Monday, January 9, 2017

Baseball cards, history and ... geez, am I collecting another set?

I joined the Society for American Baseball Research today.

Some said this was a long time coming, and it probably was. I mostly was spurred into doing this because SABR now has its own card blog. It's a blog that features heavyweights like Rob Neyer and Keith Olbermann. But I think I could contribute some knowledge to that blog periodically. I don't know if I have to be a SABR member to do that, but I felt that I should be.

So, I'm eager to experience all of the perks of SABR membership. But mostly I can't wait to do something for them that I do believe they welcome: researching baseball cards! Imagine that.

One of the reasons I love baseball cards so much is that they are a historical record of baseball unlike anything else that we have. I am partial to articles about baseball's past, given my background, but baseball cards are a close second, and they are certainly unique in their presentation.

That's why I like retro sets so much. They capture the backbone of today's game -- the past.

A couple of months ago I mentioned that I was attempting to complete the Panini Hometown Heroes set from four years ago. That set, with its inclusion of many of the "pretty good" stars of the '70s and '80s, is right after my own heart.

Well, there is another couple of sets that were very similar to the Hometown Heroes set and arrived a couple of decades before HH did. A little while ago, I opened a pack of 1994 Ted Williams Company cards, and I mentioned how collectible it was.

Jeff of Cardboard Catastrophes took that as a cue. He has completed both the '93 and '94 TWC sets and thought I might be interested in following his path. He gifted me with two healthy stacks of each:

OK, so now what am I going to do? I don't really need to add any more set projects right now. But with this kind of dent in each, I feel obligated to try. And I probably will at some point. There are just too many of my favorites in these sets to let them sit in a box.

I scanned a few of what I received and I'm going to compare the two sets with each other, because I like doing that stuff.


Both sets include the superstars of the past that you all know plus a number of stars who are either forgotten or simply not mentioned as often as the usual suspects.

There is an example of 1993. Whitey Ford and Warren Spahn mixed in with Jim Fregosi and Mel Parnell.

And there is an example from 1994. Honus Wagner and Hank Greenberg paired up with Rico Petrocelli and Dean Chance.

The Ted Williams Company cards aren't filled with present-day players like Hometown Heroes is, but it does include several players from my favorite period, the 1970 and 1980s.

That is a nice, far-out selection of some of my '70s favorites from 1993.

And there are some groovy '70s and '80s stars from the 1994 set.

I also set aside a favorite from each set.

Earl Weaver and Bob Watson take the cake.

I can't say that either design is interesting. The '93 set is filled with black and white shots and the design is rather spare. The '94 set suffers from the brown wrapping paper, or stone block, or whatever the heck it is. The player's name is written along the browness, but it's very difficult to read and impossible to view on scans.

Design means a lot to me and it's probably the reason I'm not putting up a want list RIGHT NOW. But the subject matter is too interesting for it to be a complete deterrent.


TWC features a number of subsets for each year.

The first is the commendable Negro Leagues series. The '93 series is first, followed by '94 (Jeff sent more, but I can only scan so much).

Thanks to baseball's respect for its history, I've known about players like Josh Gibson and Rube Foster since I was a kid. But I had no idea Lyman Bostock's father was a Negro League star.

The second subset to appear in both issues is the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League series. Here are a couple of examples from each set:

These came out a year or two after the movie "A League Of Their Own" and during the time the Colorado Silver Bullets female pro team was touring the country. A really nice subset.

Some of the subsets vary between the two years. 1993 featured a subset based on players' famous nicknames.

FYI: Ralph Kiner's nickname was "Ralph".

It also featured a terrific set called "Barrier Breakers," recognizing some of the first players to cross the Major League color barrier during the 1940s and '50s.

1994 tried to capitalize on the rookie crazy with a subset of prospects called "The Campaign". Here are four that made it. There are plenty in the subset that didn't.

But 1994 also offered a phenomenal subset titled "Swingin' for the Fences," which focused on sluggers who hit four home runs in a game. That is a terrific topic and one Topps should have done ages ago.

Both sets contain a subset called "Goin' North" where star players are shown during their minor league days. These would be insanely popular if they were in color, but I still get a kick out of a college-aged Mike Schmidt.

 The only real place you can find current stars in their current uniforms in these sets is with the "Dawning of a Legacy" series. In 1993,TWC went with five-card sets (really four cards and a checklist) of Jeff Bagwell and Juan Gonzalez.

In 1994, TWC went with Cliff Floyd and Tim Salmon.


Jeff was nice enough to send me several insert sets from both years. Let's take a look.

1993 offered a 10-card set featuring Brooks Robinson. Pretty cool. I know my brother is out there being jealous somewhere.

The 1994 set contains 10-card sets of Roger Maris and Mike Schmidt. Both sets feature treated cardboard that I can only described as "ribbed" (commence cackling). The finish interferes with the photos and is pretty disappointing, especially with the Schmidts.

Here, though, is my favorite of all the insert sets. This Memories set from '94 features players who competed in various World Series. These also have a special finish, but it's more pleasant and I love the design of the cards. I don't know how many cards are in this insert set, but I might try to complete this before attempting to complete the full '93 and '94 sets.

Sure, the TWC sets aren't perfect. Some of the backs are unreadable and I've already mentioned the "invisible" writing on the front of the '94s. The colorized cards in the '94 set look dated, and all the black & whites dull the '93 set.

But it's a shame that we can't have a set like this today with the MLB licensing agreement. Past stars are presented piece-meal in Topps sets and it's never players like Rico Carty and Ken Holtzman.

That's why I will always be collecting old sets and digging into the past.

I may not have the history knowledge that many other SABR members possess, but I think it's safe to say that it's an organization for me.


  1. I should have some of these for you, too. I'll throw them aside along with the Hometown Heroes I have for you.

  2. Got me thinking about joining SABR too--been living their blog entries.

  3. Yes, I've also enjoyed many of the posts on the SABR blog. I look forward to our resident Night Owl making an appearance some day!

  4. SABR's card blog has been great so far. I let my membership lapse last year, I need to fix that.

    Love the TWC cards. I have the Negro Leagues subset, that Brooks set and scattered others. I've never looked at the checklist so I wasn't aware of that Paul Blair. I need to add that to my Blair collection.

  5. I'm seeing a couple cards in there that I'd like to get at some point.. They are nice cards.

  6. I've enjoyed reading their blog as well. Good stuff all around!

  7. I kick around joining SABR quite a bit. Some day I probably will. I really want to write one of the biographies some day.

  8. Like so many Nineties sets, these cards often suffer from "Too much! TOO MUCH!!!!" In scrolling through these images, I find myself drawn to the ones which have real background and not a ghostly image of the same player staring at you from over his own shoulder.

    I love that Rusty Staub with the powder blue flannel...And how nice would that Ken Holtzman card have been if it were only the fake-windup portrait which got relegated to background?

  9. I've really enjoyed the SABR card blog and I think you are a perfect fit to help out.

  10. Thanks for leading me to the SABR blog. Always like Olbermann.

    Wow, I'm not sure I was even aware of the names on the fronts of the '94s like that. And I have both sets.

    There are also red parallel versions of some of the insert sets too!

    1. And, while I'm here, thanks for the Sparky and the list hits that you sent. Will post about them soon.

  11. I still think Ted Williams (especially the '94 edition) is perhaps the finest retro set ever made. It covers so many aspects of the history of the game, more so than just about any other brand I can remember. And the cards themselves are pretty darn nice as well.

  12. FYI. I sent you cards, not an obligation. Enjoy them and don't worry about building the set.

    FWIW, I disagree with Nick. The best retro set ever made was the 2004 Fleer Greats of the Game.

  13. I enjoyed building both of these sets in the mid-90's; it was a nice alternative to Topps/Fleer/Donruss/Score/UD at the time. The Memories inserts proved very tough for me to find, think it was 10 yrs before I finally located the 75 Red Sox 4 card set! Don't forget about the POGS inserts too....Have a few singles left so put up your wantlist soon.....