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.