Food for Thought

Now that I’m (mostly) past the flu, my thoughts turn back to food, and food issues. I’ve realized that, though I think I pursued every sort of card in the 1970’s, the reality is that, when it came to cards, what I ate, and how I ate it, was the leading indicator.

I’ve written about 1961 Post (though it predates me), 1970’s Kellogg’s 3-D (right in my wheelhouse) and, of course, Hostess, the pinnacle of my taste and card preferences. Here are five other issues of the ‘70’s, and how I approached them.

1971 Bazooka (but really all Bazooka)

All of the Bazooka cards, starting in 1959, are nice enough, but I never, never, collected them, even when my gum chewing days began (let’s guess 1967). Why? Because I we didn’t conceive of buying gum by the box! Gum was an impulse purchase, and impulse easily satisfied for a penny.

That being said, I used to see those full boxes of Bazooka at the supermarket and they were glorious. Imagine, and entire box of gum, at home! It was too much to process and I don’t recall asking for it.

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1971 Milk Duds

I have never met a single child who had Milk Duds at the top of their candy list. Even in 1971, they seemed like the preferred candy of the 1940’s. I’ll assume adding cards to the back of nickel boxes was an attempt to entice kids away from better candy, but I can assure you that it didn’t work on me. I have never bought Milk Duds voluntarily. They end up always being part of a Halloween assortment bag, and I eat them when there’s no better alternative. To be fair, they are worlds better than Tootsie Rolls, which is the Devil’s candy.

Looking at them now, I find it hard to believe I never bought a single box, even if it meant tossing the candy and keeping the card.

 

 

1972-1975(?) Slurpee Cups

When we moved from Brooklyn to Long Island in December 1971, there were innumerable culture shocks. It felt like I time-traveled from 1971, long-haired and fringe-jacketed, to 1961, crew-cutted, Gentile, and mean. There were good things to come, some took time, others were immediate. 7-Eleven was immediate.

I’d never seen or heard of 7-Eleven before moving to the middle of Suffolk County, but it was a looming presence out there, and the Slurpee ruled. Not only were they the best icy drinks (Coca-Cola Slurpees are the pinnacle of man’s inventions), but Slurpees cups had baseball, football and basketball players, even Hall of Fame baseball cups (which portrayed players as old men. Weird.)

Not only did they let me pick the cup I wanted (thereby avoiding doubles), but they’d sell empty cups. Maybe they were a quarter? I ended up with towers of Slurpee cups.

 

 

1974-75 Sugar Daddy

Though not a baseball player to be found, these cards do tip their cap to the 1938 Goudey “Heads Up” cards. Both years have 25 card sets, with a mix of football, basketball and hockey. The ‘74’s are pretty simple looking; the ‘75’s have a shield as background and are commonly referred to as “All-Stars.”

In those two years, I ate 7 Sugar Daddys. I know this because that’s how many of the cards I have. Funny, I’ve grown to love Sugar Daddys, but, back then, they were only a slightly better option than Milk Duds.

 

1977-79 Burger King Yankees

All of the above deserve a main course. The BK Yankee cards were great. Most mirrored the regular issue Topps sets, but often there was a new picture of another Yankee free agent signing. Those cards made the sets extra special.

For some reason, I didn’t get any 1977s, but the 1978s and 1979s were plentiful and, if memory serves, you could get extra packs at checkout. Maybe they charged, maybe not. Either way, it was easy to put a set together. (And, there was even a poster in 1978!)

 

Prehistory of the Record Breakers

Introduction

One of my favorite posts on the SABR Baseball Cards blog is Matthew Prigge‘s “Like a Broken Record” (March 2017), in which he detailed the progression of the Topps Highlights and Record Breaker cards from their respective origins in the 1975 and 1976 sets. In what I hope will be my first of many posts for this blog, I will go backward instead and focus on the ancestry of these cards, following a prehistory that goes back to more than a century ago.

Before jumping in, I’ll give a few examples of cards I will not include, along with my rationale for omission, as sometimes the best way to define one’s scope is to identify what falls just outside it

World Series cards

The first Topps World Series multi-card subset was in 1960, consisting of seven absolutely beautiful cards that told the story of the 1959 Fall Classic between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox.

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If we consider single card subsets as a thing, then the very first Topps World Series subset came two years earlier with the 1958 Topps World Series  Batting Foes (Mantle/Aaron) card. Because Topps would continue to push out World Series subsets with regularity, even in years with Record Breaker/Highlight cards, we will exclude World Series cards from our study. True, they feature highlights from the prior season, but they are a large enough sub-genre to warrant separate treatment.

MVP subsets

The same logic will apply to the 1961 Topps (cards 471-486) and 1975 Topps (cards 189-212) MVP subsets. While MVP cards lacked the perennial quality of the World Series cards, they still feel more like their own category of cards than exemplars of the Record Breakers/Highlights category.

All-Stars, All-Star Rookies, etc.

Finally, while one could consider being named an All-Star or All-Star Rookie a highlight—at least very broadly—we will exclude these subsets for the same reasons as each of the others.

Pre-1975 Highlights and Record Breaker cards

Having identified what doesn’t make the cut, we are now ready to begin our journey, starting off where Matthew’s original article left off. As I like to do, we’ll proceed in reverse chronological order, though the article should accommodate a bottom-to-top if you prefer it that way.

1974 Bob Parker 2nd Best

It’s fitting that the first set we encounter on the way to the Topps run of Highlights and Record Breakers is a set honoring players who came in second! In addition to providing budget collectors with a shot at “Shoeless Joe,” the Vic Power card is a must have for “cards that say robust on the front” supercollectors.

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A major differentiator between these cards and the Record Breaker/Highlights cards Matthew profiles are that these cards reach back across the vast history of the game whereas the more modern cards focus on the season immediately prior. Were we to treat this distinction as fatal, this article would be very short indeed, so we’ll continue under the assumption that cards such as these are allowed into the ancestry.

1972-1974 Fleer

While newer collectors may imagine Fleer’s baseball origins date back only to 1981, there is an entire prehistory of Fleer baseball cards going back as far as 1923. Three sets in particular are of interest to us: Famous Feats (1972), Baseball’s Wildest Days and Plays (1973), and Baseball Firsts (1974). A card from each of these sets is shown here.

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1972 Laughlin Great Feats

In addition to the various Fleer sets he worked on, artist R.G. Laughlin also put out his own set of cards in 1972. There were 51 cards in all, along with multiple color variations.

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1971 Topps Greatest Moments

This 55-card release from Topps is without a doubt one of the toughest of the 1970s, and unfortunately for player collectors on a budget one that is filthy with Hall of Famers. Unlike the Fleer sets of the early 1970s the checklist consists entirely of (then) current players, but again the feats themselves span multiple years.

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1969-70 Bazooka All-Time Greats

Another fairly tough set is this 30-card issue from Bazooka, profiled in this 2012 article from Sports Collectors Daily. Boxes of bubble gum included player cards on a side panel and a “Baseball Extra” highlight on the back panel.

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1962 Topps

The nine cards from 311-319 in the 1962 Topps set are commonly referred to as “In Action” cards. Many of the cards, such as “Ford Tosses a Curve,” would strike only the most easily impressed baseball fans as highlights; however, this same subset does feature the biggest record to be broken in at least 20 years. In a move we might today regard as trolling, Topps chose this same year to dedicate a full ten cards to the previous record holder!

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As with the “In Action” cards, the “Babe Ruth Special” cards were a mix of Record Breaker and non-RB cards. Ruth’s card 144 (no, not THAT 144), titled “Farewell Speech,” is particularly relevant to this post in that the front featured a career-capping highlight–the speech–while the back listed Babe Ruth’s various records.

1961 Topps

The 1961 set marked second time in three years that Topps put out a “Baseball Thrills” subset in its main release. There were ten cards in all, including a mix of current (Larsen, Mantle, Haddix) and retired players.

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1961 Nu-Card Baseball Scoops

While the Topps set offered the opportunity to beef up ones knowledge of baseball’s greatest achievements, the go-to set that year for history buffs was put out by Nu-Card. Numbered 401-480 for reasons unknown to me, these 80 cards presented collectors with nearly the complete canon of baseball feats. Even to this day, if you could choose just one set to learn the history of baseball from, I believe this would be it.

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1960 Nu-Card Baseball Hi-Lites

This 72-card offering is similar in many ways to the set that followed it one year later, the most salient difference being their postcard size. Many highlights were reused from one set to another, as shown by the “Aaron’s bat…” cards in each set. (I believe the image on the 1960 card incorrectly shows Aaron’s pennant-clinching home run against the Cardinals, a problem which could have been solved by interchanging this images on his two cards in the set.)

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1959 Topps

While the 1961 Topps subset included long retired greats of the game, the 1959 “Baseball Thrills” cards exclusively featured active players. Between the immense star power of the players and the fantastic artwork, these cards crack my top two all-time for greatest vintage subset ever.

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1959 Fleer Ted Williams

This 80-card set really covers the gamut as far as Ted Williams highlights are concerned, including highlights from his time in the military and his off-season hobbies of hunting and fishing. As an aside, you can see many of the photographs these cards were based on in Ted’s 2018 PBS documentary.

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1954 Topps Scoop

A beautiful set off the radar of many baseball card collectors is the 1954 Topps Scoop set, which features 154 historical events, including a handful from the sporting world. The four baseball subjects are Bob Feller’s 18 strikeouts in a game, Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs in a season, the Braves move to Milwaukee, and a very long game between Brooklyn and Boston.

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As a quick spoiler alert, if you have not already seen the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” avoid purchasing this set. Card 82 completely gives away the ending.

1948 Swell

Though the name of the “Sport Thrills” set suggests other sports beyond baseball (and one card is even titled “Football Block”), all 20 cards in this set feature baseball highlights and records. A notable is the Jackie Robinson card, which I believe to be the earliest card front to refer to a player’s rookie season. (And if I’m wrong about that, it’s still a Jackie Robinson card from 1948!)

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The Sport Thrills set wasn’t the only baseball set that Swell issued in 1948. They also issued a 28-card “Babe Ruth Story” set to go along with the movie of the same name. Naturally, as this is the Bambino we’re talking about, the set includes several highlights. While some of cards include Ruth himself, it should be noted that the most common “Ruth” on the cards is William Bendix, who played Ruth in the movie. An example is card 15, which shows Ruth…I mean Bendix…calling his shot in the 1932 World Series.

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1938 Wheaties “Biggest Thrills in Baseball” (Series 10)

The back panel of Wheaties boxes featured a player from each major league team along with a highlight from the player’s career. While I didn’t include it here, the Wheaties “100 Years of Baseball” set from the following year could be said to feature highlights as well, though a typical example is “Crowd Boos First Baseball Glove!”

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1925 Turf Cigarettes (UK)

In 1925 London tobacco manufacturer Alexander Boguslavsky Ltd issued a set of 50 “Sports Records” cards. The very last card in the set featured American baseball and George Sisler’s recent batting record. (I’m not sure why they wouldn’t have gone with Hornsby’s record, but perhaps news traveled slow back then.)

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1912 T202 Hassan Triple Folders

I often end pieces like this with a wild card entry, one that may not meet the criteria applied to other sets but scores bonus points for its age. The middle panel of each T202 card features a great action shot, which is then described further on the card’s reverse. Most of these cards simply focus on a single play–exciting or not–that fails to rise to the level of a Record Breaker or Highlight.

However, the set does include some cards with narratives that do in fact rise to the level of a Highlight. An example of this is the Bergen/Barger “A Great Batsman” card, which on the back describes Napoleon Lajoie’s 227 hits in 1910 as breaking the American League record, even if today we no longer believe it! (At the time Lajoie’s 1901 hit total was thought to be 220, but he is now credited with either 229 or 232 hits, depending who you ask.)

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Another notable in the T202 set is the “Lord Catches His Man” card, whose action shot was recently discovered to include Shoeless Joe. Anson Whaley tells the story of this card and its dramatic rise in value on his Prewar Cards blog.

Honorable Mentions

A handful of other sets are worth mention here, even if they didn’t earn top billing. The 1972 Topps “In Action” cards and 1964 Topps Giants cards both featured highlights on the backs of the cards. Meanwhile, the very rare 1914 E&S Publishing postcard set includes background cartoons with captions that in some cases rise to the level of significant highlights or records.

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Conclusion

The 1975 Topps set marked an important innovation in the history of the hobby in that it was the first major release to dedicate baseball cards, specifically its “Highlights” subset, to the most important historical feats of the prior season. However, like all innovations, this one did not appear out of a vacuum. Rather, it drew–intentionally or by happenstance–on a long and rich legacy of cardboard that came before it.

I hope this article allowed you to enjoy the cards and sets profiled not only as fantastic in their own right but also as important evolutionary stops along the way toward the Highlights and Record Breaker cards so many of us collected in our youth, if not the Topps Now cards many collectors still collect today.

Jason joined SABR in January 2019. Collecting interests include Hank Aaron, Dwight Gooden, and Sir Isaac Newton. You can find him on Twitter as @HeavyJ28 or on the Web here and here. He lives in the Chicago area but originally hails from Los Angeles.

 

 

Thanksgiving-Time Gluttony

If you’re lucky enough on Thanksgiving, your plate is overflowing. Sometimes too much is good, sometimes it’s, well, too much.

I’m a pretty linear thinker, the “shortest distance between two points is a line” kind of guy, but I find myself taking on more sets to complete than I’m usually comfortable with. I’m a good multi-tasker, but the key to that is keeping the multis- to a minimum. There are different reasons I’m not sticking to this way of living in my card world, but I find myself working on 10! sets, two more if you count variations. Here’s are those different reasons:

1 – These are gonna take some time and have a price component:

I’m halfway through my 1933 Tattoo Orbit set, (31 of 60) and, though I’ve been getting commons in VG, VGEX and EX for around $30-40 each, there are some Hall of Famers I need that’ll run me around $100 per, and a few – Dean, Foxx and Grove, that’ll cost far more. Getting what remains in the condition I want, at a price that makes sense, is going to be a long long process.

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I’m down to the last card I need for my 1956 Topps set and, as planned, it’s Mantle. Can I get a nice enough, raw, Mickey for around $400? Seems so, based on sold listings. It won’t be easy, but it’s doable, and it’s going to take patience. If I waited to get this card and wrap up this set before tackling the next set, I’d be stuck. So I continue.

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2 – These are gonna take some time but don’t have a price problem:

You all know my undying love for 1936 Goudey Wide Pens, Type 1 (of course). The finish line is in sight, with only three to go – Cavaretta, Galan and Hartnett (what’s with the Cubs? Short prints?). Price won’t be an issue. Gabby will likely run me $25-30, the other two, $15-20. Problem is they haven’t been coming up. There was a nice Augie Galan, though with a pin hole, that I was outbid on.

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Ah, the 1953 Bowman Television and Radio Stars of NBC, much-loved topic of my last post. I’m in the home stretch here and will need to wait it out. Who knows how long it will take to get a nice Dennis Day?

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The 1963 Bazooka All Time Greats are a nice diversion and I’m about 50% of the way through this 41 card set. Ruth and Gehrig will set me back around $30-40 each, but I’m hoping to get the others, all commons, though all HOFers, for $5-6 each. Definitely going to take a while.

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I’m whittling away at the 1972 Fleer Famous Feats set, drawn by Laughlin. I should have to spend more than $1.50-2 for each card, and that stubbornness is going to add years to this pursuit. I can buy all six that I need for less than $20 on COMC, but I can’t bring myself to do that. Full sets can be gotten for $25-35. And so I wait.

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3- These shouldn’t take too long or cost too much:

I glommed on to the 1961 Post set because, actually I don’t know why. I had 30, got another 85, and all of a sudden I was on my way. What I want to pay for commons may hold me back, but no too much. The real issue is the short prints – Shaw, Estrada, Stobbs and McMillan, which will set me back $50 or so but don’t appear too often (this is what is meant by short prints).

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1975 Hostess is the only year I cut them out of the boxes, which bugged me for decades but now I see as a blessing. Decent hand cuts are cheap and, though I need 36 to complete, my grand total shouldn’t be more than $25. I just need to find them.

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Announcing the two most recent additions to the set quest – 1970 Topps Super Glossy Football and 1971 Topps Football. I’ll admit these are simply time killers, though I’m waiting for a lot of Glossys that’ll put me with in 10 of the end.  These cards have notoriously bad cuts, which doesn’t bother me much. The 1971s I have put me close enough, in a condition good enough, to get them all at a reasonable price.

4 – The variations:

1964 Wayne Causey All-Star, NL back. Bidding on one now, another is listed as a Buy It Now. $20 is about the going rate, but there’s satisfaction in getting it for $15. Silly, I know. I got the Chuck Hinton NL back for $6, so that became my new price goal, though there’s no way I’ll luck out twice.

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There are two 1973 Johnny Pro Orioles Jim Palmers. I need the windup variation. A lot of five Palmers, three windup and two follow through, was up recently, but it went for more than I was willing to pay, even having an Oriole collector on board to split the cost. Oh well.

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I’m very curious about how you approach set building. Is it the norm to tackle a lot of sets, or is the one or two at a time method most common? If you take a very long time to finish a set, how do you keep it on your radar so it doesn’t get lost?

With that, Happy Thanksgiving. Hope you have a lot of things to be thankful for and that your card pursuits have been gratifying. As we know, that’s what’s really important.

Young Kids, Old Men and Gum

I’ve never been a collector of Bazooka cards. They’re nice though; it’s not an aesthetic choice. So I’m not sure how I stumbled across the 1963 All-Time Greats set, a set that is not nearly as pretty as all other Bazooka sets of the era.

I’d been aware of the cards, the same size (1 9/16” X 2 ½”) as regular Bazooka cards, but what I didn’t know was that they were inserted five per box, avoiding the risk of being hand cut. At 41 cards, it’s a set that’s in my current wheelhouse, small enough, and inexpensive enough, to pursue. After nailing down 10 cards for $20, and adding another seven pretty quickly (some in trade), I’m almost half way to completion. (I got two graded in that lot, which I’ll eventually bust out of their cases.)

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Though I knew of these cards, I wasn’t prepared for how they looked (and felt) in hand. The lot I got was described in detail – corner condition, centering, etc. – but it in no way prepared me for how beautiful they are. The gold (and there’s a lot of gold) shimmers like a 19th century vase. (There are also pricier silver variations).  It’s impossible to capture in a scan. The stock is sturdy. I was bowled over by them, my decision to go after this set instantly reaffirmed .

Weirdly, Bazooka went with old man pictures of formerly young heroes. Fleer did the same for many of their 1960 and 1961 cards. It’s an odd choice. Bazooka was hoping (and expecting) a ten-year-old in 1963 to relish getting a Honus Wagner card, but why make it that much harder to attain by picturing Hans at 70! (Just guessing on that.) The Ruth card has the Babe near the end, probably from the morning he died. What kid doesn’t want that!

The backs cram a lot of information in and put me back to when I was learning about baseball history and the guys who make up this set. I was still reading about them all a decade later, in books, yearbooks, magazines, wherever I could find those stories.

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How do kids today, if interested, get this information, not only about now ancient superstars, but also more recent ones? In 1963, Ruth was retired for about as long as Reggie Jackson has been retired right now. Not via cards, I surmise; I doubt via books. The kind of books written about older players tend to be University press kinds of works, unless you’re lucky enough to be the subject for Jane Leavy (Koufax, Mantle, Ruth). I’m assuming Wikipedia and YouTube are prime sources, SABR Bio Project is also invaluable but SABR has its problems with an aging membership base. There are not a lot of teenagers among us.

It’s an ageist notion to scream about how kids today don’t care about what we did at their age. “I can’t believe the average 12-year-old baseball fan doesn’t know about Chief Bender!” I hate that. Baseball, and baseball cards, are there to be enjoyed and taken in however one wants to access them. I’d rather be a kid today, watching highlights on my phone as they occur, then be me in 1975, waiting three days to see a West Coast box score in Newsday. Try as you may, you won’t convince me that that was a better world.

I’m thoroughly enjoying these 1963 Bazooka ATGs, a nice surprise that puts me back to a time when getting a Harry Heilmann card was expected to be an exciting thing. It still is for me.

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California is the Place Topps Oughta Be

The relocation of the Dodgers and Giants to the West Coast after the ’57 season not only broke the hearts of fans but meant Topps didn’t have a NL base in New York at which to photograph players. So, Topps decided to follow the departed clubs and shoot the National League teams in sunny California. This results in several sets of cards with photos taken at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Seals Stadium in San Francisco.

I’m sure most of you know the story of the Dodgers initial plan to use the PCL Angels facility (Wrigley Field) as their home turf. But the prospect of selling 60-70,000 seats per game instead of 20,000 caused Walter O’Malley to select the cavernous Coliseum, despite its track and inflexible football field configuration.

There is no mistaking the Coliseum cards since many clearly show the Peristyle from which burned the Olympic flame during the 1932 Olympics (1984 too). Also the arches are apparent in numerous photos. The haziness may be a result of the infamous LA “smog,” which was particularly bad in the days before auto emission control devices came along in the ‘70s.

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The ’59 card of Gil Hodges is a prime examples of a card with the Peristyle and arches in the distance. The ’59 Smokey Burgess and ‘60 Frank Robinson clearly show that the visitors were also photographed in the Coliseum.

60 Zim  61 Drysdale  62 Koufax

The shots continue to show up over the next three years-as attested by the ’60 Don Zimmer, ’61 Don Drysdale and ’62 Sandy Koufax.

After the move west, the Giants were content to use Seals Stadium, knowing that a new ball park (Candlestick) was scheduled to open in ’60. Additional seats were added to bring the former PCL venue’s capacity up to around 22,000. This single deck stadium in the Mission District is very distinctive with orange box railings.

Sauer   61 Antonelli Bazooka   61 Alou   59 Robbie   61 Aaron   62 White

Former NL MVP Hank Sauer in ’59, Johnny Antonelli in ’60 and Felipe Alou in ‘61 are all at Seals Stadium. The ’59 Frank Robinson,’61 Aaron and ’62 Bill White are opposition player examples.

Seals Seat

When Seals Stadium was razed after the ’59 season, the wooden seats along with the light towers made their way to the new Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Washington. The seats remained in use until being replaced in 2005. I purchased one, which is now displayed in my memorabilia room. I have at least one piece of memorabilia from all the San Francisco and Tacoma teams displayed on the seat.