“9th Inning”

I started this amazing project last September. The first purchase was a Billy Parker card on 9/2/20, and on 7/8/21 I found the Larry Doby card I wanted to complete it all. I had so much fun assembling this mix of well known cards, as well as some I never knew existed.

Sixteen players out of the 86 did not have an MLB card produced, which made things very interesting. I had to dig for autographs, Minor League cards, original photos, and even game cards. The back stories of these great players were so interesting: the journey, the struggle, the closed doors eventually pushed wide open.

I learned so much about the players and their families, the Negro League and its origins. I’m a bit bummed it has come to an end but happy I was able to share it with all of you. Thanks to SABR Baseball Cards and the whole SABR team for giving me their platform to share it. So here we go, it’s the bottom of 9th, time for a walk-off!

George Crowe 1953 Topps. As you know I love the ’53 Topps set. So ahead of its time. Big George with the frames as a member of the Boston Braves. Crowe was an outstanding basketball player, and enjoyed the game better than baseball. He was smart enough to know there was more money in baseball back then. In 1947 he joined the New York Black Yankees where he hit .305 in 141 at bats. In ’52 he made his debut with the Braves. He played 11 years in MLB, in ’57 he had his best season smashing 31 dingers along with 92 ribbies for Cincinnati.

🐐fact: “Crowe was the most articulate and far-sighted Negro then in the majors. Young Negroes turned to him for advice.” – Jackie Robinson

Joe Black 2001 Fleer Stitches in Time Autograph. Figured I would go the auto route with Joe, it’s a super clean signature, and a card I have never seen before. Black pitched for 3 MLB teams over 6 years. His best season was his rookie year playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He finished 41 games, sported a 15-4 record with a 2.15 era, 15 saves, and took home NL ROY as a 28 year-old. Joe played for the Baltimore Elite Giants of the Negro League.

🐐fact: Along with Jackie Robinson, Joe pushed for a pension plan for Negro League players. After his retirement from baseball, he remained affiliated with the Commissioner’s Office where he consulted players about career choices.

Quincy Trouppe 1978 Laughlin BVG 8.5. This card was from a set of 36 cards by sport artist R.G. Laughlin honoring outstanding black players from the past. Quincy was one of the players in this project who was never featured on a MLB card. He only appeared in 6 games with Cleveland as a 39 year-old. That was his MLB career, but Quincy was a legend in the Negro Leagues! He was a big switch-hitting catcher, 6′ 2″ and 225 pounds. Excelled as a player, manager, and scout. Trouppe was a baseball lifer who did many great things for the game.

🐐fact: In 1977 Quincy self-published a book entitled, “20 Years Too Soon”. He also had a vast collection of photographs, and supplied Ken Burns with most of the Negro League video footage for his legendary documentary.

Hector Rodriguez 1953 Bowman RC. Hector played one year for the Chicago White Sox in 1952. He was a natural shortstop, and a native of Cuba. A member of the New York Cubans in the Negro League. Even though he only played a short time in MLB, he was a fixture in the International League for the Toronto Maple Leafs. As you can see on this awesome Bowman card with Yankee Stadium in the background, he’s about to sling that ball sidearm. He was known for his underhand flip throws from deep in the hole just like someone I enjoyed watching growing up, Tony Fernandez.

🐐fact: Hector sported a great eye at the plate. In 1952 with the White Sox, he struck out only 22 times in 462 plate appearances!

Frank Barnes 1960 Topps RC. This is a really sharp card, not centered well, but great condition. Barnes played in 1957, 1958 and 1960 for the Cardinals, he pitched in only 15 career MLB games. If you notice, Frank is a member of the White Sox on his baseball card, but he would never appear in a game for them. Barnes played for the Kansas City Monarchs, he was later sold to the Yankees along with Elston Howard.

🐐fact: Barnes continued to pitch professionally in the minor leagues and Mexico until age 40 in 1967.

Joe Durham 1958 Topps PSA 7 RC. Joe had his first taste of the big leagues in 1954 as a 22 year-old OF with the Baltimore Orioles. He missed the ’55 and ’56 seasons due to military service. He returned to the O’s in ’57, then finished his career with the Cards in ’59. Durham started his professional career with the Chicago American Giants of the Negro League. After his playing career was over he became the O’s batting practice pitcher, and then moved into the front office. He was a member of the Orioles organization for over 40 years.

🐐fact: “I was in the Negro American League because I couldn’t play in anything else. People talk about racism in Mississippi and Alabama. Mississippi was bad, and Alabama was bad, but Chicago was just as bad as any of them.” – Joe Durham.

George Altman 1958 Topps RC / 1964 Topps Autograph. This is a really crisp rookie card, obviously not centered well, but an overall nice card. The Altman autograph came from Ryans Vintage Cards, a really cool Instagram account that sells random vintage cards in re-packs. George played 9 years in MLB as an OF and 1B. He was a 2x All-Star with the Cubs. In ’61 he led the league with 12 triples, batting .303 with 27 HR and 96 RBI. He started his pro ball with the Kansas City Monarchs, mentored by the great Buck O’Neil who taught him how to play 1B. The Cubs signed George, as well as Lou Johnson and J.C. Hartman all from Buck’s word.

🐐fact: After his time in MLB, Altman went on to play ball in Japan, amassing 205 HR until he retired at the age of 42.

Lino Donoso 1956 Topps Pirates Team Card. Donoso was one of the toughest players to find anything on. It took me months to realize he was on the Pirates ’56 team card. It’s Clemente’s second year, so it’s not a cheap card even in poor condition. Lino was a lefty pitcher, a Cuban native who started his professional career in 1947 with the New York Cubans of the Negro National League. He made his MLB debut in 1955, and played a few games for Pittsburgh in ’56 as well. He had a long career in the Mexican League, and was elected to their Hall of Fame in 1988.

🐐fact: Donoso was a teammate of Minnie Miñoso for the New York Cubans in ’47. He sported a 5-2 2.18 ERA as a 24 year-old.

Editor’s Note: You can enjoy the rest of this series right here on the SABR Baseball Cards blog.

Player Collection Spotlight: Representing the 772 (or 561 or 407 or 305)

Our collecting habits are almost certainly influenced by time and place, and my own certainly are. The players I collect were primarily active in the 1980s and 1990s, the team I collect was on top of the baseball world in 1986 with their spring training site moving about two miles away from my house, and, with my formative collecting years being the late 1980s and early 1990s, I find having a single card producing company with a full MLB license maddening.

At some point, probably in the early 2000s, I began collecting “cards” of players from the area in which I grew up. “Cards” is in parentheses because I have other items of the non-card variety, including Starting Lineup figures for the few who had them as well as other assorted card-like items. While the definition of a card varies by individual, my own definition of a “card” is broad.

Port St. Lucie was small when I lived there – the title of the post shows how much the area codes changed due to population growth over the span of about 15 years. There was not actually a high school in the city of Port St. Lucie until 1989 (I was in the second class that could possibly have attended the school all four years) – so I branched out a little into the rest of St. Lucie County as well as neighboring Martin and Indian River counties. But despite its size there were a few players who made it to the show.

The most famous player from the area is almost certainly Rick Ankiel. A highly touted pitching prospect who likely would have gone higher in the draft if he didn’t have Scott Boras as his agent, he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to Rafael Furcal then proceeded to struggle with control against the Braves and Mets in the playoffs. He of course made it back to the majors as an outfielder, which, according to his book, may not have happened had he not had Boras as his agent. It’s that story which likely elevates him to the most famous player from the area.

Charles Johnson went to Fort Pierce Westwood and was drafted in the first round twice – once out of high school and once out of the University of Miami. I believe his dad was the baseball coach at Westwood for many years. He is probably the best player (at least according to WAR) to come out of the area, or at least he was until Michael Brantley came along. Again, there are dividing lines for a collection – I don’t collect Brantley because I had left the area before he became a local player. He was in the right place just at the wrong time. Brantley’s time in that area did overlap perhaps an even more famous individual from the area – you may have seen Megan Fox in a movie or two.

There are other players from the area, more minor players in the history of the game. Ed Hearn, who was born in Stuart and went to Fort Pierce Central, was a favorite of my best friend’s mom. He also happened to play for the 1986 Mets, which is good enough for me. Like Charles Johnson, Terry McGriff is a catcher out of Westwood and is actually Charles Johnson’s uncle. He’s also a cousin to Fred McGriff (who I also collect in a limited fashion though that has nothing to do with location – it has everything to do with time). A friend of mine in elementary school got Terry McGriff’s autograph when Terry visited my friend’s elementary school. Eventually that card ended up in my collection through a trade of some sort.

Danny Klassen, who went to John Carroll High School, is the closest in age to me, and while I didn’t play baseball with him (I was on the north side of Port St. Lucie and played at Sportsman’s Park; he was playing on the south side at Lyngate Park) I know many people who played on teams with him in Little League and Legion Ball. I believe he has a World Series ring with his time on the Diamondbacks. Wonderful Terrific Monds was a player I didn’t know much about, but (1) a good friend of mine’s parents couldn’t stop talking about how good he was and (2) his name is awesome. He never made it to the majors, but he has minor league cards and a handful of cards from mainstream sets due to being in the minors at the right time (a prospect in the early 1990s).

I should probably have a Jon Coutlangus collection, but alas, I think he was a year too late. At one point I identified Joe Randa as the best MLB player to attend Indian River Community College (which is now Indian River State College), so I started a Randa collection, though I don’t remember much about his IRCC career.

The more prominent players (Ankiel, Johnson, and Randa) have some game-used and autographed cards; most have parallel cards in one product or another. Okay, Ankiel has over 100 different autographed cards and over 50 memorabilia cards according to Beckett; he was a hot prospect at a time when there were multiple fully-licensed producers. He’s also popular enough that he has autographed cards in recent Topps issues, well after his retirement from baseball. Hearn, McGriff, Monds, and Klassen only have a handful (or what I would call a handful – less than 75) of cards. It’s usually easier to find the rarer cards of the bigger names because sellers will list them, with the cards of the less popular players coming up occasionally.

While the cards of these players aren’t going to set records at an auction or allow me to buy an island, the collection provides a tie to my formative baseball playing and baseball card collecting years. For me, those types of connections are why I collect.

From the Negro League to MLB

7th Inning

Everybody get up for the 7th inning stretch! As I get close to completing this wonderful project, I’m learning so much more about the lesser known Negro League stars. Many have such amazing, and inspiring stories. Not only on the baseball field, but off the field, family, etc. Sam Jones just finished his warmup tosses, let’s play ball…

Sam Jones 1960 Leaf PSA 6. ’60 Leaf was a black and white set with only 144 cards, pretty rare. Sam had a stellar MLB career. He finished his 12 year career with 102 wins and 101 losses with a 3.59 era. A 2x All-Star, he won 21 games for the Giants in ’59 sporting a 2.83 era. 16 complete games, 4 shutouts, and 5 saves! Jones was a big dude, 6′ 4″ 200lbs, he was the first African-American to throw a no-no. Jones played for the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro American League.

🐐fact: Jones was nicknamed “Toothpick Sam”, since he routinely had a toothpick in his mouth.

Dan Bankhead 1951 Bowman RC. ’51 Bowman is one of my favorite sets, such amazing color, so ahead of it’s time. This card is centered really well for that era, really clean card minus the lines. Dan was the first African-American pitcher in MLB. He played 3 seasons, all with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He homered in his first MLB at-bat. Bankhead was leading the Negro League in hitting (.385), when his contract was purchased by the Dodgers in 1947.

🐐fact: Dan played for the Birmingham Black Barons and the Memphis Red Sox. He served our great country, and was a sergeant in the Marines. Word has it that Dan struggled as a pitcher during his time in MLB due to him being “scared to death” of hitting a white ballplayer. “Dan was from Alabama, you know what I mean? He heard all those people calling him names, making those threats, and he was scared. He’d seen black men get lynched.” – Buck O’Neil.

Charlie Neal 1960 Topps 1959 World Series Game 2. This is such a great looking card. Charlie broke into MLB with the Brooklyn Dodgers, had a solid career spanning 8 years including three All-Star appearances. He played all over the infield, and enjoyed his best year in 1959 when he hit .287, 11 triples, 19 home runs, 83 ribbies, along with 17 swipes. He also won a World Series that year, along with a Gold Glove.

🐐fact: Neal played for the Atlanta Black Crackers, and despite being only 5′ 10″ and 165 lbs, he belted 151 home runs during his minor and major league career.

Bill Bruton 1953 Topps RC. Great looking card, ’53 is an all-time classic set. Bruton was a .273 career hitter over a 12 year career with the Milwaukee Braves and Detroit Tigers. Bill came up in ’57, and had a promising rookie season. Playing in 151 games as an OF, he had 18 doubles, 14 triples, 26 swipes, and hit .250. He finished 4th in the ROY voting. He was 27 by the time he reached MLB. He led the league in triples twice, and stolen bases three times (’53-’55). In 1991 Bruton was inducted into the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame.

🐐fact: Bruton’s father in-law was Hall of Famer Judy Johnson. Judy helped Bill get a tryout with the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro League.

Donn Clendenon 1962 Topps RC. Donn was 6’4″, solid hitter, struck out a lot, played mainly at 1B. His best year was in ’66 with the Pirates, 28/98/.299. He was MVP of the 1969 World Series with the Miracle Mets. He was a 3 sport star at Morehouse College, receiving contract offers from the Cleveland Browns and the Harlem Globetrotters. Donn played briefly for the Atlanta Black Crackers.

🐐fact: Super cool fact. When Donn arrived as a freshman at Morehouse in 1952, each student was assigned a “Big Brother”. A former Morehouse grad volunteered to be his, Mr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Bob Boyd 1958 Topps PSA 7. Boyd had a career average of .293 over ten seasons in MLB. Hit over .300 4 times at the age of 36, 37, 38, and 40. Bob was a 1B and OF who only struck out 114 times in 2152 plate appearances, wow! He was the first black player to sign with the Chicago White Sox. An excellent fielder as well, he started his professional career with the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro Leagues hitting .352, .369, and .371.

🐐fact: Boyd had a famous nephew who played in the majors as well, Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd. Bob is a member of the National Baseball Congress Hall of Fame.

Dave Pope 1955 Bowman RC. A very well centered ’55 Bowman. Look at that classic glove and flannel Cleveland jersey. Dave didn’t reach MLB until the age of 31. He played 4 seasons for the Cleveland Indians, and 2 with the Baltimore Orioles. A .264 career hitter, he was an excellent defensive outfielder. Pope played for the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords in the Negro League, as did his older brother Willie. Pope was brought into Game 1 of the ’54 World Series in the late innings after “The Catch” by Mays. In the 10th, Pope came close to robbing Rhodes of his game winning HR.

🐐fact: “When you look at a hit like Dusty Rhodes’s, which was what – 200-and-something down the right field line? And when you think of a 250-foot home run and you think of a 410-foot out, it’s just something that doesn’t seem to match. But that’s the way the game goes.” – Dave Pope

Harry Simpson 1952 Topps RC. How can you not love the 1952 Topps set? Such great color, and name plate. Harry started his professional career with the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro National League. Simpson had two cool nicknames, “Suitcase” for his size 13 shoes that were large as a suitcase. Also “Goody” for his willingness to help his neighbors in his hometown of Dalton, GA. Harry played 8 years in MLB, his best was in 1956 for the Kansas City Athletics. Earning his only All-Star birth, he led the league with 11 triples, hitting .293 while smashing 21 HR and driving in 105.

🐐fact: Simpson once hit a HR onto Brooklyn Avenue, outside of Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium. There was a concrete wall atop a 40-foot-high embankment in right field, making it a near impossible feat. A barnstorming Babe Ruth even had trouble hitting the target during exhibition games.

Dave Hoskins 1954 Topps RC. These cards are really tough to find well centered. Dave had an impressive rookie campaign with Cleveland. 9-3 with a 3.99 era. Starting 7 games, finishing 9, 3 complete games, and one save. Hoskins was the first black player to appear in the Texas League. He received many letters threatening his life, but still won 22 games with a 2.12 era and hit .328!

🐐fact: Hoskins played for a handful of Negro League teams during his early years. His best season was with the Homestead Grays in 1944, he hit .324 and went 5-2 on the mound as the Grays won their 8th consecutive National League pennant.

Hal King 1970 Topps RC PSA 8. Hal was one of the last Negro League players to make it to MLB. He was a lefty hitting catcher who had his best year in the majors in 1970 with the Braves. He hit .260 in 89 games, with 11 HR and 30 RBI. King barnstormed with the Indianapolis Clowns before signing with the Angels in ’65. Hal celebrated his 77th birthday on February 1st of this year.

🐐fact: On April 15, 1968 King was involved in a record-setting game between the Astros and New York Mets at the Astrodome. Starting behind the plate, he ended up catching the complete 24-inning marathon that lasted 6 hours and 6 minutes.

J.C. Hartman 1963 Topps RC. Hartman was a SS who spent two years with the Houston Colt .45s in 1962-1963. Hartman appeared in the 1955 East-West All-Star Classic as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs. In ’56 he was drafted into the Army. He was a well trained barber who cut other players’ hair during Spring Training. Hartman turned 87 on April 15 of this year.

🐐fact: J.C became a police officer after baseball, he was the first black supervisor in the Houston Police Department.

Bob Thurman 1957 Topps RC. ’57 Topps, such an innovative set. First time they used color photographs, reduced the size of the card from 2-5/8 by 3-5/8 to 2-1/2 by 3-1/2. Also, it was the first time they printed multiple-year player statistics on the back of cards. Thurman is part of the 4th series of the ’57 set, which is noticeably harder to find than other cards in the set.

Thurman did not make MLB until he was 38 years of age. He spent 5 seasons with the Reds. In ’57 he hit 16 HR in 74 games as a 40 year-old. Thurman played for the Homestead Grays with such legends as Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and Buck Leonard. In his first year with the Grays (1946), he hit .408. In ’47 he raked .338, and then in ’48 he hit .345 with a 6-4 record as a pitcher, helping the Grays win the pennant.

🐐fact: Thurman was originally signed by the Yankees. He was one of the best pinch-hitters of his era, smashing 6 career pinch-hit HR. If Bob was given the chance to play in MLB during his prime, who knows, he could of been a perennial All-Star.

Charlie White 1955 Topps RC PSA 6. Charlie was a catcher who played two years in MLB for the Milwaukee Braves. He started his professional career with the Philadelphia Stars in 1950. The next year he signed with the St. Louis Browns, by owner Bill Veeck. He was traded the next year to the Braves.

🐐fact: White was known for his humor on and off the ball field. He was a native of Kinston, NC.

George Spriggs 1967 Topps RC. Spriggs was actually featured on 3 different Rookie Stars cards. His first was with the Pirates, then in ’68 he had one with the Red Sox, and then with the Royals in ’69! George was an OF who played 5 years in MLB. He was the only Negro League player to play for the Royals. He was a part of the 1959 Kansas City Monarchs barnstorming team.

🐐fact: George built a baseball field behind his house named “Geno’s Field,” in honor of his late son. It was the home of the Tracey Twins, a team Spriggs was affiliated with for several years. George passed away last December at the age of 83.

George Smith 1965 Topps RC. George was an IF who played 4 seasons in MLB (3 with DET, 1 in BOS). Smith started his professional career with the Indianapolis Clowns. He signed with the Tigers in 1958 and was assigned to the Durham Bulls (Carolina League). He played sparingly with the Tigers, but during his one year with Boston he appeared in 128 games, smacking 8 HR and 19 doubles.

🐐fact: Smith was injured in Spring Training of 1967, even after getting released in July, he remained the Red Sox property. The Sox did the right thing for Smith, awarding him a one-third share of the World Series money.

Walt Bond 1960 Topps RC. The ’60 set is so unique, great looking card here. Bond came up as a 22 year-old with the Cleveland Indians. His best year in MLB was with Houston in ’64 when he belted 20 HR along with 85 RBI and batted .310 over 148 games. Walt stood 6′ 7″ and batted lefty. He battled leukemia during the latter part of his career. He got his feet wet in pro ball with the Kansas City Monarchs.

🐐fact: Bond passed away at the age of 29 due to complications from leukemia.

Lou Johnson 1960 Topps RC. Lou was an an OF who played 8 seasons in MLB. His best years were with the Dodgers in the mid-60s. In 1966 he hit .272 with 17 HR and 73 RBI. Johnson played in the Negro Leagues with the Indianapolis Clowns and the Kansas City Monarchs.

🐐fact: “If I had a wish, I would have God get all of the Negro league players, make them 30 years younger, and have them take the field again. This way, white folks could see them and what we’re talking about. I’d love for those fans to stand up, cheer, show their appreciation, recognizing them for what they’ve done.” – Lou Johnson

Willie Smith 1965 Topps RC. Willie was an OF/pinch hitter, a journeyman in MLB, playing for 5 teams in 9 years. His first full year, was actually his best pro year when he hit .301 with 11 HR and 51 RBI for the Angels in 1964. Smith played for the Birmingham Black Barons, and was selected to play in the East-West All-Star Game in 1958 and 1959. He was a highly touted pitching prospect, sporting a 14-2 record with a 2.11 era for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs in ’63.

🐐fact: During his MLB career, Smith pitched in 29 games, netting 3 starts, 61 IP, and a 3.10 ERA. During his 7 years in the minors, he was 49-27 with a 2.93 ERA. He also hit .304 in more than 1,200 plate appearances. If it was a different time maybe Willie would have been the first two-way star!

Billy Harrell 1959 Topps. Billy was an IF who played three seasons with the Cleveland Indians and his last with the Red Sox. He was known to be a defensive wiz. Described by Kirby Farrell, his manager at Cleveland and several minor league stops, as having “such tremendous hands, he could play the infield without a glove.” He received a basketball scholarship to Siena University, and during his time there they sported a 70-19 record. He also hit over .400 in his sophomore and junior seasons. Started his career with the Birmingham Black Barons in ’51, playing SS.

🐐fact: In 1966, Harrell became the third alumnus to be inducted into the Siena Athletics Hall of Fame. In 2006, he also became the first Siena basketball player to have his jersey number (#10) retired by the school.

Artie Wilson 1949 Sporting News/1946 Birmingham Black Barons Negro League Retort Signed Postcard. This was a really cool find. The Sporting News clipping details his time playing for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. The postcard (Wilson is 4th from left in back row) has Wilson’s auto along with Lyman Bostock, and Lester Lockett, his teammates on the 1946 Birmingham Black Barons. Artie did not have a MLB card. He played only one season for the New York Giants in 1951 at the age of 30. Wilson played for the Barons from 1942-1948, and considered the best SS during that time. He was the starting SS at the All-Star Classic four times in five years, only to get beat out by Jackie Robinson in 1945. In ’48, he batted .402, as well as mentoring a young Willie Mays.

🐐fact: Another player who was never given the chance in MLB despite his amazing talent. After his retirement, Wilson worked at Gary Worth Lincoln Mercury in Portland for more than 30 years, and stayed on there until the fall of 2008 at the age of 88 (what a legend!). He was named to the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1989, and the PCL Hall of Fame in 2003. He passed away in 2010 at the age of 89.

End of 7. Thanks to you all for reading and chiming in on the comments. I hope you enjoyed it so far. The “9th Inning” will be filled with many of the greats. How about that!

Albert Pujols, next man up!

I had to see it with my own eyes to believe it, but there he was: Albert Pujols in Dodger Blue.

Photo: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Following the Pujols signing, baseball savant Jay Jaffe was quick to point out that Albert was in good company.

Ditto Chris Kamka.

While late to the party, I’ll carry on the theme with the baseball card angle. We’ll blow right past Jackie, Sandy, Pee Wee, and the Duke and focus on the players you don’t normally think of as Dodgers.

THE BROOKLYN ERA

Chief Bender

There’s a great reason you don’t think of Bender as a Dodger. He never was. Yet, here he is in the 1916 Mother’s Bread set representing the Brooklyn National League club!

Without doing a ton of digging, I’m going to assume this is simply an error card. The same set also has Bender (same image) as a Philadelphia Athletic, which would have been equally incorrect. (Bender was a Baltimore Terrapin in 1915 and a Philadelphia Phillie in 1916.)

Roberto Clemente

The Great One, as is well known, never suited up for Brooklyn. Instead he was smartly and fatefully signed by the Pirates after the Dodgers left him unprotected in their farm system.

The 1994 Topps Archives set chose to include Roberto as a “1954 PROSPECT” of the Brooklyn Dodgers, depicting Clemente in a Montreal Royals uniform and aping the 1954 Topps design.

Charlie Gehringer

Okay, now you know there’s something funny going on here. The Mechanical Man as a Dodger? Heavens no! However, the uniform must have looked close enough that someone logged the card this way in Trading Card Database. (And don’t worry. I’ve submitted a correction.)

Still, it may well be that your Albert Pujols Dodgers card looks this jarring 50 years into the future. (Perhaps your Albert Pujols Angels cards will as well!)

Tony Lazzeri

Here’s one thing we know. If a player even spent a minute as a Dodger the 1990 Target Dodgers megaset took note.

In Lazzeri’s case, it was only 14 games, but he did have the highest OBP, SLG, and OPS of his entire career!

Babe Ruth

Lazzeri wasn’t the only member of the Murderers Row to have a Dodger baseball card. The Bambino, who coached for the squad, had several, beginning with this one from the 1962 Topps “Babe Ruth Special” subset.

If my eyes don’t deceive me, the next time Cody Bellinger steps to the plate for the Dodgers (hopefully soon!) his uniform number 35 will take on new significance.

Paul Waner

Thanks to Don Zminda for reminding me in the comments that Big Poison also had some Dodger cardboard.

Vintage collectors will prefer his 1941 Double Play card, shared with the season’s most ill-fated backstop. However, if beauty is what you’re after then this 1973 card will fill you will “Glee.”

Hack Wilson

Perhaps the only thing that could have diminished the thrill of my fellow SABR Chicago member John Racanelli landed his “holy grail” Hack Wilson card was flipping it over to see the team on the back.

Like Pujols, Wilson had his best seasons behind him, though he did knock a total of 38 homers for Brooklyn across 2+ seasons.

THE LOS ANGELES ERA

Dick Allen

This Dick Allen card is better known as the first major release with a mustache since T206 but is more importantly a must in any Dodger collection.

Unlike Pujols (at least we assume!), Allen’s best years weren’t behind him at all when he joined the Dodgers. He would of course win the American League’s MVP award in 1972 as a member of the White Sox, where he would also garner back-to-back Topps All-Star cards in 1974 and 1975.

Jim Bunning

Don’t worry. I didn’t remember this either.

Three wins, one loss, and a respectable 3.36 ERA.

Whitey Ford

Wait, what?! The Chairman of the Board? Yes, if his 1962 Post Cereal (Canadian) issue is to be believed.

Don’t panic. It was only an error card.

Rickey Henderson

While it seems like Rickey played for just about every team at some point, it sometimes takes cardboard proof to reassure me I wasn’t just imagining him in Dodger Blue.

So thank you, 2003 Fleer Tradition…I think.

Greg Maddux

Buy the time Maddux came to L.A. in 2006, by way of the Cubs, the Dodger faithful may have worried he had little left in the tank.

As his 2006 Upper Deck Season Highlights card reminds us, he could still get outs, tossing six no-hit innings in his first game as a Dodger. The magic didn’t last long though, as he went on to surrender 28 hits over his next three games.

Juan Marichal

Of course the Target Dodgers set was there for it, but we’ll go 1983 ASA instead.

The picture is sure to feel like a dagger to the hearts of Giants fans, but they could of course parry with an equally blasphemous Jackie.

Frank Robinson

Robby may have entered the Hall as an Oriole, but that didn’t stop SSPC from immortalizing him as a Dodger.

Naturally, many other cards include Frank Robinson’s Dodger stint, including his 1973 Topps flagship issue.

Jim Thome

Hall of Famer Jim Thome (or J M H M if your eyes are as bad as mine) had a brief pinch-hitting stint for the Dodgers in 2009, batting 17 times in 17 games with 4 singles.

Still, that cup of coffee was enough to make him one of THREE 600 HR club members Dodgers collectors can claim, along with Babe Ruth and now…

Albert Pujols!

Man, remember when we had to wait a year for this kind of thing!

From the Negro League to MLB

5th Inning

As we hit the midway mark of the project, the hobby has reached unprecedented times. Due to a huge boom in card collecting, PSA recently shut down its services for the foreseeable future. Backloaded with millions of cards not yet processed or graded, I believe they made the correct move to shut down and restart. SGC also recently raised their prices from $25 per card to $75. I do love the look of vintage cards in the SGC “Tuxedo” slabs, so I was pretty bummed when they made the decision to jack prices to that level.

In saying all this, my plan was (and still is) to have every card/item in this collection graded/authenticated. Due to the shutdown of PSA, that will have to wait. Many of the lesser value cards in my project were originally planned to be sent out via bulk submissions. Not happy about it, but this project is more about the process than anything else. Okay, enough of the rant, first up to bat (I mean pitch) is…

Jose Santiago 1956 Topps RC. One of my favorite sets, ’56 Topps. Nicknamed “Pantalones” which means pants or trousers in Spanish, he earned this name during Winter ball in his native Puerto Rico. Santiago pitched for the Negro Leagues as an 18 year-old, playing for the New York Cubans. Jose reached the majors in 1954 with the Cleveland Indians appearing in only one game. In 1955, he had a really impressive year, finishing 6 games, and sporting a 2.48 era in 17 appearances. 1957 was his last season in MLB, but Jose was a baseball lifer, spending 16 seasons in the Puerto Rican Winter League.

🐐fact: Santiago lived to 90 years old, he was inducted into the Puerto Rico Sports Hall of Fame in 1987, as well as the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame.

Pancho Herrera 1958 Topps RC. Pancho was a 6’3″ 220 lb Cuban who had plenty of power. Herrera played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League before being purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1954. In 1960 he finished second behind Frank Howard in NL Rookie of the Year voting. In 145 games he batted .281, slugged 17 HR to go along with 71 RBI. Herrera had an extensive Minor League career that spanned into his 40’s. He was elected to the International League Hall of Fame in 2008.

🐐fact: Pancho’s 1958 Topps card featured a rare error version that blocked the black printing dye where the “a” in his last name should’ve been. The “a” is barely legible, and must have been noticed very early by a Topps employee since there’s very few cards that have surfaced. To this date there’s only 50 cards graded in the PSA database, four PSA 8, one PSA 9, and none ever graded as a 10!

Junior Gilliam 1960 Topps. What a great set, Gilliam was an All-Star in 1959 his 2nd appearance in the Mid-Summer classic (1st was in 1956). Junior was born in Nashville, TN and played for the Nashville Black Vols (Negro Southern League) as a teenager for $150 a month. After spending 6 years with the Baltimore Elite Giants he was signed by the Dodgers organization in 1951. In 1953 he was NL ROY, leading the league with 17 triples.

🐐fact: Junior was a 4x World Series champ (appeared in 7 total), and spent his whole career (14 seasons) with the Dodgers.

Jehosie Heard 1954 Topps RC. This was an easy choice since it was the only Topps card Jehosie appeared on. He was the first African-American to play for the Baltimore Orioles. He appeared in 2 games as a 34 year-old in 1954. The Georgia native first picked up the great game of baseball on an Army base during the war. After serving our country he joined the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro League. Heard had success as a lefty pitcher for many years but was also an excellent hitter. In 1951 he hit .396 and played the outfield when he was not pitching.

🐐fact: Heard stood only 5′ 7″ and weighed 155 pounds.

Henry “Hank” Mason 1960 Topps RC. Like Heard, Mason appeared on only one Topps card. He was a right-handed pitcher, and played for the Phillies in 1958 and 1960. Hank began his professional career with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League. He was the starting pitcher of the 1954 East-West All-Star Game. Mason was dominant in the Minor Leagues, posting records of 12-4 (1955) and 14-7 (1956) leading the league in shutouts for the Schenectady Blue Jays, a Phillies farm team.

🐐fact: On Opening Day in 1952 for the Monarchs, Mason pitched 16 innings to defeat the Philadelphia Stars, 3-2.

Carlos Paula 1955 Topps RC. Paula was a Cuban born right-handed hitting outfielder. ’55 is such a great set, Paula has a great smile and a really cool picture of him in a throwing motion with a clean Senators uni! Paula was built like a prizefighter, 6′ 2″, great speed, and could hit for power. On September 6, 1954, the Senators became the 12th of 16 teams to integrate their roster. Paula had a double, and single in his first MLB game. Paula was definitely one of many that did not get his fair chance of playing time. Often outplaying fellow white ballplayers, but as we know this was a common trend during these unfortunate times. During a 22 game stretch in 1955, from mid-August to September, Paula hit .450 with 36 hits, 14 for extra bases, while only striking out 4 times.

🐐fact: In 1954 Topps issued a card of Angel Scull who was thought to be the first player to integrate the Senators, but he never appeared in a Major League game!

Al Smith 1955 Bowman. Love the ’55 Bowman’s, such a unique set, one of a kind. Smith started his professional career with the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro League. He had a very good career in MLB. Amassing 1458 hits over a 12 year career. Posting a lifetime batting average of .272, along with 164 dingers. In ’55 he was an All-Star, finished 3rd in the AL MVP race, playing in all 154 games, 725 plate appearances, 123 hits, leading the AL in those categories. Not to forget his 22 HR, 77 RBI, and .306 AVG.

🐐fact: Smith played in the 1954 and 1959 World Series. After playing baseball, he went on to work for the city of Chicago, and managed the city-wide baseball program for 18 years.

Elston Howard 1962 Salada Coin PSA 8. This is really cool, especially that these coins came in packages of Salada Tea and Junket Dessert products. They came in six different colored borders, with over 260 players in the master set. Elston was a fan favorite in my family. My grandfather, and uncle always raved about him. A 9x MLB All-Star (1957-1965), MVP winner, 2 Gold Gloves, and don’t forget his 4 World Series Championships. In 1961 he hit .348 in 129 games, smashing 21 homers and 77 RBI.

🐐fact: Elston played 3 seasons with the Kansas City Monarchs, starting in 1948 at the age of nineteen.

John Wyatt 1966 Topps PSA 4. I’m not the biggest fan of the ’66 Topps set, but as you know I’m a jersey fanatic. I loved how the players wore those jackets under the uniform back in the day. No matter what city the Athletics played in, they had incredible uniforms. Really love this card. Wyatt was a right-handed pitcher who played in MLB for four teams over a nine year span. He finished with a 42-44 record, and a respectable 3.47 era. His best year was with Kansas City, when he appeared in 81 games (led the AL), 9 wins, 20 saves, a 3.59 era, and earned a trip to the Mid-Summer classic.

🐐fact: John started his professional career with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League in 1953. In ’54 the St. Louis Cardinals offered him $1,000 to sign, “I never seen that kind of money in one lump sum and I wasn’t going to let it slip away.”

Chuck Harmon 1954 Topps RC. Great set, awesome looking rookie card. Harmon broke into the majors at the age of 30 with the Reds. He was a 6′ 2″ utility player, who batted righty. Chuck was one of many who started their pro career with the Indianapolis Clowns. He deserved to be in the Big Show long before 1954. He hit .374 and .375 in consecutive seasons in the minors.

🐐fact: Harmon was a very talented basketball player in his high school days. He was the first African-American to coach in professional basketball and led the Utica team in the Eastern League as a player/coach.

Curt Roberts 1955 Topps. ’55 is a classic set. This is Roberts 2nd year card. He had an excellent rookie campaign, the back of this card states, “reputation as a top Major League prospect”. Curt was a highly touted defensive second baseman. He played in 134 games his first year, but only 37 more games over two seasons. By the age of 26 he played his last MLB game. Roberts was the first African-American to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sadly, at the age of 40 he was killed by a drunk driver while changing a flat tire on the side of the highway.

🐐fact: Roberts started his professional career with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League. He was also a mentor to the great Roberto Clemente during his time in Pittsburgh.

Charlie Dees 1964 Topps RC. Like Roberts, Dees had a very productive rookie year. Charlie was 28 years of age in 1963 when he hit .307 in 60 games for the Los Angeles Angels. By 1965 he was out of MLB. Dees started his professional career in 1957 with the Louisville Clippers of the Negro Leagues.

🐐fact: Dees led the Texas League in batting in 1962, hitting .348, 179 hits, 23 HR and 115 RBI for the El Paso Sun Kings.

Jim Pendleton 1953 Topps RC PSA 5. Great shot of Jim in that Milwaukee Braves cap. Pendleton started his career in 1948 with the Chicago American Giants of the Negro League. The Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jim after the ’48 season but spent four years in the minors, mainly due to Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese at shortstop. In 1953 he was traded to the Milwaukee Braves and converted to an outfielder.

🐐fact: Pendleton spent 8 seasons in MLB, with 4 teams. He served our country in WWII.

Gene Baker 1959 Topps PSA 7. Gene was a 6′ 1″ infielder who reached the Big Show for a cup of coffee during the 1953 season with the Chicago Cubs. In ’55, as a 30 year-old Baker played in all 154 games, and made his one and only All-Star Game. He hit .265 over an eight year career with the Cubs and Pirates. Gene started his professional career with the Kansas City Monarchs and was their regular SS for the ’48 and ’49 seasons.

🐐fact: Not only was Baker part of the first African-American keystone combination in MLB (along with Mr. Ernie Banks), but he was also the first African-American to manage in the majors. During the ’63 season, then coaching with the Pirates, manager Danny Murtaugh and coach Frank Oceak were tossed, Baker took the reigns (not in the record books).

Bob Trice 1954 Topps RC. Trice was a 6′ 3″ right-handed pitcher from Newton, GA who played 3 seasons in MLB. The ’54 Topps was his only card. Bob was the first person of color to play for the Philadelphia Athletics. Bob spent three years with the Homestead Grays of the Negro League.

🐐fact: Bob started his professional career as an outfielder, but with the help of veteran Sam Bankhead he transitioned into a pitcher.

Jim Proctor 1960 Topps RC. This a really cool “Rookie Star” card, big fan of this look. Proctor appeared in only 2 MLB games (1 start) in 1959 with the Detroit Tigers. He started his professional career with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League.

🐐fact: Before being called up in September of ’59, Proctor had a fantastic year with the Knoxville Smokies (Sally League), sporting a 15-5 record, with a 2.19 era.

Larry Raines 1958 Topps RC. Raines was a well traveled ballplayer, mainly playing 3B, SS, and 2B. He started his pro career with the Baltimore Elite Giants in 1952. He went off to Japan to play in the Pacific League in 1953. Playing for Hankyu Braves, he led the league with 61 stolen bases in ’53. In ’54 he led the league in average (.337), runs (96), and hits (184). In 1957 (27 years old), he appeared in 96 games for the Cleveland Indians, hitting .262.

🐐fact: Raines is recognized as the first ballplayer to perform professionally in Minor League baseball, Negro League baseball, Japanese baseball, and MLB.

Joe Caffie 1958 Topps RC. Good looking ’58 card here. Caffie was a teammate of Larry Raines during the ’57 season. Joe had a fantastic rookie year, hitting .342 over 12 games. In a short span in MLB, he finished with a .292 avg (127 AB’s). Caffie broke in as an OF for the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro League. He hit well at every level. As you see with most of the Negro League players, they were either brought up to MLB too late in their career, or not given the proper playing time, even though most deserved it.

🐐fact: Joe was nicknamed, “The rabbit”. Here’s a quote by former Negro League star Luke Easter, “I have seen a lot of fast ones, but Caffie is the fastest, and that includes guys like Sam Jethroe.”

Joe Taylor 1958 Topps RC. Another ’58 Topps, great smile by Joe here. Taylor had a 4 year career in MLB, joining the Philadelphia Athletics as a 28 year-old. He started his professional career with the Chicago American Giants. In 1954 he was an All-Star hitting .323 and 23 HR for the Ottawa A’s (AAA).

🐐fact: Taylor battled alcoholism for much of his career, he had tremendous talent, here’s a quote from the great Maury Wills. “Joe Taylor should have been a superstar in the big leagues.”

Maury Wills 1972 Topps PSA 7.5. Speaking of Mr. Maury Wills, he will be up last in the “5th Inning” segment. I love this Wills card, two reasons, the ’72 set is one of my favs, and second, it’s his last Topps player card. Great Dodgers uniform here, exceptional piping down the shoulder and sleeve. Maury was the glue to those great Dodgers Championship teams. A 7x All-Star, 3x World Series champ, 2 Gold Gloves, and MVP of 1962 when he hit .299, smacked 208 hits, stole 104 bases, and legged out 20 triples. Wills was born in Washington, DC, a 3 sport star in basketball, football, and baseball. He played briefly for the Raleigh Tigers of the Negro League. He finished his MLB playing career with 2,134 hits, 586 stolen bases, and a .281 average.

🐐fact: Maury, now 88, is still a member of the Dodgers organization. In 2015, he missed getting elected by the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Golden Era Commitee by 3 votes.

Well that’s all for now folks, I hope you enjoyed the “5th Inning”. We’re headed to the 7th, see you soon!

Collecting the 100 HR Club in Four Iconic Sets

Here is a collecting goal virtually nobody has, whether because the club includes some ridiculously expensive cards or because it includes so many players of near zero interest to the modern fan. At the time I type these words, the club currently has 925 players plus one active player, Jackie Bradley, Jr., sitting on 99. [UPDATE: He did it!]

Of course, that’s if we’re talking about today’s collector in 2021. How would the 100 HR Club look to a collectors from days of yore?

T206 and the 100 HR Club

We’ll start in 1911, which is the final year of the famous 1909-11 America Tobacco Company “monster” known as T206. We were still firmly in the Deadball era, but the 100 HR Club already had eight members.

Interestingly, none of the players were still active during the span of the set’s release. Fortunately, the 100 HR Club collector wouldn’t strike out entirely, thanks to Hugh Duffy’s inclusion as White Sox manager in the set.

Even better, you as the reader now know the answer to a trivia question that will stump your friends: “Which of the subjects in the T206 set had the most career home runs at the time of the set’s release?”

1933 Goudey and the 100 HR Club

Time travel back to 1933, and the club becomes much more interesting. By season’s end, the club has swelled to 48 members, more than half (26) still active at the time of the set’s release.

Ignoring the fact that the set included multiple cards of certain players, let’s take a look at which 100 HR Club members a 1933 Goudey collector could attain that year.

Of the top 11 names on the list, all nine active players were present in the 1933 Goudey set. The only absences were Cy and Ken Williams, who were a few years removed from their Major League playing careers.

Making our way through slots 12-25 on the list, only five of the players were still active in 1933. Of these, four had cards in the set: Ott, Hartnett, Herman, and Terry. Chick Hafey was not only still active but an (inaugural) All-Star that year. Still, he did not appear in a Goudey set until 1934. (If you’re looking for more trivia, he and Oral Hildebrand are the only 1933 All-Stars not present in 1933 Goudey.)

The next four players on the HR list, Tillie Walker, Jimmy Ryan, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker were all retired for either 5, 10, or 20 years. However, Speaker landed a card in the Goudey set as a part owner of the American Association’s Kansas City Blues. (And of course die-hard Goudey fans could nab the Cobb from the Sport Kings set.)

Following Speaker, the next seven players in the 100 HR Club were all active in 1933. However, Don Hurst would have to wait until the 1934 set for a Goudey card.

Continuing down the list we hit a streak of old-timers (Brouthers, Meusel, Duffy, Tiernan) before landing on a run of three straight 1933 Goudey cards.

Of the final five members of the 100 HR Club, the two still active in 1933 each had cards in the set.

By the way, can I right now declare Berger’s 1933 Tattoo Orbit card a work of art?

Adding an angle I’ll develop more fully in my treatment of 1952 Topps, I’ll note that there were five Negro League players with 100+ home runs by 1933: Oscar Charleston, Turkey Stearnes, Mule Suttles, Willie Wells, and John Beckwith. All five were still active in 1933, but none appear in the Goudey set.

1952 Topps and the 100 HR Club

By 1952 the home run was most definitely “a thing” so it’s not surprising that the 100 HR club more than doubled it ranks from 48 members less than two decades earlier to a robust 116. Here are the 27 who were still active in 1952.

Collectors with knowledge of the 1952 Topps set will recognize right away at least a couple of players who definitely were not in the set: Ted Williams and Stan Musial. The same would be true of Ralph Kiner and Charlie Keller, leaving the Topps set with 23 of the 27 players listed.

However, the 1952 Topps set also included 6 managers and 11 coaches, two of whom (sort of) were 100 HR Club members.

The more famous 100 HR Club member-coach in the set, 30th on the list with 202 home runs, was Bill Dickey of the Yankees.

Then it’s up to you if you want to count the other. Checking in at 39th on the list is Sam Chapman, with 180 home runs. Strictly speaking, he does not make the set’s checklist. However, his photograph was the source of Cincinnati coach Ben Chapman’s card. (And if the name is familiar, Ben Chapman was the manager that was a total a-hole to Jackie Robinson in 42, not to mention real life.)

For completeness, I also checked to ensure that 100 HR Club members who retired in 1950 or 1951 (e.g., Joe DiMaggio) did not somehow eke out a spot in the set, which they did not.

As I eagerly await the inclusion of Negro League records and statistics into the MLB record book, I’ll simply note that Seamheads currently shows nine players with 100+ home runs from 1920-48, the period MLB will be recognizing. I haven’t done the extra work to examine whether or not all of these home runs “will count.” That said, none of these nine players were included in the 1952 Topps set.

Nonetheless, the inclusion of Negro League records does appear to add a player. By the end of the 1952 season, Monte Irvin had 43 National League homers and (per Seamheads) 61 Negro League homers for a total of 104.

There are also two players who come very close. Luke Easter lands at 97, counting 11 Negro League roundtrippers, and Jackie Robinson lands at 96, counting 4 taters from his days as a Monarch.

1989 Upper Deck and the 100 HR Club

Though it sometimes feels wrong to type, I regard the 1989 Upper Deck set as the fourth iconic baseball card set of the 20th century, so this is where I’ll conduct my final analysis.

The 100 HR Club has now swelled to 442 (!) members, a gigantic number compared to 1952 but still less than half the club’s size today. Of this number, 56 were active in 1989. As the Upper Deck set, counting its high series, had 800 cards, I will simply assume for now that all 56 of these players were represented in the set. (Let me know in the comments if you know of any exceptions.)

Still, this would not be the whole story for the 1989 Upper Deck set. For example, Dave Winfield did not play in 1989 but nonetheless registered a card. Fittingly, the card shows him just chillin’.

“Career cappers” were also in vogue by 1989, so I also took a look at player’s who retired following the 1988 season. One such player in the set was Don Baylor, whose card back appears provides a fitting farewell to a great career.

Ditto Larry Parrish who seems to be handing over the reins to new 100 HR Club member Mark McGwire.

And finally, Ted Simmons and Bob Horner, who are each shown on the team more commonly associated with the other.

Summary

Of the four sets profiled, the 1933 Goudey set featured the largest percentage of 100 HR Club members. Officially (at the time I type this), it included 25 of 48 100 HR clubbers, or 52%. Including Negro League records (though my data may not ultimately match what MLB recognizes), the numbers change to 25 out of 53, or 47%.

Naturally, the question crossed my mind whether this figure–either one–represented a pinnacle across all sets. In a very boring way the answer is no, since a cabinet set from 1890 included a Harry Stovey when he was the sole member of the club. As such, that set included 100% of all 100 HR Club members. To allow for more interesting answers I’ll re-ask the question but use the “Modern Era” as a qualifier. I’ll also restrict the sets in question to ones mainly featuring active players as opposed to all-time greats tribute sets.

Either way, for the moment I do not know the answer but expect it will still be circa 1933, probably a tad earlier. (The 1931 W517 set is a strong candidate.)

Forgetting about baseball cards at the moment and not yet incorporating Negro League data, it’s easy using Stathead to look at the percentage of active 100 HR Club members over time. I’ve done this from 1900 to 2020, in 10 year increments and the results seem to confirm 1930 or so as when the greatest percentage of 100 HR Club members were active.

One thing clear from the data is the percentage of active 100 HR clubbers is only trending downward at this point. Were I to compute the data year by year rather than in ten year increments, we might see the occasional upward blip, but what’s certain is the days of a new release capturing anywhere near 50% of baseball’s “elite” 100 HR club are completely behind us. At this point, even 5% may live entirely in Baseball’s rear-view mirror.

Sources:

  • Trading Card Database for checklists and card images
  • Stathead for 100 HR Club data
  • Seamheads for Negro League HR totals

“NOW WITH…”

For collectors of a certain age, there was a time in our youth when there were a few rules about Topps cards. I’m referring here to later end of the “single-series” era of 1974-1992, when a rookie card meant one line of MLB stats on the backside, off season transactions waited until the Traded set, and 792 was a sacred number. 

But these were not strict rules, of course, and thusly led to aberrations that fascinated collectors like myself. Take 792, for example. Between 1982 and 1992, every flagship set was made up of 792 cards. Then 1993’s two-series set brought Baltimore’s Jim Poole at #793… I remember being thrilled by that card when I pulled it in ’93. It was totally new territory. Or the audacity of BJ Surhoff’s 1987 Future Stars rookie card – which featured NO big league stats on the back as Surhoff had yet to make his MLB debut. This was NOT something that supposed to happen.

But none of that compared to the shock I felt finding Jody Davis’ 1989 card… in which he was in the uniform of the Chicago Cubs, had a Cubs title above his name, but featured a plain text warning that read “NOW WITH BRAVES.”

Whoa.

I was amazed by this. Was this something that happened just as these cards were going into their wax wrappings? Was some poor schmuck stationed over the sheets as they came off the press, stamping ever Jody Davis that flew past? What was happening here?

I spent some time recently looking at Topps’ ‘deadline dates’ – the date past which offseason moves did not get coverage in the following year’s set. Of course, even after Topps stopped reflecting off-season moves in flagship in 1979, Topps still had a deadline date. From 1979 to 1981, it was the end of the World Series, when the playoff cards were set. Following that, it was at the end of the regular season, when league leaders cards could be finalized and everyone was depicted with the team with which they had ended the season. Of course, this wasn’t quite accurate – as evidenced by the 1980 Dock Ellis and Ralph Garr cards, in which late-season team changes were acknowledged only in their 1979 stat lines.

This was, for the most part, not an issue. Certainly Topps had an eye on the trading deadline, when a few big names were likely to change clubs, after which they could get to work unimpeded. But September trades were rare and usually inconsequential. Between 1980 and 1984, only two players important enough for cards the following year changed teams in September. On September 13, 1980, Sparky Lyle was traded from the Rangers to the Phillies and appeared in the 1981 set in an airbrushed Phillies cap. Doug Bair joined the Cardinals on September 10, 1981 and got a similar treatment in the 1982 set. And then, for two years, nothing of note to Topps happened late in the summer.

But on August 31, 1984, the Oakland A’s shipped Davey Lopes to the Cubs to complete a minor swap they’d made in July. Two days earlier, the Astros had traded All-Star Ray Knight to the Mets. Somewhere in Duryea, PA, a Topps artist set Knight up with a Mets card for the forthcoming 1985 set. They’d even manage to get a actually photo of him in his Mets uni to go with. But those two days were enough to leave Lopes with nothing more than three little words crammed into the corner of his Oakland A’s card – NOW WITH CUBS.

The concept was one that had been practiced north of the border for a decade and a half. O-Pee-Chee, a Canadian candy company, had been licensed to issue a bilingual version of Topps baseball sets in the Great White North since 1965. Since 1971, the O-Pee-Chee set had used the advantage of its later release date to reflect trades and transactions that had come too late to include in the Topps set. This usually consisted of using the Topps photo, but updating the team marker and including a small note in the photo detailing the move.

It’s not clear why Lopes got this treatment in 1985, but it indicates that Topps held a pretty hard line on when their 1985 card fronts needed to be finalized. They were a bit more relaxed in 1986, when three early September moves from the ’85 season – Don Sutton to the Angels, Dave Stewart to the Phillies, and Joe Nierko to the Yankees – were reflected with unaltered photos. But when Darryl Motley was traded to the Braves ten days before the end of the 1986 season, it was enough past the set’s bedtime that he became the second man to get the “NOW WITH” treatment in Topps’ flagship.

The 1988 set continues this mini-trend of depicting early September moves, but merely tagging late September transactions. On September 15, 1987, John Candelaria was traded by the Angels to the Mets and his 1988 card show him in an unaltered image as a Met. However, when Dickie Noles was traded to the Tigers (for a player to be named that ended up being… Dickie Noles) on the 22nd and when Doug DeCinces signed with the Cards four days later, Topps slapped both of their 1988 cards with the “NOW WITH.” Same for the aforementioned Jody Davis and Kevin Coffman, who went between the Cubs and Braves in a deal just four days before the end of the 1988 season.

This would mark the end of the “NOW WITH” phenomenon in Topps flagship. Neither 1989 nor 1990 produced any late September player moves that would have upset the next year’s set make-up and a late-September trade in 1991 involving Mike Bielicki, Damon Barryhill, and Turk Wendell (once again the Braves and Cubs), was actually represented in the 1992 set. That same year, O-Pee-Chee issued its final “Now With” cards as it was their last year of mimicking the Topps flagship (they issued their own unique set in 1993).

For more on O-Pee-Chee and its marvelous variations, please visit the Oh My, O-Pee-Chee blog, which is an incredible resource and helped out with my work here.

The Deal With Deadlines

At some point, Topps just had to stop caring.

Now… hold on here. I don’t mean it however you take that I mean it there. What I mean is, at some point when putting together their flagship checklist, Topps had to stop reacting to new player transactions. This is most apparent in the early part of the single-series era, but it also reflects in their multi-series issues of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Between 1957 and 1969, every Topps set reflected at least one trade made in either late March or early April (years prior to 1957 are a little hard to figure due to a lack of meaningful pre-season trades).

Traded to the Pilots (misidentified at the Pirates on the card’s back) January 15, 1970.

Things start to roll back a bit, though, entering the 1970s. In the 1970 set, the latest reflected move is Phil Roof’s trade to the Pilots on January 15 – placing the “deadline” a full two months sooner than it had been in decades. In the 1971 set, the latest is Andy Kosco’s February 10 trade to the Brewers, depicted in the sixth and final series. In 1972, Topps cheated just a bit – depicting transactions that occurred as late as March 4 in the ‘Traded’ series in the sixth series, which featured players who had already appeared earlier in the set (in this era, of course, Topps could only reflect team changes on players who were slated to appear in the higher series).

The inclusion of a late spring move in the flagship set was a bit of a throwback by 1972, but it did not seem to add any appeal to a mid-summer release.

It appears that Topps had been trying to hasten the release of their full baseball checklist in the early 1970s by skipping out on late-spring player moves and moving from seven series to six after the 1970 release. But in ’72, they released their largest set ever – nearly 800 cards – and the inclusion of the actual photos taken at some point in early March (Denny McLain’s March 4 trade is the latest reflected and he is shown in his Oakland uniform) – suggests a release schedule more in line with what they had been doing in the 1960s. But the changes Topps made for the 1973 and ’74 sets (as well as the modern-day scarcity of ’72 sixth series cards) indicate that their 1972 release schedule had been a significant burden on the company’s bottom line. For ’73, the set was trimmed back to 660 cards and five series. The latest depicted transaction was Earl Williams’s trade to Baltimore on November 30, 1972 and the final series contained a card of Orlando Cepeda as an Oakland A, even though he’d been released on December 18 – all of which indicates a transaction deadline about three months earlier than it had been for 1972.

An indicator Topps was rushing things by 1973.

The multi-series concept was ditched for 1974, and for the first time we can see a true line past which transactions did not matter. Jerry Ruess’ October 31, 1973 trade from the Astros to the Pirates was the latest off-season deal recognized in the set. Bob Locker, who went from the Cubs to A’s three days later, had to settle for an outdated offering in the main 1974 set.

Topps issued their first-ever “traded” series that year in an effort to make up what had been lost in the single-series issue. The cards – essentially updated takes on traded player’s 1974 base cards – were inserted into later-run packs. The 43 player set covered transactions that occurred between Locker’s trade and the December 11 trade that sent Ron Santo from the Cubs to the White Sox.

With no traded set in 1975, Nate Colbert’s shift to the Tigers on November 18 was the latest move that Topps included in the flagship. Bafflingly, the two men he was traded for – Dick Sharon and Ed Brinkman – are ALSO depicted as Tigers in the set. Topps brought back the Traded set in 1976, again including the updated cards in later-run packs. While their flagship was deadlined just after Nelson Briles’ trade to the Rangers on November 12, the Traded series covered moves made between November 17 and mid-December.

Free agency complicated Topps’ off-season schedule and would soon change the make-up of their flagship set.

The advent of wide-spread free agency following the 1976 season pushed the flagship deadline back to the beginning of December. Not surprisingly, Topps waited on the offseason’s biggest prize – Reggie Jackson – to land his star in New York City before setting that set’s team designations. Jimmy Wynn, who went to the Yankees from the Braves the day after Jackson signed, would remain a Brave (on cardboard anyway) for another year. The 1978 set waited even longer, issuing a card of Ron Schueler in an airbrushed White Sox cap after he signed on December 3. It would be the latest-ever transaction Topps would acknowledge in the single-series era.

While I’ve been unable to find any information on release dates from this era, by 1979, Topps shifted their priority to getting their set to market as soon as possible. Perhaps wishing to avoid the messiness of only being able to cover half of a given off-season’s moves, Topps stopped acknowledging post-season player shifts all together. In 1980, their cutoff for finalizing player base cards even left two late-September 1979 moves (Ralph Garr to the Angels and Dock Ellis to the Pirates) to be recognized only in passing on the back of each card.

The introduction of an annual Traded set in 1981 gave Topps a means of recognizing off-season moves while still being able to get their cards to market soon enough as not to get swamped in a suddenly-competitive marketplace. But Topps would still be operating with a transaction deadline… a topic I’ll be exploring in a soon-to-come post.

Otis Nixon Wore Many Hats

Baseball formally required all batters to wear helmets in 1970. Red Sox catcher Bob Montgomery was the last player to bat in a Major League contest without a helmet in 1979. Then in 1983, it became mandatory for all professional players to use a helmet with at least one earflap, although anyone with Major League service time in 1982 or earlier could opt for a flapless helmet like Ozzie Smith, Dave Winfield, Tim Raines, and several others. Raines would be the last player to use a flapless helmet.

1980 Topps #618 depicts helmetless Montgomery

On April 7, 1979 Orioles outfielder Gary Roenicke was hit in the face by a pitch, causing a laceration that required 25 stitches to close. Roenicke returned to the lineup on April 15 at Milwaukee and went 3-3 using a helmet with a modified football facemask attached. Expos outfielder Ellis Valentine had his cheekbone fractured when he was hit by a pitch on May 30, 1980 at St. Louis. Valentine also returned to the lineup donning a similarly designed batting helmet equipped with a sawn-off football facemask. Folks who opened packs of Topps baseball cards in 1981 could find a pair of cards depicting each of these unique batting helmets.

1981 Topps Valentine #445, Roenicke #37

Although no such picture appeared on any cards issued during his playing career, it is generally accepted that the first player to experiment with protective face gear was Dave Parker. Parker sustained facial fractures in a collision at home plate with Mets catcher John Stearns on June 30, 1978. Upon his return to the lineup July 16, Parker experimented with a (downright terrifying) hockey goalie mask and other football facemask designs. Despite his injury, Parker would win the batting title (.334) and be named National League MVP in 1978.

Photo credit: Associate Press, 1978

Most recently, Giancarlo Stanton made news when he returned to the Marlins in 2015 using a helmet fitted with a custom facemask that cleverly incorporated a “G” into the protective design. Stanton had been hit in the face by the Brewers’ Mike Fiers on September 11, 2014 resulting in fractures that ended his season. No longer newsworthy, facial protection is now commonplace with an ever-increasing number of MLB players opting for jaw guards incorporated into their batting helmets.

On April 4, 1998 Twins outfielder Otis Nixon coaxed a first-inning walk but was soon forced out at second. During the play at the bag, Royals shortstop Félix Martínez kicked Nixon in the face. Nixon stayed in the game but later learned that he had sustained a fractured jaw. When Nixon returned to the lineup on April 9, he utilized a batting helmet fitted with a full football facemask to protect his jaw and with hopes he would not need to undergo a surgical repair. This unfortunate injury, however, offered Nixon the opportunity to don the widest variety of protective headgear ever depicted on baseball cards by a single player.

Otis Nixon was not eligible to use a flapless helmet because he first appeared in the Major Leagues in 1983; however, here he is while with Cleveland:

1987 Fleer #255

Nixon also used a single-flap helmet with the Expos:

1990 Donruss #456

As a switch-hitter, Nixon subsequently joined the double-flap helmet trend:

1992 Leaf #255

And with his appearance for Minnesota following the broken jaw incident, here is Nixon donning the helmet with protective face gear:

1999 Fleer Ultra #44

Unlike facial bones, Nixon’s sartorial record appears unbreakable.

Sources:

Retrosheet.org

Baseball-Reference.com

Bill Nowlin, “Bob Montgomery,” SABR Bio Project

Paul Lukas, “Giancarlo Stanton’s Mask Not a First,” http://www.ESPN.com, March 4, 2015, accessed April 5, 2021.

“Interference Rule Amended,” Cincinnati Enquirer, December 2, 1970.

“Parker returns to lineup and Pirates win pair,” The Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania), July 17, 1978.

“Quick Kick,” Kansas City Star, April 5, 1998.

Mike Klingaman, “Catching Up With … former Oriole Gary Roenicke,” Baltimore Sun, July 7, 2009.

A minor tradition.

I worry about the trainers.

As we start the 2021 baseball season, Minor League Baseball is now firmly under the control of Major League Baseball. This has already brought about significant change.

A few low-level minor leagues – like my sentimental favorite, the Class A New York-Penn League – have been folded entirely. The others have had their time-honored names stripped from them, rearranged and rebranded with bland, waiting-for-sponsors titles. For instance, the century-plus of heritage behind the International League name has been discarded in favor of “Triple-A East.” Minor-league teams are now “licensed affiliates” who make a point to announce that their schedules have been provided by MLB.

It feels to this lifelong minor-league fan like any vestige of the old MiLB could be ripe for elimination, if it doesn’t make MLB money or burnish the parent organization’s brand in some way.

And one of the purest manifestations of the old MiLB is the trainer’s card.

Big-league sets don’t include trainer’s cards; you don’t find them in St. Louis or Los Angeles. (The best a big-league trainer could typically hope for, card-wise, was to appear as a small, golf-shirted dot on the fringes of the team picture.)

Instead, you find trainer cards in Wausau and Pawtucket, in minor-league card sets, adding bulk to the team set alongside the mascot, the stadium, the general manager, the owner, or occasionally even the chaplain. (He bats and throws righty!)

They’re not tremendously sexy cards, from a design standpoint, and they’re certainly not the most sought-after. If you were to sweep through a minor-league ballpark at the end of Team Set Giveaway Day, you’d probably find at least a couple of trainer cards, cast aside by kids whose solitary interest lies with uniformed on-field personnel.

Still, these cards are a tradition in many minor-league sets. And they serve a purpose, beyond filling out a set. They provide some small token of recognition to men and women whose work is necessary, even crucial, but unglamorous and almost certainly not lucrative.

These people work hard to keep the minor-league armies marching. They deserve these tips of the cap – whether they carry the old-fashioned title of Trainer, or newfangled, health-related handles like Strength and Conditioning Coach or Physical Fitness Coordinator.

I have no difficulty imagining a future in which MLB brings all minor-league card production into a central operation and discards the trainer card. They’ve junked bigger traditions, after all. Plus, trainer cards always have a touch of the podunk about them – and MLB isn’t in the podunk business.

It certainly won’t kill anybody if they do that, but it will be a loss, just as the New York-Penn League is a loss. It will be one less homespun touch, one less glimpse behind the polished facade.

Of course, the pendulum could swing the other way. With interest in cards at an almost absurd high, maybe MLB will want to churn out cardboard on anybody they can think to photograph. Trainers? Groundskeepers? Racing mascots?  That self-appointed superfan in face paint who makes an annoyance of himself blowing a vuvuzela and is thisclose to being banned at the beer kiosks? Bring ‘em all on; someone can be convinced to buy.

If we get trainer cards in chrome or refractor style, with multiple color variants, I might just be convinced to love the brave new world.