Ponder This

I want to remind everyone that this blog is part of SABR’s Baseball Cards Committee.  I urge any of you slackers to join SABR , an organization filled with lots of great groups like this one, people who love to talk about (obsess over) biographies, records, the Negro Leagues, the 19th Century, statistics, poetry, board games, and dozens more.  You are free to join any or all of these groups, and you are free to start your own.  This group started last fall because Chris Dial and I said, “Hey, I wonder if anyone would be interested in a Baseball Cards committee?” Yes, in turns out.

After less than four months of work, this is our 100th post — a pretty fine output for a bunch of part-timers. I want to stress that this blog does not take an editorial position on what people should collect, or how people should collect.  I have my likes and dislikes, and I am one of the more active posters, but the only thing keeping your favorite sets (or your favorite collecting habits) from getting their due is that you aren’t writing about it.

So step right up!

If you are a frequent blog reader, you might have noticed an annoying tendency to write disrespectfully about high-end collecting: extreme grade-sensitive cards, using grading services, and storing cards in lifeless albums and blocks of plastic.  Qui, moi?

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If I am guilty of anything, it is that I want to spread the message that high-end collecting is not the only game in town.  I would suggest that the rise of grading services and condition-sensitive collecting drove a lot of people, people that didn’t want to spend $125 for this Jim Davenport card, out of the hobby.  One of the reasons I was motivated to start this committee and blog was to show people that you don’t have to be rich to collect and enjoy your childhood hobby.  (I have heard from many of these people in the past few months.)

Put away the price guide for a second and find out what cards you actually like, and how you enjoy your cards.  That’s what we want to blog about.  (You can buy a perfectly excellent 1965 Davenport for $5, and for $10 you can get one that would require a magnifying glass to find its flaws.)  If you like collecting high-end graded cards, great, write a post about it and we’ll run it.

Thought of the day: “Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ would be such a cool painting, but two of the frame corners are chipped, so meh.”

So: if you want to want to build a set of 1961 Topps, all Near Mint, knock yourself out. If you don’t have 100 grand laying around, there is still a place for you in the hobby.

The card below would run you about $50 because (oh, the horror) it is only in “EX-MT” condition.  The Davenport above, I remind you, is $125.

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Ponder this question.  If you woke up tomorrow and every baseball card in the world was suddenly worth 10% of what it is worth today, would this make you happy?  Your collection just lost 90% of its value — that is horrible!

Despite a sizeable collection of vintage cards, I would be thrilled.  I like getting more and different cards, and in this alternative universe I would be able to afford a lot cards that I can’t afford now.  This would be wonderful.

I have read blog posts that “review” old card sets, and I am struck by how often I read: “A fine attractive set filled with stars, but the lack of a tough high number series drags the set down a bit for most collectors.”  In other words, the set is less popular because the cards aren’t expensive enough.  Pardon my French, but WTF?

My message is: if you like baseball cards, there is a place for you.  Collect the cards you like.  And for God’s sake, play with them.

 

 

Not Hooked on Heritage

“You realize that our mistrust of the future makes it hard to give up the past.”
― Chuck Palahniuk on Topps Heritage cards

 

What is it about Topps Heritage that leaves me cold? It’s the kind of idea I’m predisposed to love, but I don’t.

God knows I’ve tried to dig them. In fact, I collected/bought, a full 2007 Heritage master set, with a smattering of inserts. I don’t even like the original cards that much but there I was, scrambling for 1958 manqués (I love that word!), short prints and all. It’s perhaps in the misery of going after that set that my disdain for Heritage began.

I do love the 1959 design and was all prepared to go at it again in 2008, but there’s something missing in the faux-retro cards. I can’t quite put my finger on it but the new cards don’t seem to put in the effort, pictorially, of the old ones. Compare the two:

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There’s something in Heritage that is fuzzy, fake, quasi-painterly, but not well-painted and not interesting. The hook is all in the design but, as this blog pointed out recently in its poll on favorite 1970’s cards, the attraction of a card goes beyond its mere design and Heritage, for me, points out that design alone doesn’t cut it. The photos need to be dynamic and appealing. It’s why cards like the 1953 Bowman set are so wonderful. There isn’t even a design to speak of; it’s simply a series of incredible pictures.

1953-Bowman-Yogi-Berra

I dutifully bought two jumbo packs of the new Heritage. Eh. First of all, the 1968’s do nothing for me. Second, the photos left me flat. I ended up giving all the cards to my 21-year old who first wanted the Cubs, then took them all for the bus ride back to college.

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The thing is he totally loved the cards! They were new to him, old in a non-defined way because he’s not bringing any old man baggage to a 49-year old design, but fresh. They may be enough to restart his interest in the hobby.

I think freshness is the key. An old design with mediocre photography doesn’t feel fresh to me, it feels tired. Maybe I’d feel different if the gimmick didn’t extend over a full set. I kind of like Topps Archive – several different old designs, with old players in new looks and new players in old looks. That works for me; Heritage most emphatically does not.

 

The Johnny Lindell Mystery

Baseball cards are touchstones; evoking childhood memories and pleasurable collecting experiences. A favorite player’s exploits or a key acquisition to complete a set can be conjured up with just a glance. Also certain cards can take you to a specific time and place. The 1949 Leaf Johnny Lindell is such a card.

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The Lindell card transports me back to the early ‘70s. My best friend at school told me a story about exploring an abandoned house. The old man who lived there had recently died. Of course he made it sound as the gentleman had died in the house, resulting in the certainty of it being haunted.  I subsequently learned that the man died in a nursing home.

The friend stated that the contents left in the dwelling were strewn about-probably by him-with most of the stuff dumped on the floor. There, in a cardboard box, he found, amongst other things, the Johnny Lindell card. Applying the “finders keepers” rule, my buddy laid claim to the card.

It goes without saying that my “collector’s gene” kicked in immediately. I negotiated a trade giving the friend some current cards in exchange. The card was nowhere near mint condition, but it was by far my oldest card. From that day forward, I’ve often pondered why it was in the house.

“Kids living in the house” is the most logical explanation for the card ending up on the shack’s floor. This ramshackle place undoubtedly saw many migrant families come-and-go. Central Washington has experienced waves of immigrants and emigrants trying to escape poverty by taking advantage of plentiful agriculture jobs. My parents and grandparents were part of the “Ozark Diaspora” in the ‘40s and ‘50s. The child collector theory is plausible, but the card was at least 22 years old at the time and apparently no other cards were present in the house.

It is possible that the old man had a special affinity for Johnny Lindell. After all he was a hero of the 1947 World Series in which he batted .500. Maybe the man remembered Johnny as a “war era” star since his deferment kept him playing through ’44 against weak competition.

How a ’49 Leaf Johnny Lindell ending up in crumbling house in Selah, Washington will always remain a mystery. However, it serves as a great example of the memories a single card can evoke. The accompanying photo is the actual card.

The ’49 Leaf cards measure 2 3/8 x 2 7/8 with 98 in the set. The background features bright colors with a colorized photo. This colorization process is primitive with a limited blue and red uniform pallet. The player’s face is painted with flesh tones.

To learn more about Johnny Lindell’s career, check out Rob Neyer’s BioProject biography.

A Card Too Far

The vast majority of my collection consists of either (a) complete sets, or (b) sets I am working on. I completed 1968 through 1971 in the 1980s, and in the past 30 years I have managed to push it all the way back to … 1964.

I do not work on one set a time — I work (slowly and randomly) on a bunch of things, which gives me more flexibility when I see an affordable lot. I might go months without buying anything, and then see some 1954 Topps commons that look great. I have no timetable. I would be content not finishing another set. We shall see.

Here is where I stand at the moment on my 1952-63 Topps sets.

Year Total Have Need %
1952 407 33 374 8%
1953 274 42 232 15%
1954 250 56 194 22%
1955 206 46 160 22%
1956 340 207 133 61%
1957 407 243 164 60%
1958 495 300 195 61%
1959 572 360 212 63%
1960 572 348 224 61%
1961 587 472 115 80%
1962 598 508 90 85%
1963 576 543 33 94%

I have 23 1952 cards, and I have 543 1963 cards.

Logically, 1963 seems like the next set that I should finish — look how close I am! But it’s just not gonna happen.

One of the cards I need is #537.

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I have nothing against Pete Rose. Or, for that matter, Ken McMullen, Al Weis, and Pedro Gonzalez. Heck, I liked Pete Rose as a player, and I wish we had a player like him around today. He gambled a bit? Zzzzz.

But I consider this a rather ordinary card, perhaps even a bit ugly. I like the 1963 base design quite a bit, but I gotta be blunt here: the rookies and leaders subsets, both of which employ the “floating heads” technique, are pretty lame. (Do people disagree? Anyone?)

If I am patient enough, and compromise a bit on condition, I might be able to find this card for $500. We all have our budgets, but I just can’t see myself spending $500 for this. Its probably worth $5-10 to me as a card, and perhaps as much as $50 as a “I must complete this set!” card.

But if I have $500 laying around (spoiler: I really don’t), I could instead buy all of these 1955 cards (also “needed”) in the same condition.

Oh, and I’d have about $250 left over. Not really a difficult call for me.

I first heard of the concept of the “rookie card” almost 40 years ago, when a dealer explained to me why some of his cards seemed to be oddly priced. I thought, and still think, the whole thing is contrived. There was no increased demand for a Rose rookie card until dealers jacked the price up.

Dealers: “This card is scarce and desirable.”

Collectors: “OK, I must buy this card.”

Dealers: “Cool, its now actually a bit scarce.”

Its a not a card anyone would otherwise care about.

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But even if there is additional demand for the first Pete Rose card, wouldn’t this be a better choice? For my money, this is actually Pete Rose’s first real card. Isn’t this, objectively, 10 times the card of the 1963 … thing? This is one heck of nice card, to be honest. And it is less than 20% of the price.

I like the multi-person rookie cards that came along later in the decade. They are a fun subset, like the World Series cards or the league leaders cards. But the “demand” for them is way overblown and makes set collecting unnecessarily expensive.

The Nolan Ryan rookie card is a cute little addition to the 1968 set. But the Bob Gibson (the best player in baseball at the time) is absolute magic.

 

 

 

Its Miller Times Two

There are many players in baseball history who shared the same name. Not quite as common are identically named men being active at the same time. Here is look at some of the “same name” players who, for at least one year, had cards in the same set.

Bob L miller 1Bob G miller 2

Perhaps the most famous example are the two Bob Millers who played for the original ’62 Mets. Bob L. Miller (on the left) was the Mets #1 expansion draft pick from St. Louis. He would play for 10 different teams in a career that stretched into the ‘70s. Bob G. Miller was on the way out when he joined the first year Mets. His stint at the Polo Grounds would mark the end of his mediocre career. Using Retrosheet I was able to find at least three instances where they both pitched in the same game. Incidentally, Bob G. came over from the Reds in a May ‘62 deal for Don Zimmer. This resulted in Don Zimmer’s ’62 card having him pictured as a Met but on the Reds.

geo H Burns 22 BosGeo J Burns 22 Cin

The oldest two-name examples I found were ’22 Exhibit Supply Co. cards for the two George Burns. Both Georges were excellent players in the early 20th Century. First baseman George H. Burns had a stellar 16 year career highlighted by winning the 1926 AL MVP for Cleveland. I found out after reading Joseph Wancho’s SABR BioProject piece that his post-baseball career was sheriff’s deputy for King Country, Washington where I live. George J. Burns played outfield for John McGraw’s Giants from ’11-’16 before being traded to the Reds after the ’22 season. His solid 15 year career included leading the NL in runs scored five times and stolen bases twice. R. J. Lesch’s BioProject entry is very informative. As far as I can determine, neither man had a wife named Gracie Allen.

hal W smith piretshal R smith 1

The fact that both Hal Smiths played catcher undoubtedly led to some confusion. Hal W. Smith played for five teams in a career lasting 10 years. His home run in the 8th inning of the 1960 Worlds Series put the Pirates ahead, only to see the Yankees tie it in the top of the ninth. Hal could have been the hero instead of Mazeroski. Hal R. Smith was mainstay with the Cardinals from ’56-’61. He resurfaced for a few games with the Giants in ’65.

58 Bob G SMith Pit58 Bob W Smith Bos

If that pair of Smiths wasn’t confusing enough, there were two pitchers named Bob Smith in the late ‘50s. Bob G. had a six year career with five teams. Bob W. Smith played for three clubs in the span of his two years in the “bigs.” Coincidently, both broke in with the Red Sox.

Frank Baker Jr.Frank W Baker

1971 saw cards for two Frank Bakers. Outfielder Frank Baker Jr. played for Cleveland in total of 125 games in ’69 and ’71. Infielder Frank W. Baker came up with the Yankees in ’70 and finished up with Baltimore in ’74 having played a total of 146 games.

Dave W. RobertsDave A Roberts

In ‘72 the Padres selected Dave W. Roberts, from the University of Oregon, #1 overall in the amateur draft. He replaced Dave A. Roberts who they traded to Houston after the ’71 season. Dave W. never came close to living up to his lofty draft position. He never developed into a major league catcher and struggled to find a position with three teams. Dave A. Roberts was a decent pitcher for eight teams from ’69-’81. His best year was ‘73 when he won 17 games as an Astro.

81 kevin_J brown Mil.81 Kevin D Brown Pit.

Kevin D Brown   Kevin J. Brown

These two 1991 Donruss cards proves the existence of another pitcher named Kevin Brown. Kevin D. Brown pitched for three teams from ’90-92 racking up three victories. Kevin J. Brown was one of the most prominent pitchers of the ‘90s totaling 211 career wins. He was a key part of the ’97 Florida Marlins championship and helped San Diego reach the World Series in ’98.

Greg A Harris Red SoxGreg W Harris Padres

Greg A. Harris and Greg W. Harris are pictured here in ’90. Greg A. had a 15 year stint in the majors with eight teams winning 74 games. Greg W. pitched for eight years primarily with San Diego notching 45 victories.

M. G Brown Red Sox 84M.C Brown Angels 84

Mike G. Brown was part of a trade deadline deal in 1986 between Seattle and Boston which sent Dave Henderson east. Red Sox fans fondly remember “Hendu’s” post-season heroics that year. Mike G. didn’t fare so well in Seattle closing out his career in ’87 with a total of 12 MLB wins. Outfielder Mike C. Brown had a similarly lackluster career with the Pirates and Angels form ’83-’86.

pat kelly o's1980- D Pat Kelly BJ

The two Pat Kelly’s had cards in 1980. Outfielder Pat Kelly had a 15 year career and was an original KC Royal in ‘69. His speed on the base paths made him a valuable asset to the White Sox and Orioles as well. He is the brother of ‘60s-‘70s Cleveland Browns running back Leroy Kelly. Dale Patrick “Pat” Kelly had a “cup of coffee” with the Blue Jays in 1980. He appeared in only three games before becoming a long tenured, minor league manager.

Brian R Hunter Sea.Brian L Hunter

Personally, the two most confusing “same name” players are the Brian Hunters. Both players’ careers spanned roughly the same era and each had a stint the Mariners, my home team, in the ‘90s. Brian R. started with the Braves in ’91 and then bounced around for the better part of a decade playing outfield and first base for six different teams. Brian L. was a speedy outfielder for seven teams between ’94 and ’03.

Penas

The great Pirates catcher Tony Pena’s son Tony F. Pena Jr. was a shortstop for Boston and KC from ’06-’09. He was the Royals starter in ’07 but didn’t see sustained success. Breaking in the same years was Ramon Antonio Pena a pitcher. This Tony started with Arizona and “hung them up” after the’11 season with the White Sox.

Darrell David Carp.david carpenter 1

Darrell David “Dave” Carpenter and Dave L. Carpenter experienced mediocre pitching careers. David L. achieved one win in 4 seasons from ’12-’15 while Darrell “Dave” won 11 times from ’11-‘15.

Chris R Young P 14C B Young Out.

A basketball player at Princeton, 6’10’ Chris R. Young chose baseball and has put together a 12 year career with five teams. He won 12 games twice and has total of 79 from ’04-’16. Chris B. Young has played for five teams as well from ’06-’16. As a starter for Arizona in ‘10, he had 91 RBI. According to Baseball Reference, the two have never faced each other.

bobby J Jonesbobby M. Jones

Bobby J. Jones was a serviceable pitcher from ’93-’02 amassing 97 wins. Bobby M. Jones played from ’97-’05 with middling results.

Pedro A martinezPedro Martinez HOF

To say the career of Pedro (Aquino) Martinez’s career was over-shadowed is a gross understatement. He toiled for 4 teams from ’93-’97 accruing seven wins. Hall-of-Famer Pedro Martinez finished with 219 wins.

Alex Gonzalez Marlins    Alex S. Gon

Playing primarily with the Marlins, shortstop Alex Gonzales was a solid performer for 16 seasons from ’98-’14. He was an All-Star in ’99 and finished with lifetime average of .290. His contemporary, Alex S. Gonzalez played from ’94-’06 with six teams.

MayMaye

ServaisService

I will conclude with players with the same pronunciation of their names but different spellings. Scott Servais and Scott Service played concurrently as did Lee May and Lee Maye.

If you know of other cards, please let us know in the comments or on Twitter.

 

Die Cuts (or, as German card collectors call them, The Cuts)

Die cut cards have been around for a long time, 19th century style long time. I’m not going to write about the history of die cuts; that’s not my style. You want to know more about them, go for it. You’re not gonna get that here.

In the mid-‘80’s, Donruss put out Pop-ups in conjunction with their set of All-Stars. Here’s a Wade Boggs card:

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Here’s the eye-popping special effect:

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The worst Kellogg’s set did a better job of 3-D. Most die cuts don’t even try that hard. You just pop out the player and stick him in a little paper stand. Not very believable, if you ask me.

Every once in a while a die cut set catches my eye.  The 1973 Johnny Pro Orioles set is all kinds of awesome. Great players, good pictures, and even a couple of harder to come by cards – Brooks Robinson, Bobby Grich and Jim Palmer got two poses each! I’m still on the trail of Brooks batting and Palmer in his windup. The supply seems very scarce, but, fortunately for me, the demand is low. If I ever track them down they shouldn’t set me back too much. Orlando Pena’s card, oddly, is not die cut. Pena probably wasn’t worth the price of the labor!

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The next year Johnny Pro put out a Phillies set. While the O’s got 28 cards, the Phils got only 12. The Orioles deserved more cards, they were good. The Phillies were lousy, but, and it’s a big Kardashian-sized but, the Johnny Pro set had a Mike Schmidt card. Though both sets have a solid color background, there’s something unfinished about the Phillies set, all in white. The green of the Orioles cards seems somehow more polished. I have no idea what Johnny Pro Enterprises did, but their corporate filing was forfeited in 1979. The significance of that also something I have no idea about.

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The only other die cut set I went gaga over was a Dodgers team issued pinup set from 1963. A most incredible set of actual head shots on cartoony hand drawn bodies; it seems likely that this set, in its super cool envelope, was sold at the ballpark. They look a lot like the 1938 Goudey Heads-up cards, but so much better. They’re really big, 7 ¼” X 8 ½”.

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People are probably most familiar with the 1964 Topps Stand-ups. Weird that I never dug those; I can’t figure out why. They seem right in my wheelhouse and I probably could’ve gotten them relatively cheaply in the ‘70’s, when cards like that were easy to find and inexpensive.  I should at least have a Wayne Causey in my collection.

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It Falls Between the Lines

68 Lines Front68 Lines Back

All collectors have experienced the disappointment of opening a pack and finding mostly cards you already possess. The joyous anticipation of peeling open a wax pack or tearing the Mylar wrapper is quickly extinguished when only duplicates appear. Equally frustrating is getting numerous cards of the same player. Of course I only have anecdotal evidence, but occasionally it seems the random sorting process goes awry and the same player ends up in most of the packs.

70 Syd O'Brien

In 1970, I remember getting five Syd O’Brien cards out of six or seven packs I purchased. I can still see him with his arms spread in a mock infielders pose. But the multiple “Syds” pale in comparison to the deluge of Dick Lines cards I received in ’68.

1968 was my first year collecting which probably explains why I vividly remember opening pack after pack containing the Senators reliever. After acquiring a few more from my brother and friends, I ended up with 10. I must have derived some pleasure from hording the Washington southpaw. The card left such an impression on me that I still remember that the answer to the cartoon trivia question on the back is Darold Knowles. Dick’s pitching follow though pose at Yankee Stadium may be more familiar to me than memories of my wedding or birth of my son!

Ironically, Lines didn’t even pitch for the Senators in ’68 and never appeared in the majors again. He did have a great year in ’66, appearing in 53 games, winning five and losing two, with a 2.28 ERA and three saves. Dick’s two year major league totals include: seven wins, seven losses and a 2.83 ERA. He spent 11 seasons in the minors, retiring after the ’69 season. 1967 is the only other year a card was produced for Dick.

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According to Baseball Reference, Dick was born in Montreal and is still living at the age of 78. Perhaps I should contact him and let him know what an outsized impact he’s had on me. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Dick’s short, mediocre career may have contributed, psychologically, to my own general mediocrity. Perhaps at six years of age, Dick Lines’ career line on the card’s back convinced me of life’s limitations. If only Henry Aaron had been in all those packs, I might be rich and famous. Curse you, Dick Lines!