Uh oh

I’m not a huge Allen & Ginter guy. I don’t like it as a baseball card set but I do enjoy the way it incorporates and re-incorporates concepts from the early years of trading cards. All those animal, national, flag, etc. inserts and subsets remind me of the wonderful world of pre-war cards where trading cards allowed for people to experience and learn about the rest of the world.

This year Ginter has a Flags of Lost Nations insert set. On the surface this looks like a perfect fit for what Ginter does best. A way to learn about the past and a opportunity to imagine what other ways national borders could’ve turned out. As someone whose family lived in Hawai‘i before it was annexed by the United States* I was pleased to see that there was a Hawai‘i card in the checklist.

*This puts me in the small category of having Chinese ancestors who legally became residents of the United States during the time while the Chinese Exclusion Act was enforced and also puts me in the rare category of having Asian ancestors who never immigrated to the United States.

And then I took a closer look at the checklist.

Rhodesia

Gulp.

This is not good. Pre-Dylann Roof you could defensibly claim ignorance about this but now? Yeah. Topps has a full-fledged white supremacist flag on its checklist. I’ve been unable to find an image of the card yet but I know it’s going to be a stomach punch when I do—both in terms of how it represents a country which was founded with explicitly racist intent and how it’s used today as a symbol for how black people are inherently threatening and need to be subdued..

But that’s not all. If you look at the checklist there’s also a Nazi-puppet state on there in the Republic of Salo. I’m certain Topps wouldn’t go anywhere near a Nazi flag but this is pretty damn close.

SaloPart of me hopes that this is merely a function of Topps trying to spread things out across the continents and not doing proper vetting on what these countries stood for. In other words, a horribly unfortunate mistake. But then I look at the text on the back of the Salo card and I’m not so sure. Someone had to research and write that and someone else had to green-light it even with the reference to Hitler.

Is it good to know about these countries? Yes. Absolutely. Are these the kind of things you want people to be collecting and seeking and saving and displaying? I certainly hope not.

I know politics is something we try and avoid on this blog and in this hobby. But flags are political. Countries are political. And when you put out a 25-card set of flags you should absolutely expect for people to look at the list, wonder why you chose the countries you did, and expect you to be aware and responsible for how those flags may still be in use today.

Dealing from the Bottom

I once read that good collectors sell the bottom of their collection to pay for what they need. That seemed very shrewd and made me realize I was not a good collector, at least by this standard. It’s only in recent years that I’ve sold the bottom, or some of the bottom (doubles, triples, stuff I don’t want) to subsidize my new needs.

In the early ‘90’s, my interest in cards and my income were equally high, and I thought I’d begin to pursue one card of every Hall of Famer from when they were active. Of course I was covered from the 1950’s on (not counting Negro Leaguers, 19th Century guys and other similar cases), but I started in somewhat earnest. Within a few years that goal disappeared. I don’t think in a way that makes a personal collection of random cards, from various years, interesting to me. I don’t like things so open-ended and the failure of this effort underscored my collecting, and psychological, MO.

But I did get some nice pre-war cards, including two from the 1928 George Ruth Candy Company set of six. Thinking on it recently, I concluded that I don’t need two Ruth cards. One is plenty and selling the other would help me with my current needs. I listed it on eBay, ungraded, but I’ll likely get it slabbed by SGC. My gut tells me I’ll get $1250-1500, but who knows. I can’t even remember what I paid for it, though I know I bought both at once and I never spent a ton on anything.

Ruth front

Ruth back

So is a 90-year- old Babe Ruth card in the bottom of my collection? Can’t be, right, but I’m not so sure. It’s an extra, though not a double. I’m never going to finish that set (nor do I want to) and, the more I think about it, the more I WANT to sell it. And that, realizing that a card could be a one of a kind in my collection yet still be disposable, is liberating.

About 15 years ago, I decided I really wanted autographed cards of ARod and Jeter. I’ve always like Rodriguez, still do, but never cared one way or the other about Jeter. I got a good deal on a signed 1993 Jeter Upper Deck rookie, with LOA. I think it cost around $75. Noodling around on eBay I saw that one sold in the neighborhood of $300 (listed there, best offer accepted). Once I saw that I was intrigued. (Thought you’d guys would like to see the page Jeet is on.)

If someone walked into my house and said they’d trade me a 1956 Mantle in EX for the Jeter auto card and a couple hundred bucks, I’d take the deal (after saying “What the hell are you doing in my house?”). I know that to be true. Yet I’m having a harder time listing the card, getting the dough first, and then searching for the Mantle in the $450-500 range.

The jury’s still out on this. If I do list the Jeter, it’s going to open up the floodgates and I’ll look at what I have in a different light. There’s a lot in my collection that would qualify as “this is really nice, but I’d rather have that.”

Is that the bottom? I don’t know. I’ll let you know if I get there.

Back Story: 1956 Topps Baseball

I love all aspects of baseball-card collecting, but one area of particular interest to me has always been the backs of the cards. Naturally the front design of a card set is going to be the first thing that people remember about it, but what’s presented on the flip side can greatly add to a set’s appeal, and sometimes detract from it. This article is hopefully the first of a few in which I’ll delve into what I consider sets with good—or lame—card backs.

 

I’ll start with the first baseball card set I completed as a child: the 340-card 1956 Topps set. This was their first set since Topps had won the war for sports card supremacy from Bowman, and it was the biggest Topps set since 1952. It’s also a very creative set, both front and back. The fronts feature a head shot superimposed over one of the player “in action.” The quality of the action shots vary greatly, and sometimes they’re even bogus… most famously, the Hank Aaron action shot is actually one of Willie Mays with a Milwaukee cap airbrushed onto him. When they work, they’re great, like this one of Jackie Robinson sliding home.

JRobinson front.jpg

The backs of the 1956 Topps set, however, are almost universally outstanding. The stat lines only included the player’s 1955 stats, plus his career totals, but that left plenty of room for a three-picture cartoon graphic about the player, Those cartoons were simply fabulous. Articles about this set say that the work was done by some of the leading comic-book artists of the time… I would love to know exactly who they were, if anyone has more information. The graphics tell a little three-panel story about the player, in a very creative way. Let’s start with the back of the same Jackie Robinson card, nicely summarizing his greatness.

JRobinson back

What appealed most to me about these 1956 card backs was how creative and downright funny they often were. Here’s Hoyt Wilhelm’s card, starting with a cartoon of his knuckler making a hitter dizzy and finishing with Hoyt having worn a trench between the bullpen and the mound.

Wilhelm 

Earl Torgeson’s card shows him watering some flowers (“Things grow fast in Detroit,” like Earl’s batting average); the oft-injured Torgy jumping out of bed because “The Tigers need a pinch hitter”; and Earl watching a game from first base while reclining on a bed, to note the time he played an entire game at first without making a putout. I love it.

Torgeson

Here’s Wally Moon, breaking out in song because he’s playing ball between school terms (any kid could relate to that); wearing a Roman garland on his hat for winning the Rookie of the Year award; and literally stealing some bases.

Moon

 The sheer irreverence in so many of these cards is pretty wonderful. Windy McCall’s early control problems are depicted by a batter wearing a suit of armour while the pitch clangs off his head; meanwhile the suffering catcher sweats behind the plate with his right arm in a sling. I am fairly certain that if this was 2018 and Windy McCall was a Scott Boras client, this card would not have been made.

McCall

One of my all-time personal favorites, the Erv Palica card lampoons Brooklyn accents by showing a Dodger fan, thrilled with Palica’s fine 1950 season, exclaiming, “When Oiv pitches, da boids choip.” This cracked me up when I was eight years old; it still cracks me up at the age of 70.

Palica

The artists of these 1956 cards were challenged by the frequent presence of 1950s bonus players forced onto major leagues with no prior MLB experience. Cue cartoons featuring bags of money and captions saying things like, “The Redlegs feel Al (Silvera) will be a big star.” (Silvera would have exactly seven at-bats in his major league career, with one hit.) Well, it worked for Harmon Killebrew (card No. 164), and—eventually, as with Killebrew—No. 79, Sandy Koufax.

Koufax

“An Educated Fast Ball,” indeed.

As a child with a reasonable degree of intelligence, I appreciated the fact that these cards weren’t afraid to be clever; they appealed to me in much the same way that TV shows like “Leave It to Beaver” and “Rocky and Bullwinkle” would wink and nod to me as I continued to mature.

But those were TV shows; this is a baseball card set. There’s never been a set quite like it.

 

1888 WG 1 – Baseball Cards and Franklin County, Kansas

The Franklin County Kansas Historical Society was formed in 1937, and along the way we have acquired quite a few interesting donations.  We have a pretty tight acquisitions policy — if an item does not have a strong tie to Franklin County, we pass on acquiring it. That limits your ability to add baseball cards to your collection when you live in a county that has only produced two major leaguers.

Our first big leaguer was Lou McEvoy, who pitched for the Yankees in 1930-31, but was a long time Pacific Coast League player so he appeared on Zeenut cards in 1929 and 1933-36.

McEvoy Zeenut

Willie Ramsdell was a knuckleballer from Williamsburg, Kansas. He appeared on the 1951 and 1952 Bowman sets, the 1952 Topps set and 1953 Mother’s Cookie set. Below is a picture of a recent item we had on exhibit at the museum, I lent the cards pictured to the museum.

ramsdell-plaque-photo.jpg

While the FCHS do not have any cards in the collection of the players above, we do own the two cards below.

Otto Schomberg, RF Indianapolis.

1888 Schomberg

Dick Johnston CF Boston.

1888 Johnston (1)

 

The backs look like this.

1888 WG 1 Back

These are WG1 Baseball Playing Cards, manufactured in 1888. These cards were sold as a boxed set, and they depict nine players for each of the eight National League teams that year.  You forgot that Indianapolis was in the NL that season didn’t you?

Otto Schomberg is the right fielder for Indianapolis and in the upper right-hand corner you can see there is a playing card with six pips on it.  All eight of the right fielders are sixes, which is the lowest valued card in the deck of this game. Catchers are aces, pitchers are kings, and shortstops are queens.  I guess the game designer must have assigned the value according to his perception of the defensive spectrum at the time.

Along the bottom left edge of the Dick Johnston card you will see a number scrawled in ink. That is a Franklin County Historical Society catalogue number, and I was horrified when I saw it.  “You wrote on it?!?!”  But that is how museums do things.  Still I shudder a little when I see it.  The Schomberg card is similarly marked, however at least that one was done on the back.

The set has some interesting players, such as Connie Mack as a catcher for Washington and the reverend Bill Sunday is the Pittsburgh right fielder.  Along with Mack, Hall of Famers John Clarkson, Sam Thompson, Ned Hanlon, King Kelly, Pud Galvin, Tim Keefe, John Ward, Cap Anson, Dan Brouthers, Roger Connor, and Deacon White are all pictured. That’s a total of 12 in a set of just 72 cards.

You may be wondering, why we have these cards in our collection since they aren’t Franklin County natives? Well, I don’t know why we have the Johnston card, he has no apparent ties to the county. Schomberg however died in Ottawa, Kansas, on May 3, 1927.  Schomberg was returning to his home in Milwaukee from California via train. He had a heart issues and passed away on the train as they were passing through Ottawa.

However, there is one other card in that set, which we do not have, that has a fascinating tie to Franklin County, Charlie Bennett.

1888 Bennett

In 1893 the 38-year old Bennett caught about half the games for pennant winning Boston Beaneaters. That winter he and John Clarkson along with their wives went to Williamsburg, Kansas to train together for the next season. Bennett’s sister, Elvira Porter, lived in Williamsburg and this was the third year he had wintered there according to the Wellsville Globe.

In 2016 when we created an exhibit entitled “SMALL-TOWN BALL: PLAYING AMERICA’S GAME IN OTTAWA AND FRANKLIN COUNTY.” Diana Staresinic-Deane told the story of Bennett’s accident this way.

“Although accounts vary from newspaper to newspaper, it is believed that Charlie Bennet had been preparing to go to New Mexico on a hunting trip and traveled to Kansas City on January 10 to purchase supplies. While on the train returning from Kansas City he was in a (possibly heated) discussion with another passenger who he followed out onto the platform at Wellsville, Kansas.   When the train began to move, Bennett attempted to board the car, but as he grasped the rail, his right foot slipped and threw the leg under the car. According to the Ottawa Daily Republican, “Bennett says that he heard the bone crack, realized the accident and threw himself down in an effort to roll the other leg out of danger, but the fall instead resulted in throwing it, too, under the cruel wheels.”

Fortunately for Bennett, Dr. Lamphear, a surgeon with the Kansas City Medical School, was also on the Santa Fe that day, and he was soon joined by Wellsville’s Dr. Ewing.  Both of Bennett’s legs were crushed and Dr. Lamphear severed one foot which hung by a shred. Bennett was then transported to Ottawa, but according to the Ottawa Daily Herald, the hospital could not receive him. Bennett was then moved to a hotel – possibly the Marsh House – where Drs. Herr, Bryan, and Ewing amputated both legs, one above and the other below the knee. Bennett was eventually moved to the Santa Fe Railroad hospital in North Ottawa, where he began his recovery.”

How would you like to be the maid that had to make up the room after that?

All the cities mentioned above, other than Kansas City, are within Franklin County.  The accounts above are pulled from local newspapers at that time, so the story may vary from what you have read in other places.

 

SABR 48

Things have been quiet around here of late. Thanks to Jeff Katz for providing content recently while the rest of us (read: me) have been lazy.

I was gone for about two weeks — half of which was spent in Pittsburgh for the SABR conference. Soon after I returned I faced (am still facing, in fact) a couple of house problems (plumbing, if you must know) that have taken up much of my time. It could be worse — I am temporarily out of work, so I have more time to deal with things like this. (There are downsides to being out of work, too, as it happens.)

Our meeting at the SABR conference was another big hit. After our success last year with Keith Olbermann, this year’s guest speaker was Tom Shieber, the senior curator at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Tom gave a delightful presentation on his newspaper research on the “craze” around what later became known as the T-206 tobacco cards. Very illuminating and fun.

While the best parts of the convention is seeing old friends and meeting new friends (either presenting research, or just hanging out) , it can be frustrating because there is so much stuff going on at the same time. On Friday morning, Chris Dial (co-chair of this committee) and Paul Ember (our very own phungo) gave presentations at the same time. After some struggle, I decided to go see Chris speak on statistical measures of defense. On the way in, Chris told me he wanted to go to Paul’s talk too. Chris was great, and Paul’s talk on Andy Warhol got rave reviews and caused several people to head over to Warhol’s museum that day.

When I return home from these conventions I am always amazed at how much I managed to squeeze in. Four Pirates games — one of which was postponed by a torrential downpour — some great attractions in Pittsburgh (the park and city are both wonderful). And, as usual, some great times with some of my favorite people.

1989-topps-baseball-cardsOn the final night (Saturday), several of us retired to the bar for some socializing. Hero Chris Dial brought a box of unopened 1989 Topps wax packs and handed them out in the bar, including packs to people who were not part of SABR at all. When I looked around I was amazed at the people who seemed totally enthralled by the cards, people who might never have held cards in their life. Bringing people together, that’s what we do.

At midnight came the annual meeting of the Baseball Think Factory chapter of SABR. I kind of horned in on this meeting a few years ago and now I just keep showing up. I might be in the group now! Anyhow, we found a bunch of tables and someone tried to maintain order. Meanwhile, Joe Dimino and I started playing “WAR War” with the stacks of 1989 cards laying around.

If you have never heard of WAR War, don’t feel too bad. I sort of made it up on the spot, but I think, like Monopoly or Scrabble, it has a chance to become a craze.

Two players each have a stack of baseball cards, face down. You then flip them over into the center “1-2-3-War!”, so that eight cards (four each) have been flipped. The winner is the player whose 4th card has the most career WAR, and he or she wins the eight cards. Usually it was obvious (George Brett beats Al Nipper) but sometimes judges with smart phones had to get involved. Keep playing until one guy has all the cards, or there is no more beer. I forget who won. (The game could be improved with something like a challenge system to handle non-obvious Wars.)

Bottom line: baseball cards are everywhere at the convention.

See you next year in … San Diego? Chicago? Somewhere else? Stay tuned.

 

The Price is Right?

I’m in the home stretch for my 1956 Topps set – 330 down, 10 to go. My tendency is to back into the most expensive card in any set I’m working on, because that puts me in a corner. “Are you really not going to buy that last card, regardless of price?” says the collector voice in my head. Of course I’m going to buy that card, hopefully at the price/condition equilibrium that’ll make me happy. So, yeah, I’m going to end up buying a 1956 Mantle.

66628

I’ve noticed a good amount of collectors approach the pricey card predicament in different ways. Some go lower condition to get a manageable price; some accept that they’ll simply never be able to afford that high dollar card. Some I’ve come across make do with reprints as a way to fill a sheet and look complete. I have thoughts.

How does one embark on set collecting? For me, from the onset, the overall cost has to be attainable. We all have different budgets, sure (though it seems clear to me that some of you spend far too much!), but putting one’s self on a completion path that you’ll never see the end of seems like bad planning and hugely frustrating. Snipe hunting sucks.

I’ll gulp when I buy that ’56 Mantle, but I knew it was hovering on the horizon when I decided to work on the set. For that reason, I’ll never even begin a 1952 Topps set, and didn’t even in the ‘70’s, when the prices were still relatively high to my income, which was non-existent. I could, back then, work on late ‘60’s sets which, at the time, were closer to my grasp.

1952-Topps-Eddie-Mathews

But, if you’re determined to finish most of a set, what’s the best option? It’s got to be the worse condition rather than the reprint. I know even low grade high end cards (oxymoronic?) can get up there dollar-wise, but a genuine card by default is preferable. Want to use a reprint as a placeholder? Sure, I guess. As an end in itself? You’re better off selling all the cards you have and redirecting towards a more attainable year to pursue.

All of that certainly makes it more difficult to pick a set. I’ve been inching my way along a 1970-71 Topps Hockey set, because I had a critical mass of cards to start with (around 25%) and the priciest cards I still need won’t run more than $30-40, and there’s only two of those (Orr and a checklist).  It’s definitely the last old hockey set I’ll tackle, because I know from the get-go that I’m unwilling to pony up the dough for certain cards.

I’m definitely running out of sets that I can reasonable hunt down.  I know I’ve written about that before, but it really bothers me.  I’ll figure something out. Until then, I’ll be on the lookout for a VGEX or EX 1956 Mantle that won’t keep me up at night.

Laughlin to Keep from Crying

There’s been a bit of a debate on the SABR Baseball Cards Facebook page the past few days on the merits of “fake” cards, DIY imaginary cards that people love, or hate, or are confused by. (I weighed in on this earlier in the month). Andrew Aronstein, son of TCMA founder Mike, posited a pretty solid theoretical – “What is a “fake” card? Let’s start there.”

I bet we all have answers to this, but I think all of our answers end up wrong. The real question, to me anyway, is “What do we like and how does that effect what we buy?” From the late 1960s to the early 1980’s, Robert (R.G.) Laughlin, artist/illustrator/cartoonist (I don’t know anything about him), produced wonderful sets. From the 1968 World Series set that he self-marketed,

TTS_June_1970

to the official Fleer issues (there are many), each Laughlin subject was a joy. I bought a 1971 World Series set, a 1975 Fleer Pioneers of Baseball set

s-l1600

and packs of Fleer issue – Famous Feats, Baseball Firsts, Wildest Plays and Days. I never, never, bought sets Laughlin issued on his own.

It’s a shame, really, that I was mired in what my young mind thought was a “real” card (i.e., something put out by a company), and what I liked. Talk about being brainwashed by corporate branding! McLaughlin’s Super Stand-ups, All-Star Games, Diamond Jubilee, Long Ago Black Stars, Great Feats (God, there are so many) were not a secret. Dealers I got catalogs from would sell these sets for $5 (I’m guessing. Most were issued in the $3 range), and, though they looked incredible, I demurred. They weren’t “real” cards. Topps was real, Fleer was real, Laughlin wasn’t.

1978_laughlin_long_ago_black_stars

I rediscovered my Famous Feats cards when I was making a trade and I’m working on the set. It’s a manageable cost, and I have Ruth, Gehrig, and Cobb, which command a bit higher price. Why, I don’t know. Much to my dismay, the other sets are pretty pricey. I’ve been casually looking for random sets but, when they come up, they go for a lot, from $50 – $200. I think I’ll eventually grab a few if I can get a deal, but I feel the ship has sailed on many of these.

72fleer_feats-01

A card is a card. Some made by card companies and some are not. Are old Laughlins any less “fake” than a current DIY card? Or any less “real?” They’re both made by fans with an eye for something unique, created to fill a void. I see now that that’s good enough for me.

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I attended SABR 48 in Pittsburgh last week. It was a great convention – excellent presentations, great conversations. One of the nicest parts of my Wednesday to Saturday attendance was the outpouring of thanks from fellow SABR members about my blog posts. I wasn’t expecting so much enthusiasm, but it was intensely gratifying to know people enjoy my posts as much as I enjoy writing them.

Now go buy some cards, join SABR (if you haven’t already) and share your stories.