A wise man once said, “Life is more worthwhile when you can be passionate about something trivial”. Certainly each of you who plays Fantasy Baseball understands that quote and so do those of us who collect baseball cards. A number of years ago, a vivid reminder of this thought process came to me in the form of an old binder.
In my community, we’re fortunate to have an extremely active sports interest group. The dedicated gentleman who organizes our activities is a retired teacher from the Bronx and when it comes to convincing sports figures to visit and speak to our group, he is what I would describe as a “bulldog”. Once he makes a contact with someone, they will be hounded until they understand clearly that the only respite from his pressure will be to show up at one of our meetings. This methodology has given us the privilege of having up close and personal connections with Hall of Famers like Fergie Jenkins & Roland Hemond as well as stars such as Josh Hamilton & Matt Williams. And, yes, I’ve even been “convinced” to create presentations on Baseball Card Collecting, Ted Williams & Autograph Collecting for our group.
About seven years ago, a member showed up at one of our meetings with a small binder and sought me out prior to the speaker being introduced. He had found out that I was a baseball card collector and memorabilia “expert”, so he brought something to share with me. In the plastic pages of this non-descript three-ring folder was a complete, 252-card set of 1950 Bowman baseball cards in beautiful condition. Honestly, the experience of looking at this rare set was incredible. Because the cards have no lettering on the front, the real fun is to look at the great pictures and try to see how many of the players you can recognize. The real privilege, however, is to hear the story from the collector. In 1950, he had a paper route and every week when he got paid, he would go to the store and buy packs of cards. Yes, these cards are his from over 65 years ago! This would be like someone pulling into your driveway in a 1950 Cadillac Series 61 Coupe that has only 10,000 miles on the odometer. Even if you don’t know that much about cards, think about the fact that this set came out two years before Topps was even in business!
To understand the significance of the ’50 Bowman set in terms of baseball history, here’s a Fantasy team you could field from the players represented in the set…
1B – Gil Hodges
3B – George Kell
1/3 – Johnny Mize
2B – Jackie Robinson
SS – Phil Rizzuto
2/S – Pee Wee Reese
C – Yogi Berra
C – Roy Campanella
OF – Ted Williams
OF – Duke Snider
OF – Larry Doby
OF – Ralph Kiner
OF – Richie Ashburn
DH – Ted Kluszewski
SP – Bob Feller
SP – Robin Roberts
SP – Bob Lemon
SP – Early Wynn
SP – Warren Spahn
RP – Jim Konstanty
RP – Mickey Harris
Konstanty & Harris were the 1950 league leaders in saves with 22 & 16 respectively.
This leads into one of those discussions where everyone has an opinion. Ask a baseball fan to name the all-time Outfield and they might list Ted Williams in LF, Willie Mays in CF and Babe Ruth in RF…leaving Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron & Roberto Clemente on the bench. That still leaves two more spots on a top ten list. Who would you choose? Stan Musial, Duke Snider, Pete Rose, Tony Gwynn, Ken Griffey Jr. or ??? Not an easy choice, but a fun exercise.
Top tens are great for card collectors also. Your list might include your favorite player or the most expensive card, but everyone’s choices will be different. In honor of the ’50 Bowman set, we’ll start with that decade when the era of modern card collecting essentially began. Here’s the top ten of this baseball fan…
1) 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle (#311) – While technically not his rookie card, the ’52 Topps issue really set the stage for the next 65 years of card collecting. With Joe DiMaggio retiring after the ’51 season, Mantle became the face of baseball’s most storied franchise.
2) 1954 Bowman Ted Williams (#66) – The greatest hitter ever on a beautiful card would be enough, but scarcity is the key to this gem. Williams signed an exclusive contract with Topps in ’54 and threatened to sue Bowman when they issued this card without his permission. Bowman pulled the card from production and replaced it with one of Red Sox Outfielder Jim Piersall, so only a small amount of the Williams cards were issued.
3) 1950 Bowman Jackie Robinson (#22) – The most valuable card in this set, it pictures the man who changed the face of baseball forever.
4) 1954 Topps Hank Aaron (#128) – The only recognized rookie card of “Hammering Hank’, the set features a double photo of the player on the front of the card.
5) 1951 Bowman Willie Mays (#305) – The rookie card of the “Say Hey Kid” and arguably the best all-around player in history, it has about the same value as his first Topps card in the iconic ’52 set.
6) 1956 Topps Mickey Mantle (#135) – Many collectors feel that the ’56 set was the most attractive ever and Mantle’s card embodies the set…it was his Triple Crown season.
7) 1955 Topps Roberto Clemente (#164) – The rookie card of the Latin legend was from the first Topps set to be presented in a horizontal format.
8) 1953 Topps Willie Mays (#244) – This classic set features drawings of the players (as opposed to actual photographs) and is unique in its visual appeal.
9) 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax (#123) – The other key rookie card from the ’55 set shows the Hall-of-Famer at age 19 and represents the only Pitcher on our list.
10) 1954 Topps Ted Williams (#’s 1 & 250) – To understand the stature of “Teddy Ballgame”, once Topps finally got him under contract, they made his cards both the first and last in the set.
Did I miss your favorite? Al Kaline & Ernie Banks rookie cards from ’54 Topps? Mantle’s rookie card from ’51 Bowman? Eddie Mathews rookie card from ’52 Topps? All good choices…who is in your top ten?