Topps 1959 Baseball Card Set - Mistakes of the Past Are Corrected
July 29, 2010
by William Szczepanek
The Topps Baseball Card set for 1959 was a return to the new and innovative, but in a small, incremental step. The cards featured a photograph of the player in a large circle with a solid background. The technique was reminiscent of old time, framed portraits, but the bright background, slanted text and good, color, photographic quality gave it a more modern look.
The baseball cards of 1959 were like no previous baseball card design, but somewhat similar to the 1958 Topps Football set. The circle portrait did not leave much room for an action shot. Like 1957, the photographs were taken during batting practice along the foul lines before the game. Some are obviously from spring training, but, the players did pose. Most of the shots were taken casually and many players smiled or tried to look professional. But, unlike The Topps set of 1958, which presented a boring and uncreative design, the set for 1959 restored Topps as a the premier card producer even though they had a monopoly in the market at the time.
In 1959 Topps lost its star. Ted Williams was courted by Fleer and for an amount of money that could not be refused, jumped to Fleer as they debuted a set of 80 cards that featured only Ted Williams. The action was not enough to dethrone Topps as the leader in the baseball card industry, though Fleer created a set that is still very popular today.
In the world of baseball, Dorothy Comiskey Rigney, sold 54% of White Sox to Bill Veeck who transformed the team into a pennant winner. He would transform baseball in future years by adding promotions and an exploding scoreboard. The New York Yankees unveiled their first message scoreboard in 1959.
In baseball that year, Phillies' Dave Philley sets a major league record with his 9th straight pinch hit, a record that was tied in 1983 by Rusty Staub. A weird situation occurred on June 30th in Wrigley Field when two baseballs were in play at the same time.
With very little power in their line up the Chicago White Sox would win games by advancing runners and stealing bases ─ a novel idea then and now. In 1959, the White Sox beat the Kansas City Athletics 20-6. In 1 inning the Sox scored 11 runs on 1 hit, 10 walks, and 3 errors. In another game pitcher Early Wynn beat the Red Sox 1-0 on his own home run. It was common for Luis Aparicio to lead off an inning with a bunt hit, steal second and be driven in by a single from Nellie Fox and the White Sox would win 1-0.
In 1959 the Tiger's Charlie Maxwell hits 4 consecutive home runs in a doubleheader. The largest baseball attendance yet (93,103 in LA Coliseum) witnessed the Dodgers' Sandy Koufax beat the Yankees 6-2 in an exhibition game on "Roy Campanella Night"
On May 26, 1959 Pittsburgh's Harvey Haddix pitches 12 perfect innings, but loses in 13th. On June 12, 1959, San Francisco Giants Mike McCormick no-hits the Phillies 3-0 in an official 5-inning game. Yankee catcher Yogi Berra's errorless streak of 148 games ends.
Rocky Colavito hits 4 consecutive home runs in 1 game. On June 30th during a game in Wrigley Field, 2 balls were in play at same time. The Boston Red Sox are the last team to introduce a black player, Pumpsie Green. Sandy Koufax broke Dizzy Dean's NL mark of 18 strikeouts in a game. Elroy Face's 22 game win streak ends as Dodgers beat the Pirates 5-4.
Milwaukee Braves' Warren Spahn becomes the National League
lefty with most wins and then pitches for 6 more seasons to
extend his number to 363. San Francisco Giants'
Sam Jones beats
the St Louis Cards, 4-0, for his second no-hitter. The Braves
and Dodgers finish in a tie (86-68). The Dodgers win game 2 of
the playoff, 6-5, and win National League pennant.
The "Go-Go" Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers would play in the World Series. It would be the first World Series since 1948 without New York representation, though the LA Dodgers were very reminiscent of a New York team. This would be the first World Series game played west of St Louis and the LA Dodgers would set the World Series attendance record at 92,394. Two days later the single game World Series attendance record would be set again with 92,706 in LA in the Coliseum.
Chicago has two MVPs as Ernie Banks, Cubs shortstop, wins 2nd consecutive NL Most Valuable Player and White Sox 2B Nellie Fox wins the AL Most Valuable Player.
Rookie of the year honors go to Giants' slugger Willie McCovey for the NL and Washington Senators' Bob Allison for the AL. The end of the year sees the Yankees trade Marv Throneberry, Don Larsen, Hank Bauer and Norm Siebern for promising Roger Maris, Kent Hadley and Joe DeMaestri.
Vacations for some in 1959 meant family automobile trips across the country. "See the USA in your Chevrolet" was a jingle sung by Dinah Shore in 1952 and by Pat Boone from 1957 to 1960. For most, the trips were more modest. In my case my parents and I visited my mother's brother's family including 3 girl cousins in Michigan City, Indiana.
At first this did not seem like such a great idea. Giving up a week of playing baseball was a sacrifice too big to imagine. Much to my surprise the vacation became one of the most memorable of my life. My cousins were actually pretty good to get along with and to top it off we went to 2 minor league baseball games featuring the Michigan City White Caps, a Giants Class D affiliate in the Midwest League at Ames Field. p>
That year the team was led by Jose Tartabull, a speedy centerfielder who dominated games with daring baserunning, good contact hitting and exceptional range in the outfield. He led the Midwest League in fielding, putouts, assists, and double plays. He later came up with Kansas City and had a few good years in the majors. His son, Danny Tartabull, would play for numerous teams in the 80s and 90s. Other notables who played for the White Caps in the 1950s include: Juan Marichal, Manny Mota, Matty Alou, John Orsino, Rick Joseph and Buddy Kerr (Manager). In the game manager, Buddy Kerr, played catcher as a substitute late in the game and also had an at bat, his only minor league appearance of the year. Yes, that was an excellent vacation for an eleven year old.
More is not always better ─ Two All Star Games
To spark interest in the All Star game the leagues decided to play two games over a two days, one in July and another in August.
In the first game in Pittsburgh Don Drysdale made the first of his eight All-Star appearances. He worked three hitless innings while striking out four. The National League lead 3-1 after seven, but the American League matched with three runs in the top of the eighth. However, the National League came back to win it against Whitey Ford in the bottom of the eighth when Ken Boyer singled and was sacrificed to second. Then, Hank Aaron singled to tie it, scoring Boyer. Finally, Willie Mays ended a perfect four-for-four day with a triple that scored Aaron. Don Elston retired the side to close it out for the National League.
Game 2 of the doubleheader was played in Anaheim. In this game, the managers could start whomever they pleased. The American League took the lead into the top of the seventh and scored another run as Tony Kubek walked and took second on a pickoff attempt. Kubek reached third on an Ernie Banks fielding error on a Pete Runnels grounder. Then, Nellie Fox singled Kubek in for a 4-2 lead. The National League closed the gap on Jim Gilliam's homer in the bottom of the seventh, but the American League returned the favor with a Rocky Colavito homer in the top of the eighth and the American League hung on for the win.
The games were good, but somewhat meaningless as both teams earned a victory. The two game format would continue until 1962 when it seemed that more was not necessarily better.
Topps added a series of cards called "Baseball Thrills" that informed kids of recent baseball feats in a colorful fashion. A selection of All Star cards was also part of the set. The pace of living seemed like it was moving quickly. Faster cars, rocket ships, mail that could be delivered anywhere in the US within five days. But occasionally you would be drawn back in time when the sound of a bell would mean that the man who sharpened scissors was riding his bicycle by your house, and women would run out the door to catch him. This scene would disappear very quickly. People were looking to the future and felt they had control over their lives and what was to come. They believed in their ability to fix mistakes and improve their standard of living.
Is there any way of bringing back the magic that existed with collecting baseball cards in the 1950s. If producers only distributed limited quantities and sold to the young at reasonable prices, then the magic could be restored, but it would be at the expense of the manufacturer who would no longer be able to make a big enough profit. So, the model doesn't work anymore. Just like the model for economic recovery no longer works because the present is not like any past we have been through.
1959 marked the end of a decade of steady growth for the U.S. The United States built its foundation by creating an educational system that was superior to all. Critical momentum was achieved which enabled the less fortunate a better opportunity to learn and thus allowed many to pull themselves out of lower class or lower-middle class into solid middle class living. The power and work ethic of this Middle Class would generate the economic systems to enable the U.S. to pull away from all competitors in almost every industry.
Back in the late 1950s do we think that the people and leaders of the time looked to the past and assumed that it was a good model for the future? Those who lived through the Great Depression were forever cautious. They witnessed the loss of jobs, the loss of businesses and the loss of wealth that drove many into poverty and ruin. Lessons were learned ─ don't trust your money with the rich. The rich ruined the system by hedging on the few laws and regulations that were in place and the same thing happened again. Hiding your money under the mattress doesn't work for the long term either. Without spending and investment in the future, growths slows and times become more difficult. But where do you get the money to spend while saving for the later years? You work hard to find a job, save your money for a couple of decades and then do what you can to protect it with wise investments. Sounds simple after you get a job.
Hard work and the government working for the people enabled the population to grow in wealth. A good education was rewarded with good jobs. Hard work and continued education brought more rewards. Today young people are rewarded with debt that is difficult to pay off because there are few jobs for the newly educated.
Times were good for many in 1959. People were flocking to the suburbs. Barbecues and patios were the new scene. Many transitioned to these new areas and enjoyed new homes, new lifestyles and modern living. Those who had some education and worked hard found opportunities to move up and make more money. A smaller underprivileged segment continued to suffer and become more resentful, but the rest of the population and the country transformed itself into a manufacturing machine with new ideas creating new technology, which in turn created new jobs and a better standard of living for many. The mistakes of the thirties were fixed, but it took a couple of decades.
Detroit continued to make significant changes to auto models every year and created a strong urge for all Americans to buy new cars. The cars were made better and were more reliable, but had built-in obsolescence that fostered the need to continue buying. The age of TV marketing was upon us and the biggest group to influence were those baby boomers who also needed every new thing on the market. It is interesting to note that baseball cards needed very little marketing effort. They sold themselves. Each kid with cards made other kids feel the need to buy more and obtain as many of their favorite players as they could ─ viral marketing without YouTube. At essentially a penny a piece, everyone could afford them.
Where did kids buy baseball cards at the time? They could be found at the typical grocery store near the cash registers, but most kids didn't go to large grocery stores without their parents. The kids frequented the corner store in their neighborhood. And by "in the neighborhood" I mean smack dab in the middle of a residential area. They were called candy stores for obvious reasons, and kids were often sent there to get a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread, since stores were close by and kids didn't need to cross any busy streets to get to them. Today kids don't buy baseball cards because they don't see the value in them. Men still buy them because it's a thing they can afford to do.
Taverns were also commonplace in the neighborhoods. A place to go to sit at a bar and have a drink. People who frequented bars at the time were often not highly respected, particularly those who made a daily habit of it. Some of the larger taverns served sandwiches at lunchtime and there were ample servings of pretzels and peanuts. Taverns didn't sell baseball cards because the demand came from those too young to visit those establishments. But, every tavern had a TV with the local ball game on - sports bars of the day with a single 21" black and white viewing screen. Some taverns had these large cardboard scoreboards with spinning dials for changing the score every inning. I coveted a scoreboard like that and was ecstatic the day my father walked through the door with it in his hand. It served me well for my baseball card games for many years.
Banks welcomed customers with worthwhile incentives to store customers' money. They even paid reasonable interest. Today I called my bank to question a problem that had been occurring over the last 9 months. Because they could only see the last 4 months on their system, they apologized, but said they could not fix the problem. Going to the supervisor and then to the local bank manager had the same effect. "We are sorry but we cannot correct a problem that we caused that far back. We can only correct problems that we can see over the last 4 months." The Bank will remain nameless, as I glance at a Diamondbacks game on the TV. I suppose if I had more money in this bank I may have been treated differently, but it is indicative of our time. It was not indicative of 1959. People mattered.
While girls didn't collect baseball cards they did get something of their own as the first Barbie Doll arrived in stores. The dolls instantly became popular. They were the first dolls that boys would actually take a second glance at. After a short glance the doll might end up as part of a brigade of soldiers advancing up a dirt hill to the dismay of mothers and sisters.
Alaska was admitted as state number 49 and Hawaii got the number 50 spot. Eskimos and hula dancers are now part of the American culture and both were welcomed with newfound interest. Fidel Castro arrived in Havana and the new Cuban government was recognized. Later that year he became the Premier of Cuba.
Explorer VI discovers an intense radiation belt around Earth.
Technology and innovation continued at so rapid a pace that
Nikita Khrushchev was denied access to Disneyland. While
unemployment reached 6%, under Republican President Eisenhower,
Congress passed a bill authorizing food stamps for Americans
down on their luck. Fulfilling social needs was not as partisan
an issue as it is today.
Records was founded by
Jr. In February a plane crash killed musicians
Roger Peterson and
Bopper . The song American Pie popularized by
in 1972 is still remembered today as reflecting on "The Day the
1. Mack The Knife by Bobby Darin
2. The Battle Of New Orleans by Johnny Horton
3. Venus by Frankie Avalon
4. Stagger Lee by Lloyd Price
5. The Three Bells by The Browns
6. Come Softly To Me by The Fleetwoods
7. Lonely Boy by Paul Anka
8. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by The Platters
9. Heartaches By the Number by Guy Mitchell
10. Sleep Walk by Santo and Johnny
There was no shortage of big name stars as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor kept things hot.
Popular TV Programs
Cool was personified by the Kookie character which became a cultural phenomenon. Kookie helped the detectives on a case by singing a song, and Edd Byrnes began a singing career with the corny single "Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb" based on his frequent combing of his hair.
The Top TV Shows
Bonanza premiered on NBC, the first weekly television series broadcast completely in color. The Huckleberry Hound Show was enjoyed by kids and adults. "Rawhide" with Clint Eastwood premiered on CBS TV. Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone" premiered on CBS.
Charles Van Doren confesses that TV quiz show "21" was fixed and the age of innocence the 1950s ends. The 1950s were far from the best of times, but they are remembered for peace, prosperity and opportunity. People began to make more money. The simple life began to disappear. Women began to move out of the home and into the workplace. Education was better than it had ever been. Do we really want to return to the 1950s? Probably not. Things didn't change overnight, but affluence, freedom and too much of a good thing over many years to come would lead to some of our current problems. Can we look to the past for the solutions? Probably not. But we can look to the past for direction, and in 1959 the direction was forward in how people thought, how government acted and how everything good required purposeful effort. Nothing was free, including freedom and baseball cards (about 1 cent apiece).