The Year Was 1960 …

The 1950s were over, and 1960 kicked off a history-changing decade. That year also was an interesting year for baseball cards, and interesting baseball cards.

I’ll write about two interesting 1960 baseball cards later in this post.

The year ushered in new beginnings. The space race just began, and a 43-year-old Catholic from a prominent family was running for president.

Topps took to old, but it was awesome.

Today’s baseball card trip to Rockford Coin and Stamp (April 21, 2022) saw me come away with not just a 1960 Want List find, but a 1960 discovery that I didn’t quite know about.

The 1960 Topps set featured a VERY cool design for its time. Topps went back to horizontal cards for the first time since 1955 and 1956, and hasn’t fully come back to that form since (besides a few cards since). The two-image design was cool, this time featuring actual photographs of the players instead of looking like something of a painting. The differing colors for the letters in the name also was neat for the time.

I actually purchased the Nellie Fox card, pictured above, at a card show in Schaumburg a couple of months ago. I’ve added a few more 1960 cards to my collection since, including more recently both a Roy Sievers and Bobby Thomson. The 1960 Topps cards are interesting to look at, and it must have definitely been the case when opening the packs 62 years ago.

1960 saw some choices when it came to card pack sales. Topps dominated the hobby by far at this point, but there emerged some other competitors.

Fleer began its baseball foray with a set of Ted Williams cards in 1959. Williams and Topps didn’t quite go hand-in-hand during The Splendid Splinter’s playing career: The only Williams cards it produced were in 1954 (two in the set), and 1955-58. Despite playing in 1958, he was all Fleer’s in 1959. Despite playing in 1960, at the time card companies didn’t produce final year cards of active players.

Fleer’s 1960 run saw a set of all-time baseball greats and leaders. No active players were printed by Fleer until 1963 (one of which I’ll prominently point out later in this post). So if you were looking for cards of old people in 1960, the Fleer packs were your choice.

1960 Leaf F. Alou

Coming back into the hobby in 1960 was Chicago-based Leaf, which last produced cards in 1949. Leaf’s re-entry into the market seemed like a cautious one with black-and-white photography and a very simple design. Leaf later produced Donruss cards out of a factory in suburban Bannockburn, near Deerfield, and there is a Leaf Cafe that continues to exist today in an office complex at I-94 and Half Day Road.

So now to the two most interesting 1960 baseball cards I bought today in Rockford.

1960 Fleer, Branch Rickey: I didn’t even know about this card until digging through a vintage box at the store. I knew he was alive at the time, and this was right around the development of the ill-fated Continental League, as seen on a sign in the background.

Branch Rickey was best known for being the general manager, and 1/4-owner, of the Brooklyn Dodgers that signed Jackie Robinson to a contract to break baseball’s color barrier. It’s timely that I bought this card on the month of the 75th anniversary of Robinson’s debut. While Robinson wasn’t the first Black player in a White-dominant league (that would be Moses Fleetwood Walker in the late 1880s), Rickey arranged to break what was then a “gentleman’s agreement” to forbid Black players from playing in the major leagues – a stance strongly supported by longtime commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who died in 1944.

Rickey was involved in baseball for more than 60 years from a player to executive. He has several cards from more than 100 years ago, but there are only three of him that were printed during his executive career from the mid-1920s to the mid-1960s. Two cards are from his Cardinals days, the other is this one – the only one printed of Rickey while alive in the years after breaking the color barrier.

Robinson isn’t mentioned on the card back, but instead the general mentioning of “bringing Negro players into the sport.” Rickey spent more years in the offices of the Cardinals and Pirates than during his time with the Dodgers. He spent 9 years with the Pirates after his Dodgers days, where he was influential in signing stars such as Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski. Another one of Rickey’s contributions to baseball was the development of the current minor league farm system. With his teams as the guinea pigs of sorts, it developed future winners for the Cardinals, Dodgers and Pirates for many years.

Rickey’s most recent contribution to baseball was the influencing of the expansion-era in the early 1960s. An idea was conceived to start a THIRD major league, in addition to the American and National. This was going to be the Continental League, with Rickey in charge. This didn’t pan out.

The Continental League sought to bring baseball to cities that were not represented with ball clubs, such as Denver, Buffalo, Houston, Minneapolis, and even Toronto. The idea died before it got off the ground due to constant pressure by the existing leagues. Eventually, most of these cities landed clubs: Denver in 1993, Houston in 1962, Minneapolis in 1961 and Toronto in 1977 (after an ill-fated attempt to move the Giants there in 1976). Buffalo later became a 1-year temporary home for the Blue Jays during the 2020 pandemic year.

Rickey’s 1960 Fleer card is the only one printed that mentions the Continental League during its planning.

After the proposed league blew up, Rickey went back to the Cardinals in an advisory role and played some minor roles in the Cardinals’ 1964 title. He died after collapsing during a speech in 1965. He was 84.

1960 Topps, World Series Game 5: At first glance, this doesn’t appear all that interesting. The Dodgers won the title in 1959, the Sox won this Game 5, and it’s just Luis Aparicio doing what he does best.

However …

The guy catching the baseball is Maury Wills. He was the first MLB player to steal 100 bases, in 1963, while also playing in a season-record 165 games (162 + best-of-3 playoff series).

Here’s a brief story about one of the strangest cards involving one of Topps’ biggest bonehead player contract decisions:

Maury Wills debuted in 1959 for the Dodgers. This, after he began in the Dodgers’ farm system and later went to the Tigers’ system – then returned to the Dodgers when the Tigers made a determination that he wasn’t good enough. Wills played for enough games in 1959 to play in the World Series. However, someone at Topps thought that he wasn’t good enough to be featured on a baseball card. So no rookie card of Wills exists in the 1960 set – except MAYBE this one.

(Wills’ situation was Topps has been written about before. Go to LegendsRevealed.com for the full story.)

The cliff notes version is this: Wills did not get featured on a Topps card of his own – with his name on it – until he played for the Pirates, in the 1967 set (and a short print card at that!). Wills’ official rookie card appears in the 1963 Fleer set. He also has a card in the 1962 Post Cereal set. Then there’s this appearance, front-and-center, on this 1960 Topps card that was supposed to be about Aparicio – who really looks like a background cameo. Wills’ name even appears in the agate-style results for this game on the back of the card.

If you want to get into the interesting debate about vintage XRC cards, here’s an interesting case. I’ll call it the “unofficial unofficial Wills rookie card” ahead of the Post and Fleer cards.

Wills was finally given his Topps due in Dodger blue in 1970 (and that was a short-print card, too). When Fleer re-entered the market in 1981, Wills was the manager of the Mariners and was featured on a card – which I am looking to add to my collection.

What a strange case!

Other Rockford finds: Crossed off three other cards from my List aside from the Wills: 1959 Del Ennis and Vic Wertz and 1961 Roy Sievers. Also got a 1964 Tommy Davis on the heels of his back-to-back NL batting titles. Among the newer cards plucked from a 50-cent bin were a Roy Halladay minor league card from 1997, a 1982 Fleer Lee Smith rookie card, and a 1998 Bowman Jimmy Rollins rookie card.

Rockford Coin and Stamp has boxes of 50-cent cards and 10-cent cards, but they are all mixed like heck, and some with protectors and some without, in all sports. The vintage supply is pretty substantial, also. It was owned by the late Dr. Steven Jennings, who owned a namesake store in downtown Freeport that I’ve visited twice.

I am definitely going back again to do some more digging.

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