Hero Decks

I have 12 decks of playing cards that I’ll never use.

They’re called Hero Decks, and they first came out around 2005, as far as I can tell.

These are regular 52-card decks of playing cards (plus “jokers”) that feature caricatures of famous people – whether it’s famous figures from history or politicians or musicians or athletes.

I collect the baseball decks, and they’re done by city. They are advertised as such (Boston Baseball Heroes, Philadelphia Baseball Heroes) I’m assuming due to licensing issues. The Milwaukee deck features both Braves & Brewers greats, and the Los Angeles & Brooklyn deck features Dodgers greats across all eras. The San Francisco deck sticks to only San Francisco Giants. There are separate Chicago decks (North Side & South Side) as well as separate decks for New York  (Yankees & Mets).

I bought my first deck (the White Sox deck) at a Borders bookstore probably in the late 2000s (I miss Borders) and shortly after I picked up the Cubs deck and the Milwaukee deck. One of the decks had a mail in offer for a free deck and I added the Yankees. In 2013 I worked a series of Cubs broadcasts in Pittsburgh and while visiting the Pittsburgh Sports Museum I found the Pittsburgh deck. I purchased a few on eBay (Philadelphia, St. Louis & LA/Brooklyn) and one on Amazon (Cleveland), and I also make a habit of buying a deck when I visit our friend the Mayor in Cooperstown (they sell Hero Decks at the Hall of Fame!), as I have picked up Cincinnati, Boston & San Francisco each of the last three trips I have made.

I absolutely love them. Not only do I enjoy the artwork (I dabble in drawing in my free time – I may soon do a post of the baseball cards I draw*), but it’s sort of like one massive baseball card set since they all look similar, except for a slight difference in style in the earlier decks. Those earlier decks (like the Jackie Robinson card shown below from the Los Angeles & Brooklyn deck) feature a larger player image, the name of the player, position and years with the team. The later decks (see Dick Allen card) give you a brief factoid about the players.

Editor’s note: YES PLEASE!! (HIS ARTWORK IS INCREDIBLE!)

Luckily for me, my two favorite players to collect are featured in multiple decks!

Whenever possible, the numbers on the cards correspond to the positions played. And the four suits are divided up among eras, as best as could be done.

The Aces are, well, aces!

The Kings are generally reserved for the hardest hitters. Particularly the Kings of Clubs, or at least it seems that way.

The 10 is used as a spot for the best players who didn’t crack the starting 2-9 slots. The Jacks & Queens are usually reserved for the rest of the outstanding pitchers.

…but other times are simply used like the 10 for other top players.

Since not all teams are the same strength, I think it’s cool to see some players crack the decks who you wouldn’t expect.

One thing I am excited to see with each deck I open are who the “jokers” are. It’s a wild card spot for…

Managers…

Owners…

And even Broadcasters! I love that; otherwise there would be no cards of Harry Kalas, Marty Brennaman, Jack Brickhouse & Jon Miller in my collection!

There have been updates to at least a few of the decks, which is exciting. There’s an updated Cubs deck for after they won the World Series; I haven’t tracked that one down yet. It may look strange in my binder. I don’t really want to put in duplicates, so I think I’ll just add the new cards to the Cubs section.

But yes, I know, these are card collector problems. I’ll gladly figure out a solution when the time comes.

Collect-A-Books

As Mark noted in his post about Jim Bouton, his cards are collectable because of his position in the history of the game. For me and my generation of card collectors,* this influence extends beyond just Ball Four as Bouton is a big part of a few other products we remember fondly.

*Junk wax aficionados who came of age in the late 80s and early 90s.

Big League Chew of course is the big name here but I also grew up with Collect-A-Books and owned them before I’d even had a chance to read Ball Four. It was cool to read the book, learn about his life as an inventor in Ball Six, and realize that all those Collect-A-Books I owned were in fact a product that Bouton actually invented and owns the patent for.*

*Bouton has one other patent for something which he calls “Collect-A-Bats” in his book but which were actually produced by Good Humor under a different name and which you can come across on occasion on Ebay if you feel like buying something that a random seller may have sucked on thirty years ago.

While I liked them as a kid for being different, I found myself really appreciating them as objects once I revisited my collection as an adult. As a print and design geek these are super nifty.

Bouton’s patent is for a method of creating booklets through just folding and gluing. No staples or traditional binding, instead the sheets are printed, folded, glued and then you have a strip of booklets that just needs to be trimmed on the tops and bottoms. The covers are double-thick compared to the inside pages and the end result is just about perfect.

It feels like a baseball-card sized book without any of the worry about staples keeping the pages together. Nor do they feel any worse for wear after three decades in storage. Slides out of the pocket easily and even the glue is still holding.

Many of my magazines have rusty staples and pages that are pulling out even though I haven’t abused them. No such worries here. It handles like a card and flips through like a book and I don’t have to treat it with kid gloves.

Flipping through the booklets is a lot of fun. Not the best design but an interesting thought experiment about what you could include on a baseball card if you had seven times as much back space. So we’ve got a page of stats, a page of biography, a page of career highlights, an inspiration quote and facsimile signature, a cartoon caricature, a page of vital information, and four additional photos.

In some ways this is almost too much space and after putting literally everything that’s usually on the backs of cards things still feel nowhere nearly as information dense as they should be.

I had three sets of twelve booklets from 1990* and very much enjoyed them. Looking at the checklist now is a wonderful who’s who of the big names of the day—both stars and hot rookies—as well as a nice sample of nine all-time greats. The most-interesting thing about these 36 cards though is how few of the players were notable for multiple teams since this suggests something that would’ve been very fun for the insides.

*I never saw the 1991 ones.

All that space and all those photos offer a great way to show guys playing for different teams and at various stages in their careers. Unfortunately there’s precious little of this. There’s one photo of Nolan Ryan as a Met and Warren Spahn’s card depicts him in a Boston uniform as well as a Mets uniform. No Rickey Henderson as a Yankee. No Hank Aaron with Milwaukee. Bob Feller and Ted Williams are old in all their photos.

But that’s all minor stuff. The real issue for me is that I want to display these better moving forward. 9-pocket pages are obviously insufficient. Instead I’m going to switch to 4-pockets and pick which inside spread I want to show on the other side. These deserve better than to be encased all closed up with only 25% of their content visible.

Worst Baseball Card Set Ever

Main Street Toy Company was a 10-person outfit that was formed in the wake of Coleco’s demise. Main Street’s founder, Gene Murtha, was a former vice president of marketing for Coleco.  He assembled a small team of executives to run a new toy company poised to “learn[] lessons from Coleco’s mistakes.”

Main Street found quick success with Slap Wraps, a plastic-coated steel strip that would automatically curl around the wrist when slapped on one’s arm. The company sold upwards of $4 million worth of Slap Wraps in 1990. Unfortunately, this was the only successful product in its lineup and by 1991, Main Street had been gobbled up by a competitor and dissolved.

But, what does all of this have to do with baseball cards you ask?

Well, Main Street Toy Company marketed the worst baseball card set ever in 1989. Patented by video game stalwart Eric Bromley and assigned to the fledgling company, Main Street Baseball was an electronic game that used statistics for individual MLB players to help determine game play outcomes. According to the box, you could “Steal a base like Vince Coleman” or “Pinch hit like Kirk Gibson.” Wow!

Player information was embedded in bar codes that were printed onto small stickers designed to be affixed to the back of that player’s baseball card. In theory, this was not a bad idea at all. In practice, however, the kids who wanted to play Main Street Baseball were encouraged to deface baseball cards of their favorite players and then slide them through a slot to scan the bar code. Oh, the humanity!

Main street bar codes

The game included bar codes that contained the 1988 statistics for over 100 players, along with an offer to purchase bar code stickers for each of the 26 teams in MLB at the time. And have I mentioned that the Main Street Baseball game was packaged with the worst baseball card set ever?

Officially licensed by the MLBPA, Main Street was authorized to use the names and statistics for the superstars of the day and produced a 24-card set that featured standard-sized cards. The complete set includes:

NL players: Bobby Bonilla, Will Clark, Andre Dawson, Kirk Gibson, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser, Tim Raines, Nolan Ryan, Ryne Sandberg, Benny Santiago, Ozzie Smith and Darryl Strawberry.

AL players: Wade Boggs, George Brett, Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Dennis Eckersley, Carlton Fisk, Don Mattingly, Paul Molitor, Kirby Puckett, Alan Trammell, Frank Viola and Dave Winfield.

The backs of the cards are unnumbered and list only biographical information and rudimentary statistics from each player’s 1988 campaign— batting average, home runs and stolen bases for position player and won-loss record, ERA and strikeouts for pitchers. And, of course, a spot was designated for the bar code sticker.

Main street back

Although the production run is unknown, these cards can be difficult to find. So why would a difficult-to-find set comprised of half Hall of Famers be so brutal, you may be asking?

Well, the cards do not include photos or illustrations of the players.

Main street al front

What? Wait a second. A set of cards that was licensed by the MLBPA does not include any player photos? Not even pictures with the team logos airbrushed out?

Nope.

Main street nl card fronts

Strictly for completionists, the Main Street Baseball cards are the worst ever—unless you have a thing for wholly generic baseball art and a dearth of statistical information. As for the game—who knows. I was never willing to destroy my cards to play it.

Sources:

Anthony Ramirez, “Turning Profits Hand Over Wrist,” New York Times, October 27, 1990.

Pamela Klein, “Fad Wanes, But Marketers, Creators Still Feud,” Hartford Courant, September 2, 1991.

“Canadian Firm Gets Main Street Toy Lines,” Hartford Courant, November 27, 1991.

United States Patent Number 5,026,058, issued June 25, 1991.

http://electronicbaseball.blogspot.com/2014/06/main-street-toy-company-main-street.html (Note: Author’s blog with further information and photos)

The Oddest of the Oddball: 1988 Starting Lineup Talking Baseball

The best baseball cards are evocative—tangible reminders of a particular period of life, memories of rooting for a favorite player, or the circumstances in which one came to acquire a prized possession. In 1988, I was 16 years old and deep in the throes of collecting every single baseball card I could get my hands on, especially oddball releases of my favorite players. At that time, nearly every store, food manufacturer, restaurant, and dozens of other companies were anxious to cash in on the baseball card craze and contributed myriad releases to the Golden Age of Oddball.

IMG_1897
1988 Starting Lineup figures, Tony Gwynn and Don Mattingly

Kenner debuted its Starting Lineup figures and cards in 1988 with a set of 124 baseball players. Sister company, Parker Brothers, released Starting Lineup Talking Baseball, an electronic baseball game that was packaged with a set of 40 baseball cards featuring the biggest stars of the day. With an initial retail price between $89.99 and $99.99 (approximately $200 today) this set of cards was essentially the Holy Grail of oddball sets.

The game was amazingly sophisticated and unlike the ubiquitous Mattel, Coleco and Entex baseball games of the 1980s, the Parker Brothers version featured programmable lineups, real players, and an announcer who would offer play-by-play accounts of the action on the field. Unfortunately, it was often difficult to find willing opponents due to the complicated nature of game play.

EB.slu all star card 1
Sample of All-Star cards included with game

Each of the players on the American and National League All-Star teams packaged with the game contained a photo on the front and statistics on the back. The cards are an odd size (2 5/8″x 3″), however, and are almost too wide to fit in a standard baseball card album page. Licensed only by the MLBPA, none of the cards included team logos. The cards are not numbered in the traditional sense and only have a “Player Number” that corresponds to programming the lineup to include that particular player.

SLU Gooden
Odd sized cards – with 1988 Fleer Dwight Gooden behind for scale

This alphabetical listing of the set includes the Player Number in parentheses and the * indicates that player is in the starting lineup:

  1. Bell, Buddy (15)                              21. Puckett, Kirby (21)
  2. Bell, George (22)*                           22. Quisenberry, Dan (30)
  3. Boggs, Wade (18)*                          23. Raines, Tim (23)*
  4. Brett, George (19)                           24. Randolph, Willie (15)*
  5. Carter, Gary (11)*                           25. Righetti, Dave (29)
  6. Clark, Jack (13)*                              26. Ripken, Cal (16)*
  7. Clemens, Roger (27)*                     27. Ryan, Nolan (30)
  8. Davis, Eric (20)*                              28. Saberhagen, Bret (28)
  9. Davis, Jody (26)                               29. Sandberg, Ryne (16)*
  10. Dawson, Andre (24)                       30. Sax, Steve (12)
  11. Fisk, Carlton (12)                            31. Schmidt, Mike (19)*
  12. Gooden, Dwight (29)                      32. Scott, Mike (25)*
  13. Gwynn, Tony (21)                           33. Smith, Ozzie (17)*
  14. Henderson, Rickey (23)*               34. Strawberry, Darryl (22)*
  15. Hernandez, Keith (14)                   35. Trammell, Alan (20)*
  16. Kennedy, Terry (11)*                     36. Valenzuela, Fernando (28)
  17. Mattingly, Don (14)*                      37. Whitaker, Lou (17)
  18. Morris, Jack (25)                             38. Winfield, Dave (24)*
  19. Murphy, Dale (18)*                        39. Worrell, Todd (27)
  20. Murray, Eddie (13)                        40. Yount, Robin (26)

These All-Star players were pre-programmed into the game. A cartridge was also included that featured legendary Hall of Famers, so right out of the box a game could be played pitting Don Mattingly, Wade Boggs, Kirby Puckett and the American League All-Stars against Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson and the Hall of Fame team.

SLU Henderson front
Note the copyright (L) is KPT (Kenner Parker Toys) and (R) Parker Bros.

SLU Henderson backs
Rickey Henderson cards for comparison

Starting Lineup Talking Baseball was customizable with the rosters of each of the 26 Major League Baseball teams at the time, available on eight cartridges that initially retailed for about $19.99 each:

  • No. 4001 – Tigers/Blue Jays/Indians/Brewers
  • No. 4002 – Yankees/Red Sox/Orioles
  • No. 4003 – Royals/White Sox/Rangers/Twins
  • No. 4004 – Angels/A’s/Mariners
  • No. 4005 – Cubs/Expos/Cardinals
  • No. 4006 – Pirates/Phillies/Mets
  • No. 4007 – Giants/Padres/Dodgers
  • No. 4008 – Reds/Astros/Braves

SLU Cart boxes
Game cartridges included team sets of cards

Each of these packages included a separate set of cards for the teams on each cartridge.  In total, there were 546 of these cards issued – 20 players and a checklist card for each team. These cards are the same odd size as those included with the game; however, the team set cards feature illustrations of the players on the front, not photographs. Here is a link to the complete checklist:

Starting Lineup Talking Baseball Teams Checklist

The cards included with the game cartridges are somewhat representative of each of the teams but the fact checkers for this game made some glaring mistakes! The first sign that the product might be prone to errors was evident on the game’s playing surface. The designer was apparently unfamiliar with the layout of the bases and (maddeningly) positioned second base parallel with the front edge of home plate.

BH.SLU field closeup 2
Playing surface of game

This massive oddball set features several players who appear on cards for two different teams. One of those players, Lee Smith, is actually included in the Cubs team set with Calvin Schiraldi – one of the players he was traded for! Elsewhere, Billy Ripken’s last name is spelled wrong, even though he was listed alphabetically right next to brother, Cal, whose name was spelled correctly.

EB.SLU dual card appearance ex
Some of the players who appear twice in the set

Here are players who appear on cards for two different teams:

  1. Bradley, Phil (Mariners/Phillies)
  2. Butler, Brett (Giants/Indians)
  3. Clark, Jack (Cardinals/Yankees)
  4. Davis, Chili (Giants/Angels)
  5. Davis, Mike (Dodgers/A’s)
  6. Dernier, Bob (Cubs/Phillies)
  7. Gibson, Kirk (Dodgers/Tigers)
  8. Knight, Ray (Tigers/Orioles)
  9. Moreland, Keith (Cubs/Padres)
  10. Parker, Dave (Reds/A’s)
  11. Slaught, Don (Yankees/Rangers)
  12. Smith, Lee (Cubs/Red Sox)
  13. Wilson, Glenn (Mariners/Phillies)

Taken as a whole, this is one unusual set – numbering nearly 600 – replete with oddly-sized cards, curious player selection, and a strange distribution method. Regardless, the Starting Lineup Talking Baseball cards evoke pleasant memories of playing the game with the precious few who were patient enough to play, driving all over the Chicagoland area with my card collecting buddies trying to track down missing cartridges/cards, and generally, that halcyon time of my life when I was less burdened with adult responsibilities. I still like to flip through these cards and reminisce. But if only I could find someone to play to play the game with…

Sources:

Of Myths and Men (pt 1)

I have really enjoyed perusing SABR’s Eight Myths Out Series. Jacob Pomrenke and the rest of the many historians involved have done terrific work and it is a tribute to what a bright and meticulous team can accomplish.

The title of the project is a nod to the book and subsequent film “Eight Men Out”. As a promotion for the movie a trading card set was produced. It is a fun 110 card set that I enjoy because it falls at the intersection of two of my hobbies, baseball and film.

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #5 The Black Sox Scandal

Since the eight myths are responses to ideas introduced in “Eight Men Out” the book and further propagated by the film several of the cards are also connected to these myths.

Today we will look at some of the myth cards. I envision this as a three column series covering four myths in each of the first two postings followed by a  non-myth set summary/highlights closer.

Myth #1 Comiskey as Scrooge

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #80 Charles A Comiskey

Myth #1 is covered on card #80 – if this was a Topps set it would be a Hero Number! OK, maybe a low-level star number. While this is a nice era appropriate profile picture of Comiskey when we flip the card over we start talking Scrooge…

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #80 Charles A Comiskey (back)

The text opens discussing Comiskey’s Hall of Fame credentials but things turn in paragraph 3. “Tightfisted” and “Dollar-Pinching” are the two adjectives used to describer Comiskey. The card also mentions Dickey Kerr who is discussed in one of the further reading bullets for Myth 8.

Myth #2 The Cicotte “Bonus”

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #6 Eddie Cicotte 29-7 in 1919

I love the statistical reference which is given as the sub-line on this card. The 29-7 record of Cicotte is a subtle / not-so-subtle nod to the 30 wins that the pitcher did not achieve in 1919.  There are 110 cards in this set and this is the ONLY one that has stats on the front.

Interestingly…

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #6 Eddie Cicotte 29-7 in 1919 (b-side)

The back of the card does not mention the benching of Cicotte at all.

Myth #3 Gamblers Initiated the Fix

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #19 The Key is Cicotte

Cicotte is mentioned by name on our myth #3 card as well, but it features gamblers “Sleepy” Bill Burns and Billy Maharg. Turns out the card (book and film) has the facts reversed. It was Eddie Cicotte along with Chick Gandil that approached the gamblers.

Myth #4 The Hitman: “Harry F.”

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #60 Lefty is Threatened

For legal reasons Eliot Asinof created a fictional character, Hitman “Harry F.”. According to “Eight Men Out” the hitman threatened Lefty Williams. The mythical threat is mentioned on card #60 above.

Once again I urge you to check out “Eight Myths Out” to further understand the facts/myths involved, I have only touched upon each bullet here as a connection with the related card.

This concludes part one of our series dedicated to Eight Men/Myths Out. Hopefully in the next week or so we will cover the bottom half of the myths.

Sources and Links

SABR: Eight Myths Out

Baseball-Ref

Imdb

Eight Men Out set index (Phungo)

Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Oddballs

Mincher GI

The very first post I submitted focused on the variety of cards and related memorabilia featuring Don Mincher on the Seattle Pilots. One of the Mincher “cards” was from, arguably, the worst baseball card set ever issued: 1969 Globe Imports mini-playing cards.

My history with the cards dates to the early 1970s, when I bought a set from a liquidation store in Yakima, WA for 25 cents. I can’t remember if the deck was sealed or held together with a rubber band. Over the ensuing 40 years, I lost several, making me nine cards shy of a complete set.

Mcovey

These little “gems” measure 1-5/8” x 2-1/4” and are printed on thin white cardboard. The photos are more akin to photocopies than actual prints. The 52 murky, black and white images have the player’s name at the bottom, but team names are absent. Some players appear on two different suits. The backs are blank, except for a red checked variation.

The two or three of you who have read my past posts know that vintage oddball sets often have mysterious origins: Globe Imports is no exception. I could find no evidence of a location for the company. (Currently, there is a Brooklyn based battery seller with this name that has been in business since 1958. Did they once distribute playing cards?)* The cards lack copywrite information and the name Globe Imports does not appear.

 

 

Many of the photos are identical to the ones used on Sports Illustrated Posters, while some are Topps photo copies. The 2’ x 3’ Sports Illustrated posters — which first appeared in ’68 — had a promotional card corollary that were given away at stores that sold the magazine.  Additionally, a promotional poster — placed in stores –features many of the photos. Did Globe Imports simply pirate the images? Did the producer of the photos sell them to both SI and Globe Imports?

There is some credence to idea that an independent producer sold the photos. Many of the photos — along with Topps copies — are used in a cereal box set issued by Nabisco in ’69. This set has the logos airbrushed but is sanctioned by the MLBPA. The cards came on the back of “Team Flakes” and were distributed in three, eight card panels called mini-posters. The cards are less than two inches tall-suspiciously close Globe Imports size — making them a prime suspect as a copy source.

It wouldn’t be a vintage oddball set without divergent ideas on the year of distribution. The Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards uses the commonly accepted 1969 issue year. However, some collectors believe that a set with MLB logos appeared first in ’68 and the airbrushed version in ’69, while others think ’69 and ’70 are more likely.

Distribution and sales information are other aspects of oddballs that tend to be missing, convoluted or contradictory. One source maintains that the cards were sold at gas stations in the south, while another has vending machines as the source. Of course, the vending machines could have been located at gas stations. Adding to the confusion, a current eBay seller’s description states that the cards are from K-Mart. Retail price and whether the cards were sold as decks-which seems logical-is uncertain.

Honestly, the Globe Imports are so lame that only a true oddball collector of oddballs would even care about the history of this set, let alone collect them. That being said, I’m off to Mayberry, NC to see if Gomer or Goober at Wally’s “fillin’” station still have a few Globe Imports lying around.

 

*My email to the current Globe Imports, inquiring about company history, was not returned.

Sources:

1969 Globe Imports Playing Cards, keymancollectibles.com/baseballcards/miscellaneoussets/1969globeplayingcards.htm.

“1969 Globe Imports Playing Cards.” Zistle, www.zistle.com/library/sets/14520-1969-globe-imports-playing-cards#_overview.

Glidden, Matthew. “Number 5 Type Collection.” 1969 Globe Imports Playing Cards Baseball #5, Willie McCovey, Earl Wilson, Bud Harrelson, Met Stottlemyre, www.number5typecollection.com/2012/06/1969-globe-imports-playing-cards.html.

“Oddball 1960s/70s Pete Rose Cards–Any Info?” Collectors Universe, forums.collectors.com/discussion/956534/oddball-1960s-70s-pete-rose-cards-any-info.

Mueller, Rich. “1969 Nabisco Team Flakes Baseball Cards Kept Kids Crunching.” Sports Collectors Daily, Sports Collectors Daily, 13 Jan. 2018, www.sportscollectorsdaily.com/1969-nabisco-team-flakes-kept-kids-crunching/.

It Curves, Part 2

In ’78 and ’79, Wiffle issued disc shaped cards in or on their ball boxes.   Since we are discussing Wiffle balls, it’s only appropriate that the actual years of distribution are as “baffling” as a perfectly executed Wiffle curve.  The Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards dates the two sets from ’77 and ’78; however, the Wiffle Corporation states that ’78 and ’79 are the correct years. This is confirmed by promotional documents.  Some dealers have changed the year designations, while other still go with the original years. I will defer to the Wiffle Corporation.

The ’78 disc cards are the standard design issued by MSA (Michael Schechter Associates) except for being smaller in diameter. Most of you are familiar with the black and white, headshots with airbrushed cap emblems, since the photos were only licensed by the Major League Baseball Players Association, and not MLB. The right and left front has color panels with biographical information. The discs were produced as promotions and were customized with advertisements on the back.

The 80-card set was issued as single cards inserted inside the Wiffle ball box. There are six different color panels and each player only comes in one color. 21 future Hall-of-Fame inductees grace the set along with other stars of the era. Mark Fidrych may be the most unique player depicted and Ray Burris the most obscure. For some reason, Ed Kranepool shows up even though he is winding down his career in ’78.

 

Various Players

In ’79, Wiffle includes five cards printed on the box; two cards facing in and three facing out. Collectors have only identified 12 different boxes, which adds up to 60 cards. However, the display box in stores implored kids to collect all 88 cards. It is generally believed that only 60 were produced.

Munson cut

Each card has a thick, black dotted line around the circumference designed as guide for cutting out the cards. 52 of the players in the ’79 set are repeated from the previous year, all with the same pictures. Eight new players are introduced as well. Once again, each player’s panels are the same color, but the colors differ from ’78. As with most cards designed to be cut, uncut boxes are more valuable. This Thurman Munson is indicative of what can happen when kids use scissors.

Cey-Ryan Header

Finally, Wiffle “floated” a “knuckle curve” by issuing cards on “headers.” These are cardboard sleeves used to hold a bat and ball together for display. 28 different cards with blank backs appear on the sleeves. All cards are folded, due to the packaging technique. 14 were printed in one color panels and 14 with two colors.

 

60s Header

I neglected to include in part one a similar sleeve in the ‘60s featuring multiple player photos in a star format. Not sure if there are versions with different players.

Garland

I hope you are inspired to round up some neighborhood kids for a spirited Wiffle ball game in the backyard. If not, at least head over to eBay and pick up this awesome Wayne Garland with signature “porn stash.”

 

Sources:

“Wiffle Ball discs.” Collectors Universe, forums.collectors.com/discussion/954495/wiffle-ball-discs.

“Sales material helps to properly date when Wiffle Ball Discs were released.” Sports Collectors Digest, 13 Dec. 2016, http://www.sportscollectorsdigest.com/wiffle-ball-discs/.

The Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards

 

 

 

 

 

It Curves

It is a safe bet that a majority of this blog’s readers and contributors have spent many hours playing Wiffle ball. Whether you preferred playing with a “naked” ball to get the curving effect or layering on the electrical tape to launch “tape measure” shots, for many of us Wiffle ball was a big part of summer fun.

In part one of a two-part post, I will once again desecrate the definition of baseball cards by examining Wiffle ball boxes with player photos. (In my defense, the boxes are made of card stock and removal of the top flap with the photos would approximate a card.) Part two will look at the Wiffle ball disc cards distributed in the late ‘70s.

Original Box

David Mullany invented the Wiffle ball in 1953 with the intent of preventing broken windows when his son played ball in the back yard with his friends. The final version of the ball curved dramatically, resulting in many “swings and misses” or “whiffs”–hence the name. By the late ‘50s, Mr. Mullany’s ball was sold all over the country. Around this time, many of the boxes containing the balls began to feature photos of Major League players.

 

I was unable to pin down the exact year that the player endorsements began, but Whitey Ford appears to be the first player. His initial box has a different photo from the one distributed in the ‘60s. This is the only instance of a player who has two different images. By the way, Whitey did a TV commercial for Wiffle Ball in the ‘60s.

                        Junior Rose   Rose Regulation

Rose King

Wiffle balls came in three sizes: Regulation, King (softball) and Junior. The Regulation box had one or two players on an orange background with a large white circle in the middle. King Wiffle balls have one, two or three different players with a white background and an orange circle. The Junior boxes only have one player’s photo inside a white circle surrounded by black. Several of the players appear on all versions as depicted by Pete Rose boxes.

Ford, Matthews, Williams.jpeg    Law and Maris   Whitey Tresh

Some examples of multi-player boxes include Ted Williams, Whitey Ford and Eddie Matthews gracing the top flap of this King box, while Jackie Jensen replaces Ted on another. ‘61 had boxes featuring World Series champion, Vern Law, coupled with AL MVP Roger Maris. In 63, Whitey is teamed with ’62 AL Rookie-of-the-Year, Tom Tresh.

Piniella-Munson

I still have a Munson Junior box and a Piniella King I bought in the ‘70s.   I have five total in my collection, having lost several Pete Rose boxes from childhood.

As far as I can determine, the following is a chronological list of players who appear on the boxes: Whitey Ford; Ted Williams; Jackie Jensen, Eddie Mathews, Roger Maris, Vern Law, Tom Tresh, Pete Rose, Ron Swoboda, Tim McCarver, Jerry Koosman, Thurman Munson, Lou Piniella, Mike Scott and Scott McGregor.

After I “snap off” a few “Uncle Charlies” in the backyard, I will present some actual cards in part-two.

 

Card Play

Although this may elicit a groan or a “here he goes again,” I offer another profile of an obscure collectible whose inclusion in the baseball card category is dubious.  This time, I’m “shuffling the deck” and “dealing” the details on the 1953 Brown and Bigelow Baseball Playing Cards.

Cobb 2

Several years ago, I bought a single playing card with Ty Cobb on the back at an antique shop for a few dollars. The illustration features Cobb apparently dispensing base running advice to a stereotypical ‘50s boy, who is sliding into a base. The background has a “ghostly” newspaper with a headline about Cobb. At the bottom is a printed advertisement for a casement company in San Francisco.

The Brown and Bigelow printing company — which still exists — specialized in the production of promotional items. In the ‘50s, they employed many prominent illustrators such as Norman Rockwell and William Medcalf, who created the baseball illustrations. At the time, their main business was producing calendars but they also turned out other promotions such as playing cards.

In addition to Cobb, Medcalf produced images for Wagner and Mack which depicts them as they appeared in ’53, since all three were still living. Conversely, the deceased Ruth, Gehrig and McGraw have “ethereal” images. The illustrations are well done, but-in my humble opinion- they are “cheesy” or to be more charitable, “saccharine.”

Diamond Kings

Below the art work on the standard Bridge sized (2-1/4 X 3-1/2) card is where the advertisement is found. Since the cards were purchased by businesses across the US and Canada, the number of variations is unknown. Of course, since these are playing cards, each player technically has 52 different cards plus two jokers. Some merchants gave away a box set of two different decks labeled “The Kings of the Diamond.”

The Metcalf artwork was used on calendars as well. In fact, Brown and Bigelow produced baseball player calendars for years, featuring such players as Foxx, Hornsby, DiMaggio and many more. Since calendars were tossed out at the end of the year, they are much rarer than the playing cards.

Poker Dogs

In closing, I must mention that the Brown and Bigelow printed promotional materials featuring Cassius Coolidge’s 16 different “Dogs Playing Poker” paintings. Since they were widely distributed, the “gambling canines” became a familiar piece of Americana for people of a certain age. Of course, I have a large print over my living room couch.

 

 

 

Sources:

REA’s Blockbuster Spring Auction – Robert Edward Auctions. http://www.bing.com/cr?IG=8B83822FB5DA4E1A828C43F37DE60BAB&CID=2E265CD3CC77622D04005751CDD863CE&rd=1&h=HfZaxSi414hWEx08fNrlefy2ItpKLoQPO-iPrAEoZvI&v=1&r=http%3a%2f%2fbid.robertedwardauctions.com%2fLots%2fGallery&p=DevEx,5069.1.

1953 Brown and Bigelow, keymancollectibles.com/cards/1953brownbigelowbaseballcards.htm.

“New Mexico: “Ban the Box”.” New Mexico: “Ban the Box”Pardon Power, http://www.pardonpower.com/2009/03/new-mexico-ban-box.html.

 

 

 

Christmas Cards

The week before Christmas has been a good one for cards. That’s too bold; the week before Christmas has been a good one for me getting cards. I have no idea how cards in general are doing. A few random stories:

Though a long time collector, my re-immersion into the hobby the past year and a half has come with some re-education. I am consistently surprised by the variations in pricing and how, with patience, there’s always an opportunity to get what I need at a price I can bear.

My pursuit of a 1956 Topps set has been slow in comparison to the pedal to the metal pace of my 1960, 1968 and 1969 set building. I’ve gotten lots on eBay of cards in EX or better for less than $3 a card, low numbers and high, but there are usually too many cards in those lots that I already have. I never end up selling my doubles for more than $2 per card.

On Monday an eBay seller, justcollectcards, had a big 40% off sale. I was almost late for a lunch appointment because I went through all their EX listings. It was worth it though. I got 60 cards, including Minnie Minoso and a couple of teams, for $2.75 each. That put a huge dent in my checklist. Now I know I’m not going to get the big dollar cards for any discount from book, but if I keep getting the rest of the set for about 1/3 of stated value, I should have enough savings to make the Mantle and Ted Williams somewhat easier to swallow.

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Cooperstown definitely needs more general interest stores, but that’s a difficult hurdle to jump with a year round population of around 1,800, slightly more if you add the surrounding area. Are there too many baseball stores? Sure. Do I want there to be no baseball stores? Absolutely not.

I’m not a binder and sheets person by nature but it has definitely been easier to put sets together when I can add a few cards into pages, rather than pull out boxes and sort through all the cards to put the new ones in their proper numerical place every time I get two new cards.

Yesterday Joey met me at Yastrzemski Sports on Main St., where I usually buy my supplies. I decided I’d put my 1967 set in sheets, since all my pre-1970 sets seem to have ended up stored that way. Joey needed sheets for his hoped for misprinted, psychedelic card collection.  

We got what we needed plus I found a 1988 Pacific Eight Men Out set for $5! Any set with four Studs Terkel cards is worth having.

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From there we headed to Baseball Nostalgia by Doubleday Field. I’m sure I’ve written how BN is my favorite store, filled with cards, cheap autographs, yearbooks and more. It’s been in Cooperstown, in a few different forms, since the mid-1970’s. Pete at the store had read the post I wrote about Joey’s quest for cards with messed up printing and he emailed me to say that he had a bunch of 1976 SSPC misprints. (Baseball Nostalgia began as a TCMA flagship.)

Boy, did he have misprints! Joey bit the bullet and bought all 140 of them, each a trippy nightmare of color mistakes. The Bruce Bochte card (left) looks like a still from a Peter Fonda movie and our buddy John D’Acquisto (right) seems to have two sets of eyes. Freaky stuff.

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A signed Jose Cardenal baseball Legends card caught my eye. You can’t beat the price!

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And so, that’s how my card year is ending. The 1956s are on their way, as are 4 more 1936 Goudey Wide Pens.

I’ll wrap things up as I did last year, with great thanks to Mark Armour and Chris Dial for not only restarting the SABR Baseball Cards Committee, but dragging me, quite willingly, into participating in a big way. That’s been the best gift of all.