Purity of Essence (Or, How I Learned to Start Analyzing What Is and Isn’t a Baseball Card)

I’ve been working on completing a 1936 Goudey Wide Pen set, Type 1 of course, and, I’m pleased to say, I’m in the homestretch.  I’ve got 106 of the 120 AND the two keys – Joes DiMaggio/McCarthy rookie (which I basically traded, even up, for a 1976 Walter Payton rookie card) and Hank Greenberg.  I had a pretty good jumpstart on this set; I bought 80 or so back in the early ‘90’s for, what I can only assume, was a steal.

I was showing my friend Jimmy the album with my Wide Pens and he said, “They’re not really cards, are they?”  “Sure they are,” I said, not even understanding the question, but since that day I’ve been mulling over the existential point he was trying to make – “What is a baseball card?”

The Type 1 Wide Pens were in-store premiums (not sure what the method was to acquire them – were they free? Did you have to buy a certain amount of Goudey gum products?), 3 ¼” X 5 ½” black and white portraits or posed action shots with thick facsimile autographs. Overall they’re pretty fascinating, a mix of Conlon-type close ups and various pitchers in windups, swinging hitters and, on rare occasion, a real game photo. The backs are blank. (The player selection is odd and worth a post of its own).

 

So how could this not be immediately perceived as a card? Is it only a photograph? In the corner each Type 1 says “LITHO IN U.S.A.,” so maybe they see themselves as photos.  The 1964 Topps Giants measure 3 1/8” X 5 ¼”, slightly smaller than the Goudeys, but no one would claim they aren’t cards. Is it because they’re Topps? Because they were sold in stores? Have backs?

The 1981 Topps Giant Photo Cards are huge, 4 7/8” X 6 7/8” and were sold in stores. They have something on the back, but not very much. Is this a card? Topps’ own schizophrenia on the issue – “Photo” “Cards” – makes it unclear.

This is a card?

I don’t know the answer to the question but, since Jimmy raised the point, it’s been on my mind. What is and isn’t a card? It can’t be the maker that gives it identity, because the card world has had innumerable manufacturers. Is it distribution? Can’t be. Cards have been delivered in a lot of different ways. In store premiums are not much different than box toppers or mail away offers. Is the back having content or not a dividing line? Plenty of issues have minimal to zero text on the reverse.

Give it some thought, for me.

The Bad Choice of a New Generation

As an aficionado of “odd ball” sets, I’ve accumulated many over the years. Amongst the quality commemoratives, reprints and regional sets lurk some real “clunkers” that make me question why I collected them in the first place. The “Pepsi Griffeys” is a prime example of a real “stinker.”

Mother's cookies

91 Star

90 Star Aqua

The unique aspect of a father and son playing together coupled with Ken Griffey Jr.’s emergence as a super-star resulted in at least four sets featuring dad and son. Mother’s Cookies produced a nice four card set with regional distribution in ‘91. The cards were imbedded in bags of cookies. The Star card company made two sets (aqua in ’90; red in ‘91) each with 11 cards.

Pepsi Jr.    Senior Pepsi    Pepsi Jr & Sr

The ’91 Pepsi sponsored set contains eight cards, which were included in 12 packs of Diet and regular Pepsi and distributed in the Northwest. Each set depicts the Griffeys singularly and together.

Outfitting the Griffeys in Pepsi themed uniforms creates a terrible aesthetic. The uniforms are devoid of lettering with only a number on the front. A Pepsi script or “Griffey” would have looked more natural. The sleeves and caps feature a Pepsi logo patch. The caps would be right at home on the head of a delivery truck driver.

Pepsi Back    Pepsi Jr. #3

The card design is basic with only the names appearing on the front. The backs are white with black lettering and contain various statistical information and highlights. The tight shots and blurred backgrounds make it impossible to determine the location of photo shoot with the possible exception of card #3 which could be the Kingdome center field wall. Incidentally, the 12 pack boxes had a 6”x7” picture of Jr. identical to card #3.

Many advertisers have issued sets with logos and scripts eliminated to get around paying royalties to MLB. This creates a bad look, but it is definitely better than product placement uniforms.

Are there other sets out there featuring players in product themed uniforms? Please comment or tweet.

What’s in the box? *

Long before the advent of storage boxes, boxes created solely to hold cards–properly–sized and designed to keep corners crisp–collectors of a certain age relied on shoeboxes. (Collectors of a much older age relied on cigar boxes. I am not that old.) I still have a few odd shaped cards in 1970’s era shoeboxes. I don’t really care to put them in sheets. The old boxes have done yeoman service over time.

As I do every week, I got to thinking about what to write for the blog. Last week’s post on oddball sets got some nice traction, so I didn’t really want to write another post about that. There’s no glory in becoming the “oddball king,” but I started thinking about the old shoeboxes and thought a layer by layer reveal might be fun to write, and read, about. You be the judge.

There’s the box top, with a little note telling me what is inside. Or was inside. Most of those were relocated to an undisclosed site. I have no idea which of my mother’s old shoes were originally in here, but the red and gray of this box has been part of my card world for 40 years.

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Cover off, much to be explored.

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1978 Twins Postcard Set

Why? I have no idea. I think I ordered it from the team, but I’m really at a loss to explain why this is in my possession.  Sure, I love Hosken Powell as much as the next guy, but…

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1977 Pepsi-Cola Baseball Stars

In the mid-late ‘70’s, discs were everywhere. First, they seemed cool. Instantly, they were boring as hell, but not these, oh no, not these. The Pepsi cards were discs, inside a glove on a long rectangle! That’s something that caught my eye big time.

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It’s an Ohio regional set, which explains why they’re pushing a Rico Carty shirt as one of the top shirt options.  Get a look at the “save these capliners” tag at the top. Explain what those are to your kids.

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I don’t know if there’s a sheet around that would work for these cards. In the shoebox they remain.

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1976 Towne Club

I guess Towne Club was a soda maker in and around Detroit. I have no idea really. I just read that it was a competitor of Faygo, which I’m also unsure of.  The Pop Center was a store where people would take a wooden crate and walk around a warehouse to choose their pop. Seems like an idea doomed to fail, which it did.

This was the first disc set I saw and I bought it. Nothing to note; it’s pretty dull.

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1980 Topps Superstar 5” X 7” Photos

I’ve written about the 1981 version of this set in my Split Season post. The 1980 version came in two types – white back and gray back. Like the following year’s set, these cards are beautiful in every way – photos, gloss, size. Perfection!

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1986 Orioles Health and 1981 Dodgers Police

Nice sets, worth the inexpensive cost of admission.  The most important part about the Orioles set is that it proved that a Cal Ripken autograph I got in the mail was real. Cal sent me the Health card signed. Having an unsigned version was all I needed to know that he delivered a real signature.

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1986 Kay-Bee Young Superstars

Rob Neyer recently wrote a post about the Circle K set. These small boxed sets were the locusts of the card world. All through the ‘80’s, some company had a small deck of baseball cards to sell. These two boxes (why two?) have mostly served as a base for the Orioles and Dodgers sets, but I cracked one open and they’re fine, especially the 1971 Topps style backs.

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You can see beneath all the cards is a four decade old piece of paper towel, serving as a cushion between cards and box. No detail regarding proper care was lost on me.

 

*Congrats to those who picked up the Se7en reference.

Different sizes, weird cards, one album

Only in Cooperstown can you go into a baseball card store and find inexpensive genuine autographed cards. Baseball Nostalgia, right next to Doubleday Field, is a frequent haunt of mine. They’ve been around for 40 years, were once the flagship of TCMA, and remain as the depository of awesome things. They have rows and rows of autographed cards, not only big stars but nobodies. Maybe nobodies is unfair; let’s say non-stars.

Last year I bought a handful of signed cards, but in the little pile of goodies were a few photos (Jim Bibby, Buddy Bradford) circa 1974 and a postcard of Jack Brohamer from 1975. Why would anybody buy a signed Jack Brohamer postcard? Readers of this blog know the answer to that.

The Brohamer card is pretty sweet and, as I was researching for a new book proposal, I stumbled on the fact that Ken Berry (outfielder, not F Troop star) finished his career on the Indians. I didn’t recall that, Googled, and came across the one card of Berry in brilliant mid-‘70’s Cleveland garb. It was from the same postcard set as the Brohamer! It took time, but I finally got the full set last week, shipped in sheets.

I grabbed an album off the shelf that would be appropriate housing for this set. It’s an album of misfit cards – oddball sets, different shapes and sizes, in 2-pocket, 4-pocket and 9-pocket sheets. Besides the 1975 Cleveland Indians set (here’s a photo of one page, not with Brohamer but with Ed Crosby, Frank Duffy, John Ellis and Oscar Gamble, for Dan Epstein), the other sets are:

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1963 Pepsi-Cola Tulsa Oilers

12 panels, 2 cards per panel, 24 cards with a big loop above to hang on bottle tops – what more could you ask! The Pepper Martin card is the coolest, but for my card collecting age group (I’m 54), a minor league set with Jim Beauchamp, Tom Hilgendorf, Chuck Taylor and some batboys, is hard to resist. It’s not a very pricey set, I have no idea when I got it and how much I paid, but it’s way cool.

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1966 East Hills Pirates

There are a few great regional sets featuring the Pirates of the 1960’s – KDKA, Grenier Tires and East Hills. Produced and distributed by a big mall outside Pittsburgh, the East Hills set is very nice and essential for Al McBean completists. Sure, Clemente and Stargell are the highlights, but every Bucco picture is a gem. There’s something about Matty Alou that fascinates me. He seems a bit like an alien, if an alien could hit .342.

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1961 Nu-Card Baseball Scoops

Not odd in size, the Nu-Card cards are odd in content. Contemporary quasi-achievements are sprinkled amongst all-time moments. Was Roy Sievers’ 1957 American League Home Run title equivalent to Lou Gehrig’s streak or Willie Mays’ 1954 World Series catch? If you’ve got an 80 card set to fill, you bet it is!

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1966 St. Petersburg Cardinals

A bit larger than regular postcards (they peek out above a regular 4-pocket sleeve), this 20 card set was put out by Foremost Milk. Of course, nothing screams hot summer in Florida more than a glass of milk. Sparky Anderson’s card is the key, and here he is. You can’t tell me this dude was only 32 at the time.

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There’s something about these sets that resonate with me – there’s a romantic vision I have of suburban Pittsburgh 10-year olds bugging their Mom to take them to East Hills for a Gene Michael card, or some kid deciding to buy a pack of Nu-Cards instead of Topps and insisting that Nu-Cards were better. The very idea of seeing shelves of Pepsi bottles with Tulsa Oiler card hanging from the necks makes me light-headed.