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Ramblings: The Readers Write

Our last few articles and Ramblings columns have generated quite a bit of response and it’s time for a little ‘Readers Write’ column.

Deacon White Old JudgeSometimes our stories are discovered by members of the mainstream media and our story about the rare Old Judge card is one of those.  Bill Phippen purchased some Old Judge cards and found an ultra rare Deacon White “McGreachery” in the grouping.  The card has a great story behind it, which we detailed in my story on March 28 and over the weekend, Bill sent me this note:

Thank you Rich! Your awesome article led to this article (in Signal SCV Sports) which is leading me to a LA TV station interview tomorrow. I really appreciate your helping get the most information out about the story and card. I am getting a lot of local support and your article was instrumental. What a blessing everyone has been along the way. Much appreciated and never will be forgotten.
Rich Ramblings 2014

Not long ago, I wrote about the arrival of Pro Set and Score 25 years ago and how the two manufacturers helped initiate a permanent change where card companies tried to get cards made of rookie players and put them into sets within their first year rather than waiting until their second season.  Here’s a note I received someone who has fond recollections of collecting football cards in that era.

My name is Jared Joy, I am 37 and from Amarillo, TX. My first collecting memories were in 1986 at a KayBee Toy Store in the mall that had 1986 Topps Football rack packs on sale in a big bin for a quarter apiece. I bought several and opened them up and pinned the Cowboys cards on my corkboard. Being a fickle kid I sold them at the flea market months later to buy some other toy. 

My first year as a serious collector was in 1989. My best friend down the street’s dad was a VP for a entertainment/book distributor and went to a conference. He brought them and me each a box of Pro Set to open up. I fell in love with card collecting. I enjoyed your recent article on Score and Pro Set. They were both certainly revolutionary in the football market with action shots and true rookie cards. What most people don’t remember was Pro Set was actually more popular in 1989. Most of the kids at my school preferred it. Pro Set was more ready available than Score, we weren’t thinking about scarcity at the time. 

If you look at those early Beckett’s Pro Set actually was priced for more. Most kids found the Score rookie head shots pretty boring at the time and preferred the college action shots of Pro Set. 

Being in Texas I remember the Pro Set Rookie of Eric Metcalf in his UT uniform was really popular at school. I think it was only about a year later and Score went up in price. 

Barry Sanders 1989 Score rookie cardAt one point you could get the Aikman or Sanders score rookie for $5 each at card shops. I do remember in the early 90’s talking to a guy at a shop that had bought a bunch of 1989 Score football boxes back in 1989 on close out for $5  each at Toys R Us because at the time nobody wanted them. He told me about all these Aikman and Sanders rookies in his safe deposit box. I remember thinking he was going to be rich someday. Of course now with the Internet we know Score really isn’t that rare. 

I remember how bad Pro Set’s collation was at the time. I was trying to complete the full set and between my friends and me we weren’t able to find certain commons until a card show came to town. I got out of collecting in 1993 and have recently came back into the hobby in 2011. Thanks for a great article!

About three weeks ago, I wrote about the arrival of serial numbered cards in the 1990’s and how a production run described as ‘limited’ back then is just an ordinary type of insert these days and Mark Rippy from Searcy AR sent us his memory from that time:

I’ve just finished reading your fantastic article of the change in the card market of the mid 90’s, due to the hits and serial numbered cards starting to be produced. I wanted to share my first two hits stories with you. They were moments I’ll never forget.

The first was from a pack of 1992 Classic baseball that my mother bought me from a local Wal-Mart. I was shuffling through the cards, when to my surprise, a Mike Schmidt autograph card pops out. To say I was excited was an extreme understatement. I thought I had hit the lottery. It was hand numbered out of 2,500 or maybe more, but I thought it was the most rare thing on earth.

The second hit came from 1997 Fleer Ultra baseball. I was browsing at my local card shop, the no longer in existence Card and Comic World of Durham. ARK and noticed there was only one pack left of the aforementioned Ultra baseball. Seeing as I hadn’t got any of that year’s edition, I bought it. I remembered the “Gold Medallion” parallel set, that were one per pack, from previous editions of Ultra, and thought those were the coolest thing since sliced bread.

When I was going through the cards, in the middle of the pack was a beautiful purple card of Ray Durham. I thought it was a Gold Medallion of him, as I didn’t know what that year’s looked like. However, to my shock, when I turned it over at the bottom of the card it read “The one of only one masterpiece collection”. I was in complete disbelief at what I had just pulled.

About a year or two later I sold it for what I thought was a mint, for a Ray Durham card, of $45. It is one of less than a handful of cards I regret ever getting rid of.  Thank you for all of your great articles, your insight is phenomenal and I always look forward to reading them. Take care, and keep up the great work.

One of the most popular stories was about those who appear on trading cards or magazines and then pass away in a short period of time following the release.  It’s a challenge for autograph collectors and also a popular target for fraudsters who understand the scarcity of those signatures.

Here are a couple of emails I received after that story, the first from a reader named Aaron Wasser of Olympia, WA:

Love reading your musings on Sports Collectors Daily. In your article Ramblings: Rare Autographs on Cards Sometimes Result from Sudden Death, I have one more to add. I am (slowly) putting together an autographed set of 1987 Topps, it being both the first set I put together as a kid and also the most plentiful thing on paper this side of Gideon’s Bible. 

Dick Howser 1987 ToppsIn that set is one Dick Howser, who as you know passed away in June of that year, giving him roughly four or five months to sign that card. Since he was diagnosed with brain cancer right around the time of the ’86 All Star game, we was most likely rather ill during the window which he would have had to sign the card.

I began trying to put the set together in 2009 and about a year in, I bought a lot of deceased players in the set from a seller on eBay. He had several auctions for 1987 Topps on eBay and I contacted him directly with my want list to inquire about deceased players specifically. Among them were Bo Diaz, Jose Uribe and one Dick Howser. The Diaz and the Uribe are dead-on and I’m almost positive they are real. The Howser, I have to say, looks pretty darn spot on as well. I’m apprehensive to send it in to get authenticated because I want so badly for it to be real. I have seen two others ever come up for auction, neither were authenticated. Both were pulled down before they could be completed. Not sure what happened there but I assume someone contacted the seller directly and a deal was worked out outside the auction.

Anyway, sorry to ramble, but that’s another example of a short window. Keep up the great work!

David G. Wertz had a personal recollection from a few years ago: 

My son Alex has what could be the last Autograph signed baseball from the late Joe L. Brown (1960 Pirates GM). While attending the 1960 Pirates WS team reunion in June of 2010 as a guest of Joe Christopher, my son Alex received many autographs but had not gotten Joe L. Brown’s. It wasn’t until the end of the night as he was ready to leave the suite that we were in, that my son asked him. Joe L Brown had the biggest smile and signed the ball. I photographed the moment. Joe L Brown died less than two months later. My son has one heck of a 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates shrine consisting of autographed balls, World Series tickets and programs, yearbooks and photos.

Alex also has another autographed item that I consider to be rare in nature. In November of 2012 my son became an Eagle Scout as part of his celebration my wife and I wrote letters to many businesses, athletes and political figures to put together a scrapbook of congratulatory letters for him. One such letter went out to Virgil Trucks, who was a batting practice pitcher for that same 1960 team. Within a few weeks we received a letter from Mr. Trucks. He also included a few autographed photos with his signed congratulatory letter. It was only a few months later that Mr. Trucks would pass away.

Although all these autographs are not rare, they came with great memories of my son that I had the pleasure of witnessing as he mingled with some of baseball’s greatest people. 

Sports Collectors Daily columnist Todd Tobias chimed in with a note about his own collecting challenges:

I read your recent piece about difficult-to-find autographed cards.  I also find this subject fascinating.  I collect autographed football cards, and some that you could have included in your article are 1962 Topps Gene Lipscomb & Ernie Davis, 1964 Topps Dick Christy and 1969 Topps Brian Piccolo.

Frank Buncom 1969 ToppsI was particularly interested in your thoughts on the 1969 Frank Buncom.  I collect autographed AFL sets.  I was born in 1972, so I wasn’t around when the cards were issued.  However, I was told (through the grapevine, so there is room for flexibility) that Series II 1969 Topps football cards were issued roughly two weeks after Buncom’s death on September 14.  I have no documentation supporting that idea, but words from a friend who supposedly had a neighbor that worked at Topps in the 1960s and told him.

If a legitimately-autographed 1969 Buncom is indeed possible, then I would love to find one. However, I have been collecting signed AFL cards since 1998, and have yet to ever hear of one.  I live in San Diego, as do Buncom’s son and grandson, Frank James Buncom III and Frank James Buncom IV.  Frank III was, I believe, three weeks old at the time of his father’s death.  Frank IV is a local high school football standout, with aspirations to play at USC and professionally.  I had them each sign a copy of Buncom’s 1969 Topps card for my set.   

I’d love any input that you could give on the subject, or if you know where we could get definitive info on the 1969 Series II release date.  I called Topps once, but they were of no help.

Todd, I’m going from memory here which is always tricky, but I remember buying 2nd series packs in a stationary store in Ridgewood, NJ on a Saturday and hearing about Buncom’s death while watching the AFL on NBC the next day — this is my memory and no guarantee.  However, I will wager that there are none of these cards signed anyway because of that short window and I don’t think people chased autographs at hotels the way they do today,especially of non-skill players.

Finally, Nick Calhoun, a reader from Georgia sent me this note:

It may not be very rare because he played in the over production era (I found 24 on ebay), but Jose Oliva of the Braves/Cardinals preceded Chipper Jones as “Rookie All-Star Third Baseman” and probably has Chipper’s rookie injury to thank for him ever making a major league roster. He died in a car accident in December 1997 and was the last Cardinal to wear #42. Also, the tragic story of Nick Adenhart which everyone knows, but finding an official auto issue with him in full Angels uniform is a bit tougher than you would think (however still affordable). Several feature him in an Angels hat, but without the Angels jersey.

Thanks to everyone who responded and we’re always glad to get your feedback and your own collecting anecdotes.

About Rich Klein

Rich Klein has spent almost his entire life collecting baseball cards having begun at the tender age of seven. He has spent more than three decades in the organized hobby including editing the first 12 editions of the Beckett Almanac of Baseball Card and Collectibles. He lives in Plano, TX along with his wife Dena and their two dogs. You can reach him at [email protected].

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