Under Construction

As a team collector I’m spared a lot of the worries that set collectors have because my search list is quite a bit more focused. I don’t need ~700 cards, I’m only looking for ~30. Sometimes though I’m jealous of the set collectors. Where my albums tend to consist of three to four page runs of cards that all have the same color scheme, set collectors have pages that are full of wonderfully different colors.

So I started thinking about ways to put a sample page together for each set which would give me some of that color without being prone to mission creep. After looking through piles of 1970s cards I realized that the theme I was looking for was pictures of Candlestick Park. As a Giants collector I would already have a number of cards taken at the Stick. But there’s something about putting a page together of other teams and getting a bit of the flavor of the larger set which is very appealing.

I’ve mainly been pulling 1970s cards for now. Yes there a few cards in 1959 to 1962 which were shot at Seals Stadium but through most of the 1960s it doesn’t appear that anything was shot at Candlestick. Then in 1972 it all changed.

Looking at the Giants cards from this year doesn’t really show anything interesting. There are a lot of photos showing that trademark chain link fence and the red seats. It’s only if you take a really close look at Frank Reberger’s card that you see something’s up in the stadium.

It’s not super obvious unless you’re familiar with Candlestick but there’s a lot of construction going on behind Frank. On the left side of the photo there’s a press box being built. On the right side there’s a glimpse of some unfinished second deck.

What’s going on? Despite feeling like a member of the multipurpose donut family, Candlestick was a baseball-only facility for the first decade of its usage. Only in 1971 did the 49ers move from Kezar Stadium. This move prompted the installation of artificial turf and enclosing the stadium with an upper deck that completely circled the playing field.

Much of the construction occurred during the 1971 baseball season. Meanwhile, for the first time in a decade Topps was taking photos at Giants games. The result? Lots of construction shows up in the backgrounds of 1972 cards. That new press box being installed behind Reberger? That would be the football press box, which overlooked the 50-yard line.

I didn’t notice the Reberger photo until I’d noticed more obvious construction on a number of other 1972 cards. In many of the cards throughout the set* the concrete skeleton is not only visible behind the player but is clearly a non-decorative yet also non-functional part of the stadium.

*Much to my relief they appear across each series. In other words, I should be able to fill up a page without having to deal with the high numbers.

As a Giants fan it’s interesting to me how much of the skeleton feels like the Candlestick I remember. The park obviously didn’t look like this when I was going to games there. But the beams were there, visible from underneath the grandstand whether looking up from the lower deck, the second deck concourse, or from outside.

Many of the card photos taken at Candlestick are of players from the National League West.  Lots of Astros, Braves, Reds, and Padres—all of which are teams I remember seeing a lot of as a kid.* There are also a decent number of Expos, Cardinals and Pirates in the mix. Every once in a while though I’ll find a card of an American League team that was taken at Candlestick.

*Yes I watched a lot of Dodgers games too but for whatever reason I’ve yet to come across a 1970s Dodgers card which was taken at Candlestick.

The 1972 Frank Duffy is one such card.* That it said “Indians” meant that my Candlestick radar was sufficiently dulled and I didn’t recognize either the stadium or the fact that it was under construction.

*Also on this list are the 1974 Denny Doyle and 1978 Goose Gossage.

I like seeing the American League cards since, despite the airbrushing, they offer a chance to add some real variety to my binder page. This Duffy is also a lot of fun because it’s a short-term stop card in disguise. Duffy’s actually a Giant here; Topps has just replaced the SF with the wishbone C. Since this is a high number he’s shown with the correct team but if his card had come out earlier in the season there’s a decent chance he’d be with the Giants and I’d have a card commemorating the George Foster trade.

It must have been a weird experience to be at a game in an unfinished park with all the exposed beams and concrete in the outfield. It certainly made for a few baseball cards that don’t have the usual stadium backgrounds.

A Curmudgeon’s Guide to the New Millennium

Starting in the late 1980s, I can no longer remember the year of Topps base card sets from simply eyeballing the design.  For the most part, I can only give you a ballpark estimation of the year based on the player.  This stems from buying the factory sets, sorting, putting them in binders, and immediately archiving them in the card closet.

Contributing to this “one and done” approach to collecting modern cards is my curmudgeonly insistence that current designs are either lame or too similar from one year to the next.  To try and break from my “old school” mindset, I took a fresh look at each of the sets from the first decade of the 2000s.  What follows is one old curmudgeon’s ranking of the cards based solely on design.

Bringing up the rear of the decade rankings is 2007.  This one falls in my pet peeve wheelhouse by using foil lettering. The letters are very difficult to read, due to insufficient contrast, which renders the whole purpose of identifying players and teams moot.  Also, what is with the corner dots?  They remind me of the test pattern from the field of vision test I routinely take as part of my glaucoma treatment. The black borders are acceptable but not the “day-glow” green statistics box on the back.  The entirety of design is a complete “excrement show.”

2001 falls into awful category as well.  First off, this is the 50th Anniversary year for Topps. A design that paid homage to Topps past glories seems like a logical approach.  Instead we get teal borders and gold foil lettering!  Teal?  You’ve got to be kidding me!  Sy Berger would have turned over in his grave had he been dead at the time.

At number eight I present 2002 in all its “puke” gold glory.  This is not an attractive color.  It reminds me of the color of my first car, a 1972 four-door Plymouth Valiant with a black vinyl top. Also, are the ribbons supposed to be “gonfalons” floating in the stadium breeze?  Well, the gonfalon bubble burst, and the design is weighty with nothing but trouble. “Stinky (Davis)-to-Stanky-to-Sauer”

2000 and 2006 both suffer from the foil legibility issue, but 2006 gets props for including a cartoon on the back instead of a photo.  Do we really need photos on the back?  This generally means fewer statistics and limited or no biographical information.  How are kids supposed to who led the Sally League in triples in 1998?

Topps stepped up its game in 2005 by introducing white borders and team names, utilizing team word marks. But, why did they put only the player’s last name in bold letters at the top? The vertical placement of the players position is weird as well.  Kudos for having lengthy biographical material.

2009 has some positive elements such white borders and logo placement, but the hard to read foil “foils” the overall aesthetic.

Because it harkens back to past sets, I like the 2003 set with the picture-in-picture look.  If only Topps had used black and white photos with poorly airbrushed logos like 1963, it would be the winner.  The back has most of the good elements, apart from a cartoon.

I must admit that 2004 is a great look.  The team name in foil is very visible against the white background.  I love the drawing of a player representing the position of the person on the card.

As nice as the design is in 2004, it must take runner up status to the “Curmudgeon Cup” winning 2008 design.  The alternating color balls at the top-forming the team name-is simultaneously innovative and retro.  The white borders help draw the eye to the team name as well.  Also, the facsimile signature warms the soil of the vintage collector.  The biggest downside is the lack of the player’s position on the front.

Before you fill up the comments section with vitriol and torch me on Twitter, there is a strong “tongue-in-check” element to this post.  I am not inclined to defend my choices, since I have no strong attachment to this era’s cards.  I will leave you with this though: “Get off my lawn, Topps, and bring back burlap and wood paneled borders!”

Bowman’s encore performance

The first Bowman baseball card sets might technically be considered the 1939-41 Play Ball sets produced by Gum, Inc. However, the first baseball cards to use the Bowman name were released in 1948.

The 48-card set used black and white photographs and looked very much like miniaturized versions of its 1939 Play Ball predecessor.

Bowman followed up its 1948 offering with a set five times the size. The appearance of the cards differed from the 1948 cards primarily in using color over the player images and using one of several solid colors for the background. The backs also used color ink.

Bowman changed things up again in 1950. Player images used a fuller color palette and backgrounds were quite remarkable in their mix of color and detail. Among full-color baseball card sets, this was almost certainly the most lifelike one ever produced.

When the 1951 season rolled around collectors had been treated to fresh, if not revolutionary, new designs each of the past two years. How could Bowman possibly keep the wheels of progress turning? What would they do for an encore? Would the 1951 cards be 3-D? Scratch and sniff? (Let’s hope not!) True color photographs? Let’s take a look.

Well those cards sure look familiar, don’t they? Aside from adding names and making the cards taller, Bowman seemed content to put out more or less the same product as the year before.

In almost all cases, Bowman (or rather their artists at the George Moll Advertising Agency) employed a standard formula for turning the 1950 images into the 1951 images.

The 1950 image was enlarged about 25%, its full height was used, and excess width on each side was discarded, possibly unevenly. For players whose 1950 Bowman card used a landscape image, Bowman took an analogous approach.

Having just written about the laziest set ever, the thought crossed my mind that 1951 Bowman might at least warrant a seat at that table. However, reuse of prior images, and generic ones at that, was employed by MP & Company for its entire 1949 set, while reused Bowman images were at least based on actual player photos and in fact made up barely a third of the total set.

118 of the 1951 Bowman set’s 324 cards featured repeated players and images from the year before, such as the six I’ve shown. (See this article’s Appendix for a link to the full list.) I should note here that I’m referring to repeated source images, even if modifications were made to reflect team changes. For example, this Peanuts Lowrey card is counted among my tally of reused images.

Another 116 cards were of players who had no card at all in the 1950 release, including these two particularly famous ones.

Finally, there were 90 repeated players from the 1950 set whose cards used new images. While I’ve chosen two superstars to illustrate the point, it’s not evident to me that star power was a primary factor in selecting which players would receive image makeovers…

…nor was the player’s position on the checklist. For those of you with Ted Williams 20/10 vision or really large computer monitors, I’ve plotted the entire checklist using the color scheme from the pie chart (e.g., the top row of blue dots represents repeated players with new images.)

As much as I was hoping to spot a pattern, the dots strike me as largely random other than the unsurprising clustering of brand new players in the set’s final three series.

While my research into the set didn’t turn up any big find, there was at least one card pair that I was glad to stumble upon, not because it confirms any particular theory I had but because it does the opposite.

At first glance these Eddie Lake cards appear a lot like the landscape cards of Mueller, Kerr, and Snider that I showcased earlier. However, a closer look at Lake’s rear end on the 1950 card shows it just about (ahem) butting up against the card edge while the 1951 card leaves room for a sliver more of infield dirt. Likewise the 1951 card shows (nearly) full bodies of two players in the background while the 1950 card barely shows more than one.

These are minor details, but they are enough to illustrate that not all repeated artwork followed the simple crop strategy I showed earlier. In Lake’s case, previously unseen elements were added to the card whereas all earlier examples only showed elements subtracted. Had Bowman followed the standard formula, the result would have been the Fake Lake on the right instead of the Honest Eddie on the left.

Admittedly, I’d be a bigger fan of the 1951 Bowman set had it used all new images rather than recycling more than a third of them. Still, the subtle differences in the reused images–the cropping necessary to produce a new aspect ratio, the occasional team/uniform updates, and the bonus art of the Lake card–provide ample reason to take some of these cards out for a second look, an encore if you will.

Take a Bow…man!

Appendix

Want to do your own comparisons? I’ve created a Google Sheet with the 118 cards from the 1951 set that recycled images from the 1950 set.

Origins of the laziest baseball card set ever

At first glance the 1949 MP & Company baseball set is simply…how shall I say this? Ugly.

And lest you think the card designers were saving all their mojo for the backs of the cards, let me disabuse you of that notion before we go any further.

Still, ugly ≠ lazy, and even if it did I suspect many of you could find uglier sets out there somewhere. (See any set with “metal” in the name.)

To understand the 1949 MP & Company baseball set as the laziest set ever, it’s important to know it had a predecessor six years earlier. Here are two cards from the 1943 release.

I know some of you still aren’t convinced. After all, other sets have reused prior card designs and fared quite well in the minds of collectors. It’s just that the 1949 MP & Company cards took recycling to a whole new level. For instance, here are the 1943 cards of Danning and Medwick.

Scroll up the page and you’ll note more than just a passing resemblance to the 1949 cards of Berra and Pesky. In fact, every one of the 24 cards in the 1949 set is a retread of a card issued six years earlier. Here are each of the 1949 cards (yellow rows), a few at a time, matched to their corresponding 1943 versions (red rows).

Cards 100-102

While Boudreau and Williams are repeated from set to set, we see that Yankees pitcher Ernie Bonham becomes Giants shortstop Buddy Kerr.

CARDS 103, 105, 106

The next three cards in the sets are pure repeats of their earlier issues, though Joe DiMaggio’s cap and sleeves, along with the fielder’s garb, appear to have changed from white to light blue.

Cards 107-109

All three players are different in this next grouping. Hank Greenberg’s playing days were over by 1949, so he instead becomes Ferris Fain. That they batted with opposite hands was not a detail that would trouble the set designers. Turning Lou Novikoff into Andy Pafko required little effort and made good use of the Cubs uniform already there. The change from Hubbell to Ennis was a bit more gauche as it not only got the glove hand wrong but also put the Phillies star in a Giants uniform.

Cards 110-112

First up is a slugger-for-slugger trade that works well as both are righties and the uniforms are fairly generic. Next up are the two brothers and battery mates from the Cardinals. Pitcher Mort becomes shortstop Nippy Jones while catcher Walker morphs into fellow catcher Del Rice. As Jones and Rice were both Cardinals, the uniforms are good as is.

Cards 113-115

Mize to Sauer is another example of a lefty turning righty while Reiser to Coan works just fine. Small liberties are taken in shortstop Joost inheriting a classic pitcher’s pose from Ruffing.

Cards 116, 117, and 119

The Alvin Dark card is worth attention and not just because nobody expected this Giant to be the second coming of Mel Ott! Unless the 1949 release has been incorrectly catalogued all these years, we have our first instance of “Cardboard Clairvoyance” since Dark did not move from the Braves to the Giants until December 14, 1949, a date presumed to be later than the set’s release.

Berra from Danning is one we’ve already seen, and it generally works, apart from looking nothing like Yogi Berra. Of course, collectors wanting more lifelike images were welcome to buy Bowman instead.

Meanwhile, Lemon from Hack is another with a story. Stan Hack played his entire career as a Cub, so the Chicago uniform makes sense, just not when it goes onto Bob Lemon, who played his entire career with Cleveland. Though the MP & Company sets don’t scream “quality control” when you look at them, high ranking execs found this error too great to let stand, leading to the only major variation in the 1949 set.

No word on why Bob’s face turned blue in the process unless to show he’d been screaming for the corrected jersey till he was…oh, never mind.

Cards 121-123

The left-handed hitting Johnny Pesky inherits a right-handed stance from Joe Medwick while Cronin-for-Sain works out even if the “Boston” on their uniforms were from two different teams. As with the Pesky-Medwick pairing, Hoot Evers is forced to bat wrong-handed thanks to inheriting his artwork form Dolph Camilli.

Card 124 and un-numbered cards

The last numbered card in the 1949 set is card 124, Larry Doby, who is shown throwing with the wrong hand thanks to the recycled Johnny Vander Meer artwork his card was based on. You’ll also notice both players wearing uniform number 57.

While Vander Meer wore number 33 from 1939-1949, he did in fact wear 57 in 1938 when he threw his consecutive no-hitters. Though much of the artwork in the 1943 set feels very generic, we can at least wonder if the artist may have been looking at a 1938 press photo when drawing Vander Meer’s MP & Company card. Either way, neither 33 nor 57 would have been a match for Doby, who wore either 14 or 37 at the time his card was produced.

Following Vander Meer is Tommy Henrich, a repeated player from the 1943 set. While none of the 1943 cards were numbered, Henrich’s 1949 card is one of only three un-numbered cards in the 1949 set. A second un-numbered card is that of second baseman Al Kozar, who must have struggled mightily to play his position in full catcher’s gear!

The last un-numbered card in the 1949 set is Jimmie Foxx. As his final season was 1945, I don’t have any theory for how Foxx cracked the 1949 set. His presence is particularly puzzling in that he gives the set 25 cards, despite numerous accounts that the set was released as three strips of eight cards each. (See this auction listing for an example of a 1943 uncut strip.)

Noting the very low population counts on the 1949 Foxx, I wonder if the card was released somewhat by accident (“Oh, shoot! He retired? Seriously?”) and then replaced by another player.

MP & Company gets even lazier!

Thus far we have focused solely on the fronts of the cards. Now let’s take a look at the card backs of each player who had cards in both 1943 and 1949. First here is Lou Boudreau, fresh off managing the Cleveland Indians to the 1948 World Series title. Easy as it might be to note that accomplishment, the 1949 card simply repeats the 1943 card back verbatim.

Next up is the Splendid Splinter. There are some subtle wording differences between the two bios but nothing substantive. Oddly, the most significant update is changing the spelling of Francis to Frances. Of course, Ted’s middle name was Samuel, but what the heck! (For whatever reason, you will find Theodore Francis Williams in several other contemporary sources including his 1940 Play Ball card. Also head to post #21 in this Net54 thread for even more Williams misspellings/variations in the MP & Company sets.)

Next up is Bob Feller, and you probably think you know the drill by now. Still, even I was surprised to see the on both cards that “Feller is 24 years old.”

Batting clean-up is the Yankee Clipper, centerfielder…I mean rightfielder (?!)…for the New York Yankees. Again, the 1949 bio is stuck in 1943. (Technically, both bios are current through the end of the 1942 regular season since they ignore New York’s loss to St. Louis in the 1942 World Series.)

Pee Wee Reese is next. His 1949 bio shows the biggest change thus far, omitting the opening line about being with the Dodgers for three years. Still, I bet Pee Wee would have preferred to see a revision to his batting average instead since his 1949 card still had his career mark at at very pee wee .244 when in fact he had raised it to .265.

Next to last of the repeated players is Tommy Henrich. While some of his bio has been removed, nothing new has been added.

The final repeated player in the set is Jimmie Foxx. Again, part of the bio has been omitted but nothing new has been added.

Cardboard ancestry OF the 1949 set

As has been shown in great detail, the immediate ancestor of the 1949 set is the 1943 set, right down to the reuse of all 24 player images. However, as amateur as the cards look, you’d be wrong to conclude that they represented a one-off (sorry, two-off) effort that just showed up in 1943 out of thin air.

Just one year earlier, MP & Company issued its “War Scenes” set, a collection of 48 cards numbered 101-148 and featuring similar comic book style art to the baseball issues.

Between the “War Scenes” set and a “War Gum” set from Gum, Inc., the makers of the 1939-41 Play Ball (and later Bowman) sets, 1942 was a great year for Admiral Nimitz supercollectors.

Interestingly the 1942 set was not the only time MP & Company had the same idea as Gum, Inc. Here is a card from the 1935-37 Gum, Inc., set known as “G-Men and Heroes of the Law.”

And here is a card from a 1936 set known as “Government Agents vs Public Enemies.” The copyright line on the card back identifies “M. Pressner & Co.,” which is simply a long form of MP & Company.

Interestingly, the earliest collectibles produced by MP & Company are hardly knock-offs at all but at least in my opinion nearly 20 years ahead of their time.

Yes, these Ruth and Gehrig photos fall somewhere short of striking, but good chance they were developed by a ten-year-0ld kid! That’s right, MP & Company’s first collectible I could track down is a 1930 set of eight “Ray-O-Print” photos that kids produced themselves from a kit that included negatives and photo paper.

Though the technology would differ, I believe the next time kids could develop their own baseball photos from a pack would be 1948 in a set that would quietly mark the baseball card debut of the small company that would soon come to be synonymous (if not hegemonic) with baseball cards.

1948 Topps “Magic Photos”

Another ancestor I’ll offer, though not blood related, is the 1933 Eclipse Import baseball set. Between the artwork, the card backs, and even the oddball numbering scheme, this set seems to have everything in common with the 1943/1949 MP & Company sets. What’s more, the two companies were only a block apart!

The final ancestor of the MP & Company cards is the American Caramel E91 series. As Anson Whaley details on his Prewar Cards website, each piece of player art is used for up to three different players across the three-year issue’s 99 cards. If you know your deadball era hurlers well, you might also notice another detail reminiscent of MP & Company: Rube Marquard has his glove on the wrong hand.

In truth, the E91 cards from American Caramel make a credible run at laziest set ever, but I still give the nod to 1949 MP & Company since at least the American Caramel cards batted 1.000 on updating teams and uniforms whereas the MP & Company cards barely even bothered.

Just who are these guys?

The MP in “MP & Company” stands for Michael Pressner. The name suggests the proprietor would be a person named Michael Pressner, but I’ve personally come up short in my attempts to find such a person beyond this bowling team photo from 1895…

…and a skin care consultant in Virginia! I can see some resemblance between the two, but that’s not to say either has any link to MP & Company.

What is known is that MP & Company was a producer of carnival supplies. No, not Ferris wheels and bumper cars but the sorts of trinkets you might win at Skee Ball. This ad from 1927 gives you the general idea…

And this 1974 catalog shows the firm was still in business a good quarter century after their 1949 baseball release.

In fact this notice of product recall shows MP & Company alive and well as late as 1995!

Finally, I suspect MP & Company had some relation to Pressner’s Carnival Mart, a 1960s version of “Party City” just outside New Orleans. If you’re thinking Mardi Gras beads, you’d be correct, as we learn from this January 1969 article.

This could go on a ways, but you can see we’re drifted pretty far from baseball cards already. I’ll just close by noting that I wrote most of this post over Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and that for many of us the New Year is a time of hope and renewal. At the same time, what many of us find is that our “new” years look a lot like our old years, save some occasional new names and faces around us.

In the world of baseball cards, 1949 was one such year. There were some goodbyes. There were some hellos. But when you put that set together it looked exactly the one before it. Lazy and ugly, yes, but also familiar, which we sometimes need just as much as newness and beauty. And besides, spring was just around the corner.

The Great Candlestick Derrière Dilemma

Recently, a post on Twitter included Willie Montanez’s 1973 Topps card.  This “in action” shot taken during the 1972 season has always intrigued me, primarily due to half of the photo being comprised of the Giants’ pitcher’s butt.  Inquiring minds want to know whose derriere filled the camera lens. Through the miracle of “Retrosheet” via “Baseball Reference,” I was able to pin down three possibilities, one stronger than the others.

In 1972, the 12-team National League played 18 games against divisional opponents and 12 against teams from the other division.  Thus, the Phillies and the Giants each had six home games broken into two series. (The work stoppage at the beginning of 1972 season did alter this scheduling formula; however, the Giants versus Phillies games were not affected.)

During the Phillies’ initial trip to Candlestick in April 1972, the clubs met twice in day games.  However, Willie Montanez was not involved in a play at the plate in either game.  So, his slide into home had to happen during the second set of games in July.

On Saturday, July 16 and Sunday, July 17 the squads squared off under a bright sun beating down on the rock-hard AstroTurf. Montanez scored a run in the Saturday game after being walked by Don McMahon in the second inning. He moved to second on a single by Don Money and went to third after Oscar Gamble walked.  Catcher John Bateman singled, scoring Montanez. 

This could be the play at the plate, provided Bateman’s single was of the infield variety or a shallow “Texas Leaguer.” Otherwise, Willie could have walked home on a routine shot to the outfield.  The “San Francisco Examiner” sports page for Sunday, July 17, is not helpful.  The game summary does state that Montanez scorede, but there is no mention of a play at the plate.  Therefore, it is possible that the photo shows the “arse” of the veteran “slabsman” McMahon.

In this same game, Chris Speier of the Giants hit an inside-the-park home run off Steve Carlton.  Speier has a 1973 card showing him sliding into home with the Phillies catcher, John Bateman, attempting to tag him.  Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Montanez’s slide occurred on July 16 since the photographer may have attended both games.

In fact, a more plausible play at home occurred in the next day’s game.  In the top of the 4th inning, Montanez singled to center off the Giants’ starter, Jim Barr, and took second on an error by Gary Maddox.  He then scored from second on a single by Don Money. 

In many instances, scoring from second on a single will draw a throw home, resulting in the runner sliding.  Of course, this would mean that Jim Barr is the pitcher whose backside is seen “up close and personal.” Alas, the Monday, July 18 “San Francisco Examiner” offered no supporting evidence, since it failed to mention Willie’s run at all.

Although not definitive proof that the photographer attended both tilts, the 1973 Topps in game action photos for Phillies pitchers Barry Lersch and Dick Selma were clearly taken at Candlestick.  Lersch pitched on Saturday and Selma on Sunday.  So, the photographer could have been at both games. But this is not a certainty because both pitchers appeared at “the Stick” during day games on April 26 (Lersch) and 27 (Selma).

To completely muddy the waters off Candlestick Point, this photo could conceivably be from 1971!  In the first game of a double header on June 6, 1971, Montanez doubled to center off Steve Stone in the 6th inning. 

He scored from second on a single by the next batter, ironically Ron Stone.  On June 7, 1971, “The San Francisco Examiner” stated that Willie “streaked to the plate.” Of course, we still don’t know if there was a throw, necessitating a slide into home. So, Steve Stone’s “bum” could be front and center in the photo.

The odds still favor 1972.  Barry Lersch did pitch in the second game of the June 6, 1971 doubleheader, but Dick Selma didn’t pitch at Candlestick during the day in 1971.  Photos from two separate years seems unlikely but not impossible.

If you are still with me, you are probably asking yourself, “who the hell cares about Willie Montanez sliding into home or pitchers’ butts?” Without a doubt, these are valid questions.  My retort is this:  I used this as a forum to show some of the great “warts and all” action photos from this era.  To me, these photos are exponentially better than modern shots.  The backgrounds and multiple players provide clues and context lacking with today’s cards.  Besides, it’s important to know which long ago Giants hurler left his butt in San Francisco!

Six days in September

I unexpectedly added this 1974 Topps Deckle Edge card of Hank Aaron to my collection last week.

Before getting into my main story I’ll answer a couple quick questions about the card itself.

What is it?

Many collectors are familiar with a Topps Deckle Edge issue from five years earlier, either through the original 1969 set or through more recent Topps Archives reboots.

The 1974 cards, however, are ones that many collectors have never seen, original or otherwise. They were part of a “test issue” limited to the New England area and considerably more scarce than their 1969 predecessors. For example, PSA has graded only 46 Hank Aaron cards from the 1974 set, and even this number is probably inflated by all the “crack and resub” collectors out there.

Where are the deckles?

As the Yaz and Ichiro pics show, a key feature–sorry, THE key feature–of the Deckle Edge cards is…well…deckled edges. Meanwhile, the Aaron pic I showed appears to be perfectly straight. This is the case with the even more scarce proof cards from the set. PSA populations for these proofs range between 1 and 4 per card, and no numerical grades have been issued. As such, were I ever forced to sell my “PSA Authentic” Aaron, I could legitimately do one of those eBay listings that says, “NONE GRADED HIGHER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” right down to the dozens of exclamation marks.

The setting

Unlike the 1969 Deckle Edge cards, which have barely more than the player’s name on the back, these 1974 cards really go the extra mile.

From the information on the back we see Aaron was at Candlestick on September 1 to play the Giants. A bit of quick research also tells us Aaron had 706 career home runs at the time, just eight fewer than the Babe. Having averaged a home run every three games thus far (33 HR in the 100 games he’d played), Aaron was on pace to break the record by season’s end, but only on one condition: he play in every one of Atlanta’s 26 remaining games.

The pursuit of Ruth had been excruciating for the Hammer: death threats, sleepless nights, and constant media attention were so great that Aaron simply wanted to be done. He was less after a crown on his head than a weight off his shoulders. When he finally did break the record, the feeling was not elation but relief.

The decision

Here is the box score from that night’s game.

Plenty of familiar names in the line up but no Hammer, not even when the Braves, down by a single run in the ninth, looked to pinch-hit for Niekro. Five more times in that final month the box score would be similar: no Hammer.

Six days in September

In taking the six days off, the die was cast. The record would wait until 1974. With his team 18 games behind the first place Dodgers, I sometimes wonder why Aaron didn’t just push through and play these games. I have to imagine his fans and teammates would have forgiven a little less hustle in the field and on the bases if it meant another 25-30 trips to the plate.

I don’t know the actual circumstances and decision making behind these six missed games, just that they followed a pattern of off days throughout the season. I can only imagine that Aaron didn’t see himself as able to give 100%.

Were you to scan the Braves roster you might quickly conclude that 80% from Hank Aaron would still be better than 110% from anyone on the Atlanta bench, particularly knowing the best manager Eddie Mathews could put out there in his place would be these two players.

So yeah, these numbers might surprise you.

  • .455 batting average
  • .520 on-base percentage
  • .727 slugging percentage
  • 1.247 OPS

Babe who??

King Henry

The photograph on the Deckle Edge card shows a man who had a choice. What he would do that day and in all for six fateful days in September would determine whether he would enter a much needed offseason with the crown or let the strain and anguish of the chase drag on him another six months.

That would be an easy choice for most of us, and perhaps it was an easy one for the Hammer as well. Carrying his own burdens, that he could live with. Placing burden on his teammates, that just wasn’t in his DNA.

Though he finished the season with “only” 713 home runs, Topps provided Aaron with an early cardboard coronation. His was a royalty that needed no crown. All hail the Home Run King!

Detroit’s heroes go wild!

Periodically, I have added commemorative team sets to my collection.  The sets may mark a championship year or other noteworthy occurrence, famous or infamous.  Additionally, sets are issued to celebrate an anniversary year or a players’ reunion.  For example, I did a blog post on cards given to attendees of a banquet honoring the 1969 Senators.   Although this may prompt some of you to cancel your SABR membership, I will post additional pieces on commemorative sets from time-to-time.

First up is a 1988 set issued by Domino’s Pizza that commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Tigers 1968 World Series Championship.  Most of you remember that Detroit bested St. Louis in a classic seven-game series.  This World Series resonates with me since it is the first that I remember watching on TV.

All the photos in the 28-card set are black and white.  Many of the shots are unfamiliar to me, which was part of the appeal-along with being cheap.  All the unnumbered cards have a synopsis of the season printed on the back along with the players’ 1968 regular season and World Series stats. 

The cards were given away at Tiger Stadium during an “Old Timers” game featuring the ’68 Tigers players.  It is possible that they were also available at Domino’s locations.  Perhaps a Tiger fan in my vast readership remembers.

Of course, I must include the cards of Ray Oyler and Wayne Comer.  Both players were selected in the expansion draft by the Seattle Pilots after the World Series.  You may recall that the light hitting Oyler was benched in the World Series, with outfielder Mickey Stanley moving into the shortstop slot.  Both Comer and Oyler have memorable turns in Jim Bouton’s Ball Four.

Two Tigers icons-Willie Horton and “Swingin’” Gates Brown-are caught “in action.”  Willie was the big offensive force for the “Motor City Kitties” in 1968.

Speaking of icons, casual fan may not remember that Hall-of-Fame member, Eddie Mathews, closed out his career in a limited role with the Tigers in 1968.

The other Hall-of-Famer in the set is, of course, Al Kaline.  The all-time great is honored with two cards.  Ironically in Al’s only championship season, he suffered a broken arm after being hit by a Lew Krausse pitch, missing three months.

1968 was the “Year of the Pitcher” and Denny McLain was instrumental in creating this designation.  Fueled by endless bottles of Pepsi, Denny won an astonishing 31 games on his way to the AL Cy Young and MVP awards.

Another great Tiger hurler who came up big in the World Series was Mickey Lolich.  The portly “twirler” won three games in the World Series, including a decisive seventh game victory over Bob Gibson.

Although the Tigers rarely made errors in ’68, there are two error cards in this set.  Pitcher Pat Dobson has a version with the photo showing Jon Warden (card on right).  Additionally, leadoff man Dick McAualiffe has a version that leaves off the “e” from the end of his name.

I will end my Motown meanderings now, since I’m sure you are wishing that I was “looooong gone!”  Plus, I need to go to the Tiger Stadium concession stand and redeem this Domino’s coupon.