Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Just the fax

The facsimile signature -- the replicated autograph of a major league player on a baseball card -- was a fact of life for me as a young collector.

Facsimile autographs appeared on just about every card in the first set I ever collected, 1975 Topps. I didn't give it much thought. But I think somewhere in my collecting subconscious I liked them, because those signings -- even if they weren't real signings -- seemed to symbolize the stamp of approval from the player pictured. "Yeah, this is me. I'm signing off on it."

Those facsimile signings didn't appear on every Topps set I collected as a kid, but they appeared on them often enough that it was a constant in collecting for someone my age, just like vibrant designs and cartoons on the back. They were an ever present aspect of card collecting.

Those facsimile days are gone. Looong gone. They were so long ago that I never hear the term "facsimile signature" used by anyone but me. For a long time, I thought "facsimile" was associated completely with a replicated signature on a trading card. But "facsimile" means "an exact copy," and has been in use in a variety of ways for centuries. Unbeknownst to me for the entire time I was using the device, "fax machine" is short for "facsimile machine." That bit of knowledge would have come in handy around 1993.

So, I guess I could call the signatures on many of the cards I collected as a kid "fax signatures." Sounds a bit cooler now, doesn't it?

Facsimile signatures, or fax signatures, didn't suddenly appear when I first plopped coins on the counter in 1975. I can't tell you when they first showed up on trading cards. I know they were around in the 1930s and 40s, and if I had to guess, I'd say they migrated to sports cards from movie star memorabilia.

But because I'm a collector of a certain age, history often begins with Topps, and in 1952 that was a watershed year for much about the hobby, including duplicated signatures.

In its first major set, Topps featured a signature for each player within a box, beneath the player's printed name. It was classy, didn't "mar" the photo and actually became the template for sets 50 years into the future -- but we'll get to that.

Bowman also debuted a reprint signature in 1952, but didn't separate it in a box. I know collectors who think facsimile autos detract from the card. If you think that way, here is the ugly beginning of the modern era.

The "fax" signature was a constant for Topps (and for Bowman, except for 1955) just about every year through the 1950s, a regular part of the set.

But then in 1957, Topps shrank its trading card to 2 1/2-by-3 1/2 inches, and the facsimile signature was thrown out with that excess cardboard. Signatures didn't show up in the 1957 set, nor did they in 1958. I think the fact that there are no signatures in the '57 set makes it popular among collectors who like "pure" sets, which are mostly image.

But the facsimile signature appeared again in 1959. As if there wasn't enough crowding the photo in the '59 Topps set, a signature was wedged into the picture as well. It doesn't bother me at all, but I can see why people might think it cramped.

That was the end of a replicated signatures for several years for Topps. A couple of other sets filled in the gaps for those who craved stamped sigs on their cards.

The Bell Brand Dodgers sets of the early 1960s is one example.

But Topps didn't come back to the facsimile signature until the 1967 Topps set. Save for a few oddball issues (the 1969 Deckle Edge set comes to mind), this is about the only example of fax sigs on a 1960s Topps set.

Why 1967? Just a guess but given the clean design, perhaps Topps believed a signature was needed. I can see that. Some of the later '90s sets seem spare and really could use a signature of some sort.

The 1970s marked the "second heyday" of facsimile signatures on Topps cards, as, Topps featured replicated sigs on its cards three separate years. The first time was in 1971.

The 1973 and 1974 Topps sets didn't feature fax sigs on individual player cards, and Topps seemed to acknowledge that by issuing separate team checklists each year that featured a bunch of facsimiles all on one card. It was as if you had one of those autograph books -- except the sigs weren't the real deal.

The fax sigs were back in 1975. There's Mike Marshall giving his card the seal of approval. Yup, these fake sigs made sense to me.

After being away for a year, the fax sig showed up again in 1977.

Then it skipped two more years and returned for 1980. I think this was the first time I was aware that the signature had returned.

The 1981 Topps set is an interesting case as facsimile sigs don't show up on the cards.

But they do show up on the Drake's Big Hitters set issued that same year, which was produced by Topps.

1982 Topps marks an end of an era. It is the last Topps flagship set to feature fax sigs for a long, long time. I probably should give '82 Topps a little more respect because it's also the last Topps base set to feature cartoons for quite awhile.

By the early '80s, Donruss and Fleer had appeared on the scene and neither of them thought fax sigs contributed to their cardboard product.

There was a trend toward action and photography during the '80s. The photo was the star and fake scrawlings were deemed unnecessary. So throughout the '80s, nobody, not Donruss, Fleer, Topps, or late-decade newcomers Score and Upper Deck, used fax sigs on their cards.

I think this is what contributes to younger collectors thinking that fax sigs are so unusual (or unappealing). They never saw them in the 1980s.

Only one other major product in the 1980s dared to display facsimile autographs.

Bowman reappeared in 1989, and was trying to appeal to that old-school Bowman vibe -- everything that was once good about baseball cards. And one of those things was replicated signatures. It was just one year, but they were back. And it kind of looks sharp.

The '90s was even more of a fax sig wasteland than the '80s. More and more companies started making cards and none of them thought fake sigs was worth their time. I wonder whether acquiring these signatures required effort or money and perhaps that was the reason. But I suspect another reason is that they were dismissed as "clutter".

It's interesting because in 1993, fax sigs showed up in Donruss' Studio set. It's a very classy design and I think the signatures were used to class it up even more. It looks good. It should have been used more often in the '90s.

But instead it was used as a gimmick. Collector's Choice used fax sigs for three years or so as a parallel beginning in 1994. This was about the only way Upper Deck would touch fax sigs.

It's a shame that the '90s issued stuff like this, but no, a fax sig was too distracting.

But by the late 1990s, pulling actual autographs became the name of the game. It was such a huge deal (and remains a huge deal) that who has time for fake autographs? If you look at just that one aspect, you can understand why facsimile signatures disappeared and why few even think about them.

Still, there was one card company that picked up the fax sig cause. Bowman started putting facsimile signatures back on its cards in 1998. It didn't want to mess up the photo, of course, so it placed it off in a corner, sideways.

That was the format for Bowman for three straight years. Down the side. Sideways.

In 2001, the signature shifted to a box near the bottom. Kind of reminds you of 1952 Topps, huh?

This was the style for Bowman for several years afterward. Box it off, somehow. I think it looks pretty snazzy.

Bowman was your source for fax sigs. Except for retro products like Fleer Tradition, Heritage and Fan Favorites, you couldn't find replicated signatures anywhere. Collectors were too busy looking for the real thing.

In fact, if there was going to be fax sigs in a product, the company made sure to telegraph it right in the product name. "Pro Sigs," "Autographix". Just so everyone knew what they were getting. People were so accustomed to their photos unsullied.

Then, in 2007, a complete surprise. For the first time since 1982, Topps issued a flagship set with facsimile autographs on each card.

I don't remember any noise about this at all. Maybe people were too distracted by George Bush in the stands, but this was fairly significant. One year after cartoons returned to flagship, now fax sigs were making a comeback.

They even appeared in back-to-back flagship sets as they showed up again in 2008. It was the first time that facsimile signatures appeared in back-to-back Topps sets since 1955-56.

The experiment, however, must have been a failure because fax sigs haven't shown up in another Topps flagship set since.

Even Bowman got rid of facsimile signatures in 2010.

Although I have a slight attachment to fax sigs just because they were around when I was a kid, it's not a big loss.

I've never been much of an autograph seeker and there is part of me that cringes when I see a signature across the face or body of a player. I'm all about the card, not the scribble.

But all I have to do is go back to my 1975 cards and I need to see that fax sig for that stamp of approval from Steve Yeager.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Ranking 1973ness

Mention "1973" to someone who lived through it and a number images may come to mind: Watergate, gas lines, the Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.

I was a kid in '73, as blissfully unaware as I could be, watching cartoons and Sesame Street and eating Spaghetti-O's. I missed out on the '73 "angst," and instead remember it as that time immediately before I became aware that the wonderful game of baseball was also played by men on television and you could collect picture cards of them.

I am now aware of just about everything '70s when it comes to cards. And the 1973 Topps set is a special look into the decade that is as unvarnished as anything issued back then. There is no wild design to divert from the photo. We get a front-row seat into exactly what was going on in baseball that year. And every element is delightfully obvious.

I recently received a handful of '73 cards for my set from Mark, who is on Twitter. They arrived in exchange for an extra '72 Topps high number that I had.

I decided to rank those 1973 cards in terms of '73ness.

Here is the points ranking system that addresses various '70s card elements:

1 point - typical head shot
1 point - tilted background
1 point - shadows
1 point - gum stain
1 point - centering issue or miscut
1 point - obvious spring training site
2 points - typical 1970s pose (swinging/pointing bat, hands on knees, pretending to throw, pitchers in set position, catcher squatting, etc.)
2 points - player looking up
2 points - palm trees
2 points - scoreboard or ads
2 points - batting cage or fence
2 points - players in the background
2 points - horizontal card (1971-74 was one of the golden ages of periodic horizontal cards, which were pretty darn cool, I'll have you know)
3 points - airbrushing
3 points - 1970s action
3 points - awkward action
3 points - nonplayers in the background (coaches, fans, umps, etc.)
5 points - blatant airbrushing (so blatant that even I would notice something amiss when I was a kid)
5 points - featured player obscured or overshadowed

OK, we're ready to rank the cards, from the one with the least "73ness" to the one with the most.

10 - Lerrin LaGrow, 2 points

(head shot, centering)

Not a very exciting card for someone who had a bat thrown at him in the previous postseason.

9 - Whitey Lockman, 3 points

(horizontal, centering, heck, lets throw in an extra point for Ernie Banks)

Managers don't fair well in rankings of 1973ness. Too much association with previous decades.

8. Vicente Romo, 4 points

(head shot, airbrushing)

Romo was with the White Sox when this photo was taken. So the art department went to the break room fridge, got out some mustard and painted away.

7. Don Money, 6 points

(head shot, blatant airbrushing)

That way-too-bright painted cap stands out so much Money practically looks 3-D. And what do I say about those stripes?

6. Larry Stahl, 7 points

(head shot, centering, blatant airbrushing)

This airbrushed cap could have fooled me as a kid, but not with that gold trim on the uniform (a Padres uniform).

5. Tom Haller, 7 points

(head shot, gum stain, blatant airbrushing)

Who knows how old this photo is? Is he with the Tigers here (with whom he spent one year) or with the Dodgers?

4. Bob Montgomery, 8 points

(typical '70s pose, hat in background, nonplayer in background, spring training site)

I should add a point for the wrist watch.

3. Norm Cash, 8 points

(typical '70s pose, batting cage, tilted background, equipment in the background, spring training site)

The tractor makes an appearance on another Tigers card (see 1972 Jim Northrup)!

2. Carlos May, 10 points

(typical '70s pose, fence, equipment -- oh, the equipment, nonplayers, spring site)

If I could know for certain that May was harboring some tobacco, I'd add another point or two. Just a wonderful photo and the kind you don't see anymore.

1. Dave Rader, 16 points

Get out your adding machine.

(1970s action, awkward '70s action, featured player obscured or overshadowed (it's Davey Concepcion!), coach/ump in photo, shadows, centering)

This is what 1973 Topps is all about. I once owned this card and then traded it away. Now that I'm collecting the set, I'm so glad it has returned to me.

This is an exercise that I might do with future 1973 acquisitions. I think many collectors are aware of the greatness of the 1973 set. But they need to know exactly why.

These were the cards kids were pulling while waiting in the back seat in a gas line.

Monday, May 29, 2017


I just looked quickly through my few 2017 Topps flagship cards to see if I could find photos of two players on the same team that are similar.

This is the best that I could come up with:

I have nothing support the upcoming statement because I have no time to research it, but I would guess that there aren't as many instances of players from the same team appearing in similar poses as there once was.

I know they do happen still. With the recent (and apparently now-dispensed) emphasis on zooming in on players' faces there must be several instances of two pitchers from the same team grimacing similarly. But with the focus on action and the modern camera capabilities, there is much more room for a variety of images and my shuffle through a 100 or so 2017 Topps cards confirmed that.

Catching players in similar poses was much more common when I was collecting cards as a kid. And even through the 1980s, when action photos took over, you could find teammates in similar shots.

Here's one from 1990:

Gee whiz, Score, you had three border colors, couldn't you have at least made one of them red or blue?

But the real reason for this post was a mention on my 1971 Topps blog.

I recently posted a card of a long-forgotten pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, Mike Hedlund.

A regular commenter on my blogs, steelehere, mentioned in the comments on that post that the pose by Hedlund on this card looked similar to the one on teammate Dick Drago's card.

I had never noticed that, but, yeah, I guess they do look similar.

But you don't need me to confirm this because it was confirmed by no one other than Mike Hedlund himself.

There you go, straight from the source.

This is the second time in a little more than a month that a former player has commented on my 1971 Topps blog. It's interesting to get the perspective, too, because I never considered that a pitcher's wind-up would contribute to how he would pose for a photo. But now that I think of it, I guess it could.

I think sometimes we card collectors get lost in our obsessive examining of cardboard. As we nerd-out over photos and card numbers and other minute details, we think we're the only ones who care.

But sometimes the fact that we care -- care enough to wonder about it out loud in full view -- can draw others into our little world.

That's pretty cool.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

What is going on with base rookie cards?

Clayton Kershaw didn't have a great outing against the Cubs today. He didn't have much command, he gave up three home runs, and you could tell that the Cubs were bent on making him work.

Fortunately, the Dodgers' offense showed up big time. But whether Kershaw won or lost this game wasn't going to affect the price of my $80 rookie card of him.

That's right, I said "$80 rookie card."

I seem to be the only person who hasn't come to terms with this already (or the only one who cares), but I remain stunned by the prices of certain base rookie cards of star players. I've mentioned it already with 2011 Update's Mike Trout and 2015 flagship's Kris Bryant. These are very attainable cards going for crazy prices.

Now it's happening with Kershaw.

Maybe it's the recent statement by Buster Olney that Kershaw could never throw another pitch again and make the Hall of Fame, but I am suddenly aware of how much his rookie card is selling for right now. Earlier today, there was a tweet from Eric of Those Back Pages/The Diabetic Card & Comic Geek, saying:

"Just a head's up, if you don't have a Kershaw Flagship RC, and want one, don't wait much longer."

OK, that peaked my curiosity. I headed over to COMC and tracked the only Kershaw flagship rookie card being sold (it's actually from the Updates & Highlights set, card #UH240).

This is what I found:

Holy smokes.

There was also a gold parallel version of the card:


Now, I know how COMC sellers like to inflate their prices, so I hopped onto ebay to scan through some prices there. Leaving out the graded cards -- because dammit why are we grading cards from 2008 -- I made a list of the BIN prices and averaged them.

It came to $88.97.

This is for an Update card that you could have pulled out of a pack as often as any other card in 2008.

This blows my mind.

What is the reason for this? Why are cards of Trout and Bryant and Kershaw selling for so much when they are not exclusive? They aren't autographed, rare, or the coveted Bowman Chrome rookie version.

Well, speaking of that BoChro version, I think the answer can be found in Eric's tweet thread.

He says, smartly, that rookie card collectors, seeing the in-demand Bowman Chrome autographed card traveling far out of the reach of their wallet, are looking to flagship rookie cards.

This seems like a significant shift in the hobby to me, and while I pay virtually no attention to the rookie card market, it makes me want to hang on to rookie cards a little more than I once did.

I happen to have an extra Kershaw Update rookie card. Here is the back to prove it's not one of those dumb Berger's Best inserts:

It's amazing that I am holding this flimsy card in my hand from not even 10 years ago and people are paying $100 for it.

It makes me -- a non-seller -- think.

I have lots of different Kershaw rookie cards. I not only have the Update card, but the gold parallel Update card and the gold-letter parallel Update card. And I have a few extra Kershaw rookie cards. Dupes.

None of them go for nearly as much as the Update card, but they are commanding some decent prices.

A quick ebay average shows the Stadium Club card hovers around $26, the Heritage High Numbers card around $16, the Allen & Ginter card around $14, the Timeline card around $13.50 and the Goudey around 9 bucks.

Such demand for something I pulled out of packs so easily a mere nine years ago.

That's bizarre.

I think people are realizing that Kershaw could very well be the best pitcher they see in their lifetime -- or at least believing the people who are saying that.

But it still amazes me what a wild, west show this hobby can be.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Living in the present

All of your favorite self-help sources say it's best to live in the present.

Living in the past is not recommended. They say it stunts your growth. It skews your view on what's going on around you. It's unproductive. Living in the future is also frowned upon. They say you're wishing your life away.

But, frankly, when it comes to cards, living in the present is pretty damn boring.

At least it is for me. Your mileage may vary.

I would much rather live in the past when it comes to cards. I like the old cards better, I have more connection to them. Cards from the past make a whole lot more sense to me than cards from the present. So, I'm stunting my growth? So what? Everyone knows we're not going to live forever, right? Might as well enjoy what you like. (I'm talking strictly cards here, those of you looking at me for permission to break your diet).

But for just this one post, I'm living in the present. I promise not to nod off if you promise not to nod off.

I received a handful of 2017 present-day needs from Ryan of the Card Stacks Blog. We'll check them out now, right here in the present:

I started with a couple of Joc Pederson cards. The present day means you must worry about players on your favorite team colliding in the outfield and padding the Dodgers' already crowded disabled list.

You can't get me to say anything else about 2017 Donruss. Glad I have the card. That's the best I can do.

Donruss also squeezed old-timers into this set because card companies realize that even though it's the present, living in the past is profitable.

That's the hobby for you. There will always be collectors looking to the future and demanding innovation in the present. But card companies often live in the past, probably because it's easier.

And because so many of us collectors are old dudes who like our history.

So that completes this present-day thanks in a present-day blog post for these present-day cards.

I'll probably return to the cardboard past now. And if you want to live in the past, I invite you to check out the blog archives.