Monday, January 11, 2016

No love for the commish

I received an interesting question from Mark of the blog Mark's Ephemera yesterday. He was wondering if there has ever been a subset of any kind, issued in a mainstream set, of all of the baseball commissioners.

I already knew the answer to this was "no," but I did some brief scoping and still came up with "no."

The baseball card world just doesn't care about commissioners. Never has.

In almost every case, only exceptional circumstances has allowed a commissioner to appear in a major baseball card set. In the case of A. Bartlett Giamatti here, commissioner No. 7, the poor guy had to die before he received a card.

It hasn't been as dire for the other commissioners, but good luck finding a card of some of them.

Perhaps the commissioner with the most luck getting his face on cards is Ford Frick, the third baseball commissioner, who ran the majors from 1951-65. His reign coincided with the boom in baseball cards, and in 1959, Topps made Frick the No. 1 card in its flagship set.

But Frick's appearances in major sets during his commissionerhood didn't stop there. He is the only commissioner to show up in major sets three straight years while holding office. Frick is in the 1960 Fleer Greats set and then the 1961 Greats set, too.

You can find Frick in several other issues, too -- both major and minor -- making him one of the two most available on-card commissioners.

The most available commish on cards is the first one, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis. He didn't appear on any cards while he was serving as commissioner that I could find (I didn't have time to do a whole lot of digging), but he sure appeared on a lot after he was done.

Like Frick, Landis is in both the 1960 and 1961 Fleer Greats sets. He also appears in personal favorite sets like the TCMA Baseball Immortals set, the Renata Galasso set of the late '70s/early '80s, and the Eight Men Out set from the late '80s. The variety of sets Landis worked his way into is impressive.

The most alarming Landis card, revealed to me by Matthew Glidden of the Number 5 Type Collection blog, is a 1963 Bazooka offering:

I believe we're looking at Marley's Ghost on this card. No wonder Ebenezer was so freaked out.

Landis has even appeared in more recent sets lately, such as the 2014 Panini Golden Age set.

But while Landis and Frick make out pretty well, the other commissioners must scrounge for whatever scrap of cardboard they can get.

As mentioned above, Giamatti appeared in 1990 sets only after he died in office. The men who both preceded and followed Giamatti -- Peter Ueberroth and Fay Vincent -- appear in one and only one mainstream set, the 2004 All-Time Fan Favorites set.

The Fan Favorites set was famous for a lot of things, but one of them was for featuring baseball people who didn't wear a uniform -- broadcasters and owners and commissioners. So only through this bending of "the baseball card rules" did Ueberroth and Vincent get a card in a major set.

More strings were pulled in 2013 when Bud Selig appeared in Allen and Ginter not long before he left office. Selig was certainly a surprise to me when I saw he was in the set, just because commissioners are pretty much ignored on cardboard. But, as you know, A&G doesn't shy away from unusual subject material, and that's how Selig squeezed his way into a set.

Excluding current commish Rob Manfred, who hasn't been around long enough to get snubbed, that leaves three other commissioners.

All three are notable for barely being recognized by cardboard.

One is Bowie Kuhn. When I think "baseball commissioner," I think of Kuhn because he was the commish when I was a kid. I still remember that Sports Illustrated magazine with a close-up on an animated Kuhn with the headline "Baseball In Chaos."

But he had better luck getting in magazines than in cards. Only because of Panini has Kuhn, who was commissioner from 1969-84, lucked into a mainstream set.

Kuhn showed up in the 2013 Golden Age set, and he's also on one of those Colgan Chips inserts (now that's a thrilling insert to pull).

But anything from the period when he was in office? ...

You'd have to settle for this actually marvelous item from the 1977 San Diego Padres team set. It the typically sour-faced Kuhn presented Randy Jones with his Cy Young Award from 1976.

Yet, Kuhn has it pretty good compared with Happy Chandler, who was commissioner during the lead up to baseball's "Golden Age," from 1945-51.

Outside of some Hall of Fame and Dick Perez postcards, the Baseball Immortals set, and a pricey 1950 Callahan item of Chandler, there are no other cards to be found. Is Happy still happy if he's been shunned from cards?

But the most shunned commish is the commish who nobody ever remembers, probably because he never showed up a card.

William Eckert was commissioner for three years, from 1965-68. When he was named he hadn't watched a baseball game in 10 years. Card makers protested by refusing to produce a card of him (OK, I made that up).

In an ebay search, I came up with photos of Eckert and a few cut signatures, but no traditional baseball card.

The historian in me thinks just because of that -- because Eckert has never been recognized in a major set -- that there should be a commissioners subset of some sort. Just so the guy doesn't get forgotten. He was the commissioner, you know.

But do I really care that this happens some day?

Nah, not really. Apparently like everyone else, I like my people in my baseball pictures to wear baseball caps.


  1. Not really a fan of a set of commissioners either. I am surprised to some extent that one does not exist in some sort of subset insert card set.

  2. I met Kuhn randomly after a May 1982 game in Milwaukee. I still have no idea why Kuhn was at that game.

  3. I made cards for the '91 Commissioner (Vincent), and '91 AL and NL Presidents (Bobby Brown and Bill White) in my custom 1992 Topps set. I wish Archives would go back to the Fan Favorites theme and make some more cards of commissioners and owners and the like.

  4. Owners cards would be interesting! All these years and never an official George Steinbrenner piece of cardboard....

  5. I have can think of 4,256 reasons not to put Giamatti on a baseball card.

  6. I love that 59T Ford Frick card. Solid design and it's one of the handful of 59's that I actually own.

  7. I can see a Commissioners subset in A&G..

  8. The rational part of my brain says "Yes, yes, the Commissioners should get cards, and so should umpires", but the collector in me knows I wouldn't want any of those cards. I do agree it would make a decent A&G subset.

  9. Perhaps Kmart could produce this fine collectible.
    Can I get a loud AMEN on this one people?