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#1980010 - 01/28/09 08:41 PM TOPPS FACTS - INTERESTING READING!
EARLSWORLD Administrator
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03/27/2001 - Updated 12:25 PM ET


Topps facts

By Cesar Brioso and Mike Dodd, USA TODAY

From "superstar" Andy Pafko to that wily southpaw Lew Burdette, the history of the Topps baseball cards is filled with ironies, hit sets and charming errors. Here's a "subset" of facts you may not have known about the card giant and its legend:

* Former Cub/Brave/Dodger Andy Pafko is a hard-to-get hero with collectors. Pafko, a good player, was Card No. 1 in the 1952 Topps set, which meant kids put him at the top of their stack before wrapping their cards in a rubber band and sticking them in their pockets or school bags. As a result, it's rare to find the card in excellent condition today. A mint version sold for $83,870 at auction last year, more than Pafko made in any season while he was a player. Pafko's 1954 card, No. 79, goes for 25 bucks.

* Broadcaster Bob Costas still carries a laminated 1958 Mickey Mantle All-Star card in his wallet as a tribute to his boyhood hero. You knew that. What you didn't know: "In truth, it's probably the third or fourth one I've carried," Costas says. "Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn't ask me to see it. From all the handling of it, it wears out." Fortunately, fans have sent him a few Mantle cards over the years, so he has replacements.

*

TOPPS
The reversed image of young Hank Aaron might have been easier to spot if he had any other team's logo on his cap.
Topps takes pride in its accuracy, given the huge number of cards it has produced. But there have been some notable boo-boos. One of the most prominent: They reversed the negative on the 1957 Hank Aaron card, showing baseball's future home-run king as a left-handed batter.

* The 1959 set contains the infamous card of Lew Burdette, who posed as a left-handed pitcher as a prank. "We didn't catch it. I was a very dear friend of (Warren) Spahn and Burdette, they were always playing tricks on me," says Sy Berger, who helped design the first Topps cards and signed players to royalty contracts. Burdette did it again for his card in the 1964 set.

* An error involving Mets pitcher Al Leiter was the result of misinterpreted handwriting on a glove. Leiter's rookie card in 1988 carried a picture of fellow left-hander Steve George. "My first year in a big-league camp, I wore number 56. He had SG on his glove and the people at Topps mistook SG for 56," Leiter says. Topps corrected the error and the new card shot up in value. But like many cards of that era, with high production runs, the value has plummeted. "It think it got as high as 12 bucks. It's down to a quarter now," says Leiter. "Like the stock market."

* Former Mets pitcher Jerry Koosman can brag that his rookie card goes for $400 - $700 these days, according to Beckett Baseball Card Monthly. There is one other rookie pictured on the 1968 card, Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.

* Over the years, Topps has produced cards for other sports plus a variety of popular subjects, including the Beatles, Michael Jackson, E.T. and the current hit, Pokemon. Its novelty candy line includes Ring Pops and Push Pops suckers. "I think the candy business is the biggest part of our business today," Topps CEO Arthur Shorin says.

* Mickey Mantle's 1952 card is the most recognizable Topps card, but not the most expensive. Three Topps cards from a 1951 all-Star set that was designed to create stand-up images of the players. Only eight of the 11 players in that's year's All-Star set were actually released to the public. The three players that were withdrawn Robin Roberts, Jim Konstanty and Eddie Stanky represent Topps' rarest and most valuable baseball cards, priced between $30,000 and $35,000 each in ungraded condition (not torn and bent to create the standup image). Legend has it the three cards were withdrawn because of contractual situations with Topps' then-rival Bowman. It's still unknown how they eventually made their way into the hobby.

* Each big-league player receives a $500 check from Topps in addition to the licensing royalties the company pays the Major League Baseball Players' Association. (Licensing revenue is the major source of revenue for the MLBPA). The union gives each player one check for all licensing rights, from cards to videos to T-shirts. The amount is on a scale, based of years of major-league service, but the MLBPA doesn't disclose the figures.

* The gum in the Topps packs was notoriously hard, for a reason. "They were pushed mechanically into packs and if the gum wasn't hard, it would have buckled," Shorin says. The gum is back in Topps' 2001 Heritage set (cards designed like the '52s) and this time it's soft. Progress.

* When Topps launched the baseball-card strategy, Berger was chosen as its point man. The first year, 1951, was a disaster. "The finish smelled like kerosene," he says. They were actually game cards, not very interesting graphically, and no match for the rival 1951 Bowman cards.

* Berger dramatically improved the design for '52 and it sold so well, Topps decided to produce a second series. "By the time it came out, it was World Series time. We learned that kids don't buy baseball cards at World Series time because football is starting," Berger told the Associated Press last year. "We had a lot of cards left over, packed in boxes in our warehouse." Berger hired a garbage boat, loaded the cards and rode with them as a tugboat pulled them off the New Jersey shore. In a flash, the cards were dumped into the Atlantic Ocean. "I don't know how many cards there were, but it was enough to make you a millionaire," he said. "We didn't know."

* Each of the 274 cards of the 1953 set were hand painted. The numbers go up to 280, but because of litigation between Topps and Bowman, six cards (Nos. 253, 261, 267, 268, 271 and 275) were not distributed. There's no record of which players were pictured on those cards.

* From 1954-56, the first three cards of all-time home run king Hank Aaron sported the same photo. The final year Topps used that photo, the card included an action shot, supposedly of Aaron sliding into home. It actually was a famous pulp magazine photo of Willie Mays.

* Topps CEO Shorin studied at Julliard School of Music and also received a business degree from New York University. He wrote a few songs and had two of them recorded as singles in the 1950s by popular singer Steve Lawrence, You Don't Know and You're Everything Wonderful. Both sold well, but the "flip" sides: Footsteps and There'll Be Some Changes Made.

* Topps produced All-Americans football sets four years after its first football card set, the 1951 Magic. Topps has produced the football card set continuously since 1955.

* After appearing in Bowman issues in 1952 and 1953, St. Louis star Stan Musial wasn't on any card for four years. "He just didn't want to sign for cards," Berger says. Cards owner August Busch was raising money for charity and had one of his executives approach Berger for a contribution from Topps. After checking with his boss, Joseph Shorin, Berger got back to them: "Joe will give $1,500 if we get Musial." Stan the Man agreed and joined the 1958 Topps set.

* Topps jumped the gun with a franchise move in 1974, changing "San Diego" to "Washington" on the cards of 15 players when it appeared the team would relocate. The Padres stayed in California and the cards were corrected.

* Other embarrassing errors: The 1969 card of California infielder Aurelio Rodriguez is actually a picture of the Angels batboy; in 1985, Gary Pettis' teenage brother is pictured instead of the Angels outfielder.

* Legend has it Topps snubbed Maury Wills early in his career and then couldn't sign him once he became a pre-eminent base-stealer. Not quite. Berger used to hire baseball contacts to sign players in spring training and instructed them, "If the club will give them a uniform to wear, we'll give them a contract." He had former minor-leaguer Turk Karam working the Detroit camp, where Wills was trying out. "Detroit had brought him in conditionally from the Dodgers," Berger told Krause Publications' Tuff Stuff magazine. "I get the contracts back and there's nothing there about Wills. No contract, no nothing. I called (Karam) and said, 'What's the matter? Where's Wills?' He said he was told by the Detroit guys ... that Wills would never make it. So he didn't sign him." Fleer, an upstart rival, signed the future Dodgers shortstop instead. But Berger dispels the notion that Wills was mad at Topps. "Wills and I became great friends."

* Topps is inserting vintage cards in random packs this year. It is including at least one of every card since 1952 (the main set each year) in the 50th anniversary set. (Redemption vouchers are inserted in the packs for oversized and especially valuable cards). And it's including original 1952s in its Heritage set, which features today's players in a card styled like the '52s. Since it didn't save any of its own originals, the company spent more than $250,000 to purchase the vintage cards for the promotion.

* Topps suffered two periods of serious financial difficulty. First, in the 1970s, when a "Wall-Street crowd" of executives steered it "down the chewing gum route instead of the kids entertainment route," Shorin says. Then, in the mid-1990s, in the aftermath of the baseball strike and labor troubles in hockey and basketball. "Those things were absolutely devastating," Shorin says. "About a year after the strike, I went to a Los Angeles Dodgers game. The Dodgers gave away baseballs as a promotion and the fans were throwing the baseballs at the players. In a figurative sense, I'm out front of the park trying to sell pictures of these guys!"

* Topps reduced the size of its cards to the now standard 2 -x-3 card dimensions in 1957. That was also the first year the company produced cards in all four major sports.

* The Boones and the Bells are two families that have appeared on three generations of Topps cards: Ray, Bob, Aaron and Bret Boone, and Gus, Buddy and David Bell. Berger carries a 1986 Buddy Bell card in his wallet because he's so fond of the family.

* Topps is now a publicly-owned company, with worldwide distribution of candy and novelty cards. Its revenue in the last fiscal year was more than $374 million. Pokemon cards generated $170 million in sales in the first three-quarters of the current fiscal year.

* CEO Shorin understands the appeal of offbeat memorabilia. He recalls going to Brooklyn's Ebbets Field in the early 1940s on one of the days Dodgers outfielder Pete Reiser knocked himself out crashing against the left-field wall. In those days, fans could exit the ballpark along the edge of the outfield and young Arthur stopped by the wooden grate Reiser hit. "With a pen knife, I took a piece of wood with a spot of blood on it," he recalls. "I wish I still had that."
_________________________

BROOKS ROBINSON ~ One of the Greatest to Ever Play the Game!

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#1980023 - 01/29/09 10:00 AM Re: TOPPS FACTS - INTERESTING READING! [Re: EARLSWORLD]
gosteelers
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Nice read, thanks for sharing!

Mark

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#1980106 - 01/30/09 10:52 PM Re: TOPPS FACTS - INTERESTING READING! [Re: gosteelers]
Blackie
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Earl wonder if those missing 52 topps cards will ever show up..........this is still interesting to read. Ive read this post twice...............its awsome!!!
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Working on the following sets:
1966 Topps Football
1964-65 Topps Hockey
Upgrades to 65Topps Football

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#1980107 - 01/30/09 10:58 PM Re: TOPPS FACTS - INTERESTING READING! [Re: Blackie]
EARLSWORLD Administrator
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I agree with you, Rob! When I first read it I knew everyone here would enjoy reading it! Some very interesting facts indeed!
_________________________

BROOKS ROBINSON ~ One of the Greatest to Ever Play the Game!

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#1980108 - 01/30/09 11:01 PM Re: TOPPS FACTS - INTERESTING READING! [Re: EARLSWORLD]
Blackie
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Yes it is. Earl what makes the T206 Eddie Plank so special? Just curious if its a short print.
_________________________
Working on the following sets:
1966 Topps Football
1964-65 Topps Hockey
Upgrades to 65Topps Football

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#1980109 - 01/30/09 11:02 PM Re: TOPPS FACTS - INTERESTING READING! [Re: Blackie]
Blackie
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Hey also i was thinking of something this evening. Have you ever gotten a SGC collectors magazine? I haven't and want one pretty badly. I love to read and this kinda just sets the tone. I requested one several weeks ago so i could check it out and see if i needed a subscription but haven't recieved one from SGC. Do you think it takes them a while to respond?
_________________________
Working on the following sets:
1966 Topps Football
1964-65 Topps Hockey
Upgrades to 65Topps Football

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#1980110 - 01/30/09 11:15 PM Re: TOPPS FACTS - INTERESTING READING! [Re: Blackie]
EARLSWORLD Administrator
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I had the same thing happen as far as a long lapse in time. I called Mike and he had one out to me in a few days after that! Just call SGC and tell them you like a free copy that you signed up for over the internet and they take good care of you...GREAT magazine!
_________________________

BROOKS ROBINSON ~ One of the Greatest to Ever Play the Game!

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#1980111 - 01/30/09 11:20 PM Re: TOPPS FACTS - INTERESTING READING! [Re: EARLSWORLD]
Blackie
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Registered: 12/23/08
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Will do thanks Earl........
_________________________
Working on the following sets:
1966 Topps Football
1964-65 Topps Hockey
Upgrades to 65Topps Football

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#1980112 - 01/30/09 11:20 PM Re: TOPPS FACTS - INTERESTING READING! [Re: Blackie]
Blackie
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Registered: 12/23/08
Posts: 4764
Loc: Southern US

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I will call them tomorrow........
_________________________
Working on the following sets:
1966 Topps Football
1964-65 Topps Hockey
Upgrades to 65Topps Football

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