Learning to hit from a baseball card

Not all of us are lucky enough to get personalized batting tips from Jesse Barfield or have worked on our swing with these guys.

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Fortunately, there is no shortage of cardboard we can turn to when our hitting falls below the Mendoza line. Here are a nice assortment of cards and sets to get you through your batting slump. And of course we begin with “the greatest [insert optional expletive] hitter who ever lived!”

1978 Post Cereal Steve Garvey Baseball Tips

What? You were expecting Ted Williams? No worries, we’ll get to him soon enough. But first the face of Dodger baseball in Los Angeles when I first fell in love with the game. Show me a single kid in L.A. who would have said no to Raisin Bran the year these box panels were out. There were twelve in all, with four addressing hitting. (Note to younger fans. Though they are no longer used at the Major League level, “bunting” and “hitting to the opposite field” used to be essential parts of the game.)

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1962-1963 Sugardale Weiners

A regional food release spanning two years, the 1962 release included 19 players on the Indians or Pirates while the 1963 release included 31. Star power was not immense, but sometimes all it takes is one!

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1959 Fleer Ted Williams

If only all you had to do was read the backs of four baseball cards to hit like the Splinter! Still, any advice from Teddy Ballgame is welcome. While the other 76 cards in the set provide information about Ted’s life and playing career, cards 71-74 provide advice for collectors to bring with them to the batter’s box.

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1952 Coca Cola Playing Tips

This ten-player set hearkens back to the days when six packs came in cardboard carrying cases rather than the plastic rings now filling up our oceans. The front of each six-pack insert featured a player from a New York team (sorry, no Mantle), along with that team’s schedule, while the back featured tips to help aspiring ballplayers.

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1939 Goudey Premiums

This 48-card set known as R303-A (or 24-card set known as R303-B) is the first of several 1930s sets to include batting tips. There is a simplicity to the instructions on the back of the Foxx card that almost makes you forget this is the hardest thing in all of sports.

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Canadian collectors will also find these same cards and tips as part of the parallel 1939 World Wide Gum (V351) release.

1936 National Chicle Rabbit Maranville “How To”

In case hitting advice from the Beast is too daunting, this 1936 set provides a full array of baseball tips (including how to umpire!) all from a decidedly less intimidating player, Hall of Fame shortstop Rabbit Maranville. Card 11 (How to Bat) and card 13 (How to Bunt) address the offensive parts of the game.

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1935-1941 Wheaties

The backs of Wheaties boxes during this period featured a multitude of designs across a number of different years and series. Really, any box of Wheaties will help a young hitter on nutrition alone, but Series 5 (1936), Series 6 (1937), and Series 12 (1939) would have provided an extra boost.

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1935 Schutter-Johnson

This 50-card set resides beneath the radar of many collectors; however, it is an outstanding set for aspiring ballplayers. Each card features one of baseball’s biggest stars sharing a “Major League Secret.” While the tip is alluded to on the card front, the card back supplies significant detail and makes it clear that the advice is directly from the player.

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Modern fans of launch angle may cringe at the Frisch card until they learn he is instructing kids on the chop bunt. Then again, fans of launch angle probably aren’t fans of bunting either and may prefer simply to collect 49 of the 50 cards.

A final interesting tidbit about this set comes from the artist signature on the cards. This is the same Al Demaree who pitched from 1912 and 1919, winning 80 games (combined) for four different National League teams.

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1934-1936 Diamond Stars

The mid-1930s were a magical year when it came to cardboard-based batting instruction. As part of the multi-year Diamond Stars release, Al Simmons and Joe Vosmik explain the importance of a good follow-through, Max Bishop warns against hitting bad balls (and has the .423 career OBP to prove it!), and Dixie Walker urges hitters to be relaxed at the plate–and that’s all from the first twelve cards in this 108-card set!

In case you struggle to picture all these players sending their tips to National Chicle, they were in fact written by Austen Lake, whose signature appears in the credits at the bottom of the card back. The level of detail in the tips is impressive, as illustrated by the Pie Traynor card’s advice on where to stand.

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“…Study your needs and find the spot that best suits your style. Long armed boys should stand back farther than those with short arms, because of the difference in reach. In recent years, since free swinging from the end of the handle has become usual, major leaguers have tended to stand well in the rear of the box and back from the plate. Remember, the ball must cross some of the plate to be a strike. Hence stand where you can stretch your bat at arm’s length and cover the plate. Study “Pie” Traynor, Pirate manager for the correct batting style.”

1933 DeLong

I don’t want to typecast the anything-but-one-dimensional Austen Lake, but maybe you can guess what he contributed to the 1933 DeLong set. You guessed it…baseball tips! Here is some advice on batting stance courtesy of Mr. Lake and the set’s Al Simmons card.

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1928 Fro-Joy Ice Cream

Card number 5 in this six-card set, no longer authenticated by PSA or SGC due to prevalent forgeries, provides collectors with an up-close look at how the Bambino gripped his bat. Just as Hack Wilson let us know in 1935, long-ball hitters do not choke up!

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Though his career turned out just fine, it’s too bad a young Henry Aaron didn’t own this card as he was figuring out his own grip!

Q.

Is it true that at first you batted cross-handed, holding your left hand over your right on the bat handle?

A.

Yes. One day, I batted that way during batting practice before a game in Buffalo, and the Braves had sent a scout to watch me. The scout walked over to me, told me to take my right hand and put it over my left. I did it and hit two home runs that day and I never looked back.

Source: New York Times interview with Henry Aaron, published March 19, 2011.

1909 Nadja Caramels

I always like to close with the really old stuff, so here goes. Hitting a baseball is a VERY difficult act to master. We can’t all be .400 hitters or even .100 hitters, but no matter. I think this Al Bridwell (of Merkle Boner fame) card offers the best advice of all. Find yourself a beautiful day and a nice patch of grass, play ball, and eat caramels! A bad day doing that is better than a good day doing just about anything else.

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Author’s note: These same sets (exception Fro-Joy, Ted Williams) provide tips on other parts of the game as well: pitching, fielding, running, umping, and even setting up the field! I just chose batting so I could focus and cut down on distraction, another great batting tip by the way!

Prehistory of the Record Breakers

Introduction

One of my favorite posts on the SABR Baseball Cards blog is Matthew Prigge‘s “Like a Broken Record” (March 2017), in which he detailed the progression of the Topps Highlights and Record Breaker cards from their respective origins in the 1975 and 1976 sets. In what I hope will be my first of many posts for this blog, I will go backward instead and focus on the ancestry of these cards, following a prehistory that goes back to more than a century ago.

Before jumping in, I’ll give a few examples of cards I will not include, along with my rationale for omission, as sometimes the best way to define one’s scope is to identify what falls just outside it

World Series cards

The first Topps World Series multi-card subset was in 1960, consisting of seven absolutely beautiful cards that told the story of the 1959 Fall Classic between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox.

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If we consider single card subsets as a thing, then the very first Topps World Series subset came two years earlier with the 1958 Topps World Series  Batting Foes (Mantle/Aaron) card. Because Topps would continue to push out World Series subsets with regularity, even in years with Record Breaker/Highlight cards, we will exclude World Series cards from our study. True, they feature highlights from the prior season, but they are a large enough sub-genre to warrant separate treatment.

MVP subsets

The same logic will apply to the 1961 Topps (cards 471-486) and 1975 Topps (cards 189-212) MVP subsets. While MVP cards lacked the perennial quality of the World Series cards, they still feel more like their own category of cards than exemplars of the Record Breakers/Highlights category.

All-Stars, All-Star Rookies, etc.

Finally, while one could consider being named an All-Star or All-Star Rookie a highlight—at least very broadly—we will exclude these subsets for the same reasons as each of the others.

Pre-1975 Highlights and Record Breaker cards

Having identified what doesn’t make the cut, we are now ready to begin our journey, starting off where Matthew’s original article left off. As I like to do, we’ll proceed in reverse chronological order, though the article should accommodate a bottom-to-top if you prefer it that way.

1974 Topps

Well there’s this guy of course!

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1974 Bob Parker 2nd Best

It’s fitting that the second set we encounter on the way to the Topps run of Highlights and Record Breakers is a set honoring players who came in second! In addition to providing budget collectors with a shot at “Shoeless Joe,” the Vic Power card is a must have for “cards that say robust on the front” supercollectors.

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A major differentiator between these cards and the Record Breaker/Highlights cards Matthew profiles are that these cards reach back across the vast history of the game whereas the more modern cards focus on the season immediately prior. Were we to treat this distinction as fatal, this article would be very short indeed, so we’ll continue under the assumption that cards such as these are allowed into the ancestry.

1972-1974 Fleer

While newer collectors may imagine Fleer’s baseball origins date back only to 1981, there is an entire prehistory of Fleer baseball cards going back as far as 1923. Three sets in particular are of interest to us: Famous Feats (1972), Baseball’s Wildest Days and Plays (1973), and Baseball Firsts (1974). A card from each of these sets is shown here.

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1972 Laughlin Great Feats

In addition to the various Fleer sets he worked on, artist R.G. Laughlin also put out his own set of cards in 1972. There were 51 cards in all, along with multiple color variations.

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1971 Topps Greatest Moments

This 55-card release from Topps is without a doubt one of the toughest of the 1970s, and unfortunately for player collectors on a budget one that is filthy with Hall of Famers. Unlike the Fleer sets of the early 1970s the checklist consists entirely of (then) current players, but again the feats themselves span multiple years.

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1969-70 Bazooka All-Time Greats

Another fairly tough set is this 30-card issue from Bazooka, profiled in this 2012 article from Sports Collectors Daily. Boxes of bubble gum included player cards on a side panel and a “Baseball Extra” highlight on the back panel.

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1962 Topps

The nine cards from 311-319 in the 1962 Topps set are commonly referred to as “In Action” cards. Many of the cards, such as “Ford Tosses a Curve,” would strike only the most easily impressed baseball fans as highlights; however, this same subset does feature the biggest record to be broken in at least 20 years. In a move we might today regard as trolling, Topps chose this same year to dedicate a full ten cards to the previous record holder!

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As with the “In Action” cards, the “Babe Ruth Special” cards were a mix of Record Breaker and non-RB cards. Ruth’s card 144 (no, not THAT 144), titled “Farewell Speech,” is particularly relevant to this post in that the front featured a career-capping highlight–the speech–while the back listed Babe Ruth’s various records.

1961 Topps

The 1961 set marked second time in three years that Topps put out a “Baseball Thrills” subset in its main release. There were ten cards in all, including a mix of current (Larsen, Mantle, Haddix) and retired players.

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1961 Nu-Card Baseball Scoops

While the Topps set offered the opportunity to beef up ones knowledge of baseball’s greatest achievements, the go-to set that year for history buffs was put out by Nu-Card. Numbered 401-480 for reasons unknown to me, these 80 cards presented collectors with nearly the complete canon of baseball feats. Even to this day, if you could choose just one set to learn the history of baseball from, I believe this would be it.

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1960 Nu-Card Baseball Hi-Lites

This 72-card offering is similar in many ways to the set that followed it one year later, the most salient difference being their postcard size. Many highlights were reused from one set to another, as shown by the “Aaron’s bat…” cards in each set. (I believe the image on the 1960 card incorrectly shows Aaron’s pennant-clinching home run against the Cardinals, a problem which could have been solved by interchanging this images on his two cards in the set.)

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1959 Topps

While the 1961 Topps subset included long retired greats of the game, the 1959 “Baseball Thrills” cards exclusively featured active players. Between the immense star power of the players and the fantastic artwork, these cards crack my top two all-time for greatest vintage subset ever.

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1959 Fleer Ted Williams

This 80-card set really covers the gamut as far as Ted Williams highlights are concerned, including highlights from his time in the military and his off-season hobbies of hunting and fishing. As an aside, you can see many of the photographs these cards were based on in Ted’s 2018 PBS documentary.

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1954 Topps Scoop

A beautiful set off the radar of many baseball card collectors is the 1954 Topps Scoop set, which features 154 historical events, including a handful from the sporting world. The four baseball subjects are Bob Feller’s 18 strikeouts in a game, Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs in a season, the Braves move to Milwaukee, and a very long game between Brooklyn and Boston.

1954

As a quick spoiler alert, if you have not already seen the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” avoid purchasing this set. Card 82 completely gives away the ending.

1948 Swell

Though the name of the “Sport Thrills” set suggests other sports beyond baseball (and one card is even titled “Football Block”), all 20 cards in this set feature baseball highlights and records. A notable is the Jackie Robinson card, which I believe to be the earliest card front to refer to a player’s rookie season. (And if I’m wrong about that, it’s still a Jackie Robinson card from 1948!)

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The Sport Thrills set wasn’t the only baseball set that Swell issued in 1948. They also issued a 28-card “Babe Ruth Story” set to go along with the movie of the same name. Naturally, as this is the Bambino we’re talking about, the set includes several highlights. While some of cards include Ruth himself, it should be noted that the most common “Ruth” on the cards is William Bendix, who played Ruth in the movie. An example is card 15, which shows Ruth…I mean Bendix…calling his shot in the 1932 World Series.

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1938 Wheaties “Biggest Thrills in Baseball” (Series 10)

The back panel of Wheaties boxes featured a player from each major league team along with a highlight from the player’s career. While I didn’t include it here, the Wheaties “100 Years of Baseball” set from the following year could be said to feature highlights as well, though a typical example is “Crowd Boos First Baseball Glove!”

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1925 Turf Cigarettes (UK)

In 1925 London tobacco manufacturer Alexander Boguslavsky Ltd issued a set of 50 “Sports Records” cards. The very last card in the set featured American baseball and George Sisler’s recent batting record. (I’m not sure why they wouldn’t have gone with Hornsby’s record, but perhaps news traveled slow back then.)

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1912 T202 Hassan Triple Folders

I often end pieces like this with a wild card entry, one that may not meet the criteria applied to other sets but scores bonus points for its age. The middle panel of each T202 card features a great action shot, which is then described further on the card’s reverse. Most of these cards simply focus on a single play–exciting or not–that fails to rise to the level of a Record Breaker or Highlight.

However, the set does include some cards with narratives that do in fact rise to the level of a Highlight. An example of this is the Bergen/Barger “A Great Batsman” card, which on the back describes Napoleon Lajoie’s 227 hits in 1910 as breaking the American League record, even if today we no longer believe it! (At the time Lajoie’s 1901 hit total was thought to be 220, but he is now credited with either 229 or 232 hits, depending who you ask.)

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Another notable in the T202 set is the “Lord Catches His Man” card, whose action shot was recently discovered to include Shoeless Joe. Anson Whaley tells the story of this card and its dramatic rise in value on his Prewar Cards blog.

Honorable Mentions

A handful of other sets are worth mention here, even if they didn’t earn top billing. The 1972 Topps “In Action” cards and 1964 Topps Giants cards both featured highlights on the backs of the cards. Meanwhile, the very rare 1914 E&S Publishing postcard set includes background cartoons with captions that in some cases rise to the level of significant highlights or records.

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Conclusion

The 1975 Topps set marked an important innovation in the history of the hobby in that it was the first major release to dedicate baseball cards, specifically its “Highlights” subset, to the most important historical feats of the prior season. However, like all innovations, this one did not appear out of a vacuum. Rather, it drew–intentionally or by happenstance–on a long and rich legacy of cardboard that came before it.

I hope this article allowed you to enjoy the cards and sets profiled not only as fantastic in their own right but also as important evolutionary stops along the way toward the Highlights and Record Breaker cards so many of us collected in our youth, if not the Topps Now cards many collectors still collect today.

Jason joined SABR in January 2019. Collecting interests include Hank Aaron, Dwight Gooden, and Sir Isaac Newton. You can find him on Twitter as @HeavyJ28 or on the Web here and here. He lives in the Chicago area but originally hails from Los Angeles.

Death Comes For Active Baseball Players

Note: most of the information for this article was supplied by Baseball Research.com and the SABR Bio Project. The latter is noted (as well as other sources) for each specific use.

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On September 17, 1910, something terrible happened in Baltimore.

Former first baseman and manager Bob Unglaub of the Boston Americans was crushed in a railroad pit when he was struck by a locomotive.

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Seattle Pilots pitcher Miguel Fuentes was murdered by a man who thought Fuentes had been urinating on his car (he hadn’t) during the 1969 off-season in Puerto Rico.halman

Greg Halman of the Mariners died in 2011 of a stab wound over a dispute of music being played too loudly.

They all died while active players or managers. A different kind of Turk came for them, be they Hall of Famers like Roberto Clemente or cup-of-coffee guys like Herman Hill of the Twins.

One of my baseball card collector pals, Kevin Crane, told me his brother’s quirk was “collecting cards of guys who died during their playing careers. He’d line ‘em up on his window sill.”

This sent me down a fascinating and macabre rabbit hole.

Players fell off bridges, slashed their own throats, were shot chasing burglars, stabbed trying to break up bar fights, died of cancer, and by a variety of other means.

To date, there have been 98 players who passed away while still active.

  • 28 died in car crashes
  • 3 in boating accidents
  • 7 in plane crashes
  • 6 murdered
  • 10 of heart attacks
  • 6 drowned
  • 4 by suicide

The rest run the gamut: Phillies catcher Walt Lerian was hit by a runaway truck in 1929; Phils hurler Cy Blanton died of internal hemorrhages and cirrhosis in September of 1945; Woody Crowson of the A’s met his maker in 1947 due to a bus collision with a truck (he was the only person injured), and Otis Johnson of the NY Highlanders was shot in a hunting accident in 1915.

A number of players fell to the Reaper’s scythe by being born too early to benefit from advances in medical science, from Bright’s Disease (kidneys), smallpox, pneumonia, typhoid, influenza, tuberculosis, meningitis, and complications from malaria (1872-1918). Conversely, others died due to progress in industrial technology, perishing in plane and car accidents.

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Ken Hubbs’ 1964 Topps#550 was the first eulogy on the back of a baseball card.

 

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Youngsters got a double dose of death with the Topps 1964 set, as Houston’s Jim Umbricht’s card #389 attests.

 

ODD & DISTURBING DEATHS

  • Catcher Marty Bergen of the Boston Beaneaters had held a record of 38 passed balls in one season, 1898. Reports of mental problems surfaced, stating he was combative with teammates. In one of baseball’s most horrific stories, Bergen slit his throat in 1900, but not before murdering his wife and two children with an ax.

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  • Cubs pitcher Jeremi Gonzalez was struck by lightning in 2006 in Venezuela.

 

  • Len Koenecke was released by Brooklyn during a road trip. On the first leg of a flight home to New York, he got hammered, harassed passengers and belted a stewardess. American Airlines dumped him on a chair in a Detroit airport, where he chartered a small plane in the wee hours of the night. Once airborne, things went sideways, and Koenecke began harassing the pilot. The ballplayer supposedly was trying to get at the plane’s controls, and a life-or-death struggle ensued. The pilot and a friend who had joined him for the flight fought bitterly with the ball player and fended Koenecke off with a fire extinguisher. From all accounts, they caved in the outfielder’s head, and the pilot made a desperate landing on a racetrack in Toronto. (source: Studio GaryC.com)

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  • Perhaps as a precursor to Koenecke’s troubles as a passenger, Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty got into trouble as a train passenger. He was said to be drunk, brandishing a straight razor and threatening passengers. Delahanty was kicked off the train in Ontario near the International Bridge by Niagara Falls. Questions about whether he fell or jumped remain (accounts said he’d been yelling about death that night) and he was swept over the falls, dead at age 35.

 

  • Chris Hartje was a catcher with the Dodgers in 1939. He was sent to the minors, and while on a bus with the Spokane team traveling at dusk in drizzling rain, the driver veered to avoid an approaching car and smashed through the guardrail. The bus caught fire as it fell 350 feet down a rocky mountainside. Eight players died instantly, and Hartje sustained burns that would take his life two days later. The accident is considered one of the worst in sports history.

 

  • Reds catcher Willard Hershberger sliced his jugular vein in the shower at the team hotel. He was a child of suicide, as his father had shot himself with a shotgun. Hershberger backed up Ernie Lombardi in 1940 and was forced into action amid a pennant race when Lombardi was injured. Hershberger battled lingering depression from his father’s death and would blame himself for losing a game July 31. A few days later he became the only big leaguer to end his career by committing suicide during the season. In a bitter twist of fate, the Reds would go on to capture the flag and a world championship that season.

 

  • Another Reds backup catcher, Gus Sandberg, died from burns he suffered when his car’s gas tank blew up while he was trying to siphon gasoline in 1924.

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  • Tony Boeckel, a third baseman for the Boston Braves, was involved in a collision with a truck. After leaving his vehicle, he was hit by a passing car and died the next day. He was the first active major leaguer to die in a car accident (1924).

 

While 7 Major Leaguers lost their lives in plane crashes, Senators pitcher Marv Goodwin was the first, 22 years after the Wright brothers’ first flight, in 1925.

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Perhaps the best nickname of active players to perish was “Pickles” Dillhoefer, a catcher for the Cardinals who died of typhoid fever a few weeks after his wedding in 1922.

 

Red Sox pitcher George Craig discovered a burglar in his hotel room in 1911 and chased him down the hall. The perp produced a handgun and blasted Craig in the stomach. He died 40 hours later, but not before he gave info to the cops, who were never able to find the assailant.

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HoFer Addie Joss died at age 30 when he contracted tubercular meningitis. His first baseball card was a 1903 E107 Breisch Williams.

 

SUICIDES & MURDER MYSTERIES

NY Giants Pitcher Dan McGann had a tortured family history: “in 1909, one of his brothers had taken his own life. The previous New Year’s Eve, another brother had died due to an infection resulting from an accidental shooting. McGann’s sister committed suicide in 1890 following the death of their mother.” His death was by a bullet to the chest. The coroner ruled his death by suicide, but his sisters believed he’d been murdered. An expensive piece of jewelry was missing, but a diamond pin, $37 in cash and other valuables were still on his body. (info via SABR Bio by Don Jensen).

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Chick Stahl was one of the best outfielders of his day (1897-1906) who also suffered from depression. He briefly managed the Boston team in 1906 on an interim basis. His player-managership did not go well (5-13), and he resigned. Chick was asked to stay on until a successor could be found. The night before an exhibition game, he drank a glass of carbolic acid, a medication used to treat a sore on his foot. Fifteen minutes later, he was dead. The suicide puzzled many, as he was a very popular player, recently married, and relieved to shrug off the yoke of managing to concentrate on playing.

On February 28, 1894, pitcher Edgar McNabb met a woman in a hotel room. An argument arose, and McNabb shot her. He then turned the gun on himself.

Finally, catcher Frank Ringo became baseball’s first suicide in 1898, when he died of a morphine overdose. He was reported to enjoy “the sauce,” and Sporting Life noted he was “a good, hard-hitting catcher.”

 

THE COST OF DRINK

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Pete Dowling pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers and had a taste for “the creature.” Connie Mack, who’d signed Dowling, dropped him from the team for disciplinary reasons. Dowling had previously had troubles with drinking too much. He’d also been a bit of a local hero in Sacramento, where he saved three men from drowning. On the night of June 30, 1905, he missed the train to take him to a game in La Grande, Oregon. While walking along the tracks, he was struck by a train. He was killed instantly, and the impact severed his head. In his passing Dowling’s former manager John McCloskey said, “when he was sober, there wasn’t a more decent chap.” (SABR Bio by John F. Green)

The wrong sort of drink took another player down. Utilityman Tom O’Brien of the Giants and Pirates was told to drink seawater on a voyage to Cuba for a series of exhibition games. It was supposed to be a remedy that would cure sea-sickness. He and teammate Kid Gleason became violently ill, but O’Brien did not recover. He was dead at age 28 from bad advice.

 

LAST LICKS & ANALYSIS

Pitcher Cliff Young died in a car crash in 1993, becoming the third Cleveland Indian to die in an accident in the same year.

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Pirates pitcher Bob Moose also perished in a car accident, which occurred on his 29th birthday in 1976.

On March 3, 1932, Red Sox pitcher “Big Ed” Morris (a noted boozer) got stabbed twice at a fish fry/peanut boil in his honor. The assailant was a gas station operator. The cause for the confrontation ranged from Morris urinating in the community pot of boiled peanuts to Morris making a pass at the station man’s wife. Accounts vary from Morris as instigator to innocent bystander. (info from SABR BIO by Rick Swaine)

 Outside of the US, (4) players died in or on their way to Venezuela, in the Dominican Republic (4), and Puerto Rico (3).

 A player died every 20 years of drowning, from 1872-1979.

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Luis Valbuena and Jose Castillo died in the same auto accident December 6, 2018.

Automobile deaths spiked/doubled from 2000-2018, with 10.

More than 20 players died in 2000-2018 and 1920-1939, respectively.

1960-1979 was the worst 20 years for plane crashes with (4). All were private aircraft, with three being small or light planes.

When considering accidents as cause of death, 49, or half of all of the fatalities were chalked up to human error. Alcohol surfaced as a common denominator in many accidents and murders.

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Cory Lidle and his instructor died when their plane crashed into an NYC apartment building on October 11, 2006. A gusty wind blew their aircraft into the structure during a 180-degree turn.

A striking statistic showed that PITCHERS accounted for almost HALF (48 or 98) of those who perished while active. Moundsmen’s deaths accounted for more than two times of other position players.

Perhaps the saddest stories were those of rookies like the Cardinals’ Charley Peete, cut down before they could share their talents with the world.

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Name Game

Whether intentional or not, my blog posts tend to bring down the intellectual level of discourse to disturbing depths. Continuing in this vein, I present a “cardcentric” look at players whose first and last names rhyme.

67 Schaal green bat  70 Schaal back

The seed for this idea was planted after receiving a Royals team-issued, 1969 photo of Paul Schaal, part of a recent card swap. Schaal has some interesting cards, starting with his ’67 “green” variation. Apparently, a printing error coupled with poor quality control led to Topps issue some cards with a “greenish” cast. In Paul’s case, the tip of the bat is green. The back of his ’70 card features a cartoon showing a player being beaned. Topps seemed to find humor in Schaal having sustained a skull fracture in ‘68. You will find him “in action” in ’71, ’72 and ’74.

70 Tovar   73 Tovar

Cesar Tovar is another rhyming name with a few unique cards. His ’70 photo appears to show his glove with a hole in the webbing. Perhaps his anguished expression resulted from this discovery. After starting–primarily in outfield–for the Twins from ’66-’72, Cesar was dealt to the Phillies in ’73. This resulted in one of the ineptest airbrush jobs of the era. Of course, I must mention that he played all nine positions in a game in ’68.

Lu Blue 1

This spectacular 1922 American Caramel E120 card of first “sacker” Lu Blue was distributed with candy. Lu was a serviceable starter for the Tigers, Browns and White Sox from ’21-’32.

Batts

Although not quite a perfect rhyme, Matt Batts must be included even if it is just to show this gorgeous ’55 Bowmen.

Parnell 53

One of the premier hurlers of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, Mel Parnell is featured on several classic ‘50s cards. On this ’53 Bowman Color, Mel strikes a unique pose with the glove hanging from his wrist.

Green

Some lucky kid probably cut this ’62 Post Cereal card of Gene Green off a box of Grape Nuts.

Sherry

1959 World Series Hero Larry Sherry probably needed the windbreaker in this ’62, considering the photo was taken at Candlestick Park.

braun

Being paired on the ’65 Braves Rookie Stars card with the Alomar family patriarch, Sandy, didn’t bring any luck to John Braun. He pitched in one MLB game for the Braves posting two innings, allowing two hits and recording a strike out.

Hahn

Quick. Who was the original Expos centerfielder in their first ever game (played at New York’s Shea Stadium) in 1969? The answer: Don Hahn, of course. After starting the first three games in New York and getting but one hit, Don was benched and eventually sent to the minors for the rest of the year.

Charboneau

Who can forget one of the most celebrated flops in baseball history? “Super” Joe Charboneau was AL Rookie of the Year for the Indians in ’80 and out of baseball by ’84.

Clark

A “rhymer” of more resent vintage is ’90s journeyman pitcher Mark Clark. No relation to the WWII general of the same name, I assume.

macdonald

I will conclude this “drive through” look at poetically named players by presenting Mets farmhand, Ronald MacDonald. This ’80 card shows him on the AAA Tidewater Tides, which was his highwater mark in baseball. Alas, “Big Mac” “clowned around” in the minors for six years, never to see his dream of crossing under the “golden arches” and into the big leagues come to fruition.

I will create a list on SABR Encyclopedia so additional rhyming names can be added.   I’m certain this will prove to be an invaluable resource for scholarly research.

 

1914-1915 Cracker Jack Baseball Cards

(Ed note: John McMurray is the chairman of SABR’s Deadball Era Committee. This article recently appeared in the wonderful committee newsletter.)

The accessibility of the Deadball Era derives, in part, from the many existing images of players from the period. It is worthwhile to recall that some of the most vivid and enduring player portrayals are on contemporary baseball cards. The most famous Deadball Era cards are from the T205 and T206 sets, which are large, comprehensive, and relatively available tobacco issues (with some notable exceptions). Still, many collectors prefer the 1914-1915 Cracker Jack cards even if these cards are more expensive and difficult to locate, as they likely are the most impressive baseball cards issued during the Deadball Era. The Cracker Jack cards (sometimes known by the E145-1 designation for the 1914 set and E145-2 for 1915, with caramel cards having an ‘E’ set designation rather than ‘T’ for tobacco) are a wonderful window into the Deadball Era in the middle of its second decade.

With a clean presentation and bright red backgrounds, the Cracker Jack cards had the most eye-appeal of any card issued to date. Today, some collectors still consider them to be the most attractive baseball card design ever produced. These 2-1/4” by 3” cards were also nearly twice as large as most of their tobacco card counterparts and included the most biographical detail of any baseball card yet manufactured. But it is the detailed artwork and many action poses which make this set a perennial collector favorite. In some sense, these are baseball cards doubling as art.

Here, among the Cracker Jack cards, are the best baseball card images of Shoeless Joe Jackson’s swing, of Walter Johnson’s pitching motion, and of Ty Cobb’s glare. The action shots, too, are magnificent: Chick Gandil reaching for a ball at first base is a beautifully done horizontal image, as is that of Ray Keating pitching. Then there are the catcher poses, with Hick Cady, Ted Easterly, Les Nunamaker, Frank Owen, and Wally Schang shown in action in full catcher’s gear. The portraits of Charles Comiskey and Connie Mack seem to capture their respective professional reputations. If you would like to see a commanding picture of John McGraw, a side view of Gavy Cravath at bat, or a pensive pose of Honus Wagner, these sets are the place to look. Surely, no better card of Smoky Joe Wood has ever been produced than in the Cracker Jack sets, and there is a sometimes-overlooked card of Branch Rickey as manager of the St. Louis Browns. As many have noted, what is missing is a card of Babe Ruth in either set, a real incongruity since so many lesser names are included. But, except for Ruth, there is really nothing missing from these relatively small sets.

Magee1915The 1914 Cracker Jack cards are significantly more scarce than the ones issued in 1915. “While collecting complete sets from either year is tough, there is no question that the 1914 set is infinitely more difficult to acquire, and it all comes down to the way the cards were distributed,” wrote Joe Orlando, president of Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) and PSA/DNA, in a chapter about the origins of the cards in The Cracker Jack Collection: Baseball’s Prized Players (Peter E. Randall Publisher, 2013) by Tom Zappala and Ellen Zappala. Orlando said that the 1914 cards were distributed only in packages of Cracker Jack, making the cards more susceptible to damage, while the 1915 cards were available both in packages with the candy and also through a mail-in redemption where the entire set could be acquired for “either 100 coupons or one coupon plus a whopping 25 cents!” Add to it that the 1914 cards were printed on thinner card stock than their 1915 counterparts, and it is clear why so few of the former exist in top condition.

As Orlando outlines (see Zappala and Zappala, pp. 163-173), the 1914 set has 144 cards, while the 1915 version has 176. For most part, the first 144 cards are identical between the sets, as they have the same players and poses. Two players have different poses from the first year to the second: Christy Mathewson and Del Pratt each have an action pose in 1914 and a portrait in 1915. The 1914 Mathewson card, is, by far, the most popular and expensive Cracker Jack card, but it is very difficult to locate. The PSA website notes that one in excellent condition sold for $95,000 in 2012. Four players (Harry Lord, Jay Cashion, Nixey Callahan, and Frank Chance) have cards in the 1914 set but not in the 1915 edition. The final thirty-two cards of the 1915 set (Nos. 145-176) are not included in the 1914 version. A few cards from 1914, as Orlando notes, were replaced from 1914 to 1915: Rollie Zeider’s standing pose (he had two cards in 1914) was removed for Oscar Dugey, and Hal Chase would take the place of Frank Chance. The easiest way to tell the 1914 and 1915 cards apart is that the backs of the latter were printed upside down “so the card information could be read while mounted in the specially-designed albums (available by mail order for the 1915 set only),” wrote Orlando. He notes, though, that some 1915 cards show some staining from glue, likely used to keep the cards in these albums.

The backs of the cards are succinct, usually outlining each player’s basic biography and how he got to the major leagues, occasionally capped with understated praise. Cobb “is noted as a marvel for speed and batting.” Wagner, his card says matter-of-factly, “has batted over 300 (sic) for ten years.” Rabbit Maranville with Boston “has been a great success.” At the bottom, the card backs in 1914 note that the company’s first issue is “15,000,000 pictures,” while the 1915 backs detail the offer for the complete set and to acquire what the company called the “Handsome Album to hold (the) full set of pictures.”

An oft-forgotten component of these sets is their Federal League players including Rube Marquard who is erroneously identified as being with the Brooklyn Tip-Tops, and Artie (Circus Solly) Hofman, whose surname is misspelled as ‘Hoffman’. George Suggs’ uniform as a member of the Baltimore Terrapins stands out, while Bill Rariden is shown in his Boston Braves uniform in spite of having joined the Federal League’s Indianapolis Hoosiers, as his card notes. Rollie Zeider’s standing pose clearly shows the word ‘Feds’ on his Chicago uniform, and the bold word ‘Buffalo’ across Walter Blair’s chest is a clear indication that things were different in baseball during 1914 and 1915.

These sets distinctively capture the individuality of many players. Though the artwork can vary in its quality (Max Carey’s card, for one, is not the sharpest), it is fair to say that the portrayals often capture the essence of well-known players, and particularly of the top stars. Fred Clarke’s sitting pose gives an air of focused effectiveness, and Sam Crawford’s throwing motion offers a contented, carefree style. The grit and crustiness of the era also come through in Doc Gessler’s swing or in Sherry Magee’s throwing pose. Eddie Cicotte’s easy smile on his Cracker Jack cards, alas, is reminiscent of a time before scandal hit the sport. In the Cracker Jack cards, no two poses or portraits look the same, making the set stand out from those which often repeat similar images.

A card of a common Cracker Jack player in very good condition, which is to say, showing considerable wear, will likely cost between $150 and $200. Because of the demand for these cards and their relative scarcity, a star player will likely cost more than $500, with steep increases in price as condition improves even marginally. Cards issued in 1914, of course, almost always command a higher price. It speaks to the endurance of the Deadball Era and its players that desire for these cards remains so solid and strong more than a century after they were produced.

Many vintage baseball card collectors begin with the T205 and T206 sets because those sets include more players, and most cards are available for about half of the price of the Cracker Jack cards. That is a fair approach. At the same time, while very different in appearance from traditional tobacco cards, the Cracker Jack sets include artwork that is at least as good, if not better, as well as an array of player poses and biographical detail not found in other contemporary card sets. These cards justifiably play a part in the telling of the story of the Deadball Era.

Assorted Authenticity Notes, Thoughts and Tips

As well known to my friends and family, I am a non-linear thinker and talker, and this article follows the pattern. Offered here are aleatory notes, thoughts and tips on authentication related topics.

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A concern I often hear from collectors is that computer and digital printing technology is getting so advanced that some day they will be able to make a counterfeit T206 Honus Wagner completely indistinguishable from the original.

The answer is no, this is not correct.

Modern digital printing indeed looks better and better and is more and more detailed at the naked eye, holding-the-card-in-your-hand level. However, it looks less and less like the original 1909 T206 lithography at the microscopic level. And it is at the microscopic level that printing is identified and dated and such cards are ultimately authenticated.

The paradox with printing technology and the duplication of old prints is that the more closely it looks like the original at the naked eye level, the less it looks like the original at the microscopic level. Today’s computer printers use a fine pattern of tiny dots to reproduce graphics, with the finer the dot pattern the more detailed and realistic the reproduced graphics at the naked eye level. However, this fine dots maze looks very different under the microscope from the original, antiquated T206 printing–and the finer the dot pattern gets, the less it looks like the original printing at the microscopic level.

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If the identifying, dating and microscopic inspection of old printing is something that interest you, I wrote the following guide book. Well illustrated in color, it covers the major forms of antique and commercial printing and was written for collectors and dealers of antique trading cards, posters, ads, signs, premiums and even fine art. It is in pdf format and you can download it for free.

Identifying Antique Commercial Printing Processes

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Fake detection tip
If a seller is selling online a rare and expensive baseball card with obviously scissors clipped corners that he describes as “natural corner wear,” there is a more than probable chance you’re looking at a fake.

With homemade fakes, one of the harder things to do is to mimic natural corner rounding due to wear. The forger often clips the corners at straight angles then roughs them up a bit. In many cases, the corners remain obviously hand cut.

Of course genuine cards can have clipped corners, but anyone experienced with cards can tell the difference between clipping and natural wear. Even if the there is the odd chance the card for sale is real, why would you choose to make expensive purchases from a seller who can’t identify obvious trimming? Shouldn’t you be buying from the seller who knows what he is doing?

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Identifying Common Cracker Jack Reprints
The 1914-15 Cracker Jacks cards used no white ink and this helps in identifying many reprints.

The white (actually off white) on the card is created by the absence of ink on the white (actually off white) color of the cardstock. In other words, the white borders and any white in the player picture is the color of the cardstock.

If the Cracker Jack player picture has a large white section of his uniform that directly touches the border, there should be little or no difference in tone between the border white and the white of the uniform. They should seamlessly blend one into the other.

On the common reprints, a giveaway is that the border is distinctly different than the white in the player image. You can clearly see this when the border ends and the touching white in the player picture starts.

wagnercrackerjack
Original 1915 Cracker Jack
crackerjackreprint
Reprint Cracker Jack with brighter border



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Scams regularly involve greed from both sides

As has been noted by numerous experienced collectors, baseball card scams often involve greed on both sides of the equation–from the buyer and the seller, not just the seller.

Since the dawn of scamming, it is a common scammer’s technique to appear ignorant about what he is selling (often a forgery he made himself!), and have the buyer believe he is getting a steal from a dim bulb of a seller. The scammer will say something on the order of: “This card looks real to me. But as I’m not an expert, I am calling it a reprint to be safe and offer it at a deep discount” or “I found this Sweet Caporal Honus Wagner card. A local card shop says it looks like the real deal and is worth lots of money. But I don’t know for sure so I’m offering it for $5,000.”

The purchaser in these sales correctly believes there is a rube involved in the sale, but incorrectly believes it is the seller. The purchaser also thinks he is getting a steal of a deal from a rube. This is why some collectors feel little pity for such buyers. The buyers are trying to get a steal and think they are taking advantage of the ignorant.

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For science geeks, this is an old article I wrote on the advanced science used in authentication and forgery detection of art, artifacts and collectibles, including baseball memorabilia. It covers carbon dating, infrared radiation, x-rays and even dendrology (the study of trees rings). Technically, baseball cards can be radiometrically dated (carbon dating is the best known form of radiometric dating), but it is cost prohibitive. The article also shows how there are limits to science in authentication.

The Science of Forgery Derection

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A simple technique for dating a pinback as antique

pinback
Corroded pinback back

If you are at an antique store or garage sale and see a cool antique looking pinback, a simple way to identify it as genuinely antique, and not a modern reproduction or fantasy item, is to check the back. If the back and needle is corroded and rusted brown, you can be confident it is antique.

Similarly, rusty staples on antique items are signs of authenticity. Many antique booklets, magazines, calendars and tickets were stapled. Antique staples have rusted dark, with the rust sometimes spreading to the paper. If the staples are bright and shiny, that is evidence the item is a modern reproduction or at least has been re-stapled. I’ve seen many modern reproductions offered online that are given away in part by the shiny staples.

 

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Authenticating playing and game cards
Many playing and game cards, such as the 1913 National Game and Polo Ground issues, have factory cut round corners that make identifying reprints and counterfeits easy, even in online pictures. The corners on the originals were die cut a consistent size and curve. Known official reprints will have a noticeably different corner size, while homemade versions will be obviously scissors cut and usually of different size. If someone is offering one of these playing cards online it is easy to check the authenticity by comparing the corners to a picture of a known authentic card, say one in a PSA or SGC holder.

Die cut shaped cards in general are harder to deceptively forge, because it is hard to cut the shapes to perfectly mimic the original machine cut–especially if the forger is doing it by hand.

gamecard
Original 1913 National Game card
reprint
National Game reprints with different corners

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The Issue of Restoring baseball cards
The restoration of baseball cards is a regular hot topic of debate with collectors, and it seems the restoration of high end cards is becoming more common. Some collectors are adamantly against any alterations, some have no issue with it and some say it depends on the situation. I am not here to give the ‘final ethical word’ on the topic, but to look at various aspects of the issue.

The common strong and often visceral reaction against restoration and any form of alteration is based in two reasons. First, the hobby has a long history of deceptive (undisclosed) alterations as part of scamming: trimming, bleaching and other alterations without disclosure at sale. Many collectors consider this equivalent to counterfeiting and forgery. This problem is still ongoing, with unethical resellers who only care about money, altering and trying to sneak cards past profession graders. This is one of the scummy parts of the hobby. For some people, it is anything for a dollar.

The second reason is many collectors like old cards that have honest wear and aging. These collectors think they there is nothing wrong with an old card showing its age–after all they are collecting old items not twenty first century Upper Decks inserts. To them, there is nothing wrong with ‘honest wear,’ so there is nothing to fix.

Many collectors are generally against alterations, but are not zealots about it and feel that there are times where restoration is reasonable. Many collectors say it is ethical to remove items and substances that are not original parts of the cards. They say it is fine to remove a of piece scotch tape, glue or paint on a 1952 Topps, because it is not an original part of card. There are also cases of major damage, such as a card that has a substantial tear or fungus, where conservation will not only make the card look nicer but will prevent further damage. Left to their own devices, fungus spreads and tears only get bigger over time.

One question baseball card collectors often ask is why is restoration so frowned upon in the baseball card hobby, but seemingly accepted and common practice with paintings and movie posters. It is true that restoration is more accepted in those areas, but realize that, as in the baseball hobby, opinions and sentiments vary from collector to collector. Another thing to keep in mind is that movie posters and paintings have different uses and are of different materials.

A movie poster and painting are display items, usually large and designed to be hung on the wall for everyone to see. Baseball cards are little and spend most of their lives in boxes and drawers. Few people want a 2×3 foot display item on the wall next to the dining room table or over the living room couch to be covered in coffee stains, scrapes and scotch tape marks.

Also, movie posters and paintings are often made of materials that are delicate and must be conserved to preserve them and to withstand display. Movie posters are on thin paper, and old paint and the backing on paintings often have deterioration problems that must be fixed. Old oil paintings were originally varnished, with the varnish turning brown over the years. Removing and replacing the dingy varnish not only makes the painting look as it originally did, it often reveals the real colors of the painting. A green appearing flower may turn out to be bright blue.

painting
Antique oil painting with half the original varnish removed

It should also be noted that as part of restoration and conservation, movie posters are usually ‘linen backed’ (backed in linen) so are easy to identify as restored.

As far as valuation of restored versus unrestored posters and paintings go, an advanced vintage movie memorabilia collector told me that a grade Vg movie poster restored to Near Mint looking condition will be valued more than the Vg grade but less than unrestored Near Mint. Painting collectors look for restoration, because it does affect value. All other things the same, a restored painting will be worth less than an unrestored one. So, while restoration is more accepted, there still is a valuation and sentimental difference between restored and unrestored.

One inescapable constant is that all alterations and restoration have to be disclosed at sale. Not only is this the ethical thing to do, it is the law. This is in all areas of collecting, including movie posters and paintings. If a seller knows a physical fact about the item will likely change the value in the minds of the buyers, that is a fact that has to be stated. It is up to the bidders, not the auctioneer, to decide what facts will affect the final bid value.

I end by noting that a veteran collector once said that collectors are temporary caretakers not owners of the items, and that is what people should keep in mind when deciding what to do with a card. Or, as I say, these are historical artifacts and serious collectors are historians. There may be legitimate reasons to restore an item–such as for preservation for future generations or to fix major damage–but a card or other item should never be altered for purely monetary reasons. When things are done strictly and only to make a buck, all forms of unethical and seedy behavior soon follow.