If you had the time, money, and ability, would you start your own card company? If you did start your own card company, what kinds of cards would you release? How would you start -- current players or greats of the past?
Those were all questions that Michael J. Cramer -- Mike to those who know him -- must have been asking himself in the early 1970s. Cramer's card shop and company, Pacific Trading Cards, became the most off-the-wall and innovative card issuer in the 1990s. But, Cramer started out his foray into issuing cards like a couple of others have: as a card-shop owner.
According to this article from 1996 in the Arizona Republic, Cramer got his start in baseball cards as a high-school freshman in 1968 while attending Maryvale High School. He started Pacific -- then known as Cramer Sports Promotions -- as a mail-order business but really made his money for the first ten years of the business -- so, until about 1978 -- by being an Alaskan crab fisherman.
Cramer helped blaze the trail that other shop owners such as Renata Galasso and Larry Fritsch later followed by issuing baseball cards himself. Cramer started with minor-league baseball and teamed with Circle K Food Stores and the Phoenix Giants in 1975 to issue a set in which Cramer himself got a card, which he used to announce the formation of an Arizona Sports Collectors Association.
As things progressed for Pacific, he left Arizona for Seattle. As a history of the company notes, Cramer moved to Edmonds, Washington, in 1977 and changed his company name to Pacific Trading Cards. He opened a brick-and-mortar store to accompany his mail-order business. His card issuing for minor-league teams took a break from 1978 through 1984, during which time he used old photos of baseball legends to put out his "Baseball Legends" set.
As Rich Klein notes in his short biography of Cramer (linked above), Cramer was not just a card-company owner. He became an NFL-accredited photography and literally took his own photographs to use for his football sets that he issued in addition to using photos from other long-term hobbyists. This was a cost-cutting measure, certainly, and it helped Cramer reduce costs in the art process as well.
Pacific's history in baseball cards continued into the late 1980s with another Legends set (which will be documented later). So, this story on Pacific's history will continue at that point.
1980, Series 1
1981, Series 2
1982, Series 3
1983, Series 4
1986, "Series 5"
These cards were issued in four series of thirty cards each year from 1980 through 1983. Then, in 1986, Cramer/Pacific must have decided either to print more cards or repackage the cards on hand into wax packs. That led to "series 5" -- a four-card series that were nothing more than cards printed on the bottom of the wax boxes. These cards added Hoyt Wilhelm and Arky Vaughn, two of the four Baseball Hall of Fame inductees for 1985 to the set. For some reason, Lou Brock was left out; Enos Slaughter was in Series 2. In addition, the wax box picked up one very early inductee (Grover Alexander) and one very recent inductee (Frank Robinson) that had been omitted previously.
Visually, these cards are like a Coldplay song -- they are all yellow (sorry, had to make the bad musical reference). My guess here is that it may have been easier for the printing process to make these cards all yellow with sepia photos. That's a guess, though.
The backs feature various items of information about the players, including their position (with "Short Stop" being a regular feature), their dates of playing in the majors, their birth dates, a short biographical write-up, their teams for which they played, and their major league record.
If the player had been inducted into the Hall of Fame before the cards were printed, then the year of the player's induction is included. If the player was not in the Hall, then his nickname was provided or, in Harvey Kuenn's case, his then-current occupation of Brewers manager was given. Finally, if the player had passed away, then his date of death is given; otherwise, his city of residence at the time of the card's printing was provided.
In terms of set composition, there is again a bit of unevenness. For example, Series 1 includes 27 Hall of Famers out of 30 cards though three of the men who are in the set (Walter Alston, Ernie Lombardi, and Billy Southworth) had not been inducted when the set was issued. Series 2 is all Hall of Famers now, but again, three players (Slaughter, Leo Durocher, and Pee Wee Reese) were inducted after the cards were issued. The 1982 set is less star-studded -- just 22 of the 30 players are in the Hall, and three of those men were enshrined after 1982 (Nellie Fox, Harmon Killebrew, and Phil Rizzuto). 1983's series has just one guy who went in after the set was released -- Richie Ashburn.
HALL OF FAMERS
This is a star-studded set, so strap in. Here they all are:
1980: Babe Ruth, Heinie Manush, Rabbit Maranville, Earl Averill, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Bill Terry, Sandy Koufax, Ernie Lombardi, Dizzy Dean, Lou Gehrig, Walter Alston, Jackie Robinson, Jimmie Foxx, Billy Southworth, Honus Wagner, Duke Snider, Rogers Hornsby, Paul Waner, Luke Appling, Billy Herman, Lloyd Waner, Eddie Collins, Lefty Grove, Hank Greenberg
1981: Ty Cobb, Enos Slaughter, Ernie Banks, Christy Mathewson, Mel Ott, Pie Traynor, Clark Griffith, Mickey Cochrane, Joe Cronin, Leo Durocher, Frank Baker, Joe Tinker, John McGraw, Bill Dickey, Walter Johnson, Frankie Frisch, Casey Stengel, Willie Mays, Johnny Mize, Roberto Clemente, Burleigh Grimes, Pee Wee Reese, Bob Feller, Brooks Robinson, Sam Crawford, Robin Roberts, Warren Spahn, Joe McCarthy, Jocko Conlan, Satchel Paige
1982: Ted Williams, George Kelly, Jim Bottomley, Al Kaline, Yogi Berra, Nellie Fox, Harmon Killebrew, Edd Roush, Mordecai Brown, Gabby Hartnett, Early Wynn, Nap Lajoie, Ted Lyons, Lou Boudreau, Ralph Kiner, Phil Rizzuto, Frank Chance, Ray Schalk, Bill McKechnie, Travis Jackson, Carl Hubbell, Roy Campanella
1983: Cy Young, Kiki Cuyler, Chief Bender, Richie Ashburn, Hack Wilson, Al Lopez, Willie Keeler, Fred Lindstrom, Roger Bresnahan, Goose Goslin, Earle Combs, George Sisler, Red Ruffing, Herb Pennock, Chuck Klein, Addie Joss, Chick Hafey, Lefty Gomez, George Kell, Al Simmons, Bob Lemon
1986: Hoyt Wilhelm, Arky Vaughn, Frank Robinson, Grover Cleveland Alexander
One known variation shows up on the Trading Card Database and in the Standard Catalog and it is in the 1980 set. There are two different Jackie Robinson cards -- one of his batting and one as a portrait of him. The portrait variation is more difficult to find. Indeed, TCDB does not have a scan of it.
I am going to speculate a bit and suggest that there may be additional variations based on card stock. I get that from looking at the checklists for the sets and, frankly, just looking at the scans above. Do you see the different coloration for the Kuenn and Aaron cards as compared to the Spahn and the Keeler cards? I am wondering if Pacific had to get the printing plates out to equalize the cards in the 1986 packs and ended up printing them on the gray card stock typical for Topps cards of the era. I don't know that for sure, but I could see that happening.
I had some or all the first two or three series of these as a kid. I have yet to figure out how or where I got these. I am guessing that, somewhere along the way, I found them at a card show or they were thrown in as an extra in some set purchase I made by mail order. I don't think I ever bought anything from Pacific, but it is possible.
I recall really liking these. For me as a kid in rural Wisconsin, these cards helped bring to life the stories about baseball history that I had been reading in Baseball Digest and in books from my local library. Names like Rabbit Maranville and Frankie Frisch and Mordecai ("Three Fingers") Brown had been almost like fairy tales to me -- players who lived only in some alternate universe. To see real photos of them was incredibly cool.
Only once The Sporting News started with its Conlan sets 10 years later would we get a wider array of players from that era, so this set was like bringing guys from the moon to Wisconsin to me. Since getting back into collecting, I've picked and chosen my cards to get the ones I needed for player collections but I haven't gone all in on trying to get this as a set.
Thanks to the reissuance or sale of the cards in wax in 1986, these cards are reasonably available on the eBay and COMC markets. Unopened packs are not all that common, though, at least judging by what is available on eBay. There is one group of 34 unopened packs with the box (and its four cards) that is listed at $36.83, though its seller will accept a "best offer" option. One seller has a full set of all 124 cards (the box is uncut) for $77.00 shipped. From all indications, that's not a terrible price, but it is pricy to me.