If you are a certain age, the Topps/Bowman baseball card wars of the early 1950’s marked a special time although we certainly did not understand why Mickey Mantle was only in 1954 Bowman while Hank Aaron and Willie Mays among others were in both 1955 Topps and Bowman. Trying to sort out which players were exclusive took a bunch of court orders and even then, sometimes mistakes were made such as the 1954 Bowman Ted Williams card which had to be quickly replaced by a Jimmy Piersall card. Piersall would end up with two card in the 1954 Bowman set which matched what Al Corwin had done in 1953 Bowman last series.
While not quite the same circumstance, the last few series of the 1967 Topps set are fascinating because of who finally showed up.
Most card collectors know that Maury Wills finally officially appeared on a Topps card that year (although he had a cameo on card #389 in the 1960 Topps World Series subset). His 1967 high number card, which is also a tough one to obtain in higher grades, was his first Topps card but did not even feature him as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He had been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates during the off-season, primarily because he skipped out of the Japan tour the Dodgers were on after the season concluded. It also did not help he was going to be 34 years old before the new season began. Wills had never signed a contract with Topps, which had opted not to sign him early in his pro career. When Wills became a standout, Fleer snared him as an exclusive.
But Wills was not the only player to make his card debut in 1967. In addition, to the normal rookie card crop there were several players who had been established in the majors but finally got Topps cards in 1967. To me, the most interesting part is all of these players mentioned who waited years to be on Topps cards came in the series that were issued later in the year. These players are Dave Boswell, Doug Clemens, Arnold Earley and Chris Short.
The key name among these four players is Short who had been one of the two aces of the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies, a team that lost ten straight games near the end of that season and ended what had been a great story all season long. One could make an argument that this was the first card Boswell should have had as looking at his stats he possibly could have been skipped on the 1966 checklist. The other two players played enough so that they definitely should have had cards before 1967.
What are the reasons for the sudden influx of new players in that 1967 higher number series who should have had but never were featured on Topps cards before then?
One of the most fascinating cards in the 1967 set was that of Ruben Gomez. Gomez had been a featured picture as a young man for the 1954 World Champion New York Giants. He had left the majors a few years earlier but kept pitching in the minors and impressed enough people that he began the 1967 season in the majors. Because of that time frame, it had been six years since Gomez had last appeared on a Topps card and to see a vestige of those early 1950’s Giants teams was certainly a shock to many kids collecting the cards of their favorites. In Gomez’ case, that time frame between cards has to do with him not being a major leaguer instead of some nefarious reason.
These are some of my favorite stories involving players from the 1967 set and later on we’ll discuss some more historical facts of that set. In the meantime, if you have any favorite ‘missing player’ stories, drop me a note via the email address below.