Wednesday, March 9, 2011

When magazine racks were amazing

I'm staying with the early '80s for one more post.

When it comes to reading, I love magazines above all other print media.

In the old-school realm, magazines rank above books and even above (gulp) newspapers. Writing for a magazine has been a dream job since I was a teenager.

I have been a subscriber to Sports Illustrated three separate times in my life. I've also been a subscriber to Baseball Digest, the old Baseball Magazine (remember that?), the old Inside Sports (remember that?) , the old National (remember THAT?), and various other non-sports magazines (I went through a big news junkie phase during my mid-college years).

This is probably why I embrace blogs above any other form of online social interaction. I will never truly appreciate Twitter, and Facebook is entirely lost on me. But blogs are the internet version of magazines and, well, I guess my dream has come true, in a non-paying way.

Still, as fascinating and fantastic as the blogs are, they will not match the thrill of when I was a teenager, spotting the magazine rack at the drugstore, and deciding what publication to take home.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I subscribed to the old Baseball Cards Magazine. But the first of those old BCM magazines that I saved, from the spring of 1982, I actually plucked from a magazine rack. I must have been out of my mind trying to obtain this issue. Can you imagine? A magazine devoted solely to baseball cards? This was way before Beckett.

That issue, whose cover you see up top, was the third issue ever published by BCM. It's the issue that pops in my brain whenever I think of the magazine.

Like I said before, I'm going to go through each of the issues that I saved (they run from 1982-85). I'll pick out whatever I think is interesting and show it.

I also said I'd post some of the letters to the editor from the magazines, too, but there weren't any in this issue. The publication was probably still growing readers at this point.

Here is the table of contents from that issue as best as I could scan it (my scanner doesn't like periodicals). I'm not going to cover every article, so this gives you an idea of what was in there: stories about police sets, collecting jerseys, science fiction cards, purchasing rookie cards, the 1957 Topps set, uncut sheets, the 1962 Salada tea coin set, and candy cards from the early 20th century.

Now that is variety, and why magazines -- particularly this magazine -- kick ass.

Here is one of the ads. The magazine is loaded with hobby shop ads from all over the country. Big ones, like Larry Fritsch cards, and little ones.

This ad, on Page 3, is from Den's Collectors Den in Maryland. I'm showing it because I ordered from one of its ads. I bought the Sport Americana Price Guide that you see on the top right.

The issue begins with Hobby News. You can see that they jumped right on the fact that the same photo of Rod Carew was used on an '82 Topps and '82 Fleer card (each purchased the same photo from the same freelance photographer). They also noted that the Fleer reproduction was much poorer than that of Topps.

In fact, there's a lot of bagging on Fleer in this issue. The 1982 set had just hit the streets and we all know the problems with '82 Fleer. Hazy photos everywhere.

The magazine cast a suspicious eye on the '82 set, noting all the errors and corrections in it. It cited the '81 Fleer Graig Nettles card, which was spelled "Craig" in one version and then corrected to Graig (that's the card that I have). That card basically kicked off the error craze of the 1980s and Fleer sold lots more sets because of news about the Craig/Graig card.

BCM shows particular disgust for the famed '82 Fleer Al Hrabosky card, which has three different versions, related to errors in his first name or his height.

I always thought that Fleer was simply a bumbling boob of a card company, making so many stupid errors that all of them couldn't possibly be intentional. Now, I'm not so sure. Here is what BCM wrote:

"After a year of chasing the 'C' Nettles card at prices in the $15 level, most collectors seem to be foregoing the error craze of 1981 and building their 1982 sets in the traditional fashion, without regard to minor or manufactured variations.

"Predictably, Fleer officials were close-mouthed about their motivations in the matter."

Did you read what I just read? There were MANUFACTURED VARIATIONS in 1982? That is a full 25 years before people started squawking about all the shenanigans in 2006-08 Topps.

If we're to believe the magazine, playing with the collecting public like this isn't a recent innovation. Twenty-five years later and collectors are still suckers.

Looking through the magazine, I wondered how many of the hobby shops advertising in the issue still exist. There were 75-100 ads selling cards or card supplies, and at least 30 of those ads were full-pagers.

I'm showing this one just because it's advertising the 1981 Topps Traded set, the first of its kind (yes, I know all about 1972, 74 and 76). I have wanted this set since the day it came out. That blue check mark was created by me in 1982. I still haven't crossed it off.

I'm showing this ad just because I swear I saw one of these "credit card" cards on a blog recently. I didn't pay it much mind and then I came across this the very next week. It's one freaking ugly set to pay 30 bucks for in 1982.

This is one of the graphics that appeared with the non-sports card story called "From Buck to Battlestar." You were not a boy in the late '70s/early '80s if you weren't fascinated with Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back and Battlestar Gallactica.

I had lots of those red-bordered Star Wars cards back when I was 13. I preferred the red over the blue or green or yellow or orange. The Black Hole card brought forward "The Black Hole" movie from the recesses of my mind. That movie tanked because the Empire Strikes Back movie came out at the same time.

The Mars Attacks cards from 1962 are very freaky and very cool, and made a couple of appearances in BCM.

I enjoyed this article just because it was written at the beginning of the rookie card craze and is kind of endearing. It warns the collector that although it takes "very little money to buy up cards of players in their first years" throwing cash at the likes of Gary Carter isn't recommended "because catchers tend to be overlooked and their production declines quickly as they get older."

It also warns against buying the '75 George Brett rookie "because at $10, it's not a great value." Meanwhile the author recommends pulling Tim Wallach, Terry Francona, Mike Marshall and Bob Bonner because of their potential. All can be had for pennies these days (except for the '82 Bonner which just happens to also feature Cal Ripken Jr.)

The article had me hoping that I would strike gold with this card. Hubie Brooks AND Mookie Wilson! I think at one point it was going for 10 dollars.

At the start of the article it says, "A rookie card is the first appearance of a player on a baseball card. This may or may not be his actual big league rookie season." Oh, how I wish that was still true.

A lot of the advice in the article is sound, but it still makes me glad I don't chase rookie cards.

The issue also ponders "which rookie card" of Fernando to pursue, as Topps issued the three-player rookie card in its base set, added the Topps Traded card, and Fleer put out the "Fernand" card, all in 1981.

I know what they'd say now: Collect them all, idiot!

But this was a unique problem in the early '80s. Multiple cards of the same player had to be studied carefully. BCM finally said, get the Topps Traded card and be done with it. Apparently, having more than one card of a certain player was just too much to handle.

Finally, we're at the price guide portion of BCM, which was always a big draw.

I used to carefully check off the cards that I had in each issue and note the corresponding price. I'm sure you're all amused by the prices. The 1955 Topps rookie Sandy Koufax that I have was listed as being worth $30.75 in Ex-Mt condition. Jackie Robinson is $19.75. Hank Aaron is a manageable $36, and only $10.75 for a perfectly satisfactory "good" copy. Oh, if I only had money in 1982.

Here are the cards that were in my wheelhouse. Late '70s and early '80s gems. As you can see, I was cleaning up with the stars in this area. Also, I was very serious about noting condition.

And those are the highlights of that magazine rack issue.

Of course, magazine racks still exist everywhere. But unless I'm in a bookstore, I see very few people standing in front of one. I seldom stop at them, too. I just don't have the time for my favorite kind of medium anymore.

A few months ago, I subscribed to Baseball Digest again. It's not as interesting as SI, but it comes out only six times a year. That's all I have time for -- ain't no way I can absorb a once weekly publication.

I even have trouble getting to an every-two-months magazine, mostly because my favorite magazine now is an online conglomeration of blogs.

But it makes me feel good to have a tree-killing version arriving at the house again. A magazine is fascinating comfort food. I don't need it, but it sure is interesting, and I feel warm and fuzzy reading it.

Especially when it's about baseball cards.


  1. Great article ! I know I'm alot older but many times we seem to think alike.I always loved mags too. I have in front of me "Sports Card Trader" May 1990 VOL. 1 NO 1 and a # 11 "Topps Magazine" still in the original plastic mailer ! Cards still intact inside. No Indians or Dodgers though. Mark McGwire on the cover.I have a few others scattered here and there.

  2. I posted a little while back about a bunch of '70s and '80 playboys I inherited, and couldn't agree more with the quality of magazines back then. And yes, even in Playboy, the ads used to be much better. The interview and articles were way better back then too.

  3. Great Post, You're so right about Star wars, I used to be into getting the action figures. Not because I collected them, I played with them. If I knew there were cards I would have probably wanted those too. I always wondered if kids now look at the Lord of the Rings series the same as we looked at Star Wars.

  4. I came into the hobby a couple years later than you, but Baseball Cards magazine got me started as well. I think either Dwight Evans or Bo Jackson was on the cover of my first one.

    BTW, did you notice that they got the pictures backwards on the 1979 and 1980 sets? Yes, I am THAT guy.

    word verification : focki

  5. On the back of the 1977 John Mayberry, the cartoon advises that a 1910 (sic) Honus Wagner could fetch "over $1000."

    This is still true, I suppose.

    Question - what attribute can be used in these URLs to get the page out of the comment window? TARGET is not accepted.

  6. 1967ers~

    Hopefully, someone more tech savvy than I can answer your question, because you've lost me.

  7. There may not be a way to do it. I just thought it should be possible to have the link open up somewhere other than in the little comment window, but the normal attributes you add to the link don't work.

  8. Well, if it makes you feel any better, the link doesn't open up in the comment window when I click it. It takes me to the site that was linked.

  9. Greg, I was a big fan of that magazine. I remember reading them during the 1980s and imagine what it would be like to have my name in one of those bylines.

    Today, I've written several articles for hobby magazines and on a first name basis with the editor (Bob Lemke). In that respect, the 13 year-old version of myself would have been impressed with the one nearly three times older. He just wouldn't have said so at the time, though.

    However, I'll let you know that the magazines don't pay a lot better than the blogs do.

  10. Thanks for bringing back a lot of memories. I also subscribed to the magazine, and the one you showed was the first one I ever saw (it belonged to a classmate in school). That magazine totally ruled. I just wish that I had not thrown out my collection during one of my many moves over the years.

  11. Fascinating scans and post. But how come, right after posting about trifectas, you didn't even mention that the cover of the magazine shows Carl Yastrzemski holding his trifecta?

  12. Very observant, Bo.

    I'm sure I was aware of that way back then.