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.

 

The Conlon Collection Project: Part 4

1991 Conlon packs

The Conlon Project series continues with Part 4, a collection of five stories based on cards selected by our writers.  We continue to present different writers and different stories.

This week’s installment includes stories on Conlon figures: Pie Traynor by Scott Chamberlain; Bennie Tate by Tim Jenkins; Dizzy Dean by Tom Shrimplin; Earl Webb by Tony Lehman; and John “Chief” Meyers by Anthony Salazar.

If missed 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/

Enjoy!

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Pie Traynor

PLAYER:          Pie Traynor

CARD #:           268

AUTHOR:        Scott Chamberlain

As a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, my attention turns to players in a Pirates uniform first. But the Pie Traynor card in my pack grabbed my attention for more than just that. I selected his card because of the expression on his face. Charles Conlon captured Pie talking with a big smile on his face. That expression on his face seems to be saying, “I love being in a Pirates uniform and being part of this team!” Pie’s smile on this card is one that makes me feel good every time I look at it. I sure wish I knew what he was saying when the photograph was taken.

 

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Beeny Tate.jpg

PLAYER:               Bennie Tate

CARD #:               220

AUTHOR:             Tim Jenkins

Even though there were several well-known players in my pack, I was drawn toward a “common” player’s card: journeymen catcher, Bennie Tate. The anonymity of “scrub” players leads one to flip the card over to answer the question: Who is this guy?  Bennie’s biographical information on the back confirms his modest credentials by insinuating that his most significant “accomplishment” was calling the pitch that Babe Ruth hit for his 60th home run in ‘27.

Tate’s lack of notoriety aside, the photo is a classic Conlon portrait in that it reveals much about the person.  In an era where players often appeared older than their ages in photos, Bennie looks like a 25-year-old.  His demeanor is serious but not stern.  He seems pleased that Conlon is photographing a career back-up.

In addition, the image captures the feel of the early 20th century.  The high-collard, Senators uniform along with the WW1 memorial patch evokes the era.  Also, Tate wears the low-crowned, cap style of the period.  If the photo were in color, the cap would be white with a navy “W” and a red bill.

The clarity and evocative nature of Conlon’s work transcends baseball. My wife was intrigued by Conlon’s stunning photos and collected all the series in the 90s. Once, I visited a 6th grade classroom to show part of my memorabilia collection.  I gave the students Conlon doubles.  The kids were intrigued, as was their non-sports fan teacher. A testament to Conlon’s lasting artistry.

 

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Dizzy Dean

PLAYER:          Dizzy Dean

CARD #:           3

AUTHOR:        Tom Shrimplin

As I opened the package of Conlon baseball cards, one after another were names I remembered hearing about, until I got to the next to the last one in the stack.

Dizzy Dean is one of the first memories I have of baseball.  In the 50’s he was on the GAME OF THE WEEK, on TV in black and white, describing the action on the field and telling us stories of his time on the field.  Ol’ Diz was as entertaining as any comedian, now or then. And as a 6-year-old, his strange twang and dialect was something I had never heard.  At first, it was hard to understand, but after a few weeks, it was as familiar as Howdy Doody.

Only after I grew older and started to learn about baseball in the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s did I find out what a great pitcher he was.  He definitely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and it makes me sad I wasn’t able to see him pitch.  With an ERA ranging from 2.66 to 3.30 between 1932 and 1937, and a winning percentage of 0.644, I agree that he was one of the all-time best pitchers.

Only in baseball will you find a “character” like Dizzy Dean. That’s what make the game unlike any other.

 

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Earl Webb

PLAYER:          Earl Webb

CARD #:           261

AUTHOR:        Tony Lehman

Card #261 features Earl Webb – still the leader for most doubles in a season with 67. As the card informs us, Webb set this record in 1931 at the age of 32. Webb has always been something of a blank slate in my head, with thoughts of him colored by an old Topps cartoon on the back of a 1977 card.

This portrait of Webb that Conlon captured, however, shows more. An unsmiling Webb stares out from the dugout, looking directly at the camera. His uniform is buttoned all the way to his neck and adds to the seriousness of the photo. Webb almost looks crestfallen at the fact that it took him until his thirties to make an impact in the major leagues.  It’s a solemn photo, befitting the seriousness of the Great Depression era.

I chose this photo of Webb in part because of the solemnity – something about the look in his eyes feels like it is telling a story of a fight to get to the major leagues and, then, a fight to stay there. The other part: the photo is the first time I have ever seen Earl Webb as a person rather than being a cartoon character on the back of a baseball card.

 

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Chief Meyer.jpg

PLAYER:               John “Chief” Meyers

CARD #:               171

AUTHOR:             Anthony Salazar

Over the course of the Conlon Collection Project, I’ve looked over all the cards in this 1991 330-card set, the Chief Meyers card is one of the few that features a catcher.  Ray Schalk (#48) and Tony Lizzeri (#113), being the others.  The bulk of the set portray awesome player head shots, or pitchers and batters in action, but this Meyers card stuck me with great interest.

I usually don’t think too much about catchers (my apologies to those of you who do), but when looking at Meyers’ card, I thought about his era, the 1910s, the types of players he had to face and the equipment he used.  Meyers played the bulk of his nine-year career with the New York Giants, with a couple of season with the Brooklyn Robins.  He’s listed as being 5’11” and 194 lbs.  Not the most bulky of catchers, but he sounds pretty athletic.  The photo depicts Meyers presumably before the game taking some warm-up tosses.  He’s wearing his shin guards and a chest protector, sporting his pillowy catcher’s mitt with his facemask is in front of him on the ground.

Again, not being an avid aficionado of the catcher, I was intrigued enough to do a bit of research on the evolution of the catcher’s gear, particularly of his mask.  The version that Meyers seems to have was developed in 1910, called the “Wide Sight” or “Open Vision,” which gave catchers a better peripheral vision of the action.  I’m appreciative of the Conlon card for providing me the insight not only of Meyers, who was one of the few Native Americans on major league rosters at this time, but also of the catcher’s equipment during this era.

The Conlon Collection Project: Part 3

1991 Conlon packs

The Conlon Project series continues with Part 3, a collection of five stories based on cards selected by our writers.  We continue to present different writers and different stories.

 

This week’s installment includes stories on Conlon figures: Wes Ferrell by Mark Armour; Ray Morehart by Mark Black; Lon Warneke by Mike Beasley; Lefty Grove by Nick Vossbink; and Al Simmons by Rock Hoffman.

 

If missed 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/

Enjoy!

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Wes Ferrell

PLAYER:          Wes Ferrell

CARD #:           198

AUTHOR:        Mark Armour

 

The cello pack Anthony sent me had Joe Cronin visible on top.  This was Anthony’s gesture, as he knows I wrote a book on Joe, so he was basically tossing me an alley-oop.  Determined not to take the easy way out, I opened up the pack.

During the several years I worked on Cronin’s story, I got to know many of the players from this period, especially the AL players.  My Conlon pack included many of Joe’s teammates or players he managed.  Tony Lazzeri was a rival in San Francisco when both were kids. Goose Goslin was a star Senator when Cronin finally got his big chance on the same team. Bob Johnson was a star opponent for a decade before the Red Sox finally acquired him during the war and he became Cronin’s best hitter.

But my guy today is Wes Ferrell.  He was one of many AL stars (Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, etc.) whom Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey acquired from other less rich teams in the 1930s.  Many of these strong-willed men made Cronin’s life hell for a few years, none more so than Wes Ferrell.  Cronin was the club’s shortstop and if Ferrell saw a reliever warming up in the bullpen he’d call Cronin over and say, “if that mother f**ker doesn’t sit down, I ain’t pitching.”  He’d walk off the mound if there were errors made behind him, especially by his manager.  One time, Cronin gave him a big fine, and Ferrell said he’d punch him in the face the next time he saw him.  Eventually it all blew over, but inevitably he had to be traded.

But Wes Ferrell could play.  In 1935, for example, he won 25 games as a pitcher (a total of 8.4 WAR) and also hitting .347 with 7 home runs as a hitter (2.6 more WAR).  His 11 WAR (per Baseball-Reference.com) were the most in the league.

Like many pitchers of his time Wes Ferrell did not age well.  But he was one of baseball’s best players for several years, and deserves to be remembered.

 

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Ray Morehart

PLAYER:          Ray Morehart

CARD #:           102

AUTHOR:        Mark Black

 

My first 18 years of Sundays were spent in a (seemingly) never ending sequence of church, visits with relatives, Sunday dinners, and feelings of resentment because I was missing out on better ways to spend the weekend.

My grandmother didn’t have cable so while adults were visiting, we’d entertain ourselves by exploring my grandmother’s bookshelves. There was one book that seemed to capture our attention over and over again, Mining Photographs and Other Pictures, 1948–1968 by Leslie Shedden. A collection of stark black and white industrial photos, it covered every aspect of the mining history of Cape Breton – pit ponies, safety photos, labor conditions, and family life.

Over 20 years separates the Conlon collection from the Shedden collection, but for me there’s an echo of Conlon’s work in those mining photos and there’s an echo of my grandmother’s house in Ray Morehart’s face.

Every player in my pack seemed more well-known, more talented, more accomplished, and possibly more appealing. I could have chosen any of them for this project, but I chose Ray Morehart. There was something about Ray Morehart – his ‘snaggletooth’, the bags under his eyes, his uneasy smile – among the Hall of Famers, the legends, and the more fêted members of the ’27 Yankees, he clearly stands out. Ray Morehart looks like he doesn’t belong and more strikingly, it looks like he knows it.

There’s a down-to-earthness to Morehart’s photo, that same modesty and humbleness that resonated with me when I cracked open that book of mining photos 30 years previous.

 

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Lon Warneke

PLAYER:          Lon Warneke

CARD #:           231

AUTHOR:        Mike Beasley

 

The quintessential quaff? The perfect pompadour? Baseball’s Brylcreem Boy for 1939? With hair combed high, the 6′ 2″, 185-pound right-handed sidewinding Lon Warneke compiled a 192-121 won-loss record, completed 192 contests, and threw 30 shutouts over a 14-year (1930-1945) span with the Cubs and Cardinals, posting a career 3.18 ERA. Warneke threw a no-hitter against Cincinnati in 1941. Of his four one-hitters, two were back-to-back to open the 1934 season for the Cubs. Following his playing days, the lifelong Arkansas resident umpired in the National League for five years, including the 1952 All-Star Game and the 1954 World Series. On retiring from baseball, he was elected a county judge in his home state, serving in that capacity from 1963 until 1972. Warneke passed in June 1976 at the age of 67.

It was almost a draw of the hat in choosing a particular Conlon card from the pack of 18, but Warneke won out for a variety of reasons. First, I was only vaguely familiar with the name, embarrassingly so, I have to admit. Then there’s the photograph, with rakish tilt of the cap, the high cheekbones, penetrating eyes and lean cheeks.  But that pile of hair propping up the ball cap! A display of the cool confidence of the Arkansas Hummingbird. I wonder, though, if he ever thought “a little dab’ll do ya” and slipped a slippery one into his repertoire?

 

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Lefty Grove.jpg

PLAYER:          Lefty Grove

CARD #:           23

AUTHOR:        Nick Vossbink

 

The thing about the Conlon photos is that you don’t see portraits like this too often on cards. They’re clearly Baseball™ but they’re also distinct from what we think of as card material. The thin depth of field from the 4×5 camera is something that we see now with super telephoto lenses yet the interaction between the photographer and the subject confirms a close working arrangement. Lefty Grove is isolated from the background but also clearly engaged with Conlon.

And the tones. My goodness. While panchromatic emulsions were available in the early 20th century, their expense delayed their adoption. As a result, Conlon’s images are especially sensitive to blue light — resulting in a rugged masculine beauty where everyone appears tanned and strong. Even though Lefty Grove looks young, his wrinkles are defined, and you can see the face he’ll mature into.

His uniform is also wonderful with the white elephant logo the A’s still use and even an undone middle button Pedro Martinez style. The piping on the jersey is classic and the piping on the hat is something I wish we still saw today. Also, that standup collar is something I can never picture working when I see it on a coat hanger, but I love how it looks here.

 

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Al Simmons

PLAYER:          Al Simmons

CARD #:           49

AUTHOR:        Rock Hoffman

For the Conlon Project, I selected the card of Al Simmons because the Athletics occupy a special place in the minds of Philadelphia baseball fans who know their history. I was born in Philadelphia and raised just outside of the city and I think there is a sense of pride that we had the Athletics and their five World Series wins. Of course, there were all those losing season too and combined with the Phillies, the fans of the Delaware Valley have seen a lot of bad baseball. Ultimately, I think there’s a feeling of disappointment that they left the city.

As I looked at the card of “Bucketfoot Al,” I saw that the photo was from 1924 which was Simmons first season in the majors, essentially it his rookie card. He’s 22 years old and has a look in his eyes of a life full of possibility. It’s like the line from the movie “Field of Dreams,” when Ray Kinsella sees his father as a young catcher and says, “He has his whole life in front of him.”

You wonder what Simmons is thinking, does he feel like he can become a star play or is he just hoping to hold on for a few years before he gets on with his life’s work.

 

The Conlon Collection Project: Part 2

The Conlon Collection Project series continues with Part 2, a collection of five stories based on cards selected by our writers.  Over the next several weeks we will present different writers and different stories.

This week’s installment includes stories on Conlon figures: Hack Wilson by Jennifer Hurtarte; Joe Giard by Jim Hoffman; Lyn Lary by Jonathan Daniel; Sam Rice by Josh Mathes; and Benny Bengough by Keith Pennington.

If missed 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/

Enjoy!

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Hack Wilson

PLAYER:          Hack Wilson

CARD #:           29

AUTHOR:        Jennifer Hurtarte

Hack Wilson was a Chicago Cub, which is the primary reason I chose him. However, another reason is that I have a promotional picture for Diamonds in the Rough with Wilson posing next to Radio Flyer wagons hanging on my bedroom wall. (It was inside the copy of Diamonds that I checked out from the Chicago Public Library many years ago and I thought it was cool, so I kept it. Please don’t tell anyone at CPL. J)

Wilson’s card makes me feel wistful, but it also reminds me why I love baseball. I am fascinated by history, and baseball’s rich history is probably the main reason I came to love it so much. This card makes me want to go back in time to see all the great players of the 1920s and 30s. Although he’s in the Hall of Fame and still holds the NL RBI record, I don’t think Wilson is as well-known as he should be. Perhaps he would have been remembered as one of the greats if his career (and life) hadn’t been cut short by alcoholism.

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Joe Giard

PLAYER:          Joe Giard

CARD #:           119

AUTHOR:        Jim Hoffman

Joe Giard of the 1927 Yankees is depicted on card 119 in the Conlon Collection set.  I prefer Conlon’s portrait images, and Giard is an interesting subject.  He’s smiling in this shot.  He seems confident and approachable.  His Yankees cap is pristine and fits perfectly on his head.  His eyes are clear and his eyebrows full.  His facial features remind me of my wife’s long passed Italian relatives, and in Giard, I feel their welcome and genuine sense of family.  It’s a flattering image of a man in his prime.

Still, the lines on Giard’s face make him appear 15 years older than he is here, in his late twenties.  1920s America was harder on the body, with alcohol, tobacco & environmental pollutants.  Personal training and nutrition were primitive.  All the players in this set appear older than they were.  We romanticize about the era, but it had to have been a more difficult life.  Still, Giard smiles.  He’s probably the least consequential member of one of the most consequential teams in history.  He only made it into 16 games all year, with a 0-0 record.  All the games had been decided when they called on him.  I wonder if he got tired of talking about Ruth and Gehrig, Hoyt, Lazzeri, Pennock and Miller Huggins.  What would it be like to be part of greatness, but almost all of it as a spectator?  But the stories he could tell.  And it looks like he’d be happy to tell them.

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Lyn Lary

PLAYER:          Lary Lyn

CARD #:           318

AUTHOR:        Jonathan Daniel

He’s 29 but he looks older. Much older.

Lyn Lary has the look of someone who has worked hard his entire life. He’s from Armona, CA, a town I know nothing about. But in my mind, Lyn Lary played baseball to escape Armona and make a better life for himself.

The main reason I chose Lary is that I’d never heard of him before and those players interest me. Who were they? How did they get to the big leagues? What did they do after they retired? Writing about the other players in my pack of cards like Al Simmons, Hack Wilson and Honus Wagner would be “easier,” but my preconceptions would bleed through. Choosing a player who was anonymous, at least to me, allowed me to focus on the image rather than the player and that’s what drew me in.

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Sam Rice

PLAYER:          Sam Rice

CARD #:           54

AUTHOR:        Josh Mathes

There are just a few things that have stayed almost exactly the same since before there was even one World War in the history books, let alone two.

I couldn’t travel back to our nation’s capital in 1916 and have a meaningful conversation with Sam Rice about too many things. We’d have no common background to discuss food, travel, or politics. We both grew up in the rural Midwest, so I suppose we could talk about the hot, humid summers or October leaves. But the vast majority of my experience in 21st century America would make no sense to Sam.  But we could have a catch.

He’d whip the ball to me the same way my dad and uncles did on summer weekend afternoons. The sound of the ball sailing through the air and smacking our leather gloves would be the same whether I went to Griffith Stadium or he came to a ballpark with a name like Guaranteed Rate, Globe Life, or SunTrust.

The world was bigger then. The ballparks, too. Sam played 20 seasons of big league ball and only hit a pitch over the fence 13 times. He had more home run sprints than trots (21 inside-the-park homers) and used the massive Griffith Stadium outfield to rack up 184 triples. Parks were built then to fit into their surrounding areas, not the other way around. Exit velocity and launch angle don’t matter as much when the left field pole is more than 400 feet away. So, although Sam would’ve recognized the basics of the game, as a guy who struck out about twice a month, he might be amused at the all-or-nothing approach of today’s hitters.

Throwing a baseball back and forth, though, getting ready to play the game, would feel the same no matter the time.

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Benny Bengough

PLAYER:          Benny Bengough

CARD #:           103

AUTHOR:        Keith Pennington

After looking through my pack of Conlon cards a couple of times, one card seemed to stand out to me.  It is a card of New York Yankees and St. Louis Browns catcher Benny Bengough. There was something about his look and his very slight smile.  He has very clear cool eyes and he just seemed to have an aura of peace and satisfaction to his smile.  Also, he looked current.  Like someone who could be working with me or that I knew today.  He did not look dated.

But again, it was the eyes that drew me back. The only thing I really knew about Benny was that he was on card #1 in the 1933 Goudey baseball set.  Aside from that, nothing.  I read the back of the card to learn about Benny and found out that he played on the 1927 Yankees (1923 through 1930, in fact).

Amazingly, in 1926, Benny was hitting an unbelievable .381 in 36 games, but was sidelined by a broken arm after being hit by a pitch.  He played six years after that but did not again come close to that previous success.  He also did not hit a home run in the majors.

Looking at his stats really made me wonder when the picture was taken: before or after the injury.  Is he is smiling because of a bright future ahead or is it a wistful smile at what might have been or a smile of contentment regardless of his circumstances, or a smile of knowing he was playing with some of the best baseball players and arguably on the best team of all time.

I don’t know.  But it was the smile and the eyes that led me to select this card.

The Conlon Collection Project: Part I

On November 27, I introduced the Conlin Collection Project.  This is Part 1 of a the resulting series of articles.

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George Burns

PLAYER:               George Burns

CARD #:               309

AUTHOR:             Alex Diaz

 

After opening the pack, I realized that many players took their photos without smiling, simply looking serious. Some players turned away from the camera. However, Mr. Burns did not. He looked right into the camera and purely smiled. His joy can be felt as soon as you see the card. If Mr. Burns was with us today, I believe this is what he will say: For the love of the game.

Every day, I button up the rough uniform, put on the old hat, and do what I love most, play baseball. Truth is, at the end of the day, baseball is a game. Nothing more, nothing less. What many people don’t realize is that life is a game, too. Sometimes you might hit a single and have everyone cheer for you. Sometimes you might hit a grounder and have everyone dislike you. Sometimes you might hit a homerun and feel like king of the world. While sometimes you might strikeout with bases loaded at the bottom of the ninth and cry yourself to sleep. You don’t know what each trip to the plate will bring to you, just like you don’t know what life will bring your way.

 

Life is a game, and I love to play it.

 

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Mel Almada

PLAYER:          Mel Almada

CARD #:           234

AUTHOR:        Anthony Salazar

 

By 1936, Almada was a 23-year-old veteran, having spent over three seasons with the Boston Red Sox.  He had performed fairly well with the club, appearing in 151 games the year before, sporting a .290 batting average with 176 hits.  In 1936, his batting verage would fall to .253.  I think the card reflects some of the intensity he was looking to re-capture from previous seasons.  Unfortunately, he would be traded from Boston to the Washington Senators the following season.

The card shows Almada in an away jersey, playing probably in Yankee Stadium against the Bronx Bombers.  He’s taking a few cuts before game time, probably awaiting his turn in the batting cages.  The away jersey is gray, though the stirrups are mostly red with blue and white stripes of different widths.  Of course, I’m looking at a black and white photo, but thanks to the Baseball Hall of Fame’s “Dressed to the Nines” online color exhibit, the 1936 stirrups are easy to tell.

Mel, or really, Baldomero Melo (Quiros) Almada, a native of northern Mexico, grew up in Los Angeles, and later spent a couple of seasons with the Seattle Indians (1932-33), playing with his brother, Lou.  I was excited to see his card, because I identified with him in a number of areas.  My family hails from northern Mexico, and settled in Los Angeles.  As I am based in Seattle, the Almada brothers are two of the early pioneers of Latinos in Seattle baseball history that I have admired.  It’s unfortunate that his career was not more widely known outside the Boston area.  I am glad, however, that Almada is featured in a great SABR Biography.

 

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Bob O'Farrell

PLAYER:               Bob O’Farrell

CARD #:               175

AUTHOR:             Chris Dial

 

My favorite part of the Conlon Collection is that there are photos of everyone. No need to be a star; it’s as if Conlon’s entire thought was towards baseball cards. In this pack, it’s a leisurely stroll – which player do I know the least about? Which ones are the most obscure? Or who is the most famous player that is “uncommon”?

One such player that came up was Bob O’Farrell, the catcher for the 1926 St. Louis Cardinals. I’d never heard of him. I know all his teammates – Rogers Hornsby, Sunny Jim Bottomley, Billy Southworth.  Even more from playing Diamond Mind, I knew of Les Bell, Taylor Douthit, and Ray Blades.  This card said even more – O’Farrell was the National League’s Most Valuable Player.  He caught nearly every game, and posted a 112 OPS+.

The most amazing part of learning O’Farrell’s name, and then going to Baseball-Reference.com and reading his career stats, was the light bulb that turned on: O’Farrell was a key actor in one of the most famous moments in World Series history.  He was the catcher that threw out Babe Ruth trying to steal to end the 1926 World Series. A piece of trivia I have bantered about for most of my life, and I never knew who the catcher was until this pack of cards.

 

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Johnny Evers

PLAYER:          Johnny Evers

CARD #:           15

AUTHOR:        Craig Hardee

 

“Tinker to Evers to Chance” is the classic phrase that describes the Chicago Cubs infield of the early 1900’s. But the Johnny Evers card of the Conlon collection pictures him in a Boston Braves uniform in 1929.

By then, Evers was 47 years old, and had not played major league baseball since 1922, when he appeared in one game for the Chicago White Sox. His last significant action was in 1917, when he split the season between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Boston Braves.  Evers appeared in one game for the Boston Braves in 1929, on October 6, 1929. He’s not listed as a coach or manager of the Braves that year.

A mystery? Perhaps the Braves signed him so he could retire as a Boston Brave. He was a member of the Braves in 1914, when the Miracle Braves went from last place on July 4 to win the World Series. He was the National League MVP that year.

The back of the card reveals that Evers had two nicknames: “Crab” and “Trojan.” He was on the small side, listed at 5’9” and 125 lbs. To compare, the Yankees Aaron Judge is almost a foot taller than Evers was, and is more than twice Evers’ weight.

Evers was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946, shortly before his death in 1947.

 

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Chief Bender

PLAYER:          Chief Bender

CARD #:           20

AUTHOR:        Dawn Gibson

 

There are certain players in the big league whose smiles shine as bright as the sun. Many of these men are the beloved bearers of a poetic athleticism that blends the bashing of balls with the graceful maneuvers of ballet. Baseball is a beautiful game.  Baseball is all encompassing, from the ace on the mound to the dreamers looking down at the game play from their seats in the stands. One is not indifferent to baseball. Either you love baseball, or you do not. Baseball is simple that way. When the gods play ball, we cheer with a hope and a joy that that unites the fans with the players, and when our heroes laugh, kid, and smile for all to see, we smile in return. Smiles are the knowing winks that fans and players alike use to confess their love of the game.

Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, had that smile. I cannot look at a baseball card of Ernie Banks and not smile. The Conlon Collection has a card bearing one of these glories of baseball.  Chief Bender, who in 1926, was a coach for the Chicago White Sox.  Bender was born of Chippewa blood in 1884, the same year that a US Supreme Court decision declared Native Americans ineligible to vote because they were not considered to be citizens of the United States. In 1919, women were afforded the right to vote. It would be another five years before the US Congress finally ‘granted’ citizenship to all Native Americans, clearing the way for Native Americans to become part of the voting population. However, it wasn’t until 1956 that all states complied with voter rights laws.

Chief Bender died in 1954, one year after his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. As a Native American, he faced the adversities of that era of US history, and he overcame them. He overcame them with a heart for baseball and as a big league pitcher with a career 2.46 ERA. Baseball is an exquisite equalizer.  It gave an outcast in his own homeland the chance to excel and become one of the best baseball players in history.  It warms the heart to see a challenge fiercely met and conquered. Done so with a smile to prove there is indeed something deeply beautiful about the game of baseball. Wink.

 

NEXT WEEK: PART 2