The past couple of seasons Minor League Baseball has been running a Copa de Diversión promotion which involves rebranding teams with Spanish nicknames and uniforms. My kids really wanted to go to a Trenton Trueno game and due to a rainout at one of the Kids Club games we were able to go while only having to pay for parking.
Anyway, while we went for the Trueno experience, it turned out that it was also a baseball card giveaway night. We each got perforated strips of four cards (plus an advertisement) featuring four current Yankees who’d played for Trenton and who were also Latino—Andújar, Severino, and Sánchez are from the Dominican Republic while Torres is from Venezuela.
The cards are manufactured by Choice—the same company that makes Trenton’s Minor League team sets—and, aside from the perforations are legitimate cards rather than something that feels like a cheap digitally-printed sheet. The only problem is that the cards were designed with bleeds but whoever laid them out for perfing didn’t take that into account so the three center cards in the panel are closer to 2.625 inches wide.
Still it’s a fun little set with photos of the guys while they were at Trenton, nice Trueno logos, and some #PonleAcento action. I’m a bit confused at how Andújar got the accent and Sánchez did not though.
The back design is also nicely bilingual. The positions and vitals information are still English-only but the biographies allocate equal space to both languages. It does kind of feel like they were written in English and then translated semi-literally to Spanish but it’s a solid effort.
Since this set isn’t entered to Trading Card DB yet I have no idea how many other Minor League teams released cards as part of the Copa de Diversión. But it’s pretty cool and is a great recognition that not only is the game-day experience something that should be inclusive to Spanish-speaking fans, the merchandise and giveaways should also accessible to as many fans as possible.
Before Shohei Ohtani arrived with the Angels as both a pitcher and position player (or least, a designated hitter), few major leaguers in recent years had played with some regularity on the mound and as hitters. We’re not talking about guys sent in to finish up blowouts, but those who actually were major-league-level pitchers and good enough hitters to play other positions.
The two most noted examples this century have been Rick Ankiel, who came up as a pitcher, and Brooks Kieschnick, who added pitching to his role as an outfielder and pinch-hitter to extend his career. Ankiel stopped pitching in 2001, except for a brief appearance in 2004. He reinvented himself as a power-hitting outfielder in the minors before returning to the Cardinals. Both have numerous cards with them on the mound and at bat.
The Angels have another two-way possibility in Jared Walsh, who was up briefly earlier this season. Although he has pitched in earnest at the AAA level, his only work on the mound with the Angels so far has been in lopsided affairs.
The most famous pitching convert obviously is Babe Ruth. Contemporary cards of Ruth as a pitcher—the 1916 Sporting News version being the most familiar—are expensive and hard to find. A few of Ruth’s contemporaries also pitched and played some at other positions, but since World War II, it’s rare to find a player with significant time in the majors as both a pitcher and a position player. And almost always, those who did it made a permanent conversion.
Kieschnick was one of the few who kept doing both with the Brewers, who for a while were happy to have him as a two-way player. Another was the 1950s Pirates infielder Johnny O’Brien. He switched mostly to pitching in 1956 and had a decent year, playing 10 games at short and second and hitting .300. But he was so bad on the mound in ’57 that he went back to being a full-time infielder. He had Topps cards before he pitched and after, but none listing him as a pitcher. His ’58 Topps card mentions his having pitched. Johnny’s brother and fellow Pirates infielder, Eddie, also pitched in a few games.
The Pirates also had a light-htting infielder/outfielder in Dick Hall, who has a card in the ’55 Topps set. Hall spent that year in the minors, working on his pitching (and still hit .300). He was back with Pirates mostly as a pitcher in 1956 and went on to a long career in the bullpen with the Orioles.
Until Ohtani resumes pitching (if he does), the only “modern” card era player who pitched in 15 games or more and played substantially at another position in the same season is far more obscure: Willie Smith of the 1964 Angels. Smith came up as a pitcher with the Tigers and was traded to the Los Angeles to bolster the bullpen. He ended up as a regular in the outfield and hit over .300.
Smith never had a card showing him as a pitcher, although the back of his 1965 Topps card raves about his pitching. Although primarily an outfielder after the middle of the ’64 season, he pitched a few times for the Indians and Cubs after he was traded by L.A., never yielding a run.
Two other players in the ‘60s came up as outfielders before switching to pitching. Mel Queen with the Reds was the most successful and converted quickly. His 1967 card lists him as “P-OF.” Danny Murphy was an outfield prospect with the Cubs and played a bit in 1960, ’61 and ’62. He made the long road back to Chicago, but to the South Side with the Sox, in 1969 and ’70 as a pitcher.
Going back farther, Hal Jeffcoat came up with the Cubs in 1948 as an outfielder before converting at the big league level to pitching in 1954. He spent the rest of the decade on the mound. Jeffcoat appeared on Bowman cards as an outfielder from 1951 through 1954 and on Topps cards in 1952 and 1953. His 1955 Bowman card is his first as a pitcher, and his 1956-59 Topps cards follow suit.
Baseball Reference.com has a listing of every non-pitcher who ever pitched and played more than five times as many games at other positions, if you’d like to see how rare it is for players of the past 100 years to make the switch.
I’ve always been fascinated with these two-way players. It led me to write the BioProject essays on Willie Smith and Hal Jeffcoat. If you know of others from the Bowman/Topps card era I’ve missed, please let me know.
This year I enrolled my sons in the Trenton Thunder’s Boomer’s Kids Club. It’s a great deal. Tickets to eleven games for the three of us plus fun activities and a tshirt* for $45. I knew we wouldn’t be able to make the games in July and August because of summer plans but even just going to the games through June it would be worth it.
*Shirt and activities for kids only.
We’ve now been to seven games this season (six with the kids club plus a Little League fundraiser night) and it’s been awesome. The boys have gotten two shirts, a jersey, a frisbee, and a pennant. They’ve had a chance to throw out the first pitch, walk around the field, be part of a high-five tunnel for the players, and watch The Sandlot on the outfield after a game. We’ve even been tossed five baseballs. Oh yeah and the games have been good. The Thunder are a decent team and it’s been a lot of fun to watch the boys learn the players and really get into following the season.
They’re also completely hooked on the hobby—especially autograph collecting. This is all me and my interests rubbing off on them. They’ve seen me write TTM requests and get cards signed at Trenton Thunder games and they want to join me. So I indulge them.
Not too much. I supply cards and pens (for now) but they have to do the requesting. I’m not going to flag a player down for them or ask on their behalf. I’ll help spot guys but the boys need to learn how to approach players, make the request, and say thank you. We’ve started off pretty simple by just focusing on the Trenton players and visiting coaches. As a result their autograph binders are pretty eclectic.
My youngest’s binder is organized alphabetically by first name. His idea. It’s a wonderfully random bunch of cards.* Seven Thunder players. Five coaches. And one card that Marc Brubaker mailed to him. I find myself wondering how much a first grader even cares about people like Joe Oliver, Brian Harper, or Matt LeCroy. These aren’t guys he knows. Some, like LeCroy, aren’t even guys I’d really talk to them about.** But they’re in the binder and he’s super-excited to show them off.
Can he tell you about the players? Only what he knows by turning the cards over. But he’s into this as a hobby even though he’s, so far, just tagging along with me.
His brother’s binder is pretty similar except that his one TTM return is in there and there are a couple 1991 Topps cards that he pulled from his own binder because he got the set for Christmas last year. As a result he has a bit more of a connection to guys like Harper and Oliver but LeCroy, Mark Johnson, and Mike Rabelo are all ciphers to him.
As the season’s progressed I’ve been questioning what it means to collect autographs of guys you’ve never heard of and second-guessing the importance of what I’ve gotten my kids into. Are they excited only because I’m excited? Am I pushing them to do something that only means something to me?
I jumped into the hobby in 1987. I bailed in 1994. Not a long period of time but it felt like forever. And in a way it was. Not only did those years represent half my lifetime by the time I stopped, they covered most of my years in school—pretty much my entire youth.
Now, 25 years later as a father, I’m seeing things from the other side. What was a lifetime when I was a kid is already flashing by in the blink of an eye. I know I only have a handful of years where my sons will legitimately share my interests. Yes legitimately. At the end of the day I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter why they’re interested in the hobby, the fact that they are and that we’re able to share it is what matters.
My two boys love collecting and everything it entails. Getting cards. Sorting cards.* Re-sorting cards.** Showing me their cards. Asking for new cards. Etc. Etc. It’s great. It reminds me of being a kid and it inspires me to document their adventures so that in a decade or two when they look back at their collection they’ll have my thoughts and memories to go with their memories of those years when the three of us were enjoying baseball together.
*On the floor as God intended.
**One day will be by number, the next by team, the next by last name, the next by first name.
I get to experience what I put my mom through, how patient she was, and how much she enjoyed seeing me get excited by the hobby. She kept a journal which I eventually turned into a book so that we could all have copies. I still enjoy rereading her essays and I’m looking forward to my boys reading them too.
Instead of journalling I’m blogging about our adventures and putting together summaries of events we’ve gone too. Like when we went to the Thunder Open House I took photos of their baseballs and printed out a letter-sized sheet for their binders. I’ll do the same thing with their haul of autographed cards for the season since I know they’ll re-sort them multiple times in the future.
It’ll always be important to have the biographical breakdown of their collection. As my sons get older, their cards and autographs will increasingly become markers for their memories rather than just objects to collect and hoard. The memories they’re attached to is what makes them special. It’s why I collect and why I hope they keep collecting.
In fact, I’ve been inspired to start doing the same thing for my cards and autographs. I know I’m going to be passing everything on to my sons. I also know that “all dad’s stuff’ will be nowhere near as memorable as having an introduction to a given collection or set which explains who I was when I got these and why the set was important to me. This is a big project but I’m looking forward to it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
On a recent visit to the newly-christened T-Mobile Park, home of the Seattle Mariners, game-day hosts passed out packs of baseball cards. Only, these cards were unlike anything that we may have seen before. T-Mobile, flexing their technology muscle, has worked to create augmented reality (AR) baseball cards. The packaging text tells you to download the T-Mobile Tech Experience app, then you are to scan the cards (there are three in the pack) with the app and see the card come to life through this augmented reality technology.
The first card is the Mariner Moose, the hometown nine’s venerable mascot. The card depicts the Moose with one hoof (!) in the air, and the other facing the camera. Under the AR scan, the Moose is dancing around in what appears to be a several second video, akin to something out of the Harry Potter world. The reverse side features a rather nice biography of the Moose, describing his origins.
The second card depicts a night time scene of T-Mobile Park overlooking Edgar Martinez Drive facing north, with the roof open. Under the AR scan, we are treated to a several second fireworks display, with the phrase, “WELCOME TO T-MOBILE PARK” superimposed on the fireworks display. The reverse side of the card gives you a bit of information on the ballpark, but mainly indicates some to the T-Mobile features fans will experience.
The third and final card shows what must be a T-Mobile fan truck, where according to the back of the card, you are supposed to visit and use a barcode and scan yourself a chance to win a prize. The Mariners beat the Boston Red Sox that day, so that was prize enough for me!
Anyway, I got a chance to see AR technology at an art museum last year, which was featured as part of the art exhibition and found it an interesting use of technology. In doing some initial research on AR, I found a simply-put definition from HowStuffWorks.com: “Augmented reality is the blending of interactive digital elements – like dazzling visual overlays, buzzy haptic feedback, or other sensory projections – into our real-world environments.”
So, that is, when using this app (or AR glasses) you can scan something that is coded with AR to see an interactivity come to life. It’s pretty cool stuff, especially when you start thinking about its applicability to real baseball cards. Imagine using AR on your next set of Topps cards and see the images of the ballplayers come to life taking a swing, or throwing a pitch or catching a ball! The possibilities for such use may be boundless.
Spring has been sprung; Training has commenced and come to a close. Your favorite team has made the last round of cuts and finalized their Opening Day squad and 40-man roster. Well, unless you’re Seattle or Oakland, in which case you’re already two games deep. But never mind that!
The 2019 season is in its nascent stages, and what better time to start making some of your very own baseball cards to commemorate such an occasion? It’s a long season, after all, and you’re going to need something to remember it by. Or perhaps you just want some actual cards of those bench players, swing men, LOOGYs, and the rest of the Taxi Squad. We can kick and scream all we want, but the fact of the matter is that Topps sure as heck isn’t rolling out another Total set.*
* Please, Topps. I’m begging you. You have at least five pointless sets, just give me one with all the dudes.
First things first—unless you want to go all MS Paint on this, you’ll need some software that will let you edit an image using multiple layers. Now, I’m not saying you have to shell out for Photoshop (although if you wanted to do a temporary Creative Cloud license, you could still do this fairly inexpensively)—you can go out and download GIMP for free. While I haven’t used it, it should fit the bill just fine.
Next, you’ll need a design of some sort. You could whip something up yourself, drawing some inspiration from past sets. Or you could replicate an existing set. Or, if you’re not up for the challenge, you can use the handy template that Nick whipped up at the end of that post* I mentioned. If you’re having trouble, reach out; one of us will be happy to help.
* You did read the post, right?
Next, you’ll need to source photos. If you’re not concerned with game action, then look no further than the Spring Training photo day galleries, which you can find on Zimbio—you can make a very nice Heritage-style set out of those. 😉
Or, keep tabs on the following: Zimbio (most games will have a gallery), your team’s blog, if they have one (the Astros run an excellent one which supplied many photos for my set), and of course, the local paper,* and don’t forget the home team’s paper if it was a road game. Bigger photos are always best—you have more to work with and it will be easier to print.
*as a former journalist—please subscribe to your paper!
Some quick guidelines: If you’re wanting to print your cards at some point (this is getting long, so I think I’ll make that a separate post), you need to make sure you’re working with a high enough resolution. Basically, you’ll want to set your file for 2.5″×3.5″* and 300 dpi.
*or however large you want the card to come out, if you’re going for an alternate size.
However you go about developing a design, you’ll want to use some layers—a border or background should go at the bottom, text layers (Name, Team Name, Pos, etc) toward the top, and your image in the middle, the meat of your card sandwiched amidst all those lovely condiments.
In your template, you’ll want to make a mask layer for the photo. DON’T PANIC.* This is not hard, and if you don’t understand it, don’t worry. Essentially, you want to make a shape that occupies the space where the photo should be. When you are making individual cards, you’ll drop your photo into a layer just above this mask, then “clip” the photo to the mask.
*And don’t forget your towel.
What does this accomplish? It means that even if your photo is larger than this area for the image, only stuff in this area will show. Then, just resize and reposition the photo layer accordingly.
Once you’ve got a card designed, do a quick “Save As” and rename it. I recommend saving a .PSD file (which will keep your layers and allow you to make edits), and then saving a .JPG copy as well. Then move on to the next card!*
*Hint: do a “Save As” from your existing card, use the next player’s name, and that becomes your working file.
Don’t feel like you have to have a design already put together. I can guarantee that the more you work with it, the more tinkering you’re likely to do. These things evolve, and your design is likely to go through some changes before you’ve decided you’re satisfied. For the record, I didn’t get my main card design finished until halfway through the season last year.
Also, don’t feel like you have to go nuts and make a card for every game, as I did last season: that was borderline insane and I won’t be doing it again—not unless I’m getting paid to do it, that is (hey Topps, wink wink). But, it can be incredibly rewarding to put together a team set. Or hey, do a custom set of your team’s legends, or make a full team set for that one year that you fell in love with your team for the first time, or when they did that big thing, or whatever! You get the idea.
If you do plan to tackle a project like this, please leave a comment with your name and the team, and perhaps where we can find you for updates. I’d love to see what everyone comes up with. Also, if you get into a jam, or need some assistance getting started, reach out!
Give My Regards to Broad Street. Ring a bell? It was big box office flop, brought to us by Paul McCartney in 1984. As much as a fan I was (and still am), I didn’t have the nerve to see it then. Never have.
I do have the soundtrack though. There are some decent originals, and many new versions of Beatles songs. Maybe not so new. They’re fine, but they’re not the same, merely pointless imitations of finer originals. (When asked about them, George Harrison said “I didn’t notice that they were new versions.”)
My thoughts on Topps Heritage are well known and previously written about. Bringing back old designs, almost the same, but not quite, does nothing for me. The old designs are wrapped in the romance of their time, and how old we were when we got them.
Like these two:
No one‘s going to tell me these cards aren’t awesome, near mirror images of two, by time of issue, ex-Mets, Shea Stadium a glorious backdrop.
I love those two cards. In fact, the Bobby Pfeil is my single favorite card in that set, the one I think of when I think of 1970 baseball cards. It’s only special because I was 7 years old and it’s wrapped in gauzy nostalgia.
I was in Target a few days ago and checked out the card shelves. There was one lonely pack of Heritage tucked away. I held it, put it down, picked it up, walked away, thought that maybe I’d hit something worthwhile, walked back, grabbed it, put it back down, thought about how, though I’d never know, maybe if I didn’t buy it I would’ve left a Pilots autograph behind, went back, grabbed it and bought it.
Here are the nine cards. Completely uninspired and uninspiring, not a single thing to make me buy any more.
Now here’s a random sample of nine 1970 cards.
Why does the original matter more? It’s not because of the look – muted gray, standard era photos. The magic is in what they were and who I was when I was buying these packs. That cannot be claimed for Heritage, not this year or any year.
And yet, there’s nothing intrinsically more worthy of Frank Quilici than of Victor Arano (though time may prove me wrong on Arano). Both are pretty non-descript. Yet, the Quilici card has a quality the Arano doesn’t. It doesn’t seem quite as antiseptic, not so perfectly rendered. Maybe it’s the naked guy in a towel at the left of the 1970 card. There’s a sloppiness there that wouldn’t pass today, unless it was intentionally created as a short print for collectors to buy more hobby boxes than retail boxes.
Anyway, many of you enjoy Heritage, and my curmudgeonly ways mean little. However, my disdain for the product leaves more packs available for all of you and for that, you’re welcome.