Images as Currency

Before I joined SABR I had a post on my own blog which looked at baseball cards and the role they played in developing my visual literacy. Over the past year of watching various Zoom presentations with my kids about the history of cards I’ve found myself realizing that I need to write a similar post about the way baseball cards also track the way that we, as humans developed visual literacy.

Baseball and baseball cards sort of eerily parallel the development and evolution of photography with a number of rough steps starting around the Civil War before finally coalescing in the late 19th Century around something that’s not changed much over the last 125 years. The thing though is that baseball cards are but a thin sliver of this development.

The hobby has a tendency to talk about cards and collecting as if they evolved as part of baseball history. I get it; we collect cards and aren’t photo historians. But I think it’s important to understand how, if anything, cards basically came along for the ride and that their history is less a history of baseball but a lesson on how we learned to use photographs and changed our relationship with celebrity.

A couple years ago I read Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby’s Enduring Truths. It’s a great book about Sojourner Truth and how she supported herself in part by selling cartes de visite. I went into the book expecting history about photographs and what they depict, and how they interact with issues of race, power, and privilege. Instead I came out with an appreciation of how printed images function within our society.

For most of human history, portraits were only accessible to the wealthy. You had to pay an extremely skilled artist to paint you and you only got one piece out of it. With the advent of photography in the mid-19th century things got a lot more accessible. Tintypes and ambrotypes were affordable* to a much wider range of people. However they are still one-off pieces. The negative itself is treated in such a way that it becomes a positive** and there is no way to make prints.

*25¢ to $2.50 during the Civil War years. So not cheap but something many soldiers or freedmen were able to acquire.

**Watching one develop is as close to seeing real magic as anyone could ever hope to see.

Napoleon III & Empress Eugenie

The next step, making prints from negatives,* opened up the age of photography as we truly know it. Rather than an image being a singular piece, prints could be made and disseminated all over the world. These quickly became cartes de visite and, later, cabinet cards. Cartes de visite are literally visiting cards but took off as soon as they began to be used as celebrity—at first royal—portaits. the resulting phenomena became known as cartomania and became a serious thing both abroad and in the United States.

*In this case albumen prints from glass negatives.

Coming back to Sojourner Truth, not only were people collecting cards, notable people like Truth were producing them for sale as well, modifying them to not only be photographs but to include messages.* Card making and collecting is not only a hobby but a business that can support people whose images are in demand.

*In Truth’s case “I sell the shadow to support the substance”

Grigsby points out that in parallel with cartomania, autograph collecting also saw a massive surge in interest during the Victorian Era as the idea of collecting expanded to include all manner of people. She also makes an amazing connection to the rise of printed, national currency following the National Bank Act and how said currency is also heavily image based. The rise of postal systems and stamps starting from 1840 to the point where we had to create an international standard in 1874 is also worth mentioning here. Stamps were immediately collected and are another way that images became currency.

Cartes de visite, stamps, autographs, etc all ended up being stored in albums and shown to visitors in ways that are shockingly familiar to any of us card collectors today. We have pages that are frequently better for preservation but both the concept and practice of the card binder emerged hand in hand with the cards themselves.

It’s impossible for me to look at sets like Old Judge or Goodwin & Company outside the collecting world which existed in this era. When images are currency and the idea of celebrity culture and “set” collection has taken such a strong hold, it’s no surprise that companies started to create cards of their own.

These are photos—cabinet cards actually—which were printed for commercial instead of personal reasons. They depict all kinds of athletes as well as actors, actresses, and other famous people. Yes they’re promotional items. But they clearly were intended to be collected and traded in the same way as the individually-produced cards were.

Cards and photography usage only begins to diverge a bit in the late 19th century when cabinet cards began to die out due to the emergence of amateur photography. At this point other forms of printed images took up the torch since cards and card collecting were firmly entrenched. Manufacturers like Allen & Ginter in the US (and many others abroad) created sports sets including baseball players, billiards shooters, boxers, and pedestrians and non-sports sets depicting animals, flowers, flags, etc. There was plenty of stuff to choose from; if you could imagine a collection there’s a decent chance there’s a set of it out there.*

*Up until World War 2 the world of trading cards was massive and wonderfully varied. This represents over eight decades of card collecting. I’ve been grabbing “pre-war”sets which cover whatever subject matter strikes my interest—from Hollywood to science to travel because they represent how cards became an affordable way to create your own wunderkammer.

One of the things I love most in this hobby is how it remains a direct connection to the way we originally used photographs. Yes I love baseball. But I also love photography and being able to experience how the the world of cartomania still survives today is fantastic.

It’s why I love the non-sport elements of the modern Ginter sets. It’s why things like exhibit cards fascinate me. It’s why I enjoy Jay Publishing, team-issued postcards, and other card-related photopacks which are aren’t necessarily cards. I can see all these different directions that the hobby could have gone in. Different ways of designing sets and releasing cards. Different concepts of who is worth depicting.

It all reaches back to the 19th century when we realized how images are currency. Something people are willing to purchase and save and trade. The history of card collecting depicts baseball. But it embodies how we learned to see and how we learned to use images.

On thinking about what makes a card a card

One of the few editorial positions we have on this blog is a very catholic stance toward what counts as a baseball card. We’ve published posts about photos, toys, games, stamps, coins, etcetera, all of which serve to flesh out and describe the way that we collected cards. We’re not interested in being gatekeepers for what cards are. We’re interested in use and how cards relate to our fandom and interest in the game itself.

All that said, the discussion about what constitutes a card is one that comes up periodically on Twitter or on here.* It’s a fun discussion to have since we all have very different ideas** which in turn impact our collections and interests. I enjoy taking part in these discussions but I really love just watching them since the criteria people bring up have turned out to all over the map.

*Probably also in the Facebook group but as I’m no longer part of that website I’m unable to confirm as much.

**Quite similar to the “what constitutes a complete set” discussion we had earlier on this blog.

We all, of course, have significant agreement on what a card is. But there are so many variables where an item can deviate from being a card™  that I found myself creating a taxonomy of card attributes. Looking at cards with these attributes in mind is something I’ve found helps me understand why my gut reacts to different products the way it does.

This post will explain my thinking and hopefully help other people put words to things their guts have already intuited. Again, this is in no way intended to be a gatekeeping thing. We all have different reactions to which attributes we care about and where on the spectrum something stops being a card. But if the Twitter conversations have taught me anything it’s that being our most interesting conversations are when we’re being positive about our definitions rather than negative about someone else’s.

Material

We’ll start with the obvious and discuss the material of the card. Obviously the expectation is that they be made of cardboard. They are called “cards” after all.

But cards have never been limited to just that. From the silks and blankets in the pre-war era to the plastic, metal, and wood releases of the modern era we’ve always had cards that weren’t made of cardboard. We’ve had stamps, stickers (some made of cloth), rub-offs, rub-downs, and decals as well.

Even in the cardboard/paper realm there’s also a discussion with having about the thickness of the paperstock. We’ve had posts on the blog about cards printed on newsprint and cards which are almost a quarter of an inch thick.

Size

In general tobacco-sized to 3.5″×5″ seems to have a consensus as being a card. But what about 5″×7″ or 8.5″×11″? What about minis and micros that are smaller than tobacco cards? What about posters and pin-ups?

A lot of this comes back to storage concerns and the way many of us use binders and binder pages to organize our collections. But it’s more than that too. For most of us, “card” indicates something from the business card to postcard size and anything beyond that becomes something else. Too small and the card starts to feel insignificant. Too large and it becomes something else—a photo, a poster, a flyer.

Form

This is sort of related to size but refers to non-rectangular items like discs and diecuts but also encompasses folders, booklets, and pop-ups as well as  coins, poker chips, and buttons. Many of these are binderable. Just as many lose what makes them distinct and interesting as soon as they get bindered.

The items which aren’t binderable at all are especially interesting here. Things like the 1957 Swift Meats diecut paper dolls or those Topps 3-D Baseball Stars from the 1980s are clearly intended to be like cards but do not fit into any standard card storage or presentation systems.

Content

The question of what makes a card a card is more than just the physical description of what it’s made of and what shape it is. What it actually depicts is also important. Yes, picture on the front, stats/bio on the back is the expectation. But there are a lot of cards out there which don’t do this.

We’re not just talking about blank backs either although those are definitely relevant to this category. Backs that are advertising, common designs, or just a player name are all part of this. The same goes with fronts that depict a generic player instead of someone specific.

And for my money, all the more-recent relic, autograph, or online cards with backs that are functionally blank fit in here as well. I’ve seen way too many people refer to them as “half a card” to not mention them.

Release

No images for this section because it’s not something that can really be depicted visually. Traditionally, cards are part of a set and are released in either packs or complete sets. Cards that exist by themselves without the context of a set or the lottery of a pack stray into a grey area. This is something that’s really been pushed into new territory with online releases and the way Topps has in many ways optimized its distribution around selling and creating individual items on demand, but the idea of one-off card releases has been around a long time.

There’s also the discussion here about what connotes a set—both in terms of size and how things are numbered. At what point does a release of cards become a “set”? If something is unnumbered or only has a weird alphanumeric code on the back does that mean that it was intended to be collected by itself?

Case Studies

Why do I bother thinking and categorizing different attributes? Because as I watch the discussions it seems that most of us tolerate a certain amount of variance in one or two categories as long as the others remain “standard.” So let’s dig in.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Let’s start with 1969 Topps Deckle Edge. These are pretty clearly cards but they serve as an example of something that sort of fails one of the categories because the backs are non-existent. But as you move from card size to 5″x7″ to 8″x10″, more and more people switch from treating them as cards to treating them as photos.

Or look at Broders. They’re generally “backless” but they also start to deviate from the expected release method.* They consist of small checklists and were generally not released the same way most cards are. Art cards and customs fit in this area as well. Move up a size in this area and we have things like team photo postcards. Change the paper stock and we end up in Jay Publishing land. At some point things stop being a card for a lot of people**

*There’s also something to be said about the licensing stuff but I’ve not heard anyone claim that Panini or other unlicensed logoless cards aren’t even cards.

**Although we still collect them and cover them on this blog.

The one that’s sort of stumped me in my own collection are the Upper Deck Heroes of Baseball stadium giveaways from the early 1990s. Despite being letter-sized and blank-backed, because they’re cardboard and manufactured by Upper Deck they physically feel more like cards than a lot of the posters that Topps has folded up and inserted in packs over the years.

At the same time, since they were distributed via stadium giveaway and do not function as part of a set. They’re also functionally distinct from those late-60s, early-70s posters that were issued in packs and formed part of a distinct set.

But I could go on and on. As stated initially, the point of this post isn’t to provide a definitive answer or even an official opinion. Instead I hope that organizing my thoughts about the different ways we evaluate cardness is helpful to other people as I’ve found it to be for my own thinking.

Art Market

We don’t talk a lot about value and sales prices on this blog. This is by design. Neither Jason nor I (nor Mark nor Chris) are interested in that stuff too much and we all agree that the primary interest of this committee is in card usage. Yes value maters when it comes to putting together a collection or knowing what to expect to pay. But none of us are in this committee to talk about how we’ve made (or lost) money on cards.

At the same time, when the market goes up and new money comes in, the results affect all of us. The past year in the hobby has been wild enough to result in numerous articles over the past year about the exploding market for sports cards. Most of these are nothing new to anyone who’s been collecting for more than a couple years. At their best they serve as decent primers to anyone who hasn’t thought about cards in decades. At their worst they end up being lazy analogies comparing card prices to index funds. Almost all of them mess up some key facts, such as calling the 1952 Topps Mantle his rookie card.

I read them because sometimes there’s something interesting. Usually I’m disappointed or frustrated but a recent article in the New York Times caught my eye because it made an explicit connection to the art market.

“This is the art of the future for sports enthusiasts who have money and don’t want to buy art,” Davis said. “Pretty much everything I collect now is because I think it is a good investment and because I like the player. The common thread is, I think it will be a good investment. It’s part of the fun.”

I’ve been making this point on Twitter for a while. While many people like to think of sports cards as analogous to stocks, it’s been clear to me that the better analogy is to the art market. From the way serial-numbered cards are basically art editioning to restoration issues and catalogue raisonné issues, the hobby has been moving in a direction which takes it out of the realm that most of us grew up in.

Becoming more like the art market means that extremely rich people are buying things as part of a portfolio. Some of them might be fans. Many of them though just like the idea. But the products they’re buying and selling are going to be products that the rest of us never see in person.

Most worrisome is the likelihood that the market will be manipulated as these investors seek to prop up the values of their cards. This kind of stuff is pretty common in the art world and, despite being a Potemkin Village, seems to skirt right by the press coverage which focuses just on the latest record-setting auction price.*

*It’s also worth watching the developing Non-Fungible Token art world here.

What the two dealers were apparently attempting to do was thread the needle on the two lesser Warhols. To bid high—as much as the consignor was hoping to get—might serve to prop up values for the Warhol market at large, but would be expensive and make the paintings that much more difficult to sell down the road.

Sure this might be fun for some people. But the fun is in the making money, not the medium which enables these flips.

The thing about the art market is that many museums have let the art investor/collectors drive the business. Some museums make a big deal showing one person’s collection. Often these feature a piece from all the prescribed big names and do nothing but allow for the owner to enhance the prestige of their collection. Other museums are basically showcases for a specific collection.

I don’t inherently dislike this but it’s important to realize that the immense platform we give the expensive stuff is only a sliver of the whole picture. As baseball cards move toward this territory it’s important for us all to remember that the art market side of things has pretty much nothing to do with the way we collect and that the focus on the expensive stuff tends to remove the hand of the curator.

In art, the museum curators are in charge of what museums display, illuminating why they’re on display, and considering how they interact with other items in the same gallery. There’s no similar position in trading card world. Instead, each of us is wears that hat and our collections are our personal curatorial projects.

The expensive 1:1 stuff is not only unattainable, it’s a distraction. It makes the focus just about value and turns a lot of heads. A collection of “these are expensive cards” is ultimately as boring as an art museum which only talks about how much the paintings are worth. There’s so much more interesting stuff to do with cards. There are so many more interesting ways to collect.

Pick themes. Tell stories. Run down a rabbit hole of weird stuff that interests only you.

Use your cards. Look at them. Share them. Display them. Talk about them.

Remember that this is a personal hobby.

Hollywood Stars Were in the Cards: Part 2

1969 was the Year of Rico—on the baseball diamond, on the silver screen, on the radio, and even on Capitol Hill.

During this swan song to the Sixties, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a federal statute that eventually helped gut organized crime, was introduced as Senate Bill 30 by John L. McClellan (D-AR)—it eventually passed both houses and was signed into law by President Nixon in 1970.

In March, José Feliciano, who had performed the “Star-Spangled Banner” before Game 5 of the 1968 World Series, became the first native of Puerto Rico awarded a Grammy, receiving honors both for his suave, soulful interpretation of the Doors’ “Light My Fire” as well as for “Best New Artist.”

And in Fenway Park, Red Sox shortstop Rico Petrocelli enjoyed his finest season, establishing career bests in hits, home runs, runs scored, doubles, total bases, on-base percentage, and OPS. Erupting for 40 round-trippers, Rico not only tied Carl Yastrzemski for the team lead despite playing 8 fewer games, but bested Vern Stephens’ American League mark for long balls by a shortstop, set in 1949. Rico’s mark would stand until 1998.

Sabermetrically, Petrocelli’s value to Boston is reflected in his stratospheric 10.0 WAR—the highest mark in the American League and second in the majors only to St. Louis’s Bob Gibson.

Rico also should have won a Gold Glove for his deft defensive play. Baltimore’s Mark Belanger took home his first of 8 Gold Gloves, yet Rico outdid him in putouts, assists, double plays, total zone runs, range factors, and fielding percentage (an AL-best .981 to Belanger’s .968), while committing 9 fewer errors.

Rico further set a career mark with 98 walks—befitting for a year that saw the eventual Oscar winner for Best Picture, Midnight Cowboy, released on May 25, commencing what Joe Buck—that’s Jon Voight’s Joe Buck, not sports announcer Joe Buck—could have called the “Summer of Rico…Rico, Rico, Rico.”

“Rico,” of course, was Enrico Rizzo, the archetypal New York street hustler unflatteringly referred to as “Ratso” but who insisted upon being called “Rico” in his own Lower East Side home—a condemned tenement building in which he was squatting.

In walking more than he’d ever walked before (or since), Rico Petrocelli provided real-life counterpoint to Rico Rizzo’s impromptu flip-off to a New York cabbie: “I’m walkin’ here!”

A native New Yorker like his on-screen namesake, Petrocelli had 67 opportunities after the film’s debut to use that soon-to-be-iconic line, though it’s not known if he ever yelled it at an opponent while tossing his bat aside and proceeding to first base.

Perhaps if the opposing team’s bullpen cart had crossed the base path right in front of him…

Given Petrocelli’s Brooklyn accent, it would be a genuine shame if he never seized the opportunity.

Oddly, Rico’s 1975 Topps card mentions that he walked 48 times in 1974—an extremely unnoteworthy achievement that would have better served as a Midnight Cowboy-esque cartoon on the reverse of his 1970 card, when the previous season’s walk total had constituted something other than ordinary…

Frank O’Rourke’s Inherent Dignity

I’m not a collector.

           I have a few cards, some that are worth slightly more than the cardboard they’re printed on, and many more that hold a good deal of sentimental value to me and nobody else. But in the context of the readers of this blog, I don’t merit the use of the term. I’ve never completed a set, never paid more than pocket money for a card, never gone to any remarkable lengths to acquire anything rare, or valuable, or particularly noteworthy. I still have all the cards I amassed as a kid, and I buy new hanger packs when I see them, and on the rare occasion that a wax pack drifts into my field of vision, I snap it up. I’ve made a habit of buying packs for my kids, and we make a little ceremony of opening them together. On Opening Day, or the first day of pitchers and catchers reporting, I sneak packs into their school lunches, and they come home and tell me what players they found inside.

           But I haven’t done any of those things I identify as serious collector behavior. I’ve bought maybe a half-dozen cards on eBay, for example, and I haven’t attended a show since I was about fourteen years old. I’ll never own a Mantle, Ruth, Mays, Clemente, or Aaron.

           Baseball cards are, for me, not an investment, and not an abiding obsession, but something adjacent to baseball that I love for that proximity. They remind me of the game. Their look, and feel, and smell are memory triggers, and for that reason I treasure them.

           And yet, with all that said, I recently bought a 1934 Frank O’Rourke card. It’s No. 43 in the Canadian-printed World Wide Gum Co. series, which reused the 1933 Goudey design, updating the salient facts for 1934, and repeating the biographical info on the back in French. In keeping with my longstanding tightfisted ethos, I paid more in shipping than I did for the card itself. It’s ungraded, with soft, smushed corners where crisp, sharp edges should be. There are minor creases. This card is anything but pristine.

            Frank O’Rourke was a nobody. Well, that’s not quite fair. He’s in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, after all. Born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1891, he was an infielder who eked out fourteen seasons of big-league ball for Boston’s NL club, the Robins, Senators, Red Sox, Tigers, and Browns. By the time his portrait was rendered for the ’33 Goudey set he’d seen his last major league action, hanging on with the American Association’s Milwaukee Brewers. The ’34 card that I now own dates to his single season with the Montreal Royals of the IL. He dropped down a few rungs to the Piedmont League in ’35, then held on for four seasons as a player-manager for the El Dorado (AR) Lions of the class ‘C’ Cotton States League. He later managed one more year in the Gulf Coast League, and in retirement he served as a scout for the Yankees.

            As a big-league player, O’Rourke managed a career bWAR of -2.0 and amassed a .254/.315/.333 slash line, and a .947 combined fielding percentage at third, short, and second (with a handful of games at first, and a couple patrolling the grass). As a minor-league manager he piled up a lifetime record of 551-580 across four levels of pro ball. Add all of that up and you get a slightly below-average baseball long-hauler, which is not to say there was nothing quietly heroic about Frank O’Rourke; longevity requires its own superpowers.

            But unlike some of its in-set brethren, selling this card wouldn’t allow me to pay off the mortgage, or retire to somewhere hot, sandy, and tax-free. Instead, my appreciation for this card is twofold: the first is purely and unapologetically aesthetic; the second is its implicit historical value.

            The Goudey cards are notoriously easy on the eyes, rendered with a stab at artistry that’s not generally present in modern cards. Holding a Goudey next to a 2021 Topps card makes for a stark contrast. The latter assaults with hyper-sharp photography and whizbang graphics that are intended, I can only guess, to suggest futurity, and motion, and, I don’t know, the internet? The Goudeys are Renaissance paintings on discrete panels of olive wood meant to be inlaid in elaborate polyptychs framing alters in out-of-the-way country churches, reverent celebrations of the beauty and purity of God’s favorite game. The backgrounds are solid fields of color—green in O’Rourke’s case, but elsewhere blue (as in Gehrig), yellow (Jimmie Foxx), red (Dazzy Vance). All the better to focus on the player. O’Rourke’s depicted from the chest up, like a Roman bust, in classic baseball togs: a white (or off-white) cap, logo-free, and a matching jersey with sun collar and orange-brown soutache piping. The pose is adapted from a photo of him in a St. Louis Browns uniform, from 1931 at the latest, that the Goudey (or World Wide Gum) people didn’t bother to retouch, though they were clear to indicate that he was, by 1934, a member of the Montreal Royals and thus in the habit of donning a blue-trimmed uniform.

            The portrait is so classically, absurdly, tragically handsome that if you hold it up to your ear it sings Protestant hymns interspersed with staticky ’30s radio calls of games won with moxie and heart. Even if you aren’t up to speed on his biography, the portrait makes clear that this is a baseball lifer, a man rolled in chalk and infield dirt and baked beneath a thousand midday suns.

            Since I first gazed on O’Rourke’s cardboard face I’ve gone looking for baseball card corollaries, but I came up short until I widened my scope, and then I found Piero della Francesca’s portrait of an Augustinian friar (possibly St. Leonard). Consider the similarities: the subtle intimations of age around the eyes and mouth, the weariness, and yet the slight bemusement, the wry off-center stare. Neither the friar nor Frank are too jaded to enjoy a good joke. Though separated by half a millennium, you get the sense they’d find some common ground. But beneath it all there’s something unmistakably ecclesiastical about both men’s depictions, the not-quite-visible result of a lifetime’s devotion to their respective callings. It’s behind the eyes, I think, or maybe just below the skin. Wherever it is, Piero managed to capture it, as did Elmer E. Crowell, the man responsible for O’Rourke’s likeness.

            The second half of my appreciation for this card has to do with its age: almost ninety years have passed since it was printed. I haven’t handled enough really old cards for the wonder of that to have diminished. Eighty-six years ago someone—a child, a nostalgic adult—bought a pack of gum and out tumbled this card.

            The US domestic GDP was in recovery after the New Deal slammed the brakes on negative growth and pumped cash into the economy. Hitler was chancellor of Germany, already in the process of consolidating his power and assuming the title of Führer. The first camps opened. The Prime Minister of Canada was RB Bennett, a safety match magnate who bungled the response to the Depression but had the foresight to establish the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In China, where my grandfather was a brakeman on a streetcar in Shanghai, tensions with Japan were ratcheting up in the wake of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the uneasy resolution to the “January 28th Incident.” The globe, inexorably, marched toward war.

            In the Bronx, Ruth was in his last season as a Yankee, and Gehrig, five years from retiring in the face of the rapid advance of his illness, was assuming outright leadership of the team. The Gashouse Gang took the Tigers in seven games in that fall’s Series. Detroit’s Mickey Cochrane was voted the AL’s best player, and in Commerce, Oklahoma, zinc miner Mutt Mantle’s kid, named for Cochrane, turned three years old.

            Frank O’Rourke was not directly connected to any of this as he toiled away in Montreal, and his card—a 2-3/8″ by 2-7/8″ piece of thick paper—has nothing whatsoever to do with those events. It was not present for any of them; it was not in all likelihood possessed or handled by any of the players in the aforementioned dramas. But it is for me touched by a temporal proximity, sprinkled with a residue which, though slight, constitutes enough of a reason for me to own it.

            If a Ruth Goudey—or a Sweet Caporal Wagner, or a ’52 Topps Mantle—is the seventh game of the World Series, then my Frank O’Rourke World Wide Gum is a non-consequential Thursday afternoon getaway game played before an announced crowd of twelve thousand. And while I love the screw-tightening intensity of a big game, what I treasure most about baseball is the sweet everydayness of it, the companionship of the radio announcer’s familiar voice for six months, the long, comforting trough of a regular season. And for all the superstars, the game’s lifeblood is its rank and file, guys like O’Rourke, doing the yeoman work of showing up every single day and taking his cuts, scooping up ground balls, and making throws across the diamond from whichever position he’s assigned.

            In that way, this O’Rourke card is perfectly emblematic both of Frank’s life and career, and most of ours. I won’t be in any literal or figurative Hall of Fame, and chances are neither will you. That’s okay. Something as beautiful as this Frank O’Rourke card exists to quietly and stubbornly insist that regardless of that, there’s still a hell of a lot of dignity inherent in our efforts, and the legacies thereof.

Editor’s note: Andrew’s newest book is now available for pre-order. If you can judge a book by it’s cover, this one will not disappoint!

Hollywood Stars Were in the Cards: Part 1

A decade of tumult, the 1930s saw the United States, and the world, in flux. Numerous European economies continued their struggle to survive in the wake of the Great War—a struggle that finally reached America’s shores in October 1929, as the Wall Street Crash heralded the Great Depression. The map of the world, itself, was in flux, as newly minted despots gobbled up sovereign states to add to their burgeoning empires, while their demagoguery inspired millions to visit the darkest depths of the human soul.

In short, there was little in the 1930s on which to depend. Even names were in flux.

Warren Ogden, a descendant of Ogdens who had crossed the Atlantic with William Penn and whose surname became the eponym of the Pennsylvania town in which Warren was born, pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics and Washington Senators in the mid-1920s. (Warren’s older brother, Jack, also pitched in the majors, though his yo-yo career up and down from the bushes spanned 1918 to 1932.) Not much of an asset to Connie Mack, Warren was put on waivers in May 1924, eventually being picked up by Washington. His 9-5 record and excellent 2.58 ERA over the remainder of the season helped Washington clinch its first pennant. A surprise starter in Game 7 of the World Series, Ogden struck out leadoff hitter Freddie Lindstrom, walked Frankie Frisch, and then was pulled for southpaw George Mogridge, in a successful ploy by manager Bucky Harris to lure John McGraw into altering his batting order to the right-handed Ogden. (Washington won in the bottom of the 12th inning to claim its only World Series championship.) Ogden remained with the Senators through July 1926, his major league record set at 18-19.

But we’re talking about the tumultuous, undependable 1930s, aren’t we? So, why bring up Warren Ogden, whose major league career ended well before that decade arrived? Because Goudey, well known for including minor leaguers in its 1933 set, did just that: Card No. 174 shows Warren as a Montréal Royal. (Ditto for big-brother Jack [“John”] Ogden, whose major league career ended in 1932 but received a card as a Baltimore Oriole in 1933. On a weird side note, the only other vintage card on which either brother apparently appeared, the 1928 W461 Exhibit, is a card of John yet shows a several-year-old photo of Warren, in his Senators uniform.)

As you can see, Goudey parenthetically included Warren’s nickname, “Curley.” However, the common spelling of said nickname has always been “Curly.” In fact, his name is sans “e” in virtually all resources, including Baseball Reference, SABR, Baseball Almanac, and MLB.com.

One might be inclined to think this was a Goudey thing—after all, the company wasn’t spelled Goudy.

However, as stated above, such inconsistency seems to have been symptomatic of the chaotic 1930s, where it clearly plagued the Three Stooges as well.

Yet whereas Columbia Pictures seems to have permanently abandoned the “e” by late in the decade, the sheer paucity of vintage Warren Ogden cards allowed this oversight to go unaddressed until 1975—long after Warren Ogden’s death—when TCMA’s team set honoring the 1924-1925 Senators finally conformed the spelling of his nickname to standard.

Every baseball player thrills to seeing himself on a baseball card for the first time, so God only knows how many times over the years his 1933 Goudey caused Ogden to wipe his hands vertically across his face in Curly Howard–like exasperation or maniacally spin himself 360° while lying on the floor knowing that he’d likely take “Curley” to the grave.

Alas, like his more famous namesake, Curly Ogden was a victim of soycumstance.

New member honors Hinchliffe with card set

Author’s Note: The SABR Baseball Cards blog is pleased to introduce new SABR member Donna Muscarella, whose interests in baseball, the Negro Leagues, and photography led her to produce a Hinchliffe Stadium baseball card set.

What led to your interest in Hinchliffe Stadium?

I visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum during a baseball-themed vacation in 2016.  The experience left me feeling a range of emotions—from anger to awe and much in between—but mostly, it left me with a desire to learn more about the Negro Leagues players, owners, and teams.

When the Tip Your Cap campaign associated with the Negro Leagues’ 100th Anniversary started in June 2020, I wanted to have Topps do a small run of twenty custom baseball cards for me.  Initially, I planned for the cards to depict me tipping my cap in tribute to the Negro Leagues.  That’s a pretty dull card on its own, so I started thinking about places that would complement the theme.  With local venues closed, and my feeling uncomfortable traveling during a pandemic, every idea I had about location seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream.  I scrapped the plan.

In addition to limited or no access to venues of all kinds, 2020 also brought limited or no access to modern baseball cards (at least, not at prices I felt were reasonable, Project 2020 aside).  The lack of product led me to think about other hobby options, and I became enamored with the thought of building a collection of postcards depicting stadiums in which Negro Leagues baseball had been played.  The first step in that process was to compose a list of ballparks.  Imagine my surprise and jubilation when I discovered that a dedicated Negro Leagues ballpark—not a Major League stadium rented to a Negro League team—was still standing a little more than ten miles from my house!

What made you decide to turn your Hinchliffe photos into a baseball card set?

Once I learned about Hinchliffe, the plan for my Tip Your Cap tribute card was on again.  A bigger plan snapped into focus the second Hinchliffe came into sight.  There in front of me was a beautiful Larry Doby mural painted on the stadium wall.  My vision was to pose in front of the stadium gate, but as soon as I saw the Doby mural, I knew it was the perfect spot for my Tip Your Cap photo.  I felt compelled to get that stadium gate onto a card, though.  And if I was going to do a card featuring the gate, then why not a small set of cards showcasing Hinchliffe?  As I began to walk around the stadium with goosebumps growing on top of goosebumps, I knew it had to be.

Though the write-ups are brief, I learned a lot from the backs of your cards. How much was it a goal of yours to educate collectors?

The idea for the cards was born out of a desire to pay personal tribute to the Negro Leagues during its centennial year and to inspire others to learn more about the Negro Leagues.  I was moved by the thought that maybe, just maybe, each person that read the cards might be moved to not only do some research on their own, but also to invite someone else to explore all that the history of the Negro Leagues has to offer.  You know, kind of like that shampoo commercial from the 1980s:  “I told two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on and…”

The backs of your cards pay homage to 1933 Goudey. What made you choose that style for your card backs?

I thought it would be fun to incorporate some aspects of vintage cards into this set. After all, it showcases a venue that opened to the public in the early 1930s. I chose to model the card backs after the 1933 Goudeys because Hinchliffe Stadium hosted the Colored World Series in 1933. And the rounded font on the card fronts, while not exactly the same, is meant to be reminiscent of the Goudey font. The uncoated front and back surfaces are another vintage attribute I chose.

How did you decide how many cards to include and which cards/pictures to include in your set?

I wanted the card images to tell a story, to give a small sense of what it might have been like to visit Hinchliffe on a game day. The images chosen and the corresponding size of the set grew organically from the elements of the ballpark I was able to photograph from outside the gates that would support that journey.

How did you decide how many sets to make?

Being that I’m a first-time custom-card creator, I wanted to keep the print run small. Fifty was the minimum amount I could order using the card stock I chose, so I went with it. Should there be enough interest in my work, I would consider a larger edition for other sets.

You mentioned that you live very close to Hinchliffe. Do you see yourself traveling someday to other historic baseball sites to take pictures and/or make trading cards?

Absolutely!  Incorporating baseball into vacations is a tradition that my parents started, and as a fourth-generation baseball fan, I’ve taken it one step further by building many of my travel plans around baseball.  My discovery of Hinchliffe has made me want to incorporate even more exploration of baseball history into my travels.

I can walk down an ordinary New York City street or stroll through a nearby park and want to take photos left and right, but put me in the midst of baseball history with my camera and I’m like a kid in a candy store. It’s a pretty safe bet that more historic baseball sites will be visited and captured through my camera lens.

This Hinchliffe trading card project has been invigorating, and I hope to repeat that feeling by creating and releasing more card sets.

Aside from stadiums or places, what other baseball-themed card sets you hope to make?

I would love to do a set or series of sets that incorporate some of my favorite images of players that I’ve captured over the years. But without licensing from at least the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (and Major and Minor League Baseball if I want to include team names and logos), I can’t release those images in bulk, or even in duplicate. I can, however, use those images in one-of-one pieces of art. I have some ideas for combining my photos of players and stadiums with baseball cards to create unique artwork and plan to begin experimenting with them soon.

Nick Swisher photo by Donna Muscarella

My next planned project is a companion set to complement my original Hinchliffe cards.  The images included in the initial release were taken with a somewhat photojournalistic approach.  I wanted to convey the story of fans arriving to the ballpark (the gate on Card 1), purchasing tickets (the ticket windows on Card 2), heading to the seating bowl (the entry area on Card 3), and sitting down to watch the action (the stands on Card 4).  The anticipation contained in those moments are precious.

What I’ve found though, is that there is so much more to Hinchliffe!  I’ve begun capturing the character of the ballpark with more of an eye for detail.  For example, the sphere-topped flagpoles now sit bare against a blue sky—to think how majestic they looked when serving their purpose on a game day!  I don’t know what the final composition of the set will be, but plan for it to once again feature my photography and serve as a vehicle to share information about Hinchliffe and its relationship with the Negro Leagues.

Something that makes your set unique versus what I see from many other independent card producers is that you used photos you took yourself rather than found elsewhere. How long have you been a photographer and what got you started?

My parents tell me I was inquisitive almost from birth, and I am also very sentimental.  I believe my love of photography stems from a need to explore and a desire to preserve my discoveries.  This idea of exploration can take on many forms—for instance, it may involve visiting a new place or examining a familiar subject with a new perspective.  The possibilities are endless, especially with photography.

That said, I’ve enjoyed photography since I was a child.  My first camera, a 110 point and shoot, was the bonus I received when opening a new savings account.  There were other gift options available, but I wanted that camera!  When we’d get photos developed from family vacations, it was always easy to tell which rolls were mine.  All you had to do was look for the envelopes full of photos of clouds and flowers and animals and unusual takes on buildings or statues…

Do you have any photography tips for our readers interested in taking their own photos of stadiums or other baseball subjects?

  • Experiment! Digital photography is extremely conducive to it. You can immediately see your captured image and decide if you like what the image conveys or if adjustments are needed. Play with different vantage points, different use of light and shadow, and different fields of view.
  • Don’t be afraid to get lost in the details. Search for gems hidden in plain sight. It’s easy to be captivated by the sweeping expanse of a ballpark. There is tons of beauty there, and it is worthy of attention. But there also is beauty to be found in the details! Maybe it’s the scrollwork on the aisle seats or the way the sunset is glowing through the lighting panels mounted on top of the stadium or the way a small portion of the stadium’s exterior appears even more majestic when its backdrop is an azure blue sky.
  • If photographing a stadium on game day, arrive early and go inside as soon as gates open. Take advantage of location and experience opportunities that may exist only in the first forty-five minutes or so after gates open.
  • As for equipment, sure it’s nice to have a “fancy” camera. I shoot with a DSLR (currently Nikon D500) and a compact camera (currently Canon PowerShot SX730). But if your phone’s camera is the only camera you own, don’t let that stop you from photographic exploration. If you decide you like the photographic adventure enough to invest in a more advanced camera, do so when your financial means allow. Don’t feel like you need to buy the top of the line camera, or even a camera with interchangeable lenses (DSLR or mirrorless) right away.

What’s involved in turning your images and text into an actual baseball card? What parts were “DIY” and what parts did you use outside resources for?

I designed and composed the cards myself. Aside from image selection, I started my design approach with the back of the cards. I was determined to pay homage to 1933 Goudeys, so I wasn’t starting from scratch with my design template. I needed to find fonts and colors that would evoke a Goudey feel. Since I was printing on white stock (to best preserve image colors), I needed to select not only a color for the lettering, but also a background color that would mimic 1933 cardboard. The most challenging part was fitting all of the information I wanted to include onto the tiny backs of those cards!

Donna’s cards alongside 1933 Goudey

For the card fronts, I used desktop publishing software to experiment with different design options and color schemes.  My experimentation ended when I found the combination that best complimented all of the images I had chosen and paired well with the flip-side design. Once the layout and content were finalized, I converted the “pages” to press-quality PDFs and gave them to a professional shop for printing.

Besides making your own cards, tell us about your favorite baseball cards, either from when you were a kid or present day.

Dave Winfield’s rookie card (1974 Topps #456) always comes to mind when I am asked about favorite cards.  My love of this card has nothing to do with the card’s design.  It is based solely on a personal experience involving the card.

One Saturday afternoon sometime in the 1980s, I answered the phone and was surprised to hear my dad’s voice on the other end. He and my mom were at the mall. Of course, back then, calls from public places were usually made using pay phones and weren’t made just to shoot the breeze—a call from a pay phone had a distinct purpose. I couldn’t imagine why my dad would be calling from the mall and hoped that everything was alright.

In a very excited voice, Dad told me that Dave Winfield was at the mall for a free (!) autograph signing for another 45 minutes. He told me to grab a Winfield card and get there fast. So I grabbed my Winfield rookie and headed to the mall while my parents held a place in line.

When we got to the front of the line, Mr. Winfield extended his hand to greet us. I shook his hand first and watched my hand and wrist disappear in his. After he shook hands with my parents, I thanked him for being there and told him I would be honored if he would please sign my copy of his rookie card. As I placed it in front of him, he said, “Are you sure you want me to sign this? It’s going to ruin the card.” I exuberantly responded, “No it won’t, and yes please!” He asked again, “You’re sure?” “Absolutely!” He proceeded to sign the card and handed it back to me. I was beaming.

As I was shaking his hand again and offering my gratitude, my dad said, “Oh no! I just realized what shirt you’re wearing.” Mr. Winfield said, “It’s perfect. It’s a Yankees shirt!” “Yes,” my father responded, “but she’s got someone else’s name and number on her back!” As my father put his hands on my shoulders to turn me around, I let out a mortified “Dad!” as only a teenager could. Mr. Winfield laughed. I explained that if I had taken the time to change my shirt, I might have missed meeting him and apologized for the unintentional disrespect I had shown. He was the perfect gentleman. And so Dave Winfield’s 1974 Topps card will always be special to me.

Don Mattingly’s Topps rookie and the 1971 Topps Thurman Munson are also favorites from my younger years (although the Munson predates the start of my collecting by a few years).

In terms of modern cards, I am a fan in general of Topps Allen & Ginter and Heritage, including Heritage Minors, as well as Topps ProDebut. Stadium Club is another favorite because it features such beautiful photography.

Donna’s collaboration with Topps artist Blake Jamieson

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include some of my favorite artist cards here. Josh Trout’s Jackie Robinson from 2020 Topps Gallery is a beauty, and Efdot’s Mariano Rivera and Blake Jamieson’s Don Mattingly from Project 2020 are also standouts.

I understand you just recently joined SABR. What prompted your decision, and what aspects of membership are you most excited about?

My first non-statistical exposure to SABR came via an event in the late 2000s at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center. I recall fondly the sense of camaraderie amongst the panelists and gallery of attendees. So the first impression was a very good one. Fast-forwarding to 2020, I became more active on social media and found SABR’s contributions from both the master account and several committee accounts to be both interesting and informative.

I am most looking forward to meeting new people through SABR and participating in activities with fellow SABR members.  I am also excited about the tremendous amount of knowledge that sits with members of SABR and affording myself of opportunities to learn more about the greatest game ever:  baseball.

If our readers want to connect with you, what is the best way they can do that?

I’d love to hear from fellow baseball enthusiasts!  For longer inquiries or conversations, please email me at TheLensOfDonnaM@gmail.com.  I’m also on Twitter and Instagram:  @TheLensOfDonnaM.

Player Collection Spotlight – Keith Hernandez

The year was 1986. The Mets were on top of the baseball world and, perhaps more importantly, moving their spring training site to Port St. Lucie in short order. WWOR-TV out of Secaucus, NJ would broadcast what seemed like a zillion games over the next few years in that part of Florida. And baseball cards were collected by every kid in the neighborhood. Topps, Donruss, Fleer, packs, boxed sets, oversize cards, mini cards, stickers – someone had them.

How and why Keith Hernandez rather than Gooden or Strawberry or Carter or anyone else? Two reasons: Gooden and Strawberry were too expensive for a 10-year-old, and I kept pulling this Hernandez guy’s cards out of packs. I have a Gooden and a Strawberry player collection, but they are nowhere near as complete as the Hernandez collection. I have plenty of Carter, Orosco, Dykstra, Teufel, Mookie, Darling, Fernandez, McDowell, and everyone else from that Mets team as well as other Mets teams.

Unlike DJ, I lack … discipline, restraint, or whatever you want to call it (perhaps sanity) that allows him to limit himself to Topps cards of his players and team. I want to go on eBay, buy a lot of Jim Gantner cards, and send them to him (DJ, not Gantner) because I can’t imagine not having as many different Hernandez cards as possible. But then I also don’t want to upset his balance and turn him into … me. As a kid I would always try to swap for Hernandez cards with my friends. The first Hernandez rookie I ever owned came via a trade for a handful of football cards. Supposedly there was a Steve Largent rookie in there, but as I didn’t know who he was at the time it didn’t matter to me – I had the 1975 Topps Hernandez and three other guys. Also as a kid, I created my own alphabetical checklist of his cards, flipping through pages of a late 1980s Beckett Almanac scanning sets for his cards. At some point I tossed that out because I had created an electronic list, though I kind of wish I had kept the hand created list to see how close I had gotten to a complete checklist. I never got his autograph during spring training, though a friend of mine did give me an autographed 8×10.

If you want the stats, I have over 1,000 different listed items in Beckett’s database and many more that aren’t listed. The exact number could change by the time this post is public. For his pre-2004 cards I am only missing a handful that are listed in Beckett, some of which I don’t think actually exist. His number of cards exploded in 2004-2005 (he has over 600 cards from those two years alone due to parallels). Staying at home allowed me to scan the items I have, and the Beckett listed items all have front and back pictures (unless it’s a blank back team issue) if you scroll a little down this page to the links at the bottom. I have over 10,000 total Hernandez cards. How do I know? I always thought it would look cool to have the fronts of a single card displayed in all 18-pockets of two pages (back-to-front) in a binder. I have 689 of those pages, including 57 pages of his 1988 Topps card. You can get a sense of what that looks like below. Plus those thousand or so different cards. Plus about two binders of standard sized cards that don’t have 18 copies of a card yet. Plus oversized and mini cards. And extra game-used and autographed cards.

I didn’t do graded cards – until I got a really good deal on a lot. As one might imagine given my lack of restraint, I’ve pretty much climbed that mountain. I’ve grown less interested in the “master set” as listed by PSA because it now includes team picture cards from the 1970s. As someone once wrote here, you need to define a master set for yourself, even if it differs from the definition someone else uses.

While I don’t get too much into custom cards (unless it’s a Heavy J Studios rainbow dazzle purple refractor 1/1), I’m always looking for oddball items that I don’t have. Sometimes it’s an ad or a magazine with Hernandez on the cover or if he’s featured in an interview. Bobbleheads and figurines are also in there, as are drinking cups, posters, cello/rack packs with his cards on top – pretty much anything. I have about 100 ticket stubs from his MLB games, back when ticket stubs were actual stubs. Here’s a display with a variety of items:

Keith Hernandez shelf

With the increasing number of 1/1s and other low-numbered cards I’ve mellowed over the years and don’t worry too much about not getting every card. I’m usually a player in the market, though sometimes I marvel at how much they sell for. I admit that I get slightly annoyed when I make an offer on a card, have it turned down, and then a few days later see it sold for less than I offered. The economist in me doesn’t understand leaving $20 bills lying on the ground.

I don’t dabble much in game-used jerseys or other equipment because I’m not educated enough on those items to have confidence in my purchases. However, I have purchased a number of Topps Vault items. I think the most interesting piece I have is his original Topps contract, with his signature, his dad’s signature (the younger Hernandez was a minor at the time), and Sy Berger’s signature. And the Hernandez authored pop-up book First-Base Hero:

Keith Hernandez contract

It has been a fun endeavor for over 30+ years and somehow I’m always finding something I haven’t seen before (like a 3×5 miniature version of a poster that I just got in a lot last week). I have other player collections, and more different cards of other players (Ripken, Gwynn, and Piazza) but they all have vastly more cards than Hernandez. I have a higher percentage of cards for other players (like Jose Lind – a story for a different day), but Hernandez tends to be a balance of popular enough to be included in some new issues (I’m guessing that appearing on Seinfeld didn’t hurt his popularity – and yes, there is at least one bobblehead commemorating his Seinfeld appearance), but not so popular that he appears in a lot of new issues.

To An Athlete Dying Old

I haven’t wanted to write about Tom Seaver.

One reason is that there have already been great pieces about his meaning to, and effect on, those who loved him. Mark Armour wrote one of the best, right here on this blog. Another reason is that I get too emotional. I participated in a podcast Hillel Kuttler did with several Seaver fans and broke down twice in the few minutes I had.

Still, Seaver is on my mind daily. It’s easy to say the pat things – “He was great!” “He made me a Mets fan,” “I lost a piece of my childhood when I heard he died.” They’re all valid sentiments. None of them capture what he meant to me, and I won’t claim to capture all of it right now.

Certain athletes (and musicians, and actors, and other celebrities) strike deep and make a home in one’s soul. They provide a thru line in your own life story and, if you’re lucky, make you think about things, big things, like how to perceive the sport you love, how to truly appreciate the art of sports and the skill, how to carry yourself with intelligence, courage, humor and self-awareness, remaining true to your very essence, while simultaneously giving of yourself in the public arena. Tom Seaver showed me the way and was a worthy guide, from my beginnings to his end.

I was lucky to have a long chat with Seaver once at a Hall of Fame cocktail party. After his rookie year, he told me he drove Nancy to Cooperstown to see the Hall. He wanted to show her Mathewson, Johnson, all the greats that he knew about and drove him. He wanted her to see what was so important to him.

All that was to follow his 1967 season. By the time this card came out, late in the summer, he was well on his way to Rookie of the Year, the future so bright, and so long, for him and all of us.

I first came to Cooperstown in the summer of ‘73. By then, six plus years into his career, Tom Seaver was on his way to another Cy Young and another World Series. He had already made his presence felt in my own life. I was almost 11 years old, a Scholastic Book Club Seaver poster in my room, multiple Seaver books already read, my first letter to a player having been sent, to him, after Leron Lee had broken up a no-hitter in 1972, my first autographed picture returned. Neither of us knew what was lurking four years hence, a heart breaking trade that made me shift my entire focus on baseball to the players who played it and liberated me from team-based fandom (which, in all ways, lead to the writing of Split Season). A triumphant 300th win in Yankee Stadium, the first event I ever bought scalped tickets for. Then, for me, a move to Cooperstown and two memorable interactions with him and Nancy.

At the time of my first visit to the Hall, Chick Hafey had recently died and there were flowers on his plaque. I never dreamed I’d see those flowers around Tom. Yet there they are, his life, and ours, whizzing by like a Seaver fastball, with the unpredictable movement of a Seaver slider.

1977 and the Hirsute Hardball Hero

Nothing captured the zeitgeist of the late 1970s better than the mustache—an exceedingly visible symbol of assertive manliness. No collection of cardboard depicted our hirsute hardball heroes better than the 1977 Topps set.

My first flashes of baseball consciousness were as a kindergartener in 1977. My earliest memory of peeling open a pack of baseball cards occurred that season. It was about this time my dad grew an exemplary handlebar mustache. These mustaches were not so fashionable just a handful of years earlier in baseball, however.

92E93188-F4C5-491C-876C-6624F1E45B8B

In 1917, Athletics catcher Wally Schang caused quite a stir when he announced he would wear a mustache—the only one in the major leagues—because it made him “look more dignified and less like a ballplayer when off the field.” When Philadelphia visited the Yankees at the Polo Grounds on April 9, New York teased Schang mercilessly for daring to sport that “bit of shredded wheat” upon his lip. When Schang hit a go-ahead three-run home run in the top of the ninth, his mustache got the star treatment, “Schang’s mustache quivered defiantly as he dashed toward first base. It twitched noticeably as he turned second, and bristled as he rounded third and followed two runners home…never again will the Yankees be so reckless as to kid a guy with a soup strainer under his proboscis. Never again will they tempt the fates that keep watch over three or four misplaced wild hairs.”

F06F9886-C2A5-458E-AF3B-36E3EAE7B908

Schang eventually shaved the mustache in a show of team unity—his clubmates judged the mustache a jinx. The papers eulogized the whisker loss, but the gesture was of no consequence as the Athletics ended the 1917 campaign in the cellar with a dismal 37-81 record. It would be some nineteen years before another player would boldly sport a mustachio.

Outfielder Stanley Bordagaray showed up at Brooklyn Dodgers spring training in 1936 with a mustache he had grown for a cameo role in a film named The Prisoner of Shark Island. As he entered the April 14 season opener as a seventh-inning defensive replacement, his magnificent mustache conjured an “advertisement for bock beer” and sent “feminine hearts fluttering.”

44FDCF66-42A4-40E2-9AAD-2CB05569E823

Bordagaray shaved the mustache shortly thereafter but was apparently beset with regret. He grew it back, sporting a “second-growth” mustache as he pinch ran in the ninth inning at Ebbets Field on May 22. His status as the only mustachioed player did not last, however. It was still newsworthy when Bordagaray shaved his mustache for good sometime in June—at least in Lincoln, Nebraska.

 

By all accounts, Major League Baseball did not see facial hair on a ballplayer again until Dick Allen in 1970. As a member of the Cardinals, Allen’s mustache was documented in the St. Louis Cardinals Picture Pack and Photocard sets. After his postseason trade to the Dodgers, Allen’s facial hair made its first national appearance in Topps’ 1971 high-number series, with card number 650 depicting a smiling, mustachioed Allen—the only card in the set to feature a bewhiskered player. Perhaps this was not surprising considering prevailing attitudes about baseball and facial hair at the time. That summer, an American Legion team from Orlando chose to forfeit after the tournament director ordered eight of the players to get haircuts or shave.

The 1972 set contained roughly five mustaches, including Reggie Jackson, who is often credited, incorrectly, with bringing the mustache back to baseball. Jackson, however, did inspire Athletics owner Charlie Finley to offer a $300 facial hair bonus to the Oakland players who had grown a mustache by his June 18 “Mustache Day” promotion that season.

7236EA8C-0900-4A6B-B461-7A9EA160D741

As the mustache gained more popular acceptance in baseball, the numbers of players sporting mustaches in Topps baseball card sets began to grow wildly. The 1973 set featured 17 bewhiskered players. There were 87 in 1974 and 144 in 1975. The 1976 and 1977 sets saw 195 and 190 mustachioed players, respectively. There were 232 mustaches in 1978 and the decade ended with a downright shaggy 1979 set that included some 259 mustached ballplayers.

Of all these sets, however, 1977 best captured the essence of mustachio and chronicled the finest pogonotrophy of the decade. Here are the best mustaches of 1977 in the Topps set:

Honorable mention: Wayne Garland, #33; Willie Horton, #660; Dave Tomlin #241.

10. John Lowenstein, Topps #393/O-Pee-Chee #175

After the 1976 season, Lowenstein was traded by Cleveland to the Blue Jays. Before the 1977 season, he was traded back to the Indians. [Despite never having appeared in a regular season game for Toronto, his 1977 O-Pee-Chee card shows him in a Blue Jays uniform.] Even if you squint and look at this card, Lowenstein’s mustache is unmistakably prominent. Not sure this is a requisite yardstick—but it is a good start.

9. Rollie Fingers, Topps #523

9E3AF187-EA28-4CCF-9BE1-EA06B603DFFB

Fingers grew his mustache to cash in on Charlie Finley’s “Mustache Day” bonus offer in 1972 and has sported his trademark handlebar ever since. In his first season with the Padres in 1977, Fingers led the league in games, games finished, and saves. And probably mustache wax.

8. Bill Greif, Topps #112/O-Pee-Chee #243

Bill Greif’s exemplary horseshoe and crap-eating grin belied the challenges of his personal life. As a healthy 27-year-old, Greif left baseball before the Expos broke camp in order to focus on his child’s medical condition. He never appeared for the Expos or any other team in 1977 and a brief comeback attempt in 1978 fizzled at Tidewater.

7. Bill Buckner, Topps #27

E3C78AAA-1400-476B-A376-84F9979E7FA3

Despite being pictured on a Dodgers card, Buckner has been traded to the Cubs in January. Subjectively, this card would have ranked much higher if Billy Buck was shown in a Cubs uniform – he was my first favorite player ever. Regardless, the hypnotic draw of his mustache is enough to render the card’s uncomfortably askew background imperceptible. (Seriously, did you just have to take another look?)

6. Phil Garner, Topps #261/O-Pee-Chee #34

Composition is everything with this card—a profile shot that allows one to fully appreciate Garner’s prodigious whisker depth. Even half of this walrus mustache is enough to demand more. Having been traded to the Pirates before the 1977 season, Garner’s O-Pee-Chee card features an alternate photograph with probably one of the most perfectly lit mustaches ever.

5. George Hendrick, Topps #330/O-Pee-Chee #218

Hendrick is utterly regal while donning a satin warm-up jacket, crisp visor, and horseshoe mustachio. Hendrick posted his career year by bWAR (5.8) in 1977 as a member of the Padres. His O-Pee-Chee cardboard is unusual in that the airbrush artist used the visor as the basis for Hendrick’s Padres “cap,” resulting in an oddly squat crown.

4. Al Hrabosky, Topps #495

43C3FE26-FAD1-4E0C-9B41-6DBE1ADA43E5

Deemed the “Mad Hungarian,” Hrabosky’s demonstrative mound demeanor was only accentuated by his impressive whiskers. Bonus points in this card for the pillbox hat, too. Hrabosky is the only player in Major League history whose last name started with “Hr” to surrender a home run.

3. Ramon Hernandez, Topps #95/1968 Topps #382 

Hernandez appeared in just six games for the 1977 Cubs before he was shipped off to Boston. His time in Chicago is certainly best remembered for his most gentlemanly walrus. [Hernandez looked decidedly different on his 1968 Topps Cubs card.]

2. Dennis Leonard, Topps #75

BB4B8E54-28E1-40D0-8887-F83BF94FEA29

There’s a new sheriff in town. Looking as though he just stepped of the set of a Western soundstage, Leonard led the league with 20 wins in 1977, the first of three times he would win 20 or more. And how could you not love a guy with two first names or two last names or one of each?

1. Luis Tiant, Topps #258

10FFB6FC-F456-4C6C-8499-3CB7F8AA39D4

This is a stunner that has only gotten better with age. Amid his twisty windup, Tiant faced fully away from the batter. As he turned back, batters were mesmerized by his reemerging horseshoe mustache. Tiant is one of only 22 pitchers to amass 2400 strikeouts and post a career ERA of 3.30 or less. (All but Roger Clemens, Max Scherzer, and Sam McDowell from that list are in the Hall of Fame.) Tiant belongs there. Until then, he is a charter member of the Baseball Mustache Hall of Fame and caretaker of the best mustache in the 1977 Topps baseball card set.

Overall, my favorite mustache in 1977 belonged to my dad. But there were some other great ones out there, too.

Notes:

Counting mustaches was a surprisingly hairy task. Topps cards of the 1970s often used photos of dubious quality and odd perspectives that made identifying mustachioed players challenging. Additionally, shadows sometimes created potentially illusory mustaches. Judgment calls were made, especially when no conclusive determination was possible with the assistance of magnification.

For this exercise, only single-player/manager cards were counted. I did not include action cards, leaders, highlights, multiple-player rookie cards, or cards from any other subsets.

I was not able to find any baseball cards of Wally Schang or Frenchy Bordagaray in which they were depicted with a mustache.

Sources:

http://www.baseball-reference.com
http://www.retrosheet.org
http://www.tcdb.com
• King, Norm. “Frenchy Bordagaray,” SABR Baseball Biography Project, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/frenchy-bordagaray/, accessed July 14, 2020.
• Wolf, Gregory H. “Bill Greif,” SABR Baseball Biography Project, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/bill-greif/, accessed July 14, 2020.
• Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), March 31, 1917, 17.
• Photo of Schang, Buffalo Courier, May 24, 1917, 10.
• “Schang Wears Mustache, Only One in the Majors,” The Washington Post, May 28, 1917, 6.
• “Induce Schang to Remove Mustache but Team Loses,” Buffalo Evening News, June 21, 1917, 18.
• Hughes, Ed, “Since Bordagaray Intends Sporting a ‘Soup Strainer’!,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 9, 1936, 18.
• McLemore, Henry, “Some Odds and Ends as Dodgers were Taking their First Beating,” The Brooklyn Citizen, April 15, 1936, 6.
• Brietz, Eddie, “Sports Roundup,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 15, 1936, 17.
• Photo of Bordagaray, Detroit Free Press, April 19, 1936, 48.
• Diamond Dust, Daily News (New York, New York), May 23, 1936, 240.
• The Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) June 19, 1936, 16.
• “In Hair Dispute: A Team Cuts Itself,” The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware) August 10, 1971, 22.