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

The Conlon Collection Project: Introduction

At an estate sale late this summer, my wife’s uncle, who is in the antique business, came across a number of shoeboxes containing baseball cards.  While the majority of the boxes contained Topps cards from the 1980s, one box contained 25 unopened packs from the 1991 Conlon Collection put out by MegaCards in conjunction with the Sporting News during that era.

The cards depict black and white photographs from photographs taken by noted baseball photographer, Charles M. Conlon.  The cards in this 330-set, are organized by team, award, or Hall-of-Fame status.

Wanting to share in the riches, I reached out to the SABR Baseball Card community with a proposition.  I offered one pack of cards to 24 of our SABR baseball card enthusiasts (keeping one for myself), and then asked each person that when they received their pack to select one card of interest and write a short piece of that card. I was particularly interested in the holistic value of the selection.  Over the next couple of months, player names and stories trickled in.  I am quite pleased to present our work.

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To begin our project, I asked Steve Gietschier, who worked personally on the Conlon Collection for The Sporting News, to write a bit about his experiences.  For the next several weeks, we will present a handful of stories for your reading pleasure.  Enjoy!

 

THE ORIGIN OF THE CONLON COLLECTION

By Steve Gietschier

When I began work at The Sporting News in 1986, the negatives and photographs taken by Charles Martin Conlon — it would have been a misnomer at that point to call them a collection — were in complete disarray. The glass negatives, about five thousand, if I recall correctly, were stashed, row by row, in an old file cabinet that sat just outside a room guarded by a bank vault door. My predecessor as the keeper of TSN’s historical treasures was a Red Sox fan, and so the combination to the vault door was 4-0-6. Get it? But note that the old file cabinet was outside the bank vault door. That’s true. The room behind the door was so chock full of other stuff that the glass negatives were not given even this low level of protection. They were there for all, even visitors, to see and, in fact, to handle.

Conlon started taking photographs in 1904, and he used glass plates because there was no plastic film yet. His early images were recorded on 5×7 plates, but after a while, he switched to the 4×5 size. We can only imagine how difficult it was to transport his equipment—a large Graflex camera, a tripod, and a box full of glass plates, very heavy—from his home to the ballpark. It is no wonder that he frequented the Polo Grounds and later Yankee Stadium, but never the far away Ebbets Field.

Sometime in the 1920s he switched to plastic film, the earliest iterations of which were quite unstable. These negatives, another few thousand, were not kept with the glass plates in their special file cabinet. Instead they were interfiled with all the other TSN photographs, more than 600,000, in brown envelopes, arranged alphabetically by players’ last names and stored in file cabinets that were supposed to be fireproof. Sure.

But that’s not all. We also had hundreds of prints made by Conlon himself. They were easily identifiable because his handwriting on the back was so distinctive. And they were filed with all our other photos, too.

Truth be told, Conlon was, at the time, a hidden treasure, an undervalued resource. I had never heard of him, frankly. And the folks who ran TSN knew that his work was precious, but they did not care enough or know enough to protect their investment. Maybe that’s why they hired me.

Perhaps we should mention here that Conlon stopped taking pictures in 1942 and died in 1945 and that sometime during that interval he sold all the negatives he still had—countless others he had destroyed—to TSN. But there was no bill of sale that I could find and no paperwork documenting this transaction at all.

Somehow, TSN had convinced the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, to mount a Conlon exhibit in 1984. In addition, TSN had worked with a St. Louis financier to produce a rudimentary set of baseball cards, but that was it. But these projects used the glass negatives themselves to make prints, even though they were fragile, of course, and dirty besides. Thus, one of my first goals as TSN’s first—and last, as it turned out—professional archivist was to bring all the Conlon stuff together in one place, to make it a collection, and to inventory all that we had.

I ordered special acid-neutral envelopes and boxes and began the time-consuming process — two hours every work day — of identifying, dating, and re-housing every negative. That alone took months. I don’t remember how many. Sometime along the way I contacted Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, one of America’s foremost archival conservators, and asked for advice on how to care for this collection. She referred me to Connie McCabe, a conservator at the National Gallery of Art. Connie was co-owner of a photographic conservation business, Photo Preservation Services, Inc., and she suggested that TSN contract with it to do what had to be done. Connie’s recommendation was standard operating procedure for large photographic collections: clean the negatives, develop each one into what are called inter-positives, and from these, create a new set of reproduction duplicate negatives. This set could be used for whatever purpose TSN wanted. But more importantly, the original negs, both glass and plastic, would be safe and protected, no longer subject to the wear and tear of use or curiosity seekers.

We began this process with a perilous journey from St. Louis to the Washington suburbs, the negatives, in their boxes, resting in the tailgate of a rented Ford Taurus station wagon. How else to get them to this destination? I remember distinctly praying to avoid a rear-end collision, an event that surely would have brought my career at TSN to a premature end. We made the trip safely, PPS did its work over quite some time, and we brought everything back to St. Louis safely again.

Truth be told, we had to convince Connie McCabe, not a baseball fan, that these negatives were worth her firm’s time. Only when she saw them did she agree that Conlon was not only a great baseball photographer but a great photographer, period. She, then, in communication with her brother Neal, said much the same thing, “You’ve got to see these photos.” He, a true fan, similarly demurred until he visited her in Washington and saw them for himself. Thus was born the sister-and-brother partnership that became the author team for Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994).

But how does an idea of a book become a book? It’s not easy. TSN had a book division at the time, run by a woman named Sandy Dupont. She listened to our idea for a book of Conlon’s photographs and nearly dismissed it totally. But she did suggest that we talk with folks at Harry N. Abrams, a publisher of art books and another Times Mirror company, as was TSN. The Abrams people were enthusiastic enough to agree to do the book, but they assigned an editor who also knew nothing about baseball.  And when the book was finally published and Abrams had a launch party in New York, they decided not to invite the authors. Instead, I was invited to speak for the book, and I did so, even appearing on the sports segment of a local television news program.

My memory tells me that Baseball’s Golden Age got a very positive review in the New York Times Book Review. Was Jonathan Yardley the reviewer? Maybe. At any rate, the book did well. It went into several printings and is, I believe, generally regarded as the best book of baseball photographs ever printed. I commend it to anyone and note, especially, Neal McCabe’s wonderful introduction, “The Base Ball Photographer.”

Somewhere along the way, maybe even before the book was published, two entrepreneurs in a baseball card business called Megacards contacted TSN. They had never produced complete sets of cards from scratch, but the Conlons had attracted them. They proposed — and TSN agreed — to issue one series of 330 cards a year for five years. These became the famous Conlon Collection sets. The first two sets sold well, but the third set ran up against the great strike of 1994-1995, and was cut from 330 cards to 110. And that was the end of that.

In the years after Megacards, various other business proposals came our way, but none of them did very well. We even arranged an exhibit of Conlon prints at a fancy downtown art gallery in Manhattan, but it generated few sales. Conlon remains, I think, an undervalued resource. A second book, The Big Show: Charles M. Conlon’s Golden Age Baseball Photographs (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2011), did considerably less well.

How to bring this story to a close? Times Mirror sold TSN to Paul Allen (yes, the co-founder of Microsoft), and Allen later sold the company to American City Business Journals, headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina. The ACBJ hierarchy told us that TSN’s editorial offices would remain in St. Louis, but in 2008, they changed their mind. The company would move to North Carolina, and I was not invited to go along. We packed up everything, and off it went.

Subsequent to the move, TSN sold its entire photographic archives to a fellow named John Rogers in Arkansas. You may have heard of him. He is in significant legal trouble on numerous fronts. Where are the Conlons now? I’m not sure. Perhaps in Arkansas. Perhaps under the custody of federal court officials. What will become of them? Who knows?

 

Quite the Surprise

Not too long ago my wife surprised me with several shoeboxes of baseball cards.  It seems that her uncle, who is in the antique business, came across a whole bunch of cards at an estate sale, and I was to be the beneficiary!

 

After my initial shock, I quickly went through the boxes, rather greedily I think, and found several thousand cards.  The vast majority included 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1989 Topps and several stacks of 1991 Fleer cards.  Among the piles, were 25 unopened packs of cards from the 1991 Conlon Collection.  Among another box were a bunch 1987 and 1989 Topps cards tucked inside plastic sandwich bags.  And tucked inside the box as well was another plastic sandwich bag with quite the surprise — seven vintage Topps cards, all in excellent to near mint condition. I found:

1959 Andy Pafko (#27)

1959 Vic Wertz (#500)

1960 Minnie Minoso (#365)

1961 Nellie Fox MVP (#477)

1963 Elston Howard (#60)

1964 Jim Perry (#34)

1965 Rocky Colavito (#380)

 

I was a bit stunned, thinking that this plastic bag might have gotten mixed up somehow with other vintage cards of mine, but I knew I didn’t have these cards.  Still, it was odd that these six cards would be mixed in with a bunch of 80s and 90s Topps and Fleer cards.  Being the greedy guy that I am, I sorted through the others boxes again, just to make sure.  Alas, no other vintage cards.  So, I went back to the six and studied them carefully.  Great photos, no ceases, fairly sharp edges.  No stains, just a bit of wear.

 

It’s a mystery to me that whoever’s cards these were, that these vintage cards would be stashed in with the rest of the boxes.  I like mysteries, of course.  I think I might rummage through the boxes, again.  You know, just to make sure!

The Conlon Project

At a recent estate sale, my wife’s uncle, who is in the antique business, came across a number of shoeboxes containing baseball cards.  While the majority of the boxes contained Topps cards from the 1980s, one box contained 25 unopened packs from the 1991 Conlon Collection put out by MegaCards in conjunction with the Sporting News during that era.

The cards depict black and white photographs taken by noted baseball photographer, Charles M. Conlon.   According to Dean Hanley from Dean’s Cards, the cards in this 330-set, are organized by team, award, or Hall-of-Fame status.

I would like to offer (free of charge) one pack of cards to 24 of our SABR baseball card enthusiasts, and then ask that when each person receives their pack, they select a card of interest and write a paragraph or two on the card (max. 250). That is, why did you select the card?  What do you see in the photo?  How does the photo make you feel?  Something of that nature.  You can talk a bit to the players career, but I’m more interested in the holistic value.

I will ask that once you’ve selected card, please notify me immediately, as I will be keeping a list to ensure that there are no duplicated efforts.  For example, I opened a pack and found MEL ALMADA.  As it so happens, I have a particular affinity for Almada, a Mexican who played minor league ball in Seattle.

If you are interested in participating in this CONLON PROJECT, email me at salazar8017@yahoo.com with the subject line “Conlon Project” and send me your mailing address.  I hope to gather the 25 “reactions” into a document to submit to the SABR Baseball Card blog or other SABR publication.

By the way, key cards in this set, Hanley indicates, include: #110 Babe Ruth ’27 Yankees, #145 Babe Ruth Champs, #250 Ty Cobb, and #310 Lou Gehrig.

Thanks for playing!

The ’51 Roberto Avila Bowman Card

I know it’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but when I saw on the table I had to have it!  It was the 1951 Bowman Roberto Avila card, number 188.  A number of years ago, I think at the Long Beach SABR convention, there was a guy at a table selling cards.  I made note of the Avila card, sitting there with prominent colors of red, white and blue.  Not being a Cleveland Indians fan, but more a fan of the Latino pioneer, who I have studied for quite some time.

I liked the old-style painting presentation, versus the usual photo one would see in later years.  It was colorful with the Indian mascot pictured almost in the center of the card.  I wondered if that’s how the Vera Cruz, Mexico-native really looked at that time.  At 24 years of age in 1951, the painting on the card made him look more like a 12 year old!

According to the Official Baseball Card Price Guide – 1990 Collector’s Edition, the 1951 Bowman series was a 324-card set, the company’s largest issue up to that date. While the cards of this set had typically measured 2 1/16” by 3 1/8”, my Avila appears as only 2” by 3 1/8”.  As you can see, it’s not centered and probably cut.  But still, it’s kinda cool to me.

The back of the card, grayish in appearance with red and blue print, reading:

“The 1950 season was Roberto’s third in organized baseball.  He appeared in 80 games for the Indians, getting 60 hits and driving in 21 runs.  His batting average was .299.  Starting with Baltimore, International League, in 1948, he got into 56 games batting .220. With the Indians, 1949, he was only in 31 games.  His average fell to .214.  But in 1950, with added playing chances, he proved able to hit.”

It’s a nice narrative of his past seasons.  You might not get such commentary with the usual bland stats.  The other thing of note is that Bowman refers to him as “Roberto” versus “Bobby”.  I’ve written on the ridiculousness of Americanizing Latino player names in previous postings.  Topps has been guilty of this for years during this era.  Though, in doing a quick search of the listings in other years, Bowman calls him “Bob” 1954 and “Bobby” in 1955!  Grrr!!

Moving on, the website PSAcard.com provides a Sports Market Report (SRM) Price Guide with value and card condition.  The prices range from $12 for excellent condition to $350 for mint condition.  Since my guy here is not centered, but has sharp corners and a fairly clear picture, I’m guessing it’s in the $12 range.  Pretty much what I paid for it several years ago.  I’m not grousing, but I do find it interesting.  It’s the intrinsic value that matters most to me.  And with this card, there’s a story of a Latino pioneer to tell.

Dad’s Gifts Keep on Giving

By the time the 1984 All-Star Game hit San Francisco – my hometown – I missed the entire festivities.  I was in between my freshman and sophomore years in college, and had been forced to spend the entire summer working at Disneyland.  Everyone in my family was obligated to work at the “Happiest Place on Earth” because my uncle, who was there when the place opened, was still there and made it a family commitment.  Consequently, I missed the All-Star Game.  What I didn’t realize until some months later was how involved my dad was in those festivities.

At some point after we moved to San Francisco from Los Angeles, he got a job selling air time for KOFY-AM, the Spanish-language radio station, that broadcast Giants games.  Throughout my later elementary school and high school years, we had access to Giants games basically whenever we wanted.  I remember visiting my dad’s office to beg for tickets, and he would open the drawer, and sure enough, there were stacks of tickets.  Pure gold, I tell you!

Over the years my dad developed a good relationship with the Giants front office staff, the communications people, I imagine.  I hadn’t known what all he did, especially when the Giants got the 1984 All-Star game, and what kind of contribution he made to the event.  The next time I saw him, maybe around Thanksgiving, he showed me the cool plaque the Giants gave him, that featured their logo, the All-Star Game logo and a nice shot of the crowd.  He also gave me a pack of cards.  It was a 1984 Mother’s Cookies San Francisco Giants All Time All Stars pack that included 20 trading cards out of a 28-card set.  He gave me one pack, while keeping two packs for himself.  He never said where he got them, but I took my pack without question, quickly flipping through my treasures.

The set included Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, and John Montefusco, among other Giants greats.  Card 28 featured the 1984 All-Star Game logo.  The 21st card in my pack invited you to send away for the eight cards, though as they indicate, “If you would like to have 8 additional trading cards (although most probably NOT the exact eight needed to complete your set due to random selection).”  Somehow I doubted I would get the exact cards I needed.

Over the years, I would flip through the cards, reminiscing about the players I saw play back in the late 1970s and early 1980s: Jack Clark, Gary Lavelle, Vida Blue, Ed Whitson, Darrell Evans and of course, the Count.  A decade ago, when my dad passed away, I inherited the plaque and his two packs of 1984 Mother’s Cookies cards.  And wouldn’t you know it … he was missing the same cards I was missing!  And it’s too late to mail in to Mother’s!