If you’re old enough to have seen Sandy Koufax pitch in the 1960’s, it is surely an experience you won’t forget. With essentially only two pitches, he was a completely dominant figure in the sport. His 97 mph Fastball had unusual movement (some batters said it “hopped”) and his 12-to-6 Curveball would drop 10-12 inches “off the table”. If advanced statistics were available then, we can only speculate on the outcome of characteristics such as the “spin rate” of his two offerings.
In the seasons from 1961-66, Sandy’s record was 129-47. He won three Cy Young Awards and led the NL in ERA for five consecutive years. His final year may have arguably been his best…27 Wins and a 1.73 ERA before retiring at age 30 due to a sore arm.
I was fortunate to live in Southern California at that time and fans that couldn’t get to the ballpark or watch the game on TV would huddle around a radio to hear Vin Scully describe Sandy’s prowess on the mound. In 1963, he went 25-5 and then pitched two complete games against the Yankees in the World Series striking out 23 batters in 18 innings. Yogi Berra’s quote was, “I can see how he won 25 games. What I don’t understand is how he lost 5.”
These memories of the 60’s were jogged by a recent memorabilia collection that came across my desk. In addition to baseball cards, there was a large envelope in the bottom of a box that had a postmark of 1966 and the return address was the Topps Chewing Gum Company of Brooklyn, New York. Opening the envelope was akin to finding a time capsule that had been buried for 55 years.
The most obvious item was a three panel baseball card depicting the 1966 Topps cards of Koufax, Jim Fregosi & Don Mossi. Turning the panel over brought a revelation, as there were no card numbers or statistics. Instead, it was a solicitation enticing the reader to order Topps cards NOW!
After some research, it became clear that this was a sales tool for the Topps Company. Thinking back, this era didn’t have baseball card shops and big box stores were somewhere off in the future. So, where did kids (of all ages) purchase baseball cards? The answer in those days was drug stores, variety stores and other independent retailers. And how did you get them to carry your product? By having salesmen go out into the marketplace with samples of the latest cards. And who better than Sandy Koufax to promote your product?
The envelope also contained some other fascinating artifacts. Check out this copy of the “Topps Baseball Agreement”. Players received $5 for signing their contract and then $125 in payment or credit toward items in a gift catalog. Don’t forget, these were the days before a player’s union and free agency.
In fact, in 1966 Koufax and teammate Don Drysdale held out prior to the season because the Dodgers offered each them only a small raise after a championship season. This was the only leverage a player had and the actions of these two All-Star pitchers may have been the catalyst for future change.
As for the gift catalog, one of those was also in the envelope. It had 15 pages of merchandise including formal wear, stereo equipment & TV’s, furniture and more.
This entire experience has motivated me. Maybe I’ll try to sell baseball cards?