Mickey Mantle would have turned 90 on Oct. 20.
And while the Mick has been dead since 1995, his cards still interest collectors. Regular issue Topps base cards of Mantle are desirable, but offbeat sets — including those issued by gum and food companies — are just as coveted.
Bazooka Gum cards featuring Mantle are intriguing. Certainly, they are scarcer than the Topps issues, and condition is an issue if you didn’t have a steady hand with a pair of scissors. That’s because you had to cut the card on the dotted line from the box. Grading company submissions seem to confirm that the kids were cutting the cards; high-condition Bazooka cards come at a premium.
Mantle appeared in Bazooka sets every year from 1959 to 1968. From 1960 to 1968, when the cards essentially made up the entire back panel of the box rather than being part of a trio, Mantle appeared with 17 different players. Two players appeared with Mantle in consecutive years — Art Mahaffey in 1961 and ’62, and Leon Wagner in 1966 and ’67.
The inaugural Bazooka product had 23 unnumbered cards printed in full color on the one-cent boxes. The blank-backed cards measured 2 13/16 inches by 4 15/16 inches and were printed on the bottom of the boxes, making them condition sensitive. And then there was that dotted line. Be honest — what kid in 1959, or even now, perhaps — has the patience to cut the cards properly? And, if Mom was busy, impatience ruled the day. Uncut boxes would have been ideal, but again, a kid’s mindset in 62 years ago was a lot different than it is today.
Condition sensitive? That is borne out by the 123 examples sent to PSA for grading. There are 113 hand cut cards that have been authenticated, and of 10 cards that received a grade, the highest is a PSA 7. Cards that don’t show the dotted lines usually receive an “Authentic” grade. Even those typically start at around $1,500 and go up.
In 1960, Bazooka decided to use a panel format, placing three players on the back of the box. That made the cards narrower, as they measured 1 13/16 inches by 2¾ inches for individual cards and 2¾ inches by 5½ inches.
Mantle is valuable in his own right, but the card is even more valuable when the full panel, which includes Glen Hobbie and Roy McMillan, is intact. The cards are individually numbered, however, so Mantle comes in at No. 31.
Once again, high condition cards are scarce. Of the 79 hand-cut cards submitted to PSA, the highest grade is a 9, with four earning that grade.’
The 1961 season is notable for Mantle’s career-high in home runs, even if he lost out to Roger Maris in the race to overcome Babe Ruth, 61-54.
Mantle’s ’61 Bazooka card, while just a headshot, sports a bold look with its black background and larger portrait. He is card No. 2 in the set, and he is flanked on the panel by pitcher Art Mahaffey and third baseman Ron Santo.
There is one panel card out of 22 submissions that was awarded a gem-mint grade by PSA. As for the hand-cut cards, there is one PSA 10 Mantle and five that graded 9.
Encouraged by the popularity of the set, Bazooka increased its set size to 45 cards (15 panels) in 1962. For some reason, the cards were no longer numbered, but they remained the same size. Mantle is once again flanked by Mahaffey, and the other player in the panel is Dick Stuart. Mantle would win his third American League MVP award in 1962.
Mahaffey, meanwhile, was third in Rookie of the Year balloting in 1960 but led the National League in losses in 1961 with a dreadful Phillies team, going 11-19. But he turned it around in 1962, going 19-14 with 20 complete games for the best season in his seven-year major league career. Fun fact: Mahaffey attended the same high school in Cincinnati as Pete Rose, graduating three years ahead of Charlie Hustle.
Stuart was put on the 1962 panel because of his strong showing in ’61, when he hit 35 home runs and drove in 117 runs.
Once again there are no gem-mint hand-cut cards of Mantle out of 64 submitted. The top grade is PSA 9, and there are two examples. The panel card is harder to find in high grade, with the highest a PSA 8 — there were three of them — out of 18 submissions.
After being occupying a panel with a future Hall of Famer in 1961 (Santo, in case you forgot), Mantle’s 1963 Bazooka panel card is easily the most valuable in the set, as Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, is part of the three-man set. The third player is Bob “Buck” Rodgers, who went on to become a coach and manager after his playing days.
The 1963 set reverted to 12 panels again, and the card size is narrower and shorter at 1 9/16 inches by 2½ inches. Numbers also return, and Mantle is card No. 1.
The 1963 Bazooka product has a history of being counterfeited, and sometime around 2002 a bogus complete set popped up, certified by “FGA.” So beware.
There are higher graded Mantles in this set for hand-cut cards, but none are PSA 10. Nine come in at PSA 9. Panels are a different matter, with only one grading as high as PSA 7.
1964 and ’65
The 1964 and ’65 Bazooka sets had the same design, and the only difference for Mantle is that he appears in the first panel as card No. 1. The 1964 set is a portrait shot, with Mantle looking off to the right, while the ’65 version has the Mick batting left-handed. Dick Groat and Steve Barber are included in the 1964 panel, while Larry Jackson and Chuck Hinton are the other players on the 1965 panel. There was an added bonus for collectors in 1964, as Topps included a sheet of 10 stamps in every box of Bazooka.
There is finally a PSA 10 version of a Mantle card, with two receiving the grade for the 1964 Bazooka hand-cut version. In fact, there are 11 that are graded PSA 9 and another 11 tagged at PSA 8. Full panels did not fare as well, with only five grading as high as PSA 9. The 1965 set also has a PSA 10 and five PSA 9 graded cards.
1966 and ’67
Bazooka’s design tended to repeat itself in the 1966 and 1967 sets. The only difference was that there were now 48 cards (16 panels). Mantle and Wagner were paired in both sets, with Kranepool rounding out the 1966 trio while Gary Peters rounded out the 1967 panel.
Finding a Mantle panel in high condition in the 1966 set was tough, with the highest grade coming in at PSA 7. There was a PSA 9 for the 1967 panel, but only 16 panels were submitted.
In Mantle’s final full season of 1968, Bazooka radically changed its design. The player cards are situated on the side of the box — two per side — and measure 1¼ inches by 3 1/8 inches, while the bottom of the box now contained a “Tipps from the Topps,” a cartoon that focused on player skills such as fielding, stealing bases, sliding and defense.
Mantle, batting right-handed, was paired with Curt Flood, Jimmy Wynn and Joel Horlen. The bottom of the box featured pitching as told by Jim Lonborg, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner.
Mantle’s final Bazooka card had 42 submissions to PSA, with one earning a PSA 9 grade. Only two submissions were made for the panel that included Mantle and Flood, with the highest grade a PSA 4.
It is interesting that the 1969-70 Bazooka set, which featured a box bottom called “HR Almost Hit out of Stadium,” chose to use Jimmie Foxx. Mantle came close to becoming the only player to hit a fair ball out of Yankee Stadium. Because the set focused on retired players (and Mantle did not announce his retirement until March 1969), that is probably why he was omitted.
Mickey Mantle cards are still a collector’s dream, particularly from the 1960s. The Bazooka sets help scratch that itch.