The Conlon Collection Project: Part 4

1991 Conlon packs

The Conlon Project series continues with Part 4, a collection of five stories based on cards selected by our writers.  We continue to present different writers and different stories.

This week’s installment includes stories on Conlon figures: Pie Traynor by Scott Chamberlain; Bennie Tate by Tim Jenkins; Dizzy Dean by Tom Shrimplin; Earl Webb by Tony Lehman; and John “Chief” Meyers by Anthony Salazar.

If missed the incredible story of the origins of the Conlon Collection by Steve Gietschier, be sure to check out: https://sabrbaseballcards.blog/2017/11/27/the-conlon-collection-project-intro/

Enjoy!

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Pie Traynor

PLAYER:          Pie Traynor

CARD #:           268

AUTHOR:        Scott Chamberlain

As a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, my attention turns to players in a Pirates uniform first. But the Pie Traynor card in my pack grabbed my attention for more than just that. I selected his card because of the expression on his face. Charles Conlon captured Pie talking with a big smile on his face. That expression on his face seems to be saying, “I love being in a Pirates uniform and being part of this team!” Pie’s smile on this card is one that makes me feel good every time I look at it. I sure wish I knew what he was saying when the photograph was taken.

 

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Beeny Tate.jpg

PLAYER:               Bennie Tate

CARD #:               220

AUTHOR:             Tim Jenkins

Even though there were several well-known players in my pack, I was drawn toward a “common” player’s card: journeymen catcher, Bennie Tate. The anonymity of “scrub” players leads one to flip the card over to answer the question: Who is this guy?  Bennie’s biographical information on the back confirms his modest credentials by insinuating that his most significant “accomplishment” was calling the pitch that Babe Ruth hit for his 60th home run in ‘27.

Tate’s lack of notoriety aside, the photo is a classic Conlon portrait in that it reveals much about the person.  In an era where players often appeared older than their ages in photos, Bennie looks like a 25-year-old.  His demeanor is serious but not stern.  He seems pleased that Conlon is photographing a career back-up.

In addition, the image captures the feel of the early 20th century.  The high-collard, Senators uniform along with the WW1 memorial patch evokes the era.  Also, Tate wears the low-crowned, cap style of the period.  If the photo were in color, the cap would be white with a navy “W” and a red bill.

The clarity and evocative nature of Conlon’s work transcends baseball. My wife was intrigued by Conlon’s stunning photos and collected all the series in the 90s. Once, I visited a 6th grade classroom to show part of my memorabilia collection.  I gave the students Conlon doubles.  The kids were intrigued, as was their non-sports fan teacher. A testament to Conlon’s lasting artistry.

 

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Dizzy Dean

PLAYER:          Dizzy Dean

CARD #:           3

AUTHOR:        Tom Shrimplin

As I opened the package of Conlon baseball cards, one after another were names I remembered hearing about, until I got to the next to the last one in the stack.

Dizzy Dean is one of the first memories I have of baseball.  In the 50’s he was on the GAME OF THE WEEK, on TV in black and white, describing the action on the field and telling us stories of his time on the field.  Ol’ Diz was as entertaining as any comedian, now or then. And as a 6-year-old, his strange twang and dialect was something I had never heard.  At first, it was hard to understand, but after a few weeks, it was as familiar as Howdy Doody.

Only after I grew older and started to learn about baseball in the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s did I find out what a great pitcher he was.  He definitely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and it makes me sad I wasn’t able to see him pitch.  With an ERA ranging from 2.66 to 3.30 between 1932 and 1937, and a winning percentage of 0.644, I agree that he was one of the all-time best pitchers.

Only in baseball will you find a “character” like Dizzy Dean. That’s what make the game unlike any other.

 

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Earl Webb

PLAYER:          Earl Webb

CARD #:           261

AUTHOR:        Tony Lehman

Card #261 features Earl Webb – still the leader for most doubles in a season with 67. As the card informs us, Webb set this record in 1931 at the age of 32. Webb has always been something of a blank slate in my head, with thoughts of him colored by an old Topps cartoon on the back of a 1977 card.

This portrait of Webb that Conlon captured, however, shows more. An unsmiling Webb stares out from the dugout, looking directly at the camera. His uniform is buttoned all the way to his neck and adds to the seriousness of the photo. Webb almost looks crestfallen at the fact that it took him until his thirties to make an impact in the major leagues.  It’s a solemn photo, befitting the seriousness of the Great Depression era.

I chose this photo of Webb in part because of the solemnity – something about the look in his eyes feels like it is telling a story of a fight to get to the major leagues and, then, a fight to stay there. The other part: the photo is the first time I have ever seen Earl Webb as a person rather than being a cartoon character on the back of a baseball card.

 

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Chief Meyer.jpg

PLAYER:               John “Chief” Meyers

CARD #:               171

AUTHOR:             Anthony Salazar

Over the course of the Conlon Collection Project, I’ve looked over all the cards in this 1991 330-card set, the Chief Meyers card is one of the few that features a catcher.  Ray Schalk (#48) and Tony Lizzeri (#113), being the others.  The bulk of the set portray awesome player head shots, or pitchers and batters in action, but this Meyers card stuck me with great interest.

I usually don’t think too much about catchers (my apologies to those of you who do), but when looking at Meyers’ card, I thought about his era, the 1910s, the types of players he had to face and the equipment he used.  Meyers played the bulk of his nine-year career with the New York Giants, with a couple of season with the Brooklyn Robins.  He’s listed as being 5’11” and 194 lbs.  Not the most bulky of catchers, but he sounds pretty athletic.  The photo depicts Meyers presumably before the game taking some warm-up tosses.  He’s wearing his shin guards and a chest protector, sporting his pillowy catcher’s mitt with his facemask is in front of him on the ground.

Again, not being an avid aficionado of the catcher, I was intrigued enough to do a bit of research on the evolution of the catcher’s gear, particularly of his mask.  The version that Meyers seems to have was developed in 1910, called the “Wide Sight” or “Open Vision,” which gave catchers a better peripheral vision of the action.  I’m appreciative of the Conlon card for providing me the insight not only of Meyers, who was one of the few Native Americans on major league rosters at this time, but also of the catcher’s equipment during this era.

Christmas Cards

The week before Christmas has been a good one for cards. That’s too bold; the week before Christmas has been a good one for me getting cards. I have no idea how cards in general are doing. A few random stories:

Though a long time collector, my re-immersion into the hobby the past year and a half has come with some re-education. I am consistently surprised by the variations in pricing and how, with patience, there’s always an opportunity to get what I need at a price I can bear.

My pursuit of a 1956 Topps set has been slow in comparison to the pedal to the metal pace of my 1960, 1968 and 1969 set building. I’ve gotten lots on eBay of cards in EX or better for less than $3 a card, low numbers and high, but there are usually too many cards in those lots that I already have. I never end up selling my doubles for more than $2 per card.

On Monday an eBay seller, justcollectcards, had a big 40% off sale. I was almost late for a lunch appointment because I went through all their EX listings. It was worth it though. I got 60 cards, including Minnie Minoso and a couple of teams, for $2.75 each. That put a huge dent in my checklist. Now I know I’m not going to get the big dollar cards for any discount from book, but if I keep getting the rest of the set for about 1/3 of stated value, I should have enough savings to make the Mantle and Ted Williams somewhat easier to swallow.

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Cooperstown definitely needs more general interest stores, but that’s a difficult hurdle to jump with a year round population of around 1,800, slightly more if you add the surrounding area. Are there too many baseball stores? Sure. Do I want there to be no baseball stores? Absolutely not.

I’m not a binder and sheets person by nature but it has definitely been easier to put sets together when I can add a few cards into pages, rather than pull out boxes and sort through all the cards to put the new ones in their proper numerical place every time I get two new cards.

Yesterday Joey met me at Yastrzemski Sports on Main St., where I usually buy my supplies. I decided I’d put my 1967 set in sheets, since all my pre-1970 sets seem to have ended up stored that way. Joey needed sheets for his hoped for misprinted, psychedelic card collection.  

We got what we needed plus I found a 1988 Pacific Eight Men Out set for $5! Any set with four Studs Terkel cards is worth having.

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From there we headed to Baseball Nostalgia by Doubleday Field. I’m sure I’ve written how BN is my favorite store, filled with cards, cheap autographs, yearbooks and more. It’s been in Cooperstown, in a few different forms, since the mid-1970’s. Pete at the store had read the post I wrote about Joey’s quest for cards with messed up printing and he emailed me to say that he had a bunch of 1976 SSPC misprints. (Baseball Nostalgia began as a TCMA flagship.)

Boy, did he have misprints! Joey bit the bullet and bought all 140 of them, each a trippy nightmare of color mistakes. The Bruce Bochte card (left) looks like a still from a Peter Fonda movie and our buddy John D’Acquisto (right) seems to have two sets of eyes. Freaky stuff.

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A signed Jose Cardenal baseball Legends card caught my eye. You can’t beat the price!

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And so, that’s how my card year is ending. The 1956s are on their way, as are 4 more 1936 Goudey Wide Pens.

I’ll wrap things up as I did last year, with great thanks to Mark Armour and Chris Dial for not only restarting the SABR Baseball Cards Committee, but dragging me, quite willingly, into participating in a big way. That’s been the best gift of all.

The Conlon Collection Project: Part 3

1991 Conlon packs

The Conlon Project series continues with Part 3, a collection of five stories based on cards selected by our writers.  We continue to present different writers and different stories.

 

This week’s installment includes stories on Conlon figures: Wes Ferrell by Mark Armour; Ray Morehart by Mark Black; Lon Warneke by Mike Beasley; Lefty Grove by Nick Vossbink; and Al Simmons by Rock Hoffman.

 

If missed the incredible story of the origins of the Conlon Collection by Steve Gietschier, be sure to check out: https://sabrbaseballcards.blog/2017/11/27/the-conlon-collection-project-intro/

Enjoy!

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Wes Ferrell

PLAYER:          Wes Ferrell

CARD #:           198

AUTHOR:        Mark Armour

 

The cello pack Anthony sent me had Joe Cronin visible on top.  This was Anthony’s gesture, as he knows I wrote a book on Joe, so he was basically tossing me an alley-oop.  Determined not to take the easy way out, I opened up the pack.

During the several years I worked on Cronin’s story, I got to know many of the players from this period, especially the AL players.  My Conlon pack included many of Joe’s teammates or players he managed.  Tony Lazzeri was a rival in San Francisco when both were kids. Goose Goslin was a star Senator when Cronin finally got his big chance on the same team. Bob Johnson was a star opponent for a decade before the Red Sox finally acquired him during the war and he became Cronin’s best hitter.

But my guy today is Wes Ferrell.  He was one of many AL stars (Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, etc.) whom Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey acquired from other less rich teams in the 1930s.  Many of these strong-willed men made Cronin’s life hell for a few years, none more so than Wes Ferrell.  Cronin was the club’s shortstop and if Ferrell saw a reliever warming up in the bullpen he’d call Cronin over and say, “if that mother f**ker doesn’t sit down, I ain’t pitching.”  He’d walk off the mound if there were errors made behind him, especially by his manager.  One time, Cronin gave him a big fine, and Ferrell said he’d punch him in the face the next time he saw him.  Eventually it all blew over, but inevitably he had to be traded.

But Wes Ferrell could play.  In 1935, for example, he won 25 games as a pitcher (a total of 8.4 WAR) and also hitting .347 with 7 home runs as a hitter (2.6 more WAR).  His 11 WAR (per Baseball-Reference.com) were the most in the league.

Like many pitchers of his time Wes Ferrell did not age well.  But he was one of baseball’s best players for several years, and deserves to be remembered.

 

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Ray Morehart

PLAYER:          Ray Morehart

CARD #:           102

AUTHOR:        Mark Black

 

My first 18 years of Sundays were spent in a (seemingly) never ending sequence of church, visits with relatives, Sunday dinners, and feelings of resentment because I was missing out on better ways to spend the weekend.

My grandmother didn’t have cable so while adults were visiting, we’d entertain ourselves by exploring my grandmother’s bookshelves. There was one book that seemed to capture our attention over and over again, Mining Photographs and Other Pictures, 1948–1968 by Leslie Shedden. A collection of stark black and white industrial photos, it covered every aspect of the mining history of Cape Breton – pit ponies, safety photos, labor conditions, and family life.

Over 20 years separates the Conlon collection from the Shedden collection, but for me there’s an echo of Conlon’s work in those mining photos and there’s an echo of my grandmother’s house in Ray Morehart’s face.

Every player in my pack seemed more well-known, more talented, more accomplished, and possibly more appealing. I could have chosen any of them for this project, but I chose Ray Morehart. There was something about Ray Morehart – his ‘snaggletooth’, the bags under his eyes, his uneasy smile – among the Hall of Famers, the legends, and the more fêted members of the ’27 Yankees, he clearly stands out. Ray Morehart looks like he doesn’t belong and more strikingly, it looks like he knows it.

There’s a down-to-earthness to Morehart’s photo, that same modesty and humbleness that resonated with me when I cracked open that book of mining photos 30 years previous.

 

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Lon Warneke

PLAYER:          Lon Warneke

CARD #:           231

AUTHOR:        Mike Beasley

 

The quintessential quaff? The perfect pompadour? Baseball’s Brylcreem Boy for 1939? With hair combed high, the 6′ 2″, 185-pound right-handed sidewinding Lon Warneke compiled a 192-121 won-loss record, completed 192 contests, and threw 30 shutouts over a 14-year (1930-1945) span with the Cubs and Cardinals, posting a career 3.18 ERA. Warneke threw a no-hitter against Cincinnati in 1941. Of his four one-hitters, two were back-to-back to open the 1934 season for the Cubs. Following his playing days, the lifelong Arkansas resident umpired in the National League for five years, including the 1952 All-Star Game and the 1954 World Series. On retiring from baseball, he was elected a county judge in his home state, serving in that capacity from 1963 until 1972. Warneke passed in June 1976 at the age of 67.

It was almost a draw of the hat in choosing a particular Conlon card from the pack of 18, but Warneke won out for a variety of reasons. First, I was only vaguely familiar with the name, embarrassingly so, I have to admit. Then there’s the photograph, with rakish tilt of the cap, the high cheekbones, penetrating eyes and lean cheeks.  But that pile of hair propping up the ball cap! A display of the cool confidence of the Arkansas Hummingbird. I wonder, though, if he ever thought “a little dab’ll do ya” and slipped a slippery one into his repertoire?

 

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Lefty Grove.jpg

PLAYER:          Lefty Grove

CARD #:           23

AUTHOR:        Nick Vossbink

 

The thing about the Conlon photos is that you don’t see portraits like this too often on cards. They’re clearly Baseball™ but they’re also distinct from what we think of as card material. The thin depth of field from the 4×5 camera is something that we see now with super telephoto lenses yet the interaction between the photographer and the subject confirms a close working arrangement. Lefty Grove is isolated from the background but also clearly engaged with Conlon.

And the tones. My goodness. While panchromatic emulsions were available in the early 20th century, their expense delayed their adoption. As a result, Conlon’s images are especially sensitive to blue light — resulting in a rugged masculine beauty where everyone appears tanned and strong. Even though Lefty Grove looks young, his wrinkles are defined, and you can see the face he’ll mature into.

His uniform is also wonderful with the white elephant logo the A’s still use and even an undone middle button Pedro Martinez style. The piping on the jersey is classic and the piping on the hat is something I wish we still saw today. Also, that standup collar is something I can never picture working when I see it on a coat hanger, but I love how it looks here.

 

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Al Simmons

PLAYER:          Al Simmons

CARD #:           49

AUTHOR:        Rock Hoffman

For the Conlon Project, I selected the card of Al Simmons because the Athletics occupy a special place in the minds of Philadelphia baseball fans who know their history. I was born in Philadelphia and raised just outside of the city and I think there is a sense of pride that we had the Athletics and their five World Series wins. Of course, there were all those losing season too and combined with the Phillies, the fans of the Delaware Valley have seen a lot of bad baseball. Ultimately, I think there’s a feeling of disappointment that they left the city.

As I looked at the card of “Bucketfoot Al,” I saw that the photo was from 1924 which was Simmons first season in the majors, essentially it his rookie card. He’s 22 years old and has a look in his eyes of a life full of possibility. It’s like the line from the movie “Field of Dreams,” when Ray Kinsella sees his father as a young catcher and says, “He has his whole life in front of him.”

You wonder what Simmons is thinking, does he feel like he can become a star play or is he just hoping to hold on for a few years before he gets on with his life’s work.

 

Talkin’ Baseball…Cards (Part 2)

Frankly, all the audio cards profiled in Part 1 did not whet my collector’s appetite. However, there are several “gems” in this post worthy of adding to the collection.

Many of you remember “Sports Challenge”; a syndicated sports trivia game show hosted by Dick Enberg, which ran from 1970-1978. A set of audio cards was produced in ‘77 called “Sports Challenge Highlights.”

The cardboard, 6” diameter discs were part of a 12-card set that featured great baseball moments. The cards have a stylized player illustration on the front with a 33-1/3 RPM recording overlaying it. Scarrab Productions produced the cards, but the record was made by American Audiographics. I couldn’t find sales or distribution information.

 

Mattel Box

In ’70-’71, Mattel produced a product for the toy market called “Instant Replay.” Although listed in the Complete Guide to Vintage Baseball Cards and “Trading Card Database,” it is a stretch to categorize the plastic discs as cards. The baseball version features: Mays, Aaron, Seaver, Oliva, Banks, McCovey and Frank Robinson.

Mays instant replay

The initial ’70 issue consists of a black, miniature disc with groves on one side and a sticker with the player’s stylized illustration attached to the opposite side. Later, a version having pictures imbedded in the plastic on both sides with the record groves overlaid was produced. Several other sports were offered, including a “Sports Challenge” trivia version in ’73.

The discs are designed to be inserted in a hand-held, battery-operated player, which resembles a walky-talky. The player and several discs were sold together as a boxed set. As with the previously mentioned disc players, the sound quality was poor and it tended to malfunction soon after purchase. It is very rare to find one that still functions. Additional cards could be purchased in four disc, “blister” packs.

Aura Robinson

The real “star” of this genre is “Auravision.” A subsidiary of Columbia Records, “Auravision” produced 6-1/2 x 6-1/2” cards with gorgeous color photos on the front and black-and-white photos with stats on the back. Apparently, the photos are unique to this product and are vivid and well-posed. The 33-1/3 rpm, clear record overlays the color photo. As with most record cards, there was a punch is the middle to be removed for play.

The first series of seven cards was issued in ’62, followed by a 16-card issue in ’64. The photos on the two Mantle cards are different, with the ’62 being very rare.  Equally rare is the “64 Willie Mays, which is considered a short-print.

Aura Colavito

Famous New York sportscaster, Marty Glickman, conducts a five-minute interview with players on 14 of the 16 recordings. Chuck Thompson is the interviewer for Warren Spahn and Ernie Harwell does Rocky Colavito.

The cards were used by several companies as premiums. Collectors could acquire the cards through offers by Milk Duds, Yoo-Hoo, and Meadow Gold dairy products. In addition, the “Good Humor” man would hand them out when kids bought ice cream.

Another set with some “pizzazz” is the 1956 Spalding “promo” cards offered as a premium at sporting goods stores. The two, 5-1/2’ x 5-1/2’ cards feature Yogi Berra teaching the listener, “How to Hit” and Alvin Dark offering instruction on, “How to Field.” The transparent record is laid over the picture on the front. The back has a photo of Yogi or Al and their gloves. The 78 RPM recordings were produced by Rainbo Records, who also made back-of-the-box children’s records for Wheaties.

Dark on Turntable

Being a glove collector who possesses a mid-‘50s Al Dark Spalding glove, I couldn’t resist buying one of the cards several years ago. The accompanying photo shows the Al Dark card on my state-of-the-art, ’47 Zenith radio/phonograph. I was hoping to add a video of Dark’s card playing, but the phonograph wouldn’t work. There must be burned out tube.

I will close with cool set of baseball card records courtesy of a promotion by H-O Oatmeal. Produced by Sight ‘N’ Sound records in 1953, the four, 78-RPM cards were 4-3/4” in diameter and offered instructional tips from Roy Campanella, Allie Reynolds, Whitey Lockman and Duke Snider. The front side has the record and a black-and-white posed shot over a Yankee Stadium crowd. The back had a color portrait. One card was randomly packed inside the oatmeal box. For 25 cents and two box tops, a collector could obtain the other three cards.

The cardboard record was used by many different products for promotions or premiums. They were frequently included in magazines in the ‘70s and ‘80s to augment stories or to hype artists. My guess is that there are more “talking” baseball cards to be discovered. I will keep the turntable spinning and the needle poised to drop in case I happen upon additional “talkies.”

Sources

Complete Guide to Vintage Baseball Cards

Trading Card Data Base

KeyMan Collectibles: Product descriptions

1970s Flashback With Mattel Instant Replay. (2015, March 19). Retrieved December 13, 2017, from http://www.sportscollectorsdigest.com/the-offbeat-beat-mattels-instant-replay/

D’Angelo, B. (2016, May 30). Auravision Records Were A Hit With Baseball Fans. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from https://www.sportscollectorsdaily.com/auravision-records-showcased-baseballs-biggest-stars/

Auravision Records Gave Voice to Legends, But There’s More. (2009, April 06). Retrieved December 13, 2017, from http://www.sportscollectorsdigest.com/auravision_records_1960s/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Talkin’ Baseball…Cards (Part 1)

BT Brett

Recently, I unearthed an unopened, four card rack pack with cards from the 1989 Topps “Baseball Talk” set. The unique aspect of this set is the transparent plastic “record” laid over the printing on the back of each card. Knowing that the “talking card” concept long predated this set, I decided to find out more about these “talkies.”

BT box

I’ll start with the before-mentioned 1989 “Baseball Talk” cards. The 3-¼ x 5-¼ cards are designed to be inserted into a special “Sports Talk” player, which was sold separately for $24.99. The record player came with a check list and cards for Henry Aaron, Don Mattingly and Orel Hershiser.

The 164-card set features a similar design to the Topps ’89 regular issue set, including a miniature version of the card back. In addition to contemporary players, the set contains stars from different eras utilizing vintage card images. The rack packs retailed for $4.00

It will come as no surprise that this whole concept was a bust. The record frequently jammed and the sound quality was terrible. Topps scrapped its plan to issue football and basketball versions. I’ve included a link to a TV commercial for the product.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDXTjOLOfU8

PD Aux

In 1999, Upper Deck produced “Power Deck” cards. The “cards” are 32-megabyte CDs-die cut to the standard card size- with a picture of the player on the front. They contain both audio and video content.

The 25 “card” set had a parallel paper version called Auxiliary. Hobbyists bought packs containing two Auxiliary cards and one CD for $4.99. The set featured the “steroid era” sluggers, Ken Griffey Jr and pitchers Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez. Additionally, random cards were inserted from three subsets: MVP, Time Capsule and Season to Remember.

Mantle 2 Talking CMC

Perhaps inspired by “Baseball Talk,” Collectors Marketing Corporation (CMC) produced a Mickey Mantle “talking” card in 1999. It was included in the “Mickey Mantle Baseball Card Kit” along with a 20-card perforated sheet, album and booklet. The card has a 33-1/3 RPM transparent plastic record- superimposed over the photo on the front and is designed to play on a phonograph. The card set box implores the buyer to: “Hear Mickey’s actual voice!” Similar sets were produced for Babe Ruth, Joes Canseco and Don Mattingly.

TBC Larsen

The Mantle card is a reprise of a format used by CMC in 1979 called “Talking Baseball Cards.” Each of the 12, 5-½” X 5-5/8” cards depicts a famous baseball moment, ranging from Mazaroski’s walk-off homer to Bucky Dent’s crucial “dinger” off Mike Torrez in the ’78 tie-breaker playoff (sorry, Mark (ed: sigh)). Sold individually in rack packs, the cards have the clear 33-1/3 RPM record over a photo on the front and a narrative of the event on the back. Each card has a small perforation in the middle that could be “punched out” to fit on the center “nipple” of a turntable. I own a Don Larsen card but have never taken it out of the plastic sleeve to “give it a spin.

1979 also saw the Microsonic Company produced a series of “Living Sound” cards for United Press International (UPI). The cards were like “Baseball Talk” in that the 2” plastic record on the back of the 5” x 2-¾” card was inserted in a special player that was sold separately. UPI sold the cards in packs of 10 for $6.95. I’ve not been able to discover whether the cards or the player were sold at retail outlets or by mail order.

The “Living Sound” series was mostly comprised of non-sports topics, but the Great Moments in Sports and Sports Nostalgia sets containing nine baseball versions. The cards feature black-and-white photos on the front and a synopsis of the historical event on the back. Players in the set include: Aaron, Mantle, Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Williams, Musial, Bobby Thompson and Gene Tenace.

Monkees

Interestingly, Microsonic “cut its teeth” in the record overlay business by putting recordings on the back of cereal boxes. Wheaties put out kids’ music on box backs ’58 and Post had several promotions in the ‘60s and ‘70s featuring groups like the Monkees and the Archies.

LeGarde

By the way, Microsonic also produced a regional set of record cards for the Seattle Supersonics in the late ‘70s. I played the Tom LaGarde card on the turntable and it skipped halfway through.

In part two (or the “B-side”), I will continue the audio card saga by “spinning” such awesome “platters” as the Mattel Discs, “Auravision” and Spalding premiums. Catch you on the “flip side.”

 

Sources

Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards

Trading Card Data Base

“Flashback Product of the Week: 1989 Topps Baseball Talk Collection.” Sports Card Info, 18 Apr. 2014, sportscardinfo.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/flashback-product-of-the-week-1989-topps-baseball-talk-collection/.

Bidami.com: 1979 UPI Living Sound (Auction Site)

Collectable Classics.com: 1979 Collectors Marketing Corp. Talking Baseball Card (Auction site)

Top 10 Cereal Box Records | MrBreakfast.Com, www.mrbreakfast.com/list.asp?id=5.

 

The Conlon Collection Project: Part 2

The Conlon Collection Project series continues with Part 2, a collection of five stories based on cards selected by our writers.  Over the next several weeks we will present different writers and different stories.

This week’s installment includes stories on Conlon figures: Hack Wilson by Jennifer Hurtarte; Joe Giard by Jim Hoffman; Lyn Lary by Jonathan Daniel; Sam Rice by Josh Mathes; and Benny Bengough by Keith Pennington.

If missed the incredible story of the origins of the Conlon Collection by Steve Gietschier, be sure to check out: https://sabrbaseballcards.blog/2017/11/27/the-conlon-collection-project-intro/

Enjoy!

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Hack Wilson

PLAYER:          Hack Wilson

CARD #:           29

AUTHOR:        Jennifer Hurtarte

Hack Wilson was a Chicago Cub, which is the primary reason I chose him. However, another reason is that I have a promotional picture for Diamonds in the Rough with Wilson posing next to Radio Flyer wagons hanging on my bedroom wall. (It was inside the copy of Diamonds that I checked out from the Chicago Public Library many years ago and I thought it was cool, so I kept it. Please don’t tell anyone at CPL. J)

Wilson’s card makes me feel wistful, but it also reminds me why I love baseball. I am fascinated by history, and baseball’s rich history is probably the main reason I came to love it so much. This card makes me want to go back in time to see all the great players of the 1920s and 30s. Although he’s in the Hall of Fame and still holds the NL RBI record, I don’t think Wilson is as well-known as he should be. Perhaps he would have been remembered as one of the greats if his career (and life) hadn’t been cut short by alcoholism.

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Joe Giard

PLAYER:          Joe Giard

CARD #:           119

AUTHOR:        Jim Hoffman

Joe Giard of the 1927 Yankees is depicted on card 119 in the Conlon Collection set.  I prefer Conlon’s portrait images, and Giard is an interesting subject.  He’s smiling in this shot.  He seems confident and approachable.  His Yankees cap is pristine and fits perfectly on his head.  His eyes are clear and his eyebrows full.  His facial features remind me of my wife’s long passed Italian relatives, and in Giard, I feel their welcome and genuine sense of family.  It’s a flattering image of a man in his prime.

Still, the lines on Giard’s face make him appear 15 years older than he is here, in his late twenties.  1920s America was harder on the body, with alcohol, tobacco & environmental pollutants.  Personal training and nutrition were primitive.  All the players in this set appear older than they were.  We romanticize about the era, but it had to have been a more difficult life.  Still, Giard smiles.  He’s probably the least consequential member of one of the most consequential teams in history.  He only made it into 16 games all year, with a 0-0 record.  All the games had been decided when they called on him.  I wonder if he got tired of talking about Ruth and Gehrig, Hoyt, Lazzeri, Pennock and Miller Huggins.  What would it be like to be part of greatness, but almost all of it as a spectator?  But the stories he could tell.  And it looks like he’d be happy to tell them.

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Lyn Lary

PLAYER:          Lary Lyn

CARD #:           318

AUTHOR:        Jonathan Daniel

He’s 29 but he looks older. Much older.

Lyn Lary has the look of someone who has worked hard his entire life. He’s from Armona, CA, a town I know nothing about. But in my mind, Lyn Lary played baseball to escape Armona and make a better life for himself.

The main reason I chose Lary is that I’d never heard of him before and those players interest me. Who were they? How did they get to the big leagues? What did they do after they retired? Writing about the other players in my pack of cards like Al Simmons, Hack Wilson and Honus Wagner would be “easier,” but my preconceptions would bleed through. Choosing a player who was anonymous, at least to me, allowed me to focus on the image rather than the player and that’s what drew me in.

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Sam Rice

PLAYER:          Sam Rice

CARD #:           54

AUTHOR:        Josh Mathes

There are just a few things that have stayed almost exactly the same since before there was even one World War in the history books, let alone two.

I couldn’t travel back to our nation’s capital in 1916 and have a meaningful conversation with Sam Rice about too many things. We’d have no common background to discuss food, travel, or politics. We both grew up in the rural Midwest, so I suppose we could talk about the hot, humid summers or October leaves. But the vast majority of my experience in 21st century America would make no sense to Sam.  But we could have a catch.

He’d whip the ball to me the same way my dad and uncles did on summer weekend afternoons. The sound of the ball sailing through the air and smacking our leather gloves would be the same whether I went to Griffith Stadium or he came to a ballpark with a name like Guaranteed Rate, Globe Life, or SunTrust.

The world was bigger then. The ballparks, too. Sam played 20 seasons of big league ball and only hit a pitch over the fence 13 times. He had more home run sprints than trots (21 inside-the-park homers) and used the massive Griffith Stadium outfield to rack up 184 triples. Parks were built then to fit into their surrounding areas, not the other way around. Exit velocity and launch angle don’t matter as much when the left field pole is more than 400 feet away. So, although Sam would’ve recognized the basics of the game, as a guy who struck out about twice a month, he might be amused at the all-or-nothing approach of today’s hitters.

Throwing a baseball back and forth, though, getting ready to play the game, would feel the same no matter the time.

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Benny Bengough

PLAYER:          Benny Bengough

CARD #:           103

AUTHOR:        Keith Pennington

After looking through my pack of Conlon cards a couple of times, one card seemed to stand out to me.  It is a card of New York Yankees and St. Louis Browns catcher Benny Bengough. There was something about his look and his very slight smile.  He has very clear cool eyes and he just seemed to have an aura of peace and satisfaction to his smile.  Also, he looked current.  Like someone who could be working with me or that I knew today.  He did not look dated.

But again, it was the eyes that drew me back. The only thing I really knew about Benny was that he was on card #1 in the 1933 Goudey baseball set.  Aside from that, nothing.  I read the back of the card to learn about Benny and found out that he played on the 1927 Yankees (1923 through 1930, in fact).

Amazingly, in 1926, Benny was hitting an unbelievable .381 in 36 games, but was sidelined by a broken arm after being hit by a pitch.  He played six years after that but did not again come close to that previous success.  He also did not hit a home run in the majors.

Looking at his stats really made me wonder when the picture was taken: before or after the injury.  Is he is smiling because of a bright future ahead or is it a wistful smile at what might have been or a smile of contentment regardless of his circumstances, or a smile of knowing he was playing with some of the best baseball players and arguably on the best team of all time.

I don’t know.  But it was the smile and the eyes that led me to select this card.

Boston Unions

Much like the Baltimore Unions, Boston’s Union Association entry was one of the league’s more stable. Of the five Union Association clubs that completed their full schedule, only Cincinnati and St. Louis used fewer players than Boston’s 25. The Boston Unions (not the Reds as the history books say) officially joined the Union Association in March 1884, making them the last of the original eight clubs to join the UA. This makes it all the more remarkable that the club finished with a 58-51 record. For comparison, Altoona joined in February and finished a disastrous 6-17 before folding at the end of May.

The efforts to bring Union Association baseball to Boston were led by a triumvirate of Boston baseball legends, George Wright, pitcher Tommy Bond, and first baseman Tim Murnane. Wright’s involvement with the Unions has more or less been forgotten, but it is clear from contemporary accounts that Wright was the driving force behind the Boston Unions. The 33-year-old Murnane, a National Association and National League vet, who last played major league baseball in 1878, was slated to be the club’s first baseman and manager. The veteran pitcher Bond, once the best young pitcher in baseball, but now 4 years removed from his last injury free season. Amazingly pitching 3359 innings by the age of 24 is not good for the arm. Bond is the patron saint of gifted twirlers felled by crippling arm troubles.

Unlike most of the Union Association, Boston fielded its club with promising young players, rather than trying to poach players from established clubs. Thanks to Wright and Murnane’s scouting and a strong amateur baseball scene in the Boston area, the club was filled with young talent. Murnane was the club’s only regular above aged 26, while Bond was the only member of the pitching staff over 25. (As an aside, 19-game-winner James Burke’s birth date remains unknown). Among the talent, future major league regulars included 17-year-old outfielder Mike Slattery, 20-year-old pitcher/outfielder and future Hall of Famer Tommy McCarthy, 22-year-old third baseman John Irwin, and 22-year-old outfielder/pitcher Ed “Cannonball” Crane.

Despite raves from the Boston press, the Unions were not able to overtake the National League’s Red Stockings in the hearts and minds of the Boston faithful and drew poorly. After an opening day crowd of 3000 on April 30, just a few days later on May 5, they drew a crowd reported to be under 100. For a league whose admission prices were 25 cents and who promised a $75 guarantee to the road team, showings like these were a death knell. It seems apparent that George Wright was footing the bill for the team’s expenses. Indeed, Wright’s sporting goods empire, Wright & Ditson, published the official Union Association guide, so he was clearly a booster of the rebel league.

After a promising start, the 28-year-old Bond faltered as the club’s ace earning his release in June. The club landed disgruntled Detroit lefthander Dupee Shaw in mid-July, a coup for the Union Association, which was desperate to pluck major league talent from the rival National League and American Association. Shaw was dominant for the Boston, striking out a staggering 309 batters in 315.2 innings, while posting a 1.77 ERA (good for a 170 ERA+). His 451 strikeouts for the year (including 144 with Detroit) are the fourth best mark of all time.

Despite a dominant hitting season by catcher/outfielder “Cannonball” Ed Crane, the team’s offense was a weak point and prevented them from challenging for a higher position in the standings. Crane batted .285/.308/.451 with 12 home runs (good for second place in the league) and a 152 OPS+ (good for fifth in the league).

The club was dragged down by the poor hitting of Mike Slattery, 23 year old Kid Butler, and Tommy McCarthy. The teenaged Slattery hit just .208/.216/.232 good for a 51 OPS+. Of the 28 UA regulars who qualified for the batting title, Slattery was 28th. Butler, Boston’s left fielder and utility man was even worse, hitting just .169/.206/.227 for a 46 OPS+ in 71 games. Future Baseball Hall of Famer, McCarthy, hit just .215/.237/.244 good for a 62 OPS+ in 53 games. He totalled a -1.0 offensive WAR, -0.3 defensive WAR and put up an 0-7 record in the pitcher’s box, with a 4.82 ERA and a 63 OPS+. This was good for a -1.4 WAR on the mound. So in 53 games, he put up a -2.7 total WAR. All this in what is almost universally regarded as the lowest quality major league in history. (I am not going to comment on the major league credentials of the National Association). McCarthy’s 1884 season has a reasonable case as the worst season by anyone ever. His transformation from unfathomably bad to Hall of Famer has to be one of the most remarkable metamorphoses in baseball history.

The Boston Unions representation in the Old Judge set consists of four players: McCarthy, Slattery, Crane and third baseman John Irwin.

1. Tommy McCarthy

I wrote about McCarthy in the first blog in this series. There are 13 different poses capturing McCarthy’s transformation from struggling youth with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1887 to his burgeoning stardom with the St. Louis Brown Stockings. These 13 poses also include at least 30 variations and are illustrative of how complicated and unwieldy the Old Judge (N172) set is. (As an aside, all images are sourced from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection, which despite its vastness is still incomplete, hence the lack of inclusion of every pose for each player I discuss).

 

 

2. Mike “Kangaroo” Slattery

Mike “Kangaroo” Slattery was just 17 years old when he debuted for the Boston Unions in their first ever game on April 17, 1884. He is the youngest major league regular in baseball history, appearing in 106 games for the Unions. At 6 foot 2 and 210 pounds, he was one of the biggest players in the major leagues throughout his career. Unfortunately his athletic never translated into much hitting ability. After his teenage debut, Slattery spent the next few seasons in the minor leagues, before reappearing with the New York Gothams in 1888. He jumped the Players League Giants in 1890 and wrapped up his major league career with stints in Cincinnati and Washington in 1891. His post playing career including surviving a stabbing while trying to stop a shoplifter and a premature death at age 37 in 1904 due to stomach trouble.

Slattery is pictured in six poses with at least 12 known variations.

 

 

3. Ed “Cannonball” Crane

Ed “Cannonball” Crane had a very unusual and memorable career as the rare player to appear regularly both at catcher and pitcher. A powerfully built 5’9 and 215 pounds, Crane’s 1884 season was easily his best. Crane’s rookie season was split between catching, where he made a staggering 64 errors in 42 games, and the outfield. He also appeared at first base and on the mound. While his defense was dreadful, he showed tremendous power, hitting 12 home runs and 23 doubles. He also set the record for the longest throw, when he threw a baseball an estimated 405 feet (he did this on several occasions in October of that year), breaking former Cincinnati Red Stocking John Hatfield’s record of 400-402 feet. Crane hit well in limited time with Buffalo and Providence in 1885. A dreadful 1886 season with Washington in which he hit just .171, while also putting up a 1 and 7 record with a 7.20 ERA prompted a return to the minors. Pitching for the International League champion Toronto Maple Leafs, he hit .428 while winning 33 games. He returned to the majors with the New York Giants in 1888, where he pitched 12 games including the first no-hitter in New York Giants’ history, a seven inning affair on September 27 against Washington. The following week, he became the first player ever to strike out four batters in one inning. He made two starts for the Giants in that year’s World Series, going 1 and 1, helping the Giants to a 6 games to 4 win over the St. Louis Brown Stockings.

Crane joined the Giants as they toured the world with the Chicago White Stockings that off-season. Crane, who reportedly was not a drinker, quickly shifted into the life of the party on the tour. Crane dressed in fine clothes and regaling teammates and reporters alike with outlandish stories and song. He consumed wine and liquor at the seemingly endless banquets held for the touring baseballists. He missed several games due to drunkenness and hangovers. His throwing arm remained intact however, as he set an Australian record by throwing a cricket ball 384 feet and 10.5 inches in Melbourne. Somewhere along the way, he was provided with a Japanese monkey by an American sailor. The monkey terrorized passengers on-board, which Crane kept hidden in his coat pocket. At the end of the trip, Crane brought the monkey to New York, where he christened it the Giants’ new mascot.

Despite missing time due to injuries, Crane compiled a 14-11 record in 1889. The Giants won the pennant again. Crane showed flashes of his tremendous potential when he won 4 games for the Giants as they defeated the American Association’s Brooklyn Bridegrooms in that year’s World Series. Crane like most of his Giants’ teammates jumped the Players’ League in 1890. It was this season that Crane’s drinking started to takeover. His weight ballooned and in August he was arrested at a Harlem watering hole under charges of resisting arrest. He finished with a 16-19 record as the Giants’ finished a disappointing third. Crane walked a stunning 208 batters against just 116 strikeouts in 330 innings. Crane’s poor personal habits were singled out as the main cause of the club’s struggles.

Crane joined the King Kelly’s Cincinnati entry in the American Association for 1891. In doing so, he became one of the few players to appear in four different major leagues. Crane pitched well, leading the league with a 2.45 ERA with a 14-14 record, but he was criticized for his poor condition and lack of effort. The club disbanded in August and Crane jumped to the crosstown Red Stockings in the National League, as a replacement for Hall of Famer Old Hoss Radbourn. Crane went 4-8 in 15 starts.

Crane returned to the Giants in 1892, going 16-24 with 189 walks and a 3.80 ERA. His arm was faltering and his major league career ended in 1893 with dismal stints for the Giants and Brooklyn. Crane tried without success to find work as an umpire, appearing as a substitute umpire in five National League games over the next couple of seasons. He bounced around the minor leagues, drinking heavily at every stop. He reportedly committed suicide on September 19, 1896 by overdosing on a chloral hydrate prescription in Rochester, New York. He was just 34. Credit to Brian McKenna for the great SABR biography on Crane.

Crane appears in six different poses in the Old Judge set, capturing his time with both the National League and Players’ League versions of the Giants.

 

 

4. John Irwin

John Irwin lived in the shadow of his older brother Arthur Irwin. The elder Irwin was a star infielder for the Providence Grays, who in 1884 were rampaging towards the National League pennant. The previous year, Irwin was credited with inventing the fielder’s glove. John Irwin had made his major league debut in 1882 playing a single game alongside his older brother for the Worcester Grays. He spent 1883 with Bay City of the Northwestern League and from there joined the Boston Unions as their starting third baseman. Manning the hot corner, the 22 year old Irwin had a respectable rookie season. He was light hitter, but his .234/.260/.319 batting line was good for a 94 OPS+. In the field, his .780 fielding percentage was remarkably .003 points better than the UA league average for third baseman. No word on whether he used his brother’s glove. Despite his strong  blood lines, youth and promise, Irwin returned to the minors for most of the next three seasons, making brief stints in the majors with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1886 and Washington Nationals in 1887. Irwin earned modest playing time for the last-place Nationals in both 1888 and 1889 and then jumped to the Buffalo Bisons of the Players’ League in 1890. The Bisons finished in a distant last place with a record of 36-96. Irwin joined the eventual American Association pennant winning Boston Reds in 1891. The Reds were manager by his older brother Arthur. John played 19 games, but was released in July. I would hate to hear that conversation…Sorry bro, you suck.

From there, John joined the last place Louisville Colonels closing out his major league career with 14 games before being released in August. Irwin appeared for 5 different last place clubs in his major league career. Quite a record considering his career lasted just 322 games. He bounced around numerous minor league clubs until the turn of the century. He passed away at age 72 in 1934 in Boston.

Despite Irwin’s role as a part-timer on a last place club, he is featured in five different poses in the Old Judge set.

Irwin looks into his crystal ball to see what the future holds (last place probably):