Friday, April 24, 2015

1961-63 Post cereal box-back card project begins

For the past few weeks I've been working on an ambitious custom card project involving the 1961-1963 Post cereal box-back cards.

By only producing cards of 200 players each year, Post was unable to include cards of more than half of the major league players each year. Naturally, some of my favorite players didn't make it onto the backs of boxes of Rice Krinkles, Alpha-Bits, Post Toasties, etc.

Like many 10-13-year-old card collectors in the early 1960s, I made a shambles of shelves in the grocery stores' cereal aisles looking for Milwaukee Braves cards and other favorites.

My very favorite cereal in those days was Oat Flakes. I didn't realize at the time that I was unusual in that regard and that the cards I cut off those boxes would someday be regarded as scarcities among the Post series.

Alas, I no longer have them. Sometime around 1971 I packaged up all of my childhood baseball cards and sent them off to Woody Gelman's Card Collectors Company. The $17 I received was soon squandered on beer and 36-cent gasoline for my 1961 Cadillac.

While looking over the catalog from my friend Steve Bloedow's CollectAuctions' April 2 offering, something clicked when I saw he was offering a nice run of Post cereal box backs, both baseball and football.

I was delighted to find that on his web site, the scans of the offered box backs were large and in high resolution. I snapped them up and soon began the process of replacing the original player images with those of guys who hadn't originally made the cut.

The 1961 season was an expansion year for the American League, with the "old" Washington Senators moving to Minnesota and a new Senators team being formed. Out West, Gene Autry brought the American League to California by creating the Los Angeles Angels.

Like most of the baseball world, Post was surprised with how fast the stodgy AL moved when it decided to expand. While they were able to include cards of the Twins-nee-Senators in their 1961 set, they were not able to have cards of the new Washington team nor the L.A. Angels.

My new box back is based on the premise that after Post issued its first 200 cards in 1961, it issued a 50-card update to add players on the new teams, update traded players' cards and include a few promising first-year players.

My six custom cards in the 1960 Post format fit that premise in various ways.

Carl Yastrzemski. He made his big-league debut in 1961, taking over in left field after Ted Williams retired. Although I don't believe Post issued any 1961 cards showing players' minor league stats, it was the best option for my card.

Jim Kaat. Although "Kitty" had been up with the Senators briefly in both 1959 and 1960, he didn't become part of the regular rotation until after the move to Minnesota. Post didn't have a Kaat card until 1963. I originally worked up a Kaat card in the original format of the '61P set, with the pitcher in a Senators' uniform and the "MINNEAPOLIS" team designation. While the photo used was pretty much on par with most of the real 1961 Post pictures, it didn't fit in well with the rest of my "high numbers," so I opted for a photo of Kaat in a Twins' uniform.

Sandy Koufax. It's not surprising that Post didn't include Koufax in the original series. Through the 1960 season he hadn't yet really made his bones in the bigs. He had yet to have a winning season with Los Angeles, and was walking nearly 100 a season. With 1961 being his breakout year, it's reasonable to assume Koufax would have been picked for an update series.

Ted Kluszewski. Klu did have a card in the original 1961 Post set, as a White Sox. The Angeles had made him the 51st player pick in the expansion draft. If Post had issued an update series, there's no doubt he would have been included in the Angels' team set.

Jackie Jensen. Again, you can't fault Post for not having a Jensen card in its inaugural set. Citing his fear of flying and desire to spend his time at home in California, Jensen had retired and sat out the 1960 season. Post did have a Jensen card in 1962.

Frank Howard. I was surprised to find that Post had never issued a card for Hondo. I can see not including him in 1961, because to that point he had up-and-down between the Dodgers and the minor leagues every season. But by 1962-63 his monster home runs in ballparks all over the country had made him a fan favorite and he could easily have been picked for the later Post sets.

In assembling my 1961-style box back I had a significant choice to make. I decided to format the back in the original manner. That is, depending on their placement on the back, each card shares 1, 2 or 3 of its black borders with other cards.

That layout made it difficult for kids 50 years ago to cut out nice-looking cards; they could either cut the cards inside of the black borders, or include the borders on a couple of cards at the expense of the others. That same dilemma will confront those who acquire my custom sheet.

In deference to player and team collectors, I've also made singles of each of my 1961 Post customs, with complete black borders on all sides.

As per my usual custom, I'll make extras of my single cards available. I'm also going to offer the complete box-back. You might be surprised to hear that you can order the box back at a price that is way less than I'd have to get for six individual cards.

For me the research, writing, picture selection and the rest of the creative process is where I derive my principal pleasure in creating custom cards. Printing and cutting is the necessary evil, since I like to have completed cards in hand, rather than just existing as .jpeg files.

Since I don't have to align card fronts and backs, or painstakingly cut sheets into singles, I'm able to offer my custom box back at a significant price break.

Check in on the blog in coming weeks for the debut of my 1962 and 1963 Post cereal-style box backs.

You can purchase these cards. You can obtain a copy of any of my 1961 Post-style custom cards for $12.50 each, postpaid, or $9.95 each for three or more. The complete six-card box back is available for $14.50. E-mail me at for ordering details. Illustrated lists of all my available custom baseball, football and non-sports cards can be found on my blog posts of March 18, 2015.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Where's Jimmy Burke's W.S. ring?

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms ofThe Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too. 

Did a gold-digger wind up with Jimmy Burke’s 1932 Yankees World Series ring, or was it a gift to a long-time caring friend?

I found myself pondering that after I read a mid-1943 report in The Sporting News concerning the disbursement of the estate of long-time professional ballplayer, manager and coach Sunny Jim Burke.

Burke had played professionally all over the Midwest between 1896-1913, and been a major league manager with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1905 and the Browns, 1918-20 (he was the only man to manage both St. Louis major league teams). He was an off-and-on minor league manager between 1906-25, mostly in the American Association.

He was a major league coach for the Tigers (1912, 1914-18), Red Sox (1921-24) and Cubs (1926-30) before moving over to the N.Y. Yankees with Joe McCarthy in 1931. Burke’s baseball career ended when he suffered a stroke after the 1933 season, rendering him an invalid until the time of his death of pneumonia in a St. Louis hospital on March 26, 1942.

More than a year later, this news brief appeared in the "Caught on the Fly" column . . .

Miss Nellie Smith, former executor of the estate of the late Jimmy Burke, who managed both the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns and served as coach of the New York Yankees, was charged with concealing more than $83,000 of assets in the estate in an action filed in probate court in St. Louis, May 29, by William Gauvin, trust officer of the Tower Grove Bank and Trust Co.

In a petition for citation for concealment of assets, Gauvin stated he had good reason to believe that Miss Smith, a friend of Burke, is "withholding and concealing $83,000 in deeds of trust believed to have been held by Burke, $1,500 in bonds, a diamond ring presented to Burke by the New York Yankees and a watch given him by Louisville baseball fans."

Burke was manager at
Indianapolis in 1909 when
this T206 card was issued.
The inventory of the estate was filed by Miss Smith six weeks after his death, March 26, 1942, and was listed at $10,845. Three days later 13 relatives sued to have the will set aside, alleging Burke was not of sound and disposing mind when it was drawn. The bank has replaced Miss Smith as executor.

Scouring of The Sporting News for a number of months after the initial account, and a desultory google-search on the topic failed to turn up any further mention of the affair. The disposition of his Yankees ring is unrecorded.

During his playing and managing days, Burke had the reputation of being a fighter. In his days with the Cardinals, Burke had trouble with a St. Louis sportswriter named Joe Finnegan. In September of 1904, after Finnegan had called Burke "a cow's foot," (apparently those were fighting words a century ago), the two mixed it up at the Victoria Hotel in Chicago.

The Pittsburgh Press provided this colorful blow-by-blow of the fight:

“First round–Burke hit Finnegan in the lobby, and followed the blow with a left hook on the back of the neck, breaking the scribe’s collar. Burke pressed the advantage and struck Finnegan near the cigar stand. Finnegan blocked cleverly, uppercut with the left and caught Burke in the snout. Finnegan crossed his right and landed on Jimmy’s potato-trap. Burke jolted Finnegan in the rotunda and followed with a short swing near the Turkish parlor. Finnegan shot the right to the ear, and the left to the lamp. They clinched. Terrific short-arm fighting, completely wrecking Finnegan’s collar and cuff. Johnny Farrell separated the men. Time.
“Second round
—The house detective threw both fighters out in the alley. Time. Decision to Finnegan.”

Monday, April 20, 2015

Expert rated Reese as baseball's top bridge player

In 1963 Charles Goren, the world's top bridge
expert, named Pee Wee Reese and Bill Wade
among the best bridge players in the sports world.

Do you know anybody that plays bridge?

I'm 63 years old and I don't know anybody under the age of 70 who plays bridge.

For that matter, I don't know anybody more than a generation younger than myself that plays cards of any kind; that is, actually plays cards with others rather than solitaire on a computer screen or on-line poker.

When I worked at Krause Publications we had a long-time sheepshead game going on. An amorphous group of five to ten would play on coffee breaks and at lunch for a total of 45 minutes or an hour every work day. Occasionally we'd get an evening game going, as well, where sheepshead could be played as it was meant to, with rude language and beer.

For a number of years before the heyday of Texas hold'em we also had a monthly poker game, but that broke up with the passing of our principal host.

I miss those games.

Recently in a 1963 issue of The Sporting News, I read a piece about top bridge players in the sports world as enumerated by Charles Goren, the top bridge expert in the world from the 1940s through the 1960s. 

Goren's books on bridge sold more than 10 million copies. By 1958, his daily bridge column was running in nearly 200 newspapers and he had a weekly column in Sports Illustrated. From 1959-64 he had a television show on ABC.

Asked in 1963 to pick the top players in the sports world, Goren named Iowa athletic director Forest Evashevski as No. 1. Golfer Bobby Jones was Goren's pick for the second spot. He credited Arnold Palmer with having the greatest potential as a bridge player if he could have fund the time to work on his game.

In pro football ranks, Goren named Chicago Bears quarterback Bill Wade as the top player.

Among baseball players, Pee Wee Reese was Goren's pick for the top spot. He also gave a nod to Don Hoak, and said that Hoak's Pirates were the top team when it came to clubhouse bridge play.

In 1963 it was estimated that some 40 million Americans were playing bridge. My parents played bridge. All my aunts and uncles played bridge. Most of the neighbors played bridge. If I hadn't taken up poker and sheepshead at such an early age, I probably would have played bridge.

I'm too old now to learn such a complex card game. Besides the potential pool of bridge partners is dying off.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

'59, '63 Topps Maury Wills customs

Many vintage-card collectors know the story of why there are no Topps cards of Maury Wills as a Los Angeles Dodger.

The official line is that when Topps began signing players in 1951, their scout didn't think Wills had what it took to make the major leagues, and no contract was proffered to him.

For a number of years, it looked as if the scout was right, Wills was a banjo-hitting (also, coincidentally, a banjo-playing) utility player in the low minors. The Dodgers' farm people kept him moving around in an attempt to find a position that he could field without being a detriment to the defense.

But Wills always could run, and as he worked his way slowly up the Brooklyn-L.A. farm system, he became a proficient base stealer.

After nine years in the bushes, he was finally ready for The Show. He credited Spokae manager Bobby Bragan, for whom he played in 1958 with turning him into a switch-hitter, paving his way for promotion to the big club. Wills burst onto the big-league stage in time to help the Dodgers win their first World's Championship in L.A. He was integral to three more Dodgers pennants, piling up an MVP, multiple All-Star selections, a few Gold Gloves and six consecutive stolen-base titles before being traded to the Pirates for 1967.

While there were no Maury Wills cards to be found in Topps packs until 1967, kids still had a few options.

If you lived in SoCal, Wills could be found on a dozen or more local/regional baseball cards and team-issued collectibles. Nationally, he was available on Post cereal and Jell-O box backs 1961-63. When Fleer made a run at Topps monopoly on current-player bubblegum cards in 1963, Maury Wills,, fresh from his MVP win, was their main attraction.

Over the years I've been asked to create some of the "missing" Topps Maury Wills cards; it was never high on my to-do list. Besides, lots of other custom-card guys were filling the gaps (though few, if any, have undertaken to make the card backs).

Recently, however, one of my most regular followers made a good case, and the availability of a couple of really nice circa 1960 color photos compelled me to action.

Thus you have here my take on 1959 and 1963 Topps-style Maury Wills cards.

These will likely be the only Topps-style cards of Wills that I undertake, though it is tempting to see what I could do to improve what Topps did in 1969 making an Expos card of Wills with a heavily airbrushed Pirates uniform.

While working on my '63-style Wills card, I noticed that Topps was not entirely consistent in some of its details between earlier and later series.

For instance, on some cards the player position on front and back was spelled out, while on some cards it was abbreviated. On some Dodgers cards, the team name was spelled out, "LOS ANGELES DODGERS", while on some cards it was abbreviated "L.A. DODGERS".

In the biographical data, sometimes the birth date was spelled out, as "Oct. 2, 1932", and sometimes is was presented as "10/2/32".

Another curious inconsistency is that beginning with card #512, in the midst of the high-numbers, the cards included a vertical rule in the stats box between the TEAM and LEA. columns. Strange, eh?

For my 1963 Wills card, I picked and chose the options that best suited my design eye.

Since I've now created templates for 1959 All-Star Rookie and 1963 Topps cards, you may see more of them in the future.

You can purchase these cards. You can obtain a copy of these (or any of my custom cards) for $12.50 each, postpaid, or $9.95 each for three or more. E-mail me at for ordering details. Illustrated lists of all my available custom baseball, football and non-sports cards can be found on my blog posts of March 18, 2015.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Rozelle card revenue raise reported

In reading over early 1963 microfilm of The Sporting News recently, I spotted an illustration about football card revenue on Page 1 of the Jan. 12 issue.

The article detailed Rozelle's first three years (1960-1962) as Commissioner of the NFL. 

One of the specifics from the article that was used in the illustration concerned Rozelle's role in raising football card revenue to the players' pension fund from $15,000 in 1960 to $110,000 in 1962.

The cartoon depicts a couple of kids climbing on a grocery store shelf in search of (presumably) a box of Post cereal with Y.A. Tittle among the cards printed on the box back.

I always enjoy finding hobby-specific content when I'm reading those 50-year-old TSN back issues.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mertes busted up two extra-innings no-hitters

Though Mertes was photographed in the
uniform of the Chicago White Stockings
on this 1903-04 E107 caramel card, his
team is given as the N.Y. Giants.
Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too. 

Versatile Sam Mertes played every position during his 10 years in the major leagues around the turn of the 20th Century.

He also played pro ball all over the country. A San Francisco native, Mertes broke into pro ball at 19, playing for three different teams in the Central California League in 1892. He first made the major league in 1896 with Philadelphia. After a year back in the bushes he returned to the National League with the Anson-less Chicago Orphans in 1898-1900. 

When the American League was formed he jumped to the Chicago White Stockings in 1901-02, then spent 1903-06 with the N.Y. Giants and ended his big league days with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1906.

In those 10 major league seasons, Mertes hit .279 and in 1903 led the N.L. with 32 doubles and tied with 104 RBIs.

Before, during and after, his years in the major leagues, Mertes played in the minors from Wilmington to Stockton and Toronto to Los Angeles between 1892-1909.

If he his remembered by baseball historians today at all, it is because Mertes had the distinction of breaking up two no-hitters with extra-inning singles. 

In the debut season of the American League, on May 9, 1901, Mertes, playing for the Chicago White Stockings, singled in the 10th inning to ruin a no-hit bid by Cleveland's Earl Moore and spark a game-winning (4-2) rally. Chicago went on to win the first A.L. pennant.

With John McGraw's N.Y. Giants on June 11, 1904, Mertes broke up a no-hitter by Cubs pitcher Bob Wicker, again with a 10th inning single. It was the only hit given up by Wicker in winning 0-1 in 12 innings. Once again, Mertes' team won the pennant that season.

Though his big league heyday fell between the first great period of tobacco card issue in the late 1880s, and second era of cigarette cards, 1909-1919, Mertes can be found on a decent number of baseball cards, most of them scarce-to-rare. Any of them will set you back several hundred to several thousand dollars -- if you can find them.

The most common of Mertes' cards is in the caramel issue known as E107 issued in 1903-04. His rarest card was also issued in 1904, with the Allegheny Card Company's baseball game. Like all Allegheny cards, it is unique.

Mertes also appears on at least two cabinet card issues of the 1900s. He is pictured in a N.Y. Giants uniform on a cabinet card from renowned Boston photographer Carl Horner (shown here at left).

There are also three variations of Mertes' cards in the Sporting Life cabinet card series. He was issued pictured with the Giants (on right) in 1903, the Cardinals

in 1906 and the Boston Doves in 1907, though he doesn't appear to have ever played for Boston. In the same W600 cabinet series, cards of both of Mertes' pitcher victims Earl Moore and Bob Wicker, were issued.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Customs expand '60T All-Star selections

I've always been a fan of the 1960 Topps nigh-number All-Star cards. Maybe it's the white background, or the big colorful "60" or the player selection (lots of Milwaukee Braves).

I don't know on what basis Sport magazine made its all-star selections for that subset, but a lot of great players were  missed.

Two such worthy selections are the subjects of my custom card additions to that issue.

Ted Williams, of course, wasn't under a Topps contract in 1960. And Roberto Clemente, whom Topps was trying to convert to "Bob" in that era, was just coming into his own as a star outfielder.

There's really nothing much to add here, I'll just post the pictures for your enjoyment. 

You can purchase these cards. You can obtain a copy of these (or any of my custom cards) for $12.50 each, postpaid, or $9.95 each for three or more. E-mail me at for ordering details. Illustrated lists of all my available custom baseball, football and non-sports cards can be found on my blog posts of March 18, 2015.