Boomer’s All-Stars

Frowirth

Back in the 80’s & 90’s, when ESPN was still watchable, Chris Berman made baseball fans laugh with his sports nicknames. At one point, “Boomer” (Berman’s nickname) was told by one of the network’s producers that he wouldn’t be allowed to use the nicknames the following season. While attending the World Series, Berman mentioned the new policy to a few writers and ballplayers. ESPN was then deluged with negative comments from MLB insiders with Hall of Famer George Brett leading the protest. The policy was rescinded very quickly…no one knows what happened to that producer.

 

To pass some time during the Hot Stove season, let’s look back on some of the best from Boomer and include a tidbit or two on the player.

 

> Eddie, Eat, Drink and Be Murray – The Hall of Fame 1B had his rookie card in the 1978 Topps set.

 

> Scott Supercalifragilisticexpiala Brosius – Was the 1998 World Series MVP with the Yankees.

 

> Carlos One if by Land, Two if Baerga – Made four All-Star teams with the Indians.

 

> Bernard Innocent Until Proven Gilkey – His 1996 season with the Mets produced 30 HR’s, a .955 OPS and a 8.1 WAR.

 

> Steve Poison Avery – Was 18-6 with the Braves in 1993 and made the All-Star team.

 

> Miguel Tejada They Come, Tejada They Fall – Won the AL MVP with the A’s in 2002.

 

> Carlos Daylight Come and Delgado Go Home – Long before the NFL issue, he protested the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan by not standing for “God Bless America”.

 

> Jay Ferris Buhner – Hit 40 or more HR’s in three consecutive seasons with the Mariners.

 

> Harold Growing Baines – Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019.

 

> David Supreme Court Justice – Forget the 300+ HR’s, he was once married to Halle Berry.

 

> Bert Be Home Blyleven – Hall of Fame Pitcher with 287 Wins.

 

> Jermaine Live And Let Dye – 2005 World Series MVP with the White Sox.

 

> Dave No Man is an Eiland – Has been a major league pitching coach for the Yankees, Royals & Mets.

 

> Albert Winnie the Pujols – 656 HR’s and counting.

 

> Sammy Say it Ain’t Sosa – If you saw him now, you’d understand how ironic this is.

 

> Todd Which Hand Does He Frohwirth – My personal favorite.

 

> LaMarr Where Does it Hoyt – Won a Cy Young Award but also got arrested for trying to bring drugs across the border from Mexico.

 

> Tom Cotton Candiotti – A knuckleballer, he played Hoyt Wilhelm in the movie “61”.

 

> Bobby Bad To the Bonilla – The most overpaid player in history, he still gets $1 Million from the Mets every Summer.

 

> Ozzie Like A Virgil – His dad was a major league player before Madonna was born.

 

> John I Am Not a Kruk – Had a testicle removed during the off-season and came to Spring Training wearing a T-shirt that said, “If they don’t let me play, I’ll take my ball and go home”.

 

> Brook Jacoby Wan Kenobi – His 32 HR’s in 1987 helped me win my first Fantasy Baseball championship.

 

> Jim Home Sweet Thome – The 612 HR’s punched his ticket to Cooperstown.

 

> Hideo Ain’t Gonna Work On Maggie’s Farm Nomo – Pitched the only no-hitter at Coors Field in Denver.

 

> Damion It Don’t Come Easley – Batted .253 in 17 seasons and made $25 Million.

 

> Nomar Mr. Nice Guy Garciaparra – His name comes from his Father Ramon…Nomar is “Ramon” spelled backwards.

 

> Bruce Eggs Benedict – There’s never been a player named Hollandaise.

 

> Moises Skip To My Alou – Also applies to Felipe, Jesus  & Matty.

 

> Rick See You Later Aguilera – 318 lifetime Saves.

 

> Jeff Brown Paper Bagwell – His actual nickname was “BagPipes”.

 

> Oddibe Young Again McDowell – Debuted in 1985 at age 22…he’s now 57.

 

> Al Cigarette Leiter – Pitched in the “Show” for 19 years.

 

> Roberto Remember the Alomar – 10 Gold Gloves and a plaque in Cooperstown.

 

> Mike Enough Aldrete – Drafted by the Giants out of Stanford University.

 

> Jim Hey Abbott – Who’s on first?

 

> Kevin Small Mouth Bass – 14 seasons in the majors, 10 with the Astros.

 

> Hubie Babbling Brooks – Won the Silver Slugger Award in 1985 & 1986 as the best hitting SS.

 

> John Charcoal Burkett – Won 166 Games and was also a professional bowler.

 

> Donald Duck Drooker – Your humble scribe.

ERA vs. ERC

'17 Wheeler

For as long as kids have looked at the back of baseball cards, they’ve had a general understanding of ERA (Earned Run Average). If you look up the definition, the general consensus is “A measure of a pitcher’s performance by dividing the total earned runs allowed by the total of innings pitched and multiplying by nine”. My baseball education taught that it was earned runs multiplied by nine, divided by innings pitched but the numbers come out the same. The premise of the statistic was to not burden a pitcher with runs that had been enabled by errors or passed balls. In other words, eliminating from the calculation events that were out of his control.

 

If you’ve watched enough baseball to give the definition a personal “eye test”, you already know that numerous runs score in a game that don’t necessarily fit the criteria. If a pitcher leaves the game with the bases loaded (through hits & walks) and the relief pitcher gives up a triple, the original hurler just gave up three earned runs while he was sitting in the dugout. If there are runners on 2B & 3B with two outs and a weak groundball trickles under the glove of the shortstop into left field, two earned runs score whether the fielder in question was Pee Wee Reese or Pokey Reese. Outcomes like these are what motivate the development of advanced baseball statistics. One we’ve visited previously is DIPS (Defensive Independent ERA) and now there’s another stat for the research toolbox.

 

In an additional attempt to move beyond ERA, we now have a stat called ERC (Component ERA). The essential theory is that pitchers can only really control how they pitch, but not necessarily the outcomes. ERC estimates what a pitcher’s ERA should have been based on raw statistics. As a result, it might be able to tell us if pitchers were lucky or unlucky in a given season. You can find the ERC formula in the Bill James Handbook 2020 and the stats are also available at espn.com.

 

The question for those of us playing Fantasy Baseball is if the ERC numbers can assist in determining the value and predictability of pitchers. Many a team has been torpedoed by a couple of starting pitchers that didn’t perform to expectations and we’re always looking for an edge. As a 25+ year fantasy veteran has said many times, “I hate pitchers”. Just taking a superficial look at ERC results for 2019 reveals the following tidbits.

 

> For the season, eight major league starting pitchers had an ERA under 3.00, but amazingly, six of them actually pitched better than their base number led by Justin Verlander (2.58 ERA & 1.80 ERC). He was followed by Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer, Sonny Gray & Jacob deGrom.  Hyun-Jin Ryu and Mike Soroka were the exceptions but even their ERC was less than 10% higher. These guys are solid contributors.

 

> The next dozen ERA leaders (under 3.60) show some interesting contrasts. #16 Dakota Hudson had the biggest negative gap (3.35 ERA / 4.40 ERC) followed by #11 Marcus Stroman (3.22 ERA / 3.74 ERA). The three hurlers whose stats should have been better are Stephen Strasburg (3.32 ERA / 2.64 ERC), Lucas Giolito (3.41 ERA / 2.76 ERC) and Walker Buehler (3.26 ERA / 2.66 ERC).

 

> Looking at the off-season free agent class, these analytic numbers must be important to GM’s. Zack Wheeler’s new contract is impressive but so is the breakdown of his 2019 performance…3.96 ERA, 3.60 ERC & 3.35 DIPS. Not so sure about the $18 Million Cole Hamels deal (3.81 ERA / 4.35 ERC). Madison Bumgarner may sign soon and his numbers should create optimism (3.90 ERA / 3.40 ERC). How would you feel about Dallas Keuchel (3.75 ERA / 4.62 ERC), Julio Teheran (3.81 ERA / 4.02 ERC) or Wade Miley (3.98 ERA / 4.19 ERC)?

 

 

> Expanding the category of  possible sleepers finds Yu Darvish (3.98 ERA / 3.36 ERC) and Joey Lucchesi (4.18 ERA / 3.48 ERC).

 

You’ll notice that Win-Loss records aren’t part of this analysis. Fantasy players have long understood the cruel category of “Wins” but the real game has begun to catch up. With starting pitchers going less innings and teams spending $8 Million on middle relievers, the concept of a 20-game winner is a thing of the past. In 2019, Verlander & Cole were the only ones to achieve that milestone. MLB teams are no longer concerned with starters going deep into games because they’ve got lock-down guys in the bullpen. What they want is quality innings.

 

As always, Fantasy success comes from balance, both on your team and in your scouting, so maybe ERC (and DIPS) has a place in your toolbox. And, the next time one of your baseball buddies asks how you are, you can reply, “I’m feeling much better now that I’m monitoring my ERC”.

 

 

 

 

Hanging Around The Hot Stove With Bill James

'03 Verlander

Many baseball fans from the “Baby Boomer” generation haven’t really bought into the immense change in how statistics are viewed. They still look at the game with their eyes and are only concerned with the numbers on the back of the baseball card. For those of us more immersed in the details of the game, the man who guided us through the wilderness is Bill James. Starting in the late 70’s, he published an annual “Baseball Abstract” that began the task of analyzing data in new and different ways. By 1985, he wrote the first “Historical Baseball Abstract” and that 700+ page volume still sits on the bookshelf in my office.

 

For baseball fans in general and Fantasy Baseball players who can’t wait for the upcoming season, Bill also helps us get through the winter while we’re longing for box scores. Each November, The Bill James Handbook gives us a review of the season, lifetime stats of every major league player and numerous articles and lists to make the “hot stove” season tolerable. The 2020 version is available now and at 632 pages, offers just about something for everyone. The Old Duck has an annual exercise, where I take my initial cursory glance at the book and begin discovering information that surprises and enlightens me.

 

So, here are some random observations from my first time through the pages…

 

> In golf and tennis, fans can easily find current rankings on each player. The systems are set up so that the rankings move up and down based on performance and are not just for the current season. James has developed a similar idea for ranking starting pitchers. The current top five are Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Cole & Strasburg were not in the top five when the 2019 season began but Chris Sale (who went from #4 to #7) & Corey Kluber (from #5 to #38) both fell victim to the injury bug. Some of the biggest drops since a year ago were Carlos Carrasco (from 10th to 40th), Blake Snell (#11 to #46) and German Marquez (#18 to #34). On the positive side, Jack Flaherty (72nd to 6th), Charlie Morton (34th to 13th), Sonny Gray (75th to 14th) and Lance Lynn (66th to 15th) were some of the shining stars.

 

> Fielding metrics are relatively new and not yet accepted by fans or even by many statisticians. The handbook’s “Defensive Runs Saved” chart does help us verify what we think we’re told by our eyes. Cody Bellinger ramped up his MVP credentials by leading all RF with 19 runs saved. Two CF topped that mark with Victor Robles at 22 and Lorenzo Cain with 20. No LF had more that 10. The 1B & 3B races were dominated by the A’s, as Matt Olson posted 13 while Matt Chapman had 18. Kolten Wong (14) was the 2B leader and at SS, Nick Ahmed just outdistanced Trevor Story (18 versus 17). Roberto Perez 29 runs saved led all Catchers. For all the cynical fans out there, we can’t leave out the worst fielders in the game and how many runs they cost their teams…

 

1B) Luke Voit & Pete Alonso -6 each

2B) Jonathan Villar -11

3B) Hunter Dozier -14

  1. SS) Xander Bogaerts (for the 2nd straight year) -21
  2. LF) Justin Upton -13 (in only 63 games)
  3. CF) Ian Desmond -19
  4. RF) Franmil Reyes -11
  5. C) Elias Diaz -23

 

> A consistently debated topic among fans and media is the dramatic increase in defensive shifts. In 2014, shifts were utilized over 13,000 times, in 2015 the number increased to over 17,000 and in 2016, it grew tremendously (+58%) to over 28,000. The 2017 numbers seem to show that the optimum advantage has been reached, as the figure dropped slightly to 26,700. But 2018 put every number in the rear-view mirror with over 34,600 (a 30% increase). 2019 left that number in the dust with a 34% increase to 46,700. To the naysayer, the question becomes, would teams be shifting if it didn’t work? According to the “Runs Saved” statistic, shifting saved 196 runs in 2014, 267 runs in 2015, 359 in 2016 and 346 in 2017. Then in 2018, it increased to 592! 2019 came in at 622 runs! The shift lowered the Batting Average of shift candidates by 32 points. 25 of the 30 teams increased their shift usage, so don’t expect the strategy to go away.

 

> In the past, players were judged as good baserunners if they swiped a lot of bases. Not only were their other baserunning skills not considered, even their caught stealing stats were ignored. However, as Tom Boswell pointed out over 20 years ago, a caught stealing is equivalent to two outs because it not only removes a baserunner, it also causes an out. Now we have information that tells us how often a player goes from 1st to 3rd or 2nd to home plate on a single. The handbook grades baserunning on the net amount of bases a player gains in a given season. The top six were Jonathan Villar (+43), Christian Yelich (+43), Mallex Smith (+42) Jarrod Dyson (+39), Ronald Acuna Jr. (+37) & Adalberto Mondesi(+37).  The D’Backs were the best baserunning team in the game at +122.

 

> How often did the top five starting pitchers use their fastball? The “Pitchers’ Repertoires” section will answer that question by telling you that it was 50% for Verlander, 54% for Cole, 49% for deGrom and 48% each for Scherzer & Strasburg. See a pattern here? Maybe the pitching philosophy of “Throw him the heater, Ricky” went out about the time of “Major League II”.

 

That’s just a taste of the information in this year’s edition and we haven’t even looked at the individual player stats. No wonder that “stathead” is now an accepted baseball term.

 

 

Sharing The Wins

'09 Grandal

With the Winter Meetings on the horizon, let’s take a look at the relative value of the players in the game. In a sport awash with money, old-school fans often have difficulty wrapping their heads around the new levels of salaries and budgetary guidelines. With the average MLB salary now above $4 Million, how do we really know what a player’s contribution is worth? And do these contributions really make a difference in the standings?

 

In other words, what is their contribution to winning games? We’ve discussed WAR (Wins Above Replacement) numerous times in this space and that statistical outcome does impact decisions made by writers voting on awards and General Managers making deals. It has become a mainstream analysis over the last decade and can help clarify and justify some contract amounts. For example, if you believe in the WAR calculations, it confirms that Mike Trout was the best position player in the AL (8.6 WAR) and Cody Bellinger was tops in the NL (7.8 WAR). The fact that they each won the MVP adds to the credibility of the statistic. Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom (7.0 WAR) was the best in the NL while the AL winner Justin Verlander (6.4 WAR) was in the top four.

 

Most baseball stat-heads believe a player is worth about $6-8M per win to his team and free agent signings give us a window into that formula. So, when you digest the upcoming free agent contracts of Gerrit Cole (7.4), Stephen Starsburg (5.7) Hyun-Jin Ryu (4.7), Anthony Rendon (7.0), see how close the formula comes out compared to the real world. Yasmani Grandal’s WAR (5.2) just turned into $18+ Million for each of the next four years.

 

Each year at this time, we turn to another statistical measure in an attempt to gauge player value. The other stat that is team-result based is WS (Win Shares) as developed by the godfather of modern statistical analysis, Bill James. While trying to describe the formula is impossible (James wrote an entire book on the topic in 2002), it comes down to a system where each game a team wins during the season is meticulously analyzed and the three players most responsible for that win get a “win share”. So, if a team wins 80 games, there will be 240 win shares distributed on the roster. Position players will have a tendency to accumulate higher totals than pitchers, but it’s all about comparisons between players among positions. Only ninr position players had a number of 29 or better in 2019 and it’s difficult to take exception with the results Marcus Semien led the way with a figure of 36. Both MVP’s are on the list with Trout at 33 and Bellinger at 31. The other members of the elite nine are…

 

> Christian Yelich, 33

> DL LeMahieu, 33

> Alex Bregman, 31

> Anthony Rendon, 31

> Ketel Marte, 29

> Ozzie Albies, 29

 

The highest-rated Starting Pitchers were Verlander with 23, Cole with 22, deGrom & Zack Greinke with 21 each and Shane Beiber with 19.

 

As always, there are some hidden tidbits in the rankings that impact both fantasy and reality baseball…

 

> Rookies of the Year contributed impressively with Pete Alonso getting 24 and Yordan Alvarez coming in at 14 in less than a full season.

 

> In case you’re wondering which $300 Million deal paid off better, Bryce Harper’s 27 was significantly better than Manny Machado’s 18.

 

> Looking for upside? Yoan Moncada improved from 6-to-13-to-23 over the last three seasons… Gleyber Torres posted 28 after having 19 in his rookie season… Kolten Wong went from 12-to-24… Ronald Acuna Jr. improved to 28 from 19 as a rookie.

 

> What about 30 something player’s on long-term deals? Lorenzo Cain went from 25-to-11, Ian Desmond from 12-to-8, Robinson Cano from 18-to-7, Matt Carpenter from 28-to-11, Joey Votto from 22-to-11.

 

 

 

> Eric Hosmer posted 30 in 2017…since signing an 8-year deal, he’s dropped to 16 & 17 the first two seasons in San Diego

 

> Albert Pujols has accumulated 487 Win Shares in his career…his 2019 figure of 10 was actually better than either of the two previous seasons (7 & 8).

 

> Under the radar…Matt Chapman has 25 in each of the last two seasons and Jorge Polanco posted 26 in ’19.

 

> Alex Colome had more (12) than Kenley Jansen (10).

 

> Travis d’Arnaud (15) outperformed Buster Posey (12).

 

Don’t forget, it’s the season for sharing…All Holidays Matter!

Top Ten Baseball Cards Of The 1950’s

'50 Campy

A wise man once said, “Life is more worthwhile when you can be passionate about something trivial”. Certainly each of you who plays Fantasy Baseball understands that quote and so do those of us who collect baseball cards. A number of years ago, a vivid reminder of this thought process came to me in the form of an old binder.

 

In my community, we’re fortunate to have an extremely active sports interest group. The dedicated gentleman who organizes our activities is a retired teacher from the Bronx and when it comes to convincing sports figures to visit and speak to our group, he is what I would describe as a “bulldog”. Once he makes a contact with someone, they will be hounded until they understand clearly that the only respite from his pressure will be to show up at one of our meetings. This methodology has given us the privilege of having up close and personal connections with Hall of Famers like Fergie Jenkins & Roland Hemond as well as stars such as Josh Hamilton & Matt Williams. And, yes, I’ve even been “convinced” to create presentations on Baseball Card Collecting, Ted Williams & Autograph Collecting for our group.

 

About seven years ago, a member showed up at one of our meetings with a small binder and sought me out prior to the speaker being introduced. He had found out that I was a baseball card collector and memorabilia “expert”, so he brought something to share with me. In the plastic pages of this non-descript three-ring folder was a complete, 252-card set of 1950 Bowman baseball cards in beautiful condition. Honestly, the experience of looking at this rare set was incredible. Because the cards have no lettering on the front, the real fun is to look at the great pictures and try to see how many of the players you can recognize. The real privilege, however, is to hear the story from the collector. In 1950, he had a paper route and every week when he got paid, he would go to the store and buy packs of cards. Yes, these cards are his from over 65 years ago! This would be like someone pulling into your driveway in a 1950 Cadillac Series 61 Coupe that has only 10,000 miles on the odometer. Even if you don’t know that much about cards, think about the fact that this set came out two years before Topps was even in business!

 

To understand the significance of the ’50 Bowman set in terms of baseball history, here’s a Fantasy team you could field from the players represented in the set…

 

1B – Gil Hodges

3B – George Kell

1/3 – Johnny Mize

2B – Jackie Robinson

SS – Phil Rizzuto

2/S – Pee Wee Reese

C – Yogi Berra

C – Roy Campanella

OF – Ted Williams

OF – Duke Snider

OF – Larry Doby

OF – Ralph Kiner

OF – Richie Ashburn

DH – Ted Kluszewski

SP – Bob Feller

SP – Robin Roberts

SP – Bob Lemon

SP – Early Wynn

SP – Warren Spahn

RP – Jim Konstanty

RP – Mickey Harris

 

Konstanty & Harris were the 1950 league leaders in saves with 22 & 16 respectively.

 

This leads into one of those discussions where everyone has an opinion. Ask a baseball fan to name the all-time Outfield and they might list Ted Williams in LF, Willie Mays in CF and Babe Ruth in RF…leaving Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron & Roberto Clemente on the bench. That still leaves two more spots on a top ten list. Who would you choose? Stan Musial, Duke Snider, Pete Rose, Tony Gwynn, Ken Griffey Jr. or ??? Not an easy choice, but a fun exercise.

 

Top tens are great for card collectors also. Your list might include your favorite player or the most expensive card, but everyone’s choices will be different. In honor of the ’50 Bowman set, we’ll start with that decade when the era of modern card collecting essentially began. Here’s the top ten of this baseball fan…

 

1) 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle (#311) – While technically not his rookie card, the ’52 Topps issue really set the stage for the next 65 years of card collecting. With Joe DiMaggio retiring after the ’51 season, Mantle became the face of baseball’s most storied franchise.

 

2) 1954 Bowman Ted Williams (#66) – The greatest hitter ever on a beautiful card would be enough, but scarcity is the key to this gem. Williams signed an exclusive contract with Topps in ’54 and threatened to sue Bowman when they issued this card without his permission. Bowman pulled the card from production and replaced it with one of Red Sox Outfielder Jim Piersall, so only a small amount of the Williams cards were issued.

 

3) 1950 Bowman Jackie Robinson (#22) – The most valuable card in this set, it pictures the man who changed the face of baseball forever.

 

4) 1954 Topps Hank Aaron (#128) – The only recognized rookie card of “Hammering Hank’, the set features a double photo of the player on the front of the card.

 

5) 1951 Bowman Willie Mays (#305) – The rookie card of the “Say Hey Kid” and arguably the best all-around player in history, it has about the same value as his first Topps card in the iconic ’52 set.

 

6) 1956 Topps Mickey Mantle (#135) – Many collectors feel that the ’56 set was the most attractive ever and Mantle’s card embodies the set…it was his Triple Crown season.

 

7) 1955 Topps Roberto Clemente (#164) – The rookie card of the Latin legend was from the first Topps set to be presented in a horizontal format.

 

8) 1953 Topps Willie Mays (#244) – This classic set features drawings of the players (as opposed to actual photographs) and is unique in its visual appeal.

 

9) 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax (#123) – The other key rookie card from the ’55 set shows the Hall-of-Famer at age 19 and represents the only Pitcher on our list.

 

10) 1954 Topps Ted Williams (#’s 1 & 250) – To understand the stature of “Teddy Ballgame”, once Topps finally got him under contract, they made his cards both the first and last in the set.

 

Did I miss your favorite? Al Kaline & Ernie Banks rookie cards from ’54 Topps? Mantle’s rookie card from ’51 Bowman? Eddie Mathews rookie card from ’52 Topps? All good choices…who is in your top ten?

 

 

Say It Ain’t So Joe

Joe & Katie Jackson

Shoeless Joe Jackson is one the most famous – and infamous – baseball players in history. Growing up poor in rural North Carolina during the 1890’s, he started working in a textile factory at age 7 and never had any formal education. What he could do, however, was play baseball. He played for factory teams and semi-pro clubs until 1908, when he became a professional with the Greenville franchise of the Carolina Association. By age 20, he was a star and led the league with a batting average of .346.

 

The Philadelphia Athletics signed Joe and he won minor league batting titles the next two years…at Savannah in 1909 and New Orleans in 1910, but A’s Manager Connie Mack didn’t think the shy, illiterate boy would be able to adapt to the big city of Philadelphia and traded him to the Cleveland Naps. As a rookie in 1911, he took baseball by storm by hitting .408 with 233 Hits, 45 Doubles and 19 Triples. He spent four seasons in Cleveland, was traded to the Chicago White Sox in 1915 and continued to play at the highest level, hitting .340 or better in four of the next five seasons.

 

The turning point for Jackson was in 1919 when the ChiSox won 88 games to capture the AL pennant with an opportunity to face the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. Players on the team, fed up with the owner’s reluctance to pay them fairly, concocted a plan to go in with gamblers and fix the World Series. You can learn the whole story by watching the superb 1988 film, “Eight Men Out”. Chicago lost the best-of-nine game series 5 – 3.

 

Rumors were everywhere during the 1920 season, but despite the cloud of suspicion, Jackson had an amazing year…hitting .382 and leading the league with 20 Triples. The eight players involved eventually went to trial and were acquitted by the jury, but Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis expelled all the players for life. It was the sad end of Shoeless Joe’s career.

 

In the late 1940’s, a young sports fan decided to build an autograph collection. The process was simple, but effective, as he would send a self-addressed post card in an envelope with a note to the player (or team) asking them to sign the postcard and mail it back. In the days before eBay, auction houses and the marketing of autographs, athletes were happy to fill the request. The youngster would cut out the signature portion of the returned post card and tape it an album along with pictures and articles of the players. As he grew up, the collection began to include many signatures acquired in person at games and other events. The end result was a collection that included thousands of autographs from ballplayers of multiple generations.

 

That young boy from the 40’s passed away earlier this year and the two stories intersected recently when his Wife asked me to assist in appraising – and eventually selling – autographs from the collection. The starting point were three binders from the beginning of the project that were completely disorganized…torn newspaper clippings, discolored tape, little loose remnants of 70 year-old post cards with signatures of long-forgotten athletes. Looking through the first binder, however, caused this old baseball fan to stop and stare. In my hands were the signatures of Hall of Famers such as Pepper Martin, Carl Hubbell, Paul Waner & others. Were they in nice condition? Absolutely not! Were they genuine? Even though independent authentication will be necessary, there is no doubt that they’re real.

 

By the time I opened the second binder, it felt like a treasure hunt as Rube Marquard, Harry Caray & Zack Wheat appeared. As the next page turned, could this be true? Was this really an autograph of Shoeless Joe Jackson? My expectations were tempered by the history of the player. He was, of course, illiterate and in a famous scene from the movie, Jackson (portrayed by D.B. Sweeney) signs a government document with an “X”. On the flip side, it must have come from Jackson, as the post card was still intact and dated (1951). Checking with an authentication expert gave me the answer…yes, it did come from Shoeless Joe but it was signed by his Wife!

 

15 year-old Katie Wynn wed Joe Jackson in 1908 and they were married until he passed away in 1951. According to history, Joe only signed legal documents and did it in a painstaking manner by tracing the signature. As the years went by, Katie would answer the requests of fans by signing Joe’s name for him. So, instead of a five-figure autograph of Shoeless Joe, we have a memento from Katie Jackson. The good news, however, is that the third binder yielded autographs from Cy Young & Ty Cobb.

 

Baseball history before our eyes.

Vintage Rookie Cards 1959-1980

'65 Perez Mary

 

In 1959, Topps expanded their baseball card set to 572 cards and produced them in series. So when you purchased a pack early in the year, the cards would only be numbered 1-110 and as the year went on, other series would be offered for sale. At the time, it seemed logical, but for collectors of Topps cards from 1959-1973, it represented a challenge…and still does today. The later series were marketed late in the season when interest had waned and the cards became more scarce. So, when you hear a collector talk about “high numbers” being difficult to find, you understand the issue.

 

How this relates to “rookie cards” begins with that beautiful ’59 set. The best rookie card that year was future Hall of Famer Bob Gibson and his card was in the high number series (#514)…making it a tough card to find, especially in nice condition. In addition, all the All-Star cards were also in the high number run, creating another difficult collecting challenge that included Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays & Hank Aaron.

 

As the calendar turned to the 60’s, many great players made their debut and their rookie cards were (and still are) in great demand. In 1960, there was Carl Yastrzemski & Willie McCovey…1961 had Juan Marichal & Billy Williams…and in ’62, it was Lou Brock, Gaylord Perry and “Mr. Baseball” Bob Uecker.

 

The 1963 Topps set included a concept where many of the rookies were shown together on cards that had small, cropped photos of four different players…and some were in the high series. That is where you’ll find the rookie card of Pete Rose…shown with Pedro Gonzalez, Ken McMullen & Al Weis. While not very visually appealing, still a valuable card indeed. Willie Stargell’s rookie card is also in this category and includes three more obscure players.

The ’64 set has Phil Niekro and two famous Managers inTony LaRussa & Lou Piniella as well as a medical miracle in Tommy John. Lots of Hall of Famers in ’65 with Steve Carlton, Joe Morgan, “Catfish” Hunter & Tony Perez…’66 included three HOF hurlers with Jim Palmer, Fergie Jenkins & Don Sutton. Tom Seaver & Rod Carew both debuted in the high number series of the ’67 set.

 

The 1968 set features the rookie cards of two of the most popular players of the era…Nolan Ryan & Johnny Bench. Once again, Topps included multiple rookies on certain cards, so Ryan shares his cardboard with Jerry Koosman, while Bench is shown with Ron Tomkins. Finishing off the decade, Reggie Jackson & Rollie Fingers grace the ’69 set with their rookie cards.

 

In 1970, Topps issued their largest set ever at 720 cards in six series. The key rookie card in the set was that of the Yankee Captain, Thurman Munson. Interestingly, however, the 3rd year Nolan Ryan card is twice as valuable because it was part of the scarce high number run.

 

The 1971 set was even larger at 752 cards and remains a distinct challenge to collectors even today for one primary reason…the cards had black borders. So, even the most careful of handling couldn’t prevent excessive wear and finding 71’s in nice condition is very difficult. The key rookie cards are the Dusty Baker / Don Baylor in the high number series, Steve Garvey & HOF Pitcher Bert Blyleven.

 

In 1972, the Topps set expanded once again…this time to 787 cards. Carlton Fisk (who shares the card with Cecil Cooper) is the key rookie card. 1973 found the set reduced to 660 cards (five series of 132) and includes one of the best rookie cards of the decade in Phillie great Mike Schmidt. As with other years, this particular card was in the high series and Schmidt shared the card with two other players.

 

660 cards remained the standard from 1974-1977 and cards were no longer issued in series, making it easier for the collector to put together a set. Great rookie cards were found during that time including Dave Winfield in ’74. George Brett, Robin Yount, Jim Rice & Gary Carter were all in the ’75 set…Dennis Eckersley in ’76…and Andre Dawson in ’77 along with Mark Fidrych.

 

Topps went to 726 cards for 1978 and that remained in place for the next four years. The ’78 set featured the rookie card of Eddie Murray and a combo rookie card including both Paul Molitor & Alan Trammell. 1979 finished off the decade with the rookie card of the “Wizard”…Cardinals legend Ozzie Smith.

 

We’ll include the 1980 set in our review, as it was the final year of the Topps monopoly. Rickey Henderson’s RC highlighted the product and is still very desirable today.

 

Hope some of your favorites are included…