More team card talk: Hall of Famer cameos, coaches and ELEPHANTS?

I’ve been away from the baseball card focus for about 2 weeks as I’m ramping up my work commitments, but I found some time to continue research on a vintage hobby interest: Team cards.

Topps produced team cards for most teams from 1956 to 1981, with the exception of the 1969 set due to a MLB/Topps photography dispute. These cards are popular among collectors, past and present, because 1) Almost everyone is on one piece of cardboard, and 2) they, and checklist cards, often are written on and thus put at a higher pricing premium. The general rule of these cards, in regard to Beckett pricing, is that they are categorized in the “unlisted stars” pricing tier, unless that team did something unique.

As a young man going backwards in the hobby focus, team cards were cool simply because of the pricing. However, as I have gone back into looking deeper into late vintage-era cards, my curiosity began to pique when I heard that there was something very unique about the 1970 Topps card of the Oakland Athletics.

I’ve written about it before, but the interesting thing about the card is that it features Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio in an Oakland Athletics uniform. Quite strange to see such a legend in some other team’s uniform, right? DiMaggio was the A’s hitting coach in the 1969 season, when the picture on the card was taken. That card became a “must have” and I finally got it – for $0.25 nonetheless – at a card shop in Davenport.

The 1970 Athletics team card started my curiosity in trying to find unique cameos on Topps team cards. Unfortunately, the cutlines (journalism speak for who’s who and where) for the team photos are not public knowledge, likely because no one cared at the time. After some inquiring on vintage card Facebook groups, it is assumed that these team pictures used on Topps cards were taken during Spring Training the year before the card was issued – the photo above taken in 1969.

There are many star players who played for teams on brief occasions and never had an ORIGINAL (not post-career issue) baseball card issued of them in that uniform: Juan Marichal on the Dodgers, for example. Lately, I have been researching the possibility of who MAY be on certain team cards based on their playing status during each year’s Spring Training from 1955 to 1980 (sans 1968).

After putting together a list of possibilities, then I tried to check the actual team cards to try and find those players. As you can figure out, that’s a very difficult thing to do. Many possibilities I’ve found, and some I have questions marks about.

Not only did I research players in unusual uniforms, I also looked at team card cameos of players who did not get a proper “career capper” card from Topps. For example, Hank Aaron last played in 1976, but has no 1977 Topps card. However, Aaron is in the team photo that is on the Brewers’ team card in the 1977 set. If you’re looking for a card with a baseball legend on it, and can’t afford the base card, the cheapest possible situation you can arrive to is by getting the team card with the person on it – although he looks a little tiny.

I’ve made several additions to my Interested List based on finding team card cameos. It’s not too hard to find players and managers that may make these appearances because their careers are well documented on places such as Baseball Reference.

Coaches, however, are more difficult.

Most biographies, including in SABR research, are vague in documenting a coach’s exact service time on the big league level. The best way I’ve gone about finding coach cameos is by looking at team profiles of every … single … team from 1955 to 1980. This is best done with Wikipedia searches. I started with 1955 and got to 1965 before I got bored, but what I found in those first 10 years was interesting.

Hall of Famer Billy Herman was a coach for several teams in the 1950s through the 1970s, which I didn’t know about. I knew Herman was a Red Sox manager in the 1960s. Research led me to his tenure as Padres hitting coach in the late 1970s. I just so happened to have this 1980 Topps team card tucked away in a rump pile of Padres cards, and dug it out to look at it closer. The person with the red dot is Billy Herman.

I never looked at this card closely until today. Were those elephants in the background??? Absolutely. Turns out this photo was taken at the San Diego Zoo (Joan Embry not pictured) in 1979. The Padres team cards of 1979 (manager Roger Craig) and 1981 (manager Frank Howard) also were taken at tourist destinations in San Diego. I believe this is the first card with real elephants on them, something that Athletics cards of the past can’t even boast.

Continuing on, I also discovered two more Oakland Athletics cameos: the 1961 Topps card has coach Johnny Mize on it, and the 1966 Topps card has coach Gabby Hartnett on it (I think … he wore #42, but it is unusual to see a coach in the back row). Not sure about the 1967 Athletics card.

The 1961 Cubs team card MAY have coach Rogers Hornsby on it. That’s still pending a closer look.

Leo Durocher was a Dodgers coach in the early 1960s and is seen on some team cards.

Some non-team card observations that I thought were worth noting:

• Nick Altrock is best known for being the only other person to play in the big leagues for 5 decades (1890s-1930s); Minnie Minoso was the second. Altrock coached the original Washington Senators into the mid-1950s, but doesn’t appear on a Topps or Bowman card. Altrock is the very last MLB player to serve in an official capacity for a club with service time in the 19th century, outlasting Connie Mack by 3 years. Altrock’s full career is summed in his 1961 Fleer card, which was a set about baseball greats, and now has been added to my Interest List.

• Luke Appling had a busy post-playing career. He was a coach for the Tigers and Indians after his playing career, and even managed the Athletics for a brief moment. He also was a White Sox coach in the 1970s, and by the early 1990s he was a roving instructor for the Braves during Spring Training. Appling, whose post-playing days are known for his 1982 Old Timers Game homerun, has a couple of Braves Police cards in the mid-1980s of him as a coach. New Interest List add.

• No, there is no original card of Satchel Paige as an Athletics player. However, his cameo pitching appearance in 1965 led to a couple of possible interesting additions to my list: 1966 cards of Jim Gosger (last batter to face Satch) and Bill Monbouquette (Satch’s last strikeout victim). Paige also served as a Braves coach in 1968, but no card of him in a Braves uniform exists.

• What if I told you there was a baseball person who claims to have 17 World Series titles in his resume? That’s true: it’s a player-turned-coach named Frankie Crosetti, and they all came with the Yankees during the 1930s through 1960s. Crosetti won 8 as a player and 9 as a third-base coach. I’m sure he is featured on Yankees team cards. He also was a coach for the hapless Seattle Pilots before a brief stint with the Twins. The first card to mention all of Crosetti’s 17 titles was published in 2008.

• Rudy York was a coach with the Red Sox in 1959. York was a home run hitter who now has faded into near obscurity, but there was a brief moment of time in the 1940s where he ranked among the Top 10 all-time in career home runs. He finished with 277 from 1934 to 1948. Bob Johnson, a Philadelphia A’s slugger during that period, had 288 homers and once was 8th all-time.

• Doing the York research led me to reading about Ralph Kiner again. I’ve been fortunate to purchase a couple of Kiner cards in recent months. After his playing career, Kiner was a longtime announcer for the Mets. Turns out there are a few Mets cards of Kiner – whose broadcasting career with one team is longer than only two others, Dodgers legends Vin Scully and Jaime Jarrin. Scully has a few cards out there. Jarrin, who is the Dodgers’ Spanish announcer, only has one: an autograph insert from 2020.

• As much as I reference Athletics history in my vintage card adventures, it turns out that there never was a single baseball card never issued of owner Charlie Finley during his career. The same can’t be said for Bill Veeck and Walter O’Malley. Two cards were issued in “legends” sets in 1991, 5 years before Finley’s death and 10 years after he finally sold his franchise.

I’ll be researching 1966 to 1980 at some point in the future.

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