What is Project 54?

Late last night I was indulging myself in some pre-bedtime eBaying!

Earlier that day I’d put together a post on cheating in Baseball and while trying to find a good image of a vintage Whitey Ford I came across a listing by Portland Sports Card Co. for a 1954 Topps in incredible condition for around $11 with less than 24hrs to go. I emailed for further details and Bill confirmed some really good shipping rates to the UK ($3.50 for 1-2 cards and $4.00 for up to 10). Interest piqued I started having a look through some of his other cards of HOFers from around the same era.

As an aside, if you have a real hankering for some vintage cards I’d suggest you go and have a look at Bill’s store on eBay. There’s a great selection of cards at pretty reasonable prices, including the shipping costs!

I eventually put several 1954 Topps in my watchlist – Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews, Yogi Berra, Gil Hodges and Duke Snider – to go along with the Ford. ALL cards were in amazing condition given their age and all were between $11 and $20. “Bargain” I thought!!

Around three hours ago (just after I’d put the lasagne in the oven) I sat in front of my laptop to watch the time on these cards tick down.

It’s safe to say, thanks to a flurry of last minute bidding, that I didn’t win any of them!! All of them went, except for the Eddie Mathews, for upwards of $40, exceeding my PayPal budget by a fair few dollars! Win some, lose some I guess!!

However this short visit into the world of vintage Baseball left me yearning for more. I’ve always wanted to collect a set of vintage Topps but have always concentrated on sets from the 60s and 70s due to the heavy coin involved in putting together a set from the 50’s. But when I started to investigate things a bit further I ended up being pleasantly surprised.

The 1954 Topps Baseball set has been a personal favourite for a long time and has a grand total of 250 cards (including two Ted Williams), the majority of which are infinitely affordable if you’re prepared to bend a little with regard to the condition of the cards. Now if you ask me 250 cards is pretty achievable, even more so when you take out the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Aaron, Banks and Kaline rookies, and the Williams cards that bookend the set! I’ve looked on eBay and have found that you can even pick up the likes of Jackie Robinson at a reasonable price with a bit of patience and shopping around!

So, after giving the logistics some consideration, ‘Project 54’ is born!

Heaven only knows how far I’ll get with it? Given my previous track record with building collections the odds are pretty much stacked against me, but I’m going to give it a go anyway! If it all amounts to a failed exercise it will be worth it just to get my hands on some ’54 Topps!

And if one day I do go on to finish the whole set at least I’ll be able to say I own this beauty –

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#whatisproject54

The Traveller Returns…

A few of you (my wife, my dog, my barman) may have noticed my absence of late. This was due to a family wedding in Norway – the single most expensive land I’ve ever been to in my life. 22 quid for a pint of stout and a bottle of cider in Trondheim!! When I think of the cards I could have bought with what I’ve spent this past week…

Anyway, I did return to a nice little treat in the mailbox. No, the neighbour’s cat hadn’t been up to his tricks again. It was a card from Jim & Steve’s Baseball Card Shop – a dealer on Beckett Marketplace. The card in question was the toughest of the five remaining 1966 Topps on my wantlist – #561 Choo Choo Coleman. I was lucky enough to be viewing the site at just the right time and was able to nab ol’ Choo Choo in EX condition for just under 20 bucks.

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1966 Topps #561 Choo Choo (Who Who?) Coleman

Now who the hell is Choo Choo Coleman you may well ask. Well, I may well ask the same thing! Coleman didn’t really amount to much in his major league career. He played just over 200 games over four seasons with the Phillies and Mets, popping nine homers and garnering a lusty batting average of .197

For some reason though, Coleman’s 1966 card sells for three figure sums in NrMt condition. Why? Well, there seems to be two trains of thought on this. One is that the card is a genuine “super” short print – a card that is printed not only in shorter numbers than the rest of the series, but also in shorted numbers than the rest of the short prints! There are one or two other cards among the 1966T high numbers that are thought to be among this group and as a result, prices tend to be notably higher than the other SPs. The other possible explanation is an interesting one…

There are rumours that a collector (or collectors) in the States are creating an artificial premium for these cards by cornering the market on them… in other words, buying up as many of them as possible over the past few years, forcing prices up by making an already scarce card even harder to find. Now this may or may not be true. Perhaps its just speculation based on similar situations which are generally acknowledged to be genuine. Read here about the 1966T #591 Bart Shirley/Grant Jackson RC. There is also a guy who seems to buy every 1964T #103 Curt Flood card… seemingly he has well over 1000 of them.

Whatever the reason, I’m just glad that Choo Choo now resides in my 1966 Topps binder.

Just four more spaces to fill…

Old School: The Georgia Peach

For my second foray into ‘Baseball past’ I’ve decided to take a look at one of the most controversial, and arguably one of the greatest, figures to ever play the game – Tyrus Raymond Cobb!

To say that Ty Cobb was one of Baseball’s more complex characters would be a bit of and understatement to say the least! Credited with setting 90 MLB records in his career, a number of which still stand today, Cobb’s prowess on the diamond was often overshadowed by his foul temperament and aggressive playing style, and his legacy as the game’s greatest player has been tarnished over the years by allegations of violence and racism.

Cobb epitomised the Dead Ball Era style of play – the strategy of the ‘small ball’ game with the emphasis placed on base stealing and hit-and-run tactics over power! However his career, which spanned 21 years with the Detroit Tigers from 1905 to 1926 and a further two years from 1927 to 1928 with the Philadelphia Athletics, is so rich and storied that I couldn’t even begin to do it justice here.

So instead I’ll employ a similar tactic that I used with a post I put together about Stan Musial shortly after his death in January this year, and let the words of writers and other ballplayers tell you all about the man, and the legend, that is Ty Cobb. And while we’re at it we’ll take a look at some of the early cards that Cobb featured on.

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“I had to fight all my life to survive. They were all against me… but I beat the bastards and left them in the ditch.”

– Ty Cobb, The Early Years (1989)

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“Cobb is a prick. But he sure can hit. God Almighty, that man can hit.”

– Babe Ruth

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“Every time I hear of this guy again, I wonder how he was possible.”

– Joe DiMaggio

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“I have observed that baseball is not unlike a war, and when you come right down to it, we batters are the heavy artillery.”

– Ty Cobb, Baseball As I Have Known It (1977)

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“He was still fighting the Civil War, and as far as he was concerned, we were all damn Yankees. But who knows, if he hadn’t had that terrible persecution complex, he never would have been about the best ballplayer who ever lived.”

– Tigers’ Teammate Sam Crawford

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“The greatness of Ty Cobb was something that had to be seen, and to see him was to remember him forever.”

– George Sisler

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“The base paths belonged to me, the runner. The rules gave me the right. I always went into a bag full speed, feet first. I had sharp spikes on my shoes. If the baseman stood where he had no business to be and got hurt, that was his fault.”

– Ty Cobb, Giants Of Baseball (1975)

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“The greatest ballplayer of all time? … I pick the Detroit man because he is, in my judgement, the most expert man in his profession and is able to respond better than any other ballplayer, to any demand made on him. I pick him because he plays ball with his whole anatomy — his head, his arms, his hands, his legs, his feet — and because he plays ball all the time for all that is in him. … he loves the game. I have never seen a man who had his heart more centered in a sport than Cobb has when he’s playing. There never was a really good ball player who didn’t think more of the game than he did of his salary or the applause of fans. … I believe Cobb would continue to play ball if he were charged something for the privilege, and if the only spectator were the groundskeeper.”

– Charles Comiskey, The Chicago tribune (1910)

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“The more his fires burned the more that provoked him on the field and I suppose one could say that the happy byproduct was the extraordinary baseball that he gave the fans at the time, but … uh, there’s a moment when you have to say it’s not worth it. I think that Ty Cobb in his totality is an embarrassment to baseball.”

Daniel Okrent, Ken Burns’ Baseball (1994)

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“I think if I had my life to live over again, I’d do things a little different. I was aggressive, perhaps too aggressive. Maybe I went too far. I always had to be right in any argument I was in, I always had to be first in everything. I do indeed think I would have done some things different. And if I had I believe I would have had more friends.”

– Ty Cobb, in one of his last interviews before his death in 1961

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Most of Ty Cobb’s earliest cards are well beyond the price range of your average collector! Any of the above T206, T205, Cracker Jack and Sport Kings can fetch thousands of dollars on the secondary market, even in poor condition! Such is the draw of this Baseball icon!

Luckily for us Cobb does feature heavily in a number of modern releases due to his ongoing popularity amongst collectors! You’ll frequently see his cards appear in Topps’ retro-themed products and he also features heavily in Panini’s Baseball output as well.

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Ty Cobb may well have been an odious human being, but his skill and tenacity on the field were without peer. Collectors have responded to this throughout the years, making his cards, especially the early ones, some of the most highly sought after in the Hobby!

I know that if I managed to ever get my hands on one of those Cracker Jacks or the T206’s I’d consider myself one lucky SOB!

Let’s hope my numbers come up in the lottery this weekend 🙂

Old School: Tinker to Evers to Chance

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

– Franklin Pierce Adams
New York Evening Mail July 10, 1910

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Joe Tinker (SS), Johnny Evers (2B) and Frank Chance (1B) formed one of the greatest infields in major league history, forming a double play combination for the Chicago Cubs that ran from their first game together on 13th September 1902 through to April 1912.

The Cubs won the NL pennant four times between 1906 and 1910, often beating their rivals the New York Giants on their way to the World Series, and the defensive prowess of Tinker, Evers and Chance was instrumental in delivering the Cubs their only World Series victories in 1907 and 1908!

Here’s a look at their early T206 cards –

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Despite their apparent harmonious Baseball relationship on the field things were apparently strained off it. It’s alleged that Tinker and Evers did not talk for many years following an on-field fist fight that erupted between the two of them in 1905 after Evers had supposedly taken a cab to the stadium leaving his teammates behind in their hotel lobby.

The above poem by Franklin Pierce Adams, which forms part of ‘Baseball’s Sad Lexicon’, was written in 1910 and published in the New York Evening Mail in 1912. Adams wrote the poem to try and appreciate what it must be like to be in the shoes of a Giants fan whenever they saw the trio turn a double play! It was seized upon by other writers who added more verses over the years.

Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance were all inducted into the Hall of Fame together in 1946. Many baseball writers at the time, and indeed since then, have attributed their joint induction to the power and mystique of Adams’ poem, for despite having the reputation as being a great infield combination, stats show that from 1906 through 1910 the “Tinker, to Evers, to Chance” double play happened only 54 times in 770 games played and the trio did not collaborate on a double play during any of their 21 World Series games!

Very few cards were produced of the trio from their playing days, apart from the T206 above and the T205 from 1911 –

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Panini have put out some more modern card releases, including these three from last years 2012 Cooperstown Collection base set –

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The trip also appear on the checklist of this years Golden Age Baseball base set alongside several insert sets, including my favourite  – the playing cards!!!

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So there it is! The very first ‘Old School’ post! I hope you enjoyed the trip into baseball’s past and I look forward to seeing you again next time when we look at a man who many argue to be one of the best, if not THE best, players of all time – Tyrus Raymond Cobb!

Introducing ‘Old School’

Today sees the addition of a new feature to The Wax Fantastic that goes by the name of ‘Old School’!

With ‘Prospect Watch’ we take an ongoing look at the stars of the future along with their Prospect cards, but with ‘Old School’ I wanted to go in the opposite direction and look back at ball players and their cards from the early part of the 20th Century – from the Dead Ball Era to the period leading up to World War II! I’ve made no secret of my love of Baseball history and I find this time absolutely fascinating to read about and research.

Baseball cards from this time are amongst some of the most sought after in the Hobby. Some of Baseball’s earliest superstars and future Hall of Famers have cards from this era, and the likes of Ty Cobb, John McGraw, Willie Keeler, Tris Speaker, along with countless others, have been immortalised on these rare and highly coveted pieces of cardboard!

So I figure, “What the hell?”, let’s learn a bit more about these players and their cards! Some of the names you may have heard of, others maybe not! But that’s all part of the fun!! I just want to try and open up this rich and vibrant part of the Hobby to those of you who might not be as familiar with the era, and maybe some of the enthusiasm that I have for the period will come across as well!

And who knows? Maybe we’ll look at this guy at some point in the future. I mean, it’s not as if he doesn’t get enough attention already 🙂

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Vintage Expensive? Think Again!!

As a card collector in the UK who predominantly collects vintage, one thing I’ve heard so many times from fellow Brit-based collectors is “Oh, I’d love to start a vintage collection, but its just too expensive!”. Well friends, I’m here to tell you that its not! To illustrate that point, I’ve included scans of some of the cards I’ve picked up over the years, along with their NM Book Value and the price that I paid for them.

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1957 Topps Ted Williams #1 – BV $600, purchase price $18

If you fellow the hobby at all, you’ll no doubt hear occasional stories of a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle RC selling for a 6 figure sum, or even a T206 Honus Wagner (the current Holy Grail of vintage cards) for a **SEVEN** figure sum. The thought straight away is to imagine that this is commonplace in the world of vintage collecting, The truth is, its not.

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1957/58 Topps #35 Terry Sawchuck – BV $250, purchase price $4.76

Building a vintage set to a budget can be as cheap – or cheaper – than building many new sets. How much would it cost you to build a set of 2013 Topps Heritage Baseball including all the SPs (just cards 1 to 500)? £200? £300? A quick browse of eBay shows a complete 1979 Topps Baseball set including the Ozzie Smith RC currently available for $80 (£55) on Buy It Now. If you’d prefer to build a set rather than buy it all in one fell swoop, baseball, football, hockey, and basketball cards from the 1960s and 1970s can be bought in group lots at prices which work out at less than 10c (6p) per card.

For the most part, its a question of condition. If you aim for graded or high condition cards then yes, you almost certainly will run into some very expensive territory, especially when it comes to stars and short prints. To stay within a budget, you really need to get past your fear of a small crease or two, or maybe a pencil mark or hole punch. Look on these as part of the character of a card and think about all the hands that its been through since it was liberated from its wax cocoon all those years ago. Low grade usually means low price, and it means that almost anyone can start to build vintage collections. My own tactic is to buy whatever I can in order to fill a gap in a set, regardless of its condition. I can always upgrade later and pass on the replaced card by way of trade, sale, or even better as a gift to a fellow collector in need. Bargains are out there to be had. Its just a matter of putting in the time to search for them. It also helps to get lucky now and then by being online at exactly the right time, or throwing in a lowball bid which somehow manages to succeed.

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1963/64 Parkhurst  #55 Gordie Howe – BV $450, purchase price $15

COMC remains one of the best sources for vintage on the web for UK collectors (they ship direct at a reasonable cost). If however, you are able to use relatives or friends in the US as a go between, you’ll find yourself able to take advantage of great online dealers and auctions who ship exclusively within North America. In addition to eBay, check out Kevin Savage Auctions, Sportlots, and Beckett Marketplace for great vintage deals.

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1967 Topps #609 Tommy John – BV $80, purchase price $5

Vintage card collecting offers you a terrific window into the history of your chosen sport. Its a great way to learn about the stars and teams of the past. And I can assure you that the excitement of adding that final card to nail down a vintage set is really an amazing feeling!!

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1970/71 Topps #3 Bobby Orr – BV $75, purchase price $9

So, as an older friend of mine once advised me when I was a plukey youth – “Lower your standards and have some fun!”

ps In case you were wondering, the second part of my look at the Wonderful World of Short Prints will appear in print…..err……shortly.

Vintage View: The Wonderful World of SP’s (Part 1)

Does it drive you up the wall when you find that the last few cards you need to complete a set are SPs? Do you get a certain thrill when you open a pack to find a card that’s just a little different from what you expect – maybe a team name in an unexpected colour, or an unfamiliar pose – and you think, “Scored! SP!!”?

SP’s, or to give them their full name Short Prints, are nothing new. Vintage sets are absolutely littered with them, but for considerably different reasons than the SPs of today.

Modern printing techniques incorporating computer aided design and layout allows the card companies to produce exactly the quantity of each card that they desire, right down to the dreaded 1 of 1. SPs these days are a totally manufactured phenomena, artificially creating a market for certain cards. Back in the vintage days however, SPs simply a by-product of the printing and distribution processes of the time.

In my last article, I mentioned that up until 1973, cards tended to be released throughout a season in “series”. How did this work, and how did it produce SPs? Well, let’s look at one year – say, 1971 – as an example. The 1971 Topps Baseball set featured a total of 752 cards, broken down into 6 series.

It’s February 1971. There’s still snow on the ground in my home town of Westland, Michigan but down in Florida, Mickey Lolich, Bill Freehan, and the rest of the pitchers and catchers of my Detroit Tigers have reported for Spring Training. Within a few days, they’d be joined by the rest of their teammates, and fans would start to look ahead with the optimism that a new season always brings.

For kids, thoughts turned the excitement of this year’s baseball cards. What will they look like? Which players will be featured? Every couple days, I’d trudge along to my local store to see if the new cards had arrived yet, until one day…..they’re here!!! I hand over a crisp dollar for 10 packs of 1971 Topps Series One (only 10 cents a pack…changed days indeed!), featuring the first 132 cards in the set. After about 5-6 weeks, boxes of Series 2 will replace Series 1 on the shelves, followed by Series 3 and so on.

1971 Topps Wax Pack

Topps know their market, and during this early part of the season print runs are high, lots of product are on the shelves, and cards sell in high volume. As the summer progresses, though, things slow down. Kids have gotten over the excitement of the “new” set, their own teams may have already fallen out of contention, and their thoughts turn to other summer ventures. Topps, therefore, start to turn down the volume on their print runs. By Series 4 and 5 (round about July/August), retailers are still stocking cards but already in noticeably smaller numbers.

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1971 Topps #20 Reggie Jackson

Come September, Series 6 – the last 130 or so cards in the set – is due for release. But wait! There’s competition on the shelves at the local store! There’s new season football, hockey AND basketball, too. All Topps products, and all being pushed. As the printing presses are turned over to these new products and faced with declining interest, the final series of 1971 Topps baseball is therefore printed is lesser quantities then its predecessors. Some retailers don’t even bother to stock late series cards, making them scarcer still.

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1971 Topps 6th Series Checklist

When you look at a vintage price guide, you might wonder why the “high numbers” in a set seem to command a price premium. Well, there you have your answer! Topps didn’t set out to deliberately short print cards to create an artificial “desire” for them, they did so to address the market forces of the time.

The 1971 set is nowhere near the most extreme example of short printing of high series by Topps. The 1967, 1966, 1962 and 1961 high series all seem to be in shorter supply. The grand-daddy of them all scarce high series though is the 1952 Topps set, where the high numbers can command 3 figure prices even for cards in poor condition. Apparently, the scarcity of that particular series was down not only to a shorter print run, but also due to Topps dumping cases and cases of unsold product into the Atlantic Ocean in the late 1950s.

There are other non-market reasons for SPs springing up in vintage sets, but that’s for Part 2!