The Collecting Gene

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a collector as someone who collects objects because they are beautiful, valuable, or interesting.  While all of that is true, I argue that an alternate definition is someone who collects objects because of an inherited trait, specifically the collecting gene.

My introduction to baseball came at a very young age.  I attended my first ballgame at age 2 ½ and suspect I would have gone sooner if not for my father being in the service.  But my first visit to Yankee Stadium was not my introduction to the greatest sport on earth.  The broadcast of a Yankees game would often be heard coming from a radio in our Brooklyn apartment.  And the rare treat of a televised game shone on our wood-encased television set.

Once my father was sure I was hooked on baseball, he introduced me to baseball cards.  I was immediately smitten.  There was no “What’s the point?” or fleeting attraction, only “When can I have more, Dad?”  That question wasn’t asked in a greedy or spoiled-child kind of way.  Neither would have been tolerated.  I was simply a five-year-old fascinated by those beautiful 3.5” x 2.5” pieces of cardboard!  They were a window into the larger world of baseball.  The photos, the statistics, the player facts – all helped tell the story of the game with which I had fallen in love.  Dad was thrilled that my interest in baseball extended beyond the stimulating sights and sounds of a game.  He told me that we’d add to my collection a little at a time.

My first storage box

In those early collecting days, before any baseball chatter tied to newly acquired cards, there was always a lesson about the importance of treating my cards with respect and keeping them safe.  I didn’t even hear of flipping or putting cards in bicycle spokes until my family moved to a new neighborhood and I met friends with older brothers.  And of course, I was horrified by both practices.  By the time I was six, we were examining Hostess boxes to find one with cards I didn’t already have.  Even earlier than that came the blind hunt for Kellogg’s cereal cards.  New packs were always the most fun, though.  Whether they were picked out during a trip to buy the Sunday newspaper on the way home from church, or left by the Easter Bunny or Santa, packs were (and still are) bundles of wonder waiting to be unwrapped.  Dad and I would open them together and discuss.  The conversations ranged from interesting facts about the players or a ballpark or a team’s history to math lessons using the stats on the card backs.

Some of my early acquisitions
(Yes, the Winfield rookie is signed.  There’s a funny story about that encounter here.)

Dad would often springboard from discussing a current player to a story about someone he saw play when he was my age.  So, it was inevitable that an inquisitive child like me would eventually ask “Dad, where are your baseball cards?”  His face changed.  My father explained to me that he kept his cards in excellent condition with each set neatly arranged.  All were organized in shoe boxes – no rubber bands, no miscellaneous junk – and they were always put away safely on the shelf in his closet.  He left them there when he left with his newlywed bride for Puerto Rico to serve in the United States Navy.  When he and my mom returned three years later with a toddler daughter in tow (me), they temporarily moved in with my paternal grandmother.  As Dad was unpacking he noticed the empty shelf in his closet.  He didn’t panic at first.  He thought that my grandmother had relocated his treasured baseball card collection to make room in the closet for some of my mom’s things.  (You know what’s coming, right?)  Sadly, he was wrong.  My grandmother put the entire collection out with the trash because she didn’t think that a grown man with a family would still be interested in his childhood toys.  My heart sank.

I’m certain that Dad would have introduced me to baseball cards even if his collection had survived.  And I don’t think I could love baseball cards any more than I already do.  But I wonder if I might love them differently had I been able to hold Dad’s ’51 Topps Monte Irvin or ’50 Bowman Gil Hodges or ’52 Topps Mickey Mantle.  I’ll never know.

What I do know is that I spent many memorable hours with my father building my baseball card collection.  Whether it was searching for a team set at a minor league ballpark or sorting cards at the dining room table, there was always joy in baseball cards.  Some of my most memorable card-hunting experiences are tied to the plethora of card shows my dad and I attended in the 1980s and early 1990s.  Not only were there players to meet (from Hall of Famers to current stars), but these were my first chances to see the cards from my father’s childhood in person.  I still get goosebumps when I’m in the presence of 1950s cardboard.

Last year I started building a 1950s baseball card collection of my own.  My first three acquisitions were Gil Hodges cards.  Hodges was my father’s first favorite ballplayer and I could think of no more fitting way to start my vintage collection.  (It’s difficult for me to identify cards I obtained new as a child as “vintage!”)  I still love my Topps Allen & Ginter and my annual factory set and Heritage Minors and so many other modern cards, but I’ve learned that no baseball cardboard can give me the same warm fuzzies as the cards that were ultimately responsible for my collecting gene’s orders being followed exactly as they were.  Here’s to my dad and to my new vintage baseball card adventure!

Death and Taxes and Baseball Card Litigation [Part I]

A Very Brief History of the Right of Privacy

Although perhaps difficult to believe, individuals were once without legal recourse if their names or likenesses were used commercially without permission. The “right of privacy” was essentially without basis at common law in the United States before 1902. Emerging privacy rights, however, would eventually become a central battleground as trading card makers fought to secure the pocket change of (mostly) American boys after World War II. The resulting litigation would shape the baseball card industry and provide Topps with nearly unassailable baseball card dominance by the 1960s. The story starts, however, at the turn of the twentieth century with a teenaged girl’s surprising discovery in a Vermont tavern.

As an 18-year-old from Rochester, New York, Abigail Roberson visited an “out-of-the-way tavern” in Vermont while on vacation. There she discovered an advertisement for Franklin Mills flour prominently featuring her photograph. The shocking discovery made Roberson physically ill—Franklin Mills had used the photograph without her knowledge or consent and refused to disclose how they obtained the image.

Franklin Mills advertisement featuring photograph of Abigail Roberson

Roberson was humiliated by use of the photo (although admittedly flattering) and learned that some 25,000 copies of the advertisement had been distributed to stores, warehouses, saloons, and other public places. She sued to prevent the further distribution of the poster and asked for $15,000 in damages (approximately $475,0000 today). The trial court found in Roberson’s favor and the appellate division affirmed.

The case went up to New York’s highest court, however, where Chief Judge Alton Parker wrote for the 4-3 majority that Roberson had failed to state a cause of action because her complaint did not allege defendants acted maliciously or published a defamatory photo. They held that Franklin Mills was lawfully able to use Roberson’s photograph for its advertising without having to ask or compensate her.

Not surprisingly, a wave of public outrage followed Roberson’s loss. In the wake, the New York legislature enacted laws to codify the right of privacy, which allowed an aggrieved party to seek court intervention to enjoin use and sue for monetary damages if a photograph was used intentionally without consent. 

A Bat Fight: Hanna Manufacturing Company v. Hillerich & Bradsby Co.

The baseball world would first see a battle over privacy rights in 1935, when Louisville Slugger sued the Hanna Manufacturing Company alleging Hanna was infringing on its trademarks by selling bats bearing the names of players under exclusive contract to Louisville Slugger, such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

The bats at issue retailed “for as much as $2.50 each” (approximately $28.00 today) and were bought by customers who were “careful and well-informed.” Louisville Slugger took pride in crafting bats of the size, shape, and balance that each major league player preferred and for a small (undisclosed) consideration, these players gave Louisville Slugger the exclusive right to use the player’s name, autograph, and photograph in connection with the sales of baseball bats for a lengthy term, typically 20 to 25 years. The contract signed by the players did not require them to use Louisville Slugger bats, however. In fact, Lou Gehrig had used Hanna bats for two years despite having signed with Louisville Slugger.

Hanna promotional material

Hanna countered that the bats it sold bearing the names of “Babe Ruth” and “Lou Gehrig” were not sold based on the player’s name having been stamped on the bat, but because the purchasers (often college teams) wanted bats of that player’s particular shape and style. The district court found for Louisville Slugger, “baseball players, like any other individuals, have a property right to their names that has been assigned by certain players to Louisville Slugger, and Louisville Slugger used and advertised such right and has such right exclusively, irrespective of any trademark or unfair competition law.”  

The appellate court reversed, however, remarking that there were some “interesting discussions as to a ‘right of privacy’” ongoing but that a “public man waives his right so that the public becomes entitled to his likeness.” The court continued, “fame is not merchandise. It would help neither sportsmanship nor business to uphold the sale of a famous name to the highest bidder as property.” [Wow is this shortsighted when viewed in the modern athlete endorsement landscape!]

The court was further convinced that the “name on the bat” was commonly understood to refer only to the model or style of the bat and implied no endorsement by the player. The court specifically ruled that Hanna could market bats bearing players’ names as long as the descriptive mark included the words “style” or “shape” conspicuously, such that a Hanna bat marked “Babe Ruth style” would be acceptable. Ultimately, those Louisville Slugger contracts operated only to prevent the ballplayers from objecting to Louisville Sluggers’ use of their names and likenesses.

“No matter what may be said about the habits and nature of ball players, they are not naïve.” It would not be long before “right of privacy” claims would invade the baseball card industry.

The Big Cat Takes a Swipe

On August 26, 1941, Johnny Mize went 4-for-8 with a double and home run as his Cardinals split a Tuesday doubleheader against the Dodgers at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. That same day, Mize’s attorneys filed a right of privacy lawsuit against Gum Products, Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts alleging that it had used photos of Mize in its Double Play Gum baseball card set without his permission.

Double Play cards featuring Johnny Mize

In what appears to be the first baseball card-related lawsuit, Mize asked the court for a restraining order and damages commensurate with his appearance on some 140,000 cards issued by Gum Products. On September 5, the court issued a temporary injunction that prevented Gum Products from using Mize’s name or picture further in connection with the sale of gum. Mize’s “right of privacy” victory was short lived, however.

At a subsequent hearing on June 25, 1942, Gum Products admitted it had not directly obtained Mize’s permission, but had done so through the purchase of the picture from an agency. The defense also argued that as “a leading ballplayer of the country,” Mize had no right of privacy in connection to the publication of his name or photograph. On June 28, Judge Francis Good dismissed the case “without comment.” Despite their ultimate victory, Gum Products never produced another set of baseball trading cards.

Leaf: Blown Away

In 1949, Bowman Gum Company and a number of individual players, including Warren Spahn, sued Chicago-based Leaf Brands, Inc. and several east coast gum wholesalers for distributing cards featuring pictures of ballplayers under contract with Bowman. The lawsuit was filed in Philadelphia, where Bowman was based, and a friendly hometown judge issued a temporary restraining order that prohibited Leaf from selling cards with its gum anywhere in the United States (straining the bounds of enforceability). 

1949 Leaf cards of individual ballplayers who, along with Bowman sued Leaf

Leaf took the defeat seriously and reached a settlement with Bowman in which Leaf agreed to withdraw from the baseball card business until at least 1951. Leaf tried in vain to work out arrangements with Topps to share printing rights, but Topps was not interested.

Bowman v. Topps: Birth of the Right of Privacy

Topps first dipped its toe in the baseball card market with its Magic Cards release in 1948. The 19-card baseball series was part of a much larger modern Allen & Ginter-like set that also included cards of football players, boxers, movie stars, famous explorers, and dogs. The tiny cards (roughly 1” x 1½”) featured sepia-toned photos that would appear on the card when exposed to sunlight. The baseball checklist consisted of highlight cards from the 1948 Cleveland-Boston World Series and individual cards of Indians player/manager Lou Boudreau and Braves 3B Bob Elliott. The balance of the baseball checklist was comprised of retired greats such as Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Rogers Hornsby, and Joe Tinker/Johnny Evers.  

In 1951, Topps issued a set of baseball cards featuring current players in direct competition with Bowman, who had produced “Play Ball” sets from 1939-1941 and their own branded sets starting in 1948. To create their set (commonly referred to as “red backs”), Topps licensed rights to the players’ names, photos, and biographical information from a third-party company, Players Enterprises, Inc. This initial set of 52 cards was designed like a deck of cards and was intended to be played as a game. The cards were distributed in a rather nondescript box of “’Doubles’ Baseball Playing Cards” that identified Topps cryptically (and perhaps by design) only by “T.C.G. Brooklyn 32, N.Y.” on the bottom of the box and wrappers. When Players Enterprises merged with Russell Publishing Company in April 1951, Topps was given an additional stable of players under contract that allowed them to distribute a second series of 52 cards (“blue backs”) sold in a redesigned box as “Baseball Trading Card Candy.”

1951 Topps box and cards

Unhappy with the competition, Bowman sued Topps following their release of the red/blue back cards claiming trademark infringement, unfair competition, and impairment of contract rights. They sought to prevent Topps from selling any product having the appearance of gum with the word “baseball” connected to it.

Topps argued that they had lawfully obtained rights from Players Enterprises to use the names, pictures, and biographical data shown on the cards; denied there was any confusion with Bowman’s products; and  claimed that the contracts Topps had with the players constituted a waiver of the player’s right to privacy—but conveyed no rights on Bowman to sue Topps. Topps also argued that it had not infringed on Bowman’s contracts with players because it had inserted a caramel candy—not gum—with its cards.

The evidence established that Bowman had contracted with 340 baseball players through Art Flynn Associates for the right to use the name, signature, photograph, and descriptive biological sketch of each. In exchange, Bowman paid $100 and provided a wristwatch to each player for 1951. (The 1951 contract included the word “confections” for the first time, which seemingly presaged knowledge Topps was intending to issue a baseball card set with candy.) The players were also eligible to complete for the Jack Singer Annual Good Sportsmanship awards sponsored by Bowman.

Topps proved it had contracts with 248 active major league players through the rights acquired by Players Enterprises and Russell. These contracts gave Topps the right to use players’ names, pictures, and biographical data in connection with the sale of candy in 1951 and candy and chewing gum for 1952.

Following a bench trial, Judge Clarence Galston ruled in Topps’ favor and dismissed the case. He found it significant that there was no player biographical data on the reverse side of the 1951 Topps cards; the packaging between Bowman and Topps was different; and there was no record of any confusion between purchasers of the two products.

More importantly, the court (in reliance on § 51 of New York’s Civil Rights Law enacted in the wake of Roberson) held that the contracts Bowman made with the players conveyed no rights on Bowman to sue a third-party, such as Topps. Accordingly, only the individual ballplayer would have a cause of action for an injury to his person. No “right of privacy” was applicable to a business.  

Bowman v. Topps: The Appeal and Establishment of the “Right of Publicity”

Bowman took the matter up on appeal to the Second Circuit claiming their contracts were exclusive for use in connection with the sale of gum and that Topps deliberately induced the ballplayers to sign contracts giving Topps the same rights. Topps continued to argue that even if Bowman proved its case, there was no actionable wrong because any contract between Bowman and a ballplayer did not convey any right on Bowman to enforce those rights as to third parties.

Just prior to the start of the 1953 season, the appellate court formally established the “right of publicity” by way of recognizing an enforceable property right in each player’s name and likeness. This was huge. Accordingly, the ballplayers could grant exclusive rights to their pictures that could be enforced by third parties, such as Bowman. “For it is common knowledge that many prominent persons (especially actors and ballplayers), far from having their feelings bruised through public exposure of their likenesses, would feel sorely deprived if they no longer received money for authorizing advertisements, popularizing their countenances, displayed in newspapers, magazines, busses, trains and subways. This right of publicity would usually yield them no money unless it could be made the subject of an exclusive grant which barred any other advertiser from using their pictures.” That the appellate court recognized the right of publicity was an unprecedented hallmark for ballplayers’ ability to control (and cash in) on their names and likenesses.

The case was sent back to Judge Galston to determine  if Topps had knowingly used photographs of players under contract with Bowman. This was a complicated case-by-case task in that up to six separate contracts were now at issue for players who appeared in any of the 1951, 1952 and 1953 sets issued by Bowman and Topps.

Billy Pierce was 1 of just 24 players to appear in each set issued by Bowman and Topps 1951-1953

By May 1953, both Topps and Bowman had continued to issue sets of fluctuating sizes as their competition to ink players to contracts intensified. In fact, Topps pulled six cards from its 1953 set due to the ongoing litigation. The court also required Topps to remove the cards of players it was enjoined from using from stacks of cards printed but not yet wrapped, which allowed Topps to distribute any offending cards that had already been packaged. (Unfortunately, identification of these particular cards is not immediately discernable from the published decision.)

Bowman v. Topps: The Aftermath

The litigation continued, however, and on May 10, 1955 Judge Galston remanded the case to the New York state courts. This litigation was expensive for Bowman, which spent in excess of $110,000 in legal fees ($1.12 million today); it cost Topps only slightly less. Bowman had been losing money each year since 1952, culminating with a net loss in 1954 of $224,000 (approximately $2.3 million today).

In April 1955, Bowman was merged into cardboard box manufacturer Connelly Container Corporation. Connelly’s stewardship of the Bowman gum and trading card brand was fleeting, however, as it looked to shed the gum/baseball card line, which had averaged between 15% to 30% of total sales. On January 20, 1956, Topps settled the litigation with Connelly by acquiring Bowman’s gum-producing facilities, baseball player picture rights, and an agreement on the part of Connelly not to manufacture gum or picture card products for five years in exchange for $200,000 (approximately $2 million today). [Connelly was apparently much more interested in Bowman’s other business pursuits at the time of the merger, including an all-nylon squeeze bottle in development.]

All the while, Leaf wanted to get back into the baseball card business. After the Bowman litigation settled, Leaf again approached Topps with a proposal to share player rights. With main competitor Bowman eliminated, Topps had no interest in making any arrangement with Leaf. In fact, Topps sent a letter to the player representative of each ballclub on August 14, 1956, indicating it was not going to be sharing its baseball card picture rights with any other companies.

By 1959, Topps was the largest manufacturer of bubblegum in the United States with total sales of $14 million annually (approximately $133 million today). Leaf would eventually get back into the baseball card business in 1960 when it produced a black and white 144-card set that was sold with marbles.

Fleer Stirs the Pot

At the end of 1958, the Frank H. Fleer Corporation launched an offensive against Topps for control of the baseball card market by offering ballplayers contracts that would become effective upon the expiration any existing contracts with Topps. This started with a mail solicitation in December and followed up with visits at training camps in 1959 by ten of its sales and marketing personnel. Fleer was even able to enlist representatives who were active players on teams such as Charlie Lau and Chuck Cottier.

The Fleer contracts paid players $5 as initial consideration and $125 upon reaching the major leagues. Further, Fleer offered a monetary gift or reward for players who provided Fleer with copies of their Topps contracts. After learning of this practice, Topps stopped sending copies of its contracts to the players (but would provide information regarding the terms of the contract upon request). Topps was flooded with requests once they started offering $75 for the players to sign extensions.

Fleer successfully lured Ted Williams and produced an 80-card set of the mercurial slugger in 1959. The Williams set accounted for $250,000 in sales (approximately $2.4 million today), which was just a fraction of the $3.8 million (approximately $36 million today) worth of Topps baseball cards sold in 1959.

During the 1960 and 1961 seasons, Fleer issued sets featuring “Baseball Greats,” each of which featured Ted Williams and a cast of retired Hall of Famers and stars. Sales of these sets again paled in comparison to Topps’ baseball offerings. Leaf also issued a small set of current player cards in 1960, sold along with marbles. The 1960 Leaf contract paid the players $50 and provided for rights when distributed in combination with “marbles or other non-edible novelties such as charms made of plastic or metal.”

Fleer cards from 1959 Ted Williams set and 1961 Baseball Greats set

The Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against Topps on January 30, 1962—with Fleer’s enthusiastic support—alleging that Topps violated § 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which made illegal “unfair methods of competition in commerce and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in commerce.” This section also outlawed business practices that were “unscrupulous, oppressive, exploitative, or otherwise indefensible.” The FTC alleged further that Topps created a monopoly in the manufacture and distribution of baseball picture cards “contrary to public policy” and “to the detriment of free and open competition.” The Hearing Examiner made sure to emphasize that “[m]onopoly is condemned without qualification,” somewhat ironic considering that Major League Baseball enjoys the protections of a legally sanctioned monopoly.  

At the heart of the complaint was the allegation Topps had completely foreclosed Fleer from the baseball card market by entering exclusive contracts with almost all major league baseball players and practically all minor league players with major league potential. It was further alleged that Topps had the power to impose tie-in requirements and imposed retail price control on vendors because it “wanted to know about anybody who was not selling the cards at six for a nickel.” On the heels of the FTC filing, Fleer bombarded college coaches with correspondence attacking Topps’ contracts and accusing Topps of monopolistic practices that were under investigation by the FTC.

Page 1 of the 98-page FTC decision

Taking a page from their prior battle with Bowman, Topps began drafting their contracts to give themselves broader rights and further restrict the players from contracting with others. In 1957, the Topps contract gave exclusive rights to cards associated with gum and candy; in 1958, Topps added “confections” to the list; in 1959, the Topps’ contract extended to cards sold without gum in bulk vending boxes (despite the fact that vending boxes were an exceedingly small part of its total sales); and in 1960, the Topps contract included an agreement by the player not to enter into any other contracts while under contract with Topps. By May 1961, Fleer had contracted with only five major league ballplayers who had not contracted with Topps.

At the time the FTC got involved, Topps had exclusive rights with 95% of major league baseball players and contracts with more than 6500 ballplayers in both the major leagues in minor leagues. Topps first approached players in the minor leagues with a payment of $5 to sign a contract that would pay the player $125 per year for five years if he were promoted to Major League Baseball. Those players who reached the big leagues were paid regardless of whether Topps issued a card of the individual. (Topps would not have to pay if it decided not to market a complete series of cards, except they had to pay the Yankees either way.) Topps’ network included “agents” such as scouts, managers and players who were compensated as much as $100 a year, plus five dollars for each ballplayer signed, or other “gifts, tips or small payments” upon delivery of signed contracts.

Fleer claimed their representatives were physically excluded or intimidated from soliciting players at the Los Angeles Dodgers’ and Detroit Tigers’ training camps “by goon or similar methods.” In the face of Topps’ established network, Fleer had signed only 20 major league players by 1962 and 27 by 1963. Undeterred, Fleer issued a 66-card set (plus an unnumbered checklist) of active major league players in 1963, dwarfed by the 576-card set issued by Topps that year.

The FTC hearing examiner also considered evidence that Topps actively sought to impose market restrictions on other food and beverage manufacturers who used baseball picture cards as promotional devices. General Foods included baseball cards on packages of Post Cereal from 1961 to 1963 and Jell-O from 1962 to 1963. Topps took issue with the Post Cereal promotion that offered a sheet of ten cards (not attached to a cereal box) for two box tops and ten cents, alleging this was an infringement on their rights to sell cards individually. Topps subsequently entered into agreement that Post would pay a license and royalty fees in connection with its distribution of cards alone under the offer. Topps also objected to the set issued in 1958 by Hires Root Beer. Ultimately, Hires made a deal that allowed them to use photos of the players without having to pay Topps, but never issued another set.

The Topps “Monopoly”

Generally speaking, a monopoly is the control of “an economically meaningful market.” In the FTC matter, all that needed to be established was that baseball cards were economically meaningful, and that Topps controlled the market. There was no need to establish that Topps intended to monopolize; nor was it necessary to show Topps exercised its monopoly power.

Hearing Examiner Herman Tocker issued his initial decision on August 7, 1964, after a full evidentiary hearing. He found that Topps had “monopolized the sale of current baseball card picture cards both as separate articles of commerce and as a promotional device for the sale of confectionery products,” in violation of § 5 of the Federal Trade Commission act—even though Topps’ exclusive contracts and other practices were not unfair when viewed separately. Although it had not actually done so, Topps could have controlled the baseball trading card market and “had the power to increase or decrease at will the price when sold alone or when in packages of gum and cards.” Tocker found further that Topps was in violation of § 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act—a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $50,000 or imprisonment.

Topps was ordered to cease and desist from entering or extending exclusive contacts with ballplayers, coaches, and managers for terms in excess of two years and enforcing any contracts in effect after October 31, 1966, along with an order to provide copies of the contracts to the ballplayers. Tocker also opined “[o]bviously, a single picture card, in and of itself, has little value” and “last year’s cards without current statistical content are about as valuable as yesterday’s newspaper,” observations that have not aged well.

The FTC Appeal

Both sides appealed the Hearing Examiner’s decision and order. FTC Commissioner Philip Elman thoroughly reviewed the evidence on record and reversed, holding Topps did not have a monopoly in the production of baseball cards because they lacked economic significance and alone were not “meaningful in terms of trade realities.”

Elman specifically decided that Topps’ control over baseball picture cards used to promote confectioneries was not detrimental to fair competition and that baseball cards were not so unique and indispensable a promotional technique that other bubblegum manufacturers could not compete on fair and equal terms with Topps. Elman cited several examples of successful promotional trading card series such as football players, retired baseball players, and non-sport sets featuring the Beatles and “Spook Theatre.” Moreover, but for the fact that Topps was the largest seller of bubblegum, there was no proof of any correlation between its superior market share and the sale of baseball picture cards.

Ultimately, Topps’ business model—tirelessly signing as many minor-league players as possible with hopes they would become big leaguers—was not an unfair or monopolistic practice. Because no monopoly was proven, the complaint was dismissed on appeal.

Fleer in the late 1960s

Despite its failure to break Topps’ hold over “current baseball picture cards,” Fleer remained the second largest manufacturer of bubblegum in the United States. Before the 1966 season started, Fleer announced it would be issuing a 66-card set dedicated to Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale and had a representative, Bob Quinn, continuing to visit Florida training camps looking to sign players to contracts.

The “Drysdale set” Fleer issued in 1966, however, was actually the “All Star Match Baseball” game, with each of the game cards including a black and white puzzle piece of Drysdale on the reverse, such that all 66 cards were necessary to complete the puzzle.

1966 Fleer All Star Match card F35 (front/back) and wrapper

Fleer had also tried to get the jump on Topps by sending contracts and $25 checks to all players chosen in the newly implemented draft, which upset some college coaches who feared their players could jeopardize their amateur status by cashing those checks.

Despite Fleer’s continued efforts to erode Topps’ market stranglehold, Fleer ultimately acquiesced and subsequently sold all of its baseball contracts to Topps in 1966 for $385,000 (approximately $3.4 million today). This would not be the last we would hear from Fleer at the courthouse, however.

To be continued…

SOURCES/NOTES:

Websites

www.baseball-reference.com

www.retrosheet.org

www.tcdb.com

Cases

  • Roberson v. Rochester Folding Box Co., 171 N. Y. 538, 541, 64 N. E. 442 (N.Y. 1902).
  • Federal Base Ball Club of Baltimore v. National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, 259 U.S. 200, 42 S.Ct. 465, 66 L.Ed. 898, 26 A.L.R. 357 (1922). Major League Baseball has a legal monopoly, “[t]he business is giving exhibitions of baseball, which are purely state affairs. It is true that in order to attain for these exhibitions the great popularity that they have achieved, competitions must be arranged between clubs from different cities and States. But the fact that in order to give the exhibitions the Leagues must induce free persons to cross state lines and must arrange and pay for their doing so is not enough to change the character of the business.”
  • Hanna Mfg. Co. v. Hillerich & Bradsby Co., 101 A.L.R. 484, 78 F.2d 763 (5th Cir. 1935). Defendant Hillerich & Bradsby Co. will be referred to as “Louisville Slugger,” its more widely used tradename today.
  • Bowman Gum, Inc. v. Topps Chewing Gum, Inc. 103 F. Supp. 944 (E.D.N.Y. 1952). Topps also issued 9-card set of team photos in 1951 (Boston Red Sox, Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, New York Giants, Philadelphia Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Senators) and Major League All-Stars/Connie Mack All-Stars. These sets do not appear to have been subject of the litigation between Topps and Bowman.
  • Haelan Laboratories v. Topps Chewing Gum, 202 F.2d 866 (2nd Cir. 1953). In April 1952, Bowman Gum shareholders approved the change of the company name to Haelan Laboratories. Philadelphia Inquirer, April 9, 1952: 4. Accordingly, the ensuing litigation lists Haelan—and not Bowman—as a party.
  • Haelan Laboratories v. Topps Chewing Gum Co., 112 F.Supp. 904 (E.D.N.Y. 1953)
  • Haelan Laboratories v. Topps Chewing Gum, 131 F. Supp. 262 (E.D.N.Y. 1955).
  • In re Topps Chewing Gum, Inc. 67 F.T.C. 744 (1965). Baseball card sales in 1960: Topps $3,638,000 (approx. $34 million today), Fleer $300,000 (approx. $2.8 million today), and Leaf $100,000 (approx. $934,000 today); in 1961: Topps $3,475,000 (approx. $32 million today) and Fleer $355,506 (approx. $3.3 million today).  The second series of Fleer’s 1961 Baseball Greats accounted for an additional $85,000 in sales (approx. $778,000 today) for 1962.  Though distributed under the company name “Sports Novelties Inc.,” the 1960 Leaf issue is referred to in the hobby as “Leaf” and is referred to similarly herein. The FTC hearing examiner described the Beatles as “a group of singing troubadours imported from England”. Additionally, for football cards, the contract was made with the league and not the individual players. The players received no direct compensation—all money was channeled to league pension funds.

Articles

  • “The Week in a Busy World,” Atlanta Constitution, May 5, 1901: 42.
  • “Chewing Gum Stuck with Suit by Mize,” Daily News (New York), August 27, 1941: 284.
  • “Johnny Mize Asks Damages from Cambridge Gum Firm,” Boston Globe, June 25, 1942: 11. Mize appeared on two cards in the set: Nos. 39/40 with Enos Slaughter and Nos. 99/100 with Dan Litwhiler. It is unclear how many of each comprised the total.
  • “Mize of Cardinals Wins Court Test on Use of Name,” Boston Globe, September 5, 1941: 23.
  • “Mize Suit Against Gum Firm Dismissed,” Des Moines Register, June 28, 1942: 16.
  • “Spahn, Five Others Take Action in Gum Distribution Controversy, Boston Globe, May 4, 1949: 23. Although this case attracted little press, that Warren Spahn was involved is not surprising based on the battle he would have in the future regarding the publication of the “Warren Spahn Story,” which he contended painted him in a false (but positive) light and was published without his consent.
  • “A’s Stars Get Writ to Bar Use of Pictures on Gum,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 7, 1949: 16.
  • “Haelan Merged into Connelly,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 28, 1955: 30.
  • Bob Rathgeber, “Young Bob Quinn: Bubble Gum Exec,” Bradenton (Florida) Herald, March 17, 1966: 14.
  • Wayne Shufelt, “’Gummed’ Up,” Tampa Times, April 2, 1966: 10.
  • Paul Bedard, “Bubble May Burst in Baseball Card Suit,” Washington Post, June 20, 1979.
  • Rich Mueller, “1953 Topps Missing Numbers Revealed,” Sports Collectors Daily, July 29, 2014, https://www.sportscollectorsdaily.com/1953-topps-missing-numbers-revealed/, last accessed December 3, 2021. Numbers 253, 261, 267, 268, 271 and 275 were reportedly supposed to be cards for Joe Tipton, Ken Wood, Hoot Evers, Harry Brecheen, Billy Cox, and Pete Castiglione.

Special Thanks

Special thanks to Jason Schwartz for reviewing this article and offering many helpful suggestions.


Who Am I? (And Where Have I Been?)

65ToppsWhoAmIPack

It’s been three months since my last post, or 25 years in pandemic time. There are multiple reasons for that – general ennui, lack of ideas, absence of baseball itself. The truth of it is that my collecting interest is very much alive, but focused on mid-‘60’s football sets.

Sacrilege! Yes, I know, but those sets have short checklists and no real high dollar cards, so they’re easy to complete. Sort of easy. The absence of card shows is a problem right now. I need to go through tables full of commons to get to the finish line.

But all of this interest in getting nice Bobby Bell cards doesn’t mean I’ve avoided baseball cards. It only means I’m still working on sets I’ve already written about.

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Here’s my progress report:

  • I finished my 1963 Bazooka All-Time Greats with a graded Nap Lajoie, eventually to finds its way from COMC to Cooperstown. He will be freed from his plastic prison upon arrival.

Nap-Lajoie

  • I also finished my hand cut 1975 Hostess by snagging a solid Billy Champion. I do need the Doug Rader variation (I’ve got all the other variations) and my Glenn Beckert is actually a hand cut Twinkie version (the remnant of the solid black bar on the back gives it away), but I’m calling this one done.

s-l1600

  • I’m six cards from completing the 1961 Post set (one of each number. I’m not even trying for all the variations).
  • I’m seven away from a complete 1960 Leaf Series 2 set, after a big auction win of 20 cards in VG/VGEX condition. I recently got a pretty nice Jim Bunning (there’s a delicate balance between cost and condition on these), but there are still the biggies left – Sparky Anderson, Cepeda, and Flood.

bun

  • Totally stalled on 1933 Tattoo Orbit. I’m slightly more than halfway through, but I keep losing auctions. I think that shows my heart isn’t completely into it.

All this is by way of a reintroduction of sorts. Yeah, you know me, and I know you, but it’s been awhile and I want you to know I’m still here, still collecting, and with an itch to post again.

You’ll be hearing more from me, so stay tuned.

1997 Denny’s: The Most Ambitious Set Ever?

I was introduced to holograms by Desi Arnaz, Jr in 1983. Arnaz played Walter Nebicher, a nerdy police officer/computer whiz who craved more responsibility within the police department. In his spare time, Nebicher developed a powerful crime-fighting, helicopter-piloting, Tron-like-hologram hero he dubbed “Automan.” Unfortunately, Automan was canceled after only 12 episodes and I pretty much forgot about holograms until those marvels of dimensionality began to be incorporated into baseball card sets in the late 1980s.

On the other hand, lenticular cards had been a hobby staple since the 1970s. These plasticky “3-D” oddball issues were first introduced as a Topps test issue in 1968. Collectors most likely became aware of the 3-D technology, however when they found baseball cards in their Kellogg’s cereal boxes or discs on the bottom of 7-11 Slurpee cups. The Sportflics issue in 1986 introduced the lenticular card on a much grander scale, incorporating a headshot and a pair of action poses for individual players and cards featuring up to 12 different player photos. Regardless, the 3-D card has largely remained a novelty.

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Whether a baseball card featured a holographic or lenticular element, the creator of that card was endeavoring to capture the action and movement of the game into a static format—what else could a collector ask for in a two-dimensional card? Many of these cards are downright magical.

Famous for its Grand Slam breakfast, Denny’s began producing a branded baseball card set with Upper Deck in 1991. That set featured a full bleed holographic image on the front and narrative statistical information on the reverse, along with—cleverly—the player’s career grand slam tally. One card was issued for each of the 26 Major League teams at the time. Denny’s followed a similar format in 1992 and 1993, the latter set growing to 28 cards with the addition of players from the Rockies and Marlins. These cards were given to patrons who ordered a Grand Slam breakfast.

In 1994, Denny’s and Upper Deck changed the format a bit and for the first time, the set included pitchers. The player’s grand slam tally was discontinued, perhaps because none of Jim Abbott, Kevin Appier and Cal Eldred had never hit a home run, let alone a grand slam. This year, the issue also included a special Reggie Jackson card that was reportedly distributed one to a location and was to be given away as a prize. This remains the rarest of any Denny’s issue.

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The 1995 Denny’s set was the last for Upper Deck, the restaurant chain having partnered with Pinnacle for 1996. While the 1991-95 Upper Deck holographic issues simply added some shimmer and dimension to the card fronts, the 1996 set really brought home the bacon. Touted as “Full Motion Holograms,” these cards—when pivoted at just the right angle—actually depicted fluid action of a batter’s swing or pitcher’s windup. This issue also added a randomly inserted ten-card Grand Slam subset, with a parallel ten-card Grand Slam Artist’s Proof subset. The holographic image on the Grand Slam subset card was just a generic Grand Slam breakfast advertisement, ironically making the chase cards much less desirable than those in the base set.

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Then, in 1997, the 24-hour diner chain turned the collecting world on its collective head. Not unlike the resplendent union of eggs and toast, a concept was hatched in which a single regulation-sized baseball card would include both lenticular and holographic elements. This intrepid design produced the most technologically ambitious baseball card ever—with roughly 71%* of the card’s real estate covered by special effects. The front of the card was oriented horizontally and featured crisp effects in front of or behind each subject. The back of the card contained biographical and career highlight information, along with a large holographic image of the player’s face. These cards were wrapped individually and were available for 59 cents to anyone who purchased an entrée and non-alcoholic beverage.

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The set was comprised of 29 cards, one for each of the 28 Major League teams of the day, along with a special Jackie Robinson card in honor of 1997 having been the 50th anniversary of his having broken baseball’s color barrier. The Robinson card was based on Ernie Sisto’s depicting Robinson being tagged out at plate by the Pirates’ Clyde McCullough at Ebbets Field on May 2, 1951.

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Oddly, Denny’s also produced a separately distributed card of Larry Doby, numbered “1 of 1.”** The Doby card was given out at the All-Star Game Fan Fest and National Sports Collectors Convention, both of which were held in Cleveland that year. [Additionally, there is anecdotal evidence that the Doby card was also available at Cleveland-area Denny’s locations, but this has not necessarily been substantiated.] As you may know, Doby broke the color barrier in the AL, playing his initial game for the Indians on July 5, 1947.

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The 1997 Denny’s cards are fun to handle not only because of the movement and special effects on both sides, but also because a good number include other identifiable individuals. For example, John Jaha appears to be holding Wade Boggs on at first. The Sammy Sosa card has Jose Hernandez positioned oddly as Sosa appears to be mid home run trot. It appears that Jeff Bagwell is depicted on Tim Salmon’s card, Hal Morris appears on Derek Jeter’s card, Kirt Manwaring is seen on Andruw Jones’s card, and Jim Thome makes a baserunning appearance on Bagwell’s card, the only dual Hall of Famer entry in the lot.

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Interestingly, Cubs catcher Scott Servais appears on two cards, those of Ray Lankford and Gary Sheffield. The Sheffield card is particularly interesting because the visible Wrigley Field bunting probably dates that photograph as having been taken during the Cubs opening series against the Marlins in 1997, not long before the set would have been finalized for manufacture.

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The card fronts are also interesting to study for the differing ways in which motion was added and whether the perspective of that motion was in the foreground, background, or both. The majority of the cards depict the main subject as a solid, two-dimensional figure. Several cards, however, animate a portion of the player’s body, such as Mo Vaughn’s glove, Mike Piazza’s arm, and Frank Thomas’s left hand gripping a baseball to autograph.

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Unfortunately, all this technology came at a price. While information regarding the cost to produce each of these cards has eluded the author, these cards could not have been inexpensive to produce and Denny’s ambition may have been the reason for the demise of their baseball card promotions. Alas, the 1997 set was the last that Denny’s would distribute.

Even now, Denny’s sets and singles are readily available and relatively inexpensive. The ambitious 1997 set is the pinnacle of baseball card fun, even more so than Automan ever was.

Here is the checklist: 1997 Denny’s Checklist

Notes:

*I say that “roughly 71%” because the hologram features a slight rounded contour of a baseball, not a straight line. I am not going to do any math that requires me to calculate the area of an arc section.

**Denny’s having chosen to celebrate Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby may have been an effort to help rehabilitate their corporation reputation on the heels of paying $54.4 million to settle a class-action racial discrimination lawsuit.

Sources:

Jeff Leeds, “Denny’s Restaurants Settle Bias Suits for $54 Million: Civil rights: Blacks complained of discrimination at the chain. Case marks new push for Justice Department,” Los Angeles Times, May 25, 1994.

Dwight Chapin, Greg Smith, “Highland Mint strikes gold in memorabilia market,” The Marion Star (Marion, Ohio), August 31, 1997.

Metacards

A couple years ago now, someone was running a Twitter sale and posted a batch of 1955 Bowmans. I hadn’t quite made the jump into pursuing Giants Bowman cards at the time but I looked at the batch anyway and one card jumped out at me that I had to have. So I responded to the tweet and the following conversation ensued.

“I’ll take the Bowman.”

“Which one? They’re all Bowmans.”

“The Bowman Bowman.”

“LOLOL”

The card that jumped out at me and the first 1955 Bowman I ever purchased was Roger Bowman’s Rookie Card. I knew nothing about him as a player* but the silliness of having a Bowman Bowman card was irresistible.

*I would discover that he was a former Giant but by the time his Rookie Card was printed his career was basically over.

And so a collection theme was born. I don’t have all of the cards in this post but they’re on my radar. Sometimes we collect our favorite teams. Sometimes we collect our favorite players. And sometimes we collect cards where the player name describes the card itself.

On the theme of the Bowman Bowman we’ll start with a pair of Johnson Johnstons. As a Giants fan the Johnston Cookies issues aren’t exactly relevant to my interests. But getting an Ernie or Ben Johnson card of those? That’s something I can feel completely fine about adding to my searchlist.

Sadly there aren’t a lot of guys whose names match the card manufacturers. Hank Gowdy, despite playing through the 1930s, never appears on a Goudey card. Score never made a Herb Score card.

Thankfully the Ted Williams company produced Ted Williams cards in its early 1990s sets and the Conlon Collection included a Jocko Conlan card as well. And to bring us back to where we started, Matthew Bowman gives us the modern version of the Bowman Bowman card.

But it’s not just card manufacturers where this checklist is relevant. Player names can match team names whether it’s Dave Philley as a Phillie or Johnny Podres on the Padres. Jose Cardenal almost got aced out since his time with the Cardinals corresponds to when Topps calls them the “Cards”* but his Kellogg’s card, with no team name on the front but Cardinals on the back, doesn’t do this.

*Cards cards are an honorary member of this collection.

Unfortunately guys like Daryl Boston and Reggie Cleveland never played for Boston or Cleveland respectively.

First names can also match in this department. Like we’ve got Angel the Angel who sadly never pitched when the club called itself The Los Angeles Angels. There are plenty of other players named Angel on Baseball Reference but none appeared for the Angels.

Sticking with first names and moving to more thematic cards. We’ve got a Chase chase card and a Rookie Rookie Card. I went with Chase the batdog whose card is a short print in 2013 Topps Heritage Minors but there are also a few Chase Field cards that are numbered to various small numbers. Sadly, images of those are hard to come by.

The Rookie Rookie though I enjoy a lot. I usually hate the RC badge but in this case it really makes the card.

There are also a couple more thematic near misses. Cookie Lavagetto left the Oakland Oaks the year before Mothers Cookies started making its PCL sets in the 1950s and Cookie Rojas, despite managing for the Angels in the 1980s, was on the only West Coast team that did not get Mothers Cookies cards.

And finally, much to my dismay, the 1968 Topps Game Matty Alou Error Card does not contain an error. Although I do keep that card around as one of my favorite Error cards.

Any more suggestions? Please leave them in the comments!

Addendum

A couple cards that came up in the comments the week after this posted.

First a Wally Post Post card which Tom Bowen suggested in the comments. Thanks Tom! And second a green tint* Pumpsie Green that I knew of an completely spaced on when I wrote this.

*We haven’t yet had a post on this blog about the 1962 Topps green tint variants but there’s a definitive breakdown of all the variations over on Flickr.

The surprisingly long history of traded sets

Author’s note: My goal here isn’t to list EVERY set with Traded cards. In many cases, the set I highlight will stand in for similar issues across a number of years, before and after.

1981 Topps Traded

The first Traded set I became aware of as a young collector was in 1981. At the time the main excitement for me was that Fernando Valenzuela finally got an entire Topps card to himself. Of course, as the name suggested, it was also a chance to see players depicted on their new teams, such as this Dave Winfield card portraying him in a Yankees uniform.

Dozens of similar Traded or Update sets followed in the coming years, leaning considerably on the 1981 Topps Traded set as a model. However, 1981 was definitely not the beginning of the Traded card era.

1979 O-Pee-Chee/Burger King

My first encounter with O-Pee-Chee cards was in 1979. While most of the cards in the 1979 O-Pee-Chee set had fronts that–logo aside–looked exactly like their U.S. counterparts, every now and then an O-Pee-Chee required a double-take. Back here in the US, I was not yet familiar with the 1979 Topps Burger King issue, but they took things even a step further.

1979 Topps Bump Wills

Not really a traded card, but here is one that at least might have looked like one to collectors in 1979. Having been a young collector myself that year, I can definitely say Bump and hometown hero Steve Garvey were THE hot cards my friends and I wanted that year.

1970s Kellogg’s

The most fun Trades cards are ones where the player gets a genuinely new picture in his new uniform like the 1981 Topps Traded Dave Winfield. Next in line behind those are the ones where the team name on the card front changes, such as with the 1979 O-Pee-Chee Pete Rose. Distinctly less exciting but still intriguing are cards were a “Traded line” is added. We will see some sets where such a line makes the front of the card, but much more often we’ll see it as part of the small print on the back.

Here is Buddy Bell’s card from the 1979 set.

And here is Ken Reitz from the 1977 set.

In case it’s a tough read for your eyes, the second version of the Reitz back, at the very end of the bio, reads, “St. Louis brought Ken back in a trade.” The Bell card has a similar statement. Admittedly these cards are a bit bizarre in that the card backs already have the players on their new teams, even in the initial release. Because of that, one could make an argument that the second versions are less Traded cards than “updated bio” cards, but let’s not split hairs. However, you slice it two Reitz don’t make a wrong!

Similar cards can be found in the 1974, 1975, and 1976 Kellogg’s sets as well.

1977 Topps

Not really a Traded card but a great opportunity to feature a rare 1977 proof card of Reggie Jackson as an Oriole, alongside his Topps and Burger King cards of the same year.

1976 Topps Traded

This set features my favorite design ever in terms of highlighting the change of teams. Unlike the 1981 Topps Traded set, these cards were available in packs and are considered no more scarce than the standard cards from the 1976 Topps set. While the traded cards feature only a single Hall of Famer, this subset did give us one of the classic baseball cards of all time.

Side note: Along with Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Lou Brock, Lee Smith, and Joe Carter, Oscar Gamble was “discovered” by the great John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil. Well done, Buck!

1975 Topps Hank Aaron

Collectors in 1975 were rewarded with two cards of the Home Run King, bookending the classic set as cards #1 and #660. Aaron’s base card depicts the Hammer as a Brewer, the team he would spend his 1975 and 1976 seasons with. Meanwhile, his ’74 Highlights (and NL All-Star) card thankfully portrays Aaron as a Brave.

1974 Topps – Washington, National League

The National League’s newest team, the San Diego Padres, wasn’t exactly making bank for ownership in San Diego, and it looked like practically a done deal that they would be moving to D.C. for the 1974 season. As the cardboard of record at the time, Topps was all over the expected move and made sure to reflect it on their initial printings of the 1974 set. Because there was no team name yet for the D.C. franchise-to-be, Topps simply went with “Nat’l Lea.” (Click here for a recent SABR Baseball Cards article on the subject.)

Of course these San Diego/Washington cards aren’t true Traded cards, but that’s not to say there weren’t any in the 1974 Topps set.

1974 Topps Traded

This subset may have been the most direct precursor of the 1981 Topps Traded set. While cards from later printings were randomly inserted in packs, the subset could be purchased in full, assuming you threw down your $6 or so for the ENTIRE 1974 Topps factory set, traded cards included, available exclusively through J.C. Penney.

The Traded design is a bit of an eyesore, and the subset includes only two Hall of Famers, Marichal and Santo. For a bit more star power, we only need to look two years earlier.

1972 Topps Traded

As part of the high number series in 1972, Topps included seven cards to capture what the card backs described as “Baseball’s Biggest Trades.”

The star power is immense, though some collectors see this subset more as a case of what might have been. One of the seven trades featured was Nolan Ryan-for-Jim Fregosi. However, as the bigger name at the time, Topps put Fregosi rather than Ryan on the card.

Net54 member JollyElm also reminded me about another big miss from Topps here. Yes, of course I’m talking about the Charlie Williams trade that had the San Francisco Giants already making big plans for October. “Charlie who?” you ask. Fair enough. Perhaps you’re more familiar with the player the Giants gave up for Williams.

Topps took a pass on this one, but–as always–Gio at When Topps Had (Base) Balls is here to take care of us.

1972 O-Pee-Chee

This next example is not a Traded card, but it is one of the most unique Update cards in hobby history. RIP to the Quiet Man, the Miracle Worker…the legendary Gil Hodges.

You might wonder if OPC gave its 1973 Clemente card a similar treatment. Nope. And if you’re wondering what other cards noted their subject’s recent demise, there’s a SABR blog post for that!

1971 O-Pee-Chee

Though the first Topps/O-Pee-Chee baseball card partnership came in 1965, the 1971 O-Pee-Chee set was the first to feature Traded cards. (The 1971 set also includes two different Rusty Staub cards, which was something I just learned in my research for this article.) My article on the Black Aces is where I first stumbled across this 1971 Al Downing card.

Where the 1972 OPC Hodges and 1979 OPC Rose cards were precise about dates, this one just goes with “Recently…” Of course this was not just any trade. Three years later, still with the Dodgers, Downing would find himself participating in one of the greatest moments in baseball history.

1969 Topps

At first glance, these two cards appear to be a case of the Bump Wills error, only a decade earlier. After all, Donn Clendenon never played a single game with the Houston Astros, so why would he have a card with them? However, this is no Bump Wills error.  There is in fact a remarkable story here, echoing a mix of Jackie Robinson and Curt Flood. I’ll offer a short version of it below the cards.

Donn Clendenon played out the 1968 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, which explains his uniform (sans airbrush) in the photos. However, at season’s end he was selected by the Expos in baseball’s expansion draft. Still, that was a good six months before these cards hit the shelves so there was time for a plot twist.

Three months after becoming an Expo, Montreal traded Clendenon, along with Jesus Alou, to the Astros for Rusty Staub. Based on the trade, Topps skipped Montreal altogether and led off their 1969 offering with Clendenon as an Astro. But alas, Clendenon refused to report to Houston, where several black players had experienced racism on the part of the team’s manager, instead threatening to retire and take a job with pen manufacturer Scripto. Ultimately the trade was reworked, Clendenon was able to remain an Expo, and he even got a raise and a new Topps card for his trouble.

1966-1967 Topps

Thanks to Net54 member JollyElm for providing information on this set and providing the occasion to feature Bob Uecker to boot. While the card fronts in these years gave no hints of being traded cards the backs indicated team changes in later printings. Here is an example from each year. In 1966, the only change is an added line at the end of the bio whereas 1967 has not only the added bio line but also update the team name just under the player name area.

Note that the corresponding OPC card backs follow the later (traded) versions of the Topps cards.

Topps League Leaders – 1960s and beyond

In August 2018 Net54 member Gr8Beldini posted a particularly devious trivia question. The subject was players whose Topps League Leaders cards depicted them on different teams than their base cards in the same set.

These 1966 Frank Robinson cards are among 11 instances where this occurred in the 1960s and 70s. If you can name the other 10, all I can say is you REALLY know your baseball cards!

1961-1963 Post Cereal

We’ll start with the 1962 and 1963 issues, which feature the now familiar Traded lines. Note however that there were no prior versions of these same cards minus the Traded line. Roberts is from the 1962 set, and McDaniel is from the 1963 set.

Post mixes it up a bit more in 1961 in that there were numerous variations between cereal box versions of the cards and mail-in order versions. The Billy Martin cereal box version (left) lacks a Traded line, but the mail-in version (right) indicates Martin was sold to Milwaukee in 1960.

BTW, thank you to Net54 member Skil55voy for pointing me to the Post Cereal variations.

1959 Topps

Thanks to Net54 member RobDerhak for this example, which follows (really, precedes) the examples from 1966-67 Topps. Note the last line of the bio on the second card back: “Traded to Washington in March 1959.” (You might also enjoy an unrelated UER on both backs. See if you can find it!)

1956 Big League Star Statues

A tip of the hat to Net54 member JLange who took us off the cardboard and into the a fantastic set of early statues, possible inspirations for the Hartland figures that would soon follow and an early ancestor of Starting Lineup. Doby’s original packaging puts him with his 1955 club (CLE), but later packaging shows his 1956 club (CHW).

1955 Bowman

You know those Traded lines that O-Pee-Chee seemed to invent in the 1970s, at least until we saw them from Topps on the card backs of their 1967, 1966, and 1959 sets? Well, guess who the real inventor was?

1954 Bowman

Bowman’s Traded line didn’t make its debut in the 1955 set, however. Here is the same thing happening with their 1954 issue.

Is this the first set to add a “traded line” to the front or back of a card? As it turns out, no. But before showing you the answer, we’ll take a quick detour to another early 1950s issue that included team variants.

1954 Red Man

George Kell began the 1954 season with the Red Sox but moved to the White Sox early in the season. As a result, Kell has two different cards in the 1954 Red Man set. There is no “traded line,” but the Red Man artists did a reasonably nice job updating Kell’s uniform, and the team name is also updated in the card’s header information.

Red Man followed the same approach in moving outfielder Sam Mele from the Orioles to the White Sox. Meanwhile, Dave Philley, who changed teams prior to the start of the season, enjoyed those same updates and a traded line.

1951 Topps Red Backs

Notice anything different about these two Gus Zernial cards?

Yep, not only does the Chicago “C” disappear off his cap, but the bio on the second card begins, “Traded to the Philadelphia A’s this year.” So there you have it. At least as far as Topps vs. Bowman goes, Topps was the first to bring us the Traded line. And unlike so many of the examples we’ve seen from 1954-1967, it’s even on the front of the card!

1947-1966 Exhibit Supply Company

If there’s anything certain about issuing a set over 20 years is that some players are going to change teams. As such, many of these players have cards showing them playing for than one team (or in the case of Brooklyn/L.A. Dodgers more than one city.) Take the case of Harvey Kuenn, who played with the Tigers from 1952-1959, spent 1960 in Cleveland, and then headed west to San Francisco in 1961.

The plain-capping approach used in the middle card might lead you to believe that the Exhibits card staff lacked the airbrushing technology made famous by Topps or the artistic wizardry you’ll soon see with the 1933 Eclipse Import set. However, their treatment of Alvin Dark’s journey from the Boston Braves (1946-1949) to the New York Giants (1950-1956) actually reveals some serious talent. (See how many differences you can spot; I get five.) I almost wish they just went with it for his Cubs (1958-1959) card instead of using a brand new shot, which somehow looks more fake to me than his Giants card.

1948 Blue Tint

In researching my Jackie Robinson post, I came across this set of cards from 1948. Among the variations in the set are the two cards of Leo the Lip, who began the year piloting the Dodgers but finished the year with their National League rivals. No need to take another picture, Leo, we’ll just black out the hat!

And if you’re wondering how many other players/managers appeared as Dodgers and Giants in the same set, we’ve got you covered!

1934-36 Diamond Stars

We’re going way back in time now to capture a Traded card sufficiently under the radar that even Trading Card Database doesn’t yet list it. (UPDATE: It does now, but PSA does not!) Its relative obscurity might lead you to believe it’s a common player, but in fact it’s Hall of Famer Al Simmons.

After three years with the Chicago White Sox, Bucketfoot Al joined the Detroit Tigers for the 1936 season. As a set that spanned three years, Diamond Stars was able to update its Simmons card to reflect the change. The cards appear similar if not identical at first glance. However, the Tigers card omits the Sox logo on Al’s jersey, and the card reverse updates Al’s team as well.

Another Hall of Famer with a similar treatment in the set is Heinie Manush. Some collectors are familiar with his “W on sleeve” and “no W on sleeve” variations. These in fact reflect his move from the Senators to the Red Sox. This set has so many team variations, most of which are beneath the radar of most collectors, that I wrote a whole article on the subject for my personal blog.

1933 Goudey

The 1933 Goudey set included some late-season releases, including a tenth series of 24 cards that included key players from the 1933 World Series. Even the most casual collectors know the Goudey set included more than one card of certain players–most notably four of the Bambino. What not all collectors realize is that the set includes a Traded card.

Hitting great Lefty O’Doul was originally depicted as a Brooklyn Dodger, the team he played with until mid-June of the 1933 season. However, when the final release of trading cards came out, Lefty had a new card with the World Champion New York Giants.

Of course, if Lefty’s .349 lifetime average isn’t high enough for you, there is an even better hitter with a traded card in the set. His move from the Cards to the Browns on July 26 prompted a brand new card highlighting not only his new team but his new “position” as well.

1933 Eclipse Import

Another hat tip to Net54 member JLange who offered up a set not even listed yet in the Trading Card Database. Also known as R337, this 24-card set may be where you’ll find one of the most unusual Babe Ruth cards as well as this priceless update. Not technically a Traded card since the player is with Cleveland on both cards (and was with the Tribe continuously from 1923 until midway through the 1935 season), but…well, first take a look for yourself, and then meet me on the other side!

Yes, that is the Philly mascot on Myatt’s uniform. After all, he played for Connie Mack’s squad back in…wait for it…1921! But no problem. Let’s just find someone with pretty neat handwriting to scribble Cleveland across the uni on our next go-round. Problem solved!

1927 Exhibits

My thanks to Net54 member Peter_Spaeth (whose worst card is 100x better than my best card!) for tipping me off to this set and allowing me to use his card of Old Pete. In a move that perhaps inspired future O-Pee-Chee sets, here is Grover Alexander, Cubs uniform and all, on the St. Louis Cardinals.

Other HOFers with mismatched teams and uniforms are Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, and Tris Speaker. In case you haven’t guessed it already, if you want to see a ton of star power on a single checklist, you owe it to yourself to take a look at the HOFers in this set.

1914-1915 Cracker Jack

If you view the 1914 and 1915 Cracker Jack sets as two different sets (that happen to have a gigantic number of nearly identical cards), then there are no Traded cards. However, if you view the two releases as a single set, then there are numerous Traded cards. Among the players to appear on two different teams, the biggest star is unquestionably Nap Lajoie. who appears in 1914 with his namesake Cleveland Naps and in 1915 with the Philadelphia Athletics. In addition to the change in the team name at the bottom of the card, you can also see that “Cleveland” has been erased from his jersey.

Another notable jumper in this set is HOF pitcher Eddie Plank who has his 1914 card with the Philadelphia Athletics and his 1915 card with the St. Louis Terriers of the Federal League.

1911 T205

I will take any excuse to include cards from this set in a post, so I was thrilled when Net54 member Gonzo alerted me to the team variations in this set. Here are two players who were traded from the Boston Rustlers (who?) to the Chicago Cubs. David Shean went packing on February 25, 1911, and George “Peaches” Graham made his move a few months later on June 10.

Gonzo also notes that many of the images from the 1911 T205 set were reused, uniforms and all, for the 1914 T330-2 Piedmont Art Stamps set. (I will freely admit to never having heard of this issue.) One HOF jumper is double-play man Johnny Evers, whose picture has him on the Cubs but card has him on the Braves. There are also several players attached to Federal League teams though their images still show their NL/AL uniforms.

1911 S74 Silks

It was once again Net54 member Gonzo for the win with this great find! On the other end of the aforementioned “Peaches” Graham trade was Johnny Kling, depicted here in his Cubs uniform while his card sports the Boston Rustlers name and insignia.

1909-11 T206

Another multi-year set, the Monster includes a handful of team change variations. The Bill Dahlen card on the left shows Dahlen with his 1909 team, the Boston Braves. Though he would only play four games total over his final two seasons in 1910 and 1911, the cardmakers at the American Tobacco Company saw fit to update his card to show his new team, the Brooklyn Dodgers.

1887-90 Old Judge

If T206 isn’t old enough for you, then let’s go even farther back to the juggernaut of 19th century baseball card sets, N172, more commonly known as Old Judge. According to Trading Card Database, Hall of Fame pitcher Amos Rusie has cards with both the Indianapolis Hoosiers (1887) and the New York Giants (1889-90). I was unable to find what felt like a real NYG card of Rusie, but I did find one where a strip of paper reading “New York” had been glued over the area of the card that had previously said “Indianapolis.” My immediate thought was that a collector was the culprit behind this cut-and-paste job. But how funny would it be if this is how the Old Judge cardmakers did updates back then!

Epilogue

When I first stumbled across Traded cards, it was love at first sight. What a thrill to end up with two cards of a top star, and what better way to turn a common player into a conversation starter. To the extent baseball cards tell a story and document the game’s history, Traded cards hold a special role. Unfortunately, these cards have a dark side as well. At least in 1983 they did. If you ever doubted that 8 3/4 square inches of cardboard could rip a kid’s heart out, stomp it to bits, and then spit all over it, well…here you go.

A Really Big, Though Not National, Show

I went to the East Coast National in White Plains on Saturday. Why is it the East Coast National? By definition, it’s not “national” if it’s “East Coast,” but, you know, there’s this:

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All card shows start the same for me. I have an optimistic plan of everything I’m going to find, but then I hit the room and am immediately disappointed. Not so this time.

I’m uber focused and organized, but the ideal me is more spontaneous. I watch with awe the collectors who simply buy stiff they find looks cool, or is a bargain in a discount box. That’s not me. However, I printed up a 1955 Bowman Football checklists, marked the 10 I had, and hoped I’d find a box or stack of low price cards in nice shape to jump start the set. I’ve always loved this set, and I’ve seen tons of them in bargain bins.

It didn’t take long. I found a guy with stacks of cards, each at great prices, and I went nuts, losing all sense of time and place (to the point of missing a meet up. Sorry Matt!).

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A couple of dealers later I was now working on a set. My friend Greg scouted out some cards and helped chose the best cards for the price. When I used to go to shows, I’d see tandems working on sets together. I always wanted to do that, and last weekend I did. Greg and I share a lot of common interests and, when it comes to cards, he immediately knew what I was looking for. It was great fun having him choose while I checked off the list.  I came home with 45 cards for $85. I even have my first completed page!

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That first dealer also had a stack of 1952 Bowman Television and Radio Stars of NBC. I knocked off a set of 1953 vertical backs last year, and was wavering on whether to go for the 36 card horizontal back set. You know where that wavering led; I’m totally working on the set. I came to the show 7 cards in, and picked up another 11, including two sports guys, Bill Stern and Bob Considine. With two more on the way I’m already close to the end. A bit lesser condition than my verticals, but they are definitely harder to find. (These were 50% off the listed price, don’t worry.)

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Alright, alright, now on to the baseball cards.

I put a big dent into the last of my 1961 Post set, a full half of my want list at prices I’m not finding online. I’ve been hard pressed finding cards at prices I find reasonable (I wrote about that last month), but I knocked off these at exact the dollar amount I was looking for. Flood and Antonelli were a buck each and I’m thrilled to have gotten the Mathews for $15. I’m in the home stretch now – 11 to go!

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If you’re a consistent reader of my posts, and, really, why wouldn’t you be?, you’ll know I’m committed to the 1960 Leaf second series. I’ve been pretty successful getting nice ones – EX or better – for less than $10 per common. It’s not super easy, though not super difficult. The opportunities come and go quickly. I pored through a pile of them and tried to talk the guy down from $15 to $10. He landed at $12, which was fine. It was good to knock 6 more off the list. I’ve got 27 of 72 and my average per card cost is still $7.93.

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Early in the recent history of this blog, I wrote about how online buying knocked shows out of my system and, I thought, good riddance. Of course I was kind of wrong (kind of right too) because in the last two years I’ve been to great shows and made purchases at a level that can only occur at big events. I find myself already anticipating the next one!

Positions, Positions, Positions

Name, Team, Position. Those are the three most standard pieces of information conveyed on the obverse of a baseball card. Of the three, position is the one that is most often left out. While it is certainly isn’t hard to find examples of cards not bearing the name or team on the frontside, position is the only piece of this trio that feels kind of optional. Player positions were included on many of the earliest cards sets ever issued and remained a staple of card design until the fabled T206 set – which listed a player’s name and team home city only – seemed to put the designation out of style. Over the next few decades, many of the most iconic sets – Goudey, Cracker Jack, Leaf – ignored the position as an element of design. Bowman hit the scene in 1948 and went even more minimalist, rarely going so far as to even include the player’s name on the front of the card.

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1972, the only Topps set between 1953 and 1986 not to indicate a position on the front.

But then Topps took over, aside from their 1951 and 1952 issues, included a position on the front of each of their sets until 1972, and again for each set between 1973 and 1986. The indicator vanished between 1987 and 1990 and was an on-and-off feature until 2014, when it returned for seven straight sets (including 2020) – Topps’ longest run of position-indicating since the 1980s. Donruss included a position on every one of its designs until 1998 and Fleer did the same, using the indicator on every flagship set the brand issued. Upper Deck ignored the position on just two of its flagship sets (1992 and 2004).

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This is not information that most collectors would have at the ready. Most collectors probably take the position bug for granted. I know I usually do. But being so ubiquitous (even in its absence), an unusual position indicator can make for a pretty memorable card. Herb Washington’s 1975 “Pinch Run.” is probably the most famous of these. But there are others that I recall standing out to me as a kid – Pete Rose cards where he was listed an “MGR-1B” seemed other-worldly, the 1990 Score John Olerud listed him as an “OF-P” (all while shown playing first base) made him seem like some kind of top-secret government project, and the 1989 Topps Kirk Gibson All Star that listed him as a “PH” was as jarring as it was confusing (this was done, I assume to give the NL team a DH player without using the league-inappropriate term).

A particular player’s position listing can also convey some emotion. Robin Yount listed as a shortstop or George Brett as a third baseman make them seem as though they’ll be young forever. But finding Reggie Jackson or Henry Aaron or Dave Winfield listed as a DH will bring a note of sadness that the end is near.

But of all the weird positional quirks that have happened over the years, there is nothing so fascinating to me as what happened with Paul Molitor in 1991. That was the year the versatile Brewer was listed at FIVE different positions on various cards and appeared with SEVEN different position indicators. This is, I believe, the greatest positional variety for a player in a single year ever (ignoring THIS, of course). So what happened here?

Well, Paul Molitor had historically been a trick player to pin down position-wise. He came up as a shortstop, getting his first change in the bigs when Robin Yount left the Brewers during Spring Training 1978. He only played 33 games at short that season, but it was enough to have him listed as a pure SS on his 1979 card. He played 10 games at short in 1979 and 12 in 1980, but maintained a dual listed as an “SS-2B” on Topps 1980 and 1981 issues. After spending all of 1981 in the outfield, Topps gave him the rare “2B-SS-OF” listing on his 1982 card. Molly moved to third base in 1982, and played there primarily for most of the next five years. Topps reacted in kind and listed his as either a 3B or 3B/DH through the end of the decade.

Donruss and Fleer, entering the market in 1981, both listed him as a 2B in their debut sets. Fleer gave him a pure (and accurate) OF tag in 1982, whereas Donruss went with the very broad “OF/IF” brand. Both brands followed suit with Topps and used 3B and DH marks exclusively through 1990. Upper Deck and Score did the same.

But Molitor had returned to his utility player roots by the late 1980s. He appeared in 19 games at second base in 1987 and 16 in 1989. Late in 1989, regular second-sacker Jim Gantner suffered a devastating knee injury on a wipe-out slide by the Yankees Marcus Lawton and Molitor took over regular duty at the position until Gantner was able to return mid-way through the 1990 season. Molitor, who suffered a number of injuries of his own that season, ended up playing 60 games at second base in ‘90, 37 at first base (the first time he’d manned that spot), and a handful at third and as a DH. Gantner ended the season as the regular second baseman and Molitor at prime man at first. After the season, the Brewers traded Dave Parker, who had been an All Star for them in 1990, opening the door for the now-34 year old Molitor to become the team’s regular  DH for the first time.

So, the long-time third baseman who had been playing second but was also being used at first, where he was now expected to see more time when he wasn’t DHing. Got all that? Card makers sure did.

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By my count, Molitor appeared on 21 different base cards in 1991 (I’m ignoring sets like Topps Micro and OPC here that merely reproduce other sets). All but Classic listed a position on their cards. He was most commonly listed at 3B, a dubious claim considering he’d only played two games there in 1990. But strong is the power of tradition. Topps listed him there, using that mark on the Bowman, Stadium Club, and OPC Premium sets as well. Fleer also considered him a 3B, as they had at least in part since 1983. Even Score listed him at the position, despite taking the rather bold stance of being the only card maker to declare him a pure DH on a 1980s issue (1988). Those two games in ’90 got a lot of mileage, I guess.

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Five cards listed him at 1B, a nice compromise between his audition there in 1990 and his projected role in 1991. Magazine cards were fond of this mark, as Baseball Cards Magazine, Sports Collectors Digest, and Sports Illustrated for Kids all used it on their in-mag cards, as did Donruss and (curiously) Fleer Ultra, which ran against the flagship’s opinion that Molitor was still a 3B.

Three cards gave him a generic IF designation: two Brewers-issued sets (which used the frustrating device of considering anyone who played in the infield an IF) and the Score Superstars stand-alone set, which also broke with its parent brand and made its own positional distinction.

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A pair of sets were forward-looking enough to list Molitor as a pure DH, Leaf and Studio. I recall these as later-year issues and were probably a reaction to Molitor’s role early on the 1991 season, in which he only appeared in the field once before late May.

Then, we have some true outliers. Upper Deck, showing that rebel streak that remade the hobby, boldly listed Molitor as a 2B in their set, and even used a photo of him playing the position. The semi-obscure Petro Canada Standup set also listed him as a 2B, but you had to actually stand the card up to discover this fact. Panini, in its sticker set, was the only brand to use a hybrid mark, listing Molitor was a “1B-2B,” his only 1991 card to accurately reflect upon his 1990 season.

And then there is 1991 US Playing Card set. In here, Molitor (as the Eight of Hearts) is listed as a centerfielder.

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Hmm.

At this time, Molitor hadn’t played the outfield since a handful of games in 1986 and hadn’t been in center since 1981. Were they boldly expecting Molitor to take over in center for Robin Yount in 1991? My guess is that this is probably just an outright error. None of the other outfielder cards in the deck are given a specific OF spot (LF, CF, RF), and I can’t find anything that indicated they were acting on some of weird rumor of an unexpected position change. But nonetheless, the card exists and only adds to the positional confusion.

Oddly enough, all this positioning and repositioning for Molitor quickly became a moot point. Following the end of the 1990 season, Molitor would play first base and DH exclusively. His cards reflected this. For the most part. For 1992, Topps again branded him at a 3B across most of its sets despite his not having played there regularly since 1989. And, not to be outdone by their 1991 goof, the US Playing Card company issued two decks with Molitor cards in 1992 – one listing him at 2B and the other at SS – where Molitor hadn’t appeared since 1982 (his 1993 USPC card has him mercifully listed as an IF). At least it’s a consistent decade-long lag time, right? For 1993, only the Post Cereal Company still listed him at 3B. Card makers had finally accepted him for what had become – a DH and part-time 1B.

For his career, Molitor was listed on cards as a 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, IF, OF, CF, DH, 1B/DH, 2B/SS/OF, 2B/SS, SS/2B, 3B/DH, OF/IF, DH/1B, and DH/3B – not to mention post-career cards as a coach and manager. That’s 18 different listings (and perhaps more that I have missed) to describe a single remarkable career.

News from the Post Office

I’ve been working on some football sets lately that I’ve always wanted to complete, and a few non-sports sets. (Have I told you about the glorious 1965 Soupy Sales set! That was a fun project.) I haven’t been working on baseball cards too much because I’m stuck. I literally need one card to complete the 1936 Goudey Wide Pen set (Type 1) and one card to finish the 1963 Bazooka All Time Greats set. I’m treading water on my hand cut 1975 Hostess set (14 to go) and my 1961 Post set.

With three more 1961 Posts in transit, I’m down to needing 26 to finish. It’ll end up a pretty nice set overall, maybe VGEX-EX. I’ve enjoyed getting hand cuts because condition is harder to peg. Nobody seemed to really know how to use scissors back then. I picked up a Mantle that was very nice, except for a crease (the price was right and I’m happy with it) and a Bob Shaw short print that was well below what I expected to pay. That’s all good.

What I’m running into is a clear case of short prints that, according to my admittedly out of date Standard Catalog, are not listed as SPs. I’m not talking hard SPs (Estrada, McMillan, Stobbs) or even tougher variations (Minneapolis v. Minnesota, company issue v. box), I’m talking about cards that should be priced as commons, but aren’t. Some examples:

58 – Gary Bell

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I can’t find it for close to $2-3, which is where it’s supposed to reside (company or box).

Orioles Group:  71 – Milt Pappas, 74 – Steve Barber

Box version of Pappas should be cheap, and all I want is the cheaper variation. I know Barber should be a buck or so more, but that’s not where I see them priced.

Phillies Group:  115 – Dick Farrell, 116 – Jim Owens, 122 – Ken Walters

Again, a mystery in cost. Eventually I’ll pull them in for less than $3, but that’s going to feel like a rip off.

West Coast Group: 142 – Johnny Antonelli , 156 – Norm Larker

No reason I shouldn’t be able to find these for $2 or less, but it’s not happening.

I do realize I’ll have to pony up for the Estrada, Stobbs and McMillan cards, but I think there are relative bargains to be had. If anyone knows why the cards above are harder to find than I figured, let me know. Maybe it’s because I’m using a 2009 Standard Catalog and discoveries have been made since then.  That has certainly been the case with certain numbers in the 1975 Hostess set, which came as news to me.

Of course, if you’ve got dubs of any of them (and the others I need), let me know.

Fahrenheit .407

Listen: Ichiro is the Guy Montag of George Sisler.

Like many students, I read Ray Bradbury’s dystopian classic, Fahrenheit 451, in middle school. Several of its ideas stuck with me for years afterward and I picked up a personal copy not long ago, to keep them fresh.

Near its climax, protagonist Guy Montag joins a clan of exiles who protect the written word from state-organized destruction. They memorize whole manuscripts as hedge against an American society locked in fiery struggle against its own texts. Guy’s recall of a portion of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes becomes his torch to carry.

Whatever your religious background, many SABR readers also know some Ecclesiastes, thanks to Pete Seeger’s adaptation of its third chapter into the 1960s folk-rock hit “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season),” intersecting with antiwar themes from Bradbury’s 1953 novel.

This cultureball matters to me now because of the link between Ichiro, one of our greatest 21st century players, and George Sisler, his parallel from a century ago.

I used to know just table scraps about the onomatopoeically “hot” Sisler. I remember lots of other stuff, like how Dave Philley spent three years as a Phillie (1958-60) and Johnny Podres finished his career with the Padres (1969). Yet…diddly about “the greatest player in St. Louis Browns history.”

Just a handful of significant facts came to mind when I started this article: he hit over .400 twice, they called him “Gorgeous George” (predating the pro wrestler), and Ichiro broke Sisler’s single-season hits record. Oh, and he appeared in the 1972 Kellogg’s All-Time Greats set.

Sisler retired in 1930, explaining why I find him so unfindable. Despite writing about cards for years at the Number 5 Type Collection, almost all of my card research follows Goudey Gum’s 1933 baseball debut, making earlier players a crapshoot. Even my deep dive into a trivial question, “Who’s E.T. Cox and why’d he appear on a card in 1927?” stands out for what didn’t happen, not what did.

I give Ichiro full marks for breaking an 84-year-old record when he notched 262 hits in 2004. Yet hitting isn’t their sole connection. Let’s catch up with George, circa 1920.

Kids could buy this artful W514, trimmed from a strip of five, out of arcade vending machines during Sisler’s mammoth performance for an otherwise fair-t0-middling 1920 Browns squad.

  • .407 average, 1.082 OPS, 182 OPS+
  • MLB record-setting 257 hits, in 154 game era
  • 49 doubles, 18 triples, 19 homers, 42 SB

Zero other seasons in MLB history include that balance of speed and power. None! Ichiro came close as a base runner, stealing 40+ bases five times, turning ground ball singles into scoring threats. As frosting to his power cake, George Sisler led the AL in steals four times.

Even if you drop stolen bases as criteria, just one other season in history, Lou Gehrig’s 1927, includes at least 49 doubles, 18 triples, and 19 homers. The Iron Horse, of course, enjoyed Murderers’ Row as “protection” for his spot in the lineup. St. Louis, however, depended on George’s stealing prowess just to get more guys in scoring position.

This photo from Sisler’s other 1920 card, part of the scarce Holsum bread issue, hearkens back to his younger days as a southpaw pitcher. (Read George’s SABR bio for those details.)

While pitching had moved to his back burner by 1920, George nonetheless closed out St. Louis’s final game on October 3 from the hill (box score), perhaps to help home fans enjoy one last bit of that remarkable year. Although he notched a .420 average two years later, OPS+ rates 1920 “better,” as Sisler hit fewer homers in 1922 (career stats).

Two of Sisler’s sons, Dick and Dave, went on to their own baseball careers. The former intersected with Ichiro’s future home as 1960 manager of the Pacific Coast League’s Seattle Rainiers.

While we’re visiting the past, let’s pretend we’re 12 years old again and snicker at how Dick Sisler appears on a Skinless Wiener trading card. (Players came one to a package.) Cross your legs and fire up the grill!

When Ichiro’s torrid pace projected to break the hits record in 2004, he also connected with still-living Dave Sisler, who enjoyed renewed interest in George’s past achievements and some of the Sisler family traveled to Seattle to see Ichiro break the record in person. (Topps mentioned that moment on Ichiro’s Season Highlights card.)

As noted in that 2013 New York Times article, Ichiro spent a Cooperstown trip examining Sisler’s bats, comparing their construction and “sound” to his own modern models. Five years later, he brought flowers to George’s St. Louis grave during the All-Star Break.

While I’m not surprised a guy with 3089 hits proved a student of hitting, it stands out that he’s a student of Sisler. Should this whole Internet thing burn to the ground, echoing the fiery urban chaos of Fahrenheit 451, I bet Ichiro can teach us plenty about George’s tools and talent.