Posts Tagged ‘baseball cards’

Gaming the System

July 18, 2018

old Food “Stamp”

Way back in the 1980s I was teaching and my wife was working. We’d just had our son and bought a house, both of which added to the bills. So I took a part time job at a local Convenience Store to help ends meet. It was a standard convenience store that most of you are familiar with in your hometowns and travels. We sold lots of gas, a ton of soda, more than our share of beer. My job was to keep the shelves stocked, clean up the place, take money from the clients, and make change. It’s the last of those that makes the heart of this little tale.

If you’re an American you have at least a passing knowledge of “Food Stamps.” They were originally stamps, but by the 1980s had evolved into “coupons” that looked a lot like dollar bills (see the picture above). Now they’re a piece of plastic. Their job was to help those down on their luck for whatever reason get a decent meal. You went to a store, picked up your items (a lot of things were excluded–like the beer at our place), presented the coupons with the item and you could get groceries to feed either yourself or your family.

The system was prone to corruption because people make bad decisions all the time (Why, even I have made a couple of them over time; but only a couple.). But a second problem, and the one at the heart of this story, was that they were all in “dollars.” There was no “change” in them. So if you bought $1.50 worth of goods, you handed the clerk $2.00 worth of coupons and you got fifty cents in change handed to you. This was legal tender coins we’re talking about. The kind of thing that, if you had enough coins, could buy you something like a beer.

One of the more common things that people did if they patronized our little store and had kids was to hand the kid a couple of dollars (or just one dollar) and send them to the store. The kid was free to use the dollar to buy some sort of treat for himself (It’s a boy involved in this tale.). If a customer was on food stamps, they frequently still did the same using the coupons in lieu of a dollar bill.

We had salesmen come in all the time trying to get the boss to add to the inventory and one of them brought in a box of Topps baseball cards. intrigued, the boss took a box and set it on the counter right by the cash register. It was a slow seller and after a few boxes the store discontinued the item, but it got the attention of one of the kids who came in regularly to purchase candy, soda, or to pick up something Mom needed for the meal that evening. The family used food stamps for their purchases. Baseball cards didn’t come under the rules for food stamps (apparently the gum didn’t count), so you couldn’t buy them with food stamps.

But this kid was a genius (my guess is he’s in the Oklahoma Legislature now). He walked over to the candy and picked out one piece of two-cent candy (it was a flavored jawbreaker and you don’t see them much anymore). He walked up, handed me the candy and a dollar food coupon. He got back 98 cents. Then he reached over to the packets of baseball cards and picked up one (or maybe two, I forget both the number of packets or the price of a packet) and handed me back the 98 cents. I remember giving him change. He thanked me and left.

A couple of days later he was back and we repeated the same little monetary dance. This went on until one day he came in and there were no cards. I told him we were out and the boss said we weren’t getting more. He was deeply disappointed, but took it manfully. He used the food coupon to buy a candy bar.

A New Set of Cards

November 5, 2015

Just a short note today. My son alerted me to a press release from Topps. Apparently they are producing a set of “Pride and Perseverance” cards to celebrate MLB players who “triumphed in spite of disabilities.” The set includes such old timers as “Dummy” Hoy (who, in a case of political correctness they insist on calling “William”) and such new guys as Jim Eisenreich. It seems there will be 11 of them. There was no picture. Passed along for anyone interested. You can find info on Topps website.

RIP Sy Berger

December 15, 2014

NBC News is running a story on the death of Sy Berger. You probably never heard of him. I certainly hadn’t. But he’s important to every baseball fan. He invented the modern baseball card.

Apparently in the 1950s he worked for Topps and came up with the idea of putting six cards in a pack with a stick of gum. Baseball cards weren’t new, but they weren’t common and you didn’t get six with a stick of gum for a nickel. He sat at his table at home and created the first ones using scissors and cardboard. He put stats on the back, a short bio, the team logo went on the front, and of course there was a picture of the player on the front. His most famous card is the 1952 Mickey Mantle.

Berger was 91 when he died yesterday. Anyone who collected baseball cards owes him a debt. I still have a handful. I think I’ll take a look at a few of them, but I won’t miss the gum. The gum was awful, the cards sublime. RIP, Sy, and thanks.

Cheap Pieces of Cardboard

January 21, 2013
1957 Don Kaiser Topps card

1957 Don Kaiser Topps card

On another blog site (The On Deck Circle–see blogroll on right) there was a wonderful article on your individual Hall of Fame. It asked who were those guys that made your personal Hall of Fame. They didn’t have to be great players, only players you remembered fondly from your youth. The reason didn’t matter, only the fact that you remembered them. One of my choices was a totally obscure pitcher named Don Kaiser. Why him? Well, simply because his was the first baseball card I ever owned.

In the town where I grew up, the elementary school was six or seven blocks from home and I would walk to school daily. Yep, I’m one of those geezers who walked eight miles a day to school in the snow in July, uphill both ways. Well, maybe not quite like that. Back then, most small towns in my part of the world, at least those with which I was familiar, had a small neighborhood store located either across the street from the elementary school or at the corner of the same block. You might remember these. They were mom and pop operations with a store in the front, a few rooms in the back where the family that ran it (usually an older couple) lived. The place sold all manner of items, from soap to motor oil to candy. They were the convenience stores of their day and they were quite popular with a community where the automobile was just catching on. By my time they were fading, but the one near my school still operated. It was universally called “The little store” to set it off from “the big store”, the large franchise grocery stores that were just then invading the landscape. Because they were bigger and nationally backed, they were cheaper and the day of “the little store” waned quickly in my part of the world.

I had an allowance and was not a great financier. In other words, I spent the money. One habit was to stop in “the little store” once a week and pick up some candy or bubble gum with a nickel (you could actually buy something with a nickel back then). In April of 1957 I stopped in looking to feed my face with something sweet, sugary, and totally decadent. The candy was up by the main counter where they kept the comic books, the aspirin, and all the tiny things that were easy to steal. There was this big, old-time cash register where the guy had to ring up each item by hitting keys with numbers on them. Beside it was this box of shiny packets that said “Topps” and “baseball cards.” I’d never heard of such, but it sounded interesting. So on a whim I bought a pack, expending my entire nickel on this new and maybe dubious item.

I got outside, and being a methodical sort, I looked the packet over carefully before opening it. The pack had a ballplayer sliding on the top, said “Topps Baseball Gum” and 5 cents. There were five cards in the pack (you could feel them though the waxed paper) and a piece of gum. Now that meant six items and I’d just put out five cents, so I was getting five cards and a stick of gum for less than a penny each. So I turned the pack over, opened it carefully. The gum was on the bottom so I took it out, stuck it in my mouth, and after a couple of chews realized I’d overvalued the gum.

The cards were facedown in the package. I could make out the gray background with red lettering. There was a cartoon up in the corner and a line of statistics, most of which meant nothing to me. Then I turned over the card and there was Don Kaiser, my first ever baseball card (see the picture above). I’d never heard of him but it didn’t matter, there he was and I could make out his face and see the “Chicago” on his uniform. He never did much, lasting three years in the Majors and a handful in the Minors, but I always watched for him on the TV, listened for him on the radio, looked for his name in the box scores in the paper. Because I picked him up first, I’ve always considered him my first card.

I looked at the others. To this day I remember which players were in the pack: 

1957 Foster Catsleman Topps baseball card

1957 Foster Catsleman Topps baseball card

Foster Castleman was next. He was another journeyman that I’d never heard about. As with Kaiser I watched, listened, and searched the box scores for him. OK, he played for the Giants, which was bad, but he was still suddenly a real person to me.

Gil McDougald 1957 Topps card

Gil McDougald 1957 Topps card

Gil McDougald was in the middle of the pack. I’d heard of him and hated him. Actually I didn’t particularly hate McDougald, but he played for the hated Yankees and here he was in my packet of cards. What the heck were the baseball Gods thinking giving me a Yankee? I wasn’t sure what to do, but I kept him anyway and quickly he became a favorite of mine, even if he did play for the evil, awful Yankees.

1957 Stan Lopata Topps baseball card

1957 Stan Lopata Topps baseball card

Next came catcher Stan Lopata. I think I vaguely knew who he was, but I wouldn’t want to swear to it. The Phils were OK by me, but nothing special and for some reason I never followed Lopata much.

Carl Furillo 1957 Topps baseball card

Carl Furillo 1957 Topps baseball card

And then I turned over the final card and there he was: Carl Furillo. I knew in that moment that I was in love with these cheap pieces of cardboard. Here was one of my heroes. He played for the Dodgers (my team), he was good and now I could actually see what he looked like. Back then the TV cameras seldom zeroed in on a player close enough you could see his face, but now I knew what Furillo looked like and, well, the day just couldn’t get any better. Well, maybe, but there was no Duke Snider in the pack.

I went home, pulled out the cards, showed my grandfather, and watched him look them over carefully. He congratulated me on the purchase, hoped I’d find a few Cardinals next time, and didn’t raise my allowance.  He did begin to explain to me some of the stats on the back of the card and that meant quality time with him and it also meant I was learning something new about the sport.

Well, even without a raise in allowance, next week I’d have another nickel and another package of cards. The store was still going to be there and surely there were enough packs that at least one would be left. There was. I have no idea who was in the next pack.

Old Ball Cards

April 23, 2010

I’m not much of a baseball card freak. I had some as a kid and, the story is almost clichéd now, my mom told me to get rid of them because I was too old to have them. I’ve still got a few, but don’t worry much about them. I recognize, though, that there are people who do.

The tobacco card goes back into the 19th Century and I don’t propose to go on and on about the history of the damn things, but I want to give you a couple of web addresses where you can go to see what all the fuss is about. I want to concentrate on two sets: t-205 and t-206.

T-205/6 are the big sets from the 1910 era. There are close to 1000 total cards in the two sets combined, including the famous Honus Wagner that is so valuable. They actually look pretty good if you understand the stylized nature of the 206 set. There are only a handful of poses on the 206 set and the face and uniform are simply changed to fit the player. The 205 is more face shots.

You can go to a place called and there’s a long set of pages about the set. The site seems more concerned with the backs than the player pictures, but there are links to sites that show the fronts of the cards. Down on the bottom left is a link to a website that does the same thing for the smaller set.

There are a couple of places where you can see copies of the sets. One is T206 museum. This site has on-line copies of the set. Some of the pictures are of cards that aren’t in very good shape, but the entire set is there. At you find a link to this guy’s pictures of both the t205 and t206 sets (he’s snuck himself into the 206 set). These are obviously copies of the originals and do a good job showing the cards as if they were pristine. He’s cut the bottom off each picture (no name or team shown) and there’s a logo on the bottom right so the pictures are not exact copies of the cards, but you can still see what the fronts looked like (no backs). I presume you must have his permission to include a copy on your own site or blog, but don’t know that for certain (I don’t intend to do so).

If you’re interested in these old-time cards, take a look and enjoy.