When spring training gave way to cold early-season games in April of 1965, veteran baseball fans probably figured they were in for some changes in the new season. The vaunted New York Yankees had made it to the World Series the year before, but their foundation was cracked and aging. On the other side of the continent, the Los Angeles Dodgers had somehow slid to seventh place in the National League in 1964, but they were too young and talented to stay down another year.
Though both developments were harbingers of the immediate future, not even the most astute of collectors could have foreseen the historical importance of card #157 when they pulled it from second series wax packs of the 1965 Topps baseball card issue that spring.
Minnesota Twins shortstop Zoilo Versalles had smacked 20 home runs the year before, but he carried a pedestrian .255 batting average into the 1965 campaign and was nobody’s idea of a superstar. Crouching there on the front of his Topps card, glove held up in defense of squinting eyes behind wire-frame glasses, Zoilo looks like an accountant called into duty when the local 25 all caught the same bug.
By the end of the season, though, Versalles and his Twins’ teammates would make the nation (almost) believe in MinneMagic, and that card would take on a certain beauty to become one of the campaign’s most recognizable images thanks in part to an unlikely corporate union 17 years later. If fans were shocked by the events on the field in 1965, at least they had a classic Topps baseball set to guide them through the chaos.
If ever a baseball card set made you want to get up on your feet and root for the home team, it was the 1965 Topps issue.
In addition to the customary full-color player photo, each card front is set off by a waving team pennant in the lower right-hand corner, angled up into the picture and emblazoned with the team mascot and name. Across the bottom of the card, the player’s position and name appear in block letters against a solid chunk of color that extends around the edges of the photo, curving at the corners.
Card backs are slightly more informal than with many 1960s issues, leading off with the card number in a Topps baseball and followed by the player name in large, italicized comic sans (-ish) type. The first letter of each name is rendered in fat bold white letters, complete with the hint of a shadow cast onto the light blue back ground. The upper right corner is dedicated to a player cartoon, with the related caption appearing under his name.
The heart of each card back is a rounded-corner white box that occupies two-thirds or more of the available real estate, depending on the tenure of the player. The top two lines show vital and biographical stats, and most players are treated to a biographical paragraph, too.
Of course, every player is shown with his full career stats. For some oldsters like Nellie Fox, that means the trivialities of a cartoon and human interest note had to be sacrificed.
There Was Tim Hunter, and Then There Was Everyone Else
What Topps did NOT sacrifice in 1965 was player selection, especially when it came to superstar rookie cards.
Among the heavy-hitting debut pasteboards are Joe Morgan (#16), Luis Tiant (#145), Steve Carlton (#477), Jim ‘Catfish’ Hunter (#526), Mel Stottlemyre (#550), and Tony Perez (#581). In case you’re counting, that’s four Hall of Famers in Morgan, Carlton, Hunter, and Perez.
Today, each of those HOF rookies bring several hundred dollars in slabbed, high-grade condition, and Morgan approaches $2000 when graded MINT.
The Catfish issue may be the bargain of the lot, though, because when you turn it over, you have the rookie card of “Tim” Hunter, courtesy of a Topps’ error. Two for one!
Other popular cards from the issue include a third-year Pete Rose, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays (issued in the summer he smacked 52 home runs), Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, and any number of other future Hall of Famers you can name. As with every other Topps set of the era, the 1965s are loaded with superstars and Cooperstown enshrinees.
Even so, all of the cards are attainable, depending on your budget. For instance, while the pink-bordered Mantle can bring north of three grand in graded NM-MT condition, you can regularly find it on eBay for under $50 if you’re willing to accept a little “character.”
Nothing (Much) Special
The Hunter error card is one of a handful of uncorrected blunders that includes the ever-confusing Jim Katt/Jim Kaat front/back combination. Others involve misspellings on card backs and wrong colors on card fronts, but only one was corrected.
That would be the first series checklist (#79), which shows card number 61 as either “C. Cannizzaro” or “Cannizzaro.”
Even in the realm of subsets, the 1965s are pretty tame, treating collectors to just league leaders (#1-12) and World Series highlights (#132-139). There are rookie combo cards and team cards, but none of the cutesy multiple pasteboards or All-Star series that Topps had produced in the early 1960s.
As was their norm in those days, Topps issued their set in seven series, and they short-printed many of the high-number cards. Still, none of them are impossible to find, and piecing together a run of 1965s should be a fairly straightforward endeavor.
If you prefer to buy rather than build a complete 1965 Topps baseball set of 598 cards, solid EX-MT examples sell for $2000-3000.
They Can Be Whoever You Want Them to Be
Those looking for more of a challenge might consider two add-on sets that Topps inserted in their one-cent and five-cent packs in 1965.
“Transfers” are crude, reverse-image drawings of player heads that can be rubbed onto other surfaces — a T-shirt, a baseball, your forehead. Commons bring $20 or more on eBay, with even low-grade superstars selling for more than $50.
The “Embossed” set, meanwhile, features gold-foil profiles of players layered onto blue (American League) or red (National League) backgrounds. The embossed cards are more abundant in today’s market than their transfer counterparts, ranging in price from less than a dollar for unslabbed commons to a few hundred dollars for high-grade superstars.
The great thing about both of these sets is that, if you didn’t pull the card you wanted from a pack, you could squint your eyes, just a little, and transform Dave Wickersham into Mickey Mantle. Voila!
As Zoilo Goes, So Go the Twins
By the time Sandy Koufax struck out Bobby Allison to wrap up Game 7 of the 1965 World Series, baseball fans and writers were already convinced that Zoilo Versalles was a superstar.
No squinting necessary.
While slugger Harmon Killebrew had been the face of the franchise for years, it wasn’t until their sparkplug shortstop started arcing that the Twins captured an American League crown and very nearly took down the glamorous Los Angeles Dodgers. And, when Versalles tanked over the next couple of seasons, Minnesota remained contenders thanks in part to the emergence of Rod Carew, but they couldn’t find their way back to October.
In 1982, Topps kicked off the boxed set craze when they produced an issue for K-Mart’s 25th anniversary featuring miniature versions of original cards for the previous 50 MVPs — 25 in each league — from the year they won their awards.
And so, for a whole new generation of collectors, Zoilo Versalles became half the face of the 1965 Major League season, along with baseball god Willie Mays.
The venerable card company proved once again that they could make just about any player look good, even one-hit wonders grimacing for the camera. With the classic design of 1965 Topps baseball, their task was made all the easier.
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