From the Negro League to MLB

3rd Inning

Before I get into the “3rd Inning”, I would like to thank everyone for the awesome comments, and taking the time to read the introductory post. I’m happy you all enjoyed, and staying on for the ride!

In the first post (1st Inning), I explained briefly how tough it was to locate some of the 86 players due to the fact that some had no MLB card (16 total). The “3rd Inning” will focus on my journey to find these players. Most of the cards and memorabilia from this post are not graded and/or authenticated yet, I’m currently in the process (maybe I’ll get them back from PSA sometime next year!).

Marshall Bridges 1978 TCMA “The 1960’s” Washington Senators / 1992 The Wiz New York Yankees “Yankees of the 60’s”. I could not find any graded card, memorabilia, or autographs of Marshall. I came across these two cards and decided to grab both. TCMA cards were pretty popular, and the Wiz card I hadn’t seen before doing my research. I did not know Bridges played for the Yankees, but he had a pretty good year for them in 1962 (8-4 3.14 era). He played in MLB for 7 seasons, with four different teams. Marshall pitched for the Memphis Red Sox in the Negro American League.

🐐fact: Bridges was shot in the leg by a 21 year-old married woman in a bar during Spring Training of 1963.

Robert Wilson 1990 Target Brooklyn Dodgers. Wilson had 5 at bats with the Dodgers in 1958, recorded one hit (as a pinch-hitter). Finding anything on Wilson was really tough due to his short stint in MLB. I did find a 1957 Montreal Royals autographed team ball, but it was way out of my price range. The Target card was issued as a “100th Anniversary”, and featured 1,095 players from all eras of the Dodgers franchise. Not the coolest one in the project, but there wasn’t much to choose from.

🐐fact: Wilson played on the 1947 Newark Eagles (53-42-1) with Monte Irvin, and Larry Doby. He batted .308 in 39 games.

Charlie Peete 1955-1956 Omaha Cardinals Team Photo. This guys stuff is super hard to find. I spent hours researching him. I love these old Minor League team photos, I really enjoy collecting them. Peete was a good lefty hitting outfielder. He played in the Negro Leagues for the Indianapolis Clowns. The Cardinals signed Peete in 1954. He tore up the Piedmont League batting .311 17 HR and was named to the All-Star team. In ’56 he led AAA batting .350 with 16 HR and 63 RBI for the Omaha Cardinals. Charlie had 52 at bats for St. Louis in ’56, the only year he would appear in MLB.

🐐fact: Peete had a very sad ending to his life. He passed away in the prime of his career, the very young age of 27. He was playing Winter ball in Venezuela when he and his family were killed in a plane crash.

Pat Scantlebury Original Type 1 Photo. Pat had me searching the web like a mad man! One day I received an eBay alert and there it was, a beautiful original photo of Scantlebury. It’s from 1951, around the time he was pitching for his native country of Panama in the 1951 Caribbean Series. It’s a wonderful candid shot of Pat. He appeared in only one MLB season, playing for the Reds in 1956 (Frank Robinson’s rookie year). Pat played for the New York Cubans of the Negro League from 1944-1948.

🐐fact: Scantlebury and Hall of Famer Rod Carew are the only two MLB players born in Gatun, Panama. Like many from that era, Pat took 8 years off his age before joining organized baseball. In 2012 he was elected into the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame.

Roberto Vargas Autographed Photo. This is a beautiful photo of Vargas as a member of the 1955 Milwaukee Braves (His only year in MLB). Vargas was a right-handed pitcher, he played in the Negro Leagues for the Chicago American Giants, and the Memphis Red Sox.

🐐fact: Vargas was one of the first group of Puerto Rican ball players who appeared in MLB. His first appearance was April 17, 1955, the same day Roberto Clemente made his with the Pirates.

William Greason Signed Photo & Letter. What’s really cool about this one is I purchased the signed photo from an estate sale. The gentleman’s son who sold it to me, said his Dad would write letters to people he respected and looked up to. Mr. Greason was kind enough to send a signed photo back. I was able to acquire the original letter he sent, as well as the stamped envelope William sent to him from his Birmingham area residence. As you can see on the photo he signed it, “Rev”, Bill as most call him is a Baptist minister. He served our great country, in World War II. 66th Supply Platoon, an all-black unit, and took part in the Battle of Iwo Jima. After the war he played in the Negro Leagues for the Birmingham Black Barons, where he was a teammate of Willie Mays. Greason played one year in MLB with the 1954 Cardinals.

🐐fact: Mr. Greason is a living legend, and an American hero. I believe he’s the oldest living player from the Negro Leagues. He turned 96 last September!

Connie Johnson PSA Authenticated Autographed Index Cards. I wanted to mix in some autographs with the collection so I went this route for Johnson. Connie was a 6’ 4” right-handed pitcher. He pitched 3 years with the White Sox and 3 with the Orioles. He finished his MLB career with a respectable 40-39 record to go along with a 3.44 era. Johnson played for the Kansas City Monarchs at the age of 17. Won back to back Negro League World Series titles with the Monarchs playing with the great Satchel Paige.

🐐fact: “The most I made in a year playing baseball was $15,000. Players today make more in one day than I made in my entire career. But, I wouldn’t change a thing. We had a good time. We had a ball.” – Connie Johnson

Sam Hairston, Ray Neil, Jim Cohen 1991 Retort Negro League Legends PSA Authenticated Autograph. Sam was a tough one to come by. He only played in 7 MLB games, in 1951 with the White Sox. When I came across the card I bought it immediately. The original photo was from the 1948 East-West Classic, standing in the middle of his two Indianapolis Clowns teammates, Ray Neil, and hard-throwing pitcher Jim “Fireball” Cohen. Hairston played for the Birmingham Black Barons before being traded to the Clowns. Sam had an extensive career in the minors, hitting .304 for his career. After his playing career, we went on to the have a successful career as a pro scout.

🐐fact: Sam was a patriarch of a three-generation big-league family. His son, Jerry Hairston Sr. had a 14-year career in MLB. and Jerry’s son, Jerry Jr. played 16 years. When you count John Hairston, and then Scott, that’s 5 players from one family playing in MLB. What an amazing family of ballplayers!

Luis Marquez 1983 Fritsch – 1953 Boston/Milwaukee Braves. Luis was a tough find. I had to go with the ’83 30th anniversary set. It’s a pretty cool set with some good players marking 30 years from when the Braves moved from Boston. The set features Hall of Famers, Eddie Matthews, and Warren Spahn. Luis was born in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. He played 68 games in MLB, for the Braves, Cubs, and Pirates. He spent his early years in the Negro League with the New York Black Yankees, Baltimore Elite Giants, and the Homestead Grays.

🐐fact: Marquez was a speedy outfielder, who could hit, run, and possessed a strong arm in the field. He is the only Puerto Rican with batting titles in the Negro League, Puerto Rican baseball, and Organized baseball (AAA).

Willard Brown 2020 Dreams Fulfilled Negro Leagues Legends. I searched high and far for anything regarding Mr. Brown. I came across a reprint team photo of the 1947 St. Louis Browns team, but that didn’t do it for me since I wanted to have original content of each player. Brown played only one year in MLB (1947), at the age of 32 he had 67 plate appearances for the Browns. Since there wasn’t much out there I went with a card from the “Dreams Fulfilled” set. Graig Kreindler is a phenomenal artist who paints baseball players like I’ve never seen anyone before. His paintings of Negro League players are in the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. Graig did the original art for this set, so being that I know Graig and appreciate his work, I thought having a card from this set would be super cool.

🐐fact: Brown was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. The great Buck O’Neil called him, “The most natural ballplayer I ever saw”. Josh Gibson named him, “Home Run Brown”. A speedy outfielder, Brown hit over .340 for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1942 and 1943. The next two years he served our country in World War II. He was among those 5,000 ships that crossed the English Channel during the D-Day Invasion of 1944.

James “Buster” “Buzz” Clarkson 1986 Fritsch Negro League Stars / 1951 Milwaukee Brewers Player Panel Card. Clarkson didn’t make it to MLB until he was 37 years of age. Played in 14 games, as an infielder and pinch-hitter for the Boston Braves in 1952. He started professional baseball with the Pittsburgh Crawfords of the Negro Leagues at 23 years old, and finished his career with the Des Moines Bruins of the Western League at 41. Clarkson was another one that had me searching and searching, actually I’m still searching. That is what makes this project very unique, I’m always down a rabbit hole looking for more.

🐐fact: Clarkson was well known during his time playing in Puerto Rico. He won a few Caribbean Series championships with the well-known Santurce Crabbers. As a member of the Crabbers, he played alongside two future legends, Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente.

Milt Smith 2000 Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research (1957 Cardinals) and 1956 PCL Seattle Rainers Team Photo. Milt Smith was also a tough find. He played in MLB season for only one year, 1955 with the Reds (36 games). He did have an extensive Minor League career which lasted 10 years with various organizations. He broke into professional baseball with the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro Leagues. The Rainers team photo is an original and pretty rare, this one is black and white, but most of the time these old Minor League team photos are bright with colors, laid out with awesome fonts, and classic uniforms, the older the better!

🐐fact: Milt had his best Minor League season in 1955 with the PCL San Diego Padres hitting .338, prompting his call-up by the Cincinnati Reds.

Vibert “Webbo” Clarke 1957 Minneapolis Millers Program and 1947 Cleveland Buckeyes Negro League Retort Card (1992). Mr. Clarke was a Panamanian born left-handed pitcher who appeared in 7 games for the Washington Senators in 1955. He spent time with Cleveland Buckeyes and the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro Leagues. He was only 18 years of age when he made his first appearance with the Buckeyes. I did a lot of research on Clarke, and found the the Minneapolis Millers program on eBay. It’s in really good condition, and shows him on the roster page (even though they spelled his name “Vibret” incorrectly. On the Buckeyes card, Clarke is pictured in the second row, first on the left.

🐐fact: During his time with the 1957 Minneapolis Millers, he was a teammate of a then 19 year-old phenom named Orlando Cepeda (see program).

Sandy Amoros 8×10 1955 World Series Autographed Photo (COA). I chose this wonderful photo because of the significance of such an amazing play in World Series history. The Amoros catch on a Yogi Berra fly ball in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series helped secure the Brooklyn Dodgers a championship over the rival Yankees. Amoros had just come into the game to replace Junior Gilliam, who moved to second base to take Don Zimmer’s spot after he was pinch-hit for. Sandy was a lefty, so if a righty was playing LF, that ball falls in. Amoros made a play that would never be forgotten in baseball history, he fired that ball into Pee Wee Reese who doubled off McDougald at 1B.

🐐fact: Amoros was born in Cuba, he stood 5’ 7” and blessed with superior speed. He had a solid MLB career, 7 years with the Dodgers, and one with the Tigers. Sandy played for the New York Cubans of the Negro Leagues. He was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978.

Hank Aaron 1975 Topps (’74 Highlights) PSA 6. I purchased this card a week before the great Henry Aaron passed away. I wanted to use this card for my project because of the significance of breaking Babe Ruth’s HR record. Notice the card number is #1, Hank will always be number one in my HR record book. Hank started his professional career in the Negro Leagues with the Indianapolis Clowns. 18 years-old, scrawny, and hitting cross-handed back then (yes, cross-handed!!). In 1952 he led the Negro American League in average, a decent .467. Hank went on to accomplish nothing but greatness, on and off the field. We’ll miss you Hank!

🐐fact: “The only man I idolize more than myself.” – Muhammed Ali on Hank Aaron.

Well thats all for now folks, I hope you enjoyed the “3rd Inning”. We’re headed to the 5th, see you soon!

The Story Behind The Card – The A-Rod Redemption Tour (Chapter 3)

“I did. I did throw at him.”

Ryan Dempster – 2016

Original Photo Taken on 8/18/2013 – Card Made With Rookies App

I could not say – Yes – fast enough when a good friend and Red Sox season ticket holder asked me if I wanted to accompany him to a Yankees game on August 18th back in 2013. Not only was this an opportunity to see The Boston Strong team that was helping a city to heal from the marathon bombing tragedy play a key game during a tight division race, but WE WERE GOING TO BE ABLE TO WATCH BATTING PRACTICE ON THE FIELD! The “On The Field” perk was one of the benefits of being a season ticket holder.

I was looking forward to the game for weeks. A Red Sox and Yankees game is always entertaining, no matter what the outcome, and it was going to my only opportunity to see Mariano Rivera on his farewell tour.

Things got even more interesting when Alex Rodriguez on August 5, 2013 returned to the Yankees line up after recovering from hip surgery and a subsequent quad strain. On the same day MLB announced that he would be suspended (pending an appeal) for the entire 2014 season due to his part in the Biogenesis PED scandal. Alex and the Yankee front office were also at war. Alex claiming that the team mishandled his hip injury back in 2012 and the team claiming he violated league rules when he got a second opinion for his quad injury.

Leading up to the August 18th game I read several news stories that Alex was trying to make amends with fans by spending time before games signing autographs.

Game Day

On game day I came prepared to get signatures of both the Sandman and A-Rod, as well as close up photos of the players. I brought to the park my camera, a baseball, and a number of 2007 Topps cards of Yankee players that were still on the 2013 team.

My friend and I got to the park early and were given wrist bands and escorted through an open gate onto the field. We watched the home-town team take batting practice and then made our way to a choice spot close to the steps of the Yankees dugout. As advertised, A-Rod was one of the first players on the field and he immediately started signing autographs. I handed him my baseball which he signed.

I was also able to get signatures of Robinson Cano and Joe Girardi on the baseball. My friend spotted Brian Cashman coming out of the dugout. I asked Brian if he would sign the baseball. He grabbed the baseball – saw A-Rod’s signature – turned the ball over 180 degrees – and signed on a spot far away from the A-Rod’s autograph.

Original Photo Taken on 8/18/2013 – Card Made With Rookies App
Original Photo Taken on 8/18/2013 – Card Made With Rookies AppJoe
Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman autographs on baseball. Alex Rodriguez autograph not visible.

Due to my own ineptitude, I failed to get the Sandman’s autograph. Mariano was signing before the game, but instead of just handing him the baseball when he was almost directly in front of me, I took too much time fumbling through my 2007 Topps deck trying to find his card and missed my opportunity.

The game was wild. My friend’s seats are in back of the visitor’s dugout. Denzel Washington was in the house and sitting about 10 rows in front of us. Homemade Anti-A-Rod signs were in abundance.

In the second inning Ryan Dempster decided to administer some frontier baseball justice and after two near misses finally plunked A-Rod on a 3-0 pitch on his left elbow pad. Joe Girardi, who after the first near miss was on the top of the dugout steps, raced out to argue with the home plate umpire that Dempster hit A-Rod intentionally. Both benches and bullpens spilled on to the field. It looked like a good old Yankees and Red Sox base-brawl was about to take place. Amazingly, no punches were thrown. Girardi got tossed and Dempster only received a warning.

The incident fired up A-Rod and the Yankees. A-Rod came around to score in the second and then in the 6th inning crushed a 442-foot home run off of Dempster. The Sandman received a standing ovation when he came in from the bullpen in the 9th. He picked up his 36th save of the season as the Yankees defeated the Red Sox 9-6.

Original Photo Taken on 8/18/2013 – Card Made With Rookies App

The Card

Before the game I did manage to get a second autograph of Alex Rodriguez. This time on his 2007 Topps card.

A-Rod Signing my 2007 Topps Card. Original Photo Taken on 8/18/2013 – Card Made With Rookies App
Signed 2007 Topps Card

Collecting Glenn Burke

I spent last weekend reading the new Andrew Maraniss book “Singled Out,” which tells the story of Dodgers/Athletics outfielder Glenn Burke (SABR bio forthcoming). Of course, Burke was much more than the player suggested by his stat line, as the book’s cover reminds us. He is of historical and cultural importance for two firsts, one of which has become ubiquitous in the sport and another that remains largely invisible.

I won’t use this space to retell Burke’s story, though I will offer that Andrew’s book does an excellent job adding detail and humanity to what many fans might know only at the level of a basic plotline. Rather, I’ll focus on collecting.

I’m probably like many of you in that the more I learn about a particular player the more I want to add some of their cards to my collection. (I’ve avoided Jane Leavy’s outstanding Babe Ruth book thus far for just this reason!) What then are the “must have” Glenn Burke cards and collectibles out there?

Owing to the brevity of Glenn’s MLB career, he has only two Topps cards from his playing days, one with the Dodgers and one with the A’s.

For some collectors, that right there would be the end of the line. Others might add Burke’s 1979 O-Pee-Chee card, whose front differs from the Topps issue only by the company logo featured on the baseball.

As a huge fan of all things Aronstein (even his kid!), I also consider the 1978 SSPC Glenn Burke a must-have. (Unlike the 1976 SSPC set, these cards were only found as “All Star Gallery” magazine inserts and appear a bit less plentiful.)

Andrew’s book devotes quite a bit of time to Glenn’s journey through the minors, including one heckuva brawl that broke out between Glenn’s Waterbury Dodgers and the Quebec Carnavals. What better way to memorialize the incident, in which Glenn played a starring role, than with Glenn’s 1975 TCMA “pre-rookie” card?

Counting the OPC, we’re now up to five cards in all, or just over half a plastic sheet. To expand our card collecting further, we’ll need to look at Burke’s post-career cardboard.

Thanks to the tour de force known as the 1990 Target Dodgers set (more than 1000 cards in all!), we can add this card to our Burke page.

While other collectors might add it to their lists, I’m neither compulsive nor completist enough to bother with Burke’s 2016 Topps “Buyback,” which is simply his 1979 Topps card stamped with a red 65th anniversary emblem.

Beyond these catalogued releases, Mike Noren included Burke in his 2020 Gummy Arts set. The card fills a gap in Burke’s Topps run by utilizing the 1977 flagship design and furthermore memorializes Burke’s place in “high five” history (though readers of Andrew’s book will recognize that its image is not the first Burke/Baker high five).

I, myself, have added to the world of Glenn Burke collectibles, sending my own “card art” to fellow Burke fans.

Perhaps we will even see one of the Topps Project70 artists produce a Glenn Burke card before set’s end. Definitely at least a few of the artists are pretty big Dodger fans.

Either way, the universe of Glenn Burke baseball cards remains extremely limited at present. On the other hand, why stop at cards? There were three other items I ran across in Andrew’s book that I believe are worthwhile items for Burke collectors.

The first is this Dodger yearbook from 1981, whose cover features a Baker/
Garvey high five in place of Burke/Baker but nonetheless speaks to the rapid spread and ascension of the high five across the sporting world, if not society at large.

Another collectible in magazine form is the October 1982 “Inside Sports” that featured Burke’s coming out story, “The Double Life of a Gay Dodger.”

A final Burke collectible is one I never would have known about if not for Andrew’s book. As a nine-year-old kid in 1961, Glenn sang backup on the Limeliters album “Through Children’s Eyes,” released by RCA Victor in 1962. I wouldn’t be my life, but I believe Burke is the first kid in the row second from the top.

At the moment, give or take autographs that could potentially adorn all but the most recent of these items and excluding truly unique items, I’ll call this the almost full set of Glenn Burke collectibles.

A final category I find intriguing and perhaps undervalued is ticket stubs, in which case the following items would likely be of greatest interest.

  • MLB debut – April 9, 1976 Dodgers at Giants
  • First high five (and first MLB HR) – October 2, 1977 Astros at Dodgers
  • Pride Night feat. ceremonial first pitch from brother Sydney Burke – June 17, 2015 Padres at A’s

It also wouldn’t surprise me to see the Dodgers, A’s, or the Bobblehead Hall of Fame issue a Glenn Burke bobblehead one of these days. And in the meantime, there’s always Patrick’s Custom Painting, who did this Indy Clowns Hank Aaron for me a while back!

Hollywood Stars Were in the Cards: Part 2

1969 was the Year of Rico—on the baseball diamond, on the silver screen, on the radio, and even on Capitol Hill.

During this swan song to the Sixties, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a federal statute that eventually helped gut organized crime, was introduced as Senate Bill 30 by John L. McClellan (D-AR)—it eventually passed both houses and was signed into law by President Nixon in 1970.

In March, José Feliciano, who had performed the “Star-Spangled Banner” before Game 5 of the 1968 World Series, became the first native of Puerto Rico awarded a Grammy, receiving honors both for his suave, soulful interpretation of the Doors’ “Light My Fire” as well as for “Best New Artist.”

And in Fenway Park, Red Sox shortstop Rico Petrocelli enjoyed his finest season, establishing career bests in hits, home runs, runs scored, doubles, total bases, on-base percentage, and OPS. Erupting for 40 round-trippers, Rico not only tied Carl Yastrzemski for the team lead despite playing 8 fewer games, but bested Vern Stephens’ American League mark for long balls by a shortstop, set in 1949. Rico’s mark would stand until 1998.

Sabermetrically, Petrocelli’s value to Boston is reflected in his stratospheric 10.0 WAR—the highest mark in the American League and second in the majors only to St. Louis’s Bob Gibson.

Rico also should have won a Gold Glove for his deft defensive play. Baltimore’s Mark Belanger took home his first of 8 Gold Gloves, yet Rico outdid him in putouts, assists, double plays, total zone runs, range factors, and fielding percentage (an AL-best .981 to Belanger’s .968), while committing 9 fewer errors.

Rico further set a career mark with 98 walks—befitting for a year that saw the eventual Oscar winner for Best Picture, Midnight Cowboy, released on May 25, commencing what Joe Buck—that’s Jon Voight’s Joe Buck, not sports announcer Joe Buck—could have called the “Summer of Rico…Rico, Rico, Rico.”

“Rico,” of course, was Enrico Rizzo, the archetypal New York street hustler unflatteringly referred to as “Ratso” but who insisted upon being called “Rico” in his own Lower East Side home—a condemned tenement building in which he was squatting.

In walking more than he’d ever walked before (or since), Rico Petrocelli provided real-life counterpoint to Rico Rizzo’s timeless flip-off to a New York cabbie: “I’m walkin’ here!”

A native New Yorker like his on-screen namesake, Petrocelli had 67 opportunities after the film’s debut to use that soon-to-be-iconic line, though it’s not known if he ever yelled it at an opponent while tossing his bat aside and proceeding to first base.

Perhaps if the opposing team’s bullpen cart had crossed the base path right in front of him…

Given Petrocelli’s Brooklyn accent, it would be a genuine shame if he never seized the opportunity.

Oddly, Rico’s 1975 Topps card mentions that he walked 48 times in 1974—an extremely unnoteworthy achievement that would have better served as a Midnight Cowboy-esque cartoon on the reverse of his 1970 card, when the previous season’s walk total had constituted something other than ordinary…

Player Collection Spotlight – Brooks Robinson

I was in Little League back in 1985, playing third base. I had a game where I made a few diving stops to rob some base hits. After the third one, the umpire said he’s going to start calling me Brooks Robinson. I had no idea who he was, so I just thanked him and went about my day.

In the days and weeks that followed, I started to do some research. During the rain delays on Brewer telecasts they used to show old World Series highlights. I watched the 1970 highlights, from Robinson robbing Lee May in Game 1 to gobbling up a ground ball from Pat Corrales for the final out in Game 5. I was sold.

Robinson is another of the great defenders that I admire, along with Ozzie Smith, Pudge Rodriguez, and to some extent Jim Gantner. He was signed by the Orioles in 1955 and played for 23 seasons. He was an 18-time All-Star and racked up 16 Gold Gloves, more than any other position player. His defensive prowess is legendary and he earned the nickname of Human Vacuum Cleaner.

For those who have been following my posts, you know that I collect Topps Flagship, Traded, and Update sets. Starting in December, I have added Fleer, Donruss, Upper Deck, and Score to my player collections. This has added just one card for my Brooks Robinson set, his 1963 Fleer #4.

That is one of four cards that are missing from my collection. The others are his rookie card, 1957 Topps #328, and cards #600 and #531 from 1967 Topps. His rookie card is out of my price range and the two from 1967 have been hard to find. The Fleer card is a new target for me, so I do not know much about it yet.

There are a total of 39 Brooks Robinson cards that fit my collecting criteria, 38 Topps and 1 Fleer. I have 35 of them. My favorite among them is 1973 #90. It appears that the picture was snapped right after a pitch, as he is in the process of standing up after being set for the pitch.

My next favorite is 1976 #95. Surprisingly, it is the only other base card that has him with his glove on. (For non-base, also see his 1971 #331 World Series highlight card.) I also like the Oriole hat with the white front panel and orange brim.

My least favorite is 1958 Topps #307. Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s an awesome card. I just don’t like the face he’s making.

So here is my Brooks Robinson collection. I’m hoping to get at least one of the missing ones this year. Maybe I’ll use the next stimulus check on that 1957 rookie card.

Unpacking the Mystery Box from Uncle Dan: 1990 Kmart Topps set

At least once or twice a year, my wife visits her uncle and comes back with a box of mystery for me.  Usually, the boxes of mystery hold a wide assortment of baseball cards or bobbleheads, or something to that effect.  My wife’s uncle is in the antique business and operates a number of estate sales, which means he visits homes where the occupants are looking to unload various merchandise for said estate sales.  The uncle, every so kind to me, keeps an eye out for baseball stuff.  He finds cards, and bobbleheads, and assorted things as I mentioned.  Kinda wished he’d come across gloves and bats, too!  That’d be fun! 

Recently he gave me a huge box of 1980s/1990s basketball cards and football cards.  Those things are a complete mystery to me, which means the box is sitting on a shelf waiting for me to trade them somewhere.  It’s funny to have such a distain for those, but an absolute worship for baseball cards. 

Anyway, the uncle’s current box of mystery held quite a few intriguing surprises.  One of the more interesting things included a 1990 Kmart Topps box of 33 baseball cards.  The box reads: “Collectors’ Edition Baseball Superstars Photo Cards” [that include] 33 super gloss photo cards with bubble gum.”    The set includes:

NATIONAL LEAGUE SUPERSTARS

1. Will Clark

2. Ryne Sandberg

3. Howard Johnson

4. Ozzie Smith

5. Tony Gwynn

6. Kevin Mitchell

7. Jerome Walton

8. Craig Biggio

9. Mike Scott

10. Dwight Gooden

11. Sid Fernandez

12. Joe Magrane

13. Jay Howell

14. Mark Davis

15. Pedro Guerrero

16. Glenn Davis

AMERICAN LEAGUE SUPERSTARS

17. Don Mattingly

18. Julio Franco

19. Wade Boggs

20. Cal Ripken, Jr.

21. Jose Canseco

22. Kirby Puckett

23. Rickey Henderson

24. Mickey Tettleton

25. Nolan Ryan

26. Bret Saberhagen

27. Jeff Ballard

28. Chuck Finley

29. Dennis Eckersley

30. Dan Plesac

31. Fred McGriff

32. Mark Mc  Gwire

SUPERSTAR TEAM MANAGERS

33. Tony LaRussa / Roger Craig 

For a bit of background, sets likes these are produced by the Topps Trading Company, and distributed through the Kmart department stores.  Each card features a masthead with the Kmart logo on the upper left side, with the designation of the year and the player’s league on the top right side.  The SUPERSTARS logo is imposed in the middle of the masthead with the player’s name and position imprinted on the third line.  The player photo and Topps logo comprise the majority of the card with a blue thin border.  A simple presentation of player stats with a fast fact are included on the reverse side with a red background.

The cards themselves are still glossy with sharp corners, and overall in very good shape.  Near mint, I would say.  I wasn’t paying much attention to baseball in 1989, save for the World Series, as I struggled through graduate school, so flipping through the cards was a bit educational.  Great to see Will “The Thrill” Clark (card #1).  A favorite from my hometown Giants.  It’s always weird to see Pedro Guerrero (card #15) in a Cardinal uniform, still thinking of him as a Dodger.  I had to flip the card over to see when he changed team.  Oh, about 60 games into that season.  That’s right, recollecting to myself.  And Fred McGriff, “Crime Dog” (card #31)!  He was with the Blue Jays before his days with the Braves.  That’s right, nodding my head.  The funny about these recollections is that you want to stop what you’re doing and open a browser to run a quick search on that player of interest.  Thank goodness for high-speed Internet and Baseball-Reference.com! 

I think the fun thing about these box sets is the discovery, itself.  Cracking open the box, flipping through the cards, and wondering about the players.  It’s a treasure chest!  I’m looking forward to rummaging through that box from Uncle Dan and finding my next discovery.    

Jim Abbott and Rookie Cards

During one of the never-ending discussions about rookie cards and what constitutes them I had a realization that when I was a kid there were four different completely-defensible Topps Rookie Card possibilities for a player to have. Those four are:

  1. A team USA card which is part of Flagship or Traded and features the player before he turned pro.
  2. A Flagship #1 Draft Pick card that features him as a brand-new professional who has yet to play professionally.
  3. A Topps Traded card that marks his MLB debut.
  4. A post-debut Flagship Topps card that marks his first appearance as a MLB player in a flagship set.

It’s worth noting here that, both personally and as one of the editors of this blog, I encourage everyone to decide what counts for you and treat neither the RC badge nor any price guide’s ruling as gospel. I’ve encountered collectors who choose every different option here and have seen plenty of Twitter chops busting (or worse) when differing opinions encounter each other.

Anyway I looked at these options and immediately began wondering if there were any players who had all four types of Rookie Cards. It turns out that there’s not a huge checklist to pick from.

Team USA cards are only part of 1985 Topps, 1988 Traded, 1991 Traded, 1992 Traded, and 1993 Traded. The 1985 predate the #1 Draft cards and of the rest, not all those guys who made it were actually #1 Draft Picks. While I did not click through everyone’s name, I did check  the obvious choices. Much to my surprise the only name I found that had all four cards was Jim Abbott.

His 1988 Topps Traded USA card is a classic. I remember watching Team USA practice at Sunken Diamond in Stanford back before the Olympics and not believing the people who were talking about a one-handed pitcher. Did. Not. Compute.

When I got the 1988 Traded set that winter though, finding the Team USA cards inside was a fantastic surprise. The stars and stripes twist on the team name was a lot of fun and the entire set gave me my first sense of the addiction of prospecting. Plus they had even won the gold medal this time.

In 1989, the #1 Draft Picks cards were a similar breath of fresh air to me. Yes, both the USA and Draft Picks cards are ideas that can be found in 1985 Topps but the 1989 version is also a prospecting thing.* Seeing the college uniforms was fun but the real appeal was the sense of promise that this was the guy your team had decided to bet its future on.

*A couple years later I would realize that I should take these cards to Minor League games and try to get them signed.

That this subset was coincidental to Scott Boras sort of breaking Draft Pick signing bonuses also explains why it resonated so much with me. Draft Picks were big news. So not just the future of the club but also part of the big signing contract buzz as well.

Abbott ended up being one of those guys who stormed through the minors and made it to to the show super-fast. That his Traded “MLB debut” card* is the same season as his #1 Draft Pick card is impressive as hell. I like the fact that this would normally be an XRC but he already has two “Rookie” cards which pre-date it.

*I call this an MLB debut card because cards of rookies who debuted in MLB that year has always been half of what Traded is about. Topps did release its first official MLB debut set in 1989 as well. This is a confusing set since it’s listed as 1989 but uses the 1990 design. Also I’ve not come across any collectors who treat any of those cards as rookie cards whether they were release in the MLB Debut set or as part of Update. But yes Abbott has a card in that set as well.

It’s worth noting here that Abbott has cards from other late-season sets like Bowman, Fleer Update, Score Traded, and Upper Deck Extended. This suggests that the Topps Traded card has the most-logical claim as the definitive Topps Rookie Card since that’s where the manufacturer consensus is.

But for people like me who prefer the base flagship cards, Abbott’s 1990 Topps card, complete with Rookie Cup, is the old-school choice. A card you can pull from packs and on which, when you turn it over, you find a single line of Major League stats.

For a lot of players this is the best they could ever hope to get as their rookie card. For Abbott though it probably comes in a distant fourth when ranking which of his cards people consider to be his rookie card. It’s neither his first flagship card nor his first card as a Major League player. And it definitely wouldn’t qualify for the RC badge in today’s hobby.

An Appealing Set

I find myself in what’s become a usual position, wondering what to pursue. I’m winding down six sets (I need one card to finish each of four sets, eight for another and 10 for the last). There’s not enough on my want lists to keep me constantly in the game.

So, I scoured Standard Catalog for ideas. Nothing too big, yet. Nothing too expensive. I found what I was looking for – the 1963 Topps Peel-offs. A non-numbered checklist of 46 insert stickers. Perfect!

The Peel-offs are 1 ¼” X 2 ¾”. They’re smaller than a card, but seem big due to the oversized head. Colorful, nice, and fit my criteria.

Each Peel-off comes in two varieties – with instructions and without (blanks).

The blank backs are harder to come by, though the Harmon Killebrew I bought is blank backed and carried no price premium. It’s in the instructions where we find the “peel-off” name. If they were all blank backed, would they be called “Blanks?” Probably not; we’d refer to them as “Stickers,” as Topps did on the box.

This whole project started innocently enough, when I bought a Ken Hubbs to avoid postage fees. The price of the late Cubbie put me over the minimum order threshold. Something about the look of the thing stuck. I’d never seen one before and I liked it.

There are a couple of problems with these. One, cuts can be inconsistent. I’m finding I don’t mind terribly much. What’s weird is you can have the whole image while still seeing signs of the adjacent player on the sheet (see Cepeda in the group shot. Whose ear is peeking in?).

Two, I like my cards crease free, but all of these have a bump in the middle that aligns with where the two back papers meet. It’s a sort of nice character flaw, a bit of a wave that is distinct but unobtrusive.

To date (about a month into it), I’m finding progress solid and prices reasonable. It helps that more than half of the checklist are commons/lesser stars, easily gettable at $2-3. Even many Hall of Famers are less than $10. I’ve been told it’s a tough set to put together, and that sounds like it might be true. I imagine a lot of these ended up on book covers and bikes. I haven’t encountered any issues yet, though Mantle will cost me (as he always does).

From that initial Hubbs buy, I’m now halfway through, 23/46 either in hand or on their way. These will keep me busy, for a little while, until I figure out the next big project (1965 Topps Baseball? 1958? Hostess sets? Vintage Hockey?)

From the Negro League to MLB

1st inning – 

My name is Joe Genovese, curator and founder of the popular @GoatJerseys Twitter handle. I fell in love with jerseys as a kid in the late 70s and early 80s. The uniforms back then were full of wonderful colors, stirrups, and neatly fitted pants and jerseys.

My mother was a huge Yankees fan, and started buying me baseball cards in 1978 when I was a little over four years old. I’m thankful she introduced me to a hobby I would enjoy for many years. As High School set in, hanging out with girls and friends became more important than buying packs and trading cards. I stopped collecting.

Fast forward to March 2020, the pandemic hit and I was home like most Americans in our country. I was trying to keep myself busy so I went into the attic and stumbled onto my childhood card collection. As I looked through all the sneaker boxes full of sets and cards from 1978 to 1990, it brought back great memories. Like every kid in the 80s I thought my 1985 Topps set, Don Mattingly, Tony Gwynn, and Mark McGwire rookies would make me rich one day. I was always super OCD with my my cards and kept them in great condition, so I was happy to see they how they looked after so many years. Especially my 1988-1989 Jordan cards which were in protected sleeves, definitely gradable!

My then five year-old daughter started helping me sort through the boxes, and just like that she was hooked! We started buying some packs from Target and Walmart, and soon after I found an LCS that was close by. I had a card partner just like the old days, we traded, we sorted, and we drove the wife nuts! It really made me love the hobby again after all these years.

In saying all that, I decided to come up with a project that would keep me busy, but also one that was very informative. I’ve always been an aficionado of the Negro Leagues. The history, the players, stats, fields, and their remarkable stories. I had the pleasure of interviewing the great Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro League Baseball Museum. I knew if I had any questions or inquiries on players I could reach out. So I decided to start a project called, “From the Negro League to MLB.”

Notwithstanding the December 2020 MLB announcement, there were 87 players who played in the Negro Leagues and in Major League Baseball. Harry Chappas was a white ballplayer and he was signed to play in the Negro Leagues for the Indianapolis Clowns who were barnstorming in those days, sort of like the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball. I know some other players did the same, but Harry didn’t have to go through what they had, so I’m not counting him. So here’s the deal, my goal is to collect a graded card, or an authenticated photo, and/or a piece of memorabilia from the other 86 players.

This past September I started my research, about two hours a day on eBay, Google, PSA, Beckett, and any website or forum where I could find information. Out of the 86 players, 16 did not have a MLB card. Lino Donoso was only featured on a 1956 Topps Pittsburgh Pirates team card, and John Kennedy only appeared on the 1958 Topps Philadelphia Phillies team card. 6 players only appeared on one MLB card. As I searched more in-depth, I started to see that many of these players were connected from the Negro Leagues, to Minor League ball, and even to the Mexican League. So many of these talented ballplayers, not only African-Americans, but Panamanians, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans didn’t get their shot in MLB until way after their prime.

This project has become an addicting hobby, and I really wanted to share my journey with the masses. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I have.

Billy Parker 1972 Topps Rookie Stars. I started off buying some of the cheaper graded cards that were available and easy to purchase. Parker was my first, he was the last Negro Leaguer to play in MLB. Billy played for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1961, and like I said above by this time they were more of a barnstorming team, so technically Ike Brown (below) is the last to play. Parker played sparingly for the Angels from 1971-1973 as a backup IF and OF.

🐐fact: Like many back then, Parker passed himself off as five years younger than he actually was.

Ike Brown 1974 Topps. Check out the frames, mustache, and sweet Tigers road uni’s. (The background is from my old Pursue the Pennant board game from the 80s.) He played 6 years in MLB, all with the Detroit Tigers. Brown spent 9 years in the Minor Leagues, as well as time in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs.

🐐fact: Ike was a jack of all trades, played every position except CF and catcher. He was also nicknamed, “Showboat” for his slow HR trot, and aggresive approach at the plate.

Paul Casanova 1975 Topps MINI. Huge fan of the ’75 Topps set, and the mini’s are pretty cool. Love those Braves hats from that era. It was also Brown’s last MLB card. Casanova was born in Cuba, an excellent defensive catcher, played for the Washington Senators from 1965-1971, and with the Braves from 1972-1974. Paul also played with the Indianapolis Clowns during their later years as Billy Parker did.

🐐fact: Casanova caught Phil Neikro’s lone no-hitter. “After the game, I raised him up on my shoulder. We drank a 12-pack of beer and Phil gave me $1,000.”

John “Blue Moon” Odom 1972 Topps IA. Great shot of John in those beautiful Oakland uni’s from the 70s. The “In Action” shot made this card an easy choice. John had a 13 year career in MLB, 12 of them with the A’s. In 1968-1969 he earned back to back All-Star nods, going 16-10 2.45 and 15-6 2.92 respectively.

🐐fact: Odom played for the Raleigh Tigers in the late stages of the Negro American League. He was paid mainly “meal money” per day by cheapskate owner Arthur Dove.

Bobby Prescott 1960 National Bank Tacoma Giants. This is pretty rare (POP4 PSA), Prescott was one of the players who did not have a MLB card. He played in only 10 games, all in 1961 for the Kansas City Athletics. He was a legendary Minor League Home Run hitter, smashing 398 over his 20 plus years in baseball.

🐐fact: Prescott was born in Panama, played for the little known Jacksonville Eagles of the Southern Negro League. He also won a HR title in the Panamanian League in 1951.

Clarence “Choo-Choo” Coleman 1961 Topps Rookie Card. Really cool shot of Clarence in his catching stance. I’m always a sucker for the old rookie cards with the star in the corner, plus that catchers mitt and the clean Phils threads. Another player who joined up with the Indianapolis Clowns in the late 50s. Coleman played in only 4 MLB seasons, 1 with the Phillies, and 3 with the New York Mets.

🐐fact: Coleman was a catcher for the expansion Mets in their inaugural season. The legend Casey Stengel said about Choo-Choo, “I’ve never seen a catcher so fast at retrieving passed balls.”

Hal Jones 1962 Topps Rookie Card. Loved that “C” the Indians used back then. Hal played two years in the majors, 17 total games, all with Cleveland. He spent 9 years in the Minor Leagues playing mainly 1B.

🐐fact: Hal played for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1956, appearing in the East-West All-Star classic.

Ernie Banks 1980 Laughlin PSA 10. Another very rare card (POP7 PSA10). Not an expensive card, but I really love the look of this one. Robert Laughlin used cartoons to illustrate some really cool cards. Banks was a 14x All-Star, 2x MVP, and smashed 512 HR. I wish Ernie had a chance to show his stuff in the postseason.

🐐fact: Cool Papa Bell saw Banks playing in a semi-pro game and signed him to the Kansas City Monarchs. Played for KC in ’50, hit .250, left to the army for the next two years, came back in ’53 and raked .347!

John Kennedy 1958 Topps Philadelphia Phillies team. John never had his own MLB card, so this was an easy choice. I could not find anything on John for a long time until I came across his name in a forum while I was doing research. There I found out he was featured in ‘58 team card since he was in Spring Training with the Phillies in ’57. He played a few games in April and May of ’58 before being sent down. The more you dig, the more you find! Kennedy was an IF, and the first black player in Phillies history.

🐐fact: Kennedy played in the Negro Leagues for the Birmingham Black Barons and the Kansas City Monarchs where he hit .385 with 17 HR before signing with the Phillies.

Monte Irvin 1954 Red Man Tobacco. I love this card, one of my favorite in the collection. The Red Man cards are tough to find in good condition. It has great color, and it captures an awesome expression on Monte’s face. A lot of the Red Man cards do not have the bottom attached to it since that was the part you would tear off to get a free “Big League Style Hat” after you collected 50 stubs. Monte was a super talented OF who played with and mentored Willie Mays in the spacious Polo Grounds. During his time with the New York Giants Irvin hit over .300 3 times (.299 in ’50). Irvin didn’t make it to MLB until he was a 30 year-old. He played 8 years, 7 with the Giants, and his last year in Wrigley.

🐐fact: “Monte was the choice of all Negro National and American League club owners to serve as the No. 1 player to join a white major league team.” – Hall of Famer Effa Manley, owner of the Newark Eagles.

I hope you all enjoyed the 1st inning of “From the Negro Leagues to MLB.” 2nd inning will be up soon!

Don Sutton, 1945-2021

If you avidly collected baseball cards in the 80s, like I did, Don Sutton was a constant presence. From his last couple of Dodgers issues in 1980 and 1981, through his years with the Astros, Brewers, A’s, Angels and eventual return to the Dodgers in 1988, you never cracked a box of wax packs without getting a Don Sutton. The only thing that seemed to change was the color of his trademarked tight-knit and voluminous puff of curly hair. Steel grey for 1980 Topps to stark white in 1988 Score. Don Sutton always showed up and you were happy to have him.

Similarly, Don Sutton was always there for his team when called upon. In fact, in his 23 years in the Major Leagues, he never missed a start due to injury. Think about that amazing feat. He answered the bell through the presidencies of LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan without missing a single start. Also, Don Sutton did not just show up every four days, he excelled every four days. 324 wins, 3,574 strikeouts, a 3.26 career ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. An amazing feat, especially for someone who pitched in the shadows of other legends like Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton.

Perhaps the most amazing fact about Don Sutton is that he is the only Dodgers Hall of Famer who never played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Duke, Sandy and Pee Wee all played at Ebbets Field and Mike Piazza dons a Mets cap on his plaque in Cooperstown.

So, there he is, Don Sutton, standing alone as the only Los Angeles Dodgers Hall of Famer, at least until he is eventually joined by Clayton Kershaw. So, tonight after work, go on eBay and buy a box of mid-80s junk wax. When you get a Don Sutton card, and you will get a Don Sutton card, don’t rush by it to search for a bigger star. Turn over that Sutton card, check out his stats for yourself, and just appreciate his consistency and excellence.

Magnifying glass not included

Rest In Peace, Don Sutton.