The Brand New Testament

Baseball cards have been referenced in countless American films. My favorites only begin with 1966’s Penelope (thank you, Mark Armour!), It’s My Turn (1980, in which you get to see Michael Douglas on a card), and Spike Lee’s Girl 6 (1996). (In the latter, the title character tells Jimmy, played by Lee: “Baby, let me tell you something. You can continue to live in your little fantasy world with your baseball cards and the autographed bullshit or whatever the fuck is it you do, but me, I got to eat and pay the rent….” And Jimmy responds: “…you know, at least I got Willie Mays and Hank Aaron’s autograph on a baseball card, you know, they’re in the Hall of Fame.”)
But baseball cards do not just appear in American films. One example is The Brand New Testament (2015), a Belgian feature directed by Jaco Van Dormael. At its center is a ten-year-old girl who just so happens to be the daughter of God. But given who they are, she and her parents are not what one might expect. They reside in a cramped Brussels apartment and her father– or, God– is a loud, coarse bully. Her bathrobe-clad mother is described as “a pathetic woman, one-hundred-percent certified sloppy.” She is perpetually silent; when she doesn’t embroider, she sits at a table and contemplates her baseball card collection. (Some of the cards are seen up-close and ever-so-briefly. They do not resemble any specific set or feature recognizable players. But they are indeed baseball cards.) 

Breakfast with a Big Leaguer

Players of the 1970’s and 1980’s are so familiar to me. I recognize their faces way more than I do those of current players. It’s not a rare skill. My guess is that everyone who reads this blog has the same ability. Because of that connection, it’s more exciting to meet a non-star from that era than a star from today. (Maybe. I’ve never met Bryce Harper or Mike Trout).

I met David Jordan a few years ago at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse when I did the first big event for Split Season. David’s a cool dude and we both have baseball and finance as major interests. In 2015, David was working on a book that would become Fastball John, the autobiography of ex-big league hurler John D’Acquisto. Both guys were in Cooperstown on Wednesday and, since I had a meeting on revising tourist accommodation laws (being Mayor isn’t all glamorous), I wasn’t going to make their author’s event at the Hall of Fame. Instead, the three of us met for breakfast at Doubleday Café.

I went on a search for doubles to bring. I’m not above getting stuff autographed, when appropriate. (I never never do that at Hall parties, for example. That is uncool.) I had no interest in finding John’s 1974 rookie card, where he gets ¼ of the real estate (the other ¾  are Bob Apodaca, Dick Baney and Mike Wallace). I didn’t have an extra 1975 or 1976, but I did have a spare 1977.



It’s de rigueur to mock Topps’ airbrushing skills. The usual vandalized photos are atrocious, but look at this card. It’s amazing. D’Acquisto, still a Giant, the Candlestick Park setting the giveaway, has been repainted from head to toe. Unlike every airbrushed monstrosity I can think of, the cap, the colors, the letters and numbers are perfectly in proportion. No giant bowl for a cap, no electric neon uniform colors that no team has ever worn. I’m impressed. Is there a better airbrushed card out there?

We chatted for over an hour about baseball, Cooperstown, trading, Doug DeCinces, and more. John talked about going from worshipping your heroes to knowing them and, in my small way, I could relate. Most famous people I’ve met have been great, but there are a few I wished I hadn’t encountered face to face. Not John D’Acquisto. He was all sorts of awesome to sit down with. He signed my card and I bought the ebook of Fastball John as soon as I got home.


Walking from my house to Main St., I found, in a too perfect Cooperstown moment, a baseball on the sidewalk. I brought it with me to breakfast, figuring I’d give it to some kid on my way out. John asked if I wanted it signed, but I told him it wasn’t necessary for me, I was going to get rid of it. But, I thought it might be neat if he wanted to sign it and give it to some 12-year-old. As I left breakfast, I saw ex-big leaguer John D’Acquisto, talking to a family, probably explaining who he was. Maybe they believed him.



When I got back into baseball cards this year I had many things to get used to. The better-quality printing and photography. The commitment to all action. The thousands of parallels and short prints and set releases and inserts to either be aware of—even if it’s so I know to ignore them. One thing I didn’t note was the change to the Indians logo.

The DeChief movement has been going on for a few years now and I know that MLB has demoted Wahoo in favor of the block C. So it didn’t jump out at me to see that Topps was using the block C as the logo on its 2017 flagship set. It made sense with the general trend of things and I didn’t think any further about it.

It was only after discussing this a bit further on Twitter that I realized that Topps (and MLB since they control the logos) only made the change this year. I’d assumed it had happened a while ago but no, 2016 had Wahoo—as did all previous years where the Indians logo was used. I’m not sure why I’m so surprised given how the Indians wore the Wahoo cap in all their World Series games..

This feels like a big deal to me. While it seems to have been noted but not commented on in the card community, that Topps, as essentially the card manufacturer of record, has finally DeChiefed is important and both MLB and Topps should be congratulated for making that step even if they did it woefully late.

Carter Score
Lindor2 Ramirez

That Topps has also been making that change on its old designs which used to feature Wahoo is especially welcome. It was only when I started looking through all my old cards that I began realizing both how often that logo showed up and how distracting I found it now. Where some logos cause me to feel nostalgia, every card with Chief Wahoo on it made me wince.

While many of the design anachronisms bother me in the reissues of Topps’s old designs, I’m pleased every time I see the big Block C on a Cleveland card. There are plenty of things to wince about without having to see that logo in a prominent position.

A lot of this is because of my growth in awareness of how damaging and inappropriate that logo is. And a lot of it is being reminded over and over and over again that as I get into card collecting with my sons, I’m going to have to continuously reinforce how there are problems with the old logo and how our cultural norms have changed over the decades.

That it’s clear that the logo still shows up in the photos means I’ll have to be vigilant about this with the modern cards too. Topps isn’t photoshopping it out nor is it limiting its photo choices to just those images which don’t have it. So I’m going to be in charge of talking about how while we’re making progress there’s still a lot of room for growth.


And yes I figured I should look into the Braves as well. Their racist logo also occasionally resurfaces on hat designs and merchandise. Thankfully those designs don’t seem to make it out of the prototype stage but it’s noteworthy that it‘s still in the mix. I’m happy to see that Topps isn’t using it on the old designs anymore even though the same concerns about it showing up in photos are obvious.

To be clear, I’m not advocating that Topps should photoshop it out of the images—especially the old photos— where it’s present. That this was both commonplace and acceptable is as important a lesson to learn as understanding why it’s no longer ok.

Free Agent Draft

Most collectors have a cringe inducing story surrounding the desecration of cards or related products during their youth. A classic example is Jeff Katz gluing ’71 coins onto a board. Of course cards were designed to provide fun and entertainment for kids. At the time, the alterations we made brought us joy. However, I was enough of a collector as a kid to only mess with duplicates. The following is a tale of desecrating a ’69 Pete Rose card-amongst many others-in the pursuit of fun.

Parker Brothers produced a board game called “Pro Draft,” which utilized ’73 Topps football cards. I very much coveted this game but never obtained it. Being a clever lad, I decided to create my own game using baseball cards. I called the game “Free Agent Draft.” My best guess is I created it in ‘75 after the Messersmith/McNally case resulted in free agency.

Borrowing liberally from the rules of Monopoly, I crafted a board game where the first player to obtain a card for each positon–plus a manager–would be the winner. The players had different values, much like the properties in Monopoly. Drawing from my vast number of duplicates, I proceeded to write dollar values, ranging from 50 to 500, on the front of cards. This resulted in not only Pete Rose being defaced but Luis Aparicio, Boog Powell and Bill Mazeroski as well.

My “Monopoly like” board had spaces for drafting players, winning or losing money, being forced to trade a player or pay opponents fees. I had a “Community Chest/Chance” space called “Hit or Error” resulting in good or bad outcomes depending on which card was drawn. Examples included: “3 game winning streak: move forward 3 spaces” and “Pay $100 to pension fund.”

Competitors could raise money by placing players on “waivers,” receiving half value from the bank. An opponent could put in a waiver claim if you couldn’t meet your financial obligations. Obviously, I stole this from the mortgage option in Monopoly.

Participants could purchase multiple players for the same position in an attempt to block opponents from filling out a team. Conversely, you could take a player you needed if you landed on a “trade” space.

Initially, I drew the game board-poorly- on the back of a roll of Christmas paper and glued it to a checker board. Later, the board was significantly improved by my buddy, Ted, utilizing a piece of plywood and etching the spaces with a wood burner tool. We even varnished it.

Since we played this game for hours, it must have been somewhat compelling. I remember having to alter the rules several times since flaws would creep up. Eventually, we nailed down a fun game.

During a furnace installation in my grandparent’s basement, the board and the “Hit or Error” cards disappeared. I saved some of the adulterated baseball cards, which you are viewing.

If I had sold this concept to Parker Brother or Milton Bradley–not the player–I might have made a fortune. Alas, I’m sure copyright infringement would have been an issue.

I also created a game called “Jenk-o-Matic” baseball, but that is a topic for another post.


Father and Son

Our son was born on Christmas Eve, 2001. This is actually a hell of a story, albeit one that I am not going to tell today.

A few weeks later a couple of friends handed me a complete set of 2001 Topps baseball cards — for Drew, to mark the year of his birth. (They did a similar thing for our daughter Maya in 1998).

Truth be told, I had not been keeping up with the baseball card scene. Several years earlier, before the crash, I had cashed in all of my post-1980 cards, and my remaining efforts were to work on older sets. I had not opened a pack of cards in several years. I put Drew’s cards in a closet.

A few years later (2006) young Drew and I were in a store and he put some baseball cards in the shopping cart. He had seen my cards a few times so he knew about them. We went home and opened the packs, and then added to our pile throughout the summer. I explained to him who some of the “good” players were, and he slowly learned how to sort them into stacks of teams, as all right-thinking people do. He had favorite players, and favorite teams. (He suggested throwing the Yankees cards away, but I cautioned restraint.)

At some point along about here I remembered his birth gift and presented him the box, undisturbed in its shrink-wrap. Appropriately, he dumped them out and started rifling through them. We continued to pick up packs of current-year cards for the next few years until he had filled several shoe boxes.

Drew and I are very different. I am a no neatnik, but my clutter is very organized. I may have stacks of baseball cards all over my office, and a few on my bedroom dresser, but the stacks have a purpose — nothing is ever “missing” or out of place, and this was just as true when I was 10.

Drew … does not share this trait, at least not yet. His baseball cards were fairly quickly strewn all over his room. If they occasionally breached the common areas of the house, he or I would pick them up and move them back to his room, finding an available surface.

As persnickety as I am about my own cards, I gave Drew a lot of leeway. I might find them on the bottom of his laundry basket, or under his bed, or stuck together by some mysterious adhesive. The damaged cards would get thrown away. When cleaning up, I did try to return any stray 2001 cards to their original box — I am not an animal — but the others would get stuffed into a shoe box, with neither rhyme, nor reason.

After taking a few years off, in 2012 I started buying him complete sets for his birthday or Christmas (both, sadly, in the off-season). I convinced him this was both a better deal and less messy. We still picked up cards over the summer, but in December he would get an entire set anyway.

All the while, he mainly liked going through the cards with me. (He also had a lot of Pokemon cards, and Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Magic, but he was on his own with all that.) Along the way Drew’s extra-curricular options expanded, and sorting baseball cards with Dad, oddly, stopped being his top choice. Properly.

Drew played baseball for several years (I was always the coach), but ultimately gravitated to soccer. Fine by me — soccer is a wonderful sport and has been great for him. He is in high school now, and he’s a good player. He is much more of a sports doer than a sports watcher, especially when compared with my teenage years watching any sport, no matter how obscure.

I recently asked Drew if I could “annex” his card collection. I assured him that he could take them back whenever he wished, and he was going to end up with all my cards someday anyway. I just wanted to organize the chaos, and all his cards would basically graduate to living with mine. He was cool with it.

I started by going through his 2012-2016 “sets” to verify that every card was there. Yes, they were! Adolescent Drew was neater than I thought. Bravo.

Next I took all of his other cards (mainly his ages 4-8 cards) and began the laborious process of figuring out what he had, starting with simply sorting the shoe box contents by year. Although spread over several boxes, he actually had a complete set of 2007 cards — not sure how that happened. I must have bought a hand-collated set on eBay ten years ago. He has a ton of many other years that I still need to go through.

Mainly, I was curious about 2001. This was like a grand social experiment: hand a five-year-old 790 baseball cards, allow him to live a middle-class junk-acquiring life for a decade, and then shout “time’s up!” and rush in to see what happened.

Tuesday night was the big night: How many of the 790 cards had survived a decade in that room?

Survey says: 757.

Honestly, not bad. The 757 are in fine condition, too.

There is a chance some of the missing 33 are in Drew’s room somewhere — in a box of Pokemon cards? In his sock drawer? In a large box of stray cards he picked up from the 1980s?

Maybe, but it is more likely that they decomposed in the town landfill many years ago. I will look around a bit more before giving up.  And by “giving up”, I mean “finding and purchasing the missing 33 cards.”

I was going through this exercise when Drew came upstairs, ear buds in place, bopping to something or other. (Drew is amazing.)

Suddenly I felt a little sad. Here I was riffing through his childhood, a part of his childhood that we had shared, and he was uninvolved. I motioned to him to come closer. He removed the buds.

“Drew,” says I, “I think we need to come up with some other activity we can do together.”

He pondered this, and said we could start doing jigsaw puzzles, or maybe a model. He went to my office and retrieved a White House model we had made years ago and we agreed it was still fabulous.

I also told him about the new movie, “Dunkirk,” coming out on July 21. “You’ll like it,” I said. “I’ll get out a map and explain the basic premise of the movie before we go.”

Date confirmed. Still amazing.


Delicious Memories

I haven’t spoken to my parents in about 12 years. It’s a long story, not a particularly interesting one, so I won’t go into it. Even though I don’t speak to them anymore, don’t draw the conclusion that they never did anything nice. That would be wrong.

When Hostess started issuing cards in 1975 on the back of Twinkies, Cupcakes, Suzy Qs and Chocodiles (which may have arrived on the East Coast a few years later) boxes, I was quick to up my intake. Not that I needed an excuse to eat more Hostess Cupcakes, an all-time great junk food, but cards were a very effective spur to increase buying. I was a pretty serious collector by 1975, but still dumb enough to cut the cards from the boxes. I don’t even want to show any; they’re not terribly cut, but they make me feel bad. By the following year I realized I should cut the whole back panel out.

1977 Niekro panel front004

Around that same time my mother started taking me to a Hostess outlet. I can’t remember where it was in relation to our Lake Grove home in the middle of Suffolk County, but it wasn’t close. The outlet (imagine a Hostess outlet!) had boring stuff like bread and rolls but it had boxes and boxes of pastries (does Hostess product count as a pastry?). I could take my time checking their inventory and picking out cards I needed. It was a cake/card shop, the nearly perfect shop for a mid-teen like me.

My mother was a good sport about it, buying, it seems to me, as many boxes as I asked for. Once we brought the goodies home, there was no way I was going to wait until me, my brother and maybe my parents slowly ate their way through the stock. I dumped all the cakes out and put them in a bowl. The cellophane wrapper kept them sliding off each other, but I managed to cram the whole lot into the fridge. (There’s nothing better than cold Hostess cakes.) The boxes were empty, the back panels were cut and laid in an old shoebox.

1979 Hostess Yount panel front008

It wasn’t until 1977 that I saw individual cards in two packs of Twinkies and Cupcakes. I was visiting my cousin in Staten Island and we were in some kind of convenience or grocery store when I saw them and bought a bagful. I probably through an immature tantrum and made him pay. Like many food issues, those cards were the platter that the product sat on, so the cards all get stained. I’ve read that clean cards were released into the hobby, but that’s cheating. I got mine, Twinkie grease and all, the old fashioned way, at the retail level.

197 Hostess Twinkie Carew front013

I was looking through my Hostess cards (full confession: to list doubles on eBay) and I was instantly brought back to mid-70’s Long Island. Hostess cards bring happy memories and all I need to do is look at them. I don’t even need to eat a Twinkie to be transported. Even Proust’s madeleine couldn’t do that.

SABR 47 Checklist: Jean Afterman / 1991 Q-Card Hideo Nomo

The first panel I saw at SABR47 was a fine interview of Jean Afterman by recent JT Spink Award winner (and former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter) Claire Smith. I was a bit worn out from a combination of travel and enjoying a night out in the big apple when Afterman recalled that she was working as a lawyer when she had the opportunity to work on a copyright dispute over Japanese Baseball Cards.

Baseball Cards!! I was jolted awake.

The case led Afterman to become acquainted with the card creator Don Nomura. The litigation led her to Japan where Afterman went to local ball games and found the competitive level of the players to be comparable with American baseball. The ensuing realization was that Japanese players were restricted from participation in MLB because of an agreement made following Masanori Murakami’s stint with the San Francisco Giants (1964-65). The Murakami case was the subject of a very interesting panel at SABR 45 in Chicago. The audio from that panel can be found here while my fan highlights from that day can be found at my web site.

Jean Afterman and Don Nomura did their homework and eventually found a way to get Hideo Nomo a Major League Baseball contract, with the Dodgers. This was followed by Alfonso Soriano (a Cuban that came to the US via Japan), Hideki Irabu and several other Japanese players. Eventually this led Afterman to a position in the Yankees front office.

One could therefore argue that a dispute over baseball cards in the early 1990s eventually led to Japanese players getting a chance to play baseball in the United States. Here we find ourselves a quarter century later and Ichiro Suzuki has become the MLB all-time hit king among all foreign born players.

1991 Q Cards

1991 Q Card All-Star Hideo Nomo (RC)

Ok back to the baseball cards. Naturally I wanted to find out what baseball card set began this chain of events.

An LA Times article dated April 21, 1991 discusses Don Nomura and Nomura Trading Cards. The article also contains some key info about the cards. Most notably the cards were made of plastic rather than cardboard – more of a credit card material. Perhaps due to the upgraded material a pack contained only two cards. The packs sold for 500 yen in 1991 which was estimated to be $3.68 US at the time.

I was unable to find anything online about Nomura trading cards but the info from the LA Times made it easy to find these cards on the fun and informative Japanese Baseball Cards blog.

The above Hideo Nomo card is an All-Star card from a 62 card supplemental set of the original 120 card series. The design appears largely similar to the base with an all-star logo in the middle center rather than a team logo.

1991 Q Card Takeshi Nakamura with 1991 Q Card Wrapper

Above we have one of the base cards with the original wrapper. As pointed out by Japanese Baseball Cards there is a window in the wrapper that allows the buyer to know the team of one of the two cards in the pack.

Sources and Links

Japanese Baseball Cards / NPB Card Guy

LA Times