When I put together the Want List of baseball cards, I figured the rarer ones would get the top billing.
Strike one down. And it’s a big one!
The No. 1 card on the Want List has been found, and now is part of the living room decor: 1964 Topps Venezuelan, Gary Kolb!
There really were only two cards that were deserving of the No. 1 spot. Initially, I had what is now the No. 2 card at No. 1: The 1915 Cracker Jack card of Mt. Carroll native and former Dixon resident Ward Miller. Then I discovered another card that went neck-and-neck with the Miller. The Want List changes all of the time, based on what cards I learn exist. I soon learned that the Gary Kolb rookie card from 1964 Topps was also released in a set specifically made for the Venezuelan market. Kolb hits a little closer to home, so that became card No. 1.
The cards after the 1915 Miller and the 1964 Venezuelan Kolb aren’t as rare, but they often don’t see the light of day in the stores or card shows. So the Miller bumps up to No. 1 – in fact, all cards bump up one spot – and my new most-sought-after card is the only pre-World War I card and the only Federal League card that I am seeking for my personal collection.
More on Mr. Miller later. Let’s talk about Gary Kolb.
Those of you who have seen my lists may wonder who this person is, and why I collect him. I’ll let the anonymous folks at Wikipedia give you the general details (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Kolb), but he’s a focal point of my collection because he hails from my co-hometown of Rock Falls, Illinois.
Kolb was one of Rock Falls High School’s best all-around athletes. He played on the Rockets’ 1957-58 basketball team that took second place at the state tournament (no class system at that time), and was good at football, track and baseball. Of course, the latter would be the sport that gave him his fame. Just 2 years out of high school, Kolb wound up on the St. Louis Cardinals for a few games in the 1960 season. He came back for a few more in 1962, and had more playing time in 1963.
Stan Musial’s career was winding down at this point. Stan The Man’s final at-bat on September 29, 1963 resulted in a single, fitting for one of the greatest pure hitters who ever lived. Everyone at Busch Stadium knew the moment was coming. The single gave the Cardinals the lead in the game. Then it was time to go. Musial left the field, and Gary Kolb took over for him at first base. Of all of the great stories in pinch-running lore (they do exist!), running in place of a surefire Hall of Famer in his final at-bat had to have been quite the experience.
Part of the broadcast exists, but is muddy. Here is KMOX’s Harry Caray calling Musial’s final at-bat and Kolb’s pinch-running appearance:
The moment had to have been a surreal experience, for fans, and especially Kolb. Reds pitcher Jim Maloney thought he could pull a fast one on Kolb before the next pitch. Maloney tried to pick Kolb off of first base. That didn’t work.
That was the highpoint of Kolb’s career. He bounced around the majors in part-time roles, also playing for the Braves, Mets and Pirates, stayed in the Pirates minor league system for a few years after his final MLB game and retired to West Virginia, where he died in 2019.
Kolb’s death was one of my news stories that day, and I’m pulling all of my strings to write it. Kolb didn’t put up a lot of big numbers, but he has been linked with a lot of tremendous players of his time and before: Hank Aaron, Jim Bunning, Roberto Clemente, Bob Gibson, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn and Willie Stargell are all in the Hall. He was minor league teammates with players who would be part of the Pirates’ 1971 and 1979 World Series winning teams, guys like Dave Parker, Rennie Stennett and Kent Tekulve.
Musial’s career began in 1941, and Parker’s ended in 1991; and Gary Kolb was in the middle of that 50-year span.
Kolb has four “original” Topps cards: 1964 with the Cardinals, which is a base card without the word “rookie” on it; 1965 with the Braves; and 1968 and 1969 with the Pirates. No original Mets card exists of Kolb, but two were made in later sets. In addition, there are two minor league cards of Kolb from 1962 and 1963 with the Tulsa Oilers, and those are Nos. 1 and 2 on my Minor League list.
The Venezuelan cards began with the 1959 Topps set. At that time, Latin American players had started to trickle into the majors; Chico Carrasquel and Luis Aparicio being two of the better ones at that time. They were printed by a company in Venezuela and circulated exclusively within that country until American collectors visited and brought over some of these cards in the 1980s. They now serve as a rare parallel set to the sets of that time for vintage collectors, such as myself, who are looking for unique versions of the mainstream product.
The difference between the 1964 cards is that the American version has an orange border on the back of the card, and the Venezuelan version has a black border and is made with slightly thinner stock. Kolb’s rookie is the only card he has that was printed in Venezuela.
This card came to me as a surprise. Someone who I’ve come to know through my local sports journalism coverage also collects vintage cards. He found the card online, bought it, and gave it to me.
At first, I didn’t know what it was: “I think you will enjoy it,” he messaged to me on Twitter.
It came in an envelope, and I figured I would do a Facebook Live reveal of this “mystery card.” It came in a card protector covered with black padding inside it. I pulled out the card to find the word “Cardinals,” and knew that was a 1964. Pulled it out a little further and saw it was Gary Kolb. At this point, I’m thinking, I wonder if he knows that I have three Kolb rookie cards already.
Then I flipped to the back … black borders!
I was so amazed for a few hours. I put it in a screw protector and it now sits among my bookshelf decor.
No. 1 has been found. Wow!
One of the other reasons why guys like Gary Kolb, and other Rock Falls residents such as Dan Kolb, Jakob Junis, Seth Blair and Ed Acosta are among the cards I’m seeking is because they serve as tangible proof that someone can play baseball at Wallingford Park as a kid and one day make it to the major leagues. The Kolb cards in my collection, I hope, will help tell his story to a younger generation of Rock Falls Rockets, Newman Comets, Sterling Golden Warriors, etc. that someone who drove on the same streets as you did went on to accomplish great things on a national stage – and became part of St. Louis Cardinals trivia. I’ll have a future blog entry on this topic in the near future.
I think I owe Ryan something. 🙂
When Friends Come Through
I’ve come to know many people over the years through my sports journalism career from all throughout northern Illinois. Keith is one of them. He lived in Morris when I got to know him during the “John Dergo years” of Morris Redskins football. I came to know later on that he also collects baseball cards.
My very first Want List was more like what my Secondary Want List is now: certain players with missing cards for certain teams they were on. This was a really incomplete list, but I put it out there as a guide for what I can hunt for, and if anyone wanted to part with them. Keith helped me out early on with some White Sox and Brewers cards, including a Bobby Bonds card from 1978 O-Pee-Chee with mention of his White Sox tenure – the only Bonds card made while a member of the White Sox.
I think I owe him a beer the next time I’m stopping in his neck of the woods. Make that two. Or three?
That’s because Keith helped me out with another big find, a card that was No. 5 on my list: a 1993 Dodgers Police card of Lance Parrish.
Parrish hit more than 300 homers in his career, and was a key part of the 1984 Tigers championship team. His cards later in the “junk era” saw him as a member of the Phillies and Angels. He bounced around from team to team in his declining years after 1991: 1992 with the Mariners, 1993 with the Indians, 1994 with the Pirates, and 1995 with the Blue Jays to finish his career. Parrish never played a game for the Dodgers, except in spring training. I had my Parrish career arc complete before discovering that he indeed had a Dodgers card. It’s also worth noting that he doesn’t have any Indians cards.
I also had help during my early days of the Want List from my friend Beau, who runs the monthly show in Madison and is on a mission to collect 1,000,000 Cubs cards. Lots of those were from the mid-90s of players who had brief stints on certain teams – cards that make people wonder, “They played for that team?” I have given him a few Cubs cards for his collection, including a set of 7up cards from 1984.
I also have to give a shoutout to my friend Steve, who collected a lot during the 1980s. He needed some more home space and sent me his cards. I enjoyed hearing his stories of buying them in packs at the downtown toy store, Emils. I don’t think he ever got the Don Mattingly rookie, but the 1984 Fleer Darryl Strawberry rookie is pretty nice. Some of the cards became some Want List finds.
Steve’s former cards gave me some appreciation of 1984 Fleer. That year’s Donruss set is an 80s legend, but I’ve written before about what makes 1984 Fleer a good set: chiefly being the set with the final year cards of Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Gaylord Perry and Carl Yastrzemski.
Thank you, Ryan, Keith, Steve and Beau, for keeping my love for collecting baseball cards going these recent years!
Ward Miller – the New No. 1
Since I enjoy local sports history, Ward Miller is a name that I have heard of. He was born in Mt. Carroll and played for a few teams, notably for the Cubs, and had a stint in the ill-fated Federal League.
Miller is one of several “regional guys” on my Want List radar. Nels Potter of Mt. Morris and Leroy Herrman of Steward are others. Danny Matznick and Steve Eddy, both of Sterling, are on my Minor League lists. The date of the card puts this one at No. 1 among the others. However, there do exist original cards of Byron’s Al Spalding and Atkinson’s Joe McGinnity during their Hall of Fame playing careers, but are WAY out of my price range to consider them on the list at this time.
Miller became a Lee County sheriff after his retirement and died in Dixon in 1958. A memorial to Dixon’s one-time Major League Baseball player has been at the Old Lee County Courthouse grounds for about a decade.
The 1915 card also was part of a Renatta Galasso reprint set during the early 1980s, and that card also is among my Top 10.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The NEW version of the Top 100 Want List will be published in early May. I have one or two visits to regional card stores that I would like to get accomplished before getting the updated list out there.