The Other Side of the Coins

We moved from Brooklyn to Long Island in December of 1971. I was nine-years-old and finally had my own room. It was a life changing event.

Sports were my thing then, my only thing really, and I hung up my Sports Illustrated posters of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ken Harrelson, Carl Yastrzemski and two Joe Namaths. I had some 8 X 10’s to add to the gallery – a Willis Reed promotional picture from Voit, another of Reed and Walt Frazier from a game I had that they endorsed and a Pete Maravich Keds’ promo. (God I wish I still had those!)

There was a nice big, empty pace on the wall to the right of my dresser, a void I could see from my bed, itching to be filled. I had an idea. I found a large wooden board in the garage, painted it white and reached for my 1971 Topps coins. I love those coins; they’re beautiful, bright, alive, better, I think, than the funereal black shrouded base set of that year.

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I had 100 coins or so, in nice condition, as you can see. I wasn’t serious about collecting yet and I wasn’t even 10, so this seemed like a good project. I glued them to the board and nailed the board into the wall. It was cool to look at.

A few years later, I was a serious collector, going to card shows and caring about my cards. I freaked out at what I’d done to my precious metal coins and pried them off.

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I tried frantically to scratch the glue off and submitted myself to hours of ancient torture, scraping wood slivers, which would get under my nails and cause me to bleed and cry in pain. I deserved it for what I did to these beauties.

I’ve been thinking of getting the last third of the set but they’re a bit pricier than I thought they’d be. Still, finding 44 in VG condition should, in time, be doable. Maybe there’s another masochist out there in the collecting world who has extra coins with excellent heads and ruined tails. I’m not so condition sensitive, as Rich Reese can attest.

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Hooked on Heritage

A few weeks ago, Jeff Katz wrote a post to say that he was not enamored with the Topps Heritage line. As for me, I am firmly on #TeamHeritage.

I am a new convert — I mostly picked up a handful of packs over the years without getting carried away — but have spent the past few months attempting to complete sets for 2014 through 2016, and am working on this year as well. (I am currently shy about 50 short prints total for the four years.) Perhaps not coincidentally, the first cards I had as a child were from 1967, so last year’s Heritage (which uses the 1967 design) had a pretty strong pull.

The best Heritage cards are the ones showing a player from a team that existed at the time of the original, where the whiff of nostalgia is at its most powerful.

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I prefer the angle of the 1967 Roseboro to the 2016 Ethier, with more trees in the background rather than the darkened sky, but these are both good shots from the same pose family. Those of us who revere the 1967 cards appreciate that Topps uses the same color for the team names when it can.

Joe-Pepitone  MillerAndrew

The cards that work less for me are the ones where the uniform is too modern, something that does not match the classy older designs.

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If you are going to go to the trouble of having this set, why not take the extra step and wait until a day when they are wearing the more conservative togs?

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Same two players in 2017, and much better in both cases. In my opinion, Topps did a great job with their first 500 cards this year — the best Heritage set they have done. (There are 200 more, the high numbers, coming later this summer.) I am not asking the players to cut their hair, remove their tattoos, or tuck in their shirts. I am just asking Topps to better match the subject with the design.

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And, while you are at it, you don’t need to use a deliberately blurred background (above), something Topps latched onto in recent years but certainly did not use in 1967 (below).

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But you know what? No one is more romantic about baseball cards of the 1960s than I am, but those sets were filled with hatless (or hat-blackened) photos, or blurry photos, or bored looking subjects. For me, the Heritage cards are not competing with the old sets. They are competing with the Topps flagship.

Since I still like building modern sets to help me follow the baseball season, which cards am I going to want to look at?

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While Topps has some nice poses this year on their main set, I prefer the bottom cards. I grew up knowing what all these guys looked like, and the Heritage cards help me do that.

To close, let me say this: I do not need the old designs. What I most want is the old design philosophy: the childish, whimsical elements; the cartoons, the quizzes, the fun.

What I propose is that Topps take a stack of cards from the 1960s to a local art school, and say: “Design a baseball card that looks like it would fit in with these. Don’t repeat these designs, but make a new one that belongs to the same school.” Choose the best one, and make a baseball set.

Hell, make it the flagship set. Too radical a change? Maybe, but wasn’t 1971 a radical change? Or 1975? We lived.

I suspect the kids of today would love it, and might fall in love with the game as I did … after first following in love with the cardboard that acted as my guide.

Great Expectations

I don’t like surprises (it’s a control thing) and I dread being handed a wrapped present. I like three general things – books, records and, of course, cards. It’s impossible to me to fake pleasant astonishment at a gift that, without a doubt, will leave me cold. “I always wanted an old mug from Howe Caverns!” Can’t do it. Keep that in mind for my next birthday. Yet I love packs and I love them because of the surprise. They’re wonderful little birthday presents, paper (or wax) itching to be ripped open.

It’s all about expectations, those being predictably met and those being delightfully unforeseen. Clearly I’ll love whatever is inside. I spoke about Split Season: 1981 last week before a group of guys celebrating the 25th anniversary of their fantasy league, Seasons Past. I got some solid swag, including three packs of 1981 Donruss (well played!). There was nothing new to be found there, I have the set, but peeling away the paper, chiseling away the gum (poor Dave Chalk!) and finding Tim Foli, Mitchell Page, Rick Wise and others, was a hell of a lot of fun.

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Back to expectations. The thing about new packs (as opposed to 36-year-old packs) is that there’s usually going to be something wondrous to be found. I’m not talking about the quasi-thrill of an insert, though I’ll admit to being jazzed when I pulled an autographed Aaron Judge card out of a pack of 2017 Gypsy Queen, which I then sold on eBay, figuring it was best to sell something like that early and high. That was around 5 homers ago. It’s not turning out to be a good call.

I’m talking about this: when Roberto Clemente died on December 31, 1972, that was it for his career. He was gone. Then I opened a pack of 1973 1st series, and there he was, Roberto Clemente, completely alive, at bat and ready to pounce. It was a shock, incredibly unexpected. I’ll never forget it.

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Or the following year, 1974, when early packs revealed a spectacular #1 – Hank Aaron, “New All-Time Home Run King.” What a jolt to the senses compared to the other 1974’s, though that is my favorite set of the ‘70’s. Though Aaron entered 1974 one shy of tying Babe Ruth’s record of 714 career homers, and more than likely to break the record early (he did it on April 8), it was still ballsy for Topps to proclaim him the new king on a card. As Clemente showed the year before, no one, not even Bad Henry, was guaranteed another season in life. It was totally startling to see that card #1.

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I’m finding that stacks of cards, small piles I’ve been buying to work on sets, provide the same kick of unopened packs. When I buy a lot of cards, I hone in on the numbers, comparing them to my checklist. Once they’re delivered, I take a closer look at the fronts.

Bouton56 wrote a post last month. “It’s Miller Times Two” is a fun look at players with the same names in the same set. A recent stack of 1960’s that I bought brought an unanticipated bombshell.

This is not Johnny Briggs:

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This is Johnny Briggs:

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I was kind of bowled over by white Johnny Briggs. I do know a lot of baseball, but I never heard of this guy. Well, I’d heard of him, but not this version of him. I only know black Johnny Briggs. When I was out to dinner with two older friends, writers and baseball card collectors, I told them this minor story about expectations and how often they can be shaken up.

“Oh, Johnny Briggs, the pitcher?” one of them asked. They identified with that one!

That’s the magic in the packs and stacks. There’s going to be something you didn’t know, or hadn’t seen, or comes out of left field, or goes out to center field, like Addison Russell’s Game 6 Grand Slam, a game I was at and was ecstatic to pull out of a pack this year.

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The Champs Celebrate

From 1960 to 1977–with the exceptions of 1966 and 1976–Topps included in their set World Series cards that highlighted each of the previous year’s games. Collectors could acquire four, five, six or seven cards depending on the length of the “Fall Classic.” The front usually featured the star of the game, a brief headline and the box score on the back. For example, these are from 1968 (showing games from the 1967 Series).

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Additionally, an extra card was included that provided the total series stats on back and a celebration photo on the front. The celebrants were either in the euphoric clubhouse or cavorting on the field. The cards didn’t always favor star players since coaches, managers and benchwarmers all show up. This practice lasted until ’77 with exception of ’66. Also celebration cards for the first three years of the League Championship Series were produced. Let’s take a look at the celebrating champs.

 

60 Dodgers

The Dodgers are the happy champs in this ’60 card. In only their second year in LA, the Dodgers took down the White Sox in six games in ‘59. The man getting soaked with “suds” in the Comiskey Park clubhouse is pitching coach Joe Becker.

 

61 Pirates

The architect of the most famous “walk-off” homer in history, Bill Mazeroski, is fittingly featured on the 1961 card. Teammate Gino Cimoli clowns around with a fedora.

 

62 Yankees

This happy trio is all smiles after clinching the ’61 championship in five games. On the left is Johnny Blanchard who started in right field in game five and went three for four. Journeyman Bud Daley (middle) replaced Ralph Terry in the 3rd inning and went the rest of the way for the victory. Elston Howard rounds out the group in this ‘62 card. Notice the skylight in the Crosley Field clubhouse.

 

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Series MVP Ralph Terry and Hall-of-Fame great Whitey Ford “whoop it up” in this ‘63 card after defeating the Giants in a close seven game series in ’62.

 

64 Dodgers

The ’64 celebration card moves from clubhouse to the field as the ’63 champion Dodgers mob Sandy Koufax after the four game “sweep “of the Yankees. Number 24 is manager Walt Alston, 23 is Bart Shirley, 7 belongs to Lee Walls and 33 is pitching coach Joe Becker.

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64 red cap

 

Cardinals Tim McCarver and Bob Gibson embrace as others pile on after the last out in game seven of the ’64 series in this ’65 card. Incidentally, this card along with the previous celebration photos were colorized black and white photos. The artist who did the colorization painted the Cardinals caps blue instead of red. ’64 was the year St. Louis starting wearing red caps at home. The accompanying photo and this video show the red “lids” and this article explains it all.

 

 

Topps didn’t include World Series cards in the ’66 set.

 

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After sweeping the Dodgers in four games to win the ’66 title, game four winner Dave McNally and manager Hank Bauer embrace. Bauer appears to have been the recipient of a “shaving cream pie” to the face. As you can see, Topps switches to black-and-white photos for the World Series cards in ’67. The “TV screen” format reminds me of a black and white portable I had in my room as a kid.

 

68 WS

In ’68, the Cardinals celebrate after waking up the “Impossible Dream” Red Sox by winning the ’67 series in seven games. ’67 NL MVP Orlando Cepeda is doused with Champaign by an unknown player as Tim McCarver (far left), future Seattle Pilots manager Joe Schultz (back) and Nelson Briles join in the fun. The player in foreground appears to be Joe Horner with Dal Maxvill beside him. Joe Schultz undoubtedly “pounded the old Budweiser” at some point during the celebration.

 

69 WS

Another black-and-white photo graces the ’69 card with the victorious ‘68 Tigers ecstatic after eking out a seven game win versus St. Louis. 31 game winner, Denny McClain (center), joins the hat-wearing Dick McAuliffe and slugger Willie Horton in jubilation.

 

70 NLCS

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1969 marked the beginning of divisional play which necessitated League Championship Series. In ’70, Topps created cards for each game and included pennant-clinching celebration cards. The “Miracle Mets” are number one in the NL as Ken Boswell, Tommy Agee, Nolen Ryan and Wayne Garrett attest.   Frank Robinson, Paul Blair, Andy Etchebarren and Davey Johnson celebrate winning the AL flag for the Orioles.

 

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The Mets pull off an incredible upset in the World Series, winning in five games. Ed Kranepool, Tug McGraw, Ed Charles and Ken Boswell celebrate “one for the record book.” Bud Harrelson is in the back with the unbuttoned jersey

 

71 NLCS

1971AL-Playoffs

Topps goes with a “sepia tone” look for the 1971 playoff cards. Lee May, Woody Woodward and Angel Bravo congratulate Bobby Tolan for helping defeat the Pirates. Davey Johnson and Andy Etchebarren show up again along with Curt Motton, coaches Billy Hunter and George Bamburger and Boog Powell in the AL card as the Orioles record their second straight sweep of the Twins.

 

71 WS

The ‘71World Series card is in full-color with Andy Etchebarren, Merv Rettenmund, Mike Cuellar, and Boog Powell celebrating after wrapping up the Series in five games in ‘70. Not sure of the player in the right foreground, though it could be Tom Shopay.

 

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72 nlcs

The Pirates and Orioles pennants in ’71 are commemorated in ’72 with Brooks Robinson shaking hands with Mark Belanger and Jackie Hernandez making a catch in front of Willie Stargell.

 

72 WS

The buoyant Bucs celebrate a series win with Manny Sanguillen hugging manager Danny Murtaugh, Steve Blass is next, Jose Pagan is on the right in front and # 44, Coach Frank Oceak, rushes to the pile.

 

Topps went with one playoff card for each league in ’73 and ‘74 depicting action shots but not a true celebration. In ’75 one card featuring both LCS’s is produced. Our remaining cards are for the World Series.

 

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The A’s win the first of three titles in ’72. The traditional pile on pitcher and catcher photo is used in the ’73 version as Rollie Fingers, catcher Dave Duncan and an obscured Sal Bando are pounced on by Ken Holtzman and a leaping Ted Kubiak in the back. The Red walking in the background is third base coach Alex Grammas. Number 41 is A’s Coach Jerry Adair.

 

74 WS

The A’s win again in ’73 producing a ’74 celebration card showing Sal Bando and Ray Fosse embracing Darold Knowles after the final out of game seven against the improbable National League champion Mets.

 

75 WS

In this ’75 Rollie Fingers is congratulated for beating the Dodgers in five games in ’74 by Reggie Jackson and pitching coach, Wes Stock, in the white coach’s cap. The numberless bat boy might be Stanley Burrell, who will become famous as the pioneering “hip hop” artist, MC Hammer.

Hammer

Burrell worked in various capacities with the A’s from ’73-’80. “Hammer’s” primary role was providing play-by-play over the phone for Charlie Finley when he was out of town. Also, he spied on the players and reported their antics to Charlie. Reggie Jackson nicknamed Stanley “Hammer” due to his resemblance to Henry Aaron.

 

76 WS

In ’76 Topps departs from the practice of issuing a card for each game, producing only one card. The center picture is of the Reds celebrating their win over Boston in a classic series. Tony Perez hugs closer Will McEnaney and a hidden Johnny Bench. Joe Morgan is on the right and I believe Terry Crowley is the player coming up in the rear.  I am unsure of the other jubilant guy.

 

77 WS

Topps is back to producing a separate celebration card in ’77 with Will McEnaney “reaching for the sky” after recording the final out of the ’76 series sweep against the Yankees. First baseman, Tony Perez, is the other player.

If you know of more contemporary celebration cards or versions from manufacturers other than Topps, please leave a comment here or on Twitter.

The Jack Hamilton Photo

 

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Half a century later it remains one of the most infamous dates in Boston baseball history.

Friday, August 18, 1967: the night Tony Conigliaro, who by late in his age 22 season had already hit 104 home runs and recorded four seasons with an OPS of .817 or higher, was hit in the face by a fastball from Jack Hamilton of the California Angels. Conigliaro would miss the rest of Boston’s “Impossible Dream” season with a fractured cheekbone. He would sit out 1968 with blurred vision and while briefly trying to convert to pitching. He would make two ultimately unsuccessful comebacks, play on a second Red Sox team that reached the World Series but never himself appear in the post-season, slip into a life of substance abuse, and die at the age of just 45.

And the pitcher who hit him, Hamilton?

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All the evidence suggests that just hours earlier he had posed, with the hint of a smile on his face, for his 1968 baseball card photo.

This macabre coincidence may have dawned on collectors when those ’68 cards came out; it didn’t hit me until about a decade ago when I had a chance to review the vast archive of used and unused Topps negatives (the Hamilton ’68 image was auctioned off on eBay just last year). Barring the most unusual and unlikely of coincidences, Hamilton and a bunch of other Angels and Red Sox players shown in the ’68 and ’69 sets must have been photographed during California’s visit to Fenway that began on that awful Friday in August and continued through the weekend.

Understand the context here. I haven’t done an exhaustive search, but I believe the photos of Hamilton and the other Angels and Red Sox were the first Topps ever shot in Fenway. Through the ‘60s their photography was largely limited to the New York parks, the Bay Area, Chicago, Philadelphia, Spring Training, and a couple of cameos in other cities. Topps had published at least four colorized black and white Red Sox publicity handout photos shot in Boston, but had never sent its own man (probably George Heier, who was their regular New York photographer) until 1967.

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1968 Norm Siebern (f)   68-331Fr

The familiar landmarks of Fenway – the Green Monster, the vast bleachers, some of the billboards outside the ballpark – appear in the backgrounds of at least six Angels’ cards in the 1968 Topps set (Jimmie Hall, Hamilton, Woodie Held, Roger Repoz, Hawk Taylor, and Jim Weaver). Images of two other ’67 Angels shot in Boston, Curt Simmons and Bill Skowron, were also hidden in that unused photo archive. And there are three ’68 cards showing Red Sox players at home: Elston Howard, Dan Osinski, and Norm Siebern.

With the exception of Osinski, the players share one thing in common: they all joined either Boston or California in 1967. And the photographs share one other thing in common besides the venue: they all look like they were taken in the late afternoon or early evening.

The only Angels-Red Sox night game during that series was the Friday, when Hamilton hit Conigliaro. The teams played a day game on Saturday and a doubleheader on Sunday. While newspaper archives suggest each day carried a risk of thunderstorms and thus cloudy conditions that might give a similar look to photos snapped near dusk, there’s clearly batting practice going on in the background as nearly all of the Angel and Red Sox were photographed and B.P. would not have been likely if the weather was threatening enough to darken the skies.

There’s one other slight variable. The Angels also visited Boston on July 25, 26, and 27, and played only night games. Hamilton had joined the team from the Mets by then, and indeed Skowron (May 6), Held and Repoz (June 15), Siebern (July 15), Taylor (July 24), and Hall and Osinski (who had both opened the season with their new teams) would all have been on the field had the Topps photographer been shooting at Fenway for that series.

But Elston Howard (August 3), Curt Simmons (August 7), and Jim Weaver (August 13) hadn’t traded uniforms yet. And unless the Topps man went twice to Fenway inside of a month to shoot the same two teams and just happened to get the exact same lighting, there’s no other plausible conclusion: Jack Hamilton posed somewhere between the visitors’ dugout and the mound at Fenway Park literally just hours before he in essence ended Tony Conigliaro’s career.

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How Long Has This Been Going On?

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“Um, Jeff, you know this is a baseball card blog, right?”

Yes I do, but bear with me. Those two cards are short printed rookie cards from the 2000-01 Topps Heritage basketball set. Why are they relevant? What’s the deal with those rookie cards? Why are they limited to 1972 of each, when the retro design is the 1971-72 set? Why not short print 1971 of each?

All good questions. When this set came out I was smitten. I love the original cards and I fell in love with the Heritage throwbacks, so I bought a box and went down the rabbit hole of short prints. There are 36 of them. I got the two above yesterday. I still need two to finish the set.

For those keeping score at home, that’s 16+ years working on one set. To be fair, I could’ve bought a complete master sett about 9 years ago, but I was already way deep into purchasing the SP’s. To be further fair, I have passed up on cards that were too pricey. My price point is $4-5 each. I will not pay $10 for Hedo Turkoglu or Mark Madsen. So some of this is on me.

What’s too long? I’m working on a 1949 Remar Bread set and a 1952 Parkhurst set. It may take years for me to find the flimsy paper card of Oakland Oaks broadcaster Bud Foster. Funny thing, the supply/demand balance is out of whack. It may take five years to get the card but when I get it it will cost me $8. I realize I may have to wait out these out of the mainstream sets.

I’ve been working on the 1971 Kellogg’s 3-D set and, while more scarce than their other issues, they’re out there. The time it takes me to finish this set will be determined by the deals I get. I’m a patient person. I recently got my wife a Wilco poster that I’de been looking for for seven years.

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There’s a frustration in not being able to fill a want list at one’s own pace. I’m realizing that if the only sets I’m working on are harder to find, I’ll be spinning my meals, getting no further in my collecting, and I don’t want my renewed passion for the hobby to wane. I decided to work on the 1960 Topps set. There’s never a lack of supply for any Topps base set, no matter how far back you go.

I see collectors who are working on a lot more sets than I am and wonder what their time frames are? Do some seek to complete, say, all the Topps sets by the time they die? Do others give themselves a year to finish something? Do some simply save up and buy a complete set when they can afford it?

Am I willing to take years to finish the 1960 set? Yes and no. I won’t overspend, and I have found the joy in trading with other collectors. I’ve never done that before. But knowing I could be done with a few clicks and a few PayPal payments does make it hard to wait and I need to wait. If I finish it too fast then I’ll need to search for another plentiful set to keep me occupied while I wait for a 1952 Parkhurst Aaron Silverman to show up.

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Dr. Zaius, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and Thou – The Greatest Villains in Cinema History

Joan Crawford wielding an enormous wooden coat hanger. Blofeld stroking his fluffy white cat. “Blue Velvet’s” Frank Booth reaching out to touch Camilo Pascual on the AL Pitching Leaders card. You can almost hear him say, “Hi, neighbor!”

I love movie villains and the 1964 Topps, and thought it would be fun to combine the two to create a themed set. The Yankees and Dodgers are two of the most reviled teams, so they collectively house this rogues gallery.

Roll Call!

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Freddy

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Blofeld

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Role reversals would be interesting. The devout Bobby Richardson as Hannibal Lecter. Jim Bouton as the Wicked Witch of the West (instead of ending up in Munchkin Land, it could be the Pilots’ locker room, with Joe Schultz as the Mayor). Good ol’ Doug Camilli terrorizing teens in their dreams with a demonic catcher’s glove.

A few years back, Terry Cannon of the Baseball Reliquary invited me to share some of these as part of his “Son of Cardboard Fetish” exhibit at a local Los Angeles library. Suddenly, there was controversy. The librarian, a big baseball fan himself, scotched the inclusion of these villain cards in the exhibit. He deemed them too scary for soccer moms and their kiddies. Poor “Baby” Jane Hudson and Henry F. Potter would have to wait for their moment in the limelight.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed at Sports Collector’s Digest, who printed some of the cards for everyone to enjoy in their national publication. I do worry about those soccer moms, though.