We’ve recently discussed some of our favorite stories surrounding 1960s Rookie Stars cards but sometimes it’s not just one guy on the card who makes it interesting. If you love the tales behind the faces more than what they’re worth, I can honestly say it makes many of them as desirable, if not more desirable, than your average Hall of Famer in the same set.
We’ll begin with the 1962 high numbers, where a bounty of Rookie Parade cards challenge set collectors but also house some memorable names. Consider the good fortune we have with Bo Belinsky and Jim Bouton sharing a card. Two guys who sure blazed an interesting trail during a wild decade.
Among other highlights, Bo pitched the first no-hitter in Angels history (with Nolan Ryan and others, there would be more) and also had a series of famed conquests of Hollywood starlets and other very pretty women of the time. Bo was known for his dalliances with such famed people as movie star Mamie Van Doren and also married Playboy Playmate of the year Jo Collins. Now even if his pitching performance did not match up to his potential, you can imagine how many men during that era longed to live his life? For more information about Bo, reading his autobiography is a must read into the lifestyle of the time.
On the other hand, Jim Bouton with his seminal diary Ball Four, helped bring baseball journalism to the modern era. The earthy language and revelation of the foibles of everyone from Mickey Mantle to Freddy Velasquez helped humanize baseball and its players and managers. Not always in a good way and many resented Bouton for it, but time allows us to see his impact. This card is a little pricey and one which may actually gain in importance as the years go by and people understand the true historical relevance of Ball Four.
1963 is highlighted by the Tony Oliva/Ed Kranepool card. Oliva was well on his way to a Hall of Famer career before his knees gave out and he is still immensely popular in Minnesota and surrounding areas. Meanwhile, Ed Kranepool spent nearly two decades in the game and was the last original Met to stay with the team before being forced into retirement at the end of the 1979 season. And in realty, he probably could have remained on the roster for a few more seasons as a pinch-hitter deluxe. Heck even the other two players on the card, Max Alvis and Bob Bailey, had nice major league careers.
Bailey actually stayed in the majors long enough to be a pinch-hitter in the famed Bucky “Bleeping” Dent home run game. While as a Yankee fan there was nothing more satisfying then hearing Bill White say “Deep to Left”, for Red Sox fans having Bob Bailey bat against Goose Gossage late in that game and strike out was not a highlight. That, by the way, was Bailey’s final major league at-bat. So this card even has a link to a very historical major league game. More the a common–especially in Minneapolis and New York–you’ll pay $50 and up for a good one.
For 1964, we have the Willie Horton/Joe Sparma two player rookie card. Although Sparma’s career—and life–were short, he does have one great highlight that Tigers fans will never forget. Sparma pitched a complete game as the Tigers clinched thier first pennant in 23 years. Sparma was known for not always being the most consistent pitcher but on that one September 1968 night he was brilliant. Horton led the 1968 Tigers in homers that year and was a key figure for many years. A hometown hero who grew up in Detroit, Horton is still a beloved figure to this day in Detroit. Many nights he is at the ballpark so fans can remember those glory days. You can find decent examples for $30 and up.
Then in 1965 we have Joe Morgan and Sonny Jackson. Morgan was second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1965 while Jackson finished runner-up in 1966. There cannot be that many cards where consecutive ROY runners up were on the same card. Jackson was shipped off to Atlanta a few years later (and no he is not related to Sonny Jackson who was the last publisher of the famed hobby magazine “The Trader Speaks”).
Meanwhile, Morgan got traded to Cincinnati before the start of the 1972 season, where he’d become a Hall of Famer still considered among the best at his position all-time. The card typically can be found on eBay for $40 and up for nicer examples with high-grade copies into the hundreds. And to think, back in 1965 we were still not sure which of these two players would have a longer career.
1966 has the Don Sutton/Bill Singer dual rookie card. Singer won 20 games in each league and was also the first pitcher to be officially credited with a save. That was the first year of the save becoming an official stat and Singer, on his way to winning 20, got to add that to his career resume.
Meanwhile, Sutton hung around the majors for so long that he pitched for the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers. Yes, the same Dodgers which used a miracle World Series homer from Kirk Gibson to propel themselves to an improbable win over the seemingly dominant Oakland A’s that year. Who knew in 1966 that Sutton would provide a link from the end of the Sandy Koufax era through the Kirk Gibson/Orel Hersisher days of 1988 (remember early in 1989 when those two were as hot as any players in the hobby? I do). $25 and up will get you a solid one.
Not only was 1967 the year for the Red Sox “Impossible Dream” but two key rookies shared a card that year. Mike Andrews and Reggie Smith were both featured on the same card and who knew within a few months they would be starting in the World Series versus the St, Louis Cardinals. The last time these two teams faced each other was 1946 when Enos Slaughter made his mad dash and Pesky held the ball.
Twenty-one years later they had their rematch and with the same result. However, in the 21st century, the Red Sox would finally get their revenge over the Cards and end their nearly 90 years of frustration and put the end to the curse of the “Babe” once and for all. But in 1967, that future was a long way away and we only knew the Red Sox future seemed limitless. Within a decade, Smith was in the National League and Andrews was out of baseball after being publicly embarrassed by A’s owner Charles O Finley during the 1973 World Series. This one is relatively inexpensive.
Today, we still refer to 1968 as the “Year of the Pitcher” and one of the great reminders of that, even on a personal basis is the Yankees rookie card with both Stan Bahnsen (although he had a card in 1967) and Frank Fernandez. One of my earliest memories in following baseball was watching opening day from Yankee Stadium in 1968 and seeing Fernandez hitting a second inning homer which would hold up for the only run in the game. That same year Fergie Jenkins lost five starts 1-0 in further proof about how hard it was to score runs in 1968.
While I did not know any better and baseball was fun to watch because the games were quick, I was not aware of how bad offense was that season. To me, having Carl Yastrzemski lead the league with a .301 average was not impossible to believe. Today of course, we know just how historical 1968 truly was. And by the way, Bahnsen would the American League Rookie of the Year that season and pitch in the majors until the 1980s. This one can be found at a common price level.
And finally for 1969, a card featuring both Richie Hebner and Al Oliver was issued early in the year. Both players had very nice careers and were still going strong 15 years later but today, their rookie card can be had for just a few dollars. Hebner, despite his fine career and 200+ homers is still best known for his off-season occupation of grave-digging while Oliver is still on Hall of Fame ballots for players of that era. The Pirates were well on their way to being the NL East dominant 1970s team and these two were starters for a long time. Oliver, despite seemingly always in contention for a batting title, often played third fiddle to Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell.
We’ll head for the 1970s in one of our next columns.