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Sunday 28th May 2017

If you're fed up with the volatility of the Dow Jones and the S&P to the point where most of your money is now inside your mattress, maybe your nerves aren't strong enough for baseball card investing. Since the dawn of modern baseball card collecting (early 1950's), fans have been fascinated in the "Rookie Cards" (RC's) of their favorite players. It probably links to that appeal of wanting the "first" of something and serves as a magnet for hobbyists even when the RC isn't that visually appealing. The perfect example is the RC of Pete Rose from the 1963 Topps set. That year, the manufacturer decided to put four rookies on the same card and for famous players like Rose and Willie Stargell, their images are cropped and almost unrecognizable. The 1964 Rose card, however, is something to behold with a beautiful photo and a superimposed image of the "Topps 1963 All-Star Rookie" trophy in the corner. If you wanted one of those '64 beauties in "Near Mint" (NM 7) condition, it would set you back about $275. If, however, you just must have the '63 RC in similar condition, the price would be $1,450.

At a point in the mid-to-late 80's, when the hobby was booming, collectors decided that speculating in cards could be a valuable endeavor. Instead of collecting certain cards, they started investing in the cards instead. And, of course, they believed RC's were their avenue to success. The card companies were more than happy to oblige and turned on the printing presses to full capacity, so every baseball fan could accumulate RC's of the hot prospects of the time. Today, when the Old Duck goes to look at a card collection, he invariably finds a stack with hundreds of the same card...and then another stack...and then another stack. Who are the potential Hall-of-Famers in these stacks? How about Gregg Jefferies from 1988 or Albert Belle from 1989 or John Olerud from 1990 or Carl Everett from 1991? You haven't really experienced the thrill of the chase until you open a box marked "83 Donruss" on the outside and find 200 Candy Maldonado RC's staring you in the face.

In addition to the card companies over-production, another significant factor in the investments of that era is the use of PED's by some of the biggest stars. Despite pundits always saying that fans don't care about steroids, the hobby tells you just the opposite. The value of the RC's of the usual suspects like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez has plummeted in the marketplace. McGwire's RC from the 1985 Topps set was the hottest card in the hobby at one time. The set also includes RC's of Clemens, Kirby Puckett, Dwight Gooden and Eric Davis. In 1998, when McGwire and Sosa were chasing the Home Run record, a case (20 boxes) of '85 Topps was worth $5,000. Earlier this year, one sold on eBay for $1,425.

Despite this background, investors still believe they can beat the system. To accommodate them, in the last 10-15 years, card manufacturers have started digging deeper into the prospect market. No longer do you have to wait for the next phenom to arrive in the majors, now you can buy his card while he's still in the low minors. Miguel Cabrera didn't appear in a Marlins uniform until 2003, but his RC is from the 2000 Topps Traded set. Joey Votto didn't debut with the Reds until 2007, but he has a RC in 2002 Bowman Chrome and 2002 Topps T206. Robinson Cano was the Yankees second baseman at age 22 in 2005, but you can find his RC in a number of 2003 Bowman products.

The reality, however, is that for every Kris Bryant there are dozens of players like Brandon Wood. Rather than looking at anecdotal information, let's do a small case study of the last decade. We'll look at RC's from 2005 and then see what their value was in 2010 and what it is today using the Beckett price guide. To be consistent, we'll use the Bowman Chrome brand as the base and some will be autographed cards ("A").

2005 Bowman Chrome & Chrome Draft

> Ian Kinsler - $7 in '10, $3.50 in '15

> Melky Cabrera - $5.50, now $2

> Chris Young (OF) - $5.50, now $2

> Justin Verlander "A" - $45 in '10, currently at $55

> Matt Kemp "A" - $60 in '10, now $40

> Billy Butler "A" - $60 then, now $10

> Jay Bruce - $8 in '10, now $5.50

> Andrew McCutchen - $5.50 to $8.50

> Jordan Schafer - $5.50 in '10, now $3.50

> Clay Buchholz - $10, now $2

> Troy Tulowitzki - $4, now $7

> Edinson Volquez $8, now $3.50

> Stephen Drew "A" - $35 in '10, now $7

> Jered Weaver "A" - $35, now $17.50

> Ryan Braun "A" - $135, currently $45

> Jacoby Ellsbury "A" - $90, now $42.50

> Colby Rasmus "A" - $60 in '10, $10 in '15

> Ryan Zimmerman "A" - $45, now $27.50

You're probably wondering about all the breakout stars who are missing from our list. What you must realize is that, in essence, we're comparing card values about five years into a career with card values ten years into a career. At five years, collectors had identified the good players and are hoping their careers will escalate to star status. At ten years, the harsh reality has set in and we know that what we see is what we get. Yes, Carlos Gonzalez has gone from $3.50 to $5.50 but a plethora of cards in that category have fallen off the chart altogether. Do you remember Humberto Sanchez or Chuck James?

In a future visit, we'll do the same analysis of RC's from 2006-07 to see if the pattern changes. In the meantime, please feel free to contact me if you're looking for a Brandon Wood Autographed Rookie Card.

For as long as kids have looked at the back of baseball cards, they've had a general understanding of ERA (Earned Run Average). If you look up the definition, the general consensus is "A measure of a pitcher's performance by dividing the total earned runs allowed by the total of innings pitched and multiplying by nine." My baseball education taught that it was earned runs multiplied by nine, divided by innings pitched but the numbers come out the same. The premise of the statistic was to not burden a pitcher with runs that had been enabled by errors or passed balls. In other words, eliminating from the calculation events that were out of his control.

If you've watched enough baseball to give the definition a personal "eye test", you already know that numerous runs score in a game that don't necessarily fit the criteria. If a pitcher leaves the game with the bases loaded (through hits and walks) and the relief pitcher gives up a triple, the original hurler just gave up three earned runs while he was sitting in the dugout. If there are runners on second and third with two outs and a weak groundball trickles under the glove of the shortstop into left field, two earned runs score whether the fielder in question was Pee Wee Reese or Pokey Reese. Outcomes like these are what motivate the development of advanced baseball statistics.

In an attempt to move beyond ERA, we now have a stat called FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). The essential theory is that pitchers can only really control strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed. To that end, analysts have come up with a formula to determine a pitcher's skill based on those three factors and once that number is calculated, they tie it to MLB's run scoring environment so that it aligns with ERA.

The question for those of us playing Fantasy Baseball is if the FIP numbers can assist in determining the value and predictability of pitchers. Many a team has been torpedoed by a couple of starting pitchers that didn't perform to expectations and we're always looking for an edge. As a 20-plus year fantasy veteran has said many times, "I hate pitchers." Just taking a superficial look at FIP results for 2015 reveals the following tidbits.

> As of September 5th, 17 major league pitchers have an ERA under 3.00, while 14 have a FIP under the same threshold. Six of them are in the AL and eight in the NL.

> In the AL this season, three of those top six FIP pitchers are also under 3.00 in ERA - Chris Archer, Dallas Keuchel and David Price. The other three FIP leaders just might be underrated on their 2015 performance, as their ERA might not be truly reflective of their skills. Chris Sale is 12-7 with a 3.29 ERA but he has the best FIP in the AL at 2.33, Carlos Carrasco is 12-9 with a 3.53 ERA but his FIP is only 2.81 and Corey Kluber is 8-13 with a 3.41 ERA but his skills seem intact with a FIP of 2.88. In Kluber's case, he's coming off a Cy Young Award season, so 2015 looks even worse.

> In the NL, the top eight FIP pitchers include seven who also fall under the 3.00 ERA guideline, which might just show the validity of the FIP stat. The one outlier is Tyson Ross of the Padres with an ERA of 3.21 and a FIP of 2.90. Ross' record is 10-10, so you're probably surprised to see him on this list at all. For fantasy players, that's an under-the-radar season.

> AL ERA leader Dallas Keuchel is third in FIP but the second-best ERA (2.36) belongs to Sonny Gray and his FIP is almost a run higher at 3.28. Scott Kazmir has a similar anomaly with an ERA of 2.50 and a FIP of 3.38.

> NL ERA leader Zack Greinke is also third in FIP but two of the top six ERA leaders don't match up - Shelby Miller at 2.86 / 3.35 and Matt Harvey with 2.60 / 3.34.

> The AL top six are Sale, Archer, Keuchel, Carrasco, Kluber and Price.

> The NL top eight are Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer (only 11-11), Madison Bumgarner, Jacob deGrom and Tyson Ross.

> How about losing pitchers (other than the aforementioned Kluber) who might have good FIP numbers and be somewhat underrated? Jon Lester (9-10) has a 3.59 ERA but a 3.07 FIP. Jake Odorizzi might have a 6-8 record but his ERA of 3.35 and FIP of 3.38 are both solid. Jose Quintana is 8-10 with a 3.60 ERA but his FIP is only 3.21.

> In the slight over-achievement category, two Cardinals lead the way as Michael Wacha is 15-4 with a 2.69 ERA while his FIP is 3.27 and Carlos Martinez (13-7) is at 3.04 and 3.31.

> For fantasy players who clearly understand the cruel category of "Wins", you can look at baseball cards of Nathan Eovaldi (14-3, 4.20 ERA, 3.43 FIP) and Drew Hutchison (13-3, 5.07 ERA, 4.09 FIP) while you pull your hair out.

> Where are some of your other favorites? Here are a few performances to ponder between now and your 2016 drafts.

* Johnny Cueto will be looking for a nine-figure free agent contract, but he's 9-10 with a 3.04 ERA and 3.29 FIP.

* Cole Hamels already has a nine-figure contract and he's 8-8 with a 3.70 ERA and 3.39 FIP.

* Jordan Zimmermann is another free agent, but what would you pay for 12-8, 3.38 and 3.60?

* "King Felix" Hernandez looks good on the surface with a record of 16-8 but his ERA of 3.65 and FIP of 3.56 may show some deterioration.

* Jeff Samardzija isn't impressing prospective suitors in the free agent market with his 7-11 record and 4.87 ERA / 4.14 FIP.

* The Padres still owe James Shields a shipload of money and he's 10-6, 3.83 / 4.37 in a pitcher's park.

> Who's the worst when it comes to FIP? The bottom five for 2015 are Jeremy Guthrie (5.18), Kyle Lohse (5.13), Miguel Gonzalez (5.04), Matt Garza (4.95) and Dan Haren (4.92). Lurking in the 6th spot is another famous (and expensive) name, C.C. Sabathia (4.84).

As always, fantasy success comes from balance, both on your team and in your scouting, so maybe FIP has a place in your toolbox. And, the next time one of your baseball buddies asks how you are, you can reply, "I'm feeling much better now that I'm monitoring my FIP."
Last week, the Old Duck posted this picture on his Facebook page with the comment, "This is what is known as personalized jerseys." Obviously, this beautiful couple has been sharing baseball memories for over 60 years, even if they might be rooting for different teams. She's a Giants fan, while he pulls for the Cardinals. They were at the ballpark celebrating their 63rd anniversary.

A similar reaction takes place when I cross paths with any long-time acquaintance after a decade or two and they find that I'm still the Commissioner of the same Rotisserie Fantasy Baseball league that started in 1984. They are genuinely surprised that in today's age of people drifting away from group activities (summarized brilliantly in Robert Putnam's book, "Bowling Alone"), this group has held together. Certainly, many of the participants have changed and just this year, we added a new owner, but in the end, the league is still strong and maybe even more competitive than ever.

Growing up as a prolific sponge of baseball statistics from books, magazines and baseball cards, I can still remember opening the March 1981 issue of the now defunct magazine called Inside Sports. The article by Daniel Okrent titled "The Year George Foster Wasn't Worth $36" was the first glimpse into what has become a vibrant industry intertwined with American sports. It outlined a baseball game developed by a group of New York writers that allowed fans to "own" their own team by having a pre-season auction and bidding on players whose stats would generate standings within the framework of the league. While the piece was exciting and interesting, Okrent and the others didn't really detail the rules until 1984, when they published the book "Rotisserie League Baseball."

Seeing that publication at the book store brought back the memory from the magazine article and I read the book cover-to-cover that night. The next day, I got on the phone and started calling friends, saying only "Go get this book and tell me if you're in." Within the next few days, they all said yes and we began this journey. That first season was so much fun, it can't really be described to people who don't play some form of fantasy sports, and I even had numerous phone calls with author Glen Waggoner in New York as we ironed out questions regarding rules interpretations. The result is that we are at least tied for the longest-running Rotisserie League in the country and when people ask about the longevity, I respond by saying that we have very seldom changed any of the rules.

The newer generation of fantasy players would probably feel that the book's "old school" rules are too restrictive or that they require too much of a commitment in time and effort. For us, that is exactly why we love the game as it was originally developed. As with the U.S. Constitution, we refer to those pioneers of the first Rotisserie League as "Founding Fathers" and it is incredible how often we look back at what they wrote 30 years ago and realize the wisdom they showed. For a brief summary, here are the basics.

> 23-man rosters chosen auction-style with a budget of $260.

> Position eligibility guidelines must be met at all times...1B, 3B, 1/3, 2B, SS, 2/S, C (2), OF (5), Utility and Pitchers (9).

> Trading available from Draft Day to August 31st.

> No initial reserve list, but injured or demoted players can be replaced from the free agent pool. Replacements are "linked" if the original player is reserved.

> Statistics based on eight (4x4) categories...BA, HR, RBI, SB, W, SV, ERA and Ratio (WHIP).

> With minor exceptions, FAAB (Free Agent Acquisition Budget) is only used after the All-Star break.

> Each team is allowed three Farm (minor league) players that do not count toward the 23-man roster.

> You can keep up to 15 players from season-to-season, but in most cases, contracts expire after three years.

Over the years, many fantasy players have asked me about our approach and the rationale behind rules decisions. Here are some of the things we haven't changed.

> "Linking" players is something most leagues don't want to deal with and there have certainly been a few complaints over the years about it being a pain in the posterior. The truth is that it's only a pain for the Commissioner and the reasoning behind the idea is one that we hold dear from the 1984 book - the decisions you make on Draft Day should be meaningful and the benefit a team might derive from an injury should be minimized. So, if you replace an injured player with a good performer in April, you can't just dump some bum you drafted when the injured player comes back.

> We've stayed with the 4x4 concept instead of going to the currently popular 5x5 because while adding Runs makes some sense, Strikeouts never seemed to belong with the other statistical categories. Even in a later edition of the book, the authors suggested using Innings Pitched instead of K's because it at least represented a pitcher getting outs.

> By not having FAAB bidding early in the season, we assist the parity of the league because free agent call-ups are in reverse order of the standings and the lower teams have a chance to bolster their rosters.

> There are no restrictions on trading other than the salary cap of $305 for the active 23-man roster. That allows teams to replace low-cost draftees who get hurt or sent down and to make reasonable trades, but puts a damper on "dump" trades. We don't have a committee to approve trades (how can anyone be objective when they have a team in the league) and even though every trade solicits whining from somebody, the Commissioner doesn't pass judgment. The closest I came to voiding a deal was in 2003 when a team fighting for the pennant seemed to be taking advantage of a team that had just joined the league, but after speaking to the new team and getting perspective on their re-building plan, I backed off. The decision was verified when that new team won the league championship in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

So, what rules have we tweaked or added and have they been positive?

> The original book suggested paying four (4) places - 50%, 25 %, 15 % and 10%. We expanded that years ago so that finishing in the first division of our 12-team league was worth something - 45%, 22.5%, 13.5%, 9%, 6% and 4%. In other words, we took 10% from each of the first four spots to add 5th and 6th.

> If a team activates one of their Farm players during the season and he doesn't exceed the rookie status levels (130 AB's or 50 IP), the team can put him back on the Farm the following year if he isn't on a major league roster. They do lose one year of his eligibility, but we didn't want teams penalized when they had nurtured a prospect over time.

> The worst decision ever made in our league was to allow the trading of future Farm picks. While it seemed like a fun idea at the time, the rule has unintended consequences. In 2009, a longtime member of the league let it be known on Draft Day that he was not going to be able to participate beyond the current season. Needless to say, he played to win that year and made bold moves along with countless trades. Early in the season, he indicated that he wouldn't be making any trades, as he didn't want to "leave the cupboard bare" for a prospective new owner. Less than week later, he proposed a couple of trades that were to include his team's Farm picks for the following year. I ruled that he couldn't do that because those assets were being taken away from a future owner and weren't really his to trade. My ruling applied to all teams and didn't need to be retroactive, as no other trades of that nature had transpired since the draft. He pontificated to all the owners about how selfish I was and that my decision was made to help my team (which was never in the pennant race and finished 6th). Of course, one could argue that he didn't need to tell us he was quitting in the first place and while that's true, it just confirms that the rule was a bad idea. He also made some outrageous FAAB bids late in the season, knowing that he wouldn't be around to pay the penalties the following April. He did win the league and I made a deal with him. I would pay the penalties myself for his promise to never speak to me again. 15 years earlier, I should have been smart enough to re-read the original book and the comment about trades..."Unless you want knife fights to break out among owners, prohibit all trades involving cash, players to be named later or future considerations. Trust us." We no longer allow the trading of future picks.

> Another area that the book doesn't cover is what happens in September. This has been a problem for many leagues across the country and of all the ideas we've developed, this one has been shared the most. The problem arises when major league teams are allowed to expand their rosters as of September 1st. For fantasy purposes, the main area of consternation has to do with injuries. If a player gets hurt on 9/2, there's a reasonable chance his MLB team won't even bother to put him on the DL because they're no longer limited to 25-man rosters. If that player is on your fantasy team, what do you do? With today's proliferation of baseball information on the Internet, you'll see conflicting reports and inaccurate speculation. For a Commissioner, it is essential that the league have clear guidelines to handle these situations. Here are our guidelines for replacing a player in September.

1) Currently on the DL
2) Gets placed on the DL
3) Hasn't played for at least 15 days
4) Is reported by MLB, ESPN or a team's official website as being "out for the season" - this must take place at least 15 days before the end of the season

If a league doesn't have something like this in place, the Commissioner will get e-mails with ten (or nine, or eight, or four) days left in the season from owners wanting to replace an "out for the season" player. Also, teams will get upset because some "report" on the Internet says a player is "probably out for the season" even though the writer has no specific knowledge of the injury. Having guidelines usually (but not always) keeps the rhetoric within reason. In the meantime, the Old Commish is the final arbiter.

Of course, every league will have members who try to push the envelope on rules and lobby for new interpretations. We have one original franchise that prides themselves in finding loopholes, but our youngest owner has thrown down the gauntlet in an attempt to take away their title. His questions are almost always about something that can't possibly happen and usually require at least five or six e-mails to answer. After I'm long gone, this 20-something will probably be a very rich man once he conjures up a super-hero called "Hypothetical Man." Earlier this season, however, he needed to be more active than hypothetical when Kirk Nieuwenhuis was on his reserve list the day he hit three home runs.

Are you aware that each year's MVP winners receive an award

called the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award? As the Baseball Writer's Association has never really defined "most valuable", would the results have been different over the years if it was just called the "Landis Plaque" and went to the most outstanding player in each league? In other words, do fans think in terms of most valuable player or player of the year? And, do you agree that the MVP is for position players and the Cy Young Award is for pitchers?

While there have been some examples over the years of MVP winners on losing teams, like Ernie Banks of the Cubs in '58 and '59, the general consensus is that the award should go to a player on a contending team. Ted Williams won the Triple Crown (HR, RBI and Batting Average) in both 1942 and 1947 but didn't win the MVP Award in either year. In both seasons, he also led the AL in Runs, Walks, On-Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage. The winner in '42 was Yankee 2B Joe Gordon and in '47, it was Joe DiMaggio. The Red Sox finished nine games behind the Yanks in 2nd place in '42 and 14 games behind in 3rd place in '47. If there were more than just two teams going to the post-season in the 1940's, maybe the results would have been different.

Now that just about any team at .500 or better still has a chance for the playoffs at the end of August, will the voters expand the list of players considered for MVP? And, if "most valuable" is really the criteria, how is that defined? It seems that there is some logic in value being related to teams winning games, so maybe WAR (Wins Above Replacement) can help us determine the real contenders. After all, being a difference-maker in team wins certainly equates to a player's true value. As a reminder, WAR represents a statistical analysis of how many wins a player is worth to his team over that of a replacement level player (think Triple-A or Quad-A). As you'll see in the ratings, WAR isn't just about hitting stats for position players. It also includes advanced defensive metrics.

"Old School" baseball fans will be disappointed to know that advanced statistics have already had a major impact on how this award is viewed. In a recent blog, Joe Posnanski pointed out that since 2008, every MVP winner has finished in the top-5 in WAR. That is about the time that this new-age statistic became somewhat mainstream. As recently as 2006, Justin Morneau won the MVP with a WAR number of 4.3. Not only were there 20 players better than that, but he finished third on his own team behind Johan Santana and Joe Mauer. Juan Gonzalez won two MVP awards in the 90's without being in the top-15 while Don Baylor (1979), Willie Stargell (1979) and Jeff Burroughs (1974) weren't in the top-20. Those days of writers voting without doing thorough research are gone.

Stats are as of Sunday, August 30th and the WAR numbers are from Baseball-Reference.com.

AL

> Josh Donaldson of the Blue Jays ties for the lead in the AL with a WAR of 7.3 and his team is driving toward the division title. This should come as no surprise, as he posted 7+ WAR numbers in 2013 and 2014 for the A's. He's the current league leader in both Runs and RBI while playing great defense at third base.

> Mike Trout of the Angels had the best WAR in baseball in both 2012 and 2013 but didn't win the MVP in either season. In 2015, his 7.9 WAR helped him finally win the award and he's following it up with a 7.3 figure so far this season. 33 homers and a .963 OPS goes along with Gold Glove caliber play in center field. Do we really understand how great this player has become? He just turned 24!

> Dallas Keuchel of the Astros is the best pitcher at 6.5 and most fans can't spell his name. He's 15-6 with a 2.28 ERA...in the American League!

> Lorenzo Cain became a hero during the Royals great run last year and now he's becoming known as an elite player. His WAR of 6.4 includes amazing skills in the outfield and solid production at the plate (.312 BA and .855 OPS). His 5.1 WAR rating from 2014 was no fluke.

> Another pitcher fills out the top-5 and it's Sonny Gray of the A's at 6.2. In his age-25 season, his record is 12-6 on a team that is 18 games below .500 and his ERA of 2.13 is the AL's best.

NL

> The best WAR so far belongs to Zack Greinke of the Dodgers at 8.2. This rarified air is nothing new to him, as his 10.4 WAR for the Royals in 2009 won him the Cy Young Award. He's at 14-3 with a 1.61 ERA and this type of dominance may well transcend to MVP consideration.

> The top position player is Bryce Harper of the Nationals at 8.0. Finally (even though he's only 22), the potential everyone talked about for the last five years has been exhibited. Harper has 31 home runs and leads the NL in OBP (.458) and Slugging Percentage (.632).

> Right on Harper's heels is Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt at 7.6. How about a league-leading 96 RBI to go with 26 homers, 20 steals and a OPS over 1.000? By the way, he also plays solid defense.

> While the Reds are floundering, Joey Votto has put up an outstanding season and his 6.1 WAR number verifies the performance. Healthy after a lost season in 2014, he has 25 homers, leads the NL in Walks and has an OPS over 1.000.

> Clayton Kershaw won the MVP and Cy Young Awards last year and despite being slightly overshadowed by Greinke this season, he's still a top-5 WAR performer at 6.1. At 11-6, he leads the NL in Innings Pitched and Strikeouts while posting a league leading 2.10 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching).

If you had a vote, would it be Trout and Harper? Donaldson and Goldschmidt?

Just for the record, in 1942, Ted Williams led all of baseball with a WAR figure of 10.6. MVP winner Gordon had an impressive number of 8.2. In '47, Teddy Ballgame once again led the Majors at 9.9 while DiMaggio wasn't even close to the top-10 at 4.8.

If you ever drop by the Duck Pond, you're welcome to view the extensive collection of Williams memorabilia...but you probably already figured that out.

For boys of the Baby Boomer generation, opening packs of Topps baseball cards was a rite of passage. Not only did we get that delicious bubble gum, we also had the chance to randomly pull the card of our favorite player. In the 50's and 60's, that could have been Mickey Mantle or Ted Williams. How about Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, Pete Rose, Sandy Koufax or Ted Kluszewski? Or Jackie Robinson and the other "Boys Of Summer" from Brooklyn. What most of us didn't know was that other kids our age were also opening packs and looking for Fess Parker, Elvis Presley, James Arness, Guy Williams and three funny guys named Curly, Moe and Larry.

Long before the term "Pop Culture" became part of the lexicon, youngsters were fascinated about celebrities and fictional characters from every walk of life. Topps, Bowman, Fleer and a number of lesser companies manufactured "non-sports" cards during this era and looking back today, it gives us a glimpse of what society embraced in the culture of "Happy Days." As with most historical items that are scarce, the value of these cards has also increased dramatically over the years and the prices listed reflect a card in "Near Mint" (NM 7) condition.  

Television was becoming America's fascination in the early-to-mid 50's and a number of the sets produced during this time used the stars of the new medium as the draw.

> 1952 Bowman NBC Radio / TV Stars - This set included many of the pioneers of TV including Jimmy Durante, Pinky Lee, Paul Winchell and Dinah Shore. The two most valuable cards (at $75) are Bob Hope and Groucho Marx. The set was offered again in 1953 and the issue increased from 36 to 96 cards.

> 1956 Topps Davy Crockett - This show from Walt Disney (and starring Fess Parker) was one of the most popular of the time and the 80-card set is one of the best in this category. As with baseball cards, kids held their possessions together with rubber bands, so the top card (#1) and the bottom card (#80) are the most difficult to find in nice condition. #1, known as "King of the Wild Frontier", books for $150.

> 1958 Topps TV Western - Westerns were all over the TV schedule in the 50's and this set included many of the cowboy stars of the day. Included were James Arness from "Gunsmoke", Steve McQueen from "Wanted Dead or Alive", Richard Boone of "Have Gun Will Travel" and Ward Bond of "Wagon Train". Some of the other series highlighted in the set will test your knowledge of trivia. How about "Boots and Saddles", "Wells Fargo" and "Yancy Derringer"? The average card books for about $25.

> 1958 Topps Zorro - Another TV series for Disney, this one starred Guy Williams as the masked man of mystery. The 88 cards in the set are valued at about $35 each except for #1 and #88, which are $80.

> 1959 Fleer Three Stooges - The highest demand set produced in this time frame, the set has 96 cards and is very difficult to find in nice condition. The #1 card is of Curly and it will set you back over $600. #'s 2 and 3 are Moe and Larry and their book value is over $200 each. Interestingly, there were three checklist cards included in the set and they're very hard to find in unmarked condition. The current value of the checklists is $400 each.  

In the 60's, you could find cards from "The Beverly Hillbillies", "The Adams Family", "The Munsters" and "Gilligan's Island".

Another category covered by the card issues of the era is historical figures and events.

> 1950 Topps Freedoms War - This set included the likes of George Patton and Dwight Eisenhower.

> 1952 Topps Look 'N See - A very popular set, it focuses on more than 150 years of famous figures from American history. You'll find cardboard of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles Lindberg, Amelia Earhart and many others. Even common cards book for $40.

The music of the day and the emergence of Rock n' Roll were also captured in trading cards.

> 1956 Topps Elvis Presley - A 66-card set of the "King" in his early days. "Don't Be Cruel" (#11) is worth $55, as is "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" (#19).

> 1957 Topps Hit Stars - A combination of singers and other celebrities weaves through this 88-card set. You'll find Bobby Darin, Little Richard and Fats Domino as well as James Dean, Jerry Lewis and Elizabeth Taylor. Cards book from $25-$35.

Science Fiction was also a mainstay of the card companies during these years.

> 1962 Topps Mars Attacks - This 55-card set is still in high demand as even common cards book for $100. The #1 card (The Invasion Begins) and the #55 checklist both have a current value of $800.

> 1964 Outer Limits - Common cards from this 50-card set are worth $60.

> 1966 Topps Batman - This top-rated TV show motivated the card manufacturer to put out five separate sets, some in black and white and others in color. The key cards are worth $75-$150.

> 1967 Leaf Star Trek - Kirk, Spock and all the other iconic characters are in this 72-card set. Common cards book for $40 while card #1 (No Time For Escape) is worth $250.

Other recognizable SciFi story lines can be found in the '66 Donruss "Green Hornet" set, the '66 Topps "Lost In Space" offering and the '67 "Planet of the Apes" set.

In a future visit, we'll take a look at Wrestling cards from the 50's and then jump to the 70's and see what "Star Wars" has to offer.

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