By Chris Olds | Beckett Baseball Editor
I’ve always wondered why Minor League Baseball cards, specifically those found in team sets, aren’t more popular than they are — even though, yes, there are many reasons why they just can’t compete with the standard traditional baseball cards made by Topps, Upper Deck or countless other companies through the years.
They’re often players’ first cards. (Real prospecting doesn’t start with the first busted packs of Bowman, you know.) They’re often the only place to find some players’ cards — you know, the high school or college star from your neck of the woods who just never made it to The Show.
They’re often more interestingly designed and checklisted more for the baseball fan than the investor — including cards of more than just superstars.
And that’s where we’ll start with this look at some of the unusual cards found … In the Minors.
This time? The mascots… you might not think they’re a big, big part of baseball, but there are more than 1,800 cards found on a search for “mascot” in the Beckett.com database.
Sure, minor league teams come and go (just like players), but it seems most minor league set include a card of their fuzzy team representatives like Cosmo for the Las Vegas 51s (above). That’s a pretty cool design, too — too bad there isn’t a player on the team that year who can rival Cosmo’s star power.
Let’s take a look at several mascot cards from around the minors …
The Savannah (Ga.) Sand Gnats have one of the coolest logos in all of baseball. This writer owns just two game-used minor league helmets — one from the Sand Gnats, the Class A affiliate of the New York Mets, and one from the New Orleans Zephyrs (worn by the once-esteemed Chad Hermansen but that’s another story). The team’s mascot, Gnate, has a pretty cool baseball card, too.
You might think you remember Wool E. Bull from Bull Durham, but this guy isn’t the same bovine that was beaned by Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh. This guy is apparently a distant relative (his baseball card says so), but the team and any of its mascots remain one of the most famous in baseball.
Not so famous? Clyde from the Quad Cities Swing (one of the cooler minor league logos from the past), which have since been renamed as the less abstract River Bandits. Clint Eastwood would be so proud (of both names, really).
Really, what makes the minors so unique are the teams’ ties to their towns — a connection that’s perhaps not there in the big business of those famous clubs stocked with millionaires. Sure, there are millionaires in the minors, too — those signing bonus checks often aren’t small these days — but the ties to the community are often seen easily.
How about Auggie, the green jacket wearing mascot of the Augusta (Ga.) Greenjackets. If you don’t understand that community tie-in, then you probably don’t know who Tiger Woods is.
How about Ballapeno, just one of the mascots for the San Antonio Missions? Sure, one might expect a Padre (but they have those in San Diego), but if you’ve been to South Texas you probably know a thing or two about Jalapeno peppers. (This mascot is one I have seen in action — along with the Puffy Taco, who unfortunately doesn’t have a baseball card I have laid hands on.)
Look for some more location specific mascots in a gallery below.
Some mascots just seem a little off — which may make them more charming or terrorize children (that’s for you to decide). We’ve found cards of a few that seemed a bit unusual …
We haven’t kept up with the Lakeland (Fla.) Tigers recently — but we do know that they’re now known as the Lakeland Flying Tigers — but that’s not why this card is here. For those who don’t know, Lakeland is about an hour or so away from Orlando, home of Mickey Mouse and crew. Now, look closely at South Paw‘s face … look familiar? I’m just sayin’.
We’re not too familiar with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, either, but Tim Linceum once pitched for them and that’s good enough for us. The team’s mascot Crater, though? Just a bit on the creepy side.
Perhaps the saddest mascot card we found — and we don’t mean sad as in bad (there are plenty of those; some to come below) — is the Daytona Cubs mascot Cubby, who looks like he’s just been scolded for leaving a mess on the field or getting in the way of someone important. We’re sure Cubby has grown up to become a bear since this card arrived in 2006 but one thing’s for sure — he’s still not got a World Series ring (unless he was traded).
Some mascot cards just have great action photos. That shouldn’t be a surprise, should it? There are some serious athletes here who are able to perform in sweltering summers under some seriously tenuous conditions.
Here are a few action shots that stood out …
Look for more action shots below.
Many teams have more than one mascot, which is somewhat surprising as many of these teams are ultimately very small businesses counting every cent. Some have boy mascots, some have girl mascots. Some have entire groups of mascots. The cool thing? They all seem to get baseball cards, too.
Heater and Gem are mascots for the Dayton Dragons, also one of the best-designed team logos in the minors. The Cincinnati Reds farm team has had some name players on the field, but we’d bet that most kids remember this duo best. (Sure, they’re not valuable, but who can’t appreciate a well-designed mascot cards like these? (I’m sure Upper Deck likes that design, too … )
And what’s there to say about the Power Pack, the pack of mascots for the West Virginia Power? (Yet another cleverly named team that ties it to its location.)
Or how about this crew for the Staten Island Yankees?
Not all mascots are Hall of Fame caliber like Wool E. Bull, and here are a couple examples we were left wondering about …
Sherman the Shorebird was voted the 2005 No. 1 Public Figure on Delmarva? What’s that say about Delmarva? Where is Delmarva, anyway? (Ok, we know, we know… save your e-mails. It’s in Maryland.)
Sammy the Sausage would be a bigger hit in Milwaukee or Chicago, wouldn’t he? Well, we know Abe Frohman would approve of this guy, but this mascot just doesn’t say “Omaha,” does it?
It says Oscar-Mayer to us.
Last, but not least (before the gallery), we give you this guy. We say guy because, well, he doesn’t have one of those fancy suits but he’s got a painted beard and a baseball card.
Sammy Baseball, as the card says, is an “on-field personality” for the Tri-City Valleycats, a Class A affiliate of the Houston Astros. We’ll agree that we’re not so sure that a non-mascot mascot needs a card, but guess what?
And that’s not the half of it when it comes to the unusual and flat-out weird inclusions one can find when searching through minor league cards.
We’ll take a look at more of the odd cards you can find next time.
Until then, feast on more minor league mascot memorabilia …
Chris Olds has collected sports cards and memorabilia since 1987. Before coming to Beckett Media, he wrote about the hobby for the Orlando Sentinel on his blog, SportsStuff, and for the San Antonio Express-News and The Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News. Do you have a comment, question or idea? Send e-mail to him at email@example.com.