Just in case

Way back at the end of 2018 Mark Armour wrote a post about how where most SABR committees produce something concrete like a database, book, or online project, the Baseball Cards Committee ended up building a community. Twitter has been a huge driver of that community with so many fantastic and fun discussions centering around @SABRBBCards. Mark gave us a great start and Jason has carried the torch wonderfully.

For my part, I would not be collecting cards, a member of SABR (let alone a committee head), or enjoying Twitter nearly as much had this committee not ended up there half a dozen years ago. Which is why Twitter’s current instability feels like such a gut punch. I’m not trying to predict the future here but I’ve already seen too many people bail from the platform as well as enough warning signs that I’ve been dipping my toe in Twitter alternatives.

No, none of them are the same; for starters the community isn’t there. Yet. But there are a lot which feel very promising and it’s amazing how few people you need for things to start feeling fun the way they used to be.

To whit. In the scenario that Twitter becomes unusable for you,* you can find us in the following locations.

*For whatever technical, social, ethical, political, personal reason you choose.

SABR’s in-house group feature

This is an old-school email list which will remind those of us who were around for it of the late-90s, early-2000s internet. Subscribing is easy enough, just email sabrbbcards+subscribe@sabrgroups.org. Once you’re subscribed you can access the webpage at sabrgroups.org/g/sabrbbcards and configure your email delivery settings or browse the archives.

Mastodon

Mastodon feels a lot like Twitter. It can get complicated but thankfully one of the Sports Reference guys set up an instance at hellosports.page which is really simple to sign up for. Jason and I are on there at @HeavyJ and @vossbrink respectively. No blog account yet but for now most of the active accounts on there are us.

Discord

As with SABR’s group email list, Discord feels very much like the halcyon days of Internet Relay Chat. A few of us have se up servers to discuss things like custom card design or through the mail autograph returns but the nature of those chat rooms is such that they often become more free-wheeling discussions about cards in general. Since Discord is sort of an invite thing I have no good permanent links to put here but if this seems interesting to you hit me up in the comments on this post and I’ll try to get you in contact with someone.

Facebook/Instagram

There are also a few other legacy platforms where the community is present. I’m no longer there but we do have a Facebook presence/group if the Facebook experience if more your style. A lot of people are also migrating to or increasing their Instagram presences.

And yeah, I can’t say that this community isn’t going anywhere because it very much is. It is however way too big to disappear. I’ll miss what I had on Twitter since I suspect that the best-case scenario is something like the post 1994 strike MLB world where a lot us just fell out of the baseball habit for a few years. But I’m absolutely looking forward to reconnecting and keeping in touch with as many of you as possible.

This blog isn’t going anywhere and if we end up with discussions in the comments like we used to have in the glory days of blogging that’ll be just fine too.

2022 Burdick Award Winner

The Jefferson Burdick Award for contributions to the Hobby, now in its third year, is this committee’s most prestigious award. To date, our winners have been Mike Aronstein (2020) and Doug McWilliams (2021). This year, our winner needs little introduction as his very name is synonymous with the rapid growth of card collecting in the 1980s and 1990s. We are pleased to announce that the winner of the 2022 Jefferson Burdick Award is Dr. James Beckett.

For an entire generation of collectors, cracking open the latest Beckett Monthly was a ritual as exciting if not more than ripping actual packs of cards. Which new players made the Hot List? How much did the year’s most expensive rookie cards go up? Can I retire right now off my cardboard or do I really have to finish 9th grade first?! 😊

Instant access to the latest prices, which almost always went up, rarely down, surely had its drawbacks. What collector of a certain age doesn’t regret trading away a prized Sandy Koufax or Henry Aaron for a high numbers Todd Zeile or Donruss Eric Davis rookie? How much extra plastic had to be produced when at least three or four cards per pack went straight into penny sleeves if not screwdowns? And did anyone just collect for fun anymore?!

At the same time, was the Hobby ever more exciting for a greater number of people? In the Beckett’s heyday, not only were cards everywhere but collectors were too. Shows were seemingly every weekend, at least in some parts, and the Hobby was enjoyed by young and old alike. Sure, the very idea of a nine-year old cardboard day trader gave many purists pause, but in hindsight we just didn’t know how good we had it.

Kids everywhere having a blast collecting cards. Forget the why. That’s the Hobby at its best. Oh, and thanks to the Beckett, what mom in her right mind was still throwing away her kids’ collections?

But what of so many young collectors who lost their shirts chasing Kevin Maas and Brien Taylor rookies? Aren’t they bitter?

“My grandmother sent me money for my birthday one year, and I bought a subscription to Beckett,” recalls SABR member and artist Scott Hodges.
“Every month when the new issue came I would read every page and study the prices over and over. Years later, I found out my (then) wife and I were having a girl. I just knew this little girl was going to be my favorite thing in the world, just as my Beckett Monthlies had been as a kid, so there was only one logical name to give her. So yes, our daughter is named after a baseball card price guide, but really she’s named for the joy of being a kid.”

How about collector and author Tanner Jones who amassed the most expansive Jose Canseco collection on the planet? “The Beckett was everything to me back when I was a kid. I lived and died by the up/down arrows and articles. Now that I know Jim personally, I’m proud that my son, Beckett, has his name!”

Of course even before “the Beckett” was a thing or the baby name of choice for a generation of collectors turned parents, Dr. Beckett was already a household name thanks to the annual price guides he created along with co-author Denny Eckes of Den’s Collectors Den fame.

While the primary intent of these books was to attach prices to the cards and sets in our collections and want lists, they did much more than that. In the pre-internet era in which they were produced, they also provided every collector with $6.95 to spare or a birthday coming up with an inventory and checklist for virtually all the major sets in the Hobby. Four different Babe Ruth cards in 1933 Goudey? An entire set of Ted Williams cards in 1959? Cards even older than T206? For many collectors, this was how we learned such things. Jim brought baseball card knowledge and history to the masses.

Here at SABR Baseball Cards we tend to avoid the financial or business side of the Hobby. In creating our Burdick Award we were not simply looking to honor the person who amassed the most valuable collection or made the most money in the Hobby. At the same time, success is neither a disqualifier.

In his six decades (and counting) in the Hobby, Dr. James Beckett built what can rightly be called a multisport Hobby empire, one that today includes publications, grading services, livestreams, a marketplace, and a large, vibrant collecting community. The Beckett baseball “hobby talk” forum, for example, has over 800,000 posts! However, Dr. Beckett did not merely build something big. He built something special.

For at least a generation of collectors, Dr. Beckett and his monthly magazines practically were the Hobby. Even as many of the up arrows have turned to down and most of the 1990s hot lists have gone cold, the memories have continued their one-way march toward that rare air once thought only tenable by Gregg Jefferies rookies. That is to say they’ve become priceless. We thought the cards of the that great 1980s and 90s boom would fund our retirements, and we weren’t far off at all. Just take away the “d.”

Congratulations, Dr. Beckett, and thank you to all our readers who submitted a nomination. We’ll be honoring Dr. Beckett this August at the SABR annual convention in Baltimore, and we hope you can join us, either in person or virtually.

Call for Nominations – 2022 Jefferson Burdick Award

Through January 31, the SABR Baseball Cards Research Committee is accepting nominations for the Jefferson Burdick Award for Contributions to the Hobby.

NOMINATION CRITERIA

Nominations should come from active SABR members (click here to join) and honor a living person who has made significant contributions to the hobby of baseball card collecting in such areas as—

  • Research/scholarship
  • Design/production/innovation
  • Collector resources (e.g., publications, websites, communities, events)
  • Expanding access to or enjoyment of the Hobby

In short, we are looking for the individuals who have made baseball card collecting better for the rest of us.

NOMINATION AND AWARD PROCESS

Have someone in mind? Here is what we’d like you to do.

  • No later than January 31, use the Contact form on this website to let us know your nominee(s) along with with a very brief description of their role or contributions. A few sentences is sufficient at this stage in the process.
  • Be available for follow-up in case more information is needed.
  • Publicize this Call for Nominations to other SABR members with an interest in baseball cards.

On our end, we (your committee co-chairs, Nick and Jason) will vet the nominees and then work with our Awards Subcommittee to choose the award winner.

PAST RECIPIENTS

ABOUT JEFFERSON BURDICK

For a wealth of great articles on our award’s namesake, head to the Burdick section of the “Old Baseball Cards” library.

2021 Burdick Award Winner

The Awards Subcommittee thanks everyone who made nominations for this year’s Jefferson Burdick Award. Last year we listed the finalists before announcing the winner. A large part of this was to demonstrate the breadth and variety of nominees. Due to the overlap in nominees between this year and last year as well as the fact that we consider anyone who’s been named a finalist to always be a finalist, we’ve chosen to not feature the finalists this year and just cut straight to the big reveal.

So without any further ado, we are pleased to announce that the 2021 winner for the SABR Baseball Committee’s Jefferson Burdick Award for contributions to the baseball card hobby is photographer Doug McWilliams.

Doug’s work as a baseball card photographer speaks for itself. All of us have seen his work. All of us own his work. He even donated 10,000 negatives to the Hall of Fame,* creating a huge digital collection of color images of all kinds of players from the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

*Why yes, you can search his archives there.

If you’ve ever held a baseball card from the 1970s in your hand, you’ve likely admired the impeccable artistry of Doug McWilliams’s work. His brilliant use of color, unsurpassed mastery of light, and natural rapport with his subjects made for thousands of unforgettable and classic cards, each miniature masterpieces of the genre.

—Tom Shieber, Senior Curator
National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

What makes him award-worthy though is his willingness to pull back the curtain and show us the process of how photographs end up on cards. Doug has been very generous giving interviews to both the Hall of Fame as well as this blog. These interviews are a treasure trove of information about what kinds of photos Topps wanted and the technical requirements that they had.

That cards are essentially cheap, mass-produced photos makes them a visual record of photographic technology. Being able to read about what kind of film, cameras, and lenses he used is invaluable in grounding our understanding of cards as part of that visual record.

Doug’s comments about Topps’s technical requirements on the other hand are a fascinating look at how corporate workflows and standards shape the final products in ways that most of us don’t understand. Much of the Topps “look” that we’re used to is explained by these standards which dictated what kinds of lighting and what kinds of film were to be used.

While there’s a world out there of photographs that he wanted to take but wasn’t allowed to, the photos he did take have formed an indelible part of all of our lives and we’re so much richer for him sharing the process with us. Congratulations and thank you, Doug!

UPDATE: Watch Doug’s award ceremony on YouTube!

Call for Nominations – 2021 Jefferson Burdick Award

The SABR Baseball Cards Research Committee is once again taking nominations for the Jefferson Burdick Award for Contributions to the Hobby. It was an honor and privilege to present the inaugural award to Hobby pioneer and Renaissance man Mike Aronstein of TCMA fame. (Click here for the star-studded, online ceremony.)

And no, your eyes don’t deceive you! Mike’s trophy features the highly coveted Mike Aronstein rookie card designed by Committee co-chair Nick Vossbrink.

Looking ahead to our 2021 award, here are the criteria we’d like you to consider in your nominations.

Award criteria

Yes, we are looking for YOU to nominate a worthy recipient who has made significant contributions to the hobby in such areas as–

  • Baseball card research/scholarship
  • Baseball card creation/production/innovation
  • Developing/maintaining resources (e.g., publications, websites, communities, events) for collectors
  • Increasing access, knowledge, or enjoyment

In short, we are looking for the individuals who have made baseball card collecting a better hobby for the rest of us. (Click here to see profiles of last year’s finalists.)

Award process

Have someone in mind? Here is what we’d like you to do.

  • No later than January 31, use the Contact form on this website to let us know your nominee(s) along with with a very brief description of their role or contributions. A few sentences is sufficient at this stage in the process.
  • Be available for follow-up in case more information is needed.
  • Publicize this Call for Nominations to other SABR members with an interest in cards.

On our end, we (your committee co-chairs, Nick and Jason) will vet the nominees and then work with our Awards Subcommittee* to choose the award winner.

*Subject to availability, those committee members who contributed at least 10 posts to the SABR Baseball Cards blog in the preceding year.

Award rules

A couple quick notes before closing this post and putting the ball in your court:

  • Nominees should be living at the time of nomination (and we’ll hope for their sake still alive by SABR 51!)
  • You must be a SABR member to participate in the nomination process. If you are not yet a member, please join!
  • The nomination deadline is January 31, 2021.

More about the award’s namesake

Finally, for a wealth of great articles on Jefferson Burdick himself, head to the Burdick section of the “Old Baseball Cards” library.

50 at 50

Sending out an alert for anyone who follows this blog but isn’t on Twitter or Facebook. SABR has been celebrating its upcoming 50th anniversary by having each committee contribute a 50 at 50 article on the SABR website. The Baseball Cards Committee’s contribution went up today.

Rather than making it a top-50 list or some other ranking, we decided to go a different direction and treat baseball cards as timeline that they are with a post of 50 cards for 50 years.

Baseball cards aren’t just something to collect. They mark the seasons and document the game as it happens. Looking back at them shows us the history of the game. Who played. What was important. What happened. How we analyzed things. Cards may fall under the category of “ephemera” but the ephemeral nature of what they record is what makes them such an important chronicle of the game.

Our list is not intended to be definitive or authoritative. Both the history of the hobby and the history of the game are way too interesting for each year to be able to be summed up in a single card. Instead we look forward to the discussion and critiques that always follow such lists.

While Jason and Nick are credited with compiling the contents, we wish to thank the multiple other experts who allowed us to pick their brains and challenged our choices.

Burdick Award finalists

The Awards Subcommittee of the SABR Baseball Cards Research Committee is appreciative of the many nominations from membership. At this time we are pleased to announce the five finalists for our inaugural Jefferson Burdick Award for Contributions to the Hobby and particularly gratified to see that the process resulted in such a broad range of nominations.

The Award was not designed to honor the biggest or best collection or the person who made the most money through the hobby—not that either of those things would be disqualifying. Rather, it was simply created to recognize individuals who in any variety of ways have made the Hobby better for the rest of us.

Dr. Robert Fitts

Our first finalist is Robert Fitts. Dr. Fitts, our committee’s featured speaker at #SABR49, boasts an impressive resume of accomplishments and scholarship including the 2006 Sporting News-SABR Research Award, the 2012 Doug Pappas Award for best oral research, the 2013 Seymour Medal for Best Baseball Book of 2012, and the 2019 McFarland-SABR Baseball Research Award.

He is best known in the Hobby for his unmatched expertise and research in the area of Japanese baseball cards. While this committee has primarily focused on U.S. card releases, Fitts’s expertise and enthusiasm for Japanese cards and the way they interact with the hobby in the U.S. expands our understanding of what cards can be. This is not just a US-centered thing and baseball is a worldwide game.

Bert Blyleven and Mike Noren

Our second finalist is Mike Noren, the artist behind Gummy Arts and Cecil Cooperstown. Mike’s whimsical baseball card creations are currently featured in the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s “Shoebox Treasures” exhibit, and his set of 1919 White Sox strip cards were a crowd favorite at SABR’s Black Sox Scandal Centennial Symposium.

Mike’s cards have inspired many collectors to reconnect with the Hobby, and his daily posts to social media platforms have inspired numerous other baseball card artists. He references designs from the entire history of baseball cards and in so doing, transforms old designs into wholly new and modern creations. Meanwhile his pop-culture creations hint at the long history of collecting photos and cards and confirm how the concept of a Baseball Card™ transcends the sport.

Dr. James Beckett

Our third finalist, Dr. James Beckett, has a name nearly synonymous with the unprecedented growth of the Hobby in the 1980s and 1990s, though his continuing contributions to the Hobby span nearly half a century. In the tradition of our award’s namesake, Dr. Beckett has contributed to the identification and cataloging of numerous sets, and his publications such as the Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide (with Dennis Eckes) and the Beckett Monthly brought both checklists and price guides to the mainstream of the Hobby.

For the generation of collectors who came of age in the 1980s, Beckett is their Burdick. It is impossible to imagine the hobby without him and his publications were not merely price guides but captured the zeitgeist of an entire collecting generation.

Keith Olbermann

Our fourth finalist is broadcasting legend Keith Olbermann, whose contributions to the Hobby began while he was still in high school as an editor for “Collectors Quarterly” and the writer for the card backs of the 1975 Sports Stars Publishing Company (SSPC) baseball set. He would go on to contribute photos to 1981 Donruss while amassing a world class collection of cards and memorabilia.

Keith has used his collection as reference material for his encyclopedic knowledge of the Hobby, which he frequently shares in articles and social media posts. Whenever we have a question about the Topps photo archive or who produced a set of cards, he is our resident expert. Keith was our committee’s featured speaker at #SABR47 and represents how baseball cards can turn someone into a baseball fan.

Mike Aronstein with son Andrew

Our last finalist and the winner of the 2020 Jefferson Burdick Award for Contributions to the Hobby is Michael Aronstein. Best known as the “MA” in TCMA, the company he co-founded with Tom (the “TC” half) Collier in 1972, Mike’s Hobby resume also includes:

  • Card show pioneer, having arranged and hosted (in his basement!) one of the very first “conventions” in 1970 and having gone on to co-organize the biannual American Sports Card Collectors Association shows in New York City;
  • Publisher of Collectors Quarterly magazine;
  • One of the Hobby’s first full-time dealers, providing collectors with alternatives to mainstream sets along with collecting supplies such as plastic sheets before they were widely available anywhere else;
  • Producer of hundreds of minor league team sets, including the “pre-rookie cards” of Rickey Henderson, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Wade Boggs, and re-launching the minor league card industry in the process;
  • Challenger of the Topps monopoly with his Sports Stars Publishing Company (SSPC) 660-card set consisting almost entirely of current players;
  • Exclusive distributor of the 1981 Donruss set (but we won’t hold that against him!);
  • Founder of Photo File, supplying the Hobby with high quality 8×10 photos to be signed by athletes.

More importantly, TCMA cards were touchstone for many, if not all, of us as the only cards we could find/afford of baseball legends. In a way that no book can touch, TCMA cards taught kids about baseball: who the legends were and why, what they looked like, etc. If Topps is the card of record representing which players were relevant for the current season, TCMA were the cards of history and how we learned about baseball itself.

We look forward to honoring Mike at our national convention, SABR 50, in Baltimore. We hope you’ll make plans to join us as we celebrate Mike’s lifetime of contributions to the Hobby. Over the next couple months we’ll share more information about this and other baseball card happenings planned for SABR 50.

Announcing the Burdick Award

We take a break from our usual baseball card storytelling this week to announce a new award approved by the SABR Board of Directors and coming out of our very own Baseball Cards Research Committee. The Jefferson Burdick Award for Contributions to the Hobby will be handed out for the very first time at #SABR50, our national conference taking place from July 15-19, 2020, in Baltimore.

At this time it is our pleasure to announce that SABR’s inaugural recipient of this prestigious honor will be…drum roll please…up to you!

Award criteria

Yes, we are looking for YOU to nominate a worthy recipient who has made significant contributions to the hobby in such areas as–

  • Baseball card research/scholarship
  • Baseball card creation/production/innovation
  • Developing/maintaining resources (e.g., publications, websites, communities, events) for collectors
  • Increasing access, knowledge, or enjoyment

In short, we are looking for the individuals who have made baseball card collecting a better hobby for the rest of us.

award process

Have someone in mind? Here is what we’d like you to do.

  • No later than February 28, use the Contact form on this website to let us know your nominee(s) along with with a very brief description of their role or contributions. A few sentences is sufficient at this stage in the process.
  • Be available for follow-up in case more information is needed.

On our end, we (your committee co-chairs, Nick and Jason) will vet the nominees and hope to arrive at a short list of finalists. Once finalists are determined, we will work with nominees to turn each finalist nomination into a post here on the SABR Baseball Cards blog and then work with our Awards Subcommittee* to choose the award winner.

*Subject to availability, those committee members who contributed at least 12 posts to the SABR Baseball Cards blog in the preceding year.

Award rules

A couple quick notes before closing this post and putting the ball in your court:

  • Nominees should be living at the time of nomination (and we’ll hope for their sake still alive by SABR 50!)
  • You must be a SABR member to participate in the nomination process. If you are not yet a member, please join!
  • The nomination deadline is February 28, 2020.

MORE ABOUT the award’s namesake

Finally, for a wealth of great articles on Jefferson Burdick himself, head to the Burdick section of the “Old Baseball Cards” library.

Y’all be cool

Just a quick post saying hello as the new co-head of this committee. Jason and I fully intend to keep things keeping on as they’ve been. This blog has become a wonderful community centered on enjoying, appreciating, and using baseball cards and the positivity around this project is a testament to Mark’s skill as a moderator and guide.

One thing I have been changing though is on the backstage side. The articles and content is great. The organization? Let’s just say there was much to be desired. We had a couple dozen categories which felt like they were from the early early days of the blog. I know I struggled with them a bit as an author and I know I’m not the only one since over half of our posts were “uncategorized.” This was not helping us accomplish Mark’s goal for turning this committee and blog into something more concrete under the aegis of SABR.

So I’ve spent the last couple weeks fixing the categories. Skimming and categorizing the uncategorized posts. Looking at the post counts and thinking about where I can create better, more-focused subcategories. Looking at the content on the entire blog to think about what themes come up again and again. It’s been a lot of work. It’s also been a lot of fun as I reacquaint myself with the past three years of posts. We’ve come a long way and gone to some really interesting places on here.

The result is a massively-revamped category pulldown menu on the sidebar as well as a stand-alone page of all the category information. Yes I’ve added more brands than just Topps. Yes I’ve finally periodized things. And yes I’m probably more excited than I should be about doing this and seeing everything we’ve covered.

It’s been great to go through the categories and read a whole bunch of similar posts. A whole different way of looking at this blog and one step closer to having something that feels more permanent.

Where I’m most excited though is in seeing everything we haven’t covered. All those brands with fewer than 10 posts? That we have so few posts covering 1995–2010? Those are cards I’d love to see in new posts. Am I discouraging other content? Absolutely not. But there are whole worlds of cards out there that we haven’t written about yet and those are the posts I’m looking forward to the most.

The Passage of Power

“The Passage of Power” is the name of the fourth volume (with one more to come, hopefully) of Robert Caro’s brilliant biography of Lyndon Johnson. The book largely concerns the assassination of President Kennedy, and the ups and down of the transition to the Johnson presidency. Its great, I highly recommend the entire series.

In completely unrelated and much less distressing news, I wanted to announce a power transfer occurring closer to home. Chris Dial and I started this illustrious committee, and blog, and twitter community, in late 2016. And it has been, I must say, a rousing success and a lot of fun. Two-and-a-half years later, we are ready to pass the torch.

Your new co-chairs are:

Nick Vossbrink (@vossbrink) and Jason Schwartz (@HeavyJ28).

This is not a dramatic change for the rest of you. Nick and Jason are already large contributors to the blog and to the community. Chris and I are not going anywhere. The most tangible change is that you should contact them if you want to publish a post.

Oh, and the “voice” of the Twitter account will no longer be me. I will let them decide how this shakes out.

One reminder that I need to say while I have the floor. This is a SABR group, and we would appreciate it if you would join SABR. (https://sabr.org/join) A lot of our readers and twitter folk are not SABR members — that’s OK, but understand we will continue to try to change that.

Our thanks to Jason and Nick for all they already do, and for agreeing to step up here. The group is in good hands, and I expect it to just get bigger and better from here.

Mark Armour