Thursday, October 8, 2015

Pope's visit inspires Flags of the World custom

As a kid I collected the 1956 Topps Flags of the World set, and as an adult I built the set again (and still have it).

Still, when I began to notice the Vatican flag all over television during Pope Francis' visit to the U.S. in late September, I had to get out my card set to see whether the Vatican flag had been part of the original Topps set.

It wasn't. So I made one.

If you're a regular reader of the blog, you probably saw my two earlier Flags of the World custom cards: Isis (Aug. 25) and Iran (Sept. 18). Those were more political statements in the guise of bubblegum cards, than an updating in the spirit of the old Topps set.

My Vatican flag card is the latter.

It could have easily been part of the Topps Flags issue back in 1956. And, as is my usual practice with my custom cards, my Vatican card was done in a retro mode as if it HAD been issued in 1956. (As a custom card maker I  try to avoid anachronism in my creations.)

In that regard, I tried to keep my card back as true to the original format as possible, with the "stats" on back reflecting the reality of 1956.

Those of my generation may find familiar the youngster giving the language lesson in the "How They Say" panel at bottom.

Did you recognize Speck the Altar Boy? Speck was a newspaper cartoon syndicated between 1953-79. The cartoon was originally created by Tut Le Blanc, 1953-54, then taken over by Margaret Ahern in 1955.

I suspect Speck the Altar Boy went into decline after the horrific crimes of mass murderer Richard Speck came to light in Chicago in 1966. If that didn't put a cloud over the cartoon, the surfacing of decades of clerical pedophilia and its cover-up, apocryphally linked to altar boys, made a cartoon about an altar boy uncomfortable subject matter.

(If you want to reminisce about Speck's glory days, here's a link to a 1960 compilation of the cartoons: Speck the Altar Boy ).

I've got a handful of other ideas for Flags of the World custom cards that Topps missed in 1956. The Topps set had 88 cards at a time when the United Nations had 80 members. Perhaps in the coming months I'll work up at least a handful more.

You can purchase this card. You can obtain a copy of this (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 Aug. 14, 2015. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Hawkeye great added to 1955-style All-Americans

A posting on one of the baseball card forums that a follow inspired me to jump my line of pending custom card projects to create a card for one of the greatest linemen in Big 10 history: Iowa's Cal Jones.

He is little remembered today by fans or collectors because he died tragically after just one season of professional football in Canada's pre-CFL era. His image, however, may be more familiar, as Jones was the first college athlete and the first black athlete to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. A tight portrait photo of Jones appeared on SI's seventh issue, Sept. 27, 1954. Jones was not named on the cover.

Another of his firsts was winning the Outland Trophy as college football's best lineman as a senior in 1955. In doing so he became the first black player to win one of college football's top annual awards.

There're many great accounts of Cal Jones on the internet, but I'll link one of the better write-ups here; it's by Maury White of the Des Moines Register:

Jones' story struck a chord with me because I'm a big fan of anybody inside or outside of college football who stuck it to Woody Hayes.

Jones did so in 1952 by walking away from his commitment to Ohio State so that he could attend and play ball at the University of Iowa with two of his high school teammates from Steubenville, Ohio.

Hayes' bitter protestations to Big 10 bigwigs was unavailing and no fault was found with Iowa. It is said the case was a major factor in the adoption of national letters of intent for college-bound players.

Noodle around a bit on the internet to read more of Cal Jones' story and you'll understand why I had to make a card for him.

You can purchase this card. You can obtain a copy of this (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 Aug. 14, 2015. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Tom Brown custom cards in two sports

Fifty years ago, when salaries in professional baseball and football weren't what they are today, the two-sport pro was much more common than today.

One such ballplayer was Tom Brown, who played briefly for the Washington Senators in 1963 and then switched to the gridiron, where he played five years for the Lombardi dynasty Green Bay Packers and a one-game year, 1969, with the Washington Redskins, also playing for Vince Lombardi.

I’m not going to delve too deeply into the nuts and bolts of Tom Brown’s dual professional careers.You can read the statistical highlights on the backs of my custom 1963 Topps-format baseball card and 1968 Topps-style football card.

But I will share some anecdotes.

Tom signed with the Washington Senators on Feb. 28, 1963, out of the University of Maryland for a $20,000 bonus. The Senators seemingly had to pay the big bonus to lure Brown away from a career in professional football. On Dec. 1, 1962, The Buffalo Bills had picked him 20th overall in the third round of the 1963 AFL draft. Two days later, he went in the second round, 28th overall, of the NFL draft, chosen by the Green Bay Packers.

I found it interesting that Brown was able to make the jump to the major leagues with assists from Fidel Castro and John F. Kennedy.

Because of the deteriorating situation between Cuba and the U.S. during the early years of the Communist revolution, and with a helping hand from the White House, Brown got an unexpected opportunity to open the 1963 season at first base for the Senators.

In the off-season, Washington had acquired first baseman Rogelio Alvarez from the Reds, intending him to replace the aging Harry Bright on the initial sack. (Why they wanted a .189 hitter with no power is puzzling).

Because of the political situation in Cuba, the Senators had sent a contract with salary unspecified to Alvarez there. Morris Siegel, baseball writer for the Washington Evening Star, explained the unusual contract, “Fidel Castro has a nasty habit of cutting himself in when the pot is big enough.” When Alvarez was temporarily unable to get himself out of Cuba, the Senators sent him back to the Reds.

Enter President John F. Kennedy. Just prior to the opening of the 1963 season, Senators general manager George Selkirk went to the White House for the ceremonial presentation of a season’s pass to the president.

Kennedy said he’d be glad to throw out the first ball on opening day . . . providing “that boy from Maryland” was in the lineup. Accordingly, when the Senators opened the season on April 8 at D.C. Stadium, Brown was Washington’s starting first baseman.

Brown went 0-for-2 that day against the Orioles. In fact, he went 0-for-15 before getting his first major league hit on April 25. Batting just .100 through the first three months of the season, Brown was sent down to AA York in the Eastern League, where he hit .228.

Called back up with Washington in September, mostly pinch-hitting and playing left field, Brown upped his career batting average to .147 by going 9-for-36.

A cynical person might wonder whether the Senators brought Brown back to Washington to keep him out of the hands of the Green Bay Packers.

By that time, however, Brown had determined to forego pro football to try to make a go of baseball. It’s said he made that decision while he was on the Green Bay sidelines for the Dec. 30, 1962, NFL Championship game at Yankee Stadium, watching the big bodies fly around and collide violently in 25-degree weather.

Brown was again in York for the 1964 baseball season. When he was able to bat just .217 with four home runs in 59 games, he decided to accept the blandishments of the Green Bay Packers and turned his attention to professional football.

For five seasons he played in every game with Green Bay, at safety and as a punt returner.
He won an NFL Championship ring in 1965 and Super Bowl rings in 1966 and 1967.

In 1968 he scored two touchdowns; one a 52-yard punt return and the other a 22-yard fumble recovery. He also led the team that season with a 6.9-yards-per-return and four interceptions for 66 yards.

He closed out his NFL career with the Washington Redskins. On Feb. 27, 1969, new 'Skins head coach Vince Lombardi made Brown his first trade with the new team, giving up an undisclosed draft choice. 

Brown was eager to play in Washington, where he had a successful insurance business, and to reunite with Lombardi. He played only one game in 1969, before a chroic shoulder injury sent him to the sidelines for good.

In retirement, Brown operated a non-profit youth sports training program called The Rookie League, helping to develop youngsters' baseball, football and basketball skills. Earlier this summer, he retired from that, too.

Despite the short duration of Brown's baseball career, he made it onto one mainstream baseball card, in the 1964 Topps set.
Though he played in the NFL for six seasons, he never appeared on a football card.

My new custom pair helps flesh out Brown's sports card legacy.

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 Aug. 14, 2015. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

For nine years, Carl Mays owned the A's

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.

The word association most fans make upon hearing "Carl Mays" is "Ray Chapman," the Cleveland Indian killed by a ball pitched by Mays on Aug. 16, 1920.

In reading microfilm of the March 31, 1938, issue of The Sporting News, I found a less well-known fact about the submariner. 

According to Al Demaree's "Diamond Glints" cartoon feature, Mays had an incredible mastery of the Philadelphia A's in his nine seasons in the American League, (Boston 1915-19, N.Y. Yankees 1919-23).

Mays' record against the A's was 35-3, a winning percentage of .921. From 1919-22, Mays never lost to the A's, winning 21 in that stretch.

1915: 2-0. Mays was credited with a win over the Athletics in his first major league appearance. He pitched the final three innings of a 5-3 win in Philadelphia on April 15, 1915.

1916 4-1. Among his four wins over the A's in 1916, Mays won both ends of the June 24 double-header in Boston. He came into the game in the top of the 9th inning after Babe Ruth had pinch-hit of starter Dutch Leonard. Mays held the score to 2-1, then got the win when Boston scored a pair in the bottom of the inning. He started the second game and won 3-7.

1917: 2-0. In his first game against Philadelphia in 1917, Mays started the contest on April 19. He held the A's scoreless through six innings, then gave up a run in the seventh and two in the eighth. He was pulled with one out in the ninth. Herb Pennock got the loss when the A's scored a run in the bottom of the 12th inning.

1918: 5-1. After Babe Ruth had won the season opener on April 15, Mays defeated the A's 1-0 on one hit on the 16th. While the A's got nine hits off him on the 25th, Mays got a complete-game 6-1 win. Mays again one-hit the A's on June 21, winning 13-0; it was his third consecutive shutout in nine days. Mays' only loss to the A's came at Shibe Park in the second game of the July 4 doubleheader. He gave up only one run through 10 innings, but the Red Sox only managed one run. He lost the game when the A's scored in the bottom of the 11th. Mays won his 20th game of 1918 with a 12-0 shutout of Philadelphia at Fenway on Aug. 30. He won his 21st the same day, with a complete-game 4-1 victory in the second game of the DH.

1919: 3-0. The Red Sox' season started late in 1919; Mays pitched the opener at Yankee Stadium, defeating New York 10-1. He first faced the A's on May 29, winning 7-1 in a complete game. He last pitched against Philadelphia as a Red Sox on July 7, being credited with a save. On July 30, Mays was traded to the Yankees. He first pitched against the A's wearing the New York pinstripes on Aug. 31 and won a 6-0 shutout. His last appearance on the mound that season was a complete-game 8-2 win on Sept. 26.

1920: 5-0. All of Mays' wins over Philadelphia in 1920 were complete-game efforts; the last three were shutouts, though he gave up as many as six hits.

1921: 7-0. Mays had his best season against Philadelphia in 1921, beginning on opening day with an 11-1 victory. On the penultimate day of the season, he and Babe Ruth beat the A's in both games of the Oct. 1 doubleheader. It was Mays' 27th win of the season, leading the major leagues. Ruth's 7-6 win marked his final appearance on the mound until 1930. He started the game in left field then went to the mound in the eighth with the Yankees leading 6-0. Ruth gave up six earned runs and nine hits, earning the win when New York scored in the last of the 11th inning.

1922: 6-0. Mays was again perfect against the A's in 1922. The first of his six wins took him 11 innings to notch the 6-4 victory on April 24. He followed that on May 6 with a two-hit shutout.

1923: 1-1. In his last year in the American League, Mays had three no-decisions against the A's in the month of May. His only win over Philadelphia came near the end of July. On Oct. 4, he lost 6-7, giving up 10 hits in five innings in his last appearance as a Yankee. After the season he was sold to the Cincinnati Reds.

After five years with the Reds, Mays played his final big-league season in 1929 with the N.Y. Giants. He retired with a lifetime 207-126 record (.622 winning percentage) and 2.92 ERA.
He'd had five seasons winning 20 or more games. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Mike Tomlin introduces my '55 format change

One hundred and seventy cards, and 13 years, into my "updating" of the classic 1955 Topps All-American college football series, I've determined it's time for a format revision.

If I'd known then, when I made my first-ever custom card (a '55-style Peyton Manning), what I've learned since, I would have started the project differently. For instance, I would have done a better job of matching the fonts Topps used on the card backs. I would have also justified the lines of type. But back in 2003, I didn't know how to justify type in Photoshop Elements.

I've just completed card #271 (Topps did the first 100) in my set. While working on the back of my Mike Tomlin card, I reflected for about the 171st time how hard it was to digest a footballer's career into 90-100 words. I decided that eliminating the cartoon trivia question on back would give me more freedom to present the player's biography.

It turned out that really wasn't the answer. The finished no-cartoon format just didn't look like a 1950s bubblegum card. Shifting gears once again, I decided to retain a cartoon element, but rather than using a generic cartoon that had nothing to do with the subject of the card, I would make the cartoon relevant to the player. I would also use the space below the cartoon that used to carry the upside-down trivia answer to add 10-15 words to my career summaries. 

I think that's the right choice. I've decided not to change the fonts I've been using. At this point; preserving the "look" of my cards
seems to be more important that conforming to what Topps did 60 years ago. For the same reason (really, it's not just because it's easier), I'm not going to justify the type.

Here, then, is the first of my revised-format All-American cards.

You can purchase this card. You can obtain a copy of this (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 Aug. 14, 2015. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Berra's death dimishes '52 Topps survivors

On June 10, this blog featured a necrology of the players (and managers and coaches) who had appeared in the iconic 1952 Topps set.

On that date, there were 50 surviving players. Billy Pierce died  on July 31.

With the passing of Yogi Berra on Sept. 22, now there are 48.

The 1952 Topps card was never one of my favorite Berra cards; maybe it's because he looks so somber, absent the smile that was often seen in photos and on his other cards.

Berra's death leaves three surviving Hall of Famers who appeared on the 1952 Topps set:
Monte Irvin (age 96), Red Schoendienst (92) and Willie Mays (84).

Here's the current roster of surviving subjects from 1952 Topps.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Meschery went from internment camp to NBA All-Star

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.

No matter how often Tom Meschery may have traveled on the basketball court in his six seasons in the NBA (1961-67 Philadelphia/San Francsco Warriors, 1967-71 Seattle SuperSonics), it was nothing compared to his travels as a youngster making his way to the United States from Japanese-occupied Manchuria.

Kids who took the time to read the backs of the 1961-62 Fleer basketball cards found this tantalizing tidbit on the card of Philadelphia Warriors forward Tom Meschery.

“An All-American at St. Mary's of California, the Manchuria born youngster was the Warriors' first draft choice last summer. At the time of the heaviest fighting during World War II, he was smuggled out of Manchuria by the Christian Brothers when he was three years old and taken to San Francisco."

But that card blurb glosses over the story of Meschery’s early childhood.

Bud Furillo of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner in the Feb. 9, 1963, Sporting News provided a more complete account.
Meschery’s father was a soldier in the White Russian army at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution following World War I. He fled to Harbin, Manchuria, where Tom was born in 1938.

The elder Meschery was a dental technician who came to the U.S. a year after Tom’s birth to secure a job and a home for his family.

When the boy was three, he boarded a train with his mother and sister, headed to the Chinese port of Mukden, where they prepared to board a ship for the U.S. The date was Dec. 7, 1941.

Furillo wrote, “The Japanese uncorked a few surprises that day to change plans for the Meschery family. Everyone on the ship bound for the U.S. was taken off and placed aboard another for Yokohama.”

After arrival in Japan, the Meschery family was sent to an internment camp for women and children near Tokyo.

“My first recollection of the place was scenery,” Meschery told the reporter. “It was a pretty setting, with courtyards in front of the camp.

“We were lucky, I guess,” Meschery continued, “because there was no suffering in our camp. There were 300 of us there, seven or eight to a large room. We were fed well.

“It was like a game to me. I wasn’t any quiz kid who could grasp what was going on from the time I was three until I celebrated my eighth birthday in the United States.

“When the war was drawing to a close, my sister Ann and I used to climb a ledge in front of a window. We would look out to watch the bombings. Frankly, I didn’t know who the good guys or bad guys were.”

Meschery remembered, “It just seemed like a fascinating game, watching dogfights in the sky and planes being hit. You have to understand that a kid at the age I just wasn’t aware of war’s horrors.”

The ballplayer recalled that there were only three other small children in the internment came besides himself and his sister, a year older.

“About the best friend I had was the son of the camp director,” Meschery said. “We played together all the time. Up until five years ago, I corresponded with him and used to send him packages. Then he sent me a letter which let me know he was doing rather well and wouldn’t need any more help.”

Besides his native Russian, Meschery picked up French and English while interred. His mother taught him French and a British missionary gave him his first schooling, teaching him English.

After the war, Meschery and his family were classified as displaced persons and encountered months of frustration trying to rejoin his father in America.

“First we were taken to a hospital in Tokyo,” he said. “From there we went by plane to Okinawa, then to Formosa, the Philippines, Hawaii—and finally San Francisco.

“They ran a picture in the newspapers of my father being reunited with us. I still have it.”

Meschery led the NBA twice (1961-2, 1965-66) in games played and appeared in the 1962-63 All-Star Game. Following his playing days he was head coach for the Carolina Cougars in the ABA 1971-72, and assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA, 1974-76.

The globetrotting Meschery appeared on three mainstream basketball cards during his playing days: 1961-62 Fleer, and 1969-70 and 1970-71 Topps.