Win with Vinegar Bend!

To celebrate the end of another election cycle, I decided to merge two of my passions: cards and politics. This post will highlight players who had post-baseball careers as politicians but is by no means a definitive list. So, it’s time to toss my cap in the “fungo” circle and head out on the “hustings.”

87-89 old judge tener 2

The first player turned solon we will examine is Pittsburgh native John Tener. He pitched for Cap Anson’s Chicago White Stockings and the Players’ League Pittsburgh team from 1888-1890. After baseball, he became a business man and was eventually elected to Congress in 1908. His stint in the House of Representatives was short, due to being nominated to run as a Republican for Governor of Pennsylvania in 1910. John won the “gubernatorial nod,” but decided one chief executive job wasn’t enough.

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Tener accepted the National Leagues offer to become league president in 1913. He insisted on only working part-time and not receiving a salary until his tenure as Governor ended in 1915. I’m sure this arrangement never resulted in conflicts of interest.

1910 American Caramel E91-C

Once the “Big Train,” Walter Johnson, bid the diamond adieu, he took a turn at elective office. Johnson won a seat on the Montgomery County, Maryland Board of Commissioners in 1938. His effort to use this position as springboard to Congress failed when he ran as a Republican and lost in the 1940 general election.

 

Best known for tossing 8 2/3 innings of hitless relief in 1917 after the starter-Babe Ruth-was ejected, Ernie Shore sought to bring law and order to Forsyth County, NC after his playing day ended. Shore served as the elected Sheriff for 36 years from 1934-70.

56 Mizell

Another “Tar Heel” who put down the “horsehide” to “glad hand” the populace was Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell. The former Cardinal and Pirate “twirler” served in the US House of Representatives from 1969-75.

67 Bunning

The fine folks of Kentucky liked Jim Bunning’s “pitch” well enough to elected him to the House five times and the Senate twice. The Hall-of-Fame pitcher served in Congress from 1986-2010.

67 Jackson

Bunnings teammate and fellow starting pitcher, Larry Jackson, also become a politician.   Jackson was a five term Representative in the Idaho state house. He entered the Republican gubernatorial primary in 1978 but lost.

83 Edler

Little known infielder, Dave Edler, had a brief career with the Mariners in the early ‘80s. Dave became the Mayor of Yakima, WA-the “big” city near my home town.

85 Crabtree Bass

Randy Bass, the man closely tied to the “Curse of Colonel Sanders,” served as a Democrat in the Oklahoma Senate from 2004 to the present. Bass was a key figure in helping the Hanshin Tigers when the Japan Series Championship in 1985.

In the aftermath of the victory, a wild celebration ensued in which the fiberglass vestige of Colonel Sanders was taken from a KFC store and tossed into the river by a Tigers fan under the influence of more than “eleven herbs and spices.” Randy’s girth resembled that of the Colonel, which is what prompted the fan to “borrow” the statue. Alas, the Tigers have failed to win another Championship for 32 years, due to the “Kentucky Fried Curse.”

67 Jarvis

We can’t have a discussion of politicians without including corruption, indictment and conviction. Former Braves pitcher Pat Jarvis was the Sheriff of De Kalb County, Georgia from 1976-95. He was convicted of taking over $200,000 in kick-backs from a jail construction contractor. Jarvis served 15 months in Federal prison for his misdeeds.

Who knows which current or recent player will enter the political arena next? Perhaps Jose Canseco will launch Senatorial campaign with a “war on drugs” focus. Brice Harper might try to woo the millennial “bro” vote. In any case, you can expect some “appeals to the base,” late rallies and high “spin” rates.

 

Non-sports Detour

I’d heard about the Greater Boston Sports Collectors Club show from SABR members/ committee members and the Facebook group crowd, so with my youngest son now living in Waltham, I figured I’d check it out. Nicely, the Celtics were home against the Bucks, setting up a great weekend. (At that game, the Red Sox came out hoisting the World Series trophy. Way cool.)

I had my goals – 1961 Post, 1975 Hostess, 1963 Bazooka All Time Greats, 1972 Fleer Famous Feats; you’ve been reading about those, if you’re following at home. There’s a certain feeling I (and maybe you) get at a card show. If I don’t see anything I need early on, it all feels like a big waste of time – why did I come so far?, can I leave early?, I’m getting tired, etc. Then the first success comes and everything’s OK.

I made a good dent in the Post set, 22 more cards putting me in to the final 25%. Also, found 6 Hostess, though, because decent hand cuts aren’t worth dealer’s space and time, they were hard to come by. No Famous Feats, no Bazooka ATG, at least that I saw. My biggest success was with a set I expected nothing from, the 1953 Bowman Television & Radio Stars of NBC. I know this is a baseball card blog, but this is what I’ve got for you this week.

The TV & Radio sets, a 36 card set with horizontal backs and a 96 card set with vertical backs, are beautiful. Different checklist and, for the few names that are shared, different pictures. Similar to the Bowman baseball issues of that year, the NBC roster is portrayed in gauzy Hollywood headshots, not as crisp as the baseball color cards, nicer than the black and whites. I’m working on the vertical backs and it’s been an interesting group to pursue. (I did get two horizontal backs – Gertrude Berg of “The Goldbergs” and Judy Canova.)

For some reason, I had the Bob and Ray card and a Hoagy Carmichael and have had them for years. There are some big names – Groucho Marx and Bob Hope, some lesser names – Carl Reiner, Dinah Shore, etc., and some unknowns. It’s in the long forgotten “stars” that the fun resides. I’m not a back reader by nature, but the bios are remarkable, actors, actresses, newscasters, bandleaders and a chimp, all at the peak of their fame.

I don’t know enough about how short prints come to be, but the 1953 Bowmans are weirdly made. Even number cards are cheap, my average price on those has been less than $2, but odd numbers are harder to find. Still, pricing is erratic, and I’ve gotten odds for the same price as evens. As in many things, it depends what the seller knows. At this show, some sellers were wise to the distribution patterns.

Thankfully, the first seller wasn’t and I got a handful of cards for $1.50 each. The big payoff was a dealer who had recently gotten a complete set and was breaking it up. I spent most of my time, and money, with him. I’m now within real striking distance of completion.

A few highlights from a set you likely don’t know:

Who is this adorable, non-menacing urchin? I’ll reveal after the picture.

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It’s Little Ronnie Walken, now Christopher.

I got this Arnold Stang for $6, but can you really put a price on it?

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Let the baseball collectors chase Mantle, I got a Sid Caesar!

DrMt6mkXQAAyu_D

Carmen Dragon, father of Daryl, The Captain from Captain and Tennille.

Poor Lucille Wall! Imagine being her in the ‘50’s. Worse, being her agent. “No, I represent Lucille Wall. Wall, with a ‘W.’ People love her too!” And check out her bad instincts – “Would like to try tv but not at the expense of radio.”

A completed page. In 1953, Phil Harris (lower left) was the biggest star. Who could’ve predicted that Little Ronnie Walken (2nd from left on top) and Today Show girl Estelle Parsons (below Walken) would win Oscars?

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All in all it was a great show, made better from a deal I made last week. A Facebook friend was looking for lesser condition 1969-1971 Topps baseball and that’s exactly what I had, 1,100 cards worth from Poor to EX! Everything I made in that sale went to this show, a very solid trade and an excellent bit of timing.

The next Boston show is in April, maybe, I hope, coinciding with the Red Sox schedule. Maybe the Celtics will come out and interrupt that game.

Dimensional Baseball Cards

PSST! WANNA SEE MY DIMENSIONAL BASEBALL CARDS?

Challenge

He stood on the dresser over my sock drawer, coiled, ready to strike.

His crisp white uniform was pierced by stabs of red streaking up his leg.

Stan “The Man” Musial stood before me, immortalized in plastic by Hartland, and I was in awe.

I was maybe 4 or 5 (1962-63), and I didn’t know who he was. My brother or someone of that ilk had set him there. I dare not touch him.

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Stan the Man – a vision in plastic!

The memory of that statue is burned into my memory like a first kiss. It was one of my first introductions to the national pastime, and it punched my ticket to a lifetime of hopeless devotion.

The Musial statuette disappeared when a fog bank enveloped our house in San Francisco. When the mist cleared, boxes of baseball cards and comic books filled the room. I recalled seeing sexy ads in those comics for Aurora’s “Great Moments in Sports” models kids could build: there was my hero, Willie Mays, hauling in Vic Wertz’ blast in the ’54 World Series. Johnny Unitas. Jim Brown. Even Gene Firpo knocking Jack Dempsey out of the ring! I can’t recall why, but I never got one of those models, nor any of the baby boomers on my block (and we had a ton of ‘em). But another long-germinating seed was planted.

Mays

Aurora Glory: Willie robs Vic Wertz!

I forgot about those Hartland statues for about 50 years. Memory kicked in when I went to Cooperstown for my first visit to the Hall of Fame in 2013. The gaggle of Times-Square-on-the-Lake memorabilia shacks offered faded versions of the old Hartland statues at prices best suited for lawyers, doctors, and stockbrokers. There was Musial, trapped inside a case, but sharing time-travel secrets with Willie Mays and Yogi Berra.

Here’s current eBay prices for some of those original Hartlands, including the rarest bird of all, Dick Groat. Prices vary, as some come without the original box (shrug).

Yogi

Musial: $56

Mays: $38

Fox: $40-$115

Drysdale: $150

Banks: $120

Babe: $54-$120

Yogi: $115

Mathews: $120

Aaron: $160

Groat: $1300!

Groat

I found a Groat that sold for $780 at auction, and the selling house claimed it’s rare because Hartland was sold to Revlon Cosmetics in 1964, Groat being the last of the final edition, and they ramped down production. Also, at the time of issue, Hartland statues were experiencing a sharp decline in sales.

After my visit to Cooperstown, a switch was flipped, and a trip to eBay was scheduled.

The heavens parted, and a choir sang. I discovered that reprints of the old figures were available at prices the hoi polloi could appreciate. I did not see any Musials, but Warren Spahn caught my eye, and he was ticketed for a trip to the top shelf in my office. A second surprise discovery was that another outfit was re-producing Hartlands, and I put the snag on an Eddie Mathews. This re-pro was produced in a manner that did not harken to the days of yore as the Spahnie had. Lessons learned.

Spahnie, in residence with tiny Wade Boggs and The Creature.

Spahnie 

Ed Mathews 1988 edition. Sad face.

mathews

Then, Phase II kicked in.

Around 2002, my son had developed a fascination with the Big Unit, Randy Johnson. Strolling through Toys R Us, we ran into a dynamic figurine of him created by McFarland. Randy found a home on Matt’s shelf next to a Formula 1 racer. Then I forgot all about those McFarlanes.

Flash forward to 2011. I was making a film about the Baseball Reliquary, Not Exactly Cooperstown, and I needed a prop figure that looked like Wade Boggs. I trawled eBay and found a Yaz McFarlane that would be a fine stand-in for Boggs. My art director, Greg Jezewski, crafted a fabulous clay mustache onto Yaz and we were good to go. I also needed a catcher and an umpire to stage my scene with Boggs and found the perfect duo: Jason Varitek, in the squat, who came with an ump.

Varitek

Varitek and friend assume the position.

Aaron

Hammerin’ Hank Aaron was also needed to re-create his 714th home run, and the McFarlane not only had a fantastic pose, it looked like the man himself. A call went out to procure a Jackie Robinson figure, and there was #42, sliding into home plate, his cap lying in the dirt.

jackie

Jackie slides into the Baseball Reliquary’s “glorious attic” for my film, Not Exactly Cooperstown.

My eBay safaris had disclosed there were lots of these McFarlane baseball greats in the universe, and full-blown mania set in. Soon the mailman delivered a delightful parade of figures destined for the man-cave.

Gibson

“Hoot” Gibson in residence.

First was a spectacular (and pricey) Bob Gibson in glorious follow through. He would make a swell tandem with Yaz if I ever need to re-create moments from the 1967 World Series.

Kirkland

McFarlane was going for Mays, but we got Willie Kirkland’s face instead.

Willie Mays, my hometown hero, was next, and a bit of a disappointment. He looks more like Carl Mays than Willie. The M&M boys followed as a duet; the poses were great, the resemblance passable. Nolan Ryan’s pose is marvelous: the Express scrunched in wind-up, about to give birth to a heat-seeking missile. I scored a bit of a dinged up Tom Seaver with part of the brim of his cap nicked.

Posey

Buster has gone up in price: now $50!

I don’t go in for many contemporary players, but Buster Posey made the cut with a dynamic pose. I also ended up with a Barry Bonds figure that was acquired before the real mania kicked in.

yazClemente

Roberto shares a locker with Yaz, swapping batting tips and recipes.

Then there are the jewels in the crown. Roberto Clemente (the priciest of the bunch), which bore a great resemblance to El Magnifico, resplendent in his 1971 double knit Pirates uni. #44, Willie McCovey of my Giants, looks fantastic in his orange jersey and killer sideburns, ready to annihilate a fastball with his whuppin’ stick (a version of Big Mac in his SD Padre uni is also available).

McCovey

Beware of Willie McCovey and his fantastic sideburns!

MickBabe

Mickey, Hank & the Babe play bridge on Thursdays, BYOB.

Seaver

Tom Seaver hangs out with BB King’s custom Gibson 335 ES.

Some of the squad ended up being sold to recoup production costs: adios to Jackie, Varitek and the umpire.

A deeper dive was now required to see who else existed in the McFarlane baseball figure universe (they do other sports as well) and how much it would cost to indulge.

McFarlane got into the figure biz in the early ‘90s, producing figures of their own intellectual properties after a deal with Mattel fell through. Their first baseball set came out in 2002:

  • Pedro Martinez
  • Ichiro
  • Randy Johnson
  • Shawn Green
  • Ivan Rodriquez
  • Sammy Sosa
  • Albert Pujols
  • Mike Piazza

Gehrig

A total of 33 (!) series have been produced. There’s a sub-set, “The Cooperstown Collection,” featuring legendary players like Ruth, Cobb and Lou Gehrig (there’s even a figure of Gehrig giving his “Luckiest Man” speech). Here’s the gang from the 1st Cooperstown Collection series (2004):

A number of players have multiple versions (or “variants,” which has the player in a different jersey or uniform, e.g., Ruth with the Red Sox and the Yankees). Here’s the priciest, acc. to eBay:

Cobb

Ty Cobb variant ($80)

Christian Yelich ($60)

Roberto Clemente ($60)

Bob Gibson ($50)

Buster Posey ($50)

John Smoltz ($40)

Anthony Rizzo ($38)

Jeff Bagwell ($38)

Rickey Henderson ($35)

Hank Aaron ($35)

It’s irritating to see contemporary players like Yelich commanding more dough than guys like Clemente!

Bargain Basement:

Babe Ruth (!) $1

Scott Kazmir ($1)

Chipper Jones ($6)

Greg Maddux ($8)

I’d like to present my wish list of players, managers, and mascots for the next series:

  • John McGraw
  • Norm Cash (with table leg as bat)
  • Don Mossi (with ears you can size to your liking)
  • Leon “Daddy Wags” Wagner
  • Jimmy Piersall (perhaps one of him in mid-breakdown, climbing the backstop   at Fenway)
  • Jim Bouton (Seattle Pilots edition)
  • Seattle Pilots manager Joe Schultz (pounding the ol’ Budweiser)
  • The San Diego Chicken (aka “The Laurence Olivier of Mascots”)
  • Al Schact
  • Max Patkin
  • Connie Mack

How about an All-Miscreants Team?

  • Hal Chase (infamous scoundrel)
  • Denny McLain (recently referred to as “a bull that carries his own china shop with him”)
  • Cap Anson (virulent racist)
  • Billy Martin (beating up a marshmallow salesman, please)
  • Joe Pepitone (complete with hairdryer and toupee accessories)
  • The Chicago Black Sox
  • Albert Belle

The possibilities are endless! I’d love to see a collection of baseball writers (Grantland Rice, Jim Murray), fans (Hilda Chester), Negro Leaguers (Oscar Charleston, Satchel and Josh Gibson), maverick owners (Bill Veeck, Sr., Bill Veeck, Jr., & Mike Veeck would be a sweet power trio) and lovable oddballs (Eddie Gaedel, Moe Drabowsky, Frank Robinson in Kangaroo Court get-up).

 

Who knew playing with dolls would be so much fun?

 

Links to Hartland and McFarlane goodies!

 

McFarlane Cooperstown Collection:

 

https://www.cardboardconnection.com/mcfarlane-cooperstown-collection-figures-guide

 

Video of the Hartland collection from 1958-1962: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_t5XHcNY-p8

 

Post Post

Until early this year, I had one Post card – a 1961 Tony Kubek. Why? I have no idea. I’m pretty sure I bought it at an early ‘70’s card show, when I collected in a more aimless way and picked up stray cards that struck my fancy, at least for a moment.

Then Mark Armour and I did a second trade (the one that set me on the path to working on the 1969 Topps Decals set), and, boom, now I had 30. Not really enough to start working on a 200 card set, but enough to get me thinking.

Thinking turned into action last week when I bought a reasonably priced lot on eBay, 85 cards in varying condition, but good enough for me. I’m not going to be too worried about condition on this one. I’ll be OK as long as they’re decently cut and not creased (or not too creased). Backing up those words with deeds, 22 of the cards I got had a little bit of writing on them, stat updates that, at first, passed me by. The seller was good enough to refund the amount of these cards. I won’t go about replacing them. They’ll do; not my preference, but fine.

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Fine, in more ways than one. Fine, because I’m going to have to put together a full set from an assortment of variations and not be a stickler about anything. There are cards cut from boxes – thick stock – and cards issued by the company on perforated sheets – thinner stock with, at times, tabs visible.

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Ultimately, my set will be put together with the cheapest variations I can find, a mix of box and company, Minneapolis and Minnesota (both in the first year of the Twins existence), with and without “sold to” or “traded to” lines, big or small headed Gene Conley, etc. There are some short prints, company only issue of Chuck Estrada, box versions of Roy McMillan and that type. I’m hoping that the big stars I don’t have can come relatively affordable since condition is not a focus. I’m by no means an expert in Post cards, but I’ve already learned a lot.

Though I intended to dive into Nabisco Team Flakes, I still haven’t found a lot to start with yet. The 1961 Post cards have taken their place, for now. I’m already close to some completed pages. Wish me luck.

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The Elephants Walk

By 1955, the two dynastic periods of the Philadelphia Athletics were fading in the collective memories of the A’s dwindling fanbase. The popularity of the Phillies “Wiz Kids,” persistent losing, family power struggles and mounting debts all contributed to the “pachyderms” packing up and “goin’ to Kansas City.” For the full story behind the franchise transfer, I highly recommend Jeff Katz’s book: The Kansas City A’s and the Wrong Half of the Yankees and the SABR Fall 2010 “Baseball Research Journal” account by Robert Warrington: “Departure Without Dignity.”

The American League approved the sale of the Athletics and the move to Kansas City on November 8, 1954 — which gave Topps and Bowman enough lead time to make sure their A’s baseball cards were designated as Kansas City. Neither company appears to have included an actual Kansas City card (photographed after the move) in their 1955 sets.

55 Dressed to the Nines

Kansas City’s uniforms were changed in several ways from the ones wore by Philadelphia in ’54. Most significantly, the main accent color was changed to navy blue from the traditional royal blue. The year before the move saw the A’s switch to a script Athletics with red trim on the uniforms — instead of the traditional “Old English A.” The distinctive “A” remained on the cap but with a red outline.  This design was continued in the Midwest, but a yoke was added on both home and road uniforms and the cap “A” was changed to red. Lastly, a sleeve patch-with the “white elephant” logo — now featuring the pachyderm on top of a ball — was added to the new duds.

55 Topps Finigan

Jim Finigan is the first Kansas City card and features the airbrushed red and white “KC” on the cap. Topps anticipation that the team would want to represent the new city did not prove prescient. The A’s would not adopt “KC” for the cap insignia until ’60. Note that Finigan is pictured in a ’54 royal blue accented Philadelphia uniform, without the yoke piping or sleeve patch.

55 Topps Limmer

One might believe that Lou Limmer’s “in action” could be authentic, since the photo shows him in a yoked uniform. However, this is a pre-1954 A’s uniform that had the chest piping, since Lou never played in Kansas City.

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As an aside, I discovered this odd ’55 Topps Double Header card for Limmer. The Double Header set features two colorized player photos on opposite sides of the card. When folded, the legs of the player on the front serve as the legs of player on the back. Lou is coupled with Rube Walker-and his legs. Topps has drawn on the “KC” emblem, but the photo used as a model is from ’51, since Lou is wearing the “Golden Anniversary” patch worn by the AL teams that season.

55 Bowman Shantz Bros

Bowman bowed out of the card business after producing the wonderful “Color TV” set in ’55. Apart from two cards, all the Bowman cards feature the Athletics wearing the royal blue and red home uniforms from ’54. Many of the cards in this set are taken at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia, the home city of Bowman.

55 Bowman Boudreau

The before mentioned two oddities are cards for Manager Lou Boudreau and Cloyd Boyer. Both have dark caps with poorly rendered red A insignia on the caps. Boudreau’s photo is probably from his stint as manager of the Red Sox. The dugout pose is like his ’53 Bowman card.

56 Astroth

56 Lopez

So, it was up to Topps to produce the first true Kansas City Athletics card in ’56. As you might expect there are caveats. Card #14 in the numerical sequence is that of Hector Lopez. He was a rookie with Kansas City in ’55 and never played in Philadelphia. The “in action” pose clearly shows Hector in a KC uniform, complete with yoke and the “elephant on a ball” shoulder patch. But, the “colorizer” painted his cap “A” white, instead of red. Topps finally comes through with a proper cap on card #106: Joe Astroth.

Since I want to make sure everything is up-to-date in Kansas City in terms of accuracy, please let me know if I earned an “F” instead of an “A” by missing an “elephant in the room.”

Though you may wish to give me the “bum’s rush” for continuing this blog series, I will next leave Kansas City from the corner of 12th Street and Vine and head to Brooklyn for look at the cards resulting from The Bums’ rush to LA.

 

The Say Hey Kid: Willie Mays is Really Good

Forgive my delay, but I have been distracted by actual baseball games and the accompanying folderol. In my previous two posts (Part 1, Part 2) I took a trip through Willie Mays’s baseball cards (flagship sets, for the most part) through 1964. I am going to push that story forward here, but you can start by reading how we got here.

1965 Topps

Mays65Front   Mays65Back

A beautiful card in a beautiful set. After looking quite young on many of his cards in the 1950s, his face has begun to age rapidly. Not his body or his game, though — Topps calls him an “all time great” but he was still the best player in the game at the time this card hit store shelves.

Mays65HRLeadersFront   Mays65HRLeadersBack

Forty-seven home runs at Candlestick will do just fine, thanks. Too bad about Henry Aaron dropping down to 24 home runs; it looks like his years as a top power hitter are over at age 30.

Mays65RBILeadersFrontMays65RBILeadersBack

Ken Boyer was the Most Valuable Player in 1964, thanks largely to his RBI title. Mays finished third, although a quick reading of the back of the card would suggest he finished second. Topps loved Mays (baseball card chief Sy Berger became a close friend) and apparently could not bring themselves to listing him behind Ron Santo.

1966 Topps

Mays66Front   Mays66Back

One of the delightful treats of collecting Topps cards was how they distributed the players to the checklist numbers. Good players generally had a number than ended in “5”, All-Stars ended in “0”, and the very best players were assigned multiples of “50”. This was never announced, it just happened and kids took it on faith. In fact, if you learned the game as I did — from the cards — Topps assignments helped you figure out who the best players were. Willie Mays had a multiple of 50 every years between 1959 and 1965 (before I came on board).

In 1966 he got #1, one of the few times Topps used that number to anoint a superstar. In 1962 they gave the first card to Roger Maris, fresh off his 61 home run season, but in the intervening four years Topps had put its leaders cards at the front of the set. But in 1966, they gave it Mays who had just had one of his greatest seasons.

Mays66BattingLeadersFront   Mays66BattingLeadersBack

Try topping this card. The American League version of this card was Tony Oliva, Carl Yastrzemski and Vic Davalillo. “Daddy, why does the National League always win the All-Star game?”

Mays66HRLeadersFront   Mays66HRLeadersBack

The American League version: Tony Conigliaro, Norm Cash, Willie Horton. Hey, I am just reporting the news here don’t get mad at me.

Mays66RBILeadersFrontMays66RBILeadersBack

I am fairly certain the the major league baseball offices conspired to let Johnson win this title so that kids of America would stop laughing at the American League. The AL’s RBI leader was Chico Salmon. (Ed note: Lie, it was Rocky Colavito.)

1967 Topps

Mays67Front   Mays67Back

My favorite Mays card, and probably my favorite baseball card ever.

Although I come from generations of Bostonians and grew up in New England, I did spend parts of two years near San Francisco. The last of these was in 1967, which was first grade. This was when I fell in love with baseball cards, and baseball, in that order. When I got the cards I had basically no idea what any of it meant — the teams, the cities, the numbers, nothing. I liked the Giants because they played nearby, and I liked Mays because my father told me he was really good. My father was and still is a baseball fan, but a much more measured and sensible one than me.

“Willie Mays is really good” is basically how it all started for me. Is there a better way?

Mays67HRLeadersFront   Mays67HRLeadersBack

I know what you’re thinking: “Jim Pagliaroni hit 11 home runs in 1966, well I’ll be.” But focus on the three great hitters on the front just for a second. Richie Allen was good.

Mays67FenceBustersFront   Mays67FenceBustersBack

Mays’ final “group card,” which Topps phased out two years later. This was sad, as I have lamented before.

1968 Topps

Mays68Front   Mays68Back

Tricky question there Topps, faking kids all over America into guessing “Willie Mays” only to yank the rug out from under us.

This was the time when Mays took a step down from his place as the game’s very best player to being a merely excellent player. Although his days on the front of Topps “leaders cards” were over, he was much more than just an aging icon.

From 1967-1971, Willie’s final five full seasons with the Giants, he accumulated 25.2 WAR, which are star player totals. This is the 13th highest in baseball among position players. He made the All-Star team every year, and he deserved it.

1969 Topps

Mays69Front   Mays69Back

If you’ve been paying attention, you will notice that this photo is a cropped version of his 1966 photo. This was part of a large scale player boycott that weakened the 1968 and 1969 Topps sets.

Topps is running out of space to brag about Willie at this point, but he did warrant a rare exclamation point in his only sentence.

1970 Topps

Mays70Front   Mays70Back

What a beautiful photo this is.

Although they had removed his minor league numbers in 1969, they were restored this time around. And finally, Topps has run out of space. The numbers will have to speak for themselves.

1971 Topps

Mays71Front   Mays71Back

BREAKING: Willie Mays has moved to Atherton! By the way, if you don’t think 10 year old me looked at an atlas to figure out where Atherton was than we have never met.

I seriously love that Topps hauls out his putouts record and his hitting 20 home runs 17 times. Honestly, the 1955 batting title had grown stale.

1972 Topps

Mays72Front   Mays72Back

His last Giants card, and he got card #49. 49? What is this crap? What the heck is going on Topps?

Mays72InActionFront   Mays72InActionBack

A-ha, here it is. In 1972, included “In Action” cards of many of their players, and they placed them in consecutive numbers in the checklist. In this case, Mays special card got the #50. This is a nice card of Willie sliding with the artificial surface of Candlestick Park on display. Sigh.

For the back of the card I used the O-Pee-Chee version, partly to see if you were paying attention but mostly because the French text is wonderful.

Mays73Front   Mays73Back

Willie Mays is on the Mets. Give me more time, I have not quite processed this yet.

Mays73AllTimeFront   Mays73AllTimeBack

This looks like a misprint today, as Aaron and Mays both had a few more home runs to add to their totals. I will add that there were few things more fun as a kid that getting the paper in 1973 to see if Aaron hit another home run. He hit 40, to get within one of Ruth.

1974 Topps

Mays74WorldSeriesG2Front   Mays74WorldSeriesG2Back

Mays is famous for “hanging on too long”, but he really only had one bad year — 1973. What people forget is that Mays retired late in the season, and had no intention of playing again. Hitting .211 in early September, they had a ceremony on the field and that was that.

By some miracle or other, the Mets surged to a weird division title (82 wins!), and all the players credited Mays with his leadership and his willing them all to be great. The Mets put him on the playoff roster, but no one expected him to actually play. Unfortunately, the Mets actual starting center fielder was Don Hahn, and the more manager Yogi Berra looked at Hahn play the more 42-year-old broken-down Willie Mays started to look better.

In the final game of the NLCS, having literally not played in a month, Mays was sent up to pinch hit in a tie game. And he got an infield single to start a five-run rally. And the Mets won the game and the National League pennant over a vastly superior Reds team.

So now they are playing Oakland in the World Series, and, well, they had to play him again didn’t they?  In fact, he played parts of the first three games (going 2-for-7 but falling down in the outfield once), and did not appear again. At this point the story began to form that Old Willie should not have been playing, and he hung on too long and was embarrassing himself. But I remind you: he tried to quit, and everyone begged him to return. And it must be said: a mediocre team made it to the final game of the 1973 World Series. How much could he have hurt them really?

 

Willie Mays has appeared on hundreds (thousands?) of baseball cards, and I have only highlighted the ones from the big annual base sets. Perhaps I will visit others at a later date.

I became a fan at a time when Mays was an excellent player though perhaps no longer on the throne. But he was the greatest to me, and he remains the greatest all these years later. Long may he live.

 

They Went East — Not West — to the Orioles’ Nest

After World War II, the urban centers of the West Coast, Texas and Midwest saw tremendous population growth.  Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Dallas, Minneapolis and Kansas City all set their sights on becoming “big league” sports markets.  So, naturally, the American League moved the failing St. Louis Browns to Baltimore before the 1954 campaign.

Several factors went into the decision to “go East,” not the least of which involved the desire to rid the league of Browns owner, Bill Veeck.  Ultimately, the AL only allowed the Browns to move if Veeck was out of the picture.  Thus, Veeck sold the Browns to a Baltimore ownership group, and the “Charm City” embraced the major league Orioles.

Since the announcement of the transfer occurred on September 28, 1953, Topps and Bowman had ample time to prepare Baltimore Orioles cards for the ’54 sets. Topps included cards with players/coaches wearing the new uniform and cap, but Bowman did not.  Both brands went with the minor league Orioles “body bird” on the cap, which was adopted by the major league team.  I’m not sure if this was a guess or known at the time.

54 Young

It is appropriate that Bobby Young was the first Orioles player in the Topps set, since the back of the card informs the reader that he is a Baltimore native.  The airbrushed black cap and positioning of the bird is not a bad representation of the actual cap. Bobby’s uniform is clearly airbrushed in the action pose.

Topps colorization process creates issues when attempting to determine the authenticity of the cap and uniform.  The artist or the printer inexplicably used blue for the cap color.  The natural inclination is to assume all the photos are ersatz Orioles. However, a closer examination reveals that at least four of the card photos are from ’54 spring training.  The “body bird” is correct on all, and three of the four cards have “in action” black and white photos featuring ’54 Orioles uniforms.

Jehosie Heard’s card provides the conclusive evidence.  The photo is the exact one used by the Orioles for the ‘54 team issued, picture packs. Also, the photos were colorized and used for the ’54 Esskay Hot Dog set.  I couldn’t locate an Esskay card for Heard, even though the “Trading Card Database” lists one.  Dick Kryhoski and Harry Brecheen have card photos that look as if they were taken in the same photo session. Also, coach Tom Oliver is wearing the ’54 livery.

54 Spring Training

At first, I was perplexed by the fact that the striping on the stirrups didn’t match that worn in the regular season.  This conundrum is explained by examining photos from spring training in Yuma, Arizona, which clearly shows players sporting wide stripes.

 

 

54 Bowman Hunter

William “Billy” Hunter’s card demonstrates that Bowman’s artists had some interesting takes on how the uniforms might look.  He has ORIOLES painted in orange block letters with a bird above the “O” on his jersey front.

Lenhardt Bow 54

Most of the Bowman’s Orioles feature the “two birds on a bat” concept employed by the AAA International League Orioles.  This is rendered well on the Don Lenhardt and Duane Pillette cards.

On the other hand, Clint “The Toy Bulldog” Courtney and Johnny Groth have lettering and bat size issues.  Also, it must be noted that the Bowman artist used questionable punctuation, since he put in an apostrophe before the “s” in Orioles.

55 Bowman Coleman

The classic ’55 “Color TV” card of Joe Coleman leaves no doubt as to who the first player is to wear Orioles togs on a Bowman card.  Joe’s first year with the Orioles was ‘54 and he is clearly clad in ’54 Orioles garb.

Let me know if you have evidence that disputes my findings. I will not be driven to Homicide: Life on the Street” if proven wrong.

I know most of you would like to hang me on the “wire” for continuing this series. But, after walking the streets of Baltimore, I’m goin’ to Kansas City.  Kansas City here I come!