Moonlight Graham

Dr. Archie Graham was a footnote until Burt Lancaster portrayed him in the hit movie “Field Of Dreams” in 1989. The movie was based on the best selling book “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella, which was published in 1982.

Graham played minor league baseball during the summers while he worked toward his medical degree, which he obtained in 1905 from the University of Maryland. He played baseball and football during college, and was a starting halfback on the gridiron.

Archie came from a family of high achievers. The second of ten children raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina, his brother Frank served as a US Senator and as President of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Evey one of the children born to Alexander and Katherine Graham obtained a college degree, including three sisters.

I printed this card in 2011, about 8 years ago, and it is one of my personal favorites. Maybe because I loved the movie, but also because Graham was such a great man and a hero long after his baseball days were over. He was a beloved pediatrician for over 50 years in rural Minnesota.

The image I colorized is the only decent picture of Moonlight Graham as a ballplayer that was known to exist, so I didn’t have to choose which picture to use. Since then, a picture of Graham in a Scranton uniform has surfaced, but it is a little blurry:

I might someday make another card of Doc Graham. If so, the picture above will probably be the one I use.

Billy Sunday

I created this card in 2008 and they were used as print samples to obtain printing jobs from a couple of churches. One of those churches became a regular customer and still does business with us whenever they need something printed. The other church still owes us about $550 for jobs they never paid for!

Billy Sunday, clean-cut centerfielder for Pittsburgh

Billy Sunday has an interesting story. In the summer of 1887, centerfielder Tom Brown of Pittsburgh was playing the worst baseball of his career. A solid batter for years, Tom was no longer a .300 hitter. He was no longer a .250 hitter. Brown, who was one of the fastest runners in baseball, was now getting thrown out, and he was making more fielding errors than ever. A man who had recently been a star was sinking fast.
Tom Brown didn’t have some rare illness, and he wasn’t getting too old to play the game. It was the booze. He had been drinking since arriving in Pittsburgh, and it was destroying him. On August 15th, manager Horace Phillips gave Brown some bad news: He was being dropped from the team. Phillips was going to have to find a new outfielder. One of his coaches told him about Billy Sunday, who played for Spalding’s team in Chicago.
The worst thing you could say about Billy Sunday was that he was always trying to save souls and get the other players to go to church with him. By his own admission he didn’t drink much, and seldom gambled. Manager Phillips wanted to get a man like that, someone who could stay sober most of the time and set a good example. That’s exactly what he got when he obtained Billy.
Billy had just batted .291 at Chicago, and Pittsburgh was probably hoping for something more than a .236 hitter, but that was all Sunday could muster during his first season at Pittsburgh. He did steal 71 bases, and lived an exemplary life off the field. In Billy’s second season with Pittsburgh, the team was doing horribly. Billy was again having a weak season at the plate. The team went through three managers that season. One of them, Ned Hanlon, was asked about Sunday, and what a fine young Christian man he was. Hanlon observed that he would just as soon have a heathen who could hit the ball than a Christian who couldn’t. His idea of a fine example was someone who could produce runs and win games.

More and more, Billy was being called by God to preach. It wasn’t that he was a loafer – he had received a higher calling. If Sunday had put as much heart into baseball as he did preaching, he would have been as good as anyone in the sport for a long time.
In 1890, when the Players League formed, Pittsburgh lost all of their experienced players, except Billy and the manager. The team was terrible, finishing 23-113 and of course in last place. The team was so broke by then that they sold Billy to Philadelphia in August for $100 cash and two untried rookies! Soon afterwards, Sunday left baseball to become a full-time evangelist. He couldn’t ignore the call of God, and the rest is written large on the pages of history.

Billy Sunday was the most important man in America for over a decade. More than anyone else, it was Billy Sunday who convinced the average American to support Prohibition of alcohol sales. Carrie Nation and her hatchet act were just a sideshow – it was Reverend Billy Sunday who preached the sermons which convinced an entire nation.
Billy also addressed other social issues of the day. He supported women’s suffrage, he called for an end to child labor, and he included blacks in his revivals, even when he toured the deep South.

And Tom Brown, who lost his job due to boozing it up? What happened with him? Well, he ended up in Boston, where there were far fewer opportunities to drink. He regained his form and became a star player once again. He isn’t in the Hall Of Fame, but he does hold a record that will probably stand forever: Most errors committed by an outfielder, career: A whopping 490!

Nolan Ryan

I made this card about 5 years ago, in 2014 when I did the Classic series. The fronts are obviously 1970 Topps style. The backs are ’56 Topps style. I wasn’t trying to make anyone’s head explode, I just really like both of those designs. And I don’t care much for the backs of the ’70 Topps, the yellow and blue backs. They seem garish to me. If I ever create a similar design, the colors will be changed or toned down some, maybe navy & tan instead of blue & yellow.

Nolan Ryan grew up about 15 miles away from me, and he is a hometown hero. I’ve actually net him twice over the years, and he comes across as a good ol’ country boy.

Nolan Ryan as a 1981 Houston Astro

The 1981 baseball season was a train wreck. Over two full months were lost due to a players strike. The NL West team with the most wins, Cincinnati, was not even in the playoffs. Neither was the NL East team with the best record, St. Louis. In the AL West, the Royals finished 4th with a losing record, yet made the playoffs. In the AL East, the Yankees finished in 3rd place and made the playoffs.

But 1981 was a big year for Nolan Ryan. He had finally come “home” to pitch for Houston the year before. He had also become the first million dollar per year player. He had reached 3,000 career strikeouts, then added his 5th no-hitter and his first ERA crown.

During his career Ryan pitched for all 4 of the original expansion teams: Mets, Astros (Colt 45s), Angels, and Rangers (Senators). Among the many records he holds is giving up the most grand slams during his career – 10 of them. Another is that over his entire 27 year career, opponents batted a measly .204 against him – the lowest in MLB history!

Bart Starr

From what I can tell, Bart’s father was an asshole. He wanted to make Bart “tough” so he was mean to him. Growing up in hardscrabble Alabama was bad enough, but having an overbearing dad made it worse.

At age 12, Bart’s younger brother Bubba cut his foot after stepping on a dog bone. Within 2 days he was dead of tetanus. Bart may have felt that his dad was partly responsible, for not taking Bubba to a doctor. For whatever reason, after Bubba died, Bart never felt close to his father.

Bart Starr the year he retired from playing football

A guy like Bart Starr would never get near a training camp in the NFL today. He spent most of his college career healing from back troubles, and presided over the worst season in Crimson Tide history, a 1-10 season in 1955. As it was, he barely got drafted. He was the 200th player picked, in the 17th round of the draft. It was Vince Lombardi who made Bart into a quarterback. Ironically, Lombardi was the same kind of tough guy that Bart’s dad had been. He didn’t listen to excuses.

This was the 3rd card I made in the Gold Star Series in 2009

Starr certainly didn’t have gaudy stats. He never threw more than 16 TD passes in a season. But he was able to win the big games, and will always be remembered for winning the first two Super Bowl games.

Frank Robinson

I was a Cincinnati Reds fan during the time I was growing up, and Frank Robinson was one of my favorite players. When I heard that the Reds had traded him to the Orioles for Milt Pappas, I was very upset.

Frank Robinson, Classic Series #7

But it got worse. Pappas didn’t exactly set the league on fire. He won 12 and lost 11 as the Reds fell from 89 wins in ’65 down to 7th place in ’66. Meanwhile, Frank was winning the Triple Crown at Baltimore. But wait, it gets even worser.

Four years later, Pappas was long gone from the Big Red Machine. But big Frank was still slugging his way into the Hall Of Fame, and the Reds faced the Orioles in the World Series. In that series, Frank scored 5 times in 5 games, slammed a pair of homers, and the Orioles crushed the Reds 4 games to 1. Ouch.

I printed this card in 2014 after reading an article about how Frank nearly drowned in a swimming pool at a team gathering near the end of the 1966 season. Someone playfully pushed him in, and he couldn’t swim. Rookie Davey Johnson and catcher Andy Etchebarren jumped in and saved him.

Robinson was an all-around athlete. If he had decided to play pro football or basketball, it is likely he would have become a star player in either sport.

Jack Dempsey

Here’s one of my favorite boxers, Jack Dempsey.

Jack Dempsey 20th Century Sports Heroes #61

I made this series of cards in 2010 after I found some really nice pasteboard stock with a manila back, the same pasteboard that was used to make the old Post cereal boxes. They are the only “blank back” cards I have ever made. I was tempted to put something on the backs, but it just didn’t seem right, so I left them in their natural state, like the original Post cards were.

In those days, you would cut the cards out of the box. The back of the box had 7 cards on it, taking up most of the back panel.

There were 3 problems with this method of distributing cards:

First, impatient kids would cut up the box before the cereal was eaten. So you’d have this box filled with cereal, with most of the back completely gone, sitting in the middle of the breakfast table. The cereal would fall out of the gaping wound, and mom would gripe about it.

Second, you’ve got kids playing with sharp objects to remove the cards from the box, and kids don’t cut straight. They are likely to cut themselves, maybe even opening up an artery. Even if they avoid injury, kids tend to do a poor job, especially when they are using a steak knife or pocketknife. All you have to do to see how this turns out is look at some of the miscut Post baseball cards on eBay.

Third, and of greater importance to the cereal company, you could look at the box and see which players were on it. So kids who accompanied mom to the grocery store would pull every single box off the shelf, looking for Mantle, Koufax, Maris, or Musial. Nobody wanted Hal Smith or Al Spangler. So the boxes with mostly “commons” piled up on supermarket shelves. Post had about 200 players in each series. They probably should have just picked a few dozen players, or two from each team.

I have to admit that I toyed with the idea of making a die-cut for these cards, to intentionally make it look like a hand cut card, the way most of these cards actually appear. I only gave up on that idea because I don’t like artificial “damage” to cards, and I felt like it was nearly the same thing.

Clemente & Mazeroski

I printed this card in 2009. In fact, I printed it three times. The first time, the image used for Mazeroski didn’t print the way I wanted it to, so I tossed the whole batch and tried again later. The second version was fine, except there was a typo. The word “native” was capitalized in the Clemente writeup. “Native Puerto Rico” should have been “native Puerto Rico”. Once more the whole batch had to go.

Roberto Clemente & Bill Mazeroski – Pastime Series #19

The third time, they finally came out the way I wanted them to.

1955 was a dreadful season for the Pirates. They finished dead last, in 8th place. It ended up being Clemente’s rookie season, and he had a decent year. The team looked a lot better on paper than they did on the field. They had some decent bats: Dick Groat, Dale Long, and Frank Thomas. They had some good arms: Vern Law, Bob Friend, and Roy Face. They had Branch Rickey as General Manager and Fred Haney as their field general. But they couldn’t win.

Maz would have to wait another year before he would be playing at Forbes Field. The Pirates were at the beginning of a slow climb that would take them to the World Championship in the 1960 World Series. It would be Mazeroski who would hit the walk-off homer that beat the Yanks in game 7.

Jim “Orator” O’Rourke

Monarch Corona Diamond Collection card #6

I made this card in 2009, at which time I printed 200 of them on an old AB Dick press, using a nice thick stock very similar to what was used by Fleer in their abbreviated 1963 set. A few of these were given away as print samples, and the rest were eventually sold online. That was quite awhile back. I have tried searching for one, but I guess they are all in the hands of private collectors, or sitting at the bottom of some kid’s toybox. I don’t reprint any of my cards, so if you have one of these, you might want to hold onto it.

O’Rourke really deserved to have a decent card made of him. He was one of the most colorful and influential men in baseball during his heyday.

The first officially recorded base hit in the history of professional baseball was made by Jim O’Rourke on April 22, 1876 while playing for the Boston Red Stockings of the brand new National League.

He was among the best hitters in baseball throughout his long career, and able to play any position well, including pitching. He also had outstanding success as a manager.

During the off-season, O’Rourke was an attorney, and he had a large and florid vocabulary in all of his occupations. In response to a request by shortstop Johnny Peters for a $10 pay advance, the “Orator” replied:
“The exigencies of the occasion and the present condition of our exchequer will not permit this. Subsequent developments in our finances could eclipse the present gloom, and we may speculate that upon some future occasion it might become feasible to reply in the affirmative to what is an exceedingly modest request.” Thus the nickname!

About the author

My name is Bob Miller, and I started off in the printing and publishing business as a journalist in the US Navy back in the late 1960s. But I made my first baseball card well before then. My brother and I had invented a baseball game that used dice and baseball cards. Our teams were made up of the players we had cards of – so we held a “draft” to create our teams.

My Dad, Tom Miller and I – during the 1970s.

At that time, neither of us had a Willie Mays card, and he was the best player in baseball. So I found a glossy color picture of Mays in a baseball magazine and glued it to a piece of cardboard salvaged from a cereal box. I put it in the family typewriter and typed something on the back, I’m sure it was mostly stats. Then I carefully trimmed it to a perfect 2.5 x 3.5 inches, and that evening Willie Mays started for me in center field!

After my service in the Navy, I worked for various newspapers as a writer, editor, art director, typesetter, and operated many different kinds of printing presses. In the early 1980s, I bought a used Multilith printing press and launched a sideline business in my garage called Miller Press Printing in Galveston, Texas. My dad and brother were early partners and investors in the business.

At that time, print jobs were sold using samples. You would show a prospective customer some samples of your work, so he could see what his job was going to look like and feel like. Without samples, you couldn’t sell printing services.

One day while printing a poster for a music event, I noticed that the size of the finished job was 11 x 14 inches. The cardstock I was using was a standard 11 x 17 inches, so there was an extra 3 x 11 inches that would be trimmed off and thrown in the trash. I hated to see that 3 inches go to waste, and realized there was just enough room to throw on a couple of baseball cards, which I could trim and use as print samples. That’s how I started making baseball cards as print samples. Over the past 35 years, I would estimate that I have created and printed over 1,000 different cards. It sounds like a lot, but it’s only about 2 cards each month. The best part of it is that this is cardboard rescued from the trash bin and turned into something beautiful – it’s a form of recycling. As a printer, I have always jokingly referred to myself as a “tree killer” because printing does in fact kill trees. So any time I can conserve a little, it gives me a little bit of consolation for my crimes against nature.

Eventually, I found myself publishing several community newspapers, which is a different kind of printing. The newspapers were successful, but the Miller Press side of the business never went beyond 3-4 employees. But the print samples were very popular. Later, I upgraded to an AB Dick press and started a new commercial printing business, which I named Monarch-Corona. The new press did beautiful work, and was much more efficient than the old Multilith dinosaur had been. We printed millions of flyers, postcards, posters, and sales materials over the years. The business became pretty successful, even though we never had a storefront, we just operated in a warehouse with a couple of outside sale people. We added Lone Star Printing and Vintage Litho as brand names. After running these businesses for a few years, I sold the company (except for one of the community newspapers) and retired. Later, after the new owners went broke, I bought it back from them. So now I own Monarch-Corona again, printing jobs for existing customers and local businesses. I charge a little more than most offset printers, but my work is usually flawless and of the highest quality. I am still mostly retired, and not trying to create a big company. Working one or two days a week and having two long-time employees is just fine with me. And I am still active as the publisher and owner of the local newspaper, the Seabreeze News.

I still hate to waste paper, especially good solid card stock. It is a needless killing of trees. So I still make up a card or two in the trim area whenever I can. I have a few rules that I abide by when making cards:

First, I never reprint any card I made in the past. I don’t make a variation either. That is what the big card makers call “parallel versions” in which they print the same exact card, but change the background color. They make fewer of certain colors to make them more valuable. I don’t agree with that. Suppose there were 100 different versions of the Mona Lisa, each slightly different. Would it increase the value? So I only make one printing of any given card, and that’s all. If a card comes off the press and has any defects, it goes into the trash. My guess is that close to half of them end up in the waste bin because of various problems. The ink, finish, centering, color, and content all must be right. Only 200 of each card are kept. It’s easy to keep track of, because 200 cards fit inside one size M-1 box. I keep one box, and that’s it. The most of any card I have printed is 300, the serial-numbered Fan Club series. The least is 50 of each card, the serial-numbered Heritage Series. But 99% of my cards are printed once, and only 200 are made. One of the most important factors in making a card valuable is scarcity, and 200 is extremely scarce.

Second, I do not make cards of current members of the Players Associations. They have an agreement in force with Topps, and making cards of those players is against the law. I know there are people making inkjet cards of these players, but they are still illegal. I make cards of vintage sports heroes. Now I know that in theory, Lou Gehrig’s estate is entitled to a share of the proceeds of any card using his likeness. With only 200 cards, their share might come out to less than $10. If they asked, I would be proud to pay them. I don’t think they care, as long as he is being respected and no one is making a ton of money on it.

Third, I use traditional offset printing and traditional ink. The cards I print will still be legible 1,000 years from now. The same cannot be said for cards printed using water-based ink. The digitally produced inkjet creations will blur and fade long before they can get old enough to have value. I don’t like soy-based inks either, they tend to eventually fade.

Naturally, it irritates me to hear my cards included in any discussion of ACEO cards and other “custom” cards made on a home computer and inkjet printer. Most of these are ugly, flimsy, and lack creativity. And because they aren’t made on a press, they are “print on demand” with an endless print run. That makes them worthless. I’ve seldom seen one with a professionally written back. The back of the card is important to me.

Fourth, I like to tell a compelling story with each card. My cards are set at a specific time in the player’s career, and written in the present-tense. Instead of saying “Ted led the American League in Batting Average in 1948” my card is dated 1948 and says “Ted is the top batter in the A.L. this year.” The present tense is always more interesting. There is a lot of difference between “the house WAS on fire” and “the house IS on fire!”

And finally, a good card is going to do no harm. No harm to the athlete, the sport, or the hobby. People who make unlicensed “rookie cards” of the current players every year are harming all three. They dilute the market and cause confusion. Baseball cards should do no harm.

I give away free cards to local benefit auctions, especially for Little League fundraisers. After the print samples have piled up for awhile, I turn them over to a grouchy old man, who sells them online and to a repackaging company in Austin (they make and sell packs), then pays me my share. It’s sometimes enough to pay for my bait and gas to go fishing!

Please don’t contact me about buying cards or finding them, I don’t fool with that part of it. I don’t care if these cards have any book values or if they are recognized by the “experts” in the hobby. I just enjoy making the very best cards I can – cards that people can look at and feel happy about. My goal is that the Monarch-Corona cards be everything a baseball card should be: Low quantity printed, beautiful design, well-written back, historically accurate, informative and interesting, printed professionally on the best stock, and made to last forever. Cards that meet those criteria are going to be worth something to somebody no matter what the experts say. Although I have never had a card graded and know little about the process, I was pleased to find out that the world’s largest authentication company, PSA, has accepted Monarch Corona cards for grading, and they are listed in the PSA registry. It took 50 years for them to accept the Berk Ross cards as legitimate, so Monarch-Corona is ahead of schedule.

Will MC ever “go big” and start mass producing our cards? No. They are print samples, and you just don’t need millions or even thousands of them. I like the idea that they are very scarce starting on day one. I like the idea that there are no parallel issues. This elevates the lowly baseball card into the realm of art. The best impact these cards have had is that the design team at Topps seems to be “borrowing” ideas from them, and thus making some better cards. This is a good thing. When Topps makes better cards, the hobby as a whole benefits.

The supreme test of a sports card is whether or not it has any appeal to the young fans out there. This is a product that was first created for kids, and the ideal card is going to be liked by youngsters who develop an interest in the rich history of baseball.

I am going to try to add a new post to this site as often as I can get around to it. I hope you enjoy seeing these cards.