Six days in September

I unexpectedly added this 1974 Topps Deckle Edge card of Hank Aaron to my collection last week.

Before getting into my main story I’ll answer a couple quick questions about the card itself.

What is it?

Many collectors are familiar with a Topps Deckle Edge issue from five years earlier, either through the original 1969 set or through more recent Topps Archives reboots.

The 1974 cards, however, are ones that many collectors have never seen, original or otherwise. They were part of a “test issue” limited to the New England area and considerably more scarce than their 1969 predecessors. For example, PSA has graded only 46 Hank Aaron cards from the 1974 set, and even this number is probably inflated by all the “crack and resub” collectors out there.

Where are the deckles?

As the Yaz and Ichiro pics show, a key feature–sorry, THE key feature–of the Deckle Edge cards is…well…deckled edges. Meanwhile, the Aaron pic I showed appears to be perfectly straight. This is the case with the even more scarce proof cards from the set. PSA populations for these proofs range between 1 and 4 per card, and no numerical grades have been issued. As such, were I ever forced to sell my “PSA Authentic” Aaron, I could legitimately do one of those eBay listings that says, “NONE GRADED HIGHER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” right down to the dozens of exclamation marks.

The setting

Unlike the 1969 Deckle Edge cards, which have barely more than the player’s name on the back, these 1974 cards really go the extra mile.

From the information on the back we see Aaron was at Candlestick on September 1 to play the Giants. A bit of quick research also tells us Aaron had 706 career home runs at the time, just eight fewer than the Babe. Having averaged a home run every three games thus far (33 HR in the 100 games he’d played), Aaron was on pace to break the record by season’s end, but only on one condition: he play in every one of Atlanta’s 26 remaining games.

The pursuit of Ruth had been excruciating for the Hammer: death threats, sleepless nights, and constant media attention were so great that Aaron simply wanted to be done. He was less after a crown on his head than a weight off his shoulders. When he finally did break the record, the feeling was not elation but relief.

The decision

Here is the box score from that night’s game.

Plenty of familiar names in the line up but no Hammer, not even when the Braves, down by a single run in the ninth, looked to pinch-hit for Niekro. Five more times in that final month the box score would be similar: no Hammer.

Six days in September

In taking the six days off, the die was cast. The record would wait until 1974. With his team 18 games behind the first place Dodgers, I sometimes wonder why Aaron didn’t just push through and play these games. I have to imagine his fans and teammates would have forgiven a little less hustle in the field and on the bases if it meant another 25-30 trips to the plate.

I don’t know the actual circumstances and decision making behind these six missed games, just that they followed a pattern of off days throughout the season. I can only imagine that Aaron didn’t see himself as able to give 100%.

Were you to scan the Braves roster you might quickly conclude that 80% from Hank Aaron would still be better than 110% from anyone on the Atlanta bench, particularly knowing the best manager Eddie Mathews could put out there in his place would be these two players.

So yeah, these numbers might surprise you.

  • .455 batting average
  • .520 on-base percentage
  • .727 slugging percentage
  • 1.247 OPS

Babe who??

King Henry

The photograph on the Deckle Edge card shows a man who had a choice. What he would do that day and in all for six fateful days in September would determine whether he would enter a much needed offseason with the crown or let the strain and anguish of the chase drag on him another six months.

That would be an easy choice for most of us, and perhaps it was an easy one for the Hammer as well. Carrying his own burdens, that he could live with. Placing burden on his teammates, that just wasn’t in his DNA.

Though he finished the season with “only” 713 home runs, Topps provided Aaron with an early cardboard coronation. His was a royalty that needed no crown. All hail the Home Run King!

1977 Topps Cloth Stickers and Bill Madlock’s Subtle Badassery

Looking through an album of Cubs teams sets recently, I came across the Topps cloth stickers of Bill Madlock and Jose Cardenal. As you may know, Topps issued a test set of these stickers with the same front design as their regular set in 1977. The disposable peel-off backs of the cards were different than the regular issue, however, swapping a full complement of statistics for select career highlights for each of the 55 players featured in the selective set. One of those sticker-back highlights on Madlock’s cloth card conceals a pretty cool story.

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1977 Topps Ken Griffey, #320

Following the action on Saturday, October 2, 1976 Reds right fielder Ken Griffey was atop the NL leaderboard with a .338 batting average, poised to win his first batting title. After an oh-for-four on October 2, Bill Madlock was sitting at .333.

On the final day of that Bicentennial season, October 3, Madlock started at third base for the Cubs at Wrigley Field in a game against the Montreal Expos. “Mad Dog” would knock singles in the first, third, fourth and sixth innings, off of three different pitchers, driving his season batting average up to .3385—just enough to eclipse Griffey when rounded up to .339. When Madlock’s spot in the order came up in the bottom the eighth, he was lifted for pinch hitter Rob Sperring (who also singled).

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1977 Topps Bill Madlock, #250

Meanwhile in Cincinnati, Mike Lum started in right field in place of Griffey, as the Reds played their final regular season game against the Braves. This was a meaningless contest in that Cincinnati had cruised to the NL West division championship, with the team looking ahead to facing Philadelphia in the NLCS.

Presumably after getting word that Madlock had just done the unthinkable in Chicago—raising his average six points in a single game!—Griffey entered the game in Cincinnati as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning. After a Pete Rose single, Griffey struck out. Uh-oh. Griffey’s average had just dropped to .337.

By the bottom the eighth inning, the Reds were leading 4-0 and Griffey was due up sixth, in need of a miracle. Even if Griffey were to hit safely in this at-bat, his average would still fall short of Madlock’s .339. But…if he were to get a hit and the Braves forced extras, it would still be possible for Griffey to tie Madlock with a 2-for-3.

In that eighth, Lum singled, Dave Concepcion singled, Doug Flynn singled, Bob Bailey singled and Rose walked. Ken Griffey got to the plate in the eighth, but whiffed. The dream was over for Griffey, as the Reds tacked on seven runs in the bottom of the eighth to put the game out of reach for the Braves.

Griffey would go on to win his second consecutive championship with the Big Red Machine in 1976, but that season’s NL batting title race was one for the ages.

The back of the cloth Bill Madlock boasts that he went 4-for-4 on the final day of the 1976 season to lead the NL in batting. True, but this tidbit obfuscates the absolute badassery Bill Madlock displayed on October 3, 1976 to take his second consecutive batting crown.

Madlock was featured in the 1977 Topps cloth sticker set, Ken Griffey was not.

Sources:

http://www.baseball-reference.com

http://www.retrosheet.org

Proof(s) of the Mythical Rookies

71 all star bowa fixed

The number of Topps’ test issues and prototypes that didn’t see production in the ‘60s and ‘70s never ceases to amaze me.  Recently, I stumbled across an image of a Larry Bowa from a set that may be one of the rarest of the post-war era.  At first, I thought this was a “do-it-yourself” card, but a little research revealed the it to be mysterious and highly coveted collectible.

In ’71, a Topps’ designer created 10 artist’s proofs for a set called All-Star Rookies.  Apparently, only one set of 10 prototypes were produced.  The players featured earned the Rookie Star designation for the ’70 season and, thus, have a trophy on their base cards in ‘71.  The set was probably intended for the annual Topps Rookie Stars banquet.  Paul Ember had an excellent three-part post on this topic.

71 all star munson fixed

For over 30 years, only a black and white image of Thurman Munson’s card existed as proof of the mythical set.  This image was used to illustrate the set in The Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards.  Collectors theorized that a collector acquired the cards in the ‘70s and kept them under wraps.

71 all star carbo fixed

Then, in 2011, Topps historian David Hornish posted photos of all 10 cards on the Topps Archives website.  Later, the Bowa and Carbo cards were made available at an auction.

In the conventional sense, these are not truly cards.  The proofs consist of a standard card glued to a thick piece of artist’s board measuring 9-1/2 X 6-1/2.  The disembodied head shots are Kodachrome photos pasted on the card background.  Photos would have been taken to produce the image used on actual cards.

The photos appear to be unique to the set apart from John Ellis. The open mouth shot is the same as the photo on the 1970 Yankees Rookie Stars card.

Gio's Stickers.jpg

Incidentally, Gio (@wthballs), who mans the fantastic blog “When Topps Had Balls,” creates great retro-card sets.  His wonderful “gelatin” set-which paid tribute to the ‘60s cards on the back of Jell-O packages-contained bonus stickers inspired by the ’71 Topps Rookie Stars set.

I’m sure the Red Sox collectors amongst us are willing to mortgage their houses if the Billy Conigliaro and Bernie Carbo cards ever surface at an auction.   I don’t think I’ll be “able” to go after Cain, however.

 

Sources

Robert Edward Auctions | Circa 1920s Leather Football Helmet Signed by Jim Thorpe and Red Grange, www.robertedwardauctions.com/auction/2015/spring/690/extremely-rare-1971-topps-all-star-rookie-artists-proofs-larry-bowa/.

The Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards

 

 

 

Veale Revealed

Recently, my son purchased two “hobby boxes” of 2017 Topps Heritage cards which feature the 1968 template. Within each box there are “buy back” cards. These are original cards with a special stamp applied. In a strange coincidence, the two cards he received were Pirates pitchers Tommy Sisk and Bob Veale.

Veale 68

The Bob Veale jogged my memory of his ’68 card which depicted him in a mock- pitching motion with two fingers extended to simulate the pitch grip. There is much to like about this card besides the “two-seamer” pose. Veale’s distinctive eyewear, the classic Pirates vest uniform and “410” marker on the outfield wall all add up to a great image.

Veale 62

Almost all of Bob Veale’s Topps cards are distinctive. The primary reason is his variety of safety glasses worn from year-to-year. The ’62 “Rookie Parade” card marks Bob’s Topps debut. His disembodied head provides the first glimpse of his gold-rimmed googles.

Veale 63Veale 67

The ’63 and ’67 cards feature the googles again and appear to be from the same photo session since Candlestick Park is the setting.

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The ’64 and ’65 feature different frames in spring training photos.

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In ’66 we find Bob at Shea Stadium with yet another new set of spectacles.

Veale 69'67 Veale sticker

1969 has Bob with the same “specs” but he has donned a letterman style jacket. The ’67 “test issue” sticker is the only Topps product with a photo of Veale sans glasses.

Veale 70

A new decade meant new eyewear as Bob changes styles once again, sporting aviator glasses.

Veale 71Veale 72

He seems to have settled on the aviator look since they reappear in ’71 and ’72. The Pirates have entered the “mustard” gold era as his cap clearly indicates. Veale really “styles” in his warmup jacket with great leather sleeves framed by the “mod” look of the ’72 card design.

73 Veal

A radical change occurs in ’73 as Bob is now with Boston and he has added a mustache. His last card features Bob with a windbreaker under the Red Sox double-nit, sans-a-belt uniform. He reprises his ’68 pose with the two fingers extended in a delivery simulation.

65LL66 LL

67 LL69 LL

In Veale’s BioProject profile Joseph Gerard stated that, “Bob Veale was one of the hardest-throwing and most intimidating strikeout pitchers in the National League from 1962 through 1972.” This is supported by the fact that Veale led the NL in strikeouts in ’64 and posted a career best 276 in ’65. His command issues coupled with poor eyesight put fear in the hearts of even the best hitters. The 6’6,” 212 pound lefty would finish with 120 wins. He worked mostly out of bullpen in the ’70s as arm and back injuries took their toll. On September 1, 1971 Bob pitched in the first game that featured an all-minority starting lineup for Pittsburgh.

 

Momma Took Topps’ Kodachrome Away

Clemente

Anyone who collected cards in 1969 remembers opening a pack and finding a glossy, black and white card that resembled a photograph. Topps “Deckle Edge” inserts were designed to mimic the photo print style of snapshots. This type of print goes back as far as 1930 but was most popular for a 20 year period starting in the ‘40s and concluding in the late ‘60s.*

I distinctly remember a shoe box full of decal edge photos that my grandma kept in cupboard. My brother won a camera as a prize in ’67. The first set of blurry photos it produced were printed on decal edge paper. I mention this background information to demonstrate that most kids in 1969 would have been familiar with this type of photo print.

 

This subset contains 33 cards with two variations and measures 2 ¼” x 2 ¼”. The backs are white with a rectangular box containing the name and card number in blue ink. The cards are ordered alphabetically starting with the American League. The set features 11 future Hall-of-Famers and players representing the ’69 expansion teams. The two variations are result of trades. Card 11b, Jim, “The Toy Cannon” Wynn, was added because the Houston card featured Rusty Staub, who was dealt to Montreal. Joy Foy is card number 22b and was included to represent the Royals after Hoyt Wilhelm was sent to the Angels.

The deckle edge is unique and we should give Topps kudos for originality, but the photos are mostly retreads. As Mark Armour recently detailed, the player boycott of Topps resulted in old photos being used in ’68 and ‘69. Several cards simply had shots from previous regular issue cards. For example, the Juan Marichal picture was used on his ’65, while Rod Carew and Maury Wills are reprised from ‘68.

The insert set depicts several players wearing their previous team’s uniform with the current club’s cap insignia airbrushed on.  Ken “Hawk” Harrelson has a Boston “B” drawn on his cap though he is clearly wearing a KC A’s vest uniform. Tom Haller’s Giants lettering is airbrushed off his chest and an “LA” added to his lid. Frank Howard has the Senators curly cue “W” on a Dodgers helmet. Also Topps put “Sox” on Luis Aparicio’s two-toned Orioles helmet. Since Luis was with the White Sox originally, why not use an early ‘60s photo?

There are a few interesting poses. The Bill Freehan card shows him in a classic catchers crouch with coach, Wally Moses, hitting “fungos” in the background. The Boog Powell shot has bunting in the background indicating opening day or an All-Star game. The hat style precludes it from being the ’66 World Series.

Black and white photography can be used artistically to great effect, but there is very little artistry demonstrated in these inserts. Dull as they are, the cards are memorable. The images have been etched in my mind for close to 50 years. Then again, I’ve been told I’m not playing with a full deck(le).

1974 Allen front Jackson Back

Topps resurrected the deckle edge design with a “test issue” in 1974. The 72 cards are 2 7/8” X 5.” The set had limited distribution and featured 21 Hall-of-Famers to be. On the back, in script intended to imitate hand lettering on old photos, is the date and location of the photo session. Here is a link to Rich Mueller’s post on “Sports Collector’s Daily” that provides all the particulars of this rare set.

*Krentz, Anna (2014). A Study of the Deckle Edge in the North American Snapshot (master’s thesis).   www.digital.library.ryerson.ca

Don Mincher on the Pilots

A recent posting of Bruce Markusen’s Card Corner featured the 1968 Topps Don Mincher card and provided an excellent overview of his career. The article mentioned that Mincher was selected by the Seattle Pilots in the 1969 expansion draft. Although Mincher was not a superstar, he was a well-known, productive player and as such stood out amongst the rag-tag group assembled on the Pilots roster.

This resulted in Mincher being featured in both 1969 and 1970 by Topps, Milton Bradley, Kellogg and other manufacturers as the Pilots’ representative on specialty cards, posters, stamps and inserts.  What follows is a look at Don’s cards and related collectibles during the brief existence of the one-and-done Pilots.

Topps 1969 Regular Issue and Decal Insert

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1969 Topps

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1969 Topps Decal

As with most cards for expansion teams, Topps airbrushed out the cap insignia from the players previous team. Based on the batting cage in the background, these pictures were taken during the same photo session. Obviously, the photographer wanted one with Don’s glasses on and one without. Also note that Topps didn’t stick with the same color designations on the decals as the cards. The light green ball on the decal was the designated color on cards for the Astros and Orioles.

The decals measure 1 ¾ X 2 1/8. There are 48 stickers in the set which featured many of the superstar players of the era. My memory is of them being distributed in the later series. The cellophane like decal peeled off from the white, waxy background paper. Over time, the adhesive tends to fail and the decal will separate from the backing. I can attest to this having a backless Mantle and Clemente in my collection.

1969 Topps Super

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1969 Topps Super 

Apparently the Topps photographer believed Don photographed best while gazing into the upper deck at Yankee Stadium. The image on the Super card is exactly the same pose as the 1968 regular issue card sans hat. The Super cards are on thick stock with rounded edges and measure 2 ¼ X 3 ¼. They were sold three to a pack. The backs are the same as the deckle edge inserts found in the early series of the regular issue packs. One of Topps test issues, Supers were only distributed in Michigan, making the 66 card set extremely rare. Even non-stars are valuable. Tommy Davis is the other Pilots player found in this set.

1969 Topps Team Poster

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1969 Topps Team Poster

Once again Don is gazing skyward but in the opposite direction and without a bat on his shoulder. The team poster measures 11 ¼ X 19 ¾ and came one per pack for a dime. The dimensions are bigger than the 1968 player posters that were also sold one per pack.   The team posters had a wider distribution than the Super cards but didn’t reach all regions.

1969 Topps Stamps

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1969 Topps Stamp

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1969 Topps Stamp Album

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Topps repurposed the 1968 card picture for Don’s stamp. The stamps came 12 to a sheet and each pack contained one album. There are 240 stamps in the set and they have the same thickness as a postage stamp.

1969 Globe Imports Playing Cards

69-globe-imports
1969 Globe Imports

1969 Sports Illustrated poster
1968 Sports Illustrated poster

Arguable the worst card set in history, these 1-5/8 X 2 black and white cards were printed on flimsy paper stock with blank backs. Each of the 55 cards represents a standard playing card. Mincher’s card is the same image as found on a 1968 Sports Illustrated poster. The SI promotional poster catalog featured a small version of each poster (image on the right). This may have been the source for the grainy pictures. It would be interesting to know if Global Imports bought the rights or simply pirated the images. Apparently, the cards were sold or given away at gas stations in the south. I found a set in the 1970s at a liquidation store in Yakima, WA.

1969 and 1970 Milton Bradley Official Baseball

1969 Milton Bradley
1969 Milton Bradley

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1970 Milton Bradley 

The 1969 game is composed of 296 2X3 cards which came on perforated sheets requiring detachment before playing. The backs contain a list of outcomes (ground out, single etc.). Oddly, there are not enough cards to form a lineup for each team.

In 1970 Milton Bradley issued a simplified version of the 1969 game. The 24 cards in the set measure 2 3/16 X 3 ½ with rounded edges.

1970 Topps Regular Issue and Poster

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1970 Topps

1970 Topps Poster
1970 Topps Poster

Don was traded to Oakland in January of 1970 but not before Topps produced the early series cards and poster inserts. There are 24 posters, one player for each team, and measure 8 11/16 x 9 5/8. Note that the black and white “action” picture is actually Carl Yastrzemski.

1970 Kellogg’s 3-D

1970 Kelloggs
1970 Kelloggs

The 2 ¼ X 3 ½ 3-D cards were made by Xograph and issued one per box of Corn Flakes. Interestingly, Rich Mueller of Sports Collectors Daily mentions that the cards were also distributed in six card packs with an iron on transfer. Don is #75 of the 75 card set. He is depicted in his Pilots regular season home uniform. The background appears to be RFK stadium where the All-Star game was held in 1969 and Don was the Pilots representative. However, Xograph did superimpose players in front of backgrounds unrelated to the location of the photo. Furthermore, the photo appears to be identical to a publicity shot taken at Sicks’ Stadium in September of 1969.