Putting the “old” in old cardboard: 50 years of manager cards

As a young collector, some of my least favorite pulls were manager cards. “What’s this OLD GUY doing in my pack?” Of course, now I’M the old guy. Thanks, universe!

It is then in a spirit of atonement and kinship that I am dedicating this post to half a century of manager cards in hopes of turning my fellow skipper rippers chipper and making geezer seizing pleasing again.

Yes, I bring you a post dedicated to the anti-heroes of the wax pack (the paunchiest pilots if you will) and drowning out the stroppy squawks of poppycocks and “Hobby pox!” with “Bobby Cox!!” and “Robby rocks!!” C’mon, America, let’s…well you get the idea!

Our 50 years of interest will run from 1933-1982. (I know that sounds like 49 years, but it really is 50. Trust me.) My goal in each case will be to highlight the evolution of the manager card genre across these sets or at least showcase some bit of trivia from the set that you might not have known, including an odd fact that makes Billy Martin and Joe Cronin cardboard cousins.

1933 Goudey

The 1933 Goudey set included 13 cards of 10 managers. The explanation for the uneven math is that Bill Terry had two cards, and Joe Cronin had three. The Rajah also had two cards in the set, but he is only the manager on his second one.

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By including managers in the set, Goudey was not necessarily breaking any new ground. Particularly with the prevalence of player-managers in baseball’s early days, I imagine that most of the major sets before 1933 included at least some managers. In addition, another non-innovation of the Goudey set was using the same card design for managers and non-managers alike. To break free of that mold, we will need to wait nearly three decades.

Collectors not intimately familiar with the Goudey set might be surprised to know it includes cards for the managers of the Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Maple Leafs! “Hey, wait a minute! That last one can’t be right, can it?”

Dead serious. It really is Maple Leafs, not Maple Leaves.

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I know at least a few of you are saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Tell me something I DON’T know!” Not a problem. Here is some 1934 Goudey trivia I don’t expect too many people know. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t say it was interesting or important!)

Managers are identified three different ways on the card backs. The first, mainly used in the set’s earliest releases, was simply to identify the subject as a manager within the text of the bio. The second method, used only on one of the set’s three Joe Cronin cards, was to insert “Manager” just before the team name in the header area, and the third method, used in the set’s late releases, was to do similar but in all caps (i.e., MANAGER).

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In contrast with at least the latter two of these approaches, none of the non-manager cards in the set identified position information in the header. I cut up a very nice Carl Hubbell card just so I could show you.

Hubbell

1934 Goudey

As for the 1934 Goudey set, nothing too exciting or different happened beyond a standardization of the “Manager” designation to all caps. Of course, standardization is a lot easier when a set has only three manager cards versus 13!

Grimm 19434

Another element of the 1934 Goudey set was one we’ll see repeated often in other “small checklist” sets: manager cards going solely to player-managers, in this case Grimm, Cochrane, and Terry.

1934-1936 Diamond Stars

The multi-year Diamond Stars release from National Chicle included a handful of managers but did not go to great lengths to identify them as such. In some cases (e.g., Mickey Cochrane), no indication is given at all. In other cases (e.g., Frankie Frisch), mention is made within the “Tips” section of the card back.

Diamond Stars.jpg

Not all of the managers were player-managers. Steve O’Neill, who succeeded Walter Johnson as manager of the Indians, had not played a major league game since 1928, and Bucky Harris, manager of the Senators, had not played since 1931. Lew Fonseca was also in a manager-only role by the time his card came out. However, he had played the season before, so his status was somewhere in the middle.

By far the most interesting manager card in the Diamond Stars set was the card that never was. This card, which would have been released in 1936 or early 1937, seems to predict the transfer of managerial duties from Rogers Hornsby to Jim Bottomley in July 1937.

bottomley.jpg

I’ll note here that this card and the 11 others from its “lost sheet” are sometimes assumed to have represented cards 109-120 in the Diamond Stars set and as such reflect an extension of the 108-card set. I suspect it’s also possible these cards could have been 97-108 instead of the 12 cards the set ultimately ended up repeating on the checklist. (More on this in a future post.)

BONUS: 1936 Goudey Wide Pen Premiums

To keep things from getting too crazy, I initially decided to restrict my focus officially to major releases and unofficially to “baseball card size” releases. Still, I can’t exit the 1930s without acknowledging this Yankees manager card, which doubles as one of several rookie cards of Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio. To bring back the awful wordplay from the top of this post, I think we’d all be chipper Clipper-Skipper rippers today if we pulled this card from our stacks.

DiMaggio.jpg

1938 Goudey “Heads Up”

With only 24 different subjects in the set, there are no manager cards in this set.

1939 Play Ball

There was one manager card among the 161 cards in Play Ball’s debut issue. In October 1938 Dodger shortstop Leo Durocher signed a contract to manage the club, succeeding Burleigh Grimes. His Play Ball card #6 in the set identifies his as “Playing Manager” in the card back’s header.

Durocher

1940 Play Ball

The 1940 Play Ball release expanded the number of cards and the number of managers. Furthermore, it was no longer necessary to be a player-manager to crack the set.

1940 Play Ball.jpg

The bad news, at least for the managers (and coaches) of the two pennant winners, is that they received no card front credit for their team’s success. While Yankees and Reds players (e.g., Wally Berger) all had small pennants on the front of the card, this honor did not apply to managers or coaches.

1940 PB Reds.jpg

1941 Play Ball

The 1941 Play Ball set had a much shorter checklist, so only one manager made the cut and even then probably wouldn’t have if he wasn’t also one of the game’s top players.

1941 PB.jpg

1948-1949 Bowman

The first Bowman issue only had 48 cards, none of them managers. Bowman expanded its offering to 240 cards the following year and–much like the 1941 Play Ball set–included only a single manager card of a very good shortstop.

1949 Bowman

1949 Leaf

The debut offering from Leaf looked much like 1949 Bowman as far as manager cards were concerned. Only Lou Boudreau, as player-manager, made the list. The header area of his card back bills Boudreau as a shortstop, but his bio area is quick to note his player-manager role. And of course this same set featured a very famous coach card.

Leaf

1950-1955 Bowman

The 1950 Bowman set was the first major release in a decade to include non-player managers. Non-player managers were repeated in 1951-1953 and 1955 as well. As with all the sets profiled so far, the manager cards followed the same design as the other cards in the set.

Bowman.jpg

The 1951 grouping was notable in that it included what many collectors feel is the single ugliest baseball card of all time. Another notable aspect of the 1951 set was that it was the first major release of the period profiled (1933-1982) to include manager cards for every team (16, in this case). A final bit of trivia. Jackie Robinson appears on the Charlie Dressen manager card, or at least his name does.

Dressen.jpg

1952-1956 Topps

The first five major baseball issues from Topps followed the traditions of Bowman and others in that the handful of managers included occupied the same card design as the players. If there is any novelty to be found, at least among the sets profiled in this post, the 1953 Topps set was the first to indicate “Manager” on the front of the card. (Much older examples pre-dating the scope of this post certainly exist, such as the 1915-1916 Sporting News (M104) Connie Mack card.)

1952 Topps.jpg

Though managers were represented in these sets, they were not abundant. For example, the 1956 Topps set included only two managers: Mayo Smith and Walter Alston. Oddly, while the 1954 Topps set included four managers, it included 22 coaches across the 16 teams. Among them were three Hall of Famers: Billy Herman, Earle Combs, and Heinie Manush.

1958-1959 Topps

Topps took a year off from manager cards in 1957 but came back with two novel approaches the following year. A 1958 card honored the managers from the 1958 All-Star game while doubling as a checklist for cards 441-495 in the set.

1958 topps.jpg

Among the sets profiled in this post, this Stengel-Haney All-Star card was the first to adopt a different design than the standard player cards in the set. At the same time, it mimicked the design of its fellow all-star cards in the set, hence was not truly novel.

The same 1958 set also included two cards pairing managers with star players on their teams, including the great Frank Robinson (RIP).

1958 Alston.jpg

1959 looked a lot like 1958, once again including managers in its all-star subset. This time, however, the skippers did not have to share the same card.

1959 Topps

And once again, we have a manager-player combo card.

1959 stengel.jpg

1960 Topps

The 1960 Topps set was THE breakthrough set for manager cards. Not only did managers get their own unique card design but this was the first Topps set to include all 16 major league managers, assigning them consecutive card numbers from 212-227. (If you care to know, the manager cards were also alphabetized by last name.)

1960 Topps

You may also recall that Giants skipper Bill Rigney shares a “Master and Mentor” combo card with Willie Mays. I’ll show it here along with an attempt at imagining what player cards in the set would have looked like had they followed the same design as the manager cards. For my money, it would have been the best card design of the decade!

1960 extras.jpg

1961 Topps

The 1961 set more or less followed suit from 1960, again adopting a unique design for its managers. The cards below contrast the player cards and manager cards from the set.

1961 Topps.jpg

Oddly, there are 17 manager cards in the set despite there being only 16 teams the prior season. “Expansion,” you say! And yes, there are manager cards for the Angels and Twins. But still, wouldn’t that have given the set 18 manager cards? I’ll give you a sec to guess the missing team. Form of a question, please.

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Yes, it is the Cubbies! After a woeful 1960 season, 1961 marked the beginning of the College of Coaches for Chicago’s northsiders. While it led to a four-game improvement in the standings (though some baseball historians prefer to credit Billy Williams), the whole thing was just too damned complicated for Topps. Still, I think this gives custom card designers an open invitation to put together that Vedie Himsl-Harry Craft-El Tappe-Lou Klein quadruple-manager card that should have been. (Confession: I’d heard of exactly zero of these guys till five minutes ago.)

A tad more trivia on the set. If you’ve read Anson Whaley’s five-part series on the Black Sox Scandal, you know post-career cards of the banned eight players are a rarity until at least the 1970s. Aside from the 1940 Play Ball card of Shoeless Joe, the back of the 1961 Topps Cicotte pictured is the only cardboard I know that even mentions a single one of the “eight men out.”

1962-1972 Topps

Following an outburst of creativity, Topps reverted to assigning managers the same card design as players for the next 11 years. While so many other cards of the era sent a message that the world was coming to an end larger tumult dominated the era, the Topps manager cards provided an oasis of stability and calm. “Trust your leaders, kids. We got this.”

Managers of the 60s

The two different Walt Alston pictures for 1968-1969 are a reminder that Marvin Miller represented players but not managers. (See Mark Armour’s SABR post if what I just typed means nothing to you.) Certainly there are player cards with two photos also, but the manager cards provide the most consistent example.

And since I can never write one of these posts and not feature the Splendid Splinter, here is where he makes his appearance on the page. (If you’re keeping score, Ted made only one fewer Topps set as a manager than as a player!)

Ted Williams.jpg

1973-1974 Topps

The 1973-1974 sets brought Topps out of its manager card doldrums. The inclusion of coaches gave the manager cards a distinct design while also bringing back some great names from the past. Examples of Hall of Famer players who appeared on these cards as coaches included Ernie Banks, Warren Spahn, and Bill Mazeroski.

1973 Topps.jpg

The 1974 Mets manager card of Yogi Berra marked a milestone in my own collecting career. I made my collecting debut at a school carnival in 1977 by purchasing a stack of 1974 Topps cards for 50 cents. Though I didn’t know who he was at the time, this Yogi Berra would be the first card of a Hall of Famer that I ever owned.

1975-1977 Topps

For the next three years, Topps merged what had previously been two distinct subsets: team cards and manager cards. It really wasn’t a bad look or a bad idea, but the timing was unfortunate.

1975 Topps.jpg

The first year of the shrunken manager, 1975, happened to be the year that Frank Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s other color barrier. Though the Indians team card that year still made my list of the top ten cards of the decade (for this reason) and Robinson’s main card in the set gives him at least cartoon credit as skipper, I feel like Topps missed a great opportunity to give Robinson’s feat its proper due. One approach would have been to change “Des. Hitter” to “Mgr-DH” on his main card; the other would have been to hang on to full-size manager cards just one more year.

FRobby.jpg

Of course, these 1975 cards weren’t the very first to portray Frank Robinson as manager. That honor (I think) belongs to Robinson’s 1972 Puerto Rican Winter League sticker.

1972 Robby

1978 Topps

We finally arrive at the set that I can speak about with the unimpeachable authority of an obsessive eight-year-old. This was the year I really got going as a card collector. It was also the year Topps introduced its most innovative design ever for manager cards.

1978 Topps.jpg

While the “As Player, As Manager” dual photo approach was a novel one, I should mention that it wasn’t completely new. It’s a bit of cheating since he was a player-manager at the time, but the 1954 Topps Phil Cavaretta could be considered the prototype.

Cavaretta.jpg

1979-1981 Topps

The efficiency consultants were back at Topps for these three seasons and urged the combining of team cards and manager cards once again.

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1981-1982 Donruss and Fleer

1981 Fleer.jpg

While Topps had relegated managers to a tiny box in the upper right hand corner of the team card in 1981, Donruss and Fleer took a page out of the 1962-1972 Topps (or almost everybody, 1933-1956) playbook and used the standard player design for their sets’ managers, just one more way that 1981 Donruss put the vintage back into modern.

Donruss came back with more of the same in 1982 while Fleer took the year off. (In fact, Fleer would never again include manager cards in their sets, aside from the “tiny manager in the corner of a team card” approach they borrowed from Topps for 1984.)

1982 Topps

Remember I started this post by stating how much I hated pulling “old guys” from packs when I was a kid. Well, Topps finally listened in 1982! Perhaps feeling the heat from Fleer and Donruss, the once and future monopolist set out to give us kids what we wanted: 792 cards of young guys…oh, and Phil Niekro too.

Team cards were also a casualty of this “voice of the customer” movement, but let’s face it…we far preferred extra cards of Claudell Washington and Rick Mahler, right?

1982 Topps.jpg

BONUS: 1983 Topps and Donruss

Just in case anyone was feeling ripped off with the whole 1933-1982 thing, or just needed some more Frank Robinson in their lives, here’s a quick look at the manager cards from 1983.

1983.jpg

Topps needlessly tweaked their player card design but was again back to giving managers their own card for the first time in more than a decade. Donruss, meanwhile, followed their 1982 approach (as they did with nearly all things that year) and gave manager cards the same treatment as player cards.

As noted, Fleer abandoned manager cards following their 1981 debut, but we’ll count our blessings here. It may well be that had Fleer dedicated 26 of their 660 cards in 1983 to managers, they–like Topps and Donruss–would have whiffed on what was ultimately the year’s hottest card, at least until the Topps Traded set came out.

darryl.jpg

While we’re on the subject of 1983 Topps Traded…(pauses to admire Darryl card, takes deep breath, okay thanks)…did you know this was the first Topps Traded set to include managers? You’d have to be some sort of Keith Olbermann-Christoper Kamka hybrid to name all the managers in the traded set without cheating, so I’ll help you out. If you were imagining just one or two, boy were you off!

First here are the guys they replaced.

1983 Topps Managers.jpg

And finally, here are the Traded Set Seven!

1983 Topps Traded MGRs.jpg

In the introduction to this post I mentioned a pair of cardboard cousins. Ignoring minor releases, errors, and variants, these two men bookend of our half century as the only two men from 1933-1983 to have two different manager cards in the same set and design. So there you have it: cardboard cousins!

1953-1983

And yes, I know the two Billy Martin cards weren’t strictly from the same set, but cut an old guy some slack here. Respect your elders, cardboard or otherwise!

Author: jasoncards

I mainly enjoy writing about baseball and baseball cards, but I've also dabbled in the sparsely populated Isaac Newton trading card humor genre. As of January 2019 I'm excited to be part of the SABR Baseball Cards blogging team, and as of May 2019 Co-Chair of the SABR Baseball Cards Research Committee.

17 thoughts on “Putting the “old” in old cardboard: 50 years of manager cards”

  1. The Cubs did have a “Head Coach” card in the 64 set (bob Kennedy). Also, I did not realize until years later that Joe Torre was a player-manager for the 77 Mets. Could that have been the inspiration for the As Player – As Manager card?

    Another bit of trivia on the 78 Topps set. The Brewers are the only team not represented by a manager. The reason? According to the back of the team checklist one had not been named at the time the set went to press.

    Like

  2. More great work. Thank you.

    In my opinion, the exclusion of managers from recent Topps base sets is a shame. The cerebral nature of the game, combined with a desire for a complete historical record, demands it.

    It is interesting that managers’ glamour value is not much higher than that of umpires. Yet, win a World Series, and they become gods, at minimum in the cities in which they work.

    Also enjoyed the link to your 1970s Top 10. Again, thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I haven’t bought a pack since around 1992, so I didn’t know managers weren’t still in the sets. Maybe to make room for more RCs or extra cards of Trout, Ohtani, and Judge?

      Like

  3. I always loved the manager cards in the 1960 Topps set. The design really “popped,” in part because it was different from the horizontal design of all the other cards. But it’s also just generally a very attractive design. The coach cards were special as well, new territory that hadn’t before been covered at such a level.

    As someone who cut his teeth on the cards of the ’60s, it’s always felt like part of the natural order that manager cards should be included in a comprehensive set . . .

    Like

    1. I was trained on the 1978 Topps set and assumed everything in it was eternal and unchanging. Little did I know the manager cards I was pulling stood alone among the years 1975-1982. As much as 1978 influenced my formative hobby brain, any set without manager cards seems wrong.

      Don’t get me wrong. I actually hated getting manager cards as a kid. But it was and is still weird to think of a set without them.

      Like

      1. Well, it can depend on the manager 🙂 When I started following baseball in 1967 as a young White Sox fan, Eddie Stanky WAS the star of the team. And, across town, Leo Durocher had a high profile as manager of the Cubs. So those were cool cards to have.

        But Grady Hatton? Lum Harris? Wes Westrum? When you’re a young collector, I can’t say it was a real thrill to pull most managers out of a pack . . .

        Liked by 1 person

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