Inspired by various posts on the internet, I thought I’d offer the highlights of my year collecting baseball cards and related memorabilia. This was definitely one of my best years ever as a collector, not only for the cards I added but for the friendships I made and in-person experiences I was able to enjoy. Finally, I can’t understate the role my work with the SABR Baseball Cards blog played in my enjoyment of the Hobby this year. This will be evident in the write-ups that follow.
Dave Hoskins collection
A book that influenced my year greatly was Black Aces by Jim “Mudcat” Grant. My motivation to buy and read the book came from my June 2018 trip to “Hall of Game” induction weekend at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. Mudcat had been slated for induction, but his health did not permit him to make the trip. Nonetheless, enough was said about his career and his book that I made “Black Aces” a must read.
What I didn’t expect from the book–we’ll call it bonus material–was profiles on ten Negro League players that Mudcat dubbed “Early Aces.” While most of these players were Hall of Famers or at least household names (in my household!), there was one I had honestly never heard of: Dave Hoskins.
Reading about Dave Hoskins inspired me to do three things, all of which I’ll put among my baseball highlights of 2019.
- Write my first “Uncommon Common” article for the SABR blog.
- Create a “Black Aces” gift for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum that would honor Mr. Hoskins as an equal among names much more familiar than his.
- Collect all of the man’s cards. (Fortunately, the entire master set is four cards!)
Reflecting the general principle that experiences are cooler than stuff, the Dave Hoskins highlight of my year ended up being none of the above. It was in fact when I received a message from the grandson of Dave Hoskins who not only read my article but wanted to get in touch. With any luck the two of us may be able to meet up at the Museum in 2020.
Roy Campanella collection
For a small change of pace, my Campanella spree began with an article I wrote for my personal blog. In my Cardboard Cooperstown series, which aims to select the best looking card of every Hall of Famer, I was mesmerized by the 1952 Bowman card of Roy Campanella.
As often happens, I not only set out to grab one for my collection but I ended up trying to collect nearly all the man’s cards! The result is Campy’s Corner, a new for 2019 addition to my memorabilia room. (Checks with fiancee…sorry, “our guest room.”)
First tobacco cards
The two guys I
blame credit for this one are Andrew Aronstein and (my neighbor, as it turns out!) Mike O’Reilly. Talking to them about their collections generated enough interest, if not envy, that I was inspired to collect some tobacco cards of my own. Knowing my pockets weren’t deep enough for Cobb, Wagner, Mathewson, et. al., I came up with the goal of collecting just the Brooklyn team from one of the main tobacco releases.
I chose T205 for a few reasons. One was just to be a bit different from all the T206 collectors out there. Another was that no cards in the set used landscape layouts, which are 100% amazing but tend to flub up my displays. But mainly, I am absolutely in love with the gold borders and bright background colors.
As things stand today, I’m at 10 out of 13 on the team set (the 9 cards pictured plus a late-breaking Dahlen), with all three from the Want List being short prints and not at all easy on the wallet. Perhaps finishing the set will happen in 2020, but if not I’m still thrilled with what I have.
Steve Garvey autographs
Seeing Steve Garvey’s name on the 2020 Modern Era Hall of Fame ballot brought up a ton of nostalgia and love, so much so that I was inspired to write him a letter telling him how much he meant to me as a kid growing up in Los Angeles. Keri Sunvold was kind enough to provide me with an address that she thought might work, and sure enough it did!
I can say in all honesty that the last “through the mail” autograph request I sent out was almost 40 years ago, so it had certainly been some time since I’d received an envelope in the mail from an actual baseball player, much less a boyhood idol. All I can say is WHAT A THRILL!
At the moment I’m undecided whether I keep these cards at home at my desk or bring them to work as an upgrade to my current office decor.
Four tough Hank Aaron collectibles
A little over a year ago I wrote a piece on my personal blog on the Hank Aaron cards most guys like me will never own. Well, I ended up with one of them, which I wrote about for the SABR blog. As you can see I was excited enough to get this card that I had to post a pic from my car (not while driving!) rather than wait till I got home.
In addition to the 1974 Topps Deckle Edge (or more correctly, proof card without the deckles), I added Hank’s gorgeous 1955 Topps Double Header card and his 1958 Hires Root Beer card. I’ll use the picture of it below because it not only shows the Hires and (on the far right) my toughest Dave Hoskins card, but also my most unique Hank Aaron pickup of 2019 if not ever.
The middle item is a snapshot of the Hammer, evidently taken in 1954 as the young rookie was making his way in to Milwaukee County Stadium. The seller shared with me that he thought the photo was taken by a family member of the Home Run King, which if true would only add to the coolness factor.
While it’s more typical that my writing inspires my collecting, this was a case where getting the card inspired a piece on the SABR blog on the (now commonplace!) inclusion of all-time greats within modern sets.
Gummy Arts 1919 White Sox
A huge highlight for me was attending the SABR Black Sox Scandal Centennial Symposium in September. The closer the event got and the more work I saw Jacob Pomrenke and others doing to make it a success the more I wanted to find a way to help out.
On a whim I got in touch with the artistic genius behind Gummy Arts, Mike Noren (left). I had met Mike in Cooperstown for the opening of the Hall of Fame’s Shoebox Treasures exhibit, which (of course!) inspired a SABR blog article, and he had even donated an original Gummy Arts card of Chet Brewer for my “Black Aces” gift to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
In the weeks preceding the Symposium, Mike had been posted occasional strip cards with a 1919 White Sox theme. I figured “What the heck!” and asked Mike if he would be willing to make some sets available to Symposium attendees. In my perfect world there might be a way that every attendee could get the complete set of 19 cards, and I told Mike I thought maybe 20-30 people would be in attendance…and then I checked with Jacob and found out it would be more like 200+!
Well holy smokes, that number didn’t scare Mike at all, even if it gave him a year’s supply of blisters from all the hand-cutting. We met for lunch a week later, and Mike handed me a box of over 1000 cards!
With some help stuffing
packs envelopes from Andrew Aronstein, we were able to provide five cards to each Symposium attendee and add a SABR Baseball Cards Research Committee element to the event. Not only that but I was able to add my very first card of Shoeless Joe to my collection!
Completing my 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set
Like many collectors my 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set was stuck at 79/80 with the missing card being the famous #68. Finally in June (and when I say finally, I mean 30 years after starting the set!) I found a terrific deal on that final card!
If you’re wondering how this beautiful specimen earned only a 2 from the experts at PSA, at least part of the low grade may be due to a wax stain on the back.
Of course this same wax stain led to one of my favorite SABR blog posts of the year!
Albert Einstein rookie card
I’m mainly a baseball card collector, but a side hobby over the past five years has been building up an impressive Sir Isaac Newton collection for (if not with) my son. Before I shifted most of my writing energy to the SABR blog, I built up quite a collection of articles in the sparsely populated “Isaac Newton Cardboard Humor” genre.
Along the way we ended up with various cards of other mathematicians and physicists. However, one card that eluded me–I’ll call it my non-sports Holy Grail–was the 1924 J. Millhoff & Co. “Men of Genius” card of Albert Einstein. After five years of looking with no success, one finally came up for sale and I jumped on it. While not baseball, it’s about as close to a perfect card as you can get.
The one that got away
Most collectors most years have their stories of the ones that got away, which these days usually means getting sniped on an eBay auction you thought you had in the bag. My story for 2019 is quite the opposite.
Remarkably, I won a 1948 Topps (yes, you read that right!) Lou Gehrig. As an amateur baseball card historian (are there professionals?) this card had tremendous significance to me, not only in being my first really old Lou Gehrig card but also in coming from the very first collection of baseball cards that Topps ever produced.
Sadly the card was lost in the mail. (Tracking info showed it making it to my local post office but that’s it. And yes, I did all the Search stuff already.) On the bright side, the seller has been 100% awesome, and that’s taken away some of the sting. Still, being so close to having this great card only to have it not make it that final mile has to be my low-light of the collecting year.
Best of the rest
Lost Iron Horse cards aside, 2019 was such a terrific year for my collection that this post could easily continue till well past midnight. Rather than keep you from your parties, I’ll just close with one of the COOLEST cards around, one that I picked up at the National this year in Chicago–an autographed card from one of the earliest Negro Leagues tribute sets ever made: the 1976 Cool Papa Bell set from D&S Enterprises.
I hope you enjoyed the recap, and even more I hope you have a great New Year! As for me, I’ll make like Cool Papa and head to bed even before the lights go out!