The MC Hammer cameo that wasn’t

Just a very quick article to provide definitive resolution to some Hobby lore regarding 1975 Topps card 466. Though the card’s headline, “A’s Do It Again,” is reminiscent of a Britney Spears hit, the card is better known to collectors for its connection to another pop icon.

Next to Reggie Jackson is a young lad collectors have long presumed to be former Oakland bat boy Stanley Kirk Burrell, more commonly known to the world as MC Hammer or simply Hammer.

The supposition wasn’t a bad one at all seeing as the hip hop legend was a fixture in the Athletics clubhouse from 1973-80, fulfilling a range of duties from bat boy to vice president!

Custom by Millburg Trading Cards

Even the rapper’s nickname draws from his time with the A’s, where Reggie Jackson and other players called him “Hammer” or “Little Hammer” based on the young man’s uncanny resemblance to Henry Aaron.

Returning to the Topps card, then, an MC Hammer cameo makes a lot of sense.

Of course, there are others who know far more about these things than I do.

So there you have it. The MC Hammer cameo is actually big brother Chris! Perhaps we should have known all along since Hammer himself would have been 12 at the time of the championship, which is younger than the bat boy on the card appears.

Fortunately, there is still work to do for the cameo sleuths out there. Any chance one of our cardboard detectives can spot a glimpse of Oakland ball girl Debbi Sivyer, better known today as cookie maven Mrs. Fields, on some random A’s card?

Get out those magnifying glasses and check the left field foul line! She’s gotta be there somewhere!

No cookies, just batter?

Baseball Cards in Art

When William Klein died I tweeted out a quick RIP from the official account where I stated that he was one of the blog’s favorite photographers. If you were browsing Twitter on your phone it would’ve been easy to miss the details in the photo and realize why I tweeted it. For me as both an art museum goer and a card collector though, Klein represents one of the few genuine overlaps in my interests. Yes it’s great to be able to visit the Burdick Collection at The Met but it’s even more fun to see cards pop up in other parts of the museum.

I’ve started a small themed collection of cards that I’ve noticed in other artworks and I’ve found enough now to put a post together on here.

Baseball Cards, William Klein, 1955

I’ll start with Klein both because he’s what prompted this post and because this is the oldest piece. And yes, the title of this photo is indeed “Baseball Cards.” I’m not going to write a ton about him as a photographer on here but his book of street photos in New York is justly famous in part because of how it taps in to imagery that where you not only feel like part of the scene but suggests that the scene may be familiar to you.

Sometimes, like with “Gun 1,” the familiarity is disturbing. Other times, such as with “Baseball Cards” the scene is one that should resonate in a pleasant way with every reader of this blog. Kids showing off their stacks of cards. Kids showing off a favorite player. It’s why we started collecting and in many ways the feeling we’re trying to hold on to while we keep collecting.

If you only saw the tweet on your phone you might not have noticed that the kids were holding stacks of 1955 Bowman. Blowing up the image you can see that the central card is one of the few light wood borders and is pretty obviously Gil McDougald. I had to comb through the set to identify the other card. I’m pretty sure it’s Randy Jackson—the dark background plus the long sleeves plus the placement of name box is pretty distinct—but there are a decent number of righthanded batters which I had to choose from.

Anti-Product Baseball Cards,
Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1979

I’ve written about these before on here so there’s no need for me to write much more. That said, at the time of first writing I hadn’t identified everyone in the cards and it took a committee effort in the comments of that post (as well as on Twitter) to both identify the actual 1979 Topps cards that were the basis for these.

I don’t think anyone’s identified the Rookies card but the other five are Steve Henderson (JOE), Bob Randall (JERK), Steve Kemp (HOT DOG), Ed Glynn (BUS PASS), and John Matlack (WALLY). The Mets Team Card meanwhile shows up on what we’re using as the checklist for these.

Pete Rose, Andy Warhol, 1985

In true Warhol fashion, multiple prints of this exist. While the one in Cincinnati is probably the definitive version I’ve only seen the one in the Smithsonian. Also, Paul Ember has written pretty extensively about these (and even gave a SABR presentation) so there’s not much for me to add here.

Most of us here probably recognized immediately that Warhol used a new photo and didn’t just copy either of Rose’s 1985 Topps cards. But the cards are clearly part of the piece. One of the things I like about Warhol’s Rose prints is how they combine the Campbell’s Soup elevation of industrial design into Art™ with his larger-than-life pop culture celebrity portraits and it says a lot about baseball cards and Topps that they were worthy of this treatment.

And yeah. A small short checklist so far which I hope to be able to add to in the future. But also a very fun one that speaks to baseball cards’ larger importance as part of our culture.

Cups No Longer Runnething Over, or How I Finally Got a Grip My Slurpee Cup Collection

When we moved from Brooklyn to the middle of Long Island in December 1971, it was like landing on the moon. I was nine years old, with long curly hair and a David Crosbyesque fringe jacket. The kids in my school were more Leave It to Beaver than Mod Squad.

The stores were different too. There was a drive through place to get your milk and groceries (Dairy Barn). In Canarsie, we had Bill’s Superette, a truck that would drive down East 82nd Street with similar goods. Instead of the local candy store, there were 7-Eleven Stores. And Slurpees. Many many Slurpees, the official drink of the Gods.

There are few things on Earth as delicious as a Coca Cola Slurpee, but, starting in 1972, the icy drink game was dramatically upped. Slurpee cups had baseball players!

I was going to be drinking a lot of Slurpees anyway, but now there was something new to collect. The players were beautifully, and colorfully, drawn. Well worth keeping after the last straw full. I was so hooked on Slurpee cups that my Grandfather would buy me empty ones. Thanks to the benevolent staff at the Lake Grove store, I was allowed to go behind the counter and go through the sleeve of cups, picking out the ones I needed. I don’t know if they charged less, or the same, for empties, but it worked for my Grandfather, and for me. At a quarter either way, it was manageable.

I’ve transported stacks of Slurpee cups to every place I’ve lived in the last 50 years, but only recently did I come across these lovely photo checklists. Now I can work on these 60 cup sets.

1972 Checklist
1973 Checklist

The 1972 cups have back bios set to the left in one solid paragraph. The 1973s have a more centered look. This is important to know since the checklists have a lot of overlap. There are some great distinctions – Willie Mays has Giants (1972) and Mets (1973) versions. Others can only be distinguished by the backs.

The 20 Hall of Famer cups are not as nice. Weird, really. Like the 1963 Bazooka All Time Greats, they portray HOFers when they were old. Nothing more appealing to the kids than a desiccated Lefty Grove. 7-Eleven liked them enough to put out a radio ad.

Decrepit Lefty Grove

I’ve learned a few things as I start investing the cups I need. Thankfully, sold listings on eBay indicate that the common guys are pretty cheap, two for a dollar at times. Even big names don’t go for very much.

What I don’t know is whether there’s a lurking short print out there. I tend to think not, but I’d hate to get stuck paying a ton for a 1973 Ellie Rodriguez cup.

This feels like a good project. I never dreamed I’d have complete runs of Slurpee cups, but it seems attainable. Not as much fun as drinking a Slurpee, but close, very close.

CTB: 1994 Ted Williams #112 Toni Stone

In this edition of Covering The Bases (CTB) we are discussing one of the few cards that have been produced of Toni Stone, subject of the February 9th Google Doodle.

1994 Ted Williams #112 Toni Stone

There are not many Toni Stone Cards, This is from the 1994 Ted Williams Set. The picture is one of the most commonly used photos of Stone, and also serves as the anchor image for the Google doodle.

The photo overlays another image of Toni Stone – this one is a 1954 publicity photo of her with the Kansas City Monarchs.

Likely an appeal to show the feminine side of Toni Stone, the Monarchs photographed her applying makeup.

B-Side

The flipside of the card gives a synopsis of Stone’s career concluding with a line summarizing her NAL stats.

1994 Ted Williams

The 1994 Ted Williams is a 162 historical card set largely composed of Hall of Famers and prospects, including a minor league Derek Jeter.

In a nod to Williams Hall of Fame speech advocating for the induction of Negro League players the set contains a 17-card subset of Negro Leaguers, produced with the assistance of noted author and historian Phil Dixon:

While all the players listed are highlights of the set, some names that jump out at me beyond Stone include Bud Fowler, Double Duty Radcliffe, and Leon Day.

Cards On Stage

in 2019 Team Phungo got to see the stage play “Toni Stone” loosely based on the life of Stone. There was a small but well curated exhibit in the lobby, among the items displayed was today’s card:

It was displayed in a glass case like a T206 Wagner. All cards should get this treatment!!

Here is an installation view of the case with a couple of pennants that represent Stone’s Career.

Baseball Cards also factored into the script of “Toni Stone.”

I believe the card Stone (portrayed by April Matthis) is looking at is 1934 Goudey #61 Lou Gehrig – although I am guessing this is a reprint or prop card.

I have no guesses on the other cards. If there is a card sleuth out there they can try and see more in this montage from the play – The cards show up shortly after the 35 second mark.

Editor’s note: Also shown are 1941 Play Ball cards of Arky Vaughan and Mel Ott as well as a 1935 Diamond Stars Hank Greenberg.

There you go, Today’s covering the bases takes us from Toni Stone to Ted Williams to Lou Gehrig.

Monique Wray

Google documents background on many of their doodles which includes information on the artist. The Toni Stone doodle was created by illustrator/ animator Monique Wray.

In the interview Wray had a couple of key observations:

Q. Why was this topic meaningful to you personally?

A: Toni was a trailblazer, a Black woman doing things she’s not expected to do, whether the world likes it or not, speaks to me.

Q. What message do you hope people take away from your Doodle?

A: Inspiration to persevere. Toni played with men, a lot of whom did not want her there. But almost every photo I see of her, she has a massive smile. She lived her life through adversity and did what she wanted to do.

The interview also contains a display of Wrays sketches for the doodle.

The Google synopsis includes a link for more info at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Sources and Links

View-Master Instructional Baseball

For a long time the 1953 Viewmaster set was the only Major League Baseball one I was aware of. Stay on Twitter long enough though and of course people will turn up more. I’ve recently discovered that Viewmaster made other sets in the 1970s and 1980s. Theres’s a 1970 which one is part of an instructional series and features the 1969 Mets. And there are a bunch of 1981 sets from various teams’* Spring Trainings.

*I’ve seen Dodgers, Astros, Phillies, Twins, and Yankees on eBay.

I’m not a completionist and decided to skip the 1981 team-based sets (if a Giants set existed though I’d’ve absolutely behaved differently) but the 1970 Mets se intrigued me. This is partially because it’s older than I am but it also looked to be shot a Shea Stadium so there was potentially a lot more of interest to look at in it. When I found one for under $10 shipped my hand was forced.

I went ahead and made composite scans of the discs this time so you can see both the printing and the images. I didn’t receive the booklet but these don’t look like they were really that instructional either. Anyway, the most fun part of these is scanning and making wiggle gifs so let’s get to those right away.

Disc 1

Pitcher “looks in” for sign from catcher.

The catcher gives the sign to pitcher, Gary Gentry

Grips for fast ball (left) and curve ball (right)

Pitcher winds up for the pitch.

Leg lift helps pitcher bring body and arm forward.

Pitcher’s forward stride is key to good control.

Release of ball on follow-through is up to pitcher.

The first disc demonstrates pitching and features Gary Gentry. Pretty basic instructions but some of the images—such as the catcher giving the signs—were unexpected especially for what works in 3D. I like that this disc is basically a complete sequence of how to throw a pitch and I can totally see how it would have worked as an instructional item.

Between the matchups on the out-of-town scoreboard in and the San Diego on the game-day scoreboard this set appears to have been taken on April 21 or April 22. Both games started around 2:00 pm while the photos look to have been taken in the mid-morning with the sun getting high but still enough in the East to cast a distinct shadow.

Disc 2

Infielder’s stance enables him to field or block ball.

Shortstop takes ball hit on his left and…

…tags second to force out runner from first.

The throw to first must be fast to get double play.

Shortstop play: second baseman to shortstop double play.

Sacrifice bunt gets runner to next base.

Fielder bare-hands bunt for hurried throw.

The next disc features fielding with Bud Harrelson. Unlike Disc 1 this disc doesn’t show a single sequence and instead depicts three or four distinct plays. The photos however are a lot of fun because a bunch of them show the ball in motion and as a result, really really pop as 3D. I especially like the dust clouds that show that the balls were actually being hit to him.

I really really love the fifth image showing Harrelson taking the throw from the second baseman. While the photo quality is technically inferior to the 1953 photos* being able to capture action like this creates a very different 3D experience. The pair of bunting photos is similarly fantastic this way.

*Color is worse and the sharpness of the images is pretty bad too.

The lack of a crisp shadow in this set of photos indicates either a different session or that the weather got a lot worse after the Gentry photos were taken. Sadly no visible scoreboards to help us either.

Disc 3

Batter takes one of three stances—open, closed, or parallel.

Cleon Jones meets the pitch.

Fielder watches fly ball all the way into his glove.

Fielder catches line drive with glove straight up.

Outfielder throws ball to infielder.

Harrelson makes a base hit.

Cleon Jones makes a score.

Probably the least instructive of the discs since it doesn’t include any real sequences but also the most interesting of the three since it includes three images of actual in-game action, all of which work pretty well in 3D. The last image of Cleon Jones scoring is clearly from the April 21 game against the Padres and suggests that the Gary Gentry photos were likely taken the same day before the game.

Jones scored the tying run on a sacrifice fly but the Padres rallied for two runs in the top of the ninth to take the lead. Harrelson did indeed single in this game so there’s a very good chance that his photos were also taken in this game. Where the Gentry photos were taken mid morning under a crisp sun, these are approaching twilight with the stadium lights on even though it’s only 4:30.

The photos  of Jones in the outfield have similar light to the Harrelson photos on disc 2 and the scoreboard there indicates that they were taken before a Pittsburgh game. The out of town scoreboard suggests April 16 as the most-likely date in this case.

It’s interesting to me that Viewmaster used generic shirts or jackets and plain caps for these photos yet was able to use images of actual in-game action which show the Mets trademarks. I’m not well-versed enough in intellectual property law to make a guess as to why this is though.

With the 1953 set, I turned my scans into actual cards and even sent some out TTM. I don’t see myself doing the same with these. Some of this is the photo quality just not being good enough. But there’s a larger issue in this case in how the images weren’t selected to be portraits. Still it’ll be nice to print something out to go with the discs in the binder. I just have to figure out what that might be.

‘McCovey is off the table!’

I grew up in the ’80s, and yet my favorite TV show – and certainly the one I related most to – was one set in the late ’60s and early ’70s: The Wonder Years. The primary reason was that the protagonist, Kevin Arnold, and the actor who played him, Fred Savage, were both my age when the show premiered after Super Bowl XXII in 1988. In many ways, what I watched on ABC each week was a mirror of my own experiences in suburban New Jersey.

One of the parallels – along with puberty, crushes and teenage politics – was baseball. Though Kevin may not have been as obsessed as I was, he was definitely a fan. The first image we see in the opening credits shows Kevin in the street, bat in hand, waving to the camera before calling his shot. He may have been known more for wearing his green New York Jets jacket, but baseball is not forgotten in the series.

In one Season 3 episode, “The Unnatural,” Kevin tries out for his junior high baseball team. The final scene shows him hitting a game-winning home run (despite missing third base; look for it), with Russ Hodges’ call of Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ’Round the World” playing in the background.

But the most notable baseball scene involves a different Giant, and a way of engaging with the game we’re all familiar with here: The Hobby. In an earlier Season 3 episode, “Odd Man Out,” Kevin and Paul discuss a baseball card trade centered around Willie McCovey. The episode aired in November 1989, meaning it was set in 1969 (events depicted in the show were meant to be 20 years earlier than when they aired).

It’s not clear which McCovey card they’re talking about. Kevin and Paul are 13 in 1969, and Kevin’s voiceover saying that they’d “been through this a hundred times before” indicates that it’s an on-going discourse, so it’s probably a mid-to-late ’60s McCovey card. Paul’s stern response – “McCovey is off the table” – carried enough weight to be included as a magnet in the deluxe edition of the complete series DVD released in 2014 and inspired an indie rock song.

The McCovey Negotiations magnet in the deluxe DVD release.

The Wonder Years returned to TV this fall in a reboot set around the same time – beginning in 1968 – but with a Black family and a 12-year-old protagonist, Dean, at the center of it. Baseball has an even bigger presence in the first few episodes of this series, starting in the pilot when the climactic scene occurs during Dean’s Little League game. Subsequent episodes show pennants on the wall of the room he shares with his older brother (who’s fighting in Vietnam); the Cardinals, Phillies, Yankees, and Dodgers are all represented.

And, in a nod to the “McCovey is off the table” scene, a trading session among Dean and his friends outside of school pops up in Episode 3.

Dean reads the (fake) stats on a (presumably fake) 1968 Bert Campaneris card.

This time the names offered, in a much more elaborate negotiation involving at least four boys, are Jim Fregosi, Bill Freehan (mispronounced as “Freeman”), Hank Aaron, Bert Campaneris, Carl Yastrzemski, and Willie Mays.


DEAN: OK, Cory, if you trade Brad your Jim Fregosi, Brad can trade Sam his Bill Freeman [sic], and I’ll just take this Hank Aaron, I guess. I think we have a deal here, fellas.

BRAD: Wait, who are you giving up?

DEAN: Well, I really don’t want to do this, but I guess I could get rid of my Bert Campaneris.

BRAD: Who’s Bert Campaneris?

DEAN (chuckling in disbelief): Who’s Bert Campaneris? Only the utility infielder for the Oakland A’s that hit .232 with four doubles and six hit-by-pitches last season.

CORY: I don’t know, man. My mom told me not to trade with you anymore after you took that Willie Mays card off my hands because he “ruined it” by signing it.

DEAN: I’m sorry – am I trading with Cory, or Cory’s mom? Do you ask your mom to cut your steak, too?

CORY: Well, yeah, actually – she does it the best.

BRETT: I’ll take the Bert Campaneris!

DEAN: Finally! Someone who’s his own man. Now, let’s see who do I want in return. [Picks up a card, reading.] “Carl Yas-term-ski?” That’s a weird name. Guess I could take this one off your hands.


Back in 1989, before “high definition” was a thing, Fred Savage – who directed that 2021 episode with the trading session – was given 1989 Topps cards when talking about Juan Marichal, Luis Tiant, and Willie McCovey. In 2021, the props master (they really should rethink that title) at least managed to get reprints of 1968 (and earlier) cards, though the script writer made up a Bert Campaneris season that never happened. In ’68, Campaneris was an All-Star shortstop who finished 11th in AL MVP voting after hitting .276/.330/.361 in 159 games, leading the league in plate appearances and at-bats.

At least they aren’t in bicycle spokes? (Click to enlarge.)

A 1965 Topps Bill Freehan is on top of the cards being held on the left; those shown in the grass include three from 1963: Earl Averill (near center), Jimmie Schaffer (far right), and Casey Stengel and Gene Woodling of the Mets on a card titled “Veteran Masters” (top right of the pile). The bulk of the rest are from ’68, among them (roughly from left to right): Hank Aaron, Dick Kelley, Ken Suarez, Dave Morehead, Adolfo Phillips, Gary Peters, Cal Ermer, Bill Monbouquette, Tom Phoebus, Dan Schneider, Bubba Morton, and – yep, alone at the top – Carl Yastrzemski.

I wonder how things would have gone if Kevin had offered a Yastrzemski for the McCovey. Seems pretty fair to me.

Hollywood Stars Were in the Cards: Part 5

George Costanza is woven deep into the fabric of America’s national pastime. Assiduously converting a nebulous, unrealistic desire to become either the general manager of a baseball team or a sports announcer while holding no experience in either endeavor, he eventually rose to assistant to the traveling secretary of baseball’s most prestigious franchise, the New York Yankees. So versatile was Costanza in this capacity that, in addition to his expert booking of the team in Ramada hotels during road trips, he imparted invaluable batting tips to Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter before the 1997 season. It’s no coincidence that Williams, a .305 hitter in 1996, saw his batting average jump to .328 after Costanza’s unraveling of hitting’s simple physics (velocity/[trajectory × gravity]), then earn the American League batting crown in 1998 with a .339 mark.

By 1999, both Williams and Jeter pumped their averages into the .340s—making Costanza probably the best de facto hitting coach the franchise ever had.

And as for Jeter’s fragile defense that the Bronx Bombers had just won the 1996 World Series and thus didn’t warrant Costanza’s unsolicited batting tutelage, it’s even less of a coincidence that New York proceeded to sweep the 1998 and 1999 World Series and lose only one game in the 2000 Fall Classic—thus dropping a lone contest over three Costanza-influenced World Series championships.

So much for winning in six, Derek.

An ardent Yankees supporter long before he joined the payroll, Costanza introduced the revolutionary concept of naming a newborn after the uniform number of one’s favorite player—in George’s case, Mickey Mantle. Alas, this electrifying idea was stolen by his fiancé’s cousin, but George can be proud that somewhere walks a young man or woman with the wonderfully novel appellation of “Seven”—a name with cachet up the yin-yang!

Whether George was freeing the New York Yankees from the shackles of the past by wearing Babe Ruth’s priceless uniform while eating syrupy strawberries or dragging its hard-won World Series trophy around the parking lot to free himself from the shackles of the Yankees so he could accept an offer to become the New York Mets head scout, George Costanza proved himself an integral element of baseball—even if 1979 National League co-MVP Keith Hernandez thinks he’s a chucker.

If George owns a regrettable moment during his baseball career, it’s his brief, star-crossed encounter while doing volunteer work with senior citizens. While Elaine Benes devoted time to Mrs. Oliver, the goitered ex-lover of Mahatma Gandhi, and Jerry attempted to provide companionship for the irascible Mr. Fields while simultaneously allowing Kramer and Newman to loot the old man’s valuable record collection, George found himself partnered with the carefree Ben Cantwell, as they attempted to enjoy a lunch together.

Though this lunch occurred previous to his employment with the Yankees, it is curious that an ardent baseball fan such as George failed to realize that the man sitting opposite him in the booth of the coffee shop may well have been former major league pitcher, Ben Cantwell, a man who was a teammate of Babe Ruth, himself. True, Mr. Cantwell claimed to be 85 years old, which would make his birth year either 1907 or 1908, whereas all official sources list the Boston Braves hurler as having been born in 1902. However, birth records from such remote years have been known to be inaccurate; as well, people, in their vanity, have been known to shave years off their birthdate either to feel younger or keep themselves relevant. Ben Cantwell might simply have been the Joan Rivers of the major leagues.

George’s potential knowledge of Cantwell’s history surely would have provided for a more amiable and rewarding conversation. What stories Mr. Cantwell could have spun: playing with and against the titans of the 1920s and ‘30s; being a 20-game winner in 1933; being a member of the worst National League squad of the 20th century; recollections of the Babe. Mr. Cantwell was a veritable treasure trove of baseball history waiting to be gleaned.

Rather than pecking obsessively at the fact that the wizened Cantwell could meet his maker at any moment, George could have discussed how Cantwell dealt with going a horrid 4-25 for the inept Boston Braves in 1935. Judging by Mr. Cantwell’s insouciance about his advanced age, it’s a good bet he comported himself in the same graceful manner while his teammates barely lifted a bat to help him—a life lesson that would have well served the anxiety-plagued, hypochondriacal George.

Instead, George insists on pressing the issue of Ben Cantwell’s ostensible nearness to oblivion, eventually driving away his elderly company. A precious opportunity lost (after which, George adds insult to injury by crassly expecting this sufferer of the Great Depression to pay for the soup).

Okay, it might be a little much to expect George to have recognized a man who may have been a semi-obscure pitcher six decades earlier. But considering George’s extensive interest in baseball, as well as growing up under the yoke of a father who also possesses a passion for the sport—as evidenced by Frank Costanza’s grilling of George Steinbrenner both for the Boss’s lamentable trade of Jay Buhner and a $12 million contract handed to Hideki Irabu*—one is left wondering how George could have no inkling of his lunch guest’s possible identity.

* For the Irabu comment, see transcripts from the Fourth District County Court, Latham, Massachusetts v. Seinfeld et al; Article 223-7 of the Latham County Penal Code (the Good Samaritan Law); Honorable Judge Arthur Vandelay presiding.

Still, getting fired from a volunteer job may have been a moot point: George Costanza was, by his own admission, a great quitter who came from a long line of quitters. He was raised to give up—making his termination as Ben Cantwell’s youthful companion inevitable one way or the other. In essence, George Costanza was the 1935 Boston Braves of caring for senior citizens.  

Ah, that’s a shame…

Cards in the Time of COVID

As for many people in the time of COVID, it was a real struggle to feel a connection with other people when everything shut down. Part of it was the fact that schools, workplaces, stadiums, museums, and so many other spots were closed, but it was also the shock of facing a huge public health crisis at the same time as a social justice crisis, and a political crisis, that created both a desire to connect with people and a fear of being out in the open.

Under that mindset, I joined SABR in June 2020. I had thought of being a member for a while, but the possibility of having found a place where I could share experiences with like-minded people was a very good one. Now that it has been a year, I have been spending some time reflecting on the community and how great it’s been to find new outlets and joys.

One of the first things that I did was become involved with a few committees, and I have Jason Schwartz and the Baseball Card Research Committee to thank for that. I don’t have all my cards from when I first started collecting them in high school, but around the time that I joined SABR, I started taking stock of the handful that I owned and what they meant to me. I visited the grave of Walter Johnson, the great Senators pitcher who is the namesake of my high school. I also listened in on a panel discussion with this committee that looked at the future of baseball cards with Jason, joined by Nick Vossbrink, Micah Johnson, Scott Hodges, and some really talented card artists who were starting to make their mark. This got me thinking about the possibilities of baseball cards as something more than ephemera, but as expressions of popular culture that have their own unique relationship to and comments on the art and culture around them.

This realization began a few months of thinking about that relationship, and doing some research and examining how cards and art are related. I learned that, despite notable examples like the Burdick Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, that are in renowned collections, it’s actually rare for cards and other ephemera to be in major curated collections, often because of the sheer volume. (When collector Jefferson Burdick approached the Met to donate his card collection, the museum accepted it only on the condition that he catalogue it himself, which he did over a period of decades.)

I contemplated the original 1952 Topps set that used photorealistic player paintings set with reproduced signatures, a look that is at once timeless and, even seventy years on, innovative; the 1961 design, which uses set of squares of color like Piet Mondrian’s paintings; and the 1972 set, which had a Pop Art theme that has stood the test of time, especially while being reproduced by Topps at least twice since.

I presented what I had learned to the Baltimore Babe Ruth SABR chapter, which became a very illuminating discussion that touched on sets I had never heard of, Japanese baseball cards, which are incredibly colorful and beautiful and distinctly their own, and got me thinking about how to create something new from something old.

And then I started painting again. I say “again” because I took art and photography in high school, and even as an adult often carried sketchbooks, pencils, and watercolors around with me. As the research I had done marinated in my mind, the idea of creating something new — small paintings — from something old — baseball cards that were decades old — took shape.

Around December, I started making paintings, pulling mostly from the Fleer 1991 and Donruss 1988 set that I had picked up a few years ago and that followed me as I moved a few times. 

I experimented with my process a little bit and found that if I wanted to create a robust surface to paint on, I needed to start with a one or two layers of gesso. I made paintings that recalled the golden icons that I grew to love while I was studying Russian history and politics at college; others that used fields of contrasting color, often showing a lot of motion; still others that were landscapes during different seasons; and some that didn’t fit neatly within any category.

Over time, I’ve created some special galleries focused on Jewish baseball players; women who played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League; parents and children in professional baseball; and currently I’m working on a set of the “Black Aces,” Black pitchers who have won at least 20 games in a major league season. You can see many of them on my Section 514 blog, or on my Twitter and Instagram feeds.

I’ve also had the great honor of participating in the just-finished art show and contest led by the Negro Leagues Baseball Marketplace and the Josh Gibson Foundation to draw attention to the effort to rename the baseball MVP award for the great Black catcher who passed away at the age of 35, before he could have broken the color barrier in the major leagues. To be one of 75 card artists contributing their work, exhibited in a virtual gallery and rubbing shoulders with some true giants in this area of art was a singular experience. I’m awed by the amount of creativity in the card art world, and hope to see it continue to develop.

As I write this post in July 2021, things are still very uncertain about when, or if, we will return to a life that is totally normal. It’s a not insignificant blessing, though, to have been able to use the time of COVID to find new ways of creating, based on old things that we love.

Hollywood Stars Were in the Cards: Part 4

One of baseball’s enduring little mysteries arose the day I opened a pack of Topps in 1979 and pulled out a Rick Honeycutt: “Is Rick Honeycutt the son of Korean War veteran, Capt. B.J. Hunnicutt, U.S. Army Reserve?” I mused. It was, after all, just the sort of question an 11-year-old experiencing a sugar high from an alarmingly excessive amount of Topps bubble gum would ask himself on a warm spring day. The immediate and obvious answer, thanks to the spelling of the surname, is no. However, such variation in relations is not unheard of, nor are baseball cards free from error, so I decided to delve deeper once I got some free time—which I’d hoped would arrive before the summer of ’79’s conclusion but, unfortunately, didn’t present itself until last Tuesday.

As is well known—or should be, considering the Korean War is little taught in schools, sadly contributing to its lamentable sobriquet, “the Forgotten War”—the armistice declaring a permanent ceasefire (officially known as the Korean Armistice Agreement) was signed 27 July 1953. Although many American troops remained in South Korea until 1954 due to this fragile peace, Capt. Hunnicutt, a surgeon stationed at the 4077th MASH at the time of the ceasefire, was, like many officers, rapidly returned to the United States. (Being an officer, he almost certainly traveled by aircraft. Remember: in the waning days of the conflict, Capt. Hunnicutt got as far as Guam before his erroneous orders to rotate home were rescinded and he was sent back to the 4077th—all in a time frame possible only by air travel.) This means that Hunnicutt would have arrived home in Mill Valley, California, within the first days of August—to the great delight of his wife, Peg, and his young daughter, Erin. (Even had he been shipped home by sea, Hunnicutt still would have walked in his front door before the end of August.)

Rick Honeycutt was born 29 June 1954, in Chattanooga, Tennessee—which means that he was conceived in late September 1953. Baby booms are commonplace in the first weeks and months after wartime, as overjoyed and undersexed servicemen return to their wives or sweethearts. So, Rick Honeycutt’s conception falls right when we’d expect it to occur.

But why would Rick Honeycutt be born in Chattanooga if B.J. and Peg were living just north of San Francisco? One possible reason could be that, not long after arriving home, B.J. decided to honor his parting promise to Swamp-mate, Capt. B.F. Pierce, that they’d see each other back in the States, so he and Peg set out for the East Coast—surely with a stopover in Quapaw, Oklahoma, through which the major highway of the day, Route 66, conveniently passes, to visit Peg’s parents. Yet because this predated construction of the Interstate Highway System, travel by car was significantly slower than by standards of the late 1950s, causing the pregnant Peg Hunnicutt to unanticipatedly give birth to Rick in Chattanooga, either on the way to, or returning from, their easterly destination.

But that is a scenario fraught with geographic variables, and I believe the case to be much more along the lines of B.J. Hunnicutt attending a medical convention at Chattanooga State Community College—possibly traveling there on the yellow 1932 NSU 501 TS motorcycle on which he departed the 4077th (B.J. easily could have bribed an airman to stow it on the cargo plane taking him home). While at the convention, he had a fling with a local woman—a precedent had been set between the supposedly true-blue Hunnicutt and an on-the-rebound 4077th nurse, 1LT Carrie Donovan—and this latter affair produced a son, whose mother, either out of shame or ignorance of spelling, named the boy Rick Honeycutt. If this is the case, then it’s entirely possible that B.J. never knew of the existence of Rick.

As if additional evidence were needed, the 6’1” Rick Honeycutt apparently inherited the 6’3” B.J. Hunnicutt’s height and lean frame. (His 1979 Topps card also displays an extremely high crown to his cap, indicating that Rick likewise inherited his father’s abnormally spacious forehead.)

Honeycutt attended high school in nearby Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, so, at some point, his mother up and left Rick’s birthplace, taking her son from the disapproving eyes of Chattanoogans and across the state line, where her sordid past might not be the talk of the town.

After returning to Tennessee for his collegiate years, where Rick developed into a crackerjack first baseman and pitcher, Honeycutt was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pitching well in AA ball, he became the “player to be named later” in an earlier trade with the expansion Mariners, making his major league debut for Seattle in August 1977. This must have pleased Capt. Hunnicutt, a keen baseball fan who, during his time in Korea, had predicted big things from a little-known rookie named Mays, helped fabricate a radio broadcast of a Yankees-Indians game, and whooped it up to Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.”

Rick’s years in Seattle, however, proved no better than the stalemate in Korea, as poor teams kept him on the losing end despite an ERA near league average. His frustration piqued during a start in Kansas City on September 30, 1980, as Honeycutt resorted to taping a thumbtack to the middle finger of his glove hand in an effort to covertly cut the baseball. But his ploy was spotted in the bottom of the third inning—as was the gash on his forehead after absent-mindedly wiping his face with his glove hand—resulting in immediate ejection from the game. Honeycutt quickly incurred a ten-game suspension and a $250 fine for his transgression.

Such unscrupulousness lends support to the theory that Rick was a product of an extramarital affair, because Dr. Hunnicutt would not have been around to imbue Rick with the strong moral foundation that would keep him from, ironically enough, doctoring a baseball.  

Whether the thumbtack incident hastened Honeycutt’s end in Seattle is debatable, but an 11-player swap just 10½ weeks later deputized him as a Texas Ranger, where, except for a disastrous 1982, his fortune improved.

Soon after the 30th anniversary of the armistice that brought Capt. Hunnicutt back to the United States, Texas packed off Rick to the Los Angeles Dodgers, despite Honeycutt owning the lowest ERA in the league (which would hold up after the trade, giving Rick the American League crown at season’s end despite now wearing a National League uniform).

The 1980s also, presumably, meant that B.J. now could follow Rick’s sojourn through the majors thanks to the newfangled gizmo known as cable television—a predilection that might have intrigued Peg and Rick’s half-sister, Erin, to see B.J. watching, or eagerly waiting for scores about, Rangers and Dodgers games rather than the hometown Giants.

Honeycutt experienced a homecoming of sorts when Los Angeles dealt him to the Oakland A’s in August 1987. Now just across San Francisco Bay from Mill Valley, Rick could reside close to his parents, or, if the scenario involving an illicit affair were, indeed, the cause of his birth, B.J. could clandestinely attend Athletics games and spend time with his son afterward—either of which made all the sweeter by Rick’s impending appearance in three consecutive World Series (including a championship against the Giants, though I have yet to discover a press photo of a champagne-soaked Rick celebrating with B.J.—perhaps Capt. Hunnicutt found San Francisco’s loss too dispiriting to celebrate and could not bring himself to join Rick in the clubhouse).

Some of this evidence might seem inconclusive, even far-fetched. However, what, for me, cements Rick Honeycutt’s lineage to Capt. Hunnicutt is the message he left the world after his final game, when Rick pitched an inning of mop-up for St. Louis at Shea Stadium in May 1997—a message in rosin bags that conclusively demonstrated Rick to be his father’s son…

A Quixotic Quest

Recent trends in the baseball card world have caused me to step aside for the time being. Vintage cards, at least the years I might be interested in targeting, have become too expensive, and recent cards no longer cater to the childlike fun that drew me to the hobby as a youngster. I concede that Vincent Van Gogh would have made fine artwork if asked to use a 2.5 x 3.5 inch canvas, maybe even a classic “card” of Jackie Robinson, but (a) why would we ask him to do this, and (b) how would that help 10-year-olds to fall in love with the game?

So now what?

In recent years I have been very slowly working on completing various oddball sets from my childhood, especially Topps inserts or standalone offerings. The first inserts I remember encountering were the 1968 game cards, which Topps included in 3rd series packs. I’ve written about these cards before. They were fun and attractive, but very much treated as an “extra” in the pack, more important than the gum, but less important than the five included base cards. No one traded their “real” Willie Mays card for his game card.

In 1969 Topps produced two very popular inserts, one a black-and-white deckle edged card, and the other a color decal (which could be peeled off and affixed to another surface). Both very fun extras.

In 1970 Topps replaced their long-standard 5-cards-for-a-nickel packs with 10-cards-for-a-dime. This might seem a trivial difference, but for those of us with a 25 cents/week allowance, it required complex budgeting.

Perhaps feeling somewhat guilty, Topps placed three different inserts into packs throughout the summer. Although there may have been regional scheduling variations, in my neck of the woods Topps used posters in series 1/2, scratch offs in series 3/4/5, and story booklets in series 6/7. I hope to write about all of them in more detail soon, but for today I will focus on the scratch offs.

The 1970 Topps scratch off set consisted of 24 cards, picturing a player from each of the 24 teams.

When folded, the photo of Yaz is the “front”, the scoreboard and rules are the “back”. When unfolded, the game is revealed.

If you follow the rules your card might look like this around the sixth inning.

Truth be told, there are *lot* of problems here.

  1. If you actually play the game, your hands will be blackened by the third inning. Even as a nine-year-old, this was annoying. What if you had to touch your “real” cards?
  2. Once the game is played once, the card is useless. With the 1968 game cards you could collect a big stack (doubles are useful), and play the game over and over.
  3. The scratched “card” looks awful. (This point might be up for debate. I know that @vossbrink, for example, likes checklist cards that have been used for their intended purpose. This is a respectable point of view, and might apply here.)
  4. Even fresh out of the pack, the row on the seam (see picture) was difficult to scratch and read.
  5. Not that kids cared at the time, but the cards were often misaligned or poorly cut.

Although I said above that the players represented each of the 24 teams, the team name is not actually listed–this is just something you would figure out if you placed them with their real team. Presumably “Red Sox” is not specified because Yaz is supposed to be the captain of *your* team. Nonetheless, the players chosen are clearly supposed to stand for the 24 major league teams.

McCarver and Allen played for the Cardinals and Phillies, respectively, in 1969, but were traded for each other (along with several others) in October. Since they appear hatless, and since they both appeared on cards labeled with their new teams in the flagship set, we can assume that these are cards for the Phillies (McCarver) and Cardinals (Allen).

Mike Hegan shows up wearing a Seattle Pilots hat, consistent with Topps use of the Pilots team throughout the summer (though they moved to Milwaukee prior to the season). For Yastrzemski and the other 20 cards the real-life team is obvious.

A discerning observer in 1970 (which, if we are being completely honest, I was not) would have recognized the scratch off set as an uninspired, even lazy, effort by Topps.

But … things would soon get *less* inspired.

In 1971, Topps was fresh out of ideas and chose to use the scratch offs as an insert again. Not just the concept — they used exactly the same players, with identical fronts and backs. The only difference is that the background color on the inside is red instead of white. (One wonders why they even bothered to change the inside?)

There were real-life player shifts that upended Topps’ team symmetry. Dick Allen had been traded to the Dodgers and Luis Aparicio to the Red Sox (changes reflected in the flagship set), which gave each of those teams two “captains” in the 1971 scratch off set. Mike Hegan still donned his Pilots cap, now more than a year after the team’s demise.

Of course, the team names were not listed on the “card”, there was no checklist, and the one-card-per-team rule was not stated anywhere. So, says Topps, “where is the lie?”

But, you might be thinking, “who cares if every team gets a card?”

For one, Topps very clearly cared. In all of their insert sets in the late 1960s and early 1970s they made sure to have least one card for every team. I assume that the people at Topps thought that kids in Cleveland would like seeing one of their heroes on a 1968 game card (Steve Hargan!), and that Seattle tots would get a kick out of seeing a Pilot on a 1969 deckle-edged card (Tommy Davis!). For kids who rooted for other teams, it gave these little sets a bit of character. The lesson we learned, in cards and in life: not every player, or person, is a Hall of Famer.

In 1970, Topps’ took this honorable stance one step further. For the three 1970 inserts sets I mention above, there were 24 cards in each set, one per team, and Topps used 72 different players.

Topps deserves a great deal of credit for doing this, for balancing the top-flight stars between these three sets, but also for serving children across the land. Isn’t that, I asked plaintively, the point of all this? Future Giants collectors hardly needed another version of three Hall-of-Famers to be, but look at those Angels, or those Brewers, or those Padres. Well done, Topps.

The actual point of all of this is to celebrate that I recently completed my 1970 and 1971 scratch off sets (my final card was the 1971 Stargell). This was more challenging than you would think because most dealers have no idea what the difference is between the two sets, so if you order something listed as a 1971 Aaron you might end up with the 1970 Aaron when the mail comes. Also, eBay listings will not reveal that the inside has been scratched so you really need to see an image for both the inside and outside, and dealers are occasionally annoyed when you ask for this. One person asked, in obvious exasperation , “does it really matter?”

Then once you get all the cards, you might put them in nine-pocket sheets and discover the two sets now look identical. Are you really going to pull out the card, unfold it, and stare lovingly at the black-on-red or black-on-white insides? Call me unromantic if you must, but I suggest that you are not going to do this.

Frankly, there is no good reason to collect either set, let alone both.

Except this. These “cards” were placed in packs in 1970 and 1971, packs that I opened, packs that I loved, packs that made my day on more than one occasion. They remind me of being 9 years old, when baseball cards were everything to me, and when Topps seemed for all the world to be focused on the needs and desires of me and fellow 9 year olds throughout the land. That version of me is gone, and so is that version of Topps.

But with these silly little scratch off cards, 48 in all, I can pretend that we are both alive and well.

And for that reason alone, I have no regrets.