A Trip Down Memory Lane (Field)

With SABR 49 about to unfold in beautiful San Diego, I offer a look at Padres’ cards from the Pacific Coast League era, which ends with the formation of the Major League Padres in 1969.

The original Hollywood Stars moved to San Diego in 1936. The city fathers constructed a wooden ballpark, Lane Field, near the train station on the water front.  From there, the team would move into the Mission Valley in 1958 to play at Westgate Park and, finally, San Diego Stadium in 1968.

According to PCL historian, collector and dealer Mark MacRae, the first set of Padres collectibles were team issued photos in 1947.  However, this set does not show up in the Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards.  This publicity photo of manager “Ripper” Collins from 1947 may be an example, but I’m by no means certain.

Two years later, Bowman issues a PCL set in the same format as their MLB cards.  The small, square cards were issued in packs with a total of 32 in the set.  The five Padres players are Xavier Rescigno (pictured), John Jensen, Pete Coscavart, Lee Handley and Tom Seats.  The cards were issued as reprint set in 1987 by the Card Collectors Company.  The reprints are distinguished by wider, white borders.

Bowman wasn’t the only company to issue PCL cards in 1949.  The Hage’s Dairy company begins a three- year run with a 107-card set-with at least 26 different Padres.  This initial set and the subsequent issues are filled with variation cards.  Some players have up to four different poses. They were distributed in boxes of popcorn at Lane Field.  Cards were added or removed when the rosters changed. The 1951 cards come in four different tones: sepia, blue, green and black-and-white.  This set includes Luke Easter, manager Bucky Harris and John Ritchey, who broke the PCL color barrier in 1948.

Incidentally, the Bowman cards used many of the same photographs as Hage’s.  For example, Bowman simply cropped this photo of John Jensen. 

Hage’s comes back in 1950 with a 122-card set that has at least 28 Padres. This time, all the cards are black-and-white. Also, Hage’s ice cream is advertised on the back.  This set has manager Jimmy Reese as well as two variations of Orestes “Minnie” Minoso.  Among other recognizable names are: Al Smith (famous for having beer poured on his head by fan in ’59 World Series), Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, and Tom Tresh’s dad, Mike.

In 1951, Hage’s produces a much reduced 54-card set, with all but 12 of them being Padres. The other cards are comprised of seven Cleveland Indians and five Hollywood Stars. They were printed in the following tints: blue, green, burgundy, gold, gray and sepia.  Harry Malmberg is an example of the many photo variations.  The two cards above are both from 1951.  Some familiar names in this set are Ray Boone, Luke Easter and “Sad” Sam Jones.

Like an ice cream bar left in the warm California sun, Hage’s Dairy cards melted away in 1952, leaving Globe Printing as the card producer for the Padres.  This 18-card, black-and-white set features manager Lefty O’Doul, coach Jimmy Reese, Memo Luna and Herb Gorman.  I’m not sure how the cards were distributed.

1952 is a big PCL card year-due to the introduction of the fabulous Mother’s Cookies set.  The 64-card set was distributed in packages of cookies on the West Coast.  Padres’ manager, Lefty O’Doul, has on a beautiful satin jacket in his photo.  Some of the recognizable players include Memo Luna, “Whitey” Wietlemann and “Red” Embree.

Mother’s Cookies returns with a 63-card set in 1954.  Of the seven Padres in the set, the most interesting is Tom Alston.  He would integrate the St. Louis Cardinals in 1954 after being purchased for $100,000. Unfortunately, mental illness ended his promising career in 1957. Also, Lefty O’Doul is back, and former MLB player Earl Rapp has a card.

I was unable to locate any evidence of Padres cards from 1953-60, but in 1961 the fantastic Union Oil set showed up at West Coast 76 stations. The sepia tone cards measure 3”X 4” and featured 12 Padres. Among the players available are: Herb Score, Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, Mike Hershberger and Dick Lines.

The Major League Padres arrive in 1969, but cards from the PCL era would emerge in retrospective sets. In 1974, PCL historian and fan, Ed Broder, self-produced a 253-card set, modeled after the Seattle Rainiers popcorn cards. He used players from 1957-58.  There are 31 Padres cards in the set, including future Seattle Pilot, Gary “Ding Dong” Bell, Bob Dipietro, and Jim “Mudcat” Grant.

Another retro set was produced by TCMA in 1975.  The 18-card set has PCL players from the mid-1950s, one of which is Padre Cal McLish. The cards are “tallboy” size-like early 1970s Topps basketball.

In recent years, the late Carl Aldana self-produced several Padres cards in the Mother’s Cookies format.  The players he chose are: Ted Williams, Luke Easter, Max West, Al Smith and Jack Graham.

Please let me know if there are other years that PCL Padres cards were produced or if you have a 1947 team issued photo. 

SABR convention goers will assemble at glitzy Petco Park for a Padres game against the Cardinals. Not too far away, a humbler structure once stood, Lane Field.  Though small and termite infested, it was “big time” to fans in a simpler era with limited entertainment options.

At the game, I plan to buy a box of popcorn to see if a Hage’s Dairy Memo Luna card was magically inserted amongst the kernels.

Gorging on cookies

At a recent card show, I purchased three Mother’s Cookies team sets from the ‘80s. As far as “give-away” cards go, Mother’s Cookies are near the top of the quality list.  The sharp photos on glossy stock combined with a simple design, featuring rounded corners, produces a very attractive card.  

The company produced team sets for the West Coast and Texas clubs during the ’80s and ’90s.  The 28-card team sets were primarily composed of players from the year of issue.  Sets, packed in envelopes, were given away at the stadium as promotions.  Fans received approximately 90% of a set. Each envelope contained several duplicates to trade with other fans to secure the missing two or three cards.  Additionally, an individual card from the local team was inserted into retail bags of cookies.

Mother’s Cookies used a different criterion for two of the sets I picked up at the show.  Both the ’86 Astros and the ’87 Athletics are All-Time, All-Star sets.  One card was produced for the All-Star representatives over the years.  In Houston’s case, it starts in ’62 with Dick “Turk” Farrell of the expansion Colt .45’s. Oakland kicks off with Bert Campaneris in 1968-the year they moved from Kansas City.

The Astros cards are unique and quite striking in appearance.  Each card is a colorfully painted portrait with stylized depictions. However, the artist* does an excellent job of making the players recognizable.  This is a great choice, since “photo realism” would have made the whole exercise superfluous.

(*Richard-with a last name beginning with W-is the artist signature.  I was unable to identify him.)

Houston’s colorful uniform history adds to the visual appeal.  Starting with the wonderful Colt .45’s uniform, you see a progression to the “starburst” Astros, the primary color switch to orange, and finally the famous “Tequila Sunrise.”

Although the A’s didn’t use painted portraits, their colorful uniform history is on full display. Plus, the set has most of the principal players from the ’71-’75 dynasty era.  The vest style uniforms give way to the polyester pullover jerseys and beltless pants in bold Kelly Green, California Gold and Wedding Gown White combinations.

The A’s set is from just before the “Bash Brothers” era, but Jose Canseco shows up twice.  Also, there are cards from the lean years of the late ‘70s and the resurrection during the “Billy Ball” era.

At five dollars per set, I couldn’t go wrong even if the cards were less than stellar. So, I am very pleased with this purchase.  By the way, the third set I bought is the ’84 Padres.  This set is very colorful as well with the NL champion Padres sporting the “chili dog” accent colors on the home whites.

I am sufficiently inspired to collect more of these relatively inexpensive gems.  Of course, I have the complete Mariners run.

Seals on the Homefront

All Cards

I recently purchased a 2017 San Francisco Seals set commemorating the players from the WWII era. The 73-card set was produced by the artist, Carl Aldana, who often used historical images of the PCL in his paintings.

Carl__Aldana_Seals_Stadium_3_1037_64

Aldana worked in Hollywood as a storyboard illustrator and in other art related capacities. He contributed to movies ranging from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to “Halloween 3.” In a sad note, Mr. Aldana passed away on February 8, 2019.

Lefty O

The most appealing part of the Seals set is that Aldana used the early ‘50s PCL “Mother’s Cookies” template. The cards have rounded corners and feature solid pastel background. Mr. Aldana colorized the black and white photos. The backs feature a check list with the cards arrange by background color.

Big Names

Many of the players do not fall into the “household names” category, but several players with major league pedigree are in the set. Of course, the legendary manager of the Seals, Lefty O’Doul has a card. Tony Lazzeri, who played for the Seals during the war is featured as well. Ferris Fain would go on to win two batting titles with the Philadelphia A’s. Larry Janson joined the NY Giants in ‘47 and won 23 games in ’51, helping the Giants win the pennant…the Giants win the pennant!

Uniforms  Shield Logos

The Aldana retro-cards provide a good look at the various uniforms worn by the Seals during the ‘30s and ‘40s. During the war years, the club wore a patriotic shield for a cap emblem and arm patch.

Groups

There are several group cards in the set, including a “wacky” pose by the “Pitching Prospects.”

Posed Action

The intensity is palpable in these posed action shots.

Minor League Uni

Mr. Aldana never attempted to “airbrush” logos if he couldn’t find a photo of the player in a Seals uniform. This results in some cards featuring players in MLB uniforms or on other minor league teams.

This “seals the deal” for now, but in a follow up post I will look at Aldana’s other PCL cards done in the Mother’s Cookies style. There are several ’57 Seals cards that will interest the Red Sox fans amongst us, since San Francisco was a Bosox affiliate.

 

“M is for the Many Cards They Gave Me”

One of the great joys of this blog and its Facebook page, and baseball card Twitter, is the discovery of other peoples’ interests and the resulting desire to join in on newly discovered cards. There’s a lot of trading that goes on on Twitter, and most people put up pictures of their new additions.

It’s a doubled edged sword, sharing information and creating possible new competitors for subsequent bidding wars, but, in reality, that’s a non-issue. I’ve been so happy to inspire other collectors to dive into 1952 Parkhurst and 1960 Leaf.  Now it’s my turn to become equally motivated.

I love Mother’s Cookies cards and have 12 team sets from the late ‘80’s to early ‘90’s (I have A’s, Mariners, Dodgers, Giants, Astros and Rangers over those years). They’re beautiful – super glossy, nice smaller size, cool little envelope – what’s not to love?  Richard Borgstrom wrote about his Mother’s Giants experience on the blog.

A few days ago, someone (I can’t remember who), posted a few pictures of oddball cards he was sent. In the lot were some Mother’s Cookies cards, but not the kind I was used to seeing. The team sets I have are of the then-current squads. These were different and I had no idea they existed.

Here they are, in their entirety: the 1987 Mother’s Cookies All Time Oakland A’s All-Stars. Behold the magnificence:

Such a great collection and, despite Canseco’s current place in history, it was way cool that he and Reggie were teammates in Jax’s last year. A card commemorating that is worth having. (I saw Mr. October’s last game, at Comiskey Park. He doubled of Floyd Bannister and singled off Bobby Thigpen).

The nice thing about this set is that there are plenty out there, all around $10 or less. I’ll pick one up in January (I’d already spent my December self-imposed card allowance). I have no fear of getting boxed out by my readers, so go for it!

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Happy New Year to you all. Hope 2018 treated you fairly well (I wish it did for me!) and that 2019 is a great one, bringing you all the cards you want.

Of Lefty Grove and Bad Decisions

The ‘90’s were a good time to be Lefty Grove. Sabermetrics were a godsend to his legacy. You’d think a Hall of Fame pitcher with 300 wins wouldn’t need much of a reevaluation, but Robert Moses did. The preeminent pitcher in a high offense era, Grove often had relatively high ERAs; his nine league leading totals included four times from between 2.81 and 3.08. It took ERA+ to really put it in perspective. That 3.08 ERA in 1938 was an ERA+ of 160, the same as Clayton Kershaw’s lifetime number. Good, right?

I wasn’t immune to the new found wonders of Grove. I bought an autographed newspaper clipping, no doubt real (who would fake such a crummy item. Plus, I got this lovely note).

I also got a 1937 O-Pee-Chee card, and herein lies the tale.

We were out in Southern California for vacation and, in nearby Laguna Niguel, or Laguna Beach, or some other similarly named burg, there was a high end auction house that had a store front. I was still trading options back then, my card interests and income at mutual highs. That was bad; it meant I was going to spend. Didn’t matter on what; I was going to spend.

There was a lot to take in at that store. I remember (though not with great surety) that they had old awards, rings, and, of course, cards. In the throes of Grove-mania, I honed in on this beauty, secretly stashed in a velvet envelope.

Tim Jenkins Tweeted his card show loot a few weeks ago and, in the midst of his horde, there was a 1952 Mother’s Cookie PCL card. It made my heart hurt, because, on that SoCal day twenty years ago, my ultimate choice was between the Grove card and a complete 1952 Mother’s set. I’m a set collector by nature, but, in the thrall of the Grove renaissance, Lefty swayed me. Upon further review, it was a bad call, only made worse by the misgivings that were there from the start.

First of all, though it’s a Grove card, it’s one card. The Mother’s set had 64. Second of all, they were both around the same price and, while Grove is Grove, the Mother’s set had a Mel Ott card and Ott is Ott. Third, I should have sensed that, from a purely financial position, the Grove card was going to top out and the Mother’s set would only appreciate. That’s been the case.

ott-mothers

I’ve managed to live a life, both a collecting life and a real life, with few regrets. This is one of them. The sad part is, though I missed the Mother’s set, the decision I made has always taken away from how happy I should be about the Grove card. That’s unfortunate, but hard to shake.

The Express Expressed Exponentially

When conditions are optimal, a perfect storm may form. Three decades ago, the collision of an athlete at his peak and the excesses of the “Junk Wax” card era resulted in a “Texas tornado” cutting a swath across the cardboard landscape.

The legendary, laconic Texan, Nolan Ryan, was at the height of fame from the early eighties to the end of his career in ’93. (I attended his final game, played at the Kingdome.) This coincided with the emergence of new card companies in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, all of which needed product lines. Ryan was the perfect subject for numerous “odd ball” and promotional card sets. Over 30 different sets featuring the “Express” would find their way into the hobby

Star

The first company to cash in on the Ryan phenomenon was Star, who introduced a 24-card set in ’86. They follow up with 11 card sets in ’89 and ’90. The cards have simple designs with white backs featuring stats and highlights. Only one card out of the three sets show Nolan on the Mets.

Postcard

Next in the “shoot” are two postcard sets consisting of 12 cards each in ’90 and ’91. The postcards were distributed under the name “Historic Limited Edition” and all featured original art work from Susan Rini. Since the company produced 10,000 sets each year, their definition of limited is questionable.

Mother's

In my humble opinion, the best of the lot was produced by Mother’s Cookies, which included four different cards in the cookie bags in ’90 and four more in ’91. They returned with a eight card “No-Hitters” set in ’92 and culminated with 10 cards in ’93. The design follows the Mother’s template: simple design, excellent photography and a glossy finish. I have a few of these from each series

Coke

Donruss teamed up with Coca-Cola in ’92 to issue a 26-card career retrospective set distributed in 12-packs of Coke products. I collected these at the time and have 12 different cards.

Classic

Classic cards chimed in with a 10-card set in ‘91 that resembles all of their “crap” cards of the era.

Barry Colla

Other Ryan sets were issued by Spectrum, Barry Colla, Whataburger, Bleachers 23K. ‘95 MLB All-Star Fan Fest and Classic Metal Impressions. Also, Upper Deck produced a mini-set within the “Heroes” issue in ’91.

 

By any definition, this number of sets is excessive. But one company, Pacific Trading Cards, ‘jumped the shark.” The Seattle area company produced a 222 card, two series set in ’91. Add to that, a ’93 Nolan Ryan Limited regular and gold issues, plus a special 30 card box set called: “Texas Express.” But wait, there’s more. Pacific teamed with Advil — for whom Ryan was a spokesman — to produce a set in ’96.

Horse

Producing hundreds of cards for the same player results in mind-numbing repetitiveness. Even throwing in cards depicting Nolan on a horse, with other animals and his family doesn’t break up the monotony.

The next time you curse the Aaron Judge card explosion, remember how Ryan’s “heater” caused a “junk wax” era meltdown.

 

Lifers

One of the things I enjoy most about collecting cards is putting together checklists of things that interest me. Sometimes these become projects like the action cards or photographer cards that I try and collect. Other times just the exercise of figuring out the checklist and thinking about the theme is enough.

One such checklist I’ve been working on is about baseball lifers and trying to find cards that reflect the longest periods of time in organized baseball. Many of the cards on this list are unobtainable for various reasons but it’s been a fun project to research. I’ve limited to 45 or more years in the game but moving to 40+ would only add a few more guys like Clay Bryant. Also, before anyone questions my math, I’m counting inclusively.

Jimmie Reese

69 years
1925 Zeenut–1993 Mother’s Cookies

It’s fitting that Jimmie Reese’s first and last cards are both regional issues from the West Coast. I remember fascinated by him as the ancient Angels coach in the late 1980s and he was one of the few (if not the only) coaches who occasionally showed up in regular sets as well (he has cards in both 1991 Leaf Studio and 1991 Bowman).

Casey Stengel

56 years
1910 Old Mill Cigarettes–1965 Topps

Stengel was the obvious standout in this department. He benefits from the sheer number of card releases in the pre-World War 1 era. When I was researching this checklist there were a decent number of guys who debuted in pro ball between the wars but who didn’t get cards until after World War 2.

As with Reese, I really enjoy the difference between his first card and his last card. All the pre-war cards just feel like they’re from a completely different world.

Frank Robinson

50 years
1957 Topps–2006 Topps

Compared to Reese and Stengel, Robinson’s cards are much more familiar feeling. If anything, his 1957 card feels much more comfortable to me than that awkward 2006 design.

Felipe Alou

48 years
1959 Topps–2006 Topps

The first pair on this checklist that I can conceivably acquire. While a Frank Robinson rookie is also something that I could get, it’ll always be out of my price range. But these two, as a Giants collector, are pretty much already on my wantlist as it is.

As with the Robinsons, these both feel familiar although I appreciate how both of them are so of their time while also sharing the common Topps DNA.

Del Baker

47 years
1914 B18 Blankets–1960 Topps

Baker is actually the inspiration for this post. I found a 1917 Zeenut card of him at my grandmother’s house and subsequently acquired his 1954 Topps card. When someone else posted about a different 1954 Topps coach card we started talking about baseball lifers, Casey Stengel’s name came up, and then I started thinking about who else should be on the list.

Dusty Baker

Baker1971Topps

46 years
1971 Topps–2016 Topps Allen & Ginter Skippers minis

Dusty was actually the first name I thought of when the topic of baseball lifers came up. Sadly Topps doesn’t make manager cards in Flagship anymore. Nor do they appear to be in Heritage either. So Dusty’s last card as a manager is part of an Allen & Ginter mini set which is either so rare or so boring that the only images I can find online are the Topps promotional ones.

I miss manager cards and wish Topps would bring them back. Dusty also hasn’t retired yet so there’s a possibility he could move up this list if he gets another gig and Topps produces manager cards again.

Lou Piniella

46 years
1964 Topps–2009 Topps

Because of Ball Four I always associate Piniella as being a rookie in 1969. But as has been pointed out before, he was one of those multi-year rookie stars and his first rookie card from 1964 gets him into this checklist.

Leo Durocher

 

45 years
1929 Exhibits Four-in-One–1973 Topps

I’m glad I found one lifer whose last card is in the 1970s. As I mentioned earlier, the hardest part here is finding rookie cards in the 1920s and 30s. Which is too bad since the way that Topps includes coaches in 1973 and 1974 means that there was a possibility for more lifers to have last cards.

Anyway I’m sure I’ve missed some guys. I don’t have anyone whose last card was in the 1980s. Nor do I have anyone whose career started in the 30s or 40s. So I look forward to being corrected in the comments here.