My Favorite Card – Charley Rabe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabe

A team by any other name

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

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

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

The answer: “its complicated.”

Teammates?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excuse me, I need a moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allen

 

 

Cards with Balls

 

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As an inveterate collector, I have saved almost every sports related piece of memorabilia though all of life’s transitions.  The one big exception is the loss of my Chemtoy “superballs” with imbedded baseball player photos.  My brother and I easily had 60-70 of these 1” diameter “high bounce” balls.  With the exception of Lou Brock and Don Mincher, the collection is lost.

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Major League box
AL and NL Boxes
League boxes

Many of you may remember that the balls were sold in vending machines as well as at drug, candy and variety stores.   My only source was a drug store in the “big city” of Yakima, WA, which had the mixed box of AL and NL players. Chemtoy also distributed the balls in separate NL and AL boxes or regionally by teams.  The balls sold for 10 cents each.  1970 was the only year of production, but the balls lingered in stores for several years

Each team had 11 or 12 players and a manager.  The inch diameter picture disk was a head shot without any MLB insignia on the caps.  Obviously, Chemtoy only bought rights from the MLBPA.  The backs were blue for the NL and red for the AL and contained the player’s name, team, position and an inventory number.

The pliable, clear plastic material served to magnify the picture when viewed straight on.  Unfortunately, the balls tended the turn “cloudy” with age, obscuring the picture. I remember that excessive bouncing could lead to the ball splitting at the center seem leaving you with a 1” baseball card.

Over the years, I’ve collected eight Seattle Pilots, paying up to $25 (ouch!) each.  I was recently narrowly outbid on a banged up Gene Brabender.

Chemtoy produced an AFL and NFL set in 1969 as well.

Here is a link with more information on these quasi-cards.

Paper Route Money

Hall of Fame Weekend has me thinking about history—baseball cards connected me to the players and the teams as a young fan in the 80s.

During those years, we were in the middle of an over-produced and manufactured baseball card industry. Houses were converted into baseball card shops in almost every neighborhood similar to the way you find a neighborhood bar on main street. Both are dedicated to the locals, but the clientele at the shops scoured the shelves for creased corners instead of malt choices.

These shops were spectacular. Like many of my friends, I was a kid delivering newspapers so I could save enough to buy a Mark McGwire USA card, but you would just as likely find a doctor, lawyer or other adult standing alongside you sifting through the cards. After reading about McGwire and players like Barry Bonds in the evening paper as I completed deliveries—this was during the time when the newspaper issued a morning and evening edition, their cards were must-haves.

Other than the card shops and the newspaper, we might catch TWIB (This Week in Baseball). It only aired once a week, so if I really wanted to learn more about a player or a team, I had to find the cards.

Today, instead of the corner card shop, we browse eBay. I remember one of my greatest joys from the baseball card shop era, though, that we miss with the online experience. Long rows of cards awaited the fan, and we could flip through the cards for hours while connecting with fellow collectors. During a single visit, I might flip through multiple Jack Clark, Pete Rose and Harold Baines cards that I already owned—all while enjoying the stale cardboard aroma—until I discovered a treasure.

The treasure … Ernie Banks, Thurman Munson, Catfish Hunter, and so many other players from previous decades. These players were spoken of in the hushed tones afforded only to legends. But, finding their physical card gave me a connection to a time and a place. It gave me a way to measure this legendary player to today’s players.

History—this is how we would connect as baseball fans to the players of the past and the present.  These baseball cards linked us to a mythical time and place before the world turned cynical when players like Banks just wanted to “play two”.

Fast forward to the present.  I am a fan that was driven away from baseball and baseball cards after the disappointment of the 1994 cancellation of the World Series. Cal Ripken’s 2,131 game achievement brought me back.

Through it all, I still have those cards I collected as a kid that remind me of the fun of the game.  Now, I find myself collecting special years and special teams.  Baseball cards remind me of what is good about the game.  What is fun. What is worth holding onto.  I miss the overproduced days sometimes because it connected us as fans in the community.  eBay is nice but distant.  I look forward to where this SABR community grows and connects fans.

 

Plaques and Cards – An Induction 2017 Recap

Induction 2017 is over. It was a great weekend and I could tell you stories about chatting with Tim Raines, joking with Randy Johnson, welcoming back a healthy Rod Carew, sharing a beer with Bill Lee on my front porch and having my son meet Frank Thomas, but I won’t. There will be plenty of names to drop along the way, but let’s talk cards.

It’s a generally held belief that Cooperstown baseball shops are card shops. Not so. Most of the shops are cap, t-shirt, jersey and autograph places. That’s not to say that those don’t have a smattering of cards, but there are only a few stores that are card stores at their core.

The days leading up to, and including, Induction were filled with baseball cards. Some of my houseguest friends are card people, so we took a daily walk to Baseball Nostalgia in the Doubleday Field parking lot. I wasn’t looking for autographed cards, but I never really do. Still, I buy the ones that catch my eye and there are ones that always catch my eye.

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Jimmy, who comes for Induction every year, brought with him an unopened box of 1990 Upper Deck. It was the hit of the weekend. People tore open packs, shouting when they got a Tim Raines, puzzled when they got a Chuck Cary.

On Friday night, after a big Hall party, my wife and I went to a bash put on by some of our Canadian friends. Cooperstown was invaded from the north, but they were the friendliest hordes. The first person I saw when I got to the house was Bill Lee. His wife showed me a bottle of Bill Lee wine, which had the coolest baseball card label. Better yet, the label is his business/baseball card.

Lee card

Lee and a bunch of ex-‘Spos were signing for charity on Saturday. After a few seconds with Dennis Boyd, I hovered around my pal Jonah Keri who was signing books and his Allen & Ginter card, which I had to have. Plus, the money went to a good cause. (Explanation of autograph – Jonah says he’s often told this picture makes him look like some Eastern European politico).

Keri card

Jay Jaffe was in town signing his new The Cooperstown Casebook. With each book, Jay handed out a card of the book cover. Rookies, a company that makes custom cards, made some for Split Season as well. People really dig them.

The Raines party was on Saturday night and it was a cardboard filled extravaganza. There was a collage of all his cards (Jimmy noted one was missing, a 1996 something or other), there were cards in the goodie bags and, best of all, cookie cards. This is the first card I’ve eaten since gnawing on a 1964 Eddie Bressoud when I was almost 2.

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Lots of cards each and every day and that doesn’t even count some 1933 Tattoo Orbit and 1956 and 1960 Topps that I got in the mail. There’s a big pile on my dresser that sorely needs to be put away.

Oh, did I mention I chatted with Tim Raines, joked with Randy Johnson, welcomed back a healthy Rod Carew, shared a beer with Bill Lee on my front porch and had my son meet Frank Thomas?

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Mother’s Cookies

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From 1983 to 1998, Mother’s Cookies released baseball cards both in their cookie packaging and as stadium giveaways. I, as any kid would, believed the these were universal but discussing on Twitter this summer has shown that they’re anything but. This was a distinctly West Coast release of a West Coast brand* which made cards from San Diego to Seattle and East as far as Houston and Minneapolis.

*Formed in Oakland in 1914. My grandfather used to tell stories about being able to go to the factory and fill a pillowcase with broken, unsuitable for retail, cookies for a quarter. By the 1990s it was no longer owned locally although production was still in Oakland until it got subsumed by Kellogg’s and wiped out by the financial crisis in the 2000s (RIP Flaky Flix, my personal favorite). In the 1950s Mother’s also made PCL baseball cards—a completely different beast and project than the 1980s/90s cards in this post. They also released a Presidents set in 1992.

The cards were quite nice. Some of the early Giants releases in 1983 and 1984 were different but, until 1997, the basic design was simple and elegant. A nice glossy full-bleed photograph—sometimes action but most of the time a classic baseball pose showing off the stadium in the background. Crisp white card stock with rounded corners—probably the most distinct design element. Just the player name and team in small Helvetica Bold text. The early cards often used the team logotype—a really nice design touch I wish Mother’s had kept—instead of Helvetica and 1986 had script lettering instead, but starting in 1987 the design was unchanged for a complete decade. And for good reason; it was pretty much perfect.

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Aside from the stadium giveaways you could find single cards in cookie packages. I seem to recall them only in the bags of Iced Animal Crackers but that might only be what I managed to convince my mom to buy. These cards were typically part of four or eight card player-specific sets. Until the early 1990s I only found either Giants or A’s cards—suggesting that Mother’s produced their inserts to cater to the region the cookies would be sold in. In the early 90s Mother’s must’ve simplified their production and I started to find cards of the Griffeys, Nolan Ryan (three different sets for 5000Ks, Seven No-hitters, and 300 wins), and even Tim Salmon instead of local stars.

But it’s the stadium giveaways which I liked best. It was originally for kids only and I made sure to get to Candlestick HOURS early to ensure that I receive my packet of 20 cards. The sets are 28 cards and in the 80s you received a coupon you could redeem for eight more cards in the mail. Eight cards which you’d cross your fingers and hope for the correct ones to come back, It never worked out like that for me. I always got a random extra no-name or two—thankfully the stars were guaranteed in the 20 you got at the park—and all my early sets have a few holes where I’m missing someone like Mark Wasinger or the trainers.

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That’s right, card 28 (and in some years, 27) might include all the coaches or the trainers or the broadcasters. Which was awesome since you never saw them on cards but they were important parts of the team too.

Then, in the early 90s Mother’s changed everything. It was wonderful. Instead of the frustration of the coupon you now received 28 cards in your pack. Not a complete set though. You got the base set of 20 plus eight copies of the same fringe player (or coaches or trainers, etc.). And right there on the outside of the package were instructions to go trade for your missing seven cards.

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So for the hour or so before the game, the stands were crawling with kids calling out who they had and and who they needed. Young kids who were petrified of strangers suddenly came out of their shells. Older kids could coordinate more-complicated trades. The first year this happened I had to walk two very young kids through a three-way swap which completed all three of our sets. I don’t think they fully realized what I did until their sets were suddenly complete.

After the 1994 strike killed my card collecting habit the only set of cards I still collected were the Mother’s Cookies giveaway sets. Going to the games was fun. Trading with other kids—and eventually other adults once the kids-only aspect of the giveaway got dropped—was fantastic. It’s the rare giveaway which not only encourages fan interaction but also manages to capture the soul of the freebie. As I look at the current set of National Baseball Card Day promotions, it appears that the trading card day is not longer about actually trading cards. And that makes me sad.

Bowman v. Topps: Winning the Battle and Losing the War

In my first contribution to this outstanding blog, I want to offer this summary of the litigation between Bowman and Topps that ultimately led to Bowman’s departure from the marketplace despite winning a federal circuit court decision over Topps. As an emeritus law professor, I hope to cover legal aspects of the industry as well as my own personal feelings as a collector for sixty years.

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1953 Bowman
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1953 Topps

For many of us, the “golden age of baseball cards” started in the decade following the end of World War II with the two primary companies of the era – the Bowman Gum Company and the Topps Chewing Gum Company emerging in the late 1940s to compete head-to-head in the early 1950s. As the fight for sales heated up in drug and candy stores, the two companies squabble over the contractual rights to the use of players’ pictures landed the two in federal court in New York.

The litigation that initially began with Haelen Laboratories, Inc., who acquired Bowman in 1952, suing Topps claiming unfair competition, trademark infringement, and a breach of exclusive contractual rights ultimately established the foundation for a newly named legal right – the right of publicity. Topps won the first round in the Eastern District of New York in a decision rendered by Judge Clarence G. Galston on May 25, 1953, involving a very technical aspect of whether or not Haelen had a “property interest” allowing it to proceed against Topps instead of pursuing a breach of contract actions against individual players for breaching their exclusive contracts.

On appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Jerome Frank noted that Topps was guilty of the tort of causing certain players to breach their exclusive contracts. More importantly for the development of the law, however, Frank went further determining that “We think that, in addition to and independent of that right of privacy . . . a man has a right in the publicity value of his photograph … i.e., the right to grant the exclusive privilege of publishing his picture … This right might be called a “right of publicity.”

Topps filed an appeal with the United States Supreme Court. On October 13, 1953, the Court refused to accept the appeal. While legal wrangling continued between the two parties, Haelen was acquired by Connelly Containers, Inc. They had little interest in card and gum business and settled with Topps in early 1956. So, despite their rival gaining the stronger legal claim, Topps ultimately emerged as the business victor in the fight between the two parties.

One of my favorite sets turned out to be Bowman’s last – the 1955 “color television set” cards.

55Aaron

55Berra

For a detailed discussion of the litigation, I strongly encourage you to read an article by my good friend Gordon Hylton titled “Baseball Cards and the Birth of the Right of Publicity: The Curious Case of Haelen Laboratories v. Topps Chewing Gum” published in volume 12 of the Marquette Sports Law Review available at this link.

 

Editor’s note:  Ed is a law professor at Notre Dame has written extensively on the intersection of baseball an the law, including in this book.  Follow him at @epedmondsNDLS.