I'm sure the few of you that read my ramblings have noticed that my interests typically lean toward the less-than-mainstream. In this particular instance, however, it is rather surprising just how far outside the mainstream this subject happens to be. Mexico has consistently had professional baseball since 1925, when La Liga Mexicana de Beisbol (LMB) was organized. And since that time, it has had significant interactions with the sport north of the Rio Grande, at various times serving as a source for talent, an alternative to the Major Leagues, another venue for players of color to ply their trade during the days of racial segregation, a supplement to the minor league system, a place to play ball in winter (in La Liga Mexicana del Pacifico, LMP or the Mexican Pacific League) and a place for aging Latin stars (and in some cases, blackballed Americans) to finish up their careers.
So with all that history, I was somewhat surprised to learn that there has never really been any tradition of baseball card collecting in Mexico, especially not to the extent found in Venezuela, Cuba or Puerto Rico, much less the United States. What is even more unusual about the lack of an established baseball card hobby is that the country is buried in cards and stickers for futbol (soccer for us gringos) and all manner of non-sports subjects, and has been for decades.
A bit of vocabulary is in order. In Mexico, trading cards are usually called "tarjetas". Stickers (regardless of the presence of adhesive) are usually referred to as stamps and called "estampas" or "estampitas". Baseball is béisbol, just a transliteration into a spelling more palatable to Spanish speakers. Ball is pelota. Ballplayers are peloteros, or sometimes "béisbolistas".
Before I go any further, let me just be clear that this post owes almost everything to the Mexican Super Collector, Arturo Arellano, whose collection of Mexican baseball cards and memorabilia was recogized by Beckett in their Super Collector Issue from September 2011 (with Josh Hamilton on the cover). You can see the Beckett profile here. It is from Arturo that most of this information and most of the images originate.
While Mexican baseball cards may be a rarity, they do have a long history. In recent years, a tremendous find was made of an album of Mexican baseball cards/stamps dating to 1945, and including several popular Negro League stars such as Ray Dandridge, Cool Papa Bell and Josh Gibson. But despite the occasional sets, it seems there has never been any manner of widely distributed, LMB affiliated set that has lasted more than a single year. Even Cuba consistently had cards and stamps issued from the early 1940s to late 1950s. The hobby, such as it exists in Mexico, is plagued by sets issued by teams and available only at the stadiums, or promotions by national brands that are only available regionally and with little advertising. If not for the Internet and message forums like forolm, sets such as I mention below would go largely unknown, even in their country of origin.
As the information contained here is essentially ALL I know about Mexican baseball cards and the state of the hobby in Mexico, don't set your expectations too high. And given that my collecting preferences tend toward modern cards, this will cover strictly sets issued after 1970.
this earlier post when I first learned of the set. I'm hoping to have more of these in the not-too-distant future, to expand on the known checklist.
Washington-based Pacific Trading Cards took a stab at the Spanish-speaking market in 1993, issuing a set of Spanish language cards of Major Leaguers. However, despite their target market, I've not been able to find any evidence of popularity in Mexico, assuming they were even available there. I do remember seeing them at the flea market outside the gate at Ft. Campbell, KY, when I was living there. They didn't sell all that well there, either. Basically using the exact same design as all of their 1992 sets (NFL, Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver), but with the text in Spanish, they weren't bad, but they clearly missed their intended audience.
In 1994, Topps would give it a go, issuing a parallel of their 1994 base series with Spanish language backs. Donruss would eventually make the effort as well, issuing Spanish language cards of Major League players from 2002-2005. It's just a pity that none of these American companies bothered to try a set of Mexican players from Mexican leagues to sell to baseball fans IN Mexico.
The entire set can be seen here. The set includes yet another international stop for Tim Raines, Jr. Vinny Castilla, Benny Agbayani and Nick Punto are the only other names that really stand out (at least to me).
In 2005, LMB welcomed a new president and a new marketing partner. Part of that marketing push was a brand new set of baseball cards, issued in foil packs. Unfortunately, these cards are unnumbered (set-wise anyway, they all display the players uniform numbers), making them difficult to checklist. This was probably only the second, traditional, multi-team set of baseball cards to be issued in Mexico. Examples of the cards and pack wrappers can be found here. Arturo has a few different cards, as well as several signed if you check out his site.
And this year, a limited release set was produced in Saltillo, Coahuila, sponsored by Tyson, to commemorate the 2011 LMB All-Star Game, which was held there. Arturo, who told me about this set, naturally has already had most of the set autographed. And just today, I found that the Acereros de Monclova have issued their own stamp album covering their history from 1974-2011 and are advertising it on their Facebook page. 22 December 2011 update-- Arturo now has the Monclova sticker set in-hand and has photographed the entire album. It can be seen in his photobucket here.
With all of those seemingly random efforts in the baseball arena, it is absolutely astonishing that Panini has never produced a set of baseball stickers in Mexico (though perhaps the 1998 Panini sticker set was issued in Mexico, and not just Venezuela as previously suspected). That one company could virtually launch the entire baseball card hobby in Mexico, as they are the only company that seems to have a truly national reach and the well established brand to carry it out. Perhaps an email campaign to both the league offices and to Panini by Mexican collectors and baseball fans could reveal an interest and a market that has thus far been almost completely unexploited.
To the extent that I have been able, I have added the checklists for all of the sets mentioned in this post to the Inventory Manager system at SportsCardForum.com. Any additional information about these sets, or any other sets not mentioned here, would be welcome!