The Hank Aaron Fan’s Guide to Bobbleheads

The bulk of my Hank Aaron collecting is confined to items produced during Hank’s playing days. However, I’ve made an exception for bobbleheads. What follows is what I believe to be a complete collection of collectible Hank Aaron bobbleheads.

STANDARD ISSUES

While one could argue that any stadium giveaway has a limited release, I am regarding all of the bobbles below as standard issues. The Limited Release section will be reserved only for those bobbles that are individually numbered (e.g., 44 out of 755). Note that I own all of the bobbles in this section and am happy to provide additional pictures and information on request.

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DESCRIPTIONS (LEFT TO RIGHT)

  • 1975 Milwaukee Brewers – I believe this was sold at Milwaukee County Stadium souvenir stands in 1975; however, I am unable to find any confirmation. Expect to pay $70 or more for NIB, depending on the condition of the box.
  • 2001 Milwaukee Braves – This was released by Bobble Dobbles in 2001. I believe it was sold directly to consumers rather than given out as a stadium promotion. Expect to pay $60 or more for NIB.
  • 2002 Milwaukee Brewers – This was a stadium giveaway by the Milwaukee Brewers on August 11, 2002. Expect to pay about $45 for NIB.
  • 2003 Greenville Braves – This was a stadium giveaway by the Greenville Braves (former South Carolina AA affiliate) on July 5, 2003. At a glance, the bobblehead looks similar to the 2003 Atlanta Braves release. However, this scarcer minor league release is easily distinguished by the “Advance Auto Parts” signage, the round base, and the dark jersey.
  • 2003 Atlanta Braves – This was a stadium giveaway by the Atlanta Braves on September 19, 2003. Expect to pay about $45 for NIB.
  • 2010 Milwaukee Brewers – This was a stadium giveaway by the Milwaukee Brewers on May 16, 2010. The sponsor was the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, which explains the hunk of cheese at Aaron’s feet. Expect to pay $25 for NIB.
  • 2012 Eau Claire Bears – Probably the toughest Hank Aaron bobblehead to find, this mini-bobble was a limited stadium giveaway by the minor league Eau Claire Express on June 14, 2012, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Hank Aaron’s minor league debut. Go here for more information on the promotion. Expect to pay $70-80 NIB, assuming you can find one!
  • 2013 Milwaukee Braves – This was a stadium giveaway by the Milwaukee Brewers on June 7, 2013, in commemoration of Hank Aaron’s 30/30 season 50 years earlier. There is a 44 on his bat, not representing his uniform number but rather his home run total that year; and likewise, there is a base with a 31 by his feet, reflecting his 31 steals. Expect to pay about $25-40 NIB.
  • 2014 Atlanta Braves – This was a stadium giveaway by the Atlanta Braves on April 10, 2014, in commemoration of the (approximately) 40th anniversary of Hank Aaron’s major league home run record. Expect to pay about $25-40 NIB.
  • 2016 Lakeshore Chinooks – This was a stadium giveaway for the first 1,000 fans by the Lakeshore Chinooks (Northwoods League) on June 4, 2016. Aaron was bobblehead 4 of 4 in the Chinooks “Outfield Wall” series. The dimensions of the team’s Kapco Park are 317 feet in left (Jim Gantner), 344 feet in left-center (Hank Aaron), 404 feet in center (Paul Molitor), and 319 feet in right (Robin Yount). Expect to pay about $25 NIB. (As a minor note, publicity photos showed the Aaron bobblehead with gray hair. However, the actual bobblehead is of a black-haired Aaron.)
  • 2016 Gwinnett Braves – This was a stadium giveaway for the first 2,500 fans by the Gwinnett Braves at their July 16, 2016, game. Expect to pay about $25-30 NIB.

LIMITED RELEASES

Bobbles in this section were part of individually numbered, limited releases. I don’t have original retail prices for any of the three, but I am assuming they were each around $90. Distribution numbers are included in the descriptions below the images.

DESCRIPTIONS (LEFT TO RIGHT)

  • bonds-big-head-427848094591994 Atlanta Braves – This was a 1994 limited release of 1,000 somehow-licensed Hank Aaron bobbleheads by Sports Accessories and Memorabilia (SAM) of Menlo Park, CA, as part of their “500 Home Run Club” collection. While I don’t expect complete physical likeness from any bobblehead other than Barry Bonds, I have to call out the SAM bobblehead as looking so unlike its subject that it’s completely uncollectible. At minimum, one should at least require that a Hank Aaron bobblehead look more like Hank Aaron than me! Still, assuming you can’t live without this one, expect to pay $90-120 for NIB. UPDATE: I wonder if the SAM I have pictured is an “error” bobblehead that was subsequently corrected to look at least a little more Hank-like. See photo below. (For what it’s worth, this lot of nine 500 HR Club HOFers garnered no bids in a 2010 Huggins and Scott auction.)
  • 2013 Atlanta Braves – This was a limited edition from a Forever Collectibles “Legends of the Diamond” release of 2,013 made. I believe distribution was via the Forever Collectibles website. Expect to pay $90 and up for NIB.
  • 2014 Atlanta Braves – Also from Forever Collectibles, this was the April 2014 Turner Field “Bobble of the Month” with a limited release of 360. My personal opinion is that the design is much too similar to the prior year’s issue, so I have been content to have only the 2013 release for now. Expect to pay $90 and up for NIB.

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UNAUTHORIZED BOBBLES

While the bobbleheads above were all “official” releases carrying the approval of Major League Baseball, Hank Aaron, or some other entity, the bobbles below are what I’ll euphemistically call labors of love.

  • Bobblehead City – This business allows you to create your own bobblehead, right down to player name, skin tone, uniform, and other variables–all for about $80 (painted) plus shipping. At one time, the site’s front page featured the Hank Aaron image above. However, it now features mainly “generic” players.
  • Cat Man 755 HR  – Limited release of 44 by Canadian bobble maker “Cat Man.” Despite (or possibly because of) the cartoonish, South Park (or maybe Davey and Goliath) style of his bobbleheads, Cat Man has something of a cult following among bobblehead collectors who even know his work exists. Registration/login is required, but you can learn more about Cat Man and his many bobbles at this site. As for prices, I have seen two of these “755 HR” bobbles sell on eBay, one at $90 and one at $100. NOTE: If you purchase a “Cat Man” of any player–not just Hank Aaron–note that they are VERY fragile. Anecdotal data suggest that nearly half are damaged in transit.
  • Cat Man 1957 WS  – Limited release of unknown (to me) size. See notes above.

MISCELLANEOUS

In the early 1960s (c. 1963-1965), generic team bobbleheads were produced for each team. Additionally, “black player” bobbles were produced for each team except the Athletics, Giants, Pirates, and Twins. None of these bobbles included names or uniform numbers; however, the two produced for the Braves (Milwaukee and Atlanta) could arguably be considered as part of a complete Hank Aaron bobblehead collection. A handful of notes on the topic–

  1. The Atlanta version (c. 1965) is identical to the Milwaukee version, except that the “M” hat decal the word “Milwaukee” on the base have been colored over.
  2. Both bobbles are very scarce, but the Milwaukee one is more so. In good condition, expect to pay around $500 for Atlanta and $1000 for Milwaukee.
  3. The “black player” bobbles are known to come in two variations: “realistic face” (includes eyebrows) and “traditional face” (smiling). Traditional is more rare. (I don’t know whether both variations exist for both Braves bobbles.

The Hank Aaron Fan’s Guide to Magazine Collecting

One of the nicest ways to enhance your office walls or man cave is with period magazines (i.e., during playing career) of your favorite sports heroes. This article focuses on baseball’s Home Run King, the great Henry Aaron, whose National League career ran from 1954-1976 and included an MVP award, a World Series ring, and a record 755 home runs. My five personal favorites are highlighted in red.

PART ONE – THE MAINSTREAM SPORTS PRESS

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED

Strangely, Aaron was completely ignored by Sports Illustrated (or was he?–see footnote!) until he had more than 500 home runs and had already established himself as a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer. Here are the only three Sports Illustrated covers during Hank Aaron’s 23-year career. All are typically available in the $8-15 range, depending on condition.

  1. August 18, 1969 – Hank Aaron leads Atlanta into its first ever pennant race.
  2. May 25, 1970 – Hank Aaron becomes the ninth member of baseball’s exclusive 3000 hit club.
  3. April 15, 1974 – The most iconic SI cover of all time. The Hammer makes history with home run 715.

SPORT MAGAZINE

The premier sports magazine for much of Aaron’s career, Sport noticed Hammerin’ Hank much earlier than SI. Aaron appeared on the cover of Sport a total of five times, the earliest coming as a cameo in 1958. Hank finally took center stage on the cover of Sport in 1962, five years removed from his MVP and World Series ring. As with the SI issues, each of these magazines is generally available in the $8-15 range, depending on condition.

  1. October 1958 – Bob Turley main cover with Hank Aaron cameo
  2. July 1962 – Hank Aaron reveals his hitting secrets
  3. May 1968 – “What It’s Like to be a Neglected Superstar”
  4. August 1970 – “The Finest Hours of a Quiet Legend”
  5. May 1974 – Hank Aaron breaks Babe Ruth’s career home run record.

THE SPORTING NEWS 1957_04_17_MLB_OPENING_DAY_EXTR

In terms of great sports reporting, I give the Sporting News high marks. However, the newspaper style format leaves it off my list of Hank Aaron magazines. While I haven’t done an exhaustive search, I believe these are the issues that feature Hank Aaron on the cover. The April 17, 1957, cover is a particularly fun one if you can find it!

  • April 17, 1957 – Opening day, including a dream outfield of Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Hank Aaron
  • September 24, 1958 – NL batting title contenders
  • July 1, 1959 – All-Star voting
  • July 20, 1963 – With Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford, and Leon Wagner
  • October 12, 1963 – With Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford, and Al Kaline
  • April 25, 1964 – With Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn
  • July 3, 1965 – Henry “Hank” Aaron
  • July 1, 1967 – At bat against Jim Lonborg
  • May 23, 1970 – 3000 Hit Club
  • July 29, 1972 – All-Star Game issue
  • April 20, 1974 – 715 Home Runs

PART TWO – THE BLACK PRESS

JET MAGAZINE Aaron appeared on the cover of Jet magazine ten times during his career, more than on any other magazine. A particularly collectible (but hard to find!) Jet issue is from June 18, 1959, and features “Red Hot Hank.” Perhaps due to lower circulation or due to crossover interest from aficionados of African American history and culture, Aaron’s Jet covers typically sell for slightly more than his SI and Sport covers. With the exception of the hard-to-find 1959 covers, most issues run in the $10-15 range. Meanwhile, the 1959 covers run for about double that.

  1. April 16, 1959 – A focus on African American stars expected to make an impact on baseball’s pennant races
  2. June 18, 1959 – “Red Hot Hank” and the possibility of his hitting .400
  3. September 5, 1968 – “Hank Aaron Blasts Racism in Baseball”
  4. April 13, 1972 – “Aaron Aims His Bat to Break Ruth’s Record”
  5. April 19, 1973 – “Baseball Underway for Record-Breaking Season” (with Dick Allen, Willie Mays, Bob Gibson, and Billy Williams)
  6. July 19, 1973 – “Hank Aaron Discusses Racism and His Race for Ruth’s Record”
  7. August 30, 1973 – “Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s Human Side” (with wife Billye)
  8. December 13, 1973 – “Hank Aaron: His Honeymoon and His Home Life Today” (with wife Billye)
  9. April 25, 1974 – “715!”
  10. August 15, 1974 – “Are Baseball’s Owners Too Racist to Hire a Black Manager?” (with Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Ernie Banks, Maury Wills, Elston Howard, and Larry Doby)

EBONY MAGAZINE

With its first issue in 1945, Ebony mimicked the size and format of LIFE magazine but focused on topics of particular interest to the African American community. Unlike LIFE, which never featured Aaron during his playing career, Ebony included Aaron on the cover five times, one by himself and four alongside other personalities. Perhaps due to their larger size and higher cover price, Hank Aaron issues of Ebony typically sell from $15-40, depending on condition.

  1. June 1970 – “Baseball’s  $100,000 a Year Superstars”
  2. June 1971 – “The Last of the Big Bats” (with Willie Mays)
  3. September 1973 – “Catching Up with the Babe”
  4. July 1974 – “The Hank Aaron Nobody Knows” (with wife Billye)
  5. May 1975 – Highest paid black athletes (with Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and O.J. Simpson)

BLACK SPORTS

Black Sports did not begin publication until 1971 but still managed as many Hank Aaron covers as SI did through Aaron’s retirement. While low circulation makes each of these issues a tough find, the first two are generally found in the $15-25 range while the third runs from $25-40.

  1. May/June 1972 – “Baseball’s All & Everything” (shown dodging a brushback pitch)
  2. September 1973 – “En Route to Immortality”
  3. June 1974 – “Henry the Great”

HEP MAGAZINE

Hep Magazine was published from the late 1950s through 1977, tended to focus on racy or risque topics, and was often found in barber shops or beauty parlors–anywhere but in a respectable home. The Hank Aaron feature shown below (“Does Hank Aaron Have a Secret About Sex Pills?”) should give you the basic idea!

PART THREE – OTHER AMERICAN SPORTS MAGAZINES

My focus in this section is on two Hank Aaron covers that pre-date even the April 1959 Jet issue and one that followed shortly after.  The first two feature Aaron alongside future Hall of Famers, including one of Hank’s diamond heroes, Stan Musial. The third, for no particular reason, features the Hammer–with a ball about to hit his head–on the cover of a 1963 World Series preview. (The Braves finished sixth in the National League that year, 15 games out of first.)

Each of these magazines can be found in the $15-30 range. Note that Aaron would go on to appear on several other “season preview” or “baseball record book” covers, particularly as he neared or had just surpassed Babe Ruth’s home run record. In general, I consider these titles less collectible and do not detail them here.

  1. 1958 Baseball Heroes – “Core of a New Dynasty” (with Red Schoendienst)
  2. 1959 Sports Review – Baseball (with Stan Musial)
  3. 1963 World Series Illustrated Review

If interested, here is a partial list of other Hank Aaron covers–

  • 1960 Baseball’s Best
  • June 1960 Baseball Stars
  • August 1966 Baseball Digest (cover story but not pictured)
  • September 1967 Pro Sports
  • August 1968 Sport World
  • August 1969 Sport World
  • October 1969 Sport World
  • June 1970 All-Star Sports
  • October 1970 Super Sports
  • October 1970 Sport World
  • 1971 Super Sports
  • 1971 Cord Sportfacts Baseball Report
  • May 1971 All-Star Sports
  • May 1971 Pro Sports
  • July 1971 Baseball Digest
  • October 1971 Sport World
  • 1972 Action Sports Yearbook – Baseball
  • 1972 All-Time Baseball Greats
  • June 1972 Sports Today
  • Summer 1972 Baseball Extra
  • August 1972 Sport World
  • September 1972 Super Sports
  • 1973 Team Magazine
  • 1973 Hall of Fame Baseball
  • 1973 Sporting News Baseball Dope Book
  • 1973 Cord Sportfacts Baseball Report
  • 1974 Dell Baseball
  • 1974 Street and Smith’s Baseball Yearbook
  • 1974 Famous Slugger Yearbook
  • 1974 Cord Sportfacts Baseball News
  • 1974 Popular Sports Grand Slam
  • Spring 1974 Sports Quarterly – Baseball
  • April 1974 Baseball Digest
  • July 1974 Pro Sports
  • 1975 Great Moments in Sports

PART FOUR – OTHER AMERICAN NON-SPORTS MAGAZINES

These three magazines venture far into the realm of Hank Aaron ephemera, all featuring Aaron on the way to home run immortality. All are relatively easy finds and tend to sell in the $6-$15 range.

  1. March 1972 – Boys’ Life – official publication of the Boy Scouts of America
  2. August 13, 1973 – Newsweek – “Chasing the Babe”
  3. September 1973 – Guideposts – “I Can’t Do It Alone” (magazine with a Christian focus on successful living)

PART FIVE – NON U.S. MAGAZINES

A handful of Spanish language magazines featured Hank Aaron on the cover in the early and mid-1970s. I have generally seen the Mexican magazines (Deporte Color) listed but not sold in the $10 range and the Venezuelan magazines (Sport Grafico) listed but not sold in the $40 range.

PART SIX – AARON’S FIRST SOLO COVER

As I built up my own Hank Aaron collection, I wondered what his very first solo cover was. Initially, I presumed it was the July 1962 issue of Sport before ultimately running across the 1959 “Red Hot Hank” issue of Jet. Close but wrong. Fittingly, Aaron’s first solo cover came during the absolute pinnacle of his greatness, the Fall of 1957. Just 23 years old, Aaron would lead the National League in runs, home runs, total bases, and runs batted in, send Milwaukee to its first World Series with a 12th inning walk-off home run against the Cardinals, bat .393 in seven games to lead the Braves to victory against the Yankees in the World Series, and take home the league’s Most Valuable Player award. But just what magazine was it that recognized the Hammer was worthy of a cover? Probably not one you would have guessed…or even heard of. But perhaps it makes sense when you think of what Aaron was able to do with a bit of lumber in his hands!

Aaron 1957 Forests
October 1957 American Forests

FOOTNOTE – HANK AARON’S MYSTERIOUS ABSENCE FROM SPORTS ILLUSTRATED

I think most sports fans, and certainly Hank Aaron magazine buffs, are surprised when they learn that Hank Aaron’s first appearance on an SI cover was not until 1969. My first reaction when I learned this was that one of two factors must have been at play–

  1. The small market Hank Aaron played in
  2. Racism

The first of these is almost immediately discounted when one notes the disproportionate number of Milwaukee Braves who netted covers from 1954-1960 alone.

  • August 16, 1954 – Eddie Mathews (first ever issue of SI!)
  • August 15, 1955 – Eddie Mathews
  • June 25, 1956 – Warren Spahn
  • July 30, 1956 – Joe Adcock
  • April 21, 1958 – Del Crandall
  • June 2, 1958 – Eddie Mathews
  • July 7, 1958 – Del Crandall
  • June 6, 1960 – Red Shoendienst

And as for racism, while all of the above Milwaukee Braves were white, here are the various black athletes featured on SI covers in 1957 alone–about one issue in every ten.

  • February 25, 1957 – Johnny Saxton
  • April 29, 1957 – Sugar Ray Robinson
  • July 29, 1957 – Floyd Patterson
  • September 2, 1957 – Althea Gibson
  • October 7, 1957 – Ollie Matson

One thing I learned while perusing the SI Cover archive is that yesterday’s SI was quite a bit different from today’s SI. For example, here are four “athletes” we’d never see on a modern cover.

I guess it’s hard to know today what the thinking was 50+ years ago. Were I running the mag, I would have at least made Aaron’s remarkable 1957 season the focus of my 1958 baseball preview issue–maybe something along the lines of “Are the Braves on Top to Stay?” Well, what do you know! They did do that–they just took a picture of the Yankees instead. But hold on…zoom in real close now…and who’s that standing on third base? Could it be? braves 58

The Sports Fan’s Guide to Collecting JET Magazines

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Finally!! Thanks, Black History Hut!

Jet Magazine (Johnson Publications, Chicago, IL) was founded in 1951 as “The Weekly Negro News Magazine” and remained in print through 2014, when it assumed a digital-only format. Over the years, a large number of prominent African American athletes graced its covers, and its sports coverage often highlighted issues of racism and civil rights issues.

My enthusiasm for collecting these magazines stems from two factors. For one thing, mainstream (i.e., white target market) magazines often took a condescending and racist approach in their profiling of black athletes. For another, these same magazines (e.g., Sports Illustrated and Sports) were slow to include black athletes on their covers, at least relative to the incredible on-field influence and achievement of these athletes. For example, Hank Aaron’s first Sports Illustrated cover was not until 1969 (!), despite SI’s enthusiasm for featuring the Hammer’s white Milwaukee Braves teammates:

  • August 16, 1954 – Eddie Mathews
  • August 15, 1955 – Eddie Mathews
  • June 25, 1956 – Warren Spahn
  • July 30, 1956 – Joe Adcock
  • April 21, 1958 – Del Crandall
  • June 2, 1958 – Eddie Mathews
  • July 7, 1958 – Del Crandall
  • June 6, 1960 – Red Shoendienst

In my experience of seemingly circling the Earth in a (finally successful!) attempt to find the June 18, 1959, Hank Aaron issue, I managed to acquire a knowledge of Jet that I thought could prove useful to other collectors. Since a good first step in any collection is having a checklist of what’s out there, here is what I believe to be a complete catalog of Jet magazines featuring athletes on the cover. My work is currently complete only through December 31, 1989, but I will plan to finish all the way to 2014 soon. Please send me any comments or corrections.

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BASEBALL COVERS (THRU 12/31/89)

Date Athlete(s) Sport(s)
19-Jun-1952 Larry Doby, Luke Easter (without photos) Baseball
9-Oct-1952 Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella Baseball
1-Sep-1955 Don Newcombe Baseball
26-Apr-1956 Ernie Banks Baseball
3-Jul-1958 Willie Mays Baseball
16-Apr-1959 Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Larry Doby, Minnie Minoso, Elston Howard Baseball
18-Jun-1959 Hank Aaron Baseball
26-Apr-1962 Willie Mays, Elston Howard, Minnie Minoso, Jim Gilliam, Billy Williams Baseball
13-Jun-1963 Walter Alston, Maury Wills, Jim Gilliam, Willie Davis, Tommie Davis, Nate Oliver, John Roseboro Baseball
30-Apr-1964 Rutledge Pearson Baseball
11-Jun-1964 Willie Mays Baseball
15-Jul-1965 Houston Astros ballplayer (Walt Bond? Lee Maye?) Baseball
23-Sep-1965 Willie Mays Baseball
5-May-1966 Willie Mays Baseball
11-May-1967 John Roseboro, Willie Davis, Lou Johnson Baseball
7-Sep-1967 Willie Mays Baseball
14-Mar-1968 Satchel Paige, Dizzy Dean Baseball
5-Sep-1968 Hank Aaron Baseball
19-Jun-1969 Ernie Banks Baseball
7-Aug-1969 Reggie Jackson Baseball
12-Feb-1970 Curt Flood Baseball
16-Jul-1970 Dick Allen Baseball
13-Aug-1970 Willie Mays Baseball
10-Sep-1970 Jackie Robinson Baseball
15-Jul-1971 Vida Blue Baseball
14-Oct-1971 Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Vida Blue Baseball
13-Apr-1972 Hank Aaron Baseball
22-Jun-1972 Willie Mays Baseball
3-Aug-1972 Dick Allen Baseball
12-Oct-1972 Jackie Robinson Baseball
16-Nov-1972 Jackie Robsinson Baseball
19-Apr-1973 Hank Aaron, Dick Allen, Willie Mays, Bob Gibson, Billy Williams Baseball
19-Jul-1973 Hank Aaron Baseball
30-Aug-1973 Hank Aaron Baseball
11-Oct-1973 Willie Mays Baseball
13-Dec-1973 Hank Aaron Baseball
25-Apr-1974 Hank Aaron Baseball
15-Aug-1974 Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Ernie Banks, Maury Wills, Elston Howard, Larry Doby Baseball
24-Oct-1974 Frank Robinson Baseball
4-May-1978 Reggie Jackson Baseball
18-Sep-1980 Dave Parker Baseball
17-Jan-1983 Reggie Jackson Baseball

ALL SPORTS (THRU 12/31/89)

Date Athlete(s) Sport(s)
6-Mar-1952 Jersey Joe Wolcott Boxing
19-Jun-1952 Larry Doby, Luke Easter (without photos) Baseball
9-Oct-1952 Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella Baseball
18-Feb-1954 Joe Louis Boxing
1-Sep-1955 Don Newcombe Baseball
26-Apr-1956 Ernie Banks Baseball
3-Jul-1958 Willie Mays Baseball
16-Apr-1959 Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Larry Doby, Minnie Minoso, Elston Howard Baseball
18-Jun-1959 Hank Aaron Baseball
4-Jan-1962 Sandy Stephens Football
26-Apr-1962 Willie Mays, Elston Howard, Minnie Minoso, Jim Gilliam, Billy Williams Baseball
27-Sep-1962 Sonny Liston, Ingemar Johansson, Joe Louis, Floyd Patterson, Rocky Marciano, Ray Robinson, Archie Moore Boxing
13-Jun-1963 Walter Alston, Maury Wills, Jim Gilliam, Willie Davis, Tommie Davis, Nate Oliver, John Roseboro Baseball
16-Apr-1964 Bob Hayes Track and Field
30-Apr-1964 Rutledge Pearson Baseball
11-Jun-1964 Willie Mays Baseball
5-Nov-1964 Earline Brown Olympics
15-Jul-1965 Houston Astros ballplayer (Walt Bond? Lee Maye?) Baseball
23-Sep-1965 Willie Mays Baseball
5-May-1966 Willie Mays Baseball
11-Aug-1966 Jim Brown Football
13-Apr-1967 Jim Brown Football
11-May-1967 John Roseboro, Willie Davis, Lou Johnson Baseball
6-Jul-1967 Charlie Greene Track and Field
7-Sep-1967 Willie Mays Baseball
18-Jan-1968 Wilt Chamberlain Basketball
14-Mar-1968 Satchel Paige, Dizzy Dean Baseball
5-Sep-1968 Hank Aaron Baseball
12-Sep-1968 Floyd Patterson Boxing
17-Apr-1969 Muhammad Ali Boxing
19-Jun-1969 Ernie Banks Baseball
7-Aug-1969 Reggie Jackson Baseball
18-Dec-1969 Muhammad Ali Boxing
12-Feb-1970 Curt Flood Baseball
28-May-1970 Joe Louis Boxing
16-Jul-1970 Dick Allen Baseball
13-Aug-1970 Willie Mays Baseball
3-Sep-1970 Muhammad Ali Boxing
10-Sep-1970 Jackie Robinson Baseball
22-Oct-1970 Eddie McAshan Football
19-Nov-1970 Muhammad Ali Boxing
25-Mar-1971 Joe Frazier Boxing
15-Apr-1971 Muhammad Ali Boxing
15-Jul-1971 Vida Blue Baseball
22-Jul-1971 Muhammad Ali Boxing
28-Jul-1971 Cheryl White Horseracing
14-Oct-1971 Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Vida Blue Baseball
30-Mar-1972 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain Basketball
13-Apr-1972 Hank Aaron Baseball
22-Jun-1972 Willie Mays Baseball
3-Aug-1972 Dick Allen Baseball
21-Sep-1972 American Olympian Track and Field
12-Oct-1972 Jackie Robinson Baseball
16-Nov-1972 Jackie Robsinson Baseball
4-Jan-1973 Johnny Rodgers, Greg Pruitt, Condredge Holloway Football
16-Jan-1973 Joe Frazier Boxing
15-Feb-1973 George Foreman Boxing
19-Apr-1973 Hank Aaron, Dick Allen, Willie Mays, Bob Gibson, Billy Williams Baseball
19-Jul-1973 Hank Aaron Baseball
30-Aug-1973 Hank Aaron Baseball
11-Oct-1973 Willie Mays Baseball
13-Dec-1973 Hank Aaron Baseball
17-Jan-1974 O.J. Simpson Football
31-Jan-1974 Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier Boxing
14-Feb-1974 Jim Brown Football
4-Apr-1974 Walt Frazier Basketball
25-Apr-1974 Hank Aaron Baseball
15-Aug-1974 Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Ernie Banks, Maury Wills, Elston Howard, Larry Doby Baseball
26-Sep-1974 Muhammad Ali, George Foreman Boxing
24-Oct-1974 Frank Robinson Baseball
21-Nov-1974 Muhammad Ali Boxing
16-Mar-1975 Muhammad Ali Boxing
5-Jun-1975 Arthur Ashe Tennis
16-Oct-1975 Muhammad Ali Boxing
11-Dec-1975 O.J. Simpson Football
22-Apr-1976 Muhammad Ali Boxing
23-Sep-1976 Muhammad Ali, Ken Norton Boxing
17-Feb-1977 Muhammad Ali Boxing
21-Apr-1977 O.J. Simpson Football
1-Dec-1977 O.J. Simpson Football
15-Dec-1977 Ken Norton Boxing
4-May-1978 Reggie Jackson Baseball
8-Jun-1978 Leon Spinks Boxing
22-Jun-1978 Joe Louis Boxing
27-Jul-1968 Muhammad Ali Boxing
14-Sep-1978 Muhammad Ali, Leon Spinks Boxing
16-Nov-1978 O.J. Simpson Football
10-May-1979 O.J. Simpson Football
17-May-1979 Muhammad Ali Boxing
27-Sep-1979 Muhammad Ali Boxing
1-Nov-1979 Larry Holmes Boxing
20-Dec-1979 Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing
17-Apr-1980 Muhammad Ali Boxing
18-Sep-1980 Dave Parker Baseball
9-Oct-1980 Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing
19-Mar-1981 Joe Frazier, Marvis Frazier Boxing
9-Apr-1981 Larry Holmes Boxing
30-Apr-1981 Joe Louis Boxing
7-May-1981 Paula McGee, Pam McGee Basketball
4-Jun-1981 Tony Dorsett Football
24-Sep-1981 Muhammad Ali Boxing
29-Oct-1981 Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing
7-Jan-1982 Tony Dorsett Football
10-May-1982 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Basketball
7-Jun-1982 Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing
17-Jan-1983 Reggie Jackson Baseball
14-Mar-1983 Dwight Braxton, Michael Spinks Boxing
4-Apr-1983 Herschel Walker Football
30-Apr-1984 Muhammad Ali Boxing
13-May-1985 Muhammad Ali Boxing
22-Jul-1985 Muhammad Ali Boxing
18-Nov-1985 Walter Payton Football
22-Dec-1986 Muhammad Ali Boxing
28-Dec-1987 Mike Tyson Boxing
12-Sep-1988 Florence Griffith Joyner Track and Field
3-Oct-1988 Mike Tyson Boxing
14-Nov-1988 Mike Tyson Boxing
5-Dec-1988 Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing
12-Jun-1989 Michael Jordan Basketball
24-Jul-1989 Mike Tyson Boxing
9-Oct-1989 Michael Jordan Basketball
11-Dec-1989 Isaiah Thomas Basketball

Tribute to Ernie Banks, 1931-2015

January 23, 2015, marked the passing of Ernie Banks, a man whose contributions to the sport, the city of Chicago, and baseball fans everywhere were truly priceless. When I learned of the sad news, my Banks collection consisted only of three cards:

M20150128_131006uch like contemporaries Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, Ernie Banks began his career in the Negro Leagues shortly after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Montreal Royals and Brooklyn Dodgers. In the early 1950s, Major League teams either chose not to integrate or looked to the Negro Leagues as their farm system for black talent. In the case of the Chicago Cubs, it was Ernie Banks himself who broke the color barrier, having been recommended to the Cubs by Kansas City Monarchs manager Buck O’Neil. On that recommendation, Banks jumped straight to the Cubs without playing a single game in the minors. His Chicago Cubs career would include back-to-back MVP awards (1958, 1959), 14 All-Star games, two home run crowns, and famously zero trips to the Fall Classic. He was only the seventh member of baseball’s then elite 500 home run club, and he still holds the National League record for most home runs in a season by a shortstop (47 HR in 1958).

All this week, the statue of Ernie Banks that normally lives at Wrigley Field (and had been in Wisconsin for repairs) is instead on display at Daley Plaza. I am fortunate to work only a block away, which has given me numerous opportunities to visit and witness firsthand just how beloved and admired this man was. During one of my quick trips there, a man left a Kansas City Monarchs ballcap, and this got me thinking about whether there might be something I could offer. In an odd coincidence, a package came in the mail for me that afternoon that included a rare 1956 Jet magazine with Ernie and his first wife on the cover.

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Banks statue with my collage at base

Several hours and a trip to the craft store later, I spread a ton of stuff out on my small dining room table: my Ernie Banks baseball cards, a watercolor of Banks taken from the book “Heroes of the Negro Leagues,” my Jet magazine, and various decorative items. Shortly after midnight, I finished my collage, and once the snow let up this morning, I was able to add it to the shrine.

While I will miss my 1969 Banks and may never be able to replace the Jet magazine, it was gratifying to see a number of Banks fans enjoying the piece and even taking a few pictures. Ernie Banks once said that the riches of the game are in the thrills, not the money. And in the same way, I saw today for myself that the richness of collecting is in the reliving and sharing of memories, not in the having.

Banks_1964Still, as luck would have it, another package arrived in the mail for me today. It was the 1964 Topps card I purchased online the night Ernie Banks passed away. I’m back up to three Ernie Banks cards again, and I hope someday to add a few more. While Banks clearly had a hundred times the talent I did on the diamond, I think we both shared the same transcendent love of the game. In the person of Ernie Banks, I see a true American hero, and I know his memory will always be a blessing to all he touched through his joyous approach to baseball and to life.

The Last Cardboard Hurrah

FALL CLASSIC FAILINGS

1991 Sporting News Conlon Collection
1991 Sporting News Conlon Collection

Entering the 1955 season, the Dodgers had been to seven World Series and lost all seven, including four between 1947-1953 when their famously integrated roster lost all four times to their all-white crosstown rivals, the New York Yankees. While there were no rings to be had for Brooklyn, many of these World Series were notable and historic.

  • 1916 – Boston Red Sox 4, Brooklyn Dodgers/Robins 1 – Not a lot of big bats in this series, even for the deadball era. Brooklyn battted only .200 as a team while the Red Sox fared only slightly better at .238. Game 2 of the series is by far the most historic in that the American League’s top pitcher that year won the game 2-1 giving up only 6 hits over 14 innings, the first of many, many World Series heroics for Babe Ruth.
  • 1920 – Cleveland Indians 5, Brooklyn Dodgers/Robins 2 – Game 5 of this series featured three famous firsts: the unassisted triple play turned by Cleveland’s Bill Wambsganss, the grand slam hit by Elmer Smith, and the home run by pitcher Jim Bagby, Sr.
  • 1941 – New York Yankees 4, Brooklyn Dodgers 1 – The Dodgers only managed to bat .182 off Yankee pitching in this first subway series, though it was futility with the glove rather than the bat that would stand out as most memorable. On the verge of tying the series at two games apiece, catcher Mickey Owen dropped a ninth inning third strike, fueling a Yankee four-run rally and come-from-behind win.
  • 1947 – New York Yankees 4, Brooklyn Dodgers 3 – Game 4 of Major League Baseball’s first (barely) integrated World Series was known as the “Cookie Game.” Yankees pitcher Bill Bevens had a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning, only to see pinch-hitter Cookie Lavagetto break up the no-hitter and win the game on a two-run double.
  • 1949 – New York Yankees 4, Brooklyn Dodgers 1 – The first of a record five consecutive world championships for the Yankees.
  • 1952 – New York Yankees 4, Brooklyn Dodgers 3 – Game 6 featured the first of Mickey Mantle’s record 18 World Series home runs as the Commerce Comet batted .345 for the series and led the Bombers with 10 hits
  • 1953 – New York Yankees 4, Brooklyn Dodgers 2 – Infielder Billy Martin banged out a (then) record 12 hits, and the Series also marked the first of many World Series broadcasts for Hall of Fame announcer Vin Scully.

THE CHAMPAGNE WAS SHORT-LIVED

When the Dodgers again faced the Yankees in the 1955 Fall Classic, the team featured six future Hall of Famers (Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, and manager Walt Alston) in addition to eight-time all-star Gil Hodges and stars such as Don Newcombe, Carl Furillo, and Carl Erskine. However, it was unlikely heroics from young Johnny Podres that delivered the Bums their first ever World Series title as Podres pitched two complete game victories including the decisive 2-0 game 7 shutout at Yankee Stadium.

1958 Topps
1958 Topps

Following the 1955 championship, fortunes headed south (or maybe west!) quickly. The Brooklyn Dodgers lost again to the Yankees in 1956 (famous for Don Larsen’s perfect game), failed to make the postseason in 1957, and all of a sudden were done. And while the backs of bubble gum cards necessarily lagged a year behind in their chronicling of the game, the front of the 1958 Topps issue was as current as could be, featuring brand new L.A. hats on all the players and noting their team as “L.A. DODGERS.”

All of this adds a special significance to my 1957 Topps Dodgers team set. In addition to many of the players being part of the 1955 championship team, it was also the last cardboard hurrah of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

FROM HODGES TO ELSTON

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1957 Topps Gil Hodges

I began collecting this set some 25 years ago while in college. My first card from the set was Gil Hodges, a player I came to admire greatly after reading The Quiet Man. His 1957 Topps card was a great looking card from a great looking set, also the first Topps set to use photography exclusively and establish the modern 2.5″ x 3.5″ card size.

From there, I thumbed through commons at card shows and placed orders from the Kit Young catalog, slowly adding more and more players over time. I recall finding pretty good deals on Snider and Campy, but I don’t remember for the life of me where I came up with the cash to buy the Koufax card, well centered, crease-free, and relatively sharp. The Drysdale card was his rookie, so I setlled for one a little beat up but good looking from a distance.

Ultimately, when my collecting hit a long hiatus, I suspected I was awfully close to the set. This was pre-Internet, so really I had no idea if my 23 player cards, team card, and Dodgers Sluggers card were all there were. Sure enough, when I picked up collecting again this year, I found I was only $2 away, which is what I paid for pitcher Don Elston, the final piece in the puzzle. The day the card arrived in the mail, I stayed up late and made this card display.

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1957 Topps Brooklyn Dodgers (alphabetical) – Amoros, Bessent, Campanella, Cimoli, Craig, Drysdale, Elston, Erskine, Furillo, Gilliam, Hodges, Jackson, Koufax, Labine, Lehman, Maglie, Neal, Newcombe, Podres, Reese, Snider, Valdes, Walker, Zimmer, Dodgers Sluggers, team card

AN ALMOST PERFECT SET

While this team set featured all the key players from the team’s final year in Brooklyn, I always lamented that this Dodgers set–the only one I had pre-1978–didn’t include my favorite Brooklyn Dodger of all, Jackie Robinson. While he chose to retire following the 1956 season rather than accept a trade to the rival Giants, Robinson nonetheless played the full season with the Dodgers including all seven games of the World Series. However, it was largely the tradition at Topps back then that the set attempt to reflect the current year’s players rather than memorialize the prior year.

The first card is one I made myself but ultimately omitted from my framed display. Meanwhile, the other two, created by Bob Lemke and  Dick Allen Hall of Fame, are ones I am eternally thankful to Topps for never issuing!

jackie robinson jackie_giants2  Jackie_Giants

My Tribute to Lou Brock

It’s usually a losing argument to claim that a player in baseball’s Hall of Fame is underrated, and this must be doubly true when his nickname was “The Franchise.” Still, I will do just that with Louis Clark Brock. This speedy left fielder first came to my notice through two Topps Highlights/Record Breaker cards any player would love to be on.

Brock_1975_RB   Brock_1978_RB

NOT BAD FOR AN OLD GUY!

Let’s start with the first, Brock’s (then) single season record for stolen bases. Here is a look at the top ten single seasons since 1900, with the player’s age noted as well.

MOST STOLEN BASES, SEASON, SINCE 1900

Rank Player Stolen Bases Year Age
1 Rickey Henderson 130 1982 23
2 Lou Brock 118 1974 35
3 Vince Coleman 110 1985 23
4 Vince Coleman 109 1987 25
5 Rickey Henderson 108 1983 24
6 Vince Coleman 107 1986 24
7 Maury Wills 104 1962 29
8 Rickey Henderson 100 1980 21
9 Ron LeFlore 97 1980 32
10 Ty Cobb 96 1915 28

The two things that stand out to me are 1) that Lou Brock set his single season record when he was 35 years old, and 2) that he still holds second place even after an era that featured such speedsters as Rickey Henderson, Willie Wilson, Tim Raines, and Vince Coleman.

Regarding the first point, here are the top single season stolen base totals by players age 33 and up. Half the list is Lou Brock!

MOST STOLEN BASES, SEASON, SINCE 1900, AGE 33 AND UP

Rank Player Stolen Bases Year Age
1 Lou Brock 118 1974 35
2 Lou Brock 70 1973 34
3 Rickey Henderson 66 1998 39
4 Lou Brock 63 1972 33
5 Honus Wagner 61 1907 33
6 Otis Nixon 59 1997 38
7 Ozzie Smith 57 1988 33
8 Lou Brock 56 1975 36
9 Lou Brock 56 1976 37
10 Bert Campaneris 54 1976 34

THE CAREER MARK

Next, let’s look at Brock’s (then) career record for stolen bases. When Brock finished the 1977 season as the career leader in stolen bases, here was the top 10, again restricting data to post-1900.

MOST STOLEN BASES, CAREER, 1900-1977

Rank Player Stolen Bases Notes
1 Lou Brock 900 active beyond 1977 season
2 Ty Cobb 897
3 Eddie Collins 741
4 Max Carey 738
5 Honus Wagner 639 excludes 84 SBs from 1897-1899
6 Maury Wills 586
7 Bert Campaneris 580 active beyond 1977 season
8 Joe Morgan 554 active beyond 1977 season
9 Luis Aparicio 506
10 Clyde Milan 495

What stands out in this table is that players 2-5 (Cobb, Collins, Carey, and Wagner) were all long retired before Lou Brock was even born. And as for players 6-10, none were even within 300 steals of Brock’s record.

Just how unusual was it in Brock’s time to hold the single season and career records in a major category? The 1979 Topps “All-Time Record Holders” subset answers that question, with Lou Brock being the only player to fill two halves of the same card.

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THE 3000 HIT CLUB

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1980 Topps

While his 1979 Topps card was his final standard issue card in a major release, Brock was featured along with Carl Yastrzemski on a “1979 Highlights” card within the 1980 Topps set. Brock and Yaz had become members 14 and 15 respectively of one of baseball’s most celebrated clubs. Given the 100+ year history of Major League Baseball to that point, it might have seemed a rarity for two players to crack the club the very same year. Oddly, of the 13 members preceding Brock/Yaz, there had already been three such pairings, and there would subsequently be two others:

  • 1914 – Honus Wagner/Napoleon Lajoie
  • 1925 – Tris Speaker/Eddie Collins
  • 1970 – Hank Aaron/Willie Mays
  • 1979 – Lou Brock/Carl Yastrzemski
  • 1992 – George Brett/Robin Yount
  • 1999 – Tony Gwynn/Wade Boggs

MR. BROCKTOBER

On June 15, 1964, Lou Brock was part of one of the worst trades in baseball history, so much so that the phrase “Brock for Broglio” is still used today to refer to an entirely lopsided transaction between clubs. Brock proved to be just the spark the Cards needed, batting .348 with St. Louis that year and leading them to their first World Series since 1946. While hardly a one-man team, Brock nonetheless would play a key role in the Cardinals mini-dynasty that won rings in 1964 and 1967 and lost a squeaker to the Tigers in 1968. With all three series going the full seven games, Brock amassed 21 World Series games to his name, an impressive total for a player not on the Yankees or Dodgers.

Brock’s postseason numbers were pretty amazing: a .391 batting average (including .464 in 1968), 4 home runs, 13 home runs, and 14 steals. Here are Lou Brock’s World Series numbers, including a projection to 162 games:

Year G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG
1964 7 30 2 9 2 0 1 5 0 0 3 0.300 0.300 0.467
1967 7 29 8 12 2 1 1 3 7 2 3 0.414 0.452 0.655
1968 7 28 6 13 3 1 2 5 7 3 4 0.464 0.516 0.857
TOTALS 21 87 16 34 7 2 4 13 14 5 10 0.391 0.424 0.655
162 Game Avg 162 671 123 262 54 15 31 100 108 39 77

ONE OF THE BEST EVER!

Recognizing that today’s Hall of Fame is so large as to be considered bloated, here are some criteria that could certainly restrict membership to a far more elite collection of players:

  • Member of one of baseball’s celebrated “clubs” (3000 H, 500 HR, 300 w, 3000 K)
  • Holder of single season (modern era) or career record in major offensive (H, HR, RBI, BA, R, SB) or pitching category (W, K, ERA) at time of retirement
  • Multiple World Series rings

While I certainly am not proposing such strict criteria be adopted, here are the only members of this ultra-elite circle:

  • Babe Ruth
  • Lou Brock
  • Pete Rose
  • Rickey Henderson

I certainly would not confuse the list above with a list of baseball’s four greatest players ever. However, I do believe that all on the list but Ruth are somewhat underrated and that Lou Brock is the most underrated of the group.

Could baseball cards help Ferguson?

This is an odd title for a post and one that I hope doesn’t do a disservice to the very real life issues that impact the Ferguson community.

The 3700s block of Military Avenue in Los Angeles where I grew up looked very different than Ferguson, Missouri or just about anywhere else I’ve lived since. On the same block, there were white families, black families, and Mexican families; there was a Korean family another block down; and the kids my sister and I played with were from all of them. My neighbor on one side, Helen, was a woman in her 60s whose son, John, was an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department. John would pull up from time to time on his police motorcycle, say a quick hello to his mom, maybe grab a bite, and head back to work. In the summer of 1980, these visits were the highlight of my day.

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1980 LAPD Pedro Guerrero

1980 was the year the police began giving out trading cards of the L.A. Dodgers as part of a community relations and early education program. While the front of each card resembled a standard baseball card, the back included a message warning kids of the dangers of drugs, street gangs, playing with guns, etc. The cards were free for the asking, and John was one of many officers I received cards from in the early 80s. Though I was a shy kid, I was also a big enough fan of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, and Ron Cey that I had no reservations at all about approaching any cop in uniform and asking, “Do you have any baseball cards?”

I know life really is more complicated than all this, but for me–in the small world I lived in as a ten-year-old boy obsessed with the Dodgers–these card sets (and maybe Officer Byrd also) made me a big, big fan of the police. I have to imagine this was true for thousands of other young boys as well. These men and women (and birds!) not only kept us safe but gave us Dodger trading cards to boot!

1981 LAPD Rick Monday
1981 LAPD Rick Monday with anti-graffiti message

I was five years removed from Los Angeles and just out of college when Rodney King was brutally beaten by police in April 1992. Perhaps because of the positive experiences I had with LAPD as a kid, I was certainly inclined to believe the “bad apples” storyline–that what happened was outrageous but not representative of how LAPD operated. However disgusting the actions of these officers were, I tended to think 99.9% of L.A. cops were truly there to protect and serve.

Fast forwarding to the present, I am certain there are communities like Ferguson today where the police are no longer respected or trusted. As I read news stories and statements by union spokesmen in St. Louis, Cleveland, and New York, it almost sounds like police departments are at war with their own citizenry. Where there are opportunities to mend relations and build bridges, it seems that the more common response is to double down by driving wedges between the police force and the public.

Just last night, outside of Ferguson, an African American teenager was fatally shot by officers as they either responded to a robbery call or went about their standard business checks, depending which account you read. According to the officers, and possibly corroborated by gas station video, the victim was shot after pointing his own weapon at an officer. If this is indeed how the scene played out, the shooting may well have been a justifiable use of lethal force. The police may well have done exactly the right thing. However, the actions of the officers ignited protests just as if the shooting had been of an unarmed man.

A better future than this is possible in communities like Ferguson, but nothing good will happen until the public are able to trust the police who they pay to protect and serve them. It will not be enough for police to simply do the right thing (halt racial profiling, exercise zero tolerance for brutality, end harrassment, support freedom of expression, etc.) although that all needs to happen too. As important is the establishment and maintenance of the public trust.

There are kids in St. Louis, Cleveland, and New York today too innocent to have already made of their minds about the police. I am certainly not recommending that cops buy off these kids by handing out trading cards of Tavon Austin (St. Louis Rams), LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers), and Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks). However, if coupled with genuine positive changes to policing, I do think the cards would be an easy and small step in the right direction and one that would pay dividends as today’s kids grow into tomorrow’s taxpayers, voters, teachers, community organizers, and parents.