Cardboard Typos and Gripe-o’s—Part 1

For nearly 30 years, editing has brought home my bacon. It wasn’t my desired profession; I fell into it like an open manhole—and I’m still trying to climb my way out. The grammatical, punctuational, and syntactic boo-boos I fix have been mostly in the medical and pharmaceutical fields, but they’ve been pretty easy to spot in my spare time as well—which means, to a degree, on the backs, and sometimes fronts, of baseball cards.

Years ago, I began jotting down factual errors and spelling typos (punctuation issues and lack of hyphenation are so rampant that chronicling them would be a never-ending and pointless task). I do not keep abreast of baseball card commentary as vigilantly as I once did, so at least one of the following errors has been posted elsewhere, which means that others—maybe many—in this simple and hardly comprehensive multi-part list might also have been documented in that long interim.

  • Lefty Gomez was born on November 26, 1908. This is according to the Baseball Hall of Fame, his SABR biography, Baseball Reference, and his own daughter, via her excellent biography of Gomez. Yet virtually all of Lefty’s cards, including his 1933 and 1936 Goudey, 1940 and ’41 Play Ball, 1941 Double Play, and 1961 Fleer, denote Lefty’s birthdate as November 26, 1910. Obviously, an erroneous year of birth circulated in an official capacity for a long time.
  • 1952 Topps Mickey Vernon (#106): In the penultimate line of Mickey’s bio, “Assists” is botched as “Asists.” This is especially shoddy work considering that the same word is correctly spelled just three words to the left.
  • 1958 Bob Lemon (#2): The right-hand cartoon states that Bob won “200” games in seven different seasons. Well, I’m pretty certain Bob would not have had to wait 13 years and 14 elections to make the Hall of Fame had he A) won 200 games in a season, and B) racked up more than 1400 victories in his career. (However, just as mathematician Edward Kasner, through his young nephew, gave the world the unit known as the googol (10100), I suggest that Major League Baseball follow Topps’ inadvertent suggestion that a 200-win season be coined a Zeeeeeeeringg!—regardless of today’s reliance on the bullpen.)
  • 1933 Goudey John (Jack) Ogden (#176): Similarly to Lefty Gomez, this card states than Ogden was born November 5, 1898, when, in actuality, Ogden was born on this date in 1897.
  • 1961 Topps Billy Loes (#237): In the cartoon on the right, “Dodgers” is misspelled as “Dogers.” I’ve no idea if this was an extremely early attempt at a crypto-baseball card…
  • 1960 Nu-Card Baseball Scoops Merkle Pulls Boner (#17): This one must be well known—at least it should be thanks to its egregiousness. The year is embarrassingly incorrect in the byline—Fred Merkle’s infamous failure to touch second base in that “semi-fateful” tie between the Giants and Cubs took place in 1908, not 1928. (I say “semi-fateful” because the outcome was blown out of proportion by the media and saddled poor Fred with an unfair albatross for the rest of his life—New York beat Chicago the following day and moved into first place.) Nu-Card does have it correct on the reverse. However, to add insult to injury, it repeated the error on the Merkle card in the 1961 set (#417).
  • 1955 Bowman Jim Piersall (#16): Across the first and second lines, Bowman botched the spelling of “American.” If an American company can’t spell “American,” it’s not going to be around much longer, eh Bowman?

  • 1951 Topps Dom DiMaggio (#20): Dominic’s name incorrectly possesses a “k” at the end. Topps rectified this in 1952.

Where has your “k” gone, Dom DiMaggio

Topps rationed you one, then finally got a clue

Woo, woo, woo

The 1963 Bazooka All-Time Greats set contains its share of miscues.

  • Nap Lajoie (#8): The final sentence refers to Nap as “the lefty swinger,” even though the famous Frenchman was one of the most celebrated right-handed hitters of his era. As well, his bio fails to mention overtly that Nap’s epochal .422 season in 1901 occurred with the Philadelphia Athletics, not the Phillies. (Additionally, his career totals of batting average and home runs, as well as his 1901 batting mark, are erroneous; however, these stem from his career totals having been revised through extended research since the card’s issuance—an unremarkable fact that likely pertains to many other vintage cards.)
  • Al Simmons (#22): Simmons’ bio opens, “Al played with six different major league ballteams…” and concludes by listing them. Unfortunately, the Bazooka folks failed to count his half-season with the 1939 Boston Bees, making a total of 7 teams on his major league resume. Of course, no one wants their time with the Boston Bees to be remembered, but we’ve got to own up to it…
  • Johnny Evers (#21): That Johnny was a part of “the famous double-play combination of Evers to Tinker to Chance” stands as technically accurate—certainly, many of those celebrated twin-kills went 4-6-3—but this description flies in the face of Franklin P. Adams’ famous poem that made household names of Evers and his Cubs compatriots. Thanks to “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” (originally published as “That Double Play Again”), the refrain “Tinker to Evers to Chance” literally entered baseball’s lexicon and has always been known in that specific order. Perhaps it’s fortunate that Adams did not live to see his most celebrated work inexplicably altered—not only does “Evers to Tinker to Chance” not possess the geometric simplicity and aesthetic superiority of Adams’ original refrain, but tinkering with classic literature is a no-no of the first magnitude. After all, mighty Casey didn’t pop up…
  • Mel Ott (#36): Okay, this one is very nitpicky—but it’s precisely an editor’s task to split hairs. Mel’s bio states that he “acted as playing-manager from 1942 through 1948.” Although it’s accurate that Ott piloted the Giants from right field beginning in 1942, he last performed this dual role during the 1947 season, as he put in 4 pinch-hitting appearances; Mel was New York’s manager solely from the dugout during the 1948 season (replaced after 75 games by Leo Durocher).
  • Walter Johnson (#12): Many totals of pre-war players have been modified by Major League Baseball over the years, so I have refrained from mentioning totals on older cards that do not jibe with present-day totals. However, Walter Johnson’s shutout record of 110 has long been celebrated and its quantity never really in doubt. Yet his 1963 Bazooka mentions that he threw 114. A shutout is not something readily miscalculated from old days to new. Even if Bazooka was including his post-season shutouts—which upped Walter’s total only to 111—it was still significantly off the mark. 
  • Christy Mathewson (#4): Bazooka boasts that Christy won 374 games and tossed 83 shutouts. Bazooka blundered on both counts. I’m not sure how you can miscount shutouts—a pitcher either pitches the entire game or he doesn’t, and he either permits at least 1 run or he doesn’t. Neither of these conditions is subject to revision at a later date like an RBI total being amended thanks to an overlooked sacrifice fly. So, I must assume that Bazooka was including his World Series work, because Christy hurled 79 shutouts in the regular season—and it’s impossible to imagine that the text’s author was off by 4 shutouts. More significantly, 374 victories is disconcerting statistically because Christy’s official total when he retired was 372. It became a significant issue when Grover Cleveland Alexander surpassed it in August 1929, snatching the all-time National League lead from Christy. During the 1940s, an extra win was discovered that was added to Mathewson’s total, lifting him into a permanent tie with Alexander (to Ol’ Pete’s chagrin). Both have famously remained atop the NL heap ever since, at 373. Bazooka cannot be counting postseason victories here, because Christy won 5 in the Fall Classic, including the 3 shutouts in 1905 that it mentions in his bio—so “374” is pure sloppiness. Would Bazooka include World Series totals for shutouts but not for victories in the same sentence? It’s baffling. Bazooka Joe was not cut out for this job…
  • 1928 W502 Strip Card Paul Waner (#45): I’ve never seen anyone mention this error—but I cannot be the first to realize that the player depicted is irrefutably not “Big Poison”; it’s teammate Clyde Barnhart. This same photo was used for multiple 1928 F50 issues, including Tharp’s Ice Cream, Yuengling’s Ice Cream, Harrington’s Ice Cream, and Sweetman—making the seeming dearth of awareness of this incorrect photo all the more curious.  

  • 1948 Bowman Bobby Thomson (#47): Well before Bobby became a byword for the home run, Bowman was confounding home run totals of Thomson’s former minor league team, the Jersey City Giants. Bobby’s bio declares that his 26 round-trippers in 1946 eclipsed the previous team record of 18, set in 1938. Although Thomson’s mark did, in fact, set a new team record, the mark he broke had not been 18—belted by former major league star Babe Herman that season—but by Herman’s teammate, Tom Winsett, who clubbed 20. (Additionally, Al Glossop poked 19 the following season, making Bowman’s account of the fallen record even “more” false.) Bobby’s 1949 Bowman card (#18) reiterates the same mistake, making it something of a twice-told tale.
  • 1977 TCMA–Renata Galasso Carl Furillo (#11): As any Ebbets field denizen could tell you, the Reading Rifle was a right-handed shot. Carl must have been deliberately trying to fool the photographer, because it’s clearly not a case of the negative being reversed as Carl does his best Koufax.

That’s enough for Part 1. Part 2 will largely target several especially sloppy sets and subsets.

Player Collection Spotlight: Representing the 772 (or 561 or 407 or 305)

Our collecting habits are almost certainly influenced by time and place, and my own certainly are. The players I collect were primarily active in the 1980s and 1990s, the team I collect was on top of the baseball world in 1986 with their spring training site moving about two miles away from my house, and, with my formative collecting years being the late 1980s and early 1990s, I find having a single card producing company with a full MLB license maddening.

At some point, probably in the early 2000s, I began collecting “cards” of players from the area in which I grew up. “Cards” is in parentheses because I have other items of the non-card variety, including Starting Lineup figures for the few who had them as well as other assorted card-like items. While the definition of a card varies by individual, my own definition of a “card” is broad.

Port St. Lucie was small when I lived there – the title of the post shows how much the area codes changed due to population growth over the span of about 15 years. There was not actually a high school in the city of Port St. Lucie until 1989 (I was in the second class that could possibly have attended the school all four years) – so I branched out a little into the rest of St. Lucie County as well as neighboring Martin and Indian River counties. But despite its size there were a few players who made it to the show.

The most famous player from the area is almost certainly Rick Ankiel. A highly touted pitching prospect who likely would have gone higher in the draft if he didn’t have Scott Boras as his agent, he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to Rafael Furcal then proceeded to struggle with control against the Braves and Mets in the playoffs. He of course made it back to the majors as an outfielder, which, according to his book, may not have happened had he not had Boras as his agent. It’s that story which likely elevates him to the most famous player from the area.

Charles Johnson went to Fort Pierce Westwood and was drafted in the first round twice – once out of high school and once out of the University of Miami. I believe his dad was the baseball coach at Westwood for many years. He is probably the best player (at least according to WAR) to come out of the area, or at least he was until Michael Brantley came along. Again, there are dividing lines for a collection – I don’t collect Brantley because I had left the area before he became a local player. He was in the right place just at the wrong time. Brantley’s time in that area did overlap perhaps an even more famous individual from the area – you may have seen Megan Fox in a movie or two.

There are other players from the area, more minor players in the history of the game. Ed Hearn, who was born in Stuart and went to Fort Pierce Central, was a favorite of my best friend’s mom. He also happened to play for the 1986 Mets, which is good enough for me. Like Charles Johnson, Terry McGriff is a catcher out of Westwood and is actually Charles Johnson’s uncle. He’s also a cousin to Fred McGriff (who I also collect in a limited fashion though that has nothing to do with location – it has everything to do with time). A friend of mine in elementary school got Terry McGriff’s autograph when Terry visited my friend’s elementary school. Eventually that card ended up in my collection through a trade of some sort.

Danny Klassen, who went to John Carroll High School, is the closest in age to me, and while I didn’t play baseball with him (I was on the north side of Port St. Lucie and played at Sportsman’s Park; he was playing on the south side at Lyngate Park) I know many people who played on teams with him in Little League and Legion Ball. I believe he has a World Series ring with his time on the Diamondbacks. Wonderful Terrific Monds was a player I didn’t know much about, but (1) a good friend of mine’s parents couldn’t stop talking about how good he was and (2) his name is awesome. He never made it to the majors, but he has minor league cards and a handful of cards from mainstream sets due to being in the minors at the right time (a prospect in the early 1990s).

I should probably have a Jon Coutlangus collection, but alas, I think he was a year too late. At one point I identified Joe Randa as the best MLB player to attend Indian River Community College (which is now Indian River State College), so I started a Randa collection, though I don’t remember much about his IRCC career.

The more prominent players (Ankiel, Johnson, and Randa) have some game-used and autographed cards; most have parallel cards in one product or another. Okay, Ankiel has over 100 different autographed cards and over 50 memorabilia cards according to Beckett; he was a hot prospect at a time when there were multiple fully-licensed producers. He’s also popular enough that he has autographed cards in recent Topps issues, well after his retirement from baseball. Hearn, McGriff, Monds, and Klassen only have a handful (or what I would call a handful – less than 75) of cards. It’s usually easier to find the rarer cards of the bigger names because sellers will list them, with the cards of the less popular players coming up occasionally.

While the cards of these players aren’t going to set records at an auction or allow me to buy an island, the collection provides a tie to my formative baseball playing and baseball card collecting years. For me, those types of connections are why I collect.

From the Negro League to MLB

5th Inning

As we hit the midway mark of the project, the hobby has reached unprecedented times. Due to a huge boom in card collecting, PSA recently shut down its services for the foreseeable future. Backloaded with millions of cards not yet processed or graded, I believe they made the correct move to shut down and restart. SGC also recently raised their prices from $25 per card to $75. I do love the look of vintage cards in the SGC “Tuxedo” slabs, so I was pretty bummed when they made the decision to jack prices to that level.

In saying all this, my plan was (and still is) to have every card/item in this collection graded/authenticated. Due to the shutdown of PSA, that will have to wait. Many of the lesser value cards in my project were originally planned to be sent out via bulk submissions. Not happy about it, but this project is more about the process than anything else. Okay, enough of the rant, first up to bat (I mean pitch) is…

Jose Santiago 1956 Topps RC. One of my favorite sets, ’56 Topps. Nicknamed “Pantalones” which means pants or trousers in Spanish, he earned this name during Winter ball in his native Puerto Rico. Santiago pitched for the Negro Leagues as an 18 year-old, playing for the New York Cubans. Jose reached the majors in 1954 with the Cleveland Indians appearing in only one game. In 1955, he had a really impressive year, finishing 6 games, and sporting a 2.48 era in 17 appearances. 1957 was his last season in MLB, but Jose was a baseball lifer, spending 16 seasons in the Puerto Rican Winter League.

🐐fact: Santiago lived to 90 years old, he was inducted into the Puerto Rico Sports Hall of Fame in 1987, as well as the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame.

Pancho Herrera 1958 Topps RC. Pancho was a 6’3″ 220 lb Cuban who had plenty of power. Herrera played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League before being purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1954. In 1960 he finished second behind Frank Howard in NL Rookie of the Year voting. In 145 games he batted .281, slugged 17 HR to go along with 71 RBI. Herrera had an extensive Minor League career that spanned into his 40’s. He was elected to the International League Hall of Fame in 2008.

🐐fact: Pancho’s 1958 Topps card featured a rare error version that blocked the black printing dye where the “a” in his last name should’ve been. The “a” is barely legible, and must have been noticed very early by a Topps employee since there’s very few cards that have surfaced. To this date there’s only 50 cards graded in the PSA database, four PSA 8, one PSA 9, and none ever graded as a 10!

Junior Gilliam 1960 Topps. What a great set, Gilliam was an All-Star in 1959 his 2nd appearance in the Mid-Summer classic (1st was in 1956). Junior was born in Nashville, TN and played for the Nashville Black Vols (Negro Southern League) as a teenager for $150 a month. After spending 6 years with the Baltimore Elite Giants he was signed by the Dodgers organization in 1951. In 1953 he was NL ROY, leading the league with 17 triples.

🐐fact: Junior was a 4x World Series champ (appeared in 7 total), and spent his whole career (14 seasons) with the Dodgers.

Jehosie Heard 1954 Topps RC. This was an easy choice since it was the only Topps card Jehosie appeared on. He was the first African-American to play for the Baltimore Orioles. He appeared in 2 games as a 34 year-old in 1954. The Georgia native first picked up the great game of baseball on an Army base during the war. After serving our country he joined the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro League. Heard had success as a lefty pitcher for many years but was also an excellent hitter. In 1951 he hit .396 and played the outfield when he was not pitching.

🐐fact: Heard stood only 5′ 7″ and weighed 155 pounds.

Henry “Hank” Mason 1960 Topps RC. Like Heard, Mason appeared on only one Topps card. He was a right-handed pitcher, and played for the Phillies in 1958 and 1960. Hank began his professional career with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League. He was the starting pitcher of the 1954 East-West All-Star Game. Mason was dominant in the Minor Leagues, posting records of 12-4 (1955) and 14-7 (1956) leading the league in shutouts for the Schenectady Blue Jays, a Phillies farm team.

🐐fact: On Opening Day in 1952 for the Monarchs, Mason pitched 16 innings to defeat the Philadelphia Stars, 3-2.

Carlos Paula 1955 Topps RC. Paula was a Cuban born right-handed hitting outfielder. ’55 is such a great set, Paula has a great smile and a really cool picture of him in a throwing motion with a clean Senators uni! Paula was built like a prizefighter, 6′ 2″, great speed, and could hit for power. On September 6, 1954, the Senators became the 12th of 16 teams to integrate their roster. Paula had a double, and single in his first MLB game. Paula was definitely one of many that did not get his fair chance of playing time. Often outplaying fellow white ballplayers, but as we know this was a common trend during these unfortunate times. During a 22 game stretch in 1955, from mid-August to September, Paula hit .450 with 36 hits, 14 for extra bases, while only striking out 4 times.

🐐fact: In 1954 Topps issued a card of Angel Scull who was thought to be the first player to integrate the Senators, but he never appeared in a Major League game!

Al Smith 1955 Bowman. Love the ’55 Bowman’s, such a unique set, one of a kind. Smith started his professional career with the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro League. He had a very good career in MLB. Amassing 1458 hits over a 12 year career. Posting a lifetime batting average of .272, along with 164 dingers. In ’55 he was an All-Star, finished 3rd in the AL MVP race, playing in all 154 games, 725 plate appearances, 123 hits, leading the AL in those categories. Not to forget his 22 HR, 77 RBI, and .306 AVG.

🐐fact: Smith played in the 1954 and 1959 World Series. After playing baseball, he went on to work for the city of Chicago, and managed the city-wide baseball program for 18 years.

Elston Howard 1962 Salada Coin PSA 8. This is really cool, especially that these coins came in packages of Salada Tea and Junket Dessert products. They came in six different colored borders, with over 260 players in the master set. Elston was a fan favorite in my family. My grandfather, and uncle always raved about him. A 9x MLB All-Star (1957-1965), MVP winner, 2 Gold Gloves, and don’t forget his 4 World Series Championships. In 1961 he hit .348 in 129 games, smashing 21 homers and 77 RBI.

🐐fact: Elston played 3 seasons with the Kansas City Monarchs, starting in 1948 at the age of nineteen.

John Wyatt 1966 Topps PSA 4. I’m not the biggest fan of the ’66 Topps set, but as you know I’m a jersey fanatic. I loved how the players wore those jackets under the uniform back in the day. No matter what city the Athletics played in, they had incredible uniforms. Really love this card. Wyatt was a right-handed pitcher who played in MLB for four teams over a nine year span. He finished with a 42-44 record, and a respectable 3.47 era. His best year was with Kansas City, when he appeared in 81 games (led the AL), 9 wins, 20 saves, a 3.59 era, and earned a trip to the Mid-Summer classic.

🐐fact: John started his professional career with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League in 1953. In ’54 the St. Louis Cardinals offered him $1,000 to sign, “I never seen that kind of money in one lump sum and I wasn’t going to let it slip away.”

Chuck Harmon 1954 Topps RC. Great set, awesome looking rookie card. Harmon broke into the majors at the age of 30 with the Reds. He was a 6′ 2″ utility player, who batted righty. Chuck was one of many who started their pro career with the Indianapolis Clowns. He deserved to be in the Big Show long before 1954. He hit .374 and .375 in consecutive seasons in the minors.

🐐fact: Harmon was a very talented basketball player in his high school days. He was the first African-American to coach in professional basketball and led the Utica team in the Eastern League as a player/coach.

Curt Roberts 1955 Topps. ’55 is a classic set. This is Roberts 2nd year card. He had an excellent rookie campaign, the back of this card states, “reputation as a top Major League prospect”. Curt was a highly touted defensive second baseman. He played in 134 games his first year, but only 37 more games over two seasons. By the age of 26 he played his last MLB game. Roberts was the first African-American to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sadly, at the age of 40 he was killed by a drunk driver while changing a flat tire on the side of the highway.

🐐fact: Roberts started his professional career with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League. He was also a mentor to the great Roberto Clemente during his time in Pittsburgh.

Charlie Dees 1964 Topps RC. Like Roberts, Dees had a very productive rookie year. Charlie was 28 years of age in 1963 when he hit .307 in 60 games for the Los Angeles Angels. By 1965 he was out of MLB. Dees started his professional career in 1957 with the Louisville Clippers of the Negro Leagues.

🐐fact: Dees led the Texas League in batting in 1962, hitting .348, 179 hits, 23 HR and 115 RBI for the El Paso Sun Kings.

Jim Pendleton 1953 Topps RC PSA 5. Great shot of Jim in that Milwaukee Braves cap. Pendleton started his career in 1948 with the Chicago American Giants of the Negro League. The Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jim after the ’48 season but spent four years in the minors, mainly due to Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese at shortstop. In 1953 he was traded to the Milwaukee Braves and converted to an outfielder.

🐐fact: Pendleton spent 8 seasons in MLB, with 4 teams. He served our country in WWII.

Gene Baker 1959 Topps PSA 7. Gene was a 6′ 1″ infielder who reached the Big Show for a cup of coffee during the 1953 season with the Chicago Cubs. In ’55, as a 30 year-old Baker played in all 154 games, and made his one and only All-Star Game. He hit .265 over an eight year career with the Cubs and Pirates. Gene started his professional career with the Kansas City Monarchs and was their regular SS for the ’48 and ’49 seasons.

🐐fact: Not only was Baker part of the first African-American keystone combination in MLB (along with Mr. Ernie Banks), but he was also the first African-American to manage in the majors. During the ’63 season, then coaching with the Pirates, manager Danny Murtaugh and coach Frank Oceak were tossed, Baker took the reigns (not in the record books).

Bob Trice 1954 Topps RC. Trice was a 6′ 3″ right-handed pitcher from Newton, GA who played 3 seasons in MLB. The ’54 Topps was his only card. Bob was the first person of color to play for the Philadelphia Athletics. Bob spent three years with the Homestead Grays of the Negro League.

🐐fact: Bob started his professional career as an outfielder, but with the help of veteran Sam Bankhead he transitioned into a pitcher.

Jim Proctor 1960 Topps RC. This a really cool “Rookie Star” card, big fan of this look. Proctor appeared in only 2 MLB games (1 start) in 1959 with the Detroit Tigers. He started his professional career with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League.

🐐fact: Before being called up in September of ’59, Proctor had a fantastic year with the Knoxville Smokies (Sally League), sporting a 15-5 record, with a 2.19 era.

Larry Raines 1958 Topps RC. Raines was a well traveled ballplayer, mainly playing 3B, SS, and 2B. He started his pro career with the Baltimore Elite Giants in 1952. He went off to Japan to play in the Pacific League in 1953. Playing for Hankyu Braves, he led the league with 61 stolen bases in ’53. In ’54 he led the league in average (.337), runs (96), and hits (184). In 1957 (27 years old), he appeared in 96 games for the Cleveland Indians, hitting .262.

🐐fact: Raines is recognized as the first ballplayer to perform professionally in Minor League baseball, Negro League baseball, Japanese baseball, and MLB.

Joe Caffie 1958 Topps RC. Good looking ’58 card here. Caffie was a teammate of Larry Raines during the ’57 season. Joe had a fantastic rookie year, hitting .342 over 12 games. In a short span in MLB, he finished with a .292 avg (127 AB’s). Caffie broke in as an OF for the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro League. He hit well at every level. As you see with most of the Negro League players, they were either brought up to MLB too late in their career, or not given the proper playing time, even though most deserved it.

🐐fact: Joe was nicknamed, “The rabbit”. Here’s a quote by former Negro League star Luke Easter, “I have seen a lot of fast ones, but Caffie is the fastest, and that includes guys like Sam Jethroe.”

Joe Taylor 1958 Topps RC. Another ’58 Topps, great smile by Joe here. Taylor had a 4 year career in MLB, joining the Philadelphia Athletics as a 28 year-old. He started his professional career with the Chicago American Giants. In 1954 he was an All-Star hitting .323 and 23 HR for the Ottawa A’s (AAA).

🐐fact: Taylor battled alcoholism for much of his career, he had tremendous talent, here’s a quote from the great Maury Wills. “Joe Taylor should have been a superstar in the big leagues.”

Maury Wills 1972 Topps PSA 7.5. Speaking of Mr. Maury Wills, he will be up last in the “5th Inning” segment. I love this Wills card, two reasons, the ’72 set is one of my favs, and second, it’s his last Topps player card. Great Dodgers uniform here, exceptional piping down the shoulder and sleeve. Maury was the glue to those great Dodgers Championship teams. A 7x All-Star, 3x World Series champ, 2 Gold Gloves, and MVP of 1962 when he hit .299, smacked 208 hits, stole 104 bases, and legged out 20 triples. Wills was born in Washington, DC, a 3 sport star in basketball, football, and baseball. He played briefly for the Raleigh Tigers of the Negro League. He finished his MLB playing career with 2,134 hits, 586 stolen bases, and a .281 average.

🐐fact: Maury, now 88, is still a member of the Dodgers organization. In 2015, he missed getting elected by the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Golden Era Commitee by 3 votes.

Well that’s all for now folks, I hope you enjoyed the “5th Inning”. We’re headed to the 7th, see you soon!

More from Uncle Dan’s Mystery Box of Baseball: A Real Jambalaya

Inside the big box was a smaller box.  A crooked smile crossed my face in curious wonder as I reached for some unknown treasure.  I had just sorted through several things in Uncle Dan’s mystery box of baseball when I came across the familiar white cardboard baseball card box.  Slowly I unpacked the contents as my curious wonder intensified.  The cards I pulled out were just a random hodge-podge.  I was flipping through cards from Score, Fleer, Upper Deck, Donruss, several Bowmans and only a few of my favorite, Topps.  The majority of the cards were 1989s and 1990s.  A few 1988s, and 1991s, as well.  Interesting enough, I found a stack of 1990 Upper Deck hologram logo stickers, too.

Being somewhat compulsive with a need for order, I sorted this jambalaya of cards into stacks that made sense to me: by manufacturer and by year.  I’ll sort them by number later.  With a little bit of hope, I sorted through the 1989 Upper Decks, looking for “The Kid.”  Hoping, maybe, maybeee … Nope, no Junior.  Oh well.  I knew it was too much to hope for.  Regardless, there are some good names in the stack.  I turned to the Donruss pile.  A couple of good things, including a Bart Giamatti card.  I don’t recall if I had ever seen a card for the commissioner of baseball before, but it was good to see.  I like Giamatti, and for a moment I reflected on the scenes from the Ken Burn “Baseball” documentary, wondering what his tenure would have been like had he lived to serve a full term in office. 

In the 1990 Donruss stack, I also found something cool: the Juan Gonzalez (#33) reverse-image card.  The card manufacturer erred when they reversed the image of this Ranger “Rated Rookie” so that we see him batting in what appears to be on the left side of the plate, and of course, his uniform number 19 appears reversed.  Fortunately, the correct image card is among the stack, as well.  

The short stack of 1990 Fleers included #635 “Super Star Specials” called ‘Human Dynamos” picturing Kirby Puckett and Bo Jackson.  I’m guessing since both players are sporting their home jerseys, the photo was probably taken at the 1989 All-Star Game, which was played at Anaheim Stadium (where Jackson was the game’s MVP).  It’s an educated guess, but I would love to hear confirmation from someone.  

I was a little more intrigued with the small pile of 1990 Bowman cards, which warranted a little research.  As it so happened, by 1990 Bowman scaled down the size of their card, to a more standard dimension.  A couple of things piqued my interest.  First, this stack of cards featured a cool Art Card insert by Craig Pursely.  My stack featured Kevin Mitchell.  The reverse side gave a little blurb on the player, while the card also doubled as a sweepstakes entry.  This Art Card insert set included 11 cards.     

The other thing that piqued my interest is how the player’s information is presented on the reverse side.  In this instance, only one year of data given, but the analytics are compiled by competitor.  That is, the rows include the player stats, while the columns feature the specific teams.  For example, the Red Sox first baseman/outfield Danny Heep played in 113 games in 1989: 8 vs Orioles; 9 vs Angels; 7 vs White Sox; 8 vs Indians; and so on.  It’s a squirrelly way to present the data, if you ask me.  I feel bad for the person that had to put all that together for all 500+ cards. 

A couple of interesting things that stood out was a 1990 Score Tombstone Pizza Kirby Puckett card (number 25 of 30), a 1992 mini-set of three “Special Edition Combo Series” cards from French’s Mustard.  The three in my set include: Julio Franco/Terry Pendleton (#3), Don Mattingly/Will Clark (#11) and Cal Ripken Jr/Ozzie Smith (#13).  Brief information on each player (bio, stats, two-sentence blurb) is found on the card’s reverse side.  The 1992 Combo Series featured 18 cards with 32 players.  That is a lot of mustard to buy!     

I’m still struck by this unusual collection of cards, and wonder about the original collector’s motivation and frame of mind.  Such a wide assortment.  It also makes me want to read up again on this era of cards, when it seems like the wild west of cardboard and baseball players, with everyone and his brother looking to cash in on the collecting craze of the late 1980s/early 1990s.

Uncle Dan’s mystery box of baseball cards continues to provide an ongoing sense of wonder, if not source of amusement.  But wait, there’s more …

Art Market

We don’t talk a lot about value and sales prices on this blog. This is by design. Neither Jason nor I (nor Mark nor Chris) are interested in that stuff too much and we all agree that the primary interest of this committee is in card usage. Yes value maters when it comes to putting together a collection or knowing what to expect to pay. But none of us are in this committee to talk about how we’ve made (or lost) money on cards.

At the same time, when the market goes up and new money comes in, the results affect all of us. The past year in the hobby has been wild enough to result in numerous articles over the past year about the exploding market for sports cards. Most of these are nothing new to anyone who’s been collecting for more than a couple years. At their best they serve as decent primers to anyone who hasn’t thought about cards in decades. At their worst they end up being lazy analogies comparing card prices to index funds. Almost all of them mess up some key facts, such as calling the 1952 Topps Mantle his rookie card.

I read them because sometimes there’s something interesting. Usually I’m disappointed or frustrated but a recent article in the New York Times caught my eye because it made an explicit connection to the art market.

“This is the art of the future for sports enthusiasts who have money and don’t want to buy art,” Davis said. “Pretty much everything I collect now is because I think it is a good investment and because I like the player. The common thread is, I think it will be a good investment. It’s part of the fun.”

I’ve been making this point on Twitter for a while. While many people like to think of sports cards as analogous to stocks, it’s been clear to me that the better analogy is to the art market. From the way serial-numbered cards are basically art editioning to restoration issues and catalogue raisonné issues, the hobby has been moving in a direction which takes it out of the realm that most of us grew up in.

Becoming more like the art market means that extremely rich people are buying things as part of a portfolio. Some of them might be fans. Many of them though just like the idea. But the products they’re buying and selling are going to be products that the rest of us never see in person.

Most worrisome is the likelihood that the market will be manipulated as these investors seek to prop up the values of their cards. This kind of stuff is pretty common in the art world and, despite being a Potemkin Village, seems to skirt right by the press coverage which focuses just on the latest record-setting auction price.*

*It’s also worth watching the developing Non-Fungible Token art world here.

What the two dealers were apparently attempting to do was thread the needle on the two lesser Warhols. To bid high—as much as the consignor was hoping to get—might serve to prop up values for the Warhol market at large, but would be expensive and make the paintings that much more difficult to sell down the road.

Sure this might be fun for some people. But the fun is in the making money, not the medium which enables these flips.

The thing about the art market is that many museums have let the art investor/collectors drive the business. Some museums make a big deal showing one person’s collection. Often these feature a piece from all the prescribed big names and do nothing but allow for the owner to enhance the prestige of their collection. Other museums are basically showcases for a specific collection.

I don’t inherently dislike this but it’s important to realize that the immense platform we give the expensive stuff is only a sliver of the whole picture. As baseball cards move toward this territory it’s important for us all to remember that the art market side of things has pretty much nothing to do with the way we collect and that the focus on the expensive stuff tends to remove the hand of the curator.

In art, the museum curators are in charge of what museums display, illuminating why they’re on display, and considering how they interact with other items in the same gallery. There’s no similar position in trading card world. Instead, each of us is wears that hat and our collections are our personal curatorial projects.

The expensive 1:1 stuff is not only unattainable, it’s a distraction. It makes the focus just about value and turns a lot of heads. A collection of “these are expensive cards” is ultimately as boring as an art museum which only talks about how much the paintings are worth. There’s so much more interesting stuff to do with cards. There are so many more interesting ways to collect.

Pick themes. Tell stories. Run down a rabbit hole of weird stuff that interests only you.

Use your cards. Look at them. Share them. Display them. Talk about them.

Remember that this is a personal hobby.

Jason’s Mount Rushmore of Vintage Sets

I expect fellow author-collector Dylan has really started something with his post on the subject a couple weeks back. The topic is one just begging for the pen of each of our members, even as the idea of choosing “just four?!” often feels impossible.

1934-36 Diamond stars

I’ll lead off with a set that Dylan included on his Mt. Rushmore, the “Diamond Stars” issued by National Chicle from 1934-36. Like Dylan, it’s the look of the cards that hooks me in.

The color palette jumps off the cardboard like ink off a comic book page, but I am also a big fan of the baseball scenes depicted in so many of the card backgrounds. I’ve already written about these scenes coming more from the imaginations of the artists than real life, but for me that’s a feature, not a bug.

From a purely visual standpoint, Diamond Stars is my favorite set of the 1930s and perhaps my favorite set of all-time. Where it falls short with many collectors is in its player selection. Conspicuously absent from the set are Yankee greats Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. For the budget set collector, this is yet another bug-turned-feature.

If you’ve read a few of my pieces already, you also know I enjoy sets with some novelty and mystery. Diamond Stars definitely fits the bill, not only for its various quirks but also offers early instances (though by no means the earliest) of “Traded” cards.

If I had to choose one thing I dislike about this set, it’s the repetition of 12 players at the end of the set’s 108-card checklist. Particularly as these final cards are more scarce than the first 96, the duplication introduces disproportionate pain for set collectors forced to pay a premium for cards they already have.

1933 Goudey

Here is another set I’ve written about quite a bit and the set under whose shadow all other sets of the era reside.

While the set’s iconic status goes hand in hand with its trademark “Big League Chewing Gum” banner along so many of the card bottoms, my favorite cards come from the set’s final three releases (e.g., Morrissey, Root, and Herman above).

Where Diamond Stars lacked Ruth and Gehrig, Goudey brought these players on steroids, combining for six cards across the set’s 240-card checklist. Counting the Napoleon Lajoie card issued the following year, the set includes 66 cards of Hall of Famers and all but two players who competed in the season’s inaugural All-Star Game.

Were I to find fault with this set, it would be in a flaw common to all other baseball sets issued in the United States around this time. The set included players from the National League, American League, Pacific Coast League, International League, Southern Association, and American Association but no players from the Negro National League or other Black baseball leagues.

Kudos to my bud Scott Hodges who is filling some big holes in the 1933 Goudey set and others with his own digital card creations.

I’ve attempted similar in analog fashion though I’ve been less faithful to the history. Here is Buck Leonard on the Grays a year before he joined the team.

I will definitely treat the absence of Black stars as a bug, not a feature, but if there’s a silver lining it’s that there is no chance I could afford a 1933 Goudey Josh Gibson, and its absence from my collection would absolutely torment me daily.

1911 T205 Gold Borders

Like Dylan I had to include a tobacco set on my list. The T206 set, which initially did little for me, has grown on me immensely over the past couple years. Still, it would have to gain a lot more ground to surpass its gilded sequel.

The set features three different designs: one for National Leaguers, one for American Leaguers, and one for Minor Leaguers.

I absolutely love the NL and Minor League designs and am somewhat ho hum about the AL one, so I’m fortunate to be a Brooklyn collector.

As brilliant as the card fronts are, the T205 card backs are not to be ignored. While some feature brief biographies and one of several tobacco brands, others include…stats!

As with the two sets covered thus far, you will not find a single Black player in this set. You might suppose no card set from 1911 included Black athletes, but this was not the case. For example, here is Jack Johnson from the 1911 Turkey Red Cabinets (mostly baseball) set.

Once again then there is the knowledge in collecting T205 that you’re not collecting the very best players of the era. But again, did I mention I was a Brooklyn collector?!

AND…

Here’s where it always gets tough. I probably have ten or more sets I’m considering, but the rules are that I can only choose one. Though I love the cardboard of the 1930s (and earlier!) so much, my favorite era of baseball is the early 1950s. Though integration was slow, it was at least happening, and the mix of new talent and old talent was simply off the charts.

That said, the number of baseball card sets that managed to include all the top stars of the period was practically zero. Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Jackie Robinson in the same (playing era) set? Your choices are already fairly limited:

  • 1947 Bond Bread
  • 1948 Blue Tint
  • 1949 Leaf
  • 1950 All-Star Pinups
  • 1950 R423 Strip Cards
  • 1952 Berk Ross

Add Stan Musial and Bob Feller and the list shrinks further:

  • 1947 Bond Bread
  • 1949 Leaf
  • 1950 R423 Strip Cards
  • 1952 Berk Ross

Add Mantle and Mays and the list boils down to one: 1952 Berk Ross.

With a selection of players that also includes Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Larry Doby, Duke Snider, Monte Irvin, and an awesome Johnny Mize “in action” card, could this set be the winner?

As much as I love the checklist, the answer has to be no. Most of the images are too dark, too light, or too weird for my taste, and the simple design borders on the boring. Still, what could have been!

The key then is to find a set with beautiful cards and almost all these same players, and–if we add a few more years–Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, and Ernie Banks.

As much as it pains me to give up Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial, it’s hard for me not to land on 1956 Topps. The beautiful portraits, the Kreindleresque action shots, and the awesome cartoon backs offer my favorite overall design of the Golden Age of Baseball, and the absence of Bowman meant nearly every active star was included in the set.

Unlike 1952 Berk Ross, with only 72 cards, 1956 Topps included 342 cards (counting un-numbered checklists), hence was large enough to assign a card to nearly everyone, not just a couple stars per team.

If I have any bitterness toward this set, it’s only the sour grapes of waiting way too long to collect it. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that sometimes to collect your Rushmore you need to…rush more! Luckily, I do have all 24 Brooklyn cards from the set, and hey, did I mention I’m a Brooklyn collector?

How about you? Which vintage (or modern!) sets make your Mt Rushmore? We look forward to your article!

UNCOMMON COMMON: Charlie Berry

Author’s note: This is the third post in a series highlighting “common players” with stories far richer than the value of their trading cards. The first post in the series profiled Dave Hoskins and can be found here. The second post in the series profiled Ernie Barnes and can be found here.

The 1933 Goudey set is well known for its wealth of superstars, including four cards of the Bambino, two cards of the Iron Horse, and a litany of top-shelf Hall of Famers such as Ott, Speaker, Foxx, Hornsby, Grove, and (if you count him) Lajoie.

Collectors can therefore be forgiven if they aren’t impressed when stumbling upon card 184 in the set, that of Chicago White Sox catcher Charlie Berry.

The card was issued as part of Goudey’s seventh series (of ten in all), which I estimate as having come out in late August or early September 1933. The green Ruth #181 card would have likely been the prize for most kids, the other main highlight of the series being (generously) Hornsby’s crosstown update from Cards infielder to Browns skipper.

The card front was about as generic 1933 Goudey as could be (not that this is a bad thing!), featuring a solid yellow background reminiscent of Ruth’s card 53 and a waist up batter’s follow-through common to the set.

It would require some serious pre-internet knowledge of sports history, close proximity to Pottsville, Pennsylvania, or reading the back to know there was more to Berry than batting and backstopping.

Yes, Berry was one of the “mythical eleven” in 1924, a football All American at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, and (if I’m understanding how all this works) a Walter Camp first-teamer, an honor shared with gridiron legend Red Grange and among others.

Berry starred the next two seasons for the Pottsville Maroons of the fledgling National Football League, leading the league in scoring in 1925 and captaining an upset of the presumed top team in the country, an all-star team from Notre Dame that included its famed “Four Horsemen.”

Remarkably, the Pottsville squad included a second member of the 1933 Goudey set, Walter French.

Now mind you I’m by no means a football historian, but my sources (okay, source singular: Wikipedia!) tell me this was the game that put the NFL on the map. While the game catapulted the league to greater heights, Pottsville received anything but a thank you from the commissioner’s office.

On the contrary, the exhibition game was deemed a serious enough violation of league rules that Pottsville was stripped of its 1925 NFL championship and the Chicago Cardinals squad led by another 1933 Goudey alum took top honors.

Down the pecking order of consolation prizes a bit, the team did however earn a trading card set, maroon tint and all! The back of the set’s second card, “The Symbolic Shoe,” provides as strong evidence as you’ll find anywhere that Pottsvillians want that TITLE RESTORED!

This same set includes a card of Berry himself, and again the Zacko family is just not having that whole stripped title thing!

Berry collectors can also delight in knowing there was surprisingly (to me anyway!) a set produced in 1924 of the Lafayette Leopards college football team.

Sadly the set did not include Berry’s Lafayette (and future White Sox!) teammate Frank Grube, who would have to wait until 1935 to appear in the same set with Berry.

But enough about Charlie Berry the player. Let’s move on to what he did even better! For that, we’ll fast forward two decades to the 1955 Bowman set and the subset collectors love to hate.

Same guy? Yep, same guy!

In fact, if you were lucky enough to be at the Polo Grounds for “The Catch,” that first base umpire you might have booed was none other than the Pottsville Maroon legend.

Coincidentally, Berry was not the only umpire that day with cards in both the 1955 Bowman and 1933 Goudey sets. The Arkansas Hummingbird had an even better view of the catch as left field umpire that day.

Berry’s presence at the 1954 World Series was no fluke. He also worked the World Series in 1946, 1950, 1958, and 1962 for a total of 29 World Series games in all. Though I’m not exactly picketing Cooperstown or holding any bronze shoes hostage pending his enshrinement, I do think a strong Hall of Fame case could be made for Berry as an umpire.

However, Berry’s story doesn’t end there. Charlie Berry was also the Bo Jackson of officiating, racking up a borderline Hall of Fame resume working NFL games as well. His NFL head linesman resume included twelve (!) championships, highlighted by a critical call in the “Greatest Game Ever Played.”

Is it possible then that this “common player” from the 1933 Goudey set, whose card is readily found in decent shape for about $25, was perhaps the greatest sports official of all time as well as the player that put the NFL on the map? Might he even have two cases for induction, one for Cooperstown and one for Canton? And, as importantly, will the Zacko family finally donate that bronze shoe?

In the words of another Charles Berry, you never can tell!

And hey, don’t forget to check out Berry’s SABR Bio for plenty more on this Uncommon Common.

Farewell to Whitey who was Built Ford Tough

Edward Charles Ford, who passed away October 8 at the age of 91, was a Hall of Famer; World Series hero; Chairman of the Board; social companion of Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin; “Slick” to manager Casey Stengel. But to generations of Yankee fans he was simply, “Whitey.”

From the moment Ford joined the World Champion New York Yankees in midseason 1950, he was a trailblazer. He won his first 9 decisions and steadied a rotation that featured Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, Ed Lopat and Tommy Byrne en route to a World Series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies and their “Whiz Kids.”

A legendary competitor, the crafty lefty was the ace of the great Yankees dynasties of the 1950s and 1960s. According to the Baseball Hall of Fame website, Ford was the team’s Game 1 starter in every World Series from 1955-1958, becoming the first pitcher in history to start four consecutive Game 1s. Ford repeated the feat again from 1961-1964.

A 10x All-Star, Ford led the league in wins three times, twice in earned run average and won a Cy Young Award in 1961. With a record of 236 -106, he owns the highest winning percentage (.690) in history.  

As he lived in October, it stands to reason that Ford set numerous World Series pitching records, including consecutive scoreless innings (​33 2⁄3), wins (10), losses (8) games started (22), innings pitched (146) and strikeouts (94). He was a six-time World Series champion and a World Series MVP recipient in 1961.

When it came to baseball cards, Ford was equally iconic. After his exploits of 1950, the Bowman Gum Company honored the rookie by designating him card No. 1 in its 1951 Bowman baseball card set – the same set that features the rookie card of Mickey Mantle.

Ford, however, would miss the next two full seasons by fulfilling his military obligations as noted by the back of Ford’s 1953 Bowman Color baseball card.

“The return of Whitey from Uncle Sam’s service to the Yankee mound staff is looked upon by delight from everybody to the President down to the bat boy. He’s a great young pitcher, and if can pitch as he did before he left for his service hitch, he’ll be a tremendous help to the Yanks in their quest for a fifth straight pennant.”

1953 Bowman Whitey Ford card back

However, Ford didn’t miss a beat on his return to the majors. Winning 18, 16, 18 and 19 games in his next four seasons.

It was the mid-1950s and Ford was enjoying himself and the New York City nightlife with Yankee teammates Mantle and Billy Martin – a trio that earned the nickname, “The Three Musketeers.”

Bill Pennington, author of “Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius” wrote that one of the Musketeers (Martin) was painted as a ringleader; taking most of the blame when things went wrong. The claim was refuted by Ford himself in the book.

“I don’t know why Billy always got labeled the instigator, which wasn’t at all true,” Ford said. “Mickey just had that innocent, country-boy look and I was quiet about a lot of things in public. But Billy didn’t care about appearances and he had that mischievous grin, so people just thought he was stirring us up all the time. It wasn’t really the case. We got into plenty of trouble on our own.”

Trouble like the infamous Copacabana incident in 1957 when several Yankees, including Mantle, Ford, and Martin as well as Hank Bauer and Johnny Kucks, were involved in an early morning altercation at the famed New York City nightclub.

The next morning’s headlines in the New York papers were scandalous at the time: “It Wasn’t A No-Hitter” screamed a headline in the New York Journal-American. Soon after, Yankee brass banished “ringleader” Martin, who was traded to Kansas City.

Nonetheless, the Yankees would continue their pennant-winning ways with Ford leading the way into the World Series– except the one time he didn’t.

In 1960, as the Yankees were preparing to play the Pittsburgh Pirates, Stengel surprised many by opting to start journeyman Art Ditmar in Game 1 in favor of Ford, who was already a dominant post-season performer. Skipping Ford in Game 1 meant the lefty would be unable to pitch three times if the series went the distance. The move backfired horribly. Not only did Ford pitch brilliantly – hurling two shutouts in Games 3 and 6 – but the Pirates jumped on Ditmar each time he pitched in the series. In fact, Ditmar never made it out of the second inning in either start. The Pirates won the series in seven games. The decision was heavily criticized and cost Stengel his job as Yankee manager.

Meanwhile, Ford would win the Cy Young Award the following year in that magical 1961 season and go on to pitch well into the 1960s, even as those Yankees teams began to falter as their stars like Mantle began to age.

Interestingly, Ford lost his last four World Series starts – Game 5 against the 1962 Giants, Games 1 and 4 (opposing Sandy Koufax each time) against the 1963 Dodgers, and Game 1 versus the 1964 Cardinals.

Ford was enshrined in Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1974, five years before I started following baseball. Very quickly, however, I came to understand Ford’s place in Yankee history – mostly through my baseball card collection as well as his appearances at Yankees’ Old Timer’s Day. As is customary with the event, the greatest players are honored with getting introduced last. And when you’re talking New York Yankees, that’s quite a pecking order: Berra, Mantle and DiMaggio.

Years later with legends like Mantle and DiMaggio no longer around, it was time for Ford to receive the honors and accolades.

In 2010 – the last time I attended an Old Timer’s Day at Yankee Stadium – I paid strict attention to the moment when Ford and Berra were introduced.  Understanding that this might be the last I would ever see them, I fixated only on them. I stood silently and took in their every movement, smile and wave as they rode in from the centerfield gate in a tricked-out golf cart (complete with Yankee pinstripes). “Remember this moment. That’s Yogi and Whitey.”

When I visit Yankee Stadium with my sons, we dutifully pay a visit to Monument Park and read the plaques of the legends. Like Whitey Ford. 

Rest in peace.

Legitimacy

1952ToppsJRobinson

I have been reading about or studying the integration of baseball for many years, at first principally because I wanted to write about the effect that integration had on the quality of the game. Obviously if you add Jackie Robinson to a league, that league is not just ethically and morally better, the quality of play is also better. Much better. I mean, this is JACKIE ROBINSON for God’s sake. And then Doby, and Campy, and Irvin, and on and on.

Jackie Robinson and the extraordinary cohort of people who integrated the game in the 1940s and 1950s will always be baseball’s best story, one that can not be over-told. We (myself included) have been guilty of treating this story as a culmination rather than as an important chapter in an ongoing struggle. Today’s decreased number of Black American players, to say nothing of managers and executives, is one constant reminder of progress yet to be made. Another are the tales of just how difficult the lives of black players can be in today’s Major League Baseball. Like the rest of America, baseball has a long, long way to go.

Additionally, my integration-era research has led to collateral damage in my relationship with Jim Crow (pre-1947) baseball, and its cards. I still appreciate the history, and the stories, and I understand how great Wagner, Cobb, Ruth, and DiMaggio were, but the stories are a little less romantic, and maybe the players were all a little less great than I thought. It’s the other side of same coin–you can’t believe that Robinson, Mays and Aaron made the game significantly better without also believing that not having them made the game significantly worse.


For Christmas in 1981, I was given a beautiful 1982 calendar which I believe had been advertised in the New Yorker. With brief exceptions, it has hung on a wall in my dorm/apartment/house/office for the past 38 years–it is six feet away from me as I type. (In 2021, for the first time since 2010, the days will align.)

Its 12 pages tell the story of baseball cards chronologically–January is for 19th century tobacco cards, while the last row of December shows 1981 Topps. If you lay the calendar on a table and flip through months (the only way to really do it–the pages are 22″ x 14″), you get a high level view of 100 years of the hobby. And of Major League baseball.

IMG_1935

What the calendar also shows, visually and starkly, is Jim Crow: page after page, row after row, of White dudes.

The first Black face belatedly shows up in August, in the penultimate row, appropriately the 1949 Bowman Satchel Paige. The final August row features 1951 Topps, and includes both Monte Irvin and Luke Easter. These three men were the 7th, 10th, and 11th Black players in the Major Leagues in the 20th century. There are four more Black faces on the page for September, which highlights the 1951 and 1952 Bowman sets.

My calendar almost always (as now) is hung so as to display October. I don’t know if it was deliberate on the part of the designer, probably not, but October’s top row is like a punch in America’s face, and the next three rows don’t really let up.

IMG_1934

Here is a thought experiment. Imagine seeing a binder of 1956 Topps cards, except that all of the Black players have been removed. No Mays, no Aaron, no Jackie, no Banks, no Clemente, no lots of other stars. There are still great players in the binder–Mantle, Williams, Koufax, Feller, and more–but its obviously a worse group than the real set. Not just a little worse, immeasurably worse.

In other words, it would be … just like 1934 Goudey. Or 1940 Play Ball. Or T-205. Looking through that denuded 1956 binder would be at the very least uncomfortable, and more likely offensive, to a modern collector. And that is why I struggle with all the pre-war cards sets.

As Nick wrote a couple of years ago, “while cards have always existed, their role in defining who ‘real’ ballplayers are cannot be ignored.” If I collect cards to celebrate the baseball of the time, I have to ask myself: do I really want to hang a frame on the wall that glorifies segregated baseball? The 1934 Goudey card set, the T-206 set, and all pre-war card sets, perpetuate the lie that “organized” baseball sold America for decades, that these were the best players, the “real” players.

While major league baseball was barring great Black players from playing in its leagues, and most white newspapers were complicit in not reporting on the Negro Leagues, companies like American Tobacco and Goudey  were not putting Black players on baseball cards. There were a lot of minor league cards or sets in these years, there were sets for pilots, and actors, and dogs, and trees, but nothing for the many fans of Oscar Charleston or Bullet Joe Rogan or Biz Mackey. Didn’t they smoke, or chew gum?

Had any of these companies chosen to make a Negro League set, or, better yet, incorporated Negro League players into their flagship sets, it might have led to increased and earlier calls for integration, and would have made these players “real” to kids all over America. But they did not.

When it comes to baseball cards, the lie began to dramatically unravel in the 1950s.  By the end of the decade, nearly 10% of the players on the field had dark skin, and many of these were among the best players in the sport. If you collected, some of the best and most sought after cards depicted players who you might not have heard of had they played a decade earlier.  In 1956, ten years after White America wondered if Jackie Robinson would be good enough, there were 52 Black players on big league diamonds.  Nine of them are in the Hall of Fame. Nine.

I have been dabbling in the cards of the early 1950s in recent years. I don’t have any of the sets and doubt I ever will, but enjoy picking up an occasional example, including Ted Williams or Yogi Berra or Duke Snider.

Sing the praises of pre-war cards and players as you wish.  But the 1950s are the first time when the best players were allowed in the major leagues and in baseball card sets. Both enterprises, belatedly, had become legitimate.

 

The greatest year in baseball card history

I’ll get quick to the point. It’s 1954. Hands down…

Topps had a set.

1954 Topps #32 Duke Snider Front

Bowman had a set.

1954 Bowman #170 Duke Snider Front

Red Man had a set.

1954 Red Man #NL16 Duke Snider Front

Red Heart had a set.

1954 Red Heart Dog Food #NNO Duke Snider Front

Dan-Dee had a set.

1954 Dan-Dee Potato Chips (Reprint) #NNO Duke Snider Front

Stahl-Meyer had a set.

1954 Stahl-Meyer Franks #12 Duke Snider Front

The New York Journal-American had a set.

1954 New York Journal-American #NNO Duke Snider Front

And those were just the ones with Duke Snider!

Dixie had a set.

Wilson Franks had a set.

1954 Wilson Franks #5 Bob Feller   Front

And let’s not forget the single-team issues out there, of which there were many.

1954 Johnston Cookies #NNO Hank Aaron Front

And minor league issues too!

1954 Seattle Rainiers Popcorn #NNO Leo Thomas Front

Popcorn, cookies, hot dogs, ice cream, newspapers, potato chips, dog food (DOG FOOD!), chewing tobacco, chewing gum…you name it! Wait, did I forget the syrup?

Willie Mays and Alaga | Willie mays, Vintage baseball, Baseball

Of course, it’s not just about quantity, else just about any year from the Junk Wax era would beat 1954 hands down. But unlike the macaroni, hardware, and toilet paper cards of the late eighties, these 1954 releases also happen to be fantastic sets! They also marked a turning point.

Just one year later, apart from Topps and Bowman, there were only two baseball card sets other than single-team releases: Red Man and the Robert Gould All-Stars, though we’re be remiss not to mention Armour Coins and Wilson Franks Baseball Books. Just two years later, in 1956, there were none. And there wasn’t even Bowman!

In that sense, 1954 was not only the greatest year to be a collector but also the end of a certain Golden Age of cards. For collectors interested in taking a closer look at this magical year, I’ve compiled a checklist of the Hall of Famers (and Minnie, who belongs!) featured in each of the multi-team sets, with a notes column capturing all single-team releases. (A more readable version is here, which you can also sort in ways other than most cards to least.)

As a window shopper who loves flipping through sets in Trading Card Database or just admiring the collections of others, there is no better year for me than 1954. On the other hand, as a player collectors whose focus includes Hank Aaron, Roy Campanella, and Jackie Robinson, I will confess to often cursing the fact that certain sets exist. Then again, I suppose I’m still more likely to get the two 1954 Campy cards on my want list before the Shohei Ohtani completists get anywhere near the 2722 cards Trading Card Database lists for him in 2018 alone!

How about you? What’s your pick for greatest year in baseball card history? And if you’re a player collector, is it a good thing or a bad thing when the want list is a mile long?

And for more SABR Baseball Cards posts on 1954–