Bubble gum and baseball cards are forever linked but, as most collectors know, there have been many other food products involved with cardboard memories of the national pastime. Bread wrappers, candy bar wrappers and backers, popcorn holders, even meat products are among the edible goodies that have used baseball cards as incentives. But not all food-related baseball items are obvious at first glance.
Many collectors are familiar with the collectibles known as Auravision records (named after the company that produced them), but what many do not realize is that these sought after pieces were made available through an offer found on the back of Milk Duds boxes.
Indeed, it was the back of the five-cent confectionery holders that advertised, “It’s a full color photograph! It’s a real Columbia recording, with top stars telling you, in person, how to play baseball.” With top stars such as Mantle, Maris, Mays, Koufax and others available for just a quarter and two Milk Duds end flaps, it was quite a promotion (Where is that “Way Back” machine when you need it?).
The offer must have had some measure of success as about five years later, in 1970, the company who owned Milk Duds turned to a baseball appeal once again. Beatrice Foods was looking for ways to pump up the volume of sales of Milk Duds, which they had purchased some ten years earlier. The feeling was that candy bars were beginning to overshadow the boxed candies that kids had long favored at the store. So, perhaps considering the impact of the record offer half a decade before, a decision was made to place pictures of major league players on the boxes of Milk Duds. The Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), often referred to as “the players union,” entered into a licensing agreement with the candy company to allow those photos to be printed. It was a very different time in the players and owners relationship, and one sign of that difference is that the major league team names, uniforms and logos all appear on the Milk Duds pictures even though the license is with the MLBPA.
Thus, in 1971, Milk Duds became “The Official Candy of Major League Baseball Players Association,” and sepia tone pictures of current Major League Baseball players against a yellow-tan background were placed on the backs of 3/4-ounce boxes of Milk Duds which sold in stores for a nickel. The chewy nuggets of caramel surrounded by a chocolatey coating were usually found in wax paper bags within the box. However, in those simpler, less-protective times, some report that the candy was also found just in the cardboard boxes. I can only recall finding the candy in the bags within a box, but as a young teen my world was fairly limited.
Whether with or without the wax paper lining it is probably a safe statement to say that the baseball “cards” printed on those candy boxes did more to reduce litter and ensure the survival of vintage Milk Duds boxes for that year than all others combined. Perhaps because the back of the cards were blank keeping the entire box became the thing to do for many who collected this set. In fact, I remember doing exactly that until the boxes became too many to keep neatly (at least in my mother’s eyes) and I ended up cutting them off of the box backs. However, to this day, complete boxes have a larger market and demand more value when they trade hands.
The entire 1971 Milk Duds set featured 69 different players, and the cards of Pete Rose, Harmon Killebrew and Brooks Robinson were double-printed. It has been said that Washington Senators pitcher, Dick Bosman was to appear in the set, but a poor photo prevented his inclusion. The set consisted of 32 players from the American League and 37 players from the National League, and it largely filled with better players and stars. In fact, a total of 20 future Hall of Fame players were in the set.
Interestingly, the set features an inordinate number of Chicago Cubs. In fact, practically the entire 1970 Chicago Cub starting lineup is present: Jim Hickman at first base, Glenn Beckert at second, Don Kessinger at shortstop, Ron Santo at third base, Randy Hundley at catcher, Billy Williams in left field and “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks. Starting pitchers were represented by Fergie Jenkins, Ken Holtzman and Milt Pappas. This means 10 of the 37 players from the National League were from Chicago’s north side. Perhaps the fact that Wrigley Field was in close proximity to the candy’s factory at W. Ontario Street in Chicago explains this favoritism.
Speaking of the Cubs, one of the peculiar cards in the set is of the aforementioned Milt Pappas. He is shown in an Orioles cap. However, he last played for the Orioles in 1965 before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Frank Robinson. But it gets stranger than that. In 1968, Pappas was traded to the Atlanta Braves, where he pitched for several years before being traded to the Cubs on June 23, 1970. That was evidently too late to get his picture in a Cubs outfit, so for some reason an old Orioles picture was used. Hard to figure that one out.
Actually, the picture snafu is not the only aberration in the Milk Duds set. There were a few spelling errors as well. Remember, the cards were meant to sell candy and collectible perfection was probably not at the forefront of the marketing effort. Therefore, the spelling errors appear throughout the print run. Mel Stottlemyre was misspelled Mel Stottlemyer, Claude Osteen was misspelled Claud Osteen, and the earlier mentioned Cubs second baseman, Glenn Beckert, was misspelled Glen Beckert.
Of course, baseball card collectors care about errors from time to time, but they almost always care about the condition of the cards. As mentioned above, the cards were kept largely stain free by the frequent use of wax paper linings. However, the thin cardboard boxes would have several issues of their own for the cards they contained. The stock creases fairly easily (especially when the boxes were first used to hold a kid’s favorite treat), and due to the machines used to assemble the boxes, crimp marks and roller lines are common. The box end flaps are often easily separated…if they are still present. Sometimes boxes are found that do not appear to have been subjected to any sort of assembly or wear. It is usually considered that these must have made their way out of the production facility without ever being used for their intended purpose.
Those who specialize as collectors of the Milk Duds boxes have often sated that there are certain boxes more difficult boxes to find than others. And while the tougher-to-find boxes are not all Hall of Fame caliber players, it is not surprising to find that the list includes players such as Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Johnny Bench, Lou Brock, Roberto Clemente, Bob Gibson, Harmon Killebrew, Thurman Munson, Tony Oliva, Tony Perez, and Ron Santo.
When cut correctly, the 1971 Milk Duds baseball card set consists of cards that are 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2”. Because they were meant to be hand cut (unless the collector kept the whole box), the condition of the extant cards can widely vary. PSA has graded 485 hand-cut cards to date, but 1,145 complete boxes have been submitted to the grading process. The vast majority of the boxes have graded out to a 5 or 6. Even so, a Rico Carty complete box that was graded as PSA 9 sold for less than $28 at eBay auction in May of 2014. The hand cut cards have actually fared better with 268 of those submitted grading as an 8 or 9.
Designing the cards was not a difficult task. The front of the brown framed card features the sepia-toned player portrait photo, with the players name, and 1970 accomplishment or ball club below the photo. Although the cards are unnumbered, one of the box flaps contains a number that refers to the card in one of the three sets of 24 cards that were printed (the three double prints were used to round this out from the 69 players pictured to the 72 cards needed for three even series). A checklist with the player’s accomplishment is provided below, however, if you find any complete, full boxes we advise against eating 43 year-old Milk Duds.
You can see what’s currently available on eBay here.
Frank Howard – Most Home Runs, A.L., 1970
Fritz Peterson – Won 20 Games, 1970
Pete Rose – Most Hits, N.L., 1970
Johnny Bench – Most Valuable Player, N.L., 1970
Rico Carty – Won the N.L. Batting Title, 1970
Pete Rose – Most Hits, N.L. , 1970
Ken Holtzman – Pitched a No-Hit Game, Aug 19, 1969
Willie Mays – N.L. All-Star, 1970
Cesar Tovar – Most Doubles, A.L., 1970
Willie Davis – 619 Lifetime R.B.I.’s
Harmon Killebrew – Second in Home Runs, A.L., 1970
Felix Millan – N.L. All-Star, 1970
Luis Aparicio – A.L. All Star, 1970
Lou Brock – .304 Batting Pct., 1970
Bill Melton – Inf., Chicago White Sox
Ray Culp – Pitcher, Boston Red Sox
Willie McCovey – Best Slugging Pct., N.L., 1970
Luke Walker – Pitcher, Pitt. Pirates
Roberto Clemente – N.L. All Star, 1970
Jim Merritt – Won 20 Games in 1970
Claud Osteen – N.L. All Star, 1970
Stan Bahnsen – A.L. Rookie of the Year, 1968
Sam McDowell – Most Strikeouts, A.L., 1970
Billy Williams – Most Hits, N.L., 1970
Jim Hickman – N.L. All Star, 1970
Dave McNally – Won 24 Games in 1970
Tony Perez – Second in Slugging Pct., N.L., 1970
Hank Aaron – N.L. All Star, 1970
Glen Beckert – N.L. All Star, 1970
Ray Fosse – A.L. All Star, 1970
Alex Johnson – Won the A.L. Batting Title, 1970
Gaylord Perry – Won 23 Games in 1970
Wayne Simpson – Second Best E.R.A., N.L., 1970
Dave Johnson – A.L. All Star, 1970
George Scott – Inf., Boston Red Sox
Tom Seaver – Best E.R.A. and Most Strikeouts, N.L., 1970
Bill Freehan – A.L. All Star, 1970
Bud Harrelson – N.L. All Star, 1970
Manny Sanguillen – Third Best Batting Pct., N.L., 1970
Jim Fregosi – A.L. All Star, 1970
Jim Hunter – Pitched a No Hit Game, May 8, 1968
Mel Stottlemyer – A.L. All Star, 1970
Tommy Harper – Inf., Milwaukee Brewers
Reggie Smith – .303 Hitting Pct., 1970
Frank Robinson – A.L. All Star, 1970
Orlando Cepeda – Most Valuable Player, N.L., 1967
Rico Petrocelli – Inf., Boston Red Sox
Brooks Robinson – Most Valuable Player in the 1970 World Series
Tony Oliva – Most Hits, A.L., 1970
Milt Pappas – 168 Lifetime Victories
Bobby Tolan – Most Stolen Bases, N.L., 1970
Ernie Banks – 509 Lifetime Home Runs
Don Kessinger – N.L. All Star, 1970
Joe Torre – Second in Hitting Pct., N.L., 1970
Fergie Jenkins – Won 22 Games, 1970
Jim Palmer – Second Best E.R.A., A.L., 1970
Ron Santo – 1,051 Lifetime R.B.I.’s
Randy Hundley – Catcher, Chicago Cubs
Dennis Menke – N.L. All Star, 1970
Boog Powell – Most Valuable Player, A.L., 1970
Dick Dietz – N.L. All Star, 1970
Tommy John – Pitcher, Chicago White Sox
Brooks Robinson – MVP in the 1970 World Series
Danny Cater – Inf., N.Y. Yankees
Harmon Killebrew – Second in Home Runs, A.L., 1970
Jim Perry – Cy Young Award Winner, 1970