The arrival of 2016 Topps Series 1 has convinced me that I should focus on building a few vintage sets since I have no intention of building a modern set. (I buy them already completed occasionally, but I can't imagine buying an unopened box.) The question becomes: which vintage sets should I make a go at? I settled almost immediately on 1954 Topps as one of those sets. I had toyed with the idea last year and purchased a few cheap lots off of eBay, but I then went through a period of what I can only call "collecting ennui". I had to contemplate whether I still wanted to be a part of this hobby or not. I went almost three months without buying a single card, which I haven't done since I returned to collecting 11 years ago. But, I've got the bug again. Maybe it's the new season being upon us, but I want baseball cards.
So, here's my thinking on trying to complete a 1954 Topps set: I already have the Hank Aaron rookie and there's no Mickey Mantle card. I love Mickey Mantle as a historical baseball figure, but I have no interest in paying the premium his cards command if I can avoid it. As for the Aaron rookie, it's the one baseball card I've always wanted, and owning it is nothing short of a dream come true. (I pull it out of a binder every few days and just sort of stare at it in awe.)
So, the Aaron makes an impressive start to the set, but if you know vintage sets, you know the cards that will make this set difficult, or rather expensive, to complete. There’s the Ernie Banks rookie. There’s the Al Kaline rookie. Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays are in the set. More importantly, there are the two Ted Williams cards that bookend the set. I can only hope that somewhere out there, there are two perfectly creased Ted Williams cards with my name on them. That, however, is a story for another day.
I work from home and occasionally, I work for a client who thinks its a good use of time to keep consultants on the phone for the most pointless meetings. Yesterday, I literally spent three continuous hours on the phone and did not have to say a single word. There was not one word said about any of my projects. If I’m at the office, all I can do is stare at the other people in the room with contempt. Since I work from home, I got out a 2 inch binder, a box of 8 count pages, and my stack of 1954 Topps baseball cards. By the end of the meeting, my future set was in the binder, my want list was posted on the web site, and a scan of my only full page wasn’t completed. Now that’s what I call productive.
There are so many great players in this set even beyond the Aaron, Kaline, and Banks rookies. Not one of those great players appears on my first completed page and that’s OK. This is still an interesting group of guys.
- I’m not overly familiar with Roy Smalley’s career, but I know his son was an All-Star for the Twins.
- Don Liddle pitched for the Braves and was traded for Giants playoff hero Bobby Thompson. He was also the man on the mound when Willie Mays made the catch.
- Bob Talbot had what was basically a cup of coffee with the Cubs and was then traded to “the Sox”, but would never play another inning in the big leagues.
- Buster Mills appeared in 341 games in his career for the Cardinals, the Dodgers, the Red Sox, the Browns, the Yankees and the Indians. The year before this set was put out, he managed the Reds.
- Gene Hermanski greeted Jackie Robinson with a handshake in the Dodgers dugout in 1947 and was the player who suggested that the entire team wear the number 42 to confuse any potential snipers.
- Like Mills, Bob Kuzawa got around. He threw 862 innings in the big leagues for 8 different teams.And yet, there are still people who believe that everyone played their entire careers for a single team before free agency.
- My favorite Lou Limmer story is that he lied to the A’s about his age to try and get a larger signing bonus.
- My favorite player on the page is the late Jay Heard from Athens, Georgia. After a few sporadic appearances in the negro leagues, he moved on to the independent minor leagues where after a few seasons of success, his contract was purchased by the Orioles. Heard was shelled in the second of his two appearances and was sent down to the minors. He never got another taste of the big leagues. This, unfortunately, was not at all uncommon for black players at the time. You were either great, or you were in the minors.