The Bad Choice of a New Generation

As an aficionado of “odd ball” sets, I’ve accumulated many over the years. Amongst the quality commemoratives, reprints and regional sets lurk some real “clunkers” that make me question why I collected them in the first place. The “Pepsi Griffeys” is a prime example of a real “stinker.”

Mother's cookies

91 Star

90 Star Aqua

The unique aspect of a father and son playing together coupled with Ken Griffey Jr.’s emergence as a super-star resulted in at least four sets featuring dad and son. Mother’s Cookies produced a nice four card set with regional distribution in ‘91. The cards were imbedded in bags of cookies. The Star card company made two sets (aqua in ’90; red in ‘91) each with 11 cards.

Pepsi Jr.    Senior Pepsi    Pepsi Jr & Sr

The ’91 Pepsi sponsored set contains eight cards, which were included in 12 packs of Diet and regular Pepsi and distributed in the Northwest. Each set depicts the Griffeys singularly and together.

Outfitting the Griffeys in Pepsi themed uniforms creates a terrible aesthetic. The uniforms are devoid of lettering with only a number on the front. A Pepsi script or “Griffey” would have looked more natural. The sleeves and caps feature a Pepsi logo patch. The caps would be right at home on the head of a delivery truck driver.

Pepsi Back    Pepsi Jr. #3

The card design is basic with only the names appearing on the front. The backs are white with black lettering and contain various statistical information and highlights. The tight shots and blurred backgrounds make it impossible to determine the location of photo shoot with the possible exception of card #3 which could be the Kingdome center field wall. Incidentally, the 12 pack boxes had a 6”x7” picture of Jr. identical to card #3.

Many advertisers have issued sets with logos and scripts eliminated to get around paying royalties to MLB. This creates a bad look, but it is definitely better than product placement uniforms.

Are there other sets out there featuring players in product themed uniforms? Please comment or tweet.

You Can Put It On The Cardboard…..Yes!

Love him or hate him, Ken “Hawk” Harrelson has been an outsized character in baseball for six decades. From his battles with Charlie Finley in Kansas City to his “mod” wardrobe featuring “Nehru” jackets, he was a distinctive individual within the staid baseball world of the ‘60s. As a player, the Hawk had one exceptional season for Boston during the “Year of the Pitcher” in ’68. Injuries and desire to be a professional golfer prematurely ended his career in ’71. Of course, he would go on to be a broadcaster, most notably with the White Sox. His zealous support for the White Sox grates on many people, creating a love/hate dichotomy.

During Harrelson’s relatively brief career, he had some beautiful cards. The green and gold A’s combo and classic Indians vest uniform created great visual appeal. In addition the Topps photographers captured Hawk in some classic poses. On the flip side, the player boycott resulted in some duds as well. So button up your “Nehru” jacket, “grab some bench” and get ready to view some great cardboard. Mercy!

64 Hawk  65 Hawk

Hawk’s ’64 and ’65 cards are routine spring training shots, but the navy and red accented, vest uniforms-worn briefly by KC in the early ’60s-provides a novelty factor.

66 Hawk

The ’66 card is a personal favorite. The classic first baseman’s “stretch” pose coupled with the green and gold trimmed uniform combines to make a classic. The Yankee fan heckling Hawk during the photo shoot is a great example of backgrounds making cards more interesting.

67 Hawk

Harrelson’s conflicts with A’s owner, Charlie Finley, resulted in Hawk’s departure to Washington during the ’66 Season. Topps’ photographers took multiple shots of Ken in a Senators uniform in 67 spring training and early in the season at Yankee Stadium. The latter resulted in another wonderful card. Hawk looks down at his bat as if assessing its weight and worthiness. Topps often used this shot for “sluggers.”

Charley Finley was notorious for having “trader’s remorse” and would reacquire players he previously jettisoned. Hawk comes back to the A’s in mid-season of ‘67 only to become embroiled in a controversy surrounding Finley’s firing of Manager Al Dark, resulting in his release. After losing Tony Conigliaro the Red Sox need a power bat, so they pick up Hawk for the stretch run and World Series.

68 Hawk

However, the players’ boycott of Topps resulted in Ken never being pictured in a Red Sox uniform.  A “nostril” shot is used in ’68, which clearly defines why Ken was nick-named Hawk. The red piping on the hat is a clear indication of his time with the Senators. His “League Leader” photos are also from his Senators stay.

69 Hawk  69 All Star Hawk

The ’69 regular card and All-Star card has him sans cap with his A’s green and gold uniform.

69 Deckle Hawk

The “deckle edge” also has him on the A’s but with a not too convincing Boston “B” drawn on the cap.

69 decal

Topps reverts back to a Senators photo for the decal insert.

70 Hawk

Much to the consternation of Red Sox fans, Hawk is dealt to the Indians early in ’69, which results in a ’70 card that is truly a wonderful creation. The colorful uniform, Yankee Stadium location and the “two bats on the shoulder” pose all add up to perfection. Note the golf gloves for batting. Hawk is often credited with popularized the use of batting gloves, although others had used them before Ken. Also, Hawk appears to have taped his wrists.

71 Hawk

Since “he gone” from baseball at the end of the season, ’71 marks Ken’s final card  This “candid” shot shows him in mid-laugh under a shock of shaggy hair.

What all these cards have in common is a uniqueness that, in my humble opinion, has been missing from Topps regular issue cards over the past 20 years. The Heritage cards are an improvement, but the staging eliminates oddities in the background.

If you can, track down “Don’t Knock the Hawk” (a novelty song from ’68). And read his BioProject article written by Alexander Edelman.

 

The Jack Hamilton Photo

 

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Half a century later it remains one of the most infamous dates in Boston baseball history.

Friday, August 18, 1967: the night Tony Conigliaro, who by late in his age 22 season had already hit 104 home runs and recorded four seasons with an OPS of .817 or higher, was hit in the face by a fastball from Jack Hamilton of the California Angels. Conigliaro would miss the rest of Boston’s “Impossible Dream” season with a fractured cheekbone. He would sit out 1968 with blurred vision and while briefly trying to convert to pitching. He would make two ultimately unsuccessful comebacks, play on a second Red Sox team that reached the World Series but never himself appear in the post-season, slip into a life of substance abuse, and die at the age of just 45.

And the pitcher who hit him, Hamilton?

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All the evidence suggests that just hours earlier he had posed, with the hint of a smile on his face, for his 1968 baseball card photo.

This macabre coincidence may have dawned on collectors when those ’68 cards came out; it didn’t hit me until about a decade ago when I had a chance to review the vast archive of used and unused Topps negatives (the Hamilton ’68 image was auctioned off on eBay just last year). Barring the most unusual and unlikely of coincidences, Hamilton and a bunch of other Angels and Red Sox players shown in the ’68 and ’69 sets must have been photographed during California’s visit to Fenway that began on that awful Friday in August and continued through the weekend.

Understand the context here. I haven’t done an exhaustive search, but I believe the photos of Hamilton and the other Angels and Red Sox were the first Topps ever shot in Fenway. Through the ‘60s their photography was largely limited to the New York parks, the Bay Area, Chicago, Philadelphia, Spring Training, and a couple of cameos in other cities. Topps had published at least four colorized black and white Red Sox publicity handout photos shot in Boston, but had never sent its own man (probably George Heier, who was their regular New York photographer) until 1967.

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1968 Norm Siebern (f)   68-331Fr

The familiar landmarks of Fenway – the Green Monster, the vast bleachers, some of the billboards outside the ballpark – appear in the backgrounds of at least six Angels’ cards in the 1968 Topps set (Jimmie Hall, Hamilton, Woodie Held, Roger Repoz, Hawk Taylor, and Jim Weaver). Images of two other ’67 Angels shot in Boston, Curt Simmons and Bill Skowron, were also hidden in that unused photo archive. And there are three ’68 cards showing Red Sox players at home: Elston Howard, Dan Osinski, and Norm Siebern.

With the exception of Osinski, the players share one thing in common: they all joined either Boston or California in 1967. And the photographs share one other thing in common besides the venue: they all look like they were taken in the late afternoon or early evening.

The only Angels-Red Sox night game during that series was the Friday, when Hamilton hit Conigliaro. The teams played a day game on Saturday and a doubleheader on Sunday. While newspaper archives suggest each day carried a risk of thunderstorms and thus cloudy conditions that might give a similar look to photos snapped near dusk, there’s clearly batting practice going on in the background as nearly all of the Angel and Red Sox were photographed and B.P. would not have been likely if the weather was threatening enough to darken the skies.

There’s one other slight variable. The Angels also visited Boston on July 25, 26, and 27, and played only night games. Hamilton had joined the team from the Mets by then, and indeed Skowron (May 6), Held and Repoz (June 15), Siebern (July 15), Taylor (July 24), and Hall and Osinski (who had both opened the season with their new teams) would all have been on the field had the Topps photographer been shooting at Fenway for that series.

But Elston Howard (August 3), Curt Simmons (August 7), and Jim Weaver (August 13) hadn’t traded uniforms yet. And unless the Topps man went twice to Fenway inside of a month to shoot the same two teams and just happened to get the exact same lighting, there’s no other plausible conclusion: Jack Hamilton posed somewhere between the visitors’ dugout and the mound at Fenway Park literally just hours before he in essence ended Tony Conigliaro’s career.

1967 Jack Hamilton Pitcher CaliforniaAngels WATERMARK++

It Falls Between the Lines

68 Lines Front68 Lines Back

All collectors have experienced the disappointment of opening a pack and finding mostly cards you already possess. The joyous anticipation of peeling open a wax pack or tearing the Mylar wrapper is quickly extinguished when only duplicates appear. Equally frustrating is getting numerous cards of the same player. Of course I only have anecdotal evidence, but occasionally it seems the random sorting process goes awry and the same player ends up in most of the packs.

70 Syd O'Brien

In 1970, I remember getting five Syd O’Brien cards out of six or seven packs I purchased. I can still see him with his arms spread in a mock infielders pose. But the multiple “Syds” pale in comparison to the deluge of Dick Lines cards I received in ’68.

1968 was my first year collecting which probably explains why I vividly remember opening pack after pack containing the Senators reliever. After acquiring a few more from my brother and friends, I ended up with 10. I must have derived some pleasure from hording the Washington southpaw. The card left such an impression on me that I still remember that the answer to the cartoon trivia question on the back is Darold Knowles. Dick’s pitching follow though pose at Yankee Stadium may be more familiar to me than memories of my wedding or birth of my son!

Ironically, Lines didn’t even pitch for the Senators in ’68 and never appeared in the majors again. He did have a great year in ’66, appearing in 53 games, winning five and losing two, with a 2.28 ERA and three saves. Dick’s two year major league totals include: seven wins, seven losses and a 2.83 ERA. He spent 11 seasons in the minors, retiring after the ’69 season. 1967 is the only other year a card was produced for Dick.

Lines 67

According to Baseball Reference, Dick was born in Montreal and is still living at the age of 78. Perhaps I should contact him and let him know what an outsized impact he’s had on me. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Dick’s short, mediocre career may have contributed, psychologically, to my own general mediocrity. Perhaps at six years of age, Dick Lines’ career line on the card’s back convinced me of life’s limitations. If only Henry Aaron had been in all those packs, I might be rich and famous. Curse you, Dick Lines!

 

Veale Revealed

Recently, my son purchased two “hobby boxes” of 2017 Topps Heritage cards which feature the 1968 template. Within each box there are “buy back” cards. These are original cards with a special stamp applied. In a strange coincidence, the two cards he received were Pirates pitchers Tommy Sisk and Bob Veale.

Veale 68

The Bob Veale jogged my memory of his ’68 card which depicted him in a mock- pitching motion with two fingers extended to simulate the pitch grip. There is much to like about this card besides the “two-seamer” pose. Veale’s distinctive eyewear, the classic Pirates vest uniform and “410” marker on the outfield wall all add up to a great image.

Veale 62

Almost all of Bob Veale’s Topps cards are distinctive. The primary reason is his variety of safety glasses worn from year-to-year. The ’62 “Rookie Parade” card marks Bob’s Topps debut. His disembodied head provides the first glimpse of his gold-rimmed googles.

Veale 63Veale 67

The ’63 and ’67 cards feature the googles again and appear to be from the same photo session since Candlestick Park is the setting.

64 VealeVeale 65

The ’64 and ’65 feature different frames in spring training photos.

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In ’66 we find Bob at Shea Stadium with yet another new set of spectacles.

Veale 69'67 Veale sticker

1969 has Bob with the same “specs” but he has donned a letterman style jacket. The ’67 “test issue” sticker is the only Topps product with a photo of Veale sans glasses.

Veale 70

A new decade meant new eyewear as Bob changes styles once again, sporting aviator glasses.

Veale 71Veale 72

He seems to have settled on the aviator look since they reappear in ’71 and ’72. The Pirates have entered the “mustard” gold era as his cap clearly indicates. Veale really “styles” in his warmup jacket with great leather sleeves framed by the “mod” look of the ’72 card design.

73 Veal

A radical change occurs in ’73 as Bob is now with Boston and he has added a mustache. His last card features Bob with a windbreaker under the Red Sox double-nit, sans-a-belt uniform. He reprises his ’68 pose with the two fingers extended in a delivery simulation.

65LL66 LL

67 LL69 LL

In Veale’s BioProject profile Joseph Gerard stated that, “Bob Veale was one of the hardest-throwing and most intimidating strikeout pitchers in the National League from 1962 through 1972.” This is supported by the fact that Veale led the NL in strikeouts in ’64 and posted a career best 276 in ’65. His command issues coupled with poor eyesight put fear in the hearts of even the best hitters. The 6’6,” 212 pound lefty would finish with 120 wins. He worked mostly out of bullpen in the ’70s as arm and back injuries took their toll. On September 1, 1971 Bob pitched in the first game that featured an all-minority starting lineup for Pittsburgh.

 

Don Mincher on the Pilots

A recent posting of Bruce Markusen’s Card Corner featured the 1968 Topps Don Mincher card and provided an excellent overview of his career. The article mentioned that Mincher was selected by the Seattle Pilots in the 1969 expansion draft. Although Mincher was not a superstar, he was a well-known, productive player and as such stood out amongst the rag-tag group assembled on the Pilots roster.

This resulted in Mincher being featured in both 1969 and 1970 by Topps, Milton Bradley, Kellogg and other manufacturers as the Pilots’ representative on specialty cards, posters, stamps and inserts.  What follows is a look at Don’s cards and related collectibles during the brief existence of the one-and-done Pilots.

Topps 1969 Regular Issue and Decal Insert

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1969 Topps
69-decal
1969 Topps Decal

As with most cards for expansion teams, Topps airbrushed out the cap insignia from the players previous team. Based on the batting cage in the background, these pictures were taken during the same photo session. Obviously, the photographer wanted one with Don’s glasses on and one without. Also note that Topps didn’t stick with the same color designations on the decals as the cards. The light green ball on the decal was the designated color on cards for the Astros and Orioles.

The decals measure 1 ¾ X 2 1/8. There are 48 stickers in the set which featured many of the superstar players of the era. My memory is of them being distributed in the later series. The cellophane like decal peeled off from the white, waxy background paper. Over time, the adhesive tends to fail and the decal will separate from the backing. I can attest to this having a backless Mantle and Clemente in my collection.

1969 Topps Super

69-super
1969 Topps Super 

Apparently the Topps photographer believed Don photographed best while gazing into the upper deck at Yankee Stadium. The image on the Super card is exactly the same pose as the 1968 regular issue card sans hat. The Super cards are on thick stock with rounded edges and measure 2 ¼ X 3 ¼. They were sold three to a pack. The backs are the same as the deckle edge inserts found in the early series of the regular issue packs. One of Topps test issues, Supers were only distributed in Michigan, making the 66 card set extremely rare. Even non-stars are valuable. Tommy Davis is the other Pilots player found in this set.

1969 Topps Team Poster

69-poster
1969 Topps Team Poster

Once again Don is gazing skyward but in the opposite direction and without a bat on his shoulder. The team poster measures 11 ¼ X 19 ¾ and came one per pack for a dime. The dimensions are bigger than the 1968 player posters that were also sold one per pack.   The team posters had a wider distribution than the Super cards but didn’t reach all regions.

1969 Topps Stamps

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1969 Topps Stamp
stamp-album-1
1969 Topps Stamp Album

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Topps repurposed the 1968 card picture for Don’s stamp. The stamps came 12 to a sheet and each pack contained one album. There are 240 stamps in the set and they have the same thickness as a postage stamp.

1969 Globe Imports Playing Cards

69-globe-imports
1969 Globe Imports
1969 Sports Illustrated poster
1968 Sports Illustrated poster

Arguable the worst card set in history, these 1-5/8 X 2 black and white cards were printed on flimsy paper stock with blank backs. Each of the 55 cards represents a standard playing card. Mincher’s card is the same image as found on a 1968 Sports Illustrated poster. The SI promotional poster catalog featured a small version of each poster (image on the right). This may have been the source for the grainy pictures. It would be interesting to know if Global Imports bought the rights or simply pirated the images. Apparently, the cards were sold or given away at gas stations in the south. I found a set in the 1970s at a liquidation store in Yakima, WA.

1969 and 1970 Milton Bradley Official Baseball

1969 Milton Bradley
1969 Milton Bradley
70-mb
1970 Milton Bradley 

The 1969 game is composed of 296 2X3 cards which came on perforated sheets requiring detachment before playing. The backs contain a list of outcomes (ground out, single etc.). Oddly, there are not enough cards to form a lineup for each team.

In 1970 Milton Bradley issued a simplified version of the 1969 game. The 24 cards in the set measure 2 3/16 X 3 ½ with rounded edges.

1970 Topps Regular Issue and Poster

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1970 Topps
1970 Topps Poster
1970 Topps Poster

Don was traded to Oakland in January of 1970 but not before Topps produced the early series cards and poster inserts. There are 24 posters, one player for each team, and measure 8 11/16 x 9 5/8. Note that the black and white “action” picture is actually Carl Yastrzemski.

1970 Kellogg’s 3-D

1970 Kelloggs
1970 Kelloggs

The 2 ¼ X 3 ½ 3-D cards were made by Xograph and issued one per box of Corn Flakes. Interestingly, Rich Mueller of Sports Collectors Daily mentions that the cards were also distributed in six card packs with an iron on transfer. Don is #75 of the 75 card set. He is depicted in his Pilots regular season home uniform. The background appears to be RFK stadium where the All-Star game was held in 1969 and Don was the Pilots representative. However, Xograph did superimpose players in front of backgrounds unrelated to the location of the photo. Furthermore, the photo appears to be identical to a publicity shot taken at Sicks’ Stadium in September of 1969.

 

The Other Mike Cameron: A 2009 Topps Mini-Mystery Sorta Solved

Like many card collectors, I have a touch of what R. Crumb called “compulsive series syndrome.” That is, the need to create a collection that is not only complete, but organized in a specific way. As a Milwaukee Brewers collector, that means lining up the flagship team set every year – base cards arranged by last name followed by subsets by number, then the traded or update series organized in the same fashion – in nine-pocket bindered pages. It’s a nice way to capture a season, but the last decade or so of Topps flagship sets has often been frustrating. Series one usually contains  handful of guys no longer with the team while series two begins to roll out off-season additions. Unlike the clean single-series sets of yore, it leaves a sort-of two-season amalgamation of players. It also resulted in one of the true quirks of my flagship Topps Brewers collection – the twin 2009 base cards for Mike Cameron that sit side-by-side in my “2004-Present” binder.

cam

Before the 2008 season, the Brewers signed Cameron to a 1-year deal with an option for a second. Cam was to take over in center field for an over-matched Bill Hall and, after serving a 25 suspension for amphetamines, was one of leaders of a team that won 90 games and broke a quarter-century playoff drought for the Brewers. Cameron had a good season, but he wasn’t an all-star, got no MVP votes, and led the league in nothing. He was certainly significant enough to get a spot in the upcoming Topps set… but two? So far as I know, the only other player honored with TWO base cards with the same team in a single set was Ted Williams, who was both the first and last cards in the 1954 set. (I need to make clear here, there may be other examples of this… I just don’t know of or know how to search for them. If you know of others, please mention them)

cam2

So what gives? Well, the series one Cameron card is unremarkable. But the series two card offers a clue. While the series one entry correctly states that Cam was acquired as a free agent on 1-11-08, the second series card says “ACQ: TRADE WITH BREWERS, 12-15-08.” On December 11, 2008, it was reported that the Brewers were very near to a deal to send Cameron to the Yankees for Melky Cabrera. The Brewers had just picked up Cameron’s option year, but were looking at cheaper alternatives in center. Meanwhile, the Yankees were seeking a veteran upgrade from the 23-year old Cabrera. The deal was nearly official before the Yankees asked the Brewers to help pay part of Cameron’s salary. By December 17, it was reported that the deal was dead.

Piecing all this together, we can assume that Topps was finalizing its series two checklist right around the time of the rumored trade and prepared a Cameron-as-Yankee card. When the deal fell apart, they inexplicably kept Cam on the checklist as a Brewer, forgetting to change the ‘how acquired’ line. Why he wasn’t replaced altogether on the checklist remains a mystery. Several players who changed teams around the same time Cameron nearly did appear in series two in their new uniforms, so it’s not as though Topps did not have the time to make significant alterations to the series. And then there is the matter of CC Sabathia, who, like Cameron, was featured in the first series as a Brewer. Sabathia was the that off-season’s top free agent prize, and signed with the Yankees on Dec. 20. While Topps included a number of players who changed teams after Dec. 20 with their new clubs, they ignored the Sabathia signing – and any other player in series one who changed teams – until the update series. So, again, we’re left with to wonder what was so special about Mike Cameron.

So, in my quest to learn why my perfectly-aligned 9-pocket page had two Mike Cameron cards right next to each other, I ended up with as many questions as answers. Can anyone think of other two-base card players in Topps history? Does anyone have any similar petty-yet-maddening card mysteries?

Follow me on Twitter, @mjpmke and check out my blog on Brewers history.