Saturday, January 29, 2022

Vanishing Van Cuyk

More 1952 Bowman extension set action campers!  Today's quarry is Chris Van Cuyk, who toiled quite unspectacularly for the Brooklyn Dodgers over a three year period from 1950-52.

Here's his original 1952 Bowman painting, as seen previously:

His TCMA extension card from 1982 is #255:

As noted, he debuted in 1950 with Brooklyn:

The neat thing is his brother Johnny pitched from 1947-49 for the Dodgers, so the Van Cuyk brothers managed 6 consecutive years of big league activity between them, albeit sporadically; John's major league career was even more nondescript than Chris's.  Take a look:

1947: 2 Games 5.40 ERA
1948: 3 Games 3.60 ERA
1949: 2 Games 9.00 ERA

1950: 12 Games 4.86 ERA
1951: 9 Games 5.52 ERA
1952: 23 Games 5.16 ERA

Johnny's major league career ended after a mere 10.1 innings pitched and resulted in no decisions at all. As you can imagine he was in the minors most of those three seasons, all with AAA Montreal and with the exception of 1947, all quite meh. He had debuted in 1940 with Appleton in the D-level Wisconsin State League. After the 1941 season he was in the US Army through 1945 and then picked things up again with Fort Worth in the Texas League for 1946. He spent 1950 and 1951 with St. Paul (the Dodgers other AAA team) before heading to the open classification PCL for two seasons with Oakland before hanging up his spikes.

Chris, a flamethrower, managed a 7-11 record record in the bigs across 160.1 innings and his professional debut came in 1946 with Cambridge in the D-level Eastern Shore League, after a hitch in the Navy. He returned in 1947 then moved up to Fort Worth for two seasons and then put together a stellar beginning to the season there before the Dodgers called him up for his debut on July 16, 1950.  His career highlight was probably getting four hits in one game, on a day when the Dodgers exploded for 15 runs in the first inning on May 21, 1952, sending nineteen (!) men to the plate against Ewell Blackwell and a parade of increasingly hapless Reds pitchers. Van Cuyk registered two hits in the first frame alone and picked up the win in a 19-1 blowout.

You have to wonder if that caught the attention of the folks at Bowman but they may have been stymied by his being a Topps signee that season and he's #53 in the landmark 1952 set.  This might be the best centering you will see of his Topps card, it's often found horribly miscut:

At a guess Bowman thought his Topps rights were not exclusive (or perhaps expiring) and was planning his high series card but he tossed his last game in the majors on August 15th. He followed Johnny's path to St. Paul in 1953 and then Oakland in 1954-55 but I don't think the brothers ever played together despite their affinity for being on the same teams throughout their careers.

Chris wore #25 with the Dodgers and I had hoped he inherited his brother's number but alas, he did not as Johnny wore nos. 37 and 43 in his cups o'coffee.   Johnny never made it to a Topps or Bowman card but his PCL stint got him a 1953 Mother's Cookies appearance:

Save for an alleged  minor league card in 1949 (and also possibly a 1950) when he was with Fort Worth that I'm struggling to find information on, his '52 Topps was the only appearance Chris made during his career. Pretty good way to have only one nationally issued card!

Chris died in 1992 and his older brother Johnny in 2010.  

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Florida State Of Mind

I'm going to start a sporadic series on some of the phantom subjects that were the focus of a post I wrote late last year that examined an old hobby article about a find of original Bowman paintings.  I was reminded by Keith Olbermann of a 1982 TCMA issue that is commonly referred to as a 1952 Extension or Update Set, picking up with card no 253.  Comprised of 15 cards that never were, I actually bought the extension set fresh 40 years ago and somewhere during the past few decades forgot I even had it!  

Here is the set, freshly dug out and still in my small Bowman sheets from a long, long time ago:

While 16 would have been a nice Bowman-esque number, I am advised the number of cards matches what was available at the time to TCMA. You will see some familiar faces above, plus some scrubs and the like.  The backs are finished and I plan to show them one-by-one as I get deeper into things.

First up is #258 Bob Thorpe.  We last encountered him in a 40 year old newsprint image:

As it turns out, Keith Olbermann owns the original!

Here is the "update" card from 1982:

And now the reverse:

Thorpe's career, which was fairly long, was mostly spent in the minors.  He was a Topps high number in '52, which might explain his being pulled by Bowman but he also was what would be termed a "4A player" today. 

He was a described as a Navy vet and I'm sure that's correct but Topps blew his debut year:

As it turns out he started in the Florida International League in 1946, playing as a 19 year old with West Palm Beach, which I think was a Cleveland affiliate. He may even have been a local signing for WPB as he played for two other teams in Florida (Gainesville and Pensacola), his state of birth, until 1950. He was acquired by Boston after that season.

It wasn't unusual to be discharged from the Navy so quickly after the war, it happened to my father, who enlisted as a high school senior in 1945 then had to wait until he graduated to get sworn in and was in the Navy all of four months before he got his discharge, although he re-enlisted for a 4 year hitch.  After Japan surrendered, ending World War 2, military service was curtailed very quickly for many men, Thorpe included it appears.

Appropriately, the FIL was C-Level (*groan*) in '46 and then it looks like he got demoted, possibly without any at bats, to Gainesville in a D-League where stayed until 1948 before progressing up the long minor league ladder. He had a cup of coffee with the Braves in 1951, as noted on his TCMA card, then spent 1952 with the big league club (and apparently getting injured) before making the move to Milwaukee with the team in '53.  He flamed out and went back to the minors in 1954, never to return to the big leagues again.  Fun fact:  He was a Boston Brave but he played in both Atlanta and Milwaukee from 1950-51 before debuting with Boston. He played for a variety of minor league teams through 1961 and then retired, passing away in 1996.

I'll pepper in looks at the players from the 1982 TCMA set and the Bowman phantoms here and there as I want to broaden my scope a bit for 2022.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Between The Joes

Continuing on from last week's post today, which you may recall featured some recycled Magic Funny Fortunes gags that were run up the flagpole by Topps when the original Bazooka Joe's drawn by Wesley Morse were petering out in the early 80's.  Morse died in 1963 but had created so many strips for Topps in ten years time that they lasted almost another twenty after his passing!

But run out they did and Topps, between the lack of new material and a desire to get a little hipper, had to find a new artist for the strip.  They eventually chose Howard Cruse and his strips began around 1983 but before that several "feature-style" comics were launched as replacements.  One of them ripped off another old Topps issue, 1961's Crazy Cards.  Check out this Unreal People strip (courtesy of Lonnie Cummins, as are all the others shown here):

And now compare it to the original Crazy Card (by Wally Wood no less):

Same exact gag!  Not sure why the art wasn't reused, maybe Topps was trying out artists?

We also got some more ersatz Joe action with Rotten Riddles:

I'll bet that "fortune" would have been a real bummer to some 9 year old kid in 1981! The fortunes may have improved with the Dumb Jokes subset but the gags did not:

Lonnie ciphered that that particular football gag appeared in 1970's Funny L'il Joke Books and I'd wager many others in the the Dumb Jokes sequence did as well.

What I don't get though is why Topps didn't just recycle old Joes as they were waiting on Howard Cruse?  They did it in 1981 with recycled strips from 1977 according to the most fabulous so why not keep going?  The last "new" Bazooka Joe strips look to have been issued in 1980 so surely a reissue of older strips for another year or two would have been a cakewalk.

Two other features were mixed in during this period. Little Creeps, which seems like it was a standalone set from Hallowe'en a couple of years prior, may not have been issued that way and instead may have just been mixed in with some of these.  Or it was a reissue; I'm trying to figure that one out still.

Then there were also strips of Knock-Knocks:

There was a lot of artwork created for these interlocking issues, 218 including a kind of reissue of 52 of them! They span the 1981-82 period "Between the Joes" quite nicely but also served to give notice things were changing. There's a mix of types within each release, which look to have occurred every 4-6 months or so based upon the volume of comics.

There are 3 comic and 10 comic valuations but it's not even as there's far more 10's; I'm not sure which was first but these seem to follow a different kind of numbering and release scheme than the vintage strips did. 

On a semi-related note I got a ten pack of Bazooka in my stocking this year and am happy to confirm Joe lives!

I went to to see what was linked and was met with a choice between two paths, one for kids and one for "adults".  I chose the latter (the former looks like it was designed for five year olds) and that s what I have put as the click through link-check it out!

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Fortunate Sons (Of Magic Funny Fortunes)

I've briefly touched upon the esoteric and poorly documented issue known as Magic Funny Fortunes here previously, covering an issue of early 60's vintage (the exact issue date is presently indeterminate but circa 1961) that mimiced the familiar one cent Topps tattoo format of the era. Instead of a tattoo, it had a magic viewer feature; otherwise it's essentially the same thing in terms of packaging, with a small piece of red cello added.  Here's an example:

Classic Jack Davis right there kids! That helps with the timeline for the set too but I'm not here to discuss Magic Funny Fortunes today.  Nope, instead let's take a peek at a successor set, issued inside Bazooka around the time they were running out of Bazooka Joe's in the early 80's. Running out?  Yup-Wesley Morse had created so many of the little strips that Topps used his Joes for almost two decades after the artist had died in 1963 before running out!  

With the strip's Howard Cruse redesign still a couple of years off, a number of oddities and recyled ideas, plus flat out reissues, started peppering the Bazooka interior wraps around 1980-82. One of these was a refreshed take on Magic Funny Fortunes.  Take a look at this fortune and compare it to the above image:

That and the rest of the Funny Fortunes detailed here came via Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins and I assume the punchlines all match those of the vintage Magic Funny Fortunes from the 60's. No Jack Davis? No problem, just get Jay Lynch to come up with some snazzy artwork

Dated 1980 by Jay, this is the original:

According to a reliable source, Lynch signed all of his work to make sure there was no, um, misattribution; an issue apparently sometimes at Topps.  But wait, there's more:

This original has some instructions regarding color (with color ink codes to boot):

I'm not sure if all of the 1980's Fortunes were taken from the 60's version but it's likely as the gags were already written (and paid for!). Check out this groaner:

Yuh huh!

Lonnie has sent over a gaggle of stuff on the "between the Joe's" strips, stay tuned! More Bowman fun is coming too!

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Aye Caramba!

New year, old errors! But also a new beginning!

Correcting a couple of longstanding screwups here as concerns the 1967 Topps Venezuelan set, both of which are totally my fault.  In a post over ten (!) years ago, I wrote about the Venezuelan Winter League subset:

"Only 132 of the 138 cards can be found with the reddish backs. Six cards in the series (46, 60, 62, 95, 107, 123) are found with blue backs, which as we will see shortly were used for the US themed cards and the presumption is they had to be printed on another sheet."

Well that is, quite embarrassingly, partially incorrect and due to my misreading of certain hobby literature.  To compound things, after my original post was published, a noted collector of these cards, Paul Sjolin, sent me two messages correcting things, which promptly were misfiled by yours truly.  Well, with apologies to Paul, a thorough canvass of my e-mails and hard drives has yielded his original messages from April of 2011 and he's ben kind enough to send some additional insights.  Here is #46 in both colors to show how some VWL cards can be found with blue reverses, although it's immediately obvious it's not the same player that is described:

This is a totally different guy and writeup (same height though!):

The fronts differ for this number as well, although both Diaz's were on the same team, as these images from the mighty Trading Card Database show, with red first, then blue:

Well now they all have to be looked at, right? Here is #60, once again we have two different players but this time they do not share the same last name. They do, however, appear with the same team.  As before, red (from Mr. Sjolin) then blue:

You may recognize Frank Fernandez, as he is probably best known for playing a handful of seasons with the Yankees.  Once again (and from hereon out unless noted) from the Trading Card Database:

No. 62 though, only appears as a blue back:

This leads us to the curious case of one Alfonse Carrasquel, better known as Chico.  Drafted by the Dodgers and an excellent defender at shortstop who was blocked by Pee Wee Reese, he became only the third Venezuelan to play in the majors after coming over to the White Sox from the Brooklyn organization. He replaced Luke Appling at shortstop with the Pale Hose in 1950 and was the first Hispanic player to start an All Star Game, beating out Phil Rizzuto for the honor in 1951, among other notable achievements. An eye injury suffered in 1959 curtailed his playing career in the U.S. and he returned to Venezuela, continuing to play in the Winter League until 1967 (and where he had hit the first home run in league history in 1946).  He started maanging in the VWL in the 50's, as duly noted on his cards.  Yup, cards as he get two numbers, 95 and 115, which are blue and red backed respectively.  The front of each though, carries the same image:

He lost a kilogram and got a different writeup as a red back!

But hold on, who's this guy?!

At a guess, Munoz was always #115 and the red backed Carrasquel was a mistake that was later corrected.  Which then means there were at least two press runs of the VWL reds. But why two bios for the same guy?!

Moving forward (or backward) we get to #107, Cecilio Prieto, who is only available as a blue back, while appearing in the midstream numbering of the reds.  Here is Friend o'the Archives Josh Alpert's, from his amazing PSA Registry set:

He's definitely blue:

As is #123, Cruz Amaya:

See, no red for him!

Well I mentioned six blues among the reds above but there's another variation as well amongst the Venezuelan Winter Leaguers and it's represented by a red-only back:


The front is where the difference lies:

OK, now to try and untangle all of this.  The set has three distinct sections:

Venezuelan Winter League    #1-138
Retirado (US Players)            #139-188
1967 Topps "Reprints"           #189-338 (hang tight on these)

For the VWL we get 132 Red Backs, then the 6 "blues", so that's 138. We will get back to these blues momentarily but we still need to add the four "extra" variations, namely nos. 46, 60, 115 & 133.  That's 142 for a master VWL subset.

The Retirado's are 50 in number, with no variations. They have green backs in a similar style to the VWL players.

The reworked 1967 Topps cards though, are not at all that simple.  There are 150 cards, that seemingly fit into two print groups. The larger group, which has the card number at the top left when the card is flipped, matches the placement of the number on the VWL and Retirado subsets.  There are 101 of these, including the two examples each of nos. 213 (Lonborg or Mays) and 214 (Mathews or Bunning).  These fill two missing holes at nos. 273 and 274 and were clearly doubled up due to a "1" being mistaken for a "7" at some point.

Then there are 49 of the Topps cards with a darker blue ink with the card number at bottom right.  Josh Alpert believe these are much, much harder than the 101 "top left" cards. The six blues from the VWL also have the numbers oriented this way and appear to have the darker blue backs, so overall you get 55 dark blue back cards that are numbered in the bottom right corner.

Theories?  OK here goes, going from the end back to the beginning.

55 cards in darker blue makes a nice neat match for the "rule of 11" when it comes to Topps layouts.  I believe Topps did indeed provide the films for the fronts (and in years other than 1967, the backs) for the Venezuelan sets over the years, so this makes some sense. It's worth noting the cards in the Topps subset are from mixed series, including the seventh, whereas in prior years of Venezuelan issues they were drawn from distinct, discrete series, with only a handful of exceptions such as where checklists were pulled and replaced with a player card.

The 101 lighter blues are problematic but if you realize there are two doubled up numbers, it's possible two press runs were made up, each with 99 cards but with one #213 and one #214 replacing the respective "other".  Again, this fits the "rule of 11" quite well.  Did these get screwed up up or perhaps instead the A slit and B slit (if they were arrayed that way) had two different versions of #213 and #214?  If you look at the album issued for the set you can see some of the spots reserved for each player had stats under them.  It's entirely possible there was a mismatch between the press sheet for the cards and the album art, which created the whole dual-numbering problem.

So with what sure seems like two red VWL press runs due to the two backs in that color on nos.115 and 133, indicating corrections and substitutions made on the second, you get to a righteous Topps-like number of 132 on the reds for the press sheet array!

We then look at the Retirado set, and see the player images are all in black and white.  These may have been made up locally, except for the larger of the two typefaces used on the front but it's not at all clear if that's the case.  These are the most mysterious cards of all to me.

The VWL team or "Retirado" designations look like reduced versions of the typeface used on the regular 1967 cards and Topps looks like they made use of this style as well for the 1970-71 A&BC Footballer Cards and their Poster Inserts sold in the UK. Check it out via this link and a little scrolling to the 1970-71 section.  I wonder if Topps was able to compose those as needed if they didn't make up the entire card.

Add it all up and there should be 342 cards in the master set.  As for the print arrays, these are my own theories and they are mostly in the area of true conjecture. You could look at a nice even 50 Retirado players and 150 Topps players and get to a different conclusion or two easily enough.

If you want even more in-depth coverage of this fascinating issue, check out this excellent post over at the SABR Baseball Cards Blog.