Monday, September 28, 2009

The Dragon ... lives

With all the latest creatures in the 2009 Allen & Ginter set - (legend, myth and terror - subset), there are a few that will hold the test of time. Dinosaurs will last as long as kids and adults have imagination. This beastie - VELOCIRAPTOR is the next best thing to having a T-Rex on a card.
But frankly, the selection of most of the others 2009 subsets are a bit hokie. I prefer the creature that fans still love and villians feared in Hong Kong, China and Hollywood.
Enter the DRAGON - BRUCE LEE ! The 2007 Allen & Ginter card depicts the martial arts master in a scene from the American box office hit - "Enter The Dragon".

Even one step, kick or chop better - was the mini version of this card - and even best - the black border version.
Although classified as a non-sport card (albeit in a baseball dominated set), Bruce was anything but a non-athlete. He proved every bit the physical super star that Hollywood wanted.
So his rookie card, if you will, was in the 1966 Donruss GREEN HORNET set. The TV series ran for a short time but Lee who portrayed "KATO" was very popular.
These are some of the cool colorful cards of the 1960's that are worth collecting.
Bruce would have been even a bigger star had he landed the part originally written for him - KUNG FU.

Sadly, mainstream America was not ready for an Asian star. But his sudden death spurned him to immortality. He is preserved on cardboard for all to enjoy.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Baseball ... a pass the time sport.

Baseball ... the American past-time. When you look at our modern pace - the "instant" world we live in - baseball is almost passe'.
Somewhere along the line, in the early 1970's, a Topps executive (because there were no other card makers) decided to add "In Action" cards to the card sets. gone were the days of carefree poses.

There was once time for standing "hands on hips ...

leaning against the bats...

waiting for your time at bat ...

and just sitting around.
What I really enjoyed about the cards up to the 1970's was the sunshine. The colors, bright and solid made the spring, summer and fall - happy for all the world to see.
The above card of the Oakland A's - Bert Campaneris - was once my favorite card. It looked like a perfect job - a pro athlete that only plays when the sun shines, in the best part of the year (summer) and in really interesting states like California and New York. My loyalty to the A's, Mets and Yankees
Somewhere along the way the season got too long. Playing in snow and drizzling rain is less fun. Wearing pink and silver and ray-on black jerseys is just depressing.
I like the game as it was. These cards allow me that satisfaction.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Catching up - The World's Fastest Men

We've started our renewed columns with the invisible man. So, it is only fitting to follow up with the next best thing to not being seen - not being caught.

My pechant for Olympic heroes - especially the amateur era - is chronicled in these pages. What I can not get enough of is the massive set of GREILING Cigarette sets that were made in the 1920's.

Of all the 1000 card sets, the 1928 Greiling Cigarettes has to be my favorite. These color images are a testament to early German photography. The first of these is Jackson Scholz - aka "The New York Thunderbolt" winner of Gold medals in 1920 and 1924. After his athletic career he gained famed as a writer - go figure. He appears twice in the set.

Just when the Americans thought they had the 100 meter monopoly which they dominated from 1912 to 1924, along came Percy Williams - a Canadian. He was no fluke and won 19 of the 21 challenge races the to which he was invited by the Americans. Sadly, Williams took his own life. Pity, as he was an insurance agent. Nothing says super like the name Jesse Owens. His appearance on this 1938 Churchman's Cigarettes card - Kings of Speed - is humble unlike his records.

Every American sprinter after Owens was compared to him. While Owens chose to cash in and opt out of amateur status. Racial tension and the illusion of riches plagued his career. He later admitted that he was treated with more respect in Nazi Germany than in his own country.
One such former American (1996 Olympic card) had an opposite post-Olympic career. Bob Hayes became a pro football player in the NFL. He stayed long enough to become part of America's Team - the 1970's Dallas Cowboys. Unfortunately, he turned to drugs and only recovered near the end of his life.
Jamaican Usain Bolt carries the baton of "fastest man" after sprinters from the UK and Canada held it through the 1980's and 1990's. He is full of bravado and and ego only to match his speed. How will he handle Olympic fame ?
Only time will tell ... at least for 100 meters.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Made in the U.S.A. ... football

It may be hard to believe, but their is some envy over soccer cards made in the U.S.A. - To clearly understand, one needs to see the number of Manchester United fan sites around the world.

Manchester United has always had some of the most famous and flashy players. going back to its 100 year history - Billy Meredith was the top man in the 1920's.

During the 1960's - George Best was known as the 5th Beatle. He was in every way - the best.

Recently, David Beckham captured the attention of fans and now he's playing in America.

His place was taken briefly by Cristiano Ronaldo - who came on tour to the USA this past summer - after his trade to Real Madrid.

Any time you get these star at Manchester United - thier cards are in demand and collectors go ballistic. (if you doubt it, try to buy a Beckham memorabilia card on ebay).

The lastest Man U. hotshot is Wayne Rooney. He is on a tear this season for club and country scoring 7 goals in 5 games. Thing is, he has a card produced by American makers - Sports Ilustrated for Kids. It makes great trade bait.

Ironically, I have covered the huge mistake Topps made by not producing regular soccer cards in the 1970's. But that does not mean they were not thinking about it.

Submitted for your approval are the following 1977 Topps England soccer cards -

England, who have traditionally played in white jersey since, oh, 1872 only began wearing red change kits in 1966. They did make a drastic part from those choices on a tour of the USA in 1976. They played in YELLOW kits.

The interesting thing here is that the above cards of England stars Gerry Francis and Kevin Keegan were shot at RFK Stadium (current home of DC United) in a game against TEAM AMERICA. You can tell the Washington, DC stadium by its seating and background.
The most telling item on the card is the trademark NASL soccer ball at the player's feet.
Now there are over a dozen American players performing in the top league in the world - Premier League - in England. Those cards are now making their way here after most of them appeared in Major League Soccer sets.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Simply Matty ...

I never saw him play. I do not support the club he played for ... yet, this card is everything in a way a player should be remembered on a baseball card. Known as the "Big Six" ... he was a Gentleman in every sense.

I'll type less words and just let you look ...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Now and Then ... Pt. 2 - Flying Objects

The old adage that "truth is stranger than fiction" can often be misinterpreted. Without imagination - many of those things that were fantasy before - have now become reality.

So it is debatable whether we are more facinated with science or science fiction. I believe it is imparative to have child-like imagination - and an adult like reasoning to produce great technology.

The fact is - I love the cards of our imagination. Space - when it was yet a new frontier, was just plain exciting. The real space program is now boring to me. However, the possibilities of space are still intriguing.
The 1952 Topps Space cards set contains the imagintive not to mention the spectacular in fantasy art of the era.
Some of the technology has indeed become reality. Still, we are stuck flying vintage 1980's model orbiters (aka Shuttles) into space. Time for a stimus trade-in. I think Topps had a good idea taking apart these old outdated crafts and putting the 2009 Hertiage relics onto the cards.

I mean, how cool is it to have a part that you imagine has been to outer space. What strange experiments have been done inside these wires, linings and sails ?

Not all of the Heritage cards are so seemingly genuine. For my eye the artwork on this 1938 Phillips Cigarettes - Ships That Made History card, is much more realistic than ...

... this Heritage relic of the U.S.S. Constitution. If you take a closer look - the modern sailing ships in the background give you a clue that the wood is from the deck of the replica ship - not the original.
Although I very much like the feel of the 2009 Philadelphia inserts - especially the aviation subset. As the hit 1970's TV show "Baa, Baa Blacksheep" was a favorite of mine, this vintage WWII Corsair (corsairs 2:00 into vid) brings it all back.

But for my collecting money - these wonderful samples from the 1938 Players Cigarettes - Fighters and Bombers are superior -no contest. These cards were done before many of the airplanes depicted were in regular action. Now that's hisory !

Verdict: winner goes to THEN 2 to 1.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Oh Brother ... Card Relativity

The recent issue of Philadelphia card set included the Kennedy Brothers. With the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy - well you could name a rock band.

However, the sport loving, political brother were not the first trio to appear in a card set. The ALOU Brothers (whose real name was Rojas) from the Dominican Republic graced many baseball sets from the 1960s and 1970s.

Not only did two of them make it as All-Stars, but their offspring - Moises - have gone on to notable careers as well.

One of our favorite band of brother were the HOWARD brothers - also know as The THREE STOOGES. It was Shemp who began with the trio (along with Larry Fine) with Moe and was later replaced with brother Jerome - aka Curly, to mix it up yuk yuks.

By far the greatest brother act on sports cards has to be the SUTTER brothers - all six were active in the NHL in the 1980s. Brent, Brian, Darryl, Duane, Rich and Ron all appear in the 1983-84 O-Pee-Chee hockey set.
Its always a wonder if Mom was ref while Dad played goalie.

The most prolific Country of brothers has to be HOLLAND. The Netherland's national team has had more brothers play for their small nation than any other on record:

* Evert & Jaap Bulder

* Frank & Ronald de Boer

* Rene & Willy van de Kerkhof

* De' & Tonny Kessler

* Erwin & Ronald Koeman

* Arnold & Gerrie Muhren

* Jeffrey & Wesley Sneijder

* Richard & Robert Witschge

Five of these brothers appear in the 1994 Upper Deck World Cup set.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

1997-98 Alfa bilder - the "Other" Cards of the North ...

With all due respect to the original O-Pee-Chee cards (dating back to the 1930's) there were others. Canada's O-Pee-Chee brought us Topps style baseball cards, the odd non-sport set - and of course great hockey stars.

But there were cards being produced by ALFA bilder in Scandanavia - in particular - SWEDEN as far back as 1949. One of the first sets that included limited autograph cards came in the form of the 1997-98 Alfa bilder card set.

The multi-sport consisted of 90 cards was limited to only 2000 sets. A very appealing yet simple design showcased the best Swedish athletes in Soccer, Hockey, Tennis, Track & Field, and lesser known bunch of skiers, handball players and even a golfer. The LPGA star Annika Sorenstam rookie card appears here.

The sleek white borders were offset nicely by the blue autograph on the bottom of each card. For the most part, the Swedes are commended for their penmanship as to a tee all are very legible. The set has Swedish star athletes from as early as the 1958 World Cup soccer team (2nd place) to the players who won the bronze (3rd place) at the games when America hosted the World Cup in 1994.

However, the bulk of the cards have a 1970's feel and feature mostly heroes from that era. This includes the tennis greats Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg. From the 1970's comes Bjorn Nordqvist who starred in the 1970 World Cup and later played for the Minnesota Kicks of the NASL.

But for fans of international sports, its the soccer and hockey players that hold the value in the group. The hockey stars include not only Swedish greats but two early 1970's imports to the NHL - Bjore Salming (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Anders Hedberg (New York Rangers). Although seemingly abundant at 2000 copies, most of these were snapped up in Sweden with probably only 40 or 50 singles making it to the American market in the past decade. Shrewd investors bought up a bulk of the Sorenstam card and have been selling them off on ebay.

While not an impossible set to complete, it is a task to find them. A plus for these are the autographs are hard-signed on the card.

Soccer cards # 19 - 36:

19-Nils Liedhold

20-Kalle Svensson

21-Kurt Hamrin

22-Ange Simonsson

23-Ove Kinvall

24-Bo Larsson

25-Bjore Norqvist

26-Ronnie Hellstrom

27-Tommy Svensson

28-Roland Sandberg

29-Ralf Edstrom

30-Torbjorn Nilsson

31-Glenn Hysen

32-Thomas Ravelli

33-Jonas Thern

34-Roland Nilsson

35-Kennet Andersson

36-Tomas Brolin

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Summer of Soccer ... in cards

Though a picture is worth a thousand words, no amount of trading cards can sum up what was dubbed "The Summer of Soccer". Crammed into a regular season of Major League Soccer was a summer of 101 tournaments, touring club and exhibitions games in 51 days ! That's 101 games in 51 days - my TV almost burned out.

The U.S. National Team reached the Final of two very exciting and important tournaments -both in two month period - the FIFA Confederations Cup - facing Brazil in the Final, and the Concacaf Gold Cup Final against rivals Mexico.

European based American stars who had just finished their season, first traveled to South Africa where the USA's Tim Howard faced Brazil's Kaka'. Howard immediately returned to the States to join his club team Everton to play the MLS All-Stars.

Meanwhile, Italian Champions Inter Milan joined rivals AC Milan and England's Chelsea in a 4 team tournament in 6 American cities. Kaka' did not accompany the Milan team as he was purchased by Real Madrid for a whopping $110 million (56 million pounds).

This was pale in comparison to the Real's next buy a week later when they broke the world record in obtaining Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United. The Spanish giants splashed out a $120 million (80 million pounds).

Kaka' ended up touring America anyway with Real Madrid. Ronaldo and Kaka' visited DC United for a game after beating Toronto FC. Real Madrid's super stars still took a back seat to their biggest league rivals - F.C. Barcelona - who also came to the U.S. for three games.

With Barcelona aving swept the Spanish trophies, it is any wonder that Real were buying the best from around the globe to compete. But it was the World Player of the Year - Lionel Messi that everyone came to see. He did not disappoint - scoring twice against Seattle Sounders before a record crowd of 65,289.

That record was shattered when F.C. Barcelona met the Los Angeles Galaxy in front of 93,137 at the Rose Bowl ! L.A.'s David Beckham stole the show by scoring with one of his trademark freekicks.

One of the revelations of the summer has been defender Chad Marshall. The 6 foot plus Marshall, who led Columbus Crew to the MLS Cup last season, debuted for the US National Team. This newfound fame sparked bidding wars for this numbered autograph card. (below)

While the MLS season is winding up into play-off mode, the European season has launched with the new player signings at the big clubs.

One of the surprises was the $10 million dollar American teenager - Jozy Altidore - to English Premier League club - Hull City. The "Tigers" took the former New Yorker on loan with a possible $11 million dollar permanent move. Only time will tell if his 2008 Upper Deck rookie card (below) will be in demand.

The "good news - bad news" is that between the American soccer and European football season - the sport never ends. And for collectors, it means a constant stream of new product. This means having to budget, shop and choose carefully.