Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bobby Layne custom card 2.0 and 3.0

I'll admit it, I'm too anal about my custom card creations. (I'm also one of those people who believes that if you confess to a personality fault, you don't have to do anything to correct it.) That's why my "update" series of 1955 Topps All-American-style college football cards will never be complete.

Even if I worked my to-do list and my wish list down to nothing, I'd still be compelled to go back and re-do some of my earlier cards. I've been at this series for almost seven years, and some of my earlier creations leave a but to be desired. It's a combination of settling for what I now recognize are substandard player photos in the early days, and the fact that I was a rank novice in terms of Photoshop.

As my technical skills have improved, so has my eye for what will or will not make a suitable card image.

In the back of my mind I have a list of those among my 125+ cards in the 1955 format that I am not altogether satisfied with. With the completion of a new (and newer) Bobby Layne card, that list of rehabilitation projects is one card shorter.

As you can see from my first attempt (the top card), the player photo is merely OK. My recollection is that it came from a book. Thus it started out low-resolution and didn't improve when enlarged a bit for my card. The colorization of the black-and-white image also left something to be desired. Layne's hair is too yellow and . . . I'm unsure why . . . the numerals on his jersey are the wrong color, at least according to the majority of color images I've found on the web.

So, when a press photo of Layne showed up on eBay a while back, I jumped at the chance to improve upon my first version. The initial result, Bobby Layne version 2.0, is in the center above. I spent a Saturday afternoon working on cleaning up and colorizing the press photo, and working it into my '55 design. Everything looked fine on the computer screen, but after I had printed out the front, I began to have second thoughts.

Do you see the problem? In the size to which I cropped the photo, Layne's "package" seems to just jump off the card at the viewer. In the case of Bobby Layne, one of the hardest-living NFL players or his era, that's probably not an altogether out of synch image. Layne is one of the persons whom I quote most often. He once said that it was his life's ambition to run out of breath and money at the same time. Nonetheless, I decided that since I hadn't yet cut and pasted the image into actual cards, I'd take another stab at it.

The result is the third card in the stack shown here, Bobby Layne version 3.0. That one I can live with.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My 1955-style Mark Harmon gets a remake

Not long after I created my first 1955 Topps All-American style custom card of Peyton Manning in 2003, I decided that my long-term goal would be to equal Topps' output and create an "Update" set of 100 cards.

My intention was to make cards in that classic format for players who either hadn't made the original Topps cut in 1955, or who weren't yet playing college ball then (in many cases, the players on my cards hadn't been born yet in 1955).

In the early days of my project I actually wondered whether or not I'd be able to find 100 suitable subjects. That fear soon dissipated as my to-do list grew and grew. Today I have completed 122 cards in the '55 AA style and have my sights set on many more.

Actually, my "Second Series" is not yet complete. I'm holding card #152 for Randy Moss. I have some nice pictures of Moss in his Marshall playing days, but am holding off on doing the card until he retires.

This is all by way of explaining that some of my earlier efforts, in an attempt to fill out my checklist, weren't always of the highest quality. I was so concerned with getting to 100 cards that I sometimes worked with substandard photos. The result was, naturally, cards of which I'm not particularly proud.

One such was my first attempt at a Mark Harmon card. Harmon is, of course, best known to most for his years as the star of NCIS on CBS since 2003. But he was also UCLA's starting quarterback in the early 1970s. Harmon's father, Tom, appeared in the original 1955 Topps All-American set as Michigan's Heisman Trophy winning halfback of the late-1930s.

A look at my All-American Update checklist reveals several current and former TV and movie stars who played college football; it's a recurring theme of my collection. If I had not already made a Mark Harmon card, though, it would be quite far down my list of cards to create. I've just never had a fan connnection with him and, in fact, have never watched more than a couple of minutes of any NCIS episode.

Nevertheless, since I did make a Mark Harmon card, and since it did turn out to be less than my best work. I've been on the lookout for a better photo with which the rework the card. At this point, I don't even remember where I got the photo that appears on my original version. It's blurry and you can't really tell who it is under that helmet.

Thus, I was quite happy to find, while browsing around the internet a few weeks ago, a much more suitable photo of Harmon as a Bruin. As it is a press photo, it required colorizing, but that isn't usually much of a challenge.

I think you'll agree that the new version of my Mark Harmon card is a significant upgrade from the original.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Roman Gabriel added to my '55-style set

I've finally added a Roman Gabriel card to my checklist of 1955-style All-American football cards. But it wasn't easy.

I've always had Gabriel on my mental to-do list for the project, but had never run across a useable college photo. The Rams were always among my Top 5 favorite NFL teams in the 1950s and early 1960s, and when Gabriel finally got off the bench and became a starter, he became a player of more than moderate interest to me.

Maybe it was because he was the NFL's Joe Namath before there was a Joe Namath. He was literally tall, dark and handsome (he was once described as the "world's biggest Filipino) and his long hair made him stand out from the establishment quarterbacks like Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr, with their crewcuts. To a rebellious teen-ager (at least as rebellious as you could be in the mid-Sixties when you're white, middle class and living in a small Wisconsin city) who hadn't yet been brainwashed to hate pro football as a metaphor for The War, Gabriel was a player whose career I followed for a time.

I thought I'd struck paydirt in my card quest when I discovered Gabriel was included in the photo spread for Playboy's All-American team in the magazine's annual Pigskin Preview issue in 1961. I bought a copy on eBay for six or eight bucks, but when I got the magazine in hand, my hopes were dimmed considerably.

Creating a custom card from a magazine photo is always dicey. I knew from the preview I'd seen on line that Gabriel's image in the group photo was going to be small. It also turned out to be a bit fuzzy upon enlargement and the color printing was somewhat out of register. I diddled the image for a couple of hours last weekend, then plopped it onto the card's background. I didn't like the result (shown at left).

Another hour searching the internet for a suitable image didn't turn up anything useful; everything was either too small or too low-res. Fortunately, the search turned up an image of the cover of the 1961 NCAA record book, with an action pose of Gabriel.

An eBay browse offered my choice from among a handful of copies. Most were priced in the $15-25 range, which is more than I like to pay for the materials I use. I spotted a copy that had some items clipped from the interior pages and my low-ball offer was quickly accepted.

I was able to colorize the black-and-white cover photo and achieve an acceptable result, the image shown here at top.

As is almost always the case, boiling down the copy for the back of the card to about 90 words was a challenge. Even though he never won an NCAA Championship or a Super Bowl, Gabriel had a great career and has led an exemplary life.

He was a three-sport star in high school and after sifting through college scholarship offers, elected to stay in his native state at North Carolina State. While he played freshman basketball and varsity baseball (a slugging first baseman, he once hit three home runs in a game), eventually he came to focus on football.

Even though the Wolfpack was mediocre during his three seasons as quarteback (11-18-1 from 1959-61), he caught the pro scouts' eye. He was both All-American and Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year in 1960 and 1961, and was academic All-American in 1960. He completed 285 of 506 passes in his collegiate career, for 2,951 yards. He threw for 20 touchdowns and ran for 15. During his days at N.C. State, his fans developed a new Wolfpack fight song, "Throw, Gabriel, Throw."

The Oakland Raiders made Gabriel the No. 1 overall pick in the 1962 AFL draft, while the L.A. Rams chose him with the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft. Back in those heady days of NFL vs. AFL bidding wars, Gabriel's football fortune was assured. He signed with the Rams, but later said that's because while he was being "baby sat" in a hotel room by the Rams' Elroy Hirsch, a phone call from the AFL with a $100,000 offer was intercepted by Hirsch, who being mistaken for Gabriel's agent, assured the upstart league that Gabriel was firm in his desire to play in the NFL.

Gabriel was among the firsy of the "big man" quarterbacks in the NFL, at 6'4" and 235 lbs. He had an incredibly powerful arm and took the Rams to two NFL Championship games. He was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and was league MVP in 1969. Plagued by knee and shoulder injuries, he went to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1973, when he was named Comeback Player of the Year, and retired after the 1977 season.

As a starting quarterback in Los Angeles, and given his physique and dark good looks, it was natural that Hollywood came calling. He played an unnamed prison guard in the 1968 LSD film trip Skidoo, and had his biggest role as John Wayne's adopted Indian son Blue Boy in the 1969 Western, The Undefeated, which also included in the cast teammate Merlin Olsen. He had a number of television appearances, including as a headhunter on Gilligan's Island, and also appeared in the Raymond Burr series Perry Mason and Ironsides.

Gabriel did some assistant coaching in the USFL with the Boston Breakers and Arizona Wranglers, and in the World League of American Football in 1991-92 was head coach of the 0-10 Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks.

Though slowed by a stroke in recent years, Gabriel has devoted enormous time and energy since his football days to raising money for charities in and around North Carolina. I'm glad I was finally able to add him to my checklist of '55-style college custom cards.

Friday, July 2, 2010

"Road show" turns up 1950s record set

Last Sunday I was part of the appraisers' panel for a "road show" type of event in conjunction with the Iola Historical Society's summer fund raising day.

Iola, being the home of what was once the world's premier publishing company for collectors and hobbyists, has many resident experts in virtually every collectible area. The historical society offers an appraisal service where for $3 the general public can have experts give a verbal evaluation of their attic treasures.

I've been involved with this for the past three years; working, naturally, at the sports cards and memorabilia table. The event never draws a really big crowd, and at least at the sports table, we've never seen anything really valuable, but it is a fun way to spend an afternoon and to catch up with former colleagues (I share the sports table each year with SCD editor T.S. O'Connell) and to meet some interesting people.

I had a nice conversation, for instance, with an elderly gent who brought by a small picture frame with a pair of ticket stubs from the 1938 University of Wisconsin football season. The tickets were from games with Marquette (back whe n that Milwaukee school had a football program) and Pittsburgh. The tickets have a great art deco look and the price of 25 cents for a seat at a Badger game was a real blast from the past.

The old guy was in high school when he attended those games and has been to at least one Wisconsin game every year since. He had no interest in selling the tickets but was interested in their value, and even more interested in talking about 70 years of college football. My ballpark guesstimate was $50 apiece.

Our first appraisal for the day is presented here. A middle-aged fellow brought in a quartet of baseball instructional records.The value of such records within the cards/memorabilia hobby is usually in the quality and condition of the picture sleeves, rather than in the records themselves.

Over the years when working for the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards and elsewhere in the hobby, I'd seen several issues of instructional records from the 1950s through the 1970s. This particular grouping was not one with which I was familiar.

The records are 6" diameter, pressed in red plastic with rather plain paper labels. The small central spindle hole identifies them as 33-1/3 or 78 rpm. Presumably the content of the record consists of the player providing playing tips for his position.

The front of the picture sleeves displays great top-to-cap artwork of the players in action poses against a bright pastel colored background. Black-and-white backs are truly ugly, with crude drawings. Columbia records is identified in a couple of places on the sleeves and records as the maker.

When I viewed the player selection, I thought these might have been a Wheaties premium, because the four players represented were all included in several early 1950s Wheaties promotional items. The records' owner said he did not remember where he had gotten the records, and that they may have been some sort of cereal mail-in premium.

Since neither T.S., nor I . . . or even the event's record expert . . . had seen these before, we weren't able to provide any definitive answers, but I promised the owner I'd do some poking around the internet and get back to him. On the basis of what similar records sell for, I told him I thought the set of four -- Yogi Berra, Bob Feller, Ralph Kiner and Phil Rizzuto -- in the rather nice condition in which they were preserved, should be worth about $200.

The records were numbered PV-800 through PV-803, so I postulated that four pieces might comprise the complete issue, though if they were a Wheaties promotion, it is possible other regulars from the Wheaties line-up such as Stan Musial, George Kell or even Ted Williams or Jackie Robinson, might have been issued.
It turned out that finding information on the records was easy once I got to a computer. The records were actually included in a new products article in the June 2, 1952, issue of Time magazine. I was correct in that Berra, Feller, Kiner and Rizzuto represent the complete set, but there was no mention of any connection with Wheaties or any other sponsor. The article mentioned that the "unbreakable" records retailed for 34 cents apiece.

A little bit of digging on eBay turned up current or recent sales of each of the records, except for Berra. In a condition in which the picture sleeves were generally in about VG condition, as opposed to the EX or so condition of the set that I had viewed, the records had sold for $20-40 apiece.

Given that Berra would be the highest priced among the group, I'm confident my $200 appraisal for the set of four in that condition was fairly accurate. If there had been a Wheaties connection and identification on the records, I think he value would be 25% higher.

I shared my findings with the records' owner, and now I've shared them with you.