Thursday, September 29, 2011

Newest custom: 1972 Larry Doby

I had planned to work on some custom cards while I was in the hospital for my knee replacement, but between being whacked out on painkillers the first couple of days, and rehab therapy the next few days, I never opened my computer.

Nevertheless, I have now finished my latest custom card, a 1972-style card of Larry Doby as an Expos coach.

I really enjoy seeing guys from my baseball cards of the 1950s-1960s (or earlier) as they would have appeared in the 1970s or 1980s as coaches, often in the uniform of teams other than those for whom they played.

I was never a particular Larry Doby fan during his playing days. No doubt as the first black player in the American League he endured many of the same hardships that Jackie Robinson did in the N.L.

Reflect, however, on the fact that Doby went directly from the Negro Leagues' Newark Eagles to the Cleveland Indians in July, 1947, just 11 weeks after Robinson's debut. Doby didn't have the benefit of a season of integrated baseball in the minor leagues of Organized Baseball that Robinson had.

Doby also didn't enjoy the instant success that Robinson had as a major leaguer. With the Indians in 1947, Doby hit just .156 in 29 games, striking out in 11 of his 32 at-bats. He also bounced around the Cleveland infield, playing at first base, second base and shortstop. 

Both Doby and Indians' owner Bill Veeck must have spent the off-season second-guessing their decision. That all became moot in 1948, however, as the Indians moved Doby to center field and he hit .301 to help clinch the A.L. pennant, then led all Indians' regulars, batting .318 to beat the Boston Braves in the 1948 World Series.

Doby batted only .125 in the Indians' 1954 Series loss to the N.Y. Giants, and, while he was a member of the 1959 Chicago White Sox for a couple of months in mid-season, he had been released to San Diego of the Pacific Coast League before the Go-Go Sox won the pennant and World Series.

Doby was one of the first former major leaguers to play pro ball in Japan, spending the 1962 season with the Chunichi Dragons of the Central League at the age of 38.

Continuing his international tour of pro baseball, Doby joined the Montreal Expos' organization in 1969 as a scout and minor league batting instructor. After managing Zulia in the Venezuela League in the winter of 1970-71, he joined the big club at Montreal as a coach, 1971-73.

While I could have chosen any style from 1971-73 for my Doby custom coach card, I ruled out '73 because he appeared in the regular Topps set that year as one of the coaches on manager Gene Mauch's card. Choosing the 1972 format over the 1971 style was really just a coin toss. Doing a '71 would have theoretically required having to dig up a second photo of Doby as an Expos coach to use on the back.

I'm OK with my choices on this one.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Rockwell 'Post' cover that almost was

Among the 322 covers that Norman Rockwell produced for the Saturday Evening Post between 1916-63 were half a dozen baseball themes.

But the Rockwell baseball cover that "almost was" in 1952 would have no doubt been the most most popular with collectors.

As related in his column, "From the Ruhl Book," in the Jan. 23, 1952, issue of The Sporting News, Oscar Ruhl detailed the story of a cover painting that was intended for use on the Post around the time of the 1952 baseball season opener.

According to Ruhl, Rockwell had been commissioned to do a home-plate scene featuring Stan Musial, Joe Garagiola and umpire Al Barlick.

St. Louis residents Musial and Garagiola, and Barlick, who lived in Springfield, Ill., had spent three days at Sportsman's Park with the artist, posing for photos and sketches from which Rockwell would produce the final painting.

The cover was to show Barlick dusting off home plate with Musial in the batter's box and Garagiola, then a Pirates catcher, behind the plate. The problem was, to show Barlick's face in the composition, he had to assume a pose that was contrary to baseball custom.

Umpires were always taught to bend over to whisk the plate with their back turned to the pitcher's mound. If the umpire was facing the mound while he did his housekeeping, he'd be giving the fans behind home plate an up-close view (and target) of his backside.

Rockwell insisted that the cover art should show all three participants from the front, but when he submitted his preliminary painting, the Post's editors vetoed it because of its inaccuracy. There was no time to replace the painting in time for publication before the season opener (when, coincidentally, the Pirates were to meet the Cardinals in St. Louis), so what might have become a great collectible piece of baseball art never came to fruition.

As an aside, Stan Musial later did appear on a Post cover. On the May 1, 1954, issue, "The Man" is pictured signing autographs for a group of kids in a painting by John Falter, another frequent cover contributor to the popular weekly magazine.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

My customs on display at Ole Miss

I received a very gratifying email today from Oxford., Miss.

Last year, after he had seen some of my custom football cards on this blog, Langston Rogers, contacted me about displaying my four Ole Miss cards on campus. Rogers worked for nearly 30 years in the Sports Information Department at the University of Mississippi, until his retirement last year. Today he retains a retirement office at Ole Miss and the title of Senior Associate Athletic Director Emeritus.

Today, he sent photos of my cards on display in one of Archie Manning's cases at Hollingsworth-Manning Hall, which is the Ole Miss recruitment-memorabilia center where Rebels coaches huddle with recruits.  

I was a late-comer (mid-1980s) to Ole Miss fandom, so I'm honored to have my custom cards on display where they can be enjoyed by other fans and . . . who knows . . . maybe the next great Rebels star making a campus visit.

My quartet of Ole Miss customs are 1955 Topps All-American style cards of Archie Manning, Eli Manning and Michael Oher, and a 1952 Bowman-style card of Dexter McCluster.

How is it that I have not yet done a Chuckie Mullins card?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Gus Zernial's iconic '52 Topps card

One of the most memorable cards in the 1952 Topps baseball set is that of Gus Zernial (#31).

The smiling A's outfielder is shown holding a bat in his right hand. Attached to the bat are six baseballs. Actually, it is more likely that the balls were superimposed on the bat in a black-and-white photograph that was colorized for the Topps card. With his right hand, Zernial is making the "OK" sign.

While most collectors of Fifties cards know this image, few know what it represents. While it is spelled out on the back of the card, I'll summarize it here.

The photo immortalized on that card marks Zernial's tying the major league record for having hit six home runs in three successive ballgames.

On April 30, 1951, Zernial had been traded from the White Sox to the A's as part of a three-team, six-player deal. 

Two weeks later, on May 13, in the first inning of the second game of a doubleheader against the Yankees, Zernial hit his first home run of the year, off Spec Shea. In the fifth inning he homered again, off Fred Sanford. The hometeam Athletics beat the Yankees 9-6.

With the St. Louis Browns visiting Shibe Park for the next series, Zernial again homered twice on May 15. The first came against Dick Starr in the first inning. The second, in the ninth inning against Ned Garver, wasn't enough to overcome the A's deficit, and they lost 8-11.

The next day, the 16th, Zernial's home runs came against Duane Pillette in the second inning and Cliff Fannin in the fifth. The A's again lost, 9-10.

The '52 Topps card could have just as easily shown Zernial with seven balls on his bat, because on May 17, he homered again, off Don Johnson in the first inning, as the A's beat the Browns 7-6.

That home run also tied an American League record of seven home runs in four consecutive games. That mark had been set by Tony Lazzeri in 1936.

After his home run outburst, Zernial did not hit another for nearly two weeks, until June 2, but he went on to lead the American League in 1951 with 33 home runs and 126 RBIs.

Moreso because of the unusual photo than the player's star stature, the '52 Topps Zernial card has always enjoyed a modest premium over other cards in the low-number series.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Topps photogs foiled by Foiles

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

Trying to get a current photograph of career back-up back stop Hank Foiles, Topps photographers were led on a merry chase in 1960-61.

That's because Foiles was the property of seven different teams in one year's time.

On Dec. 12, 1959, Foiles was traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Kansas City A's, for whom he played the first half of the 1960 season. While that trade is reflected in the typography on Foiles' 1960 Topps card, he is still pictured as a Pirate on both front photos.

On June 1, 1960, the A's traded Foiles back to the Pirates, who had designs on sending him down to their AAA farm club at Columbus in the International League to bolster the team's catching corps.

Foiles, however, refused to accept the demotion and was given permission to seek a trade. On June 2, he was dealt to the Cleveland Indians.

Less than two months later, Foiles was traded to the Detroit Tigers, on July 26.

At the end of the 1960 season, he was placed on the roster of the Tigers' AAA team at Denver, then champions of the American Association.

In the Rule 5 minor league draft on Nov. 28, 1960, the Baltimore Orioles selected Foiles.

On his 1961 Topps card, Foiles is listed with the O's, but the photo shows him capless, in a Pirates' jersey.

On his 1962 Topps card, Foiles is finally listed with the same team whose uniform he wears -- the Orioles . . . but he never played for Baltimore that season, having been sold to the Cincinnati Reds on April 20.

Foiles' final two Topps cards show him with the correct and current teams, the Reds in 1963 and the L.A. Angels in 1964.

Hank Foiles played 11 seasons in the major leagues, mostly as a back-up catcher. He averaged just over 55 games a season, playing in more than 100 games only in 1957 and 1958 with the Pirates. He was a career .243 batter, but never hit more than nine home runs in a big league season.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Yankees star absent from '60 Series program cover

The New York Yankees version of the 1960 World Series program is a treasured piece of Fall Classic memorabilia. In nice condition today it is a $75-125 item.

Few collectors, however, realize that one of the Yankees’ biggest stars of the '60 Series is missing from the team photo on the cover.

In its coverage of the ’60 Series, The Sporting News of Oct. 19 ran a small boxed article headlined, “Red-Faced Richardson Late for Team Picture”.

In its entirety, the article read, “The Yankees had an overwhelmingly impressive World’s Series program cover—one showing the team in full color at an expenditure of an additional $4,500.

“It shows everyone, including Ryne Duren in dark glasses, Trainer Gus Mauch 20 pounds lighter than last year, and a couple of bat boys, but no Bobby Richardson.

“Why not? Bobby grinned abashedly, 'I was late.'

“Late? Who was supposed to notify him, anyway?

"‘Me,’ grinned Bobby. ‘I’m the player rep.’”

Richardson had led the Yankees to a 10-0 Game 3 win with a grand slam home run and a single for a record six RBIs in a World Series game.

And speaking of the 1960 World Series program . . . TSN reported that prior to Game 5, Roy Face, the Pirates ace relief pitcher, had sent a program over to the Yankees clubhouse to be autographed.

“It came back without a single signature,” according to the paper. In relief of Harvey Haddix that day, Face pitched 2-2/3 innings of hitless baseball, sealing the Yankees 5-2 loss.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Rare '59 Topps insert surfaces

A few days ago we posted an entry about the 1959 Topps All-Star Rookie Team paper selection ballots that were wax-pack ride-alongs (to the tune of a reported 30 million pieces).

Coincidentally, a rare surviving example of that paper-stock insert was offered in a Sept. 1 eBay auction where it sold for $469.

Paired with the rookie ballot in that auction was another paper insert that was purported to have also originated in 1959 Topps baseball card wax packs.

The auction was reported to us by regular contributor Larry Serota, a dedicated vintage Topps collector, who said he had never seen the other insert. Neither had we, to the best of our recollection.

The insert was an offer for a Bazooka t-shirt, available for 50 cents.

The insert has a "closing" date of  November 30, 1959. While that would seem to suggest a 1959 issue date coincident with the baseball season, it does not necessarily preclude this from having been inserted into 1958 wax packs -- baseball, football or even non-sports. Anecdotal evidence points to this insert being a 1959 Topps baseball ride-along. It will likely be added to the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards as such in forthcoming editions if controverting evidence is not forthcoming.

Your input is welcomed.

Friday, September 16, 2011

I'm back in action

Not to jinx the rehabilitation process, or anything (I'm scared to death of post-op infection), the operation went great. At least from my standpoint . . . I understand the surgeon, one of the country's best for knees, found more than he had anticipated when he got to digging in there. Decades of bleeding into the joint had degraded some important bone structure so some of his Plan A for reattaching ligaments, etc., had to be modified on the fly.

Upon coming out of the anesthesia fog, I was amazed and gratified to find how much straighter my leg was, though a bit shorter. I was under the knife for about 4-1/2 hours on Thursday, Sept. 8, by the time I was aware that the Packers were winning that night, my knee hurt less than it has in the previous 10 years. The next night I turned off the dilaudid drip (it didn't seem to be doing anything). Other than an oxycodone for the transfer to my van and 2-1/2 hour drive home on Tuesday, I haven't needed anything stronger than super-strength Tylenol.

I was up on my feet, talking a few steps into the hospital hall by Friday afternoon, and by Saturday afternoon I was able to walk half way to the physical therapy gym and climb a few steps. Now the emphasis is on regaining range of motion and me gaining some confidence in the stability of the new artificial knee. I'm using a cane around the house, and a walker for trips down the driveway to rebuild strength and stamina.

My daughter flew into Milwaukee for the operation, and stuck around to watch football for the weekend, so that was a nice side benefit. My wife was there for the whole time in the hospital, and is taking care of me at home so I don't overextend myself.

Honestly, if I was still working, I'd be chomping at the bit to go back to the office on Monday. As it is, I have to entertain a parade of physical therapists and home nurses at home for the next few weeks. I hope to get back into the swing of new entries for the blog soon, and to work on a few of my custom cards.

It took me 10 years of increasing pain and decreasing mobility to get me into the operating room, but I'm so glad I finally did it. Knock on wood.

Thanks to all for your prayers and well wishes.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ebbets Field clock sent down to minors

One of my favorite baseball cards from childhood was the 1953 Bowman Gil Hodges, with its background of Ebbets Field's left field. I still own the well-worn example of that card that I inherited from one of my older brothers or their friends.

I was always drawn to the Schaefer Beer billboard, with the clock atop it. For a time 30-40 years ago, when a local liquor store stocked Schaefer's, it was my beer of choice.

While reading a 1960 issue of The Sporting News a while back, I was surprised to learn that the clock that sat atop that beer sign in Flatbush continued to serve its intended purpose for at least 30 years after Ebbets Field was demolished.

An article in the April 24, 1960, issue of TSN detailed the auction of Ebbets Field relics that was held in the stadium's rotunda just prior to the arrival of the famed baseball-painted wrecking ball.

While the stadium clock was not included in the auction, the article mentioned that it had been sold by real estate developed Marvin Kratter to the Asheville Tourists for installation at McCormick Field. No mention was made of the price the wreckers received for the clock.

The TSN article did have other specifics, though. It was mentioned that $2,300 was realized in the auction. By far the biggest bid was for the cornerstone, purchased for $600 by then-president of the National League, Warren Giles.

The Ebbets Field cornerstone was described as about 3' by 4' by 1', cut from red-brown Connecticut Granite. After considerable effort, the stone was busted open and a copper box extracted.

The sports weekly enumerated the contents as including a photograph of Charles Ebbets, letters from "baseball greats of old," a copy of the N.Y. Morning Post newspaper, and other paper item that did not survive intact their nearly 50 years' entombment.

Six U.S. one-cent coins were also in the cornerstone. Five were dated 1912, presumably new coins from the year the cornerstone was lain. There was also an 1811 cent, which the paper said was "worth $7.50 to a coin collector today." If the Lincoln cents were uncirculated, or nearly so, at the time they were included in the trove, they would have a numismatic value today of $100-200. A nice circulated 1811 cent is a $400-500 coin in today's market.

The Ebbets Field auction also included what the paper described as "gold-plated bricks" that sold for $1 apiece, flower pots full of infield dirt at 25 cents, and "broken bats, autographed balls" and "pictures of Dodgers heroes." The paper said, "Hardly anything sold for more than $5."

Attendance estimates of the crowd at the auction ranged widely, from 200 to 1,000.

McCormick Field, which has served Ashville baseball since 1924, was remodeled in 1992. If the Ebbets Field clock was still there at that time, it seems to be gone now. It had been reported that the clock had been atop a scoreboard in right field. Recent photos of the ballpark show no clock there.

I suppose a little digging on the internet would uncover the current location of the Ebbets Field clock, but I'll leave that for someone else. I prefer to remember it as it appear on Gil Hodges' 1953 Bowman baseball card.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Little wonder Herriage had only one card

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

In this day and age, it is almost unheard of for a major league baseball player to not have at least one baseball card to memorialize his time, no matter how brief, in the bigs.

That wasn't always the case, though. In the post-war era of 16 major league teams, even during the years of the Topps and Bowman bubblegum wars, with up to seven series of cards being issued over the course of the season, it was not uncommon for players to slip through the cracks.

Fortunately, many of those players who were ignored by the gum companies made an appearance on a regionally or team-issued card. While this makes it more challenging for team collectors and descendants to find a card of such players, at least the possibility exists that a sought-after card may surface.

Recently we found out of the existence of such a card for a Kansas City A's pitcher Troy Herriage.

A native Oklahoman, Harriage entered professional ranks in 1951, at the age of 20. He pitched for three seasons (1951-52, 1954; he was in the military in 1953) for Class C and D teams out west, with a 32-28 record. Moving up to Montgomery in Class A in 1955, Herriage had a breakout year, with a 15-7 record and 2.41 ERA.

After the season he was selected in the Rule 5 minor league draft by Kansas City.

Sadly, Herriage was outgunned by big league batters with the Athletics in 1956. He won only one game while losing 13. His ERA was 6.64. In 103 innings he gave up 135 hits and 64 walks, striking out 59. He didn't get much run support; the A's averaged only 2.23 runs per game in his 13 losses. 

Not surprisingly, Herriage was back in the minor leagues in 1957. In 1957-58 on Class A and AA Kansas City farm clubs, he was 8-20.

After retiring from pro ball following the 1958 season, Herriage worked as an engineer in the aerospace industry.

Herriage's baseball card legacy consists, so far as we know, of a single 1956 Kansas City Athletics team-issued postcard. Besides the blank-back card provided by the team for players to answer fan requests for photos and autographs, Herriage's card can also be found with the advertising imprint on back for the June 22 Kansas City Live Stock Night promotional game. We carried an entry about that set on this blog on Jule 8.

The existence of the card was reported by Maine collector Bob Thing, who sent the photocopy which appears here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where I was 10 years ago

The 10th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, finds me in the same place I was 10 years ago.

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was in a hospital bed amid a series of debridement surgeries that would eventually number 17 on my right ankle, which had become infected with a staph germ that eventually destroyed much of the joint's structure.

Not knowing what might be coming following the kamikaze attacks, and being 65 miles from home, I checked myself out of the hospital.

Today, I am in a hospital in Milwaukee, undergoing a complicated right knee replacement. That joint was also staph-infected back in 2001, and since then has deteriorated to the point where I either get an artificial hinge or get into a wheelchair.

To maintain the continuity of this blog, I've "worked ahead" to provide new entries every other day through at least Sept. 25.

If more than a couple of days passes after that date without anything new appearing in this space, you'll know something went very wrong.

I expect, though, to be back on duty by then.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pretty Pictures: Ballplayers get all the good-looking babes

Continuing with my periodical presentation of vintage photos amassed over 30+ years in the sportscard publishing world is this trio of photos of baseball players with their wives, fiancees or girlfriends.

Pictures of players and their babes were common in decades past. It's not something you see much today.

The first picture shows black-balled (an interesting story, I'd like to reprint my old SCD features on the topic some time) batting king -- he led the Federal League in hitting in both of the circuits seasons as a major league; .370 with Indianapolis in 1914 and .342 with Brooklyn in 1915 -- Benny Kauff.

There's no date on the photo, or identification of the lady wearing the dead things around her neck. The photo presumably dates from the 1910s, when Kauff was in his prime. Ain't he the hep cat?

The second photo is a 1954 AP Wirephoto of Yankees great Bill Dickey. It's datedlined Jan. 20 from Little Rock, Ark., and captioned "Kiss Deserved."

The cutline reads, "Mrs. Bill Dickey kisses her husband to congratulate him on being elected to baseball's Hall of Fame today. The former New York Yankee star catcher makes his home here."

The final picture is from Acme Telephoto. It shows American League pitcher Bob Cain with his intended, and explains why he's holding a mittful of tickets.

The photo is datelined Nov. 12, Cleveland, Ohio. The cutline reads, "Detroit Tigers pitcher Bob (Sugar) Cain, who went to work today (11/12) selling season tickets for the Cleveland Indians, talks over his new job with his fiancee, Judy Stevens. The pitcher took the off-season position to remain in town, near Miss Stevens whom he plans to marry Dec. 1. Cain met his future bride during his visits here as a pitcher with Detroit, and love blossomed."

The mention of Cain as a Tigers pitcher pinpoint the year of the photo as 1951. Three months after the picture was taken, Cain was traded to the St. Louis Browns.

Today, of course, no player on the roster of one team would be allowed to take an off-season job with another team. But then again, players today don't take off-season jobs.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Eye candy for Armour coin buffs

I don't ever recall owning a 1955, 1959 or 1960 Armour coin back in the day when they were being packaged with hot dogs. We were probably an Oscar Mayer family.

When I got active in the hobby in the late 1970s, I became aware of them, but other than an occasional piece that came my way when buying collections, I never pursued them.

As a got involved in card cataloging in the early 1980s, I began to learn more and more about how complex this issue can be for die-hard collectors. Besides common, scarce, rare and one-of-a-kind color variations, there are many major and minor variations in coin details, such as tilt of the player portrait, spacing of lettering, errors and corrections of names and stats, etc.

It would be impossible to catalog the issue in a comprehensive manner, much less than attempt a master collection, even though there were only 64 "basic" coins issued over the three years.

While reading microfilm of 1960 Sporting News issues recently, I discovered that the April 27 issue had a full-page ad on the back cover detailing Armour's baseball coin promotion for the year. I thought that was worth sharing here.

The 1960 Armour issue, of course, was the source of the legendary hobby rarity, the Bud Daley coin. For some reason, while the typical '60 Armour of a "common" player sells for $10-15, the Daley piece is an $800-1,000 coin in even the most common color of plastic.

There doesn't seem to
 be an easy explanation for why the Daley coin is so scarce. He was traded from the Red Sox to the Athletics on Dec. 3, 1959, and spent the full season with Kansas City. So it's not like he was traded or sent down in mid-season and the coin was pulled from distribution.

That leaves only a contract dispute or production problems as the most likely reason for the Daley coin's scarcity. And, since we don't know a whole lot about how the Armour coins were made, other than it was by an injection molded plastic technique, it would be difficult to say why fewer of Daley's coins were produced or released.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Alternative 1955 Topps-style Koufax rookies

In my posting of Aug. 26, I presented an alternative look at what a 1957 Topps Sandy Koufax card might have looked like if the gum company had chosen to use a posed-action photo rather than the iconic close-up portrait that is one of the set's most sought-after cards.

Today, I want to unveil my alternative custom card version of the 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax rookie card.

While the portrait and action photos that I used weren't available to Topps in 1955, they were part of the Topps' archives; the photos probably having been taken in 1957.

It is a little known fact that the photo of Koufax on the dugout steps that appears on the right of the "real" Topps rookie card of 1955 was airbrushed to remove the Pittsburgh Pirates uniform he was wearing at the time he was photographed during a tryout with the Bucs.

For Brooklyn Dodgers fans, I think the "looking-in" photo on my customs is more pleasing.

You might not realize it, but all the Brooklyn Dodgers cards in 1955 Topps utilized the yellow background fade. Other than the Phillies (blue), they are the only team so uniformly presented. All other teams have a mix of at least two of the four background colors.

When I envisioned creating an alternative version of the Koufax rookie, I decided that, besides the yellow background, I'd see what it looked like with one of the other colors. I didn't think that blue would work too well because of the color of the Dodgers cap, and the red background would camouflage the Dodgers logo. I like the green background.

One of the nice things about making alternative customs is that not too much time is required to do the back. With only a few minor changes to insure that my customs aren't confused with genuine Topps products, the backs that appeared on the original cards can be readily adapted for printing my customs.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

30 million wax pack inserts went "poof"

One of the surprises we got upon opening our wax packs of 1960 Topps baseball in the summer of 1960 was a group of cards in a different design that was labeled Topps All-Star Rookies.

In our neighborhood, the highlight of that subset -- since there were no Milwaukee Braves -- was Willie Covey, who had kicked ass in the National League during the last half of the 1959 season. Besides, we had seen all of the other guys on those cards on previous years Topps cards (many on the red-white-and-blue striped The Sporting News rookie subset the previous year). In today's hobby parlance, McCovey was the only true rookie card in that group.

The other players in the subset were: Pumpsie Green, Jim Baxes, Joe Koppe, Bob Allison, Ron Fairly, Willie Tasby, Johnny Romano, Jim Perry and Jim O'Toole.

The oval on the right of these cards said these "Topps All-Star Rookies" had been "Selected by the Youth of America."

Indeed, according to information found in a 1960 issue of The Sporting News, 30 million "Elect Your Favorite Rookie" ballots had been distributed to "youth organizations" and as ride-alongs in wax packs of 1959 baseball cards. At least of the youth groups were named in the article: Boy's Clubs, Boy Scouts of America and YMCA. There was no indication of how many ballots those groups had received, and how many were in gum packs.

If we knew that ratio, we'd know how many wax packs were sold in 1959 and would be well on the way to coming up with at least a wild-ass guess as to how many cards were issued.

The Sporting News article revealed that the "Youth of America" had been aided in the selection process by an "Honorary Rookie All-Star Team Election Committee." Looking over that list, it is evident the committee was selected with an eye towards maximizing the publicity for Topps.

In alphabetical order, the committee comprised:

  • Tim Cohane, sports editor, Look magazine
  • Dan Ferris, honorary secretary, National Amateur Athletic Union
  • Ed Fitzgerald, editor-in-chief, Sport magazine
  • Frank Frisch, Hall of Famer
  • Tom S. Gallery, director of sports, NBC
  • Dave Grote, public relations director, National League
  • Sid James, managing editor, Sports Illustrated
  • Carl Lundquist, public relations director, Natl Assn. of Professional Baseball Leagues
  • Bill MacPhail, director of sports, CBS
  • Joe McKenney, public relations director, American League
  • Jackie Robinson, vice-president, Chock Full O'Nuts
  • Marshall Smith, sports editor, Life magazine
  • J.G. Taylor Spink, publisher, The Sporting News.
 The announcement of the rookie team had been made at a post-season banquet in New York City on Oct. 29, 1959, when the honored players each received a trophy and a check for $125.

Topps evidently believed the exercise was worthwhile, as it was repeated with paper ballots in packs of 1960 cards, and a new Rookie All-Star team that appeared on 1961 cards. Rather than a special design for those players, their cards -- with the curious exception of Frank Howard -- have the Topps "top hat" trophy on them.

So, what became of those 30,000,000 ballots distributed in 1959? They are extremely rare today. Even most of the die-hard collectors of 1959 Topps cards don't have an example in their collections.

To be honest, I don't remember ever seeing the paper ballots in the many, many packs of 1959 Topps cards I opened. I probably threw them in the gutter along with those worthless wrappers and most of the bubblegum. I have a feeling the $30 price quoted for a NM example in the 2011 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards represents less than 10% of what one of these inserts would command if offered today.

UPDATE: Coincidentally, an example of the Topps Rookie All-Star Team paper ballot appeared in an eBay auction closing Sept. 1.

Paired with another Topps paper insert, a Bazooka t-shirt offer, the rookie ballot sold for $469. It looks to be in decent shape, except for a 1/2" tear at top.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

New custom card: 1978 Rocky Colavito

For several years I have been squirreling away photos of 1950s-60s (sometimes earlier) players that show them in their post-playing days as major league coaches.

I find these pictures interesting because they show the guys I collected on cards as a kid in a different role. It's like Vincent Vega said about Europe in Pulp Fiction, it's "the same shit, only a little bit different."

My first coach's card was done about two years ago, picturing Bill Mazeroski as a Seattle Mariners coach.

I've just completed by second such card: Rocky Colavito as a Cleveland Indians coach on a 1978 Topps-style card.

I have publicly thank here a fellow custom card maker, Keith Conforti, who when he saw the beta version of my card on forum, suggested I go with the horizontal "As Player/As Manager" format that was used for manager cards that years. That idea had never crossed my mind. I like it so much better than the standard '78 style.