Thursday, October 17, 2019

Joy of a team set: chapter 16

I was perhaps a little harsh on the Yankees at the end of yesterday's post.

Not that I care -- still fully want them to lose by many runs tonight -- but I'll throw a tiny chicken bone their way.

I visited my favorite thrift store back in my old hometown Monday. It hasn't been very productive for baseball card hunting the last several visits, but I did find one station that had the usual selection of junk wax sets (the Big 3: 1990 Fleer, 1990 Upper Deck, 1989 Topps).

Above those boxes were a few individual stacks selling for a couple of bucks each. I brought home two that mildly interested me. One was a 1983 Fleer stack with Keith Hernandez on top. The other was a 1986 Donruss stack with Don Mattingly on the top (third-year cards are so underrated).

I thought they were random assortments of '83 Fleer and '86 Donruss, but it turns out they were team sets of the Cardinals and Yankees from those years (I didn't put two-and-two together as there was a Cardinal and a Yankee on the bottom of each respective stack). I selected '83 Fleer because I'm trying to complete it, but the only card I needed was the Darrell Porter.

I selected the '86 Donruss because I own fewer cards from that set, by far, than any other set issued in the 1980s by the major card companies. I have an excuse -- I find the design very disorienting -- but it's time to overcome that.

After all, I now have the full Yankees team set from 1986 Donruss and I can do a Joy of a Team Set post on it!

Here is the whole team:

Donruss kind of front-loaded the stars in this team set.

This Yankees team holds a special place in my heart because it was the start of a wonderful decline by the franchise. New York finished second behind the Blue Jays in 1985, then finished second again in 1986. After that it was fourth, fifth, fifth, seventh, fifth and fifth. It was glorious. I could live my life without anyone shouting in my ear about the greatness of the Yankees.

But enough of that, it's time to run through the team set categories:

Favorite card runners-up: 5. Bobby Meacham; 4. Dave Winfield; 3. Don Mattingly ...

2. Scott Bradley

This could have been first if Donruss didn't obscure the fourth glove with the team logo. Come on Donruss, you can move those things you know.

Team's claim to fame: The 1986 Yankees were the first in franchise history to finish second behind a Boston Red Sox team since 1904, when the Yankees were the Highlanders and the Red Sox were the Americans.

Favorite element on the back:

There are a lot of tales of injury hardship on the back of these Yankees cards -- Marty Bystrom's is one long litany of woe -- but Andre Robertson takes the pinstripe cake. Donruss alludes to the severity of Robertson's car accident and then spells it out it for you -- broken neck, yikes!

Players I've talked to: Both Phil and Joe Niekro in two wonderful phone conversations in a single day. Joe first and then Phil.

Best names: Donruss provides gold with their listing of full names. Here are my five favorites:

5. William Amos Sample
4. Ronald Ames Guidry
3. Neil Patrick (Harris) Allen
2. Rickey Henley Henderson
1.Harold Delano Wynegar Jr.

Famous error card: The 1986 Donruss set doesn't have many errors and none involving Yankees.

Former or future Dodgers: Rickey Henderson, Willie Randolph and Don Mattingly.

Phil Rizzuto was their number one fan:

Rizzuto, the famed Yankees broadcaster and cannoli king, couldn't help but talk up whatever prospect donned pinstripes. He especially liked these two. And, he especially, especially liked Pags, for obvious Italian reasons.

Favorite card in the set:

#645 - Knuckle Brothers

This is how you do a combo card, Topps. I miss these so much.

Naturally I'd pick the two guys I've interviewed. It helps that I consider neither of them Yankees, thinking of Phil first as a Brave and Joe first as an Astro.

Thanks for joining me for Joy of a Team Set!

May it kick off 10 years of the Yankees never making the postseason!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Trading with someone who's loving life right now

I just sent off a package to a Nationals fan.

It was packed full of Nationals cards, cards that I haven't been able to trade for years.

These must be the best days for collector Chris, the Nationals fan. First the Nationals land the wild card spot, then they beat the Brewers, then the Dodgers hand them the NLDS, then they sweep the Cardinals and are in the World Series for the first time!

And then -- and THEN -- this dude with a blog sends him Nationals cards!

Some fans have all the luck.

OK, well, there were those 100-loss seasons about 10 years ago.

I am a typical baseball fan of a certain age that has little use for the Nationals. Yeah, yeah, Scherzer and Strasburg and all that. Doesn't matter much to me. The Expos -- you know, the team MLB stole from Montreal and planted in Washington -- were my most direct route to watching a major league game in person. And it's been a pain in the rump to attend an MLB game ever since the Expos left.

I don't consider the Nationals an extension of the Expos at all. They are two completely different clubs to me, no matter what MLB wants, no matter what history says. When the Texas Rangers made the World Series in 2010 was anybody in Washington celebrating because their team finally made it to the Series? There you go.

So, yeah, I was more than happy to dispose of some Nationals cards. It was perfect timing considering the Dodgers' fate. Wish I had even more to send Chris.

But I made optimal use of that Nationals card-dumping by getting a few Dodgers, and other collecting needs, in exchange. I also took care of a card "need" that could have escaped me for the next 20 years without me noticing.

Let's see that card:

 I wish Topps would stop doing these random combination cards with the hokey captions. Not only are they painful -- just look at Bellinger's face -- but they often escape team checklist sites!

I had no idea this was a Dodger need in last year's Update set.

I thought this was my last need in the Update set:

 Chris sent me this card, too, and I was thrilled when it appeared out of the stack. Then the doopy, unnecessary "Hosmer & Cody" card appeared shortly after and I felt dumb pining for that Kemp All-Star card for so many months. I'm sure there are five months of entries in my Cardboard Diary that say "oh, if I only had that Kemp All-Star card!" Lot of carrying on over nothing.

 Chris cleared up several 2018 Dodgers needs, notably a few cards from products that I can only find in Walmart. And since I both try to avoid Walmart and the store has positioned a checkout line in direct conflict with the card aisle, cards from sets like Gallery are affected.

 Here is some 2019 stuff. Fancy, although I feel that "dominator" should have been trademarked for Dominik Hasek.

Chris picked up on my appreciation for sets with non-sports cards and here are a bunch of Allen & Ginter needs from the last two years. I am not collecting the "Incredible Equipment" insert set -- it reminds me of walking through some old Farmer's Museum -- but I'll take any A&G card that isn't a dupe.

Chris also sent a couple of cards from a couple of fun A&G mini insert sets from last year. The roller derby card just makes me miss The Collective Troll. The Hottest Peppers cards interest me more since I've started an inexplicable video binge on people eating hot things.

There were a few other A&G minis for my frankenset binder, but sadly none of them made it.

I shall end with this card. Always like the music cards.

Janis Joplin died 49 years ago this month. Can't say I was the biggest fan, but I do respect her legacy.

I probably should respect the Nationals for the legacy of the Montreal Expos. But I just can't. Not right now.

Unless they happen to play the Yankees in the World Series.

Then I'll respect the f*ck out of them.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Completing the pioneer of confusing sets

I completed the 1981 Fleer set when this card arrived in my COMC order last week.

I'm pretty sure this Rickey Henderson card was the last card I needed because I thought I had it already.

But, of course, I didn't have it already, I had this card:

One is card #574 in the set and one is card #351 in the set and I hope you can see why I got a bit confused.

The 1981 Fleer set is full of confusion and I can say that as someone who had been collecting for six full years before Fleer decided to issue its first full set and, my goodness, what in the world do we have here?

We collectors were not used to what Fleer was throwing at us. Those collectors who came along later must wonder what all the fuss was all about, but, listen, collecting was pretty straightforward prior to 1981.

Players did not appear on a second card unless it was in some sort of special subset. But here was Fleer producing second cards of all kinds of stars, and -- to top it off -- confusing the card numbers and sometimes the positions and sometimes who the hell was who!

So if Fleer was that confused, where did that leave me?

Also confused.

I consider 1981 Fleer as the pioneer of the confusion that was to come. The many different cards of the same player, the error cards -- both real and artificial, two different cards sharing the same card number. All of this is common collecting territory today but it was way different in 1981.

I'm going to review some of the most confusing cards in that 1981 Fleer set. I'm sure you're aware of them if you've collected '80s sets.

Card #382 -- The Kurt Bevacqua reverse negative

I never saw a card like this -- both the correct version and the incorrect reverse negative available in the same set -- until the 1982 Donruss Phil Garner card.

I thought the Garner card was fascinating, but if I had known then about the Bevacqua card from a year earlier, I'd figure that Donruss was simply copying what Fleer had done.

There's also a reverse negative version for the '81 Tim Flannery card, but I don't own that one.

Card #480 - Stan Papi position switch

Stan Papi was a shortstop, not a pitcher. I had been pulling Papi cards since 1979 and his pitcher designation just looked ludicrous. I guess it could have been worse. Papi could have been shown batting or fielding his position.

#79/#650 - Reggie Jackson Outfield-DH/Mr. Baseball

#29/#653 - Willie Wilson Outfield/Most Hits-Most Runs

It's pretty apparent Fleer was in over its head that first year as it issued more than one card of several stars but goofed up almost all of them.

The Reggie Jackson Mr. Baseball card is also available at card No. 79 and the Willie Wilson Most Hits-Most Runs is also available at card No. 29.

Card #202/#216 - George Foster Slugger/Outfield

The "Slugger" version at card #202 is also available at #216 as it was a first-printing mistake. But I was baffled by these cards because:

1. Why was Foster's position listed as "slugger"?
2. There are really two photos of George Foster smiling?

Card #7/#657 - Tug McGraw Pitcher/Game Saver

Same deal as the Foster card above, the "Game Saver" version is also available as Card #7 on first printing. I just think this is goofy because obviously there weren't enough photos to make two Tug cards but that wasn't going to stop Fleer!

Card #5/#640 - Mike Schmidt MVP Third Base/1980 Home Run King

Same deal as the previous two examples -- the 1980 Home Run King image is also available at #5 in first printing, although it doesn't say "1980 Home Run King" but simply "Third Base." Unless you have that variation, you don't have a 1981 Fleer card that simply reads Schmidt's position as "third base." The "MVP" addition makes it appear as if it's a special extra card -- or at least it did to me back in '81.

Card #28/#655 - George Brett/390 Average

Card #32/#483 - Amos Otis/Outfield/Series Starter

Both Brett and Otis images are available at two different card numbers -- 28 and 655 in Brett's case and 32 and 483 in Otis' case.

Of course there are corrected versions at #28 and #32 respectively:

Both versions of #28 and #32 shown here.

I would like to point out that Fleer lists George Brett's average as "390" instead of ".390," which is statistically impossible as a hitter.

Also, gracious, I think there are maybe five cards in the entire '81 Fleer set that are not miscut.

Card #514/#525 - Billy Travers

Imagine pulling both of these out of packs in 1981. WTF?

The card on the left, #514, actually shows Jerry Augustine but incorrectly lists him as Travers.

I actually don't have the corrected version of the Augustine card. I'm not someone who insists on getting all the variations before considering 1981 Fleer complete, but I probably should get a card that properly represents Augustine.

(There is also a Don Hood/Pete Vukovich screw-up along these lines, but I have the corrected Don Hood card).

Card #6/#660 - Steve Carlton Pitcher of the Year/"Lefty" The Golden Arm

I consider this the "Fleerest of all Fleer Errors," at least until Billy Ripken and his bat came along eight years later (You could make a case for the 1982 Al Hrabosky and Darrell Jackson cards, too). I remember reading all the corrected versions of card #6 back in the day:

1. Version 1: "'Lefty' on front (with nonmustache image), Year 1966 on the back listed as 1066"

2. Version 2: Corrected photo but Year 1966 on the back still listed as 1066.

3. Version 3: Everything is finally correct

Also, Card #660 has an error 1066 version and a corrected 1966 version.

Got all that?

I have this theory that the reason that set collecting has declined over the last three or four decades is because who has the time?

When everyone started tracking error cards and variations in an attempt to fill their sets during the 1980s, a bunch of collectors probably figured: screw this. And so, player-collecting was born because who can be bothered with tracking every error in a 660-card-plus set.

But I'll always be a set collector. I just ignore most of that variation stuff.

For me, the '81 Fleer set is finished.

Monday, October 14, 2019

In tune with toons

As a youngster, I enjoyed reading the comics in the daily paper.

The concept of a new amusing strip each day fascinated and entertained me, and I remember at an early age cutting out individual strips of Peanuts or Blondie and stacking them up for months and then going back and reviewing past strips.

We didn't get the Sunday paper at our home. But my grandmother did. So when we'd go over to her house, the Sunday funnies from that week, and previous weeks, would be waiting for us in the room where she kept all the toys for the grandkids.

I had my favorites and others that confused me. I don't know if anyone remembers "They'll Do It Every Time," a one-panel strip that addressed the frustrations of everyday life. That just seemed too adult to me. I had no idea what it was saying. As I got older, I'd appreciate more sophisticated, off-beat strips like Tank McNamara and Bloom County.

But anyway, comic strips were an everyday part of life. My brother and I would create our own strips with our own characters and attempt to develop them day-by-day. I couldn't stick to it. My brother was a little better. He even took a cartoon-drawing class at one point. (The creator of "B.C.," Johnny Hart, was from our area, and his characters were all over town, from parks to the local pro hockey team).

This is why I've always enjoyed the cartoons on the backs of baseball cards and can relay some of the more notable ones from memory. This is why I've written a few posts about baseball card cartoons, going back to the blog's early days.

And this is why my latest article for Beckett Vintage Collector magazine is on the history of cartoons on the backs of Topps cards!

The article is in the October/November issue, which I don't know if is on newsstands yet -- I still have an unclear idea of when issues reach subscribers and newsstands. But it's the issue with Thurman Munson on the cover.

I've come across a few stories about Topps' cartoons over the years, but really nothing that satisfied my curiosity. There is so little information on the why and how of these quirky gems that really created the most interesting card backs. You can have your second color photo of the player already featured on the front. I mean that's not redundant, is it?

I'd rather have a fresh and funny cartoon.

For the article, I tried to investigate who was responsible for creating Topps' cartoons. I was able to dig up some names but trying to find exactly who drew cartoons for exactly which year was next to impossible. Topps never publicizes this stuff and the number of freelancers it used for drawing and lettering confuses the matter.

Fortunately, I have plenty of Topps' cartoons in my collection and I used them to research the hell out of the topic.

I have cited many individual cartoons for this story, concentrating mainly on the most interesting years for card back comics -- 1956, 1973, 1974, 1977 and 1981. I mention a couple from a few other sets, too.

Topps' cartoons illustrate the time period better than almost anything on a baseball card -- outside of the player's haircut. It's a shame that they haven't appeared in a flagship set since 2006. I appreciate the comic efforts in Heritage and Archives, but they're mostly just a rehash and not exactly up to standards of the originals anyway.

Even though I've always been interested in comics, I wouldn't consider myself a rabid fan. I never hoarded comic books, I just didn't have that kind of devotion. I never took the time to perfect my drawing style -- I can draw fairly well but it takes a lot of practice and I'm too busy collecting cards.

So there are many people who possess a deeper and more real attachment to the comic strip world (and, yes, there are comic strips all over the digital space). But comics and cartoon drawings still speak to me and I light up every time I see something like that.

Wacky Packages are an example and it's why I'm trying to collect the ones from my childhood. The Fleer Laughlin World Series cards is another one. No surprise I'm attempting to collect those, too.

Here is another example:

The 1979 Baseball Comics set from Topps fell flat on its face as a test issue. Topps never made another version.

I never saw them in my area that year. The comics are printed on flimsy wax paper that recall the Bazooka Joe comics you'd pull out of Cracker Jack boxes.

Yet I love them so much.

Just the other day, Mark Hoyle sent me almost the entire set of them. I was thrilled. A full-color, one-panel strip featuring one of the players of my youth, plus a little inside info on the rules of the game!

These are tremendous fun, even if I don't know how to store them.

Mark pointed out in a note that two of the comics were missing as he sent them to a fellow collector who collects catchers. So, he said, there was no comic of Johnny Bench or Ted Simmons.

No problemo.

Three or four years ago, reader Rob sent me about half of the '79 Baseball Comics set and included in those were:

Johnny Bench and Ted Simmons!

So now I have the completed set.

I just love these. The comic style is straight out of my childhood. The drawings are pretty good -- only a couple of weird ones in the bunch -- and that will make or break a "likeness set" (looking at you 2010 Chicle).

But enough fawning, let's review all 33 comics from start to finish:

As I told Mark when he featured this set on Twitter, "THESE ARE MY BOYS!"

I hear so much about Tony Gwynn and Bo Jackson and Frank Thomas and Greg Maddux and players from later in the '80s and I get it. But they weren't my childhood titans who I rooted so fervently for and against. The images on the '79 Baseball Comics WERE THOSE GUYS.

I still need to figure out how to store these. Right now my only option is four-pocket pages, but there is so much air left over with those. Also, I have a few duplicates now, which I'll probably distribute among team collectors, unless someone wants like 18 of them at once. (The second Reggie Smith goes to the Dodger collection).

Comics on cards (or anywhere really) will always attract my interest and I wish they would show up in flagship again. But I suppose they'd actually have to pay an artist or something.

If you want to recall the glory days of comics on card backs, pick up the issue with my story.