Original 1959 Home Run Derby Card Set Among Hobby’s Rarest

Today, it plays out on the eve of the All-Star Game, in front of a stadium full of people and an international television audience.  In 1959, baseball’s home run derby was a corporate-sponsored syndicated show taped in the off-season.  The show lives on in black and white and spawned a postcard-sized set of trading cards.  The 1959 Home Run Derby set featured 19 players from the made-for-TV show, along with the host Mark Scott.  Today, it’s one of the most rare and valuable post-World War II sets.

Gil Hodges 1959 Home Run DerbyThe blank-backed cards are also back and white.  They were distributed by American Motors and handed out at auto dealerships to help promote the mano y mano competition that featured some of the greatest stars in history.  Nine of those sluggers were eventually elected to the Hall of Fame.

1988 Home Run Derby reprints

Home Run Derby reprints from 1959 set issued in 1988

Apparently, the cards weren’t much of a draw and any leftovers must have been quickly pitched.  In more than 20 years, PSA has graded only 281 of them; SGC only 39.  Made of thin cardboard and susceptible to corner dings and other wear, the 1959 Home Run Derby cards are literally impossible to find in mint condition today.  There are only five cards that have ever been graded ‘8’:  two Al Kaline, and one of each from the trio of ‘50s legends, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.  SGC has graded one 92 (NM/MT+) and two 88’s (NM/MT).

Fewer than half of the PSA-graded examples grade better than 7.

While the population of most cards in PSA holders numbers between 11 and 19, there have been only a total of eight Rocky Colavito cards examined by PSA.

Twenty-three Aaron cards have been graded by PSA over the years and 21 of Ernie Banks.  This is definitely an issue you want to have graded, too, because prices for most of the cards that aren’t completely beat up are in the hundreds of dollars.  On the few occasions when Mantles in VG or better have sold, they have brought $1500 and up but that price is probably out of date now.   Still, considering their scarcity, that’s not bad.  If the cards were standard sized, they might have earned a little more universal respect.

The checklist includes:

1 Hank Aaron

2 Bob Allison

3 Ernie Banks

4 Ken Boyer

5 Bob Cerv

6 Rocky Colavito

7 Gil Hodges

Jackie Jensen 1959 Home Run Derby8 Jackie Jensen

9 Al Kaline

10 Harmon Killebrew

11 Jim Lemon

12 Mickey Mantle

13 Eddie Mathews

14 Willie Mays

15 Wally Post

16 Frank Robinson

17 Mark Scott (announcer)

18 Duke Snider

19 Dick Stuart

20 Gus Triandos

The toughest card in the set to find in higher grade is the one issued for the announcer, Mark Scott.  None have been graded above a 5 by PSA.  Scott, by the way, died of a heart attack not long after the show was taped.

It’s the 1959 Home Run Derby issue that vintage collectors are after though.  Few come up for sale because so few actually exist and those that do are in private collections.   However, you can find some of them here via eBay.