Friday, September 24, 2010

The Thomas Weiner Card Company?

1981 is considered by many to be the year when baseball cards went from being a hobby to an industry. The main reason for this is that Topps' monopoly had come to an end thanks to the lankmark court case filed by Fleer. The end result was that collectors were given three options to collect in Topps, Fleer and Donruss. Heading into the 1981 baseball season, I had been anticipating Fleer's entry into the baseball card market for a few years as the court case was covered regularly in Sports Collectors Digest. Thanks to the heavy lifting done by the Fleer, a new and relatively unknown trading card manufacturer entered the baseball card market as well.

Donruss started out as a confectionary company in 1954 and was originally known as The Thomas Weiner Company. Somewhere along the way, I'm guessing the owners Donald and Russell Weiner probably figured that their last name was probably causing more harm than good since the products they were selling was targeting towards children. As a result, they changed the company's name to Donruss which was the combined short versions of their own names. Note: Looking back, it's a good thing that it happened. I don't see collectors dropping $50 - $100 in the 1980's for a 1984 Thomas Weiner Don Mattingy Rookie Card.

Below are images of all of Steve Garvey's cards from Donruss' base sets released during 1981-1987.


1981 Donruss #56 (front)
Here's my review of Donruss' initial effort in 1981

  • Release comes off as rushed as almost the entire set was photographed in Chicago (Commiskey or Wrigley)
  • Over half the cards in the set have one kind of error in it or another (Donruss arguably went out of their way to correct the errors in order to generate revenue)
  • Card stock is poor
  • Printing quality is bad
  • The cutting of the cards is uneven
  • Collation inside a pack is horrible. Often times, the 18 card packs consisted of just two or three teams worth of players.

  • The design was attractive
  • The card backs were inivative and maximized space
  • Multiple cards of star players
  • Their gum tasted the best of the three manufacturers
I've always been curious on how Donruss' product development team produced their 1981 set. For a company that had been around since 1954 and had been producing popular non-sport trading cards (Kiss, Elvis, Monkees, Addams Family...etc) for twenty years, they really shouldn't have had as many mistakes with their initial set as they did. Was it a case where they got their baseball card license at the last minute?

1981 Donruss #56 (back)

The career highlights layout is now used by on their player bios. For what it's worth, Donruss had a corrected (surpassed 21 HR) and error version (surpassed 25 HR) of the 1980 career highlight.

1981 Donruss #176 (front)

This is the second of two Steve Garvey cards in the 1981 Donruss set. It was actually taken in 1980 and at Dodger Stadium since Steve is wearing his home uniform and has the 1980 All-Star Game patch on the left shoulder of his jersey.
1981 Donruss #176 (back)

The back of the second Garvey card in the set is more of a highlight card. Unfortunately, multiple cards of the same player within a set wasn't received as well as Donruss liked and they nixed the idea. In it's place, they created the popular Diamond Kings subset.
1982 Donruss Diamond Kings #3 (front)

Steve was the third card in the inaugural Diamond Kings subset behind two of the most self absorbed players in baseball not named Reggie Jackson in Pete Rose and Gary Carter.

Diamond Kings were originally watercolor paintings created by Dick Perez.

1982 Donruss Diamond Kings #3 (back)

Donruss corrected the card stock issues from the year prior and produced a thicker card in 1982. 
1982 Donruss #84 (front)

The 1982 design was pretty forgetful (though that could be true for all three card companies). This appears to be a shot from Spring Training. I can't tell but I think that's a 1980 All-Star Game patch on his jersey.

1982 Donruss #84 (back)

Donruss revamped their backs in 1982 to include more statistics and condensed the highlights. This design must have been a hit in their corporate office as they chose to do very little updates to their card backs for close to a decade. Not to miss out on an idea, Fleer would do the same thing starting in 1983.
1983 Donruss #488 (front)

1983 Donruss in my opinion is an underrated set. While it looks a lot like their 1982 set, Donruss did a lot to clean up their set quality-wise by improving the quality of their photography as well as creating a second subset that would take the hobby by storm in 1984 in their Rated Rookies. Note: If you're not aware, Greg Brock and Al Chambers were Rated Rookies in 1983 and Donruss noted so on the back of their cards.

1983 Donruss #488 (back)

For much of his time with the Dodgers, Steve lived in Calabasas. It's a suburb in the southwest San Fernando Valley that's part of Los Angeles. Calabasas gets a lot of airplay today because the Kardashians live and film their TV show there (unfortunately, part of being married is watching shows like these which means that I guess I'm not going to be able to sue for $75K like some people). 

I didn't notice until this post that his contract status says, "Became a free agent after the 1982 season". I still remember the Dodgers excuse (in particular Al Campanis' excuse) for letting Steve go as a free agent. It was "It's better to let a player go one year to soon than one year too late". If I remember correctly, Steve actually was willing to take a hometown discount to re-sign with the Dodgers but Peter O'Malley/Al Campanis weren't really interested since future Hall of Famer (sic) Greg Brock had just hit 50 Homers in AAA Albuquerque in 1982 and was set to take over at first base.

Without going on too much of a tangent, I'm as much a fan of what the O'Malley's (especially Walter) did for the Dodgers as anyone. With that said, Peter O'Malley unfortunately had one major character flaw that resulted in my two all-time favorite players leaving the Dodgers when in both cases they didn't have to go.

That flaw was the inability to adapt to changes as the changes were happening. In the first case, the change was Free Agency. Instead of accepting it, he initially tried to low ball the system. It wasn't until he brought in an outside influence in Fred Claire that he was able to figure Free Agency out. In the second case, the change was cable television and the player was Mike Piazza. While sports was growing into a 24/7 industry, Peter O'Malley feel asleep at the wheel while Jerry Buss of the Lakers was starting a sports cable channel in Prime Ticket. The extra money and exposure from Prime Ticket helped the Lakers take over the Los Angeles market and dominate NBA in the 1980's (and arguably since then).

The Dodgers on the other hand were missing out on this opportunity and soon would be taken over by a corporate entity that would establish a local sports cable channel (see page 216) but result in Mike Piazza getting traded in order for it to happen.

That's enough reminiscing for one day.


1984 Donruss #63 (front)

1984 saw Donruss issue their landmark set that's arguably the most popular release of the entire decade (sorry 1989 Upper Deck, 1984 Fleer Update and 1983 Topps). For Steve, it meant a chance to model his self-proclaimed "Taco Bell' uniform.

1984 Donruss #63 (back)

Donruss started another ritual with their card backs in 1984 that continued on for the rest of the decade in numbering the major stars card backs right after the first two subsets (Diamond Kings and Rated Rookies). This was an attempt to replicate Topps' success of issuing cards ending in 5, 0, 50 and 00 for stars and superstars.

1985 Donruss # 307 (front)

Donruss recesistated black borders in 1985 and ended up doing a rather fine job of it. Two years later, they'd try it again but not be as successful. Fortunately for Steve, this is his last Donruss card in the Taco Bell uniforms.

1985 Donruss #307* (back)

* I guess you could say I pulled a Donruss (circa 1981). In my rush to scan the cards for this post, I ended up scanning the 1985 Leaf version instead (as evidenced by the French writing on the back of the card).

1986 Donruss #63 (front)

Judging by the look on Steve's face, reality has probably set in the he's a Padre. At least he can take comfort in the fact that the Padres changed their uniforms.

1986 Donruss #63 (back)
During his playing days as a Padre, Steve lived in La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya). It's known as the Beverly Hills of San Diego and has some of the richest real estate in the country.

1987 Donruss #114 (front)
Steve's shown here wearing the Padres' jersey he made famous during Pete Rose's 4192nd hit on 09/11/1985. It's interesting to see that some of his cards show him wearing one batting glove and others show him wearing two.

1987 Donruss #81* (back)
* I dropped the ball again and scanned the 1987 Leaf version.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

From Collector to Investor (or so I thought)

I've mentioned in previous posts that I started collecting baseball cards in 1975. Like a lot of collectors that started in the 1970's/80's, I made the natural progression through the years from casual collector to trading card investor (or so I thought). Looking back, I'd say the progression started in 1979 because I discovered three things that's I've listed below.

The first thing I discovered about baseball cards is that they could be valuable. One of the gifts I received for my tenth birthday in 1979 was the first annual Beckett Baseball Price Guide. It showed me that there were people that purchased cards individually and not just by the pack. This to me was amazing because up until now I only viewed them as a way to connect with the players and as a source of entertainment because of my experiences putting them in bicycle spokes as well as flipping them against the wall. The highlight of the book was the color pictures of very rare baseball cards (i.e. T206 Wagner, 1933 Goudey Lajoie...etc) from famed collector Barry Halper.
(The first Beckett price guide had two different covers. One with cards and one with artwork. This is the version I had.)

As I'm sure many of you know, the first Beckett price guide catalogued, price and checklisted many baseball sets. Additionally, there was a little bio on each set as well as a sample photo of a card from the set. I spent lots of time as a kid reading the guide more like an encyclopedia and learning about each set. While there were a few advertisements from dealers in the book, most of them seemed impersonal and most of the dealers appeared to be located on the other side of the country. Fortunately for me, I soon discovered another publication that helped reduce this problem some.

In a previous blog, I've mentioned a childhood friend of mine who created an iron-on T-Shirt of a 1975 Topps Steve Garvey. He opened my eyes up to the publication Sports Collectors Digest (SCD) and that a publication existed solely for buying and selling baseball cards. It was the second thing I discovered about baseball cards in 1979. To me SCD was an amazing piece of reading material that incredibly came out weekly. I actually still have the first issue I remember reading as a kid from July 1979. Among the interesting articles is one on Fleer taking Topps to Federal Court over their trading card monopoly.

(With 30 years hindsight, I wonder if the results of this case caused more harm than good)

I also found an advertisement interesting for 1975 SSPC cards that shows Steve Garvey. Above the advertisement is another one from Ken Goldin of ShopAtHome and Scoreboard fame.

(Unfortunately there were no Elite Dominators, 3200 Box of Commons or Gem Mint 10 McGwires in Ken Goldin's ad)

I've also included a page that had an advertisement for 1979 Topps Baseball Card boxes for $5.00 each.

($5.00 for a box of 1979 Topps Baseball)

As interesting as SCD's were to me, I don't know if I purchased more than a couple items (SSPC Dodgers and Yankees old-timers sets) from dealers because building my collection via mail order wasn't too exciting to me. Fortunately, SCD was able to turn me on to an experience that dominated the 1980's collecting world.

I've mentioned that I grew up in the San Fernando Valley which is suburb of Los Angeles. The San Fernando Valley is actually comprised of numerous cities many of which have been made famous by the media. Some of the more well known cities include Burbank, Encino, Calabasas, Woodland Hills, Studio City and Northidge. As a kid, I grew up near Northridge and fortunately for me this turned out to be a major center for collecting as the local Women's Club would rent out their hall once a month to the West Coast Card Club (who happened to advertise their shows in SCD) so that they could put on a card show. People actually meeting at once place to buy and sell trading cards was the third thing I discovered about cards in 1979. I immediately had to go to every show which i did until two things happened 1) the location of the show was moved because they had out grown the Women's Club and 2) I discovered baseball card shops (I'll save that for another post).

Members of the West Coast Card Club were sent out a newsletter every few months that detailed upcoming shows, provided a collector's spotlight and covered general administrative issues.

I still remember attending my first West Coast Card Club. The main thing that stuck in my mind was that a dealer named Pepe told me that he'd pay me a dime each for every 1977 Topps Andre Dawson and 1979 Topps Pedro Guerrero Rookie Card that I found and purchased from other dealers common boxes (and in turn sold to him).

(To some Braves fans, this is announcer Joe Simpson's Rookie Card)

Rookie Cards hadn't really taken off yet in the hobby because most collectors were relatively new and tended to gravitate to vintage cards (in particular Mickey Mantle). After three hours of work, I believe I ended up with around $3.00 from all of my hard work. I'm pretty sure my earnings were spent on 1979 Topps packs as this was the first set I ever completed as a kid.

I'd note that a few days after the show, I acquired a 1977 Dawson from one of my friends as well as quite a few 1979 Topps Pedro Guerreros. Below is the Dawson I received in trade.

Obviously, condition wasn't an issue to me.

(I don't remember if I traded with Ken Vikish or Kevin Kish)

This experience eventually led me to becoming a rookie card prospector/speculator/investor in the 1980's. I can't really say my transition from casual collector to trading card investor paid off in 1980's as I sold my 100 count lots of obscure 1980's rookie cards years ago for pennies on the dollar.

It's probably the reason why I'm once again only a collector and don't worry about the value of my cards.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal - Part Two

A friend of mine and I got into a conversation recently about old baseball cards and some of the ones mentioned (Lou Piniella and Bill Davis' multiple Topps Rookie Star cards) were covered in a post I wrote a while ago. He mentioned two other players that had multiple Topps rookie star cards that I found interesting. Details on each of them are listed below.

The first player is Wally Wolf. Wally was a right-handed pitcher for USC in college and was one of the very first players for the Houston Colt .45's organization when, as a 19 year old, he signed with them in June 1961 (one year prior to the .45's inaugural season). In 1962, he had an amazing season (16-3 W-L, 2.87 ERA, 172 K's in 160 innings) for Durham in Class B (the same as Single A today). This prompted Houston to move Wally all the way up to AAA at the end of 1962. He wasn't ready for the league as he ended up getting bombed (0-6 W-L, 9.93 ERA in 9 games). Regardless, Topps ended up including Wally Wolf on a 1963 Topps Rookie Stars card with Ron Herbel, John Miller and Ron Taylor.

1963 Topps # 208 Wally Wolf and Friends

In 1963, Wally had a strong season in Double-AA San Antonio for Houston (7-3 W-L, 3.13 ERA, 82 K's in 92 IP) but it appears to be abbreviated since he only made twelve starts. That would be Wally's last season with Houston as he was packaged along with Jim Dickson in a trade to the Cincinnati Reds for veteran infielder Eddie Kasko in January 1964.

Wally would spend the next three years in the Reds organization trying to regain the form he showed in 1962 and 1963 in the minors for Houston. Eventually, Cincinnati gave up and let the California Angels select him in the minor league draft in November 1966.

With a new team in a new organization, Wally righted the ship in 1967 while in AA El Paso (11-7 W-L, 3.55 ERA, 134 K's in 142 IP) and appeared destined for the Majors. Unfortunately, things didn't work out as planned and the Angels converted Wally to a reliever during the 1968 season as a result of a mediocre year split between AA and AAA.

1969 ended up being a great year for the now 27 year old pitcher as a solid season in AA El Paso (9-4 W-L, 3.38 ERA, 88 K's in 96 IP) resulted in a September call up with the Angels. On September 27th, 1969, Wally was called on to get the last out in bottom of the 7th inning against the Oakland Athletics and allowed an RBI single to Joe Rudi. He then proceeded to get Dave Duncan to fly out to Jim Fregosi. The results had little outcome on the game as future Hall of Fame Catfish Hunter was in the process of throwing a three-hit shutout.

Three days later, Wally would have his second and last appearance of 1969 against the Kansas City Royals. In that game, he ended up pitching the last two innings of a game started by Tom Murphy with the Angels. Trailing 5-2, he ended up giving up a three-run home run to Ed Kirkpatrick.

1970 Topps # 74 Wally Wolf and Friend

Topps' took notice of Wally's 1969 season by including him on a 1970 Topps rookie stars card with Greg Washburn. This resulted in what's probably the longest period of time (seven years) a player had been on two of Topps'rookie stars card. To make things even more ironic, Topps used the same photo on the 1970 card that was on the 1963 card.

His 1970 season with the Angels lasted all of four games. After that, he never reached the majors again and he soon retired. Wally's final career numbers were: 0-0 W-L, 7.04 ERA, 7 K's in 7 2/3 IP.  Topps never produced another card of Wally outside of those two Rookie Stars cards.

The second player my friend and I discussed was George Korince. George was a right-handed pitcher out of Ottawa, Canada with the nickname Moose that the Detroit Tigers signed as an amateur free agent in 1965. George quickly moved up the Tigers minor league ladder with two strong seasons in 1965 in Single-A and 1966 in Double-AA (9-8 W-L, 3.76 ERA, 183 K's in 182 IP).

He eventually caught the attention of the folks over at Topps (at least his name did) as they included him on a Tigers Rookie Stars card in their 1967 Topps set along with John Matchick (who went by his middle name Tommy).

1967 Topps # 72 George Korince and Friend (Error)

Unfortunately for George, Topps mistakenly put a photo Ike Brown on his card which is odd because George was Caucasian and Ike is African-American. What's even more interesting is that Ike didn't have his first Topps card until 1970 so this card pre-dated his rookie card by three years!

For whatever reason, this mistake (unlike the Dick Ellsworth/Ken Hubbs fiasco from the year prior) must have embarrased the folks at Topps because they chose to correct the card by issuing another George Korince Rookie Stars in the same 1967 Topps set. This time they included him with Pat Dobson and noted that this is a correct photo of George on the back of the card!

1967 Topps #526 George Korince (front - corrected) 

1967 Topps #526 George Korince (back - corrected)
Note: Topps wants you to know this is actually George in this photo.

In retrospect, I believe this is the only time an error has been acknowledged by a manufactuer and corrected with a different card. Because 1960's cards were produced in multiple series, Topps must have felt that issuing a low numbered correction in a high numbered set would have been confusing to kids.

I'd note that fifteen years later, Donruss would repeat the mistake of confusing persons of different race only this time they put a photo of a Caucasian player (Gary Lucas) on an African-American's card (Juan Eichelberger). When the error was corrected, it was done the more traditional way of updating the photo in later printings.

1982 Donruss # 422 Juan Eichelberger (error that pictures Gary Lucas)

1982 Donruss # 422 Juan Eichelberger (corrected)

Going back to George Korince, he would pitch in nine games for the Tigers in 1967 highlighted by his first and only career win on May 13th against the Boston Red Sox. Topps was impressed enough to include him on another Rookie Stars card in 1968. This time with Fred Lasher

1968 Topps # 447 George Korine and Friend

A successful major league career would never happen for George. He would never appear in another major league game after 1967 and was out of professional baseball by 1970. George's final career numbers were: 1-0 W-L, 4.24 ERA, 13 K's in 17 IP and 11 Games. Ironicaly, the only cards Topps produced of George were these three Rookie Stars cards.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My Virtual Card Collection

One of the coolest features that I've seen on blogs is "Cards That Should Have Been". Being a player collector, it's great to see Steve Garvey in mocked up Topps trading cards from 1969 to 1988. This is especially true if he didn't have a card in a particular set/subset in the first place (though Topps I wish you'd make another All-Time Fan Favorites set). The author of one of the blogs that I read regularly, GCRL, is particularly adept at creating these.

One of my favorites is his CTSHB of the 1977 Dodgers 30 Home Run foursome on a 1978 Topps Record Breaker Card.

He's also designed 1985 and 1986 Topps All-Star cards of Steve Garvey.

In my opinion the two coolest concepts in CTSHB are cards that pre-date a player's actual rookie card (assuming the player did actually play in a year prior) and final tribute cards so that you can see the players final stats.

In the case of Steve Garvey, he played for the Dodgers in 1969 and 1970 prior to his 1971 Topps rookie card being issued. He played his final game in 1987 and never had a final tribute card in 1988 from Topps (newbie Score eased that pain somewhat).

The Internet has helped me fill in those holes and led me to start a virtual collection of Steve Garvey cards. Here are the mockups cards of Steve that I've found so far that use 1969, 1970 and 1988 Topps designs.

The first one I found has a 1969 design and was created by Bob Lemke.

The second one I found has a 1970 Topps design and was created by Mr. Mopar.

The third one I found also has a 1970 design. Unfortunately, I don't remember who designed it (I believe I sourced it from a PSA message board). If anyone recognizes this, leave me a message with a link and I'll update this post.

The fourth one I found has a 1988 Topps design and was created by Punk Rock Paint. Unfortunately, a back to the card was never created so you don't get to see Steve's complete career stats.

With that said, I'm assuming this can't be it so I was wondering if I could get your help. Are any of you familiar with any other Cards That Should Have Been for Steve Garvey from his playing career? Also, does anyone know if Baseball Cards Magazine (or any of their competitors) back in the 1980's ever produced a mockup Steve Garvey card using a Topps, Fleer or Donruss design?

Thanks in advance

1985 Topps Minis - What Could Have Been?

As I've mentioned in previous posts, 1975 was the first year I started collecting baseball cards. Since it's release it's become a classic with collectors and bloggers. In my opinion, it stacks up nicely with Topps' Classic sets from the 1950's. For many reasons, I've always been very fond of that set.
They include:
  • It was the first set I collected
  • An eye-catching design
  • A great set of rookie cards highlighted by George Brett, Robin Yount, Gary Carter, Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and Keith Hernandez.
  • One of Topps' best designed baseball card wrappers
  • 1975 Topps (especially the wrapper) were mocked by Wacky Packages (anyone remember Beastball?)
  • The local ice cream van driver (we called him 'Van') that I bought cards from as a kid used to tell me that he put a case of baseball cards away every year and that the first year he did so was 1975 (and they were mini cellos!!!) Note: Decades later, I heard that he actually cashed out and made a nice chunk of change. Good for him.
  • Minis (These were smaller-sized versions of the regular cards. Topps released them as a test in the Michigan and California markets).

The only sticker remotely as popular to me as a kid was the Playboy Magazine spoof Playbug.

During the 1980's, it seemed as the dual fascination with the Rookie Cards in the set as well as the Minis continually pushed the price of the set up in value. There was even a period of time where the value of the minis was more than 2-3 times the regular sized cards due to perceived scarcity.

1975 Topps Mini and Regular Steve Garvey

On the tenth anniversary on the 1975 set, Topps came out with arguably their best set of the 1980's from a popularity and collecting standpoint. 1985 Topps was highlighted by Rookie Cards of Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser, Eric Davis and Bret Saberhagen. Topps also release an identical all glossy parallel set called Topps Tiffany (for the second year in a row) that was the same size as the regular set and limited to 5,000 sets. At time of release, the Tiffany Set was only moderately popular with collectors because in my opinion they weren't available in pack form and they weren't what collectors were interested in at the time (That would be Minis).

Eventually someone in Topps' Product Development division (Fleer too) took a look at the hobby and realized that 1975 Topps and especially their Minis were all the rage. In an attempt to capitalize on this, Topps released a much smaller Mini set in 1986 that was a flop along the lines of a Ford Edsel.

The main reasons it failed was:
  • Design was different that regular-sized 1986 Topps cards as well as unattractive
  • Number of cards in the set was much smaller
  • Size of the minis was even smaller than 1975 Topps Minis
  • The hobby hadn't positively accepted multiple sets in the same year from a manufacturer (outside of traded sets)
  • No must-have Rookie Card was included in the set (i.e. Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds)

If you collected in the mid-1980's, Topps coming out with this style of Mini set made all the sense in the world. Donruss and Fleer were regularly beating them to the punch by including better Rookie Cards in their base sets and their products were performing better in the secondary market. Sadly, they could have done better and in fact they almost did.

While doing the research for the 1986 Topps Minis set, someone at Topps considered making a 1985 Topps Mini set in the same fashion as the 1975 Topps Mini set. This led to 132 cards which constituted one 11x12 sheet being produced as a test. The cards were printed in Ireland (like Topps Traded sets of the 1980s) and only 100 of each set was produced.

1985 Topps Mini and Regular Steve Garvey

I don't know how these were distributed or even if they were but for whatever reason Topps missed the boat on this opportunity because a 1985 Topps Minis in pack form would have been huge considering how many Rookie Cards were in the set.

Unfortunately, we'll never find out.

Topps Baseball Cards. Now available in Tall, Venti and Grande!

For comparisons sake, I've lined 1975 and 1985 Topps Minis up next to each other along with a 1986 Topps Mini.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Harts Strike Out

I'd like to recap one of my favorite Television episodes of all-time; The Harts Strikes Out.

If you're grew up in the late 1970's/early 1980's, you probably remember ABC's Tuesday night television lineup of comedies from 8-10 pm. It included:

8:00 pm - Happy Days
8:30 pm - Laverne & Shirley
9:00 pm - Three's Company
9:30 pm - Taxi and then later on Too Close for Comfort

These shows were ratings winners for ABC back then and are staples for TV Land today.

During the 10 o'clock hour, ABC had a successful drama in Hart to Hart that starred Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers. As a kid, I didn't often make it past 10 pm to watch television and when I did I rarely ended up watching Hart to Hart because I didn't find the show to be that interesting.

With that being said, on May 4th, 1982 when the 22nd episode of the third season aired, Hart to Hart was about to supply a first ballot inductee to my personal television Hall of Fame of the greatest television episodes that I have viewed.

With that said, I'd like to show you why (Spoiler Alert! It has to do with Baseball Cards). Here's goes my first ever attempt at reviewing/recapping a television show (watch out Roger Ebert).

The episode opens with montage of a bunch of vintage baseball cards and memorabilia. Among the highlights are a Yankee and Dodger jersey next to each other (the Dodgers play a big part in this episode) as well as the following baseball cards: 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, T-206 Christy Mathewson, 1951 Bowman Willie Mays, 1939 Play Ball Joe Dimaggio, 1954 Bowman Ted Williams, 1958 Topps Richie Ashburn, T-206 Ty Cobb and 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth.

Overheard is a Dodgers Radio broadcast from May 20th, 1981 with Ross Porter calling Rick Monday’s game winning home run on a 3-1 pitch against the Phillies (He also mentions a spectacular diving catch made by Lonnie Smith hit by Reggie Smith).

Once the opening credits are done, we seen the stars of the show Jonathan Hart (Robert Wagner) and Jennifer Hart (Stefanie Powers) in the middle of a 1980’s television style lovemaking session. Just as things are about to get hot and heavy, Jonathan receives a phone call that his old friend Jack Fulton has died of a heart attack.

The next scene shows Jack’s estate being dealt with and we are introduced to Jonathan’s attorney Bill Westfield, Jack’s wife Valerie, his sister Dorothy and his son Jess. There we find out that Jack made a will and that Jonathan was the sole executor of Jack’s estate. Bill Westfield proceeds to read the will and it notes that all of Jack’s worldly possessions were to go to his wife Valerie. These include his life insurance, stocks and bonds, and cash on hand. In addition, Jack passed on his old collection of baseball cards to Jess because Jack collected them as a boy in his father’s memory.

After Bill concludes, Valerie notes that Jack left nothing for Dorothy. Dorothy then asks if there’s a way to give some of the stocks and bonds to Valerie. A few moments later Jonathan notes that there aren’t any stocks and bonds because Jack borrowed against the life insurance. Additionally, it’s discovered that Jonathan paid for Jack’s funeral.

Dorothy calls Rex and says that Valerie got stuck with a mortgage and the kid with a pile of bubble gums cards (that’s all they’re worth). If you ordered Champagne for room service, cancel it.

After the commercial break, Jonathan and Jess end up got upstairs to look at the collection of baseball cards Jess inherited. Jonathan pulls out a suitcase from the closet and once opened notes that there must be ten thousand cards in there.
 (I guess plastic pages hadn't been invented yet)

Jonathan goes through the cards and notices Ted Williams (1955 Topps), Yogi Berra (1955 Topps) and Willie Mays (1958 Topps) of the all-time greats.

Jess still upset over his dad’s passing (and because he didn’t pass on anything of value) says he doesn’t have any use for the cards and suggests that Jonathan take them downstairs and put them out for the garbage man to take away.

Jonathan asks that before you throw them out could he have a chance to look at them. While Jonathan and Jess are looking at the cards, he notes that “if any of these cards are over 25 years old, they call them collectibles. They’re a terrific investment. They could be worth more than art, real estate, gold. You dad could be sitting on a fortune here.“ What Jonathan is mentioning all of this, Jack’s sister Dorothy is shown over-hearing the entire conversation.

After hearing this, Jess wants to tell his mom but Jonathan first decides to find out what the cards are worth by calling a sports memorabilia dealer.

What we’re shown next is interesting.

First is a shot of an early 1980’s strip mall with what appears to be a station wagon that my mother used to drive complete with the folding back seats.

Second is a television clip of a game at Dodger Stadium from July 10, 1979 with the Dodgers pitcher (I believe Ken Brett because his uniform number is 34) throwing to what appears to be a New York Met (though at first I thought it was a Chicago Cub). The hitter (Richie Hebner) ends up hitter a home run to left field. The audio though is the same as during the opening montage and notes that Rick Monday is hitting a home run to right field and was from 1981!

Third is a shot of a sports memorabilia dealer wearing a Boston Red Sox cap watching television and sitting by the red phone (like the kind that the president has in case of a thermo-nuclear war). On the wood panel covered wall is a vintage Cardinals pennant and a vintage Dodgers jersey with what appears to be the letter T instead of a uniform number.

Getting back to the episode, the dealer answers the phone “McKenna? Sports Memorabilia” and Jonathan says “I’d like to get an idea what an old collection of baseball cards is worth?” The dealer says, tell me what you got, the condition and the years.

Jonathan says, “Well, they’re 30, 40, 50 years old and they’re in mint condition. Thousands of them. I’ve got Hank Aaron’s Rookie Card. An original Brooklyn Dodger. I’ve got a 1952 Topps card of Mickey Mantle.”.

Well that ’52 Mickey Mantle you’ve got is going for as much as a three thousand dollars.

Three thousand dollars for one card?

In 1952, you could buy six of those cards and a stick of bubble gum….

Dealer says “Not every card goes for that kind of money. Only the superstars and the old rare ones. Sounds like you’re sitting on $250,000 dollars

Jonathan..A quarter of a million. Well the owner is very anxious to sell.

Dealer, I can’t handle that kind of sale. Next Sunday at the Miramar, the annual baseball card convention..strictly cash…you’ll find plenty of eager buyers, traders and sellers.

Jonathan….Next Sunday..Miramar Hotel..Card Convention

Dealer…you’re lucky..most people throw out their cards or have them stuck up in the closet and not know their real worth.

Dorothy and husband/boyfriend discussing convention in hotel and that Jess have a bunch of very valuable and untraceable baseball cards which she deserves for the unpaid loans and bad stock advice left her. They eventually hatch up a plan to steal the baseball cards because they’re worth a quarter of a million dollars and it’s like “Money in the Bank”.

(Our villan Rex is a dead ringer for Airplane's Robert Hayes)

The next scene shows Valerie and Jess returning home due to car problems. Jess goes upstairs notice a burglary in progress and screams for his mother. She comes upstairs and a fight ensues. 

The end result is that burglar leaves with a duffle bag.

When Jess and Valerie come to, Valerie tells Jess to call the police and hopefully he wasn’t able to take anything. Jess looks on the floor and notices a few baseball cards scattered including a 1957 Topps Don Drysdale Rookie Card, a 1952 Topps Phil Rizzuto and a 1953 Topps Ralph Kiner. Jess immediately goes to the closet and takes out the briefcase that the cards are kept in. While doing so he notes that the case weighs nothing.

Note: I guess condition wasn’t an issue. Does this guy own any common cards?

The next scene shows Dorothy and boyfriend fan through a giant wad of money while sitting in a car. That’s followed by the Hart’s driving up to the Miramar Hotel in their yellow Mercedes Benz. As they park, both the Harts appear in early 1980’s satin LA Dodgers Baseball Jackets and proceed to head to the hotel which has a banner outside that says Baseball Card Convention Today.

Note: The Harts appear to be parking in a Red Zone.

Seeing all of this, Dorothy and Boyfriend (Rex) are concerned that if the Harts come across the guy who bought the cards will be able to describe them perfectly.

Here we find out that Rex is a two-time criminal with Mug Shots from coast to coast has decided that he needs to FIND the buyer before the Harts do.

Next we get a bait n' switch from the producer of the show as we first get to see a wide screen panoramic of a massive convention floor. Followed by a sign that says “Welcome! California Baseball Card Collectors” in what appears to be a hotel ballroom.

Playing in the background is a continuous loop of an organ playing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”.

Note: If I was a card dealer at a show, I’d go crazy if I had to hear this all weekend.

The Harts start walking the show. One of the first booths they come across has a 1945 Chicago Cubs Pennant that the dealer (named Bujie) is charging $95.00 because it’s the last year the Cubs won the pennant. Here we learn that Stefanie is a Cubs fan and that she finds the price of the pennant to be expensive.

The Hart that split up to walk the show quicker. Jonathan asked Bujie where Mr. McKenna is and he conveniently happens to be at the both next to her. After getting re-acquainted, Jonathan asks McKenna who would be able to purchase his cards and notes that the cards he called about were stock.

McKenna bounces the idea off of Bujie and they conclude it was a guy named Wilbur who’s standing on the other side of the room. Jonathan then proceeds to head over to talk to Wilbur.

The next scene shows Rex at Bujie’s booth buying a 1947 Washington Senators Pen/Knife for $50.00 because she points out that the Senators are no longer a franchise so things are hard to get.

Note: Funny part is Rex pulling out $50 from a wad of money. Was that even impressive in 1982?

Jonathan finds Wilbur standing next to a curtain and explains that the cards are stolen. Wilbur points out that he purchased the cards for $260K and proceeded to sell them to a guy named Brooklyn for $300K who’s got a suite upstairs. Jonathan then asks who Wilbur purchased the cards from.

 (Wilbur must have had a 'Killer Collection' of cards)

While this is going on, Rex works his way behind the curtain, pulls out the knife and proceeds to stab Wilbur before he can answer Jonathan’s question completely. He did note that there were two of them and that he was about 35.

Note: All it took was one stab move from behind a curtain to incapacitate Wilbur. Incredibly, Wilbur was now unable to talk because of a stab wound to his backside. Also, there was a door conveniently next to the curtain.

The Harts then proceed to Mr. Brooklyn’s room in an attempt to buy Jess’ cards back. His secretary Cary answers the door and notes that Mr. Brooklyn never sells his cards but if they choose to the Harts can attempt to come back tomorrow night and win their cards back by “Flipping” for them. In order to get into the game, the Harts will need a minimum of $1000 worth of cards and that to get in the password is “Ebbetts Field”. Since the Harts don’t have any cards in their collection, they decide to head down to the convention floor to get some.

After a commercial break, the Harts are at home and have Jess staying over. This leads to a melodramatic scene where Jess wonders where his dad is and Jonathan notes he’s in a special place (i.e. Heaven) and that his spirit will never leave you.

Note: Some lady wrote an interesting review of this episode on IMDB that had nothing to do with the baseball card portion of the show in which she compares this scene to Robert dealing with the death of Natalie Wood. Uh, OK.

Next comes practice time. Jonathan and Max (the family limousine driver) are show flipping cards as well as explaining the rules. The way they played on the show was that each person dropped a card on the ground.

 If the second person matched the first person’s card by being face up or face down, he won. If they were mixed (one up and one down), the first person won.

What’s interesting, it that this is the first use of modern trading cards (1982 Topps Fernando and Bench) in the episode. Don’t worry, they’ll be more.

Note: When I was a kid, flipping cards meant that each person threw their cards against a wall. The card that was the closest won both card. Due to the possibility of damaging cards, usually common players were used as a proxy for star cards.

After beating up Max a few times, Jonathan brags that he was a champ at school. Max isn’t convinced and tells Jonathan that was years and ago and that Mr. Brooklyn could clean him out. After watching one hand, Jess believes that Jonathan has got the hang of it.

A phone call interrupts practice and soon we have a conversation with Jess and his aunt Dorothy. In the conversation, Dorothy asks how the search for the cards is going. Jess proceeds to tell Dorothy the following:

1. The Harts found the cards

2. Mr. Hart was a champ in school and he’s going to win them back

3. A security guard and a password involved

4. It sounds like a pretty big deal .

Dorothy tells Jess to wish the Harts well and then sets up plans to see a double feature with him which will clean up her image (in Dorothy’s opinion).

After the call ends, Dorothy recaps the conversation to her boyfriend Rex and he devises a plan where he’ll steal all of Jonathan’s winnings (estimated at a million dollars in baseball cards) by kidnapping Jess. At this point, Dorothy fells that Rex has gone too far. Rex reminds her that she asked him to steal for her and that she owes him. Further, he says that he risked going back to jail for life when he broke into the Fulton house and that the cards are their passport to security as they can sell them all over the country. No questions asked.

Later that evening, Jonathan receives an anonymous call from Rex saying that Jess has been kidnapped and that Jonathan now has a partner in his high stakes jackpot game (of baseball card flipping).

Rex reminds Jonathan that he has until sunrise to win as many cards as possible. That he give Jonathan a time and a place to drop off the cards and that he wants to see Jonathan’s old school yard form. Further, the Harts are going to be watched so no cops.

The next scene shows the Harts in formal evening wear with a briefcase full of baseball cards walking inside a hotel. They’re greeted at the door by a security guard and after saying the password "Ebbett's Field". They head into the room to flip cards.

After a few woods with his secretary Cary, the Harts are introduced to the man himself “Mr. Brooklyn”.

Upon introduction, Jonathan notices that Mr. Brooklyn is wearing an original Brooklyn Dodgers cap and even goes so far as to note that is before the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. Mr. Brooklyn offended responds, “Moved Mr. Hart. The Dodgers never left Brooklyn”. Jonathan quickly retreats and says, “My mistake”.

Note: It might be just me but Jonathan sort of implied that an after a Brooklyn Dodgers caps existed after the move to Los Angeles with the way he phrased his sentence.

Jonathan then whips open his briefcase and shows Mr. Brooklyn a briefcase full of vintage cards. From what I can tell, the following cards are in his collection;
1958 Topps Musial All-Star, 1957 Topps Clemente, 1957 Topps Drysdale, 1959 Topps Roy Sievers, 1958 Topps Willie Mays, 1953 Topps Ralph Kiner, 1952 Topps Phil Rizzuto, 1961 Topps Babe Ruth, 1953 Topps Pee Wee Reese, 1955 Bowman Roy Campanella, 1961 Topps Hank Aaron, 1955 Topps Yogi Berra, 1953 Topps Jackie Robinson, 1955 Topps Ted Williams, 1958 Topps Mickey Mantle and a 1956 Topps Sandy Koufax. Scattered on the table are a various 1956 and 1966 Topps commons.

Note: Based on the past scenes as well as what’s about to come up, it’s pretty obvious that the props department was working on a limited budget as the same cards that Jess had stolen are now in Jonathan’s briefcase. Further, these same cards are used by Mr. Brooklyn when he flips against Jonathan. This is especially true when you consider that vintage cards were a fraction of today’s prices in 1982.

(This might have been more believable if everyone dressed like baseball card dealers. For those you not in the know, the dress I'm referring to would be an oversized baseball tee shirt with stains, shorts and a big gulp. Note: Weighing 400 pounds plus is a bonus)

Now satisfied, Mr. Brooklyn says, “Mr. Hart, let’s flip cards”. Both men then proceed to the corner of the room where they determine who goes first using a hand game that’s appears to be a precedent to “Rock, Paper, Scissors”.

My take: This must have been a big deal in 1982 as we’re given a looking up from the ground camera angle to add to the suspense.

Mr. Hart wins and tells Mr. Brooklyn he can go first. Brooklyn leads with a 59 Topps Roy Sievers by placing it against the wall. Hart is taken aback and says “Off the Wall”. Cary responds, “You do know have to flip cards off the wall”? Hart confidently says, “I’ve flipped off the wall”. A nervous Stefanie mutters, “Jonathan?”

My take: How hard can that be to flip cards off the wall? That’s like asking are you a retard.

After dropping his Sievers card, Brooklyn explains the rules. Essentially, if you drop a card and it touches another card, you win. If you don’t, you take turns until someone does.

Note: Until the very final episode, not one time did a card land upside down. This includes during the robbery, practice at the Hart’s house and at the hotel while flipping cards. If I were a math whiz, I’d try and figure out the probability of that happening. My guess is that it would be mind-shattering.

On a different note, who’s the Roy Sievers fan? Every other vintage card that was zoomed in on this episode is of a Hall of Famer with one notable exception and he was at least a recognizable name in 1982.

Mr. Brooklyn proceeds to win the first match and from there goes on quite a run. The cards shown during this run include:

1958 Topps Willie Mays,

1956 Topps Sandy Koufax,

1957 Topps Roberto Clemente,

and 1953 Topps Pee Wee Reese.

Eventually a shot of a full briefcase of cards is shown.......

.....followed by that same briefcase empty.

With much of the night passed, Jonathan suddenly feels his school yard form again as he goes on an amazing run. The cards shown during this run include:

1957 Topps Billy Martin,

1954 Topps Gil Hodges,

1958 Topps All-Star Stan Musial,

1954 Bowman Joe Garagiola and 1961 Topps Hank Aaron (badly miscut),

1960 Topps Whitey Ford ,

1958 Topps Mickey Mantle, 1957 Topps Ernie Banks, 1955 Topps Ted Williams, 1958 Topps Duke Snider and a 1953 Topps Ralph Kiner.

It’s at this point where the producers get a little sloppy because mixed in with all the vintage cards are 1982 Topps and 1981 Fleer cards.

Most glaring was Stefanie handing Jonathan what appeared to be a 1982 Topps card and when he places it on the wall a 1958 Topps Mickey Mantle shows up.

(Did someone say 'Bait n' Switch?)

The 1958 Mickey Mantle it turns out is a big winner as the next shot shows all the winnings being placed back into the briefcase.

(Mr. Brooklyn hasn't been this upset since 1958)

It’s here where the producers placed an “Easter Egg” for fellow blogger Night Owl because you’ll notice a 1981 Fleer Ron Cey sitting on top of a bunch of late 1950’s/early 1960’s Topps cards. It’s quickly covered up by some recent winnings made up of a mixture of 1956, 1965 and 1982 Topps cards (most notably a 1982 Topps Dave Winfield All-Star).

(What's Ron Cey doing in a High Stakes Jackpot Game of Card Flipping?)

After a dizzying spinning panoramic shot of the room, a final shot of the briefcase is shown. This time it’s loaded with almost exclusively 1956 Topps cards.

Note: The only one I recognized is Dale Long. A 1956 Topps expert would have a field day identifying these are they’re not too obscured. Next you see Jonathan dropping his final haul into the case and it appears to be a mixture of 1982 Topps and 1957 Topps cards.

Once all packed up, Jonathan gives a couple of cards to Mr. Brooklyn on the way out and says sarcastically, “A Steak” and turns to his secretary and says, “He’s very good”. He then wakes Stefanie up to share with here the news that he cleaned him out.

The security guard (actually Rex) asks if the Harts would like the cards taken to their car. On the way out, Rex suggests to take the service elevator because it’s faster. The Harts agree because they’re in a hurry and tired.

He eventually leads the Harts into a broom closet. After covering all the 1980’s TV drama rules;

Rex identifying himself while holding a gun and explaining where Jess is,

the Harts trying to talk Rex out of what he’s doing, and a fight ensues between Jonathan and Rex.

Jonathan wins the fight but two more 1980’s TV drama rules ensue (Rex knocked out cold from the fight, Jonathan deciding to wear Rex’s police uniform in order to recover Jess).

The Harts now have to find Jess and after searching Rex they know just where to go, Room 724.

From there we see a bunch of good old fashioned 1980’s detective work that eventually leads to a showdown between Jonathan and Dorothy with Jess being as a hostage.

Push comes to shove and the Harts overpower Aunt Dorothy and rescue Jess. Wahoooooooo!!!

The final scene shows Jonathan mentioning that a dealer made a substantial off to Valerie (Jess’ mom) and she accepted. He then proceeds to reflect back to his childhood days when he there his card collection away because of some girl (who wasn’t as attractive as Mickey Mantle nor would she neck with him).

I hope you liked it as much as me. There are a couple of other baseball card episodes from the long ago past that I'd like to review but I'll save that for another blog.
If you're interested in watching this episode, here are the links to it on Youtube
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5