While Topps and Bowman began slugging it out to take control of the baseball card market in the early 1950s, another card set was quietly snaring pennies and nickels of young collectors. The ‘Hit Parade of Champions’ lasted just two years, 1951 and ’52, with 72 cards in each set. The inaugural set included 40 baseball players and 32 stars from other sports. The 1952 Berk Ross Baseball set was exclusively made up of baseball players.
The production values were a little bit off on the 1952 set. Each player had a photograph on the card front, but the pictures seemed either foggy looking or washed out. The card backs are adorned with the slogan, the player’s name, birthdate, height, weight and place of birth. The card back also notes whether the player threw left- or right-handed, which way he batted, and adds a final line with statistics from the 1951 season.
An interesting note: the Mickey Mantle, Robin Roberts and Preacher Roe cards use photographs that are very similar to the ones used in Bowman’s 1951 set. Other players have photos that strongly resemble the Bowman product.
Cards in the 1952 Berk Ross Set
1952 Berk Ross cards were packaged in bright red, white and blue wrappers and sold for a penny apiece. Berk Ross was a company based in New York, so it is not surprising that 46 of the cards featured members of the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers. The Braves (Bob Elliott), Browns (Ned Garver), Pirates (Ralph Kiner) and Reds (Ewell Blackwell) have one player apiece, while the Cubs and Senators have no players.
The photos of Blackwell and Nellie Fox were swapped; Blackwell’s photo had Fox’s biography on the card back, and Fox’s photo had Blackwell’s stats. And Elliott’s name was spelled as “Elliot.” In another spelling gaffe, Gil McDougald’s name was misspelled as “McDougal.”
Joe DiMaggio and Other Hall of Famers
The Berk Ross set is also significant as it has the only 1952 cards of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, although the Yankee Clipper announced his retirement after the 1951 World Series. There are 21 other Hall of Famers in the set, including Mantle, Roberts, Kiner, Fox, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, Yogi Berra, Bob Feller, Stan Musial and Roy Campanella.
There are two cards of Phil Rizzuto — one shows him swinging a bat, while the other shows the Scooter bunting.
It’s murky as to whether Berk Ross can be classified as a licensed set. Legal actions uncovered by former Standard Catalog of Baseball cards editor Bob Lemke point toward Berk Ross being unlicensed.
Several members of the New York Giants apparently believed that the set was using their images illegally.
Writing in his blog on April 6, 2012, Lemke said that the 1952 Berk Ross cards were included in popcorn bags as a promotion. He based that conclusion on an article he found in the August 7, 1952, edition of The Sporting News. In that brief, seven Giants — Larry Jansen, Bobby Thomson, Sal Maglie, Wes Westrum, Monty Kennedy, Dave Koslo and Bill Rigney – were reported to be filing a lawsuit against the popcorn companies for using their images without their consent.
A week later the players obtained a show-cause order to prohibit the use of their images, Lemke wrote. An appeal by the defendants to dismiss the players’ suit was denied on November 14. While the players were seeking $50,000 each in compensation, a judge in the First Department, Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York awarded them only $20 apiece on November 17, 1953, effectively ending the case.
Condition Sensitivity of the 1952 Berk Ross Set
PSA has not awarded a Gem Mint 10 among the many 1952 Berk Ross cards submitted for grading. A total of 144 cards been graded PSA-9. In the SGC registry, 831 cards have been submitted and only 15 have graded as high as 96.
Mantle’s card is the most coveted card in the set. Of the 227 cards submitted for grading, only three Mantles have graded as high as PSA-8. Seventy-three Mantle cards have been sent to SGC, and only one graded as high as 92. A 1952 Berk Ross Mantle won’t cost you anything close to his iconic Topps card from that season–and not as much as his Bowman issue either. You can find EX/MT Berk Ross Mantles for $2,000-$2,500 at most.
The DiMaggio card in mid-to-higher grades can be found for $400-750.
The toughest card is a common. Ten Whitey Lockman cards have been sent to PSA, but the highest grade was a 6 — and only six made that grade. The one card submitted to SGC graded out at 60.
Some of the issues that made this set so difficult to find in high grade were poor centering and corners that were not sharp.
The Berk Ross set sometimes is overlooked because Bowman and Topps offered nicer, fuller and more complete sets. But some cards do stand out, like Mays’, and the inclusion of Williams, Musial and DiMaggio brings together three of baseball’s top players during the post-World War II era.
Over 500 1952 Berk Ross cards were listed on eBay at last check. You can see them here.