Whither the Astros?

One of the unresolved (to me, at least) mysteries from collecting baseball cards from the late 1960s was how Topps handled the Houston Astros. As you likely know, the Houston expansion team was known as the Colt .45s for its first three seasons (1962-64) before becoming the Astros in 1965, coinciding with their move into the brand new Astrodome that April. Houston tried grass for a year, before contracting with Monsanto to install artificial turf (soon known as “Astroturf”) in 1966. That much we know.

armour-part04-1966-robinsonfrankTopps made a point in this period of trying to never show a player in the “wrong” uniform; if a guy was traded from the Reds to the Orioles early enough in the off-season, Topps could correctly move him to the Orioles but would not yet have a photo of him with his new uniform. Instead they would use a headshot with no hat, or with the hat logo blackened out, or some other solution that would protect young kids from the horror seeing Frank in his old Reds togs. Of course kids could usually tell, but at least they tried. In the 1960s this was a particular problem, because there were 8 expansion teams and 5 franchise moves between 1961 and 1971. This led to a lot of blackened or missing hats.

Which brings us back to the Houston Astros.

In 1965, Topps did not react to the Houston name change right away, referring to the team as “Houston” in the early series (and showing the old .45s hats) and “Houston Astros” (with no visible old logo) thereafter.

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But for the next two years (1966 and 1967) Topps put out two great sets and treated the Astros with dignity — the correct name, the correct hats and uniforms. Problem over?

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Not so fast.

In 1968, suddenly the name Astros was not used on either the front or back of any of the cards, nor were the hats or uniforms shown. (The cards for the other 19 teams used the team nickname, not the city.) I was 7 at the time and an avid collector, but I did not really take notice of the missing Astros name until a few years ago. I spent some time tryi86d0f5e8620b13e1f37a5a5ae38ee092ng to figure out why this happened, contacting Topps, former Topps employees, the Astros historian, Rusty Staub, and several knowledgeable bloggers. The most common reaction was. “I can’t believe I never noticed that.”

The most plausible explanation I have heard is that Monsanto was in a dispute with the Astros over the use of the name — though the baseball team used the name first, it was Monsanto that actually trademarked it (says the theory). Topps, seemingly uninvolved, took the cautious approach and decided to avoid using the name.

When this was going on I was already a rabid card collector — especially the cards of my beloved Red Sox. If I had grown up in Houston following the Astros, collecting an entire team’s worth of bland hatless logoless cards like this Jim Wynn card, might I have turned to other pursuits? Maybe 166083become a productive citizen?

The Astros did not stop using the name, nor the logo, nor did they or Major League Baseball stop authorizing the use of the logo to other entities. Dexter Press came out with a beautiful set of postcard-sized cards in 1968 and had several gorgeous Astros photos (like this one of Joe Morgan). If I was a kid in Houston, I would have found these a better option.

In 1969 Topps again avoided the name Astros, and avoided the uniform in the first three series. Starting with Series Four, sometime around June, the uniform finally returned (though not the name). The dispute, whatever it was, had been resolved, but Topps likely decided to keep the team name consistent throughout the set.

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Topps finally restored the Astros to full citizenship in 1970, giving many of us our first good look at the Astros uniform, especially these gorgeous home unis, in several years. It was great for me, but for the kids of Houston, Texas, it must have been glorious.

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Unfinished (set) business

I’m a man of my word. I keep my promises and I achieve my goals. I don’t get distracted, I stay on task and I always finish what I start. Except…

My income and my passion for cards were at similar peaks throughout the ‘90’s. I finished some old sets I was close to finishing, started some older sets from scratch. There were four sets that I jumpstarted my way into with a series of well-priced, shrewdly purchased lots, and I had every intention of making my way to the end, the final check made in each one’s checklist. I don’t know what derailed me from my goals. Maybe it was the new century and big life changes (job switches, moving to Cooperstown, and so on), maybe it was the changes in the hobby (shifts to grading, disappearance of commons into slabs, moving to Cooperstown, far from big Chicago area card shows), maybe I simply lost interest in those sets. Let’s find out.

 

1933 Tattoo Orbit

tattoo-orbitThere’s something about this size, 2” X 2 ¼,” that grabs me. Tattoo Orbit (or R305, if you want to get technical) is a beautiful little set, 60 cards in all, hyper-stylized. The player photo is slightly colorized and is ensconced in a background that looks like it could have been drawn by a child. Check out Marty McManus here, swinging away, gigantic, in a setting of magnificent red and yellow. It’s a thing of beauty.

I have 16 of the 60, including two of the short prints. Did I ever think I’d really go the distance on this one? In retrospect, I’m not so sure. The set, even in VG, is around $4,000, probably more if I hunt and peck for individual cards. I don’t like spending a ton, so my guess is this one was a bit of a whim, a “yeah, sure, I’ll put this together over time.” Looking at what I’ve got, and how prices have gone up since I began, it’s even less likely I’ll get back to this one. But they are wonderful cards, magnificently simple in design.

 

1947 Bond Bread

bond-breadI’m halfway to the 44 card set of baseball players (though there are also 4 boxer cards). Not sure how these came into my field of vision, but it seems that in the 1980’s a large number of these black and white gems were found in a warehouse and released into the hobby. Maybe that’s why I got so many, definitely why the big time Hall of Famers (Musial, Williams, Jackie Robinson) are relatively inexpensive).

There’s a chance I’ll go back to this set. There are many wonders to be found in the photographs. Stan the Man here looks like he accidentally fielded a grounder during a photo shoot for the new 1947 Packard. Still, hunting down ungraded Joe DiMaggio and Jackie Robinson cards may be a tough task and, it seems like after 2000, a rash of illegally reprinted square cornered cards (some come rounded) made their way not only into the hobby but into grading.  That worries me, though I wonder where the money is in counterfeiting 70-year-old Del Ennis cards.

 

1949 Remar Bread Oakland Oaks

remar-breadWhat’s with the bread cards? Sure, it makes sense to package cards with gum, kids chewing away as they read about their favorite players, but the image of a kid wadding a piece of white bread in his cheek is one I can’t shake. The poor little Oaklander would choke!

There are 42 cards in this set, a strangely sized 2” X 3.” They’re thin stuff, very flexible, but sort of cool. There’s a Billy Martin card, which I don’t have, but is pretty inexpensive in EX, the general grade of the 11 cards I have.

I’ve been scouting out the balance of the set on EBay and it looks like there are ungraded examples at reasonable prices. Completing this set may be a reasonable endeavor, but it’s awfully hard to muster up a real enthusiasm for chasing down an EX example of Maurice Van Robays, whoever the hell he was. Still, I look at my Mel Duezabou card and know that, to someone, he was important. I’m not sure that that someone is me.

 

1952 Parkhurst

parkhurstThis may be the one that got away and that calls me back the most. Almost exactly the size of the 1949 Bowman cards that I love, this 100 card set of Canadian International Leaguers (Montreal Royals, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Athletics) is filled with unknowns and a healthy subset of drawings like “Gripping the Bat.” Look at this page – awesome, right?

Though I have half the set, I have none of the key cards, minor league appearances by Tommy Lasorda, Walter Alston and Johnny Podres. They won’t break the bank. I think if I fish around for these, I’m likely to find one or two sellers/dealers who would sell me a bunch at a reasonable price. What could the real demand for the no-names and sketches be? Then I’ll back myself into a corner and spring for the higher priced cards. That’s my methodology – go cheap for as long as I can and then force myself to pony up for the few costlier cards that stand between me and a complete set.

 

I’ve never been a type collector of random cards, never sought out having one from as many sets as possible, so having four partial sets drives me batty. Is it worth keeping what I have if I’m not going to get them all? I don’t know, I debate that a lot. What’s the point of having 51 of 100 1952 Parkhursts if I’m not going to end up with 100? It’s a small scale struggle, but a struggle nonetheless.

Card Shows as a Promoter

white-plainsJust to give a quick background on me, I worked at Beckett Media (nee Beckett Publications) for nearly two decades and also wrote a very popular column for Sports Collectors Daily called Rich Klein’s Ramblings. for about five years.. While I was at Beckett, I edited the first 12 editions of the Beckett Almanac of Baseball Cards and Collectibles which, by the time I left Beckett, had a data base of over 25,000 sets to keep track of. I had to know about cards from 1869 to the present day and knowing baseball history was always a big help in cataloguing and pricing those sets in the data base
Due to personal family reasons — my continuing to run card shows in the DFW area and some issues with my wife’s health — I have taken an hiatus from writing. In addition, frankly I was pretty burned out feeling the need to keep adding content every few days. The good news is going forward I may contribute some content as I feel like it for this fine blog but not feel I have to create an article on a daily or weekly basis.
What you are about to see is an adaption of notes from comments I made on the Blowout Card message board in relation to someone wishing to run their own show. These notes are what I felt interesting in commenting on when people set up their shows. This is based not only on my nearly three years of running shows but nearly 40 years of attending shows.

Promote, Promote, Promote — anything less than your full effort leads to disappointment. If there are any stores near you see if you can co-opt them for help. One great step is to see if they will let you put out flyers. Many card stores today know their customers are tuned into the hobby and realize EBay is a bigger competitor than any shows. We received free cards to give away to kids at the last 3 shows of the year that way. All it cost them was dead inventory and a few business cards. And who can complain if potential customers are coming in the door.

MONEY: Stay within your budget. Don’t shoot for the moon — take the single and be happy before going for the gusto. We all want the show where hundreds of people walk through the door but I will tell you we average between 76-100 people each month at the Comfort Inn show I run. Our low is 45 and our high is 154 paid.

wssca4Admission charges:  I charge $1 as much for head count purposes as to make any money on the customers. Since I keep track of attendees, believe it or not our lowest head count with the one exception of the 45 people (because there was a big competing show that weekend) has been our December shows where we have FREE admission. Yep, less people
Door Prizes — DO SOMETHING. One of the major frustrations I have as an attendee is there is a local promoter who runs “bigger” shows twice a year with a $5 admission charge. If you are gong to charge that much money, give away something, even if it is 1988 Topps or Donruss packs.
Signs: Make sure you are legally able to put out promotional signs. If you are, then it helps for you or someone you delegate to put out those signs where people can see them. One local DFW promoter has a big sign he puts on his truck on a heavily traveled street and that does at times bring in new customers.
Food at the shows: That depends on your location — at the Comfort Inn we are not allowed to have anyone sell food and the hotel does not offer. However, I can bring in Bagels for breakfast or Pizza for Lunch for the dealers and that is perfectly fine. Check with your venue on this one.
At Adat  Chaverim — because of religious dietary laws, we do provide food but we also let vendors bring in food as long as there is no pork or shellfish products.
Tables with cloths: Cloths can be cheap — don’t be afraid to go to Party City if your venue does not have cloths.
Showcase rentals — Only at a huge show. There is no reason for the promoter to be in charge of this unless they wish. If there is a vendor who has extra showcases, then that is who should run this part of the show for you. And yes, that is their business, not the promoter’s business.
Customer and Dealer comfort:. Well yes, this is a bigger issue. I think a better way to say this is to ensure there is enough space for customers to walk around. This is a very delicate balance as you do not want so much room that the room appears empty You also do not want so little room that dealers have to crawl under their tables to walk around or for customers to literally have to “bump” each other to walk around. A great way to ensure your venue works is to have them do a mock set up for you. That way you are not surprised come show day. I always ask for a mock set up so I can see how the room works. We have now three options at the Comfort Inn and they are now familiar with our various options as they took photos of each option so the room can be set up accurately each month.
Tax id # verifications. Make sure YOU as the promoter have one. It’s up to your dealers to have this for themselves but if tax people show up — the dealers must comply or leave the show. Since that is all part of being a dealer, in case that occurs, it’s up to you as to refunding the money for their tables. That is, if they refuse to sign up for the tax ID.

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Clean up after the show (people will leave trash on the floor) — Yes and make sure you have garbage pails in the room. See if you have to do that or if your place has help on this front. Most places have some staff to handle this but yes it is worth checking out. If a hotel, then they will have staff to handle this. I have actually been to shows with no garbage pails in the room. If there is no wax dealer this is not usually that bad but then you have to guarantee you have a garbage bag to clean up if people eat lunch in the room.

Light outlets, charge stations — Depends on the room. You have no control over certain parts of the room. It’s nice to have this but you have no control over what the venue already has extant.

Fliers to promote your next show. YES something tangible is always good. Heck, if you are wiling to spend the money each month one of the very best promotional tools is to send out a postcard each month to everyone’s home address.

Hand stamp for reentry, and Name Tags for dealers: At my Comfort Inn show I don’t usually need these but at the Adat Chaverim show because of the set-up I make sure all the dealers have name tags.

Staff to take admission; Believe it or not, I can handle this. I do lose a few cards this way but nothing tragic.  And if you have a pretty young lady to take admission, that is an extra win for all concerned. There is a promoter in St. Louis who actually used a Playboy Playmate from the 1990’s to be the admission taker and to sign autographs herself. At the Adat Chaverim show, because of everything we do — there is a dedicated person at the front to take admission and sell our goodie bags.

Have a Beckett, supply and wax dealer: even if you have to do it yourself.  In my case, there is a store within 3 minutes of the show and his prices on supplies are very fair. It’s easier for me to send people to his store for supplies and wax. And if they live slightly west, we send them to Nick’s which is about 15 minutes southwest of the show.. I can usually tell how good or average the show was, but seeing how many magazines I sold. it’s remarkably consistent. And if a local player is on the cover of the magazines, order more and sell those back issues. At my last show I sold more Beckett FB magazines with Dak Prescott on the cover than I did of the current magazine. And yes, the prices of the 2 magazines were the same. Plus, they have a full return policy which you can follow so there is little risk on this

cardsPromote on all the websites you can: blowout, net54, psa boards, Beckett’s calendar, Facebook groups (social media), and local papers/message boards. Start your own Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, youtube, yelp, live blog, etc. Especially when you begin, the promotion is super important. I have a good friend who tried to run a show about 18 months ago. When we discussed the show, I informed him that to begin a show he had to spend most of the next two months focusing on promoting, promoting, promoting. Despite having Beckett raw card review available and a very nice autograph guest, he has run exactly one show and shows no inclination of going for a second show.

Be nice to everyone – this can be difficult! For the life of me I can not understand the attitudes of people at shows. Make sure to greet as many customers as possible. Its better for them to have a positive experience with the show’s promoter to offset any other issues they may have. That is one reason I like to greet the people at the door and even check when possible on the way out to see if they purchased anything. Now there are a few customers who occasionally come looking for things they likely won’t find (a Mark Teixeira master collector, a 19th century collector) but it never hurts to see what they want.

The other thing is NOT to be a pushover, if you are charging admission — honor that. There are reasonable exceptions. Kids and significant others I usually let in for free. Kids because it’s fun and the significant others are not usually there to purchase cards. But you never know when they come back to buy gifts. I sold a card a few months ago at a local show to a spouse who saw her husband going through my cards and she mentally noted which ones he wanted. But as a promoter do not be a pushover at the door. If you think someone is trying to take advantage of your admission, then feel free to charge them. I had a situation where in our previous location, someone waltzed in, and when I checked for admission he said I can buy everything cheaper on line and left. His wife was very willing to pay the $1 admission for each of them. Really sad in that case.

Get as many dealers as you can but remember everyone. Give priority to dealers that customers like, sell hard to find cards, are nice people, or those that bring in customers. Believe it or not, one thing I do with my dealers — and it’s a reasonably small room is first come, first severed (FOR THE MOST PART). I have a few dealers I like to have as anchors but move others around so the room looks different each time. If you end up with a core of dealers, most of that will take care of itself.We’ll also eventually revisit some ideas for customers and dealers at shows as well.

Rich Klein has been an active hobbyist since his first show as a dealer in 1979

 

Hatless photos in 1963 Topps

Topps had used the technique of using photos of traded players without their baseball caps in earlier years, but the use of small silhouetted action photos on the 1963 cards posed new problems. Topps designers tried to disguise the old uniform with airbrushing and some creative artwork. The results were often laughable.

Of the lee-wall-63-topps576 cards in the ’63 set, 70 players are pictured without hats. Most but not all had been traded in the off-season. The majority of the 70 cards feature the player in the uniform of his previous team — the piping is usually the giveaway — along with a crude attempt at obliterating the old team name on the small action shot and by drawing the new team’s letter or logo on the cap.
The first base card in set (following the 10 cards of 1962 league leaders) is one of the hatless 70 — Lee Walls. Although he had played with the Dodgers in 1962, his color head shot shows him in a Cubs uniform. with whom he last played in 1959. His small action shot has the team name airbrushed out and a Dodgers interlocking “LA” drawn on his cap. Perhaps someone knows why Topps began its set with a player for whom they did not have any recent pete-burnside-63-topps-19photos.

One of my favorite cards, being an old Senators fan, represents one of the most obviously
botched cards in the set: lefty Pete Burnside’s #14. He is shown following through on a pitch in a full Senators home uniform, even though he is properly identified as a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles. (He had been traded to the Orioles in December 1962, a few months before this first series card hit store shelves.) Compounding matters, his small action shot shows him with the team name on his old Tigers’ jersey (back in 1959 or 1960) airbrushed out and a crude “W” drawn on his cap.

The only other player in the set shown wearing his previous team’s hat is pitcher Stan Williams (#42). He has on his Dodgers hat in the large photo, but the Topps artists vainly tried to draw the Yankees’ interlocking “NY” on his action photo cap.

Six traded players — including Dick Groat, Bob Turley and Don Zimmer — are pictured in their color photo wearing caps that have the previous team’s logo airbrushed off. The new team’s letter or logo is drawn on the action photo’s cap.

luis-aparicio-69-toppsFive players who had been traded to the Orioles posed a real challenge for Topps. The Orioles players wore caps with a relatively wide horizontal bird on them. Results of the attempts to draw an oriole on the five action photo hats were mixed, to be charitable. Attempts to recreate the Tigers’ old English “D” also proved difficult.

In most cases, the airbrushing did little to hide the identity of the player’s previous team and, given the crude results, you have to wonder why Topps bothered.

Nonetheless, the ’63 set is highly regarded by collectors for its overall design and sharp color photos. The bright, orange on white-stock, backs of the cards were far more readable than those of previous years.

Natalie Wood and Ron Swoboda

I have shared this story before, but not yet with this group. People who know me know that I love movies and I love baseball. For the most part these interests do not overlap — One day I’ll watch a movie, and the next day I’ll watch a baseball game, but rarely can I do both at the same time.

About a year ago I was watching Penelope, a delightful madcap romp from 1966 starring Natalie Wood, one of my favorite actresses from the past. I had never seen the movie before.  And then, this scene, with Wood and Peter Falk, happened.

 

You can see enough of the wrapper (time 0:45 to 0:55) and the card backs (1:33 to 1:45) to confirm that this was a pack of 1966 Topps cards. This was also the first year that Ron Swoboda got a card to himself.

The entire movie is fun, but this scene alone is priceless. This is the card that Penelope found at the top of her pack.

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2013 Bowman Inception

img_4711At the time that the 2013 Bowman Inception series was released I had not yet been on Twitter. I didn’t read the card blogs and was unaware that the product existed. This changed on a trip to my local card shop (LCS). At the time I was at the stage of collecting modern cards where I was solely hit driven. I was in search of the most autographs per box for the money. That is when the shop owner told me about the new autograph-only prospect proimg_4710duct that had just come out. I pulled up the checklist on my phone and decided to give it a try and opened a box, I enjoyed it so much that one box turned into three on that trip and eventually two more.

At five cards per box I was quickly halfway to completing the base set so that is what I set out to do. Over the next year I set out on the quest to complete the set, which I did rather quickly sans redemptions that had not yet been filled by Topps. The final two cards I acquired to complete the set were Alen Hanson who took quite a long time to sign his cards and Yasiel Puig which is the only stated short print of the set and is his first certified aimg_4709utograph card.

Over the three years since this set was released it has held up rather well for a prospect set. 33 of 47 players have reached the majors totaling 101.9 bWAR between them. The group includes three Rookies of the Year winners in Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Jose Fernandez. All-Stars include Seager, Fernandez (two times), Puig and Addison Russell. Seager also has a Silver Slugger award to his name. On a somber note two players featured in this set, Oscar Taveras and Fernandez, have since passed away leaving us to only dream on the potential that will forever go unrealized.

Several of the playeimg_4708rs have been involved in major trades this offseason. Jorge Soler traded to the Royals for Wade Davis. Lucas Giolito traded to the White Sox as part of the Adam Eaton trade. Taijuan Walker traded to the D’Backs as the primary return for Jean Segura. For me it is fun to follow a group of players that are linked really only by a set of pictures on cardboard. I look forward to checking back in on this group through the years.

The complete checklist can be found here.