If you avidly collected baseball cards in the 80s, like I did, Don Sutton was a constant presence. From his last couple of Dodgers issues in 1980 and 1981, through his years with the Astros, Brewers, A’s, Angels and eventual return to the Dodgers in 1988, you never cracked a box of wax packs without getting a Don Sutton. The only thing that seemed to change was the color of his trademarked tight-knit and voluminous puff of curly hair. Steel grey for 1980 Topps to stark white in 1988 Score. Don Sutton always showed up and you were happy to have him.
Similarly, Don Sutton was always there for his team when called upon. In fact, in his 23 years in the Major Leagues, he never missed a start due to injury. Think about that amazing feat. He answered the bell through the presidencies of LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan without missing a single start. Also, Don Sutton did not just show up every four days, he excelled every four days. 324 wins, 3,574 strikeouts, a 3.26 career ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. An amazing feat, especially for someone who pitched in the shadows of other legends like Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton.
Perhaps the most amazing fact about Don Sutton is that he is the only Dodgers Hall of Famer who never played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Duke, Sandy and Pee Wee all played at Ebbets Field and Mike Piazza dons a Mets cap on his plaque in Cooperstown.
So, there he is, Don Sutton, standing alone as the only Los Angeles Dodgers Hall of Famer, at least until he is eventually joined by Clayton Kershaw. So, tonight after work, go on eBay and buy a box of mid-80s junk wax. When you get a Don Sutton card, and you will get a Don Sutton card, don’t rush by it to search for a bigger star. Turn over that Sutton card, check out his stats for yourself, and just appreciate his consistency and excellence.
As a player postcard aficionado, it has always bothered me that some checklists have fallen into broad-based categories such as ranges of year or types (usually based on uniform, printing styles, etc.). And to be fair, most of these items were issued haphazardly, even by the teams themselves- poses were repeated, “sets” were sold that amounted to mongrels of past issues, and many of the cards lacked basic indicia.
Recently, a contributor to Trading Card Database (TCDB) started a list called “1950-80 JD McCarthy St. Louis Cardinals Postcards,” which I felt was much too broad, given the specific nature of most of the checklists that comprise the site. JD McCarthy, the Michigan-based prolific baseball postcard producer (as well some football, hockey, and horse racing) published over 2000 items during his career, of all teams, not just the Cardinals.
So that got my juices flowing.
Fortunately, I’m friends with Bob Thing of Maine, a legendary collector who’s always had a soft spot for team-issued postcards and photos. I visited Bob in June of 2020 with my scanner, and took photos of his entire collection, which is short only a handful of known cards. Perhaps more importantly, he showed me three checklists of McCarthy postcards which were done in the 1960s by another legend, Charles “Buck” Barker of St. Louis, of which I had not been previously aware. That, combined with the massive list done by Rich Suen of California (aided by the late Dan Even of Dubuque, IA) would form the foundation of my new project- associating years with these cards.
Barker’s lists were done in May of 1963, June of 1964, and December of 1966. While not perfect, they figured to give me some guidelines as to what was done when, at least from the early 1950s to 1966. Coupled with some baseball knowledge, other images from TCDB.com, my copy of Marc Okkonen’s Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century, and some common sense, I figured I could at least come up with good guesstimates for most of what was out there.
After the cards were scanned, I started grouping cards by era and approximate year. Working on the premise that McCarthy probably didn’t make many special trips (especially outside of going to Tiger Stadium) for the sake of taking photos of one player, I began to see similarities in pose locations and photo exposures. Using players who only played for one season with a team helped me connect veterans to certain years.
The St. Louis Cardinals players were not big customers of Mac’s, likely because the team issued photocards regularly during this era. The version of the Suen Checklist that I’ve been using lists 42 cards, and Thing had 37 of them, minus a Ken Boyer, a Ray Sadecki, a Curt Simmons, and two variations of Dick Groat.
Seven players played only one season with the Cardinals, making them easy to date- Al Cicotte (1961), Gino Cimoli (1959), Vic Davalillo (1969), Leon Durham (1980), Minnie Minoso (1962), Jerry Morales (1978) but with two different cards, and Carl Taylor (1970).
I was intrigued by Hall of Famer Steve Carlton’s card, which looked to be taken at Wrigley Field. He’s wearing a pullover away jersey, and according to Okkonen’s book, the first year the Cards wore them was 1971, Lefty’s last year with the team. Lou Brock’s card, also taken at Wrigley, fit as a match in terms of pose location and uniform.
Nelson Briles looked to me as if it were taken at the same time as the Carl Taylor, so I attributed it to 1970, which turned out to be Briles’ last year in St. Louis.
Curt Flood had a long run with Cardinals, of course, so he might be difficult. Here’s where Barker’s lists came in handy. There is no mention of Flood’s card in any of them. Therefore, there’s a good chance that the card is from 1967-1969. I posted it as a 1967.
The photo of Bob Gibson is a pretty popular one. I’ve seen it on color 8x10s over the years, and I believe it’s one of the postcards that was reproduced plentifully in the 1980s when hobbyists got hold of McCarthy’s printing plates. Because Barker’s lists do not mention any Gibson cards and because he’s wearing a button up uniform, the (original) postcard can be connected with a 1967-70 time frame. I posted it, too, as a 1967, for lack of any other clues. Maybe someone can use his sideburns to further specify a date?
There are 13 cards which are from the late 1970s to 1980. For most of them, tossing a coin could just as easily determine the year from one to the next. Because Jim Kaat’s career in St. Louis started in 1980 and because it seems McCarthy’s work was diminishing by then, I assigned 1980 to the left-hander’s card.
As his career was winding down, Darold Knowles spent 1979 and 1980 with the Birds. He has two different cards, and I felt the one with his hands on his knees was a sibling of the Kaat. That meant the other pose was 1979, given the unlikely chance that he ordered more than one batch of postcards from Mac a year.
Acquired in the winter of 1975, Pete Falcone went on to pitch three seasons in St. Louis. However, judging from team-issued photos, it looks like he had a beard in the spring of 1976. Therefore, I assigned 1977 to this less-hirsute postcard.
Tom Herr got 10 at-bats with the club in 1979. Logic dictates that he probably didn’t have enough of a firm footing in the big leagues to orders postcards until the following year. I decided to piggyback two other cards with Herr, based on looks- Dane Iorg and Mark Littell. Could I be off a year on those two? Absolutely.
Catcher Terry Kennedy got into 10 games in 1978 as a September call-up and 33 games in 1979 as a spare part from June to September before the 1980 season, when he participated in 84 contests. Since he was traded following that campaign, I figured 1980 was the best fit for this postcard.
Tom Bruno was acquired on March 18, 1978 from Toronto and spent the next two seasons on the Cardinals staff before being released at the end of Spring Training, 1980. Two days after Bruno was released, the Redbirds parted ways with veteran OF-PH Roger Freed. Neither would ever play in the Majors again. Since it is also unlikely that, two weeks before the end of 1978 spring training, McCarthy would have been in St. Petersburg to shoot Bruno and that either would have produced cards after being given their walking papers, I’m attaching 1979 to both. Maybe Freed is off by a year, as he spent 1977-79 on the roster.
This is the part where the hand-banging and nit-picking begin. Here’s three-quarters of the Cardinals infield at the end of the 1970s- Keith Hernandez (first base), Mike Tyson (second base), and Garry Templeton (shortstop). Tyson was gone after 1979. I decided to categorize them as 1979, only because it seems other players with similar photos were taken that year.
Dick Groat joined the Cardinals in 1963 and played three seasons before being dealt to the Phillies. Buck Barker’s second list has Groat as the lone addition from St. Louis to his update. Over time, five versions of the card have been reported. Check out the placement of the JM logo in each of the cards to the left- white lettered logo to the left, white lettered log left and black lettered logo right on the same card, and black lettered right- each with cropping differences. For now, they are all classified as 1963s until someone can help differentiate by year.
With one year player Gino Cimoli as the guide, I grouped together under 1959 these three players based on poses, facsimile autographs, and service time with the club- Ken Boyer, Gene Green, and Ray Jablonski.
Similarly, I took the same approach with these three, which I considered from 1960- Ken Boyer, Ronnie Kline (whose first year with St. Louis was 1960), and Curt Simmons (who also debuted with that year.) Interestingly, the Simmons card is an ad back for a hotel he co-owned in Wildwood Crest, NJ with Philadelphia Eagles running back Pete Retzlaff.
No mention of utilityman Phil Gagliano in Barker’s lists, so that starts the guessing at 1967, and he was with them until 1970. I’ll call it 1967.
Which brings us to the greatest Cardinal of them all, Stan “The Man” Musial. Surprising, no mention of it among Barker’s checklists. Interesting, considering the top player postcard collectors of the day were after these cards. In addition to Barker and Even, hobbyists Bob Solon and Elwood Scharf contributed to the lists. All four had strong Midwest connections.
St. Louis wore that uniform style from 1958-61. However, the cards I’ve catalogued as 1959 and 1960 were made from photos that were signed in felt marker of some kind, and this one is free of signature. Of course, Musial was a big enough star that McCarthy would make a special trip solely to take photos of him if requested.
If I operate on the premise that the card wasn’t published until 1967 because it doesn’t appear on Barker’s list, what would explain its existence? Was it done at behest of Musial post-retirement? The name in the white box might suggest mid-1960s in terms of publication.
For now, in deference to Barker and his compatriots, I’m listing it as a 1967 until I can be convinced otherwise.
I hope that seeing this article inspires anyone with a collection of McCarthy postcards to check out the backs for possible postmarks. I’m no expert in philately, but it seems that it became rare to have these cards used traditionally after the mid-1960s. Presumably, the player stuck the card in an envelope and sent it on its way. Those postmarks can be valuable when it comes to dating these pieces, especially when looking at older players.
Additionally, maybe there is someone who knows “the code,” if one does, in fact, exist. I am operating under the belief that there was no rhyme or reason to the type of back McCarthy used, the location and color of his JM logo, or the style of name plate used. But what do I know? I can use all the detective help I can get- including using uniform history when possible.
The one advantage we have nowadays is the scanner. So much time and effort was devoted by Barker and Suen to try to describe the cards succinctly using abbreviations and codes.
Now, we can see what we’re dealing with- it’s just time to date them.
In reaction to a post on the SABR Baseball Card Committee Facebook page, someone commented that Tommy Davis was depicted on a different team for seven years in a row starting in 1966. This is quite an “achievement,” and will be explored in detail. Tommy’s walkabout through the major leagues ran head long into the MLBPA boycott of Topps, resulting in the repeated use of the same image on his cards and inserts. But even before Tommy left the Dodgers, his image was often recycled. Let us now ogle some wonderful cardboard from a player for whom serious injury may have derailed a Hall of Fame-worthy career.
1960 marks Davis Topps debut featuring is a colorized version of Dodgers team issue from 1960 produced by concessionaire extraordinaire Danny Goodman.
Topps uses the same photo in 1961 but adds the fantastic Topps All-Star Rookie trophy image. Plus, Davis’ cropped head from the photo shows up on the 1961 Topps stamp.
But wait, there’s more! The head shot is used by Salada for the 1962 and 1963 coins.
Tommy has a spectacular 1962 season with a league leading .346 average and an amazing 153 RBI. Fittingly, the emerging star gets two cards in 1963, since Fleer burst on the scene as Topps short lived rival.
In my humble opinion, the 1964 Topps Giant is the best of all Davis’ cards. The “in action” pose, glasses, and jacket under the jersey add up to produce a beauty. Topps liked it too. Tommy’s cropped head is used on the All-Star version of the coin inserts in 1964.
In May of 1965, an awkward slide at second against the Giants resulted in Davis suffering a severely broken and dislocated ankle. His slow recovery dimmed his star status. Tommy was hobbled in field and on the base paths and his batting stroke suffered as well. Topps produces a card featuring Tommy’s profile in 1965. This unattractive shot was used again in 1966.
Tommy’s vagabond years starts in 1967 when the Dodgers decided to part ways and ship him to the Mets. This results in a classic, traded head shot. After one productive year at Shea, the Mets sent Davis packing to the White Sox for Tommy Agee and Al Weis. A different head shot graces his 1968 card but the 1967 is repurposed for the game insert (see top of article).
The odyssey continues in 1969 when the White Sox leave Tommy unprotected in the expansion draft, and he is selected by the Seattle Pilots. Tommy is arguably the Pilots’ best hitter, forever holding the RBI record with 63. As a big- name player on an expansion team, Topps offers up several Davis products. His base card uses the same picture as 1967, the stamp brings back the 1966 image and the Super test issue card recycles the 1968 image. Airbrushed Dodger photos show up on the Deckle Edge and Decal inserts.
In addition to Topps, 1969 and 1970 saw Milton Bradley produce game cards which used an image of Tommy from the 1968 White Sox team issue photos.
The Pilots dealt Tommy to Houston in August of 1969, which launches him on the next stage of his “Cook’s Tour.” The 1970 Astros card features an airbrushed cap and “nostril shot,” probably taken while with the Dodgers. His stay in Houston was short as the Astros sent Tommy on to Oakland who in turn sold him to the Cubs late in 1970. Finally, in 1971, Tommy has a photo wearing in the team’s uniform for the first time since 1966.
It goes without saying that Tommy’s windy city stint was more of a “blow over.” “The Drifter” catches a freight bound for Oakland during the 1971 season. This results in a nice base card and a classic “In Action” photo of Tommy holding Horace Clarke on first at Yankee Stadium in the 1972 set.
Though Tommy was productive in Oakland, a dispute with owner Charlie Finley results in his release in March of 1972. Tommy will re-sign with the Cubs in July and eventually be traded to the Orioles. Tommy’s release may have factored into Topps not issuing a Davis card in 1973. His streak of cards on different teams ends at seven years.
But fortune shines on Tommy in the form of the Designated Hitter being implemented in the American League in 1973. The mobility challenged Davis is inserted into the potent Orioles lineup in the DH role. Tommy will have a career renaissance, helping Baltimore to two East Division championships in 1973-74.
The Orioles part ways after 1975. Tommy latches on with the Yankees, who release him at the end of spring training. The Angels sign him in July of 1976, but the nomadic Davis shuffles off to Kansas City in September- which is the team he is depicted on in his cardboard swan song as a player in 1977.
However, there is a career-capper of sorts found in the 1982 Donruss set. Tommy received a card, while serving as the Mariners’ batting coach.
Davis’ trek results in cards on 10 different teams, one more than Ken Brett, as I chronicled in a previous post.
If you know of another player with more teams, let us know. In any event: “Tommy Davis has been everywhere, man/He’s been everywhere, man/He’s crossed Chavez Ravine, man/He’s breathed the Seattle air, man/Baltimore crab cakes he’s eaten his share, man/Tommy’s been everywhere……”
I highly encourage everyone to read the SABR Bio Project Tommy Davis biography by Mark Stewart and Paul Hirsch.
The bronze plaques of the Hall of Famers that hang in the gallery in Cooperstown could be considered the ultimate baseball cards, though obviously no collector (not even Keith Olbermann) can collect them. The closest we can come is by collecting the classic Hall of Fame plaque postcards – a living set (predating the Topps Living Set by several decades) that is augmented each year by the annual class of new Hall of Famers.
A subset of the Hall of Fame plaque postcards that I’ve enjoyed collecting over the years is the variations created when one of the original bronze plaques is replaced by a new, altered plaque (and that new plaque is then reproduced on a postcard).
By my count, at least 17 original plaques have been replaced over the years by altered versions (with changes to the likeness, name or text), including one that’s been changed at least twice, and another that’s been changed at least three times. This is only an informal survey, based on my examinations of the plaques currently on display in the Hall, photographs from induction ceremonies, my collection of Hall of Fame plaque postcards, and readers’ responses to the original posting of this article (which alerted me to the Ruth, Barrow, Lemon and Fisk variations). I inquired at the Hall of Fame library about (1) any sort of official list of changed plaques and (2) any archived correspondence regarding the when and why of the changes made, but was told (1) that there was no such official list and (2) that any such internal correspondence was not available for public view.
Here’s what I’ve got as of April 2020:
As strange as it may sound, what must be the most-read plaque in the Hall and, I’m guessing, the best-selling plaque postcard every year, originally had the wrong year for Ruth’s major league debut — an error that went uncorrected for nearly 70 years! Ruth’s incorrect career span of “1915-1935” on his original plaque was changed to the correct “1914-1935” at some point in late 2005 or 2006. (Thanks to Jimmy Seidita for pointing out the change in Ruth’s plaque and for the link in his comment below to a 2005 New York Times article about the plaques.)
The likeness on Ed Barrow’s original plaque was changed sometime between 1954 and 1959 – this is the earliest change in a plaque that I’ve found. Elected by the Veterans’ Committee in late 1953, Barrow was formally inducted (and his original plaque likely made its public debut) at the following summer’s ceremony with the Class of 1954. The original plaque appears on Artvue Type 1 (no bolts) postcards (produced from 1953-1955), but I haven’t been able to find the original on an Artvue Type 2 (produced from 1956-1963), so the change may have happened prior to 1956. I do have a Hall of Fame guidebook published in July 1959 that shows the replacement plaque. (Thanks to Adam Penale for pointing out the change in Barrow’s plaque.)
Author’s question: Is there an Artvue Type 2 postcard showing the original Barrow plaque?
Even given the limited space on the plaques for describing an inductee’s achievements, the Hall has made some curious editorial choices over the years when composing the text (Barry Larkin’s plaque fails to mention his 1995 NL MVP award, for example), but no omission was more glaring than the fact that Jackie Robinson’s original plaque made no mention of his integration of the major leagues. His 1962 plaque (left) was replaced in 2008 with an altered version of the text (right) that remedied that situation. There’s a discussion of the change on the Hall’s website.
It appears that Feller’s plaque has been changed at least three times. His original plaque from 1962 (top left in the photo below, on an Artvue postcard) was later replaced by a plaque with two changes: a different likeness, and his winning percentage in the last line of text erroneously changed from “P.C..621” to “P.C.,621” (top right, on a Curteichcolor green-back). That second version was replaced by a third version that had his career years listed as “1936-1956” and maintained the “,621” error (lower left, on a Mike Roberts postcard printed in 1992). Subsequently, that third version was itself replaced with a new plaque that shows (as the first two versions of his plaque did) his career years as “1936-1941” and “1945-1956” (reflecting the gap in his baseball career due to his military service) and corrects the “,621” to “.621” (lower right, on the current Scenic Art postcard).
It appears that Teddy Ballgame’s plaque has been changed at least twice. The original plaque that was displayed at his 1966 induction ceremony was subsequently replaced by a plaque bearing a slightly different likeness (on the left in the photo below). That replacement plaque was itself later replaced by a new plaque (on the right) with a drastically different likeness. As to why the changes were made, I note the following from Thomas Boswell in The Washington Post on August 9, 1977: “Ted Williams was so incensed by his nonlikeness that he demanded a new plaque.”
A picture of Williams posing (at his 1966 induction ceremony) with his original plaque can be seen accompanying an article on the Hall’s website.
Author’s question: Was a Hall of Fame postcard produced depicting the original 1966 Ted Williams plaque?
Musial’s original 1969 plaque was replaced by one with a slightly changed text, including the replacement of “SLUGGING PERCENTAGE 6 YEARS” with “AND WON SEVEN N.L. BATTING TITLES.”
Clemente’s original 1973 plaque was replaced in 2000 in order to reflect the traditional Latin American presentation of his full name (whereby his given last name is followed by his mother’s maiden name). Juan Marichal’s original plaque was replaced to make a similar change (see below). The original Clemente plaque is on display in the kids’ section of the Museum (in the original Hall of Fame library building) – as far as I know, it is the only one of the replaced plaques on public display anywhere (though the Hall’s website says the original Jackie Robinson plaque remains “a part of the Museum’s collections and will be used for educational purposes”).
Spahn’s original 1973 plaque was replaced by one showing a corrected career strikeout total of 2,583 in the next-to-last line of the text.
Lemon’s original 1976 plaque showed his career years as “1941-1942 AND 1946-1958,” which reflected the gap in his career due to military service in WWII. His original plaque was subsequently replaced with one showing his career years as “1941-1958.” (Thanks to Rick McElvaney for pointing out the change in Lemon’s plaque.)
I’m curious as to the “why” on this one. Instead of a slight emendation to correct the erroneous reference on Roberts’s original 1976 plaque to his having led the league in shutouts twice (he actually led the league once), the replacement plaque bears a wholesale change to the text, including a new and mysterious reference to his having been “MAJOR LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR, 1952 AND 1955.” Assuming the award being referred to is The Sporting News Major League Player of the Year Award, the information on the replacement plaque is incorrect – Roberts did win that award in 1952, but Duke Snider won it in 1955 (Roberts did win The Sporting News Pitcher of the Year Award in 1952 and 1955).
Editor’s Note:Mr. James Roberts, the youngest son of the Hall of Fame pitcher, reached out to us to explain the reason for the plaque’s update:
“You say it is curious as to ‘why’ on Roberts. On the original it said ‘while usually playing for second division teams.’ He did not like that, he felt his teammates were being disparaged. He requested the change. Now you know why.
As with Clemente’s plaque (see above), Marichal’s original plaque was replaced to reflect the traditional Latin American presentation of his full name.
The original 1998 plaque for Davis was later replaced to correct the years he served as player manager in the last line of the text, from “1898, 1900 and 1901” to “1895, 1900 and 1901.” The replacement plaque has not been reproduced on a postcard yet – possibly because they still haven’t sold through the original July 1998 print run! Based on how many “Date of Printing July 1998” Davis postcards were available on the rack during my most recent visit to the Hall’s gift shop in October 2019, we may be many years away from a new printing of his postcard (which would presumably show the replacement plaque).
Fisk’s original 2000 plaque was replaced to change his number of games caught (in the second line of the text) from 2,229 to 2,226. (Thanks to Wayne McElreavy for pointing out the change in Fisk’s plaque.)
Hill’s original 2006 plaque was replaced to correct his first name: “JOSEPH” was changed to “JOHN.”
Sutter’s original 2006 plaque was replaced to correct a typographical error: in the sixth line of the text, “LEAD” was changed to “LED.”
Alomar’s original 2011 plaque was replaced by a new one with a slightly different likeness.
Santo’s original 2012 plaque was replaced by a new one with a slightly different likeness.
Bullet Rogan – possible future change
The 2019 Hall of Fame Almanac correctly lists Rogan’s full name as “Charles Wilber ‘Joe’ Rogan,” but, as of the time of this writing, his plaque (as well as the Hall of Fame’s website) shows his full name incorrectly as “Wilber Joe Rogan.” I’ve got my eye on this one…
UPDATE (JULY 2020): the Hall of Fame has changed Rogan’s page on the official HOF website to show his name as “Charles Wilber Rogan” — could a corresponding change of his plaque be in the offing? Watch this space!
As mentioned above, this list reflects only my personal, informal survey and is quite possibly incomplete — additional information from readers would be most welcome!
One of the most aesthetically pleasing sets in my collection is the 1991 “Living Legends” Negro League postcards. The set was produced by Capital Cards in conjunction with the Negro League Baseball Players Association and features the impressive artwork of Ron Lewis, who produced several art sets in the 1980s and ‘90s.
The numbered cards measure 3-1/2” x 5-1/4” and were distributed in a 30-card boxed sets. Supposedly, 10,000 sets were produced. Mr. Lewis traveled the card show circuit to sell his wares. Dealers such as Larry Fritsch must have purchased in bulk, since the sets are currently available for under $30.
The backs have typical postcard markings, players’ names and
brief biography. Mr. Lewis’ signature
adorns the bottom, and the set’s specific number out of the 10,000 is shown on
The depicted players will be very familiar to those steeped in Negro League history. However, some are not household names. For example, Verlan “Lefty” Mathis was a Memphis pitcher, seen here in this wonderful Red Sox uniform. This study of Newark Eagle Max Manning is truly spectacular, as well.
Upon viewing the set for the first time in years, I discovered Jehosie Heard had a card. I became familiar with him when I explored the first cards of the Baltimore Orioles. The artist may have used the 1954 Topps card or the original photo as a model for Jehosie on the Birmingham Black Barons.
Another name that stands out is Lyman Bostock, Sr., the father of the late ‘70s Twins and Angels outfielder of with the same name. Of course, Lyman, Jr., was shot and killed at the height of his career in 1978. Father and son were estranged, due to the younger Lyman’s belief that his father abandoned him. I was unaware of Bostock, Sr., until obtaining this set. He had a long Negro Leagues career stretching from 1938 to 1954.
Ron Lewis included a pair of brothers, Garnett and Lonnie Blair, who both played for the Homestead Grays. The Pittsburgh-based club also called Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., home.
Catchers depicted wearing the “tools of ignorance’ are
always a treat. Bill Cash and Josh
Johnson are no exception.
In addition to the lesser known players, Mr. Lewis produced cards for the famous too. Examples include National Baseball Hall of Fame members Leon Day, Monte Irvin, Buck Leonard and Ray Dandridge. Another well-known player, “Double Duty” Radcliffe, is part of the set.
The 60 years since the last Negro League game was played
means that most of the players depicted have passed away. As of this writing,
the immortal Willie Mays is still amongst the living.
In closing, I encourage you to add the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City to your baseball bucket list. I was there in 2005 and enjoyed every minute. Plus, Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue is a few blocks away on Brooklyn Avenue. After stuffing yourself, head down Brooklyn to the former site of Municipal Stadium.
Editor’s note: Card 24 in the set is often listed as Hall of Fame catcher, Josh Gibson. In fact, the card depicts his son, Josh Gibson, Jr.
When I first started going to baseball card shows in 1973, prehistoric times, I was then, as I am now, a collector first. Investment potential has never been a driving force for me. As an 11-year old, I knew there were certain guys I wanted to collect, at least get all their Topps base cards. I wasn’t on the prowl for Mantles (never a favorite) or even Mays or Aarons (though I loved those two). I’d always buy those guys as the mood took me. There were some players though, that felt compelled to buy. Frank Robinson was one of those.
For a kid coming of age in the late ‘60’s-early’70’s, F. Robby was at the top layer of baseball, as a player and as a person. When he became the Indians manager in 1975, he soared above all others, save Aaron, who had only the year before become the All-Time Home Run leader.
I’m not going to go through a comprehensive list of Frank Robinson cards, just some that stuck with me. I’ll say this about Frank – there was something in his look that made his cards standout, always, year after year.
Yes, it’s a rookie card, but that’s not why it’s here. It’s hard to stand out in a set that is perfect from #1 to #407, but look at this, really look at it. The calm confidence of a kid who knows what lies ahead, even if we don’t. This is the face, and the pose, of a man who is quite aware he belongs. The uniform, slight choking up and stadium background make this as good as card as ever made.
1970 Topps Poster
This oversized (8 11/16” X 9 5/8”), much folded vision of a much older Robinson, shows the two sides that seemed ever present – the ferocity of the player, swinging fiercely, and the joy of the man, smiling broadly. Robinson was never mistaken for “The Say Hey Kid” in exuberance, but it was there. This is a favorite.
Truly his last player card (though 1975 has him as a DH, even though he was a player-manager). Wistful, contemplative, with all the traits that made him the obvious choice to be the first. We all knew he would be, it was only a matter of time, and that time was one year away.
1975 Cleveland Indians postcard
Great team issue set, featuring Frank solo and with his coaching staff. HIS coaching staff. Everyone looks happy, none more so than Robinson, and deservedly so.
A fantastic set, and Frank, still swinging, poses as more player than manager. He looks like he can still bring it at the plate, but those moments were few and far between. The Shea Stadium backdrop, home of the Yankees from 1974-1975, adds a little period charm.
Robinson was an electric figure, but, for all his history making achievements as player, a manager, and executive, there’s always been a sense that he never got his just due, then, and now, overshadowed by Mantle, Mays, Aaron, the tragedy of Clemente. For me, he was in their class, often rising above them, a very special person.
During the 1999 World Series, my friend Rick and I stayed at a hotel in Atlanta and, we ended up on the elevator with Frank. That’s it, nothing to really to tell. We said hi, left, end of story, except it was friggin’ thrilling. WE MET FRANK ROBINSON! Years before I moved to Cooperstown and became mayor, running into someone of his caliber was rare for me, but even after all my experiences over the last 10+ years, that I once rode in an elevator with Frank Robinson is still exciting to recall, a priceless memory, that could only be valued in this kind of currency.
One of my favorite posts on the SABR Baseball Cards blog is Matthew Prigge‘s “Like a Broken Record” (March 2017), in which he detailed the progression of the Topps Highlights and Record Breaker cards from their respective origins in the 1975 and 1976 sets. In what I hope will be my first of many posts for this blog, I will go backward instead and focus on the ancestry of these cards, following a prehistory that goes back to more than a century ago.
Before jumping in, I’ll give a few examples of cards I will not include, along with my rationale for omission, as sometimes the best way to define one’s scope is to identify what falls just outside it
World Series cards
The first Topps World Series multi-card subset was in 1960, consisting of seven absolutely beautiful cards that told the story of the 1959 Fall Classic between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox.
If we consider single card subsets as a thing, then the very first Topps World Series subset came two years earlier with the 1958 Topps World Series Batting Foes (Mantle/Aaron) card. Because Topps would continue to push out World Series subsets with regularity, even in years with Record Breaker/Highlight cards, we will exclude World Series cards from our study. True, they feature highlights from the prior season, but they are a large enough sub-genre to warrant separate treatment.
The same logic will apply to the 1961 Topps (cards 471-486) and 1975 Topps (cards 189-212) MVP subsets. While MVP cards lacked the perennial quality of the World Series cards, they still feel more like their own category of cards than exemplars of the Record Breakers/Highlights category.
All-Stars, All-Star Rookies, etc.
Finally, while one could consider being named an All-Star or All-Star Rookie a highlight—at least very broadly—we will exclude these subsets for the same reasons as each of the others.
Pre-1975 Highlights and Record Breaker cards
Having identified what doesn’t make the cut, we are now ready to begin our journey, starting off where Matthew’s original article left off. As I like to do, we’ll proceed in reverse chronological order, though the article should accommodate a bottom-to-top if you prefer it that way.
Well there’s this guy of course!
1974 Bob Parker 2nd Best
It’s fitting that the second set we encounter on the way to the Topps run of Highlights and Record Breakers is a set honoring players who came in second! In addition to providing budget collectors with a shot at “Shoeless Joe,” the Vic Power card is a must have for “cards that say robust on the front” supercollectors.
A major differentiator between these cards and the Record Breaker/Highlights cards Matthew profiles are that these cards reach back across the vast history of the game whereas the more modern cards focus on the season immediately prior. Were we to treat this distinction as fatal, this article would be very short indeed, so we’ll continue under the assumption that cards such as these are allowed into the ancestry.
In addition to the various Fleer sets he worked on, artist R.G. Laughlin also put out his own set of cards in 1972. There were 51 cards in all, along with multiple color variations.
1971 Topps Greatest Moments
This 55-card release from Topps is without a doubt one of the toughest of the 1970s, and unfortunately for player collectors on a budget one that is filthy with Hall of Famers. Unlike the Fleer sets of the early 1970s the checklist consists entirely of (then) current players, but again the feats themselves span multiple years.
The nine cards from 311-319 in the 1962 Topps set are commonly referred to as “In Action” cards. Many of the cards, such as “Ford Tosses a Curve,” would strike only the most easily impressed baseball fans as highlights; however, this same subset does feature the biggest record to be broken in at least 20 years. In a move we might today regard as trolling, Topps chose this same year to dedicate a full ten cards to the previous record holder!
As with the “In Action” cards, the “Babe Ruth Special” cards were a mix of Record Breaker and non-RB cards. Ruth’s card 144 (no, not THAT 144), titled “Farewell Speech,” is particularly relevant to this post in that the front featured a career-capping highlight–the speech–while the back listed Babe Ruth’s various records.
The 1961 set marked second time in three years that Topps put out a “Baseball Thrills” subset in its main release. There were ten cards in all, including a mix of current (Larsen, Mantle, Haddix) and retired players.
1961 Nu-Card Baseball Scoops
While the Topps set offered the opportunity to beef up ones knowledge of baseball’s greatest achievements, the go-to set that year for history buffs was put out by Nu-Card. Numbered 401-480 for reasons unknown to me, these 80 cards presented collectors with nearly the complete canon of baseball feats. Even to this day, if you could choose just one set to learn the history of baseball from, I believe this would be it.
1960 Nu-Card Baseball Hi-Lites
This 72-card offering is similar in many ways to the set that followed it one year later, the most salient difference being their postcard size. Many highlights were reused from one set to another, as shown by the “Aaron’s bat…” cards in each set. (I believe the image on the 1960 card incorrectly shows Aaron’s pennant-clinching home run against the Cardinals, a problem which could have been solved by interchanging this images on his two cards in the set.)
While the 1961 Topps subset included long retired greats of the game, the 1959 “Baseball Thrills” cards exclusively featured active players. Between the immense star power of the players and the fantastic artwork, these cards crack my top two all-time for greatest vintage subset ever.
1959 Fleer Ted Williams
This 80-card set really covers the gamut as far as Ted Williams highlights are concerned, including highlights from his time in the military and his off-season hobbies of hunting and fishing. As an aside, you can see many of the photographs these cards were based on in Ted’s 2018 PBS documentary.
1954 Topps Scoop
A beautiful set off the radar of many baseball card collectors is the 1954 Topps Scoop set, which features 154 historical events, including a handful from the sporting world. The four baseball subjects are Bob Feller’s 18 strikeouts in a game, Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs in a season, the Braves move to Milwaukee, and a very long game between Brooklyn and Boston.
As a quick spoiler alert, if you have not already seen the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” avoid purchasing this set. Card 82 completely gives away the ending.
Though the name of the “Sport Thrills” set suggests other sports beyond baseball (and one card is even titled “Football Block”), all 20 cards in this set feature baseball highlights and records. A notable is the Jackie Robinson card, which I believe to be the earliest card front to refer to a player’s rookie season. (And if I’m wrong about that, it’s still a Jackie Robinson card from 1948!)
The Sport Thrills set wasn’t the only baseball set that Swell issued in 1948. They also issued a 28-card “Babe Ruth Story” set to go along with the movie of the same name. Naturally, as this is the Bambino we’re talking about, the set includes several highlights. While some of cards include Ruth himself, it should be noted that the most common “Ruth” on the cards is William Bendix, who played Ruth in the movie. An example is card 15, which shows Ruth…I mean Bendix…calling his shot in the 1932 World Series.
1938 Wheaties “Biggest Thrills in Baseball” (Series 10)
The back panel of Wheaties boxes featured a player from each major league team along with a highlight from the player’s career. While I didn’t include it here, the Wheaties “100 Years of Baseball” set from the following year could be said to feature highlights as well, though a typical example is “Crowd Boos First Baseball Glove!”
1925 Turf Cigarettes (UK)
In 1925 London tobacco manufacturer Alexander Boguslavsky Ltd issued a set of 50 “Sports Records” cards. The very last card in the set featured American baseball and George Sisler’s recent batting record. (I’m not sure why they wouldn’t have gone with Hornsby’s record, but perhaps news traveled slow back then.)
1912 T202 Hassan Triple Folders
I often end pieces like this with a wild card entry, one that may not meet the criteria applied to other sets but scores bonus points for its age. The middle panel of each T202 card features a great action shot, which is then described further on the card’s reverse. Most of these cards simply focus on a single play–exciting or not–that fails to rise to the level of a Record Breaker or Highlight.
However, the set does include some cards with narratives that do in fact rise to the level of a Highlight. An example of this is the Bergen/Barger “A Great Batsman” card, which on the back describes Napoleon Lajoie’s 227 hits in 1910 as breaking the American League record, even if today we no longer believe it! (At the time Lajoie’s 1901 hit total was thought to be 220, but he is now credited with either 229 or 232 hits, depending who you ask.)
A handful of other sets are worth mention here, even if they didn’t earn top billing. The 1972 Topps “In Action” cards and 1964 Topps Giants cards both featured highlights on the backs of the cards. Meanwhile, the very rare 1914 E&S Publishing postcard set includes background cartoons with captions that in some cases rise to the level of significant highlights or records.
The 1975 Topps set marked an important innovation in the history of the hobby in that it was the first major release to dedicate baseball cards, specifically its “Highlights” subset, to the most important historical feats of the prior season. However, like all innovations, this one did not appear out of a vacuum. Rather, it drew–intentionally or by happenstance–on a long and rich legacy of cardboard that came before it.
I hope this article allowed you to enjoy the cards and sets profiled not only as fantastic in their own right but also as important evolutionary stops along the way toward the Highlights and Record Breaker cards so many of us collected in our youth, if not the Topps Now cards many collectors still collect today.
Jason joined SABR in January 2019. Collecting interests include Hank Aaron, Dwight Gooden, and Sir Isaac Newton. You can find him on Twitter as @HeavyJ28 or on the Web here and here. He lives in the Chicago area but originally hails from Los Angeles.
When conditions are optimal, a perfect storm may form. Three decades ago, the collision of an athlete at his peak and the excesses of the “Junk Wax” card era resulted in a “Texas tornado” cutting a swath across the cardboard landscape.
The legendary, laconic Texan, Nolan Ryan, was at the height of fame from the early eighties to the end of his career in ’93. (I attended his final game, played at the Kingdome.) This coincided with the emergence of new card companies in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, all of which needed product lines. Ryan was the perfect subject for numerous “odd ball” and promotional card sets. Over 30 different sets featuring the “Express” would find their way into the hobby
The first company to cash in on the Ryan phenomenon was Star, who introduced a 24-card set in ’86. They follow up with 11 card sets in ’89 and ’90. The cards have simple designs with white backs featuring stats and highlights. Only one card out of the three sets show Nolan on the Mets.
Next in the “shoot” are two postcard sets consisting of 12 cards each in ’90 and ’91. The postcards were distributed under the name “Historic Limited Edition” and all featured original art work from Susan Rini. Since the company produced 10,000 sets each year, their definition of limited is questionable.
In my humble opinion, the best of the lot was produced by Mother’s Cookies, which included four different cards in the cookie bags in ’90 and four more in ’91. They returned with a eight card “No-Hitters” set in ’92 and culminated with 10 cards in ’93. The design follows the Mother’s template: simple design, excellent photography and a glossy finish. I have a few of these from each series
Donruss teamed up with Coca-Cola in ’92 to issue a 26-card career retrospective set distributed in 12-packs of Coke products. I collected these at the time and have 12 different cards.
Classic cards chimed in with a 10-card set in ‘91 that resembles all of their “crap” cards of the era.
Other Ryan sets were issued by Spectrum, Barry Colla, Whataburger, Bleachers 23K. ‘95 MLB All-Star Fan Fest and Classic Metal Impressions. Also, Upper Deck produced a mini-set within the “Heroes” issue in ’91.
By any definition, this number of sets is excessive. But one company, Pacific Trading Cards, ‘jumped the shark.” The Seattle area company produced a 222 card, two series set in ’91. Add to that, a ’93 Nolan Ryan Limited regular and gold issues, plus a special 30 card box set called: “Texas Express.” But wait, there’s more. Pacific teamed with Advil — for whom Ryan was a spokesman — to produce a set in ’96.
Producing hundreds of cards for the same player results in mind-numbing repetitiveness. Even throwing in cards depicting Nolan on a horse, with other animals and his family doesn’t break up the monotony.
The next time you curse the Aaron Judge card explosion, remember how Ryan’s “heater” caused a “junk wax” era meltdown.
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.
Cover off, much to be explored.
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…
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.
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.
I don’t know if there’s a sheet around that would work for these cards. In the shoebox they remain.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Real photo postcards are postcards with genuine photographic images on the fronts. They do not have “ink-and-printing-press” images but are actual photographs on photopaper. They were designed and printed on the backs to be mailed, often having handwritten letters, addresses and postage stamps on the back.
Real photo postcards with baseball subjects are popularly collected by vintage baseball card and memorabilia collectors, and prime examples of famous players and teams can fetch big bucks at auction. However, real photo postcards can be found with a wide range of subjects, including other sports, movie stars, politicians, nature and animals. Vintage real photo postcards, including of non-sport subjects, is a major collecting area all around the world.
Most real photo postcards were essentially family photographs and snapshots intended to be given to relatives and friends or to be put in the family album. The factory made real photo postcard photopaper that happened to be a convenient size for such purposes. These family photos and snapshots will show standard family poses, including little Jimmy in his school uniform, the family picnicking or a wedding reception.
Some real photo postcards were used for advertising or sold to the public at stores and are equivalent to trading cards– and, thus, actively collected by trading card collectors. Many of these show celebrities such as movie stars, sports stars and politicians. You can find examples picturing everyone from Ty Cobb to Red Grange to Greta Garbo to Thomas Edison.
Some famous sports photographers sold real photo postcards. This includes George Burke (the photographer for the Goudey and Play Ball sets), Carl Horner (the photographer for many early 1900s cards including the T206 Honus Wagner) and legendary boxing photographer Charles Dana.
Dating Real Photo Postcards
Real photos are dated by the back designs and text and, as shown later, authenticated by some basic knowledge of old photography.
In the United States real photo postcards originated in 1901. The American design of postcards was regulated by United States law and can be dated in general by the text and designs. Below is a brief description of the vintage designs.
Post Card Era (1901-1907) The use of the term “POST CARD” was granted by the government to private printers on December 24 1901. Earlier cards were called ‘Private Mailing Cards.’ Only the address was allowed to be written on the back of the card during Post Card Era. A blank panel was put on the front for messages.
Divided Back Era (1907- ) Postcards with a divided back began March 1 1907. The address was to be written on the right side and the left side was for writing messages. This is the same style used today. The early images were ‘full bleed,’ meaning that they went all the way to the edge of the card. White borders were popularly introduced around 1915. In more modern times, both full bleed and white borders were made, but the white borders almost always date mid 1910s and after.
Giving an ApproximateDate to a Real Photo Postcard by the Stampbox Markings
Many real photo postcards have text identifying the brand of paper. If this text exists, they will be found in the stampbox. The stampbox is the little square in the upper right hand corner that the stamps are placed on.
If a real photo postcard has the stampbox text, the below chart will help determine the general period in which the postcard was made. (Chart courtesy of the2Buds.com).
Postally mailed postcards will have the dated postage cancellation stamp. No better way to date postcard. In fact, the blank backed Pinkerton Postcards were confirmed to be vintage (there were doubts by some collectors), because a few were found to have been used as postcards with 1910s postmarks on the backs.
Other tips between for telling the difference between genuine vintage examples and modern reprints
As old postcards can easily be reprinted on home computer printers these days, the following are some additional tips for telling the difference between vintage and modern reprints. As you might expect the counterfeit ones will be of primo subjects, such as Babe Ruth, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Jim Thorpe. Needless to say, it is good practice to buy from reputable sellers who guarantee authenticity. If you want a second opinion, PSA and SGC grade real photo postcards.
* Silvering in the image as sign of old age. Silvering is when it appears as if the silver has come to surface of the image. If it exists, it is more noticeable at the edges and in the dark areas of the image, and when viewed at a specific angle to the light. If you change the angle of the photo to a light source, the silvering will become stronger and darker, sometimes disappearing. It can range in intensity and often resembles a silvery patina.
The key is that silvering is an aging process and appears after decades. The presence of silvering is very strong evidence of a real photo postcard’s old age.
* Early real photo postcards are on thinner stock have matte backs, though the fronts can be glossy. If the back has a smooth, plasticy surface, it is modern. Kodak introduce plastic resin-coated paper in 1968.
* Cyantotype real photo postcards. You will occasionally see real photo postcards with bright blue images. These are cyanotype photos, with cyan meaning light blue. Cyanotype was an old type process. Cyanotypes, even antique ones, don’t get silvering.
* If the front and back have a multi-color dot pattern under strong magnification, as on a modern baseball card or computer print, it is more than probably modern reprint, likely made on someone’s home computer.