The 1952 Coca-Cola Playing Tips set was a quirky, regional 10-card offering only available in the metropolitan New York area. But after all, after the 1951 season, New York City was truly the baseball capital of the world.
Like it or not, it was true. The New York Giants won a memorable playoff series in October 1951 against the Brooklyn Dodgers, thanks to Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ’Round the World” at the Polo Grounds. The New York Yankees, meanwhile, would win their third straight World Series title by defeating the surprising Giants, who were still basking in the glow of the Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff.
The cards were designed to be inserted into six-pack cartons of Coca-Cola and featured players from the three MLB teams in the New York City area. They measured 7½ inches by 3½ inches and feature a player illustration on the front. The illustration vaguely resembles the player, but it’s close enough.
Behind each player was a Coca-Cola slogan, “Coke is a Natural.” That wasn’t the “official” slogan of the soft drink that year. In 1952, the soda giant’s official slogan was “What you want is a Coke.” Cartons had been around since 1922, but an inserted card was an interesting innovation.
Home schedules for 1952 were placed underneath the illustration. Playing tips were put on the back of the card and were featured in red ink. Collectors were encouraged to check the card back “for pointers on how to be a good” shortstop, third baseman, second baseman, first baseman, fielder, catcher or pitcher. There was also a card that directed collectors to read pointers about becoming a good hitter.
The schedules feature a rarity then — night games. It also lists on the schedules a common practice then that is rare now — doubleheaders.
The unnumbered set has nine different players — one for each position. Thomson is listed twice, on a hitting and fielding card. There are three different Dodgers (Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese and Carl Furillo) and three Yankees (Hank Bauer, Gil McDougald and Ed Lopat). For the Giants, Thomson has the two cards (third baseman and hitting) and is featured with teammates Wes Westrum and Don Mueller.
McDougald was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1951.
Finding these cards in high-grade condition is difficult. As with any card inserted on the outside of a product during the 1950s — particularly in New York — not much care was taken to preserve them. And these cartons were delivered, so at times they were exposed to the elements.
While most still have the schedule tab attached, collecting the set with the tab torn off can cut the cost by quite a bit. Otherwise, expect to pay a few hundred dollars and up for nicer examples.
Only 231 cards have been submitted to PSA, and the highest grade is PSA 9. Only two cards hold that distinction — McDougald and the Thomson third base tips card. Not surprisingly, Hodges and Reese have the most graded submissions — Hodges has 30 and Reese has 28.
Back in 2013, what was the number one ranked set on PSA’s Registry sold through Goldin Auctions for $6,702.
Collectors can only wonder what the cost of collecting this 1952 set might be had Coke produced a Mickey Mantle card.
In addition to the regular set, Coca-Cola put out a test set that featured one card of Willie Mays and three versions of Rizzuto — fielding, bunting and turning the double play. Mays is shown holding a bottle of Coke, and his card has a biography, rather than a tip. Rizzuto is also shown holding a bottle of the drink, and his tips — like Mays’ — are printed in red type on a gray background.
Mays’ name is featured in small block letters, while Rizzuto’s is spelled out in script. Both also contain the “Coke is a Natural!” slogan.
Mays was a natural to be featured in the test cards, since he was coming off Rookie of the Year honors in 1951. Rizzuto was the 1950 MVP in the A.L.
The cards have the same dimensions as the regular issue 1952 Coca-Cola Playing Tips cards.
A small number of cards from both sets can usually be found on eBay.