The best of The Thriller Years, Part 1

In previous polls, we have debated the best baseball card designs of the 1970s and the 1960s.  This was the heart of the Topps Era, when there was only one card set to worry about so we were ranking 10 sets per decade.

To tackle the 1980s, I decided to mix it up.  First of all, there were 31 cards sets in the decade, and I did not really want to ask you to ponder whether the 1983 Donruss deserves to slot ahead of the 1989 Score set in 27th place.  Check that: I did not really want to ask myself to do that.  So instead, we will start out by picking the best card set of each year.  We will skip 1980 for the moment (Topps was the only set).

Reviewing the rules:  Please, I beg you, do not vote for the set that had the best rookies, or the best update set, or the best retail value.  All those things being equal, if you look at 25 random cards from each year which are the most attractive? The End.

We are just going to do five years now, and finish up next week.

So, first review the photos below, and then vote.  The link is at the bottom.

1981

Steve-Garvey-(Surpassed-21-HR-on-card-back)  83-56aBk

s-l225  84-640aBk

1981to3  wpeE5

1982

s-l225 (1)  87-34Bk

s-l225 (2)  Robin-Yount

s-l225 (3)  89-390Bk

1983

$_58  download (1)

92-601Fr  92-601Bk

83-topps-last-card-ripken  download

1984

s-l225 (4) 95-151Bkmurphy-84f  96-186Bk

100_2721  25513-510Bk

1985

s-l225 (5) - Copy  100-222Bk - Copy

carew - Copy  101-297Bk

43648c5c004c7bf68b09711b4d8d9cd3  download (2)

OK, now go vote!

Stardom “Staehled”

68 Bench                          

Topps’ ability to project stardom for young players has always been mixed. For every Nolan Ryan and Johnny Bench who appeared on the “Rookie Stars” cards of the ‘60’s and ‘70s, there was a Mike Brumley or a Ron Tompkins. Of course we all know baseball is the most difficult sport to project success beyond potential. Nonetheless, the talent evaluators in Brooklyn could be decidedly dogged in their insistence that some youngsters had star potential. Thus, there are several instances of the same players featured on multiple “Rookie Stars” cards.   I included the ’63 version-which is not team specific- in the survey.

64 Piniella

69 Staehl

In most instances statistical evidence did not back up Topps’ talent appraisals, with a few exceptions. The most well known is “Sweet” Lou Piniella who appears on three cards for three different teams. Lou vindicated Topps loyalty by emerging as a solid player for the Royals and Yankees. Darrell Knowles is another multiple card rookie who had a good but not spectacular career. One of the “Miracle Mets” chief “linchpins,” Tommy Agee, was another excellent player who-like Piniella- earned Rookie-of-the-Year honors.

63 Simpson

64 Simpson

65 Simpson

66 Simpson

However, the majority of the guys who appear two, three or four times never lived up to Topps’ lofty expectations. For instance Dick Simpson is on four different cards starting with in ’63.  He bounced around with five teams before his potential ran out in ’69 after a stint with Seattle. Bob Davis shows up three times and Ron Stone has a “triple” as well. The before mentioned Ron Tompkins, Roberto Rodriquez, Darrell Osteen (who appear together in ’68 for Reds) and Richie Scheinblum (paired with Lou Piniella as ’68 Indians) all had “doubles.”

65 Staehl

66 Staehl

69 Staehl

Marv Staehl is a classic example of overhyped potential. He appears on the White Sox “Rookie Stars” cards in ’65 and ’66 and for the Pilots in ’69. Marv played a total of 47 games for the “Pale Hose” but never played with Seattle, having been optioned to AAA Vancouver at the end spring training. He does hold the distinction of being the first player with major league experience signed by the Pilots.

After being dealt to the Expos, Marv finally exceeded his rookie status in ’70 by playing in over 100 games. The Expos are not impressed and cut him in April of ’71. He latches on with the Braves but is released after 22 games and a .111 average. Though his major league career ends, ’71 is not all bad for Marv. Topps finally gives him a card of his own, even if the cap emblem was inexpertly airbrushed away.

71 Staehl

Several months ago erstwhile blog contributor and Mayor of Cooperstown, Jeff Katz, informed me that Marv Staehl was once his insurance agent in Illinois. Marv had to be an All-State agent since he was known for having “good hands” around second base.

If I missed a multiple “Rookie Stars” player, let us know.

 

Goin’ Horizontal

When this blog did its poll of favorite 1970’s sets, I was surprised that 1974 was my #1. Before I truly thought about the decade’s offerings, I would have flippantly said 1972 or 1977. Maybe even 1971. When I really got to thinking about it, I found I loved ’74 the most.

A prime reason I’m fond of that year’s cards is the huge amount of horizontal cards, especially the subset of 13 player cards. It’s not really a subset; I just think of them that way. They are my favorite cards in my favorite series, and they should be yours too. They’re great.

Here they are – not the horizontal All-Stars, team cards, Hank Aaron #1, playoffs, World Series (although there are some spectacular horizontals there) and leaders cards. These are the special baker’s dozen (non-Dusty variety) players that made the recumbent grade.

#28 – Manny Sanguillen 

I’ll admit this is not the best card to start with to prove my point. It ain’t much, but it’s a start and, you’ll have to admit, has its own look. Manny looks as sad as the Clemente-honoring black armband on his left sleeve.

$_58

#80 – Tom Seaver 

Possibly my favorite card of my favorite player. Fierce Seaver follow through, big Shea crowd behind him. I always figured this had to be taken during the 1973 World Series, but there’s no Seaver started day game in Flushing. Maybe Game 5 of the NLCS? Sure, why not.

s-l225

#86 – Joe Ferguson

Ferguson was a caveman with a rifle arm. He doesn’t look too imposing here, kinda dorky, but he had some power. Speaking of dorky, the Phillies’ batter is Craig Robinson. If it was Hot Tub Time Machine Craig Robinson, that would make a killer card.

$_58 (1)

#105 – Carlton Fisk

Fisk’s second full card and was there ever a better one? The guy played 20 more years and 1974 may be the pinnacle of his card-dom.

144391

#153 – Jon Matlack

The Seaver-Matlack 1974 combo was potent on the mound and unrivaled in this set.  Same looking day as the Seaver card, same looking crowd, but there’s no 1973 post-season Matlack appearance that fits. I have no idea, but it doesn’t matter. This card rocks.

s-l225 (1)

#238 – Fran Healy

No star, but Healy gets to go horizontal. Odd choice. I know nothing about camera technology, but the dark dark background is a signature period look. Plus, you get Thurman Munson, a future Healy teammate on the Yankees from 1976-78.

1974-fran-healy

#270 – Ron Santo

Like Sangullien’s card, not solid evidence that the 1974 horizontal cards are the best, and yet there’s something to this. The askew helmet is so goofy, and so appropriate for often silly Santo. Though small, who should be centered but bald old Leo Durocher. That’s good stuff.

1974-Topps-Baseball-Ron-Santo

#386 – Gary Matthews

This is a great action card. I’ll hear no objections. Everyone’s doing their job – Wayne Garrett’s waiting for a throw, John McNamara is showing excellent third base coach clapping skills and Matthews is clearly busting it out for a triple. Except he’s not. It was August 25, 1973, Matthews had singled in the top of the fifth off Seaver and hustled to third on a Tito Fuentes single. He was stranded when Bobby Bonds ended the inning with a fly out to Don Hahn in center field.

1974-gary-matthews

#392 – Dick Green

Green doing what Green did best, guarding the keystone and turning double plays.

Green74

#490 – Vada Pinson

That Vada Pinson always had a handsome card and this latter day Angels’ action shot is a keeper. I’m a big fan of veterans finding themselves on the Angels in the 1970’s. Frank Robinson in the Halo uni is my favorite. Another vet is still to come in this post.

s-l225 (2)

#575 – Steve Garvey

Another non-star, but not for long. 1974 was Garvey’s breakout, MVP season. Good scouting Topps! Like the dark Healy card, this one has a classic sports photo look, with the out of focus crowd providing a gauzy backdrop. Unless early ‘70’s crowds were themselves out of focus. Lots of drugs back then you know.

150899

#640 – Milt Pappas

Pappas had a late career revival in Chicago, with back to back 17 win season in 1971 and 1972 (when he nearly, and sort of did, pitch a perfect game. He was robbed). 1973 was his last season and this is his last card. A good one to go out on.

s-l225 (3)

#650 – Mike Epstein

In 1972, the Hebrew Hammer belted 26 homers for the champion A’s and finished 16th in AL MVP voting. Then he was traded to Texas to open space for Gene Tenace, then on to California. 1974 was his last year and, like Pappas, this was his farewell card. It’s a fine example in the washed up veteran on the Angels series.

74-650Fr

Fleer Funnies

Like many of you, any card series that dealt with sports sparked my interest as a kid. Fleer offered several collecting options beyond traditional picture cards. I collected the cloth logo and cap emblem stickers, “Famous Feats” in ’72 and “Wildest Days” in ‘73 as well as the ’70 and ’71 World Series.

The World Series sets featured cartoons or caricatures of baseball players and managers. The cartoons do a nice job of conveying the prime event or factor that led to outcome of that particular year. Robert Laughlin was the cartoonist who came up with this concept. He self-produced a set in the late ‘60s and then sold the concept to Fleer.

WS32 (70)
1970 Fleer

 

WS 32 (71)
1971 Fleer

The two sets are not duplicates. 1970 consists of 66 standard sizes cards with a narrative of the series printed in blue on the back. In ’71, Fleer produced 68 cards (issuing a card for the 1904 series that was not played, and adding 1970), and uses a completely new cartoon and the MLB logo to the front. Also the backs are different with scores for each game and a different narrative printed in black.

Since I’ve completed the ’70 set recently, it will be the focus of the post.

14WS

The “Miracle Braves” rocketing to an incredible upset of the “Mackmen” is a good example of a generic cartoon players telling the series story. Also it demonstrates that one of Laughlin’s aims was “kid appeal.”

WS 09

One of my favorites is the ’09 card which has great caricatures of a maniacal Ty Cobb and a dignified Honus Wagner. Notice the nick-names on the crossed bats.

WS 19

The “Black Sox” card is an excellent example of Laughlin capturing the essence of a particular series.

WS 48

Native-American themed logos should be consigned to the “dust bin” of history, but as an eight year old I loved this ’48 Series card.

WS 60

This ’60 World Series depiction nicely sums up the underdog aspect of the Pirates’ win.

WS 69 Front

The “Cinderella” Mets ride in style at the expense of the Orioles on this ’69.

WS 69 Back 

The lack of specific players’ names within the narrative on the back is the result of Fleer not securing the rights from the MLB Players’ Association.   All mention of active players was omitted from the narratives.

 

To find out more details, check out this “Sports Collectors Digest” article.

 

The Wild, Wild West

The ‘70s and early ‘80s saw a sartorial explosion of color in Major League Baseball. The Astros “Tequila Sunrise” jersey and the Padres various brown, yellow and orange togs are the gaudiest examples. This movement from home whites and road grays was not exclusive to the “bigs;” the minor leagues saw a similar profusion of color.

In addition to decades’ worth of Mariners farm team cards, I have accumulated many other minor league sets. Recently while browsing through a binder of late ‘70s and early ’80 Pacific Coast League cards, I was assaulted with some true “retina burners.” Here’s a look at some seriously questionable uniform designs.

Sexton Toros

This ’80 TCMA Tucson Toros card show the most egregious example of “double-knit” debauchery. Obviously, the Toros were inspired by the Astros but went too far. The desert earth tones, diagonal lettering and orange base add up to a real mess. The caps only make the outfit worse. Supposedly, the colors would “run” when laundered, making for an even more psychedelic effect.

Pietroburgo Tigers  Alston Tacoma

Not to be out done by Tucson, the Tacoma Tigers created a “dog’s breakfast” design as well. These ’80 TcMA cards show two hideous combinations. I know all too well that eight months of gloomy, Pacific Northwest weather can do strange things to the mind, but what were they thinking?!

Harris Vancouver

Tacoma’s Canadian brethren to the north got into the uniform perversion act as well. The Vancouver Canadians sported these mono-chrome Navy “jobs” in this ‘80 TCMA.

Beavers  81 Beavers

The other Northwest entry, Portland, went nuts as well. These ’81 Beavers cards show the mix-and-match style popularized by the Pirates. In ’81, Luis Tiant signed with the Pirates but spent most of the year at AAA Portland where he tossed a no hitter.

Rocky-Bridges 82   Jones Giants

Phoenix Giants donned this forgettable ensemble in ’82. Not even the signature “chaw” in his cheek could make Rocky Bridges look anything else but ridiculous in these “babies.” The “pill box” caps are the perfect accessory to this abomination. This ’81 Tommy Jones shows the uniform in its full glory.

80 Ogden

The ’80 Ogden, Utah A’s had fairly staid uniforms, but what’s up with the cap? It would be more appropriate on the head of a trucker. The yellow undershirt from the parent club worn by Milt Ramirez doesn’t quite match the overall color scheme. Like many of the TCMA cards of this era, this photo was taken at Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium.

Allen Lynn

Lastly, I switch to the Eastern League to present this ’80 TCMA Lynn Sailors card of future Mariner Jamie Allen. The uniform manufacturer somehow sold the same awful design worn by Tacoma to the Sailors management as well.

 

You Can’t Judge a Judge (By Looking At Its Sale Price)

I was an options trader for about 20 years. Was I a good one? There were things I was good at and there were things I wasn’t good at. On the whole I did all right.

One thing I was bad at was picking stocks. That wasn’t a skill set I needed for trading, so when I owned stocks (which was infrequently), I tended to ride them into the ground. Unless I stumbled my way into something that was a no-brainer and, through circumstance, had a lot of stock that I needed to blow out. Which I did.

About one month ago, I bought a pack of 2017 Gypsy Queen at Yastrzemski Sports on Main St. in Cooperstown and pulled an Aaron Judge autograph. Judge was already a great story, I’m not trying to take away from that, but he doesn’t do much for me. I’m not overly excited by Aaron Judge and had no emotional reason to keep the card. Plus, it seemed the perfect time to sell high.

2017 Gypsy Queen Judge auto front026

I checked eBay and watched a few auctions that were close to ending. One closed with a final bid of $26, another closed at $28. I saw there were a few Buy It Now listings at $35 that were not selling, so I put in a $30 Buy It Now of my own. In trading, we used to call  marginally improving the market “carping. ” The card sat for about a day, and then Judge hit another home run.

There was a market frenzy! My card was bought, the $35 cards were bought, and then the market seemed to have hit some sort of equilibrium – for a few days. Then he kept hitting home runs. Now he’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The card I sold at $30 is going for $100 more than that.

I’ve been selling a lot on eBay lately and if you sell enough, things even out. I sold a lot of 1969 Topps hockey cards in overall VG condition for over $60. I thought I get $20, if I was lucky.

1969 Topps Hockey front #1022

Did I learn anything from this? I don’t know. It seemed like a good move to sell and who knows, Judge might be Babe Ruth or, as so many previously burned rookie card buyers have cited, Kevin Maas.

In 2000, I sold a Tracy McGrady Topps Heritage autograph card for 75 bucks. It was a similar kind of situation – McGrady was hot, but I didn’t care, so I sold the card. Years later I looked and the card could be had for less than $10. Now that McGrady is a Hall of Famer it goes for around $20.

s-l1600

In options trading, all options have an expiration date. I won’t get too technical but on an option’s expiration, either it’s worth something or worth nothing. You could’ve sold it for $.50 and you could’ve sold it for $100 but if it goes out worthless it goes out worthless. You just don’t know until the cycle runs its course. Selling Aaron Judge was like selling an option early and riding out the wave to see where it ends up. And here I thought I left trading behind!

2017 Topps #287 Aaron Judge (catch or no catch?)

I am Paul Ember and this is my first post for SABR Baseball Cards. I am out of SABR’s Connie Mack Chapter and typically concentrate on Phillies and Vintage cards.

However for my initial SABR column I would like to turn my attention to a new card that is creating a buzz in the collecting community.

2017 Topps Aaron Judge

2017 Topps #287 Aaron Judge (rc)

The 25 year old Judge is getting significant accolades for his 2017 batting outburst which has included AL Rookie of the Month honors for April.

Consequently his Topps “Rookie” card is also getting noticed. With the many different Bowman and minor league issues one could debate the validity of this as a RC, but that isn’t what I want to discuss here. I will just mentions this is Aaron Judge’s first card in Topps Flagship and leave the Rookie-ness of the card up for others to argue.

I like the card. It is a solid photo selection on Topps part, although I suppose one could quibble with selecting a defensive shot for a player projected to be an offensive threat. I think the 2017T design is ok, it does work well for a player jumping vertically so it is a plus for this particular card.

However one could argue for better cropping…

Did Judge Make the Catch?

Getty Aaron Judge

2016 09 07 Aaron Judge (Photo by Rich Shultz. Picture swiped from Getty Images)

If I was putting this card together I would have included the Baseball in the shot. Not sure why Topps elected not to, perhaps they wanted to avoid some apparel branding among the fans.

The shot was taken by New Jersey based Photographer Rich Schultz . His work has been featured in a number of Magazines and on several New York Post Covers. Over the last few years I have also found his photographs used on a few Topps Phillies cards including the 2015 Topps Chase Utley Team Issue card.

September 07 2016

The nice thing about Getty Images is that the photos are date stamped, which tells us that the Aaron Judge Photo was taken on September 7th of last year, a 2-0 Yankees victory over Toronto. Judge did not start the game, he entered the game as a defensive replacement in the 7th inning.

As to the question of Judge’s play on the ball, I am happy to report for him that yes he made the catch. The detailed description on the Getty Image not only tells us that Aaron Judge made the play but that the batter was Edwin Encarnacion. The play was the final out of the eighth and was one of two putouts that Judge recorded during three innings in the field.

As a batter Judge came to the plate once in the game facing Roberto Osuna. He flew out to Left Field.

Aaron Judge Rookie Card

There you have it, if Aaron Judge becomes the star that the Yankees hope he will become we now know that his Topps Rookie Card features a photo taken on September 7 2016 while making a catch of a fly ball off the bat of Edwin Incarnation. As a defensive replacement in the game Judge only batted once and did not get a hit. It was the 22nd game of Aaron Judge’s rookie season, at the time he had recorded a grand total of three career home runs.

Flip

2017 Topps Aaron Judge B-Side

2017 Topps #287 Aaron Judge (b-side)

Not sure why Aaron Judge goes with the handle @theJudge44 as his number is 99. Perhaps it is a tribute to Hank Aaron. Also wanted to note that his height is 6’7″. Don’t see that on the back of many baseball cards.

To further illustrate Judge’s size, here is a photo of him standing next to Ryan Howard at a Spring Training game in 2015.

Aaron Judge Ryan Howard

Can’t recall many times I saw Ryan Howard standing next to a player bigger than himself.

Sources and Links

the Phillies Room

Rich Schultz

Getty Images

MLB

Baseball-Ref

Twitter