Monday, May 3, 2010

Mike DeNero's Neighborhood: May 2010

Mike DeNero's Neighborhood was created by superstar cartoonist Jim Hunt – check out his website at To view a synopsis of the comic strip, past months’ strips, and sketches of the four characters with whom you will soon become quite familiar (Bernie, Tony, Leela, and, of course, Mike), please visit our custom eBay page dedicated to Mike DeNero's Neighborhood by clicking here.

My 1973 Topps Baseball Waxpack

My 1973 Topps Baseball Waxpack

by Mike DeNero

It is my earliest memory. My mom, dad, sister, and I were headed to Sunday dinner at my paternal grandparents’ house, a typical North Jersey Italian-American affair: too many people, too much food (if there is such a thing as too much lasagna and meatballs), and too much yelling at the hapless Mets (actually, too much yelling at the television).

On our way to grandma’s house, my parents thought it wise to stop at a local candy shop so that we could arrive bearing a gift (as if more calories were needed for the affair). While my father was selecting various chocolates the woman behind the glass counter was adding, one by one, to the little white box on the scale, I was pointing at various candies behind the glass and asking my mother if I could have them. My mother’s reply each time was, “no, he won’t buy you that.” The “he” to whom she referred was my father (funny how she used the old man as the reason behind my disappointment each time she said “no”).

After pointing at several items that produced no returns, I pressed on, noticing a box of wax wrappers, each with a baseball player image thereon. I pointed and my mother stopped before she answered, cocked her head to one side, and replied, “he might buy you that.” Needless to say, he did – one waxpack of 1973 Topps baseball cards.

How old was I when my mom and dad bought me that 1973 Topps baseball waxpack? I am not entirely sure, but since I was born in June of 1970, I was most likely somewhere between 2 years and 10 months and 3 years and 3 months.

I recall opening the pack while seated (sans seatbelt, of course) in our family car (an off-white/tan 1973 Buick Electra). I also recall getting one card picturing 4 players (probably a rookie card) and folding it in quarters. And since I folded it in quarters, I thought it best to fold all the cards the same way.

I do not recall getting another 1973 pack, but I had the cards from that first pack in my collection throughout my childhood. The next year, 1974, I bought several packs – one of which featured a Dave Winfield rookie card that I also lived a long life in my collection.

So there it is. My first memory is being three-years-old and getting my first pack of cards. I wonder, did my subsequent devotion to the hobby, which really developed four years later in 1977, jog my memory about getting my first pack in 1973? Or was it the reverse – the experience of breaking open that first pack led to the devotion? It’s really a “chicken or the egg” inquiry, isn’t it?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Leela's Tips & Tricks - May 2010

Leela’s Tips & Tricks is Leela’s first foray into writing a monthly column – she usually just appears in Mike DeNero’s Neighborhood. As such, she does not have an impressive resume … yet. But give her a break; she’s only five-years-old! We hope you find her vintage collecting tips useful, her butchered attempts at composing sentences in what she calls “Canadien-French” amusing (if not refreshing, albeit confusing), and her unabashed love for her Montreal Canadiens admirable. Enjoy!

Qu'est-ce que vous achetez?

(Translation: What Shall You Buy?)

by Leela

Bonjour, collectionnuers de cartes! It’s me, Leela, providing you with some vintage cardboard education … my tip o' the month. Voilà!

Due to the celebrity I have become thanks to my monthly column, my fellow collectors often ask me for advice on what cards they should be buying. My answer today, and every day, is buy cards picturing Montreal Canadiens players, of course! Excellente idée, non? Qui mieux que moi? Personne! I mean, seriously, we are the king of the hill, especially after Les Habitants knocked the overrated, underscoring, underprepared, overconfident Washington Crapitals out of the playoffs! Vive Halak! Vive Bergeron! Vive Plekanec!! Capitals de Washington, au revoir! Profitez de l'été dans votre humides, moucheron infestées, la ville de second ordre de Washington, DC!

Enough gloating for now – I need to head over to the dry cleaner to drop off my vintage red wool Maurice "the Rocket" Richard #9 Montreal Canadiens hockey sweater. After Dominic Moore put my Habs up 2-0 in Game 7, I spilled some apple juice on the front of it while celebrating. I hope that incompétents imbecile at the dry cleaner can figure out how to remove the stains! Dites une prière pour moi et Maurice Richard.

Au revoir … Vive Les Habitants! C'est tout!

In Between Naps - May 2010

One of Rob Dewolf's passions is collecting cards of Cleveland Hall of Famer Napoleon Lajoie. A former minor league baseball player who advanced to Triple-A in the Padres organization, Rob's current job in the newspaper field requires him to get up at 4 a.m., six days a week. Hence the name of his column, which happens to be when he finds time to write about various aspects of the hobby. Rob lives in central Ohio with his wife and daughter.

Happy to Have a Set In My Way

by Rob Dewolf

I admire set collectors, mainly because they attempt to do something that I rarely have the patience to see through until the end.

Numerous times I've set out on a journey to put together a vintage baseball card set, only to drop anchor, jump the rail and swim back to shore before the ship leaves the harbor. Leafs from 1949 and DeLongs from 1933 were the subjects of my two most recent remakes of Titanic.

The Leafs seemed like a good idea after a friend sold me a group of 50 or so that included Satchel Paige (albeit with significant back damage). But all it took to bail was a few eBay transactions in which I spent what I thought was stupid money for the likes of Eddie Stevens, Dave Philley and Alvin Dark. Yes, I know the cards are short-prints, but they still feature Eddie Stevens, Dave Philley and Alvin Dark. The raking in of Leafs quickly stopped.

The DeLong project suffered the same fate for a different reason. I thought because only 24 cards comprise a complete set and 15 of those cards picture Hall of Famers, I wouldn't fall prey to common-player sticker shock. Just the opposite happened. Only a few cards in, I decided there are too many high-dollar Hall of Famers for my taste. DeLongs for Dewolf? Derailed.

I can be a fickle collector.

Which is why I still can't figure out exactly why I've stuck with trying to complete a master set of 1933 Butter Cream cards.

In early 2007 it was announced that hobby legend Lionel Carter would be selling his collection. Many of the cards graded by SGC would have their heritages noted on the card holder. I decided that I'd keep my eyes open for something that would be a good fit, because I really wanted to add part of Mr. Carter's collection to mine.

I found a good opportunity when a small group of Butter Creams came on the auction block. Included was a card of Cleveland Indian George Uhle, so that was a plus in my eyes. The other four cards were notable, too. Three were Hall of Famers -- Mickey Cochrane, Al Simmons and Charles Klein -- and the fourth, Muddy Ruel, is among the highest-graded Butter Creams by SGC (if that's your cup of tea; it's not mine).

After the auction ended and I was high bidder on the lot, I decided to attempt to complete the 30-card set, figuring that if I became bored or frustrated, I'd sell every card except the Uhle.

Then, as I learned more about the issue, I became aware that each card can be found with two different backs: one that has the "Butter Cream Confectionary Corp." name and another without. Shortly after completing a "set" of 29 cards, I decided to try to put together a set of 58 that includes 29 players with each of the two different backs.

Now seems like a good time to explain why I'm content to live with a "complete" set that has only 29 of the 30 possible cards. The Butter Cream Babe Ruth, for those who might not know, is tougher to find than a T206 Wagner. Two have hit the auction block in recent memory, bringing nearly $112,000 (to view the auction listing, click here) and $55,000 (to view the auction listing, click here).

Enough said on the BC Babe.

As for Butter Creams in general and why they've held my interest, like I said, I'm still not entirely sure. I do know that while scarce, they become available on a fairly regular basis. That I was able to compile a complete set, minus the Ruth (man, it gets old always having to type that qualifier), in about a year attests to that.

Also appealing to me is the fact that they're a bit unusual looking. The photos are black-and-white, and the cards measure 1 1/4 by 3 1/2 inches. Not your typical 1930s baseball card. Plus, the fact that the cards themselves were used as contest entry forms -- no doubt contributing to their scarcity today -- is appealing to me.

Finally, the number of Hall of Famers to commons -- 16 to 14 -- is palatable. As a Cleveland guy, the fact that two of the commons are Uhle and Wes Ferrell and one of the Hall of Famers is Earl Averill is a bonus.

I guess all of these factors created a bit of a perfect storm that's resulted in me collecting 50 of the 58 cards needed to complete my version of a Butter Cream master set. The satisfaction and excitement I feel each time I'm able to cross off another card from my want list reinforces my decision to undertake such an endeavor.

It also helps me appreciate why set collectors do what they do. Just not enough that I want to make it a habit.

Mike DeNero's Comic of the Month - May 2010

Batman – Volume 1, Issue #27 – (February/March 1945)

I absolutely love this one! It has everything you could possibly want in a Golden Age cover: Batman & Robin, Santa Claus (a fat, jolly, old one at that!), a patriotic call to “Back the 6th War Loan,” and a bundle of toys for all the good little girls and boys at Christmas. A little Internet research about the 6th War Loan reveals that while the cover is Feb./March, the issue likely hit magazine stands in December (in time for Christmas), as the 6th War Loan drive commenced on November 20, 1944 and ended December 16, 1944, during which $11 million of advertising, such as the banner on top of this comic, was donated for the cause.

Back to the cover – enough of the history lesson! Human-sized Santa is depicted carrying a sack of toys that would be a real stretch to fit in his sleigh (especially considering that ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas mentions a “miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer” and that St. Nicholas was “a little old driver”). While Robin is barely assisting Santa with the sack of toys, Batman is no help at all; rather, he’s just pointing in the direction to which Santa’s sleigh is presumably parked so that he can unload the hefty toy sack. And why is Santa carrying a green sack? Who ever heard of a green sack?

This issue - #27 of Volume 1 - was released toward the end of World War II (February/March of 1945, to be exact) and features a classic Golden Age cover by Jack Burnley. This particular copy is graded a conservative 4.0 by CGC and looks great. In addition to a Christmas cover, it has off-white to white pages, a Penguin appearance, an Alfred story, stories written by Don Cameron and Joe Samachson, and art by Jerry Robinson and Jack Burnley.

Originally dubbed "the Bat-Man" by creator Bob Kane, and appearing sans Robin (the "Boy Wonder") in Detective Comics #27 in May 1939 (he didn't get his own comic until 1940), Batman is one of the most enduring comic book characters of all-time. And, like every super hero, Batman is known by a variety of other creative monikers (e.g., "The Dark Knight," "The Caped Crusader," and "The Bat"), but none more so than that of his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, a multimillionaire society playboy. Robin, "the Boy Wonder," did not join Batman until April 1940 in Detective Comics #38. Together, they have been keeping the streets of Gotham City safe for more than seventy years.

Bob Lemke's Cool Custom Cards: May 2010

1955 Topps All-American “Bluto” Blutarsky and Forrest Gump

by Bob Lemke


In the half-dozen years that I have been working on creating 1955 All-American style football cards as an exercise in creativity and computer-graphics problem solving, I have created more than 120 cards "that never were" of college footballs players -- some of whom also never were.

One of my favorites is this card based on the Animal House movie character "Bluto," famously played by John Belushi in the 1978 National Lampoon movie.

You may be surprised to see Bluto in a football uniform, as there is absolutely no mention in the movie of the character ever taking the field for the Faber Mongols. I'll admit it: I have never taken such liberties in creating one of my cards as I did with this one.

Animal House has, since its initial release, appealed to the puerile (Keith Olbermann taught me that word) portion of my psyche. I still watch it about once a year when I can find the uncut version on DirecTV .

Some years back, while paging through a copy of Playboy, I encountered an article about Belushi. The portrait in the accompanying photo clicked with me, and I decided a Bluto football card was next up on my to-do list.

I found an appropriate uniformed body picture on which to graft Belushi's/Blutarsky's head, and I was ready to roll. In the spirit of the movie, I sat down in front of a rerun with a bottle of black Jack and took notes. In some scene or other I saw a felt pennant on a Delta house wall that indicate the Faber nickname was the Mongols. In a stroke of very good fortune, a Google search of Faber turned up the Mongol team logo that appears on the front of my card.

Virtually everything that appears on the biography on back, however, is of my own creation, although -- while I can't verify this with a citation at this late date -- I seem to recall that I found on some website or other the fact that Blutarky's middle name was Adam.

The process of fictionalizing a fictional character in furtherance of creating one of my custom football card creations was especially satisfying. I believe true fans of Animal House will appreciate the effort.


A half-dozen or so of the nearly 120 cards I've created in the past six years or so pay tribute to college football players whose gridiron exploits were entirely in the realm of fiction or entertainment.

Certainly the most popular of these pop culture figures is Forrest Gump. It was some time after I had begun my 1955-style cards that I realized, as I watched a re-run of the movie, that there was a college football element to the story of that fictional savant simpleton. 'Bama, no less! In deference to the legions of Tide fans, I'll refrain from further comment on where Gump fits into the continuum of Alabama alumns.

Once I knew I wanted to create a Forrest Gump football card, I set about assembling the pieces I'd need . . . basically a picture and biographical details.

I was unprepared for how difficult it became to find a suitable photo. A Google search of Tom Hanks and Forrest Gump failed to turn up any in-uniform pictures that would be suitable for reproduction. I spent some time scouring eBay and a few other sites for movie press kits or stills, but those I did find did not include a football picture.

In desperation, one night I set my digital camera on a tripod in front of the TV and began playing back a recorded copy of the movie. When I got to suitable spots in the movie, I hit the pause button and moved back and forth through the scenes, frame-by-frame, until I found what I was looking for. I shot the photo off my screen in extremely high-res and was very happy with the quality once it was reduced to ink-on-paper on the front of my card.

In reading the back of my card you may notice some variance with the details as presented in the movie. That's because I decided to go to the source, and work from the original 1986 novel by Winston Groom.

Because the book is written entirely in first-person dialect, it is not an easy read, but it was worth the effort and as the base document for my card back, I believe it was the right way to go.


Bob Lemke is a collector of bubblegum cards in the 1950s-1960s, Bob Lemke's hobby today is creating cards of current and former “players” in those "golden age" styles. He currently edits the vintage sections of the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards and maintains a hobby blog at

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