In several previous posts (too many for most of you!), I have highlighted Topps’ tendency to recycle photos. The Major League Baseball Players Association boycott of Topps in 1967-68 exacerbated this practice, but earlier examples abound. My latest obsession is focused on the 1960s cards of Juan Marichal.
In either 1960 or 1961, a photo session took place in San Francisco at Candlestick Park, which opened in 1960. The photographer captured three different poses of Marichal. The photos are distinctive due to Juan’s white undershirt.
Since the undergarment does not have a collar, it appears to be a rubberized jacket seen frequently on vintage cards whose photos were taken in spring training. The shirt was designed to help “burn off” fat accumulated over the winter. However, in this instance, the slender Dominican is undoubtedly using it for insulation, to ward off the Arctic like conditions at Candlestick Park. Also, it is a good bet that Marichal was not starting that evening. The white sleeves would have been deceptive to the hitters.
The first use of the white sleeve photos shows up on Juan’s 1962 card. He is shown with his arms above his head. 1963 has Juan in a slightly turned stretch position. The small black and white photo on the 1963 card reuses the 1962 picture.
In 1964, the third pose is used. This straight on shot turns up on Juan’s “Stand Up” card as well. The 1962 image makes a comeback on the Pitching Leaders card, while the 1963 Topps pose is used on the Wheaties Stamp.
Topps was far from done using the photos. The 1964 image turns up on the 1968 checklist as well as Juan’s Bazooka cards from 1965 and 1968. Meanwhile the 1963 Topps pose turns up on the 1967 checklist and 1965 Pitching Leaders card.
We are not done yet. The 1962 photo spans the decades and appears on the 1970 Pitching Leaders card.
Sometime prior to 1965, Topps snapped three additional photos, probably in spring training. Although it is hard to prove definitively, the pictures were probably taken at the same time, due to the mock turtleneck undershirt in all three.
Topps will recycle two of the three portraits. Juan’s partially turned headshot is found on the 1965 card, the 1966 ERA Leaders, the 1967 ERA and Pitching Leaders cards, and the 1967 poster insert. The same image returns on the Deckle Edge insert in 1969.
The second photo, depicting Marichal holding a ball, is used on the 1964 coin insert and the 1966 Bazooka.
The third image may be the best of all. The 1964 “Giant” shows a smiling Juan. I could not find another instance of this one being reused.
Topps put out the recycling again, using a newer photo taken a Candlestick. It is used on the 1967 and 1968 cards, the 1969 Pitching Leaders and the 1969 and 1970 Transogram.
Of course, Juan Marichal is not unique in having reused images. The League Leader cards have many duplicate images of star players. I still find it interesting that an image can show up eight years after it first appeared.
As a player postcard aficionado, it has always bothered me that some checklists have fallen into broad-based categories such as ranges of year or types (usually based on uniform, printing styles, etc.). And to be fair, most of these items were issued haphazardly, even by the teams themselves- poses were repeated, “sets” were sold that amounted to mongrels of past issues, and many of the cards lacked basic indicia.
Recently, a contributor to Trading Card Database (TCDB) started a list called “1950-80 JD McCarthy St. Louis Cardinals Postcards,” which I felt was much too broad, given the specific nature of most of the checklists that comprise the site. JD McCarthy, the Michigan-based prolific baseball postcard producer (as well some football, hockey, and horse racing) published over 2000 items during his career, of all teams, not just the Cardinals.
So that got my juices flowing.
Fortunately, I’m friends with Bob Thing of Maine, a legendary collector who’s always had a soft spot for team-issued postcards and photos. I visited Bob in June of 2020 with my scanner, and took photos of his entire collection, which is short only a handful of known cards. Perhaps more importantly, he showed me three checklists of McCarthy postcards which were done in the 1960s by another legend, Charles “Buck” Barker of St. Louis, of which I had not been previously aware. That, combined with the massive list done by Rich Suen of California (aided by the late Dan Even of Dubuque, IA) would form the foundation of my new project- associating years with these cards.
Barker’s lists were done in May of 1963, June of 1964, and December of 1966. While not perfect, they figured to give me some guidelines as to what was done when, at least from the early 1950s to 1966. Coupled with some baseball knowledge, other images from TCDB.com, my copy of Marc Okkonen’s Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century, and some common sense, I figured I could at least come up with good guesstimates for most of what was out there.
After the cards were scanned, I started grouping cards by era and approximate year. Working on the premise that McCarthy probably didn’t make many special trips (especially outside of going to Tiger Stadium) for the sake of taking photos of one player, I began to see similarities in pose locations and photo exposures. Using players who only played for one season with a team helped me connect veterans to certain years.
The St. Louis Cardinals players were not big customers of Mac’s, likely because the team issued photocards regularly during this era. The version of the Suen Checklist that I’ve been using lists 42 cards, and Thing had 37 of them, minus a Ken Boyer, a Ray Sadecki, a Curt Simmons, and two variations of Dick Groat.
Seven players played only one season with the Cardinals, making them easy to date- Al Cicotte (1961), Gino Cimoli (1959), Vic Davalillo (1969), Leon Durham (1980), Minnie Minoso (1962), Jerry Morales (1978) but with two different cards, and Carl Taylor (1970).
I was intrigued by Hall of Famer Steve Carlton’s card, which looked to be taken at Wrigley Field. He’s wearing a pullover away jersey, and according to Okkonen’s book, the first year the Cards wore them was 1971, Lefty’s last year with the team. Lou Brock’s card, also taken at Wrigley, fit as a match in terms of pose location and uniform.
Nelson Briles looked to me as if it were taken at the same time as the Carl Taylor, so I attributed it to 1970, which turned out to be Briles’ last year in St. Louis.
Curt Flood had a long run with Cardinals, of course, so he might be difficult. Here’s where Barker’s lists came in handy. There is no mention of Flood’s card in any of them. Therefore, there’s a good chance that the card is from 1967-1969. I posted it as a 1967.
The photo of Bob Gibson is a pretty popular one. I’ve seen it on color 8x10s over the years, and I believe it’s one of the postcards that was reproduced plentifully in the 1980s when hobbyists got hold of McCarthy’s printing plates. Because Barker’s lists do not mention any Gibson cards and because he’s wearing a button up uniform, the (original) postcard can be connected with a 1967-70 time frame. I posted it, too, as a 1967, for lack of any other clues. Maybe someone can use his sideburns to further specify a date?
There are 13 cards which are from the late 1970s to 1980. For most of them, tossing a coin could just as easily determine the year from one to the next. Because Jim Kaat’s career in St. Louis started in 1980 and because it seems McCarthy’s work was diminishing by then, I assigned 1980 to the left-hander’s card.
As his career was winding down, Darold Knowles spent 1979 and 1980 with the Birds. He has two different cards, and I felt the one with his hands on his knees was a sibling of the Kaat. That meant the other pose was 1979, given the unlikely chance that he ordered more than one batch of postcards from Mac a year.
Acquired in the winter of 1975, Pete Falcone went on to pitch three seasons in St. Louis. However, judging from team-issued photos, it looks like he had a beard in the spring of 1976. Therefore, I assigned 1977 to this less-hirsute postcard.
Tom Herr got 10 at-bats with the club in 1979. Logic dictates that he probably didn’t have enough of a firm footing in the big leagues to orders postcards until the following year. I decided to piggyback two other cards with Herr, based on looks- Dane Iorg and Mark Littell. Could I be off a year on those two? Absolutely.
Catcher Terry Kennedy got into 10 games in 1978 as a September call-up and 33 games in 1979 as a spare part from June to September before the 1980 season, when he participated in 84 contests. Since he was traded following that campaign, I figured 1980 was the best fit for this postcard.
Tom Bruno was acquired on March 18, 1978 from Toronto and spent the next two seasons on the Cardinals staff before being released at the end of Spring Training, 1980. Two days after Bruno was released, the Redbirds parted ways with veteran OF-PH Roger Freed. Neither would ever play in the Majors again. Since it is also unlikely that, two weeks before the end of 1978 spring training, McCarthy would have been in St. Petersburg to shoot Bruno and that either would have produced cards after being given their walking papers, I’m attaching 1979 to both. Maybe Freed is off by a year, as he spent 1977-79 on the roster.
This is the part where the hand-banging and nit-picking begin. Here’s three-quarters of the Cardinals infield at the end of the 1970s- Keith Hernandez (first base), Mike Tyson (second base), and Garry Templeton (shortstop). Tyson was gone after 1979. I decided to categorize them as 1979, only because it seems other players with similar photos were taken that year.
Dick Groat joined the Cardinals in 1963 and played three seasons before being dealt to the Phillies. Buck Barker’s second list has Groat as the lone addition from St. Louis to his update. Over time, five versions of the card have been reported. Check out the placement of the JM logo in each of the cards to the left- white lettered logo to the left, white lettered log left and black lettered logo right on the same card, and black lettered right- each with cropping differences. For now, they are all classified as 1963s until someone can help differentiate by year.
With one year player Gino Cimoli as the guide, I grouped together under 1959 these three players based on poses, facsimile autographs, and service time with the club- Ken Boyer, Gene Green, and Ray Jablonski.
Similarly, I took the same approach with these three, which I considered from 1960- Ken Boyer, Ronnie Kline (whose first year with St. Louis was 1960), and Curt Simmons (who also debuted with that year.) Interestingly, the Simmons card is an ad back for a hotel he co-owned in Wildwood Crest, NJ with Philadelphia Eagles running back Pete Retzlaff.
No mention of utilityman Phil Gagliano in Barker’s lists, so that starts the guessing at 1967, and he was with them until 1970. I’ll call it 1967.
Which brings us to the greatest Cardinal of them all, Stan “The Man” Musial. Surprising, no mention of it among Barker’s checklists. Interesting, considering the top player postcard collectors of the day were after these cards. In addition to Barker and Even, hobbyists Bob Solon and Elwood Scharf contributed to the lists. All four had strong Midwest connections.
St. Louis wore that uniform style from 1958-61. However, the cards I’ve catalogued as 1959 and 1960 were made from photos that were signed in felt marker of some kind, and this one is free of signature. Of course, Musial was a big enough star that McCarthy would make a special trip solely to take photos of him if requested.
If I operate on the premise that the card wasn’t published until 1967 because it doesn’t appear on Barker’s list, what would explain its existence? Was it done at behest of Musial post-retirement? The name in the white box might suggest mid-1960s in terms of publication.
For now, in deference to Barker and his compatriots, I’m listing it as a 1967 until I can be convinced otherwise.
I hope that seeing this article inspires anyone with a collection of McCarthy postcards to check out the backs for possible postmarks. I’m no expert in philately, but it seems that it became rare to have these cards used traditionally after the mid-1960s. Presumably, the player stuck the card in an envelope and sent it on its way. Those postmarks can be valuable when it comes to dating these pieces, especially when looking at older players.
Additionally, maybe there is someone who knows “the code,” if one does, in fact, exist. I am operating under the belief that there was no rhyme or reason to the type of back McCarthy used, the location and color of his JM logo, or the style of name plate used. But what do I know? I can use all the detective help I can get- including using uniform history when possible.
The one advantage we have nowadays is the scanner. So much time and effort was devoted by Barker and Suen to try to describe the cards succinctly using abbreviations and codes.
Now, we can see what we’re dealing with- it’s just time to date them.
Editor’s note: We welcome SABR’s newest member, Brian Kritz, to the Baseball Cards blog. Brian is a longtime Dodger fan and collector who was gracious enough to share this remembrance of Tommy Lasorda literally minutes after joining SABR.
Most baseball-loving kids who grew up in Southern California in the 1970s and 1980s likely have a similar story. The day they met the ultimate Dodgers legend, Tommy Lasorda. Yes, the Tommy Lasorda of the career 0-4 record and a 6.48 ERA (or for the younger stat heads, a -1.3 career WAR).
But to a couple of generations of Southern California kids, Tommy was the biggest and most important Dodger of them all. Bigger than Garvey, Lopes, Russell, or Cey. Bigger than Dusty Baker, Reggie Smith and even bigger than Orel Hershiser and Fernando Valenzuela. When Kirk Gibson hit his game winning home run in Game One of the 1988 World Series, to whom did NBC pan? It was Tommy, trotting in joy out of the Dodgers dugout.
When I was 11 years old, I visited the Dodgers clubhouse before a game against the Atlanta Braves. After meeting and getting autographs from Dodgers greats such as Jerry Reuss and Bob Welch as well as obscure former Dodgers such as Terry Whitfield and Jack Fimple, I was taken to meet Tommy in his office. He was sitting behind his desk, larger than life, with pictures of him with Frank Sinatra and Ronald Reagan in the background.
He rose from his desk and made me feel like the most important person in the world when he told me to sit in his chair. I was floating on air and asked him to sign my copy of his 1982 Donruss card. He did, and then pulled out a postcard of himself from his desk and signed it To Brian, a future Dodger, Tom Lasorda.
Being a very literal kid, I pretty much figured that Tommy had just signed me to a contract and that I would play for the Dodgers some day. Tommy would see to it personally. He was Tommy Lasorda, he could do anything. Having collected baseball cards for the last forty years, and having turned my baseball card hobby into a business since eBay came along, I have seen probably three hundred signed Tommy Lasorda items with that same tag line, To [Fill In Your Name], a future Dodger, Tom Lasorda.
That was Tommy. He made you feel special, he made you feel like you could be a Dodger one day, he made you Bleed Dodger Blue. Rest in Peace, Tommy. Thank you for making us all feel special.
Editor’s note: SABR welcomes newmember Dylan Brennan of the Philadelphia area Connie Mack chapter. You can follow Dylan’s wonderful journey through the Hobby at his Twitter page @cardsstory.
For as long as I can remember baseball and card collecting has been a passion of mine since I ripped my first pack as a kid somewhere around the age or 8 of 9, idolizing legends like Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr., Albert Pujols, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and so-on. It’s always been more than a hobby to me, it’s been a way of life.
My first two best friends and I would run to the closest store that sold cards, which was a K-Mart about 500 feet from our front doors. Whenever we had some money in our pockets it was like Christmas. We’d all run over there. If we had $7, it all went toward baseball cards. We’d go straight to one of our basements and start ripping through pack after pack hoping for the games biggest stars and some hometown heroes.
It’s funny to think back to these times, when one of my biggest worries was when I could go out and play sports with my buddies and what players I was going to pull in a pack of Topps baseball cards, long before the real world inevitably hit me out of nowhere like a freight train. But what I didn’t know during those 30 seconds of ripping through a pack of cardboard, was that I was starting to form my deepest passions in life: baseball and card collecting.
Ever since those first packs I was hooked on collecting, having added thousands of cards in my childhood. As I got older and started high school, I collected frequently until about junior-senior year when I soon discovered that hanging out in the woods with my buddies and having a few beers was slightly more interesting to me at the time.
A few years later, I went away to college which to tell the truth, wasn’t really for me. I did about 3 semesters away at school then came home when I was 18 and went straight to work. (Ah, the American dream!) This is about the time I started getting back into collecting. I collected mostly autographs of any and all Hall of Famers, star players, and childhood favorites that I could get my hands on.
I’ve always had a keen interest in vintage cards. It’s a hard thing to explain, as a lot of things that we love can be. But seeing pictures of cards of legends like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Walter Johnson, and Christy Mathewson was like a short tour through the Baseball equivalent of the Louvre. I had to have them. And once I started to add some vintage to my collection, I quickly learned what I truly loved to collect.
There’s just something unique about vintage baseball cards. The feel, the smell of old cardboard that strangely enough has been one of my favorite smells in the world. Small pieces of art that have been passed around for 70, 80 or even 100+ years. I think that’s what makes some cards similar to a painting or any work of art.
Art almost always has a story to tell and often, the artist leaves it up to its viewers to interpret their own version of the story in their mind. Baseball cards are like that in a unique way. The feeling of holding a beautiful T206 card in your hand and wondering where that card has been for the last 110 years is what makes it so special. The hands they’ve passed through. The stories they could tell, I could only imagine.
I’ve been lucky enough add a lot of cards this past year that I never thought I would own. I’ve also been able to meet some truly great people along the way. I’m excited for what 2021 brings for my collection and I look forward to meeting more awesome people in the process.
I am a diehard Pirate fan, but I have to admit that was not aware that Bob Oldis was member of the 1960 team prior to attending the camp.
Bob was the third string catcher for the 1960 Pirates team and played in 22 games during the season. He collected 4 hits in 20 at bats for an average of .200. Bob did see action in the 1960 World Series coming in as defensive replacement in the 4th and 5th games. The Pirates won both of these games at Yankee Stadium.
I had advance information that some of the 1960 Pirates were going to be at 2010 camp, so I brought some pictures from the 1960’s with me for autographs. One was a picture of the Pirates lined up on the field before one of World Series games. When I showed the picture to Bob, he said – “That’s the first time I have seen that picture.” I told him – “You are in the picture someplace.” Bob’s reply was – “I don’t think so. I was in the bullpen.”
All the former players that I have met at various Fantasy Camps appear to be having a good time. However, at this camp Bob was clearly enjoying the experience. He was even helping some of the fans get autographs of some of the other former Pirates in attendance.
In February of 2019 I wrote a letter to Bob recounting our meeting in 2010 and asking him to sign his 1961 Topps card and also a custom card that I made that had a picture of the both of us at the camp. He signed both and sent me back a nice note.
I had seen several bloggers post Player Collection Spotlight pieces and thought that a Spotlight on Bob would be interesting. However, when I was researching his baseball cards online, I noticed that there was a 5-year gap between when Topps issued his 1955 card and his 1960 card. At first I thought I missed something, but upon digging into Bob’s career a little more he did indeed play in the minors for 4 seasons starting in 1955 with no call ups to the majors until 1960.
In doing some further research into players with gaps between when their cards were issued, I came across the Gappers blog post on the Night Owl Cards site from 2017. In the post Gappers are defined as “players who have disappeared off cards for a least three years and then returned.” The post also states that players that “didn’t come to a contract agreement with Topps…aren’t true gappers.”
The Gappers post focuses on players from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Vincente Romo is cited as the player with the largest gap. Topps issued a card of Vincente in 1983. His previous card was in issued in 1975. A gap of 8 years!
Baseball Card Trivia Question
So, my baseball card trivia question is……
Question: What major league player is the first gapper? (Gapper defined above)
Answer: Bob Oldis (1955 Topps card and 1960 Topps card) – I think. There are many of you out there who know a lot more about baseball cards than I do, so please weigh in by way of a comment. Is Bob Oldis the correct answer?
Bonus Question: What major league player has the biggest gap between his standard Topps player card and his Topps manager card.
Answer:Tom Lasorda (Topps 54 player card and 1973 Topps manager card) – I think.
After working hard on several vintage football sets, I turned back to baseball in late September. I was having a great time (still am) working on old Bowman, Topps and Philadelphia football sets of the 1950’s and 1960’s (short checklists, not too many pricey cards), but, for me, a 1964 Jim Parker doesn’t resonate as much as a 1964 Wes Parker. For reasons stated previously, I dove into the 1964 Topps baseball set.
It’s been pretty fast work. I thought I’d get from my starting point of 157 cards to 400 relatively quickly, and I did. And how! In two months, thanks to multiple purchases of 50–60 cards at a clip (including two incredibly productive trips to Yastrzemski Sports in Cooperstown), a few trades, and enough sales to help cushion the cost, I powered up to over 560 cards. Twenty or so to go, none more expensive than the Niekro rookie (which I think I can get for less than $50 in EX).
I’m at the point where any 3 or 4 card pickups are meaningful. Yesterday I got four in the mail—an upgraded Dick McAuliffe, Dave Morehead, Ken Harrelson, and Frank Baumann. In Baumann lies today’s story.
It’s rare to me when something sticks out as fishy. I had a weird incident last week with a ’64 Maris. It was off center, which I knew, but only when I had it in hand did I notice the right edge was clearly trimmed. It was uneven in a way that only a hand cut could produce. I sent it back, got a refund, no problem.
Handling yesterday’s delivery, I was struck by the quality of the Baumann. Sure, it had all the looks of an EX/EX+ card (as advertised), but it didn’t feel right. First, it was glossy, not at all like the finish that vintage cards have. Second, the paper stock was thin and bendy. Third, the back had a thin white line that seemed out of place.
The dealer is one of my favorites, and I had no reason to suspect foul play. Perhaps it was in a collection they bought, and the original owner printed it up at home to fill a binder slot. I reached out and they were happy to offer a refund.
But it still bugged me this morning. How could it be fake? Why would it be fake? The counterfeit Frank Baumann market can’t be a lucrative business. Why would anyone go through that trouble?
I first turned to Nick, our esteemed committee co-chair and knower of all things print related. I sent him a hi res scan, 800 dpi, and he gave it a look. He didn’t think it was beyond the regular Topps inconsistencies of the day, and the printing was not what he’d expect to see in a fake.
I put it out on Twitter and Keith Olbermann knew. Of course Keith Olbermann knew. Keith has often pointed out Topps’ use of different printers for different series (which resulted in severalyears of last series having a brighter look), and he believed that was what went on here. He was aware of cards from the 6th series of 1964 having a “slick” feel. Mystery solved, refund not needed.
Interestingly, one of my Twitter pals (@KenBorsuk1) replied that he had recently bought a 1969 Roy Face card online that had the similar quality of not feeling right. Then more Tweets followed. Nick checked his Giants and they all were printed this way. Gio (@wthballs) thought the Gaylord Perry he recently sent my way was like this, and it is! Why that didn’t make an impact on me is a mystery.
This all makes me wonder how many years this happened, how many of these glossier cards are out there and is there any real rarity there. Not for Frank Baumann of course, but for Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry? If that type of card was harder to come by, then shouldn’t that be a pricing factor?
Check your collections everyone! We may be on to something here!
Last couple weeks ago Mark Armour and I had a brief conversation about markings on cards. In short, we disagree. Not a bad thing—we all collect differently and have distinct standards about what kind of condition we like—rather, like most good conversations, our discussion caused me to think more clearly about what my standards are.
The discussion Mark and I had was specifically about marked checklists. He avoids them while they don’t bother me in the least. Do I seek them out? No. But I’m also not going to pay a premium for an unmarked one.
Checklists were intended for kids to be able to keep track of their collections. Seeing one that’s marked up tells me about a kid who was keeping track of his collection and I enjoy seeing how his set progress was going, what good cards he had, and who he was missing.
They also remind me of my first year in the hobby when I dutifully marked all my checklists. As I remember it, I enjoyed the activity as a way to both gauge my progress and to see what cards I still needed. I don’t remember studying the checklist as much as looking through them and feeling like I just missed certain cards if they were near a card I was checking off.
What I realized when talking about the checklists is that I really just like seeing cards that have been used. For example, 1964 Topps has these cool rub-to-reveal backs. Some of mine have been rubbed, others have not. I can’t bring myself to rub the ones I get (same goes with marking checklists now) but the fact that some kid followed the instructions over 50 years ago is very cool. Heck I know I certainly would’ve if I were a kid.
Technically I guess this kind of thing is back damage. Practically though I treat it the same as a marked checklist where the subsequent handling qualifies as usage.
There’s a whole bunch of other cards in this kind of category where the intended usage results in wear and tear to the card. Pop-ups, whether it’s a 1937 O-Pee-Chee Batter Up or a junk wax Donruss All Star, are probably one of the best examples here. That the card has been punched out and folded and perhaps has even lost some of the pieces is immaterial.
The same thing goes with stamps and stickers that have been pasted into albums. I understand the desire for something to be nice and minty but there’s also something sad about it sitting in protective storage and never being used for its intended purpose.
My interest in usage though extends beyond the uses intended by card companies. I very much love annotations that reflect how fans have used cards to enjoy and enhance their baseball fandom. Things like the do-it-yourself traded cards which I’ve written about before demonstrate how people watch baseball through their cards.
For many people cards weren’t just something that you acquired and stored, they were references for when you had to look things up. Updating them each season with new teams and positions kept those references current and, when taken to extreme, results in something that documents a career better than a non-modified can ever hope to.
I also consider autographs to count as usage. They document experiences with players whether in-person or through the mail. Many times the choice of card is intentional whether it’s a favorite photo or a memorable season. And in all times the autograph is intended to complement the card as a way of enjoying the sport.
I love all of these things which indicate how a card was used by a previous owner. They tand in stark opposition to cards that have been abused or damaged though non-baseball-related activities. From drawn-onfacial hair to flipping and bicycle spoke damage there’s a whole range of modifications that are deal breakers to me.
Yes I have some abused cards in my collection too but they’re the kind of cards I’ll always be wanting to upgrade. It’s the rare doodle that stands out as being clever to me, the rest I can’t help but see as mindless destruction.
When I look at a card that’s been damaged intentionally, the use or abuse question turns out to be the first thing I think of. I just hadn’t quite realized that that was actually the question I was asking.
In the late 1980s, Dick Allen took part in an old-timer’s day event in St. Louis that featured such greats as Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Curt Flood, and others, including Negro League immortal Cool Papa Bell. Afterward, Allen excitedly related a conversation that he had with Bell. “He said I could have been one of them,” Allen recalled. “He said I had power and I could run, the two most important requirements in Negro League baseball. It’s funny. Back in their day, the Negro League players all wanted to be big leaguers. They felt deprived because they could never get in. And there I was, in my day, a big leaguer who felt like he lost out because he never got a chance to play in the Negro Leagues.” Dick Allen, Negro League immortal? It’s easy to imagine. If Allen had spent his career in the Negro Leagues—playing in a league full of people who could relate to the sort of trials Allen hadexperienced since birth—Dick’s life might have been quite a bit less stressful. But the rest of us would be the poorer for it.
When the Chicago White Sox acquired Dick Allen from the Los Angeles Dodgers in December of 1971 (for Tommy John, an outstanding pitcher, and scrub infielder Steve Huntz), I was one of many excited—and apprehensive—Sox fans. Allen was well-known for his prodigious talent with the bat, but the White Sox would be his fourth team in the last four seasons. Bill James described Allen as “the second-most controversial player in baseball history, behind Rogers Hornsby,” and it’s an apt comparison. While continuing to excel on the field, Hornsby had been shuffled from the Cardinals to the Giants to the Braves and then to the Cubs between 1926 and 1929. For Allen, it was from the Phillies—where he had been the first Black star for a franchise with an ugly racial history—to the Cardinals, the Dodgers, and finally the White Sox.
“Allen was labeled baseball’s biggest outlaw,” wrote Tim Whitaker, who collaborated with Dick on Allen’s wonderful autobiography, Crash: The Life and Times of Dick Allen. “He was undisciplined and outspoken, a free spirit who abided by no rules. He was accused of missing curfews, skipping spring training, drinking on the job, getting high, fighting with teammates, having managers fired, and even doodling cryptic messages on the infield dirt. He never did want to be bothered with sportswriters. He was as enigmatic as he was recalcitrant.”
Some of those accusations were true; many were not. As for Allen’s problems with sportswriters, how would you feel about people who refused to address you by the name his family had called you since birth? “Don’t call me Richie,” he would say. “My name is Dick.” But until he got to Chicago, he was “Richie Allen,” or sometimes “Rich” to writers and team officials and even on his baseball cards. (“Bob” Clemente could undoubtedly relate to this.) With the White Sox, Allen was finally referred to as Dick… at least by most people. Jerome Holtzman, the dean of Chicago sportswriters and future official MLB historian, was among the Allen antagonists who continued to call him “Richie.”
Whatever people called him—“Richie” being the mildest of insults hurled at this strong, unflinching Black man—we in Chicago quickly learned that Allen could play. In 1972, his first season with the White Sox, Allen led the American league in on-base percentage, slugging, home runs (a then-team record 37), and runs batted in while winning the league MVP award. In 1973, he was again among the league leaders when he suffered a broken leg in midseason; even this was steeped in controversy, as a White Sox physician insisted Allen could have returned. In 1974, Allen was again leading the league in home runs when he abruptly left the team in early September, announcing his retirement a few days later. He was so far ahead in the home run race that he still led the league, despite not playing a game after September 8.
There were wondrous moments, like a three-run pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the ninth in June of 1972 to defeat the Yankees, 5-4 (I still have an audiotape of that game). There was the game against the Twins a month later that featured two inside-the-park home runs from Allen—a reminder of what a fearsome baserunner Dick Allen was. There was Allen’s 460-foot home run into Comiskey Park’s center-field bleachers—a drive that nearly hit Sox broadcaster Harry Caray, who was doing the game from the bleachers that day. The ball was caught by young Mark Liptak, who later would become a leading White Sox historian.
But Allen being Allen, there were plenty of controversies as well. There was the special treatment—constantly harped upon by the Chicago press—given to Allen by Sox manager Chuck Tanner, who allowed Allen to skip batting practice and come late to the ballpark. Allen sometimes took advantage of that treatment. On at least one occasion, he missed the start of a game, with the White Sox covering his tracks by saying he was sick. There was the controversy over the extent of his injury in 1973 (Allen did attempt to return for one game, but was shut down after limping noticeably). His final year with the White Sox featured a season-long feud with new teammate Ron Santo; “I felt confused, disoriented, but mostly depressed,” Allen recalled about the 1974 season. Even Harry Caray, an early Allen supporter during their White Sox years together, turned on him, referring to Allen with the name that Dick hated. “Every time I try to compare Richie Allen to Stan Musial, I want to vomit,” Caray said. In those days when you lost Harry Caray, you lost Chicago.
Given an opportunity to return to his first team, the Phillies, under more positive circumstances, Allen reconsidered the retirement and finally met his goal of reaching the postseason in 1976. But his skills had diminished, he was bothered by injuries, and the second Philadelphia tenure ended unhappily as well, as did a brief finale with Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s (Dick Allen and Charlie Finley did not get along? Amazing!)
Allen is gone now, and the outpouring of love he received from former teammates after his December 7 passing make it clear that a lot of the things that people said about Dick Allen were clearly wrong. Prima donna? Bad teammate? Killer of clubhouse morale? Not according to guys like Mike Schmidt and Goose Gossage and Larry Bowa and Jim Kaat and Steve Stone. All of these major stars not only respected Dick Allen; they revered him.
“I wonder how good I could have been,” Dick Allen said in perhaps his most famous quote. “It could have been a joy, a celebration. Instead, I played angry. In baseball, if a couple of things go wrong for you, and those things get misperceived, or distorted, you get a label. After a while, the label becomes you, and you become the label, whether that’s really you or not. I was labeled an outlaw, and after a while that’s what I became.”
Damn the labels. Richard Anthony Allen was a proud Black man in a sport, and a country, that has never felt comfortable with what Geoffrey C. Ward, biographer of the great boxer Jack Johnson, called “unforgivable blackness.” If Allen “played angry,” he had plenty of reason for doing so. He is at peace now, and remembered by many of us with deep affection. I felt privileged to watch a few years in the life of Dick Allen, and I mourn his passing.
Rather than making it a top-50 list or some other ranking, we decided to go a different direction and treat baseball cards as timeline that they are with a post of 50 cards for 50 years.
Baseball cards aren’t just something to collect. They mark the seasons and document the game as it happens. Looking back at them shows us the history of the game. Who played. What was important. What happened. How we analyzed things. Cards may fall under the category of “ephemera” but the ephemeral nature of what they record is what makes them such an important chronicle of the game.
Our list is not intended to be definitive or authoritative. Both the history of the hobby and the history of the game are way too interesting for each year to be able to be summed up in a single card. Instead we look forward to the discussion and critiques that always follow such lists.
While Jason and Nick are credited with compiling the contents, we wish to thank the multiple other experts who allowed us to pick their brains and challenged our choices.
I recently snagged a VGEX 1960 Leaf Series 2 Sparky Anderson card, bringing me within two cards of a complete second series and full set. We all make fun of how old Sparky looks when he was, in fact, young. He’s 26 here and looks it (if you cover up the gray hair over his left ear).
The arrival of this card set me thinking about one of my favorite Sparky cards, leading off the 1966 Foremost Milk St. Petersburg Cardinals set. It’s a lovely issue of 20 cards, glossy 3 ½” X 5 ½” photos of the Florida State League Cards. A Class A ballclub rarely looked so good. (I don’t know how these were distributed. If you do, let me know in the comment section.)
It’s nice that Sparky can lead off the set, if paged alphabetically (and what other way would you arrange a non-numbered set?). Also of interest is Lenny Boyer, the seventh son of the Boyer baseball clan. Lenny spun his wheels in the minors from 1964-1970, never making the bigs. He does have that Boyer look, sort of a Ken and Clete mashup.
It’s important to me that everyone knows there was once a pitcher named Phil Knuckles. He put up a few decent years in the low minors, from 1965-71.
(Not sure why the Foremost logo is missing on Morgans’ card)
One of the joys of minor league sets is a peak at future major leaguers of note. Maybe Harry Parker isn’t of real note to many, but as a member of the 1973 NL Champ Mets pitching staff, he looms large for me. (Jerry Robertson never played for the Mets, but that didn’t stop Topps from giving him a 1971 cards of him in a Mets uniform, sort of.).
I have no tidbits of real interest about any of these guys. I welcome any stories, about these eight, or any other members of the team.
While the 1966 St. Pete Cards are mostly known, if not only known, for being an early stop in Sparky Anderson’s Hall of Fame managerial journey, they also are part of a forgotten bit of baseball history. That season, they played a 29-inning game versus the Miami Marlins, the longest game until eclipsed by the 1981 Pawtucket-Rochester 32 -inning classic. The latter featured Cal Ripken, Jr. and Wade Boggs, but if you want to read the exploits of “Sweet Pea” Davis, Archie Wade and Jim Williamson, there’s a fascinating story to behold.