It’s time to challenge the Yankees again.
No, not on the field, although New York has certainly enjoyed a resurgence in the standings this year. It’s the mid-1960s game — Challenge the Yankees — that is being revived after 52 years, as the game’s creator and his son are bringing back the baseball board classic and hope to add a few new twists.
“Even with the craze over video games, board games are coming back,” said Roger Franklin, a retired advertising executive now living in South Florida who conceived the idea for Challenge the Yankees and then sold it to Hasbro (Hassenfeld Bros.) more than a half-century ago.
The game cost a mere $4 in 1964 and was called “the official New York Yankees Baseball Game” during its two-year run. It featured a replica of old Yankee Stadium (game parts allowed players to “build” the stands, scoreboards and even the famous facades), with one of the boards re-creating a baseball diamond.
People playing the game tossed a pair of dice and looked up the result on a player’s individual card, based on the dice rolls from 2 to 12. There were 50 player cards — one set of 25 Yankees and 25 different all-stars. Players depicted on the cards received $50 for allowing their likeness to be used.
The left-hand side of the box had small action shots of Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard and Tom Tresh, and the cover was dominated by a magnificent aerial shot of Yankee Stadium.
Marty Appel, who worked for the Yankees from 1968 to 1977 and was the team’s public relations director from 1973 to 1977, played Challenge the Yankees as a teenager. Getting the “official game” status tag was a big deal, he said.
“This was a forerunner of a formal licensing program,” Appel said. “It was just the Yankees issuing approval, but it made the game look very classy.
“Beautiful stadium photo on the box.”
Rediscovering an Old Friend
Franklin is now 88. Several years ago his son, Rich, wanted to give him a copy of the game for his 70th birthday.
“This was way before eBay was selling,” said the younger Franklin, 58, who lives in Seattle. “So I searched and couldn’t find one card. It was impossible.”
Rich mentioned the difficulty while visiting his father in Florida, and got a big surprise as his father showed him a treasure trove of Challenge the Yankees memorabilia.
“He showed me boxes and boxes of back material,” Rich Franklin said. “He pulled out the old Hasbro contract and file after file. I never even knew they had existed. When he had moved to Florida I thought he had gotten rid of that stuff years ago.”
While reading the contracts, the Franklins discovered an interesting clause.
“When Hasbro stopped making the game, all the rights went back to my father,” Rich Franklin said. “We hired an attorney who confirmed that, so we got the OK for a reissue.”
It was even suggested to the Franklins that the game could be expanded to include all 30 current major-league baseball teams. The father-son team is looking into that scenario and is optimistic they might be able to market a more modernized game alongside the classic original. Roger Franklin is also putting together a book about the history of the game and the path documenting the game’s conception in 1949 until it hit store shelves in 1964. That 15-year time span coincided with the greatest years of the Yankees dynasty — 14 American League pennants and nine World Series titles.
Roger Franklin came up with the idea for Challenge the Yankees while he was a student at New York University. He was accepted into the Phi Lambda Delta fraternity and was paired with his “big brother,” Allen Finkelson. The game was conceived on the field during a 1949 summer baseball league game in Island Park, New York.
“Allen pushed me a lot to create the game. I created every part of it,” Roger Franklin said. “Rich is now pushing me.”
“We started looking into this in 2013,” Rich Franklin said.
After creating the concept and figuring out the formulas that would make the game seem realistic, Franklin shelved the idea for 13 years. In 1962 he dusted it off, improved it and completed it. Then he sold the idea to Yankees owners Del Webb and Dan Topping, who gave their approval. The next step was finding a distributor, and Hasbro fit the bill.
And that’s the beauty of Challenge the Yankees. Every player’s card is different, and dice rolls can produce varying results. But the statistical accuracy in Challenge the Yankees is good; statistically Mickey Mantle will always have a better chance to connect for home runs in the game than say, Phil Linz. Other board games like APBA and Strat-O-Matic use dice and have formulas, but they are guarded like the secret recipe of Coca-Cola. Roger Franklin does not give out information about how he arrived at his dice results for players, but his book does give some background on how he translates a roll of the dice into a game result.
“My dad’s always been a numbers guy,” Rich Franklin said.
“Well, I was not a math major,” Roger Franklin said. “My whole life I was in the advertising business.”
“In Challenge the Yankees, my dad’s dice roll was within 2 percent of the actual statistics,” Rich Franklin said. “My father’s formula was created 60 years ago, transferring statistical information to a dice roll.”
Cards Are Collectible
The cards for Challenge the Yankees were large, measuring 4 inches by 5 3/8 inches. Each card had a black-and-white photograph of the player in the upper left-hand corner. A facsimile autograph was located to the right of the photo, and below that were the results of dice rolls from 2 to 12. The card backs were blank, and the original version in 1964 also had blank cards in case a player wanted to add a Yankee or all-star.
Two collectors own complete, PSA graded Challenge the Yankees sets from 1964 and ’65. A 2015 story from Sports Collectors Daily featured comments from Lou Dicioccio, who had the third-best graded set in the 1964 game version (42 out of 50 cards). The 1965 edition was very similar to the previous year, although some players from 1964 were dropped while others were added.
A quick search of eBay showed more than 20 cards for sale. There was one Mantle card listed for $59.99 two years ago and it’s still on the market. Perhaps it’s still available because the card has been severely trimmed; the lower 2 ¾ inches was neatly cut away. A PSA 2 Mantle (a full card, no trimming) has an asking price of $355 on eBay.
It’s no surprise that Roger Franklin is a longtime Yankees fan. He said he saw his first game at Yankee Stadium in 1933, but his vivid memories of “The House that Ruth Built” really began around 1936.
“I always lived in Manhattan, so it was a 10-minute subway ride to Yankee Stadium,” he said. “Joe DiMaggio and that era is when I really began to follow them.”
Marketing a New Edition
The Franklins have begun to get their brand name out on social media, establishing a Twitter account on June 26. Roger Franklin is a persuasive guy, and he and his son plan to cut a promotional video to advertise the game. They have reached out to Appel to do the voice-over for the promo. Since Appel has fond memories of Challenge the Yankees as a youth, it’s a good possibilty that the best-selling author of this year’s biography of Casey Stengel will be on board.
“I loved the game,” Appel said. “Getting to play with picture cards of Yogi, Roger, Mick, and the others was a treat.”
Roger Franklin’s book will include copies of some of the legal papers and letters that crossed his desk as he negotiated the rights for the game.
Not only do they see the possibilities with reviving the old product, they also see potential in modernizing the game, using new players and all-stars in a “Challenge the (pick team name)” game. A blessing and some legal paperwork from Major League Baseball would make that a reality.
“All you have to do is walk around,” Roger Franklin said. “People are wearing shirts and jackets of teams and stars.”
“It’s a doable thing,” Rich Franklin said. “It is really about the heroes of the day. (Fans) all have their hometown heroes that they love. It would fly.”
“It’s interesting that there is talk of bringing (Challenge the Yankees) back,” Appel said. “Hope it happens.”
Here is a breakdown of the game cards for both years of Challenge the Yankees’ existence:
1964 Challenge the Yankees Checklist
- Yankees: Yogi Berra, Johnny Blanchard, Jim Bouton, Clete Boyer, Marshall Bridges, Harry Bright, Al Downing, Whitey Ford, Jake Gibbs, Pedro Gonzalez, Steve Hamilton, Elston Howard, Tony Kubek, Phil Linz, Hector Lopez, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Tom Metcalf, Joe Pepitone, Hal Reniff, Bobby Richardson, Bill Stafford, Ralph Terry, Tom Tresh and Stan Williams.
- All-Stars: Hank Aaron, Del Crandall, Tom Cheney, Tito Francona, Dick Groat, Al Kaline, Art Mahaffey, Frank Malzone, Juan Marichal, Eddie Matthews, Bill Mazeroski, Ken McBride, Willie McCovey, Jim O’Toole, Milt Pappas, Ron Perranoski, Johnny Podres, Dick Radatz, Rich Rollins, Ron Santo, Bill Skowron, Duke Snider, Pete Ward, Carl Warwick and Carl Yastrzemski.
1965 Challenge the Yankees Checklist
- Yankees: Johnny Blanchard, Jim Bouton, Clete Boyer, Leon “Duke” Carmel, Al Downing, Whitey Ford, Jake Gibbs, Pedro Gonzalez, Steve Hamilton, Elston Howard, Tony Kubek, Phil Linz, Hector Lopez, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Pete Mikkelsen, Tom Metcalf, Joe Pepitone, Pedro Ramos, Hal Reniff, Bobby Richardson, Rollie Sheldon, Bill Stafford, Mel Stottlemyre and Tom Tresh.
- All-Stars: Hank Aaron, Joe Christopher, Vic Davalillo, Bill Freehan, Jim Gentile, Dick Groat, Al Kaline, Don Lock, Art Mahaffey, Frank Malzone, Juan Marichal, Eddie Matthews, Bill Mazeroski, Ken McBride, Tim McCarver, Willie McCovey, Jim O’Toole, Milt Pappas, Ron Perranoski, Johnny Podres, Dick Radatz, Rich Rollins, Ron Santo, Pete Ward and Carl Yastrzemski.