History has always been something I was fond of, something that I actually did well in when I was in school. As I’ve gotten older though, my focus and ability to research has decreased significantly. Life gets in the way. Between work, tending to our eight year old, taking care of our two cats, a dog and of course, spending real quality time with the bride. I have to prioritize extracurricular hobbies and interests. That includes my interest in researching baseball history. Almost to the point where I’m just stuck attempting to remember what I watched when I was a teen and going from there. The attic has gotten a little dusty my friends. My memories have faded to questionable facts and made me hesitant to believe baseball truths that I once knew. It’s all diminished, really.
Every once in a while I’ll read a baseball book. I finished a couple over the summer and have plans of getting at least three – four more baseball focused books in before the end of the year. But plans are tenuous when you’re busy adulting in life. One thing I do find time for is a card shop visit every couple of weeks. I’m lucky to have two so close to me, Hoody’s and The Sports Room. They balance each other nicely. The Sports Room is the closest, oldest and the one I’ve gone to the most, but their selection is a little limited for the way I collect. Our other shop is Hoody’s. It’s the place I go to pick up items I won from their eBay shop. I do the in-store pickup to avoid shipping costs and it gives me a chance to see what they have new in store.
I stopped in a few months ago, around June or July…sometime over the summer to pick up a few Washington Football Team cards and noticed they restocked their junk wax shelves. The shelves are a great way to buy something to open with little guarantee and most importantly, little cost. You can get all of your junk wax box needs filled for Baseball, Football, Basketball and Hockey for an appropriate price…read, less than $30. When I stopped in there back over the summer they had about five boxes of the 1991 Conlon Collection cards. Each box was a mere $15. The cards aren’t noteworthy or overly exciting, but they do have a great place in baseball history…something that I love and enjoy. I’ve seen these cards over the years and thought they were decent and somewhat attractive. Simple and clean. Something that piqued my interest from time to time, but never thought about purchasing, that is…until that day. I had an itch to rip something and the price was right so I grabbed the box that was in the best shape, picked up a couple supplies and headed home. When i got home, i’m sure there was some shit going down in the house. So, the box was stored in the cabinet and forgotten about. Forgotten until i stumbled across an older Cardboard Connection article from 2014, by Ryan Cracknell.
When you open a $15 box of cards, you certainly don’t expect much. I surely did not.
Just 36 packs of 18 black and white cards.
And I loved it.
My first impression of the cards was that they were far nicer than I had ever thought they would be. My second impression of the cads was why in the hell would they wrap them in cellophane without any way to rip the packs open. Seriously, what in the hell. I had to grab a pair of scissors to get into these cards. I’ve never used scissors to open a pack of cards ever…EVER! First world issues I guess.
As I mentioned, the cards were no simple. No frills. That said, I thought the photography was phenomenal. I loved the portraits from the sets namesake Charles Martin Conlon. A skilled photographer from the first half of last century. The images capture the look and feel of the time along with some great history. Conlon’s collection was purchased by The Sporting News (1888-2012 as print) and therefore, the now defunct sports magazine (they gotta website though!) has its name associated with these cards.
Here are a few of my favorite cards from the sets. I combined them into a couple different groups based on noticeable things to me. But maybe if you’ve worked on this set, you have some other favorites. Of course, i have to start with the Yankees and one of the most famous trips to the injured list, Wally Pipp and Lou Gehrig.
George Herman “The Bambino” or “The Sultan of Swat” Ruth. One of the great things about these beautifully simple cards is their backs. They offer up a full career of your basic baseball stats, along with the basics of the guy and in some cases a great little story. Well, the Babe’s career was pretty illustrious, that they were only able to reference Roger’s summer of 61 homers in 1961 to surpass Ruth’s 34 year old record. When you start to review the stats on the back of these cards, you really get an idea of how dominant a player Babe was…albeit against white players only. If our country wasn’t so deeply rooted in racism, it would have been a wonderful thing to see what Babe could have done against Satch, Bullet Rogan or Ray Brown.
The nicknames and this cards set willingness to embrace those nicknames is great. The thing i noticed right out the first pack though was the amount of players with Chief associated with their names. In two of the three cases below, the players were indeed Native Americans and i would only assume that the guys were ok with the nicknames, but who knows. The perception with a 2021 lens would never allow this to happen. Different times. Apparently, Chief Wilson was not a Native American…but some felt he resembled that of a Texas Ranger Chief and adorned him with the mildly inappropriate nickname. Can’t imagine that ever happening again.
We also have a General that wasn’t quite a General. He was at least in America’s Army…so there was some kinda connection to the military based name.
OK, I’m very familiar with Walter Johnson…Jimmy Austin, not so much. The thing that drew me to these two cards though was the similarity…at least to my minds eye…to Robin Williams. Maybe Williams from ‘The World According to Garp’ or ‘Mork & Mindy’ even…not so much the ‘Ms. Doubtfire’ days. But seriously, don’t these two photos look like Robin Williams…come on!!??!?!
Lefty’s. Lot’s of Lefty’s. Grove’s, Gomez’s and a Stewart to name a few. I understand why a Lefty gets his nickname, but i wondered if a Righty has ever been called Righty? What about the new ambidextrous guys taking the mound these days…do they get a nickname?
The next group of photos starts to get into the portraits that I loved with these cards. The eyes. The facial texture and our ability to get a sense of their emotions or concerns through the photographers lens was powerful to me. The Connie Mack cards really had me taking time to look at his portrait. You can see the age in his face, the stress. He’s a man that led one of the most dominant baseball franchises in history.
One of the other spectacular things about these cards were the Great Stories portion of the set. Each card in this section has a paragraph or two from ‘The Glory of Their Times’. I’ve owned this book for a couple years now, but never got around to reading it. (adds to my Goodreads list…)
All Time Leader cards pick up near the end of the set along with some great descriptions about the players. I do appreciate that they didn’t highlight the number one guy, but rather the second or third one in some cases. Besides, who doesn’t want a Spud Davis card?
After seeing this card, i thought it would be great to do some kind of small set with players from different generations that had the same name. I would imagine Bill “Spaceman” Lee and this guy would have some opposing views of the world if they were able to discuss them.
The last couple of cards were my favorite from the set. Paul “Big Poison” Waner’s photo is just simply majestic. The baggy pants. The snarly look. The long knobless bat held at the waist line. Everything about this cards speaks to the great history of the game. Waner is one of those past time greats that get lost in the history of the game, but his tremendous career brought him to the Hall of Fame in 1952. The last card is one of my all-time heroes, Lou Gehrig. One of the books i read over the summer was the ‘The Lost Memoir’, which was a collection of stories that Lou has partially written for the Times when he was playing with the Yankees. Some of the stories were ghost written by a more formidable writer, but you get a great sense of the humility and self-lessness he had as a player and as a person. Definitely one of the all-time great players and humans.
Well, i hoped you enjoyed that recap. As you may have guessed i will be putting this set together. I’ve done some additional research and see that this set is a continuously numbered set going over 1200 cards and through 1994. The one rub though is that some of the photos, well…a bunch of the photos get reused. So be it…once i’ve started, i must continue. I am a completionist!
thanks again for reading!
And now, time for something completely different…well, mostly. It uses baseball as a metaphor for police brutality…so, yeah…baseball.