A Pitching Evolution, Of Sorts

I’ve always loved getting mail. When I was seven-years old (that would’ve been in the summer of 1970, for those keeping score at home), I sent letters to baseball teams asking for a slew of autographs from each. I didn’t get any autographs back, but I did get an assortment of pictures, decals, schedules, etc. Two years later I honed my letter writing skills, pinpointing individual players. Mail started pouring in, and some disasters were averted. My mother almost threw out a letter for me that had this on the envelope:

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She thought it was from a circus. Inside was a Hank Aaron autographed picture. (And why would she want to throw out any letter that was addressed to me anyway? It’s a question I still ponder.)

 

So I still get jazzed when the mail comes, and, lately, there are a lot of good card mail days. Most deliveries are fairly routine – a few cards of the same year – but sometimes there’s a combination of cards that is exquisite in its randomness.

 

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Nothing connects these three other than they are pitchers and they’re all part of sets I’m working on.

 

Ivy Andrews

Finishing the 1933 Tattoo Orbit set is a pipe dream (for now). I’ve never spent as much money on a card as I’ll need to for Jimmy Foxx and Dizzy Dean, but I’ll worry about that towards the end. Right now I have 24 of the 60.

 

Andrews is a short print, books high, but I got this for less than 20% of the VG price (if you’re a frequent reader you know I use the 2009 Standard Catalog). Who was Ivy Andrews and why did he deserve any print run, short or other?

 

When this card came out, Andrews had already been traded from the Yankees to the Red Sox along with Hank Johnson and $50,000 for Danny MacFayden. Andrews performed well for the BoSox from his mid-season arrival in 1932. He was fine in 1933, nothing special, and was traded with Smead Jolley and cash to the Browns in December 1933. Beleaguered by arm problems for much of his eight year career, Andrews is a member of the Hall of Fame – the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

 

Andrews was hardly needed in a 60 card set, but, as I’ve written about regarding the 1936 Goudey Wide Pens, the selection of players in these sets is odd. The Andrews transaction register is a Who’s Who of long forgotten players that pepper 1930’s sets – MacFayden, Jolley, Lyn Lary, Orel Hildebrand and so on.

 

Of course, Ivy’s nickname was “Poison.”

 

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Jim Brady

 

I don’t spend a lot of time on card backs, to the chagrin of SABR Baseball Cards Committee HQ, but I have been reading the backs of 1956s. The three cartoons grab me.

 

The back of Brady card got me interested because there’s no statistical information. That was for the best. A Notre Dame alum, he caught the eye of Tigers’ farm director John McHale, another ex-Fightin’ Irishman. Brady was a bonus baby, netting $37,500 from Detroit and, as the rules required, had to spend two years on the big league roster, whether he was ready to pitch or not. He wasn’t. He did pitch for the Tigers in 1956 – 6 1/3 IP, 28.42 ERA.

 

Brady’s success came off the field. He garnered three degrees from Notre Dame, was chair of the economics department at Old Dominion, a member of the eco faculty at ND and Jacksonville U. president from 1989-1996. Solid career, just not in baseball.

 

Tug McGraw

 

I don’t have anything to say about Tugger that hasn’t already been said and isn’t already known. There are few players that always bring a smile, and Tug is one of those. As a still-Mets fan in 1973, “Ya Gotta Believe” is permanently stamped in my heart, and McGraw getting dumped in exchange for Mac Friggin’ Scarce is second only to the Seaver trade in abominably anti-fan front office work for a team that specializes in that trade.

 

And now Tug has a place in my card history – the final one for my 1969 set. It’s a high number (evidenced by the same season info on the card back) and was a bit pricier than I hoped, but for McGraw, it’s worth it. I wouldn’t have felt the same about Bill Voss.

 

 

I think of myself as a well-above average baseball scholar. I’m not top of the heap by any means but I’m pretty high up. At the core of the hobby is finding out about players who I’ve never heard of and lives I knew nothing about. At least that’s a big part of the appeal for me (and probably you too.)

Tattoo Me

On one of my frequent trips to Baseball Nostalgia, my favorite go-to card shop in Cooperstown, I was telling long-time collector, owner and friend Pete Henrici that I was going to try and complete the 1933 Tattoo Orbit set.

“Oh, you like ugly cards,” he said.

I kinda get it. Unlike, say, the 1933 DeLongs or, going further back, T205s, the Tattoo Orbits look a bit amateurish, a tad half-assed. They’re not particularly artful. Still, there’s something I like about the slightly colorized photos superimposed on the bright, generic backgrounds.

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But let’s be real, aesthetics aside, it’s a set I can complete because there are only 60 of them, I already have 23 and commons can be had relatively cheaply. I’m looking for VG cards, though most of the cards I have are more EX. Actually, I’m looking for VG prices. For commons, I can usually nab a nice example for 1/3 to ½ of book. I’ve been pretty nimble at picking off stray bargains.

I’ve got a bunch of stars, though I still need Jimmie Foxx, Dizzy Dean, a few short printed cards and a handful of middle of the road Hall of Famers of the Chick Hafey variety. This one will take a while to finish, due to both availability and price. There’s no way I can get eBay type deals at card shows, so it’s going to take some time.

Making it even harder is my desire for raw cards. That cuts two ways, both badly. Cards of this vintage are almost always graded, regardless of condition, which sucks and limits the supply. However, I am a “price first” person, so if the graded card is attainable at the level I’m willing to pay, so be it. I have a few sets that are all in albums, save one or two graded cards. I don’t like it, but having is better than not having.

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Raw cards carry their own risks. Trimming, miscuts, and other problems, come with the territory and scans alone don’t reveal all the flaws. I recently got a beautiful Smead Jolley card, but, though it had all the characteristics of a regular Tattoo Orbit – shiny feel, thin paper stock – something felt off. I compared it to all of the other cards I had and it’s either trimmed or miscut. The seller was very understanding and we arranged a suitable solution, but the uncertainty I fell around that card tapped into some fears I have about old raw cards.

 

Over the last two years I’ve been pretty quick on finishing sets. Either I was working on Topps or other hugely available cards or I was lucky enough to have such a head start on harder sets that what I needed I could grab. This Tattoo Orbit set is definitely going to be an exercise in patience (and, to my memory, I’ve never spent as much on a single card as I’ll need to spend on Foxx and Dean). It took me 18 years to finish the 2000-01 Topps Heritage Basketball set with all its short prints. The 1933 Tattoo Orbit set may take as long, but it’s bound to be much more rewarding to have.

Unfinished (set) business

I’m a man of my word. I keep my promises and I achieve my goals. I don’t get distracted, I stay on task and I always finish what I start. Except…

My income and my passion for cards were at similar peaks throughout the ‘90’s. I finished some old sets I was close to finishing, started some older sets from scratch. There were four sets that I jumpstarted my way into with a series of well-priced, shrewdly purchased lots, and I had every intention of making my way to the end, the final check made in each one’s checklist. I don’t know what derailed me from my goals. Maybe it was the new century and big life changes (job switches, moving to Cooperstown, and so on), maybe it was the changes in the hobby (shifts to grading, disappearance of commons into slabs, moving to Cooperstown, far from big Chicago area card shows), maybe I simply lost interest in those sets. Let’s find out.

 

1933 Tattoo Orbit

tattoo-orbitThere’s something about this size, 2” X 2 ¼,” that grabs me. Tattoo Orbit (or R305, if you want to get technical) is a beautiful little set, 60 cards in all, hyper-stylized. The player photo is slightly colorized and is ensconced in a background that looks like it could have been drawn by a child. Check out Marty McManus here, swinging away, gigantic, in a setting of magnificent red and yellow. It’s a thing of beauty.

I have 16 of the 60, including two of the short prints. Did I ever think I’d really go the distance on this one? In retrospect, I’m not so sure. The set, even in VG, is around $4,000, probably more if I hunt and peck for individual cards. I don’t like spending a ton, so my guess is this one was a bit of a whim, a “yeah, sure, I’ll put this together over time.” Looking at what I’ve got, and how prices have gone up since I began, it’s even less likely I’ll get back to this one. But they are wonderful cards, magnificently simple in design.

 

1947 Bond Bread

bond-breadI’m halfway to the 44 card set of baseball players (though there are also 4 boxer cards). Not sure how these came into my field of vision, but it seems that in the 1980’s a large number of these black and white gems were found in a warehouse and released into the hobby. Maybe that’s why I got so many, definitely why the big time Hall of Famers (Musial, Williams, Jackie Robinson) are relatively inexpensive).

There’s a chance I’ll go back to this set. There are many wonders to be found in the photographs. Stan the Man here looks like he accidentally fielded a grounder during a photo shoot for the new 1947 Packard. Still, hunting down ungraded Joe DiMaggio and Jackie Robinson cards may be a tough task and, it seems like after 2000, a rash of illegally reprinted square cornered cards (some come rounded) made their way not only into the hobby but into grading.  That worries me, though I wonder where the money is in counterfeiting 70-year-old Del Ennis cards.

 

1949 Remar Bread Oakland Oaks

remar-breadWhat’s with the bread cards? Sure, it makes sense to package cards with gum, kids chewing away as they read about their favorite players, but the image of a kid wadding a piece of white bread in his cheek is one I can’t shake. The poor little Oaklander would choke!

There are 42 cards in this set, a strangely sized 2” X 3.” They’re thin stuff, very flexible, but sort of cool. There’s a Billy Martin card, which I don’t have, but is pretty inexpensive in EX, the general grade of the 11 cards I have.

I’ve been scouting out the balance of the set on EBay and it looks like there are ungraded examples at reasonable prices. Completing this set may be a reasonable endeavor, but it’s awfully hard to muster up a real enthusiasm for chasing down an EX example of Maurice Van Robays, whoever the hell he was. Still, I look at my Mel Duezabou card and know that, to someone, he was important. I’m not sure that that someone is me.

 

1952 Parkhurst

parkhurstThis may be the one that got away and that calls me back the most. Almost exactly the size of the 1949 Bowman cards that I love, this 100 card set of Canadian International Leaguers (Montreal Royals, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Athletics) is filled with unknowns and a healthy subset of drawings like “Gripping the Bat.” Look at this page – awesome, right?

Though I have half the set, I have none of the key cards, minor league appearances by Tommy Lasorda, Walter Alston and Johnny Podres. They won’t break the bank. I think if I fish around for these, I’m likely to find one or two sellers/dealers who would sell me a bunch at a reasonable price. What could the real demand for the no-names and sketches be? Then I’ll back myself into a corner and spring for the higher priced cards. That’s my methodology – go cheap for as long as I can and then force myself to pony up for the few costlier cards that stand between me and a complete set.

 

I’ve never been a type collector of random cards, never sought out having one from as many sets as possible, so having four partial sets drives me batty. Is it worth keeping what I have if I’m not going to get them all? I don’t know, I debate that a lot. What’s the point of having 51 of 100 1952 Parkhursts if I’m not going to end up with 100? It’s a small scale struggle, but a struggle nonetheless.