Brace, Conlon, McWilliams, McCarthy. McCarthy? Most card collectors and hardcore baseball fans have heard of, or encountered, the photography of George Brace, Charles Conlon and Doug McWilliams. For some reason, J.D. McCarthy has slipped through the cracks.
He shouldn’t have. McCarthy, from near Detroit, was a top level photographer, clicking away product that players used as postcards to answer fan mail or promote their bowling alleys and pizza parlors (McCarthy entries are scattered throughout the Standard Catalog), and that Topps used on a freelance basis. McCarthy archives had made it through various hands, and the bottom of the collection ended up with Bob Lemke, formerly of Krause Publications and one-time editor of the Standard Catalog. He wrote about it here.
Bob makes the point that the collection went through multiple owners, and, by the time it got to him, had been picked over, the Hall of Famers and big stars had disappeared. Which leads me to this post.
Back in 1986, I was visiting Cooperstown and, of course, Baseball Nostalgia. The shop, co-owned by inaugural Burdick Award Winner Mike Aronstein, was in its old location, at what is now the batting range. I picked up my usual odds and ends, like the current San Francisco Giants yearbook, and this little gem. (I’d always been under the impression that Sports Design Products was an Aronstein company, but Andrew Aronstein assured me it was not.)
I had never heard of McCarthy, and had no idea of what would be contained within this plastic box, but, man, what’s inside was a marvel then, and still is now. It’s a 24-card set, matte-finish (if not matte, non-glossy), with brilliant photos and a simple, 1969 Topps design. SDP clearly had some big plans for the superstar portraits of McCarthy, hoping to get on board the card boom. Seemingly those dreams were never realized.
Here’s the entirety of the set:
An up close look at these two beauts:
(The backs have little to offer, but I know you “card back” guys care.)
While still cheap in price, the McCarthy set is high in aesthetic value. Track one down.
You may recall from an earlier post that I’m now collecting the 1961 Fleer “Baseball Greats” set. At the time I wrote the article I had maybe 30-40 of the 154 cards in the set. Now, just a month later, I am now at 140/154, just 14 cards short of the set. Awesome, right?
Ah, but did I mention I have over 100 doubles?! Here’s the thing. Rather than just buy the set (boring, and too big a hit all at once to the pocketbook) or buy only the singles I need, I’ve to this point focused almost entirely on “lots,” as in listings of 10-40 “random” cards at at time. (And just to avoid confusion with other meanings of the word, I’ll capitalize “Lot” from here on out.)
Early on that was a great way to go. For this particular set, I might find a Lot of 30 cards in VG-EX and pick it up at right around a dollar a card, i.e., even less than what collectors pay today for many of today’s brand new 2019 and 2020 offerings.
When my Lots arrived, good times ensued-
It was fun to thumb through the cards and see who I got. (Yes, I tried hard NOT to look at the listing details specifically so I could be surprised later.)
It was REALLY FUN to find cards I needed for my set, and early on this was most of the Lot.
It was REALLY FUN to occasionally come across a “high end” player (e.g., Lou Gehrig) I didn’t expect to see thrown into a Lot. (In today’s jargon, this would be known as a “hit,” and I would be expected to post a pic to social media with the caption “DiD I dO gOoD?”)
All told, buying Lots brought back all the fun of buying packs, which, sometimes we forget, is about the funnest thing in the world you can do with baseball cards. (No kidding, I have a group of guys I get together with each month (COVID-19 Update: on hold!), and we have a blast opening packs of junk wax, even packs we don’t care about at all. Most of the time we don’t even take the cards home.)
Of course, all pack openers know what happens when you get closer and closer to completing your set. Doubles galore! Now back in the day, that meant spending 30 cents and ending up with 15 doubles. At the high-stakes poker table that is 1961 Fleer, it may mean spending $20 for 15 doubles and only a single common I need for my set. (By the way, the notion of a common Baseball Great is one of my favorite oxymorons, even if it fits this particular set to a tee.)
I’ll add here that the situation with ordinary packs or Lots is amplified with a set like 1961 Fleer that has a decidedly more scarce high number series. Unless you’re buying a specifically advertised “high number Lot” you almost certainly end up with somewhere between 95-100% low numbers. Still, I was determined not to give in and complete my set “the boring way,” which I’ll define here as any method that’s fast, cheap, or efficient. I was in this one for the fun of it, and any extra I was paying would simply be the “cost of fun.”
Fortunately, two things happened to me that helped me a lot (lowercase, ordinary meaning) with my set.
A collector got in touch with me and made a big trade.
In each case, there were no doubles involved, and in the case of the Ruth I got one of the cards that would never come my way buying low-cost Lots. I was now breaking my own rules right and left, but I was okay with it since trading and making deals with “real people” (vs. anonymous eBay sellers) is almost as fun as opening packs. Finally, with a Want List that’s now exclusively megastars and high numbers, buying more and more Lots seems like an exercise in total futility.
Most collectors I meet feel an internal tug of war between wanting to build their collections on a budget while also wanting to enjoy the chase. Giving in to the former generally means buying the set all at once (BORING!), while giving in to the latter generally means Lots and singles (EXPENSIVE!). (And singles get particularly expensive when each $3 card adds $3 in shipping.)
Ultimately, how you collect comes down to what your budget is and what value you put on the fun. For every collector the answer will be as unique as their fingerprints, but in general I would encourage all collectors to at least consider fun in the equation.
Too often as collectors, we forget about the fun side of the Hobby, worrying instead about whether or not we got a good deal or found the lowest price. In reality though, not knowing who you’re gonna get, getting one of the cards you really wanted, creating your Want List, making up dumb games with your doubles, having a Want List when someone asks you if you have a Want List, trading, checking things off, completing a sheet of nine in your binder, having a set you’re working on…often (and if we’re honest with ourselves…ALWAYS!) these things are more satisfying than actually having the set.
As such, if you pay a little extra to take the fun route, it’s maybe not so dumb after all; it might even be really smart. At the very, very worst, we’ll say it’s a fun dumb, which maybe–just maybe–is the best an adult blowing hard-earned cash on little cardboard baseball men can ever hope for. God knows I’ll take it!
Back to those hundred or so doubles. It’s not normally my thing, but I did manage to sell a small stack of them. More germane to this post, however, is that I found a way to turn them into tons of fun.
A fellow Chicago chapter member is having a baby soon, and he’d told me once he might get into this set. (I didn’t break it to him that he’d soon have zero time for hobbies, sleep, or anything else.) Well, boy did I have a blast printing fake wrappers off the internet and creating 1961 Fleer “repacks” as a dad-to-be gift for him.
Of course, now he’s the guy with almost all low numbers, hardly any big stars, and a bunch of doubles, but guess what…
He’s also the King of Fun when it comes to opening packs. Click here to see who he got in his first pack, and I bet you’ll learn something new about every single player!
A couple years ago now, someone was running a Twitter sale and posted a batch of 1955 Bowmans. I hadn’t quite made the jump into pursuing Giants Bowman cards at the time but I looked at the batch anyway and one card jumped out at me that I had to have. So I responded to the tweet and the following conversation ensued.
“I’ll take the Bowman.”
“Which one? They’re all Bowmans.”
“The Bowman Bowman.”
The card that jumped out at me and the first 1955 Bowman I ever purchased was Roger Bowman’s Rookie Card. I knew nothing about him as a player* but the silliness of having a Bowman Bowman card was irresistible.
*I would discover that he was a former Giant but by the time his Rookie Card was printed his career was basically over.
And so a collection theme was born. I don’t have all of the cards in this post but they’re on my radar. Sometimes we collect our favorite teams. Sometimes we collect our favorite players. And sometimes we collect cards where the player name describes the card itself.
On the theme of the Bowman Bowman we’ll start with a pair of Johnson Johnstons. As a Giants fan the Johnston Cookies issues aren’t exactly relevant to my interests. But getting an Ernie or Ben Johnson card of those? That’s something I can feel completely fine about adding to my searchlist.
Sadly there aren’t a lot of guys whose names match the card manufacturers. Hank Gowdy, despite playing through the 1930s, never appears on a Goudey card. Score never made a Herb Score card.
Thankfully the Ted Williams company produced Ted Williams cards in its early 1990s sets and the Conlon Collection included a Jocko Conlan card as well. And to bring us back to where we started, Matthew Bowman gives us the modern version of the Bowman Bowman card.
But it’s not just card manufacturers where this checklist is relevant. Player names can match team names whether it’s Dave Philley as a Phillie or Johnny Podres on the Padres. Jose Cardenal almost got aced out since his time with the Cardinals corresponds to when Topps calls them the “Cards”* but his Kellogg’s card, with no team name on the front but Cardinals on the back, doesn’t do this.
*Cards cards are an honorary member of this collection.
Unfortunately guys like Daryl Boston and Reggie Cleveland never played for Boston or Cleveland respectively.
First names can also match in this department. Like we’ve got Angel the Angel who sadly never pitched when the club called itself The Los Angeles Angels. There are plenty of other players named Angel on Baseball Reference but none appeared for the Angels.
Sticking with first names and moving to more thematic cards. We’ve got a Chase chase card and a Rookie Rookie Card. I went with Chase the batdog whose card is a short print in 2013 Topps Heritage Minors but there are also a few Chase Field cards that are numbered to various small numbers. Sadly, images of those are hard to come by.
The Rookie Rookie though I enjoy a lot. I usually hate the RC badge but in this case it really makes the card.
There are also a couple more thematic near misses. Cookie Lavagetto left the Oakland Oaks the year before Mothers Cookies started making its PCL sets in the 1950s and Cookie Rojas, despite managing for the Angels in the 1980s, was on the only West Coast team that did not get Mothers Cookies cards.
And finally, much to my dismay, the 1968 Topps Game Matty Alou Error Card does not contain an error. Although I do keep that card around as one of my favorite Error cards.
Any more suggestions? Please leave them in the comments!
A couple cards that came up in the comments the week after this posted.
First a Wally Post Post card which Tom Bowen suggested in the comments. Thanks Tom! And second a green tint* Pumpsie Green that I knew of an completely spaced on when I wrote this.
I’ve never been much of a believer in signs or fate. Sometimes, though, happy coincidences can lead to a feeling of slight disbelief and a raised eyebrow.
Over the past month, there have been a couple of events here in Pittsburgh that I was fortunate enough to attend, They commemorated the centennial of the founding of the Negro National League (NNL). It’s altogether fitting that institutions in the region mark the anniversary, as this area was home to two famous franchises in black (or any color) baseball history; the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays.
A few weeks ago, the mayor and some other folks gave short speeches at the City-County Building at the opening of a temporary Negro League display located there. Then, on Thursday, February 13th (100 years to the day that the NNL was founded), a panel including former Pittsburgh Pirates star Al Oliver and Josh Gibson’s great grandson Sean, spoke at the Heinz History Center about the leagues in general. The discussion was pretty free-form, covering the impact and influence on baseball that the players and owners had, as well as a wide range of other topics. It was here where the card collecting angle comes in to play.
One member of the panel, noted Black Baseball historian Rob Ruck, made mention of 1988, when the Pirates organization officially apologized for their role in baseball segregation. While I’d be loathe to truly praise them for this action (first of all, segregation, secondly, it took 40 years!), the club was one of the earliest, if not the first, to own up to the injustice.
That night’s ballgame included a pennant raising in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Homestead Grays’ 1948 Negro World Series victory. Ruck mentioned that, also that season (may have been the same night), the Pirates held a card set giveaway. The cards were printed in sheet form and showcased a number of images of famous Negro League characters. Professor Ruck had played a role in the set creation back then, providing info for the backs in the age long before Wikipedia and Ancestry.com were a few clicks or taps away.
Professor Ruck’s mention of the card set reminded me that I was at the giveaway game with my family, because, as I immediately mentioned to my buddy sitting next to me, I fondly remembered having that set. They were somewhere in the mix with my junk wax collection, conciously purged around the time when my parents moved a dozen or so years ago.
So, two days after the panel event, I visited my parents’ (current) place. No sooner did I walk into the house than my mom mentions, “I was cleaning and found some old cards for you.” As some of you may have foreseen in the amount of time since I finished the first sentence of this paragraph, laid out on the guest room dresser were three sets of 1988, Pirates team issued Negro League cards, uncut and neatly folded.
Somehow, they weren’t cast out along with my collection. Likely because they were stored elsewhere. My memory is limited, but I’m willing to guess that these belonged to my parents and sister, landing outside of my eight year old reach. Mine were probably systematically separated and made into standard card form. I’m not 100% positive, but they probably disappeared with those thousands of other cardboard sports ephemera of my youth years ago.
Having these appear again is both neat, and a little spooky. It’s as if a passing mention of the set caused the cards to materialize out of thin air. I’m excited to be able to add these into my collection (haven’t checked with the others in my family, but confident they’re not interested). It’s an ‘oddball’ collection of true historical interest, and a great group of early card examples of many of the biggest names that never had the chance to play in the majors.
Also, if anyone is looking for a set…you now know who has two duplicates.
I have 12 decks of playing cards that I’ll never use.
They’re called Hero Decks, and they first came out around 2005, as far as I can tell.
These are regular 52-card decks of playing cards (plus “jokers”) that feature caricatures of famous people – whether it’s famous figures from history or politicians or musicians or athletes.
I collect the baseball decks, and they’re done by city. They are advertised as such (Boston Baseball Heroes, Philadelphia Baseball Heroes) I’m assuming due to licensing issues. The Milwaukee deck features both Braves & Brewers greats, and the Los Angeles & Brooklyn deck features Dodgers greats across all eras. The San Francisco deck sticks to only San Francisco Giants. There are separate Chicago decks (North Side & South Side) as well as separate decks for New York (Yankees & Mets).
I bought my first deck (the White Sox deck) at a Borders bookstore probably in the late 2000s (I miss Borders) and shortly after I picked up the Cubs deck and the Milwaukee deck. One of the decks had a mail in offer for a free deck and I added the Yankees. In 2013 I worked a series of Cubs broadcasts in Pittsburgh and while visiting the Pittsburgh Sports Museum I found the Pittsburgh deck. I purchased a few on eBay (Philadelphia, St. Louis & LA/Brooklyn) and one on Amazon (Cleveland), and I also make a habit of buying a deck when I visit our friend the Mayor in Cooperstown (they sell Hero Decks at the Hall of Fame!), as I have picked up Cincinnati, Boston & San Francisco each of the last three trips I have made.
I absolutely love them. Not only do I enjoy the artwork (I dabble in drawing in my free time – I may soon do a post of the baseball cards I draw*), but it’s sort of like one massive baseball card set since they all look similar, except for a slight difference in style in the earlier decks. Those earlier decks (like the Jackie Robinson card shown below from the Los Angeles & Brooklyn deck) feature a larger player image, the name of the player, position and years with the team. The later decks (see Dick Allen card) give you a brief factoid about the players.
Editor’s note: YES PLEASE!! (HIS ARTWORK IS INCREDIBLE!)
Luckily for me, my two favorite players to collect are featured in multiple decks!
Whenever possible, the numbers on the cards correspond to the positions played. And the four suits are divided up among eras, as best as could be done.
The Aces are, well, aces!
The Kings are generally reserved for the hardest hitters. Particularly the Kings of Clubs, or at least it seems that way.
The 10 is used as a spot for the best players who didn’t crack the starting 2-9 slots. The Jacks & Queens are usually reserved for the rest of the outstanding pitchers.
…but other times are simply used like the 10 for other top players.
Since not all teams are the same strength, I think it’s cool to see some players crack the decks who you wouldn’t expect.
One thing I am excited to see with each deck I open are who the “jokers” are. It’s a wild card spot for…
And even Broadcasters! I love that; otherwise there would be no cards of Harry Kalas, Marty Brennaman, Jack Brickhouse & Jon Miller in my collection!
There have been updates to at least a few of the decks, which is exciting. There’s an updated Cubs deck for after they won the World Series; I haven’t tracked that one down yet. It may look strange in my binder. I don’t really want to put in duplicates, so I think I’ll just add the new cards to the Cubs section.
But yes, I know, these are card collector problems. I’ll gladly figure out a solution when the time comes.
Before jumping in let’s set the stage a little. It’s June 12, 1939, and baseball royalty has gathered in upstate New York.
Eleven of the game’s greatest are in Cooperstown for the first ever Hall of Fame induction ceremony, honoring the classes of 1936-39.
Not coincidentally, at least in my opinion, the next year’s Play Ball set did something that was at the time most unusual if not unprecedented. More than an eighth of the cards, 31 out of 240, on the 1940 Play Ball checklist featured retired all-time greats.
As the Hall of Fame had only 26 members to this point, the set necessarily included several players not yet (or ever?) enshrined in Cooperstown, most notably Shoeless Joe Jackson.
The chart below shows the Hall of Fame status of the 31 retired greats in the set, as well as two other pre-1940 Hall of Famers (orange rows) who were included in the Play Ball set outside the retired greats subset.
There were also several pre-1940 Hall of Famers not included in the set at all. Most had pioneer or executive status, but I’m sure you will recognize at least a few very, very good players on this list.
The 1940 Play Ball set, therefore, was not a perfect reflection of baseball’s Hall of Fame to this point, but it still gave young gum chewers their best chance to own a decent piece of Cooperstown in their card collections.
Ten years later another set came along that scored a direct hit on the Baseball Hall. In 1950, Chicago-based publisher B.E. Callahan released a box set that consisted all 60 Hall of Famers to that point (plus two cards of the building itself). According to the Standard Catalog, the box set and supplemental cards were sold at the Hall of Fame itself and major league ballparks.
The set was updated annually to remain current through 1956, providing collectors with cards of baseball’s first 80 Hall of Famers.
The next major set rich in retired baseball greats, short of the Hall of Fame postcards themselves, once again came ten years later, this time with the release of Fleer’s 1960 Baseball Greats set.
The set included 79 players (80 if you count the unreleased Pepper Martin backs), all retired with the exception of Ted Williams. By my count, 47 of the cards, including the first ten on the checklist, portrayed subjects who were already Hall of Famers. (As of 2020, the total is up to 74.) Here are the five cards in the set that do not have corresponding busts in Cooperstown.
Fleer’s 1960 set was (perhaps surprisingly) successful enough not just to warrant a repeat but a near doubling of the set in 1961. The 1961 Baseball Greats set boasted 154 cards, including two checklists, making it by far the largest all-time greats set to date, a distinction it would retain (subjectively) for 20 years. That said, a closer look at the set’s checklist raises valid questions as to just how many of the “Baseball Greats” were actual…baseball greats. Had baseball even had 150+ greats to this point?
The series one checklist largely reprises the 1960 offering, with 57 of the 88 cards having counterparts the year before. Another 18 subjects from 1960 would crack the series two checklist. That left only 4 cards from the 1960 set with no sequel in 1961.
Excluding the two checklist cards and the 75 repeated subjects from 1960, Fleer had 77 slots to fill with all new cardboard. Naturally, some number would go to true greats who didn’t quite make it the first time around (i.e., 1960), but our focus here will be on players that make you say “Huh?”
Cards 80 and 82 feature two very much better than average twirlers who combined to post a 317-239 win-loss record. I recognized but couldn’t place the names when I first saw their cards.
As it turns out the two starters had squared off in one of baseball history’s greatest pitching duels, combining for 19 innings of no-hit ball.
Another unexpected entrant to a set of “Baseball Greats” was Nick Altrock. Though he posted a couple very nice seasons with the 1905-06 White Sox, his card back suggests it was his clown status that made him a Fleer immortal.
Dennis Galehouse and Bump Hadley were two other pitchers I can’t say I knew well.
Their card backs indicate that their postseason success was responsible for placing them on the same checklist as Ruth, Cobb, and Wagner. That said, the two won a combined three World Series games in 31 seasons.
My favorite card in the set, however, belongs to Joe Hauser, a respectable but hardly standout hitter for the Philadelphia A’s teams of the 1920s, certainly overshadowed by the Hall of Fame roster surrounding him.
Of course, some readers will recognize Hauser’s place in baseball history has less to do with his major league record as what he accomplished after his big league days were through: an unthinkable 132 home runs in two seasons!
Besides introducing young collectors in 1961 (and guys like me in 2020) to some lost greats, the 1961 Fleer set (and to some extent its 1960 predecessor) was also a bit maverick in its choice of photos. Many of the top stars in the set are depicted with teams you’d hardly expect. (For what it’s worth the cities starting with “C” seemed to gain the most players.)
The more I got to know this set the more it reminded me of the baseball books I used to read as a kid. Yes, there were chapters on the true immortals, but there were also stories about baseball’s greatest personalities, baseball’s most unusual games, the little guys who came up big when it counted, and the big guys who came up big when it didn’t count. It took all these players to tell the story of baseball in a way that fused history, drama, and comedy into one grand game rich not only in tradition but personality.
The 1961 Fleer set is not so much a study in putting the Hall of Fame into packs but a blueprint for a different Hall altogether, one where a great story or great moment is as good as a great career…and for the guys with great careers, one where we at least give them a funny hat!
I know some readers would be aghast to even consider such a Hall, so it’s to them I ask this question: what’s the point of reading a plaque if you already know who the guy was!
Extra for Experts
A few odds and ends related to the 1960-61 Fleer Baseball Greats sets that didn’t quite fit the article.
The 1960 checklist (1-79) is in more or less random order. However, there is a simple pattern to the color schemes used. Cards 1-20 use blue with white lettering, cards 21-40 use yellow with red lettering, cards 41-60 use green with yellow lettering, and cards 61-79 use red with white lettering.
The 1961 checklist is alphabetical by series, but the background colors (red, orange, yellow, green, and blue) appear more or less random.
Both sets include a card of Ed Walsh. However, the 1960 set erroneously uses a photo of Ed Walsh, Jr. Perhaps to clear up any confusion the following year Fleer made darn sure collectors knew they were looking at Big Ed Walsh this time around.
Photos on the 1960 cards are credited to World Wide Photo. No similar credits are noted on the back of the 1961 cards.
On Saturday, September 20, 1997 the Cubs held Ryne Sandberg Day in honor of the future Hall of Famer’s official—and this time permanent—retirement as a player. [You may recall he had walked away from the game following the 1994 season and did not play in 1995. Ryno returned to play in 1996 and 1997.] The Cubs produced a special commemorative program for the occasion that included “The Sandberg Collection” on the inside back cover—an eclectic mix of baseball cards representing each of the seasons he played in Chicago.
Sunday, September 21 was the Cubs’ final home game of the year and a merciful end to an abysmal season on Chicago’s north side. In the first inning, Sandberg put the Cubs up 1-0 with a ringing double off Phillies’ starter Curt Schilling. After he singled off Schilling in the fifth, Sandberg was lifted for a pinch runner. As he jogged off the playing surface at Wrigley Field for a final time, Ryno paused and tipped his helmet to the crowd. A raucous, goosebumps-inducing standing ovation followed. The Cubs went on to win the game 11-3.
To mark the occasion of Ryne Sandberg’s final home game, the Cubs issued a single commemorative baseball card for the September 21 contest. Sponsored by LaSalle Bank, the card was produced in a standard 2½ x 3½ size, and included a list of career accomplishments on the back, along with Sandberg’s Major League and Cubs career statistics, up-to-date through September 14, 1997. (The slight discrepancies attributable to six plate appearances for the 1981 Phillies.)
Jim Thome (2007)
On September 16, 2007, White Sox DH Jim Thome appeared in his 2000th MLB game at U.S. Cellular Field. Thome broke a 7-7 tie in the bottom of the ninth inning by smacking his 500th career home run off of Angels twirler Dustin Moseley, becoming the 23rd member of the 500 home run club and the first ever to do so in walk-off fashion. The Sox won 9-7.
After Thome’s historic blast, ballpark ushers came down the aisles to hand out large (4 x 6) cards in celebration of accomplishment. I was not there for this game, but my neighbor was—and she knew I collected cards. She saved hers especially for me.
Fittingly, the man voted nicest player in baseball used the back of the card to thank the fans, endorsed with a large facsimile signature.
The White Sox later commemorated a pair of Thome blasts hit in 2008 with a bronze plaque—but not cards—highlighting the first two baseballs ever to reach the Fan Deck at the ballpark, hit on June 4 and September 30, the latter of which accounting for the only run scored in game 163 against the Twins, giving the White Sox the 2008 Central Division championship.
Throughout the years, team-produced card sets were staple giveaway items. These Sandberg and Thome cards, however, were one-offs specially commissioned by the Cubs and White Sox to celebrate a retirement and momentous career milestone, respectively.
No reliable information regarding the quantity of each card produced has been found, and because the cards were simply handed to fans in an unprotected state, the number of cards that survived in top condition is presumably limited. Further, because these cards do not really have an official name, searching for them on eBay or otherwise proves problematic.
What Other Cards Are Out There?
Are you aware of any other occasions on which teams issued similar one-off baseball cards to celebrate a single player’s retirement, accomplishment, or otherwise?
The bronze plaques of the Hall of Famers that hang in the gallery in Cooperstown could be considered the ultimate baseball cards, though obviously no collector (not even Keith Olbermann) can collect them. The closest we can come is by collecting the classic Hall of Fame plaque postcards – a living set (predating the Topps Living Set by several decades) that is augmented each year by the annual class of new Hall of Famers.
A subset of the Hall of Fame plaque postcards that I’ve enjoyed collecting over the years is the variations created when one of the original bronze plaques is replaced by a new, altered plaque (and that new plaque is then reproduced on a postcard).
By my count, at least 17 original plaques have been replaced over the years by altered versions (with changes to the likeness, name or text), including one that’s been changed at least twice, and another that’s been changed at least three times. This is only an informal survey, based on my examinations of the plaques currently on display in the Hall, photographs from induction ceremonies, my collection of Hall of Fame plaque postcards, and readers’ responses to the original posting of this article (which alerted me to the Ruth, Barrow, Lemon and Fisk variations). I inquired at the Hall of Fame library about (1) any sort of official list of changed plaques and (2) any archived correspondence regarding the when and why of the changes made, but was told (1) that there was no such official list and (2) that any such internal correspondence was not available for public view.
Here’s what I’ve got as of April 2020:
As strange as it may sound, what must be the most-read plaque in the Hall and, I’m guessing, the best-selling plaque postcard every year, originally had the wrong year for Ruth’s major league debut — an error that went uncorrected for nearly 70 years! Ruth’s incorrect career span of “1915-1935” on his original plaque was changed to the correct “1914-1935” at some point in late 2005 or 2006. (Thanks to Jimmy Seidita for pointing out the change in Ruth’s plaque and for the link in his comment below to a 2005 New York Times article about the plaques.)
The likeness on Ed Barrow’s original plaque was changed sometime between 1954 and 1959 – this is the earliest change in a plaque that I’ve found. Elected by the Veterans’ Committee in late 1953, Barrow was formally inducted (and his original plaque likely made its public debut) at the following summer’s ceremony with the Class of 1954. The original plaque appears on Artvue Type 1 (no bolts) postcards (produced from 1953-1955), but I haven’t been able to find the original on an Artvue Type 2 (produced from 1956-1963), so the change may have happened prior to 1956. I do have a Hall of Fame guidebook published in July 1959 that shows the replacement plaque. (Thanks to Adam Penale for pointing out the change in Barrow’s plaque.)
Author’s question: Is there an Artvue Type 2 postcard showing the original Barrow plaque?
Even given the limited space on the plaques for describing an inductee’s achievements, the Hall has made some curious editorial choices over the years when composing the text (Barry Larkin’s plaque fails to mention his 1995 NL MVP award, for example), but no omission was more glaring than the fact that Jackie Robinson’s original plaque made no mention of his integration of the major leagues. His 1962 plaque (left) was replaced in 2008 with an altered version of the text (right) that remedied that situation. There’s a discussion of the change on the Hall’s website.
It appears that Feller’s plaque has been changed at least three times. His original plaque from 1962 (top left in the photo below, on an Artvue postcard) was later replaced by a plaque with two changes: a different likeness, and his winning percentage in the last line of text erroneously changed from “P.C..621” to “P.C.,621” (top right, on a Curteichcolor green-back). That second version was replaced by a third version that had his career years listed as “1936-1956” and maintained the “,621” error (lower left, on a Mike Roberts postcard printed in 1992). Subsequently, that third version was itself replaced with a new plaque that shows (as the first two versions of his plaque did) his career years as “1936-1941” and “1945-1956” (reflecting the gap in his baseball career due to his military service) and corrects the “,621” to “.621” (lower right, on the current Scenic Art postcard).
It appears that Teddy Ballgame’s plaque has been changed at least twice. The original plaque that was displayed at his 1966 induction ceremony was subsequently replaced by a plaque bearing a slightly different likeness (on the left in the photo below). That replacement plaque was itself later replaced by a new plaque (on the right) with a drastically different likeness. As to why the changes were made, I note the following from Thomas Boswell in The Washington Post on August 9, 1977: “Ted Williams was so incensed by his nonlikeness that he demanded a new plaque.”
A picture of Williams posing (at his 1966 induction ceremony) with his original plaque can be seen accompanying an article on the Hall’s website.
Author’s question: Was a Hall of Fame postcard produced depicting the original 1966 Ted Williams plaque?
Musial’s original 1969 plaque was replaced by one with a slightly changed text, including the replacement of “SLUGGING PERCENTAGE 6 YEARS” with “AND WON SEVEN N.L. BATTING TITLES.”
Clemente’s original 1973 plaque was replaced in 2000 in order to reflect the traditional Latin American presentation of his full name (whereby his given last name is followed by his mother’s maiden name). Juan Marichal’s original plaque was replaced to make a similar change (see below). The original Clemente plaque is on display in the kids’ section of the Museum (in the original Hall of Fame library building) – as far as I know, it is the only one of the replaced plaques on public display anywhere (though the Hall’s website says the original Jackie Robinson plaque remains “a part of the Museum’s collections and will be used for educational purposes”).
Spahn’s original 1973 plaque was replaced by one showing a corrected career strikeout total of 2,583 in the next-to-last line of the text.
Lemon’s original 1976 plaque showed his career years as “1941-1942 AND 1946-1958,” which reflected the gap in his career due to military service in WWII. His original plaque was subsequently replaced with one showing his career years as “1941-1958.” (Thanks to Rick McElvaney for pointing out the change in Lemon’s plaque.)
I’m curious as to the “why” on this one. Instead of a slight emendation to correct the erroneous reference on Roberts’s original 1976 plaque to his having led the league in shutouts twice (he actually led the league once), the replacement plaque bears a wholesale change to the text, including a new and mysterious reference to his having been “MAJOR LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR, 1952 AND 1955.” Assuming the award being referred to is The Sporting News Major League Player of the Year Award, the information on the replacement plaque is incorrect – Roberts did win that award in 1952, but Duke Snider won it in 1955 (Roberts did win The Sporting News Pitcher of the Year Award in 1952 and 1955).
Editor’s Note:Mr. James Roberts, the youngest son of the Hall of Fame pitcher, reached out to us to explain the reason for the plaque’s update:
“You say it is curious as to ‘why’ on Roberts. On the original it said ‘while usually playing for second division teams.’ He did not like that, he felt his teammates were being disparaged. He requested the change. Now you know why.
As with Clemente’s plaque (see above), Marichal’s original plaque was replaced to reflect the traditional Latin American presentation of his full name.
The original 1998 plaque for Davis was later replaced to correct the years he served as player manager in the last line of the text, from “1898, 1900 and 1901” to “1895, 1900 and 1901.” The replacement plaque has not been reproduced on a postcard yet – possibly because they still haven’t sold through the original July 1998 print run! Based on how many “Date of Printing July 1998” Davis postcards were available on the rack during my most recent visit to the Hall’s gift shop in October 2019, we may be many years away from a new printing of his postcard (which would presumably show the replacement plaque).
Fisk’s original 2000 plaque was replaced to change his number of games caught (in the second line of the text) from 2,229 to 2,226. (Thanks to Wayne McElreavy for pointing out the change in Fisk’s plaque.)
Hill’s original 2006 plaque was replaced to correct his first name: “JOSEPH” was changed to “JOHN.”
Sutter’s original 2006 plaque was replaced to correct a typographical error: in the sixth line of the text, “LEAD” was changed to “LED.”
Alomar’s original 2011 plaque was replaced by a new one with a slightly different likeness.
Santo’s original 2012 plaque was replaced by a new one with a slightly different likeness.
Bullet Rogan – possible future change
The 2019 Hall of Fame Almanac correctly lists Rogan’s full name as “Charles Wilber ‘Joe’ Rogan,” but, as of the time of this writing, his plaque (as well as the Hall of Fame’s website) shows his full name incorrectly as “Wilber Joe Rogan.” I’ve got my eye on this one…
UPDATE (JULY 2020): the Hall of Fame has changed Rogan’s page on the official HOF website to show his name as “Charles Wilber Rogan” — could a corresponding change of his plaque be in the offing? Watch this space!
As mentioned above, this list reflects only my personal, informal survey and is quite possibly incomplete — additional information from readers would be most welcome!
I first encountered Graig’s work when I ran across his painting “Henry” and just about died. The expression, the uniform, the color, the crowd, the musculature, the shadows, the…everything…was amazing to me. I had seen so many images of Hank Aaron in my life, but none had the hold on me that this one did.
I often wondered how amazing it would be if someday this image or others from Graig could be turned into baseball cards. Apparently I was not alone.
In late 2018 Topps contacted Graig and his agent about the concept of an “artist renditions” set to be released in limited print runs through the Topps website. By April 2019 the cards were a reality, with the first offering, Ty Cobb, selling 1549 copies.
“I had been aware of the business model they were working with, as I had followed their success with Topps Now and the Living Set. It was a little different than what I expected in terms of my first real baseball card project, but I was super excited to work with them in any sense – being a part of that lineage that goes back to my father’s childhood was super appealing to me.”
In case you missed it, Graig’s father was a card collector, but more on that much later.
“In a way, I liken it to comics where you have modern artists and writers handling these current issues of something like Batman, and them being in the same line with the Neal Adamses, Grant Morrisons, Frank Millers and even going as far back as Bob Kane and Bill Finger…it’s like a big family that you’re being asked to join.”
One question I had for Graig was who chose the players to be included in the set, Topps or Graig. This is something that interests me with nearly any baseball set…the hows and whos of arriving at a checklist.
“Topps was in charge of giving me the names of the players they wanted. They had the first 15 or so planned, both with the specific players and when they were to be released. For the last five, they did ask for a little input, but I don’t think that my suggestions were a huge influence in the decision making process. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, I just think that the players I might have wanted to paint may not have lined up with the players who they thought would be popular among their large fan base.”
While I would have loved to hear that Graig had total license over the project, I have to say Topps did a phenomenal job in selecting the players for Graig to paint. I can also imagine the good people at Topps being a bit irked had Graig decided to go with Lipman Pike or Hans Lobert over, say, Tom Seaver or Ted Williams.
The result is an almost obscenely stacked roster of top shelf baseball talent, so much so that you have to think hard to come up with who didn’t make the cut. (Two Yankees legends absent due to licensing issues were Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio.)
Cards #19&20 in the @Topps 20-card @GraigKreindler mini-set. So cool that Graig’s #20 was my boyhood idol and favorite #20, Lou Brock! What a cool way to complete the set!Thanks for sharing your amazing talent, Graig! You’re a first-ballot Hall of Famer in my book! @baseballhallpic.twitter.com/iKtLiyubM1
While Graig did not develop the checklist, he did choose the photographs that the card images were based on, though Topps provided some input likely aimed at increasing marketability.
“They made it clear to me that each player should be depicted with the team he’s best known for, and preferably on the youngish side of the coin. Combining that with the pool of images that Topps has the license to use via Getty, I was able to find at least 7-8 photographs of each player that I thought would be worthy.”
If you read that last sentence and are thinking PARALLELS, you’re not alone! Graig? Topps? What do you say?
One question I had for Graig was whether choosing an image for a large painting was very different from choosing an image for a baseball card.
“The thought was that if I did an action shot or a stadium panoramic [as many of Graig’s paintings are], it was going to be shrunk down to card size, so a lot of detail would be lost. Rather than risking that, I felt that portraits would be the safest bet. Plus, since I’m sure a lot of the images of these guys are in black and white, having a color representation of their face (and some jersey stuff when applicable) was the most important aspect of the artist rendition in terms of ‘connecting’ with people.”
Time considerations were a factor for Graig also since the project called for Topps to issue a new card roughly every two weeks. This too pointed toward portraits.
Among the portraits I wondered if Graig had any favorites, whether as an artist, a collector, or a fan. Were there any paintings where Graig said, “Wow, I really did a great job with that one!”
“There are certain aspects of each portrait that I really think I nailed. I mean, obviously, I always want the next painting to be the best one, but sometimes there are little spots of each that can shine or stick out to me in some way. And those parts aren’t necessarily visible to others (or even tangible for that matter) but they’re there.”
“As an example, the last painting I did of Lou Brock, the relationship between the bright, warm red of his cap and the cool green and blue hues of the dugout wall was incredibly pleasing. It was something I tried to push a lot in the original painting, playing off of color complements and optical blending. I’m not even sure if that stuff made its way into the final card itself, as a lot of nuance can get lost in the reproduction process, but I was very pleased with how the painting itself came out.”
Look again at that Brock card now. There’s nothing lazy, nothing wasted. Even the parts that immediately hit our eye as “white jersey” or “red cap” aren’t. Anywhere you look on any of these cards there is a glow, texture, and even a personality that emerges.
I wanted to know where this all came from, not just the Artist Renditions set but everything. Did Graig collect cards as a kid? Who were his favorite players? What were his favorite sets? I tried to go light since I knew Graig was preparing for a major exhibition of over 200 of his paintings in Kansas City as part of the Centennial Celebration organized by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
“I did indeed collect as a kid. With my father being a somewhat avid collector in the ’50s up until a bit after I was born (1980), I don’t think my brother or I had a choice NOT to have an interest in baseball cards.”
Okay, I know you’re thinking what I was thinking! Well, here’s the bad news…
“Like most of the people of his generation, his mother threw out the majority of his collection when she deemed him ‘too old’ for it.”
Shoot! But wait, the story’s not quite over…
“He was able to save some of his favorites. Included in that batch were mostly Yankees and a smattering of Giants and Dodgers. He managed to keep his ’51 Bowman Mantle, which always had a certain mystique about it, what with it being the rookie card of his favorite player and all. And let’s face it, it was expensive, which to me, as a kid, was extra cool. His example wasn’t even in decent shape or anything, but it still had quite an aura – so even then I was aware that it had some serious sentimental value.”
On one hand Graig’s father’s collection influenced Graig as a collector.
“Through my father’s stories, I came to ‘know’ Mantle and his teammates in a way that seemed more real to me than the feelings I had with the group of the then-current Yankees (Mattingly, Winfield, Randolph, etc). So while I was getting my first packs of baseball cards (’87 Topps – still LOVE that set), I was even more excited about picking up older cards when I could.”
“I remember being at one of the Gloria Rothstein Westchester shows in the late ’80s and my father paying $4 to get me a 1964 Topps Bobby Richardson. I held it in my hands and was truly amazed. My friends couldn’t understand why I had any interest in a guy they’d never heard of, but there I was, not being able to shut up about that ’61 Yankees infield.”
Interestingly, Graig’s father’s collection also influenced Graig as an artist.
“When I was younger, it’s fair to say that I was inspired to draw ballplayers because of my father’s baseball cards. Looking at it now, I’m sure that seeing those early Bowman and Topps issues with the illustrations must have had some kind of impact on my psyche – something along the lines of, ‘Hey, somebody actually drew and painted these things – they’re not photographs, they’re made by humans. Maybe that’s something I can do.’ I don’t remember actually having any epiphany like that, but I’ve gotta imagine that that is how what I do now all germinated.”
It was also around that time that Graig encountered the work of more contemporary baseball artists.
“In the late ’80s and early ’90s, I of course fell in love with the likes of Dick Perez and Christopher Paluso. And both for different reasons. I loved how painterly and expressive Perez was with his colors. And the sleak photorealism of Christopher’s work appealed to me on a craftsman’s level. To this day, I can still remember seeing their stuff for the first time.”
I worked with Graig to track down the first Christopher Paluso piece he remembers seeing, this lithograph of Joe Sewell. (Image source from Heritage Auctions.)
Tracking down Graig’s first recollections of Dick Perez’s work was a foggier matter. He vaguely recalled the 1986 Donruss Diamond Kings subset but was unsure of the player so I’ll just go with my three favorites!
Not wanting to leave anything out I ended my interview with Graig by asking him a question I was really happy I remembered to ask.
“What’s one question you wish I asked but didn’t? And what’s the answer?”
Graig’s answer was a long one that has little to do with baseball cards but is no less essential to the overall story of the cards that inspired this post.
“That’s a tough one! The question, ‘Who is your biggest art influence?’ is always one of my favorites. And that’s mainly because I like giving the man his due. I first met Peter Fiore in 1999 as an undergrad student at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. I had enrolled in his class – “Painting the Light” I think it was called – not quite knowing what to expect. The description mentioned something about learning how to paint your subjects in believable space by paying attention to light and color, or something to that effect. And the idea appealed to me greatly.”
“Little did I know that that fall, I made the acquaintance of the artist who would forever change the way I thought about painting. Up until then, I was strictly a renderer. I wanted whatever I painted to be realistic to the point where it blended between realism and photorealism. And to me, that meant being able to study edges, values and colors as they appear through photography.”
“Through Peter, I learned that photography was a starting off point, that the world around me had much more to show. I learned how to work with color, and to work with it purposefully. I learned how light shapes the world around me. And this didn’t happen in just that semester. I took a few classes with him while I was in school. After I graduated, we became good friends, and I still consider him one of my favorite people on this planet. I’m always learning from him, be it about painting or light or life, and I can’t think of any teacher or friend who’s influenced my artistic journey as much as he has. For anybody interested, you can see his beautiful landscapes at peterfiore.com.”
Look at Graig’s work again and you can see this. Every detail is there, but there is something more. The players he paints are at the same time lifelike and larger than life. There is a radiance that differs from how our eyes might have seen these men but perfectly matches how our minds see them.
Normally such images are confined to galleries or perhaps just our imaginations, but thanks to Graig and Topps they can also have a place in our collections.
I am currently curating an exhibition at Queens College, in Flushing, which will be on display throughout February and March. While I don’t yet have a title for my little experiment (the show marks the first time I have ever done such a thing), the theme of the event centers on the history of baseball in New York City, from its inception to the present day, told through art and artifacts. I am indebted to a number of individuals who are either loaning me pieces from their private collections, or are submitting original work to help me craft the story I am trying to tell.
Of course, baseball cards are a part of the event. I have long known that I wanted Jesse Loving, creator of the beautiful Ars Longa cards, to be a part of this. Although he had gone on a bit of a hiatus, he kindly agreed to fire up the engines again and is providing me with roughly 80 cards that cover the game in the Big Apple from William Wheaton and Doc Adams, to Rube Marquard and Casey Stengel, a span of roughly eighty years. I am giddy at the idea of creating a wall of his lush, vibrant images, and eagerly await the arrival of the package.
With one or two exceptions, I was intending for Jesse’s work to be the only cards in the show. There are lots of ways to tell the history of the game that have nothing to do with our favorite hobby and I wanted the beautiful creations of Ars Longa to exist in a vacuum. Then, I learned last week that one of the individuals who was contributing some truly exciting pieces from the 19th Century had decided to withdraw from the exhibition. I had to come up with something to fill the holes on the walls of the gallery left by his exit.
I am not a fine artist, nor do I have a particularly extensive collection of artifacts and memorabilia laying about. So, what to do? While the pieces I lost were from the 19th Century, I actually have some of Jesse’s cards, as well as uniforms and equipment loaned to me by Eric Miklich, that are already assisting me in telling that part of the story. I also have quite a few items that represent the Golden Age of baseball in New York, the halcyon days of Willie, Mickey, and the Duke. What the show was really lacking was a nod to the more modern incarnation of the game. The best way for me to benefit my show, and fill the unexpected void, was to focus on that gap.
That’s when it struck me that, while I don’t really have a lot of personal memorabilia at hand, there was a way I could tackle my problem at very little expense. Any exhibit on the history of New York City, (especially one taking place in the most ethnically diverse borough, on a campus that hears over 110 languages spoken every single day) needs to explore the beautiful multiculturalism that makes this City what it is. That was when I came up with my plan, a work I am calling, “If They Can Make it There.”
In the long history of professional baseball, there have been men who were born in over fifty countries besides the United States that have made the incredible and unlikely journey to the Major Leagues. While the Dominican Republic and Venezuela have provided an outsized portion of these ballplayers, countries as far-flung as Belize, the Czech Republic and Australia have also chipped in. Many of those foreign-born athletes got their professional starts in New York City. In fact, twenty-one different countries, not counting the U.S. and its territories, have generated players who made their Major League debut with the Yankees or the Mets. My plan to fill in my unexpected vacancy is to honor these men, and what better way to do it than through the beauty of baseball cards.
I am putting together a collection of these itinerant dreamers which will feature each of them in the uniform of either the Yankees or the Mets. Why just those teams and not also the Giants, Dodgers, and the multiple early squads? Two reasons. The first I already mentioned. The goal was to try and examine the impact of the game in the present day. By focusing on just the Yankees and Mets, it reinforces that point by design. The other reason is economics. Now, I can complete this set, mostly, with inexpensive cards from the last thirty or forty years.
Beyond the player appearing in a New York uniform, I decided to lay down a few other guidelines to make this creation have a little more form, and not just be a random mishmash of cards thrown up on the wall. First of all, no reprints. While the exhibition will feature some reproductions (uniforms, mostly), I have been trying to limit their influence all along. No need to further water down this project by including “fake” versions of the cards. Besides, very few of the cards I needed were particularly valuable, so why resort to knock-offs? I also wanted, if at all possible, for the card to have been issued at the time the player was employed by that team.
This is not always feasible. A number of players who fit this criteria, including cups of coffee like Jim Cockman (born in Canada) and Harry Kingman (China), both of whom made brief appearances with the Yankees years before Jacob Ruppert signed Babe Ruth, never had any card issued, nonetheless one of them wearing the proper uniform. There are even holes for more durable players from recent years, like Stan Javier (Dominican Republic), who enjoyed a seventeen-year career that ended in 2001. During his first big league season, in 1984, he appeared in seven early-season games for the Yankees before being shipped back to Nashville and Columbus for more seasoning. He would later appear on the roster of seven other major league teams, but he never played another game for the Yankees. The Trading Card Database claims he has 289 cards out there, but none of them were issued in 1984 or ’85 featuring Javier in pinstripes.
There are missing pieces of the puzzle for the Mets, too. Utility man José Moreno (Dominican Republic) and shortstop Brian Ostrosser (Canada) never got a card of themselves in blue and orange, at least not while actively playing for the team. I have decided that in their cases, as well as that of Javier, to bend the rules and use one of the cards that came with the sets issued by the NYC-based appliance retailer, The Wiz, in the early nineties. While most of the hundreds who appear in this ubiquitous set were no longer active members of the roster at the time the cards were issued, at least they are dressed properly. I am also considering getting an Aceo Art card of Frank Estrada (Mexico), whose two lifetime plate appearances were insufficient to ever make Topps take notice.
Most of the collection, though, will be the real deal. There are cards from almost all of the big name publishers of the modern era, including Topps, Bowman, Fleer and Donruss. There will be plenty of Junk Era wax, as well as the slick chromes that have come to represent the current state of the industry. The bulk of the exhibit will include roughly 130 cards (purchased via COMC or already in my collection) that cost me a combined total of $45.76. Most exciting to me, however, is that there will be a small handful of pre-war cards thrown in there, too. I decided to reward my clever thriftiness by investing in some slightly pricier goodies.
I’ve already picked up a 1934 Goudey Arndt Jorgens (Norway), a 1934-36 Diamond Stars George Selkirk (Canada), and a 1911 T205 Jimmy Austin (United Kingdom). I also have my eye on two T206s, a Jack Quinn (Slovakia) and a Russ Ford (Canada). Assuming the Ebay gods favor me and I get the latter two, they will represent the first cards I’ve owned from that hobby-defining set. These bits of old paper not only give the exhibit a little more gravitas as a whole, but when it’s all over I will have some gems to add to my personal collection.
The exhibit also gives me a chance to show off a little bit of my beloved collection of Cubans who made the leap to the majors. There have been eight Cubans who began their major league career as Yankees, most recently Amauri Sanit in 2011. The Mets have birthed the careers of four citizens of the forbidden island, the most notable of which was Rey Ordoñez. While Ordoñez was famously weak at the plate, rarely hitting more than a single home run in a season, he was a defensive mastermind at shortstop in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, when the Amazin’s had one of the most exciting infields in baseball history. His partner in the middle of the diamond, Edgardo Alfonzo (Venezuela), will also be featured.
The players mentioned here really are just the tip of the iceberg. The exhibit will also include some of the brightest stars of today, including Gleyber Torres (Venezuela) and Miguel Andujar (Dominican Republic). Ron Gardenhire (Germany) makes an appearance, as do the Mastuis (Japan), Hideki and the less-successful Kazuo. There is even one Hall of Famer who is featured, buried in the dozens of other more obscure names. The quickest among you will figure out who that is almost instantly. The rest of you, well, I guess you’ll just have to stop by the college and find out. My currently unnamed exhibition opens February 18. I hope to see you there.