Here's my latest custom card creation. It's a 1954 Bowman-style card of country music legend Charley Pride as a pitcher for the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League. Ever since I learned that Pride had pitched for my home town minor league team, the Fond du Lac Panthers in the Class D Wisconsin State League in 1953, I've been interested in his professional baseball career.
When I found a nice black-and-white photo of Pride in his Memphis uniform in a book about the Negro Leagues, I knew someday I'd be making a card of him.
I'm going to walk you through some of the steps I took to make this card, in case you're interested in making your own custom cards.
I do two basic types of custom cards. The first is cards of players who were active in the year of the card's style, but who never appeared in that particular card set. For these I usually create the backs to read as they would have in the year of issue. The second style is to use card formats from the past, with modern players. All of my 110+ 1955 All-American style football cards are of this type. In this format I write the backs as up-to-date as possible.
My Charley Pride card is something of a hybrid. I chose a card format that was contemporary to his playing days (though no Negro Leaguers or minor leaguers appeared in the 1954 Bowman set), but wrote the back to present a complete summary of his baseball days . . . or at least as complete as you can be in about 150 words.
In the area where a player's previous season and lifetime stats would appear on as real '54 Bowman, I created a "Music Career Record" with such things as Billboard #1 Hits, Albums Sold, Grammys, major awards, etc. I would have used his baseball stats, but there aren't many of those available. The Negro Leagues didn't keep stats, and he never played on any minor league team in Organized Baseball long enough to have his stats recorded in league records, which usually only did so for players in 10 or more games.
I dithered quite a bit in choosing the card format to use. I strongly considered 1951 and 1952 Bowman, and 1953 and 1954 Topps before landing on 1954 Bowman. In colorizing the black-and-white photo, I kept the "look" of '54B in mind, minimizing a lot of the background details and muting the background colors. While I like the 1951 and 1952 Bowman formats, with their relatively clean front designs, and backs that are heavy on career summary and light on stats, their smaller size was a sticking point. For my custom cards I like to "go big or go home," except when the subject matter cries out for the smaller format. Too, the earlier Bowmans, along with the 1953 Topps, require more of an artwork look rather than a photograph. I use a dinosaur edition Photoshop Elements 2.0 graphics program, and I'm still learning how to give photos the look of a painting, so that is ultimately what caused me to reject those models. A 1954 Topps card was a distinct possibility. I could have used my full-length picture of Pride for the small image, and flopped the head-and-shoulders area for the color portrait. I even rounded up some cartoons to use on the back. I recently found a more close-up photo of Pride in uniform on his official website, and I may noodle around some with that 1954 Topps format, since I've already put in all the work on the biographical research. His web site, by the way, is where I found the autograph that appears on my card's front. Surprisingly, autograph images are surprisingly easy to find on the internet, and with a little bit of Photoshop work to give them cleaner edges, they can readily be used on custom cards.
That research was really one of my biggest hang-ups in doing a Charlie Pride card. So much of what you find in a google search is copied from source to source and, at least to my way of thinking, lacks credibility. For instance, both Pride's official web site and most other biographical citations on the internet give his year of birth as 1938. Since I know Pride was pitching professionally by 1953, that would mean he was a pro at age 15. While the Negro Leagues were known to have more than a few players in their mid-teens, I cannot reconcile the fact that he would have been able to sign a standard minor league baseball contract with not one, but two, teams at that age. Moreover, the SABR Minor League Data Base gives 1936 as his birth year, which seems to be more likely.
I just ordered a copy of his autobiography from Amazon (how do those sellers make a living selling used books for 40 cents plus $3.99 postage?). It will be interesting to see what details can be picked up from that first-hand source. If necessary, I can always issue a "corrected" version of my card.
While I greatly enjoy blogging and sharing my hobby interests, I'm not in love with this platform. It is very clumsy to insert decent sized pictures and you never know from the preview what the final product will look like when you hit the "Publish Post" button.
Because you probably won't be able to read my card back, I'll reproduce the text here:
Charley began playing pro ball with the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League -- at the age of 17! He played with the Louisville Clippers in 1954, until he was traded for a used team bus to the Birmingham Black Barons. He returned to the Red Sox in 1958 after two years in the Army. Charley traveled all over the U.S. (and Mexico) trying to get a start in Organized Baseball, making stops in Class C and D leagues with the Boise (Id.) Yankees and Fond du Lac (Wis.) Panthers in 9153, the Nogales (Mex.) Yacquis in 1955 and the Missoula (Mont.) Timberjacks in 1960. After hanging up his spikes he picked up the guitar with which he entertained teammates on long bus rides and made a (Country Music) Hall of Fame career for himself over the next three decades in Nashville.
According to the stats on the SABR site, Pride played in one game with the Boise Yankees, who were a Class C Pioneer League farm club for the N.Y. Yankees; no other stats are recorded. With Fond du Lac, once a Yankees farm, but unaffiliated in 1953, the final year for the Wisconsin State League, he had an 0-1 record in his two games. With Nogales in the Class C Arizona-Mexico League debut season of 1955, Pride had no record in two games, and was 0-for-2 at the plate. Missoula was a Cincinnati Reds' affiliate in the Pioneer League in 1960. He played in four games for the Timberjacks, with no won-loss record in seven innings over three games, in which he gave up eight hits and four walks with a 3.86 ERA. But he did bat .400 in five ABs.
Pride had an unsuccessful tryout with the California Angels organization in 1961 and when even the lowly expansion Mets refused to give him a look in 1962, he gave up his dream of playing big-league baseball.
For a number of years Charley worked out at spring training with the Texas Rangers (he's made his home in Dallas for many years), and when Major League Baseball did that dopey ceremonial draft of living former Negro Leaguers in June, 2008, he was picked by the Rangers (his brother Mack "The Knife" Pride was picked by Tampa).
Some day when I'm back visiting Fond du Lac, I'd like to read the old microfilm from 1953 to see what, if, anything, they had to say about Charley Pride. I can tell you this much, he is unlikely to have found FDL a very hospitable place. In 1953 he would have been one of exactly two Negroes in that east-central Wisconsin city of 30,000+ . . . but, that's a topic for another blog.