Poor Japanese Catcher, Anonymous—from the Handbuch des Sports Album, Part II

I know next to nothing about baseball in Japan. Here’s what I do know: baseball is big in Japan, very big; folks have been playing baseball in Japan for roughly one hundred and forty years; and, as in the Americas, baseball cards appear to be popular collectables, with menko being just one of several types of vintage Japanese baseball cards.

That’s not all. Today’s MLB teams are filling their ranks with both veteran stalwarts and younger talents who hail from Japan. Of course many fans may be familiar with current Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, who previously played ball in what’s known as Japan’s Pacific League. (Although far from peak form, Suzuki’s BA, OBP, and OPS figures are slightly up from last season.) Nori Aoki plays for this year’s surprising (re. winning record) Kansas City Royals; he’s Japanese as well. Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is also from Japan–and with his 2.47 ERA, he remains a promising feature member of New York’s starting rotation (despite some elbow issues). This is just to name a few. Here are some more.

It may further surprise you to know that Tom Selleck was quite the ballplayer and made a name for himself in Japan with the Chunichi Dragons.

(Note: most of this information I’ve gleaned from the million-legged Wikipede and something called Mr. Baseball, which I caught on TV late one night.)

Finally, there’s this guy. . . .

1933 Sanella, Japanese Catcher

It’s a 1933 Sanella–so a German card of a Japanese baseball player. Apparently, he was a catcher. Again, though, that’s all I know. His name is nowhere to be found on either his card or the trading card album in which his card appears. However, he must have been pretty good, as he’s only one of two ballplayers featured in the entire Handbuch des Sports.

1933 Sanella Margarine—and the Handbuch des Sports Album, Part I

1933 Handbuch des Sports album

The trading card album is not a rare or recent novelty. Rather than collect some slivered, frail artifacts to store in a shoebox or even today’s slick, ultra-violet ray resistant, acid-free, and PVC-free protective page sleeves destined for some equally cloistered binder, once upon a time folks would tape or (gasp) glue and paste their cardboard and/or paper treasures into an album for display. For collectors of both sport and “non-sport” cards (curious term that may be, as in identification/categorization by absence or deficit, like nonfiction), this phenomenon was a pervasive one across cultures and time.

Some of these albums can still be found lingering, slumbering the decades away in people’s closets, attics, and (worse for wear and mold) basements. For example, hunters and searchers of cellulose gold continue to seek out the following, to name just a few: the 1929 Churchman’s Cigarettes Sports and Games album from the United Kingdom; Cuba’s 1946-47 Propagandas Montiel Los Reyes del Deporte; or the German-issued 1933 Sanella Margarine set. (Besides the supplementary album format, each of these mentioned releases shares another distinction; more on that can be found in the third and final installment of this series.) And while the 1933 Sanella Margarine trading card set and its official, accompanying Handbuch des Sports album may not be the oldest, rarest, or most valuable, the vibrant specimens and often excellent-to-near-mint conditions make this as good a place as any for an introduction to one such noteworthy album-based card set.

The history of the 1933 Sanella set is well known to several avid card collectors—as well as to many German-born citizens. Indeed, an urban legend of sorts indicates that just about every German household owned at least one copy of the album or book. Perhaps one reason: what self-respecting German doesn’t love margarine? As was so often the marketing practice, the trading cards were premiums associated with Sanella margarine products. (Also, a caveat: these somewhat flimsy cards actually look and feel like paper stock, though a mid-to-high grade quality thereof, not cardboard.) Reportedly, or at least as another entertaining myth would have it, one collector took advantage of the high population count of the Sanella cards and several years ago flooded the U.S. market, thereby driving prices down—even for cards of the most popular athletes in set.

Another possible reason for the abundance of Sanella cards: much of the set and album amounted to almost propagandized nationalistic material that German citizens must have felt privileged or compelled to own. After all, the cards were issued in 1933, not too long before the (in)famous 1936 Berlin Olympics. Of course, 1933 being the year that historians often refer to as the beginning of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, another more problematic kind of, er, national pride was brewing with plenty of further troubles abound.

Not surprisingly, among a smattering of globally recognizable athletes, the set therefore features a disproportionate number of German figures. As with a few of these individuals, some of the selected “events” appear to have little if any background or standing in the sports realm, at least as traditionally defined. For one, the number of airplanes and aviators (often or always German) contextualized here as objects and figures “des sports” feels like a bit of, again, a propagandic stretch.

Admittedly, motor sports is somewhat of an oxymoron likely concocted by a person with deep-rooted automotive interests—either a fanatical imbecile or capitalizing genius. But at least by standards of acceptability in German popular culture, even for this time period some of these events were nevertheless tenable: such as motorcycle racing or car racing. With such qualifiers in mind, the colorfully inked and exquisitely printed and rendered card images of these primarily terrain-bound and wheeled automotive wonders really do deserve some focus.

First, here’s an example from the album with two racecar cards on the same page.

1933 Sanella fig. 1, Full page example--two racecars(Top card: Der Welfrefordwagen / Bottom card: Glromlfnlen (?) Mercedes.)

One such card of a motorcycle dirt race, or dirt bike race if that’s the preferred phrase, depicts a well-composed yet high-speed scene that really demonstrates the uncanny ability of the still image to communicate motion (which must have been something that continued to fascinate people, even at a time when Hollywood exports of moving pictures were already widely popular). The stillness of the large, floating red letters—as on a high wall or overhead banner—offers an effective juxtaposition that accentuates the movement and speed of the perhaps undersized but powerful machines chewing and churning up bits and plumes of earth on the dirt racetrack.

1933 Sanella fig. 2, Motorcycle Dirt Race (Motorcycle dirt race)

 

1933 Sanella fig. 3, Rudolf Caracciola(Pictured: Rudolf Caracciola.)

 

1933 Sanella fig. 4, Beiwagenrennen(Beiwagenrennen! Google translation: “Chariot Races.” Hmm, maybe there’s an idiomatic issue there.)

 

1933 Sanella fig. 5, Manfred von Brauchitsch(Pictured: Manfred von Brauchitsch.)

Note the expressions of the motorists and the faces of spectators in many of these racing scenes. As probably evident by the contrapuntal dynamics (yes, there can be music in the visual) of photographic definition combined with the softness of an almost watercolor application, all of these cards look to be based on pre-existing photographs. Indeed, for some of the more notable athletes elsewhere in the set, the very same images can easily be researched and located in their earlier, monochrome forms.

1933 Sanella fig. 6, BMW motorcycle(BMW motorcycle)

 

1933 Sanella fig. 7, Motorists and Cyclists(Motorists and cyclists)

 

1933 Sanella fig. 8, Toni Bauhofer(Pictured: Toni Bauhofer.)

Posing here is one racing star of the day, Toni Bauhofer. Before an accident and injury led him to retire, Bauhofer won four major championship titles (between 1924-1932) and earned several other racing distinctions in his early life. A lesser known distinction of Bauhofer’s: according to Hermann Historica, an international auction house and collecting resource, Bauhofer purchased a watercolor painting by Adolf Hitler that was a gift from Hitler to Eugenie Haug, a close and “ardent supporter” rumored to be a former lover of the mustached megalomaniac. The auction house notes that sufficient documentation verifies Bauhofer made the purchase; it makes one wonder about the undocumented penchants held by Bauhofer, as well as some other folks highlighted in this “handbuch.”

Finally, to return to the exemplary quality of these artifacts: both the advanced printing technology and honorific portraits of a booming automotive industry more than tempt the present-day viewer with speculation. What developments, what heights could have been attained through such mechanical and engineering talents alone, specializations so inherently and comparatively benign in nature next to the tragedies that followed. Instead, this portrait of a nation that these hopeful colors paint is now vastly overshadowed by darker shades cast by almost unspeakable monsters and monstrous actions. Strangely haunting, too, how the same enticing messages of an impossibly promising future filled with wondrous, superbly well-oiled machines driven and piloted by blue-eyed, blond-haired specimens of “perfection”—how these lures of a larger, more dangerous and devious scheme eventually doomed so many thousands to such horrors.

She Wore Blue Velvet–and Drank it, too

Kerr-McGee Blue Velvet Motor Oil--I'll Buy That! Ed

It holds an appeal in the strangely still vibrant colors amidst apparent decay. Indeed, those intriguing hues of a night-draped veil, what velvety blues, and the brackish yellow and gold—along with the starkly promoted automotive content in the curiously branded oil can—all fooled my eyes from afar. Up until the point when I grazed the surface and edges with my fingers, I would have sworn that this was some toasted, porcelain sign. But no: ’tis only cardboard—beaten, worn, yet painted (printed) bright.

Likewise the story holds an appeal: how I’d locked my keys in my car for probably the dozenth time in my life and was temporarily trapped at a delightful hole in the wall antique store, which to me aptly recalled an ill-lit vintage baseball card shop I once knew that was actually called The Hole in the Wall due to a literal gaping hole in the storefront’s crumbling adobe. In any case, I had ample time to stare, debate purchase, and admire the subject matter and design—time enough to learn that the piece came from the consigned collection of some local picker called Nestor, Roscoe, or some such name that seemed nicely evocative of engine parts and kinematic viscosity.

Even some cursory research on the Kerr-McGee company’s history proves equally, if not murkily rich as well with their less than stellar environmental or simply ethical record.* For example, Kerr-McGee lost a drawn-out legal battle against the Navajo Tribe in a dispute vitally pertinent to Native American rights and sovereignty of reservation lands; eventually, the case was decided by the Supreme Court. In addition, Kerr-McGee owned and operated the plutonium production plant where Karen Silkwood worked, whose life and activism inspired the film Silkwood (1983).

I also learned that Kerr-McGee was headquartered in Oklahoma City, which is less than a few hours driving distance from the previously mentioned antique shop wherein this sign was found.

Yet most appealing of all is the inside joke to myself: how there’s few more perfectly idiosyncratic, cunningly sideways allusions to be unearthed and appropriated for the personal display of a David Lynch devotee.

*It’s somewhat difficult to read from the image, but the Kerr-McGee company name is seen on the upper-left corner of the illustrated oil can.

To read more about the Kerr-McGee company history, visit the Kerr-McGee wiki page.

(Poor) Roger Maris, 1964 Topps

Poor Roger Maris, 1964 Topps, ed

Pocket-weary, scuffed, and battered, Roger Maris gazes skyward in defiant optimism. More than anyone, he should know how pinstripes can suppress the ecstasy of flight. At age 29, the navy blue cap sits atop a ravine-furrowed brow, conceals bald patches and tufts of gray—distressed vestiges from 1961. An expanse of black netting looms behind his back. In high, deserted tiers, no crowd of a thousand empetalled faces quivers with applause. But even bold trajectory always dips eventually. So Roger plays with bone chips, a broken hand; he wracks his knees on grandstand dives; and, come retirement, he combats the Hodgkin’s lymphoma whose cytology reveals periwinkle profusions among white blood cells. What history has since transpired: wrinkles extend in cellulose varicose veins from center to edges frayed. Yet still he stares through folds of time; he lifts his head, as if to trace the measured beat of ash wood—its resonant, aerial song arcing through the pale-blue down above.

*Previously appeared in Harpur Palate 13.2 (Winter/Spring 2014), page 63.

(Poor) Bull Durham, 1909-1911 T206 #156

1909-11 T206 156 Bull Durham

Player name: Louis Raphael Staub

A.K.A. / stage names / monikers:

Charles Staub, Louis Raphael Durham, “Bull Durham”

Roles cast in: pitcher; “Coach Nolan” in The Pinch Hitter (1917), see trivia below

Teams / Clubs / Allegiances:

Brooklyn Superbas (1904)

Washington Senators (1907)

New York Giants (1908-1909)

Era: dead-ball

In the show: 1904, 1907-1909

On the farm: 1902-1904, 1906-1909, ?-1913

Off/on dreaming of both: 1877-1960

Highlights: in 1908, earned a 19-7 pitching record and won five double headers, in the minors

Bobbles: ERA of 12.60 with the Senators in 1907

Trivia and/or trivial: silent movie actor in Hollywood, 1914-1922; later worked as a “geologist”; surprisingly, no connection with the story in Ron Shelton’s film Bull Durham (1988)

Under the cool, wet grass: Pleasant Valley Cemetery in Bentley, Kansas

More player info: Bull Durham at Baseball-Reference Minors and Majors, Bull Durham Wiki page, Bull Durham at IMDB, and “In Pursuit of Bull Durham” at SABR’s Research Journals Archives

Image courtesy of COMC.com.

Ephemera Found When You Move, Part III: Nolan Ryan Signed Baseball

Signed Nolan Ryan Ball--after the family dog had his way with it

Please humor me for a moment to follow (and perhaps check) my math here: according to Major League Baseball’s sanctified Official Baseball Rules, the distance from home plate to the pitcher’s plate at the mound is 60 feet and 6 inches or 60.5 feet. Now this means when Nolan Ryan hurled his fastest recorded pitch at 100.9 miles per hour in an official major league game that it took all of .408 of one second for the ball to travel from the origin of the mound to the destination of home plate.[1] You may also note that this time is not far off from the average blink of the human eye.

So while the length of time that the featured Nolan Ryan autographed baseball (above) remained in mint condition certainly exceeds that of Ryan’s official fastest pitch, this particular piece of memorabilia nonetheless existed in pristine form for a still relatively brief period.

The story goes that my physician father-in-law received the autographed ball as one of those curious gifts given by some traveling pharmaceutical salesperson. And whatever you may feel about that particular, perfectly legal and not uncommon practice and the lamentable ethics of the broader pharmaceutical industry, I can say with confidence in knowing this discriminating man (my father-in-law, that is, not the traveling pharmaceutical salesperson) that he more than likely said “why, thank you very much—that’s very generous,” while in the same breath, “but no thank you to that worthless poison you’re peddling.”

My father-in-law couldn’t care less about baseball or Nolan Ryan, though, so he in turn gave the signed ball to his teenage daughter (my future partner-in-crime). At the time, she was an avid sports enthusiast, immersed in all manner of scores and statistics, nightly basking in the glow of broadcasts from the soon-to-be imperial ESPN. In fact, she even once attended a Texas Rangers and New York Yankees baseball game.

This inked orb of ephemeral memorabilia did not remain long in her possession, however, before a younger sibling (of yet fully developed capacity for appreciating material values) looked up towards a lofty bedroom display shelf and gazed upon said perched orb. Of course, the first thought that popped into this young child’s noggin proved just too tempting to resist: now isn’t that the perfect little bauble for me to throw and to catch and to play with—with my dog. Thus shortly thereafter Nolan Ryan’s still freshly scrawled autograph met with much smudged and slobbered disaster in the jaws of the family dog. . . .

But the ball survived just fine, albeit a bit lopsided, smeared, and worse the wear.

[1] After much nocturnal, numeric agony and my own feeble math skills, the calculations first require conversion from mph to ftps, or miles per hour to feet per second; hence 100.9 is multiplied by 5280, since 5280 feet equal one mile, and then that product of 532752 is divided by the 3600 seconds that comprise one hour. This yields 147.986 ft./sec. Given this rate, then divide the distance of 60.5 feet by 147.986 ft./sec. (as t = d/r, or time = distance/rate), all to arrive at the .408 seconds travel time.

 

Ephemera Found When You Move, Part II: Superman’s “Real Power”

2014-05-13-6149

Back when I was about little league age, though I never played in little league (for better or worse, and probably for better from what I have heard), my dad traveled to various book conventions around the country as part of his work. We lived at the time in a creaky floored, three-story Victorian house—of the North American variety—complete with eerie, Civil War era “dungeons,” stone foundation, and a domed turret façade. In short, to a young child the place felt rather expansive and a little unwelcoming; by night, I swore it was even haunted, especially with a massive cemetery cradling those soldiered dead only a few blocks away. Much of that was somehow ameliorated, however, when my dad returned after a long trip from one of those book shows. The hollow, old Victorian house seemed to grow warmer and shrink to a more comfortably sized dwelling space. Also, material fiends that consumerist children can be, it certainly improved my spirits when he came home bearing gifts snagged from whatever recent New York or Chicago convention.

Take, for example, one such book show freebie of the Man of Steel soaring through a veritable metropolis of enormous library books stacked as high as skyscrapers. And little matter how haphazardly this bookmark from 1983 stayed closeted away among so many other dusty possessions from my youth: the paper has nevertheless maintained much of its original crispness and gloss, while the colors likewise remain agelessly sharp and bright—from the blues and reds of Superman’s carefully inked super suit to the fleecy down of the clouds above.

Again, the copyright printed at the bottom of this bookmark identifies the year as 1983 (with ownership claimed by none other than DC Comics), alongside the named sponsoring organization of the “America Library Association.” Of course the ALA’s founding principles also inform the well-intentioned if not inane physical strength appeal—for reading—with the blocked letters that proclaim “KNOWLEDGE IS REAL POWER!,” which almost every bullied, grade school bookworm understands as suspect rhetoric.

In any case, I have not yet researched where the ALA held their annual big convention in 1983, and maybe I prefer for this to remain a mystery to me. That way I can imagine it could have been anywhere—that perhaps my dad traveled to the moon to bring back this small but thoughtful gift to his son.

In fact, my dad returned from that year’s meeting of the ALA with a stack of these Superman bookmarks. If memory serves, though so often it doesn’t, I remember that at one time I had a drawer full with dozens of the colorfully printed bookmarks; actually, my stockpile may have numbered a hundred or more. I recall how they even felt like some curious, vibrant form of currency. Of course they held little monetary value, but Superman easily made up for that lack in other, more worthwhile terms. Over time, however, my formerly plentiful supply thinned, what with each new but changeable acquaintance made, upon whatever the latest family move (and that childhood Victorian house being left behind long ago). Strangely, or fittingly, this is the last remaining Superman placeholder in my possession. For me, that only increases its real value, its real power.

Ephemera Found When You Move, Part I: Nostalgia-making of a Ticket Stub

Orioles vs. Brewers 9-13-92 ticket stub front

I don’t remember ever seeing the Baltimore Orioles play at Camden Yards, the place whose very name evokes feelings of an Arcadia or Camelot—some legend, myth, or fogged history. But apparently I did visit the cathedralesque ballpark with its once newly minted cast-iron gates, ochre-bricked arches, and sprawled, luxuriant lawns. Judging by the date printed on one bruised, lavender-hued ticket stub from when the Orioles played the Milwaukee Brewers on September 13, 1992, the inaugural season for Camden Yards, I was twelve years old at the time and thus likely accompanied by my dad. (According to Baseball-Reference, we were but two among 44,242 spectators in attendance.) A true Yankees fan born in Yonkers, though unfortunately raised in New Jersey, my dad must have suffered through the tedium of that daytime game between two relative non-contenders scrapping it out—and he all the while humoring, even accommodating a traitorous son’s burgeoning love for the Orioles. Or perhaps he suffered more my fanaticism for exorbitantly priced stadium hotdogs and souvenir bric-a-brac and my comparative inattention for the actual game. Whatever the case, the O’s eventually conceded in a 1-3 defeat with good ole Ben McDonald the losing pitcher of the afternoon. Sure it wasn’t a great game, or even a very important one for that matter. But it was my game. And although the memory has sadly faded from my always aging mind, thankfully the ticket stub still serves its truest, most admirable purpose: as memorabilia, nay memento. Now the game becomes meaningful—and I a new meaning make. Because even if I don’t remember, well, at least I can imagine.

Orioles vs. Brewers 9-13-92 ticket stub back

Best Worst Mickey Mantles, Part II

It’s time to expand the digital collection of the best worst Mickey Mantles. Some of these appear just mildly, colorfully marred–while others belong in a category specially reserved for the utterly wretched, shipwrecked, and weather-wracked. . . . And, again, if you happen to have a beautifully ruined Mickey Mantle that you’d like to share, then by all means please feel free to comment to this post with a link to your own poor Mickey Mantle.

 

1956 Topps 135 Mickey Mantle

1957 TOPPS BASEBLL #95 MICKEY MANTLE YANKEES GREAT LOOK

1959 Topps Mickey Mantle 10

1961 Topps Mickey Mantle 300

1962 Topps 18 Managers Dream Mickey Mantle Willie Mays

1962 TOPPS 200 MICKEY MANTLE

1962 TOPPS BASEBALL 471 MICKEY MANTLE ALL STAR

1963 Topps 2 A.L. Batting Leaders Mickey Mantle

1963-mantle-bombers-ed1

1965 Mickey Mantle 350

1965 Topps 350 Mickey Mantle

1965 Topps Micky Mantle

1968 Topps 280 Mickey Mantle

Mickey Mantle 1959 Topps Bazooka

Mickey Mantle 1968 TOPPS GAME 2 Baseball Game Card - Needs a good home