SI GOTG

I like autographs. During the 1970’s, I wrote a lot of letters, to athletes, movie stars, politicians, everyone I liked.

I love cards. No need to explain that at this point.

Autographed cards? I more than like, less than love. I have hundreds and hundreds, but I don’t pursue them with any kind of passion or goal, except…..

From 1997-1999, Fleer partnered with Sports Illustrated for base sets and inserts. Of course, signed cards were key. The 1997 set had a 6-card “autographed mini-cover” insert set with a stellar checklist – ARod, Ripken, Puckett, Mays, Frank Robinson, Aaron – but it’s the 1999 Greats of the Game autographed cards that piqued my interest.

The 80 card GOTG is a great smattering if superstars, stars, and cult heroes, and they’re wonderful. Actually, not all of them stand out. The basic look does nothing for me:

 

The cards that feature Sports Illustrated covers do it all. The white signature strip on the bottom, part of all the GOTG cards, stands out against the cover photo above. I went after this type hard, ending up with all of them (though there is one variation – Reggie has a “Mr. October” and an “HOF 93”). From Mays to McDowell, Ryan to Wynn, the players that constitute this smaller group tell the story, through SI, of the game from the 50’s through the 80’s.

For the autographed cards, the backs doubled as certificates of authenticity.

Prices are as wide ranging as the player quality, and, as some guys have died, formerly cheaper cards have popped.  “The Bird” was once less than $10. Not anymore. However, the Campaneris, under the 1973 World Series cover, is out there for less than $10.

I do have some of the full bleed covers, as you can see here, but they don’t tug at me as much, though arguably aesthetically more pleasing. Some are from 1997, some from other years. All have an embossed stamp of authenticity, which adds to the overall look.

I loved these so much that I went after the football issue as well. I still need a few of those – Starr, Bradshaw and Montana – but they’re a bit pricey. If they were baseball, I‘d grab them, but I don’t care much about Joe Montana and never quite have the urge to pay $150-200 for the pleasure of having his autograph.

All in the Family

This post will look at a sampling of players whose brothers played a different professional sport simultaneously.  Furthermore, I am focusing only on siblings that had cards issued in the same year.  Therefore, there may be a numerous sporting brothers, but they had to have simultaneous cards to fit the parameters of this post.  Finally, this is not a definitive list.  Think of this as a discussion opener, in which your examples will add to the body of knowledge.

The impetus for this post was the recent death of Pumpsie Green.  I was unaware until reading his obituary that Pumpsie’s brother-Cornell-played for the Dallas Cowboys.  The siblings only overlapped with cards in 1964.

Another set of baseball/football playing brothers were the Kellys-Pat and Leroy.  Leroy Kelly was a star running back for the Cleveland Browns in the last 1960s and early 1970s.  His younger brother, Pat, was an original Kansas City Royal in 1969 and forged a nice career as a journeyman.  The Kelly boys have seven years of dual cards (‘69-’74). Note that a similar cartoon appears on the backs of each brother’s card in 1970.

Contemporary with Pat and Leroy were the athletic duo of Alex Johnson and Ron Johnson.  The enigmatic Alex won the AL batting title in 1970, while Ron was an elite running back- twice topping the 1000 yard mark. for the Browns and Giants in the early 1970s.

Mark and Dan McGwire were another set of ‘balling” siblings.  The Seattle Seahawks took Dan in the first-round of the 1991 draft out of San Diego State.  Unfortunately for Seahawks fans, he was a total bust.  Of course, Mark’s supernova stardom quickly shrank into a brown dwarf-much like his post-PED physique.

Like Dan and Mike, I’m sure that Wayne and Terry Kirby tossed spirals and curve balls in the backyard growing up. Both had cards in the early 1990s.

A more recent pigskin and cowhide familial pairing is Matt and Jack Cassel.  A 2007 rookie combo card features Patriots quarterback Matt, while Jack’s brief major league career is depicted on a Padres rookie card.

Of course, brother athletes are not confined to baseball and football.  Jim Bibby was an excellent starting pitcher for several teams in the 1970s, while brother Henry was plying the hardwood for the Knicks.

As recently as 2017, Golden State Warriors star, Klay Thompson, had a  brother-Trayce-pitching for the Dodgers. The other Thompson brother, Mychel, plays in the NBA as well.

To keep you from dozing off, I will mix it up by closing with a brother and sister combination.  In 1977 Giants pitcher Randy Moffitt and his superstar sister, Billie Jean King, were featured on cards. Billie Jean shows up in the large format “Sportscaster” card set.

Undoubtedly, there are glaring omissions in this brotherly love-fest.  Just remember, the siblings must have cards from the same year. Tim and Dale Berra were not brothers at the same time. (Attempted “Yogism!”)

Many Will Enter, Few Will Win

A very long time ago I saw a comedian who found it funny to give people lotto tickets as gifts. Because the chance of winning was so remote, he quipped that the gesture was akin to giving someone “nothing.”

From 2003 through 2008, the Chicago Cubs held promotional dates in which prizes were given to a select few fans at several ballgames, typically no more than 100-500 of each. Although the chances of winning the prizes—autographed baseballs, jerseys, gloves, bats, and other sweet items—were slim, the Cubs did offer a bit of a consolation prize, at least for baseball card collectors, which was certainly better than nothing.

In 2003, the Cubs promotional schedule included 11 dates in which the giveaway was an official Rawlings baseball autographed by one of several players, such as Sammy Sosa, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams or Corey Patterson. The giveaway, however, was limited to 500 and given only to winners of a scratch-off game. All fans were given a game card, which was essentially a cool, though oddly sized, card for the player whose prize was being awarded that day. These cards measure 2” x 4” and are all set in a horizontal format.

Sandberg 6.5.03 frontSandberg 6.5.03 back

On June 5, 2003, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays faced the Cubs at Wrigley Field for the rubber match of the three-game series. Paid attendance for the game was 28,713 and the Cubs were giving away 500 baseballs autographed by Ryne Sandberg that afternoon. Fans were given cards that featured a photo of Ryno superimposed on a sun swept Wrigley day; to the right was a shimmering golden scratch-off circle. The back of the card listed Sandberg’s career statistics and the sweepstakes’ entry rules. By my math, the chance of winning that day one was roughly 1.7%, without accounting for unused tickets and others who may have taken advantage of the “no purchase necessary” entry method, and assuming the game cards were distributed to all who attended. Not surprisingly, I was not a winner.

The Cubs ramped up the promotion in 2004, issuing a total of 21 cards and offering both autographed baseballs and Mitchell & Ness Cooperstown Authentic Collection jerseys of players such as Andy Pafko (1945), Ernie Banks (1958), Bill Buckner (1978) and Greg Maddux (2002). On September 29, the Cubs lost the Reds in twelve innings. I did not win a baseball autographed by Ron Santo.

Santo 9.29.04 front

In 2005, the Cubs issued the largest set yet, ballooning to 27 cards and peppering the giveaways with Wilson A2000 gloves, signed photos and Mitchell & Ness jerseys for Cubs legends Hack Wilson (1930), Gabby Hartnett (1938) and Bruce Sutter (1979).

The Cubs scaled back slightly in 2006 with 25 cards, but continued to offer fantastic prizes, which included catcher’s mitts signed by Michael Barrett, official bases signed by Ernie Banks and Ron Santo, and a helmet signed by Aramis Ramirez. They also offered jerseys of Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente. (Unfortunately, it appears as though the game cards for these non-Cub legends may have featured only a photo of the jersey, not the person.) Some of the game cards in 2006 went full postcard size at 4” x 6.” On May 27 the Braves beat the Cubs 2-1. I did not win a Derrick Lee autographed baseball.

Lee 5.27.06 frontLee 5.27.06 back

The Cubs cut the giveaway promotion by over half in 2007, issuing only 12 cards and scaling back the prizes. They also did not bother providing any statistics on the flipside. On June 29 the Cubs beat the Brewers but, not shockingly, I did not leave with a photo signed by Alfonso Soriano.

Soriano 6.29.07 frontSoriano 6.29.07 back

The last hurrah for the promotion was in 2008, when the Cubs held just five giveaway dates. Perhaps the Cubs learned that giving away prizes to so few was not a great way to attract fans. Or maybe the players were simply fed up with having to sign so many things.

Through the years, it was not uncommon to see the losing cards folded on the ground or tossed in the garbage bins. Although there were presumably 30,000 to 35,000 of each of these cards manufactured, the number that survive at this point is appreciably thin, especially in good condition.

Overall, the Cubs issued 101 player cards, including one for the 1908 Cubs infield featuring the famous trio of Frank Chance, Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker, along with oft-forgotten third baseman Harry Steinfeldt. By my count, Derrick Lee and Ron Santo appeared on the most cards with eight. The winning cards were hole punched and returned to the winner with the prize. Accordingly, there are at least two versions (winner/loser) for each card, if you are into variations!

Completing the entire six-year run of these cards would be a daunting task. The cards are not numbered, apart from the serial number on the face of the card, and there is no hobby consensus as to what to call them. Some sellers label these card as a stadium giveaway (“SGA”), which is appropriate—though not fully accurate—in that these were not the giveaway, just a means to randomly distribute the giveaway. It does not appear that these cards are terribly plentiful—either scanned or for sale.

A full checklist can be found here, showing the date of each card giveaway and the prize offered. A second list shows the number of cards for each individual.

Cubs SGA Cards Checklist

Anyone have these cards in their collections? Ever win a prize? Did other teams do a similar promotion?

Sources:
retrosheet.org
Chicago Cubs magnet schedules 2003-2008

Dodger-Giant double agents

Author’s note: I originally planned this article in two parts, the first of which was published earlier in the week. I’ve since decided it works better combined into a single article, so here it is all in once place. J.A.S.

In the nearly 120 years of the great Dodger-Giant rivalry, more than 200 players have suited up for both sides, either as a player or manager, including 22 Hall of Famers. For most of these men it is an easy undertaking to find cards of them as Dodgers and as Giants.

Most often their Dodger and Giant cards come from different years or different sets, as in the case of the two Frank Robinson cards pictured, eleven years apart. However, it is sometimes possible to find these Dodger-Giant pairings within a single set.

When this happens, the player (or manager) achieves true “double agent” status, turns from hero to villain (or vice versa) among the team faithful, earns the double-takes of many a collector, and most importantly attains immortality with a spot in this article.

In the sections that follow, I will present a chronological list of the nearly two dozen Dodger-Giant double agents I could track down in my research. Please let me know in the comments if I missed anyone.

1903-04

Source: The Evening World (New York, New York), December 14, 1903

On December 12, 1903, the Brooklyn Superbas sent Bill Dahlen to New York for Charlie Babb and Jack Cronin. As a result, Dahlen can be found with both squads in the 1903-04 Breisch-Williams (E107) set and has the honor of being the first ever Dodger-Giant double agent.

1914-15

Here is one that really doesn’t count for several reasons but is interesting enough to include nonetheless. On August 31, 1915, the Brooklyn Robins claimed Hall of Fame hurler Rube Marquard off waivers following his release by the Giants. As such, Marquard has cards with both New York and Brooklyn in the Cracker Jack sets of 1914-15.

Rendering true double agent status doubtful, however, are (at least) three key details.

  • Most collectors consider the 1914 and 1915 Cracker Jack sets to be two separate sets, disqualifying Marquard as a true double agent.
  • Both cards show Marquard in his NYG uniform, which by itself isn’t a disqualification but still detracts from the visual contrast we deserve in our Dodger-Giant duos.
  • Finally, Marquard’s second card does not even place him with the right Brooklyn team. Instead, he is erroneously placed on the Brooklyn Tip Tops, the Federal League squad that shared a borough with the Robins/Dodgers National League team Marquard actually pitched for.

1933

On June 16, 1933, the Giants traded Sam Leslie to the Dodgers for Watty Clark and Lefty O’Doul. Clark had only a single 1933 Goudey card, which depicted him as a Dodger, while Leslie had no 1933 cards at all. O’Doul, on the other hand, had two cards in the Goudey set: one as a Dodger and one as a Giant.

The first card came early in the year as part of the set’s third sheet while his second card, along with those of numerous other Giants and Senators, was something of a bonus card as part of the set’s World Series (sheet 10) release.

1948

In July 1948 Brooklyn general manager Branch Rickey and New York owner Horace Stoneham came to an agreement that allowed Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher to take over the Giants. The 1948 R346 “Blue Tint” set noted the update and may well have inspired future Topps airbrushers with its treatment of Durocher’s cap.

1982

A part of my childhood was destroyed when Reggie Smith left the Dodgers and signed as a free agent with San Francisco on February 27, 1982. A giant (okay, pun intended) setback in my grieving process came when Topps pushed out its Traded set for the year and documented the move in cardboard. But alas, at least we still had Dusty!

As a side note, the Traded card presents an interesting blend of numbers for the man who formerly wore #8 with the Dodgers and would wear #14 with the Giants. His jersey shows him as #60 while his bat has a 30 on it, which I take to mean it belonged to teammate Chili Davis.

1984

No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o! They got Dusty too?! Sadly it was no April Fools joke when the Giants signed fan favorite Dusty Baker as a free agent on April 1, 1984, and this two Traded/Update sets were there to ratify the trauma.

1985

A rare trade between the Dodgers and Giants on December 11, 1985 produced two more double agents. The first was fan favorite Candy Maldonado, who like Baker before him made both the Topps and Fleer sets.

And on the back end of that same trade…

Oddly, neither Trevino nor Maldonado cracked the 660-card 1986 Donruss checklist despite the set including 21 different Giants and 24 different Dodgers. In Trevino’s case, he was San Francisco’s primary back-up catcher behind Bob Brenley played in 57 games. As for Maldonado, he played in 123 games, leading all reserve players and ranking eighth overall on the team.

1991

Fast forward to 1991 and the number of baseball card sets had reached absurd levels. Therefore, it should be no surprise that when free agent superstar Gary Carter signed with the Dodgers on March 26, 1991, he would set new records for cardboard double agency.

First here’s Topps.

Next up are the Kid’s two Fleer cards. Warning: Sunglasses may be required.

Upper Deck was of course also in the act by now.

And finally, Score put out two Carter cards as well, ridiculously similar to each other to the point of almost seeming impossible.

A similar octet of cards belonged to Brett Butler this same year, with Bugsy landing in Los Angeles via free agency on December 14, 1990.

1992

Dave Anderson signed with the Dodgers as a free agent on January 28, 1992, but this time only one company, Score, seemed to take notice.

1993

It was Fleer and only Fleer on the job when Todd Benzinger headed north to San Francisco as a free agent on January 13, 1993.

Meanwhile, Cory Snyder got three times the cardboard love when he took his talents to L.A. on December 5, 1992. Score Select was particularly ambitious, dropping Snyder out of an airplane for their photo shoot.

1994

On June 19, 1994, following his release from the Dodgers, the Giants signed Darryl Strawberry to a cup of coffee. Little used by both teams in 1994, Darryl hit double agent status with only a single cardmaker, Fleer.

1998

On December 8, 1997, infielder Jose Vizcaino signed with the Dodgers as a free agent after playing the regular season with the Giants. However, the baseball card production process was by this time so fast that nearly all of Vizcaino’s base cards already had him as a Dodger. As a result, his double agency was limited to the 1998 Fleer Tradition set only.

2000

On January 11, 2000, F.P. Santangelo signed with the Dodgers as a free agent. While very few companies even had a single card of the oft abbreviated Frank-Paul, Upper Deck came through with cards on both sides of the cardboard rivalry.

2003

The Giants signed Gold Glove centerfielder Marquis Grissom as a free agency on December 7, 2002, leading to a pair of Fleer Tradition cards based on Fleer’s sharp 1963 design.

Curiously, the Fleer Tradition Update cards (not just Grissom’s) omitted the city from team names. If there’s any story to it, let me know in the comments.

2006

On January 3, 2006, pitcher Brett Tomko signed a free agent deal with the Dodgers. If nothing else, the move gave Topps a chance to show off how far they’d come since their drunken airbrush days. Scary good if you ask me.

Tomko’s Dodger card above came from a Dodger-specific team set, but he also earned a card in the Topps Updates and Highlights set for good measure.

2007

When the Dodgers signed all-star right-hander Jason Schmidt on December 6, 2006, no two companies went the same route. First up, Fleer simply turned back the clock to the days of 1981 Donruss.

Meanwhile Topps ventured back to 1983 and the Fleer Joel Youngblood card or Eddie Murphy movie with this special insert…

…while also going full Tomko across their Pepsi and Opening Day releases.

Upper Deck came through with a nice pair of landscape Schmidt cards, though neither is a true Giants card since both go with Dodgers in the header.

Would I be remiss if I didn’t report that the first of the two Schmidt cards is also available in Gold, Predictor Green, and First Edition? Take your pick I guess!

2009

Brad Penny signed as a free agent with the Giants on August 31, 2009, following half a season with the Red Sox and a longer stint before that with L.A. This landed Penny cards on three teams in 2009, including double agent status with Topps Heritage.

2013

The final player (as of 2019) with a Dodger and Giant card from the same set is Brian Wilson, who signed as a free agent with the Dodgers mid-season on July 30, 2013. Lucky for you, Topps was there to document the before and after in pretty much every possible color!

analysis

On one hand, Dodger-Giant double agents reflect an oddball phenomenon of at best passing interest to fans of either of the two teams. However, their distinctly non-random occurrences over the years also point to important changes in the game and the hobby.

Just looking at the graph, it is possible to see all of the following:

  • Prevalence of multi-year issues in the early days of the hobby
  • Increased player movement with the advent of free agency
  • Introduction of Traded/Update sets
  • Increase in the number of companies issuing sets (1981-2008)
  • Reduction in the number of companies issuing sets (2009-present)

I will leave it to others to identify the cardboard double-agents of baseball’s other great rivalries (e.g., Yankees-Red Sox), but I’ll hazard a guess already that a graph of the data would look very much like mine.

Chrome, Finest, Reversed Printing, and Opaque Whites

Last December fellow print geek @robbyt86 tweeted an astute observation about someone else’s printing plate rainbow when he noticed that the rainbow consisted of both regular and Chrome cards and that the Chrome cards were printed in reverse. The top two printing plate cards in the image are regular paper printed right-reading (as can be seen in the jersey logo and number). The bottom two are Chrome printed wrong-reading.

This got me thinking and I hypothesized that Chrome was printed in reverse on clear plastic and then fused to the foilboard. This would explain the difference in the printing plates as well as the mix of foil and non-foil finishes. Opaque white ink isn’t usually the best thing to print on top of but this technique would lay it down last, on top of the other inks, which is a perfect use for it.

The more I thought about this the more I realized that this was also probably how Finest was made in the mid-1990s* and that I wanted to do some digging to confirm whether or not this was indeed the case.

*and that there was a decent chance that the protective coating on Finest is still on the clear layer of these Chrome/Finest cards today only it’s getting peeled off after printing but before packing.

So I decided to soak one of my excess Chrome cards to see what I could find out. I selected a 2015 Topps Chrome Hunter Strickland for this since I had gotten tired of him after the 2018 broken hand debacle. 2015 is a good design for this since the colored border meant there was, presumably, some opaque white right there on the edge.

Soaking went well. Card came apart as expected except for the surprise Tide Pod marks inside the card stock. After cleaning everything up I was left with just the front of the card and a literal foil backing.

The next step for me was to start sanding each side to confirm what side the ink was on and see if I could find a way to remove just the foil. This didn’t work super well but I did confirm that the ink is indeed printed on the inside layer of the plastic. You can make out the scuff marks on Strickland’s face and how they stay on the surface of the card rather than removing any ink. Compare this to where I sanded on the back by the Giants logo. The foil and image both start to disappear—especially along the edge.

So I was stuck both because Chrome is impossible to scan and because I hadn’t really produced anything interesting. And then Artiezillante commented on my previous post where I dove into the patent archive. I’ll just reproduce it in full here as well.

So in addition to cards I have a fairly extensive collection of wrappers from the 1980s-today because you never know when you’re going to need to go to the wrapper to answer a question. On the 1997 Finest Series 1 and 2 wrappers they have the following language:

Topps Finest is a registered trademark of The Topps Company, Inc.
SGW US Patent #4933218, #5082703, #5106126, Chromium (R), Holochrome (R), #5223357, Skin Protector TM, ClearChrome (R), Pat. Pending

I don’t have a 1996 Finest wrapper, but I do have one from 1995 and none of that language is there. The 1998 Finest wrapper is nearly impossible to read (the wrapper is clear so the print on the back gets jumbled with the design on the front) but it also mentions US & Foreign patents for Chromium, Holochrome, Skin Protector, and ClearChrome, though there are no patent numbers. The earliest Topps Chrome wrapper I have is from 2002 and it has the same language as the 1998 Finest wrapper.

This was fantastic and turned out to be exactly what I was looking for. Patents 5082703, 5106126, and 5223357 in particular describe exactly what’s going on with Finest and Chrome.

Patent 5082703 describes the clear layer,* how it’s printed on the back side, and how the thickness of the ink printed can be changed so as to create textural effects. The pictures in the patent show a generic image in Figure 1 with Figures 2, 3, 4, and 7 representing different cross sections with the clear layer always being labelled 12 and the different ink layers on the back being shown in profile.

*Patent 4933218 that Topps also mentions is an earlier version of 5082703.

Patent 5106126 meanwhile covers the opaque masking of portions of the printed image so that multiple finishes are available after a metallic layer is added to the piece. More specifically it builds on printing on a clear substrate (what the previous patent covers) by depositing an opaque layer behind select portions of the image before layering reflective/metallic material on the back of the entire piece. This results in some portions of the printed piece having a metallic sheen and other pieces being dull and paper-like.

One key point here is that metallic layer is laminated or sprayed on to the substrate. This is not how cards are produced so the key takeaway here is the custom opaque ink sections.*

*Compare this to the custom foil stamping detailed in Upper Deck’s hologram card patent I mention in my previous post

The last patent, number 5223357, covers the assembly of the cards. The patent specifies holographic film but the key takeaway for me is that it discusses adhering together two distinct sheets—the clear layer (labelled 12) and the metallic/holographic layer (labelled 14)—rather than the single sheet that the other two patents discuss.

The cross-sectional drawings in this patent also distinctly show how the ink is located between the two layers and confirms that my hypothesis about how these cards are assembled is correct.

It also explains why the Chrome printing plates are wrong-reading since, once they’re printed on the the clear substrate, they become right-reading when viewed through the plastic.

When you look at a Chrome card you’re looking at the back of the printing through the clear plastic sheet that it’s been printed on. The non-shiny sections have opaque white ink printed on top of the colored inks (remember you’re looking at the back of the printing). The shiny sections are from a foil sheet that has been glued to the plastic sheet. The rest of the card is regular paper card stock* on which the card backs are printed just like traditional paper cards.

*The plastic/paper dual composition is why Chrome cards tend to curl so much. Paper responds to humidity much more than plastic and so depending on conditions in the Topps plant vs conditions in your home it will expand or contract a little and result in curling.

Patent dive

When I wrote my post about Collect A Books, I stuck my nose into Google Patents because it was the easiest way for me to produce a citation for Bouton actually being the inventor. Once inside though I couldn’t help myself and started looking around at other patents related to baseball cards.

I should’ve realized the danger here. As someone with a mechanical engineering background, patents and patent drawings are always something I enjoy looking through. So without further ado, a handful of patents which correspond to cards that we’re somewhat familiar with. Since this blog doesn’t keep a patent attorney on retainer I’m merely going to note the patents and what cards the correspond to.

US Patent 5517336 is held by Upper Deck and involves mixing printing with holograms. While the patent is dated 1995, that the initial filings date to 1993 feels about right to me. 1993 is when the Denny’s Holograms switched from being all-hologram to a combination of hologram and print. It’s also when Upper Deck released the Then and Now insert set which did the exact same thing.

Patent number 5328207 dates to 1991 and describes sticker autographs. I don’t remember these existing at all in the early 1990s so it’s interesting for me to see this showing up so long ago. I do like that the patent application is clearly a baseball player rather being a more-generic person.

Patent number 7413128B2 is another one owned by Upper Deck and concerns relic cards. There are a bunch of relic card patents out there, each with different methods of enclosing the pieces. I like this one since it’s held by Upper Deck and because it’s got the best images about how the relic cards are assembled and how they can accommodate different kinds of enclosures.

That this patent dates to 2004—a decade after relics had been out in the wild—shows how companies have been trying to improve and update the relic card to be more than just a small swatch of material. This patent isn’t just relics, it’s any insert from cut autographs to manufactured non-card materials and it doesn’t even have to be flat.

The last patent from this dive is number 20080202947, held by Topps. Yup, this is the Allen and Ginter Rip Card patent. The patent text references prior art from Pinnacle but there doesn’t appear to be a patent for that in the citations.

It’s interesting to me how so much of the patent application concerns the gambling aspect of the rip card and emphasizes how the outer card is intended to be destroyed.

I plan to continue digging through the archive and seeing what else I find. I’ve found some cool-looking stuff that doesn’t look like it was ever turned into a product. There are also a few products which I’d love to find patents for (Topps Chrome I’m looking for you) since I’ve been reverse engineering their production for a while as part of future posts. And if anyone else wants to start digging (even just starting with the related patents in the citations here), the more the merrier.

2001 Topps blows up the record book

Thumb through your collection of 2001 Topps and these nine cards might not jump out at you unless you know your baseball record book backward and forward.

Yessir! You are looking at 2001 Topps cards (counting Josh Fogg from the traded set) of pitchers 1-8 and 10 on the list of baseball’s all-time ERA leaders (min. 1000 IP since 1900).

Confused? My fault. I should have mentioned I was talking about all-time highest earned run averages. But still, 9 of the top 10 all in one set? That’s kind of nuts, ain’t it!

Then again, a the logjam of gopher feeders around the turn of the century isn’t entirely unexpected. Baseball had expanded to 30 teams in 1998, and the Steroid Era was by then in full force. Still, a graph of MLB average ERA by season reminds us that this wasn’t MLB’s only era of extended offensive fireworks. The first two decades of the Live Ball Era at least appear to be another breeding ground for ERA overachievers.

I suspect there is more to the story, but perhaps the main reason the leaderboard is so heavily skewed around the latter of the two high-offense eras is that sample sizes are so much bigger. Some quick math shows us there were more than twice as many starting pitchers in 2000 vs 1930, and I suspect the ratio would be similar for long relievers or other arms likely to hit 1000 IP over their careers.

Full-time starting pitchers

  • 1930: 4 (or so) man rotation × 16 teams ≈ 64 or so
  • 2000: 5 (or so) man rotation × 30 teams ≈ 150 or so

But I digress. I suspect you’re dying to know who the missing pitcher is in this most dubious Top Ten. The remarkable thing is our mystery pitcher, known only as #9 to this point, almost certainly would have landed in the 2001 Topps set also had he not stopped to play another sport along the way.

With the Top Ten now complete and consisting entirely of 21st century hurlers, you might wonder whose records these guys broke. Who sat atop (or abottom) the ERA leaderboard before all these young whippersnappers crashed the party? You probably already know the decade to look in.

Just missing our Top Ten by a fraction of a decimal point is southpaw (“relief specialist,” no less!) Chief Hogsett, who had no major issue cards during his playing career, hence earned “first card” status in the 1993 Conlon Collection. (Minor point: His card shows a career ERA of 5.02, but Baseball Reference puts him at 5.03.)

Lining up just behind the Chief with lifetime marks of 5.01 and 4.97 are two other 1930s arms: Roy Mahaffey (1926-36) and Jack Knott (1933-46).

The first pitcher to turn up entirely outside the two eras noted (roughly 1920-1940 and 1990-2010) comes in at 25th overall, and the empty bleachers on his 1951 Bowman card may stem from the 4.88 ERA he compiled from 1943-54.

It is right around this time, if not earlier, that many of you are thinking, if not screaming, “But this is exactly why we invented ERA Plus (or Minus…or WAR…or…[insert favorite semi-era-neutral advanced pitching measure here]!!”

Sure enough, a look at the all-time worst ERA+ leaderboard identifies six pitchers even better at lighting up the scoreboard than any of the pitchers thus far mentioned and introduces only one new 2001 Topps card to the collection.

Of course we can still marvel at just how loaded the 2001 Topps set was in nearly running the table on one of baseball’s most hallowed stats, even if the running was in the wrong direction. And if you happen to have this Mudville Nine just sitting around in a box somewhere, why not acknowledge their historic nature by immortalizing the cards in a nine-pocket Ultra-Pro?

Such a binder page would cost almost nothing, bring some forgotten cards back to life, and serve as a tangible reminder of the extent to which ERA is sometimes just era in all caps.

* * * * *

ERA Fun Fact: Of the 50 all-time lowest career ERAs since 1900, there is only one starter who made his living outside the Deadball Era! In fact the Top 100 has only five such pitchers.

Data for active pitchers (Kershaw and DeGrom) accurate as of July 26, 2019

Don’t Ruin the Blog, Jordan! – Don’t look now but as I sit here typing current Pirates starter Jordan Lyles has a career ERA of 5.29 through 851.0 innings pitched. Another couple years at this pace and my article’s toast.

Update – The Pirates traded Lyles to the Brewers the day this post went live. Coincidence? 🤔