Long-time broadcaster John Clemens takes the Editor’s Blog for a spin, recalling memories of a special set and the hunt to rebuild it.
The year was 1957 and death was not coming easy for Grandpa Baynes who had come to live with us so he could be closer to his doctors. As a boy about to turn 13 I had to be very respectful and not make a lot of noise when my friends came over to trade baseball cards. So we were relegated to the cement floor of the garage.
Most of us thought it to be a place of insignificance but that cement floor has played over and over again in my memory because it became a tapestry of baseball cards. Back then just like today there was a pandemic they called the Asian flu.
It didn’t matter to us because Roy Sievers (#89) was tearing up the American League with 42 home runs for the last place Washington Senators. In Washington, Dwight Eisenhower was the president but I was more interested in what Warren Spahn (#90) of the Milwaukee Braves was doing. To this day I don’t know why I took such a dislike of the Yankees so my friends, J.C, Angelo, Dennis, Dave and a few others got all my Yankees. Yogi Berra (#2), Whitey Ford (#25) Billy Martin (#62), Elston Howard (#82) and of course Mickey Mantle (#95) were all traded away for players that have been lost to all but those with the best memory.
Perhaps it was the fact there were rumors that Brooklyn would soon lose the Dodgers and the Giants too would be moving west. That was the year Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds would go silent. In 1957 you thought of St. Louis and Kansas City as out west for baseball… but California?
As a pre-teen I don’t think I ever completed the complete 407 card set. Now after all those years I have a new passion for those 2 ½ by 3 ½ inch cardboard memories of my youth. So if JC, Angelo, Dennis and Dave are reading this, I want those cards back.
Now you can call it my “bucket list” or just a dream for a guy to recapture just a tiny portion of his youth: the complete 1957 Topps set. The high numbers in the series beginning with #265 Harvey Haddix fetch a higher price but that is where you’ll find #400 Dodgers’ sluggers Carl Furillo, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella and Duke Snider. While at a recent card show I saw that elusive card marked $20. Surely this was a mistake of giant proportions and as my heart began to race I saw the reason why. Someone–probably a youngster like me in 1957– had torn a portion off the top left corner of the card. For a guy like me who is normally not that all that obsessed with condition I thought about reaching for my wallet but then as sanity returned, I gently put the card back to the spot I found it. I don’t have a lot of standards, but I do want cards in one piece.
The other “combination stars” card from that set is #407 Yankees Power Hitters Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. That’s the card that continues to elude my budget but not my fantasy.
As collectors you know that one card or group of cards that haunts you. They have the power to hearken back to you without being invited. Yet, there they are vivid in your imagination as you long for the day to slip that card into your collection and understand the phrase…mine!
My quest first began collecting as many of the commons as I could and bring up the value to show my wife. My advice to vintage card collectors….don’t let others discourage you especially the ones that don’t share your passion. I’ve now completed about half of my quest to fill every one of those plastic holders for all the cards in the 1957 set. I take some of the cards out and tell stories about Hank Aaron (#20) being wrongly-pictured as a left-handed hitter due to the negative being reversed before printing. I even enjoy telling others about card #100 that featured presidents William Harridge of the American League side by side with Warren Giles of the National League. Some look at paintings in a museum and marvel while guys like me look at card #400 and at #407 and wonder will I ever be able to afford them. They were a lot easier to snare in 1957.
Life can get in way sometimes with interruptions, like cars when you turn a certain age. Then it can be that special girl, but you’re afraid to ever let her know you collect baseball cards. So, I continue on my journey that has taken me to card shows around Dallas to Triple Play Sports Cards in Sioux Falls, South Dakota to Allen, Texas where Kyle Robertson has a copy of my want list. The search is only part of the fun of completing my 1957 set because like any other journey, it’s the people you meet along the way.