Chaw Shots

Despite health warnings and minor league prohibition, Major League players continue to chew tobacco on the field and in the dugout. Players have become more discreet but brown expectorations still spew forth on the diamond.  Of course in the era when there was no stigma attached to tobacco use of all kinds, the distended cheeks of “chaw” chomping players were clearly pictured on many baseball cards.  Let’s take a journey down tobacco road and examine some classic stuffed mandibles.

No player epitomizes the “chaw shot” better than Rocky Bridges.  This ’59 comes complete with a squinted eye due to the cheek protrusion.  It is difficult to find a card or picture of Rocky without a “chaw” in.

Rod Carew claimed that a cheek wad tightened the right side of his face and help prevent blinking.  Here’s a ’75 SSPC showing a tightly packed cheek.

Nellie Fox was another player seldom seen without a “chaw” of “Favorite,” a brand whose advertisements prominently featured him.   This ’63 is a classic example.

Luis Tiant is associated with tobacco products whether it be cigars or plug.  This ’77 provides a good look at Luis’ wad.

Don Zimmer’s jowls were seldom empty of “Bull Durham” in both his playing and managing days as this ’64 and ’73 attest.

No matter if he was on the Senators, Twins, Indians, Yankees or Phillies, a Pedro Ramos card was guaranteed to feature a facial bulge as this ’66 demonstrates.

This ‘62 shows Harvey Kuenn enjoying a mouth full at the new Candlestick Park.

Jack Aker could never resist biting off a “twist” before having his picture snapped as this ’69 shows.

Although just a rookie, this ’70 Al Severinsen shows he is already a seasoned veteran of the spittoon.

This ‘64 Giant of journeyman Juan Pizzaro is typical of his jaw bursting card photos.

Perhaps the champion of the cheek bulge belongs to Larry “Bobo” Osborne.  This ’62 shot shows a very impressive load capacity.

Obviously I could feature many more examples, but I will close with Bill Tuttle.  This ’63 card shows Bill with the bulging cheek.  Most of you are familiar with the story of Tuttle developing oral cancer which was directly attributed to chewing.  Several operations left him severely disfigured.  He toured spring training camps in hopes of persuading players to give up spit tobacco.  He died at age 69 in 1998.  The fact that players still choose to chew despite all the negative health effects is mind-boggling.

If you have a favorite “chaw shot” card, leave a comment or Tweet a picture.

What’s in the box? *

Long before the advent of storage boxes, boxes created solely to hold cards–properly–sized and designed to keep corners crisp–collectors of a certain age relied on shoeboxes. (Collectors of a much older age relied on cigar boxes. I am not that old.) I still have a few odd shaped cards in 1970’s era shoeboxes. I don’t really care to put them in sheets. The old boxes have done yeoman service over time.

As I do every week, I got to thinking about what to write for the blog. Last week’s post on oddball sets got some nice traction, so I didn’t really want to write another post about that. There’s no glory in becoming the “oddball king,” but I started thinking about the old shoeboxes and thought a layer by layer reveal might be fun to write, and read, about. You be the judge.

There’s the box top, with a little note telling me what is inside. Or was inside. Most of those were relocated to an undisclosed site. I have no idea which of my mother’s old shoes were originally in here, but the red and gray of this box has been part of my card world for 40 years.

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Cover off, much to be explored.

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1978 Twins Postcard Set

Why? I have no idea. I think I ordered it from the team, but I’m really at a loss to explain why this is in my possession.  Sure, I love Hosken Powell as much as the next guy, but…

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1977 Pepsi-Cola Baseball Stars

In the mid-late ‘70’s, discs were everywhere. First, they seemed cool. Instantly, they were boring as hell, but not these, oh no, not these. The Pepsi cards were discs, inside a glove on a long rectangle! That’s something that caught my eye big time.

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It’s an Ohio regional set, which explains why they’re pushing a Rico Carty shirt as one of the top shirt options.  Get a look at the “save these capliners” tag at the top. Explain what those are to your kids.

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I don’t know if there’s a sheet around that would work for these cards. In the shoebox they remain.

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1976 Towne Club

I guess Towne Club was a soda maker in and around Detroit. I have no idea really. I just read that it was a competitor of Faygo, which I’m also unsure of.  The Pop Center was a store where people would take a wooden crate and walk around a warehouse to choose their pop. Seems like an idea doomed to fail, which it did.

This was the first disc set I saw and I bought it. Nothing to note; it’s pretty dull.

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1980 Topps Superstar 5” X 7” Photos

I’ve written about the 1981 version of this set in my Split Season post. The 1980 version came in two types – white back and gray back. Like the following year’s set, these cards are beautiful in every way – photos, gloss, size. Perfection!

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1986 Orioles Health and 1981 Dodgers Police

Nice sets, worth the inexpensive cost of admission.  The most important part about the Orioles set is that it proved that a Cal Ripken autograph I got in the mail was real. Cal sent me the Health card signed. Having an unsigned version was all I needed to know that he delivered a real signature.

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1986 Kay-Bee Young Superstars

Rob Neyer recently wrote a post about the Circle K set. These small boxed sets were the locusts of the card world. All through the ‘80’s, some company had a small deck of baseball cards to sell. These two boxes (why two?) have mostly served as a base for the Orioles and Dodgers sets, but I cracked one open and they’re fine, especially the 1971 Topps style backs.

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You can see beneath all the cards is a four decade old piece of paper towel, serving as a cushion between cards and box. No detail regarding proper care was lost on me.

 

*Congrats to those who picked up the Se7en reference.

Baseball Cagers

With March Madness approaching, let’s take a look at old Topps cards of players who excelled on the hardwood as well as the diamond. My focus is on cards that used cartoons to convey the players’ basketball prowess.

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The first card I collected with a basketball cartoon was the ‘69 Ron Reed. He was a quality player at Notre Dame which resulted in the Detroit Pistons drafting him in the third round of the 1965 draft. He would go on to play for Detroit from ‘65-‘67. Ron had a long baseball career in which he became only one of eight pitchers with 100 wins and 100 saves.

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Hall-of-Fame pitcher Bob Gibson was an outstanding college basketball player at Creighton in his home town of Omaha. He delayed his storied baseball career for a year to play with the Harlem Globetrotters.

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6’7” Frank Howard played at Ohio State where he was an All-American in both baseball and basketball. Frank was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors but decided to sign exclusively with the Dodgers in ‘59.

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Dave Debusschere was a duel sport star at the University of Detroit who signed with White Sox and the Detroit Pistons in ‘62. He had brief stints with Chicago in ’62 and ’63, finally giving up baseball after 1965 season. Dave had a Hall-of-Fame basketball career which included two championships with the Knicks in the 1970s. Incidentally, Debusschere was player-coach of the ‘64-‘65 Pistons at the age of 24.

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The first Duke basketball player to have his number retired was ‘60 NL MVP Dick Groat. An All-American in ’51 and ’52, Groat was named UPI National Player of the Year in ’52. He was the third overall pick by the Fort Wayne Pistons where he played for one year. Dick was not only a key cog for the ’60 World Champion Pirates but helped St. Louis win the title in ’64.

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Steve Hamilton was a two-sport athlete at Morehead State in Kentucky. He was drafted in ’58 by the Minneapolis Lakers where he played for two years including seeing action in the ’59 championship series loss to the Celtics. Steve had a 12 year MLB career as a relief pitcher primarily with the Yankees. By pitching in the ’63 and ’64 World Series, Steve joined Gene Conley as the only players to participate in a World Series and NBA final series.

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The aforementioned Conley is the only player to win both an NBA and MLB championship. After his time at Washington State University ,where he played in the College World Series, Gene signed with the Boston Braves in ‘50. He concentrated on baseball for two years before signing with the Celtics in ‘52. He only played for the Celtics for two years before deciding to go back to baseball exclusively. Five years later, Gene changed his mind and rejoined the Celtics. He won championships with them in ‘59’ ’60, and ’61. His one appearance with Milwaukee in the 1957 World Series made him a duel champion.

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Johnny and Eddie O’Brien were basketball stars for Seattle University in the 1950s despite being only 5’9”. Johnny was an All-American guard in ‘53 leading the Chieftains to the NCAA tournament. The twin brothers were drafted by Milwaukee Hawks but decided baseball was a more promising career path, signing with the Pirates in ’53. Both siblings played off and on from ’53 to ’59. Interestingly, both were position players and pitchers in the big leagues. Eddie and Johnny were the first twins to play for the same team (Pirates) in the same game.

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Another basketball All-American was Duquesne’s Dick Ricketts who accomplished the feat in ’55. The 6’7” Ricketts was selected number one in the NBA draft by the Hawks in ’55 as well. Dick went on to play for the Rochester and Cincinnati Royals for three years. His major league baseball career consisted of 12 games with the Cardinals in ’59. Many of you may remember his brother Dave who caught for the Cardinals and Pirates.

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Chuck Harmon was a star baseball and basketball player at Toledo in the late 1940s. He had a tryout with the Celtics in ’50 but didn’t make the team. Chuck signed with the Reds and became the first African-American player to appear for Cincinnati in April 1954.

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Danny Ainge was a standout basketball player at Brigham Young while playing baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays. He is well remembered for almost single handedly pulling off a last second win against Notre Dame in the 1981 NCAA Tournament. Ainge was awarded the John Wooden award as the nation’s most outstanding player that year. Ainge lasted three seasons with the Jays before deciding to devote his efforts to basketball exclusively. He signed with the Celtics in ’81 and went on to have a solid NBA career.

There are several examples of cards that mention a player’s basketball career in print. The ‘54 Jackie Robinson, ’56 Frank Baumholtz, ’71 Cotton Nash, ’74 Dave Winfield and several Tony Gwynn cards all allude to collegiate or pro basketball careers. If you are familiar with other examples, please post in the comments.

The Final Card

 

Starting in 1972 I devised a card collecting strategy to insure completing sets. I would purchase wax packs for the first two series. After saving my allowance and bottle collection money, I would purchase the later series through mail order. Many of you may remember that hobby companies sold cards by series. I continued this practice in 1973 before deciding to give up over-the-counter collecting and order complete sets starting in 1974. (By which time Topps was putting out every card in a single series.)

Completing the 1973 set came down to finding #154: Jeff Torborg. He was on the Angels that year having come over from the Dodgers in 1971. Torborg is best known for having caught three no hitters including Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in 1965 and Nolen Ryan’s first. He would later go on to manage the Indians, White Sox and Mets. Living in the small town of Selah, Washington limited my access to hobby shops that might carry singles. I’m not sure I knew that “Sports Collectors Digest” existed, where I may have found a “singles” source. Thus, continuing to buy packs was my only recourse.

The Selah Variety Store was a classic small town five-and-dime that served as the town’s sole source for baseball cards. This was an era when kids could ride their bikes or walk for miles around town without anyone being concerned for their safety. One spring Saturday I jumped on my bike and headed off in quest of Jeff Torborg.

Using the dollar my grandpa gave me every Saturday, I purchased nine packs at $0.10 each. I left the store and opened my packs next to the bike stand. Once again I was disappointed as no Jeff Torborg emerged. As I started to leave, a younger kid came out of the store with one pack of cards which he proceeded to open. Although I was a very shy kid, my need for Jeff Torborg overwhelmed my usual reticence. I approached him and ask him if I could see who he got. Sure enough, there was Torborg! Without hesitation, I snatched the card from his hand and gave him my nine packs. I jumped on my bike and rode off before he could register an objection.

The kid probably ended up with some great cards since first two series of the 1973 set contains such Hall-of-Fame players as Clemente, Aaron, Palmer and Frank Robinson. Perhaps the nine extra packs triggered a lifelong passion for collecting. More likely he followed the path of most “normal” people and gave up card collecting as he grew older. Hopefully, he hasn’t held a grudge all these years over losing Jeff Torborg to a chubby, weird kid on a purple stingray bike.

Dead Imitates Art: The Cultural Imagery of Fernando Valenzuela and his 1984 Topps Card

A number of years ago, my father gave me an 8”x 10” painting of Fernando Valenzuela’s 1984 Topps card.  The subject of the painting, however, was depicted as a calavera, a Mexican iconography image celebrating Dia de los Muertos, playing for the “Deaders.”  At the time he presented me with the painting, I was thrilled, of course, but also overwhelmed with other things going on around me.  I placed the painting on one of my shelves housing numerous baseball books and artifacts, and never paid much attention to it over the years.

Recently, among my random baseball card buying sprees, I came across the ’84 Fernando card and remembered, “Oh yeah, the painting.”  So, I went back to the piece and really started to look at it in a new light.  I found a new appreciation for the work not only in the sentiment that this was a gift from my father, who would pass away two years later, but in thinking about the painting as a reflection of my own culture and its place in the history of Chicano pop culture.

What we find is the intersectionality of baseball as art in the form of a baseball card, and the traditional and celebratory imagery of one of the greatest baseball heroes in the Mexican and Chicano community.

In Mexican culture, “calaveras” or skeletons, are ubiquitously depicted in “Dia de los Muertos” or Day of the Dead celebrations, in usually fun and happy scenes.  Dia de los Muertos, celebrated on November 2nd, is a time when we remember our friends and family who has passed on.  We build little altars, and make bits of food and desserts as an offering.  It’s a sacred time in our communities.  Calavera scenes in art portray normal life and everyday activities, just in skeleton form.  It might seem weird, but it’s home to me.

By the time the 1984 season rolled around, Fernando was having a pretty good start to his career.  He was 49-30 with an ERA of 2.55 in 97 starts over three years as a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  No one had ever quite seen a pitcher like Valenzuela before.  He was a baby-faced, pudgy kid with a wide smile, who could light up a room and galvanize a community.  As he looked to the heavens before releasing a killer screwball or a commanding curveball you wondered how in the hell he did that.  He just did.  He was Fernando!

In 1981, his first full season, the 20-year-old led the National League in games pitched (25), complete games (11), innings pitched (192.1) and strikeouts (180).  Remarkably, he won Rookie of the Year, the Cy Young Award, the Silver Slugger Award (.250 batting average with 16 hits), and was 5th in MVP voting.  Not to mention, he was an All-Star.  Over the next two years, the Mexican native’s star would continue to rise, as did his popularity.

For kids and families in East Los Angeles, Fernando had reached cult hero status.  There was an incredible sense of pride when he pitched.  It was as if he was pitching on behalf of all Mexicanos and Chicanos in southern California!  That affinity translated into repeated sold out crowds when Valenzuela took the mound at Dodger Stadium in those years.  As with most cult heroes, we must find a way to uniquely capture their essence in a visual medium.  Among the shops on Brooklyn Avenue and Whittier Boulevard in the barrio, Valenzuela’s image was everywhere!  This was pride.  Pride in him, pride in our community, and pride in the Dodgers.

Years later, the calavera representation of one of my baseball heroes came into my possession, thanks to my dad who knew what it would mean to me.  I honor his memory, and the painting created by Joaquin Newman, here in these words.  I hope to continue this discussion in a presentation at SABR47.  Mr. Newman has created similar works with several other ballplayers that I will also showcase this summer.

 

Field Generals

During the 1960s and ‘70s Topps included manager cards for each team. I’ve always enjoyed these cards due in part to the staged shots which made the skipper appear to be in the act of managing his charges.    A typical pose had the manager with his hands behind his back as if surveying the practice field.  Also several cards depicted a manager putting his hand to the mouth to create the illusion of barking out orders.  Another frequent tactic was having him point as if giving directions to the players on the field.  In addition many shots featured the manager poised on the dugout steps or near a batting cage.   Some shots had the manager appear to be giving signs.  Let’s examine a few of these classic poses by focusing on some iconic field generals.

 

The “Little General”

Best known for piloting the 1964 Phillies to an epic collapse, Gene Mauch had a long managerial career with stints in Philadelphia, Montreal, Minnesota and California.  The 1968 card (left) is a classic example of the shouting out orders pose.  Perhaps he is telling Richie Allen to stop writing obscenities with his foot in the Connie Mack Stadium infield dirt.  In 1967 Gene is pictured at the batting cage.  Hopefully, batting practice wasn’t in session since he is standing in front of the cage.  1970 finds the Expos manager pointing not toward the field but at the Shea Stadium seats.  Is he signaling for the hot dog vendor?  Is he pointing out a plane taking off from LaGuardia?  Finally, the 1966 card has him posed apparently in the dugout.  But what is Gene holding?  Is it a jacket draped over a seat?  Is it a seat cushion?  What is with the strip of tape?

“Senor” Al

The Al Lopez cards of the 1960s had all the classic poses.  Lopez was the manager who twice interrupted the Yankees pennant run with flags in 1954 with Cleveland and 1959 with the White Sox.  The 1960 version (left) has Al on the top step of the dugout while the 1961 shot has him pointing.  Al is behind the Yankee Stadium batting cage in 1962 and hollering commands in the 1965 image.

The “Lip”

Leo Durocher’s long and colorful career culminated in the early 1970s.  His stewardship of the Cubs during the 1969 collapse in face of the Mets onslaught will forever be remembered in Chicago.  The 1970 Durocher finds him in the often used hands behind the back pose before a game at Shea Stadium.  I had to include the 1973 Astros shot since it is a prime example of airbrushing gone horrible wrong.  Topps’ art school drop outs provided Leo with a poorly rendered orange lid and windbreaker collar.

 

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“Smokey”

This 1972 Walt Alston is a perplexing pose as he points skyward. Is a foul popup coming his way?  Alston always appeared to be 20 years older than his actual age.  He is 60 in this picture but looks ready for the “old managers” home.

Mets in Jackets

Here we have two Mets legends, Casey Stengel and Gil Hodges, resplendent in Mets jackets.  The “Old Perfessor” is pontificating on the top step of the Polo Grounds dugout in this 1965 card.  Gil stands behind the batting cage on a sunny day in Queens for this 1972 card.  Tragically, Gil died of a heart attack during spring training in that year.  I had to include this great 1970 shot of Luman Harris who led the Braves against the Mets in the first National League Championship Series in 1969. The Braves jacket is a satin beauty.

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Dark Signals

I will conclude with this 1964 Alvin Dark apparently giving the indicator to his coach as he exudes authority with an imperious gaze.  Al’s bench career would see him lose in a classic seven game World Series to the Yankees in 1962 but win the championship with Oakland in 1974.

 

Future Stars: Seldom Stars, Sometimes Not Even Future

They say you can’t predict baseball, and the folks who make baseball cards surely agree. Off and on for the past several decades, Topps has made a practice of predicting which players would be future stars and slapping the “Future Stars” label right on the cards. Sometimes they do a pretty good job — Cal Ripken and Tim Raines are among the Future Stars who became Hall of Famers — and sometimes they don’t — just ask Bob Bonner, Jeff Schneider, Roberto Ramos, and Bobby Pate, the four guys who shared those Future Stars cards with Ripken and Raines.

bo-jackson-tim-pysnarskiThe same year that Topps nailed it with Gary Sheffield and (to a lesser extent) Sandy Alomar Jr., they also dubbed Steve Searcy and Mike Harkey as Future Stars. I’ll see your 1987 Bo Jackson and raise you Tim Pyznarski.

So anyway, the point is that predicting which baseball players will become stars in the future is a losing game. That’s why I have so much respect for Upper Deck, who in the mid-2000s made a bold decision: If the Future Stars hardly ever turn into “Stars,” they reasoned (I assume), then why are we so beholden to the “Future” part of the equation?

I recently came across the 2007 Upper Deck Future Stars set. It jumped out at me because I was surprised to see Johnny Damon and Matt Cain in the same Future Stars set. It turns out I was right to be surprised.

I won’t go through the entire checklist, but let’s highlight a few of the players who, in 2007, Upper Deck was willing to go out on a limb and predict stardom for, along with their career accomplishments before they were named Future Stars.

Miguel Tejada. Age 32. Winner of the 2002 American League Most Valuable Player Award. Four-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger, and receiver of MVP votes in each of the previous seven seasons.

Andruw Jones. Eleven-year veteran. Nine-time Gold Glove winner. Five-time All-Star.

Chipper Jones. Age 34. National League MVP in 1999. Five-time All-Star. MVP votes in nine different seasons.

Manny Ramirez. Eight consecutive top-ten MVP finishes. Nine straight All-Star appearances. 470 career home runs.

Ken Griffey Jr. American League MVP in 1997. Twelve-time All-Star. Ten-time Gold Glove winner. 563 career homers.

Okay, this is just getting tedious at this point. Others in the set include John Smoltz, David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, Jim Thome, Ivan Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Piazza, and Greg Maddux, among (many) others.

In 2007.

griffey-sheffieldI’m sure there was some rhyme and/or reason to this set. They did a similar set the year before, and they obviously didn’t think they were actually fooling anyone. I’ve looked at several of the cards, trying to find a wink or a nod or some indication that they’re messing with us, but it’s not on the cards themselves. There doesn’t appear to be any “throwback” aspect to the set — Johnny Damon is pictured as a Yankee, Griffey as a Red, Sheffield as a Tiger, etc.

It can’t possibly be true, but it seems, at least to the eye of the casual observer who happens to come across some of these cards ten years later, as if Upper Deck just really wanted to make sure their Future Stars set included some actual stars.

To be fair to Upper Deck, the set also included several players you would traditionally find in a Future Stars set. You know, rising stars like Mike Schultz, Sean Henn, and Jamie Vermilyea. For every Andrew Miller or Ryan Braun, you have a Rocky Cherry or an Other Ryan Braun.

Once you get past the first 100 cards, most of which feature established stars, there’s the usual hit-and-miss assortment you’ve come to expect from Future Stars sets. And now Zack Segovia and Devern Hansack will be able to tell their grandkids they were in the same set as Greg Maddux and Derek Jeter.