To some extent, 1959 not only marked the end of a decade but the start of a new baseball era. The statistics on the back of the cards highlighted the first major league season of West Coast expansion, as the Dodgers & Giants left New York to build new legacies in Los Angeles and San Francisco. It also was a time of change for baseball, as many established stars were winding down their careers and the final barrier to players of color was removed when the last team integrated a full 12 years after Jackie Robinson first played in Brooklyn.
This was the fourth year of the Topps monopoly after Bowman ceased operating in 1956 and the company issued their largest set ever with 572 cards. Beautifully done, with bust pictures of the players in a colored circle, it included Sporting News All-Star selections in the scarce high series and the first cards designated as “Rookie Prospects”. For this visit, we’ll focus on Hall of Famers in the ’59 set and the values are based on cards in “Near Mint” (NM 7) condition.
> #10 Mickey Mantle, Yankees OF ($1,500) – Still in his prime at age 27, “The Mick” was coming off a season in which he led the AL in Runs, Home Runs & Walks and had a 1.035 OPS. This is the most valuable card in the set.
> #20 Duke Snider, Dodgers OF ($55) – Age and the move to the L.A. Coliseum meant that things would never be the same for the “Duke of Flatbush”. Following five consecutive seasons of 40+ Home Runs in Brooklyn, he hit only 15 during the ’58 season and injuries limited him to 106 games.
> #30 Nellie Fox, White Sox 2B ($32) – Won the AL MVP Award in ’59 as he led the “Go-Go Sox” to the pennant.
> #40 Warren Spahn, Braves P ($70) – Even in his late-30’s, the left-hander with the most victories in history was still at the top of his game. Won 20 games or more from ’57 – ’61.
> #50 Willie Mays, Giants OF ($250) – The move to the Bay Area didn’t slow down the “Say Hey Kid” at all. His first season in San Francisco included a .347 BA, 29 HR’s, a league leading 31 SB’s and a Gold Glove.
> #149 Jim Bunning, Tigers P ($25) – Led the AL in Strikeouts in both ’58 & ’59 before his glory days with the Phillies in the 60’s.
> #150 Stan Musial, Cardinals OF-1B ($125) – Still All-Star caliber in his late 30’s, “Stan The Man” hit .337 in ’58.
> #155 Enos Slaughter, Yankees OF ($28) – 1959 was the last season for this legendary player who served three years in World War II during his prime and came back to have 130 RBI’s for the championship Cardinals in 1946.
> #163 Sandy Koufax, Dodgers P ($200) – Still learning his craft at age 23, he was 8-6 in 23 starts during the ’59 season. The 173 K’s in 153 IP showed the promise and he did start one game in the World Series as the Dodgers won the title from the White Sox.
> #180 Yogi Berra, Yankees C ($95) – Was an All-Star for every one of the years of the 50’s decade, in which he won three MVP Awards.
> #260 Early Wynn, White Sox P ($28) – Was at 249 Wins after the ’58 campaign and would eventually get to the magic 300 number in 1963.
> #300 Richie Ashburn, Phillies OF ($35) – 1959 was the last of his 12 years with Philadelphia. He played three more NL seasons including 1962 with the expansion Mets.
> #310 Luis Aparicio, White Sox SS ($35) – Led the AL with 56 SB’s in ’59 and finished 2nd in the MVP balloting to teammate Nellie Fox.
> #338 Sparky Anderson, Phillies 2B ($45) – The card says George, as this is the rookie card of the future HOF Manager. ’59 was his only major league season and he hit .218 in 477 AB’s.
> #349 Hoyt Wilhelm, Orioles P ($22) – 1959 was the one season where this famous knuckleball reliever was actually a member of the starting rotation. How did he fare? How about 15 Wins and a league-leading 2.19 ERA?
> # 350 Ernie Banks, Cubs SS ($90) – 47 HR’s & 129 RBI’s in ’58, then 45 HR’s & 143 RBI’s in ’59. The result was back-to-back MVP Awards.
> #360 Al Kaline, Tigers OF ($65) – 1959 was a great year for this Detroit legend – .327 BA, 27 HR’s, 94 RBI’s and a Gold Glove.
> #380 Hank Aaron, Braves OF ($200) – Ultimately known for his Home Run prowess, it is forgotten that in 1959, he led the NL with 223 Hits and a .355 BA.
> #387 Don Drysdale, Dodgers P ($45) – ’59 was his breakout season as he had 17 Wins and a league-leading 242 K’s. Not surprisingly, he also led the NL with 18 hit batters.
> #390 Orlando Cepeda, Giants 1B ($40) – Rookie of the Year in ’58, he followed up with a .317 BA, 27 HR’s & 105 RBI’s in ’59.
> #430 Whitey Ford, Yankees P ($60) – Right in the middle of his great career, he led the AL with a 2.01 ERA in ’58.
> #435 Frank Robinson, Redlegs 1B-OF ($50) – At age 23, he was already an established star with 98 HR’s in his first three seasons.
> #439 Brooks Robinson, Orioles 3B ($50) – Still developing at this point in his career, he didn’t win a Gold Glove until 1960. Of course, he then captured 15 more consecutively.
> #450 Eddie Mathews, Braves 3B ($65) – In his prime at age 27, he led the NL with 46 HR’s in 1959.
> #455 Larry Doby, Tigers OF ($28) – The first AL player of color, this was his final major league season.
> #478 Roberto Clemente, Pirates OF ($215) – Due to his legacy, most fans don’t grasp the work it took him to become a star. 1959 was his 5th year with the Pirates and he didn’t make an All-Star team until 1960.
> #480 Red Schoendienst, Cardinals 2B ($28) – In his mid-30’s by this point, he was injured for almost all of the ’59 campaign and never played another full season.
> #514 Bob Gibson, Cardinals P ($1,250) – Not only is this the Rookie Card of the Redbirds great hurler, it also comes from the scarce high series run of this set. Other than the Mantle, this is the toughest card to find in nice condition.
> #515 Harmon Killebrew, Senators 3B ($145) – Spent five seasons languishing on the bench before getting his chance in ’59. The result was a league-leading 42 HR’s, the first of eight years with 40+ HR’s.
> #550 Roy Campanella, “Symbol Of Courage” ($150) – This card pictures “Campy” in a wheel chair and tells the story of his tragic automobile accident as written by NL League President Warren Giles.
In a future visit, we’ll look at some of the other great and not-so-great players represented in this classic set.