A True Value or hardware disorder?

In 1986, one could head to the local True Value hardware store to buy a box of nails or a toilet plunger and emerge with a folded, sealed, four-card panel featuring three players from the “True Value Super Stars Collector Series.”

The oddly packaged set features a fourth card on the panel that serves as a sweepstakes entry form with a picture of a True Value product on the opposite side. This advertisement card forms the back of the pack while one of the player cards comprises the front.

The cards are perforated to allow for each card to be individually detached. Of course, the panel could be kept intact, but one of the cards would be separated by the advertisement.  Furthermore, the panel size is too big for a three-pocket, Hostess style page. An obsessive purist could leave the cards sealed, content in knowing two more cards reside inside, but the most logical thing to do is detach the cards.

This is exactly what I did this summer after purchasing the 10 different card folios at a local card shop.  After 33 years, the adhesive beneath the back flaps was firmly set.  I needed to use a putty knife to detach the flaps.  Once opened, the 2-1/2″ x 3-1/2″ cards had to be carefully separated to prevent tears. The front card must be at least 1/32 of an inch wider than the cards from the inside, since it fits very snugly in a standard 9-pocket page.

It goes without saying that once you have the 30 cards separated you are left with a crappy set.  These cards were produced by Michael Schechter Associates (MSA), who only had a MLBPA licensing agreement.  If MSA sounds familiar to you, you may know the name from these ubiquitous discs of the mid-1970s.

The lack of an MLB license results in mostly “head and shoulder” shots without cap logos. (Andre Dawson is shown from the waist up.)  The same images are used on numerous odd ball sets of the era.  The photos are small and the red, white and blue framing is overwrought.

The set does contain many all-time greats. There are 15 Hall of Famers including Tom Seaver on the White Sox, Reggie Jackson on the Angels, and Gary Carter with the Mets (but wearing an Expos cap). Fans of the Indians, Rangers, and Giants will not find a home team hero in the set. 

My collection of “junk wax” era, odd ball sets continues to grow, which begs the question: Why do I continue to add these unattractive cards with recycled images?  Perhaps I’m genetically predisposed to own every known image of “Mr. Mariner,” Alvin Davis.  Or, perhaps my essential cheapness won’t let me turn down bargain priced cards.  Both could be true, but I believe the answer lies in my slow but steady descent into hoarding syndrome. 

A wholly needless analysis of the 1987 Kraft “Home Plate Heroes” numbering scheme

Introduction

In a recent post Tim Jenkins covered the 1987 Kraft “Home Plate Heroes” baseball card set. One detail of the set he addressed was the multiple player combo variations. Specifically, each of the 48 players in the set was paired with five other players. The ex-mathematician in me found this aspect of the set intriguing enough to (depending on your taste) promise or threaten to make it the subject of my next post, in hopes that some elegant mathematical structure would underlie the 120-panel master set.

A quick look at some of tim’s cards

Borrowing an example and some graphics from Tim’s original post, here is Don Mattingly paired with Fernando Valenzuela and Steve Garvey. Other Mattingly panels include Hubie Brooks, Mike Scott, and Mike Schmidt.

Since my analysis is more about numbering than the players themselves, here are the card numbers of Mattingly’s five partners.

  • #4 – Mike Scott
  • #20 – Steve Garvey
  • #30 – Mike Schmidt
  • #32 – Fernando Valenzuela
  • #42 – Hubie Brooks

Were you to look for a single rule or relationship behind these numbers, you’d probably come up empty, even as you might jot down a handful of properties.

  • All the Mattingly partners have even numbers
  • There are two instances where the numbers are 10 apart (20/30 and 32/42). Furthermore, because the set ends at 48, even the 42 and 4 can be considered 10 apart, modulo the size of the set. (Don’t panic if that last bit means nothing to you.)
  • Finally, as Tim already noted in his article, one of the numbers (30) is one greater than the Mattingly card (29).

A fair question at this point is whether these properties are unique to the Mattingly panels or hold more generally across the set.

Are they steady, eddie?

The first card in the Kraft set is this Eddie Murray card.

Without too much trouble, I was able to find the five players paired with Murray on uncut panels:

  • #2 – Dale Murphy
  • #4 – Mike Scott
  • #22 – John Tudor
  • #24 – Von Hayes
  • #48 – Nolan Ryan

Returning to our Mattingly observations we see the first and third still hold, but the “10 apart” property no longer applies to any of the card numbers. Were we to quit now, we might conclude the logic to the set was simply this:

  • Odd numbers on the left, even numbers on the right
  • For any player on the left, one of five panels should include the next number in the set
  • The other four panels should include (perhaps) randomly chosen even numbered cards

For most sets of baseball cards, it would not surprise me at all (even if it would disappoint me) to learn that little thought went into a set’s checklist or numbering. After all, chaos is usually easier than order. However, in the case of the Kraft set, I found such an outcome difficult to accept, simply because it is actually a hard and time-consuming exercise to arrive at five panels per player through randomness or luck.

What would Albert Einstein do?

This quote, probably never uttered by Albert Einstein, comes to mind.

Image result for albert einstein quote hour to save the world

At least in theory, developing a rule to generate a 120-panel master set with five pairings per player should take far less time than throwing darts and attempting a checklist willy-nilly.

Building a checklist

If I were to make it any farther with this set I knew I would need a complete checklist of all 120 panels. Failing to find one anywhere online, I was able to build my own, which (drum roll please…) I’ll be sharing for your research or collecting pleasure at the end of this article. (And yes, I did see that the PSA Card Facts page for this set lists panels; however, it had numerous problems that made it unreliable as a sole source. For instance, it lists 129 panels, frequently swaps the left/right pairings, picks a bad year to not tell us which Davis, and fails to number any of the cards.)

Once my checklist was built and sorted appropriately, new patterns were evident just from looking at the first three entries. It turns out the key to finding patterns wasn’t to look across but look down.

Where panel pairings looked nearly random previously, there were now simple patterns like 2, 4, 6, … and 48, 46, 44, … that were clearly intentional and seemed to decode the entire master set checklist.

But…

At first glance, such a numbering scheme appears to be a slick and elegant way to generate the master set. There is only one problem. Because the numbering in the columns goes both forward (Var 1, Var 2, Var 4) and backward (Var 3, Var 5), there is risk of the different columns ultimately “crashing” into each other and landing on the same number at the same time. (Crashing is not actually guaranteed but also depends on the starting point of each pattern. In a simpler non-card example, the patterns 1, 2, 3, … and 3, 2, 1, … both have the same middle number, but the patterns 1, 2, 3, 4, … and 4, 3, 2, 1, … have no terms in common.)

For better or worse, we indeed encounter a collision when we hit Ozzie Guillen’s card #11. Without further adjustment, this would translate into only four distinct Guillen variations, with panel 11/12 (Guillen/Pena) double-printed.

Continuing each pattern down the rest of the checklist, a total of five collisions result.

One option for Kraft would have been to declare “good enough” and apply this scheme unaltered for the master set. The result would be 115 different panels instead of 120, with five of them double-printed. In the grand scheme of things I think most collectors would have either not noticed or not complained. After all, how many collectors were really looking to buy 120 boxes of macaroni in the first place?

Of course that’s not what happened. Kraft did in fact issue 120 distinct panels. To do so, Kraft had to resolve each of the five collisions without creating new ones. Their primary strategy for addressing collisions was a clever one: simply to swap unwanted duplicates with the next number in the sequence. This is exactly what was done in the first instance, where Guillen’s second Pena (12) was traded for the Eric Davis (10) that would have gone with Harold Baines.

Such a strategy, if exploited fully, could have been used to resolve all but one conflict on the checklist. The lone exception would have been the #23 Yount (23) row, where flipping either 26 would cause duplication in the Hrbek (25) row.

Still, why let perfect get in the way of good? Perhaps a 119-panel master set would have set off a macaroni buying frenzy among collectors determined to find the modern day equivalent of a 1933 Goudey Nap Lajoie! (Yes, I’m kidding. Based on the set’s packaging, shoppers could easily tell what cards were on the boxes just by flipping them over.)

Yet another solution available, largely in the spirit of prior interventions, would have been to swap Yount’s second 26 (var 5) with the number immediately above it. Ultimately, however, Kraft took a different path with Yount as well as a couple of the earlier checklist crashes.

Unleash the cheese!

Rather than fully exploit down-flip or up-flip strategies to resolve all five conflicts on the checklist, Kraft applied such flips only three times (rows 11/13, 35/37, 37/29). For the #13 Baines and #23 Yount rows, the adjustments seemed more oddball. As the yellow cells in the table show, Kraft replaced Baines’ extra 36 with a 22 and Yount’s extra 26 with a 2! Huh?!

In reality the mysterious choices of 22 and 2 aren’t so mysterious. Take a look at the very end of the checklist, and you’ll see that the final two entries should have been…you guessed it…22 and 2! It’s not terribly elegant, but neither is it random. And of course it worked!

The result, for the dining and collecting pleasure, of many of us was a fun 48-card set that included five different ways to collect each player (my favorite: Kirk Gibson/Steve Garvey), based on a handful of simple rules for checklist design and two resolution techniques for the conflicts these rules produced.

Extra for experts

As a final note, perhaps for someone else to tackle, I mentioned a few times that crashes in the checklist would have led to double-printing of some panels and the absence of others. In fact, it’s still possible that double-printing did occur and that the fixes were added as extras rather than replacements. Population counts for panels are currently too low to get much of a sense of things, but then again this was 1987. What does double-printing even mean when you print a billion of everything? 😄

Appendix: Master set checklist

I have posted a complete checklist of panels as a Google Sheet. Here is the link. And if you have an extra Kirk Gibson/Steve Garvey panel somewhere, give me a holler!

Mac ‘n cards

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, baseball cards could be found in or on the packages of numerous food and other consumer products. In 1987, the budget minded gravitated to the prepared food isle where Kraft Macaroni and Cheese boxes featured two card panels.  The “crafty” Kraft folks-utilizing a pun- called the series, “Home Plate Heroes.”

For the past 32 years, ten intact boxes have languished in my collection, generally taking up space.  Recently, I made an executive decision to separate the panels form the boxes. The panels fit perfectly in four-pocket pages. I kept two boxes intact, since they were duplicates.

This process piqued my curiosity as to the number of panel combinations and total cards in the set.  It turns out that 48 different players appear on panels in five different combinations each. As you can see, Mattingly had multiple partners in the hedonistic 1980s.

The last Mattingly panel pairs him with Mike Schmidt.  Notice that the two cards are in numerical sequence.  Each player in the set has a combination panel like this. This means collectors could put a set of 24 panels together to form the complete set of 48 players.  Hobbyists didn’t have to cut out the cards-individually-to order the set by number.

If you are the obsessive type who believes that a complete set is possessing all the panel variations, it will require the accumulation of 120 separate panels.

After cutting the boxes, I checked eBay to see if a complete set existed. There was a 24-panel set in numerical sequence for around $6 with postage, which I bought.

As far as oddball sets go, this one is not bad.  It harkens back to the Post cards of the 1960s. However, not gaining MLB rights to show logos is a strike against them. Still, there are numerous Hall-of-Fame members and notables from the era.

The macaroni in the box still looks good and the cheese powder is perfectly preserved by salt and chemicals.  I plan to cook up a box and eat it all while pondering the majesty of Eddie Murray.

1989 Bimbo Cookies Super Stars Discs

I have an affinity for oddballs. Even here at the SABR Blog, my two contributions have focused on Brewers Police cards and the Milwaukee Braves Spic-n-Span offerings from the 1950s.

My affinity for oddballs stems both from them being “odd” and in finding out about the companies that issued them. I started writing my own blog about 1980s Oddballs last year, and I thought that I would share one of the posts from that blog. This post is about a very small, weird set: the Bimbo Cookies Super Star Discs set from 1989.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SET
Bimbo Bakeries is a Mexico City-based multinational bakery known as Grupo Bimbo that is said to be the world’s largest bakery. The company was started in 1945 in Mexico City, perhaps coming about as the result of a name change from “Super Pan” (that’s super bread in Spanish) and grew quickly to become a huge corporation.

The name “Bimbo” — despite its less savory connotations here in the US — has an etymology that is checkered at best. Wikipedia says that the most likely hypothesis is that it is a mashup of the word bingo and Bambi, though it may also mean baby in Italian and it might sound like the word that means bread in China.

Bimbo entered the US market in 1986 with the purchase of Pacific Pride Bakeries in San Diego. Since 1986, Grupo Bimbo has purchased Mrs. Baird’s Bakeries in Texas and, later, the rights to brands such as Oroweat, Entenmann’s, Thomas’s (the English Muffins), and Boboli. That established Bimbo in the western US, and its purchase of Weston Foods in 2008 made it the largest bakery company in the United States.

These days, Bimbo is known for all of the brands above and for owning Sara Lee. In addition, Bimbo sponsors the Philadelphia Union in MLS, Rochester Rhinos in the USL, Chivas de Guadalajara, Club América, and C.F. Monterrey in the Mexican soccer league, and C.D. Saprissa in Costa Rica.

When this disc set was issued in 1989, Bimbo was attempting to get its name recognized more. Now, the 2011 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards notes that this disc set was distributed “in Puerto Rico in boxes of cookies.” I do not know what Bimbo’s history in Puerto Rico is, but focusing on baseball was not a bad idea.

EXEMPLARS

With only 12 discs in a set issued only for one year, my choices are limited.

(Front and back images courtesy of The Trading Card Database)

DETAILS
As mentioned above, this set contains a total of 12 players. While the Standard Catalog says that the set contains a “dozen Hispanic players,” a little bit of research online reveals that the set actually includes a dozen Puerto Rican players. The discs are 2-3/4″ in diameter and are licensed only by the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Michael Schechter Associates printed and licensed these discs. As is typical for MSA discs starting in 1975 and ending when MSA stopped getting licensed by MLBPA, these cards do not include logos. Interestingly, this must have been before MLB started protecting its trademarks in team names since the discs include the team names in full on each.

The Bimbo bear appears at the top center of the disc. This bear is apparently the most well-known trademark for Bimbo, and Bimbo markets plush stuffed animals of the bear as a collectible for kids as well. Indeed, there are a ton more Bimbo bears on eBay than there are Bimbo discs.

Stats on these discs are lacking, as is also typical of MSA. You can see that you get the very basics — at bats, hits, homers, RBI, and average for the most recent year (1988) and for the player’s career.

With this being a small set, I’ll give you the checklist:
1 Carmelo Martinez
2 Candy Maldonado
3 Benito Santiago
4 Rey Quinones
5 Jose Oquendo
6 Ruben Sierra
7 Jose Lind
8 Juan Beniquez
9 Willie Hernandez
10 Juan Nieves
11 Jose Guzman
12 Roberto Alomar

HALL OF FAMERS
The only Hall of Famer out of the twelve is Roberto Alomar.

ERRORS/VARIATIONS
Trading Card Database does not list any errors or variations. But, as frequent SABR Blog contributor Jeff Katz noted to me on Twitter, the Roberto Alomar disc actually is a photo of his brother Sandy Alomar. I’ve sent a note to the folks at the Trading Card Database, but that is definitely an uncorrected error.

What are your thoughts on this set? Do you like discs? Do you like Oddballs?

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.