Being retired is supposed to be fun. Spending time with family & friends, traveling, activities you enjoy, volunteer work or finally having time for that hobby you love.
The Old Duck is especially fortunate to spend three days a week interacting with folks who share my passion for sports and the collectibles that spring from the games that are played.
Card collecting is over 100 years old and the hobby has evolved into a complex and ever-changing marketplace. From the tobacco cards of the early 20th century to the sporadic issues of the Depression era and World War II to the post-war cards from companies like Bowman & Leaf, it wasn’t until almost 70 years ago that the Topps Company started the real boom era of sports card collecting. While they issued a couple of playing card style sets in 1951, the 1952 set marked the true beginning of baseball cards as we know them today with over 400 numbered cards that included statistics and player bios. Bowman also issued card sets during this time, but Topps bought them out in 1956 and became the exclusive distributor of major league cards for a period that lasted through 1980. They had to compete against numerous other manufacturers for the next 25 years, but became the exclusive producer again about 15 years ago.
A recent set of circumstances can possibly be defined as juxtaposition. Last week, various news reports confirmed that Major League Baseball had made an agreement with a sports apparel company to take over the licensing and production of baseball cards by 2026. In essence, this means that in five years, there will no longer be Topps Baseball cards. For collectors and fans, it almost seems unfathomable, as the history of these products is so embedded in the fabric of the game.
The day after the announcement, I received a call from a nice lady by the name of Shirley. As with many clients, she came to me through a referral from someone who had a positive experience with their own collection. She proceeded to tell me that she had some old baseball cards that were in poor condition and didn’t know if it was really worth the time, but could I fit her into my schedule. Of course, the pandemic has brought hundreds of people to my corner at the baseball card shop that seem to think cards from 1988 are “old” but I’m always willing to give time to anyone who wants to drop in.
When Shirley arrived a few days later, she placed a small red scrapbook on the counter that looked like it was from the 1940’s. Upon opening the book, I discovered close to 100 cards from the iconic 1952 Topps set. Mixed emotions would be the only way to describe the experience, as the cards are certainly scarce but Shirley’s description of the condition was correct because the cards were taped onto the pages. The retail value of cards in this type of condition isn’t much but the memories are priceless. Especially when they came from Topps first set in the same week where we hear about the end of the Topps era.
Let’s take a trip down baseball’s memory lane and look at the cardboard heroes on a few random pages.
- Al Schoendienst, Cardinals 2B – Known better as “Red”, this lifelong redbird was Stan Musial’s closest friend and played 19 seasons in the big leagues. A 10-time All-Star, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989.
- Eddie Stanky, Cardinals Manager – Known for jumping on the back of Leo Durocher when Bobby Thomson hit that famous Home Run in ’51, he managed St. Louis for the next four seasons.
- Mel Parnell, Red Sox Pitcher – The BoSox best hurler in the late 40’s and early 50’s, he won 27 games in 1949 and 21 in 1953.
- Robin Roberts, Phillies Pitcher – Won 20 games or more from 1949-1955, pitching over 300 innings in each of those seasons. Won a total of 286 games and was voted into Cooperstown in 1976.
- Johnny Mize, Yankees 1B – Even missing three years in his prime serving in World War II, this prolific power hitter made the Hall of Fame in 1981. Hit 51 HR’s for the Giants in 1947.
- Bob Feller, Indians Pitcher – Broke into the majors in 1936 as a 17 year-old and was the most dominant pitcher of the era. Another player who spent three years of the 1940’s in the military, he led the AL in Wins six times and was inducted into Cooperstown in 1962.
- Other familiar names found in the pages include Phil Rizzuto, Johnny Sain, Warren Spahn, Preacher Roe, Enos Slaughter, Ted Kluszewski, Dom DiMaggio & Monty Irvin.
And just think, every pack of cards came with a stick of bubble gum.