Popcorn, cookies, hot dogs, ice cream, newspapers, potato chips, dog food (DOG FOOD!), chewing tobacco, chewing gum…you name it! Wait, did I forget the syrup?
Of course, it’s not just about quantity, else just about any year from the Junk Wax era would beat 1954 hands down. But unlike the macaroni, hardware, and toilet paper cards of the late eighties, these 1954 releases also happen to be fantastic sets! They also marked a turning point.
In that sense, 1954 was not only the greatest year to be a collector but also the end of a certain Golden Age of cards. For collectors interested in taking a closer look at this magical year, I’ve compiled a checklist of the Hall of Famers (and Minnie, who belongs!) featured in each of the multi-team sets, with a notes column capturing all single-team releases. (A more readable version is here, which you can also sort in ways other than most cards to least.)
As a window shopper who loves flipping through sets in Trading Card Database or just admiring the collections of others, there is no better year for me than 1954. On the other hand, as a player collectors whose focus includes Hank Aaron, Roy Campanella, and Jackie Robinson, I will confess to often cursing the fact that certain sets exist. Then again, I suppose I’m still more likely to get the two 1954 Campy cards on my want list before the Shohei Ohtani completists get anywhere near the 2722 cards Trading Card Database lists for him in 2018 alone!
How about you? What’s your pick for greatest year in baseball card history? And if you’re a player collector, is it a good thing or a bad thing when the want list is a mile long?
With SABR 49 about to unfold in beautiful San Diego, I offer
a look at Padres’ cards from the Pacific Coast League era, which ends with the formation
of the Major League Padres in 1969.
The original Hollywood Stars moved to San Diego in 1936. The
city fathers constructed a wooden ballpark, Lane Field, near the train station
on the water front. From there, the team
would move into the Mission Valley in 1958 to play at Westgate Park and,
finally, San Diego Stadium in 1968.
According to PCL historian, collector and dealer Mark MacRae,
the first set of Padres collectibles were team issued photos in 1947. However, this set does not show up in the Standard
Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards. This
publicity photo of manager “Ripper” Collins from 1947 may be an example, but
I’m by no means certain.
Two years later, Bowman issues a PCL set in the same format
as their MLB cards. The small, square
cards were issued in packs with a total of 32 in the set. The five Padres players are Xavier Rescigno
(pictured), John Jensen, Pete Coscavart, Lee Handley and Tom Seats. The cards were issued as reprint set in 1987
by the Card Collectors Company. The
reprints are distinguished by wider, white borders.
Bowman wasn’t the only company to issue PCL cards in 1949. The Hage’s Dairy company begins a three- year run with a 107-card set-with at least 26 different Padres. This initial set and the subsequent issues are filled with variation cards. Some players have up to four different poses. They were distributed in boxes of popcorn at Lane Field. Cards were added or removed when the rosters changed. The 1951 cards come in four different tones: sepia, blue, green and black-and-white. This set includes Luke Easter, manager Bucky Harris and John Ritchey, who broke the PCL color barrier in 1948.
Incidentally, the Bowman cards used many of the same photographs as Hage’s. For example, Bowman simply cropped this photo of John Jensen.
Hage’s comes back in 1950 with a 122-card set that has at
least 28 Padres. This time, all the cards are black-and-white. Also, Hage’s ice
cream is advertised on the back. This
set has manager Jimmy Reese as well as two variations of Orestes “Minnie”
Minoso. Among other recognizable names
are: Al Smith (famous for having beer poured on his head by fan in ’59 World
Series), Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, and Tom Tresh’s dad, Mike.
In 1951, Hage’s produces a much reduced 54-card set, with
all but 12 of them being Padres. The other cards are comprised of seven
Cleveland Indians and five Hollywood Stars. They were printed in the following
tints: blue, green, burgundy, gold, gray and sepia. Harry Malmberg is an example of the many photo
variations. The two cards above are both
from 1951. Some familiar names in this
set are Ray Boone, Luke Easter and “Sad” Sam Jones.
Like an ice cream bar left in the warm California sun,
Hage’s Dairy cards melted away in 1952, leaving Globe Printing as the card
producer for the Padres. This 18-card,
black-and-white set features manager Lefty O’Doul, coach Jimmy Reese, Memo Luna
and Herb Gorman. I’m not sure how the
cards were distributed.
1952 is a big PCL card year-due to the introduction of the fabulous Mother’s Cookies set. The 64-card set was distributed in packages of cookies on the West Coast. Padres’ manager, Lefty O’Doul, has on a beautiful satin jacket in his photo. Some of the recognizable players include Memo Luna, “Whitey” Wietlemann and “Red” Embree.
Mother’s Cookies returns with a 63-card set in 1954. Of the seven Padres in the set, the most interesting is Tom Alston. He would integrate the St. Louis Cardinals in 1954 after being purchased for $100,000. Unfortunately, mental illness ended his promising career in 1957. Also, Lefty O’Doul is back, and former MLB player Earl Rapp has a card.
I was unable to locate any evidence of Padres cards from 1953-60, but in 1961 the fantastic Union Oil set showed up at West Coast 76 stations. The sepia tone cards measure 3”X 4” and featured 12 Padres. Among the players available are: Herb Score, Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, Mike Hershberger and Dick Lines.
The Major League Padres arrive in 1969, but cards from the PCL era would emerge in retrospective sets. In 1974, PCL historian and fan, Ed Broder, self-produced a 253-card set, modeled after the Seattle Rainiers popcorn cards. He used players from 1957-58. There are 31 Padres cards in the set, including future Seattle Pilot, Gary “Ding Dong” Bell, Bob Dipietro, and Jim “Mudcat” Grant.
Another retro set was produced by TCMA in 1975. The 18-card set has PCL players from the mid-1950s,
one of which is Padre Cal McLish. The cards are “tallboy” size-like early 1970s
In recent years, the late Carl Aldana self-produced several
Padres cards in the Mother’s Cookies format.
The players he chose are: Ted Williams, Luke Easter, Max West, Al Smith
and Jack Graham.
Please let me know if there are other years that PCL Padres
cards were produced or if you have a 1947 team issued photo.
SABR convention goers will assemble at glitzy Petco Park for
a Padres game against the Cardinals. Not too far away, a humbler structure once
stood, Lane Field. Though small and
termite infested, it was “big time” to fans in a simpler era with limited entertainment
At the game, I plan to buy a box of popcorn to see if a Hage’s Dairy Memo Luna card was magically inserted amongst the kernels.
For those of us whose minds tend to gravitate toward the obscure and trivial, baseball cards can serve as a stimulate for this brain disorder. For example, the magic mushroom that sent me falling down the rabbit hole recently was a 1961 Seattle Rainiers’ popcorn card of Ted Schreiber.
I’ve had the card for several years, but recently purchased an off grade 8×10 glossy of the same photo as appears on the card. Curious to know more about Mr. Schreiber, I sought out online information on the infielder. Of course, it didn’t take the “men from to chessboard to tell me where to go.”
Since I couldn’t “go ask Alice,” The SABR Bioproject was my destination. Bioproject is an invaluable resource. The forgotten and obscure players are given the same scholarly treatment as the all-time greats. Mr. Rory Costello’s biography of Schreiber is well written and provides some surprising information. After reading it, I felt like I was “given the call” to tell you about Mr. Schreiber, aided by a look at his few, but wonderful, cards. By the way, Topps never issued a card for him.
Though no “Red Queen” ever tried to “off” Schreiber’s head, he did make “off” from his Brooklyn home in the late 1950’s destined for Queens-where he donned the “red” of the St.John’s Redmen. Ted played basketball for legendary coach Joe Lapchick and baseball for long-time coach, Jack Kaiser. Since my son graduated from St. John’s, I’ve developed an interest in the school’s sports history. This connection heightened my interest in Schreiber’s story.
Mr. Costello’s biography provided a great piece of trivia. Ted hit two home runs at Ebbets Field in 1959. Turns out, St. John’s played three home games there against Manhattan College.
Schrieber’s exploits on the diamond for the Redmen drew the attention of scout Frank “Bots” Nakola. If your “mind is moving low” and this name doesn’t ring a bell, he is the Red Sox scout who signed Yaz, Rico Petrocelli and Chuck Schilling out of the New York area. After a workout at Fenway Park, Ted signed with Boston.
In 1961 and 1962, Ted played in Seattle-the Red Sox AAA affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. From 1954 to 1968, the Rainiers/Angels issued smallish, glossy cards in boxes of popcorn. For reasons unknown, there are two variations of Schreiber cards in both 1961 and 1962. The 1961 “action” card misspelled Ted’s name. If you want to know more about popcorn cards, here are links to my previous posts
During the off season, the Mets selected Schreiber in the Rule 5 draft. Since his route to Boston was blocked by second sacker, Chuck Schilling, this was a good break for Ted. However, Ron Hunt won the starting job at second base for the Mets. As a bench player Schreiber appeared in only 39 games, but he did take center stage in a piece of Mets history.
On September 26, 1963, Ted pinch hit for his old St. John’s teammate, Larry Bearnath. He promptly hit into a game ending double play, thus making the last out in the history of the Polo Grounds. Though Topps never produced a card for Schreiber, there is a team issued photo from 1963.
Returning to the minors in 1964, Schreiber would never make back to the “show.” His one year in the “bigs” secured a card in Larry Fritsch’s 1983 “One Year Wonders” set. Also, Ted shows up in the 1966 Elder Postcards, 1976 SSPC set commemorating the ’63 Mets and in the 1971 “Wiz” Mets set.
Since “logic and proportion has fallen sloppy dead,” and you would rather hear “the White Knight talking backwards” than continue with me chasing rabbits, I will stop. But remember what the Bobby “Doerr-mouse” said: “Feed your head” with Bioproject.
My previous post on Seattle Rainiers and Angels popcorn cards from the ‘50s and ‘60s omitted a unique promotion that allowed kids to trade the popcorn cards for photos. Much to the chagrin of modern collectors, this exchange unintentionally created a scarcity of high grade cards from certain years.
From ’56-’58 a local drive-in chain (Gil’s) and grocery store (Ralph’s Thriftway) sponsored the card exchange promotion. The merchants gave away an 8X10 glossy photo–identical to the card or a full version of the cropped card shot–in exchanged for nine popcorn cards. The accompanying ad from a 1956 Rainiers program whetted kids’ appetites for popcorn and the card swap. Former major league star Vern Stephens is featured in the ad.
These Bobby Balcena and Bill Glynn cards and photos are examples of the exchange. By the way, Balcena was the first Filipino-American to play in MLB. He had a “cup of coffee” with the Reds in ’56. Glynn played for the Phillies and Indians in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s.
Employees at Ralph’s and Gil’s would stamp, punch or mark the cards before returning them to the kids in order to prevent them from presenting the same cards to get additional photos. The Vic Lombardi card shows both a stamp and mark. Note the ad promoting the card/photo exchange on the backs. Lombardi was in the starting rotation of Brooklyn Dodgers in the late ‘40s. He started and lost game two of the ’47 World Series. The Milt Smith card shows a hole punched by a “soda jerk” at Gil’s. Milt had a brief stint with the Reds in ’55.
I will conclude this “corny” narrative with a player whose off season job was atypical for a “jock.” Eddie “Fiddler” Basinski was Brooklyn’s starting shortstop during the war year of 1945. With the return of the regulars from the war effort, Eddie took up residence with the Portland Beavers of the PCL for 11 seasons. He played for the Rainiers in ’57 and ’58. After the season, Eddie returned home to Buffalo where he was a violinist in the Buffalo Symphony.
Fans who attended Pacific Coast League games between 1954 and 1968 at Seattle’s Sicks’ Stadium had the opportunity to collect cards featuring Rainiers and Angels players, managers and coaches. These 2”X 3” glossy, black-and-white cards were imbedded in boxes of popcorn, protected by a translucent sleeve of waxed paper.
341 cards were produced over the entire 15 year run. 1959 saw the most cards produced (37), ’63 the least (15) with most years in the high teens or low twenties. Depending on the year, the card backs were either blank or had an advertisement. Almost every set has variations which include: misspelled names, wrong positions, blank backs instead of ads and cards with different pictures of the same player. The most prominent error card is the ’57 Maury Wills, which refers to him as “Morrie.” No collector is known to possess all the cards, although some are close.
Few would argue that Seattle’s most beloved ball player is Fred Hutchinson. He was a schoolboy sensation who moved across the street from Franklin High School to Sicks’ Stadium after graduation. Fred won 25 games for the 1938 Rainiers with victory 19 coming on his 19th birthday. “Hutch” returned to manage the Rainiers in ’55 and ’59 resulting in two cards.
Besides “Hutch” several other former major league players served as manager. Lefty O’Doul ‘57 and Bob Lemon ‘66 are two well know examples. Connie Ryan, Johnny Pesky, Mel Parnell, Chuck Tanner and Joe Adcock all had stints as Seattle’s skipper.
Artie Wilson, who had a brief career with the New York Giants, integrated the Rainiers-along with Bob Boyd-in ’52.
Vada Pinson ‘57, and Rico Petrocelli ‘64 are two of many Rainiers and Angels who went on to have long major league careers. Vern Stephens, Larry Jansen, Claude Osteen, Andy Messersmith and Jay Johnstone are additional examples of players whose likenesses could be found amongst the kernels.
Marty Pattin ‘66 is one of five Angels who became Pilots when Seattle went “big league” in ‘69.
Ray Orteig is representative of the many career minor league players with cards. The stalwart catcher had four cards over the years. He owned a night club and tavern near my home town.
Next time you dig into a box of popcorn at the ballpark, check closely. Guido Grilli may be lurking under the kernels.