Those of you under the age of 60 can’t possibly imagine the impact that Television had on America in the 1950’s. It changed our personal habits as well as the way business advertised their products, the movie industry (3D is nothing new) and how we viewed the world.
The Bowman Gum Company first issued baseball cards in 1948 and was the dominant player in the marketplace for a number of years, producing some of the most beautiful collectibles ever conceived. However, once Topps entered the fray in 1952, Bowman found the competitive environment changing dramatically. In the early 50’s, the two companies battled over player rights and court battles occurred between the two companies on a regular basis. In 1955, Bowman decided to capitalize on the cultural craze and issued their 320-card set with each player pictured on the screen of a color TV set. Looking back today, it was probably the death knell of the company. Compared to the products Bowman had issued in the past like the iconic 1953 “Color’ set, this was the ugly step-sister. While some collectors think the cards are attractive in a campy sort of way, others feel that the word “ugly” doesn’t even begin to describe the look. Whether you believe the cards didn’t market well due to the appearance or that Bowman just couldn’t survive the competition, the result was that Topps bought out the company in January of 1956 and the “TV” cards were their last product.
Of course, 50+ years later, the look doesn’t matter as much as the legendary players in the set and the scarcity of finding the cards in nice condition. A complete set of ’55 Bowman cards in near mint (NM 7) condition would be worth over $13,000 today. There are 24 Hall of Famers in this issue and, as with any baseball card set, every card has a unique story to tell. Let’s reminisce about some of those stories.
> #1 Hoyt Wilhelm, Giants P ($100) – This master of the knuckleball pitched in 1,070 games
> #4 Eddie Waitkus, Orioles 1B ($25) – The back of his card tells the story of how this obscure player was shot in the chest by a deranged female fan in June of 1949. He amazingly recovered well enough to play every game at 1B for the pennant-winning Phillies in 1950. In 1952, author Bernard Malamud fictionalized the story in his novel, “The Natural”…you may have seen the movie version with Robert Redford
> #10 Phil Rizzuto, Yankees SS ($90) – The “Scooter” was ending his career at age 37 and had hit only .195 in ’54
> #22 Roy Campanella, Dodgers C ($125) – “Campy” would earn his 3rd NL MVP award in ’55
> #23 Al Kaline, Tigers OF ($115) – The legendary Bengal was just beginning his HOF career
> #33 Nellie Fox, White Sox 2B ($75) – One of the most consistent players of the era, he was an All-Star selection every year from 1951-1961
> #40 Vic Wertz, Indians 1B ($25) – The player who will always be remembered for hitting the ball when Willie Mays made “The Catch” in the ’54 World Series
> #59 Whitey Ford, Yankees P ($125) – Went 18-7 in ’55 with a 2.63 ERA and 18 complete games
> #65 Don Zimmer, Dodgers SS ($65) – This is the rookie card of one of the most legendary baseball characters in the game
> #89 Lou Boudreau, Athletics Manager ($55) – With all the current managers employing defensive adjustments, we’re reminded that as a Player-Manager in the 40’s, he invented the infield “Shift” against Ted Williams
> #97 Johnny Podres, Dodgers P ($60) – The Worlds Series hero of ’55 who pitched a shutout in Game 7 versus the Yankees to give Brooklyn their first title
> #102 Bobby Thomson, Braves OF ($35) – Hit the “Shot Heard Round The World” for the Giants in the 1951 Playoff against the Dodgers
> #103 Eddie Mathews, Braves 3B ($100) – This Hall of Famer had just recently been the cover boy for the first issue of Sports Illustrated Magazine
> #134 Bob Feller, Indians P ($100) – Most modern baseball fans don’t realize that “Rapid Robert” lost four years to military service in the prime of his career and still won 266 games
> #168 Yogi Berra, Yankees C ($140) – Won back-to-back AL MVP awards in ’54 & ’55 and was just learning to take the fork in the road
> #179 Hank Aaron, Braves OF ($350) – Hit 13 HR’s in his rookie year of ’54 and would more than double that in ’55 on his way to 755
> #184 Willie Mays, Giants OF ($350) – The “Say Hey Kid” was coming off his MVP season in ’54 when he put up 41 HR’s, 110 RBI’s and a .345 BA
> #202 Mickey Mantle, Yankees OF ($1,400) – Already a three-time All-Star, he would post his first of eight campaigns with a 1000+ OPS in ’55
> #242 Ernie Banks, Cubs SS ($450) – After a rookie season of 19 HR’s in ’54, “Mr. Cub” would hit 44 dingers in ’55 and establish himself as one of the greats of the era
> #303 Jocko Conlon, Umpire ($110) – Interestingly, Bowman included umpires in the set and he was one of four to make the Hall of Fame – the others were Al Barlick, Nestor Chylak & Cal Hubbard
> Many other outstanding players had their rookie cards in this set including Elston Howard ($95) and Charlie Neal ($80)
> Two of the greatest players in the history of the game are not in this set. Ted Williams signed an exclusive contract with Topps in ’54 and Stan Musial’s agreement with Bowman had expired and he didn’t sign with Topps until ’58
At this year’s National Sports Collectors Convention, the 1955 Bowman set was a hot topic of conversation. A dealer had acquired an unopened 20-card cello pack and sold spots to collectors who were hoping to get one of the HOF players on a card in “never been touched” condition. As the pack was opened and the cards slowly revealed one-by-one, some gems emerged including Junior Gilliam and Ernie Banks. Then, the 19th card was shown and the crowd roared with excitement. It was indeed the Mickey Mantle card in beautiful condition. The card was immediately taken to the booth of card-grading company PSA and they verified that it was in “MINT 9” condition…an unheard of find. According to people at the show, the new owner was offered as much as $50,000 for the card!
A friend of mine participated in the drawing and received a Yankee card that wasn’t Mantle. Card #100 is Pitcher Tom Morgan and it too was graded out as a “MINT 9”. With this type of card, no “book” value is valid. There have only been two other 9’s ever found and neither has been on the market in recent memory. Wonder what it will bring?