Al Rosen: 1980’s Card Icon

al-rosen-headshot-264x300Late last month Al Rosen lost a long-term battle with leukemia. He was 71 years old and although two decades past his peak as a card dealer, much of his influence remains in the sports card and memorabilia business. Since I lived less than a half hour from Al, I would see him quite frequently at local New Jersey/New York events and seeing him in action was a site to behold. Many collectors and dealers both bought and sold from Al over the years. I did a few small deals with him and every one was handled very professionally.

He could be abrasive to people who offended him in some ways and, as arguably the most powerful card dealer of the 1980’s, when Al spoke the card collecting community listened. But I prefer to think of the positive aspects of his personality. If you had a chance to talk to Al, as I did, without the benefit of a large crowd at a show or when he felt he had to perform, you talked to a man who understood his business and his role within the card collecting community.  I knew I was seeing the real Al Rosen when we sat next to each other flying home from the National Convention in 1985, 1986 and 1987. This ended in 1988 when the National was in Atlantic City, a drivable distance.

During his peak, Al would get so many calls and letters that he was constantly on-the-go buying and  selling. I know members of his coterie who would finally get home for a day of rest and be called to go back on the road. Al never seemed to tire of looking at new collections as each deal truly excited him.

How did he know what to pay for collections? It all came down to the simplest terms he once imparted on me nearly 35 years ago. The most important aspect of this business is knowing what to pay for material. That simple sentence is pure genius. Why? Because if you pay correctly for an item, even if the value (real or perceived) goes down, you still have room to make a profit. And if you are a dealer, knowing how much room you have into an “piece” allows you to make a deal which may seem equitable for both buyers and sellers but also allows you to put money into your pocket. Sounds simple, but in actuality, it is the hardest thing for most dealers who are collectors to understand because they get smitten by seeing additions to their collections.

Rich Klein is a catalog maintenance expert for COMC and lives in Plano, TX with his wife and two dogs.

 

 

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Future Stars: Seldom Stars, Sometimes Not Even Future

They say you can’t predict baseball, and the folks who make baseball cards surely agree. Off and on for the past several decades, Topps has made a practice of predicting which players would be future stars and slapping the “Future Stars” label right on the cards. Sometimes they do a pretty good job — Cal Ripken and Tim Raines are among the Future Stars who became Hall of Famers — and sometimes they don’t — just ask Bob Bonner, Jeff Schneider, Roberto Ramos, and Bobby Pate, the four guys who shared those Future Stars cards with Ripken and Raines.

bo-jackson-tim-pysnarskiThe same year that Topps nailed it with Gary Sheffield and (to a lesser extent) Sandy Alomar Jr., they also dubbed Steve Searcy and Mike Harkey as Future Stars. I’ll see your 1987 Bo Jackson and raise you Tim Pyznarski.

So anyway, the point is that predicting which baseball players will become stars in the future is a losing game. That’s why I have so much respect for Upper Deck, who in the mid-2000s made a bold decision: If the Future Stars hardly ever turn into “Stars,” they reasoned (I assume), then why are we so beholden to the “Future” part of the equation?

I recently came across the 2007 Upper Deck Future Stars set. It jumped out at me because I was surprised to see Johnny Damon and Matt Cain in the same Future Stars set. It turns out I was right to be surprised.

I won’t go through the entire checklist, but let’s highlight a few of the players who, in 2007, Upper Deck was willing to go out on a limb and predict stardom for, along with their career accomplishments before they were named Future Stars.

Miguel Tejada. Age 32. Winner of the 2002 American League Most Valuable Player Award. Four-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger, and receiver of MVP votes in each of the previous seven seasons.

Andruw Jones. Eleven-year veteran. Nine-time Gold Glove winner. Five-time All-Star.

Chipper Jones. Age 34. National League MVP in 1999. Five-time All-Star. MVP votes in nine different seasons.

Manny Ramirez. Eight consecutive top-ten MVP finishes. Nine straight All-Star appearances. 470 career home runs.

Ken Griffey Jr. American League MVP in 1997. Twelve-time All-Star. Ten-time Gold Glove winner. 563 career homers.

Okay, this is just getting tedious at this point. Others in the set include John Smoltz, David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, Jim Thome, Ivan Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Piazza, and Greg Maddux, among (many) others.

In 2007.

griffey-sheffieldI’m sure there was some rhyme and/or reason to this set. They did a similar set the year before, and they obviously didn’t think they were actually fooling anyone. I’ve looked at several of the cards, trying to find a wink or a nod or some indication that they’re messing with us, but it’s not on the cards themselves. There doesn’t appear to be any “throwback” aspect to the set — Johnny Damon is pictured as a Yankee, Griffey as a Red, Sheffield as a Tiger, etc.

It can’t possibly be true, but it seems, at least to the eye of the casual observer who happens to come across some of these cards ten years later, as if Upper Deck just really wanted to make sure their Future Stars set included some actual stars.

To be fair to Upper Deck, the set also included several players you would traditionally find in a Future Stars set. You know, rising stars like Mike Schultz, Sean Henn, and Jamie Vermilyea. For every Andrew Miller or Ryan Braun, you have a Rocky Cherry or an Other Ryan Braun.

Once you get past the first 100 cards, most of which feature established stars, there’s the usual hit-and-miss assortment you’ve come to expect from Future Stars sets. And now Zack Segovia and Devern Hansack will be able to tell their grandkids they were in the same set as Greg Maddux and Derek Jeter.

Split Season sets (or, how writing a book invariably led to more cards)

The split season of 1981, the year of Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo and the strike that saved baseball, was Year One in the explosion in card collecting that marked the next decade and more. All of a sudden, there were a lot of choices for collectors.

An important historical note recounted in my book, Split Season: 1981,Fernandomania, The Bronx Zoo and the Strike that Saved Baseball (see how I subtly introduced the title in the opening sentence?) is the lawsuit that ended the Topps monopoly. Here are the relevant paragraphs:

In spring, millions turned to a time honored system of information gathering – baseball cards. The turmoil in baseball, the interweaving of business and sport, of tradition and progress, was mirrored in the collectible world. Topps, the only card company that generations had grown up on, had competition for the first time in 25 years. Like free agency, the decision came from an outside arbiter.

Cards were big business, 500 million traded, collected and clothes-pinned on bicycle spokes every year, generating $10 million in revenue. It was no wonder others wanted in.  When Fleer first challenged Topps in 1959, Topps had nearly every player under an exclusive deal. In 1975, the same year the first free agent, “Catfish” Hunter, was pushed out into an open market, Fleer filed a $13.6 mil suit against the Topps monopoly.

It took almost six years to end. On June 30, 1980, it was ruled that Topps and the players’ association had violated the Sherman Antitrust Act, restraining trade in the card market violation of.  The players’ association, much to Miller’s shock, were sued as well because, they had only licensed Topps. Miller disagreed with Topps’ assertion of exclusivity, but by not granting other companies the same right, the union had helped Topps remain the only cardboard in town. The players’ association was thrilled, for once, to lose. They saw more licensing money on the horizon.

For all of Fleer’s work in the courts, it was a Memphis concern, Donruss, which jumped in first. Fleer, seeing the normal calendar compress, released its full set before the Super Bowl, rather than the customary mid-February date. Statistical errors were numerous, with Bobby Bonds credited with 936 career home runs. The cards came out too early to picture the recent crop of free agents in fresh garb. Winfield as a Padre, Fisk and Lynn as a Red Sox, made the new cards outdated on arrival. Each company had a hard time completely covering the expected top rookies. Topps featured Tim Raines in a triptych of future Expos stars. Fernando Valenzuela got the same treatment. Donruss offered a full, more in focus, solo card of an incredibly young looking Raines, his big Afro pushing his cap skywards, an empty Wrigley Field lower level in the background.  Fleer had the only Valenzuela card, though he was labeled “Fernand” Valenzuela.

The flood of new product, giving every purchaser a free choice, would lead to an explosion of the hobby. By year-end, three times the number of cards were collected. The union garnered an additional $600,000 in revenue. An open market was good for paper images of the players; why not for the real thing?

In those moments during research and writing, while my mind wandered, and needed to, I searched EBay for 1981 sets I didn’t have. Of course, I had the three big base sets, and the Topps Traded set, but there were plenty of new offerings.

1981 Topps Coca-Cola

Topps produced 12 card sets, for 11 MLB teams. (They produced a Yankee set but that was never issued. Only three players are out there – Goose Gossage, Reggie Jackson and Rick Cerone.).

Rather than buy sets team by team, I held out for the full run of 132 cards. It was well worth it. They are very nice and, in some instances, have different pictures than the regular 1981 cards. The Sutton card is the missing link between his base card and his Traded card.

1981 Topps Giant Photo Cards 

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Perhaps in the Top 5 (at least Top 10) of most beautiful card sets, these 5” X 7” borderless glossies are a dream. Again, Topps issued team sets, or geographic sets, but the key for me was getting the whole set, all 102 oversized pics. I had a few of these when they came out but 1) only Yankees and Mets were sold in New York and, 2) who has the time to buy one card packs? This is the perfect set for Rob Neyer, who wrote recently for the blog about how much he likes borderless cards.

Tom Burgmeier never looked so good.

1981 Topps Scratchoffs

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Perhaps in the Bottom 5 (at least Bottom 10) of ugliest and pointless Topps sets. Three game cards to a card, perforated, the pictures small, players looking at, or averting their eyes from, the 24 black dots as if they were the plague. Not worth the time or money (small though it is at around $10.)

1981 Topps Stickers and Album

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Topps obviously decided that the best way to counter the Donruss and Fleer cards that now cluttered the market was to flood the market with more Topps sets. These are kinda nice, kinda silly, this big set of 262 flimsy little stickers features enough fine photography to make it interesting. Plus, it’s ridiculously cheap, less than a ten spot. I bought the album as well but there’s no sticking in my future.

1981 Fleer Star Stickers

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Maybe not as nice as the Topps sticker set, a bit more cluttered in design, a bit smaller set (128) but bigger cards. Plus, a loose-leaf binder is virtually naked without a Bake McBride sticker on the front.

1981 Drake’s

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The first Drake’s set since 1950 (the awesome “TV Baseball Series” cards), this 32 card gem was made in conjunction with Topps and is sweet, with great action shots of the “Big Hitters” of the day – and Joe Charboneau.

 

There were a few other sets I picked up – Kellogg’s 3-D (oddly, I had stopped buying those sets in 1980), the O-Pee-Chee Expos/Blue Jays poster set – and I had a few others – the Dodgers Police set and about 22% of all the minor league sets put out in 1981. I have no desire to pursue any more minor league sets, but I will make note of perhaps the best card of 1981. The TCMA Albuquerque Dukes set at first had a Sandy Koufax card, and then didn’t. Koufax was coaching in the Dodger chain that year.

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As for what’s left, there are some Police sets that don’t grab me (Braves, Royals, Mariners) and MSA/Peter Pan/Sunbeam discs that are bland beyond belief. When I bought the Towne Club disc set in 1976, discs of logo-less players seemed cool. Not by 1981, not now.

I may go after the Granny Goose A’s set, though searching for the short print Dave Revering card feels like an empty hunt. The only set remaining in my sights is the Squirt set. It’s not that big, not that expensive and I feel that not having anything in my collection labelled “Squirt” is a big void.

1981-squirt

Mother’s Cookies Were Cool

When I was in grade school in the mid 1980s, I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sunnyvale, California to be precise. Back then, the Silicon Valley moniker was still in its infancy and really wasn’t all that well known outside of California. Before Apple, its claim to fame was the place Matthew Broderick tried to pirate video games from in the movie WarGames. Besides computers though, another hot craze in the area was baseball cards. That was driven by two real good teams, the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants, and young rookie stars on each team to root for. If you were a Giant fan, Will Clark and Robby Thompson were at the top of your list. If you were a fan of the green and gold, those were the days it was cool to love Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. But for many kid fans in the area, the rookie cards weren’t in the Topps, Fleer or Donruss sets. The “true rookies” were the Mother’s Cookies cards. Almost an equivalent to the rookie cards in the “Topps Traded” sets, Mother’s Cookies cards were available before the major companies main sets had been distributed.

cardfrontThe cards had a unique look to them. They had a glossy, sleek finish at a time before Upper Deck existed. They also had distinctive rounded corners which, to a kid’s imagination, made them even more cool. They also were thinner than normal baseball card stock, which gave it that extra amount of “I have to be careful with this, so it must be valuable” vibe.

The backs of each card, curiously, didn’t have baseball statistics on them. However, underneath the miniature biography of each player, there was a line marked “Autograph”. We thought that was a neat way to provide player space to sign without messing up that nice glossy finish.

Not only did those cards look great and were truer “rookie” cards, but they were all the more epic because us kids weren’t quite sure how to get them. I mean, you didn’t just go to the local 7-Eleven and buy a pack. They weren’t even listed in baseball card guides like Beckett’s. Though rumors of their release would start early in the season, there was an air of mystery on if they actually existed, what they would look like once they came out, and who would be in the set.

cardbackI traded for two cards, the Will Clark and Robby Thompson rookie cards from the 1986 set. Before and after games, there was a lot of baseball card trading as we waited for autographs.

 

And then, I got them autographed.

These days, because of the internet, there are blogs such as cardjunk to help clear up some of the mystery. There’s even a Wikipedia page that lets us glean a few more facts about them. The first two sets had been produced in 1952 and 1953, featuring only Pacific Coast League Players. That was it until the 1983 Mother’s Cookies Giants set came out. Other teams were added over the next decade until sets were being produced for the A’s, Angels, Astros, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Rangers and Padres. They also ran some commemorative sets for Nolan Ryan. They were distributed as occasional inserts in Mother’s Cookies or as giveaways at baseball games. The last baseball card set was in 1998 and apparently, Mother’s Cookies went out of business in 2008.

It’s ironic looking it up online decades after the cards were released. Even with modern technology, there are people still struggling to complete their sets. Nonetheless, though they’re still hard to find, they’re still as cool as they were when I was young.

Cutting Cards

There are very few things I remember from my childhood as vividly as I remember the look on my dad’s face when he came home one evening and discovered that my brother and I had taken scissors to our baseball card collection.

It was 1984. I was seven years old, and my brother was eight. We had just recently started collecting baseball cards, heading down to the Circle K every time we got our allowance to buy packs of 1984 Topps. The guy who ran the Circle K was named Dave Stewart, but not that Dave Stewart. Every once in a while he would get Fleer or Donruss in stock, but most of the time it was just Topps, so that’s what we bought.

candelariaThe 1984 Topps cards were pretty basic: team name running vertically down the left side, headshot photo in the bottom left corner, action shot taking up most of the card, with the player’s name and position at the bottom to the right of the headshot. Thanks to nostalgia, it is still my favorite set because it’s the first one I ever collected, but there’s nothing really special about it.

But to a couple dumb kids who just started collecting, there was something special about the design: the headshots! Having two pictures on one card was pretty cool, we thought. Getting to see what the players looked like up close helped us feel like we really knew the players.

So we did what anyone would have done: we cut the headshots out.

I don’t remember our reasoning. Maybe we thought it was cool that once you cut it out, you had a little square with the player’s face on one side and his team logo on the other. Maybe we thought that’s just what people did — why else would they put lines around the headshot if not to guide young hands to safety-scissor them off the card? But whatever the reason, by the end of the night we had a few hundred baseball cards shaped like you took the state of Utah and rotated it 180 degrees.

kershawI was reminded of this over the past few weeks as I’ve worked on a Christmas present for my nine-year-old son. He is a big Dodger fan, and he loves Clayton Kershaw, so I spent a few weeks working trades and minor purchases with people on Facebook and eBay, gathering as many cards of Kershaw and other Dodgers as I could. By the time Christmas rolled around, I had 322 Kershaws, 56 Corey Seagers, 13 Julio Uriases, and about 100 other assorted Dodger cards for him.

I watched the thrill in his eyes as he looked through the cards, and then I glanced up and noticed Grandpa — my dad — watching too. It was probably my imagination, but in my mind my dad was thinking, “Gosh, I sure hope your son is smarter than mine was.”

cut-cardsI thought back to the exasperated, disbelieving look on my dad’s face that night in 1984, and the way he asked, “Why in the world would you cut up your baseball cards?!?” Those cards cost 45 cents for a pack of 16 and came with free gum, and we walked to Circle K and bought them with our own money. But our dad was still pretty upset at what we had done. What would I do if I came home and discovered that my son had blacked out the teeth on a Clayton Kershaw rookie card or scribbled a fake autograph across a numbered Corey Seager card?

The end result was the same conclusion I’ve come to hundreds of times before: collecting baseball cards has changed since I was a kid. In the end, my 1984 Topps Bruce Bochy is worth about the same with the headshot cut out as it would have been otherwise, because the cards from my childhood have very little value. They were overproduced and lousy quality. They were also perfect and my main source of happiness growing up, and that remains true no matter how defaced and destroyed the cards are.

bochyI want my son to have the same joy of collecting cards that I had, but I don’t know if that’s possible. Inflation on allowances has not kept up with the cost of baseball cards, and there are subsets and special sets and premium sets that he could never hope to afford on his meager “income.” I opened a “box” of Topps High Tek last night — I put “box” in quotes because each box contains exactly one pack of eight cards. I happened to pull out a Kershaw card, and it is a thing of beauty. But my son would have to save many months of allowance and pick up some paid chores around the house to afford an eight-card box of Topps High Tek. Unless I subsidize his habit, he will never know the joy of pulling that card from a pack.

So far, I have subsidized the habit. I learned math and reading and trivia from baseball cards, and I like the idea of my boys having a similar experience. But there may come a time when I say enough is enough. It might be related to the money, or it might come when I least expect it, perhaps when I walk in the door one evening and see my son holding a pair of scissors.

Gosh, I sure hope my son is smarter than my dad’s was.

A F*ck Face Story for the Holidays

Soon after the 1989 Fleer baseball cards were released, word spread that there was an obscenity on Billy Ripken’s bat. In those pre-Internet days, every article, whether in the hobby mags or regular newspapers, spoke of the “obscenity,” but what that obscenity was was a mystery to me. The mainstream press wouldn’t actually use the term, and there was no way to find out. At least I didn’t know how to find out, unless I got the card.

Getting the card seemed harder than you’d think. I couldn’t find packs anywhere and it was clear that when the set came in the mail (I’d order all the base sets back then), I’d end up with a corrected card. It was pretty frustrating.

Karen and I were already living in Buffalo Grove, Illinois in the spring of ’89. We’d moved to Chicago in early ’87 and headed to the suburbs the following year. It must’ve been a Saturday morning that I had to drive to the Jewel. On the way home I stopped for gas at the Amoco (I’m pretty sure it was an Amoco) at the corner of Buffalo Grove and 83 (McHenry Rd). I filled up and went inside to pay. No futuristic credit card readers at the pumps, kids, these were primitive times.

Before paying I scanned the candy racks and there, with the lid torn off, was a full box of 1989 Fleer! What the hell? Of all place to find some cards, let alone a full box. I grabbed it and brought it home.

Maybe I’d already told Karen about the Ripken card. Maybe I explained the whole story as I put the box on the dining room table. Either way, my idea was that we’d both open all the packs, the quickest route to finding out what the fuss was all about. We started.

Pack after pack was opened, wrappers placed in a pile between us. Early hopes led to sudden fears and, as the amount of unopened packs dwindled to the last few, I was getting nervous and angry.  I have no idea what a single pack of cards went for in 1989 but a whole box of them was a pretty big waste of money if the Ripken didn’t turn up. I was already getting the set. I didn’t need a pile of doubles.

I opened one of my final packs, head down, shuffling through the 15 cards (and sticker).

_3“F*ck face?” Karen said with equal bits of surprise and smile.

She’d gotten it! Yup, f*ck face. Of all the obscenities, f*ck face? What a ridiculous thing to write on the knob of a bat. It was hysterical to see – f*ck face. Karen did it!

By the time the set arrived in the mail, f*ck face had been obscured in a variety of ways – black box, black scribble, white scribble, white out. I think I have a black box variation. Who cares though, it was f*ck face that mattered.

 

Montreal Expos postcards

The abstract below is based on a report that was originally delivered before a SABR-Quebec regional meeting on November 5, 2011. It has been revised and updated to reflect events and accuracies which occurred since that date.

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Modest as their success may have been on the field, the Montreal Expos introduced many innovations in their Gallic interpretation of Major League Baseball. During the early years at Jarry Park, it was not uncommon to see fans dancing in the aisles or attending the game with a pet duck. Wearing tricolour caps – bleu-blanc-rouge to honour hockey’s legendary Montreal Canadiens – the Expos introduced a seemingly indeterminate logo which was actually a stylized letter M. Moving to Olympic Stadium, the Expos and their fans often erupted in a chorus of “The Happy Wanderer” during a rally, usually led by an ursine mascot named Youppi. If an opposing baserunner led off 1st or 2nd base but did not steal, chicken sounds were the order of the day on the scoreboard. The Expos were the first team to play two national anthems and the first to sell mineral water. Although the Expos rarely issued a yearbook, they did produce a postcard set in each of their 36 years in the National League.

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The postcards were sold by the Expos at concessions, first at Jarry Park and then at Olympic Stadium. In addition, a supply of postcards was printed every winter for autograph purposes for the Expos’ annual winter caravan. If a fan wrote an Expos player for an autograph in the mail, it was not uncommon for his or her signed personal items to be accompanied by a signed postcard. Several players, including Steve Renko and Ernie McAnally, were sending signed postcards to autograph collectors long after they retired from baseball.

The first postcard series was produced in 1969 and consisted of two series of 16 cards each. The first series was issued in colour, while the second series was issued with monochrome images. The Expos continued with monochrome images from 1970 to 1976; each photo was underscored, for example, by the announcement of “Greetings from John Boccabella!”

In 1971 there were two Expos postcard sets. In addition to the official set produced by the team, a second set was produced by a Montreal company called Pro-Stars.   The photos were colour images taken in spring training at West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium. There were 27 players included in the set, along with manager Gene Mauch. The Don Hahn card is particularly hard to find, as he was traded to the New York Mets as the cards were going to press. Consequently, the Hahn card was issued in very limited quantities. Although the set was popular with collectors, the Expos did not engage Pro-Stars for additional sets subsequent to 1971.

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Most of the postcards during the Jarry Park era were mugshots, or in the case of the 1969 set, posed shots. However, many of the players who joined the team midway through the 1976 season were immortalized on their postcards with action shots. For example, after Andre Thornton was acquired from the Chicago Cubs in June 1976, he was shown batting during a game at Jarry Park on his postcard. The Olympic patch worn on the Expos’ sleeves that summer is easily visible.

In 1977, after the Expos moved to Olympic Stadium, they issued their postcard sets in full colour. Now the postcards were underscored with each player’s name and position, both in French and English. The position identifications disappeared from the postcards in 1980, which was also the year the Expos introduced red and blue racing stripes on their uniforms. The player’s identity disappeared completely from the postcards in 1984, though it was reintroduced in 1991. That same year, the postcards identified Petro-Canada, a Canadian gasoline retailer, as an Expos’ sponsor.

For the last thirteen years of their history, the Expos wore blue pinstriped uniforms with “Expos” written in a cursive, Dodgers-style script. Postcard photos were taken with a blue background from 1992 to 1996, and a beige background from 1997 to 2004. When it appeared the Expos may have been slated for contraction in 2002, the team issued a black and white postcard set depicting the stars of yesteryear. Some of the players to appear in this postcard set included Steve Rogers, Ron Hunt, Ron LeFlore, Buck Rodgers, and Tim Burke. Although the Expos and Major League Baseball survived the 2002 season, baseball in Montreal had only two more years before the franchise was moved to Washington.

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Most of the photos on the Expos postcards were snapped by Denis Brodeur. The official photographer of both the Expos and the Canadiens, Brodeur had been the goalie for Team Canada who won the bronze medal in hockey at the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. Brodeur was also the father of NHL superstar goalie Martin Brodeur. In 1996, a collection of Brodeur’s baseball imagery was showcased in a French language coffee table book about the history of the Montreal Expos. Many of the postcard photos were reprinted in the definitive history of the Expos, a two-volume set written in French by Jacques Doucet and Marc Robitaille. Brodeur died in 2013, age 82.

The question remained: who got to be photographed on an Expos postcard? Most of the stars and regular players were issued a distinct postcard every year. In 1970 and 1971, as the Expos were marketing Rusty Staub as the franchise’s marquee player, there were several postcard varieties for the affable redhead known as ‘Le Grand Orange.’ Nine players who appeared on Expos postcards were ultimately immortalized with plaques in Cooperstown. Besides managers Dick Williams and Frank Robinson, and coaches Duke Snider and Larry Doby, this roster included Tony Perez, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Pedro Martinez, and Randy Johnson. The Johnson postcard, issued in limited quantities in 1989 in light of his trade to Seattle in May, is considered to be the most valuable in Expos history. It was the Big Unit’s rookie years and has sold for as much as $250 if it can be found at all.

What about the coaches, midseason acquisitions, or September call-ups? In 1969, since the postcards were not issued until midseason, players such as Manny Mota, Maury Wills, Mudcat Grant, and Donn Clendenon were not included because they had already been traded to other teams. In most subsequent years the postcards were released at the beginning of the season in April. Photos for supporting cast members, including coaches, were often reused the following year. For example, Fred Breining was on the disabled list for most of 1984 and all of 1985, his two years with the Expos. The same photo of Breining was used in both sets.

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According to Jacques Doucet, who broadcast Expos games for most of their history, Brodeur snapped most of the player photographs for postcards in spring training. If a player on the 40-man roster spent the season in minor leagues to be recalled in September, his photograph would be ready for a postcard. Take the shortest career in Expos history – one day. That was the extent of Curt Brown’s tenure with the Expos. He was included in the postcard series in 1973. On the other hand, in 1996, Rick Schu’s contract was purchased from Ottawa in August before being outrighted back to the Lynx a week later. Schu was not given a postcard. Similarly, Leo Marentette was recalled from AAA Vancouver in 1969 in time for an Expos’ California road trip. As the team prepared to fly east, Marentette was returned to Vancouver. He never had a postcard either.

As for midseason acquisitions, it often depended on the player and how late in the season he was acquired. After ten second division finishes, the 1979 Expos found themselves in a pennant race with the Cubs, Pirates, and Phillies. Once their division rivals in Pittsburgh acquired Bill Madlock in a trade with the Giants, the Expos had to counter. On July 20, they brought back Rusty Staub in a trade with the Tigers. Considering Staub’s popularity in the early years of the franchise, it went without saying to print batches of a new Staub postcard to be included in the 1979 set. However, the next year, after the Expos acquired John D’Acquisto and Willie Montanez in separate trades with San Diego at a similar juncture of the season, neither player was included in the 1980 postcard set.

75528_14Generally speaking, superstars like Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Vladimir Guerrero, and in 1984, Pete Rose, have generated the most attention for their postcards. However, this was not always the case. When Bill Lee joined the Expos in 1979, he was depicted on his postcard sporting a Grizzly Adams-style beard. The Powers That Be in baseball, already dismayed by admission to sprinkle marijuana on his organic buckwheat pancakes (as it made him impervious to bus fumes when he jogged), pressured him to shave the beard. He complied early in the season and almost as soon as he shaved, his postcard was replaced. The bearded Spaceman postcard remains a collector’s item.

In 1981, Jerry Manuel’s postcard was at the centre of a different controversy. Unlike Jerry Seinfeld’s proclamation in an episode of “Seinfeld” many years later, Manuel never spelled his first name with a G. However, you would not know that by his postcard, which identified the infielder as ‘Gerry Manuel.’ The postcard was quickly recalled and replaced an orthographically accurate ‘Jerry Manuel.’

75748-25fr1One of the more unusual stories surrounding an Expos postcard involves another members of the 1981 Expos, Steve Ratzer. Although his Expos career was limited to 13 games, the Ratzer postcard remains one of the more popular issues in franchise history. First off, the postcard was printed for only two months of the year as Ratzer was assigned to Denver during the midseason players’ strike, not to be recalled when the rosters expanded.

Further to that, Ratzer is a member of the Jewish faith. According to Vancouver-based hobbyist Ernest ‘Kit’ Krieger, the only two ethnic identities whose members collect cards of players who share their identity are Cubans and Jews. There have been several Cubans to play for the Expos and have a postcard, including Tony Perez, Bobby Ramos, and Nelson Santovenia. By contrast, Ratzer is considered to have been the only Jewish player in Expos history. Everyone with a Jewish collection wanted the Ratzer postcard. Furthermore, until the publication of the Jewish Major Leaguers set by Fleer in 2003, the postcard was the only major league card of any sort Ratzer had. When the author sent Ratzer a postcard to be autographed, his request was returned four months later along with a note of apology – he wanted to hold onto the

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postcard because he didn’t otherwise have one! (Ed. Note. Norm Sherry, who coached for the Expos for four years, is Jewish and appeared on postcards)

The Expos, through the lens of their postcard sets, provided a unique history of the team and its players from the expansion season of 1969 through 2004, the final year for the franchise in Montreal. Not only did the postcards tell the story of the players, but for many fans, they evoke memories of particular game or meeting with a particular member of the team. For example, the first postcard I ever owned was a Tom Foley card from the 1988 set. Foley was distributing them on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa as part of the Expos’ Winter Caravan. Along with Rex Hudler and Brian Holman, Foley took part in a skating demonstration. But Canadian winter sports didn’t come to Foley as naturally as baseball had. “What do they want from me?” he asked rhetorically, “I don’t know how to skate – I’m a Georgia boy!” Sixteen years later, as a coach for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, he was reminded of his winter trip to Ottawa. Do you think he remembered? You bet, he remembered!