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

PSA: Vacation Ahead

On Saturday, my family and I will depart for a two week trip to Scotland, England and France.  The last time I was on the continent was during the OJ Trial — in fact, I was in Italy when I heard the verdict.  Despite the rumored increase in connectivity since 1995, you should go ahead and just expect that I am unavailable for the rest of this month.  I have asked a few people — specifically Jeff Katz, Nick Vossbrink and Jason Schwartz — to continue to post as they would have, and also to help the anyone else who wishes to post in my absence.  They have, as far as I can tell, complete permissions/powers to do so.  So: contact one of them if you wish to post something.

The @sabrbbcards Twitter account will be fairly quiet, so if a new post does come up, please retweet it so that the word can be spread far and wide.  When I log on, I will try to do so.

In the mean time, I wish everyone a great rest of March.  There will be many regular season games before my return.


Happy New Year

Its been a bit over two years since Chris Dial and I started this committee.  My original plan was to create this blog, get committee members to write for it, and then use various SABR fora to promote it.  I had been involved with SABR committees for years, and this was a somewhat radical approach.  But “baseball cards” was a decidedly less academic, less formal, more “fun”, subject matter than previous SABR committees, one that did not fit the traditional 1980s model.

It was Jeff Katz who told me we needed a dedicated Twitter account — I had been on Twitter for a few years but was only occasionally active.  We also started a Facebook group,  and that was that. The country might be falling apart, but we had a baseball cards committee up and running.

And it worked!

The most successful SABR committees have produced some sort of collective work: a database, or a book, or an on-line project.  I still think we should try to do something like this, though we have not.

What we have built is a community.

I’d love to sit here and claim that this was my intention all along, but that would be untrue.  I was primarily thinking about the blog — as a SABR committee veteran, I wanted content.  That’s what SABR does.  It turns out we got both.

I knew many of you before this group was formed (though I did not necessarily know the depths of your card passions), but many of you I have met — in person or otherwise — through this group.  I had no idea two years ago that I would be exchanging baseball cards in the mail with people in this group.  Buying cards from eBay is easy enough — but sending/receiving cards with friends?  Much better.  My favorite part of this group is seeing all of the Twitter posts about cards you are sending each other.  Please keep them coming — try to tag @SABRbbcards and I will be better at retweeting from our main account.

My one goal for this committee in the coming year is that more people participate.  We have a core of blog writers, each great and different, and you can be one of them.  You can just write about what you are collecting, or about your favorite set, or favorite card.

This is a place where the 1956 Topps set and the 1990 Fleer set get an equal shake.  “Junk Wax” is not a term I use, because all cards are loved by someone.  We are not one voice around here.

I have been collecting since I was a little kid, and many of you have written about cards from a new angle that I had never even considered before.

If you are on Twitter, jump in.  Tell us what you want to collect, what you have extra of.  Join the conversation.  Hey, you might even meet some people along the way.

Happy New Year!

SABR Convention 2018

As a reminder, this blog is the publishing/communication arm of SABR’s Baseball Cards Committee.

If you are not a member of SABR, please join.  I could go on and on about the pleasure that SABR has given me for the past 30 years — the friends, the social events, the email and social media interactions, the fun.  Because of SABR, I am a writer.  Because of SABR, I have friends all over the country.  Because of SABR, I understand more about facets of baseball I otherwise would know nothing about.

SABR’s annual convention, its 48th, will be in Pittsburgh in five months.  Registration is now open.  Conventions are not exactly cheap — you need to get a hotel room, pay for the convention, feed yourself, etc.  There are ways to save money — I always have a roommate, and hotels usually allow you to haul in a cot if you want to triple bunk.  There are always cheaper ways to eat.  You can skip hanging out in the bar.  (Hahaha, just kidding — you really don’t want to do that.)

Pittsburgh will be significantly less expensive than New York, the site of our 2017 confab.  So there is that.  There will be no $25 beers in the bar.

Last year was also the first year of our committee, so we had our first meeting.  Our meeting was largely taken up with a highly entertaining and informative talk by Keith Olbermann.  Chris Dial and I have not figured out what our 2018 meeting will be like, but we’ll come up with something.

Bottom line: join SABR, join our committee, come to The Steel City, have the time of your life.  Profit.