Poor Little Lamb

Indians Album

In exchange for whacking down the weeds that constitute his yard, my neighbor will periodically reward me with memorabilia. Recently, he gave me a 1971 Cleveland Indians Dell Stamp album. The stamps are uncut and in excellent shape. As a kid, I was only able to acquire the All-Star version, so I was quite pleased to receive a team album. The image on one of stamps is so unique that I felt compelled to post my discovery.

Ray Lamb Dell Stamp

In blog posts and on Twitter, many of us have commented on the bad airbrushed photos Topps churned out in the ‘70s. One of the Indians stamps may be the worst altered photo in the history memorabilia production. Ray Lamb’s stamp appears to have been drawn by an elementary student. It is probably a bad colorization attempt of a black-and-white photo from his Dodgers days. In any event, you would be hard pressed to find a more amateurish alteration.

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Not to be outdone by Dell, Topps produced a hideous airbrushed photo of Ray in ’72. Obviously, he is in a Dodger uniform with the wishbone C painted on. Never mind the fact that the Indians have never worn royal blue caps. Why Topps decided to reach back into achieves is a mystery, since they produced a nice shot of Lamb in ’71, decked out in the short-lived pinstriped uniform.

Ray Lamb 71 Topps

The Trading Card Data Base and the Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards consider the Dell stamps to be cards. This is one of many examples of collectibles that are not truly cards being lumped into the card category. I’m interested in soliciting opinions on what constitutes a baseball card. Excepting inserts-which accompany cards-my feeling is a product can only be a card if printed on card stock. Perhaps we can engage in a Twitter conversation around this topic.

Incidentally, Jeff Katz did a post a few months back offering expert analysis of the Dell stamps and albums.

 

An Unsettled Set Strategy

I fancy myself as a frugal guy. Maybe not frugal, not anymore. I used to be pretty tight with money, which was fine when I was on my own, a bit more problematic once I got married. Over time I’ve become somewhat more profligate, maybe not profligate, but I no longer spend money as if I was still a kid without a job or had an entire career behind me. Still, I don’t love the act of spending, so I still try to maximize my dollars. If I’m going to spend dough, then I want it to be as little as possible within the confines of market rates.

When I started working on various sets, I had two general situations – 1) I had more than enough of the set that it was way less costly to finish off the checklist and 2) that, for other sets, it would be cheaper to buy the whole set and sell off what I already had from said set. I was more than aware of that, but there’s little fun in buying the whole all at once. Building a set over time is more enjoyable. And yet…

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I had about 30 1964 Topps coins and a solid amount of those were high end guys in EX condition. I figured with Koufax, Clemente, one of the Mantle All-Stars and plenty of other Hall of Famers, I’d be able to finish off the rest for less than the cost of a complete set. I was wrong, and I was wrong in a couple of ways.

The first way I was wrong was that, regardless of book value, there’s a definite floor on prices for commons. Could I get them for less than $1.75-2? Not really. Oddly, I can’t seem to sell my doubles for more than $2, about $1.50 after fees. It’s not a great spread.

The second way I was wrong was in gauging opportunity. I didn’t expect to go back to a card show, which I did, wrote about, and that led to 48 coins in one shot. I didn’t expect a friend to have another 35 he was willing to sell at a fair price.

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That’s it. I’m done. I have the entire set, not counting the Wayne Causey and Chuck Hinton wrong back All-Stars (they say “N.L” when they should say “A.L.”). I’ll likely pick them up over time, though there’s a difference between a complete set and a complete master set with all errors. (I do have both Mantle All-Stars. Less a mistake than a conscious and clever effort by Topps, there are AS coins of The Mick batting right-handed and left-handed).

Even with the 30+ head start, I ended up paying more to finish the set than had I bought it outright. How much more? Maybe $25 bucks, maybe $45 bucks with the error coins. Was that worth it? I’m not sure. I had expected that it would take me a good year or so to cobble together all the coins I needed. Had that been the case it would have been worth the extra money to work slowly and enjoy the gradual build.

But was it worth it for what ended up being about 3 months’ worth of collecting? I’m still not sure. I get an inordinate amount of joy looking at them, but maybe that would have been the case had they all arrived at once.

What I do know is that this is probably the only instance of doubt I’ve had on my process. I’ve been able to make enough good deals (and offset a percentage of costs with eBay sales) on the other sets I’ve worked on that it’s been better to piece them together. At least I’ve managed to stretch those sets out longer in a way that doesn’t give me pause.

My Cards Cup Runneth Over

The ‘70’s were my pack buying heyday. Except for Topps hockey cards (I started buying complete sets by mail in 1972, though stopped the year BEFORE Gretzky’s rookie, a massive collecting error in judgment), I bought pack after pack of baseball, football and basketball, mostly between 1972-1976 (the span is slightly different for each sport). I can tell how many packs I bought by the number of inserts left over. I have piles of unscratched off Topps football scratch off games from 1975. On top of the pack buying frenzy, I was known as a card collector so, by the end of the decade, my friends gave me their collections, all from the same period.

I was going through 1972-1976 football cards for a trade. You want to see a lot of 1973 Coy Bacon cards? Here are a lot of 1973 Coy Bacon cards!

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As I happily shuffled through countless Roy Gerelas and Halvor Hagens, I couldn’t shake the feeling that before me lay underutilized resources and a cavernous opportunity. There must be some collectors out there who need the commons and stars I have from this era and have commons/stars from years I need for a straight up value for value trade. There must be. But are there? Where are the many in need of a 1974 Billy Keller?

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It seems somewhat unlikely that someone would have 1968-69 baseball and football in nice condition and not have the years I cover so completely. There may be someone who has few cards from the other sports but holds a wealth of cards I need. I’ve been fishing around and seem to have found a few people who fit the bill, but I want more. My goal would be to virtually eliminate all the doubles (and triples and quadruples and quintuples, and other -uples) from my collection and have only single cards. I think it’s doable.

Another idea is trying to sell bulk commons to set builders, but at a price that makes sense and what I see out there doesn’t make sense. The market is the market, but selling 40+ year old cards for a dime doesn’t sit well with me. Again, trading is the way to go.

How can this blog community help? Well, I’ve already met, either virtually or in real life, other collectors and we swap a little. Maybe we can bulk up the Facebook page as a venue for, if not a sellers market, at least a healthy trading forum for us all. Who knows what we’ll find. There may be seven people desperately looking for nice condition 1973 Bill Bonham cards.

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And, So, I Return

I railed against card shows in a February post, extolling the virtues of eBay and espousing the problems of shows. No matter – last weekend was the East Coast National in White Plains. My friend Greg and I have been trying to coordinate going to a show together and, finally, our schedules lined up.

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Though I always used to go to shows on Sunday – seemed like dealers were more likely to haggle rather than schlep all of their inventory home – Saturday was the only day that worked for both of us. Replacing my last day strategy took some thinking, but I hit on something of a plan. I’d knock off as many commons from my want lists, mostly 1960 Topps, because I’m down to so few commons that going the eBay route is less worthwhile. If I could cross off enough of my checklists, I’d be happy. It’s much easier to find bargains on stars online. That’s been my experience.

Good approach, but that initial strategy of loading on commons was immediately derailed when I saw the Clean Sweep Auctions table. I used to order a lot from Steve Verkman. What I thought were random 1960’s turned out to be stars at 40% off. The discount brought them to book prices or slightly less. I’ve been having a hard time getting cards like Yogi Berra in EX or better for book or less. I ended up with 5 cards – Master and Mentor (Mays and Rigney), Berra, Snider, Brooks Robinson and the Pirates team card (with unmarked checklist) – one-third of my budget spent and a whole room to hit. So be it for the best plans. Mine gang aft agley.

 

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I assumed I’d hit the familiar tables with binders and binders of commons and, with a turn of a corner, I did. A dealer named Jeffrey Schenker had a nice group of EX or better cards, even giving me a good deal on some high numbers. I got 17 cards, a solid dent into the list, and I was back on track.

By this time I had gotten into the habit of telling people I was Mayor of Cooperstown. I didn’t think it would get me any better deals (and it didn’t) but this was the perfect audience to tell. Most had been to Cooperstown, and pretty recently, and it was nice to spread the word of the village to a group eager to listen.

As I walked past tables, I was surprised by how few dealers had varied offerings. It was Topps and Bowman, one after the other (outside the tables I couldn’t care less about – new cards, autographs, game used stuff, and so on). I was convinced I’d be able to get some 1971 Kellogg’s 3-Ds and 1964 Topps coins, but I was getting a bad feeling about it.

Then I found Stan’s Vintage Sports Cards and a small stack of Kellogg’s. I asked to see them and he pulled out one, two, three, four, five stacks! I hadn’t even noticed them all, so happy to see the one. I got three cards – Agee, Menke and Horton – but I only needed 8. I figured while I was there I’d ask if he had 1964 Coins. He did and what passes for hard work began.

 

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We laid some price ground rules early. I told him I wouldn’t pay much more than $2 per common. I went page by page, hunched over, a little sweaty, but it was worth it. I ended up with 37 coins at exactly the price I was looking for. A couple of tables over there was another guy with coins and I picked up 11 more. Big success.

 

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I’m so out of card show shape that I was exhausted, physically and (almost) financially. Greg and I met up again and, while we were chatting, I glanced over to a table with some 1960’s. I figured I’d give it one last go and picked up two more – Herb Score and the Tigers team.

Interestingly, this guy had a Jim Kaat rookie for $8. Way too cheap but seemingly nice, I took it out of the top holder and a PSA grading strip fell out. It said the card was “altered.” Now the dealer wasn’t trying to hide anything – he’d left that info in – but I couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong with it. It measured up in size to the other cards and had no discernible problems. He thought I should get it, of course, and I wondered if I should. “No one will know it’s altered, if it’s just going in a binder,” he said. Yeah, but I’d know and, while I might never figure out what was tampered with, I’d be nagged by the fact that somehow I had a bad card.

That was it. I’d spent most of my budget, was tired but happy, and my entire recent attitude on shows had changed. There are still pleasant dealers, engaged collectors who are happy to chat (I got into a long talk about Goudey Wide Pens) and certain purchases that can only be best made at shows.

I’m back!

Memory Almost Full?

I pride myself on my memory. When I shop for records, I know at a glance what I have and what I don’t. Same thing for books. Believe me, it’s not that easy to keep such things mentally cataloged when you have thousands of each.

Same holds true for cards. The “got it, got it, need it, need it” knowledge runs deep for me. So, whenever I slip up in life, memory wise, it gets me down. I’m only 55 (almost!) but not having 100% infallible recall worries me.

When I started looking at older sets to finish, searching for those that were reasonably within striking distance, I completely forgot about the 1936 Goudey Wide Pens, Type 1. I was putting some cards away recently and came across them, pages and pages of them. It’s not that I didn’t know I had some; I didn’t know how many and have little memory of when and why I was so into them.

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Turns out I have 70% of the set, 83 of 120, so add another set to the project list. It’s an interesting checklist. Granted, there were only 16 teams back then, but the amount of dross in the roster  is amazing. There is a quasi-DiMaggio rookie card (he’s pictured with Joe McCarthy) and a Hank Greenberg card (of course, I don’t have either), and there are a good amount of Hall of Famers (Gehringer, Waner and Waner, you get the idea) but there are so many people I’ve never heard of. Never. That’s odd.

Odder still is why a blah pitcher named Clydell Castleman has two cards. Two! Greenberg and Gabby Hartnett  only get one each and they were the reigning MVPs. Even John Thorn, MLB Historian, was at a loss when I Tweeted out to him. “Called Slick for some reason…” he offered. That’s something I suppose. Good ol’ Clydell was not much. Even when he won 15 games for the 1935 Giants, he had a mere 0.5 WAR. No one at Goudey knew that. He was out of baseball at 25 years old.

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Besides the less than thrilling checklist, hunting these cards down takes a bit of extra attention. There are three different types of 1936 Wide Pens and two more types in 1937. It can be confusing, but, for those of you keeping score at home, Type 1 have borders and “LITHO IN U.S.A.” printed on the bottom

I’ll admit that the set is not very nice. Seems I have a penchant for unattractive sets, according to some who have said as much when I go on about the 1949 Bowman and 1933 Tattoo Orbit cards. Pretty or not, finishing a set from the 1930’s would be pretty cool, so I’m going for it. Thankfully, no one seems to care for these cards very much. Low supply meets low demand so all cards, even the high priced ones, are not so expensive in EX condition as to be out of reach.

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But, as I pursue these cards, is the chase for Ed Moriarty and Tommy Padden going to knock more important information out of my head? It’s a risk I’m prepared to take.

The ’51 Roberto Avila Bowman Card

I know it’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but when I saw on the table I had to have it!  It was the 1951 Bowman Roberto Avila card, number 188.  A number of years ago, I think at the Long Beach SABR convention, there was a guy at a table selling cards.  I made note of the Avila card, sitting there with prominent colors of red, white and blue.  Not being a Cleveland Indians fan, but more a fan of the Latino pioneer, who I have studied for quite some time.

I liked the old-style painting presentation, versus the usual photo one would see in later years.  It was colorful with the Indian mascot pictured almost in the center of the card.  I wondered if that’s how the Vera Cruz, Mexico-native really looked at that time.  At 24 years of age in 1951, the painting on the card made him look more like a 12 year old!

According to the Official Baseball Card Price Guide – 1990 Collector’s Edition, the 1951 Bowman series was a 324-card set, the company’s largest issue up to that date. While the cards of this set had typically measured 2 1/16” by 3 1/8”, my Avila appears as only 2” by 3 1/8”.  As you can see, it’s not centered and probably cut.  But still, it’s kinda cool to me.

The back of the card, grayish in appearance with red and blue print, reading:

“The 1950 season was Roberto’s third in organized baseball.  He appeared in 80 games for the Indians, getting 60 hits and driving in 21 runs.  His batting average was .299.  Starting with Baltimore, International League, in 1948, he got into 56 games batting .220. With the Indians, 1949, he was only in 31 games.  His average fell to .214.  But in 1950, with added playing chances, he proved able to hit.”

It’s a nice narrative of his past seasons.  You might not get such commentary with the usual bland stats.  The other thing of note is that Bowman refers to him as “Roberto” versus “Bobby”.  I’ve written on the ridiculousness of Americanizing Latino player names in previous postings.  Topps has been guilty of this for years during this era.  Though, in doing a quick search of the listings in other years, Bowman calls him “Bob” 1954 and “Bobby” in 1955!  Grrr!!

Moving on, the website PSAcard.com provides a Sports Market Report (SRM) Price Guide with value and card condition.  The prices range from $12 for excellent condition to $350 for mint condition.  Since my guy here is not centered, but has sharp corners and a fairly clear picture, I’m guessing it’s in the $12 range.  Pretty much what I paid for it several years ago.  I’m not grousing, but I do find it interesting.  It’s the intrinsic value that matters most to me.  And with this card, there’s a story of a Latino pioneer to tell.

Reusing Vintage Topps Cartoon Illustrations

If you are a real fan of the vintage cards issued by Topps from 1953 to 1981, you know that a little cartoon appeared on the backs of most of the cards during that time span. (If you have spent as much time studying these cards as I have, God bless you because we are part of a small group truly obsessed with this hobby.) The Heritage and Archives sets recently issued by Topps often use the designs of those earlier years, including many of the original cartoon drawings. I often have thought about trying to match up the original drawings with a current version or determining whether someone else has already done this and made the information available on the web. I also suspect that Topps owns the rights to all of these drawings because under current copyright law they are “works for hire.”

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Price - Back

My fascination with the reuse of these images was piqued again this year when I started buying packs of Topps Archives with the first hundred cards using the 1960 format. I was certain I recognized the image on David Price’s card number 31, as well as a few others which carried the same image. I pulled out my notebook with 1960s Reds cards and, sure enough, there was the same image on Bob Purkey’s 1960 card number 4.

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The illustrator placed a “C” on the cap of the right-handed pitcher in the cartoon, just like the actual cap you see the righty Purkey wearing in the picture on the front of card number 4. My earlier post on “My Favorite Card” noted that the cartoon on the back of Charley Rabe’s 1958 card did not match the lefty pitcher’s throwing arm. Well, the same thing is true for the reuse of the righty cartoon figure from Purkey’s card number 4 on the 2017 Price card number 31—as we all know, the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner is a southpaw.

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Sherry - Back

Topps could have used a different cartoon from the 1960 set so that the illustration on the back of Price’s card matched his lefty throwing motion. For instance, the cartoon on the back of Larry Sherry’s 1960 card number 105 is that of a left-handed pitcher like Price. The observant among you will immediately point out that Sherry threw right-handed, not left-handed, but enough is enough. Anyway, by now, I am sure you have concluded that I have, indeed, spent too much of my life examining the front and backs of baseball cards instead of engaging in activities far more useful to society. While there may be some truth in that suggestion, I do hope that a complete examination of my life’s work will show evidence of some efforts that help to balance the ledger.