Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Host's auto is key to '59 Home Run Derby

One of the great baseball card regional issues of the late 1950s was the 20-card set issued in conjunction with the syndicated television series, Home Run Derby

The TV show was taped after the end of the 1959 baseball season and aired prior to the 1960 season. Because it was a syndicated program, it ran on different dates in different TV markets.

There's a lot of good information on the show itself available via a Google-search, so I won't go into that here.

Because the show was principally sponsored by American Motors, a primary venue for the distribution of the black-and-white, blank-back, postcard-size cards was local Rambler auto dealerships. The cards were probably distributed a few at a time to coincide with the appearance of the pictured players on the TV show.

Original Home Run Derby cards are scarce today, though a reasonable facsimile of the set can be had because Card Collectors Company issued a complete-set reprint in 1988, about the time ESPN first re-ran the entire original TV series. The series is now available on DVDs.

While it would seem to be possible to put together a complete set of Home Run Derby originals that had been authentically autographed by the pictured players, it would be a great challenge and a very expensive proposition. 

Nine of the 19 players pictured are Hall of Famers; eleven of the players are deceased. Gil Hodges was the first player in the set to die, in 1972. Three died in 1982, Ken Boyer, Jackie Jensen and Wally Post. Two players died in 1995, Bob Allison and Mickey Mantle. Eddie Mathews, Dick Stuart, Jim Lemon Harmon Killebrew and Duke Snider passed away between 2001 and today.

The real challenge to completing an autographed set of Home Run Derby cards, however, would be acquiring one of the show's host, Mark Scott. Besides the natural tendency of baseball fans and collectors to be more interested in getting signatures of star players and hometown favorites, Scott's autograph is probably the rarest because he died shortly after the TV show had finished its initial run in 1959-60.   

Scott died on July 13, 1960, at his home in Burbank, Calif., of what The Sporting News described as a "heart ailment." He was 45 years old.

I always thought Scott made an affable host for the TV show, making small talk with the ballplayers as their opponent of the week was at the plate. 

Mark Scott had an extensive background in sports broadcasting. He lettered in football at the University of Illinois, and began working in radio at Champaign, Ill., and South Bend, Ind., before moving on to do sports at WCAV in Norfolk, Va.

In 1952 he moved to Hollywood to do play-by-play for the Pacific Coast League Hollywood Stars and other assignments on KFWB radio.

At the time of his death, Scott was working with TV producer and star Jack Webb to secure the L.A. franchise in the nascent Continental Baseball League. 

Assembling a set of Home Run Derby cards today would be enough of a challenge -- with even mid-grade examples of the biggest stars selling for several hundred dollars each -- but it looks like putting together an autographed set would be a lifetime's work.
Home Run Derby host Mark Scott was photographed
during filming of the TV series with Willie Mays
and Mickey Mantle.

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