Baseball Americana

CdV

Over Thanksgiving I took a trip to go see the Baseball Americana exhibition at the Library of Congress. It’s a single gallery, doable in an hour, and I highly recommend visiting if you’re in DC before it closes. While I’ve already written about the general show on my own blog, for the purposes of this committee I feel like it’s worth highlighting the specific role baseball cards play in the exhibition.

Being part of the Library of Congress means that ephemera like cards are emphasized a lot more than equipment and artifacts. One of the key points this show makes is not only has baseball existed for 150 years years, it’s been recognizable that entire time; the existence of baseball cards—the earliest being a carte de visite from 1865 — is a key feature of this consistency. As long as we’ve had a game, we’ve been making pieces of cardboard featuring players’ pictures and trading and collecting the results.

 

Does a modern card (well, 1994 Bowman) with 4-color offset lithography, gloss UV, and foilstamping compare at all to a 130-year-old Goodwin & Co single-color uncoated photographic print? Not at all from a production point of view but seeing them next to each other in the same case and even my 6-year-old recognizes them as part and parcel of the same concept. Heck, even some of the poses are exactly the same.

The show continues with a display of a number of cards of stars of the pre-integration period. These are wonderful to see (and lust over) but the emphasis of this part of the exhibition is in who’s playing baseball and the cards are contrasted with photos of African-American ballplayers.

 

The clear takeaway to me is that while cards have always existed, their role in defining who real ballplayers are cannot be ignored. Seeing who we’ve chosen to make cards of is a powerful statement about who counts and who doesn’t in the sport.* I half-jokingly refer to Topps Flagship as the “card of record” but there’s a kernel of truth in there. Cards chronicle the history of the game and collecting them connects us to that history.

*Note, my takeaway isn’t just a race thing. When we see collectors express concerns about companies only focusing on rookies or stars or large-market teams it’s because of the way that cards function as a record of who matters.

Cards were my entrée into baseball history. They served a similar function for my kids. As much as my eldest hits Wikipedia, Baseball-Reference, and Retrosheet on the iPad, cards are why he knows who he knows and what sustain his interest and connection to the sport.

BBM

Later on, a sample of Japanese cards shows how the sport has transcended the United States and become more global. This is exactly right and, while I haven‘t gotten into international cards,* I can’t deny that it’s really interesting to see how an American thing goes global and how baseball cards end up fitting into other country’s card-collecting traditions.

*My forays into Spanish-language issues are more of a language-based interest.

Cabrera

The only miss card-wise for me is that in the section that shows the increase of statistics in both scouting and the appreciation of the game. There’s a comparison of card backs and the nature of the statistical information that we’ve felt is appropriate over the years. Unfortunately we don’t actually get to see the backs and they’re merely described to us.

Plus there’s so much more that could be dine here. I would  loved to see a comparison of backs drawing a line from T205‘s slashline of G/AVG/Fielding to the traditional slash lines of the 1960s, the whole range of proto-SABRmetric backs in the 1990s, and finally today’s inclusion of stats like WAR that I can’t even explain to my kids how to calculate. It’s not just that stats exist, it’s what stats we care about and how that impacts our understanding of the game.

Topps absurd first World Series Card: 1960 Topps #385

Topps put together their first World Series subset in 1960. The set commemorated the 1959 series which featured the Chicago White Sox versus versus the team that also happens to be this years NL rep, the LA Dodgers.

1960 Topps #385

The World Series may be dubbed the Fall Classic, however I would never consider the first Topps card created to honor the Series a Classic.

Yes any first is significant, and the introduction of World Series cards to Topps is obviously important.

Unfortunately the execution of this first card in the subset is poor.

I have no problem with the picture of Charlie Neal (2-4, SB) on the card. Action shots are rare in the era, so Topps gets points here, although this appears to be a color painting based off of a black and white photo.

My issues is based on the image and the large caption, who do you think won Game 1 of the 1959 World Series?

Okay the score is given in the bottom left – in the smallest font on the card. Regardless, if the Dodgers get clobbered why would you feature their second baseman stealing a base as the picture to represent that game?

Ridiculousness – If Twitter had existed in 1960 World Series cards would have been banished for decades, or at least until the next managerial faux pas.

The White Sox won the contest 11-0, consequently Topps had a number of heroes to choose from for the card front. Ted Kluszewski had a pair of home runs and 5 RBI. Jim Landis had 3 hits, 3 Runs and an RBI. And what about the pitcher – future Hall of Famer Early Wynn tossed seven shutout innings, scattering six singles.

Moving on from my rant, despite this rather odd start I am glad that Topps introduced World Series cards in 1960 and look forward to a the cards that will note this years series in 2018 Topps.

B side

Topps did get the b-side of these cards right by featuring a box score with basic line score. The capsule summary at the top is concise and summarizes the key points of all the players missed on the front of the card.

The 1960 Topps World Series subset consists of seven cards one for each game plus a summary/Dodgers Celebration card which features a composite box on the back. In addition to this card Charlie Neal is also featured on the second card of the subset.

Neal had 2 home runs in that game including a 3 run shot in the 7th which gave the Dodgers their first lead of the series. White Sox Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio appears on the Game 5 card, although the picture on the card is from Game 4.

Sources and Links
Horizontal Heroes
Sports Collectors Digest – John McMurray
baseball-ref
Trading Card DB

Game Dated Card Index

1959 Fleer #28 The Williams Shift

Defensive Shifts in baseball have been implemented significantly more in recent years, but avid baseball fans know that they have been around for decades.

Perhaps the best known of these shifts is the “Williams Shift” which was designed to neutralize Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams. This shift was once captured on cardboard.

1959 Fleer Ted Williams #28 The Williams Shift

There is no player image here but that does not detract from the beauty of the card. While the shift was not based on statistical data, its still considered an early glimpse into SABRmetrics. Think about it, have you ever seen a card dedicated to the defensive alignment versus a hitter (or perhaps the players spray chart) prior to say 2010?

This shift was conceived by Cleveland Indians manager Lou Boudreau. The Indians lost the first game of a July 14 1946 Double Header to the Red Sox 11-10. Eight of those 11 runs were driven in by Ted Williams on three Homers, including a grand slam. As can be seen on the graphic on the card Boudreau — who was also the starting shortstop for the Indians — moved most of the fielders to the right side of the field.

Flip

1959 Fleer Ted Williams #28 The Williams Shift (b-side)

The back of the card goes into further discussion of the Williams Shift. The shift did not help much as the Tribe also lost the back end of the double header 6-4.

1959 Fleer Ted Williams

Notice the card has a source for “All Card Data” and the credit is given to an E. Mifflin. I did a little on-line digging and it appears that E. Mifflin is Edward Mifflin who wrote for the Sporting News in the 1950s and became friends with Williams.

I contacted SABR director and Ted Williams biographer Bill Nowlin to see if he had any insights on Edward Mifflin and Bill came back with a quick response including a bio from Mike Shatzkin’s “The Ballplayers”.

It turns out Mr Mifflin was quite an important figure in Ted Williams’ career.

In 1954 the Saturday Evening Post published an article announcing the retirement of Teddy Ballgame.

Following the article’s release, Mifflin ran into Williams at a Baltimore train station. Mifflin told the slugger that retirement at that time may jeopardize his baseball legacy.

The Mifflin Bio from “the Ballplayers” included this excerpt:

Mifflin explained. The success of Williams’s career would be measured one definitive way: Would he be elected to the Hall of Fame in the first year he became eligible? Williams had missed so much playing time in WWII and Korea that his career totals weren’t yet impressive enough. And baseball writers were the voters for the Hall of Fame. “Ted, you barely have 350 home runs. You don’t have 1,500 rbi. You don’t even have 2,000 hits.

And these writers hate your guts; they didn’t even vote you the MVP twice when you won the Triple Crown. You needs stats that are undeniable. These aren’t.”

Ted Williams perhaps boosted by Mifflin’s suggestion did not retire and returned to baseball. He played the bulk of six more seasons racking up 155 more Homers and 700+ additional hits. In 1966 he became a first ballot Hall of Famer with 521 Home Runs and 2600+ hits.

The 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set is 80 cards and a spot-check via Check Out My Cards revealed that all the cards had the E Mifflin credit.

Philadelphia folks may be interested to know that Edward Mifflin was a representative in the PA State legislature from 1963 until his death in 1971. His daughter Lawrie went on to become a New York Times sportswriter; she was cited in a recent NPR story which discussed NFL Quarterback Cam Newton’s poor judgement in comments to a female reporter.

Sources and Links

Fleer

The Ballplayers – Mike Shatzkin

SABR Bio Ted Williams – Bill Nowlin

NPR

TitleIX.info

Baseball-Ref

Cardboard Connection

Phungo List of Game Dated Cards

SABR47 Sabermetics Panel: 2014 Topps #273 Mark DeRosa.

One of the many highlights of SABR47 in New York was the “MLB Now: The Changing State of Sabermetrics” panel. The discussion was conducted by a good cross section of of panelists which included MLB Network host Brian Kenny as moderator, journalists Joel Sherman and Mike Petriello, and SABR president Vince Gennaro.

The former player on the panel was Mark DeRosa. While he never played for the Phillies DeRosa is notable in Philadelphia for being a Penn alum. While at the university he led the Quakers to Ivy League championships in BOTH baseball and football.

This brings us to DeRosa’s 2014 Topps card.

2014 Topps #273 Mark DeRosa

Mark DeRosa’s final card as an active player tied his MLB career back to his college years at Penn.

You may notice that the card is signed — Mark DeRosa was gracious enough to take the time to autograph memorabilia after the SABR panel. While signing the card he had a funny story related to the photograph.

He took a football with him to each and every one of the eight stops in his major league career. He would bring out the pigskin occasionally during batting practice – sort of a bonding activity with teammates who were interested in tossing a little football.

None of the teams had a problem with the activity until 2013 when the Toronto Blue Jays (led by Manager John Gibbons) confiscated the football. DeRosa said the only time he got to play football as a member of the Blue Jays was the day the picture was taken.

Speaking of the Picture

I found the original image on Getty Images. The photo is credited to Tom Szczerbowski who is also responsible for the photo that is on the 2016 Topps card of Jose Bautista – the Bat flip card.

Topps did one significant piece of photoshopping on the photo before immortalizing it on cardboard….

Mark DeRosa 2013 SEP 01

Topps edited the NFL logo off of the ball. Not sure why, as Topps still had an NFL license in 2014. Perhaps the Topps/NFL agreement was still being developed when the Topps baseball went to print.

There is one other fun fact within the Getty photo info: it tells us that the pass was thrown by teammate Anthony Gose.

Royals @ Blue Jays

Perhaps Gibbons was right to confiscate the football. The Blue Jays lost that days game 5-0 to the Kansas City Royals. Mark DeRosa did not get involved in the game, while Gose went 0-3 with a pair of strikeouts.

Sources and Links

SABR

Sports Collectors Daily

Twitter @Topps

Getty Images

Baseball-Ref

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.  

Flip

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.

Flip

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