See the difference? I mean, besides the fact that the second card is printed in a vibrant red and the first one is distinctly orange.
It’s in the biography. The first card mentions Mantle’s (then) 15 World Series homers, “breaking a mark set by Babe Ruth.” The second one stops at the reference to the homers. No Ruth. I discovered this literally Sunday afternoon – and I’ve never heard any mention of it before. But if you’re a Mantle collector don’t go nuts and decide you have to go and find this suddenly priceless variation card.
Because it not only isn’t a variation, it’s not even a real card. From 1952 through 1967, Topps produced “Salesman’s Samples” with which to excite candy jobbers and retailers about the upcoming year’s baseball cards.
The one shown here on the left is from 1964, and on the front there are three cards from Topps’ 1964 1st Series (Carl Willey and Bob Friend are the “big” names). On the back, this blood-red pitch for the ’64 set and the special “bonus” – the first set of baseball “coins” Topps ever made.
And then there at the bottom is the variant Mantle card, without the reference to Babe Ruth. Trust me, if two different versions of the ’64 Mantle had been included in the actual set, the scarcer one would cost a fortune.
These Salesman’s Samples are very scarce, too, but it wasn’t until the Mantle biography change jumped out at me did I decide to inspect the others to see if the Mantle change was unique.
It wasn’t. While it doesn’t look like any of the card fronts have been changed, not so for the backs.
As shown above, by 1964 Topps had long since realized that you needed some star power, even on the Salesman’s Samples and even just on the back.
After his 61-homer season in ’61, a version of Roger Maris’s card number one is on the back of the 1962 Sample. There’s Mantle in ’64, and the ’66 has a picture of a Sandy Koufax insert on the back.
But in ’57 that message hadn’t gotten through yet, so there he is: that great New York Yankees starting pitcher…Tom Sturdivant?
As the bio suggests, he had a big year in ’56, 16-8, and a complete game six-hit shutout over the Dodgers in the World Series, which kinda got upstaged when Don Larsen went out and threw his perfect game the next day. But the point here is not the bio but the card number.
Tom Sturdivant is not card #25 in the 1957 Topps set. His teammate Whitey
Ford is. Sturdivant is #34, as the shown version of his issued card suggests. You’ll notice also that the cartoon quiz at the right side of the card has been changed from something about home runs in one inning, to a question about playing outfield with your boots on.
Again, not a true variation – the obverse of the Sturdivant back shows the Billy Martin front. I suppose somebody could have cut the cards apart and come up with a weird Martin/Sturdivant #25. If one ever turns up, now you know what it is.
There are two other “Sample” variations that jumped off (once it had occurred to me to start looking for them). I’ll spare you the full 1959 Salesman’s Sample back, but here is the detail on the one card back shown.
It was a pretty good guess on the part of Topps: Nellie Fox would be American League MVP as his White Sox won the pennant for the first time in 40 years.
But the original design for the backs of the 1959 cards (or at least Fox’s) was decidedly different than what Topps wound up publishing.
The green “name box” has gone red, the black type in the bio has gone green, and the cartoon is now not just green and black, but red, green, with a salmon pink background.
Still, the other details of the card seem identical both in the preliminary and issued versions.
Not so for 1960. This might be my favorite of the bunch. There was a rationale, even for the changed number of the 1957 Sturdivant, for the inclusion of all the other cards shown here on the Salesman’s Samples. Through 1972, Topps cards were sold in numbered “series,” spaced out over the course of the spring and summer.
All the Sample cards were drawn from the first series – except in 1960. See that nice unspectacular version of #66, Bobby Gene Smith?
He would not be in the first “series” of 1960 Topps cards. Even though they had already mocked up a back for his card, and evidently made no changes in it other than the by-now traditional color re-thinking, Smith was for some reason bumped from #66 to #194.
In the actual card set #66 is an obscure pitcher named Bob Trowbridge – it was not like there was some urgent need to drop somebody to make room for him. Sadly there are no files hanging around a back room at Topps annotating the arcane decisions about card numbers (though I know one later editor liked to give card number 666 to players who had hurt his favorite team). So we’re on our own figuring this all out.
As a follow-up to the 10th annual “Topps Pack Opening Day,” I was studying the 2012 Heritage proof sheet by pals there were nice enough to provide. A familiar face showed up:
Last year, after a lot of hard work and a willingness to change what he had done all his life, the former collegiate superstar finally lived down his reputation as a man most famous for one of his baseball cards, and is now “just” a top flight hitter on what might quickly become a tremendous offensive machine in Kansas City, and this is “just” what his 2012 Topps Heritage Card #51 is going to look like.
Even most non-collectors remember the brouhaha six years ago at this time when cards of Gordon appeared in the 2006 Topps and 2006 Topps Heritage sets – even though the MLB Players Association had recently codified the rules about who could and couldn’t be in big league card sets. It was comparatively simple: if you hadn’t already played a major league game, you couldn’t be included in a major league set. Topps, either accidentally (or many critics say, deliberately) got confused because that one rule meant Gordon – with 0 major league games under his belt – was eligible to be included in one of its brands, Bowman, but not eligible for its two others, Topps and Topps Heritage.
Gordon cards were made for all three sets and the MLBPA screamed bloody murder and just before the sets were released, the cards were supposedly pulled out of the packs of Topps and Heritage. The regular Topps set was released first, and cards of Gordon with a two-inch square hole in the middle started appearing in the packs (a ‘punch’ of some sort being used to destroy the inner portion of the cards while they were still on the uncut sheets, and the sheets were still stacked at the printers’). Not long after, full versions of the card appeared, some of them in packs shipped to PXs at American Military Bases in Germany.
If you think the thing with the Skip Schumaker “Squirrel” card is crazy, it pales in comparison to L’Affaire Gordon. I bought a few of the cards at four-figure prices on eBay, on the premise that this was the first regular Topps card ‘pulled’ from circulation since at least 1958. I was actually accused of being some sort of shill for the thing, because I consult on Topps’ retro issues; in point of fact I learned about the card’s scarcity on ESPN’s website, weeks after it came out. Topps estimated that maybe 50 to 100 of the Gordon cards got out, and maybe an equivalent number of ‘cutout’ cards. In the spring, however, a longtime dealer friend told me he’d been offered a large quantity of them. “I can get you 500 of them if you’ll pay the price.” Needless to say, I didn’t. As of this writing, there’s exactly one of them on eBay, but I’m confident that the number in circulation is closer to 1,000 than it is to 100.
Weeks later, Topps Heritage hit the stores and sure enough, the #255 Alex Gordon appeared – but only in cutout form. This frame-like card still shows up at times, although only a few of the fragments from the cutout parts ever hit the hobby.
You can see from the little Frankenstein-like assemblage of parts here that there must’ve been a third “fragment” there bearing Gordon’s face. This was the only time Topps ever actually issued a jigsaw puzzle kind of card (although they experimented with a set of them in the early ’70s – and it bombed). One wonders if somebody opened a pack of 2006 Heritage and found these little pieces of junk without realizing what they were, and tossed them.
In any event, six years and five Alex Gordon Topps Heritage cards later (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012), a full uncut version of the #255 2006 Heritage has never turned up. But I think it’s time for me to confess that I have one – sorta. We end as we began, with the fact that Topps indulges my long-standing fascination with their production process by donating the occasional proof sheet or printout to my Unintentional Museum.
So, for awhile now, I’ve had a paper proof version of the uncut 2006 Heritage Gordon. You’ll notice it looks different than the issued card – the proofs had red outlines, a “Rookie Card” logo, and the position designation had not yet been coordinated with the original abbreviations from the 1957 Topps set on which the Heritage cards were based. But, if you’ve ever wanted to see what the ’06 Heritage Gordon was supposed to look like… Ta da:
Hank Aaron’s appearance this week on The Late Show With David Letterman not only brought as hearty a series of laughs from baseball’s real all-time homer champ as I’ve ever heard him produce, but it also added one of those delightful footnotes to history. Letterman claimed that the day Aaron homered off Jack Billingham of the Reds to tie Babe Ruth’s mark of 714 at Riverfront Stadium in 1974, he was in the crowd. There’s no reason to doubt it: that was the year between Letterman’s career as a tv weatherman and the start of his comedy writing and performing.
Hank was there to provide the briefest of plugs for Topps’ celebration of its 60th year in baseball cards (he presented Letterman with a one-of-a-kind card in the style of the 2011 set, complete with a diamond in it – 60th being the ‘Diamond Anniversary’). For the sake of disclosure, Topps is paying Mr. Aaron to do the publicity, and for the sake of further disclosure, I’m an unpaid consultant for Topps as well.
They did not discuss two of Aaron’s more interesting cards. Obviously the portrait on the 1956 card here is the young Henry. But who is that sliding into the plate, an “M” on his cap and nothing on his uniform?
Correct. It’s Willie Mays sliding home, his uniform doctored to kind of look like a Braves’ jersey. There’s no special value to that mistake, because they never corrected it. In fact I don’t know if it’s considered a mistake – I think “fudge” is a better term.
The “Lefty Gibson” card is seldom seen and thus reproduced here in full:
If you can imagine this, Topps prepped its first series of 1968 cards in the winter of ’67-68 and not only did Gibson succeed in this stunt, but so did Seaver, who had tried it while posing for his very first card.
Each got all the way to the printer’s proofs level – just a handful of sheets printed. Then the Topps Copy Editor had his apoplectic attack and replaced both the Gibson and Seaver lefthanded pitching poses with nice tight portraits.
For years Topps has taken the rap for the mistake – there have even been understandable suggestions of an ethnic slur implied by the screw-up. In fact, it wasn’t entirely the company’s fault. In the winter of 1967-68, the newly-powerful Baseball Players Association was squeezing Topps into dealing with it, rather than on a player-by-player basis. Topps, which theretofore had been able to sign guys for a down payment as low as a dollar, resisted. The MLBPA promptly forbade its members for posing for Topps during Spring Training, and in fact throughout the entire regular season, of 1968.
Thus, guys who changed teams in ’68 or the ’68-69 off-season are shown hatless in old photographs in the first few series of the 1969 set. But 1968’s rookies for whom Topps had no photo? It had to get them in the minor leagues (the Topps files were filled with photos of nearly every Triple-A player in 1968), or buy shots from outside suppliers. At least a dozen images in the ’69 set, including Reggie Jackson and Earl Weaver – and “Aurelio Rodriguez” – were purchased from the files of the famous Chicago photographer George Brace. Somebody at Topps should’ve known, but the original Rodriguez/Garcia goof appears to have been Brace’s.
Incidentally, eight years later Garcia got his own card under his own name, in the Cramer Sports Pacific Coast League Series. By this point he was the trainer of the Angels’ AAA team in Salt Lake City. The biography on the back makes reference to the 1969 Topps/Brace slipup.
Something to do as we contemplate the irony of Aroldis Chapman escaping from Cuba to sign with a team that in the 1950’s had to change its name to the “Cincinnati Redlegs” to avoid somebody mistaking them for communist sympathizers.