In what came as wonderful and welcome news to card collectors of a certain vintage, filmmaker Marq Evans announced Monday his plans for a full-length feature film on legendary baseball artist Dick Perez, along with a Kickstarter campaign to fund the effort.
Since that time, Marq and Dick have appeared on several livestreams and podcasts, offering collectors some fun behind-the-scenes stories about the Donruss Diamond Kings, Dick’s other artistic ventures, and of course the film itself. Here is a nice sampling.
Marq has also released several short clips from “The Diamond King” as part of his promotional efforts of the film and its Kickstarter campaign. All are worth a watch or listen. For example, here is a clip of Dick sharing his memories as a young collector in the 1950s.
Marq was kind enough to provide SABR Baseball Cards with some previously unseen images from the 22-card baseball card set accompanying the film. The majority of the set features Hall of Famers personally selected as “Diamond Immortals” by Dick, but there are also five players not yet enshrined in Cooperstown. Their cards bear the “Diamond Destiny” moniker.
UPDATE: The set has now been upped to 25 cards!
Dick has also designed backs for the cards, as seen in these mockups.
A total of 499 sets will be produced, individually serial numbered and available only through the film’s Kickstarter page. Here is the complete checklist.
Additionally, Marq and Dick were both generous with their time in providing me the opportunity to interview them about “The Diamond King,” the new baseball card set, and whatever else popped into my head.
SABR Baseball Cards: Let’s begin with your earliest memories as a card collector. We’ll start with Dick.
Dick Perez: Baseball cards were another grand feature of Spring: warmer weather, schooldays coming to an end, the birth of another baseball season, and the reappearance of baseball cards. I was hooked on baseball and the imagery that brought my heroes to life.
Marq Evans: Baseball was my life as a kid, and from age 7 to about 13 I was all about collecting cards. Every dollar I earned from chores, every birthday or Christmas present, it went towards cards. When Ken Griffey Jr. came on the scene in 1989 he instantly became my favorite player and the main focus of my collection. I collected hundreds of his cards and pretty much every weekend was spent at the local card shop to see what the new stock was.
SABR Baseball Cards: Dick, you grew up in an era where baseball cards and art were inseparable. What impression did the artwork of the early 1950s baseball cards make on you?
Dick Perez: I became interested in baseball cards in 1952. Although at the time I thought they were photographic, they had a special look. The 1953 issue of the cards was even better. They looked more artistic. I still believed they were photographic, but in 1954 the imaging of baseball cards changed. It was later in life that I learned that the ’52 and ’53 cards were produced by artists. It seems that the goal was to make those hand painted cards look like photos. That is something I strive not to do when I create my baseball images. I want the viewer to know for sure that a hand was responsible for the work.
SABR Baseball Cards: Visually, did you have any favorites from the 1953 set?
Dick Perez: My favorites from that ’53 set were Jackie Robinson, Luke Easter, Mickey Mantle, Satchel Paige, Al Schoendienst, Joe Collins, Monte Irvin, Vinegar Bend Mizell and Ted Wilks in that order.
SABR Baseball Cards: Exceptional choices from top to bottom! How about you, Marq? I know you started collecting a little bit later than Dick. Was there a set in particular you liked best?
Marq Evans: I just loved cards and don’t remember having a favorite set as a kid. The hunt for Griffey brought me to just about every set there was. I do recall having a distinct emotional connection to the Donruss Diamond King cards and they became a set I looked forward to every year. It’s funny though, I don’t think back then I ever thought about the artist that was painting these cards. I just thought they were cool. It wasn’t until decades later that became curious about the artist behind these great images.
SABR Baseball Cards: I suppose that’s a great opportunity for me to ask. How did the idea for this film come about?
Marq Evans: When I read about Dick’s journey, coming to New York at age 6 and learning English and about America through the game of baseball, and his inspiring life story, I thought there was the potential to make a film about baseball through his life and work.
SABR Baseball Cards: And how did that go?
Marq Evans: I sent Dick a blind email just introducing myself and seeing if he was interested in discussing the concept. To my delight he said he’d be happy to talk. We really hit it off right away and he has been a great participant and collaborator in this whole process. He’s an insanely talented artist, of course, but an even better person.
SABR Baseball Cards: Dick, you’ve created your first brand new baseball set in way too long as part of the fundraising for the film. The inclusion of both Orator O’Rourke and J-Rod tells me you were fairly intentional in your player checklist. What was your approach to selecting 22 players from all of baseball history?
Dick Perez: Many of the players chosen for the set are players I knew personally, painted often, played tennis with, or worked together with on some project. There is an even longer list, which still could appear later on. It is possible we may make the card set grow some.
SABR Baseball Cards: Marq, are there other things collectors should know about these cards?
Marq Evans: I love how the set spans the whole history of baseball from the origins until today. I’ll just add that the printer that is printing this set did the last several years of Diamond Kings, so we’re getting some of the old team back together. Finally, our Kickstarter has more than just the baseball card set. For example, we have a limited edition Aaron Judge print numbered to 99 and Dick’s original artwork of Shohei Ohtani!
SABR Baseball Cards: This may sound like an odd question, but many collectors care about such details. Will the card set’s serial numbering be reflected on the packaging only, or will each card be individually numbered?
Marq Evans: Each card. For example, the 50th set ordered through our Kickstarter campaign will have all 22 of its cards individually numbered 50/499.
SABR Baseball Cards: Now you have me hoping the 21st set ends up with a Clemente collector and set 99 goes to a Judge fan! Just one last question. Dick this one will take you back 40 years if that’s okay. The 1983 Donruss Hall of Fame Heroes set represented the first time cards of Negro Leaguers Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell could ever be pulled from packs, at least in this country. What inspired you to include them in the set?
Dick Perez: I guess it was to emphasize the point that there were players from the Negro Leagues who were just as great as any Hall of Fame member. They are now part of the heritage that institution honors.
SABR Baseball Cards: Thank you, gentleman. Best of luck with the film. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that there’s an Oscar in your future!
Though a die-hard Dodger fan, I’ve always had a fondness for two lifelong Giants, Mel Ott and Carl Hubbell. How much fondness? At the risk of losing favor with the Great Dodger in the Sky, let’s just say I have more cards of each than I do Dodger legends like Duke Snider, Sandy Koufax, and Jackie Robinson!
One flip through my “old cards” binder is enough to reveal that despite my allegiance to all things Dodger Blue, I’ve been sleeving with the enemy.
As I added my latest Hubbell to the collection, a 1941 Double Play in remarkably nice shape, I stopped to think about why it is I had such a connection to the Giants ace.
I think the allure goes way back to when nearly all of my knowledge of baseball history came from (and this will make me sound old!) books and radio.
I imagine Vin Scully mentioned Carl Hubbell once or twice in the games I’d listen to before bed starting around 1979, perhaps in conjunction with our own screwballer, Bobby Castillo, and I have no doubt King Carl came up even more as Fernando rose to prominence.
As for books, I gravitated more toward cartoon-illustrated tomes with titles like “Baseball’s Zaniest Plays” (and still do!) than biography or serious analysis, a consequence being that I came to prize the 7-for-7 game or double no-hitter even more than the 500 home run hitter or 300 game winner. No surprise then that striking out five of the greatest hitters in baseball history–in a row!–would command my attention.
Of course, as is true with much in my life, there was a baseball card angle. At a card show around 1980, perhaps my very first, I rummaged through the “quarter box” and left with a 1961 Nu-Cards Baseball Scoops card immortalizing the Meal Ticket’s midsummer heroics.
Of course I had no idea it was from 1961. To ten-year-old me this card—bargain price be damned— had to be from 1934, or maybe 1935 at the very latest, which made this card my very first really old card of an all-time great. (In truth, that status still would have held had I known the card’s correct year.)
A few years later I was fortunate enough to receive a through the mail return from the Meal Ticket himself, though the card, like many from my early collecting days, did not survive the decades.
Fast forward nearly 40 years and my Hubbell collection included the glorious plastic sheet shown earlier, a 1935 Diamond Stars, and several pages of post-career cardboard: Fleer Baseball Greats, TCMA, Renata Galasso, Dick Perez, Conlon, etc.
There were definitely other cards I wanted, but I had two things working against me. First off, my “best of” binder page looked so magnificent, I didn’t really want to tinker. Second, vintage Carl Hubbell cards weren’t exactly free. Fortunately, each of these problems had a solution.
If the collection grew a bit, I could borrow a Cigar Box display from one of my Dodger collections, however traitorous that sounds. As for cash, I came to the conclusion that supporting an Ott and Hubbell collection took me a bit outside my means and that selling some Ott cards would be an excellent way to generate some Hubbell money.
It was definitely painful to part with any beloved card of Master Melvin, but I knew I’d made the right decision when I was able to add this absolute dream card to my collection. Plus, Ott played for the Giants, so there’s that. 😃
Another big “hit” was Hubbell’s 1934 Goudey card, notably the year of his famous strikeout feat. (The “Sports Kings” card was likely also released in 1934, though the multi-sport Goudey set is nearly always referred to as a 1933 issue.)
I also decided I was long overdue in picking up some of the Meal Ticket’s early 1970s Laughlin cards.
The result is this wonderful Hubbell display, which sits atop my mantel.
Keen eyes might notice I’ve subbed in this homemade “Heavy J Studios” version of Hubbell’s Sport Kings card while the real one anchors a separate wall display.
I’ve also applied similar treatment (plus cut autograph—thanks, Sean!) to my 1984 Donruss Champions series featuring the glorious artwork of Dick Perez.
To an extent I suppose I’m now where I was almost a year ago, display full and wallet empty. The only difference is now I have exactly the Hubbell collection I’d always dreamed of. Still, I’ll highlight the cards most likely to sneak into my collection someday if the price or timing is just right.
In honor of Hubbell’s strikeout record, I’ll start with this group of five cards, any of which would bump the 2019 Panini Diamond Kings card out of my display.
1933 Goudey #234
I’m a sucker for 1933 Goudey, so this is an obvious want. However, it’s not quite a need. The image is the same as Hubbell’s 1934 Goudey card, and I already have both that and Hubbell’s other 1933 Goudey. Shoot, though. I do love red backgrounds.
1934 Batter Up
This card is attractive to me in a couple ways. The pose is tremendous, so there’s that. But there’s also the fact that I don’t have a single Batter Up card in my collection.
There is so little to love about this set, but I do think the Hubbell is among its least terrible cards. Yet another set I have no cards of in my collection.
1943 M.P. & Company
Literally the exact same comment as above.
1974 Laughlin All-Star Game
I absolutely LOVE Laughlin cards, having grown up on the Fleer sticker backs of the early 1980s. I know a lot of collectors my age would go back to card shows of that era and buy up Mantle cards. Me, I’d scoop up all the 1970s Laughlin sets for two to three dollars a pop!
As much as I enjoy the larger pieces, they’re a challenge to display with my other cards. Still, I’m forced to at least call out two cards so spectacular I’d find a spot for them somehow.
1937 and 1938 Wheaties
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How about you? What are your favorite cards of the Meal Ticket? Do your player collections include enemies from the rival team? Let me know in the comments, and happy collecting!
A FEW LESSONS
When “collecting them all” is a practical impossibility, building a player collection of personal favorites, perhaps restricted or otherwise influenced by display parameters, is a great way to go.
If displaying is an end goal, you might be surprised how much customs, modern, and art cards can enhance the overall look and obviously save a ton of cash.
Selling or trading all but a couple favorites of a player you collect is a great way to build up your collection of someone else. Not easy but no regrets!
RANDOM CARL HUBBELL TRIVIA
Hubbell’s feat of five consecutive All-Star Game strikeouts was matched in 1986 by fellow screwballer Fernando Valenzuela. However, the batters retired by Fernando (Mattingly, Ripken, Barfield, Whitaker, Higuera) don’t read quite the same as Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, Simmons, Cronin).
Hall of Fame teammates Mel Ott and Carl Hubbell died exactly 3o years apart (November 21, 1958, and November 21, 1988) from injuries suffered in automobile accidents.
Born in Carthage, Missouri, King Carl won 18 games in 1929 but was outdone by namesake and fellow Show Me State native Edwin Hubble (Marshfield, MO) whose discovery of Hubble’s Law had profound implications for our understanding of the universe.
Baseball announcers occupy an odd space that straddles the line between team members and adoring fans. They often enjoy tenures longer than players and managers and can weather multiple ownership changes. Some broadcasters even become so connected with a ballclub’s identity that their popularity rivals the team’s Hall of Fame ballplayers. Numerous broadcasters have been inducted into team halls of fame and 47 individuals have received the Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually to a broadcaster for “major contributions to baseball,” an honor that includes recognition (but not official enshrinement) at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. In fact, beloved announcers such as Harry Kalas, Bob Uecker, Dave Niehaus, Harry Caray, Ernie Harwell, and Jack Buck have been immortalized with statuary at the ballparks where they called (or continue) to call games for their given teams. Yet, there is seemingly little love paid to announcers by card manufacturers, especially with national issues.
The Trading Card Database (“TCDB”) lists just 471 results for a search of baseball cards in the “announcer” category, with the first result appearing in 1933. This list includes cards depicting nightly sportscasters and disc jockeys, which would tend to indicate that the “announcer” label is often used as a catchall for any on-air broadcasters, not just play-by-play commentators or game analysts.
The labeling issue becomes more apparent, however, when totaling the number of cards for the broadcasters who have been bestowed the Ford C. Frick Award. This number is 580, over 100 more cards than found on the “announcer” list.
Searching TCDB by individual broadcasters’ names demonstrates conclusively that the “announcer” label (“ANN”) is not used with any consistency. For example, a search for “Vin Scully” will produce 114 results, cards spanning from 1960 through 2023, including parallel releases and autographed editions. A search of “Vin Scully” and the “ANN” qualifier, however, produces only two results.
Considering that Pittsburgh’s KDKA first broadcast a baseball game on August 5, 1921 (an event itself worthy of commemoration on a baseball card), it seems incredible how few broadcaster cards have been issued in the past 100 years. Indeed, utility infielder Tommy LaStella has had more cards issued since 2011 (586) than all of the Ford C. Frick Award winners combined (580).
Radio (Baseball Card) Pioneers
The 1933 Minneapolis Millers of the American Association were managed by future Hall of Famer Dave Bancroft and featured first baseman Joe Hauser, who clobbered an incredible 69 home runs that season. Although Wheaties is best known for its collectible cereal boxes, the company also promoted minor league baseball across the country and particularly in Minneapolis, hometown of parent company General Mills. That season, Wheaties issued a set of 24 postcards (4″ by 5-9/16″) featuring the players, manager, and for the first time ever documented, a team’s radio broadcaster.
Jerry Harrington, dubbed “The Little Irish Tenor,” was a multi-talented performer for WCCO radio and was often called upon to sing and participate in dramatic productions for the station. In 1929, Harrington broadcast play-by-play accounts of the Millers’ away games from the sports office of The Star and beginning in 1930, was tabbed to broadcast both home games from Nicollet Park and the away contests. The 1933 Wheaties Harrington issue is his one and only baseball card.
A second set of similarly designed and sized postcards were purportedly produced by Wheaties for the Seattle Indians in 1933; however, only five postcards from this set have been found so it is unclear whether they were ever released to the public. One of the cards that has surfaced, however, is that of Indians broadcaster Leo Lassen. Lassen was named the publicity director of the Pacific Coast League Seattle club in 1931 and began broadcasting games for the team that season. He was a mainstay radio voice of the Indians and Seattle Rainiers through 1958 and was inducted into the Washington Sports Hall of Fame in 1974. The 1933 Wheaties Lassen issue is his one and only baseball card.
In 1938 Chicago’s Sawyer Biscuit company issued a set of 52 cabinet photos depicting Chicago Cubs and White Sox players available as a mail-in promotion. The set included Bob Elson, a tireless broadcaster who handled the home games for both the Cubs and White Sox from 1931 through 1942 for WGN radio.
TCDB also lists a second “broadcaster” card for Babs Gillen, but no example of the card has ever been found. According to some sleuthing by Pre-War Cards it appears that Delores “Babs” Gillen was Elson’s broadcast partner for certain radio programming, but she was not known to announce baseball games with him. Regardless, the Elson cabinet photo appears to be the first issue for a Major League broadcaster.
The Emergence of Baseball on the Radio
As of the 1940 Census, 28 million households in the United States (82.8% of the population) owned a radio and baseball owners began realizing that broadcasting games—both home and away—was a terrific way to promote live baseball at their respective ballparks, especially on the home front during World War II. Still, very few broadcaster cards were issued in the 1940s.
The Reds sold a boxed team card set in 1940 called the “The Cincinnati Reds by Harry Hartman, Radio Sports Expert” published by the Harry Hartman Publishing Company. Coincidently, Hartman was the radio voice for the Reds on WCPO and was entering his 13th season behind the microphone in 1940, a season in which the Reds won their first World Series championship since defeating the Black Sox in 1919. A card featuring Harry Hartman was included in his namesake set.
The 1940 Playball set included a “Former Major League Star” card for Gabby Street, who had last played for Yankees in 1912 (although he had given himself an at-bat as Cardinals manager in 1931) and last managed for the Browns in 1938. The final line of his biography on the reverse of his card indicated “Today, he is doing baseball broadcasting in St. Louis.” Street was eventually paired with Harry Caray in the Cardinals’ booth, and they worked together from 1945 to 1950.
The balance of cards for the 1940s belong to Oakland Oaks announcer Bud Foster, with a string of issues in each of 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1949 sponsored by either Remar Bread or Signal Oil/Gasoline. Foster was voice of the Pacific Coast League’s Oaks from 1946 through 1956, as the team won three championships during his run (1948, 1950, 1954). In 1985 Foster reminisced how ballparks in the old days had no radio booths for him on the road so he would just set up behind home plate, which left him vulnerable to bombardment by cushions, peanuts, and insults hurled by the opposing fans. Additionally, Mel Allen was featured in Yankees Picture Packs in 1948 and 1949, with seemingly indistinguishable photos.
Video Killed the Radio Star
In 1950 approximately 9% of American households had a television, but by 1960 the figure had skyrocketed to 90%. Regardless, there were still just a smattering of announcer cards issued in the 1950s, even despite the rise of the national baseball card product offerings by Bowman and Topps that included non-players such as umpires and league executives.
In 1954, future Ford C. Frick Award winner Bill King was named fulltime sports director at KOLN and KOLN-TV in Lincoln, Nebraska and took over the play-by-play announcing duties for the Western League Lincoln Chiefs. Weaver’s Wafers were a potato chip brand that issued a set of cards for the Chiefs in 1954 that included a card for King that encouraged fans to follow the team on KOLN. Despite King having announced for the San Francisco Giants from 1958-1962 and the Oakland A’s from 1981-2005, the 1954 issue is the only card that appears to have been issued for the venerable broadcaster. The card itself is exceedingly rare and the distribution method is sure to send shivers up the spines of condition conscious collectors—the cards were affixed to the outside of the potato chip bags with staples!
Future Ford C. Frick Award recipients Russ Hodges (New York Giants and San Francisco Giants) and Lon Simmons (San Francisco Giants) both appeared on a number of team-issued cards at the end of the 1950s, but only in their capacity as broadcasters for the San Francisco 49ers football team. Simmons did not get a proper baseball card until 1999, the Giants’ final season in Candlestick Park. His famous home run call “Tell it Goodbye!” was a fitting farewell to the ballpark, where he had broadcast since the Giants first began playing there in 1960.
The final announcer card issued in the 1950s featured Mark Scott, host of the popular Home Run Derby television show. The 1959 Home Run Derby baseball set contained 20 cards measuring 3-1/4” by 5-1/4” and included the participants in the game show filmed at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. Scott died unexpectedly on July 13, 1960 from a heart attack and the show did not return for another season.
Vin Scully and the Rise of the Beloved Broadcaster
The first TCDB entry for Vin Scully is the 1960 Union Oil 76 “Meet the Dodger Family” booklet, which he shares with Jerry Doggett. Scully’s first proper baseball card—a whopper at 4” by 6”—is the 1971 Ticketron Dodgers issue, which also happens to feature Jerry Doggett, with whom he worked from 1956 through 1987. All told, Scully is the leader of all broadcasters with 114 different cards listed on TCDB. Perhaps surprisingly, however, Scully did not make another appearance on a baseball card until 2004, when Fleer produced a 10-card “Greats of the Game” subset that paired announcers and players, such as Scully/Steve Garvey, Harry Caray/Ryne Sandberg, and Jon Miller/Cal Ripken Jr. Accordingly, the overwhelming majority of Scully’s cards were issued after he had already turned 77 years old.
Vin Scully’s first inning broadcast partner for the 1989 All-Star Game was former Chicago Cubs broadcaster (and newly former POTUS) Ronald Reagan. Reagan made a cameo on a recent Bo Jackson card, as a broadcaster.
Ernie Harwell is next on the list with 80 cards. Harwell is best known for his work for the Detroit Tigers after stints with the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and Baltimore Orioles. By the time his first card was issued in 1981, Harwell was already beginning his third decade of work as the Tigers’ main play-by-play announcer. Harwell holds the distinction of having been traded for a player when he was acquired by the Dodgers to broadcast in 1948 from the Class-AA Atlanta Crackers in exchange for minor league catcher Cliff Dapper. Harwell broadcast for the Detroit Tigers from 1960 to 1991 and 1993 to 2002. Detroit’s Wayne State University’s baseball team plays its home games at Harwell Field, named in his honor.
Harry Caray is third with 68 cards. Caray’s first known card is a playing card with a photo shared with another Chicago broadcasting legend, Jack Brickhouse, issued in 1985 (40 years after Caray broadcast his first game for the St. Louis Cardinals.) Caray popularized the live singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” while a White Sox broadcaster and made the tradition so popular at Wrigley Field that a video of him signing the song is still played for the seventh inning stretch when the Cubs do not otherwise arrange for a celebrity to handle the honors. Perhaps Caray’s most interesting baseball card is his cameo on Michael Jordan’s 1995 Upper Deck, featuring a photo taken at Wrigley Field when the White Sox visited for an exhibition game against the Cubs on April 7, 1994.
Mel Allen boasts 58 cards and was awarded the first-ever Ford C. Frick Award in 1978, along with Red Barber (the only year in which more than one award was given). Allen, a 1937 graduate of the University of Alabama Law School, immediately pursued a career in broadcasting and handled CBS radio duties for the 1938 World Series. He was hired as the Yankees’ play-by-play announcer in 1940 and saw 12 championship teams from his position behind the microphone through 1964. Allen eventually returned to the Yankees broadcast team in the mid-1970s, but it was his work with This Week in Baseball starting in 1977 that made Allen’s voice synonymous with Saturday baseball highlights to kids across the country. How about that?!
Rounding out the top five is Philadelphia’s Harry Kalas with 33 cards. Kalas first appeared on a Tastykake card in 1984, along with fellow Phillies broadcasters Chris Wheeler, Andy Musser and Richie Ashburn. Kalas began his broadcasting career in 1961 with the Hawaii Islanders and made his Major League announcing debut with the Astros in 1965. After moving over to Philadelphia in 1971, Kalas became a mainstay in the booth, working side-by-side with Ashburn until Ashburn’s unexpected passing in September 1997.
Comprising some of the most popular men to ever call a baseball game, Vin Scully has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (and a statue at Dodger Stadium cannot be far behind). Ernie Harwell has a statue at Comerica Park in Detroit. Harry Caray has a statue at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Mel Allen has a plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium in New York. Harry Kalas has a statue at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. A bust of Jack Buck is displayed outside Busch Stadium in St. Louis. And Bob Uecker (who has 23 cards for broadcasting and another 51 related to his role as a player) is honored with two statues at American Family Field in Milwaukee.
By contrast, Denny Matthews has just two cards, despite having been inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame and having been in the Kansas City broadcast booth since the team’s inception in 1969.
Similarly, Jaime Jarrín, the Dodgers’ Spanish-language play-by-play announcer from 1959 through 2022 (also honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame) only has two cards.
Felo Ramirez was the Spanish radio announcer for the Miami Marlins from 1993 until April 2017. His prior broadcasting work included calling Roberto Clemente’s 3000th hit, and Hank Aaron’s 715th home run. Despite his distinguished career, no cards of Ramirez have ever been listed on the TCDB. All three of these men are Ford C. Frick Award recipients. In fact, 36 of the 47 Frick Award winners have nine or fewer cards, with eight having none.
Card manufacturers are seemingly content to issue the same card with a border in every conceivable color combination. Allen and Ginter issues feature eggs, spiders, and even the Taylor Ham versus pork roll debate. Yet, broadcasters remain largely ignored.
A closer inspection of the checklists for each of the broadcasters listed here quickly reveals that a large proportion of the most recent issues comprise rare, autographed cards or other limited releases for which photos are not even available.
The men and women who dedicate their lives to the craft—and provide the soundtrack for our collective summers—deserve more cardboard love. These amazing tributes by Mike Noren of Gummy Arts are a great start.
Mike Noren of Gummy Arts graciously allowed the SABR Baseball Cards Committee to include images of his cards in this article, including the Bob Uecker card, which has never been shown publicly before.
Jason Schwartz and Nick Vossbrink for their typically brilliant guidance and support.
TCDB is mainly crowdsourced and there are numerous examples of cards not marked with the announcer label or otherwise improperly classified. The numbers cited herein are as accurate as possible based upon the available information. Moreover, several broadcasters cover multiple sports and may have cards that are more properly classified as a football, Olympic or multi-sport issue. Regardless of sporting classification, all cards were counted, except for those individuals who were players and had separate playing-days cards issued. Playing-days cards were not included.
When William Klein died I tweeted out a quick RIP from the official account where I stated that he was one of the blog’s favorite photographers. If you were browsing Twitter on your phone it would’ve been easy to miss the details in the photo and realize why I tweeted it. For me as both an art museum goer and a card collector though, Klein represents one of the few genuine overlaps in my interests. Yes it’s great to be able to visit the Burdick Collection at The Met but it’s even more fun to see cards pop up in other parts of the museum.
I’ll start with Klein both because he’s what prompted this post and because this is the oldest piece. And yes, the title of this photo is indeed “Baseball Cards.” I’m not going to write a ton about him as a photographer on here but his book of street photos in New York is justly famous in part because of how it taps in to imagery that where you not only feel like part of the scene but suggests that the scene may be familiar to you.
Sometimes, like with “Gun 1,” the familiarity is disturbing. Other times, such as with “Baseball Cards” the scene is one that should resonate in a pleasant way with every reader of this blog. Kids showing off their stacks of cards. Kids showing off a favorite player. It’s why we started collecting and in many ways the feeling we’re trying to hold on to while we keep collecting.
If you only saw the tweet on your phone you might not have noticed that the kids were holding stacks of 1955 Bowman. Blowing up the image you can see that the central card is one of the few light wood borders and is pretty obviously Gil McDougald. I had to comb through the set to identify the other card. I’m pretty sure it’s Randy Jackson—the dark background plus the long sleeves plus the placement of name box is pretty distinct—but there are a decent number of righthanded batters which I had to choose from.
I’ve written about these before on here so there’s no need for me to write much more. That said, at the time of first writing I hadn’t identified everyone in the cards and it took a committee effort in the comments of that post (as well as on Twitter) to both identify the actual 1979 Topps cards that were the basis for these.
I don’t think anyone’s identified the Rookies card but the other five are Steve Henderson (JOE), Bob Randall (JERK), Steve Kemp (HOT DOG), Ed Glynn (BUS PASS), and John Matlack (WALLY). The Mets Team Card meanwhile shows up on what we’re using as the checklist for these.
Most of us here probably recognized immediately that Warhol used a new photo and didn’t just copy either of Rose’s 1985 Topps cards. But the cards are clearly part of the piece. One of the things I like about Warhol’s Rose prints is how they combine the Campbell’s Soup elevation of industrial design into Art™ with his larger-than-life pop culture celebrity portraits and it says a lot about baseball cards and Topps that they were worthy of this treatment.
And yeah. A small short checklist so far which I hope to be able to add to in the future. But also a very fun one that speaks to baseball cards’ larger importance as part of our culture.
Freshly back from SABR50 in Baltimore a number of questions from attendees are fresh in my mind. Perhaps the question most frequently asked pertained to assessing the value of a collection. Sometimes I’d ask for a description of the collection in question, and a typical reply might be “several boxes of cards from the 50s and 60s including Mickey Mantle.”
I’ll use this article to acquaint readers, particularly those who aren’t active buyers and sellers, with the main variables at play in putting a price tag on, say, a 1950s Mickey Mantle.
Without a doubt, not all Mantles were created equal. Head and shoulders above all others, at least as far as his standard Topps and Bowman issues are concerned, is the 1952 Topps card.
Mantle’s 1951 Bowman card, which doubles as the Mick’s rookie card, also carries a substantial premium, though perhaps counterintuitively a much smaller one than the aforementioned Topps card.
In general, not as a hard and fast rule but as a trend, older cards are worth more, and rookie cards in particular are worth the most. Though we have already seen an exception, it’s true much more often than it’s not. The graph below illustrates this for a hypothetical star player whose first card was in 1960. Note the significant drop-off from 1960 to 1961 and the overall decreasing trend across the decade. You might also recognize a significant drop-off between 1961 and 1962. This too is a thing as second year cards tend to carry a premium, though not nearly as much as first year (or “rookie”) cards.
Now, here is an actual graph for Mickey Mantle’s 1950s baseball cards. As we will soon see, the condition of the card plays an outsized role in valuation, so at the moment we will pretend all cards in the graph are of equal condition. (For those keeping score at home I’ll assume PSA 5, but don’t worry if you don’t know what that is.)
One thing you’ll note right away are the two sets of bars used, one blue and one orange. These correspond to the two major producers of baseball cards in the 1950s, Bowman and Topps. Bowman produced cards of Mickey Mantle annually from his first card in 1951 through the company’s demise following the 1955 season. Topps, meanwhile, issued Mantle cards in 1952 and 1953 but was forced into a two-year hiatus by rival Bowman who had Mick locked into an exclusive deal for the 1954 and 1955 seasons.
If you glance at the graph, one color at a time, you see that each color follows the general trend of the hypothetical graph presented earlier. Whether blue or orange, a downward pattern is unmistakable, and significant premiums are attached to the first of the bars.
So what was the purpose of all this? Mainly, I wanted to reinforce the idea that the value of a Mantle depends a lot on which Mantle. This weekend a 1952 Topps Mantle may make headlines by selling in the neighborhood of $10 million. This will no doubt cause some to wonder if the box of cards in their attic might produce its own seven-digit payday. Of course, as the graph shows, most Mantle cards (all but one, really!) are worth nowhere near that.
Before heading into our promised discussion of condition, I’ll share three more bits of information on the which Mantle front.
Particularly for cards produced before 1974, you will sometimes see exceptions to the monotonicity of the Value vs Year graph due to a “high numbers” effect. In many older sets, the cards at the end of the set were sold in smaller quantities, hence have greater scarcity. A famous example is the 1967 Topps Brooks Robinson, which is worth far more than any of his other 1960s Topps standard issues. (And yes, in case you’re wondering, Mickey Mantle had a “high number” card in the 1952 Topps set.)
Some players, especially stars, can have more than one card in a set. For example, Mickey Mantle has all three of these cards in the 1958 Topps set (and some might add the Yankees team card as well). Nearly always, the base (regular) card is worth more than the extras, in this case a World Series card with Hank Aaron and an All-Star card.
I’ve limited discussion thus far to cards from the major producers. However, the baseball card ecosystem is typically far larger than that. In 1954 alone, Mickey Mantle also had a dog food card, a potato chips card, a wiener card, as well as a couple others. It’s difficult to attach a general rule to the pricing on such cards. On one hand, they are generally less sought after by most collectors. On the other hand, some can be quite scarce. Thus there is some tug on their value in both directions, reduced demand pulling prices downward and reduced supply pulling prices upward.
In What Condition?
Even when I was a young collector in the late 1970s I knew cards with sharp corners and no creases were more valuable than ones you could practically roll along a table. This didn’t stop me from keeping my favorite cards in my pants pockets, but then again was I ever planning to sell them?
At any rate, the same is true today, but the premium on “high grade” vintage cardboard has only increased, in my eyes past the point of absurdity. Nowadays, much of the dealings in the Hobby’s upper stratosphere transpires with cards that have been commercially (the implication being professionally and objectively) graded by companies like PSA, SGC, and Beckett. While these companies certainly have their share of misses, the logic is that a well trained third party grader is more trustworthy than the card’s owner, who naturally stands to profit (at least in the short term) by over-stating a card’s condition.
Most grading is done on a numerical scale from 1-10, but the scale is decidedly non-linear. For example, here is a graph showing the value of the 1959 Topps Mickey Mantle card across its range of conditions. (Source: PSA, August 24, 2022.)
There have been no recent sales of the card with a grade of 10 and in fact only one such card has ever been graded by PSA. As such, there is no bar on the graph at 10, but you might have some fun guessing what such a card might go for based on the graph as shown. Half a million?!
Before proceeding I’ll show the same graph for grades 1-8 only, since the current graph’s very tall bar at 9 tends to dwarf all else.
The reason I’ve shared these graphs is to show just how much grade impacts value. For this particular card, a card graded 9 is worth more than 500 times as much as a card graded 1. Let’s unpack this a bit more.
Perhaps a friend lets you know that he just sold one of his 1950s Mickey Mantles for $1000, and—lo and behold—you have that very same card. Your copy might be worth $100 or it might be worth $10,000, maybe even a lot more than that! The point is, condition doesn’t just attach a premium; right or wrong, it creates a 500x (or more) differential in value, even when we’re talking about the exact same card!
I just illustrated the non-linearity of condition with respect to value. Separate from any discussion of market value, I’ll add my opinion that condition is also non-linear with respect to appearance. This may sound contradictory at first since you may view condition and appearance as synonyms, i.e., how the card presents. Either way, let’s take a look.
Here is the 1959 Topps Mickey Mantle card in grades 9, 8, and 7 respectively. At first glance, you would not be wrong to imagine the three cards identical. If anything, you might even dock the “9” for what looks like a very small stain below the O in OUTFIELD as well as some faint discoloration above the mickey mantle name.
At any rate, if we presume no error or subjectivity in the grading, we can only assume that there are important distinctions not necessarily evident to the naked eye (or, in fairness, on the backs of the cards). Perhaps the “8” has some microscopic corner ding, for example. Still, the larger point is that a 7, 8, and 9 all look almost exactly the same. (Notably, the card on the left sold for more than 30 times the card on the right!)
While I’ve illustrated my point using three cards, to my own eye the top six slots on the grading scale, i.e., grades of 5-10, all look about the same. Don’t get me wrong. If you look hard enough, I bet you can figure out which of these Mantle cards is a “10” and which is a “5” but I’ll still paraphrase Maya Angelou and say they “are more alike, my friends, than they are unalike.”
Back to value for a second, one of the two cards pictured sold recently for $1600. The other, were it to hit the market today, would likely fetch upwards of $500,000. 🤷🏻♂️
Sometimes someone sends me a picture of a card they took with their phone and asks what I think it’s worth. I hope the two Mantle cards illustrate the difficulty of providing such an assessment, particularly when cards are in really nice shape, hence differences in grades reflect only tiny distinctions but gigantic pricing differences.
For completeness, I’ll illustrate the lower end of the scale, where distinctions are much more notable, though still not always evident.
Though I’ve used graded cards to illustrate the hypersensitivity of price to condition, there are again some notes to offer.
Some cards receive half-grades (e.g., 3.5). Pricing for half grades is about what you’d expect.
Many sellers, even when a third-party grade has been assigned, will hope to realize a nicer sale by claiming their card is “under-graded” or “the nicest 3 you’ll ever see.” I can definitely say that grades being equal, some cards look better than others. Ultimately though, the buyer should be the judge of this rather than simply take the seller’s claim at face value.
Some cards receive non-numerical grades, the most common being “Authentic,” which usually is not as good as it sounds, and the most dreaded being “Counterfeit!”
Last but not least, most cards bought and sold are not graded. (Sometimes the term “raw” is used.) Here there is a greater risk associated with fakes, but the good news is that most of the folks out there buying vintage collections are able to tell real from bogus. As such, if you’re thinking about selling your childhood collection of 1950s cardboard, you need not panic that the only way to get anything for it is to spend tens of thousands of dollars having it graded first.
That said, if you are selling online to someone who can’t handle the cards directly, you may well experience a lower sales price based on buyer uncertainty over authenticity. A return policy and clear images mitigate this, but many online buyers will still attach risk to your cards and lower their offers accordingly.
Though it seems ridiculous, the value of a 1950s Mickey Mantle can be anywhere from about $10 to $10 million. Two factors that make a very, very big difference are which card you have an what condition it’s in. These certainly aren’t the only factors, but they more than suffice to make the point, which is that it is exceedingly difficult to assess the value of a vintage card or collection without spending some real time with it.
So what’s the value of that box of 1950s and 60s baseball cards from your childhood, the one you’re positive has a Mantle or two? There’s only one real answer, and it’s an incredibly unsatisfying one: it depends…and almost comically so!
In this post I’ll highlight the five most unique pieces in the collection, along with some tips and tricks that might help other player collectors track down tough pieces.
1955 ALL AMERICAN SPORTS CLUB
This “card” is part of a set of 500 subjects across multiple sports, hand-cut from 9″ x 12″ sheets of glossy paper stock. As Hoskins cards go, it has a lot going against it: a low quality image, its small size (similar to a postage stamp), a blank back, and the obscurity of the issue. Still, there are so few playing era cards of Hoskins that I still treat the card as an essential.
I was able to add this card to my collection thanks to a rather broad eBay search I’d set up that was essentially “DAVE HOSKINS -TOPPS.” My goal in this search was to turn up any and all Dave Hoskins collectibles not produced by Topps. (Nothing against Topps here; it’s just that I already had all three of their playing era issues and didn’t want to clutter up my search results with more of the same.)
Lessons for player collectors: Trading Card Database is a great resource for identifying cards you might not know about. If searching on eBay for less common items, use the minus operator to de-clutter search results.
2017 MAGALLANES BASEBALL CLUB CENTENNIAL ISSUE
The same search (“DAVE HOSKINS -TOPPS”) added another card to my collection just last week. It was not only a card I never knew existed but even portrayed Hoskins with a team (and country!) I never knew was part of his résumé.
The card (or sticker, to be precise) was one of 200+ issued by the Magallanes Baseball Club (Venezuela) as part of its 100th anniversary. Other notables in the set include Dave Parker, Barry Bonds, Willie Horton, and local legend Nestor Chavez.
While I am not a “completist” when it comes to post-career issues, I make an exception when there are no playing era cards of a player on a certain team. That, and the fact that I might never see this one again, made the card a must have, even with the price tag being a good ten times what I would have expected.
Side note: This card led me to a very cool site for Venezuelan Winter League stats from which I learned Hoskins played for Magallanes in the 1951-52 season and also the Pampero team during the 1959-60 campaign.
Lesson for player collectors: In this case the card came from a US seller. However, it’s worth knowing that eBay assigns a default location to your searches that may cause you to miss items being sold from other countries. Edit the Item Location option to Worldwide to ensure the most comprehensive search.
1950s NOKONA DAVE HOSKINS MODEL GLOVE
Again that same “HOSKINS -TOPPS” search gets the credit for this rather unexpected find, a Dave Hoskins signature model glove.
Until this item arrived, I suspected it might even be game used, simply because I didn’t imagine Hoskins was a popular enough player to support store models. Once I had it in hand (and on hand!) I decided it was too small to have been sported by the player himself and was in fact a store model sized for kids.
A second surprise came my way after having the item refurbished by Jimmy Lonetti, whose nice work I’d seen several times on Twitter. Unreadable beforehand, the glove bore a name and date stamped into the leather. Some searching turned up a person of that name, unfortunately deceased, whose birthday around age 10 corresponded to the date on the glove. What’s more the person seemed to have grown up around Cleveland when Hoskins was a pitcher for the Indians. His family now has the glove, which makes me very happy.
Lesson for player collectors: If you are open to balls, gloves, bats, and other items appearing in your search results, be sure you haven’t “over-filtered” to where only Trading Cards are shown.
1952 DALLAS EAGLES SIGNED BASEBALL
If there is one item in my entire collection–Dave Hoskins or otherwise–that might belong in a museum, it’s this one: an official Texas League baseball signed by nearly the entire 1952 Dallas Eagles team.
I never would have found this ball using my “HOSKINS -TOPPS” search since the seller didn’t feature Hoskins at all in the listing. Fortunately, I had also set up a 1952 Dallas Eagles search, which generally turns up football items (e.g., Philadelphia Eagles vs Dallas Texans ticket stubs) but at least this one time turned up gold.
Lesson for player collectors: Particularly if the player you collect isn’t a big name, recognize that their name may not appear in item listings/descriptions, which of course eliminates those items from your search results.
1952 GLOBE PRINTING DALLAS EAGLES CARD
The term Holy Grail is probably overused in card collecting, but in the small universe of Dave Hoskins collecting I do believe it’s apt for this particular card.
This article from April 13, 1952, coincidentally the day of Hoskins’ first start, provides some information on the set and seems to indicate that the Hoskins card would have been given out only one night of the year.
A complete checklist for the set remains unknown, though there are currently at least 22 known players.
In the three years I’ve been collecting Dave Hoskins, this is a card I’d never once seen available and was only aware of due to its entry on Trading Card Database where it is one of only five cards from the set with an image uploaded. How the heck did I end up with one then?
A nice feature of Trading Card Database is that each card image includes metadata on who uploaded the scan. Another nice feature is that members can message each other. Well, figuring my chances of success were somewhere south of 1%, I contacted the member who had uploaded the image. As it turned out, he was very open to a deal! He even supplied a bit of provenance:
I got it years ago in a box of old items from a relative here in Dallas back in the 80’s.
Lesson for player collectors: Take advantage of Trading Card Database as, among other things, a buy/sell/trade platform. Though I got the card I wanted by contacting the user who uploaded its image, you are also able to bring up a list of ALL users who have cards from a set in their TCDB collection. For instance, here is the complete list of members with 1952 Globe Dallas Eagles cards, including a collector with an impressive 21 of the cards.
I mentioned at the top of this article that my collection is now complete. However, if there’s a lesson from that Magallanes sticker, it’s that I can never rule out the discovery of something new. As such, I definitely won’t be deleting my “saved searches” on eBay just yet.
There are still a handful of items that I consider more bonus than essential. Topping this list is the August 1952 issue of Negro Achievements magazine, which features a familiar photo of Hoskins on the cover.
There have been four eBay sales of this item since 2011, most recently in March 2019. As is often the case for unusual pieces without a lot of comps, prices have varied widely, though condition was certainly also a factor:
May 2011: $127.50
July 2013: $14.37
June 2014: $29.95
March 2019: $48.47
Another “nice to have” is the Dave Hoskins photo from the 1954 Cleveland Indians team issued photo pack.
The final two items on the “maybe someday” list are ticket stubs or game programs from the two Dave Hoskins Nights held in 1952, one in Fort Worth and one in Dallas. The first of these also corresponds to Hoskins’ 20th win of the season and (hopefully) and upcoming SABR Games story.
Lesson for player collectors: Though I don’t have the photo pack card or the ticket stubs I’ve definitely noticed numerous listings, if not the majority, that use non-specific titles like “1950s Cleveland Indians photo pack” or “1950’s Dallas Eagles ticket stubs.” This makes particular sense for the photo packs cards since they are undated and repeat many players/photos across multiple years. Therefore, adding a search for “(1950s, 1950’s) INDIANS PHOTO PACK” may be useful. I’ll also note that sellers with partial sets typically list only the top stars like Feller and Doby, hence fly under the radar of a Dave Hoskins-specific search.
While the Dave Hoskins shelf is now full and includes all the essentials, I’ll keep looking for more cool stuff. If you have any leads, definitely let me know, and whatever you do, don’t outbid me!
Author’s Note: This article is part of a larger SABR Century Committee effort commemorating the 75th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic 1947 season.Head here for the full series.
When Jackie Robinson trotted out to first base on April 15, 1947, his steps were no less historic than those of Neil Armstrong just over two decades later. Baseball’s senseless and shameful Color Barrier had at last been breached and with it the customs and traditions of Jim Crow America itself were on notice. This is not to say equality had come to Baseball. Far from it as even the Dodgers merely tiptoed into integration while several other teams waited a decade or more to add their first Black player. As for managers, eleven more men after Armstrong would leave footprints on the Moon before a single Black man would take the reins of a Major League team.
Even today, as Jackie’s legacy is rightfully celebrated, it’s fair to wonder whether a modern Jackie Robinson would even choose Baseball, just as it’s fair to wonder whether any teams would notice him and sign him if he did. Were he living in the Dominican Republic, absolutely, but in his birthplace of Cairo, Georgia, or his childhood hometown of Pasadena, California, who’s to say? While a modern Jackie could win games for a general manager of any color, there are none in front offices today who look like him.
The same could be said for domestic baseball card issues prior to 1947, only one of which featured a Black player. While it would be easy to discount the utter lack of Black faces as merely reflective of the times, such an explanation fails to account for the many Black boxers who made their way onto trading cards, going back to at least 1909. Ultimately, the whiteness of baseball cards was due solely to the whiteness of what was then perceived (and enforced) as Organized Baseball. Jack Johnson, Joe Jeannette, and Joe Gans were professional boxers. The Philadelphia Stars, Newark Eagles and Homestead Grays meanwhile? These were semi-pro.
Thus the 1947 season brought with it not only the integration of Baseball but (several rungs down the ladder of importance) the opportunity to integrate baseball cards as well. All that was missing were the baseball cards themselves!
While today we take it for granted that a new baseball card set (if not dozens of different ones) will come out every year, such was not the case in the 1940s. Following the three-year run of Gum, Inc., and its Play Ball sets from 1939-41, the War and other national priorities left American baseball without a major set to chronicle its players until 1948, when Gum, Inc., baseball cards returned to shelves, this time under the Bowman name.
In the meantime, where baseball cards were produced at all, they most often took the form of smaller regional issues, often connected to food or other household products, cards that today many collectors classify under the umbrella of “oddball.” As such, this review of Jackie Robinson baseball cards from 1947 will feature bread, slacks, and even cigarettes but not a single stick of gum.
1947 BOND BREAD
Bond Bread will feature in this article twice. This first instance is to highlight a 48-card release comprised of four boxers and 44 baseball stars. The selection of baseball stars included Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Stan Musial but most notably a baseball card of Brooklyn Dodgers rookie Jackie Robinson.
Cards were packaged in loaves of Bond Bread, and at least one theory for their rounded corners is that the cards were less susceptible to damage that way. Importantly for collectors today, the rounded corners help distinguish these cards from near-identical versions that emerged as a standalone product sold as “Sport Star Subjects” in 1949. The square cornered versions are far less collectible, though widespread misidentification, including by a prominent grading company, has created sufficient confusion to elevate prices among uninformed buyers.
While both the Bond Bread and Sport Star Subjects cards have blank backs, a third version of the Robinson card features a back that’s anything but blank.
“1947” ELGEE PRODUCTS
Precise dating for this issue is unknown and may well be after 1947. A mix of baseball and movie star photos, the baseball images match those of the Bond Bread issue but are easily distinguished in at least two ways. One, they are perforated. Two, their backs include other cards from the set or, in some cases, advertising. The Robinson card, for example, features actor James Cagney on the reverse.
As with the Sport Star Subjects, these cards are also frequently misidentified as Bond Bread cards, even by third party grading companies and auction houses. Post 391 in this Net54 Baseball Forum thread shows the front and back of an uncut sheet, including the ELGEE branding. Post 386 in the same thread provides additional background on the company.
1947-50 BOND BREAD JACKIE ROBINSON
In addition to the 48-card set above, Bond Bread also released a second set of 13 cards dedicated entirely to Jackie Robinson. The set is catalogued as a 1947 issue. However, independent research by collectors Mike Knapp, Shaun Fyffe, and Michael Fried, which I’ll attempt to summarize here, has produced a broader timetable for the cards while also providing information on distribution.
The set began 1947 with a single card featuring a signed portrait of Jackie, a brief bio, and a product testimonial. This card was not distributed in packaged loaves but rather was given out by store owners (with free slices of bread!) to promote Bond Bread among African American consumers. (Post 49 in this Net54 Baseball Forum thread includes an article from the New York Amsterdam News detailing the marketing strategy.)
From there, it’s unclear whether any of the set’s remaining twelve cards dates to 1947. The aforementioned collector-researchers speculate subsequent releases of three or six cards at a time taking place sometime between 1947 and 1950, though I lean more toward the cards being issued one at a time. Either way, a clue that helps group the cards is the advertising on the back.
These six cards, assumed to be the earlier of the twelve, exhort consumers to eat the same bread as Jackie. Fielding poses show a first baseman’s mitt, which Jackie would have used primarily in 1947.
Before proceeding to the second group of six, I want to highlight two photos in particular, one of which may be very familiar to non-collectors. Though the background has been removed and Jackie has even changed teams, the card of Jackie waving with his glove draws its image from this iconic photograph.
A second card among the six does some early “photoshopping” of a Montreal photo as well.
Much later in this article we will see yet another occasion where a Montreal photo is doctored for use on a Brooklyn card. For now, we will return to the other six cards in the set. Note here that all fielding poses show a standard infielder’s glove.
The “smoking gun” that places these cards (or at least one of them) after 1947 comes from the image on the last card, believed to source to a photograph taken just after this one. (Note Jackie’s cap has fallen a bit farther on the card and his body has separated more from his trailing arm.) If so, the card could not have been issued any earlier than July 2, 1949, the date the photograph was taken.
With the set no longer confined entirely to 1947, we arrive at several possibilities for its overall release schedule. Barring further information, I’d be inclined to settle on the first group of six cards coming out across the six months of the 1948 baseball season and the second group of six following suit in 1949.
“1948” OLD GOLD CIGARETTES
The situation with Jackie’s Old Gold cards is precisely the opposite as here collectors regard what may be two cards from 1947 as if they came out the following year.
As Anson Whaley notes in his article for Sports Collectors Daily, two clues on the card backs suggest a 1947 release.
Robinson is listed as 28 year old, which was only his age through January 30, 1948
His 1947 Rookie of the Year Award (announced September 19, 1947) is not listed among his career highlights
Certainly each of these clues could merely point to bios written ahead of time, hence do not point definitively to a 1947 release of the actual cards. Still, absent any information affirming a 1948 release, the clues are at least intriguing.
“1947″ PLEETWOOD SLACKS
Continuing the theme of uncertain dates is this rare 5″ x 8″ promotional issue from Pleetwood Slacks. While catalogued as a 1947 issue, I am unable to find any source that provides independent corroboration. Notably, the Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards indicates that “the  date of issue cited is conjectural.”
When I do find “hits” on Pleetwood Slacks, never mind Jackie, they only come in the Black press of late 1948, specifically October through December. Here is a typical example.
Perhaps information is out there somewhere establishing the Pleetwood Slacks card as a 1947 issue. In the meantime I’d just as soon date it to late 1948 where timing it’s would better match the print advertising campaign for the brand.
1947 CHAMP HATS
Collector and Hobby historian Bob Lemke (1941-2017) featured this 8 x 10 “card” as a new find on his blog in 2015.
As detailed on Bob’s blog, both Bob and the previously mentioned Sean Fyffe regarded 1947 as the most likely year for this piece.
1947 DODGERS TEAM PHOTO PACK
Many teams sold photo packs of their players and other personnel, going back to at least the 1930s. The 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers photo pack consisted of 25 photos, 6” x 9” in size, including this one of Jackie Robinson.
The image is a sharper and cleaner version of the ones used on his Bond and faux Bond issues and a reminder that many cards of the era used photos provided by the teams or their photographers. Furthermore, the presence and identical placement of Jackie’s signature on the Bond and pseudo-Bond cards leads me to wonder if those cards didn’t originate from the original photograph but from this photo pack card. Either way, I suspect the photo pack Jackie is the earliest of his various 1947 issues.
1947-66 EXHIBIT SUPPLY COMPANY
One of the most common and (formerly!) affordable early baseball cards of Jackie Robinson is his 1947-66 Exhibit Supply Company (Chicago, IL) postcard-sized issue. However, despite “1947” right there in the naming of the set, there is no evidence that Jackie’s exhibit cards date back that far.
Rather, the “1947-66” label simply means that the overall set of 300+ different cards spanned 20 years. The presence of later stars such as Aaron, Banks, and Kaline suffice to show that “1947” hardly applies to all players.
The Keyman Collectibles site provides a guide for the precise dating of Exhibit cards. Having reviewed more than a dozen so far, I have not yet run across a Robinson any earlier than 1948.
Side note: A 1948 release would have left plenty of time to find pictures of Jackie as a Dodger. However, the photograph used on the Exhibit card, as was the case with two of the Bond Bread cards, dates to 1946, as evidenced by Jackie’s Montreal uniform.
SUMMARY: THE JACKIE ROBINSON CARDS OF 1947
All told I’ve reviewed 22 different Jackie Robinson cards correctly or incorrectly associated with his Barrier Breaking debut season in Brooklyn. From this number, there are only three where I believe the 1947 dating is firmly established:
1947 Bond Bread multi-player set
1947 Bond Bread Jackie Robinson set – portrait with facsimile autograph
1947 Brooklyn Dodgers photo pack
For the reader only reasonably acquainted with the world of collectibles, it might seem a tame question to then ask which of these cards is Jackie Robinson’s rookie card. Could it really be that the answer is none of them!
EPILOGUE: JACKIE’S ROOKIE CARD
Modern collectors focus heavily (if not obsessively!) over the notion of a rookie card, particularly when the player concerned is a Hall of Famer. In a simpler world, a player would have one card for each year of his career, and the first such card would be his rookie card. In the real world, however, the situation is far murkier, complicated by any number of wrinkles, depending on the collector.
For example, any of the following may be treated as a disqualifying when it comes to rookie card status.
cards that pre-date a player’s major league status (e.g., a minor league card)
cards from minor, regional, unlicensed, or non-US releases
cards that aren’t really baseball cards (e.g., a postcard, mini-poster, or bobblehead)
cards with uncertain release dates
In the case of Jackie Robinson, all four of these come into play. While I did not feature it in this article due to its 1946 issue date, there is a highly sought after Parade Sportive newspaper insert featuring Jackie Robinson, which checks off each of the first three bullets above.
As for Jackie’s Bond Bread cards, many collectors regard the releases as too minor to warrant rookie card status. Add to that for many of them an uncertain release date as well. Ditto for Elgee Products, Old Gold Cigarettes, Pleetwood Slacks, and Champs Hats, with the latter two having only questionable baseball card status as well.
The Brooklyn photo pack card, which may well be first of Jackie as a Dodger, also challenges the most rigid definitions of “baseball card” while adding the potential disqualifier of a regional release. Finally, the Exhibit card is not quite a real baseball card to many collectors while also carrying uncertainty as to dating.
Also lacking card status to most collectors are the various Jackie Robinson buttons and pins that were popular among fans in the late 1940s. I omitted lengthier treatment in this article but will show six of them here.
The result of all this is that many collectors would not consider any of the Jackie Robinson cards profiled so far to be Jackie’s rookie card. Instead, the coveted label is most often applied to Jackie’s card from the set known popularly in the Hobby as 1948 Leaf.
“This is the only true rookie card of baseball’s first African-American representative and hero to all,” according to PSA, the Hobby’s largest grader and authenticator of trading cards.
Though my revenue, Hobby or otherwise, is a far cry from that of PSA, I nonetheless challenge this assertion. For one thing, despite the typical designation of the set as “1948 Leaf” (or sometimes 1948-49 Leaf), there are compelling reasons to believe the Robinson card (if not the entire set) dates to 1949.
1949 copyright date on the back of the card
Reference to Jackie’s 1948 statistics as “last season” on the back of the card
Standard Catalog entry indicating the set was “produced by Chicago’s Leaf Gum Co. for issue in 1949”
Hall of Fame and Beckett cataloguing of card as 1949
Erroneous dating aside, I’ll also note that the Leaf cards, at least of some players, were unlicensed, which can often be a rookie card disqualifier. That said, collectors tend to give the set a free pass on this point.
At any rate, if we regard the Leaf card as a rookie card, we should then confer rookie status on Jackie’s other significant release of the same year, issued as part of the 1949 Bowman set of 240 cards.
Alternatively, we might turn our attention to a card that genuinely does date to 1948, Jackie’s Sport Thrills card from Swell Bubble Gum.
From a rookie card perspective, this card beats Leaf and Bowman by a year, has unambiguous baseball card status as opposed to some of the other 1947-48 contenders, and originates from a more major release than its contemporaries and predecessors. At the same time, not all collectors treat the Sport Thrills set as major enough, and its focus on highlights rather than players equally reduces the appeal.
Ultimately, the question of Jackie’s true rookie card is a complicated one, confounded by the uncertain or erroneous dating of his early cardboard and curiously subjective notions like “major release” and “baseball card.” On one hand the lack of a definitive rookie card opens the door for individual collectors to apply their own criteria and judgment. On the other hand, the same fuzziness creates opportunities, intentional or accidental, to misrepresent and misinform. In the end, perhaps the only truism when it comes to Jackie’s rookie cards is this: If you have to ask, you can’t afford it!
Meet the new set, same as the old set. Or something like that.
You know what I’m talking about, right? Or maybe not. You were thinking this was about the new Topps cards? 😊 Don’t worry, we cover that too, courtesy of my friends Nick and Jeff.
Me? I’m here to channel my outrage at a card producer no longer even around to defend itself. Yes, I’m talking to you, Gum, Inc., as if your very name itself wasn’t a dead giveaway that originality would never be your hallmark. Shall we review the evidence?
PART ONE: 1939-41
The first Gum, Inc., baseball sets were released from 1939-41 under the Play Ball name. Here is the Joe DiMaggio card from the 1939 set.
While some collectors might refer to the card design as “classic” or “uncluttered,” let’s call it what it is: BORING!!! Just a black and white image on a nearly square piece of cardboard. No name, no team, no logo, no anything. This Play Ball brand will be lucky to last three years, give or take!
Gum, Inc., tried a little harder the following year, so I’ll give credit where due.
Though many collectors are lukewarm on the 1940 Play Ball set, I rather like the working of baseball equipment into the design around the nameplate, and I absolutely applaud the level of effort taken to toggle the images of nearly every repeated player from 1939. Ah, and who doesn’t love nearly every first name in quotes?
Of course, just when we thought the good folks at Gum, Inc., were poised to innovate, they go full-on MP & Company on us.
True, conventional wisdom has it that U.S. entry into World War II is what brought Gum, Inc., baseball offerings to a standstill, but all geopolitics aside could they really have lasted another year with such a tepid creative team? I mean, gosh, what was next in line? Returning the 1941 images to black and white? (TCMA imagined a different path for 1942 Play Ball but unoriginality remained a key feature.)
PART TWO: 1948-52
When Gum, Inc., resumed baseball card production in 1948, the world was a very different place, and change can of course be a scary thing for most. Fortunately, card collectors could take comfort in the fact that time had not simply stood still at Gum, Inc., but actually gone backward. For its 1948 Bowman card design, the Gum, Inc., team–either intentionally or unintentionally–brought back 1939 Play Ball.
About the only discernible change to the cards was the use of about a third less cardboard, best shown by turning the 1948 card sideways.
The 1949 cards shrunk even more while “innovating” on the 1939/1948 design in swapping a solid color background into each photograph and colorizing certain elements of the player image.
In later series, Gum, Inc., even went a little crazy and added names.
Teaming up with the George Moll advertising agency, the 1950 Bowman cards truly did something new and beautiful. I particularly enjoy the detailed baseball stadium scenes on some of the cards, complete with fans or sometimes “fan” as the case may be.
With no way to top the 1950 offering, Bowman adopted a “crop, don’t top” approach in 1951 for more than half of the players included in both sets.
Just for fun, here is a trio of 1951 Bowman cards superimposed on the same trio from 1950.
The 1952 cards continued the use of full color artwork and included my personal pick for the most gorgeous card of the entire decade. Facsimile autographs replaced the more pedestrian nameplate of the year before. If you couldn’t get an autographed photo of your favorite player, his 1952 Bowman card would have proved a worthy stand-in.
Unfortunately for Bowman, much like the Campanella card’s background, the writing was on the wall.
PART THREE: 1953-1955
While Topps had some baseball cards of their own in 1951 and even 1948, Topps really got serious in 1952 and ready to compete in earnest for baseball card supremacy. While the Bowman cards had their merits in 1952, the Topps cards were much larger, featured lifelike player images, and even included stats on the back.
How could Bowman possibly compete?
“Hey, guys. I have an idea. How about we make our 1953 cards were larger, feature lifelike player images, and even include stats on the back? Am I a genius or what?!”
The result was that in 1953 the Bowman cards looked even more like Topps than Topps did!
While Bowman played catchup in 1953, Topps took their cards in other directions, going with a rectangular nameplate in the corner and a trivia question on the back…
So naturally Bowman did the same in 1954.
Still, the Bowman design proved no match for the near perfect, three-bordered beast Topps put out that year.
Rather than try to imitate Topps or evolve an older offering of their own, Bowman produced their most original (though perhaps imitative) set of cards to date, and this baseball card revolution evidently would be televised.
Creativity at last, emphasis on last. Just as Bowman’s baseball card minds were beginning to think outside the box, the company was gobbled up by a manufacturer of…wait for it…boxes!
But wait, what’s this? Accounts of Bowman’s demise may have been greatly exaggerated? A shocking claim but then again the cardboard doesn’t lie.
1956 Topps, a collector favorite to be sure, but that landscape format…the reused player photos…another year of background action scenes…the facsimile signatures…undoubtedly the least original cards produced by Topps thus far, or to put it another way “the most Bowman!”
Gum, Inc., is dead. Long live Gum, Inc.
All kidding aside, Bowman really did make some comebacks in the Hobby after 1955. Topps brought the brand back to life in 1989 with a set that was at once reminiscent of the much acclaimed 1953 Bowman series and wholly despised.
Even today, Topps continues to pump out sets under the Bowman name with the 2021 Bowman’s Best offering even spawning the “Wandergate” controversy.
Certainly, hockey collectors of a certain age will recognize the strong influence of the 1955 Bowman baseball design on the 1966-67 Topps Hockey set.
Finally, readers may be aware of the 1956 Bowman baseball prototypes, which among other things clearly influenced the 1958 Hires Root Beer cards and perhaps even 1957 Topps football and 1960 Topps baseball.
As Faulkner wrote, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
The Cambridge Dictionary defines a collector as someone who collects objects because they are beautiful, valuable, or interesting. While all of that is true, I argue that an alternate definition is someone who collects objects because of an inherited trait, specifically the collecting gene.
My introduction to baseball came at a very young age. I attended my first ballgame at age 2 ½ and suspect I would have gone sooner if not for my father being in the service. But my first visit to Yankee Stadium was not my introduction to the greatest sport on earth. The broadcast of a Yankees game would often be heard coming from a radio in our Brooklyn apartment. And the rare treat of a televised game shone on our wood-encased television set.
Once my father was sure I was hooked on baseball, he introduced me to baseball cards. I was immediately smitten. There was no “What’s the point?” or fleeting attraction, only “When can I have more, Dad?” That question wasn’t asked in a greedy or spoiled-child kind of way. Neither would have been tolerated. I was simply a five-year-old fascinated by those beautiful 3.5” x 2.5” pieces of cardboard! They were a window into the larger world of baseball. The photos, the statistics, the player facts – all helped tell the story of the game with which I had fallen in love. Dad was thrilled that my interest in baseball extended beyond the stimulating sights and sounds of a game. He told me that we’d add to my collection a little at a time.
In those early collecting days, before any baseball chatter tied to newly acquired cards, there was always a lesson about the importance of treating my cards with respect and keeping them safe. I didn’t even hear of flipping or putting cards in bicycle spokes until my family moved to a new neighborhood and I met friends with older brothers. And of course, I was horrified by both practices. By the time I was six, we were examining Hostess boxes to find one with cards I didn’t already have. Even earlier than that came the blind hunt for Kellogg’s cereal cards. New packs were always the most fun, though. Whether they were picked out during a trip to buy the Sunday newspaper on the way home from church, or left by the Easter Bunny or Santa, packs were (and still are) bundles of wonder waiting to be unwrapped. Dad and I would open them together and discuss. The conversations ranged from interesting facts about the players or a ballpark or a team’s history to math lessons using the stats on the card backs.
Dad would often springboard from discussing a current player to a story about someone he saw play when he was my age. So, it was inevitable that an inquisitive child like me would eventually ask “Dad, where are your baseball cards?” His face changed. My father explained to me that he kept his cards in excellent condition with each set neatly arranged. All were organized in shoe boxes – no rubber bands, no miscellaneous junk – and they were always put away safely on the shelf in his closet. He left them there when he left with his newlywed bride for Puerto Rico to serve in the United States Navy. When he and my mom returned three years later with a toddler daughter in tow (me), they temporarily moved in with my paternal grandmother. As Dad was unpacking he noticed the empty shelf in his closet. He didn’t panic at first. He thought that my grandmother had relocated his treasured baseball card collection to make room in the closet for some of my mom’s things. (You know what’s coming, right?) Sadly, he was wrong. My grandmother put the entire collection out with the trash because she didn’t think that a grown man with a family would still be interested in his childhood toys. My heart sank.
I’m certain that Dad would have introduced me to baseball cards even if his collection had survived. And I don’t think I could love baseball cards any more than I already do. But I wonder if I might love them differently had I been able to hold Dad’s ’51 Topps Monte Irvin or ’50 Bowman Gil Hodges or ’52 Topps Mickey Mantle. I’ll never know.
What I do know is that I spent many memorable hours with my father building my baseball card collection. Whether it was searching for a team set at a minor league ballpark or sorting cards at the dining room table, there was always joy in baseball cards. Some of my most memorable card-hunting experiences are tied to the plethora of card shows my dad and I attended in the 1980s and early 1990s. Not only were there players to meet (from Hall of Famers to current stars), but these were my first chances to see the cards from my father’s childhood in person. I still get goosebumps when I’m in the presence of 1950s cardboard.
Last year I started building a 1950s baseball card collection of my own. My first three acquisitions were Gil Hodges cards. Hodges was my father’s first favorite ballplayer and I could think of no more fitting way to start my vintage collection. (It’s difficult for me to identify cards I obtained new as a child as “vintage!”) I still love my Topps Allen & Ginter and my annual factory set and Heritage Minors and so many other modern cards, but I’ve learned that no baseball cardboard can give me the same warm fuzzies as the cards that were ultimately responsible for my collecting gene’s orders being followed exactly as they were. Here’s to my dad and to my new vintage baseball card adventure!
One of my oldest card collecting projects dates back to college and began, if I remember correctly, with a book I no longer have. The book was one of many along the theme of “baseball’s greatest players” but was particularly nice in that it included full-page photographs of every player.
In a move that perhaps foretold my joining SABR 30 years later, my roommate and I made copies of 50 of the pictures and arranged them nearly floor to ceiling to create our apartment’s own “Wall of Fame.” I recall we even put some care into the ordering of the players with the occasional new insight from “Total Baseball” prompting a reordering ceremony from time to time.
Soon after, we also began pinning our best baseball cards onto bulletin boards. (Don’t panic. The pins only went thru the penny sleeves.) Thanks to the Kit Young mail order catalog and a dealer named “Big John” who frequented local shows, we were able to update our Boards quite frequently. Naturally, any change to the Board was a major event in our apartment.
Following our graduation, my roommate eventually moved south and I moved north, which spelled the end of my Board. As remains the case today, most of my joy in collecting involved sharing the Hobby with others. In my new environment I didn’t have any friends who collected, so my grad school décor switched to Neil Young and Crazy Horse.
Fast forward two decades to 2014. I lived alone much of the week, had all kinds of time on my hands, and had just realized you could buy almost any baseball card you wanted on the internet. Unlike my college days where I made $6 an hour grading math homework, I now had a “real job,” hence real money to spend. This of course meant only one thing.
The Board was back!
Or should I say the Boards were back? I went with two display cases to fill side by side, setting the table (or rather the wall) for what I now call my “Top 100” project. Both Boards have seen numerous changes over the past eight years, typically prompted by a desire to add a player or set I didn’t already have.
For example, just last week I was able to swap out my 1935 Diamond Stars Joe Medwick card for his card from the 1938 Goudey set, thereby adding another classic set to my display. (Insert your own bad pun about getting my Duckies in a row.)
This Board and the 1958-81 version that hangs next to it are favorites in my collection for a couple reasons. One is simply that the cards themselves are wonderful. The other is that these Boards connect my present day collecting to my past. What else in my life did I begin at age 20 that I’m still working on past age 50? Among that which is tangible on this Earth, only myself and my card collection, and certainly more the latter if we’re being honest.
Even beyond the two reasons given, there is a third reason these Boards are as central as they are to my collection. Simply put, the Board uniquely defines who I am as a collector. As with fingerprints, I suspect no two collectors would ever possess the same Board. Really, who would even dispute such a claim, particularly if the collections in question amounted to 50 or 100 cards? However, I tend to think the claim holds even limited to five cards.
Following the craze of this past month or so, here is what my cardle might look like. (Two new cards from other displays make an appearance here.)
What would your cardle be?
Same card (player AND set) as mine: Give yourself a green!
Same player (different set) as mine: Give yourself a yellow!
Naturally I’ll look forward to seeing your results all over my social feeds. 😊