Sunday, May 29, 2022

Board Advertisements on Cards, Episode 3: Upper Deck

Way back in 1978, the NHL allowed teams to start selling advertising space along the boards of their rinks. By the time I was a hockey card–collecting kid in the late 1980s, the trend had caught on. From snack foods to car manufacturers to banks to fast food restaurants, board advertisements really ran the gamut—and they still do.

This series will explore some of the advertisements that also managed to make their way onto hockey cards.
Previous entries are available here.
1990-91 Upper Deck #534, Bobby Holik

Here's Bobby Holik, coasting along the ice, seemingly oblivious to the Los Angeles Kings player behind him who's trying to slow him down with a hook of the stick.
If you're a card collector, however, one thing you're not oblivious to is the logo on the boards just to the right of Mr. Holik.
Upper Deck!
And this is interesting. Mr. Holik's card featured here is from the inaugural release of hockey cards from that very same brand, Upper Deck, in 1990-91. It was also Holik's very first season in the NHL. This means the picture on the card had to be taken that very same year, at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles. And this means the folks at the Great Western Forum were pretty forward thinking when it came to their board advertisements.

But it makes sense. 1990-91 was a watershed season for hockey cards. Along with the standard Topps and O-Pee-Chee offerings, suddenly collectors had many more brands to choose from: Bowman, Score, O-Pee-Chee Premier, and Pro Set all swooped in on the market. And with the outrageous popularity of Upper Deck's inaugural baseball card set from the previous year, it's no wonder the Great Western Forum chose Upper Deck as the card company for their hockey rink boards.

And here's something to keep in mind: We're talking about a time that existed before digital photography and instant photo submission across the internet. Holik's card is in the high number series, which was released a bit later in the 1990-91 season. But still, kudos to Upper Deck for getting their photographers out there mid-season to snap and develop shots of a few rookies (or as they'd call them, "young guns") like Holik, Fedorov, Bondra, and Bure. The effort also meant they'd be able to feature quite a few players who'd been traded in the off-season, or even mid-season, on their new teams, instead of printing the standard "now with [insert team here]" text on the card fronts like Topps and O-Pee-Chee would always do.

And thanks in part to all that forward thinking, the Upper Deck brand still exists today—the only brand of all those mentioned above that still produces hockey cards. (The O-Pee-Chee name still exists, but it's owned by... guess who... Upper Deck.)

I'm sure some of you readers and hockey card collectors remember the frenzy of the card market back in 1990, when every brand was the hottest, or best, or most advanced. Fun times, for sure.

Do you remember seeing any advertisements for the new hockey card companies back then, be it at hockey rinks, in Beckett magazines, on billboards, or anywhere else?
Share some memories in the comment section, and thanks for reading.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

This Custom Card Goes to Eleven

Isn't it interesting when a song you haven't heard in years just suddenly comes to mind?

I couldn't tell you just how many times that's happened to me over the years, but the latest instance was a good one. Here are some of the lyrics:
Stop wasting my time
You know what I want
You know what I need
Or maybe you don't
Do I have to come right flat out and tell you everything
Gimme some money
Gimme some money

I know, I know. If you're familiar with the tune, it means I've just shared an earworm. And that's a big no-no for some people. But come on, it's hilarious.

Anyhow, I got to thinking about the band, and the mockumentary of the band, and the fact that there are three iconic members of said band. It seemed the perfect subject matter for another "Future Stars" custom card.

If you're still unsure of the song or the band or the mockumentary to which I'm referring, here's the card:


It's Spinal Tap!!
The film, titled This Is Spinal Tap, was released in 1984, so I suppose St. Hubbins, Smalls, and Tufnel could have been labeled Future Stars in 1982.
Now of course the personnel for a mega-rock band like Spinal Tap also includes a drummer. However, a drummer is not pictured on the card simply because the band has always had a string of poor fortune with those guys, losing one after another to comically bizarre circumstances. As an example, one of them spontaneously combusted—and we can't risk the same thing happening on a custom trading card.

For those who haven't seen the film, I recommend it. Not only are the actors who portray those three main characters highly talented, funny, and well known in the industry, but they also played their own instruments throughout the film and even composed the songs. Very cool.

Here's a little more about each actor:

These days I know Michael McKean (David St. Hubbins) as the host of an informative show on the Cooking Channel called Food: Fact or Fiction? If you're a fan of Comedy Central's Drunk History, you may have seen him act out a few characters there as well. Going back a little further, he played Morris Fletcher on The X-Files, Gibby Fiske in HBO's Dream On, and perhaps most famously, Lenny Kosnowski on Laverne & Shirley. 
Harry Shearer (Derek Smalls) has been in the industry since childhood. One of his earliest appearances goes back to 1957, when he played the role of "Street Kid" in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents called "The Night the World Ended". Interesting if not random, he was an uncredited beachgoer in the 1977 blockbuster film Jaws, and in the late 1970s and early 1980s he spent some time on Saturday Night Live. However, you might best know Shearer from The Simpsons. Over the years he's voiced many familiar characters, including Montgomery Burns, Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner, Otto the bus driver, Mr. Smithers, Lenny, Kent Brockman, Reverend Lovejoy, and Rainier Wolfcastle.

Christopher Guest (Nigel Tufnel) has played some memorable characters in big films: Count Rugen in The Princess Bride, Dr. Stone in A Few Good Men, Ivan the Terrible in one of the Night at the Museum films, and Harlan Pepper in Best in Show. Also of interest, he married Hollywood star Jamie Lee Curtis in 1984, and they're still together. You're the man, Christopher Guest.
As a trio, the guys have made appearances as Spinal Tap on just about all of the late-night shows, including The Late Show with David Letterman, The Arsenio Hall Show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien
And naturally, they've hosted Headbangers Ball on MTV.
So here's to a legendary rock band, three fantastic actors, and a custom card that definitely goes to eleven.


Sunday, May 15, 2022

Niekro Brothers

Imagine this situation:
You're an aspiring young pitcher from Ohio who makes it to the big leagues in 1964. You don't get many starts those first couple of years, but by 1967 two pretty cool things happen: You get a whole lot of starts for the Atlanta Braves and pitch rather well (11 W, 9 L, 1.87 ERA), and your little brother Joe, also a pitcher, makes it to the majors with the Chicago Cubs.

The boosts you get from those events really set you off. Over the next 10 years you pitch to a winning record almost every season, and gain the nickname "Knucksie" around the baseball world for the baffling knuckleball you've developed.

During that same time period, however, little brother Joe struggles a bit. He bounces from Chicago to San Diego to Detroit, and just can't seem to get it going. He doesn't start a whole lot of games, and doesn't turn many heads despite a good fastball and slider.

Then, after three teams in six seasons he's on the move again. In 1973 he's claimed off waivers by...

...the Atlanta Braves.

You'd be together on a major league roster!

And during this time, little brother Joe would start working the knuckleball into his repertoire, too. (Your dad taught the pitch to both of you back home in Ohio.) It didn't quite pay off during his stay in Atlanta, but soon he'd be heading over to Houston, and that knuckleball would start to pay dividends.
Here are the two brothers around that time, captured on some good looking-cardboard.
1976 Topps #273 Joe Niekro and #435 Phil Niekro
In 1979, a few short years after those cards were released, you and little bro would have career years. In fact, you'd find yourselves in a race to see who would win 20 games first.
With Houston, little brother Joe would streak out to a record of 13–3 by the first week of July, while you'd be middling at 11–10 with Atlanta. Joe would stay relatively hot into September, hitting the 20-win mark on the 22nd against Cincinnati, giving him a record of 20–10. You, on the other hand, would stay in that middling state, trading wins and losses pretty regularly and reaching a record of 19–20 on the same day with a win against San Francisco.

Your team still had another 10 games to go before the season ended, and you'd have your first shot at 20 wins on September 26th, a home game. And guess what?
The game was against the Houston Astros.
And guess what else?
Little brother Joe was their scheduled starter! 
It would be Niekro vs. Niekro. Would you and your team beat up on little bro, giving you 20 wins? Or would little brother hit 21 wins and leave you at 19, with only one more start in the season to hit 20?
You pitch well to start the game, allowing only 2 hits over the first 4 innings. The Astros take one off you in the 5th inning to make it a 4-1 score (Joe only lasted 2.1 innings, giving up 4 runs on 6 hits), but in the bottom of the same inning your guys put up 3 runs of their own, and then add another 2 runs in the 6th to make the score 9-1. With the comfortable lead, you keep pitching well. You allow 1 more run in the 8th to make it 9-2, and then 2 runs in the 9th with 2 outs, but then you close the deal for the complete game victory. The final score is 9-4, and you have win number 20!
I wonder if both brothers had a little moment to celebrate after the game.
Here are career totals for both brothers. Pedro Martinez







(22 seasons)


(24 seasons)

























Phil was a 5x all-star and 5x Gold Glove Award winner, was the ERA leader in 1967 with a 1.87, and racked up 3,000+ career strikeouts. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997. He took the mound for the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves, Yankees, Indians, and Blue Jays.
Joe was a 1x all-star and was a World Series champion with Minnesota in 1987. He pitched for the Cubs, Padres, Tigers, Braves, Astros, Yankees, and Twins.
Also of note, both brothers held their own at the plate. Have a look at these numbers:
Phil: 1537 AB, 260 H, 42 2B, 1 3B, 7 HR, 109 RBI, .169/.183/.211
Joe: 865 AB, 132 H, 21 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 72 RBI, .156/.188/.188
So here's to the knuckleballing Niekros. Lots of wins, strikeouts, wild pitches, passed balls, and a great 20-win season for both of them in 1979.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

From the Favorites Box: Steve Carlton, 1975 Topps #185

A series where I post some thoughts about favorite cards. Previous cards in the series are available here. 

Here's Steve Carlton, frozen at an important moment in his delivery:

There's some interesting science going on here, and it's all about energy.
When a pitcher stands on the mound, holding the baseball, waiting for the catcher's signs, that's all potential energy. There's no action happening, but everyone knows what's to come. The batter waits. The fielders wait. Everyone in the entire stadium waits. It's all up to the pitcher to start his wind-up.
Once that wind-up starts, the potential energy builds and reaches a maximum. In another instant, potential changes to kinetic as the baseball in his hand is flung at high velocity toward the catcher's open mitt. And if the batter makes contact, you've got motion all over the baseball diamond: Fielders running to catch the ball, get to a base, or back up a throw; runners hustling around the bases; umpires moving to get the best vantage point of the play. Even in the crowd, fans might stand up and cheer. These changes of energy from potential to kinetic happen a couple hundred times per game, and it's part of what makes baseball so exciting. Again and again, you have these little capsules of anticipation and then action.

So look at Mr. Carlton up there again. Up to this very moment he's been busy building up energy and tension in his body. Now he's about to lean toward home plate, uncoil those hips and shoulders, and whip his left arm through, sending the baseball hurtling toward home plate. 

And even though the image shows one frozen moment, you can see by his positioning that Carlton's delivery was pretty smooth. As many of you know, it was smooth enough to earn the man legendary status. I mean come on, the guy was such a dominant left-handed pitcher in his era that everyone just called him "Lefty".
I probably don't need to list many stats and accolades, but here are a few anyway:
300+ wins, 4,000+ strikeouts, 10x all star, 4x Cy Young winner, Triple Crown winner, Gold Glove award, 2x World Series winner, Hall of Famer. 

His first Cy Young season (1972) was almost too good to believe:

27 wins, 1.97 ERA, 30 complete games, 8 shutouts, 310 strikeouts

But today, it all goes back to that scene on the pitcher's mound. And for capturing the special moment when all that potential energy is realized, 1975 Topps #185 has a spot in my box of favorites.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Cosmo's Custom Card

Time for another custom look-alike card. 
If you've read the title of this blog post and you're a fan of a certain outrageously popular sitcom from the 1990s, you might already know what's coming. But there's a reason for the absence of my usual secretiveness: I don't think the baseball player on the original card bears very much resemblance to the look-alike. It's just that I had the sitcom on my mind.
Let's show the original card anyway.

1973 Topps #34, Pat Dobson

If you have a look at Mr. Dobson, his wild hair escaping from under that baseball cap, and his furrowed brow that's part-indifferent and part-pensive, you might see a resemblance to that Cosmo fella who's mentioned in the title. If you're still not there, just picture him popping in to a neighbor's apartment in a sudden and excitable way, with the front door flinging open and everything.

Alright. Here's the custom card:

It's Kramer from Seinfeld!
Check out the palm trees in the background. Maybe he's at a spring training facility in Del Boca Vista.
Inspiration for this card came about for two reasons: (1) I still watch the show from time to time, and (2) when I held the giveaway for the print versions of my custom cards last year, the George Costanza card was a popular choice among participants. In fact, a few readers mentioned that they'd have interest in cards featuring other characters from the show. So here we are.

As for the design elements, you'll notice I switched the position of pitcher to that of "neighbor", complete with a little Kramer silhouette. Devoted fans of the show might also notice that Kramer's face is not from a photograph, but from the famous painting of Kramer that appeared on a particular episode of Seinfeld. I had to do quite a bit of adjusting for color, contrast, and such, but I'm happy with the result.

It's almost a shame that Kramer's trademark hair is covered up by that baseball cap, but at very least I gave him a couple of those classic "hair wings" that you'd often see emerging from the sides of ballplayers' caps back in the '70s and '80s.

As for the man on the original card?

Pat Dobson had an 11-year MLB career, pitching for the Tigers, Padres, Orioles, Braves, Yankees, and Indians.
In 1968, just his second year in the majors, he helped the Tigers win their World Series title against the Cardinals, pitching a few innings of relief work across three games in the finals.
Here are some career numbers: 122 W, 129 L, 3.54 ERA, 19 saves, 1301 strikeouts, 665 walks, 2120.1 innings pitched, 74 complete games, 14 shutouts.

Dobson's best season was likely 1971, when he went 20-8 with a 2.90 ERA, 18 complete games, 4 shutouts, 187 strikeouts, and 282.1 innings pitched. He even received a few points during MVP voting at season's end.

He had a pretty good season the following year as well, earning a trip to the All-Star game as a reward.

As for Cosmo Kramer, maybe I'll just let these highlights do the talking.


The 1973 Topps set provided us with a number of subsets: League Leaders, Team Checklists, Playoff and World Series cards, Boyhood Photos of the Stars, All-Time Leaders, Rookie Combos, and the rather interesting Manager cards, which featured the manager front-and-center along with a few minuscule photos of his coaching staff along the side. Because Seinfeld takes place in New York, and the Yankees were featured prominently on the show, here's the Yankees manager card from the original set:



I thought I'd create a version based on Seinfeld.

I placed Jerry as the manager—it's his show after all—and then added George, Elaine, Kramer, and Newman as the four coaches. Then I changed "coaches" to "characters" on the top right. Note that I also changed the "manager" title on the bottom to "comedian", complete with an actual silhouette of Jerry Seinfeld.
As for the other characters? On the original cards, the photos of the coaches are so washed out that I decided to give that part of the card a little upgrade. You'll note that the faces of the four Seinfeld characters are easier to discern.

And there you have it. Another two Seinfeld-themed custom cards to go along with George Costanza's card from a couple of years back.

Hope you like the way they turned out. Thanks for reading, as always!