Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Remember Bowman's $100-125 Guarantee?

I was going through some boxes of misc. cards recently when I encountered some foil wrappers and redemption "Certificate Request Card" forms for a turn-of-the-century (seems funny to describe the late 1990s that way) Bowman promotion.

To bolster the notion that its "Home of the Rookie Card" brand would retain its value in the future when collected as a complete set, from 1996-2000 Bowman offered a guaranteed value program. Packed in some (many? most? all?) foil packs were forms that could be filled out and mailed in before the end of the the year along with $5 to receive a certificate from Bowman that entitled the bearer to return it with a complete base set three years down the line for a guaranteed payment of $100 (1996) or $125 (1997-2000).

I don't know whether or not Bowman sets from those years held that kind of value, but those who chose to redeem their sets probably made the wise decision. Typical on-line sales (including delivery) of Bowman complete sets in recent weeks have averaged:

  • 1996 $15-20

  • 1997 25-30

  • 1998 20-25

  • 1999 45-50

  • 2000 45-50

Just thought you'd enjoy a blast from the past.

Monday, June 29, 2009

What Topps Omitted, Kids Provided

An extraordinary complete set of 1955 Topps baseball cards was sold on eBay in late April. If you looked at the cards' fronts in an album full of eight-pocket plastic pages you'd marvel at what appeared to be an EX-MT set of generally well-centered cards with unusually bright, glossy fronts.

If you didn't look carefully at the backs, however, you might miss the fact that a previous owner, perhaps as far back as 50+ years, had marked the year of issue on the back of more than 175 of the 206 cards in the set. Though discreet, the marks were there. Some had the year "1955" inked on in ballpoint pen, others had been rubber-stamped in black with a "1956" date, but had the "6" overwritten in ink with a "5".

Most of the top stars and rookies in the set were thus disfigured . . . the Clemente, Koufax and Killebrew rookies, along with Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Ted Williams. A few of the stars, like Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Jackie Jensen and the #1 card, Dusty Rhodes, had escaped the marking, along with 20 or so of the commons and minor stars.

I don't know specificially why the markings were applied, but I can guess, because I once did the same thing, though on a less comprehensive scale.

Unless you were a kid in the 1950s, or were a later student of Topps card backs, you might not realize that until 1957, when the bubblegum company started printing complete stats on back, there was nothing printed on Topps baseball cards specifically designating the year of issue. The stats boxes on back were labeled "Year" and "Life" and there was no copyright date. In the days before there were dealer price lists and reference books like the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards with which the make visual identification, you had to read the backs of one or several cards of a particular design to get a clue as to when they were actually issued.

I recall doing exactly that at some point in the late 1950s, when I spread my shoebox of cards out on the kitchen table, sorted them by design, then pored over the backs until I came up with the year of issue. Rather than writing the year on the back of each card, I only wrote it on one card of each design. Too bad for me that for my stack of 1953 cards, my Willie Mays was on top and got a pencilled "1953" added to the back.

In today's condition-crazy hobby, childish things like extraneous writing, scrapbook remnants and penned team changes have a significant negative effect on card values. Surprisingly, however, the 1955 set with all the hand-dated cards didn't seem to suffer all that badly. According to the 2009 Standard Catalog, a complete set of 1955 Topps baseball is valued at $8,000 in Near Mint, $3,750 in Excellent and $2,250 in Very Good.

Looking over the seller's detailed descriptions of the '55 set, and the nearly 20 pages of pictures he provided of individual cards, it seems as if an EX-MT designation would be about right for the offered set. The seller had an ambitious "Buy It Now" price of $6,750 on the set, and ended up taking a $5,515 offer. That price is just about exactly what I would expect an unmarked 1955 set in that condition to bring these days.

I hope the buyer wasn't planning to try to remove the inked and stamped dates from the card backs. I contacted leading hobby card restoration expert Dick Towle (Gone With the Stain) about that possibility and he told me that on the porous cardboard stock on which baseball cards had been printed for most of their first century of existence, such ink additions are "almost impossible to get out." He said he would never even attempt such an undertaking.

While I enjoy a nicely preserved 1950s baseball card as much as the next hobby dinosaur, I'd be just as happy with a well-loved VG set at 40% of the price.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Daydreaming About an Autograph

One of my favorite items in the June 18 Collect.Com Auctions debut sale was a baseball card signed with an unusual variant of Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg's autograph.
The card was a 1941 Play Ball that was signed in black fountain pen: Best Regards from -- Sgt. "Hank" Greenberg.
The card which hosts the signature would grade no better than Poor, since at one point in its history most of its borders were cut away, and some time later the card was laminated, likely to protect the signature.
It seems likely this autograph dates from Greenberg's first "hitch." After initially being classified as 4F by his local draft board -- unfit for military service because of flat feet -- he was re-examined and reclassified 1A after the public began to question the number of famous athletes who were receiving deferments based on supposed physical shortcomings.
Greenberg was inducted into the U.S. Army on May 7, 1941, and had reached the rank of sergeant when he was honorably discharged on Dec. 5, 1941, when Congress released all draftees who were age 28 or older. Two days later the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Greenberg became one of the first major leaguers to volunteer for the armed forces.
He joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and went to Officers Candidate School, from which he was commissioned as a First Lieutenant. He served with a B-29 bomber unit in the China-India-Burma theater of operations until he was discharged in the summer of 1945.
Given that this card is signed "Sgt.," it was most likely autographed in the months between the spring issue of 1941 Play Ball and his discharge from the Army at that rank in December, 1941. For whom the card was signed, and under what circumstances, are lost to history.
In my imagination, I can see a fellow soldier stationed with Greenberg at Fort Custer, in Battle Creek, Mich., buying a piece of bubblegum at the PX and finding his famous sergeant's picture card inside the wax wrapper. Perhaps on a dare or a bet from other soldiers, or over beers at the NCO club, he approached Greenberg for an autograph and this card became a treasured souvenir carried throughout the war.
An experienced autograph dealer told me that Greenberg autographs noting his military rank are uncommon, but not unique. Still, it was of sufficient interest among collectors that it was one of the most heavily contested single cards in the Collect.Com Auction, finally changing hands at $274.

Standard Catalog Update #3 : 1955 Hocus Focus

The obscure multi-subject Topps Hocus Focus cards were issued nearly 55 years ago and we still don't have a complete checklist of the 23 players that make up the baseball subset. For many years the Standard Catalog checklist has reflected that cards #11, 17, 19, 22 and 23 are "Unknown."

Now, thanks to a report from Indiana collector Tom Akins, we're three subjects closer to finishing off the checklist. Some of you may remember Tom from his days as a show producer in the Indianapolis area. He's given up that endeavor, but is still actively collecting.

He has sent scans of three discovery cards for 1955 Topps Hocus Focus. Tom has corraled #11 Mayo Smith, #19 Wally Moon and #22 Spook Jacobs.

As might be inferred from the incomplete checklist, '55 HFs are very scarce cards, particularly in what collectors call "well-developed" condition. Hocus Focus cards were one of a genre of "spit-to-see" card novelties that Topps tinkered with in the 1940s and 1950s. Instructions called for wetting the front surface of the card and holding it to the light to develop the hidden picture. The quality of the resulting image resulted from the volume and evenness of application of the wetting agent, the exposure time and intensity of the light source, and probably other factors that neither Topps nor kids of that generation completely understood. I'm guessing that a quick dip in a tray of water probably was more effective at evoking a decent image than the spit-spray method employed by most kids on the sidewalk out front of the candy store.

There is a lot of confusion about how, and even when, the Hocus Focus cards were issued. There was a 252-card set issued in 1948 known as Magic Photos. They measure 7/8" x 1-1/2", but neither the name Magic Photos nor Topps appears on the cards. There are 19 baseball subjects in that issue.

The 1955 set may or may not be complete at 126 subjects, half the number of 1948 Magic Pictures cards, but no complete checklist exists. Besides the ballplayers, there are subsets of airplanes, world leaders, "Westerners," sports cars and other non-sport topics. These cards are 7/8" x 1-3/8," carry the name Hocus Focus on the back (but no mention of Topps) and, according to information seen on other forums, were probably issued in six-card strips in a nickel bubblegum pack. Besides the number at top on back, designating the card within the 23-subject baseball series, there is a number in the lower-right corner in a black circle indicating its position among the complete set.

The same format was repeated in (presumably) 1956 when a slightly larger -- 1" x 1-5/8" -- version was issued with 18 baseball players. It is interesting to note that card #3-18 of the 1955 HFs have the same players in the same order as cards #1-16 in the 1956s. Based on that, I'd bet money that if it ever shows up, card #17 in 1955 will be Hal Smith. Since Mel Parnell is #18 in 1956, I'd look for him to eventually turns up as #23 in 1955.
Here are the checklists for 1955 and 1956 Hocus Focus:
  1. Babe Ruth
  2. Lou Gehrig
  3. Dick Groat
  4. Ed Lopat
  5. Hank Sauer
  6. "Dusty" Rhodes
  7. Ted Williams
  8. Harvey Haddix
  9. Ray Boone
  10. Al Rosen
  11. Mayo Smith
  12. Warren Spahn
  13. Jim Rivera
  14. Ted Kluszewski
  15. Gus Zernial
  16. Jackie Robinson
  17. Unknown (possibly Hall Smith)
  18. Johnny Schmitz
  19. Wally Moon
  20. Karl Spooner
  21. Ed Mathews
  22. "Spook" Jacobs
  23. Unknown (possibly Mel Parnell)
  1. Dick Groat
  2. Ed Lopat
  3. Hank Sauer
  4. "Dusty" Rhodes
  5. Ted Williams
  6. Harvey Haddix
  7. Ray Boone
  8. Al Rosen
  9. Mayo Smith

  • Warren Spahn
  • Jim Rivera
  • Ted Kluszewski
  • Gus Zernial
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Hal Smith
  • Johnny Schmitz
  • "Spook" Jacobs
  • Mel Parnell

  • Wednesday, June 24, 2009

    Baseball : Back to the Future

    I turned on a ballgame on television tonight. I don't follow baseball as closely now as I did when baseball card cataloging was my full-time job, but the Yankees were playing in Atlanta, so I thought I'd catch a few innings.

    A sense of deja vu quickly overtook me, as I was a young baseball fan back in 1957-1958 when the Braves and Yankees contended in the World Series. To be sure, this newfangled abomination known as inter-league play is but a pale shadow of the Fall Classic, but if you squinted a little you might be transported back 50+ years. The jerseys were true throwbacks in form, if not in composition. There was the tomahawk logo on the Braves home whites, and the classic black "NEW YORK" on the Yankees road grays. There was that damnable "A" on the Braves cap, of course, rather than the "M" that should rightfully still be there. And what's with the flat visor brim on some of those guys' lids?

    If you look in the Braves dugout, you could be excused for noticing a more than passing resemblance between current manager Bobby Cox, and 1950s skipper Charlie Grimm.

    What really struck me as a blast from the past was the racial composition of the starting lineups. There was a certain Caucasian homogenuity (homogeneousness?) among them. There was only one black player on each starting squad, an American and a Latino. Each team also had a couple of Hispanics who could have passed muster on the color line in the pre-Jackie Robinson era. There was even an Indian on the mound, which was a much more common sight in the 1950s than in the past half-century. The only major incongruity was Atlanta's Japanese pitcher.

    I'll leave it to the sports sociologists (if there is such a thing) to explain the current state of player rosters. It just struck me as odd that so much of this game seemed to hark back to those I remember from childhood. Too bad I can't go down to the corner store for a nickel pack of cards.

    National Copper Plate Portraits Set Tops $50K

    Two of my earliest blogs on this site concerned the complete portfolio of 1898-1899 National Copper Plate Co. baseball player portraits that was offered as the keynote lot in the June 18 debut sale by Collect.Com Auctions.

    It was my privilege to sit in on the auction's closing that evening as bidders for the nearly 900 lots of sports cards and memorabilia phoned in or entered over the internet their final bids. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that I am a consignment director for Collect.Com Auctions.)

    When the smoke had cleared, the NCP set had sold for a winning bid of $45,000. With the 17% buyer's premium that was added to each lot, the actual selling price for the set was $52,650. It was interesting to note that two different bidders were willing to pay that price, but that the set was awarded to the bidder that entered the earlier bid as a "maximum bid," meaning that the auction software increased his bid every time another bidder jumped in. One more bid by the underbidder would likely have won the set, but he had no way of knowing that.

    "Book price" for the set, if you consider the 2009 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards to be "the book," was $60,000 in NM condition. Considering that while 49 of the 50 lithographed player pictures in the set were Near Mint (if not better), but that the Cap Anson picture -- which is the second most valuable in the set, behind only the Honus Wagner "rookie card" -- could only be graded Fair because it had been ripped out of the once string-bound portfolio, leaving a pair of keyhole tears, I'd say the "book" was an accurate predictor of the auction result.

    I'll also venture to say that the unknown buyer, whose bidding was done through an agent, got a very good deal, even in today's hobby economy. While there has not been a recorded public sale of a single NCP player picture in recent years, sales of several simiarly formatted 1899-1900 Sporting News premium pictures (cataloged as M101-1 in the arcane American Card Catalog system) in the past year showed that advanced collectors were willing to pay double catalog value for single pictures of top Hall of Famers.

    When the availability of the National Copper Plate set at auction was first announced, there was considerable interest in whether or not it might be offered as singles, rather than only as a complete set. Several high-rollers among the collectors who specialize in Hall of Famer rookie cards were exceptionally eager to have a chance to acquire what many consider to be the rookie cards of Wagner, Jimmy Collins, Elmer Flick, Willie Keeler and Bobby Wallace. Team specialsts wanted a chance at those cards of a dozen or so players who do not appear in any other baseball card sets. And, type collectors would have liked the opportunity to get an example from an issue that is seldom seen in the marketplace.

    All of these potentialities were discussed with the consignor prior to the auction, but the possibility that while the stars' pictures might easily sell for more than catalog value, but that some of the "common" players might generate little or no interest was a significant factor in the decision to offer the set as a single lot. Many hobby purists, even those for whom such a set was fiscally out of reach, were pleased by that decision, since the set may well be the only one of its kind in existence and some felt it would be a shame to break it up after it had survived intact for more than a century.

    It remains to be seen whether the NCP set's new owner will break it up and offer some or all of the pictures in the market, but my hunch is that will not happen.

    If time permits, I may use this space to bring to your attention a couple of other items from the auction that I found especially interesting.

    The next Collect.Com Auctions sale will close Aug. 27. The consignment deadline for that sale is July 11. If you have items that you feel might benefit from being offered in such a venue, please feel free to contact me.

    Monday, June 22, 2009

    A New Pricing Paradigm for Pre-War Superstars

    Change happens. When we first compiled the price guide that appeared in the Spring, 1981, issue of Baseball Cards magazine we priced all vintage (pre-1981) cards in the grades of Near Mint, Excellent and Very Good. In our descriptions of grading standards we reflected that the current market seemed to dicate that cards in Good condition sold for about 50% of the listed VG price, and cards in Fair condition sold for about half of Good (25% of VG). We never specified what a card in Poor condition should be valued at, but 50% of Fair (12.5% of VG) would have seemed reasonable.

    My recent observations of auction sales of low-grade pre-war superstars' cards indicates those old price points are no longer reflective of today's market. Whether or not this applies to complete sets, card lots or "commons" is not something I have studied in any great depth, so I'm going to limit these comments to cards of the game's greatest, like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe Jackson, Joe DiMaggio and Ty Cobb. To a slightly lesser extent I believe this also applies to Honus Wagner, Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson and other top names of their eras.

    The catalyst for bringing up this topic was the recent eBay sale of an extraordinary 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth card, and the many sales of off-grade superstar cards in the June 18 debut sale by Collect.Com Auctions.

    The eBay auction that caught my eye was for a 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth #149, the red-background version of the waist-up batting pose. The card had been authenticated as "Authentic" by PSA, and would have graded Poor by old-school stadards based on the fact that at some point in its past, likely when it was fresh out of the pack, a previous owner had cut the lower-right corner away from the rest of the card. On '33 Goudeys, that comprises the "CHEWING GUM" end of the red panel at bottom. Why somebody would have excised that piece of the card is beyond my comprehension. If he didn't like gum, why did he lay out a Depression-era penny for it (feel free to speculate in the comments section)?

    Without the surgery, the card looks like it would have survived to this day in Excellent condition, making it a $3,500-4,000 card in today's market. In spirited on-line bidding (30 bids by 17 different bidders), the card sold for $404.99. "Book" value for the card in VG condition is $1,450, so using the old valuation rule of thumb, it should have a value in Fair of $362.50 and a speculative Poor value of $181.25. Why someone was willing to pay nearly 2-1/4 times "book" value for such a card is, again, open to speculation.

    Anoither notable example of premium pricing for low-grade superstars was found in the June 18 Collect.Com auction. That sale offered a PSA-graded Poor-1 example 1934 Goudey Lou Gehrig #61, the green-background batting pose. With a theoretical value of $100 by old market standards, the card sold for $497. In this example, I'm willing to concede that much of the premium that was paid for this card was probably due to the fact that PSA badly low-balled the grade. While the card was well-loved in its 65 years, and along the way suffered a very ugly crease across its lower-left portion, there was no intentional damage, missing print or paper, or other flaws that should have legitimately kept it out of a Good slab. But even at that level, it's a $400 card.

    Here're a handful of other examples from the Collect.Com auction. I'll list the card, then its "book" value in its condition, then its selling price. All of these cards were authenticated and graded by PSA. In cases where PSA labeled the card "Authentic," we'll presume Poor condition.
    • 1914 Cracker Jack Joe Jackson Authentic 937.50 2,574.
    • 109-11 T206 Ty Cobb (bat on shoulder) Good 500.00 527.00
    • 1921 E220 Nat'l Caramel Babe Ruth Authentic 300.00 878.00
    • 1933 Sport King Babe Ruth Poor 262.50 527.00
    • 1932 U.S. Caramel Lou Gehrig Poor 187.50 995.00
    • 1919 W514 Strip Card Joe Jackson Authentic 125.00 585.00

    Now, to be fair, there were a few Authentic and Poor cards of Ruth and Jackson that never got an opening bid, but that was likely because the minimum bid had been pegged too ambitiously. I believe my point is made by the examples cited above.

    Another characteristic that most of the examples here seemed to share was "eye appeal" that significantly outshined their assigned technical grades. If a collector was buying the card, rather than its plastic wrap, the healthy competition of the auction environment created a premium price structure.

    Upon reflection, I think what I see here is a trend that has developed for collectors who can never aspire to own investment-grade (NM or better) specimens of the hobby's greatest cards of the game's greatest players, are willing to stretch their budgets to acquire a genuine, career-contemporary card. I doubt that they'd be willing to make the same concessions to build a complete set, but to acquire a showpiece of this caliber evidently makes sense to them.

    I think this phenomenon has already extended to the early cards of Mickey Mantle and even, perhaps, Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente. Whether it will spread deeper into the post-war cards remains to be seen.

    Sunday, June 21, 2009

    New Custom Card : 1966 Philadelphia Brian Piccolo

    I have completed my second (and final) football-card-that-never-was of 1960s Bears running back Brian Piccolo.

    For this card, I chose a photo that appears to have been taken in the same session as the picture that Topps actually used on Piccolo's only "real" football card, in the 1969 Topps set.

    I put the photo into the context of a 1966 Philadelphia Gum Co. card. I could have used the 1966 Topps "television" style format, but in 1966, Topps only had the license to produce cards for the American Football League players; Philadelphia had the contract for the NFL.

    In making custom cards utilizing designs of the classic baseball and football cards of the past, I have found the easiest way to create my template is to scan an actual card from the desired set.

    Generally a low-grade common card will do for that purpose. I often chose a card from the same team as the one I'm going to make, so I have correct team logos, color schemes, or whatever else might be a team variable in a particular set.

    That's one of the advantages of living in the internet age, I can shop for an examplar card on eBay, or one of several sites that specialize in the selling "commons," and have what I need in a few days or a week.

    I scan the card I use for my model at 300 dots-per-inch, and then spend a lot of time cleaning up the resulting image. Because vintage cards were printed in a four-color offset process, the registration between the colors on the finished card was not always perfect, so I use my PhotoShop Elements program to clean things up. While this can easily take several hours per card, for me it is an enjoyable part of the card-creation process. This is, after all, my hobby, and I want to be extra particular (anal, actually) in how the card will appear when all is said and done, it is my choice.

    Here's an example of my clean-up efforts. The NFL logo shield at left is the way it appeared on the Jhonny Unitas card I scanned as my model. You can see the red and yellow ink are slightly off-register and the stars are fuzzy. By moving hundreds (thousands?) of individual pixels around I was able to create a much crisper image for my Piccolo card.

    Saturday, June 20, 2009

    Standard Catalog Update #2 : New 1970 Variation

    While I am certainly a technological dinosaur (virtually a luddite . . . feel free to google that) I have a real appreciation for what the proliferation of computers, scanning, the internet, forums, etc. has done for the process of compiling a baseball card collectors' catalog.

    The lastest addition to the 1970 Topps checklist is a case in point. The illustrated variation on the back of card #303 Brant Alyea has obviously been around for nearly 40 years, but has only been made public in the last few months. On one variation, an elongated baseball in flight is pictured at the right end of the cartoon; on the recently discovered variation, the ball is absent.

    Because one collector noticed the variety, and was able to post a query on a popular collectors' forum, other collectors were able to see the variation, check their own collections and confirm that it was not an erasure or an isolated printing error.

    That qualifies it as a legitimate variation and insures that it will be listed in the 2011 edition of the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards (the 2010 book is already is production), which in turn means the major authentication/grading services will begin slabbing the variation and suddenly hundreds or thousands of once-complete 1970 Topps master sets will now be missing a card. This in turn will set off a frantic search among 1970 "commons" for whichever version is needed.

    Currently there is no word on which variation is the scarcer (if either is). It would seem logical that the "with ball" card was printed first, since the cartoon makes more sense with a baseball pictured, but what really matters and will ultimately determine values, is the relative scarcity between the two types.

    Tuesday, June 16, 2009

    Newest Custom Card : 1968 Brian Piccolo

    As mentioned in my profile, one of my interests is making custom cards. I started more than five years ago when I got a Photoshop Elements program with a new scanner. So far I have made about 150 different baseball and football cards, mostly in the styles of classic cards of the 1950s and 1960s.

    You can find images of many of my custom card creations at http://www.tinyurl.com/customcards cards. That link will take you to my album of 1955 Topps All-American style football cards. On the left of that page you should find links to my baseball and "Misc. Football" cards.

    I'm going to begin posting all of my new card creations on this blog, so visit often or sign up on my "followers" list to keep up with the collection.

    So, to kick things off, here is my latest: a 1968-style Brian Piccolo card.
    I'm exceptionally pleased with how this one turned out, because it was not a simple cut and paste job. I'm not going to go into great detail about the process, but I though you might like to see some of the steps that og into a card like this.

    I started, as always by visualizing what I wanted the finished product to look like. I hadn't even had Piccolo cards on my to-do list, but when I found a couple of very nice color pictures on another site, I knew this (these) would be my next project. The pictures are, I believe, from the same photo session that resulted in Piccolo's only mainstream football card, in 1969 Topps.

    Younger readers or those who weren't into the NFL in the late 1960s might not know why Piccolo is virtually a cult figure, especially among Bears fans. If you need the backstory, just Google him. That's what I did to get the biographic and career details and stats that appear on the back of my card. The cartoon on the back was lifted from Piccolo's 1968 Topps card.

    Piccolo was signed by the Bears in 1965, but never appeared on a card until 1969. So, I decided that with two really good, slightly different, photos, to work with, I would do two Piccolo cards "that never were." My first choice was a 1968-style card. Vintage FB collectors know that the Topps set that year had two formats. The Super Bowl II participants of the previous year (Packers and Raiders) appear in a horizontal format that features really neat background football cartoons by period artist Jack Davis (who is best known as the in-house artist of Cracked magazine).

    The other players in the set appear in a much more mundane vertical format that looks like many of the other Topps and Philadelphia sets of the era. So, despite the fact that 1968 Topps Bears were not in the cooler horizontal design, I decided that my Piccolo card would be.

    One problem that cropped up immediately is that most (if not all) of the Packers and Raiders cards in that set have the player picture at the right end of the card. My picture of choice, however, has Piccolo cut off at his right shoulder, so unless I was willing to undertake a drastic reworking of the photo that would be, frankly, beyond my Photoshop skills, I decided to move the portrait to the left end.

    To accomplish this I had to "flop" the background cartoon, which is suprisingly easy to do with Photoshop. You might also notice that in the original photo, the edge of the Bears helmet was also cut off. I surprised myself by being able to do a quick succession of copy and paste moves to "round out" the helmet as shown on the finished card.

    So here are the elements that went into making this card.

    And to answer one of the most frequently posed questions about my custom card creations: yes, I actually print my cards, usually in editions of six to eight depending on the size. My next project is another Piccolo card, done in the style of a 1966 Philadelpiha Gum card, the Topps competitior that had the license for NFL players at that time.

    Monday, June 15, 2009

    Autograph “Forgery” 60+ Years Ago

    Pirates ball

    Though this Ralph Kiner autograph on a late-1940s team-signed Pirates ball is authentically penned, the Bucs’ slugger was reported to have used a rubber stamp for the day-to-day chore of providing souvenirs for fans and friends of the team.

    There was an interesting collectibles-related article in the July, 1948 issue of Baseball Digest that is worth sharing 60+ years later.

    All but the most novice of today’s autograph collectors are familiar with the possibility that some sigs found on such balls were never penned by the player whose name appears. Besides the rubber-stamped versions mentioned below, it was common in some locker rooms for the clubhouse boy to forge certain players’ autograph. As this Pirates’ beat writer points out, the practice was condoned as a way to appease fans rather than with any intent to defraud latter-day collectors.


    1948 Style

    By Vince Johnson

    In the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    The autographed baseball industry takes thousands of balls out of circulation annually, frays the tempers and fountain pens of hundreds of athletes and provides a peculiar form of happiness pursued by innumerable gloating small fry.

    It inevitably steps up business in an offshoot business, the manufacture of rubber stamp signatures. Maybe you thought the only man who thumped his letters with a rubber stamp was your congressman, an unfortunate fellow whose pleas for votes are as impassioned as his signatures are impersonal.

    But you ought to visit a club’s dressing room just before a game. There, the autographed baseball industry is operating under conditions approximating those of the sweatshop. That is to say, the tireless clubhouse boy stamps baseballs till his fingers grow numb, meanwhile finding time to scavenge ham sandwich and soft drink for an indolent athlete.

    Some old-fashioned players still insist on signing baseballs themselves. They take a certain pride in the knowledge that fans still remember them. But, for the most part, an autograph coming from a dressing room belongs in the classification of self-legalized forgery.

    It was Hank Greenberg who started the practice of using rubber stamps among the Pirates.

    Hank carried his own stamp from Detroit to Pittsburgh last season and had the clubhouse boy imprint his autograph on whatever balls were requested.

    Ralph Kiner, whose autograph was in demand as much if not more than Hank’s, soon followed his example. Afterwards, thanks to the persuasiveness of Roger Jorgensen, the clubhouse boy, the practice became more or less general.

    Jorgensen had the Pirates who wanted rubber stamps sign their names on a piece of paper and took the signatures to a Pittsburgh firm manufacturing marking devices, which reproduced them at $2.50 a copy.

    There is a technique to stamping autographs on baseballs and Jorgensen mastered it through the fatiguing process of trial and error. For instance, he has a special position running lengthwise with the seams for Dixie Walker’s space-taking scrawl.

    Bing Crosby’s and Ralph Kiner’s autographs are stamped together in a prominent position, for Jorgensen long ago found that the recipient of the ball always looks for these two names first.

    Crosby’s name is put on a ball even if he doesn’t happen to be traveling with the club. Somehow, a fan who gets an autographed ball at Cincinnati and reads in the newspaper that Crosby had played an exhibition golf match the same day in White Sulphur Springs never seems to notice how impossibly ubiquitous is the Pirate co-owner.

    After all, junior is the one to be pleased and he can easily be reassured by the vague paternal explanation that “Bing sure gets around.”

    A rookie, plagued with fears that he might not make the team, isn’t likely to invest $2.50 in one of the marking devices. Ironically, one of the veterans who started with the Pirates in 1948, Joe Grace, obtained a stamp and then was handed his unconditional release.

    Right now about 15 Pirate players are using rubber stamps for autographs. Others, including pitchers Rip Sewell and Hal Gregg and Manager Bill Meyer, still sign with a fountain pen, provided it isn’t their own. A stickler for dressing room integrity, Jorgensen never forges a signature, no matter how inaccessible the player or how insistent the fan.

    As far as can be determined, Jorgensen never has developed writer’s cramp from wielding his rubber stamp. Nor has any Pirate pitcher developed a sore arm scribbling autographs for anxious fandom.

    Feller balls

    Autographing baseball in the clubhouse was a fact of life for major leaguers in days gone by. Here, on May 1, 1955 when he notched his record 12th one-hit game, Bob Feller poses with 14 of the team-signed souvenirs arranged as a "12".

    Thursday, June 11, 2009

    Joe Corbett’s (Jim’s Little Brother) Only ‘Card’

    One of the most interesting “card s” in the 1898-1899 National Copper Plate baseball player pictures issue is that of Baltimore pitcher Joe Corbett. Besides being the only piece of baseball memorabilia picturing the Orioles’ one-time 24-game winner, the NCP picture is of special interest because Corbett was the younger brother of renowned world heavyweight champion boxer “Gentleman Jim” Corbett.

    Jim and Joe Corbett, with seven other siblings, were San Francisco natives whose father operated a livery stable that provided a meager living for the large family. By the time he was in his mid-teens, Joe had established a reputation around the Bay area as a sNCP Corbett fsolid ballplayer, having followed in the footsteps of his older (by nine years) brother Jim, who had to abandon his own baseball dreams when he split a finger.

    Joe played for St. Mary’s College in Oakland from 1890-1893, then, at age 19, followed Jim East, where the Champ was being lionized following his 1892 victory over John L. Sullivan. While Jim was picking up pin money playing some exhibition ballgames as a first baseman, he was in reality showcasing Joe’s talents at third. Jim persuaded the Washington Senators to give Joe a tryout and he was taken on at the end of the season as a pitcher.

    A synopsis of Joe’s professional career is provided on the back of the 1898-dated NCP picture illustrated herewith. Official MLB stats give Corbett’s 1895 record with the Senators as 0-2, though his NCP biography credits him with a tie against Chicago, sandwiched between losses to Baltimore and St. Louis.

    The Orioles signed Corbett for 1896, and farmed him out to Norfolk and Scranton, calling him up the big club in mid-August. Once again the NCP write-up is at odds with the official record, but he did notch three complete-game wins and a save in eight appearances. In the Temple Cup Series against Cleveland, Corbett won two games in the O’s sweep, including a shutout in the fourth and final game.

    Corbett picked right back up in 1897, winning 24 games (fourth best in the NL) and losing eight. The O’s lost the pennant to Boston by two games, but Corbett had beaten the Beaneaters in three of four starts and notched another win against them in winning the final Temple Cup Series.

    As chronicled on the back of his NCP picture, the wheels came off Corbett’s major league career when he demanded a $600 raise (25%) to $3,000.

    Corbett returned to California where he pitched semi-pro ball and wrote sports for the San Francisco Call. He returned to pro ball in 1902 with Minneapolis (1-2). Back on the coast the following year when the Pacific Coast League formed, Corbett helped the Los Angeles Angels to the inaugural season pennant. He was 23-16 with a 2.36 ERA and led the league with 196 strikeouts and eight shutouts.

    His performance in the West earned Corbett another chance in the bigs, and he had a 5-8 record with the 1904 St. Louis Cardinals. Corbett developed rheumatism in his throwing arm and he was released at the end of July. His lifetime MLB stats show a 32-18 record with 3.42 ERA and 248 strikeouts in 481 innings.

    Corbett returned to the PCL, this time closer to home with the S.F. Seals. He was 14-10 there in 1904 and 3-3 in 1905 before he retired. In the off-seasons Corbett coached baseball at Santa Clara University, where his star player was Hal Chase.

    At the age of 33, Corbett attempted a comeback with the Seals in 1909, making 12 starts and compiling a 2.67 ERA though only a 4-7 record. Unfortunately, Corbett missed the cut when Obak cigarettes produced its inaugural baseball card set in 1909.

    Seven years later – at age 40 – Corbett attempted yet another comeback in 1916, again with San Francisco. He was 1-1 in four games, though he had a decent ERA of 2.63.

    Joe Corbett died in San Francisco in 1945 at the age of 69.

    Corbett is one of nine players in the 1898-1899 National Copper  Plate picture portfolio who are not known to appear individually on any other baseball collectible. He does not appear in the more common 1899-1900 M101-1 Sporting News Supplements.

    For lack of reported sales, there is no recent price history for an NCP Joe Corbett picture. An example of this rarity will be available in the June 18 Collect.Com Auction, but it will be sold only as part of what is likely the sole surviving complete “Portfolio” of 50 player NCP Corbett bspictures.


    Back of the National Copper Plate picture provides a detailed professional biography of the player, though some details are at odds with the official record.

    Wednesday, June 10, 2009

    Standard Catalog Update #1 -- Back on Board

    After a three-year hiatus, I have returned to the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, at least on a part-time basis.

    Effective immediately, I will be resuming responsibility for the "big book's" vintage major league and vintage minor league sections. Between May, 2006, when I "retired" as the book's full-time editor, and today, the job of maintaining and enhancing the vintage sections has been ably handled by Don Fluckinger.

    My job with the SCBC will be in these primary areas of responsibility, in about this order of priority:
    • Co-ordinate the updating of pricing data that appears in the book. This will involve working with knowledgeable hobby collectors and dealers to solicit and co-ordinate input in their areas of expertise. I will also be doing my own market data analysis. The goal here is the same as it was when I compiled the first Standard Catalog data base back in 1980: to publish real-world pricing to assist the book's users in making informed buy-sell decisions.
    • Update all existing listings when new information, checklist additions, corrections, variations, etc., surface in the marketplace.
    • Create new listings when previously uncataloged sets are discovered. It still happens regularly as information becomes more readily available in this age of electronic communications.

    Besides the additions to the print edition SCBC, I'll be enhancing the data base from which the book is drawn in preparation for possible future releases in the form of DVDs or other media that are better suited to the non-mainstream niches of vintage card/memorabilia collecting than an ink-on-paper presentation.

    One of the best parts of my day-to-day involvement with the Standard Catalog during my 1980-2006 tenure as editor was the interaction with collectors. By facilitating the dissemination of the information they were so generously willing to share, we were able to provide a truly "standard" reference catalog that would allow even the most recent newcomer to identify any card he might hold in his hand, and to find a pretty good idea of what it is worth.

    Through the contributions of collectors at all levels of interest and expertise we were able to maintain a lively dialogue in the form of "Standard Catalog Update" columns that ran regularly in Sports Collectors Digest. We're going to resurrect that forum on this blog as well as in the pages of SCD. Watch this space for news of discoveries, long-buried information about cards and their issuers and market analysis that is too hot to wait for the annual book to appear.

    It is my fervent wish that all readers of this blog become participants in this dialogue, whether by submitting new information, or asking questions that will spark discussions here. Please feel free to use the "comments" section of any blog entry.

    To contact me directly, I can be reached by e-mail at scbcguy@yahoo.com. You can reach me by mail at P.O. Box 8, Iola, WI 54945. Please understand that this is strictly an evenings and weekends job for me, so be patient if I don't get back to you in a day or two.

    While my official duties are limited to the cards and related collectibles issued between the 1880s and 1980, your input on modern issues is equally welcome, and I will make sure it gets to the proper catalog staffer.

    Thanks, in advance, for your participation.

    Monday, June 8, 2009

    Maverick, Not Sports, but Collectible

    For the past year or more, the Starz Westerns channel on my dish has been re-running the old Maverick westerns of the late 1950s-early 1960s.

    Maverick was easily my favorite TV western back then, though I'm not sure I could have told you why. Now, 50 years later, I can better express my appreciation. If the show wasn't the first TV western to take a lighter approach to its characters and storylines, it was the best at doing so.

    While the episodes could be enjoyed by any child, Maverick was also an adult western; adult in the sense of sophisticated, understated humor, rather in the sense of nudity, crude language and gory violence.

    It was only in this re-run incarnation that I became aware of just how far the show would go on occasion to poke fun at the competition and the genre itself. Two episodes that epitomize that willingness to push the envelope were parodies of contemporary westerns: Bonanza and Gunsmoke. In the latter, particularly, the characters were such close approximations of the Gunsmoke cast that until I had watched for several minutes I was convinced that they had kidnapped Milburn Stone (Doc) from the Gunsmoke set.

    Something else I've noticed in watching the re-runs is that hardly an epiode goes by that Bret and/or Bart isn't cold-cocked from behind or otherwise slugged.

    Another highlight of Maverick's Gunsmoke parody was actor Ben Gage as the take-off on Matt Dillon. Wearing the particular style of high-crowned cowboy hat that Dillon always sported, and with a voice and speech pattern that either naturally or intentionally mimiced James Arness, Gage was a hoot as the ersatz Marshall Dillon.

    A search of the Internet Movie Database site revealed that Gage appeared in four episodes of Maverick, all as a sheriff or marshall. He also played a lawman in several other TV westerns. Perhaps not surprisingly, with his basso voice, Gage also got a lot of work in Hollywood musicals as the singing voice of more photogenic leading men like George Montgomery, Dana Andrews, Victor Mature and Cornel Wilde.

    The Bonanza parody was good, but not as entertaining as the take on Gunsmoke (it was titled "Gun-Shy").

    Far and away, my favorite Maverick was brother Bret, played by James Garner. I can tolerate those re-runs in which Jack Kelly (brother Bart) is the focus, but by the time characters such as cousin Beau and brother(?)/cousin(?) Brent were being featured, the show had jumped the shark. It was only recently I found out that Garner virtually disappeared from the series by 1962 due to a contract dispute with Warner Bros. All was forgiven by 1981-82 when he reprised the role in the "Bret Maverick" TV series and of course, his addition to the cast as Mel Gibson's "old pappy" in the 1994 movie was genius.

    There was a time in the 1980s when I thought I might like to collect Maverick memorabilia. Like any good TV show of its era, Maverick had spawned tons of spin-off merchandise from Little Golden Books to board games and toy gun/holster sets, halloween masks, paint-by-numbers, etc. I did own a really nice Hartland Maverick figure in the Eighties, though I never did own the smaller standing "gunfighter" version. I gave up on my idea to collect Maverick memorabilia when it became apparent that they were dozens of toys to chase, along with magazine covers and other collectibles. And that was in the days before eBay.

    Today, all I have left is a silver-dollar size aluminum "spinner" coin by Alcoa (one of the show's sponsors) that pictures Bret and Bart on one side and a box of aluminum foil on the other, and a Maverick Exhibit card. The Exhibit is part of a lengthy series of the black-and-white 3-1/4" x 5-3/8" penny arcade cards that featured western TV stars of the 1950s-1960s. I know there were at least poses of Bret Maverick. The card illustrated herewith is the best, or at least it's my favorite.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009

    The 1898-99 National Copper Plate Picture Set

    What may well be the sole surviving complete set of 1898-99 National Copper Plate Company player pictures has been consigned to, and will undoubtedly prove to be the featured lot in, the premiere Collect.Com sports card and memorabilia auction on June 18.NCPWagnerfs

    The NCP Portraits, as they are not entirely correctly listed (as will be seen later) in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, were produced by that company at the end of the 19th Century in Grand Rapids, in southwestern Michigan. At that time the city was home to the Western Association Grand Rapids Rustlers, the team that would eventually become the Cleveland Indians with the formation of the American League NCPWagnerbsin 1901.

    National Copper Plate Co. appears to have been a specialty engraver producing illustrative plates for periodical and book publishers in an era when photo illustrations in the print media were uncommon.

    With the opening of the 1898 baseball season, NCP began offering what it advertised as its “Art Gallery of Prominent Base Ball Players of America.” The pictures were initially issued in series of about six each and sold for 10 cents per series.

    The National Copper Plate pictures were issued in two sizes. Each were black-and-white photomechanical prints on semi-gloss paper. It appears that the pictures that were sold in series directly from the maker were about 9-1/2” x 12-1/2” in size. The version that has been consigned to the Collect.Com auction is in a size of 8-3/4” x 11.” Whether there are any significant differences in the images to be found on the differing sizes is largely a matter of conjecture because so few of the large-size prints are known. At least one player’s pictures differ in the two presentations, however. The vignetted portrait of Kid Nichols in the larger size is bordered all around with a double-line box; that box is absent on the smaller portrait piece.

    The smaller 8-3/4” x 11” size was carried forward when The Sporting News contracted with National Copper Plate Co. to supply the sporting weekly with a series of baseball player pictures to be used as premium inserts. These inserts were given the American Card Catalog identification number of M101-1 and are distinguishable from the slightly earlier NCP pictures in that the TSN premiums have a printed line at top identifying them as “Supplement to The Sporting News, St. Louis, Mo.,” with an issue date between April 22-Dec. 9, 1899, and April 14-Oct. 20, 1900. The M101-1 pictures include 62 different players, compared to the 50-player checklist of the National Copper Plate set, though not all of the NCP players were re-issued as M101-1 pictures.

    Besides providing The Sporting News with the weekly supplements, National Copper Plate also provided the “original” 50 NCP player pictures in a string-bound portfolio that was offered by TSN for $2 (including a one-year subscription to the sports weekly!).

    Inasmuch as it is spelled out thereon, the original cover with which this set was discovered makes it clear that this is the portfolio that was offered as a subscription premium. It is not currently known whether this collection was available in any other manner. For the vast majority of collectors who have never seen it, the cover of the NCP portfolio is a curiosity in itself. It appears to be a heavily shellacked burlap, imprinted in black. On front is a rampant lion between lines of type that read: “VOL. 1. / Portfolio of / Prominent Ball Players” and “ISSUED BY / The Sporting News, / ST. LOUIS, MO.” The back cover pictures a catcher’s mitt and a fielder’s glove and is imprinted with advertising that reads, “The Ball Players Whose Pictures are in this Volume Use Reach Mitts and Gloves.” It carries the imprint of the A.J. Reach Co., Philadelphia.”

    It can be reasonably assumed that the universe of the bound portfolios was a subset of the number of subscribers to TSN, specifically, those subscribers who chose to sign up or renew their subscription during the promotional period in which the offer was made.

    The number of individual M101-1 portraits originally issued would therefore be greater than that of the NCPs, reflecting the nature of the TSN-branded version as inserts that were mailed with each subscriber’s copy of the paper, but were also given away with each copy of TSN sold on the newsstand, at the ballparks and other venues.

    Theoretically, of course, the number of complete sets of the NCP portfolio portraits that have survived these 110 years would be greater because they were distributed only as bound sets. As rare as this surviving NCP set is (it may well be unique), it is unlikely that a complete set of the M101-1 versions even exists today, given the nearly 25% larger number of pieces comprising the issue and the fact that they would have had to have somehow remained together over the ensuing century, having been originally collected at a rate of a piece at a time, one-per-week.

    While the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards identifies this set as “1898-99 National Copper Plate Co. Portraits,” that is not entirely accurate. While it is true that the majority of the pictures have on their fronts a head-and-shoulders portrait of a National League player, either in street clothes or in uniform, five of the pictures have full-length portrayals of uniformed players. Not coincidentally, all of the full-length pictures in the portfolio are players from the Baltimore Orioles of 1898 or players who had been O’s in 1897 and were Washington Senators in 1898. At least one of the Baltimore player pictures carries a photo credit to Betz Photo Studio in that city.

    The dual dates with which the set is identified reflects the fact that many of the pictures carry either an 1898 or an 1899 date along with the player name, position and team on front.

    That period of issue gives the National Copper Plate and companion M101-1 pictures a near monopoly on the baseball player memorabilia market for that era. The pictures were issued in the “cardless” gap between the 1895 Mayo’s and the 1903 E107 caramel cards. The only significant contemporary baseball player collectible series was the 1898 Cameo Pepsin Gum pins, where many of the players from the NCP set also appear.

    Even in the absence of a consensus hobby definition, it would be a stretch to call the National Copper Plate pictures “rookie cards,” despite the fact that for more than half of the players on the checklist, this appearance is their first, if not their only, appearance on a collectible. Thus, a collector seeking to assemble, for example, the earliest memorabilia depiction of each Hall of Famer would be a candidate to acquire the National Copper Plate Co. pictures of Jimmy Collins, Elmer Flick, Willie Keeler, Bobby Wallace, Vic Willis and, most significantly, Honus Wagner. The impressive size of these pictures places them outside of most collectors’ definition of a “baseball card,” although their format is prototypical of what we know today as baseball cards – that is, a photo and identification on front and a career summary on back.

    In fact, the National Copper Plate pictures are the first significant baseball collectibles to have anything except advertising on their backs. And what backs they are!

    Contained within a box at center is a career summary of the player. The write-up summarizes the player’s amateur and pro career and often includes such personal data as hometown, physical description, career highlights, off-season particulars and even, for some players, sordid details of on-going salary disputes. Given the quantity and quality of player information in those biographies it is possible that they originated with the data maintained in the editorial files of The Sporting News, another point of synergy between the two companies.

    As mentioned, examination of the pictures in the NCP/TSN portfolio reveals that the introductory paragraphs for the set(s) in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards will need some revision. There will also be some changes made to the checklist for the set in that book, all related to discrepancies between how the player is identified on the picture itself and the form in which his name appears in the checklist.

    For the first time anywhere we’ll present here a corrected checklist for the 1898-99 NCP pictures that includes the team with whom the player is pictured (always of particular interest to single-team collector specialists). Parenthetical initials after a player name will indicate that player’s NCP picture is: (R) a “rookie” issue (his first solo appearance on a baseball collectible; (O) his only known collectible, (F) a full-length picture, and, (M) also included in the M101-1 set. A few other notes are also included.

    1898-99 National Copper Plate Portfolio of Prominent Baseball Players

    (1) M.F. Amole, Washington (O)(F). Doc Amole’s middle initial was actually “G.” He played only two seasons in the majors, 1897-98.

    (2) A.C. Anson, Chicago. This is technically a post-career contemporary issue as Anson retired as Chicago’s player-manager after the 1897 season.

    (3) Robert Becker, Philadelphia (O). Becker pitched in only six M.L. games, all with the Phillies in 1897-98, with a 0-2 record.

    (4) Martin Bergen, Boston (R)(M).

    (5) James J. Collins, Boston (R)(M).

    (6) Joe Corbett, Baltimore (O)(F). The only known baseball collectible of boxing champion Gentleman Jim Corbett’s brother.

    (7) Louis Criger, St. Louis (R)(M).

    (8) Lave N. Cross, St. Louis (M).

    (9) Montford Cross, Philadelphia (R).

    (10) Eugene DeMontreville, Baltimore (R)(M).

    (11) Charlie Dexter, Louisville (R).

    (12) P.J. Donovan, Pittsburg (R)(M). All other Pirates have the city name spelled with the ‘h” on the end.

    (13) Thomas Dowd, St. Louis (O). Surprising because played in the major leagues for 10 years between 1891-1901.

    (14) John J. Doyle, Washington (F)(M).

    (15) Hugh Duffy, Boston (M).

    (16) Frank Dwyer, Cincinnati.

    (17) Fred Ely, Pittsburgh (R).

    (18) A.F. Esterquest, Cleveland (O). Though property of the Indians, Esterquest never played in the major leagues. The shortstop was farmed out to Youngstown early in 1898.

    (19) Wm. Ewing, Cincinnati.

    (20) Elmer Harrison Flick, Philadelphia (R)(M).

    (21) Daniel Friend, Columbus (O). Friend is the only player in the NCP set to be identified with a minor league team. From 1895-98 he had pitched for Chicago, with a 32-29 record, including 18 wins in 1896.

    (22) Geo. F. Gilpatrick, St. Louis (O). His name was correctly spelled “Gillpatrick.” His big league career comprised only seven games with the 1898 Brown Stockings, and an 0-2 record.

    (23) J.M. Goar, Cincinnati (R).

    (24) Mike Griffin, Brooklyn (M).

    (25) Clark C. Griffith, Chicago (M).

    (26) Wm. Hill, Cincinnati (R).

    (27) Wm. E. Hoy, Louisville.

    (28) James Hughes, Brooklyn (R)(M).

    (29) William Joyce, New York.

    (30) William Keeler, Brooklyn (R)(M). Most of Wee Willie’s cards and collectibles date from his later association with the N.Y. Highlanders.

    (31) Joseph J. Kelley, Brooklyn (M). Because he was with the Superbas for only a short part (1899-1901) of his Hall of Fame career, collectibles specifying that team association are rare.

    (32) William Kennedy, Brooklyn (M).

    (33) William Lange, Chicago (R)(M).

    (34) John J. McGraw, Baltimore (M).

    (35) W.B. Mercer, Washington (R). Win Mercer’s initials were actually “G.B.”

    (36) Charles A. Nichols, Boston (M).NCPNopsfs

    (37) Jerry Nops, Baltimore (F)(M). This is not technically an “only”  card for Jerry Nops, as he does appear in the 1990 Target all-time Dodgers set, but it is his only career-contemporary issue, despite his having pitched in six major league seasons.

    (38) John O’Connor, Cleveland (M).

    (39) Richard Padden, Pittsburgh (R).

    (40) Wilber Robinson, Baltimore (F)(M). Of course the Hall of Fame catcher’s first name was actually “Wilbert.”

    (41) William Shindle, Brooklyn.

    (42) Charles Stahl, Boston (R)(M).

    (43) E.P. Stein, Brooklyn (O). Ed Stein’s middle initial was actually “F.” He falls into the only-collectible category despite having had an eight-year big league career with Chicago and Brooklyn, winning 109 games, including 27- and 26-win seasons with Brooklyn in 1892 and 1894 (he only 19 in 1893).

    (44) S.L. Thompson, Philadelphia.

    (45) John Wagner, Louisville (R)(M).

    (46) R.J. Wallace, Cleveland (R)(M).

    (47) Victor L. Willis, Boston (R)(M).

    (48) Parke Wilson, New York (R).

    (49) George Yeager, Boston (O). Because his career in the bigs was in the period 1896-1902, this is Yeager’s only known collectible. He played all over the diamond for Boston, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, the Giants and Baltimore.

    (50) C.L. Zimmer, Cleveland.

    Based on research done in conjunction with cataloging this extraordinary set, the introductory information presented for both this set and the related Sporting News M101-1 portrait premiums will be rewritten.

    The (figurative) fall of the auctioneer’s hammer will determine how extensively the pricing columns for these sets will need to be rewritten.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009

    Charley Peete . . . Done Too Soon

    56Peetefront    From Pickles Dillhoefer and Austin McHenry in 1922 to Josh Hancock in 2007, the St. Louis Cardinals have, perhaps as much as any Major League Baseball team, suffered the untimely death of its players.
        Probably none was more tragic and poignant than that of Charley Peete in late 1956, who died, along with his wife and three children,  in a commercial airliner crash in South America.
        Peete never appeared on a true baseball card in his short professional career, and on only a couple of collectibles as a minor leaguer. I recently made him the subject of one of my custom card creations, in the format of 1956 T56Peetebackopps. Besides showing you how the card turned out, I thought it appropriate to share Peete’s story with you.
        Various contemporary sources give differing spellings of Peete’s name. An obituary in the local paper said that while an extra “e” was usually attached to his surname in the sports pages, the family said “Peet” was correct. Some sources give his informal name as Charlie, though he spelled it Charley when signing autographs, and used the Peete spelling on all known autographs, occasionally adding a “Jr.,” as his father’s name was also Charles. He was not known to have a middle name.
    Peete claimed he was not a sports standout at Norcum High School in Portsmouth, Va., but he played baseball and football and ran track. He ran the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds and demonstrated an outstanding throwing arm.
        Following high school, he played for various teams in Portsmouth’s competitive black semi-pro circuit. In 1950, at age 21, Charley played briefly with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League, then with his teenage brother Jimmy traveled from southeastern Virginia to participate in the inaugural season of the Manitoba-Dakota League, a professional circuit outside of Organized Baseball. Charley played for the Brandon Greys, whose 32-16 record was tops in the circuit, but who lost the league championship to the Winnipeg Buffaloes in the playoffs.
        The ManDak League was notable for the number of Negro Leagues veterans who populated its rosters. Aging stars such as Leon Day, Ray Dandridge, Lyman Bostock Sr., and Willie Wells, Sr. and Jr. played there. The Minot Mallards even persuaded Satchel Paige to sign a three-game contract (at three innings per game), from whom leftie Jimmy Peete learned a thing or two about pitching as a teammate. Jimmy played in the minor leagues from 1955-59, reaching as high as the Pacific Coast League.
        The Army reached out to Charley Peete after his season in Canada and he served in the Korean War. When he returned to civilian life in 1953, Charley petitioned Frank Lawrence, who owned the Portsmouth Merrimacs of the Class B Piedmont League, for a tryout. Peete had bulked up on army chow and at 190-200 pounds, had packed on such muscle that his teammates called him “Mule,” as in, “strong as a . . . .”
        That strength was manifested in an outstanding throwing arm. One teammate said Peete could “hang blurred ropes” from right field, and that his throws “made a boiling, churning sound” as they went through the air.
        Peete’s timing was good for his entry into Organized Baseball. In 1953 the Piedmont League, comprising teams in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, was in its first year of integration, with seven black players on four of its team as the season opened. Peete was given a uniform and began working out with the ’Macs. A few days later, he was called on to pinch-hit and in his first at-bat he hit a 3-2 pitch for a grand slam home run. He won the right field job and hit .275 for the season. For a brief 10-game period, one of Peete’s teammates on the ’Macs was Negro Leagues star and future Hall of Famer Buck Leonard, who was playing his only games in integrated Organized Baseball.
    Peete followed up in 1954 by boosting his BA to .311 and his homerun output from four to 17. The Rochester Redwings, to the consternation of owner Merrimac’s owner Lawrence, an independent operator who had tried to sell Peete to St. Louis earlier that year, drafted Peete for what Lawrence termed a bargain price.
        Peete made the jump from the Class B Piedmont League to the AAA International League for 1955. He was batting .280 for the Redwings after the first month of the minor league season, and the other St. Louis AAA farm club, the Omaha Cardinals of the American Association, purchased his contract to fill a vacancy in center field. The 1955 season was Omaha’s first at the Triple-A classification, the Cardinals having moved the team there from Columbus.
    Charley ended the 1955 season at Omaha with a .317 BA, nine home runs and 63 RBI in 99 games. His combined batting record for Rochester and Omaha in 1955 was .310-10-73.
    Peete appears in a very collectible team photo of the 1955 Omaha Cardinals. The  Cardinals farm system in the early 1950s was, virtually across the board, prolific in its issue of team pictures and other collectibles. The ’55 Omaha picture is especially nice in that it is printed in rich, full color. The blank-backed, thin cardboard picture measures 6-3/4” x 4-3/4” and was, according to Dan Bretta, who supplied the scan illustrated herewith, a stadium giveaway.
    Peete played winter ball in 1955 with Almendares in the Cuban League and Pastora in Venezuela’s Occidental League.
        The 1956 season opened with Peete back in Omaha and hitting well enough that the Cardinals called him up on July 16. He arrived in St. Louis hampered by a split thumb and was able to hit only .192 with little power in 23 games over the month and a day that, as it developed, would comprise his entire major league career. Peete’s unorthodox batting style, which included dipping his bat as he swung, allowed big league pitchers to exploit his weakness on the low inside curve and he struck out in 10 of his 52 at-bats.
        He was returned to Omaha and when he resumed his hot hitting and ended the season leading the Association with a .350 average, he was once again being touted as one of the Cardinals brightest prospects.
        At Omaha in ’56 he was one of 22 O-Cards who appeared in a team-issue “PICTURE-PAK” that is actually a plastic comb-bound booklet of 3-1/2” x 4-3/8” facsimile autographed black-and-white photos. With the 1955 team photo, the picture pack is about the only remotely accessible Charley Peete memorabilia available to today’s collectors.  A handful of Charley Peete autographs are known, but they are not inexpensive. One example on a 3x5 index card has been offered on an internet sales site for $1,600.
        We’ll never know whether Charley Peete would have achieved major league stardom or his collectibles become ubiquitous because he didn’t live to see his 28th birthday. On Nov. 26 he boarded Linea Aeropostal Venezolana’s Flight 253 at Idlewild Airport in New York with his wife Nettie, age 21, their three young children (Deborah, 26 months, Karen, 15 months, and Kenny, not yet a month old), 13 other passengers and a crew of seven for an overnight flight to Caracas, where he was to join the Valencia team in the Venezuelan Association. Charley had begun the 1956-57 winter ball season with Cienfuegos in the Cuban League, but left after a few weeks.
        Just after 8 a.m. on Nov. 27, the pilot of the Lockheed Constellation radioed that he was approaching Maiquetia, Caracas’ seaside airport in a rainstorm. He was two miles away. The plane never arrived; its charred wreckage was discovered later that day in cloud-shrouded 6,700-foot mountains nearby. There were no survivors. It was reported the bodies of the crash victims were buried the next day in Caracas. It is not known whether the Peete family’s remains were ever returned to their Portsmouth home.
        A Little League field in Portsmouth is named for Charley Peete.
       UPDATE: On Aug. 22, 1957, what The Sporting News described as an "elaborate bronze plaque" was permanently mounted on the wall of the stadium concourse. Peete's brother Jim, a pitcher for Reading (Eastern League) in the Cleveland organization, and Charley Peete's mother-in-law, Mrs. Odessa Davis, of Portsmouth, Va., attended the unveiling.
       Since old Rosenblatt Stadium was demolished in 2010, I wonder where the plaque is today?