One Man’s Journey to Slay The Monster

*This is the first of hopefully many posts about my journey collecting the T206 set, aka “The Monster”. Many have tried, most have failed. Wish me luck!*

My introduction to the T206 set came last spring during a meetup with a local card collector. He was selling a Roberto Clemente rookie card to me because it didn’t fit with his “collection.” He proceeded to tell me that he primarily collected T206, which he referred to as “The Monster.” I recall being awed by the size (524 cards) and volume of Hall of Famers (76 cards in the subset, including the famous Honus Wagner card). As I was leaving, he smiled and said, “Once you go down this rabbit hole, there is no turning back.”

Fast forward to this past July. I’m at The Chantilly Show (a prominent card show in the DC area) and I run into that same collector who has some of his T206s on display and available. While I didn’t recognize many of the names on these beautiful cards, I did recognize a few: Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson. One card in particular caught my eye, a stunning portrait of Hall of Fame second baseman, Eddie Collins.

A gentleman who I had been chatting with noticed my eyes wander towards the Collins and remarked, “That’s a nice one. A Hall of Fame portrait with an off-back would make for a great start.” I turn the card over and see “Sovereign Cigarettes Fit For A King” in a pleasing forest green font. I was sold. After a little negotiating, I secured my first T206 card, one of a legendary player, nonetheless (pics below). Little did I know at the time, but I had just plunged into the rabbit hole.

Considering that I’m far from an expert and there is already so much great material available about the set (much of which I’ll reference and link in later posts) this blog will have more of a personal spin. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, befriending, and learning of many others in the very active T206 community, and I’m hopeful that I can weave in tales of their journeys and insights, as well.

While my T206 collecting journey is no longer in its infancy, it’s still very much in the early stages. My monster number currently sits at 52, which puts me at exactly 10% complete (not counting the Big Four) – far enough in to have learned a few things but still just a beginner. With the road to completion stretching further ahead in the future then I can see, I’m looking forward to everyone joining me on this ride.

Just When I Thought I Was Out, They Pull Me Back In!

One of my personal favorite sets, from the relatively barren late ‘70’s when there wasn’t a ton of product, was the 1977 Padres team issued set of schedule cards. It’s a weird little set of a bad little team, 49 cards total.

Of those cards, 40 have schedules on the back and a line “One in A Series of 40 Player Photos.”

Some greats:

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Some not so greats:

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One had, what for me will always be the DP combo of the future:

84509335_10219013698167832_3140939828724498432_n

The other 9 had blank backs:

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Weird that in a 1977 issue, there’s a McCovey card (he was already back on the Giants by way of the A’s) and a Washington card (that franchise move a dead issue by ’77).

A nice group of cards, filed away, complete, at least until I stumbled on this post a few years ago – https://clydes-stalecards.blogspot.com/2013/07/1977-san-diego-padres-schedule-cards.html  *

It turned out that I only had slightly more than half the set, what are referred to as Type 1 (those 40 cards) and Type 3 (the blank backs). Of course, the Type 2s are harder to come by.

Type 2s also total 40 cards, with the same info as Type 1s on the back, EXCEPT there’s no “One in A Series….” line. There are also two types of fonts used for the fronts, a thin player name and a bold one.  It’s also got a slew of players not contained in either of the other types (Miller and Norman are thin font, Beckert is thick font):

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And this guy (who looks suspiciously like Rollie Fingers!):

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While all of this seems haphazard, there’s a good (though bad) reason for the confusion. Andy Strasberg, former head of PR and VP for the Padres can explain:

I created the set with each card having a Padres sepia photo on the front and a calendar of promotional game dates on the reverse. A few different cards were given away for free for each home game at Padres program stands.

Unfortunately the credibility of the cards flew out the window when a couple of local collectors replicated the format with different photos and flooded the collectors market to undermine the validity of the true Padres team issue card set.

The team issued cards are the Type 1s. All other types are ripoffs of Strasberg’s original idea.

Frustrating to find out about, and, seemingly an impossible group to find, I set out on a mission to find the Type 2 subset. Not a very exhaustive mission; I created an eBay search. Last week, after years, it finally happened! A full Type 2 set was listed, not marked as such, but the pics showed that to be the case. I was the only bidder. There were even some doubles, which I’ll list.

It’s a strange feeling, to know for sure that you’ve got every card, only to find out you’ve been mistaken for over 40 years. Thankfully, it’s not the biggest mistake I’ve made since 1977 and one that was relatively painless to fix.

*NOTE: Clyde’s post states the Jones/Kuhn card isn’t a blank back, but the one I have is. Not sure if that means there are two versions, but I doubt it.

1991 Topps Cracker Jack 4-in-1 panel decoder ring

DR K. Ten Most Wanted

One of the coolest cards on my Dr. K “Ten Most Wanted” list as of last week was his 1991 Topps Cracker Jack 4-in-1 panel. (And please get in touch if you can help with any of the others!)

As a student of the master, I try hard not to pay more than a buck or two for any of the cards in my Gooden collection, but I finally bit the bullet and threw real money at this Cracker Jack panel.

I was particularly swayed by Doc’s co-stars, three of my favorite players of the era: Tony Gwynn, Eric Davis, and Ken Griffey, Jr.

Variations

As is the case with many panel-based sets there were in fact multiple panel variations featuring different player combinations.

It didn’t seem to take co-chair Nick more than a minute to figure out that there was something very not random about these player combinations. And sure enough, they all point to a larger sheet with exactly this neighborhood around Gooden.

Before going too much further into sheets or panels I should pause and provide more background on the individual cards themselves.

Like the regular cards but smaller

The 1991 Topps flagship set had the era-typical 792 cards and nearly as many spin-offs as Happy Days. Think Topps Desert Shield for example. Two of them featured tiny cards: the 792-card Micro set and the 72-card Cracker Jack set that itself was divided into a Series One and Series Two, each numbered 1-36. The Cracker Jacks are occasionally referred to as Micro cards with different backs, but this isn’t quite correct since card size differs as well.

Speaking of backs, here is what the Cracker Jack card backs look like. Series One is on the left, and Series two is on the right.

Apart from the different colors used, you’ll notice the second card also has “2nd Series” in the top left corner whereas the first card does not indicate any series at all. This suggests Cracker Jack (or Borden for you corporate types) originally planned only a single series of 36 cards and then added another due to the popularity of the initial offering. The star power of the first series checklist vs the second also seems to point in this direction.

Population report

The popularity of the promotion is borne out by a highly informative (if occasionally inaccurate) business article on the Borden-Topps partnership that even includes sales figures for each series:

  • Series One: 75 million boxes
  • Series Two: 60 million boxes

Based on the size of the set, this translates into about 2.1 million of each first series card and 1.7 million of each second series card. Back in 1991 we would regard this as “limited edition” with the second serious “extra scarce.”

SOURCE OF 4-in-1 PANELS

Though I’m sure the truth is out there, I can find no definitive documentation on the source of the 4-in-1 panels. Theories I’ve run across include–

  • Distributed to dealers or show attendees as promos
  • “Handmade” from full sheets of 1991 Topps Cracker Jack
  • Part of a mail-in offer

I’ll regard the first two as most viable at the moment. Mail-in seems less likely since Cracker Jack already had an offer in place for mini-binders.

I’ll offer one other very weak clue that works against both the mail-in and promo theories: the size of the borders.

On the left is an actual 4-in-1 panel. You’ll notice the interior borders are about twice the thickness of the outside borders. The card really doesn’t look bad, but I would think if you were designing the card intentionally as a 4-in-1 you might even out the borders to achieve a cleaner look. (And yes, I did say “very weak” clue.)

Regardless, the most fun option is to assume the four-in-one panels were produced on the secondary market from uncut sheets. Of course when I say “fun,” I don’t mean “normal people fun.” I mean mathematically fun!

Anyway you slice it

For the moment let’s assume that uncut sheets simply cycle through the 36 cards in the set over and over again in the same order until the end of the sheet is reached. Let’s also assume that our sheet cutter doesn’t just cut any old 2 x 2 array from the sheet but proceeds methodically from the beginning of the sheet and works his way left to right, up to down. Finally, let’s assume cards are sequenced in numerical order.

Here is what this might look like for a sheet that is 18 cards across and 10 cards down the side. What you’ll notice, as in the highlighted blocks of 5-6-23-24 panels, is that there are no variations produced by the method. If card 5 were Dwight Gooden for example, he would always have the same three co-stars.

Without breaking out any fancy number theory, you might correctly surmise that the rather ho-hum result has something to do with the sheet repeating every two rows, which only happens because we conveniently matched the number of columns to exactly half the set length.

Now let’s run the same cut against a sheet that’s only 16 cards across. It stands to reason that at least something more interesting should happen here. Sure enough, the new configuration produces two Gooden panels: 5-6-21-22 and 25-26-5-6.

While two variations is nice, it’s not four. If you think about it, one of the things limiting our variations here is that we always see 6 paired with 5, which is another way of saying we never see 4 paired with 5. (Alternatively, we can say that 5 is always on the left and never on the right.)

So long as we have an even number of columns, this sort of thing will always be true. Therefore, our only hope at hitting four variations would seem to be having an odd number of columns. The example below uses 15 and sure enough pairs 4 with 5 some of the time. Unfortunately, we still failed to reach the theoretical maximum of four variations.

Is it possible we just got unlucky with our odd number? Maybe so. Let’s try this one more time and go with lucky 13.

Alas, we remain stuck at only two variations. Is it possible that there’s simply no solution involving methodical cuts and that achieving more variations will require something more like this?

The good news is we have our four variations. The bad news is we end up with a lot more waste.

Is there a Methodical solution?

Let’s take one more quick look at the actual Gooden panels that started this post. In case you missed it the first time, notice that Doc finds himself in a different quadrant on each of the panels. For example, he’s in the upper left position on the Gooden-Boggs-Griffey-McGwire panel, and he’s in the upper right position on the Gwynn-Gooden-Davis-Griffey panel.

Under our assumptions about how uncut sheets should be constructed, the problem of a methodical cut yielding four variations is equivalent to the problem of a methodical cut putting Doc in each of the four panel quadrants.

Looking back at our earlier examples, we can see that our first time through Doc was only in the upper left, which is why we had only a single variation. The next time, Doc was upper left and lower left only. Finally, in our last two methodical efforts, Doc was only upper left or lower right.

What would our sheet need to look like for Doc to end up in all four panel quadrants? We can attempt to solve the problem by examining one quadrant at a time, starting with the upper left quadrant.

For card 5 to end up in an upper left position, we need two things to happen.

  • 5 needs to be in an odd numbered row since these rows correspond to upper halves of panels.
  • 5 needs to be in an odd numbered column since these columns correspond to left sides of panels.

It was an otherwise boring example, but you can check these properties against the first table we looked at.

What we need then is a formula or rule that helps us determine which rows and columns 5 will end up in based on the number of columns in the sheet. WARNING: This part will get a little complicated and mathy. Feel free to skip to the section titled “DARN IT!” if the math gets too distasteful for you.

Let’s assume our sheet is N cards across and has M rows of cards. Then somewhat generally our sheet looks like this. Almost.

I say almost because we haven’t yet accounted for our numbering restarting every time we reach 36. For example, when N = 18 and M = 10, we don’t want to see our sheet numbered 1-180. Exactly as in our first example, we want to see our sheet numbered 1-36 five times in a row.

A mathematical trick that will get us what we need is called modulus (or sometimes “clock arithmetic”). In this case, we just need to replace each sheet entry with its equivalent, modulo 36. (Technically, this still isn’t quite right since it would replace 36 with 0, but we can simply keep that oddity in our back pocket for now.)

Therefore, our new generalized sheet looks like this:

Now that doesn’t look awful, does it? Okay fine, don’t answer that! And of course, I’m about to make things even a little more complicated since I can’t do a heckuva lot with all those dot-dot-dots taking up most of the sheet. I’d rather have variables, even if it means going from two letters (M and N) to four.

For example, if I am in row j and column k, I want to be able to say the number in that spot is [(j – 1)*N + k] mod 36. That way, if I want to know if the card is of Dr. K, I just need to check to see if [(j – 1)*N + k] mod 36 = 5! Simple, right?

Now let’s go back to the two conditions necessary for Dr. K to occupy an upper left panel position: odd row and odd column, which algebraically just means j and k are odd.

Of course (!) when j and k are odd, then [(j – 1)*N + k] is also odd regardless of the value on N, so there is at least hope we will have solutions for correctly chosen values of j and k no matter the width of the sheet.

What about if we want Doc to appear in the upper right, which I’ll note we have not yet seen in any of our examples? The conditions for this are–

  • 5 needs to be in an odd numbered row since these rows correspond to upper halves of panels.
  • 5 needs to be in an even numbered column since these columns correspond to right sides of panels.

Algebraically then, we know j is odd but k is now even. Going back to our complicated looking expression, that makes [(j – 1)*N + k] even no matter what value of N we choose, and this guarantees we will never have [(j – 1)*N + k] mod 36 = 5.

In case your eyes are glazing over, this means Doc will never end up in the desired position, which in turn means we will never get our four variations no matter what size sheet we go with. We could still look at the two lower quadrants but after suffering such a fatal setback one might justly wonder what the point would be.

Darn it!

Well imagine that! No matter what size we make our sheet, there’s no way to arrive at four Doc variations following a methodical cutting strategy. Two is as good as it gets. And yet, I started this article by showing you four actual examples. So what gives?

There are really only two options, assuming we’re still in the “panels produced from uncut sheets” camp.

  1. The cutters didn’t follow a methodical approach, instead just cutting up sheets willy-nilly to achieve desired results.
  2. The sheets didn’t follow the same rules we did.

The first option is hard for me to swallow, but the second one is equally baffling. Yes, one could imagine laying out the sheets so that we didn’t simply have the complete set repeated over and over. For example, we might imagine the insertion of a double-prints within the set.

The problem is that even the insertion of a double print doesn’t generate new solutions unless it were only sometimes inserted. (For example, imagine the first instance of the set on the sheet included two card 10s, but none of the other instances did. Possible but weird, right?)

Cheating, PArt ONE

Okay, what the heck. Let’s just look at an uncut sheet, shall we? Perfect, let me just get out my microscope!

Kidding aside, the sheet has everything we needed to know. First off, it’s 20 cards across and 22 rows down for a total of 440 cards, which is enough to hold 12 complete sets with 8 cards left over. We can also (barely) see that the sheet doesn’t even come close to following the logical layout originally assumed and later dismissed. I’ll highlight this by placing a thick red border around every Nolan Ryan card since his card is both easy to spot and card #1 in the set.

Sure enough, there are 12 Ryans, but their appearances on the sheet become more and more irregular as we progress down the sheet. Life gets more sane once we add nine more rectangles.

Each of these 6 x 6 blocks is itself a complete set, always following a consistent sequence. For what it’s worth, that sequence is:

32-21-08-30-33-04
10-07-25-19-22-02
05-34-26-28-29-13
17-06-16-36-27-12
23-35-09-18-20-24
01-14-31-03-11-15

We can further simplify the sheet by making three more rectangles. The upper orange rectangle houses the first two columns of a set, the middle orange rectangle houses the middle two columns, and the bottom orange rectangle houses the last two columns. Collectively they add up to the tenth complete set in the diagram.

All that remains then is to understand the last four rows of the sheet.

Each of the green blocks at the bottom represents the upper four rows of a complete set, which the two yellow rectangles then complete perfectly. Finally, the pink rectangle gives us our eight leftover cards, which match up with what we might call the upper left corner of the set.

That’s all well and good, but of course what we really want to see is whether this sheet layout produces all four Dr. K variations. At least that’s what I’m here for!

One thing we can say without a doubt is that the actual sheet layout is nothing like our original assumptions. With all the cockamamie patchwork we might justifiably exclaim, “Aha! THAT’s the crazy kind of layout you need to get all those variations!”

But guess what?

Cutting the sheet methodically into 2 x 2 panels, we find only all twelve Dr. K panels yield only a single variation (see yellow stars), the exact one I bought.

Go figure!

Cheating, part two

The only thing for me to do was ask the seller, who specializes in oddball cards and has always been a great guy to do business with. While his answer may not hold for all 4-in-1 panels like mine, he let me know, sure enough, that the particular panels in his own inventory came from uncut sheets.

I then asked if he did the cutting personally since I’m still surprised someone would resort to the unorthodox method it would require to produce all variations. He let me know he was not the cutter and had received his rather extensive lot as part of a larger purchase he made.

Perhaps one of my two readers who’s made it this far has direct knowledge in this area, in which case I hope they share that knowledge in the comments. In the meantime, I’m left believing that somebody somewhere wanted variations so badly that they were willing to live with a little waste.

Either that or…

what really happened

So I was thinking about the easiest way to produce all variations for all players with a minimum of waste. Taking Doc as an example, we know he only appears in the upper right quadrant when methodical cutting is applied. However, moving him from top to bottom just requires skipping a row. Similarly, moving him from right to left just requires skipping a column.

Treating the blacked out portion of the sheet below as throwaway, a methodical cutting of the remaining sheet portions will generate a complete master set of all 36 x 4 = 144 panels. I’ve highlighted one of each Gooden panel to illustrated this. (Note also that my black lines could have been just about anywhere and still done the trick. They only requirement is that each quadrant remain large enough to generate a panel of the desired player.)

So yes, I do believe that’s what happened, and the only question that remains for me is whether the cutter planned all this or just stumbled upon it by accident. As for that I’ll offer that many uncut sheets end up with a bad row or two due to creasing. I’ll also offer that bad cuts here and there are possible when chopping up an entire sheet. What this suggests to me is there are at least two ways the original cutter may have unwittingly generated a master set all my math told me was impossible!

Mid-90s Pop-ups

I read the post about Stouffer’s pop-up cards with a lot of interest because it’s always fun to find out about new sets and I love gimmicky things like pop-ups. However the assertion that those were the “best engineered baseball cards that have been issued to date” made me pause.

I have no argument with the best-engineered part since the pop-up mechanism is super nifty. It was the to-date that got me thinking. Why? Because there were a lot of similar pop-up cards in the mid-1990s.

Quickly referencing my collection and googling for images that show some of the different mechanisms in action turned up at least four other sets. There’s the 1994 Oscar Mayer Superstar Discs,* and each year from 1993 to 1995 Kraft issued a set of pop-up cards as well.

*A full write-up of these is over at Angels in Order

Unlike the 5-card Stouffers checklist, all four sets here involve 30-card checklists. Oscar Mayer is cool in that it includes one player per team. Kraft on the other hand is a more generic top-30 players approach. I much prefer the one-per-team  checklists. Yes some big names end up missing but there’s so much more to a season than just the names. Plus as a team collector it’s always a downer when a cool-looking set doesn’t offer a logical entry point for my collection.

Anyway, the most-interesting thing for me to find out is that these sets all appear to use slightly different mechanisms for either the pop-up effect or the card manufacturing. Some are folded and glued from one sheet of cardboard. Others look like multiple sheets. The Discs are obviously more complicated than that. The 1995 Kraft set pops up from the end of the card rather than the middle.

Something was obviously going on so I wandered over to the patent library and did a quick search. There are a lot of patents for pop-up cards in the late 80s and early 90s. So many that I can’t figure out which ones correspond to what cards.

A quick sample. US patents 5259133, 5450680, and 5746689 all look superficially the same as the Stouffers, Oscar Mayer, and 1993 Kraft cards (I’ve been unable to find one that looks like the 1995 Kraft cards). They’re mainly just assembled differently. I wish the cards or packaging had a patent number listed.

What’s amazing to me is that many of the patents are explicitly for baseball cards. In two of the images I’ve chosen here the illustration clearly features a baseball player.

Patents are usually written somewhat broadly so that they can apply to multiple applications beyond the original intent of the application. But in the artwork here the inventor’s inspiration comes through. The mid-90s explosion of card-related technologies* resulted in multiple patents about baseball cards and in this case multiple patents to achieve the same effect.

*Other patents are in my previous patent dive post but relics, foil stamping, holograms, die cuts, chrome, dufex, etc. all exploded that decade.

Stouffers 1995 Baseball Set Deserves A Standing Ovation

My vote for the best baseball cards that came with a food product are the Stouffer’s cards from the overlooked Legends of Baseball set from 1995.

When my kids were in grade school in the 1990’s we tried every frozen pizza product available before settling on the Stouffer’s offering as the best of the bunch.

In 1995 we increased our consumption Stouffer’s pizza due to the inclusion of one of 5 different baseball cards in each package. It is worth noting that every card is a hall of famer. The checklist is as follows:

1) Yogi Berra

2) Gary Carter

3) Don Drysdale

4) Bob Feller

5) Willie Stargell

These cleverly designed and well manufactured cards were just about the same size as a standard card, but with much thicker cardboard. Just about every surface of these cards contains either a photo and / or information about the ball player.

The front of the card has an action photo of the player. The caps and the uniforms have been airbrushed so the team logos and names are not visible.

The back contains a head shot with biographical information and airbrushed caps.

Front and back of card number 5

By slightly bending the card to loosen up the die cut of the player and then pulling the tab the front image of the player pops up and also revels the players career major league stats and a Legendary Moments write up.

There have been other cards with unique designs such as the 1955 Topps Double Headers and the 1964 Topps Stand-Ups, but the 1995 Stouffer’s cards with multiple moving parts are the best engineered baseball cards that have been issued to date.

The most amazing thing about this set was that by sending in a number of proof-of-purchase seals (can’t remember how many) from the box packaging you could get an autographed card of one of the hall of famers in the set.

When I sent in my proof-of-purchase seals, Stouffer’s sent me back an autographed Yogi Berra card along with a Certificate of Authenticity.

Yogi Berra autographed card and Certificate of Authenticity

By doing a little searching on eBay you can put together an entire set of these cards for under $20.

The Middle Ground Between Light and Shadow

I’m a sucker for 3-D cards. Not all (except when it comes to Kellogg’s), but most.  I have, in addition to Kellogg’s, a smattering of Sportflics, Topps inserts and other oddballs. Sometimes the effect works, usually through some weird angle – under an armpit, between a bat and a head. You’ve got to pick your spots.

The 1995 Topps DIII set, 59 cards featuring “infinite depth perception,” held great promise, but, like Everlasting Gobstoppers and The Neverending Story, only delivered the falsest of false advertising. The 59 cards, uber thick with heavy laminate, are a blurry mess with no discernible movement.

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I was going to post a video of the cards in motion, but there’s really no point. Unlike even the worst Sportflics cards, the DIIIs don’t budge.

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Still, I like them. They’re heavy to hold, and, though ineffective, kind of nice.

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The backs are a cube design, though Star Wars scrolls come to mind,

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and the checklist is firmly mid-1990’s, when Orlando Merced and Mike Piazza could make the same set of name players.

DIIIs are not as terrible as the pit of man’s fears, and they may not represent the summit of his knowledge, but you can get a set for around $15, which is a pretty nice zone.

 

The Most Conventional Set II

In light of the “overwhelming” response to the article about the little-known 1996 Cubs Convention card set, this sequel was nearly inevitable.

In January 1998, the Cubs hosted their 13th annual fan convention. The 1997 season ended with the Cubs in NL Central basement—16 games back of the Houston Astros—resulting in an appreciably thin retrospective “highlight” reel. As of 1998, Cubs fans canonized the 1969 team (a talented and personable team that had suffered a heinous September collapse), along with the 1984 and 1989 NL East championships. That was as much success as the franchise had enjoyed in over half a century. Outfielder Andy Pafko represented the 1945 squad at the 1998 convention, the last Cubs team to have appeared in a World Series at the time.

556A1332-D0B1-4BF8-A9D4-76FF179A823C

Each fan who attended the 1998 Cubs Convention was given a set of baseball cards packaged in a boxy envelope, sealed with a plain white sticker. Unlike the beautiful cards produced for the 11th Cubs Convention, this set incorporated a much less appealing design. At 30 cards, the set was three more than its 1996 counterpart; however, the card size shrunk to 3” x 4” and only 14 individuals were given a card of their own. The remaining 16 cards featured two players/broadcasters, with frustratingly tiny photos. Each card also incorporated a wholly unnecessary tan border on either vertical side.

67DE35F6-8053-4CD0-A740-F2EE0480E9FD

Primarily designed for gathering autographs at the convention, the card backs included biographical information, lifetime statistics, career highlights, and the uniform number for active players. Nearly every Cubs celebrity appearing at the 1998 convention was represented in the set, save pitcher Scott Sanderson and general manager Ed Lynch, who had also pitched for the Cubs from 1986-87.

The fact checkers for this set were less then stellar. Glenn Beckert and Geremi Gonzalez had their names spelled incorrectly, and Jody Davis apparently enjoyed a Methuselah-like big league career spanning from 1081-1990. The designer also lazily used the same photo from 1996 for both Beckert and Randy Hundley. The Gary Matthews card features a slightly different photo from the same at-bat depicted in the 1996 set.

8996C5EE-F35D-480F-BF1F-B1B6D326DF77

New acquisitions Jeff Blauser and Mickey Morandini shared a card sporting the caps of their former teams, conjuring the legitimate longing for a Topps airbrush artist of yore.

515AFB19-AF4F-4E7F-BA94-6226C0C9A7A6

A perfectly wonderful card set for Cubs and individual player collectors, the set includes Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Andre Dawson. Ford Frick award winners Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse were given cards of their own—Caray would pass away less a month after the convention and Brickhouse in August. Almost fittingly, this was the final Cubs Convention card set produced by the Cubs.

6B406F2F-36F6-4171-BE77-E07AB9B6EFE0

The 1998 Cubs would capture their first wildcard berth in 1998, only to fall unceremoniously to the Braves in the NLDS. A certain Cubs slugger featured in the set would go on to have an historic 1998 season at the plate, and a rookie pitcher would fan 20 Astros in a single contest on May 6. Cubs fans would celebrate the 1998 team at the 1999 convention and enjoy a much more robust highlight reel, despite the familiar disappointing end of the season.

Here is the checklist for the set (numbers included are for reference only):

1. Ernie Banks
2. Ron Santo
3. Billy Williams
4. Mark Grace
5. Sammy Sosa
6. Terry Adams
7. Harry Caray
8. Scott Servais
9. Andre Dawson
10. Steve Trachsel
11. Jack Brickhouse
12. Kevin Orie
13. Jim Riggleman
14. Rick Sutcliffe
15. 89er’s – Mike Bielecki/Vance Law
16. Flame-Throwers – Kevin Foster/Mark Pisciotta
17. 1969 Infield – Glen (sic) Beckert/Don Kessinger
18. Booth Banter – Pat Hughes/Josh Lewis
19. Behind the Plate – Randy Hundley/Jody Davis
20. Mound Mates – Mark Clark/Jeremi (sic) Gonzalez
21. Outfield Greats – Andy Pafko/Gary Matthews
22. 1969 CUBS – Dick Selma/Willie Smith
23. Catching Corps – Mike Hubbard/Tyler Houston
24. Future Stars – Kerry Wood/Pat Cline
25. Hot Prospects – Robin Jennings/Rodney Myers
26. NEW CUBS – Jeff Blauser/Mickey Morandini
27. Alumni Club – Oscar Gamble/Larry Bowa
28. Alumni Club – Carmen Fanzone/Paul Reuschel
29. No-hit Hurlers – Milt Pappas/Don Cardwell
30. VETERAN HURLERS – Bob Patterson/Kevin Tapani

The Most Conventional Card Set

Self-proclaimed as the greatest off-season event in all of sports, the Cubs Convention was the brainchild of Cubs’ marketing director John McDonough (now president and CEO of the Chicago Blackhawks). The 2020 Cubs Convention will be the 35th such event to offer fans up-close panel discussions, autograph and photo opportunities, and just about any Cubs-related merch a Die-Hard Cubs Fan could ever desire.

The Cubs hosted their first-of-its-kind fan convention in 1986 and quickly established a tradition of creating special gifts for attendees such as hats, thermal mugs and team calendars. For their 11th annual convention in 1996, the Cubs introduced a set of baseball cards featuring the players, coaches and broadcasters who appeared at the weekend-long event.

The eclectic set of 28 cards was packaged in a boxy envelope, sealed impenetrably with a circular white sticker on the back. (If you are purchasing a sealed box, know that the cards can be removed from the box without disturbing the seal.) One set was given to each convention goer at registration.

The image on the front of the box depicts Brian McRae jumping atop an apparent walk-off celebration. Shawon Dunston and Mark Grace are easily identifiable, as well. (Dunston does not appear in the set, as he was granted free agency by the Cubs following the 1995 season.)

Measuring a robust 4” x 5½”, the sexy black-bordered cards are printed on a relatively thin stock. The top border is an homage to the famous Wrigley Field marquee and features the distinctive mid-1990s Cubs logo. Cards of active players included career statistics on the back. Retired players’ cards had highlights and career statistics on the rear. The cards are not numbered.

Most of the cards feature a single individual, like these Hall of Famers, including a bespectacled Ferguson Jenkins, the Cubs then pitching coach:

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Six of cards combine multiple individuals:

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The final card is an advertisement for the now-defunct Vineline magazine with Ernie Banks on the cover. A closer look at the card reveals a posthumous (but presumably misprinted) enticement for 1995 postseason tickets. (By the time of the 1996 Cubs Convention, the 1995 Cubs had already finished 3rd in the NL Central.)

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The Cubs Convention is a bonanza for autograph collectors and these cards are perfect for that purpose, like this Andy Pafko signed for the author:

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The Cubs have never disclosed convention attendance figures, so it is unclear how many of these sets were produced, although it is likely in the 10,000-25,000 range. If you are a Cubs fan or individual player collector, these are great oddball cards to add to your collection.

That 1996 Cubs Convention also included a special Donruss exhibit, where you could get custom card produced. This baby-faced slugger 1/1 is the rarest card in my collection:

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Set checklist (numbers just for reference):

1. Terry Adams/Turk Wendell (Young Guns)
2. Ernie Banks
3. Ernie Banks (Vineline Ad)
4. Glenn Beckert
5. Larry Bowa
6. Jack Brickhouse/Vince Lloyd (Golden Voices)
7. Scott Bullett/Ozzie Timmons (Dynamic Duo)
8. Harry Caray
9. Jose Cardenal/Rick Monday (Sensational 70’s)
10. Frank Castillo
11. Jody Davis
12. Mark Grace
13. Richie Hebner/Keith Moreland (Wrigleyville Sluggers)
14. Randy Hundley
15. Fergie Jenkins
16. Don Kessinger
17. Gary Matthews
18. Brian McRae
19. Andy Pafko
20. Milt Pappas/Tim Stoddard (Flashback Favorites)
21. Jim Riggleman
22. Ryne Sandberg
23. Ron Santo
24. Scott Servais
25. Steve Stone
26. Rick Sutcliffe
27. Steve Trachsel
28. Billy Williams

Succumbing to the Siren’s Song of the Topps Heritage Collection: a 1970 journey

Let’s just say that I was Topps Heritage collection-curious.  Oh, I’ve seen the sets depicting contemporary players in designs from 1969, 1968, and others, looking all sleek and alluring, like a siren’s song calling to me and my debit card.  Shaking my head quickly, I tell myself, no, no — that’s is all a marketing trick, don’t fall for it. Don’t give in.  I knew that once I bought a pack, I wouldn’t be able to stop!

Well, there I was, at the Greenwood Fred Meyers waiting in line to make my purchases, and there they were, off to the right in the racks calling out their familiar song.  Sigh.  Okay, maybe just one.  I can do it.  Just one, and that’s it.  It’ll be fun.  I know other guys are doing it, right?  And hey – look – there are 20 cards.  More value, the package read!  Okay … just one.  Here I go…

The high number plastic pack I opened included 19 cards and a candy lid. Curiously I flipped through the pack, looking at the design, both front and back, checking out the team names, and making notes of the words and drawings on reverse side in blue, white and yellow.  Going through the names and faces now, I was pleased to discover Vladimir Guerrero, Jr (#504); Yasiel Puig (#541); Michael Pineda (#662); and David Freese (#691), among others.  The candy lid (available only at Target, but purchased at Fred Meyer) was Rhys Hoskins (#29 of 30).

Being reasonably satisfied with the purchase and the design of the cards, I turned to my binder of 1970 cards, my handy-dandy copy of “Topps Baseball Cards: The Complete Picture Collection, a 35 Year History: 1951-1985,” and the “Official Baseball Card Price Guide: 1990, Collector’s Edition” to compare designs.

From this point, I stepped a toe onto memory lane and wandered through the 1970 collection.  The Topps book’s 1970 introduction made much to do about the saga of the Seattle Pilots and their heart-breaking move to Milwaukee before the season began.  The complete set itself totaled 720 cards, the first time that the card set exceeded 700, measuring 2 ½ x 3 ½ inches.

The cards themselves are unremarkable.  They feature a blue and yellow printing on white card board with yearly stats, brief bio, and a cartoon on the backside with the front side showing crisp color photos with team name in upper corner, and the player name in script in the lower gray border.

1970 Sparky AndersonI mean unremarkable in that the photos include players in pitching or batting poses, close-ups with caps, without caps, and some with very, very bad airbrushed caps.  I’m looking at you Sparky Anderson (#181); Curt Blefory (#297); Tom Shopay (#363); and Bob Heise (#478), among others.  Poor Fred Norman (#427).  He looks like his LA Dodgers insignia was ironed on his ballcap, with a somewhat noticeable Spokane Indians pictured.1970 Fred Norman

Some of the more interesting cards included the NL and AL Championships (#195 – 202), another first for Topps.  One fun-filled card, was Lowell Palmer (#252) of the Philadelphia Phillies, who was the only one to sporting sunglasses.  In keeping with the true essence of the Topps Heritage collection, Philadelphia Phillies Pat Neshek paid homage to Palmer’s card by wearing sunglasses and sporting the card number 252, as well.

1970 sunglassesTopps has done an outstanding job with these Heritage sets.  I don’t know if I will make another purchase.  Maybe next year, I guess.  Perhaps those 2020 cards will incorporate the 1971 card design.  Those would be interesting to see!  But, then again, I’m hoping to keep my impulse control in check.  These things can be addictive!

Editors’ Note: Jeff Katz has previously written about reaching the exact opposite opinion of 2019 Heritage and Nick Vossbrink has more a more detailed description of how Topps changed the printing between 1970 and 2019.

Digital Footprints

A recent post by Jenny Miller about the Topps Bunt app got me thinking about digital cards. I’ve long wanted to see such a post on this blog but I suspect that our membership base is skeptical at best* when it comes to cards that only live in an app.

*And dismissive at worst.

I get it. This is a cardboard hobby and the idea of something existing only digitally doesn’t feel “real.” At the same time, the experience Jenny describes is closer to the pure ideal of the hobby than much of what’s going on with card releases. She doesn’t have to spend any money. She’s able to look at her collection and acquire new cards anywhere and anytime she has battery life on her phone. There’s no concern about finding a card shop or hoping that the card aisle hasn’t been raided by pack seekers. It sounds like a lot more fun than most of the bellyaching I see about the current state of the hobby on Twitter.

What really got me thinking though were the images Jenny used in her blog post. I’m online-averse in all my media. I prefer CDs/DVDs/BluRay to streaming. I prefer books to Kindle. As interesting as the Topps Bunt app seems it’s just not something that appeals to me…unless I can get the cards out of the app. As much as I’m a luddite, my concerns are actually more about being locked in to a corporate ecosystem and the fact that companies have a bad track record with regard to maintaining these things.

I just don’t trust these apps to last and while I don’t need ALL my cards to last another 20, 30, 40 years it would be nice to know that there’s a possibility of it. Jenny didn’t get her images out of the app (she confirmed with me that she pulled them from Topps’s Twitter feed) but she could have.

My phone (an iPhone8) produces screenshots that are 750×1334 pixels. This translates into 2.5″×4.45″ at 300 DPI. Even if you have to crop off a little of the image to get just the card this is enough data for good-quality printing. Yeah. There’s no reason why you couldn’t roll your own Bunt cards.

As much as it’s weird to me how the Bunt app cards show evidence of wanting to pretend to be physical items with their wrinkles, halftone rosettes, “autographs,” and peeling effects, they are actually something that can be taken into the real world if you wanted to.

Costco wallet-sized prints are 59¢ for four. Even if you didn’t print these, just being able to save them outside of the app gives you a level of flexibility and future-protection that alleviates a lot of my concerns. It also reminds me of a number of other card-related things we’ve covered on this blog where the original objects contain information that is no longer accessible for most collectors.

One of the best things about this hobby is how it’s a near perfect usage of technology—in this case print technology. Cards are the right size to hold and store. They’re durable enough to handle without falling apart immediately. And they don’t require any supplementary technology.

I very much love cards that push the into other technological realms though. They just require some help to be fully enjoyed if the other technology does not age as well as ink on cardboard.

For example, Auravision and Baseball Talk are both wonderful objects but the audio portions of them are tough to access. Record players may be making a comeback but they’ve not been standard in most homes for a long time. Plus you have to punch a hole in the middle of that nice Auravision photo to listen to anything. Similarly, Baseball Talk requires a special player which, even if you have one, is not guaranteed to work anymore since it’s a cheap child’s toy.

But the internet is a wonderful place. The Auravision recordings are up on YouTube. As are the Baseball Talk ones. This means I can have my Baseball Talk cards in my album and pull up the corresponding recordings on the web. Yes there’s always that fear that the recordings will disappear from YouTube but they’re out there, but there are tools out there that will download the audio from a YouTube video and convert it to MP3.

Another thing that YouTube has preserved is things like 2000 Upper Deck Power Deck. Sure you can just shove a baseball card sized mini CD-ROM into a binder page but reading the data is near impossible now. Most computers don’t have optical media trays and the ones that do are usually slot-loading ones that can’t accept non-standard sized or shaped media. So your only option to see what’s on the disc is to go to YouTube and hope it’s been uploaded.

I’ve actually been engaged in my own form of converting a somewhat-inaccesable product into one with digital footprints. I don’t have the toy to view my Viewmaster discs so I’m only able to see them by holding a disc up to light. This isn’t ideal. Scanning them into wiggle gifs produces a better way of seeing them.

I’m also going a step further and scanning the booklet so I can convert each image into a 2.5″ square card with a still image in the front and the booklet on the back. No it’s not the Viewmaster experience but it take the photos into a form that’s more accessible.

Do I expect Bunt to be around in a decade? No way. But I do expect JPGs of the cards to be available someplace. Maybe not all of them, but someone next decade will have an archive of a bunch of them. And I have my fingers crossed that a few cards will even be printed out the way I’m printing out my Viewmaster photos.