Keeping It Three: 1957 Topps Commons

I tend to get overly ambitious on this blog, and it’s done a fine job of completely derailing me. I often start off with a modest idea, but then I think “Oh, it would be better if I added this other card… but I’d have to scan it first” or “I really should research more about that team” or “Why would they include this seemingly-uninteresting player in this small set?” The next thing you know, instead of writing, I’m staring at my computer screen not knowing where to start.

In an effort to break the logjam, I’m going to do a number of posts in the near future where I limit myself to three cards and have, at most, a very simple theme connecting them.

…a simple theme like “Here are three 1957 Topps commons I recently picked up”.

Hobie Landrith has been getting a fair amount of play on this blog lately, mainly through his connection to the Mets; the 31-year-old backup catcher was the Mets first overall pick in the 1961 expansion draft. Even without his Mets connection, I like the way that much of this card is background with Hobie leaning in from the side… and yes, I realize that’s a result of how the photo was cropped, but still…

Don Cardwell was 8-10, 3.01 with the 1969 “Miracle Mets” and his one postseason appearance involved pitching a 1-2-3 6th inning in Game 1 of the World Series (the one game the Mets lost), so he’s not exactly a key figure in Mets history, but I still end up picking up many of his non-Mets cards.  It doesn’t hurt when the card is a simple-but-attractive one like this one.

Sometimes on these 1957 cards, the player names can be hard to read (see “Landrith, Hobie”), but this photo is just perfect for the 1957 design.

Wrapping up (already?) with another player who I semi-collect for reasons I don’t completely understand:  Vic Power.  I think part of it is sympathy for the fact that when the Puerto Rican player came to North America they “Bob Clemente’d” his last name.  He also was a very good player who doesn’t get mentioned much, having won 7 Gold Gloves, making the All-Star team in four different years and getting MVP votes in 7 seasons.

Two minor factors in my buying this card are down at the bottom:  1)  Those nice Athletics stirrups and 2) He’s got the ball in his glove while he’s making his fake fielding pose.  Having the ball in the glove seems to have been a “1950’s thing” which fell out of favor, but I like it.

  Time’s up.

Four More From 1957 Topps (Three O’s And A Special Guest Star)

As I’d mentioned in a previous post, during my July card show I started working on a 1957 Orioles team set.  At this point, I’ve already doubled the number of 1957 cards I own overall, so needless to say this is a bit outside of my wheelhouse… but already proving to be a fun chase.

Billy Loes started out with the Brooklyn Dodgers and was sold to the Orioles during the 1956 season.  In 1957 he was named to the All-Star team and pitched three shutout innings, facing the likes of Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Eddie Matthews and Ernie Banks.

Looking at the transactions on Billy Loes’ page, I found out that he was, on paper, a member of the New York Mets.  The Giants sold him to the Mets in October 1961, but he was returned to the Giants early in March, 1962… As a former Brooklyn pitcher who grew up in Queens, there’s no questioning why the Mets wanted Loes, but Loes apparently wanted no part of the expansion Mets.

Gus Triandos got two cups of coffee with the Yankees before going to the Orioles in a blockbuster 17-player trade and becoming one of the greatest all-time Orioles.

In eight seasons he hit 142 homers, had 517 RBI, made four all-star teams and caught a Hoyt Wilhelm no-hitter.

Al Pilarcik was a regular with the Orioles for three years, and played 6 years overall.

Here’s the non-Oriole I added to my collection.  I started collecting Eddie Yost because he was a coach with the Mets when I was a kid, but he’s moved a notch above those other coaches because I appreciate his tremendous batting eye and his on-base percentage.

Eddie lead the AL in on-base percentage twice and in walks six times over his career;  keep in  mind that he was playing at the same time as Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew and other American League future HOFers.  He is currently 11th in career walks, ahead of Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Pete Rose, Wade Boggs and others.

Getting back to the Orioles, I thought I’d share a photo of where I’m at team-wise.

I’m off to a nice start and looking forward to adding more to this team set!

Getting Some 1957 Teammates For Brooks

If you’ve been reading along with The Shlabotnik Report,  you’ll know that CommishBob of the must-read Five Tool Collector recently stunned me with a Brooks Robinson rookie card.

To be honest, I still look at that scan and think “I own that?  Me?”

Over the following weeks, it occurred to me that this very generous gift is also a gateway to something else to collect.  With Brooks Robinson in hand, what are the remaining obstacles towards the 1957 Orioles team set?  It’s not like that team was brimming with HOFers.  The biggest names after Brooks are Tito Francona, Gus Triandos and a third Oriole who I won’t mention just yet because he’s featured in this post (but who is known for something other than playing).  In other words, high #’s would be the biggest challenge for me.

So, when I recently went to a show, I decided to make 1957 O’s one of my goals… and I’ve got a few of those cards to share with you.

(I’ll just slip in here and mention that the 1957 Orioles went 76-76, finishing 5th in the American League, 21 games behind the pennant-winning Yankees.)

Ray Moore was mostly a starter with the Orioles, but he’d later go on to be a reliever with the White Sox, Senators and Twins. Moore threw hard, but walked a lot of batters.

I like the 1957 design in theory, but cards like this where the text blends into the photo is one of the reasons why it’s not a classic set.  What is classic is the original Yankee Stadium, which is the background for many of these cards.

I mentioned before that this team set isn’t brimming with HOFers, but there is one other besides Brooks Robinson. Dick Williams is in the Hall Of Fame as a manager.  As someone who first knew Dick Williams as the manager of the Angels in the mid-1970’s, Williams looks odd as a young man but even more so as a clean-shaven man.

Williams did three different stints with the Orioles and played more games with the O’s than any other team. He came up with the Brooklyn Dodgers and then moved on to the Orioles, then Indians, then Orioles, then Kansas City Athletics, then Orioles, then the Houston Colt .45’s (for whom he never played), and finally the Red Sox. It was with the Red Sox that he got his start in managing, first in AAA with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and then with the Red Sox.

…And it’s nice to see that the “Topps Tilt” goes back as far as 1957.  Either that or Yankee Stadium was about to slide into the Harlem River.

Bob Nieman was an outfielder who played from 1951 to 1962, and while he played for the St. Louis Browns and the Baltimore Orioles, he didn’t move withe the Browns to Baltimore… Instead, he was traded from the Browns and eventually traded back to the O’s.

He was a regular outfielder for a number of years, and had a career batting average of .295

Daryl Spencer was a… Wait a minute!  This guy’s not an Oriole!

OK you caught me.  I got 8 cards from 1957 Topps, but only 6 of them were Orioles.

One thing I thought was interesting about Daryl Spencer is that he was 6’2″, 185 lbs, which is big for a middle infielder. When Cal Ripken came up, some said he was too big to be a shortshop, and he’s 6’4″. Spencer had 105 career homers, a pretty fair amount for a shortstop at the time. After being released by the Reds, he’d have a second career playing 7 seasons in Japan.

I’ve got a few more of these 1957’s to share, but I’m trying to pace myself with the cards from this show. Over the next week or two you might get tired of the phrase “I’ll share more of these in a future post”.

Cheap, Misplaced Vintage

I spent all of this weekend’s “card time” organizing and creating yesterday’s customs, so this is going to be a short post.

While organizing, I ran across some cards which had been in the garage being aired out because they positively reeked of musty basement smell, and where I’d semi-forgotten them for over a year. I remember the card show I got these at, but I can’t remember picking them out and buying them… so I don’t remember what I paid, but I know they fell into the “I can’t pass these up” category so by extension they were cheap.

Elston Howard was the 1963 AL MVP, a 12-time All-Star and the first African-American to play for the Yankees.

I liked the Yankees for about three years when I was a kid, and Elston Howard was a Yankees coach during that time, so he’s one of the relatively small group of Yankees upon whom I look favorably. This is my first card of Elston Howard.

Richie Ashburn – or “ASHBUP”, thanks to a red magic marker – finished his 15 year career with 2 seasons with the Cubs and one season with the Mets.

Given that the 1962 Mets are almost legandary to this lifelong Mets fan, I’m not fazed by the idea of Richie Ashburn as a Met, but Richie Ashburn as a Cub looks tremendously odd to me.

Ranking 15 Years Of Heritage, Part 2: 12 through 10

As this is “Part 2” of a series of posts, I don’t want to get too involved in the whys and the wherefores of this series.  If you want that, you can check out Part 1 here.

What I will recap is what criteria I’m using when I rank these.  I looked at the design being “Heritaged”, how successful Topps was in replicating the design and feel of the set, and finally whether the Heritage cards changed my feelings towards the original card.

For those who didn’t click the link, here’s a list of #15 through #13:
#15 – 2001 Heritage (1952 design)
#14 – 2011 Heritage (1962 design)
#13 – 2009 Heritage (1960 design)

All right, let’s get back to it!

#12 – 2010 Heritage (1961 design)
Going into 2010, I really wanted to like this Heritage set. When I was a pre-teen, 1961 Topps had the honor of being the oldest set where I had more than one card (I had maybe three), so from a relative early age, the 1961’s were the epitome of “Cool old cards”.
2010 Heritage Rick Ankiel
2010 Heritage Rick Ankiel back
When 2010 Heritage came out, even though they did a pretty good job of reproducing the set, the end result was… unsatisfying. And I’m having a hard time coming up with reasons why.

I don’t know if this has anything to do with it, but I’ll stand on top of this particular soapbox anyway: One of these days, a card manufacturer is going to figure out how to simulate vintage printing technology and we will all gush about how awesome that company’s throwback sets look (even if we’re not 100% sure why we’re gushing).

This is not pie-in-the-sky thinking… At least one uniform manufacturer has some sort of technique to simulate the weave of flannel uniforms using modern fabrics. I’ve seen this in person, and I have to say it looks pretty convincing (at least from 20 or so feet away). 99% of people probably see it as “old school” without words like “flannel” entering their consciousness.

In a similar way, there’s gotta be a way of simulating vintage printing technology with these Heritage cards, thus making them look more like pack-fresh cards from the 1960’s rather than the products of 21st century technology.  Maybe subtle flaws or unevenness can be worked into the colors… Some bleeding between colors and around black lines. This is something I’ve been futzing with while playing with my custom cards, and I’ve found that little touches like that can make a big difference in how the customs look. Now we just need to get someone in charge to feel the same way.

Getting back to the cards, the All-Star inserts turned out just fine.
2010 Topps Heritatge Johan Santana AS

…And the award winner subset also turned out pretty well.
2010 Topps Heritage Miguel Tejada MVP

How Heritage affected my opinion of the originals:  To be honest, it made me go back to my 1961’s and wonder why I like them as much as I do. But I do like them, despite the mild disappointment that is their Heritage offspring.

2010 Heritage cards in my collection: 179 cards out of 501 in the set (35.7%)

#11 – 2004 Heritage (1955 design)

When I came up with my ranking, I flip-flopped several times between this set and the next set.  I started out with this set at #10, but as I started writing this post, I decided it had to be #11… maybe even 12.  When I finish this series, I probably could start another one called “How I’d rank them now that I’ve finished ranking them”.

Part of my problem with 2004 Heritage is my general bias against horizontally-oriented sets. When you hold cards in your hand, you hold them vertically. If the set is horizontal, you have to either hold your hand at an unnatural angle, tilt your head, or both.
2004 Heritage Paul LoDuca

Like 2010 Heritage, I had to struggle to figure out why the cards seemed “wrong”.  Unlike 2010 Heritage, I think I know why…

IMHO, Topps graphics people get a little too hung up on 21st century “design language” or style or convention or whatever you want to call it.  Whether for aesthetic reasons, or legal reasons or just not wanting to irritate licensors, they tend to leave a lot of space around photos when the crop them.  They also seem particularly averse to one photo interfering with another, or a player’s bat getting chopped off, or part of the player’s “action” shot being covered by the team logo.

In doing so, they forget one of the reasons why kids bought baseball cards back in the day – to see what players look like.  Boxscores and radio broadcasts didn’t give you any idea.  Newspapers and most magazines often had grainy black & white photos.  TV was probably the best source, but they were not the HD TV’s of today.

Accordingly, Topps back in the day would let the player dominate the front of the card:

1955 Topps Reno Bertoia

You get a good look at his face, and even the “action shot” would give you a decent idea of what he looked like.  The card design was visual spice to make it more appealing.

For 2004 Heritage, Topps was overcautious with their cropping, and inadvertently let the card design nudge it’s way into your awareness.  It’s like those MP3’s which have been “Remastered for iPod” and the engineers largely ignore the original mix and just crank the vocals, guitars, keyboard, bass and drums all to the same levels… Sure, you can hear more keyboards or bass (and I’ve been told that it’s all about da bass), but then you hear less of the lead vocals and guitar…. and then you want to run out to a used record store, find the original vinyl and rip that instead.  (Not that I have any experiences like this WHATSOEVER).

As a quick visual aid to show you the cropping differences, I did a little experiment…

I took the Bertoia image, reduced it by 95% to get it roughly standard size, and then took slices and laid it down on the 2006 Lo Duca, aligning each by the green stripe on the bottom. It’s not the most scientific test, but the results were pretty telling. Check it out:

2004 Heritage vs 1955 Topps

The background goes higher on the Bertoia (in other words, the white border is narrower on the original), but look at how much larger the 1955 images are when compared to the 2006 equivalent.  It just gets more extreme with other Heritage cards, Lo Duca’s face is relatively large compared to some of the others.

So, like we had with the 1960 design in my previous post, the graphics people didn’t crop tight enough, the design takes over, and the result ends up being less than satisfying.

2004 Heritage Paul LoDuca back
The backs are nice, anyway. Several colors, white cardboard and a cartoon go a long way.

How Heritage affected my opinion of the originals: No opinions of 1955 Topps were harmed during the creation of this Heritage set.

2004 Heritage in my collection: 49 / 475 (10.3%)

#10 – 2006 Heritage (1957 design)
I’m sort of “analyzed-out” after the past two sets, so I’m not going to pick this design apart and examine it under a microscope.
2006 Heritage John  Smoltz
2006 Heritage John Smoltz back
Besides, 2006 Heritage is ranked pretty much the way I’d rank the original.  1957 is a set I really want to like, but it’s just too inconsistent.  When you can read the player’s name, team and position, it works very nicely.  Very often, the text on the card gets jumbled into the background, and it becomes something of a mess.

For the record, here’s an original 1957.
1957 Topps Bob Boyd

How Heritage affected my opinion of the originals:  2006 Heritage made me wish, even more, that I liked 1957 Topps more than I do.

2006 Heritage cards in my collection: 110/495 (22.2%)

Coming Attractions

I promise this entire series isn’t going to be a grumpy old man kvetching about picky details… There are Heritage sets I like, and we will get there.

Vintage Cards With Nothing In Common (Other Than The Whole “Vintage” Thing)

If you’re looking for anything cohesive or with a unifying theme, well… Keep looking.

I got this Willie Davis sometime in 2013 and I can’t remember if there was a specific reason for it, or if it was an “it’s cheap and a nice-looking card, what the heck, toss it on the pile” purchase.
1969 topps Willie Davis
For a guy who was as reknowned for his fielding – he won 3 Gold Gloves and frequently lead center fielders in fielding %, putouts and assists – he seems to always be pictured posing with a bat. Just a quick scan through his cards on COMC I find 16 batting poses, 5 batting action shots, 3 on-deck circle poses, 14 portraits, and a Topps insert poster that also shows him running. Doesn’t matter if it’s Topps, Bell, Post, Kellogg’s, Milton Bradley, Transogram, SSPC, TCMA… Ruboffs, stamps, candy lids, Supers, coins… 38 photos but not an outfielder’s glove to be seen. I dunno, I just thought it was interesting.

Also, if one discounts reprints and buybacks, there are damn few Willie Davis cards from the last 35 years.  Memo to the Topps Archives product manager… We want Willie!

I’ve been collecting for over 40 years without ever taking a break (dang, I’m old) and in all that time, I’d never owned a 1954 card until I picked up this one last year.
1954 Topps Roy McMillan
Because I’m primarily a Mets fan, I just never made a huge effort to pick up any pre-Mets cards unless they more-or-less fell in my lap, and I guess no 1954’s ever did.  It may not be the best card to be the sole 1954 in my collection, but it’s got as much of a Mets connection as any 1954 card might have; Roy McMillan played for the Mets, was a coach with the Mets and served as interim manager in August and September of 1975.

“McMillan!  Mmmmmmmm!”  (Let’s see if anyone gets a “Beyond The Fringe” reference)

1957 is a funny set.  I like the design in theory, but it’s in the execution where so many 1957 cards fail.  This Bob Boyd card is a fairly good specimen in that there’s fairly decent contrast between the text and the photo.
1957 Topps Bob Boyd
1957 was a breakout year for the 37-year-old Boyd, who’d spent most of his career in the Negro Leagues and in the minors. He finished fourth in the AL in batting average, lead the league in putouts, was second on the team in runs scored and was the first Oriole to hit .300 over the course of a season.

Felix Mantilla was one of the better players on the 1962 Mets… this card wasn’t so much “I want a Felix Mantilla!” as it is “I want a 1964 card and here’s a Mantilla, that works”.
1964 Topps Felix Mantilla

Since I can’t think of much else to say about this Mantilla, I’m going to share a Top 5 list of songs that contain “Easy” in the title.  There’s a reason behind “Easy”, but it has nothing to do with nothing and you might as well consider it completely arbitrary. The songs are in the order in which I found them – see, that’s arbitrary as well!

“Take It Easy” – The Eagles
“Nothing Is Easy” – Jethro Tull
“It Don’t Come Easy” – Ringo Starr
“Easy Livin’ ” – Uriah Heap
“Easy Money” – Billy Joel

Honorable (and not so honorable) Mention:  “It’s So Easy” – Linda Ronstadt (or Buddy Holly, if you prefer);  “Easy To Crash” – Cake;  “Pure And Easy” – The Who;  “Over Easy” – Booker T & The MG’s;  “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” – The Eagles;  “Easy Target” – The MEN; “Easy To Be Hard” – Three Dog Night;  “Easy Lover” – Phil Collins & Philip Bailey;  “Easy” – Barenaked Ladies;  “Easy” – The Commodores;  “It’s Easy” – Boston

In The Blogroll Penalty Box
A little over a week ago I angered the Blogroll Gods by absent-mindedly using a 3.3MB Jpeg as my “primary image”.  Blogger could be heard muttering “…and the horse you rode in on” and since then my blog has been taking many hours to appear on blogrolls.

I’ve been posting every day since this happened, so if you think I’ve been quiet lately, you might want to scroll through the recent posts and see if you’d missed anything.