Did Fleer hate the Dodgers?

I probably spent more on packs in 1985 than any other year, and the reason was simple: Dr. K.

Topps, Fleer, Donruss, Leaf, O-Pee-Chee, Donruss Action All-Stars…if Doc was in it I was buying it, and I wasn’t just after one of each card. I was an absolute hoarder that year. In the case of Donruss, it meant I could put together the Lou Gehrig puzzle many times over, and in the case of Fleer it meant I had a ridiculous number of these.

The Fleer team sticker insert had been a fixture in packs since 1982 and even pre-dated Fleer’s (modern) re-entry into the baseball card market, serving as a standalone product in 1980 and on and off years prior to that. Team stickers were even a part of Fleer’s 1960 and 1961 Baseball Greats sets.

What made the 1985 inserts unique was not just that they featured fairly authentic looking team jerseys but also that some of the jerseys bore the uniform numbers of star players, for example Frank Robinson and Johnny Bench.

Here are two others you can quickly identify.

And two others unlikely to give you any trouble.

In all, fourteen team jerseys had uniform numbers, the other twelve being blank like the Red Sox one that opened this post. That five of the jerseys would belong to Hall of Famers, three being the face of the franchise, and another would belong to presumed top shelf Hall of Famer Pete Rose suggests at least some intentionality in selecting these numbers.

One might even add to these “chosen six” this more recent Hall of Fame inductee from the Cardinals and the only MVP (to that point) in Texas Rangers history.

After that, the number assignments become more perplexing. How I would have loaded up on Mets stickers had they featured Doc’s 16 or even Darryl’s 18. Instead, Fleer packs gave us either Joe Torre or Little League me!

Where I would have loved to see Rod Carew and Dave Parker, Fleer delivered Dan Ford and John Candelaria.

In place of Alvin Davis and Andre Dawson, we got Jerry Narron (or A-Rod pre-rookie!) and Doug Flynn.

By far the strangest jersey belonged to my hometown Dodgers, where I would have killed for a 6, 34, or 42. Instead Fleer threw the ultimate curve ball and went with…

80??

Apart from Spring Training, this is a number no Dodger has ever worn. To date, it’s a number that’s only appeared twice in MLB, once with the Twins and once with the Pirates. Current Dodger stars Kenley Jansen (74) and Dustin May (85) are somewhat nearby, though neither was even born when the sticker came out. Curiously, Hall of Famer Ducky Medwick wore 77 with Brooklyn in 1940 and 1941.

So why 80?

To this day I still have no idea how the Dodger sticker ended up with such a strange number. Even if Fleer had someone choosing numbers at random, I imagine the range would have been 1-50 or so. Could it be a nod to the ’80 All-Star Game hosted at Dodger Stadium? Could it be a tribute to the final year of Fleer’s sticker-only packs?

Both theories seem extremely unlikely. At this point, I have to wonder if someone at Philly-based Fleer carried a grudge from the 1977 and 1978 NLCS all the way to the sticker factory.

“Take that, Dodger fans, no Garvey jersey for you! You get an 80 LOL. Oh, and who won the World Series that year? We did, that’s who! We did!”

It’s a paranoid theory, but what else you got? Philly sports fans…God bless ‘em!

Author’s note: If you don’t already know the story of Upper Deck hating the Dodgers, check which team got card 666 in their first five sets!

Otis Nixon Wore Many Hats

Baseball formally required all batters to wear helmets in 1970. Red Sox catcher Bob Montgomery was the last player to bat in a Major League contest without a helmet in 1979. Then in 1983, it became mandatory for all professional players to use a helmet with at least one earflap, although anyone with Major League service time in 1982 or earlier could opt for a flapless helmet like Ozzie Smith, Dave Winfield, Tim Raines, and several others. Raines would be the last player to use a flapless helmet.

1980 Topps #618 depicts helmetless Montgomery

On April 7, 1979 Orioles outfielder Gary Roenicke was hit in the face by a pitch, causing a laceration that required 25 stitches to close. Roenicke returned to the lineup on April 15 at Milwaukee and went 3-3 using a helmet with a modified football facemask attached. Expos outfielder Ellis Valentine had his cheekbone fractured when he was hit by a pitch on May 30, 1980 at St. Louis. Valentine also returned to the lineup donning a similarly designed batting helmet equipped with a sawn-off football facemask. Folks who opened packs of Topps baseball cards in 1981 could find a pair of cards depicting each of these unique batting helmets.

1981 Topps Valentine #445, Roenicke #37

Although no such picture appeared on any cards issued during his playing career, it is generally accepted that the first player to experiment with protective face gear was Dave Parker. Parker sustained facial fractures in a collision at home plate with Mets catcher John Stearns on June 30, 1978. Upon his return to the lineup July 16, Parker experimented with a (downright terrifying) hockey goalie mask and other football facemask designs. Despite his injury, Parker would win the batting title (.334) and be named National League MVP in 1978.

Photo credit: Associate Press, 1978

Most recently, Giancarlo Stanton made news when he returned to the Marlins in 2015 using a helmet fitted with a custom facemask that cleverly incorporated a “G” into the protective design. Stanton had been hit in the face by the Brewers’ Mike Fiers on September 11, 2014 resulting in fractures that ended his season. No longer newsworthy, facial protection is now commonplace with an ever-increasing number of MLB players opting for jaw guards incorporated into their batting helmets.

On April 4, 1998 Twins outfielder Otis Nixon coaxed a first-inning walk but was soon forced out at second. During the play at the bag, Royals shortstop Félix Martínez kicked Nixon in the face. Nixon stayed in the game but later learned that he had sustained a fractured jaw. When Nixon returned to the lineup on April 9, he utilized a batting helmet fitted with a full football facemask to protect his jaw and with hopes he would not need to undergo a surgical repair. This unfortunate injury, however, offered Nixon the opportunity to don the widest variety of protective headgear ever depicted on baseball cards by a single player.

Otis Nixon was not eligible to use a flapless helmet because he first appeared in the Major Leagues in 1983; however, here he is while with Cleveland:

1987 Fleer #255

Nixon also used a single-flap helmet with the Expos:

1990 Donruss #456

As a switch-hitter, Nixon subsequently joined the double-flap helmet trend:

1992 Leaf #255

And with his appearance for Minnesota following the broken jaw incident, here is Nixon donning the helmet with protective face gear:

1999 Fleer Ultra #44

Unlike facial bones, Nixon’s sartorial record appears unbreakable.

Sources:

Retrosheet.org

Baseball-Reference.com

Bill Nowlin, “Bob Montgomery,” SABR Bio Project

Paul Lukas, “Giancarlo Stanton’s Mask Not a First,” http://www.ESPN.com, March 4, 2015, accessed April 5, 2021.

“Interference Rule Amended,” Cincinnati Enquirer, December 2, 1970.

“Parker returns to lineup and Pirates win pair,” The Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania), July 17, 1978.

“Quick Kick,” Kansas City Star, April 5, 1998.

Mike Klingaman, “Catching Up With … former Oriole Gary Roenicke,” Baltimore Sun, July 7, 2009.

Cardboard Crosswalk: 1978 Topps and 1990 Pacific Senior League

Some serious nostalgia set in when I read Chris Kamka’s recent post on the 1990 Pacific Senior League set, and the dosage was doubled when I looked up the full checklist on Trading Card Database. The Senior League players, coaches, and managers in the set were not simply players I watched growing up. More importantly, they were the names I collected, sorted, and idolized when I began my lifelong obsession with cardboard back in 1978.

As the mind has a way of playing tricks more than four decades later–I could have sworn John D’Acquisto have a 1978 Topps card!–I decided to check my foggy memories against the honest to goodness 1978 Topps checklist. Or in the parlance of the SABR Baseball Cards blog, I did a Cardboard Crosswalk!

John D’Acquisto aside, my memory wasn’t so bad after all. More than half the cards in the 1990 Pacific set (122 out of 220) feature players or managers from 1978 Topps. Leading the way were the Fort Myers Sun Sox, with 22 of the 29 cards in the Pacific set having 1978 Topps predecessors.

While the Sun Sox were clearly the frontrunners, the other seven teams in the Senior League were all represented with 1978 Topps ancestry.

  • St. Petersburg Pelicans – 16
  • Bradenton Explorers – 16
  • St. Lucie Legends – 15
  • Winter Haven Super Sox – 14
  • Orlando Juice – 14
  • West Palm Beach Tropics – 13
  • Gold Coast Suns – 13

I also organized the crosswalk by 1978 Topps team. Most of the 1978 Topps team sets contributed 4-5 players to the Senior League set, paced by the Cleveland Indians with 10 (or 11 if we count Dobson twice).

At the other end of the spectrum, one team from 1978 Topps, the Minnesota Twins, contributed no players at all.

Something that may have already caught your eye from the various graphics presented is the large number of 1978 Indians who were also 1990 Sun Sox.

The 1990 Pacific Senior League set featured additional 1978 Topps reunions, which I’ll define here as groups of at least three players who were teammates in both sets.

The same Sun Sox also included three 1978 Topps A’s (Steve McCatty, Tim Hosley, Joe Coleman) and three Royals (Amos Otis, Dennis Leonard, Doug Bird). Meanwhile, the St. Petersburg Pelicans reunited four players from the 1978 Topps Mets checklist (Steve Henderson, John Matlack, Lenny Randle, and Pat Zachry), three 1978 Phillies (Jerry Martin, Randy Lerch, Bake McBride), and three Tigers (Ron LeFlore, Steve Kemp, Milt Wilcox). Finally, three members of the 1978 Topps Pirates family (Bruce Kison, Omar Moreno, Al Oliver) got back together on the Bradenton Explorers.

However, the reunion to end all reunions came courtesy of the Winter Haven Super Sox, who more than lived up to their name with seven Red Sox from the 1978 Topps set.

This same team included several other players with Beantown ties, among them Cecil Cooper, Gary Allenson, and Mario Guerrero. While the actual 1978 Red Sox won 99 games and missed the postseason by the narrowest of margins (BFD!), their 1990 redux went 29-43, landing firmly in the cellar of the Senior League’s Northern Division.

With the prices of unopened packs of 1978 Topps largely out of reach, the 1990 Pacific Senior League set may well represent my best chance to relive my first year in the Hobby. Sure there’s no Steve Garvey, Reggie Jackson, or Dave Parker, but let’s be honest…neither did most of the packs I opened as a kid. In truth the only thing that would break the illusion would be that the 1990 Pacific set has no Warren Brusstar, a player I seemingly pulled from every single pack of 1978 Topps.

Still, about half the cards I’d pull would have 1978 Topps counterparts, and if my math is correct a pack of 12 Pacific cards would have a (roughly) 50-50 chance of yielding at least one pair of 1978 Topps teammates. (I’m now tempted to buy a box and test this out.)

Of course, this article has only scratched the surface of all the interesting connections between 1978 Topps and 1990 Pacific Senior League, but rather than highlight all of them, only to end up with a SABR Bob Davids Award my shelf has no room for, I’m turning my source data over to you. Good luck in your research, and definitely feel free to write it up for our SABR Baseball Cards blog!

Author’s note #1: The 1990 Pacific Senior League set includes four cards with incorrect photos. My analysis was based on the name on the card rather than the actual player photographed.

Author’s note #2: Okay, just for kicks, I ran a simulation of buying six packs of Senior League cards using the random number generator at random.org. Let’s see if those predicted 1978 Topps teammates showed up.

Pack 1: SUCCESS!

Pack 2: FAILURE

Pack 3: SUCCESS!

Pack 4: SUCCESS!

Pack 5: SUCCESS!

Pack 6: SUCCESS!

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m heading to Bradenton to win some bar bets with a box of 1990 Pacific!

A minor tradition.

I worry about the trainers.

As we start the 2021 baseball season, Minor League Baseball is now firmly under the control of Major League Baseball. This has already brought about significant change.

A few low-level minor leagues – like my sentimental favorite, the Class A New York-Penn League – have been folded entirely. The others have had their time-honored names stripped from them, rearranged and rebranded with bland, waiting-for-sponsors titles. For instance, the century-plus of heritage behind the International League name has been discarded in favor of “Triple-A East.” Minor-league teams are now “licensed affiliates” who make a point to announce that their schedules have been provided by MLB.

It feels to this lifelong minor-league fan like any vestige of the old MiLB could be ripe for elimination, if it doesn’t make MLB money or burnish the parent organization’s brand in some way.

And one of the purest manifestations of the old MiLB is the trainer’s card.

Big-league sets don’t include trainer’s cards; you don’t find them in St. Louis or Los Angeles. (The best a big-league trainer could typically hope for, card-wise, was to appear as a small, golf-shirted dot on the fringes of the team picture.)

Instead, you find trainer cards in Wausau and Pawtucket, in minor-league card sets, adding bulk to the team set alongside the mascot, the stadium, the general manager, the owner, or occasionally even the chaplain. (He bats and throws righty!)

They’re not tremendously sexy cards, from a design standpoint, and they’re certainly not the most sought-after. If you were to sweep through a minor-league ballpark at the end of Team Set Giveaway Day, you’d probably find at least a couple of trainer cards, cast aside by kids whose solitary interest lies with uniformed on-field personnel.

Still, these cards are a tradition in many minor-league sets. And they serve a purpose, beyond filling out a set. They provide some small token of recognition to men and women whose work is necessary, even crucial, but unglamorous and almost certainly not lucrative.

These people work hard to keep the minor-league armies marching. They deserve these tips of the cap – whether they carry the old-fashioned title of Trainer, or newfangled, health-related handles like Strength and Conditioning Coach or Physical Fitness Coordinator.

I have no difficulty imagining a future in which MLB brings all minor-league card production into a central operation and discards the trainer card. They’ve junked bigger traditions, after all. Plus, trainer cards always have a touch of the podunk about them – and MLB isn’t in the podunk business.

It certainly won’t kill anybody if they do that, but it will be a loss, just as the New York-Penn League is a loss. It will be one less homespun touch, one less glimpse behind the polished facade.

Of course, the pendulum could swing the other way. With interest in cards at an almost absurd high, maybe MLB will want to churn out cardboard on anybody they can think to photograph. Trainers? Groundskeepers? Racing mascots?  That self-appointed superfan in face paint who makes an annoyance of himself blowing a vuvuzela and is thisclose to being banned at the beer kiosks? Bring ‘em all on; someone can be convinced to buy.

If we get trainer cards in chrome or refractor style, with multiple color variants, I might just be convinced to love the brave new world.

Oldies but Goodies

The phrase “Alternate Site” has become part of baseball’s vocabulary over the past year, and it will always sound weird. It’s like there’s an alternate universe where everything you know is wrong. It sort of made me think of when a few years back I found a book on the shelf at a used book store –  Peter Golenbock’s Forever Boys, where the author spent a year with the St. Petersburg Pelicans of the Senior Professional Baseball Association.

I had NO idea this league even existed! I was 9-10 years old, and surely I’d have had some recollection of this league, but nope. Nothing. It’s as if there’s an alternate history of baseball that I was unaware of. It’s too bad, because if this existed today, I’d be into it for sure. A bunch of players I grew up watching getting together again? Let’s go! Anyway, the book was fantastic. Everything was completely new to me.

Fast-forward another year or so after reading the book, and I discovered that there were Senior League card sets too! Looking at the checklist, I had to have them, and eventually I found a set for sale for five bucks at a card shop.

There were a few sets for sale, and I intended to get the one by a company called T&M Sports. Later, I opened up the box and started looking at the cards and realized that they gave me the Pacific set instead. I’m glad they did.

A simple silver border with 22 stars (I counted) along the top and side, with a logo in the bottom corner next to the player’s name. Not terribly exciting, but not horrible. Mostly posed shots, so you can see some of your favorite players from the 60s 70s & 80s up close some 5-15 years removed from their playing days.

Dock Ellis on the St. Petersburg Pelicans? Yep.

Fergie Jenkins & Spaceman Lee on the Winter Haven Super Sox? You bet.

Luis Tiant managed by Earl Weaver, wearing the blue & orange of the Gold Coast Suns? Why not.

Don’t forget about Amos Otis of the Fort Myers Sun Sox.

And what about the power trio of George Foster, Oscar Gamble (sans afro) & Bobby Bonds of the St. Lucie Legends?

Rollie Fingers clearly broke out the mustache wax before being immortalized in his West Palm Beach Tropics duds. Tom Paciorek is resplendent in his freshly squeezed Orlando Juice uniform.

For those scoring at home, the set features four Hall of Famers: players Fergie Jenkins & Rollie Fingers, and managers Earl Weaver & Dick Williams.

My favorite card, though, is Jim Nettles #126. He was a teammate of his brother, who was a star infielder, much like Billy Ripken. Also like Billy Ripken, he is featured with some colorful language on the knob of his bat.

This set came one year after the infamous 1989 Fleer F-Face fiasco, but as the Senior League was on a much smaller scale than the big leagues, this card flies under the radar.

The 220-card set ends on a pretty cool note: a suit-and-tie card of Commissioner Curt Flood. 

It’s too bad the league couldn’t stay afloat; it folded shortly into its second season. It would have been fun to see who else would have given it one last shot. If anything, fans were afforded the opportunity to get one last (okay, two!) Dave Kingman cardboard treasures.

Author’s Note: Pacific also released a 1991 Senior League set (using nearly the same design as its 1991 Football issue).

Editor’s Note: If you’ve never used the Trading Card Database “view checklist by age” feature, these would be the sets for it!

More from Uncle Dan’s Mystery Box of Baseball: A Real Jambalaya

Inside the big box was a smaller box.  A crooked smile crossed my face in curious wonder as I reached for some unknown treasure.  I had just sorted through several things in Uncle Dan’s mystery box of baseball when I came across the familiar white cardboard baseball card box.  Slowly I unpacked the contents as my curious wonder intensified.  The cards I pulled out were just a random hodge-podge.  I was flipping through cards from Score, Fleer, Upper Deck, Donruss, several Bowmans and only a few of my favorite, Topps.  The majority of the cards were 1989s and 1990s.  A few 1988s, and 1991s, as well.  Interesting enough, I found a stack of 1990 Upper Deck hologram logo stickers, too.

Being somewhat compulsive with a need for order, I sorted this jambalaya of cards into stacks that made sense to me: by manufacturer and by year.  I’ll sort them by number later.  With a little bit of hope, I sorted through the 1989 Upper Decks, looking for “The Kid.”  Hoping, maybe, maybeee … Nope, no Junior.  Oh well.  I knew it was too much to hope for.  Regardless, there are some good names in the stack.  I turned to the Donruss pile.  A couple of good things, including a Bart Giamatti card.  I don’t recall if I had ever seen a card for the commissioner of baseball before, but it was good to see.  I like Giamatti, and for a moment I reflected on the scenes from the Ken Burn “Baseball” documentary, wondering what his tenure would have been like had he lived to serve a full term in office. 

In the 1990 Donruss stack, I also found something cool: the Juan Gonzalez (#33) reverse-image card.  The card manufacturer erred when they reversed the image of this Ranger “Rated Rookie” so that we see him batting in what appears to be on the left side of the plate, and of course, his uniform number 19 appears reversed.  Fortunately, the correct image card is among the stack, as well.  

The short stack of 1990 Fleers included #635 “Super Star Specials” called ‘Human Dynamos” picturing Kirby Puckett and Bo Jackson.  I’m guessing since both players are sporting their home jerseys, the photo was probably taken at the 1989 All-Star Game, which was played at Anaheim Stadium (where Jackson was the game’s MVP).  It’s an educated guess, but I would love to hear confirmation from someone.  

I was a little more intrigued with the small pile of 1990 Bowman cards, which warranted a little research.  As it so happened, by 1990 Bowman scaled down the size of their card, to a more standard dimension.  A couple of things piqued my interest.  First, this stack of cards featured a cool Art Card insert by Craig Pursely.  My stack featured Kevin Mitchell.  The reverse side gave a little blurb on the player, while the card also doubled as a sweepstakes entry.  This Art Card insert set included 11 cards.     

The other thing that piqued my interest is how the player’s information is presented on the reverse side.  In this instance, only one year of data given, but the analytics are compiled by competitor.  That is, the rows include the player stats, while the columns feature the specific teams.  For example, the Red Sox first baseman/outfield Danny Heep played in 113 games in 1989: 8 vs Orioles; 9 vs Angels; 7 vs White Sox; 8 vs Indians; and so on.  It’s a squirrelly way to present the data, if you ask me.  I feel bad for the person that had to put all that together for all 500+ cards. 

A couple of interesting things that stood out was a 1990 Score Tombstone Pizza Kirby Puckett card (number 25 of 30), a 1992 mini-set of three “Special Edition Combo Series” cards from French’s Mustard.  The three in my set include: Julio Franco/Terry Pendleton (#3), Don Mattingly/Will Clark (#11) and Cal Ripken Jr/Ozzie Smith (#13).  Brief information on each player (bio, stats, two-sentence blurb) is found on the card’s reverse side.  The 1992 Combo Series featured 18 cards with 32 players.  That is a lot of mustard to buy!     

I’m still struck by this unusual collection of cards, and wonder about the original collector’s motivation and frame of mind.  Such a wide assortment.  It also makes me want to read up again on this era of cards, when it seems like the wild west of cardboard and baseball players, with everyone and his brother looking to cash in on the collecting craze of the late 1980s/early 1990s.

Uncle Dan’s mystery box of baseball cards continues to provide an ongoing sense of wonder, if not source of amusement.  But wait, there’s more …

Baseball Card Club

As a child of the junk wax generation, sports cards were just part of the air I grew up breathing. Boxes in every store. Inserted in any product you could think of. Printed in the newspaper. You couldn’t avoid them if you wanted to. Even my baseball-averse sister had a small album of cards that she’d just accumulated.

In many ways though, the thing that most exemplifies this era is the fact that my Junior High had a baseball card club. Yup. Looking through my yearbooks I find pages dedicated to the usual clubs—leadership, student council, journalism, yearbook, band, orchestra, drama, etc.—and nestled in there in the same spread as the chess club is the baseball card club.

The sponsoring teacher was a card dealer. He didn’t have a shop but you could run into him at local card shows (he’d give you a deal if you were a student) and two days a week he’d open up his science classroom during lunch and a couple dozen of us would hang out.

He’d always have a couple dozen singles for sale. Nothing crazy expensive but I still can’t recall anyone buying them. I do however remember him having a box of cards available as well (typically Upper Deck) and there was always someone ripping a pack to two over lunch.

I obviously don’t remember every card that went through that room but these three are all hits that commanded the whole room’s attention. There were certainly other cards that we wanted—we all dreamed of finding that Reggie autograph—but these were the ones kids actually hit.

I kind of like that these cards are as dated as everything else. Yes the Jordan is hot right now but the other two have kind of been forgotten by anyone who wasn’t there at the time. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to explain how big a deal the Ben McDonald error was.

The Joe Montana brings up the fact that since the school year doesn’t overlap much with baseball season, a lot of the club actually functioned more as football card club in terms of the cards that we saw. But Beckett doesn’t stop publishing over the winter and when we weren’t ripping or watching rips we were reading the latest Becketts and staying in touch with the hobby zeitgeist.

My most-enduring memory of the club though isn’t actually something that occurred during school hours. One of my local card shops* got burgled and for whatever reason the police thought that the perpetrator was a member of the card club.

*In those halcyon days there were more local shops than I had time to visit. 

The result, everyone on the club roster received a visit from a police detective and got fingerprinted. Good times. As interesting as it was seeing how the fingerprinting process worked (I was surprised to learn that it didn’t involve ink) the visit was not done with any sensitivity toward the fact that they were dealing with kids. Questioning was very brusque and when he left it was with the vague threat of “hopefully I don’t have to come back.”

We didn’t talk about the police stuff in school but I can only imagine how much worse the experience must have been for a lot of the kids who came from rougher parts of town.

Which brings up one of the things that stands out to me now as I look back on the club. It was one of the few academic clubs which cut across the usual school cliques. The other clubs had certain kinds of achievement-oriented kids from “good” neighborhoods in them.* Baseball cards though were for all of us.

*Or in the case of things like chess or computer club, geeks who wanted to avoid the lunch crowd.

Note

I’ve mentioned the card club a couple times on Twitter. It’s been met with surprise by guys who are older than me but it’s also turned up a couple other instances across the country from collectors my age. Their experiences seem to be similar to mine. Some ripping. Lots of Becketts. But no fingerprinting.

Covering the Bases: 1986 Topps #85 Tony Perez (w/ guest Eric Davis)

To me the best baseball cards tell a story. One of those cards is Topps final offering for Tony Perez.

1986 Topps #85 Tony Perez

The story here is obvious, The featured player is Tony Perez one of the key members to the 1970s era Big Red Machine which won a pair of World Championships. He is greeted at the plate by teammate Eric Davis whose promising career is just beginning. Davis would go on to be a key member of the Reds next World Championship in 1990. The scene is a torch passing between the franchises two most recent championship squads.

Clearing the Bases

CTB is a feature where we take a deep dive into a single card. Since this Photo appears to be game footage one of the fun directions to go is “Guess the Game”.

Couple of easily discerned facts on this image. We need a game in the Perez/Davis crossover, Both players are wearing their road greys, and they appear to be celebrating a Perez Home Run.

Checking Baseball-Ref we find Tony Perez and Eric Davis were teammates for two seasons 1984-85. During that time Tony hit 8 of his 379 career Home Runs. However of those eight only TWO were hit on the road. May 21 1985 at Wrigley Field and October 6th 1985 at Dodger Stadium.

Checking the boxes of those two games is easy enough, May 21 was a Reds 5-2 victory over the Cubs. Perez Home Run was a solo shot off starter Ray Fotenot in the fourth inning. And the on-Deck Hitter was (…Drum Roll…) Eric Davis!

So we have a candidate, but we must check box #2

October 6 1985, Another W for the Reds 6-5 vs the Dodgers. In this game Tony Homered in the 3rd inning – also a solo shot. We check who is on-deck and find….. Nick Esasky! No Eric Davis. In Fact Davis was nowhere near the circle as he batted earlier that inning. Interestingly he had also homered – two batters in front of Perez.

There you have it, the game featured on Hall of Famer Tony Perez’s final card was a Reds 5-2 Win over the Cuibs at Wrigley Field in a game played on May 21 1985.

But Wait there’s more

The 1985 Reds season was chronicled by the prolific author Pete Rose who has “written” roughly a dozen autobiographies. “Countdown to Cobb” is Rose’s account of the season in which he broke Ty Cobb’s all-time hit record. In addition to being a player Rose was also the teams manager. On the field he played first base in a platoon with, You got it, today’s hero Tony Perez.

And fortunately Perez’s Home Run was significant enough to make Rose’s 1985 Diary.

It’s only three sentences in two short paragraphs but it gives us some background into the Home Run featured on Perez’s final card. Despite being in pursuit of the All-Time hit record, and being a Switch-Hitter Rose often sat himself versus Left Handed pitching.

Fortunately for Perez, Rose and the Reds starting Perez paid off and baseball fans who enjoy digging into the minutia of trading cards have another card with a story to collect.

This concludes this edition of Covering the Bases, thanks for humoring me while we played guess the game and took a deep dive into a single baseball card.

Sources Links

Baseball-Reference

Countdown to Cobb (Pete Rose/Hal Bodley)

Phungo Tony Perez HOF Index

On thinking about what makes a card a card

One of the few editorial positions we have on this blog is a very catholic stance toward what counts as a baseball card. We’ve published posts about photos, toys, games, stamps, coins, etcetera, all of which serve to flesh out and describe the way that we collected cards. We’re not interested in being gatekeepers for what cards are. We’re interested in use and how cards relate to our fandom and interest in the game itself.

All that said, the discussion about what constitutes a card is one that comes up periodically on Twitter or on here.* It’s a fun discussion to have since we all have very different ideas** which in turn impact our collections and interests. I enjoy taking part in these discussions but I really love just watching them since the criteria people bring up have turned out to all over the map.

*Probably also in the Facebook group but as I’m no longer part of that website I’m unable to confirm as much.

**Quite similar to the “what constitutes a complete set” discussion we had earlier on this blog.

We all, of course, have significant agreement on what a card is. But there are so many variables where an item can deviate from being a card™  that I found myself creating a taxonomy of card attributes. Looking at cards with these attributes in mind is something I’ve found helps me understand why my gut reacts to different products the way it does.

This post will explain my thinking and hopefully help other people put words to things their guts have already intuited. Again, this is in no way intended to be a gatekeeping thing. We all have different reactions to which attributes we care about and where on the spectrum something stops being a card. But if the Twitter conversations have taught me anything it’s that being our most interesting conversations are when we’re being positive about our definitions rather than negative about someone else’s.

Material

We’ll start with the obvious and discuss the material of the card. Obviously the expectation is that they be made of cardboard. They are called “cards” after all.

But cards have never been limited to just that. From the silks and blankets in the pre-war era to the plastic, metal, and wood releases of the modern era we’ve always had cards that weren’t made of cardboard. We’ve had stamps, stickers (some made of cloth), rub-offs, rub-downs, and decals as well.

Even in the cardboard/paper realm there’s also a discussion with having about the thickness of the paperstock. We’ve had posts on the blog about cards printed on newsprint and cards which are almost a quarter of an inch thick.

Size

In general tobacco-sized to 3.5″×5″ seems to have a consensus as being a card. But what about 5″×7″ or 8.5″×11″? What about minis and micros that are smaller than tobacco cards? What about posters and pin-ups?

A lot of this comes back to storage concerns and the way many of us use binders and binder pages to organize our collections. But it’s more than that too. For most of us, “card” indicates something from the business card to postcard size and anything beyond that becomes something else. Too small and the card starts to feel insignificant. Too large and it becomes something else—a photo, a poster, a flyer.

Form

This is sort of related to size but refers to non-rectangular items like discs and diecuts but also encompasses folders, booklets, and pop-ups as well as  coins, poker chips, and buttons. Many of these are binderable. Just as many lose what makes them distinct and interesting as soon as they get bindered.

The items which aren’t binderable at all are especially interesting here. Things like the 1957 Swift Meats diecut paper dolls or those Topps 3-D Baseball Stars from the 1980s are clearly intended to be like cards but do not fit into any standard card storage or presentation systems.

Content

The question of what makes a card a card is more than just the physical description of what it’s made of and what shape it is. What it actually depicts is also important. Yes, picture on the front, stats/bio on the back is the expectation. But there are a lot of cards out there which don’t do this.

We’re not just talking about blank backs either although those are definitely relevant to this category. Backs that are advertising, common designs, or just a player name are all part of this. The same goes with fronts that depict a generic player instead of someone specific.

And for my money, all the more-recent relic, autograph, or online cards with backs that are functionally blank fit in here as well. I’ve seen way too many people refer to them as “half a card” to not mention them.

Release

No images for this section because it’s not something that can really be depicted visually. Traditionally, cards are part of a set and are released in either packs or complete sets. Cards that exist by themselves without the context of a set or the lottery of a pack stray into a grey area. This is something that’s really been pushed into new territory with online releases and the way Topps has in many ways optimized its distribution around selling and creating individual items on demand, but the idea of one-off card releases has been around a long time.

There’s also the discussion here about what connotes a set—both in terms of size and how things are numbered. At what point does a release of cards become a “set”? If something is unnumbered or only has a weird alphanumeric code on the back does that mean that it was intended to be collected by itself?

Case Studies

Why do I bother thinking and categorizing different attributes? Because as I watch the discussions it seems that most of us tolerate a certain amount of variance in one or two categories as long as the others remain “standard.” So let’s dig in.

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Let’s start with 1969 Topps Deckle Edge. These are pretty clearly cards but they serve as an example of something that sort of fails one of the categories because the backs are non-existent. But as you move from card size to 5″x7″ to 8″x10″, more and more people switch from treating them as cards to treating them as photos.

Or look at Broders. They’re generally “backless” but they also start to deviate from the expected release method.* They consist of small checklists and were generally not released the same way most cards are. Art cards and customs fit in this area as well. Move up a size in this area and we have things like team photo postcards. Change the paper stock and we end up in Jay Publishing land. At some point things stop being a card for a lot of people**

*There’s also something to be said about the licensing stuff but I’ve not heard anyone claim that Panini or other unlicensed logoless cards aren’t even cards.

**Although we still collect them and cover them on this blog.

The one that’s sort of stumped me in my own collection are the Upper Deck Heroes of Baseball stadium giveaways from the early 1990s. Despite being letter-sized and blank-backed, because they’re cardboard and manufactured by Upper Deck they physically feel more like cards than a lot of the posters that Topps has folded up and inserted in packs over the years.

At the same time, since they were distributed via stadium giveaway and do not function as part of a set. They’re also functionally distinct from those late-60s, early-70s posters that were issued in packs and formed part of a distinct set.

But I could go on and on. As stated initially, the point of this post isn’t to provide a definitive answer or even an official opinion. Instead I hope that organizing my thoughts about the different ways we evaluate cardness is helpful to other people as I’ve found it to be for my own thinking.

From the Negro League to MLB

3rd Inning

Before I get into the “3rd Inning”, I would like to thank everyone for the awesome comments, and taking the time to read the introductory post. I’m happy you all enjoyed, and staying on for the ride!

In the first post (1st Inning), I explained briefly how tough it was to locate some of the 86 players due to the fact that some had no MLB card (16 total). The “3rd Inning” will focus on my journey to find these players. Most of the cards and memorabilia from this post are not graded and/or authenticated yet, I’m currently in the process (maybe I’ll get them back from PSA sometime next year!).

Marshall Bridges 1978 TCMA “The 1960’s” Washington Senators / 1992 The Wiz New York Yankees “Yankees of the 60’s”. I could not find any graded card, memorabilia, or autographs of Marshall. I came across these two cards and decided to grab both. TCMA cards were pretty popular, and the Wiz card I hadn’t seen before doing my research. I did not know Bridges played for the Yankees, but he had a pretty good year for them in 1962 (8-4 3.14 era). He played in MLB for 7 seasons, with four different teams. Marshall pitched for the Memphis Red Sox in the Negro American League.

🐐fact: Bridges was shot in the leg by a 21 year-old married woman in a bar during Spring Training of 1963.

Robert Wilson 1990 Target Brooklyn Dodgers. Wilson had 5 at bats with the Dodgers in 1958, recorded one hit (as a pinch-hitter). Finding anything on Wilson was really tough due to his short stint in MLB. I did find a 1957 Montreal Royals autographed team ball, but it was way out of my price range. The Target card was issued as a “100th Anniversary”, and featured 1,095 players from all eras of the Dodgers franchise. Not the coolest one in the project, but there wasn’t much to choose from.

🐐fact: Wilson played on the 1947 Newark Eagles (53-42-1) with Monte Irvin, and Larry Doby. He batted .308 in 39 games.

Charlie Peete 1955-1956 Omaha Cardinals Team Photo. This guys stuff is super hard to find. I spent hours researching him. I love these old Minor League team photos, I really enjoy collecting them. Peete was a good lefty hitting outfielder. He played in the Negro Leagues for the Indianapolis Clowns. The Cardinals signed Peete in 1954. He tore up the Piedmont League batting .311 17 HR and was named to the All-Star team. In ’56 he led AAA batting .350 with 16 HR and 63 RBI for the Omaha Cardinals. Charlie had 52 at bats for St. Louis in ’56, the only year he would appear in MLB.

🐐fact: Peete had a very sad ending to his life. He passed away in the prime of his career, the very young age of 27. He was playing Winter ball in Venezuela when he and his family were killed in a plane crash.

Pat Scantlebury Original Type 1 Photo. Pat had me searching the web like a mad man! One day I received an eBay alert and there it was, a beautiful original photo of Scantlebury. It’s from 1951, around the time he was pitching for his native country of Panama in the 1951 Caribbean Series. It’s a wonderful candid shot of Pat. He appeared in only one MLB season, playing for the Reds in 1956 (Frank Robinson’s rookie year). Pat played for the New York Cubans of the Negro League from 1944-1948.

🐐fact: Scantlebury and Hall of Famer Rod Carew are the only two MLB players born in Gatun, Panama. Like many from that era, Pat took 8 years off his age before joining organized baseball. In 2012 he was elected into the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame.

Roberto Vargas Autographed Photo. This is a beautiful photo of Vargas as a member of the 1955 Milwaukee Braves (His only year in MLB). Vargas was a right-handed pitcher, he played in the Negro Leagues for the Chicago American Giants, and the Memphis Red Sox.

🐐fact: Vargas was one of the first group of Puerto Rican ball players who appeared in MLB. His first appearance was April 17, 1955, the same day Roberto Clemente made his with the Pirates.

William Greason Signed Photo & Letter. What’s really cool about this one is I purchased the signed photo from an estate sale. The gentleman’s son who sold it to me, said his Dad would write letters to people he respected and looked up to. Mr. Greason was kind enough to send a signed photo back. I was able to acquire the original letter he sent, as well as the stamped envelope William sent to him from his Birmingham area residence. As you can see on the photo he signed it, “Rev”, Bill as most call him is a Baptist minister. He served our great country, in World War II. 66th Supply Platoon, an all-black unit, and took part in the Battle of Iwo Jima. After the war he played in the Negro Leagues for the Birmingham Black Barons, where he was a teammate of Willie Mays. Greason played one year in MLB with the 1954 Cardinals.

🐐fact: Mr. Greason is a living legend, and an American hero. I believe he’s the oldest living player from the Negro Leagues. He turned 96 last September!

Connie Johnson PSA Authenticated Autographed Index Cards. I wanted to mix in some autographs with the collection so I went this route for Johnson. Connie was a 6’ 4” right-handed pitcher. He pitched 3 years with the White Sox and 3 with the Orioles. He finished his MLB career with a respectable 40-39 record to go along with a 3.44 era. Johnson played for the Kansas City Monarchs at the age of 17. Won back to back Negro League World Series titles with the Monarchs playing with the great Satchel Paige.

🐐fact: “The most I made in a year playing baseball was $15,000. Players today make more in one day than I made in my entire career. But, I wouldn’t change a thing. We had a good time. We had a ball.” – Connie Johnson

Sam Hairston, Ray Neil, Jim Cohen 1991 Retort Negro League Legends PSA Authenticated Autograph. Sam was a tough one to come by. He only played in 7 MLB games, in 1951 with the White Sox. When I came across the card I bought it immediately. The original photo was from the 1948 East-West Classic, standing in the middle of his two Indianapolis Clowns teammates, Ray Neil, and hard-throwing pitcher Jim “Fireball” Cohen. Hairston played for the Birmingham Black Barons before being traded to the Clowns. Sam had an extensive career in the minors, hitting .304 for his career. After his playing career, we went on to the have a successful career as a pro scout.

🐐fact: Sam was a patriarch of a three-generation big-league family. His son, Jerry Hairston Sr. had a 14-year career in MLB. and Jerry’s son, Jerry Jr. played 16 years. When you count John Hairston, and then Scott, that’s 5 players from one family playing in MLB. What an amazing family of ballplayers!

Luis Marquez 1983 Fritsch – 1953 Boston/Milwaukee Braves. Luis was a tough find. I had to go with the ’83 30th anniversary set. It’s a pretty cool set with some good players marking 30 years from when the Braves moved from Boston. The set features Hall of Famers, Eddie Matthews, and Warren Spahn. Luis was born in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. He played 68 games in MLB, for the Braves, Cubs, and Pirates. He spent his early years in the Negro League with the New York Black Yankees, Baltimore Elite Giants, and the Homestead Grays.

🐐fact: Marquez was a speedy outfielder, who could hit, run, and possessed a strong arm in the field. He is the only Puerto Rican with batting titles in the Negro League, Puerto Rican baseball, and Organized baseball (AAA).

Willard Brown 2020 Dreams Fulfilled Negro Leagues Legends. I searched high and far for anything regarding Mr. Brown. I came across a reprint team photo of the 1947 St. Louis Browns team, but that didn’t do it for me since I wanted to have original content of each player. Brown played only one year in MLB (1947), at the age of 32 he had 67 plate appearances for the Browns. Since there wasn’t much out there I went with a card from the “Dreams Fulfilled” set. Graig Kreindler is a phenomenal artist who paints baseball players like I’ve never seen anyone before. His paintings of Negro League players are in the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. Graig did the original art for this set, so being that I know Graig and appreciate his work, I thought having a card from this set would be super cool.

🐐fact: Brown was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. The great Buck O’Neil called him, “The most natural ballplayer I ever saw”. Josh Gibson named him, “Home Run Brown”. A speedy outfielder, Brown hit over .340 for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1942 and 1943. The next two years he served our country in World War II. He was among those 5,000 ships that crossed the English Channel during the D-Day Invasion of 1944.

James “Buster” “Buzz” Clarkson 1986 Fritsch Negro League Stars / 1951 Milwaukee Brewers Player Panel Card. Clarkson didn’t make it to MLB until he was 37 years of age. Played in 14 games, as an infielder and pinch-hitter for the Boston Braves in 1952. He started professional baseball with the Pittsburgh Crawfords of the Negro Leagues at 23 years old, and finished his career with the Des Moines Bruins of the Western League at 41. Clarkson was another one that had me searching and searching, actually I’m still searching. That is what makes this project very unique, I’m always down a rabbit hole looking for more.

🐐fact: Clarkson was well known during his time playing in Puerto Rico. He won a few Caribbean Series championships with the well-known Santurce Crabbers. As a member of the Crabbers, he played alongside two future legends, Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente.

Milt Smith 2000 Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research (1957 Cardinals) and 1956 PCL Seattle Rainers Team Photo. Milt Smith was also a tough find. He played in MLB season for only one year, 1955 with the Reds (36 games). He did have an extensive Minor League career which lasted 10 years with various organizations. He broke into professional baseball with the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro Leagues. The Rainers team photo is an original and pretty rare, this one is black and white, but most of the time these old Minor League team photos are bright with colors, laid out with awesome fonts, and classic uniforms, the older the better!

🐐fact: Milt had his best Minor League season in 1955 with the PCL San Diego Padres hitting .338, prompting his call-up by the Cincinnati Reds.

Vibert “Webbo” Clarke 1957 Minneapolis Millers Program and 1947 Cleveland Buckeyes Negro League Retort Card (1992). Mr. Clarke was a Panamanian born left-handed pitcher who appeared in 7 games for the Washington Senators in 1955. He spent time with Cleveland Buckeyes and the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro Leagues. He was only 18 years of age when he made his first appearance with the Buckeyes. I did a lot of research on Clarke, and found the the Minneapolis Millers program on eBay. It’s in really good condition, and shows him on the roster page (even though they spelled his name “Vibret” incorrectly. On the Buckeyes card, Clarke is pictured in the second row, first on the left.

🐐fact: During his time with the 1957 Minneapolis Millers, he was a teammate of a then 19 year-old phenom named Orlando Cepeda (see program).

Sandy Amoros 8×10 1955 World Series Autographed Photo (COA). I chose this wonderful photo because of the significance of such an amazing play in World Series history. The Amoros catch on a Yogi Berra fly ball in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series helped secure the Brooklyn Dodgers a championship over the rival Yankees. Amoros had just come into the game to replace Junior Gilliam, who moved to second base to take Don Zimmer’s spot after he was pinch-hit for. Sandy was a lefty, so if a righty was playing LF, that ball falls in. Amoros made a play that would never be forgotten in baseball history, he fired that ball into Pee Wee Reese who doubled off McDougald at 1B.

🐐fact: Amoros was born in Cuba, he stood 5’ 7” and blessed with superior speed. He had a solid MLB career, 7 years with the Dodgers, and one with the Tigers. Sandy played for the New York Cubans of the Negro Leagues. He was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978.

Hank Aaron 1975 Topps (’74 Highlights) PSA 6. I purchased this card a week before the great Henry Aaron passed away. I wanted to use this card for my project because of the significance of breaking Babe Ruth’s HR record. Notice the card number is #1, Hank will always be number one in my HR record book. Hank started his professional career in the Negro Leagues with the Indianapolis Clowns. 18 years-old, scrawny, and hitting cross-handed back then (yes, cross-handed!!). In 1952 he led the Negro American League in average, a decent .467. Hank went on to accomplish nothing but greatness, on and off the field. We’ll miss you Hank!

🐐fact: “The only man I idolize more than myself.” – Muhammed Ali on Hank Aaron.

Well thats all for now folks, I hope you enjoyed the “3rd Inning”. We’re headed to the 5th, see you soon!