Talking Sports: The first book on sports cards is still the best ever made


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Red Wilson and Don Mossi. Photos courtesy T.S. O'Connell.


I’ve never understood it for a moment, and it’s bugged me for 35 years and counting. It’s like some Fred Flintstone type from the Pleistocene epoch dragging himself out of the muck and the mire, club in hand, promptly discovering fire in the morning and by the early afternoon he’s composing a symphony worthy of the Philadelphia Philharmonic.

In 1973, when our hobby wasn’t even really a twinkle in anybody’s eye, two guys collaborated on the best book written about baseball cards. Not just the best up to that point; we’re talking the best book that ever will be written about baseball cards.

Don’t believe me? Check this out …

“In the 75 or so years that the World Series has been in existence, there have been perhaps 1,200 pitchers who have pitched in it. Of these, Don Larsen is the only one to have pitched a perfect game. Like Sophia Loren’s marriage to Carlo Ponti, the continuing popularity of Danny Thomas and the political career of Spiro Agnew, there is no rational explanation for this. It just is.”

There you go. That gem is planted alongside a picture of Larsen’s 1958 Topps card, one of maybe 100 or more such entries in the book. In one spectacular sentence they managed to include Sophia Loren and Spiro Agnew, and how many writers do you know who can handle that?

The book is resplendent with nostalgia, wit and a loving regard for a game of baseball, all elegantly wrapped up in a smart-alecky treasure called The Great American Baseball Card Flipping Trading and Bubble Gum Book. The book is carried at vintage book dealers and is priced from $3 to $50, based on condition.

The two guys, Brendan C. Boyd and Fred C. Harris, managed to produce such a masterpiece back when our hobby truly was nothing more than those pioneers we write about in the pages of Sports Collectors Digest and a handful of others. The book was published the very same year as John Stommen’s first issue of SCD.

Initially I always thought it was merely that their timing was impeccable, but now I am starting to wonder if I’ve got the cause-and-effect thing backwards. Maybe, just maybe, the sterling impact of the book helped to usher along the hobby boom that would gather steam by the end of the decade.

I’ve noted with some minor pretend grumbling over the years that I’m thoroughly aggrieved that they preempted any hopes I might have in publishing a fun book about baseball cards, since they had already done it in such a stunning fashion. Over time, however, my anguish has dissipated a bit as I have gradually resolved to someday write my own book anyway, with some obsequious admission included in the introduction conceding that it’s a rip-off of their classic.

Besides, in my version I’m going to include pictures of vintage cards from Henry Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. There … that’s how good that book is. Spook Jacobs and Barbra Chrisley had their cards pictured, but Mickey, Willie and Henry didn’t make the cut.

It’s not really stealing if you announce beforehand that you’re going to do it, is it Gov. Blagojevich?

T.S. O’Connell is the editor of Sports Collector’s Digest. Reach him by e-mail at: Thomas.O’Connell@fwmedia.com or 715-445-2214, extension 13243.

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Behold a book so cool that it didn't even need to picture cards of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle or Henry Aaron. Honus Wagner, upper right, whose mug is seen on the most valuable baseball card in history, didn't make the cut either, but the batboy subbing for Aurelio Rodriguez did. And they didn't even bother with low-hanging fruit like the 1958 Topps beauties of Red Wilson and Don Mossi. Photos courtesy T.S. O'Connell.
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The batboy subbing for Aurelio Rodriguez made the cut. Photos courtesy T.S. O'Connell.
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Honus Wagner, whose mug is seen on the most valuable baseball card in history, didn't make the cut either. Photos courtesy T.S. O'Connell.

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