It’s been three months since my last post, or 25 years in pandemic time. There are multiple reasons for that – general ennui, lack of ideas, absence of baseball itself. The truth of it is that my collecting interest is very much alive, but focused on mid-‘60’s football sets.
Sacrilege! Yes, I know, but those sets have short checklists and no real high dollar cards, so they’re easy to complete. Sort of easy. The absence of card shows is a problem right now. I need to go through tables full of commons to get to the finish line.
But all of this interest in getting nice Bobby Bell cards doesn’t mean I’ve avoided baseball cards. It only means I’m still working on sets I’ve already written about.
Here’s my progress report:
I finished my 1963 Bazooka All-Time Greats with a graded Nap Lajoie, eventually to finds its way from COMC to Cooperstown. He will be freed from his plastic prison upon arrival.
I also finished my hand cut 1975 Hostess by snagging a solid Billy Champion. I do need the Doug Rader variation (I’ve got all the other variations) and my Glenn Beckert is actually a hand cut Twinkie version (the remnant of the solid black bar on the back gives it away), but I’m calling this one done.
I’m six cards from completing the 1961 Post set (one of each number. I’m not even trying for all the variations).
I’m seven away from a complete 1960 Leaf Series 2 set, after a big auction win of 20 cards in VG/VGEX condition. I recently got a pretty nice Jim Bunning (there’s a delicate balance between cost and condition on these), but there are still the biggies left – Sparky Anderson, Cepeda, and Flood.
Totally stalled on 1933 Tattoo Orbit. I’m slightly more than halfway through, but I keep losing auctions. I think that shows my heart isn’t completely into it.
All this is by way of a reintroduction of sorts. Yeah, you know me, and I know you, but it’s been awhile and I want you to know I’m still here, still collecting, and with an itch to post again.
Rather than imagine the Topps intern assigned to building the checklist simply whiffed on Joltin’ Joe (or that there even was a Topps intern with such a job!), I have to believe Topps simply lacked the rights to feature DiMaggio’s likeness on cardboard. A look at other postwar sets during and after DiMaggio’s career show his absence in 1961 was definitely the rule and not the exception.
1933-1941 (AKA “Prewar,” depending where you lived!)
During the early part of the Clipper’s career, while he was not in EVERY set, one can say he tended to appear in every major set you’d expect to see him in, and then some, including these two gems from the 1933-36 Zeenut set.
Knowing DiMaggio didn’t make his Yankee debut until 1936, it’s not a big surprise that he didn’t appear in the three major gum card releases of the mid-1930s: 1933 Goudey, 1934 Goudey, and 1934-36 Diamond Stars. That said, his appearance in 1933 Goudey wouldn’t have been completely out of the question since that set did include 15 minor leaguers, including a fellow Pacific Coast Leaguer, Pete Scott.
Meanwhile, the 1934 Goudey and 1934-36 Diamond Stars checklists did not include any minor leaguers, so there’s no reason DiMaggio would have even been up for consideration.
Now some of you may know about the 1937 Diamond Stars extension set and surmise that Joltin’ Joe might have cracked that checklist. Unfortunately, all that seems to have survived is a single sheet of 12 cards, which of course DiMaggio is not on. All we can say for sure then is that if National Chicle did have a Diamond Stars card planned it would have been a gem!
The two-year stretch from 1936-37 did see DiMaggio appear on several cards, now as a Yankee, though there is room for debate among the collecting orthodoxy as to which constitute his true rookie card. (Don’t ask me, I’d vote for his San Francisco Seals cards!)
These four from 1936 have the benefit of being a year earlier than the 1937 cards, hence score a few more rookie points for their date of issue. On the other hand, all are of the oversized premium variety, which not all collectors put in the same category as the smaller cardboard offerings that come from packs of gum or cigarettes.
In fact, DiMaggio did crack one (cataloged as) 1936 (but really 1936-37) set of gum cards, but the fact that the World Wide Gum were only issued in Canada gives pause to a good many of the Hobby’s arbiters of rookiehood. If nothing else, though, note the nickname on the back of the card. A bit harder to read but the bio would not pass muster today in its reference to Joe as “a giant Italian.”
One of DiMaggio’s most sought after cards, rookie or not, was another Canada-only release and came out the following year under the later-on-much-more-famous O-Pee-Chee name.
Back in the U.S., DiMaggio made it onto two cards in 1937, but as with the preceding year they were both of the larger premium variety. The Goudey offering (left) is not much (any?) different from its 1936 counterpart, while the Exhibits 4-in-1 is particularly notable in its pairing of the Yankee Clipper with Lou Gehrig. (Oh, and the other two guys are pretty good also.)
It is finally in 1938 that Joltin’ Joe receives his first ever, God honest American gum card as a Yankee, thanks to the 1938 Goudey “Heads Up” set. Like the other 23 players on the checklist, he in fact appears twice, once with a plain background (card #250) and once with a cartoon background (card #274).
Finally, DiMaggio and Gehrig make it onto another 4-in-1 of Yankee legends, this time swapping out Tony Lazzeri for Bill Dickey.
To this point, just about every card I’ve shown, save the 1938 Goudey pair, has some level of oddball status attached. This was not the case from 1939-41 when Gum, Inc., hit the scene with its three year run of major bubble gum releases under the Play Ball name. Though the term is perhaps overused, I’ll throw DiMaggio’s 1941 card out there as one of the truly iconic cards of the Hobby.
The Play Ball cards weren’t DiMaggio’s only cards from that three-year stretch. He could also be found in the 1939-46 Exhibits “Salutations” set, yet another oversized offering…
And the 1941 Double Play set, where he was paired with his outfield neighbor, Charley Keller.
If there’s a theme to all of this, beyond just the opportunity to post a lot of incredible cards, it’s that Joe DiMaggio was no stranger to cardboard during the prewar portion of his career. On the contrary, he was in just about every major set there was, and then some!
These next ten years take us to the end of the Yankee Clipper’s career while also leading us through the wartime era where not a lot of card sets were being produced. DiMaggio cards didn’t simply follow the dip in overall card production but practically disappeared altogether.
Joe’s first card, post-1941, comes from the 1943 M.P. & Company card, a somewhat “off the radar” almost certainly unlicensed set, something we’ll see quite a bit more of as we proceed through this section of the article. (Side note: This set is screaming out for one of you to solve the remaining 21% of a mystery.)
Two notable aspects of the card are Joe’s position, right field (!), and the fact that his recent hitting streak is not mentioned.
The latter of these notables is addressed five years later in the 1948 Swell “Sport Thrills” set, which also happens to be the first gum card set of baseball highlights and a possible inspiration for the 1959 and 1961 cards Topps put out under a similar name.
First off, I’ll show the back of the card, which is everything you might expect to see in a card featuring The Streak.
However, the front of the card is more than a bit disappointing to DiMaggio collectors for obvious reasons. “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” indeed!
What I read into this card is that Sport Thrills did not have permission from DiMaggio to use his likeness on the card. Yes, it’s possible the folks at Swell truly considered “stopping the streak” a greater achievement than the streak itself, but I kind of doubt it.
But then again, look who made it onto the set’s Ted Williams card, so who knows!
1948 was also the year that Gum, Inc., reappeared on the scene, beginning an eight-year stretch (1948-55) of baseball card sets under the Bowman name. the Bowman sets managed to include pretty much every big name of the era but one: Joe DiMaggio.
Personally I would have loved to see the Yankee Clipper in one of these early Bowman sets, but a “what if” we can consider as collectors is whether the rights to Joe D. would have left another Yankee centerfielder off the checklist in 1951.
You might not have expected any mention of Topps so soon, but it’s worth noting that Topps made its baseball debut not in 1952 or even 1951 but in 1948 with 19 of the 252 cards in its Magic Photos release featuring baseball players.
The first five cards pictured could lead you to believe the players were all retired greats, but in fact six of the cards in the set featured images of the 1948 World Champion Cleveland Indians. Well shoot, this was the one year from 1947-53 that the Yankee’s didn’t win the World Series! Crazy to think it, but perhaps if the Yankees and not the Indians had signed Paige and Doby, there would be a playing career Topps card of Joe DiMaggio!
One of the least known (in terms of origin, not familiarity) releases of the era was the 1948 Blue Tint set. DiMaggio has a card in the set but in what’s emerging as a common theme the card (and entire set!) are believed to be unlicensed.
Similar to the 1938 Goudey cards a decade earlier, the 1948 1949 Leaf set finally presents us with an unambiguously mainstream, all-American, picture-on-the-front, New York Yankees card of the Clipper. It even boasts #1 in what is one of the earliest examples of “hero numbering” in a baseball card set.
Astute collectors may now say, “A-ha! That’s why he wasn’t in Bowman. Leaf signed him first.” However, my own belief is that Leaf not only didn’t sign DiMaggio but didn’t sign anyone, making this card as well as the rest of the set unlicensed. (As always, I would love it if a reader with more information is able to confirm or correct this in the comments.)
The next same year M.P. & Company was back with what I wrote about last year as the laziest set ever, adding to our tally of unlicensed Clipper cards. I rather like the blue added to Joe’s uniform since the 1943 release, but I don’t love the bio remaining unchanged even six years later.
In 1951 Topps hit the shelves in earnest with five different baseball offerings, a number that now feels small but was huge for its time. Though DiMaggio had already achieved all-time great status, there was no reason to expect him in the Connie Mack’s All-Stars set, in which the most modern player was Lou Gehrig.
However, there was reason to expect DiMaggio in the Current All-Stars set, which featured 11 participants from the 1950 All-Star Game. While DiMaggio wouldn’t consider the contest among his career highlights, having gone 0-3 and grounded into a double play, his presence at Comiskey that day at least qualified him for this tough Topps release.
Two other closely related Topps issues from 1951 were the Red Backs and Blue Backs. Though nobody would confuse their checklists for the top 104 stars of the era, it seems reasonable to think Topps would have gone with DiMaggio if they could have.
The final Topps offering of 1951 is one that seemed almost assured to include DiMaggio but didn’t. Topps Teams featured complete team photos of every team on the checklist, but there was only one problem. The checklist did not include the Yankees!
We close out the 1942-1951 stretch with the 1951 Berk Ross set, one that did in fact include a Joe DiMaggio card. In fact, there were two cards if we count his two-player panel with Granny Hamner as separate.
While not a lot is known about these Berk Ross cards, the one thing most collectors believe is that these cards, much like the other DiMaggio cards of the era, were unlicensed.
As much as some collectors, then and now, would have loved to see a 1952 Topps card of the Yankee Clipper, we of course know he did not crack the set’s 407-card checklist, nor should he have been expected to. While “career capper” cards are the norm today, the tradition at Topps for many years was to focus its flagship set on the players expected to play in the current season.
DiMaggio did find himself with an unlicensed career capper in the 1952 follow-up from Berk Ross
Beyond 1952 we are clearly in post-career territory, meaning DiMaggio cards would mainly rely on three types of issues: all-time greats, highlights, and reprints.
Of course that’s if we’re talking about the cards themselves. Joltin’ Joe was in fact the frontman for the 1953 Bowman set, his likeness and endorsement appearing on the boxes and the wrappers.
Side note: Topps liked the idea enough to try their own version of this in 1954.
The first opportunity for a post-career DiMaggio card came from Topps in 1954. If you’re confused, the set I’m talking about isn’t the 1954 Topps baseball set of Hank Aaron RC fame but a 1954 Topps set that mainly consisted of cards like this.
The 1954 Topps Scoop set captured 156 notable moments in our history, and four of them came from the world of baseball.
DiMaggio and his famous Streak would have been right at home in the set, but their absence was hardly conspicuous either given the primarily non-sports focus of the set.
The next opportunity for a DiMaggio card came in 1959 when Topps issued a ten-card Baseball Thrills subset as part of its main release. However, Topps focused all ten of the cards on current players.
The same year, Fleer issued its 80-card Ted Williams set. As the set’s name indicated, all the cards were of Ted Williams. At the same time, many of the cards included cameos of other players and personalities. As linked as the careers of Williams and DiMaggio were, a card of the pair would have fit the set perfectly.
The very next year, Fleer issued the first of its two “Baseball Greats” sets. The checklist boasted 78 retired greats and one active player (an eyesore of a Ted Williams card) but no Joe DiMaggio.
The checklist nearly doubled to 154 cards in 1961, leaving plenty of room for Joltin’ Joe. Of course, he was nowhere to be found.
Another player highlighting the history of the game in 1960 and 1961 was Nu-Cards. Their 1960 “Hi-Lites” set of 72 postcard sized cards was at the time the largest set of its kind ever issued. Two of the set’s cards featured DiMaggio, ending his decade-long exile from cardboard.
The 1961 Nu-Card “Scoops” set, one of my favorites, added 80 cards, now standard sized, but numbered as if the set were much larger. Again, DiMaggio makes the set twice.
As already mentioned, Topps was also back in 1961 with “Baseball Thrills,” but this time they departed from the 1959 version by including mostly retired stars. Still no Joe.
Nostalgia was evidently in the air in 1961 as yet another player entered the scene with an all-time greats offering. Golden Press produced a booklet of 33 cards that I rate among the best looking ever made.
I don’t know enough about the Nu-cards and Golden Press sets to know if DiMaggio’s image was used with his permission or if perhaps different rules might have applied when cards were issued in book form, as was the case with Golden Press. What I will say is that his absence from the biggies (Topps, Fleer), particularly on the 20th anniversary of the Streak, was more than just accidental.
This next ten-year stretch is one that was fairly thin on tribute cards, so there were few sets produced were a DiMaggio would have made sense.
The 1962 Topps set included its ten-card “Babe Ruth Special” subset, no doubt timed with the falling of Babe’s single-season home run record the year before. It was a fun set but not one that Joe DiMaggio would have belonged in.
DiMaggio did make an appearance in a 1967 set that might cause some collectors to say, “Hey, he finally got a Topps card!” The card came in the “Retirado” subset of the 1967 Venezuelan issue often referred to as Topps Venezuelan. However, the set was almost certainly not produced by Topps, and was more than likely a…you guessed it…unlicensed issue. (A future SABR Baseball Cards article will cover this topic in more detail.)
Bazooka issued an all-time greats set in 1969-70 that included small cards of baseball’s immortals and larger cards of baseball’s greatest achievements. In this case, DiMaggio might have fit either but ended up in neither.
Topps again featured amazing achievements in its 1971 “Greatest Moments” set. However, with all moments coming from current players, there would have been no place for Joe D.
As in the previous ten years it would be up to the smaller players to keep Joe DiMaggio’s cardboard legacy alive. One such player was Robert Laughlin, later affiliated with various Fleer sets of the 1970s. His cult classic World Series set (original version) from 1967 featured DiMaggio as the broom swinger of the 1939 Fall Classic.
With production of these Laughlin cards limited to 300 sets, collectors were forced to head to Oakland area Jack in the Box restaurants to feed their appetite for the Clipper, though it’s possible the younger burger eaters would have been even happier to land a different Yankee slugger.
The birth of TCMA in 1972 almost single-handedly accounted for the rapid spike in DiMaggio cards over the next decade, with Robert Laughlin and Shakey’s Pizza doing their part as well.
Two Robert Laughlin offerings that included DiMaggio were the 1972 “Great Feats” set and the 1974 “All-Star Games” set.
The “Great Feats” set, with mostly minor changes, became Fleer’s 1973 “Baseball’s Greatest Feats” set. One major change, however, was that DiMaggio’s card was dropped, almost certainly out of legal fears by Fleer.
TCMA’s first DiMaggio card was part of a beautiful set dedicated to the All-Time New York Yankee Team.
As were the Laughlin cards, TCMA cards were unlicensed and sold direct to hobbyists by mail order. Lawsuits would eventually hit TCMA, but at least for the time being they were able to issue cards of the Clipper with impunity. I can certainly see their “1930s League Leaders” card (left) from 1973 escaping the notice of Joe and his legal team, though was sufficiently under the radar, but I wonder if their 1973-74 “Autograph Series,” designed for signature by the players, might have been pushing things just a bit.
Among TCMA’s other DiMaggio offerings around this time were these postcards pairing the Yankee Clipper with other top-shelf Hall of Famers.
TCMA’s 1936-39 Yankees Dynasty set, issued in 1974, produced another two cards of Joe DiMaggio.
And if you couldn’t get enough DiMaggio/Williams cards, TCMA had your back in 1974 with its “1940s League Leaders” set.
I know a lot of collectors knock the unlicensed stuff, but I’m personally thrilled that TCMA was out there creating the cards that needed to be created. Topps had more than 20 years to figure out a way to pair Joe D. and Teddy Ballgame, and it never happened. This card needed to happen, and I’m glad it did.
We’ll take a quick intermission from TCMA cards to present a three-year run (1975-77) of DiMaggio cards from Shakey’s Pizza.
And now we’re back with more TCMA, this time a 1975 reboot of their All-Time Yankees set featuring all new photos.
Reprint cards and sets hit the hobby mainstream in 1977, including these two cards of DiMaggio, both originally from 1938. The first came from Bert Randolph Sugar’s book of “Dover Reprints” and the second came from Jim Rowe. (DiMaggio’s 1941 Play Ball card would come out as a Dover Reprint the following year.)
1977 was also the year that Renata Galasso began her 270-card magnum opus known alternately as “Decade Greats” and “Glossy Greats.” The first series of 45 cards, issued in 1977 in partnership with TCMA, assigned its very first card to Joe DiMaggio. (DiMaggio returned to the set in the 1984 Series 6 release.)
Evidently it was very much in vogue to lead off a set’s checklist with the Yankee Clipper as we see it happen two more times in 1979 TCMA issues, their 1953 Bowman-like “Stars of the 1950s” and their lesser known “Diamond Greats” set.
Before heading to 1980, I’ll just note that we’ve made it to 1979 with not a single Topps card of DiMaggio and possibly not a single licensed card from any company since either 1941 or 1948.
The Me Decade kicked off with a beautiful Perez-Steele postcard of the Clipper. Dick Perez was not yet associated with Donruss, but Dick would soon lend his artwork to multiple all-time greats sets produced by Donruss over the next few years. You can probably guess whether or not those sets would include Joe DiMaggio. (Interestingly, there was no DiMaggio in the 108 “Great Moments” postcards released by Perez-Steele from 1985-1997. Ditto for the 44-card Perez-Steele “Celebration” series in 1989.)
DiMaggio was in an 30-card unlicensed set of “Baseball Legends” produced by Cramer Sports Promotions, the company that would soon become Pacific Trading Cards.
While other card makers joined the party, TCMA was still king in the early 1980s when it came to the all-time greats. Their third go-round of an All-Time Yankees set presented collectors with an early version of a “rainbow” nearly 40 years after Goudey did the same.
This same year, TCMA also included DiMaggio in its “Baseball Immortals” issued under their SSPC brand.
These 1980 “Superstars” are sometimes listed as TCMA and sometimes listed under the Seckeli name. (Andrew Aronstein, son of TCMA co-founder Mike Aronstein, believes the cards were sold by TCMA but not produced by TCMA. The Standard Catalog notes the cards were probably produced by Card Collectors Closet in Springfield, MA.) The set included 45 cards in all and five of DiMaggio.
A second series of 45 cards followed in 1982, this time with some non-baseball cards in the checklist and only a single DiMaggio.
The same year, Baseball Card News put out a set of 20 cards, including two with DiMaggio, one solo and one alongside Bob Feller.
1982 also saw three more TCMA sets with DiMaggio cards. Baseball’s Greatest Hitters and Baseball’s Greatest Sluggers featured standard sized baseball cards, and “Stars of the 50s” featured larger postcard-sized cards.
The streak of (probably) unlicensed DiMaggio cards finally met its end following the release of one last (probably) unlicensed DiMaggio card from the Big League Collectibles “Diamond Classics” set.
Before presenting the licensed DiMaggio issue, we’ll take one quick detour to highlight a set DiMaggio should have been in but wasn’t. The 1983 Donruss “Hall of Fame Heroes”set of 44 cards presented a terrific opportunity for DiMaggio to make his “big three” debut. (Donruss continued to put out all-time greats sets in 1984 and 1985 but neither included Joe D.)
Instead, DiMaggio signed on with Authentic Sports Autographs (ASA) for a twelve-card, limited edition set consisting entirely of DiMaggio cards.
I suspect “The Joe DiMaggio Story” by ASA represented the first time the Yankee Clipper got paid for his likeness on a baseball card in 42 years.
Rather than continue set by set, I’ll refer readers to an article from Night Owl Cards on DiMaggio’s more modern issues (or lack thereof) and simply close with some highlights.
DiMaggio’s next appearance with a major baseball card maker, which for now I’ll define as holding an MLB/MLBPA license, came in 1986 as part of the Sportflics “Decade Greats” set.
I can’t say for certain, but I think this was the first DiMaggio card to come out of a pack since 1961’s Nu-Card Scoops set.
I hate to bill this next one as “major card maker,” but it fits the definition I offered earlier. So here it is, 1989 Starting Lineup Baseball Greats.
The next major card maker to score a deal with Joe was, well, Score, in 1992. Several different cards, most very nice looking, were inserts either in packs or factory sets. The relationship would migrate to Score’s Pinnacle brand in 1993.
DiMaggio finally made his Fleer debut in 1998, though it was in a somewhat unusual way. The card was part of Fleer’s tribute to the Sports Collectors Digest hobby publication and showed DiMaggio signing cards for Pinnacle in 1993. How many times do you see one brand of baseball cards featured on another?
It was only a matter of time before Upper Deck got into the DiMaggio derby, though it would have to be posthumously. The relationship would continue until more or less the baseball (mostly) death of the company in 2010.
And what about Topps? The “baseball card company of record” at long last issued its first Joe DiMaggio card in 2001 as part of the “Before There Was Topps” subset. (For all those Mantle collectors who regard the 1952 Topps as Mantle’s rookie due to its being his first Topps card, I present to you your DiMaggio rookie!)
Topps would really jump into the DiMaggio game in 2007 and to this day remains your most likely source for future DiMaggio cards, even if Topps does not have an agreement in place at the moment. Overall though, Topps produced baseball cards from 1948-2000, a span of 53 years, with no Joe DiMaggio. Topps didn’t quite match 56, who who the hell ever will?
So all of this was my really long way of saying that it makes sense there was no Streak card in the 1961 Topps Baseball Thrills subset. Too bad though, it would have been a helluva card!
With the festive frivolity of the holiday season upon us, I bring you a post even more frivolous than my usual lightweight offerings. Before reading, I suggest adding a pint of rum to the eggnog-which will ensure that you forget that this blog is connected to an august body like SABR. So, toss on another yule (Blackwell) log on the fire, grab a plate of cookies (Rojas and Lavagetto) and contemplate this ancient carol (Clay) within your decked-out halls (Jimmy and Tom).
A Partridge in a Pear Tree: Jay Partridge was the starting second baseman for Brooklyn in 1927. I could not locate a card from the time, but an auction site did have a small newsprint photo described as a panel. Fortunately, Mr. Partridge has a card in the 1990 Target Dodgers set. If you insist on a card issued while the player was active, this 1977 TCMA of Glenn Partridge falls into that “family.”
Apparently, no players with the surname Pear or Tree ever appeared in a professional game. But Matt Pare shows up on the 2017 San Jose Giants. I had to go the minor league route as well to find a “tree.” Mitch Trees was a catcher for the Billings Mustangs in 2017.
Two Turtle Doves: Spokane Indians assistant coach “Turtle” Thomas has a 2017 card, but I’m going with 1909-11 T206 “Scoops” Carry of the Memphis Turtles. As for Doves, Dennis Dove has several prospect cards, including this 2003 Upper Deck Prospect Premiere. However, this 1909-11 American Caramel card of “Buster” Brown on the Boston Doves wins out. After all, Buster lived in a shoe, and his dog Tike lived in there too.
Three French Hens: For this one, I must go with Jeff Katz’s acquaintance Jim French. The diminutive backstop toiled for the Senators and Rangers. Dave “Hendu” Henderson was the best hen option, outside of any Toledo Mud Hen.
Four Calling Birds: This 1982 Larry Fritsch card of Keith Call on the Madison Muskies certainly “answers the call” for this word. Although, Callix Crabbe is in contention based solely on the awesomeness of his name. For the bird, I heard the call of the “royal parrotfinch” and went with longtime Royals pitcher Doug Bird.
Five Golden Rings: It would be a cardinal sin if I didn’t go with the Cardinals’ Roy Golden on this 1912 T-207 “brown background” card. Phillies pitcher, Jimmy Ring, gets the nod with this 1921 National Carmel issue.
Six Geese a Laying: Since Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat, Rich Gossage would have been a logical choice. But I can’t pass up making Seattle Pilot Greg Goossen my fowl choice. His 1970 card is so amazing that all I can do is “gander” at it. This 2019 card of Jose Layer on the Augusta Greenjackets is the best fit that I could lay my hands on.
Seven Swans a Swimming: After answering a personal ad in a weekly newspaper, I met my future wife for a drink at the Mirabeau Room atop the SeaFirst Building in Seattle on June 9, 1990. That evening, Russ Swan of the Mariners carried a no-hitter into the 8th inning against Detroit. Viewing this mound mastery sealed our lifelong bond, for which the “swan song” is yet to be sung.
I must “take a dive” into the Classic Best 1991 minor league set to find someone who fits “swimmingly.” I ended up somewhere near Salinas and found the Spurs’ Greg Swim.
Eight Maids a Milking: Since no Maids are found on “Baseball Reference” and the players named Maiden don’t have cards, I was “made” to go with Hector Made and his 2004 Bowman Heritage.
This may qualify as “milking” it, but the best fit I could find was the all-time winningest general manager in Seattle Pilots history, Marvin Milkes. This DYI card uses a Pilots team issued photo, which shows off the high-quality wood paneling in Marvin’s Sicks’ Stadium office.
Nine Ladies Dancing: The 1887-90, N172 “Old Judge” card of “Lady” Baldwin and the 1996 Fritsch AAGPBL card of Faye Dancer are a perfect fit.
Ten Lords a Leaping: This wonderful 1911 T205 Bris Lord card coupled with a 1986 Dave Leeper doesn’t require much of a leap to work.
Eleven Pipers Piping: Former Negro Leaguer Piper Davis has a beautiful 1953 Mother’s Cookies card on the PCL Oakland Oaks. In fact, the card is “piping” hot.
Twelve Drummers Drumming: You can’t get much better than this 1911 Obak T212 card of Drummond Brown on the PCL Vernon Tigers. Or, you could “bang the drum slowly” with this specialty card of Brian Pearson (Robert De Niro) from the movie “Bang the Drum Slowly.”
I realize that Santa will fill my stocking with coal and “Krampus” will punish me for having written this, but the spirit of the season will endure. I wish you and all those you hold dear a wonderful holiday season and a prosperous new year.
I reached a collecting milestone last week by completing one of my all-time favorite sets. It’s a set that’s off the radar of most collectors (until now!) and has few cards, if any, worth more than a dollar. Its value to me is purely sentimental but still sky high in that it’s the set that started my lifelong love affair with baseball’s all-time greats.
Before getting into the set itself, I’ll start with a card not in it.
You may recognize this as the 1960 Leaf card of Brooks Robinson. The first time I saw it 10-year-old-me took the glow around Robinson’s head for a halo and suspected only I could see it. (UPDATE: Rob Neyer also saw the halo!)
To other collectors (but not our own Jeff Katz) the set is perhaps a bit more boring, despite the fact that it has to be the most exciting set ever to come with marbles instead of gum! (And did I mention the packs had cards of “Your Favorite Major League Star?”)
Marbles aside, we are looking at a black and white set produced long past the era of black and white sets, whether to you the Grayscale Age of Baseball Cards was the 1920s or the 1880s. “Your Favorite Major League Player” notwithstanding, the Leaf checklist strikes many collectors as lackluster, with the Human Vacuum Cleaner and Duke Snider perhaps the only top shelf Hall of Famers.
Various articles note design similarities between the 1960 Leaf set and its predecessor 11 years prior. My own opinion is that the two sets aren’t that close, but I’ll let you judge for yourself.
I chose Elmer Valo to compare these sets because his placement in the 1960 set comes with a little bit of a story. As reported in the May 4, 1949, Boston Globe, Valo was one of six ballplayers to sue Leaf for using their likeness in the 1949 set. The fact that he found himself back on the checklist in 1960 says something about the ability to forgive or forget, whether on the part of Leaf, Valo, or both.
Now fast forward to 1977 and one of the nation’s best known mail order dealers is planning a set of 45 cards as her very first entrée into the card making business. The next 10+ years would see her company produce dozens more sets including…
And six single-player sets from 1984-86 of several big name ballplayers and cult leaders! (Wait, that’s Pete Rose? Are you sure?)
While these later sets drew on new designs, the last few of which just scream 1980s, her very first set, much like Topps Heritage does today, mimicked a set from the past. T206? Nope! 1933 Goudey? Nope! 1952 Topps? Nope again. As you’ve no doubt guessed already, that set was 1960 Leaf!
Here is card #5, Roy Campanella, from Renata Galasso’s debut set, “Decade Greats,” featuring top stars from the 1950s.
Perhaps Ms. Galasso had a sentimental attachment to 1960 Leaf or maybe she just held a special admiration for her fellow challengers of the Topps monopoly. More than likely, her reasons for copying the Leaf set were more pedestrian. Black and white was cheaper than color, and it would have been tough to get too close to Topps without getting even closer to their lawyers. Finally, a collection of 1950s players made more sense in a decade-capping 1960 set than, for example, 1922 American Caramel.
Particularly for her rookie offering, Renata Galasso did a fantastic job capturing the look and feel of the 1960 set. Put the cards side-by-side and you’ll spot some differences, most notably the missing halo, but to paraphrase Maya Angelou the cards are much more alike than unalike.
As the small print on the back of the Campanella card shows, Renata Galasso received an assist from Mike Aronstein’s company, TCMA, which had already been making its own cards since 1972.
The 45-card set was evidently popular enough to engender a sequel two years later, this time numbered 46-90. While you might have expected this continuation set to focus on the 1960s, TCMA had already beat Galasso to the punch the year before with a stunning color issue (left) reminiscent of 1953 Bowman (right) in yet another case of Heritage before Heritage.
TCMA had similarly put out a 1930s set five years earlier, but the half decade gap left enough breathing room for Galasso to put her own “1960 Leaf” touch on the decade.
Where I had previously seen sharp photos of Aaron, Mays, Mantle, and other 1950s stars in my reading books, this 1930s set was the first time I had ever seen such vivid images of earlier stars. To a certain extent, Galasso’s set transformed these 1930s heroes from cartoon characters into men, which somehow made their records and feats all the more impressive. As the card footer shows, TCMA was again a partner in the effort.
Renata Galasso extended her set once again the following year, issuing Series Three in 1980. This time her decade of choice was the 1920s. This was around the time I started taking the bus to card shows, and the Galasso cards were a frequent purchase for me out of bargain bins. While I regret turning down a T206 Cobb for $14, I have no regrets about scooping this one up for a dime.
Once again, TCMA was in the mix, and once again the cards looked fantastic. In my view, all they needed was stats on the back instead of that humongous logo and they would have been perfect.
Series Four, numbered 136-180, came the very next year and featured stars of the 1910s. You don’t even have to look at the rest of the checklist to know the key card in this series is the Cobb, with its iconic Conlon photo.
In a move that foreshadowed the later work of SABR, you’ll notice that Cobb’s hit total was reduced between his 1980 and 1981 card backs. I’ll also credit Galasso (or TCMA) with splurging for a brand new bio where other card makers might have simply recycled the back from the previous series.
The Decade Greats set, now up to 225 cards, would continue in 1983 with a 45-card series, sometimes numbered 181-223 (plus two unnumbered cards), commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1933 All-Star Game.
I say “sometimes numbered” because the same 45 cards are also numbered 1-43 (plus two unnumbered), reflecting either a clever marketing move to co-brand this series as a standalone or just an oops by someone who forgot numbers 1-180 were already spoken for.
On top of that, the sequencing of the 43 numbered cards comes in the exact opposite order of their 181-223 counterparts. For example, here is my version of the Hubbell card, numbered 16 instead of 208, which of course is the 16th number counting backward from 223.
Card footers no longer mention TCMA, which I take to mean Renata Galasso was either producing these cards solo or experimenting with new vendors. Perhaps connected to the absence of TCMA, the quality of the cards drops off some with centering/miscut issues and minor typos being the main culprits.
The sixth and final series was released in 1984 and commemorated highlights and records. One of my favorite cards in the set provides a much sharper image of Jackie Robinson than his 1948 Sport Thrills card, even as both cards drew from the same George Burke photo.
As with the fifth series, quality falls short of the first four series. Look closely at the Robinson card, and you’ll see the name and caption are poorly centered relative to his portrait. This proves to be the case for the majority of the cards. This final series also includes a “BILL MAZEROWSKI” UER and the awkward Koufax caption “PITCHES 4TH NO HITTERS.”
There are also some really bad looking photos, especially compared to the earlier cards. For example, compare the elegant Mays from Series One to the practically reptilian Mantle of Series Six.
Finally, there is notable drift from the original 1960 Leaf design that inspired the set. Photos now are more squared off, the big letters have gotten smaller, and the small letters have gotten bigger. The resemblance is still there though perhaps more amateur.
The final two series are the hardest to find, a sign of declining production and sales. That no Series Seven or Eight was ever produced affirms the reduced interest in sets of this kind. We had reached the mid-1980s after all. Collectors now preferred future Hall of Famers to actual Hall of Famers, but why not! What could King Carl do to make his cards go up in value? Certainly not win 400 games like Dwight Gooden would!
Even where some collectors still wanted old-time stars for pocket change, there was no shortage of color offerings to choose from, including a gorgeous Dick Perez collaboration from Donruss in 1983 and various other Perez-Steele offerings that had gained popularity with autograph hounds.
Regardless of its flaws, its waning popularity, and its uselessness in funding my retirement (I just picked up the “tough” Series Five for $0.99 plus shipping), the 270-card “Decade Greats” set, also called “Glossy Greats,” will always be a favorite of mine.
It is a set that might have seemed lazy at the time, an unimaginative reboot of a set from two decades earlier. What we didn’t know then is just how ahead of its time that was…Heritage before Heritage if you ask me!
Extra for experts
The 1977-84 Renata Galasso Decade Greats set is a relatively early example of “Heritage before Heritage,” but it’s certainly not the only example or even the first. Go back six years and Allstate Insurance (of course!) put together a small set evoking the 1933 Goudey design. Here is the Ted Williams card from the set.
There is also enough similarity across many tobacco issues that perhaps one could regard just about any of the sets Heritage-style remake of some other from a couple years earlier, though I would argue here that this is less about paying homage and more about paying less!
I’m curious what your examples are of early Heritage before Heritage. Ideally the visual match would be strong and the difference between the sets would be a good decade or more. Let me know in the Comments, either here or on Twitter.
As a kid I used to dream about finding my way into some ancient attic and unearthing boxes and boxes full of old baseball cards. For whatever reason, I imagined I’d need to be on the East Coast somewhere, which made the fantasy all the less attainable coming from my West Coast mind, but it was still fun to picture thumbing through these old stacks of cards and finding Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and Joe DiMaggio if not Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Honus Wagner.
While this dream of mine never did come true, I did have the pleasure of meeting a fellow collector this year whose real life experience came awfully close.
David grew up in the Kansas City area but lives in Phoenix these days. Like me, he fell for card collecting hook, line, and sinker from the moment he was introduced to his first baseball cards, despite the fact he barely knew a thing about baseball or any of the players. While my love affair with cards and baseball began with 1978 Topps, David got going five years earlier and still remembers the thrill of pulling a 1973 Topps Hank Aaron card.
David was mainly a Hank Aaron and Kansas City Royals collector early on and started a paper route to feed his fix for packs. Once Hank Aaron retired, David branched out into the older stuff, mainly pursuing pre-1973 Hank Aaron cards and other stars he’d heard about from his dad. David was even lucky enough to have a teacher at school who would trade old 1950s cards for contemporary stars. While these swaps usually worked in David’s favor, he harbors at least some regret over a 1975 Gary Carter RC for 1955 Topps Tom Hurd swap.
Fast forward a bit and David eventually headed off to college. Like so many other collectors he left his cards at home–Hank Aaron, George Brett, Tom Hurd, and all. With David away at school his parents downsized and moved most of his stuff into storage. After his father passed away, David’s mother forgot about the storage unit, whose contents were ultimately sold off to the highest bidder.
The end. Right?
Not quite. I’ll let David’s twitter bio take over from here.
“Recently found my entire card collection I thought was long lost. Sharing my find w/twitter…”
While I grew up dreaming of finding boxes and boxes full of incredible cards, David actually did it. The twist, of course, is that the boxes he found were his own!
Evidently, David’s dad didn’t want to put the cards in storage and had a friend of his hang onto them instead. David remained in contact with this family friend, who one day, decades later, remembered he had a bunch of boxes somewhere with David’s name on them.
David’s first few twitter posts as “Cigarbox Cards” definitely got my attention!
The first card David posted was a well loved 1956 Topps card of Mr. Cub. The next day David posted a video of himself rifling through stacks of cards including early Topps issues of Gary Carter (but not the 1975!) and Dennis Eckersley while a 1949 Leaf Ted Williams sat untouched in the distance.
An autographed Yaz rookie was next, followed by a Red Man Willie Mays. In the days that followed David posted a Brett RC mini, a 1954 Bowman Mickey Mantle, and a 1974 Topps Tom Seaver. I always enjoyed the way David juxtaposed his featured finds with background elements that enhanced their presentation. This is a theme we’ll come back to shortly when I show you what David’s up to now.
Most of the online replies consisted of emojis like 😱 and 🔥 🔥 🔥 but I suspect certain collectors were wondering if David’s cigar box finds included any really good cards.
Then David dropped the Hammer.
And even more Hammer! (Click blue arrow twice to activate.)
Though the cards are not mine, I still feel a thrill each time David posts an amazing card from his original collection. To think how close these cards came to being lost forever and then to see them pop up in my twitter feed is downright magical. It’s like flipping through my own personal attic find, even if the cards aren’t mine to keep–just like the dreams I had as a kid right down to waking up in the morning with the same collection I had before!
Beyond showing off some great cards David introduced some fun interactive features to his posts, among them his “Out or Hit” series…
Of course it was only a matter of time before this happened.
The cards kept coming and coming, almost obscenely so, but what really caught the eye of many collectors was the creative ways David was finding to display his cards, something many of us spend undue time considering.
Here’s another one that really caught my eye with bonus points for the bunting!
And if you’re wondering what the most creative use for a yellow drinking straw in a baseball card collection is…
Or for the Yankee fans…
I could go on and on, but you’d probably have more fun scrolling through all David’s posts yourself. Other than of course SABR Baseball Cards 🤣, it’s hard to think of another baseball card account as consistently awesome as his.
As I consider his collecting story I come back once again to my own and that of so many other collectors. How many of us dreamed of that elusive find, those boxes and boxes of cards filled with stars of yesteryear? If you’re like me, not only did that imagined cardboard haul never arrive but even the cards you did have were nowhere to be found by the time you realized you missed them.
What I didn’t know when I shuffled through my 1978-80 Topps cards as a kid was that the boxes right in front of me would someday be more valuable than any cards I might find elsewhere. Even today the memories of those cards mean more to me than the actual cards I’ve purchased since.
This post (below, right) from David makes the point well and was ultimately the catalyst for my writing this article.
Let’s face it. You can dream all you want about things you don’t have, but few fantasies or realities will ever come close to that of your first love, whether lost, lasting, or in David’s case both.
Author’s note: For another SABR Baseball Cards article inspired by collectors’ online posts, see “Fathers and Sons.”
I went to the East Coast National in White Plains on Saturday. Why is it the East Coast National? By definition, it’s not “national” if it’s “East Coast,” but, you know, there’s this:
All card shows start the same for me. I have an optimistic plan of everything I’m going to find, but then I hit the room and am immediately disappointed. Not so this time.
I’m uber focused and organized, but the ideal me is more spontaneous. I watch with awe the collectors who simply buy stiff they find looks cool, or is a bargain in a discount box. That’s not me. However, I printed up a 1955 Bowman Football checklists, marked the 10 I had, and hoped I’d find a box or stack of low price cards in nice shape to jump start the set. I’ve always loved this set, and I’ve seen tons of them in bargain bins.
It didn’t take long. I found a guy with stacks of cards, each at great prices, and I went nuts, losing all sense of time and place (to the point of missing a meet up. Sorry Matt!).
A couple of dealers later I was now working on a set. My friend Greg scouted out some cards and helped chose the best cards for the price. When I used to go to shows, I’d see tandems working on sets together. I always wanted to do that, and last weekend I did. Greg and I share a lot of common interests and, when it comes to cards, he immediately knew what I was looking for. It was great fun having him choose while I checked off the list. I came home with 45 cards for $85. I even have my first completed page!
That first dealer also had a stack of 1952 Bowman Television and Radio Stars of NBC. I knocked off a set of 1953 vertical backs last year, and was wavering on whether to go for the 36 card horizontal back set. You know where that wavering led; I’m totally working on the set. I came to the show 7 cards in, and picked up another 11, including two sports guys, Bill Stern and Bob Considine. With two more on the way I’m already close to the end. A bit lesser condition than my verticals, but they are definitely harder to find. (These were 50% off the listed price, don’t worry.)
Alright, alright, now on to the baseball cards.
I put a big dent into the last of my 1961 Post set, a full half of my want list at prices I’m not finding online. I’ve been hard pressed finding cards at prices I find reasonable (I wrote about that last month), but I knocked off these at exact the dollar amount I was looking for. Flood and Antonelli were a buck each and I’m thrilled to have gotten the Mathews for $15. I’m in the home stretch now – 11 to go!
If you’re a consistent reader of my posts, and, really, why wouldn’t you be?, you’ll know I’m committed to the 1960 Leaf second series. I’ve been pretty successful getting nice ones – EX or better – for less than $10 per common. It’s not super easy, though not super difficult. The opportunities come and go quickly. I pored through a pile of them and tried to talk the guy down from $15 to $10. He landed at $12, which was fine. It was good to knock 6 more off the list. I’ve got 27 of 72 and my average per card cost is still $7.93.
Early in the recent history of this blog, I wrote about how online buying knocked shows out of my system and, I thought, good riddance. Of course I was kind of wrong (kind of right too) because in the last two years I’ve been to great shows and made purchases at a level that can only occur at big events. I find myself already anticipating the next one!
A few months back, a friend and I were talking about selling on eBay. He was surprised that I would sell low priced cards, $5 and less. Why bother? (I think I sold this for $1.50).
Three reasons: 1) money is money and $3 net is better than $0 net, 2) it’s very easy for me to send cheap cards via plain white envelopes and almost as easy to go to the Cooperstown Post Office if need be (I know a trip to the local post office is harder in other places) and 3) set collectors should be served. As one myself, I’m thrilled when someone has a single, inexpensive card listed that I need, or will break up a lot for me, and I’m happy to help someone else looking for a single card.
I’m always a bit shocked when someone won’t break up a lot for me. Not the big sellers, I get that. They have hundreds, if not thousands of auctions/Buy It Nows going off all the time, so asking them to peel off a single card or two from a lot and changing the listing is a hassle for them. But non-pros, or smaller sellers – why not? I’d do it for you!
I was recently annoyed by a guy selling three 1960 Leaf cards. Two low numbers, including a Hall of Famer (Luis Aparicio) and one high number (Joe Hicks), which you know I’m working on (read here and here).
I was willing to pay more than half his listing price for the Hicks card, and he told me no, he wants to move them all. Now, the guy doesn’t owe me anything, but he’s likely to get the same sale price (or more) if he peels off the high number to me and relists the other two, including Aparicio.
My favorite part about eBay is the interaction, when it happens, and finding out what people are collecting, and why they’re selling. I send and receive a lot of messages. Usually people are willing to meet my needs.
The same idea of aiding set collectors is a big reason why I’ve been selling off, or trading, a lot of my 1970’s doubles. They don’t do me any good sitting in boxes, I can sell cheaper than dealers, and, in recent weeks, I’ve parlayed around 1,000 dubs for a 1965 Soupy Sales set, and 1969 and 1970 Topps Football sets. I’m ecstatic to have those sets, and I know the people who have bought cards from me are very happy with my nice old cards.
So, eBay sellers, think of the collectors and do the right thing. Fill want lists!
I have 15 of 66 cards from the 1965 Topps Soupy Sales set. I’m not there.
I have 6 of 88 1957 Topps Hit Stars. Not yet.
I have 6 of 24 1968 Topps Posters, off condition donated by friends. I’m uncommitted.
1960 Leaf second series. I’m all in.
I wrote about the 1960 Leaf set in December. Soon after I posted, I grabbed a Harry Brecheen.
Then I picked up Henry Mason and Earl Torgeson in a COMC order. I told myself I was casually working on the set. That’s even in my name for the spreadsheet I created.
But am I? I bought a Faye Throneberry at COMC (not in hand yet), and then five from one eBay seller.
Now I’m 1/8 of the way there and going for it. (By the way, all the cards are standard shiny white. Not sure why they photographed so dingy. They’re nice, though not as nice as my first series.)
At less than $9 per card in EX to EXMT, I could happily acquire more commons, though this condition at that price is a challenge. The second series cards are out there, but tend to be listed for more. I’ve been lucky so far. Some cards will set me back – Sparky Anderson, Orlando Cepeda, Jim Bunning, the two Hal Smiths (one card), maybe Curt Flood.
I’m happy to be swept in by these cards. It’s a good, manageable project that crept up on me and, all of a sudden, I was in for keeps.
Author’s note: A previous post here examined the largely dismissive portrayal of the Negro Leagues by Topps in the early 1950s. This sequel simply expands the focus to other card makers of the era.
For hobbyists who regard the Leaf issue as 1948 or 1948-1949, this set would unequivocally be the first major U.S. release to feature ex-Negro Leaguers. For my part, I regard it as tied with 1949 Bowman. Either way, the Leaf issue included cards of three black players with Negro League resumes.
Card 8 in the set featured the legendary Satchel Paige. The card back, which among other things notes Satchel’s prior team as the Kansas City Monarchs, is pretty amazing.
First we’ll note that Satchel is assigned an age, 40 years old, which should make just about everything else in the bio seem like fiction. Second, the praise for Satchel is through the roof! Though it’s possible one could assign a negative connotation to “most picturesque player in baseball,” the words that follow cast doubt on such a reading. Satchel is billed as a “high-powered talent” with “fabulous gate-appeal” who is expected to “sizzle into his old stride” in 1949. The folks at Leaf seemed to get it that Satchel was the real deal.
The next black player in the set was Jackie Robinson, and his card bio leads off with the historic line, “First Negro player in modern organized baseball.”
As was the case with early Topps cards, the direct implication here is that the Kansas City Monarchs and the Negro Leagues were not “organized baseball.” On the flip side, the phrase “modern organized baseball” pays homage to 19th century black players whose histories were often erased in telling the Jackie Robinson story. This 1980 Laughlin card serves to illustrate the point, as do Robinson’s 1960 and 1961 Nu-Card releases.
The final Negro Leagues alum in the set was Larry Doby, identified as the “first Negro player to enter the American League.” The last line of the bio is notable in that Doby is not simply described as a speedy base-stealer but a smart one as well. This strikes me as enlightened writing for its time.
For legal reasons, if not financial ones as well, Leaf would not offer another baseball set until 1960. We will see shortly how the set handled the Negro League origins of pitcher Sam Jones.
The 1949 Bowman set featured the same three black players from the Leaf set plus one more, Roy Campanella. The Robinson card notes that “he became the first Negro to enter the ranks of pro ball.” At once this phrase dismisses the Negro Leagues as less than professional while ignoring nineteenth century pioneers like Moses Fleetwood Walker.
The Roy Campanella card in the set describes “an exhibition game with Negro All-Stars at Ebbets Field.” This game, part of a five-game series against Major Leaguers, took place in 1945 and prompted Charlie Dressen to recommend Campy to Branch Rickey.
To my knowledge, the Bowman card of Satchel contains the earliest use of the phrase “Negro Leagues” on a baseball card.
The idea that Satchel “traveled around” the Negro Leagues may be taken one of two ways. On one hand, he did play for several teams. On the other hand, it may suggest a lack of seriousness and organization to the Negro Leagues themselves.
As with the Leaf card, we see the word “fabulous” used to describe Paige. New to the Bowman card is the treatment of Satchel’s age. While a precise birthday is offered (September 11, 1908), the bio makes it clear that “his exact age is not known!”
Larry Doby is the final Negro Leaguer featured in the set, and his card describes him as “one of the few Negroes in the American League.” Depending when in 1949 the card was produced, in addition to Doby and Paige, the description might have been referring to Minnie Minoso (April 19, 1949) and/or Luke Easter (August 11, 1949).
Four cards in the next Bowman release referred to the Negro Leagues tenure of its players. Card 22 of Jackie Robinson is similar to its 1949 predecessor in referring to Jackie as the “first Negro to enter organized baseball.”
The Larry Doby card similarly draws on its previous bio, again recognizing Doby as “one of the few Negroes in the American League.”
Ditto for Roy Campanella whose role with the “all-star Negro team” first brought him to the attention of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The Hank Thompson (SABR bio) card highlights his role in a famous first of the integration era, “the first time in major league history that a Negro batter was up before a Negro pitcher.” The card also identifies Thompson’s pre-MLB tenure with the Kansas City Monarchs.
Three cards in the next Bowman offering are relevant to the topic of the Negro Leagues and the integration of MLB.
The Campanella card recycles Campy’s exhibition game origin story for a third time, though this time there is no reference to the makeup of his team. Meanwhile, the Easter card follows a familiar tradition of discounting Negro League service in its statement that Easter “entered organized baseball in 1949.” Finally, the Ray Noble card, which does an awesome job teaching kids the right way to say his name, makes reference to his time with the “New York Cubans of the Negro National League.”
An interesting evolution in the 1952 Bowman set occurs with the Luke Easter card.
Having previously “entered organized baseball in 1949,” we learn now that Easter “began in baseball in 1949.” What an odd statement if we take it literally! (By the way, the use of terms like “professional baseball,” “organized baseball,” and “baseball” to refer specifically to MLB/MiLB is still commonplace today. I would love to see baseball writers move away from this practice.)
1952 Num Num Foods
This potato chips set is one I only learned of in doing research for this article. The regional food issue features 20 players, all Cleveland Indians, including four black players: Luke Easter, Harry Simpson, Larry Doby, and Sam Jones. Apart from single-player sets such as the 1947 Bond Bread Jackie Robinson issue, this set has the largest proportion of African American players of any I’ve seen from the era.
The Easter card notes that he “played softball for several years before entering [the] Negro National League” and even referenced Luke’s support role with the Harlem Globetrotters. A couple funny stories are shared as well before ending on the down note of a fractured knee cap.
The Harry “Suitcase” Simpson card picks up where Easter’s leaves off, recognizing Simpson’s daunting role of having to fill in for an injured Luke Easter. Then again it’s hard to imagine anyone more qualified to fill large shoes than Simpson, who according to at least some stories got his nickname “Suitcase” from the size of his feet!
The back of Larry Doby’s card is injury-themed as well. However, rather than add insult to injury, the writer actually defends Doby against any insult that he was a disappointment. The paragraph ending almost reads as a (very dated) math story problem and left me ready to set up an equation.
The Sam Jones card closes with a phrase that posed a road block to the careers of at least three very talented black pitchers: Dave Hoskins, Mudcat Grant, and Sam Jones himself. The “Tribe’s already formidable big 4” were of course Hall of Fame hurlers Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, and Early Wynn, along with all-star Mike Garcia. Even as Cleveland brought up tremendous black hurlers, two of whom would eventually become “Black Aces,” there was simply nowhere in the starting rotation to put them.
I didn’t run across any interesting cards in my review of the 1953 Bowman sets, so I’ll skip ahead to 1954. Card number 118 of Bob Boyd (SABR bio) references his start in the Negro National League while (as usual) recognizing his start in “organized ball” coming afterward. As a side note, Boyd’s Negro League team, the Memphis Red Sox, played in the Negro American League. As another side note, the trivia question matches that of Hank Aaron’s Topps card, again recalling (and ingoring/discounting) a famous Negro League feat attributed to Josh Gibson.
Hank Thompson’s bio is a funny one for reasons unrelated to his Negro League lineage. For whatever reason, the Bowman folks felt the need to clarify what was meant by “a quiet fellow.” It’s also a rare thing to see a baseball card bio so critical of a player’s weight! In a less humorous vein, as was the case four years earlier, Thompson’s card identifies his tenure with the Kansas City Monarchs.
1954 Dan Dee
A notable card in the 1954 Dan Dee (potato chips) baseball set is that of Pittsburgh Pirates infielder and one-time Kansas City Monarch Curt Roberts (SABR bio needed).
The first line of his bio identifies Roberts as the “first Negro player ever to be placed on Pittsburgh club’s roster.” This contention has received scrutiny over the years since it overlooks Carlos Bernier (SABR bio), a black Puerto Rican player who preceded Roberts by a year.
1954 Red Man
While the 50-card set also includes cards of Negro League vets Roy Campanella, Jim Gilliam, and Willie Mays, the Monte Irvin card is the only one whose bio can be considered relevant to his Negro League service.
As usual, we see that he “began in organized baseball” once he started playing on white teams. Something new I did learn from the card was that—at least here—the AAA Jersey City Giants were known as the “Little Giants.” How’s that for an oxymoron!
1954 Red Heart
Whether a gum chewer, chip cruncher, dip wadder, or dog feeder, it’s hard to imagine a better year to be a card collector than 1954. Packaged with Red Heart, “The Big League Dog Food,” that year was this card of Dodgers infielder Jim Gilliam.
A quaint aspect of the card is the blank entries for all of Gilliam’s career numbers. The bio area of the card explains why this is so. “As a rookie in 1953, he has no life record…”
Regarding his Negro League lineage and role in MLB integration, the opening of the bio tells us that Gilliam “was the youngest member of the Baltimore Elite Giants” and that “he is one of the fine negro ballplayers that have been taken into organized baseball during the past decade.”
In what must by now feel like a tired theme, here is Hank Aaron’s 1955 Bowman card citing 1954 as Aaron’s “third season in organized baseball,” omitting his season with the Indianapolis Clowns.
1955 Red Man
The sequel to Red Man’s 1954 issue included five black stars: Larry Doby, Minnie Minoso, Brooks Lawrence, Willie Mays, and Hank Thompson. The Thompson card as usual notes that he “began in organized baseball in 1947, which was the year he jumped straight from the Kansas City Monarchs to the St. Louis Browns.
1958 Hires Root Beer
The Hires Root Beer card of Bob Boyd is similar to his 1954 Bowman card in recognizing him as a “product of the Negro National League” instead of the Negro American League.
After an eleven-year hiatus, the Leaf set is back, and its card number 14 is of MLB’s second Black Ace, Sam Jones (SABR bio).
Toward the end of the bio, we learn that Jones “started his pro career with Wilkes-Barre in 1950…” though he pitched professionally for the Cleveland Buckeyes (and possibly Homestead Grays) of the Negro Leagues as early as 1947 (or possibly 1946).
1979 TCMA Baseball History Series “The 50s”
First off, what a great set! When I first came across this Hank Thompson card I initially assumed it was a slightly undersized reprint of his 1953 Bowman card. Then I realized he had no 1953 Bowman card! Of course the back of the card provided plenty of other clues that this was in fact a more original offering.
The card bio includes some information about Thompson’s Negro Leagues resume as well as how he became a New York Giant.
“Thompson, who spent much of his playing career in the old Negro Leagues, got his first chance in the majors with the St. Louis Browns in 1947. But for some unknown reason the Browns let him slip away to the Giants two year later…”
The reality behind the “unknown” reason is that Thompson (along with teammate Willard Brown) was signed by St. Louis to a short-term deal whose extension would require additional payment to the Kansas City Monarchs who held his rights. While Thompson was one of the better players on the Browns, he was neither Jackie Robinson nor Babe Ruth. It goes without saying that a black player needed to be a lot better than “better than average” to find a home on a Major League roster in 1947!
Either in conjunction with the Topps article or on its own, there was of course a “beating a dead horse” element to this post. We get it; we get it…the baseball cards back then did not regard the Negro Leagues as organized, professional, or even Baseball. While modern writers and historians do recognize the Negro Leagues as all three, the stubbornness of language is such that even today these terms and their meanings persist nearly unchanged. Until we change them.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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).
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.
And once again, we have a manager-player combo card.
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.)
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The efficiency consultants were back at Topps for these three seasons and urged the combining of team cards and manager cards once again.
1981-1982 Donruss and Fleer
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.)
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?
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.
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.
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.
And finally, here are the Traded Set Seven!
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!
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!