This guest column ran for a week starting April 22, 2010 on www.AstrosDaily.com thanks to Bob Hulsey.
Collecting My Cards and Thoughts about the Colt .45s --Glynn Ligon
One of the most exciting moments growing up in Houston was opening day, April 10, 1962. My dad took me to a real major league ballpark to see real major league players. Almost 50 years later, I finally have all of their baseball cards. Forget the barbs from the critics—Colt Stadium was temporary, small, hot—the .45s were cast-offs, rookies, weak hitters. That was my team.
My 1962 Topps #44 Don Taussig baseball card (PSA Grade 8 Population Code 30562754) doesn’t say he hit the homer that beat St. Louis in their first game in Houston while I listened on my transistor radio. There’s no mention that most of the damp fans in Colt Stadium were rooting for the Cardinals because they had been the parent team of the old Houston Buffs. So I’ve had the pleasure of building a website that does—including linking to the original radio broadcast of down-home Lowell Passe calling the play. Visit it at www.colt45scards.info.
Colorful Cards—Colorful Players I love every one of my Colt .45s cards. Baseball cards with a personal story behind them about players who brought major league sports to Houston. Skinny, Bozo, Dumbo, the Preacher, the Barber, and the Vulture have cards. I knew Skinny’s nickname, but the others I learned while researching background stories for the cards. You’re not an old Colt .45s fan if you don’t know who Frenchy, Woody, Turk, Rusty, Nellie, and the Flea are. But collecting these cards and writing about the players has reminded me who hit the first grand slam, made the first inside-the-park homer, struck out the side on nine pitches, played 57 errorless games at third base, homered in three games on request for a blind boy, never hit a batter, won the final home game, or lost the no-hitter. Hey, if you forgot who lost the no-hitter, then you forgot the hall-of-famer who made the error to let in the losing run, and that the runner was rookie Pete Rose. It’s all in the cards, or at least all behind the cards if one looks there.
Mom, Where Are My Cards? Yes, my mom may have thrown away my old baseball cards, or they might be in the attic of our old house on Maple Street in Bellaire. I really used clothespins to clip cards to the spokes of my Schwinn bike. I don’t need to make that stuff up, but unfortunately I didn’t find Colt .45s cards in nickel gum wrappers in the 60’s. Picture me as a studious teen during the day and a die-hard Colt .45s fan at night with a transistor radio glued to KPRC. So in 1991, when my kids began collecting cards, I started searching for Colt .45s. The Midnight Madness Sales at Card Traders of Austin yielded a few—just a few. Then along came eBay. Out came Colt .45s cards from shoeboxes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, and Massachusetts. Eventually, I had two complete sets of 1962, 1963, and 1964 Topps and Fleer cards.
The Scorecard on Professional Grading My son sent my collecting into extra innings when he said, “Dad, now you need to get your cards graded.” A visit to Howard Lau, baseball collectable guru of Houston Sports Connection, exposed the slightly rounded corners, tiny creases, and powdery bubble gum stains on my beloved cards. As beautiful as they were to my untrained eyes, most didn’t measure up to high grading standards. So, I began collecting cards already graded by Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA) at 8 (near-mint/mint), or 9 (mint). Imagine baseball cards, printed on cardboard, packaged with gum, stored 47 to 49 years, and still in near-perfect condition. The photos on the website don’t do justice to their condition.
After buying about 150 graded cards, I’ve developed strong opinions about professional grading. First, grading does validate the card’s general condition and seals it in an archival case. From there, it’s let the buyer beware. I bought a great Brock Davis .45s rookie card (Topps #553 picturing four rookies, including Willie Stargell) on eBay, but sent it back. Even though it was PSA graded, the card had been trimmed so much to make it centered that it rattled around in its case. I’ve posted on www.colt45scards.info three green-tint 1962 Merritt Ranew Topps cards, PSA 8, 8.5, and 9, with the challenge for anyone to tell the difference in quality among them. Is that important? You bet! Considering I paid $75 more for each half grade, I now wonder why. That all said, my other PSA 9 cards are all undeniable beauties compared to my 8’s. There are only a few Colt .45s Topps PSA 10’s. At around $1,000 and higher each, I don’t have any (yet).
When’s the Collection Complete? At one point I struggled to determine whether or not I had a complete collection. In fact, I wasn’t even certain whether some of the items I had were baseball cards. Did you know that Pepsi-Cola, Post Cereal, Jell-O, Mother’s Cookies, the Texas Forest Service, the American Jewish Historical Society, and many others have issued “baseball cards” for Colt .45s players? So, I called upon some experts to confirm that if you had to clip, snip, or rip it, it’s not a classic baseball card, and I don’t have to count it in my “complete collection.” So the 1963 Pepsi-Cola inserts with “cards” trimmed from advertizing strips and “cards” snipped from Post Cereal boxes are fun to collect, and I did, but I wasn’t compelled to get them in graded condition. If it’s issued after the players were no longer playing, then it’s also not a part of the “complete collection.” So the 1986 Mother’s Cookies and the 1989 Texas Forest Service cards aren’t included either. The website details the standard, and in the end, 100 cards fit my definition.
The premier baseball card manufacturer of the .45s era, Topps, printed most of the 100 cards in 1962, 1963, 1964, and 1965. I know, the Colt .45s took the field only three years. Yet, a quirky aspect to five of the 1965 cards put them in my complete collection. Four veteran players wore their Colt .45s caps; all the other Houston players were capless. So I honor those four loyal Colt .45s, Walt Bond, Dick Farrell, Claude Raymond, and Mike White, who proudly wore their vintage caps for Topps in 1965. In addition, there’s the 1965 Joe Morgan/Sonny Jackson rookie card with both of them wearing Colt 45s caps. Way to go, Joe and Sonny!
The Sentimental Side of Cardboard Now you can see that I’m really into this Colt .45s card thing—well beyond the cardboard, right into the emotional vibes and even the fairness associated with how the players are represented. My most frustrating discovery has been that 16 Colt .45s players never got any type of .45s baseball card. Ironically, four players have Topps cards but never played a game for the Colt .45s., Manny Mota, Ellis Burton, Wally Wolf, and Ed Olivares. Olivares’s card is a rarity for collectors. Topps 1962 #598 was the highest number ever issued at the time. Back then, high- and low-numbered cards were often damaged by rubber bands or in shoe boxes, so finding them now in high grades is more difficult. In fact, my card is graded by PSA as a 6. The highest PSA-awarded grade in their population registry so far is an 8. No 9’s or 10’s have been graded.
Larry Fritsch recognized five Colt .45s players in his One-Year Winner (OYW) series of baseball cards. Two had career games—literally. John Paciorek’s lone baseball card is from Fritsch’s 1983 series and documents his unbelievable single game: September 29, 1963, final game of the season, 3 for 3, 2 walks, 3 RBI’s, and 4 runs scored. An injury ended his one-game career. Jay Dahl’s 1983 OYW card shows his one game’s stats as a Colt .45s player before an automobile accident claimed his life.
The Topps 1963 Colt .45s Team Card provides the only cardboard tribute to two players, George Witt and Dick Drott. In 1963, Drott pitched a three-hitter against the Giants, but Juan Marichal picked that day to pitch his only no-hitter. How good was Drott in his three-hitter? Consider Marichal faced the .45s with a team batting average of .220, and the Giants team had Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, and all three Alou brothers. So it makes sense that if Drott pitched against the .45s that day, he could have thrown a no-hitter also.
Highly collectable, the 1962 (in Spanish) and 1964 Topps Venezuelan cards are some of my favorites. I have 24 of the 25 .45s players’ cards. In Venezuela, the practice was to paste them into albums, so many were damaged when torn out. I’m fortunate that only a couple of mine have slight damage on the back.
Crossbred Colt Cards A bonus from word searches on the Internet is that they sometimes return what you want rather than what you request. In looking for Colt .45s cards, I’ve found some interesting variations in non-Colt .45s cards. Don McMahon’s 1962 Topps #483 shows him with the Braves on the front and the Colt .45s on the back. The 1963 Fleer #36 Joe Amalfitano San Francisco Giants card has him in his Colt .45s uniform. My sentimental favorite non-.45s card is the 1986 Topps #570 Rusty Staub Mets card—the last card for an active former Colt .45s player, showing 24 seasons all the way back to his Colt .45s 1963 and 1964 seasons. A lucky Google returned another find. In 1983, Topps issued a “double-header” Super Veteran card #604 showing Joe Morgan in his first Colt .45s uniform and last Giants uniform.
A Personal Challenge I challenged myself to find a .45s card for all 82 players who ever played in a Colt .45s regular season game. I’m still looking for 16. I’ll fail. So instead, I think someone should issue a complete set of baseball cards for all 82. Why not? After all, 2011 will be the 50th season of major league baseball in Houston, Texas, and the South. Let’s not forget the coaches and managers either. There were a few games in 1964 when the heat, humidity, and mosquitoes dominated so much that we could issue cards for each of the fans in Colt Stadium as well. I went to one game when the announcer just invited the few fans there down to the field before the game so the starting lineup could introduce themselves to everyone personally. Not true—but a popular joke at the time. The website has a Colt .45s humor page as well.
I enjoy my baseball cards as art, as pieces of history, as reminders of the fun I had going to the games and listening to the games on the radio, as an investment, as an opportunity to tell my friends stories, and as another way for all of us to discover how unique the original major league baseball players in Houston were. Thanks for reading about my cards. There’s more at www.houstoncolt45s.com.