Saturday, March 16, 2019

A Tale Of Two Trophies

As anyone who collects baseball cards and is also a reader of this blog knows, Topps has trotted out All Star Rookie trophy logos on their cards since 1960, when the players who got the nod at the 1959 Rookie Banquet were highlighted. It's been sporadic sometimes and they've missed putting the logo on a fairly large contingent of players' cards over the years but it's a pretty impressive run.

The trophy looked like this from 1959-72:

Here's the trophy logo displayed on Willie McCovey's 1960 Topps card; you can see how it replicates the actual awarded version:

Topps made a game attempt at reproducing the engraved words from the actual trophy on the card but it's pretty obvious they failed.  Jim O'Toole's card had a little bit more clarity but the presentation of the rookie all star winners in 1960 (in a 10 card subset no less) highlighted things well enough:

Topps went all out to promote the rookies in 1960 who had won the award in 1959 as they had included millions of ballots in packs for the Youth of America to fill out and send in (and populate the burgeoning Topps marketing databases with valuable information). This is the 1960 ballot but the one from '59 was very similar:

The in pack ballots would be eliminated the following year but no matter, the annual tradition of crowning an all rookie team after every season was already well established and, in fact, continues to this day.   By year two though, Topps came up with a more familiar way to honor the 10 players who won the award for 1960:

Things continued apace through 1972:

But then.....

So what happened?  Two theories emerge:

1) Topps couldn't get the "top hat" trophies made any more, or
2) After the company went public in 1972, they cheaped out.

I'm really not sure which would be the correct theory but I suspect it's #2.

The trophy itself now looked like this (nice photo Heritage!):

The year designation was gone in '73 and things got generic right quick:

While the major league winners are well known, the banquet and associated awards and recognition programs went deep into the minors and even into scouting territory.  The minor leagues are where Topps got the inspiration for the new design of the trophy.  Here check it out:

So the minor league trophy became the major league trophy!  As posited by more than a few folks, 1972 really was the last good year.....

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Give 'Em The Bird

Two or three years ago I posted about a large index card that showed a bunch of information concerning Jim Palmer, specifically what he received from Topps each year in the form of cash or merchandise, in exchange for the right to use his image on their products.  Palmer had a long career and his card had been annexed, with a small additional piece stapled onto it.  It turns out that little stapled flip was concealing some good information about the process Topps used to sign and retain baseball players.  Thanks to a Friend o' a Friend o' the Archive Chuck Wolf, name one Andrew W., there is a player payment card we can examine that covered to totality of Mark "The Bird" Fidrych's Topps career.

Fidrych, who was tagged with his nickname by his first professional manager due to his resemblance to Big Bird on Sesame Street, had an extremely parabolic major league career and attained lasting fame in 1976, putting together a rookie campaign that ranked with the best of any postwar pitcher but also gained attention due to an eccentric personality and mound presence.  He made the Tigers out of Spring Training but didn't really get going until May, when he uncorked a string of stellar starts.  He would talk to the baseball before pitches, excessively groom the mound like a Bonsai garden, circle around it and then shoo away groundskeepers who came near it. He became a media sensation almost overnight, back in a time when that actually required some effort, made the All Star team (starting but losing the game) and ended up finishing second in the AL Cy Young race to, of all people, the aforementioned Jim Palmer.

He was also the 1976 AL Rookie of the Year and of course made the Topps Rookie All Star team. This would earn him the distinction of being , I believe, the only player with a Topps All Star card featuring a Topps rookie trophy symbol:

He hurt his knee early in 1977, still pitching well but his arm went dead and he was never the same and threw his last major league pitch in 1980, then pitched in the minors for three more years and that was it.  If you want more of the story, his ledger card at Topps tells it well:

You can see at the top left he got sent down in July of '78, likely for a couple of rehab starts after missing the vast majority of the season. He did not pitch well the next two years and was demoted to AAA by Detroit in 1981, which ended any interest Topps had in him.

The top right portion of the card details a few things.  Firstly, once he signed a professional contract in 1974, Topps gave him $5 in "steak money" in exchange for his contractual rights to appear on cards sold with bubble gum. They did this for thousands of minor leaguers.  Fidrych then  got a $75 extension bonus for a two year period in 1975, which roughly corresponds to his promotion to AAA ball that year.  That extension bonus was referenced in the Jim Palmer post and I'll show a relevant excerpt for the Topps Gift Catalog provided to players that appeared here previously (this one if for 1973-74:

Once you made the majors (and stayed on a roster for 30 consecutive days), an annual $250 payment was made by Topps and your extension bonus kicked; I think it took a little longer in the 60's to extend but I guess the players (or more accurately, Marvin Miller) got better at negotiating with Topps. Fidrych got his for 1976 and '77 then they gave another two year extension in 1978. You could combine payments for gifts, take the cash or bank what you had.  These lovely and underpaid ladies kept track of it all for Topps:

Sometimes players picked gifts that exceeded their bank or annual allotment.  They would then write a check to Topps for the difference; Jim Palmer did it so why not The Bird?!

You can also see Fidrych was delinquent for a time, likely due to his thinking he would get his extension bonus for 1981!  Somewhat tragically, you can see he was taking some machinery as gifts, possibly as he was buying a farm, where he would be killed in an accident in 2009. He also took some state of the art audio equipment prior to that. It's fascinating to me how all of this dovetails and this ledger shows the sad arc of his career.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

A Real Knife Time

You may have noticed I'm wading into Bazooka territorial waters with increasing frequency these days; it's certainly true and I'm even diving into the Blony tidal pool where I can. This has been prompted by a mini wave of uncut material from the 1950's surfacing along with some random single pieces and lots coming up for auction and a barrage of incoming scans from BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd.  In short, I have not seen this much comical activity since the last time I saw Dave Attell and Lewis Black perform together (with Mitch Hedberg and Mike Birbiglia supporting no less-true story).

First up is our old pal Buzzy.  This particular Bazooka comic, featuring the namesake character, saw at least two if not three distinct printings around 1953-54 as these scans from Shep show:

The top two are essentially the same but the first is waxed while the second is not.  The unwaxed comics are out there in significant enough numbers that they appear not to be print freaks but rather a separate run.  Maybe the unwaxed versions were sold in the party boxes of Bazooka?

The bottom Buzzy is clearly from a second print run as the font for the Fortune is different and the premium offer has had an expiration date added.  Here are closeups of these areas of interest from the top and bottom comics:

The life of the premium offers is generally 15-18 months, so the undated varieties are likely from 1953 and sold into 1954 while the dated versions are from 1954-55 and contemporary with the first Bazooka Joe and Henry comics, last seen here. The knife also became "free" as it aged! I realize only about six dozen people on the whole planet care about this all but these are clues to the dating of these comics, which are scarce.

Next, more pre-Joe:

Well, looks like the undated comics had a nice little secret code kit that ran its course and a quick substitution was made.  Since Buzzy had the knife in color and Honey Bun didn't, it suggests the color separations were not prepared for the goggles and knife due to rushed production and only the line art was used to print these. The font changes we saw with the Buzzy comic above also come through on both of these. I wonder if Topps thought their market was skewing very young at the time due to the mostly non-textual nature of these strips?

More New York News Syndicate goodness.  The lack of text continues with Little Brother Hugo; no real insights from these but I just like showing them:

I like the 22 and 24 karat rings!  The Bazooka Double Feature Comics get a little more texty:

Now, take a gander at these 1957 Blony comics featuring Archie characters:

That top left one looks like it has a familiar premium offer, no?  I like how they never even bothered to prepare color separations for the knife but changed the text from the Bazooka version!  Maybe this means the comics were printed in more than one location?  I really don't know but color and no-color versions of the knife offer occurring over a 3 or 4 year period does seem to point at something like that.

I'll post more findings here as things turn up.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Joe No

Concluding a loose trilogy on uncut Bazooka comics sheets of the 50's, today brings nothing but Bazooka Joe goodness.

The sheet below is the second (of three) series of these printed in 1955 and totals 48 distinct comics.

Once again there are 7 columns (1-7) and 12 distinct rows (A-L).  The three rightmost columns replicate the three leftmost columns while the middle column is all on it's own.  I guess there could be a "B sheet" with a different configuration as it seems odd to have single and double prints for freakin' comics!

 As we have seen previously on similar sheets, the black-barred comics appear every third row and your eye can pick up the pattern of repeating rows after the fourth iteration downward of this distinct feature.

These have a premium offer expiration date of February 15, 1957.  Looks like Topps went about 18 months from printing and packaging to premium expiry.

The diamonds have been seen here and there but what's new to me is the embossed + sign in the gutter to the left of said jewel. I don't know if these are centering or cutting guides but they must mean something.

Here's a few more comics for your reading pleasure!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Joe Henry!

Further to the uncut sheet of pre-Bazooka Joe comics I dissected back at the end of January, I've taken a look at another sheet, this time the one that launched the familiar kid with the eyepatch and his gang, and found some surprises.

The sheet in question is a large one:

I usually try to trim the scans I, um, appropriate here down but the yardstick is a useful, well yardstick, in this one so I've left it.  It's so large I can't get good resolution here without making it too massive to see on a single screen  but using my traditional array method, from the first full row down there are 12 different rows, A through L as I call them.  Likewise, going across the top there are 7 columns, 1-7 (clever, no?).

The first thing that jumps out is the column (#7) of Henry comics. According to BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd, this is the first concrete evidence Topps printed the Henry strips, although it's been surmised for decades.  So that's some interesting news that I will return to momentarily.

The second thing that we can see is that two columns are repeats.  Unlike the pre-Bazooka Joe sheet, which did not repeat any of its 7 columns, Topps has changed the mix here. Columns 1 and 2 are repeated as columns 5 and 6 while Henry of course, stands on his own.  This makes sense as there are 48 different comics in the original Bazooka Joe series: 40 "traditional" and 8 of the "intro" single panels featuring the main characters in the "Gang".

Henry though is vexing me. The examples on this sheet all have a 1953 copyright and, obviously, no premium offers or anything else at all is displayed.  Odd but a known fact.

I own three Henry comics.  A larger one with a 1953 copyright and a smaller one from the same year. These measure, respectively, 4 1/4" x 3 and 3 3/4" x 2 3/4".  The third is a small example with a 1954 copyright. Based upon the yardstick measurements above I believe these to be the larger sized comics.

This is not anything of note really as the smaller size is probably just due to different packaging configurations.  What is of note though, is that my large Henry does not match one of the 12 examples on this uncut sheet.  My small one is no match either.  I have to surmise then, that a "B" sheet exists that duplicates columns 3 & 4 above and has a different dozen Henry comics along one edge. Then when you think it all works out, you have to consider the 1954 Henry's! They must have been printed after these, meaning Topps was hedging their bets on Bazooka Joe, which had three distinct series issued in 1954. This sheet has the first and all the premium offers expire on June 20, 1955.  These were printed and packaged sometime between April and August of 1954

Whew!  Well I clearly need to do more research on these comics.  In the meantime, just enjoy a handful below, preferably with a big wad of Bazooka! Do note, however, the black barred rows (Save Bazooka Comics for Free Prizes) while not contiguous across each row, appear every third row, just like the Double Feature Comics that were so prominent on the pre-Bazooka Joe sheet!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

A Photograph, A Memory

Further to last week's post featuring invitations and other ephemera from some 1960's Topps Rookie Banquets, today we have some snapshots taken, presumably, by Paul Dolembo.  These photos look like they were taken behind the scenes and after the banquet ended as several players are seen holding their rookie award trophies.  There's a half dozen in all and I'll kick it off with a guy who didn't win a rookie award, namely Alva (Al) Cicotte, who was the 1960 Minor League Player of the year at age 30 following a stellar season with the Toronto Blue Jays.  Check out the trophy he got, it is MASSIVE:

If his last name seems familiar, Alva was the great-nephew of Ed Cicotte, permanently banned by MLB in 1920 as one of the Black Sox and arguably on track for eventual Hall of Fame enshrinement. Alva did not have the talent of his grand uncle unfortunately and his biggest claim to fame may have been being traded to the Cardinals for Leon Wagner (who went to the Angels then in the AL expansion draft) a couple of weeks prior to the banquet. Cicotte, would end up having his contract sold to the fledgling Houston franchise about a year after he received this award and became an original Colt 45. According to SABR, he signed with the Detroit Tigers for the final week of the 1977 season in order to qualify for his major league pension.

Next we see Cicotte flanked by Tony Curry of the Phillies and Julian Javier of the Cardinals, both rookie award winners in the outfield and second base, respectively.

Javier makes another appearance, this time with Dick Stigman, the left-handed pitcher rookie award winner from the Indians.  Check out Javier perusing the 1960 program, which looks like so:

Stigman again, with Chuck Estrada to the far right.  I whiffed on ID'ing the fellow in the middle as he didn't match up with the notation on the back of the photo ("Jim Gentile?") but Keith Olbermann was able to figure out it was Marv Breeding, a second baseman with the Orioles, being flanked. Breeding's rookie season with the O's in '60 was pretty good and looks to have been superior but Javier got the nod at 2B. Breeding was a whiz with the leather from what I can find.

Ron Hansen, the rookie award selection with the Orioles at shortstop, relaxes with Breeding:

Think about how good the O's farm system was.  They had three guys make the all rookie team in 1960 and yet all were gone when the "Baby Birds" won the 1966 World Series with yet another crop of youngsters!

Closing things out, MC Joe Garagiola gets a laugh out of Tony Curry and his Phillies teammate Jimmie Coker, the rookie award catcher for 1960.

Unfortunately, there are no shots of the other rookie award winners for the year: the aforementioned Jim Gentile (1B, Orioles), Ron Santo (3B, Cubs--HOF 2012), Frank Howard (OF, Dodgers, or Tommy Davis (OF, Dodgers). All-in-all, the 1960 winners were pretty representative of the rookie teams over the years.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Fall Invitational

Last fall I managed to BIN a nice lot of Topps Rookie Banquet related ephemera on eBay. I've finally gotten around to scanning the items and this week will show some of the non-photographic items (as I'm still working on player ID's).

I'll start with my favorite item:

I believe Sy Berger typed this letter himself-there's no secretarial initials, a load of personal detail, a host of typos and when I googled the recipient it revealed he worked in the Auto Industry (not audio). Even if he didn't, it's a pretty neat item. It seems this little trove was Mr. Dolembo's-Sy must have invited friends as he was the guy spearheading the whole thing.

There were three Rookie Banquet invitations.  I believe these all came in the envelope for 1960's bash:

The reverse is supposed to be blank but someone noted the address of the Rookie Team Committee:

I don't think that's where Major League Baseball was headquartered, it's probably the office of one of the committee members, which counted 17 members, including Jackie Robinson!

Here's an RSVP card and envelope, note the address, which looks to have been constant since this is from 1964:

The invitations did not really change all that much, did they?  I'll spare you the 1965 version as it's almost identical.

Finally, here's a business card for Sy. I believe it's from 1960 as the Blony logo was featured on the program that year.  Not sure who wrote "Wood Gelman" but I don't think it was Sy (or Woody).

The lot I won was part of a larger archive previously auctioned by REA in 2011.  Next week, I'll share the half dozen snapshots that came in it.