Playland at the Beach

So the problem with getting into matchbooks is that Ebay starts recommending them. Normally I can resist this kind of thing since my interests are way more narrow than the algorithm can handle. But there are exceptions, oh yes there are exceptions. And while I can’t explain them I absolutely know them when I see them.

For example. How could I pass this up? Playland is one of those legendary San Francisco establishments which was before my time but left such a mark on the area that I grew up hearing everyone’s stories. I think it only survives now via the Musée Mécanique,* the Cliff House, and the ruins of Sutro Baths.

*Which somehow I’ve never been to but my parents have taken my kids.

It’s a very San Francisco thing and part of my mind can’t wrap itself around the concept that a massive amusement park existed right there at the end of the Great Highway. The other part of my mind can absolutely see it since that part of the city now is* kind of empty in that way where you can feel that something used to be there.

*Or was last time I was there.

Anyway, aside from Playland being legendary and evocative, the actual design of this match book is beautiful. A fantastic graphic with so many details that I notice something new every time I look. The hint of nighttime stars. The silver border framing everything. The seller didn’t list a date but this is screaming late-1930s to 1940s to me with a bit of that streamline moderne feel in the type.

To date the matchbook I have to look on the inside. A few clues. Mentioning the Cliff House places this as post-1937 since Whitney only acquired it that year.  Similarly, no Sutro Baths means that it’s pre-1952.

There’s also the line about four streetcar lines to downtown. By 1950 there was only one line. 1948 is three. 1944 though has four. Which narrows things down to a window from 1937–1947 which is good enough for me and confirms my sense of the design as well.

When I was researching the matchbook I was starting to become amazed that I couldn’t find any postcards of Playland at the Beach. I eventually realized that searching for “Cliff House” might be interesting and it turns out that there are a decent number of postcards showing Playland from the Cliff House. So I grabbed the cheapest one.

This is a linen postcard which dates it to 1930–1945, in other words, around the same era as with the matchbook. And I can see that the matchbook graphic does indeed match the view of Playland from the beach. Yes it looks like the Great Highway basically turns into a parking lot. This does indeed seem to be exactly what happened.

More importantly for me, this really helps solidify in my mental map exactly where Playland used to be and how it fit into the city.

The back is mostly uninteresting though I can’t help noting that even though it was produced in San Francisco the text uses Coney Island as a reference point. It’s also worth pointing out the Fleishhacker Playground reference. This was another legendary San Francisco institution although one which I don’t remember any stories of (though the name sticks in my head). Unlike Playland though I know exactly where this was since I went to the zoo a lot as a kid and it remains one of my kids’ favorite refuges from the summer heat when we visit.

Project 1991

A couple Christmases ago my eldest received his godfather’s set of 1991 Topps. When we started going to Trenton Thunder games that spring I realized that a lot of the coaches coming through town were players in 1991. And so a project was born. That year we tried to get as many of his 1991 Topps cards signed as we could.

Turns out it was just four—Joe Oliver, Brian Harper, and two Frank Violas—but we had big plans for 2020 and were excited to continue. Yeah that never happened, but during that year my youngest ended up with a set of 1991 Score and so he decided to join us on this quest in 2021.

We’ve been working them the past two years now. Casey Candeale. Jeff Manto. Derrick May. Scott Bradley. Dennis Rasmussen. It’s been a lot of fun and gives them an entry into those 1991 sets.* They may not know all the players but they’re connecting to them as coaches. And by being pulling cards they end up really looking at the sets and how their photography is different.

*I have previously wondered about what it means to collect cards of players you don’t know.

It’s also just been fun for my eldest’s godfather to watch as well since it’s not just letting a set sit in storage they’re doing something with the cards. Every time we get one signed I send him a text to show the new addition.

My eldest is up to ten cards now.* In an ideal world this would be twelve but we missed out on Devon White with Buffalo/Trenton and Pete Incaviglia with Sugar Land.

*Yeah I know I haven’t mentioned Jim Gott yet. Just keep reading.

My youngest meanwhile has seven. He missed out on Oliver, Harper and Viola in 2019 but picked up Oliver this year.

The interesting thing this year is that these went from being a bunch of individual projects to something we’re all doing together. When we got Dennis Rasmussen’s autograph, my eldest couldn’t make the game but my youngest insisted on bringing the Topps card. He was just as happy, if not happier, to get a card signed for his brother as he was to get his own signed.

Last weekend neither boy could make the game so I ended up going alone. Jim Gott was the visiting pitching coach and was super nice abut signing the boys’ cards but also signed a couple for me as well.

I was only going to ask for the 1986 (I usually limit myself to two so pushing to four felt wrong) but he just asked to sign everything. I’d gotten him TTM a few years ago but in person is always better. I texted the boys a photo of their signed cards as soon as I sat down. Very fun. I won’t make a habit of doing this for them since the entire point is that we’re doing it together but once in a while is acceptable. Plus Gott was another guy who we’d missed last year.

I also got a pair of cards signed by Trenton pitching coach Shawn Chacon. Chacon may be most famous for how his career ended but hung around in the majors for eight years before then. This was another fun request where the Draft League players got super excited to see their coach have real MLB baseball cards. Just goes to show how much cards mean in terms of having made it to the show.

This pair of cards also filled two holes in my one-per-year pseudo project. For 1957–2021 I’m now just missing 1971, 1996, and 1999* which still boggles my childhood mind.

*I’ve got a reprint in the 1971 slot on the tracking page.

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Anyway aside from the autographs Trenton opened the stadium a half hour earlier than usual which meant that I got to watch batting practice for the first time in ages. Game started off great too. Super crisp with the Trenton pitcher being lights out in the first three innings.

Sadly the wheels fell off in the 4th and he game degenerated into everything you’d fear about the draft league. Bad pitching. Sloppy defense. Local fans weren’t happy and I can tell they’re not used to this level of play after a couple decades in AA.

Trenton ended up losing 12–8, outhitting State College 14-6 but also committing 5 errors and walking 4 guy in one inning.

Mailday from Bru

Found a nice PWE from Marc in my mailbox last week. School is over and summer has officially begun so it’s nice to start it off with some cards in the mail.

This isn’t the usual fare but as we’ve all stopped ripping new cards and sort of filled in the obvious collection items, I think we’re all casting about for other stuff to send each other. In this case, Marc has come into a good-sized lot of 1979 Topps cards and remembered that I had’t put together my Candlestick page for that set.

Being an Astros collector means that Marc has a decent number of cards feature The Stick in the background. These seven 1979s definitely complete my page and the 1980 Andujar doubles the 1980 Candlestick cards I own. Og these I like how the Lemongello shows off the black hole in center and how Cabell captures the left field bleachers and scoreboard.

All seven didn’t make my 1979 page but four of them definitely did. Once I get more than nine cards I try and spread things out to get different views and I definitely like how that page looks now.

The early-1980s needs work but I’ve not yet gone looking for cards here. It’s nice to have a complete page though even if it spans 1980–1985.

Marc also included two 1979 cards form the Jean-Michel Basquiat checklist. I enjoy the connection to the “real” art world and it’s a fun mini-PC to put together. Rather than digging through the comments of my SABR post I’ll list the checklist here.

  • Joe: Steve Henderson
  • Jerk: Bob Randall
  • Hot Dog: Steve Kemp
  • Wally: John Matlack
  • Bus Pass: Ed Glynn

These are the first two I own from that theme (I had a Steve Henderson but sent it out TTM a couple years ago and it never returned)

And yes even though we’re not ripping product Marc apparently is still. A handful of Donruss cards is very much appreciated, especially the Camilo Doval card since for whatever reason Topps isn’t featuring him. I’m not keen on this design but a least it’s very Donruss™ without being derivative.

Oh and the Diamond Kings card looks like a Diamond Kings card. I’m assuming it’s this year but I can never tell.

For a while I was considering only buying Donruss cards this year since boycotting MLB-licensed stuff is about the only way I can make a statement as a fan. But then I don’t buy anything anyway so it doesn’t really matter.

A couple Match Attax Barça cards. No idea where these are sold or if anyone plays the game but they’re a fun add to the non-baseball sports album. Ansu Fati in particular is on the cusp of becoming something great and I hop he realizes his potential. That #10 shirt is really heavy and, while I think they gave it to him too soon, the fact he wears it now says a ton about how he’s perceived in the team.

And lastly a Safe Hit Texas Vegetables crate label. Marc got a big batch of these and has been selling/distributing them. Not the kind of thing I actively collect but with Marc being in Texas I totally understand why he jumped on this.* It’s a cool image with a local angle and even the concept of “Texas Vegetables” evokes a weird combination of the Texas Leaguer with a Can of Corn.

*I’d be much more tempted if I came across a Best Strike Apple label since Watsonville is borderline Bay Area. But even then I try really hard to to get sucked into too many different collecting interests. 

I also had the weirdest reaction to this piece as a physical object in that my gut felt that it was fake but there’s jut enough going on that I can’t trust that gut reaction plus I don’t know a thing about how labels like these were typically printed. The thing is that my gut wants the text to be nice and crisp and it’s not. No crisp edges anywhere. The blacks and reds are screen mixes. All of these things are frequently tells that something has been photographed and reprinted.

But if the entire label including the text was painted as a single piece, this is exactly how it would look. Especially if printed slightly out out register the way this one is. Plus the small vertical “INC” in the bottom right corner is printed as linework which suggests it was added in after the original artwork was photographed for press. And there’s no sign of being rescreened anywhere on here.

Also, the paper, while slicker than I expected, is only slick on one side. Definitely doesn’t feel like paper you’d get today and is probably way cheaper than what you’d get from Vintagraph.*

*Worth noting that this version of the label has been restored and I suspect has had all the type re-set as linework so it prints crisply. 

Very cool stuff Marc. I was half expecting a Shawn Chacon custom for Trenton but it’s great to fill out more Candlestick pages.

Back in Trenton

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The biggest problem with Trenton being in the Draft League now is that the season doesn’t start until June. This is a shame since I really like the Trenton baseball experience and cutting over two months off the season makes me feel like I’ve been robbed.

Anyway the season finally started and my youngest and I made our way out to the ballpark last Friday night. Frederick was in town and their coaching staff is all former Major League players so we got there early to hang over the rail. This is a lot of fun with the low-key nature of the Draft League. Zero autograph hounds prospecting just a couple older fans who remember guys from their youth.

Which meant that we just got to hang out at the railing and watch the grounds crew set up the field and just get ourselves into the mood of things. It’s relaxing just being there and my youngest is perfectly happy to pay attention to how the field is set up before the game and get fist bumps (and a lump of gum) from the players as they warm up.

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We had great seats for the game too, Right behind the dugout just safe enough behind the screen. Draft League games seem to be pretty fast and crisp. Maybe not the best defense but the pitching is good and Trenton puts on a good show so you don’t realize that you’re at the lowest possible MiLB rung.

They really do deserve a full season team.

So we got a crisp 2–0 Trenton win in about two and a half hours. Frederick was held to one hit and aside from one string of three singles in a row, Trenton never manufactured much danger either. Might’ve been a little quicker but the last half of the game was a bit Spring Training-like with wholesale substitutions from both sides that made keeping score a bit of a pain.

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All in all a perfect night with the only blemish being that they sold out of Pork Roll by the third inning. My youngest got autographs from both Joe Oliver and Dennis Rasmussen. We’d gotten Oliver a couple years ago but since then my youngest had picked up a 1991 Score set that he’s working the same way my eldest is working 1991 Topps and getting cards signed by all the coaches that come through town. To-date that’s been Joe Oliver, Brian Harper, Frank Viola, Casey Candeale, Jeff Manto, Derrick May, Scot Bradley, and Dennis Rasmussen.* And he also got a practice ball and some scorekeeping practice.

*We’ve missed a few too including Devon White, Pete Incaviglia, and Jim Gott.

Was fun getting a chance to talk to Rasmussen and Oliver too. This level is very laid back and I can see they’re enjoying teaching. Rasmussen was wearing an MLBPAA shirt and seemed tickled that I both noticed and liked it. Oliver meanwhile was chilling in the dugout when one of the players noticed my youngest had a card and went to bring it to him. So he came over and chatted a bit.

Yeah I also got a handful of cards signed. Nice to add Rasmussen and I picked two Oliver cards with photos I really liked. I got Angel Sanchez after the game and that was fun too. He seemed a bit surprised that I had cards and when he was signing all the Spanish-speaking players crowded around to take a look and were excited to see them. Sanchez asked to keep a card as well.

I’m happy to have this one since it means that I finally have a 2011 Topps card in the album leaving me only a few years short of something that would truly blow my childhood mind. Since I wrote that post I’ve filled things in quite a bit and am now missing only 1996, 1999, 2002, and 2007 (and a non-reprint 1971) to have a signed Topps card for each year from 1957–2021.

Holy moly

So Jeff/Deetdedee has been teasing me for months about sending me some cool cards. I’ve been sort of half paying attention since while I see no need to pester people about sending me stuff for free, I also do like to be pretty open about making sure that they know that if I haven’t acknowledged receipt of something on Twitter then it means I haven’t received it yet.*

*If I don’t tweet or, for anyone not on Twitter, shoot an email saying thank you it doesn’t mean I’m ungrateful it means that it got eaten by the USPS. This has happened before.

Anyway, last week I found a bubble mailer in my mailbox and was not at all ready for the coolness that was inside. Were they worth the wait and the tease? Absolutely.

We’ll start with the oldest card, a 1926 Zeenut of Syd Hansen. At first I thought this might be a 100+ year old 1920 Zeenut and fill a hole in my type collection. it doesn’t match that design though plus if I loupe the year I can see that it’s supposed to be a 6. Also the background is the same background as the 1926 card I got earlier this year but by showing people sitting on the wall it’s a lot more interesting.

Still it’s always fun to get a Zeenut. I don’t ever want to get tired of these cards and the way they represent sort of a mirror world of professional baseball in the US.

Hansen meanwhile is not a particularly noteworthy player. He pitched only two seasons in San Francisco, giving up 31 earned runs in 47 innings over 20 games pitched.

This is the card Jeff had been teasing me about since last year. A batch of these hit eBay and quickly passed my comfort level in the bidding. Jeff was trying to get a few of them for his Seals/Lefty O’Doul collection and ended up winning a couple. He very generously offered to send me one and for a while I thought he’d sent it PWE and it had gotten lost in the mail.

This is a 1949 Sommer & Kaufmann promotional card of Gene Brocker. Brocker is another player who’s not particularly noteworthy but I do love this image as both a great catcher photo as well as how it shows off the single-deck Seals stadium.

Sommer & Kaufmann was a San Francisco shoe maker whose shoes show up in local museums and whose storefront was located at 838 Market Street. Looking at old photos a the SF library suggests that it’s not the same building at that location now.

Jeff also provided a pair of 1949 Kagome Round menkos from the Seals 1949 tour which I covered in a previous post. The card on the left is Jim Moran while the card on the right is Al Lien. Both of these guys played professionally for over a decade and stayed with the Seals until about the end of things in the mid 1950s.

Moran’s image looks A LOT like Lefty O’Doul but his name (in the pennant) is nothing like オドール. Also the big text across the card is the same katakana for Seals (シールス)  that shows up on the Melton bromide. Al Lien meanwhile gets a super-patriotic American flag with thirteen visible stripes but even more suggested.

As I understand things these are basically like the POGs of my youth. The backs feature the Kagome star and the usual menko hands as well as some nice border detailing. These cards make a fantastic addition to my Seals project and add even more color to the page.

Those weren’t the only menko in the package though as this pair of unidentified players (all text is just the team name with スターズ indicating Stars and 南海 indicating Nankai) was also in there.

Poking through TCDB suggests that these could be from the 1949 JRM 50 set which would mean that the Stars player is Makoto Kozuru while the Hawks player might be Tokuji Iida. Both of these are huge guesses though as it’s entirely possible that this set is uncatalogued.

The colors and text are a ton of fun and I really dig the comic book nature of these. I have a hard time buying any cards like these without a hook but my lord are they fun to own and look at.

Jumping a dozen years to 1961 and Jeff also sent me my first graded card. It’s coincidentally a duplicate of the only card from this set that I own* but the one I have is my usual beater condition with round corners, soft edges, and a pinhole. Definitely not used to see something like this pack fresh** but it’s nice to have no compulsion to crack the slab too.

*I just haven’t looked for more Giants plus the Merkle Pulls Boner card is (completely understandably) desirable to more than just card collectors.

**I’m basically incapable of distinguishing between anything higher than a 6.

And finally flashing forward to 2020 and the Topps Super 70s late-70s mashup design. I dig the mashup attempt of 1976’s borders, 1977’s position flag, 1978’s team name, and 1979’s player ribbon. It also feels somewhat sterile, partly because this color combination doesn’t feel right to me and  partly because I see the individual pieces more than a brand new design.

Fun to have a sample in the album. Very glad I didn’t buy any online packs of this.

Super cool stuff in general though Jeff. I’m not sure how to thank you properly.

May Returns

As expected, a slow month with a very slow start. I didn’t even get my first returns until after a couple weeks.

The first return of the month was an 11 day return from Scott Cepicky who I should’ve googled before sending. I know a lot of the guys I’m sending to are pretty conservative but Cepicky is one who’s actively getting in the way of COVID vaccinations and writing anti-trans legislation. Sigh. So it goes. I google the older guys who I don’t know but the ones from my youth who I sort of remember? I often go with my memories.

Second return of the month is from former Pirate and current Pirates broadcaster John Wehner. Definitely one of those guys I remember from my youth in par because his name is very very close to the name of one of my childhood friends.  He sent this back in 18 days.

The last round of customs I printed had a few empty spaces. I asked around for suggestions and one of them was to make cards of good TTM guys who played in the 1950s. This made sense to me since I don’t really have cards, let alone duplicates, from those years.

One of the suggested names was Bobby Morgan who was a utility infielder in the 1950s for multiple teams including the Dodgers and Phillies. Dodgers photos were either more prevalent or I just liked that multiple-bat photo the most. rue to his rep he signed and returned one custom, keeping the rest, in only 9 days.

Charlie Maxwell was another good recommendation who returned all three cards in 9 days. I always feel a little guilty when this happens. Maxwell was an All-Star outfielder who was known for rarely committing an error. In this case I was able to get a pair of photos of him with the team he had his best years with.

A private signing brought a nice autograph from John “The Count” Montefusco back in 44 days. I did not request the inscription. I love that he added it anyway. Montefusco was a San Francisco legend in part because he was a bright spot in a pretty bad period of club history. I also knew him as the last Giants no hitter—a feat that seemed ancient in the late 1980s and which took another 20 years after that to finally happen again.

Montefusco is also one of those guys who’s got a really ugly section of his wikipedia page. Big yikes there which I’d somehow missed when it happened.

Danny Tartabull returned a great pair of cards in 16 days. His 1987 Rookie Cup card is a fun one but I really remember him as a masher and All Star with Kansas City. He fell off after leaving he Royals but in my mind he’ll always be that offensive threat from the early 1990s. This is also the first 1990 Leaf card to enter the album.

A 14-day return from Todd Zeile added another guy I remember from my youth. Zeile was a big prospect for a few years and, while he never became a star, put together a nice 15-year career which he finished with an above average OPS+ and over 250 home runs.

Wikipedia claims that he’s the only member of the “hit a home run for over ten MLB teams” club but a quick look through the Baseball Reference Octavio Dotel All Stars list shows that there are a half-dozen guys in that fraternity. Zeile and Matt Stairs are the only two who have hit a home run for eleven teams though and Zeile is the only guy to have hit over five home runs for each team. The other “homers for ten teams” guys are Henry Blanco, Russell Branyan, Marlon Byrd, José Guillen, and Kenny Lofton.

While I’ve sent to Turk Wendell before, I couldn’t not send again with this card. Wendell is a character and this 1994 Collector’s Choice card captures his habit of leaping over the foul line. H sent it back in 16 days. It looks great signed and features his standard blackened corner and card edges.

Bill Schroeder is one of the current Brewers announcers and, as a former catcher, ended up on a few very nice cards. I’ve long liked his 1986 Topps card but his 1991 is also very nice. I sent these care of the Brewers and he sent them back in 56 days.

And the last return of the month is from Ron LeFlore in 8 days. LeFlore is a great story as well as a total throwback to an era of baseball when the stolen base mattered. Very cool that he was the first guy to lead each league in stolen bases and  very impressive hat he averaged over 50 steals a season in his 9-year career.

Not a bad month all things considered. I’ve done a little better sending requests out too (LeFlore was the first of those to return) so hopefully next month picks up a little.

Matchbooks

While I’ve been unable to find cards anywhere locally, Ebay is doing this thing where good deals on weird shit keep popping up. Previously it was Zeenuts and Venezuelans. This time it’s Diamond Matchbooks.

Diamond Matchbooks came out in the mid-1930s and are pretty cool. They feature a player* on one side and text about him on the other and, when printed well, can look pretty nice.  I’ve featured a pair of them earlier but this time I’m getting them with intent.

*Not just players, I’ve seen non-sport versions featuring cities, etc. too.

Aside from being neat little items, the matchbooks are affordable ways to collect vintage* cards of a player. Ernie Caddel has only one “real” football card and, as a beautiful National Chicle with that dreaded Rookie status attached to it, it runs in the hundreds of dollars. This 1938 matchbook, while not as nice, runs a couple orders of magnitude less and serves as a great addition to the Stanford album. It’s also nice that the text mentions Stanford plus the silver printing is pretty cool.

*I frequently use “vintage” to mean “playing-days.”

Caddel is an especially nice addition to the album because he actually went to Stanford on a baseball scholarship as a pitcher and only started playing football once he was on campus. I can find articles about him in the Stanfrod Daily archives but unfortunately can’t find any statistics for his time as a player.

I also don’t have a lot of Stanford pre-war so it’s always great to add another. I think I’m up to six cards now.

I also found a great small lot of baseball matchbooks. I wouldn’t have gotten this just except that Carl Hubbell was one of the included cards.

The whole group is fun though and it’s very nice to have an assortment of colors. The Hubbell and English cards are from  the 1935–36 “set” which makes this my oldest Hubbell card.* I love the back write-up which discusses both his 1933 and 1935 seasons as well as the fact that this essentially dates the card to releasing when Hubbell was at the height of his powers and in the midst of wining the National League MVP award.

*By a year over the Dixie lid.

English meanwhile only references 1935 on the back so it’s possibly from an earlier-printed group of these. It’s hard to call these a set of cards since they weren’t really cards. There was clearly a matchbook collecting ecosystem going on at the time though but I have no idea if there was a “collect them all” mentality or if it was just a living set of ephemera being printed on an otherwise disposable object.

I do like the amount of uniform detailing visible in English’s photo with the piped placket and wishbone C around the bear cub. The Jordan book also has a decent amount of uniform information in the photo albeit of a Braves uniform and not the Bees.* Kind of fun to have a card dating from the the five years they were the Bees but a shame that the photo still depicts the Braves.

*The fact that this lists the team name on both sides means it’s a 1937 release using a pre-1936 photo.

And that’s the latest Diamond Matchbooks news. I have six of them now including three Giants and one Stanford. They’re currently in Cardsavers and 4-pocket sheets but I can totally see switching to 6-pocket sheets if I come across more.

LOL

I mentioned at the end of my previous Somerset post about how some of the autograph seekers were bitching about Anthony Volpe. I downplayed it a little in that post but some of the complaints sort of stuck with me over the last couple of weeks.

When I was getting autographs at Trenton I don’t remember anyone complaining about guys signing or how they signed. Yes there were definitely guys seeking to sell signatures but in general things were pretty positive.

Somerset though either attracts a different breed of autograph seeker or the hobby has changed for the worse since 2019. A lot of the complaints about Volpe involved his signature and how he “ruins” balls and other items that he signs.  I understand being disappointed when a guys signs but demanding that he sign everything with a nice pristine signature when he’s trying to sign for as many kids as possible really rubs me the wrong way.

Marc Brubaker’s Volpe TTM

A large part of this though is due to the fact that Volpe has been a good TTM signer for a few years and is known for having a nice signature which stands out compared to so many poor signatures from the “never learned cursive in school” generation of players that he’s a part of. He’s also showing up at local signings* where his signature remains very nice. He’s set a high bar for what people should expect.

*At $99 per sig!

Still, he can take his time with TTMs and private signings and it’s completely unfair to compare those examples to something signed in the post-game crush as he makes his way down the tunnel carrying three bats, his glove, and batting helmet. I’m never going to complain about a guy who’s clearly trying to be good to the fans.

Then, last Wednesday, I got lucky at the Somerset game and got Volpe’s post-game rush signature. And now I understand why they were complaining.

Yeah… To be completely clear, I am not upset and still think that complaining about something like this makes you an entitled asshole. Ink is ink is ink. At the sam time I have to admit that my immediate response when I saw what he’d written was to start laughing. I find it to be absolutely hilarious and in many ways better than his “nice” signature since it comes with a ready-made story to accompany the “WTF is that” question this card will receive going forward.

I’ll be able to talk about all the entitled guys and how Volpe intentionally  hangs out at the end of the game to sign for as many people as possible. And I’ll be able to talk about how the game I got this Volpe went 2 for 3 with 2 walks, 2 stolen bases, and 2 runs scored.* I can see why he’s hyped since when he’s on the bases he’s the kind of electric player you’re always keeping on eye on.

*Second game in a row I’ve gone to where Somerset has spotted the visiting team like 5 runs early  and then pent the rest of the game clawing its way back to the win column. This time a big 3-run homer from Josh Breaux served the same purpose as Michale Beltre’s grand slam before a bases-loaded fielders choice in the bottom of the 8th drove in the eventual winning run as the Reading 3rd baseman attempted a 5-3 double play where he ran the ball to 3rd instead of either a 5-4-3 or a 5-2-3 double play and the batter just managed to beat the throw to first. Anyway. 2.5 hour game. Patriots won 7–6.

At the same time. Yeah. I can’t sugarcoat anything. This is not just one of the worst signatures I’ve encountered but it’s also one of the largest deltas between signature qualities I’ve seen. And that includes guys like Stan Musial who were signing on their deathbeds a decade after they couldn’t control a pen any more.

Still, into the album it goes and we’ll see if it amounts to anything more interesting than this story. He certainly has the tools to go far but I’ve seen enough AA baseball to know better than to assume anything.

Another funny thing about Somerset is how there’s a huge scrum of guys trying to get Volpe’s signature and no one seems to care about Sparky Lyle. Lyle seems to be available before every game and is extremely generous with his time as he signs and poses for photos with the one older fan who cares or the two kids whose dad knows what’s up.

I was the older fan this game. After getting a Yankee card TTM I decided to get a Phillies card this time and the only one I could find in my collection was a 1982. I’m slowly coming around to these being okay for autographing despite the facsimile sigs.

Hopefully I’ll get to be the dad too as I also have a pair of Lyle cards in my snapcase for my kids to use whenever we all get back to a game. No more 11:00am starts so our next visit will be for sure be either a Friday night or weekend day game.

Cold War Cards

I tend to think of general-interest cards as the major thing that distinguishes the pre-World War 2 hobby from the much-more-familiar sports cards and pop-culture cards landscape which got rolling in the 1950s. Many of my pre-war sets serve as a way to teach people about the world and I love the way they serve as a way of documenting our understanding of things at the moment.

My thinking though is also wrong since general interest sets didn’t die out immediately after the war. I’ve come across a bunch of sets from the 1950s in particular which are wonderful to discover me. A lot of them function in similar veins to comic books—both in terms of being general action stories and, later, specifically super heroes—while others are doing the same kind of thing as the pre-war cards and documenting technology or explaining history.

The ones that fascinate me though are the ones that seem to function as state department propaganda. There are multiple sets in the 1950s which are dedicated at some level to the fight against communism. This first card is from  one such set.

Bowman’s 1951 Fight the Red Menace set is basically all about the evils of communism. The artwork is frequently amazing albeit over the top and the back text pulls no punches in terms of who the good guys and bad guys are. I can’t really imagine these being packaged with chewing gum and definitely don’t think they were popular with kids.

In America you can always find the party. In Russia, party always finds you.

Even though I grew up with the USSR as our main global antagonist the idea of just having stuff like this set around is completely foreign to me. Yes, I know that there are a lot of Americans still who freak out about the idea of communism but that fear wasn’t the background radiation of my youth nor is it the way I’m teaching my kids. We’ve had plenty of time to figure out the problems with capitalism since then as well. Anyway, I really liked the idea of having a sample of this set so I selected one that reminded of the old Yakov Smirnoff joke which spawned that early 2000s “In Soviet Russia” meme.

Another set I got a sample from is the very Dr. Strangelove named Power for Peace set that Bowman put out in 1954. This set is all about the current standard of US Military technology and how it needs to be so powerful in order to preserve the peace. This isn’t as much anti-Communism as it’s  anti-Russia and more-generically pro-military as the only thing keeping us from being bombed this very instant.

Since this set is so much like Dr. Strangelove I had to get the B-52 card as a sample. For a 1954 set, getting an image of the B-52 is kind of amazing since that was the first year that any were finished building, only three were made, and they were just test planes. And yes I kind of love that nowhere on the back of this card is the plane described as a bomber.

Not the prettiest card but another one which captures the time. I’m not going to be suckered into the 1950s/1960s non-sport cards the same way as I have been with pre-war but it’s great to have a few samples to remind me of how different this time was.

Menkos!

I’ve been intrigued by Japanese baseball cards for a long time. Some, like the Kabaya Leafs, are mirror-universe amazing takes on designs I’m familiar with. But what I really like are the ones that are doing things completely differently than American cards. I jumped on a batch of mid-1970s Calbees because I love the photography and I’ve long sort of coveted some of the older menko cards.

Menkos were intended to be played with but they also depict all kinds of subjects. Sports, military, movie and TV characters are all fair game. The artwork is frequently something I’d call comic book style with bold colors and big text and the end result looks like nothing else I’ve seen.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) I’ve not dipped any toes in that water due to not having an obvious entry point. I have a hard time buying cards without attaching them to a project and, unlike my pre-war randomness, menkos tend to be sold individually instead of as sets. As a result I’m better able to resist their call.

However it turns out that there are menkos of the San Francisco Seals. In 1949 Lefty O’Doul took the San Francisco Seals on a Goodwill tour of Japan. O’Doul is in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame for his multiple trips to Japan which helped grow the game and in many ways led to the development of a professional league. The 1949 trip was a different sort of trip as it was intended to promote healing after World War 2.

The trip was clearly successful both in terms of drawing crowds but also as a bit of cultural diplomacy with a lot of ephemera still surviving today. The multiple different menko designs definitely caught my eye. Sometimes they’re super expensive. Other times they’re super reasonable. So it pays to wait. A couple weeks ago I finally found some that were going at a price I was ok with.

This menko features Cliff Melton, one of the few pitchers who made the trip.* It’s part of what’s categorized as the 1949 JCM-51 Seals Tour set. Not my favorite of the designs I’ve seen (I really like the Blue Back set) but it’s a great example of why I find menkos so appealing. Bright colors. Big bold text.** Cartoon images.

*He’s also a former Giant who shows up on Play Ball and Double Play cards in the early 1940s.

**メルトン is pronounced “meruton” which is the katakanization of “Melton.” Also, in the interests of translating text, 投手 is how you write “pitcher” in Japanese.

Many of the cards depict the seals in red and white striped uniforms that don’t at all match their home jerseys that year. Given that other cards show the pinstripes in blue and the Seals in red my guess is that the artists were just coloring things brightly. I wish the cap logo were a bit more clear but that’s really my only quibble.

The other Seals card I got is actually not a menko. It’s categorized as a bromide though by the 1940s these were no longer bromide photographic prints but just halftones which kept the bromide toning. This one is cut from the November 1949 issue of Yakyu Shonen magazine and not only features Cliff Melton as well but uses the photo that was used to create the menko artwork.

His menko isn’t a particularly good likeness but it’s clearly from the same image plus the text* confirms that it’s the same player.

*メルトン 投手 (シールス) or “Melton Pitcher (Seals)” underneath the image.

Looking at the Melton menko again mades me start thinking about why I like them so much more than American strip cards. It’s clearly not the accuracy of the drawings so all I can conclude is that the vibrancy of the color and text is the difference.

I took a quick peek through the other stuff that this seller had available and was unable to not impulse-add this card. I’ll leave it a little bit of a surprise and just link to a Google search for his name: 三船敏郎.

Yeah.

The price was right and how could I say no. Plus the artwork, while not exactly looking like him, has a certain charm to it with that rakishly misplaced hair that does capture a certain essence. I don’t know exactly when this is from but the seller says 1950s which feels right. It’s made by the Kagome Toy Company* and has a lot more going on on the back than most menkos I’ve seen as they aren’t known for having backs full of text.

*The 6-pointed star is their mark.

While I can struggle through figuring out what the front text says through context/guessing I have no idea about the backs. There are online tools to deciphering stokes but doing that figure by figure is more than I want to deal with—especially when even the single word on the back of the Melton menko looks like it says スペルコミ which doesn’t translate to anything but sounds like superukomi or super komi. I can’t image trying to do the full text backs on the other cards.

As it is I’m happy to just have a few menkos as well as be able to update my oldest Japanese cards to be 1949 now. Plus it’s nice to add a bit more color to my Seals page.