A couple of years ago I received an email out of the blue from Michael Aronstein, the hobby pioneer who was the main figure behind all of those TCMA sets of the '70s and '80s that I love so much, the SSPC sets and, it turns out, even more.
I sent a couple of emails in return but never received a response. It didn't bother me much. A hobby legend can respond to whomever he wants. I'm just one blog in the sea.
It certainly didn't stop me from enjoying TCMA's cards or acquiring more of them. I'd like to acquire all of them. It is a completely unrealistic quest (if only because of that much coveted Rickey Henderson minor league card TCMA made) because of the sheer number of sets TCMA created. But you've got to have goals.
Recently, I discovered Aronstein's son, Andrew, on social media. The other day we were chatting a bit on Twitter and I felt reconnected to those old TCMA sets all over again.
It's clear that Andrew greatly respects his father and his work and enjoys the appreciation collectors show for those old sets. TCMA hasn't been around in 30 years (it eventually morphed into Photo File, which provides licensed photos of most of the major sports and athletes and was the first company to receive a license by a major sport to distribute photos), yet there are still collectors like me who covet those cards as if they were issued today.
TCMA cards helped nuture the respect for baseball history that I hold today. There was no Heritage or Archives or Diamond Kings back then. To find out about the history of baseball, you either had to check out a book from the library, read The Sporting News or Baseball Digest, or collect TCMA cards. I did them all. Collecting TCMA was the most fun.
I thought that in honor of my relationship with TCMA (begun when I was around 13 years old), I'd count down my favorite TCMA sets.
They all will have a Dodger flavor, mostly because I've made a solid dent into Dodger-based TCMA sets but not so much for the other teams ... yet.
Let's check them out:
10. 1975 TCMA Waterbury Dodgers: The Waterbury Dodgers were a Double A team in the Eastern League and based in Connecticut, a long, long way from the home base. There are several fun cards in this set, including one of future major league manager Jim Riggleman. But I enjoy it because it's one of the earlier minor league issues created by TCMA. The company would become known for its minor league issues and be at the epicenter of the run on minor league sets during the late 1980s.
9. 1973 TCMA 1941 Brooklyn Dodgers: TCMA was created in 1972 by Tom Collier and Mike Aronstein and the first sets issued in 1972 and 1973 were mostly reprints of famed sets of the past and a tribute set to 1930s players. The first team-themed set arrived in 1973 with an ode to the National League champion Dodgers from 1941. This is the only card I have from that set. I need to do something about that.
8. 1977 TCMA The War Years: The intelligence that went into TCMA's sets is exhibited in its various themes. Not only did TCMA pay tribute to specific teams or decades, but it focused on eras, too. Baseball during war time is such an interesting idea for a set, allowing for cards of players who received few or no cards aside from the TCMA issue.
Also, it allows for card back art like this:
I love the '70s so much.
7. 1978 TCMA The 1960s: By the late 1970s, I knew all about TCMA and would see its sets advertised in Baseball Digest, usually by dealer Renata Galasso. TCMA and Galasso turned me on to the set dedicated to players of the 1950s, and while I was still drooling over that, TCMA then produced a set for 1960s ball players. The '60s set is in full color, in the simplistic style of 1953 Bowman (just like the '76 SSPC set), and it is beautiful.
6. 1979 TCMA Baseball History - the 1950s: Weirdly, this is a set I knew nothing about until I started blogging. It's another full color tribute to a decade of baseball. As you can tell by this Don Hoak card, the set likes showcasing some interesting photography.
5. 1980 TCMA Albuquerque Dukes: This loud-and-proud design is not exclusive to Dodgers farm teams. A number of teams feature the red-orange borders and fat nickname letters. But for a long time, all I saw were Dukes advertised on this design in hobby catalogs. I loved them. I still do. For me it's the greatest minor league set of all-time, and I need to finish completing the Dodger portion of it.
4. 1977-84 TCMA Renata Galasso: From the moment I saw this set advertised in Baseball Digest, I've wanted to own it. I believe you could buy the entire thing for less than $20 at the time (of course, this was back in '77 and other series would be added later). It's one of the first times that I saw past legends on cards. I loved the classic style of the design (I knew nothing of 1960 Leaf at the time) and to this day these are among my favorite cards of legendary Brooklyn Dodgers. They take me back to drooling over those advertisements at my bedroom desk.
3. 1980-87 SSPC Baseball Immortals: OK, "TCMA" isn't in the name of this one, but it's basically the same outfit. This is the most colorful of all the TCMA/SSPC issues, and kind of contradictory to TCMA's less-is-more philosophy, but, god, I love this set so much (I guess that's obvious considering my appreciation for the '75 Topps set). It is the most attractive of all the TCMA sets for me and I found these cards desirable from the moment I saw them. This is another set that I need to bump up on the priority list of completion.
2. 1974 TCMA 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers: "The Boys of Summer" set is the second TCMA set I acquired through the mail as a teenager. It is one of the sets I most admire for its inclusivity. Every player who wore a Dodgers jersey in 1952 is included. Plus the coaches. This renegade set that defies consistent card size (the widths and heights are all over the place) is also one of the few that identifies the player on the front by his nickname.
1. 1975 TCMA All-Time Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers: I've mentioned this several times but this is the first card set I ever ordered through the mail. I can't tell you exactly when that was, somewhere in the late 1970s. This set is wonderful in its simplicity, featuring the basic blue-purple tint that was everywhere in the '70s. This set represented my first card for all 11 players featured in it. My first Koufax card. My first Robinson card. My first Snider card. (On a technicality I did already own a Walter Alston card at this point -- because of his tiny inset on the 1975 Topps Dodgers team card). I kept this set -- my first retro set of any kind -- close to me at all times for quite awhile. It was my introduction to TCMA and a card set's appreciation for baseball history.
TCMA later became more known for minor league sets than baseball history sets as cards became big business in the '80s. You may notice that there is just one '80s TCMA set in this countdown. That's partly because I stopped paying attention to TCMA's sets in the '80s but also because I think the spirit of what TCMA stood for was at its greatest in the '70s.
During my online conversation with Andrew Aronstein, I discovered that his father was also responsible for my favorite magazine from that time period. Aronstein's magazine, "Collector's Quarterly" eventually became "Baseball" magazine, which I also adored. I had a subscription and celebrated every time a new issue arrived in the mailbox. The Pete Rose magazine at the dawn of the '80s was particularly treasured. And you already know how I feel about the issue with Ron Cey on the cover (I've since acquired it).
In short, TCMA and Mr. Aronstein knew exactly what I wanted out of the hobby back then -- and still do.
It's good to connect again after all these years. I expect to remain connected for the rest of my collecting life.
(P.S.: I recently discovered that the Sandy Koufax TCMA card that I showed at the top was heavily counterfeited in the late '80s -- because the card had been removed from the set over licensing fears. Part of me suddenly hoped I had a legitimate copy. But I guess it doesn't matter. It's pretty cool regardless).