Lou Brock changes Topps again (with an assist from Campaneris): 1973 Topps #64

A few weeks ago we featured a posting on how the Stolen Base column was added as a statistical category to 1971 Topps. I believe that the impetus for the update was the base stealing ability of Lou Brock.

Two years later Brock would once again be a cardboard pioneer.

1973 Topps #64 League Leaders Stolen Bases Lou Brock & Bert Campaneris

 

Topps first produced league leader cards for their 1961 Set. There were five categories Batting (Average), Home Runs, ERA, Pitching (Wins), and Strikeouts. The RBI category was added in 1964. Those six categories made up the League Leader subset for close to a decade. In 1973 Topps updated the subset by adding two new statistical categories: Fireman (Combined Saves and Relief Wins) for pitchers and Stolen Bases for position players.

The stolen base king of the era remained Lou Brock. Appropriately, he and Bert Campaneris had the honor of being on the first Stolen Bases League Leaders card. The way we look at modern stats may have diminished Lou Brock’s Hall of Fame credentials, but it is notable that he was a stolen base trailblazer in not one but two editions of Topps cards.    

We documented a few of Lou Brock’s base stealing accomplishments in the previous posting which can be found here. Bert Campaneris put together pretty dominant base stealing numbers of his own. The 1973 League Leaders Card honors his last of six AL stolen base crowns. Those six seasons were part of a 14 year run in which Campy stole at least 20 bases. His 649 career thefts still ranks 14th in MLB history.

The depiction of both league leaders on a single card was also new in 1973. Previous League Leader cards were typically comprised of the top three players (sometimes two, or four) for each category and Topps had one card for each league. The switch in 1973 was likely due to the addition of the 2 new categories. Had Topps remained with a card per category for each league that subset would have ballooned to 16 cards. The eight League Leader cards in 1973 is more in line with the original 10 card subset that was produced in 1961.  

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1973 Topps #64 League Leaders Stolen Bases Lou Brock & Bert Campaneris (b-side)

The back of the cards feature the top 10 finishers in the category for each league. Always some fun names on these lists. It’s a shame about Dave Nelson, as the change over from three player leader cards to winner-only bumped him out of his chance to get on a league leader card. Freddie Patek eventually made it onto an LL card in 1978.

It is a bit of an oddity that Topps produced League Leader cards for Stolen Bases starting in 1974 but the SB column did not permanently make it onto card backs until 1981. The impetus would be a combination of competition for new card makers (Fleer & Donruss) and new base stealing legend, Rickey Henderson.

Sources and links

SABR Bio Lou Brock by Dave Williams

SABR Bio Bert Campaneris by Rich Schabowski

Baseball Simulator

Phungo Lou Brock Index

Baseball-Reference

 

SABR47 Gets Its Own Baseball Card

When I returned to collecting a decade ago I quickly learned that there are several different types of card collectors. To the outside world I guess we are all Just Baseball Card Collectors, but within the community there are several sub-types.

I think of myself as a Team Collector (Phillies), Set Builder (1959T, 1954T, 1971T maybe 1964T Jumbo), a bit of a Player Collector (Utley, Rollins, Thome, Garry Maddox, Ozzie, Matt Adams, Jamie Moyer, Mike Mussina, and many Others), and a Type Card Collector.

Mrs Phungo has another word for the type of hybrid-collector I am: “Hoarder”.

There is one other collection I have that is a purely narcissistic pursuit. I collect cards that represent games that I have been lucky enough to attend. The easiest to find are those cards which are related to noteworthy games: Opening Day, Postseason, or All-Star games. Sometimes it involves trying to find the photo on the card within Getty Images and tying that to a game. The collection includes cards that reference games on the back, perhaps a milestone home run or superlative pitching performance.

Thanks to #SABR47 in New York I was able to add a new card to the Phungo Games Checklist.

2017 ToppsNow #331 Jacob deGrom

Topps issued a card dedicated to the game that SABR members attended during this years convention. Jacob deGrom had a great night no-hitting the Phillies for the first several innings. The Mets won the contest 2-1, illustrating a point mentioned in a Dave Smith’s SABR presentation: the one run margin is the most common outcome in baseball.

Topps Now is basically a line of instant cards produced the day after a game and sold for just 24 hours. SABR Weekend was so busy that I never checked for the card the day after the game. However on Sunday I was checking Twitter while on the train back home from NYC and a Mets fan in my feed mentioned the card. The Topps Sale was over, but I was able to find the card on the secondary market.

The 24 hour window for Topps Now means the cards have a limited print run which Topps is happy to publicize. For deGrom the Print Run was 342 cards.

The photo on the card can be found in Getty Images. According to the information accompanying the photo it was taken in the first inning by Mike Stobe who is the team photographer for the New York Islanders.

42 over 92

2017 ToppsNow #331 Jacob deGrom (b-side)

The back of the card summarizes deGrom’s start followed by noting an accomplishment that revolves around some not so round numbers. In deGrom’s first 92 starts he gave up 1 run or less 42 times. The 42 successful starts matched a record held byDwight Gooden, a Met pitching star from the 1980s.

I took a deeper look at the 92 starts of the two pitchers and as you can imagine there were some big differences, much of which has to do with the changes in the game.

The big differences are in the Complete Game and Shutout categories. These differences are further reflected in the fact that Gooden averaged 1+ inning more per start than deGrom.

 

Sources and Links
ToppsNow

SABR47 David Smith

Retrosheet David Smith

SABR47 Game
Phungo Game Dated Cards Index
Baseball-Ref
Getty Images
LinkedIn

 

A Ballplayer that Changed Topps Cards: Lou Brock 1971T #625

The crew over at Wax Pack Gods has put together a couple of postings recently discussing the statistics that are displayed on the back of cards. The first was on saves and the latter on OPS.

This reminded me of a similar column that I wanted to post regarding the Stolen Base and St Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Lou Brock.

When Lou Brock’s Rookie Card came out in 1962 it listed his offensive statistics for nine categories.

Games

At Bats

Runs

Hits

Double

Triples

Home Runs

RBIs

Batting Average

For the most part this was the case on all of Brock’s cards issued during the 1960s. The exceptions are 1967 and 1968 when the back of Topps cards were vertical in format rather than Horizontal. During those two years due to reduced width Left to Right seven categories were listed. The stats that got axed were Games Played and Runs Scored.

Then came the new decade and 1971 Topps.

1971 Topps #625 Lou Brock

The much loved set is not only noteworthy for their distinct black borders, there are significant changes on the back as well.

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Most prominently the reverse features a black and white head shot. While a great idea, Topps would not return to it until after being pushed by Upper Deck and their stunning 1989 debut.

The other back of the card changes are in the stat columns. 1971 featured two new columns: Total Bases (TB) and Stolen Bases (SB). Since 1953 one could have calculated Total Bases, but the Stolen Base column is new information as far as Topps Card Backs are concerned.

To me no single player is more responsible for the Topps change than Lou Brock. Going into the 1971 season Brock had stolen 50+ bases six consecutive times, he would extend his streak to 12 seasons before settling for 35 thefts in 1977.

Alas, the new Stat columns for 1971 only remained on card for a cup of coffee.  The TB remains banished today while the SB column disappeared until after Brock’s career was over. In 1981 the SB returned likely because of competition from Donruss and Fleer plus the influence of another fleet-footed Hall of Famer.

Regardless I believe that Lou Brock was a major factor in the column getting added in 1971 and influenced later Topps decisions regarding the Stolen Base stat…. That is a teaser for a future posting.

Dick McAuliffe

Technically if one looks at a set in numerical order the first Topps Card to feature the SB column is 1971T #3 Dick McAuliffe (Card #1 Went to the World Champion Orioles followed by a pitcher card, Dock Ellis at #2). Lou Brock at #625 doesn’t appear until the 5th series in 1971 Topps. McAuliffe finished his career with 63 steals.

1952 Topps

Monte Irvin’s steal of Home in the 1951 World Series is the first time a stolen base is refenced on a Topps card (#26). One card later #27 Sam Jethroe is the first card to mention a season Stolen Base Total: As a rookie in 1950 led both league in 1950 with 35 steals. (To see the back of any of the cards in the above hyperlinks click on the card and it flips over)

Campy

There is one other player that I think deserves SB recogntion similar to Brock and that is Bert Campanaris, who had a string of six consecutive 40+ Stolen Base Seasons going into 1971. However, we will save Campy for a future posting….(another teaser)

Sources

Wax Pack Gods

Baseball Simulator

Phungo Lou Brock Index

Baseball-Reference

 

Vada and Felipe

Mark Armour recently challenged us to write about our favorite common cards. For me, two cards from the 1971 Topps set immediately came to mind.

vada-pinsonGrowing up in Sacramento, the 1971 cards were really the first I collected and, as an Indians fan, my favorite player was Vada Pinson. To this day he remains one of my favorites. The 1971 Topps card shows him sliding into home against one of the greatest catchers of the era — Thurman Munson of the Yankees, wearing his Yankee cap, not a helmet, on his head. Totally old school. Plus I loved action shots as a kid and seeing your favorite player in that shot keeps it ingrained in your mind.

That year was Pinson’s second with the Indians and he had a small resurgence in his base stealing, nabbing 25 that year after stealing in the single digits the previous two years. Vada came up with the Reds, and in 1959 at age 20 led the National League in runs scored and doubles. He followed that up two years later by coming in third in the MVP voting, part of a decade-long run of stardom in Cincinnati. He ended his career with 2757 hits, just short of the magic number of 3000. 

I loved those old simple Indians uniforms. This card I think about more often than I probably should.

felipe-alouAnother card from that set I loved was this Felipe Alou, taking a full swing in those beautiful Oakland A’s uniforms, his number 8 showing for the camera. Just the color of that card was, and still is, mesmerizing. Alou moved around a lot when I was a kid, and he eventually landed with another of my favorite teams — the Montreal Expos — in 1973, their first decent team. Felipe will always have a special place in my heart, but this card is just flat out gorgeous.

The 1971 Topps set was the first that showed action photos as part of the regular player cards. There are many in this set I could choose, but Pinson and Alou are my choices. Both cards will remain in my memory forever.

My favorite common

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I have been contemplating writing a post on my favorite baseball card, thinking that it would lead to other people writing a post about their favorite baseball card, and so on.

The risk  of such an exercise is that every time someone runs a poll asking what the best baseball card is, the winner is the 1952 Mantle or the T206 Wagner or something. That’s well and good, but not what I am talking about. I not talking about the card you most want to own or most want to show off, I am talking about a card that reminds you of why you started collecting cards. So I thought I would restrict my criteria to “common” cards, or at least cards that you love for reasons other than their value. A card you can stare in order to teleport back to your childhood.

As it  happens, I have a lot of cards that meet this criteria. I will choose one, understanding that I might choose another next week.

Mike Andrews was the second baseman on my beloved childhood team, the late 1960s and early 1970s Red Sox. He was a very good player, a guy who got on base, had some power, and could field his position. He was not my favorite player, but he was one of them. There was a kid in my Connecticut neighborhood whose name was Mike Andrews, so this was *his* favorite player. Mine was Yaz, which was admittedly the safe choice.

This card though. My favorite cards then and now depict a player posing with a glove or bat under a bright blue sunny sky. Andrews is wearing the bright home uniform — because so many photos in this era were taken in New York, most players (other than Mets and Yankees) tended to be photographed in road grays.  (Happily, there were a handful of Red Sox cards that year taken at Fenway Park — George Scott, Joe Lahoud, Dick Schofield, a few others.  Those were always welcome.)

More than that, Andrews’ expression exudes confidence. As he was getting ready to embark on another season for my team, I needed to see this expression. It heartened me. He looked ready to take on all comers, even those overrated Orioles.

Just so I am not accused of being a Red Sox fanboy, another example I could have chosen is this beauty of Jerry Grote. I love posed catcher cards, and this again has the beautiful spring day thing going for it. And when I look at Campy, who always took beautiful cards, I am transported back to the summer I was six years old and fell in love with cards and the game.

grotejerry
1969 Topps
mark-armour-armour-part05-1967-campanerisbert
1967 Topps

A F*ck Face Story for the Holidays

Soon after the 1989 Fleer baseball cards were released, word spread that there was an obscenity on Billy Ripken’s bat. In those pre-Internet days, every article, whether in the hobby mags or regular newspapers, spoke of the “obscenity,” but what that obscenity was was a mystery to me. The mainstream press wouldn’t actually use the term, and there was no way to find out. At least I didn’t know how to find out, unless I got the card.

Getting the card seemed harder than you’d think. I couldn’t find packs anywhere and it was clear that when the set came in the mail (I’d order all the base sets back then), I’d end up with a corrected card. It was pretty frustrating.

Karen and I were already living in Buffalo Grove, Illinois in the spring of ’89. We’d moved to Chicago in early ’87 and headed to the suburbs the following year. It must’ve been a Saturday morning that I had to drive to the Jewel. On the way home I stopped for gas at the Amoco (I’m pretty sure it was an Amoco) at the corner of Buffalo Grove and 83 (McHenry Rd). I filled up and went inside to pay. No futuristic credit card readers at the pumps, kids, these were primitive times.

Before paying I scanned the candy racks and there, with the lid torn off, was a full box of 1989 Fleer! What the hell? Of all place to find some cards, let alone a full box. I grabbed it and brought it home.

Maybe I’d already told Karen about the Ripken card. Maybe I explained the whole story as I put the box on the dining room table. Either way, my idea was that we’d both open all the packs, the quickest route to finding out what the fuss was all about. We started.

Pack after pack was opened, wrappers placed in a pile between us. Early hopes led to sudden fears and, as the amount of unopened packs dwindled to the last few, I was getting nervous and angry.  I have no idea what a single pack of cards went for in 1989 but a whole box of them was a pretty big waste of money if the Ripken didn’t turn up. I was already getting the set. I didn’t need a pile of doubles.

I opened one of my final packs, head down, shuffling through the 15 cards (and sticker).

_3“F*ck face?” Karen said with equal bits of surprise and smile.

She’d gotten it! Yup, f*ck face. Of all the obscenities, f*ck face? What a ridiculous thing to write on the knob of a bat. It was hysterical to see – f*ck face. Karen did it!

By the time the set arrived in the mail, f*ck face had been obscured in a variety of ways – black box, black scribble, white scribble, white out. I think I have a black box variation. Who cares though, it was f*ck face that mattered.

 

“BO”: The History of the Perfect Junk Wax Card

If there was a single athlete who personified the so-called “junk wax” era of trading cards, it was Bo Jackson. Bo was a force unlike anything the sporting world had ever known when he burst onto the scene in the late 1980s. As was the idea of grown men taking over a hobby once deemed the realm of children, the idea that a single freak of athletic nature could be the most exciting player in both baseball and football seemed ridiculous. And, just as with the hobby that promised to turn a stack of Todd Van Poppels into a college fund, Bo Jackson vanished from the scene before his potential could truly be realized. And in the summer of 1990, the forces that were Bo Jackson and the riding-high trading card hobby melded into what might be the definitive card of the junk wax era… 1990 Score baseball #697.

bofront

In 1988, Major League Marketing, the company that had given the world Sportsflics, introduced Score. The brand was a more mainstream play on the Sportsflics concept, which was largely defined by the gimmick of their plastic-coated changing-image obverses. Score was a more tradition cardboard issue, but utilized the underappreciated back-of-the-card features of Sportsflics – color photos and extensive biographical information – to create something truly revolutionary. A year ahead of Upper Deck and a year and a half of Pro Set, 1988 Score was a slick, premium trading card that brought collectors closer to the players than anything else on the market.

By 1990, with Upper Deck having enter the fray, the baseball market was more competitive than ever and brands were looking to differentiate themselves. For their third year of baseball, Score issued their most colorful and rookie-loaded set to date. They introduced draft pick cards – something pioneered by Topps the year before – and robbed Upper Deck of the illustrated card idea with their “Dream Team” subset. They also brought back an old-school concept with a playoff subset, highlighting the League Championship Series and the World Series.

But with card 697, they did something somewhat unprecedented in the hobby. There had been special, one-off cards of players before – honoring accomplishments, recognizing retirements, and the like – but card 697 was a tribute to nothing more than the sheer force that was Bo Jackson. The card itself, even devoid of context, is pretty remarkable. The front featured a black and white, horizontal image of Jackson in shoulder pads, hands draped over a baseball bat resting behind his neck. The photo was taken from a Nike Air poster titled “The Ballplayer” that had been issued the previous year. The image was framed by a white border and inset with the Score logo. The card’s minimalism, the subtle tones of the artful image, Jackson’s effortless pose and impressive physique all melded to form one of the most beautiful baseball cards yet issued. On the card’s reverse side, inside a green border and above the requisite branding and licensing bugs were just two letters – BO – done in black and blue (Raiders and Royals). To anyone who was a sports fan or a collector in 1990, those were the only two letters necessary to convey the power of the card. If you didn’t know BO, you might as well just put down the baseball cards and start collecting stamps.

boback

1990 Score baseball hit the store in January, right around the time Bo Jackson was finishing up an 11-game NFL season in which he ran for 950 yards on just 173 carries – which itself followed up a baseball season in which he hit 32 homers, made the all-star team, and placed 10th in the MVP voting. It was, perhaps, the height of Bo-mania both in the sporting and pop culture realms. 1990 was also near the peak of card-mania and, laughable as it seems today, adults were tearing through fifty-cent packages of Topps, Upper Deck, Score, Fleer, and Donruss baseball – carefully setting aside Ben McDonalds, Pat Combes, and Steve Hosesys with the honest belief that they were something akin to blue chip stocks.

Card 697 was the perfect combination of subject and timing. The oddity of it (I can’t think of any truly comparable card that had been issued to that date) and the hobby obsession with Jackson soon became the card of the season. By February, it was selling for a respectable sixty cents – about the same as the base cards of superstar players. By March, it was going for $4 – an unheard of sum for a new issue card that was not an error or rookie. By April, it had reached $8 and was drawing interest from the media outside of the hobby. Just weeks into the baseball season, with Jackson off to a blistering start, the Chicago Tribune reported that area card shops were selling packs of Score baseball for a dollar each – twice their retail price – and limiting customers to ten packs per day. Rumors flew that the entire 1990 Score set had been short-printed because of the brand’s newly expanded football line. Other whispers had it that card 697 was about to be pulled from production because of a Nike lawsuit. Score denied all the rumors (indeed, the 1990 set was just as overproduced as anything of the era), but that could not stop the furor over the card. In late April, 25-year veteran National League umpire Bob Engle was arrested for shoplifting seven boxes of 1990 Score from a Bakersfield, CA store. He was suspended by the league for the incident and later retired after being convicted and receiving probation. Bo-mania was officially causing strange behavior.

By June, even with Jackson having cooled off at the plate, the card was selling for $15 and Beckett Baseball Card Monthly ran the full-length Bo-in-shoulder-pads image on its cover. That same month, a spree of counterfeit 697s began to appear in Mississippi, Chicago, and New Jersey. They were strictly low-end knock-offs, given away by their lack of color on the reverse (some shady dealers were hocking them as Score “press proofs”). The Associated Press picked up on the story and newspaper coast-to-coast ran the story of the fake cards.

As the season wore on, the card began to cool off. In September, it hit its Beckett price guide peak of $12, and was down to $9 by December. This was due in part, no doubt, to overkill. Only Nolan Ryan had more baseball cards in 1990 than Jackson and, by the season’s end, the market was flooded with Jackson football cards as well. Then came the January 13, 1991 divisional playoff game between Jackson’s Raiders and the Cincinnati Bengals, when a tackle dislocated Jackson’s hip and effectively ended his days as the nation’s most captivating athlete. Many thought his professional careers were over and, the following March, the Royals released him. That summer, as Jackson worked towards his comeback, Beckett listed the card at $4.50 – more of a novelty than an investment (more on that here). I recall that for years afterward, as it remained above common card status, the card was listed as “697 Bo Jackson (FB/BB)…” in price books. And still, everyone knew what it meant.

Today, the card can be had for a few dollars online and can probably be found in dollar binders at card shows across the nation on any given weekend. Certainly a hard fall from the summer of 1990, but it remains a remarkably sought-after card. Take a look on eBay and you will inevitably find a few copies (ungraded) listed at outrageous prices given the marketplace – $10, $20, $30 (the complete 1990 Score set can be had for about $15). It’s easy to mock people who list junk wax era stuff for such prices as ignorant of the hobby, but with card 697, it feels just a little different. I’ve still got my copy of the card, still encased in the top-loader that my shaky little 8-year-old hands slipped it into a quarter century ago. I understand that I could only get a few bucks for it if I ever tried to sell it. But I also know it’s worth a lot more than that.