It’s hard to believe, but 55 years ago this week, Carl Yastrzemski made his major-league debut.
Batting fifth in Boston’s April 11, 1961, season-opener at Fenway Park against the Kansas City Athletics, the 21-year-old rookie went 1-for-5. In his first major-league at-bat, he singled with one out in the second inning off Ray Herbert. With two outs, he ended the inning when he was thrown out stealing by Haywood Sullivan. Their paths would cross many more times through the years, as Sullivan became the Red Sox general manager and then one of the team’s owners during the twilight of Yastrzemski’s career.
The hit that day was the first of 3,419 for Yastrzemski, who was touted as a replacement for Hall of Famer Ted Williams when he joined the team and then became an icon in his own right during a 23-year major-league career, wearing his familiar number 8.
To celebrate the anniversary of his arrival in the big leagues, here are eight notable 1960s Carl Yastrzemski cards.
1960 Topps, No. 148
This served as the first Yaz card, which is interesting because he did not play a game in the majors during 1960. In fact, Yastrzemski was having a banner year in the American Association at Triple-A Minneapolis, batting .339 with seven homers and 69 RBIs.
His inaugural Topps card mirrored the horizontal design used to display rookies chosen by Sport magazine as “stars.” Print marks can pose a problem for those seeking high-grade examples. Only a few dozen have reached mint status from grading companies. Your best deal is a ‘7’, which can usually be found for under $230.
This card coincided with Yastrzemski’s official rookie season with the Red Sox. A .266 average, 11 homers and 80 RBIs was not a bad debut season. The card itself is the exact same photograph of Yaz that was used in the 1960 set. Using the same photo in more than one year would occur in the 1963-64 Topps sets, and the 1978 and ’79 would look like outtakes from the same photo session. The design of the card has the look of a watercolor painting with a big green hedge in the background.
Not difficult to find, you can own a very nice example for $60-$100.
One of my favorite cards from my favorite set. Yastrzemski’s pose is so markedly different from many of the cards from the iconic ’65 Topps set. He has both hands in the air as if he is about to make a catch. Yaz missed 21 games that year and still belted a league-leading 45 doubles.
What always puzzled me about the 1965 set was why the border color for the Red Sox was in green. Shouldn’t it have been red? I would have thought so.
Easy to find, you can still grab even a graded, NM version for under $60.
Yastrzemski is paired with Chuck Schilling on a card called “Sox Sockers.” Yaz was coming off his first great season. In 1963 he won his first batting title and led the American League in hits, doubles, walks and on-base percentage. He also was named an All-Star for the first time.
Yaz didn’t appear on many ‘special’ cards during his career and this one is quirky with the two players posing with crossed bats (neither seems thrilled) but we’re guessing it’s probably one of Schilling’s favorites.
Extra appealing is the fact that you can buy one for around ten bucks.
Yastrzemski got the prime card number position for this insert, which came in packs of the regular Topps cards. Inserted one per pack, the cards were more narrow than the standard Topps cards, measuring 2 1/8” by 3 ½”.
These cards were printed on a gold foil card stock, and honestly, without the player’s name on the front, you wouldn’t recognize him. The embossed gold featuring the player’s head was different, but it also made the card prone to wearing.
Not surprisingly, the Yastrzemski card and the final card in the 72-card set (Jack Kralick) are among the toughest to find in a high grade. Even NM examples don’t come on the market often but the good news is, ungraded cards are cheap.
How appropriate that Fleer awarded Yastrzemski a number that corresponded with his uniform number. And this card shows a nice shot of Yaz taking his distinctive batting stance.
1963 marked Yaz’s first batting title. He was just 24.
A highly graded 1963 Fleer card of Yastrzemski is hard to find but you can still own a nice copy for around $50.
Of all the Yastrzemski cards issued by Topps, the 1966 version has the most eye appeal. While Yaz is kind of dour on so many of his cards, this one depicts him swinging a bat and sporting a huge grin (wouldn’t it be nice to know what caused him to chuckle?).
Unfortunately for Red Sox fans there wasn’t much to smile about. They finished in 9th place and no one could have expected what was to come in ’67.
This is a popular card but a check of eBay shows you can own a pretty decent ungraded example for under $25.
Yaz’s greatest season coincided with the “Impossible Dream” Red Sox team that made it to the World Series against all expectations. He won the Triple Crown by hitting .326 with 44 homers and 121 RBI.
Several graded 9s have sold for over $1,000 in recent months but ungraded EX-NM examples are available for under $45.
If you’re collecting Yaz — or Triple Crown winners — this one’s a must.