I have 15 of 66 cards from the 1965 Topps Soupy Sales set. I’m not there.
I have 6 of 88 1957 Topps Hit Stars. Not yet.
I have 6 of 24 1968 Topps Posters, off condition donated by friends. I’m uncommitted.
1960 Leaf second series. I’m all in.
I wrote about the 1960 Leaf set in December. Soon after I posted, I grabbed a Harry Brecheen.
Then I picked up Henry Mason and Earl Torgeson in a COMC order. I told myself I was casually working on the set. That’s even in my name for the spreadsheet I created.
But am I? I bought a Faye Throneberry at COMC (not in hand yet), and then five from one eBay seller.
Now I’m 1/8 of the way there and going for it. (By the way, all the cards are standard shiny white. Not sure why they photographed so dingy. They’re nice, though not as nice as my first series.)
At less than $9 per card in EX to EXMT, I could happily acquire more commons, though this condition at that price is a challenge. The second series cards are out there, but tend to be listed for more. I’ve been lucky so far. Some cards will set me back – Sparky Anderson, Orlando Cepeda, Jim Bunning, the two Hal Smiths (one card), maybe Curt Flood.
I’m happy to be swept in by these cards. It’s a good, manageable project that crept up on me and, all of a sudden, I was in for keeps.
How many times have you heard someone say, “Hey, life doesn’t come with an instruction manual?” Well, imagine my surprise when I actually found one last week! And not just any instruction manual but one with a vintage baseball card theme!
I’m referring of course to “The 1954 Topps Guide to Life: Beating the Odds, Getting the Girl, and Making the Team.” (Order here.)
As advertised the book was filled with great advice for ball-playing youngsters, and—even better—illustrated the various tips with baseball cards from the 1954 Topps set.
According to the book, 27 of the 250 cards in the 1954 Topps set have cartoons about players bouncing back from tough injuries. These cards offer a lesson in resilience.
Closely related to bouncing back from injury is bouncing back from failure. The trick, the book suggests, is to have a backup plan.
Though some of it might feel old fashioned to the modern reader, the book also offered advice on love and marriage.
There were also tips on dealing with rejection, which was the theme of six cards in the set.
Fittingly for a book that centered around advice, there is a section on accepting help from others.
Building a positive work ethic was the focus of 11 cards in the 1954 Topps set.
Coming off two recent wars there was of course a chapter on our men in uniform.
Alright, by now you’ve probably figured out there is no book. At the same time, there could have been. The 1954 Topps set was one where nearly every card seemed to moralize, educate, or motivate. Just do what your baseball cards tell you, son, and you’ll turn out just fine.
Oh, wait a minute. A reader has just stopped by, and he doesn’t look happy.
“Not a real book?!?!? NOT A REAL BOOK?!? Are you freaking kidding me, Jason?”
“Hey now, take it easy. It was all in good fun here. Put the bat down. No need for this to escalate…uh oh…this is getting serious. Okay, think, Jason, think. WWPMD? What would Paul Minner do?
Jerry Morales was—at least anecdotally—a slick-fielding outfielder known for his unorthodox habit of catching routine fly balls below his waist and out in front of him. He led PCL outfielders in fielding percentage in 1970 and 1971 and was a top defensive NL outfielder in 1975 and 1976 by standard metrics – including assists, range factor, double plays, and fielding percentage. Morales was also known for his sweet mustache, ranked here as the 12th best in Cubs history.
In his 15-year Major League career, Morales amassed nearly 5000 plate appearances and displayed decent power, belting double-digit home runs in five seasons. Morales was an All-Star in 1977 with the Chicago Cubs and was hit by a Sparky Lyle pitch in his only All-Star plate appearance. He would end the regular season .290/.348/.447, with 11 home runs and 69 knocked in. Advanced metrics have not been kind to Morales as a defensive outfielder, however. According to Baseball-Reference, Morales was worth -0.7 WAR in his 1977 All-Star season and finished his career with a -2.0 WAR, including a lifetime dWAR of -12.4.
On the other hand, center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. was a perennial Gold Glove recipient, winning ten consecutive awards from 1990-99 with the Seattle Mariners. Although the second half of his career, mostly with Cincinnati, was marred by injuries and declining defensive value, Griffey finished his Hall of Fame career with a lifetime 2.2 dWAR, upstaged by his offensive prowess and a trophy case overstuffed with Gold Gloves. Griffey appeared in 13 All-Star Games and compiled a .440/.464/.640 slash line in 25 at-bats, with a home run and seven driven in.
Junior was also known for wearing his baseball cap backwards, although his reason for doing so began of necessity, not style. “My dad had a ‘fro, and I didn’t, so I wore his hat and it always hit me in the face, so I just turned it around and it just stuck. It wasn’t like I was trying to be a tough guy or change the way that baseball is played. It was just that my dad wore a size 7 1/2, and I had a 6 1/4. It was just too big.” Griffey participated in 1993 Home Run Derby with his cap on backwards and concluded his 2016 Hall of Fame induction speech by donning his hat in that oh-so-familiar way.
So why all the fuss about Jerry Morales? Well, as it turns out, he was the first non-catcher to ever appear on a Topps baseball card with his hat on backwards, years before Ken Griffey Jr. became associated with the style. On his 1981 Topps card, Morales is pictured hanging out at the batting cage with his New York Mets cap on backwards.
Sure, catchers were often depicted on cards with their caps on backwards, but mainly because they wore them that way under their masks.
1968 Topps #251
1956 Topps #131
1952 Topps #230
The last catcher to be pictured on a card with his hat on backwards was Rick Dempsey in this 1991 Score edition.
But Jerry Morales will always be a fashion pioneer.
Bogovich, Richard. “Jerry Morales.” In Maxwell Kates (Author, Editor), Warren Corbett (Author), Gregory Wolf (Author), Leslie Heaphy (Author), Rory Costello (Author), Rob Neyer (Author), Bill Nowlin (Editor), Len Levin (Editor), Carl Riechers (Editor), Time for Expansion Baseball, Phoenix: Society for American Baseball Research, 2018, 215-22.
Slocum, Frank, “Topps Baseball Cards: The Complete Picture Collection” (New York: Warner Books; 1st Edition, 1985)
Jason Schwartz, one of the new co-chairs of our Committee, does a little game on our Facebook page. He takes little sections of four different cards and we’re supposed to guess who the player is. Here’s a “Cardboard Detective” from May 15:
Immediately I knew it was Paul Moskau. For reasons unknown, his 1978 Topps cards is indelibly burned in my brain. I’m not quite clear why Paul Moskau holds a secure place in my memory, but I have some theories.
Not that I didn’t have a keen eye on the Big Red Machine, but after Tom Seaver was traded to Cincinnati mid-1977, I was more attentive. Moskau was, as far as I recall, heralded as part of the new wave of Reds starters. He, along with Mike LaCoss, Bill Bonham, Mario Soto, and Frank Pastore were the pitching staff that would continue where Don Gullett, Jack Billingham and Clay Carroll left off.
Not sure why, at least where it comes to Moskau. He had success in the low minors, but was clearly mediocre in AA. He didn’t get better in the big leagues.
Seaver was definitely the entry point, but I was hooked on these Reds pitchers. Moskau was my favorite, and I think a lot has to do with his 1978 card. It’s a solid picture, making him instantly known. I assume I saw him pitch, either at Shea Stadium or on TV, but, really, my knowledge of Paul Moskau’s look is through his cards. The cards, as they often did, came first.
Moskau floundered in the majors, his best ERA+ coming in the 1977 season, when he was slightly below average (98). He bottomed out at 57 with the Cubs in 1983 and was gone.
The Cubs? I had no idea he was with Chicago, and with the Pirates the year before? No way. If you had asked me about Paul Moskau’s career, and there’s no reason why you would have, I would have bet that he was a lifelong Red. Why? BECAUSE THERE ARE NO CARDS OF HIM ON ANY OTHER TEAM! I read a lot of books and magazines about baseball back then, and watched a lot of games, but it was in the cards that I relied on where players played and how they appeared.
I’m glad I recently discovered this about Moskau. I still have a fond spot for him in my baseball memories. Here’s something I have, picked up in Cooperstown for a couple of bucks.
I didn’t make Anna out for a baseball fan. Not in a million years. But, the more we talked about life and our lives, the more interesting she became. Then she said she loved baseball. Uh, what, as I did a double-take.
Turns out, she grew up near up not too far from Shea Stadium, and of course was a Mets fan. She had been to tons of games early in her life and fondly recalled getting home from school one afternoon in October and her mother running out to tell her that the Mets had just beat the Baltimore Orioles to claim the 1969 World Series title. It was the best moment of her baseball life, she said with a gleam in her eye.
She was never so beautiful as she was at that moment, telling me this story. From then on, all we talked was baseball. She was several years older than me, and married. As a young and single guy, I was amused. Still, we could talk about the Mets, and her favorite players, and growing up in the Queens neighborhood of Jamaica.
Despite all the interesting players filling the Mets rosters over the years, that included Seaver Koosman, Kranepool and Grote, Anna threw me a curveball when she said with emphasis that her all-time favorite player was Carl Yastrzemski. Yeah, Yaz. The Hall of Fame MVP, Triple Crown winner, 18-time All-Star, 7-time Gold Glove left fielder for the Boston Red Sox! When I asked why him, she said that he was Polish (her ethnic background), and with a gush, she continued, “he was so handsome!” Alright then, Yaz was her guy. Cool!
I pondered our conversation that evening, and the day after, thinking about Yaz and the 1969 Mets, and the 1973 Mets, and the 1986 Mets. I wanted to give Anna something special, something unique, something that I know she didn’t have. Maybe a baseball card from my collection. But, nothing would be as special as a 1961 Yaz card, the one with the rookie star, which I did not have. As it so happened, there was a trading card shop several blocks from my house. Armed with a binder of good stuff and the best of intentions, I ventured out into the night after work to do a little horse trading.
This was summer 1995, and the card guy wanted something like 30 bucks for that 1961 Topps #287 card. It might have been $25. Regardless, I didn’t have cash, and was prepared to haggle. He looked through the pages of my binders with some mild interest, knowing that he had me over a barrel after I foolishly indicated the card was for a girl. He would leaf through a couple of pages and stop, and continue turning pages, stopping again, and turning some more. I had been in his shop on a number of occasions to peer with envy at the cards on the glass shelves, or sift through the commons in the boxes in neatly arranged stacks. The glass shelf cards were always out of my price range, but it was harmless to covet.
I had an idea of what he might find interesting, and tried to steer him towards a few of my cards from the early to mid-1970s, hoping to entice him with my 1971 Steve Garvey rookie card (#341) or my 1973 Rod Carew (#330). Heck, I thought my 1974 Reggie Jackson (#130) looked pretty good, too. Unfortunately, he had those, and wasn’t interested. He flipped through the pages one more time before settling on my 1974 Tom Seaver (#80), 1975 Dave Winfield (#61) AND my 1976 Johnny Bench (#300). Really? All three? He went to his cabinet and pulled out that ’61 Yaz, and seemed to wave it in my face. Taunting me. Or least that’s what it felt like. I looked at Tom and Dave and Johnny, wondering if they knew what I was about to do.
The 1974 Tom Seaver card was one of several Topps cards that year featuring the player in a landscape position. The photo featured a great action shot of Tom Terrific pitching off the mound at Shea. The ’75 Winfield card featured the third-year player at home in San Diego taking a few cuts, perhaps before the start of the game. I always liked the Bench card from the 1976 collection. He’s featured as a “NL ALL STAR” lettered within a star shape that also indicated his position. The photo shows him standing in what appears to be moments after a close play at the plate because there’s still a cloud of dust enveloping him, as he stands with there in his catcher’s gear sans the mask. I always liked those catchers’ cards. Topps always seemed to do a good job at capturing the catcher working his tail off behind the plate. Bench, in this card, seems to be ready to fight, ready to defend his plate.
I looked down again at those three cards and closed my eyes and made the deal. The guy took my cards away and presented me with the ’61 Yaz tucked inside a hard plastic sleeve. It wasn’t the best of deals, but it was the best that I could do. I had hoped that someday I might get them back. Right now, they were gone, and that was that. But, now I had something special for someone special. That thought lightened the short walk back to my apartment.
At lunch the next day, I surprised Anna with the card. She was overjoyed. She laughed and smiled, and held the card to her heart. Suddenly, the trade didn’t seem so bad. It was a great trade, in fact. We talked about Yaz and the 1967 World Series, and the fortunes of the Boston Red Sox, and the fortunes of the Seattle Mariners, who were catching fire that summer. I was pleased that Anna liked the card so much.
The next day, she presented me with a curious thing: a Cleveland Indians button with an attached talisman from the 1940s. It was her grandfather’s, she said. She wanted me to have it. I never knew if she had any other baseball things, but I got the impression this object meant a great deal to her. I took it from her with great care and appreciation, and promised to take good care of it. For nearly 25 years, I’ve kept that Cleveland Indians button with attached talisman in a box in a little plastic bag. Every so often I come across that thing and think of Anna and the 1961 Carl Yastrzemski card.
Author’s note: This is the second post in a series highlighting “common players” with stories far richer than the value of their trading cards. The first post in the series profiled Dave Hoskins and can be found here.
The common understanding of the term “Renaissance Man” is of someone with many talents or areas of knowledge. Ernie Barnes fits this description. Less correct but truer to the origin of the word renaissance would be a man reborn. Ernie Barnes fits this description too.
Raised in segregated Durham, North Carolina, Barnes was chubby, nonathletic, and bullied by his Hillside High School classmates. He mainly kept to himself and drew in his sketchbook to pass the time. Tommy Tucker, a teacher at the school, noticed the drawings and took an interest in Barnes. A bodybuilder, Tucker sold Barnes on the positive impact weightlifting could have on his life. By the time he graduated, Barnes was state champion in the shotput and captain of the football team. He also had scholarship offers to 26 colleges.
At North Carolina College, Ernie Barnes played tackle and center on the football team while majoring in art. As a kid, despite his interest, Barnes was never able to visit the North Carolina Museum of Art. Blacks were not allowed. In college, however, Barnes made a trip to the recently desegregated museum with one of his art classes. The answer when Barnes asked where he could find paintings by Negro artists? “Your people don’t express themselves that way.”
Twenty-three years the work of Ernie Barnes would fill this same museum, and today his work hangs in Halls of Fame, top galleries, art museums, and the homes of the art world’s top collectors. If you love Motown and grew before everything was digital, there’s a good chance you even have an Ernie Barnes sitting in your music collection.
That’s great, Jason, but what does all this have to do with baseball cards? Well, let me at least bring it back to sports.
Barnes was selected in the 8th round of the NFL draft by the Washington Redskins, but his Redskins career lasted only a few minutes. Then the team found out Barnes was black. Two rounds later, the Baltimore Colts called his name but ultimately cut Barnes at the end of training camp. In 1960 Barnes played five games with the Titans of New York, who later became the Jets.
Barnes spent the 1961 and 1962 seasons as a San Diego Charger and the following two seasons with the Denver Broncos. Barnes never approached All-Pro status or even started a game, though he picked up the nickname “Big Rembrandt” for the sketches he did during games, including in huddles.
I suspect when you think of football players turned actors, Barnes is not the first to come to mind.
Nonetheless, Barnes acted in numerous television shows and movies, highlighted by his portrayal of Josh Gibson in the 1981 Satchel Paige biopic “Don’t Look Back.”
There is another connection Ernie Barnes has to baseball, one shared with me by Lawrence “Dan” D’Antignan, owner of Chicago’s historic Woodshop, longtime institution and early commercial epicenter of African American art.
As Dan tells it, his wife had made a trip to Los Angeles to meet with Ernie Barnes and discuss the selling of his work when the meeting was interrupted by a woman hoping to show off the work of her teenage son who 100% lived up to the hype.
Perhaps you’ve tasted the back of some of his artwork…
Or been greeted by it at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City…
There’s also a very good chance you’ve run across his book.
Of course, you didn’t come here to read about Kadir Nelson or even art! You want CARDS! Well, luckily I aim to please.
While an Ernie Barnes painting would easily set you back five figures if not six, it turns out any motivated collector can add an Ernie Barnes to his or her collection for the price of a bad ham sandwich.
As the title to this post suggests, Ernie Barnes, one of the great artists of the 20th century and an absolute icon in the African American art world, is a mere “common player, starting at around $2 on COMC and eBay.
Common though he is in the price guides, Ernie Barnes is the only man on the set’s 176-card checklist certain to remain relevant not just decades but centuries from now. Somewhere in a museum a young visitor will ask the docent where the works by African Americans are kept. And then, long, long after all 11 Hall of Famers in the 1964 Topps set have faded from memory, the visitor will happen upon an Ernie Barnes and neglect the rest of the day’s plans for a brush with greatness.
When I first traveled to Cuba in 2015, I had hoped to bring home some cards of the stars I would be seeing while I was on my baseball tour. Still naive about the differences between Cuban baseball and the major leagues, I believed that there would be such a thing. I knew the stadium amenities weren’t going to be luxurious (they weren’t) and the food at the park was bound to be lousy (it often was, though the pulled pork sliders I bought outside of Estadio 26 de Julio in Aretmisa remain vividly delicious in my memory). Still, surely an enterprising soul, or the government, had managed to publish a few sets of baseball cards. I was quickly corrected by none other than fellow traveler and Cuban baseball expert Peter Bjarkman. He informed me there were no modern cards in Cuba. There was one set published in 1994 which included pre-MLB cards for the Hernández brothers, Liván and Orlando. The one before that was sold in the 1950s.
I had never given much thought of what it would be like to be a youthful fan
who could not regularly experience baseball cards. I loved the cards long
before I truly loved the game. In the days before the internet and daily
airings on team-owned networks, they were my most direct connection. I thrilled
with each new pack and the treasures I found inside.
That same passion, this time on the faces of a gaggle of Cuban children, was on display whenever a member of our group pulled out a pack of Topps at one of the five Serie Nacional contests I attended. They would swarm, a collective that would consume any gleaming picture of a hero-in-action they could get their hands on. Bonus points if it was Yasiel Puig or Aroldis Chapman. At one point I pulled out a business card to give to a local sportswriter and a child’s eager hands immediately reached out to me. Just the image of a baseball on my card was enough to ignite their imaginations.
All of this got me thinking about the Cuban stars of the past, and whether they had baseball cards. I had learned that generations of Serie Nacional heroes have never had one. But, what about the hundreds of Cubans who played in the major leagues? Surely many of them must have cards. I first considered starting a collection of all of the cards featuring Cuban-born players. I quickly realized that a complete collection of Cubans was going to necessitate far too much energy and money pursuing just José Canseco. There are roughly 3000 distinct cards of the tainted slugger. I decided that maybe the best way to approach this new whim would be to just get the rookie cards. The set would become relatively finite and definitely more achievable.
Many of them have rookie cards, but certainly not all. Some never had a card issued at all, at least none that my current research has revealed. Others have cards, but not ones that modern collectors consider “rookies.” Cards from a player’s minor league days do not qualify. Neither do cards from foreign leagues, such as the pre-revolution Cuban Winter League.
Such is the case of the Acosta brothers, José and Merito. The two appeared
on Clark Griffith’s Cuban-laden Washington Senators of the 1910s and 20s.
However, neither made enough of a mark to appear on a card during World War I
and the lean years of the hobby that followed. Cards were produced in smaller
sets, thus players like Merito, who appeared in 180 games in the outfield over
five seasons, and José, who pitched in 55 games over three years, often fell
through the cracks.
However, while playing for the 1923/24 Marianao squad of the Cuban League, they both appeared in a set that was issued in their homeland by Billiken. Like their American counterpart, these cards could be found in packs of cigarettes. In addition to Cubans, they also featured American Negro League legends like Oscar Charleston and Andy Cooper. Per the definitions set by modern collectors, these do not qualify as “rookie cards.” I decided that because so many of the pre-revolution members of the fraternity fell into this category, I was expanding my criteria to include first-known cards, as well.
As of this writing, there have been 208 Cuban-born men who have played or managed in the majors. So far, and research is ongoing, there appear to be 194 cards in the set I have designed. I had four at the outset, just by culling from my own collection: a 1990 issue of Tony Fossas, a 1989 Orestes Destrade, a 1987 Rafael Palmeiro and, from a pack bought in the interest of the project, a 2015 Jorge Soler. All of them happened to be Topps. There are numerous other publishers in this set, including Bowman, Upper Deck and Fleer. Going back before World War II, there are Zeenuts, T207s, an E135, and multiple cards from the candy manufacturer Caramelo Deportivo.
The day after I finished the first draft of the checklist for the set, I
paid a visit to a comic book store in New Paltz, New York. My ex-wife and I
meet there sometimes when we exchange our daughter. B is a fan of comics and I
like to encourage my kid to become a nerd, just like her old man. While not a
large shop, the collection is extensive and a fan of the genre is certain to
What it does not have, however, is very many baseball cards for sale. The
two collectibles will often appear together at small retail shops like this,
though such stores usually lean more heavily in one direction. No one would
ever think of this place as a local card shop. But, it does sell packs of the
current sets and that day had about 50 individual cards up for grabs. Of those
singles, the inventory was split between medium value cards of current players,
a sprinkling of stars from 1970s, 80s and 90s, and a few lesser known players
from the 60s.
One of those latter cards was from the Topps 1965 set, number 201. Minnesota Twins rookie stars César Tovar and Sandy Valdespino share the honors. Tovar, a native of Venezuela, had a fine twelve-year career with the Twins, Phillies, Rangers, A’s and Yankees. He finished in the top twenty-five in MVP voting every year from 1967-1971 and led the league in doubles and triples in 1970. The Trading Card Database has identified 56 unique cards manufactured for Tovar.
Hilario “Sandy” Valdespino lasted for seven seasons with the Twins, Braves, Astros, Pilots, Brewers and Royals. He did not share the same success as his card-mate, though he did get eleven at bats in the 1965 World Series, contributing a double and a run. Valdespino was born in San Jose de las Lajas in Mayabeque and became the 106th Cuban to appear in the majors when he made his debut on April 12, 1965. Number 201 is his official rookie card, one of only nineteen different identified cards of the outfielder ever produced.
The odds of finding that card, in that place, just days
after I decided to pursue this quest, cannot be calculated. It was a divine
intervention, a gift sent by the baseball gods in the form of a fifty-year-old
piece of cardboard.
Today I have 115 of the cards from the set. The latest pickup, a W514 of Dolf Luque, is a real beauty. The corners are a little rounded and there are some minor markings on the surface, but it is crease free and remarkably sturdy for something that was printed a century ago. Luque, the first Cuban superstar, is an underappreciated name from yesteryear and a personal favorite. Finally acquiring his card inspired me to tell this story.
As always, the final cards of this set are the most
challenging and, of course, the most expensive. It is also a set that is always
expanding. Despite the recent short-sighted pronouncements of the current
presidential administration, Cubans will continue to find a way to travel those
ninety miles to American shores to play the game. Last year, six more made
their major league debut. Three of them have rookie cards, so far, and the
recent call up by the Yankees of Nestor Cortes, Jr., who had a
less-than-impressive debut with Baltimore last March, increases the chances of
him getting one at some point this season. When he does, I’ll be there.