Month: March 2015


So here’s the thing. I don’t love the 1952 Topps set. In fact, I’d argue, if it hadn’t been first, if it had come after the remarkable run Topps had from 1953 – 1956, it would have been considered the first weak design. It’s not though. It’s first. The design is everywhere and there’s no getting away from it. At this point, I could live the rest of my life without seeing Topps ever dig up this design again. It’s overrated, it’s overexposed, and even if it weren’t, it would be “just another set”.

I suppose that it’s possible that my view of the set is colored by the realization that this is the one Topps Braves team set that I might not complete. Those high numbers man. Wow. The funny thing is, I could see myself dropping a grand to get a shitty condition Eddie Mathews from 1952 Topps. I can easily picture that. I just can’t see myself spending hundreds of dollars on a baseball card of Ebba St. Claire or Bob Thorpe. How will that ever be worth it to me? (I used to include 1954 in my list of team sets I will never complete, but as it turns out, I’m determined to own a Hank Aaron rookie card in just a few months. Hell, I can almost guaranetee I will.)

Still, this is a Braves team set and when I’ve found affordable cards from it, I’ve got them. My favorite is clearly the Spahn, but this time, started with the Willard Marshall from a box at a card show a long, long time ago.

At least I’m not a Yankees fan. How likely are most of those to finish a 52 team set? After all, if there’s two things that scream EXPENSIVE VINTAGE, it’s high numbers and Mickey Mantle.

Is 1953 Bowman my favorite set of all-time?

At heart, I’m a very lazy person. I’ve always wanted to sit down and make one of those lists about my favorite sets, or maybe the 100 greatest Braves cards of all-time! It’s not going to happen though because I’m fairly certain I’d start out with a bang, and then half-ass myself to the finish. So it goes.

For a long time, I was convinced that Warren Spahn’s 1953 Bowman card was the best looking Braves card ever made. The red just pops off the card and the photograph offers that slight hint of the wry Spahn smile. I bought this card about three years ago and I guess it marks another team set where I decided to start with the Spahn. I’m no longer convinced this is the best looking Braves card ever made, but damn, it’s still a mighty fine card.

Just as I’m no longer prepared to say I think the 53 Bowman Spahn is the best looking Braves card ever made, I’m also no longer willing to say that 1953 Bowman Color is my favorite set. I mean, I’m not saying it’s not my favorite set. I absolutely love 1953 Bowman Color cards. In a time where cards where either black and white photographs, paintings, or painted over black and white photographs, 1953 Bowman featured eye-popping color photography. Frankly, I think the colors hold up better than the photos of today’s sets will.

I started with the Spahn, bought a few more 53 Braves over the past few years, and my most recent card from the set is the great Eddie Mathews. I may have three Bowman color cards to go, but I’ve got the two big ones, and another of my favorite old Braves players, Sam Jethroe. That’s a start.

On the other hand, there’s my 1948 Bowman Braves Team Set

As I mentioned yesterday, I decided that Warren Spahn was the first card I wanted to get for my 1949 Bowman team set, and that I did. It’s a beautiful card and I’m excited about acquiring the other Braves in the set.

For my 1948 Bowman Braves team set, I went in a different direction. The Spahn was simply more expensive that I wanted to go, even though I was actively searching for one in poor condition. For my first card for this team set, I decided to go after another of my old-time favorites from the Boston Braves era, Johnny Sain.

Johnny Sain is a guy for which I’e always had an enormous amount of affection. The stories of the Spahn and Sain then Pray for rain Boston Braves are among my favorites. I also remember him well from his short, very short, time as the Braves pitching coach in the 1980s. Perhaps the biggest reason I love Johnny Sain though is Ball Four. I’ve spent most of my life infatuated with the book. At this point, I have three dog eared copes of the book. I’ve also purchased the Kindle version and the audio version from Audible. I read it almost every year. Jim Bouton’s descriptions of Johnny Sain as a pitcher’s pitching coach, rather than a manager’s drinking buddy, always struck home with me. He’s one of the all-time greats and I’m glad I have this card.

While I love the contrast of the black and white photographs backed and streaked with color in the 1949 Bowman set, I actually prefer the 1948 Bowman design. It’s hard to beat the simple black and white photography. The 1948 Bowman set is a short one featuring only 48 different cards which means, as a Braves team collector, there are only three cards that I need. Once I had the Sain, it was easy enough to pick up a cheap Bob Elliott.

Over the years, I’ve picked up the occasional cheap Braves cards from the 1950s, and it was the same names over and over again. There was Walker Cooper. There was Earl Torgeson. Then, there was Bob Elliott. If I had gone for his 1940s cards earlier, it would have been safe to say that I was a defacto Bob Elliott player collector.

It might be hard to imagine, but I’m betting this card was every bit as big a deal as the Spahn and Sain to collectors in 1948. Elliott, in his first year with Boston, would win the Most Valuable Player award. He was the premier offensive player on the 1948 Braves squad that would play in the World Series. These days, he’s practically a common. Everyone might not remember him as a great player, but that’s one of the joys of collecting the cards of my favorite team. I know that Elliott touched greatness for a few years.

So, with Sain and Elliott in the bag, I kept my eye open for a Spahn within my price range. I placed every example that showed up on eBay on my watch list. The majority were listed as Buy it Now and were more than I wanted to spend. Condition was not an issue for me. Truth is, I don’t like older cards in mint condition. It isn’t simply a price thing, but a visual thing. If the card doesn’t look old, if it doesn’t feel old, if it doesn’t look loved, it’s not the card for me.

Even though I was fine with a poor condition card, every Buy it Now listing for a 48 Spahn was high. I thought my best chance would be an auction and that turned out to be the case. This card is more creased than I prefer, but I have no desire to replace it. It’s a 67 year old Warren Spahn baseball card. That’s a reason to be excited and just like the 49 Spahn was the perfect card to start that team set, it was the perfect card to end this one.

Chasing a 1949 Bowman Braves Team Set

From my first days in the hobby, until fairly recently, my collecting obsession was finishing Topps sets. I had set a goal somewhat similar to Charlie over at Lifetime Topps in that I wanted to complete every base Topps set released from the day I was born. At this point, I’m less than a 1000 cards from completing this goal. To my everlasting shock, I managed to complete the 1971 and 1972 Topps sets, and frankly, I thought this was the most exciting thing I could accomplish as a collector. I spent years staring at listings and price guides and I believed that those high numbers, those damned high numbers, would prevent me from ever realizing my goal.

The great thing about those two great sets, 1971 and 1972, is that they are both very different and yet, they are two of the all-time greats. The 1971 set is a classy design that’s as timeless as it is elegant. The 1972 set is very much of its time and place. I love these sets and I thought that these cards would be the highlight of my collection until the day I die or leave the hobby.

It’s no secret that I’m one of those grumpy set collectors who finds most aspects of the modern hobby lacking. When I see a great baseball card like the 2012 Topps Tim Hudson card, I marvel at the idea that neither Topps nor the majority of collectors think it is good enough. It has to be diluted with parallels and stuffed in boxes where the only thing people care about are the hits and the variations and other assorted gimmicks. I don’t begrudge anyone who enjoys the hobby, but right now, the modern set isn’t made for someone like me. 2015 Topps is, to my mind, the finest Topps set in many, many years, and yet, unlike so many other collectors, I don’t find myself looking to open boxes of it.

I’m still spending money on baseball cards of course, I’ve just decided that for me, right now, vintage is the way to go. I’m no longer sure that I consider myself a set collector. Right now, there are no cards that mean more to me than vintage Braves. So, while I’d still love to (finally) finish up that 73 set, I’d rather get at a 1951 Earl Torgeson.

So, now that I’m chasing vintage Braves, I’m faced with the decision of deciding what to collect. Until recently, I lacked cards from almost all of the classic Bowman sets of the late 1940s and early 1950s. I knew I needed a card to kickstart my 1949 Bowman team set and I had 16 Braves from which to choose. I think it’s safe to say that most collectors would choose to chase that cheap commons first. For a lot of my team sets, that’s exactly what I’ve done. That didn’t seem good enough for my 1949 Bowman Braves team set. I wanted the best card in the set.

All of the original Bowman sets are great, but the 1949 set is one of my favorites. Essentially, the cards are the same as the inaugural 1948 Bowman set. It’s the differences that set it apart though. The 1948 set used simple black and white photography. The 1949 set used the same type of picture, but cropped the players onto colorful backgrounds. Additionally, Bowman added colors to many of the details on the card itself. It’s a fun set.

Obviously, the one player you’d most want from a pre-Aaron, pre-Mathews Braves team set is the great Warren Spahn. Spahn cards are great because Spahn is a strange looking dude. Numerous stories make Spahn out to be a strange and silly character and his mischievous personality is captured on seemingly every photograph that has ever been taken of the lefty. He is the second best pitcher to ever wear the Braves uniform, one of the game’s all-time greats, and I find myself shocked that I own this baseball card.

So, my chase for the 1949 Bowman Braves team set is underway, and I think we can all agree, I’m off to a hell of a start.