Monday, April 18, 2011

Picking away at picture pack checklists

I've always been a big fan of team-issued/concession stand player picture packs.

Generally comprising from 12 to about 25 players and manager, coaches, etc., these were available at souvenir outlets for 25 or 50 cents from the 1930s through the early 1970s.

They come in a variety of sizes from about 5" x 7" to 8" x 10", and until the late 1960s were black-and-white portrait or posed actions photos. The player is usually identified by a facsimile autograph.

As a collector I like the picture packs because they are sometimes the only available collectible of a particular player with a particular team on which he may have played for only a season or part of a season. Many players who went on to stardom made their first memorabilia appearance in a picture pack a year or more before their first "rookie card."

Because they don't fit the usual definition of a baseball "card,"  due of their size, lack of player biographical data and stats and manner of distribution, many collectors don't have much interest in them. Good. That's more for the rest of us, and at prices that seem like a bargain when compared to the much more common bubblegum cards of the same players from the same years.

As a cataloger, the picture packs present an on-going challenge. In many cases, the player composition of a team-issued picture pack purchased at the beginning of the season might be significantly different from that of a set bought at the end of the year. That's because some teams added or removed player pictures to reflect trades, retirements or other roster changes.

Then, too, unless a picture is found within a complete team-set pack, it is often difficult to pin down a specific year of issue, since some player photos were reused from year to year, or the pose may be so similar as to defy pinpointing the year of issue.

For most of 10 years the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards has printed listings only for picture packs issued in the 1950s or earlier. We have the data for dozens (hundreds?) of other sets from the 1960s and later, including complete by-pose descriptions of the annual Jay Publishing photo packs, but with collector interest so relatively low, it was felt that the space necessary to print all the lists couldn't be justified.

That situation will probably change some day. So until then we'll continue to welcome reports (with scans to verify) of additions to known sets, and even currently unchecklisted sets.

As a case in point, we have a newly reported addition to the 1941 Boston Red Sox picture pack. East Coast collector and long-time catalog contributor Bill Atkinson sent a photocopy of a picture of Odell Hale. A solid-hitting infielder for 10 years, with one of the best baseball nicknames of all time -- Bad News -- Hale was with the Red Sox only for the first half of the 1941 season. He was obtained in a trade from the Indians in December, 1940, and wained to the N.Y. Giants on June 19, 1941.

That would seem to account for the fact that he was previously unlisted among the 26 other Red Sox in the cataloged checklist.

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