Topps Baseball Cards and Bubblegum
Baseball cards. Topps and Fleer. That was it for brand availability when I began buying them in 1962. My newspaper route took me past the 3 neighborhood stores that sold the cards. A nickel a pack, a penny a card, and a stick of bubblegum included. Topps broke their 600 or so cards down into seven series of cards released at intervals throughout the season. Fleer, a small company based in Philadelphia, couldn’t compete with Topps for an every year product so they made special sets.
My father was a baseball nut, loved the game from a both an amateur players standpoint and a fans standpoint. Baseball cards were always around the house, as far
back as I can remember. Being a Red Sox fan, he had collected the entire set of Ted Williams cards that Fleer produced for 1959 and went to pains to explain to me how Williams represented everything great about America, as both a patriot and a ballplayer. And that began my love of cardboard pictures of players and the stats that defined their careers.
The 1st cards I remember purchasing were the ’62 Topps, the set with that wooden grained border that looked like the picture was peeling up in the bottom right corner
to reveal the players name and team. Series 1 featured Roger Maris as card number 1, a fitting spot for the new home run king. Sandy Koufax was card number 5 and “Bob” Clemente was number 10. (“Bob” Clemente?) Ernie Banks was #20, Casey Stengel, manager of the Mets (!) was #29, Eddie Matthews #30. But for every one of these star cards, I’d end up with 5 Norm Larkers and 3 Johnny Temples along with several Vada Pinsons and a handful of Hobie Landruth cards . Players that changed teams would be shown with the logos painted out of their hats or hatless and, in the earliest series, rookies were given their own cards with a star in the top corner, announcing them as stars of the future. Howie Bedell? Ted Savage? League leaders were always a part of Series 1, in ’62 they were disembodied heads placed on colored backdrops with their names and stats below. Series 2 featured a Babe Ruth set of 10 cards, from his childhood in Baltimore to his farewell speech at Yankee Stadium. Series 3 featured the ‘61 World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and the Yankees. Series 4
had the action cards, multiple panel cards such as “Ford Tosses A Curve”, “The Switch Hitter Connects” and “Spahn Shows No-Hit Form”. Series 5 had the National League Sporting News All Stars and Series 6 had the American League version. Series 7 had the “Rookie Parade” another set of bodyless heads, 4 or 5 to a card, that featured rookies that had played their way onto the Major League rosters in Spring Training and had not been a part of the original set (Bob Uecker, Jim Bouton, Sam McDowell and Rod Kanehl among 37 players). Certain Hall of Famers and players that led the leagues in different categories were given the “rounded numbers”, Stan Musial was 50, Warren Spahn was 100, Al Kaline 150, Mickey Mantle 200, Norm Cash 250, Willie Mays was 300, Frank Robinson 350, Elston Howard 400, Jim O’Toole 450, Duke Snider 500.
Multiple player cards, some from different teams, were popular, too. How come I have 15 Cuno Barragan cards and can’t get a single “Managers Dream” (Mantle and Mays) card? Or an “AL and NL Homer Kings? (Maris and Orlando Cepeda)? What the heck is this? “Redbird Rippers” – Lindy McDaniel and Larry Jackson? Huh? ” Tribe Trio” – Barry Latman, Dick Stigman and Jim Perry? Why? “Pride Of The A’s” – Norm Siebern, Hank Bauer and Jerry Lumpe? What’s this, a Yankees retrospective? They were scattered among the different series along with team cards and managers cards.
I spent quite a bit of my paper route cash collecting these cards and ended up with a full set eventually. And I’d continue to do so throughout the succeeding years. But, in addition to investing my hard earned money, I invested my heart and soul into this wonderful game of baseball through collecting these cardboard icons.
And then, like a lot of other people, after moving out of the house in my early twenties and leaving my childhood toys behind, my mother threw them away! Just the cards, not the memories.
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