R.G. Knowles 1901–02 Ogden’s Tabs

Last week I received a surprise mailing of pre-war cards from Anson Whaley, the proprietor of prewarcards.com who many of us turn to whenever we have questions an anything pre-war. I treat these mailings as an opportunity to google the subjects of the cards and hopefully come across an interesting Wikipedia page that leads me down a rabbit hole.

In this case, it wasn’t a Wikipedia rabbit hole I fell in to but rather a Google Books one. Anson sent me a dozen 1901–02 Ogden’s Cigarettes General Interest cards. A couple sporting subjects but mostly non-sports miscellany—actors, politicians, ships, etc.

One of them was a Mr. R.G. Knowles. The first round of googling confirmed his short bio. He was indeed a comedian who styled himself as “The Peculiar American.” But I also learned that his full name was “Richard George Knowles” so I decided to try googling that too. The result? A link to a book called Baseball written in 1896 in England.

At first I thought this must be a different Richard George Knowles but I figured it was worth flipping through the book just to make sure. Lo and behold on page 65 I found an author photo. To my eyes it looks like the same face (no comment on the hairstyle).

This is pretty cool. My general interest card just turned into a baseball card. So I went back and downloaded the PDF from Google so I could take a deeper look at the book. It’s basically a baseball primer for an English audience more familiar with Rounders and Cricket but is also a great snapshot of the state of the game in the mid-1890s on both sides of the Atlantic.

The player lives in a world limited to three bases, a home plate, and two foul lines, and, for a couple of hours or so, finds relief from business cares, and snatches a holiday for his brain.

The first chapter is about baseball in general. It starts off building baseball up as a game of intelligence where draws are impossible, skills are required in all facets of the game, and failure can be minimized due to the number of repeated chances a batter gets. Much of this reads as an implicit comparison to Cricket which doesn’t feature baserunning and a batter only gets to bat twice a match.

It then goes into describing how to lay out a baseball field. It’s impossible for me to state how much I love this section so I’ll just paste the full text in here in case anyone wants to lay out their own baseball field.

Procure a heavy cord one hundred and eighty feet in length. Tie three knots in it, one at sixty feet five inches, one at ninety feet, and the other at one hundred and twenty-seven feet four inches.

Then, at the outer point of the home plate, drive a peg in the ground, and attach the line to it. Extend the line straight out to the third knot, and at that limit mark the second base. The knot is the centre of the base. Care must be taken that the cord be kept taut, and absolutely straight from the peg at the home plate to the centre of the second base, for the first knot, at sixty feet five inches, must now be taken to indicate the centre of the pitcher’s plate. When this has been duly marked, have one end of the hundred and eighty feet line held at the centre of second base, and keep the other end secured at the home plate as before. Then take hold of the second knot, at ninety feet, which is, of course, in the exact centre of the cord, and walk out with it to the corner of the diamond which is to mark the first base. Keep walking until the line is taut on both sides, and, at that point, mark the first base. Repeat this in the opposite direction, and mark the third base. The diamond is then complete.

That R.G. Knowles goes on to say that when he was a kid he used to carry a ball of string with the requisite knots in it just in case he needed to create a diamond for other kids is just wonderful. Do I think he’s telling the truth? Of course not. (since when have kids cared about proper dimensions when playing a game) But I love the sentiment.

The man who evinces a quick grasp and comprehension of the points of play, and who is also gifted with the capacity of being witty, is a very desirable person for the post.

The second chapter describes each position, including the “coachers” and umpire. Not much to say about the players except to note that second base is treated as the key position on the diamond. The umpire is similarly familiar in how he’s charged with being in control of the game.  The coaches though are specifically the first and third base coaches and get a lot more description than any of the fielders. Aside from coaching the baserunners one of their jobs is to distract the fielders with banter.

Chapter three is the rules of the game. I didn’t read this one thoroughly since it appears to be mostly the same as current rules. I did notice however that things like the 18″ “pine tar” rule as well as the 3-foot running lane to first base already exist.

The next chapter though is great since it’s all about keeping score. Seeing different scoring methods is one of my favorite things and this section’s method is one of the most distinct ones I’ve come across. While it looks superficially like modern scorekeeping it’s vasty different.

To start off, shortstop is position #5 and thirdbase is #6. But everything else is different too. Instead of being a progression around the diamond each square is read left to right.

We also don’t have the now-standard abbreviations that I learned as a kid and which I’ve taught my kids. Take for example the following progression.

This represents a single, stolen base, advancing to third on an error (wild throw), and scoring on a passed ball. The only thing recognizable about this is putting an X or coloring int he diamond when someone scores.

Outs are a lot more familiar. This represents a ground out to the shortstop for the first out of the inning. Aside from the difference in position numbering this is pretty much the same thing I do today.

The rest of the chapter includes a bunch more examples of dealing with other possibilities available during a game. S–O are strikeouts. TI means advancing on a throw. S–H is a sacrifice. FF is a foul out. Very much the same kinds of things that happen in today‘s game and definitely sets baseball apart as a game which has always been obsessed with detail and replaying the events of games past.

The last four chapters of the book discuss the state of the game in 1895. Two chapters each devoted to Baseball in England and Baseball in America.

Among the people present at this christening of the game in London were: Buffalo Bill, General B. Williams (U.S. Army), Colonel Ochiltree, Mrs. Mackay, Mrs. Henry Labouchere, Mrs. T. P. O’Connor, Mrs. Alice Shaw, Dr. Maitland Coffin, Miss Blanche Rooseveldt, Mr. and Mrs. Tyars, Miss Hallett, Miss Helen Dauvray, Mrs. Conover, and Mr. W. Chapman. As a pressman summed it up, it was an audience of society folk, mummers and Mexicans, Cowboys and Cossacks, Gauchos and Indians.

The England chapter starts off listing a few exhibitions by American teams that failed to make any impressions before getting into a description of an exhibition between the Clapham Common nine—a team of Americans living in London who also appear to be members of the London Thespians—and a team of the Cowboys attached to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show at Earl’s Court. The game took place on July 13 1892 and Knowles includes an absolutely wonderful box score.

Where our author is batting third and playing second base in the scorecard, in the box score he’s batting fifth and playing second base (and pitcher) for the London Thespians Club.* This means that not only is my Ogden a card of a baseball writer, it’s of an actual nineteenth-century baseball player. Also the descriptions of the day jobs of the Wild West club players are something I could never in my wildest dreams have dreamed up.

*Especially appropriate given how Knowles is identified on his Ogden as a comedian.

Clearly fielding was not a strong suit for either team though I find it noteworthy that the concept of earned runs is prominent enough to be mentioned as a team stat. I also notice that the Wild West pitcher struck out 14 Thespians and that those putouts appear to be credited to the pitcher instead of the catcher. Oh and despite a cumulative 34 errors the game only lasted just over two hours.

The rest of the England chapters describe the growth of the league over the following years, the difficulty in finding good umpires, additional visits from American teams, hybrid baseball vs cricket exhibitions, and descriptions of a half-dozen baseball grounds.

The following chapter is all biographies of men associated with baseball in England from the President of the London Baseball Association Thomas Dewar to representative English players and representative American players in England.

The greatest interest centres in the professional teams that bear the names of such cities as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Brooklyn, St. Louis, Washington, Louisville, and Cleveland.

This takes us to the final two chapters which detail the state of baseball in America in 1895. America seems baseball mad with an insatiable appetite for the results of games in progress. The growth of the professional game from individual teams to multiple leagues is markedly different than the amateur struggles Knowles describes in England.

Instead of detailing individual games like he does with the England summary, the 1895 season is described as a pennant race where the standing for a given day are reported instead of the game results until Baltimore clinched the pennant for the second year in a row. Burkett, Delehanty, and Keeler are listed as the top batsmen with Hawley, Rusie, and Young being the best pitchers.

Then we have essentially a biography of Harry Wright, the “Father of Professional Baseball,” as written by Henry Chadwick to close out the book. There’s a glossary, some more rules, an index, and a whole bunch of great advertisements which are too good not to share.

Angel in Cooperstown

Induction Weekend in Cooperstown is the best. If you’ve never been here for it, work on it! Before I moved to Cooperstown I’d never been to Induction. Now, I’d never miss it.

From Friday to Monday, there are events, vendors, signings, player sightings, a baseball fans dream. (Where else can you see Tony Oliva walking down the street, unaccosted?). On Saturday, Main Street is closed and becomes the best baseball block party in the country.

Last month, I worked the Cooperstown Rotary Club tent, selling raffles for an autographed baseball. I loved doing that, standing on Main St., gabbing about baseball with people who do and don’t know me. I have a very small level of fame, so I do get to meet some social media pals in real life. This year, I had an expected treat.

Three men stopped by the tent and one, Angel Colon, was a gift. He’s involved with SABR in Puerto Rico and we talked at length. Angel is involved in many things – using different braches from various trees felled during the devastating hurricane and turning them into baseball bats, creating a book about major leaguers who have played in Puerto Rico –

but the one that grabbed me the most, and fits our little world, is the 40 card set he created of Puerto Rican


League stars.

With work from the great Gary Cieradkowski, the set is tobacco card sized and portrays Major, Negro and Puerto Rican legends. It’s spectacular. The more we talked about the cards, the book, baseball, and Puerto Rico, the more I realized that Angel needed a bigger audience.

The next day, a few hours after Induction, is our annual Cliff Kachline Chapter meeting. It’s our biggest of the year, bringing in SABR members from all over the country. We had a huge lineup – Jane Leavy, Erik Sherman, Jay Jaffe and….me. I was going to talk about Friends of Doubleday, the 501c3 (I’m President) which raises money for Doubleday Field improvements (contact me for more info. There’s cool stuff happening) and the coming Doubleday renovations. It seemed clear to me that Angel was more interesting. I asked him to speak in my place and, though he’d never spoken to a group in public, he accepted. Of course, he killed.

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On top of this, Angel gifted me a copy of the SABR Puerto Rico book and, to my shock and joy, the complete card set! It’s a wondrous series of cards and you should get one too.  Angel’s contact info is here. Reach out. You won’t regret it.

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Jim Bouton, 1939–2019

Jim Bouton died last Wednesday after a long battle with the effects of a 2012 stroke. He was 80.

As you have likely read over the past week, Bouton meant a lot to a lot of people. I was one. Our paths crossed a few times, but his importance is always going to be about his book.

My first run-in with Jim Bouton was with his 1968 Topps card, pictured up top. I was seven that summer and my card collection was limited by my meager finances. But when the final series came out in August I must have had nickels bursting out of my pockets, because I ended up with dozens (says my memory) of this card (#562).

I had no interest in doubles even then (I would have gladly traded you my extra Henry Aaron if you had Dick Dietz), but, let’s be real, who was Jim Bouton anyway? I knew nothing of baseball prior to … maybe a year earlier? He was not in the Yankee box scores or in the Yankee games I was able to watch — because (I later learned) in June he had been demoted to the minor leagues (which might as well have been Mars). He was a minor leaguer?

Bouton had been a star a few years before, but whatever. I remember watching Eddie Mathews pinch hit in the 1968 World Series and being flabbergasted that the announcers claimed he used to be a good player. This guy?

So anyway, I suspect that one or two of the 1968 Bouton cards ended up in my bicycle spokes at some point. He would never appear on a Topps card again.

The next year Topps — who gave absolutely everyone a card — did not give one to Bouton, who in March was a non-roster invitee by the expansion Seattle Pilots.

Topps gave a card to Fred Newman, who had not pitched in the majors in 1968 and threw just six innings in 1967. He was a spring training invite for the Red Sox, and quickly released, but Topps gave him a Red Sox card anyway. He never pitched in the majors again.

Let me be clear: none of this is meant to criticize Topps. Card selection was a tricky business, with multiple series allowing for delaying identifying the last series or two until April. What I love about Topps cards in this era is that they tried to include everyone, even guys who (with the benefit of hindsight) seem like extreme long shots to play, so it looks wrong when someone is missing. Most of the 1969 set was printed before the Pilots even got to camp, and Topps made an educated guess that of the dozens of available options Bouton did not warrant a late series card. His brief demotion to Triple-A in April might have sealed the deal.

In 1969 Bouton pitched for the expansion Pilots and then the Astros. I watched a handful of Red Sox – Pilots games, and I am sure I saw Bouton a few times. But he was just a guy in the bullpen, the guy whose 1968 cards were spread all over my room. I gave him little thought.

Although Bouton pitched essentially the entire season in the majors in 1969, he again did not get a Topps card in 1970. This case seems particularly odd, and makes one wonder if he had an issue with Topps. He was a strong union guy, but the union had settled their Topps dispute in late 1968, which is why the 1970 set is so spectacular. A mystery, to me at least.

He pitched briefly (and mostly poorly) that year before again being exiled to the minors, but 1970 ended up being the most pivotal year of his life. His book — Ball Four — came out and caused quite a stir, and his cards would never be commons again. Forgive me, 1968 Bouton card — I didn’t mean it!

I was an early devotee of his book, reading it age 10 and then reading it continually thereafter. The baseball, the humor, the writing, the politics, the self-doubt — there is something on every page. But enough self-examination …

I didn’t really start buying older cards (cards issued prior to my collecting) until I was in high school and especially college. I picked up a few Bouton cards when I ran into them. And I kept up on all things Bouton — his other books, his occasional magazine article, his comebacks in the minors (and briefly, the Braves). You can read all about it in other places, I am sure.

Early in my sophomore year, Bouton came to my college (Rensselear, in Troy NY) to speak. I had not packed Ball Four with me that year (I would never make that mistake again), but I did have a few of his cards in my dorm room. Bouton signed my 1964 card, and it remains the only baseball card I have ever asked anyone to sign. (I have received a few signed cards over the years from friends.)

It has been said that once a player’s career is over and time fades, he is judged by his statistical record. This is not true of Bouton, who finished 62–63 (albeit with great seasons, World Series heroics, and historic comebacks mixed in) but who retained his fame and remained newsworthy until the very end of his life.

My point, and I have a point: collect his cards. They are fairly inexpensive for 50-year-old cards, and it’s Jim Bouton for heaven’s sake. If you collect cards from the 1960s, by all means you should look for Mays, Clemente, Aaron, Mantle, Koufax, just like everyone else, but save a few dollars for The Bulldog. (And Curt Flood.)

My collection is 100% about the history, and very few people are a more important part of the baseball story than James Alan Bouton. There will be never be another like him.

Fahrenheit .407

Listen: Ichiro is the Guy Montag of George Sisler.

Like many students, I read Ray Bradbury’s dystopian classic, Fahrenheit 451, in middle school. Several of its ideas stuck with me for years afterward and I picked up a personal copy not long ago, to keep them fresh.

Near its climax, protagonist Guy Montag joins a clan of exiles who protect the written word from state-organized destruction. They memorize whole manuscripts as hedge against an American society locked in fiery struggle against its own texts. Guy’s recall of a portion of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes becomes his torch to carry.

Whatever your religious background, many SABR readers also know some Ecclesiastes, thanks to Pete Seeger’s adaptation of its third chapter into the 1960s folk-rock hit “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season),” intersecting with antiwar themes from Bradbury’s 1953 novel.

This cultureball matters to me now because of the link between Ichiro, one of our greatest 21st century players, and George Sisler, his parallel from a century ago.

I used to know just table scraps about the onomatopoeically “hot” Sisler. I remember lots of other stuff, like how Dave Philley spent three years as a Phillie (1958-60) and Johnny Podres finished his career with the Padres (1969). Yet…diddly about “the greatest player in St. Louis Browns history.”

Just a handful of significant facts came to mind when I started this article: he hit over .400 twice, they called him “Gorgeous George” (predating the pro wrestler), and Ichiro broke Sisler’s single-season hits record. Oh, and he appeared in the 1972 Kellogg’s All-Time Greats set.

Sisler retired in 1930, explaining why I find him so unfindable. Despite writing about cards for years at the Number 5 Type Collection, almost all of my card research follows Goudey Gum’s 1933 baseball debut, making earlier players a crapshoot. Even my deep dive into a trivial question, “Who’s E.T. Cox and why’d he appear on a card in 1927?” stands out for what didn’t happen, not what did.

I give Ichiro full marks for breaking an 84-year-old record when he notched 262 hits in 2004. Yet hitting isn’t their sole connection. Let’s catch up with George, circa 1920.

Kids could buy this artful W514, trimmed from a strip of five, out of arcade vending machines during Sisler’s mammoth performance for an otherwise fair-t0-middling 1920 Browns squad.

  • .407 average, 1.082 OPS, 182 OPS+
  • MLB record-setting 257 hits, in 154 game era
  • 49 doubles, 18 triples, 19 homers, 42 SB

Zero other seasons in MLB history include that balance of speed and power. None! Ichiro came close as a base runner, stealing 40+ bases five times, turning ground ball singles into scoring threats. As frosting to his power cake, George Sisler led the AL in steals four times.

Even if you drop stolen bases as criteria, just one other season in history, Lou Gehrig’s 1927, includes at least 49 doubles, 18 triples, and 19 homers. The Iron Horse, of course, enjoyed Murderers’ Row as “protection” for his spot in the lineup. St. Louis, however, depended on George’s stealing prowess just to get more guys in scoring position.

This photo from Sisler’s other 1920 card, part of the scarce Holsum bread issue, hearkens back to his younger days as a southpaw pitcher. (Read George’s SABR bio for those details.)

While pitching had moved to his back burner by 1920, George nonetheless closed out St. Louis’s final game on October 3 from the hill (box score), perhaps to help home fans enjoy one last bit of that remarkable year. Although he notched a .420 average two years later, OPS+ rates 1920 “better,” as Sisler hit fewer homers in 1922 (career stats).

Two of Sisler’s sons, Dick and Dave, went on to their own baseball careers. The former intersected with Ichiro’s future home as 1960 manager of the Pacific Coast League’s Seattle Rainiers.

While we’re visiting the past, let’s pretend we’re 12 years old again and snicker at how Dick Sisler appears on a Skinless Wiener trading card. (Players came one to a package.) Cross your legs and fire up the grill!

When Ichiro’s torrid pace projected to break the hits record in 2004, he also connected with still-living Dave Sisler, who enjoyed renewed interest in George’s past achievements and some of the Sisler family traveled to Seattle to see Ichiro break the record in person. (Topps mentioned that moment on Ichiro’s Season Highlights card.)

As noted in that 2013 New York Times article, Ichiro spent a Cooperstown trip examining Sisler’s bats, comparing their construction and “sound” to his own modern models. Five years later, he brought flowers to George’s St. Louis grave during the All-Star Break.

While I’m not surprised a guy with 3089 hits proved a student of hitting, it stands out that he’s a student of Sisler. Should this whole Internet thing burn to the ground, echoing the fiery urban chaos of Fahrenheit 451, I bet Ichiro can teach us plenty about George’s tools and talent.

The 1954 Topps Guide to Life

How many times have you heard someone say, “Hey, life doesn’t come with an instruction manual?” Well, imagine my surprise when I actually found one last week! And not just any instruction manual but one with a vintage baseball card theme!

I’m referring of course to “The 1954 Topps Guide to Life: Beating the Odds, Getting the Girl, and Making the Team.” (Order here.)

As advertised the book was filled with great advice for ball-playing youngsters, and—even better—illustrated the various tips with baseball cards from the 1954 Topps set.

According to the book, 27 of the 250 cards in the 1954 Topps set have cartoons about players bouncing back from tough injuries. These cards offer a lesson in resilience.

For best results read these on a big screen rather than a teeny tiny phone.

Closely related to bouncing back from injury is bouncing back from failure. The trick, the book suggests, is to have a backup plan.

Though some of it might feel old fashioned to the modern reader, the book also offered advice on love and marriage.

There were also tips on dealing with rejection, which was the theme of six cards in the set.

Fittingly for a book that centered around advice, there is a section on accepting help from others.

Building a positive work ethic was the focus of 11 cards in the 1954 Topps set.

Coming off two recent wars there was of course a chapter on our men in uniform.

Alright, by now you’ve probably figured out there is no book. At the same time, there could have been. The 1954 Topps set was one where nearly every card seemed to moralize, educate, or motivate. Just do what your baseball cards tell you, son, and you’ll turn out just fine.

Oh, wait a minute. A reader has just stopped by, and he doesn’t look happy.

“Not a real book?!?!? NOT A REAL BOOK?!? Are you freaking kidding me, Jason?”

“Hey now, take it easy. It was all in good fun here. Put the bat down. No need for this to escalate…uh oh…this is getting serious. Okay, think, Jason, think. WWPMD? What would Paul Minner do?

Of Myths and Men (pt 1)

I have really enjoyed perusing SABR’s Eight Myths Out Series. Jacob Pomrenke and the rest of the many historians involved have done terrific work and it is a tribute to what a bright and meticulous team can accomplish.

The title of the project is a nod to the book and subsequent film “Eight Men Out”. As a promotion for the movie a trading card set was produced. It is a fun 110 card set that I enjoy because it falls at the intersection of two of my hobbies, baseball and film.

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #5 The Black Sox Scandal

Since the eight myths are responses to ideas introduced in “Eight Men Out” the book and further propagated by the film several of the cards are also connected to these myths.

Today we will look at some of the myth cards. I envision this as a three column series covering four myths in each of the first two postings followed by a  non-myth set summary/highlights closer.

Myth #1 Comiskey as Scrooge

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #80 Charles A Comiskey

Myth #1 is covered on card #80 – if this was a Topps set it would be a Hero Number! OK, maybe a low-level star number. While this is a nice era appropriate profile picture of Comiskey when we flip the card over we start talking Scrooge…

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #80 Charles A Comiskey (back)

The text opens discussing Comiskey’s Hall of Fame credentials but things turn in paragraph 3. “Tightfisted” and “Dollar-Pinching” are the two adjectives used to describer Comiskey. The card also mentions Dickey Kerr who is discussed in one of the further reading bullets for Myth 8.

Myth #2 The Cicotte “Bonus”

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #6 Eddie Cicotte 29-7 in 1919

I love the statistical reference which is given as the sub-line on this card. The 29-7 record of Cicotte is a subtle / not-so-subtle nod to the 30 wins that the pitcher did not achieve in 1919.  There are 110 cards in this set and this is the ONLY one that has stats on the front.

Interestingly…

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #6 Eddie Cicotte 29-7 in 1919 (b-side)

The back of the card does not mention the benching of Cicotte at all.

Myth #3 Gamblers Initiated the Fix

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #19 The Key is Cicotte

Cicotte is mentioned by name on our myth #3 card as well, but it features gamblers “Sleepy” Bill Burns and Billy Maharg. Turns out the card (book and film) has the facts reversed. It was Eddie Cicotte along with Chick Gandil that approached the gamblers.

Myth #4 The Hitman: “Harry F.”

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #60 Lefty is Threatened

For legal reasons Eliot Asinof created a fictional character, Hitman “Harry F.”. According to “Eight Men Out” the hitman threatened Lefty Williams. The mythical threat is mentioned on card #60 above.

Once again I urge you to check out “Eight Myths Out” to further understand the facts/myths involved, I have only touched upon each bullet here as a connection with the related card.

This concludes part one of our series dedicated to Eight Men/Myths Out. Hopefully in the next week or so we will cover the bottom half of the myths.

Sources and Links

SABR: Eight Myths Out

Baseball-Ref

Imdb

Eight Men Out set index (Phungo)

Let Your 2009 Standard Catalog Be Your Guide

I’ve got a lot of price guides and checklists books scattered around the house. It’s the price one pays for collecting for over 40 years.

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My go-to sourcebook these days is the 2009 Standard Catalog. It’s the first (and so far only) price guide I’ve bought with a downloadable version and that has come in very handy.

2009? Are you mad? Those prices are hopelessly out of date! I’ve heard that from some other collectors, some who I’ve traded with and have asked me what I’ll pay for, say, 1968 and/or 1969 commons. When I tell them my price,  they demur, telling me there’s no way I’m getting cards for those prices these days. When I tell them I do, almost always, I’m accused of picking off some poor dealer who has no idea of value. I have never been unable to get commons, low numbers and high, and semi- to real stars, even superstars, for what the ’09 catalog quotes.

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My reality has been that I’m never far off from paying 2009 guide prices and have consistently finished sets well below book. I struggle sometimes to get those decade old prices, but I do end up getting them. When I have to pay a bit more, it’s usually for a better condition card than my usually EX, or something truly has gone out of whack. (The 1952 Parkhurst Bob Betz springs to mind, a card that seems more scarce than the books think it is.) When I feel like I may have missed some seismic shift in the market, I either have someone online email me a scan of a more recent price guide or I sneak a peek at Barnes and Noble. There’s usually been no real change.

The biggest fluke in all this is how lucky I’ve been to use 2009 as a baseline. It was clearly a good pricing year. This week I closed the door on my 1968 Topps set, getting a solidly EXMT Ryan rookie for $230. More than the $175 I was hoping to pay for in EX, but a much nicer card and a bargain for an EXMT. I turned to my older books out of curiosity.

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The 2000 Standard Catalog has the Ryan at $400 in EX. The 1993 Beckett has the card in VG-E (an interesting lumping of two different conditions) for $650! Thank the heavens for 2009!

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I’ll stick to 2009 as long as that’s tenable and there’s no sign it won’t be. In fact, I’m slowly putting together a 1933 Tattoo Orbit set and, while I know I’ll pay up for some big stars, the Ivy Andrews, a short print that booked for $225 in VG in 2009 was mine for $39.06 (and in VG-EX to boot!).

Boston Unions

Much like the Baltimore Unions, Boston’s Union Association entry was one of the league’s more stable. Of the five Union Association clubs that completed their full schedule, only Cincinnati and St. Louis used fewer players than Boston’s 25. The Boston Unions (not the Reds as the history books say) officially joined the Union Association in March 1884, making them the last of the original eight clubs to join the UA. This makes it all the more remarkable that the club finished with a 58-51 record. For comparison, Altoona joined in February and finished a disastrous 6-17 before folding at the end of May.

The efforts to bring Union Association baseball to Boston were led by a triumvirate of Boston baseball legends, George Wright, pitcher Tommy Bond, and first baseman Tim Murnane. Wright’s involvement with the Unions has more or less been forgotten, but it is clear from contemporary accounts that Wright was the driving force behind the Boston Unions. The 33-year-old Murnane, a National Association and National League vet, who last played major league baseball in 1878, was slated to be the club’s first baseman and manager. The veteran pitcher Bond, once the best young pitcher in baseball, but now 4 years removed from his last injury free season. Amazingly pitching 3359 innings by the age of 24 is not good for the arm. Bond is the patron saint of gifted twirlers felled by crippling arm troubles.

Unlike most of the Union Association, Boston fielded its club with promising young players, rather than trying to poach players from established clubs. Thanks to Wright and Murnane’s scouting and a strong amateur baseball scene in the Boston area, the club was filled with young talent. Murnane was the club’s only regular above aged 26, while Bond was the only member of the pitching staff over 25. (As an aside, 19-game-winner James Burke’s birth date remains unknown). Among the talent, future major league regulars included 17-year-old outfielder Mike Slattery, 20-year-old pitcher/outfielder and future Hall of Famer Tommy McCarthy, 22-year-old third baseman John Irwin, and 22-year-old outfielder/pitcher Ed “Cannonball” Crane.

Despite raves from the Boston press, the Unions were not able to overtake the National League’s Red Stockings in the hearts and minds of the Boston faithful and drew poorly. After an opening day crowd of 3000 on April 30, just a few days later on May 5, they drew a crowd reported to be under 100. For a league whose admission prices were 25 cents and who promised a $75 guarantee to the road team, showings like these were a death knell. It seems apparent that George Wright was footing the bill for the team’s expenses. Indeed, Wright’s sporting goods empire, Wright & Ditson, published the official Union Association guide, so he was clearly a booster of the rebel league.

After a promising start, the 28-year-old Bond faltered as the club’s ace earning his release in June. The club landed disgruntled Detroit lefthander Dupee Shaw in mid-July, a coup for the Union Association, which was desperate to pluck major league talent from the rival National League and American Association. Shaw was dominant for the Boston, striking out a staggering 309 batters in 315.2 innings, while posting a 1.77 ERA (good for a 170 ERA+). His 451 strikeouts for the year (including 144 with Detroit) are the fourth best mark of all time.

Despite a dominant hitting season by catcher/outfielder “Cannonball” Ed Crane, the team’s offense was a weak point and prevented them from challenging for a higher position in the standings. Crane batted .285/.308/.451 with 12 home runs (good for second place in the league) and a 152 OPS+ (good for fifth in the league).

The club was dragged down by the poor hitting of Mike Slattery, 23 year old Kid Butler, and Tommy McCarthy. The teenaged Slattery hit just .208/.216/.232 good for a 51 OPS+. Of the 28 UA regulars who qualified for the batting title, Slattery was 28th. Butler, Boston’s left fielder and utility man was even worse, hitting just .169/.206/.227 for a 46 OPS+ in 71 games. Future Baseball Hall of Famer, McCarthy, hit just .215/.237/.244 good for a 62 OPS+ in 53 games. He totalled a -1.0 offensive WAR, -0.3 defensive WAR and put up an 0-7 record in the pitcher’s box, with a 4.82 ERA and a 63 OPS+. This was good for a -1.4 WAR on the mound. So in 53 games, he put up a -2.7 total WAR. All this in what is almost universally regarded as the lowest quality major league in history. (I am not going to comment on the major league credentials of the National Association). McCarthy’s 1884 season has a reasonable case as the worst season by anyone ever. His transformation from unfathomably bad to Hall of Famer has to be one of the most remarkable metamorphoses in baseball history.

The Boston Unions representation in the Old Judge set consists of four players: McCarthy, Slattery, Crane and third baseman John Irwin.

1. Tommy McCarthy

I wrote about McCarthy in the first blog in this series. There are 13 different poses capturing McCarthy’s transformation from struggling youth with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1887 to his burgeoning stardom with the St. Louis Brown Stockings. These 13 poses also include at least 30 variations and are illustrative of how complicated and unwieldy the Old Judge (N172) set is. (As an aside, all images are sourced from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection, which despite its vastness is still incomplete, hence the lack of inclusion of every pose for each player I discuss).

 

 

2. Mike “Kangaroo” Slattery

Mike “Kangaroo” Slattery was just 17 years old when he debuted for the Boston Unions in their first ever game on April 17, 1884. He is the youngest major league regular in baseball history, appearing in 106 games for the Unions. At 6 foot 2 and 210 pounds, he was one of the biggest players in the major leagues throughout his career. Unfortunately his athletic never translated into much hitting ability. After his teenage debut, Slattery spent the next few seasons in the minor leagues, before reappearing with the New York Gothams in 1888. He jumped the Players League Giants in 1890 and wrapped up his major league career with stints in Cincinnati and Washington in 1891. His post playing career including surviving a stabbing while trying to stop a shoplifter and a premature death at age 37 in 1904 due to stomach trouble.

Slattery is pictured in six poses with at least 12 known variations.

 

 

3. Ed “Cannonball” Crane

Ed “Cannonball” Crane had a very unusual and memorable career as the rare player to appear regularly both at catcher and pitcher. A powerfully built 5’9 and 215 pounds, Crane’s 1884 season was easily his best. Crane’s rookie season was split between catching, where he made a staggering 64 errors in 42 games, and the outfield. He also appeared at first base and on the mound. While his defense was dreadful, he showed tremendous power, hitting 12 home runs and 23 doubles. He also set the record for the longest throw, when he threw a baseball an estimated 405 feet (he did this on several occasions in October of that year), breaking former Cincinnati Red Stocking John Hatfield’s record of 400-402 feet. Crane hit well in limited time with Buffalo and Providence in 1885. A dreadful 1886 season with Washington in which he hit just .171, while also putting up a 1 and 7 record with a 7.20 ERA prompted a return to the minors. Pitching for the International League champion Toronto Maple Leafs, he hit .428 while winning 33 games. He returned to the majors with the New York Giants in 1888, where he pitched 12 games including the first no-hitter in New York Giants’ history, a seven inning affair on September 27 against Washington. The following week, he became the first player ever to strike out four batters in one inning. He made two starts for the Giants in that year’s World Series, going 1 and 1, helping the Giants to a 6 games to 4 win over the St. Louis Brown Stockings.

Crane joined the Giants as they toured the world with the Chicago White Stockings that off-season. Crane, who reportedly was not a drinker, quickly shifted into the life of the party on the tour. Crane dressed in fine clothes and regaling teammates and reporters alike with outlandish stories and song. He consumed wine and liquor at the seemingly endless banquets held for the touring baseballists. He missed several games due to drunkenness and hangovers. His throwing arm remained intact however, as he set an Australian record by throwing a cricket ball 384 feet and 10.5 inches in Melbourne. Somewhere along the way, he was provided with a Japanese monkey by an American sailor. The monkey terrorized passengers on-board, which Crane kept hidden in his coat pocket. At the end of the trip, Crane brought the monkey to New York, where he christened it the Giants’ new mascot.

Despite missing time due to injuries, Crane compiled a 14-11 record in 1889. The Giants won the pennant again. Crane showed flashes of his tremendous potential when he won 4 games for the Giants as they defeated the American Association’s Brooklyn Bridegrooms in that year’s World Series. Crane like most of his Giants’ teammates jumped the Players’ League in 1890. It was this season that Crane’s drinking started to takeover. His weight ballooned and in August he was arrested at a Harlem watering hole under charges of resisting arrest. He finished with a 16-19 record as the Giants’ finished a disappointing third. Crane walked a stunning 208 batters against just 116 strikeouts in 330 innings. Crane’s poor personal habits were singled out as the main cause of the club’s struggles.

Crane joined the King Kelly’s Cincinnati entry in the American Association for 1891. In doing so, he became one of the few players to appear in four different major leagues. Crane pitched well, leading the league with a 2.45 ERA with a 14-14 record, but he was criticized for his poor condition and lack of effort. The club disbanded in August and Crane jumped to the crosstown Red Stockings in the National League, as a replacement for Hall of Famer Old Hoss Radbourn. Crane went 4-8 in 15 starts.

Crane returned to the Giants in 1892, going 16-24 with 189 walks and a 3.80 ERA. His arm was faltering and his major league career ended in 1893 with dismal stints for the Giants and Brooklyn. Crane tried without success to find work as an umpire, appearing as a substitute umpire in five National League games over the next couple of seasons. He bounced around the minor leagues, drinking heavily at every stop. He reportedly committed suicide on September 19, 1896 by overdosing on a chloral hydrate prescription in Rochester, New York. He was just 34. Credit to Brian McKenna for the great SABR biography on Crane.

Crane appears in six different poses in the Old Judge set, capturing his time with both the National League and Players’ League versions of the Giants.

 

 

4. John Irwin

John Irwin lived in the shadow of his older brother Arthur Irwin. The elder Irwin was a star infielder for the Providence Grays, who in 1884 were rampaging towards the National League pennant. The previous year, Irwin was credited with inventing the fielder’s glove. John Irwin had made his major league debut in 1882 playing a single game alongside his older brother for the Worcester Grays. He spent 1883 with Bay City of the Northwestern League and from there joined the Boston Unions as their starting third baseman. Manning the hot corner, the 22 year old Irwin had a respectable rookie season. He was light hitter, but his .234/.260/.319 batting line was good for a 94 OPS+. In the field, his .780 fielding percentage was remarkably .003 points better than the UA league average for third baseman. No word on whether he used his brother’s glove. Despite his strong  blood lines, youth and promise, Irwin returned to the minors for most of the next three seasons, making brief stints in the majors with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1886 and Washington Nationals in 1887. Irwin earned modest playing time for the last-place Nationals in both 1888 and 1889 and then jumped to the Buffalo Bisons of the Players’ League in 1890. The Bisons finished in a distant last place with a record of 36-96. Irwin joined the eventual American Association pennant winning Boston Reds in 1891. The Reds were manager by his older brother Arthur. John played 19 games, but was released in July. I would hate to hear that conversation…Sorry bro, you suck.

From there, John joined the last place Louisville Colonels closing out his major league career with 14 games before being released in August. Irwin appeared for 5 different last place clubs in his major league career. Quite a record considering his career lasted just 322 games. He bounced around numerous minor league clubs until the turn of the century. He passed away at age 72 in 1934 in Boston.

Despite Irwin’s role as a part-timer on a last place club, he is featured in five different poses in the Old Judge set.

Irwin looks into his crystal ball to see what the future holds (last place probably):

 

“It’s a good book, but it is not the only book.”

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Do people still watch Inherit the Wind? In my house, it’s a staple, one of those movies that is always watched to the end, regardless of when we happen upon it. Spencer Tracy, as Henry Drummond, man of reason, makes the above quoted point about the Bible. The film is a true classic, timeless in its portrayal of science vs. religion, progress vs. regression, thought vs. belief. “Plus ca change…” and all that.

I’m not a slave to the Standard Catalog and its prices, but it serves its purpose very well. For me, it’s an upper limit of cost – most cards, especially commons, can be had for way less than book value. I’ve been spending about half the quoted price for 1960 Topps commons, about one-third of book for 1956 Topps commons, low and high numbers. Granted, EX condition is a wider lane to drive in, so there’s more play, and commons are different from stars. If I can get big names for any amount less than book, I’m happy.

Now that I’m down to the last 18 cards for my 1960 set, I’ve run into a bit of a wall. I see by sold listings on eBay that there’s a low range that I’m shooting to claim as well. I do like my bargains. Maybe I can get a Mantle All-Star for $65 instead of $75, but it’s not going to get better than that. (I know firsthand because I missed out on one at that price last week).  I’m not looking to pay 1985-era prices in 2017, just the lowest possible price within the realm of reason. I will prevail. There’s no reason to panic on 1960 Topps of any kind. They’re out there in force.

For other sets I’ve nearly finished, there are cross purposes at work. I desperately want to wrap up some sets but I’m finding that either book prices are not an indication of the present market, or I have to fight my impatience to complete and move on. I fight the feeling that I should pay way too much just to be done. I need the Jackie Jensen card to finish the 1949 Remar Bread set. That’s it. They aren’t plentiful, but I see them priced way beyond book, Sometimes they sell, sometimes they languish. I’ll sit back and wait. Then there’s crazy mispricing. I need two commons to finish my 1952 Parkhurst set. I don’t see them appear often, but when they do I can get them for $10. There’s a dude who wants $45 for a Jim Hughes card. Good luck buddy!

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Then there are cards that have clearly have reached a price point. I’m down to the last three cards for the 1971 Kellogg’s set. Wayne Simpson, Reds flash in the pan, is card #1 and there is zero possibility I’m going to get one in EX for $6.75, or NM for $13.50. Near Mint versions, graded or un-graded, are going for $50-60 and more. I’ve saved enough on the other cards that I wouldn’t feel too bad paying $20-30, but I don’t know if that’s going to ever happen. I may have to keep climbing that price ladder.

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What’s interesting about book is that, though I’m working with a 2009 edition, prices haven’t moved on vintage stuff, at least not in the sets and condition I’m interested in. Still, we’d all be nowhere without some kind of guide to tell us what to expect the market to be and to make us feel great when we get a deal and terrible when we pay too much. Much like the Bible itself, the Standard Catalog can lead to bliss or shame.

Father’s Day 1976 Topps #69 Jim & Mike Hegan

Father’s Day is nearing and it got me thinking of baseball dads & sons who are on cardboard.

1954 Topps #29 Jim Hegan

As I mentioned last week, in preparation for the SABR 47 Jim Bouton panel, I recently reread “Ball Four”. One of the entries that reminded me of a Baseball card occurred on March 28th. The subject of the passage is Pilots outfielder Mike Hegan, who is a recurring character throughout the book.

The paragraph is interesting for several reasons. The connections between golf and baseball are pretty strong. Just last week Tim Jenkins mentioned that Hawk Harrelson retired from baseball to pursue a professional golf career. There are also several stories of mothers helping sons learn the game, and they are often noteworthy. But, to me, the most interesting portion relates to Mike Hegan’s father Jim. I knew Mike’s father played baseball because in 1976 at the heart of the collecting days of my youth Topps dropped a Father and Son subset.

1976 Topps #69 Father & Son Jim & Mike Hegan (b-side)

I want to start with the B-Side of this card because this continues the discussion of Mike Hegan’s parents. The text regarding Jim Hegan that is credited to Mike does mention his father being a great influence, however the younger Hegan is also careful to note that this is not just in baseball but in life as well. When Mike actually does mention getting tips on the game of baseball it is only in the context of other players including Hall of Famer Bob Lemon. Perhaps I am reading too much into this but this version of Mike Hegan does correlate with the observations of Ball Four. Jim Hegan was a Ballplayer but didn’t stress baseball at home. If there was an baseball influence there it came from elsewhere – quite likely Mikes mother Clare.

1976 Topps #69 Father & Son Jim & Mike Hegan

A real nice design for these cards, the vintage card of the father balanced with a contemporary photo of the current player is a perfect balance for the subset theme.

1976 is the third consecutive year that Topps included a subset that featured insets of earlier cards on a current card. In 1974 Topps the Hank Aaron Subset which leads off flagship includes several cards with four-up panels of Topps cards from the new Home Run King’s career. The following year 1975 Topps featured the 24 card MVP subset which will always be one of my favorites.

The 1976 Father&Son subset consist of 5 Cards that run from #66-#70. Two of the cards belong to families that would feature a third generation of MLB players and both of these cards have Phillies ties. First is Ray and Bob Boone (#67) who of course are related to Bret and Aaron Boone. The other is #66 Gus and Buddy Bell, and we know that David spent a few forgettable years with the Phillies. The other two cards feature the Sr./Jr. combos of Roy Smalleys and Joe Colemans.

1985 Topps

1985 topps #132 Father & Son Yogi and Dale Berra

Topps returned to the Father-Sons in 1985 with a 13 card subset. The Boones, Bells and Smalleys all made the cut for the second round. Other notables include SABR 47 Panel Subject Yogi Berra with son Dale, Tito and Terry Francona, and SABR 45 (Chicago) guest panelist Steve Trout with his father Dizzy.

One of the guests scheduled for the Yogi Berra Panel is journalist Lindsay Berra who is the granddaughter of Yogi and Niece of Dale Berra. Her father Larry played minor league baseball in the Mets organization.

Sources and Links

Jim Hegan SABR Bio Rick Balazs

Mike Hegan SABR Bio Joseph Wancho

Ball Four

Baseball Card Database

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