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.

Reflections on “Shoebox Treasures”

Author’s note: Along with other members of the SABR Baseball Cards Research Committee, I was in Cooperstown this past weekend for the opening of the Hall of Fame’s “Shoebox Treasures” exhibit. Like a great song or poem, a successful exhibit leaves room for each visitor to develop his own meaning. Here is mine. I encourage each of you to visit and find your own.

When you’re a kid a shoebox can be a lot of things but mostly a safe. In the closet, under the bed, or in some nook a kid imagines a secret, there is a box of his best things. It might start out with some plastic army men or a G.I. Joe, some bottle caps, a few pieces of Halloween candy pilfered from his sister’s trick or treat bag, and some stamps and coins, but as the collection grows all these things give way to the consummate currency of cool: cardboard.

My favorite photograph from the exhibit

The baseball card collection, guarded more closely than eggs to a hen, was all things at once: encyclopedia of all that matters, marker of status, builder of friendships, beginning of plans and dreams, blank canvas, constant muse, and drawbridge to the bigger and better.

Not sure why “improved” is in quotes here!

The luckiest kids were born into cardboard royalty through an older brother or cousin, or–if they really hit the jackpot–their dad. I was not. Though my dad grew up during the Golden Age of Baseball and could have acquired countless cards of of Mays, Aaron, and Mantle, he had neither the interest nor the change to spare. His interests as a young boy were astronomy and dinosaurs. He told me why once. They were the things he could think of as far away as possible, in distance and in time.

Upper portion of “Collector’s Corner” area of exhibit

He had no cards for me, just a similar desire to escape. We both grew up in (and ultimately recreated) houses full of conflict: arguments, yelling, fighting, and ultimately divorce. I expected things to improve when my dad moved out, but my mom’s anger never went away. It only found the closest targets. From the outside our house looked solid. It survived earthquakes and a fire. On the inside it was fragile and falling apart, its only stronghold my growing house of cards.

More than 40 pull-out drawers, organized by era, offer a tremendous visual timeline of the Hobby.

The kids I grew up with, I think most of them collected to be closer to their heroes. Far fewer collected to be farther from everything else. As adults, however long our hiatus from the Hobby, I suspect the proportion is greater. Our cards help us start over, feel young again, and shield us from what ails us.

The exhibit included the work of Baseball Card Vandals, Gummy Arts, Tim Carroll, and other artists.

As I made the drive from Cooperstown to Albany for my 6 o’clock flight home, I reflected on the unbelievably great time I had all weekend but also how fantastic it would be to get home, to be back with my fiancee, my son, and our dog. (And yes, to add a few new cards to my binders from the local card shops!)

Getting ready to hit the card shops (L-R): Mark Armour, Harry Hoyle, and Andrew Aronstein

For most of my collecting life, I needed to collect. I don’t anymore. Life is that good finally. But here’s the kicker, brought home 100% at “Shoebox Treasures.” I still love the cards just as much. My shoeboxes are still safes, but now only the cards need protecting. Thanks to the heroes, cardboard and otherwise, who got me here.

Several players were on hand all weekend for the Hall of Fame Classic

I know some of you are a little bummed to reach the end of this post without seeing a bunch of great cards, especially if you missed the Mantle rookie in one of the pics. In fact the exhibit is loaded with great cards, including what’s probably the nicest T206 Wagner in the world. (Before you go checking some pop report, this one has never been graded!) I have too many pictures to share, and I’d rather you just go see the cards for yourself, but I will leave you with this great pairing.

Topps All-Star Rookie trophy supplied by the great Johnny Bench himself!

Don’t think Trice, it’s alright (Part Two)

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.

1949 Leaf

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

1949 Bowman

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.

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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.

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To my knowledge, the Bowman card of Satchel contains the earliest use of the phrase “Negro Leagues” on a baseball card.

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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).

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1950 Bowman

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.”

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The Larry Doby card similarly draws on its previous bio, again recognizing Doby as “one of the few Negroes in the American League.”

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Ditto for Roy Campanella whose role with the “all-star Negro team” first brought him to the attention of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

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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.

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1951 Bowman

Three cards in the next Bowman offering are relevant to the topic of the Negro Leagues and the integration of MLB.

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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.”

1952 Bowman

An interesting evolution in the 1952 Bowman set occurs with the Luke Easter card.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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1954 Bowman

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.”

1955 Bowman

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.

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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.

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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.

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1960 Leaf

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).

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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.

TCMA Thompson

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!

End notes

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.

Robby Goes to the Birds

Although it may be a fool’s errand to follow a masterful post by Jeff Katz with a similar topic, I humbly present my own Frank Robinson post. In a personal note, I was a huge fan of the Orioles in early ’70. With the Pilots gone and the Mariners still to be born, I selected Baltimore as my team. I’m still not over the shock of his trade to the Dodgers after the ’71 season.

Of course, the most famous deal involving Frank occurred after the ’65 season when he was sent to Baltimore by the Reds. This controversial trade brought a great deal of attention to Frank during ‘66 spring training in Miami. Magazine and newspaper reporters and photographers flocked to South Florida to cover the story. Topps sent photographers as well.

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Frank’s trade to Baltimore coincided with a 1966 uniform change. The Orioles adopted the familiar “cartoon bird” logo for the cap (replacing the “chirping body bird “) and added an orange bill. Additionally, the home uniforms had a new lettering font and orange became the dominant color over the previous black. Finally, the plain black stirrups were replaced with black, orange and white ones.

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However, the new “togs” were not worn until the ’66 regular season. The Orioles continued to use the ’65 uniform model in spring training. Thus, Frank is depicted on cards, magazine covers and publicity photos in a uniform that he never actually wore in an official game. Furthermore, Topps continued to use ’66 spring training photos through ’69.

66 Topps  66 Back

Topps’ ’66 Robinson card has the classic “in case of trade” photo. Frank has a head shot-sans cap- while still wearing his Reds’ vest uniform. The back has the frequently used cartoon graphic of a uniformed player carrying a suitcase with an arrow sign pointing to his new city. By the way, that same season Topps pictured Frank in a Reds cap on the NL RBI Leaders card.

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The ’67 card uses a ’66 spring training photo of Robby in the “chirping bird” cap and ’65 uniform. Also, he wears the cap on all three league leader cards and the checklist for the 1st series.

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For Robinson’s ’68 card, Topps managed to get a photo of Frank in the cartoon bird cap. However, the photo-used twice on league leader cards’ in 67-shows up on the AL Batting Leaders card and the 6th series check list.

69 Super

Although I’m not 100% sure of this, I believe the ’69 Topps Super card is a ’66 spring training photo as well. The piping on the uniform is a match for the ’65 uniform.

 

Sport Service 66  Bethlehem Steel 67

Other types of collectibles that fall in the card or collectible category have Frank in the uniform he never wore during a “championship season.” Sports Services (left) – who I believe produced photos for concessionaires — issued a “chirping body bird” card/photo in ’66 and Bethlehem Steel (right) issued one in ’67. (Oriole fans may know if this was a giveaway.)

The great “Sport” magazine photographer, Ozzie Sweet, did a photo shoot in ’66 spring training. This results in an iconic magazine cover. “Pulp” magazines such as “Super Sports” were still using their ’66 Miami images as late as ’69.

67 H&B Annual

For decades, “Hillerich and Bradsby” issued an annual titled, “Famous Slugger Yearbook.” They took a different tack than other publications in ’67 by airbrushing the “cartoon” bird on the cap but not altering the ’65 model uniform. This photo is from one featuring both Frank and Brooks Robinson.

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The ’66 spring training photos reappear in several retrospective cards. A company known as ASA did a Frank Robinson set in ’83 that contains at least two cards with ’66 spring training shots. Additionally, Upper Deck issued one in the ‘94 “American Epic” set.

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The Orioles returned to a “body bird” in the ’90s. Thus, Manager Frank Robinson wore a sold black cap with a similar bird in a regular season game at last.

F. Robby, Card Icon

When I first started going to baseball card shows in 1973, prehistoric times, I was then, as I am now, a collector first. Investment potential has never been a driving force for me. As an 11-year old, I knew there were certain guys I wanted to collect, at least get all their Topps base cards. I wasn’t on the prowl for Mantles (never a favorite) or even Mays or Aarons (though I loved those two). I’d always buy those guys as the mood took me. There were some players though, that felt compelled to buy. Frank Robinson was one of those.

For a kid coming of age in the late ‘60’s-early’70’s, F. Robby was at the top layer of baseball, as a player and as a person. When he became the Indians manager in 1975, he soared above all others, save Aaron, who had only the year before become the All-Time Home Run leader.

I’m not going to go through a comprehensive list of Frank Robinson cards, just some that stuck with me. I’ll say this about Frank – there was something in his look that made his cards standout, always, year after year.

1957 Topps

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Yes, it’s a rookie card, but that’s not why it’s here. It’s hard to stand out in a set that is perfect from #1 to #407, but look at this, really look at it. The calm confidence of a kid who knows what lies ahead, even if we don’t. This is the face, and the pose, of a man who is quite aware he belongs. The uniform, slight choking up and stadium background make this as good as card as ever made.

1970 Topps Poster

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This oversized (8 11/16” X 9 5/8”), much folded vision of a much older Robinson, shows the two sides that seemed ever present – the ferocity of the player, swinging fiercely, and the joy of the man, smiling broadly. Robinson was never mistaken for “The Say Hey Kid” in exuberance, but it was there. This is a favorite.

1974 Topps

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Truly his last player card (though 1975 has him as a DH, even though he was a player-manager). Wistful, contemplative, with all the traits that made him the obvious choice to be the first. We all knew he would be, it was only a matter of time, and that time was one year away.

1975 Cleveland Indians postcard

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Great team issue set, featuring Frank solo and with his coaching staff. HIS coaching staff. Everyone looks happy, none more so than Robinson, and deservedly so.

1976 SSPC

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A fantastic set, and Frank, still swinging, poses as more player than manager. He looks like he can still bring it at the plate, but those moments were few and far between. The Shea Stadium backdrop, home of the Yankees from 1974-1975, adds a little period charm.

Robinson was an electric figure, but, for all his history making achievements as player, a manager, and executive, there’s always been a sense that he never got  his just due, then, and now, overshadowed by Mantle, Mays, Aaron, the tragedy of Clemente. For me, he was in their class, often rising above them, a very special person.

During the 1999 World Series, my friend Rick and I stayed at a hotel in Atlanta and, we ended up on the elevator with Frank. That’s it, nothing to really to tell. We said hi, left, end of story, except it was friggin’ thrilling. WE MET FRANK ROBINSON! Years before I moved to Cooperstown and became mayor, running into someone of his caliber was rare for me, but even after all my experiences over the last 10+ years, that I once rode in an elevator with Frank Robinson is still exciting to recall, a priceless memory, that could only be valued in this kind of currency.

Touring the Minors

For the last year, I’ve been trying to organize my card collection after a quarter century of neglect. I started with the outlying stuff – non-sports cards, hockey cards, misc., then worked through basketball and football to the big prize.

It was fun to go through the cards of my youth (first set, 1958 Topps) and those of my early collecting years (a stash of T-206s, reprints and Laughlin cards from the 1970s). So far, I’d logged almost 70,000 major league cards with several boxes of doubles still to go.

And then I decided I’d better tackle my minor league sets. Going through old minor league sets, 1974-1993, is a slog of entire Rookie League teams who never produced a major leaguer, of cards of trainers and p.r. directors and batboys and owners, and owners’ sons. On the other hand, there are teams that featured pairs such as Juan Gonzalez and Sammy Sosa or Pedro Martinez and Mike Piazza, and Triple A Teams where nearly everybody got at least a cup of coffee.

It was interesting to watch the cards themselves change over the years. The minor league cards of the mid-1970s were black and white photos set inside a one-color design. As art, they were less than stimulating. The sets were plagued by mis-identified players, mis-spelled names and missing players.

 

By the 1980s, as Topps responded to competition in the major league sets, the minor league producers (TCMA, Cramer, Fritsch) began to respond to the color photography and better graphics of firms such as ProCards, Best and Star.

But besides stumbling over the Hall of Famers, some of the best moments were finding cards of people who became famous for something else. I’m not talking about the promo cards featuring Kevin Costner.

I’m talking about the Florida State League (High A) 1977 St. Petersburg Cardinals, which included future major leaguers Kelly Paris, John Littlefield, John Fulgham, Ray Searage and Tommy Herr. It also included an infielder named Scott Boras. He had an OPS of .863 at St. Petersburg, was promoted to Double A and traded to the Cubs. But after 1977, approaching 25, he retired, went to law school and entered another line of work.

boras

Another who entered a somewhat different line of work was on the 1989 Billings Mustangs of the Rookie level Pioneer League. He was a young shortstop named Trevor Hoffman. He had an OPS of .607 that year, and slumped further the next year at Charleston, WV of the South Atlantic League. In 1991, the Reds decided he might be better used elsewhere and within two years he was in the majors.

hoffman

And then there was John Elway on the 1982 Oneonta Yankees.

Future managers spiced up the slog: Jim Leyland on the 1975 Clinton Giants, Jim Riggleman on the 1977 Arkansas Travellers, Bob Brenly on the 1977 Cedar Rapids Giants, Bruce Bochy on the 1977 Cocoa Astros, Ron Washington on the 1980 Toledo Mud Hens, Bud Black on the 1981 Lynn Sailors, Felipe Alou (with Randy Johnson) on the 1986 West Palm Beach Expos, Torey Lovullo on the 1988 Glens Falls Tigers,

And then there were the front office people: Dave Stewart on the 1980 Albuquerque Dukes, Omar Minaya (and broadcaster Harold Reynolds) on the 1981 Wausau Timbers, Billy Beane (with Darryl Strawberry) on the 1982 Jackson Mets, Ken Williams on the 1983 Appleton Foxes, Kevin Towers on the 1984 Beaumont Golden Gators, Steve Phillips on the 1985 Lynchburg Mets, MLBPA head Tony Clark on the 1986 Daytona Beach Islanders.

minaya

beane

For the star seekers, minor league teams occasionally had Hall of Famers as managers (Frank Robinson, 1978 Rochester Red Wings). More commonly, they brought back Hall of Famers as coaches or for a promotional night, and issued cards of them as well. Hoyt Wilhelm, Orlando Cepeda, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller and Warren Spahn pop on various teams.

182983

Overall, it proved an interesting tour of both the players of that era and the evolution of the card industry. 

 

Name Game

Whether intentional or not, my blog posts tend to bring down the intellectual level of discourse to disturbing depths. Continuing in this vein, I present a “cardcentric” look at players whose first and last names rhyme.

67 Schaal green bat  70 Schaal back

The seed for this idea was planted after receiving a Royals team-issued, 1969 photo of Paul Schaal, part of a recent card swap. Schaal has some interesting cards, starting with his ’67 “green” variation. Apparently, a printing error coupled with poor quality control led to Topps issue some cards with a “greenish” cast. In Paul’s case, the tip of the bat is green. The back of his ’70 card features a cartoon showing a player being beaned. Topps seemed to find humor in Schaal having sustained a skull fracture in ‘68. You will find him “in action” in ’71, ’72 and ’74.

70 Tovar   73 Tovar

Cesar Tovar is another rhyming name with a few unique cards. His ’70 photo appears to show his glove with a hole in the webbing. Perhaps his anguished expression resulted from this discovery. After starting–primarily in outfield–for the Twins from ’66-’72, Cesar was dealt to the Phillies in ’73. This resulted in one of the ineptest airbrush jobs of the era. Of course, I must mention that he played all nine positions in a game in ’68.

Lu Blue 1

This spectacular 1922 American Caramel E120 card of first “sacker” Lu Blue was distributed with candy. Lu was a serviceable starter for the Tigers, Browns and White Sox from ’21-’32.

Batts

Although not quite a perfect rhyme, Matt Batts must be included even if it is just to show this gorgeous ’55 Bowmen.

Parnell 53

One of the premier hurlers of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, Mel Parnell is featured on several classic ‘50s cards. On this ’53 Bowman Color, Mel strikes a unique pose with the glove hanging from his wrist.

Green

Some lucky kid probably cut this ’62 Post Cereal card of Gene Green off a box of Grape Nuts.

Sherry

1959 World Series Hero Larry Sherry probably needed the windbreaker in this ’62, considering the photo was taken at Candlestick Park.

braun

Being paired on the ’65 Braves Rookie Stars card with the Alomar family patriarch, Sandy, didn’t bring any luck to John Braun. He pitched in one MLB game for the Braves posting two innings, allowing two hits and recording a strike out.

Hahn

Quick. Who was the original Expos centerfielder in their first ever game (played at New York’s Shea Stadium) in 1969? The answer: Don Hahn, of course. After starting the first three games in New York and getting but one hit, Don was benched and eventually sent to the minors for the rest of the year.

Charboneau

Who can forget one of the most celebrated flops in baseball history? “Super” Joe Charboneau was AL Rookie of the Year for the Indians in ’80 and out of baseball by ’84.

Clark

A “rhymer” of more resent vintage is ’90s journeyman pitcher Mark Clark. No relation to the WWII general of the same name, I assume.

macdonald

I will conclude this “drive through” look at poetically named players by presenting Mets farmhand, Ronald MacDonald. This ’80 card shows him on the AAA Tidewater Tides, which was his highwater mark in baseball. Alas, “Big Mac” “clowned around” in the minors for six years, never to see his dream of crossing under the “golden arches” and into the big leagues come to fruition.

I will create a list on SABR Encyclopedia so additional rhyming names can be added.   I’m certain this will prove to be an invaluable resource for scholarly research.