Digital Junk Wax from Fox

During the playoffs a few of us noticed that Fox was putting out baseball card inspired graphics. These were showing up as Tweet previews among other things and they caught my attention due to being interesting twists on something I was already familiar with.

The first batch I noticed were all riffs on 1991 Topps. Urias is from October 11, Marsh from October 18, and Kim from the 21st. They seem to be used to illustrate player profiles—quite appropriate for a baseball card reference—and show a great attention to detail. I really like the addition of the facsimile autographs and adding the logo baseball so they can use the pennant for the Fox logo. Everything fits together perfectly plus they have some of the better fake printing I’ve seen.

Depending on your browser window width you’ll see either the horizontal or vertical designs. The horizontals show up on narrower views as a header and, since they’re the social media preview image as well, I suspect they were designed first. That said I really like the vertical designs and how they look like they might fit in tobacco pages.

Just when I’d gotten used to 1991 Topps though Fox dropped a 1991 Donruss inspired design of Jeremy Peña. This one doesn’t work quite as well in part due to the need to have a vastly different approach to the name box. 1991 Donruss is such a diagonal design that the horizontal modification just won’t work.

I do however really like making the border designs match the team colors. Dropping the Astros logo back there is a fantastic as well and letting the photo of Peña overlap the borders makes everything much more dynamic. While this doesn’t work as well as a design reference it has a lot of great ideas demonstrating about how 1991 Donruss might not be as bad as so many people say it is.

Fox then threw me by using 1989 Topps Football for Harrison Bader. It’s interesting that this very plain design* works so much better digitally.**  I suspect that a large part of this is due to the way the horizontal design makes the stripes a lot more prominent. I’m not sure the vertical would be as nice if it didn’t have the black fade.

*I’ve never seen anyone gush about this set or design. 

**Though one reason for this is that Fox’s logo is a black overlay that I barely notice against the out of focus crowd.

The most-recent “card” Fox has posted is this one of Chas McCormick. I don’t recognize the design except that it kind of looks like a mashup of of all three previous designs. Some of 1991 Topps’s double borders mixed with 1989 Football’s stripes and a 1991 Donruss cant. The result is kind of generic but also something that totally suggests modern Topps Big League.

I also went back through the archives and found Fox had been doing these well before the playoffs started. Working backwards through the archive I found Rowdy Tellez in a 1991 Topps design on September 30, Mike Trout as 1991 Donruss on September 22, Trayce Thompson and 1988 Donruss on September 14, Adam Wainwright as 1989 Pro Set Football on September 13, and Aaron Judge in 1989 Topps Football on September 7.

I continued looking back into July but the Judge was was first obvious trading card design I could find. Is interesting to me it was a football design which Fox selected. It’s also worth nothing here that the Judge uses a fantastic halftone dither with a real rosette pattern.

The Mike Trout also deserves some discussion. There are differences in the name/position handling, logo treatment, and photo cropping compared to Peña but the 1991 Donrussness shines through. I’m pretty sure the borders use the exact same design elements too. But the team color treatment looks great and confirms how taking 1991 Donruss in a team color direction would completely transform the set.

The whole group of eleven designs is also something that I find really cool. There’s a whole range of made-up cards as used on programs and other printed material but the way these are intended for a digital audience got me thinking about Topps Bunt, the nature of digital cards, and how so many of them evoke physical properties.

These are purely digital creations (though you could absolutely print the horizontal ones out as real cards) but they have designs which suggest that they’re real physical items and aren’t just web graphics. From things like the print screens to the way there are borders and margins which treat the graphic as a self-contained object, they don’t feel at all like the usual illustrations we see online.

It’s also interesting to me how every one of these evokes a junk wax era design. That’s not what a lot of people think of as the golden age of baseball cards* but it may be the era of peak trading card ubiquity. Those borders—even the football ones—are from an era when cards were everywhere and their presence was part of the national language of sports.

*As I gesture at the breakdown of what years are most covered by this blog.

That Fox uses them 30+ years later as visual shorthand for saying “this article will profile a player” confirms both how deeply steeped they are in our sports culture and how much trading cards in general color the way we remember and interact with sports.

Note

There are a couple other fake-printing graphics which Fox made before they started making the trading-card inspired ones. These suggest that Fox was moving this direction before it realized that trading cards were the look they wanted.

On September 1 Fox profiled Julio Rodríguez using a fake postcard complete with a fake stamp/postmark on the picture side of the image and bubble lettering that’s asking for a small image inside each letter. This graphic also includes a drop shadow to give the card depth and faked wear and tear on the paper.

It’s trying a little too hard for my taste (though the fake halftone rosettes are great) and ends up in the uncanny valley where it looks like something designed by someone who’s never seen an actual postcard.

The next day Fox wrote about Judge and Maris using what I’m guessing is a reference to a vintage program.* This is an interesting design complete with yellowed paper effects and a less-convincing fake halftone. Clearly not a card but, as with the postcard, it’s drawing on our associations with these things as physical objects.

*It looks very familiar to me but I can’t place it.

I haven’t noticed anything really like these since they started doing the trading card graphics the following week so it kind of feels like the trading cards had exactly the right feel Fox was looking for. I also didn’t see anything like these as I kept digging back in time through Fox’s archives. Nothing in August and I gave up digging in July.

Baseball card megaproject

We may have something fun going on where your help would be awesome. Though the final product will likely take the form of a series of nearly 100 blog articles, it’s also fun to think of this as a really long book, one where each page tells the story of a different baseball card and the book, collectively, not only tells the story of baseball cards but baseball itself.

Think of this post as an example of how the book might begin, though your feedback and ideas may well replace the examples here with even better ones. Definitely let us know your thoughts in the comments, and more importantly, add your card ideas to our Google Sheet.

Page 1

When card collectors think of the number “one,” the card they think of may depend on their age and collecting interests. For collectors of 1952 Topps, it’s Andy Pafko. For Goudey collectors, it’s Benny Bengough. For very new collectors, it may well be Shohei Ohtani or Mike Trout. And for just about everyone in between, the answer is Junior.

1989 Upper Deck #1

Ken Griffey, Jr., not only led off Upper Deck’s debut set but did so emphatically. As if the tamper-resistant packs, the hologrammed cards, the color photo backs, and the high sticker price weren’t enough to make the Hobby take notice, the positioning of Junior at the top of the checklist boldly announced that this was the company that loved unproven rookies just as much as you did.

It’s also possible that this “one” impacted all future “ones.” Prior to 1989, the top slot often went to top stars but sometimes went to record breakers, league leaders, and team cards of World Series winners. Post-Griffey, card one is nearly always a stud if not a statement.

Page Two

The number two is largely ubiquitous in baseball: double plays, two-base hits, a number two starter, and of course the doubleheader. As luck would have it, Topps not only issued a second set of cards, Double Headers, as a companion to its 1955 offering, but the set just happened to include the Hall of Famer most synonymous with doubleheaders, Mr. Let’s Play Two himself. (Apologies to the Iron Man McGinnity die-hards out there.)

1955 Topss Double Headers #31/32

The 1955 Topps Double Headers set must have struck young collectors as completely unique and original: a card that could be folded into a different card (not to mention cards that could be arranged with other cards to build ballpark panoramas)! Older collectors, however, may have recognized its origins and inspiration in a set 44 years earlier, the 1911 Mecca Double Folders. (And for the McGinnity fans, yes, he has a card in it!)

Page Three

The number three in baseball is practically synonymous with a certain Yankee slugger, but we’ll go here instead with a Yankee slayer, Lew Burdette.

1960 Nu-Cards Baseball Hi-Lites #35

Burdette famously pitched and won three complete games, the last two by shutout, to defeat the New York Yankees in 1957 and bring Milwaukee fans their first and only World Series title. In burying the Bombers, Burdette became the first pitcher of the live ball era to record three complete game victories in a World Series, a feat since repeated by both Bob Gibson (1967) and Mickey Lolich (1968).

While cards celebrating historical achievement are commonplace in today’s Hobby (e.g., ToppsNow and Topps “Turn Back the Clock”), this was not always the case. However, the period from 1959-62 was something of a golden age for honoring the past. In addition to the Nu-Cards sets of 1960 and 1961, Topps included “Baseball Thrills” subsets in 1959 and 1961. (The 1961 set also honored past MVPs.) Topps followed this with a “Babe Ruth Special” subset in 1962.

Fleer, meanwhile, made its return to baseball in 1959 with an 80-card set celebrating the life and career of Ted Williams, following up in 1960 and 1961-62 with sets of “Baseball Greats.” Golden Press also joined the fun in 1961 with an all-time greats set issued magazine style.

Page Four

With apologies to Mel Ott, Hack Wilson, and Duke Snider, baseball’s iconic number 4 will always be the Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig. Fittingly, Gehrig is also card #4 in the underrated and under-the-radar 1994 Upper Deck All-Time Heroes set.

1994 Upper Deck All-Time Heroes #4

The scene depicted by the card is one that define’s Lou Gehrig’s life and legacy even more than his statistics or famous streak. “…Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

Page 5

The 1970s blessed the Hobby with no small number of amazing catcher cards, cards which by the way hold their own nicely against any of the top cards of the decade. Rather than declare best, we will focus on first. Five cards into the 1971 Topps set, collectors were greeted with cardboard perfection.

1971 Topps #5

Seriously, what’s not to like? The groovy landscape layout, the black borders, the sizeable All-Star Rookie trophy, a head-first and helmet-free Chuck Dobson, the glorious Oakland green and gold…oh, and the great Thurman Munson! This card has it all!

Nobably, the 1971 Topps Thurman Munson also represents a true rarity in the modern Hobby: a second-year card more coveted than the player’s rookie card. (Another good example is Ron Cey, but the reason is very different. Ditto Cey teammate Steve Garvey.)

Page 6

Many great players have worn the number six, and one top-shelf immortal even carried the nickname Big Six. Still, we’ll go a different direction in selecting a “six” card. Here is Gus Zernial of the Philadephia Athletics seemingly defying the laws of physics with his bat and six baseballs.

1952 Topps #31

The card must have caught the eye of many a young gum chewer in its day, but what does the picture represent? Why six baseballs? Flip the card over and you find the answer: “Gus also tied the major league record for the most home runs in 3 straight games with 6 circuit clouts and hit 7 in 4 straight games to tie the American League mark.”

The year of the record, 1951, was the first of three 30+ home run campaigns for Zernial, his high of 42 coming in 1953. While his 1952 Topps card is more famous today than his stat line, Gus actually retired in 1959 36th on the all-time home run list.

Records aside, the Zernial card stands out in a set filled with portraits and staid baseball poses and offers a “fun factor” that stacks up with even the most whimsical Fleer cards that followed three decades later.

Page 7

Seven can mean many things in baseball: Nolan Ryan’s no-hitters, the number of innings in each half of a Manfred doubleheader, and of course the Mick’s iconic jersey number. Or it can mean a really incredible day at the plate.

1976 Topps #6

Or an amazing run of home run crowns…

1977 Topps #437

Or an amazing run of strikeout crowns!

1973 Fleer Famous Feats #4

Page 8

The number eight in baseball most famously (or infamously!) is associated with scandal: the “Eight Men Out” in the wake of the 1919 World Series. Apart fom later tribute sets, there is no “playing era” set that includes all eight of the Black Sox banned for life. However, the W514 strip card set of 1919-21 comes the closest, offering seven of the eight.

1919-21 W515 cards 3, 15, 31, 35, 82, 91, 105

For readers unfamiliar with strip cards they were, as the name implies, cut from longer strips. In most cases, the cards themselves were not inserted in products the way tobacco and gum cards were. Rather, they were given out to customers as rewards or premiums for buying other things. For example, you might imagine a customer spending a penny on some gumballs and then receiving one of these cards as a token of appreciation for the purchase.

The heyday of strip cards was without a doubt the 1920s, a decade that–along with caramel cards–filled the gap between the tobacco era (1880s-1910s) and the gum era (1930s-1990s). Many collectors find strip cards unappealing due to their hand-cut nature or (often) low quality artwork and printing. If you search the web you will find no shortage of hideous examples. That said, the W514 set is an important one in Hobby history if for nothing else its abundance of Black Sox, and a later strip card set from 1923 is equally notable as it represented the debut of Fleer baseball cards in the Hobby.

Page 9

Nine innings, nine players to a side, and ninety feet between bases…few numbers are more important in baseball than the number nine. Likewise, few players have been as accomplished in baseball as Boston’s number 9, Ted Williams.

1959 Fleer #44

The 1959 Fleer set serves as a cardboard tribute to #9. Its 80 cards chronicle his life and career from boyhood to (then) present day, both on and off the field. At the time it was produced, it was by far the largest single player set to date. (Notable but much smaller sets featured–of course–Babe Ruth and–more surprisingly–Rabbit Maranville.)

Card 44 in the set depicts Williams, still very much in the prime of his career, hanging up his famous jersey as he prepares once more to go off to war. Overall, Williams would miss nearly five full years of baseball in service to his country, and one can only imagine what numbers those five years might have added to his career totals. Fairly conservative estimates might be 170 hits and 30 home runs per year, taking the Splendid Splinter from 2654 hits to around 3500 and from 521 home runs to nearly 700.

Of course, what Ted did do during those five missing seasons mattered too and perhaps added to his legend even more than the extra numbers would have.

Page 10

When modern collectors think “10,” it’s the grade they hope their card receives from popular grading services like PSA, Beckett, or SGC. Where grades are concerned, 10 is synonymous with gem mint, the very top of the scale (ignoring silly modifiers like black diamond elite).

Certainly their thoughts are a million miles away from the obscure ballplayers of more than a century ago who patrolled the outfields of the rainy Pacific Northwest. Or should I say Ten Million miles away?

1909-11 Obak PCL/NWL

The unusually named Ten Million made his only cardboard appearance in the 1909-11 Obak tobacco card set, a set that carried a similar design to the contemporary T206 set of Honus Wagner fame. His card, as you might imagine, represented the largest number (at the time) ever seen on a baseball card, topping the previous record by a factor of a hundred.

Other researchers will have to determine the current record, but we will offer here, perhaps surprisingly, that Ten Million was at least matched a few years later by the 1914 Cracker Jack set.

1914 Cracker Jack Stuffy McInnis

Evidently, before there was junk wax, there were junk jacks!

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

So all of what you just read is the main idea here, but now picture the “pages” extending well beyond 1-10, potentially as high as 792, 793, or even higher. Would there be long stretches of numbers with no interesting cards? Maybe. Would it take forever to finish (or even read!) such a project? Probably! Would readers second-guess many of the cards selected? Definitely!

Well, also in the “definitely” category is that this is way too much work for one or two people to do themselves. Ideally some of you will be interested in–

  • Suggesting cards to feature – add your nominations here!
  • Doing the write-up for a ten-card run, similar to what’s in this sample article
  • Providing some early feedback on what will make this megaproject awesome – feel free to use the Comments area below.

A particular question to consider is whether you’d like to see a strict match between the number we’re writing about and the number on the back of the card, as was the case with Griffey, Gehrig, and Munson above, or if you prefer the variety provided by the Eight Men Out or Ten Million.

A T218 Toehold

One of the pre-war sets I’ve long admired is the 1910–1912 T218 Champions set. The cards are double-sized compared to standard tobacco cards and much of the artwork is spectacular. Unfortunately, there are no baseball cards in the checklist—ruling out obvious samples to pursue and rendering the set mostly irrelevant to this blog.

However, there are a handful of toehold cards to choose from. The big name is alleged Black Sox bag man Abe Attell who features in the boxing portion of the checklist. But there are also Platt Adams, Frank Irons, and Abel Kiviat who as track and field athletes also ended up playing baseball in the 1912 Olympics.

Last month Jason generously sent me a well-loved Frank Irons card. I’m not sure he was aware of the baseball significance as much as he wanted to make sure I had a sample, any sample, of the set.* I don’t care that it’s mighty beat up, I just enjoyed the excuse to go chase down internet reference links about baseball in the 1912 Games.

*I’m generally incapable of getting rid of any cards once I have them.

In those games there was a baseball exhibition between a Swedish club and a US team made up of Track and Field athletes. The result of the game made it to newspapers across the US but it’s a pretty bare-bones story which is more interested in just listing which athletes took part. There is however a PDF of the official report of the 1912 Stockholm games which is much more interesting.

Not only is “Baseball” listed in the Table of Contents,* there’s a writeup of the game, a box score, and a half dozen photos. Not quite as much information as the RG Knowles book had but still a fun read. I’ve gone ahead and screenshotted the PDF so I can summarize here.

*Since the PDF page numbering is messed up due to bilingual pages sharing the same page number the fact that Baseball starts on page 823 doesn’t help you navigate the PDF a all.

Because this is an official report about the games, the summary centers the Swedish experience. This is actually awesome since baseball had only reached Sweden in 1910 and they were still grappling with some of the fundamentals—especially regarding pitching—two years later.

Specifically, they hadn’t figured out how to throw curveballs and were worried about their ability to hit them as well. They ended up borrowing three pitchers and one catcher from the US team in order to have a semblance of fairness in the competition. While they were concerned about hitting, they do appear to have been proud of getting five hits and took special pride in Wickman’s* double.

*I can’t find a first name for him anywhere.

Of the toehold guys, two played in this game. Frank Irons was the starting left fielder, went 1 for 2, and made one put out. Abel Kiviat meanwhile played the whole game at shortstop, going 2 for 4, hitting a triple, stealing a base, scoring twice, and making two put outs.* Platt Adams only played in a USA vs USA game** but his brother Ben was the starting pitcher for Sweden.

*There’s a more US-focused writeup of the game which goes more into Kiviat as the star of he game as well.

*Which didn’t make it into the official report and Wikipedia doesn’t have a source for the  second box score. Jim Thorpe also supposedly played in the second game (the first one was the same day as the decathlon competition); no idea if he had found his shoes by then.

A couple other items of note. I cannot express how much I enjoy Sweden bragging about being able to play ball until 10pm in the summer. The location of the game still exists as a sporting facility. And the umpire of the game was none other than Hall of Famer George Wright.

The report also has a half-dozen photos of the game. The team photo of the Swedish side is great and the other photos showing Swedish action in the game are a lot of fun too. As I noted earlier it’s clear that the Swedes took pride in their five hits since one of the four game highlights is Wickman’s double while another is Welin’s single.

I do wish we had more photos of the US players—or at least a team photo—but I can’t complain about what’s here.

The All-Funky 1970s All-Star team as selected by Dan Epstein

This past Saturday the SABR Chicago chapter was honored to welcome renowned author and 1970s savant Dan Epstein (Big Hair and Plastic Grass, Stars and Strikes) for a discussion of his latest book (co-authored with Ron Blomberg), The Captain & Me: On and Off the Field with Thurman Munson.

At the end of the meeting Dan was gracious enough to offer up his “All Funky 1970s All-Star Team.” With Dan’s permission I am sharing his squad here on the SABR Baseball Cards blog. Each selection is illustrated with the 1970s baseball card I think best captures the player’s funkiness.

CATCHERMANNY SANGUILLEN

FIRST BASE – DICK ALLEN

SECOND BASE – TITO FUENTES

THIRD BASE – BILL MADLOCK

SHORTSTOP – GARRY TEMPLETON

RIGHT FIELDCOBRA

CENTER FIELDGARRY MADDOX

LEFT FIELDJOSE CARDENAL

STARTING PITCHERSLUIS TIANT, BILL LEE, MARK FIDRYCH, VIDA BLUE, DOCK ELLIS

BULLPENSPARKY LYLE (LH), DON STANHOUSE (RH)

DESIGNATED HITTEROSCAR GAMBLE

PINCH HITTERJOHN LOWENSTEIN

PINCH RUNNERLARRY LINTZ

UTILITY MANLENNY RANDLE

MASCOTTHE CHICKEN

OWNERBILL VEECK

Note: No 1970s baseball card of Veeck was available, so I went with one from 1980.

WANT MORE?

Check the video around the 45:23 mark to listen to Dan’s rationales and honorable mentions for this super funky squad or—even better—to catch the entire #StayHomeWithSABR presentation.

Dan shares his all-funky team with SABR Chicago

Cover Boys

A few months ago, after we lost Henry Aaron, there was discussion on Twitter suggesting that Aaron had been short-changed by magazine covers during his career, especially by Sports Illustrated and SPORT. I will set aside SI for now (later, I hope), but I might be able to help with the SPORT issue.

I am an avowed fan of the heyday of SPORT. The magazine debuted in September 1946, and was a haven for long-form sports articles for 30 years. (It hung on into the 1990s, though I can not speak the later years.) I have written about SPORT before, so read this if you want the full story.

I own a complete run of SPORT through 1976, and I have used the magazine dozens of times for my own writing–for my own books, but especially for countless BioProject articles. We have made much progress in our ability to do research via the internet–many newspapers are on-line, the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated. But not SPORT, and really there was nothing else like it. So my hardcopies remain.

A couple of years ago, I spent some time creating postcard-sized copies of every SPORT cover and putting them in a binder. Long-term I want to place a subject index in each pocket so that my binder would also be useful. I’m But for now, I just have the postcards.

I recently went through my binder to count the number of times people appeared on a cover. Before presenting the answers, I wanted to explain how I counted. SPORT has employed many different cover designs over the years. Often they have just shown a single player as the cover subject, sometimes they have two or more players share a cover, and occasionally they will have one primary subject but one or more secondary subjects. Rather than make things overly complicated, I decided to keep two counts: primary, and secondary. A few examples should help.

On the left, Willie Mays is the primary subject. On the right, Ted Williams and Stan Musial are each primary subjects.

On the left, Dick Groat is the primary subject and Mickey Mantle and Jim Taylor are secondary subjects. On the right, there are 20 secondary subjects (none named, which tilted the decision).

There are some judgment calls, and one could argue that I really needed four categories, or eight categories. Ultimately, I didn’t feel the subject warranted Yalta-level deliberations.

To return to where we started, Henry Aaron was a primary subject on four SPORT covers.

It is unfortunate that neither the June 1962 or July 1968 photos filled the entire cover. Surely they would today be mounted and framed all across this land. They may still be.

Is four covers a low total? Baseball dominated SPORT covers and articles throughout much of Aaron’s career, at least until the late 1960s. SPORT was a monthly magazine, so there were generally only 7 or 8 baseball covers per year to go around and lots of other stars.

The all-time leaders (through 1976, counting only covers as a primary subject, and counting only baseball players) are Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, with 16 covers each.

This August 1959 cover is the only one they graced together, albeit with two other players.

Here are the primary cover leaders:

  • 16: Mantle, Mays
  • 9: Ted Williams, Stan Musial
  • 7: Joe DiMaggio
  • 6: Rocky Colavito, Sandy Koufax, Jackie Robinson
  • 5: Frank Robinson, Duke Snider, Warren Spahn
  • 4: Aaron, Yogi Berra, Eddie Mathews, Pete Rose, Carl Yastrzemski, Maury Wills

All of these players are Hall of Famers with the exceptions of Colavito, Rose, and Wills, with Rocky by far the most surprising entry.

Colavito was a fine player, a six-time all-star who hit 30+ home runs seven times. He was no Henry Aaron, even in on his best day, but he was a very popular player in Cleveland and Detroit. SPORT was trying to sell magazines, and under no obligation to put the “best player” on the cover. However, it must be said that Colavito also bested Aaron inside the magazine, with 12 feature stories during his career to Aaron’s 11, despite Henry being a great player long after Rocky had washed out of the league. (Both Mays and Mantle had 30).

It would be naive to ignore race in this matter. Perhaps not directly–Aaron was well-liked and celebrated often in the pages of SPORT. But the magazine’s belief in Colavito as a story or cover subject, and the popularity of Colavito generally, stands out in a time when most of the bright young stars entering the game were Latino or African-American.

Roberto Clemente and Ernie Banks were featured on the cover of SPORT once each, shown above. Both were frequent story subjects (Banks 12, Clemente 11) but could not crack the cover code. Bob Gibson, the best and most famous pitcher in the world in the late 1960s, never graced the cover of SPORT magazine. On the other hand, Joe DiMaggio, who retired in 1951, made the cover five times in the 1960s.

SPORT did put Mays on the cover 16 times, and gave him their biggest honor on their 25th anniversary issue. SPORT loved Mays, as did every other sports magazine of the era. Heck, he also graced the covers of Look, Life, and Time. Mays is in his own special category.

SPORT’s baseball covers in the 1960s seemed to rotate between the nostalgia (DiMaggio, Ruth, Williams), a new emerging hero (Dean Chance, Johnny Callison) or a superstar. When they wanted the latter, Mantle and Mays were often the chosen ones, and famous stars like Gibson, Clemente, or Brooks Robinson (1 cover) were left out.

If I can find the time, I might make postcards for Sports Illustrated baseball covers. (Lawyers: I am not selling anything, just putting them in a binder for my own use.)

In the meantime, I will settle for 30 years of SPORT.

Covering the Bases: 1986 Topps #85 Tony Perez (w/ guest Eric Davis)

To me the best baseball cards tell a story. One of those cards is Topps final offering for Tony Perez.

1986 Topps #85 Tony Perez

The story here is obvious, The featured player is Tony Perez one of the key members to the 1970s era Big Red Machine which won a pair of World Championships. He is greeted at the plate by teammate Eric Davis whose promising career is just beginning. Davis would go on to be a key member of the Reds next World Championship in 1990. The scene is a torch passing between the franchises two most recent championship squads.

Clearing the Bases

CTB is a feature where we take a deep dive into a single card. Since this Photo appears to be game footage one of the fun directions to go is “Guess the Game”.

Couple of easily discerned facts on this image. We need a game in the Perez/Davis crossover, Both players are wearing their road greys, and they appear to be celebrating a Perez Home Run.

Checking Baseball-Ref we find Tony Perez and Eric Davis were teammates for two seasons 1984-85. During that time Tony hit 8 of his 379 career Home Runs. However of those eight only TWO were hit on the road. May 21 1985 at Wrigley Field and October 6th 1985 at Dodger Stadium.

Checking the boxes of those two games is easy enough, May 21 was a Reds 5-2 victory over the Cubs. Perez Home Run was a solo shot off starter Ray Fotenot in the fourth inning. And the on-Deck Hitter was (…Drum Roll…) Eric Davis!

So we have a candidate, but we must check box #2

October 6 1985, Another W for the Reds 6-5 vs the Dodgers. In this game Tony Homered in the 3rd inning – also a solo shot. We check who is on-deck and find….. Nick Esasky! No Eric Davis. In Fact Davis was nowhere near the circle as he batted earlier that inning. Interestingly he had also homered – two batters in front of Perez.

There you have it, the game featured on Hall of Famer Tony Perez’s final card was a Reds 5-2 Win over the Cuibs at Wrigley Field in a game played on May 21 1985.

But Wait there’s more

The 1985 Reds season was chronicled by the prolific author Pete Rose who has “written” roughly a dozen autobiographies. “Countdown to Cobb” is Rose’s account of the season in which he broke Ty Cobb’s all-time hit record. In addition to being a player Rose was also the teams manager. On the field he played first base in a platoon with, You got it, today’s hero Tony Perez.

And fortunately Perez’s Home Run was significant enough to make Rose’s 1985 Diary.

It’s only three sentences in two short paragraphs but it gives us some background into the Home Run featured on Perez’s final card. Despite being in pursuit of the All-Time hit record, and being a Switch-Hitter Rose often sat himself versus Left Handed pitching.

Fortunately for Perez, Rose and the Reds starting Perez paid off and baseball fans who enjoy digging into the minutia of trading cards have another card with a story to collect.

This concludes this edition of Covering the Bases, thanks for humoring me while we played guess the game and took a deep dive into a single baseball card.

Sources Links

Baseball-Reference

Countdown to Cobb (Pete Rose/Hal Bodley)

Phungo Tony Perez HOF Index

Collecting Glenn Burke

I spent last weekend reading the new Andrew Maraniss book “Singled Out,” which tells the story of Dodgers/Athletics outfielder Glenn Burke (SABR bio forthcoming). Of course, Burke was much more than the player suggested by his stat line, as the book’s cover reminds us. He is of historical and cultural importance for two firsts, one of which has become ubiquitous in the sport and another that remains largely invisible.

I won’t use this space to retell Burke’s story, though I will offer that Andrew’s book does an excellent job adding detail and humanity to what many fans might know only at the level of a basic plotline. Rather, I’ll focus on collecting.

I’m probably like many of you in that the more I learn about a particular player the more I want to add some of their cards to my collection. (I’ve avoided Jane Leavy’s outstanding Babe Ruth book thus far for just this reason!) What then are the “must have” Glenn Burke cards and collectibles out there?

Owing to the brevity of Glenn’s MLB career, he has only two Topps cards from his playing days, one with the Dodgers and one with the A’s.

For some collectors, that right there would be the end of the line. Others might add Burke’s 1979 O-Pee-Chee card, whose front differs from the Topps issue only by the company logo featured on the baseball.

As a huge fan of all things Aronstein (even his kid!), I also consider the 1978 SSPC Glenn Burke a must-have. (Unlike the 1976 SSPC set, these cards were only found as “All Star Gallery” magazine inserts and appear a bit less plentiful.)

Andrew’s book devotes quite a bit of time to Glenn’s journey through the minors, including one heckuva brawl that broke out between Glenn’s Waterbury Dodgers and the Quebec Carnavals. What better way to memorialize the incident, in which Glenn played a starring role, than with Glenn’s 1975 TCMA “pre-rookie” card?

Counting the OPC, we’re now up to five cards in all, or just over half a plastic sheet. To expand our card collecting further, we’ll need to look at Burke’s post-career cardboard.

Thanks to the tour de force known as the 1990 Target Dodgers set (more than 1000 cards in all!), we can add this card to our Burke page.

While other collectors might add it to their lists, I’m neither compulsive nor completist enough to bother with Burke’s 2016 Topps “Buyback,” which is simply his 1979 Topps card stamped with a red 65th anniversary emblem.

Beyond these catalogued releases, Mike Noren included Burke in his 2020 Gummy Arts set. The card fills a gap in Burke’s Topps run by utilizing the 1977 flagship design and furthermore memorializes Burke’s place in “high five” history (though readers of Andrew’s book will recognize that its image is not the first Burke/Baker high five).

I, myself, have added to the world of Glenn Burke collectibles, sending my own “card art” to fellow Burke fans.

Perhaps we will even see one of the Topps Project70 artists produce a Glenn Burke card before set’s end. Definitely at least a few of the artists are pretty big Dodger fans.

Either way, the universe of Glenn Burke baseball cards remains extremely limited at present. On the other hand, why stop at cards? There were three other items I ran across in Andrew’s book that I believe are worthwhile items for Burke collectors.

The first is this Dodger yearbook from 1981, whose cover features a Baker/
Garvey high five in place of Burke/Baker but nonetheless speaks to the rapid spread and ascension of the high five across the sporting world, if not society at large.

Another collectible in magazine form is the October 1982 “Inside Sports” that featured Burke’s coming out story, “The Double Life of a Gay Dodger.”

A final Burke collectible is one I never would have known about if not for Andrew’s book. As a nine-year-old kid in 1961, Glenn sang backup on the Limeliters album “Through Children’s Eyes,” released by RCA Victor in 1962. I wouldn’t be my life, but I believe Burke is the first kid in the row second from the top.

At the moment, give or take autographs that could potentially adorn all but the most recent of these items and excluding truly unique items, I’ll call this the almost full set of Glenn Burke collectibles.

A final category I find intriguing and perhaps undervalued is ticket stubs, in which case the following items would likely be of greatest interest.

  • MLB debut – April 9, 1976 Dodgers at Giants
  • First high five (and first MLB HR) – October 2, 1977 Astros at Dodgers
  • Pride Night feat. ceremonial first pitch from brother Sydney Burke – June 17, 2015 Padres at A’s

It also wouldn’t surprise me to see the Dodgers, A’s, or the Bobblehead Hall of Fame issue a Glenn Burke bobblehead one of these days. And in the meantime, there’s always Patrick’s Custom Painting, who fashioned this Starting Lineup figure for “Hall of Very Good” podcast co-host Lou Olsen and has applied his talents to bobbleheads as well.

Roberto Alomar: Un Pelotero Especial

One of the joys of living in Cooperstown is the annual Friends of the Village Library Used Book Sale. Well, sort of annual. The summer sale was called off due to the plague, but the resourceful volunteers at FOVL cobbled together a weeklong sale last week.

There are always cool finds beyond the scads of Danielle Steeles, Sean Hannitys and John Grishams. This is an old community, and ancient books tend to pop up now and then. This is not a diverse community, so I was shocked to see two Spanish language baseball books – La Maquinaria Perfecta, about the 1954-55 Santurce Cangrejeros and Roberto Alomar: Un Pelotero Especial.

My affection for Robbie Alomar is deep. He was always a favorite of mine, but looms large in our family history because, while we awaited the birth of our second son (in January 1993), I was watching the Jays-A’s playoffs while we discussed potential names. By the time Alomar blasted a 9th inning home run off Dennis Eckersley is Game 4 of the ALCS, it was decided – Robbie (officially Robert Samuel). I’ve met Alomar a few times. The first time I told him my son was named for him. He was stunned. (One of my favorite memories was when we met, again, at a Hall of Fame event, and when I went up to him for a photo he said, “I know you.” Validation!)

Back to the book. It a thick, oversized, glossy tribute, with tons of fantastic pictures. One Appendix has a terrific smattering of Alomar cards – official issues, Baseball Cards Magazine custom, Gary Cieradowski art card, minor league cards. It’s a feast that I had to share.

As to Robbie himself, it’s almost required that someone feels compelled to chime in about the spitting incident. Don’t. I don’t know the guy, but he’s been nice every time we’ve met. For him, don’t judge a person at their worst.  For you, I wish the same.

Book Review: “Hall of Name” by D.B. Firstman

Having already written about my Wall of Fame, the Hall of Fame, and even the Hall of Game I suppose it was only natural that I write today about the Hall of Name. (Note that a different blogger already covered the Hall of Same.) Specifically, I’m referring to “Hall of Name: Baseball’s Most Magnificent Monikers from ‘The Only Nolan’ to ‘Van Lingle Mungo’ and More,” which is the brand new book (Amazon | Barnes & Noble) from Casey Stengel chapter member D.B. Firstman.

Baseball fans and card collectors alike have always had a special place in our hearts for the players with the funny names. Before I even knew who the players were or which players were stars (apart from the Topps all-star shield telling me so), I knew I found something special in my pack when I landed one of these guys!

I also was fortunate to have friends more mature and sophisticated than I was who were able to educate me on the downright naughtiness of other pulls.

Fast forward to high school when I opened packs with friends. There were two kinds of players worthy of call-outs: the superstars and…you guessed it, the guys with the funny names! (See below for simulated pack opening with subtitles.)

In “Hall of Name,” D.B. Firstman goes beyond the pack and quick smirk to bring us a complete (pending volume two) log of “magnificent monikers” across all of baseball history and a level of depth previously unseen if even imagined.

Opening to a random page (90-91), for example, we find Milton Obelle Bradley, gamely described by D.B. as having a “Life” that’s been nothing but “Trouble.” (Well played, DB!) We get not only a fairly detailed biography of the player, but a number of bonus features including his full name’s etymology (though even D.B. came up empty on Obelle), his case for “Hall of Name” membership, his best day in baseball, a list of various people, places, and things not to confuse the player with, and some fun anagrams. Many of my friends who are Cubs fans will find Bradley’s anagram particularly fitting!

Boldly intolerable me!

Finally, D.B. ends each write-up with an “Ephemera” section. Usually this section houses the fun off-the-field tidbits that didn’t quite fit a baseball bio. In Bradley’s case, however, the tidbits are distinctly not fun.

Firstman’s book is organized into four sections. Were the Hall of Name an actual museum, you might imagine each section as a wing. The first wing, “Baseball Poets and Men of Few (Different) Letters” is rich in alliteration and mostly made up of players whose names simply sound good: Coco Crisp, Ferris Fain (whose side hustle was news to me!), Ed Head, and the like.

The second wing is the one many readers might just skip to: “Dirty Names Done Dirt Cheap.” The aforementioned Mr. LaCock resides in this section alongside other coquettish (ahem!) choices as Johnny Dickshot, Charlie Manlove, and Tony Suck. I’d continue, but this is a family blog.

Next up are the “Sounds Good to Me” players. In this wing we find Rocky Cherry, Quinton McCracken, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and the like. My 1978 Topps name-crushes, Sixto Lezcano and Biff Pocoroba, make it into this section as well.

Finally, D.B. closes the book with “No Focus Group Convened,” a catch-all of the 40+ players from Atz to Zdeb whose exclusion would have led many readers to cancel their Hall of Name memberships. “What, no Harry Colliflower?! No Mark Lemongello?! What’s the freaking point then?”Among the other players enshrined in this wing are Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish, Bris Lord, and Ivey Wingo.

“Hall of Name” isn’t explicitly a baseball card book, even if there is some occasional baseball card content. For instance, the “Ephemera” section of the Callix Crabbe write-up notes the mix-up that led to Carlos Guevara’s appearance on Crabbe’s 2008 Topps card.

However, the first thing most of us took notice of (1953 Bowman collectors aside) when we rifled through our first packs of cards was the player’s name. Good chance most of us still do it today. What is the magic of opening a pack, after all, if not to reveal who’s inside!

Plus, if not for the name, would you really have any idea this was a Pete Alonso card or even a baseball card at all? (Then again, is it?!)

In this sense then, “Hall of Name,” while clearly a baseball book, is also a baseball card book that focuses on one very specific feature—perhaps the most important feature—of our cards: the names of the players.

Through D.B.’s enjoyable book, we are not only reminded of (or introduced to) the very best baseball names, past and present, but we further see each name turn into a story, and with it, each card in our collections escape its two-dimensional trappings to become something fuller, richer, and (dare I say) human, if not positively Devine!

Author’s note: “Hall of Name” is now available for pre-order through Amazon and (last I checked even cheaper at) Barnes & Noble.

Toehold

I wrote about a selection of Exhibit/Arcade cards I got on my own blog but there are enough of them to warrant a toehold post here as well.

We’ve had a handful of posts about Exhibit Cards here before but haven’t had a post specifically dedicated to them yet.* This is not going to be that post except to note that Exhibits are kind of wonderful because they represent a different method of card collecting and distribution and a different direction that the hobby could’ve gone.

*A good writeup is over on Sports Collectors Digest but I’d love to see more here as well.

Instead of packs of cards and the association with food and gum products, Exhibits are clearly photo products and place baseball players in the same ecosystem as Hollywood stars, cowboys, pinups, etc. of pop idols that fans would want to collect and display. Instead of products like photo packs you purchased at concession stands in stadiums, you bought your Exhibits from a vending machine in an arcade or store and you got what you got.

By the time I was a kid the only thing left being sold like this was mini plastic football helmets. It amazes me that there was an era when you could get 3.5″×5″ photo cards instead. Anyway while cards of Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, Clark Gable, and Jimmy Stewart are lots of fun, this is a baseball card blog so I’m only going to write about the cards of baseball-related stars.

I was super-pleased to find cards of Abbott and Costello in my batch. Who’s on First* is a comedy classic that’s in the Hall of Fame because it’s not only required viewing for any baseball fan but one which I suspect we’ve all memorized as well.

*Link included as part of standard practices. 

A couple springs ago I was coaching Little League and had a kindergartner named Hugh on my team. Did I put him at first base? It would’ve been irresponsible and negligent not to.

Anyway these Exhibits appear to date to the 1940s and so represent this pair at the height of their popularity. I especially like that Costello’s salutation is “Yours for fun.”

There are a lot of Cowboy Exhibit cards but the only one in my batch was Gene Autry. I should probably have scheduled this post for Christmas to coincide with Here Comes Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, but things were busy and it was Autry’s involvement first with the Hollywood Stars and then as the primary owner of the Los Angeles California Anaheim Angels which makes him relevant here.

It’s funny, for someone like me who learned about the game in the 1980s, Autry should’ve been someone  I knew first as a team owner. I didn’t though. He was always the singing cowboy and showman first for me and I have to remind myself that he was involved with baseball for much longer than he was recording.

Some of this though is probably because by the time I was learning about baseball the only owners I was truly aware of were the ones like Marge Schott and George Steinbrenner who were in the news for all the wrong reasons. Autry with his hands-off nature is exactly the kind of owner that I can see Angels fans loving and everyone else not knowing anything about.

The last baseball-related Exhibit has turned out to be one of my favorites of the batch. Yes I like her even over Abbott and Costello. Laraine Day is not exactly a household name as a movie star but the tabloid scandal of her marriage to Leo Durocher and her subsequent involvement with the New York Giants makes her card something I’m considering moving out of the non-sport/non-baseball album and into my Giants album.

While she was married to Durocher she wrote a book about her life with the team* and even appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. If what I’ve been able to find around the web is accurate this cover upset a number of racists in the United States due to Day’s “embracing” of Mays.

*I’ll probably have to pull that book from the library just to take a peek (having access to the university library is a nice perk).

That’s about it for now. We’ll see if anything more shows up in the next batch of non-baseball cards I get.