Tuesday, July 22, 2014

1980 TCMA Wisconsin Rapids Baseball #5, Manuel Lunar

Hunting for vintage minor league singles is tricky for modern collectors. No man is an island, and as with Manuel Lunar, it's the guys around you that make the difference.

The story of Manuel Lunar the Pitcher is straight-forward: he spent 3 years in Rookie League and single-A ball, walking more guys than he struck out and compiling a 8.78 ERA in 82 innings (career stats). In any 1980s major league set, he be easy to find for a nickel.

The story of Manuel Lunar the Baseball Card is complicated by being teammates with these guys.

Almost any Twins fan would love to add the Olivo / Gaetti / Hrbek trio to their collection. Demand remains high enough for this team set that finding Manuel Lunar would mean ponying up $70+ for all 27 Rapids pictured by TCMA that year.
  1. Sam Arrington
  2. Luis Santos
  3. Robert Mulligan
  4. Larry May
  5. Manuel Lunar
  6. William Lamkey
  7. Bob Konopa
  8. Hal Jackson
  9. Ken Francingues
  10. Conrad Everett
  11. Chris Thomas
  12. Paul Voight
  13. Richard Ray Austin
  14. Glenn Ballard
  15. James Christensen
  16. Manuel Colletti
  17. Gary Gaetti
  18. Kent Hrbek
  19. Kevin Miller
  20. Norberto Molina
  21. Brad Carlson
  22. Matt Henderson
  23. Joe Kubit
  24. Bruce Stocker
  25. Ray Stein
  26. Rich Stelmaszek
  27. Tony Oliva

It stands out (in bold) that Gary Gaetti and Kent Hrbek were the only two from 1980's squad to reach the majors. Gaetti went on play for 20 years and Kent posted a 128 career OPS+. There was also this play:

It's been 20+ years, so I'll just say "LOL" and stop there.

Value: Singles could cost a few dollars, but rarely separate from their pricier team; as of this post, there's a set on eBay for $75.

Fakes / reprints: TCMA reprinted several teams with stars (which might've included Gaetti and Hrbek) as "Collectors Kits" in the late 1980s. Those have black ink backs and originals have blue ink backs.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Well, We're Pitching Here in Allentown"

"And it's hard to keep my fastball down..."

"Out in Lehigh Valley, Rob's Kellin' time..."

"Warning Track Cards and standing in line..."

This #5 card of Rob Kell comes officially from the 2000 Allentown Ambassadors team set by Warning Track Cards. While not a source of notable stars, Allentown's franchise does feature one of my favorite mascots, Uncle Baseball.

It must've been tempting to use baseball jargon and go "Uncle Charlie" here, so I admire their restraint and those striped pants.

Rob Kell hung up his pro spikes after 2000 and the Ambassadors folded prior to 2004, following years of dropping attendance. Their highest-attended event was, in fact, John Mayer's post-game concert in 2003, a curious "achievement" given the state's long baseball history. I prefer to remember PA for its more workmanlike performers.

Hat tip to Billy Joel fans who followed my earlier lyrical hacks; here's an "Allentown" original for you.

Friday, July 4, 2014

1976 TCMA Shreveport Captains Baseball #5, Luke Wrenn

I have complicated emotions surrounding Luke Wrenn, former OF farmhand and longtime scout for the Boston Red Sox.

On the upside, Wrenn sent several talented players to MLB success, including Tino Martinez, Mike Hampton, and more. His scouting work "stars" in the article, Can we tell a good scout from a bad one? (via SonOfSamHorn.net).

2003 Donruss World Series Champs #5, David Eckstein

If you like those celebrations of scouting, Rob Neyer also included Luke's evaluation of David Eckstein in Eight scouting reports that really nailed it.

One of the names on Wrenn's Boston scout resume: Nomar Garciaparra. Most fans know No-mah's long, successful career for the Red Sox, Cubs, and Dodgers. Along the way, he met and married Mia Hamm, pictured with their twin daughters.

So why the emotional conflict? I was this 8 year-old soccer forward in 1980, about the same time 8 year-old Mia took up the game in Italy, where her military father and their family was stationed.

I continued to play through my teens, as did she. Mia proved so good, she made the USA women's national team at age 15 and helped them win the World Cup at age 19, the first of her several trips to the Cup.

1991 World Cup Champions! USA! USA! USA!

I remained active in soccer and continued to moon after Mia for........ever.  Still play. Still moon. Still wish Mia and I had to run into each other at a shopping mall or fundraising event. Still wish Nomar had picked another line of work.

And I know I'm not the only member of the mooning-after-Mia generation. My younger brother asked why I was writing about Nomar and I said it was because this scout had found him for Boston, later enabling him to star on the national stage and get married to Mia Hamm.

His response: "Oh yeah, heck with that guy."

So heck with you, Luke Wrenn. Heck with you all to heck.

Value: Mia is a national treasure.

Fakes / reprints: There can be only one.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

World Champion of Baseball, Sir Hensley Meulens

Born on June 23, one of the hottest names of the rookie card explosion and future World Champion, Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens.

1989 Upper Deck #746, Hensley Meulens

According to Beckett.com's checklist, the late 80s presumptive Yankees star appeared on 108 different baseball cards, few more treasured than this Upper Deck RC. New York media loved the prospect of Hensley anchoring their left field spot, which pumped his collector interest to equal that of Ken Griffey, Jr., at least until Bam Bam proved underwhelming in just a half-season of work in 1991.

Once pinstripes management decided Hensley couldn't play above AAA, the market lost interest as well. As years passed, the "MEULENS" name even became a metric for evaluating show dealers. Through 1990, Hensley had his own display section and then 1991 marked his plateau. By 1993, any dealer with that divider still in their table boxes communicated laziness, as they long since should've replaced it with someone newer. The card market had moved on from Hensley Meulens.

Hensley Meulens, Order of Orange-Nassau

Meanwhile, Bam Bam himself resurfaced in Japan, where he slugged the Yakult Swallows to a Japanese national title. Since 2010, his work as Giants hitting coach contributed to a pair of World Series wins. The Netherlands even knighted him in 2012, an honor unique among Major Leaguers. He's become the success story one can't predict with baseball cards.

No long ago, SBNation published a solid profile of Hensley's life, coaching style, and decent odds of becoming a big leaguer manager, a job he's performed capably at other pro levels. Happy 47th birthday to the once and future prospect!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

1925 Holland Creameries World's Champions Baseball #5, Sam Rice

I've already written about the 1924 World Series, thanks to the 1951 Packard Sports Library series of car dealership sports magazines. Reportedly a candidate for "best-ever" Series, it's one of a handful to end in game seven's extra innings, as Muddy Ruel scored the winning run on a bad-hop single in the bottom of the 12th. For HOFers Sam Rice and Walter Johnson (and many of their Washington Senators teammates), it'd be their only year as "World's Champions."

Beyond the Series and players, what do we know about the card set? First off, "Holland" is Holland Creameries, a Winnipeg-based milk and ice cream distributor. Their small set, similar in size and design to 1920s candy issues, is that entity's most enduring creation and its PSA collection registry comes in at the top of their Google results. It's hard to imagine any other way you'd discover that kind of defunct corporation, unless you're a fan of Canadian ice storage journals.

If you did want to find the company, the earliest mention I came across refers to Holland Creameries executives exploring expansion into new facilities in and around Winnipeg.

Refrigerating World, April 1921

Prospective expansion gives an air of corporate health, but by mid-1928, fellow dairy Canada Pure Milk took over Holland's in-city deliveries, probably as a new owner of its assets and customers. Thanks to Google, I even found their transition notice in local papers.
"STARTING FRIDAY, JUNE 1st, a fleet of 15 wagons will commence delivering to customers in Winnipeg and St. Boniface. This service will be extended, as development warrants, to cover the city and suburbs. Pure Milk is the product of Canada Pure Milk Ltd., a new Winnipeg firm which has taken over the plant of the Holland Creameries Co., Ltd., which includes up-to-date pasteurization and homogenizing equipment...We will continue to serve all former patrons of the Holland Creameries, and as soon as conditions warrant, will extend our service to all parts of the city." - ad from Winnipeg Tribune, May 31, 1928

Prior to its demise, I imagine kids obtained cards from Holland delivery drivers or stores that carried their products. On-card promotions invited local collectors to redeem all 18 for a selection of ice creams, but Holland limited giveaways by short-printing #16, Roger Pickinpaugh, and stamping all redeemed cards to prevent "re-use." This #5 shows no redemption marks, so never made it to the factory.

That a Manitoba dairy saw money to be made from an American team says a lot about the reach of pro baseball in those days, but it wasn't their only dalliance with sports promotions. Earlier in the 1920s, Holland first printed what you'd expect of a Canadian company, a collection of hockey stars.

Based on the careers of its 10-player checklist, Holland distributed this set in or after 1920, as pictured players had Winnipeg connections beginning at that time. Most catalogs and grading companies date Holland's hockey set to 1924. I think sports ephemera was less "seasonal" in those days, so it's entirely possible they started printing cards in 1920 and just didn't stop, even after players like Frank Frederickson left town; he skated for Victoria by 1925, but was likely still remembered by local fans.

Here's an apparent full-set redemption, with hole punches as evidence that a kid got their ice cream.

Value: Heritage Auctions listed a 32-card collection of these hockey cards in 2008, but they didn't sell, likely due to a high reserve price. Clean Sweep Auctions offers baseball singles for $400+. Holland Creameries baseball and hockey sets are rare and valuable, so expect to pay $100+ for cards in any condition.

Fakes / reprints: I imagine fakes and reprints exist, with the caveat that only advanced collectors are likely to seek out this set, so hopefully wouldn't be taken in by a forgery.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

1900 Base Ball World's Championship: Pittsburgh Pirates vs Brooklyn Superbas

I recently covered a 1910 "Most Tied Game Ever" between Pittsburgh and Brooklyn, itself a statistical oddity that wouldn't happen in today's no-tie leagues. But that profile omitted their more significant matchup one decade earlier, as Brooklyn traveled to Pittsburgh for one of the post-season "championships" that presaged our modern World Series.

1900 Pirates team photo (sold for $7170 in 2013)

Honus Wagner starred for the Pirates that year (and many after), appearing front and center in this rare team photo. As runner-ups, I suspect Pittsburgh paid a decent "appearance fee" to the National League champion Superbas, anticipating high public interest in seeing the top two teams face off. (NL champs were crowned by W/L record at the time, so this was considered an exhibition.)

1900 Brooklyn Superbas team composite (sold in 2010 for $14,400)

Credit goes to a Retrosheet discussion for finding the original 1900 Pittsburg Press coverage of that series, as Brooklyn won the best-of-5 and its "Punch Bowl" prize.

You can find plenty more on pre-World Series champions at Wikipedia, as records stretch all the way back to the 1857 Brooklyn Atlantics, organized baseball's first title winner, who went 7-1-1 in a season just nine games long.

TRIVIA: The 1870 champion "Chicago White Stockings" later became the Cubs and are the sole original NL franchise to keep both name and location since 1876. (Atlanta's Braves, the other founding member, have moved twice since debuting in Boston.)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

National Poster Stamp Society's 1944 Yankees and 1949 Eureka Sportstamps Baseball #5, Red Barrett

Eureka, it's a stamp! This 200-count set of MLB players stands out for two reasons. Most prominent are the full-color, Kodachrome photos, which bubblegum cards didn't premiere until 1953. Second, and less visible, the backs use lick-and-stick glue, a substance rationed during WWII, but back in public circulation by 1949.

Stamp front (blank back)

Vintage catalogs record these as "Eureka Sportstamps" because of the tiny print under that yellow bar.

"Eureka" doesn't appear on the album or packaging, so it's possible the stamps were printed under a separate company name for financial reasons. Thanks to its photo album and some deep investigation by a stamp collector (see Cinderellas and Poster Stamps of F. H. Dietz), we know an entity called National Poster Stamp Society designed the set itself, arranged on 10 sheets of 20 players each.

Brooklyn Dodgers and Chicago Cubs sheet

National Poster Stamp Society planned to release further Sportstamps sets, but stopped at this single run of 200 National Leaguers. Scans of the company-made album cover, pages, and "collectors' club" hint at what could've been.

Sportstamp cover
Brooklyn Dodgers pages
Join today -- it's free!

UPDATE: Return address on one of the original mailing envelopes. Sportstamp kept their offices in the Weightman Building on 1524 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA.

The album itself echoes the Sportstamps text and claims a home in Scranton, PA.

Even with just the National League represented, this set's checklist features big HOFers like Jackie Robinson, Snider, Campanella, Spahn, and Musial. The first two stamps picture MLB executives Happy Chandler and Ford Frick, and then teams appear alphabetically. The Boston Braves come first, so right-hander Red Barrett gets the #5 between Johnny Antonelli and Clint Conaster.

A good wartime baseball performer, Red Barrett won 23 games in 1945 (career stats) and scored this April 1, 1946 cover of Life Magazine.

Barrett also set a baseball record for efficiency by completing a 2-0 win over Boston's Braves in just 58 pitches on August 10, 1944; Baseball-Reference covered both it and other quick games.

UPDATE: Terrific find by fellow OBC collector Greg, who pointed me to this October 1949 Poster Stamp Bulletin profile of the Eureka set. Its article states a 600,000 print run and August release date, with the whole set (plus album) costing just $1.

Poster Stamp Bulletin, Vol 15, #5

According to Alphabetilately.org, the National Poster Stamp Society was a hobbyist arm of the Mid-States Gummed Paper Company, making their 1949 printing one of the earliest direct-to-collector baseball sets. It's only preceded by another NPSS set, this 24-player 1944 sheet of New York Yankees that celebrates their 1943 World Championship.

NPSS credits longtime baseball photographer George Dorrill with taking these images and, as in 1949, they created an album to hold the stamps. Its design echoed the American air power theme familiar throughout WWII.

October 1944's issue of the Poster Stamp Bulletin priced the full set (with album) at thirty-five cents.

Full credit to Alphabetilately.org for tracking down all this extra info and providing scans!

Value: Single stamps are scarce but easily damaged, so come cheap in low-grade. Stars in good shape can run $20 and up, and albums with full sets cost hundreds.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace, but it's worth being careful when buying stars, since sets with blank backs take half the energy to fake.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

1974 Fleer Baseball Wildest Days and Plays #5, Most Tied Game Ever

This post's a chance to return to one of my favorite baseball card eras, the growth of 1970s oddball publishing. In collecting terms, "oddball" typically refers to sets with short print runs or unusual subjects, often sold directly to collectors instead of wax-wrapped for stores. Baseball artist Bob Laughlin created many such sets over the decades, doing both self-published work and sets like this one for Fleer, itself a company that spent many years jousting with Topps over the right to make "real" (non-oddball) player cards.

If you haven't read much about Laughlin's work, start with the 1st Issue of Inside Pitch over at The Fleer Sticker Project. It's a great profile of Bob's sets, advertising, and the 1970s Topps and Fleer zeitgeist. (It also notes that Laughlin first sold this set to collectors in 1974, but it's often misdated 1973 by catalogs.)

Each card from Fleer's Wildest Days and Plays is like an unusual fact you'd find sprinkled into a sports almanac, but on cardboard. The set's #5 highlights a statistical oddity from Saturday, August 13, 1910, the second game of a Pittsburgh-Brooklyn doubleheader.

Thanks to Google news archives, you can read original coverage of this doubleheader game from the Pittsburg Press.

Pittsburgh Press game headline, August 14, 1910

While searching Pittsburg Press archives for game info, I also came across this comic of the Pirates on a late-season chase after Chicago for the NL crown. Unfortunately for the hometown faithful, Chicago went on to win the pennant easily and Pittsburgh finished a distant third, 17.5 games back.

"To The Pennant" (Pittsburg Press, 1910)

If you ever need to find old baseball coverage, Google's news archive provides a wide range of cities and papers back to the early 1900s and is especially handy for those willing to page through scanned original newspapers, microfiche-style. If you've got an hour or two to kill, that's an easy way to do it.

UPDATE: Some of my favorite Laughlin art appears in this set; to wit:

According to eBay dealer Columbia City Collectibles, Fleer also issued this (scarcer) two-card version in wax packs.

Wildest Days and Play two-card panel

These larger panels purportedly came with Fleer's team logo patches and gum, so might've be a special version issued to help clear out back stock. Their eBay listing's the first time I've seen one.

Value: Not many cards in this set represent "stars," so most (like this #5) cost a few dollars. The cards that refer to Babe Ruth run somewhat more.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace and they'd be a tough set to profit by faking.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Workmanlike Performances

I recently accepted a position at the wireless HiFi company Sonos, so am pulling regular hours again. This means a little less time to blog, but inspired me to look for players who come ready-made for hitching up their overalls and putting in a hard day's work. (All found via B-R's name search.)

2013 Panini America's Pastime, Brandon Workman

My place of work's in Cambridge, just across the river from Boston's baseball club.

1982 Topps #479, Rowland Office

I'm pushing electronic papers, not breaking rocks, and most of it happens in an office.

1922 E120 American Caramel, Walter "Duster" Mails

I send a lot of emails.

Clarence Beers (photo)

The break area does have some beer.

1937-38 Zeenut PCL, Harley Boss

The founders, our company bosses, are on the West Coast. They say I'll be visiting HQ soon enough, and I bet people clamor for it during New England winters.

Enough blogging, back to work!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

1949 Bowman Baseball Wantlist (Updated April 19, 2014)

This post tracks progress on my low-grade 1949 Bowman baseball set. Some collectors call it the ugly duckling of post-WWII issues, given its stark (and probably cheap) hand-tinted colors over black-and-white photos, but it also broke ground in set size (240 players) and featured plenty of stars, most notably New York's Yankees, Dodgers, and Giants.

1949 Bowman #50, Jackie Robinson (his first Bowman card)

Ron Hobbs noted Bowman printing sheets had space for 252 cards, but "reprinted" a dozen players from earlier series, so numbering stops at #240. Stock and design variations push the master set to 324, a real challenge considering the scarcity of higher numbers (#145 and up).

WANTLIST # 50 Jackie 63 64 147 151 156 158 162 168 170 175 176 188 197 198 209 211 214 216 219 225 226 228 233 234

I'll take cards in any shape, so comment here or email if you've got some hits to trade!

April 19: Three arrived from eBay, including Fritz Ostermueller, a pitcher called out as "targeting" Jackie Robinson in the movie 42. (His daughter objected to the portrayal and the scene itself gets several points wrong, which can happen when moviemakers pick larger themes over real events.)

#227 Fritz Ostermueller
#145 Sylvester Donnelly
#190 Jim Hearn