Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hitters who never appeared on baseball cards

Last post, I gave the answer and asked you to give me the question.  The answer was:

For hitters: Dave Schneck (followed by Loren Babe).

For pitchers: Marshall Bridges (followed by Jim Duckworth).


The question is:

"What player had the most career AB [innings pitched] without ever appearing on a major issue baseball card?"


The answer depends on what you consider "major issue".  Tony Horton retired in 1970, with 2228 career at-bats, after stress issues and a suicide attempt.  He never appeared on a Topps card, but he did appear on a 1971 Kellogg's card.  If you don't want to count Kellogg's as a major set, then Horton is the answer.  I'm not sure why he didn't appear on a Topps card ... a friend suggested that maybe he refused because he didn't want the attention.  Anybody know?

I also ignored cards produced well after the player's career ended, including  cards where he appeared as a manager.

And, finally, I counted only AB accumulated in 1952 or later, and I eliminated players still active in 2010.


Here's the list of hitters with at least 250 AB but no card.  The year in the chart is the season of the player's last game in the major leagues.

 AB    Year    
413    1974    Dave Schneck
382    1953    Loren Babe
298    1970    Van Kelly
274    1966    Ernie Fazio
257    1961    Joe Altobelli
255    1957    Jack Littrell

There are no players after 1974.  That's probably because of the explosion in card sets that started in 1981, after Fleer and Donruss ended Topps' monopoly.  By the 1990s, there were dozens of sets.  

Topps also had competition from Bowman from 1950 to 1955, but that didn't seem to stop Jack Littrell and Loren Babe from making the list.


The way I figured this out ... I copied Topps checklists off the web (thanks to this site) for every year (Topps regular sets only).  Then, I tried to cross-reference the player names to the Lahman database.  I fixed as many problems as I could -- different name spellings, Bob vs. Robert, "Vandeberg" vs. "Vande Berg", too many Greg Harrises, stuff like that.

Then, I eliminated everyone on the list who played at least one game in 2000 or later ... I figure there are so many sets these days, that I probably wouldn't find any candidates from this century.  When I get less lazy, I'll confirm that.  It seems not unreasonable, considering there were no players even from the 1980s or 1990s who qualified.

Then, I sorted the non-Toppsed batters by AB.  There were still some uncaught false positives that I just crossed out.  Finally, I checked every remaining player against an online card database, to make sure.

For the record, here's the list of batters without a Topps regular set card who played their last game before 2000:

 AB     Year    
2228    1970    Tony Horton
1160    1955    Tom Umphlett
 625    1957    Mel Clark
 579    1956    Wayne Belardi
 564    1999    Manny Martinez
 501    1999    J.R. Phillips
 482    1998    Damon Mashore
 423    1998    Jesus Tavarez
 413    1974    Dave Schneck
 382    1953    Loren Babe
 381    1960    Billy Shantz
 355    1997    Sherman Obando
 336    1999    Dave Silvestri
 319    1999    Bobby Hughes
 317    1998    Rico Rossy
 313    1978    Art Kusnyer *
 307    1976    Jim Cox *
 305    1998    Andy Tomberlin
 301    1999    Ed Giovanola
 298    1970    Van Kelly
 274    1966    Ernie Fazio
 269    1999    Matt Luke
 258    1998    Frank Bolick
 257    1961    Joe Altobelli
 255    1957    Jack Littrell
 254    1992    Kevin Ward
 253    1956    Rudy Regalado
 252    1997    Tilson Brito

Art Kusnyer and Jim Cox were each on one Topps "Future Stars" card (1972 and 1974, respectively), but my programming didn't pick it up because of how the checklists were written.  So, maybe, think of this as players not having a Topps card *to themselves*.

The unbolded players from the 1950s all had Bowman cards.  The 1990s players all had multiple cards from one of the many, many other sets of the era.

Except Manny Martinez, who is fifth on the list.  Martinez came *very* close to qualifying for the overall "title".  He had only one "major set" card that I could find -- this one, from 2000.  Why only one appearance when so many sets were produced?  I don't know.  Most of his AB came with the Expos in 1999, his last season.  Perhaps Topps had planned a card for him, but dropped it after he was released?  

Also, Topps' 1999 and 2000 sets were very small -- less than 500 cards each, compared to 660 in the 1970s and 792 in most of the 1980s.  But that still doesn't explain why none of the other sets picked him up.


While I'm here ... if I extend the cutoff past 1999, the list gets much bigger ... there are a lot of 21st-century players of who didn't have a regular Topps card.  That's probably because of Topps' small set sizes in that era.  

In fact, there are eight recent hitters who would finish ahead of all but Tony Horton and Tom Umphlett on the all-time list.  Here they are.  I haven't checked for errors; there might be a false positive or two in the list.  

 AB     Year    
1109    2008   Sal Fasano
1085    2006   Lou Merloni
 779    2005   Jeff Liefer
 754    2000   Aaron Ledesma
 735    2008   Adam Melhuse
 713    2007   Josh Paul
 713    2004   Lou Collier
 636    2004   Robert Machado


I'll do the pitchers next.

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At Friday, June 28, 2013 10:55:00 AM, Anonymous Susan said...

While Sal Fasano did not have a Topps card, he did have cards in Bowman, Finest (Topps releases), Upper Deck, Pinnacle and plenty others. All major releases.

At Friday, June 28, 2013 11:08:00 AM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

Right, that's the "no Topps" list. Only the six bolded hitters had no cards in other major sets.

At Tuesday, October 03, 2017 11:54:00 AM, Blogger j.c. said...

Sal Fasano is in 2006 Topps Updates and Highlights.

At Friday, October 13, 2017 10:22:00 AM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

Right ... for this, I looked at Topps regular sets only, not including updates. I think.

At Friday, October 05, 2018 10:12:00 PM, Blogger Kevin McKeever said...

According to this, Horton refused to sign the release with Topps on advice of his father and grandfather

At Friday, October 05, 2018 10:16:00 PM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

Interesting, thank you for that! How did you find that from 1985? Nice!


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