An Open, and a Shut, Case

Two mysteries this week, one unsolved, one quickly wrapped up.

The Battle of Battle Creek – Kellogg’s vs. the Atlanta Braves

I love my 3-D sets and look at them often. I’ve always wondered why, in the first two years, there were no Atlanta Braves. This is especially odd in 1970, when Kellogg’s crammed the set with the biggest names in the game (and Tim Cullen). Where was Hank Aaron? Orlando Cepeda? Phil Niekro?

Another shutout for Atlanta in 1971 and, then, in 1972, Ralph Garr makes his Brave debut. Or does he? The Roadrunner appears with a blacked out cap on the front and, even weirder, a non-existent Braves logo on the reverse. Kellogg’s clearly had a licensing deal with both the Players’ Association and MLB (both are prominent displayed on the card back), so use of logos should not have been a problem. These are not issued as MLBPA licensed only, which would have led to a lack of official team insignias and such.

What’s the deal here? Why would the Braves not be part of the overall licensing agreement? They had to be. I’d love to research this but really don’t even know where to start – Kellogg’s, MLB, MLBPA, Braves?

Help me out on this. I’d love to get an answer on the why Garr looks like a Little Leaguer and why  Kellogg’s was not the Home of the Braves in those early years.

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Play Ball! (Or Something Close)

I had a nice day trip yesterday to visit some friends. One of the reasons for the drive was to help dig into his card collection, recently reclaimed when his Mom moved. Like many of us of similar age, he had a nice group of mid-‘60’s to mid-‘70’s cards, but, like fewer of us, he was in a position as a kid to have the opportunity to buy some vintage, pre-war cards.

Lots of cool stuff, but one card that caught my eye was his 1939 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio. I’d never had one in hand, so took it out of its display. As many of you know, I’m not big on card backs. If they were so important, why aren’t they the fronts???? However, I can be proven wrong and I was excited to see this:

 

I’m not an expert on these cards, but have seen Topps seller samples online. The DiMag was authentic, no doubt, so I assumed these were legit samples. I didn’t know for sure though, so put it out that I was looking for some guidance. A few people thought they might be fakes, but that didn’t feel right.

As soon as I got home I figured I’d start searching in the Standard Catalog and, boom, there they were. A heap of the first 115 cards of the 162 card set were stamped, in red, as sample cards. The text is great, as you can read yourself. The samples are a bit harder to come by and do command a premium. I was pretty jazzed to find this out and relay that information.

It’s a remarkable thing to look at the same item over and over again and then see it for the first time. The Garr card seemed new to me, though I’d looked at it multiple times. Interesting how other collectors were unaware of the lack of Braves in the first two Kellogg’s sets. Finding fresh secrets, both easy and hard to unravel, is part of the joy, something like discovering new friends.

Barajitas estadounidenses: Kellogg’s Leyendas

Picking up this series after a lengthy delay. I don’t like to write about these without having handled at least one sample of the cards in question. But that’s taken care of now. This will be my fourth post featuring Spanish-language baseball cards released in the United States. Previous posts are:

  1. Introduction and 1978 Topps Zest
  2. 1993–2000 Pacific and Pacific Crown
  3. Other assorted Pacific cards and oddballs

A couple of years before Pacific’s Spanish-language set, Kellogg’s had two 10-card sets which you could find inserted in boxes of cereal. This set was issues in both English-only and bilingual English-Spanish versions. Neither of those was distributed in my neck of the woods as the Kellogg’s boxes around me had Sportflics-manufactured 3D cards. Presumably the bilingual cards were distributed in more markets that had more Spanish speakers.

Anyway, the 10-card checklist is an interesting mix of big names we still recognize (Clemente, Carew, Cepeda, and Miñoso) and others in the hall of very good who have name recognition for a certain generation of fans or for fans of a certain team. I know Kellogg’s was limited to retired players but I feel like they could’ve done better.

 


Aside from how Cepeda is pictured with the Cardinals on the card front and the Giants on the back, I’m fascinated about what’s translated and what’s not in the text. Position information: “primera base” is Spanish, “DH” is English, and “BR” and “TR” stand for bats right and throws right.* His birth information: bilingual. Stats though are another mix just like the positions. Años is in Spanish but all the abbreviations are in English.

*Took me a while to figure that out as I briefly thought that BR and TR were somehow representing other positions he played.

The bio text though is basically equivalent between both languages. I enjoy that his nickname gets translated while the “El Birdos” cheer doesn’t have the same effect when the surrounding text is Spanish.

Also, these bios show one of the things I love most about following sports in other languages. Would I have learned the words for “rookie” or “pennant” in school? No. Way. But on a card like this I can learn “novato” and “gallardete.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, So, I Return

I railed against card shows in a February post, extolling the virtues of eBay and espousing the problems of shows. No matter – last weekend was the East Coast National in White Plains. My friend Greg and I have been trying to coordinate going to a show together and, finally, our schedules lined up.

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Though I always used to go to shows on Sunday – seemed like dealers were more likely to haggle rather than schlep all of their inventory home – Saturday was the only day that worked for both of us. Replacing my last day strategy took some thinking, but I hit on something of a plan. I’d knock off as many commons from my want lists, mostly 1960 Topps, because I’m down to so few commons that going the eBay route is less worthwhile. If I could cross off enough of my checklists, I’d be happy. It’s much easier to find bargains on stars online. That’s been my experience.

Good approach, but that initial strategy of loading on commons was immediately derailed when I saw the Clean Sweep Auctions table. I used to order a lot from Steve Verkman. What I thought were random 1960’s turned out to be stars at 40% off. The discount brought them to book prices or slightly less. I’ve been having a hard time getting cards like Yogi Berra in EX or better for book or less. I ended up with 5 cards – Master and Mentor (Mays and Rigney), Berra, Snider, Brooks Robinson and the Pirates team card (with unmarked checklist) – one-third of my budget spent and a whole room to hit. So be it for the best plans. Mine gang aft agley.

 

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I assumed I’d hit the familiar tables with binders and binders of commons and, with a turn of a corner, I did. A dealer named Jeffrey Schenker had a nice group of EX or better cards, even giving me a good deal on some high numbers. I got 17 cards, a solid dent into the list, and I was back on track.

By this time I had gotten into the habit of telling people I was Mayor of Cooperstown. I didn’t think it would get me any better deals (and it didn’t) but this was the perfect audience to tell. Most had been to Cooperstown, and pretty recently, and it was nice to spread the word of the village to a group eager to listen.

As I walked past tables, I was surprised by how few dealers had varied offerings. It was Topps and Bowman, one after the other (outside the tables I couldn’t care less about – new cards, autographs, game used stuff, and so on). I was convinced I’d be able to get some 1971 Kellogg’s 3-Ds and 1964 Topps coins, but I was getting a bad feeling about it.

Then I found Stan’s Vintage Sports Cards and a small stack of Kellogg’s. I asked to see them and he pulled out one, two, three, four, five stacks! I hadn’t even noticed them all, so happy to see the one. I got three cards – Agee, Menke and Horton – but I only needed 8. I figured while I was there I’d ask if he had 1964 Coins. He did and what passes for hard work began.

 

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We laid some price ground rules early. I told him I wouldn’t pay much more than $2 per common. I went page by page, hunched over, a little sweaty, but it was worth it. I ended up with 37 coins at exactly the price I was looking for. A couple of tables over there was another guy with coins and I picked up 11 more. Big success.

 

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I’m so out of card show shape that I was exhausted, physically and (almost) financially. Greg and I met up again and, while we were chatting, I glanced over to a table with some 1960’s. I figured I’d give it one last go and picked up two more – Herb Score and the Tigers team.

Interestingly, this guy had a Jim Kaat rookie for $8. Way too cheap but seemingly nice, I took it out of the top holder and a PSA grading strip fell out. It said the card was “altered.” Now the dealer wasn’t trying to hide anything – he’d left that info in – but I couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong with it. It measured up in size to the other cards and had no discernible problems. He thought I should get it, of course, and I wondered if I should. “No one will know it’s altered, if it’s just going in a binder,” he said. Yeah, but I’d know and, while I might never figure out what was tampered with, I’d be nagged by the fact that somehow I had a bad card.

That was it. I’d spent most of my budget, was tired but happy, and my entire recent attitude on shows had changed. There are still pleasant dealers, engaged collectors who are happy to chat (I got into a long talk about Goudey Wide Pens) and certain purchases that can only be best made at shows.

I’m back!

The Heroes of Battle Creek

The filthy, vacuous, spiritually empty 1970’s was equally barren for collectors. If America is going to be great again, let’s hope that the ‘70’s aren’t the reference point. Yet, out of this wasteland emerged a hero, riding in from the unlikeliest of places – Battle Creek, Michigan.

kelloggs-1970-maysKellogg’s began their 3-D cards in 1970 with a stunning 75 card set.  It’s a fantastic checklist of players, star filled, simply lovely design. The 3-D effect, only recently surpassed in Avatar, worked, especially in small gaps – between a player’s arm and his head, between his bat and body. In these little glimpses of the background, magic happened.

I had a few cards from 1970-1972, but it was only in 1973 that I noticed the mail-in form on the box and sent in for a full set. Getting that brick of 3-card panels in the mail was a joy, and it only cost $1.25 and two Raisin Bran box tops. Having that set put me at the ready for upcoming issues, and sent me back to get 1970 and 1972. That damned ’71 set was the only one not available through the mail and, as a result, was much harder to come by, either complete or individually. It still is.

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Even back then, collectors knew there were two problems with cards – they’d curl and, in time, they’d crack. I was on the problem early. I’d get a set and immediately bind them like a Chinese woman’s feet, but with less pain. My ingenious process was to put two pieces of cardboard on both the front and back of the set and strap the cards in tightly with rubber bands. The cardboard prevented rubber band marks on the first and last cards. It was a pretty good system and held the cards solidly in place for decades. Over time, some bands would get flabby, some would break, but it worked. What curl I had was manageable. Maybe one or two cards in all of my sets have cracks, and I think they arrived that way.

That was what held them until a few years ago. My friend Jimmy, as a thank you for another great Cooperstown Induction weekend, sent me a box of hard top loaders and inner sleeves (is that what they’re called? I may be confusing the term with records). It was a complete surprise and the perfect gift; I would never buy that kind of stuff myself. I was consumed for weeks with placing old 3-D cards in their new holders. I hadn’t looked at all of these cards in years. Thankfully, 1970’s me did a solid job on keeping the cards flat and it was an easy transition. Now, all my Kellogg’s sets (save 1973) are flat and stay flat in their new homes.

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I’ve been thinking of finishing off the run. I don’t have 1982 and 1983, easy enough to come by and cheap, but in looking at 1971, that damned 1971 set, I don’t have enough critical mass of single cards to pursue the full set. I don’t want to go cheap on that one and start down a cracked path. We all know the bad luck that surrounds cracks, whether in mirrors, concrete or 1971 Clarence Gaston cards.

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Don Mincher on the Pilots

A recent posting of Bruce Markusen’s Card Corner featured the 1968 Topps Don Mincher card and provided an excellent overview of his career. The article mentioned that Mincher was selected by the Seattle Pilots in the 1969 expansion draft. Although Mincher was not a superstar, he was a well-known, productive player and as such stood out amongst the rag-tag group assembled on the Pilots roster.

This resulted in Mincher being featured in both 1969 and 1970 by Topps, Milton Bradley, Kellogg and other manufacturers as the Pilots’ representative on specialty cards, posters, stamps and inserts.  What follows is a look at Don’s cards and related collectibles during the brief existence of the one-and-done Pilots.

Topps 1969 Regular Issue and Decal Insert

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1969 Topps
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1969 Topps Decal

As with most cards for expansion teams, Topps airbrushed out the cap insignia from the players previous team. Based on the batting cage in the background, these pictures were taken during the same photo session. Obviously, the photographer wanted one with Don’s glasses on and one without. Also note that Topps didn’t stick with the same color designations on the decals as the cards. The light green ball on the decal was the designated color on cards for the Astros and Orioles.

The decals measure 1 ¾ X 2 1/8. There are 48 stickers in the set which featured many of the superstar players of the era. My memory is of them being distributed in the later series. The cellophane like decal peeled off from the white, waxy background paper. Over time, the adhesive tends to fail and the decal will separate from the backing. I can attest to this having a backless Mantle and Clemente in my collection.

1969 Topps Super

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1969 Topps Super 

Apparently the Topps photographer believed Don photographed best while gazing into the upper deck at Yankee Stadium. The image on the Super card is exactly the same pose as the 1968 regular issue card sans hat. The Super cards are on thick stock with rounded edges and measure 2 ¼ X 3 ¼. They were sold three to a pack. The backs are the same as the deckle edge inserts found in the early series of the regular issue packs. One of Topps test issues, Supers were only distributed in Michigan, making the 66 card set extremely rare. Even non-stars are valuable. Tommy Davis is the other Pilots player found in this set.

1969 Topps Team Poster

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1969 Topps Team Poster

Once again Don is gazing skyward but in the opposite direction and without a bat on his shoulder. The team poster measures 11 ¼ X 19 ¾ and came one per pack for a dime. The dimensions are bigger than the 1968 player posters that were also sold one per pack.   The team posters had a wider distribution than the Super cards but didn’t reach all regions.

1969 Topps Stamps

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1969 Topps Stamp
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1969 Topps Stamp Album

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Topps repurposed the 1968 card picture for Don’s stamp. The stamps came 12 to a sheet and each pack contained one album. There are 240 stamps in the set and they have the same thickness as a postage stamp.

1969 Globe Imports Playing Cards

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1969 Globe Imports
1969 Sports Illustrated poster
1968 Sports Illustrated poster

Arguable the worst card set in history, these 1-5/8 X 2 black and white cards were printed on flimsy paper stock with blank backs. Each of the 55 cards represents a standard playing card. Mincher’s card is the same image as found on a 1968 Sports Illustrated poster. The SI promotional poster catalog featured a small version of each poster (image on the right). This may have been the source for the grainy pictures. It would be interesting to know if Global Imports bought the rights or simply pirated the images. Apparently, the cards were sold or given away at gas stations in the south. I found a set in the 1970s at a liquidation store in Yakima, WA.

1969 and 1970 Milton Bradley Official Baseball

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1969 Milton Bradley
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1970 Milton Bradley 

The 1969 game is composed of 296 2X3 cards which came on perforated sheets requiring detachment before playing. The backs contain a list of outcomes (ground out, single etc.). Oddly, there are not enough cards to form a lineup for each team.

In 1970 Milton Bradley issued a simplified version of the 1969 game. The 24 cards in the set measure 2 3/16 X 3 ½ with rounded edges.

1970 Topps Regular Issue and Poster

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1970 Topps
1970 Topps Poster
1970 Topps Poster

Don was traded to Oakland in January of 1970 but not before Topps produced the early series cards and poster inserts. There are 24 posters, one player for each team, and measure 8 11/16 x 9 5/8. Note that the black and white “action” picture is actually Carl Yastrzemski.

1970 Kellogg’s 3-D

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1970 Kelloggs

The 2 ¼ X 3 ½ 3-D cards were made by Xograph and issued one per box of Corn Flakes. Interestingly, Rich Mueller of Sports Collectors Daily mentions that the cards were also distributed in six card packs with an iron on transfer. Don is #75 of the 75 card set. He is depicted in his Pilots regular season home uniform. The background appears to be RFK stadium where the All-Star game was held in 1969 and Don was the Pilots representative. However, Xograph did superimpose players in front of backgrounds unrelated to the location of the photo. Furthermore, the photo appears to be identical to a publicity shot taken at Sicks’ Stadium in September of 1969.