The ’51 Roberto Avila Bowman Card

I know it’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but when I saw on the table I had to have it!  It was the 1951 Bowman Roberto Avila card, number 188.  A number of years ago, I think at the Long Beach SABR convention, there was a guy at a table selling cards.  I made note of the Avila card, sitting there with prominent colors of red, white and blue.  Not being a Cleveland Indians fan, but more a fan of the Latino pioneer, who I have studied for quite some time.

I liked the old-style painting presentation, versus the usual photo one would see in later years.  It was colorful with the Indian mascot pictured almost in the center of the card.  I wondered if that’s how the Vera Cruz, Mexico-native really looked at that time.  At 24 years of age in 1951, the painting on the card made him look more like a 12 year old!

According to the Official Baseball Card Price Guide – 1990 Collector’s Edition, the 1951 Bowman series was a 324-card set, the company’s largest issue up to that date. While the cards of this set had typically measured 2 1/16” by 3 1/8”, my Avila appears as only 2” by 3 1/8”.  As you can see, it’s not centered and probably cut.  But still, it’s kinda cool to me.

The back of the card, grayish in appearance with red and blue print, reading:

“The 1950 season was Roberto’s third in organized baseball.  He appeared in 80 games for the Indians, getting 60 hits and driving in 21 runs.  His batting average was .299.  Starting with Baltimore, International League, in 1948, he got into 56 games batting .220. With the Indians, 1949, he was only in 31 games.  His average fell to .214.  But in 1950, with added playing chances, he proved able to hit.”

It’s a nice narrative of his past seasons.  You might not get such commentary with the usual bland stats.  The other thing of note is that Bowman refers to him as “Roberto” versus “Bobby”.  I’ve written on the ridiculousness of Americanizing Latino player names in previous postings.  Topps has been guilty of this for years during this era.  Though, in doing a quick search of the listings in other years, Bowman calls him “Bob” 1954 and “Bobby” in 1955!  Grrr!!

Moving on, the website PSAcard.com provides a Sports Market Report (SRM) Price Guide with value and card condition.  The prices range from $12 for excellent condition to $350 for mint condition.  Since my guy here is not centered, but has sharp corners and a fairly clear picture, I’m guessing it’s in the $12 range.  Pretty much what I paid for it several years ago.  I’m not grousing, but I do find it interesting.  It’s the intrinsic value that matters most to me.  And with this card, there’s a story of a Latino pioneer to tell.

Bowman v. Topps: Winning the Battle and Losing the War

In my first contribution to this outstanding blog, I want to offer this summary of the litigation between Bowman and Topps that ultimately led to Bowman’s departure from the marketplace despite winning a federal circuit court decision over Topps. As an emeritus law professor, I hope to cover legal aspects of the industry as well as my own personal feelings as a collector for sixty years.

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1953 Bowman
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1953 Topps

For many of us, the “golden age of baseball cards” started in the decade following the end of World War II with the two primary companies of the era – the Bowman Gum Company and the Topps Chewing Gum Company emerging in the late 1940s to compete head-to-head in the early 1950s. As the fight for sales heated up in drug and candy stores, the two companies squabble over the contractual rights to the use of players’ pictures landed the two in federal court in New York.

The litigation that initially began with Haelen Laboratories, Inc., who acquired Bowman in 1952, suing Topps claiming unfair competition, trademark infringement, and a breach of exclusive contractual rights ultimately established the foundation for a newly named legal right – the right of publicity. Topps won the first round in the Eastern District of New York in a decision rendered by Judge Clarence G. Galston on May 25, 1953, involving a very technical aspect of whether or not Haelen had a “property interest” allowing it to proceed against Topps instead of pursuing a breach of contract actions against individual players for breaching their exclusive contracts.

On appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Jerome Frank noted that Topps was guilty of the tort of causing certain players to breach their exclusive contracts. More importantly for the development of the law, however, Frank went further determining that “We think that, in addition to and independent of that right of privacy . . . a man has a right in the publicity value of his photograph … i.e., the right to grant the exclusive privilege of publishing his picture … This right might be called a “right of publicity.”

Topps filed an appeal with the United States Supreme Court. On October 13, 1953, the Court refused to accept the appeal. While legal wrangling continued between the two parties, Haelen was acquired by Connelly Containers, Inc. They had little interest in card and gum business and settled with Topps in early 1956. So, despite their rival gaining the stronger legal claim, Topps ultimately emerged as the business victor in the fight between the two parties.

One of my favorite sets turned out to be Bowman’s last – the 1955 “color television set” cards.

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For a detailed discussion of the litigation, I strongly encourage you to read an article by my good friend Gordon Hylton titled “Baseball Cards and the Birth of the Right of Publicity: The Curious Case of Haelen Laboratories v. Topps Chewing Gum” published in volume 12 of the Marquette Sports Law Review available at this link.

 

Editor’s note:  Ed is a law professor at Notre Dame has written extensively on the intersection of baseball an the law, including in this book.  Follow him at @epedmondsNDLS.

Father’s Day 1976 Topps #69 Jim & Mike Hegan

Father’s Day is nearing and it got me thinking of baseball dads & sons who are on cardboard.

1954 Topps #29 Jim Hegan

As I mentioned last week, in preparation for the SABR 47 Jim Bouton panel, I recently reread “Ball Four”. One of the entries that reminded me of a Baseball card occurred on March 28th. The subject of the passage is Pilots outfielder Mike Hegan, who is a recurring character throughout the book.

The paragraph is interesting for several reasons. The connections between golf and baseball are pretty strong. Just last week Tim Jenkins mentioned that Hawk Harrelson retired from baseball to pursue a professional golf career. There are also several stories of mothers helping sons learn the game, and they are often noteworthy. But, to me, the most interesting portion relates to Mike Hegan’s father Jim. I knew Mike’s father played baseball because in 1976 at the heart of the collecting days of my youth Topps dropped a Father and Son subset.

1976 Topps #69 Father & Son Jim & Mike Hegan (b-side)

I want to start with the B-Side of this card because this continues the discussion of Mike Hegan’s parents. The text regarding Jim Hegan that is credited to Mike does mention his father being a great influence, however the younger Hegan is also careful to note that this is not just in baseball but in life as well. When Mike actually does mention getting tips on the game of baseball it is only in the context of other players including Hall of Famer Bob Lemon. Perhaps I am reading too much into this but this version of Mike Hegan does correlate with the observations of Ball Four. Jim Hegan was a Ballplayer but didn’t stress baseball at home. If there was an baseball influence there it came from elsewhere – quite likely Mikes mother Clare.

1976 Topps #69 Father & Son Jim & Mike Hegan

A real nice design for these cards, the vintage card of the father balanced with a contemporary photo of the current player is a perfect balance for the subset theme.

1976 is the third consecutive year that Topps included a subset that featured insets of earlier cards on a current card. In 1974 Topps the Hank Aaron Subset which leads off flagship includes several cards with four-up panels of Topps cards from the new Home Run King’s career. The following year 1975 Topps featured the 24 card MVP subset which will always be one of my favorites.

The 1976 Father&Son subset consist of 5 Cards that run from #66-#70. Two of the cards belong to families that would feature a third generation of MLB players and both of these cards have Phillies ties. First is Ray and Bob Boone (#67) who of course are related to Bret and Aaron Boone. The other is #66 Gus and Buddy Bell, and we know that David spent a few forgettable years with the Phillies. The other two cards feature the Sr./Jr. combos of Roy Smalleys and Joe Colemans.

1985 Topps

1985 topps #132 Father & Son Yogi and Dale Berra

Topps returned to the Father-Sons in 1985 with a 13 card subset. The Boones, Bells and Smalleys all made the cut for the second round. Other notables include SABR 47 Panel Subject Yogi Berra with son Dale, Tito and Terry Francona, and SABR 45 (Chicago) guest panelist Steve Trout with his father Dizzy.

One of the guests scheduled for the Yogi Berra Panel is journalist Lindsay Berra who is the granddaughter of Yogi and Niece of Dale Berra. Her father Larry played minor league baseball in the Mets organization.

Sources and Links

Jim Hegan SABR Bio Rick Balazs

Mike Hegan SABR Bio Joseph Wancho

Ball Four

Baseball Card Database

Baseball-ref

SABR 47 Checklist

In preparation for SABR 47 which is just a few weeks a way I have been trying to put together a checklist of cards related to the panels and presentations scheduled for this years conference. The use of the term checklist is a bit of a misnomer here, as this list is nowhere near comprehensive. It is more of a selection of cards that I find interesting that are also related to the subjects at SABR47.

Jim Bouton

Once I saw Jim Bouton was on the schedule re-reading “Ball Four” jumped to the front of my to-do list. I have read the books several times, once as a teenager, again in my 30s, and currently on the edge of my 50s. The book is the most interesting to me now – a large part of that is I have learned more about the Bouton/Seattle Pilots era via card collecting. Also today a lot more information is at your fingertips, I have checked into box scores, stats, and SABR Bios on a few dozen players while reading the book. As a more mature reader I have found parts of the book a little disconcerting, Bouton’s brashness that I found attractive in my youth now seems self-centered and arrogant. There is also the objectification of women which sometimes makes me cringe. The tell-all aspect of “Ball Four” may have been shocking at the time, to a young person today the books revelations may seem trivial – but I can easily see Bouton’s teammates getting upset with the books revelations. In some ways I think he did break some locker room ethics.

1962 Topps #592 Rookie Parade

I picked out Jim Bouton’s rookie card to represent the Pitcher and Author. The card is shared with another player noted for his off the field behavior Bo Belinsky. For the first time, Topps elected to put rookies on shared cards. It is a good idea to squeeze more players into the set but one of the unfortunate results is that the RCs of many future HOFs end upon shared cards (Stargell, Schmidt, Molitor, Rice, Carew, Sutton, Joe Morgan, Gary Carter etc.)

The 1962 Rookie Parade cards run in sequence as an eight card subset that runs from #591 – #598. While none of the cards contain Hall of Famers they do reside at the end of the final series of 1962 Topps and are somewhat scarce. The Bouton card at #592 is the second card in the subset – If you think in terms of numerical precedence this means he is featured on the 2nd Multi-player Rookie card issued by Topps. The Biggest Name on the first card #591 is Sam McDowell. That card also features Ron Taylor, Dick Radatz, Art Quirk, and Ron Nischwitz. Other notables in the set include Bob Uecker (#595), and a couple of Ball Four Luminaries Joe Pepitone (#596) and Denis Menke (#597). The full list can be found at the bottom of the checklist at Cardboard Connection.

1965 Topps #137 Bouton Wins Again

My favorite Bouton Card is from the 1965 Topps World Series Subset. You can read my thoughts on that card here.

Orlando Hernandez

1998 Bowman Chrome International #221

The Latino Baseball Committee is hosting Peter Bjarkman who was featured in the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Brothers in Exile” about Cuban brothers Livan and Orlando Hernandez. I picked out a fun one here. One of the insert sets common to Bowman features the player photo overlaying an image of a map of the country or state from which the player hails. Topps has also done this with flags in the background rather than maps.

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1998 Bowman Chrome International #221 (b-side)

In addition to the map of Cuba, the international flavor of the card carries through to the back which is written in Spanish.

SABR 47 Checker

Those are just two of the cards I thought of when perusing the schedule for SABR 47. A check of other cards would including the following and many more. If you have other favorites post them in the comments. It will give collectors the opportunity to look at their collection from a different angle and in context of the SABR convention.

1953 Topps #1 Jackie Robinson (Jackie Robinson Panel)

1954 Topps #104 Mike Sandlock (RP18 Charlie Dressen’s Pacific All Stars Tour of 1945)

1961 Topps #472 MVP Yogi Berra (Yogi Berra Panel)

1970 Topps #1 New York Mets (George Vescey)

1976 SSPC #37 Dennis Eckersly RC (Keith Olbermann)

1981 Topps #291 Ken Landreaux (Olbermann)

1988 Topps #267 Billy Bean (RP24 Emasculating Rituals of MLB Players)

2002 UD Vintage Day at the Park #DP2 Derek Jeter (A Day at the Ballpark Special Session)

2010 Topps #41 Dodgers Franchise History (RP26 Happy Felton’s Knothole Gang)

2014 Topps #273 Mark DeRosa (MLB Now Panel)

 

Sources and Links

Phungo

Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards – Bob Lemke

Cardboard Connection

Check Out My Cards

Ball Four

Baseball-Reference

Popcorn Cards

 

Fans who attended Pacific Coast League games between 1954 and 1968 at Seattle’s Sicks’ Stadium had the opportunity to collect cards featuring Rainiers and Angels players, managers and coaches. These 2”X 3” glossy, black-and-white cards were imbedded in boxes of popcorn, protected by a translucent sleeve of waxed paper.

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341 cards were produced over the entire 15 year run. 1959 saw the most cards produced (37), ’63 the least (15) with most years in the high teens or low twenties. Depending on the year, the card backs were either blank or had an advertisement. Almost every set has variations which include: misspelled names, wrong positions, blank backs instead of ads and cards with different pictures of the same player. The most prominent error card is the ’57 Maury Wills, which refers to him as “Morrie.” No collector is known to possess all the cards, although some are close.

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Few would argue that Seattle’s most beloved ball player is Fred Hutchinson. He was a schoolboy sensation who moved across the street from Franklin High School to Sicks’ Stadium after graduation. Fred won 25 games for the 1938 Rainiers with victory 19 coming on his 19th birthday. “Hutch” returned to manage the Rainiers in ’55 and ’59 resulting in two cards.

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Besides “Hutch” several other former major league players served as manager. Lefty O’Doul ‘57 and Bob Lemon ‘66 are two well know examples. Connie Ryan, Johnny Pesky, Mel Parnell, Chuck Tanner and Joe Adcock all had stints as Seattle’s skipper.

Artie Wilson

Artie Wilson, who had a brief career with the New York Giants, integrated the Rainiers-along with Bob Boyd-in ’52.

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Vada Pinson ‘57, and Rico Petrocelli ‘64 are two of many Rainiers and Angels who went on to have long major league careers. Vern Stephens, Larry Jansen, Claude Osteen, Andy Messersmith and Jay Johnstone are additional examples of players whose likenesses could be found amongst the kernels.

Pattin Angels

Marty Pattin ‘66 is one of five Angels who became Pilots when Seattle went “big league” in ‘69. 

58 Orteig

Ray Orteig is representative of the many career minor league players with cards. The stalwart catcher had four cards over the years. He owned a night club and tavern near my home town.

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Next time you dig into a box of popcorn at the ballpark, check closely. Guido Grilli may be lurking under the kernels.

 

The Johnny Lindell Mystery

Baseball cards are touchstones; evoking childhood memories and pleasurable collecting experiences. A favorite player’s exploits or a key acquisition to complete a set can be conjured up with just a glance. Also certain cards can take you to a specific time and place. The 1949 Leaf Johnny Lindell is such a card.

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The Lindell card transports me back to the early ‘70s. My best friend at school told me a story about exploring an abandoned house. The old man who lived there had recently died. Of course he made it sound as the gentleman had died in the house, resulting in the certainty of it being haunted.  I subsequently learned that the man died in a nursing home.

The friend stated that the contents left in the dwelling were strewn about-probably by him-with most of the stuff dumped on the floor. There, in a cardboard box, he found, amongst other things, the Johnny Lindell card. Applying the “finders keepers” rule, my buddy laid claim to the card.

It goes without saying that my “collector’s gene” kicked in immediately. I negotiated a trade giving the friend some current cards in exchange. The card was nowhere near mint condition, but it was by far my oldest card. From that day forward, I’ve often pondered why it was in the house.

“Kids living in the house” is the most logical explanation for the card ending up on the shack’s floor. This ramshackle place undoubtedly saw many migrant families come-and-go. Central Washington has experienced waves of immigrants and emigrants trying to escape poverty by taking advantage of plentiful agriculture jobs. My parents and grandparents were part of the “Ozark Diaspora” in the ‘40s and ‘50s. The child collector theory is plausible, but the card was at least 22 years old at the time and apparently no other cards were present in the house.

It is possible that the old man had a special affinity for Johnny Lindell. After all he was a hero of the 1947 World Series in which he batted .500. Maybe the man remembered Johnny as a “war era” star since his deferment kept him playing through ’44 against weak competition.

How a ’49 Leaf Johnny Lindell ending up in crumbling house in Selah, Washington will always remain a mystery. However, it serves as a great example of the memories a single card can evoke. The accompanying photo is the actual card.

The ’49 Leaf cards measure 2 3/8 x 2 7/8 with 98 in the set. The background features bright colors with a colorized photo. This colorization process is primitive with a limited blue and red uniform pallet. The player’s face is painted with flesh tones.

To learn more about Johnny Lindell’s career, check out Rob Neyer’s BioProject biography.

A Card Too Far

The vast majority of my collection consists of either (a) complete sets, or (b) sets I am working on. I completed 1968 through 1971 in the 1980s, and in the past 30 years I have managed to push it all the way back to … 1964.

I do not work on one set a time — I work (slowly and randomly) on a bunch of things, which gives me more flexibility when I see an affordable lot. I might go months without buying anything, and then see some 1954 Topps commons that look great. I have no timetable. I would be content not finishing another set. We shall see.

Here is where I stand at the moment on my 1952-63 Topps sets.

Year Total Have Need %
1952 407 33 374 8%
1953 274 42 232 15%
1954 250 56 194 22%
1955 206 46 160 22%
1956 340 207 133 61%
1957 407 243 164 60%
1958 495 300 195 61%
1959 572 360 212 63%
1960 572 348 224 61%
1961 587 472 115 80%
1962 598 508 90 85%
1963 576 543 33 94%

I have 23 1952 cards, and I have 543 1963 cards.

Logically, 1963 seems like the next set that I should finish — look how close I am! But it’s just not gonna happen.

One of the cards I need is #537.

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I have nothing against Pete Rose. Or, for that matter, Ken McMullen, Al Weis, and Pedro Gonzalez. Heck, I liked Pete Rose as a player, and I wish we had a player like him around today. He gambled a bit? Zzzzz.

But I consider this a rather ordinary card, perhaps even a bit ugly. I like the 1963 base design quite a bit, but I gotta be blunt here: the rookies and leaders subsets, both of which employ the “floating heads” technique, are pretty lame. (Do people disagree? Anyone?)

If I am patient enough, and compromise a bit on condition, I might be able to find this card for $500. We all have our budgets, but I just can’t see myself spending $500 for this. Its probably worth $5-10 to me as a card, and perhaps as much as $50 as a “I must complete this set!” card.

But if I have $500 laying around (spoiler: I really don’t), I could instead buy all of these 1955 cards (also “needed”) in the same condition.

Oh, and I’d have about $250 left over. Not really a difficult call for me.

I first heard of the concept of the “rookie card” almost 40 years ago, when a dealer explained to me why some of his cards seemed to be oddly priced. I thought, and still think, the whole thing is contrived. There was no increased demand for a Rose rookie card until dealers jacked the price up.

Dealers: “This card is scarce and desirable.”

Collectors: “OK, I must buy this card.”

Dealers: “Cool, its now actually a bit scarce.”

Its a not a card anyone would otherwise care about.

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But even if there is additional demand for the first Pete Rose card, wouldn’t this be a better choice? For my money, this is actually Pete Rose’s first real card. Isn’t this, objectively, 10 times the card of the 1963 … thing? This is one heck of nice card, to be honest. And it is less than 20% of the price.

I like the multi-person rookie cards that came along later in the decade. They are a fun subset, like the World Series cards or the league leaders cards. But the “demand” for them is way overblown and makes set collecting unnecessarily expensive.

The Nolan Ryan rookie card is a cute little addition to the 1968 set. But the Bob Gibson (the best player in baseball at the time) is absolute magic.