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.

 

Putting the “old” in old cardboard: 50 years of manager cards

As a young collector, some of my least favorite pulls were manager cards. “What’s this OLD GUY doing in my pack?” Of course, now I’M the old guy. Thanks, universe!

It is then in a spirit of atonement and kinship that I am dedicating this post to half a century of manager cards in hopes of turning my fellow skipper rippers chipper and making geezer seizing pleasing again.

Yes, I bring you a post dedicated to the anti-heroes of the wax pack (the paunchiest pilots if you will) and drowning out the stroppy squawks of poppycocks and “Hobby pox!” with “Bobby Cox!!” and “Robby rocks!!” C’mon, America, let’s…well you get the idea!

Our 50 years of interest will run from 1933-1982. (I know that sounds like 49 years, but it really is 50. Trust me.) My goal in each case will be to highlight the evolution of the manager card genre across these sets or at least showcase some bit of trivia from the set that you might not have known, including an odd fact that makes Billy Martin and Joe Cronin cardboard cousins.

1933 Goudey

The 1933 Goudey set included 13 cards of 10 managers. The explanation for the uneven math is that Bill Terry had two cards, and Joe Cronin had three. The Rajah also had two cards in the set, but he is only the manager on his second one.

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By including managers in the set, Goudey was not necessarily breaking any new ground. Particularly with the prevalence of player-managers in baseball’s early days, I imagine that most of the major sets before 1933 included at least some managers. In addition, another non-innovation of the Goudey set was using the same card design for managers and non-managers alike. To break free of that mold, we will need to wait nearly three decades.

Collectors not intimately familiar with the Goudey set might be surprised to know it includes cards for the managers of the Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Maple Leafs! “Hey, wait a minute! That last one can’t be right, can it?”

Dead serious. It really is Maple Leafs, not Maple Leaves.

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I know at least a few of you are saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Tell me something I DON’T know!” Not a problem. Here is some 1934 Goudey trivia I don’t expect too many people know. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t say it was interesting or important!)

Managers are identified three different ways on the card backs. The first, mainly used in the set’s earliest releases, was simply to identify the subject as a manager within the text of the bio. The second method, used only on one of the set’s three Joe Cronin cards, was to insert “Manager” just before the team name in the header area, and the third method, used in the set’s late releases, was to do similar but in all caps (i.e., MANAGER).

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In contrast with at least the latter two of these approaches, none of the non-manager cards in the set identified position information in the header. I cut up a very nice Carl Hubbell card just so I could show you.

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1934 Goudey

As for the 1934 Goudey set, nothing too exciting or different happened beyond a standardization of the “Manager” designation to all caps. Of course, standardization is a lot easier when a set has only three manager cards versus 13!

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Another element of the 1934 Goudey set was one we’ll see repeated often in other “small checklist” sets: manager cards going solely to player-managers, in this case Grimm, Cochrane, and Terry.

1934-1936 Diamond Stars

The multi-year Diamond Stars release from National Chicle included a handful of managers but did not go to great lengths to identify them as such. In some cases (e.g., Mickey Cochrane), no indication is given at all. In other cases (e.g., Frankie Frisch), mention is made within the “Tips” section of the card back.

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Not all of the managers were player-managers. Steve O’Neill, who succeeded Walter Johnson as manager of the Indians, had not played a major league game since 1928, and Bucky Harris, manager of the Senators, had not played since 1931. Lew Fonseca was also in a manager-only role by the time his card came out. However, he had played the season before, so his status was somewhere in the middle.

By far the most interesting manager card in the Diamond Stars set was the card that never was. This card, which would have been released in 1936 or early 1937, seems to predict the transfer of managerial duties from Rogers Hornsby to Jim Bottomley in July 1937.

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I’ll note here that this card and the 11 others from its “lost sheet” are sometimes assumed to have represented cards 109-120 in the Diamond Stars set and as such reflect an extension of the 108-card set. I suspect it’s also possible these cards could have been 97-108 instead of the 12 cards the set ultimately ended up repeating on the checklist. (More on this in a future post.)

BONUS: 1936 Goudey Wide Pen Premiums

To keep things from getting too crazy, I initially decided to restrict my focus officially to major releases and unofficially to “baseball card size” releases. Still, I can’t exit the 1930s without acknowledging this Yankees manager card, which doubles as one of several rookie cards of Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio. To bring back the awful wordplay from the top of this post, I think we’d all be chipper Clipper-Skipper rippers today if we pulled this card from our stacks.

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1938 Goudey “Heads Up”

With only 24 different subjects in the set, there are no manager cards in this set.

1939 Play Ball

There was one manager card among the 161 cards in Play Ball’s debut issue. In October 1938 Dodger shortstop Leo Durocher signed a contract to manage the club, succeeding Burleigh Grimes. His Play Ball card #6 in the set identifies his as “Playing Manager” in the card back’s header.

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1940 Play Ball

The 1940 Play Ball release expanded the number of cards and the number of managers. Furthermore, it was no longer necessary to be a player-manager to crack the set.

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The bad news, at least for the managers (and coaches) of the two pennant winners, is that they received no card front credit for their team’s success. While Yankees and Reds players (e.g., Wally Berger) all had small pennants on the front of the card, this honor did not apply to managers or coaches.

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1941 Play Ball

The 1941 Play Ball set had a much shorter checklist, so only one manager made the cut and even then probably wouldn’t have if he wasn’t also one of the game’s top players.

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1948-1949 Bowman

The first Bowman issue only had 48 cards, none of them managers. Bowman expanded its offering to 240 cards the following year and–much like the 1941 Play Ball set–included only a single manager card of a very good shortstop.

1949 Bowman

1949 Leaf

The debut offering from Leaf looked much like 1949 Bowman as far as manager cards were concerned. Only Lou Boudreau, as player-manager, made the list. The header area of his card back bills Boudreau as a shortstop, but his bio area is quick to note his player-manager role. And of course this same set featured a very famous coach card.

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1950-1955 Bowman

The 1950 Bowman set was the first major release in a decade to include non-player managers. Non-player managers were repeated in 1951-1953 and 1955 as well. As with all the sets profiled so far, the manager cards followed the same design as the other cards in the set.

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The 1951 grouping was notable in that it included what many collectors feel is the single ugliest baseball card of all time. Another notable aspect of the 1951 set was that it was the first major release of the period profiled (1933-1982) to include manager cards for every team (16, in this case). A final bit of trivia. Jackie Robinson appears on the Charlie Dressen manager card, or at least his name does.

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1952-1956 Topps

The first five major baseball issues from Topps followed the traditions of Bowman and others in that the handful of managers included occupied the same card design as the players. If there is any novelty to be found, at least among the sets profiled in this post, the 1953 Topps set was the first to indicate “Manager” on the front of the card. (Much older examples pre-dating the scope of this post certainly exist, such as the 1915-1916 Sporting News (M104) Connie Mack card.)

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Though managers were represented in these sets, they were not abundant. For example, the 1956 Topps set included only two managers: Mayo Smith and Walter Alston. Oddly, while the 1954 Topps set included four managers, it included 22 coaches across the 16 teams. Among them were three Hall of Famers: Billy Herman, Earle Combs, and Heinie Manush.

1958-1959 Topps

Topps took a year off from manager cards in 1957 but came back with two novel approaches the following year. A 1958 card honored the managers from the 1958 All-Star game while doubling as a checklist for cards 441-495 in the set.

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Among the sets profiled in this post, this Stengel-Haney All-Star card was the first to adopt a different design than the standard player cards in the set. At the same time, it mimicked the design of its fellow all-star cards in the set, hence was not truly novel.

The same 1958 set also included two cards pairing managers with star players on their teams, including the great Frank Robinson (RIP).

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1959 looked a lot like 1958, once again including managers in its all-star subset. This time, however, the skippers did not have to share the same card.

1959 Topps

And once again, we have a manager-player combo card.

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1960 Topps

The 1960 Topps set was THE breakthrough set for manager cards. Not only did managers get their own unique card design but this was the first Topps set to include all 16 major league managers, assigning them consecutive card numbers from 212-227. (If you care to know, the manager cards were also alphabetized by last name.)

1960 Topps

You may also recall that Giants skipper Bill Rigney shares a “Master and Mentor” combo card with Willie Mays. I’ll show it here along with an attempt at imagining what player cards in the set would have looked like had they followed the same design as the manager cards. For my money, it would have been the best card design of the decade!

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1961 Topps

The 1961 set more or less followed suit from 1960, again adopting a unique design for its managers. The cards below contrast the player cards and manager cards from the set.

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Oddly, there are 17 manager cards in the set despite there being only 16 teams the prior season. “Expansion,” you say! And yes, there are manager cards for the Angels and Twins. But still, wouldn’t that have given the set 18 manager cards? I’ll give you a sec to guess the missing team. Form of a question, please.

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Yes, it is the Cubbies! After a woeful 1960 season, 1961 marked the beginning of the College of Coaches for Chicago’s northsiders. While it led to a four-game improvement in the standings (though some baseball historians prefer to credit Billy Williams), the whole thing was just too damned complicated for Topps. Still, I think this gives custom card designers an open invitation to put together that Vedie Himsl-Harry Craft-El Tappe-Lou Klein quadruple-manager card that should have been. (Confession: I’d heard of exactly zero of these guys till five minutes ago.)

A tad more trivia on the set. If you’ve read Anson Whaley’s five-part series on the Black Sox Scandal, you know post-career cards of the banned eight players are a rarity until at least the 1970s. Aside from the 1940 Play Ball card of Shoeless Joe, the back of the 1961 Topps Cicotte pictured is the only cardboard I know that even mentions a single one of the “eight men out.”

1962-1972 Topps

Following an outburst of creativity, Topps reverted to assigning managers the same card design as players for the next 11 years. While so many other cards of the era sent a message that the world was coming to an end larger tumult dominated the era, the Topps manager cards provided an oasis of stability and calm. “Trust your leaders, kids. We got this.”

Managers of the 60s

The two different Walt Alston pictures for 1968-1969 are a reminder that Marvin Miller represented players but not managers. (See Mark Armour’s SABR post if what I just typed means nothing to you.) Certainly there are player cards with two photos also, but the manager cards provide the most consistent example.

And since I can never write one of these posts and not feature the Splendid Splinter, here is where he makes his appearance on the page. (If you’re keeping score, Ted made only one fewer Topps set as a manager than as a player!)

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1973-1974 Topps

The 1973-1974 sets brought Topps out of its manager card doldrums. The inclusion of coaches gave the manager cards a distinct design while also bringing back some great names from the past. Examples of Hall of Famer players who appeared on these cards as coaches included Ernie Banks, Warren Spahn, and Bill Mazeroski.

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The 1974 Mets manager card of Yogi Berra marked a milestone in my own collecting career. I made my collecting debut at a school carnival in 1977 by purchasing a stack of 1974 Topps cards for 50 cents. Though I didn’t know who he was at the time, this Yogi Berra would be the first card of a Hall of Famer that I ever owned.

1975-1977 Topps

For the next three years, Topps merged what had previously been two distinct subsets: team cards and manager cards. It really wasn’t a bad look or a bad idea, but the timing was unfortunate.

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The first year of the shrunken manager, 1975, happened to be the year that Frank Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s other color barrier. Though the Indians team card that year still made my list of the top ten cards of the decade (for this reason) and Robinson’s main card in the set gives him at least cartoon credit as skipper, I feel like Topps missed a great opportunity to give Robinson’s feat its proper due. One approach would have been to change “Des. Hitter” to “Mgr-DH” on his main card; the other would have been to hang on to full-size manager cards just one more year.

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Of course, these 1975 cards weren’t the very first to portray Frank Robinson as manager. That honor (I think) belongs to Robinson’s 1972 Puerto Rican Winter League sticker.

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1978 Topps

We finally arrive at the set that I can speak about with the unimpeachable authority of an obsessive eight-year-old. This was the year I really got going as a card collector. It was also the year Topps introduced its most innovative design ever for manager cards.

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While the “As Player, As Manager” dual photo approach was a novel one, I should mention that it wasn’t completely new. It’s a bit of cheating since he was a player-manager at the time, but the 1954 Topps Phil Cavaretta could be considered the prototype.

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1979-1981 Topps

The efficiency consultants were back at Topps for these three seasons and urged the combining of team cards and manager cards once again.

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1981-1982 Donruss and Fleer

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While Topps had relegated managers to a tiny box in the upper right hand corner of the team card in 1981, Donruss and Fleer took a page out of the 1962-1972 Topps (or almost everybody, 1933-1956) playbook and used the standard player design for their sets’ managers, just one more way that 1981 Donruss put the vintage back into modern.

Donruss came back with more of the same in 1982 while Fleer took the year off. (In fact, Fleer would never again include manager cards in their sets, aside from the “tiny manager in the corner of a team card” approach they borrowed from Topps for 1984.)

1982 Topps

Remember I started this post by stating how much I hated pulling “old guys” from packs when I was a kid. Well, Topps finally listened in 1982! Perhaps feeling the heat from Fleer and Donruss, the once and future monopolist set out to give us kids what we wanted: 792 cards of young guys…oh, and Phil Niekro too.

Team cards were also a casualty of this “voice of the customer” movement, but let’s face it…we far preferred extra cards of Claudell Washington and Rick Mahler, right?

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BONUS: 1983 Topps and Donruss

Just in case anyone was feeling ripped off with the whole 1933-1982 thing, or just needed some more Frank Robinson in their lives, here’s a quick look at the manager cards from 1983.

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Topps needlessly tweaked their player card design but was again back to giving managers their own card for the first time in more than a decade. Donruss, meanwhile, followed their 1982 approach (as they did with nearly all things that year) and gave manager cards the same treatment as player cards.

As noted, Fleer abandoned manager cards following their 1981 debut, but we’ll count our blessings here. It may well be that had Fleer dedicated 26 of their 660 cards in 1983 to managers, they–like Topps and Donruss–would have whiffed on what was ultimately the year’s hottest card, at least until the Topps Traded set came out.

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While we’re on the subject of 1983 Topps Traded…(pauses to admire Darryl card, takes deep breath, okay thanks)…did you know this was the first Topps Traded set to include managers? You’d have to be some sort of Keith Olbermann-Christoper Kamka hybrid to name all the managers in the traded set without cheating, so I’ll help you out. If you were imagining just one or two, boy were you off!

First here are the guys they replaced.

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And finally, here are the Traded Set Seven!

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In the introduction to this post I mentioned a pair of cardboard cousins. Ignoring minor releases, errors, and variants, these two men bookend of our half century as the only two men from 1933-1983 to have two different manager cards in the same set and design. So there you have it: cardboard cousins!

1953-1983

And yes, I know the two Billy Martin cards weren’t strictly from the same set, but cut an old guy some slack here. Respect your elders, cardboard or otherwise!