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 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.

Thoughts on National Baseball Card Day: Phillies Wall of Fame #16 Mike Lieberthal

The give away item for the Phillies final game of Alumni Weekend was a special pack of Wall of Fame baseball cards.

2017 Topps National Baseball Card Day Phillies #16 Mike Lieberthal

Counter to the tired storyline that card collecting is dying I did see some signs of life for the Hobby on Sunday.

First off as I entered the game I saw a guy holding a sign that said “Baseball Cards WANTED Please & Thanks”. I didn’t see the guy get any cards but I hope he did after putting together the sign.

I also witnessed different groups of folks of varying ages opening packs and discussing contents – I even saw a guy in Mets gear that appeared pretty happy to be getting a pack.

Finally when I left the game I overheard someone asking an usher if there were any leftover packs, alas there were none.

 Ok back to the card. The Wall of Fame set is 20 cards, packs contained 15 cards each. While you don’t get a full set, I figure most folks attend games in groups of two or more. If one of the folks isn’t interested in the cards then building a complete set should be pretty simple.

The Design is pretty generic – something that allows for Topps Reuse in Football Hoop Hockey or even TV and Movies. Note that Toyota sponsors the Wall of Fame weekend and made sure to get their brand splashed on the cards.

I did a Getty images search and found the photograph on the card was from a game the Phillies lost 7-2 to the Mets. Unfortunately it was not a memorable game for Lieberthal who went 1-4.  He was the final out of the inning in the three ABs in which he didn’t record a hit.

Oddly the game in which the Phillies celebrated baseball card day was also a bad loss to the Mets this time by a similar 6-2 score. The only player common to both boxes which are separated by over a decade was Jose Reyes.

The picture was taken by Robert Leiter who is based in Santa Clara California.

2017 Topps National Baseball Card Day Phillies #16 Mike Lieberthal (b-side)

The backs do not contains stat lines but do have a nice summary of each players career.

On The Road

2017 Topps National Baseball Card Day Rockies Andres Galarraga

The Team Phungo Baseball Road trip for this year was to Denver to see the Rockies who happened to be having their trading card day when they hosted the Phillies on August 5. As you see, same design, however in the top right along with the Topps logo there is a “National Baseball Card Day 2017” flair.

I hope National Baseball Card Day works out well for Topps. It is a good hobby and hobbies are good to us.

Sources and Links

Robert Leiter Photography

Getty Images

A short list of Game Dated Cards



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.”

Price - Front

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.

Purkey - Front

Purkey - Back

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.

Sherry - Front

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.

Apres 1996, le deluge

I want more. We all want more. Any collector worth his accumulating salt wants more, but in the constant pursuit of the new, it’s easy to forget what we have, especially when it comes to cards from the 1990’s. Not only have I lost track of what sets I have from that decade, but I can’t even remember the designs from year to year. Young me would be appalled at such neglect.

I wrote last week about the cards that dominated the Tim Raines party the night before Induction. In the goodie bag, along with a signed copy of Rock’s book, were a handful of cards. This one


caught my eye.

The 1996 Topps baseball set is not at the top of anyone’s all-time favorite sets list, but it’s damn nice. The design is sublime – simple, with the team logo in one corner, name at the bottom and a weird Phantom Zone face shot that would make General Zod grimace in remembered confinement. I kinda love it. Action shots dominate the set, but they’re varied enough to not be boring.

Look at Wakefield’s knuckleball grip:


Did Quilvio Veras ever look this good?


There’s not a lot of fluff here. At 440 cards, it has to be one of the smallest base sets Topps issued. Concise and to the point; I like that. The subsets are nice, with a glimpse of what’s to come, the good and the bad.


While going through the stacks of cards, I felt I was in the eye of the hurricane. The odd thing about looking at 1996 versions of Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, McGwire and others is the pervasive sense of innocence. In reality, nobody was innocent (no one ever is!), and what exploded only two years later was obviously in the mix in 1996. We just didn’t know. Looking at these cards, I could feel the storm coming, palpable outside the borders and ready to burst.

Dad’s Gifts Keep on Giving

By the time the 1984 All-Star Game hit San Francisco – my hometown – I missed the entire festivities.  I was in between my freshman and sophomore years in college, and had been forced to spend the entire summer working at Disneyland.  Everyone in my family was obligated to work at the “Happiest Place on Earth” because my uncle, who was there when the place opened, was still there and made it a family commitment.  Consequently, I missed the All-Star Game.  What I didn’t realize until some months later was how involved my dad was in those festivities.

At some point after we moved to San Francisco from Los Angeles, he got a job selling air time for KOFY-AM, the Spanish-language radio station, that broadcast Giants games.  Throughout my later elementary school and high school years, we had access to Giants games basically whenever we wanted.  I remember visiting my dad’s office to beg for tickets, and he would open the drawer, and sure enough, there were stacks of tickets.  Pure gold, I tell you!

Over the years my dad developed a good relationship with the Giants front office staff, the communications people, I imagine.  I hadn’t known what all he did, especially when the Giants got the 1984 All-Star game, and what kind of contribution he made to the event.  The next time I saw him, maybe around Thanksgiving, he showed me the cool plaque the Giants gave him, that featured their logo, the All-Star Game logo and a nice shot of the crowd.  He also gave me a pack of cards.  It was a 1984 Mother’s Cookies San Francisco Giants All Time All Stars pack that included 20 trading cards out of a 28-card set.  He gave me one pack, while keeping two packs for himself.  He never said where he got them, but I took my pack without question, quickly flipping through my treasures.

The set included Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, and John Montefusco, among other Giants greats.  Card 28 featured the 1984 All-Star Game logo.  The 21st card in my pack invited you to send away for the eight cards, though as they indicate, “If you would like to have 8 additional trading cards (although most probably NOT the exact eight needed to complete your set due to random selection).”  Somehow I doubted I would get the exact cards I needed.

Over the years, I would flip through the cards, reminiscing about the players I saw play back in the late 1970s and early 1980s: Jack Clark, Gary Lavelle, Vida Blue, Ed Whitson, Darrell Evans and of course, the Count.  A decade ago, when my dad passed away, I inherited the plaque and his two packs of 1984 Mother’s Cookies cards.  And wouldn’t you know it … he was missing the same cards I was missing!  And it’s too late to mail in to Mother’s!

My Favorite Card – Charley Rabe

1957 Topps Baseball Card Sale BoxSometime during the spring of 1957, I acquired my first pack of Topps Baseball cards. The specific details are lost to history, but suffice to say that collecting baseball cards became an immediate and, eventually, lifelong pursuit. So, 2017 is an important anniversary for me – 60 years of collecting cards.

My card collection quickly became my most prized possession. It was rarely far from my sight. I soon acquired an old briefcase from my father for the cards. Unlike most other kids, I never used a shoebox; in my mind, the cards were much too valuable for such a flimsy storage container. I alphabetized the cards by players’ last names and kept them in order in the briefcase. For many years the player for whom I had the largest number of unique cards was Hank Aaron. However, it was not until I was an adult that I added the 1957 reverse negative Aaron to my collection. I amassed a pretty good number of 1957 cards during that first year of collecting. I still have many of them, including some of the hard-to-find fourth series cards like Brooks Robinson, Sandy Koufax, and Jim Bunning.

Charley Rabe - 1958Although the 1957 cards will always have a special place in my heart, it was the 1958 set that produced my favorite card as a youngster—#376, Charley Rabe of the Cincinnati Redlegs, my favorite team even now. (For five years in the 1950s, Cincinnati changed its nickname from Reds to Redlegs because of the “Red Scare” in the United States and the connection so often made between communism and the color “red.”) Although the set is often criticized for the strong color backgrounds that replaced the nice stadium shots found in many ‘57 cards, there are still many great players highlighted in the set. In particular, the Sport Magazine All Star Selection cards at

Ed Bailey - 1958 All Star Cardthe very end of the set, including Redlegs Ed Bailey, Frank Robinson, and Johnny Temple. But I preferred Charley Rabe and his card over all others.

I am not sure why this particular card and player became my favorite. It might have been his home of Waxahachie, Texas, although I doubt if I could pronounce the town’s name correctly despite my family connection to Texas (it’s WAWK-sah-HATCH-ee). My mother’s side of the family can trace its history back to the state’s republic period. Furthermore, he was not even the most noted major leaguer from Waxahachie. That honor belonged to player, scout, manager, and team executive Paul Richards. It might have been his confident look or the wavy hair peeking out from under the bill of one of my all-time favorite Reds caps. Or, since like so 1958 Rabe card backmany kids of the era I studied the back of each card with a fanatic’s devotion, maybe it was the cartoon on the back of #376, showing a right-handed pitcher who instructed the ball in his hand that “You go where want,” presumably illustrating Charley’s improved control acquired under the “watchful eye of Lefty O’Doul last year.” I doubt I noted at the time that Rabe was a lefty, but I do remember thinking that his statistics displayed a fair number of walks. Later I would learn more about Lefty O’Doul, who was a noted hitter during his playing career, so I am puzzled about what he taught Charley about pitching. Also, the reference to the Reds farm team in Lawton was another thing that fascinated me about the ODoulbacks of baseball cards—the interesting minor league cities where players toiled before making it to “The Show.” As long as I am talking about the backs of cards, I should mention that I preferred those of the 1957 cards because they provided season-by-season statistics.

Charley (or Charlie as he is listed on appeared in a total of eleven Major League Baseball games with 27 innings pitched. He batted six times, with three strikeouts and no hits. He gave up five home runs—two to Del Crandall, and one each to Hank Aaron, Andy Pafko, and Bill Mazeroski (the only non-Milwaukee player to hammer a Rabe pitch out of the park), that is, two Hall-of-Famers and an eight-time All-Star. He last appeared for the Redlegs on June 4, 1958, and he

1958 Crandallwould not appear on a 1959 card. He was already back in AAA baseball. None of this mattered to a seven-year-old boy in 1958, or for many years after that. Rabe was my favorite! In fact, in 2007, when Topps Heritage issued a Real One Certified Autographed card of Rabe, I quickly snapped one up a few on eBay. I have both red and blue autographed cards. The red ink versions were limited to 57 cards to match the year of the set being honored.

To this day, sixty years after opening my first pack of cards, I still feel a thrill picking up a pack of new cards. In particular, a nice chase card (the limited edition cards meant to drive a collector’s interest in buying more and more packs) is always a welcome addition to the many cards in my collection.


A team by any other name

On December 1, 1970, the Red Sox traded infielders Mike Andrews and Luis Alvarado to the White Sox for shortstop Luis Aparicio. Red Sox trades were always somewhat startling to me at the time, much like hearing that we had traded our family dog for a cat on the next block over. Why?

Once I recovered, at some point in the next few days I got out my baseball card locker and moved my most recent Mike Andrews card (probably this one) to the White Sox slot, and moved Aparicio to the Red Sox. (Alvarado did not yet have his own card–for simplification, I will ignore him for the remainder of this post.) Then I got out the team stacks and tried to figure out who would play where. This was my childhood, basically.

As Topps was preparing its 1971 baseball card set, the relevant question for me: was this December trade early enough in the off-season for Topps to put the players on their new teams, or would they be left with their old teams?

The answer: “its complicated.”


Andrews (card 191) was in Series 2, too late for Topps to switch his affiliation, but Aparicio (740) was in Series 7 and got transferred. Today this seems ironic–the extra time allowed Topps to give Aparicio a worse card.

This has always been a problem for Topps, but especially in the days of multiple series — Topps’ team designation often depended on when the guy was traded and what series his card happened to be in. My favorite example of this was the 1969 Dick Ellsworth — the Red Sox traded him to the Indians in April, after the season started, but he still got onto a (hatless) Indians card late that summer.

When I got the Andrews/Aparicio cards in 1971, likely in April and August, respectively, I put them on their correct teams — my team stacks were always current. But the point of this post, and yes this post does have a point, is: how do I sort them now?

If you own a set of baseball cards — 1971 Topps, 1987 Fleer, whatever — you probably either store them in a binder of protective sheets, or in a long storage box. In either case, you probably either organize them numerically, or by team. (There are other ways to organize them — I will not judge.)

I am a “team guy.” When I look at my cards, I use them to immerse myself in a season, to recall (or imagine, if it was before my time) what the 1967 Cardinals or the 1975 Reds looked like, who their players were. Taken as a whole, the box or binder can represent a baseball season — with the league leaders, the post-season cards, the Highlights cards, helping to tell the story.

So that’s the first thing — the cards look backwards. Although I bought the 1975 cards in 1975, they do not (today) do a great job of telling the story of the 1975 season. The “Home Run Leaders” cards are the 1974 leaders. The stats on the back stop at 1974. My team was the Red Sox — how can I revel in the 1975 Red Sox with no true cards of Jim Rice and Fred Lynn? If I want to revel in 1975 (and I do, believe me), I need to be looking at these Rembrandts.

Excuse me, I need a moment.

OK, so that’s the solution — sort the 1976 Topps cards by team, and create a 1975 Red Sox starting lineup using the cards. Right? The 1976 cards depict 1975 teams. The end.

Well, no. We still have the Aparicio/Andrews problem. Although Topps placed both men on the 1971 Red Sox, they were two ships passing in the night. Looking at this from the White Sox perspective, you can’t use the 1971 “Topps team” to make a legitimate 1970 lineup (no Aparicio) nor a 1971 lineup (no Andrews). For the Red Sox, you can make a fake lineup with both players.

The solution, it seems to me, is to put the players on their correct teams. Either you organize by their actual 1970 team (putting Aparicio back on the White Sox) or by their actual 1971 team (putting Andrews on the White Sox). Pick one, but you cannot make them both Red Sox without promulgating a lie.

Since I already claimed that baseball cards look back a year, the best way to use the cards is to allow the 1971 Topps set to celebrate the 1970 season. So Luis goes back to Chicago.

If you look at my 1971 Topps set, organized by team, about 90% each team is the same as how Topps designates them, and a handful are mismatches. It looks a little funny, but my “team” depicts a group of players who played together in real life. So it works for me.

So you’ve got some work to do.  But before getting to all that, I leave you with Dick Allen of the 1970 Cardinals.