The woman who loved baseball cards

Renata Galasso created a special treat for Seattle Pilots fans

1983 Renata Galasso Inc. #2

nce there was a young woman who loved baseball cards. She loved them so much she began to make her own.

The young woman bought individual packs and designed from them specific sets — stars of the 1950s, then ’30s, then ’20s, then ’10s. A set commemorating the first All-Star Game, in 1933. A set honoring superstar players for a variety of accomplishments. At first it was a way to pay for college. But by the mid-1970s Renata Galasso was billing herself as the “World’s Largest Hobby Card Dealer” and had a storefront in Brooklyn. Though she printed a few cards in partnership with Topps, most were original creations, sold via mail order in the pre-Internet age.

Galasso stopped making sets in the mid-1980s, and shuttered her mail order business sometime in the ’90s. Then she vanished. No one seems to know where she is. It’s impossible to find a reputable picture of her online. But in 1983, shortly before she quit designing cards, Renata felt compelled for some reason to produce a 43-card set of the original Seattle Pilots team. I have no idea why. All I can say is “Thank you!”

The Pilots played one season in Seattle, 1969, went to Arizona for spring training, and never returned. I was 7 years old, my first year of Little League, and of a dawning awareness of professional sports. It was the first season we bought and traded baseball cards — meaning we bought and traded Topps baseball cards. If there were any other choices, they weren’t sold in 5-cent packs at our local Rexall Drugs. I loved those ’69 cards, with the player’s name in a circle in one of the top corners and the team name bannered at the bottom. In hindsight, however, it’s an emotional attachment. Aesthetically, the 1969 issue is not one of Topps’ better sets. Action photos on cards were still a few years away, but the ’69 card fronts are especially mundane. Many look like they were snapped hurriedly during spring training or pulled from a file. Several players aren’t wearing their team jersey or cap (or any cap at all). The shots focus so tightly on the head and shoulders there is often just sky in the background. They could have been taken at spring training, or Yankee Stadium, or in the player’s backyard.

So at age 7 I loved Topps cards because they were all I knew. As I grew up I continued to love the ’69 cards because they reminded me of childhood and were the only year of Pilots cards (1970 doesn’t count. The ’70 cards were issued before the team moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers, plus they were ugly, with gray borders and blurry photos). So it was plain and simple. If you wanted Pilots cards, it was ’69 Topps or bust. Until Galasso came along.

er “new” set, like Topps, also features non-action photos, some sharper than others. But in all of her pictures the subjects are wearing Pilots uniforms, replete with caps. Some players are holding bats. A couple of pitchers are completing their follow through. The pictures are posed, but at least they are posed in front of stands, on a baseball field. I’d guess they were taken during the second spring training, after which the team moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers.

Photo technology wasn’t great, and Galasso had limited selection; still, these shots cull a feel for the team that the Topps cards just don’t capture: the captain-style caps, the red ship-wheel logo with gold wings, the baby blue road unis with “Seattle” in yellow letters, the card borders in Pilot yellow and blue. Galasso even tracked down most of the players for insert autograph cards. I’m not sure there’s an auto in every set, but the one I bought on eBay has an autographed Jim Bouton. Sweet!

It’s the back of the cards, though, that make Galasso’s set so delightful. Each card features a paragraph summarizing the player’s career before, during, and after his stint with the Pilots. The only statistics are numbers with Seattle in the ’69 season. Did Galasso write these summaries herself? Did she employ stringers? It’s modern mystery theater. But the touch of hindsight adds a neat bow to each Pilot’s story, like the end of a movie when credits update what happened to each character later in life.

And man, did the Pilots have some rich tales to tell!

· There’s Charlie Bates, a pitcher whose MLB career consisted of one game. He had three strikeouts and three walks in 1 2/3 innings, posting a 27.00 ERA.

· There’s Ray Oyler, the Pilots’ starting shortstop, who hit .165 in ’69 and holds the MLB record for lowest batting average of any position player with at least 1,000 at-bats (.175).

· There’s Merritt Ranew, a catcher who at the time was the only player to have played on two different expansion teams in their inaugural seasons. Ranew began his career in 1962 with Houston Colt 45’s, and ended it in Seattle with the Pilots.

· There’s Federico Velazquez, a rookie catcher who appeared in six games for Seattle, then didn’t reach the Majors again until 1973, when he batted .348 in 16 games for the Atlanta Braves before hanging up his spikes at age 35.

· There’s Mike Marshall, a pitcher who went 3–10 for the Pilots but would win the 1974 Cy Young Award with the Dodgers.

· There’s knuckleballer Jim Bouton, who was traded to Houston midway through the season and later became famous for his controversial book “Ball Four,” which centered on his time with the Pilots.

· There’s Diego Segui, who went 12–6 in 1969 and also had 12 saves, giving him a hand in 24 of the team’s 64 victories. In 1976, Segui would be the opening-day pitcher for the Seattle Mariners’ inaugural season.

· There’s 69-year-old coach Frank Crosetti, an ex-Yankee shortstop and coach who wanted to stay in the game while being closer to his family on the West Coast.

· And there’s manager Joe Schultz. A reserve catcher who hit .259, Schultz was famous for telling his pitchers, during mound conferences, to hurry up and finish off the other team so they could go “pound some Budweisers.” Schultz later coached under Billy Martin with the Tigers.

On it goes. It would make a fine documentary.

ost of the Pilots were at the tail end of their careers, or the front end of careers that failed to launch. The majority of players lasted just two or three seasons after leaving Seattle. An exception was Marty Pattin. Pattin came up as pitcher with the California Angels in 1968, then was taken by Seattle in the expansion draft. After a 7–12 year with the Pilots, Pattin moved with the franchise to Milwaukee, was traded to the Red Sox, then wound up a key member of the Royals’ staff from 1974–80. He pitched from the time I was in second grade all the way through high school — the longest post-Seattle career of any original Pilot.

Such perspective sets Galasso’s work apart. There are Topps ’69 Pilot team sets available online. They can run into the hundreds of dollars, but they are the genuine, “front-line” cards of the time, and they have value. There were only so many produced, and of those only so many still exist in salable condition. Now I love the Pilots, and I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Topps ’69 cards. Galasso’s set, though, bridges the gap between scarcity and affordability. I got mine for about $25; they’re selling on eBay for less than $50. Created just 14 years after the Pilots disbanded, the set provides a fingertip snapshot of a team and a time and a place, persevered for posterity on cardboard squares.

Where is Renata Galasso now? She’s not a young woman anymore. Does she still love baseball cards? Is she secretly making new ones? It’s an intriguing story, waiting to be told. Maybe one day it will be. Until then Galasso’s cards remain as testament of her fierce dedication to the hobby. I don’t know what inspired her to create this set, but speaking for Pilots fans everywhere: Thank you!

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