“9th Inning”

I started this amazing project last September. The first purchase was a Billy Parker card on 9/2/20, and on 7/8/21 I found the Larry Doby card I wanted to complete it all. I had so much fun assembling this mix of well known cards, as well as some I never knew existed.

Sixteen players out of the 86 did not have an MLB card produced, which made things very interesting. I had to dig for autographs, Minor League cards, original photos, and even game cards. The back stories of these great players were so interesting: the journey, the struggle, the closed doors eventually pushed wide open.

I learned so much about the players and their families, the Negro League and its origins. I’m a bit bummed it has come to an end but happy I was able to share it with all of you. Thanks to SABR Baseball Cards and the whole SABR team for giving me their platform to share it. So here we go, it’s the bottom of 9th, time for a walk-off!

George Crowe 1953 Topps. As you know I love the ’53 Topps set. So ahead of its time. Big George with the frames as a member of the Boston Braves. Crowe was an outstanding basketball player, and enjoyed the game better than baseball. He was smart enough to know there was more money in baseball back then. In 1947 he joined the New York Black Yankees where he hit .305 in 141 at bats. In ’52 he made his debut with the Braves. He played 11 years in MLB, in ’57 he had his best season smashing 31 dingers along with 92 ribbies for Cincinnati.

🐐fact: “Crowe was the most articulate and far-sighted Negro then in the majors. Young Negroes turned to him for advice.” – Jackie Robinson

Joe Black 2001 Fleer Stitches in Time Autograph. Figured I would go the auto route with Joe, it’s a super clean signature, and a card I have never seen before. Black pitched for 3 MLB teams over 6 years. His best season was his rookie year playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He finished 41 games, sported a 15-4 record with a 2.15 era, 15 saves, and took home NL ROY as a 28 year-old. Joe played for the Baltimore Elite Giants of the Negro League.

🐐fact: Along with Jackie Robinson, Joe pushed for a pension plan for Negro League players. After his retirement from baseball, he remained affiliated with the Commissioner’s Office where he consulted players about career choices.

Quincy Trouppe 1978 Laughlin BVG 8.5. This card was from a set of 36 cards by sport artist R.G. Laughlin honoring outstanding black players from the past. Quincy was one of the players in this project who was never featured on a MLB card. He only appeared in 6 games with Cleveland as a 39 year-old. That was his MLB career, but Quincy was a legend in the Negro Leagues! He was a big switch-hitting catcher, 6′ 2″ and 225 pounds. Excelled as a player, manager, and scout. Trouppe was a baseball lifer who did many great things for the game.

🐐fact: In 1977 Quincy self-published a book entitled, “20 Years Too Soon”. He also had a vast collection of photographs, and supplied Ken Burns with most of the Negro League video footage for his legendary documentary.

Hector Rodriguez 1953 Bowman RC. Hector played one year for the Chicago White Sox in 1952. He was a natural shortstop, and a native of Cuba. A member of the New York Cubans in the Negro League. Even though he only played a short time in MLB, he was a fixture in the International League for the Toronto Maple Leafs. As you can see on this awesome Bowman card with Yankee Stadium in the background, he’s about to sling that ball sidearm. He was known for his underhand flip throws from deep in the hole just like someone I enjoyed watching growing up, Tony Fernandez.

🐐fact: Hector sported a great eye at the plate. In 1952 with the White Sox, he struck out only 22 times in 462 plate appearances!

Frank Barnes 1960 Topps RC. This is a really sharp card, not centered well, but great condition. Barnes played in 1957, 1958 and 1960 for the Cardinals, he pitched in only 15 career MLB games. If you notice, Frank is a member of the White Sox on his baseball card, but he would never appear in a game for them. Barnes played for the Kansas City Monarchs, he was later sold to the Yankees along with Elston Howard.

🐐fact: Barnes continued to pitch professionally in the minor leagues and Mexico until age 40 in 1967.

Joe Durham 1958 Topps PSA 7 RC. Joe had his first taste of the big leagues in 1954 as a 22 year-old OF with the Baltimore Orioles. He missed the ’55 and ’56 seasons due to military service. He returned to the O’s in ’57, then finished his career with the Cards in ’59. Durham started his professional career with the Chicago American Giants of the Negro League. After his playing career was over he became the O’s batting practice pitcher, and then moved into the front office. He was a member of the Orioles organization for over 40 years.

🐐fact: “I was in the Negro American League because I couldn’t play in anything else. People talk about racism in Mississippi and Alabama. Mississippi was bad, and Alabama was bad, but Chicago was just as bad as any of them.” – Joe Durham.

George Altman 1958 Topps RC / 1964 Topps Autograph. This is a really crisp rookie card, obviously not centered well, but an overall nice card. The Altman autograph came from Ryans Vintage Cards, a really cool Instagram account that sells random vintage cards in re-packs. George played 9 years in MLB as an OF and 1B. He was a 2x All-Star with the Cubs. In ’61 he led the league with 12 triples, batting .303 with 27 HR and 96 RBI. He started his pro ball with the Kansas City Monarchs, mentored by the great Buck O’Neil who taught him how to play 1B. The Cubs signed George, as well as Lou Johnson and J.C. Hartman all from Buck’s word.

🐐fact: After his time in MLB, Altman went on to play ball in Japan, amassing 205 HR until he retired at the age of 42.

Lino Donoso 1956 Topps Pirates Team Card. Donoso was one of the toughest players to find anything on. It took me months to realize he was on the Pirates ’56 team card. It’s Clemente’s second year, so it’s not a cheap card even in poor condition. Lino was a lefty pitcher, a Cuban native who started his professional career in 1947 with the New York Cubans of the Negro National League. He made his MLB debut in 1955, and played a few games for Pittsburgh in ’56 as well. He had a long career in the Mexican League, and was elected to their Hall of Fame in 1988.

🐐fact: Donoso was a teammate of Minnie Miñoso for the New York Cubans in ’47. He sported a 5-2 2.18 ERA as a 24 year-old.

Editor’s Note: You can enjoy the rest of this series right here on the SABR Baseball Cards blog.

From the Negro League to MLB

7th Inning

Everybody get up for the 7th inning stretch! As I get close to completing this wonderful project, I’m learning so much more about the lesser known Negro League stars. Many have such amazing, and inspiring stories. Not only on the baseball field, but off the field, family, etc. Sam Jones just finished his warmup tosses, let’s play ball…

Sam Jones 1960 Leaf PSA 6. ’60 Leaf was a black and white set with only 144 cards, pretty rare. Sam had a stellar MLB career. He finished his 12 year career with 102 wins and 101 losses with a 3.59 era. A 2x All-Star, he won 21 games for the Giants in ’59 sporting a 2.83 era. 16 complete games, 4 shutouts, and 5 saves! Jones was a big dude, 6′ 4″ 200lbs, he was the first African-American to throw a no-no. Jones played for the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro American League.

🐐fact: Jones was nicknamed “Toothpick Sam”, since he routinely had a toothpick in his mouth.

Dan Bankhead 1951 Bowman RC. ’51 Bowman is one of my favorite sets, such amazing color, so ahead of it’s time. This card is centered really well for that era, really clean card minus the lines. Dan was the first African-American pitcher in MLB. He played 3 seasons, all with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He homered in his first MLB at-bat. Bankhead was leading the Negro League in hitting (.385), when his contract was purchased by the Dodgers in 1947.

🐐fact: Dan played for the Birmingham Black Barons and the Memphis Red Sox. He served our great country, and was a sergeant in the Marines. Word has it that Dan struggled as a pitcher during his time in MLB due to him being “scared to death” of hitting a white ballplayer. “Dan was from Alabama, you know what I mean? He heard all those people calling him names, making those threats, and he was scared. He’d seen black men get lynched.” – Buck O’Neil.

Charlie Neal 1960 Topps 1959 World Series Game 2. This is such a great looking card. Charlie broke into MLB with the Brooklyn Dodgers, had a solid career spanning 8 years including three All-Star appearances. He played all over the infield, and enjoyed his best year in 1959 when he hit .287, 11 triples, 19 home runs, 83 ribbies, along with 17 swipes. He also won a World Series that year, along with a Gold Glove.

🐐fact: Neal played for the Atlanta Black Crackers, and despite being only 5′ 10″ and 165 lbs, he belted 151 home runs during his minor and major league career.

Bill Bruton 1953 Topps RC. Great looking card, ’53 is an all-time classic set. Bruton was a .273 career hitter over a 12 year career with the Milwaukee Braves and Detroit Tigers. Bill came up in ’57, and had a promising rookie season. Playing in 151 games as an OF, he had 18 doubles, 14 triples, 26 swipes, and hit .250. He finished 4th in the ROY voting. He was 27 by the time he reached MLB. He led the league in triples twice, and stolen bases three times (’53-’55). In 1991 Bruton was inducted into the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame.

🐐fact: Bruton’s father in-law was Hall of Famer Judy Johnson. Judy helped Bill get a tryout with the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro League.

Donn Clendenon 1962 Topps RC. Donn was 6’4″, solid hitter, struck out a lot, played mainly at 1B. His best year was in ’66 with the Pirates, 28/98/.299. He was MVP of the 1969 World Series with the Miracle Mets. He was a 3 sport star at Morehouse College, receiving contract offers from the Cleveland Browns and the Harlem Globetrotters. Donn played briefly for the Atlanta Black Crackers.

🐐fact: Super cool fact. When Donn arrived as a freshman at Morehouse in 1952, each student was assigned a “Big Brother”. A former Morehouse grad volunteered to be his, Mr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Bob Boyd 1958 Topps PSA 7. Boyd had a career average of .293 over ten seasons in MLB. Hit over .300 4 times at the age of 36, 37, 38, and 40. Bob was a 1B and OF who only struck out 114 times in 2152 plate appearances, wow! He was the first black player to sign with the Chicago White Sox. An excellent fielder as well, he started his professional career with the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro Leagues hitting .352, .369, and .371.

🐐fact: Boyd had a famous nephew who played in the majors as well, Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd. Bob is a member of the National Baseball Congress Hall of Fame.

Dave Pope 1955 Bowman RC. A very well centered ’55 Bowman. Look at that classic glove and flannel Cleveland jersey. Dave didn’t reach MLB until the age of 31. He played 4 seasons for the Cleveland Indians, and 2 with the Baltimore Orioles. A .264 career hitter, he was an excellent defensive outfielder. Pope played for the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords in the Negro League, as did his older brother Willie. Pope was brought into Game 1 of the ’54 World Series in the late innings after “The Catch” by Mays. In the 10th, Pope came close to robbing Rhodes of his game winning HR.

🐐fact: “When you look at a hit like Dusty Rhodes’s, which was what – 200-and-something down the right field line? And when you think of a 250-foot home run and you think of a 410-foot out, it’s just something that doesn’t seem to match. But that’s the way the game goes.” – Dave Pope

Harry Simpson 1952 Topps RC. How can you not love the 1952 Topps set? Such great color, and name plate. Harry started his professional career with the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro National League. Simpson had two cool nicknames, “Suitcase” for his size 13 shoes that were large as a suitcase. Also “Goody” for his willingness to help his neighbors in his hometown of Dalton, GA. Harry played 8 years in MLB, his best was in 1956 for the Kansas City Athletics. Earning his only All-Star birth, he led the league with 11 triples, hitting .293 while smashing 21 HR and driving in 105.

🐐fact: Simpson once hit a HR onto Brooklyn Avenue, outside of Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium. There was a concrete wall atop a 40-foot-high embankment in right field, making it a near impossible feat. A barnstorming Babe Ruth even had trouble hitting the target during exhibition games.

Dave Hoskins 1954 Topps RC. These cards are really tough to find well centered. Dave had an impressive rookie campaign with Cleveland. 9-3 with a 3.99 era. Starting 7 games, finishing 9, 3 complete games, and one save. Hoskins was the first black player to appear in the Texas League. He received many letters threatening his life, but still won 22 games with a 2.12 era and hit .328!

🐐fact: Hoskins played for a handful of Negro League teams during his early years. His best season was with the Homestead Grays in 1944, he hit .324 and went 5-2 on the mound as the Grays won their 8th consecutive National League pennant.

Hal King 1970 Topps RC PSA 8. Hal was one of the last Negro League players to make it to MLB. He was a lefty hitting catcher who had his best year in the majors in 1970 with the Braves. He hit .260 in 89 games, with 11 HR and 30 RBI. King barnstormed with the Indianapolis Clowns before signing with the Angels in ’65. Hal celebrated his 77th birthday on February 1st of this year.

🐐fact: On April 15, 1968 King was involved in a record-setting game between the Astros and New York Mets at the Astrodome. Starting behind the plate, he ended up catching the complete 24-inning marathon that lasted 6 hours and 6 minutes.

J.C. Hartman 1963 Topps RC. Hartman was a SS who spent two years with the Houston Colt .45s in 1962-1963. Hartman appeared in the 1955 East-West All-Star Classic as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs. In ’56 he was drafted into the Army. He was a well trained barber who cut other players’ hair during Spring Training. Hartman turned 87 on April 15 of this year.

🐐fact: J.C became a police officer after baseball, he was the first black supervisor in the Houston Police Department.

Bob Thurman 1957 Topps RC. ’57 Topps, such an innovative set. First time they used color photographs, reduced the size of the card from 2-5/8 by 3-5/8 to 2-1/2 by 3-1/2. Also, it was the first time they printed multiple-year player statistics on the back of cards. Thurman is part of the 4th series of the ’57 set, which is noticeably harder to find than other cards in the set.

Thurman did not make MLB until he was 38 years of age. He spent 5 seasons with the Reds. In ’57 he hit 16 HR in 74 games as a 40 year-old. Thurman played for the Homestead Grays with such legends as Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and Buck Leonard. In his first year with the Grays (1946), he hit .408. In ’47 he raked .338, and then in ’48 he hit .345 with a 6-4 record as a pitcher, helping the Grays win the pennant.

🐐fact: Thurman was originally signed by the Yankees. He was one of the best pinch-hitters of his era, smashing 6 career pinch-hit HR. If Bob was given the chance to play in MLB during his prime, who knows, he could of been a perennial All-Star.

Charlie White 1955 Topps RC PSA 6. Charlie was a catcher who played two years in MLB for the Milwaukee Braves. He started his professional career with the Philadelphia Stars in 1950. The next year he signed with the St. Louis Browns, by owner Bill Veeck. He was traded the next year to the Braves.

🐐fact: White was known for his humor on and off the ball field. He was a native of Kinston, NC.

George Spriggs 1967 Topps RC. Spriggs was actually featured on 3 different Rookie Stars cards. His first was with the Pirates, then in ’68 he had one with the Red Sox, and then with the Royals in ’69! George was an OF who played 5 years in MLB. He was the only Negro League player to play for the Royals. He was a part of the 1959 Kansas City Monarchs barnstorming team.

🐐fact: George built a baseball field behind his house named “Geno’s Field,” in honor of his late son. It was the home of the Tracey Twins, a team Spriggs was affiliated with for several years. George passed away last December at the age of 83.

George Smith 1965 Topps RC. George was an IF who played 4 seasons in MLB (3 with DET, 1 in BOS). Smith started his professional career with the Indianapolis Clowns. He signed with the Tigers in 1958 and was assigned to the Durham Bulls (Carolina League). He played sparingly with the Tigers, but during his one year with Boston he appeared in 128 games, smacking 8 HR and 19 doubles.

🐐fact: Smith was injured in Spring Training of 1967, even after getting released in July, he remained the Red Sox property. The Sox did the right thing for Smith, awarding him a one-third share of the World Series money.

Walt Bond 1960 Topps RC. The ’60 set is so unique, great looking card here. Bond came up as a 22 year-old with the Cleveland Indians. His best year in MLB was with Houston in ’64 when he belted 20 HR along with 85 RBI and batted .310 over 148 games. Walt stood 6′ 7″ and batted lefty. He battled leukemia during the latter part of his career. He got his feet wet in pro ball with the Kansas City Monarchs.

🐐fact: Bond passed away at the age of 29 due to complications from leukemia.

Lou Johnson 1960 Topps RC. Lou was an an OF who played 8 seasons in MLB. His best years were with the Dodgers in the mid-60s. In 1966 he hit .272 with 17 HR and 73 RBI. Johnson played in the Negro Leagues with the Indianapolis Clowns and the Kansas City Monarchs.

🐐fact: “If I had a wish, I would have God get all of the Negro league players, make them 30 years younger, and have them take the field again. This way, white folks could see them and what we’re talking about. I’d love for those fans to stand up, cheer, show their appreciation, recognizing them for what they’ve done.” – Lou Johnson

Willie Smith 1965 Topps RC. Willie was an OF/pinch hitter, a journeyman in MLB, playing for 5 teams in 9 years. His first full year, was actually his best pro year when he hit .301 with 11 HR and 51 RBI for the Angels in 1964. Smith played for the Birmingham Black Barons, and was selected to play in the East-West All-Star Game in 1958 and 1959. He was a highly touted pitching prospect, sporting a 14-2 record with a 2.11 era for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs in ’63.

🐐fact: During his MLB career, Smith pitched in 29 games, netting 3 starts, 61 IP, and a 3.10 ERA. During his 7 years in the minors, he was 49-27 with a 2.93 ERA. He also hit .304 in more than 1,200 plate appearances. If it was a different time maybe Willie would have been the first two-way star!

Billy Harrell 1959 Topps. Billy was an IF who played three seasons with the Cleveland Indians and his last with the Red Sox. He was known to be a defensive wiz. Described by Kirby Farrell, his manager at Cleveland and several minor league stops, as having “such tremendous hands, he could play the infield without a glove.” He received a basketball scholarship to Siena University, and during his time there they sported a 70-19 record. He also hit over .400 in his sophomore and junior seasons. Started his career with the Birmingham Black Barons in ’51, playing SS.

🐐fact: In 1966, Harrell became the third alumnus to be inducted into the Siena Athletics Hall of Fame. In 2006, he also became the first Siena basketball player to have his jersey number (#10) retired by the school.

Artie Wilson 1949 Sporting News/1946 Birmingham Black Barons Negro League Retort Signed Postcard. This was a really cool find. The Sporting News clipping details his time playing for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. The postcard (Wilson is 4th from left in back row) has Wilson’s auto along with Lyman Bostock, and Lester Lockett, his teammates on the 1946 Birmingham Black Barons. Artie did not have a MLB card. He played only one season for the New York Giants in 1951 at the age of 30. Wilson played for the Barons from 1942-1948, and considered the best SS during that time. He was the starting SS at the All-Star Classic four times in five years, only to get beat out by Jackie Robinson in 1945. In ’48, he batted .402, as well as mentoring a young Willie Mays.

🐐fact: Another player who was never given the chance in MLB despite his amazing talent. After his retirement, Wilson worked at Gary Worth Lincoln Mercury in Portland for more than 30 years, and stayed on there until the fall of 2008 at the age of 88 (what a legend!). He was named to the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1989, and the PCL Hall of Fame in 2003. He passed away in 2010 at the age of 89.

End of 7. Thanks to you all for reading and chiming in on the comments. I hope you enjoyed it so far. The “9th Inning” will be filled with many of the greats. How about that!

Cover Boys

A few months ago, after we lost Henry Aaron, there was discussion on Twitter suggesting that Aaron had been short-changed by magazine covers during his career, especially by Sports Illustrated and SPORT. I will set aside SI for now (later, I hope), but I might be able to help with the SPORT issue.

I am an avowed fan of the heyday of SPORT. The magazine debuted in September 1946, and was a haven for long-form sports articles for 30 years. (It hung on into the 1990s, though I can not speak the later years.) I have written about SPORT before, so read this if you want the full story.

I own a complete run of SPORT through 1976, and I have used the magazine dozens of times for my own writing–for my own books, but especially for countless BioProject articles. We have made much progress in our ability to do research via the internet–many newspapers are on-line, the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated. But not SPORT, and really there was nothing else like it. So my hardcopies remain.

A couple of years ago, I spent some time creating postcard-sized copies of every SPORT cover and putting them in a binder. Long-term I want to place a subject index in each pocket so that my binder would also be useful. I’m But for now, I just have the postcards.

I recently went through my binder to count the number of times people appeared on a cover. Before presenting the answers, I wanted to explain how I counted. SPORT has employed many different cover designs over the years. Often they have just shown a single player as the cover subject, sometimes they have two or more players share a cover, and occasionally they will have one primary subject but one or more secondary subjects. Rather than make things overly complicated, I decided to keep two counts: primary, and secondary. A few examples should help.

On the left, Willie Mays is the primary subject. On the right, Ted Williams and Stan Musial are each primary subjects.

On the left, Dick Groat is the primary subject and Mickey Mantle and Jim Taylor are secondary subjects. On the right, there are 20 secondary subjects (none named, which tilted the decision).

There are some judgment calls, and one could argue that I really needed four categories, or eight categories. Ultimately, I didn’t feel the subject warranted Yalta-level deliberations.

To return to where we started, Henry Aaron was a primary subject on four SPORT covers.

It is unfortunate that neither the June 1962 or July 1968 photos filled the entire cover. Surely they would today be mounted and framed all across this land. They may still be.

Is four covers a low total? Baseball dominated SPORT covers and articles throughout much of Aaron’s career, at least until the late 1960s. SPORT was a monthly magazine, so there were generally only 7 or 8 baseball covers per year to go around and lots of other stars.

The all-time leaders (through 1976, counting only covers as a primary subject, and counting only baseball players) are Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, with 16 covers each.

This August 1959 cover is the only one they graced together, albeit with two other players.

Here are the primary cover leaders:

  • 16: Mantle, Mays
  • 9: Ted Williams, Stan Musial
  • 7: Joe DiMaggio
  • 6: Rocky Colavito, Sandy Koufax, Jackie Robinson
  • 5: Frank Robinson, Duke Snider, Warren Spahn
  • 4: Aaron, Yogi Berra, Eddie Mathews, Pete Rose, Carl Yastrzemski, Maury Wills

All of these players are Hall of Famers with the exceptions of Colavito, Rose, and Wills, with Rocky by far the most surprising entry.

Colavito was a fine player, a six-time all-star who hit 30+ home runs seven times. He was no Henry Aaron, even in on his best day, but he was a very popular player in Cleveland and Detroit. SPORT was trying to sell magazines, and under no obligation to put the “best player” on the cover. However, it must be said that Colavito also bested Aaron inside the magazine, with 12 feature stories during his career to Aaron’s 11, despite Henry being a great player long after Rocky had washed out of the league. (Both Mays and Mantle had 30).

It would be naive to ignore race in this matter. Perhaps not directly–Aaron was well-liked and celebrated often in the pages of SPORT. But the magazine’s belief in Colavito as a story or cover subject, and the popularity of Colavito generally, stands out in a time when most of the bright young stars entering the game were Latino or African-American.

Roberto Clemente and Ernie Banks were featured on the cover of SPORT once each, shown above. Both were frequent story subjects (Banks 12, Clemente 11) but could not crack the cover code. Bob Gibson, the best and most famous pitcher in the world in the late 1960s, never graced the cover of SPORT magazine. On the other hand, Joe DiMaggio, who retired in 1951, made the cover five times in the 1960s.

SPORT did put Mays on the cover 16 times, and gave him their biggest honor on their 25th anniversary issue. SPORT loved Mays, as did every other sports magazine of the era. Heck, he also graced the covers of Look, Life, and Time. Mays is in his own special category.

SPORT’s baseball covers in the 1960s seemed to rotate between the nostalgia (DiMaggio, Ruth, Williams), a new emerging hero (Dean Chance, Johnny Callison) or a superstar. When they wanted the latter, Mantle and Mays were often the chosen ones, and famous stars like Gibson, Clemente, or Brooks Robinson (1 cover) were left out.

If I can find the time, I might make postcards for Sports Illustrated baseball covers. (Lawyers: I am not selling anything, just putting them in a binder for my own use.)

In the meantime, I will settle for 30 years of SPORT.

That’s amore.

“There are two laws of the universe – gravity, and everyone likes Italian food.” – Neil Simon, supposedly.

The photos on baseball cards have the power to fire imaginations. A player fresh up from Evansville with four big-league games under his belt can convince a young collector (OK, grown-ups too) that he’s a future Hall of Famer, just from the tilt of his cap and the confident look in his eye. A lad so strapping and foursquare must have The Right Stuff, no?

Another example: Every team on an old-fashioned team card looks like a well-oiled machine. Looking at those orderly rows of players in their clean uniforms, it’s tough to imagine them running into each other, or watching a fly ball drop uncaught, or air-mailing a throw to the cutoff man.

What’s shown in the background of cards can also get the imagination going. I recently noticed a recurring sign in the Montreal Expos’ long-ago spring-training ballpark in Daytona Beach … one of those things you don’t stop seeing once you’ve picked up on it.

And ever since I noticed it, I’ve been craving Italian food.

75ErnieMcAnally

It shows up most clearly behind Ernie McAnally’s left shoulder in 1975, next to the crudely painted sign where the “Cola” tilts askew from the “Coca.” See it? PAESANO.

76OPCFryman

Either Topps used an old pic in ’76 or the sign was still there at City Island Park a year later, because it shows up pretty clearly on Woodie Fryman’s card. PAESANO.

75SteveRenko

Going back to ’75, it’s not quite as clear on Steve Renko’s card. But once you’ve seen it elsewhere, you know it’s the same sign. PAESANO.

75BalorMoore

Like the melody of a lonesome accordion trickling in through an open window, it’s only hinted at on Balor Moore’s ’75 card. But again, once you’ve seen it, you recognize it. PAESANO. (The ’75 Don DeMola cheats us cruelly of a fifth PAESANO, though it surely gladdened the heart of your neighborhood Coca-Cola bottler at the time.)

Other bloggers have pointed out that Topps seems to have intentionally obscured outfield signs on several 1977 Expos cards. Perhaps if they had done the same thing here, I would not currently be dreaming about a dimly lit old-school ristorante at which mammoth plates of spaghetti are accompanied by bottles of affordable yet forthright red wine.

(This is a key part of my PAESANO fantasy. In my head, it’s not just an Italian place; it’s a Seventies Italian place, like my grandparents might have known. There’s vinyl involved, and those wrapped Chianti bottles, and Chevy Impalas like the one my grandfather owned parked outside.)

I’ve devoted entirely too much time to researching this on Newspapers dot com over the past few days … and of course I know nothing more than I did when I started. I don’t even know for absolute certain that PAESANO was a restaurant. It could have been an ad for Richie Paesano & Sons 24-Hour Towing.

I’ve found old print references to at least two Florida restaurants called Paesano or Paesano’s, though, as I recall, neither of them were in Daytona Beach nor tremendously close.

Intriguingly, back issues of the Montreal Gazette indicate that a restaurant called Paesano — complete with distinctive typeface — was a mainstay of that city’s formal dining scene in the early to mid-1970s. (The ad below ran in the Gazette on March 18, 1974.)

Expos spring training reportedly attracted a flood of Quebeckers each year, and it would have been a slick trick for a Montreal business to take advantage of their mal du pays and promote something they could enjoy when they got back home. That seems like a little bit of a stretch to me, though.

paead

I’ve scoured the Gazette and the Orlando Sentinel in search of a clear, unencumbered photo of the sign, to no avail.

The Sentinel used to write up the games of the Daytona Beach Dodgers, who played in the same park, but they never seemed to send a photographer. The Gazette cared enough to send a lensman to Expos spring training each year — but they only ran one of his photos each day, perhaps because they ate up space that could be devoted to the Montreal Canadiens’ latest playoff run.

The only view I’ve found so far is in a photo that ran February 28, 1975. Five Expos pitchers are hamming it up, giving the cameraman the ol’ prosciutto, and peeking out between two of them is just a hint of PAESANO.

feb281975

Of course this view raises more questions than it answers. The partial word “ANCA” is visible between Chip Lang and Dan Warthen at far left. I can only think of one food-related word in English that involves the letters “ANCA,” and it’s “pancakes” … not exactly the kind of food you find at a fancy-night Italian place. (Might PAESANO have been a diner instead?)

I might never know the full story of PAESANO. But it doesn’t really matter.

Once again — has it happened a thousand times since I was a boy? Ten thousand? — I’ve been reeled in by the image on a baseball card. My brain has locked in and started sparking, setting scenes, telling stories. I relish that feeling. It’s part of what keeps me buying cards, and paging through binders, and picking up cards and holding them in my hand. Without that connection, it’s all just piles of cardboard.

Push the crushed red pepper flakes a little closer, won’t you?

Hollywood Stars Were in the Cards: Part 4

One of baseball’s enduring little mysteries arose the day I opened a pack of Topps in 1979 and pulled out a Rick Honeycutt: “Is Rick Honeycutt the son of Korean War veteran, Capt. B.J. Hunnicutt, U.S. Army Reserve?” I mused. It was, after all, just the sort of question an 11-year-old experiencing a sugar high from an alarmingly excessive amount of Topps bubble gum would ask himself on a warm spring day. The immediate and obvious answer, thanks to the spelling of the surname, is no. However, such variation in relations is not unheard of, nor are baseball cards free from error, so I decided to delve deeper once I got some free time—which I’d hoped would arrive before the summer of ’79’s conclusion but, unfortunately, didn’t present itself until last Tuesday.

As is well known—or should be, considering the Korean War is little taught in schools, sadly contributing to its lamentable sobriquet, “the Forgotten War”—the armistice declaring a permanent ceasefire (officially known as the Korean Armistice Agreement) was signed 27 July 1953. Although many American troops remained in South Korea until 1954 due to this fragile peace, Capt. Hunnicutt, a surgeon stationed at the 4077th MASH at the time of the ceasefire, was, like many officers, rapidly returned to the United States. (Being an officer, he almost certainly traveled by aircraft. Remember: in the waning days of the conflict, Capt. Hunnicutt got as far as Guam before his erroneous orders to rotate home were rescinded and he was sent back to the 4077th—all in a time frame possible only by air travel.) This means that Hunnicutt would have arrived home in Mill Valley, California, within the first days of August—to the great delight of his wife, Peg, and his young daughter, Erin. (Even had he been shipped home by sea, Hunnicutt still would have walked in his front door before the end of August.)

Rick Honeycutt was born 29 June 1954, in Chattanooga, Tennessee—which means that he was conceived in late September 1953. Baby booms are commonplace in the first weeks and months after wartime, as overjoyed and undersexed servicemen return to their wives or sweethearts. So, Rick Honeycutt’s conception falls right when we’d expect it to occur.

But why would Rick Honeycutt be born in Chattanooga if B.J. and Peg were living just north of San Francisco? One possible reason could be that, sometime in 1954, B.J. decided to honor his parting promise to Swamp-mate, Capt. B.F. Pierce, that they’d see each other back in the States, so he and Peg set out for the East Coast—surely with a stopover in Quapaw, Oklahoma, through which the major highway of the day, Route 66, conveniently passes, to visit Peg’s parents. Yet because this predated construction of the Interstate Highway System, travel by car was significantly slower than by standards of the late 1950s, causing the pregnant Peg Hunnicutt to unanticipatedly give birth to Rick in Chattanooga, either on the way to, or returning from, their easterly destination.

But that is a scenario fraught with geographic variables, and I believe the case to be much more along the lines of B.J. Hunnicutt attending a medical convention at Chattanooga State Community College—possibly traveling there on the yellow 1932 NSU 501 TS motorcycle on which he departed the 4077th (B.J. easily could have bribed an airman to stow it on the cargo plane taking him home). While at the convention, he had a fling with a local woman—a precedent had been set between the supposedly true-blue Hunnicutt and an on-the-rebound 4077th nurse, 1LT Carrie Donovan—and this latter affair produced a son, whose mother, either out of shame or ignorance of spelling, named the boy Rick Honeycutt. If this is the case, then it’s entirely possible that B.J. never knew of the existence of Rick.

As if additional evidence were needed, the 6’1” Rick Honeycutt apparently inherited the 6’3” B.J. Hunnicutt’s height and lean frame. (His 1979 Topps card also displays an extremely high crown to his cap, indicating that Rick likewise inherited his father’s abnormally spacious forehead.)

Honeycutt attended high school in nearby Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, so, at some point, his mother up and left Rick’s birthplace, taking her son from the disapproving eyes of Chattanoogans and across the state line, where her sordid past might not be the talk of the town.

After returning to Tennessee for his collegiate years, where Rick developed into a crackerjack first baseman and pitcher, Honeycutt was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pitching well in AA ball, he became the “player to be named later” in an earlier trade with the expansion Mariners, making his major league debut for Seattle in August 1977. This must have pleased Capt. Hunnicutt, a keen baseball fan who, during his time in Korea, had predicted big things from a little-known rookie named Mays, helped fabricate a radio broadcast of a Yankees-Indians game, and whooped it up to Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.”

Rick’s years in Seattle, however, proved no better than the stalemate in Korea, as poor teams kept him on the losing end despite an ERA near league average. His frustration piqued during a start in Kansas City on September 30, 1980, as Honeycutt resorted to taping a thumbtack to the middle finger of his glove hand in an effort to covertly cut the baseball. But his ploy was spotted in the bottom of the third inning—as was the gash on his forehead after absent-mindedly wiping his face with his glove hand—resulting in immediate ejection from the game. Honeycutt quickly incurred a ten-game suspension and a $250 fine for his transgression.

Such unscrupulousness lends support to the theory that Rick was a product of an extramarital affair, because Dr. Hunnicutt would not have been around to imbue Rick with the strong moral foundation that would keep him from, ironically enough, doctoring a baseball.  

Whether the thumbtack incident hastened Honeycutt’s end in Seattle is debatable, but an 11-player swap just 10½ weeks later deputized him as a Texas Ranger, where, except for a disastrous 1982, his fortune improved.

Soon after the 30th anniversary of the armistice that brought Capt. Hunnicutt back to the United States, Texas packed off Rick to the Los Angeles Dodgers, despite Honeycutt owning the lowest ERA in the league (which would hold up after the trade, giving Rick the American League crown at season’s end despite now wearing a National League uniform).

The 1980s also, presumably, meant that B.J. now could follow Rick’s sojourn through the majors thanks to the newfangled gizmo known as cable television—a predilection that might have intrigued Peg and Rick’s half-sister, Erin, to see B.J. watching, or eagerly waiting for scores about, Rangers and Dodgers games rather than the hometown Giants.

Honeycutt experienced a homecoming of sorts when Los Angeles dealt him to the Oakland A’s in August 1987. Now just across San Francisco Bay from Mill Valley, Rick could reside close to his parents, or, if the scenario involving an illicit affair were, indeed, the cause of his birth, B.J. could clandestinely attend Athletics games and spend time with his son afterward—either of which made all the sweeter by Rick’s impending appearance in three consecutive World Series (including a championship against the Giants, though I have yet to discover a press photo of a champagne-soaked Rick celebrating with B.J.—perhaps Capt. Hunnicutt found San Francisco’s loss too dispiriting to celebrate and could not bring himself to join Rick in the clubhouse).

Some of this evidence might seem inconclusive, even far-fetched. However, what, for me, cements Rick Honeycutt’s lineage to Capt. Hunnicutt is the message he left the world after his final game, when Rick pitched an inning of mop-up for St. Louis at Shea Stadium in May 1997—a message in rosin bags that conclusively demonstrated Rick to be his father’s son…

The Clown Princes of Baseball Cards

The Globetrotter-Baseball link is well known. The team’s founder, Abe Saperstein, was extremely active in Negro League Baseball (SABR bio here). Bob Gibson played for the Globies in the ‘50’s

and Fergie Jenkins did the same a decade later.

Lou Brock also played and Mookie Betts was drafted by the Globetrotters in 2020, but in a head-scratching career move stayed a Dodger.

But the Globie-baseball card connection? I’ve got it covered.

It’s hard to overstate the cultural pervasiveness of the Trotters during the 1970’s. In the first half of the ‘70’s, the Globetrotters were an ABC Wide World of Sports highlight, not to be missed. There were books about them

they had their own Saturday morning cartoon show

they starred in a Scooby-Doo movie

and they had not one, but two, trading card sets.

The 1971 Fleer Globetrotter set was 84 glorious cards, a simple photo on the front and well-written prose on the backs. They must’ve come in packs of 8. I just finished the set but started with 56 cards I’d bought back then (8 cards per pack is the best math I can come up with). Each pack had a team logo sticker, which I both don’t remember and, shockingly, have none of. If I bought 7 packs back then, I should have at least 6 intact stickers around, I don’t.

The second set is a shorter version of the first, 28 cards, but with facsimile autographs on the front and the Cocoa Puffs logo added to the back.

So what’s this got to do with you? I’ve written before about finding baseball cards in non-sports sets. The Fleer and Cocoa Puffs sets both have two cards of the Globies “Baseball Play” skit.

Card #70 (#3 Cocoa Puffs) is a complete baseball card. It’s got Meadowlark Lemon sliding and the back referencing the act.

Card #71 (#7 Cocoa Puffs) is half a baseball card, but it’s a great photo. The back has 1970-71 Highlights, no baseball stuff.

There are scads of hysterical Meadowlark Lemon memories, but I’m pretty sure my favorite may have been part of the baseball act. Lemon would slide and start howling “My leg! My leg!” The trainer and concerned teammates would come out and minister some aid to the injured leg.

“It’s my other leg!” Lemon would wail. A great punchline. It might be from a different skit, but I like it my way.

The Globies are still doing there thing . Here’s the baseball play, with a special Yankee guest.

From the Negro League to MLB

5th Inning

As we hit the midway mark of the project, the hobby has reached unprecedented times. Due to a huge boom in card collecting, PSA recently shut down its services for the foreseeable future. Backloaded with millions of cards not yet processed or graded, I believe they made the correct move to shut down and restart. SGC also recently raised their prices from $25 per card to $75. I do love the look of vintage cards in the SGC “Tuxedo” slabs, so I was pretty bummed when they made the decision to jack prices to that level.

In saying all this, my plan was (and still is) to have every card/item in this collection graded/authenticated. Due to the shutdown of PSA, that will have to wait. Many of the lesser value cards in my project were originally planned to be sent out via bulk submissions. Not happy about it, but this project is more about the process than anything else. Okay, enough of the rant, first up to bat (I mean pitch) is…

Jose Santiago 1956 Topps RC. One of my favorite sets, ’56 Topps. Nicknamed “Pantalones” which means pants or trousers in Spanish, he earned this name during Winter ball in his native Puerto Rico. Santiago pitched for the Negro Leagues as an 18 year-old, playing for the New York Cubans. Jose reached the majors in 1954 with the Cleveland Indians appearing in only one game. In 1955, he had a really impressive year, finishing 6 games, and sporting a 2.48 era in 17 appearances. 1957 was his last season in MLB, but Jose was a baseball lifer, spending 16 seasons in the Puerto Rican Winter League.

🐐fact: Santiago lived to 90 years old, he was inducted into the Puerto Rico Sports Hall of Fame in 1987, as well as the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame.

Pancho Herrera 1958 Topps RC. Pancho was a 6’3″ 220 lb Cuban who had plenty of power. Herrera played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League before being purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1954. In 1960 he finished second behind Frank Howard in NL Rookie of the Year voting. In 145 games he batted .281, slugged 17 HR to go along with 71 RBI. Herrera had an extensive Minor League career that spanned into his 40’s. He was elected to the International League Hall of Fame in 2008.

🐐fact: Pancho’s 1958 Topps card featured a rare error version that blocked the black printing dye where the “a” in his last name should’ve been. The “a” is barely legible, and must have been noticed very early by a Topps employee since there’s very few cards that have surfaced. To this date there’s only 50 cards graded in the PSA database, four PSA 8, one PSA 9, and none ever graded as a 10!

Junior Gilliam 1960 Topps. What a great set, Gilliam was an All-Star in 1959 his 2nd appearance in the Mid-Summer classic (1st was in 1956). Junior was born in Nashville, TN and played for the Nashville Black Vols (Negro Southern League) as a teenager for $150 a month. After spending 6 years with the Baltimore Elite Giants he was signed by the Dodgers organization in 1951. In 1953 he was NL ROY, leading the league with 17 triples.

🐐fact: Junior was a 4x World Series champ (appeared in 7 total), and spent his whole career (14 seasons) with the Dodgers.

Jehosie Heard 1954 Topps RC. This was an easy choice since it was the only Topps card Jehosie appeared on. He was the first African-American to play for the Baltimore Orioles. He appeared in 2 games as a 34 year-old in 1954. The Georgia native first picked up the great game of baseball on an Army base during the war. After serving our country he joined the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro League. Heard had success as a lefty pitcher for many years but was also an excellent hitter. In 1951 he hit .396 and played the outfield when he was not pitching.

🐐fact: Heard stood only 5′ 7″ and weighed 155 pounds.

Henry “Hank” Mason 1960 Topps RC. Like Heard, Mason appeared on only one Topps card. He was a right-handed pitcher, and played for the Phillies in 1958 and 1960. Hank began his professional career with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League. He was the starting pitcher of the 1954 East-West All-Star Game. Mason was dominant in the Minor Leagues, posting records of 12-4 (1955) and 14-7 (1956) leading the league in shutouts for the Schenectady Blue Jays, a Phillies farm team.

🐐fact: On Opening Day in 1952 for the Monarchs, Mason pitched 16 innings to defeat the Philadelphia Stars, 3-2.

Carlos Paula 1955 Topps RC. Paula was a Cuban born right-handed hitting outfielder. ’55 is such a great set, Paula has a great smile and a really cool picture of him in a throwing motion with a clean Senators uni! Paula was built like a prizefighter, 6′ 2″, great speed, and could hit for power. On September 6, 1954, the Senators became the 12th of 16 teams to integrate their roster. Paula had a double, and single in his first MLB game. Paula was definitely one of many that did not get his fair chance of playing time. Often outplaying fellow white ballplayers, but as we know this was a common trend during these unfortunate times. During a 22 game stretch in 1955, from mid-August to September, Paula hit .450 with 36 hits, 14 for extra bases, while only striking out 4 times.

🐐fact: In 1954 Topps issued a card of Angel Scull who was thought to be the first player to integrate the Senators, but he never appeared in a Major League game!

Al Smith 1955 Bowman. Love the ’55 Bowman’s, such a unique set, one of a kind. Smith started his professional career with the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro League. He had a very good career in MLB. Amassing 1458 hits over a 12 year career. Posting a lifetime batting average of .272, along with 164 dingers. In ’55 he was an All-Star, finished 3rd in the AL MVP race, playing in all 154 games, 725 plate appearances, 123 hits, leading the AL in those categories. Not to forget his 22 HR, 77 RBI, and .306 AVG.

🐐fact: Smith played in the 1954 and 1959 World Series. After playing baseball, he went on to work for the city of Chicago, and managed the city-wide baseball program for 18 years.

Elston Howard 1962 Salada Coin PSA 8. This is really cool, especially that these coins came in packages of Salada Tea and Junket Dessert products. They came in six different colored borders, with over 260 players in the master set. Elston was a fan favorite in my family. My grandfather, and uncle always raved about him. A 9x MLB All-Star (1957-1965), MVP winner, 2 Gold Gloves, and don’t forget his 4 World Series Championships. In 1961 he hit .348 in 129 games, smashing 21 homers and 77 RBI.

🐐fact: Elston played 3 seasons with the Kansas City Monarchs, starting in 1948 at the age of nineteen.

John Wyatt 1966 Topps PSA 4. I’m not the biggest fan of the ’66 Topps set, but as you know I’m a jersey fanatic. I loved how the players wore those jackets under the uniform back in the day. No matter what city the Athletics played in, they had incredible uniforms. Really love this card. Wyatt was a right-handed pitcher who played in MLB for four teams over a nine year span. He finished with a 42-44 record, and a respectable 3.47 era. His best year was with Kansas City, when he appeared in 81 games (led the AL), 9 wins, 20 saves, a 3.59 era, and earned a trip to the Mid-Summer classic.

🐐fact: John started his professional career with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League in 1953. In ’54 the St. Louis Cardinals offered him $1,000 to sign, “I never seen that kind of money in one lump sum and I wasn’t going to let it slip away.”

Chuck Harmon 1954 Topps RC. Great set, awesome looking rookie card. Harmon broke into the majors at the age of 30 with the Reds. He was a 6′ 2″ utility player, who batted righty. Chuck was one of many who started their pro career with the Indianapolis Clowns. He deserved to be in the Big Show long before 1954. He hit .374 and .375 in consecutive seasons in the minors.

🐐fact: Harmon was a very talented basketball player in his high school days. He was the first African-American to coach in professional basketball and led the Utica team in the Eastern League as a player/coach.

Curt Roberts 1955 Topps. ’55 is a classic set. This is Roberts 2nd year card. He had an excellent rookie campaign, the back of this card states, “reputation as a top Major League prospect”. Curt was a highly touted defensive second baseman. He played in 134 games his first year, but only 37 more games over two seasons. By the age of 26 he played his last MLB game. Roberts was the first African-American to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sadly, at the age of 40 he was killed by a drunk driver while changing a flat tire on the side of the highway.

🐐fact: Roberts started his professional career with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League. He was also a mentor to the great Roberto Clemente during his time in Pittsburgh.

Charlie Dees 1964 Topps RC. Like Roberts, Dees had a very productive rookie year. Charlie was 28 years of age in 1963 when he hit .307 in 60 games for the Los Angeles Angels. By 1965 he was out of MLB. Dees started his professional career in 1957 with the Louisville Clippers of the Negro Leagues.

🐐fact: Dees led the Texas League in batting in 1962, hitting .348, 179 hits, 23 HR and 115 RBI for the El Paso Sun Kings.

Jim Pendleton 1953 Topps RC PSA 5. Great shot of Jim in that Milwaukee Braves cap. Pendleton started his career in 1948 with the Chicago American Giants of the Negro League. The Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jim after the ’48 season but spent four years in the minors, mainly due to Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese at shortstop. In 1953 he was traded to the Milwaukee Braves and converted to an outfielder.

🐐fact: Pendleton spent 8 seasons in MLB, with 4 teams. He served our country in WWII.

Gene Baker 1959 Topps PSA 7. Gene was a 6′ 1″ infielder who reached the Big Show for a cup of coffee during the 1953 season with the Chicago Cubs. In ’55, as a 30 year-old Baker played in all 154 games, and made his one and only All-Star Game. He hit .265 over an eight year career with the Cubs and Pirates. Gene started his professional career with the Kansas City Monarchs and was their regular SS for the ’48 and ’49 seasons.

🐐fact: Not only was Baker part of the first African-American keystone combination in MLB (along with Mr. Ernie Banks), but he was also the first African-American to manage in the majors. During the ’63 season, then coaching with the Pirates, manager Danny Murtaugh and coach Frank Oceak were tossed, Baker took the reigns (not in the record books).

Bob Trice 1954 Topps RC. Trice was a 6′ 3″ right-handed pitcher from Newton, GA who played 3 seasons in MLB. The ’54 Topps was his only card. Bob was the first person of color to play for the Philadelphia Athletics. Bob spent three years with the Homestead Grays of the Negro League.

🐐fact: Bob started his professional career as an outfielder, but with the help of veteran Sam Bankhead he transitioned into a pitcher.

Jim Proctor 1960 Topps RC. This a really cool “Rookie Star” card, big fan of this look. Proctor appeared in only 2 MLB games (1 start) in 1959 with the Detroit Tigers. He started his professional career with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League.

🐐fact: Before being called up in September of ’59, Proctor had a fantastic year with the Knoxville Smokies (Sally League), sporting a 15-5 record, with a 2.19 era.

Larry Raines 1958 Topps RC. Raines was a well traveled ballplayer, mainly playing 3B, SS, and 2B. He started his pro career with the Baltimore Elite Giants in 1952. He went off to Japan to play in the Pacific League in 1953. Playing for Hankyu Braves, he led the league with 61 stolen bases in ’53. In ’54 he led the league in average (.337), runs (96), and hits (184). In 1957 (27 years old), he appeared in 96 games for the Cleveland Indians, hitting .262.

🐐fact: Raines is recognized as the first ballplayer to perform professionally in Minor League baseball, Negro League baseball, Japanese baseball, and MLB.

Joe Caffie 1958 Topps RC. Good looking ’58 card here. Caffie was a teammate of Larry Raines during the ’57 season. Joe had a fantastic rookie year, hitting .342 over 12 games. In a short span in MLB, he finished with a .292 avg (127 AB’s). Caffie broke in as an OF for the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro League. He hit well at every level. As you see with most of the Negro League players, they were either brought up to MLB too late in their career, or not given the proper playing time, even though most deserved it.

🐐fact: Joe was nicknamed, “The rabbit”. Here’s a quote by former Negro League star Luke Easter, “I have seen a lot of fast ones, but Caffie is the fastest, and that includes guys like Sam Jethroe.”

Joe Taylor 1958 Topps RC. Another ’58 Topps, great smile by Joe here. Taylor had a 4 year career in MLB, joining the Philadelphia Athletics as a 28 year-old. He started his professional career with the Chicago American Giants. In 1954 he was an All-Star hitting .323 and 23 HR for the Ottawa A’s (AAA).

🐐fact: Taylor battled alcoholism for much of his career, he had tremendous talent, here’s a quote from the great Maury Wills. “Joe Taylor should have been a superstar in the big leagues.”

Maury Wills 1972 Topps PSA 7.5. Speaking of Mr. Maury Wills, he will be up last in the “5th Inning” segment. I love this Wills card, two reasons, the ’72 set is one of my favs, and second, it’s his last Topps player card. Great Dodgers uniform here, exceptional piping down the shoulder and sleeve. Maury was the glue to those great Dodgers Championship teams. A 7x All-Star, 3x World Series champ, 2 Gold Gloves, and MVP of 1962 when he hit .299, smacked 208 hits, stole 104 bases, and legged out 20 triples. Wills was born in Washington, DC, a 3 sport star in basketball, football, and baseball. He played briefly for the Raleigh Tigers of the Negro League. He finished his MLB playing career with 2,134 hits, 586 stolen bases, and a .281 average.

🐐fact: Maury, now 88, is still a member of the Dodgers organization. In 2015, he missed getting elected by the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Golden Era Commitee by 3 votes.

Well that’s all for now folks, I hope you enjoyed the “5th Inning”. We’re headed to the 7th, see you soon!

Little Stamps Everywhere

1969 Topps stamps

In 1969 a boy or girl could go to the store to buy baseball cards, discover that they did not yet have the new series, and instead spend his hard-earned nickels on baseball stamps. The stamps were not “inserts”, they were sold separately. For 5 cents, you could get a stick of gum, a 12 stamp panel (perforated for easy separation) and a team album in which you could place 10 stamps. If this makes you think of hot dogs, you are not alone.

If you bought a single pack, you might get this Cleveland Indians album, but no Cleveland Indians stamps. What good is that? It was a model that essentially required that you buy more packs if you wanted to collect them. Lots more packs. To complete the set (I know of no one who did this, or even really tried to do this) you would need to buy at least 24 packs to get the 24 albums. This would give you 288 stamps. Each of the team albums needed 10 stamps, so if you were incredibly lucky you’d fill up your albums and have 48 extra stamps.

Topps could have made this a lot easier by creating 20 unique panels, each with a non-overlapping group of 12 stamps. Collect these 20 panels, and you have your stamps. “Hey, I am missing the one with Tommy Davis in the upper-left, do you have that one?” Easy-peasy.

But, no.

First of all, the panels came in one of two different configurations: either 6 rows of 2, or 2 rows of 6.

Vertical alignment
Horizontal alignment

My memory is that in Southeastern Connecticut we got the vertical configuration. If either configuration is folded in thirds, the resulting 2×2 shape is the size of a standard baseball card, and fit nicely in the pack.

Second, the master sheets were not divided in a consistent way. There are many more than 20 possible sheets, so kids would have to trade individual stamps to complete their Indians booklet. In the below panel, the left-most four stamps are the same as the rightmost four above.

Horizontal panel

It was not completely random. If you get a horizontal panel with Larry Dierker in the upper left, you got this 12-stamp configuration. And apparently there are ways to put together a full set with 20 panels of 12 stamps, though I have not tried to figure out who the magic “upper left” players are that will allow you to do this. (If you have the answer, please let me know in the comments.) More likely, you will collect a bunch of panels with overlapping populations, so you will need a lot of stamps.

If you take a look at some of these hatless and black-hat photos, you will recognize that you are in 1969. As a reminder, that year Topps was beset with four new expansion teams, problems with the Astros, and a player boycott, and many of these photos were a few years old. You can tell that the stamps came out early in the spring, because all of the 1969 photo issues are in play.

We also know these were put together early by looking at how Topps handled Hoyt Wilhelm. Wilhelm was a great pitcher destined for the Hall of Fame, but he was 46 years old and beginning the nomadic phase of his career. He was pitching very well (1.73 ERA in 93 innings in 1968), but after the season the White Sox did not protect him in the expansion draft. Who’s going to draft a 46-year-old?

On October 15, the Kansas City Royals selected him in the draft. On December 12 he was traded to the Angels. Meaning that he was property of the Royals for 58 days.

During these 58 days, Topps put together the Royals album and the Wilhelm stamp.

Topps used Wilhelm’s likeness in a few other sets that year. In the 1969 flagship he was in the sixth series (late summer) and is on the Angels. He is in the decal set as an Angel. He in on the Angels team poster. The only other time he shows up as a Royal is in the deckle-edged set. Although his team name is not listed, we know he is a Royal because of how the checklist is laid out –he was the only Royal. In fact, his trade to the Angels (and Topps desire to have every team represented) caused Topps to replace him in the set with Joe Foy, one of two “variations” in that set. (The other, Rusty Staub giving way to Jim Wynn, was the result of Staub’s trade to the Expos and the need for an Astro deckle.)

1969 team poster

Of these five items, four use the same photo, but the stamp (Royals) was most likely designed first, then the deckle-edged (Royals, replaced), then the poster and flagship (Angels), and then the decal (different image, with Angel hat/uniform drawn on).

OK, so what’s the point? The point, as always, is whether (and how) I would want to collect all of this today. Over the years I have realized that I really like the look of the stamp panels and I have haphazardly been “collecting” them. By which I mean if I see one (horizontal) at a decent price that I don’t already have I will attempt to acquire it. I have 17 different, though the prices, like everything else, have risen sharply recently. On occasion I will see a large sheet of 240 stamps which I would hang in my house except that I’d have to sell my house to afford the sheet.

I have also collected a complete set of 24 team booklets, with all stamps affixed. This is actually pretty affordable, though not as attractive or as easy to display. In this area, at least, I might side with @vossbrink’s view on the desirability of collectibles that have been used for their intended purpose. Or maybe I am just playing both sides, wanting the panels in their original configuration, but wanting the albums “used”. By this method, I own all the stamps, and can collect the panels without much regard for the player details.

As I mentioned recently with respect to the 1970/71 scratch-offs, the Topps offerings in this period are quite messy. But the mess is mainly trying to get it right (getting players on the right team, or in the right hat), not trying to rip off kids with chase cards and parallels and pieces of uniform. It was a better mess, in my view.

The Deal With Deadlines

At some point, Topps just had to stop caring.

Now… hold on here. I don’t mean it however you take that I mean it there. What I mean is, at some point when putting together their flagship checklist, Topps had to stop reacting to new player transactions. This is most apparent in the early part of the single-series era, but it also reflects in their multi-series issues of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Between 1957 and 1969, every Topps set reflected at least one trade made in either late March or early April (years prior to 1957 are a little hard to figure due to a lack of meaningful pre-season trades).

Traded to the Pilots (misidentified at the Pirates on the card’s back) January 15, 1970.

Things start to roll back a bit, though, entering the 1970s. In the 1970 set, the latest reflected move is Phil Roof’s trade to the Pilots on January 15 – placing the “deadline” a full two months sooner than it had been in decades. In the 1971 set, the latest is Andy Kosco’s February 10 trade to the Brewers, depicted in the sixth and final series. In 1972, Topps cheated just a bit – depicting transactions that occurred as late as March 4 in the ‘Traded’ series in the sixth series, which featured players who had already appeared earlier in the set (in this era, of course, Topps could only reflect team changes on players who were slated to appear in the higher series).

The inclusion of a late spring move in the flagship set was a bit of a throwback by 1972, but it did not seem to add any appeal to a mid-summer release.

It appears that Topps had been trying to hasten the release of their full baseball checklist in the early 1970s by skipping out on late-spring player moves and moving from seven series to six after the 1970 release. But in ’72, they released their largest set ever – nearly 800 cards – and the inclusion of the actual photos taken at some point in early March (Denny McLain’s March 4 trade is the latest reflected and he is shown in his Oakland uniform) – suggests a release schedule more in line with what they had been doing in the 1960s. But the changes Topps made for the 1973 and ’74 sets (as well as the modern-day scarcity of ’72 sixth series cards) indicate that their 1972 release schedule had been a significant burden on the company’s bottom line. For ’73, the set was trimmed back to 660 cards and five series. The latest depicted transaction was Earl Williams’s trade to Baltimore on November 30, 1972 and the final series contained a card of Orlando Cepeda as an Oakland A, even though he’d been released on December 18 – all of which indicates a transaction deadline about three months earlier than it had been for 1972.

An indicator Topps was rushing things by 1973.

The multi-series concept was ditched for 1974, and for the first time we can see a true line past which transactions did not matter. Jerry Ruess’ October 31, 1973 trade from the Astros to the Pirates was the latest off-season deal recognized in the set. Bob Locker, who went from the Cubs to A’s three days later, had to settle for an outdated offering in the main 1974 set.

Topps issued their first-ever “traded” series that year in an effort to make up what had been lost in the single-series issue. The cards – essentially updated takes on traded player’s 1974 base cards – were inserted into later-run packs. The 43 player set covered transactions that occurred between Locker’s trade and the December 11 trade that sent Ron Santo from the Cubs to the White Sox.

With no traded set in 1975, Nate Colbert’s shift to the Tigers on November 18 was the latest move that Topps included in the flagship. Bafflingly, the two men he was traded for – Dick Sharon and Ed Brinkman – are ALSO depicted as Tigers in the set. Topps brought back the Traded set in 1976, again including the updated cards in later-run packs. While their flagship was deadlined just after Nelson Briles’ trade to the Rangers on November 12, the Traded series covered moves made between November 17 and mid-December.

Free agency complicated Topps’ off-season schedule and would soon change the make-up of their flagship set.

The advent of wide-spread free agency following the 1976 season pushed the flagship deadline back to the beginning of December. Not surprisingly, Topps waited on the offseason’s biggest prize – Reggie Jackson – to land his star in New York City before setting that set’s team designations. Jimmy Wynn, who went to the Yankees from the Braves the day after Jackson signed, would remain a Brave (on cardboard anyway) for another year. The 1978 set waited even longer, issuing a card of Ron Schueler in an airbrushed White Sox cap after he signed on December 3. It would be the latest-ever transaction Topps would acknowledge in the single-series era.

While I’ve been unable to find any information on release dates from this era, by 1979, Topps shifted their priority to getting their set to market as soon as possible. Perhaps wishing to avoid the messiness of only being able to cover half of a given off-season’s moves, Topps stopped acknowledging post-season player shifts all together. In 1980, their cutoff for finalizing player base cards even left two late-September 1979 moves (Ralph Garr to the Angels and Dock Ellis to the Pirates) to be recognized only in passing on the back of each card.

The introduction of an annual Traded set in 1981 gave Topps a means of recognizing off-season moves while still being able to get their cards to market soon enough as not to get swamped in a suddenly-competitive marketplace. But Topps would still be operating with a transaction deadline… a topic I’ll be exploring in a soon-to-come post.

A Quixotic Quest

Recent trends in the baseball card world have caused me to step aside for the time being. Vintage cards, at least the years I might be interested in targeting, have become too expensive, and recent cards no longer cater to the childlike fun that drew me to the hobby as a youngster. I concede that Vincent Van Gogh would have made fine artwork if asked to use a 2.5 x 3.5 inch canvas, maybe even a classic “card” of Jackie Robinson, but (a) why would we ask him to do this, and (b) how would that help 10-year-olds to fall in love with the game?

So now what?

In recent years I have been very slowly working on completing various oddball sets from my childhood, especially Topps inserts or standalone offerings. The first inserts I remember encountering were the 1968 game cards, which Topps included in 3rd series packs. I’ve written about these cards before. They were fun and attractive, but very much treated as an “extra” in the pack, more important than the gum, but less important than the five included base cards. No one traded their “real” Willie Mays card for his game card.

In 1969 Topps produced two very popular inserts, one a black-and-white deckle edged card, and the other a color decal (which could be peeled off and affixed to another surface). Both very fun extras.

In 1970 Topps replaced their long-standard 5-cards-for-a-nickel packs with 10-cards-for-a-dime. This might seem a trivial difference, but for those of us with a 25 cents/week allowance, it required complex budgeting.

Perhaps feeling somewhat guilty, Topps placed three different inserts into packs throughout the summer. Although there may have been regional scheduling variations, in my neck of the woods Topps used posters in series 1/2, scratch offs in series 3/4/5, and story booklets in series 6/7. I hope to write about all of them in more detail soon, but for today I will focus on the scratch offs.

The 1970 Topps scratch off set consisted of 24 cards, picturing a player from each of the 24 teams.

When folded, the photo of Yaz is the “front”, the scoreboard and rules are the “back”. When unfolded, the game is revealed.

If you follow the rules your card might look like this around the sixth inning.

Truth be told, there are *lot* of problems here.

  1. If you actually play the game, your hands will be blackened by the third inning. Even as a nine-year-old, this was annoying. What if you had to touch your “real” cards?
  2. Once the game is played once, the card is useless. With the 1968 game cards you could collect a big stack (doubles are useful), and play the game over and over.
  3. The scratched “card” looks awful. (This point might be up for debate. I know that @vossbrink, for example, likes checklist cards that have been used for their intended purpose. This is a respectable point of view, and might apply here.)
  4. Even fresh out of the pack, the row on the seam (see picture) was difficult to scratch and read.
  5. Not that kids cared at the time, but the cards were often misaligned or poorly cut.

Although I said above that the players represented each of the 24 teams, the team name is not actually listed–this is just something you would figure out if you placed them with their real team. Presumably “Red Sox” is not specified because Yaz is supposed to be the captain of *your* team. Nonetheless, the players chosen are clearly supposed to stand for the 24 major league teams.

McCarver and Allen played for the Cardinals and Phillies, respectively, in 1969, but were traded for each other (along with several others) in October. Since they appear hatless, and since they both appeared on cards labeled with their new teams in the flagship set, we can assume that these are cards for the Phillies (McCarver) and Cardinals (Allen).

Mike Hegan shows up wearing a Seattle Pilots hat, consistent with Topps use of the Pilots team throughout the summer (though they moved to Milwaukee prior to the season). For Yastrzemski and the other 20 cards the real-life team is obvious.

A discerning observer in 1970 (which, if we are being completely honest, I was not) would have recognized the scratch off set as an uninspired, even lazy, effort by Topps.

But … things would soon get *less* inspired.

In 1971, Topps was fresh out of ideas and chose to use the scratch offs as an insert again. Not just the concept — they used exactly the same players, with identical fronts and backs. The only difference is that the background color on the inside is red instead of white. (One wonders why they even bothered to change the inside?)

There were real-life player shifts that upended Topps’ team symmetry. Dick Allen had been traded to the Dodgers and Luis Aparicio to the Red Sox (changes reflected in the flagship set), which gave each of those teams two “captains” in the 1971 scratch off set. Mike Hegan still donned his Pilots cap, now more than a year after the team’s demise.

Of course, the team names were not listed on the “card”, there was no checklist, and the one-card-per-team rule was not stated anywhere. So, says Topps, “where is the lie?”

But, you might be thinking, “who cares if every team gets a card?”

For one, Topps very clearly cared. In all of their insert sets in the late 1960s and early 1970s they made sure to have least one card for every team. I assume that the people at Topps thought that kids in Cleveland would like seeing one of their heroes on a 1968 game card (Steve Hargan!), and that Seattle tots would get a kick out of seeing a Pilot on a 1969 deckle-edged card (Tommy Davis!). For kids who rooted for other teams, it gave these little sets a bit of character. The lesson we learned, in cards and in life: not every player, or person, is a Hall of Famer.

In 1970, Topps’ took this honorable stance one step further. For the three 1970 inserts sets I mention above, there were 24 cards in each set, one per team, and Topps used 72 different players.

Topps deserves a great deal of credit for doing this, for balancing the top-flight stars between these three sets, but also for serving children across the land. Isn’t that, I asked plaintively, the point of all this? Future Giants collectors hardly needed another version of three Hall-of-Famers to be, but look at those Angels, or those Brewers, or those Padres. Well done, Topps.

The actual point of all of this is to celebrate that I recently completed my 1970 and 1971 scratch off sets (my final card was the 1971 Stargell). This was more challenging than you would think because most dealers have no idea what the difference is between the two sets, so if you order something listed as a 1971 Aaron you might end up with the 1970 Aaron when the mail comes. Also, eBay listings will not reveal that the inside has been scratched so you really need to see an image for both the inside and outside, and dealers are occasionally annoyed when you ask for this. One person asked, in obvious exasperation , “does it really matter?”

Then once you get all the cards, you might put them in nine-pocket sheets and discover the two sets now look identical. Are you really going to pull out the card, unfold it, and stare lovingly at the black-on-red or black-on-white insides? Call me unromantic if you must, but I suggest that you are not going to do this.

Frankly, there is no good reason to collect either set, let alone both.

Except this. These “cards” were placed in packs in 1970 and 1971, packs that I opened, packs that I loved, packs that made my day on more than one occasion. They remind me of being 9 years old, when baseball cards were everything to me, and when Topps seemed for all the world to be focused on the needs and desires of me and fellow 9 year olds throughout the land. That version of me is gone, and so is that version of Topps.

But with these silly little scratch off cards, 48 in all, I can pretend that we are both alive and well.

And for that reason alone, I have no regrets.