SABR47 Sabermetics Panel: 2014 Topps #273 Mark DeRosa.

One of the many highlights of SABR47 in New York was the “MLB Now: The Changing State of Sabermetrics” panel. The discussion was conducted by a good cross section of of panelists which included MLB Network host Brian Kenny as moderator, journalists Joel Sherman and Mike Petriello, and SABR president Vince Gennaro.

The former player on the panel was Mark DeRosa. While he never played for the Phillies DeRosa is notable in Philadelphia for being a Penn alum. While at the university he led the Quakers to Ivy League championships in BOTH baseball and football.

This brings us to DeRosa’s 2014 Topps card.

2014 Topps #273 Mark DeRosa

Mark DeRosa’s final card as an active player tied his MLB career back to his college years at Penn.

You may notice that the card is signed — Mark DeRosa was gracious enough to take the time to autograph memorabilia after the SABR panel. While signing the card he had a funny story related to the photograph.

He took a football with him to each and every one of the eight stops in his major league career. He would bring out the pigskin occasionally during batting practice – sort of a bonding activity with teammates who were interested in tossing a little football.

None of the teams had a problem with the activity until 2013 when the Toronto Blue Jays (led by Manager John Gibbons) confiscated the football. DeRosa said the only time he got to play football as a member of the Blue Jays was the day the picture was taken.

Speaking of the Picture

I found the original image on Getty Images. The photo is credited to Tom Szczerbowski who is also responsible for the photo that is on the 2016 Topps card of Jose Bautista – the Bat flip card.

Topps did one significant piece of photoshopping on the photo before immortalizing it on cardboard….

Mark DeRosa 2013 SEP 01

Topps edited the NFL logo off of the ball. Not sure why, as Topps still had an NFL license in 2014. Perhaps the Topps/NFL agreement was still being developed when the Topps baseball went to print.

There is one other fun fact within the Getty photo info: it tells us that the pass was thrown by teammate Anthony Gose.

Royals @ Blue Jays

Perhaps Gibbons was right to confiscate the football. The Blue Jays lost that days game 5-0 to the Kansas City Royals. Mark DeRosa did not get involved in the game, while Gose went 0-3 with a pair of strikeouts.

Sources and Links

SABR

Sports Collectors Daily

Twitter @Topps

Getty Images

Baseball-Ref

The Conlon Project

At a recent estate sale, my wife’s uncle, who is in the antique business, came across a number of shoeboxes containing baseball cards.  While the majority of the boxes contained Topps cards from the 1980s, one box contained 25 unopened packs from the 1991 Conlon Collection put out by MegaCards in conjunction with the Sporting News during that era.

The cards depict black and white photographs taken by noted baseball photographer, Charles M. Conlon.   According to Dean Hanley from Dean’s Cards, the cards in this 330-set, are organized by team, award, or Hall-of-Fame status.

I would like to offer (free of charge) one pack of cards to 24 of our SABR baseball card enthusiasts, and then ask that when each person receives their pack, they select a card of interest and write a paragraph or two on the card (max. 250). That is, why did you select the card?  What do you see in the photo?  How does the photo make you feel?  Something of that nature.  You can talk a bit to the players career, but I’m more interested in the holistic value.

I will ask that once you’ve selected card, please notify me immediately, as I will be keeping a list to ensure that there are no duplicated efforts.  For example, I opened a pack and found MEL ALMADA.  As it so happens, I have a particular affinity for Almada, a Mexican who played minor league ball in Seattle.

If you are interested in participating in this CONLON PROJECT, email me at salazar8017@yahoo.com with the subject line “Conlon Project” and send me your mailing address.  I hope to gather the 25 “reactions” into a document to submit to the SABR Baseball Card blog or other SABR publication.

By the way, key cards in this set, Hanley indicates, include: #110 Babe Ruth ’27 Yankees, #145 Babe Ruth Champs, #250 Ty Cobb, and #310 Lou Gehrig.

Thanks for playing!

Poor Little Lamb

Indians Album

In exchange for whacking down the weeds that constitute his yard, my neighbor will periodically reward me with memorabilia. Recently, he gave me a 1971 Cleveland Indians Dell Stamp album. The stamps are uncut and in excellent shape. As a kid, I was only able to acquire the All-Star version, so I was quite pleased to receive a team album. The image on one of stamps is so unique that I felt compelled to post my discovery.

Ray Lamb Dell Stamp

In blog posts and on Twitter, many of us have commented on the bad airbrushed photos Topps churned out in the ‘70s. One of the Indians stamps may be the worst altered photo in the history memorabilia production. Ray Lamb’s stamp appears to have been drawn by an elementary student. It is probably a bad colorization attempt of a black-and-white photo from his Dodgers days. In any event, you would be hard pressed to find a more amateurish alteration.

Lamb 72

Not to be outdone by Dell, Topps produced a hideous airbrushed photo of Ray in ’72. Obviously, he is in a Dodger uniform with the wishbone C painted on. Never mind the fact that the Indians have never worn royal blue caps. Why Topps decided to reach back into achieves is a mystery, since they produced a nice shot of Lamb in ’71, decked out in the short-lived pinstriped uniform.

Ray Lamb 71 Topps

The Trading Card Data Base and the Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards consider the Dell stamps to be cards. This is one of many examples of collectibles that are not truly cards being lumped into the card category. I’m interested in soliciting opinions on what constitutes a baseball card. Excepting inserts-which accompany cards-my feeling is a product can only be a card if printed on card stock. Perhaps we can engage in a Twitter conversation around this topic.

Incidentally, Jeff Katz did a post a few months back offering expert analysis of the Dell stamps and albums.

 

An Unsettled Set Strategy

I fancy myself as a frugal guy. Maybe not frugal, not anymore. I used to be pretty tight with money, which was fine when I was on my own, a bit more problematic once I got married. Over time I’ve become somewhat more profligate, maybe not profligate, but I no longer spend money as if I was still a kid without a job or had an entire career behind me. Still, I don’t love the act of spending, so I still try to maximize my dollars. If I’m going to spend dough, then I want it to be as little as possible within the confines of market rates.

When I started working on various sets, I had two general situations – 1) I had more than enough of the set that it was way less costly to finish off the checklist and 2) that, for other sets, it would be cheaper to buy the whole set and sell off what I already had from said set. I was more than aware of that, but there’s little fun in buying the whole all at once. Building a set over time is more enjoyable. And yet…

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I had about 30 1964 Topps coins and a solid amount of those were high end guys in EX condition. I figured with Koufax, Clemente, one of the Mantle All-Stars and plenty of other Hall of Famers, I’d be able to finish off the rest for less than the cost of a complete set. I was wrong, and I was wrong in a couple of ways.

The first way I was wrong was that, regardless of book value, there’s a definite floor on prices for commons. Could I get them for less than $1.75-2? Not really. Oddly, I can’t seem to sell my doubles for more than $2, about $1.50 after fees. It’s not a great spread.

The second way I was wrong was in gauging opportunity. I didn’t expect to go back to a card show, which I did, wrote about, and that led to 48 coins in one shot. I didn’t expect a friend to have another 35 he was willing to sell at a fair price.

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That’s it. I’m done. I have the entire set, not counting the Wayne Causey and Chuck Hinton wrong back All-Stars (they say “N.L” when they should say “A.L.”). I’ll likely pick them up over time, though there’s a difference between a complete set and a complete master set with all errors. (I do have both Mantle All-Stars. Less a mistake than a conscious and clever effort by Topps, there are AS coins of The Mick batting right-handed and left-handed).

Even with the 30+ head start, I ended up paying more to finish the set than had I bought it outright. How much more? Maybe $25 bucks, maybe $45 bucks with the error coins. Was that worth it? I’m not sure. I had expected that it would take me a good year or so to cobble together all the coins I needed. Had that been the case it would have been worth the extra money to work slowly and enjoy the gradual build.

But was it worth it for what ended up being about 3 months’ worth of collecting? I’m still not sure. I get an inordinate amount of joy looking at them, but maybe that would have been the case had they all arrived at once.

What I do know is that this is probably the only instance of doubt I’ve had on my process. I’ve been able to make enough good deals (and offset a percentage of costs with eBay sales) on the other sets I’ve worked on that it’s been better to piece them together. At least I’ve managed to stretch those sets out longer in a way that doesn’t give me pause.

Baseball Photographer Trading Cards

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This summer when I was in San Francisco I visited SFMOMA and was able to see an exhibition of Mike Mandel’s work. I’ve already blogged about the show in general but his Baseball Photographer Trading Cards are worth their own post here too.

This project sits at the intersection of photography and baseball cards which I love to think about. It’s relevant in terms of our consumption of images and in how we conceive of photographic products. It provokes a lot of questions about value—this is a set of 134 cards which runs $2000–$3000 on Ebay because it’s Art™ rather than a collectible and as such, is worth a lot more to certain people.

We’ve got star photographers who everyone knows, photographers’ photographers who aren’t appreciated as much as they should be, and “common” photographers who’ve kind of been forgotten now. It’s very much a proper baseball card set in this way.

Like I can’t find an Ansel Adams card at all on eBay. Other middle-range important photographers are listed for up to a couple hundred bucks. Commons meanwhile are like twenty dollars. As with baseball card sets the range of desirableness is what makes collecting fun. Without the common cards none of the stars are as exciting to find, chase, or trade for. And among the commons there will always names that someone specifically wants.

That these are mass-produced offset lithography is also cool. Where photography is almost always obsessed with process and image quality, these recognize how the photography that most people consume on a daily basis isn’t in the form of quadtones, fancy-shmancy superfine linescreens, silver-gelatin prints, or archival inkjets. Even as baseball cards have gotten more expensive, they’re still produced at a scale which dwarfs art production. Mandel’s cards, while still produced at a much smaller scale, have the same production characteristics. They don’t feel like art objects. They’re the same cheap cardstock, dodgy printing, and slapdash trimming we’ve come to know and love about mid-1970s Topps production.

They were even packaged with gum.

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This project says a lot about the degree to which baseball and baseball cards are part of the American vernacular. That SFMOMA displayed Mandel’s cards with 1958 Topps cards is especially noteworthy. I’ve not liked that set much* but I now see it in a very different light after this. The 1958 designs when paired with Mandel’s cards serve as a way of highlighting posing tropes. How bats are held. Which pitching motions get photographed. What angle a player tends to look off into the distance.

*I’m not a fan of cards where the backgrounds have been painted out whether with colors like the 1958 design or with crazy graphics like so many special parallel cards are today. And yes, I know that the 1958 design is also a direct connection to the early Crackerjack cards which I do like but I guess I feel like this particular design concept is best left to the pre-WW2 days.

The colored backgrounds work as a way of silhouetting the pose to the point where we recognize the shape and posture as baseball card. These are poses we’ve grown up with and seen since the 19th century. They’re the poses my kids make as soon as they try on their Little League jerseys.

And yes they’re the poses we’re all missing when we look at and complain about the current photography in the Topps Flagship set.

Looking at Mandel’s contact sheets shows how quickly people eased into mimicking those poses. That he’s using a medium format camera helps a lot too. Where by the mid 1970s we were seeing Topps increasingly use 35mm cameras to take more and more unposed photos, these medium format shots require working in the same manner as the posed photography of the 1950s and 1960s—the era which Topps Heritage is trying to evoke and which many of us still treat as the golden age of the hobby.

The card backs meanwhile are really interesting. First, of course they’re numbered (yes there’s also a checklist card so you can keep track of your collection). And of course we’ve got the usual height/weight and where they were born information.

But instead of statistics we have Favorite Camera, Favorite Developer, Favorite Paper, Favorite Film, and Favorite Photographer. I love that Mandel realized that one of the chief purposes of baseball cards is comparing the back of one card to the back of another card. That he created a completely-appropriate set of standard information with which we can compare photographers is wonderful.

But he also left half the card blank for and allowed the subject of the card to write anything—or nothing—in the space. Some of the statements are serious. Others are jokes. Others play with the form itself. This is something that I’ve not seen in baseball cards and makes me wonder what would happen if players were allowed to include something of their own creation on the back.

Maybe it could be a statement to their fans. Maybe a selfie they took on their phone. Maybe a shout out to a personal cause. Lots of possibilities (and possibilities for awfulness whatwith every player having endorsement contracts now) that I’ve been enjoying thinking about. But I suspect the most we’ll ever get in this department are Twitter and Instagram handles since wrangling all that personal information is a logistic headache in terms of acquisition and copyright.

My Cards Cup Runneth Over

The ‘70’s were my pack buying heyday. Except for Topps hockey cards (I started buying complete sets by mail in 1972, though stopped the year BEFORE Gretzky’s rookie, a massive collecting error in judgment), I bought pack after pack of baseball, football and basketball, mostly between 1972-1976 (the span is slightly different for each sport). I can tell how many packs I bought by the number of inserts left over. I have piles of unscratched off Topps football scratch off games from 1975. On top of the pack buying frenzy, I was known as a card collector so, by the end of the decade, my friends gave me their collections, all from the same period.

I was going through 1972-1976 football cards for a trade. You want to see a lot of 1973 Coy Bacon cards? Here are a lot of 1973 Coy Bacon cards!

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As I happily shuffled through countless Roy Gerelas and Halvor Hagens, I couldn’t shake the feeling that before me lay underutilized resources and a cavernous opportunity. There must be some collectors out there who need the commons and stars I have from this era and have commons/stars from years I need for a straight up value for value trade. There must be. But are there? Where are the many in need of a 1974 Billy Keller?

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It seems somewhat unlikely that someone would have 1968-69 baseball and football in nice condition and not have the years I cover so completely. There may be someone who has few cards from the other sports but holds a wealth of cards I need. I’ve been fishing around and seem to have found a few people who fit the bill, but I want more. My goal would be to virtually eliminate all the doubles (and triples and quadruples and quintuples, and other -uples) from my collection and have only single cards. I think it’s doable.

Another idea is trying to sell bulk commons to set builders, but at a price that makes sense and what I see out there doesn’t make sense. The market is the market, but selling 40+ year old cards for a dime doesn’t sit well with me. Again, trading is the way to go.

How can this blog community help? Well, I’ve already met, either virtually or in real life, other collectors and we swap a little. Maybe we can bulk up the Facebook page as a venue for, if not a sellers market, at least a healthy trading forum for us all. Who knows what we’ll find. There may be seven people desperately looking for nice condition 1973 Bill Bonham cards.

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Lou Brock changes Topps again (with an assist from Campaneris): 1973 Topps #64

A few weeks ago we featured a posting on how the Stolen Base column was added as a statistical category to 1971 Topps. I believe that the impetus for the update was the base stealing ability of Lou Brock.

Two years later Brock would once again be a cardboard pioneer.

1973 Topps #64 League Leaders Stolen Bases Lou Brock & Bert Campaneris

 

Topps first produced league leader cards for their 1961 Set. There were five categories Batting (Average), Home Runs, ERA, Pitching (Wins), and Strikeouts. The RBI category was added in 1964. Those six categories made up the League Leader subset for close to a decade. In 1973 Topps updated the subset by adding two new statistical categories: Fireman (Combined Saves and Relief Wins) for pitchers and Stolen Bases for position players.

The stolen base king of the era remained Lou Brock. Appropriately, he and Bert Campaneris had the honor of being on the first Stolen Bases League Leaders card. The way we look at modern stats may have diminished Lou Brock’s Hall of Fame credentials, but it is notable that he was a stolen base trailblazer in not one but two editions of Topps cards.    

We documented a few of Lou Brock’s base stealing accomplishments in the previous posting which can be found here. Bert Campaneris put together pretty dominant base stealing numbers of his own. The 1973 League Leaders Card honors his last of six AL stolen base crowns. Those six seasons were part of a 14 year run in which Campy stole at least 20 bases. His 649 career thefts still ranks 14th in MLB history.

The depiction of both league leaders on a single card was also new in 1973. Previous League Leader cards were typically comprised of the top three players (sometimes two, or four) for each category and Topps had one card for each league. The switch in 1973 was likely due to the addition of the 2 new categories. Had Topps remained with a card per category for each league that subset would have ballooned to 16 cards. The eight League Leader cards in 1973 is more in line with the original 10 card subset that was produced in 1961.  

Flip

1973 Topps #64 League Leaders Stolen Bases Lou Brock & Bert Campaneris (b-side)

The back of the cards feature the top 10 finishers in the category for each league. Always some fun names on these lists. It’s a shame about Dave Nelson, as the change over from three player leader cards to winner-only bumped him out of his chance to get on a league leader card. Freddie Patek eventually made it onto an LL card in 1978.

It is a bit of an oddity that Topps produced League Leader cards for Stolen Bases starting in 1974 but the SB column did not permanently make it onto card backs until 1981. The impetus would be a combination of competition for new card makers (Fleer & Donruss) and new base stealing legend, Rickey Henderson.

Sources and links

SABR Bio Lou Brock by Dave Williams

SABR Bio Bert Campaneris by Rich Schabowski

Baseball Simulator

Phungo Lou Brock Index

Baseball-Reference