Junk Wax for the win!

Okay, I admit it. I’m kind of a collecting snob. As a vintage collector I tend to thumb my nose at modern and recoil instantly at anything that shines, refracts, redeems, rainbows, or retails for more than 30 cents a pack. So what was I doing this past weekend up to my ears in junk wax?!

Card collecting at its best…REALLY!

The plan hatched innocently enough. Following my baseball card presentation at our last SABR Chicago meeting, a few of the attendees and I were in the parking lot chatting about cards. One of the members, Rich, mentioned that he had a lot of unopened 1989 Fleer from the early (uncensored F*Face) print runs and would happy donate a cello box to the right occasion.

Meanwhile, one of my best buddies from high school, a guy I opened thousands of packs with back in the day, was up from Los Angeles on a work assignment. Abe no longer collected cards, but I knew there would be plenty of room for at least one evening of waxing nostalgic.

Abe on a more typical evening

Also joining the fun were Bill, whose chapter newsletters must be the best in all of SABR, and John, who writes on here as Baseball Law Reporter and is also the man behind the incredibly ambitious and useful Baseball Sites Project.

After some pizza and a few innings of Astros-Yankees on the main floor, we headed down to the basement, and Rich brought out the 1989 Fleer. How he had resisted opening the packs all this time was a mystery to me, but it worked out well for us. Or more specifically, it worked out VERY well for Abe, who managed to land all three of these gems!

Inside joke but Abe himself was the “Luckmaster” this past weekend!

As for my own stack of 1989 Fleer, it’s possible not a single card is worth more than a quarter (if even!), but it didn’t stop me from being excited any time I pulled a good player. Eddie Murray, Kirk Gibson, Dave Parker…the hits just piled up. As much as I love cards of the 1930s, the truth is it was THESE cards where I knew all the players, saw many of them play, and remembered the feeling of finding them in packs. Junk or not, nostalgia is in the memories, never the value.

From there we went on to 1981 Fleer, which brought back my age 11 memory of pulling the “C” Nettles at a card show and literally fainting! Riding his earlier hot streak, Abe (of course!) was the one to pull a Nettles, but it was the corrected Graig Nettles version. Of course he still managed the best hit of the box, the Fernand [sic] Valenzuela rookie card. Yes, I know the card is available on eBay for $1, but I still couldn’t help being insanely jealous of the pull.

You had ONE job, 1981 Fleer typesetter!

One thing that caught our eye with the 1981 Fleer box to retailers informing them of the two free packs (hence 60 cents extra profit!) contained in each box. And sure enough, there were those two extra packs, crammed sideways between the main stacks of wax. As card-obsessed as I was as a kid, this was wholly uninteresting to me back in 1981 but today reveals an important marketing strategy Fleer used to establish a foothold in the newly competitive baseball card retail space.

We also had some fun opening my 20 or so assorted 1988 Score packs and a box of 1988 Donruss. Every 20 minutes or so, one of us would run up to see if my 1981 Donruss box had been delivered, but sadly it never did arrive on time. Still, opening packs was only half the fun we had planned for the night.

At least partly to troll John for his recent article on the worst baseball card set ever, I brought out my never-been-played, had-to-empty-my-TV-remotes-for-batteries 1989 Main Street Baseball game. Of course there was no way we were using the ugly cards that came with the game, not when we had heaps and heaps of 1980s wax sitting right in front of us!

John, I hope it’s cool I stole your photo!

For what must have been the next 90 minutes, we proceeded to dig through our stacks of freshly opened cards, trying to find actual baseball cards of each of the players on our team. One fantastic attribute of junk wax became immediately apparent as readily handed off our Nolan Ryan, Tony Gwynn, and George Brett cards to whichever guy had the adhesive stat strip for the player. WE COULD GIVE THESE CARDS AWAY FOR FREE AND NOT CARE AT ALL!

This would have been unthinkable back in the 1980s!

Yes, the fact that many cards in our collections are worth money can feel like a positive sometimes, and the fact that we can probably flip a $80 card for at least $75 down the road makes us feel a little less crazy spending nice-dinner-out-with-the-family money on a little square of cardboard.

But let’s face it; the value of our cards is also the single greatest barrier to enjoyment. When your cards are worth money, it’s hard to give them away, it’s hard to even make trades, you’re not going to flip them, they won’t go near a bicycle tire, and you might not even want to touch them! What kind of hobby is this?!

Meanwhile, here we were with our junk wax not only sharing them freely (except Billy Ripken!) but even…YES!…putting stickers on them! (Side note: Did Puckett’s 1988 Score bio really say, “Sporting a shaved head and a chunky body shaved like a bowling ball…?” YES!)

Hoping my son can crack the code and build me a secret weapon player who homers every at-bat!

I’d say the game was anti-climactic after all the fun we had finding the cards we needed and affixing bar codes, but would that really do justice to a 4-3 thriller featuring a lead-off homer from Rickey, 8 strong innings from Orel Hershiser, and an oh-so-close ninth inning rally that left the tying run on third and winning run on second?

Sure the graphics were little red blips and the game seemed to skip an inning on us randomly, but the truth was this 1989 electronic baseball technology was far superior to anything I actually played as a kid!

The simple, intuitive interface inspired Steve Jobs as he was creating the iPod

Back to the cards, though, here is what the evening brought home to my snobby collecting self. There is a place in EVERY collection for worthless cards, the kind you can trade, give away, keep in your wallet, put stickers on, or—as Rich did at one point in the evening—use as a beverage coaster. There really is a certain kind of fun you can only have with worthless cards.

Junk wax connects us to the purity of the hobby in a way that no other cards can. It allows us to know the feeling of opening a pack of 1933 Goudey or 1952 Topps. Yes, the players are different, but more importantly the experience is the same. Like our hobby ancestors, here we are opening packs of cards for no other reason than a love for little pieces of cardboard with baseball players on them. That, my friends, is winning!

Blink of an eye

This year I enrolled my sons in the Trenton Thunder’s Boomer’s Kids Club. It’s a great deal. Tickets to eleven games for the three of us plus fun activities and a tshirt* for $45. I knew we wouldn’t be able to make the games in July and August because of summer plans but even just going to the games through June it would be worth it.

*Shirt and activities for kids only.

We’ve now been to seven games this season (six with the kids club plus a Little League fundraiser night) and it’s been awesome. The boys have gotten two shirts, a jersey, a frisbee, and a pennant. They’ve had a chance to throw out the first pitch, walk around the field, be part of a high-five tunnel for the players, and watch The Sandlot on the outfield after a game. We’ve even been tossed five baseballs. Oh yeah and the games have been good. The Thunder are a decent team and it’s been a lot of fun to watch the boys learn the players and really get into following the season.

They’re also completely hooked on the hobby—especially autograph collecting. This is all me and my interests rubbing off on them. They’ve seen me write TTM requests and get cards signed at Trenton Thunder games and they want to join me. So I indulge them.

Not too much. I supply cards and pens (for now) but they have to do the requesting. I’m not going to flag a player down for them or ask on their behalf. I’ll help spot guys but the boys need to learn how to approach players, make the request, and say thank you. We’ve started off pretty simple by just focusing on the Trenton players and visiting coaches. As a result their autograph binders are pretty eclectic.

My youngest’s binder is organized alphabetically by first name. His idea. It’s a wonderfully random bunch of cards.* Seven Thunder players. Five coaches. And one card that Marc Brubaker mailed to him. I find myself wondering how much a first grader even cares about people like Joe Oliver, Brian Harper, or Matt LeCroy. These aren’t guys he knows. Some, like LeCroy, aren’t even guys I’d really talk to them about.** But they’re in the binder and he’s super-excited to show them off.

*Unless you make the Eastern League connection.

**Even though the Frank Robinson story is pretty touching

Can he tell you about the players? Only what he knows by turning the cards over. But he’s into this as a hobby even though he’s, so far, just tagging along with me.

His brother’s binder is pretty similar except that his one TTM return is in there and there are a couple 1991 Topps cards that he pulled from his own binder because he got the set for Christmas last year. As a result he has a bit more of a connection to guys like Harper and Oliver but LeCroy, Mark Johnson, and Mike Rabelo are all ciphers to him.

As the season’s progressed I’ve been questioning what it means to collect autographs of guys you’ve never heard of and second-guessing the importance of what I’ve gotten my kids into. Are they excited only because I’m excited? Am I pushing them to do something that only means something to me?

I jumped into the hobby in 1987. I bailed in 1994. Not a long period of time but it felt like forever. And in a way it was. Not only did those years represent half my lifetime by the time I stopped, they covered most of my years in school—pretty much my entire youth.

Now, 25 years later as a father, I’m seeing things from the other side. What was a lifetime when I was a kid is already flashing by in the blink of an eye. I know I only have a handful of years where my sons will legitimately share my interests. Yes legitimately. At the end of the day I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter why they’re interested in the hobby, the fact that they are and that we’re able to share it is what matters.

My two boys love collecting and everything it entails. Getting cards. Sorting cards.* Re-sorting cards.** Showing me their cards. Asking for new cards. Etc. Etc. It’s great. It reminds me of being a kid and it inspires me to document their adventures so that in a decade or two when they look back at their collection they’ll have my thoughts and memories to go with their memories of those years when the three of us were enjoying baseball together.

*On the floor as God intended.

**One day will be by number, the next by team, the next by last name, the next by first name.

I get to experience what I put my mom through, how patient she was, and how much she enjoyed seeing me get excited by the hobby. She kept a journal which I eventually turned into a book so that we could all have copies. I still enjoy rereading her essays and I’m looking forward to my boys reading them too.

Instead of journalling I’m blogging about our adventures and putting together summaries of events we’ve gone too. Like when we went to the Thunder Open House I took photos of their baseballs and printed out a letter-sized sheet for their binders. I’ll do the same thing with their haul of autographed cards for the season since I know they’ll re-sort them multiple times in the future.

It’ll always be important to have the biographical breakdown of their collection. As my sons get older, their cards and autographs will increasingly become markers for their memories rather than just objects to collect and hoard. The memories they’re attached to is what makes them special. It’s why I collect and why I hope they keep collecting.

In fact, I’ve been inspired to start doing the same thing for my cards and autographs. I know I’m going to be passing  everything on to my sons. I also know that “all dad’s stuff’ will be nowhere near as memorable as having an introduction to a given collection or set which explains who I was when I got these and why the set was important to me. This is a big project but I’m looking forward to it.

Cheap Treats (Not Tricks)

During the height of the baseball card frenzy, there were a lot of sets. Many many sets. Too many sets. There were incredibly crappy and pointless sets (I’m talking about you, 1990 Topps Doubleheaders).

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There were sets of historical worthiness, nicely put together, worthy, but monetarily worthless (1987 Donruss Rookies comes to mind).

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Plenty of other sets came and went with a Why? These are ugly! Haven’t I seen something like this a million times over? (Presenting the KayBee Team Leaders box.)

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Then there are sets that are really nice, worth the time, and, though forgotten, lots of fun.

Sitting on a shelf with a bunch of Topps Updates, Donruss Rookies and assorted others, sits my 1986 Fleer Classic Miniature set, 120 small cards in a tiny box. The ’86 Fleer set is simple and solid, and, though the minis are in the same design – THEY ARE DIFFERENT PHOTOS! Good ones too.

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Here’s Dwight Gooden (mini on left, regular issue on right).

Here’s Tom Seaver (same order):

And Eddie Murray:

I was so taken by this set, that I hadn’t looked at in decades, that I went searching for the others – 1987 and 1988. I found a guy on eBay who was selling both (perfect!).  He wanted $10 plus shipping. A little quick research showed that there are listings for bulk lots that end up with the sets at about a buck each, and sold listings topped out at $3. I offered $5 for both sets and got them.

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Picking up these stray complete sets that I don’t have and are appealing is a great little sideline for me as I stall in completing some older, slightly more difficult sets to wrap up. The price is right, the cards are beautiful, and, though unfortunately lumped into the “junk wax”/baseball card bubble period, are worth having.

I’m sure there are tons of low priced sets that people love and I don’t know about. (I recently picked up a set of 1983 Topps Foldouts that I had never heard of and now adore).

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The floor is yours. I want to hear about your faves (which I will then buy for pocket change.)

Moskau Memories

Jason Schwartz, one of the new co-chairs of our Committee, does a little game on our Facebook page. He takes little sections of four different cards and we’re supposed to guess who the player is.  Here’s a “Cardboard Detective” from May 15:

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Immediately I knew it was Paul Moskau. For reasons unknown, his 1978 Topps cards is indelibly burned in my brain. I’m not quite clear why Paul Moskau holds a secure place in my memory, but I have some theories.

Not that I didn’t have a keen eye on the Big Red Machine, but after Tom Seaver was traded to Cincinnati mid-1977, I was more attentive. Moskau was, as far as I recall, heralded as part of the new wave of Reds starters. He, along with Mike LaCoss, Bill Bonham, Mario Soto, and Frank Pastore were the pitching staff that would continue where Don Gullett, Jack Billingham and Clay Carroll left off.

Not sure why, at least where it comes to Moskau.  He had success in the low minors, but was clearly mediocre in AA. He didn’t get better in the big leagues.

Seaver was definitely the entry point, but I was hooked on these Reds pitchers. Moskau was my favorite, and I think a lot has to do with his 1978 card. It’s a solid picture, making him instantly known. I assume I saw him pitch, either at Shea Stadium or on TV, but, really, my knowledge of Paul Moskau’s look is through his cards. The cards, as they often did, came first.

Moskau floundered in the majors, his best ERA+ coming in the 1977 season, when he was slightly below average (98). He bottomed out at 57 with the Cubs in 1983 and was gone.

The Cubs? I had no idea he was with Chicago, and with the Pirates the year before? No way. If you had asked me about Paul Moskau’s career, and there’s no reason why you would have, I would have bet that he was a lifelong Red. Why? BECAUSE THERE ARE NO CARDS OF HIM ON ANY OTHER TEAM! I read a lot of books and magazines about baseball back then, and watched a lot of games, but it was in the cards that I relied on where players played and how they appeared.

I’m glad I recently discovered this about Moskau. I still have a fond spot for him in my baseball memories. Here’s something I have, picked up in Cooperstown for a couple of bucks.

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Miami Vices and Rocky Mountain Highs

Although most of you have been greatly relieved by the respite from the “first card for new teams” series, I am back to shatter your peace of mind.  This time, I am examining the first cards for the 1993 expansion Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies.

The birth of the two new National League franchises coincided with the era of explosive card production. (The editor doesn’t like the term “junk wax.) (Ed.: In this context, it would have been fine.)  I found 17 different sets-counting updates-containing first cards for the Marlins and Rockies.  It is entirely possible that I missed a set or two.  (Ed: Or ten.) So, if I failed to mention “Lower Deck’s Super-Extreme-Virtuoso-Uber-Isotope of Titanium” set produced by Goudey in an exclusive run of 500,000, I apologize.

 

Donruss and Fleer must have been the first card series issued, since their expansion teams’ cards have photos of the players with their previous clubs.  Sadly, no airbrushing of logos was employed to provide memorable images. Matt Harvey (FL) and Eric Young (CO) are the first cards for their respective new teams. Donruss’ “Diamond Kings” features painted portraits of David Nied (CO) and Nigel Wilson (FL) in their new liveries.

David Nied (CO) and Jack Armstrong (FL) are Fleer’s first offerings.  Nied is pictured on the Braves with a ribbon identifying him as having been “signed by Rockies.” This is considered a variation, since most of the cards have him exclusively on the Braves.  The first card with Rockies on the name plate is Andy Ashby. Jack Armstrong is the first Marlin.  Fleer “Final Edition” has Andy Ashby as the first card of a player in a Rockies’ uniform.  Likewise, Luis Acquino shows up first for Florida.

Probably as a result of a later production date, Bowman provides shots of players in their new uniforms in the base sets.  Rich Renteria (FL) and Mark Thompson (CO) are the first Bowman issues.

 

Topps’ base set and their premium issue, “Stadium Club,” produced inaugural cards of players in new uniforms as well.  Jamie McAndrew (FL) and Mark Thompson (CO) show up first in the base set while Benito Santiago (FL) and Butch Henry (CO) are first in the “snooty” set.

Nigel Wilson (FL) and David Nied (CO) are Upper Deck’s first cards for the infant clubs. Upper Deck also issued cards in the “SP” set.

In order to save your sanity, I will not delve into all the brands.  However, here is a non-exclusive list of other companies that issued Rockies and Marlins:  Pinnacle, Leaf, Score, O-Pee-Chee (base and Premier), Pacific (Spanish), Ultra and Triple Play.

If only first-round expansion picks David Nied and Nigel Wilson had become superstars, I would be rich beyond measure.  Alas, the 2000 cards I have of each now languish in storage.  Another sure bet investment gone wrong.

Erstwhile committee member, Nick Vossbrink, pointed out that both Upper Deck and Bowman produced rookie cards for minor league players Ryan Turner (CO) and Clemente Nunez (FL) in the ’92 sets.  Thus, my shoddy research is laid bare!

Jewels in the Dross

Soon after we moved to Cooperstown, a neighbor, now knowing I liked cards (or assuming Joey, then 8, liked cards), gave me (or us) boxes of mid-1990’s basketball cards. The neighbor’s son clearly saw gold in them thar hills, loading up on Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf cards, but, as we know, all that came crashing down.

I hadn’t looked at those cards since, other than to combine them into as few boxes as possible. A couple of days ago I dragged them out. Nothing of monetary value there, but, I have to say, I was struck by how nice nearly all the different sets and subsets were. The 1997-98 Fleer homage to 1934 Goudey is so nice that I pulled it out of the pile.

Tucked into the scads of hoop cards were some other sports. Very little baseball though, but I stumbled across these two, both Eddie Murray.

They’re from the 1997 Donruss Limited set, a fancy 200 card series that were $4.99 a pack twenty years ago! (And you only got five cards.) Some thoughts:

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  1. I was struck by how incredibly wonderful the Murray/Jefferson card is. It’s super-glossy on the front, without being as noisy as a lot of refractory cards tended to be. They feel good too, not overly slick.
  2. The “Exposure – Double Team” card is also very nice, though less so. Simple, not as shiny, but solid.
  3. Eddie Murray as an Anaheim Angel in the Disney togs is something I’d forgotten long ago. Seeing him in that vest, which I kinda love, is a surprising treat.
  4. In various blog posts/Tweets/Facebook comments, we’ve engaged in the idea of “junk wax.” I, like others, deplore the name. They are fairly worthless dollar-wise, but the cards of that era (maybe 1986ish-2000? I don’t’ know that anyone has bracketed the period in detail) are almost always beautiful, in all sports. In a highly competitive market, innovation in design was a must. Some fell flat, others soared, but because they aren’t sellable, fantastic looking cards have been left behind. I don’t believe I have ever seen a 1997 Donruss Limited card until now.

Now that I’ve seen these cards, I’m not sure what to do. As a die-hard set collector, it’s all or nothing for me. Usually. Sure, I poked around eBay to see if I could find a set, but nothing is listed right now. I saw a complete set of 200 sold for somewhere less than $100.

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Maybe it’s that I don’t feel like having to store another late-‘90’s box, or that, perhaps, the glow I have from the two cards won’t hold through 200. Or, maybe, I’ve fallen victim to the “junk wax” tag and have a subconscious resistance to buying any set from the time, unless it’s $5-10.

Regardless, nothing will get in the way of enjoying these two cards. I like them so much I haven’t put them away yet, keeping them close by to sneak an occasional peek.

Putting the “old” in old cardboard: 50 years of manager cards

As a young collector, some of my least favorite pulls were manager cards. “What’s this OLD GUY doing in my pack?” Of course, now I’M the old guy. Thanks, universe!

It is then in a spirit of atonement and kinship that I am dedicating this post to half a century of manager cards in hopes of turning my fellow skipper rippers chipper and making geezer seizing pleasing again.

Yes, I bring you a post dedicated to the anti-heroes of the wax pack (the paunchiest pilots if you will) and drowning out the stroppy squawks of poppycocks and “Hobby pox!” with “Bobby Cox!!” and “Robby rocks!!” C’mon, America, let’s…well you get the idea!

Our 50 years of interest will run from 1933-1982. (I know that sounds like 49 years, but it really is 50. Trust me.) My goal in each case will be to highlight the evolution of the manager card genre across these sets or at least showcase some bit of trivia from the set that you might not have known, including an odd fact that makes Billy Martin and Joe Cronin cardboard cousins.

1933 Goudey

The 1933 Goudey set included 13 cards of 10 managers. The explanation for the uneven math is that Bill Terry had two cards, and Joe Cronin had three. The Rajah also had two cards in the set, but he is only the manager on his second one.

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By including managers in the set, Goudey was not necessarily breaking any new ground. Particularly with the prevalence of player-managers in baseball’s early days, I imagine that most of the major sets before 1933 included at least some managers. In addition, another non-innovation of the Goudey set was using the same card design for managers and non-managers alike. To break free of that mold, we will need to wait nearly three decades.

Collectors not intimately familiar with the Goudey set might be surprised to know it includes cards for the managers of the Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Maple Leafs! “Hey, wait a minute! That last one can’t be right, can it?”

Dead serious. It really is Maple Leafs, not Maple Leaves.

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I know at least a few of you are saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Tell me something I DON’T know!” Not a problem. Here is some 1934 Goudey trivia I don’t expect too many people know. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t say it was interesting or important!)

Managers are identified three different ways on the card backs. The first, mainly used in the set’s earliest releases, was simply to identify the subject as a manager within the text of the bio. The second method, used only on one of the set’s three Joe Cronin cards, was to insert “Manager” just before the team name in the header area, and the third method, used in the set’s late releases, was to do similar but in all caps (i.e., MANAGER).

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In contrast with at least the latter two of these approaches, none of the non-manager cards in the set identified position information in the header. I cut up a very nice Carl Hubbell card just so I could show you.

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1934 Goudey

As for the 1934 Goudey set, nothing too exciting or different happened beyond a standardization of the “Manager” designation to all caps. Of course, standardization is a lot easier when a set has only three manager cards versus 13!

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Another element of the 1934 Goudey set was one we’ll see repeated often in other “small checklist” sets: manager cards going solely to player-managers, in this case Grimm, Cochrane, and Terry.

1934-1936 Diamond Stars

The multi-year Diamond Stars release from National Chicle included a handful of managers but did not go to great lengths to identify them as such. In some cases (e.g., Mickey Cochrane), no indication is given at all. In other cases (e.g., Frankie Frisch), mention is made within the “Tips” section of the card back.

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Not all of the managers were player-managers. Steve O’Neill, who succeeded Walter Johnson as manager of the Indians, had not played a major league game since 1928, and Bucky Harris, manager of the Senators, had not played since 1931. Lew Fonseca was also in a manager-only role by the time his card came out. However, he had played the season before, so his status was somewhere in the middle.

By far the most interesting manager card in the Diamond Stars set was the card that never was. This card, which would have been released in 1936 or early 1937, seems to predict the transfer of managerial duties from Rogers Hornsby to Jim Bottomley in July 1937.

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I’ll note here that this card and the 11 others from its “lost sheet” are sometimes assumed to have represented cards 109-120 in the Diamond Stars set and as such reflect an extension of the 108-card set. I suspect it’s also possible these cards could have been 97-108 instead of the 12 cards the set ultimately ended up repeating on the checklist. (More on this in a future post.)

BONUS: 1936 Goudey Wide Pen Premiums

To keep things from getting too crazy, I initially decided to restrict my focus officially to major releases and unofficially to “baseball card size” releases. Still, I can’t exit the 1930s without acknowledging this Yankees manager card, which doubles as one of several rookie cards of Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio. To bring back the awful wordplay from the top of this post, I think we’d all be chipper Clipper-Skipper rippers today if we pulled this card from our stacks.

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1938 Goudey “Heads Up”

With only 24 different subjects in the set, there are no manager cards in this set.

1939 Play Ball

There was one manager card among the 161 cards in Play Ball’s debut issue. In October 1938 Dodger shortstop Leo Durocher signed a contract to manage the club, succeeding Burleigh Grimes. His Play Ball card #6 in the set identifies his as “Playing Manager” in the card back’s header.

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1940 Play Ball

The 1940 Play Ball release expanded the number of cards and the number of managers. Furthermore, it was no longer necessary to be a player-manager to crack the set.

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The bad news, at least for the managers (and coaches) of the two pennant winners, is that they received no card front credit for their team’s success. While Yankees and Reds players (e.g., Wally Berger) all had small pennants on the front of the card, this honor did not apply to managers or coaches.

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1941 Play Ball

The 1941 Play Ball set had a much shorter checklist, so only one manager made the cut and even then probably wouldn’t have if he wasn’t also one of the game’s top players.

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1948-1949 Bowman

The first Bowman issue only had 48 cards, none of them managers. Bowman expanded its offering to 240 cards the following year and–much like the 1941 Play Ball set–included only a single manager card of a very good shortstop.

1949 Bowman

1949 Leaf

The debut offering from Leaf looked much like 1949 Bowman as far as manager cards were concerned. Only Lou Boudreau, as player-manager, made the list. The header area of his card back bills Boudreau as a shortstop, but his bio area is quick to note his player-manager role. And of course this same set featured a very famous coach card.

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1950-1955 Bowman

The 1950 Bowman set was the first major release in a decade to include non-player managers. Non-player managers were repeated in 1951-1953 and 1955 as well. As with all the sets profiled so far, the manager cards followed the same design as the other cards in the set.

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The 1951 grouping was notable in that it included what many collectors feel is the single ugliest baseball card of all time. Another notable aspect of the 1951 set was that it was the first major release of the period profiled (1933-1982) to include manager cards for every team (16, in this case). A final bit of trivia. Jackie Robinson appears on the Charlie Dressen manager card, or at least his name does.

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1952-1956 Topps

The first five major baseball issues from Topps followed the traditions of Bowman and others in that the handful of managers included occupied the same card design as the players. If there is any novelty to be found, at least among the sets profiled in this post, the 1953 Topps set was the first to indicate “Manager” on the front of the card. (Much older examples pre-dating the scope of this post certainly exist, such as the 1915-1916 Sporting News (M104) Connie Mack card.)

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Though managers were represented in these sets, they were not abundant. For example, the 1956 Topps set included only two managers: Mayo Smith and Walter Alston. Oddly, while the 1954 Topps set included four managers, it included 22 coaches across the 16 teams. Among them were three Hall of Famers: Billy Herman, Earle Combs, and Heinie Manush.

1958-1959 Topps

Topps took a year off from manager cards in 1957 but came back with two novel approaches the following year. A 1958 card honored the managers from the 1958 All-Star game while doubling as a checklist for cards 441-495 in the set.

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Among the sets profiled in this post, this Stengel-Haney All-Star card was the first to adopt a different design than the standard player cards in the set. At the same time, it mimicked the design of its fellow all-star cards in the set, hence was not truly novel.

The same 1958 set also included two cards pairing managers with star players on their teams, including the great Frank Robinson (RIP).

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1959 looked a lot like 1958, once again including managers in its all-star subset. This time, however, the skippers did not have to share the same card.

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And once again, we have a manager-player combo card.

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1960 Topps

The 1960 Topps set was THE breakthrough set for manager cards. Not only did managers get their own unique card design but this was the first Topps set to include all 16 major league managers, assigning them consecutive card numbers from 212-227. (If you care to know, the manager cards were also alphabetized by last name.)

1960 Topps

You may also recall that Giants skipper Bill Rigney shares a “Master and Mentor” combo card with Willie Mays. I’ll show it here along with an attempt at imagining what player cards in the set would have looked like had they followed the same design as the manager cards. For my money, it would have been the best card design of the decade!

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1961 Topps

The 1961 set more or less followed suit from 1960, again adopting a unique design for its managers. The cards below contrast the player cards and manager cards from the set.

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Oddly, there are 17 manager cards in the set despite there being only 16 teams the prior season. “Expansion,” you say! And yes, there are manager cards for the Angels and Twins. But still, wouldn’t that have given the set 18 manager cards? I’ll give you a sec to guess the missing team. Form of a question, please.

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Yes, it is the Cubbies! After a woeful 1960 season, 1961 marked the beginning of the College of Coaches for Chicago’s northsiders. While it led to a four-game improvement in the standings (though some baseball historians prefer to credit Billy Williams), the whole thing was just too damned complicated for Topps. Still, I think this gives custom card designers an open invitation to put together that Vedie Himsl-Harry Craft-El Tappe-Lou Klein quadruple-manager card that should have been. (Confession: I’d heard of exactly zero of these guys till five minutes ago.)

A tad more trivia on the set. If you’ve read Anson Whaley’s five-part series on the Black Sox Scandal, you know post-career cards of the banned eight players are a rarity until at least the 1970s. Aside from the 1940 Play Ball card of Shoeless Joe, the back of the 1961 Topps Cicotte pictured is the only cardboard I know that even mentions a single one of the “eight men out.”

1962-1972 Topps

Following an outburst of creativity, Topps reverted to assigning managers the same card design as players for the next 11 years. While so many other cards of the era sent a message that the world was coming to an end larger tumult dominated the era, the Topps manager cards provided an oasis of stability and calm. “Trust your leaders, kids. We got this.”

Managers of the 60s

The two different Walt Alston pictures for 1968-1969 are a reminder that Marvin Miller represented players but not managers. (See Mark Armour’s SABR post if what I just typed means nothing to you.) Certainly there are player cards with two photos also, but the manager cards provide the most consistent example.

And since I can never write one of these posts and not feature the Splendid Splinter, here is where he makes his appearance on the page. (If you’re keeping score, Ted made only one fewer Topps set as a manager than as a player!)

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1973-1974 Topps

The 1973-1974 sets brought Topps out of its manager card doldrums. The inclusion of coaches gave the manager cards a distinct design while also bringing back some great names from the past. Examples of Hall of Famer players who appeared on these cards as coaches included Ernie Banks, Warren Spahn, and Bill Mazeroski.

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The 1974 Mets manager card of Yogi Berra marked a milestone in my own collecting career. I made my collecting debut at a school carnival in 1977 by purchasing a stack of 1974 Topps cards for 50 cents. Though I didn’t know who he was at the time, this Yogi Berra would be the first card of a Hall of Famer that I ever owned.

1975-1977 Topps

For the next three years, Topps merged what had previously been two distinct subsets: team cards and manager cards. It really wasn’t a bad look or a bad idea, but the timing was unfortunate.

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The first year of the shrunken manager, 1975, happened to be the year that Frank Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s other color barrier. Though the Indians team card that year still made my list of the top ten cards of the decade (for this reason) and Robinson’s main card in the set gives him at least cartoon credit as skipper, I feel like Topps missed a great opportunity to give Robinson’s feat its proper due. One approach would have been to change “Des. Hitter” to “Mgr-DH” on his main card; the other would have been to hang on to full-size manager cards just one more year.

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Of course, these 1975 cards weren’t the very first to portray Frank Robinson as manager. That honor (I think) belongs to Robinson’s 1972 Puerto Rican Winter League sticker.

1972 Robby

1978 Topps

We finally arrive at the set that I can speak about with the unimpeachable authority of an obsessive eight-year-old. This was the year I really got going as a card collector. It was also the year Topps introduced its most innovative design ever for manager cards.

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While the “As Player, As Manager” dual photo approach was a novel one, I should mention that it wasn’t completely new. It’s a bit of cheating since he was a player-manager at the time, but the 1954 Topps Phil Cavaretta could be considered the prototype.

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1979-1981 Topps

The efficiency consultants were back at Topps for these three seasons and urged the combining of team cards and manager cards once again.

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1981-1982 Donruss and Fleer

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While Topps had relegated managers to a tiny box in the upper right hand corner of the team card in 1981, Donruss and Fleer took a page out of the 1962-1972 Topps (or almost everybody, 1933-1956) playbook and used the standard player design for their sets’ managers, just one more way that 1981 Donruss put the vintage back into modern.

Donruss came back with more of the same in 1982 while Fleer took the year off. (In fact, Fleer would never again include manager cards in their sets, aside from the “tiny manager in the corner of a team card” approach they borrowed from Topps for 1984.)

1982 Topps

Remember I started this post by stating how much I hated pulling “old guys” from packs when I was a kid. Well, Topps finally listened in 1982! Perhaps feeling the heat from Fleer and Donruss, the once and future monopolist set out to give us kids what we wanted: 792 cards of young guys…oh, and Phil Niekro too.

Team cards were also a casualty of this “voice of the customer” movement, but let’s face it…we far preferred extra cards of Claudell Washington and Rick Mahler, right?

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BONUS: 1983 Topps and Donruss

Just in case anyone was feeling ripped off with the whole 1933-1982 thing, or just needed some more Frank Robinson in their lives, here’s a quick look at the manager cards from 1983.

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Topps needlessly tweaked their player card design but was again back to giving managers their own card for the first time in more than a decade. Donruss, meanwhile, followed their 1982 approach (as they did with nearly all things that year) and gave manager cards the same treatment as player cards.

As noted, Fleer abandoned manager cards following their 1981 debut, but we’ll count our blessings here. It may well be that had Fleer dedicated 26 of their 660 cards in 1983 to managers, they–like Topps and Donruss–would have whiffed on what was ultimately the year’s hottest card, at least until the Topps Traded set came out.

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While we’re on the subject of 1983 Topps Traded…(pauses to admire Darryl card, takes deep breath, okay thanks)…did you know this was the first Topps Traded set to include managers? You’d have to be some sort of Keith Olbermann-Christoper Kamka hybrid to name all the managers in the traded set without cheating, so I’ll help you out. If you were imagining just one or two, boy were you off!

First here are the guys they replaced.

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And finally, here are the Traded Set Seven!

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In the introduction to this post I mentioned a pair of cardboard cousins. Ignoring minor releases, errors, and variants, these two men bookend of our half century as the only two men from 1933-1983 to have two different manager cards in the same set and design. So there you have it: cardboard cousins!

1953-1983

And yes, I know the two Billy Martin cards weren’t strictly from the same set, but cut an old guy some slack here. Respect your elders, cardboard or otherwise!