Barajitas estadounidenses: Bowman International

My seventh post featuring Spanish-language baseball cards released in the United States. Previous posts are:

  1. Introduction and 1978 Topps Zest
  2. 1993–2000 Pacific and Pacific Crown
  3. Other assorted Pacific cards and oddballs
  4. 1991 Kellogg’s Leyendas
  5. 1994 Topps and beyond
  6. Donruss Super Estrellas

I have to be honest, I thought I was done with these posts unless someone were to create a new Spanish Language set. But the wonderful thing about this hobby is that there’s always, always, more to discover. Which means I was quite pleased to learn that 1998 and 1999 Bowman International not only highlighted where a player was from but also included localized backs.

These aren’t one-off parallels but rather a complete set which includes a number of Spanish-language backs—including for players from Puerto Rico who are technically not international players. I haven’t gone on a deep dive looking at the Spanish language text on multiple cards and the stats on these are pretty thin (although Cuadrangulares, Carreras Impulsadas, and Promedio suggest that things are translated fully rather than using the more Spanglish terms like Jonron). Oh, and the #PonleAcento action on González is always nice to see too.

What did jump out at me is that height and weight are in meters and kilograms instead of feet and pounds. None of the previous cards I’ve featured in this series have made this translation but it makes sense here since this set is less about being aimed at the Spanish-speaking market in the United States and more about presenting international backs.

Which means that the set contains cards in other languages too. While at first I was interested in only the Spanish-language cards, I couldn’t help myself and began searching for other languages.

Japanese was the obvious next language to look for and I was pleased to find many on the checklist. I’m not going to comment at all on the language usage anymore since I can’t read them but I do have to highlight how Topps changed the units on the Kanji cards from meters to centimeters.

Also, using a non-Roman font is an impressive commitment for just a few cards in a set. Graceful language switching is something that really only became common with MacOSX and Opentype fonts which could contain a full complement of unicode characters. Neither of these were around in the late 1990s.

Designwise though I’m a bit sad that Yoshii’s Kanji signature is printed sideways.  Yes I know this is how he signed his Topps contract. But given that vertical space I’d like to think he’d’ve wanted the characters to be stacked vertically instead.

Skipping around since there’s no reason to provide exemplars for every language for every year. We also have Korean cards. In the 1999 design, even the name on the front is localized so you have to recognize Jung Bong’s photo or signature.

I’ve really nothing more to add here on top of what I said about Japanese except to note that I find Hangul to be one of the most brilliant things humanity has ever invented and it’s fun to have a US card which features it.

The Ntema Ndungidi card though is fantastic. There are so many good things going on with it. Topps didn’t go with the colonial language and print this in French. Nor did it select the obvious “name an ‘African’ language” choice and go with Swahili. Instead we’ve got something that stumps Google Translate but which appears to be some kind of Bantu—probably Lingala. I love it.

I also love how Topps typeset his height to be “1,85m” and replaced the decimal point with a comma. Topps also did this in the text where it mentions his batting average but didn’t do it in the statistics.

Another point of interest here is that Ndungidi was born in Zaire—a country which no longer existed in 1999 when this card was printed.* Topps still marked his origin as Zaire on the card front and on the back his birth information says “Ex Zaire (R.D. Congo).”**

*Quick quick history. Zaire ceased to exist in 1997 when the Rawandan war spilled into Zaire and the resulting Congo war forced Mobutu Sese Seko into exile and installed Laurent-Désiré Kabila as the new president.

**Note, his regular Bowman card just says Zaire and appears to be completely unaware that that was out of date.

I’m still looking through the checklists to see if there are any other languages I’m missing. I thought Sidney Ponson would be in Dutch but Topps used English for Aruba. Sadly, none of the Canadian players appear to get French cards nor are their vitals in metric units. Nor does Benny Agbayani’s card feature Pidgin or Hawaiian. But I’m plenty happy with what I’ve found and this was a nice way to expand on the Spanish-language posts I’ve been making on here.

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 here. I would’ve 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.

Barajitas estadounidenses: Donruss Super Estrellas

My sixth post featuring Spanish-language baseball cards released in the United States. I didn’t intentionally plan on posting a bunch of these during Hispanic Heritage Month but the timing just worked out that way. Previous posts are:

  1. Introduction and 1978 Topps Zest
  2. 1993–2000 Pacific and Pacific Crown
  3. Other assorted Pacific cards and oddballs
  4. 1991 Kellog’s Leyendas
  5. 1994 Topps and beyond

After Pacific stopped releasing bilingual cards in 2000, Donruss picked up the Spanish-language mantle in 2002. From 2002–2004 Donruss released a small 100–150 card set* of Spanish-only cards.

*Set count depends on whether you think short-printed “base” cards count as the main set.

Since this is exclusively in Spanish I have fewer comments to make except to note that comparing the Spanish-language abbreviations across all the cards I’ve covered in this series reveals that there’s no real standard in terms of what each stat means. Some cards say “AVG” while others have “PRO.” Some have “D” and “T” versus “2B” or “3B.” It’s clear that part of being a Spanish-speaking baseball fan is to have a certain flexibility for the multiple names that each statistic has.

Anyway the best example for this flexibility is how on previous cards I’ve featured Home Runs have been abbreviated as HR or called cuadrangulares, in this case Donruss has abbreviated them as JR for “jonrón.”

Donruss’s 2003 offering is much the same as the 2002 one. My same observation about stats applies here. Where Topps has used G and P (ganado and perdido) for wins and losses, Donruss uses V and D (victoria and derrota). All equivalent to words that we use in English (wins, losses, victories, and defeats) but as someone whose understanding of the game came from stats I’m kind of amazed now that stats in English are so standardized.

I think the only thing that comes up as a standard variant in English is SO vs K. And yes this variant exists in Spanish as well where Donruss uses K while Topps used P for strikeouts.

Donruss also had inserts in its sets. Surprise surprise this one is called “Leyendas” as well—making it the third different “Leyendas” set I’ve mentioned in these posts.* The text here feels a bit more like it was written in Spanish rather than translated from English and is an example of “cuadrangulares” being used for home runs. Also of note is that where the other Cepeda Leyendas cards have all mentioned him winning the “MVP,” this one says “Jugador Más Valioso” instead.

*Yes I have an Orlando Cepeda card from each of them.

And in 2004 Donruss mailed it in with a third Spanish-language set the indicates how low a priority this set was for them. Yes, this is a completely different card than the 2003 card. No I wouldn’t fault anyone for thinking they were the same.

To be fair, the checklists between 2003 and 2004 aren’t identical. But there’s also nothing new for me to comment on with the 2004 set.

It’s been 14 years now since the last Spanish-language set. With all the #PonleAcento action and Latino fan outreach in the past couple of years,* I’d love to see a new set come out. A checklist like Pacific’s which focused more on the Latino players would be cool but even a 200-card Topps Latino could be fun at this point. I’d be first in line to get it for my kids to help them with their Spanish lessons. And I’d love to add a few more posts to this series as well.

*Though it’s been impressively difficult to actually find a #PonleAcento shirt available for purchase.

Barajitas estadounidenses: Topps

My fifth post featuring Spanish-language baseball cards released in the United States. Previous posts are:

  1. Introduction and 1978 Topps Zest
  2. 1993–2000 Pacific and Pacific Crown
  3. Other assorted Pacific cards and oddballs
  4. 1991 Kellog’s Leyendas

After Pacific’s 1993 Spanish-langauge release, Topps decided to release its 1994 set in a Spanish-languague version as well. From what I’ve seen, the Topps cards were only released as a set and came with a special 10-card insert set of Topps Leyendas featuring various Latino baseball stars.

First, the Leyendas insert set. The less said about the front design the better but I do like that this is one of the only sets with bilingual fronts. The back though is wonderful. There’s some peak-90s fonts and colors but I love that everything is translated. Compared to Pacific’s preference for English-language statistics this is a wonderful change of pace. Some stats like At Bats, Hits, and Home Runs are (or can be) the same in both languages but most are not.

The base 1994 Spanish cards featured the exact same fronts as the regular ones. Even the Future Stars and Rookies cards are the same. So the only thing worth commenting on is the backs.

As in 1978 and the Leyendas cards, Topps has bilingual statistic headings. Does it make things a little busy? Yes. But it makes these cards that much more accessible to everyone. The only thing that still confuses me is trying to figure out what “JS” translates to for “Games Started.” I’d understand “JE” or “JC” but the only way “JS” makes sense is if “Start” gets borrowed into Spanish.

I also like how Topps uses izquierda in the bats/throws information but switches to zurdo in the bio information. Izquierda is definitely the word I learned in school. Zurdo on the other hand is one I’ve learned through watching and reading about sports.

Anyway this is a solid effort at bilingual cards and makes me wonder what might have been had there been no strike. Would Topps have continued releasing bilingual cards in the following years? It would’ve been very cool if they had.

Instead, from what I’ve been able to tell, we’ve been limited to Spanish-language variants. There have been a few Spanish-language Topps Now cards from the World Baseball Classic which I won’t cover on this blog but Topps has referenced its Venezuelan issues a few times.

While the Topps Heritage Venezuelan variants seem to only focus on print differences between the US-manufactured and Venezuelan-manufactured cards, Topps Lineage in 2011 had a Venezuelan insert set that resulted in Spanish-language versions of the main Lineage cards.

Unfortunately, Lineage’s backs are pretty boring and just feature a biographical paragraph. The translation is fine, if a bit literal, but doesn’t offer much to comment on. Still, it’s nice to see that Topps didn’t completely give up on the market after 1994.

Barajitas estadounidenses: Kellogg’s Leyendas

Picking up this series after a lengthy delay. I don’t like to write about these without having handled at least one sample of the cards in question. But that’s taken care of now. This will be my fourth post featuring Spanish-language baseball cards released in the United States. Previous posts are:

  1. Introduction and 1978 Topps Zest
  2. 1993–2000 Pacific and Pacific Crown
  3. Other assorted Pacific cards and oddballs

A couple of years before Pacific’s Spanish-language set, Kellogg’s had two 10-card sets which you could find inserted in boxes of cereal. This set was issues in both English-only and bilingual English-Spanish versions. Neither of those was distributed in my neck of the woods as the Kellogg’s boxes around me had Sportflics-manufactured 3D cards. Presumably the bilingual cards were distributed in more markets that had more Spanish speakers.

Anyway, the 10-card checklist is an interesting mix of big names we still recognize (Clemente, Carew, Cepeda, and Miñoso) and others in the hall of very good who have name recognition for a certain generation of fans or for fans of a certain team. I know Kellogg’s was limited to retired players but I feel like they could’ve done better.

 


Aside from how Cepeda is pictured with the Cardinals on the card front and the Giants on the back, I’m fascinated about what’s translated and what’s not in the text. Position information: “primera base” is Spanish, “DH” is English, and “BR” and “TR” stand for bats right and throws right.* His birth information: bilingual. Stats though are another mix just like the positions. Años is in Spanish but all the abbreviations are in English.

*Took me a while to figure that out as I briefly thought that BR and TR were somehow representing other positions he played.

The bio text though is basically equivalent between both languages. I enjoy that his nickname gets translated while the “El Birdos” cheer doesn’t have the same effect when the surrounding text is Spanish.

Also, these bios show one of the things I love most about following sports in other languages. Would I have learned the words for “rookie” or “pennant” in school? No. Way. But on a card like this I can learn “novato” and “gallardete.”

1989 Bimbo Cookies Super Stars Discs

I have an affinity for oddballs. Even here at the SABR Blog, my two contributions have focused on Brewers Police cards and the Milwaukee Braves Spic-n-Span offerings from the 1950s.

My affinity for oddballs stems both from them being “odd” and in finding out about the companies that issued them. I started writing my own blog about 1980s Oddballs last year, and I thought that I would share one of the posts from that blog. This post is about a very small, weird set: the Bimbo Cookies Super Star Discs set from 1989.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SET
Bimbo Bakeries is a Mexico City-based multinational bakery known as Grupo Bimbo that is said to be the world’s largest bakery. The company was started in 1945 in Mexico City, perhaps coming about as the result of a name change from “Super Pan” (that’s super bread in Spanish) and grew quickly to become a huge corporation.

The name “Bimbo” — despite its less savory connotations here in the US — has an etymology that is checkered at best. Wikipedia says that the most likely hypothesis is that it is a mashup of the word bingo and Bambi, though it may also mean baby in Italian and it might sound like the word that means bread in China.

Bimbo entered the US market in 1986 with the purchase of Pacific Pride Bakeries in San Diego. Since 1986, Grupo Bimbo has purchased Mrs. Baird’s Bakeries in Texas and, later, the rights to brands such as Oroweat, Entenmann’s, Thomas’s (the English Muffins), and Boboli. That established Bimbo in the western US, and its purchase of Weston Foods in 2008 made it the largest bakery company in the United States.

These days, Bimbo is known for all of the brands above and for owning Sara Lee. In addition, Bimbo sponsors the Philadelphia Union in MLS, Rochester Rhinos in the USL, Chivas de Guadalajara, Club América, and C.F. Monterrey in the Mexican soccer league, and C.D. Saprissa in Costa Rica.

When this disc set was issued in 1989, Bimbo was attempting to get its name recognized more. Now, the 2011 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards notes that this disc set was distributed “in Puerto Rico in boxes of cookies.” I do not know what Bimbo’s history in Puerto Rico is, but focusing on baseball was not a bad idea.

EXEMPLARS

With only 12 discs in a set issued only for one year, my choices are limited.

(Front and back images courtesy of The Trading Card Database)

DETAILS
As mentioned above, this set contains a total of 12 players. While the Standard Catalog says that the set contains a “dozen Hispanic players,” a little bit of research online reveals that the set actually includes a dozen Puerto Rican players. The discs are 2-3/4″ in diameter and are licensed only by the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Michael Schechter Associates printed and licensed these discs. As is typical for MSA discs starting in 1975 and ending when MSA stopped getting licensed by MLBPA, these cards do not include logos. Interestingly, this must have been before MLB started protecting its trademarks in team names since the discs include the team names in full on each.

The Bimbo bear appears at the top center of the disc. This bear is apparently the most well-known trademark for Bimbo, and Bimbo markets plush stuffed animals of the bear as a collectible for kids as well. Indeed, there are a ton more Bimbo bears on eBay than there are Bimbo discs.

Stats on these discs are lacking, as is also typical of MSA. You can see that you get the very basics — at bats, hits, homers, RBI, and average for the most recent year (1988) and for the player’s career.

With this being a small set, I’ll give you the checklist:
1 Carmelo Martinez
2 Candy Maldonado
3 Benito Santiago
4 Rey Quinones
5 Jose Oquendo
6 Ruben Sierra
7 Jose Lind
8 Juan Beniquez
9 Willie Hernandez
10 Juan Nieves
11 Jose Guzman
12 Roberto Alomar

HALL OF FAMERS
The only Hall of Famer out of the twelve is Roberto Alomar.

ERRORS/VARIATIONS
Trading Card Database does not list any errors or variations. But, as frequent SABR Blog contributor Jeff Katz noted to me on Twitter, the Roberto Alomar disc actually is a photo of his brother Sandy Alomar. I’ve sent a note to the folks at the Trading Card Database, but that is definitely an uncorrected error.

What are your thoughts on this set? Do you like discs? Do you like Oddballs?

Uh oh

I’m not a huge Allen & Ginter guy. I don’t like it as a baseball card set but I do enjoy the way it incorporates and re-incorporates concepts from the early years of trading cards. All those animal, national, flag, etc. inserts and subsets remind me of the wonderful world of pre-war cards where trading cards allowed for people to experience and learn about the rest of the world.

This year Ginter has a Flags of Lost Nations insert set. On the surface this looks like a perfect fit for what Ginter does best. A way to learn about the past and a opportunity to imagine what other ways national borders could’ve turned out. As someone whose family lived in Hawai‘i before it was annexed by the United States* I was pleased to see that there was a Hawai‘i card in the checklist.

*This puts me in the small category of having Chinese ancestors who legally became residents of the United States during the time while the Chinese Exclusion Act was enforced and also puts me in the rare category of having Asian ancestors who never immigrated to the United States.

And then I took a closer look at the checklist.

Rhodesia

Gulp.

This is not good. Pre-Dylann Roof you could defensibly claim ignorance about this but now? Yeah. Topps has a full-fledged white supremacist flag on its checklist. I’ve been unable to find an image of the card yet but I know it’s going to be a stomach punch when I do—both in terms of how it represents a country which was founded with explicitly racist intent and how it’s used today as a symbol for how black people are inherently threatening and need to be subdued..

But that’s not all. If you look at the checklist there’s also a Nazi-puppet state on there in the Republic of Salo. I’m certain Topps wouldn’t go anywhere near a Nazi flag but this is pretty damn close.

SaloPart of me hopes that this is merely a function of Topps trying to spread things out across the continents and not doing proper vetting on what these countries stood for. In other words, a horribly unfortunate mistake. But then I look at the text on the back of the Salo card and I’m not so sure. Someone had to research and write that and someone else had to green-light it even with the reference to Hitler.

Is it good to know about these countries? Yes. Absolutely. Are these the kind of things you want people to be collecting and seeking and saving and displaying? I certainly hope not.

I know politics is something we try and avoid on this blog and in this hobby. But flags are political. Countries are political. And when you put out a 25-card set of flags you should absolutely expect for people to look at the list, wonder why you chose the countries you did, and expect you to be aware and responsible for how those flags may still be in use today.