From Buckeye to Branch’s Bonus Baby Buc

Autumn means post-season baseball and clashes on the college and NFL gridirons. Most fans of the two sports are aware that a few players managed to carve out careers in both sports. The obvious examples are Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, who successfully played both sports professionally in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Jim Thorpe and George Halas were two early 20th century examples players who dabbled in both sports.

The aforementioned Jackson won the Heisman Trophy in ’85 before embarking on his professional careers in baseball and football. Thirty-five years earlier, another Heisman winner played both sports professionally: Vic Janowicz.

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1951 Topps Football

Although Vic was on the watch list of several MLB teams in high school, he decided to attend Ohio State to play football exclusively. He won the Heisman in ’50 as a two-way player seeing action as a tailback and safety. In addition, Vic handled the punting and place-kicking chores for the Buckeyes. In a game against Pittsburgh, he single-handedly scored 46 points. Against Michigan, Vic punted 21 times for 685 yards. His first card is from a ’51 college football set produced by Topps.

Janowicz surprised the sports world by initially forgoing pro football and signing with the Pirates in ’52, even though he hadn’t played baseball since his senior year in high school. The $10,000 signing bonus given to him by Pirates GM, Branch Rickey, resulted in Vic becoming a “Bonus Baby.” Under major league rules, “Bonus Babies” (players who sign for more than $4,000) had to remain on the big-league roster for two years.

Predictably, Janowicz saw limited action with the Pirates, which stunted his development. Used mostly as a third catcher, he hit .214 in ’53 and ’54, earning him a release at season’s end.

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1953 Topps
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1954 Topps

Despite his benchwarmer status, Janowicz had several cards. Topps included him in the ’53 set, and both Bowman and Topps issued cards for Vic in ’54. His final card is a ’55 Bowman “Color TV” card, even though he didn’t play that season.

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1954 Bowman
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1955 Bowman

The ’54 and ’55 Bowmans feature Janowicz wearing the helmet all the Pirates wore-including pitchers-at the behest of Branch Rickey. His goal of preventing head injuries was sound, but the helmets were composed of heavy plastic making them extremely uncomfortable. Maybe that explains the 100 loss seasons the Pirates endured in this era.

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1955 Bowman back

Interestingly, the cards all mention that Vic was an All-American at OSU but omit his winning the Heisman. I assume the award didn’t have the same lofty status that it holds today, since there were many clubs and organizations that sponsored awards in the ‘50s.

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1955 Bowman
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1956 Topps

With his baseball career aborted, Janowicz gave the NFL a try, signing with the Redskins who had drafted him in ’51. He plays two season for Washington, leading them in rushing in ’55 while handling the place- kicking duties as well. Bowman’s ’55 NFL set has a Janowicz card and Topps issued one in ’56.

Vic’s career ended tragically in a car accident in ’57. The resulting head injury left him paralyzed on the left side of his body.

Bo “knew” football and baseball, so did Vic.

Sources:
New York Times: February 29, 2009, Vic Janowicz Obituary
“From Heisman to the Diamond:” Baseball Hall-of-Fame Website
Trading Card Database

The ’51 Roberto Avila Bowman Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bowman v. Topps: Winning the Battle and Losing the War

In my first contribution to this outstanding blog, I want to offer this summary of the litigation between Bowman and Topps that ultimately led to Bowman’s departure from the marketplace despite winning a federal circuit court decision over Topps. As an emeritus law professor, I hope to cover legal aspects of the industry as well as my own personal feelings as a collector for sixty years.

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1953 Bowman
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1953 Topps

For many of us, the “golden age of baseball cards” started in the decade following the end of World War II with the two primary companies of the era – the Bowman Gum Company and the Topps Chewing Gum Company emerging in the late 1940s to compete head-to-head in the early 1950s. As the fight for sales heated up in drug and candy stores, the two companies squabble over the contractual rights to the use of players’ pictures landed the two in federal court in New York.

The litigation that initially began with Haelen Laboratories, Inc., who acquired Bowman in 1952, suing Topps claiming unfair competition, trademark infringement, and a breach of exclusive contractual rights ultimately established the foundation for a newly named legal right – the right of publicity. Topps won the first round in the Eastern District of New York in a decision rendered by Judge Clarence G. Galston on May 25, 1953, involving a very technical aspect of whether or not Haelen had a “property interest” allowing it to proceed against Topps instead of pursuing a breach of contract actions against individual players for breaching their exclusive contracts.

On appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Jerome Frank noted that Topps was guilty of the tort of causing certain players to breach their exclusive contracts. More importantly for the development of the law, however, Frank went further determining that “We think that, in addition to and independent of that right of privacy . . . a man has a right in the publicity value of his photograph … i.e., the right to grant the exclusive privilege of publishing his picture … This right might be called a “right of publicity.”

Topps filed an appeal with the United States Supreme Court. On October 13, 1953, the Court refused to accept the appeal. While legal wrangling continued between the two parties, Haelen was acquired by Connelly Containers, Inc. They had little interest in card and gum business and settled with Topps in early 1956. So, despite their rival gaining the stronger legal claim, Topps ultimately emerged as the business victor in the fight between the two parties.

One of my favorite sets turned out to be Bowman’s last – the 1955 “color television set” cards.

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For a detailed discussion of the litigation, I strongly encourage you to read an article by my good friend Gordon Hylton titled “Baseball Cards and the Birth of the Right of Publicity: The Curious Case of Haelen Laboratories v. Topps Chewing Gum” published in volume 12 of the Marquette Sports Law Review available at this link.

 

Editor’s note:  Ed is a law professor at Notre Dame has written extensively on the intersection of baseball an the law, including in this book.  Follow him at @epedmondsNDLS.

SABR 47 Checklist

In preparation for SABR 47 which is just a few weeks a way I have been trying to put together a checklist of cards related to the panels and presentations scheduled for this years conference. The use of the term checklist is a bit of a misnomer here, as this list is nowhere near comprehensive. It is more of a selection of cards that I find interesting that are also related to the subjects at SABR47.

Jim Bouton

Once I saw Jim Bouton was on the schedule re-reading “Ball Four” jumped to the front of my to-do list. I have read the books several times, once as a teenager, again in my 30s, and currently on the edge of my 50s. The book is the most interesting to me now – a large part of that is I have learned more about the Bouton/Seattle Pilots era via card collecting. Also today a lot more information is at your fingertips, I have checked into box scores, stats, and SABR Bios on a few dozen players while reading the book. As a more mature reader I have found parts of the book a little disconcerting, Bouton’s brashness that I found attractive in my youth now seems self-centered and arrogant. There is also the objectification of women which sometimes makes me cringe. The tell-all aspect of “Ball Four” may have been shocking at the time, to a young person today the books revelations may seem trivial – but I can easily see Bouton’s teammates getting upset with the books revelations. In some ways I think he did break some locker room ethics.

1962 Topps #592 Rookie Parade

I picked out Jim Bouton’s rookie card to represent the Pitcher and Author. The card is shared with another player noted for his off the field behavior Bo Belinsky. For the first time, Topps elected to put rookies on shared cards. It is a good idea to squeeze more players into the set but one of the unfortunate results is that the RCs of many future HOFs end upon shared cards (Stargell, Schmidt, Molitor, Rice, Carew, Sutton, Joe Morgan, Gary Carter etc.)

The 1962 Rookie Parade cards run in sequence as an eight card subset that runs from #591 – #598. While none of the cards contain Hall of Famers they do reside at the end of the final series of 1962 Topps and are somewhat scarce. The Bouton card at #592 is the second card in the subset – If you think in terms of numerical precedence this means he is featured on the 2nd Multi-player Rookie card issued by Topps. The Biggest Name on the first card #591 is Sam McDowell. That card also features Ron Taylor, Dick Radatz, Art Quirk, and Ron Nischwitz. Other notables in the set include Bob Uecker (#595), and a couple of Ball Four Luminaries Joe Pepitone (#596) and Denis Menke (#597). The full list can be found at the bottom of the checklist at Cardboard Connection.

1965 Topps #137 Bouton Wins Again

My favorite Bouton Card is from the 1965 Topps World Series Subset. You can read my thoughts on that card here.

Orlando Hernandez

1998 Bowman Chrome International #221

The Latino Baseball Committee is hosting Peter Bjarkman who was featured in the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Brothers in Exile” about Cuban brothers Livan and Orlando Hernandez. I picked out a fun one here. One of the insert sets common to Bowman features the player photo overlaying an image of a map of the country or state from which the player hails. Topps has also done this with flags in the background rather than maps.

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1998 Bowman Chrome International #221 (b-side)

In addition to the map of Cuba, the international flavor of the card carries through to the back which is written in Spanish.

SABR 47 Checker

Those are just two of the cards I thought of when perusing the schedule for SABR 47. A check of other cards would including the following and many more. If you have other favorites post them in the comments. It will give collectors the opportunity to look at their collection from a different angle and in context of the SABR convention.

1953 Topps #1 Jackie Robinson (Jackie Robinson Panel)

1954 Topps #104 Mike Sandlock (RP18 Charlie Dressen’s Pacific All Stars Tour of 1945)

1961 Topps #472 MVP Yogi Berra (Yogi Berra Panel)

1970 Topps #1 New York Mets (George Vescey)

1976 SSPC #37 Dennis Eckersly RC (Keith Olbermann)

1981 Topps #291 Ken Landreaux (Olbermann)

1988 Topps #267 Billy Bean (RP24 Emasculating Rituals of MLB Players)

2002 UD Vintage Day at the Park #DP2 Derek Jeter (A Day at the Ballpark Special Session)

2010 Topps #41 Dodgers Franchise History (RP26 Happy Felton’s Knothole Gang)

2014 Topps #273 Mark DeRosa (MLB Now Panel)

 

Sources and Links

Phungo

Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards – Bob Lemke

Cardboard Connection

Check Out My Cards

Ball Four

Baseball-Reference

In Praise of Corsairs and Belters

My first baseball cards were 1967 Topps, which I discovered when I was a wee lad of six. Within a very short time, as I have explained, I used my cards in order to follow real baseball teams. I organized my cards by teams and made lineups based on the day’s box scores. I never knew what to do with the checklists, league leaders, World Series cards, and the like. Should I use the NL Batting Leaders card as a place-holder until I got Matty Alou? I might have done that.

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One group of cards I liked very much were those that pictured two or three players above a cute, often alliterative, title. Pitt Power — what a pair of words that was. Just as great was the back of the card, which was nothing but text. Understand, when I first saw this card I had little idea who these people were, and I wanted to learn. The fact that Topps put these happy-looking men on this card was proof that they were players to be reckoned with, and the news that Clendenon had once “paced the circuit” in home runs, albeit seven years earlier in the Sally League (whatever that was), sealed the deal. Phrases like “paced the circuit” became part of my language, along with “first sacker,” “blasted,” and “round-tripper,” all used here as well.

I knew right then what I wanted to do when I grew up: write the text on the front and backs of these cards. In 1967, Topps gave us 13 of them, with such wonderful titles as Cards’ Clubbers, Mets Maulers, Bengal Belters, and Hurlers Beware. And you can bet the backs had a fair bit of fence-busting, circuit-blasts and two-baggers. Warning: if we ever meet, I pretty much still talk like this today.

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Martin and Rizzuto
Berra, Bauer, Mantle
Berra, Bauer, Mantle

Credit for multiplayer cards, at least in the modern era, belongs to Bowman Gum, which produced two multi-player cards in their 1953 set, five famous players from the perennial World Champions. The cards had no text on the front, like all the Bowman cards that year, and card backs filled with prose. In their remaining two years of operation, Bowman never tried this again.

Four years later, Topps brought these cards back and this time they stuck. Topps made 107 multiplayer cards over a 13 year period (1957-1969). I am not going to go through every one of them, we don’t have all day here. Suffice to say that I like all 107 of them.

These cards depicted either two (72 times), three (29 times), or four (6 times) people, usually players but occasionally a manager or coach. Often they were just standing around being awesome, but sometimes they were talking, exchanging baseball nuggets.

Here are a few of my favorite examples.

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1959 Topps

Three times Topps referred to a pair of players as Fence Busters. Besides Aaron and Mathews above, they had used the phrase with Mantle and Snider in 1958, and brought it back for Mays and McCovey in 1967. Topps used similar terms through the years (clouters and sockers and belters), often for players who were quite a bit less worthy than Henry and Eddie. But Fence Busters seems to have been set aside for the cream of the crop.

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1969 Topps

Ted Williams signed a contract to manage the Senators in February 1969, quite late in the off-season for baseball card purposes, but Topps took photos of Williams in spring training and put him on his own late-series card plus this one of him teaching a mortal how to hit. Oddly, the Senators had already put the previous manager (Jim Lemon) on a card in an earlier series.

I recall as an 8-year-old seeing “Ted Shows How” on the checklist and wondering what it could possibly be. Much like kids must have puzzled over “Words of Wisdom” or “Lindy Shows Larry” a few years earlier.

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1968 Topps

Of these 107 multiplayer cards Topps depicted at least one (future) Hall of Famer 58 times. Often there were a pair of immortals on the card, and one time — this card right here — Topps struck gold with three players destined for Cooperstown. What’s not to like?

The photo was taken at the 1964 All-Star game at Shea Stadium. Topps used a few other All-Star game photos over the years (what better time to find pair of star players), and the 1967-68 player boycott required that they find some older photos.

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1964 Topps

The vast majority of these multiplayer cards employed titles meant to praise the players — clubbers, maulers, aces, heroes, etc. With the above card Topps stayed on firmer ground, telling us only that the depicted men were Angels, and were catchers. On the back, we learn that they are both “fine handlers of pitchers [who] know when to call for the right pitch in the right situation.” As for their hitting, Topps wisely ignored their unimpressive major league resumes so they could brag about long ago successes in the minors (13 years earlier in Ed’s case.)

I know that Keith Olbermann has spent time researching the Topps photo archive, and I recently asked him whether he’d ever run across multiplayer groupings that were not used — indicating that Topps took a bunch of these every year and selected a subset of them to produce. Keith said he’d only seen a couple of new groupings, which suggests that Topps mostly printed what they got. The photographer was likely snapping some photos and said, “hey, come over here and let me get you both.” On this day, the two Angel backstops might have been warming up pitchers at the same time, and here we are.

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1962 Topps

This photo of the two biggest stars in baseball was taken at the 1961 All-Star game at Boston’s Fenway Park. You can also make out Elston Howard, John Roseboro and Henry Aaron engaged in witty banter behind them. Oh, to have been wandering around the field on that day.

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1967 Topps

This is one of my all-time favorite cards, because of its breathtaking beauty. The sunny day, the uniforms, the matching “on-deck” stances. Cardboard perfection.

The title is wonderfully alliterative, if perhaps an odd way to refer to men known for their speed on the bases and in the outfield. But I shall not quibble nor debate this card.

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1957 Topps

“I see the boys of summer in their ruin.”

When this card reached store shelves in late summer of 1957, these four wonderfully talented men could not have realized what lay ahead for their careers, or their team, or their city. Their expressions showed nothing but the justifiable pride and happiness for all they had accomplished thus far. Why shouldn’t it last forever?

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In their 1969 set Topps used four multiplayer cards, this being the final of the four in the checklist. And then, for whatever reason, it was all over. The multiplayer card was retired.

I have never heard an explanation for why. Its not as if Topps stopped other non-base cards — they still put out team photos, and tried “Boyhood Photos” or “Record Breakers.” These cards seemed to be very popular, and comparatively easy to put together. You just need someone to write 200 words on the back. Hell, I would have done it for free.

I consider these 107 cards, spread over 13 years, to be their own special subset, and if you have not yet experienced them I suggest you find some.  If filling in all of these old Topps sets is too much for your budget, how about just getting these 107 cards? There is no better way to celebrate the game and the era.

As for me, I need to figure out a way to make a poster, something more attractive than my feeble attempt below.

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A New Grading Scale?

Over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking of creating a new card grading scale.  When I see cards that are graded EX-MT, what does that really mean?

Under my new scale this 1953 Bowman Color Joe Garagiola would be Loved.  Just below Handled and a step up from Well Loved.

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For the rest of the story, view the post on my card blog, Mark’s Ephemera.

2013 Bowman Inception

img_4711At the time that the 2013 Bowman Inception series was released I had not yet been on Twitter. I didn’t read the card blogs and was unaware that the product existed. This changed on a trip to my local card shop (LCS). At the time I was at the stage of collecting modern cards where I was solely hit driven. I was in search of the most autographs per box for the money. That is when the shop owner told me about the new autograph-only prospect proimg_4710duct that had just come out. I pulled up the checklist on my phone and decided to give it a try and opened a box, I enjoyed it so much that one box turned into three on that trip and eventually two more.

At five cards per box I was quickly halfway to completing the base set so that is what I set out to do. Over the next year I set out on the quest to complete the set, which I did rather quickly sans redemptions that had not yet been filled by Topps. The final two cards I acquired to complete the set were Alen Hanson who took quite a long time to sign his cards and Yasiel Puig which is the only stated short print of the set and is his first certified aimg_4709utograph card.

Over the three years since this set was released it has held up rather well for a prospect set. 33 of 47 players have reached the majors totaling 101.9 bWAR between them. The group includes three Rookies of the Year winners in Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Jose Fernandez. All-Stars include Seager, Fernandez (two times), Puig and Addison Russell. Seager also has a Silver Slugger award to his name. On a somber note two players featured in this set, Oscar Taveras and Fernandez, have since passed away leaving us to only dream on the potential that will forever go unrealized.

Several of the playeimg_4708rs have been involved in major trades this offseason. Jorge Soler traded to the Royals for Wade Davis. Lucas Giolito traded to the White Sox as part of the Adam Eaton trade. Taijuan Walker traded to the D’Backs as the primary return for Jean Segura. For me it is fun to follow a group of players that are linked really only by a set of pictures on cardboard. I look forward to checking back in on this group through the years.

The complete checklist can be found here.