From the Land of Sky Blue Waters

As with the previous franchise shifts in 1950’s, the Washington Senators’ move to Minnesota prior to the 1961 season was driven by socio-economic forces, shifting demographics and an outmoded ballpark.  The owner, Calvin Griffith, wanted to move earlier than ’61 but was blocked by the American League owners, who didn’t want to leave the nation’s capital without the “national pastime” and risk the wrath of Congress. 

The AL solved this conundrum by creating two new franchises.  Griffith was granted permission to relocate to the “Land of Ten Thousand Lakes,” and a new Senators expansion franchise would fill the void in DC.   The Los Angeles Angels were born in ’61 as well, which gave the AL an even ten teams.

To avoid slighting either Minneapolis or St. Paul, the transplanted squad was christened Minnesota.  Plus, Metropolitan Stadium was not located in either city but in the suburb of Bloomington. Thus,  baseball’s first team representing a whole state joined the junior circuit.  The club adopted a “TC” emblem for the caps to recognize the “Twin Cities.”

Unlike the other transplanted teams of the ‘50s, Topps didn’t try to guess as to the uniform design or cap emblem.  The Twins cards in the first four series all feature players without caps or with the cap logo airbrushed over.  For example, Harmon Killebrew shows off the effects of “male pattern baldness” and future Seattle Pilot Don Mincher appears to wonder what happened to his cap emblem. 

The first Twin shows up early in the first series at card #4 in the numerical sequence.  A bare headed Lenny Green appears to be “dazed and confused” at the prospect of no longer calling DC home.

 

But, the “real” first Twin on a card is Italian born and Canadian bred Reno Bertoia. with card #392 in the fifth series.  This is obviously an authentic “TC” emblem from a photo taken in spring training in 1961.  Other players wearing real caps are: Billy Consolo, Ralph Lumenti and Jose Valdivelso.

My favorite 1961 Twins card is the Earl Battey All-Star card, in the sixth and final series.  The card back states that Earl was a participant in the first of the two All-Star games in ‘61. However, Earl wasn’t on the roster for either game. His first AS appearance didn’t happen until ’62. Topps must have guessed Earl would be selected, based on his good first-half of the season.  This is the only 1961 card that shows the Twins’ new uniform.

As with the players’ cards, Topps didn’t try to make the ’60 Senators appear as Twins on the team picture card.  It is noted on the front that these are the former Senators.

Interestingly, Topps couldn’t settle on whether to abbreviate “Minnesota” on the card backs or even which abbreviation to use.  There are three variations:  Minnesota Twins, Minn. Twins or Min. Twins.  Interestingly, it doesn’t always appear to be related to the length of the players name. The font size should allow for Minnesota to be printed on all the cards.  

Even though it evokes “Grinch-like” responses from readers of this blog, I will soon gift you with another installment of the “first card” for transplanted teams series.  But first, I’m going to leave this “Cookie” for Santa.

Nuts! Optioned to Modesto

Lewis Nuts

Recently, I archived in pocket pages the five 2018 Seattle Mariners’ minor league card sets. I have team sets for each of Seattle’s minor league affiliates starting 1991-with the exception of the ’97 Memphis Chicks. In addition, I have many sets prior to ’91.

Vogel-Werth

The cards tend to use contemporary designs but occasionally feature a toned down, retro look. Since I don’t collect cards from other teams, I’m not sure how many different companies print minor league cards. “Choice Marketing” and “Grandstand” are the two companies used by the Mariners’ affiliates. With the proliferation of card template software, some teams may produce their own.

Amaral

Card backs have the usual stats, biographical information and pictures. Frequently, advertisements are included, as teams seek out sponsors to defray the cost of production. A pet peeve is the lack of sequential numbering. Many of the sets use uniform numbers instead.

Mixed amongst the players, coaches and managers are oddball cards. Trainers are almost always pictured, and mascots show up in many sets. Also, I’ve encountered owners, general managers, teachers-of-the-year, military personnel and others. Check lists are common, with a team picture or logo on the flip side.

Hutchison

Since players move up and down within the organization during the season, it is not unusual to get the same player on two or more teams.

Everett set

The average price for a set is around $12. I order from STB Sports in Mount Vernon, WA. https://stbsports.com/ To save on postage, I have the cards sent all at once in August, even though some sets may have been released earlier in the season. Using STB saves having to order from individual teams, and they offer pre-season discounts.

Mascots

I present this as a public service announcement, since I know all of you need new card collecting categories.

 

Back Story: 1954 Topps and Bowman Baseball

Part III of my series about a neglected feature of baseball cards—the material on the back of the cards—continues with the two major baseball card sets from 1954: Topps and Bowman. (For review: Part 1, and Part 2)

By 1954 the companies had been competing in the trading-card market for several years, and in most years a number of ballplayers were featured in both card sets—an issue that became the subject of litigation, with Bowman claiming that they had exclusive contracts for use of the players’ images. (The courts ultimately upheld exclusivity on some of the Bowman contracts, but not all.) With the benefit of that quirk, this article will compare the material featured on the card backs of several players who had card images in both 1954 sets.

 

Prior to 1954, neither Topps nor Bowman had done much innovation with the material that appeared on the backs of their cards. Here are the card backs for Mickey Mantle’s Topps and Bowman offerings from 1953. (A confession: for the 1953 Topps and Bowman sets and the 1954 Topps set, the images I’m using are from the reprints of these sets that were produced several decades later. Maybe someday I’ll be able to afford the originals…)

(Ed: in all cases, the Bowman card is shown first, followed by the Topps card).

Mantle 53B  Mantle 53T

Apart from the “Dugout Quiz” that appeared on the Topps cards, the material on these card backs was fairly identical. Both sets presented biographical data, past year and lifetime statistics (what, no WAR or Defensive Runs Saved?), and a few sentences of prose about the player that could have been swapped between Topps and Bowman without anyone noticing.

Under the leadership of the great Sy Berger, Topps went in a completely new direction in 1954—one that put Bowman to shame. Both the fronts and backs of the 1954 Topps cards were much more innovative and colorful than their Bowman counterparts. I’m primarily focusing on the backs, of course, but here’s a quick peek at the 1954 Topps and Bowman card fronts for one of baseball’s top stars of that era, Eddie Mathews of the Braves.

In its 1953 set, the Bowman card fronts had featured beautiful full-color portraits of its players for the majority of its cards (the final 64 cards had featured black-and-white photos). The result was a set that would be prized by collectors in the years to come… but one which was outsold in the marketplace by Topps in 1953. To save money in 1954, Bowman opted for a cheaper method of photography on its card fronts… basically black-and-white photos that were colored over. The result was a dull, washed-out image that compared unfavorably to the vibrant Topps card fronts.

The backs of these cards were another big win for Topps. Both sets featured the usual stats and biographical info. But the Topps cards added a two, sometimes three-panel “Inside Baseball” story told in cartoon fashion. I ask you, what sticks with you more: reading about how Mathews lost the 1953 slugging percentage crown to Duke Snider by two-tenths of a point, or a cartoon showing how he once landed in the lap of baseball commissioner Ford Frick?

Mathews 54B  Mathews 54T

Moving onto another future Hall of Famer, Larry Doby, while the back of the Bowman card was asking for the real first name of Grasshopper Whitney (I’m guessing that young Dick Cramer knew the answer without batting an eye), Topps was presenting a fun cartoon showing how Doby improved his speed by working with track legend Harrison Dillard.

Doby 54B  Doby 54T

 Jim Greengrass of the Cincinnati Redlegs (no “Reds” during the McCarthy era!) was hardly a major star, but I loved reading on his Topps card about how his wife Cathy had talked him out of quitting baseball. Over in Bowman-land, you could try to guess how many night games the Cleveland Indians had won in 1952.

Greengrass 54B  Greengrass 54T

Both Topps and Bowman noted that Don Mueller of the New York Giants was nicknamed “Mandrake the Magician,” with different explanations for the source of the nickname. According to Mueller’s SABR bio, neither explanation is correct, but never mind… as a child and as an adult, I enjoyed the cartoon on the Topps card more than Bowman’s dull prose.

Mueller 54B   Mueller 54T

I’m being a little rough on good old Bowman here, so I’ll point out that the back of Richie Ashburn’s Bowman card included a nifty story about how Ashburn improved his timing by swinging at the pitcher’s offerings while in the on-deck circle. That’s probably a better story than one in the Topps cartoon about how Ashburn moved from catching to the outfield, but cards are marketed with kids in mind… and kids love cartoons.

 

Ashburn 54B   Ashburn 54T

In his excellent book The Bubble Gum Card War: The Great Bowman & Topps Sets from 1948 to 1955, author (and major card dealer) Dean Hanley noted that due to its exclusive contracts, “Bowman was clearly winning the battle to get most of the stars of the game onto their cards.” However, he added that “it is a shame that Bowman did not design a better product on which to display the images of these marquee players.” The Topps cards simply were more attractive and more fun, both front and back. After one more year of competition in which Bowman finally tried to do something different with its card backs (and fronts), Bowman was sold to Connelly Containers, Inc., a company which had little interest in trading cards. In January of 1956, Connelly sold all of Bowman’s assets—including its contracts with the players—to Topps for a measly $200,000. The Topps-Bowman card war over, and Topps had won. Sy Berger’s creativity—including innovations such as the cartoons on the backs of the 1954 Topps baseball set—played a major part in the Topps victory.

 

Barajitas estadounidenses: Bowman International

My seventh post featuring Spanish-language baseball cards released in the United States. Previous posts are:

  1. Introduction and 1978 Topps Zest
  2. 1993–2000 Pacific and Pacific Crown
  3. Other assorted Pacific cards and oddballs
  4. 1991 Kellogg’s Leyendas
  5. 1994 Topps and beyond
  6. Donruss Super Estrellas

I have to be honest, I thought I was done with these posts unless someone were to create a new Spanish Language set. But the wonderful thing about this hobby is that there’s always, always, more to discover. Which means I was quite pleased to learn that 1998 and 1999 Bowman International not only highlighted where a player was from but also included localized backs.

These aren’t one-off parallels but rather a complete set which includes a number of Spanish-language backs—including for players from Puerto Rico who are technically not international players. I haven’t gone on a deep dive looking at the Spanish language text on multiple cards and the stats on these are pretty thin (although Cuadrangulares, Carreras Impulsadas, and Promedio suggest that things are translated fully rather than using the more Spanglish terms like Jonron). Oh, and the #PonleAcento action on González is always nice to see too.

What did jump out at me is that height and weight are in meters and kilograms instead of feet and pounds. None of the previous cards I’ve featured in this series have made this translation but it makes sense here since this set is less about being aimed at the Spanish-speaking market in the United States and more about presenting international backs.

Which means that the set contains cards in other languages too. While at first I was interested in only the Spanish-language cards, I couldn’t help myself and began searching for other languages.

Japanese was the obvious next language to look for and I was pleased to find many on the checklist. I’m not going to comment at all on the language usage anymore since I can’t read them but I do have to highlight how Topps changed the units on the Kanji cards from meters to centimeters.

Also, using a non-Roman font is an impressive commitment for just a few cards in a set. Graceful language switching is something that really only became common with MacOSX and Opentype fonts which could contain a full complement of unicode characters. Neither of these were around in the late 1990s.

Designwise though I’m a bit sad that Yoshii’s Kanji signature is printed sideways.  Yes I know this is how he signed his Topps contract. But given that vertical space I’d like to think he’d’ve wanted the characters to be stacked vertically instead.

Skipping around since there’s no reason to provide exemplars for every language for every year. We also have Korean cards. In the 1999 design, even the name on the front is localized so you have to recognize Jung Bong’s photo or signature.

I’ve really nothing more to add here on top of what I said about Japanese except to note that I find Hangul to be one of the most brilliant things humanity has ever invented and it’s fun to have a US card which features it.

The Ntema Ndungidi card though is fantastic. There are so many good things going on with it. Topps didn’t go with the colonial language and print this in French. Nor did it select the obvious “name an ‘African’ language” choice and go with Swahili. Instead we’ve got something that stumps Google Translate but which appears to be some kind of Bantu—probably Lingala. I love it.

I also love how Topps typeset his height to be “1,85m” and replaced the decimal point with a comma. Topps also did this in the text where it mentions his batting average but didn’t do it in the statistics.

Another point of interest here is that Ndungidi was born in Zaire—a country which no longer existed in 1999 when this card was printed.* Topps still marked his origin as Zaire on the card front and on the back his birth information says “Ex Zaire (R.D. Congo).”**

*Quick quick history. Zaire ceased to exist in 1997 when the Rawandan war spilled into Zaire and the resulting Congo war forced Mobutu Sese Seko into exile and installed Laurent-Désiré Kabila as the new president.

**Note, his regular Bowman card just says Zaire and appears to be completely unaware that that was out of date.

I’m still looking through the checklists to see if there are any other languages I’m missing. I thought Sidney Ponson would be in Dutch but Topps used English for Aruba. Sadly, none of the Canadian players appear to get French cards nor are their vitals in metric units. Nor does Benny Agbayani’s card feature Pidgin or Hawaiian. But I’m plenty happy with what I’ve found and this was a nice way to expand on the Spanish-language posts I’ve been making on here.

Turning Over the 1960 Leaf Set (or, Am I Losing My Marbles?)

If you don’t know the 1960 Leaf set, let me be your guide.

First, they are beautiful, regular size cards featuring black and white portraits with a photo quality gloss and superior card stock. Second, it has a weird checklist, with very few big names, and even the big names aren’t that big (no Mantle, Mays, Aaron, Koufax, etc.) I like offbeat checklists (see my multiple posts on the 1936 Goudey Wide Pens Type 1 set). Third, the full set has only 144 cards, though the second series is way tougher than the first. Fourth, there aren’t too many variations and only one variation is pricey.

Let’s go deeper.

Before the real set hit candy stores and five and dimes, Leaf made eight cards in pre-production, similar to the final design, but not exactly the same. These “Big Heads” are expensive, like, in the thousands per card expensive. Luis Aparicio, usually a lower level Hall of Famer in demand and price, is the Babe Ruth/Mickey Mantle in this smattering of players.

1960-Leaf-Luis-Aparicio-Big-Head-208x300

The actual cards, though referenced as Leaf, were copyrighted to Sports Novelties, Inc. in Chicago. (Leaf was a Chicago based company, so there may be a connection between the two.) To avoid the Topps gum monopoly, the cards were issued with a marble. The first series is pretty attainable, relatively cheap. Lots can get you nice cards for less than a couple of bucks each.

wrapper

The second series is the tough one. Commons (I’m hoping) can be snagged in the $5-6 range.  According to my beloved 2009 Standard Catalog, an influx of over 4,000 high numbers hit the hobby in the late 1990’s which helps. I’m starting to snoop around for bargains.

ser 2

The variations are few, but fun.

There’s this one:

Real Brooks Lawrence (not a variation)

Real Brooks

Real Jim Grant (variation)

grant

Brooks Lawrence as Jim Grant

brooks

Why is Brooks Lawrence so much happier when he’s Jim Grant?

The Hal Smith card has three different backs, for those of you who care about that. The back information on these cards is like a short story, way too much for me.

Regular

1960-leaf-58-hal-smith-psa-8-and-gorgeous_1_32296a21defb38eb4fcc09cc6681ea43

No team

no name

Blacked out team, which will run you in the hundreds of dollars

black

Not a variation at all, but credit to Leaf for addressing the 1960 Hal Smith issue.

Smiths

The second series has two errors (not variations), for a total of four players.

Obviously not Chuck Tanner (it’s Ken Kuhn)

51WPxwZblkL

Stover McIlwain (it’s actually Jim McAnany, but who would ever know)

1960-leaf-114-stover-mcilwain-40147

It’s a lovely group of cards, with the higher priced names still reasonable – Aparicio (regular sized head, of course), Brooks Robinson (another Brooks entry), Duke Snider, Sparky Anderson, Orlando Cepeda and Jim Bunning.  You can come for the Hall of Famers. I’m in it for the Stover McIlwains.

Put your focus on the first series. I don’t need any competition as I search for low budget high numbers.

Baseball Americana

CdV

Over Thanksgiving I took a trip to go see the Baseball Americana exhibition at the Library of Congress. It’s a single gallery, doable in an hour, and I highly recommend visiting if you’re in DC before it closes. While I’ve already written about the general show on my own blog, for the purposes of this committee I feel like it’s worth highlighting the specific role baseball cards play in the exhibition.

Being part of the Library of Congress means that ephemera like cards are emphasized a lot more than equipment and artifacts. One of the key points this show makes is not only has baseball existed for 150 years years, it’s been recognizable that entire time; the existence of baseball cards—the earliest being a carte de visite from 1865 — is a key feature of this consistency. As long as we’ve had a game, we’ve been making pieces of cardboard featuring players’ pictures and trading and collecting the results.

 

Does a modern card (well, 1994 Bowman) with 4-color offset lithography, gloss UV, and foilstamping compare at all to a 130-year-old Goodwin & Co single-color uncoated photographic print? Not at all from a production point of view but seeing them next to each other in the same case and even my 6-year-old recognizes them as part and parcel of the same concept. Heck, even some of the poses are exactly the same.

The show continues with a display of a number of cards of stars of the pre-integration period. These are wonderful to see (and lust over) but the emphasis of this part of the exhibition is in who’s playing baseball and the cards are contrasted with photos of African-American ballplayers.

 

The clear takeaway to me is that while cards have always existed, their role in defining who real ballplayers are cannot be ignored. Seeing who we’ve chosen to make cards of is a powerful statement about who counts and who doesn’t in the sport.* I half-jokingly refer to Topps Flagship as the “card of record” but there’s a kernel of truth in there. Cards chronicle the history of the game and collecting them connects us to that history.

*Note, my takeaway isn’t just a race thing. When we see collectors express concerns about companies only focusing on rookies or stars or large-market teams it’s because of the way that cards function as a record of who matters.

Cards were my entrée into baseball history. They served a similar function for my kids. As much as my eldest hits Wikipedia, Baseball-Reference, and Retrosheet on the iPad, cards are why he knows who he knows and what sustain his interest and connection to the sport.

BBM

Later on, a sample of Japanese cards shows how the sport has transcended the United States and become more global. This is exactly right and, while I haven‘t gotten into international cards,* I can’t deny that it’s really interesting to see how an American thing goes global and how baseball cards end up fitting into other country’s card-collecting traditions.

*My forays into Spanish-language issues are more of a language-based interest.

Cabrera

The only miss card-wise for me is that in the section that shows the increase of statistics in both scouting and the appreciation of the game. There’s a comparison of card backs and the nature of the statistical information that we’ve felt is appropriate over the years. Unfortunately we don’t actually get to see the backs and they’re merely described to us.

Plus there’s so much more that could be dine here. I would  loved to see a comparison of backs drawing a line from T205‘s slashline of G/AVG/Fielding to the traditional slash lines of the 1960s, the whole range of proto-SABRmetric backs in the 1990s, and finally today’s inclusion of stats like WAR that I can’t even explain to my kids how to calculate. It’s not just that stats exist, it’s what stats we care about and how that impacts our understanding of the game.

Walter Moved Quick and Horace Jumped to Candlestick

The New York Giants’ and Brooklyn Dodgers’ franchise shifts to the West Coast for the 1958 season is well chronicled. “White flight” to the suburbs, aging ballparks, and lack of parking all factored into Giants’ President Horace Stoneham, and Dodgers’ “Prexy” Walter O’Malley decamping to sunny California. Of course, the prospect of huge, untapped markets and new stadiums warmed the “cockles” of the two moguls as well.

The National League officially approved the franchise shifts on August 19, 1957. Topps-though probably bummed that their prime locations for NL photos (Ebbets Field and Polo Grounds) were gone-had plenty of lead time to produce ’58 cards for San Francisco and Los Angeles.

58 Mays

In the spring of ’58, young San Franciscans jumped on the nearest cable car and headed for Woolworth’s, Newberry’s or the candy store to buy wax packs in hope of finding cards embossed with “San Fran. Giants.” The youngsters received a real “San Francisco treat” when they discovered that Willie Mays was the first card Topps produced for the transplanted club (#5 in the set’s numerical sequence).

58 Kirkland

Obviously, Mays’s cap has an airbrushed interlocking “SF.” The artist probably made an educated guess on the emblem’s appearance by using the PCL Seals cap logo as a source. The airbrushed “SF” is found on the majority of the ‘58 cards and fluctuates in size and thickness.

Most likely, the first card with an authentic “SF” is that of pitcher Paul Giel (#308). The emblem is the right font and size. Plus, this ’58 Jay Publishing photo-taken in spring training- appears to be from the same session.

 

If you are skeptical of Giel’s photo being the “real McCovey,” there is no doubt the Orlando Cepeda (#343) is authentic. As you can see, the accompanying photo-taken during ’58 spring training-is identical to the card photo.

Other “real” San Francisco Giants are Jim Davenport (#413) and Ray Monzant (#447). By the way, Monzant actually has two cards in the ’58 set, since Mike McCormick’s card features Ray’s photo.

58 Neal

The first Dodgers card Angelino youngsters may have pulled from their packs was Charlie Neal (#16). Not quite as awe inspiring as Mays but a major leaguer, nonetheless. The airbrushed “LA” is a decent approximation of the real one but doesn’t quite match. As with the Giants, the artist may have been using the PCL Angels emblem as a guide. 

Collectors had to settle for airbrushed “LAs” on Drysdale, Reese, Hodges, Snyder and other familiar names before finding the first actual Los Angeles cap on the noggin of Danny McDevitt (#357). The emblem has the correct length of the horizontal part of the “L,” and the flourish on the tip is correct. The photo is almost identical to one taken in spring training for a team set by Dodgers concessionaire, Danny Goodman.

Pignatano

Joe Pignatano (#373) appears to be the only other Dodger with an authentic “LA” on the cap. The photo is also nearly identical to the one used for the Goodman set.

If you believe my conclusions are pure “California dreamin’,” let me know. I would rather be corrected than “stuck in Lodi, again,” with wrong suppositions.