Art Card PC

William Klein died on the tenth. As a photographer he managed to combine street photography with fashion and really nail down how a photographic glimpse can suggest movement and mood. He also has a bunch of photographs of 1950s kids in New York, of which “Gun 1” may be the most famous.

I wrote a little about “Gun 1” and how it represents how we grow up, absorb, and reenact crime stories a few years ago but it was another Klein photo that came to my mind first when he died.

William Klein, “Baseball Cards”, 1955

Much like “Gun 1,” “Baseball Cards” is a photo of kids hamming it up for the camera and indulging in American mythology. Only this time it’s not a mythology of violence. Instead it’s baseball, baseball cards, and the way you want to show off that you have a card of your hero.

While a lot of art sites date this photo as 1954–1955, any baseball card collector will immediately identify the cards as 1955 Bowman. A quick check through the couple dozen light-bordered cards shows that the featured card is Yankee Gil McDougald. This is perfect for a photo taken in New York City.

I tweeted out a RIP from the SABR Baseball Cards account and included an image of “Baseball Cards” because the number of times cards show up in art is pretty small. Then I promptly realized that for some reason I’d never considered getting a McDougald card despite being an art/photography junkie. Mark Armour promptly offered to send me a copy before I had a chance to even go to COMC.

The card arrived a week ago. Turns out that this was Mark’s only 1955 Bowman duplicate so there’s a certain amount of kismet involved here. It’s fantastic and you can see that it is indeed the card which is featured in the Klein photograph. McDougald is also not a player whose career I’m particularly familiar with but looking up his stats I can see that he’d absolutely be the kind of player a Yankees fan would be happy to have. A very good 10-year career, 6-time All Star, and a key part of 5 World Series championships and 8 Pennants.

I still need to identify the other card in the Klein photo* but this is joining a bunch of 1979 Topps cards in my Art Card mini-PC. This isn’t cards as art but cards that show up in art.

*The current leading candidate is Randy Jackson. That Jackson and McDougald are both pretty low numbers on the checklist also suggests that the kids might have their piles sorted by number. 

The 1979 Topps cards of course are the cards that show up in Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Anti-product Baseball Cards. I mentioned a checklist in my post where Marc set me a few of these but I may as well put everything here.

William Klein’s “Baseball Cards”

☑︎ 1955 Bowman #9 Gil McDougald
☐ 1955 Bowman #87 Randy Jackson

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Anti-product Baseball Cards

☐ 1979 Topps #58 Bob Randall (JERK)
☐ 1979 Topps #82 Mets Team Card (checklist)
☑︎ 1979 Topps #196 Steve Kemp (HOT DOG)
☐ 1979 Topps #315 John Matlack (Wally)
☑︎ 1979 Topps #343 Ed Glynn (BUS PASS)
☑︎ 1979 Topps #445 Steve Henderson (JOE)

I currently can’t think of any other cards for this PC—maybe the pair of Pete Rose 1985 Topps cards even though Andy Warhol’s print doesn’t match either of them—but I’m hoping more will come to me. Until then this is a fun thing to have going on in the background.

Christmas cards from Mark Armour

Late last week I found an envelope from Mark Armour in my mailbox with a small holiday mailing inside.

The main item was this 1968 Dexter Press photo card of Jack Hiatt. I have a decent number of the 1967 Dexter Presses but I’ve had such a hard time coming across any 1968 Giants* that this is actually my first one. They are very nice indeed. Good crisp photos and a clean simple back design. I need to start looking for them more actively.

*It’s an interesting thing that I have three Astros however.

I also need to point out that this is signed by Hiatt. From what I’ve seen of his TTM returns, he still signs everything with ballpoint. Which means that this signature could be any age. I do really enjoy signed postcard-sized photos though. Small enough to still work like baseball cards but large enough to give the autograph some room to not stomp all over the image.

Two other items in the envelope are a Dick Perez postcard of Stephen Clark and a Mickey Mantle tract that Mark presumably came across. The Perez postcard is great. Mark’s been mailing me random Giants—used as actual postcards—but this is the first non-Giant I’ve received. Clark, as the founder of the Hall of Fame though is definitely worth having on a card.

The Mickey Mantle tract is the one that Bobby Richardson returns with his TTM requests. It’s all about Mantle’s deathbed conversion and either reads as an inspirational text or Pascal’s wager depending on how cynical you want to be.

Thanks Mark and Happy Holidays to you too!

Christmas cards

Catching up on a few more PWEs which accompanied holiday wishes. It’s getting to the point where I’m considering making hobby-oriented holiday cards to send out to people I’ve traded with over the past year.

The first card came from Mark Armour and contained a 1977 Willie Mays exhibit. This is a nice reprint of the 1947–1966 era exhibit photo and even feels like it has better tonality than a lot of the vintage exhibits do. The border is kind of goofy though and the less said about the apostrophe catastrophe in the bio text the better. Still this is the kind of thing I enjoy adding to the album and it’ll slide in right next to a bunch of Jeff’s bycatch.

Mark also included a custom card of himself. This is also something I’ve thought about doing but have never gotten around to. A lot of traders have their own custom cards that they toss in like business cards and I enjoy keeping those around.

A few days later I found an envelope from Tim in my mailbox. Nothing big, just an insert from 2020 Opening Day which doubled the number of 2020 Opening Day cards in my collection. This is one of those products that I buy for my kids and stay out of for myself.

This isn’t a critique of the product. If anything it’s a critique of how flagship has effectively pushed my kids away. Neither of my kids wanted a complete set of flagship this year for Christmas. They’ve both realized it’s not the set for them. Too expensive and not really any fun.

A pack of flagship costs like $5 now and that’s a lot of money to pay for a bunch or guys they’ve never heard of. Opening Day at least is mostly players they know. And yes Major League Baseball does a lousy job marketing guys, but Topps also creates checklists that are dominated by rookie cards instead of guys who are actually playing.

So they’ve gravitated toward Opening Day and Big League and I let them enjoy those products. As a result, I don’t get much Opening Day so if it comes in via trade I’m happy to slide it into the binder.

A PWE from Lanny brought me a single 2002 Kenny Lofton card. This might not look like much (though it’s one of Lofton’s few Giants cards) but it’s actually part of Topps’s trainwreck of a Traded set where someone at Topps decided that intentionally shortprinting the first 100 cards was a smart idea.

It was not. I have heard of way too many people who swore off all Traded/Update sets for years just because the 2002 set was so bad. The shortprinted cards meanwhile are impossible to find yet no one actually wants to spend serious money for them.

A perfect storm of awfulness which I would avoid completely except that I wanted the complete 2002 team set for World Series reasons. This Lofton completes the set and I no longer have to think about 2002 Topps Traded ever again.

I also got an envelope from Jason with a couple Giants first basemen. A couple retired numbers even. No it’s not just two 1991 Will Clark cards, these were the packaging surrounding the card Jason intended to send me.

The two Will Clarks were sandwiching this beauty which is not only a great example of the National Chicle Diamond Stars artwork with its solid blocks of color and industrial backgrounds* but represents the first Giants retired number from before the modern era of baseball cards to enter my collection.

*It still doesn’t compare to the South African United Tobacco cards though. Also I remain confused by the scoreboard listing visitors underneath Giants.

One of my long-term collecting goals has been to try and get a card of each Giants retired number from their playing years. I have all the obvious ones who played during the years when Topps was the card of record. Irvin, Mays, Cepeda, McCovey, Marichal, Perry, Clark, and Bonds* all have multiple Topps cards as Giants to the point where I have multiple cards of all even players like Irvin who I never expected to own any cards of.

*Interesting to me to realize that all besides Bonds of those debuted in MLB with the Giants. And yes I’m going to be distinguishing between MLB and “major leagues” from now forward.

McGraw, Mathewson, Terry, Ott, and Hubbell though were always going to be tougher. Fewer cards in general, and the affordable ones are often super ugly in terms of design* or just through being well loved. The Diamond Stars cards of Terry, Ott, and Hubbell are some of the more-desirable options out there and I’m astounded at Jason’s generosity at sending me my first one form this set.

*/me waves at M. P & Company.

Thanks a lot guys. I hope you’ve enjoyed this holiday season and I hope next year brings better tidings all around.

Holy Moly

Last Sunday my youngest came in with a small envelope he had found tucked into our screen door. Turns out a small envelope from Mark Armour had gotten misdelivered and a nice neighbor had hand-delivered it to us. Mark’s sent me a couple postcards this break but this was the first envelope I’ve gotten for a while.

I almost dropped the whole package once I opened it up. Two toploaders slid out and the card on top was this 1958 Willie Mays All Star. Of all Topps’s All Star designs over the years this is one that many collectors still like the best. As the first of the All Star designs it certainly sets a very high bar.

The Mays card in particular is one of the nicest looking in the subset since it’s cropped a bit more loosely than the extreme headshots that make up much of the 1958 set (both All Stars and base cards). I like 1958 most when it involves silhouettes of archetypical baseball poses* and there are few poses more distinctive than being in a batting stance.

*Something I especially appreciated when it was displayed with Mike Mandel’s Photographer Baseball Cards at SFMOMA.

It’s also worth pointing out here that despite being part of the last series of cards released in 1958, Topps still didn’t have a photo of Mays in a San Francisco Giants cap. Instead they painted on the Seals-like SF logo that so many other 1958 cards show.

The “bumper” cards to this mays were two more-recent Heritage cards. The Cueto is a Chrome variant from 2018. I don’t mind the idea of jazzing up old designs with modern printing techniques but the consistent use of Chrome technology often feels like something Topps does reflexively instead of thinking about whether it’s a design that would actually be served well with it.

To my eyes, 1969 is not such a design. That Topps used opaque white ink on the borders is a bit of a sign here that they didn’t trust going fully-Chrome either.* I’d rather Topps thought about color foil stamping the name and position circles if they were going to jazz things up. Chrome? Save it for something like the 1975 design where the shiny colors will truly pop.

*1970 with chromed-out silver borders would’ve been an interesting option but for some reason Topps didn’t do the 2019 Chrome Heritage that way.

The McCovey is a Flashback from the 2019 Heritage set. I’ve tended to sleep on these cards but they often end up being one of the most-interesting designs that Topps makes each year. They have to be compatible with the Heritage design while also evoking the general graphic design sense of the year in question and also cover a wide range of subjects and photos.

That the Flashbacks cards usually end up looking good means that as much as many of the new cards look like undisciplined computer-graphics nightmares, there are designers at Topps who are both good and disciplined. I just wish Topps would trust them with other products more.

Anyway I’m glad my neighbor dropped this envelope off. Would’ve sucked for it to get mislaid. Thanks Mark!

A few maildays

Catching up on a few maildays that came in over the past couple weeks. School being at home has meant we all have had to adjust and has left me with less time for other things. But it’s been too long now so it’s time to acknowledge a number of things that came in the mail.

We’ll start off with these two Carl Aldana Seals customs of the lesser-known DiMaggio brothers from Jason. These cards are in the 1950s Mother’s Cookies style but feature photos from the 1930s. Mixing the two eras works pretty well but for me draws the photos into looking more 1950s because of the colorization.

Two neat little objects. I’m apparently a sucker for rounded corners. And I enjoy seeing Vince in his Hollywood Stars uniform.

It’s also worth showing the backs of these cards. No stats but not blank either. The image used could be a bit higher-resolution but I appreciate making it a vintage dairy advertisement. Is a nice riff on something that should fit right in with cookies.

I also got a nice postcard from Mark Armour just wishing us safety and health in these strange times. Why bother with a PWE when you can just send a postcard by itself? Anyway this is making me think that I should start mailing small things out to people just as a way to say “take care.” It’s indeed a strange world out there but there’s also something wonderful about seeing 90% of us in agreement about what’s most important and trying to support each other in surviving.

Does this go in a Giants binder? Maybe it does. Maybe it does. It is after all the closest I ever expect to get to a T206 Christy Mathewson.

Another mailing that came in was a handful of cards from Shane Katz which included my first 1981 Topps Scratch Offs. This is one of those sets that never appealed to me with its small photos and perforated edges.

Seeing them in panels helps a lot as the different colors make things more interesting. I can’t imagine filling 9-pocket (or even 10-pocket) sheets with these but picturing a full 4-pocket page appeals to me

Meanwhile my printing side appreciates that each photo is framed in a different process color. One of these days I’ll write the Topps and process colors post I keep saying I’ll write and the colors of 1981 Topps will definitely be a big part of that.

The backs of these are are great because they explain how the game is supposed to work. It’s actually something I can see my kids enjoying although I can already tell that the game has little replay value since you’ll quickly learn where to scratch for maximum run scoring.

The advertisement panels are also a ton of fun. I don’t know anyone who sent in for these things but that cap just screams its age/era and I do know a lot of guys who stored their cards in baseball card lockers like that.

Shane also included a couple other cards including a 2020 Heritage Willie Mays insert which takes my accumulated total for this set to six. Am I actively chasing and trying to build it? No. Is it something that I enjoy slowly adding to? Absolutely.

Thanks guys and take care in this season unlike any other.

PWE from the President

When it rains it pours. Last Tuesday I found a plain white envelope from Mark Armour in my mailbox. Since his last mailing to me Mark’s moved on from being the chair of the SABR Baseball Cards committee to being the SABR President (and I’ve stepped into his large newly-empty shoes as committee co-chair).

We’ll start off with the envelope because instead of boring American Flag Costco stamps or the USPS-generated barcodes we’ve got a pair of Kadir Nelson Marvin Gaye stamps. These should be used for all trade packages because of Marvin Gaye reasons but Nelson’s work has also been featured on the SABR blog.

Inside the envelope was a bunch of 2019 Heritage. I have all these. My kids do not. They were very excited and not at all pleased when I told  them to wait until I had a chance to photograph these for a blog post. They’re now up to 19/23 for the Giants Heritage cards this year which is pretty good. They’re only missing the three short prints and Will Smith.

Coming on the heels of Marc Brubaker’s mailday where I mentioned the “sunset” cards in Heritage High numbers it’s nice to have a few of the blue sky cards to make the comparison to the sunset ones. The Shaw/Garcia card is the only one here with the Heritage High light. And yes I’ll continue to call these sunset cards even though I realize the photos are of a sunrise.

There were also three customs from Gio at When Topps Had (Base)Balls who’s one of the better custom card makers out there. Gio does a great job at recreating Topps’s designs and creating cards of players who never got cards, appeared on multi-player rookie cards, or whose cards were horribly airbrushed.

The no-name guys who missed out on cards in a set are the most interesting ones for me. Don Mason and Frank Johnson are two such players here. Don Mason is one of those guys who barely made it on to the checklist each year and so his cards don’t correspond to his best seasons. Frank Johnson is similar. He’s on 1969 and 1971 but not 1970.

Cards of fringe players are tons of fun. They’re the ones I’ve enjoyed making the most in my customs and they’re definitely the ones I enjoy sending out. It’s the weird fringe players who make a set interesting and ultimately fix things to a specific moment of time due to their short tenures.

The third card is a dedicated rookie card of George Foster. This is a nicer approach to the zoomed version Topps made in 2003. Unfortunately it also brings up the unfortunate trade the Giants made (though it did take a few seasons after the trade for him to find his footing in Cincinnati).

Speaking of the Foster trade, Frank Duffy was one of the players the Giants got for Foster. Gio’s actually offered to help me source some photos for a customs project I’m doing for Stanford players. Guys like Don Rose for example who didn’t have any really good cards and whose photos don’t come up easily on search. I need to reply to his email but it looks to be promising even if I don’t find everyone I’m looking for.

An Eclectic Bunch

While Mark Hoyle’s mailday arrived while I was gone, I received a surprise from Mark Armour the day I returned to New Jersey.* Mark’s package was a fantastically eclectic group of cards—some of them very very much up my alley, others I suspect were there to make me laugh.

*Just in time given the airport chaos that developed by the end of last week.

Since the group is all over the place I figure I’ll start with my favorite card of the batch. This 1970 Kelloggs 3D McCovey is my second from this set* and the first Giants card. I love 3D lenticular cards as it is; a Willie McCovey in decent shape is awesomeness.

*The first came from Dimebox Nick.

These unfortunately don’t scan well. And since the ancient plastic doesn’t feel like something I want to handle too much, making a wiggle gif is not an activity I feel comfortable doing. I do however have to point out that I’m always surprised at how sharp the photos on these look in real life.

Two other great vintage cards in the 1961 Gil Hodges Post and the 1972 Fleer Laughlin Famous Feats Cy Young.The Hodges is my first 1961 Post card (I have a few from later years). For a long time these sets sort of confused me with their backless nature and how everything—stats, bio, photo, and numbering—is crammed on to the fronts. I’ve come to like them and their design efficiency now.

I also like the hand-trimmed nature of them. This Hodges is substantially overtrimmed but all the pertinent information is there aside from the top part of the card numbering (it’s #168). Seeing those janky hand-trimmed edges though reminds me of being a kid and trimming my own cards. I know that some little kid cut this out of his box of cereal almost 60 years ago and what’s not to love about that.

The Cy Young is my first 1970s Fleer Laughlin card. I have a few of the 1986 Fleer team logo stickers that reprinted this artwork in black and yellow on the backs. Seeing the artwork with red and blue and in the slightly larger size is a very different experience. I also like the writeup on the back side.

At first I thought this 1979 Topps Burger King card was just a header/packaging card. Then I turned it over and realized it was a checklist. These late-70s, early-80s Topps sets which feature the exact same design as the base set only different numbering to reflect the regional nature of their release are kind of fascinating. The photos are usually the same. Sometimes a rookie will get their own card. Othertimes a player shows up in an updated uniform. Usually though it’s the same image only it’s clearly been printed by a different printer.

This isn’t a bad thing. In some years the Burger King (or Coca Cola) sets aren’t printed as well. Other years they’re printed better. But there are always slight differences to notice. Croppings change slightly. So do fonts.

It’s a great reminder of how much work it used to take to prepare things for print. In this modern age where everything is direct-to-plate and a locked-up PDF is will generate the same output no matter when you run it, it’s easy to forget how many steps were involved in stripping cards together and burning plates by hand.

The handful of more-modern Giants cards about which I have little to say except that Brian Wilson’s beard is printed in a way that reminds me of those late-60s blacked out caps. Oh, and all these foil cards are a pain in the butt to scan.

Which takes me to the part of the mailer that was intended to make me laugh. First off, two 1991 Stadium Club cards where the Topps logo is masking the Olan Mills logo. I liked a lot of the cards in 1991 and 1992 but good lord the way Topps chose to depict draft picks in their early-1990s casual clothing and hairstyles has aged so poorly.* Besides these cards in 1991 Stadium Club, 1992 Topps and 1992 Bowman are also full of this kind of thing.

*So poorly that they’re arguably awesome now—but still they’re mostly WTF.

That Hillary vs Maverick play at the plate card is something else. I’m glad it’s not worse. I also really don’t want to know more about what set this came from.

I’m also morbidly curious where Mark got Australian Rules Football and Cricket cards from. The most interesting thing with these for me is noting how they conform to the Topps standard introduced in 1957.

I’ve become increasingly interested in the card-collecting traditions of other countries especially in how they were before standardizing on the American model. So things like the Japanese Calbee and Menko-like cards, Panini soccer stickers, or British tobacco card tradition are wonderful to learn about in how they suggest other ways of collecting and I find it sad that it seems like everything worldwide has standardized on the 2.5×3.5 card size.

In the case of these cards I found myself wondering if Australia had a card collecting tradition before standardizing on the Topps size and if it differed from the UK’s. I also noticed the rounded corners and common back on the Football card and only just made the connection that the standard Topps trading card size was probably based on the standard Poker-size cards that the US Playing Card Company had been producing since the late 19th century.

Better than Ted Cruz

On the heels of my mailday from Shane, I received another batch of 1978s from Mark Armour (@MarkArmour04). As the co-founder of the SABR Baseball Cards committee/blog, Mark in many ways bears much of the responsibility for pushing me back into the hobby by reminding me of all the things I liked about cards and encouraging me to think about them as sitting on the intersection of my print and photography interests.

Mark has a formidable collection of vintage Topps sets and apparently a ton of 1978 duplicates which he checked against my searchlist when he realized I was trying to complete the set.

It’s funny, I think I’ve been completing this set a bit like Zeno: somewhat easily completing half the set, then getting the next quarter, then the next eighth, etc. This latest batch cut my searchlist in half to where I only need 35 more cards. Yay! There’s an every-increasing light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately half of those 35 are Hall of Famers and I’ll probably have to knock them off one by one in order to finish this off.

Mark’s batch didn’t have any Hall of Famers but did include a number of stars like George Foster, Vida Blue, and Dave Parker—all of whom are especially welcome in the binder. For a few years in there those guys were among the best in the game. Despite ultimately falling short, in some ways it’s those semi-stars who most define an age because their peaks were so brief.

For me, as alate-80s Giants fan, seeing cards of young Mike Krukow and Bill Fahey is especially enjoyable. I knew Krukow as the ace of the staff (though by the time I was a full-blown fan he never measured up to his 1986 season) and Fahey was one of the coaches. Seeing them as players in the 70s is both weird and wonderful.

The other card of note to me is that Bruce Kison card which looks like it was taken at Candlestick (it sure doesn’t look like Three Rivers to me) only the Pirates are wearing their white home jersey. The Giants weren’t wearing orange at home yet so I have no idea what’s going on in this photo. Did both teams just wear whites and have different colored pants?

Anyway Mark completed eight more pages and it’s just exciting to see the binder fill in that way. It’s one thing to cross stuff off a checklist, it’s quite another to actually slide the card into a pocket and provide that tactile sense of completion. I suspect that that’s the most enjoyable portion of building a set by hand.

Tucked in among the 1978 Topps cards was this surprise. It’s much much preferable to Mark’s previous surprise. While I have problems with Heritage and the way that Giants cards in particular tend to feature those awful black training jerseys, the 1965 design is one of my favorite Topps designs of all time and I really like that it doesn’t feature any of that “please sign here” screened-out image that Topps does with most of its signed cards now.

Joe Panik is also a welcome autograph for any Giants fan. He’s not blossomed into the star we hoped he could be and, as such, his signature is one of those cards that most people would be disappointed to have as their box hit. But I’ve enjoyed having him on the team—both as a player as one of their more personable characters in the advertisements and media outreach.

Very cool Mark. Thanks for pulling me back into the hobby and thanks for getting me so close to finishing my set that I can almost taste it.

Chain letter

A cautionary tale about what can happen if you start trading cards with unsavory characters you’ve met on the internet…

One week later…

Serves me right for making the suggestion. Although it is appropriate to send him to Princeton. I’ll have to find someone in Texas to mail this to next.

Oh, and Mark also sent me a bunch of 1979 Topps Giants cards. I didn’t photograph those since I suspect they were mainly an excuse to send me this ghastly piece of cardboard. But old Giants cards are always welcome!