On thinking about what makes a card a card

One of the few editorial positions we have on this blog is a very catholic stance toward what counts as a baseball card. We’ve published posts about photos, toys, games, stamps, coins, etcetera, all of which serve to flesh out and describe the way that we collected cards. We’re not interested in being gatekeepers for what cards are. We’re interested in use and how cards relate to our fandom and interest in the game itself.

All that said, the discussion about what constitutes a card is one that comes up periodically on Twitter or on here.* It’s a fun discussion to have since we all have very different ideas** which in turn impact our collections and interests. I enjoy taking part in these discussions but I really love just watching them since the criteria people bring up have turned out to all over the map.

*Probably also in the Facebook group but as I’m no longer part of that website I’m unable to confirm as much.

**Quite similar to the “what constitutes a complete set” discussion we had earlier on this blog.

We all, of course, have significant agreement on what a card is. But there are so many variables where an item can deviate from being a card™  that I found myself creating a taxonomy of card attributes. Looking at cards with these attributes in mind is something I’ve found helps me understand why my gut reacts to different products the way it does.

This post will explain my thinking and hopefully help other people put words to things their guts have already intuited. Again, this is in no way intended to be a gatekeeping thing. We all have different reactions to which attributes we care about and where on the spectrum something stops being a card. But if the Twitter conversations have taught me anything it’s that being our most interesting conversations are when we’re being positive about our definitions rather than negative about someone else’s.

Material

We’ll start with the obvious and discuss the material of the card. Obviously the expectation is that they be made of cardboard. They are called “cards” after all.

But cards have never been limited to just that. From the silks and blankets in the pre-war era to the plastic, metal, and wood releases of the modern era we’ve always had cards that weren’t made of cardboard. We’ve had stamps, stickers (some made of cloth), rub-offs, rub-downs, and decals as well.

Even in the cardboard/paper realm there’s also a discussion with having about the thickness of the paperstock. We’ve had posts on the blog about cards printed on newsprint and cards which are almost a quarter of an inch thick.

Size

In general tobacco-sized to 3.5″×5″ seems to have a consensus as being a card. But what about 5″×7″ or 8.5″×11″? What about minis and micros that are smaller than tobacco cards? What about posters and pin-ups?

A lot of this comes back to storage concerns and the way many of us use binders and binder pages to organize our collections. But it’s more than that too. For most of us, “card” indicates something from the business card to postcard size and anything beyond that becomes something else. Too small and the card starts to feel insignificant. Too large and it becomes something else—a photo, a poster, a flyer.

Form

This is sort of related to size but refers to non-rectangular items like discs and diecuts but also encompasses folders, booklets, and pop-ups as well as  coins, poker chips, and buttons. Many of these are binderable. Just as many lose what makes them distinct and interesting as soon as they get bindered.

The items which aren’t binderable at all are especially interesting here. Things like the 1957 Swift Meats diecut paper dolls or those Topps 3-D Baseball Stars from the 1980s are clearly intended to be like cards but do not fit into any standard card storage or presentation systems.

Content

The question of what makes a card a card is more than just the physical description of what it’s made of and what shape it is. What it actually depicts is also important. Yes, picture on the front, stats/bio on the back is the expectation. But there are a lot of cards out there which don’t do this.

We’re not just talking about blank backs either although those are definitely relevant to this category. Backs that are advertising, common designs, or just a player name are all part of this. The same goes with fronts that depict a generic player instead of someone specific.

And for my money, all the more-recent relic, autograph, or online cards with backs that are functionally blank fit in here as well. I’ve seen way too many people refer to them as “half a card” to not mention them.

Release

No images for this section because it’s not something that can really be depicted visually. Traditionally, cards are part of a set and are released in either packs or complete sets. Cards that exist by themselves without the context of a set or the lottery of a pack stray into a grey area. This is something that’s really been pushed into new territory with online releases and the way Topps has in many ways optimized its distribution around selling and creating individual items on demand, but the idea of one-off card releases has been around a long time.

There’s also the discussion here about what connotes a set—both in terms of size and how things are numbered. At what point does a release of cards become a “set”? If something is unnumbered or only has a weird alphanumeric code on the back does that mean that it was intended to be collected by itself?

Case Studies

Why do I bother thinking and categorizing different attributes? Because as I watch the discussions it seems that most of us tolerate a certain amount of variance in one or two categories as long as the others remain “standard.” So let’s dig in.

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Let’s start with 1969 Topps Deckle Edge. These are pretty clearly cards but they serve as an example of something that sort of fails one of the categories because the backs are non-existent. But as you move from card size to 5″x7″ to 8″x10″, more and more people switch from treating them as cards to treating them as photos.

Or look at Broders. They’re generally “backless” but they also start to deviate from the expected release method.* They consist of small checklists and were generally not released the same way most cards are. Art cards and customs fit in this area as well. Move up a size in this area and we have things like team photo postcards. Change the paper stock and we end up in Jay Publishing land. At some point things stop being a card for a lot of people**

*There’s also something to be said about the licensing stuff but I’ve not heard anyone claim that Panini or other unlicensed logoless cards aren’t even cards.

**Although we still collect them and cover them on this blog.

The one that’s sort of stumped me in my own collection are the Upper Deck Heroes of Baseball stadium giveaways from the early 1990s. Despite being letter-sized and blank-backed, because they’re cardboard and manufactured by Upper Deck they physically feel more like cards than a lot of the posters that Topps has folded up and inserted in packs over the years.

At the same time, since they were distributed via stadium giveaway and do not function as part of a set. They’re also functionally distinct from those late-60s, early-70s posters that were issued in packs and formed part of a distinct set.

But I could go on and on. As stated initially, the point of this post isn’t to provide a definitive answer or even an official opinion. Instead I hope that organizing my thoughts about the different ways we evaluate cardness is helpful to other people as I’ve found it to be for my own thinking.

From the Negro League to MLB

3rd Inning

Before I get into the “3rd Inning”, I would like to thank everyone for the awesome comments, and taking the time to read the introductory post. I’m happy you all enjoyed, and staying on for the ride!

In the first post (1st Inning), I explained briefly how tough it was to locate some of the 86 players due to the fact that some had no MLB card (16 total). The “3rd Inning” will focus on my journey to find these players. Most of the cards and memorabilia from this post are not graded and/or authenticated yet, I’m currently in the process (maybe I’ll get them back from PSA sometime next year!).

Marshall Bridges 1978 TCMA “The 1960’s” Washington Senators / 1992 The Wiz New York Yankees “Yankees of the 60’s”. I could not find any graded card, memorabilia, or autographs of Marshall. I came across these two cards and decided to grab both. TCMA cards were pretty popular, and the Wiz card I hadn’t seen before doing my research. I did not know Bridges played for the Yankees, but he had a pretty good year for them in 1962 (8-4 3.14 era). He played in MLB for 7 seasons, with four different teams. Marshall pitched for the Memphis Red Sox in the Negro American League.

🐐fact: Bridges was shot in the leg by a 21 year-old married woman in a bar during Spring Training of 1963.

Robert Wilson 1990 Target Brooklyn Dodgers. Wilson had 5 at bats with the Dodgers in 1958, recorded one hit (as a pinch-hitter). Finding anything on Wilson was really tough due to his short stint in MLB. I did find a 1957 Montreal Royals autographed team ball, but it was way out of my price range. The Target card was issued as a “100th Anniversary”, and featured 1,095 players from all eras of the Dodgers franchise. Not the coolest one in the project, but there wasn’t much to choose from.

🐐fact: Wilson played on the 1947 Newark Eagles (53-42-1) with Monte Irvin, and Larry Doby. He batted .308 in 39 games.

Charlie Peete 1955-1956 Omaha Cardinals Team Photo. This guys stuff is super hard to find. I spent hours researching him. I love these old Minor League team photos, I really enjoy collecting them. Peete was a good lefty hitting outfielder. He played in the Negro Leagues for the Indianapolis Clowns. The Cardinals signed Peete in 1954. He tore up the Piedmont League batting .311 17 HR and was named to the All-Star team. In ’56 he led AAA batting .350 with 16 HR and 63 RBI for the Omaha Cardinals. Charlie had 52 at bats for St. Louis in ’56, the only year he would appear in MLB.

🐐fact: Peete had a very sad ending to his life. He passed away in the prime of his career, the very young age of 27. He was playing Winter ball in Venezuela when he and his family were killed in a plane crash.

Pat Scantlebury Original Type 1 Photo. Pat had me searching the web like a mad man! One day I received an eBay alert and there it was, a beautiful original photo of Scantlebury. It’s from 1951, around the time he was pitching for his native country of Panama in the 1951 Caribbean Series. It’s a wonderful candid shot of Pat. He appeared in only one MLB season, playing for the Reds in 1956 (Frank Robinson’s rookie year). Pat played for the New York Cubans of the Negro League from 1944-1948.

🐐fact: Scantlebury and Hall of Famer Rod Carew are the only two MLB players born in Gatun, Panama. Like many from that era, Pat took 8 years off his age before joining organized baseball. In 2012 he was elected into the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame.

Roberto Vargas Autographed Photo. This is a beautiful photo of Vargas as a member of the 1955 Milwaukee Braves (His only year in MLB). Vargas was a right-handed pitcher, he played in the Negro Leagues for the Chicago American Giants, and the Memphis Red Sox.

🐐fact: Vargas was one of the first group of Puerto Rican ball players who appeared in MLB. His first appearance was April 17, 1955, the same day Roberto Clemente made his with the Pirates.

William Greason Signed Photo & Letter. What’s really cool about this one is I purchased the signed photo from an estate sale. The gentleman’s son who sold it to me, said his Dad would write letters to people he respected and looked up to. Mr. Greason was kind enough to send a signed photo back. I was able to acquire the original letter he sent, as well as the stamped envelope William sent to him from his Birmingham area residence. As you can see on the photo he signed it, “Rev”, Bill as most call him is a Baptist minister. He served our great country, in World War II. 66th Supply Platoon, an all-black unit, and took part in the Battle of Iwo Jima. After the war he played in the Negro Leagues for the Birmingham Black Barons, where he was a teammate of Willie Mays. Greason played one year in MLB with the 1954 Cardinals.

🐐fact: Mr. Greason is a living legend, and an American hero. I believe he’s the oldest living player from the Negro Leagues. He turned 96 last September!

Connie Johnson PSA Authenticated Autographed Index Cards. I wanted to mix in some autographs with the collection so I went this route for Johnson. Connie was a 6’ 4” right-handed pitcher. He pitched 3 years with the White Sox and 3 with the Orioles. He finished his MLB career with a respectable 40-39 record to go along with a 3.44 era. Johnson played for the Kansas City Monarchs at the age of 17. Won back to back Negro League World Series titles with the Monarchs playing with the great Satchel Paige.

🐐fact: “The most I made in a year playing baseball was $15,000. Players today make more in one day than I made in my entire career. But, I wouldn’t change a thing. We had a good time. We had a ball.” – Connie Johnson

Sam Hairston, Ray Neil, Jim Cohen 1991 Retort Negro League Legends PSA Authenticated Autograph. Sam was a tough one to come by. He only played in 7 MLB games, in 1951 with the White Sox. When I came across the card I bought it immediately. The original photo was from the 1948 East-West Classic, standing in the middle of his two Indianapolis Clowns teammates, Ray Neil, and hard-throwing pitcher Jim “Fireball” Cohen. Hairston played for the Birmingham Black Barons before being traded to the Clowns. Sam had an extensive career in the minors, hitting .304 for his career. After his playing career, we went on to the have a successful career as a pro scout.

🐐fact: Sam was a patriarch of a three-generation big-league family. His son, Jerry Hairston Sr. had a 14-year career in MLB. and Jerry’s son, Jerry Jr. played 16 years. When you count John Hairston, and then Scott, that’s 5 players from one family playing in MLB. What an amazing family of ballplayers!

Luis Marquez 1983 Fritsch – 1953 Boston/Milwaukee Braves. Luis was a tough find. I had to go with the ’83 30th anniversary set. It’s a pretty cool set with some good players marking 30 years from when the Braves moved from Boston. The set features Hall of Famers, Eddie Matthews, and Warren Spahn. Luis was born in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. He played 68 games in MLB, for the Braves, Cubs, and Pirates. He spent his early years in the Negro League with the New York Black Yankees, Baltimore Elite Giants, and the Homestead Grays.

🐐fact: Marquez was a speedy outfielder, who could hit, run, and possessed a strong arm in the field. He is the only Puerto Rican with batting titles in the Negro League, Puerto Rican baseball, and Organized baseball (AAA).

Willard Brown 2020 Dreams Fulfilled Negro Leagues Legends. I searched high and far for anything regarding Mr. Brown. I came across a reprint team photo of the 1947 St. Louis Browns team, but that didn’t do it for me since I wanted to have original content of each player. Brown played only one year in MLB (1947), at the age of 32 he had 67 plate appearances for the Browns. Since there wasn’t much out there I went with a card from the “Dreams Fulfilled” set. Graig Kreindler is a phenomenal artist who paints baseball players like I’ve never seen anyone before. His paintings of Negro League players are in the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. Graig did the original art for this set, so being that I know Graig and appreciate his work, I thought having a card from this set would be super cool.

🐐fact: Brown was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. The great Buck O’Neil called him, “The most natural ballplayer I ever saw”. Josh Gibson named him, “Home Run Brown”. A speedy outfielder, Brown hit over .340 for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1942 and 1943. The next two years he served our country in World War II. He was among those 5,000 ships that crossed the English Channel during the D-Day Invasion of 1944.

James “Buster” “Buzz” Clarkson 1986 Fritsch Negro League Stars / 1951 Milwaukee Brewers Player Panel Card. Clarkson didn’t make it to MLB until he was 37 years of age. Played in 14 games, as an infielder and pinch-hitter for the Boston Braves in 1952. He started professional baseball with the Pittsburgh Crawfords of the Negro Leagues at 23 years old, and finished his career with the Des Moines Bruins of the Western League at 41. Clarkson was another one that had me searching and searching, actually I’m still searching. That is what makes this project very unique, I’m always down a rabbit hole looking for more.

🐐fact: Clarkson was well known during his time playing in Puerto Rico. He won a few Caribbean Series championships with the well-known Santurce Crabbers. As a member of the Crabbers, he played alongside two future legends, Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente.

Milt Smith 2000 Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research (1957 Cardinals) and 1956 PCL Seattle Rainers Team Photo. Milt Smith was also a tough find. He played in MLB season for only one year, 1955 with the Reds (36 games). He did have an extensive Minor League career which lasted 10 years with various organizations. He broke into professional baseball with the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro Leagues. The Rainers team photo is an original and pretty rare, this one is black and white, but most of the time these old Minor League team photos are bright with colors, laid out with awesome fonts, and classic uniforms, the older the better!

🐐fact: Milt had his best Minor League season in 1955 with the PCL San Diego Padres hitting .338, prompting his call-up by the Cincinnati Reds.

Vibert “Webbo” Clarke 1957 Minneapolis Millers Program and 1947 Cleveland Buckeyes Negro League Retort Card (1992). Mr. Clarke was a Panamanian born left-handed pitcher who appeared in 7 games for the Washington Senators in 1955. He spent time with Cleveland Buckeyes and the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro Leagues. He was only 18 years of age when he made his first appearance with the Buckeyes. I did a lot of research on Clarke, and found the the Minneapolis Millers program on eBay. It’s in really good condition, and shows him on the roster page (even though they spelled his name “Vibret” incorrectly. On the Buckeyes card, Clarke is pictured in the second row, first on the left.

🐐fact: During his time with the 1957 Minneapolis Millers, he was a teammate of a then 19 year-old phenom named Orlando Cepeda (see program).

Sandy Amoros 8×10 1955 World Series Autographed Photo (COA). I chose this wonderful photo because of the significance of such an amazing play in World Series history. The Amoros catch on a Yogi Berra fly ball in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series helped secure the Brooklyn Dodgers a championship over the rival Yankees. Amoros had just come into the game to replace Junior Gilliam, who moved to second base to take Don Zimmer’s spot after he was pinch-hit for. Sandy was a lefty, so if a righty was playing LF, that ball falls in. Amoros made a play that would never be forgotten in baseball history, he fired that ball into Pee Wee Reese who doubled off McDougald at 1B.

🐐fact: Amoros was born in Cuba, he stood 5’ 7” and blessed with superior speed. He had a solid MLB career, 7 years with the Dodgers, and one with the Tigers. Sandy played for the New York Cubans of the Negro Leagues. He was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978.

Hank Aaron 1975 Topps (’74 Highlights) PSA 6. I purchased this card a week before the great Henry Aaron passed away. I wanted to use this card for my project because of the significance of breaking Babe Ruth’s HR record. Notice the card number is #1, Hank will always be number one in my HR record book. Hank started his professional career in the Negro Leagues with the Indianapolis Clowns. 18 years-old, scrawny, and hitting cross-handed back then (yes, cross-handed!!). In 1952 he led the Negro American League in average, a decent .467. Hank went on to accomplish nothing but greatness, on and off the field. We’ll miss you Hank!

🐐fact: “The only man I idolize more than myself.” – Muhammed Ali on Hank Aaron.

Well thats all for now folks, I hope you enjoyed the “3rd Inning”. We’re headed to the 5th, see you soon!

Jim Abbott and Rookie Cards

During one of the never-ending discussions about rookie cards and what constitutes them I had a realization that when I was a kid there were four different completely-defensible Topps Rookie Card possibilities for a player to have. Those four are:

  1. A team USA card which is part of Flagship or Traded and features the player before he turned pro.
  2. A Flagship #1 Draft Pick card that features him as a brand-new professional who has yet to play professionally.
  3. A Topps Traded card that marks his MLB debut.
  4. A post-debut Flagship Topps card that marks his first appearance as a MLB player in a flagship set.

It’s worth noting here that, both personally and as one of the editors of this blog, I encourage everyone to decide what counts for you and treat neither the RC badge nor any price guide’s ruling as gospel. I’ve encountered collectors who choose every different option here and have seen plenty of Twitter chops busting (or worse) when differing opinions encounter each other.

Anyway I looked at these options and immediately began wondering if there were any players who had all four types of Rookie Cards. It turns out that there’s not a huge checklist to pick from.

Team USA cards are only part of 1985 Topps, 1988 Traded, 1991 Traded, 1992 Traded, and 1993 Traded. The 1985 predate the #1 Draft cards and of the rest, not all those guys who made it were actually #1 Draft Picks. While I did not click through everyone’s name, I did check  the obvious choices. Much to my surprise the only name I found that had all four cards was Jim Abbott.

His 1988 Topps Traded USA card is a classic. I remember watching Team USA practice at Sunken Diamond in Stanford back before the Olympics and not believing the people who were talking about a one-handed pitcher. Did. Not. Compute.

When I got the 1988 Traded set that winter though, finding the Team USA cards inside was a fantastic surprise. The stars and stripes twist on the team name was a lot of fun and the entire set gave me my first sense of the addiction of prospecting. Plus they had even won the gold medal this time.

In 1989, the #1 Draft Picks cards were a similar breath of fresh air to me. Yes, both the USA and Draft Picks cards are ideas that can be found in 1985 Topps but the 1989 version is also a prospecting thing.* Seeing the college uniforms was fun but the real appeal was the sense of promise that this was the guy your team had decided to bet its future on.

*A couple years later I would realize that I should take these cards to Minor League games and try to get them signed.

That this subset was coincidental to Scott Boras sort of breaking Draft Pick signing bonuses also explains why it resonated so much with me. Draft Picks were big news. So not just the future of the club but also part of the big signing contract buzz as well.

Abbott ended up being one of those guys who stormed through the minors and made it to to the show super-fast. That his Traded “MLB debut” card* is the same season as his #1 Draft Pick card is impressive as hell. I like the fact that this would normally be an XRC but he already has two “Rookie” cards which pre-date it.

*I call this an MLB debut card because cards of rookies who debuted in MLB that year has always been half of what Traded is about. Topps did release its first official MLB debut set in 1989 as well. This is a confusing set since it’s listed as 1989 but uses the 1990 design. Also I’ve not come across any collectors who treat any of those cards as rookie cards whether they were release in the MLB Debut set or as part of Update. But yes Abbott has a card in that set as well.

It’s worth noting here that Abbott has cards from other late-season sets like Bowman, Fleer Update, Score Traded, and Upper Deck Extended. This suggests that the Topps Traded card has the most-logical claim as the definitive Topps Rookie Card since that’s where the manufacturer consensus is.

But for people like me who prefer the base flagship cards, Abbott’s 1990 Topps card, complete with Rookie Cup, is the old-school choice. A card you can pull from packs and on which, when you turn it over, you find a single line of Major League stats.

For a lot of players this is the best they could ever hope to get as their rookie card. For Abbott though it probably comes in a distant fourth when ranking which of his cards people consider to be his rookie card. It’s neither his first flagship card nor his first card as a Major League player. And it definitely wouldn’t qualify for the RC badge in today’s hobby.

From the Negro League to MLB

1st inning – 

My name is Joe Genovese, curator and founder of the popular @GoatJerseys Twitter handle. I fell in love with jerseys as a kid in the late 70s and early 80s. The uniforms back then were full of wonderful colors, stirrups, and neatly fitted pants and jerseys.

My mother was a huge Yankees fan, and started buying me baseball cards in 1978 when I was a little over four years old. I’m thankful she introduced me to a hobby I would enjoy for many years. As High School set in, hanging out with girls and friends became more important than buying packs and trading cards. I stopped collecting.

Fast forward to March 2020, the pandemic hit and I was home like most Americans in our country. I was trying to keep myself busy so I went into the attic and stumbled onto my childhood card collection. As I looked through all the sneaker boxes full of sets and cards from 1978 to 1990, it brought back great memories. Like every kid in the 80s I thought my 1985 Topps set, Don Mattingly, Tony Gwynn, and Mark McGwire rookies would make me rich one day. I was always super OCD with my my cards and kept them in great condition, so I was happy to see they how they looked after so many years. Especially my 1988-1989 Jordan cards which were in protected sleeves, definitely gradable!

My then five year-old daughter started helping me sort through the boxes, and just like that she was hooked! We started buying some packs from Target and Walmart, and soon after I found an LCS that was close by. I had a card partner just like the old days, we traded, we sorted, and we drove the wife nuts! It really made me love the hobby again after all these years.

In saying all that, I decided to come up with a project that would keep me busy, but also one that was very informative. I’ve always been an aficionado of the Negro Leagues. The history, the players, stats, fields, and their remarkable stories. I had the pleasure of interviewing the great Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro League Baseball Museum. I knew if I had any questions or inquiries on players I could reach out. So I decided to start a project called, “From the Negro League to MLB.”

Notwithstanding the December 2020 MLB announcement, there were 87 players who played in the Negro Leagues and in Major League Baseball. Harry Chappas was a white ballplayer and he was signed to play in the Negro Leagues for the Indianapolis Clowns who were barnstorming in those days, sort of like the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball. I know some other players did the same, but Harry didn’t have to go through what they had, so I’m not counting him. So here’s the deal, my goal is to collect a graded card, or an authenticated photo, and/or a piece of memorabilia from the other 86 players.

This past September I started my research, about two hours a day on eBay, Google, PSA, Beckett, and any website or forum where I could find information. Out of the 86 players, 16 did not have a MLB card. Lino Donoso was only featured on a 1956 Topps Pittsburgh Pirates team card, and John Kennedy only appeared on the 1958 Topps Philadelphia Phillies team card. 6 players only appeared on one MLB card. As I searched more in-depth, I started to see that many of these players were connected from the Negro Leagues, to Minor League ball, and even to the Mexican League. So many of these talented ballplayers, not only African-Americans, but Panamanians, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans didn’t get their shot in MLB until way after their prime.

This project has become an addicting hobby, and I really wanted to share my journey with the masses. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I have.

Billy Parker 1972 Topps Rookie Stars. I started off buying some of the cheaper graded cards that were available and easy to purchase. Parker was my first, he was the last Negro Leaguer to play in MLB. Billy played for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1961, and like I said above by this time they were more of a barnstorming team, so technically Ike Brown (below) is the last to play. Parker played sparingly for the Angels from 1971-1973 as a backup IF and OF.

🐐fact: Like many back then, Parker passed himself off as five years younger than he actually was.

Ike Brown 1974 Topps. Check out the frames, mustache, and sweet Tigers road uni’s. (The background is from my old Pursue the Pennant board game from the 80s.) He played 6 years in MLB, all with the Detroit Tigers. Brown spent 9 years in the Minor Leagues, as well as time in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs.

🐐fact: Ike was a jack of all trades, played every position except CF and catcher. He was also nicknamed, “Showboat” for his slow HR trot, and aggresive approach at the plate.

Paul Casanova 1975 Topps MINI. Huge fan of the ’75 Topps set, and the mini’s are pretty cool. Love those Braves hats from that era. It was also Brown’s last MLB card. Casanova was born in Cuba, an excellent defensive catcher, played for the Washington Senators from 1965-1971, and with the Braves from 1972-1974. Paul also played with the Indianapolis Clowns during their later years as Billy Parker did.

🐐fact: Casanova caught Phil Neikro’s lone no-hitter. “After the game, I raised him up on my shoulder. We drank a 12-pack of beer and Phil gave me $1,000.”

John “Blue Moon” Odom 1972 Topps IA. Great shot of John in those beautiful Oakland uni’s from the 70s. The “In Action” shot made this card an easy choice. John had a 13 year career in MLB, 12 of them with the A’s. In 1968-1969 he earned back to back All-Star nods, going 16-10 2.45 and 15-6 2.92 respectively.

🐐fact: Odom played for the Raleigh Tigers in the late stages of the Negro American League. He was paid mainly “meal money” per day by cheapskate owner Arthur Dove.

Bobby Prescott 1960 National Bank Tacoma Giants. This is pretty rare (POP4 PSA), Prescott was one of the players who did not have a MLB card. He played in only 10 games, all in 1961 for the Kansas City Athletics. He was a legendary Minor League Home Run hitter, smashing 398 over his 20 plus years in baseball.

🐐fact: Prescott was born in Panama, played for the little known Jacksonville Eagles of the Southern Negro League. He also won a HR title in the Panamanian League in 1951.

Clarence “Choo-Choo” Coleman 1961 Topps Rookie Card. Really cool shot of Clarence in his catching stance. I’m always a sucker for the old rookie cards with the star in the corner, plus that catchers mitt and the clean Phils threads. Another player who joined up with the Indianapolis Clowns in the late 50s. Coleman played in only 4 MLB seasons, 1 with the Phillies, and 3 with the New York Mets.

🐐fact: Coleman was a catcher for the expansion Mets in their inaugural season. The legend Casey Stengel said about Choo-Choo, “I’ve never seen a catcher so fast at retrieving passed balls.”

Hal Jones 1962 Topps Rookie Card. Loved that “C” the Indians used back then. Hal played two years in the majors, 17 total games, all with Cleveland. He spent 9 years in the Minor Leagues playing mainly 1B.

🐐fact: Hal played for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1956, appearing in the East-West All-Star classic.

Ernie Banks 1980 Laughlin PSA 10. Another very rare card (POP7 PSA10). Not an expensive card, but I really love the look of this one. Robert Laughlin used cartoons to illustrate some really cool cards. Banks was a 14x All-Star, 2x MVP, and smashed 512 HR. I wish Ernie had a chance to show his stuff in the postseason.

🐐fact: Cool Papa Bell saw Banks playing in a semi-pro game and signed him to the Kansas City Monarchs. Played for KC in ’50, hit .250, left to the army for the next two years, came back in ’53 and raked .347!

John Kennedy 1958 Topps Philadelphia Phillies team. John never had his own MLB card, so this was an easy choice. I could not find anything on John for a long time until I came across his name in a forum while I was doing research. There I found out he was featured in ‘58 team card since he was in Spring Training with the Phillies in ’57. He played a few games in April and May of ’58 before being sent down. The more you dig, the more you find! Kennedy was an IF, and the first black player in Phillies history.

🐐fact: Kennedy played in the Negro Leagues for the Birmingham Black Barons and the Kansas City Monarchs where he hit .385 with 17 HR before signing with the Phillies.

Monte Irvin 1954 Red Man Tobacco. I love this card, one of my favorite in the collection. The Red Man cards are tough to find in good condition. It has great color, and it captures an awesome expression on Monte’s face. A lot of the Red Man cards do not have the bottom attached to it since that was the part you would tear off to get a free “Big League Style Hat” after you collected 50 stubs. Monte was a super talented OF who played with and mentored Willie Mays in the spacious Polo Grounds. During his time with the New York Giants Irvin hit over .300 3 times (.299 in ’50). Irvin didn’t make it to MLB until he was a 30 year-old. He played 8 years, 7 with the Giants, and his last year in Wrigley.

🐐fact: “Monte was the choice of all Negro National and American League club owners to serve as the No. 1 player to join a white major league team.” – Hall of Famer Effa Manley, owner of the Newark Eagles.

I hope you all enjoyed the 1st inning of “From the Negro Leagues to MLB.” 2nd inning will be up soon!

Dick Allen and the Very, Very, Very Useful Photo

In the summer of 1985, Pete Rose was inching closer by the day to breaking Ty Cobb’s all-time hit record of 4191. My friends and I made a five-dollar bet, the winner of which would be whomever among the three of us could compile the most different Pete Rose cards by the time he broke the record. 

1982 Topps Kmart Pete Rose card nos. 24 and 44.

A few years earlier, Kmart issued a small boxed set that reprinted the Topps card for each player who was awarded a league MVP award from 1962 through 1981, in honor of the store’s 20th anniversary. The set was one that had collected dust on card dealers’ tables for years, eschewed by collectors (especially me) who viewed the set as a box of reprint trash. 

For purposes of winning a bet, however, the Kmart set was golden (especially in the days when there were not 500 different cards of every star player printed each year). I knew that Rose would have a Kmart card for his 1973 MVP award and was pleasantly surprised to find the set also included a highlight card, which commemorated Rose having eclipsed Stan Musial’s all-time National League hit record on August 10, 1981. These two Rose cards helped push me over the top. That we were betting on Pete Rose at the same time he was betting on baseball is just a fun coincidence.

An unintended consequence of buying the Kmart set, however, was actually enjoying the remainder of the cards. One that struck me in particular was the 1972 Dick (“Rich”) Allen card because it was, quite frankly, a strange profile view so unlike the standard poses and action shots that Topps typically used. I knew this was a real card I needed to have.

1982 Topps Kmart no. 21; 1972 Topps no. 240.

The oddity of the photo used on the 1972 card was highlighted when researching the appearance of mustaches on baseball cards, which culminated in this ground-breaking SABR Baseball Cards Committee article. Allen was identified as having been the first ballplayer to appear on a Topps issue sporting a mustache in his 1971 high-number Dodgers card. 

Which one of these is not like the other? 1971 Topps no. 650; 1972 Topps no. 240, 1973 Topps no. 310.

As a member of the White Sox in 1972, Allen slashed .308/.420/.603; led the American League with 37 home runs, 113 runs batted in, and 99 walks; and led all of baseball in facial hair with his trademark mustache and pork chop sideburns. Curiously, however, the 1972 Topps card depicts a youthful, clean-shaven Allen. The 1973 issue corrected the incongruity and featured Allen’s hirsute silhouette, still discernible despite his face having been obscured by shadows.             

As Tim Jenkins will attest, Topps made a habit in the 1960s and 1970s of using the same photograph of a player across different issues. The 1972 Dick Allen is no exception in that the same photograph was used for his 1970 issue, while Allen was a member of the Cardinals.

1970 Topps no. 40; 1972 Topps no. 240.

Thanks to some airbrush magic, the photo was purposefully vague in its identification of a particular team, but was happily consistent with Cardinal red and the White Sox color scheme of the time.

It appears, however, that this photo was actually taken while Allen was a member of the Phillies. The clean-cut photo of Allen used in 1970 and 1972 also appears to have been used as the basis for the 1965 Topps Embossed Dick Allen card, which would date the photo to 1965, or earlier, and confirms it was used by Topps to depict Allen on three different teams across eight different seasons.  

These all appear to be the same photo. 1965 Topps Embossed no. 36; 1970 Topps no. 40; 1972 Topps no. 240.
1965 Topps Embossed superimposed on 1972 Topps. Nearly a perfect match but for the length of the bill.

Dick Allen and Pete Rose may never have been teammates but they certainly share a sacred bond as members of the Kmart boxed set.

Postscript

The 1965 Ernie Banks Topps flagship card featured a profile pose. Similarly, it appears that this same photo was used as the basis for Banks’ 1965 Topps Embossed issue and helps to document that the Topps embossing process included trimming the length of the ballcap’s bill so the image would fit more comfortably onto the more slender card.  

1965 Topps Embossed no. 58; 1965 Topps no. 510.
1965 Topps Embossed superimposed on 1965 Topps. Again, nearly a perfect match but for the length of the bill.

SABR Century Project – Baseball Cards of 1921

Author’s note: The newly formed SABR Century Research Committee has invited SABR’s other committees to share in the celebration of all things baseball a century ago. In our case, that means the baseball cards of 1921.

As I begin typing up this post I must confess to owning no baseball cards from the year 1921. Like a lot of collectors–even vintage collectors–my collection has a 20+ year gap between the tobacco and caramel cards of the early 1910s…

…and the gum cards of the early 1930s.

Of course if past habits prove true, I may find myself trying to bridge that gap by the time I reach the end of this post. (No joke! Every card pictured above came from my stint here at the SABR Baseball Cards blog.)

I will therefore approach this article not as any authority on the subject but through the eyes of a collector window shopping the offerings of the year 1921 as if I were trying to pick out a card, which of course I just might do, though I may need to add a side hustle to find the cash.

1921 American Caramel

The first set that comes to mind when I think of 1921 is the American Caramel set known as E121. American Caramel had been making cards on and off since 1908. In fact, the leftmost card in my first image above is from their 1909-11 set known as E90-1. However, in the years leading up to 1921, American Caramel had been mostly off, with their 1915 E106 issue being their lone set produced between 1912 and 1920. Much of the absence might be attributed to World War I and the flu pandemic since almost nobody was producing baseball cards between 1917 and 1919.

Their 1921 set then perhaps came as a welcome surprise to collectors and chewers, and for those who’d saved or remembered their earlier caramel cards the new cardboard would have looked quite different.

Gone were the color paints and here for the remainder of the American Caramel decade were black and white photos. And though none would have realized it at the time, the 1921 issue was also a next step in the decidedly haphazard evolution toward standard baseball card size. A side-effect was that some collectors trimmed the sides off their 1921 cards, likely to fit with their earlier cards better.

Player selection for the set of 80 included spanned 15 of the 16 Major League franchises. Perhaps surprisingly based on their Pennsylvania headquarters the one team not represented was the Philadelphia Athletics.

Positioned at the close of the Deadball Era the checklist was a mix of small ball and long ball. (And yes, the Bambino is still sporting his Red Sox jersey!)

Other “top shelf” Hall of Famers included Grover Cleveland Alexander, Rogers Hornsby, and Walter Johnson. Absent from the set are all “Eight Men Out” despite most having played full seasons in 1920. This was consistent with most card sets of the era and even into the present, as most sets aimed to produce cards for the current season rather than the prior one.

1921-23 National Caramel

Not to be confused with American Caramel, another Pennsylvania-based caramel company put out a set. The cards had the same basic look as the American Caramel cards, and many even used the same photographs. The set is known as the E220 National Caramel set and included 120 cards over a three year period.

A comparison of the card backs between the two sets suggests a common designer or at least printer was used by both companies.

I’d wondered for a bit if they were in fact the same company, perhaps thru merger, but my brief research seems to indicate their was no business relationship beyond competitor. (Related: A group of executives from American Caramel did leave in 1925 to establish York Caramel, which put out a set of cards in 1927.)

I wish I could say no one was hurt in the making and packing of these baseball cards, but this September 2, 1921, article from the Lancaster News Journal may suggest otherwise.

Now I know you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, wait a minute! Isn’t that the same kid who got injured in a different explosion six years earlier?”

And don’t even get me started on the murder plot! (Of course I’m serious, even dead serious you might say.)

1921 Exhibit Supply company

The year 1921 also saw the debut of a family of baseball card sets that would extend all the way to the early 1960s. Exhibit Supply Company out of Chicago began producing postcard-sized photo cards with blank backs known to collectors simply as “Exhibits.” The initial offering featured 64 players, an even four per team, and again black and white photography carried the day.

Over the years and decades the look of these Exhibits cards changed relatively little, as these examples from 1939-46 and 1962 show, though in 1962 the innovation of adding statistics to an otherwise blank back occurred.

As for star power, the top-shelf Hall of Famers in the 1921 Exhibits exactly matched that of the American Caramel set, including the key cards of Ruth and Cobb.

Strip cards

No need to avert your gaze if you’re a non-collector simply reading this as part of your Century Committee scholarship. These is not some “adults only” release or deck of cards to be used in strip poker. Rather, these cards get their name for being issued in long strips that candy sellers would cut for their young baseball-crazy customers.

Various issues released in 1921 went by the (later) classifications W516, W521, W551 (shown above), and W9316 and were joined by some earlier releases that remained in circulation. The most popular of the earlier releases is the 1919-21 W514 set. Among its 120 cards are a dozen White Sox, and it remains the most affordable (but not very) way to collect contemporary cards of seven of the Eight Men Out. (Can you spot who’s missing?)

Despite their relative affordability (okay, explaining their relative affordability), many collectors find strip cards to be too cartoony and unattractive for their collections. To illustrate that this sort of artwork is harder than it looks I asked my son to draw three baseball players of the era, and I think you’ll agree he was no match for the pros. Wait, check that. These are actual cards from the 1921 W9316 issue!

Though many collectors would just as soon forget strip cards ever existed, they do feature importantly in the history of the Hobby. In 1923 a new set of strip cards would emerge. The front of the cards would look just like another strip card set known as W515. However, this new set featured advertising on the back from a gum maker who would 36 years later make a bigger splash in the Hobby and 58 years later make an even bigger one.

Zeenut Pacific Coast League

While most baseball card production ground to a halt during the war and pandemic years, one set managed to renew itself annually from 1911 until 1930. The 1921 issue featured 169 blank backed cards, 1-3/4″ x 3-11/16″ in size, significantly narrower and incrementally taller than today’s baseball cards.

While the checklist includes only one Hall of Famer, Sam Crawford of the Los Angeles Angels, there is no shortage of ex-MLBers, future MLBers, and other notables.

Pictures of these cards are hard to find, so I’ll illustrate by means of a quiz some of the top players on the checklist. Their 1921 Zeenut team is in parentheses.

  • Holds the fourth highest career batting average among qualifying players. (San Francisco Seals)
  • One of eight players with over 4,000 professional hits across MLB, MiLB, and NPB. (Los Angeles Angels)
  • Has the same name as the player with the most professional hits across MLB, MiLB, and NPB. (Salt Lake City Bees and Sacramento Senators)
  • Six-time National League home run champion (Salt Lake City Bees)
  • Pitcher-turned-baseball card illustrator (Seattle Rainiers)
  • Had the best relief outing of all time (San Francisco Seals)

Okay, ready for the answers? Lefty O’Doul, Jigger Statz, Peter Rose, Gavvy Cravath, Al Demaree, and Ernie Shore. Pretty fun names for a minor league set!

Bread cards

Though the releases described so far define 1921 to most pre-war collectors, I’ll offer that really 1921 was the “Year of the Bread Card.” Bread cards had been around for at least a decade, as evidenced by the 1910 Tip Top Bread “World’s Champions” set honoring the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Bread cards also continued well past 1921, as evidenced by Tip Top’s popular 1947 set and two from Bond Bread, one dedicated entirely to a history-making Dodgers rookie.

The years from 1980-2000 saw numerous bread issues as well, but of course those same years saw multiple cards sets from hardware stores, macaroni brands, fast food joints, toilet plungers, firearms, pacemakers, and bobby pins. (Okay, just kidding about some of those.)

What distinguished 1920 then wasn’t simply that there were bread cards, but that there were so many different ones.

  • 1920-21 Mother’s Bread
  • 1921 Clark’s Bread
  • 1921 Koester Bread New York Giants/Yankees
  • 1921 Mrs. Sherlock’s Bread Pins (shown below, and yes, I’m stretching the definition of baseball card a bit here)
  • 1921 Standard Biscuit
  • 1921 White’s Bakery Baltimore Orioles
  • 1921 Wool’s American-Maid [sic] Bread

I don’t knead to tell you that’s a lot of bread! What the focaccia was going on back then? Challah if you feel my pain. Can’t stop now, I’m on a roll.

The Bambino

From among the many other–mostly very obscure–sets issued in 1921, I’ll close with one most collectors have never heard of that nonetheless occupies and important slot in the evolution of the Hobby and in my opinion features the best design of any set of the era. (And yes, you have seen that last Babe Ruth pose already in this article.)

As the packaging notes, kids needed only to eat 250 boxes (wait, seriously?!) of this candy to win a baseball signed by Babe Ruth. What’s more, according to my research, this seven-card set (or six plus a variation, I would argue) was the largest set to date featuring a single player.

As was the case often with Babe Ruth in 1921 the record he beat was his own since the only (!) single-player baseball card sets I could find prior to 1921 were three (slightly) different Babe Ruth “Heading Home” movie card sets of 2-3 cards each from 1920.

Conclusion

Though 1921 was not the turning point in Hobby history it was situated within a brief 2-3 year period that saw many notable Hobby trends: the rise of Ruth, a return to photography, the debut of Exhibits, the peak of bread/bakery cards, the resurgence of caramel cards, and the demise of the Black Sox. The once ubiquitous tobacco cards that ruled the Hobby a decade earlier had largely disappeared from the landscape and would not return (in a major release) for 30 more years with the Red Man sets of the early 1950s.

Something else we know about the cards from 1921, however much or little we think about it, is that these cards tell us the story of a segregated game. Invisible from the sets of the day were many of the era’s top players:

  • Oscar Charleston of the St. Louis Giants
  • Cristobal Torriente, Dave Malarcher, and Bingo DeMoss of the Chicago American Giants
  • John Donaldson, Jose Mendez, and Bullet Rogan of the Kansas City Monarchs
  • Louis Santop of the Philadelphia Hilldales
  • Cannonball Redding and Dick Lundy of the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants
  • Pop Lloyd of the Columbus Buckeyes
  • John Beckwith of the Chicago Giants
  • Andy Cooper and Pete Hill of the Detroit Stars
  • Biz Mackey of the Indianapolis ABCs
  • Smokey Joe Williams of the New York Lincoln Giants

The omission of these players is not surprising, but it certainly diminishes the card sets of the era, at least in this collector’s eyes.

Less significantly, mustaches were absent from 1921 baseball cards and a good 50 years away from making their comeback.

As you and I ponder this Dick Allen card, which some of you may have even obtained in a pack (!) and I will at least recognize as coming from the same decade I entered the Hobby, I’ll close with a sobering thought. This Dick Allen card is as old today as the cards from 1921 were when the Dick Allen card came out. Putting it another way, that Dick Allen represents the midpoint between these two baseball cards:

At first glance, you might be drawn to the differences between these cards. How much has changed in a hundred years! But look again, and you will also see—quite remarkably—just how much has stayed the same. Therein resides the beauty of the Hobby, if not the Game.

My Mount Rushmore of Vintage Sets

As collectors we all have our favorite sets—the sets that stood out and caught our attention the second we laid our eyes on them. In this article I’m going to be discussing the four sets that are at the top of my list and form my personal Mount Rushmore of vintage baseball sets.

1933 DeLong

First up we have my all-time favorite set, 1933 DeLong gum cards. These cards never fail to amaze me. From the first time I laid my eyes on the set, I fell in love. This 24-card set featuring 15 Hall of Famers is brought to life by a bright and colorful background. The players appear to be larger than life as they stand or slide (i.e., Pepper Martin) on the diamond.

One very unique part about these cards is that the players are printed in black and white but certain parts of their uniforms like their hats, socks and jersey-lettering show some color. One more small detail that I’ve always loved is the much smaller ball players that appear behind the main player pictured on the card.

Going beyond the front of the card, the backs are also perfectly done, each card eloquently offering tips on fielding, throwing, hitting, running, etc., written by Austen Lake, a columnist for the Boston Transcript. Lake was no stranger to the game of baseball, having tried out for the Yankees before going overseas to serve in World War I.


The uniqueness of these cards, front and back, are what gives this set a slight edge over the next set that I will discuss.

1934-36 Diamond Stars

Second on my Mount Rushmore—my Thomas Jefferson—is the Diamond Stars set produced between 1934 through 1936. This entire set is nothing short of a work of art, the Salvador Dali of baseball cards, if you will. This set is truly one of a kind, it will catch your eye instantly, and will keep your attention the more you look through each and every card.

This set produced 108 beautiful cards, with the final twelve repeated players from earlier in the set. The first 96 cards are all unique in their own way. You can look through all 96 and you won’t find any card quite like another, which is what makes this set so fun.

This may be the only set where the background of the card, using its Art Deco style, can often be every bit as captivating as the player the card features. From the wide use of colors from purple, to red, to blue, to yellow, to green, this set was truly the first of its kind and maybe the last of its kind.

One of a few things this set has in common with the previously discussed 1933 DeLong set is that the backs of the cards are also written by Austen Lake, who again does an incredible job. Not only does Lake add tips on fielding, batting and pitching in this set but certain cards also feature a player bio.

T206

Next up we have what can arguably be considered the most popular baseball set of all time. This set is massive, especially for its time, consisting of 524 cards including over 100 minor league ball players. Numerous players have multiple cards in the set, often a combination of portraits and “action shots”.

This set from start to finish is absolutely stunning. Every single card in this set could be blown up and hung in an art museum and would not look out of place in the slightest. Though the player images are incredibly well done, the backgrounds of the cards are what captivates me the most.

Not only do the bright blue skies suck you in, but the spectacular blend of orange and yellow skies truly capture the essence of a time period when the most honest form of work was working in mines, in a factory, or some sort of construction or road work, when smoke filled the sky in almost every city in America at the turn of the century.

Going beyond the front of the cards, another special feature of the set is the 16 different variations of the backs of the cards, from the simplicity of the Piedmont and Sweet Corporal backs to the more elegant and rare backs like Carolina Brights, Cycle Cigarettes, and my personal favorite, Polar Bear.

1952 Topps

To wrap up my Mount Rushmore I’m going with an iconic set that features some truly iconic cards, most notably the legendary Mickey Mantle card, Eddie Mathews’ rookie card, and Willie Mays’ second year card.

It was a close call between this set and the 1953 Topps set that from the following year. I’m not sure there’s exactly a wrong answer between the two but I personally have always loved the 1952 set since I was first introduced to it.

This set does an incredible job of mixing simplicity with outstanding photography. The legendary stadiums that appear in the background of the cards and the various colors used as the backdrops for some of my personal favorites (Clem Labine, Roy Campanella, Bob Feller, Jackie Robinson, Johnny Sain) are nothing short of mesmerizing.

Going beyond the players on the card and the backgrounds, the star studded borders that go around the nameplate with the player’s facsimile autograph and the old time team logos add the perfect touch on the perfect set to summarize 1950’s baseball.

Is Bob Oldis the Answer to a Baseball Card Trivia Question?

“Every team needs a Bob Oldis.

Joe L. Brown, Pittsburgh Pirates’ General Manager, 1956-1976

1963 Topps Card #404

I met Bob Oldis in January of 2010 in Bradenton, Florida at the Pittsburgh Pirates Fantasy Camp. I was at the camp as a fan, not one of the players.

Since 2010 was the 50th anniversary of the Pirates winning the World Series a number of other players from the 1960 team were at the Fantasy Camp including Bob Friend, Vern Law, Bill Mazeroski, Bill Virdon, Bob Skinner, and Joe Gibbon.

I am a diehard Pirate fan, but I have to admit that was not aware that Bob Oldis was member of the 1960 team prior to attending the camp.

Bob was the third string catcher for the 1960 Pirates team and played in 22 games during the season. He collected 4 hits in 20 at bats for an average of .200. Bob did see action in the 1960 World Series coming in as defensive replacement in the 4th and 5th games. The Pirates won both of these games at Yankee Stadium.

I had advance information that some of the 1960 Pirates were going to be at 2010 camp, so I brought some pictures from the 1960’s with me for autographs. One was a picture of the Pirates lined up on the field before one of World Series games. When I showed the picture to Bob, he said – “That’s the first time I have seen that picture.” I told him – “You are in the picture someplace.” Bob’s reply was – “I don’t think so. I was in the bullpen.”

All the former players that I have met at various Fantasy Camps appear to be having a good time. However, at this camp Bob was clearly enjoying the experience. He was even helping some of the fans get autographs of some of the other former Pirates in attendance.

In February of 2019 I wrote a letter to Bob recounting our meeting in 2010 and asking him to sign his 1961 Topps card and also a custom card that I made that had a picture of the both of us at the camp. He signed both and sent me back a nice note.

Autographed 1961 Topps Card #149

I had seen several bloggers post Player Collection Spotlight pieces and thought that a Spotlight on Bob would be interesting. However, when I was researching his baseball cards online, I noticed that there was a 5-year gap between when Topps issued his 1955 card and his 1960 card. At first I thought I missed something, but upon digging into Bob’s career a little more he did indeed play in the minors for 4 seasons starting in 1955 with no call ups to the majors until 1960.

1955 Topps Card #169
1960 Topps Card #361

Gapper Definition

In doing some further research into players with gaps between when their cards were issued, I came across the Gappers blog post on the Night Owl Cards site from 2017. In the post Gappers are defined as “players who have disappeared off cards for a least three years and then returned.” The post also states that players that “didn’t come to a contract agreement with Topps…aren’t true gappers.”

The Gappers post focuses on players from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Vincente Romo is cited as the player with the largest gap. Topps issued a card of Vincente in 1983. His previous card was in issued in 1975. A gap of 8 years!

Baseball Card Trivia Question

So, my baseball card trivia question is……

Question: What major league player is the first gapper? (Gapper defined above)

Answer: Bob Oldis (1955 Topps card and 1960 Topps card) – I think. There are many of you out there who know a lot more about baseball cards than I do, so please weigh in by way of a comment. Is Bob Oldis the correct answer?

Bonus Question: What major league player has the biggest gap between his standard Topps player card and his Topps manager card.

Answer: Tom Lasorda (Topps 54 player card and 1973 Topps manager card) – I think.

1954 Topps Baseball Archives #132

Strike a Pose, There’s Nothing to It

I attended just one game at “old” Yankee Stadium, before the extensive remodel shut it down for two years. That game was on Sunday, June 7, 1970, notable because it was Bat Day. (The above photo is from that game, according to website from which I borrowed it.) I grew up two hours away, in Connecticut, and Bat Day was the major draw for a few busloads of local families that my father’s company organized. I was 9 years old, and what I most remember about the game (a 4-3 White Sox win in 12 innings) is the majesty of the Stadium (when compared with Fenway Park, the only other venue I had experienced), and the crowd: 65,880, the largest baseball gathering I will likely ever witness.

This all came to mind a few days ago when Lindy McDaniel passed away. McDaniel pitched for 21 years and was one of the great relief pitchers of his time, a time when relievers were deployed much differently than they are today. In my 1970 game, he pitched the final 5 innings, allowing just the single run in the 12th to lose. There were only four pitchers used in the game, in fact: Fritz Peterson (7 innings) and McDaniel (5) for the Yankees; Tommy John (9) and Wilbur Wood (3) for the White Sox.

I recall being struck by how hard McDaniel was throwing. Granted, this was my second live game, and the other three pitchers in the game were crafty southpaws. But I vividly recall the crack of Thurman Munson’s mitt, remarked upon by the children of Southeastern Connecticut.

Anyhow, after McDaniel’s death, my Twitter feed lit up (as per the depressing 2020 custom) with old baseball cards. One of the best McDaniel cards is from 1971 Topps.

I have owned this card for 49 years, but when I looked it over I was struck by the large crowd, coming at a time with the Yankees did not draw well. And it hit me: this *might* be the very game I attended. There is not much to go on–McDaniel pitched 28 games at Yankee Stadium, likely half during the day. The best evidence is the crowd–the Yankees averaged around 12,000 fans per game, and rarely saw a crowd like this down the left field line. So, it’s possible.

In 1971 Topps used photos from actual games for the first time (on their base player cards), a total of 52 photos taken at either Yankee Stadium or Shea Stadium. Why this had not occurred to me in 49 years I cannot say, but a couple of days ago I decided to check out the other Yankees and White Sox “action” cards to see if I could find possible matches for my game.

Of the nine Yankee action cards, four of them clearly show an opponent that is not the White Sox: Thurman Munson (A’s), Gene Michael (Angels), Curt Blefary (A’s), and Jake Gibbs (Indians). Three do not show an opponent: McDaniel, Danny Cater, and Fritz Peterson. And two clearly show the White Sox: Ron Woods and Roy White.

Woods turns out to be the key card in this story, because my June 7 game is the only time he batted against the White Sox during a 1970 day game. Unless this is from a prior year (highly unlikely), I witnessed this plate appearance. What’s more, our seats were on the first base side at ground level up behind the dugout–so this is roughly the angle I had. Bonus clue: someone in crowd (at the far right, just above the dugout) is holding up a bat.

The Roy White card is from the same game–though the angle is slightly different, if you look closely you can see some of the same people in the crowd behind the Chicago dugout. Duane Josephson is behind the mask in both photos.

So that’s two cards from my game. Let’s look at the two White Sox action cards from the 1971 set.

Tommy John pitched just one game in Yankee Stadium that season, so this becomes our third match. This looks to be the same angle as our McDaniel card above (which may or may not be from this game), though (based on the shadowing) perhaps from a couple of hours earlier.

McCraw played first base in three 1970 day games at Yankee Stadium, but the other two games had crowds of 10,000 and 9,000 people; the packed bleachers out in distant centerfield makes it almost certain this is the June 7 game. That makes four cards. (The baserunner looks to be Gene Michael–the Stick had two singles and walk in this game. This photo was likely taken after his ninth inning single; his earlier walk loaded the bases; and his later single was after McCraw had moved to right field.)

For completeness, I will show the two other Yankee action cards (other than McDaniel) that do not show an opponent.

Not much to go on here. The key is whether these crowds look like sell outs, which the blurry background kind of obscures.

I generally do not play the role of card sleuth, which others have done so well. (Example: Ten cards from the same game?) The early 1970s is ripe for this sort of investigation, since Topps did not crop very well in those early action days. This left a lot of clues on the card to help place the game, or even the play.

I find it very satisfactory to discover color photos from a game I attended 50 years ago, the only game I ever saw at the original House that Ruth Built, in a card set I have studied as much as any I have ever owned. (The next time I went to Yankee Stadium was post-remodel, a Tiger game in 1977. I suppose I need to study the 1978 Topps set next?)

As for Lindy McDaniel, who started off this post, I hope he rests in peace, and left the world knowing how much pleasure he gave kids like me all those years ago.

Legitimacy

1952ToppsJRobinson

I have been reading about or studying the integration of baseball for many years, at first principally because I wanted to write about the effect that integration had on the quality of the game. Obviously if you add Jackie Robinson to a league, that league is not just ethically and morally better, the quality of play is also better. Much better. I mean, this is JACKIE ROBINSON for God’s sake. And then Doby, and Campy, and Irvin, and on and on.

Jackie Robinson and the extraordinary cohort of people who integrated the game in the 1940s and 1950s will always be baseball’s best story, one that can not be over-told. We (myself included) have been guilty of treating this story as a culmination rather than as an important chapter in an ongoing struggle. Today’s decreased number of Black American players, to say nothing of managers and executives, is one constant reminder of progress yet to be made. Another are the tales of just how difficult the lives of black players can be in today’s Major League Baseball. Like the rest of America, baseball has a long, long way to go.

Additionally, my integration-era research has led to collateral damage in my relationship with Jim Crow (pre-1947) baseball, and its cards. I still appreciate the history, and the stories, and I understand how great Wagner, Cobb, Ruth, and DiMaggio were, but the stories are a little less romantic, and maybe the players were all a little less great than I thought. It’s the other side of same coin–you can’t believe that Robinson, Mays and Aaron made the game significantly better without also believing that not having them made the game significantly worse.


For Christmas in 1981, I was given a beautiful 1982 calendar which I believe had been advertised in the New Yorker. With brief exceptions, it has hung on a wall in my dorm/apartment/house/office for the past 38 years–it is six feet away from me as I type. (In 2021, for the first time since 2010, the days will align.)

Its 12 pages tell the story of baseball cards chronologically–January is for 19th century tobacco cards, while the last row of December shows 1981 Topps. If you lay the calendar on a table and flip through months (the only way to really do it–the pages are 22″ x 14″), you get a high level view of 100 years of the hobby. And of Major League baseball.

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What the calendar also shows, visually and starkly, is Jim Crow: page after page, row after row, of White dudes.

The first Black face belatedly shows up in August, in the penultimate row, appropriately the 1949 Bowman Satchel Paige. The final August row features 1951 Topps, and includes both Monte Irvin and Luke Easter. These three men were the 7th, 10th, and 11th Black players in the Major Leagues in the 20th century. There are four more Black faces on the page for September, which highlights the 1951 and 1952 Bowman sets.

My calendar almost always (as now) is hung so as to display October. I don’t know if it was deliberate on the part of the designer, probably not, but October’s top row is like a punch in America’s face, and the next three rows don’t really let up.

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Here is a thought experiment. Imagine seeing a binder of 1956 Topps cards, except that all of the Black players have been removed. No Mays, no Aaron, no Jackie, no Banks, no Clemente, no lots of other stars. There are still great players in the binder–Mantle, Williams, Koufax, Feller, and more–but its obviously a worse group than the real set. Not just a little worse, immeasurably worse.

In other words, it would be … just like 1934 Goudey. Or 1940 Play Ball. Or T-205. Looking through that denuded 1956 binder would be at the very least uncomfortable, and more likely offensive, to a modern collector. And that is why I struggle with all the pre-war cards sets.

As Nick wrote a couple of years ago, “while cards have always existed, their role in defining who ‘real’ ballplayers are cannot be ignored.” If I collect cards to celebrate the baseball of the time, I have to ask myself: do I really want to hang a frame on the wall that glorifies segregated baseball? The 1934 Goudey card set, the T-206 set, and all pre-war card sets, perpetuate the lie that “organized” baseball sold America for decades, that these were the best players, the “real” players.

While major league baseball was barring great Black players from playing in its leagues, and most white newspapers were complicit in not reporting on the Negro Leagues, companies like American Tobacco and Goudey  were not putting Black players on baseball cards. There were a lot of minor league cards or sets in these years, there were sets for pilots, and actors, and dogs, and trees, but nothing for the many fans of Oscar Charleston or Bullet Joe Rogan or Biz Mackey. Didn’t they smoke, or chew gum?

Had any of these companies chosen to make a Negro League set, or, better yet, incorporated Negro League players into their flagship sets, it might have led to increased and earlier calls for integration, and would have made these players “real” to kids all over America. But they did not.

When it comes to baseball cards, the lie began to dramatically unravel in the 1950s.  By the end of the decade, nearly 10% of the players on the field had dark skin, and many of these were among the best players in the sport. If you collected, some of the best and most sought after cards depicted players who you might not have heard of had they played a decade earlier.  In 1956, ten years after White America wondered if Jackie Robinson would be good enough, there were 52 Black players on big league diamonds.  Nine of them are in the Hall of Fame. Nine.

I have been dabbling in the cards of the early 1950s in recent years. I don’t have any of the sets and doubt I ever will, but enjoy picking up an occasional example, including Ted Williams or Yogi Berra or Duke Snider.

Sing the praises of pre-war cards and players as you wish.  But the 1950s are the first time when the best players were allowed in the major leagues and in baseball card sets. Both enterprises, belatedly, had become legitimate.