down as Lee Ann Saunders…the name of my future wife…Lee Ann and I have been married for over three years now.