Getting Down with Upgrades

A few months before the glorious reinvigorating of the SABR Baseball Cards Committee, I was easing my way back into the hobby. I realized that I was about 50 cards shy of a complete 1971 Topps set. What always stopped me from finishing it was the condition; on the whole what I had was VGEX on average (or at best), well below my normal standards. When it dawned on me that consistency of condition within the set was key, I was freed from my bonds. I could get a Nolan Ryan in EX and not break the bank. This is all very good justification.

I finished that set and then, as we all do, looked for what was next. I was further away from a full 1970 Topps set, but the overall condition of those cards was better than my 1971s. A couple of big gifts from friends put me in line for a set in EX.

Still, happy as I was with competed sets, I knew there were some real dogs in each. When I went through them both recently, again looking for some kind of uniform condition, I counted up about 55-60 cards per set in need of serious upgrading.

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This Yankees Team card from 1970 is so awful – worn, creased, with the soft pliability of a wet paper towel. Even within a sheet (and we know sheets provide some cover for imperfections), it looks like shit. Only Jim Bunning has the nerve to look in its direction. Up close it’s like the Phantom of the Opera, mask off. It clearly is not welcome and things need to change.

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What to do? I whittled a little off the list with two trades (here’s a good example of a before and after from 1971)

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and, shockingly, to me, I had doubles that were in better condition than the cards I had in my set. (Remember to always check your doubles!). When the dust cleared I was down to about 30 cards needed per set.

A card show will take care of most of these, but, with some time to spare last night, I visited COMC. I’ve ordered only once from them and I didn’t love the experience beyond getting the final card of a set I’d been working on for 17 years (2000-01 Topps Heritage Basketball). I spent too much that time, $3.99 postage for one card that I should’ve gotten for a little less.

One of the nice things about our card community is the sharing of information (and cards) and I was tipped off to the trick of COMC. You can load up a cart and qualify for the same $3.99 payment. I ended up finding 35 cards at good prices, the scans showing exactly the condition I’m seeking. I’m still a bit nervous to see what they’re like in person, but I feel tentatively good about it.

Kind of. I’m down to needing 31 cards for both sets to be in a state I can accept, with a few superstars in the mix (1971 Clemente is the priciest). Is this money well spent? I don’t know. For what it’ll end up costing me to upgrade, I could buy all the 1956 commons I need in EX. The reality is one spend doesn’t preclude another spend. I’ll end up buying all the upgrades I need, sort of as an extracurricular project, not exactly counting it when I tally up my card costs. That’s seriously flawed justification, but I’m coming to terms with it.

It Curves, Part 2

In ’78 and ’79, Wiffle issued disc shaped cards in or on their ball boxes.   Since we are discussing Wiffle balls, it’s only appropriate that the actual years of distribution are as “baffling” as a perfectly executed Wiffle curve.  The Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards dates the two sets from ’77 and ’78; however, the Wiffle Corporation states that ’78 and ’79 are the correct years. This is confirmed by promotional documents.  Some dealers have changed the year designations, while other still go with the original years. I will defer to the Wiffle Corporation.

The ’78 disc cards are the standard design issued by MSA (Michael Schechter Associates) except for being smaller in diameter. Most of you are familiar with the black and white, headshots with airbrushed cap emblems, since the photos were only licensed by the Major League Baseball Players Association, and not MLB. The right and left front has color panels with biographical information. The discs were produced as promotions and were customized with advertisements on the back.

The 80-card set was issued as single cards inserted inside the Wiffle ball box. There are six different color panels and each player only comes in one color. 21 future Hall-of-Fame inductees grace the set along with other stars of the era. Mark Fidrych may be the most unique player depicted and Ray Burris the most obscure. For some reason, Ed Kranepool shows up even though he is winding down his career in ’78.

 

Various Players

In ’79, Wiffle includes five cards printed on the box; two cards facing in and three facing out. Collectors have only identified 12 different boxes, which adds up to 60 cards. However, the display box in stores implored kids to collect all 88 cards. It is generally believed that only 60 were produced.

Munson cut

Each card has a thick, black dotted line around the circumference designed as guide for cutting out the cards. 52 of the players in the ’79 set are repeated from the previous year, all with the same pictures. Eight new players are introduced as well. Once again, each player’s panels are the same color, but the colors differ from ’78. As with most cards designed to be cut, uncut boxes are more valuable. This Thurman Munson is indicative of what can happen when kids use scissors.

Cey-Ryan Header

Finally, Wiffle “floated” a “knuckle curve” by issuing cards on “headers.” These are cardboard sleeves used to hold a bat and ball together for display. 28 different cards with blank backs appear on the sleeves. All cards are folded, due to the packaging technique. 14 were printed in one color panels and 14 with two colors.

 

60s Header

I neglected to include in part one a similar sleeve in the ‘60s featuring multiple player photos in a star format. Not sure if there are versions with different players.

Garland

I hope you are inspired to round up some neighborhood kids for a spirited Wiffle ball game in the backyard. If not, at least head over to eBay and pick up this awesome Wayne Garland with signature “porn stash.”

 

Sources:

“Wiffle Ball discs.” Collectors Universe, forums.collectors.com/discussion/954495/wiffle-ball-discs.

“Sales material helps to properly date when Wiffle Ball Discs were released.” Sports Collectors Digest, 13 Dec. 2016, http://www.sportscollectorsdigest.com/wiffle-ball-discs/.

The Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards

 

 

 

 

 

It Curves

It is a safe bet that a majority of this blog’s readers and contributors have spent many hours playing Wiffle ball. Whether you preferred playing with a “naked” ball to get the curving effect or layering on the electrical tape to launch “tape measure” shots, for many of us Wiffle ball was a big part of summer fun.

In part one of a two-part post, I will once again desecrate the definition of baseball cards by examining Wiffle ball boxes with player photos. (In my defense, the boxes are made of card stock and removal of the top flap with the photos would approximate a card.) Part two will look at the Wiffle ball disc cards distributed in the late ‘70s.

Original Box

David Mullany invented the Wiffle ball in 1953 with the intent of preventing broken windows when his son played ball in the back yard with his friends. The final version of the ball curved dramatically, resulting in many “swings and misses” or “whiffs”–hence the name. By the late ‘50s, Mr. Mullany’s ball was sold all over the country. Around this time, many of the boxes containing the balls began to feature photos of Major League players.

 

I was unable to pin down the exact year that the player endorsements began, but Whitey Ford appears to be the first player. His initial box has a different photo from the one distributed in the ‘60s. This is the only instance of a player who has two different images. By the way, Whitey did a TV commercial for Wiffle Ball in the ‘60s.

                        Junior Rose   Rose Regulation

Rose King

Wiffle balls came in three sizes: Regulation, King (softball) and Junior. The Regulation box had one or two players on an orange background with a large white circle in the middle. King Wiffle balls have one, two or three different players with a white background and an orange circle. The Junior boxes only have one player’s photo inside a white circle surrounded by black. Several of the players appear on all versions as depicted by Pete Rose boxes.

Ford, Matthews, Williams.jpeg    Law and Maris   Whitey Tresh

Some examples of multi-player boxes include Ted Williams, Whitey Ford and Eddie Matthews gracing the top flap of this King box, while Jackie Jensen replaces Ted on another. ‘61 had boxes featuring World Series champion, Vern Law, coupled with AL MVP Roger Maris. In 63, Whitey is teamed with ’62 AL Rookie-of-the-Year, Tom Tresh.

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I still have a Munson Junior box and a Piniella King I bought in the ‘70s.   I have five total in my collection, having lost several Pete Rose boxes from childhood.

As far as I can determine, the following is a chronological list of players who appear on the boxes: Whitey Ford; Ted Williams; Jackie Jensen, Eddie Mathews, Roger Maris, Vern Law, Tom Tresh, Pete Rose, Ron Swoboda, Tim McCarver, Jerry Koosman, Thurman Munson, Lou Piniella, Mike Scott and Scott McGregor.

After I “snap off” a few “Uncle Charlies” in the backyard, I will present some actual cards in part-two.

 

Tom Terrific and Ted Who?

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1968 Wax Pack

The splendor of baseball card collecting was germinated 50 years ago when I opened my first “wax pack.” I distinctly remember two of the cards I pulled that day: Tom Seaver and Ted Kubiak.

IMG_20180201_20045267 Seaver

The Seaver card-which is pictured above- is pressed in my memory, mostly due to my brother’s attempts to take it away from me. This is Tom’s first solo card after being paired with Bill Denehy on what has become a rare and extremely pricey ‘67 Rookie Stars card (also pictured). My brother must have known that Seaver was an up-and-coming star. I only knew that he wanted it, so I was not about to give it up easily.

68 Seaver Back

Tom’s card is a classic portrait coupled with the Topps ’67 All-Star Rookie trophy. The card back informs us that: “The young righthander is the most exciting young pitcher to ever wear a New York Met uniform.” Of course this statement turned out to be extremely accurate, but it didn’t take much to be the best young player in Mets history in ’68.

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The Seaver card is memorable for a variety of reasons. But Ted Kubiak? The wisp of silver hair sticking out from Ted’s slicked back locks has stuck with me from first sight. The close- cropped head shot was used on many A’s cards in ’68, since that was the year Charlie Finley moved the A’s to Oakland from Kansas City. Players depicted wearing caps had the “KC” airbrushed away.

Ted was a classic “good glove, bad bat” guy. The back of his card essentially predicts his career arc: “Ted is capable of playing several infield positons. Ted is a great defensive player.” His one opportunity as an everyday player came in 1970 with the Brewers, where split time between 2nd and shortstop. Of course, he would have been a regular for the Pilots if they had still existed in ’70. Incidentally, Kubiak was one of many players traded away by Finley, only to be reacquired later.  Ted was on all three of the A’s championship teams of the ‘70s, primarily as a utility man.

Ted’s card suffered water damage from a sprinkler when I left it on the porch railing. I may have disposed of the card, since it wasn’t with my other ’68 duplicates.

Although I’m not 100% certain they were in the first pack, Tom Tresh and Al Downing cards were contained in my first few packs.

Anyone else remember a specific card pulled from the first pack?

 

Mabton Mel

Almost 18 years ago, I moved to the Pacific Northwest from the Midwest. Other than Mariner Ken Griffey—who I assumed would end up with the Cincinnati Reds because .. who would ever want to play in Seattle?—I didn’t know anything about the teams.

Things have definitely changed. Now, I consider this my home, and I became a Mariner fan—although I do still question why on most days. From a baseball history perspective, it also means I essentially started with a clean slate in the Northwest, and I have a lot of catching up to do on the history of the players.

For example, I was surprised to learn from this 1965 Topps card that Mel Stottlemyre was born in Mabton, Washington in 1941.

Mel Card Front

Mel Card Back

Mabton was originally inhabited by the Yakama people until the Northern Pacific Railway arrived around 1884 and built a water tower. The town continued to grow, but the population hasn’t increased significantly since those water tower days.

Welcome To Mabton

Mel was and still is the town’s most famous citizen. After he pitched in the 1964 World Series, Mabton’s Mayor, Del Hunt, proclaimed Oct. 22th as Mel Stottlemyre Day. Mel had started three times in the recent fall classic, finishing 1-1 with a no-decision. That didn’t deter his hometown. On October 22, more than 1,000 people showed up in Mabton’s City Park to welcome home the World Series Rookie.

The event was held in the park because the gym could only accommodate 600 people, and the town’s population was fewer than the 1,000 people that showed up. Mel was given a parade and presented with a distinguished citizen’s award, an honorary membership to the Lions Club, and a deer rifle. Incidentally, he took the new rifle hunting the next day only to end up on crutches after spraining his ankle by stepping into a ditch.

Mel Parade

 

I really did not set out to give a history lesson about a small town that most people in the State it resides in probably couldn’t find on a map. Rather, I was reflecting on how many stories baseball cards tip off if you look close enough.

 

A Dream Deferred

I’d go to card shows in the 1980’s and 1990’s and see fathers and sons flipping through the cards, working on building sets together, and dreamed that one day that’d be me, with my boy, crossing out numbers on checklists and sharing the thrill of the hunt, stumbling upon that much-needed bit of cardboard on our way to completion.

It never happened. None of the kids were really into cards. Nate’s hyperlexia/high-functioning autism took his obsessions in directions other than cards. I took Robbie to a big show near O’Hare Airport when he was little, but I don’t think he had much fun. Joey remembers a card show connected to Fan Fest during the 2002 All-Star Game in Milwaukee.  I don’t think that ever happened.

There was a show in Albany this weekend that I planned on going to. I figured it must be pretty good since it was in its 40th year. I asked Joey, who’s been more into baseball lately, if he wanted to go. He did.

It was a fairly small show at the Ramada Plaza, but definitely the kind of show I was looking for. A slave to my want lists, I knew I’d be able to knock off a chunk of my 1968 and 1969 Topps sets. I did – 83 1968’s, over half of what I needed, and 23 1969’s, about one-third of what was left. I also got 16 1956s for $2.25 each.

Joey was a little lost without a goal, but soon dove into the fun and freedom of not having sets to fill. His only mission was to get a Minnie Minoso card. He got a 1961 as I was looking through some sheets and I found a 1958 in a bargain bin (where I also found a 1955 Al Rosen. He wanted a Rosen card too).

There was a big box of cheap inserts, where Joey found game used items, including a Rocco Baldelli patch. Joey loves Rocco Baldelli.

He also grabbed cards of guys he liked and knew (Felipe Alou and Vida Blue)

or guys who looked cool that he never heard of (Zoilo Versalles and Jose Vidal).

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We talked about Tommie Aaron when Joey stumbled upon a 1969 card of Hank’s brother

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and, like a lot of us, he fell in love with 1971 Topps, especially Lindy McDaniel.

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He also discovered printing errors and now is on a mission to find more Timothy Leary inspired cards like the 1972 Felipe he bought for .50. (If you’ve got cards like this send them to me!).

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The last dealer we stopped at had rows of 1968s and 1969s he was willing to part with for .80 each, including high numbers. I asked Joey if he would help me go through them and he did. It was a bit arduous, but, as we sat side by side, my dream came true.

“Got one,” he’d say as he passed me another card, which led to conversations about Clete Boyer and the playing career of Tony Larussa.

When we were finished I thanked Joey for being such a good sport and helping me realize an old dream.  At first I thought he had more fun at the show than I did, hunting and pecking for neat cards while I slogged through various sheets of paper, but I realize now that I got so much more out of our Saturday afternoon in Albany. If I never get the chance to share another show with Joey, I’m fine. I got to do it once and it was wonderful.

Dad’s Gifts Keep on Giving

By the time the 1984 All-Star Game hit San Francisco – my hometown – I missed the entire festivities.  I was in between my freshman and sophomore years in college, and had been forced to spend the entire summer working at Disneyland.  Everyone in my family was obligated to work at the “Happiest Place on Earth” because my uncle, who was there when the place opened, was still there and made it a family commitment.  Consequently, I missed the All-Star Game.  What I didn’t realize until some months later was how involved my dad was in those festivities.

At some point after we moved to San Francisco from Los Angeles, he got a job selling air time for KOFY-AM, the Spanish-language radio station, that broadcast Giants games.  Throughout my later elementary school and high school years, we had access to Giants games basically whenever we wanted.  I remember visiting my dad’s office to beg for tickets, and he would open the drawer, and sure enough, there were stacks of tickets.  Pure gold, I tell you!

Over the years my dad developed a good relationship with the Giants front office staff, the communications people, I imagine.  I hadn’t known what all he did, especially when the Giants got the 1984 All-Star game, and what kind of contribution he made to the event.  The next time I saw him, maybe around Thanksgiving, he showed me the cool plaque the Giants gave him, that featured their logo, the All-Star Game logo and a nice shot of the crowd.  He also gave me a pack of cards.  It was a 1984 Mother’s Cookies San Francisco Giants All Time All Stars pack that included 20 trading cards out of a 28-card set.  He gave me one pack, while keeping two packs for himself.  He never said where he got them, but I took my pack without question, quickly flipping through my treasures.

The set included Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, and John Montefusco, among other Giants greats.  Card 28 featured the 1984 All-Star Game logo.  The 21st card in my pack invited you to send away for the eight cards, though as they indicate, “If you would like to have 8 additional trading cards (although most probably NOT the exact eight needed to complete your set due to random selection).”  Somehow I doubted I would get the exact cards I needed.

Over the years, I would flip through the cards, reminiscing about the players I saw play back in the late 1970s and early 1980s: Jack Clark, Gary Lavelle, Vida Blue, Ed Whitson, Darrell Evans and of course, the Count.  A decade ago, when my dad passed away, I inherited the plaque and his two packs of 1984 Mother’s Cookies cards.  And wouldn’t you know it … he was missing the same cards I was missing!  And it’s too late to mail in to Mother’s!