At a recent show, one of my regular customers started for fun peppering me with various questions about certain cards. After about the fifth name, he realized I truly do love the cards from the 60’s and 70’s and how each one of them tells a story. Since the first card he asked me about was the 1964 Rookie Stars card with Tom Butters, we’ll start with him and discuss a few of my favorite stories from that particular subset.
While there are now two rookie stars who are Hall of Famers (Tony La Russa and Phil Niekro) and others that are famous for their on-field performance (Richie Allen, Tommy John and Lou Piniella among them), the real cool stories are the ones not featuring such famed baseball personalities.
Butters’ career was short but he’s best remembered today is his long time role as Duke’s athletic director. He’s the guy who hired Coach K and stuck with him through his early years before Duke became the long-time powerhouse of the past 30 years. One can even argue that for Butters’ role in sports history, his card is very underrated. He was also part of card #299 in the 1963 Topps set.
Our next stop in the 1964 Rookie Star tour is Jake Gibbs who’s worth remembering for a couple of reasons. The first was his time as the Ole Miss quarterback and punter. Gibbs was actually the punter during Billy Cannon’s 89 yard return which helped clinch the 1959 Heisman trophy. Gibbs decided to play professional baseball instead in no small part due to a large signing bonus given him by the New York Yankees.
Because of his college fame and quick movement through the Yankee farm system, Topps awarded him a “Rookie Star” card in the 1962 set. Two years later, he had his second rookie card, but this time he had to share the honors with another player. While that situation of going from solo card to sharing did not happen often, it did on occasion in the 1960’s.
Perhaps the most famous player to go from a solo rookie card to a group rookie card was Gaylord Perry who went from having his own card in 1962 to a group rookie card in 1963. That would continue for the next few years as even an obscure Pirates pitcher named Frank Bork had a high number solo card in 1965 but then a two player rookie card in the first series of 1966 Topps.
Another player–and he was early in the set because of a big homer hit late in the 1963 season– was Dick Nen. During the final month of the 1963 season, the St. Louis Cardinals went on a tear during the final two months of Stan Musial’s career. All of a sudden what had been a big lead for the Dodgers had dwindled down and this was going to be the key series of the season.
In what turned out to be a 13-inning classic, Nen entered the game in his major league debut as a pinch-hitter and played the rest of the game. In the top of the 13th inning, Nen hit what would be his first, and by far, most important, major league homer to win the game for the Dodgers. A quick scan of the box score showed Ron Perranoski pitched the final six innings in relief for the Dodgers. Heck today, most starters don’t even go six innings. Nen’s son, Robb, became a star closer for the Giants about 15 years ago. But in 1964, no one knew that Dick had already had his career highlight and his son would be the one to have the long career.
This one always cracks me up. The Archie Skeen rookie card mentions on the back: “Archie has retired to become a school teacher.” That news had to devastate the growing Archie Skeen fan club and probably had kids trying to use a “rookie card” to pull a fast one on their friends in trades.
That’s not even the best verbiage on a 1964 rookie stars card, though. The Rick Wise/Dave Bennett high number rookie card includes this classic line about Bennett: “This 19 year old right handed curveballer is just 18 years old.”
I don’t know about you but that sounds like Casey Stengel’s famed line about Greg Goossen: “I have this 19 year old kid and in 10 years he has a chance to be 29 years old.”
While we’re going off topic, the Goossen name is huge in boxing circles with a promoter and trainer in his family. Although Wise had a very nice career, and was even traded even up for Steve Carlton (oops), the line on his card is a classic.
These are just some of my favorite stories about 1964 Rookie Stars and like almost every year in the 1960’s, there are plenty more where these came from.