Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Prayer For Owen Ricker

We have a special guest blogger today folks. Keith Olbermann was nice enough to share his latest insights on the "1966-67 USA Test" Hockey set. You will quickly see why I used quotes around most of that once you start reading this fascinating post, as his conclusion looks bulletproof to me. So without further ado:

The 1966-67 Topps American “Test” Hockey set was actually issued in 1967-68.

         I reached this conclusion circa 1973 and I’ve never seen any evidence that contradicts it. Nor, sadly, have I ever seen anybody acknowledge what to me is blatantly obvious. A simple comparison of the players included in the Canadian series and in the lighter-grained American version either requires that the American cards were distributed a year later, or that whoever picked the players in the American set was the greatest sports psychic of all time.

         Remember that the NHL doubled in size to twelve teams with the landmark expansion in June, 1967. Not only were literally dozens of players from the “Original Six” drafted by the six teams in the new NHL West, but new and old teams alike scrambled to trade for what they didn’t get, or no longer had.

         Subtracting the coaches, All-Stars, and others, there are only 108 player cards in the Topps Canadian 1966-67 set. 34 of those players changed teams in June, 1967 trades or in subsequent trades. The cards of all but one of those 34 players are not in the Topps American Test set.

         So if that American test set really was issued in the same year as the Canadian cards, we have to believe that whoever culled the 132-card Canadian set down to 66 Americans didn’t pick the obvious and simplest way — just use Canadian cards 1-66. Instead, he took 30 cards numbered 67 or higher and seeded them in to the American checklist and in doing so,accidentally chose to remove all the guys who would be on different teams in 1967-68! If this is correct, one hopes this gentleman retired from Topps and went into gambling or the stock market because that kind of ability to forecast the future would have made the cliched legend of Nostradamus look like a guy who once made a lucky guess on a coin flip.

         But of course, as I wrote above, one of the 34 players who would be with a different club is in the American series. For my money, that just proves the conclusion that the American set is actually from 1967-68. The player is Red Kelly, the Hall of Famer who is listed with the Leafs in both series: card #79 in the Canadian issue and #42 in the American.

         What little is known to the hobby of how the Topps American cards were distributed comes to us from Owen Ricker, a Canadian collector prominent in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He insisted that he had located cards from kids who had collected them when they were released, and that the kids were from Long Beach, California, and that the kids had said the cards hadn’t been sold in stores — they had been handed out without gum or any identification by neighborhood Ice Cream Truck drivers. After Ricker wrote up these details in The Trader Speaks in the early ‘70s, the next bit of hard information about the distribution came in Bobby Burrell’s Vintage Hockey Card And Collectible Price Guide in 2015, in which the cards were identified as having been distributed only in cello packs, which are said to have codes indicating the cards were packaged in 1967.

         What does this have to do with Red Kelly?

         The only guy in the American set whose status changed between the 1966-67 and 1967-68 seasons and yet still had a card in each series, left the Maple Leafs that summer to become…the first coach of the Los Angeles Kings. 

         My complete theory about the Topps Test set is this. The NHL went from having teams in four American cities in 1966-67 to having them in ten in 1967-68. Topps, having not sold hockey cards in this country in thirteen years, decided it was time to test the market. The expansion made 1967-68 a tough year to make hockey cards anywhere on the continent. None of the expansion teams are depicted in the 1967-68 Canadian set, and many of the cards that were made relied on brand new photos from the training camps of 1967, suggesting the Canadian cards might have been released later than usual that year. If Topps wanted to see if kids responded to hockey in Los Angeles and if they wanted to do it early in the season, the only cards they could’ve used would have been versions of the ’66-67 set.

          So the adjustments were made as cheaply as possible (lose the French off the back, drop all the players whose cards were now out of date, make sure the superstars who were not in the 1966-67 numerical sequence like Gordie Howe and Jean Beliveau replaced some of the players who were dumped) and throw in arguably the most recognizable name associated with the new team in the largest new American hockey market - Coach Red Kelly of the L.A. Kings.

          So why not change the card so it read “Coach, Los Angeles Kings”? Or why not include other new Kings like goalie Terry Sawchuk and their original captain Bob Wall? Indeed, why not include other superstars who had gone in the expansion like Glenn Hall and Andy Bathgate and acknowledge the existence of the new American teams? Why wouldn’t those 33 dropped players, all but one of whom went to American teams, have been more appealing in a set designed to test a post-expansion American kid’s taste for hockey cards than the stars of the Montreal Canadiens? I can’t offer an explanation other than laziness or haste. Even if remaking the card fronts would have been too time-consuming or expensive, the backs could have easily been updated, and the color of the wood grain on the front was changed anyway.

(Canadian Red Kelly above and below)

(USA Kelly above and below.  Note white stripe on front, found on many US cards)

            Of course, some of these side questions might lose relevance if the American Test set was tested only in Los Angeles. There is something authentic-sounding about Topps, not having a couple of reliable candy stores near Brooklyn HQ to vend their test marketing into an unsuspecting universe, simply cutting a deal to have the cards handed out by the Good Humor Man. The locale Ricker’s kids cited — Long Beach — is especially suggestive. The Kings played the first two home games in their history not in the not-quite-finished L.A. Forum nor even the hockey-ready L.A. Sports Arena, but in the Long Beach Arena.

           Anyway, these are ancillary points. It’d be lovely if they could all be explained. But they overshadow the main one, which is: this is another ‘60s Topps test set that has been assigned the wrong year of issue (the others are 1967 Topps Baseball Giant Standups, which have to be from 1968 because pitcher Jim Hunter is listed with the Oakland A’s, who didn’t move from Kansas City until after the 1967 season, and the 1968-69 Topps NBA Test set, which is clearly from the 1967-68 season because it shows Zelmo Beaty and Len Wilkens with the St. Louis Hawks, who moved to Atlanta in the off-season of 1968).

           The chart below shows each change between the two wood-grain hockey sets, and each change for the players in the original 1966-67 Canadian issue. The pure math is messed up a little by the inclusion in the American set of Red Kelly, plus 64 players active in both seasons, plus one 1966-67 coach (Punch Imlach, who might be there because as any hockey fan knows, he coached the Maple Leafs to the Stanley Cup in ’67). It is interesting to note that ten players who didn’t change teams didn’t make the American cut — and a disproportionate seven of them were with Canadian teams.

           Oh and by the way, since the 1967 Expansion and “The Original Six” are the centerpiece to my conclusion about these cards, I should mention that there is no “Original Six” — but that’s an argument for a different venue.

1966-67 Topps Card 67-68 Status; USA Set?
2 Lorne Worsley Canadiens; USA #2
3 Jean-Guy Talbot To N.Stars; No USA Card
4 Gilles Tremblay Canadiens; USA #4
5 J.C. Tremblay Canadiens; USA #5
6 Jim Roberts To Blues; No USA Card
7 Bobby Rousseau Canadiens; USA #7
8 Henri Richard Canadiens; USA #8
9 Claude Provost Canadiens; USA #9
10 Claude Larose To N.Stars; No USA Card
11 Punch Imlach Maple Leafs; USA #11
12 Johnny Bower Maple Leafs; USA #12
13 Terry Sawchuk To Kings; No USA Card
14 Mike Walton Maple Leafs; USA #14
15 Pete Stemkowski Maple Leafs; USA #15
16 Allan Stanley Maple Leafs; USA #16
17 Eddie Shack To Bruins; No USA Card
18 Brit Selby To Flyers; No USA Card
19 Bob Pulford Maple Leafs; No USA Card
20 Marcel Pronovost Maple Leafs; USA #20
22 Rod Seiling Rangers; USA #22
23 Ed Giacomin Rangers; No USA Card
24 Don Marshall Rangers; USA #24
25 Orland Kurtenbach Rangers; USA #25
26 Rod Gilbert Rangers; USA #26
27 Bob Nevin Rangers; USA #27
28 Phil Goyette Rangers; USA #28
29 Jean Ratelle Rangers; USA #29
30 Earl Ingarfield To Penguins; No USA Card
32 Ed Westfall Bruins; USA #32
33 Joe Watson  To Flyers; No USA Card
34 Bob Woytowich To N.Stars; No USA Card
35 Bobby Orr  Bruins; USA #35
36 Gilles Marotte  To B.Hawks; No USA Card
37 Ted Green Bruins; USA #37
38 Tom Williams Bruins; USA #38
39 Johnny Bucyk Bruins; USA #39
40 Wayne Connelly To N.Stars; No USA Card
41 Hubert "Pit" Martin To B.Hawks; No USA Card
43 Roger Crozier Red Wings; USA #43
44 Andy Bathgate To Penguins; No USA Card
45 Dean Prentice Red Wings; USA #45
46 Paul Henderson Red Wings; USA #46
47 Gary Bergman Red Wings; USA #47
48 Bryan Watson To Canadiens; No USA Card
49 Bob Wall  To Kings; No USA Card
50 Leo Boivin To Penguins; No USA Card
51 Bert Marshall  To Seals; No USA Card
52 Norm Ullman Red Wings; USA #52
54 Glenn Hall To Blues; No USA Card
55 Wally Boyer  To Seals; No USA Card
56 Fred Stanfield To Bruins; No USA Card
57 Pat Stapleton Black Hawks; USA #57
58 Matt Ravlich Black Hawks; USA #58
59 Pierre Pilote Black Hawks; USA #59
60 Eric Nesterenko Black Hawks; USA #60
61 Doug Mohns Black Hawks; USA #61
62 Stan Mikita Black Hawks; USA #62
63 Phil Esposito To Bruins; No USA Card
67 Jacques Laperriere Canadiens; No USA Card
68 Terry Harper Canadiens; No USA Card
69 Ted Harris Canadiens; becomes USA #41
70 John Ferguson Canadiens; becomes USA #65
71 Dick Duff Canadiens; No USA Card
72 Yvan Cournoyer Canadiens; becomes USA #13
73 Jean Beliveau Canadiens; becomes USA #31
74 Dave Balon To N.Stars; No USA Card
75 Ralph Backstrom Canadiens; becomes USA #6
76 Jim Pappin Maple Leafs; becomes USA #49
77 Frank Mahovlich Maple Leafs; becomes USA #51
78 Dave Keon Maple Leafs; becomes USA #30
79 Leonard "Red" Kelly Maple Leafs; becomes USA #42*
80 Tim Horton Maple Leafs; No USA Card
81 Ron Ellis Maple Leafs; No USA Card
82 Kent Douglas To Seals; No USA Card
83 Bob Baun To Seals; No USA Card
84 George Armstrong Maple Leafs; becomes USA #17
85 Bernie Geoffrion Rangers; becomes USA #36
86 Vic Hadfield Rangers; becomes USA #19
87 Wayne Hillman Rangers; becomes USA #34
88 Jim Neilson Rangers; becomes USA #55
89 Al MacNeil To Penguins; No USA Card
90 Arnie Brown Rangers; becomes USA #48
91 Harry Howell Rangers; becomes USA #18
92 Gordon "Red" Berenson Rangers; becomes USA #10
93 Reg Fleming Rangers; becomes USA #54
94 Ron Stewart To Blues; No USA Card
95 Murray Oliver Maple Leafs; No USA Card
96 Ron Murphy Bruins; becomes USA #33
97 John McKenzie Bruins; becomes USA #66
98 Bob Dillabough To Penguins; No USA Card
99 Ed Johnston Bruins; becomes USA #64
100 Ron Schock To Penguins; No USA Card
101 Dallas Smith Bruins; becomes USA #3
102 Alex Delvecchio Red Wings; becomes USA #63
103 Pete Mahovlich  Red Wings; becomes USA #21
104 Bruce MacGregor Red Wings; becomes USA #56
105 Murray Hall To N. Stars; No USA Card
106 Floyd Smith Red Wings; No USA Card
107 Hank Bassen To Penguins; No USA Card
108 Val Fonteyne To Penguins; No USA Card
109 Gordie Howe Red Wings; becomes USA #23
110 Chico Maki Black Hawks; becomes USA #53
111 Doug Jarrett  Black Hawks; No USA Card
112 Bobby Hull Black Hawks; becomes USA #40
113 Dennis Hull Black Hawks; becomes USA #1
114 Ken Hodge To Bruins; No USA Card
115 Denis DeJordy Black Hawks; becomes USA #50
116 Lou Angotti To Flyers; No USA Card
117 Ken Wharram        Black Hawks; becomes USA #44
    * Kelly’s rights traded from Toronto to Los Angeles on 6/5/67 and he immediately retired as a player to become L.A. coach

No comments: