It’s a quirky set, with strange photography choices and an eclectic selection. The 1961-62 Fleer Baseball Greats set attempted to showcase former players, just like it did with its 1960 set. The difference was a set with a larger checklist that stretched over two years.
Subjects in the Fleer Baseball Greats spanned several eras, from Cap Anson and Kid Nichols in the late 1800s to the recently retired (1960) Ted Williams. Fleer used Hall of Famers and retired players so the company would not violate the exclusive contracts Topps held with current baseball players.
The set was issued in two series, with cards 1 through 88 released in 1961 while card Nos. 89 through 154 were issued in ’62. The first series is more common than the second, so naturally there is a higher premium to complete the 1962 part of the set.
The design was vertical for the card front. Players were shown in uniform, but some longtime retirees were shown in street clothes. Cy Young, for example, sports a dapper hat. Some players in uniform are depicted as they looked during their playing days. Others, like Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, look as if they were wearing the uniforms on Old Timers Day.
The card front design sports a blue pennant underneath the player’s photo. Red and white stripes also stretch across the bottom of the card, and five blue stars at the top left and right sides of the card frame the player’s photo. A solid-color background is displayed behind a cutout photo of the player. It gives the card a very patriotic look and is much more attractive than the 1960 version. However, the set is hampered by chronic poor centering, and it is easily susceptible to wear.
A checklist kicks off both series. After that, players are listed alphabetically. In the first series, that means Grover Cleveland Alexander to Jimmy Wilson; in the second series, the list goes from Babe Adams to Ross Youngs. Card No. 100, of Stan Coveleski, has his last name spelled as “Coveleskie.”
A collector can expect to find the big Hall of Fame names, like Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Napoleon Lajoie, Lou Gehrig, Christy Mathewson, Rogers Hornsby and Walter Johnson. But this set’s charm also rests in some of the lesser-known names, like Hugh Critz, Bibb Falk, Bing Miller, Stan Hack, Alvin Crowder and John Mostil. Make no mistake, these were decent players — but there are certainly different tiers of stars represented in this set.
Executives are also included in the set, like Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Ban Johnson, Ford Frick and Warren Giles. Curiously, Happy Chandler is not included.
The card backs are horizontal in design, using a large biographical paragraph that takes up two-thirds of the card back. The other third lists the player’s career statistics (where applicable). The card number is inserted inside a trophy that sits inside an oval at the top left-hand part of the card back. The other part of the top is taken up by the player’s name, and birth and death dates. Above that, in large white block capital letters, is the term “Baseball Greats.”
The key cards in the set are the players you might expect— Ruth, Cobb, Williams and Gehrig. Other key cards are the checklists that open each series — card No. 1, which includes Home Run Baker, Cobb and Zach Wheat; and No. 89, which features George Sisler and Pie Traynor.
The Baseball Greats were sold in five-cent packs and came with a pair of bonus inserts. The inserts were not numbered, but one was a team logo and the other was a pennant sticker that paid tribute to World Series champions from 1913 to 1960.
Of the 17,904 cards from this set submitted to PSA for grading, only 82 were returned gem mint. No card has more than three PSA-10s, and there are eight cards with that many — Jack Chesbro (No. 13), Johnny Evers (23), Charlie Gehringer (32), Landis (53), Dolf Luque (56), Sam Rice (70), Oscar Melillo (127) and Bob O’Farrell (131). There are 1,211 cards graded at PSA-9, including 22 of Ruth.
There are 2,383 cards that have been submitted to SGC, and only 11 grade as high as 98. There are 254 graded at 96.
The 1961-62 Fleer Baseball Greats set was not overly popular when it was released, but it has grown on vintage collectors in recent years. It has some challenges for set collectors, particularly those attempting to complete the tougher second series. But it is not a terribly expensive product, and it has enough star power and quirkiness to be a fun set to collect.
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