Moskau Memories

Jason Schwartz, one of the new co-chairs of our Committee, does a little game on our Facebook page. He takes little sections of four different cards and we’re supposed to guess who the player is.  Here’s a “Cardboard Detective” from May 15:

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Immediately I knew it was Paul Moskau. For reasons unknown, his 1978 Topps cards is indelibly burned in my brain. I’m not quite clear why Paul Moskau holds a secure place in my memory, but I have some theories.

Not that I didn’t have a keen eye on the Big Red Machine, but after Tom Seaver was traded to Cincinnati mid-1977, I was more attentive. Moskau was, as far as I recall, heralded as part of the new wave of Reds starters. He, along with Mike LaCoss, Bill Bonham, Mario Soto, and Frank Pastore were the pitching staff that would continue where Don Gullett, Jack Billingham and Clay Carroll left off.

Not sure why, at least where it comes to Moskau.  He had success in the low minors, but was clearly mediocre in AA. He didn’t get better in the big leagues.

Seaver was definitely the entry point, but I was hooked on these Reds pitchers. Moskau was my favorite, and I think a lot has to do with his 1978 card. It’s a solid picture, making him instantly known. I assume I saw him pitch, either at Shea Stadium or on TV, but, really, my knowledge of Paul Moskau’s look is through his cards. The cards, as they often did, came first.

Moskau floundered in the majors, his best ERA+ coming in the 1977 season, when he was slightly below average (98). He bottomed out at 57 with the Cubs in 1983 and was gone.

The Cubs? I had no idea he was with Chicago, and with the Pirates the year before? No way. If you had asked me about Paul Moskau’s career, and there’s no reason why you would have, I would have bet that he was a lifelong Red. Why? BECAUSE THERE ARE NO CARDS OF HIM ON ANY OTHER TEAM! I read a lot of books and magazines about baseball back then, and watched a lot of games, but it was in the cards that I relied on where players played and how they appeared.

I’m glad I recently discovered this about Moskau. I still have a fond spot for him in my baseball memories. Here’s something I have, picked up in Cooperstown for a couple of bucks.

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Héroes de Cartón: A Cuban Collection

When I first traveled to Cuba in 2015, I had hoped to bring home some cards of the stars I would be seeing while I was on my baseball tour. Still naive about the differences between Cuban baseball and the major leagues, I believed that there would be such a thing. I knew the stadium amenities weren’t going to be luxurious (they weren’t) and the food at the park was bound to be lousy (it often was, though the pulled pork sliders I bought outside of Estadio 26 de Julio in Aretmisa remain vividly delicious in my memory). Still, surely an enterprising soul, or the government, had managed to publish a few sets of baseball cards. I was quickly corrected by none other than fellow traveler and Cuban baseball expert Peter Bjarkman. He informed me there were no modern cards in Cuba. There was one set published in 1994 which included pre-MLB cards for the Hernández brothers, Liván and Orlando. The one before that was sold in the 1950s.

I had never given much thought of what it would be like to be a youthful fan who could not regularly experience baseball cards. I loved the cards long before I truly loved the game. In the days before the internet and daily airings on team-owned networks, they were my most direct connection. I thrilled with each new pack and the treasures I found inside.

That same passion, this time on the faces of a gaggle of Cuban children, was on display whenever a member of our group pulled out a pack of Topps at one of the five Serie Nacional contests I attended. They would swarm, a collective that would consume any gleaming picture of a hero-in-action they could get their hands on. Bonus points if it was Yasiel Puig or Aroldis Chapman. At one point I pulled out a business card to give to a local sportswriter and a child’s eager hands immediately reached out to me. Just the image of a baseball on my card was enough to ignite their imaginations.

Jorge Soler’s rookie card appears in the Topps 2015 set, the year I began the collection.

All of this got me thinking about the Cuban stars of the past, and whether they had baseball cards. I had learned that generations of Serie Nacional heroes have never had one. But, what about the hundreds of Cubans who played in the major leagues? Surely many of them must have cards. I first considered starting a collection of all of the cards featuring Cuban-born players. I quickly realized that a complete collection of Cubans was going to necessitate far too much energy and money pursuing just José Canseco. There are roughly 3000 distinct cards of the tainted slugger. I decided that maybe the best way to approach this new whim would be to just get the rookie cards. The set would become relatively finite and definitely more achievable.

Many of them have rookie cards, but certainly not all. Some never had a card issued at all, at least none that my current research has revealed. Others have cards, but not ones that modern collectors consider “rookies.” Cards from a player’s minor league days do not qualify. Neither do cards from foreign leagues, such as the pre-revolution Cuban Winter League.

Tony Taylor’s 1958 Topps rookie card. Taylor is tied with Bert Campaneris for career triples by a Cuban-born player.

Such is the case of the Acosta brothers, José and Merito. The two appeared on Clark Griffith’s Cuban-laden Washington Senators of the 1910s and 20s. However, neither made enough of a mark to appear on a card during World War I and the lean years of the hobby that followed. Cards were produced in smaller sets, thus players like Merito, who appeared in 180 games in the outfield over five seasons, and José, who pitched in 55 games over three years, often fell through the cracks.

However, while playing for the 1923/24 Marianao squad of the Cuban League, they both appeared in a set that was issued in their homeland by Billiken. Like their American counterpart, these cards could be found in packs of cigarettes. In addition to Cubans, they also featured American Negro League legends like Oscar Charleston and Andy Cooper. Per the definitions set by modern collectors, these do not qualify as “rookie cards.” I decided that because so many of the pre-revolution members of the fraternity fell into this category, I was expanding my criteria to include first-known cards, as well.

The most respected Cuban-born player in his homeland is Martín Dihigo, whose 1945/6 Caramelo Deportivo is not a part of the collection because the color line kept him out of the majors.

As of this writing, there have been 208 Cuban-born men who have played or managed in the majors. So far, and research is ongoing, there appear to be 194 cards in the set I have designed. I had four at the outset, just by culling from my own collection: a 1990 issue of Tony Fossas, a 1989 Orestes Destrade, a 1987 Rafael Palmeiro and, from a pack bought in the interest of the project, a 2015 Jorge Soler. All of them happened to be Topps. There are numerous other publishers in this set, including Bowman, Upper Deck and Fleer. Going back before World War II, there are Zeenuts, T207s, an E135, and multiple cards from the candy manufacturer Caramelo Deportivo.

Palmeiro holds most of the offensive records for Cuban-born players, even outshining Hall of Famer Tony Perez. If not for his involvement with PEDs, he’d likely be a Hall of Famer, himself.

The day after I finished the first draft of the checklist for the set, I paid a visit to a comic book store in New Paltz, New York. My ex-wife and I meet there sometimes when we exchange our daughter. B is a fan of comics and I like to encourage my kid to become a nerd, just like her old man. While not a large shop, the collection is extensive and a fan of the genre is certain to leave satisfied.

What it does not have, however, is very many baseball cards for sale. The two collectibles will often appear together at small retail shops like this, though such stores usually lean more heavily in one direction. No one would ever think of this place as a local card shop. But, it does sell packs of the current sets and that day had about 50 individual cards up for grabs. Of those singles, the inventory was split between medium value cards of current players, a sprinkling of stars from 1970s, 80s and 90s, and a few lesser known players from the 60s.

One of those latter cards was from the Topps 1965 set, number 201. Minnesota Twins rookie stars César Tovar and Sandy Valdespino share the honors. Tovar, a native of Venezuela, had a fine twelve-year career with the Twins, Phillies, Rangers, A’s and Yankees. He finished in the top twenty-five in MVP voting every year from 1967-1971 and led the league in doubles and triples in 1970. The Trading Card Database has identified 56 unique cards manufactured for Tovar.

Hilario “Sandy” Valdespino lasted for seven seasons with the Twins, Braves, Astros, Pilots, Brewers and Royals. He did not share the same success as his card-mate, though he did get eleven at bats in the 1965 World Series, contributing a double and a run. Valdespino was born in San Jose de las Lajas in Mayabeque and became the 106th Cuban to appear in the majors when he made his debut on April 12, 1965. Number 201 is his official rookie card, one of only nineteen different identified cards of the outfielder ever produced.

A cardboard miracle.

The odds of finding that card, in that place, just days after I decided to pursue this quest, cannot be calculated. It was a divine intervention, a gift sent by the baseball gods in the form of a fifty-year-old piece of cardboard.

Today I have 115 of the cards from the set. The latest pickup, a W514 of Dolf Luque, is a real beauty. The corners are a little rounded and there are some minor markings on the surface, but it is crease free and remarkably sturdy for something that was printed a century ago. Luque, the first Cuban superstar, is an underappreciated name from yesteryear and a personal favorite. Finally acquiring his card inspired me to tell this story.

Among Cubans, only Luis Tiant put up better career pitching numbers than Dolf Luque. The W514s began production in 1919, the year Luque’s Cincinnati Reds defeated the Black Stockings in the World Series.

As always, the final cards of this set are the most challenging and, of course, the most expensive. It is also a set that is always expanding. Despite the recent short-sighted pronouncements of the current presidential administration, Cubans will continue to find a way to travel those ninety miles to American shores to play the game. Last year, six more made their major league debut. Three of them have rookie cards, so far, and the recent call up by the Yankees of Nestor Cortes, Jr., who had a less-than-impressive debut with Baltimore last March, increases the chances of him getting one at some point this season. When he does, I’ll be there.

There is only one Willie Mays

Here is a card, like most cards, with a story to it. You might expect it’s a story about Willie Mays. In fact, it’s a story about everyone not Willie Mays.

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1959 Topps “Baseball Thrills” #464

At least a few of us remember the play like it was yesterday. The hitter has some power, but the centerfielder chooses to play him shallow. Even before bat meets ball, the fielder knows one of two things is about to happen: extra bases or the greatest catch of his life.

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1961 Nu-Card Scoops #427

He quickly turns and by the time the crack of the bat is heard he is in a dead sprint only stealing a quick glance back to ensure the ball’s trajectory matches the path in his head.

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1993 Upper Deck “Baseball Heroes” #47

Winning a race of man against ball is not an easy thing—the laws of physics might even suggest it’s impossible—but after what feels like he’s run a city block the fielder reaches up with his glove, still with his back to the plate, and somehow snatches the bullet of a baseball from the air. They say seeing is believing, but almost nobody watching even believes what they just witnessed. Of course, the play was not even over.

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1994 Upper Deck “All-Time Heroes” #17

Still in full stride, the fielder brings his glove arm down toward his body where in an event nearly as improbable as the grab itself his right knee hits his right elbow full force and pops the ball from glove to ground.

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I was 16 and had been planning, waiting, and training years for the perfect fly ball—playing everyone shallow to up the odds—and it finally came, for the last and only time of my life. My friend Robert and fate itself had gotten the better of me.

Some of our cards are just cards, but others are memories. This past week I finally picked up a card I’d always wanted. When I opened the envelope I was no longer in my office at my desk. I was at Palisades Park young, fast, free, and for a brief 6-7 seconds the great Willie Howard Mays, that instant before I learned for damn sure there could be only one.

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P.S. In a bit of cardboard clairvoyance, THREE of Willie’s 1954 baseball cards (Bowman, Red Man, Topps) referenced a web gem nearly identical to “The Catch!”

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P.P.S. Fans of the “Say Hey Kid” will also enjoy this set of posts from SABR President Mark Armour.

Segui’s Sequel or Ranew’s Renewal

The 2006 SABR convention in Seattle featured Jim Bouton as part of a lively Seattle Pilots panel.  Jim told a story about meeting his old Pilots teammate, Tommy Davis, years after the infamous ’69 season.  Jim revealed that Tommy looked at him, shook his head and said, “what a bunch of mutts.” 

This is an apt description of the expansion teams prior to the free agency era.  The new clubs were an assortment of veterans past their prime, players with marginal skills or unproven rookies. I have identified eight players who had the misfortune of playing on two different first-year expansion teams.  Here are their “cardboard” stories.6

The first man to experience this dubious “double play” was pitcher Hal Woodeshick.  The new Washington Senators acquired Hal from the old Senators (Minnesota Twins) in the expansion draft prior to the ’61 campaign. His tenure in DC was short lived, as the Senators sold him to the Tigers during the ’61 season. Subsequently, “Suitcase Hal” was sold to the new Colt .45’s in the winter of ’61. All this coming and going must have induced a sense of paranoia in Hal, as these two photos clearly document.6

Any Seattle baseball fan worth his or her salt knows that Diego Segui pitched for both the Pilots and Mariners.  Diego was the most effective hurler for the ill-fated ‘69 Pilots and the opening day starter for the Mariners.  The eight-year gap between Seattle appearances saw the erosion of Segui’s skills.  He posted an 0-7 record and was released at the conclusion of the season.

I have always been intrigued by Diego’s ’77 card.  Why is he wearing a Red Sox batting helmet-since the AL used the DH and Diego was a relief pitcher?6

Merritt Ranew is another Pilot with a resume that included two first-year expansion team stints.  The ’62 Houston Colt ‘45’s drafted the young receiver from the Braves.  His ’62 rookie card is an airbrushed gem. Despite Topps’ assertion on the back that Merritt “can’t miss,” most of his career was spent in the minors.  Topps didn’t produce a card for him in ’69, his last season in the majors.  The ‘83 Renata Galasso Pilots retrospective set does include Merritt.  The back of the card states that Ranew was the only Pilot who played on two first year expansion clubs.  This is incorrect.6

Ranew had a teammate that played on both the ’62 Colt ‘45s and the Pilots: George Brunet.  The “flaky” lefthander was drafted from the Braves by Houston.  Topps didn’t produce a ’62 card for George, but he does have a ’63.  Brunet joined the Pilots in July after his release from the Angels. No Pilots card was ever produced.  Very few images exist of George as a Pilot.  Here is a custom card-using a poorly colorized publicity still-of the happy-go-lucky, “underwear-averse” journeyman. 6

The beloved and inept ’62 Mets picked up catcher Chris Cannizzaro from St. Louis in the expansion draft.  He shuttled between AAA and the majors for most of the ‘60s before resurfacing with he infant San Diego Padres in ’69, after a trade with Pittsburgh. Cannizzaro became the starting catcher and was Padres’ lone All-Star representative.  Topps issued a card of Chris on the Pirates in 69, thus ’70 is his first on the San Diego.6

Chris’ ’62 Mets teammate, Galen Cisco, found himself on the roster of the ‘newbie” Royals in ‘69.  Galen’s ’62 card has him on the Red Sox, since he was purchased by the Mets late in the season.  However, he does get a New York card in ’63.

Perhaps the best player of this unique group is Ron Fairly.  The steady-if not spectacular-Fairly was dealt by the Dodgers to Montreal for Maury Wills in June of ’69.  Expos’ fans had to wait until ’70 to collect his card on Montreal.  Ron continued a successful career in the ‘70s, eventually ending up in ’76 with the A’s.  In the off season, Fairly was traded to the Blue Jays, but not before Topps issued a ’77 card depicting him on Oakland.  With the ’77 expansion Blue Jays, Ron had an excellent season as the DH.  He served as Toronto’s first all-star selection and got a Blue Jays’ card in ‘78.  9

The only duel expansionist I can identify for the last wave of expansion in the ‘90s is Scott Aldred.  The lefty pitched in five games for the ’93 Rockies and made 48 appearances for the ’98 Devil Rays.  Apparently, Scott didn’t receive a ’98 or ’99 card.  So, this team generated photo serves as proof that he did toil in the “Trop.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a player who almost joined this group of vagabonds. Jeff Katz’s (@SplitSeason1981) old insurance man, Marv Staehle, was in spring training with the Pilots.  He was sent to AAA Vancouver and later traded to the Expos. Marv played in six games for Montreal in ’69.

20 years have past since the last expansion.  It is safe to say that this exclusive club will remain as is, until MLB once again expands at least twice within a ten-year span.

If you unearth another player who saw action for two first-year expansion clubs, let me know.  It is entirely possible I missed some unfortunate soul.

Miami Vices and Rocky Mountain Highs

Although most of you have been greatly relieved by the respite from the “first card for new teams” series, I am back to shatter your peace of mind.  This time, I am examining the first cards for the 1993 expansion Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies.

The birth of the two new National League franchises coincided with the era of explosive card production. (The editor doesn’t like the term “junk wax.) (Ed.: In this context, it would have been fine.)  I found 17 different sets-counting updates-containing first cards for the Marlins and Rockies.  It is entirely possible that I missed a set or two.  (Ed: Or ten.) So, if I failed to mention “Lower Deck’s Super-Extreme-Virtuoso-Uber-Isotope of Titanium” set produced by Goudey in an exclusive run of 500,000, I apologize.

 

Donruss and Fleer must have been the first card series issued, since their expansion teams’ cards have photos of the players with their previous clubs.  Sadly, no airbrushing of logos was employed to provide memorable images. Matt Harvey (FL) and Eric Young (CO) are the first cards for their respective new teams. Donruss’ “Diamond Kings” features painted portraits of David Nied (CO) and Nigel Wilson (FL) in their new liveries.

David Nied (CO) and Jack Armstrong (FL) are Fleer’s first offerings.  Nied is pictured on the Braves with a ribbon identifying him as having been “signed by Rockies.” This is considered a variation, since most of the cards have him exclusively on the Braves.  The first card with Rockies on the name plate is Andy Ashby. Jack Armstrong is the first Marlin.  Fleer “Final Edition” has Andy Ashby as the first card of a player in a Rockies’ uniform.  Likewise, Luis Acquino shows up first for Florida.

Probably as a result of a later production date, Bowman provides shots of players in their new uniforms in the base sets.  Rich Renteria (FL) and Mark Thompson (CO) are the first Bowman issues.

 

Topps’ base set and their premium issue, “Stadium Club,” produced inaugural cards of players in new uniforms as well.  Jamie McAndrew (FL) and Mark Thompson (CO) show up first in the base set while Benito Santiago (FL) and Butch Henry (CO) are first in the “snooty” set.

Nigel Wilson (FL) and David Nied (CO) are Upper Deck’s first cards for the infant clubs. Upper Deck also issued cards in the “SP” set.

In order to save your sanity, I will not delve into all the brands.  However, here is a non-exclusive list of other companies that issued Rockies and Marlins:  Pinnacle, Leaf, Score, O-Pee-Chee (base and Premier), Pacific (Spanish), Ultra and Triple Play.

If only first-round expansion picks David Nied and Nigel Wilson had become superstars, I would be rich beyond measure.  Alas, the 2000 cards I have of each now languish in storage.  Another sure bet investment gone wrong.

Erstwhile committee member, Nick Vossbrink, pointed out that both Upper Deck and Bowman produced rookie cards for minor league players Ryan Turner (CO) and Clemente Nunez (FL) in the ’92 sets.  Thus, my shoddy research is laid bare!

Of Myths and Men (pt 1)

I have really enjoyed perusing SABR’s Eight Myths Out Series. Jacob Pomrenke and the rest of the many historians involved have done terrific work and it is a tribute to what a bright and meticulous team can accomplish.

The title of the project is a nod to the book and subsequent film “Eight Men Out”. As a promotion for the movie a trading card set was produced. It is a fun 110 card set that I enjoy because it falls at the intersection of two of my hobbies, baseball and film.

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #5 The Black Sox Scandal

Since the eight myths are responses to ideas introduced in “Eight Men Out” the book and further propagated by the film several of the cards are also connected to these myths.

Today we will look at some of the myth cards. I envision this as a three column series covering four myths in each of the first two postings followed by a  non-myth set summary/highlights closer.

Myth #1 Comiskey as Scrooge

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #80 Charles A Comiskey

Myth #1 is covered on card #80 – if this was a Topps set it would be a Hero Number! OK, maybe a low-level star number. While this is a nice era appropriate profile picture of Comiskey when we flip the card over we start talking Scrooge…

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #80 Charles A Comiskey (back)

The text opens discussing Comiskey’s Hall of Fame credentials but things turn in paragraph 3. “Tightfisted” and “Dollar-Pinching” are the two adjectives used to describer Comiskey. The card also mentions Dickey Kerr who is discussed in one of the further reading bullets for Myth 8.

Myth #2 The Cicotte “Bonus”

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #6 Eddie Cicotte 29-7 in 1919

I love the statistical reference which is given as the sub-line on this card. The 29-7 record of Cicotte is a subtle / not-so-subtle nod to the 30 wins that the pitcher did not achieve in 1919.  There are 110 cards in this set and this is the ONLY one that has stats on the front.

Interestingly…

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #6 Eddie Cicotte 29-7 in 1919 (b-side)

The back of the card does not mention the benching of Cicotte at all.

Myth #3 Gamblers Initiated the Fix

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #19 The Key is Cicotte

Cicotte is mentioned by name on our myth #3 card as well, but it features gamblers “Sleepy” Bill Burns and Billy Maharg. Turns out the card (book and film) has the facts reversed. It was Eddie Cicotte along with Chick Gandil that approached the gamblers.

Myth #4 The Hitman: “Harry F.”

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #60 Lefty is Threatened

For legal reasons Eliot Asinof created a fictional character, Hitman “Harry F.”. According to “Eight Men Out” the hitman threatened Lefty Williams. The mythical threat is mentioned on card #60 above.

Once again I urge you to check out “Eight Myths Out” to further understand the facts/myths involved, I have only touched upon each bullet here as a connection with the related card.

This concludes part one of our series dedicated to Eight Men/Myths Out. Hopefully in the next week or so we will cover the bottom half of the myths.

Sources and Links

SABR: Eight Myths Out

Baseball-Ref

Imdb

Eight Men Out set index (Phungo)

Kodak Moments at Comiskey Park

May 24, 1988, White Sox v. Indians. It was a Tuesday night game at old Comiskey Park, when it was simply called Comiskey Park. A solid game, with the Indians winning 4-3 behind Greg Swindell’s near CG, upping his record to 9-1. It was over and done after 2 hours, 42 minutes.  I was there, part of a crowd, if you can call it that, of 8,956.

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That night’s program heralds a baseball card connection. There’s a 1957 Jim Landis prominently displayed, a Harold Baines card that I can’t quite place, and maybe that’s Scott Fletcher? Turns out, there was a giveaway that night, and a pretty good one.

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1988 was the first year of Kodak White Sox cards. They were huge – 8” X 12” – and the series was a small one. Only 5 cards make up the entire set, an interesting checklist of Guillen, Fisk, Rick Horton, Calderon and Baines. I’ve got Ozzie (actually two Ozzies. Whoever went with me that night didn’t care about the card).

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It’s a beautiful piece of work. I guess you’d expect that if Kodak was willing to put their name on it.  The 1989 set is super-cool, with current players and ex-players who manned the same positions, featured in one over-sized picture.

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The Kodak Sox cards would continue through 1995, growing from 5 cards to 30, shrinking from 8” X 12” to 2 5/8” X 3 1/2”. There’s even a Pirates set in 1995.

While the Sox sets don’t seem to be very pricey, based on my trusty old Standard Catalog, I’m not finding any complete sets, at least for the earlier ones. I’m a bit hooked on those, less interested in the smaller, ‘90’s sets that, of course, are the easiest to find (and cheapest). I may go after those anyway, because I can never have enough Lance Johnson cards.

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If anybody has a lead on these, let me know. I’m on the hunt.