Stan The Card Man

When friends have the opportunity to view my autograph collection, they invariably ask which players were the nicest and which were the most difficult. Interestingly, some of the best were also the nicest and I always recall the wonderful experience of meeting Stan Musial. So, as this humble blog continues to add new readers, I wanted to share with you a column from 7+ years ago that I penned at the time of Stan’s passing. The baseball card values have been updated.

As we reflect on the life of Stan Musial, the impact of his personality becomes obvious. Quotes such as, “People loved him and he loved them right back” and “Where is the single person to truthfully say a bad word about him” certainly tell the story of how he impacted players and fans. As for his career, anyone who doesn’t think he was one of the five best players of all time needs to book an appointment with a Proctologist to get some assistance finding their head.

There has been much speculation as to why “Stan The Man” was consistently underrated and under-appreciated. As Bob Costas pointed out during the funeral, Musial lacked that singular achievement like DiMaggio’s hitting streak, Williams’ .406 season, Mays’ catch in ’54 and Mantle’s World Series HR’s during the Yankee dynasty. In addition to that, it probably can be attributed to geography. Until 1958, St. Louis was the western-most city in the Major Leagues and by then, Stan was 37 years old. He didn’t have the media hype that surrounded players in New York and other cities. In addition, he never did or said anything controversial and was never once thrown out of any of the 3,000+ games he played.

Adding to all of this, there may be another slightly hidden factor. During his prime, Stan Musial was very seldom found on a baseball card. In the 50’s, before satellite / cable TV and the Internet, boys learned everything they knew about baseball players from the back of Topps baseball cards. For a nickel, they could buy a pack of five cards (with a stick of bubble gum) and hunt for their favorite players. If you bought enough packs, then duplicates could be traded for the cards of other stars and those players also became familiar. Stan Musial wasn’t part of that history lesson for young fans.

When Topps produced their first modern card set in 1952, Stan was already under contract to the Bowman Card Company. He appeared in both the ’52 & ’53 Bowman sets but for the next four years (1954-57), he wasn’t on any baseball card even though he was one of the best players in the game. The back story is that Topps finally was able to get Musial under contract in 1958 as a trade-off for donating money to a charity supported by Cardinals owner Gussie Busch. Why didn’t he sign earlier? One biographer claims “insufficient compensation” was the reason, but that flies in the face of everything we know about the man.

Here’s the history of Musial’s baseball card offerings during his actual playing career. The values are based on a card in “Near Mint” (NM 7) condition.

> 1948 Bowman #36 ($2,200) – Even though Stan’s major league career started in 1941, there were no card sets made during World War II. This is the first post-war set and it is his “rookie card”.

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> 1948-49 Leaf #4 ($4,750) – Also considered a rookie card, these cards weren’t actually issued until early ’49 and the company didn’t have enough success to continue production beyond one year.

> 1949 Bowman #24 ($550) – This set had tinted photos on colored background and laid the groundwork for future color photography on baseball cards.

> 1952 Bowman #196 ($475) – Musial didn’t appear in the ’50 or ’51 Bowman sets but shows up here in a set that featured the player’s facsimile autograph on the card front.

> 1953 Bowman Color #32 ($575) – One of the most beautiful sets ever produced with nothing but a Kodachrome photograph of the player on the front.

> 1958 Topps #476 ($60) – Musial’s first Topps card wasn’t even a “regular” card…it was part of the All-Star run at the end of the set. All the other All-Stars also had an individual card earlier in the set and those cards are significantly more valuable.

> 1959 Topps #150 ($125) – Stan’s first real Topps card…issued when he was 38 years old.

> 1960 Topps #250 ($110)

> 1961 Topps #290 ($75)

> 1962 Topps #50 ($80)

> 1962 Topps #317 ($25) – A highlight card celebrating Stan’s 21st season with the Cardinals

> 1963 Topps # 1 ($55) – A “Batting Leaders” card which also featured Hank Aaron & Frank Robinson. Musial hit .330 in ’62 when he was 41 years old.

> 1963 Topps #138 ($55) – This card is titled “Pride of the NL” and pictures Stan with Willie Mays

> 1963 Topps #250 ($90) – The final regular-issue card of the Hall-of-Famer’s career.

The Old Duck got to meet “The Man” at a sports collectibles show many years ago. Scores of people were lined up waiting for the doors to open at 10:00 AM and Stan walked into the lobby on his way to the autograph area. He stopped and said, “You people aren’t waiting for me, are you? We all laughed and then Stan reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out his harmonica and played “Take me out to the ballgame” while we all sang along. A lasting memory of this great man along with the autographed Sports Illustrated cover that adorns a wall in my home. RIP Stan…we were all better for having known you.

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