Best Trade Ever

Look at this card:

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Yes, it’s a Joe DiMaggio rookie card, but a fairly reasonably priced one because it has another guy on it. That other guy is Hall of Famer Joe McCarthy!, but collectors find that takes away from the Joe D-ness of it. I’ve been working on my 1936 Goudey Wide Pen Type 1 set and this card was definitely going to be the hardest to find in reasonable condition at a reasonable price. In VG it books for $150 but I knew I’d never get it at that price. I assumed I’d have to pay $250 or more.

Then one appeared with a minimum bid and that minimum bid was $150. Definitely in a VG or better state, with some staining on the back that is hard to see on the front. I thought about it for days, asked myself  a lot of questions about whether I’d be happy with this particular card and that this particular price. I finally realized I’d never get it in this condition for any less, so I put in a bid.

In the last few weeks I’ve been methodically looking for doubles and triples to sell. One of the doubles I had listed was a 1976 Walter Payton rookie card, NM, with a minimum bid of $100. After I bid on the DiMag  card, I got the familiar iPhone ding signifying eBay action. Someone had bid on Payton. Then there was a message. The guy bidding on the Payton card was the same guy selling the DiMaggio! He’s putting together a complete run of Topps football , he liked my card and hoped we could end our respective auctions early.

1976 Payton front059

“Are you offering a one-for-one trade?”  I asked. He was. It was about midnight but I hopped out of bed and ran down to the computer. After a series of messages back-and-forth where we tried to figure out how to do this properly and in accordance with eBay rules (he changed his auction to Buy It Now with Offer and I was able to end my auction early and hit his bid), we got it done. Both eBay and PayPal were cut in on the deal but the end result is I got a Joe DiMaggio/Joe McCarthy card for $17 and an extra card I was willing to trade.

What does this say about value? I now have an 81-year-old card with two Hall of Famers, one of them amongst the most legendary, and the other guy got a 41-year-old card of an equally high level icon. Perhaps the value is in our mutual satisfaction and that’s enough. Prices, ages, maybe none of that really matters. Still, I can’t believe my good luck fortune.

Nineteen more cards to go in this set, with DiMaggio replaced by this guy as the highest priced card remaining:

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Anyone want to trade one for one for this?:

1974 Wilt front017

Altoona, 1884

For six weeks in 1884, the Altoona Unions/Mountain Citys/Altoonas were the most unlikely major league team in baseball history. With an 1880 population of 19,710, Altoona, Pennsylvania is the smallest city to field a major league squad. Altoona was the last club to join the ranks of the Union Association (UA), gaining official membership in the 8-team league on February 20, 1884. This gave them just under two months to form a major league club. It is little wonder that the club opened the the Union Association season with 11 straight losses (including 8 straight to the eventual UA pennant-winning St. Louis Maroons).

With middling crowds, except for a couple of Sunday games that drew upwards of 3000 fans (big gates for the time), the Altoonas were in financial trouble. By the end of May, the Altoonas were a dismal 6-17, despite playing their last 18 games at home.

Union Association commissioner and Maroons owner, Henry V. Lucas, was the benefactor/propper up of many struggling UA clubs, but he saw the writing on the wall for the Altoonas. Rather than paying more money to help the struggling club keep going, Lucas had sought out investors in Kansas City, Missouri to replace Altoona. Four Altoona players, Taylor Shafer, Joe Connors, Cleary Cross, and Charlie Berry were enlisted to join the Kansas City Cowboys as they compiled a ramshackle squad that was scheduled to begin play on June 7.

Altoona’s stint as a major league city ended with a whimper, as the Altoona’s lost 5-3 to the Baltimore Unions on May 31.

The club lasted only 6 weeks and only 18 men (including the recently discovered Frank Schiffhauer) can proudly claim to be Altoona Unions. But despite this, there is still a former Altoona player represented in the N172 Old Judge set.

That man would be lifelong Altoona resident George J. “Germany” Smith. In 1884, Smith was a 25 year old rookie shortstop. He would be the only man to play in all 25 Altoona games, and established himself as the club’s best player and one of only two players to post positive WAR for the ill-fated club. He hit .315/.321/.407 with a 142 OPS+. When the Altoona Unions folded, Smith was one of the first players to find work elsewhere, joining the National League Cleveland Blues.

Smith would enjoy a 15-year career, best known as a light-hitting defensive wizard for the pennant-winning Brooklyn Bridegrooms in 1889-90. While 19th-century defensive WAR should be taken with a grain of salt, Smith led the league in defensive WAR four times and assists five times. His 22.8 dWAR is still good for 29th all time (and it is the highest total of any player who played solely in the 19th century). To put it his defensive prowess in perspective, he hit just .191 with a 43 OPS+ and -0.6 offensive WAR for the pennant-winning Bridegrooms in 1890, yet he put up 2.0 defensive WAR and kept his starting job. 

Smith’s major league career ended at the age of 39 after hitting just .159 for the 1898 St. Louis Browns. He died at age 64 in Altoona, his legacy as the Altoona Unions greatest player still intact.

Germany Smith about to make rare contact circa 1887 with the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. Smith has five poses in the Old Judge set, all dated 1887.

 

An ode to El Tiante

1974

As August 1972 dawned, Red Sox reliever/spot-starter/afterthought Luis Tiant sported a 4-4 record with a 3.18 ERA. This was actually a positive and surprising turn of events — Tiant had been discarded a year earlier and his making the Red Sox in April was more a reflection of their sad pitching staff than it was Tiant’s spring mound work.  No matter what manager Eddie Kasko might have said.

On August 1 the Red Sox were 47-46, fourth place in the six-team AL East, a mediocre team on the way to a mediocre finish.  No one was blaming Tiant — he’d been given an unimportant role, and he had performed it with aplomb.

I was with my father and grandfather in the third base grandstand for his July 22 start against the A’s, his fifth start of the season. I generally attended one or two games a year, and this was the one.  The pitching matchup was Tiant against Catfish Hunter, which seemed hardly fair though both pitchers departed a 3-3 game eventually won by Oakland.  What are you gonna do?

Luis Tiant, as I well knew, had had some excellent seasons (especially 1968) with the Indians, had been traded to the Twins (1969), had badly hurt his throwing arm (1970), was released (1971), and finally was picked up by the Red Sox and sent to the minors. I loved Tiant in his pre-Red Sox days.  I liked his name, and I especially liked the way he looked on his baseball cards. Handsome as hell, and he looked like he came to win.

1968   1971

But this was not my first rodeo. I was plenty old enough (10) to know that injured and discarded pitchers did not suddenly become uninjured.  I figured I’d never hear his name again.

The Red Sox called Tiant up in June, and he was in and out of the rotation for two months. By early August he was 0-6 with a 6.44 ERA, and Kasko was mocked in the local papers. Tiant didn’t start again, thankfully, but he stuck around in the bullpen the rest of the season and pitched better.  The Red Sox gave him an invitation to spring training the next year, but he had no shot to make the team.

None.

Topps didn’t even put him on a 1972 baseball card. Understand: Topps gave everyone a baseball card, which is one of the things I loved about baseball cards.  Bobby Pfeil, who the Red Sox acquired a week before the season started but immediately sent to the minor leagues, never to return to the majors, got a baseball card as a member of the 1972 Red Sox.

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Luis Tiant did not get a card because Topps figured Tiant was finished.

On March 22 the Red Sox traded Sparky Lyle to the Yankees, an infamous deal that came with the side effect of saving Tiant’s job.  Give Eddie Kasko credit: he believed. Luis survived as a bullpen option who could also spot start.  Four months later his utility role had not changed.

He saved a game against the Yankees on August 2, then pitched two complete game wins over the Orioles on the 5th and 12th.  He pitched another game in relief (still not in the rotation!) before starting on the 19th at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.  The result was a 2-hit shutout, the first hit coming on a Carlos May double in the 7th. After the game, Kasko finally announced the obvious: Tiant would remain in the rotation. The team was suddenly just 3.5 games out of first.

Over the next four weeks I fell in love with Luis Tiant, and I have never really fallen back out.  It wasn’t the love I had for Agent 99, but it was love just the same.  I loved the look, the accent, the cigars in the shower. I loved the way he walked to the mound, stood on the mound, stared in to get the sign from Carlton Fisk, the 20 different windups, the 10 pitches thrown from several different angles and speeds.  And the fact that he got everyone out, that was also nice.

His next start was another shutout, and then another, and then another.  Four in a row, before he settled for a 4-2 win over the Yankees on September 8. After a shocking 3-2 loss in Yankee Stadium on the 12th, he shut out the Indians four days later.

This is about the time we all finally noticed, “Hey, wait a minute, Tiant doesn’t have a baseball card this year?  WTF was Topps thinking?” Thereby using both absurd revisionism and 21st century twitter jargon.

I was therefore doubly thrilled when this issue of the Sporting News showed up, with its “Boston’s Surprising Ace” headline.  If you ever want to see this issue, you can find it hanging in my office to this very day.

 

On September 20, when Tiant walked to the mound to face the Orioles, a sold-out Fenway Park crowd rose to its feet and cheered his entrance (his teammates joining in) and began chanting “Loo-EEE, Loo-EEE,” a refrain that would become a common Fenway sound over the next few years.

This went on for the rest of the night, growing especially loud when Tiant batted in the eighth, grounded to the pitcher, exchanged batting helmet for glove, and strode back to the hill. He finished his shutout, his sixth in his last eight starts, to total bedlam. Carl Yastrzemski, who knew a thing or two about starring in a pennant race, said that he had never witnessed such devotion.

Tiant pitched two more complete games wins before losing  a 3-1 heartbreaker in Tiger Stadium on October 3, a game that decided the division. Let’s not dwell on that.

For the season, the washed up spot-starter had finished 15-6, 1.91, capturing the league’s ERA title and various comeback awards.  This was just the beginning, of course. He would have many heroic moments in the coming years in Boston in pennant races and post seasons. (His September-October record for the Red Sox was 31-12.) But it started in August 1972.

1973

The most anticipated baseball card in New England in 1973 is right here.  Finally, our nightmare was over. Interesting — the photo was almost certainly taken in the spring of 1972, right about the time Topps moved heaven and earth to get Bobby Pfeil on a card.

The next time I saw Tiant pitch in person was June 24, 1974, against the Brewers.  No longer a spot-starter, Luis was instead one of the biggest stars in the game. I was thrilled that it was Tiant’s turn, and even more thrilled at the 9-0 shutout.

I sent Tiant a letter around this time, and received a signed copy of this card.  He had grown his trademark Fu Manchu, which he still sports.

1974Yearbook

Many years later, when I finally got up the nerve to submit an article to SABR for publication, it was the life story of Luis Tiant, which appeared in the Baseball Research Journal about 20 years ago.  I have updated it a few times, and it is on the web.  When I was fortunate enough to meet Tiant at the 2002 SABR convention in Boston (thanks to Anthony Salazar!), he gave me a cigar.

Once again, Luis Tiant’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame is up for debate.  Am I biased?  Of course I am biased.  Vote for him, please. It would be the capper to my 45-year love affair.

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The Bono View of Cards

I feel I’ve been gone a long time since the last post. I’ve been buried under boxes of cards, in the midst of a full search and seizure of sellable doubles and triples (or how about five extra 1975 Topps Pete Maravich cards in NM condition?) in my collection.

1975 Maravich front043

Before I dove into that colossal project, I ordered my 2017 Topps set. I always get my factory set at the end of the year. I used to not be able to wait that long and, in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I ordered all the sets – Donruss, Fleer, Score, Upper Deck, Topps – as early as they were released.

Two Wednesdays ago I put my factory set in numerical order (it drives me crazy that they are not already that way, but it does give me a couple of hours to go through each one, the longest time I’m ever likely to spend with any recent set). At the same time, well, not exactly at the same time but on the same day, I put away some new 1968’s and 1969’s, and a 1960 Don Zimmer, in sheets. The contrast between new new and old new was striking.

The differences, and what I like and dislike are not really in the designs. The 2017 Topps is nice enough and I’ve always found the 1969 set atrociously boring. The differences are in the times we live in, how we all process information and what we require in stimulation.

The 1960 cards confidently deliver simplicity – a portrait, a posed action shot, some stats, long or short, and a cartoon. The mix of colors and varied detail, like the L.A. Coliseum behind Zim’s giant noggin, give an OK set a lot of character. If 1960 is simple, 1969 is atavistic. It is beyond basic, and that would be OK if the pictures weren’t so mind-numbingly uninteresting. How many 33-year-olds who look 70 do we really need?

1969 Clay Dalrymple (f2)

The 2017 cards are a bombardment of foreground and background, bright constantly changing colors and a flurry of things to take in. They represent their time as much as some capless ancient did almost 50 years ago. This card gives me a headache, and many others left me feeling seasick.

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There are nice cards for sure, like this Puig,

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and I’m glad to have the set to keep my consecutive year streak alive. Still, I was left feeling that there is a happy middle out there for Topps, photo-wise. What makes the 1971-1990’s set so fulfilling is the mix of still life and action. Now you have to buy two different sets to capture the blend that was standard back then.

I don’t have any real conclusion to make. As I march toward completing the 1969 set I’m not overly enthused by the cards, though happy about getting close to the finish line. And now that my 2017 set is filed away, it’s unlikely I’ll refer back to it much. I buy out of obligation. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for in a contemporary card set. Maybe that’s why I’m having so much fun going through stacks of doubles from 40+ years ago. Beyond the nostalgia, those cards bring a more interesting and enjoyable viewing experience.

 

Pat Neshek, Card Collector

61nefYpg0RL._SY445_I’ve had a few opportunities to be in the Colorado Rockies clubhouse and to ask players about memorabilia they collect. Those who do collect are few and far between, though Mark Reynolds has a pretty extensive Hall of Fame autograph collection.

Pat Neshek, who was acquired this past July by the Rockies from the Philadelphia Phillies for their wild card push, is a bit of a throwback in that regard. He loves collecting baseball cards and autographs. His passion comes across in the many interviews he gives on card collecting, how he interacts with his fans on Twitter and his eagerness to autograph any cards he receives. Not only does he collect cards about himself, but he approaches collecting with a professional eye as he cultivates cards that improve his 1970 Topps set which in 2014 was ranked third best in quality in the world. He’s since improved that to the best set in the world. Recently I got the chance to talk to him and ask him about his favorite cards and his collecting beliefs.

Richard Bergstrom (RB): Do you remember the process for getting pictured on your first card?

Pat Neshek (PN): The first card you get is when you are in the minors, when you will get one with your team. It was in 2002 with my first team, the Elizabethon Twins. But my first Topps card was a 2006 Box Topper.

You had to buy a case of cards, then if you opened the case the Box Topper is the one on the top. They weren’t even in pack, but that was my first card. There were 50 different box toppers so your chance of getting it was 1 in 50 so it was really hard to get. They made 600 of my Box Topper and then they made a refractor of that. Twenty-five of those — it was pretty cool that Topps did that but I had to rely on eBay to get those. Once, I actually did buy four cases and I did pull a couple of mine but I didn’t get one of the refractors. Still eBay is a great source.

HeritageFront  HeritageBack

 

RB: What’s been your favorite baseball card of yourself?

PN:They made a short print card in 2007. I don’t know what quantity was released but it’s kind of a hard card to find. It was in Topps Heritage. I just don’t see many of them. People send autographs in and I maybe get two or three of them a year in the mail, so it’s pretty rare.

RB: What’s your favorite thing about that Heritage card??

PN: It’s scarcity. I tried to get a print run of them but they never gave it out. Whenever I see them, I usually buy them. You can usually get them for like three, four or five bucks. Sometimes you have to pay eight or nine. But there was like a hundred and ten short prints that year. I just don’t see the card so it’s a card I collect of myself.

RB: So Topps didn’t send you one directly?

PN: No, they never do. That’s the thing. People think we get boxes of them. No, you don’t get any. They’ll give you a check in spring training for $500 bucks for using your image. But no, we don’t get any from them. I have to buy my own usually or people will send them to me and I’ll give them out.

RB: How did you get into collecting?

PN: Like a lot of kids in the 80s, that was the cool thing to do. Then I kind of got away from it. But when I went to college, my roommate, he used to collect autographs a lot at hotels and after Triple A baseball games so I kind of tagged along a few nights and I thought it was really fun so I started getting into it a little bit. A lot of good stories, that’s what I enjoyed the most.

58Front   58Back

RB: It doesn’t seem like many players collect cards anymore.

PN: It’s weird. Certain guys collect certain things. I know with the Phillies, Howie Kendrick did a lot of bobbleheads from the 60s. A few guys did balls, some guys did jerseys. But not many guys collect. There’s a few guys who do cards. Brad Ziegler does it. Chris Perez did for a little bit. You kind of got to get to know each guy. I think a lot of guys do collect but they just don’t let it be known.

RB: It seems harder to get autographs from players than it used to be.

PN: It does. That’s why I started building a lot of these Topps sets to get signed. I think a lot of these guys are making a lot of money and it’s not worth their time to do a signing for $500 bucks and a lot of guys don’t do their mail so I don’t think it’ll be as easy as it was in the 70s and 80s with the fan interaction.

RB: What are your favorite sets?

PN: I love the old cardboard. I don’t like the new stuff with the gloss. I really like the Topps Heritage design. They’ll take it back 49 years so they’re doing 1968 this year. I’m looking forward to [2019 when] the 1970 set with the gray border comes out. I got the best PSA graded (original 1970 Topps) set in the world. I’ve been doing that for 11 years now. It’s hard. I always look for upgrades but they’re not out there. I’ll look forward to it in two years when they make that Heritage set.

RB: Do you have any favorite statistics on the back of cards?

PN: I liked it when I was a kid a lot because it helped you understand math and you could compute averages and make sure your work was right. The set building you get to know, I was born in 1980 but when I work on my 1970s sets I know a lot of who was on that team that year, where that guy’s been, what kind of hitter he was. And they had really cool cartoons back then. Some of the heritage do have good cartoons this year.

RB: Do you still chew the old gum?

PN: I did buy a box of Garbage Pail, built a really cool set of Garbage Pail Kids like eight years ago. I tried some of that gum… it was disgusting! Yeah, I bought like six boxes so when I got done. I think I put a picture on Twitter. It was pretty nasty. Some of it had brown stains on the gum. If you go back to the cellophane packs from the 1970, that gum is completely white. It can’t get any worse than that. It just turns into this candy cigarette chalk.

RB: When I was a kid, I’d buy packs, then boxes, then I’d skip and just buy the set. How do you collect sets these days?

PN: It depends. Like, if I’m in it, I’ll try to buy some of the boxes just to see what I crack open. It’s hard to pull some real nice stuff in some of those boxes. I’ve come to the point now where I’m relying on eBay and I’ll just wait for that card to come up. There’s a lot of really cool local sets. Especially in the 1950s, the dog food ones. It seems every restaurant had a local team set.

RB: If you could bring back one thing that was done on older baseball cards, what would that be?

PN: I want cardboard. Just real cardboard. I think that would change a lot of stuff for me. Maybe make the printing process not as good as it is. Some cards are off-center so it really makes it tough but fun to find nice gem mint cards. I like the gum in there. They tried that with Topps Heritage a few years ago but I think that’s more of a logistics thing where they try to ship so much and for such a cost that the gum kind of screws everything up. But I’d really like to see the cardboard come back.

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Old Judge (N172) and the Union Association

I’ve spent the past few months obsessed with the Union Association, baseball’s bastard major league. 

134 years after the Union Association’s single season, the league remains mysterious and enigmatic. Compared to baseball’s other former major league’s, the Union Association’s influence is scant at best.

After all, the National Association of 1871 to 1875 is baseball’s first attempt at a major league and is directly responsible for the creation of the National League. The American Association was formed in 1882. It’s legacy includes marketing baseball to the working class with beer and 25 cent tickets. The AA also gave birth to four of baseball’s greatest franchises: the Cincinnati Reds, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the St. Louis Cardinals. The Players League of 1890 attempted to usurp baseball’s power structure and give players control of their careers. The Federal League of 1914-1915 directly led to the establishment of baseball’s anti-trust exemption.

Meanwhile the Union Association has no significant legacy. Esteemed thinkers such as Bill James have suggested that calling the Union Association a major league is a significant mistake.

You might be wondering what all this has to do with baseball cards. Well, one of the fascinating and frustrating aspects of researching the Union Association is the lack of visual documentation of the league’s existence. I’ve found a team photo of the Boston Unions and a few scorecards and advertisements, but otherwise photos or illustrations of Union Association players and uniforms are virtually non-existent.

There are no Union Association baseball cards.

But there is the Old Judge (N172) set. Of the 500+ players featured in the mammoth N172 set, 60 are Union Association alumni. Approximately 277 players appeared in the Union Association in 1884, spread across 13 different franchises that appeared in 14 different cities. So that means roughly 20% or the league’s players were pictured in the Old Judge set and it provides the most comprehensive visual account of the men who played in the UA.

Of those 60 Union Association alumni in the Old Judge set, only a handful were or would become star major league players. I’ll focus on what I deem the top 5 players to appear in the Union Association in this post. In future posts, I will do a team by team breakdown of Old Judge cards featuring UA alums.

1. Fred “Sure Shot” Dunlap

Virtually forgotten now, Fred “Sure Shot” Dunlap was arguably the best second baseman in baseball in the 1880’s. Hall of Fame second baseman Frank Grant was nicknamed “The Black Dunlap” as a tribute to the strength of his play. Dunlap was a legitimate star and one of the few great players to jump from the National League the Union Association. In each of his first four previous seasons with the Cleveland Blues, he finished in the top ten in position player WAR. As the crown jewel of the UA champion St. Louis Maroons, he led the UA in virtually every offensive category, including a .412/.448/.621 slash line and a 256 OPS+, which is the best non-Barry Bonds OPS+ in major league history. He quickly declined upon his return to the National League due to injuries, but his peak is Hall of Fame worthy and in just 965 career games he totalled 36.8 WAR (I am using baseball-reference for WAR totals).

Dunlap is pictured as captain of the Pittsburg Alleghenys, longingly remembering the 1884 season when he had the whole baseball world in his hands. ca. 1888

2. “Pebbly” Jack Glasscock

“Pebbly” Jack Glasscock was a promising shortstop for the Cleveland Blues and Dunlap’s double play partner. He famously defected from the Blues along with pitcher Jim McCormick and catcher “Fatty” Briody to join the Cincinnati Unions in August 1884. Glasscock hit .419 in 38 games for Cincinnati, as he helped the club to a second place finish. He would enjoy a long career amassing 2041 hits and establishing himself as the game’s premier defensive shortstop. With 61.5 career WAR, he has a strong case for the Hall of Fame and was named by SABR as an Overlooked 19th Century Legend in 2016.

Glasscock is pictured with the now defunct Indianapolis Hoosiers ca. 1887 to 1889, though at least one variation has him in an Indianapolis uni with a hastily added “New York” on his chest, covering his move to the New York Giants in 1890 after the John T. Brush owned Indianapolis Hoosiers folded. Brush purchased the Giants and brought former Hoosiers like Glasscock and Amos Rusie over to the Big Apple.

3. Jim McCormick

Pitcher Jim McCormick was one baseball’s best pitchers in the 1880’s. As the workhorse of the Cleveland Blues from 1879 to 1884, he led the National League in victories and innings pitched twice, while also leading the league in ERA+ and ERA in 1883. Frustrated by a heavy workload and low pay, he joined the aforementioned Glasscock and Briody in defecting from the Blues to the Cincinnati Unions. He would post a sparkling 21-3 record with a UA leading 1.54 ERA in two months of work down the stretch. He joined Cap Anson’s Chicago White Stockings after the UA folded and had a couple more strong seasons before retiring after the 1887 season. His 265 career wins and 75.2 career WAR are the most of any UA alum and had he pitched for better known club in his peak, he would probably be in the Hall of Fame.

The stout McCormick is pictured in his Chicago White Stockings uniform ca. 1886. This means that the photos for the Old Judge set were taken as early as 1886, though generally were not released until 1887. (He spent 1887 with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, but his Old Judge cards list him without a team, and none of his Old Judge variations capture him in an Alleghenys uni.)

4. Jack Clements

Baseball’s last full-time left-handed catcher and one of the first to adopt a chest protector, Jack Clements was just 19 years old when he made his debut for the Keystones, Philadelphia’s Union Association entry. Despite his youth, he hit .275/.318/.401 with a 146 OPS+ in 41 games for the dismal Keystones. When the Keystones were on the verge of folding in early August, he was sold for $500 to the rival Philadelphia Phillies. The proceeds of the sale settled an outstanding debt for the lumber used to build the Keystones ballpark. Clements would become a key contributor for the strong Phillies clubs of the 1890’s. His .394 average in 1895 remains the all-time record for a catcher. He totalled 32.1 career WAR in 17 seasons and is one of the top catchers of the 19th century.

Clements is pictured with the Phillies, eternally waiting for the pitch to arrive ca. 1887 to 1890.

5. Tommy McCarthy

Tommy McCarthy is also the only Union Association player elected to the Hall of Fame. As a 20 year rookie, he debuted with his hometown Boston Unions as a pitcher and outfielder. He did not enjoy much success at either position, going 0-7 with a 4.82 ERA on the mound and hitting just .215 in 53 games. He has a reasonable case for being the worst regular in the Union Association. He bounced around several major league clubs before establishing himself as a star with the St. Louis Browns. He enjoyed his greatest success alongside Hugh Duffy on the Boston Beaneaters, where the duo was nicknamed “The Heavenly Twins.” McCarthy was credited with inventing the “hit and run” and was acknowledged as one of the most strategic players in the game. His 14.6 WAR is the lowest of any Hall of Famer, though it seems he was elected more his pioneering influence than his on field credentials.

A pre-stardom McCarthy is pictured with the Phillies ca. 1887 committing homicide via tag. He also appears in other variations from his time with the Brown Stockings.

 

Quite the Surprise

Not too long ago my wife surprised me with several shoeboxes of baseball cards.  It seems that her uncle, who is in the antique business, came across a whole bunch of cards at an estate sale, and I was to be the beneficiary!

 

After my initial shock, I quickly went through the boxes, rather greedily I think, and found several thousand cards.  The vast majority included 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1989 Topps and several stacks of 1991 Fleer cards.  Among the piles, were 25 unopened packs of cards from the 1991 Conlon Collection.  Among another box were a bunch 1987 and 1989 Topps cards tucked inside plastic sandwich bags.  And tucked inside the box as well was another plastic sandwich bag with quite the surprise — seven vintage Topps cards, all in excellent to near mint condition. I found:

1959 Andy Pafko (#27)

1959 Vic Wertz (#500)

1960 Minnie Minoso (#365)

1961 Nellie Fox MVP (#477)

1963 Elston Howard (#60)

1964 Jim Perry (#34)

1965 Rocky Colavito (#380)

 

I was a bit stunned, thinking that this plastic bag might have gotten mixed up somehow with other vintage cards of mine, but I knew I didn’t have these cards.  Still, it was odd that these six cards would be mixed in with a bunch of 80s and 90s Topps and Fleer cards.  Being the greedy guy that I am, I sorted through the others boxes again, just to make sure.  Alas, no other vintage cards.  So, I went back to the six and studied them carefully.  Great photos, no ceases, fairly sharp edges.  No stains, just a bit of wear.

 

It’s a mystery to me that whoever’s cards these were, that these vintage cards would be stashed in with the rest of the boxes.  I like mysteries, of course.  I think I might rummage through the boxes, again.  You know, just to make sure!