The first baseball “trading cards” that I ever bought (or rather, my mom bought for me) were 1967 Topps, sometime in late spring. But these were not my first baseball cards. No, my first “cards” were these guys right here.
Packaged like a standard deck of playing cards, they made a game where two players would take turns playing through an inning, and then handing the deck to the other guy.
They were made by ED-U-CARDS and the copyright on the box says 1957. I got them a decade later — I assume they were purchased at the checkout line of a grocery store.
These cards were part of my education about the game and how the various events played on top of one another. Although I am sure I enticed my brother or someone else to play on occasion, I also spent hours just playing the game by myself. Like solitaire, except that I was learning how the game was played. A few months later I got some Topps cards, and I began to learn about the actual players. Both purchases were significant childhood events in by path toward full-on baseball nerd-dom.
The very next year, Topps inserted “game cards” into their 1968 packs. I was predisposed to love these cards and I did — I still believe it is unmatched in Topps insert history, the absolute GOAT — but as an actual “game” the Topps version was far inferior. There were fewer cards, fewer game events, and the ED-U-CARDS illustrations were classic. The HIT-BY-PITCH alone was worth playing the game for.
In subsequent years I ran across similar games that came out around the same time. If you grew up in the pre-video-game era, everyone had “card games” like this. A house that did not have an “Old Maid” card game laying around was a house you could not trust.
What follows are other examples of card games that I did not own as a child but encountered later on.
The above game was put out by Built Rite (according to the box) and cost 29 cents. There is no date. I like the scooped edging — much easier to hold for a youngster. In fact the box brags “Shaped Cards To Fit Small Hands.” The game events are pretty much the same, but the game includes a “Diamond Card” where you are supposed to place coins to keep track of which bases were occupied. That’s a nice touch.
This “Batter Up” game is copyright 1949, and is very similar to the other games. I came to love the bright yellow cards, but I have to admit these have a classy look and the illustrations are really well drawn. Also, it came with a set of rules which folded out to make a diamond for game play.
Earl Gillespie was the voice of the Milwaukee Braves when this game was put out in his name in 1961. It is a very classy box and set up, and the game plays out like all the rest of them, but the illustrations are pretty basic. Gillespie emphasizes the game itself, rather than the fun drawings. Its well done.
He also includes a handful of score sheets which is — probably taking things a bit far? I mean, who are the players in this scenario? As a bonus, he includes a sample — a scoresheet (the Braves batters) from opening day in 1961.
The question “what is a baseball card?” is inevitably so tied up in personal memories of childhood that logic is no longer driving the bus. You can classify these as you wish, but good luck prying them from my hands.