Saturday, September 3, 2011

30 million wax pack inserts went "poof"

One of the surprises we got upon opening our wax packs of 1960 Topps baseball in the summer of 1960 was a group of cards in a different design that was labeled Topps All-Star Rookies.

In our neighborhood, the highlight of that subset -- since there were no Milwaukee Braves -- was Willie Covey, who had kicked ass in the National League during the last half of the 1959 season. Besides, we had seen all of the other guys on those cards on previous years Topps cards (many on the red-white-and-blue striped The Sporting News rookie subset the previous year). In today's hobby parlance, McCovey was the only true rookie card in that group.

The other players in the subset were: Pumpsie Green, Jim Baxes, Joe Koppe, Bob Allison, Ron Fairly, Willie Tasby, Johnny Romano, Jim Perry and Jim O'Toole.

The oval on the right of these cards said these "Topps All-Star Rookies" had been "Selected by the Youth of America."

Indeed, according to information found in a 1960 issue of The Sporting News, 30 million "Elect Your Favorite Rookie" ballots had been distributed to "youth organizations" and as ride-alongs in wax packs of 1959 baseball cards. At least of the youth groups were named in the article: Boy's Clubs, Boy Scouts of America and YMCA. There was no indication of how many ballots those groups had received, and how many were in gum packs.

If we knew that ratio, we'd know how many wax packs were sold in 1959 and would be well on the way to coming up with at least a wild-ass guess as to how many cards were issued.

The Sporting News article revealed that the "Youth of America" had been aided in the selection process by an "Honorary Rookie All-Star Team Election Committee." Looking over that list, it is evident the committee was selected with an eye towards maximizing the publicity for Topps.

In alphabetical order, the committee comprised:

  • Tim Cohane, sports editor, Look magazine
  • Dan Ferris, honorary secretary, National Amateur Athletic Union
  • Ed Fitzgerald, editor-in-chief, Sport magazine
  • Frank Frisch, Hall of Famer
  • Tom S. Gallery, director of sports, NBC
  • Dave Grote, public relations director, National League
  • Sid James, managing editor, Sports Illustrated
  • Carl Lundquist, public relations director, Natl Assn. of Professional Baseball Leagues
  • Bill MacPhail, director of sports, CBS
  • Joe McKenney, public relations director, American League
  • Jackie Robinson, vice-president, Chock Full O'Nuts
  • Marshall Smith, sports editor, Life magazine
  • J.G. Taylor Spink, publisher, The Sporting News.
 The announcement of the rookie team had been made at a post-season banquet in New York City on Oct. 29, 1959, when the honored players each received a trophy and a check for $125.

Topps evidently believed the exercise was worthwhile, as it was repeated with paper ballots in packs of 1960 cards, and a new Rookie All-Star team that appeared on 1961 cards. Rather than a special design for those players, their cards -- with the curious exception of Frank Howard -- have the Topps "top hat" trophy on them.

So, what became of those 30,000,000 ballots distributed in 1959? They are extremely rare today. Even most of the die-hard collectors of 1959 Topps cards don't have an example in their collections.

To be honest, I don't remember ever seeing the paper ballots in the many, many packs of 1959 Topps cards I opened. I probably threw them in the gutter along with those worthless wrappers and most of the bubblegum. I have a feeling the $30 price quoted for a NM example in the 2011 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards represents less than 10% of what one of these inserts would command if offered today.

UPDATE: Coincidentally, an example of the Topps Rookie All-Star Team paper ballot appeared in an eBay auction closing Sept. 1.

Paired with another Topps paper insert, a Bazooka t-shirt offer, the rookie ballot sold for $469. It looks to be in decent shape, except for a 1/2" tear at top.

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