Friday, September 23, 2011

Gus Zernial's iconic '52 Topps card

One of the most memorable cards in the 1952 Topps baseball set is that of Gus Zernial (#31).

The smiling A's outfielder is shown holding a bat in his right hand. Attached to the bat are six baseballs. Actually, it is more likely that the balls were superimposed on the bat in a black-and-white photograph that was colorized for the Topps card. With his right hand, Zernial is making the "OK" sign.

While most collectors of Fifties cards know this image, few know what it represents. While it is spelled out on the back of the card, I'll summarize it here.

The photo immortalized on that card marks Zernial's tying the major league record for having hit six home runs in three successive ballgames.

On April 30, 1951, Zernial had been traded from the White Sox to the A's as part of a three-team, six-player deal. 

Two weeks later, on May 13, in the first inning of the second game of a doubleheader against the Yankees, Zernial hit his first home run of the year, off Spec Shea. In the fifth inning he homered again, off Fred Sanford. The hometeam Athletics beat the Yankees 9-6.

With the St. Louis Browns visiting Shibe Park for the next series, Zernial again homered twice on May 15. The first came against Dick Starr in the first inning. The second, in the ninth inning against Ned Garver, wasn't enough to overcome the A's deficit, and they lost 8-11.

The next day, the 16th, Zernial's home runs came against Duane Pillette in the second inning and Cliff Fannin in the fifth. The A's again lost, 9-10.

The '52 Topps card could have just as easily shown Zernial with seven balls on his bat, because on May 17, he homered again, off Don Johnson in the first inning, as the A's beat the Browns 7-6.

That home run also tied an American League record of seven home runs in four consecutive games. That mark had been set by Tony Lazzeri in 1936.

After his home run outburst, Zernial did not hit another for nearly two weeks, until June 2, but he went on to lead the American League in 1951 with 33 home runs and 126 RBIs.

Moreso because of the unusual photo than the player's star stature, the '52 Topps Zernial card has always enjoyed a modest premium over other cards in the low-number series.

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