Thursday, December 30, 2010

A 1971-style Carl Weathers Raiders card

I just noticed that this will be my 101st posting for 2010. That's not as prolific as my 2009 output, which was 123 posts in just over half a year. However, with my "day job" and my work as a contributor to the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, there never seems to be enough time to work on my custom cards or to share the results with you here.

As I mentioned the other day, I had the good fortune recently to find three different, eminently useable, photos of Carl Weathers in his early incarnation as a college and professional football player, after years of searching.

I'm happy to present the second of what will be three different Carl Weathers football cards, for reasons that I put forth in my Dec. 28 posting. This one also represents my breaking new ground in the use of classic card designs. This is my first 1971 Topps-style football custom creation. The end result is especially gratifying because there were some unusual challenges involved in getting the card from concept to reality.

As you can see, the card started with a black-and-white photo. I'm convinced that the picture was originally the work of the Topps photographer who shot the 10 Raiders photos that appeared in the 1971 set. All photos shared the same background, the same position of the sun, and, with one exception, the format of full-length action poses.

It doesn't seem likely that a Topps photographer, or any free-lancer hoping to sell card photos to Topps, would have been shooting in b/w at that time. If, in fact, the cards started out as black-and-white pix, the Topps airbrush artists would be green with envy over the ease with which I was able to colorize the picture with the Photoshop Elements graphics program that I use.

In any case, the picture I found on the internet was in black-and-white, and besides adding the color, I had to remove the red "watermark" from across the photo. That involved a bit of, as the " . . . for Dummies" book says, wrangling of pixels, but as I've mentioned before, this is my hobby and I don't mind at all putting in the time to get a picture the way I want it.

Because there is not a rigid consistency to the colors of the player name, team, position and cartoon figure among the 1971 Raiders cards, I was able to choose those that suited by personal preference.

The back of the card was really the hard part. As mentioned in my earlier piece, while there is a lot of information on the internet about Carl Weathers, the actor, there is precious little specific detail about Carl Weathers, the football player. Actual stats are especially difficult to come by from 40 years ago. The Raiders media guide for 1971 only says that Weathers was "active for" seven games in 1970 at linebacker and on special teams; there were no actual numbers provided.

Still, I opted to include an "INTERCEPTION RECORD" stat box at the bottom of my card, even though it was all zeroes. I did so largely because the paucity of information about Weathers' college days and first year as a pro was such that I just didn't have enough information to write two or three more sentences.

As it was, I had to come up with 147 words of copy for the player biography. In contrast, for my All-American style cards, the struggle is usually to limit a summary of the player's career, or even his life, to 80-90 words. Writing "long" for this card was definitely a change for me.

Also challenging was putting those words into print. The Topps graphic artists really outdid themselves on the backs of the '71s. I had to use eight different typefaces from four font "families" to come up with a reasonable replication of the Topps original. At that, a few of the fonts are not exact matches, but if I hadn't said anything here, I doubt anybody would notice.

Coming up with the cartoon on back was not as difficult as you might imagine. I correctly guessed that an O.J. Simpson card might have something along those lines, and I only had to look as far as his 1970 Topps rookie card to find what I needed.

With two of my three Carl Weathers cards now complete, I'm waiting for the mail to bring me a 1972 O-Pee-Chee card to use as a template for the third card. This will be my first attempt to recreate a Canadian card, and that brings with it a special challenge. OPC football cards in those years were bilingual, English and French. 

I suppose I'll probably use an internet translation site but I have some trepidation that such a program might have problems converting English football idiom into something that won't make a native French-speaker laugh.

Watch this space after the turn of the new year and we'll see.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

More one-card "sets" for catalog

Sprinkled throughout the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards are dozens, perhpas more than 100, of what I call "one-card sets."

These are baseball cards and collectibles that are not part of a larger issue, but rather stand alone as the only example of their type.

Quite often these cards were issued locally or regionally for a one-time event, like a player's appearance at a sponoring business to meet the public and sign autographs, or to mark a player's endorsement of a business (perhaps even his own) or a product.

Some of these special issues feature the biggest names of their era, while others picture a hometown favorite. Some are rare, some are common.

When compiling the SCBC was my (more than) full-time job, I never missed the chance to add these specialty cards to the book's data base, thus ensuring the record of their existence for future generations of collectors. Today, with only very limited time to devote to the book, these cards often take a back seat to more mainstream issues that need listing or updating.

But with a little time on my hands before college football games start for the day, I thought I'd share a couple of recently reported one-card sets with you.

From Cincinnati Reds specialty collector Mark Reed, we have a card that was most likely issued between about 1971-76 by the Richmond Square Mall in Richmond, Ind., due east of Indianapolis near the Ohio state line.

In a format similar to other cards featuring Cincinnati Reds players of the time, the Don Gullett card is printed in black-and-white on semi-gloss stock in a size of 3-3/4" x 5-1/2". It was probably issued in conjunction with an autograph appearance by the Reds' pitcher at the mall. Because it appears to be contemporary with similar issues, we're going to arbitrarily assign this card a 1972 issue date for cataloging purposes.
The second single-card set was reported by another Reds' collector, Phil Hollandin, who specializes in the Big Red Machine teams.
He reliably dates it to 1974, when the person from whom he purchased the card acquired it in person at an autograph appearance by Joe Morgan at the bank northeast of Cincinnati.
The card is 3" x 5" in size, printed in black-and-white and blank-backed.
In both of these cases, it is not currently known whether these businesses also had other autograph guests for whom cards might have been issued.

1955-style Carl Weathers. Check.

Back on Sept. 1, I did a piece about how I got into making 1955 All-American style custom cards. In that article, I mentioned the nine players that were at the top of my wish list . . . players for whom I needed good photos in their college football uniforms to work up a card.

With the help of several readers I've been able to complete four of those projects. I've completed cards of Rocky Bleier (Notre Dame), childhood friend Jim Bond (Michigan State), Frank Thomas (Auburn), and now, Carl Weathers.
And, when it rains, it pours (sorry So. California). While doing a Google image search, I not only found the San Diego State photo that I used for this card. but also found two others photos of Weathers in football uniforms that will provide the basis for a couple of other tribute cards.
I found a photo of Weathers in an Oakland Raiders uniform that will be the basis for a 1971 Topps-style NFL card, and as a member of the CFL's Vancouver B.C. Lions, with which I'll make my first Canadian-style custom card, in the format of 1972 O-Pee-Chee.
There's lots of biographical data for Weathers on the internet (though precious little detail, especially stats, of his football career), so I'll confine my comments to just the personal note that I am a great admirer of him as an actor. I like his range, whether he's playing a heavy in a mid-1970s blackploitation film, or an action hero in his later movies.
You probably know him best as the bombastic boxer Apollo Creed in Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III and Rocky IV, between 1976-1985.
Most recently, other than a currently running Miller Lite commercial, he played Coach Trainor in the 2009 TBS comedy series Brothers. I liked his work on that series, playing the irascible father to brothers played by Michael Strahan and Daryl Mitchell. Again, I admire the range it showed as an actor.
Watch this space in the next couple of days or a week for the unveiling of my two other Carl Weathers custom football cards.

Since publication of my wish list, I've been able to get photos of actors Woody Strode (UCLA) and Johnny Mack Brown (Alabama), but haven't tackled their cards yet. That leaves me still searching for quality photos of :

  • Donald Driver, Alcorn State
  • Jim Taylor, LSU
  • Dean Cain, Princeton
If you can provide a useable photo, I'll send you three of the finished cards. You can e-mail me at

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Some "A Christmas Story" baseball/card trivia

Watching the 1983 movie A Christmas Story on Christmas Day has been a family tradition for many years.

This was the first year we've watched on a big-screen high-def TV and we were all amazed at the little details we hadn't picked up on before.

One of the first "new" things I noticed, early in the movie, is that Ralphie has three baseball cards tacked to his bed's headboard. Two of them are T206s, and one appears to be a larger format card like a 1936 Goudey Wide Pen, which would certainly be in keeping with the movie's intended time frame.

There's also a scene in which "Old Man," reading the paper at the kitchen table, remarks on the Sox' trade of "Bullfrog." In poking around on the movie's trivia section on The Internet Movie Database, I read that this script comment was a likely reference to former Chicago White Sox pitcher Bill "Bullfrog" Dietrich. Dietrich pitched for the Sox from 1936-1946, though he was never traded to or from the team. He came on waivers from the Senators and was released late in the 1946 season, picked up by the A's for 1947.

Coincidentally, I don't remember seeing that scene in the TBS version of the movie that I watched the other day. It may have been cut, or I may not have been paying close enough attention.

I'm enjoying my two-week Holidays' vacation, finally having a little time to work on some custom cards and post a blog entry or two. I hope if you've had time off, you similarly enjoying it.

See you next year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A tip for custom card makers

Those who have held in their hand actual examples of my printed custom cards sometimes remark on the "sharpness" of the graphics.

One of the ways I accomplish this is to not merely accept the graphic elements as they appear on the cards I scan as the basis for my customs. The old four-color printing technology of the 1950s-1980s was frequently subject to distracting off-register printing of one or more of the colors.

At arm's length this usually isn't a problem, but up close it can give lettering, picture frames, etc., a muddy or blurry look.

To produce the lettering on my cards, I can usually closely replicate the original type face with one of the fonts available in my Photoshop Elements graphics package, so I don't have to pick up such things as team names, positions, etc., that might exhibit dot-pattern structure (if they were in color on the original).

On some cards, though, there is no readily available substitute for something the Topps artists created. A case in point is the 1971 Topps football card. Team names on those cards are in a tall, thin, very bold font, shadowed in black.

At my level of semi-expertise in Photoshop, I don't have the skill to produce shadowed type, and while I've seen some fonts that seem like they might be close to those on the '71T, I'm not sure they're an exact fit.

In cases like that, I opt to clean up the scan from the original card. This involves hours of nit-picky work with the pencil tool. Since making the customs is my hobby, however, I don't mind putting in the time, and I like the crisp graphics that result.

The accompanying picture shows the contrast between an original letter (the A), and my cleaned up version (the R).

Keep watching this space, in a few days, or a week or two, you can see the card I'm currently working on; I think you'll like it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A custom card for the world's best punter

While I waited for my DVR to capture the Sunday football games, I finished a new addition to my 1955 All-American style update set.

The card features Ray Guy, who caused a sensation in the NFL when the Oakland Raiders made him a first-round pick (N0. 23 overall) in the 1973 draft. It was the first time (and, to date, the only time) a punter had ever been a #1 pick.

Guy's kicking at Southern Mississippi had been legendary. As a senior he set an NCAA record with a 61-yard field goal in a snowstorm at Utah State.

Earlier that season, at home against Louisiana Tech, the Golden Eagles had been stopped at their seven-yard line. From deep in his own end zone, Guy boomed a punt that went 80 yards in the air, than bounced and rolled through the opposite end zone. The punt was estimated at 120+ yards.

Guy was also a starting safety, setting a school record with eight interceptions in 1972. He was the first So. Miss. player to have his uniform number retired.

Guy was also pegged as the school's last-ditch quarterback; he could throw a football 70 yards in the air.

In the NFL, Guy justified the Raiders' gamble. He proved a formidable defensive weapon and never had a punt returned for a touchdown. He was an integral part of the Raiders' Super Bowl winnings teams in SB XI, XV and XVIII. Guy was first team All-Pro in 1976, 1977 and 1978.

Guy is a medmber of the Georgia (he was born and played high school football there) and Mississippi Sports Halls of Fame, and in 2003 was named to the College Football Hall of Fame. He has been a frequent finalist for the NFL Hall of Fame, but hasn't yet made it.

Annually since 2000, the best college football punter receives the Ray Guy Award.

Guy changed the way NFL teams made up their roster. Prior to his game-changing entry into the NFL, teams usually had their placekicker or a halfback doing the punting. Today, an effective punter is essential for any contender.

Friday, December 17, 2010

1967 Topps Punch-Outs: Lose 5, Gain 2

The enormous capacity of the internet to facilitate communications among hobbyists has resulted in two significant changes to the checklist for the 1967 Topps Punch-Outs game cards.

Probably since the first checklist for that set was promulgated in the mid-to-late 1970s, the issue was deemed to contain 91 different game cards, differentiated by the photo and name of the "Team Captain" appearing at top. It's unclear how or why the error was made, but it now appears that only 86 different players are represented as captains.

The concensus among dedicated vintage Topps collectors is that card depicting Bert Campaneris, Bob Gibson, Jerry Grote, Roy McMillan and Brooks Robinson were never issued. For the past two editions of the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, those five players have been noted in the book's listings as "Believed not to exist." With the publication of the 2012 edition, the checklist will be reconfigured without those five players.

There will, however, be two additions to the set list.

A photo variation of the Frank Robinson card has been reported by Texas collector Al Richter, who specializes in Topps variations.

Some of the 1967 Punch-Outs picture Robinson in a batting pose, wearing the uniform of the Cincinnati Reds, for whom he played through 1965. The Reds logo on the cap has been airbrushed off.

Another version of the card pictures Robinson in a smiling portrait, wearing a Baltimore Orioles cap.

The two Frank Robinson variations will join those of Roberto Clemente (plain background and stadium background) that have been listed in the Big Book for several years.
Another variation for the set has been reported by Lary Serota. He has Matty Alou punch-ourts that have the portrait photo facing either left or facing right.

You may have noticed that the line-up on each of the Frank Robinson Punch-Outs pictured here is different. Specialist collectors know that many, if not most or all, of the cards in this set can be found with different line-ups for the same "captain." While these are, indeed, legitimate variations, it is unlikely that the hundreds of those line-up variations that likely exist will ever be cataloged . . . at least not on my watch.

Such a "master list" compilation could theoretically be accomplished because of the ease with which pictures can now be digitally made and shared. A quick check of eBay alone shows more than two dozen Punch-Out cards for sale, including a couple of the three-card panels in which they were originally issued. A web page dedicated to the subject might generate enough response over time to accomplish that goal. But do "completist" player or team collectors really want to learn that they now need more than one Punch-Out of a player, especially when nice examples sell for $50-$500 apiece?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A favorite Feller photo

Bob Feller's failing health has been in the hobby news lately. The oldest living Hall of Famer has been involved in the sportscard and memorabilia hobby for well over 30 years as an autograph guest and speaker at card shows.

In that period he developed an understanding of the hobby with a special appreciation of collectors who were also knowledgeable baseball fans.

In that spirit, Feller was a celebrity contestant in a baseball card flipping contest at the 1985 National Sports Collectors Convention in Anaheim. I recently rediscovered some photos from that event that were taken by then-editor Steve Ellingboe of Sports Collectors Digest.

Back in '85, the card flipping contest was just one of many activities that took place at the National. The show back then wasn't strictly the buy-sell venue that it has since become. There used to be guest speakers, educational presentations, a softball game and other diversions.

The celebrity portion of the card flipping contest may have been unique to the 1985 convention. In the photo here, Feller is shown making a toss, while Chuck Connors waits for his turn. I no longer recall what other celebrities may have been involved. It is my recollection that Feller won the contest.

I just thought you might enjoy this photo of Bob Feller in a different kind of pitching action.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A half-century old collecting memory

An "Odds and Ends" item on the sports page a couple of week ago shot me back more than 50 years ago as it brought into focus a childhood card-collectring memory.

The article was a brief obituary for former Green Bay Packers receiver (and sometimes running back) Lew Carpenter, who had been one of Vince Lombardi's first acquisitions upon taking over as Packers coach in 1959.

A 1959 Topps Lew Carpenter card was one of the first vintage football cards I reaquired when I got back into card collecting in the late 1970s. I probably paid 50 cents for the card at one of the area card shows; or maybe it was a buck, since it was a Packers card being bought in Wisconsin.

My purchase of the card back then, and retention ever since, wasn't based on any special interest in Carpenter as a player, since I don't recall having even seen him play on TV.

Rather, my interest in the card stemmed from the recollection of the first time I saw it. Some bubblegum cards have that effect on me. A look at them today can send me back in time to a vivid childhood memory.

In the case of Lew Carpenter, I was transported back to an early autumn day in 1959. I was walking home after school, but I hadn't gone directly home. I had made a lengthy detour to get to Zwicker's, one of the corner grocery stores that were uniquitous in the days before "supermarkets."

Someone at school had probably brought in some of the new year's football cards that day, and I had to get some for myself, even if it meant trekking to an out of the way neighborhood to spend my nickel. I guess I didn't want to take the chance of having to check all of the stores closer to home in hopes of finding the new cards.

My memory is that the first time I laid eyes on the 1959 Lew Carpenter card I was walking in front of Jim Hoey's house, about a block from the store, when the familiar Packers logo caught my eye. I suppose that first block of the walk home had been traversed as I turned the brightly colored wax pack over and over, admiring the new design.

I don't remember who else might have been in that first football card pack of 1959, but I'll never forget Lew Carpenter's card that made the extra-long walk home worthwhile.

Now, as Paul Harvey used to say, here's the rest of the story. That detour to Zwicker's store added a full mile to my usual half-mile walk home . . . and I was eight years old.

In this day of Amber alerts, helicopter parents and a cell phone in every backpack, some may find it nearly incredible that a third-grader was allowed to walk home alone from school enjoying the simple pleasure of a piece of bubblegum and a handful of shiny new football cards. I survived, and so did my love of bubblegum cards,

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Frank Thomas Auburn custom card

It has been an exceptionally long time since my last posting. In the interim I have made my first-ever move to a winter residence. Attempts to secure reliable internet service have been the principal reason I haven't been posting.

At my "home" office in Wisconsin, I had fast, reliable DSL internet access that I now realize I had been taking for granted. Here in central Pennsylvania I struggle to attain and maintain internet connection for both my day job and for my hobby undertakings.

Preparing for, executing, and recbounding from the move also ate up the free time I customarily would be using to work on my custom cards body of work.

I'm happy to return to this forum with a new creation that allows me to put a most satisfying red X on one of the top items on my wish list of cards to create.

Some months back I enumerated a dozen or more custom card projects that were being held in abeyance for lack of a suitable player photo. Several readers have stepped forward with either actual photos, or suggestions that will allow me to make great strides on whitlling down that wish list over the coming months.

The most welcome contribution came from Illinois collector Kraig Kahler, who was able to hook me up with a picture of Frank Thomas in an Auburn football uniform.

Kraig initially wrote that such a picture had been included in a feature in a 1991 issue of Beckett Future Stars magazine, back in the hey days of rookie-card fever and speculation.

The scan he sent from the magazine showed exactly the type of photo I had been looking for over these past many years. It appears to be a university athletic department publicity shot of Thomas in action.

While Kraig didn't want to risk breaking up his magazine collection to send me the issue so that I could make a high-res scan, he went out on eBay and found a copy of the magazine for less that $4 delivered to my door.

When I first laid eyes on the Thomas picture, the image of the 1955 Topps All-American football card of Nebraska star Bob Reynolds leapt to mind. The Cornhusker's card is one of the vertically formatted cards in the 1955 AA set, and features a full-length action pose. That card became the template for the Frank Thomas card I was going to add to my 1955 Updates. As you'll see, that plan eventually fell by the wayside.

My initial design involved dropping a colorized version of the Thomas picture onto the stadium background of the Reynolds card. Yet, when I had done so, the result didn't bowl me over. The image of Thomas was just too small for my liking. After looking at the card for a couple of days, I decided that cropping the photo from full-length to waist-up, and going with a horizontal format was way to go.

In making that switch, I was able to add little more than 40% to the size of the Thomas image. I believe this makes a much nicer card. After all, if I'm going to make a Frank Thomas football card, I want to make a card on which the future Hall of Famer is instantly recognizable.

With the design completed on my computer, my challenges weren't yet totally overcome. The printed I have been using for the past year or so to produce my cards gave up the ghost soon after I got it set up in my new office. After two days of fiddling with it, I determined that the print carriage was no longer functional.

That all-in-one HP OfficeJet printer had been a pain in my neck since its purchase. It had taken several days of work by real computer pros to even get the thing to work in the first place. At one point a hired tech had spent a full eight-hour day on the phone with various levels of HP techies without success. Finally the software-hardware guy at work took over control of my computer remotely and was able to bring the printer up to at least minimal functionality.

That experience had convinced me that I was not going to be buying an HP printer this go-round. After a half-day of on-line shopping, mostly spent reading customer reviews, I decided to go with a Canon PIXMA MP560. Set up was relatively painless, and I've been plased with the first color card images that have been forthcoming. As a bonus, this printer has an optional back feeder that may allow me to begin actually printing on card stock; I'll be experimenting with just how thick a stock it will digest in the coming weeks.

Ultimately, the ability to print my card fronts on cardboard stock could greatly reduce the time it takes for me to bring my efforts from a computer concept to a card in hand.

In any case, I am able to be back in production with my custom cards. That will make the gray days of winter go by much more pleasantly.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Some light shed on mystery Jimmy Waytt card

A veteran West Coast hobbyist and long-time professional baseball photographer has provided some interesting insight into the "1956 Remar Bread" card of Jimmy Wyatt that we wrote about a while back.

Doug McWilliams, a long-time Oakland Oaks collector and fan, wrote. "I saw your musings about Jimmy Wyatt and the 1956 Oaks card. I would say it is strictly a vanity card.The image used is not Mr.Wyatt. It is Dick Wakefield and it matches exactly his 1950 Remar/Sunbeam card --on the front.

"I own the original 4x5 negative used for that card," McWilliams wrote, " and have several glossy prints of same. My original has much more surrounding image on the negative than the real card does. The 'JimmyWyatt' card matches exactly the cropping of the 1950 Wakefield. I'd guess he used maybe the original printer's image (negatives, plates, etc.), but I doubt it.

"Maybe he worked in the same print shop that did the 1950 Remars, and came upon them in 1956, and printed them for fun, which might explain the coloring, toning of age, with the paper. Or, maybe he came up with some 'old' paper recently, and did them. Ihave unused paper that's 50-60 years old around here. The speculation is endless."

McWilliams continued, "If you look up minor league ball players, there is a James Wyatt listed,he would have been 20 in 1956 (not 22), he was the same weight, but not the same height. And -- he never got past 2 years in 'D' ball. I'd guess the card is for another Jimmy Wyatt.

Doug McWilliams was a major league photographer from 1969 through 1995, 24 years of that for Topps. He also shot for himself, and did B&W and color postcards for the players' personal use. His pre-1981 player postcards are listed in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Trying to top Topps' 74 Namath

As I said in my Oct. 27 posting when I introduced by 1977 Topps-style football card of Joe Namath in a Los Angeles Rams unifiorm, an apparent contract dispute between Topps and Broadway Joe prevented Namath's appearance on a Topps card after 1973.

Few collectors have ever seen the proof card Topps prepared for its 1974 football set before Namath pulled the plug. As far as I know, there are at least two examples of the blank-back proof 1974 Topps Joe Namath card. Larry Fritsch showed me the one he had more than 25 years ago. In 2004, Heritage Auctions sold an example for $2,340. I'd be surprised if more than two or three other examples of the Namath proof card exist.

In one way, that's not a bad thing, because what Topps was contemplating issuing in 1974 was one ugly-ass card.
I never planned to do any other Topps-style Joe Namath cards for those missing years, but when I gave the '74 proof another look, I thought it might be fun to see if I could improve on the Topps prototype.

For my 1974-style card I decided to adhere to the spirit of Topps' license in that period. That is, since Topps didn't have a license with the NFL, they couldn't depict uniform or helmet logos. Most of the 528 cards in the 1974 set have players in portrait or posed-action photos, usually bare-headed. (The cards are a great resource for researching football player hair styles in the mid-1970s.)

The few game-action photos in the set have been airbrushed to eliminate helmet and jersery logos.

My search for a helmet-less pose of Namath offered few decent choices that dated to that era, but I was fortunate enough to find an eminently suitable picture, as shown here.

As mentioned, the 1974 Topps proof card of Namath is blank-backed. I created a back that I have put on both my reprint of the proof and on my custom card.

I'll let you be the judge of whether I was able to improve on the Topps product, at least in this one instance.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tribute cards to a personal favorite

Sometimes it's hard to say why a collector chooses a player as a personal favorite. That was the case with me and Johnny Sample. I don't know whether it began when I first saw his 1960 Topps rookie card, which remains to my mind one of the most visually appealing football cards of its time, or whether it was my natural teenage contrarian tendancy to embrace what others loathed. And many was the Packers fan in the 1960s that cursed Sample as an uppity something-or-other as he laid out another Green and Gold receiver.

I remember reading his book, Confessions of a Dirty Football Player, published in 1970, after his reitrement. That candid assessment of professional football as he lived it was to the NFL establishment what Jim Bouton's Ball Four was to Major League Baseball. I'm going to order a copy from Amazon and re-read it. I suggest you do the same, or at least google him and read some of the articles available on the internet.

In gathering information for my 1955-style Johnny Sample card, I had to go all the way back to the basics, since I didn't even know what college he had played for.

Turns out Sample was perhaps the finest all-around athlete ever to play for Maryland State. That school, one of what is now known as an Historically Black College/University, last fielded a football team in 1979 and is now known as University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

From 1954-58 Sample starred on the gridiron as a running back, defensive back, punt and kick returner and punter/place kicker. He was named a first-team Black College All-American in 1955 and 1957. His teams had a 28-1-1- record and he earned the distinction of being the first player from an HBCU team selected to play in the College All-Star Game.

Sample also played basketball as a freshman, was a member of the track team and was said to be an accomplished gymnast. On the baseball diamond, he was a slugging, base-stealing all-star second baseman, named the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Player of the Year in 1958 and earning a contract offer from the Philadelphia Phillies.

Sample chose to sign with the Baltimore Colts after they made him a seventh round pick (#79 overall) in the 1958 NFL draft. In 11 pro seasons, Sample gained the reputation as a hard-nosed -- some would say dirty -- defensive back. If he didn't exactly invent the art of trash-talking and the bump and run, he raised those intimidation techniques to a fine art. He also backed up his bravado with studious preparation for games, keeping elaborate notes on pass receivers' tendencies.

Sample's bellicose nature and unwillingness to to stifle himself concerning the black man's place in pro football and in the USA at large made him unpopular with coaches, league officials and most of the mainstream media. His on-field play, however, meant there was always some team willing to give him a job.

In his career, Sample was on the winning side of two of the NFL's most famous games. In the 1958 NFL Championship Game, often called the "Greatest Game Ever Played," Sample intercepted two passes in the fourth quarter, including a 42-yard touchdown, the help the Colts defeat the Giants 23-17 in overtime in the game that many say began the NFL's rise to domination in American sports.

At the other end of his career, Sample was co-captain of the 1968 N.Y. Jets. His interception of an Earl Morrall pass on the Colts' two-yard line helped the Jets cement Joe Namath's guarantee of a Super Bowl III win over the Colts, establishing the AFL's parity with the NFL and assuring the eventual merger of the two leagues.

Sample retired from football after the 1968 season. He owned a ticket agency and the Sample's End Zone sporting goods store. in Philadelphia, where he also hosted a talk radio program for a time. Most impressive to me, however, was that after more than a decade of being pounded in the NFL, Sample took up tennis. As a player he earned a No. 1 ranking in the over-45 age grioup of the American Tennis Association. He also became a professional linesman, officiating at top tennis evgents all over the world. Off the court he sponsored grass-roots tennis programs for kids and sponsoring tournaments.

Sample remained politically active, as well. In 1986 he organized 73 buses from Philadelphia and northern New Jersey to ride to Washington, D.C. for the Million Man March.

Sample died from complications of heart disease in 2005, at the age of 68.

For whatever reason(s), Sample was a favorite of mine, which was too bad because as a kid there was virtually nothing in the way of his football cards to collect. In terms of mainstream cards, he appears only in the 1960 Topps set and, as a Redskin, in the 1966 Philadelphia Gum set (after he had joined the N.Y. Jets). I see on eBay that he also has at least one Kahn's Weiners card and probably appears on a few other regionals over his 11-year pro career.

I don't know how seriously I'm going to approach re-creating a football card legacy for Sample, but I've got some great photos of him from his early years with the Colts, a really super Redskins pose, and a late-career photo in a Jets uniform. With so many other card projects on the docket, it will be hard to devote too much time to just one player, but it's going to be a long winter, so who knows what will happen.
I'll keep you posted.

Monday, November 1, 2010

1955 Burger Beer checklist expands

As promised last time, we're going to take a new look at the issue that has been listed in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards as 1955 Burger Beer Cincinatti Reds premium pictures.

The impetus for this is the recent receipt of scans that were previously lacking, and a near doubling of the checklist for this set.

In the course of my cataloging work over the years I have worked with several dedicated Reds' specialists on building and updating checklists for the Burger Beer premium pictures. Names that come to mind as especially helpful in that work are Len Samworth, Moe Ryan, Bob Montgomery and Mark Reed. The latter was instrumental in allowing us to finally picture and to greatly expand the checklist for 1955 Burger Beer premium pictures.

Burger Beer was one of the Reds' staunch sponsors and (presumably) stadium concessionaires in the 1950s and 1960s. In that period they produced several distinctive styles of Reds' player pictures, though the manner of distribution is unknown . . . at least to me. The pictures may have been given as point-of-purchase handouts, or possibly used to satisfy fan requests for a favorite player's picture.

The Burger Beer premiums are all similar in format. They vary a bit in size, but all have portraits or posed action black-and-white photos on front, surrounded by fairly wide white borders. In the bottom border are some combination of player name (sometimes first and last, sometimes only last name), position, team name and team logo. Backs are generally blank, except for a few issues that have a short advertising message at the bottom.

Dating of the Burger Beer pictures is problematic and in the SCBC, they have been assigned to their various "sets" rather arbitrarily, generally based on shared photo characteristics and the uniform worn by the player, even when the players depicted might not have been on the Reds' roster in a given year. To me, these anomalies suggest that more than one style of picture may have been produced in any given season. Some players, in fact, are shown in the same pictures in different years, sometimes with minor cropping variations.
The issue that we have cataloged as 1955 is one of those "Burger Beer" sets that may or may not actually have any connection to the brewery, since the pictures lack the ad message found on the issues of 1956-1957 and 1958-1959. Based on their similarlity of format to the known Burger Beer issues, however, collectors have accepted them as part of that family.
The 1955 premiums are the most visually appealing of the bunch. Besides large, sharp player action poses or portraits, the fronts feature the iconic Mr. Red anthropomorphized baseball logo in each corner of the wide bottom border. Centered on front at bottom, in either two or three lines of type, are the player name, position and, on most but not all pictures, team name.
It is possible this style of picture was begun in 1954 and continued into 1955, based on the fact that two of the known pictures in this format are of players who were traded away from Cincinnati in the 1954 postseason.
Previous editions of the catalog included no photo, and only 13 players on the checklist. We're happy to be able to greatly expand that checklist and to finally share with you images of this set.
(1) Bobby Adams
(2) Dr. Wayne Anderson (trainer)
(3) Fred Baczewski
(4) Ed Bailey
(5) Gus Bell
(6) Rocky Bridges
(7) Jackie Collum
(8) Art Fowler
(9) Jim Greengrass
(10) Charlie Harmon
(11) Ray Jablonski
(12) Johnny Klippstein
(13) Ted Kluszewski
(14) Roy McMillan
(15) Rudy Minarcin
(16) Joe Nuxhall
(17) Harry Perkowski (traded to Cubs, Oct. 1, 1954)
(18) Wally Post
(19) Frank Smith (traded to Cubs, Dec. 8, 1954)
(20) Gerry Staley
(21) Birdie Tebbetts
(22) Johnny Temple
As always, your reports of additions or corrections to this checklist are encouraged, if you can provide documentation in the form of a scan or photocopy.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

"Missing" 1954 Burger Beer photos found

In recent weeks we've devoted a lot of attention in this space to 1950s-1960s collectibles of the Cleveland Indians. Now I want to turn your attention to Southern Ohio, and the Cincinnati Reds.

In that same era, Reds fans and collectors were blessed with at least as large and wide a selection of team-issued and sponsored collectibles as the Indians fans. In the same way, this wealth of goodies has translated to a large and fanatical collector following today.

That made it all the more curious that until now, the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards' listings of Burger Beer premium player photos included an issue pegged to 1952-1953, a 1955 issue, 1956-1957 and 1958-1959 sets and a catchall 1960-1964 compendium. But there was nothing for 1954.

That has changed. An issue that can be reliably pinpoined to 1954 has been reported and is being debuted here.

In the course of my cataloging work over the years I have worked with several dedicated Reds' specialists on building and updating checklists for the Burger Beer premium pictures. Names that come to mind as especially helpful in that work are Len Samworth, Moe Ryan, Bob Montgomery and Mark Reed. The latter pair have been instrumental in allowing us to finally postulate a checklist for 1954 Burger Beer premium pictures.

Burger Beer was one of the Reds' staunch supporters and (presumably) stadium concessionaires in the 1950s and 1960s. In that period they produced several distinctive styles of Reds' player pictures, though the manner of distribution is unknown . . . at least to me. The pictures may have been given as point-of-purchase handouts, or possibly used to satisfy fan requests for a favorite player's picture.

The Burger Beer premiums are all similar in format. They vary a bit in size, but all have portraits or posed action black-and-white photos on front, surrounded by fairly wide white borders. In the bottom border are some combination of player name (sometimes first and last, sometimes only last name), position, team name and team logo. Backs are generally blank, except for a few issues that have a short advertising message at the bottom.

Dating of the Burger Beer pictures is problematic and in the SCBC, they have been assigned to their various "sets" rather arbitrarily, generally based on shared photo characteristics and the uniform worn by the player, even when the players depicted might not have been on the Reds' roster in a given year. To me, these anomalies suggest that more than one style of picture may have been produced in any given season. Some players, in fact, are shown in the same pictures in different years, sometimes with minor cropping variations.

Here's a summary of what the Standard Catalog shows for these premiums:

1952-1953: 8" x 10-1/2". The REDS-within-C logo appears at bottom, with the player name and, usually, but not always, his position printed to the right of the logo in all-caps. Backs are blank. The current checklist stands at 12.

1955: 8" x 10". The Mr. Red logo appears in each bottom corner at bottom. The player's first/last name, position and, sometimes but not always, team name appear in all-caps in two or three lines. Backs are blank. The checklist in the 2011 catalog stood at 13, but we have been able to add a fair number to that, and will present an update in our next presentation.

1956-1957: 8-1/2" x 11". The only printing in the front bottom border is the player name in all-caps. On back, for the first time, the sponsor is identified in a line of type at bottom that reads: "COURTESY OF BURGER -- A FINER BEER YEAR AFTER YEAR". The checklist now stands at 27, with several players existing in more than one pose. The existence of this ad line raises the possibility that the issues long catalog as 1952-1953, 1955 and 1960-64 may not actually have any connection with Burger Beer, though they are accepted as such by collectors based on their similarity to the issues that bear the ad slogans.

1958-1959: 8-1/2" x 11". Again in this series, variations in poses are known, with the current checklist identifying 17 pictures of 13 players. Player name, sometimes only the surname, appears on front in bold capital letters. On back, at bottom, is a new slogan in two lines, "COURTESY OF SPARKLE * BREWED BURGER BEER / HAVE FUN -- HAVE A BURGER.

1960-1964: 8-1/2" x 11". These premiums are grouped together on the basis of format alone. All have two lines of type on front, presenting the player name and team. Backs are blank. Many of the players are found in more than one pose, some in as many as six. Backs are, once again, blank. Some specialty collectors have proposed breaking this "set" down into its component parts based on player selection and uniform shown. That may be feasible in the future, but the likely reuse of photos from one year ot the next would make it a complicated undertaking. The checklist now stands at 57 player/pose combinations.

To these issues, we expect to add in the 2012 book a listing for 1954 Burger Beer premiums. This issue of 8-1/2" x 11" pictures can be distinguished by the appearance, on either front or back, of the advertising message, "Courtesy of Burger Brewing Co."

Players are identified only by name, in heavy upper- and lower-case typography. Thus far my contributors have pieced together a checklist of nine players and personnel. They are: Bobby Adams, Fred Baczewski, Dick Bartell (coach), Bob Borkowski, Jim Greengrass, Charley Harmon, Waite Hoyt (announcer), Andy Serminick and Birdie Tebbetts (manager). It is likely further pictures from this issue will be reported.

The continuing expansion of the Burger Beer checklists can be lain not only to the dedication of the Reds' collectors, but also to the easy exchange of information and, especially, images via the internet. While I expect that we'll continue to see new pictures added to the lists each year, the hobbyists' embrasure of emerging technology continues to bring us all closer to the ultimate goal of finalized checklists for these great old collectibles.

Your own reports of additions to any of the Burger Beer checklists are encouraged, providing you can verify them with scans or photocopies.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My 1977 Topps-style Namath Rams custom card

My latest custom football card creation is a bit out of my normal range.

For one thing, it's not a college football card; for another it's in a 1970s format.

As a kid, the last football cards I purchased on any kind of a regular basis were the 1960 Topps and the 1961 Fleer. By the 1970s I wasn't following football and I wasn't collecting cards.

Thus, it has been a fairly recent revelation for me that Topps cards in the 1970s didn't include team logos or identifiable helmet designs because Fleer had the exclusive with the NFL for those elements. I also didn't realize that Topps evidently had contracts with individual players, and that throughout the Seventies, some of the bigger name stars do not appear in some years.
The smaller number of cards in a football set in that era, and the need to have players represented from every team meant that each year Topps had to omit some players, especially rookies, who went on to Hall of Fame careers. In a few cases, though, it appears other factors -- probably player demands for higher royalties, kept some players off Topps cards. Lynn Swann, for instance, appeared on Topps cards in 1975-77, but never again, though he played through 1982. And Earl Campbell, who had a Rookie Card in 1979 Topps, never appeared on another Topps card through the end of his playing days in 1985.

The biggest star of the era, Joe Namath, did not appear on a Topps card after 1973. That prevented a card from picturing Namath with the L.A. Rams, to whom he gravitated for the 1977 season. Literally on his last legs by 1977, Namath was waived by the Jets and signed as a free agent by the Rams. The principal reason he cleared waivers is that any team picking him off the wire would be stuck with a $550,000 guaranteed contract.

I have always been a Namath fan; principally because it cheesed off my old man.

So, when I discovered there are some really nice Namath-as-a-Ram photos available, I decided to make a card "that might have been."

My initial quandry was whether to do a 1977 or a 1978 style card. A 1978 would have been cool because the stats on back would have represented his final career numbers. In the end, I chose the 1977 because I liked the format better.

The second big question was whether to honor Topps' handicap of not being able to picture uniform logos. After seeing a couple of '77 Rams cards on which Topps had airbrushed the "horns" off the helmet, I decided not to do so on my card.
I think I made the right choice.
I'm still sitting on a nice photo of Namath in a Rams jersey without a helmet. That would allow me to make a more accurate 1978 career-summary card, but I just don't have the burning desire to do so while I have so many other custom card projects to do.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Still more Indians . . . 1952 Fleet-Wing Gasoline

The Cleveland Indians were riding high in the American League between their World Series win in 1948 and their capture of the 1954 American League pennant.

Team-specialist collectors 60 years later are enjoying the fruits of the Tribe's popularity with its fans, as all manner of team-issued and sponsored player collectibles were forthcoming in that era.

That's not to say, though, that the embarassment of riches in the form of player photo collectibles is not without its challenges.

The fact that so many of these collectible series are in similar formats and often share the same player images has the potential to confound today's collector who is faced with a stray photo or a small group.

That's probably the reason that a 1952 issue by a Northern Ohio gas station chain has thus far escaped the notice of catalogers. Who knows how many of these Indians premium pictures reside in collections today, misidentified as team-issued picture pack photos.

In reality, there is not much to distinguish the 1952 Fleet-Wing player photos from contemporary picture pack fare. The pictures are a mix of portraits and posed action shots, bordered in white, bearing either a black or white facsimile autograph. According to Indians specialist Chuck Lobenthal, who provided the data and images for this listing, the pictures from the gas station promotion are the same as those found on the 1952 Num Num potato chips, though the Fleet-Wings are larger, at 6" x 9," and have the facsimile signatures.

Chuck says the principal feature differentiating the Fleet-Wing photos from the 1952 "Fine Pen picture pack issue is their size (the photo pack pictures are 1/2" wider, at 6-1/2"). and the heavier paper stock on which the Fleet-Wings are printed.

You can see the potential for confusion.

The album that was issued to house the Fleet-Wing pictures is actually somewhat smaller, at approximately 5-7/8" x 8-3/4". The horizontal format album has 32 pages. The inside front cover has the Indians home and away schedules. This is followed by five pages of information about the team and Fleet-Wing. There are then eight pages of player biographies, with instructions to scotch tape the pictures to the top of the page, presumably so that the photo can be lifted to read that player's comprehensive stats and analysis.

At the center of the album are eight pages of scorecards, then another eight pages for player pictures.

Chuck also has an 8-1/2" x 5-1/2" sheet that appears to have been a point-of-purchase window or counter display that explains how to obtain the album and pictures. One picture was given for each $1 purchase made at the gas station.

To assist collectors in correctly identifying 1952 Fleet-Wing premiums, we'll checklist them not only by player name, but also include the pose and the color of the facsimile signature.

Player Pose/Autograph

(1) Bob Avila Fielding, white

(2) Ray Boone Hands on knees, black

(3) Lou Brissie Pitching follow-through, black

(4) Larry Doby Fielding, black

(5) Luke Easter Kneeling w/bat, white

(6) Bob Feller Portrait, black

(7) Mike Garcia Pitching follow-through, white

(8) Jim Hegan Ready to throw, white

(9) Bob Kennedy Portrait, black

(10) Bob Lemon Portrait, black

(11) Al Lopez Portrait, black

(12) Dale Mitchell Portrait, black

(13) Al Rosen Batting, white

(14) Harry Simpson Batting, black

(15) Birdie Tebbetts Portrait, black

(16) Early Wynn Pitching, white

Conventional hobby wisdom would dictate that a gas station premium would carry a significantly higher market value than a team-issued or picture pack photo. However, the ease with which the Fleet-Wing pictures could be misidentified may mitigate against their achieving that sort of advantage.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

1980(?) Union Novelty N.Y. Yankees

A collectors' issue that has heretofore remained uncataloged but that is found regularly on eBay and at card shows purports to have been issued by Union Novelty Co., Los Angeles.

The set features frequently-seen images of Yankees greats in a 3-1/2” x 5-1/2” black-and-white format. There is no indication of issue date. The cards may have been produced anytime between about 1980, when collectors' issues began to proliferate within the hobby, and 1995. The latter date was the year of Mickey Mantle's death, and authnticated examples of the cards bearing Mantle's autograph are known.

The cards were produced in two styles. One version has printing on front with the player name(s), references to the team and a card number from within a series of 20. Backs of this type are identical, describing the card as “one in a collection of nostalgic prints of famous athletes.” The second type has nothing on front except the player photo with a white border. Backs of this style are arranged as a postcard. There is no price differential between the types.

This is the checklist:

1 Mickey Mantle
2 Mickey Mantle
3 Mickey Mantle
4 Mickey Mantle
5 Mickey Mantle
6 Mickey Mantle
7 Roger Maris & Mickey Mantle

8 Mantle & Maris
9 Lou Gehrig
10 Lou Gehrig & Joe DiMaggio
11 DiMaggio and Bauer

12 Joe DiMaggio
13 Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio

14 “The Yankee Clipper” Joe DiMaggio
15 Roger Maris

16 Whitey Ford
17 Yogi Berra
18 “The Iron Horse” Lou Gehrig
19 Phil Rizzuto
20 Babe Ruth

A reasonable retail value for the set would be about $40. Single cards sell for $3-5 each.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

1967 Indians Yearbook . . . Wasn't

The dean of vintage baseball card and memorabilia collectors in Maine is indisputably Bob Thing. He has been contributing bits and pieces for the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards as long as there has been a Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards.

Responding to our recent spate of Cleveland Indians collectibles reports, Bob sent a care package of information regarding a number of Indians picture packs and related items from the 1950s and 1960s. His reports are especially useful in cataloging because they are "first-hand." That is, the checklists that he provided are derived from sets that he personally ordered from the team when they were issued, and which have remained in his hands continuously.

One of the hazards of checklisting team-issued photo packs 40 or 50 or 60 years after their issue, is the possibility that photos from different years were intermingled as the sets went from the original purchaser through several later owners to today. Another complicating factor is the widespread hobby belief that some teams issued different versions of their photo packs as the season progressed to reflect roster changes as players were called up or traded. The picture pack that was sold during spring training might not have corresponded identically to that sold at World Series time.

While Bob was able to provide checklists for each Cleveland Indians picture pack from 1956-1962, and while those lists will be incorporated into the SCBC data base, that's not the focus of this presentation.

What I want to share with you here is the 1967 Cleveland Indians "Yearbook." I put the title in quotation marks because the '67 Indian yearbook wasn't what the hobby generally thinks of in regards to that term . . . an 8-1/2" x 11" stapled publication with pages of player photos and data and team information.

Rather, the 1967 Cleveland Indians Yearbook was a 7" x 9" folder that held, loose-leaf style, a set of player photos and a few other specialty pictures. Each picture was printed on heavy paper stock, about 6-3/16" x 8-11/16". Most of the player pictures were color poses, though a few were in black and white. Fronts have a white border with the player name at bottom. Backs are in black-and-white with an informal player photo, complete stats, biographical details and career highlights.

The sample back that Bob sent shows Rocky Colavito holding a hunting rifle with a taxidermy moose head in the background. That photo is so politically incorrect by today's "standards" that if it appeared today PETA would picket the Indians' ballpark and Rocky would be sent away for sensitivity training.

While we normally don't include yearbooks in the Standard Catalog, I think this merits an exception because of its loose-leaf nature. The player photos could easily become seperated from the folder and collectors might logically look for them in the "big book." Also, the nature of the loose photos makes it easy for them to be sold individually. Thus they are more like baseball cards than a yearbook.

Here's the checklist; black-and-white pictures are noted.

(1) Bob Allen
(2) Max Alvis
(3) Joe Azcue
(4) Steve Bailey
(5) Basebelles Night at the Stadium (b/w)
(6) Gary Bell
7) Richard Booker
(8) Larry Brown
(9) Rocky Colavito
(10) George Culver (b/w)
(11) Vic Davalillo
(12) Vern Fuller
(13) Gus Gil
(14) Pedro Gonzalez
(15) Steve Hargan
(16) Chuck Hinton
(17) Indians Field Leaders (George
Strickland, Del Rice, Mgr. Joe Altobelli,
Pat Mullin, Clay Bryant)
(18) Jack Kralick
(19) Lee Maye
(20) Sam McDowell
(21) John O'Donoghue
(22) Dick Radatz
(23) Vincente Romo (b/w)
(24) Chico Salmon
(25) Sonny Siebert
(26) Duke Sims
(27) Willie Smith (b/w)
(28) Luis Tiant
(29) Leon Wagner
(30) Wahoo Club (Al Rosen, Larry Brown)
(31) Fred Whitfield