Dexter Park: The House That Murder Built

There’s been a lot of baseball parks in Chicago.  Before there was Wrigley, there was Comiskey.  Before Comiskey, there was the West Side Grounds, and before that, Brotherhood Park, and Southside Park, and Lakefront Park, and others, all the way back to Dexter Park.

Located just south of the Chicago Stockyards between 43rd and 47th and Halsted Streets, Dexter Park was the Windy City’s foremost ball ground in the mid-1860s.  It hosted the 1867 tournament that saw Rockford’s Forest City Base Ball Club shock the previously undefeated Washington Nationals, 29 to 23, on July 25.  The Nationals avenged the loss two days later by hammering the Chicago Excelsiors 49 to 7, and then giving the same treatment to the home-ground Chicago Atlantics after another two-day break, 78 to 17.

With the amateur game giving way to the professional version, the Chicago White Stockings claimed the park in time for the 1870 season.  Twenty-thousand fans are said to have witnessed the home team defeat the visiting Cincinnati Red Stockings in mid-October, 16 to 13.

But before there was Dexter Park, there was Dexter himself.  Described as “high-spirited, nervous, wide-awake and intelligent,” Dexter was America’s most famous horse during his short career.  Racing from 1863 until he pulled up lame in 1867, years before he would’ve reached his prime, Dexter ran 55 times and won 50.  He was Inducted as an Immortal to the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 1956.

Dexter beat all of the other famous flyers of the time—Stonewall Jackson, George M. Patchen, Jr., General Butler, Commodore Vanderbilt, Toronto Chief, Lady Thorne and others.  Along the way, the equine powerhouse set speed records for the day in mile heats, best three-out-of-five heats, two miles, three miles, in harness, saddle and wagon.

In 1866, Dexter was stabled in Chicago and owned by George Trussell, a notorious Windy City gambler.  One of Dexter’s most-anticipated races was scheduled to be held at the Chicago Driving Park Association grounds on September 4.  Trussell expected a big day.  But torrential rain soaked the Windy City that morning and a three-way $5,000 match against Patchen and General Butler was postponed.  It still turned out to be a big day for Trussell, when Mollie Cosgriff shot him dead.

Trussell spent the last afternoon of his life at the Driving Park, drinking and gambling with friends despite the race postponement. The party moved downtown in the evening with a tour of bars.  It was said that Trussell had a strong attraction to the spirits of the time, and so it wasn’t a surprise when he drifted into Seneca Wright’s tavern on Randolph for a nightcap and a song toward the 11 o’clock hour.

What was a surprise, was when Mollie Cosgriff showed up at the saloon, wanting a word or two with George.  She looked, according to one newspaper, as if she had just come from a dancing party, wearing a striking white moire dress to the occasion, a shawl draped over her shoulders, drunk, and carrying a revolver in a pocket. 

Mollie was no stranger to the tavern side of life.  She ran a well-known house of ill-repute on Fourth Avenue.

George and Mollie were no strangers to each other.  Mollie had fallen into the demi-monde in Chicago after moving to the city from her home in Ohio.   Her attractive figure and alluring beauty naturally gained the temporary attention if not the permanent affection of Chicago’s fast young men, of whom George was no exception.  An affair evolved, and a son by Mollie’s calculation, and the couple drifted apart, but Mollie never lost her devotion to the man.

The lingering feelings were not reciprocal.  George didn’t feel much like talking with Mollie that night, and he tried to usher her out the front door of Wright’s place.  There was some pushing and shoving at the entrance.  Seneca stepped from behind the bar, separated the two quarrelers, and then went back to his duties.  The former lovers continued to scuffle.  One witness said that George struck Mollie.  Others said he didn’t.  Mollie pulled her gun and shot him in the side.

George careened back toward the center of the saloon.  Mollie followed, and fired again, the bullet striking him in the back.  George stumbled toward a side door.  Mollie shot him a third time.  He staggered out the door, into the entrance of Price’s livery stable, and collapsed.

As if just coming out of a trance, Mollie raced out of the saloon and fell on his body, shrieking frantically, “O my George!  My George!  He is dead.”

A notorious gambler and owner of a famous horse, killed in his prime.  A jilted lover, a keeper of a lewd house, a drunken murderess.  Newspapers across the Northeast quarter of the country followed the story with salacious glee.  It was a sensation, pure and simple, and it seemed like it would be a tough act to follow.  But Chicago was a tough town, and racing soon resumed. 

“There is great excitement in sporting circles,” the Chicago Tribune declared on Friday morning, September 21, 1866, “about the great race…between General Butler and Cooley, for a purse of five thousand dollars a side, and set for tomorrow on the track of the Chicago Driving Park Association.”

General Butler was a popular harness horse whose career overlapped the Civil War.  His likeness circulated on Currier & Ives and other lithographs.

Cooley was a black gelding and a favorite on Chicago race tracks.  Locally owned, the fast trotter was described as “a big little horse” with “an eye full of intelligence and kindness.” 

Heavy betting underscored the excitement for the sulky race between the horses.  “The knowing ones seem to be about equally divided in opinion as far as odds are concerned,” the Tribune computed, “though the majority seem to think the General stands the best chance.”

The match between the horses was also a match between the drivers of the sulkies they pulled.  Manager Bill Riley drove Cooley.  Two men would steer General Butler that afternoon—jockey Samuel Crooks for the first two races, and quarter-owner William McKeever the remainder of the way.

McKeever was a cool customer, and a good enough athlete to have played for two of New York City’s premier baseball clubs.  He began as an infielder with the Gotham club in 1859 before taking on pitching duties for the rough and tumble Mutual club in 1863. 

In 1861, McKeever pitched for New York against Brooklyn and the great Jim Creighton in the famous New York Clipper Silver Ball Match.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle called McKeever “the most effective medium-paced pitcher in the country.”  Creighton outpitched McKeever that day in Hoboken, but Creighton isn’t called great without a reason. 

Now nearing 30, McKeever had traded away the mound work for the less taxing pursuits of harness racing and gambling.  A half-hour delay after the scheduled start of the Driving Park match drew the disapproval of the crowd of thousands in attendance.  Odds favored Cooley 25 to 10 when the match finally began at 3:30 p.m.

General Butler pulled ahead in the first heat, building a five-length lead at the half-mile post but the horses were equal at the final turn.  A late surge by Cooley earned the win by a neck.

Cooley won the second heat by 15 lengths.  Bettors on General Butler, suspicious of the slow times turned in by Crooks and on the verge of seeing their wagers wiped out, begged McKeever to make a switch.  As the odds climbed to 100 to 25 on Cooley, McKeever took the lines for the third heat.  The move paid off with a win by 20 lengths for General Butler and the odds reversed themselves. 

Trouble began in the fourth heat.  A half-an-hour was lost in fits and starts and ill-words between the drivers.  With darkness rapidly falling, the heat finally reached its start.  Two hundred yards into the race, McKeever suddenly swerved in front of Riley’s buggy, scraping Cooley’s nose.  General Butler won the race by a half-length.  Many in the crowd argued that the foul should have resulted in a dead heat, or the award of the race to Cooley.    Disarray prevailed when the track judges stuck with the win for General Butler.

By the time order was resolved, night had fully fallen and only moonlight illuminated the racing grounds for the fifth and final match.  More argument ensued, with half the crowd for the race to be called off due to darkness, and the other half demanding it continue.  A start was made despite the conditions.  General Butler broke in front along the rail as the horses disappeared in the darkness. 

In due course, Cooley returned to view, heading down the home stretch toward the winning line.  General Butler careened behind, without a driver.  A search quickly located McKeever, bloody and unconscious, face down in the cinders on the back stretch.  He was quickly carried to the home of J. R. Gore, a physician who lived nearby on Michigan Avenue.

Examination revealed extensive fractures to McKeever’s skull, with particular injury to the left temple, as if McKeever had been struck in the head by a hard object.  Gore extracted three broken pieces of the cranium.  Hopes were raised that the procedure would relieve pressure on the brain and allow McKeever to regain consciousness.  It soon became apparent that the patient could not recover from the injury. 

With foul play evident, police launched an investigation.  After taking Riley into custody, suspicion fell on Peter and Tom Hickey, brothers who owned a tavern near the race track.  Police arrived at the saloon at two a.m. Sunday morning and arrested the two after a desperate fight that left the officers and suspects bitten, battered, billy-clubbed and pistol-whipped.

McKeever died Sunday afternoon without ever coming out of his coma.  His body was returned to his brother’s care in New York and internment at Greenwood Cemetery, final resting place of so many of the game’s pioneers. Remembering their former pitcher, the entire Mutual Base Ball Club attended McKeever’s funeral.

Back in Illinois, the Cook County Coroner opened an inquest on McKeever’s death.  Chicago’s sporting crowd packed the Central Police Station to view the proceedings.  A string of witnesses testified. Two said they saw Peter Hickey on the track between the fourth and fifth heat.  There were other figures in the shadows.  Tom Hickey denied any knowledge of the events surrounding McKeever’s death.  Bill Riley testified he didn’t have anything to do with it, either.  He closed with one admission.  “I did say, ‘If I could win the race, I would.’”

The coroner’s jury returned its verdict on October without charges, finding only that a plot existed among unnamed friends of Cooley to prevent General Butler from winning the match, and that the result of this plot caused McKeever’s death.  A later history of the Chicago Police Department named Tom Hickey as the killer.

Mollie Cosgriff went on trial that same month for the Trussell killing.  The charge was manslaughter, for which a sentence of up to life could be applied.  There was no argument that Cosgriff killed Trussell.  The only argument was whether she was justified in pulling the trigger, in fear for her own life when Trussell tried to push her out of Seneca Wright’s tavern.  The jury didn’t buy the entire bill of goods, but came close.  After deliberating just over three hours, the jury returned with a guilty verdict and the minimum sentence allowable, a year in the penitentiary.

It might be expected that a woman of Mollie’s notoriety and profession would have some connections.  In prison, she was given a private cell and allowed to receive visitors and wear her own clothes, but that was just a nickel ante in a smaller game.  Mollie had bigger cards to play:  she was pardoned by Illinois Governor Richard J. Oglesby after serving just a month of her sentence.  

The Driving Park Association did not survive McKeever’s death.  With its reputation completely ruined by the autumn’s gruesome murders, the grounds were sold at auction in December of 1866 and soon demolished.  Dexter Park, specifically named after the trotter, opened in July of 1867 to replace the disgraced track.  The spacious infield of the racing oval contained the baseball diamond. 

A tobacco card celebrates Dexter

The horse Dexter had a short career.  So did the park named after him.  It burned to the ground in 1871, a victim of the Great Chicago Fire.

William McKeever has never appeared on a baseball card.

The MC Hammer cameo that wasn’t

Just a very quick article to provide definitive resolution to some Hobby lore regarding 1975 Topps card 466. Though the card’s headline, “A’s Do It Again,” is reminiscent of a Britney Spears hit, the card is better known to collectors for its connection to another pop icon.

Next to Reggie Jackson is a young lad collectors have long presumed to be former Oakland bat boy Stanley Kirk Burrell, more commonly known to the world as MC Hammer or simply Hammer.

The supposition wasn’t a bad one at all seeing as the hip hop legend was a fixture in the Athletics clubhouse from 1973-80, fulfilling a range of duties from bat boy to vice president!

Custom by Millburg Trading Cards

Even the rapper’s nickname draws from his time with the A’s, where Reggie Jackson and other players called him “Hammer” or “Little Hammer” based on the young man’s uncanny resemblance to Henry Aaron.

Returning to the Topps card, then, an MC Hammer cameo makes a lot of sense.

Of course, there are others who know far more about these things than I do.

So there you have it. The MC Hammer cameo is actually big brother Chris! Perhaps we should have known all along since Hammer himself would have been 12 at the time of the championship, which is younger than the bat boy on the card appears.

Fortunately, there is still work to do for the cameo sleuths out there. Any chance one of our cardboard detectives can spot a glimpse of Oakland ball girl Debbi Sivyer, better known today as cookie maven Mrs. Fields, on some random A’s card?

Get out those magnifying glasses and check the left field foul line! She’s gotta be there somewhere!

No cookies, just batter?

CTB: 1994 Ted Williams #112 Toni Stone

In this edition of Covering The Bases (CTB) we are discussing one of the few cards that have been produced of Toni Stone, subject of the February 9th Google Doodle.

1994 Ted Williams #112 Toni Stone

There are not many Toni Stone Cards, This is from the 1994 Ted Williams Set. The picture is one of the most commonly used photos of Stone, and also serves as the anchor image for the Google doodle.

The photo overlays another image of Toni Stone – this one is a 1954 publicity photo of her with the Kansas City Monarchs.

Likely an appeal to show the feminine side of Toni Stone, the Monarchs photographed her applying makeup.

B-Side

The flipside of the card gives a synopsis of Stone’s career concluding with a line summarizing her NAL stats.

1994 Ted Williams

The 1994 Ted Williams is a 162 historical card set largely composed of Hall of Famers and prospects, including a minor league Derek Jeter.

In a nod to Williams Hall of Fame speech advocating for the induction of Negro League players the set contains a 17-card subset of Negro Leaguers, produced with the assistance of noted author and historian Phil Dixon:

While all the players listed are highlights of the set, some names that jump out at me beyond Stone include Bud Fowler, Double Duty Radcliffe, and Leon Day.

Cards On Stage

in 2019 Team Phungo got to see the stage play “Toni Stone” loosely based on the life of Stone. There was a small but well curated exhibit in the lobby, among the items displayed was today’s card:

It was displayed in a glass case like a T206 Wagner. All cards should get this treatment!!

Here is an installation view of the case with a couple of pennants that represent Stone’s Career.

Baseball Cards also factored into the script of “Toni Stone.”

I believe the card Stone (portrayed by April Matthis) is looking at is 1934 Goudey #61 Lou Gehrig – although I am guessing this is a reprint or prop card.

I have no guesses on the other cards. If there is a card sleuth out there they can try and see more in this montage from the play – The cards show up shortly after the 35 second mark.

Editor’s note: Also shown are 1941 Play Ball cards of Arky Vaughan and Mel Ott as well as a 1935 Diamond Stars Hank Greenberg.

There you go, Today’s covering the bases takes us from Toni Stone to Ted Williams to Lou Gehrig.

Monique Wray

Google documents background on many of their doodles which includes information on the artist. The Toni Stone doodle was created by illustrator/ animator Monique Wray.

In the interview Wray had a couple of key observations:

Q. Why was this topic meaningful to you personally?

A: Toni was a trailblazer, a Black woman doing things she’s not expected to do, whether the world likes it or not, speaks to me.

Q. What message do you hope people take away from your Doodle?

A: Inspiration to persevere. Toni played with men, a lot of whom did not want her there. But almost every photo I see of her, she has a massive smile. She lived her life through adversity and did what she wanted to do.

The interview also contains a display of Wrays sketches for the doodle.

The Google synopsis includes a link for more info at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Sources and Links

The card that still haunts me

Stay in this Hobby long enough and you’ll have your share of heartbreak. Carry your favorite cards to school in your pants pockets, and you’re bound to put some through the wash. Sell a prized card when you need the money, and of course the value triples before you can buy it back. Stock up on your favorite phenom only to have his numbers plummet right in sync with your retirement plans. These tragedies happen. The only question is whether we have the resilience and perspective to weather them. I know I didn’t.

It was 1983 and I was thirteen. Cards were my whole world. I’m not saying that to brag. To put things another way, except for cards, I had no life, which is why this book had so much power over me. (In truth, mine was the second edition, but I couldn’t find a picture.)

It was this book that could turn an ordinary (and below average in most ways if we’re being honest) kid into a first-rate autograph collector. Sure I had some autographs in my collection already: Mickey Klutts, who signed at a show, and Nolan Ryan who I wrote to through the Astros, but Hall of Famers?! I wouldn’t have believed it except for the fact that it happened.

I don’t know how it’s done today but back then it was important to me to write each player a personal letter, praising their career and letting them know why their autograph would mean so much to me. I wish I could say my motivation was mere kindness. Sadly, I believe the only reason I did it was to up my chance of a return. “Flattery will get you everywhere,” as they say. Either way, I spent the weekend writing about 20 letters by hand, which I sent off (with SASE and accompanying baseball cards of course) all at once.

Any question about whether anyone would write back was answered quickly. I believe the exact time elapsed was four days, and the return address has remained in my head all these decades later.

Hank Greenberg
1129 Miradero Road
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

I don’t recall any note inside. Instead there was only a blank slip of paper folded to protect what was now the most amazing card in my collection.

Right in front of me was a 1983 Donruss Hall of Fame Heroes card of Hank Greenberg, signed in blue Sharpie, with an absolutely Hall of Fame quality autograph across the beautiful Dick Perez artwork. I stared at it for hours the day it came and then did the same just about every day after.

My second Hall of Fame autograph arrived a couple weeks later—I believe it was from Al Kaline—and from there it seemed every week another envelope would arrive: Stan Musial, Duke Snider, Charlie Gehringer, and so on. Even as the collection grew, the Greenberg still stood alone: first, best, and perfect.

Of course what happened next was unthinkable yet entirely predictable.

For the third time in as many years, I came home to find my mom had thrown out my entire collection, Greenberg and all. To be clear, this wasn’t one of those “mom threw them out” stories about a kid off to college or interested in cars and girls. No, baseball cards were my whole life. That’s exactly what it felt like too, like my whole life had been thrown out.

Over the next couple weeks, almost cruelly, signed cards continued to arrive. I should have been thrilled to land autographs from Ted Williams, Yogi Berra, and Eddie Mathews, but instead I just dwelled on what I didn’t have. It would be too mild to say I experienced anger or sadness. Rather, it was the feeling of hating my life. I know that sounds extreme, but how would you feel if baseball cards were the only thing you cared about?

The Survivors

I did resume my card collecting almost immediately. What else was I going to do with my time? However, even as autographs kept trickling in, I just couldn’t get myself to care. Despite having barely even started, I was done as an autograph collector. This I knew.

Haunted day and night for months by my lost Greenberg, I now hated autographs. And then one day the obvious occurred to me. Why not write to him again?

Sure enough, there was an envelope from Miradero Road waiting for me no more than a week later. There was only one problem. My card was returned unsigned. Along with it was a typewritten note letting me know Mr. Greenberg required that a $5 check payable to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (or maybe it was the Humane Society) now accompany all autograph requests. Like I even had a checkbook!

A couple years later, I saw the news that Hank Greenberg had passed away. I wish I could say my first reaction was sympathy for his loved ones or the legions of baseball fans who had lost a true giant of a man. Instead I was consumed by the thought that I’d blown my chance at an autograph. And yes, feel free to judge. Baseball cards were still my whole world.

About five years into my return to the Hobby, around 2019, I set up a saved search on eBay for a single autographed card: the 1983 Donruss Hall of Fame Heroes Hank Greenberg card. It had been 30+ years, for God’s sake! I thought I might be ready.

Only rarely did anything ever come up and most of the time when something did it proved to be an unsigned copy, misclassified by the seller or considered close enough by the eBay search engine. As it turns out, the bad results were a blessing. In contrast, it’s the truly autographed search results that strike me like daggers to the heart. Nonetheless, some self-destructive impulse, some bad mutation upon my collector DNA, compels me to retain this search, to keep looking.

Thankfully, the signatures on these cards are always black, not blue, ensuring at least some distance between the cards on the screen and the card I once had. Blue, that would probably kill me.

And then it happened.

A card came up last week that looked exactly like the one I had, the one I stared at for hours on end. Its blue Sharpie signature so uncannily matched the image burned in my head all these years that I now wonder if my mom really did throw away my cards or simply sold them to someone who sold them to someone who is now selling at least the best of them on eBay.

You might think I’d have already jumped at the chance to buy the card like some modern Ahab having at last cornered his White Whale. In truth, that would be confusing the hunter with the hunted. My journey back into the Hobby has been less about nostalgia than redemption, about rebuilding my collection without reliving its memories. Until now I have looked to the cards I buy to right, not revisit, my past. What happens then when one has the power to bring it all back?

Progress

So it only took four years since Topps/MLB yanked the mascot logo for us to see our first non-Indians Cleveland card. I was expecting to write this post next year with Series 1 but this week Topps went ahead and put out the first Cleveland Guardians card.

It’s nice to see even just as a mockup. I’m not sold on the logo but it works in the 1953 design since it’s not the usual modern overly-slick branding. I know it’s not actually hand-drawn but it’s one of the first I’ve seen in a long time that has that essence.  It, and the cap logo, are also huge improvements on the block C that’s been in use since 2017.

The amazing thing is that this card could’ve come out even sooner. Triston McKenzie looks to have been scheduled for the December 1st only he got delayed because Topps asked Jared Kelley to change his artwork. Given that the Guardians logos and everything were only announced at the end of July this is a fast turnaround to get it all into production.

The turnaround is so fast that I’m now wondering whether there were any discussions about changing the logo in other sets like Archives, Stadium Club Chrome, and Holiday which all reflect trade deadline team changes. Yes I know this also brings in the question of changing uniform logos in a way that requires more messing around with a photo than the way Living involves individual paintings.

I’m curious how the Guardians rollout will continue on trading cards. The photo issue will remain through next year—especially as the lockout pushes back the chances to get photos of guys in uniform—and Topps will clearly have to make a decision about how much photoshopping they want to do.

A T218 Toehold

One of the pre-war sets I’ve long admired is the 1910–1912 T218 Champions set. The cards are double-sized compared to standard tobacco cards and much of the artwork is spectacular. Unfortunately, there are no baseball cards in the checklist—ruling out obvious samples to pursue and rendering the set mostly irrelevant to this blog.

However, there are a handful of toehold cards to choose from. The big name is alleged Black Sox bag man Abe Attell who features in the boxing portion of the checklist. But there are also Platt Adams, Frank Irons, and Abel Kiviat who as track and field athletes also ended up playing baseball in the 1912 Olympics.

Last month Jason generously sent me a well-loved Frank Irons card. I’m not sure he was aware of the baseball significance as much as he wanted to make sure I had a sample, any sample, of the set.* I don’t care that it’s mighty beat up, I just enjoyed the excuse to go chase down internet reference links about baseball in the 1912 Games.

*I’m generally incapable of getting rid of any cards once I have them.

In those games there was a baseball exhibition between a Swedish club and a US team made up of Track and Field athletes. The result of the game made it to newspapers across the US but it’s a pretty bare-bones story which is more interested in just listing which athletes took part. There is however a PDF of the official report of the 1912 Stockholm games which is much more interesting.

Not only is “Baseball” listed in the Table of Contents,* there’s a writeup of the game, a box score, and a half dozen photos. Not quite as much information as the RG Knowles book had but still a fun read. I’ve gone ahead and screenshotted the PDF so I can summarize here.

*Since the PDF page numbering is messed up due to bilingual pages sharing the same page number the fact that Baseball starts on page 823 doesn’t help you navigate the PDF a all.

Because this is an official report about the games, the summary centers the Swedish experience. This is actually awesome since baseball had only reached Sweden in 1910 and they were still grappling with some of the fundamentals—especially regarding pitching—two years later.

Specifically, they hadn’t figured out how to throw curveballs and were worried about their ability to hit them as well. They ended up borrowing three pitchers and one catcher from the US team in order to have a semblance of fairness in the competition. While they were concerned about hitting, they do appear to have been proud of getting five hits and took special pride in Wickman’s* double.

*I can’t find a first name for him anywhere.

Of the toehold guys, two played in this game. Frank Irons was the starting left fielder, went 1 for 2, and made one put out. Abel Kiviat meanwhile played the whole game at shortstop, going 2 for 4, hitting a triple, stealing a base, scoring twice, and making two put outs.* Platt Adams only played in a USA vs USA game** but his brother Ben was the starting pitcher for Sweden.

*There’s a more US-focused writeup of the game which goes more into Kiviat as the star of he game as well.

*Which didn’t make it into the official report and Wikipedia doesn’t have a source for the  second box score. Jim Thorpe also supposedly played in the second game (the first one was the same day as the decathlon competition); no idea if he had found his shoes by then.

A couple other items of note. I cannot express how much I enjoy Sweden bragging about being able to play ball until 10pm in the summer. The location of the game still exists as a sporting facility. And the umpire of the game was none other than Hall of Famer George Wright.

The report also has a half-dozen photos of the game. The team photo of the Swedish side is great and the other photos showing Swedish action in the game are a lot of fun too. As I noted earlier it’s clear that the Swedes took pride in their five hits since one of the four game highlights is Wickman’s double while another is Welin’s single.

I do wish we had more photos of the US players—or at least a team photo—but I can’t complain about what’s here.

I’m sorry, Roger

My most prized complete set is the 1963 Topps. Even with the ugly Pete Rose rookie and the equally unattractive 1962 American League E.R.A. Leaders with the brim of Whitey Ford’s card missing, I still love it.

Yet my set is a constant reminder of how stupid a 14-year-old can be.

I collected the ’63s from wax packs bought back then mostly at the local Peoples Drug Store in suburban Washington, D.C. That explains why I had the misfortune to be a fan of the Washington Senators. It’s where I grew up. Given how bad the expansion team was (those Nats lost 106 games that season, for instance) and how heart-broken I had been when the original Senators moved to Minnesota, it’s a wonder I remained a fan.

To make matters worse, my best friend John was a Yankees fan, or more precisely a rabid fan of a guy named Mantle. Of course, like just about every serious fan outside metropolitan NYC, I hated the Yankees, or more precisely, since 1961, a guy named Maris. How sad to follow the crowd and not even know it.

My hatred of Roger Maris was because – no surprise – he had broken Babe Ruth’s home run record. I knew enough about baseball to know that Maris wasn’t anywhere near the Babe as a player, nor was he even the equal of Mantle.  

Members of this SABR committee who have seen Billy Crystal’s film 61* (I loved Barry Pepper’s portrayal of Maris) surely are aware of the venom directed at poor Roger, how his hair fell out and the pressure he was under. Heck, it wasn’t his fault Yankee Stadium had a short right-field porch or that Mickey got hurt. Or that Ford Frick wanted that darn asterisk on the home run record. Maris was just doing his job.

Still, one day during the season, when I got the #120 Topps card of Maris, I took a needle and punched a bunch of holes in it. For some reason, however, I kept the card. Perhaps in my subconscious, a voice was telling me what a mistake I was making, surely not because the card might someday become valuable – it has, but not ridiculously so – but because  I was being really stupid, disliking someone I didn’t even know so much as to treat his card as if it were a voodoo doll.

A couple of years later, John and I got Mantle’s autograph as he got off the Yankees’ team bus outside of D.C. Stadium. We got Ford, Jim Bouton and Elston Howard, too. Maris walked by us unimpeded.

Fast forward to the early 1990s, when my wife and I were cleaning out the attic, I came across a bunch of 1963 Topps that I had forgotten I had saved. The discovery, which got me back into card collecting, include the defaced Maris card, reminding me what I fool I had been.

I knew I deserved it.

Cardboard Detective: 1936-37 WWG Zeke Bonura

White Sox slugger Zeke Bonura has one of the more unusual baseball cards of the 1930s, courtesy of the 1936-37 World Wide Gum (V355) set sometimes known as Canadian Goudey.

Notably, the dapper Bonura is sporting a tie and vest ensemble rather than any baseball-related garb. (Oddly enough, the very next card on the checklist is of a fellow White Sox infielder, dressed almost identically.)

One might initially assume the two teammates were photographed at the same event, perhaps a banquet or the opera. Or might they have joined this man, dressed to conduct an orchestra or star in a Dracula movie, for a simple night on the town?

No? Okay, any chance Bonura, if not all three of these debonair gentlemen, were en route to this September 1935 watermelon eating contest?

Source: Chicago History Museum

Getting warmer but that’s still not it. If we’re gonna solve this mystery we’ll need one very important clue.

Source: Chicago History Museum

When Zeke wasn’t playing ball with the White Sox, he was often back home in New Orleans where according to this January 20, 1935, article (Nebraska State Journal) he “wrestles crates of produce, takes orders and makes himself generally handy around his father’s produce store.”

As it turns out, Bonura not only spent his winter months neck deep in fruits and vegetables but many springs as well. “Mentioning that Bonura is a holdout is about the same as saying that the sun will rise in the East tomorrow morning,” observed the Sporting News (January 14, 1937). Two years earlier, the same publication had Bonura “[speaking] up from the recesses of his father’s market in New Orleans” regarding his 1935 contract holdout. Bonura’s SABR bio has him holding out four straight years from 1935-38.

My understanding is that the fruitless negotiations went something like this:

SOX: “Hey, Zeke, are you gonna PRODUCE RUNS or RUN PRODUCE!”
ZEKE: “Either way I’m gonna get my cabbage!”
SOX: “…or just upset the apple cart.”
ZEKE: “You really think I give a fig?”
SOX: “How’d we end up with such a lemon?”
ZEKE: “Actually the nickname’s Banana Nose.”
SOX: “More like gone bananas! You’re really gonna turn down a plum job…”
ZEKE: “I have a plum job!”
SOX: “Apples and oranges.”
ZEKE: “That too!”
SOX: “What is this, Who’s On First?
ZEKE: “Anyone but me if you don’t pay up!”

But lettuce at last return to the baseball card that began this article. If you haven’t guessed it already, it’s this other job—Bonura as fruit merchant—that the card depicts. Look carefully at the backdrop behind Bonura and you’ll spot various crates of produce. To the left of his forehead are the letters “TAIN,” which I suspect come from one of the many fruit crates of the period with “MOUNTAIN” on the label. Similarly, the “ON U.S.” by his chin is likely a fragment of “WASHINGTON U.S.A.” or “OREGON U.S.A.,” two states known for their produce. Look closely and you may recognize other words as well.

Though it’s possible the World Wide Gum card’s photograph was taken during the winter months, my sense is it’s more likely to be a spring photo since that’s when Zeke as fruit merchant would have been more newsworthy. If so, I have to imagine the 1936-37 WWG Bonura card is the first (and probably only) baseball card of a player actively holding out for more money.

How do you like them apples? 😊

The Clarksdale (MS) Press Register, March 17, 1936

Author’s Note: I believe the site of the baseball card and newspaper photos would have been at Bonura Wholesale Produce (and/or John Bonura & Company), located at 200 Poydras Street in the New Orleans French Quarter. While the business no longer stands today, there is a Gordon Biersch brewery and restaurant where you can raise a glass (or enjoy some seasonal vegetables!) in Zeke’s honor.

The Tampa (FL) Tribune, April 16, 1922

CTB: 1997 Topps #13 Derek Jeter (with guest Chris Snopek)

Covering the Bases (CTB) is a feature where we take a deep dive into a single card. With his Cooperstown Hall of Fame induction imminent we are taking a look at Derek Jeter’s 1997 Topps Card.

1997 Topps #13 Derek Jeter

Folks that folllow our columns likely suspect the draw of this card to me is the rookie cup. Derek Jeter was the 1996 AL Rookie of the year and the star of the years Topps All-Star Rookie Squad. Although I must mention that the 1996 AL Rookie WAR leader was not Jeter…

Jose Rosado was also snubbed for the All-Star Rookie squad in favor of reliever Billy Wagner, who received a grand total of ZERO ROY (NL) votes. Rosado spent the entirety of his five year MLB career with the Royals. He made a pair all-star teams including sharing the field with Jeter in 1999.

1997 Topps

The 1997T is simple and functional. My only complaint is that the player position is not present on the card front.

One thing I do like is that the card borders are league specific, AL Players are in red while the Senior Circuit is green

1997 Topps #177 Todd Hollandsworth

Jeter’s NL rookie of the year counterpart was Todd Hollandsworth, here with the green NL Border. I am pretty sure that the league borders is a nod to the red and green books of the past.

At some point I had a couple of green books, but they appear to have escaped from the phungo museum. Unfortunately Red/Green books ceased publication in 2008.

Also noticed the change in orientation, Most 1997T are in portrait format like Hollandsworth.

Guess the Game

When possible Guess the Game is a prominent tenet of a CTB feature, and today’s Derek Jeter card is indeed traceable. However it is the guest Chris Snopek that is the key to the research.

Prior to the issuance of this card in 1997 Snopek played four games at Yankee Stadium, May 4-5 and August 6-7 1996. It appears that in only one of those games is there a play at 2nd base involving Snopek and Jeter. The play occurred in the 6th inning the game that occurred on May the 4th (Star Wars Day!). This is the front end of an inning ending 4-6-3 double play induced by Bob Wickman.

The twin killing may have quelled the Chicago rally, but in the end the White Sox won the game 11-5 .

It was Derek Jeter’s 41st career game. A double in the 6th inning was his 35th career hit. 3430 more hits would follow. Defensively the play on the card was among the 4 assists and 2 putouts recorded by Jeter.

The games big star was the White Sox Harold Baines, who collected 5 RBIs despite not entering the game until the 8th inning. His big blow was a 9th inning grand slam off of Jim Mecir.

But wait there’s more…

1997 Topps #137 Chis Snopek

Chris Snopek’s 1997T is a sort of Jeter mirror. It is also a keystone play at Yankee Stadium. Only this play features the White Sox on defense.

Quickly we can tell it is not the same game, note on this card Snopek is sleeveless while on the Jeter offering he is wearing an undershirt

The game was played on May 5th 1996, Snopek was playing career game 32. In the game he tallied his 7th career double and scored the White Sox lone run.

We also notice this image features Yankees star Bernie Williams on an attempted steal of 2nd base…

Safe or Out

This play appears to have occurred during the 7th inning of game on an attempted steal by Bernie Williams.

On the play Bernie Williams was…

SAFE!

He next went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly by Joe Girardi. Nice trip around the diamond for Bernie, The Yankees went on to win the game 7-1.

Flip

1997 Topps #13 Derek Jeter

Returning to our original subject, On the card back we now see Jeter’s position prominently at the top, also kudos to Topps for making the card # large enough to be read easily.

The card back element that jumps out me most is the text. Here we are at the beginning of Jeter’s career and he is already being compared to Don Mattingly. This is an incredible legacy to approach and Amazingly not only does Jeter carry the torch of “Most Popular Yankee”, I think most folks would agree he surpassed Mattingly.

Sources and Links

Lifetime Topps Project

Sports Collectors Daily

Baseball-ref

amazon

ebay

Phungo 1996 Topps All-Star Rookie Team

Phungo Derek Jeter Index

Anatomy of a Reprint

This will be a short post but I just received a copy of the 2021 Stadium Club Will Clark reprint. It’s a striking portrait of The Thrill. In 1992 Topps treated  Clark, Matt Williams, and Kevin Mitchell all very similarly. Black jackets and a black background with just enough light to expose their faces and one other feature—glove, ball, etc.—while everything else receded into shadow.

They’re striking cards and I figured it would be fun to compare the Clark reprint with the original card that I have in my collection.

Starting off with a side-by-side pair of scans. I scanned and processed these together before splitting them into different images so the differences in color reflect actual differences between the two and not anything I introduced in post-processing the scan. In this pair, and the other pairs of images in this post, the original 1992 card is on the left and the 2021 reprint is on the right.

Two obvious differences. 1992 is a bit darker and yellower. 2021 has lower contrast and better shadow detail. First off, the yellowness extends to the white point of the paper and is very likely an effect of aging. Maybe the paper is getting old. Maybe the UV coating* is yellowing slightly. The contrast and shadow detail differences though suggest that a lot more is going on.

*UV coating is the high-gloss finish that Topps started using in 1991 Stadium Club and which took over the hobby in the 1990s. It’s called UV because it’s cured with ultraviolet light. It can yellow with age and, as many of us have found, can stick to other UV coated items as well.

Yup. Time to look closer. The print screens shows that Topps recreated the original cards and that they have, someplace, the original images that they used in 1992. How can I tell? The two different cards use different line frequencies—1992 is around 125 LPI, 2021 is around 170 LPI—and there’s no evidence of rescreening.*

*Poorly done reprints often scan and rescreen on top of the older screen and the result is often a mess.

LPI stands for lines per inch and refers to how many rows of dots occur in each inch of printing. A higher number means you have the ability to show more detail in the image but also requires better quality paper and a better press to hold that detail. Printing too fine a line screen can actually produce a darker image than expected if done incorrectly since the dots are closer together and can “plug” if the paper or press is wrong.* In the 1980s and 1990s, anything over 120 LPI was high quality. Nowadays things are routinely printed around 170 or higher.

* It’s my opinion that 1989 Upper Deck suffered a bit from this as it would completely explain why so many of the images are darker than they should be.

More importantly though, I can see in the blacks that the screen on the 2021 card is a lot more open. At the top of this pair of images, the 1992 version is almost solid black. There are occasional dots of color but it’s mostly plugged with ink. The 2021 version though is clearly a mix of inks. Not only is the linescreen much finer, Topps kept it from plugging up with ink. As a result, there’s a lot more visible detail in the cap, jacket, and even the background texture.

There’s also a lot less yellow being printed in 2021. Looking at Clark’s eye shows that even if the UV coating in the 1992 is yellowing, there’s actually a lot of yellow being printed as well. I see way fewer yellow dots in the 2021 card.

This pair of images shows off the difference in detail that we can see in the glove but what caught my eye is the way the Stadium Club logo is printed. This wasn’t clocked by most people in 1991 but in addition to the full-bleed images, glossy finish, and foil stamping, Topps also used a spot-color ink* for the first time on the front of its cards.** This continued in 1992 and in the scans here the difference between the pink stadium seats is pretty obvious.

*I’m not going to explain spot colors in much depth here since I’ve already done so elsewhere on the blog but in short, full-color printing uses four process inks (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) and any additional ink that’s not one of those four colors is a spot ink.

**1991 Stadium Club is the first full-color plus spot color I can think of for Topps. 1990 Leaf with the silver ink  if the first full-color plus spot color I can think of in general. Adding a spot ink to the four process inks was a serious premium step up in production.

No screening at all in 1992. Clear magenta and yellow screen patterns and even some slight misregistration in 2021. I can’t show this in images but the 1992 spot ink fluoresces under a black light as well.

I know why Topps chose not to use a spot color in 2021 since that would be a lot of extra production for an insert set that no one was really excited about anyway.* At the same time, that they didn’t strikes me as being as wrong as if they’d replaced the foil stamping with a gold color ink mix.

*Seriously, does anyone like Stadium Club inserts? I’m pretty sure we all just get Stadium Club because the base card photography is so great.

Still, it was fun to do a dive into the printing differences so I can’t complain too much. While things like Heritage or Archives often play a bit loose with adapting old designs to modern usage, a reprint is supposed to be the same and when it’s not I’m glad the differences give us a look in to how Topps’s production quality has changed and, for the most part, improved.