Back in the day of early childhood, when the great matters of life were discussed and settled on the playground between innings — or during rounds of “pickle” if we did not have enough players for a game — there was rarely consensus on any issue. Even if everyone present agreed that the Tigers were the only team that mattered in the American League (that is how it was growing up in Detroit in the 1960s), it was just about impossible to agree on who was the best of the boys down at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. Of course it was Al Kaline, but guys would always argue for Norm Cash, Willie Horton, Denny McLain, Mickey Lolich or someone else. As if.
The grand old game was not the only matter of debate. Not by a long shot. Which bubble gum was best or the choice between hot dogs and hamburgers were among the myriad of topics that divided the guys in my circles. These issues would cause voices to raise and crazy actions to be undertaken that involved dares and name calling and all sorts of goings on.
But there was one thing upon which almost all of us agreed…kids whose birthday landed on Christmas Day were unlucky and cheated in an almost cosmic sense.
This was not theoretical for us, either. Our circle of kids who walked to and from elementary school together (we never saw a school bus in those days) shared daily life and annual celebrations as a group. And one of our number, the unlucky one, was born on Christmas Day.
His parents tried to take some of the sting out of the situation as I recall. But birthday parties before or after the actual birthday seemed strange to most of us, and sometimes we could not even all get together because some were traveling due to the holidays. At school, nothing was said or done about the birthday because we were not in school at the time. In kid circles having your birthday co-opted by the “best” day of the year seemed really unfair.
Of course, with maturity comes new perspectives and we have all outgrown such petty thoughts <cough. cough>. And I have even considered it a point of interest from time to time to check into the names and achievements of those who entered the world on December 25th. This especially came back to my mind recently as I was compiling an All-Star team of players born in the month of December. I was reminded that the incredible Rickey Henderson was born on that day, and that got me to looking and considering what other players were Christmas babies.
After a good bit of research and lots of fun reading I started looking up the baseball cards of the men who shared a birthday with the holiday. In so doing, I came up with a list of a few baseball cards of players born on Christmas Day that I enjoy. No, I do not possess all of these cards, but I do think they make a pretty good list of cards with 12-25 listed as the day of birth (if they list the day of birth, of course). Here they are in alphabetical order of the last name:
1937 O-Pee-Chee Batter Ups #130 Ben Chapman
This 40-card set featured black-and-white die-cut player photos against a simulated ballpark background with smaller player figures surrounding the central player. The backs carry a short biography and career summary in English and French. It is a visually interesting set that is not seen all that often, and the Chapman card carries a book value of $300. He also appears on a few other sets from the 1930s-early 50s. Chapman played his first seven years with the New York Yankees, winning a World Series with them in 1932. But his baseball career is overshadowed. Even though he was a four-time All-Star and finished his career with a .302 batting average, it was his racist antics as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies during Jackie Robinson’s rookie campaign for which he is most remembered.
1954 Wilson Franks #6 Nellie Fox
The 1954 “Wilson Wieners” set contains 20 full color, unnumbered cards that are known for the design element of a package of hot dogs appearing to fly through the air. There are many great players in this set (Roy Campanella, Bob Feller, Ted Williams), and among them is the Hall of Fame second baseman, Nellie Fox. Born on Christmas Day in 1927, Nellie spent 14 seasons with the Chicago White Sox, making 10 All-Star teams. The Wilson Franks card is from his fourth season with the Sox, and while not cheap, examples abound on eBay.
1887-90 Old Judge N172 #197 Pud Galvin
The second Hall of Famer on our list of Christmas baby ball cards, Galvin was Major League Baseball’s first 300-game winner. Of course, he pitched in a time when clubs routinely used two-man pitching rotations. This accounts for his 6,003 innings pitched and 646 complete games, both of which are second only to the career totals of Cy Young.
Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1965, Galvin is the only player in baseball history to win 20 or more games in 10 different years without winning a pennant. This Old Judge card is a pretty good rarity but they do pop up on eBay if you’ve got a few thousand to spare. If not, nice reprints and commemoratives are probably the easiest route to travel.
1950 Bowman #51 Ned Garver
Released a couple of years before the first big Topps set, this 1950 Bowman card shows a great pitching follow-through shot of Ned Garver. Most of his career was spent playing for perennial second-division teams like the St. Louis Browns (as shown on this card) and Kansas City Athletics. But, in 1951, Garver had a storied season pitching for the Browns. He compiled a 20-12 record even though the Browns lost 102 games that year. His twentieth victory came on the last day of the season, and it was a game in which he hit a home run. This card, in near mint shape, can fetch around $60, but it carries a lot more baseball history than the price tag reveals.
1980 Topps #482 Rickey Henderson Rookie Card
Our final Hall of Fame player, this rookie card from the edge of the vintage card era is a tough one to find in really great condition. Indeed, although nearly 13,000 rookie cards of the all-time leading base stealer have been submitted to PSA for grading, only 13 have received the grade of “Gem Mint 10.” That is 0.001! Of course, that kind of fits Rickey very well as he was a one-of-a-kind type of player. He holds the major league records for career stolen bases, runs scored, unintentional walks and leadoff home runs. That unique combination of speed and power is one of the reasons his rookie card is easy to find and very popular.
2001 Topps Base Hit Autograph Relics #BH20 Gene Lamont
That Gene Lamont would have a card on our “top cards” list of Christmas born players may seem strange, and indeed, most of his cards would never qualify. However, even though he was dismissed as Pirates manager in 2000, the baseball lifer had a card in the Base Hit Autograph Relics insert set. These special cards were Inserted in Topps series two packs at a rate of one in 1,1462 hobby or retail packs and one in 325 HTA packs,. They featured managers along with a game-used base piece and an autograph, and if you can find one of this fine gentleman, it will set you back about $50.
2007 Topps 52 Signatures #HO Hideki Okajima This last card brings together a few universal items: Christmas is celebrated all over the world, babies are born all over the world, and baseball has become a world-wide sport. Bringing these three things together is the autographed rookie card of this Japanese pitcher. The red ink version of this autographed card lists for $100 even though Okajima has returned to Japan to play. The non-autographed versions are cheap.
Of course, his brief career in the major leagues was notable. He played with the Boston Red Sox from 2007-2011, and was elected to the 2007 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Later that season he became the first Japanese-born pitcher to play in the World Series as he pitched in Game 2 of the 2007 series.