Sy Berger’s Baseball Cards


Continuing with spring cleaning this weekend, I came across a book on Jews not named Hank Greenberg or Sandy Koufax who impacted baseball in America.  From the hobbyist’s perspective, front and center was Sy Berger – father of the modern day baseball card.  Here is Sy depicted on a 1951 style card, the year before everything changed in that domain thanks to his influence.

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Sy was a bright guy who graduated at the top of his class at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx and went on to Bucknell University.  There he became friends with fraternity brother Joel Shorin, whose father was Phil Shorin. The four Shorin brothers took over their father Morris’ business, the American Leaf Tobacco Company. In 1938, the brothers branched into the gum business and renamed their company Topps.

In 1952, along with Woody Gelman, Sy designed what would become the prototype of the modern baseball card, sized at roughly 2 5/8 x 3 3/4 inches, with fully designed fronts that included an artists rendition of the player, a facsimile signature, and the team’s logo.

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Berger designed the 1953 card set and was instrumental in arranging for the painting of players.  In an interview with Sports Collector’s Digest 2007 he noted: “We had a guy doing those paintings a mile a minute.  A little off-the-wall guy named Moishe.”  Moishe was the artist Maurice Blumenthal, whose talent complemented Berger’s vision of the card design.  Now to the front he added the player’s position, and on the reverse side was the player’s height, weight, bats, throws, birthplace, birthday, stats and a short biography – a basic design is still in use today

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Sy would make subtle changes to the cards each baseball season.  For card enthusiasts it was the equivalent of new car designs unveiled for each model year.  In 1954 the team logo was moved from the bottom to the top, with a small action photo complementing the drawing.  In 1955 the front layout went horizontal instead of vertical.  In 1956 the action shot became as prominent as Moishe’s artistic rendition of the player, and in 1957 Moishe’s renditions were abandoned in favor of an action photo shot during spring training, and team cards were issued for the first time.

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The Jewish Baseball Card Book features a bio on each player, many of whom were nondescript.  Included for example is Andy Cohen, whose claim to fame was serving as the Phillies manager after Eddie Sawyer resigned on the first day of the season in 1960, and before Gene Mauch arrived for the third game to take over.


Cohen has of course now been displaced in Phillies Jewish managerial folklore by Gabe Kapler, former star of the 2005 Tokyo Yomiuri Giants.


And to top off the book’s collection of esoterica about Jews in baseball in America, you can’t do much better than the “Bais Dien” of Jewish umpires: Steamboat Johnson, Dolly Stark, and Al Clark.



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Stephen King and Spring Cleaning

It’s coming on ten years since I blogged about discovering Stephen King’s love of baseball in a quietly celebrated supplement to the San Francisco Panorama (McSweeney’s Issue 33).  While spring cleaning this morning, in preparation for vacating our North Jersey apartment in favor of The Shore, I came across the special section that King wrote titled “Stephen King on the Worlds Series 2009”.


Space precludes supplying you with the entire text, but in an excerpt King writes: “It isn’t that I love the Phils, a tough and hard-nosed team in the Yankee mold who happen to be the defending World Champs, it’s just that I have this … thing about the Yankees. All lifelong Red Sox fans do.”

And from the original section still in my possession (although who knows how much longer), King’s Postgame conclusion (November 5):

“I’m a lot less mad now than when I was when I started this story; I think just getting away from the intersection of Greed and Stupid has done a lot to restore my equanimity.  Mostly, though, it’s been a matter of watching closely, really attending to the games, and seeing that the men on the field are playing the game in the old way, honoring the traditions and giving up their bodies … The team I was rooting for [the Phillies] lost, but they played hard, they respected the game, and it’s not their fault if the guys in the suits have slapped Major League Baseball on a lunchbox and sold it, sold it, sold it.

Would I change things if I could?  Yeah … I know what you’re going to say: agents … the Players’ Union … natural evolution of the game … blah blah blah … stop sounding like a crotchety old man reaming for the good old days, Steve.  You’re absolutely right … and you’re absolutely wrong.

Because I do long for the good old days, and I believe I am not entirely wrong to do so … But hey.  Not all of my malaise this morning comes from the artificial hoopla that now surrounds the game; some of it’s just the melancholy of impending winter, when most sports take place indoors and all are played against a clock.  Still, spring gaining always comes around.  If I’m lucky, I’ll still be here to see it … more rookies and phenoms … another season … another World Series.  Like the old outlaw in The Wild Bunch says, It ain’t like it used to be, but it’s still pretty good.”

For your viewing pleasure, here are the accompanying drawings from artist Eric March.  My only regret?  That McSweeney’s didn’t commission King and March to cover the 2008 World Series in which the Phils emerged as, in the immortal words of Chase Utley, World Effin Champions.  But, in King’s words, the 2009 Series was still pretty good.










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A Jersey Shore Passover Pilgrimage

Enjoyed the scene at the Jersey Shore the past few days, with the assemblage of Chasidim of all stripes populating the boardwalk for their annual Chol Hamoed Pesach tradition.  It was quite the mixed crowd!

The beautiful spring weather yesterday was particularly enticing to a special subset of holy rollers (in the fondest literal sense).


The mid-70s temperature was even conducive to contemplation in the ocean (perhaps a variant of “tashlich”).


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Opening Day Photos

These photos courtesy of Steve Potter and Phillies – A Fan’s View (the corny commentary of course being mine).

McCutchen touchin’ ’em all with a leadoff home run.

Cutch Leadoff HR

Franco doing damage from the number 8 spot.

Franco Wave

Franco HR

The Phanatic calculating exit velocity of Rhys Hoskins’ big grand slam.

Phanatic Knows

The new Bash Brothers celebrating at home plate after the Rhys Slam.

Bash Brothers

Curtain call from the Phans!

Curtain Call

The Bryce is Right in right field.

Bryce's Booze in RF

Post-game high fives flying all around.

Post Game High Fives

Tim Hawk over at has some nice opening day photos as well.

And what better cherry on top that these pre-game thoughts from opening day starter Aaron Nola?

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March Mini-Sabbatical Flies By Again!









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Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay …









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Sunset on Clearwater Beach

On a rainy day like today it’s always a bonus when the sky clears sufficiently to permit a magnificent sun setting to backlight the blanket of clouds.











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