Tuesday, May 31, 2011

1977 Gamecraft 1933 Baseball All Stars #5, Al Simmons

Chicago hosted the first major league All-Star game at Comiskey Park on July 6, 1933, and it's easy to see that year as a capstone for baseball's "classic" era. 11 future HOFers started the contest, a still-strong Babe Ruth hit its first home run, and Connie Mack managed AL's squad to a 4-2 victory over John McGraw, to name just three highlights. (With a personal time machine, that's the first All-Star game I'd attend.)


Given that first All-Star game's significance, I'm surprised it took someone until 1977 to create a board game based on its lineups. This Gamecraft package included all 36 players selected on four perforated pages, omitting only managers Mack and McGraw. Card backs supply a brief bio and include several codes that relate to in-game play. (Haven't seen a board or instructions, so not sure how the mechanics worked.)


Not many cards refer to players regretting their time off, even for number milestones like 3000 hits. Coming up "short" at 2927 hits didn't stop Simmons from reaching the HOF, as the writers selected him in 1953, three years prior to his death at age 54.

Value: Singles of non-superstars cost a few dollars, with guys like Ruth and Gehrig running $20 or more in good shape.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace.

Monday, May 30, 2011

1963 JELL-O Baseball #5, Harmon Killebrew

Consider this post twice-honorable, as both thanks to those who served in our armed forces and for the life of all-time slugger Harmon Killebrew, who passed away on May 17th, 2011. America's first Memorial Day remembered fallen Union soldiers (as Declaration Day in Charleston, South Carolina), but grew over the years to encompass all service men and women.


Baseball grew significantly in the wake of our Civil War, enough to spur pro players and leagues by the 1870s. (Find more details at Wikipedia.) Many of America's 20th century pros served during WWI, WWII, and later wars, most trading a sports uniform for the combat version without hesitation.

While too young to fight in WWII, future HOFer Harmon Killebrew "served" during Vietnam as a goodwill ambassador to active troops, joining other MLB greats on a 1966 tour around South Vietnam. The roster also included Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Joe Torre, and Brooks Robinson--here's an AP Photo of their departure on Nov 2.

Card front (blank back)

Most see this card and think of Post cereal because boxes of JELL-O pudding printed the same set of 200 players in parallel that year. The two brands show only cosmetic differences (JELL-Os are slightly smaller and use a narrower red stats divider), so dealers sometimes sell one version as the other. This complicates things for buyers, as some players are hard to find as one brand, but not for the other. Advanced collectors say completing a JELL-O set proves quite difficult, but low-grade type cards should cost less than $5.


UPDATE: Thanks to Night Owl Cards for including a scan of the 1963 short prints from his article about 1983 Beckett issues.

Value: Bought this for $10 at a show in 2005. Cutting quality makes a big difference in price and full boxes cost several times their trimmed equivalents.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace.

Friday, May 27, 2011

1954 Bowman Baseball #5, William Hunter

1954 marked the third year of direct competition between Bowman and Topps, as both companies fought to make and sell the definitive "gum card" to kids. Each side tried out new design ideas, signed popular stars to exclusive contracts, and made year-to-year strides in overall quality. They stood less than two years from Bowman's failure and sale to Topps, but I doubt anyone would've predicted it when this set hit the street.


Today's card relates a similar baseball struggle between St. Louis's two franchises, the AL Browns and NL Cardinals. After the city's only crosstown World Series in 1944, pitched competition for fan dollars ultimately escalated into both sides trying to drive the other out of town. Business strategy played a large role, as the Cardinals went for wins and the Browns for "entertainment," so their outcome said as much about sports as an industry as baseball as a pastime.

When the Cardinals "won" this business battle, the Browns (a.k.a., "the Brownies") moved to Baltimore after the 1953 season and became the Orioles. Bowman card editors must've written the back text prior to 1954 and then retouched Bill's jersey from BROWNS to ORIOLES just before printing. (Squint and you can still see BROWNS in there.) Find a shot of their "real" opening day jersey at The Baltimore Sun.


The legendary Bill Veeck owned those Browns prior to their move east and made some enemies in his failed struggle to drive the Cardinals out of town. They must've written a book or two about that era, but check out Wikipedia's entry in the meantime. Fascinating stuff!

Many sets today seem laid out in random order, but not 1954 Bowman. It started with Yankee Phil Rizzuto at #1 and then went through the same 16 teams, in order, for the entire set. Ted Williams originally appeared as #66, but was withdrawn and replaced with teammate Jimmy Piersall due to Ted's exclusive contract with Topps. (Catalogs call Williams #66A and Piersall #66B.)
  1. Yankees
  2. Red Sox
  3. A's
  4. Indians
  5. Orioles
  6. White Sox
  7. Tigers
  8. Senators
  9. Giants
  10. Dodgers
  11. Pirates
  12. Reds
  13. Cubs
  14. Cardinals
  15. Phillies
  16. Braves

I assume this order is why they re-used Piersall for #66B. Williams was in the "Red Sox" space (#66) and Bowman already had Piersall as the last Boston player in the set, so stood furthest numerically from that spot and wouldn't be released until later in the year. (He thus appears twice, at #66 and #210.)

Value: Low-grade singles cost a few dollars or even $1 each in lots.

Fakes / reprints: Ted Williams stature makes his #66 card a common target for faking or reprinting.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

1947 Kellogg's All-Wheat Baseball #5, Lining Up Grounder

Some sets look so innocuous, you assume there's little to say about them. I started down that road with this simple, 3-color card featuring a Goofus and Gallant-style infield tip on the front, but should've known to expect more. Much more.

Actual size is 2.5" x 1.75"

Kellogg's set scope is what makes this card just a tip of the iceberg. They first cross-marketed cereal with baseball and other sports in the 1930s, soon after Wheaties achieved success by adding player endorsements. (Read more about that at "Wheaties and Sport" at PopHistoryDig.com.) Two brands, Pep and All-Wheat, used sports issues as in-box promos, and although the latter existed for less than a decade, it no doubt pleased kids by creating three of these 150-card sets to collect and trade.


No year appears on the card, but All-Wheat published their first set of 150 cards in 1945, second in 1946, and today's version in 1947. They cover a bunch of different subjects, sport and non-sport, so the baseball subset's only 20% of its total release. (As implied by the English/French backs, Kellogg's marketed this cereal in Canada.)

It's hard to place in perspective now that baseball didn't establish itself as the predominant collectable card until Bowman and Topps kicked off larger-scale production and competition a few years later. Instead of featuring specific star players, sports tips, animals, military uniforms, combat vehicles, and fish all make an appearance.

Scan courtesy The Carburetor Shop

This Duryea Gas Buggy (another #5) comes from a Historical Autos subset. See the MrBreakfast.com profile of All-Wheat for a complete set scan.

Scan courtesy series profile at DinoFan.com

Kinda sad that of the 15 cards in this Strange Animal subset, only three feature dinos, and the brontosaurus doesn't even exist.


As shown by this store display, cards came as box inserts on 2x4 perforated sheets, with subsets mixed together. (I.e., no "all baseball" sheet.) Being able to just fold and separate cards kept them in much better shape than other food makers who put scissors in the hands of 4 year-olds. *cough* HOSTESS *cough* POST *cough*.


It's not enough to collect cards without an album, right? Not sure how many kids managed to finish theirs, but this is a pretty cool all-around set. Who knew how much would be revealed from that first small card?

Value: Low-grade singles cost a few dollars. Dealers rarely know which year to assign to the set, so remember 1st set = 1945, 2nd set = 1946, and 3rd set = 1947.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

1952 Mother's Cookies PCL Baseball #5, Joe Grace

Yesterday's profile of Duke Snider (1950 Drake's #5) wasn't the only 1950s issue to cross-promote baseball and snack food. Oakland-based Mother's Cookies published two of their own in 1952 and 1953, but starring Pacific Coast League players. Both 64-player sets feature solid-background, hand-tinted photos, and capture the heyday of local pro ball prior to MLB's westward expansion.


PCL teams fielded plenty of good players, both up-and-coming youngsters and older guys like Joe Grace who finished their pro careers in California, Oregon, or Washington. The favorable Pacific weather also led to long, long seasons; San Francisco, for example, won a seemingly impressive 100 games in 1950...but finished at .500 by also losing 100. (Season stats at Baseball Reference.)


As a kid, I was psyched to sift through stacks of old stamps--the 1952 version of me would've sent away for that H. E. Harris "Treasure Hunt" Mixture without hesitation.

Value: Low-grade singles cost $10 or less. Chuck Connors, star of TV's The Rifleman, appears on card #4 and is popular with both baseball and Americana fans. (Mother's Cookies cards come with rounded corners, which doesn't reduce value unless you can see additional wear.)

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace.

Monday, May 23, 2011

1950 Drake's Cookies Baseball #5, Duke Snider

It's easy to look at 1949's World Series outcome, Yankees beat Dodgers in 6, and think it was "just another classic season." That results-only view, however, masks one of baseball's closest regular-season finishes, as both league pennants came down to their final day, Sunday, Oct 2.

In the AL, New York hosted Boston with both teams tied for 1st and Joe DiMaggio just returned from a month-long bout of pneumonia. The Yankees gave up a multi-game division lead to the Red Sox the previous week, but prevail 5-3 in this decisive game. (Ted Williams goes 0-for-2, missing a Triple Crown by tiny fractions of batting average, but wins his second MVP.)

In the NL, St. Louis trailed by 1 in the standings, but thumped Chicago 13-5 in their game, forcing Brooklyn to win at Shibe Park and get in. Philly took Dem Bums to extras tied at 7, but yielded two runs--and the pennant--in 10 innings. (One-year wonder Jack Banta pitched 4.1 innings of scoreless relief and picked up the win.)


R.I.P. to HOFer Duke Snider, who enjoyed a break-out season in 1949 and made his first of 7-straight All-Star game in 1950. (Career stats at Baseball Reference.) Not sure exactly where they took this picture, but assume it's from New York, as the original home of Newman Drake and home base for his chain of bakeries.


Drake's, best known now as makers of Ring Dings and Devil Dogs, assembled this set's 36-player checklist from only 3 cities: Boston (Braves/Red Sox), St. Louis (Browns/Cardinals), and New York (Dodgers/Yankees) and likely limited distribution to those metro areas. Picking those 6 teams was no accident, as 8 of the previous 9 World Series featured at least one of them--and often both.
  • 1941: Yankees beat Dodgers
  • 1942: Cardinals beat Yankees
  • 1943: Yankees beat Cardinals
  • 1944: Browns beat Cardinals (only all-StL World Series)
  • 1946: Cardinals beat Red Sox
  • 1947: Yankees beat Dodgers
  • 1948: Indians beat Braves
  • 1949: Yankees beat Dodgers

Prized in part for their rarity, few cards from this set survive to the modern day and fewer still in high-grade, as those black borders bend and chip easily. (Full player list and more set details.)

Value: Snider cost $125 on eBay some years ago. The set's HOFers run into the triple digits--even in low grade--and commons can cost $50+.

Fakes / reprints: This obscure set's best pursued by advance collectors, due to cost and rarity. I recommend buying cards of this vintage from well-known dealers.

Friday, May 20, 2011

1960 Fleer Baseball #5, Grover Cleveland Alexander

You'd never mistake today's card for an active big league player, short of jokes about ageless guys like Minnie Minoso, Julio Franco, or Jamie Moyer. While Grover Cleveland Alexander was no fresh-faced youngster when he retired at age 43, I'm pretty sure Fleer pulled this photo from an Old-Timers Game in the 1930s or 1940s. (He played in several of them, including this 1939 game at Fenway Park.)


Fleer's first 3 baseball sets seem more like retrospectives, since they feature either one guy, as with 1959 Ted Williams, or long-retired former stars, as with 1960 and 1961. The latter sets picked up a reputation for poor sales and candy counter appeal, since most kids would know only a few of the players pictured. (PSA's set profile goes into more detail of today's 79-player issue.)


Grover Cleveland Alexander went by an assortment of nicknames both then and now, including Alec (from his surname), Ol' Pete, and Dode. Wikipedia's murky on the origins of "Ol' Pete," but confirmed his full name came from 19th century US president Grover Cleveland. Whatever you call him, Alexander ranks as one of the finest pitchers in MLB history.

Value: Bought this #5 at a show for $3. The set features plenty of stars, but few collectors find them appealing enough to drive prices up.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

1961 Fleer Baseball Greats #5, Earl Averill

Back in the 1950s, Fleer gum badly wanted to break into Topps' baseball card market, but were stymied by their exclusive contracts with almost every active MLB player. Fleer finally got a foot in the door by signing Ted Williams and issuing an 80-card set dedicated to his career (#5 set profile), but other big leaguers remained elusive.


While Fleer tried to build a roster of active players behind-the-scenes--an effort that would ultimately lead to 1963's set--they published a pair of Baseball Greats sets in 1960 and 1961. The latter, this 154-card retrospective, features an America-themed design and colorized black-and-white photos of HOFers and other retired greats.

Like Joe DiMaggio and many other West Coast natives, Earl Averill started his pro career in the PCL, well before expansion brought baseball to California. As mentioned in my 1949 Yakyu Shonen #5 profile, those teams played nearly 200 games per season, and even hosted exhibitions against MLB teams or toured for additional money. That didn't leave much time for off days and vacations!


The son mentioned on Earl's card back is Earl Jr., who played catcher and outfielder for five teams over seven years. As luck would have it, 1961 marked Earl, Jr's best season by far. He slugged 21 homers for the expansion LA Angels--nearly half his career total of 44--and set career highs in pretty much every category.
Scan courtesy of blog The Angels, in Order

Based on the uniform pinstripes, I assume this Topps picture came from the two months Earl spent as backup catcher for the 1960 White Sox. Coincidentally, that was also the first time a team added its player names to their uniforms, a practice almost every team soon adopted. Check out ESPN Page2's history of South Sider uniforms for more details.

Value: Low-grade singles from this set cost as little as a few dollars. (The biggest stars, like Ruth and Cobb, will cost several times that.)

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

1974 Venezuelan League Baseball #5, Ramon Velazquez

Thanks to the obscurity of Venezuelan winter league statistics, today's card--really a paper-thin stamp destined for a collector's album--features the first player I'm not too sure about. It's probably the born-in-1953 Ramon Velasquez, who pitched a year of Florida League A ball in 1973, but he's got a common enough Latino name that there could be two, including who never left Venezuela.

Card front (blank back)

This 1974 set design mimics the 1968 Topps "burlap sack" look, down to its blocky player name and spot for team and position. Only one of the 275 stamps features a HOFer--native son Luis Aparicio--but a handful of MLBers appear in Venezuelan uniform and make for interesting collector conversation pieces.

No matter which Ramon this is, his 1974-75 Tigres de Aragua went on to capture the Venezuelan league crown that year and repeated as champs in 1975-76. Aragua's won a total of 8 titles since their 1965 inaugural season, most recently in 2008-09. And who hit leadoff for that selfsame squad, leading the winter league in triples? None other than the Legendary Sam Fuld.

(April 2, 2011 - Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images North America)

Value: Bought this #5 for $10 on eBay. The number's actually printed in the collector album, so doesn't appear on the stamp itself.

Fakes / reprints: Both North and South American collectors desire the Aparicio, so there might be some fakes out there. Make sure to buy from a dealer who knows foreign sets.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

1973 Venezuelan League Baseball #5, Jose Lopez

By coincidence, the 1972 and 1973 Venezuelan league #5s both feature Jose Angel Lopez, a Maracay native who also spent 7 seasons in the American minors as pitcher, catcher, and outfielder. Sportswriters made a lot of hay about Albert Pujols' recent shift from 1st to 3rd--wonder what they'd say if he donned the "tools of ignorance" or took the mound.

Card front (blank back)

Like many in the lower leagues--Rookie, A, and AA--Jose bounced around throughout his career, going west to Modesto, CA, north to Cedar Rapids, IA, and south to St. Petersburg, FL (career stats at Baseball-Reference). It's not clear how long he played pro ball in Venezuela, but we know he didn't take the field in 1973, as a player strike wiped out their whole season. While this 275-player set (and a collectors album) still reached the market, sales probably suffered from a lack of real games.

Today's set design approximates 1971 Topps' black borders, block team names, and photo matting. They're paper-thin with no stats and blank backs, since collectors mounted them into albums. (Guides call them "stamps" or "stickers," thanks to this practice, though buyers had to supply the glue.)

Value: Bought this at a card show for $5, a good find considering the rarity. Many have back or edge damage, like Jose's upper-left corner.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Venezuelan Baseball Sets (So Far)

This blog spent the last fortnight profiling Venezuelan sets, a South American neighbor that's home to many baseball fans and its own professional league since 1945. While native card production stretches back into the 1920s, Topps made the country more accessible to modern collectors by licensing their designs locally on-and-off during the 1960s. Building a complete set today is pretty much impossible, but singles turn up on eBay for as little as $10.
  • 1959: American and Venezuelan (198 cards, no album)
  • 1960: American and Venezuelan (198 cards, no album)
  • 1961: American only
  • 1962: American and Venezuelan (198 cards, no album)
  • 1963: American only
  • 1964: American and Venezuelan (370 cards, with album)
  • 1965: American (and first O-Pee-Chee set)
  • 1966: American and Venezuelan (370 cards, with album)
  • 1967: American only (sort of, see below)
  • 1968: American and Venezuelan (370 cards, with album)

Haven't found a 1968 Venezuelan #5 yet, so that profile will have to wait. (Its design copies Topps directly, so looks like this NL Home Run Leaders card.)

1968 Topps Baseball #5

The Oct 1967 to Jan 1968 winter season marked a turning point for South American issues, as they changed focus to Venezuelan pros.

Just three years in that decade feature players in MLB uniform, though they all contain current, former, and future major leaguers playing for local teams. Several significant "pre-rookie" cards also appear, including a 1973 stamp of HOFer Jim Rice.

Scan courtesy Freedom Cardboard forums

Topps made Venezuela (1959) and Canada (1965, via O-Pee-Chee) their first "expansion" teams, just as the MLB expanded following WWII. Questions remain around foreign set licensing, distribution, and availability, so it's been fun diving deeper into their makeup. Just three profiles to go--1968, 1973, and 1974--thanks for following along so far.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Take Five for Trivia: Losing a One-Hitter

On Saturday, May 14th, Chad Billingsley of the Dodgers lost a one-hitter, thanks to a double, missed pickoff play at second, and sacrifice fly from Melvin Mora. Short story, a 1-0 victory for the Diamondbacks.

"Nuts."

Chad's the latest pitcher to lose such a great outing, but hardly the only one. Knuckleballer Charlie Hough, in fact, threw a pair of one-hitters for the Rangers and lost both.


  • June 16, 1986: California Angels win with two outs in the 9th on dropped strikeout pitch; Wally Joyner scores from second on the strikeout/passed ball, as Hough apparently fails to cover home (box score)
  • August 15, 1989: Seattle scratches out first run on single, balk, wild pitch, and sac fly; second run scores on walk, steal, and error; Texas strands 15 (!) base-runners (box score)

Here's hoping Chad wins the next one!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

1970 Ovenca Venezuelan Baseball #5, Roberto Munoz

In 1967, Venezuelan card makers broke new ground by dedicating the 1st series (138 cards) to local pro players. (Its #5 featured Cookie Rojas, an MLB veteran playing his first winter season in Venezuela.) Three years later, local printer Sport Grafico--using a similar card design--upped the ante by dedicating a full 300 player set to their Liga Venezolana de Béisbol Profesional and its 1970-71 winter league season.


This set features two series: #1-249 show active players and #250-300 show "Veterans" or "Immortals."

Scan courtesy eBay seller John Rumierz Cards

Some MLB players signed winter league contracts to keep their skills sharp or earn extra money during "off-season," so also appear in the set wearing Venezuelan uniforms. Many cards show glue residue from being mounted in an album, so "high grade" typically means EX condition for this and other Venezuelan sets.


Thanks to blog reader Nathan for a translation of Roberto's bio!
He began his career as a catcher. In 1965 he successfully converted to pitcher, and is the only Venezuelan pitcher in the major leagues. This year he played for the Chicago Cubs, as a reliever. He's recovered completely from two years of spotty performance, including a demotion to Triple A.

Interesting that this card shows his birth year as 1946, but Wikipedia and Baseball-Reference say 1941. Latin players who make a splash in the big league often face scrutiny about their age, if they come from a country that tracks birth dates less rigorously. MLB teams have a financial incentive to know "real" ages, since 25 year-old players are entering their prime, but 30 year-olds are about to leave it.

Value: Bought this #5 for $6 on eBay. Stars like Dave Concepcion and Luis Aparicio attract interest from both North and South American collectors, so can go for $100+ in decent shape.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace.

UPDATE: Found an autographed version!


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

1967 Venezuelan Baseball #5, Octavio Rojas (a.k.a. Cookie Rojas)

You can collect decades of cards from Topps without getting much insight into pro leagues and stadiums beyond the borders of North America, given the company's laser focus on MLB teams. I acknowledge this serves buyers in one sense, by showing active players in their "correct" cities. On the other hand, it also limits appreciation of the sport's history, which has included international players and tours since the 1920s, with few fans more enthusiastic than Venezuela. (Venezuela's own pro league, the VPBL, stretches back to the World War II era, but Caracas native Alex Carrasquel's MLB debut in 1939 precedes even that, as the country's first big league player.)


Cuban-born Octavio Rojas, nicknamed "Cookie," played for clubs in several countries and made 5 MLB All-Star teams, including 4 straight from 1971-74. I love the clear-rimmed specs he sports on this card.

This set stands alone among vintage baseball issues by combining VPBL players (#1-138), retired MLB stars (#139-188), and reprinted 1967 Topps fronts (#189-338). It's too bad cards prove so hard to find, since they represent one of the few collections of Venezuelan players, uniforms, and stadiums from the 1960s.


Like the 1962 Venezuelan set, card backs feature Spanish. Here's a rough translation of the text.
Considered one of the best second baseman to play for the Venezuelan Champions, Rojas came to the majors with Cincinnati in 1962 and played with the Phillies in 1963, following a trade for Jim Owens. An All-Star in 1965. This is his Venezuelan League debut.

Card Value: $5 - 15 for non-star singles, depending on condition and player. (South American dealer John Rumierz Cards specializes in them.) Many dealers ask sky-high prices for graded stars, due to scarcity.

Reprints / Fakes: Haven't seen any in the marketplace. Stars cost a lot and cards often have back damage, so someone might try it, but low collector demand means there's little reason to fake a common player.

Monday, May 9, 2011

1966 Venezuelan Baseball #5, Jim Fregosi

Welcome to 1966, midpoint of MLB's biggest era of geographic expansion. Between 1957, when relocated New York teams opened up our West Coast, and 1977, when the Pacific Northwest received its first team and Canada its second, baseball jumped from 16 teams to 26. Ten years removed from acquiring Bowman, Topps remained the only company producing annual card sets, so made it their own era of "expansion" by licensing designs south to Venezuela and north to Canada, two other countries with pro baseball and solid fan interest.


Today's hatless Fregosi image appears three times in my blog, thanks to those expanding marketing efforts. Topps clearly wanted to cement their reputation as "big league" wherever people watched pro baseball.

Venezuelan sets offered a way for local fans to track popular native sons like #90 Luis Aparicio and #365 Vic Davalillo, both of whom were established MLB All-Stars by 1966. Luis even went on to win the World Series that year as an Oriole.


This set followed in the footsteps of Venezuela 1964's issue; it contains 370 cards with a companion album to mount them in. Most collectors pasted players directly on each page, leaving card backs with glue stains or missing paper when later removed. Each album includes 360 player spaces, omitting the 5 team cards and 5 checklists. (On the upside, that means those 10 rarely show this kind of damage.)

Scan courtesy Topps-Venezuela Yahoo group

The 1966 album cover mentions 4 series of cards, but no range of numbers seem rarer than another, so it's likely print runs remained the same throughout.

Value: South American specialist John Rumierz Cards sold me this for $5 in 2007. Mid- and high-grade singles get expensive quickly, since most surviving examples have back damage or writing.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any explicit Venezuelan reprints, though people can confuse them with normal Topps cards, since fronts and backs match. Look for their brighter pink ink on the back and no surface gloss.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

1972 Electric Mayhem #5, Floyd Pepper

Last week, custom card maestro (and blogger) PunkRockPaint posted a primo collection of Electric Mayhem singles, honoring Jim Henson's best-ever Muppet musicians. (Emmet Otter and his Jug Band just don't rock as hard.)


I think any Muppet Show fan would've traded all their Reggie Jacksons and Nolan Ryans for these five cards. My favorite band member (then and now) is Animal, but check out the custom back PRP sent me for Floyd!


Click through for its full detail: that comic's superb and I'm surprised they stopped Dr. Teeth at only 9 anthems.

Find the full run of these custom Muppet cards at Baseball Card Blog!

Value: Priceless.

Fakes / reprints: If only I could reprint these on my brain stem.

Friday, May 6, 2011

1964 Venezuelan Baseball #5, NL Strikeout Leaders

As a country situated close to the equator, baseball-loving Venezuela enjoys more consistent year-round temps than North America, and thus, better "off-season" weather for native players. It's no accident that their own pro baseball league starts in October, right when USA teams wrap things up. Its 8-team schedule runs through January, after which the title-winner competes in the Caribbean Series against champs from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.


1964 marked some important changes to Venezuela's baseball card production. First, they expanded set size to 370, almost twice the 198 cards used in previous issues. Second, they issued an album to encourage collectors to amass and store that year's set.

Album scan courtesy the Topps-Venezuelan Yahoo forum

Over time, the practice of gluing cards into albums became synonymous with Venezuelan collecting, at least compared to American kids who stacked, boxed, or rubber-banded them together. Many cards from this set show paper loss or glue residue. Earlier sets from 1959, 1960, and 1962 generally don't include back damage, but are still hard to find in higher grades because of their lower quality stock and lack of surface gloss.

League Leaders like my #5 usually escaped the back damage because albums came organized by team, with no spaces set aside for leader cards or checklists. Venezuelan card backs use black ink instead of the American orange, so prove easier to distinguish than previous years. (They still turn up in boxes of Topps singles at shows--I found a black-backed Venezuelan in a quarter box in Nov 2010.)


Just three guys appear on this #5, following Topps "rule" of only showing more players when there's a tie in the top three. I think Juan Marichal deserves a spot there, too, since he finished barely behind Drysdale but well ahead of Gibson, so here's a mock-up that combines 1964 leaders #3 and #5.


Value: I bought this #5 from John Rumierz Cards for $20 several years ago. #50 Mickey Mantle, #125 Pete Rose, and #331 A.L. Bombers (also featuring Mantle) cards are the set's biggest stars.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any Venezuelan reprints, but you can expect Topps to use this design for their Heritage set in 2014.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Happy May Number Five

Taking a quick break in the Venezuelan profiles to say Happy Cinco de Mayo. Big creative props to PunkRockPaint, who pimped the Baseball Card Blog with a set of six Muppets custom cards today!


He labeled the Janice card as number 5, but the whole Electric Mayhem team looks great. Wish we had these cards when I was a kid!

Check out the whole band at Muppets...The Retro Baseball Card Set. Identify the 1972 Topps cards he used and win a custom card of your own!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

1962 Venezuelan Baseball #5, Sandy Koufax

Today's profile marked the third year Topps licensed their set for printing in Venezuela, one of the world's few countries to follow baseball more fervently than soccer. (America being another.) This practice continued irregularly through the 60s, as baseball sets skipped over 1961, 1963, and 1965.


Four characteristics distinguish the 1962 Venezuelan set from the Topps American version.
  1. Back text in Spanish instead of English
  2. Venezuelan backs use darker red ink; USA looks orange
  3. Two local players (#199 Chacon and #200 Aparicio) replace Topps cards #197 and #198
  4. Little if any gloss (the front scan shows hazy wear gloss would protect against)

Almost all Venezuelan baseball cards, even the popular stars, prove a challenge to track down and take deep pockets to acquire. When Robert Edward Auctions offered a low-grade set in 2008, bidding closed at over $7000.


The league leader cards (#51-60) don't use Spanish on the back, so look almost identical to "normal" cards, except for missing gloss and back coloring. Check the backs for darker red ink and no gloss if you own any--they could be the much rarer Venezuelan version. (I've found them mixed into singles boxes at shows more than once.)

Here's one of the new native players, Elio Chacon; he and Luis Aparicio (#200) replaced cards #197 and #198. That makes #200 the highest number, but total set size remains 198.



The cartoon text translates as "TRAVELER: Elio was purchased by the Mets last winter."

Value: This low-grade Koufax cost $28 on eBay, a relative bargain. High grade examples run into the hundreds, though "high grade" usually means EX at best for Venezuelans.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any Venezuelan fakes, but people sometimes mistake them for American versions. Look for the Spanish text and pinker back coloring.

Monday, May 2, 2011

1960 Venezuelan Baseball #5, Wally Moon

In 1959, Topps licensed their baseball design and players to Venezuelan printer Benco for local printing and distribution, a release that covered about a third of the American set. That financial arrangement worked well enough to secure a repeat performance in 1960 and its number five features skilled LA outfielder--and one of the best card "personalities"--Wally Moon. Unibrow power!


I originally profiled this set in 2009, but am revisiting it to show all the Venezuelan issues in sequence. (This version also has better scans.)

1960 marked Topps' final year for sideways-only sets, as seen previously in 1955 and, my all-time favorite, 1956. American and Venezuelan versions resumed their portrait layout in 1961, but left-to-right action photo reappeared in several 1970s sets. Night Owl profiled several of those cards in his 2009 article, Horizontal Bop.


Like 1959 Venezuelans, 1960 cards lack surface gloss and the stock feels rougher to the touch. The set contains about a third of Topps' full set of 572; both checklists match card-for-card from #1 to #198.

Close inspection of the set itself revealed one curiosity. Future All-Star (and Caribbean native) Julian Javier appears as "Manuel" on rookie card #133, as cribbed from his full name, "Manuel Julián Javier Liranzo."


Those selfsame Pirates traded Javier to St. Louis mid-year and he ultimately spent the whole decade starting at 2nd base for the Cardinals, helping them win championships in 1964 and 1967. Pittsburgh didn't really mourn the loss; they already had a guy named Mazeroski at 2B, which worked out OK for them in 1960.

Value: I picked up Mr. Moon for $5 from South American specialist John Rumierz Cards.

Fakes / reprints: Possible they exist, though fakes of American versions are more likely. Topps "reprinted" this design for their 2009 Heritage set.