Monday, April 30, 2012

A writer collects

I was out of town over the weekend, visiting my folks.

Whenever I see them, I try to stop by an antique shop that is about 12 blocks away from their house. In the past, I would drive there. I walked there this time.

I like this particular shop because it doesn't sell musty old furniture and nothing else, like the one in my town. It features a wide variety of items. Just about anything you would consider collectible -- and some things you wouldn't -- you will see there. Even if I wasn't constantly on the prowl for baseball cards, I could spend a good hour or two there.

The card selection is never great. You have to hit it at the right time. In the past, they've had booths selling vintage from the late '60s/early '70s. But the last number of years, it's been mostly junk wax. I did find a box of 1995 Score a little while ago. And if I wanted, I could buy 1989 Fleer there all day. But, of course, I'd never want to do that.

I did find three separate items that I thought enough of to bring home with me. I am going to show them on three separate posts.

The first item is a set I just learned about a few months ago. And when I heard the news, I knew instantly that I would have to obtain it or I would forever have a hole in my collection.

This set is probably of no interest to most card collectors. But I'm a writer by profession. And I've written about baseball. The greats in baseball writing are just as respected by me as any player. And, yes, I wish I could be them, too.

So, at this one small shelf, amid the Score rack packs from 1990 and the Topps Baseball Big, was a small, clear plastic case featuring a card on the top that said "Major League Writers."

Could this be the set I stumbled across a few months ago?

It was.

Back in 1990, someone was possessed enough to put out a 24-card set of baseball writers -- even though the chances of anybody being interested was slim. Yet, here it is, a set called "Little Sun Writers," and issued by Ball Four Cards. I think the set run was 5,000 copies. There's one on display in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Here is the checklist:

All famous writers, although there are some that I had never heard of before. Fortunately, the bios on the back are very detailed.

I'll show just a few of the cards. You'll recognize most of the names.

Henry Chadwick is like the father of baseball writers. He was a real advocate for the game. He devised the boxscore, simplified scoring and campaigned for greater coverage of baseball in newspapers. That's something we can all get behind.

"Outlined against a blue, gray October sky the Four Horsemen road again.

In dramatic lore, they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldrerher, Miller, Crowley and Layden ..."

Yeah, I know that's football. But Rice wrote about everything, for a long, long time. He was the sports voice of the people, and he spoke very well.

The first old-time writer I ever heard of was Red Smith. As I began to get interested in sportswriting as a young teenager, I picked up his "To Absent Friends" collection. I couldn't appreciate it then, and I believe my brother and I mocked his old-time writing.

Now, of course, I appreciate it for its time and his greatness. And his quote, "Writing is easy. I just open a vein and bleed," is one I can understand.

Dick Young was the first columnist I ever knew. He appeared a couple of times a week in the newspaper I delivered back in the early '80s. Every morning before heading out on my route, I'd absorb the daily paper and I'd read his column.

He railed a lot. I can't remember about what. Probably the Mets. Because of the time, I'm sure he was still ripping on the Seaver trade.

I had never heard of Jim Brosnan before I bought this set. Brosnan was the precursor to Jim Bouton and Dirk Hayhurst, a major league pitcher who became a critically acclaimed author. Brosnan's book was "The Long Season," a diary of his 1959 season with the Cardinals and the Reds.

Brosnan was a solid reliever for the Reds, but the team didn't like his writing and traded him to the White Sox. He soon scrapped baseball for a successful writing career.

Ritter's "The Glory of Their Times," published in the mid-1960s, was the first book I ever read about early 20th century baseball. I'm sure that was an era that was in danger of slipping away until Ritter wrote his book, which was an instant hit.

My two biggest writing heroes are Roger Angell and Roger Kahn. Two Rogers!

(Sadly, Angell is not in this set).

There has been a lot of talk about the 50th anniversary of Dodger Stadium and the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park.

It also happens to be the 40th anniversary of "The Boys of Summer," the book, and the 60th anniversary of "The Boys of Summer," the team. Both deserve just as much publicity.

W.P. Kinsella's book, "Shoeless Joe," is the basis for the movie "Field of Dreams."

Talk about dreams. That's mine. Write a popular book that is turned into an ultra popular movie. A tip of the cap to Mr. Kinsella.

Another former professional baseball player, Ron Shelton was more of a screenwriter than a traditional book/newspaper writer. But his script "A Player to Be Named Later," became the move "Bull Durham," and his name is forever in lights.

Peter Golenbock was hugely well-known during the era when I first became acquainted with baseball writing. He is the guy behind Sparky Lyle's "The Bronx Zoo," and Graig Nettles' "Balls," as well as other Yankee books.

But to me, his greatest book -- and the bio on the back agrees -- is "Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers." I still remember reading this book -- hardcover version -- while down in the basement, curled up in a vinyl green '70s lounger, totally absorbed. Still have the book -- water damage and all.

Easily the most popular card in the entire set. The author of "Ball Four" is a necessary addition here. Another book that I read -- wide-eyed -- while sitting on my bed in my room. I'm sure I had to fling it under the bed when my folks walked in.

There are lots of other writers covered in here: the authors of "Bang the Drum Slowly," "Total Baseball," "Babe: The Legend Comes to Life," and "It's Good To Be Alive," among others.

It's not the most attractive-looking set, but then, baseball writers aren't the most attractive-looking people.

I'm still thrilled to have it -- a set that combines my two loves, baseball and writing.

Now if only I had as much time to read as I once did.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

C.A.: 1975 Topps Pedro Borbon

(Last night, I lived in fear that Bryce Harper would do something to embarrass the Dodgers. Instead, despite some impressive moves by Harper, L.A. showed exactly who the star of that game was. Isn't that right, Topps?  Here's to appreciating proven veterans like Matt Kemp over "the next sensation." Time for Cardboard Appreciation. This is the 140th in a series):

I know not everyone reads set blogs. They just aren't every collector's thing. Obviously, I find them very interesting, for a variety of reasons.

One of those reasons is that set blogs seem to attract those connected to major leaguers unlike your generic blog like Night Owl Cards, probably because they can find their relative's name in the post title. I've been blessed to receive correspondence from former big leaguers or their family members on both blogs. But the one that receives the most interaction, far and away, is my now completed 1975 Topps (it's far out, man) blog.

The most recent correspondence came Saturday.

It was on the post that I made on the 1975 Topps Pedro Borbon card.

It was in reference to a statement that I made in the post:

Here was the comment that was left:

Is that awesome or what?

I love little insights like that into big league baseball players. Anything that brings the human element to these people that we like to make larger than life.

I admit that when I was a kid, I didn't like Pedro Borbon (the Dodgers and Reds were mortal enemies), and Borbon's unsmiling ways made me think he just wanted to drill all my lovable Dodgers in the head.

But now that I read the comment from his daughter, I know that smiling was just not in his nature. But being a jokester WAS.

That is cool, because I'm pretty much the same way (ask my mother, the picture-taker).

So here are all of Borbon's cards. After looking at them one more time, I suppose you could say he might be smiling -- or at least smirking -- in a couple.

I'm taking a look at the photos, especially the posed shots, and now imagining that he was just finished telling a joke, with that scowl on his face, and ...

Well, his daughter's right.

It sure makes me smile.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Chill out, four eyes

A few months ago, I announced that I was going to feature "The Best Glasses On Baseball Cards. Period" countdown in April.

I figured that would give me enough time to search out the cards that I needed for an appropriately classic countdown.

Unfortunately, a few things happened. First, life threw me a few curves. I've been dealing with them ever since.

Also, I wasn't able to track down any glasses cards at the last card show because other objectives interfered.

So, here I am, three days away from the end of April, and this countdown ain't happening this month.

But it WILL happen.

I just need some more time to round up a few more cards.

Besides, a new contender heard there was a contest and wanted to enter so badly that it found its way to my home.

Carl Crawford Cards realized that the countdown includes only cards that are in my possession.

So, he put a 1933 Goudey card into my possession.

Here it is:

Holy octagon.

Is there any reason to do the countdown anymore?

(More on this card later).

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A dream come true

I've never been a big dreamer. Even when I was in high school and college -- the times when we humans usually dream the biggest -- I was content with your painfully average future. If the future me had a wife, family, dog, house, job, car, a few random interests and a connection to the community, then I would be happy.

No need to travel to exotic locations. No need to experience hang gliding or motorcycle jumping or mountain climbing. I don't want to be a rock star or a media mogul or David Beckham. I'm satisfied with little victories.

The same goes for collecting baseball cards.

The biggest coups in collecting don't interest me. I have no desire to own a 1952 Mickey Mantle. I know people find that hard to believe -- like this is every collector's dream. But it's not mine. If I could get it, so I could sell it, then, OK, I want to own it. But there is no yearning for the Mick.

The same goes for a 1933 Goudey Nap Lajoie. Or a 1914 Cracker Jack Shoeless Joe Jackson. I won't shoo them off if they fall into my lap, but you won't find them on my bucket list.

I have certain smaller goals in collecting, which you all know thanks to me babbling about them. I'm pleased when I finish them off, and then I move on. Contentedly.

I would only classify one collecting goal realized as a "dream come true." That would be the day when I finished off the 1975 Topps set in 2004.

This was the beginning of my re-entry into the hobby and as an adult with a semi-decent paying job (thanks to my modest goals), I knew I had the money to do something that I always wanted to do -- finish off the first set I ever collected.

It was a hoot. I've never had so much fun collecting cards. The nostalgia rushes. The feeling like I was 9 again. And, finally, the most colorful set in the world -- a set I didn't think I had the capability of ever completing -- was finished.

Truly a dream realized.

And the only one -- as far as cards go.

Until last Friday.

That's the day the 1971 Topps Roberto Clemente card came to my door.

It's the last one that I needed to complete the 1971 Topps set. That's right, all 752 cards of one of the most distinctive sets ever made are in my possession.

Even right down to the final card, I didn't think I'd ever be finished with the task. If the final card I needed was someone other than Clemente, then there would be a glimmer of hope. But Clemente? Have you seen the prices on that card? I was once at a card show and there was this absolutely gorgeous woman there collecting cards. I had never seen someone that beautiful collecting cards in my life. What was she collecting? Only Clementes. That's all.

This is why Clemente prices are insane.

I have never seen a price on a '71 Clemente at a card show that I was willing to pay. And even on the traditional online card places, like Check Out My Cards and Sportlots, they were too rich for me.

"Crap," I thought. "I'm going to have to go on ebay to find one."

I rarely go on ebay anymore. Too many issues. But if that's what it took, that's what it took.

Fortunately, that never came to pass.

A '71 Clemente, instead, arrived from western Canada.

All I had to do was shop around for some Bravos in exchange. Done.

And thanks to the generosity of Captain Canuck, I can say that another card dream is realized.

1971 belongs in the same class as 1975 because it's a set I never thought I could finish. The first time I thought about completing it was when I was around 12 and had seen my first clump of '71s all together (previously I had only seen them one at a time).

They looked glorious. What a great-looking set. I wanted to finish it.

But it was just crazy talk to me. The set was so old and so BIG. And then I learned about high numbers and how much they cost, and, sorry, it would never happen. Nice dream. But that's just what dreams are. Stuff that ain't gonna happen.

Years went by and I returned to the hobby and I had maybe 200 cards from the '71 set. I started a blog and somewhere along the way, I publicly proclaimed my desire to complete the '71 set. I'm sure there's a post somewhere in which I say -- with complete confidence -- that I won't finish it until I'm 97.

But then some things started happening. People started sending their '71s to me. It was overwhelming.

My first realization that maybe I really COULD complete the set came with this card:

This card was sent to me a couple of years ago for a bunch of Million Dollar Giveaway code cards. It was then that I realized that not every collector had the same dream and maybe I really could do this.

Soon after, '71 cards like Hank Aaron, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Willie Mays arrived from collectors. And the '71 set would never be as intimidating again.

With the final piece of the puzzle in Clemente added, I thought I'd go through a few of the cards in the set. I didn't have time to scan as many as I'd like -- I could talk about this set forever. But you'll get the idea of what makes this set great.

So here we go:


If you collect the 1975 Topps set, then you know why these were the first '71s I ever saw. I saw them on this card:

I pulled this card out of the first packs I ever bought in 1975. It was immediately one of the coolest cards I owned, and when I obtained both the Blue and Torre cards, it was as if I was holding a world-famous painting in my hands.


I've told this story before. The first 1971 card I found was a badly damaged Manny Mota card lying in a street gutter that I found as I walked home from school. I took it home and patched it up with copious amounts of tape. But even with all that tape, there were still parts of the card missing, and a nice hole in the middle.

Still, it was the first '71 I ever saw and it would not leave my collection for a long time.


Absolutely the best card of all-time to my way of thinking as a 12-year-old.

Until I saw this card. And then this card became the best card EVER!!!!!!!!

I thought these playoff cards were mind-blowing when I first saw them. The colorful titles, the yellow- and red-filtered photos (with the appropriate colors for the A.L. and N.L.). These were the most different cards I had ever seen.

I received all these cards in trades with a kid I knew whose older brother gave him some old cards. My brother and I traded some current (1978 was current at the time) Yankees for these beauties.

Speaking of which ...


This card arrived in one of those trades.

One of the best things about living in Yankee territory is you could always find some misguided soul who would trade you anything for a 1978 Cliff Johnson card. Come to papa, '71 Ryan.

I also obtained the 1971 Ernie Banks, Reggie Jackson and Al Kaline in the same way.


This is the same girl I knew who collected 1975 Topps back in '75. I'm not sure why she would have a '71 Topps card in her possession as she was even younger than me.

But I think it was just that somehow, when you were a kid then, these cards from the immediate preceding years (usually '71s and '72s) would just filter into your collection. It was as if the card fairy knew that you were a new collector and placed these cards from sets you never knew in your collection just to give you a taste of card history.


1971 was one of the last years in which cards featured people like this -- guys who didn't look like ballplayers at all. The 1960s sets are full of these players. But somewhere in the early '70s every player on a card from that point on was definitely a ballplayer.


Looking at the photo, you might assume that Tommie Agee is an umpire. And most of the players have their backs to the action. But Topps was going to put action photos on individual players' cards, dammit, and work out the bugs later.


You'd think there would be a lot more.


Oh, lots and lots of hat issues in this set. The card on the top looks like someone said, "Give me the Poofiest hat you can find."

The card on the bottom completely undermines my faith in what is real on a baseball card. Not only am I not convinced that Dick Williams is really wearing a cap. But I don't think he's even in that stadium, that he's even wearing that uniform, that there ever was a person named Dick Williams, that this game of baseball isn't just a front for a shadow government already controlling our minds for the last 50 years.


This is the worst-conditioned card in my 1971 set. Which, when you think about it, isn't that bad.

I have no plans to upgrade about 98 percent of my 1971 cards. But I'll probably upgrade this one, a Frank Quillici card I've owned since I was 12, and the Ed Kranepool card. Other than that, I'm good.


My goodness. Couldn't they have filled more space with that thing?


The guy just had a phenomenal World Series, and instead he gets "awwww, shucks, was that strike three?"




Long before Cookie was prancing with ponies in the background of Cardboard Junkie, he was featured in one of the first blog posts I made.


It's Dick Allen! As a Dodger! In a Dodger uniform! In Dodger Stadium!!!


Foster smells something. And it stinks.

@&*$@# I popped out AGAIN!

Dugout shot. Check. Towels on hooks. Check. Bat rack. Check. Guy named Lefty. Check. His real name is Harold. Check. Gap-toothed grin. Check.

And on, and on, and on, and on I could go.

But I'll finally stop here (if you want to see the rest of the cards, join me on the Topps 1971 blog).

I still can't believe I have the whole set. Thanks to many people, another modest dream is realized.

I have the 1971 Topps Alpha:

And Omega:

And all the cards in between.

Yes, I really do have all the cards in between.

I checked.


It's the collecting equivalent of pinching oneself.