Sunday, December 25, 2011

Holiday hiatus

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

I'm taking a Christmas break with my family and will be away from my blog for a couple of weeks.

I expect to return some time after the first week of January.

Friday, December 23, 2011

My 4th and final Don Shula custom

By now maybe you're sick of seeing what Don Shula player cards might have looked like if Bowman and Topps had included him in their sets of the 1950s.

This represents what I'm quite sure will be my last custom card tribute to Shula, the player.

It is also my first-ever attempt at replicating the 1954 Bowman format, which was one of my favorites as a kid.

If you're not intimately familiar with 1954 Bowman cards, you might not have caught on that virtually all of Baltimore Colts cards in that set appear to have been photographed on the same practice field on the same day, with lots of blue sky and some green trees in the background.

Like Bowman, I had to colorize my team publicity action pose of Shula to make my card. For the background, I used the original '54B of Fred Enke.

I'm currently planning to introduce another new format to my body of custom card work with my next cards -- 1958 Topps. I've got at the top of my to-do list a Green Bay Packer or two that didn't make the cut in 1958, along with some rookie cards of players that were overlooked.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Host's auto is key to '59 Home Run Derby

One of the great baseball card regional issues of the late 1950s was the 20-card set issued in conjunction with the syndicated television series, Home Run Derby

The TV show was taped after the end of the 1959 baseball season and aired prior to the 1960 season. Because it was a syndicated program, it ran on different dates in different TV markets.

There's a lot of good information on the show itself available via a Google-search, so I won't go into that here.

Because the show was principally sponsored by American Motors, a primary venue for the distribution of the black-and-white, blank-back, postcard-size cards was local Rambler auto dealerships. The cards were probably distributed a few at a time to coincide with the appearance of the pictured players on the TV show.

Original Home Run Derby cards are scarce today, though a reasonable facsimile of the set can be had because Card Collectors Company issued a complete-set reprint in 1988, about the time ESPN first re-ran the entire original TV series. The series is now available on DVDs.

While it would seem to be possible to put together a complete set of Home Run Derby originals that had been authentically autographed by the pictured players, it would be a great challenge and a very expensive proposition. 

Nine of the 19 players pictured are Hall of Famers; eleven of the players are deceased. Gil Hodges was the first player in the set to die, in 1972. Three died in 1982, Ken Boyer, Jackie Jensen and Wally Post. Two players died in 1995, Bob Allison and Mickey Mantle. Eddie Mathews, Dick Stuart, Jim Lemon Harmon Killebrew and Duke Snider passed away between 2001 and today.

The real challenge to completing an autographed set of Home Run Derby cards, however, would be acquiring one of the show's host, Mark Scott. Besides the natural tendency of baseball fans and collectors to be more interested in getting signatures of star players and hometown favorites, Scott's autograph is probably the rarest because he died shortly after the TV show had finished its initial run in 1959-60.   

Scott died on July 13, 1960, at his home in Burbank, Calif., of what The Sporting News described as a "heart ailment." He was 45 years old.

I always thought Scott made an affable host for the TV show, making small talk with the ballplayers as their opponent of the week was at the plate. 

Mark Scott had an extensive background in sports broadcasting. He lettered in football at the University of Illinois, and began working in radio at Champaign, Ill., and South Bend, Ind., before moving on to do sports at WCAV in Norfolk, Va.

In 1952 he moved to Hollywood to do play-by-play for the Pacific Coast League Hollywood Stars and other assignments on KFWB radio.

At the time of his death, Scott was working with TV producer and star Jack Webb to secure the L.A. franchise in the nascent Continental Baseball League. 

Assembling a set of Home Run Derby cards today would be enough of a challenge -- with even mid-grade examples of the biggest stars selling for several hundred dollars each -- but it looks like putting together an autographed set would be a lifetime's work.
Home Run Derby host Mark Scott was photographed
during filming of the TV series with Willie Mays
and Mickey Mantle.

Monday, December 19, 2011

As long as I was on the subject . . .

I hadn't intended to do a custom card of Don Shula in the 1955 Bowman format, but when yet another good photo of the legendary coach in his playing days turned up, I decided to add a fourth Shula custom to my body of work.

The '55 joins my 1951-style "rookie" card, a 1954 Bowman-style and a 1957 Topps-style Redskins card. I think this will mark the end of my Don Shula custom card binge.
I've always been a big fan of the 1955 Bowman football set, so I really didn't need much of an excuse to add a Don Shula card to my "updating" of that classic issue. My Shula custom joins '55B-style cards of Otto Graham, Raymond Berry, Max McGee and two John Unitas as a Steeler, one in horizontal format, one in vertical.

In coming years I expect I'll add to my '55B-style collection. I'd like to find a picture of Marion Motley as a Steeler at the end of his career for that purpose.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Metkovich moonlighted in movies

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.

Journeyman outfielder George Metkovich was a California boy who got his start in show business before he got his start in professional baseball.

As a 17-year-old student and star basketball player at Fremont High School in Los Angeles, Metkovich landed a bit part in a basketball movie for MGM in 1938. He later said he was paid $350 for the role, and earned his Screen Actors Guild union card.

The next year he was signed by the Detroit Tigers and played in their Class D and C teams during the 1939 season. He was released by the Tigers and signed by the Boston Bees/Braves. He played most of the next three seasons with Class B Hartford. 

In 1943 he was sold to the San Francisco Seals, then in mid-season was traded to the Boston Red Sox, for whom he made his big league debut. 

Metkovich spent the next 15 seasons bouncing between the Pacific Coast League and various major league teams: Cleveland in 1947, the White Sox in 1949, the Pirates 1951-53 and the Braves in 1954.

During the off-seasons, Metkovich wintered in Los Angeles and appeared in more than a dozen movies, usually  typecast as a ballplayer.

By 1952, he was getting $100 a day as an actor. He explained that if he had to do any stunt work, such as "sliding or bumping into somebody," he earned an extra $55. That scale was about equal to what he was making as a veteran ballplayer.

Metkovich liked to say that in his movie roles he worked with some of the most beautiful women in the world. He ranked young Elizabeth Taylor at #1 in that group. Metkovich said that Doris Day was the nicest female star with whom he worked. He said that between takes she would play catch and pepper with the guys on the set.

In 1951 he worked with Ronald Reagan in the Grover Cleveland Alexander biopic, The Winning Team. Also that year he filmed with Esther Williams in Million Dollar Mermaid. The previous year he had appeared as baseball coach/clown Al Schacht in a Fred Astaire musical, Three Little Words.

Other movies in which Metkovich appeared were Gilda, The Stratton Story, The Jackie Robinson Story and Angels in the Outfield.

Following his playing days on the Coast, Metkovich managed the San Diego Padres from 1957-60. He died in 1995.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Custom '51B-style Shula rookie . . . almost wasn't

This is the second of my trilogy of custom cards of Don Shula in his NFL playing days. It almost didn't see the light of day.

I spent most of an afternoon working with a black-and-white posed action photo of Shula in the early 1950s when he was with the Cleveland Browns. The photo suffered from a lack of contrast, so colorizing it and converting its look from a photograph to "artwork" was more difficult than usual and I was not satisfied with the initial result.

The 1951 Bowman Jim "Bulldog" Turner card provided the background on my Shula custom. When I had placed the player photo on the background, I still was not happy with the result. I brooded on it overnight and had pretty much decided to scrap the project. The next morning, I opened up the file for one last look and found it was not as bad as I remembered. 

Bumping up significantly the color intensity on both the player and the background got me a lot closer to what I think a 1951 Bowman should look like. 

While I wouldn't tout my 1951-style Shula rookie as the epitome of my custom card work, the final card will be printed and placed in my album.

There's one more Shula player card on my drawing board, it should be available for viewing in a few days.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My first '57 football custom

I've expanded by repertoire once again, creating my custom football card in the format of 1957 Topps.

As you can see, the subject is Don Shula, in his final year of playing in the NFL, and his only year with the Redskins.

I was never a big fan of the 1957 Topps football set . . . not as a six-year-old kid and not as a 60-year-old custom card creator. But there have been a couple of players in my photo file that would have been appropriate for a 1957 card, so I thought I'd create the template and kick it off with Don Shula.

Since Topps reprinted the 1957 football set in its entirety (along with the 1956) in a 1994 Archives presentation, you'd think finding the parts to build a Shula card would be a piece of cake. Not quite.

Topps did a great job with the 1957 reprints, but they look "too new" to strip down for the elements I need to make a card. Still, the reprints allowed me to see the backs of each card in the set to find those that could contribute to my custom. Specifically, I was looking for cartoons that could be re-purposed for a Don Shula card. I chose to go with a cartoon that ran on the back of the 1957 Raymond Berry card (the college cartoon) and a piece of the cartoon (the bus) that ran on the back of the 1956 Harlon Hill card.

By searching for those cards on the internet, I was able to glean images of the backs of the originals and work them into my Shula back design. 

Notice however, that in making the 1957 reprint set, Topps changed the typeface on the player name on front. While I wasn't able to find an exact match for the original name type, I found that Rockwell Condensed Bold adequately fills the bill and the difference between the two is likely noticeable only to a print professional comparing an original '57 and my Shula custom. 

The portrait half of my card was taken from a "Chalkboard Legends" subset card from the 1994 Roger Staubach's NFL Football set from the Ted Williams Card Company.

The action photo at right on my card probably started out as a team promotional/press photo taken in 1953 when the Baltimore Colts joined the NFL. If you're familiar with 1954 Bowman football, you'll recognize the format and background of the photo as being similar to many of the Colts' cards in that great vintage set.

You'll be seeing that photo again in the near future, when I've finished a 1954 Bowman-style card of Shula with the Colts. Creating a custom in that format will be another first for me.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thoughts sought on modern collecting

I  received  an email from a reader the other day seeking my thoughts on how to approach card collecting in today's hobby milieu. He wrote:

Hello Mr. Lemke,

I came across your blog and figured I drop you an email. I am 34 years old and have collected cards since 1987. Unfortunately I grew up in the junk era and have accumulated many cards from the late 80s thru 90s.
I have since tried to revamp my collection in order to focus better – I still need some more focusing in my opinion but would like to hear your thoughts. Here is what I collect:
  • Michael Jordan cards – mostly commons and inserts (I may stop this collection and save up for a rookie card instead)
  • Yankee cards – Jeter rookies and commons/inserts, Mo rookies and commons and inserts and cards of any Yankee player. I have also tried to stop buying the average Yankee cards and instead will buy a common or insert of a great – Mantle, Joe D, Lou G, Yogi etc.
  • Commons/Inserts of baseball HOF
  • Thru the mail autographs

So that being said I have lots or commons/insert Jordan, Yankees and baseball HOF. I want to have a collection that I can pass on to my kids that will have some value. I love the vintage cards but they are too pricey but sometimes I wonder if I am wasting my money with what I currently collect.

Thoughts, ideas, suggestion are welcome. Tell me a little about your collection.
Pete Pagliaro

In most ways, I'm not really the guy to ask about this subject, since I am no longer a "collector," and have not been for nearly 20 years.

I began collecting cards in the mid-1950s. I bought Topps and Bowman bubblegum packs of baseball, football and non-sports cards at the corner store. I persuaded my mother to buy Johnston cookies for the Braves cards packaged inside, and I studied the backs of Post cereal boxes for the cards of favorite players. I traded with my brothers and other kids at school and around the neighborhood.

As kid collectors go, my interest waned rather early, by the time I was 11-12 years old -- say around 1962 --the first phase of my collecting days was over. 

My interest in cards returned in the late 1970s, when a coin collector who I saw regularly at shows around the Midwest introduced me to Sports Collectors Digest, at that time the hobby's largest publication. 

Like many card collectors of my generation who were re-exploring the hobby in the Seventies, I wasn't so much interested in the current cards as in those I had collected 20 years earlier.

Through SCD, I discovered that the hobby was benefiting from a tremendous boom in the type of information that had not been available to kid collectors in the 1950s-60s. 

Prior to 1956, we were collecting "blind." There were no checklists to tell us what cards had been issued and whether or not our sets were complete. By the late 1970s, Larry Fritsch had published the first readily available book of baseball card checklists and the hobby papers were printing articles from collectors around the country sharing information about obscure regional issues.

At the same time, Dr. James Beckett was using the pages of SCD to solicit and distribute information about baseball card values; the first time this had been done on anything approaching a comprehensive or scientific basis. 

With five or six years of hobby publishing experience in the fields of coins and old cars under my belt, in 1980 I began my professional association with the card/memorabilia hobby by creating Baseball Cards magazine and arranging for the purchase of SCD and several smaller periodicals in the field. 

From 1980 through early 2006, I was involved in the world of cards and related collectibles every working day. From late 2009 until very recently, I re-engaged in that world on a part-time basis as vintage editor of the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards.

For all professional involvement, however, I never really considered myself a collector of contemporary cards. 

Because of their ubiquitous presence on television I had become a Braves fan once more, especially so after a second baseman named Lemke joined the organization. My collecting of current cards, such as it was, was limited to a few favorite players. Even that was abandoned, however, in the mid-1990s when card companies began creating instant rarities in the form of numbered parallels, contrived short-prints, game-used and autographed inserts. I pretty much tuned out modern cards when buying packs became a lottery.

Through the 1980s I maintained my interest in vintage cards, primarily those of the 1950s though I dabbled a bit in cards as far back as the Old Judge series of the late 1880s. My concentration was primarily on cards that I had enjoyed as a child, and cards of that era that I never knew existed when they were new.

In late 1991, realizing that the market value of cards in which I was interested was rising faster than my budget, I sold virtually my entire collection to Alan "Mr. Mint" Rosen. 

That experience seems to mirror what my correspondent Pete Pagliaro is seeing today. He realizes that even a millionaire can't realistically pursue a "complete" collection. The greed of the leagues, the unions, the card companies and the "collectors" has changed cards from a kid's toy to a speculative penny stock

Those realities, whether they are the cause or the effect, have conspired to significantly limit the number of today's youngsters who have any interest in sportscards. 

For all those reasons, I doubt that Pete can succeed in putting together a baseball card collection that he can pass on to his kids that "will have some value." In 30-40 years will many of today's kids even have any interest in a collection of their dad's cards? 

With nothing other than a lifetime's experience in studying collectible hobbies to base it on, I'm of the opinion that baseball cards -- current and vintage -- have largely had their day in the sun and that overall trends will be of declining market values.  

To be sure, the iconic rarities of the hobby -- T206 Honus Wagner, 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle -- will always have significant value, and that value will likely continue to rise, but I'm not sure buyers in a future generation will understand why those cards are valuable. They will have become status symbols rather than collectibles.

I believe the card hobby over the next 25-50 years will mirror the stamp collecting hobby of the past 25-50 years. The current generation of collectors will die off, there will be few new collectors and values overall will spiral downward.

All that being said, my advice to Pete can be succinctly stated: Collect what you like, within a budget you are comfortable with expending in the name of entertainment, and give no regard to future potential value. It is only natural that your collecting focus will shift over the years as favorite players change teams and retire, and new favorites emerge. Try to eliminate the concept of investment from your collecting endeavors; that is not the yardstick against which your lifetime of collecting should be measured. Rather, the "success" of your collecting should be tallied in the enjoyment you took in making the connection between your cards and through-the-mail autographs and your favorite players and teams, as well as the connections you may have made with like-minded family and fellow collectors.

Friday, December 9, 2011

'52 White Sox had priciest caps

In 1952, McAuliffe of Boston was the official supplier of caps to Major League Baseball team.

A short item in The Sporting News quoted the cap-maker's spokesman, Tim McAuliffe, as saying the Chicago White Sox had the most expensive caps among the current teams.

White Sox' caps of that era were black with a white interlocking SOX monogram on a red background. These cost the team $6 apiece, according to McAuliffe; other teams' cap were $4 each.

Adjusted for inflation, a $6 cap in 1952 would be about $49 today. I see on New Era's website that an on-field White Sox cap retails for $35; with tax and shipping, that probably adds up to most of $49.

Back in '52, McAuliffe said that the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers spent about $600 a year on caps. 

McAuliffe also revealed that Dodgers' infielder Billy Cox wore the smallest cap in the majors, a size 6-1/2. He said Dick Kryhoski of the Browns wore the largest cap, but didn't reveal the actual size.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Custom cards -- two for Troy

I "see" cards. That is, sometimes when I see a photo of a baseball or football player, my mind's eye instantly pulls into focus what that image will look like on a custom card. The year and company that will be the format for such cards is unquestioned.

For college football players, my default is the 1955 All-American style, of which I've now completed more than  140 cards. But sometimes, looking at a college player photo, I see some other format.

Such was the case with an action photo of Troy Polamalu that I found about a year ago. The photo shows Polamalu carrying the ball with a Penn State player in hot pursuit. The photo probably depicts Polamalu's 43-yard touchdown interception in the second quarter of the 2000 Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium, when USC beat Penn State 29-5.

When I saw that photo, I immediately thought "1952 Bowman."  And, a year later, you see the result.

I think I'm improving my Photoshop skills in turning a photo into artwork, so I may be turning out more "art" cards in the future. Baseball card collectors are more likely to recognize the background of this card . . . it's from Mickey Vernon's 1951 Bowman card.

Normally the '52B-style card would have been the only use I made of the Polamalu photo, but the picture seemed to tell such a great story that I decided to go ahead and add a Polamalu card to my "Third Series" update in the 1955 All-American style.

Back in 1955, Topps had only one All-American card that showed more than one player -- the Notre Dame Four Horsemen. That's probably because Topps used only portraits and posed-action photos for the originals. 

This is my sixth multi-player action card. Earlier examples were Brian Bosworth (Oklahoma State), Eric Dickerson (Southern Methodist), Conrad Dobler (Wyoming), Eric Jensen (Iowa), and, Austin Lane (Murray State). I also have a two-player card with Army's Blanchard and Davis, and the "Boulder College" backfield card of the Three Stooges.

I don't currently have any more multi-player football cards on the drawing board, but you never know what the future may bring.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cobb vilified for '52 Life article

Though his playing days had ended a quarter-century earlier, Ty Cobb made regular appearances in the pages of The Sporting News until his death in 1961. 

The sports weekly often reported on Cobb's civic philanthropy, his speeches at banquets in what the paper liked to call the "Knife and Fork League," his visits around the batting cages during spring training and in clubhouses around the majors throughout the season. 

Cobb's observations about baseball from his day to the present were recorded and, due to their often thorny nature, were frequently dissected in TSN's pages.

In early 1952, Life magazine paid Cobb a reported $25,000 to compile his thoughts on baseball at that time for a two-part article titled, "They Don't Play Baseball Anymore." 

Twenty-five grand was a lot of money in 1952. It represented a year's salary for many everyday veteran players that season. (Today's average salary is about $2 million). 

Selling for 20 cents a copy in 1952, Life was counting on Cobb's article to generate a lot of newsstand sales. They even purchased a full-page ad in the March 12 TSN to promote the article, hinting at the bombshells Cobb would be dropping.

Cobb's take on the current state of baseball (no doubt ghost-written) delivered all of the controversy the promotional ads had promised. 

San Francisco baseball writer Joe King called it a "petulant, undocumented and high-priced 'indictment' of today's baseball." King said it was "typical of the attitude of many famous men through the centuries at Ty's age (he was 66 at the time).

"Only 'the good old days' remain for them," King concluded, "Perspective is lost."

Both Washington Senators manager Bucky Harris and Stan Musial were more succinct in their reviews; they said Cobb was "crazy."

Copies of the March 17 and March 24, 1952, issues of Life are readily available on eBay. While sellers price them at $15 or more on a "Buy it Now" basis, when offered at auction, they can be had for well under $10.
Ty Cobb was an elder statesman of baseball when he
presented a critical look at the contemporary game in a
two-part Life article in 1952.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Raffy was Campy's "cousin"

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.

I don't suppose they use the term anymore, but years ago when a player had unusual success against a pitcher, the pitcher was referred to as the player's "cousin," implying some sort of familial connection that caused the pitcher to ease up on the player when he was at bat.

Such a relationship was supposed in 1950-51 between Hall of Fame Brooklyn Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella and Cincinnati Reds pitcher Ken Raffensberger. 

Another baseball-related term you don't hear anymore is "figger filbert." i.e., a statistics "nut." Today they call them SABRmetricians. 

Allan Roth, was the first full-time Major League statistician. Dodgers GM Branch Rickey hired him in 1947, and he remained with the team in Brooklyn and Los Angeles until 1964. 

In a 1952 issue, The Sporting News applied the figger filbert label to Roth when they quoted his findings about Campy's success against Raffensberger.  

According to Roth, Campanella was 8-for-22 (a .364 average) against Raffensberger in 1950-51 -- and seven of those hits were home runs. 

The left-handed Raffensberger pitched for 15 seasons between 1939-54 in the National League, with a career record of 119-154 and a 3.60 ERA. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A career-summary card for Koufax

As I mentioned yesterday, my card collecting days had gone on hiatus by 1967. My little brother was just beginning to get into cards, so I could look at his new cards every year and get a feel for what was going on at Topps.

I showed you the custom multi-player feature card I created, "All-Star Starters," with Sandy Koufax and Denny McLain.

Working on that project, I determined that there was yet another card to be coaxed from that photo. Back in the 1960s, Topps seldom showed any sentimentality regarding a player's career. If the gum company had enough advance notice that a player was leaving the game, they simply omitted him from the next year's set.

Thus many players, even superstars of the game, did not have a "final" card, the stats on which would provide a career summary. Such was case with Sandy Koufax. He announced his retirement shortly after the end of the 1966 World Series in which the Dodgers were defeated by the Orioles. So Topps never put a Koufax card into its 1967 set, a decision that latter-day collectors have lamented.

Several other custom card makers have tackled a 1967-style Koufax card, so I never felt any great "need" to add one to the body of my work.

When that great photo of Koufax at the 1966 All-Star Game came my way, however, I began to tinker around with ideas on how it could be worked into a single-player Koufax card in the 1967 style.

You'll notice that I took the figure of Koufax out of its original context. After looking at other Dodgers cards from 1967, I decided that a spring training setting would have been appropriate.

For the background to the left of Koufax and the blue sky, I used the '67 card of Bruce Brubaker. To the right of Koufax, I adapted the background from a 1973 Don Sutton card. The autograph was picked out of the 1959 Topps Koufax card.

The cartoons on back were adapted from the '67 Brubaker and the 1973 Nolan Ryan.  

Putting all those pieces together resulted in what I consider to be a pretty fair approximation of what Topps might have done if Koufax had been included in its set nearly a quarter-century ago.