Topps made one of its most infamous errors 50 years ago when it used a photo of an Angels batboy instead of one that was supposed to depict young prospect Aurelio Rodriguez. The mistake was never corrected but the card, #653 in the 1969 Topps set, remains one of the more memorable cardboard goofs of all-time.
Rodriguez was hit by a car and killed several years ago, but the batboy, Leonard Garcia, lives in Mesa, AZ and enjoyed a long career in the game, including decades working in the Angels organization and running a baseball school.
Since the card is turning 50, the Orange County Register caught up with Garcia for a story that is full of little tidbits of interest to collectors. Some of the stories have been circulating the hobby for years but there are a bunch of nuggets from writer David Jerome that are worth knowing. Among them:
- A photographer shot the image before a game at Tiger Stadium in Detroit late in the 1967 season when Rodriguez and Garcia–both about the same age–were playing catch. Brace apparently didn’t know the 19-year-old Garcia was a batboy and juxtaposed the names of the two men in his notebook. Garcia made him aware of the error at the time, but somehow when the photo was sold to Topps, the message wasn’t clear or was simply missed.
- Topps used older photos because the newly-formed MLB Players Association, with Marvin Miller now at the helm, told players not to cooperate with Topps photographers until a better deal could be hammered out for his union. Topps then bought photos from outside sources, including Brace.
- Topps was contacted about the error by Angels’ traveling secretary Tommy Ferguson. Topps Vice-President Sy Berger sent a letter thanking the Angels for pointing out “our monumental boo-boo.” Garcia still has the letter—and the original photo negative Berger included with his letter.
- Rodriguez and Garcia made a “gentlemen’s agreement” that either one of them could autograph the card, but not if it had already been signed by one of them. Garcia says he’s the only one who has signed a card that also includes the autograph of Rodriguez, who died in 2005. The Register’s story includes a very odd and tragic piece of trivia connected with the accident that killed him.
- Garcia found out about the error when he was sitting in the clubhouse autographing cards that had been sent to players by fans and collectors. It’s a textbook and unfortunate example of the “clubhouse signature” that was commonplace for many years. So…if you have a baseball card signed by a member of the Angels in the late 60s or early 70s, there’s a good chance it’s been signed by an Angels batboy instead of the player on the front.
Because the error was never corrected, you can own that 1969 Topps gem for just a few bucks.