Even baseball fans without an interest in the hobby of card collecting have some knowledge of the famous 1952 Topps set. It was the product that created the modern era of baseball cards and includes the incredibly valuable “holy grail” card of Mickey Mantle. Just a few weeks ago, one of these in poor condition (graded 1 on a scale of 1-to-10) sold for $8,500 on eBay. One graded 2.5 sold a few weeks earlier for $25,000!
What the casual observer doesn’t know is that the Bowman company started producing baseball card sets in 1948 and were the only ones in the marketplace through 1951. Usually comprised of 250-300 cards, they were small and not very aesthetically pleasing. When Topps hit the market in ’52 with larger sized cards, great color photos and a set numbering over 400 players, Bowman was forced to take notice.
In 1953, Bowman produced a set of baseball cards that holds a special place in the history of the hobby. While it included only 160 cards, the format was unprecedented with beautiful color photography offering detail never before seen. Some of the great stars of the day are missing as Jackie Robinson & Willie Mays were under exclusive contracts to Topps and Ted Williams was flying fighter jets in Korea. The set did include Mantle, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese and had a total of 20+ Hall of Fame members. In addition, Bowman pioneered the idea of having some cards with multiple players, which later became a staple of the Topps sets in the ’50’s. Card #44 in the ’53 set shows Yankee teammates Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra & Mickey Mantle during a casual moment in the dugout. This classic has become one of the most valuable pieces of cardboard in the set and books for $300 in decent (EX 5) condition. There’s also a “combo” card of Phil Rizzuto & Billy Martin, the double-play team of the Bronx Bombers.
Looking through vintage baseball cards brings back a torrent of memories for baseball fans of my generation. Just about every modern set gives you a head start on player recognition by having the name, team affiliation, facsimile signature or other designation on the card. The 1953 Bowman Color set is the exception to that rule. The fronts of the cards have beautiful full-color player photographs and nothing else. This is the one baseball card set that can test the knowledge of every fan who thinks they fall into the expert category.
A great challenge is to go through this iconic set and without looking at the back of the cards, attempt to identify as many players as possible. Of course, recognizing Roy Campanella, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn or Bob Feller might be easy. But what about Gerry Staley, Gil Coan, Jim Wilson or Lou Krelow?
Here’s how you can participate in this little contest. Today’s article includes a photo showing eight (8) random cards from the set. None of these players are stars but they’re also not obscure “cup of coffee” players either. In fact, if you’re of a certain age, you will certainly recognize all eight names once they’re disclosed. There’s a couple of Infielders, a couple of Outfielders, at least one Catcher and a few Pitchers. Want to take a shot? Remember, no cheating!
Feel free to send back some guesses via e-mail and I’ll also post the answers on Monday.