Mother’s Cookies

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From 1983 to 1998, Mother’s Cookies released baseball cards both in their cookie packaging and as stadium giveaways. I, as any kid would, believed the these were universal but discussing on Twitter this summer has shown that they’re anything but. This was a distinctly West Coast release of a West Coast brand* which made cards from San Diego to Seattle and East as far as Houston and Minneapolis.

*Formed in Oakland in 1914. My grandfather used to tell stories about being able to go to the factory and fill a pillowcase with broken, unsuitable for retail, cookies for a quarter. By the 1990s it was no longer owned locally although production was still in Oakland until it got subsumed by Kellogg’s and wiped out by the financial crisis in the 2000s (RIP Flaky Flix, my personal favorite). In the 1950s Mother’s also made PCL baseball cards—a completely different beast and project than the 1980s/90s cards in this post. They also released a Presidents set in 1992.

The cards were quite nice. Some of the early Giants releases in 1983 and 1984 were different but, until 1997, the basic design was simple and elegant. A nice glossy full-bleed photograph—sometimes action but most of the time a classic baseball pose showing off the stadium in the background. Crisp white card stock with rounded corners—probably the most distinct design element. Just the player name and team in small Helvetica Bold text. The early cards often used the team logotype—a really nice design touch I wish Mother’s had kept—instead of Helvetica and 1986 had script lettering instead, but starting in 1987 the design was unchanged for a complete decade. And for good reason; it was pretty much perfect.

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Aside from the stadium giveaways you could find single cards in cookie packages. I seem to recall them only in the bags of Iced Animal Crackers but that might only be what I managed to convince my mom to buy. These cards were typically part of four or eight card player-specific sets. Until the early 1990s I only found either Giants or A’s cards—suggesting that Mother’s produced their inserts to cater to the region the cookies would be sold in. In the early 90s Mother’s must’ve simplified their production and I started to find cards of the Griffeys, Nolan Ryan (three different sets for 5000Ks, Seven No-hitters, and 300 wins), and even Tim Salmon instead of local stars.

But it’s the stadium giveaways which I liked best. It was originally for kids only and I made sure to get to Candlestick HOURS early to ensure that I receive my packet of 20 cards. The sets are 28 cards and in the 80s you received a coupon you could redeem for eight more cards in the mail. Eight cards which you’d cross your fingers and hope for the correct ones to come back, It never worked out like that for me. I always got a random extra no-name or two—thankfully the stars were guaranteed in the 20 you got at the park—and all my early sets have a few holes where I’m missing someone like Mark Wasinger or the trainers.

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That’s right, card 28 (and in some years, 27) might include all the coaches or the trainers or the broadcasters. Which was awesome since you never saw them on cards but they were important parts of the team too.

Then, in the early 90s Mother’s changed everything. It was wonderful. Instead of the frustration of the coupon you now received 28 cards in your pack. Not a complete set though. You got the base set of 20 plus eight copies of the same fringe player (or coaches or trainers, etc.). And right there on the outside of the package were instructions to go trade for your missing seven cards.

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So for the hour or so before the game, the stands were crawling with kids calling out who they had and and who they needed. Young kids who were petrified of strangers suddenly came out of their shells. Older kids could coordinate more-complicated trades. The first year this happened I had to walk two very young kids through a three-way swap which completed all three of our sets. I don’t think they fully realized what I did until their sets were suddenly complete.

After the 1994 strike killed my card collecting habit the only set of cards I still collected were the Mother’s Cookies giveaway sets. Going to the games was fun. Trading with other kids—and eventually other adults once the kids-only aspect of the giveaway got dropped—was fantastic. It’s the rare giveaway which not only encourages fan interaction but also manages to capture the soul of the freebie. As I look at the current set of National Baseball Card Day promotions, it appears that the trading card day is not longer about actually trading cards. And that makes me sad.

Rolling my own

1987 was my first full year as a baseball fan. After attending my first Giants game in 1986, despite the ridiculousness of the game—16-innings including the Giants using pitchers as outfielders and switching them between left and right field depending on the batters’ platoon splits—I ended up a hard core Giants fan the following year. That the Giants were actually good for the first time in anyone’s memory certainly helped. As did the fact that 1987 was also the year I got bitten bigtime by the baseball card bug.

That fall when the Giants won the Western Division* my local paper, The San Jose Mercury News, celebrated by printing cartoony baseball “cards” of the entire team on the back page of the sports section. It was a pretty silly thing. Cheap newsprint. The card backs were just whatever was on the previous page of the newspaper. But I was undeterred.

*30 years later I still instinctually think of the Reds, Astros, and Braves as the Giants’ rivals even though they’re no longer in the same division nor, in the Astos’ case, the same league.

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I scrounged some old vertical file folders from my parents, brushed on glue, and carefully laid the newspaper onto cardstock. I still remember carefully brushing the bubbles out before the glue dried. Later in the day once the glue had dried, I busted out my scissors and turned that cheap newsprint into real cards.

30 years later and I’m a bit surprised that these are in as good shape as are. Yes, of course I kept these in binders. But newsprint isn’t the most archival of materials and there was no guarantee I’d selected an appropriate glue. I probably just grabbed a bottle of Elmer’s but it’s not like I knew what I was doing when I was nine.

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The best part of these cards is the backs though. Besides being woefully uncreative—I had, after all, only been collecting cards for under a year—it’s an interesting snapshot into what I felt was important on a card back at the time. Yes, I also remember being fascinated with all the statistics but that would’ve been outside of my lettering ability at the time. But I felt very strongly about knowing a player’s position and recording the team/year information that the card represents.

It’s also very clear that I believed that a baseball card should be part of a numbered set. I have no idea how I chose to number these, but not only did I number them, that’s the order I sleeved them in my album.

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I was apparently not the only burgeoning baseball card collector who received The Merc at home. These cards got such a reception that a few days later they reappeared on the back of the sports page—this time in color and with proper backs. Or, well, sort of proper backs. It looks like something produced by a newspaper whose priorities are creating readable copy using the existing house style. I do however love the optimism of including a line for autographs. Even today I don’t know what pen I’d choose for that task.

Anyway, I went ahead and turned the new series into cards too. Same method only I had to both procure a second copy of the paper and figure out how to register the two sides for gluing.

I wish I could remember how I accomplished the registration.

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The following year when the A’s won their first pennant in over a decade The Merc celebrated the same way. This time though the cards were oversize—closer to the pre-1957 Topps size—and, while they were printed in color the first time around, they never got any backs.

So, as someone whose first exposure to cards the late 1980s with backs that stayed the same year after year, I went ahead and used the same template for my hand-pencilled backs that I’d used the previous year.

Productionwise though I no longer used vertical files. My parents encouraged me to find a cheaper source of card stock so these are, I think, on reclaimed cereal boxes. This resulted in way thicker cards and produced the nice side benefit of encouraging me to use a paper cutter instead of scissors. Where the 1987 cards have all janky hand-cut edges, these 1988s are nice and square.

Alas, The Mercury News never made any more cards. The following year’s Bay Bridge Series had plenty of other things for them to print commemorative back pages of and by the time the Giants returned to the World Series in 2002 the baseball card bubble had imploded. But I’m happy these were around right at the beginning of my collecting and I love rediscovering them both in how they’ve survived and how they suggest possible projects for my sons to try as they flirt with the hobby.

Orlando Cepeda Made Me a Criminal

Does one crime make you a criminal? Does a momentary act of desperation make you a bad person?

There’s the literary case of Jean Valjean, stealing bread to feed his sister’s children. The theft marked him for life, first with imprisonment, then with non-stop running from the grasp of the relentless Javert. A lifetime of suffering for satisfying an urgent need.

If you’ve ever tried to complete a set from packs, you know how horrible it feels as you get towards the end. Pack after pack, dollar after dollar, wading through card after card looking for that final one. In 1973, I was Valjean and Orlando Cepeda was my full loaf.

I needed a few cards to finish my set, the first set I’d assembled only from packs. I know I needed Dave Lemonds, probably a couple of others from the dreaded last series, but, really, the now rare high numbered cards were plentiful and available. (Not like the third series of 1972 Topps football, which I don’t think ever made it to Suffolk County. If they had, I would have bought them and I don’t have any!).

Orlando Cepeda was impossible to find. Orland friggin’ Cepeda, on the final leg of his career, was more sought after by an almost 11-year old kid than he was by any big league team when his card was made. By the end of ’73, when the last series emerged, “The Baby Bull” was finishing up a big comeback season as a Red Sox DH in Year One of the experiment. His Topps card though had him as an Oakland A. Did I know that yet? No.1973toppsbox

I bought pack after pack, scouring the front of cello packs – the one and three window varieties – looking at the fronts and backs in a mad search for “Cha Cha.” No luck.

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Living in Lake Grove in the early 1970’s was interesting for a boy from Brooklyn. It felt like the 1950’s still, except for the Smith Haven Mall. The mall was uber modern, very exciting in its own way. Less exciting was McCrory’s, a pretty nondescript budget department store, but McCrory’s had cards and I bought a lot of them there. Near the candy section was a three-tiered rotating wire rack of dangling three-pack cellos. On yet another trip to kill suburban time, I headed to the mall with a friend to hang out and stopped to continue my card quest.

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Spinning, spinning, top section, second section, third section, nothing – wait! Spinning in reverse to focus my eyes on what I’d seen and missed in my first go around, there he was! Cepeda, right in the front, right in the middle.

“What if I want it more than the person who has it?” Rocket Raccoon was still a few years from his debut but he summed up my situation best. I wanted, I needed, that card. I can’t remember if I had any money on me, probably not, because if I had I wouldn’t have stolen it.

I’d never stolen anything before, and didn’t quite know how it worked. I positioned my friend in front of me as I got to work. Now I didn’t take the whole three-pack, which would have been easier. Why? Because I didn’t need the three-pack, I needed the middle pack. See, I wasn’t really a thief, because I only was going to take what I needed. I tore the bottom pack off, tossed it under the display, and tore off the middle and skedaddled. Fast.

Whenever I see that Cepeda card I cringe a bit.  I have a few now, even one listed on eBay, but it’s not that one. That one is safely tucked between Von Joshua and Jim York in my set. Still, it hurts a little to know what I did, and confession is good for the soul, but only slightly. The 1973 Topps Orlando Cepeda card, number 545, is my bread and my conscience is my Javert.

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The Johnny Lindell Mystery

Baseball cards are touchstones; evoking childhood memories and pleasurable collecting experiences. A favorite player’s exploits or a key acquisition to complete a set can be conjured up with just a glance. Also certain cards can take you to a specific time and place. The 1949 Leaf Johnny Lindell is such a card.

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The Lindell card transports me back to the early ‘70s. My best friend at school told me a story about exploring an abandoned house. The old man who lived there had recently died. Of course he made it sound as the gentleman had died in the house, resulting in the certainty of it being haunted.  I subsequently learned that the man died in a nursing home.

The friend stated that the contents left in the dwelling were strewn about-probably by him-with most of the stuff dumped on the floor. There, in a cardboard box, he found, amongst other things, the Johnny Lindell card. Applying the “finders keepers” rule, my buddy laid claim to the card.

It goes without saying that my “collector’s gene” kicked in immediately. I negotiated a trade giving the friend some current cards in exchange. The card was nowhere near mint condition, but it was by far my oldest card. From that day forward, I’ve often pondered why it was in the house.

“Kids living in the house” is the most logical explanation for the card ending up on the shack’s floor. This ramshackle place undoubtedly saw many migrant families come-and-go. Central Washington has experienced waves of immigrants and emigrants trying to escape poverty by taking advantage of plentiful agriculture jobs. My parents and grandparents were part of the “Ozark Diaspora” in the ‘40s and ‘50s. The child collector theory is plausible, but the card was at least 22 years old at the time and apparently no other cards were present in the house.

It is possible that the old man had a special affinity for Johnny Lindell. After all he was a hero of the 1947 World Series in which he batted .500. Maybe the man remembered Johnny as a “war era” star since his deferment kept him playing through ’44 against weak competition.

How a ’49 Leaf Johnny Lindell ending up in crumbling house in Selah, Washington will always remain a mystery. However, it serves as a great example of the memories a single card can evoke. The accompanying photo is the actual card.

The ’49 Leaf cards measure 2 3/8 x 2 7/8 with 98 in the set. The background features bright colors with a colorized photo. This colorization process is primitive with a limited blue and red uniform pallet. The player’s face is painted with flesh tones.

To learn more about Johnny Lindell’s career, check out Rob Neyer’s BioProject biography.

It Falls Between the Lines

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All collectors have experienced the disappointment of opening a pack and finding mostly cards you already possess. The joyous anticipation of peeling open a wax pack or tearing the Mylar wrapper is quickly extinguished when only duplicates appear. Equally frustrating is getting numerous cards of the same player. Of course I only have anecdotal evidence, but occasionally it seems the random sorting process goes awry and the same player ends up in most of the packs.

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In 1970, I remember getting five Syd O’Brien cards out of six or seven packs I purchased. I can still see him with his arms spread in a mock infielders pose. But the multiple “Syds” pale in comparison to the deluge of Dick Lines cards I received in ’68.

1968 was my first year collecting which probably explains why I vividly remember opening pack after pack containing the Senators reliever. After acquiring a few more from my brother and friends, I ended up with 10. I must have derived some pleasure from hording the Washington southpaw. The card left such an impression on me that I still remember that the answer to the cartoon trivia question on the back is Darold Knowles. Dick’s pitching follow though pose at Yankee Stadium may be more familiar to me than memories of my wedding or birth of my son!

Ironically, Lines didn’t even pitch for the Senators in ’68 and never appeared in the majors again. He did have a great year in ’66, appearing in 53 games, winning five and losing two, with a 2.28 ERA and three saves. Dick’s two year major league totals include: seven wins, seven losses and a 2.83 ERA. He spent 11 seasons in the minors, retiring after the ’69 season. 1967 is the only other year a card was produced for Dick.

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According to Baseball Reference, Dick was born in Montreal and is still living at the age of 78. Perhaps I should contact him and let him know what an outsized impact he’s had on me. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Dick’s short, mediocre career may have contributed, psychologically, to my own general mediocrity. Perhaps at six years of age, Dick Lines’ career line on the card’s back convinced me of life’s limitations. If only Henry Aaron had been in all those packs, I might be rich and famous. Curse you, Dick Lines!

 

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.

Post Cereal Issues from 1961-1963

I remember pieces of the 1964 season. I remember that we watched the Dodgers sweep the Yankees in the 1963 World Series. But my earliest baseball memory is being really excited about finding a Roger Maris card on the back of a box of Post cereal in 1962. Although I did not have this card in my possession for close to fifty years, its image was burned into my memory. This blog and my plans to write this post caused me purchase the card displayed here.

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Post started their brief foray into sports cards with a nine card set of oversized cards in 1960, which they put on the back of boxes of Grape Nuts Flakes. The cards were 7” by 8 3/4”. The set contained five baseball players (Eddie Mathews, Mickey Mantle, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew and Don Drysdale), two football players (Frank Gifford and Johnny Unitas) and two basketball players (Bob Cousy and Bob Pettit).

They went full on in 1961, when they issued a set with 200 baseball players, all standard baseball-card size.  The cards were blank on the back, with a color photo and biographical information on the front (with the photo on the left), along with lifetime and 1960 statistics. The name is in black, in a sans-serif font , and the phrase “BASEBALL STAR CARD No. ##” in black across the top, with a row of eight red stars below. The statistics are on a yellow background, with “MAJOR LEAGUE BATTING RECORD” or “MAJOR LEAGUE PITCHING RECORD” printed in white on a black background above the stats. The cards appeared on ten different varieties of cereals in multiple box sizes, and also on variety packs. There were 73 different box panels, affecting the variability of the various players. For example, for the Post Tens bottom tray, there were seven panels of three cards each. Only one of those 21 players appeared on any other panel. Cards were also available in team sheets, directly from Post. These cards came on thinner stock. There were four cards which were only available in this way, as well as cards that were only available on boxes. Information on some cards was updated as the year progressed. Dan Mabey, the recognized authority on the Post issues says there are 361 different box cards.

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1961 Post

The 1962 set continued to have 200 players. Updates, card stock and other differences bring the total varieties to 543 cards. Layout is the same, but this time, the picture is on the right side instead of the left, and the player name is in a script font, written in blue ink, and the line of stars above the name is missing. The statistics title is black on the background of the stat box. The American League players (like Maris, above) have blue line around the statistics box and a white background for the player information and a yellow background for the statistics. National League players have a red line around the stats with a yellow background for the player information and a white background for the stats. Also,  100 of the cards were also issued in a Canadian set, without the color differentiation and with reduced text printed in both French and English.

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1962 Post
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1962 Post

The 1963 set ceases the differentiation between the leagues and returns to a standard black serif font for the player names, The rest of the card uses a sans serif font, with the team name and position in all caps red. The card number is in red, prefixed by “No.”, and with three blue stars on each side, to center it above the player name. There are three blue stars on each side of the “MAJOR LEAGUE BATTING RECORD” or “MAJOR LEAGUE PITCHING RECORD” in the stat box.

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1963 Post