Followers of this blog and our Facebook and Twitter accounts have been a bit TCMA obsessed since several of us gathered in Cooperstown for the opening of the Hall of Fame’s Shoebox Treasures exhibit in May. A chance run in with Andrew Aronstein, son of TCMA founder Mike, touched off a bit of TCMA frenzy. (I’ve known Andrew and Mike for a few years, so I’m glad others in our card world are getting to know them).
My own recent TCMA interests have circled around the big baseball decades sets (and the football, basketball and hockey sets). Not all of them, actually, only the 1950’s and 1960’s sets. These are all beautiful, simple cards, with magnificent photos, as you’d expect. I picked up the entire 1950’s set at Baseball Nostalgia in Cooperstown (where else?), which started over 40 years ago as the TCMA flagship store.
The cards are wonderful, the checklist is wide ranging and they look wonderful signed. Released in 1979, the 291 card set is a must have.
With that set safely acquired, I marched forward to get both 1960’s sets, but was warned at Baseball Nostalgia that they’re harder to find than the ‘50’s set, and pricier. This proved to be true. The first set, released in 1978 with 293 cards was easier to spot, but I didn’t want to buy that series without the more difficult second series attached. (I learned this lesson when I picked up a cheap TCMA football base set and still find myself struggling to get the 12 card update at a reasonable price. I’d have been better off waiting to buy both sets.)
The 1981 (yay Split Season!) series 2 has 189 cards, but the problem is that about 1/3 were printed compared to series 1 (according to the Standard Catalog). Whenever that series would appear, it was too pricey for me.
Well, as of last night, my long waiting is over. I got both sets for a good price and they’re on their way! I can’t wait. Like the 1950’s cards, the 1960’s sets have fantastic variety of names, from superstars to non-stars to Jim McKnight.
The past couple of seasons Minor League Baseball has been running a Copa de Diversión promotion which involves rebranding teams with Spanish nicknames and uniforms. My kids really wanted to go to a Trenton Trueno game and due to a rainout at one of the Kids Club games we were able to go while only having to pay for parking.
Anyway, while we went for the Trueno experience, it turned out that it was also a baseball card giveaway night. We each got perforated strips of four cards (plus an advertisement) featuring four current Yankees who’d played for Trenton and who were also Latino—Andújar, Severino, and Sánchez are from the Dominican Republic while Torres is from Venezuela.
The cards are manufactured by Choice—the same company that makes Trenton’s Minor League team sets—and, aside from the perforations are legitimate cards rather than something that feels like a cheap digitally-printed sheet. The only problem is that the cards were designed with bleeds but whoever laid them out for perfing didn’t take that into account so the three center cards in the panel are closer to 2.625 inches wide.
Still it’s a fun little set with photos of the guys while they were at Trenton, nice Trueno logos, and some #PonleAcento action. I’m a bit confused at how Andújar got the accent and Sánchez did not though.
The back design is also nicely bilingual. The positions and vitals information are still English-only but the biographies allocate equal space to both languages. It does kind of feel like they were written in English and then translated semi-literally to Spanish but it’s a solid effort.
Since this set isn’t entered to Trading Card DB yet I have no idea how many other Minor League teams released cards as part of the Copa de Diversión. But it’s pretty cool and is a great recognition that not only is the game-day experience something that should be inclusive to Spanish-speaking fans, the merchandise and giveaways should also accessible to as many fans as possible.
I asked people to send me their “junk wax” faves at the end of this post on Fleer Classic Miniatures and I got a lot of solid suggestions. The 1985 Fun Foods set was one, and I took it to heart. I am now the proud owner of a complete 133 button set.
I was not unaware of the Fun Foods set; I’ve always had a soft spot for it. I’ve had the Seaver button, and only the Seaver button, for decades.
The beauty of this little item was not lost on me, but I never went for the whole set. Not a cost issue, the set should run $20 tops, more of a storage issue. Where would I put 133 buttons – in a box? In sheets? I really couldn’t figure it out, so I passed.
When I started pursuing the 1964 and 1971 Topps coins sets, I ended up with some coin sheets whose pockets were too small. Too small for the coins, but perfect for the buttons! (Never throw anything out!). Here’s how they display:
It’s a super attractive set – the colors are vibrant, the photos are sharp, the checklist is terrifically 1984/1985.
They’re thick enough that my binder won’t close now, but I’m not worried. It’s a binder full of metal discs, not cardboard. No bent corners here!
I won’t claim to doing much looking into this issue: they were sold as complete sets and in packs of three, though I never saw those packs in the wild. As to Fun Foods, I have no idea what they did, or made, or how much fun their product may or may not have been. Maybe all they made were the buttons, maybe the buttons were meant to be eaten. I have no idea (though don’t do that.)
Whatever business Fun Foods was in is of no matter to me. They made cool buttons, I now have them all, and that’s enough for me.
With SABR 49 about to unfold in beautiful San Diego, I offer
a look at Padres’ cards from the Pacific Coast League era, which ends with the formation
of the Major League Padres in 1969.
The original Hollywood Stars moved to San Diego in 1936. The
city fathers constructed a wooden ballpark, Lane Field, near the train station
on the water front. From there, the team
would move into the Mission Valley in 1958 to play at Westgate Park and,
finally, San Diego Stadium in 1968.
According to PCL historian, collector and dealer Mark MacRae,
the first set of Padres collectibles were team issued photos in 1947. However, this set does not show up in the Standard
Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards. This
publicity photo of manager “Ripper” Collins from 1947 may be an example, but
I’m by no means certain.
Two years later, Bowman issues a PCL set in the same format
as their MLB cards. The small, square
cards were issued in packs with a total of 32 in the set. The five Padres players are Xavier Rescigno
(pictured), John Jensen, Pete Coscavart, Lee Handley and Tom Seats. The cards were issued as reprint set in 1987
by the Card Collectors Company. The
reprints are distinguished by wider, white borders.
Bowman wasn’t the only company to issue PCL cards in 1949. The Hage’s Dairy company begins a three- year run with a 107-card set-with at least 26 different Padres. This initial set and the subsequent issues are filled with variation cards. Some players have up to four different poses. They were distributed in boxes of popcorn at Lane Field. Cards were added or removed when the rosters changed. The 1951 cards come in four different tones: sepia, blue, green and black-and-white. This set includes Luke Easter, manager Bucky Harris and John Ritchey, who broke the PCL color barrier in 1948.
Incidentally, the Bowman cards used many of the same photographs as Hage’s. For example, Bowman simply cropped this photo of John Jensen.
Hage’s comes back in 1950 with a 122-card set that has at
least 28 Padres. This time, all the cards are black-and-white. Also, Hage’s ice
cream is advertised on the back. This
set has manager Jimmy Reese as well as two variations of Orestes “Minnie”
Minoso. Among other recognizable names
are: Al Smith (famous for having beer poured on his head by fan in ’59 World
Series), Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, and Tom Tresh’s dad, Mike.
In 1951, Hage’s produces a much reduced 54-card set, with
all but 12 of them being Padres. The other cards are comprised of seven
Cleveland Indians and five Hollywood Stars. They were printed in the following
tints: blue, green, burgundy, gold, gray and sepia. Harry Malmberg is an example of the many photo
variations. The two cards above are both
from 1951. Some familiar names in this
set are Ray Boone, Luke Easter and “Sad” Sam Jones.
Like an ice cream bar left in the warm California sun,
Hage’s Dairy cards melted away in 1952, leaving Globe Printing as the card
producer for the Padres. This 18-card,
black-and-white set features manager Lefty O’Doul, coach Jimmy Reese, Memo Luna
and Herb Gorman. I’m not sure how the
cards were distributed.
1952 is a big PCL card year-due to the introduction of the fabulous Mother’s Cookies set. The 64-card set was distributed in packages of cookies on the West Coast. Padres’ manager, Lefty O’Doul, has on a beautiful satin jacket in his photo. Some of the recognizable players include Memo Luna, “Whitey” Wietlemann and “Red” Embree.
Mother’s Cookies returns with a 63-card set in 1954. Of the seven Padres in the set, the most interesting is Tom Alston. He would integrate the St. Louis Cardinals in 1954 after being purchased for $100,000. Unfortunately, mental illness ended his promising career in 1957. Also, Lefty O’Doul is back, and former MLB player Earl Rapp has a card.
I was unable to locate any evidence of Padres cards from 1953-60, but in 1961 the fantastic Union Oil set showed up at West Coast 76 stations. The sepia tone cards measure 3”X 4” and featured 12 Padres. Among the players available are: Herb Score, Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, Mike Hershberger and Dick Lines.
The Major League Padres arrive in 1969, but cards from the PCL era would emerge in retrospective sets. In 1974, PCL historian and fan, Ed Broder, self-produced a 253-card set, modeled after the Seattle Rainiers popcorn cards. He used players from 1957-58. There are 31 Padres cards in the set, including future Seattle Pilot, Gary “Ding Dong” Bell, Bob Dipietro, and Jim “Mudcat” Grant.
Another retro set was produced by TCMA in 1975. The 18-card set has PCL players from the mid-1950s,
one of which is Padre Cal McLish. The cards are “tallboy” size-like early 1970s
In recent years, the late Carl Aldana self-produced several
Padres cards in the Mother’s Cookies format.
The players he chose are: Ted Williams, Luke Easter, Max West, Al Smith
and Jack Graham.
Please let me know if there are other years that PCL Padres
cards were produced or if you have a 1947 team issued photo.
SABR convention goers will assemble at glitzy Petco Park for
a Padres game against the Cardinals. Not too far away, a humbler structure once
stood, Lane Field. Though small and
termite infested, it was “big time” to fans in a simpler era with limited entertainment
At the game, I plan to buy a box of popcorn to see if a Hage’s Dairy Memo Luna card was magically inserted amongst the kernels.
Main Street Toy Company was a 10-person outfit that was formed in the wake of Coleco’s demise. Main Street’s founder, Gene Murtha, was a former vice president of marketing for Coleco. He assembled a small team of executives to run a new toy company poised to “learn lessons from Coleco’s mistakes.”
Main Street found quick success with Slap Wraps, a plastic-coated steel strip that would automatically curl around the wrist when slapped on one’s arm. The company sold upwards of $4 million worth of Slap Wraps in 1990. Unfortunately, this was the only successful product in its lineup and by 1991, Main Street had been gobbled up by a competitor and dissolved.
But, what does all of this have to do with baseball cards you ask?
Well, Main Street Toy Company marketed the worst baseball card set ever in 1989. Patented by video game stalwart Eric Bromley and assigned to the fledgling company, Main Street Baseball was an electronic game that used statistics for individual MLB players to help determine game play outcomes. According to the box, you could “Steal a base like Vince Coleman” or “Pinch hit like Kirk Gibson.” Wow!
Player information was embedded in bar codes that were printed onto small stickers designed to be affixed to the back of that player’s baseball card. In theory, this was not a bad idea at all. In practice, however, the kids who wanted to play Main Street Baseball were encouraged to deface baseball cards of their favorite players and then slide them through a slot to scan the bar code. Oh, the humanity!
The game included bar codes that contained the 1988 statistics for over 100 players, along with an offer to purchase bar code stickers for each of the 26 teams in MLB at the time. And have I mentioned that the Main Street Baseball game was packaged with the worst baseball card set ever?
Officially licensed by the MLBPA, Main Street was authorized to use the names and statistics for the superstars of the day and produced a 24-card set that featured standard-sized cards. The complete set includes:
NL players: Bobby Bonilla, Will Clark, Andre Dawson, Kirk Gibson, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser, Tim Raines, Nolan Ryan, Ryne Sandberg, Benny Santiago, Ozzie Smith and Darryl Strawberry.
AL players: Wade Boggs, George Brett, Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Dennis Eckersley, Carlton Fisk, Don Mattingly, Paul Molitor, Kirby Puckett, Alan Trammell, Frank Viola and Dave Winfield.
The backs of the cards are unnumbered and list only biographical information and rudimentary statistics from each player’s 1988 campaign— batting average, home runs and stolen bases for position player and won-loss record, ERA and strikeouts for pitchers. And, of course, a spot was designated for the bar code sticker.
Although the production run is unknown, these cards can be difficult to find. So why would a difficult-to-find set comprised of half Hall of Famers be so brutal, you may be asking?
Well, the cards do not include photos or illustrations of the players.
What? Wait a second. A set of cards that was licensed by the MLBPA does not include any player photos? Not even pictures with the team logos airbrushed out?
Strictly for completionists, the Main Street Baseball cards are the worst ever—unless you have a thing for wholly generic baseball art and a dearth of statistical information. As for the game—who knows. I was never willing to destroy my cards to play it.
Anthony Ramirez, “Turning Profits Hand Over Wrist,” New York Times, October 27, 1990.
Pamela Klein, “Fad Wanes, But Marketers, Creators Still Feud,” Hartford Courant, September 2, 1991.
“Canadian Firm Gets Main Street Toy Lines,” Hartford Courant, November 27, 1991.
United States Patent Number 5,026,058, issued June 25, 1991.
Mickey Mantle was the quintessential “baby boomer” icon in
post-war America. His good looks,
athleticism and strength personified the American concept of
exceptionalism. “The Mick” was the
ultimate hero for the white American male, who controlled all the levers of
power. It is not a stretch to state that
Don Drysdale was the pitcher who complemented the slugger.
To commemorate the SABR Baseball Committee’s 400th blog post, members were tasked with coming up with a post that tied in the number 400. In 1969, Topps assigned Drysdale card number 400 in the set. Many of you know that Topps gave superstar players the “hundred” numbers. The card turned out to be Don’s last regular issue card. This post celebrates our blog’s milestone by examining the Big D’s cardboard legacy.
Most of you remember that 1968 was a record-breaking year for Don-while 1969 had a tragic ending. 1968 saw him set the record for consecutive scoreless innings with 58-2/3 (since broken by Orel Hershiser with 59 in 1988). Unfortunately, starting 35 or more games for nine straight seasons finally caught up to Drysdale. Ongoing shoulder issues culminated with a diagnosis of a torn rotator cuff. After 12 starts in 1969, Don was forced to retire.
Standing 6’3’ and weighing 190, Don was a prime physical specimen and the epitome of the sun-splashed, California athlete. Being handsome, well-spoken and playing in Los Angeles resulted in advertisement opportunities and TV appearances. People of a certain age remember the Big D as a guest on “The Donna Reed Show,” “Leave it to Beaver,” “Beverly Hillbillies” and the “Brady Bunch.” The alliteration of the double D’s in his name contributed his recognition in and out of baseball.
My favorite Drysdale card was issued in 1967. The posed, follow through shot at Shea
Stadium exudes confidence and command.
Don had mid-century America by the horns, and he knew it.
The early cards depict a young man still developing into a prime athlete. Drysdale’s first Topps card in 1957 shows him with the Brooklyn “B” in the “Bums” last season in Ebbets Field. The shift to LA in 1958 results in an airbrushed “LA” on the cap. The Hires Root Beer card from that year makes him look rather cherubic.
1959 and 1960 are great, mostly due to the backdrop of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The massive football stadium-turned ballpark is certainly distinctive.
Drysdale shows up on specialty cards as well. In 1959, Don joins teammates Johnny Podres and Clem Labine on a cool, multi-player card captioned: “Hitters Foes.” Podres is back in 1963, but this time Drysdale’s fellow superstar teammate, Sandy Koufax, joins him on the card titled: “Dodgers Big Three.” Additionally, Drysdale has 1960 and 1962 All-Star cards and is on numerous league leaders.
Fleer attempted to break the Topps monopoly in 1963. Topps successfully sued to stop future production, but Fleer managed to put out at least a portion of its set. Don plays in “both ends of a double dip,” showing up in both sets.
Topps chose Don to represent the Dodgers in the 1967 poster
insert and the 1968 large posters, which were sold individually, one per
pack. Both are excellent photos and the
designs are superb in their simplicity.
As one of baseball’s top stars, Don is featured in every Topps insert or test issue set. He shows up on Bazooka boxes, Post Cereal, Salada coins and many other oddball sets.
Receiving a “hundred” number in a Topps series in 1960s was to be recognized as a true icon. Don is a man certainly worthy of our 400th post. I’ll leave you with a photo of my Drysdale shrine in my memorabilia room.
To learn all there is to know about Don Drysdale, I highly recommend Joseph Wancho’s BioProject entry.
The PSA Card Facts for the set note only that “The set’s most scarce and therefore prized piece is Card #68 (“Ted Signs for 1959”), which Fleer withdrew from the collection early in production.”
A more detailed PSA write-up on the card itself notes only that the “card was pulled from production early due to an alleged contract dispute with Buck [sic] Harris (the other man depicted on the card), resulting in a higher degree of scarcity.”
An article on Cardboard Connection is equally mum: “As a result, the card had to be pulled from production, pushing values up.”
A listing at Dean’s cards indicates that “Fleer was forced to remove the #68 card from distribution, due to the legal issues of using Harris’ image without his permission.”
An article on the set from Sports Collectors Digest refers to card 68 as “a single card that ended up being pulled off the presses…”.
From Sports Collectors Daily (2012): “During the production process, the card was yanked from the set, creating a rarity that has driven set builders crazy for years.”
From Sports Collectors Daily (2016): “Fewer copies exist of that one compared to the other cards in the set because printing of it ceased early when the set was being created. It seems Red Sox GM Bucky Harris was under contract to Topps and thus, couldn’t appear in a Fleer set. Fleer stopped the presses and pulled #68 but not before some of them had already been printed.”
From Tuff Stuff: “Fleer was forced to pull the card early from production.”
From Robert Edward Auctions: “This card was withdrawn from production due to legal issues relating to Fleer’s unauthorized use of Harris’ image.”
From Heritage Auctions: “[The card] is known for being difficult due to being pulled from circulation since Bucky Harris (who appears on this card) was under contract with Topps.”
From Leland’s: “The key to the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams Set. The Ted Signs for 1959 card #68 was pulled from production early making it a bit scarcer than the rest of the set. “
From KeyMan Collectibles: “Topps had Bucky Harris under exclusive contract and Fleer had to stop production of card 68 ‘Ted Signs for 1959’ making it a rare short print. Only a few made it out to the public.”
Equivocating on the issue one final time is this Heritage listing for an unopened box, which suggests the card shouldn’t be in the packs but might be.
“We can only speculate if card #68 ‘Jan 23, 1959 – Ted Signs for 1959’ can be found within. History says it should not as the card was not supposed to be sold.”
Heritage Auctions listing #80171
If it were well known or provable that card 68 did in fact make it into at least some packs, I have to imagine the Heritage catalog would have played up that fact in its listing. As it is, my read of the listing is much more a “probably not” than a “maybe.”
Of course, if I learned anything at all from my History teacher, primary sources are always best. As such, let’s see what the Frank H. Fleer Corporation had to say about the card back in August 1959.
A full transcript of the letter is here, but the key lines are these:
Due to the possibility of legal overtones, card #68 of the Ted Williams series was not put on the market for sale. However, it was made and we have been able to send several to people such as you who have inquired.
So there you have it, right? Straight from Art Wolfe at Fleer, we see that card 68 was not put on the market for sale, i.e., did not make it into packs.
The ultimate primary source
However, where baseball cards are concerned, there are sources even more reliable than the Assistant Promotion Managers of the companies that make them. The best authority on card 68 and the only source truly worthy of the label “primary” is of course card 68 itself!
As luck would have it, I finally picked one of after all these years. I think you’ll agree it’s not a bad looking “2.”
I have to imagine the grade was based more on the card’s reverse, which has a prominent wax stain and a crease that shows up the right lighting makes evident.
Wait a minute! Did somebody say wax stain?!?! Let’s crack that card out of its plastic prison and get a better look.
Sure enough, it’s a wax stain. MYSTERY SOLVED! And lest you think this one card managed to sneak through quality control, here’s another…
This is also a good spot to thank reader “athomeatfenway” for the tip to check out page 212 of the Ted Williams bio “In Pursuit of Perfection” by Bill Nowlin and Jim Prime. Here, dealer Irv Lerner recounts an incredible story of the 1959 Fleer set along with his recollection of card 68 specifically.
“The initial run did have the number 68s in it. Two or three months afterward, they damaged that part of the plate so they could pull it out.”
Incidentally, the wax stains do more than confirm that card 68 made it into wax packs, albeit very early ones. The stains may also provide a rough means of estimating how many of these cards were issued in packs versus through direct correspondence with Fleer.
Imagine that one had access to front/back scans of a large sample of the card, for example, all 1200 or so PSA/SGC graded examples of card 68. Now assume 30 of the cards exhibited wax stains. Since the cards were issued in packs of 6 or 8 cards apiece, we might infer from the 30 stained cards that between 30 x 6 = 180 and 30 x 8 = 240 of the 1200 cards (about 15-20%) came from packs.
In doing my research for this piece, I ran across some information outside the main storyline that nonetheless felt worth sharing.
First up, here is a 1958 photograph of Art Wolfe, the Fleer employee who signed letters to collectors in 1959. Source: October 12, 1958, Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, NY).
By March 1959, Mr. Wolfe had joined Fleer and was in Clearwater, Florida, doing his best to sign ballplayers. Source: March 21, 1959, News Journal (Wilmington, DE).
The following week the Fort Lauderdale News (March 25, 1959) covered the signing of Ted Williams by Fleer as an early sign of the cardboard apocalypse.
And a week after that, the April 2 (subscription required) Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, NY) covered Mr. Wolfe from Fleer in the middle of his “Just say no to Topps” campaign.
You might be surprised to see all this coverage of the baseball cards wars long before the financial side of the hobby exploded. Still, this stuff really did matter to kids back then! Here is the May 22, 1961, edition of the Miami News.
Fleer took a break from the baseball card business between 1963 and 1968, so it’s not surprising that Art Wolfe would return to his sportscasting roots, eventually becoming sports director for WPEN, known today as “97.5 The Fanatic.” Here is an ad from the July 13, 1965, Philadelphia Daily News.
Following his tenure with WPEN, Wolfe went on to become a sports reporter and anchor for Philadelphia’s KYW. This letter from a young reader in June 1986 stands as proof not only that Philly sports fans are the worst but that they start young! 😄
Clare R. “Art” Wolfe passed away in 2008, having spent most of his life a radio and TV man doing sports. However unappreciated his work may have been by an eighth grade Gregory Popowski, many of us—but not quite all of us—with complete 1959 Fleer Ted Williams sets owe Mr. Wolfe a debt of gratitude for putting those cards in the mail.
Committee note: Tomorrow the SABR Baseball Cards blog will be celebrating 400 posts with a specially themed article revolving around the number 400. Any guesses? Fitting though it might have been, you can probably already rule out Ted Williams!