Friday, December 31, 2010

Mark Dewey on baseball cards

Mark Dewey pitched six seasons in the major leagues for the Giants, Mets and Pirates, winning 12 games and saving 8. Now the pitching coach for the minor league Washington Wild Things and for Emory and Henry College, he kindly answered my questions about baseball cards.

"I have a baseball card from my time with the Pirates that has a picture of me on the front, but a picture of Jeff Ballard (one of my teammates) on the back.

I did collect as a child, but have not for many years--though I do have a complete set from the 1987 Everett Giants."

Thanks! I couldn't find the card with the Ballard photo (perhaps it is 1994 Fleer Update?) but here is one with Dewey, from 1995 Topps.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mike Caldwell's favorite cards

Mike Caldwell pitched fourteen years in the major leagues, winning 137 major league games. His best seasons were with the Brewers in 1978, when he won 22 games and finished second to Ron Guidry in the AL Cy Young voting, and 1982, when he won 17 games in the regular season and two more in the World Series. Now the pitching coach for the Scottsdale Giants in the Arizona League, he kindly shared with me his thoughts on his favorite cards.

"'Favorite of myself - 73 Topps--my 1st card.

My two favorite cards are of Mickey Mantle & Willie Mays."

Thanks! I don't have the 1973 card, so here is one from my collection, from 1983 Fleer.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The many hats of Sam Mejias

In this very interesting 1981 article from Sports Illustrated, the magazine examined the impact of the two new card manufacturers, Donruss and Fleer. It has some interesting commentary from fans, players and photographers of the time. There are a lot of interesting stories. For example, they are interviewing Topps photographer George Heyer while he takes pictures of the Reds. Sam Mejias interrupts the interview to complain that he is always wearing his batting helmets in photos, like this one from 1981.

Heyer obliged, giving us the photo that would be in 1982 Topps.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Drew Macias on baseball cards

Drew Macias played parts of the 2007, 2008 and 2009 season with the San Diego Padres. Currently an outfielder in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, he kindly answered my questions about baseball cards.

"Growing up I was a big collector of baseball cards...I remember my parents buying me a pack every time we went to the store...then it turned into a complete set every Christmas...I ended my collection in 2000...I have a complete decade of Topps baseball cards...1990 to 2000...I can't really remember my favorite card but I do know how excited I was when I came across my Frank Thomas draft pick card....and I looked up and saw it was worth like 1800 bucks maybe more i can't remember..and I had 3. I nearly passed out until I went out my local card shop and found out that they weren't the right ones. (They had to not have the name printed on the front.)

Anyways I had a lot of good times collecting cards as I'm sure you for me my favorite card of me is the only one I have...just one...but I'm working my tail off to change that and have more."


Monday, December 27, 2010

Dirt explosion

Mike Aldrete's awkward swing may have just resulted in a foul ball in the dirt, but the photographer got a real nice picture of the dirt exploding under the ball.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A lucky card

I suppose Ron Washington has had a lot of luck in his career. Perhaps that luck could be traced to the four-leaf clover pinned to his sleeve, as can be seen on the back of his 1989 Upper Deck card.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Jim Wiley on baseball cards

Jim Wiley pitched six seasons in the Yankees organization, winning 17 games. Now a Senior Sales Representative at Ash Grove Cement, he kindly answered my questions about baseball cards.

"I havent collected cards in years. I really dont have any stories to tell. My advice would be, be careful when you send cards in the mail to be signed. You never know who is really signing them."


Here is his card from 1991 Classic Best.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Interview with former Topps photographer Michael Ponzini

Michael Ponzini was a Topps photographer for over twenty years. He recently moved from New York to Virginia where he runs his own business, Ponzini Photography, where he shoots tourist areas and other regions of interest. He kindly shared with me some baseball cards stories.

"I shot for Topps from 1981 though 2002. My first photos appeared in the 1982 set. I worked out of New York but spent much time on the road as well. In any given year I would have had photos in the sets from various locations. One year we got back from spring training and soon after hit the road again for a month long trip across the country. Topps had several other photographers in New York at the time so not everything from NY was my photo either. Many times we had two photographers at a game, one shooting from the first base side,and the other form third.

From 1982 - 1985 I was also the assistant photo editor at Topps and was able to see what happened from the picture being taken to the photo selection process.

As for what cards are mine, well I had a very detailed list at one point but over time it became harder to keep up with. (That Mike LaValliere rookie card a couple of posts ago is my photo). After I left my job as assistant photo editor the team inside would provide each photographer with a list at the end of the year but when they started to make way too many sets a year that became much harder to do. After awhile you were only able to positively id your posed shots.

Some of my most memorable cards were Carl Yastrzemski's 1982 & 1983 regular cards and his '83 super glossy card. In September of 1981 I received four trial assignments from Topps. One of those games was a Red Sox / Yankees game at Yankee Stadium. Other than a short "hit list" my boss didn't give me many instructions for those assignments. One thing he did say was to try real hard to get Yastrzemski smiling, something he said they rarely were able to do. I took this as an opportunity to prove myself and so during batting practice, while Yaz was on the field I stayed focused. He was hitting fungoes to another player in the outfield when someone must've made a joke (I wasn't close enough to hear) and he started laughing. I nailed it and felt pretty good even if it was dumb luck, being in the right spot at the right time. They used a more serious shot from that set on the 1982 card.

The '83 featured one of him hitting fungoes, with a real serious head shot.
The one of him smiling finally made it to the 1983 Glossy All Star set.

Another memorable card was the 1986 Tony Perez card. I was able to see the process from start to end on this one. Something you might have thought was so simple was not always the case. I shot this during 1985 Spring Training at Tinker Field in Orlando, Florida. Tinker was an interesting place to shoot with the photo positions being on top of the dugouts. Tony walloped a home run to left field and as he approached the plate Eric Davis was waiting for him. They high-fived and the end result was a real nice shot of the two of them as their hands clasped together. Fast forward to Brooklyn a couple of months later. The shot is selected by the Sports Department and a print is made. It looks great but the art department (who would ok or nix photos based on what they deemed was printable or not) vetoed the picture. Their argument was not based on quality but their question was "Whose card is it, Davis or Perez"? In the sports department we thought it was obvious as ED had his back to the camera and you were looking in at Perez. Well, the debate got a little heated and the head of the art department finally had to sit down with the operations boss of the sports department to quiet things down. We were passionate about our rolls and sometimes things did get, well, interesting. Fortunately, the Sports Department won that argument. That picture was always one of my favorites, even before the heated debate."


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Real funny, John Henry Johnson.

If John Henry and his Johnson had spent less time posing for inappropriate baseball card pictures and more time practicing pitchers, he could have won more than 26 major league games.

I wonder if when the photographer asked for his name, he said Mike Hunt. Of course, he could have meant 1930's minor leaguer Mike Hunt who hit over 200 home runs in the minor leagues, but never made the big leagues, perhaps because of his unfortunate name.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dale Plummer on baseball cards

Dale Plummer pitched in the Mets and Red Sox organizations from 1988 to 1995. The Red Sox called him up to the major leagues in 1995 but was injured and never got to pitch in the major leagues. Now the head baseball coach at Colby College, he kindly answered my questions about baseball cards.

- Do you have any stories about cards of yourself or of other players?
Card picture day was always cool for me. I always remembered the days when I was in Little League and hoped one day I would have a professional baseball card.

- Do you have a favorite card of yourself or of another player?

Yes, NY Mets 1990 Topps.

I have favorites and my favorite card was of my uncle John Cumberland when he was with the Giants.

- Do you collect baseball cards?
I do have some but am not an active collector.

Thanks! Here is a card of him from my collection:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mike LaValliere on baseball cards

Mike LaValliere played twelve seasons in the major leagues, mostly for the Pittsburgh Pirates, for whom he won a Gold Glove and was the regular catcher on three straight NL East champions. Now the owner of the Big League Experience instructional facility in Sarasota, FL, he kindly answered my questions about baseball cards.
"Stories - just messing with the camera guys but I took a couple of pictures hitting right handed in certain years. Favorite Card - I'm probably a little partial to my Topps rookie card. Collect? No, never was into collecting. I do have some special memorabilia however that I have at my house. ie. Michael Jordan and me by the batting cage during his try at baseball. It's personalized with a quite funny quote from him."


Monday, December 20, 2010

The two Roger Ericksons

There seem to be two Roger Erickson's on his 1983 Topps Card. The top Erickson is a normal looking pitcher for the New York Yankees.

But what is that bizarre picture on the bottom? It doesn't look like an airbrushed photo so much as an drawing by a comic book artist. His face and hair don't look any more realistic than that cap.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sandy Alomar - batboy

Judging by this picture, it seems that newly-acquired young catcher Sandy Alomar was forced to lug everyone's bat.

14 is Jerry Browne's bat, and 22 would be Candy Maldonado's. #31 on the 1990 Indians was relief pitcher Steve Olin - perhaps it was a leftover Pete Dalena from 1989? Can't read the number on the last one, but at least it doesn't look like it says "$@!# face".

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Jamie Quirk and the Anaheim Flasher

While Jamie Quirk poses for a baseball card photo, that guy in the second row is flashing the entire ballpark.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mitch Hilligoss on baseball cards

Mitch Hilligoss was the Yankees sixth round draft pick in 2006. Traded to Texas for Greg Golson before the 2010 season, he hit .296 at A and AA this year. He kindly answered my questions about baseball cards.

The one card I have is of me when I was a Yankee. Its a special one I guess it has a signature on the bottom. The problem is every time I look at it, it bothers me because it isn't my signature. I have no idea where they got the signature or who's it really is, but it is not mine, only my name. It's just kind of funny, everything else matches though.

My most favorite card is the prospect one of me that is shiny when I for the Charleston Riverdogs. Partially because I like the style of the card and partly because it brings back great memories of a good year.
I have a few baseball cards, but not many. I do however frame the cards given to us from the affiliate every year. It helps remind me who I played with and some good memories. Hopefully, there will be many more to gain and many more to collect.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Not a great place to park your car

Third base, the "hot corner," sure is a pressure packed position. Here Greg Smith fields a ball in spring training, knowing that if any ball gets past him, it will probably break the windows on that car parked down the left field line.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Vapor trails

What was Bryan Harvey doing with the baseball when this picture taken? Judging by the vapor trails, it would appear he was waving it around in a circle.

And who is this witch with vapor trails as she raises her arms up? It's actually not a witch or vapor trails but a fountain/statue in Cincinnati called The Genius of Water, but it looks pretty creepy hovering behind Jeff Branson.

The statue is actually kind of relevant for a baseball card, because it is turned on for the warm weather each year on the day of the Reds' first home game.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Pinnacle made an odd choice with this photo of John Smoltz on the back of his 1996 card, as he is tended to by the trainer on the mound after an apparent foot injury.

I couldn't find mention on the internet about this injury, so I presume it wasn't serious. That's better than the photo of Randy Tomlin they used two years earlier, showing his career-destroying elbow injury.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Just some great cards

Got some cool minor league cards from 1999 Just in my trade with Scott Crawford.

This is a fun picture.

He has a great name too - Yon German.

More standard picture, but even better name.

Ntema Ndungidi. Possibly the only pro baseball player born in Zaire.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Interview with former Braves 3B Randy Johnson

Randy Johnson played nine years of professional baseball, including three years in the major leagues with the Atlanta Braves, hitting .267 in 484 at bats. Currently the Minor League Field Coordinator for the San Diego Padres, he kindly answered my questions about baseball cards.

- Do you have any stories about cards of yourself or of other players?
Just that one of my cards has another Randy Johnson's stats on the back. He played in the White Sox organization and was left handed.

- Do you have a favorite card of yourself or of another player?
My favorite would be my rookie card.

- Do you collect baseball cards?
I do not collect cards but have gotten a lot of the (Big Unit) Randy Johnson's cards sent to me over the years.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

John Trautwein on baseball cards

John Trautwein pitched in the Expos and Red Sox organizations from 1984 to 1990, making the major leagues with Boston in 1988. Since his retirement from baseball, he has gone on to a successful career in the business world, and is currently President & Chief Operating Officer of Source Support Services, which provides global service and support for IT manufacturers. He kindly answered my questions about baseball cards.

"My favorite story is about my own major league card... One day a few years ago, long after my brief time in the big leagues was over, the minister of our church came to my house and gave me one of my baseball cards. I said "Thanks, I appreciate that, but you shouldn't have, I'm sure this cost you like 10 cents"... he replied "Actually John it was 6 cents, but shipping was $2.50"... oh well.....

My 1988 Fleer card is my favorite because it was taken in Fenway Park with the green monster as the background.

- I don't collect now, but I did when I was a young boy... and of course gave them all away!"

Thanks! Looks like his favorite card is a Steve Babineau shot.

Friday, December 10, 2010

1987 Donruss Opening Day

Got a bunch of this odd set from my trade with Scott Crawford. Apparently the purpose of this set was to have a card for each player in the opening day starting lineup for each team. I'm not sure how this was marketed, it's a bit of an odd concept.

One interesting thing is that some of those pictures must have been taken on that opening day, like these Mariners, who were in Anaheim that day.

Donell Nixon went 0-2.

Dave Valle was 0-4.

Also, some of these photos must have been taken at the same time as the ones used in the 1988 set. On Jody Davis's card this is particularly noticeable.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Post stealing from Nestle

When I got this 1990 Post card of Wade Boggs from Scott Crawford, I knew it looked familiar.

Turns out its the exact same photo from his 1988 Nestle card!

Did Post, then owned by Philip Morris, pilfer a photo from Nestle? Or, more likely, did they just both get the same photo from House of Airbrushed Baseball Pictures?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Babineau from Crawford

Last week, while looking up Steve Babineau in preparation for my interview, I came across Baseball Digest's January 1987 issue.

According to the article inside, Hitting of Wade Boggs, Don Mattingly, One of Highlights of '86 Season, the cover photo was taken by Steve Babineau.

Later the same day (or maybe the next, I forget exactly), I got my trade package from Scott Crawford on Cards. One of the cards in that package looked very familiar.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Interview with longtime Fleer photograher Steve Babineau

Steve Babineau, owner of Sports Action Images, is team photographer Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics and staff contributor to the Boston Red Sox. One of the original baseball card photographers for Fleer, he shot pictures for their baseball cards for fourteen years. I interviewed him by phone yesterday and he shared with me some really interesting stories about his baseball card experiences.

- Do you have any stories about cards whose pictures you have taken?

I worked for Fleer for fourteen years which was pretty cool, especially the first five or six years when we did a lot of portraits and combo cards with multiple players. When I was interviewing with Fleer I showed them some old cards like this, such as one with Mantle and Berra, and said we ought to start doing this stuff.

One example of this was the George Brett/Gaylord Perry Pine Tar card. Perry was the one who hid Brett’s bat during the pine tar incident. I was taking Perry’s picture during BP at Fenway Park and we were chatting. I said it would be great to get a picture of you and Brett with the bat. Perry got Brett, they went into the dugout and we took the picture.

I started with Fleer when they started doing baseball in 1981. I have been the Bruins photographer for 38 years and at that time was looking to fill some time during the hockey off-season. My buddy told me Fleer won its lawsuit against Topps, so I called Fleer, and two days later their executive flew over and interviewed me in my kitchen. We had a handshake deal and I took him upstairs to my sports memorabilia room where I showed him my display case with old cards and told him my idea for bringing back these classic poses. The combo-player cards were my idea.

I shot the Billy Ripken card – it was definitely not intentional. I was at Fenway, and everyone is out there doing BP. Billy is the only one wearing a game uniform with the number in the front. Everyone else is wearing their orange BP top. For everyone else I would need to make sure there was an identifying marker like a glove, or I would take their picture as they walked away to get their uniform number. I didn’t have to magnify Ripken’s card because the number was clearly visible. In the past Fleer used to send us full color sheets, which we would use to check for reverse negatives and other problems with the picture. That year, to save money, they just sent us blueprints that were in three shades of blue. Your eyes don’t focus on something like that. After the card came out, my boss called me and told me to look at the knob of the bat. “Please tell me it says ‘slick face,’” he said to me. I had to look at it with the magnifying glass and tell him that that was not what it said.

The next year the first team I went to see at Spring Training was the Orioles, playing the Expos in West Palm Beach. I went up to Billy and he says “Thanks for making a nickel card into a thirty dollar card!” He told me he started using that bat as a BP bat on a road trip in Detroit or Cleveland before coming to Fenway. He said it was his brother that wrote that on his bat. I heard that he actually started signing that card for kids but had to stop.

Another time in spring training I was taking pictures of the Tigers at Lakeland. I asked Mark Fidrych to pose and he said he would come back out in his white uniform. I waited five or ten minutes for him to come out. He finally comes out and we take a bunch of pictures, when all of a sudden I notice that he is wearing a glove for a left-hander! He said come on, come on, let’s go with it, but I told him I would get in trouble and we couldn’t do that.

- I have noticed that there were more interesting pictures and poses in the first four or five years of Fleer then later on.

I liked to do some posed things with guys bats – bring back some classic poses. There is a photo of Steve Garvey extending his arms during batting practice at Tinker Field in Florida. I became one of their main guys in dealing with this stuff. At the time Topps was doing all action shots, but every action shot looks the same after a while. I was more interested in doing candid shots, shooting more posed things.

What ended up happening after a while, when there became so many card manufacturers, is media days. There is a standard backdrop, mug shot type of thing, but not the creativity of an individual photographer.

Here is another great story from those early years. I was shooting the Astros and Expos in Montreal, and wanted to get a photo of Nolan Ryan. I didn’t realize he was going to pitch that game. I wanted to do something special because he was my idol and he just broke Walter Johnson’s record. He’s out there doing BP because pitchers batted. I told him I wanted to get a picture of you holding this baseball with the strikeout number. He says to me, “why don’t we do it in the bullpen in my uniform.” When it come time for him to go out to the bullpen he sprints out there – totally forgets about me. I totally understand – game time, game face – no big deal. The game starts. In Montreal, unlike most ballparks, the photographer’s pit was closer to home plate – in the visual line of the pitcher. There are two outs in the inning and Ryan went to 3-0 on this batter. All of a sudden he sees me in the pit, slaps his glove against his thigh and says “Goddamn it.” He throws three bullets to strike the guy out and then comes over and apologizes to me and says we’ll get the picture after the game. Unfortunately I had to leave after the fifth inning to drive back to Boston. I did get a picture of him holding that ball the next spring training, but I don’t know if it was ever used. We did do a no-hitter card with him and Alan Ashby.

[The game he describes would be
July 21, 1983 - Ryan struck out the Expos' Doug Flynn to end the second inning. The Ryan/Ashby photo would be 1983 Fleer Stickers #141]

For the first five or six years it was all new to the players. After a while, with more and more card companies it got monotonous for them. I would go up to a player in Boston and give him my business card, asking to take a picture for Fleer. They would say “They just took my picture in Cleveland.” I would have to explain that that was for a different company and not Fleer. After a while the card companies drifted away from that posed material and just went with action shots.

To go up to a guy like David Ortiz and ask him to pose is insanity. In the old days I would just be out on the field and wait until they finished their BP. You can’t do that anymore.

I did Roger Clemens’s rookie card – he posed by the dugout.

Darryl Strawberry’s rookie card – posing on one knee in Montreal.
I got a great shot of Gary Carter posing in Montreal. Carter collected cards – he knew me and when he would see me he would go out of his way to ask how I was, ask how my kids were. Now I am one of five Red Sox photographers and that is unheard of.

Another story – there was a Rickey Henderson card, when Rickey was going to break the single season record for stolen bases in 1982. I got Rickey to pose at the end of the Fenway Park dugout with a base with the number 119 on it – two days before he broke the record! I said to him, you know you’re going to break the record, and I’m not going to get a chance to do another picture of you this season. He said “OK, but let’s go down to the end of the dugout where no one will see us."

- What cities did you cover? How would we know which Fleer cards are yours?

I shot in Montreal, Boston and Toronto, as well as two weeks of spring training. I would stay in Orlando – this is before Disney had a team – and I went to the Reds, Astros, Royals, Tigers, White Sox camps- Kissimmee, Plant City, Winter Haven. I would also do a trip to Vero for the Dodgers and Tampa for the Yankees. It was two weeks of vacation with the kids and family, but I would shoot 4,000 to 5,000 pictures. Shooting was easy – editing that number of pictures was a pain.

- So you didn’t do the famous Glenn Hubbard card – that was in Philadelphia.

That was Bob Bartosz. I heard he got some crap for that – Hubbard didn’t care for that card. I always wanted to go to Montreal to see the National League because otherwise I only saw the American League once the season started.

- Do you have a favorite card?

I liked when you could get a superstar like Garvey or Carter and get something unique or classic. That Garvey is one of my favorites. To have Clemens’s rookie card is cool. In hockey both Gretzky and Lemieux’s rookie cards are my photographs.

Don Mattingly’s is mine. It was during BP in Fenway in his blue top playing first base.
Guys like George Brett would do poses for you earlier on. After four or five years it got more difficult to get guys to cooperate. Also, the emphasis shifted towards actions. MLB made standard headshots available for a flat fee, so card companies would just use those.

Thanks! Those were some really great stories! I plan to go through my Fleer cards over the next few days and look at cards in Fenway, Montreal, Toronto and Florida spring training for interesting individual cards to ask him about. If there are any cards you want me to ask him about, just let me know.