No Suits

When I was growing up, the baseball history books I read always put executives (and umpires) on the same high level as players. Yes, the Babe was the king of them all, but Bill Klem got fairly equal billing as a titanic figure, as did Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Ed Barrow, George Weiss and other guys who sat behind desks. I’m not saying these guys didn’t contribute to baseball, I’m saying who gives a crap. The man who was VP in charge of sales for EMI doesn’t get credit for being in The Beatles.

Today it seems somewhat archaic to me to make executives so lofty, lofty enough to be Hall of Famers, and when new businessmen and umpires get in (Pat Gillick and Doug Harvey, for example), it strikes me as so old-fashioned, that a GM or ump is still seen as plaque worthy, in fact, as it stands now, more plaque worthy than Barry Bonds. The elevation of authority figures is so last century or should be.

Even Topps bought in to the “executive as baseball legend” meme. How else to explain this card?

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American League President Will Harridge, is the first card of the 1956 and so what? Such a seemingly consequential figure, celebrating, as the card back notes, “his 45th year of outstanding service to Baseball” (with a capital “B”).  And the number two card is NL President Warren Giles! Hmm, in 1956 who could possibly have been more worthy of the top one or two cards in the Topps set? I don’t know, Johnny Podres, Duke Snider, any  one of the finally World Champion Brooklyn Dodgers? Were kids really looking for bespectacled old men in a 5 cent pack?

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At least Topps condensed these two quasi-nonentities into one card in both 1957 and 1958, though reverted back to a single Giles (and a Ford Frick, Harridge was gone) in 1959, replaced by even then Hall of Famer Joe Cronin. Of course, Cronin didn’t deserve his own card!

I’m working on the 1956 set and picked up a Giles in VGEX for $2-3. The Harridge card picture above just sold for $46.97 at an eBay auction. I’ll get it in time, but the idea of spending as much for Will Fucking Harridge as I will for 20-25 commons in EX drives me batty. There’s no joy in that equation.

Author: Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is the former Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.

16 thoughts on “No Suits”

  1. I admit to liking the executives on the 1950s cards. Full disclosures follow.
    1. I wrote the SABR bios for both Harridge and Giles. Go read ’em! Short version: Harridge was a nothing executive, Giles much better (and had been an accomplished GM). Neither man is as interesting as Babe Ruth.
    2. I co-wrote on entire book on the history of general managers (In Pursuit of Pennants). Go read that too! There are many GMs that I would make more passionate Hall of Fame cases than many players. Theo Epstein has had more influence on baseball than Tim Raines (who I supported!), and deserves to be enshrined. Baseball’s HOF is brutally negligent in inducting non-players.
    3. My all-time favorite baseball person is probably Marvin Miller, who was about as “Executive” as one can possibly be, and who I would prefer in the Hall to anyone currently outside. He had a Topps Heritage card a few years ago which I loved and which is 10 feet from me.

    Would I want executives on baseball cards today? No. They are likely more important than ever, but they were more interesting when they were all drinkers who swore like sailors.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. As long as there are execs in the Hall, I’m all for Miller. I get the “character” of old execs, Larry MacPhail comes to mind, but I’d rather have a card of the worst scrub then the best administrator.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I think that most of the Harridge Premium is for his being Card #1, because of a completely-made-up story that those cards are more rare. Literally no one stored their cards in numerical order wrapped in rubber bands, but thanks for that dealers!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m sure you’re right about #1 (everything you said about #1s), but it sucks to have to pay that premium for Harridge. I’d rather pay it for a player card.

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  2. I have suspected Topps may have added the Execs to the lead of the 1956 as part of their battle with Bowman. Never saw that confirmed – but seems a bit more than coincidence.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Have to echo Mark on loving that Marvin Miller Topps Archives Fan Favorites card.

    And I’m not the only one who snarkily suspects that Topps will feature suits on cards this year since we’re all expecting them to do something with Jeter.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I need to read Mark’s write-ups of Harridge and Giles because, yep, these two guys don’t represent anything to me in particular. I can imagine a kid in ‘56 being pretty bummed at pulling them out of a pack.

    I’m down to 10 cards missing in my ‘56T set now. Hopefully not bidding against you, Jeff. As a Red Sox fan I question how much I am really ready to sink into a Whitey Ford card. I mean he’s kind of a soft HOF’er, isn’t he?

    I’m “all in” with you guys on Miller. I have a ball, single signed by MM, on the shelf with three balls signed by my other favorite execs: Henry, Werner and Lucchino.

    Marvin is more Hall-worthy than most of the guys already in it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I need 73, so I think we’re not in competition (yet!). The high price cards I still need are going to take some finessing, balancing price and condition. I have Ford but I don’t have other HOFers who are similar in nature.

      Marvin is Hall-worthy for sure, especially when compared to other execs/pioneers. Don’t know if you’ve read Split Season:1981, but I got to talk to Miller several times and he was wonderful.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Too bad Topps didn’t have “In Action” cards for the executives. Harridge could have shuffled paper, Giles could’ve taken a drag on a cigarette and Frick could be schmoozing at Toots Shor’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Aside from questioning whether there should be cards of execs and umps, if you’re lik3e me and trying to assemble a complete collection of all the Hall of Famers (from any year or set), it’s tough to get an actual baseball card (as opposed to a Hall plaque postcard) of some of those people. I do like stumping friend who can’t name Effa Manley as the only woman enshrined, but I don’t think she has an actual baseball card, even in retro sets.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks, njwv, although they’re pretty ugly. I think i have a Paninii card from one of its better looking set of either Bernie Dreyfus or Bowie Kuhn (if not both)

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