I'm trying to complete the 1961 Fleer Baseball Greats set. It's not too challenging, though it's taken me at least five years through casual accumulation. And I'm still eight cards short. But as I look over the checklist, a few things come to mind. First, who are all these players? I know who Frank Chance is, and Roger Peckinpaugh; but General Crowder? Joe Kuhel? Joe Hauser? Where'd they find these guys? Also, with 154 slots, Fleer didn't seem to have room for Joe DiMaggio, which is a travesty.
With DiMaggio's omission in mind, this set raises a boatload of questions, starting with the obvious: If you had 154 cards to showcase some of the game's greatest, um, greats, who would you include? Would you go for the obvious all-stars? The crowd favorites? How about the overachieving utility men and one-hit wonders? And perhaps just as importantly, who wouldn't make the cut?
As an exercise, I tried my hand at updating this set's checklist for players who were either active when this set came out, were active after this set was made (including players currently active), and two glaring omissions from the original checklist. As the parameter for making the cut for the new set, the new Great and the old Great had to have something in common, either an award shared by the two, similar statistics (or career WAR), or some other shared feat. I did all of my research on Baseball-Reference.com. I chose not to include Negro Leagues stars; that's a different checklist exercise (perhaps the next one I'll undertake).
Here's what I found. Most of the players chosen by Fleer in 1961 as "baseball greats" from the first 75 years of the game were just that. But some of them were not; they were average players. And when you see who their post-war or modern-day counterparts are, it's sort of depressing (Ray Mueller, meet Pat Borders).
To liven up the exercise, I've made new custom card fronts for the updated checklist, and paired them with their original counterparts. I've also tried to use older photos of the players, as many of the photos used in the original set were either from the end of the players' careers or from old-timers days. Only a handful of cards feature photos from the players' hey days (and those are generally for the turn-of-the-century players).
I'm going to refrain from posting the paired checklists for the time being, but I'll share with you a few all-time greats that didn't fit: Mike Schmidt, Henry Aaron, Mike Piazza, Ed Mathews, Billy Williams, Reggie Jackson, Mariano Rivera, Ryne Sandberg, Jim Rice. The list goes on. But the truth of the matter is that there weren't spots for them in the updated checklist because they didn't pair up well enough with one of the original players. The original checklist had its flaws; I made sure that the updated checklist would be flawed in the same ways.
So let's get started. I'm going to skip the checklist on card number one for now. Card number two is Grover Cleveland "Pete" Alexander. I'm pairing him with Tom Seaver. Both are among the top five greatest pitchers of their respective eras.