The Nickname Collection

Ducky Medwick

Do you have a nickname? No, not the one relegated to private moments with your significant other. One that would be acceptable in a public setting. For me, it started in High School when friends got tired of people mispronouncing  my last name and shortened their greeting to “Drook”. Their logic was that even teenagers could figure out it rhymed with brook, crook or even schnook. To this day, the closest people in my life call me by that name and it has graced the personalized license plate on a parade of vehicles since 1972.


Once Rotisserie Baseball became part of the landscape in the mid-80’s, naming my first team “Donald’s Ducks” created nicknames galore. “The Duck” was obvious but being the Commissioner of the league also added “Bowie Duck” (after Bowie Kuhn) and “CFL Duck” (Commissioner For Life). Over the last 30 years, many other variations have appeared including one coined by my adopted Sister, who lovingly refers to me as “The Quacker”.


A few years ago, a wonderful Sports Illustrated column by Steve Rushin on the mystical qualities of baseball names (did you know there was a Phillies player in 1915 named Bud Weiser?) got the wheels turning regarding the legacy of great baseball nicknames. So, today’s exercise will be to update a column from 2013 that creates a baseball card collection of the players whose nicknames endure within our National Pastime. We’re not talking about the obvious ones like “The Splendid Splinter”, “The Yankee Clipper” or “Stan The Man”. No Hall-of-Famers here, just the ones embraced by real fans who read the backs of baseball cards and remember the aroma of bubble gum in the packs. We’ll stick with the post-World War II era, in order for the actual Rookie Cards to be accessible in the general marketplace.  As always, the value of the individual cards is based on “Near Mint” (NM) condition.


> Ron Cey, “The Penguin” – Not sure how much he enjoyed the moniker based on his awkward running style, but it fit perfectly. The back story is that Tommy Lasorda came up with the name when he was Cey’s Minor League Manager. His Rookie Card is from 1972 Topps (#761) and is worth about $15.


> Fred McGriff, “The Crime Dog” – This one is credited to Chris Berman and is based on McGruff, the cartoon Crime Dog. His 1986 Donruss card (#28) books for around $5.


> Mike Hargrove, “The Human Rain Delay” – You’d have time to get a hot dog from the concession stand before he got back in the batter’s box. His 1975 Topps issue (#106) is $2.


> Dennis Boyd, “Oil Can” – In his native Mississippi, beer was sometimes referred to as oil. $1 will get you his 1984 Donruss card (#457).


> Don Mossi, “Ears” – Jim Bouton said, “he looked like a cab going down the street with its doors open”. His 1955 Topps card (#85) will set you back $15.


> Jim Grant, “Mudcat” – Supposedly, his boyhood idol Larry Doby gave him the nickname when they were roommates on the Indians. The 1958 Topps Rookie Card (#394) books for $5.


> Mark Fidrych, “The Bird” – One of the great characters of the game, he talked to the baseball and looked like Big Bird from Sesame Street. His 1977 Topps card (#265) is $3.


> Jimmy Wynn, “The Toy Cannon” – A 5′ 10″ Centerfielder, he hit 291 career Home Runs. His 1964 Topps card (#38) is about $5.


> Steve Balboni, “Bye Bye” – At 6′ 3″ & 225 lbs. he hit 36 Home Runs for the Royals in 1985. Of course, he also led the AL with 166 Strikeouts. You’ll get change from your dollar when you purchase his 1982 Topps card (#83).


> Carl Pavano, “American Idle” – You get stuck with this type of derisive name when you sign a 4-year, $38 Million contract and only make nine starts. His 1996 Bowman card (#259) will cost you a buck.


> Vince Coleman, “Vincent Van Go” – For Fantasy players in the 80’s, his Stolen Base artistry dominated the category. $1 will buy his 1985 Topps Traded issue (#24T)


> Rusty Staub, “Le Grand Orange” – Getting traded to a city where they speak French created this memorable entry. His 1963 Topps card (#544) will cost at least $20 because it is from the scarce high-number series.


> Al Hrabowsky, “The Mad Hungarian” – His angry demeanor on the mound was meant to intimidate batters and the facial hair added to the image. His Rookie Card is from 1971 Topps (#594) and is valued at $4.


> Dick Stuart, “Dr. Strangeglove” – In 1963, this slugger hit 42 Home Runs and led the AL with 118 RBI’s as a member of the Red Sox. All that was forgotten when the movie “Dr. Strangelove” debuted in ’64 and people focused on his 29 errors at 1B. You can get his 1959 Topps card (#357) for around $4.


> Joe Medwick, “Ducky” – We’ll make an exception for this Hall-of-Famer who was the 1937 NL MVP. His 1935 Rookie Card from Batter Up (#145) will set you back $425. A very expensive Duck, indeed. Of course, “Goose” Goslin’s card was also in this set and costs $100 less.


> For a more affordable fowl, there’s the 1954 Topps card (#191) of Dick “Ducky” Schofield which can be had for $45.


We’ve only touched the surface of this endless topic. Do you have a favorite nickname that wasn’t on this initial list? Send it along and we’ll visit the subject again.


Free Agent Fantasy

Martinez Heritage

Millions of people play Fantasy Baseball and the spectrum is very wide. A large percentage just play in on-line leagues (ESPN, Yahoo, etc.) where the challenge is minimal and they’re only in it for the current season. The real players, however, know that a keeper league is more like owning a baseball team because this year’s decisions can impact next year’s success.


As the calendar gets close to Memorial Day, Fantasy players begin to think about their realistic chance to contend and if a trade will help their cause. For old school leagues, many factors come into play like the salary and position eligibility of available players. If you play in a format that is AL or NL only, an even more important consideration could be the real-world contract status of a player. Over the 30+ years the Old Duck has played in these leagues, it’s been very surprising to see deals made that don’t seem to include this analysis. If a player you’re trading for is going to be a free agent in 2018, there’s a reasonable chance he might not be on your roster next year. More importantly, if he gets traded to the “other” league in July, you’ve lost half o the value you traded for in late-May. This even impacts mixed leagues (AL & NL) because the player’s role may change. Jeremy Jeffress had 27 Saves in four months for the Brewers last season and had Zero Saves for the Rangers in August & September.


As you scan your league’s rosters for possible acquisitions, make sure these players (all free agents after 2017) are really what you need to win…


> C Jonathan Lucroy – after hitting 24 HR’s in 2016, he has only 3 so far in 2017…maybe he’s feeling the pressure of free agency?


> 1B Yonder Alonso – can he sustain this season’s incredible start and where will he be next year?


> 1B Eric Hosmer – one of four Royal regulars in their walk year…which ones stay and which ones leave?


> 1B Logan Morrison – will the Rays try to turn his hot start into a prospect in July?


> 3B / OF Eduardo Nunez – if the Giants aren’t in the race, look for him to head for a contender in the next 60 days


> SS Zack Cozart – another 30-something veteran playing over his baseline


> 3B Todd Frazier – right now, he’s below the Mendoza line but if he heats up, he’s gone


> OF J.D. Martinez – back from the DL and hitting…watch where the Tigers are in the standings


> OF Lorenzo Cain – good all-around player could help numerous contenders


> OF Jay Bruce – if the Mets continue to struggle, he’s a trade chip


> SP Yu Darvish – the Rangers could trade him and sign him back for 2018…remember Aroldis Chapman?


> SP Marco Estrada – the Blue Jays might be out of the race by July


> RP Brandon Kintzler – closing now, but he could be a set-up guy elsewhere


> RP Tony Watson – you’ve heard this somewhere before but he could be a set-up guy elsewhere


Numerous other everyday players fall into this category including Alex Avila, Lucas Duda, Mike Napoli, Mark Reynolds, Carlos Santana, Brandon Phillips, Neil Walker, Erick Aybar, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Trevor Plouffe, Danny Valencia, Melky Cabrera, Rajah Davis, Jarrod Dyson, Carlos Gonzalez, Alex Cobb, Jaime Garcia, Jeremy Hellickson and more.


Of course, there are all also dozens of others who have opt-out clauses, so just make sure real-world contract status is part of your toolbox.



Top Ten Baseball Cards Of The 80’s

'80 Henderson PSA 80001

The baseball card industry had a sea change in the 1980’s as the Topps Company no longer had exclusivity with regard to MLB licensing. Fleer & Donruss entered the market in ’81, followed later in the decade by Score, Upper Deck, Bowman & others. This led to a glut of cards on the market and multiple versions of the best players. Rookie cards dominated the demand by collectors and each of this writer’s extended top ten falls into the RC category. Included in the description of each card is the current price of that collectible in Near Mint + condition.


#1) 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson (#482, $60) – The final year of the Topps monopoly and the rookie card of the game’s greatest lead-off man…many of these cards are off-center, as quality control was inconsistent.


#2) 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. (#1, $30) – A new card company with the first of the upscale cards made the historic decision of having “Junior” be the first card in the set and he became one of the best all-round players in history…you will also find his rookie card in four other ’89 brands, but this is the one to have.


#3) 1982 Topps Traded Cal Ripken Jr. (#T98, $80) – Even though the “Iron Man” was in three regular sets in ’82, this is the card that is most valuable due to picture quality & scarcity….his regular issue Topps card from ’82 (#21, $20) has him sharing the front with two other players.


#4) 1984 Donruss Don Mattingly (#248, $20) – Of the three Mattingly rookie cards, this one of “Donnie Baseball” is visually better and slightly scarce compared to the others.


#5) 1983 Topps Tony Gwynn (#482, $15) – “Mr. Padre” and eight-time batting champion on the great format of this issue…each card front features a large action shot with a small cameo portrait at the bottom right.


#6 A&B) 1984 Fleer Update Roger Clemens (#U27, $75) & Kirby Puckett (#U93, $75) – This was the first time a competing company had taken the Topps idea of issuing a supplemental set a the end of the season…Fleer tested the market with a limited production run and caught lighting in a bottle with the first cards of two legendary players…all their other rookie cards are from 1985. Dwight Gooden’s rookie card from this set (#U43, $35) is also gaining traction due to scarcity.


#7) 1985 Topps Mark McGwire (#401, $10) – Even though “Big Mac” wasn’t really a rookie until 1987, this set included the 1984 USA Olympic Baseball Team, so it is McGwire’s first standard issue card…other members of the team who eventually made the “show” included Shane Mack, Oddibe McDowell, Cory Snyder and Billy Swift. In the late 90’s, this was the hottest card in the hobby.


#8) 1981 Topps Traded Tim Raines (#816, $20) – After finally making the Hall of Fame, the cardboard value of the 2nd best lead-off hitter in history is starting to climb.


#9) 1987 Donruss Greg Maddux (#36, $4) – The beautiful black-bordered rookie card of the legendary Pitcher and 300-game winner. Over-production, not lack of popularity, impacts the value.


#10 A&B) 1983 Topps Wade Boggs (#498, $12) & Ryne Sandberg (#83, $12) – These two great Hall-of-Fame infielders joined Gwynn in this historic set.


Some additional rookie cards that didn’t quite make the cut include the ’81 Topps card with both Fernando Valenzuela & Mike Scioscia, the Kirk Gibson card from the same set, Darryl Strawberry from ’83 Topps Traded, Barry Larkin from ’87 Fleer and Randy Johnson out of the ’89 Upper Deck set.


Hope your favorite was included…thanks for reading.

71 Reasons I Love Baseball


Without trying to sound snobbish or elitist, I always find myself feeling sorry for those who don’t love baseball. Clearly, much of what we love is guided by family and background, but baseball is so engrained in the fabric of America, it is always surprising to meet people who find the game boring or slow. They obviously have never had the opportunity to learn the nuances of the game and can’t  treasure the small moments. For example, even though it includes eight (or more) other players, the battle between pitcher and batter just might be the most direct confrontation in all of team sports…and it happens a couple of hundred times in every game!


A while back, I wrote an Internet column with 70 reasons why I love baseball. It was tied somewhat to my 70th birthday, so now that I’m 71, we’ll add one more and put it at the beginning of the list.


So, as an homage to the game, here are some of my personal reasons why it has meant so much to me over the years.


71) Doing what we’re doing today (talking baseball with real fans) never gets old. We can reminisce about our childhood, debate the Hall of Fame, argue about the DH and laugh all the way through. In the movie “City Slickers”, Billy Crystal and the guys are sitting around the campfire when the one girl in the group says, “No, I like baseball. I just never understood how you guys can spend so much time discussing it. I mean I think the game is great but I don’t memorize who played 3B for Pittsburgh in 1960”.  At that point, all the guys simultaneously yelled “Don Hoak”.


1) I can still remember going to the park on Sunday morning to (with apologies to Kevin Costner) “play catch” with my Dad.


2) Even though I’ve never been to the “Louvre”, it’s difficult to imagine any piece of art more beautiful than Ted Williams’ swing.


3) Booing the Yankees is something you can do at any age.


4) My brain still has a clear snapshot of that grand-slam home run I hit in Little League…to the opposite field!


5) Before the days of MLB Network, ESPN and instant replay, Jimmy Piersall was making spectacular catches in the outfield every night…and he didn’t have to make an unnecessary dive to get himself on a highlight reel.


6) Even as a kid, I realized that Mickey Mantle’s skills were different than those of other players.


7) 60+ years ago, I watched on TV as Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in the World Series…it hasn’t happened again since.


8) Instead of doing homework, I was reading every available baseball book or magazine to learn the history of the game…Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb and so many others comprised my history lessons.


9) It was a privilege listening to Vin Scully for over 60 years.


10) The aroma of the bubble gum in a nickel pack of Topps baseball cards should be bottled as a women’s cologne…men could never resist.


11) Talking baseball with the fan next to you in the stands has nothing to do with race, religion, politics, age or sexual identity.


12) How can you not love names like Monbouquette, Throneberry, Pagliaroni, Berberet, Pumpsie & Pinky?


13) You’ll always be that 9 year-old boy who cried when Harry Agganis died at age 26.


14) There’s no such thing as a bad seat at the ballpark…only better or worse.


15) A fan will gladly ruin a $50 pair of pants to catch a $12 baseball…and then give it to a kid!


16) Getting your first autograph from a major league player is a moment you’ll never forget.


17) In your mind’s eye, you can still see that catch Willie Mays made in the 1954 World Series.


18) You know the link between Yogi Berra, Sandy Amoros & Johnny Podres.


19) You can almost imagine the trepidation of a right-handed hitter digging in against Don Drysdale or Bob Gibson.


20) On a beautiful Summer evening at the old Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, I got to see “Big Klu” in his final season and “Yaz” in his rookie year.


21) The Pitcher can’t “take a knee” with two outs in the 9th inning so the clock can run out. In other words, “the game ain’t over ’til it’s over”.


22) As you’re scanning through the channels and “Bull Durham” appears, you’ll stop and watch to verify that candlesticks are always a nice gift.


23) You realize that Jackie Robinson was so much more than just a ballplayer.


24) Occasionally, you actually understood what Casey Stengel was saying.


25) Even Red Sox fans get teary-eyed watching Gary Cooper making that speech in “Pride of the Yankees”.


26) You celebrate Bobby Thomson but also feel empathy for Ralph Branca.


27) You’re fairly sure that the subway grate scene in “The Seven Year Itch” was the beginning of the end for Marilyn Monroe & Joe DiMaggio.


28) The sadness of hearing names like Fred Merkle, Mickey Owen, Bill Buckner & Steve Bartman is still part of the game.


29) You still laugh every time Bob Uecker explains that the proper way to catch a knuckleball is to “wait for it to stop rolling and then pick it up”.


30) You know that Mordecai Brown only had three fingers, while Antonio Alfonseca had six.


31) You consider Fenway Park & Wrigley Field to be national shrines.


32) You are aware of the fact that Joe Jackson was shoeless and Jay Dean was dizzy.


33) It is no secret to you that Lou Boudreau invented defensive shifting over 65 years ago.


34) You know who “Scooter” was and that he said “Holy Cow” when Roger Maris hit home run #61.


35) The class and style of Sandy Koufax has never been duplicated.


36) The nickname “Charlie Hustle” was perfect for Pete Rose.


37) Hearing the crowd encouraging Maury Wills to steal 2B was like feeling electricity in the ballpark.


38) Meeting a Hall of Fame player is exciting, but when you reach the front of an autograph line and Warren Spahn looks at you and says, “Would you mind if I went to take a leak”, it’s a priceless baseball moment.


39) Going to a collectibles convention and finding out that Ernie Banks is the nicest athlete you’ve ever met, confirms your faith in mankind.


40) Eddie Gaedel wore the uniform number 1/8.


41) You got to attend a game at Camden Yards when Cal Ripken Jr. hit a home run.


42) Harmon Killebrew was a “bonus baby” and you know what that means.


43) You clearly understand the stupidity of any baserunner who tried to go from 1B to 3B when Roberto Clemente was playing RF.


44) Satchel Paige pitched three scoreless innings for the A’s in his final appearance at the age of 59.


45) Carlton Fisk’s home run in the 1975 World Series is a landmark in the televising of baseball and changed our expectation of what we should see when watching a game.


46) Bucky Dent has a middle name and it starts with the letter “F”.


47) Mark “The Bird” Fidrych had the cleanest pitching rubber in the history of the game.


48) Rich was a “Goose”, Ron was a “Penguin”, Jim was a “Catfish”, Bill was a “Mad Dog” and Orel was a “Bulldog”.


49) The unique experience called “Fernandomania” was impossible to explain to anyone who wasn’t there at the time.


50) You remember where you were when Kirk Gibson hit that home run off Dennis Eckersley.


51) You went to the ballpark knowing that George Brett had 2,996 hits and then he went 4-for-4.


52) Sitting behind home plate in March watching the veterans shape up and the youngsters trying to impress, makes an adult feel like a kid again.


53) If you build it, they will come.


54) No matter how good the reviews, you will never go see the Broadway show “No, No Nanette”.


55) Only one major league player (Fernando Tatis) has ever hit two grand-slam home runs in the same inning and he did it against a pitcher (Chan Ho Park) who was on your Fantasy team.


56) You always loved hearing Harry Carey trying to pronounce “Grudzielanek”.


57) You secretly hoped that Bo Jackson would strike out at least once just so he could break the bat across his leg.


58) “The Bender”, “The Hook”, “Uncle Charlie”, “The Yellow Hammer”, “The Yakker” & “The Deuce” all mean the same thing….baseball has a language of its own.


59) A Hall of Fame player can be 5′ 8″ or 6′ 5″.


60) Wearing the same protective cup for your entire career is an accepted practice…so is wearing mismatched socks, eating chicken before every game, covering your batting helmet with tar, jumping over the foul-line and breaking a slump by dating ugly women.


61) You can be “Old School” and still belong to SABR.


62) Each day you go to the ballpark, there’s a chance to witness sports history.


63) We live and die with our team every day…and tomorrow is a new day with another chance. “We won a game yesterday. If we win one today, that’ll be two in a row. Then, when we win tomorrow, it’ll be a winning streak”. Isn’t that what life is all about?


64) James Earl Jones’ character in “Field of Dreams” told us that “the one constant through the years has been baseball” and he was correct. When you meet someone born in the 60’s and he or she knows why the numbers 56 & .406 relate to 1941, you begin to understand the impact of the game’s history.


65) A game where the score is 1-0 can be as exciting as a game where the score is 10-9.


66) Baseball for real fans in about anticipation…how about a 3-2 pitch with two outs and the bases loaded? Or a runner on first trying to steal 2B in a tie game? Or an outfielder gliding back toward the fence for a long drive off the bat?


67)  As Humphrey Bogart once said, “A hot dog at the game beats roast beef at the Ritz”.


68) The game is all about family…just look around the ballpark.


69) Looking through a set of baseball cards from the 1950’s gives you a wonderful history lesson that tells you the identities of Dusty, Duke, Red, Minnie, Puddin’ Head, Spook, Smoky, Suitcase, Pee Wee, Junior & Rube.


70) When I got divorced, I really missed my Springer Spaniels…but I still had baseball.


Everyone reading this probably has dozens more of their own…thanks for sticking with me until the end.




Single Digit Uniformity

Mantle Bowman RC PSA

As kids, we all had a favorite baseball player and even though we may not have known everything about him, we certainly had a firm grasp on his uniform number. In the 50’s, if Ted Kluszewski was your guy, you knew that his sleeveless Cincinnati Reds Jersey had #18 on the back. If Pete Rose was your idol in the 60’s & 70’s, it was a pretty good bet that #14 was on the back of your Little League jersey. Thanks to MLB, we all know that Jackie Robinson wore #42, while the younger fans might covet Mike Trout’s #27 or Bryce Harper’s #34.


Uniform numbers weren’t really utilized in Major League Baseball until the 1929 season. The Indians & Yankees were the first two teams to make the decision and other teams eventually came around to the idea during the 1930’s with the Philadelphia Athletics being the last hold-out until 1937. The idea was so much of an afterthought, the numbers were originally assigned by the batting order (1-8) of the teams. #9 would be given to the back-up Catcher and the starting pitchers wore numbers 10-14, not including the bad luck #13.


Today, we’ll look at the best players who wore a single digit number on the back of their uniform and what it might take to collect all of their rookie (or early) baseball cards. As always, the values are based on a card in “Near Mint” (NM 7) condition.


> #0 Al Oliver – It is a slight stretch to include this one on our list because the player was really wearing the letter “O” on his back rather than a zero. An outstanding hitter in his day, Oliver wore the number from 1978 until his retirement after the 1985 season. In 18 seasons, he hit .303 and accumulated over 2,700 hits. He shares his rookie card with Richie Hebner in the 1969 Topps set and you can find it for about $10.


> #1 Ozzie Smith – This Hall-of-Fame Shortstop known as “The Wizard” wore the number for his entire 19-year career…first with the Padres and then with the Cardinals. His rookie card from the 1979 Topps set is difficult to find in nice condition due to quality-control issues and will set you back at least $75.


> #2 Derek Jeter – The first Yankee to wear this number (in 1929) was Outfielder Mark Koenig. Jeter’s 3,000+ hits and multiple World Series rings makes him a first ballot Hall-of-Famer when he becomes eligible. A number of his rookie cards from 1993 can be had in the $10-$20 range but the more scarce one from the SP set is valued at almost $200.


> #3 Babe Ruth – “The Bambino”, “The Sultan of Swat” and the most legendary player of all time. His career statistics, as a Pitcher and a Hitter, are mind-boggling. His actual rookie card from the 1916 Sporting News set would cost you the price of a decent house,  but a more mainstream one from the 1933 Goudey set is only worth $25,000.


> #4 Lou Gehrig – “The Iron Horse” hit behind the Babe in the Yankee line-up and will forever be remembered for his consecutive game streak and the tragic illness that took him much too early in life. If you’ve never seen “Pride of the Yankees” (1942) starring Gary Cooper, you can’t really call yourself a true baseball fan.  There are some obscure Gehrig cards from the 1920’s but the 1932 U.S. Caramel version can be had for around $6,000.


> #5 Joe DiMaggio – “Joltin Joe”, “The Yankee Clipper” and a hero to Simon & Garfunkel, this CF will always be legendary due to his 56-game hitting streak, three MVP awards, 10 World Series appearances and marriage to Marilyn Monroe. He only played 13 seasons due to three years serving in the military during World War II, but his .977 lifetime OPS tells the story. The 1938 Goudey set has two Joe D. cards and they’re worth about $5,000 each.


> #6 Stan Musial – Arguably, the most under-appreciated player ever, “Stan The Man” wore this number for his entire 22-year career with the Cardinals. A lifetime batting average of .331 and over 3,600 hits gives some perspective on his career. His rookie card is in the 1948 Bowman set and books for $1,500.


> #7 Mickey Mantle – “The Mick” actually wore #6 in his 1951 rookie season, but became synonymous with #7 in baseball lore. One of the great natural talents to ever play the game, his three MVP awards in the 50’s & 60’s only touch the surface of his impact on the game. His rookie card from 1951 Bowman is valued at over $30,000 but the second-year card from the iconic 1952 Topps set can be yours if you’re willing sell your house for $170,000.


> #8 Cal Ripken Jr. – “The Iron Man” wore this number for 21 seasons with the Orioles and his 2,632 consecutive game streak eclipsed Gehrig’s record. Rookie of the Year in 1982, two MVP’s and 19 straight All-Star games prove his consistency. His 1982 Topps Traded rookie card is about $60.


> #9 Ted Williams – “The Kid’, “Teddy Ballgame” and “The Splendid Splinter”, he was the greatest hitter of all time. Missed five full seasons in his prime due to military service and still hit 521 Home Runs. The last player to hit .400, his lifetime OPS of 1.116 is 2nd only to Ruth. His rookie card from the 1939 Play Ball set is valued at around $5,000.


There are certainly valid arguments on some of these numbers. Harmon Killebrew is a great runner-up on #3, as is Duke Snider at #4. Some may feel that Al Kaline gives Musial a run for his money at #6 and Carl Yastrzemski, Yogi Berra & Joe Morgan all wore #8.


Down the road, we’ll look at more uniform numbers and the stars who made them famous.

60 Year-Old Tobacco

Red Man Duo

Over the years, many individuals have questioned my unbridled enthusiasm for all things baseball…live games, televised games, movies, cards & collectibles, statistical analysis and, of course, Fantasy Baseball. I’ve always been understanding of their skepticism because, after all, it takes a certain level of intelligence to really appreciate the game. The strange part is that most of these people probably have a love of something in their life that doesn’t really relate to their day-to-day existence. It might be stamps, comic books, salt & pepper shakers, art objects, model trains, holiday ornaments (remember Clark Griswold), coins or one of a myriad of other things.


Someone much smarter than me once said, “Life is more worthwhile when you can be passionate about something trivial”. I firmly believe that to be true and my relationship with baseball has brought countless wonderful memories, but it has also helped me through some very difficult times. Recall what James Earl Jones’ character said in Field Of Dreams, “The one constant throughout the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s part of our past. It reminds us of all that was once good and could be again”.


So, today’s visit is for all of you who know the “secret handshake” or the “password” and understand how we feel about baseball. One of the really remarkable things about buying and selling baseball card collections isn’t the profit (it’s more of a hobby than a business), it’s watching history go through your hands. In the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of helping clients with a collection of 100 year-old cards that included the likes of Walter Johnson & Christy Mathewson. Just last year, I assisted a friend with his collection that had a Jackie Robinson Rookie Card from 1948. You can’t imagine the feeling of having such history in your hands. Imagine a Civil War buff getting the opportunity to hold a copy of the Gettysburg address.


This wonderful experience has unfolded once again over the last few days as I reviewed a valuable sports card collection that my partner and I purchased. The cornerstones of the group are some mid-50’s classics including Hank Aaron’s Rookie Card from ’54 Topps, a ’53 Topps Willie Mays and a ’55 Topps Jackie Robinson.


While all those cards are great, the most fun was looking through over 50 cards from an obscure manufacturer. Starting in 1952, the Red Man Tobacco Company produced the first national set of tobacco cards since the early 20th century. They picked 25 players and one Manager from each league to fill their 52 card set and continued with the endeavor through 1955. The cards were larger than standard cards (3 1/2″ x 4″) and were sealed in plastic before being attached to the outside pouches of the tobacco product. They had a colorful and artistic likeness of the player on the front and company advertising on the back. The cards also had a 1/2″ perforated tab on the bottom of the card that could torn off and sent in for premiums such as a “Big League Style Baseball Cap”. To have full value in today’s market, the tabs need to still be attached to the cards. All four years were nearly identical in design but the player mix varied from season-to-season. While these 60+ year-old cards don’t have the same cache (or value) as the Topps issues of the era, they are certainly scarce and incredibly beautiful.


All the ones from this particular collection are from ’54 & ’55, so let’s see who I found and what their cards might be worth assuming Near-Mint (NM 7) condition.


1954 Red Man Tobacco


> #1 Richie Ashburn, OF Phillies (HOF), $100


> #6 Ted Kluszewski, 1B Redlegs, $100


> #11 Warren Spahn, P Braves (HOF), $125


> #13 Roy Campanella, C Dodgers (HOF), $220


> #16 Edwin “Duke” Snider, OF Dodgers (HOF), $220


> #17 Phil Rizzuto, SS Yankees (HOF), $135


> #18 Robin Roberts, P Phillies (HOF), $100


> #20 Larry “Yogi” Berra, C Yankees (HOF), $185


> #22 Gil Hodges, 1B Dodgers, $90


> #23 Eddie Mathews, 3B Braves (HOF), $125


> #25 Willie Mays, OF Giants (HOF), $450



1955 Red Man Tobacco


> #1 Ashburn (same portrait, different background color), $100


> #3 Ed “Whitey” Ford, P Yankees (HOF), $125


> #4 Nelson Fox, 2B White Sox (HOF), $100


> #7 Mays (same portrait, different background color), $375


> #12 Hoyt Wilhelm, P Giants (HOF), $90


> #18 Larry Doby, OF Indians (HOF), $90


> #19 Snider (same portrait & color), $175


Of course, we won’t know the real value until after the cards are graded but just seeing this cardboard up close and personal is priceless. Hope your hobby is just as much fun.


The Heritage Of Topps

'68 Heritage

Everyone you know probably considers themselves an expert at something, but Fantasy Baseball players are at the top of the food chain. Even though we play the game for money and bragging rights, the real truth is that we actually think we’re smarter than MLB GM’s & Managers. After all, would Jared Weaver be in your rotation? Or would Fernando Rodney be your Closer? Or would you take on $10.5 Million in salary to have Matt Wieters replace Derek Norris? Or would you pay Billy Butler $11 Million to spend the season at home watching Golden Corral commercials? Or would you give a two-year contract to a Catcher who might not be able to crouch until the All-Star break? Or did you really think that Franklin Gutierrez could get through April before going on the DL? The Old Duck participates in a 15-team Fantasy Baseball “experts” league where it is abundantly clear that each owner considers himself to be smarter than the other 14, but none of them would make those moves. It isn’t arrogance, only knowledge gained from experience.


Avid baseball card collectors are no different in their approach to the hobby. After watching card manufacturers flail away at each other in the 80’s and overproduce products in the 90’s to the detriment of the industry, it’s easy to criticize almost any product offering. Card enthusiasts are quick to complain about too few autograph cards, but also aren’t happy when the autographs are on stickers applied to the cards because they want the authenticity of “on-card” signatures. They also don’t like redemption cards (when players have not yet had the opportunity to sign), but also whine when the better players aren’t included in a product. It is the nature of the consumer to always want more for less and consider themselves smarter than the folks in charge.


In an attempt to remove myself from this category (even temporarily), I’m willing to admit that the people at The Topps Company are brilliant!


In 2001, Topps was celebrating the 50th anniversary of their entry into the baseball card business. They utilized the framework of their historical 1952 set to develop a new product. Topps Heritage came into the marketplace with current players pictured on cards that had the format of the iconic 1952 set. The detail of the set and the photography took collectors back to the time when packs were a nickel and included a stick of gum. The set was designed for card enthusiasts to build it completely by opening packs and sorting through the cards. It even had some of the quirks of the original like short-printed cards, checklist cards and even bubble gum…even though the gum was enclosed in a plastic wrapper. To all of this, Topps also added some autograph & relic cards to make the set even more attractive. The real draw, however, was the 1952 look and the opportunity for kids of the 50’s to build a new set of cards for the 2000’s.


Topps Heritage has been a consistent top-selling product at a mid-range price (around $3+ per pack) ever since. Each year, the cards mirror the old design of the appropriate Topps set with new players and this year’s release (which just hit stores last month), uses the 1968 card as its platform. If you collected cards in the 50’s & 60’s, this is the product for you.


In the last few years, Topps has added a few more twists with short printed cards that have variations of throwback uniforms or an action image. They even tugged at old-timers’ heartstrings by randomly adding a section of white on some of the card backs emulating how they would have looked had a dusty piece of gum been sitting against the card…very cool!


The Old Duck purchases a few boxes each year and builds the set from scratch. Of course, you never really know what might appear inside the packs and the first couple of boxes yielded two Clayton Kershaw variations, game-used memorabilia cards of Evan Longoria & Bryce Harper, as well as an actual 1968 Topps card of Angels Catcher Hawk Taylor (#52).  Hawk played parts of 11 seasons in the big leagues with a lifetime BA of .218…sounds like a perfect fit for my Fantasy Baseball roster.


In honor of this year’s release, let’s look back at that beautiful 1968 set of 598 cards, which includes over 25 Hall of Famers. The card values are based on “Near Mint” (NM 7) condition.


> #45 Tom Seaver, $55 – This was the second year card of “Tom Terrific”…his rookie card from ’67 is worth $900.


> #50 Willie Mays, $80 – The “Say Hey Kid” was still a productive player in his mid-30’s…he won the Gold Glove in both ’67 & ’68.


> #80 Rod Carew, $55 – Was AL Rookie of the Year in ’67 on his way to over 3,000 hits.


> #110 Hank Aaron, $70 – Still in his prime at age 33, he led the NL with 39 HR’s in ’67.


> #150 Roberto Clemente, $80 – The previous season, he led the NL in BA (.357) & Hits (209) while winning the Gold Glove.


> #177 Nolan Ryan, $1,200 – No, that’s not a typo. This is the “Rookie Card” of the still popular power pitcher. He even had to share the card with teammate Jerry Koosman, but collectors don’t seem to care.


> #230 Pete Rose, $70 – ’68 would turn out to be a great year for “Charlie Hustle”…led the NL in BA (.335) & OBP (.391) while finishing 2nd in the MVP balloting.


> #247 Johnny Bench, $185 – The other key rookie card in the set, the player sharing the card was Ron Tompkins.


> #280 Mickey Mantle, $230 – ’68 was the last season for “The Mick” as age and injuries had taken their toll. His .237 BA for the season dropped his lifetime average below .300 and he admitted in later years that he was always bothered by that stat. Here’s the quote…”But god-damn, to think you’re a .300 hitter and end up at .237 in your last season, then find yourself looking at a lifetime .298 average – it made me want to cry”.


> #490 Super Stars, $130 – Topps scattered multiple player cards throughout the set and this one featured Mantle, Mays & Harmon Killebrew.


The “Heritage” will continue next year with memories of the ’69 set…