The offseason between 1998 and 1999 was busy for the Chicago Cubs marketing team and Vine Line magazine staff. A marketing campaign with Old Style beer was conceived to conduct a fan vote for the Cubs’ All-Century team in early 1999 that included the production of an accompanying 21-card set. As discussions of the greatest players of the century were ongoing, the marketing department proposed a second set of cards highlighting “greatest moments.” According to Cubs team historian Ed Hartig, however, the problem they grappled with was “top moments of what? Of the team? Of the team during the century? Of the park? Of the team at the park?”
Ultimately, they decided to do a card set highlighting the top ten Cubs moments that occurred at Wrigley Field. A Budweiser sponsorship provided for a 10-card set to be given out at the August 6, 1999 game.
Unlike the Cubs All-Century Team, there was no fan voting component for the top moments. Instead, Hartig was tasked with selecting the greatest moments at Wrigley Field. After surveying media members, media relations staff, broadcasters, and others, Hartig took their suggestions and made the call on the definitive Cubs moments at Wrigley Field. He wrote some notes for each event and reviewed them with the Vine Line staffers. Hartig had “a couple ‘extra moments’ in [his] back pocket in case there was any pushback.” However, the conversation went almost as planned.
The only moment they struggled with was Babe Ruth’s alleged “Called Shot” during the 1932 World Series. Hartig jokingly argued it should not be included “because it didn’t happen and wasn’t truly a Cubs moment.” They eventually agreed it was too big a happening (despite its apocryphal nature) not to be included; however, they decided to use a photo of Cubs twirler Charlie Root on the card instead of Ruth.
Once the “moments” were finalized, the project was turned over to the Vine Line staff to design the cards. Photos for the older moments were selected from the George Brace Collection and newer ones came from Cubs photographer Steve Green. Hartig wrote the highlights for each moment to be used for the card backs. They intentionally did not rank the moments, but instead chose to list the cards chronologically.
Hartig recalled “a little bit of pushback from fans” regarding some of the top moment selections. Some folks were critical of what constituted “the moment” of Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game pitched on May 6, 1998. Others suggested that Mark Grace’s catch for the final out of the 1998 Wild Card tie-breaker game against the Giants on September 28, 1998 was more of a “moment.” Regardless, Ed knows they made the right call including the Kerry Wood game because “the whole game was a special moment!”
Some other games/moments considered included the first Chi-Fed game at the ballpark (then called Weeghman Park) on April 23, 1914; the first Cubs game at the park on April 20, 1916; the August 25, 1922 game in which the Cubs beat the Phillies 26-23 (still the most total runs ever scored in a game); Game 6 of the 1945 World Series; Jackie Robinson’s debut at Wrigley Field on May 18, 1947; no-hitters by Sam Jones and Ken Holtzman; and All-Star games at Wrigley Field in 1947, 1962, and 1990.
If only Topps Now existed all along!
Here are Ed Hartig’s personal Top Three Moments (through 1999):
September 28, 1938 – Gabby Hartnett’s “Homer in the Gloamin’”
“Hartnett’s HR gets the number 1 spot for me because it checks off so many boxes. He was a Cubs legend and Hall of Famer, it was dramatic AND it had a significant impact on an improbable comeback to win the NL pennant. The HR didn’t win the pennant as many may claim, but it certainly crushed the Pirates’ spirit.”
May 6, 1998 – Kerry Wood Strikes out 20 Houston Astros in his fifth Major League start
“Wood’s 20 K game would be second. I’ve jokingly said that game reminded me of an adult playing in a kids’ game of Wiffle Ball—with the kids mouthing off. Rather than take it easy on the kids, the adult is throwing curve balls with two-foot breaks or blowing fastballs right past them. It just wasn’t fair.”
December 12, 1965 – Gale Sayers Scores Six Touchdowns
“Number Three is the “Kerry Wood Game” equivalent for football—when [Bears running back] Gale Sayers scored six touchdowns against the 49ers. I know we didn’t include football in the top moments card set, but in a true list of top moments at the park, this game must be included. Sayers was the adult running through, over, and around a group of kids. It was the original ‘it just wasn’t fair.’”
May 12, 1970 – Banks’ 500th Home Run
August 8, 1988 – First Night Game at Wrigley Field
“The first night game and Ernie’s 500th would likely come next—I go back and forth on which is fourth and which is fifth. I got to know Ernie while working with the team and his 500th was the first great moment I can remember watching as a kid, so maybe that pushes him to fourth. But without the lights, the Cubs might not be playing in Wrigley Field today. Toss a coin which is fourth and which is fifth.”
October 1, 1932 – Ruth’s “Called Shot”
“A lot of people list Ruth’s home run high on their lists. As one who thinks it is more myth than truth, I personally don’t rate it very high. But I know others do, so I included it among the top ten—but it would be further down the list.” [Regardless of all the lore that has followed this alleged event, video footage clearly shows that Ruth was pointing at the Cubs’ dugout, not predicting a home run.]
Hartig also had a few ideas for moments that would crack the Top Ten today: the Cubs clinching the Central Division at home in 2008; knocking off the Cardinals in the 2015 NLDS; and Miguel Montero’s grand slam against the Dodgers in the 2016 NLCS. Kyle Hendricks’ two-hit gem over the Dodgers to win the NL pennant in 2016 would certainly be a worthwhile entry for that new list, too.
1999 Budweiser Wrigley Field Top Ten Moments Checklist
(Cards are unnumbered, list presented in chronological order)
May 2, 1917 – Hippo Vaughn-Fred Toney Double No-Hitter
October 1, 1932 – Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot” (photo is Charlie Root)
September 28, 1938 – Gabby Hartnett’s “Homer in Gloamin’”
May 15, 1960 – Don Cardwell’s No-Hitter
May 12, 1970 – Ernie Banks’ 500th Home Run
September 2, 1972 – Milt Pappas’ Near-Perfect Game (Cubs broadcaster Lou Boudreau in foreground)
June 23, 1984 – The Sandberg Game
August 8, 1988 – First Night Game at Wrigley Field (uncorrected error – “Wrigley Feild” on front of card)
May 6, 1998 – Kerry Wood’s 20 Strikeouts
September 13, 1998 – Sammy Sosa Hits Home Runs 61 and 62
Special thanks to Chicago Cubs team historian and Chicago SABR member Ed Hartig for the behind-the-scenes information into how he helped the Cubs create this fantastic card set.
Like many Chicago kids of the 1960s and 1970s, Ed Hartig owes much of his baseball love to WGN-TV broadcasts of afternoon Cubs games from Wrigley Field. When his older siblings were at school, he would sit in front of the television with his baseball cards spread out in front of him arranged in the line-ups for each team. When his siblings got home from school, mom would kick them all out of the house. So Ed would grab his glove and play ball in the backyard while listening to the rest of the Cubs game on WGN-Radio. Little did he know at that point that he would someday help prepare an All-Century Team card set commemorating the ultimate Cubs roster for the 20th century.
Hartig began working for the Cubs as a freelance writer on special projects in 1988 and was a regular contributor to the Cubs’ Vine Line magazine by 1996. Shortly after the 1998 season ended, the team’s marketing and publications departments met to pitch story ideas and promotions for the coming year (perhaps a few of which may have involved the home run chase from the previous season). One of those ideas was selecting a Cubs all-century team in either 1999 or 2000. However, once Major League Baseball decided to run their All-Century promotion during the 1999 season, the Cubs decided to follow suit.
Hartig was tasked with compiling a ballot of the best Cubs players and managers whose careers took place in the 1900s and—crucial for our story—was told that the finalized team would be memorialized with a baseball card set. Hartig carefully put together a slate of the 40 most deserving individuals and got approval from the marketing and publications departments. The final ballot included 26 position players, 10 pitchers, and four managers.
The selection of the Cubs’ All-Century Team was then turned over to the fans. Voting began during spring training and ran through mid-April, which gave the team time to produce the first set of cards for a scheduled giveaway on May 15. Votes were accepted either by mailing in a paper ballot from the newspaper or on-line through Metromix.com, an entertainment-based division of the Chicago Tribune. The ballot was divided into position players, pitchers, and managers; however, fans were asked to simply select their favorite 20 Cubs with no special instructions for picking so many per category or position. The promotion was sponsored by Old Style beer and voters were automatically entered into a contest to win tickets and the chance to throw out the first pitch at a Cubs game later that season.
In total, Cubs fans cast over 120,000 votes and the All-Century Team was announced in early May. The final team consisted of 21 individuals, instead of the 20 originally planned, after a decision was made to add Frank Chance as the manager.
The baseball card fronts and backs included a handsome Wrigley Field marquee motif done by the Vine Line staff. Photos of older players were selected from the George Brace Collection and the more recent photos were those taken by Cubs team photographer Steve Green. Hartig prepared the card backs using the materials he had researched during the initial ballot construction and he separately authored full-page articles for the Vine Line’s All-Century Team. Unlike a number of the Cubs’ team-issued card sets, the Old Style All-Century Team cards were produced in the standard 2½” x 3 ½” size.
The set was distributed in seven-card packs across three home dates on May 15, June 26, and August 3. Because the card set was sponsored by Old Style, the cards were only handed out to the first 20,000 fans at each game who were 21 years of age or older. Accordingly, it is not easy to determine how many of these cards survived.
The living All-Century Team members—including current Cubs Mark Grace and Sammy Sosa—were honored at the September 25, 1999 game and the retired players serenaded the crowd of 39,000 with their rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch.
Although there was some apparent recency bias in the fans’ voting, Hartig was generally satisfied with the results. If he had to pick one slight, however, it would have been 1940s outfielder Bill “Swish” Nicholson, “what a great slugger and an even nicer person!” Ed also wished that he had thought to honor a trainer (Andy Lotshaw), equipment manager (Yosh Kawano), and traveling secretary (Bob Lewis) on the All-Century team photo after the fan’s selections were tallied.
As for his All-Century starting lineup, Ed would have gone with this squad:
Baseball announcers occupy an odd space that straddles the line between team members and adoring fans. They often enjoy tenures longer than players and managers and can weather multiple ownership changes. Some broadcasters even become so connected with a ballclub’s identity that their popularity rivals the team’s Hall of Fame ballplayers. Numerous broadcasters have been inducted into team halls of fame and 47 individuals have received the Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually to a broadcaster for “major contributions to baseball,” an honor that includes recognition (but not official enshrinement) at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. In fact, beloved announcers such as Harry Kalas, Bob Uecker, Dave Niehaus, Harry Caray, Ernie Harwell, and Jack Buck have been immortalized with statuary at the ballparks where they called (or continue) to call games for their given teams. Yet, there is seemingly little love paid to announcers by card manufacturers, especially with national issues.
The Trading Card Database (“TCDB”) lists just 471 results for a search of baseball cards in the “announcer” category, with the first result appearing in 1933. This list includes cards depicting nightly sportscasters and disc jockeys, which would tend to indicate that the “announcer” label is often used as a catchall for any on-air broadcasters, not just play-by-play commentators or game analysts.
The labeling issue becomes more apparent, however, when totaling the number of cards for the broadcasters who have been bestowed the Ford C. Frick Award. This number is 580, over 100 more cards than found on the “announcer” list.
Searching TCDB by individual broadcasters’ names demonstrates conclusively that the “announcer” label (“ANN”) is not used with any consistency. For example, a search for “Vin Scully” will produce 114 results, cards spanning from 1960 through 2023, including parallel releases and autographed editions. A search of “Vin Scully” and the “ANN” qualifier, however, produces only two results.
Considering that Pittsburgh’s KDKA first broadcast a baseball game on August 5, 1921 (an event itself worthy of commemoration on a baseball card), it seems incredible how few broadcaster cards have been issued in the past 100 years. Indeed, utility infielder Tommy LaStella has had more cards issued since 2011 (586) than all of the Ford C. Frick Award winners combined (580).
Radio (Baseball Card) Pioneers
The 1933 Minneapolis Millers of the American Association were managed by future Hall of Famer Dave Bancroft and featured first baseman Joe Hauser, who clobbered an incredible 69 home runs that season. Although Wheaties is best known for its collectible cereal boxes, the company also promoted minor league baseball across the country and particularly in Minneapolis, hometown of parent company General Mills. That season, Wheaties issued a set of 24 postcards (4″ by 5-9/16″) featuring the players, manager, and for the first time ever documented, a team’s radio broadcaster.
Jerry Harrington, dubbed “The Little Irish Tenor,” was a multi-talented performer for WCCO radio and was often called upon to sing and participate in dramatic productions for the station. In 1929, Harrington broadcast play-by-play accounts of the Millers’ away games from the sports office of The Star and beginning in 1930, was tabbed to broadcast both home games from Nicollet Park and the away contests. The 1933 Wheaties Harrington issue is his one and only baseball card.
A second set of similarly designed and sized postcards were purportedly produced by Wheaties for the Seattle Indians in 1933; however, only five postcards from this set have been found so it is unclear whether they were ever released to the public. One of the cards that has surfaced, however, is that of Indians broadcaster Leo Lassen. Lassen was named the publicity director of the Pacific Coast League Seattle club in 1931 and began broadcasting games for the team that season. He was a mainstay radio voice of the Indians and Seattle Rainiers through 1958 and was inducted into the Washington Sports Hall of Fame in 1974. The 1933 Wheaties Lassen issue is his one and only baseball card.
In 1938 Chicago’s Sawyer Biscuit company issued a set of 52 cabinet photos depicting Chicago Cubs and White Sox players available as a mail-in promotion. The set included Bob Elson, a tireless broadcaster who handled the home games for both the Cubs and White Sox from 1931 through 1942 for WGN radio.
TCDB also lists a second “broadcaster” card for Babs Gillen, but no example of the card has ever been found. According to some sleuthing by Pre-War Cards it appears that Delores “Babs” Gillen was Elson’s broadcast partner for certain radio programming, but she was not known to announce baseball games with him. Regardless, the Elson cabinet photo appears to be the first issue for a Major League broadcaster.
The Emergence of Baseball on the Radio
As of the 1940 Census, 28 million households in the United States (82.8% of the population) owned a radio and baseball owners began realizing that broadcasting games—both home and away—was a terrific way to promote live baseball at their respective ballparks, especially on the home front during World War II. Still, very few broadcaster cards were issued in the 1940s.
The Reds sold a boxed team card set in 1940 called the “The Cincinnati Reds by Harry Hartman, Radio Sports Expert” published by the Harry Hartman Publishing Company. Coincidently, Hartman was the radio voice for the Reds on WCPO and was entering his 13th season behind the microphone in 1940, a season in which the Reds won their first World Series championship since defeating the Black Sox in 1919. A card featuring Harry Hartman was included in his namesake set.
The 1940 Playball set included a “Former Major League Star” card for Gabby Street, who had last played for Yankees in 1912 (although he had given himself an at-bat as Cardinals manager in 1931) and last managed for the Browns in 1938. The final line of his biography on the reverse of his card indicated “Today, he is doing baseball broadcasting in St. Louis.” Street was eventually paired with Harry Caray in the Cardinals’ booth, and they worked together from 1945 to 1950.
The balance of cards for the 1940s belong to Oakland Oaks announcer Bud Foster, with a string of issues in each of 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1949 sponsored by either Remar Bread or Signal Oil/Gasoline. Foster was voice of the Pacific Coast League’s Oaks from 1946 through 1956, as the team won three championships during his run (1948, 1950, 1954). In 1985 Foster reminisced how ballparks in the old days had no radio booths for him on the road so he would just set up behind home plate, which left him vulnerable to bombardment by cushions, peanuts, and insults hurled by the opposing fans. Additionally, Mel Allen was featured in Yankees Picture Packs in 1948 and 1949, with seemingly indistinguishable photos.
Video Killed the Radio Star
In 1950 approximately 9% of American households had a television, but by 1960 the figure had skyrocketed to 90%. Regardless, there were still just a smattering of announcer cards issued in the 1950s, even despite the rise of the national baseball card product offerings by Bowman and Topps that included non-players such as umpires and league executives.
In 1954, future Ford C. Frick Award winner Bill King was named fulltime sports director at KOLN and KOLN-TV in Lincoln, Nebraska and took over the play-by-play announcing duties for the Western League Lincoln Chiefs. Weaver’s Wafers were a potato chip brand that issued a set of cards for the Chiefs in 1954 that included a card for King that encouraged fans to follow the team on KOLN. Despite King having announced for the San Francisco Giants from 1958-1962 and the Oakland A’s from 1981-2005, the 1954 issue is the only card that appears to have been issued for the venerable broadcaster. The card itself is exceedingly rare and the distribution method is sure to send shivers up the spines of condition conscious collectors—the cards were affixed to the outside of the potato chip bags with staples!
Future Ford C. Frick Award recipients Russ Hodges (New York Giants and San Francisco Giants) and Lon Simmons (San Francisco Giants) both appeared on a number of team-issued cards at the end of the 1950s, but only in their capacity as broadcasters for the San Francisco 49ers football team. Simmons did not get a proper baseball card until 1999, the Giants’ final season in Candlestick Park. His famous home run call “Tell it Goodbye!” was a fitting farewell to the ballpark, where he had broadcast since the Giants first began playing there in 1960.
The final announcer card issued in the 1950s featured Mark Scott, host of the popular Home Run Derby television show. The 1959 Home Run Derby baseball set contained 20 cards measuring 3-1/4” by 5-1/4” and included the participants in the game show filmed at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. Scott died unexpectedly on July 13, 1960 from a heart attack and the show did not return for another season.
Vin Scully and the Rise of the Beloved Broadcaster
The first TCDB entry for Vin Scully is the 1960 Union Oil 76 “Meet the Dodger Family” booklet, which he shares with Jerry Doggett. Scully’s first proper baseball card—a whopper at 4” by 6”—is the 1971 Ticketron Dodgers issue, which also happens to feature Jerry Doggett, with whom he worked from 1956 through 1987. All told, Scully is the leader of all broadcasters with 114 different cards listed on TCDB. Perhaps surprisingly, however, Scully did not make another appearance on a baseball card until 2004, when Fleer produced a 10-card “Greats of the Game” subset that paired announcers and players, such as Scully/Steve Garvey, Harry Caray/Ryne Sandberg, and Jon Miller/Cal Ripken Jr. Accordingly, the overwhelming majority of Scully’s cards were issued after he had already turned 77 years old.
Vin Scully’s first inning broadcast partner for the 1989 All-Star Game was former Chicago Cubs broadcaster (and newly former POTUS) Ronald Reagan. Reagan made a cameo on a recent Bo Jackson card, as a broadcaster.
Ernie Harwell is next on the list with 80 cards. Harwell is best known for his work for the Detroit Tigers after stints with the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and Baltimore Orioles. By the time his first card was issued in 1981, Harwell was already beginning his third decade of work as the Tigers’ main play-by-play announcer. Harwell holds the distinction of having been traded for a player when he was acquired by the Dodgers to broadcast in 1948 from the Class-AA Atlanta Crackers in exchange for minor league catcher Cliff Dapper. Harwell broadcast for the Detroit Tigers from 1960 to 1991 and 1993 to 2002. Detroit’s Wayne State University’s baseball team plays its home games at Harwell Field, named in his honor.
Harry Caray is third with 68 cards. Caray’s first known card is a playing card with a photo shared with another Chicago broadcasting legend, Jack Brickhouse, issued in 1985 (40 years after Caray broadcast his first game for the St. Louis Cardinals.) Caray popularized the live singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” while a White Sox broadcaster and made the tradition so popular at Wrigley Field that a video of him signing the song is still played for the seventh inning stretch when the Cubs do not otherwise arrange for a celebrity to handle the honors. Perhaps Caray’s most interesting baseball card is his cameo on Michael Jordan’s 1995 Upper Deck, featuring a photo taken at Wrigley Field when the White Sox visited for an exhibition game against the Cubs on April 7, 1994.
Mel Allen boasts 58 cards and was awarded the first-ever Ford C. Frick Award in 1978, along with Red Barber (the only year in which more than one award was given). Allen, a 1937 graduate of the University of Alabama Law School, immediately pursued a career in broadcasting and handled CBS radio duties for the 1938 World Series. He was hired as the Yankees’ play-by-play announcer in 1940 and saw 12 championship teams from his position behind the microphone through 1964. Allen eventually returned to the Yankees broadcast team in the mid-1970s, but it was his work with This Week in Baseball starting in 1977 that made Allen’s voice synonymous with Saturday baseball highlights to kids across the country. How about that?!
Rounding out the top five is Philadelphia’s Harry Kalas with 33 cards. Kalas first appeared on a Tastykake card in 1984, along with fellow Phillies broadcasters Chris Wheeler, Andy Musser and Richie Ashburn. Kalas began his broadcasting career in 1961 with the Hawaii Islanders and made his Major League announcing debut with the Astros in 1965. After moving over to Philadelphia in 1971, Kalas became a mainstay in the booth, working side-by-side with Ashburn until Ashburn’s unexpected passing in September 1997.
Comprising some of the most popular men to ever call a baseball game, Vin Scully has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (and a statue at Dodger Stadium cannot be far behind). Ernie Harwell has a statue at Comerica Park in Detroit. Harry Caray has a statue at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Mel Allen has a plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium in New York. Harry Kalas has a statue at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. A bust of Jack Buck is displayed outside Busch Stadium in St. Louis. And Bob Uecker (who has 23 cards for broadcasting and another 51 related to his role as a player) is honored with two statues at American Family Field in Milwaukee.
By contrast, Denny Matthews has just two cards, despite having been inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame and having been in the Kansas City broadcast booth since the team’s inception in 1969.
Similarly, Jaime Jarrín, the Dodgers’ Spanish-language play-by-play announcer from 1959 through 2022 (also honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame) only has two cards.
Felo Ramirez was the Spanish radio announcer for the Miami Marlins from 1993 until April 2017. His prior broadcasting work included calling Roberto Clemente’s 3000th hit, and Hank Aaron’s 715th home run. Despite his distinguished career, no cards of Ramirez have ever been listed on the TCDB. All three of these men are Ford C. Frick Award recipients. In fact, 36 of the 47 Frick Award winners have nine or fewer cards, with eight having none.
Card manufacturers are seemingly content to issue the same card with a border in every conceivable color combination. Allen and Ginter issues feature eggs, spiders, and even the Taylor Ham versus pork roll debate. Yet, broadcasters remain largely ignored.
A closer inspection of the checklists for each of the broadcasters listed here quickly reveals that a large proportion of the most recent issues comprise rare, autographed cards or other limited releases for which photos are not even available.
The men and women who dedicate their lives to the craft—and provide the soundtrack for our collective summers—deserve more cardboard love. These amazing tributes by Mike Noren of Gummy Arts are a great start.
Mike Noren of Gummy Arts graciously allowed the SABR Baseball Cards Committee to include images of his cards in this article, including the Bob Uecker card, which has never been shown publicly before.
Jason Schwartz and Nick Vossbrink for their typically brilliant guidance and support.
TCDB is mainly crowdsourced and there are numerous examples of cards not marked with the announcer label or otherwise improperly classified. The numbers cited herein are as accurate as possible based upon the available information. Moreover, several broadcasters cover multiple sports and may have cards that are more properly classified as a football, Olympic or multi-sport issue. Regardless of sporting classification, all cards were counted, except for those individuals who were players and had separate playing-days cards issued. Playing-days cards were not included.
In 2023, there are dozens of baseball card sets at every price point. Any major star has thousands of cards available, with hundreds added annually. We can buy most cards we want in just a couple minutes, at a competitive price.
But 50 years ago, there weren’t nearly as many choices for collectors as there are today. There was the Topps set, sometimes a couple Topps inserts and test issues such as Super or Deckle Edge, and a few food issues such as Milk Duds and Kellogg’s. These sets weren’t made for the organized hobby, which was just as well because there really wasn’t much of an organized hobby in the 70’s.
What was the organized hobby in the early-70’s? There were a few thousand adult collectors nationwide. There were a few small card shows in and near major cities, along with a few hobby newspapers. They were invaluable in creating the knowledge base for the hobby. There were a handful of full-time mail-order dealers like Card Collectors Company and Larry Fritsch cards. They advertised through mainstream publications like The Sporting News, and produced their own catalogs that could number up to 100 pages. There were few storefront dealers, and no Internet. The first National Convention would wait until 1979.
TCMA emerged as the first card manufacturer that targeted the organized hobby. TCMA stood for “The Card Memorabilia Associates,” or the initials of the founders, Tom Collier and Mike Aronstein. The company was headquartered in Westchester County, north of New York City .
Their first sets included the SCFC “Sports Cards for Collectors” 1969 Yankees pictures (see Al Downing below) and an Old-Timers set. The latter set included pen drawings not only of Hall of Famers but forgotten players–that is, forgotten by all but SABR members.
1972 saw the first sets issued under TCMA’s name . They released several reprint sets of vintage issues such as 1887 Allen & Ginter and 1922 American Caramel. They also released the first few series of a set that would number over 500 cards featuring players from the 30’s. To cap it off, they produced a set of the Cedar Rapids Reds in the Class-A Midwest League, the first of hundreds of TCMA minor league team sets over the next 16 years.
Though TCMA would become best known for minor-league sets, their sets featuring vintage players deserve examination. They found a market among serious collectors of the time. Many 70’s collectors wrote away to players for autographs. There weren’t a lot of contemporary cards for stars of the 30’s and 40’s, and many collectors were hesitant to send off vintage cards for autographs for fear of losing them.
Enter TCMA—their sets had a clean design conducive to an autograph, and if they weren’t returned with an autograph at least it wasn’t a 1933 DeLong that was lost to the U.S. Mail or to a former player ambivalent to autograph requests. Many of these sets were designed to feature players who signed through the mail, in fact some dealers sent a list of player addresses along with the cards. This explains why many early TCMA cards offered on Ebay are autographed.
TCMA also offered sets that allowed collectors of modest means to own cards of 19th century players, along with 20th century players who didn’t appear on a lot of cards. One great examples are the 1936–39 Yankees Dynasty set, including not only greats like Gehrig and Lazzeri but journeymen like Paul Schreiber, who appeared in 12 major league games over two generations. What a great find for someone like me who has to have all the players, not just the legends! Others include the 1975 1951 New York Giants set and the 1972 The Yawkey Red Sox set. One of the largest early TCMA sets was the “All Time Greats” postcard issue. The set consists of several 24-card series of attractive black and white postcards. It covered virtually everyone in the Hall-of-Fame including executives like Lee MacPhail, Judge Landis and Will Harridge.
In 1975 TCMA expanded their offerings. To promote their retro and minor league sets, they produced their first catalog called “Collector’s Quarterly.” Through this catalog, they marketed their first sets of current major leaguers. Those came out under the SSPC (Sports Stars Publishing Company) label. There was a 1975 set for the Mets and Yankees, and then a 660-card set in 1976.
SSPC’s 1976 set was an attempt to challenge the Topps monopoly. They were sold only as a set and only to the hobby. The fronts had no team name or player name—a “pure card” design perfect for autographs. Topps cards had facsimile autographs many years and nothing is more awkward than an authentic autograph written over a fake one.
Topps took notice and went to court to stop the further release of these sets. TCMA was allowed to sell through their stock, which took several years.
SSPC would be heard from after 1976 though. In 1978, team sets were produced as pages in their magazines for several teams. A set of vintage players even appeared in the 1979 and 1982 Yankees yearbooks.
By the late-70’s, TCMA was becoming better known for minor league sets. TCMA representatives went to minor league general managers with a proposition- TCMA would take pictures of their team, and provide the team sets for sale in their memorabilia stands for free, in exchange for the right to sell team sets in their Collectors Quarterly catalog for $3–3.50 each team. TCMA photographers not only covered players, but sometimes managers, coaches, team executives, trainers, even bat boys and mascots!
By 1979 dozens of teams had TCMA sets, a number that expanded through the 80’s. By the time TCMA stopped production in the late-80’s, virtually every minor league squad had at least one annual team set, some had as many as three.
TCMA didn’t leave the vintage market. In 1978 and 1979, they produced attractive full color sets of players of the 60’s (in 1978) and the 50’s (in 1979). These sets were from 275–300 cards and featured both legends along with players who had never appeared on a card before. They followed up with a second series of 1960’s in 1981. All three sets are collectible today and not expensive.
TCMA also collaborated with large dealer Renata Galasso on several sets. They co-produced the annual 45-card retro sets included as a bonus with every purchase of current year Topps sets from 1977-84. These attractive sets are known as “Galasso Glossy Greats.”
Collectors were discouraged from pursuing TCMA’s sets by the hobby papers of the time. TCMA sets were considered “illegitimate” and “collector’s issues.” They weren’t considered fully collectible because they weren’t released in packs at candy stores, nor as a premium for another product. Most TCMA cards weren’t licensed by Major League Baseball nor the Players Association, or even the players itself. Nevertheless, TCMA thrived in a time where former players hadn’t monetized their career like today.
In the late-1980’s TCMA saw a formidable competitor for its minor-league throne, the Pottstown, Pennsylvania based Pro Cards. TCMA continued to release retro cards, but at a slower pace. At the same time Mike Aronstein, the head of TCMA, was acquiring a huge database of player photos and built a successful business providing 8×10 glossy pictures and other player items such as keychains. The TCMA label morphed into PhotoFile, which still markets licensed items for all major sports.
Aronstein and TCMA were before their time. TCMA cards aren’t always easy to find but are generally affordable considering their age and print run. Their sets are an important part of the history of the hobby. They deserve a look from every vintage collector and every baseball historian.
In this post I’ll highlight the five most unique pieces in the collection, along with some tips and tricks that might help other player collectors track down tough pieces.
1955 ALL AMERICAN SPORTS CLUB
This “card” is part of a set of 500 subjects across multiple sports, hand-cut from 9″ x 12″ sheets of glossy paper stock. As Hoskins cards go, it has a lot going against it: a low quality image, its small size (similar to a postage stamp), a blank back, and the obscurity of the issue. Still, there are so few playing era cards of Hoskins that I still treat the card as an essential.
I was able to add this card to my collection thanks to a rather broad eBay search I’d set up that was essentially “DAVE HOSKINS -TOPPS.” My goal in this search was to turn up any and all Dave Hoskins collectibles not produced by Topps. (Nothing against Topps here; it’s just that I already had all three of their playing era issues and didn’t want to clutter up my search results with more of the same.)
Lessons for player collectors: Trading Card Database is a great resource for identifying cards you might not know about. If searching on eBay for less common items, use the minus operator to de-clutter search results.
2017 MAGALLANES BASEBALL CLUB CENTENNIAL ISSUE
The same search (“DAVE HOSKINS -TOPPS”) added another card to my collection just last week. It was not only a card I never knew existed but even portrayed Hoskins with a team (and country!) I never knew was part of his résumé.
The card (or sticker, to be precise) was one of 200+ issued by the Magallanes Baseball Club (Venezuela) as part of its 100th anniversary. Other notables in the set include Dave Parker, Barry Bonds, Willie Horton, and local legend Nestor Chavez.
While I am not a “completist” when it comes to post-career issues, I make an exception when there are no playing era cards of a player on a certain team. That, and the fact that I might never see this one again, made the card a must have, even with the price tag being a good ten times what I would have expected.
Side note: This card led me to a very cool site for Venezuelan Winter League stats from which I learned Hoskins played for Magallanes in the 1951-52 season and also the Pampero team during the 1959-60 campaign.
Lesson for player collectors: In this case the card came from a US seller. However, it’s worth knowing that eBay assigns a default location to your searches that may cause you to miss items being sold from other countries. Edit the Item Location option to Worldwide to ensure the most comprehensive search.
1950s NOKONA DAVE HOSKINS MODEL GLOVE
Again that same “HOSKINS -TOPPS” search gets the credit for this rather unexpected find, a Dave Hoskins signature model glove.
Until this item arrived, I suspected it might even be game used, simply because I didn’t imagine Hoskins was a popular enough player to support store models. Once I had it in hand (and on hand!) I decided it was too small to have been sported by the player himself and was in fact a store model sized for kids.
A second surprise came my way after having the item refurbished by Jimmy Lonetti, whose nice work I’d seen several times on Twitter. Unreadable beforehand, the glove bore a name and date stamped into the leather. Some searching turned up a person of that name, unfortunately deceased, whose birthday around age 10 corresponded to the date on the glove. What’s more the person seemed to have grown up around Cleveland when Hoskins was a pitcher for the Indians. His family now has the glove, which makes me very happy.
Lesson for player collectors: If you are open to balls, gloves, bats, and other items appearing in your search results, be sure you haven’t “over-filtered” to where only Trading Cards are shown.
1952 DALLAS EAGLES SIGNED BASEBALL
If there is one item in my entire collection–Dave Hoskins or otherwise–that might belong in a museum, it’s this one: an official Texas League baseball signed by nearly the entire 1952 Dallas Eagles team.
I never would have found this ball using my “HOSKINS -TOPPS” search since the seller didn’t feature Hoskins at all in the listing. Fortunately, I had also set up a 1952 Dallas Eagles search, which generally turns up football items (e.g., Philadelphia Eagles vs Dallas Texans ticket stubs) but at least this one time turned up gold.
Lesson for player collectors: Particularly if the player you collect isn’t a big name, recognize that their name may not appear in item listings/descriptions, which of course eliminates those items from your search results.
1952 GLOBE PRINTING DALLAS EAGLES CARD
The term Holy Grail is probably overused in card collecting, but in the small universe of Dave Hoskins collecting I do believe it’s apt for this particular card.
This article from April 13, 1952, coincidentally the day of Hoskins’ first start, provides some information on the set and seems to indicate that the Hoskins card would have been given out only one night of the year.
A complete checklist for the set remains unknown, though there are currently at least 22 known players.
In the three years I’ve been collecting Dave Hoskins, this is a card I’d never once seen available and was only aware of due to its entry on Trading Card Database where it is one of only five cards from the set with an image uploaded. How the heck did I end up with one then?
A nice feature of Trading Card Database is that each card image includes metadata on who uploaded the scan. Another nice feature is that members can message each other. Well, figuring my chances of success were somewhere south of 1%, I contacted the member who had uploaded the image. As it turned out, he was very open to a deal! He even supplied a bit of provenance:
I got it years ago in a box of old items from a relative here in Dallas back in the 80’s.
Lesson for player collectors: Take advantage of Trading Card Database as, among other things, a buy/sell/trade platform. Though I got the card I wanted by contacting the user who uploaded its image, you are also able to bring up a list of ALL users who have cards from a set in their TCDB collection. For instance, here is the complete list of members with 1952 Globe Dallas Eagles cards, including a collector with an impressive 21 of the cards.
I mentioned at the top of this article that my collection is now complete. However, if there’s a lesson from that Magallanes sticker, it’s that I can never rule out the discovery of something new. As such, I definitely won’t be deleting my “saved searches” on eBay just yet.
There are still a handful of items that I consider more bonus than essential. Topping this list is the August 1952 issue of Negro Achievements magazine, which features a familiar photo of Hoskins on the cover.
There have been four eBay sales of this item since 2011, most recently in March 2019. As is often the case for unusual pieces without a lot of comps, prices have varied widely, though condition was certainly also a factor:
May 2011: $127.50
July 2013: $14.37
June 2014: $29.95
March 2019: $48.47
Another “nice to have” is the Dave Hoskins photo from the 1954 Cleveland Indians team issued photo pack.
The final two items on the “maybe someday” list are ticket stubs or game programs from the two Dave Hoskins Nights held in 1952, one in Fort Worth and one in Dallas. The first of these also corresponds to Hoskins’ 20th win of the season and (hopefully) and upcoming SABR Games story.
Lesson for player collectors: Though I don’t have the photo pack card or the ticket stubs I’ve definitely noticed numerous listings, if not the majority, that use non-specific titles like “1950s Cleveland Indians photo pack” or “1950’s Dallas Eagles ticket stubs.” This makes particular sense for the photo packs cards since they are undated and repeat many players/photos across multiple years. Therefore, adding a search for “(1950s, 1950’s) INDIANS PHOTO PACK” may be useful. I’ll also note that sellers with partial sets typically list only the top stars like Feller and Doby, hence fly under the radar of a Dave Hoskins-specific search.
While the Dave Hoskins shelf is now full and includes all the essentials, I’ll keep looking for more cool stuff. If you have any leads, definitely let me know, and whatever you do, don’t outbid me!
Author’s Note: This article is part of a larger SABR Century Committee effort commemorating the 75th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic 1947 season.Head here for the full series.
When Jackie Robinson trotted out to first base on April 15, 1947, his steps were no less historic than those of Neil Armstrong just over two decades later. Baseball’s senseless and shameful Color Barrier had at last been breached and with it the customs and traditions of Jim Crow America itself were on notice. This is not to say equality had come to Baseball. Far from it as even the Dodgers merely tiptoed into integration while several other teams waited a decade or more to add their first Black player. As for managers, eleven more men after Armstrong would leave footprints on the Moon before a single Black man would take the reins of a Major League team.
Even today, as Jackie’s legacy is rightfully celebrated, it’s fair to wonder whether a modern Jackie Robinson would even choose Baseball, just as it’s fair to wonder whether any teams would notice him and sign him if he did. Were he living in the Dominican Republic, absolutely, but in his birthplace of Cairo, Georgia, or his childhood hometown of Pasadena, California, who’s to say? While a modern Jackie could win games for a general manager of any color, there are none in front offices today who look like him.
The same could be said for domestic baseball card issues prior to 1947, only one of which featured a Black player. While it would be easy to discount the utter lack of Black faces as merely reflective of the times, such an explanation fails to account for the many Black boxers who made their way onto trading cards, going back to at least 1909. Ultimately, the whiteness of baseball cards was due solely to the whiteness of what was then perceived (and enforced) as Organized Baseball. Jack Johnson, Joe Jeannette, and Joe Gans were professional boxers. The Philadelphia Stars, Newark Eagles and Homestead Grays meanwhile? These were semi-pro.
Thus the 1947 season brought with it not only the integration of Baseball but (several rungs down the ladder of importance) the opportunity to integrate baseball cards as well. All that was missing were the baseball cards themselves!
While today we take it for granted that a new baseball card set (if not dozens of different ones) will come out every year, such was not the case in the 1940s. Following the three-year run of Gum, Inc., and its Play Ball sets from 1939-41, the War and other national priorities left American baseball without a major set to chronicle its players until 1948, when Gum, Inc., baseball cards returned to shelves, this time under the Bowman name.
In the meantime, where baseball cards were produced at all, they most often took the form of smaller regional issues, often connected to food or other household products, cards that today many collectors classify under the umbrella of “oddball.” As such, this review of Jackie Robinson baseball cards from 1947 will feature bread, slacks, and even cigarettes but not a single stick of gum.
1947 BOND BREAD
Bond Bread will feature in this article twice. This first instance is to highlight a 48-card release comprised of four boxers and 44 baseball stars. The selection of baseball stars included Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Stan Musial but most notably a baseball card of Brooklyn Dodgers rookie Jackie Robinson.
Cards were packaged in loaves of Bond Bread, and at least one theory for their rounded corners is that the cards were less susceptible to damage that way. Importantly for collectors today, the rounded corners help distinguish these cards from near-identical versions that emerged as a standalone product sold as “Sport Star Subjects” in 1949. The square cornered versions are far less collectible, though widespread misidentification, including by a prominent grading company, has created sufficient confusion to elevate prices among uninformed buyers.
While both the Bond Bread and Sport Star Subjects cards have blank backs, a third version of the Robinson card features a back that’s anything but blank.
“1947” ELGEE PRODUCTS
Precise dating for this issue is unknown and may well be after 1947. A mix of baseball and movie star photos, the baseball images match those of the Bond Bread issue but are easily distinguished in at least two ways. One, they are perforated. Two, their backs include other cards from the set or, in some cases, advertising. The Robinson card, for example, features actor James Cagney on the reverse.
As with the Sport Star Subjects, these cards are also frequently misidentified as Bond Bread cards, even by third party grading companies and auction houses. Post 391 in this Net54 Baseball Forum thread shows the front and back of an uncut sheet, including the ELGEE branding. Post 386 in the same thread provides additional background on the company.
1947-50 BOND BREAD JACKIE ROBINSON
In addition to the 48-card set above, Bond Bread also released a second set of 13 cards dedicated entirely to Jackie Robinson. The set is catalogued as a 1947 issue. However, independent research by collectors Mike Knapp, Shaun Fyffe, and Michael Fried, which I’ll attempt to summarize here, has produced a broader timetable for the cards while also providing information on distribution.
The set began 1947 with a single card featuring a signed portrait of Jackie, a brief bio, and a product testimonial. This card was not distributed in packaged loaves but rather was given out by store owners (with free slices of bread!) to promote Bond Bread among African American consumers. (Post 49 in this Net54 Baseball Forum thread includes an article from the New York Amsterdam News detailing the marketing strategy.)
From there, it’s unclear whether any of the set’s remaining twelve cards dates to 1947. The aforementioned collector-researchers speculate subsequent releases of three or six cards at a time taking place sometime between 1947 and 1950, though I lean more toward the cards being issued one at a time. Either way, a clue that helps group the cards is the advertising on the back.
These six cards, assumed to be the earlier of the twelve, exhort consumers to eat the same bread as Jackie. Fielding poses show a first baseman’s mitt, which Jackie would have used primarily in 1947.
Before proceeding to the second group of six, I want to highlight two photos in particular, one of which may be very familiar to non-collectors. Though the background has been removed and Jackie has even changed teams, the card of Jackie waving with his glove draws its image from this iconic photograph.
A second card among the six does some early “photoshopping” of a Montreal photo as well.
Much later in this article we will see yet another occasion where a Montreal photo is doctored for use on a Brooklyn card. For now, we will return to the other six cards in the set. Note here that all fielding poses show a standard infielder’s glove.
The “smoking gun” that places these cards (or at least one of them) after 1947 comes from the image on the last card, believed to source to a photograph taken just after this one. (Note Jackie’s cap has fallen a bit farther on the card and his body has separated more from his trailing arm.) If so, the card could not have been issued any earlier than July 2, 1949, the date the photograph was taken.
With the set no longer confined entirely to 1947, we arrive at several possibilities for its overall release schedule. Barring further information, I’d be inclined to settle on the first group of six cards coming out across the six months of the 1948 baseball season and the second group of six following suit in 1949.
“1948” OLD GOLD CIGARETTES
The situation with Jackie’s Old Gold cards is precisely the opposite as here collectors regard what may be two cards from 1947 as if they came out the following year.
As Anson Whaley notes in his article for Sports Collectors Daily, two clues on the card backs suggest a 1947 release.
Robinson is listed as 28 year old, which was only his age through January 30, 1948
His 1947 Rookie of the Year Award (announced September 19, 1947) is not listed among his career highlights
Certainly each of these clues could merely point to bios written ahead of time, hence do not point definitively to a 1947 release of the actual cards. Still, absent any information affirming a 1948 release, the clues are at least intriguing.
“1947″ PLEETWOOD SLACKS
Continuing the theme of uncertain dates is this rare 5″ x 8″ promotional issue from Pleetwood Slacks. While catalogued as a 1947 issue, I am unable to find any source that provides independent corroboration. Notably, the Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards indicates that “the  date of issue cited is conjectural.”
When I do find “hits” on Pleetwood Slacks, never mind Jackie, they only come in the Black press of late 1948, specifically October through December. Here is a typical example.
Perhaps information is out there somewhere establishing the Pleetwood Slacks card as a 1947 issue. In the meantime I’d just as soon date it to late 1948 where timing it’s would better match the print advertising campaign for the brand.
1947 CHAMP HATS
Collector and Hobby historian Bob Lemke (1941-2017) featured this 8 x 10 “card” as a new find on his blog in 2015.
As detailed on Bob’s blog, both Bob and the previously mentioned Sean Fyffe regarded 1947 as the most likely year for this piece.
1947 DODGERS TEAM PHOTO PACK
Many teams sold photo packs of their players and other personnel, going back to at least the 1930s. The 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers photo pack consisted of 25 photos, 6” x 9” in size, including this one of Jackie Robinson.
The image is a sharper and cleaner version of the ones used on his Bond and faux Bond issues and a reminder that many cards of the era used photos provided by the teams or their photographers. Furthermore, the presence and identical placement of Jackie’s signature on the Bond and pseudo-Bond cards leads me to wonder if those cards didn’t originate from the original photograph but from this photo pack card. Either way, I suspect the photo pack Jackie is the earliest of his various 1947 issues.
1947-66 EXHIBIT SUPPLY COMPANY
One of the most common and (formerly!) affordable early baseball cards of Jackie Robinson is his 1947-66 Exhibit Supply Company (Chicago, IL) postcard-sized issue. However, despite “1947” right there in the naming of the set, there is no evidence that Jackie’s exhibit cards date back that far.
Rather, the “1947-66” label simply means that the overall set of 300+ different cards spanned 20 years. The presence of later stars such as Aaron, Banks, and Kaline suffice to show that “1947” hardly applies to all players.
The Keyman Collectibles site provides a guide for the precise dating of Exhibit cards. Having reviewed more than a dozen so far, I have not yet run across a Robinson any earlier than 1948.
Side note: A 1948 release would have left plenty of time to find pictures of Jackie as a Dodger. However, the photograph used on the Exhibit card, as was the case with two of the Bond Bread cards, dates to 1946, as evidenced by Jackie’s Montreal uniform.
SUMMARY: THE JACKIE ROBINSON CARDS OF 1947
All told I’ve reviewed 22 different Jackie Robinson cards correctly or incorrectly associated with his Barrier Breaking debut season in Brooklyn. From this number, there are only three where I believe the 1947 dating is firmly established:
1947 Bond Bread multi-player set
1947 Bond Bread Jackie Robinson set – portrait with facsimile autograph
1947 Brooklyn Dodgers photo pack
For the reader only reasonably acquainted with the world of collectibles, it might seem a tame question to then ask which of these cards is Jackie Robinson’s rookie card. Could it really be that the answer is none of them!
EPILOGUE: JACKIE’S ROOKIE CARD
Modern collectors focus heavily (if not obsessively!) over the notion of a rookie card, particularly when the player concerned is a Hall of Famer. In a simpler world, a player would have one card for each year of his career, and the first such card would be his rookie card. In the real world, however, the situation is far murkier, complicated by any number of wrinkles, depending on the collector.
For example, any of the following may be treated as a disqualifying when it comes to rookie card status.
cards that pre-date a player’s major league status (e.g., a minor league card)
cards from minor, regional, unlicensed, or non-US releases
cards that aren’t really baseball cards (e.g., a postcard, mini-poster, or bobblehead)
cards with uncertain release dates
In the case of Jackie Robinson, all four of these come into play. While I did not feature it in this article due to its 1946 issue date, there is a highly sought after Parade Sportive newspaper insert featuring Jackie Robinson, which checks off each of the first three bullets above.
As for Jackie’s Bond Bread cards, many collectors regard the releases as too minor to warrant rookie card status. Add to that for many of them an uncertain release date as well. Ditto for Elgee Products, Old Gold Cigarettes, Pleetwood Slacks, and Champs Hats, with the latter two having only questionable baseball card status as well.
The Brooklyn photo pack card, which may well be first of Jackie as a Dodger, also challenges the most rigid definitions of “baseball card” while adding the potential disqualifier of a regional release. Finally, the Exhibit card is not quite a real baseball card to many collectors while also carrying uncertainty as to dating.
Also lacking card status to most collectors are the various Jackie Robinson buttons and pins that were popular among fans in the late 1940s. I omitted lengthier treatment in this article but will show six of them here.
The result of all this is that many collectors would not consider any of the Jackie Robinson cards profiled so far to be Jackie’s rookie card. Instead, the coveted label is most often applied to Jackie’s card from the set known popularly in the Hobby as 1948 Leaf.
“This is the only true rookie card of baseball’s first African-American representative and hero to all,” according to PSA, the Hobby’s largest grader and authenticator of trading cards.
Though my revenue, Hobby or otherwise, is a far cry from that of PSA, I nonetheless challenge this assertion. For one thing, despite the typical designation of the set as “1948 Leaf” (or sometimes 1948-49 Leaf), there are compelling reasons to believe the Robinson card (if not the entire set) dates to 1949.
1949 copyright date on the back of the card
Reference to Jackie’s 1948 statistics as “last season” on the back of the card
Standard Catalog entry indicating the set was “produced by Chicago’s Leaf Gum Co. for issue in 1949”
Hall of Fame and Beckett cataloguing of card as 1949
Erroneous dating aside, I’ll also note that the Leaf cards, at least of some players, were unlicensed, which can often be a rookie card disqualifier. That said, collectors tend to give the set a free pass on this point.
At any rate, if we regard the Leaf card as a rookie card, we should then confer rookie status on Jackie’s other significant release of the same year, issued as part of the 1949 Bowman set of 240 cards.
Alternatively, we might turn our attention to a card that genuinely does date to 1948, Jackie’s Sport Thrills card from Swell Bubble Gum.
From a rookie card perspective, this card beats Leaf and Bowman by a year, has unambiguous baseball card status as opposed to some of the other 1947-48 contenders, and originates from a more major release than its contemporaries and predecessors. At the same time, not all collectors treat the Sport Thrills set as major enough, and its focus on highlights rather than players equally reduces the appeal.
Ultimately, the question of Jackie’s true rookie card is a complicated one, confounded by the uncertain or erroneous dating of his early cardboard and curiously subjective notions like “major release” and “baseball card.” On one hand the lack of a definitive rookie card opens the door for individual collectors to apply their own criteria and judgment. On the other hand, the same fuzziness creates opportunities, intentional or accidental, to misrepresent and misinform. In the end, perhaps the only truism when it comes to Jackie’s rookie cards is this: If you have to ask, you can’t afford it!
After pouring over the wildly popular articles detailing the special baseball card sets produced for the Cubs Conventions held in 1996 and 1998, you may have wondered whether the Cubs have ever issued any other cards for distribution to conventiongoers. The 2020 Cubs Convention is the most recent incarnation of the event, held just months before COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns were mandated in Illinois. Much in the same way Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour waited 22 years to issue his solo follow-up to About Face, the Cubs issued cards at the 2020 Convention for the first time since 1998.
While there is always some fun discourse regarding what constitutes a “card,” this three-card set offers an odd size (2 ⅞ x 4 ¾), a full-bleed lenticular front, and a back that contains only the Cubs Twitter handle. The cards are not numbered, and no biographical information or stats are provided. In fact, the players depicted on the obverse are not even identified.
The cards were given away (along with emoji-like keychains) in the Cubs’ Social Media room, placed individually on a table for anyone to grab for free. The set’s checklist is small: Yu Darvish, Javy Báez, and a combo featuring Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo.
Manipulation of the cards offered instant familiarity: each card depicted a memeified moment from the 2019 season that had been shared millions of times via social media (nice job @Cubs social media team!). Minimal research was needed to identify the game where each depiction originated.
Presented chronologically, the Yu Darvish card was taken from a reaction by Darvish that occurred during the Cubs’ game at Miami on Jackie Robinson Day, April 15, 2019, a 7-2 victory for Darvish and the Cubs. (The first clue to determine the date of this game was quite easy to decipher because the top portions of the “42” on Darvish’s jersey were apparent.)
Although it is not clear precisely when this reaction by Darvish occurred during the game, it was turned into a WTF-style GIF used to represent disbelief:
The second card is Javy Báez sliding into third base on May 9, 2019, during a game against the Marlins at Wrigley Field—another win for the Cubs, 4-1. In the bottom of the first, Báez drew a (rare) base on balls and went from first to third on a single by Kyle Schwarber, where “El Mago” made this smooth-as-silk slide into the bag.
Jon Lester/Anthony Rizzo
The final card is interesting in that it depicts opposite angles of a celebratory hug between Anthony Rizzo and Jon Lester, which occurred after Rizzo’s third-inning grand slam in the Cubs’ rout over the Pirates 17-8 on September 13, 2019. The two-out blast came off Steven Brault and scored David Bote, Albert Almora, and Lester, who was waiting at the plate for Rizzo. (The card also shows Nick Castellanos and Kris Bryant in the background during the celebration.)
These cards are an awful lot of fun, especially because the action depicted on each can be traced to a specific game/event in the 2019 season. Hopefully, the Cubs will continue issuing similar cards once the Cubs Convention is cleared to resume!
Cards in Action
“Wildly popular” has been used liberally in the article, above.
This article, however, will look at the first widely available baseball cards produced in the United States to showcase Negro Leaguers as Negro Leaguers. In other words, a card of Satchel Paige as a Cleveland Indian (1949 Bowman, 1949 Leaf) or St. Louis Brown (1953 Topps) would not qualify while a card of Satchel Paige as a Kansas City Monarch most definitely would. Should a working definition of “widely available” prove helpful, take it to mean there is nearly always at least one card from the set available on eBay.
Hall of Fame postcards (1971 to present)
I’ll leave it to readers individually to decide whether to count postcards as baseball cards. If you are in the “no” camp, feel free to skip this first entry. If you are in the “yes” camp then we’ll kick things off with the postcards issued and updated annually by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
While one could quibble that more than half the text on the Paige card, first issued in July 1971, relates to his post-Negro Leagues career, I’ve chosen to count this postcard because A) Paige was selected by a special committee on the Negro Leagues, and B) he is not shown in an Indians, Browns, or Athletics uniform. The Gibson postcard, which carries no such ambiguity, was first issued in July 1972, as was a similar postcard of teammate Buck Leonard.
1974Laughlin Old-Time Black Stars
Bob Laughlin, also known for several collaborations with Fleer, independently produced this 36-card set in 1974. At time of issue, Satchel Paige (1971), Josh Gibson (1972), and Buck Leonard (1972) were the only Hall of Famers in the set. (Cool Papa Bell was inducted in 1974 but after the set was released.) Now an impressive 22 of the 36 cards in the set depict Hall of Famers, with all 14 of the remaining presenting compelling cases for enshrinement.
1975-76 Great Plains Greats
Thanks to Ted Chastain in the reader comments for identifying this 42-card set. Per the Standard Catalog the cards were produced by the Great Plains Sports Collectors Association. Cards 1-24, which includes Cool Papa Bell, were produced in 1975 and sponsored by Sheraton Inns. Cards 25-42 were produced the following year and sponsored by Nu-Sash Corp.
1976 D&S Enterprises Cool Papa Bell
In 1976 John Douglas of D&S Enterprises issued a 13-card set in conjunction with and James “Cool Papa” Bell, who was the subject of the set.
Interestingly, one of the cards in the set is a “card of a card” featuring Bell’s 1974 Laughlin card, updated with facsimile autograph.
1976 Laughlin Indianapolis Clowns
A second Laughlin set of note is his 42-card 1976 Indianapolis Clowns issue, mostly coveted by collectors today for its card of a young Henry Aaron.
In 1975 pizza chain Shakey’s issued a small 18-card set of Hall of Famers, followed up in 1976 by a much larger set featuring all 157 members of the Hall (and a second Robin Roberts card) in order of their induction. The latter set therefore included several Negro League stars: Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Monte Irvin (New York Giants photo), Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson, and Oscar Charleston.
Not counting the Hall of Fame’s own postcards, which may or may not be regarded as baseball cards by some collectors, I believe this Shakey’s set is the very first to feature both “traditional” (i.e., white) major leaguers and Negro Leaguers on its checklist.
1978Laughlin Long-Ago Black Stars
Four years after his initial Negro Leagues set, Laughlin produced a sequel, employing a similar design. Aside from a brand new checklist of 36 cards, the most evident updates were the replacement of “Old-Time” with “Long-Ago” and a greenish rather than brownish tint.
1978 Grand Slam
This 200-card set may have been produced with autographs in mind as (I believe) all 200 of the early baseball stars it featured were still living at the time the set was planned. While nearly one-fourth of the set featured current or future Hall of Famers, there was no shortage of lesser stars such as Bibb Falk and Ed Lopat. The set even included an outfielder with a lifetime OPS of .182.
More to the point, the set included cards of Negro Leaguers Buck Leonard, Judy Johnson, and Cool Papa Bell.
1980-87 SSPC Baseball Immortals
When initially issued in 1980, this SSPC set included all 173 Hall of Famers, i.e., the Shakey’s Pizza roster plus the 16 players inducted between 1977 and 1980. As such, it included the same Negro Leaguers as the Shakey’s set but also added Martin Dihigo (1977) and Pop Lloyd (1977).
Following the initial release, SSPC updated the checklist multiple times through 1987 to include the Hall’s more recent inductees. As such, cards of Negro Leaguers Rube Foster (1981) and Ray Dandridge (1987) were subsequently added to the set.
P.S. No, I don’t really know what’s happening on that Foster card, and don’t even get me started on the Josh Gibson!
1982 “TCMA” Baseball Superstars
Two different “Baseball Superstars” sets were produced in 1980 and 1982 that may or may not have been produced by TCMA. (Andrew Aronstein, son of TCMA co-founder Mike Aronstein, believes the cards were sold by TCMA but not produced by TCMA. The Standard Catalog notes the cards were probably produced by Card Collectors Closet in Springfield, MA.) The second of these sets included a lone Satchel Paige card on its 45-card multi-sport checklist.
1983 Sporting News 1933 All-Star Game 50th Anniversary
This 60-card set was released by Marketcom to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first All-Star Game, and it’s first 48 cards featured the 32 players from the American and National League All-Star rosters plus various other players of the era such as Johnny Hodapp and Chick Fullis. Likely in recognition of the first East-West Game, also in 1933, the final dozen cards in the set consisted of Negro League greats selected by the Sporting News.
These same twelve Negro Leaguers would be reappear in their own 1933 All-Star tribute set in 1988.
1983 ASA Bob Feller
ASA was a big name in the early 1980s when it came to single player tribute sets, with Bob Feller the subject of one of its 1983 offerings. Card 5 in the twelve-card set includes a cameo by future teammate Satchel Paige in his Kansas City Monarchs uniform.
Note that a “red parallel” of the card (and entire set) exists as well.
1983 Donruss Hall of Fame Heroes
In 1983, Donruss augmented its slate of Hobby offerings to include a 44-card “Hall of Fame Heroes” set. While the majority of the set featured National and American League stars, it was notable at the time for being the first “mainstream” card set to include Negro League legends.
Cool Papa Bell and Josh Gibson are the two unambiguous Negro Leaguers in the set, and I would further count Satchel Paige in spite of his St. Louis Browns uniform.
Collectors hoping to get even more of artist Dick Perez’s talents applied to the Negro Leagues would be in luck the following year.
1980-2001 Perez-Steele Postcards(sorted in this article as 1984)
Beginning in 1980, the Perez-Steele Galleries issued a set of 245 postcards over the course of 22 years. The first of the releases to include Negro Leaguers was Series Five in 1984, which included Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell, and Judy Johnson. (The same series also included Satchel Paige as a Cleveland Indian and Monte Irvin as a New York Giant.)
1984 Decathlon Negro League Baseball Stars
Apart from the copyright line, this set is identical to its far more plentiful reproduction in 1986 by Larry Fritsch.
Consisting of 119 cards, it would take nearly four decades for a set to provide more Negro Leagues firepower than this one.
1985 Decathlon Ultimate Baseball Card Set
Decathlon returned the following year with a 15-card set of baseball legends, highlighted by Josh Gibson.
In addition thirteen white players, the set also included a “second year” card of Moses Fleetwood Walker.
If the artwork looks familiar, it was done by Gerry Dvorak of 1953 Topps fame.
1986 Larry Fritsch Negro Leagues Baseball Stars
Here is the aforementioned reissue of Decathlon’s 1984 offering, still available from Larry Fritsch Cards. I believe you can also pick up a set in person at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum gift shop.
1987 Dixon’s Negro Baseball Greats
Salute to historian, author, and Negro Leagues Baseball Museum co-founder Phil Dixon, whose 45-card set was the first ever set of baseball cards produced by an African American.
Phil also worked with the Ted Williams Card Company on its Negro Leagues subsets in 1993 and 1994.
In addition to Charles Conlon photographs of five white major leaguers, this six-card set also included a card of Cool Papa Bell.
Though the small print on the Bell’s card suggests a Conlon photograph, it should be noted that Charles Conlon passed away in 1945 while Bell did not become the manager of the Monarchs until 1948.
1988 Pittsburgh Negro League Stars
This 20-card set, highlighted on the SABR Baseball Cards blog in 2020, was given to fans by the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 10, 1988. Biographical information on the card backs comes from historian Rob Ruck.
Befitting a Pittsburgh-themed set, nearly all subjects are Crawfords or Grays, though there are some exceptions such as Monte Irvin.
1988 World Wide Sports 1933 Negro League All Stars
This 12-card set features the same twelve Negro Leaguers as the 1983 Marketcom set and also shares a common theme, that of the inaugural All-Star Game (or East-West Game). Additionally, many of the cards use identifcal source images apart from differences in cropping. However, this set is a standalone Negro Leagues set whereas the 1983 set included 48 players from the white major leagues.
The Negro Leagues set itself wasn’t scandal-free as it managed to confuse its two best players!
Counting the Hall of Fame postcards that began this article, we’ve now looked 20 years of Negro League baseball cards. Though the numbers of cards and sets may have been more than you imagined for this period from 1971-90, it’s fair to say that nearly all such sets might warrant the “oddball” label. Notably, we saw nothing at all from the biggest name in all of baseball cards, Topps.
The omission of Negro Leaguers by Topps could certainly be seen as a sign that Topps deemed these players unworthy of their precious cardboard. To an extent I buy the argument, but I’ll also counter with the fact that Topps operated “by the book” when it came to licensing, permissions, etc. I suspect many of the sets profiled in this article provided no financial compensation to the players or estates involved, meaning their honoring of the Negro Leagues may have been part celebration but also part exploitation. If so, perhaps Topps deserves kudos for not following suit.
Though I may have overlooked a card or set somewhere, I believe the first Topps Negro League cards appeared in 2001, most prominently as part of a “What Could Have Been” series.
Though unintentional, the set led off with a “what could have been” to top them all: Josh on the Kansas City Monarchs. Such would surely end all greatest team ever debates right here and now!
As many of you (fellow old people) know, 1967 is the year that changed everything for the Boston Red Sox, when black and white turned to color, the duckling turned into a swan, a team captured the heart of a region and never let go. 54 years and counting.
The fly in the 1967 ointment, and it’s a helluva fly, is the career-altering beaning of Tony Conigliaro on August 18. I came to the Impossible Dream a year or so later, age 7, when Tony C. was out of baseball, and the more I learned about him the more I struggled to wholly buy into the feel-good nature of 1967. How can the most “fun” season in team history be the one when the most popular player on the team got hit in the face and had his career and life derailed? While perhaps not quite at the “Mrs. Lincoln, how’d you like the play?” level, it is in the same area code.
Although I started collecting cards in 1967, I became a baseball fan, a real day-to-day, listen-to-the-radio, check-the-boxscores baseball fan, in 1968. When I pulled Tony C’s Topps card (above) that spring I didn’t know that much about him, though I might have had his 1967 card as well. He never seemed to be in the lineup. Was he just not good enough?
The back of this card offers a clue: “Boston fans are hoping for a complete recovery for Tony in 1968.” I sought out a friend, three years older than me and a Yankee fan, for an explanation. “He was really good, but he didn’t make it back. He’s through,” he informed me.
So that was that. Whatever he was, I apparently had missed it.
I had missed a lot.
Conigliaro had grown up in Revere, East Boston, and Swampscott, Massachusetts all within a few miles of each other just outside Boston. I knew this area well–my parents both grew up in Lynn, right in the middle of these towns, and my grandparents and most of my extended family were still there. Conigliaro went to to St. Mary’s High, a parochial school in Lynn. For the rest of his life, all of these towns claimed him as one of their own.
So, let’s get to his cards.
In retrospect, it is impressive that Topps chose to place Conigliaro on this card in 1964. Topps made a TON of “Rookie Stars” cards every year in the 1960s, stretching the notion of “star” considerably. In fact, they had two others that year for the Red Sox.
Of these six “Stars,” Jones had the second best career, lasting nine seasons mainly as a platoon or reserve infielder. Still, Topps’s one-for-six here is actually pretty good and they deserve credit for Tony C.
Conigliaro had played one minor league season, with Wellsville in the Single-A New York-Penn League, hitting .363 with 24 home runs in 83 games. Obviously a top prospect, but it was the low minors and he was just 18. Most observers were surprised he made the team, but Topps was ready with this card in the 3rd series.
And Tony hit right way. A home run in his first at bat at Fenway, he ended up at .290 with 24 home runs despite missing five weeks with a broken arm. Conigliaro began his career as a center fielder, but after a month manager Johnny Pesky moved him to left field and Carl Yastrzemski to center for the rest of 1964, a piece of trivia that may surprise many modern Red Sox fans.
It was a great year for rookies, and Tony Oliva fully deserved his Rookie of the Year award. But Conigliaro snagged a Topps trophy on his first solo baseball card.
In 1965, the 20-year-old Conigliaro hit a league-leading 32 home runs. Before you scoff, understand that the 1960s were an extremely challenging time for hitters. The Red Sox were lousy in the mid-1960s, but the emergence of Conigliaro meant that they now had at least two good players (he and Yaz). It was a start.
Conigliaro was tremendously popular in Boston, especially with young people, more especially with young women. He “dated” a lot of these women, a pursuit which caused him to miss a few curfews and draw a few fines from his managers. He also dug rock ‘n roll records, and made several himself.
His musical tastes ran towards soft rock, which was surely part of zeitgeist in 1965. He didn’t write music or play any instruments (at least not for recording or on stage), but if you were looking for a Tom Jones who could also hit 30 homers, he was your guy.
There were rumblings among some of the older fans, people who told their own kids to turn down their Beatles records, that Conigliaro was a little too brash, a little too focused on his life outside of baseball, a little too-big-too-fast. But he was the most popular player on the team throughout the region. The generation gap was beginning to be an issue in the culture, and surely applied here.
And his popularity was beginning to expand beyond Boston.
Conigliaro’s parents and two younger brothers, who lived right up the road, went to all the games and were around the team daily. On a couple of occasions Tony got in hot water for missing curfews, so his father took Tony in to speak with the manager–just as he would have when Tony was 12.
In 1965 baseball held its first-ever amateur draft, and the Red Sox’ first round pick was Swampscott High outfield star Billy Conigliaro. Younger brother Richie’s Little League team was presumably being scouted.
Heading into the 1966 season, Conigliaro was an established baseball star with a record contract, and still just 21 years old.
The 1966 season was more of the same — 28 home runs, 93 RBI. The team had added Rico Petrocelli, George Scott and Jim Lonborg; still a ninth place team, but if you squinted you might have begun to see the start of something.
Conigliaro was photogenic in the extreme and there are hundreds of great photos of him from this period, but there is a sameness to his Topps baseball cards. His 1965 card is the only flagship card where he is not simply posing with a bat, and only the 1969 card can be said to feature the bare makings of a smile. Considering the degree of his popularity, and his obvious charm, its too bad Topps never got a great photo.
Early last year I finally finished the 1967 Topps Red Sox sticker set, with the “Tony Conigliaro Is My Hero” being my 33rd and final card. It is not the most attractive set in the world, or even particularly desirable unless you are a collector of a certain age who grew up in New England. Topps put out two “test” sticker sets that season, for the Red Sox and Pirates, and they share a simple design. I assume they “failed” their test, since Topps never marketed stickers like this again, but they are popular today because (a) the Pirates set has two Roberto Clemente stickers, and (b) the Red Sox team became Boston’s most beloved of the 20th century and arguably beyond.
When Conigliaro was beaned, the Red Sox were in their first pennant race in 17 years and Conigliaro might have been on his way to his best season. He had missed time because of military duty but still started the All-Star game (he played all 15 innings–it was a different time), and was hitting .287 with power when he got hurt. He missed the rest of the pennant race and the World Series. He might have helped.
Tony C showed up to Winter Haven in February 1968 fully expecting to play. He hit well for a couple of weeks, but struggled late in March and went to back to Boston to see an eye specialist. The news was stunning: he had lost most of the vision in his left eye, and his career was likely over.
A few months later is when I came in, as I began my own crazy baseball fan journey and wondered who this Conigliaro guy was.
Throughout the summer and fall there was occasional news. Maybe his eye would get better, maybe he’d become a pitcher, maybe he’d just manage his swingin’ night club, maybe he’d be a rock ‘n roller full time. His replacement in right field–Ken Harrelson — hit 35 home runs and led the league in RBI. We missed Tony, but had we found his statistical twin?
The next spring, my first experience anticipating a season as a full-time fan, Conigliaro came back. Which was, I assure you, absolutely bonkers. This was the biggest baseball story of my childhood, full stop. Still immensely popular–he lived nearby, his brother was a hot prospect, his family was in the paper every day–his eyesight had apparently recovered, at least enough to hit. He was back in the lineup.
He hit a home run on opening day in Baltimore, on his way to several Comeback Player of the Year awards. A couple of weeks into the season, the Red Sox traded Ken Harrelson to Cleveland–feeling they had more than enough power now.
Tony was a big national story, likely even bigger than he had been before he was beaned. He wrote a book, and he was back on newsstands.
As a young Red Sox fan, I can’t overstate how amazing and thrilling this all was. His season (20 homers, .255) was a bit down from his pre-injury form, but he was still just 24 years old and the sky once again seemed to be the limit.
The best Sporting News cover in history:
This magazine cover hung on my wall in 1970, and, not gonna lie, it’s still there.
Tony appeared to come all the way back in 1970, hitting a career-high 36 home runs and driving in a career-high 116 runs (second in the league). If that weren’t enough, brother Billy took over left field in mid-summer, moving Carl Yastrzemski to first base. The Conigliaros hit 54 home runs between them, setting a new record for teammate brothers.
All of this turned out to be a mirage. We later learned that the sight in Tony’s left eye had not really come all the way back, and in fact it was occasionally quite poor. He was playing with one good eye.
In October of 1970, the Red Sox made a six-player deal with the California Angels that sent Tony out west. (Did they know something?) I was just about to turn 10, and this was a devastating gut punch, as big as I have ever received not counting, well, … never mind about that.
Topps had plenty of time to ruin their spring training baseball photograph with a blackened hat.
As this is supposed to be a baseball cards blog, and the above is Tony’s final flagship card, I am going to end my narrative here. For Tony C, there was a lot of heartache to come, setbacks atop setbacks, so if you are up for it you can check out SABR’s biography. He was dealt many tough hands.
Needless to say, Conigliaro has remained an extremely important figure in Red Sox history. There is an active movement to retire his #25, a movement I support. For fans who came along later, his story begins with the record book, with Conigliaro’s modest 166 home runs and 12.4 WAR. I don’t really have an answer for that, other than to promise you that he was a big f**king deal, whose career and life never recovered from August 18, 1967.
One of the few editorial positions we have on this blog is a very catholic stance toward what counts as a baseball card. We’ve published posts about photos, toys, games, stamps, coins, etcetera, all of which serve to flesh out and describe the way that we collected cards. We’re not interested in being gatekeepers for what cards are. We’re interested in use and how cards relate to our fandom and interest in the game itself.
All that said, the discussion about what constitutes a card is one that comes up periodically on Twitter or on here.* It’s a fun discussion to have since we all have very different ideas** which in turn impact our collections and interests. I enjoy taking part in these discussions but I really love just watching them since the criteria people bring up have turned out to all over the map.
*Probably also in the Facebook group but as I’m no longer part of that website I’m unable to confirm as much.
**Quite similar to the “what constitutes a complete set” discussion we had earlier on this blog.
We all, of course, have significant agreement on what a card is. But there are so many variables where an item can deviate from being a card™ that I found myself creating a taxonomy of card attributes. Looking at cards with these attributes in mind is something I’ve found helps me understand why my gut reacts to different products the way it does.
This post will explain my thinking and hopefully help other people put words to things their guts have already intuited. Again, this is in no way intended to be a gatekeeping thing. We all have different reactions to which attributes we care about and where on the spectrum something stops being a card. But if the Twitter conversations have taught me anything it’s that being our most interesting conversations are when we’re being positive about our definitions rather than negative about someone else’s.
We’ll start with the obvious and discuss the material of the card. Obviously the expectation is that they be made of cardboard. They are called “cards” after all.
But cards have never been limited to just that. From the silks and blankets in the pre-war era to the plastic, metal, and wood releases of the modern era we’ve always had cards that weren’t made of cardboard. We’ve had stamps, stickers (some made of cloth), rub-offs, rub-downs, and decals as well.
Even in the cardboard/paper realm there’s also a discussion with having about the thickness of the paperstock. We’ve had posts on the blog about cards printed on newsprint and cards which are almost a quarter of an inch thick.
In general tobacco-sized to 3.5″×5″ seems to have a consensus as being a card. But what about 5″×7″ or 8.5″×11″? What about minis and micros that are smaller than tobacco cards? What about posters and pin-ups?
A lot of this comes back to storage concerns and the way many of us use binders and binder pages to organize our collections. But it’s more than that too. For most of us, “card” indicates something from the business card to postcard size and anything beyond that becomes something else. Too small and the card starts to feel insignificant. Too large and it becomes something else—a photo, a poster, a flyer.
This is sort of related to size but refers to non-rectangular items like discs and diecuts but also encompasses folders, booklets, and pop-ups as well as coins, poker chips, and buttons. Many of these are binderable. Just as many lose what makes them distinct and interesting as soon as they get bindered.
The items which aren’t binderable at all are especially interesting here. Things like the 1957 Swift Meats diecut paper dolls or those Topps 3-D Baseball Stars from the 1980s are clearly intended to be like cards but do not fit into any standard card storage or presentation systems.
The question of what makes a card a card is more than just the physical description of what it’s made of and what shape it is. What it actually depicts is also important. Yes, picture on the front, stats/bio on the back is the expectation. But there are a lot of cards out there which don’t do this.
We’re not just talking about blank backs either although those are definitely relevant to this category. Backs that are advertising, common designs, or just a player name are all part of this. The same goes with fronts that depict a generic player instead of someone specific.
And for my money, all the more-recent relic, autograph, or online cards with backs that are functionally blank fit in here as well. I’ve seen way too many people refer to them as “half a card” to not mention them.
No images for this section because it’s not something that can really be depicted visually. Traditionally, cards are part of a set and are released in either packs or complete sets. Cards that exist by themselves without the context of a set or the lottery of a pack stray into a grey area. This is something that’s really been pushed into new territory with online releases and the way Topps has in many ways optimized its distribution around selling and creating individual items on demand, but the idea of one-off card releases has been around a long time.
There’s also the discussion here about what connotes a set—both in terms of size and how things are numbered. At what point does a release of cards become a “set”? If something is unnumbered or only has a weird alphanumeric code on the back does that mean that it was intended to be collected by itself?
Why do I bother thinking and categorizing different attributes? Because as I watch the discussions it seems that most of us tolerate a certain amount of variance in one or two categories as long as the others remain “standard.” So let’s dig in.
Let’s start with 1969 Topps Deckle Edge. These are pretty clearly cards but they serve as an example of something that sort of fails one of the categories because the backs are non-existent. But as you move from card size to 5″x7″ to 8″x10″, more and more people switch from treating them as cards to treating them as photos.
Or look at Broders. They’re generally “backless” but they also start to deviate from the expected release method.* They consist of small checklists and were generally not released the same way most cards are. Art cards and customs fit in this area as well. Move up a size in this area and we have things like team photo postcards. Change the paper stock and we end up in Jay Publishing land. At some point things stop being a card for a lot of people**
*There’s also something to be said about the licensing stuff but I’ve not heard anyone claim that Panini or other unlicensed logoless cards aren’t even cards.
**Although we still collect them and cover them on this blog.
The one that’s sort of stumped me in my own collection are the Upper Deck Heroes of Baseball stadium giveaways from the early 1990s. Despite being letter-sized and blank-backed, because they’re cardboard and manufactured by Upper Deck they physically feel more like cards than a lot of the posters that Topps has folded up and inserted in packs over the years.
At the same time, since they were distributed via stadium giveaway and do not function as part of a set. They’re also functionally distinct from those late-60s, early-70s posters that were issued in packs and formed part of a distinct set.
But I could go on and on. As stated initially, the point of this post isn’t to provide a definitive answer or even an official opinion. Instead I hope that organizing my thoughts about the different ways we evaluate cardness is helpful to other people as I’ve found it to be for my own thinking.