A Trip Down Trader Lane

Mark Armour (the “Founding Father” of our illustrious committee) and I recently consummated a transaction in which we exchanged autographed 8” x 10” photos.  “Trader Mark” sent George “Boomer” Scott my way in exchange for Lou Brock.  Although this trade may seem to be in the same vain as Brock for Broglio, we both had two autographed photos of the players in the trade. Mark tried to get Brock for Lee Stange, but I held out for more.

Acquiring the Scott photo reminded me of the blockbuster deal that sent “Boomer” to the Brewers from the Red Sox before the 1972 season.  Seattle Pilots General Manager, Marvin Milkes, accompanied the club to Milwaukee in 1970.  He was dismissed after the season and surprisingly replaced by the legendary Frank “Trader” Lane, who lived up to his nickname.

In the 1950s, Lane was known for his multi-player trades which often seemed to be done just to shake things up.  Thus, Lane decided to shed some of the last vestiges of the Pilots to remake the “Brew Crew.”

The trade involved nine major league players and one minor leaguer. The Red Sox sent Scott, Ken Brett, Joe Lahoud, Dan Pavletich, Billy Conigliaro, and Jim Lonborg to the Brewers in return for Tommy Harper, Marty Pattin, Lew Krausse and AAA player Patrick Skrable.

In the 1972 card set, Topps responded to the deal in two ways: upturned head shots and airbrushed logos.  Apparently, Topps had a stash of Red Sox photos featuring players looking skyward. Only Jim Lonborg received an airbrushed Brewers cap. On the other hand, the three players sent to Boston have airbrushed cap insignia. 

The crack airbrush team at Topps did an excellent job on Marty Pattin.  His cap is either navy blue or black with the Boston “B” rendered expertly.  Of course, you must ignore the royal blue seats at Tempe Diablo Stadium in the background.

Tommy Harper’s photo, taken at Tiger Stadium, is less convincing.  The powder blue uniform and cap just don’t scream Bosox.

Lew Krausse has some strange stuff going on around his collar.  Odds are, he had on a Pilots/Brewers warm up jacket with gold piping.  Thus, he gets a blue and grey combo to cover up the gold.

Though his 1967 season is immortalized in the hearts and minds of all Red Sox fans, Jim Lonborg’s 1972 card will not be remember as fondly.  The sideways turn of the head complicated the formation of the “M” logo.  One “leg” appears shorter than the other.

As mentioned earlier, the airbrush was put away for the rest of new Brewers in favor of the “nostril” shot.  George Scott’s gaze into the Winter Haven sun or the Fenway press box is not a thing of beauty.  His cap is tilted so far back that the #5 inked on to the bill is visible.

Billy Conigliaro and Ken Brett both suffered the misfortune of having brothers who were better players.  Billy probably welcomed a chance to shed Tony’s shadow in Boston.  This trade would start Brett on a vagabond odyssey that would produce some true airbrushed gems.  Here is a link to a previous post on this topic.

With the leather-lined padding exposed under his batting helmet and a slight smile, Joe Lahoud’s card is a bit more interesting than the others.  Perhaps Joe is smiling over the prospect of more playing time outside of Beantown.

By far, the worst photo is that of journeyman catcher Don Pavletich.  He was apparently very surly at the prospect of another trade, having been dispatched by the Reds to the White Sox in 1969 and on to the Red Sox in 1970.

I would be remiss if I didn’t show a card (postcard with the Reading Phillies) of Patrick Skrable, the veteran minor league player the Brewers tossed into the trade mix.  Although Pat never made it to the big leagues, he was a master of placing the “Q” on a triple-letter space.

Which team came out on top of this deal?  Harper had good years with Boston, but George Scott developed into one of the most feared power hitters in the American League. Plus, when the Red Sox reacquired him from Milwaukee, they gave up Cecil Cooper.  So, advantage Brewers.

Solving the border crisis

A common complaint among vintage collectors who run across newer issues is that we miss the good old days when baseball cards had borders. Looking at cards like these 2017 Astros leaves us feeling (ahem!)…cheated.

The borders we overlooked as kids have come to symbolize all that was right about baseball cards. Joni Mitchell had us pegged. You really DON’T know what you’ve got till it’s gone. No, we’d never pave Paradise to put up a parking lot, but we sure wouldn’t mind a thin cement edge around it.

The borders on our cards have taken on almost a spiritual significance with “meaning of life” level implications. We ponder koans such as, “Is a card without a border even a card?”

The sages teach us that without nothing there could be no something. Cardboardismically speaking, the border is the yin to the image’s yang. Form needs outline.

The vintage collector therefore must find “border in the chaos,” else risk serenity and sanity alike. Should he even consider collecting cards post-2015, his best, nay ONLY, option is Heritage!

Whatever you hear on TV, friends, THIS is the real border crisis, but fear not…

Tengo un plan para eso…and it won’t even raise your taxes! (Checks new eBay policy. “Okay, so maybe a little.”)

Add just THREE CARDS to your collection and you’re gonna win on borders so much you’ll be tired of winning on borders.

1960 Fleer ted williams

Let’s start with Ted Williams. Compare his 1960 Fleer card with that of Hack Wilson or any other player in the set. That’s some serious border! Where some perfectly centered cards are said to have 50-50 centering, Teddy Ballgame comes in at 150-150!

Back in the day you might have found this card an eyesore, but that was then. Now you probably look at the card and wish the borders were even bigger!

1936-37 World wide gum Lou Gehrig

The second must-have for the border hoarder is the 1936-37 World Wide Gum card of Lou Gehrig. (Note that this issue is catalogued as 1936, but Matthew Glidden makes a compelling case that 1936-37 is more correct.)

At first you may shrug away Larrupin’ Lou’s border as nothing special, no different than that of teammate Dickey. Look closer though and you’ll see that Gehrig’s image comes to a refreshing end more than a quarter inch from the card edge. After unremarkable offerings in 1933 and 1934, World Wide Gum definitely put the Border in “North of the Border!”

1934 Butterfinger Paul Waner

Finally we come to the 1934 Butterfinger card of Paul Waner, the card that I believe sets the standard when it comes to border-to-image ratio.

While the Dizzy Dean image from the same issue flirts tantalizingly close to the card edge, the Waner card has more margin than Gould selling hammers to the Pentagon. If the card had any more border we might forget it was a baseball card altogether and assume it was a Home Depot paint sample for Gotham Gray. If Big Poison were any smaller on the card he would have been Little Poison.

Teddy Ballgame, the Iron Horse, and Big Poison. Three players who made the Hall of Fame by a wide margin, but even more importantly, three cards who made the wide margin Hall of Fame. Border crisis averted, at least for now.

When Brien Taylor Ruled The Hobby World

If you hear the name ‘Brien Taylor’ today, it’s probably in the way of some kind of cautionary tale. A lesson against getting too caught up in the hype surrounding amateur or minor league super-duper stars. A lesson that top draft picks, no matter how much of a sure thing, are never really a sure thing. For collectors, it’s a similar lesson, but one directed less at the athlete than at all the ephemera that athlete inspires. But while Taylor was never able to leave his mark on baseball, he certainly left a mark on the hobby. Brien Taylor made the hobby rethink its concept of rookie cards. He became the face of the hobby’s most venerable brand. His presence (or lack thereof) dictated when products were released and how they were (somewhat unscrupulously) dated. He revived a market for pre-Major League cards and store-branded specialty sets. He starred in what was, at the time, the most expensive factory set ever issued and was featured on what was, at the time, perhaps the most sought-after certified autograph ever released.

And within three years, it was all over.

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1992 Classic Best Promo #PR2

There are still those who swear Brien Taylor was the greatest amateur pitcher who ever lived. He was born in Beaufort, NC, the son of a stone mason and a crab-picker. Tall, lanky, and with a whip-fast left arm, he dominated as a high school pitcher. As a senior in 1991, the threw back-to-back no-hitters, struck out an obscene 213 batters in just 88 innings (nearly 2.5 Ks per inning) and posted a 0.61 ERA. He had a fastball in the high-90s, a dependable change-up, and a knee-buckling curveball.

Taylor had been nearly as good the year before, but had yet to break through into the baseball mainstream. Don Mattingly, however, was as mainstream as an athlete got in 1990. His break-out campaign in 1984, followed up by an MVP season in 1985, had both made put him in line to be the Next Great Yankee and helped to ramp up the rookie card craze among baseball card collectors and investors. Mattingly’s 1984 rookie issues stoked the fires of a building craze. People with money to spend on cards wanted Mattinglys, but even more so they wanted the next Mattinglys… the cards that could be picked up cheap, stocked away, and then sold for a profit. Mattingly was still a star in 1990 and the rookie card craze his sweet, lefty swing had inspired was still very much in bloom. But for the 1990 season, Mattingly stunk. He batted just .256 – 67 points below his career average entering the season – and his Yankees finished in dead-last place, losing 95 games. It was the worst Yankees team in 77 years.

By the summer of 1991, these three stars had aligned themselves: a once-in-a-generation talent, a booming baseball card marketplace, and an unprecedented bottoming-out of the most famed pro sports franchise that ever existed. In June 1991, the Yankees drafted Brien Taylor first overall in the amateur draft and card collectors saw nothing but dollar signs.

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1991 Classic Draft NNO

Of course, by 1991 collectors no longer had the patience to wait for a player to be wearing a big league uniform for start stockpiling cardboard. Trying to entice collectors with the hottest rookies as soon as possible, Fleer, Donruss, Score and the upstart Upper Deck had begun to include players in their base sets before their Big League debut. When one of those players, Ken Griffey Jr., became a hobby sensation, it was clear that the rookie card game had changed. Topps missed out on including Griffey in their 1989 flagship set, but did start a new trend that year with the inclusion of a ten card subset of “#1 Draft Picks,” players from the 1988 draft who were just making their pro debuts. When Jim Abbott jumped from the ’88 draft class to Major League stardom that year, the other cardmarkers had been scooped. Topps had him first and it was their card collectors were chasing. In 1990, Score followed suit and issued a 22-card draft pick subset and the revived Bowman brand issued a slew of recently drafted talent. The hobby hype was now following players into A ball instead of the Big Leagues.

Card collectors weren’t the only ones with money on the mind after the Yankees tabbed Taylor with the top pick in June. Taylor and his family had hired Scott Boras to represent the young man and felt insulted at the Yankees’ initial offer of a $300,000 contract. The top pitcher of the previous year’s draft, Todd Van Poppel, had gotten $1.3 million in guaranteed money from the Oakland A’s and the Taylors wanted nothing less.

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1991 Classic Baseball Draft Picks #1 – A collector told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1992 that he expected this card to sell for $100 once Taylor made the Major Leagues.

It took until late August for the Yankees and Taylor to agree on a $1.55 million pact, with Taylor signing the deal the day before he was set to begin junior college, and be lost to the Yankees. His professional status now meant that he was open to the cardmakers. Topps, Fleer, and Donruss had all hoped to include a Taylor card in their 1991 update sets, but had been stymied by his holdout. And when finally became fair game, it was The Scoreboard – maker of the Classic brand of board game cards and draft sets – that swooped in to the ink the super-prospect. Scoreboard paid Taylor $250,000 for his exclusive cardboard rights through the end of 1991 and his exclusive rights on minor league cards for a calendar year. Just months later, Classic released its 1991 Baseball Draft set, with Taylor at card #1. The company boasted that the entire run of the set sold out in six days and it was reported that the sets that included Taylor were expected to gross the company $30 million… thirty times what they’d made off their 1990 draft products.

That fall, Taylor reported to the Yankees’ fall instructional league team in Florida, where his stardom preceded him. He was featured in a 60 Minutes segment and signed autographs for members of the Green Bay Packers when they stayed at the same hotel that housed his team. He signed a lot of other autographs, too. Classic had cards of him in both the English and French language versions their four-sport draft picks set, including over 5,000 hand-signed cards inserted randomly into packs.

The media followed Taylor to Florida. Their reporting was complimentary. They noted his humble nature, that he mostly stayed in at night, always addressed his elders as “sir” or “ma’am” and that he did his own laundry. They talked about the Mustang he’d purchased with his bonus money, but also that he bought the car from the dealership where his bother worked as a detailer and that he had gotten a nice discount on the purchase. His biggest purchase, the papers noted, was a house for his parents, allowing them to move out of the trailer where Taylor had grown up. But there was a theme to the stories that made it clear that these were older, white reporters looking for a young, black athlete that didn’t push challenge any of their notions about how a ballplayer should act. They never said it, but it was clear that they wanted to hold Taylor up as an antidote to the Deions and Rickeys of the sporting world. Case in point: several articles mentioned with flattering intent that Taylor wore no gold chains. Neither did Todd Van Poppel, but no one was waiting to judge him by his neckware.

Near the end of 1991, Topps pulled a major coup and signed Taylor to another exclusive contract, making them the only cardmaker permitted to produce his Major League cards until he reached the Bigs, at which time he would, under the player’s union contract, be available to all companies with an MLBPA license. The deal scooped Upper Deck, who had been so optimistic about their chances of landing Taylor that they actually included his name in the preliminary checklists for their 1992 flagship set. As Topps promoted their upcoming set as the only one that feature Taylor in pinstripes, Upper Deck quietly remade their checklist.

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1992 Topps #6 – Topps had hopes for this card becoming their version of the iconic ’89 UD Ken Griffey, Jr.

With Classic’s deal still in effect until December 31, Topps seems to have actually pushed back the release of their 1992 set in order to include Taylor. But the result was a minor masterpiece. Finding their brand getting lost in the flood of newer and shinier released in the early 1990s, Topps had responded with a classic re-tooling for its 1991 flagship release and the introduction of its premium Stadium Club brand. Stadium Club was a smash and the company’s 1992 flagship reflected the changing tastes in the marketplace. Using beaming white stock for the first time in decades and featuring a clean, modern design, the set put Taylor front and center. In what might have been an homage to the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. #1 that had already become that company’s trademark card, Topps gave Taylor #6 in 1992 set, the first regular player card after the traditional Record Breaker opening subset. The card featured Taylor in Yankee pinstripes, the first time Topps had shown a draft pick in their Major League uniform. The kid is just into delivery: left arm ready to cock, right foot dangling over the red box containing his name, eyes trained at whatever lay ahead of him.

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1992 ToppsGold #793 – A forgotten icon of the Junk Wax Era.

1992 was also the year Topps introduced the first true parallel set with ToppsGold. The concept was stunning for its time – an alternate version of the classic flagship set, outfit with an etched gold foil nameplate. The cards would be found roughly one per wax box, making it an unimaginable task to complete a full set. But in the midst of the hype over this idea, Topps offered an alternative: a Gold Factory set, complete with a stunning card #793 – an exclusive Brien Taylor card, done in the standard veteran design, gold-plated and hand-signed by the young Phenom. The set, which retailed for around $250, was quickly selling on the secondary market for $4-500. The signed card itself was moving quickly for $100 and up. Taylor’s gold rookie – found one per 28,500 packs – was bringing $40-80 and his regular base card was a mover at $5.

But… were these really rookie cards?

As they had in 1990 with uber-prospects Chipper Jones and Todd Van Poppel, Classic had gotten the jump on the more mainstream brands by including Taylor in their Draft Picks set in the same calendar year in which he was drafted. The big companies had always waited until the year after the draft to debut these players. Topps and others had tried to produce a true Taylor RC – a 1991 release featuring him in his Big League dress, but were scooped by his holdout and then his deal with Classic. So, Topps decided to turn back the clock.

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1992 Stadium Club Skydome #184 – Unable to get Taylor into a 1991 set, Topps tried to pass this set off as being a year older than it was.

The result was the 1991 Stadium Club Dome set. Or was it 1992? Well, the set used the 1991 Stadium Club design and was issued inside a plastic reproduction of Skydome, home of the 1991 MLB All-Star Game. Each card featured a 1991 copyright line. Which made it outwardly appear as a 1991 release and its handsome card of Taylor (along with dozens of other 1991 draft choices) as a stunning “true rookie” of the biggest name in the hobby. Not so fast, said collectors. It was clear that Topps was back-dating the set to try to force a 1991 Taylor card. The set was not released until the spring of 1992 and it seems highly unlikely that Topps would have gone ahead with printing the set in ’91 while Taylor was under exclusive contract with another brand and then waited several months into 1992 before finally releasing it. Even if collectors didn’t fall for Topps’ scheme, they fell all over themselves for the set, which was going for $75 and the Taylor for $15 before the 1992 season had even opened.

Oh, right, the 1992 season. In which Brien Taylor would actually be playing professional baseball. After being the toast of the Yankees’ training camp, Taylor reported to the Fort Lauderdale Yankees of the high-A Florida State League. Just 20 years old, he posted some tantalizing numbers – 10.4 Ks per 9 innings, a 1.159 WHIP, a 2.57 ERA, and just three homers allowed in 161 innings.

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1992 Upper Deck Minor League Promo #1 – After being forced to pull Taylor from its 1992 MLB set, Upper Deck got into the Minor League card business. This promotional card, given away at Minor League ballparks, promotes Taylor as the primary attraction in the set.

His performance was all the more impressive considering all the hype that still surrounded him. He was a shy kid, away from home for the first time, and everyone wanted a piece of him. And everyone wanted his autograph. He had signed more than 12,000 cards for the ToppsGold sets, and another 8,000 for 1992 Classic products and hundreds of baseball for teammate opponents and everyone else with clubhouse access. And he was asked to sign even more each day by fans that stalked him at every turn. “They think you’re supposed to sign everything they throw in your face,” Taylor told a reporter during the 1992 season. He was knocked down by autograph hounds more than once. After a game in Port St. Lucie, so many fans gathered outside the clubhouse doors that the team was briefly trapped inside. “People know the autograph is going to be worth money. That’s the only way I see it,” he said. “As far as dealing with people, life will never be the same. The bigger I get, the harder it will get. I know I’ll probably never be able to sit at a movie and relax.” As for his trading cards, Taylor admitted he didn’t even own one. “They must know something I don’t,” he said of the people shelling out for his latest issues.

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1992 Fort Lauderdale Yankees NNO – Taylor’s A-ball team had already wrapped up the 1992 season, and were in the process of relocating, but still wanted to cash in on his stardom by releasing this team set, available via mail order.

And as his debut season wound to a close, there would be many more options for Taylor collectors. With his exclusive non-MLB deal with Classic coming to an end, Upper Deck, Fleer, and Skybox announced plans to get in on the suddenly booming Minor League card market. Upper Deck promoted their set at Minor League parks late in the season, handing out thousands of promo cards of Taylor and Twins prospect Frankie Rodriguez. The Upper Deck set released in September and Fleer Excel dropped in December (oddly branded as 1992-93 Fleer Excel, another example of Taylor forcing cardmakers to get creative with their dating). The Fort Lauderdale Yankees even waited out the Classic contract to release their team-issued set of cards – which remarkably was not available until after the season had ended, as speculation abounded that the team would relocate for the 1993 season (it indeed would move). The market for Taylor was so intense that a franchise delayed the release of its annual team set until after it had played its last-ever game. The set was available by mail order and seemed to sell quite well. That fall, Topps also included Taylor in the company’s first-ever random insert set, a trio of cards featuring #1 overall draft choices found one in every 72 packs of 1992 Stadium Club Series 3. It instantly became a $25 item.

By the end of 1992, Taylor had been featured on (by my count) 48 different licensed trading cards and a handful of oddball, unlicensed, and magazine-issue cards. It was a staggering number for its time, especially for a player who had pitched in just 27 games professionally. By 1993, a bit of Taylor-fatigue began to appear. His card prices stabilized and, while his presence in the hobby held steady, it stopped being news. Searching the hobby columns that used to be regular features in newspapers across the nation, he was a regular item throughout 1991 and 1992. But by 1993, he faded away into the mass of other can’t-miss-kids making hobby news. He was still a Phenom to be sure, but he was a very familiar Phenom.

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1992 Stadium Club #1 Draft Picks of the ’90s #2 – The first-ever insert set produced by Topps.

In 1993, Taylor made steady progress, racking up 150 Ks and a 3.48 ERA for the AA Albany-Colonie Yankees. It was progress, but collectors and the Yankee brass had visions of Taylor dominating the American League in 1993, not holding his own in the Eastern League. And then in December came baseball’s most infamous after-hours brawl since Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin, and company roughed up a boozy bowling team captain at the Copa. Back home in North Carolina, Taylor got into a melee trying to defend his brother and blew out his shoulder in the process. While the team tried to downplay the injury, Dr. Frank Jobe, who performed Taylor’s reconstructive surgery, called it “one of the worst shoulder injuries [he’d] ever seen.”

Collectors began to dump Taylor’s cards and, as Taylor sat out the entire 1994 season, he appeared in just a handful of sets. Many of his 1994 cards mentioned the injury. “He will miss the entire 1994 season and only time will tell whether or not he can regain his top prospect status,” his Ted Williams Card Company release opined. By 1995, time had told.

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1995 Bowman # 17 – Only one 1995 release had room for Taylor on its checklist.

Demoted to the Yankees’ Rookie League team, Taylor struggled through 40 innings, walking 54 and allowing 37 runs. His fastball stalled and his curve had flattened. With the card market struggling to recover from the strike, companies downsized their releases. In 1995, just a few years removed from being such a force in the marketplace that his mere presence seemed to dictate time itself, he appeared on just one trading card – Bowman #17. He is pictured in a Yankees jersey cap, seating on a picnic table, wearing shorts and sneakers. He’s dressed like a fan or a training camp gofer. The backside mentions an “off the field mishap” and talks about hopes for a return to form that would never happen. Although he would hang around for parts of four more professional seasons, topping out at 27 innings (with an ERA over 14.00) in 1997, he appeared on just two more cards. He’s just 24 years old on his 1996 Best Greensboro Bats card, but he looks older. He looks tired. In 2000, he was featured in a team-issue set for the A-level Columbus Red Stixx. The only evidence the card exists is a listing on tradingcarddb.com. No image of it can be found.

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1996 Best Greensboro Bats #27 – Well into the ‘what if?’ years.

He allowed 11 runs in just 2.2 innings for the Red Stixx that year. It was the last time he pitched. He went back home to North Carolina with his five daughters and worked as a package handler for UPS, then for a beer distributor, and later as a bricklayer with his father. He ran into legal troubles and, in 2012, was arrested on charges of trafficking cocaine. Facing forty years, he pled guilty and served just over three. “Life will never be the same,” Taylor said in 1992. “The only way it would be the same would be if I dropped out today. Then everybody would forget me.”

A most valuable discovery

As a kid I used to dream about finding my way into some ancient attic and unearthing boxes and boxes full of old baseball cards. For whatever reason, I imagined I’d need to be on the East Coast somewhere, which made the fantasy all the less attainable coming from my West Coast mind, but it was still fun to picture thumbing through these old stacks of cards and finding Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and Joe DiMaggio if not Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Honus Wagner.

While this dream of mine never did come true, I did have the pleasure of meeting a fellow collector this year whose real life experience came awfully close.

David grew up in the Kansas City area but lives in Phoenix these days. Like me, he fell for card collecting hook, line, and sinker from the moment he was introduced to his first baseball cards, despite the fact he barely knew a thing about baseball or any of the players. While my love affair with cards and baseball began with 1978 Topps, David got going five years earlier and still remembers the thrill of pulling a 1973 Topps Hank Aaron card.

David was mainly a Hank Aaron and Kansas City Royals collector early on and started a paper route to feed his fix for packs. Once Hank Aaron retired, David branched out into the older stuff, mainly pursuing pre-1973 Hank Aaron cards and other stars he’d heard about from his dad. David was even lucky enough to have a teacher at school who would trade old 1950s cards for contemporary stars. While these swaps usually worked in David’s favor, he harbors at least some regret over a 1975 Gary Carter RC for 1955 Topps Tom Hurd swap.

Fast forward a bit and David eventually headed off to college. Like so many other collectors he left his cards at home–Hank Aaron, George Brett, Tom Hurd, and all. With David away at school his parents downsized and moved most of his stuff into storage. After his father passed away, David’s mother forgot about the storage unit, whose contents were ultimately sold off to the highest bidder.

The end. Right?

Not quite. I’ll let David’s twitter bio take over from here.

“Recently found my entire card collection I thought was long lost. Sharing my find w/twitter…”

While I grew up dreaming of finding boxes and boxes full of incredible cards, David actually did it. The twist, of course, is that the boxes he found were his own!

Evidently, David’s dad didn’t want to put the cards in storage and had a friend of his hang onto them instead. David remained in contact with this family friend, who one day, decades later, remembered he had a bunch of boxes somewhere with David’s name on them.

David’s first few twitter posts as “Cigarbox Cards” definitely got my attention!

The first card David posted was a well loved 1956 Topps card of Mr. Cub. The next day David posted a video of himself rifling through stacks of cards including early Topps issues of Gary Carter (but not the 1975!) and Dennis Eckersley while a 1949 Leaf Ted Williams sat untouched in the distance.

An autographed Yaz rookie was next, followed by a Red Man Willie Mays. In the days that followed David posted a Brett RC mini, a 1954 Bowman Mickey Mantle, and a 1974 Topps Tom Seaver. I always enjoyed the way David juxtaposed his featured finds with background elements that enhanced their presentation. This is a theme we’ll come back to shortly when I show you what David’s up to now.

Most of the online replies consisted of emojis like 😱 and 🔥 🔥 🔥 but I suspect certain collectors were wondering if David’s cigar box finds included any really good cards.

Then David dropped the Hammer.

And even more Hammer! (Click blue arrow twice to activate.)

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Though the cards are not mine, I still feel a thrill each time David posts an amazing card from his original collection. To think how close these cards came to being lost forever and then to see them pop up in my twitter feed is downright magical. It’s like flipping through my own personal attic find, even if the cards aren’t mine to keep–just like the dreams I had as a kid right down to waking up in the morning with the same collection I had before!

Beyond showing off some great cards David introduced some fun interactive features to his posts, among them his “Out or Hit” series…

…or his “In Action” baseball card gifs.

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Of course it was only a matter of time before this happened.

The cards kept coming and coming, almost obscenely so, but what really caught the eye of many collectors was the creative ways David was finding to display his cards, something many of us spend undue time considering.

Here’s another one that really caught my eye with bonus points for the bunting!

And if you’re wondering what the most creative use for a yellow drinking straw in a baseball card collection is…

Or for the Yankee fans…

I could go on and on, but you’d probably have more fun scrolling through all David’s posts yourself. Other than of course SABR Baseball Cards 🤣, it’s hard to think of another baseball card account as consistently awesome as his.

As I consider his collecting story I come back once again to my own and that of so many other collectors. How many of us dreamed of that elusive find, those boxes and boxes of cards filled with stars of yesteryear? If you’re like me, not only did that imagined cardboard haul never arrive but even the cards you did have were nowhere to be found by the time you realized you missed them.

What I didn’t know when I shuffled through my 1978-80 Topps cards as a kid was that the boxes right in front of me would someday be more valuable than any cards I might find elsewhere. Even today the memories of those cards mean more to me than the actual cards I’ve purchased since.

This post (below, right) from David makes the point well and was ultimately the catalyst for my writing this article.

Let’s face it. You can dream all you want about things you don’t have, but few fantasies or realities will ever come close to that of your first love, whether lost, lasting, or in David’s case both.

Author’s note: For another SABR Baseball Cards article inspired by collectors’ online posts, see “Fathers and Sons.”

Endless stream of cards and magazines

Picking up a Street and Smith Yearbook from the newsstand or drug store was an annual rite of spring for many baseball fans.  Since ESPN and the internet were nowhere in sight, annuals were one way to obtain updated rosters and prognostications for the upcoming season.  Of course, the information was several months old by the time it reached the magazine rack. However, those of us in a non-Major League markets or rural areas especially relied on these publications to set the stage for the season.

In the 1970s, Street and Smith produced regional covers designed to attract fans of the local team.  Prior to the Mariners arrival in 1977, Washington State baseball fans received covers featuring California teams.  For instance, I bought this 1976 edition with Davey Lopes on the cover.  But New England fans would find the same content covered with the photo of 1975 Rookie of the Year and MVP, Fred Lynn.

While looking through both versions, I was drawn to the advertisements for sports card dealers. Obviously, sports magazines were an excellent method of reaching the customer base.  The 1976 Street and Smith Yearbook has numerous ads for dealers across the nation.

For example, mail order stalwart (still going strong in 2019) Larry Fritsch Cards in Stevens Point, WI, has an ad. The 1976 Fritsch ad is filled with tempting choices including the complete 1976 Topps baseball set for $12.95 plus postage.  This is on the expensive side, since most of the other ads offer the set for less.  Incidentally, $12.95 in 1976 dollars has the buying power of $58.44 today.  Thus, a kid had to mow several lawns or, in my case, return a huge number of beer bottles to the recycler to afford the complete set.

I distinctly remember ordering my 1976 complete set from G. S. Gallery in Coopersburg, PA.  The set was $7.95, plus a dollar postage.  I remember the postal worker (Mr. Copeland-it’s a small town) at the Selah, WA, post office having to redo the money order after accidentally putting “Cooperstown” on it instead of Coopersburg.  By the way, $8.95 has the 2019 buying power of $40.39 when adjusted for inflation.

Two other dealers in the magazine offer examples of the price range for the complete set.  Stan Martucci of Staten Island-who urges buyers to “Go with Experience” based on his 22 years in the business-priced his set at a whopping $14.  Meanwhile, collectors could shell out $9.99 to obtain the same cards from the only West Coast dealer in the magazine, Will Davis of Fairfield, CA.

In addition to new sets, the dealers offered sets from previous years.  Wholesale Cards of Georgetown, CT, offered complete sets from the 1970s in all four major sports.  Plus, you could pick up Topps Civil War, 1966 English Soccer or the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set.

Another merchant with a tantalizing selection of cards was Paul E. Marchant of Charleston, IL. The 1964 Topps “Giant” set was available for only $3.00. Also, SSPC sets could be had along with an address list for autograph seekers.

This ad uses the card of Glenn Abbott as an example for the 1976 set.  An odd choice since Glenn was just starting out.  I must point out that he would be the “ace” of the original Seattle Mariners in 1977, winning 13 games.  At the time, his win total tied the record for most wins on an expansion team.  The first to do it was Seattle Pilots hurler, Gene “Lerch” Brabender.

The Sports Hobbyist in Detroit offered a different way for collectors to obtain a complete set of 660 Topps cards in 1976.  For $10, they sent 1,000 cards and guaranteed that “just about” a complete set could be assembled.  A 50-cent coupon was included to purchase up to 40 cards to help complete the set.

Once a complete set was obtained, the collector needed some place to store the cards.  A nifty tote box, divided into 26 compartments, was one solution.  It was available for a mere $4.00 from ATC Sports Products of Duluth, MN.

Along the same lines, a Major League Baseball card locker could be had from the Royal Advertising Corp. for $2.95, plus 36 cents postage.  You could even send cash!  Note that Seattle Pilots outfielder Steve Whitaker’s 1967 card on the Yankees is front and center in the ad.

Although cards are not offered, there is an ad for the hobby publication, “The Trader Speaks.” I never subscribed to this trade paper but went with “Sports Collectors’ Digest” instead.

One negative feature of all these offers was the fact you had to wait four to six weeks to receive the merchandize in 1976.  There was no expectation for faster service, and no reason given for the protracted processing time.  My recollection was that it always seemed to take closer to six weeks than four.  This process explains why I am such a patient man to this day.

I will close with two advertisements that were ubiquitous in magazines of this era:  Manny’s Baseball Land and Charles Atlas.  Manny’s had the same format for years with many of the same products offered as well.  Of course, Charles Atlas offered to “make a man out of Mac” for decades.  I’m still trying to get his body building method to work, and I’m damned tired of bullies kicking sand in my face at the beach!

A vintage guy buys the new stuff

While in Portland a couple weeks ago I was lucky enough to have lunch with SABR president/author/mensch Mark Armour and baseball author/analyst/commissioner extraordinaire Rob Neyer. Despite our gawdy SABR Baseball Cards Research Committee resumes, Rob was able to completely stump us with some baseball card trivia he may turn into an article soon, so stay tuned.

Following lunch, Rob had to go back to work (THE WEST COAST LEAGUE DOESN’T RUN ITSELF!) while Mark and I proceeded to hit up a card shop in the Portland suburbs. Our eyes were mainly drawn to the shop’s vintage racks, but I also thought it would be fun to try something I hadn’t done in nearly 30 years: buy a pack of baseball cards from a current set.

In fact I bought two, one for Mark and one for me. In contrast to many of today’s buyers there was no big “hit” I was after or set to complete. Mostly I just wanted to re-live the thrill of opening packs and bring my baseball card knowledge at least a little bit more up to date.

What follows is a recap of my pack buying and opening experience, including my reflections on the cards themselves. I know the whole “what I got in my pack” sub-genre of baseball card blogging is pretty saturated already, but perhaps my contribution will distinguish itself by its utter lack of current knowledge.

the choice

I wanted to buy whatever pack felt closest to the “good old days” when you could get 15 cards for 30 cents or so. Of course there was nothing among the 2019 offerings that fit that description, though I suspect the shop owner still had some leftover 1991 Donruss he might have let go at that price.

The next best thing appeared to be 2019 Topps Series One or Series Two, but Mark already had complete sets of each. Ultimately we landed on the much pricier 2019 Topps Update, which I think had only been out a week or two at the time. Coincidentally, I had just the day before seen an article Ryan Cracknell published for Beckett that had cool looking cards of Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson, so I had at least a couple players I could hope for as I opened my pack.

The $5 price tag was at first hard to swallow, but then I remembered how I used to pay $3 per pack for Upper Deck high numbers in 1989 back when $3 was a lot more money in my life, so what the heck. Unfortunately, neither Mr. Mays nor Mr. Robinson made it into my pack, but the 14 cards I ended up with did exactly what I’d hoped they would do. They were fun to flip through, and they gave my ancient baseball card knowledge a much needed Update.

the results

The cards in my pack fell into seven categories. This was in contrast to the two categories (rookies, team changes) I remembered from the last Topps Update product (1984 Traded set) I ever purchased. All this variety felt overwhelming to me at first, but it probably made some otherwise ho hum cards seem more exciting. Here is how my pack broke down.

Team changes

My four team change players were Adam Ottavino, Jordan Lyles, Anibal Sanchez, and Yonder Alonso. Sanchez had just pitched a postseason gem, and I knew Ottavino mostly from his Babe Ruth commercial. Alonso was of course the wrong Alonso to pull this year and kind of reminded me of pulling a Kevin Bass vs Kevin Maas back in 1990 or a Tommy Boggs vs Wade Boggs in 1983. Of this group, the player I was thrilled to land was Jordan Lyles (not to be confused with his near namesake), who I’d written about in an earlier SABR Baseball Cards blog post.

With the season now over I can provide a quick update on where Jordan Lyles now sits in relation to the all-time worst career ERA record. When I wrote my original article in July, Lyles had an ERA of 5.29 through 851 innings, and the record stood at 5.37 for pitchers with at least 1000 IP. In other words, Lyles would not only have to get a little worse but also keep his career going another 149+ innings, neither of which seemed impossible.

Well, an amazing thing happened the day I published my article. Jordan the Pirate who had gone 5-7 with a 5.36 ERA became Jordan the Brewer (that very day!) and managed to go 7-1 record with a miserly (and record jeopardizing) 2.45 ERA. As a result he now sits at 5.11 with 909.2 innings in the books and may be a longshot to break the record unless he can somehow recapture his early season unmagic and carry it forward to 2020 and beyond.

Rookies

Thanks to a recent innovation, love it or hate it, I didn’t have to think hard to identify the five rookies in my pack. There was an MLB “rookie card” shield in the upper right or left corner of each of the cards. The players themselves were Harold Ramirez, Elvis Luciano, Darwinzon Hernandez, Oscar Mercado, and Devin Smeltzer.

At the risk of sounding unqualified for my co-chairmanship here at SABR I’ll admit to not knowing who any of these players were. (Feel free to let me know if I landed a huge hit and can pay off my mortgage now.)

What I did note was that all but one of the players had Latin names. Flipping the cards over, the four Latino players were born in Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and (yes I know it’s in the United States…) Florida. Likewise, none of the five rookies were African American.

While sample size here is fairly small, my pack at least hinted that the historic dearth of African Americans in MLB is not on the verge of changing. In reality, I would only expect to see the trend reverse when teams invest as much in our inner cities as they do in Latin America. I’m not holding my breath.

Finally, I had to at least check to see if any of the players were born in (gasp!) the 21st century, as if I needed anything more than aching knees and a giant bald spot to remind me of my advancing age.

Sure enough, my Elvis Luciano not only listed a February 15, 2000, birth date but indicated in the bio that Luciano was in fact the first player born in the 21st century to appear in the big leagues!

Party-poopers will no doubt impugn the coolness of my card and the quality control at Topps by noting that the 21st century did not technically begin until January 1, 2001, but are we really gonna go there?

Home run derby

Though I tend to root against the Astros as part of my 2017 World Series grudge, I was happy to pull an Alex Bregman Home Run Derby card. Before he was an Astro Bregman was an LSU Tiger, which makes me a fan at least by (imminent) marriage. He’s also just a damn impressive baseball player.

Perhaps as testament to my poor memory, it took this card to make me realize these guys don’t wear helmets when they Derby. I also wondered if Topps had somehow enhanced the veins popping out of Alex’s arm or if one of the game’s smaller players (at only six feet, 180 pounds) was really that jacked.

all-star game, part one

The “normal” ASG pull from the pack was Brad Hand. Without recalling the entire rosters of both leagues, I have to imagine Hand would have been among the 3-4 players I would have been least excited to pull. In fact, he had a helluva first half and pitched just fine in the Midsummer Classic. I’m just enough of a curmudgeon to view relief pitchers in the same way many fans view designated hitters.

All relievers do is remind me of how much I miss the old days of complete games and having no idea what a guy’s pitch count was. I know and respect all the arguments for why today’s game has evolved toward increased bullpen use. I just miss the old days from an entertainment perspective and because missing the old days is what old guys do.

What can you do though? Sometimes life just deals you a Brad bad hand.

all-star game, part two

The other All-Star Game card I pulled was of Twins ace Jake Odorizzi, who gets his own category due to the card’s gold-ish (but non-metallic) border and serial numbering on the back.

Now I can’t say I was as excited to pull this variation as I was in 1979 to pull a Bump Wills or (especially) in 1981 to pull a Craig [sic] Nettles. Still, the hobby shop guy was pretty stoked for me and even busted out a penny sleeve so I could protect my investment.

My high school Social Studies teacher used to tell a story that inflation was so bad in postwar Germany that a guy had to bring an entire wheelbarrow full of money to a hardware store to buy a hammer. Evidently the clerk told the man he’d take the wheelbarrow but had no use for the money.

I just assumed Mr. Johnson made the whole thing up, but then I just looked it up and found the exchange rate in 1923 was one trillion Deutschmarks to the dollar. Shows what I know, but I guess that’s why I went into baseball cards and not history or economics.

Oh, so what was the point of this detour? Right, the penny sleeve. Crazy as it sounds I’m happier to have the penny sleeve than the card! Behalt Dein Geld! Ich werde die Schubkarre nehmen.

2019 season highlights

Continuing the theme of “worst in class” cards for these categories, my 2019 Season Highlights card celebrated Albert Pujols and his 2000th RBI. Were I a modern fan you might imagine that my objection to the card was the now popular belief that RBIs are overrated and nearly meaningless. Nope! On the contrary, I LOVE RBIs, and you’ll never take that away from me.

Mainly, and perhaps unfairly, I tend to see Pujols as a juicer, rendering his numbers and achievements (in my mind) meaningless and empty. Beyond that the card kinda sucks in that the back is simply a too small to read checklist for cards 61-120. While I needed checklists back in the day, I have to imagine nobody actually uses them these days. First, the full checklist is always on the internet, and second, we’ve all been trained not to take a pen or marker to our cards anymore. As such, I’d much prefer to read about a highlight, however cheap, than see a bunch of tiny names and checkboxes, including the unchecked box for this very card, which is kind of funny when you think about it.

Finally, it’s hard to recall Pujols and his RBI totals without being reminded of the oddball recalculation of Babe Ruth’s RBI numbers. Hey, it’s one thing to turn Hack Wilson’s 190 RBI into 191 for accuracy’s sake, but it’s another to subtract hundreds of RBIs from the Babe just because the stat itself wasn’t yet official. Please, Baseball, do you even think about how long some of us spent memorizing all these stats and records as kids? I’m gonna say 4,191 hours!

none of the above (I think)

My Miguel Castro card didn’t seem to fit any of these other categories in that there was no special logo (e.g., Rookie Card, Home Run Derby) nor had Castro changed teams since 2017. Without looking anything up I’ll simply assume that Castro didn’t quite make the cut for the base sets, hence was still available to fill a slot on the Update set roster.

Perhaps making up for the card’s undistinguished status in the set, the card may well be the most attractive pull from my pack. Check out the bird peeking out of his jersey and the chains flying, along with what are either earrings, long hair, or really long ear lobes forced back by the strength of his motion.

NOW WHAT?

My main goal here was to open a fresh pack rather than actually add new cards to my collection. As such, anyone who does trades with me over the next few months will likely find themselves with one or more of these cards added to the envelope.

In the meantime, I’ll have to wrap my head around the fact that more than 40 years after starting my prized baseball card collection my rarest card is…

Good God, this can’t be right, can it?

Holy smokes, it is!

…a 2019 Topps card of Jake Odorizzi!

1960 Topps #321 Ron Fairly (1938-2019)

Why does the death Ron Fairly warrant a card obit? For starters he was a Major Leaguer for over 2 decades and a semi-star that I remember from my youth.

Secondly he was a SABR member remembered fondly by a couple of our fellow SABR Card Collectors.

Finally as a collector Fairly means something to the staff at Phungo HQ because he is a member of the inaugural Topps Rookie All-Star (TRAS) class. As you may know the Rookie Cup cards are one of my favorite collections and Fairly was one of the outfielders selected for the 1959 season which was honored in 1960 Topps.

1960 Topps #321 Ron Fairly
1960 Topps #321 Ron Fairly

There are 10 cards in the original subset which opens with Willie McCovey at #316 and runs through #325 Jim O’Toole. This makes Ron Fairly’s #321 the sixth All-Star Rookie Cup ever produced.

Outside of McCovey the two most notable players on the team are likely Fairly and Jim Perry.

The Topps Rookie All-Star Cup Team (Sporting News 1960 Apr 20)
The Topps Rookie All-Star Cup Team (Sporting News 1960 Apr 20)

Willie McCovey is on the left followed Pumpsie Green, Jim Baxes, Joe Koppe, Bob Allison, Ron Fairly (directly above Tasby inset) , John Romano and Jim Perry. Willie Tasby and Jim O’Toole who could not make the outing are shown in an inset bottom left.

This is a picture from a New York City banquet Topps held to honor award winners. For a more in depth discussion of the banquet (1963) click here.

The 1959 All-Star Rookie Cup team has had a tough year. Starting with Willie McCovey’s death almost exactly a year ago the class has lost four members in the last 12 months. John Romano (February 2019), Pumpsie Green in July and now Ron Fairly.

This leaves Willie Tasby (86) and Jim Perry who turned 84 the day Fairly passed as the last two living members of the original All-Star Rookie Cup team.

Flip

1960 Topps #321 Ron Fairly (b-side)

I want to open the discussion of the card back to the Fairly’s vitals at the top of the card. His DOB is listed as July 12 1938. Therefore Ron Fairly was just 20 years old when the 1959 season commenced and 21 when he was named to the rookie cup team.

Moving on to the text, it opens by mentioning Fairly’s election to the TRAS team and rolls into his pre-MLB experience.  Then we get to the cartoon.

“Ron Led USC to the National Championship”

Well I checked into it and yes he did. He was a member of the 1958 USC Trojans that won the College World Series. The final game was an 8-7 extra inning victory over the Missouri Tigers.

The 1958 CWS concluded on June 19th, less than three months later Ron Fairly made his major league debut with the LA Dodgers on September 9th.

1958 USC Trojans College World Series Champs (Western Canada Baseball)

Ron Fairly can be found in the front row four from the right. Checking the names one can find a Hall of Famer in that back row. Executive HOF Pat Gillick, architect of the 2008 World Championship Phillies. Turns out Gillick was a pitcher for the 1958 Trojans and teammate of today’s card hero Ron Fairly.

Sources and Links

Baseball-Ref

Western Canada Baseball

Topps Baseball Card db

The Sporting News

Phungo 1959 Topps Rookie All-Star Index

Scratch ‘n Play

The 2019 Topps Heritage set is based on the 1970 design.  As with past sets, there are limited number of bonus products that match the wax pack inserts from the featured year.  Thus, collectors might find a poster, a story booklet or a scratch-off, baseball game folio. The “Scratch-Offs” are one of Topps most unique inserts. Since you are itching to find out more, here is the balm for your “Scratch-Off fever.”

The 1970 Scratch-Offs are 2-1/2” × 3-3/8” bi-folds with a small “Team Captain” headshot on the front, 44 black scratch boxes in the middle, and the rules and a scoreboard on the back. When unfolded, the cards measure 3-3/8” × 5”. Teams names were not printed in conjunction with the players’ photos.  The fronts were printed in blue, yellow or red, but each player only has one color.

The game is played by scratching off the black surface with a coin, revealing hits or outs.  My recollection is that you never had enough boxes to complete nine innings.

By 1970, most teams did not designate a player to be the team captain.  Therefore, Topps simply selected a player for each of the 24 teams to be the “captain.”  By the way, Topps selected a different player for each of its three insert sets, all of which came in sets of 24.  (If memory serves me, posters were issued first, Scratch-Offs second, and finally the story books. If this is not the case, please let me know.)

Some of Topps “captain” selections are curious.  For example, Richie Allen and Tim McCarver, who were traded for one another prior to the 1969 World Series, show up as captains. Most likely, McCarver was originally selected as the Cardinals representative and Allen as the Phillies.  Based on the drama surrounding Richie Allen at the time, there is some irony in labeling him team captain.  

The most interesting of the small headshots is that of Boog Powell.  The negative is flipped, which is made obvious by the comic Oriole emblem facing the opposite direction.  Also, the reverse image makes Boog look as if he is ready to “toss his cookies.”

Most collectors remember that Topps didn’t attempt, even in the later series, to relabel the Seattle Pilots cards as Milwaukee Brewers.  The franchise shift (sob!) occurred a week before the season started, meaning that most of the cards, posters etc. were already printed. This means that Mike Hegan is depicted wearing a Pilots cap from spring training of 1969.

Fresh off his American League Rookie of the Year award in 1969, Lou Piniella got the nod to be the Royals team captain.  However, Topps didn’t reward him with a new picture.  No, “Sweet Lou” is saddled with the same squinty-eyed photo used on his 1968 and 1969 Rookie Stars cards.

Nine Hall of Famers are included in the set: Henry Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, Yastrzemski, Tom Seaver, Luis Aparicio, Juan Marichal, Willie Stargell, Al Kaline, and Tony Perez.

Strangely, Topps reissued the same 24 Scratch-Off cards in 1971 but with a significant difference; the scratch off sections are printed in red instead of white. They were distributed with the later series after the coin inserts. Thus, the Mike Hegan Scratch-Off means the Pilots lasted in “Topps World” until 1971.  Also, Richie Allen was traded to the Dodgers, resulting in a dual captainship with Claude Osteen and no Cardinals captain.

Checklists and dealer offerings don’t always make a distinction between the two issues.  Completing sets can be difficult if the description does not include the booklet’s interior color.

Surprisingly, to me at least, the Scratch-Offs were also issued in packs as a stand-alone product at the end of year in 1970 and 1971 in order to get rid of excess inventory.  I couldn’t find information on the number of cards per pack, price or distribution.

So, if you get the itch to scratch off a game, pick up a Mack Jones, grab a penny and go to it.  This game was cutting edge technology back in “my day.” We didn’t need no stinkin’ video games!

Sources:

http://www.oldbaseball.com/refs/topps.html

Cards of Cards of Cards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From our readers

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

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

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

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

Curiosities

Have you ever looked at a baseball card? Sure, there’s the players name, their position, the team … all the basics. On the back there’s the usual stats (batting average, RBI, HR, OBP, etc.) along with some of the players’ vitals. That’s what you see when you look at a baseball card.

If you look a bit closer, however, you’ll find a few curiosities. These curiosities could range from either a small variation like a different photo or a nickname instead of the players’ real name to something more of an oddity like players in odd uniforms (example: teams they never played for or teams they spent a very short time with) or players listed for teams that never existed (ex: 1974 Topps Washington cards).

While I was filing some cards away the other day, I came across several examples of cards of players in a uniform of a team they never played for. I don’t know if there is an official name for these cards. Some bloggers use the term “zero-year cards” as christened by a fellow blogger named “Dime Box Nick”. Nick runs the blog “Dime Boxes” and has been pretty good at keeping an ongoing list of these types of cards that are out there.

The question becomes then how exactly do cards like this, of players in uniforms of teams they never played for, come to exist? Well, the examples I found cover several difference instances of how these curiosities, for lack of  a better term, can happen.

preacher_roe

1. Retirement

Let’s start with one of the earliest known example of one of these types of cards, that being this 1955 Bowman Preacher Roe. Roe is best known for being a four-time All-Star with Brooklyn in the later 40s and early 50s with his best season during that time being 1951 where he went 22-3 over 33 starts. After the 1954 season, the Dodgers swapped him to Baltimore. Instead of suiting up for the Orioles, Roe decided to retire instead due to nagging injuries.

addy_russell

2. “Before They Were Stars” Trades

Bowman’s current focus is cards of rookies and draft picks and issuing cards of them in the uniform of the major league team that drafted them. Now, an argument could possibly be made for those types of cards classifying as a “zero” card but I’m going to focus this more on cards of those who have appeared in a major league game. With that, a more modern example of a “zero” type card is those who were traded before they were stars. Take this Addison Russell card for example, here he’s shown with the A’s who originally drafted him. But in July of 2014, he was traded to the Cubs and made his debut in April 2015.

ryan_madson

3. Injuries

Injuries are another modern example of how these cards come into existence. Let’s look at this Ryan Madson card. I’ll bet you didn’t know that Ryan Madson played for the Reds, right? Well, he actually didn’t. He was signed to be their closer in 2012 as Spring Training approached but suffered a shoulder injury during camp which led to Tommy John surgery. In turn, he never appeared in an official game for the Reds.

manny_ramirez

4. One Last Shot

If you take a look at the list I mentioned earlier from Nick’s blog, you’ll find one of the biggest causes of “zero” cards, that being players who are going for one last shot. Take for example this Manny Ramirez card. When I picked this up as part of a trade, my first thought was “I don’t remember Manny playing for Oakland.” Turns out, I was right. He never did. His last best shot at the big leagues came when he signed with Oakland in February of 2012. The closest he got though was 17 games at Triple-A before getting his release.

74wash team

5. Teams That Didn’t Exist

I’ve written about this previously and while they don’t fall into the direct pantheon of “zero” cards (as in players in uniforms of teams they never played for) they still have a place on this list. First, there’s the infamous 1974 Topps Washington error cards which feature several San Diego Padres as members of the unnamed “Washington Nat’l Lea.” team. Four years earlier though, in the 1970 set, Topps also printed cards of the Seattle Pilots. One small problem with that though, there was no Seattle Pilots team in 1970 as the ill-begotten Pilots packed up shop after one season in Seattle and headed east to Milwaukee to be rechristened as the Brewers.

I’m sure there are other variations out there of “zero” cards such as errors and what-not but I think I covered most everything else so I’ll pose two questions to the readers:

1. Besides error cards and the reasons I mentioned here, are there any other types of reasons a “zero” card could come into existence?

2. Is there an earlier example out there of a “zero” card besides the 1955 Bowman Preacher Roe?