It is scary out there. And probably not the best time for a post, but writing helps me keep sane during these trying times. I also thought that there might be a few of you looking for a diversion as we shelter in place.
One of the posts that I read when I first came across this blog was by Nick Vossbrink about creating your own baseball cards. I thought that was a pretty cool thing to do and was very impressed by the images of the creations in the post. In the post Nick mentioned that Matt Prigge was using the Rookies App to create his cards, so I decided to give it a try.
I downloaded Rookies App from the Apple App Store (it is free) and installed it on my iPhone.
Overview of the Rookies App
The Rookies App is extremely easy to use.
To get started you click on the Create Your Own button. A template pops up, but you can change it by tapping on the 4 small squares at the bottom left of the screen. From there you can choose from 24 templates. In each template there will be a plus sign button or buttons (some templates allow you to have 2 images on a card) for uploading images. You can choose images stored in you photo library on your phone, take a photo with you camera and use that image, or choose photos from your Facebook library (you will need to sync the app with Facebook library). You can resize the image by pinching up or down on your photo.
Once you choose you image or images you can enter text in the various fields on the front of the by tapping the Aa letters at the bottom of the screen. By tapping the ink dropper icon on the bottom of the screen you can change the colors used in the template that you have selected. You can even add information on the back of the card by tapping on the icon with 2 boxes. This will allow you select one of 5 different template to add information to the card.
You will also need to enter information for a credit card if you want to order cards. You order 20 cards at a time. The price with shipping and taxes is $16.99 (will vary slightly depending on where you live).
Once you place your order you will get your cards in about 10 days. The cards arrive in packs of 20.
The quality of the cards are excellent.
Using Published Photos
There are tons of possibilities for utilizing already published photos of players for your cards – magazines, picture books, scorecards, yearbooks, etc. I have found that if you have a steady hand and a smart phone with a good built-in camera that you can take photos of published pictures that are fine for your cards. A few things to keep in mind are to make sure the image is as flat as possible and that there are no shadows.
Included below are some cards from my Pittsburgh Pirates Team Set using photos from the 1979 Pirates Yearbook.
Using Original Photos
I enjoy taking photos and the Rookies App allows me to merge my two hobbies – photography and baseball cards. I have included below some of my favorite cards that I have made using photos that I have taken. Under each card are some details about the picture.
Sometimes inspiration strikes when you least expect it. With everything going on in the world, I had put almost no time into my collection and for the first time in well over a year had no new articles in progress. Then, from my home-office-bunker in the basement I looked up at my framed 1957 Topps Brooklyn team set and didn’t love one of the cards.
It wasn’t just that my “Oisk” was off-kilter. (Try saying that to a normal person and see what kind of reaction you get!) It’s more that it just didn’t pop the way some of the other cards in my display did.
I headed to the Bay on my lunch break and quickly remedied the situation. (And if you can’t tell the difference between this card and the one above it, congratulations! It just means you are a normal person. It also means collecting vintage will be a lot cheaper for you than for some of us.)
Of course you all know how collecting works. Now that I had this beaut in the shopping cart, was there anything else I needed? The Erskine seller seemed to have an extensive inventory, and there was of course the added benefit that I’d save on shipping if I found other cards to order. In fact, I didn’t end up buying anything else. (And maybe like some of you I’ve found it hard to spend real money that can be used for food and toilet paper on little squares of cardboard…even if, yes, if we get really, really, really desperate…okay, let’s not go there.)
What I did come across, however, was a reminder: 1957 Topps is a gorgeous set. Here then, in no particular order, are some of my favorite shots in the set. Other than Ted Williams, I challenged myself to avoid Hall of Famers. This kept my focus on the card rather than the player.
And as a special bonus for the Dodger fans out there, here’s my new Brooklyn team set, complete with Erskine upgrade, nearly ready to frame back up.
So that’s it. That’s the post! Stay safe, stay home, and stay sane. If you have a favorite card from the 1957 set, let me know about it in the comments.
Particularly with some of the cards in the set, there seem to be two versions. Side by side, one appears a bit more dull (which sometimes works!) and the other seems more green.
Initially I dismissed the differences to fading over time or the scans themselves, but having owned “pairs” of a couple players now, I think the differences are real. If you prefer one look over the other, don’t buy the first card you see. There doesn’t seem to be any pricing premium for one over the other, so go with what looks best to you.
In reaction to a post on the SABR Baseball Card Committee Facebook page, someone commented that Tommy Davis was depicted on a different team for seven years in a row starting in 1966. This is quite an “achievement,” and will be explored in detail. Tommy’s walkabout through the major leagues ran head long into the MLBPA boycott of Topps, resulting in the repeated use of the same image on his cards and inserts. But even before Tommy left the Dodgers, his image was often recycled. Let us now ogle some wonderful cardboard from a player for whom serious injury may have derailed a Hall of Fame-worthy career.
1960 marks Davis Topps debut featuring is a colorized version of Dodgers team issue from 1960 produced by concessionaire extraordinaire Danny Goodman.
Topps uses the same photo in 1961 but adds the fantastic Topps All-Star Rookie trophy image. Plus, Davis’ cropped head from the photo shows up on the 1961 Topps stamp.
But wait, there’s more! The head shot is used by Salada for the 1962 and 1963 coins.
Tommy has a spectacular 1962 season with a league leading .346 average and an amazing 153 RBI. Fittingly, the emerging star gets two cards in 1963, since Fleer burst on the scene as Topps short lived rival.
In my humble opinion, the 1964 Topps Giant is the best of all Davis’ cards. The “in action” pose, glasses, and jacket under the jersey add up to produce a beauty. Topps liked it too. Tommy’s cropped head is used on the All-Star version of the coin inserts in 1964.
In May of 1965, an awkward slide at second against the Giants resulted in Davis suffering a severely broken and dislocated ankle. His slow recovery dimmed his star status. Tommy was hobbled in field and on the base paths and his batting stroke suffered as well. Topps produces a card featuring Tommy’s profile in 1965. This unattractive shot was used again in 1966.
Tommy’s vagabond years starts in 1967 when the Dodgers decided to part ways and ship him to the Mets. This results in a classic, traded head shot. After one productive year at Shea, the Mets sent Davis packing to the White Sox for Tommy Agee and Al Weis. A different head shot graces his 1968 card but the 1967 is repurposed for the game insert (see top of article).
The odyssey continues in 1969 when the White Sox leave Tommy unprotected in the expansion draft, and he is selected by the Seattle Pilots. Tommy is arguably the Pilots’ best hitter, forever holding the RBI record with 63. As a big- name player on an expansion team, Topps offers up several Davis products. His base card uses the same picture as 1967, the stamp brings back the 1966 image and the Super test issue card recycles the 1968 image. Airbrushed Dodger photos show up on the Deckle Edge and Decal inserts.
In addition to Topps, 1969 and 1970 saw Milton Bradley produce game cards which used an image of Tommy from the 1968 White Sox team issue photos.
The Pilots dealt Tommy to Houston in August of 1969, which launches him on the next stage of his “Cook’s Tour.” The 1970 Astros card features an airbrushed cap and “nostril shot,” probably taken while with the Dodgers. His stay in Houston was short as the Astros sent Tommy on to Oakland who in turn sold him to the Cubs late in 1970. Finally, in 1971, Tommy has a photo wearing in the team’s uniform for the first time since 1966.
It goes without saying that Tommy’s windy city stint was more of a “blow over.” “The Drifter” catches a freight bound for Oakland during the 1971 season. This results in a nice base card and a classic “In Action” photo of Tommy holding Horace Clarke on first at Yankee Stadium in the 1972 set.
Though Tommy was productive in Oakland, a dispute with owner Charlie Finley results in his release in March of 1972. Tommy will re-sign with the Cubs in July and eventually be traded to the Orioles. Tommy’s release may have factored into Topps not issuing a Davis card in 1973. His streak of cards on different teams ends at seven years.
But fortune shines on Tommy in the form of the Designated Hitter being implemented in the American League in 1973. The mobility challenged Davis is inserted into the potent Orioles lineup in the DH role. Tommy will have a career renaissance, helping Baltimore to two East Division championships in 1973-74.
The Orioles part ways after 1975. Tommy latches on with the Yankees, who release him at the end of spring training. The Angels sign him in July of 1976, but the nomadic Davis shuffles off to Kansas City in September- which is the team he is depicted on in his cardboard swan song as a player in 1977.
However, there is a career-capper of sorts found in the 1982 Donruss set. Tommy received a card, while serving as the Mariners’ batting coach.
Davis’ trek results in cards on 10 different teams, one more than Ken Brett, as I chronicled in a previous post.
If you know of another player with more teams, let us know. In any event: “Tommy Davis has been everywhere, man/He’s been everywhere, man/He’s crossed Chavez Ravine, man/He’s breathed the Seattle air, man/Baltimore crab cakes he’s eaten his share, man/Tommy’s been everywhere……”
I highly encourage everyone to read the SABR Bio Project Tommy Davis biography by Mark Stewart and Paul Hirsch.
The most collected are the obvious “eight men out.” However, in this collector’s opinion the most captivating card within this genre belongs to former player, turned gambler, turned state’s star witness against the eventual eight men out, “Sleepy” Bill Burns.
Burns was a former major league pitcher whose major league career spanned 1908-1912, played for five teams, and finished with a bland 30-52 record. As a pitcher outside of the major leagues, mostly in the Pacific Coast League, Burns was only slightly better with only one real flash of potential early in his career. As a pitcher for the 1907 PCL champion Los Angeles Angels, Burns turned in his best professional season going 24-17. He ended his professional career at the age of 37 in 1917 pitching for the Oakland Oaks in the PCL collecting a 4-5 record with a 6.22 ERA in 19 appearances.
Burns however gained eternal infamy after his career by being one of the key figures behind the scenes of baseball’s darkest moment, the fixing of the 1919 World Series. Burns, who was a former teammate of some of the White Sox acted as a gambler and go-between for the players and other gamblers paying off the players involved. Later in 1921 he was the state’s star witness against the players in the trial that ended in their acquittal.
Bill Burns does not have a large checklist of baseball cards. He did make it into the famous T206 set, with a glove on the wrong hand, which is probably his most famous baseball card. He is also in the 1910-11 Turkey Red T3 and 1911 Pinkerton T5 sets. Often overlooked is the fact that Burns has two cards in the Zee-Nut catalog appearing in the 1915 and 1917 sets.
Zee-Nut baseball cards were a product of the Collins-McCarthy Candy Company based in San Francisco that featured PCL players and was the longest running baseball card company prior to Topps, producing cards from 1911-1938. There are Zee-Nut cards of four of the eight men out (Weaver, Risberg, Williams, McMullin) as well as Joe Gedeon the “ninth man out” who was also banned for knowing about the 1919 World Series fix from his friend Swede Risberg. All are amazing cards and will command a premium price when they come to market, especially Fred McMullin’s 1915 card which sells between $5,000-$10,000 as his only mass produced baseball card. However, Bill Burns’ two Zee-Nut cards are often overlooked by “black gold” collectors.
Of Bill Burn’s five baseball cards the one I think deserves a place at the table in the discussion of best “black gold” cards is his 1917 Zee-Nut card.
Looking at the card I have to imagine that the candy company photographer tasked with capturing the images of the Oakland Oaks players back in 1917 had to be disappointed with his picture of pitcher Bill Burns once it was developed. By some mistake through the combination of placement and position of the pitcher, posed at the peak of his windup, the positioning of the sun in the sky, and the set up of photographer and camera, the identity of the subject was rendered impossible to discern as the pitcher’s face was completely obscured in a dark shadow. If a photographer made such a mistake today the picture would be discarded instantly, another photo taken and ultimately used.
Nonetheless, the image of Bill Burns with his face hidden in a shadow was used, and the photographer, we can imagine, was probably disappointed in his careless error once the 1917 set of Zee-Nut cards was printed. He had no way of knowing just how much that image of a failed, washed up, former major league pitcher in 1917 would turn out to be a poetic depiction of one of the most shadowy figures in Baseball’s darkest hour just two years later.
It is this very reason why I consider it my favorite card within the realm of the Black Sox scandal. A photographer’s mistake that cast a shadow on the face of a man who would himself help cast a shadow on the national pastime.
Topps changed the face of baseball card collecting in the early 1950s and became the standard bearer for the hobby. By the early 1960s, they had expanded the size of the “base set” to more than 500 cards to include nearly all the players, and not just the stars.
Before the proliferation of baseball magazines in the later 1970s, cable television in the 1980s, and the internet explosion in the 1990s, these cards became the primary window for a young fan falling in love with the game to tie a player’s name to a recognizable face, and maybe even get a glimpse into their personality.
The reason it worked so well was in large part due the photography style. The photos looked so personal, so intimate, as though they were taken for your own family album. Each spring into summer, you got a fresh take (or maybe two or three, for stars and league leaders) on what a player looked like, adding dimension to your perception of that player. With time you got to see a player mature, from baby-faced rookie all the way to aging veteran.
My interest in cards was resurrected in 1985 as a re-capturing of my baseball fandom youth as it has done with countless others. For a whole new generation of players, even unrecognizable ones, I was provided with a recognizable face. I jumped back into the hobby with great enthusiasm. Four years earlier, Fleer and Donruss had broken up the Topps stranglehold, which ultimately led to a flood of manufacturer and set options that would follow for more than two decades. But I remained loyal to the Topps base set as the stable rock of the hobby, with its rich history and continuity.
Within a few years, something changed in the nature of the Topps base set, the cornerstone of the hobby. For many of the players, the intimate photo where I could see into a player’s eyes (and his soul?) was replaced by a photo of him turning a double play, or straining to throw a fastball. These “in game action” photos actually appeared on some cards as far back as the early 1970s, but they were the rare exception. During the 1980s they became commonplace. By the early 1990s they became the rule. In 2020, they’re essentially all you get in the Topps base set.
I did a little research to gain some insight into this evolution. I turned to my Red Sox card collection to get a sample of cards over several decades and classified the photos into a five different categories based on photo style:
Game Action: As described above, a photo taken during an actual game, usually with the player in motion swinging, pitching, fielding, etc., most often from a distance where the player’s entire body is in the photo
Candid Portrait: A photo of a player from the shoulders up that is not taken during a formal photo shoot, often taken when the player is in the dugout or on the field outside of actual game action.
Candid Action: A photo of a player “doing something”, but not in-game action. Maybe swinging a warmup bat or playing long toss. The photo is usually taken close enough to see expression in the player’s face.
Posed Portrait: A photo in the style of what you’d see in a high school yearbook, usually from the shoulders up, or just a “head shot”. You get the sense the player knows he’s being photographed, even if he’s not looking into the camera.
Posed Action: A posed photo of player “pretending” to be in action, in a batting stance, mid-swing, winding up to pitch, in a fielding stance, etc. The player knows his picture is being taken. It’s usually taken from close enough to see the player’s expression.
My collection starts in 1965, so I used a sample that ran from then until 1999. Binning it into five-year chunks, the distribution of cards falling into each of the five categories yields the distribution shown below. Even with this relatively small and not-so-random sample, the trend from posed shots to in-game action shots is unmistakable.
I realize many people like action cards. I understand it’s a matter of taste. Me? I get to see action when I watch the games. When it comes to cards, I’m looking for the personal charm.
Take another look at the three Don Sutton cards above, from 1967, to 1976, to 1985. You can see an actual person there. Now let’s take a look back to see how David Ortiz changed over a 10-year span of his illustrious career:
Ugh. David Ortiz is a beloved local hero in Red Sox Nation and loaded with charm. You certainly can’t see it here.
I often hear the retort that Topps provides all this in their Heritage and Archives products. For that, we’ll need a whole other discussion. For now, please Topps, put these classic photo styles back in your signature base set, so that the cards won’t get thrown away as mere nuisances in the lottery chase for rare inserts. Bring the base set back to its rightful prominence. It’s even okay if you include some action cards to keep everybody happy.
The cards, which measure 2-½” × 3-¾”, feature vivid four-color photographs unspoiled by facsimile autographs, logos, positions, and even player names. As such, the release has been celebrated by collectors by its uncluttered design. However, that’s not all the 1953 Bowman Color set represents. Did you know the following?
Another notable exception was an extension of the 1934-36 National Chicle Diamond Stars in 1937. Although that set was never completed, one of the cards included would have been a multiplayer card featuring Rogers Hornsby and Jim Bottomley.
9. No expense spared
The Bowman Card company went to great lengths to put out a great looking product. In fact, the company nearly went bankrupt from production expenses. Using top-notch photographers from the New York Times, Life and other big-time New York media outlets, no expenses were spared. Although the finished product sizzled, the financial impacts of using color photography put a strain on the company.
8. New York state of mind
Hiring New York-based shutterflies only made more sense when you consider that most of the ballplayers were photographed in the two area ballparks: The Polo Grounds, located in Manhattan, and Yankee Stadium, located across the Harlem River, in Bronx.
As both venues no longer exist, the set represents an enduring window to a bygone era of flannel uniforms, sharp spikes and bulky gloves. The best examples being card #7 Harry Chiti and #96 Sal Maglie at the Polo Grounds and card #105 Eddie Joost at Yankee Stadium. [Fun Fact: Like the Statue of Liberty, the Yankee Stadium frieze was made of copper, and when exposed to the elements the metal turns green.]
7. Spring fling
Not all the player photos in the set were taken at Polo Grounds or Yankee Stadium, however. Some were taken during Spring Training, including the Dodgers ballpark in Vero Beach. Card #114 of Bob Feller is emblematic of the rush to get the cards ready for release.
6. Pee Wee
One of the spring training photos, #33 Pee Wee Reese, is one of the most famous cards of all-time.
The photo depicts Reese, suspended in air, trying to complete a double play. A subject of great debate among collectors is the identity of the player sliding underneath. Was it a coach, Bobby Morgan, or Gil Hodges? Whoever the baserunner, the debate lives on.
5. Small-ish set
At 160 cards, the 1953 Bowman set is smaller than many of Bowman’s issues of the era. However, a 90-card black and white set was issued the same year. Therefore, when taken together, Bowman issued 250 cards during 1953, a standard sized offering for the time.
4. Defending champs
Look closely at Billy Martin, card #118, and Allie Reynolds, card #68.
The patch adorning their sleeve celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the legendary team. The set also celebrates the dynastic Yankees at the height of their powers. Alas, in 1953, the Yankees were nearing the end of their five-year reign as defending World Series champions.
3. Stars, but not everyone
With Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Warren Spahn and Bob Feller, 1953 Bowman Color does not lack star power. However, 1953 Bowman is missing Ted Williams, who was off flying combat missions in Korea, and Willie Mays, who was under contract with Topps.
The set was also Bowman’s first issues with player statistics on card backs. It is widely speculated that Bowman (left) copied the idea from Topps (right), which had put statistics in its debut issue.
1. Bowman’s answer
Nearly 65 years later, it can get lost that the iconic 1953 set was the company’s response to Topps’ equally iconic release the year before. Both sets are remarkable in their own right – plenty of innovation and star power in each of these releases. It’s not often that two iconic sets come off production lines within such a short time. However, that’s precisely what happened in the early 1950s.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
*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.
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 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.
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.