Saturday, February 26, 2022

Super Duper Souper

He's a pop culture footnote today but back in the mid 1960's, Soupy Sales was the king of children's TV for a couple of fun-filled years. Following fifteen years of TV hosting experience that ran through Cincinnati, Detroit and Los Angeles, ol' Soup (born Milton Supman) eventually moved to New York when his LA show came off life support and in 1964 launched a new Soupy Sales Show on WNEW-TV (Channel 5 to us natives).  This version lasted for two wacky and cream pie filled seasons and was syndicated nationally by 1965.  On New Year’s Day 1965, quite unhappy that he had to work after what sounds like a typical New Year's Eve of the time, he instructed his audience to go into their mom's purses and dad's billfolds and send him “those little green pieces of paper.”  

While the story has been conflated over the years to Soupy being summarily fired over this bit, it only resulted in his suspension from January 12-15, 1965. The Soupy Sales Show then resumed, presumably after airing a short spate of reruns, until the end of its syndicated and local runs on September 2, 1966.

Topps issued a set of 66 Soupy Sales cards in the midst of Soupy-mania.  Pumped and dumped, these were standard sized, black and white affairs with a facsimile autograph of Soupy in blue ink.  They are largely forgotten today and do not seem to have sold particularly well when issued and the cards may not have been marketed much beyond the Northeast. 

The backs, which are also black and white, used “Soupy Sez” graphics from the television show and featured copyrights for “Soupy Sales-WMC” and “T.C.G.” (Topps Chewing Gum).  This is a typical gag from the show (and set):

It appears that one batch of 66 cards was released with the reverses rotated 180 degree and then another batch was released the same way but with entirely different fronts. It therefore appears likely a master set would be 264 cards, two backs for each front, one of which is also then flipped 180 degrees. Some discussion and dissection can be fount over at the Vintage Non-Sports Forum.

Topps Vault, the major grading services and much of the collecting community thinks they were issued in 1967 (and the Vault even has at least one COA that says 1963!) but that date is impossible for several reasons.

For starters, the wrapper has no commodity code. 

These codes began appearing on Topps wrappers and display boxes in early 1966, tied to Topps moving their manufacturing and packing plant to Duryea, Pennsylvania while their executives, business and creative staffs remained in Brooklyn at Bush Terminal.  My determination that the set came out in 1965, which was the peak of Soupy-mania, is buoyed by this lack of a code. We'll revisit the set dating in a bit.

Color versions of a handful cards were produced, which are possibly unique and appear to be proofs made for internal use at Topps as they are blank backed. Who wouldn't want a shot of Soupy relaxing with a cigarette in his dressing room:

There are not many color proofs known and they are one of the great rarities produced by Topps. 

(UPDATE 2/27/22: Keith Olbermann advises he owns a color proof sheet, and also offers this eye-opening commentary from the front lines back in the 60's:

"My Dad and I went to see him at a Korvette's...and the throng was so great he got pushed through a plate glass window...the crowd pushed him against the window, which buckled and cracked and kind of folded outwards without fully breaking. So he didn't go completely through it, but at that point he, understandably, went home. As did we.")


There is also a paper version that suffers from a paucity of published information.  Details on this latter issue are hard to come by but it is clear now that they came as an insert in a Soupy Sales wallet that obviously was meant to capitalize on the “little green pieces of paper” incident. I've covered the wallet previously but it's worth another peek:

There is also a gray version.  Here's the thing though, there is a facsimile card reverse on the other side of the wallet that still has Topps indicia:

Hold that thought...

Meanwhile, the wallets originally came with paper Soupy Sales "photos" in the photo window insert; when I acquired my yellow one two paper cards were hiding out within.  There are four differences between the Topps cards sold in packs and the wallet inserts.  

1) The wallet version are made of paper and have no gloss at all.
2) Soupy's "autograph" is also different as it was changed from blue to red.  

3) While the wallet photos have the same backs and copyrights as the regular issue cards, they use red accents on the reverse.

4) The wallet photos measure 2 3/8" x 3 9/16" which is close but not identical to a standard sized Topps card (like Soupy's) that measured 2 1/2" x 3 1/2":

As a neat tie-in the regular issue cards have a prominent “Wallet Size Photos” tagline on the wrappers and retail box lid.  There is no checklist known for the paper issue and it's unclear if all 66 cards were reproduced this way.

The wallets were churned out by Standard Plastics, who made various things out of vinyl you may remember if you are of a certain age, such as die-cast car cases. A vinyl Soupy lunchbox was also produced along with a pencil case and what looks like a photo album or maybe a notebook: 

Now check these out, clockwise from top left: wallets, pencil case, photo album (or notebook), lunchbox in a salesman's book page:

Here are similar products made by Standard Plastics, from their stationery division as it turns out, which makes me think these were sold in stores that didn't necessarily just sell toys:

Mattel bought Standard Plastics in 1966 and then made it their parent company at some point. I have no idea why but Mattel also bought the Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1971 so who knows what was going on in their boardroom?!  Soupy may not have moved much product given the arc of his mid-60's "fad-dom" and the wallets can be found with a little patience.

There was more though and in 1965 Topps produced a Fan Magazine of Soupy (the first of two issues for this short-lived publication) and a publisher called Wonder Books put out a series of books with Soupy stories, at least one of which was written by children of Topps executives Woody Gelman (his daughter Barbara, who was a magazine art editor) and Abram Shorin (Robert Shorin). 

The Topps Fan Magazine has images of some of the cards reproduced within, which further nails the card sets as being from ’65. In addition, the retail box bottom uses the old “Brooklyn 32” address for Topps and not a ZIP Code (introduced mid-1963). The Topps pre-ZIP code address on their retail materials was not used on any post-1965 product and the wax wrapper drops the “32” so it would not surprise me if this is the last Topps box that used it. 

I've covered the magazines before, you can click over for a look.

Soupy resurfaced a couple of times as a host of his own show on the tube after 1966 and was a steady guest panelist on game shows in the 60's and 70's.  He was in a bunch of movies, had a radio show for a spell, cut some albums here and there and was one of those guys that was around show business seemingly forever.  His two sons with his first wife Barbara Fox, Hunt (on bass) and Tony (on drums) became rock musicians and were in bands with David Bowie (as part of Tin Machine), Todd Rundgren (Runt) and Iggy Pop among others (if you ever heard that cruise ship commercial with "Lust For Life" they comprised the rhythm section). Soupy died in 2009 but his memory certainly lives on among some of us, although he seems like one of those performers who could be lost to time once we Baby Boomers turn the keys over to the kids.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

The McChanical Man

More 1952 Bowman Extension Series (from TCMA 1983 in case you forgot) bio today, as we look at Barney McCosky, a player somewhat akin to Ferris Fain in offensive skill with high contact rates and a stellar OBP.

Here is our progression for McCosky:

As noted, he could hit:

Pennsylvania-born in 1917 but reared in Detroit from the age of 5 and signing with the hometown team after his high school graduation, McCosky made his minor league debut with Beaumont in the A1 level Texas League in 1936. Beaumont, despite being playing at a level below the top-ranking (at the time) AA minor leagues, was the main feeder team for Detroit. 

He struggled and after 20 games was demoted three levels to the class-C Charleston (West Virginia) Senators of the Middle Atlantic League, where, despite their team name, they affiliated with the Tigers.  McCosky then tore off a league leading .401 batting average to finish the year with a very loud bang. He stuck with Beaumont in 1937, and put in two solid seasons toiling in the summer sun of Texas, then earned a roster spot with the Tigers in 1939 after a breakout spring training game against Whitlow Wyatt of the Dodgers.

McCosky wielded a hot bat and roamed center field for his first three seasons in Detroit and helped lead the Tigers to a 1940 World Series appearance, where they lost to the Reds in 7. A back injury during the 1941 season would prove to be his undoing as a Center Fielder and he was displaced to Left in 1942 by the much older Doc Cramer, who had arrived in Detroit via a trade with the Senators. He joined the Navy after the 1942 season and was discharged in October 1945, too late to rejoin the Tigers as they won the 1945 World Series without him (and earned Cramer a ring).

He did not hit well in his 1946 return and Detroit, shockingly, traded him to the Athletics in mid-May for future Hall-of-Famer George Kell. The trade reignited his bat and he also returned to Center for the remainder of the season. He produced at a high level through the 1948 season for Philly but spent those two years in Left as his back injury flared up, tamping his speed.

McCosky then missed all of 1949 with, you guessed it, back trouble after bending down to grab a baseball during the first day of spring training and not making it back to the vertical.  Surgery followed and three of his vertebrae were fused together, which was possibly a career-ending move then (and now).  He fought back though and made the 1950's A's roster but his bat and speed were sapped, the latter for good.  He had his contract sold to the Reds in early May of 1951 and hit a solid .320 before joining Cleveland when they claimed him off waivers in late July.

He struggled through the rest of 1951 and by 1952 was relegated to pinch hitting duties for the most part. McCosky managed to make the opening day roster in 1953 but the Indians released him in July, after he only made 22 pinch hitting appearances and didn't play a lick in the field.  He ran a business with his wife in the Detroit area for a decade then became an auto salesman for many years thereafter, passing away in 1996.  He is memorialized to this day by the Barney McCosky League in Detroit, a co-ed instructional program for kids under 17. You could characterize him as an all around good guy who didn't bemoan his bad luck from what I have read. He was a favorite son of Detroit, if you will.

Barney appeared in a number of nationally issued baseball card issues of the 40's and 50's, including 1951 Bowman but I have to believe his semi-late his appearance in 1952 Topps (#300) did in any chance of a Bowman card that year.

McCosky, a textbook leadoff man of the WW2 and postwar era, finished with a lifetime batting average of .312 but through 1948 it sat at an even more impressive .320, with 68 triples attesting to his speed.  If not for the three years of military service, he would by my estimation, have been considered the second or third greatest Center Fielder in Tigers history, after Ty Cobb and maybe Curtis Granderson. As it is he's in the top 10, possibly the top 5 even.  Don't believe me?  His 154 game averages from 1939-48, which covers seven seasons played while he missed three full campaigns in his absolute prime, were like so:

BA .320

Hits 192

Runs 98

Doubles: 31

Triples: 10+

Walks: 72

Ten years of that and you are in the Cooperstown discussion. As Larry David would say, preh-tay, preh-tay, pret-tah, pretty GOOD!

Saturday, February 12, 2022

San Francisco Treat

Faithful Reader o'the Archive Jonathan Tomberg recently posted a comment on an old piece from about a year ago on the 1969 Topps Basketball Rulers. Certainly one of the more inspired Topps inserts of years past, the set is skip numbered thanks to Ruler #5, which seemingly (hold on) was to feature Bill Russell, being pulled.  Jonathan asked if the artwork for the Russell had ever been seen and I'm happy to report the answer is a resounding yes.

The 1989 auction of original Topps art and production material by Guernsey's, which was both expository and maddening in its presentation, featured 23 line drawings of NBA players used to create the rulers.  On the face that is 100% righteous as the set has 23 subjects. However, the offered lots of Rulers hid a surprise or four. 

Two players in the set, Nate Thurmond and Hal Greer, were not among the lots offered in the 1989 auction.  You may remember these two subject's line art was the centerpiece of my post from a year ago.  Their origin is murky to me, as I cannot locate an auction where they were offered and they may even possibly have been part of the lots offered at Guernsey's as the event featured some items that never made the catalog.

So that means of the 23 subjects from the issued set, 21 should have been offered by Guernsey's plus the art for Russell to get to.....22. What?!

Well, that's a twist! Now look at this mysterious little bit of art that was among the 23 Guernsey's lots:

Two things:

1) That looks very much like Mort Drucker artwork but I am advised it is not and;
2) I have no idea who Rudy Carruso is!

All is not lost though, as it turns out it was Rudy Larusso, who was one interesting (and largely forgotten today) NBA player.  An original Los Angeles Laker, he played one season with the team in Minneapolis before their move west after the 1959-60 NBA season had concluded.  He was a defense oriented Forward who could score and physicality seems to have been his calling card.  Check this bit out from the November 3, 1966 issue of Jet magazine:


That's not all. I believe it's Larusso, not LaRusso as he was Jewish and not Italian but more to the point in early January 1967 the Lakers traded Larusso to the Detroit Pistons but he refused to report and retired from the game, not wanting to displace his family. He was suspended but eventually an arrangement was worked out with the San Francisco Warriors and his contract was sold to them on August 31, 1967.  But get this-he was allowed to commute from Los Angeles!  He played two seasons with the Warriors then retired (more on this below)  to become an executive with a medical and electronics firm. 

As for Bill Russell, he retired from the NBA on June 30, 1969 and his phantom artwork was featured in the Guernsey's catalog; it's pretty great too:

Sports Collectors Digest ran a piece in their November 24, 1989 issue with the image of the Russell art as well:

So the question is, who was supposed to be Ruler #5? Given his retirement date and the fact Russell was the Celtics head coach as well (wow, right?!) he seems like the obvious choice but of the two, Larusso makes more sense after a closer look and here's why.

The NBA and Topps knew the 1969-70 season was going to be the first in a long time without Russell. This article, written by my friend Bob D'Angelo, pinpoints the decision to create the 1969-70 set at some point after Russell's retirement and before Larusso's on October 1st. It seems a little odd that Rudy chose to retire when he did as he had averaged 20.7 PPG in his final season and was named an All Star.  I suspect training camp could have done a number on him as I find references to a bad back and also business opportunities in Los Angeles. 

So it certainly seems like he could have been the planned 24th subject, or least more in line for inclusion and the preparation of the Russell artwork now seems a tad optimistic in light of that; perhaps Topps was hedging their bet if Russell was somehow enticed to play another season. That didn't happen of course but as the same time the NBA and Topps would have been well aware of the impact of Lew Alcindor debuting during the upcoming 1969-70 season, even issuing a Ruler of the lanky Center, the only rookie featured in the insert set. Perhaps Alcindor was subbed in for Russell as a subject and then Larusso's retirement caught Topps short an an inopportune time.  It may be none of this speculation is correct but unless something turns up, we'll never know for sure.

In case you are curious, the "Carruso" art sold for $100 and the Russell for $2,250, respectively the least (tied with Gail Goodrich) and most amounts paid for any of the line art, with Russell being the only four figure sale. Add the 10% Buyer's Premium to each to derive the final hammer prices of $110 and $2,475. A collector from Detroit, Bill Schonsheck, brought home the Russell (and it seems all the other offered line art as well). Pretty good deal if you ask me.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Proof Negative

More Bowman action today, this time courtesy of Friend o'the Archive Keith Olbermann, who sent along three gorgeous scans of 1953 Bowman Color proof cards.  Let's start off with one of the greatest lefty pitchers of all time:

Olbermann describes this proof (and the other two) has having a waxy coating on front that blunts the impact of the Kodachrome photo; the back is also waxed.  That little light blue printer's mark at left is on all three of these proofs and this one has an added tick at the bottom. The backs are blank and on the same white stock.  It's a fairly nice pose but the issued card of Spahn  (#99) was miles better IMO, and includes the dark black neatline that really is so important to the look of the set:

That was Spahn's last appearance with Bowman after debuting with them in 1948, not missing a season until 1954 rolled around.  He was also in the '53 Topps set (and every regular issue Topps set from 1951-65).

That brings us to Enos "Country" Slaughter:

His issued card (#81) was quite similar, with the image shifted ever so slightly to the left. You can really see how muted the proof looks in comparison. You can really see the color registration lines at the bottom and the blue tick mark in the middle of the left border well on this example.

Slaughter was one of only a handful of players to appear with Bowman every year they put out cards. He is also a 1953 Topps subject, although he did not appear in their 1954 and '55 sets.

Ferris Fain is the third example and is an anomaly among this grouping as he did not have an issued card in either color or black and white in 1953 with Bowman.  He was a Topps subject from 1951-53 and was a Bowman-ite in 1948-50, 1952 & 1954:

A high average, high contact hitter with somewhat minimal power, Fain won AL batting crowns in 1951 and 1952 with the Athletics (his OBP in 1951 was an otherworldly .451-he would have cleaned up in today's game).  He was traded to the White Sox at the end of January 1953 which may have prevented his appearing in either Bowman set that year but there could have been other issues that kept him out, perhaps a contractual one or the sets were just cut short.  Given his hitting prowess at the time I suspect Bowman would have liked to include him but it did not happen.  He is shown with the Athletics on his 1953 Topps card. That's a great shot of Yankee Stadium by the way!

A fourth proof also is known and was auctioned in late 2001 by Sports Cards Plus along with the three above.  It's dubbed "Dodgers In Action" and I'll grant you there's action but the only Dodger is the baserunner:

That could be the visiting Cubs making the play but it's hard to tell.  The baserunner might be Gil Hodges but again, it's impossible to see with any clarity.  This is reminiscent of the famous Pee Wee Reese card that Bowman issued in 1953.

The proofs got the attention of Sports Collectors Digest in their December 28, 2001 issue:

Aren't they great?! More than one copy of each appears to exist as Olbermann's trio were acquired well before SCP's auction and remain in his collection.