1960 Topps Baseball Coaches Cards: From Reviled to Redeemed

Baseball card collecting has always been about greater things than the supposed “value” found in pieces of printed cardboard. The elements of anticipation, exhilaration, and joy that kids experienced, who at one time could afford to buy and bust wax packs, are still among the best motivations for involvement in this great hobby. Of course, even those “good old days” had their own particular let downs.

In my youth, one of the most common and frequently often repeated “downs” came when a wax pack yielded certain cards that were less than desirable. These might be cards of players from a team for which you held a particular disgust (likely the Yankees if you lived in any American League city other than New York at that time). Cards of rookies were not in vogue, a hobby reality which has changed quite a lot. Team cards were a drag and so were any Checklists that you already possessed (after all, you only needed one to write on!). And, in 1960, when a young card fanatic pulled a “Coaches” card from the Topps pack, it was usually greeted with a disdainful. “Aw, man!”
Now, part of this was due to the subject matter. After all, most of the coaches on major league teams were unknown to all but the most severely fanatical fans, and few of those were pre-teen kids. Indeed, although each of the sixteen major league teams were represented with coaches cards, and 56 different coaches were pictured, only four of those men were or would eventually be Hall of Fame residents. The former Yankees catcher, Bill Dickey, pictured as a coach with the Bronx Bombers, had been elected to the Hall in 1954. The other three Cooperstown enshrined players (Luke Appling, Billy Herman, and Bob Lemon) would go into the Hall at different times between 1964 and 1976. So the coaches cards had very little historical appeal.

That is not to say there were not some depictions of men who had terrific careers. To be sure, some of the coaches presented were very well-known in the towns where they once roamed the diamond. On the coaches cards you can find greats such as Harry Brecheen, Rudy York, Mel Harder, Walker Cooper, Andy Pafko, Ed Lopat, and Mickey Vernon, among others. But, for the most part, these names did not raise the adrenaline level in most young collectors.

It was not only the lack of name recognition that made these cards a “dud” to baseball card buyers in that summer of 1960. Part of the problem was also the design of the card. A mustard yellow background was divided into thirds or fourths depending on the number of coaches pictured. These sections were divided by a thick white line, and each section had a color head shot of the coach. And it wasn’t the miniature baseball card approach that League Leaders cards or Rookie cards would later carry, but a body-less, floating head. Some were cropped from unusual settings it seems. The head of Bob Lemon on the Indians coaches card has what appears to be a hat three sizes too small placed upon the top of the great pitcher’s head. It is actually kind of comical.$_57

Of course, not all the subsets in the 1960 Topps Baseball card set were met with the same disdain with which my friends and I held the coaches cards. Without a doubt most of us were really stoked by the 1960 Rookie Stars (cards #117-148), which were separate from the Topps All-Star Rookies (cards #316-325) that were somewhat coveted even then.

It was the first time any of us had ever seen World Series Highlights cards (#385-391) as it was the first year Topps produced those little gems. And the Sports Magazine All-Stars (cards #553-572) were an expected staple in the yearly set. Even the Managers cards (#212-227) were somewhat appreciated as they made the team complete, and due to their unique design, caught the eye of the young collector. Indeed, even though I was not a Yankee fan, the 1960 card of Casey Stengel was a favorite of mine then, and it continues to be.

But, at THAT time, the coaches cards just did not cut it with the young collectors with whom I hung out and traded. And we were evidently not the only ones. Other than including the coaches with the manager (as in 1973 and 1974), and including coaches of the Montreal and Toronto teams in the O-Pee-Chee Canadian sets of 1977, the Topps company has avoided coaches cards in their regular sets. In fact, the only other time coaches have been given their own subset was in the 2002 Topps Coaches Collection Relics insert set.

$_57-1Of course, the decades since have brought a different perspective. Although I still think they are the least attractive cards in a set that is one of the most colorful and bold of the era, the depiction of men who get very little credit for a team’s success (or failure) now makes the cards stand out in my mind and appreciation. Additionally, when the 1960 coaches cards are found in a nice, collectible condition it becomes a treat as those cards were some of the first to be “abused” by collecting kids back in that day. The thick white line mentioned earlier became a guide for cutting the cards up when we wanted to play games with our cards and put coaches in the coaching “boxes” at first and third, and the head shots lent themselves so easily to adding mustaches and beards. I’m not proud of that now, but I am just saying.

It was that widespread abuse of the coaches cards that has played a part in the relative scarcity of finding those cards in great condition. Although the 1960 Topps set is generally considered one of the more abundant of the vintage sets in general circulation, there have been only 4 of the coaches cards graded a PSA 10 as of this writing. Remember, there were 16 different coaches cards in the set, one for each MLB team in 1960. There have been 3,989 of the coaches cards submitted to PSA for grading, and in addition to the 4 Gem Mint grades, there have only been an additional 149 cards given a 9. As one might expect, the coach card for the New York Yankees is the one most often submitted of the 16.

For my part, I must admit that the advent of some maturity and the appreciation of vintage baseball cards that is now part and parcel of my life has caused me to appreciate the backs of the coaches cards. The very brief paragraph written about each coaching staff is concise but strives to give the readers (and kids were the target audience) a reason or two why these men were quality coaches for their respective team. Granted, sometimes the reasoning was a stretch (i.e., “Red Kress saw action at every position except catcher during his playing days.”), but it did help the young fans to know there was some thinking behind who got to be a big league coach.$_57-3

Now, of course, the following is not found on the coaches cards. However, the unusual groupings of baseball men have caused some to go hunting for interesting facts about the men on the cards. One example would be the trivia associated with the White Sox coaches:

  • Johnny Cooney once umpired an official game between the Dodgers and the Braves.
  • When Don Gutteridge passed away in 2008, he was the last surviving member of the Cardinals’ Gas House Gang.
  • Tony Cuccinello was the final out of the very first All-Star game in 1933.
  • Ray Berres was 7 months shy of his 100th birthday when he died in 2007.

It will always be true that the highlights of the 1960 Topps Baseball card set are the rookie cards of Carl Yastrzemski (#148) and Willie McCovey (card #316). And, the presence in the set of all-time baseball immortals such as Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial and Willie Mays, will always make the set very desirable. But the passing of time and the changes in baseball cards have also created a special place for the cards that, for one season, sought to give MLB coaches their due.

Here is a checklist for the 1960 Topps Baseball Coaches Cards:
#455 Orioles Coaches – Eddie Robinson / Harry Brecheen / Luman Harris
#456 Red Sox Coaches – Rudy York / Billy Herman / Sal Maglie / Del Baker
#457 Cubs Coaches – Charlie Root / Lou Klein / Elvin Tappe
#458 White Sox Coaches – Johnny Cooney / Don Gutteridge / Tony Cuccinello / Ray Berres
#459 Reds Coaches – Reggie Otero / Cot Deal / Wally Moses
#460 Indians Coaches – Mel Harder / Jo Jo White / Bob Lemon / Ralph Kress
#461 Tigers Coaches – Tom Ferrick / Luke Appling / Billy Hitchcock
#462 A’s Coaches – Fred Fitzsimmons / Don Heffner / Walker Cooper
#463 Dodgers Coaches – Bobby Bragan / Pete Reiser / Joe Becker / Greg Mulleavy
#464 Braves Coaches – Bob Scheffing / Whitlow Wyatt / Andy Pafko / George Myatt
#465 Yankees Coaches – Bill Dickey / Ralph Houk / Frank Crosetti / Ed Lopat
#466 Phillies Coaches – Ken Silvestri / Dick Carter / Andy Cohen
#467 Pirates Coaches – Bill Burwell / Frank Oceak / Sam Narron / Mickey Vernon
#468 Cardinals Coaches – Johnny Keane / Howie Pollet / Ray Katt / Harry Walker
#469 Giants Coaches – Wes Westrum / Salty Parker / Bill Posedel
#470 Senators Coaches – Bob Swift / Ellis Clary / Sam Mele

You can see them for sale on eBay here.