Were the All Star FanFest Cards from 1994-2000 the Precursor for Topps Project 2020?

As a baseball card collector and enthusiast, I feel that I am living through the Renaissance era of baseball card art. My Twitter feed is filled daily with spectacular images of cards from many artists that are working with a variety of mediums to produce their own interpretations of what cards of past and present players should look like. A number of these artists are also using their artwork to support charitable causes.

There was certainly an undercurrent of fine baseball card artwork being produced long before 2020, but the Topps Project 2020 brought to the surface a tidal wave of beautiful cards from a wide variety of artists.

Was Project 2020 an original idea or was it a variation on a project from the Junk Wax era? A case can be made that Project 2020 can be linked back to the All Star FanFest Cards from 1994 to 2000.

The two projects are similar in that they have multiple artists and designers coming up with unique cards of a single player and they also share some common player subjects – Roberto Clemente (1994 – Pittsburgh FanFest), Nolan Ryan (1995 – Dallas FanFest), and Jackie Robinson (1997- Cleveland FanFest).

The other player subjects for the All Star FanFest sets were Steve Carlton (1996 – Philadelphia FanFest), Lou Brock (1998 – St. Louis FanFest), Carl Yastrzemski (1999 – Boston FanFest), and Henry Aaron (2000 – Atlanta FanFest).

Ray Schulte was responsible for the All Star FanFest cards from 1994 to 2000. At the time he was working as an event consultant for MLB Properties, and cajoled some of the major baseball card producers of the 90’s to design and distribute unique cards of an iconic player from the city that was hosting the All Star Game. To obtain the cards a fan had to redeem 5 pack wrappers of any baseball product of the manufacturer at their FanFest booth.

I was introduced to the cards when I attended the All Star FanFest event held at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston in 1999. I attended the event with my family and upon learning about the cards from a Fleer representative sent my two kids on a mission to purchase 5 packs of cards produced by each of the four manufacturers from dealers at the event so we could exchange the wrappers for the Carl Yastrzemski cards designed just for the 1999 FanFest.

Now let’s take a closer look at the All Star FanFest sets which feature players that overlap with the Topps 2020 Project.

1994 All Star FanFest Set – Roberto Clemente

1994 was the first year that FanFest cards were issued and with Pittsburgh hosting the All Star Game the player subject was Roberto Clemente. Topps, Fleer, Upper Deck, Donruss, and Pinnacle issued cards for the event.

Fleer and Topps decided not to mess with perfection and produced cards that were essentially reprints of Clemente’s 1955 Topps rookie card and his 1963 Fleer card with 1994 All Star logos. Upper Deck issued a metallic looking card of Clemente that contains career stats and accomplishments on the front. Upper Deck would utilize the “metallic look” design for player subjects for the next 6 years. As you would expect, an image of a Dick Perez painting of Clemente is on the front of the Donruss Diamond King card.

1995 All Star FanFest Set – Nolan Ryan

With the 1995 All Star Game being held in the home park of the Texas Rangers the logical choice for the player subject for the FanFest cards was Nolan Ryan who retired in 1993.

The 5 card manufacturers who designed cards for the 1994 All Star FanFest also produced cards for 1995 All Star FanFest event held in Dallas.

Topps produced a re-imagined 1967 Rookie card of by eliminating the Jerry Koosman photo and enlarging the Nolan Ryan image to fill the front of the card. In microscopic print, Nolan’s complete major league pitching record is on the back of the card. Steve Carlton got the same treatment a year later when Topps enlarged his airbrushed 1965 photo to produce a new version of his Rookie card. Fleer issued an Ultra Gold Medallion version of a Ryan card. Upper Deck continued with its metallic design for a Ryan card. The Pinnacle card featured a Nolan Ryan painting and Donruss produced a Tribute card.

Get out the magnifying glass. Back of Topps 1995 Nolan Ryan All Star FanFest card.

1997 All Star FanFest Set – Jackie Robinson

With the All Star Game 1997 marking the 50th year of his major league debut, Jackie Robinson was the correct selection for the player subject for the 1997 set.

Topps released a reprint of his 1952 card with a All Star logo on the front and his complete major league batting record on the back. Leaf distributed a reprint of Jackie’s 1948 “rookie” card with small All Star Game logo in the upper right-hand corner. Fleer choose a nice posed photo of Jackie looking like he is going to tag out the runner for its Ultra card. On the back of its Tribute card, Pinnacle included a great action shot of Robinson coming in head-first at home plate with the catcher about to make a tag. The photo leaves you wondering – Which way did the call go? Upper Deck once again used a metallic design for its Jackie Robinson FanFest card.

Other All Star FanFest Cards

1997 All Star FanFest Larry Doby Cards

Depending on your definition of a complete set, collectors should be aware that Fleer and Pinnacle released Larry Doby cards to coincide with the All Star game being held in Cleveland. Included below are photos of the Fleer Ultra card and the Pinnacle 3-D Denny’s card.

2000 Henry Aaron FanFest Error Card

For some reason Topps decided not to make a reprint of Aaron’s 1954 Rookie card part of the official 2000 All Star FanFest set. Instead, Topps designed a unique card that featured a spectacular color photo of Aaron in a posed batting stance. Topps did however print some of the 1954 Rookie reprints with an All Star Game logo. These Aaron Rookie reprints are considered “error” cards.

Costs

Almost all the All Star FanFest sets can be purchased for under $12 on eBay. The exception is the 1994 Roberto Clemente All Star FanFest set. Each manufacturer produced 15,000 cards for the event. Less than 10,000 of each card were distributed at FanFest. The rest of the cards were destroyed. A Clemente set will set you back about $60.

The Clown Princes of Baseball Cards

The Globetrotter-Baseball link is well known. The team’s founder, Abe Saperstein, was extremely active in Negro League Baseball (SABR bio here). Bob Gibson played for the Globies in the ‘50’s

and Fergie Jenkins did the same a decade later.

Lou Brock also played and Mookie Betts was drafted by the Globetrotters in 2020, but in a head-scratching career move stayed a Dodger.

But the Globie-baseball card connection? I’ve got it covered.

It’s hard to overstate the cultural pervasiveness of the Trotters during the 1970’s. In the first half of the ‘70’s, the Globetrotters were an ABC Wide World of Sports highlight, not to be missed. There were books about them

they had their own Saturday morning cartoon show

they starred in a Scooby-Doo movie

and they had not one, but two, trading card sets.

The 1971 Fleer Globetrotter set was 84 glorious cards, a simple photo on the front and well-written prose on the backs. They must’ve come in packs of 8. I just finished the set but started with 56 cards I’d bought back then (8 cards per pack is the best math I can come up with). Each pack had a team logo sticker, which I both don’t remember and, shockingly, have none of. If I bought 7 packs back then, I should have at least 6 intact stickers around, I don’t.

The second set is a shorter version of the first, 28 cards, but with facsimile autographs on the front and the Cocoa Puffs logo added to the back.

So what’s this got to do with you? I’ve written before about finding baseball cards in non-sports sets. The Fleer and Cocoa Puffs sets both have two cards of the Globies “Baseball Play” skit.

Card #70 (#3 Cocoa Puffs) is a complete baseball card. It’s got Meadowlark Lemon sliding and the back referencing the act.

Card #71 (#7 Cocoa Puffs) is half a baseball card, but it’s a great photo. The back has 1970-71 Highlights, no baseball stuff.

There are scads of hysterical Meadowlark Lemon memories, but I’m pretty sure my favorite may have been part of the baseball act. Lemon would slide and start howling “My leg! My leg!” The trainer and concerned teammates would come out and minister some aid to the injured leg.

“It’s my other leg!” Lemon would wail. A great punchline. It might be from a different skit, but I like it my way.

The Globies are still doing there thing . Here’s the baseball play, with a special Yankee guest.

Little Stamps Everywhere

1969 Topps stamps

In 1969 a boy or girl could go to the store to buy baseball cards, discover that they did not yet have the new series, and instead spend his hard-earned nickels on baseball stamps. The stamps were not “inserts”, they were sold separately. For 5 cents, you could get a stick of gum, a 12 stamp panel (perforated for easy separation) and a team album in which you could place 10 stamps. If this makes you think of hot dogs, you are not alone.

If you bought a single pack, you might get this Cleveland Indians album, but no Cleveland Indians stamps. What good is that? It was a model that essentially required that you buy more packs if you wanted to collect them. Lots more packs. To complete the set (I know of no one who did this, or even really tried to do this) you would need to buy at least 24 packs to get the 24 albums. This would give you 288 stamps. Each of the team albums needed 10 stamps, so if you were incredibly lucky you’d fill up your albums and have 48 extra stamps.

Topps could have made this a lot easier by creating 20 unique panels, each with a non-overlapping group of 12 stamps. Collect these 20 panels, and you have your stamps. “Hey, I am missing the one with Tommy Davis in the upper-left, do you have that one?” Easy-peasy.

But, no.

First of all, the panels came in one of two different configurations: either 6 rows of 2, or 2 rows of 6.

Vertical alignment
Horizontal alignment

My memory is that in Southeastern Connecticut we got the vertical configuration. If either configuration is folded in thirds, the resulting 2×2 shape is the size of a standard baseball card, and fit nicely in the pack.

Second, the master sheets were not divided in a consistent way. There are many more than 20 possible sheets, so kids would have to trade individual stamps to complete their Indians booklet. In the below panel, the left-most four stamps are the same as the rightmost four above.

Horizontal panel

It was not completely random. If you get a horizontal panel with Larry Dierker in the upper left, you got this 12-stamp configuration. And apparently there are ways to put together a full set with 20 panels of 12 stamps, though I have not tried to figure out who the magic “upper left” players are that will allow you to do this. (If you have the answer, please let me know in the comments.) More likely, you will collect a bunch of panels with overlapping populations, so you will need a lot of stamps.

If you take a look at some of these hatless and black-hat photos, you will recognize that you are in 1969. As a reminder, that year Topps was beset with four new expansion teams, problems with the Astros, and a player boycott, and many of these photos were a few years old. You can tell that the stamps came out early in the spring, because all of the 1969 photo issues are in play.

We also know these were put together early by looking at how Topps handled Hoyt Wilhelm. Wilhelm was a great pitcher destined for the Hall of Fame, but he was 46 years old and beginning the nomadic phase of his career. He was pitching very well (1.73 ERA in 93 innings in 1968), but after the season the White Sox did not protect him in the expansion draft. Who’s going to draft a 46-year-old?

On October 15, the Kansas City Royals selected him in the draft. On December 12 he was traded to the Angels. Meaning that he was property of the Royals for 58 days.

During these 58 days, Topps put together the Royals album and the Wilhelm stamp.

Topps used Wilhelm’s likeness in a few other sets that year. In the 1969 flagship he was in the sixth series (late summer) and is on the Angels. He is in the decal set as an Angel. He in on the Angels team poster. The only other time he shows up as a Royal is in the deckle-edged set. Although his team name is not listed, we know he is a Royal because of how the checklist is laid out –he was the only Royal. In fact, his trade to the Angels (and Topps desire to have every team represented) caused Topps to replace him in the set with Joe Foy, one of two “variations” in that set. (The other, Rusty Staub giving way to Jim Wynn, was the result of Staub’s trade to the Expos and the need for an Astro deckle.)

1969 team poster

Of these five items, four use the same photo, but the stamp (Royals) was most likely designed first, then the deckle-edged (Royals, replaced), then the poster and flagship (Angels), and then the decal (different image, with Angel hat/uniform drawn on).

OK, so what’s the point? The point, as always, is whether (and how) I would want to collect all of this today. Over the years I have realized that I really like the look of the stamp panels and I have haphazardly been “collecting” them. By which I mean if I see one (horizontal) at a decent price that I don’t already have I will attempt to acquire it. I have 17 different, though the prices, like everything else, have risen sharply recently. On occasion I will see a large sheet of 240 stamps which I would hang in my house except that I’d have to sell my house to afford the sheet.

I have also collected a complete set of 24 team booklets, with all stamps affixed. This is actually pretty affordable, though not as attractive or as easy to display. In this area, at least, I might side with @vossbrink’s view on the desirability of collectibles that have been used for their intended purpose. Or maybe I am just playing both sides, wanting the panels in their original configuration, but wanting the albums “used”. By this method, I own all the stamps, and can collect the panels without much regard for the player details.

As I mentioned recently with respect to the 1970/71 scratch-offs, the Topps offerings in this period are quite messy. But the mess is mainly trying to get it right (getting players on the right team, or in the right hat), not trying to rip off kids with chase cards and parallels and pieces of uniform. It was a better mess, in my view.

A Quixotic Quest

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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. The scratched “card” looks awful. (This point might be up for debate. I know that @vossbrink, for example, likes checklist cards that have been used for their intended purpose. This is a respectable point of view, and might apply here.)
  4. Even fresh out of the pack, the row on the seam (see picture) was difficult to scratch and read.
  5. 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.

And for that reason alone, I have no regrets.

Oldies but Goodies

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 rookie collecting year

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…

“Got him.”

“Got him.”

“Got him.”

“Got him…”

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.

My rookie collecting year was over at last.

Unpacking the Mystery Box from Uncle Dan: 1990 Kmart Topps set

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.    

An Appealing Set

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?)

Overanalyzing 1933 Goudey, part seven

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.

Sheet 1

No ages or other in-season clues. This could be a very short article!

Sheet 2

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.”

Sheet 3

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.

Sheet 4

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.

Summary

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.

Overanalyzing 1933 Goudey, part six

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.

Sheet 1

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.

Sheet 2

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!

Sheet 3

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.”

Sheet 4

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.

Sheet 5

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.

Sheet 6

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.

Sheet 7

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.

Sheet 8

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.

Sheet 9

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.

Sheet 10

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.

Conclusions

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 26 36 or whatever.

Appendix

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.