Recently a nice little story appared about how Sandy Koufax’s involvement with investing in a West Coast motel helped to spark the famed 1966 holdout that he and fellow future Hall of Famer. Don Drysdale jointly participated in during spring training that season. Some historians believe that although only two players were involved, it was the first instance of the potential power of the player’s association as two star players were joining forces.
Although the holdout did end before the 1966 season began and the baseball establishment vainly tried to paint this dual holdout as a one-off, there is little doubt this was just another hole in the very soon to be leaky dike which was the owner’s dominance over the players.
Now, while we can lament nearly 50 years later how the new money in the game has separated the players from their fans, the money involved in all sports has certainly multiplied since 1966. When one hears of a basketball team in Loa Angeles, not even the storied Lakers franchise, being sold for $2 billion you know the landscape of sports has really changed. In 1969, Ballantine Beer sold the Celtics for a reported $3 million for a team which had just finished winning their 10th championship in 12 seasons. Today, of course, $3 million in basketball might buy you a mediocre backup center.
As long time fans, we decry not seeing players doing normal community things anymore and frankly our only chance for that is if you live near a minor league team where the players do not earn much money and have to be part of the community by necessity. Although both Drysdale and Koufax were both among the most successful pitchers of their era, there is little doubt even they were still part of the greater Los Angeles community. And yes, this two player holdout presaged many of the strikes and lockouts in the quarter century between 1969 and 1994.
Has it been better for the games to have many of their players each so much money they end up in gated communities and continue to be pampered the way they had been all their lives because of their skill in playing games. Well, no one can ever say for sure, but when teams are selling for billions of dollars do you really begrudge players, who are the real skilled employees from wanting to share in the profits? In 1966, Drysdale and Koufax began that trend and we pay attention to all this nearly 50 years later. And in terms of cards, do you really think any of the kids who pulled either a 1966 Topps Don Drysdale or a 1966 Sandy Koufax really cared about their holdout or only cared to see how they did in their more recent pitching appearance?
And as for the two cards, both are interesting for differing hobby reasons. The 1966 Topps Koufax card was #100 which means it was in the heavily produced early series that year and is really easy to find. However, because it was issued so early in the year and featured a star player, many of the still extant copies are not in great condition. It’s also Sandy’s last card as an active player. Because of his retirement announcement, Topps saw no reason to produce a 1967 card of a player who was not going to be in the majors that year. There are a couple of Koufax appearances on leaders cards but that was it for regular issue Koufax cards.
Meanwhile, Drysdale was relegated to card #430 despite coming off a 23 win season in which he also belted seven homers. Normally a card number such as #430 is reserved for a nice player but not one of his stature. What is interesting is Topps had fellow Hall of Famers Al Kaline at #410 and Juan Marichal at #420. However, by the next series Curt Blefary was #460 and Dick Stuart was #480. All this makes one wonder how Topps was really spacing out their best players in those 1960’s set. Drysdale would pitch in the majors until 1969 and by 1970 both he and Koufax had retired at relatively young ages.
Both went into broadcasting later, although Drysdale kept at it longer and was in Montreal for a Dodgers/Expos series when he suffered his fatal heart attack in 1993. You might remember Drysdale hosting a nationally syndicated radio show called Radio Baseball Cards, featuring anecdotes that were told by current and former players.
In card terms, we are left to wonder what if. Would Koufax have pitched in the early 1970’s if his arm trouble hadn’t surfaced? Can you imagine a Koufax card in the 1967 high number series if the uncertainty over his future had lasted into that season? Drysdale was done in his 30’s with a torn rotator cuff. With better luck could he have bumped a player off the early 1970’s NL Strikeout Leaders cards?
Both pitchers were at the top of their games when they retired. Those two 1966 Topps cards from an important, yet rarely discussed moment in baseball history, hold mysteries to this day.