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This Decade Has Some Great Issues

by Paul Angilly
January 4, 2005

While the heyday of collector issue baseball card sets came in the mid-’70s to early ’80s, some of the best collector-issue sets have been produced as recently as this decade. In addition to the 1980-87 Baseball Immortals set described last week, here’s a look back at some of the best collector issue sets ever produced:

1975-81 TCMA great teams of the past: For several years, TCMA brought to life some of the best teams in Major League history with a series of team sets. Among the teams featured during this period were the 1919 Chicago White Sox (the infamous "Black Sox"), 1924-25 Washington Senators (back-to-back A.L. champs), 1927 New York Yankees, 1942-46 St. Louis Cardinals, 1946 Boston Red Sox, 1951 New York Giants, 1938 Chicago Cubs, 1939-40 Cincinnati Reds, 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates, 1941 Brooklyn Dodgers, 1962 San Francisco Giants and 1914 Boston Braves.

These sets were especially nice because they depicted, in most cases, nearly every player who played for that particular team, plus the manager and top coaches. For instance, the 1946 Red Sox set (issued in 1975) includes not only key players such as Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr, it also has cards for Ben Steiner (4 at-bats in 3 games, with 1 hit) and Andy Gilbert (2 games, 1 at-bat, 1 run scored).

1977-83 Fritsch One-Year Winners: This set, issued in three distinct series, is for fans of the "little guys." That’s literally the case with card No. 1 in this series, which pictures 3-foot-7 tall Eddie Gaedel, who made one plate appearance in the Major Leagues as a promotional stunt with the 1951 St. Louis Browns (famously walking on four pitches before being removed for a pinch runner).

The remainder of the first series (cards 1-18) includes some other famous names who had brief Major League careers, such as Chuck Connors (who later became a prominent actor) and Pete Gray (the famed one-armed outfielder for the 1945 St. Louis Browns).

While the first series, issued in 1977, features black and white photos surrounded by a green border, the second series (cards numbered 19-54), issued in 1979, has color photos surrounded by white borders. Like the first series, the second One-Year Winners issue includes minor league stars that had very brief Major League careers, most of whom had never appeared on a card before.

A final series of 64 cards (numbered 55-118) was issued in 1983, with a front design similar to the 1966 Topps set. All three series share a back design similar to 1953 Bowman.

1977-84 TCMA/Renata Galasso bonus sets: With fronts that mimic the black and white 1960 Leaf set, these six series of 45 cards each were originally offered as a free bonus for collectors purchasing complete sets of Topps, Fleer or Donruss cards from Renata Galasso. The first four sets were produced by TCMA, while the final two series carry a Renata Galasso copyright.

The first series, issued in 1977, features players who were prominent stars in the 1950s -- such as Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente and a young Hank Aaron. The second series (from 1979) features stars of the ’30s including Lou Gehrig, Dizzy Dean, Jimmie Foxx, Babe Ruth (as a member of the Braves) and Hank Greenberg.

The set continued in 1980 with a series of stars from the ’20s, including Babe Ruth (with the Yankees), Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, commissioner Judge Landis and a 1927 Yankees team picture. The fourth series (from 1981) features stars from the ’10s including Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, Cy Young and a third card of Babe Ruth (with the Red Sox).

Renata Galasso Inc. took over production of the set in 1983, issuing a fifth series that highlighted the players from the first All-Star Game in 1933. The sixth and final series came in 1984, highlighting great moments or accomplishments in baseball history. Among those feats: Roger Maris hits 61 homers, Babe Ruth calls his shot, Joe DiMaggio hits in 56 consecutive games, Lou Gehrig plays in 2,130 consecutive games and Yankee Stadium’s grand opening.

1983-85 TCMA Play Ball sets: Picking up from where the original Play Ball sets issued from 1939 to 1941 left off, TCMA issued a series of eight 45-card sets depicting top players of each year from 1942 through 1949.

The cards were designed just like the popular 1940 Play Ball issue, right down to the slightly smaller size (2½x3¼ inches). The sets were issued two series at a time. The 1942 and 1943 sets (issued in 1983) had sepia-toned photos on gray card stock, the 1944 and 1945 sets (issued later in 1983) had regular black and white photos on gray card stock, the 1946 and 1947 series (issued in 1984) had black and white photos surrounded by green graphics printed on white stock and the 1948 and 1949 sets (issued in 1985) had black and white photos with red graphics printed on white stock.

1995-2002 Fritsch AAGPBL: The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which operated in the Midwest from 1943 through 1954 (attracting more than a million fans in 1948) was brought back to life for a new generation with the 1992 movie, "A League of Their Own." Soon after that, prominent card dealer Larry Fritsch negotiated a deal with the still-active AAGPBL Players Association to put the real-life players from that league onto baseball cards.

Backs of the cards in most cases include complete career statistics and a short biography. The photo quality runs the gamut from sharp, clear portraits and action shots to blurry pictures taken from a distance and even some that are enlarged from team photos.

The first series of 234 cards was issued in 1995. A second series of 106 cards (numbered 235-340) was issued in 1996 and a third series of 72 cards (numbered 341-412) was produced in 2000 and a final update series of nine cards (numbered 413-421) was released in 2002.

The later series also picture some of the league’s male managers, including Hall-of-Famers Jimmie Foxx, Dave Bancroft and Max Carey.

About the author
Paul Angilly is a sports reporter for The Bristol Press in Connecticut, and has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia for 30 years. He is not a dealer, nor does he make a profit from buying and selling cards. His weekly sports card and memorabilia collecting column appears each week in The Bristol Press and several other daily newspapers in Connecticut.

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