Robby Goes to the Birds

Although it may be a fool’s errand to follow a masterful post by Jeff Katz with a similar topic, I humbly present my own Frank Robinson post. In a personal note, I was a huge fan of the Orioles in early ’70. With the Pilots gone and the Mariners still to be born, I selected Baltimore as my team. I’m still not over the shock of his trade to the Dodgers after the ’71 season.

Of course, the most famous deal involving Frank occurred after the ’65 season when he was sent to Baltimore by the Reds. This controversial trade brought a great deal of attention to Frank during ‘66 spring training in Miami. Magazine and newspaper reporters and photographers flocked to South Florida to cover the story. Topps sent photographers as well.

Dressed to 9s 66

Frank’s trade to Baltimore coincided with a 1966 uniform change. The Orioles adopted the familiar “cartoon bird” logo for the cap (replacing the “chirping body bird “) and added an orange bill. Additionally, the home uniforms had a new lettering font and orange became the dominant color over the previous black. Finally, the plain black stirrups were replaced with black, orange and white ones.

al_1965_baltimore_01

However, the new “togs” were not worn until the ’66 regular season. The Orioles continued to use the ’65 uniform model in spring training. Thus, Frank is depicted on cards, magazine covers and publicity photos in a uniform that he never actually wore in an official game. Furthermore, Topps continued to use ’66 spring training photos through ’69.

66 Topps  66 Back

Topps’ ’66 Robinson card has the classic “in case of trade” photo. Frank has a head shot-sans cap- while still wearing his Reds’ vest uniform. The back has the frequently used cartoon graphic of a uniformed player carrying a suitcase with an arrow sign pointing to his new city. By the way, that same season Topps pictured Frank in a Reds cap on the NL RBI Leaders card.

67 FR  67 LL-Check

The ’67 card uses a ’66 spring training photo of Robby in the “chirping bird” cap and ’65 uniform. Also, he wears the cap on all three league leader cards and the checklist for the 1st series.

68 LL-Check

For Robinson’s ’68 card, Topps managed to get a photo of Frank in the cartoon bird cap. However, the photo-used twice on league leader cards’ in 67-shows up on the AL Batting Leaders card and the 6th series check list.

69 Super

Although I’m not 100% sure of this, I believe the ’69 Topps Super card is a ’66 spring training photo as well. The piping on the uniform is a match for the ’65 uniform.

 

Sport Service 66  Bethlehem Steel 67

Other types of collectibles that fall in the card or collectible category have Frank in the uniform he never wore during a “championship season.” Sports Services (left) – who I believe produced photos for concessionaires — issued a “chirping body bird” card/photo in ’66 and Bethlehem Steel (right) issued one in ’67. (Oriole fans may know if this was a giveaway.)

The great “Sport” magazine photographer, Ozzie Sweet, did a photo shoot in ’66 spring training. This results in an iconic magazine cover. “Pulp” magazines such as “Super Sports” were still using their ’66 Miami images as late as ’69.

67 H&B Annual

For decades, “Hillerich and Bradsby” issued an annual titled, “Famous Slugger Yearbook.” They took a different tack than other publications in ’67 by airbrushing the “cartoon” bird on the cap but not altering the ’65 model uniform. This photo is from one featuring both Frank and Brooks Robinson.

ASA FR 2

The ’66 spring training photos reappear in several retrospective cards. A company known as ASA did a Frank Robinson set in ’83 that contains at least two cards with ’66 spring training shots. Additionally, Upper Deck issued one in the ‘94 “American Epic” set.

90 Topps

The Orioles returned to a “body bird” in the ’90s. Thus, Manager Frank Robinson wore a sold black cap with a similar bird in a regular season game at last.

F. Robby, Card Icon

When I first started going to baseball card shows in 1973, prehistoric times, I was then, as I am now, a collector first. Investment potential has never been a driving force for me. As an 11-year old, I knew there were certain guys I wanted to collect, at least get all their Topps base cards. I wasn’t on the prowl for Mantles (never a favorite) or even Mays or Aarons (though I loved those two). I’d always buy those guys as the mood took me. There were some players though, that felt compelled to buy. Frank Robinson was one of those.

For a kid coming of age in the late ‘60’s-early’70’s, F. Robby was at the top layer of baseball, as a player and as a person. When he became the Indians manager in 1975, he soared above all others, save Aaron, who had only the year before become the All-Time Home Run leader.

I’m not going to go through a comprehensive list of Frank Robinson cards, just some that stuck with me. I’ll say this about Frank – there was something in his look that made his cards standout, always, year after year.

1957 Topps

66375

Yes, it’s a rookie card, but that’s not why it’s here. It’s hard to stand out in a set that is perfect from #1 to #407, but look at this, really look at it. The calm confidence of a kid who knows what lies ahead, even if we don’t. This is the face, and the pose, of a man who is quite aware he belongs. The uniform, slight choking up and stadium background make this as good as card as ever made.

1970 Topps Poster

s-l1600 (1)

This oversized (8 11/16” X 9 5/8”), much folded vision of a much older Robinson, shows the two sides that seemed ever present – the ferocity of the player, swinging fiercely, and the joy of the man, smiling broadly. Robinson was never mistaken for “The Say Hey Kid” in exuberance, but it was there. This is a favorite.

1974 Topps

1974-Topps-55-Frank-Robinson-Angels-NM

Truly his last player card (though 1975 has him as a DH, even though he was a player-manager). Wistful, contemplative, with all the traits that made him the obvious choice to be the first. We all knew he would be, it was only a matter of time, and that time was one year away.

1975 Cleveland Indians postcard

Cleveland-Indians-Coaching-Staff-Frank-Robinson-Player-Photo

Great team issue set, featuring Frank solo and with his coaching staff. HIS coaching staff. Everyone looks happy, none more so than Robinson, and deservedly so.

1976 SSPC

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A fantastic set, and Frank, still swinging, poses as more player than manager. He looks like he can still bring it at the plate, but those moments were few and far between. The Shea Stadium backdrop, home of the Yankees from 1974-1975, adds a little period charm.

Robinson was an electric figure, but, for all his history making achievements as player, a manager, and executive, there’s always been a sense that he never got  his just due, then, and now, overshadowed by Mantle, Mays, Aaron, the tragedy of Clemente. For me, he was in their class, often rising above them, a very special person.

During the 1999 World Series, my friend Rick and I stayed at a hotel in Atlanta and, we ended up on the elevator with Frank. That’s it, nothing to really to tell. We said hi, left, end of story, except it was friggin’ thrilling. WE MET FRANK ROBINSON! Years before I moved to Cooperstown and became mayor, running into someone of his caliber was rare for me, but even after all my experiences over the last 10+ years, that I once rode in an elevator with Frank Robinson is still exciting to recall, a priceless memory, that could only be valued in this kind of currency.

Highjacked to the Suds City

Six days prior to the 1970 baseball season opener, the second-year Seattle Pilots were awarded by a bankruptcy judge to a Milwaukee ownership group headed by car dealer Allan “Bud” Selig. The Pilots were re-christened the Brewers and headed to “Suds City” to open the season. The broken heart of a seven-year-old boy in Selah, Washington was collateral damage. He never recovered, resulting in a life dominated by obsessions revolving around a “winged wheel.”

The late transfer of the franchise meant that Topps was stuck with cards depicting the now defunct Pilots. Even the 6h and 7th series feature the Pilots name. For Pilots collectors, this means that a one-year team has two sets of Topps cards.

70 Segui

Northwest collectors opened packs in early spring to find that card number two — in the numerical sequence — was Diego Segui. No matter that he had been traded to Oakland, young fans were undoubtedly thrilled to see a Pilot is his road uniform at Yankee Stadium. The crushing blow had yet to arrive.

In addition to using photos taken in ’69, Topps photographers were in Tempe, AZ for ’70 spring training. There are several cards of Pilots who had not been with the team in 1969, and were expecting to make their home debut in April 1970. SABR member Dave Baldwin, Ted Kubiak and Bob Bolin are examples.

70 bristol

The glorious reign of Joe Schultz ended with his firing after the ’69 season. The Pilots hired former Reds’ skipper Dave Bristol as the new “pilot” of the ‘70 Pilots. Dave was thus featured on a card wearing the gorgeous Pilots’ livery.

70 Team

The Pilots team picture card is also included in the ’70 set. This is the second official team picture, taken in September. The Pilots used 53 different players, which meant that many of the players in the first team picture — taken before a game with the Red Sox in June –were no longer in Seattle.

The photo gives a good shot of the Sick’s Stadium grandstand and expanded press box –where the media had to deal with a toilet that wouldn’t flush (due to poor water pressure) — even if only a modest crowd showed up.

Young “cheese heads” had to wait until the spring of ’71 to collect the first Milwaukee Brewers’ Topps cards. Journeyman catcher, Phil Roof, fills the role of first Brewer. This is one of several cards with photos taken during the Brewers first 1970 trip to Yankee Stadium. Danny Walton’s card shows his helmet with missing paint, probably the result of removing the “S” and “scrambled eggs.”

The Brewers “star” was Tommy Harper. In addition to his card, Tommy was featured on a ’71 Topps coin insert. The “M” stickers for the batting helmets must have arrived later in ’70.

71-579Bk

The Pilots legacy was not completely erased in ’71. The airbrushed photo on the back of Marty Pattin’s card clearly shows the “bar” on his Pilots’ cap.

1970-McDonalds-1st-Year-The-Original-Milwaukee-Brewers

As Jeff Katz told us in a resent post, there is a 1970 McDonald’s Brewers set. The cards were issued uncut, six players to a sheet. The caricatures are less than stellar depictions of the players.

70 Hovley Flavor est

In addition to this set, a fan named Bob Solon issued a set for “Flavor-est” Milk. These blue tinted cards are oddly sized at 2-3/8” x 4-1/4”. I am unsure of the distribution method. I own the reprint set.

The Pilots only live on in the troubled minds of the haunted few. You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping the legacy of the “proud Seattle team” and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.

Next, in this invaluable series, we will head to “Big D” (Arlington actually) to see which of “them, thar good ol’ boys” will be the first Texas Rangers.

 

 

The Great Wax Pack Derby: A New Participation Project

wax pack derby

Based on the success of the Conlon Collection Project, we are embarking on a new – and hopefully interesting – project.  We’re calling this The Great Wax Pack Derby!  It’s a group writing collective, like Conlon project.

The idea is to get donations of somewhere between 50 to 100 wax packs of baseball cards that might include Topps, Bowman, Fleer, Upper Deck, etc., ensuring that they are in fact, wax packs

Once we have gathered up a critical mass of wax packs, we will send out a solicitation to SABR Baseball Card Committee members who may be interested in receiving a wax pack.  The idea, again, like the Conlon Project, is that those members who receive a wax pack are then obligated to select one card from that pack to write about.

Once we have gathered large groups of stories, we will post them – at least five stories a week – to the SABR Baseball Card committee blog.  It would be ideal to have this project completed by the end of Spring (in time for the SABR Convention in San Diego)!

So, if you are interested in donating a few wax packs from your collection to this project, we would be very grateful for your contribution.

Again, this is a group writing collective that benefits our SABR Baseball Card Committee.  Send me an email, and let me know if you are willing to donate a few wax packs from your collection.  I’m at salazar8017@yahoo.com

 

Thank you!

Anthony Salazar

The Babe Ruth of the Palm Tree Division

Many of us derive pleasure from collecting the cards of our favorite player. Often, the player was childhood hero and/or a superstar like Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski or Willie Mays. However, this doesn’t explain my decision to collect Steve Bilko cards.

My fascination with Steve began after attending a Bilko presentation by author Gaylon White at a NWSABR chapter meeting. Subsequently, I purchased White’s biography, The Bilko Athletic Club, which chronicles Bilko’s struggles to establish himself as a productive Major League player, his PCL “halcyon days” and his many legendary drinking feats.

“Big” Steve developed an almost cult-like following in Los Angeles during the mid-50s, when he was racking up 50+ home run years for the PCL Angels at LA’s Wrigley Field. The bandbox ballpark featured absurdly friendly dimensions in left field, thus helping the “Slugging Seraph” cement his status as a long ball legend. Since the Angels’ games were telecast throughout Southern California, Steve’s power exploits made him as famous as a movie or TV star with the local populace.

Silvers-Bilko

Speaking of TV stars, most of you are familiar with the fact that Phil Silvers’ character in the mid-50s sitcom, “Sergeant Bilko,” derived his name from portly power hitter. The writers wanted to honor the man who had captivated Los Angeles.

51 Bowman

The Cardinals originally signed Bilko in ’45–at the tender age of 16–and he made his major league debut in ’49. Steve’s first card appeared in the ’51 Bowman set. The colorized photo provides a good looked at his powerful physique. Also, Bowman includes Steve in the beautiful ’53 color photography set and in the toned down ‘54s.

52 Topps

55 Double Header

Bilko’s gets his first Topps card in ’52 and continuing uninterrupted through ’55. In addition, he is paired with Bob Milliken on the strange Double Header set issued by Topps in ’55.

55 Bowman

The Cardinals’ “brain trust” was concerned with Bilko’s ever-growing waistline and his penchant for striking out, resulting in his trade to Cubs in ’54. The classic “color tv” design of Bowman’s ’55 set seems to barely accommodate Steve’s girth. Unfortunately, Steve’s poor performance got him shipped to the AAA Los Angeles Angels, a Cubs’ affiliate

During Bilko’s three-year (’55-’57) stint as “the Babe Ruth of the Palm Tree Division,” no regional cards were issued for the PCL Angels. According to PCL historian Mark McCrae, a memorabilia collector and dealer, a ’57 team issued card set exists. I was unable to find an example.

58 Topps

After walloping 148 home runs in three years with the PCL “Seraphs”, the Reds decided to give Steve another shot at the majors. With George Crowe and Ted Kluszewski ahead of him, Steve was once again unable to break in as a regular. Topps brought Bilko back-after a two year absence-and produced a classic, airbrushed uniform photo on his ’58 card.

59 Topps

Midway in the ’58 season, the newly transplanted LA Dodgers acquire Steve-primarily to drum up fan interest for their fading ball club. Steve provides a thrill for his devoted fans by smashing a three-run homer in his first at bat in the Coliseum. He then settles into a part-time role with limited success. The ’59 Topps card shows a corpulent specimen swinging the bat at the Coliseum.

60 Topps

60 Leaf

The Dodgers optioned Steve to AAA Spokane after the ’59 season, but he was picked up by the Tigers in the minor league draft. Bilko spends most of ’60 in Detroit, platooning with a young Norm Cash. This results in ’60 Topps card with a headshot taken at the LA Coliseum and an “action” photo on the Reds. Also, Steve shows up in the ’60 black and white Leaf Portrait set, which was recently examined in a post by Jeff Katz.

The American League’s expansion Los Angeles Angels couldn’t pass up an opportunity to bring Steve back to Wrigley Field (LA) in hopes of rekindling his PCL magic. He hit 11 home runs at Wrigley with a total of 20 for the season. The ’61 card is a typical expansion team one, with a bare-headed Bilko wearing a Tigers uniform.

62 Topps

In ’62, Steve moved with the Angels to Dodger Stadium (Chavez Ravine) where he managed to hit only two dingers. However, his card was a “grand slam.” Taken during training, Steve sports the classic Angels jersey and cap. His image is that of a man who could hit the ball a “country mile.”

63 Post

Also, during his time with the MLB Angels, Post Cereal produced cards for Steve in ’62 and ’63. The ‘63 was a career “capper,” since he didn’t play in the majors after ‘62. Additionally, a Bilko card could be found on JELL-O boxes in ’62 and ‘63.

Bilko is included in various oddball issues throughout his career. An Exhibit card exists from the early ’50s, picturing Steve on the Cardinals. He is in the regional Hunter Wieners sets in ’53 and ’54. Jay Publishing issues several Bilko photos in the early 60’s as did the Angeles concessionaire, Sports Services. Manny’s Baseball Land even issues a photo in ’61. Finally, in ’62, Steve can be found on Salada and Shirriff coins and in Topps’ stamp set.

Steve is the definition of the “cult” ballplayer. His notoriety and fan loyalty far outstripped his ability. It goes without saying that a man who can drink a case of beer without showing any signs of intoxication deserves a place in the cult section of baseball lore.

I highly encourage you to check out Warren Corbett’s BioProject piece on Bilko.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food for Thought

Now that I’m (mostly) past the flu, my thoughts turn back to food, and food issues. I’ve realized that, though I think I pursued every sort of card in the 1970’s, the reality is that, when it came to cards, what I ate, and how I ate it, was the leading indicator.

I’ve written about 1961 Post (though it predates me), 1970’s Kellogg’s 3-D (right in my wheelhouse) and, of course, Hostess, the pinnacle of my taste and card preferences. Here are five other issues of the ‘70’s, and how I approached them.

1971 Bazooka (but really all Bazooka)

All of the Bazooka cards, starting in 1959, are nice enough, but I never, never, collected them, even when my gum chewing days began (let’s guess 1967). Why? Because I we didn’t conceive of buying gum by the box! Gum was an impulse purchase, and impulse easily satisfied for a penny.

That being said, I used to see those full boxes of Bazooka at the supermarket and they were glorious. Imagine, and entire box of gum, at home! It was too much to process and I don’t recall asking for it.

1600

1971 Milk Duds

I have never met a single child who had Milk Duds at the top of their candy list. Even in 1971, they seemed like the preferred candy of the 1940’s. I’ll assume adding cards to the back of nickel boxes was an attempt to entice kids away from better candy, but I can assure you that it didn’t work on me. I have never bought Milk Duds voluntarily. They end up always being part of a Halloween assortment bag, and I eat them when there’s no better alternative. To be fair, they are worlds better than Tootsie Rolls, which is the Devil’s candy.

Looking at them now, I find it hard to believe I never bought a single box, even if it meant tossing the candy and keeping the card.

 

 

1972-1975(?) Slurpee Cups

When we moved from Brooklyn to Long Island in December 1971, there were innumerable culture shocks. It felt like I time-traveled from 1971, long-haired and fringe-jacketed, to 1961, crew-cutted, Gentile, and mean. There were good things to come, some took time, others were immediate. 7-Eleven was immediate.

I’d never seen or heard of 7-Eleven before moving to the middle of Suffolk County, but it was a looming presence out there, and the Slurpee ruled. Not only were they the best icy drinks (Coca-Cola Slurpees are the pinnacle of man’s inventions), but Slurpees cups had baseball, football and basketball players, even Hall of Fame baseball cups (which portrayed players as old men. Weird.)

Not only did they let me pick the cup I wanted (thereby avoiding doubles), but they’d sell empty cups. Maybe they were a quarter? I ended up with towers of Slurpee cups.

 

 

1974-75 Sugar Daddy

Though not a baseball player to be found, these cards do tip their cap to the 1938 Goudey “Heads Up” cards. Both years have 25 card sets, with a mix of football, basketball and hockey. The ‘74’s are pretty simple looking; the ‘75’s have a shield as background and are commonly referred to as “All-Stars.”

In those two years, I ate 7 Sugar Daddys. I know this because that’s how many of the cards I have. Funny, I’ve grown to love Sugar Daddys, but, back then, they were only a slightly better option than Milk Duds.

 

1977-79 Burger King Yankees

All of the above deserve a main course. The BK Yankee cards were great. Most mirrored the regular issue Topps sets, but often there was a new picture of another Yankee free agent signing. Those cards made the sets extra special.

For some reason, I didn’t get any 1977s, but the 1978s and 1979s were plentiful and, if memory serves, you could get extra packs at checkout. Maybe they charged, maybe not. Either way, it was easy to put a set together. (And, there was even a poster in 1978!)

 

Be Sure to Wear … Some Jet Black Caps Over Your Hair

Almost from the moment Charlie Finley purchased the Kansas City Athletics prior to the 1961 season, the Chicago-based insurance magnate sought greener pastures. Like so many other cities in the post-war era, Kansas City experienced “white flight” to the suburbs–meaning that many fans had to drive to the ballpark. Since Municipal Stadium was located in an impoverished part of the city with limited parking, attendance suffered accordingly. Of course, abysmal teams and the pre-Finley perception that the A’s were merely a “farm team” of the Yankees didn’t help. Despite Finley’s promotions and gimmicks, the fan base continued to dwindle.

Finley feuded constantly with government officials over ballpark improvements and ultimately the construction of a new stadium. He threatened a move to Dallas-Ft. Worth, but the scheme was quickly squelched by the American League. In early 1964 Charlie tried to relocate to Louisville, but the AL put the kibosh on this plan as well. With the construction of the Coliseum in Oakland and “Finley fatigue” in KC, Charlie finally found a landing place that was acceptable to the American League. The team moved prior to the ’68 season.

As far as cards are concerned, Topps followed its formula of eliminating the previous city’s insignia from the caps or using bare head shots. A’s cards in the first five series featured caps and helmets with completely “blacked out” crowns, leaving only green on the bill. In the 6th and 7th series, Topps took a different approach, as we shall see.

68 hershberger f

The first Oakland A’s card depicts a bareheaded Mike Hershberger (#18 in the numerical sequence). The design necessitates turning the card over to see that the player is indeed on Oakland.

The ‘68s include Sal Bando’s first solo card and two later Hall-of-Fame inductees: Jim “Catfish” Hunter and Tony LaRussa.

gosger

Jim Gosger — who will later be the opening day center fielder for the 1969 Seattle Pilots — has an intriguing card. The reflection of the obliterated “KC” on the front cap panel can be seen on the green bill.

Perhaps inspired by the psychedelic color explosion of the ‘60s, Topps designers decide to ditch the black and go with green airbrushing for the 6th and 7th series.   This results in a “hypnotic splattered mist” of two-toned green. The bill is left alone but the crown is doctored in a “lighter shade of pale” green. (Pilot-in-waiting) Diego Segui and Lou Krausse model the “mod” lids.

 

69 a's stars

Bay area fans had to wait until ’69 to get the first card of a player with the Oakland lettering on the vest jersey and the old English “A” on the cap. Paul Lindblad has the honor of first representing the new East Bay entry, with card #449 in the 5th series. With the Major League Baseball Players’ Association boycott of Topps no longer in effect, several other A’s had card photos taken at ’69 spring training, including this great shot of three A’s Stars. The boycott had also led Topps to purchase several photos from third parties, including this famous Reggie Jackson rookie card.

Though I may have to down a whole bottle of Zoloft to ward off severe depression, my next installment in this series will look at the first cards of the Brewers- which include some awesome ’70 Pilots spring training photos.

 

To learn more about Charlie Finley and the A’s, I highly recommend Jeff Katz’s book: The Kansas City A’s and the Wrong Half of the Yankees https://www.amazon.com/Kansas-City-Wrong-Half-Yankees/dp/0977743659