Young Kids, Old Men and Gum

I’ve never been a collector of Bazooka cards. They’re nice though; it’s not an aesthetic choice. So I’m not sure how I stumbled across the 1963 All-Time Greats set, a set that is not nearly as pretty as all other Bazooka sets of the era.

I’d been aware of the cards, the same size (1 9/16” X 2 ½”) as regular Bazooka cards, but what I didn’t know was that they were inserted five per box, avoiding the risk of being hand cut. At 41 cards, it’s a set that’s in my current wheelhouse, small enough, and inexpensive enough, to pursue. After nailing down 10 cards for $20, and adding another seven pretty quickly (some in trade), I’m almost half way to completion. (I got two graded in that lot, which I’ll eventually bust out of their cases.)

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Though I knew of these cards, I wasn’t prepared for how they looked (and felt) in hand. The lot I got was described in detail – corner condition, centering, etc. – but it in no way prepared me for how beautiful they are. The gold (and there’s a lot of gold) shimmers like a 19th century vase. (There are also pricier silver variations).  It’s impossible to capture in a scan. The stock is sturdy. I was bowled over by them, my decision to go after this set instantly reaffirmed .

Weirdly, Bazooka went with old man pictures of formerly young heroes. Fleer did the same for many of their 1960 and 1961 cards. It’s an odd choice. Bazooka was hoping (and expecting) a ten-year-old in 1963 to relish getting a Honus Wagner card, but why make it that much harder to attain by picturing Hans at 70! (Just guessing on that.) The Ruth card has the Babe near the end, probably from the morning he died. What kid doesn’t want that!

The backs cram a lot of information in and put me back to when I was learning about baseball history and the guys who make up this set. I was still reading about them all a decade later, in books, yearbooks, magazines, wherever I could find those stories.

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How do kids today, if interested, get this information, not only about now ancient superstars, but also more recent ones? In 1963, Ruth was retired for about as long as Reggie Jackson has been retired right now. Not via cards, I surmise; I doubt via books. The kind of books written about older players tend to be University press kinds of works, unless you’re lucky enough to be the subject for Jane Leavy (Koufax, Mantle, Ruth). I’m assuming Wikipedia and YouTube are prime sources, SABR Bio Project is also invaluable but SABR has its problems with an aging membership base. There are not a lot of teenagers among us.

It’s an ageist notion to scream about how kids today don’t care about what we did at their age. “I can’t believe the average 12-year-old baseball fan doesn’t know about Chief Bender!” I hate that. Baseball, and baseball cards, are there to be enjoyed and taken in however one wants to access them. I’d rather be a kid today, watching highlights on my phone as they occur, then be me in 1975, waiting three days to see a West Coast box score in Newsday. Try as you may, you won’t convince me that that was a better world.

I’m thoroughly enjoying these 1963 Bazooka ATGs, a nice surprise that puts me back to a time when getting a Harry Heilmann card was expected to be an exciting thing. It still is for me.

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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.

15 thoughts on “Young Kids, Old Men and Gum”

  1. I love these. I was unaware of them back when they were issued and I don’t remember them being talked about even in the hobby publications. I only came across them a few years back. Have fun going after the rest.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The old man photos are odd. The Ruth photo appears to be from the Yankee Stadium farewell, when he was near death. I may have to head over to eBay to check these out. By the way, I introduced my son the Chief Bender, Chief Meyers and other politically incorrect nicknames at an early age. It was my “chief” responsibility as a father.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There are all kinds of cards today that have older retired players. 2018 Topps Big League, designed to be cheap and for kids include players like, Aaron, Banks, Wagner, Ryan, Bench, Palmer, Koufax, and others.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When I was coaching fall ball last year, I overheard a brainy kid say to one of his teammates, “ I don’t think you even know who three finger brown was.” His family reads books

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Oh these are fun and I totally believe that the gold ink looks fantsatic in person.

    You’re right about today’s kids. Because the (same dozen or so) retired players are now shoehorned into current sets there aren’t any dedicated sets where you can learn about the past. I bought my eldest son a set of 2012 Panini Cooperstown for this purpose but am sad that sets like it are nowhere as common s they were when I was a kid. Mine at least enjoy getting books from the library and learning about history that way. Lots of decent “players you should know” books in the kid section—many of them broken down demographically so you can learn specifically about African American or Latino players.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s an interesting question as to how the young baseball fan of today views and digests baseball history. When I became a fan, I was fascinated by the history of the game, and learned everything I could about the Deadball Era and other early periods of the game. It probably didn’t hurt that I got a copy of “Glory of Their Times” for Christmas when I was 11, and that the first Macmillan Encyclopedia came out the following year.

    So I was looking back about half a century. Today’s 11-year-old, looking as far back, would be considering the players that I thought of as “modern day.” In other words, there’s a whole lot more baseball history to digest now as opposed to then.

    Fortunately, the resources available to current online-savvy youngster are far beyond anything we had. A simple trip to baseball-reference.com gives a detailed record of nearly 150 years of players and teams and leagues, and easy access to all of those great SABR bios. Maybe it doesn’t quite have the romance of cracking open the “Fireside Book of Baseball” and picking a random piece to read, but the enormity of the availability is breathtaking.

    Still, as card sets go, it is indeed a tough time. The Panini Cooperstown sets with their excruciating crops in order to avoid featuring logos are disappointing. And while Topps does seem to have the rights to a couple dozen stars from as far back as the beginning of the 20th Century, they recycle the same players time and time again in their various issues. It makes me yearn for the days when TCMA was cranking out so many “great teams” sets.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Does any one have baseball cards to donate ? All years , all makers. Just Baseball!!
    Any donation most include shipping to FL .

    Like

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