Succumbing to the Siren’s Song of the Topps Heritage Collection: a 1970 journey

Let’s just say that I was Topps Heritage collection-curious.  Oh, I’ve seen the sets depicting contemporary players in designs from 1969, 1968, and others, looking all sleek and alluring, like a siren’s song calling to me and my debit card.  Shaking my head quickly, I tell myself, no, no — that’s is all a marketing trick, don’t fall for it. Don’t give in.  I knew that once I bought a pack, I wouldn’t be able to stop!

Well, there I was, at the Greenwood Fred Meyers waiting in line to make my purchases, and there they were, off to the right in the racks calling out their familiar song.  Sigh.  Okay, maybe just one.  I can do it.  Just one, and that’s it.  It’ll be fun.  I know other guys are doing it, right?  And hey – look – there are 20 cards.  More value, the package read!  Okay … just one.  Here I go…

The high number plastic pack I opened included 19 cards and a candy lid. Curiously I flipped through the pack, looking at the design, both front and back, checking out the team names, and making notes of the words and drawings on reverse side in blue, white and yellow.  Going through the names and faces now, I was pleased to discover Vladimir Guerrero, Jr (#504); Yasiel Puig (#541); Michael Pineda (#662); and David Freese (#691), among others.  The candy lid (available only at Target, but purchased at Fred Meyer) was Rhys Hoskins (#29 of 30).

Being reasonably satisfied with the purchase and the design of the cards, I turned to my binder of 1970 cards, my handy-dandy copy of “Topps Baseball Cards: The Complete Picture Collection, a 35 Year History: 1951-1985,” and the “Official Baseball Card Price Guide: 1990, Collector’s Edition” to compare designs.

From this point, I stepped a toe onto memory lane and wandered through the 1970 collection.  The Topps book’s 1970 introduction made much to do about the saga of the Seattle Pilots and their heart-breaking move to Milwaukee before the season began.  The complete set itself totaled 720 cards, the first time that the card set exceeded 700, measuring 2 ½ x 3 ½ inches.

The cards themselves are unremarkable.  They feature a blue and yellow printing on white card board with yearly stats, brief bio, and a cartoon on the backside with the front side showing crisp color photos with team name in upper corner, and the player name in script in the lower gray border.

1970 Sparky AndersonI mean unremarkable in that the photos include players in pitching or batting poses, close-ups with caps, without caps, and some with very, very bad airbrushed caps.  I’m looking at you Sparky Anderson (#181); Curt Blefory (#297); Tom Shopay (#363); and Bob Heise (#478), among others.  Poor Fred Norman (#427).  He looks like his LA Dodgers insignia was ironed on his ballcap, with a somewhat noticeable Spokane Indians pictured.1970 Fred Norman

Some of the more interesting cards included the NL and AL Championships (#195 – 202), another first for Topps.  One fun-filled card, was Lowell Palmer (#252) of the Philadelphia Phillies, who was the only one to sporting sunglasses.  In keeping with the true essence of the Topps Heritage collection, Philadelphia Phillies Pat Neshek paid homage to Palmer’s card by wearing sunglasses and sporting the card number 252, as well.

1970 sunglassesTopps has done an outstanding job with these Heritage sets.  I don’t know if I will make another purchase.  Maybe next year, I guess.  Perhaps those 2020 cards will incorporate the 1971 card design.  Those would be interesting to see!  But, then again, I’m hoping to keep my impulse control in check.  These things can be addictive!

Editors’ Note: Jeff Katz has previously written about reaching the exact opposite opinion of 2019 Heritage and Nick Vossbrink has more a more detailed description of how Topps changed the printing between 1970 and 2019.

Digital Footprints

A recent post by Jenny Miller about the Topps Bunt app got me thinking about digital cards. I’ve long wanted to see such a post on this blog but I suspect that our membership base is skeptical at best* when it comes to cards that only live in an app.

*And dismissive at worst.

I get it. This is a cardboard hobby and the idea of something existing only digitally doesn’t feel “real.” At the same time, the experience Jenny describes is closer to the pure ideal of the hobby than much of what’s going on with card releases. She doesn’t have to spend any money. She’s able to look at her collection and acquire new cards anywhere and anytime she has battery life on her phone. There’s no concern about finding a card shop or hoping that the card aisle hasn’t been raided by pack seekers. It sounds like a lot more fun than most of the bellyaching I see about the current state of the hobby on Twitter.

What really got me thinking though were the images Jenny used in her blog post. I’m online-averse in all my media. I prefer CDs/DVDs/BluRay to streaming. I prefer books to Kindle. As interesting as the Topps Bunt app seems it’s just not something that appeals to me…unless I can get the cards out of the app. As much as I’m a luddite, my concerns are actually more about being locked in to a corporate ecosystem and the fact that companies have a bad track record with regard to maintaining these things.

I just don’t trust these apps to last and while I don’t need ALL my cards to last another 20, 30, 40 years it would be nice to know that there’s a possibility of it. Jenny didn’t get her images out of the app (she confirmed with me that she pulled them from Topps’s Twitter feed) but she could have.

My phone (an iPhone8) produces screenshots that are 750×1334 pixels. This translates into 2.5″×4.45″ at 300 DPI. Even if you have to crop off a little of the image to get just the card this is enough data for good-quality printing. Yeah. There’s no reason why you couldn’t roll your own Bunt cards.

As much as it’s weird to me how the Bunt app cards show evidence of wanting to pretend to be physical items with their wrinkles, halftone rosettes, “autographs,” and peeling effects, they are actually something that can be taken into the real world if you wanted to.

Costco wallet-sized prints are 59¢ for four. Even if you didn’t print these, just being able to save them outside of the app gives you a level of flexibility and future-protection that alleviates a lot of my concerns. It also reminds me of a number of other card-related things we’ve covered on this blog where the original objects contain information that is no longer accessible for most collectors.

One of the best things about this hobby is how it’s a near perfect usage of technology—in this case print technology. Cards are the right size to hold and store. They’re durable enough to handle without falling apart immediately. And they don’t require any supplementary technology.

I very much love cards that push the into other technological realms though. They just require some help to be fully enjoyed if the other technology does not age as well as ink on cardboard.

For example, Auravision and Baseball Talk are both wonderful objects but the audio portions of them are tough to access. Record players may be making a comeback but they’ve not been standard in most homes for a long time. Plus you have to punch a hole in the middle of that nice Auravision photo to listen to anything. Similarly, Baseball Talk requires a special player which, even if you have one, is not guaranteed to work anymore since it’s a cheap child’s toy.

But the internet is a wonderful place. The Auravision recordings are up on YouTube. As are the Baseball Talk ones. This means I can have my Baseball Talk cards in my album and pull up the corresponding recordings on the web. Yes there’s always that fear that the recordings will disappear from YouTube but they’re out there, but there are tools out there that will download the audio from a YouTube video and convert it to MP3.

Another thing that YouTube has preserved is things like 2000 Upper Deck Power Deck. Sure you can just shove a baseball card sized mini CD-ROM into a binder page but reading the data is near impossible now. Most computers don’t have optical media trays and the ones that do are usually slot-loading ones that can’t accept non-standard sized or shaped media. So your only option to see what’s on the disc is to go to YouTube and hope it’s been uploaded.

I’ve actually been engaged in my own form of converting a somewhat-inaccesable product into one with digital footprints. I don’t have the toy to view my Viewmaster discs so I’m only able to see them by holding a disc up to light. This isn’t ideal. Scanning them into wiggle gifs produces a better way of seeing them.

I’m also going a step further and scanning the booklet so I can convert each image into a 2.5″ square card with a still image in the front and the booklet on the back. No it’s not the Viewmaster experience but it take the photos into a form that’s more accessible.

Do I expect Bunt to be around in a decade? No way. But I do expect JPGs of the cards to be available someplace. Maybe not all of them, but someone next decade will have an archive of a bunch of them. And I have my fingers crossed that a few cards will even be printed out the way I’m printing out my Viewmaster photos.

Inside the Donruss Studio

Innovative, interesting, often beautiful, Donruss Studio was a welcome new entry in 1991, a card set that relied on the personalities of the players.

Though I enjoyed Studio, I only have two complete sets. I had no idea how long lived the Studio concept was. It was a true survivor of the junk era, issued from 1991-98, then again from 2001-05, and once again from 2014-16.

I’m not going to go too deeply into this, only enough to show all the designs. When they’re great, they’re great. When they’re not, they’re interesting. That can’t be said for many other base sets that ran for so long.

1991 – 264 cards

1992 – 264 cards

The first set I completed.

 

1993 – 220 cards

1994 – 220 cards

1995 – 200 cards

Flashback to the 1980’s credit card sets.

1996 – 150 cards

Indicative of the card boom and bust, in five years the set was halved.

1997 – 165 cards

1998 – 220 cards

Last year of the first run, and a sizeable increase in the base set. Once of the offshoots was a 36 card set of 8 X 10s. I bought a box of those.

2001 – 200 cards

Back from hiatus, more border, less picture.

2002 – 275 cards

2003 – 211 cards

This set is absolutely beautiful.

2004 – 270 cards

2005 – 300 cards

Back to the original set length, and a farewell to the Donruss’ MLB license.

By 2014, Donruss was a throwback name, not even a real issue, and the Studio sets were small subset, 10-20 cards per year. In some ways the lack of license doesn’t hurt the core mission of Studio, to capture the faces of the game. Still, these look like hell.

2014

2015

2016

There are many inserts over the years, some quite good, like the Heritage subset than ran from 1991-94. (Here’s Straw from 1992)

Writing this is making me want more of these sets. You too? See you at eBay.

Heritage before Heritage

I reached a collecting milestone last week by completing one of my all-time favorite sets. It’s a set that’s off the radar of most collectors (until now!) and has few cards, if any, worth more than a dollar. Its value to me is purely sentimental but still sky high in that it’s the set that started my lifelong love affair with baseball’s all-time greats.

Before getting into the set itself, I’ll start with a card not in it.

You may recognize this as the 1960 Leaf card of Brooks Robinson. The first time I saw it 10-year-old-me took the glow around Robinson’s head for a halo and suspected only I could see it. (UPDATE: Rob Neyer also saw the halo!)

To other collectors (but not our own Jeff Katz) the set is perhaps a bit more boring, despite the fact that it has to be the most exciting set ever to come with marbles instead of gum! (And did I mention the packs had cards of “Your Favorite Major League Star?”)

Marbles aside, we are looking at a black and white set produced long past the era of black and white sets, whether to you the Grayscale Age of Baseball Cards was the 1920s or the 1880s. “Your Favorite Major League Player” notwithstanding, the Leaf checklist strikes many collectors as lackluster, with the Human Vacuum Cleaner and Duke Snider perhaps the only top shelf Hall of Famers.

Various articles note design similarities between the 1960 Leaf set and its predecessor 11 years prior. My own opinion is that the two sets aren’t that close, but I’ll let you judge for yourself.

I chose Elmer Valo to compare these sets because his placement in the 1960 set comes with a little bit of a story. As reported in the May 4, 1949, Boston Globe, Valo was one of six ballplayers to sue Leaf for using their likeness in the 1949 set. The fact that he found himself back on the checklist in 1960 says something about the ability to forgive or forget, whether on the part of Leaf, Valo, or both.

Now fast forward to 1977 and one of the nation’s best known mail order dealers is planning a set of 45 cards as her very first entrée into the card making business. The next 10+ years would see her company produce dozens more sets including…

A 1983 tribute to the 1969 Seattle Pilots…

A 1984 “Art Card Series” featuring acclaimed baseball artist Ron Lewis of Negro Leagues postcard fame…

And six single-player sets from 1984-86 of several big name ballplayers and cult leaders! (Wait, that’s Pete Rose? Are you sure?)

While these later sets drew on new designs, the last few of which just scream 1980s, her very first set, much like Topps Heritage does today, mimicked a set from the past. T206? Nope! 1933 Goudey? Nope! 1952 Topps? Nope again. As you’ve no doubt guessed already, that set was 1960 Leaf!

Here is card #5, Roy Campanella, from Renata Galasso’s debut set, “Decade Greats,” featuring top stars from the 1950s.

Perhaps Ms. Galasso had a sentimental attachment to 1960 Leaf or maybe she just held a special admiration for her fellow challengers of the Topps monopoly. More than likely, her reasons for copying the Leaf set were more pedestrian. Black and white was cheaper than color, and it would have been tough to get too close to Topps without getting even closer to their lawyers. Finally, a collection of 1950s players made more sense in a decade-capping 1960 set than, for example, 1922 American Caramel.

Particularly for her rookie offering, Renata Galasso did a fantastic job capturing the look and feel of the 1960 set. Put the cards side-by-side and you’ll spot some differences, most notably the missing halo, but to paraphrase Maya Angelou the cards are much more alike than unalike.

As the small print on the back of the Campanella card shows, Renata Galasso received an assist from Mike Aronstein’s company, TCMA, which had already been making its own cards since 1972.

The 45-card set was evidently popular enough to engender a sequel two years later, this time numbered 46-90. While you might have expected this continuation set to focus on the 1960s, TCMA had already beat Galasso to the punch the year before with a stunning color issue (left) reminiscent of 1953 Bowman (right) in yet another case of Heritage before Heritage.

TCMA had similarly put out a 1930s set five years earlier, but the half decade gap left enough breathing room for Galasso to put her own “1960 Leaf” touch on the decade.

Where I had previously seen sharp photos of Aaron, Mays, Mantle, and other 1950s stars in my reading books, this 1930s set was the first time I had ever seen such vivid images of earlier stars. To a certain extent, Galasso’s set transformed these 1930s heroes from cartoon characters into men, which somehow made their records and feats all the more impressive. As the card footer shows, TCMA was again a partner in the effort.

Renata Galasso extended her set once again the following year, issuing Series Three in 1980. This time her decade of choice was the 1920s. This was around the time I started taking the bus to card shows, and the Galasso cards were a frequent purchase for me out of bargain bins. While I regret turning down a T206 Cobb for $14, I have no regrets about scooping this one up for a dime.

Once again, TCMA was in the mix, and once again the cards looked fantastic. In my view, all they needed was stats on the back instead of that humongous logo and they would have been perfect.

Series Four, numbered 136-180, came the very next year and featured stars of the 1910s. You don’t even have to look at the rest of the checklist to know the key card in this series is the Cobb, with its iconic Conlon photo.

In a move that foreshadowed the later work of SABR, you’ll notice that Cobb’s hit total was reduced between his 1980 and 1981 card backs. I’ll also credit Galasso (or TCMA) with splurging for a brand new bio where other card makers might have simply recycled the back from the previous series.

The Decade Greats set, now up to 225 cards, would continue in 1983 with a 45-card series, sometimes numbered 181-223 (plus two unnumbered cards), commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1933 All-Star Game.

I say “sometimes numbered” because the same 45 cards are also numbered 1-43 (plus two unnumbered), reflecting either a clever marketing move to co-brand this series as a standalone or just an oops by someone who forgot numbers 1-180 were already spoken for.

On top of that, the sequencing of the 43 numbered cards comes in the exact opposite order of their 181-223 counterparts. For example, here is my version of the Hubbell card, numbered 16 instead of 208, which of course is the 16th number counting backward from 223.

Card footers no longer mention TCMA, which I take to mean Renata Galasso was either producing these cards solo or experimenting with new vendors. Perhaps connected to the absence of TCMA, the quality of the cards drops off some with centering/miscut issues and minor typos being the main culprits.

The sixth and final series was released in 1984 and commemorated highlights and records. One of my favorite cards in the set provides a much sharper image of Jackie Robinson than his 1948 Sport Thrills card, even as both cards drew from the same George Burke photo.

As with the fifth series, quality falls short of the first four series. Look closely at the Robinson card, and you’ll see the name and caption are poorly centered relative to his portrait. This proves to be the case for the majority of the cards. This final series also includes a “BILL MAZEROWSKI” UER and the awkward Koufax caption “PITCHES 4TH NO HITTERS.”

There are also some really bad looking photos, especially compared to the earlier cards. For example, compare the elegant Mays from Series One to the practically reptilian Mantle of Series Six.

Finally, there is notable drift from the original 1960 Leaf design that inspired the set. Photos now are more squared off, the big letters have gotten smaller, and the small letters have gotten bigger. The resemblance is still there though perhaps more amateur.

The final two series are the hardest to find, a sign of declining production and sales. That no Series Seven or Eight was ever produced affirms the reduced interest in sets of this kind. We had reached the mid-1980s after all. Collectors now preferred future Hall of Famers to actual Hall of Famers, but why not! What could King Carl do to make his cards go up in value? Certainly not win 400 games like Dwight Gooden would!

Even where some collectors still wanted old-time stars for pocket change, there was no shortage of color offerings to choose from, including a gorgeous Dick Perez collaboration from Donruss in 1983 and various other Perez-Steele offerings that had gained popularity with autograph hounds.

Regardless of its flaws, its waning popularity, and its uselessness in funding my retirement (I just picked up the “tough” Series Five for $0.99 plus shipping), the 270-card “Decade Greats” set, also called “Glossy Greats,” will always be a favorite of mine.

It is a set that might have seemed lazy at the time, an unimaginative reboot of a set from two decades earlier. What we didn’t know then is just how ahead of its time that was…Heritage before Heritage if you ask me!

Extra for experts

The 1977-84 Renata Galasso Decade Greats set is a relatively early example of “Heritage before Heritage,” but it’s certainly not the only example or even the first. Go back six years and Allstate Insurance (of course!) put together a small set evoking the 1933 Goudey design. Here is the Ted Williams card from the set.

One could perhaps even consider the 1955 Topps Double Header issue a reboot of the 1911 Mecca Double Folders (T201) design, even as the cards differ in many ways visually.

There is also enough similarity across many tobacco issues that perhaps one could regard just about any of the sets Heritage-style remake of some other from a couple years earlier, though I would argue here that this is less about paying homage and more about paying less!

I’m curious what your examples are of early Heritage before Heritage. Ideally the visual match would be strong and the difference between the sets would be a good decade or more. Let me know in the Comments, either here or on Twitter.

A Trip Down Trader Lane

Mark Armour (the “Founding Father” of our illustrious committee) and I recently consummated a transaction in which we exchanged autographed 8” x 10” photos.  “Trader Mark” sent George “Boomer” Scott my way in exchange for Lou Brock.  Although this trade may seem to be in the same vain as Brock for Broglio, we both had two autographed photos of the players in the trade. Mark tried to get Brock for Lee Stange, but I held out for more.

Acquiring the Scott photo reminded me of the blockbuster deal that sent “Boomer” to the Brewers from the Red Sox before the 1972 season.  Seattle Pilots General Manager, Marvin Milkes, accompanied the club to Milwaukee in 1970.  He was dismissed after the season and surprisingly replaced by the legendary Frank “Trader” Lane, who lived up to his nickname.

In the 1950s, Lane was known for his multi-player trades which often seemed to be done just to shake things up.  Thus, Lane decided to shed some of the last vestiges of the Pilots to remake the “Brew Crew.”

The trade involved nine major league players and one minor leaguer. The Red Sox sent Scott, Ken Brett, Joe Lahoud, Dan Pavletich, Billy Conigliaro, and Jim Lonborg to the Brewers in return for Tommy Harper, Marty Pattin, Lew Krausse and AAA player Patrick Skrable.

In the 1972 card set, Topps responded to the deal in two ways: upturned head shots and airbrushed logos.  Apparently, Topps had a stash of Red Sox photos featuring players looking skyward. Only Jim Lonborg received an airbrushed Brewers cap. On the other hand, the three players sent to Boston have airbrushed cap insignia. 

The crack airbrush team at Topps did an excellent job on Marty Pattin.  His cap is either navy blue or black with the Boston “B” rendered expertly.  Of course, you must ignore the royal blue seats at Tempe Diablo Stadium in the background.

Tommy Harper’s photo, taken at Tiger Stadium, is less convincing.  The powder blue uniform and cap just don’t scream Bosox.

Lew Krausse has some strange stuff going on around his collar.  Odds are, he had on a Pilots/Brewers warm up jacket with gold piping.  Thus, he gets a blue and grey combo to cover up the gold.

Though his 1967 season is immortalized in the hearts and minds of all Red Sox fans, Jim Lonborg’s 1972 card will not be remember as fondly.  The sideways turn of the head complicated the formation of the “M” logo.  One “leg” appears shorter than the other.

As mentioned earlier, the airbrush was put away for the rest of new Brewers in favor of the “nostril” shot.  George Scott’s gaze into the Winter Haven sun or the Fenway press box is not a thing of beauty.  His cap is tilted so far back that the #5 inked on to the bill is visible.

Billy Conigliaro and Ken Brett both suffered the misfortune of having brothers who were better players.  Billy probably welcomed a chance to shed Tony’s shadow in Boston.  This trade would start Brett on a vagabond odyssey that would produce some true airbrushed gems.  Here is a link to a previous post on this topic.

With the leather-lined padding exposed under his batting helmet and a slight smile, Joe Lahoud’s card is a bit more interesting than the others.  Perhaps Joe is smiling over the prospect of more playing time outside of Beantown.

By far, the worst photo is that of journeyman catcher Don Pavletich.  He was apparently very surly at the prospect of another trade, having been dispatched by the Reds to the White Sox in 1969 and on to the Red Sox in 1970.

I would be remiss if I didn’t show a card (postcard with the Reading Phillies) of Patrick Skrable, the veteran minor league player the Brewers tossed into the trade mix.  Although Pat never made it to the big leagues, he was a master of placing the “Q” on a triple-letter space.

Which team came out on top of this deal?  Harper had good years with Boston, but George Scott developed into one of the most feared power hitters in the American League. Plus, when the Red Sox reacquired him from Milwaukee, they gave up Cecil Cooper.  So, advantage Brewers.

Solving the border crisis

A common complaint among vintage collectors who run across newer issues is that we miss the good old days when baseball cards had borders. Looking at cards like these 2017 Astros leaves us feeling (ahem!)…cheated.

The borders we overlooked as kids have come to symbolize all that was right about baseball cards. Joni Mitchell had us pegged. You really DON’T know what you’ve got till it’s gone. No, we’d never pave Paradise to put up a parking lot, but we sure wouldn’t mind a thin cement edge around it.

The borders on our cards have taken on almost a spiritual significance with “meaning of life” level implications. We ponder koans such as, “Is a card without a border even a card?”

The sages teach us that without nothing there could be no something. Cardboardismically speaking, the border is the yin to the image’s yang. Form needs outline.

The vintage collector therefore must find “border in the chaos,” else risk serenity and sanity alike. Should he even consider collecting cards post-2015, his best, nay ONLY, option is Heritage!

Whatever you hear on TV, friends, THIS is the real border crisis, but fear not…

Tengo un plan para eso…and it won’t even raise your taxes! (Checks new eBay policy. “Okay, so maybe a little.”)

Add just THREE CARDS to your collection and you’re gonna win on borders so much you’ll be tired of winning on borders.

1960 Fleer ted williams

Let’s start with Ted Williams. Compare his 1960 Fleer card with that of Hack Wilson or any other player in the set. That’s some serious border! Where some perfectly centered cards are said to have 50-50 centering, Teddy Ballgame comes in at 150-150!

Back in the day you might have found this card an eyesore, but that was then. Now you probably look at the card and wish the borders were even bigger!

1936-37 World wide gum Lou Gehrig

The second must-have for the border hoarder is the 1936-37 World Wide Gum card of Lou Gehrig. (Note that this issue is catalogued as 1936, but Matthew Glidden makes a compelling case that 1936-37 is more correct.)

At first you may shrug away Larrupin’ Lou’s border as nothing special, no different than that of teammate Dickey. Look closer though and you’ll see that Gehrig’s image comes to a refreshing end more than a quarter inch from the card edge. After unremarkable offerings in 1933 and 1934, World Wide Gum definitely put the Border in “North of the Border!”

1934 Butterfinger Paul Waner

Finally we come to the 1934 Butterfinger card of Paul Waner, the card that I believe sets the standard when it comes to border-to-image ratio.

While the Dizzy Dean image from the same issue flirts tantalizingly close to the card edge, the Waner card has more margin than Gould selling hammers to the Pentagon. If the card had any more border we might forget it was a baseball card altogether and assume it was a Home Depot paint sample for Gotham Gray. If Big Poison were any smaller on the card he would have been Little Poison.

Teddy Ballgame, the Iron Horse, and Big Poison. Three players who made the Hall of Fame by a wide margin, but even more importantly, three cards who made the wide margin Hall of Fame. Border crisis averted, at least for now.

Wiggle Wiggle

If I said that for under $20 you could purchase a small set from 1953 which was one-third Hall of Famers and included a bunch of other big names from the time, I’d expect to be met with skepticism. Cards from 1953 aren’t generally cheap so a set like this is bound to come with a catch.

In this case, the catch is that the set is actually three Viewmaster discs. I’ve mentioned these before and have always had them in the back of my mind since 3D cards are one of my weaknesses. I don’t have a Viewmaster* but I don’t care, these are just fun objects to have.

*This is my mom’s cue to pull one out of storage even though she’s been culling almost all of my childhood stuff.

Just handling the paper envelopes and holding the discs in my hand evokes all kinds of childhood memories. Pulling out the discs, studying the text to see who’s on it, and holding it up to the light to get a glimpse of the images is the same kind of thing I did when I was 6—only my discs were Disney tales or something and not baseball heroes.

Now I may not have a Viewmaster, but I have something better. Since these discs are really just 14 different Kodachrome slides, dropping them into my photo scanner allows me to get an even better view of the photos. So that’s what I did.

I also went ahead and created wiggle “3D” gifs which alternate between the left and right images.* They’re not really 3D but our brains interpret them with depth and they’re a great way to get a flavor of the Viewmaster experience.

*3D photography involves photographing a subject at the same time with two different cameras that are a couple inches apart. This simulates the perspective that each of our eyes have. A 3D viewer then forces each eye to look at a different image and our brains combine the result into a 3D image.

Disc 1

The first disc has two Hall of Famers in Rizzuto and Berra, one should-be Hall of Famer in Miñoso, Al Rosen the year he won the MVP award, and some very good players in Jackie Jensen and Preacher Roe. Even Whitey Lockman had been an All Star in 1952.

I enjoy the variety of poses with Roe’s working the best in 3D of all the images. There’s also a lot of wonderful detail in the background of the Lockman image.

Each disc also comes with a 4-panel fold-out booklet which has a short bio of each player, the last two years of his stats (plus his regular season and World Series totals), and a facsimile signature. Since the full-fold-out is too long for my scanner, I just folded over one panel and scanned the three visible ones.

I really like the booklets. Clean and crisp typesetting with the box around them and a willingness to let the signature overlap the text like in Jensen’s panel. I’m sure I could have found these even cheaper as just the discs but it wouldn’t have been worth the savings.

Disc 2

Disc two is stacked. Four Hall of Famers in Mize, Lemon, Schoendienst, and Irvin plus the 1952 American League MVP in Bobby Shantz. Ferris Fain and Sid Gordon weren’t slouches either.

Aside from the player quality in this disc, the photos capture a couple of great uniforms of teams that no longer exist. Shantz is in his Philadelphia A’s uniform and Gordon is in his Boston Braves uniform.

Looking at the uniforms and seeing the color stirrups makes me realize how vibrant these must have been in 1953. Bowman had only just released the first set of baseball cards using color photographs. These go a step further and are color slides that literally pop off the film.

Not much more to add about the booklets except to note that while Gordon is depicted with Boston the move to Milwaukee had already happened when these were printed.

Disc 3

The last disc is a bit lighter on star power since Campy is the only Hall of Famer but for me it makes up for it by having two Giants legends in Maglie and Thomson.* Vic Wertz is another big name, Woodling was one of those annoying Yankees guys who always came through in the World Series, and Parnell and Hatton were both All Stars.

*Having four Giants out of the 21 players depicted is something I appreciate very much.

I really like Campanella’s pose with the mask in the foreground. Wertz meanwhile is the third image of a team that’s about to cease existing since 1953 was the last year before the Browns moved to Baltimore.

The stadium background in these photos also demonstrate how much flash was used to take these pictures. The photos are all somewhat moody with darkish skies. This helps them pop a lot through the contrast of the light uniforms and the dark backgrounds while also giving them a look that’s different than the typical baseball card image. This look only started to show up on Topps cards in earnest around 1985.*

*Something I covered a bit on my own blog. In short, in the 1980s Topps started to underexpose the background of the portrait and use flash to produce more contrast between the subject and his background. Many 1985 and 1986 Topps cards feature dark skies.

One last look at the booklets and my only comment is that I’m relieved to see that Bobby Thomson’s home run is mentioned.

Are these Cards™? No. But they’re card adjacent and fit in binder pages so I’m counting them. I’m also planning on printing the photos out as 2.5″ square pieces with the relevant back information from the booklets so I can enjoy the images without having to hold the disc up to the light. Who am I kidding, holding the discs is the best part anyway.

A 1943 mini-mystery 79% solved

In a previous article I detailed the 1949 M.P. & Company baseball set and paired up each of its 24 cards with their recycled artwork from the original 1943 issue. For example, the Del Ennis below comes from the 1949 set and reuses the same art, Giants uniform and all, as the Carl Hubbell from the 1943 set.

A question I only barely touched on, largely because I had no answer, was where the artwork for the 1943 cards came from. The closest I came was in speculating that Vander Meer’s artwork may have been based on a 1938 press photo due to his wearing number 57 on the card.

The Standard Catalog is equally mum on the artwork’s origins, noting only that “the cards feature crude color drawings that have little resemblance to the player named,” a sentiment echoed by the minds at PSA:

“The cards were produced as crudely drawn cartoons presented in bold colors, but show little resemblance to the players themselves.”

Perhaps I would have dug deeper someday but chances are I would have gone to my grave believing a cartoonist somewhere simply drew generic baseball men and attached the names of famous players to them. Then I got an email from fellow collector Jack Q. Spooner.

Jack’s message immediately grabbed my attention with this photo of Johnny Vander Meer.

Not only did the picture include Vander Meer’s 1938 uniform number, but EVERYTHING in this Charles Conlon (!) photograph matched up to Vandy’s 1943 M.P. & Pressner card.

Contrary to my press photo guess, Jack identified the Vander Meer photo as a Baseball Magazine Player Poster, designated M114 by Jefferson Burdick and released in 1938.

Had Jack’s email stopped there it would have already been one of the highlights of my inbox this year, but it kept right on going. Here is what Jack sent me for Mel Ott.

Not only did Jack match the Ott card to his M114, this one from 1933, but he even showed a match to Ott’s subsequent 1946-47 Propagandas Montiel card.

Then I opened the attachment Jack included with his message. You can probably guess where this is going.

Sure enough, Jack had supplied M114 matches for 19 of the 24 cards in the 1943 set. The only players missing from the match were Bill Dickey, Stan Hack, Tommy Henrich, Lou Novikoff, and Pee Wee Reese.

While there are other possibilities I now picture that the M.P. & Company artist had these posters in front of him (or her) when sketching the 1943 card set. Only one fact makes this seem improbable, at least at first. The Vander Meer poster was five years old, and the Ott poster was ten years old. Unless someone was a collector, where would all these posters come from?

The answer is that while the Baseball Magazine M114 issue was released more or less continuously from 1910 to 1957, nearly all posters remained available until sold out. In other words, anyone with about two dollars to spend could have ordered all 19 of the posters shown just about anytime, for example in late 1942 or early 1943.

For fun we’ll take a look at when each of the posters in this article were first released. I’ll also include the non-matches in yellow for completeness. (For reasons I’ll save for the Comments if asked, there is some uncertainty to the entire exercise but not enough to worry about unduly.)

Before proceeding I’ll note the asterisk for Johnny Mize is that the Standard Catalog, at least my Fifth Edition (2015), lists his only M114 posters as from 1937 and 1946. However, since his “match” poster shows him with the Giants, we know it can’t be from 1937. Likewise, since the M.P. & Company set came out in 1943, we know the source poster can’t be from 1946. Because the M114 checklist is known to be incomplete and because Mize joined the Giants in 1942, I feel confident his source poster was issued that year.

When I got through Jack’s email it was KILLING me that five of the 24 M.P. & Company cards were left unmatched. In his message, Jack had indicated to me that he had already checked the M114 posters for four of them and confirmed the non-matches. Thanks to the unbelievable online gallery hosted by Doug Goodman, I was able to track down the fifth one (Novikoff) as well. Here they are next to their 1943 cardboard.

At the moment, then, the mystery of where the 1943 M.P. & Company artwork came from appears to be 79% solved. I would love it if any of you can solve the rest of the mystery by tracking down the source photos for these final cards. That said, 79% isn’t a bad place to be considering I was at 0% yesterday!

Quick note: The original version of this article included speculation that the M114 posters of other players could have been the source for the five “missing” players. That was before I found Doug Goodman’s flickr site and reviewed all 961 posters from his collection. None matched the missing five.

TWENTY-FOUR HOURS LATER

I still haven’t found photo matches for the missing five players, though I’ve gone down than more than my share of rabbit holes in the 24 hours since this article was first published. While I came up completely empty in terms of photo sources I did find some images that at least came close in some instances.

While you might imagine bottomless searches through the archives of the Sporting News or newspapers.com, it turns out that these images were right in front of my nose the whole time. I know these aren’t really correct, but they sure looked good to me through the eyes of desperation!

And while we’re at it, who’s that guy batting behind Pee Wee Reese? He sure looks a lot like Hank Greenberg! 😄

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!”