Heritage before Heritage

I reached a collecting milestone last week by completing one of my all-time favorite sets. It’s a set that’s off the radar of most collectors (until now!) and has few cards, if any, worth more than a dollar. Its value to me is purely sentimental but still sky high in that it’s the set that started my lifelong love affair with baseball’s all-time greats.

Before getting into the set itself, I’ll start with a card not in it.

You may recognize this as the 1960 Leaf card of Brooks Robinson. The first time I saw it 10-year-old-me took the glow around Robinson’s head for a halo and suspected only I could see it. (UPDATE: Rob Neyer also saw the halo!)

To other collectors (but not our own Jeff Katz) the set is perhaps a bit more boring, despite the fact that it has to be the most exciting set ever to come with marbles instead of gum! (And did I mention the packs had cards of “Your Favorite Major League Star?”)

Marbles aside, we are looking at a black and white set produced long past the era of black and white sets, whether to you the Grayscale Age of Baseball Cards was the 1920s or the 1880s. “Your Favorite Major League Player” notwithstanding, the Leaf checklist strikes many collectors as lackluster, with the Human Vacuum Cleaner and Duke Snider perhaps the only top shelf Hall of Famers.

Various articles note design similarities between the 1960 Leaf set and its predecessor 11 years prior. My own opinion is that the two sets aren’t that close, but I’ll let you judge for yourself.

I chose Elmer Valo to compare these sets because his placement in the 1960 set comes with a little bit of a story. As reported in the May 4, 1949, Boston Globe, Valo was one of six ballplayers to sue Leaf for using their likeness in the 1949 set. The fact that he found himself back on the checklist in 1960 says something about the ability to forgive or forget, whether on the part of Leaf, Valo, or both.

Now fast forward to 1977 and one of the nation’s best known mail order dealers is planning a set of 45 cards as her very first entrée into the card making business. The next 10+ years would see her company produce dozens more sets including…

A 1983 tribute to the 1969 Seattle Pilots…

A 1984 “Art Card Series” featuring acclaimed baseball artist Ron Lewis of Negro Leagues postcard fame…

And six single-player sets from 1984-86 of several big name ballplayers and cult leaders! (Wait, that’s Pete Rose? Are you sure?)

While these later sets drew on new designs, the last few of which just scream 1980s, her very first set, much like Topps Heritage does today, mimicked a set from the past. T206? Nope! 1933 Goudey? Nope! 1952 Topps? Nope again. As you’ve no doubt guessed already, that set was 1960 Leaf!

Here is card #5, Roy Campanella, from Renata Galasso’s debut set, “Decade Greats,” featuring top stars from the 1950s.

Perhaps Ms. Galasso had a sentimental attachment to 1960 Leaf or maybe she just held a special admiration for her fellow challengers of the Topps monopoly. More than likely, her reasons for copying the Leaf set were more pedestrian. Black and white was cheaper than color, and it would have been tough to get too close to Topps without getting even closer to their lawyers. Finally, a collection of 1950s players made more sense in a decade-capping 1960 set than, for example, 1922 American Caramel.

Particularly for her rookie offering, Renata Galasso did a fantastic job capturing the look and feel of the 1960 set. Put the cards side-by-side and you’ll spot some differences, most notably the missing halo, but to paraphrase Maya Angelou the cards are much more alike than unalike.

As the small print on the back of the Campanella card shows, Renata Galasso received an assist from Mike Aronstein’s company, TCMA, which had already been making its own cards since 1972.

The 45-card set was evidently popular enough to engender a sequel two years later, this time numbered 46-90. While you might have expected this continuation set to focus on the 1960s, TCMA had already beat Galasso to the punch the year before with a stunning color issue (left) reminiscent of 1953 Bowman (right) in yet another case of Heritage before Heritage.

TCMA had similarly put out a 1930s set five years earlier, but the half decade gap left enough breathing room for Galasso to put her own “1960 Leaf” touch on the decade.

Where I had previously seen sharp photos of Aaron, Mays, Mantle, and other 1950s stars in my reading books, this 1930s set was the first time I had ever seen such vivid images of earlier stars. To a certain extent, Galasso’s set transformed these 1930s heroes from cartoon characters into men, which somehow made their records and feats all the more impressive. As the card footer shows, TCMA was again a partner in the effort.

Renata Galasso extended her set once again the following year, issuing Series Three in 1980. This time her decade of choice was the 1920s. This was around the time I started taking the bus to card shows, and the Galasso cards were a frequent purchase for me out of bargain bins. While I regret turning down a T206 Cobb for $14, I have no regrets about scooping this one up for a dime.

Once again, TCMA was in the mix, and once again the cards looked fantastic. In my view, all they needed was stats on the back instead of that humongous logo and they would have been perfect.

Series Four, numbered 136-180, came the very next year and featured stars of the 1910s. You don’t even have to look at the rest of the checklist to know the key card in this series is the Cobb, with its iconic Conlon photo.

In a move that foreshadowed the later work of SABR, you’ll notice that Cobb’s hit total was reduced between his 1980 and 1981 card backs. I’ll also credit Galasso (or TCMA) with splurging for a brand new bio where other card makers might have simply recycled the back from the previous series.

The Decade Greats set, now up to 225 cards, would continue in 1983 with a 45-card series, sometimes numbered 181-223 (plus two unnumbered cards), commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1933 All-Star Game.

I say “sometimes numbered” because the same 45 cards are also numbered 1-43 (plus two unnumbered), reflecting either a clever marketing move to co-brand this series as a standalone or just an oops by someone who forgot numbers 1-180 were already spoken for.

On top of that, the sequencing of the 43 numbered cards comes in the exact opposite order of their 181-223 counterparts. For example, here is my version of the Hubbell card, numbered 16 instead of 208, which of course is the 16th number counting backward from 223.

Card footers no longer mention TCMA, which I take to mean Renata Galasso was either producing these cards solo or experimenting with new vendors. Perhaps connected to the absence of TCMA, the quality of the cards drops off some with centering/miscut issues and minor typos being the main culprits.

The sixth and final series was released in 1984 and commemorated highlights and records. One of my favorite cards in the set provides a much sharper image of Jackie Robinson than his 1948 Sport Thrills card, even as both cards drew from the same George Burke photo.

As with the fifth series, quality falls short of the first four series. Look closely at the Robinson card, and you’ll see the name and caption are poorly centered relative to his portrait. This proves to be the case for the majority of the cards. This final series also includes a “BILL MAZEROWSKI” UER and the awkward Koufax caption “PITCHES 4TH NO HITTERS.”

There are also some really bad looking photos, especially compared to the earlier cards. For example, compare the elegant Mays from Series One to the practically reptilian Mantle of Series Six.

Finally, there is notable drift from the original 1960 Leaf design that inspired the set. Photos now are more squared off, the big letters have gotten smaller, and the small letters have gotten bigger. The resemblance is still there though perhaps more amateur.

The final two series are the hardest to find, a sign of declining production and sales. That no Series Seven or Eight was ever produced affirms the reduced interest in sets of this kind. We had reached the mid-1980s after all. Collectors now preferred future Hall of Famers to actual Hall of Famers, but why not! What could King Carl do to make his cards go up in value? Certainly not win 400 games like Dwight Gooden would!

Even where some collectors still wanted old-time stars for pocket change, there was no shortage of color offerings to choose from, including a gorgeous Dick Perez collaboration from Donruss in 1983 and various other Perez-Steele offerings that had gained popularity with autograph hounds.

Regardless of its flaws, its waning popularity, and its uselessness in funding my retirement (I just picked up the “tough” Series Five for $0.99 plus shipping), the 270-card “Decade Greats” set, also called “Glossy Greats,” will always be a favorite of mine.

It is a set that might have seemed lazy at the time, an unimaginative reboot of a set from two decades earlier. What we didn’t know then is just how ahead of its time that was…Heritage before Heritage if you ask me!

Extra for experts

The 1977-84 Renata Galasso Decade Greats set is a relatively early example of “Heritage before Heritage,” but it’s certainly not the only example or even the first. Go back six years and Allstate Insurance (of course!) put together a small set evoking the 1933 Goudey design. Here is the Ted Williams card from the set.

One could perhaps even consider the 1955 Topps Double Header issue a reboot of the 1911 Mecca Double Folders (T201) design, even as the cards differ in many ways visually.

There is also enough similarity across many tobacco issues that perhaps one could regard just about any of the sets Heritage-style remake of some other from a couple years earlier, though I would argue here that this is less about paying homage and more about paying less!

I’m curious what your examples are of early Heritage before Heritage. Ideally the visual match would be strong and the difference between the sets would be a good decade or more. Let me know in the Comments, either here or on Twitter.

Hitting through the Unglaub Arc

Forty-five years after purchasing a pack, I finally completed the 1974 Fleer “Baseball’s Wildest Days and Plays” set.  This is one of several sets in which artist Robert Laughlin used cartoons to illustrate some aspect of baseball history. This set is often listed as having been issued in 1973-which is printed on the backs as the copyright date-but the packs didn’t appear in stores until 1974.

By the way, several other SABR Baseball Cards posts have examined Laughlin creations, including “Fleer Funnies,” “Laughlin to Keep from Crying,” and “What if Robert Laughlin made his 300/400/500 set today?

The cards are of the “tall boy” style, measuring 2-1/2” x 4”.  The set is comprised of 42 cards, which were distributed five cards to a pack, along with a slab of gum. Interestingly, Laughlin had a mail order business in which he “hawked his wares,” as evidenced by this advertisement in a 1974 “The Trader Speaks.” This ad clearly shows that the “Baseball’s Wildest Days and Plays” cards were new for 1974.

Card #1 in the numerical sequence provides a feel for Laughlin’s concept and art style.  A cartoon is used to symbolize the event.  The accompanying tagline helps set the stage and provides context. Finally, the narrative on the back fleshes out the whole story. Essentially, each card offers a baseball history lesson.

By all rights, the following confession should get me drummed out of SABR. Until I acquired this card a few weeks ago, I was unaware of the “Unglaub Arc.” In 1907, Red Sox first baseman Bob Unglaub proposed a rule designed to increase scoring.  He advocated for an arc to be painted in the outfield 240 feet from home plate.  The outfielders had to stay to the infield side of the arc before the ball was hit.  Thus, the sluggers of the day would have a better chance of reaching base. Of course, today’s speedy athletes routinely play at a shallow depth and run back once the ball is airborne.

Action on the diamond isn’t the only subject matter.  Senators catcher Gabby Street’s famous catch of a ball dropped from the Washington Monument in 1908 is an example. After several attempts, Gabby was able to snag a ball dropped from the height of 555 feet.  According to the SABR Bio Project piece by Joseph Wancho, the ball fell with 300 pounds of force. Although Street is depicted in uniform, he was in street clothes when he made the “monumental” snag.

The murky legends of baseball get a turn with William “Dummy” Hoy and the origin of umpire signals.  According to esteemed SABR researcher Bill Deane in a July 24, 2010 New York Times article, no contemporaneous evidence exists of hand signals being added by umpires to communicate balls and strikes to the deaf Hoy.  As with many baseball innovations, the evolution is nuanced and not centered on a definitive moment in history.

My favorite “Wildest Days and Plays” cards use the actual likenesses instead of just a generic player.  An excellent rendering of Jimmie Foxx is used to tell the story of the “Beast” being walked six consecutive times in a game.  Also, a very recognizable Babe Ruth was drawn by Laughlin for another card.

The card for the Eddie Gaedel stunt is an excellent example of Laughlin using imagery to enhance the story.  A little guy perched on a giant baseball automatically conveys Gaedel’ s diminutive size.

Likewise, a towering Jim Thorpe conveys the outsized status of the great athlete.  Besides, hitting home runs in three different states in the same game is an “outsized” accomplishment.

Even owners show up in this set. Pirates mogul, Barney Dreyfuss, is depicted firing Bill Abstein for striking out 10 times in the 1909 World Series.

I will exit with the card that tells the tale of the rise and fall of Joe Borden.  In 1875, Borden (playing under the name Josephs) recorded the first no-hitter in professional baseball history with Philadelphia of the National Association.  In 1876 he joined the newly formed National League with Boston where he proceeded to win the first game in league history.  Sadly, Joe’s status as a “phenom” came crashing down with each subsequent, poor performance.  By the end of 1876 season, Borden was fulfilling his contract by serving as the Red Caps groundskeeper.  Charlie Weatherby’s SABR Bio Project entry provides the full scoop on “Flash-in-the-Pan” Borden.

2010 Tristar Obak: The History of Baseball in a Card Set

Have you ever flipped open a baseball card binder and saw a Henry Heinz card next to a Roy Hofheinz on the same nine-pocket sheet?

If not, allow me to introduce you to the 2010 Tristar Obak History of Baseball set.

As a baseball fan/researcher, one thing I believe is that every player in MLB history is the answer to at least one trivia question. It’s my goal (however unachievable it is) to find that piece of trivia for every player. As a card collector, I dream of having at least one card of every player ever.

Certainly, I’ll most likely never own a card of George Noftsker of the 1884 Altoona Mountain City club of the Union Association, and it’s equally doubtful that a cardboard issue of 1876 Chicago White Stocking rightfielder Oscar Bielaski will ever end up in my possession. Regardless, it would be great to fill that never ending binder as much as possible.

It’s that dream that compelled me one night to enter the name Louis Sockalexis into the search field on eBay. I don’t know why. Perhaps I was reading a book on him at the time; I do own a biography on him and have read it a few times. Maybe that’s it. Maybe not. But regardless, I stumbled across a 2010 Obak Tristar Sockalexis card! Naturally, after looking at the names in the set I was intrigued enough to purchase the set right away.

This set is an homage to the original Obak sets from 1909-11. Those originals were inserted into Obak cigarette packages. They feature players primarily from the Pacific Coast League and were 1 ½” by 2 5/8” in size, much like the infamous t206 set. These were later classified as T212. If you ever were curious about where those Letter-Number classifications originated, look no further than card 66 in the 2010 Tristar Obak set! Because that card is of Jefferson Burdick, the man who created the American Card Catalog.

In any event, the 2010 Tristar Obak set is the more traditional card size (although there are mini parallel inserts), and as an unlicensed product there are no logos or team names on them. These cards are very quirky and are probably an acquired taste. But I love them for two main reasons.

The look

They’re very simple. White border with blue letters at the bottom. Last name in larger print followed by a brief description in smaller print. And by description, it varies. Some descriptions are teams, some are a brief reason why the depicted person is in the set in the first place.

Most of the images used of the people on the cards are black & white (as many of them are from the 19th century and early 20th century). And those backgrounds! Bright, colorful scenery! Tommie Aaron stretching to receive a throw over a bright yellow sunset? Absolutely. David Clyde going into his windup over a cloudy purple backdrop? Yes, please! Maurice Van Robays in front of a barn? I wouldn’t have it any other way. Yes, they’re a bit gaudy, but I think they’re damn charming… and fun!

The subjects

What I like perhaps the most about this set is that it makes me flip over the cards to figure out why they’re in the set! And in some cases, to find out exactly who these people are.

The set is divided up into several subsets: History in the Making (top minor league prospects), History’s Greatest Legends (baseball greats), Heroes and Legends (players known for various feats or tall tales), #1 Overall Draft Picks, Minor Leagues Best, MiLB Players of the Year, Can You Believe (players with amazing stories), Game Changers (innovators in baseball and beyond), Future Stars, Multi-Sport, Pop Icons, Historic Names, Pacific Coast League, and U.S. Presidents.

Highlighting the Historic Names subset are two cards of Sherry Magee of T206 Rushmore fame, though the Obak set’s Magie variation brings much less today on the open market than its predecessor from a century earlier.

The cards at the end of the set are all over the place. Card number 106, for example, is pro wrestler Hulk Hogan.

What steals the show for me is the Game Changers subset. By far the largest chunk of the set. Where else can the founders of Coke & Pepsi be on the same team? 

I had mentioned Heinz, and since I’m from Chicago I make sure his card is nowhere near Harry Stevens’ card, as he’s widely known as the catering wizard who introduced hot dogs to baseball games.

There’s a card of John Sherman, whose Act does not apply to baseball. (Editor’s note: stay tuned.) And Frederick Thayer, who is largely given credit for inventing the catcher’s mask.

Jim Bouton has a card, but neither his MLB career with the Yankees nor Ball Four is mentioned on the back of the card. Instead, he shares this card with Robert Nelson, his teammate with the Portland Mavericks of the Northwest League because they created Big League Chew bubble gum!

That’s just a sampling of 2010 Tristar Obak. I have yet to get my hands on the 2009 or 2011 editions. Those 2011s are particularly enticing; I love collecting cards of 19th century players, and since I can’t afford those 1887 Allen & Ginters, these will have to do.

Old Hoss Radbourn, Lee Richmond, Joe Start, Doug Allison, Ross Barnes (even if the image on the card isn’t Barnes) and even Bob Addy (!?!) make the 2011 checklist, but that one will be particularly pricey.

…Because card 88 is some guy named Trout.

What if Robert Laughlin made his 300/400/500 set today?

Baseball artist and prolific direct-to-collector publisher Robert Laughlin printed a set honoring three of the sport’s “big numbers” (300 wins/.400 average/500 homers) in 1980. If you know Laughlin’s other self-made and Fleer-published sets, its cartoonish take on legendary players fits his style.

The significance of those 300/400/500 achievements also means Laughlin’s set contains just one guy not enshrined in Cooperstown, #13 Joe Jackson, banned from baseball following Chicago’s Black Sox scandal a century ago.

One Yankee legend garnered his “500 homers” card via a statistical side door — a route we’ll take again later.

That photo head and cartoon body design should be familiar to readers of my #5 Type Collection posts about 1938 Goudey Big League Gum. Robert Laughlin no doubt intended this resemblance.

Laughlin self-published this set not long before ’80s-90s power hitting took off. As of today (2019), a tranche of modern 500+ homer guys qualify. Trading friend and many-credentialed writer George Vrechek pointed out during a recent swap session that while no new players batted .400 since 1980, our other groups added 25 or 26 members, depending how you count.

300 victories (via career leaders at B-R)

  • Greg Maddux
  • Roger Clemens
  • Steve Carlton
  • Nolan Ryan
  • Don Sutton
  • Phil Niekro
  • Gaylord Perry
  • Tom Seaver
  • Tom Glavine
  • Randy Johnson

500 home runs (via career leaders at B-R)

  • Barry Bonds
  • Alex Rodriguez
  • Albert Pujols
  • Ken Griffey, Jr.
  • Jim Thome
  • Sammy Sosa
  • Mark McGwire
  • Rafael Palmeiro
  • Reggie Jackson
  • Manny Ramirez
  • Mike Schmidt
  • David Ortiz
  • Frank Thomas
  • Gary Sheffield
  • Eddie Murray
  • Fred McGriff* (493 regular season + 10 postseason, echoing Gehrig)

Our modern lament for these 300/400/500 candidates: steroids. Do we know how many of those 26* hitters and pitchers bulked up (and improved recovery) using things borrowed from the iron-pumping world of Mr. Universe? And who cares more, baseball collectors or baseball historians? (I’m about 80% collector and 20% historian in that regard.)

1970s muscle-builder Brian Downing, shown with his like-minded hero, brought a weight-training mentality to baseball that many others followed, some with chemical help.

Aside on Brian Downing: Back in my mid-80s salad days, I hated Downing’s pounding of Seattle pitching. Over 156 career games versus my Mariners, he hit a blistering .920 OPS. If you count those 156 games as a “season,” just five players registered better one-year numbers in the same era: Eddie Murray three times, Reggie Smith twice, Ken Singleton twice, Tim Raines once, and Howard Johnson once. (I do my best to impress on others how good Downing was to spread that searing, nostalgic pain around.)

But settle down! Let’s not get too serious about performance-enhancers today. Can a wholesome law-enforcement cartoon keep us in the “just enjoy our hobby” mindset?

If we extend Laughlin’s 300/400/500 set into today, I start with this cartoon head on our cartoon body. No reason to waste nicknames like “Crime Dog!”

Who else should we add to an extended checklist? Using just the aforementioned 10 pitchers and 16 sluggers gives me pause, because of our complete zero at .400. Just two modern guys came close, George Brett (.390 in 1980) and Tony Gwynn (.394 in 1994).

Laughlin set a 20th century cutoff for his 1980 set. What if we turn back time and net 19th century stars like Kid Nichols, Wee Willie Keeler, and Hughie Jennings? Given how few power hitters that era produced, I like this option better than going without adding any .400 hitters at all.

Potential old-school .400 members

According to Baseball-Reference.com, 23 batting seasons reached .400+ (and qualified for the batting title) in the pre-World Series era, 1871-1902. Some guys did so multiple times.

  • Billy Hamilton (1894)
  • Cal McVey (1871)
  • Cap Anson (1872)
  • Davy Force (1872)
  • Ed Delahanty (1894, 1895, 1899)
  • Fred Dunlap (1884)
  • Hugh Duffy (1894)
  • Hughie Jennings (1896)
  • Jesse Burkett (1895-96)
  • Levi Meyerle (1871)
  • Nap Lajoie (1901)
  • Pete Browning (1887)
  • Ross Barnes (1871-73, 1876)
  • Sam Thompson (1894)
  • Tip O’Neill (1887)
  • Tuck Turner (1894)
  • Wee Willie Keeler (1897)

Italicized seasons played less than 100 games, so sit below the stature of other 300/400/500 candidates. Let’s strike those.

Furthermore, Laughlin’s 300/400/500 contains Lajoie at #9. We can trim those 17 guys to ten “significant” 19th century 400 hitters not already in the original.

  • Billy Hamilton (1894)
  • Ed Delahanty (1894, 1895, 1899)
  • Fred Dunlap (1884)
  • Hugh Duffy (1894)
  • Hughie Jennings (1896)
  • Jesse Burkett (1895-96)
  • Pete Browning (1887)
  • Sam Thompson (1894)
  • Tip O’Neill (1887)
  • Wee Willie Keeler (1897)

Newspaper and ballcard photos exist for all ten, making it straightforward to create head-on-cartoon versions. While they played in a different era of hitting rules and equipment quality, modern analysis also diminished batting average overall. Fewer 21st century guys hallow it as a statistic that needs rigid defense. Loosening our lasso to pull in 19th century players gives historical depth to a list that already carries PED baggage.

Proposed 300/400/500 Extended checklist

  1. Title card
  2. Greg Maddux (300 game winners)
  3. Roger Clemens
  4. Steve Carlton
  5. Nolan Ryan
  6. Don Sutton
  7. Phil Niekro
  8. Gaylord Perry
  9. Tom Seaver
  10. Tom Glavine
  11. Randy Johnson
  12. Billy Hamilton (.400 hitters)
  13. Ed Delahanty
  14. Fred Dunlap
  15. Hugh Duffy 
  16. Hughie “Eeyah!” Jennings
  17. Jesse Burkett
  18. Pete Browning
  19. Sam Thompson
  20. Tip O’Neill
  21. Willie Keeler
  22. Alex Rodriguez (500 HR sluggers)
  23. Albert Pujols
  24. Ken Griffey, Jr.
  25. Barry Bonds
  26. Jim Thome
  27. Sammy Sosa
  28. Mark McGwire
  29. Rafael Palmeiro
  30. Reggie Jackson
  31. Manny Ramirez
  32. Mike Schmidt
  33. David Ortiz
  34. Frank Thomas
  35. Gary Sheffield
  36. Eddie Murray
  37. Honorary: Fred McGriff

Big thanks to Nick Vossbrink for this sharp and stylish custom Barry Bonds, befitting our modern 300/400/500 motif.

Now there’s just the matter of designing and printing our other 36 cards and engaging a lawyer to deflect “unlicensed photo depiction” civil claims! What do you think, does this checklist meet the bar set by its predecessor?

The Firsts Shall Be Last (Or, At Least, Most Recent)

Interesting that Jason, our Committee co-chair, should highlight this card in his recent post of cards on cards.

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Interesting, because the post hit right as I was acquiring two lots to get close to finishing the set. It’s the 1974 Fleer Baseball Firsts set, a 42-card issue of R. G. Laughlin’s great work.

I’ve written before about Laughlin sets. I’ve been able to complete some that I had a head start on (1972 Famous Feats, 1973 Wildest Days and Plays). Others I had – 1971 World Series and 1974 Pioneers of Baseball. One I picked up super cheaply – 1972 Great Feats (red). Still more are pricey as hell, but I’m playing a long game.

I knew I had some of the Baseball Firsts cards from buying packs. I dug them out and found I only had 17 of 42. Not enough to really work with, but I started checking out some lots. I found one with 7 cards I needed and, in a co-bid with Mark Armour, picked up 37 of 42. (20 are headed to Mark, 17 stayed with me).

Here they are (sorry for the sheet glare):

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I find it amazing that, in 1974, the earliest days of intense labor strife in major league baseball, Fleer would issue a Players’ Association card. Brave, and maybe a big middle finger to MLB and Topps, who kept Fleer at bay (and would for 7 more years).

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The Carl Mays card is creepy AF, capturing Mays’ delivery, shrouded in black, with the Grim Reaper peeking out behind the pitcher’s mound. On a lighter note, the Helmet card seems to feature scrubbing bubbles.

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None of these cards should really run more than $1-2, and having a somewhat anonymous Jackie Robinson helps. I have no doubt that if the front of the card had his name, it would cost $10.

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The Farm System card looks like a scene from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The empty spot on this page is reserved for Landis, on reserve at COMC.

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The one I need, #6, is this:

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If anyone has it, or an extra, let me know. I’ve got its final resting place already prepared:

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Cards of Cards of Cards

As a kid few things sucked more than being dragged to Kmart by my mom. All that changed one day in 1982 when I saw these on the shelves by checkout.

I don’t recall the price, but it was damn low for a set that included Mantle, Mays, and Aaron, and it was even low enough for me to somehow twist my mom’s arm into adding it to our cart. On top of that, these were no ordinary cards. These were a Limited Edition!

Opening the box on the way to the car, I was pretty thrilled with the look of the cards, the first 41 of which featured images of earlier Topps baseball cards. At least that’s what I thought.

In fact, the set not only included cards of cards but also cards of cards that never were.

The set also gave me my first Topps Traded card since the designers smartly eschewed the 1981 Rollie Fingers base card in favor of his Brewers update.

However, the most intriguing cards in the set were these five. Even as a Dodger fan, I had to love the idea that these were cards of cards of Cards!

Thanks to some trades and card show visits, I already had some cards of cards from 1975 in my collection.

Three cards in the 1975 Topps MVP subset even included cards that never were.

The Wills card appears to be the same one used seven years later by Kmart, which leads me to wonder if a “real” 1962 Topps Maury Wills was created but never released or if someone in 1982 simply said, “Hey, wait a minute! No need to make a fake Wills. We still have that one from ’75.”

The 1951-style Campanella seems to work well, but the 1955 is a bit of an eyesore. Not only did Topps aberrantly go black and white on the head shot but they “capped off” the anachronism by placing Campanella in L.A. three years early. (Collectors of the 1958 or 1962 Jay Publishing sets may recognize the source of the 1955 Campy fauxtaux.)

But I digress. What you really want to know is were there cards of cards of Cards, and of course the answer is YES! As the set’s theme was identical to the Kmart set and the time frame wasn’t too different either, we see the same cards of cards of Cards as Kmart, minus Keith Hernandez who of course hadn’t won his MVP award yet.

And just the year before that Topps recapped the entire cardboard career of the Hammer with its five-card “Hank Aaron Special” subset.

North of the border, the same subset was issued but with some twists I never understood until reading Matthew Glidden’s terrific article on the subject. While the first and last cards are largely the same as the U.S. issue, the middle three cards were split into six.

On the heels of their 1974 and 1975 successes, Topps created another “cards of cards” subset for 1976. Though there were no cards of cards of Cards, the “Father & Son” cards featured five (then) current players along with the 1953 or 1954 Topps cards of their Big League dads.

I’m not aware of other cards of cards between the 1976 Father/Son cards and the Kmart set. However, cards of cards had a strong run from 1985-1990 thanks to another Father/Son series, featuring (yes!) a card of a card of a Card…

…and the five-year reboot of a classic Topps subset that debuted in 1977.

Where the 1977 subset used ordinary (or sometimes extraordinary) photos, these later sets adopted a Kmartesque cards of cards design. There were five cards in the 1986 subset, but none were cards of cards of Cards, nor were there even cards of cards that never were. The closest we come to a novelty is the use of Fernando Valenzuela’s 1981 Topps Traded card.

The 1987 subset again featured five cards but sadly no cards of cards of Cards. What it did include was the by now familiar Maury Wills card that never was.

Finally in 1988 were are rewarded with two cards of cards of Cards, and these weren’t just any old Cards but two of the greatest ever to wear the uniform.

The 1989 subset had just about everything under the sun: a card that never was of Tony Oliva, a card of a card of a Card, and a card of my cardboard crush, the Topps XRC of Dr. K. Oh, and Hank Aaron and Gil Hodges are in there too!

Following the subset into 1990, equipped with airplane bag to stomach its design, we find no cards of cards of Cards, but we do see a tighter cropping of the Kmart Fred Lynn, more closely matching his actual RC, and a card reminding Cards fans of recent postseason agony.

The 1986 Topps set also doubled down on the Hank Aaron Special design to honor Pete Rose’s breaking of Ty Cobb’s career hits record.

Where Topps had already turned the multiplayer RC of Fred Lynn into a solo card for Kmart (and would do similar for Oliva and Lynn again), Topps left Rose’s iconic 1963 rookie card in its original format. Also breaking with card on card tradition, Topps ran with Rose’s main 1984 issue rather than his update card on the Expos. In retrospect we might regard this as the beginning of the end for Montreal baseball.

Before closing the article, I want to highlight one more card on card that depending on the release date may in fact be the first of its kind. The same year Topps issued the Hank Aaron Specials, Fleer and Bob Laughlin blessed the baseball world with a 42-card set of Baseball Firsts. Card 12 in the set describes the first baseball cards and the front depicts a tobacco-style card that never was of Beaneater hurler (pardon the visual!) Kid Madden (SABR bio).

Oh how I would have loved it had Madden been a Cardinal so I could end with a card of a card of a Card. About the closest I can come is to note that the James O’Neill mentioned on the back of the card did spend seven years in St. Louis, but of course his team was the Browns.

I’m curious to know if you’re aware of any cards of cards earlier than 1974 or know whether the Fleer set beat Topps to the shelves (or mail order catalogs). For those of us trying to collect the baseball card’s rookie card, if not the master set, this kind of thing matters a lot!

From our readers

Thanks to @DonSherm for supplying us this “cards on card” card a year before the Hank Aaron Specials and the Fleer Kid Madden.

The card back shows several cards, though it’s impossible to know whether any are cards of Cards or even cards of cards of Cards!

Now going way back, I’m reminded that some very early non-baseball cards of cards were issued in 1906 (!).

I’ll let you read about this fantastic six-car set over on my co-chair’s blog.

SABR Black Sox Symposium trading cards

At the Memorial Day Weekend Baseball Cards Research Committee meetup in Cooperstown, I was lucky enough to meet the great Mike Noren in person. Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell his artwork is probably familiar to you.

Mike, whose work now hangs at on the walls of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, is the artist behind the wildly popular “Gummy Arts” trading cards posted daily to Twitter and (if you’re lucky) available in packs online.

I recently saw that Mike had begun putting together a new W514-style set commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Black Sox Scandal.

With the SABR Black Sox Scandal Centennial Symposium coming to town here in Chicago I wondered if there might be a way I could put some of these cards into the hands of attendees. Thinking there might be a good 30-40 SABR members and guests on hand for the event, I thought “Hmm, maybe.” Then I checked with conference organizer Jacob Pomrenke and got the bad-news-for-me-good-news-for-everyone-else that he expected more than 200 attendees!

Never mind, right? It’s not like I could ever imagine Mike’s being willing to put together this many cards! (He cuts every card himself, including the rounded corners.)

Well, what do you know! And thank you, Mike! Sure enough, the first two hundred guests on hand Saturday morning will be able to pick up an envelope with five cards from the full set of 19.

Here is the checklist for the complete unnumbered set of 19 cards.

I can’t thank Mike enough for making his cards available in such large numbers to SABR for this once-in-a-century event, and I hope the Symposium guests will enjoy these cards as much as I do.

I have a bad feeling that after printing and cutting more than a thousand cards Mike will never want to make, much less see, one of these cards again. Nonetheless, I encourage readers to follow @gummyarts on Twitter just in case Mike decides to make additional cards or sets available to the public. If not, get in touch with your friends who made it to Chicago. In the spirit of the Black Sox, they might not be above taking bribes to help you complete your set!

Picture perfect postcards

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 right.

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.

Detroit’s heroes go wild!

Periodically, I have added commemorative team sets to my collection.  The sets may mark a championship year or other noteworthy occurrence, famous or infamous.  Additionally, sets are issued to celebrate an anniversary year or a players’ reunion.  For example, I did a blog post on cards given to attendees of a banquet honoring the 1969 Senators.   Although this may prompt some of you to cancel your SABR membership, I will post additional pieces on commemorative sets from time-to-time.

First up is a 1988 set issued by Domino’s Pizza that commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Tigers 1968 World Series Championship.  Most of you remember that Detroit bested St. Louis in a classic seven-game series.  This World Series resonates with me since it is the first that I remember watching on TV.

All the photos in the 28-card set are black and white.  Many of the shots are unfamiliar to me, which was part of the appeal-along with being cheap.  All the unnumbered cards have a synopsis of the season printed on the back along with the players’ 1968 regular season and World Series stats. 

The cards were given away at Tiger Stadium during an “Old Timers” game featuring the ’68 Tigers players.  It is possible that they were also available at Domino’s locations.  Perhaps a Tiger fan in my vast readership remembers.

Of course, I must include the cards of Ray Oyler and Wayne Comer.  Both players were selected in the expansion draft by the Seattle Pilots after the World Series.  You may recall that the light hitting Oyler was benched in the World Series, with outfielder Mickey Stanley moving into the shortstop slot.  Both Comer and Oyler have memorable turns in Jim Bouton’s Ball Four.

Two Tigers icons-Willie Horton and “Swingin’” Gates Brown-are caught “in action.”  Willie was the big offensive force for the “Motor City Kitties” in 1968.

Speaking of icons, casual fan may not remember that Hall-of-Fame member, Eddie Mathews, closed out his career in a limited role with the Tigers in 1968.

The other Hall-of-Famer in the set is, of course, Al Kaline.  The all-time great is honored with two cards.  Ironically in Al’s only championship season, he suffered a broken arm after being hit by a Lew Krausse pitch, missing three months.

1968 was the “Year of the Pitcher” and Denny McLain was instrumental in creating this designation.  Fueled by endless bottles of Pepsi, Denny won an astonishing 31 games on his way to the AL Cy Young and MVP awards.

Another great Tiger hurler who came up big in the World Series was Mickey Lolich.  The portly “twirler” won three games in the World Series, including a decisive seventh game victory over Bob Gibson.

Although the Tigers rarely made errors in ’68, there are two error cards in this set.  Pitcher Pat Dobson has a version with the photo showing Jon Warden (card on right).  Additionally, leadoff man Dick McAualiffe has a version that leaves off the “e” from the end of his name.

I will end my Motown meanderings now, since I’m sure you are wishing that I was “looooong gone!”  Plus, I need to go to the Tiger Stadium concession stand and redeem this Domino’s coupon.

My 1887 Old Judge…not!

Just so everybody here doesn’t think that as a defender of card grading, I’m a shill for PSA, I’ll share a weird experience I had a few years ago with an amazing goof on a card I sent to be graded.

I needed a graded card of Hall of Fame umpire Hank O’Day to add to my “unrestricted” set of Hall of Fame cards. “Unrestricted” means any card of any year, even if it’s long after a person played or lived, including graded Hall of Fame plaque postcards or Dick Perez portrait postcards. Generally, people create such sets with cards they already have from other more standard issues, but obviously folks like me buy other PSA graded cards to fill holes in these kind of sets. To each, his own. It’s how collecting works.

Yes, I know. I don’t consider these postcards really standard baseball cards but – rationalization here – some HoF members have very few real cards, and the one or two that exist are outrageously expensive in any form. So sometimes, I have settle for HOF postcards (which, proudly, I bought at the HOF gift shop in Cooperstown. The clerk was interested to know why I was buying these obscure players’ and execs’ postcards.)

Well, I sent PSA a Conlon card (early 1990s. obviously) of Hank O’Day to be graded. Silly me, I thought it looked pretty good and might rate a PSA 7 grade. Duh. It came back as a 5.5; pretty much worthless in graded form for a card from this set. (I eventually added it anyway as a Conlon to my set.)

Remarkably, PSA had somehow encapsulated this Conlon card as an 1887 N172 Old Judge. Gosh, I wish that had been what it really was! At that point, it was in the PSA registry as if the company had graded a 1887 Old Judge 5.5, which would be quite a find.

hank O'Day goof_NEW

I posted this card for sale with the scanned image on eBay, clearly pointing out that it was NOT an 1887 Old Judge. Since I had another raw O’Day card, I was hoping to recoup the grading cost and mailing fee (both quite steep, as those who submit cards to PSA know well). Normally when I list a nice card on Ebay, I might get half a dozen bids and maybe two dozen page views. If I recall, this card got more than 15,000 views in a day.

Immediately, the administrative assistant to PSA’s CEO contacted me, asking that I take down the listing and send the card back to be re-slabbed. Well, I wasn’t born yesterday (literally). PSA does correct what it calls mechanical errors free of charge, and I have taken advantage of this a couple of times, much to my benefit. Player’s names or years sometimes are incorrect on PSA cards out there. Mistakes happen.

But this Old Judge snafu seemed especially egregious, and I wasn’t inclined to send this card back to PSA just to get something pretty much worthless in return. I asked for a couple of free gradings, which were agreed to (though l still had to pay shipping) in addition to the corrected holder for my 5.5 Conlon card back. I probably could have driven a better deal, but I wasn’t looking to cheat or hurt anyone.

I do not share this experience to knock PSA. I understand the grading critieria. I pay to be a Collectors Club member, and I enjoy reading the monthly magazine articles about different sets, many of which are written by SABR member Kevin Glew, a journalist who is a major Canadian baseball authority (and who I have encouraged to post here). I enjoy and appreciate the Set Registry, which is free to participate in.

PSA told me the mistake happened after the card itself was graded. I accept that, but my gosh, I hope a better final checking process is now in place. I’m sure thousands of images of this card were downloaded when it was up for sale on Ebay, so I don’t hesitate to post it here.