Recent trends in the baseball card world have caused me to step aside for the time being. Vintage cards, at least the years I might be interested in targeting, have become too expensive, and recent cards no longer cater to the childlike fun that drew me to the hobby as a youngster. I concede that Vincent Van Gogh would have made fine artwork if asked to use a 2.5 x 3.5 inch canvas, maybe even a classic “card” of Jackie Robinson, but (a) why would we ask him to do this, and (b) how would that help 10-year-olds to fall in love with the game?
So now what?
In recent years I have been very slowly working on completing various oddball sets from my childhood, especially Topps inserts or standalone offerings. The first inserts I remember encountering were the 1968 game cards, which Topps included in 3rd series packs. I’ve written about these cards before. They were fun and attractive, but very much treated as an “extra” in the pack, more important than the gum, but less important than the five included base cards. No one traded their “real” Willie Mays card for his game card.
In 1969 Topps produced two very popular inserts, one a black-and-white deckle edged card, and the other a color decal (which could be peeled off and affixed to another surface). Both very fun extras.
In 1970 Topps replaced their long-standard 5-cards-for-a-nickel packs with 10-cards-for-a-dime. This might seem a trivial difference, but for those of us with a 25 cents/week allowance, it required complex budgeting.
Perhaps feeling somewhat guilty, Topps placed three different inserts into packs throughout the summer. Although there may have been regional scheduling variations, in my neck of the woods Topps used posters in series 1/2, scratch offs in series 3/4/5, and story booklets in series 6/7. I hope to write about all of them in more detail soon, but for today I will focus on the scratch offs.
The 1970 Topps scratch off set consisted of 24 cards, picturing a player from each of the 24 teams.
When folded, the photo of Yaz is the “front”, the scoreboard and rules are the “back”. When unfolded, the game is revealed.
If you follow the rules your card might look like this around the sixth inning.
Truth be told, there are *lot* of problems here.
If you actually play the game, your hands will be blackened by the third inning. Even as a nine-year-old, this was annoying. What if you had to touch your “real” cards?
Once the game is played once, the card is useless. With the 1968 game cards you could collect a big stack (doubles are useful), and play the game over and over.
Even fresh out of the pack, the row on the seam (see picture) was difficult to scratch and read.
Not that kids cared at the time, but the cards were often misaligned or poorly cut.
Although I said above that the players represented each of the 24 teams, the team name is not actually listed–this is just something you would figure out if you placed them with their real team. Presumably “Red Sox” is not specified because Yaz is supposed to be the captain of *your* team. Nonetheless, the players chosen are clearly supposed to stand for the 24 major league teams.
McCarver and Allen played for the Cardinals and Phillies, respectively, in 1969, but were traded for each other (along with several others) in October. Since they appear hatless, and since they both appeared on cards labeled with their new teams in the flagship set, we can assume that these are cards for the Phillies (McCarver) and Cardinals (Allen).
Mike Hegan shows up wearing a Seattle Pilots hat, consistent with Topps use of the Pilots team throughout the summer (though they moved to Milwaukee prior to the season). For Yastrzemski and the other 20 cards the real-life team is obvious.
A discerning observer in 1970 (which, if we are being completely honest, I was not) would have recognized the scratch off set as an uninspired, even lazy, effort by Topps.
But … things would soon get *less* inspired.
In 1971, Topps was fresh out of ideas and chose to use the scratch offs as an insert again. Not just the concept — they used exactly the same players, with identical fronts and backs. The only difference is that the background color on the inside is red instead of white. (One wonders why they even bothered to change the inside?)
There were real-life player shifts that upended Topps’ team symmetry. Dick Allen had been traded to the Dodgers and Luis Aparicio to the Red Sox (changes reflected in the flagship set), which gave each of those teams two “captains” in the 1971 scratch off set. Mike Hegan still donned his Pilots cap, now more than a year after the team’s demise.
Of course, the team names were not listed on the “card”, there was no checklist, and the one-card-per-team rule was not stated anywhere. So, says Topps, “where is the lie?”
But, you might be thinking, “who cares if every team gets a card?”
For one, Topps very clearly cared. In all of their insert sets in the late 1960s and early 1970s they made sure to have least one card for every team. I assume that the people at Topps thought that kids in Cleveland would like seeing one of their heroes on a 1968 game card (Steve Hargan!), and that Seattle tots would get a kick out of seeing a Pilot on a 1969 deckle-edged card (Tommy Davis!). For kids who rooted for other teams, it gave these little sets a bit of character. The lesson we learned, in cards and in life: not every player, or person, is a Hall of Famer.
In 1970, Topps’ took this honorable stance one step further. For the three 1970 inserts sets I mention above, there were 24 cards in each set, one per team, and Topps used 72 different players.
Topps deserves a great deal of credit for doing this, for balancing the top-flight stars between these three sets, but also for serving children across the land. Isn’t that, I asked plaintively, the point of all this? Future Giants collectors hardly needed another version of three Hall-of-Famers to be, but look at those Angels, or those Brewers, or those Padres. Well done, Topps.
The actual point of all of this is to celebrate that I recently completed my 1970 and 1971 scratch off sets (my final card was the 1971 Stargell). This was more challenging than you would think because most dealers have no idea what the difference is between the two sets, so if you order something listed as a 1971 Aaron you might end up with the 1970 Aaron when the mail comes. Also, eBay listings will not reveal that the inside has been scratched so you really need to see an image for both the inside and outside, and dealers are occasionally annoyed when you ask for this. One person asked, in obvious exasperation , “does it really matter?”
Then once you get all the cards, you might put them in nine-pocket sheets and discover the two sets now look identical. Are you really going to pull out the card, unfold it, and stare lovingly at the black-on-red or black-on-white insides? Call me unromantic if you must, but I suggest that you are not going to do this.
Frankly, there is no good reason to collect either set, let alone both.
Except this. These “cards” were placed in packs in 1970 and 1971, packs that I opened, packs that I loved, packs that made my day on more than one occasion. They remind me of being 9 years old, when baseball cards were everything to me, and when Topps seemed for all the world to be focused on the needs and desires of me and fellow 9 year olds throughout the land. That version of me is gone, and so is that version of Topps.
But with these silly little scratch off cards, 48 in all, I can pretend that we are both alive and well.
The phrase “Alternate Site” has become part of baseball’s vocabulary over the past year, and it will always sound weird. It’s like there’s an alternate universe where everything you know is wrong. It sort of made me think of when a few years back I found a book on the shelf at a used book store – Peter Golenbock’s Forever Boys, where the author spent a year with the St. Petersburg Pelicans of the Senior Professional Baseball Association.
I had NO idea this league even existed! I was 9-10 years old, and surely I’d have had some recollection of this league, but nope. Nothing. It’s as if there’s an alternate history of baseball that I was unaware of. It’s too bad, because if this existed today, I’d be into it for sure. A bunch of players I grew up watching getting together again? Let’s go! Anyway, the book was fantastic. Everything was completely new to me.
Fast-forward another year or so after reading the book, and I discovered that there were Senior League card sets too! Looking at the checklist, I had to have them, and eventually I found a set for sale for five bucks at a card shop.
There were a few sets for sale, and I intended to get the one by a company called T&M Sports. Later, I opened up the box and started looking at the cards and realized that they gave me the Pacific set instead. I’m glad they did.
A simple silver border with 22 stars (I counted) along the top and side, with a logo in the bottom corner next to the player’s name. Not terribly exciting, but not horrible. Mostly posed shots, so you can see some of your favorite players from the 60s 70s & 80s up close some 5-15 years removed from their playing days.
Dock Ellis on the St. Petersburg Pelicans? Yep.
Fergie Jenkins & Spaceman Lee on the Winter Haven Super Sox? You bet.
Luis Tiant managed by Earl Weaver, wearing the blue & orange of the Gold Coast Suns? Why not.
Don’t forget about Amos Otis of the Fort Myers Sun Sox.
And what about the power trio of George Foster, Oscar Gamble (sans afro) & Bobby Bonds of the St. Lucie Legends?
Rollie Fingers clearly broke out the mustache wax before being immortalized in his West Palm Beach Tropics duds. Tom Paciorek is resplendent in his freshly squeezed Orlando Juice uniform.
For those scoring at home, the set features four Hall of Famers: players Fergie Jenkins & Rollie Fingers, and managers Earl Weaver & Dick Williams.
My favorite card, though, is Jim Nettles #126. He was a teammate of his brother, who was a star infielder, much like Billy Ripken. Also like Billy Ripken, he is featured with some colorful language on the knob of his bat.
This set came one year after the infamous 1989 Fleer F-Face fiasco, but as the Senior League was on a much smaller scale than the big leagues, this card flies under the radar.
The 220-card set ends on a pretty cool note: a suit-and-tie card of Commissioner Curt Flood.
It’s too bad the league couldn’t stay afloat; it folded shortly into its second season. It would have been fun to see who else would have given it one last shot. If anything, fans were afforded the opportunity to get one last (okay, two!) Dave Kingman cardboard treasures.
Author’s Note: Pacific also released a 1991 Senior League set (using nearly the same design as its 1991 Football issue).
Editor’s Note: If you’ve never used the Trading Card Database “view checklist by age” feature, these would be the sets for it!
My introduction to card collecting began in the late summer of 1955, when my Uncle Joe—my godfather and a former catcher in Chicago’s high-level semipro baseball leagues—handed me a special gift: four packs of Topps baseball cards. I was seven years old, and my life has never been the same.
Of course I have no recollection of what specific cards I unwrapped on that warm summery night… Jackie Robinson, maybe, or Gil Hodges, or (in honor of Uncle Joe), the White Sox catcher, Sherm Lollar?
Unlikely; as most collectors will tell you, the odds are much more likely that we will unwrap the images of images of journeymen with names like “Corky” and “Bunky.”
No matter whose images were revealed in the packs, I was totally enchanted with their beauty, and quickly locked into the sheer fun that came from collecting these cards. Clever lad that I was, I even gave Veston Goff Stewart a nickname for his nickname… for me, then and now, he will always be known as “Bunk-Bed” Stewart. As for “Corky” Valentine, who got his nickname from a lovable comic-strip character, Hank Aaron would write about his season (1953) in the Class A Sally League, “There were some ornery pitchers in that league, but nobody was as nasty as Harold Lewis Valentine.” But Hank… Corky looked so nice on his Topps card!
I immediately began collecting as many of these beauties as possible. I even picked up a few packs of cards from Topps’s arch-rival, Bowman… but as I noted in my article about the final year of the Topps-Bowman war, the Bowman color-TV design, innovative as it was, didn’t appeal me like the Topps cards did. Even the Bowman card of my favorite player, Nellie Fox, didn’t grab me the way the Topps cards did.
Bowman would have one more arrow in its quiver, however. Uncle Joe did not present me with his gift of Topps cards until fairly late in the summer, and both the Topps and Bowman baseball cards disappeared from the stores long before I could attempt to put together a set. In their place were the companies’ football-card sets: a 100-card all-time greats college set from Topps and a 160-card NFL set from Bowman; that would turn out to be Bowman’s final card set before being bought out by Topps.
Flushed with collecting mania by then, I bought cards from both sets, but with a strong bias toward Bowman, whose lovely design would be a fine tribute to the company’s glorious run. One of my early collecting memories involves walking proudly into the Nordica Store, our card-collecting headquarters, with 75 cents—three whole weeks’ allowance!—and buying a staggering 15 packs of Bowman football cards. I had to assure the owner of the store, a woman my friends and I knew only as “Mrs. Nordica,” that this purchase was OK with my parents… which it was, I guess, since they never told me it wasn’t. As for the cards, I have to admit that a major part of the appeal was those crazy football names.
Royce Womble? Dorne Dibble? Pudge Heffelfinger? Football must have been invented by Charles Dickens.
When winter set in, the football cards disappeared from the stores as well. By now my collecting urge had reached the point where the cards didn’t even need to be about sports. A short-term diversion for my older brother Phil and me was the 80-card Topps “Flags of the World” set, whose backs included tips on how to pronounce a few terms of the native language.
It was a fun and moderately educational card set, but I was a baseball guy even at the age of seven. And as spring arrived in Chicago, Flags of the World card No. 49, Poland—the Zminda family’s native land—would have been more useful had it taught us how to say, “Gdzie są nowe karty baseballowe?”… which is Polish for, “Where are the new baseball cards?”
Our home base, the Nordica Store at Nordica Avenue and Grace Street, was one of those tiny mom-and-pop operations that would later be driven out of business by the Seven Elevens and their like. In the 1950s, however, the store had plenty of customers—including my best friend Tom, my older brother Phil, and me. The candy counter where we bought our cards and treats was stocked by a man with a red truck named J.J. We would check the store for the arrival of the baseball cards on a daily basis once spring came. If the card racks were bare but J.J. was still on his way, we would sit outside and wait for his arrival. He knew what we were waiting for, and he’d stop before unloading his truck and say, “No boys, not today. But soon.”
Our agony continued for a couple of weeks, until the big day finally arrived: the first series of the 1956 Topps baseball set was here!
I have written about my love for this set—both the attractive fronts and the clever backs, with three cartoons about the player—in a previous article; I was blown away from the moment I opened my first pack, as were most of my friends. The first series included such greats as Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, and Hank Aaron (and Ernie Banks and Roberto Clemente and Al Kaline and Warren Spahn), along with the usual Topps supply of Babe Birrers and Rudy Minarcins. We wanted them all. I was a five-pack man myself, blowing my whole allowance on all the cards (five cards for five cents) that my money would buy pretty much every week.
Completing the series within our limited budgets was a challenge, but that’s where our neighbor Dave (I’ve changed his name) came in handy. Dave, who lived across the street from Phil and me, had contracted the dreaded disease polio in the days before the Salk vaccine became available. While he still bore some scars, he fortunately was able to recover without suffering the crippling paralysis that affected many polio victims. Dave’s grateful parents were happy to comfort him in various ways—including giving him what appeared to be an unlimited budget for buying baseball cards. If you needed cards to complete a series, Dave was more than happy to trade… although there weren’t many cards that he needed. We’d hand Dave a stack of duplicates, and he would begin riffling through them…
This would continue for several minutes, until—if you were lucky—Dave would finally stop and say, “Need him,” and a trade would be made. Your best bet was to have some New York Yankee cards in the stack, as Dave was the neighborhood’s resident Yankee fan… not the most popular allegiance in Cubs/White Sox country, but Dave was a good guy, and besides, we needed his cards.
With Dave’s help we had at least a fighting chance to complete a series… and soon we would be sitting outside the Nordica Store, waiting for J.J.’s truck, and his announcement that he had the next series in hand. We quickly learned that J.J. wasn’t the most reliable source. One afternoon he got out of his truck and told us, “New pictures, boys, new pictures!” We eagerly bought several packs apiece—only to discover, as my friend Tom put it, “Yeah, new pictures. Old cards.” After that when J.J. announced, “new pictures,” one of us would go to the rack of one-cent cards—those were the days!—and invest a penny to see if he was correct.
When the second Topps baseball series finally arrived, it was Christmas in May (or was it June?) at Nordica Store. Series 2 mysteriously switch the card backs from white to gray (at least in our neighborhood) and included the likes of Roy Campanella and Willie Mays and Duke Snider and my hero, Nellie Fox, along with Mickey Mantle in his Triple Crown year. Even in 1956, we knew that card had some value.
But then it was back to sitting outside the store, waiting for the third series to arrive. Wily devil that he was, J.J. had something to tempt us with in the interim: Davy Crockett cards. The Disneyland TV show had begun broadcasting episodes based on the “King of the Wild Frontier” in late 1954, and they were a sensation from coast to coast… by the summer of 1956, there was as many of us wearing Davy Crockett coonskin caps as there were sporting baseball caps. (Not to mention the legion of Davy Crockett lunch boxes.) Trading cards were a logical next step to cash in on Crockett mania, and when my friends weren’t lining up to buy baseball cards, Davy filled the bill pretty nicely. So who was a bigger hero in the kid world of 1956… Mickey Mantle or Davy Crockett? Let’s say it was close.
We were baseball guys at heart, however, and Topps still had two more series coming out. To be honest, the third and fourth Topps baseball card series weren’t nearly as spectacular as Series 1 and 2. Bob Feller, who would retire after the 1956 season, was probably the biggest name in Series 3. The fourth and final series was definitely rather humdrum—even the quality of cartooning on the backs of the cards was pretty second-rate—but my friends and I still wanted every last card—down to the final card in the set, No. 340, Mickey McDermott.
While I came fairly close, I did not quite complete the 1956 set by the end of the baseball season—even with Dave’s help. It was a little frustrating, but there was always a new card set to collect (including football cards, to be honest). Then in 1959, my family moved to the suburbs, and a lot of things got tossed out… including most if not all of those wonderful ‘56s. “You don’t need all those old cards, do ya, Donnie?” “Um, er… well, I guess not.” Such is life. In the new neighborhood there was no Nordica store, there was no one like Dave to trade with, and after a year or so I stopped trying to collect the new baseball card sets… much less trying to recover the sets I had had lost.
But I hadn’t forgotten those ‘56s. One day in the early 1970s—by which time I was out of college and working fulltime—I got a call from a friend whom I had lost track of after we moved to the ‘burbs. It was good old Dave; he had somehow tracked down Phil, and now me. When we got together, I was not surprised that Dave was still collecting, but he had a new passion: collecting 45 RPM records. Was I shocked that Dave had a room with a copy of pretty much every top 40 hit since 1960? I was not. But what about his old baseball cards, I asked, my voice trembling.
“Yeah, still got ‘em,” he said. “You interested in anything?”
A couple of hours later, I was driving home with a big box full of ‘56s, most of them in near-mint condition… I think he charged me some ridiculously low price like fifty bucks. There were a few Yankees missing including Mantle (no surprise), but I could—and did—get those later. I was back into card collecting, for good.
At least once or twice a year, my wife visits her uncle and comes back with a box of mystery for me. Usually, the boxes of mystery hold a wide assortment of baseball cards or bobbleheads, or something to that effect. My wife’s uncle is in the antique business and operates a number of estate sales, which means he visits homes where the occupants are looking to unload various merchandise for said estate sales. The uncle, every so kind to me, keeps an eye out for baseball stuff. He finds cards, and bobbleheads, and assorted things as I mentioned. Kinda wished he’d come across gloves and bats, too! That’d be fun!
Recently he gave me a huge box of 1980s/1990s basketball cards and football cards. Those things are a complete mystery to me, which means the box is sitting on a shelf waiting for me to trade them somewhere. It’s funny to have such a distain for those, but an absolute worship for baseball cards.
Anyway, the uncle’s current box of mystery held quite a few intriguing surprises. One of the more interesting things included a 1990 Kmart Topps box of 33 baseball cards. The box reads: “Collectors’ Edition Baseball Superstars Photo Cards” [that include] 33 super gloss photo cards with bubble gum.” The set includes:
NATIONAL LEAGUE SUPERSTARS
1. Will Clark
2. Ryne Sandberg
3. Howard Johnson
4. Ozzie Smith
5. Tony Gwynn
6. Kevin Mitchell
7. Jerome Walton
8. Craig Biggio
9. Mike Scott
10. Dwight Gooden
11. Sid Fernandez
12. Joe Magrane
13. Jay Howell
14. Mark Davis
15. Pedro Guerrero
16. Glenn Davis
AMERICAN LEAGUE SUPERSTARS
17. Don Mattingly
18. Julio Franco
19. Wade Boggs
20. Cal Ripken, Jr.
21. Jose Canseco
22. Kirby Puckett
23. Rickey Henderson
24. Mickey Tettleton
25. Nolan Ryan
26. Bret Saberhagen
27. Jeff Ballard
28. Chuck Finley
29. Dennis Eckersley
30. Dan Plesac
31. Fred McGriff
32. Mark Mc Gwire
SUPERSTAR TEAM MANAGERS
33. Tony LaRussa / Roger Craig
For a bit of background, sets likes these are produced by the Topps Trading Company, and distributed through the Kmart department stores. Each card features a masthead with the Kmart logo on the upper left side, with the designation of the year and the player’s league on the top right side. The SUPERSTARS logo is imposed in the middle of the masthead with the player’s name and position imprinted on the third line. The player photo and Topps logo comprise the majority of the card with a blue thin border. A simple presentation of player stats with a fast fact are included on the reverse side with a red background.
The cards themselves are still glossy with sharp corners, and overall in very good shape. Near mint, I would say. I wasn’t paying much attention to baseball in 1989, save for the World Series, as I struggled through graduate school, so flipping through the cards was a bit educational. Great to see Will “The Thrill” Clark (card #1). A favorite from my hometown Giants. It’s always weird to see Pedro Guerrero (card #15) in a Cardinal uniform, still thinking of him as a Dodger. I had to flip the card over to see when he changed team. Oh, about 60 games into that season. That’s right, recollecting to myself. And Fred McGriff, “Crime Dog” (card #31)! He was with the Blue Jays before his days with the Braves. That’s right, nodding my head. The funny about these recollections is that you want to stop what you’re doing and open a browser to run a quick search on that player of interest. Thank goodness for high-speed Internet and Baseball-Reference.com!
I think the fun thing about these box sets is the discovery, itself. Cracking open the box, flipping through the cards, and wondering about the players. It’s a treasure chest! I’m looking forward to rummaging through that box from Uncle Dan and finding my next discovery.
I find myself in what’s become a usual position, wondering what to pursue. I’m winding down six sets (I need one card to finish each of four sets, eight for another and 10 for the last). There’s not enough on my want lists to keep me constantly in the game.
So, I scoured Standard Catalog for ideas. Nothing too big, yet. Nothing too expensive. I found what I was looking for – the 1963 Topps Peel-offs. A non-numbered checklist of 46 insert stickers. Perfect!
The Peel-offs are 1 ¼” X 2 ¾”. They’re smaller than a card, but seem big due to the oversized head. Colorful, nice, and fit my criteria.
Each Peel-off comes in two varieties – with instructions and without (blanks).
The blank backs are harder to come by, though the Harmon Killebrew I bought is blank backed and carried no price premium. It’s in the instructions where we find the “peel-off” name. If they were all blank backed, would they be called “Blanks?” Probably not; we’d refer to them as “Stickers,” as Topps did on the box.
This whole project started innocently enough, when I bought a Ken Hubbs to avoid postage fees. The price of the late Cubbie put me over the minimum order threshold. Something about the look of the thing stuck. I’d never seen one before and I liked it.
There are a couple of problems with these. One, cuts can be inconsistent. I’m finding I don’t mind terribly much. What’s weird is you can have the whole image while still seeing signs of the adjacent player on the sheet (see Cepeda in the group shot. Whose ear is peeking in?).
Two, I like my cards crease free, but all of these have a bump in the middle that aligns with where the two back papers meet. It’s a sort of nice character flaw, a bit of a wave that is distinct but unobtrusive.
To date (about a month into it), I’m finding progress solid and prices reasonable. It helps that more than half of the checklist are commons/lesser stars, easily gettable at $2-3. Even many Hall of Famers are less than $10. I’ve been told it’s a tough set to put together, and that sounds like it might be true. I imagine a lot of these ended up on book covers and bikes. I haven’t encountered any issues yet, though Mantle will cost me (as he always does).
From that initial Hubbs buy, I’m now halfway through, 23/46 either in hand or on their way. These will keep me busy, for a little while, until I figure out the next big project (1965 Topps Baseball? 1958? Hostess sets? Vintage Hockey?)
Author’s note: This is the seventh in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of facts, unknowns, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic sets, 1933 Goudey.This installment takes another detour to the set’s 1934 sequel.
If you are just now jumping into this series, this post will probably stand on its own. However, you may wish to skim the second, third, and sixth installments first in order to have a richer context.
Briefly, we have already covered the 1934 Goudey set as a 96-card set printed as follows–
Sheet 1 – Cards 1-24 in order, featuring repeated players and artwork from the 1933 set.
Sheet 2 – Cards 25-48 in order, with almost entirely new players.
Sheet 3 – Cards 49-72 in order, with almost entirely new players.
Sheet 4 – Cards 73-96, with almost entirely new players, and the “1933” Napoleon Lajoie card
I have spilled a ton of ink examining the chronology of the 1933 release but none thus far on the timing of its sequel. Were all 96 cards simply released all at once? Were the cards released in sets of 24 (or perhaps 48), from the start of the baseball season to the end? Or were these 96 cards all released fairly early in the season, with potential future releases halted due to poor sales or other business reasons?
Recalling our exploration of the 1933 set, there were several different sets of clues that either directly or tangentially—if not always reliably—suggested a timetable for the set:
First-hand accounts of contemporary collectors
Team designations for players who changed teams just before or during the season
Publication dates from the US Copyright office
Clues in the player biographies such as player ages or events that occurred during the season
To maintain continuity from my previous article, my focus in this article will be on the fourth of these. Plus, reading the card backs is by far the most fun of the various research methods involved. I’ll return to at least two of the others before my series of Goudey articles concludes.
PLAYER BIO CLUES
While approximately one-third of 1933 Goudey card included player ages on the backs, this was far less the case with the 1934 set.
No ages or other in-season clues. This could be a very short article!
The first card to include a player age or any clue at all is that of Julius Solters, card 30 in the set, which indicates his age as 25. According to Baseball-Reference, Solters was born on March 22, 1906, which clashes considerably with the information on his Goudey card back.
However, we see from the 1938 set that Goudey may have regarded his birth year as 1908.
This would make Solters his 1934 Goudey age from March 22, 1933 until March 21, 1934. Therefore, if the biography were current when it was finalized, the card points to the pre-season.
Immediately after Solters in the set was card 31, Baxter Jordan, who Goudey lists as 27 years old. (Side note: Also known as “Buck,” Baxter Jordan plays a bit part in my “ERR Jordan” article from 2019.) According to Baseball-Reference, Jordan was born on January 16, 1907, which would have made him 27 for the entire 1934 baseball season. As such, his age and birthdate offer no useful hint as to when cards 25-48 were released other than simply “January or later.”
The first card of interest on the third sheet is that of Wesley Schulmerich, whose card back notes a recent trade from the Phillies to the Reds. According to Baseball-Reference, the trade occurred on May 16. This tells us that Schulmerich’s card was finalized after May 16 and—if the word “recently” is to be believed—only shortly after that date.
The first card on the third sheet to indicate an age is that of Mark Koenig, who Goudey lists as 29 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, Koenig was born on July 19, 1904, which would have made him 29 until July 18, 1934. Therefore, if we take the age information to be reliable, we might infer that the third sheet was finalized prior to that date.
Three cards after Koenig in the set was card 59, Joe Mowry, whose card gives us two clues. First, he is listed as 24 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, Mowry was born on April 6, 1908, which meant his Goudey age was not correct at any point during the 1934 baseball season, much less calendar year.
I was unable to locate any other cards of Mowry that indicated an age or birth year. However, I was able to track down a newspaper article on Mowry from July 16, 1931, that indicated his age at the end. “And here’s three little items, girls: He’s 21, unmarried, and his name isn’t Mike. Is that interesting?” 😊
Based on this article, we can infer a 1910 birth year for Mowry, which would then make his Goudey age correct from April 6, 1934 through April 5, 1935.
The card offers us a second hint as to timing. The last line of the bio tells us that “in May, 1934, Mowry was transferred to the Albany Team of the International League.” This occurred on May 24, telling us Mowry’s card was finalized in late May at the very earliest.
Six cards after Mowry in the set was card 65, Cliff Bolton, who Goudey lists as 26 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, Bolton was born on April 10, 1907, which would have made him 26 only until April 9, 1934. In other words, either the card was finalized quite early or the age was incorrect at the time the card was finalized.
Two cards after Bolton in the set was card 67, Bob Weiland, who Goudey lists as 27 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, Weiland was born on December 14, 1905, which was entirely inconsistent with his Goudey age. However, his card back contains other timing information.
The final sentence of Weiland’s bio reads, “In May 1934, Weiland was transferred to the Cleveland Indians.” Eureka! We now know this card, hence the sheet, was not finalized until at least May. Researching the transaction further, we learn it did not occur until May 25. This further places finalization in very late May at the earliest.
Two cards later we get another age, this time John Marcum who Goudey notes as 23. According to Baseball-Reference, Marcum had the numerologically fantastic birthdate 09-09-09, which is entirely inconsistent with his Goudey age.
No other cards of Marcum indicate a birthdate. However, this article from August 1933 affirms 1909 as Marcum’s birth year.
An event not mentioned in Marcum’s bio is his halting of Schoolboy Rowe’s 16 game winning streak on August 29, 1934. One might be tempted to take the omission as an indication that the bio was finalized before August 29, but it is more typical than atypical to omit highlights from the season in progress.
Closing out Sheet 3 is Arndt Jorgens, who Goudey notes as 27 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, Jorgens was born on May 18, 1905, which was (again!) entirely inconsistent with his Goudey age.
As was the case with Solters and other players, however, a later card suggests a different birth year for Jorgens may have been used by Goudey.
Substituting 1906 as his birthyear, we have Jorgens as his presumed Goudey age until his May 18, 1934 birthday.
Bob Boken’s card 74 doesn’t mention his age but does note that he “was secured by the White Sox from Washington during the present season,” a transaction that occurred on May 12. We can therefore conclude that his card and its sheet were finalized (unsurprisingly) sometime after that date.
Next up is Pinky Higgins, who Goudey notes as 24 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, Higgins was born on May 27, 1909, which meant he was his Goudey age through May 26, 1934. Again we have the conundrum that the card (and sheet) were either finalized quite early, or the Goudey age was simply incorrect at the time the card was finalized.
The very next card in the set is Eddie Durham, who Goudey notes as 25 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, Durham was born on August 17, 1907, meaning we have yet another birthdate wholly incompatible with the Goudey age. There is however another clue on the card back.
The end of the first paragraph notes that Eddie began the season rehabbing a “lame arm” at home in South Carolina but was “expected to be back with the White Sox before the close of the season.” (Spoiler alert: He didn’t make it back.) Pursuing this lead further, here are some notable dates relevant to Durham’s pitching status–
May 26 (Chicago Tribune and numerous other outlets) – Durham petitions Commissioner Landis to be placed on the voluntary retired list.
August 1 (Chicago Tribune) – Focus of rehab is to return for the 1935 season.
From this we might assume that Durham’s card was finalized earlier than May 26 or simply conclude that the Goudey biographers weren’t completely up on the news.
The very next card in the set is that of Marty McManus, who Goudey describes as “born in Chicago 33 years ago.” According to Baseball-Reference, McManus was born on March 14, 1900, which would have been 34 years ago at the time of the 1934 set.
Notably, McManus didn’t age a bit between 1933 (Sheet 1) and 1933 (Sheet 4) as his 1933 card also has him “born in Chicago 33 years ago.”
What of Bob Brown, who appears two cards later in the set? The second sentence of his bio reads: “He was sent to Albany this Spring by the Braves, but was returned to the Boston club because of poor control.”
Ignoring the misplaced modifier (or were the Braves simply tanking ahead of their time!), we can use game logs to help date the card. His Spring demotion evidently took place in May, and his return took place on or just ahead of July 1. At least so far, this is our first evidence (at least in this article) that Goudey was still working on its 1934 set past May.
Two cards past Brown was the card of Jim Mooney, who Goudey notes as 27 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, Mooney was born on September 4, 1906, meaning he was his Goudey age through September 3, 1934. Assuming Goudey were current and correct here, we could infer Mooney’s card was finalized by that date.
Like Bob Brown’s card earlier, the card of Lloyd Johnson describes some minor leagues back and forth. “The Giants secured Johnson from the Mission Club of the Pacific Coast League, but recently sent him back to the minors.”
A review of Johnson’s 1934 record shows that he pitched only a single Major League game in 1934, which took place on April 21. (Never mind that it was for the Pirates, not the Giants.) Further research shows that Johnson’s release date was May 8, meaning his card was finalized on or after that date. The word “recently” suggests May or June as a likely timeframe.
We get another demotion card in the person of Homer Peel, card 88 in the set. (And in case you’re wondering, Peel lived up to his name exactly twice in his career.)
According to the card’s final paragraph, “[Peel] was recently released to Nashville.” According to Baseball-Reference, Peel’s last game with the Giants was June 25. Were the release truly recent, we might suppose Peel’s card was finalized in July or August, if not the very end of June.
Card 89 in the set belongs to switch-hitting Lonny Frey, who Goudey lists as 21 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, Frey was born on August 23, 1910, which makes his Goudey age an impossibility in 1934.
Resolving the conflict is Frey’s 1939 Play Ball card, which lists a birth year of 1913. If we assume Goudey had similar on file, then Frey would have attained his Goudey age on August 23, 1934.
Dolph Camilli’s card 91 has two clues worthy of pursuit. The first is that “during the present season he was traded to the Phillies,” a transaction that occurred June 11.
The second clue is Dolph’s age, given as 26 on the card. If we use his Baseball-Reference age of April 23, 1907, we hit something of an impasse as Camilli would have been 27, not 26, by the time he joined the Phillies. However, other somewhat contemporary sources use 1908 as Camilli’s birth year, potentially resolving the issue.
Next is Fred Ostermueller, who Goudey lists as 26 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, Ostermueller was born on September 15, 1907, making him his Goudey age through September 14, 1934, or very nearly the entire baseball season.
Our penultimate player of interest is Myril Hoag. Goudey leads off his biography with the fact that Hoag took the place of Babe Ruth “on a number of occasions this season.” This happened for the first time on June 6, and Hoag certainly rose to the occasion, going 6 for 6 at the plate in game one of a doubleheader against Boston. By June 9, Hoag had replaced Ruth three times, which I’ll non-scientifically take as the minimum threshold for “a number of occasions.” As such, I believe we can point to Hoag’s card being finalized no earlier than mid-June.
Last up is Yankee pitcher Jim DeShong, who Goudey lists as 23 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, DeShong was born on November 30, 1909, a birthdate incompatible with his Goudey age.
Once again, however, we see that birthdates today aren’t what they used to be. Here is James Brooklyn (!) De Shong born in 1910, which affirms his Goudey age throughout the entirety of the 1934 baseball season.
The table below, taken with a grain of salt, summarizes the information presented in the article.
When dates are based on descriptions of transactions or events that occurred during the season, the data are reliable. Where dates are based on ages, reliability becomes much more fuzzy.
Starting with Sheet 2, our data suggest the cards were finalized between early January and late March. However, we would be wise not to bet too much on this seeing as we have only two pieces of data, both based on ages. While we have no data at all for Sheet 1, an assumption that sheets were produced sequentially would then have Sheet 1 complete by late March as well. Where that leaves us is with fairly dodgy evidence that the first 48 cards in the set were finalized prior to the start of the season. At the very least, we have no evidence to the contrary, at least not yet.
Conversely, we have very solid evidence in the form of three transactions that Sheet 3 was finalized after the season began. The Weiland card puts finalization of the sheet no earlier than May 25 and more realistically somewhere into June. The age data for the sheet conflicts with this conclusion, which only serves to remind us that our age data are frequently unreliable.
Nearly all of the Sheet 4 transaction data points to the cards being finalized after July 1. The Durham card presents a potential challenge, but it is plausible enough that Goudey writers were unaware of Durham’s application for retirement. (There is another possibility that I’ll touch on at the very end of this article.) Age data alone would put the range for Sheet 4 between August 23 and May 26, reminding us again that we can’t take the age data too seriously.
If all there was to go by was the information in the player bios we might suppose (but not bet the house on) a finalization schedule for the set looked something like this–
Sheets 1 and 2 – Preseason
Sheet 3 – June or after
Sheet 4 – July or after
That said, this entire analysis relies on an implicit assumption that may not be true at all. I have approached this article and earlier ones on the 1933 set as if the cards were prepared one sheet at at time—i.e., these 24 cards were created and finalized, then these 24 were, then these 24 were, etc. In reality, we have no guarantee that particular sheets weren’t built from cards that were finalized at very disparate points from each other.
In a future article we will look at other sources of information that help confirm, refute, or refine the 1934 set’s chronology, at which point we’ll be in a better position to revisit the assumption above as well.
I hope you enjoyed the article. Tune in next time for the eighth installment in the series where I provide further clues at the chronology of the 1934 set.
Author’s note: This is the sixth in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of facts, unknowns, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic sets, 1933 Goudey.This installment returns to the timing of the set’s various releases.
Toward the end of my third article, covering the 1933 Goudey set’s release schedule, I hinted at the fact that more information was yet to come. My quick spoiler alert is that the overall impact of the information is negligible. Still, we’re here for overanalysis, so the main requirement of these posts is not relevance but length. 😊
I’ll use Carl Hubbell’s two cards in the set to give a preview of what’s to come. First, here is his Sheet 9 card, one of the most picturesque of the entire set.
Of course, it’s the card’s reverse that’s more germane to our study.
That scoreless innings record from July 13-August 1 is from the (then) current year, 1933! In truth, this tidbit tells us fairly little about the Sheet 9 release since none of our earlier estimates pointed to the finalization of these cards before August 1. The larger point is that player bios offer at least a potential source of information beyond what was previously examined.
Case in point, Carl Hubbell’s other card in the set, his World Series card from Sheet 10. In particular, read the first sentence of the bio.
In our earlier analysis, we treated the end of the World Series, October 7, as the earliest finalization date for Sheet 10. However, Hubbell’s card now extends that marker by at least 3 days since the results of the 1933 NL MVP vote were not announced until October 10.
Fellow National League ace Dizzy Dean also offers some timing clues in his bio. Here is his “looker” from Sheet 9.
It’s a bit hard to read, but the first paragraph ends with “set a modern league strikeout record when he fanned 17 Cubs in a game on July 30, 1933.” As with the Sheet 9 Hubbell card, this fact fails to move the needle beyond simply affirming Sheet 9 as one that was finalized pretty late in the season. Still, great job, Goudey, staying current like that!
Ah, but there is one more clue on the card, a much more mundane one but the type of clue we will find across nearly a third of the set. At the end of the second paragraph we learn that Dean is 22 years old.
Given that Dean was born on January 16, 1910, this statement now strikes us as incorrect regardless of when Sheet 9 came out. However, the statement makes more sense when we consider the birthdate Goudey had on file for Dean, as evidenced by his card the next year.
If you aren’t yet dizzy from the data, you may now be thinking, “So what!” And you’d be correct. However, some birthdays are more interesting than others.
Of particular note is the card of Bluege, who has two cards in the set. The first is from Sheet 6 and notes his age as 32. The second is from Sheet 10 and notes his age as 33.
A plausible assumption, therefore, is that Bluege must have turned 33 sometime after his Sheet 6 card was drafted (or slated for release) but before his Sheet 10 card was finalized. Interestingly, his birthday was October 24.
Let’s pause for a second and see where we are.
We’ve long known Sheet 10 was finalized after the World Series, hence no earlier than October 7.
The Hubbell MVP card further adjusts this date to October 10.
The Bluege card may suggest cards were still being finalized through at least October 24!
Now may is italicized for a couple reasons. One, we’ll see soon enough that ages and birthdays aren’t totally reliable in the Goudey set. Two, perhaps the bio writers completed their work by October 10 but simply took into account that cards would still take a few weeks to land on shelves. I sure won’t counter either of these points, but I will note that a finalization date for the sheet after October 24 makes the US Copyright Office publication date of December 23 look a lot less crazy.
Are there more?
By my count, there are 75 cards in the set that state the subject’s age and a handful more that–like Hubbell and Dean–reference 1933 events we can date precisely. As you can tell from the position of the scroll bar, I reviewed every single one.
Much to my chagrin but probably not your surprise, a lot of the ages were very wrong, and some might say so wrong as to make the entire endeavor an exercise in futility.
For example, here is Leo Mangum (Sheet 6), who Goudey portrays as 32 years old. With an actual birthday of May 24, 1896, Mangum would have turned 32 in 1928!
On the other end of the spectrum, here is Gus Mancuso (Sheet 10), who Goudey portrays as 33 years old. With an actual birthday of December 5, 1905, Mancuso wouldn’t turn 33 until 1938!
With Mancuso being one of the 18 repeated players on the World Series sheet, we don’t have to look far to see what birthday Goudey had on file for him. Here is his card 41 (Sheet 3), which shows…1905 also! Perhaps math wasn’t the strong suit of these Goudey biographers!
I wish I could say Mangum and Mancuso were exceptions in my data, but such was hardly the case. In all, about two dozen players had an age in their bio that was completely incompatible with their Baseball Reference date of birth. (See Appendix.)
How many of these discrepancies were the result of Goudey having the wrong year to begin with, like Dizzy Dean, is unknown to me. One of these days I hope to settle the question with an old 1930s baseball guide, but for now I’ll just omit these players from my sample.
After discarding bad data, I’m left with five Sheet 1 cards featuring ages. The table below, whose format I’ll reuse nine more times, provides the age indicated on the card back along with the timeframe were that age would have been correct. For example, Hughie Critz is listed as 32 on the back of his card, and he actually was 32 from September 17, 1932 – September 16, 1933.
Naturally enough, the five cards lead to five different date ranges. However, there is a single range of dates when all five ages would have been correct at the same time: March 21 – September 16, 1933. (Pro tip: You can always get this by using my last “From” and my first “Until.”)
Obviously that range is quite broad and by itself perhaps far less useful than any of the release schedule clues looked at in our earlier article. The right questions are whether it tells us anything and whether that anything is anything new or interesting.
I think it depends.
In looking at the ages printed on the card backs, a significant unknown is whether the age applied at the time of drafting the bio (or drafting the bio’s source material) vs whether the age involved some looking ahead to when cards would be on shelves. And with (probably) multiple biographers and multiple releases, the answer could certainly involve a mix of the two.
In the case of the former, I’d say YES, this is new and interesting that Sheet 1 cards were still being finalized in late March. After all, our earlier clues all pointed to a mid-April or so release for the first two sheets, suggesting if nothing else fairly rapid production and distribution.
In the case of the latter, then I’d say NO, we get nothing new at all. That the publication of Sheet 1 occurred (or was projected) between March and September is simply affirmation here that we’re talking about baseball cards vs football or hockey.
The second sheet in the set was even richer than the first when it came to including ages is player bios. However, if we take all of it as accurate, we’re led to a logical impossibility.
There is literally no window when all of these ages could have been correct since it would need to start on or after July 23, 1933, and end by February, 22, 1933. Did I mention already this age data isn’t always trustworthy? 🤷
While the impasse here isn’t solely caused by the Roy Johnson card, it was a relief to me to learn that Roy Johnson’s (currently understood) birthdate of February 23, 1903, differed from what the baseball card makers of the day may have had on file. Here is Johnson’s Tattoo Orbit (R305) card, also from 1933, which shows 1904 for his birth year.
If we accept this “correction” to Roy Johnson’s birthday, our updated table looks like this.
The resulting window, July 23-June 5, is still impossible, but at least a little less ridiculous than before. We can hope to discover more wrong birthdays, or we can simply acknowledge that the data from Sheet 2 are of no use.
At least logically another possibility is that Goudey really didn’t care about getting these ages right. However, it’s worth remembering that the one corrected error in the entire 240-card set (coincidentally on Sheet 2!) involved correcting the age of Jimmy Dykes. Yes, they were off the first time by ten years, but still!
Life gets a little more manageable with Sheet 3 but only if we ignore Burleigh Grimes.
The first four players in the table suggest a window of December 2, 1932 – April 5, 1933, which feels about right for when the cards might have been finalized. Unfortunately, the Grimes dates fall completely outside this window.
Is another wrong birthday to blame? This time probably not since the contemporaneous 1933 Tattoo Orbit card of Grimes affirms the August 18, 1893 birthdate used in my analysis. Bad math then? Time travel? The guy pitches like he’s 40 for God’s sake?! To quote Sir Isaac Newton, “Hypotheses non fingo.”
The next sheet in the set again causes trouble, and again the issue boils down to one player.
If we ignore Cliff Heathcote, the four other players on the sheet point to a window of April 13 – April 27, which meshes fairly well with the Sheet 4 estimates provided in my earlier article.
Obviously it’s not a rigorous thing to ignore Cliff Heathcote, or anyone at all for that matter. Still, we’ve seen instances where Goudey is off by a year, so I’m willing to believe this may be one of them.
Our next sheet features two aging hurlers, whose ages coincided on only four days out of the year: July 22-25.
Interestingly the US Copyright Office publication date for Sheet 5 is July 14, which is not terribly different.
Our next sheet has pretty good data aside from one player, ironically named Wright, who ruins everything.
Ignore Glenn Wright and the window for the sheet is March 16 through June 9, which sounds about (sorry) right for a sheet produced mid-season, though it notably lands out of sequence with our dates for Sheet 5. I’ll leave it to others to wonder whether this sheet might have been finalized before Sheet 5 (but released afterward) or if there’s simply a lot of wiggle in the ages and birthdays.
Incidentally, this is a great time to highlight something you may or may not already know about Babe Ruth. We know his birthday today to be February 6, 1895. However, it was known at the time–even to the Babe himself–as February 6, 1894. The result was that the Babe literally celebrated two fortieth birthdays! [Sources: Brooklyn Eagle (February 7, 1934) and Boston Globe (February 7, 1935)]
Since it reflected what Goudey biographers would have believed at the time, the 1894 birth year is what I used in my table.
Not a lot of data here, but what’s here is at least plausible.
The information for these three players points to a window of August 29 through November 20, which matches up nicely with the September 1 publication date on file with the US Copyright Office.
The next sheet offers no new information, only providing ages for two players who were essentially their biographical age the entire calendar year.
For most of the other players, Goudey simply outsourced the math to the reader, as was the case with this Bill Hallahan card where we simply learn that he was born in 1904…or was he?
I don’t imagine it was intentional to only provide ages for the two players who would stay the same age all year, but it at least accidentally provided Goudey with a way to maintain accurate card backs all season long, at least if they’d stuck with it.
Seven ages hit card backs on Sheet 9, including Dizzy Dean whose birthday already came up earlier in the article. I’ve used his “Goudey birthday” (1911) rather than the one generally accepted today (1910).
Another player of note is Chuck Klein. While his true birthday was in 1904, his 1934 Goudey card suggests Goudey had a 1905 date on file, which I’ve used here.
The six players listed would all be their baseball card ages from June 21 – October 6, a window that is probably too broad to be useful beyond perhaps affirming the cards were finalizing prior to season’s end.
We got a sneak preview of this sheet from Ossie Bluege much earlier in the article. Notably, his age isn’t the only one that suggests a bio finalized after the World Series. Joe Cronin, with an October 12 birthday, joins him as well.
Reminding us not to take our data too seriously, we have Earl Whitehill and Monte Weaver whose ages were definitely wrong by the time their cards came out, at least based on the birthdates we believe accurate for them today. It’s possible an old baseball guide will shed light on whether Goudey’s dates differed from ours.
Other events in the bios
In addition to all the cards covered thus far, there were a handful of others that alluded to in-season events. I’ll provide them here, both for completeness and because the final one adds genuinely new information to the mix.
The first sentence of Gehringer’s bio indicates that “no selection of an American League All-Star team would be complete” with him, and of course the Mechanical Man was the starter in the 1933 Midsummer Classic. That said, the wording of the sentence is such that it could have been written before or after the All-Star Game, and even a read of “after” tells us nothing we didn’t already know about the timing of Sheet 9.
Other cards (e.g., Hornsby, O’Doul, Durocher) refer to team changes during the season, and this information has of course already been used exhaustively in my previous article.
One card refers to an injury and loss of playing time, and opens the door to a bit more research.
“Has been out of the game part of 1933 season owing to injuries” most likely refers to July 5-25 when Alexander missed 19 straight games. Given that all prior estimates for Sheet 9 were well after July, this information is interesting but not useful.
The final 1933 event noted in a player bio is the long win streak boasted by Alvin Crowder from 1932-33.
Both of the General’s cards (Sheet 3, Sheet 10) reference a 15-game win streak from 1932 that was extended into the 1933 season prior to an early season loss to the Red Sox, which game logs show to be on April 17.
Unlike much of the data we’ve reviewed, I definitely treat the Crowder bio as significant and exciting. It presents our first evidence that Goudey was still working on Sheet 3 even after the season had started. It also provides at least some basis for speculation that the same was true for Sheet 4.
There is enough sketchiness in the age data that I will forgive most takeaways different from my own, but overall I tend to see (some of!) the ages and various key events like the Hubbell MVP and Crowder win streak as nudging but not overturning any previous understanding of the 1933 Goudey release schedule. Specifically, Sheet 3 was finalized later and Sheet 10 was finalized earlier than I’d originally imagined.
It’s also possible to treat some of the ages on the cards as confirmatory to the release schedules suggested in my prior article. However, there’s danger of accidental cherry-picking when allowing oneself to choose some but not all of the data available. It’s possible that a 1930s baseball guide might resolve enough birthdate/age discrepancies to re-open this door in the future, but that’s not something I have access to at the moment. (Yes, I realize I’m just setting myself up for someone to tell me it’s right there in the Member Resources section of the SABR website!)
As a final conclusion, and perhaps the most consequential one of all, I learned what a fun exercise it is to read the entire back of literally every card in a 240-card set. While ages and event references are what I focused on in this article, these Goudey bios were also rich in offseason hobbies, non-baseball accomplishments, and colorful turns of phrase. Many of the backs were formulaic, but none struck me as lazy. In the pre-internet, pre-“Big Mac” era, the Goudey card backs, along with other contemporary sets like DeLong and Diamond Stars, provided young collectors with otherwise elusive information on the heroes they hoped to emulate when they turned 23…or 22…or 2636 or whatever.
For completeness, here are the remaining cards I referenced earlier where the Goudey bio ages were wholly incompatible with the 1933 calendar year.
Like Dizzy Dean, Chuck Klein, and a couple other players cited previously, the names you see may include some bad math or even a typo but also include instances where Goudey simply had the wrong birthdate on file, as evidenced by their later cards or other contemporary cards of the era. In some cases, the answer may even be a combination of the two.
For example, here is Rube Walberg who modern records assign an 1896 birthdate to but whose birthdate is in the 1933 Tattoo Orbit set as 1899. Even with that “correction” of three years, his Goudey bio age (32 years old in 1933) still doesn’t work.
Sometimes a question has an easy answer, sometimes a question has a hard answer, and sometimes a question just gives rise to more questions. When the question pertains to 1933 Goudey and specifically which cards came out when, I believe we’re in the third category. We may never find answers, but we can still find satisfaction.
“When I reach to the edge of the universe, I do so knowing that along some paths of cosmic discovery, there are times when, at least for now, one must be content to love the questions themselves.”
Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist
I hope you enjoyed the article that I promised would be “one for the ages!” Tune in next time for the seventh installment in this series in which I apply the analysis above to the 1934 Goudey release.
After working hard on several vintage football sets, I turned back to baseball in late September. I was having a great time (still am) working on old Bowman, Topps and Philadelphia football sets of the 1950’s and 1960’s (short checklists, not too many pricey cards), but, for me, a 1964 Jim Parker doesn’t resonate as much as a 1964 Wes Parker. For reasons stated previously, I dove into the 1964 Topps baseball set.
It’s been pretty fast work. I thought I’d get from my starting point of 157 cards to 400 relatively quickly, and I did. And how! In two months, thanks to multiple purchases of 50–60 cards at a clip (including two incredibly productive trips to Yastrzemski Sports in Cooperstown), a few trades, and enough sales to help cushion the cost, I powered up to over 560 cards. Twenty or so to go, none more expensive than the Niekro rookie (which I think I can get for less than $50 in EX).
I’m at the point where any 3 or 4 card pickups are meaningful. Yesterday I got four in the mail—an upgraded Dick McAuliffe, Dave Morehead, Ken Harrelson, and Frank Baumann. In Baumann lies today’s story.
It’s rare to me when something sticks out as fishy. I had a weird incident last week with a ’64 Maris. It was off center, which I knew, but only when I had it in hand did I notice the right edge was clearly trimmed. It was uneven in a way that only a hand cut could produce. I sent it back, got a refund, no problem.
Handling yesterday’s delivery, I was struck by the quality of the Baumann. Sure, it had all the looks of an EX/EX+ card (as advertised), but it didn’t feel right. First, it was glossy, not at all like the finish that vintage cards have. Second, the paper stock was thin and bendy. Third, the back had a thin white line that seemed out of place.
The dealer is one of my favorites, and I had no reason to suspect foul play. Perhaps it was in a collection they bought, and the original owner printed it up at home to fill a binder slot. I reached out and they were happy to offer a refund.
But it still bugged me this morning. How could it be fake? Why would it be fake? The counterfeit Frank Baumann market can’t be a lucrative business. Why would anyone go through that trouble?
I first turned to Nick, our esteemed committee co-chair and knower of all things print related. I sent him a hi res scan, 800 dpi, and he gave it a look. He didn’t think it was beyond the regular Topps inconsistencies of the day, and the printing was not what he’d expect to see in a fake.
I put it out on Twitter and Keith Olbermann knew. Of course Keith Olbermann knew. Keith has often pointed out Topps’ use of different printers for different series (which resulted in severalyears of last series having a brighter look), and he believed that was what went on here. He was aware of cards from the 6th series of 1964 having a “slick” feel. Mystery solved, refund not needed.
Interestingly, one of my Twitter pals (@KenBorsuk1) replied that he had recently bought a 1969 Roy Face card online that had the similar quality of not feeling right. Then more Tweets followed. Nick checked his Giants and they all were printed this way. Gio (@wthballs) thought the Gaylord Perry he recently sent my way was like this, and it is! Why that didn’t make an impact on me is a mystery.
This all makes me wonder how many years this happened, how many of these glossier cards are out there and is there any real rarity there. Not for Frank Baumann of course, but for Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry? If that type of card was harder to come by, then shouldn’t that be a pricing factor?
Check your collections everyone! We may be on to something here!
Author’s note: This is the fifth in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of facts, unknowns, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic sets, 1933 Goudey.This installment takes a closer look at player selection.
One of the topics that fascinates me as a collector is how a set’s checklist comes to be. In particular, how are the players/subjects chosen, and how is their numbering/ordering within the set determined?
When I first started collecting in the late 1970s, it either was the case or simply appeared that way to an 8-year-old that pretty much all players were selected and that order was random, other than top players occupying cards 1, 50, 100, etc. Exceptions came in 1981 when Fleer arrived on the scene and ordered cards by team (and later alphabetically within team) and Donruss reintroduced team clumps not altogether different from the old days of 1951 Bowman and 1940 Play Ball.
For a set like 1933 Goudey, we already know the set did not include all the players. Just doing some quick math, 240 cards for 16 Major League teams would mean an average of 15 cards per team. (Because the set also includes minor leaguers, the true average per MLB team is 15. Take away repeat cards of various players and the average number of unique slots per team is more like 13-14.)
Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the size of the set is therefore just about perfect for featuring the starting lineup, pitching rotation, and top 1-2 subs/relievers per team. The question you might be asking, therefore, is whether that’s how Goudey approached the set.
Rather than just show the final tally for the set, I’ll break it down chronologically as well, according to the set’s various releases.
Through a combination of research and guesswork, I believe the set’s first 96 cards were prepared and finalized together prior to the start of the 1933 season. Overall, they don’t reflect an attempt to balance cards by team, at least in any exact way (i.e., six cards per team), but we also see there was no effort (probably for good reason!) to withhold any teams from the sets earliest releases.
I won’t go through this exercise every time, but just to give an idea what the “+” column is about, here are the extra players at each position among the set’s first four sheets worth of cards.
Chicago White Sox
Two first basemen are included, Red Kress and Lew Fonseca. Kress played a variety of positions for the White Sox in 1932, primarily outfield and shortstop. However, he took over as the Sox starting first baseman in 1933.
Fonseca, meanwhile, was at the tail end of his career but still saw limited action as a pinch-hitter and occasional backup first baseman. Based on the limited role Fonseca had already adopted in 1932, his card’s inclusion may have been more due to his role as Sox manager than erstwhile batting champion (1929).
St. Louis Browns
Two catchers are included, Benny Bengough and Muddy Ruel, though neither handled the bulk of the catching duties for the Browns in 1933. Bengough, known more for leading off the set with card #1, saw only limited action in 1932 and was off the team by 1933. Ruel, meanwhile, signed with the Browns in December 1932 but went on to serve as backstop for only 29 games in 1933.
In truth, even a set much larger than 240 cards would have been just fine without either of these players, at least for 1933, so the inclusion of both catchers begs the question of whether the set’s composition was driven at least partly by whatever photos Goudey happened to have around.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cards had two second basemen, neither of whom needs any introduction, among the set’s earliest 96 cards. Frisch had been the club’s starting second baseman since 1927 and would ultimately take over as manager mid-season.
The Rajah was still an able hitter but hadn’t played a full season since 1929. When he rejoined the Cards for a second stint in 1933 he saw only limited action before departing midseason to take over the reins of the crosstown Browns, at which time Goudey saw fit to issue him a brand new trading card.
In addition to the duplication at second base, the Cardinals also had two catchers among the set’s first 96 cards.
Jimmie Wilson was the team’s primary backstop and would participate in the 1933 inaugural All-Star Game. O’Farrell, lauded on the card’s reverse more for past roles than future promise, was an able backup, seeing action behind the plate in 50 games in 1933.
None of the Above
Though I don’t imagine any of you counted up my tallies in the table, had you done it you would have found four cards unaccounted for.
Eddie Collins cracks the set as a Red Sox executive, his card identifying him as the team’s vice president and business manager. On one hand his inclusion in the set is unusual and unnecessary. On the other hand, he’s Eddie Collins.
Lafayette “Fresco” Thompson had a cup of coffee with Brooklyn in 1932 but no game action with the Bums in 1933. That said, he was with the Dodgers in Spring Training and (I believe) spent on month riding the bench with the big club before ultimately being sold off. I perhaps could have included him in my tally as a Brooklyn second baseman, though I think you’ll see soon the “big picture” of the set will hardly swing on Fresco.
Andy Cohen makes the Goudey set as a New York Giant, but in truth he had been out of the big leagues since 1929. His card back even notes that “he is playing with the Minneapolis Club in the American Association this year.” From what I can tell (paywall) Cohen had joined the Minneapolis Millers in June 1932 and was not at all expected to return to the Giants for 1933, though he was still making headlines in New York in 1933.
I lump Cohen’s inclusion in the set in with my “pictures Goudey had around” theory, though one might wonder if Goudey was looking to appeal to Jewish gum chewers the same way Baseball magnates were looking to appeal to Jewish fans. Then again, Hank Greenberg, who would enjoy a fine rookie campaign in Detroit, was nowhere to be found in packs.
Even then, why include Cohen as a Giant rather than a Minneapolis Miller, as was done with International League teammate Jess Petty? (We’ll come back to this in our study of Sheet 5.)
The final player excluded from by tally was Cliff Heathcote, whose MLB career ended in 1932.
Heathcote had been a fixture in Big League clubhouses since 1918, mainly with the Cards and Cubs. As his card back notes, “he doesn’t break down any fences with his wallops, but he’s a pretty dependable fellow to have on a ball club.” We might therefore attribute his inclusion in the set as a tribute to his dependability, or we might adopt one of two other theories. Either he was expected to continue with the Phils in 1933, or his picture just happened to be around. Take your pick!
If you read the first article in this series, you may recall this sheet had two unusual properties. One was that its 24 card numbers filled the 24 gaps generated by Sheets 1-3. The other was that it included 9 minor leaguers.
The numbering of the minor leaguers (57, 68, 70, 85-90), particularly that last run of six straight, suggests these weren’t simply unexpectedly demoted major leaguers whose team names were updated at the eleventh hour. Rather, at least some if not all of these players were included intentionally as minor leaguers, perhaps to appeal to a broader geography than a pure “Big League Chewing Gum” release would have or perhaps for a reason I’ll offer in my review of Sheet 7.
At any rate, the large number of non-MLBers means our original table only adds 15 new tallies, highlighted in yellow below.
As before, the additions don’t reflect any intentional evening out of the set’s composition. However, they do fill gaps in each team’s lineup and starting rotation very nicely. This is particularly true for the Yankees where Babe Ruth joins the outfield.
You may also recall from the first article in this series that the set’s first duplicate players were introduced in Sheet 6, including two new Babe Ruth cards. While an outfield of Ruth-Ruth-Ruth is hard to pass up, my tallying for this sheet and subsequent ones will omit duplicated subjects unless due to team change. (For example, Lefty O’Doul will count as an outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants.) As such, only 16 new tallies are added to the table.
Here the new additions fill gaps in the team lineups much less efficiently than with Sheet 5. Nonetheless, some “rosters” are starting to fill out nicely, such as the Yankees who are now only a shortstop away from a starting lineup and full pitching rotation.
For team collectors looking to fill out their lineups, Sheet 7 was anything but good news. Not only did this sheet include Goudey’s second tranche of minor leaguers–six this time, at 174-177, 180, and 182–but also five repeats (Ruth, Cronin, Manush, Walberg, Hornsby) and four ostensible major leaguers no longer playing big league ball. Add to that a non-optimal filling of holes, and the result is that only 5 of the sheet’s 24 cards made a dent in roster completion.
The four “major leaguers” who were no longer major leaguers deserve special mention.
First up is Fred Leach, gone from the league following the 1932 season but in the Goudey set as a Boston Brave. The second paragraph of Leach’s bio is notable: “Leach is not now in organized baseball, as he retired after playing with Boston in 1932.” A fair question, then, is why put him in the set? More on this later.
Next up is Johnny Schulte, who also hung up his spikes following spot duty in 1932. Interestingly, he is in the set as its lone coach! Personally I’m a huge fan of coach cards, but I must admit were I to choose even ten coaches for the set, Schulte would not have cracked my “college of coaches.”
Third up is Charlie Jamieson, whose playing career similarly ended in 1932. Not even a coach (!), though his bio does position him as something of a pinch-hitting legend. Oh, and I do love the artwork on this card.
The final mystery guest on Sheet 7 is Roscoe (Watty) Holm, also out of the big leagues after the 1932 season but in the Goudey set as a Cardinal.
Similar to Leach, the bio here lets us know that Holm “is not playing professional ball this year.”
The idea that the Goudey set would include retired players is not surprising by itself. What is interesting is the clustering of these players. My sense of this sheet (and to an extent Sheet 5 with its minor leaguers) is that Goudey ran out of “A-listers” and was essentially stuffing its set with filler material: duplicate players, former players, and minor leaguers.
“That’s ridiculous!” you say, knowing that Mel Ott, Carl Hubbell, and other top stars are still unaccounted for in the set. Fair point. In my imagination (hardly a rigorous place) I imagine Goudey having built the first 70% of their set from 1-2 collections of photographs that had most but not all of the players one would ideally want to include in a set of 240.
Sheets 8 and 9
Perhaps reinforcing my speculation above, the artwork and design take an abrupt turn in the set’s next two sheets.
Along with this new look, 48 brand new major leaguers are added to the set. No repeats, no retirees, no minor leaguers…just genuine big league ballplayers.
The final sheet in the set, known as the World Series sheet, consisted solely of New York Giants and Washington Senators, hence would be of little use to most team collectors still hoping to round out their rosters, least of all Tigers fans still waiting on a single outfielder!
Any suspense, therefore, was limited to questions like would the Giants finally secure a shortstop or Washington a first baseman? Well, first the bad news. Of the 24 players featured, 18 are repeats! And now the good news, at least for fans of the pennant winners…the new additions did a decent job filling gaps.
There’s even more good news for Giants fans. Though first-string shortstop Blondy Ryan never did crack the set, his card was right around the corner in the 1934 release. What’s more, Travis Jackson, somewhat arbitrarily in my tally as the club’s backup third baseman behind Johnny Vergez, is of course able to slide over to short and complete the lineup card.
I’m not totally sure I have a conclusion here, other than saying, “Yep, this definitely counts as overanalysis.” Beyond that, I’ll simply note what may have been evident from my very first tally chart. Despite the set size being perfectly suited to a near-perfect representation of each team’s starting lineup, pitching rotation, and top subs, the set’s actual composition suggests neither an effort to fill out rosters nor effort to represent the 16 MLB teams equally.
What’s more, even where a team appears complete in my tally, it is often the case that tallies correspond to backup players rather than starters. The catcher slot for the St. Louis Browns is a good example, recalling that Benny Bengough and Muddy Ruel make the set while starter Merv Shea is nowhere to be found.
Overall then, what we have is a set that’s hardly optimal in terms of player selection but clearly provides better coverage of prominent players than would “240 random cards.” For my part, I tend to reconcile the intentional but imperfect effort as the set’s creators doing their best to cover the bases while relying on whatever initial photographs were at their disposal. My “cardboard crosswalk” from 2019 may provide additional support.
Fortunately for the team collectors of yesteryear, Goudey’s 1934 sequel did a great job filling the holes left by the 1933 set. Taking Detroit as an example, they entered 1933 lacking a catcher…
A first baseman…
And three outfielders.
I said THREE outfielders! Ah, but I forgot how collectors used to do things back in the day. No need for Goudey to waste a slot on the checklist when kids could make that third outfielder card on their own!
Tune in next time for the sixth installment in the series, which I truly believe will be one for the ages!
Christie Brinkley likely was taking selfies long before you. Way back in 1996.
Want proof? Take a look at the back of that year’s Pinnacle Series II baseball card set. In it are 16 limited, random insert cards – one per 23 packs – that feature playful pictures the supermodel-turned-photographer snapped of herself and select members of the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians.
Serious and casual collectors alike may remember the initial popularity of the set and the news that Pinnacle had hired Brinkley. I was a semi-serious collector in those days, and up until a few years ago, I vaguely remembered the cards and the media buzz surrounding, first, the photo shoot, and second, the set’s release in late July of that year. (Sports Illustrated wasn’t so buzzed. More on that later.)
My memory of the card set was jolted about five years ago when a work colleague leaned back in his squeaky office chair and, from his cubicle across the narrow hallway, casually asked, “Hey, Chad. Have I ever shown you this picture of me with Christie Brinkley?”
The pop time for me to launch from my chair and dash to his office was all of 1.3689 seconds. I immediately fixed my eyes on his computer screen, where sure enough, beamed a photo of Christie Brinkley and my co-worker, mild-mannered, soft-spoken John Lucas, who in the 1990s, was the creative manager of design and photography at Pinnacle.
In the photo, Brinkley is wearing white ringer top with thin, navy horizontal stripes and mirrored sunglasses. She, of course, looks flawless with her long blonde locks swept back from her face. Only few are out of place, but even those strays look perfectly placed. If you look closely, you can barely see three of John’s fingers extending around Christie’s waist.
He must have thought he had died and gone to heaven. But, it was only Florida.
John is repping his company well in the shot, wearing a white Pinnacle T-shirt and brand-matching cap. He has Christie’s left arm on his right shoulder, and a smile that brilliantly and brightly encapsulates the moment.
John played it cool because “You had to play it cool,” he told me. “You couldn’t get star struck. You had to come across as a professional. She was very gracious and friendly, just a regular person who was very excited about the opportunity.”
As you can see in the photo, Brinkley and John are standing on an auxiliary field behind West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium. Excited to be there. The ballpark was then the spring training site of the Atlanta Braves. In the distance and over Brinkley’s right shoulder, are the bleachers of the crowded ballpark. The Indians and Braves, the previous season’s World Series combatants, were set to play an exhibition game that day. It was the first meeting since Atlanta took the Fall Classic from the Tribe five months earlier.
“I can’t believe I never showed you this,” John said as I stood in his cubicle peering at the photo on his Mac. I couldn’t believe it either. We had known each other for a year or more at that point and had talked a lot of baseball, but this episode in his life, inexplicably, never came up.
So, or course, I had a ton of questions, and John was happy to answer. I think we both were giddy to talk about baseball and a supermodel we both had eyes on since we were teenagers.
The origin story behind the photo begins with John, whose job at Pinnacle was to guide the design and photography for card products, and his quest to “always be looking to break the repetitive tradition of baseball card photography,” he told me. “I was always striving to come up with photography concepts that would be different, edgy and well-received by our customers.”
Part of the issue with the same-ol’, same-ol’ card designs, at times, was with the players. They often were unreceptive to anything beyond basic concepts and poses. That conundrum came up in a conversation John had with the company’s photography director, Don Heiny, who told John about a time when a woman photographer had been assigned to a card photoshoot and garnered way more cooperation from the male players than had previous male photographers.
It was a valuable chunk of knowledge for John to store away in his memory, and it didn’t take long for the figurative flashbulb to spark about his head and rekindle the thoughtful guidance.
John was a fan of Brinkley, then 42, and he knew that she had an interest in photography from behind the camera.
“Wow,” he thought,” what if we send Christine Brinkley on assignment to spring training as a photographer for Pinnacle? The players would pose any way she asked.”
John took his idea up the ladder in the fall of 1994, sending a memo via fax – “this was pre-email days,” he reminded me – from his office in Connecticut to Pinnacle corporate headquarters in Grand Prairie, Texas.
In his memo to Michael Cleary, who was then Pinnacle’ chief operating officer and chief marketing officer, John relayed his conversation with Heiny about female photographers’ workability with male athletes, and he incorporated those thoughts in his pitch, writing:
“What experienced, female photographer is very well-known, has shot sports photography before (boxing) and is extremely beautiful? Christie Brinkley. Now I know it sounds crazy but think of all the P.R. we could get from this. The obvious stumbling block is first her acceptance and secondly the price. But we’ll never know unless we ask. Please call me with your thoughts. Thank you.”
John faxed the proposal, with the subject line: FUTURE DREAM TEAM SET, to Cleary on November 4, 1994 and then he waited.
“I never heard anything about it,” John recalled, until I asked someone there [in Texas] about it, and they said, ‘Are you kidding? That’s all everyone is talking about.’ I was really happy.”
That, I’m sure, is an understatement.
Nearly a year later, and after the usual back-and-forth negotiations with Brinkley and her representatives, John, his photography director, Heiny, and an assistant left their offices in chilly Connecticut for the warmth and excitement of spring training in West Palm Beach, Florida.
In the planning stage, they selected a group of players from the Braves and Indians as their subjects for this innovative, new card concept. “Both teams had really good and popular players, which made for strong collectable cards,” John told me as I, still astonished, stood in his office, hanging on every word. “At the time, these guys were baseball superstars, and their cards were collectables.”
The original plan had been to photograph six players from each team for a total of 12 cards in the set. However, for whatever reason – John does not recall – four other players were added for a total of 16 cards.
The players were, from the World Series champion Braves: Greg Maddux, Ryan Klesko, David Justice, Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones, Fred McGriff, Javier Lopez, Marquis Grissom, and Jason Schmidt. From the American League champion Cleveland Indians were Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Carlos Baerga, Sandy Alomar Jr., Jim Thome, Julio Franco and Kenny Lofton.
Once Pinnacle photographers met Brinkley at the spring training site, the shoot ran relatively smoothly. That is often not the case because there are “so many variables,” John said, “when you’re dealing with professional athletes.”
But, John was right in the reasoning behind his idea. “I figured if Christie said, “Hey guys, do this, do that – beyond the normal poses – they would certainly be cooperative and do it. And, they did!”
Well, most everyone.
Teaser alert: Albert Belle was a bit of a challenge.
John and Brinkley separately brainstormed ideas for poses. Pinnacle gave its model-slash-photographer a bio sheet for each player. She read those and developed concepts. John knew baseball and knew oodles about each of the players. Many of the props used the card photos were his idea, and some came right off the top of his head.
“That fedora Fred McGriff is wearing, that was mine,” said John, who also designed the art for the cards. “And, I took a drill and cut into the baseball,” to give the appearance of teeth marks on the leather. McGriff is holding the ball near his open mouth as if he had just taken a large bite into the leather. The concept for McGriff’s card, No. 6 of 16, was a play on his nickname the Crime Dog, after McGruff, the animated bloodhound who appeared in PSAs in those days and was known to “take a bite out of crime.”
“We did quirky little things to make it interesting,” John recalled.
Marquis Grissom and Kenny Lofton were two of the Major League’s top base stealers at the time, and Brinkley wanted to illustrate that fact on the card. For Lofton, who had stolen 54 bases the year before, she had the speedster pose holding a base in each hand as if he were literally stealing bases. Brinkley posed Grissom, also known for blazing the base paths, in a mock run with a radar gun pointed in his direction. When you look at the card, that’s John’s right hand holding the radar gun.
John was the mastermind behind Braves’ pitcher Tom Glavine’s card. Knowing that Glavine was “a big golfer” John said, as were many of his teammates, they posed him on a pitcher’s mound, in full baseball uniform, with a pitching wedge ready to strike a baseball. “It was almost like he was chipping out of a sand trap,” John said.
Speaking of chipping, or more precisely, Larry “Chipper” Jones in this case, Brinkley proposed the idea to pose the then young ballplayer with his Braves cap on backward, his blue jersey partially untucked and sleeves rolled-up, and thick eye black across his cheeks. He was blowing a bubble as big and round as Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
The next day, the Greeneville (South Carolina) News published a quote from Jones saying, “All right, I’ve got Christie Brinkley undressing me.”
In addition to the card, Brinkley’s photo of Jones made Beckett Baseball Card Monthly’s June 1996 cover with a big, bold yellow headline that read: “Uptown Boy.” An inset photo shows Christie brushing makeup on Chipper’s nose.
Jones wrote about the experience in his 1997 book “Chipper Jones: Ballplayer,” claiming he had always had a crush on the model – of course, he did; everyone did – and worried about catching grief from Braves’ skipper Bobby Cox, who as Jones wrote “was a stickler for how you wear your uniform… But hey, she did with me as she pleased. What am I going to say?”
Way to take one for the team, Chipper!
On the card’s back, under the words “Christie Brinkley Collection,” is a fashion-editor-style description of the photo concept. It reads:
“Struck by Chipper’s youth, Christie rumpled his shirt, smudged his eye black and stuck a wad of bubble gum in his mouth to get that “sandlot” look.”
Jones and most of the other players we’re willing to play along, just like John had imagined back in his Pinnacle office months earlier when he developed the concept. “Their jaws were on the ground, smiling like little puppy dogs and doing everything she asked,” he recalled.
But, Albert Belle wasn’t having it.
“Christie and I both had concepts for Albert, but he said no to all of them,” John said.
So, they scrambled to find an idea Belle would agree to. John remembered the game in Belle’s then then recent history when the slugger yelled toward the Boston Red Sox dugout and flexed his bicep to show where his home run power originated. “Everyone knew about this, and we wanted to show his jacked biceps,” John said.
Albert’s response to the idea?
“No! I don’t repeat myself,” he said to John and Brinkley.
“Wow, what do we do now,” John recalled her asking.
What do you do when the surly slugger repeatedly rejects your ideas?
Forget the biceps. Tug at the heartstrings.
Perhaps in a moment of tossing her arms in the air in frustration, Brinkley asked Belle if he would hold her 13-month-old son, Jack, on his lap. Belle agreed.
“Albert was very happy to sit there with Christie’s son on his lap,” John told me. “He even cracked a nice, big smile.”
Brinkley snapped a round of photos, and that moment became the card. When the set was released in July, Pinnacle showed off the set to reporters and photographers at New York’s All-Star Café. An Associated Press photo from the event ran in newspapers the next few days showing the supermodel holding an oversized replica of the card depicting Belle with Jack sitting on his lap, both wearing Cleveland caps.
It was a hit!
On the back of Belle’s card, No. 10 in the collection, is Brinkley’s hastily self-snapped photo. It shows Jack, reaching from Albert’s lap, for his Mom. Belle is in the middle of the two, still smiling.
All of the card backs have Brinkley selfies taken with the ballplayers, via a bulky film camera – not a phone, of course. Most are non-descript with Brinkley smiling brightly, snuggled up to, or with her arm around, the ballplayers. The back of Chipper’s card shows Brinkley blowing a bubble, just like her subject. Indians third baseman Jim Thome – known for punching the ball out of the park – is wearing boxing gloves on the front and back of his card.
David Justice’s card back shows the 5’9” Brinkley looking up to the 6’3” slugger who towers above her. On Jason Schmidt’s card, it appears it was he who took the selfie, not Brinkley. Carlos Baerga is shirtless in his photo with the supermodel. He has a red heart painted on his chest because “he was the heart of the Indians,” John recalled.
Everything during the two-day shoot seemed to be working. The players were into it. Brinkley was having a blast. John was enjoying his moment in the sun.
The downside, however, was it took hours before the group could examine the results.
Remember, this was 1996.
“The night in between the two days of shooting, my director of photography, the photographer’s assistant and I had to get in a rental car and drive down to Miami from West Palm Beach to an after-hours photo lab and have them process the film and the pictures,” John told me.
The trip was about an hour and half each way after an exhausting day of work.
“We went down there to process the film of the pictures so we could bring them back and show Christie what they looked like, to make sure she was happy with the results of her work.
She loved the pictures,” John said smiling. “She was very pleased.”
Pinnacle had to be pleased, too, because collectors loved the unique concept. Also, Business Week reported that Brinkley’s ability to persuade the players to pose without demanding fees – some of “which can run up to $10,000 apiece,” the publication wrote – saved Pinnacle a substantial amount of money.
Today, Beckett lists each cards’ value at .50, including the un-numbered card picturing Brinkley sitting on her knees on a beach, topless it appears, holding a book to her chest. But when the cards came out, they were uber popular with collectors. In their “Sports Collectors” column in the Aug. 4, 1996 edition of The Journal News (White Plains, New York), John Kryger and Tom Hartloff quoted individual card values they had received from “one dealer’s price list.”
Atlanta pitcher Greg Maddux’s card was valued the most then at $49.95. Behind him was Belle, Chipper Jones and Manny Ramirez at $39.95. The lowest values were $14.95 for Grissom, Schmidt and Julio Franco. As of this writing, you can find the individual cards online with prices usually ranging from .99 for Belle and Klesko to $49.99 for Jones.
But, John, who still has the full set, never has given a thought to the cards’ market value or what they are selling for on eBay. “I never looked at them in that way,” he said. “I’ve always looked at them as an example of quick thinking and my job and role with the company.”
Once the cards were released in July 1996, tons of media coverage focused on their novelty and immediate popularity. There was plethora of coverage from newspapers – many ran AP photos and stories, magazines and even late-night TV even talked about the cards.
It was mostly favorable, and great publicity for Pinnacle, which is what John had planned for his company.
There was, however, one notable exception, even if it was tongue-in-cheek.
In its popular weekly feature, “This Week’s Sign That The Apocalypse is Upon Us,” Sports Illustrated wrote: “Pinnacle, a Texas-based trading-card company, has hired supermodel Christie Brinkley to photograph selected Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians for a soon-to-be-released set of baseball cards.”
SI picked the Brinkley photo shoot that particular week because, well, “Jeez, I don’t have a specific memory of it, Chad,” replied Jack McCullum in an email when I posed that question to him… 23 years after the fact. McCullum and fellow SI writer Richard O’Brien co-edited the section in those days. They “went through dozens and dozens of newspapers, magazines, press releases, etc. to find our weekly Apocalypse,” McCullum wrote.
More than two decades later, John laughed about SI’s witty assertion that his idea was sending civilization toward its doom.
“You can take it a couple of ways,” he said to me over the phone back home in Connecticut, months after our initial conversation. “You can take it like, ‘Wow, they’re really insulting my concept.’ But, you can look it as great publicity, and it was published everywhere, even in a global magazine like Sports Illustrated. Overall, that and the whole experience was pretty amazing.”
USA Today thought so, too. It gave the card concept its stamp of approval in its April 16, 1996 edition, writing “Thumbs-up: To a seemingly hokey idea that also is practical. Christie Brinkley will appear on some Pinnacle baseball cards coming in July. But she had a function beyond presumed sex appeal. In actually shooting the cards’ photos (including ones of herself), Brinkley got players to strike off-beat poses. Cleveland’s Albert Belle posed with Brinkley’s baby boy. Says Pinnacle’s Laurie Goldberg, “there wasn’t much chance of getting some of these guys with a regular photographer.”
Four more words needed to be added at the end of Goldberg’s quote to complete the sentiment: