Is It the Cards, or Is It the Baseball?

“Beatle cards, Beatle cards!”

Beatles

I was a late talker, but somewhere between two- and three-years old, I got it. My Great Aunt used to tell me that I would howl about Beatles’ cards from my crib (Are two-year olds still in cribs?). The love of cards was strong with this one from early on.

Yes, this is a baseball card blog and, partially, this is a baseball card post, but it’s clear from what I gather of my own personal history that my love of cards began with Topps’ Fab Four, not ’64 baseball, cards.

Baseball cards are absolutely the vast majority of my cards. The sets are bigger, I’ve been buying them longer and continuously and, when I became the recipient of the card collections of friends, their shoeboxes were always dominated by baseball cards.

So what came first, the baseball or the card? That I’ve always bought lots of cards, of all sports and some non-sports, means that, for me, it’s always been the cards first, the baseball second.  Cards are talismans, direct memories of the past, but they can also be indirectly evocative. When Munsters’ cards came out in 1996 and 1998, I bought them. When Twilight Zone cards came out from 1999-2002, I bought those sets too. Same for the 2001 Planet of the Apes cards. Though not the original issues ( the 1964 Leaf Munsters and the 1967 Topps Planet of the Apes cards are a tad pricey), the recent sets were good fun, brought back great TV and movie memories, not so much from the time like a 1972 Gary Gentry would, but looking backward. They were definitely as much fun as those year’s baseball cards. The ’96 Grandpa Munster cards were as good, if not better, than the ’96 Derek Jeters.

s-l300

Is this off topic? Kinda, but I’d like to know what is at the core of the card collector. How many readers of this blog only collect baseball cards? How many collect other sports? How many collect non-sports? I want to know who’s harboring a secret Partridge Family set.

These days I am fully immersed in baseball cards, but that doesn’t mean I’m averse to picking up the occasional 1959 Fleer Three Stooges card, if the price is right.

FullSizeRender

Double-knit Double Takes and False Flannels

 

Back in 2015 Rich Klein wrote an article for “Sports Collectors Daily” examining Topps cards in which the player appears wearing their previous team’s uniform and cap. Topps’ didn’t follow the usual practice of using headshots without caps or air brushing out the insignia. Meeting a print deadline seems the most obvious reason for the existence of all these anomalous cards. I could not find any definitive explanation. Mr. Klein concluded the article by suggesting readers send in other examples besides his ’74 Glenn Beckert and Jerry Morales, ’61 Johnny James, ’62 Don Zimmer and ’63 Stan Williams. So, I decided to search for more of these oddities in Topps sets from the ‘50s-‘70s.

I will start with the before mentioned Beckert and Morales cards since they are the first examples I collected. I distinctly remember Jerry Morales being clad in his bright, yellow Padres uniform but shown as a Cub. Beckert is wearing his home Cubs pinstripes. An additional anomaly is the variation card that has Beckert listed as “Washington Nat’l Lea.” This is the year Topps jumped the gun on a Padres possible move to DC. The backs of Morales and both Beckerts include a line indicating the players were traded on November ’73. Since Topps was not averse to airbrush painting whole uniforms in this era, the most likely explanation is the trade occurred too late for the printing deadline. As Mark Armour and others reminded me recently, ‘74 was the first year Topps distributed the whole set at once nationwide. There was no longer an option to alter the cards and include them in a later series.

The backs of the ’64 Don Demeter and Gus Triandos inform us that both were traded in December ‘63. They were both part of the deal that sent Jim Bunning to Philadelphia.  (Bunning, it should be noted appeared that year without a hat but identified as a Phillie, his new team)

The ‘62 Willie Tasby and Bob Buhl each have a variation with the cap blacked out. Topps was able to correct the error in a later print run. The airbrushed variations are worth considerably more, likely due to a shorter print run.

56 doby60 Cash

61 Klu

63 Perry64 Alou

The most prominent players to escape the airbrush treatment are: Larry Doby in ‘56, Norm Cash, Johnny Callison and Frank Thomas in ’60, Ted Kluszewski in ’61, Jim Perry in ’63 and Felipe Alou in ’64. Notice that in many of the ’60 cards Topps did paint the correct emblem on the hats in the black and white “action” shots.

57 Ditmar 60 Hadley and Siebern

57 Ditmar60 Hadley60 Siebern

The late “50s and early ‘60s saw a flurry of trades between the Yankees and Kansas City Athletics in which the Yankees often got the better end of the deal. The ’57 Art Ditmar, ’60 Kent Hadley and ’60 Norm Siebern were part of the KC/NY shuttle.

 

Here are the rest:

53 Groth

’53: Johnny Groth

’54: Johnny Lipton and Al Sima

58 Aspro

’58: Ken Aspromonte

60 Dailey60 Foiles60 Lepecio

’60: Pete Dailey, Hank Foiles and Ted Lepcio

61 Farrell

’61: Dick “Turk” Farrell

’64: Willie Kirkland and Julio Navarro

If you are aware of other examples, please mention them in the comments or on Twitter. Also if you know of an explanation besides printing deadlines for the existence of these cards, please let us know.

Chaw Shots

Despite health warnings and minor league prohibition, Major League players continue to chew tobacco on the field and in the dugout. Players have become more discreet but brown expectorations still spew forth on the diamond.  Of course in the era when there was no stigma attached to tobacco use of all kinds, the distended cheeks of “chaw” chomping players were clearly pictured on many baseball cards.  Let’s take a journey down tobacco road and examine some classic stuffed mandibles.

No player epitomizes the “chaw shot” better than Rocky Bridges.  This ’59 comes complete with a squinted eye due to the cheek protrusion.  It is difficult to find a card or picture of Rocky without a “chaw” in.

Rod Carew claimed that a cheek wad tightened the right side of his face and help prevent blinking.  Here’s a ’75 SSPC showing a tightly packed cheek.

Nellie Fox was another player seldom seen without a “chaw” of “Favorite,” a brand whose advertisements prominently featured him.   This ’63 is a classic example.

Luis Tiant is associated with tobacco products whether it be cigars or plug.  This ’77 provides a good look at Luis’ wad.

Don Zimmer’s jowls were seldom empty of “Bull Durham” in both his playing and managing days as this ’64 and ’73 attest.

No matter if he was on the Senators, Twins, Indians, Yankees or Phillies, a Pedro Ramos card was guaranteed to feature a facial bulge as this ’66 demonstrates.

This ‘62 shows Harvey Kuenn enjoying a mouth full at the new Candlestick Park.

Jack Aker could never resist biting off a “twist” before having his picture snapped as this ’69 shows.

Although just a rookie, this ’70 Al Severinsen shows he is already a seasoned veteran of the spittoon.

This ‘64 Giant of journeyman Juan Pizzaro is typical of his jaw bursting card photos.

Perhaps the champion of the cheek bulge belongs to Larry “Bobo” Osborne.  This ’62 shot shows a very impressive load capacity.

Obviously I could feature many more examples, but I will close with Bill Tuttle.  This ’63 card shows Bill with the bulging cheek.  Most of you are familiar with the story of Tuttle developing oral cancer which was directly attributed to chewing.  Several operations left him severely disfigured.  He toured spring training camps in hopes of persuading players to give up spit tobacco.  He died at age 69 in 1998.  The fact that players still choose to chew despite all the negative health effects is mind-boggling.

If you have a favorite “chaw shot” card, leave a comment or Tweet a picture.

Baseball Cagers

With March Madness approaching, let’s take a look at old Topps cards of players who excelled on the hardwood as well as the diamond. My focus is on cards that used cartoons to convey the players’ basketball prowess.

reed-frontreed-back

The first card I collected with a basketball cartoon was the ‘69 Ron Reed. He was a quality player at Notre Dame which resulted in the Detroit Pistons drafting him in the third round of the 1965 draft. He would go on to play for Detroit from ‘65-‘67. Ron had a long baseball career in which he became only one of eight pitchers with 100 wins and 100 saves.

gibson-frontgibson-back

Hall-of-Fame pitcher Bob Gibson was an outstanding college basketball player at Creighton in his home town of Omaha. He delayed his storied baseball career for a year to play with the Harlem Globetrotters.

howard-fronthoward

6’7” Frank Howard played at Ohio State where he was an All-American in both baseball and basketball. Frank was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors but decided to sign exclusively with the Dodgers in ‘59.

debusschere-front1965-dave-debusschere-r1971-72-dave-debusschere-basketball

Dave Debusschere was a duel sport star at the University of Detroit who signed with White Sox and the Detroit Pistons in ‘62. He had brief stints with Chicago in ’62 and ’63, finally giving up baseball after 1965 season. Dave had a Hall-of-Fame basketball career which included two championships with the Knicks in the 1970s. Incidentally, Debusschere was player-coach of the ‘64-‘65 Pistons at the age of 24.

groat-frontgroat-back

The first Duke basketball player to have his number retired was ‘60 NL MVP Dick Groat. An All-American in ’51 and ’52, Groat was named UPI National Player of the Year in ’52. He was the third overall pick by the Fort Wayne Pistons where he played for one year. Dick was not only a key cog for the ’60 World Champion Pirates but helped St. Louis win the title in ’64.

hamilton-fronthamilton-back

Steve Hamilton was a two-sport athlete at Morehead State in Kentucky. He was drafted in ’58 by the Minneapolis Lakers where he played for two years including seeing action in the ’59 championship series loss to the Celtics. Steve had a 12 year MLB career as a relief pitcher primarily with the Yankees. By pitching in the ’63 and ’64 World Series, Steve joined Gene Conley as the only players to participate in a World Series and NBA final series.

conley-frontconley-back

The aforementioned Conley is the only player to win both an NBA and MLB championship. After his time at Washington State University ,where he played in the College World Series, Gene signed with the Boston Braves in ‘50. He concentrated on baseball for two years before signing with the Celtics in ‘52. He only played for the Celtics for two years before deciding to go back to baseball exclusively. Five years later, Gene changed his mind and rejoined the Celtics. He won championships with them in ‘59’ ’60, and ’61. His one appearance with Milwaukee in the 1957 World Series made him a duel champion.

obrien-frontthe-o-briens

Johnny and Eddie O’Brien were basketball stars for Seattle University in the 1950s despite being only 5’9”. Johnny was an All-American guard in ‘53 leading the Chieftains to the NCAA tournament. The twin brothers were drafted by Milwaukee Hawks but decided baseball was a more promising career path, signing with the Pirates in ’53. Both siblings played off and on from ’53 to ’59. Interestingly, both were position players and pitchers in the big leagues. Eddie and Johnny were the first twins to play for the same team (Pirates) in the same game.

dick-ricketts-2dick-rickettsricketts

Another basketball All-American was Duquesne’s Dick Ricketts who accomplished the feat in ’55. The 6’7” Ricketts was selected number one in the NBA draft by the Hawks in ’55 as well. Dick went on to play for the Rochester and Cincinnati Royals for three years. His major league baseball career consisted of 12 games with the Cardinals in ’59. Many of you may remember his brother Dave who caught for the Cardinals and Pirates.

harmon-frontharmon-back

Chuck Harmon was a star baseball and basketball player at Toledo in the late 1940s. He had a tryout with the Celtics in ’50 but didn’t make the team. Chuck signed with the Reds and became the first African-American player to appear for Cincinnati in April 1954.

ainge-frontainge-back

Danny Ainge was a standout basketball player at Brigham Young while playing baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays. He is well remembered for almost single handedly pulling off a last second win against Notre Dame in the 1981 NCAA Tournament. Ainge was awarded the John Wooden award as the nation’s most outstanding player that year. Ainge lasted three seasons with the Jays before deciding to devote his efforts to basketball exclusively. He signed with the Celtics in ’81 and went on to have a solid NBA career.

There are several examples of cards that mention a player’s basketball career in print. The ‘54 Jackie Robinson, ’56 Frank Baumholtz, ’71 Cotton Nash, ’74 Dave Winfield and several Tony Gwynn cards all allude to collegiate or pro basketball careers. If you are familiar with other examples, please post in the comments.

Different sizes, weird cards, one album

Only in Cooperstown can you go into a baseball card store and find inexpensive genuine autographed cards. Baseball Nostalgia, right next to Doubleday Field, is a frequent haunt of mine. They’ve been around for 40 years, were once the flagship of TCMA, and remain as the depository of awesome things. They have rows and rows of autographed cards, not only big stars but nobodies. Maybe nobodies is unfair; let’s say non-stars.

Last year I bought a handful of signed cards, but in the little pile of goodies were a few photos (Jim Bibby, Buddy Bradford) circa 1974 and a postcard of Jack Brohamer from 1975. Why would anybody buy a signed Jack Brohamer postcard? Readers of this blog know the answer to that.

The Brohamer card is pretty sweet and, as I was researching for a new book proposal, I stumbled on the fact that Ken Berry (outfielder, not F Troop star) finished his career on the Indians. I didn’t recall that, Googled, and came across the one card of Berry in brilliant mid-‘70’s Cleveland garb. It was from the same postcard set as the Brohamer! It took time, but I finally got the full set last week, shipped in sheets.

I grabbed an album off the shelf that would be appropriate housing for this set. It’s an album of misfit cards – oddball sets, different shapes and sizes, in 2-pocket, 4-pocket and 9-pocket sheets. Besides the 1975 Cleveland Indians set (here’s a photo of one page, not with Brohamer but with Ed Crosby, Frank Duffy, John Ellis and Oscar Gamble, for Dan Epstein), the other sets are:

img_2409

1963 Pepsi-Cola Tulsa Oilers

12 panels, 2 cards per panel, 24 cards with a big loop above to hang on bottle tops – what more could you ask! The Pepper Martin card is the coolest, but for my card collecting age group (I’m 54), a minor league set with Jim Beauchamp, Tom Hilgendorf, Chuck Taylor and some batboys, is hard to resist. It’s not a very pricey set, I have no idea when I got it and how much I paid, but it’s way cool.

img_2410

1966 East Hills Pirates

There are a few great regional sets featuring the Pirates of the 1960’s – KDKA, Grenier Tires and East Hills. Produced and distributed by a big mall outside Pittsburgh, the East Hills set is very nice and essential for Al McBean completists. Sure, Clemente and Stargell are the highlights, but every Bucco picture is a gem. There’s something about Matty Alou that fascinates me. He seems a bit like an alien, if an alien could hit .342.

img_2411

1961 Nu-Card Baseball Scoops

Not odd in size, the Nu-Card cards are odd in content. Contemporary quasi-achievements are sprinkled amongst all-time moments. Was Roy Sievers’ 1957 American League Home Run title equivalent to Lou Gehrig’s streak or Willie Mays’ 1954 World Series catch? If you’ve got an 80 card set to fill, you bet it is!

img_2413

1966 St. Petersburg Cardinals

A bit larger than regular postcards (they peek out above a regular 4-pocket sleeve), this 20 card set was put out by Foremost Milk. Of course, nothing screams hot summer in Florida more than a glass of milk. Sparky Anderson’s card is the key, and here he is. You can’t tell me this dude was only 32 at the time.

img_2408

There’s something about these sets that resonate with me – there’s a romantic vision I have of suburban Pittsburgh 10-year olds bugging their Mom to take them to East Hills for a Gene Michael card, or some kid deciding to buy a pack of Nu-Cards instead of Topps and insisting that Nu-Cards were better. The very idea of seeing shelves of Pepsi bottles with Tulsa Oiler card hanging from the necks makes me light-headed.

 

Those Damned Slabs!

I love the feel of cards. Not modern glossy cards and definitely not those uber-glossy, oily mid-‘90’s cards that stick together when stacked! I hate those.

In 1998 I started working on the 1963 Fleer set. It seemed easy to put together from scratch, a 66 card set with one harder to find checklist. I lucked out with a few reasonably priced lots, then, since I was already hooked on eBay, started hunting down stars. I did well, finding EX-MT or better cards for reasonable prices. Soon enough, I’d have the whole set and sock it away in a box, my preferred method of storage.

Then I started winning auctions for graded cards. Not because I preferred them (see tactile thoughts above), but because the price was right. Now I had a dilemma. How to store the set? I couldn’t put nearly all of a complete set in a box and put what would end up as four graded cards somewhere separate. I thought about cracking the holders, but I’m pretty feeble when it comes to the most basic skills and, for sure, that would have resulted in ruined cards and me bleeding. So I ended up putting 63 cards in top loaders and finding a box to hold those and the oversized graded cards. Now, when I look at that set, I don’t get the enjoyment of having a stack of 50+ year old cardboard in my hands.

fullsizerender-2

 

The rise of the graded card ruined the hobby for me (until recently). I get it – it provides a certain consistency of grading, better than the old days when you had to take the seller’s word for how a card looked (though putting up actual scans goes a long way in accurately portraying raw cards). It definitely made it easier to buy online with confidence and, in the beginning, it made sense to grade stars and superstars, but when commons started getting graded, it killed the joy of completing sets for me (again, until recently). Every card in remotely nice shape was slabbed.

fullsizerender-1

I came up with a solution to knock me out of my card doldrums and the problems of slabbing. Starting last year, I completed a 1971 Topps baseball set in a condition only a fool would grade. Many many are EX-MT, some pretty sharp for a set notorious for chipping and bad centering. A lot are VG at best and some look like they were run over by a car, repeatedly. Still, now I can pull out the box and flip through them all, getting that smooth sensation from the fronts and that rough feel of the backs.

Still, as I work to complete multiple older sets, I’m running into the problem of key cards in slabs. I’m not sure what to do – pass them up and wait for a raw card, or suck it up and end up with a card or two in slabs? I know what I’d prefer – raw cards only – but I know that price will dictate results, exactly like it did almost 20 years ago.

Field Generals

During the 1960s and ‘70s Topps included manager cards for each team. I’ve always enjoyed these cards due in part to the staged shots which made the skipper appear to be in the act of managing his charges.    A typical pose had the manager with his hands behind his back as if surveying the practice field.  Also several cards depicted a manager putting his hand to the mouth to create the illusion of barking out orders.  Another frequent tactic was having him point as if giving directions to the players on the field.  In addition many shots featured the manager poised on the dugout steps or near a batting cage.   Some shots had the manager appear to be giving signs.  Let’s examine a few of these classic poses by focusing on some iconic field generals.

 

The “Little General”

Best known for piloting the 1964 Phillies to an epic collapse, Gene Mauch had a long managerial career with stints in Philadelphia, Montreal, Minnesota and California.  The 1968 card (left) is a classic example of the shouting out orders pose.  Perhaps he is telling Richie Allen to stop writing obscenities with his foot in the Connie Mack Stadium infield dirt.  In 1967 Gene is pictured at the batting cage.  Hopefully, batting practice wasn’t in session since he is standing in front of the cage.  1970 finds the Expos manager pointing not toward the field but at the Shea Stadium seats.  Is he signaling for the hot dog vendor?  Is he pointing out a plane taking off from LaGuardia?  Finally, the 1966 card has him posed apparently in the dugout.  But what is Gene holding?  Is it a jacket draped over a seat?  Is it a seat cushion?  What is with the strip of tape?

“Senor” Al

The Al Lopez cards of the 1960s had all the classic poses.  Lopez was the manager who twice interrupted the Yankees pennant run with flags in 1954 with Cleveland and 1959 with the White Sox.  The 1960 version (left) has Al on the top step of the dugout while the 1961 shot has him pointing.  Al is behind the Yankee Stadium batting cage in 1962 and hollering commands in the 1965 image.

The “Lip”

Leo Durocher’s long and colorful career culminated in the early 1970s.  His stewardship of the Cubs during the 1969 collapse in face of the Mets onslaught will forever be remembered in Chicago.  The 1970 Durocher finds him in the often used hands behind the back pose before a game at Shea Stadium.  I had to include the 1973 Astros shot since it is a prime example of airbrushing gone horrible wrong.  Topps’ art school drop outs provided Leo with a poorly rendered orange lid and windbreaker collar.

 

72-alston

“Smokey”

This 1972 Walt Alston is a perplexing pose as he points skyward. Is a foul popup coming his way?  Alston always appeared to be 20 years older than his actual age.  He is 60 in this picture but looks ready for the “old managers” home.

Mets in Jackets

Here we have two Mets legends, Casey Stengel and Gil Hodges, resplendent in Mets jackets.  The “Old Perfessor” is pontificating on the top step of the Polo Grounds dugout in this 1965 card.  Gil stands behind the batting cage on a sunny day in Queens for this 1972 card.  Tragically, Gil died of a heart attack during spring training in that year.  I had to include this great 1970 shot of Luman Harris who led the Braves against the Mets in the first National League Championship Series in 1969. The Braves jacket is a satin beauty.

all-dark

Dark Signals

I will conclude with this 1964 Alvin Dark apparently giving the indicator to his coach as he exudes authority with an imperious gaze.  Al’s bench career would see him lose in a classic seven game World Series to the Yankees in 1962 but win the championship with Oakland in 1974.

 

1964 Giants: Topps’ Photographic Pinnacle

I am just going to say it: the most attractive baseball cards ever created were the 1964 Topps Giant-Size All-Stars. The over-sized cards (about the size of a standard post card)  were sold in wax packs — three cards and a stick of gum for a nickel. You can buy these 60 cards in great condition today relatively cheaply considering the quality of the cards and the depicted players.The design is simple and elegant; my favorite Topps designs (1957, 1961, 1967, 1969, 1976, etc.) are minimalist, and this follows a similar ethic.

All 60 players are shown in their current uniform and hat, a blessing when compared to other Topps sets from the 1960s. How did they do this? They were still putting the set together well into the 1964 season, so they had plenty of time to react to off-season trades. Below you see Rocky Colavito, traded from the Tigers to the A’s during the winter, in Topps base set and its Giants set. Which are you gonna take?

The “Giants” did not hit store shelves until very late in the summer, around Labor Day. This allowed Topps to select the players and take photos well into the season. The back of Johnny Callison’s card tells us that he hit a game-winning home run in the All-Star game, which took place on July 7. (Several cards mentioned that year’s All-Star team.)  Getting the cards updated and onto shore shelves in a few weeks is impressive.

The card backs looked like a newspaper, highlighting one particular date in the player’s career but touching on the full story.

1964-topps-giants-3-sandy-koufax-back

The 60-card set was comprised of three players from each team, and Topps clearly intended these to be the “best” players on their teams, or at least players who had a claim to be. They were called “All-Stars,” after all.Let’s take a look at some of the selections and see if we can understand Topps’s thinking. I will assume that Topps made their choices in mid-summer of 1964. I am not interested in criticizing Topps for choosing among a group of comparably good players, but I will still point out choices that seem odd.

Baltimore Orioles: Brooks Robinson, Luis Aparicio, Milt Pappas

You could make an argument for Steve Barber or Wally Bunker as the third choice, joining the two perennial All-Stars. But this is a solid group.

1964-topps-giant-set-break-39-luis-aparicio-nr-mint-z16929-9555baaadf12c9c827006417eee8ee10

Boston Red Sox: Carl Yastrzemski, Dick Stuart, Dick Radatz

Stuart and Radatz were one-dimensional but famous, and Yaz was their best player. Tony Conigliaro came up that year and was showing promise, but I expect Topps spent little time debating these three.

California Angels: Jim Fregosi, Dean Chance, Albie Pearson

The first two were easy, but Topps had to struggle to find a third guy. Pearson had a fine 1963 which ended up carrying the day. Bobby Knoop probably might have been a better call.

Chicago White Sox: Pete Ward, Gary Peters, Juan Pizarro

They could have gone with Hoyt Wilhelm, or Joe Horlen, or Ron Hansen — the White Sox had a lot of good players. But I think this is fine group.

Cleveland Indians: Leon Wagner, Johnny Romano, Max Alvis

Sam McDowell and Luis Tiant were called up early in the season and became sensations, just a bit too late for Topps. The Indians had no obvious stars, and the three they chose were as close to qualifying as anyone I suppose.

Detroit Tigers: Al Kaline, Bill Freehan, Dave Wickersham

The Wickersham choice seems weird today, but he was in the midst of somewhat fluky 19-win season and Topps was suitably impressed. Norm Cash would have been a much better choice, even at the time. Dick McAuliffe too.

download-6

Kansas City Athletics: Rocky Colavito, Jim Gentile, Wayne Causey

These guys were arguably the three best players on a lousy team. By WAR, the best player on the 1964 A’s was reliever Wes Stock, but I’m not really going to defend that hill.

Minnesota Twins: Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Camilo Pasqual

Oliva was such a great rookie that he not only forced the Twins to move Bob Allison (a legitimate star) to first base, he probably also forced Topps to kick Allison out of his honored place in this set. “Thanks a lot, rook.”

59464_1265x2162

New York Yankees: Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Elston Howard

The toughest omission was Jim Bouton, but I suspect it took Topps about five seconds to settle on these three.

Washington Senators: Chuck Hinton, Bill Skowron, Ed Brinkman

It’s hard to see how Claude Osteen did not make this set given the competition. Hinton is fine, but Skowron was all reputation, and Brinkman was a glove-only shortstop, a type that seemed to be everywhere in the 1960s.

59493_1262x2162

Chicago Cubs: Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Dick Ellsworth

Don’t laugh: Ellsworth was positively Koufaxian in 1963. (Look it up.) Sure, that season stands out like a mountain over the rest of his career, but it was great enough to get Topps to pick him over Ernie Banks, the most popular Cub who was quite a bit off his great peak of a few years earlier.

robinson_card

Cincinnati Reds: Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Jim Maloney

A year later and Pete Rose would have gotten one of the slots, but these three stars are pretty easy picks. Guys like Maloney are my favorite part of the set — although he eventually got hurt, he was absolutely not out of place in this group of 60 players.

Houston Astros: Nellie Fox, Ken Johnson, Dick Farrell

In April 1964 Johnson pitched a nine-inning no-hitter and lost, still the only pitcher ever to “accomplish” this. This event was famous at the time, and was probably enough to get Johnson his card, along with two teammates who were also not stars (though Fox once had been).

Los Angeles Dodgers: Sandy Koufax, Tommy Davis, Frank Howard

Don Drysdale’s omission is odd — he was famous, and he really was a better player than Davis or Howard. For proof, he even started the All-Star game for the National League, the fourth time he had done so (he would start again in 1968). Maury Wills ordinarily might have warranted a spot as well, but Topps did not have Wills under contract until 1967.

Milwaukee Braves: Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, Joe Torre

Spahn finally collapsed in 1964, but Topps was not ready to give up on him, giving him this spot over over Eddie Mathews, who was in decline but still a very productive player. The other two were easy calls.

New York Mets: Ron Hunt, Galen Cisco, Roy McMillan

Hunt was the only actually good Met. Cisco enjoyed a pretty decent run in early 1964, the best run of his career, and this was just enough to get into the set. McMillan was basically a utility player at this point, but that was true of the entire team.

Philadelphia Phillies: Johnny Callison, Jim Bunning, Tony Gonzalez

Given the inclusion of Oliva, its hard to justify the omission of rookie Dick Allen, who was one of the best players in the NL from April onward. Gonzalez was a good player, but not in Allen’s class.

59453_1264x2161

Pittsburgh Pirates: Roberto Clemente, Bob Bailey, Bob Friend

Other than Clemente, the Pirates were transitioning in this period and Topps went with a guy on his way in (Bailey) and a guy on his way out (Friend). They could easily have gone with Bob Veale or Bill Mazeroski, but whatever.

San Francisco Giants: Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda

At first glance, Willie McCovey (the NL home run champ in 1963) seems like a shocking miss, but he was having a down year in 1964 and Topps chose three other Hall of Famers. Hard to complain, really.

St. Louis Cardinals: Bob Gibson, Dick Groat, Ken Boyer

The Cardinals acquired Lou Brock in June and he was their best player the rest of the year, but this was a couple of months too late for this set. With apologies to Bill White and Curt Flood, Topps chose well.

For my money, the biggest miss in the set was Drysdale, who lost out to lesser (albeit very good) players. There are many candidates for the “Least All-Star” because many teams did not have three good candidates. I might go with Galen Cisco for this coveted trophy, though.

As I have said, one of the reasons the set holds up so well is that the late release date allowed for up-to-date photography. The late release also likely hurt sales — Topps never tried a significant late summer release again. Fortunately, they printed tons of these cards, making collecting it today somewhat of snap.  It is a fabulous set, and well worth a little time and investment.

“Chico” means little boy, not ballplayer!

Several days ago I received, much to my surprise, a package in the mail from a good friend and fellow baseball aficionado, a number of Topps baseball cards.  They were all Latino players – my favorites – ranging from 1957 to 1967.  Of the 39 cards, I made note of one specific thing that always bothered me about Latino players of the era.  Or rather, something about them.

A number of the ballplayers sported the nickname “Chico.”   I always hated that.  Not that anyone ever called me “Chico.”  Maybe pain-in-the-ass, but never Chico.  When I was a kid, NBC’s “Chico and the Man” was pretty popular.  Freddie Prinze’s character, “Chico,” was a grown man.  He was a New York Puerto Rican portraying a Chicano in East LA, and that bothered me, too.

At any rate, the set I was so generously gifted, here’s what I found (real name and country of birth is included):

1957 Chico Carrasquel           Alfonso (Venezuela)

1959 Chico Fernández            Humberto (Cuba)

1967 Chico Salmon                 Ruthford (Panama)

1967 Chico Ruiz                      Giraldo (Cuba)

In doing a quick search, I found that of all the ballplayers, there were 10 with the name, “Chico.”  Aside from the four listed above, there was Chico Walker, who played a number of years with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, in the 1980s and 1990s as an outfielder and third baseman.  Curiously, he was born in Mississippi as Cleotha Walker.  Somewhere along the way, he picked up “Chico” as a nickname.  I’m sure there’s a story there.

Chico Escarrega, born Ernesto, in Mexico, played a solo year with the Chicago White Sox as pitcher, going 1-3 and one save with an ERA of 3.67 over 38 games.  Cuban Chico Hernández, who was born as Salvador, played a couple of seasons with the Cubs during World War II, as a catcher playing 90 games over the 1942 and 1943 seasons.  His career in organized baseball was pretty unremarkable.

Chico García, a Mexican born Vinicio, played for only 39 games as a second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles during the 1954 season.  He had been drafted by the Orioles from Shreveport, in the 1953 rule 5 draft, according to baseball-reference.com.  By the end of that season, he was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers, but appears to have left organized baseball.

 

Another Chico Fernández played during the 1968 season for the Orioles.  Cuban Lorenzo Fernandez was an infielder, playing both shortstop and second base for a measly 11 games. He appears to have spotty record, being signed by the Detroit Tigers in 1958, then sent to the Milwaukee Braves in 1962, then back to the Tigers in 1963, and then the White Sox several months later.  Prior to the start of the 1968 season, Fernandez was sent from the Southsiders to the Orioles.  The Atlanta Braves fielded another Chico Ruiz, this one born, Manuel Ruiz, was born in Puerto Rico, and played a couple of seasons (1978 and 1980) playing second base, shortstop and third base for a total of 43 games with a .292 batting average.

For whatever reason, these players allowed themselves to be denigrated by the term, “Chico.”  From my perspective, this rings as a means to keep Latino ballplayers in their place, by calling them “boy,” it minimizes their contributions and takes away from their given name, mocking their ethnicity along the way.

Speaking of which, you can’t utter “Chico” without thinking about the character, “Chico Escuela” played by Garrett Morris in NBC’s ‘Saturday Night Live’ in the mid-1970s.  While this is a parody of the perception of Latino players of the era, the character, as Adrian Burgos, Jr. points out in Playing America’s Game: Baseball, Latinos and the Color Line (2007), “made comedic fodder of Latinos in the midst of as new wave of Latino players breaking into the major leagues.” Escuela’s catchphrase: “baysbol has been bery, bery good to me” has endured over the decades.  Even repeated by Dominican Chicago Cubs slugger, Sammy Sosa during his hey-day.

I’m glad that there are no Latino players going by the name of “Chico.”  Though, the era of baseball nicknames has seemed to have gone by the wayside, anyway.  And, for the past few days I’ve sorted through my new stack of baseball cards, looking at the photos, flipping through the tidbits of information on back, thinking about the friend who was kind enough to send these things my way.  ¡Mil gracias!

Finding the Right Woman (and the Right Card)

I think a lot of us went through a phase where we recognized that collecting cards wasn’t cool, that making it known at 18, 20, 22 years old that we were working on completing our 1967 Topps set was not the best pickup line. “Hey, how’s it going? I gotta tell you, finding a Near Mint Juan Pizarro high number is really tough. Can I buy you a drink?” It doesn’t work.

I gave up on cards during college, though I’d occasionally buy packs. Once graduated (and single), I made up for lost time and bought the sets I’d missed from 1981-1984 (though not the 1984 Fleer Update, dumb!). Then I got back on the trail of my 1967 set.

You know you’ve met “The One” when you can openly fess up to what you perceive as your most embarrassing traits. Karen was “The One,” and not only did she quickly know I collected cards, but she came with me to shows! That’s true love. It was at one show, I think in New Jersey (let’s just say New Jersey, it’s a good setting), that having Karen along made all the difference.

Down to my final few ‘67’s, I found a dealer with a nice supply in nice condition. I got what I could and now, with one card to go, but the one card I didn’t see, I asked – “Do you have a Red Sox team card?”

“I don’t,” I heard him say, or was it “no,” I can’t recall. Whatever it was, it was bad.

I bought the cards he did have and we walked away from the table.

“I can’t believe he didn’t have the last card I needed,” I said, moaning the words out, Eeyore style.

“No, he did have it,” Karen said. “He said ‘I have it someplace else.’”

Really? How did I miss that? We headed right back and Karen was dead right. He had the card, it was in another box behind his table. He got it and it was beautiful. Thanks to Karen, it was mine.

Sure, I would have gotten the Sox team card eventually, yet, in my mind, I never would have completed the set without Karen. It’s a better story that way and that moment is eternally connected to that set and this card:

img_2340