Saturday, June 9, 2012

One of My Favorite Cards: 1952 Topps #88 Bob Feller


I've recently broken my own rules.   I told myself I wouldn't do it, I rationalized over and over again as to why it should be considered a waste of time and funds in my own mind......but I didn't listen.   Not even to myself.

I wasn't going to chase any more releases from this year.   I would make this the final year for hand-building the flagship set for my son.   From here on out, I would simply pick up a sealed factory set for him every Christmas and perhaps build the Updated Series to complete the circuit.   From there, I would choose my favorite release and maybe allow myself to chase that one.   This year, that set was Gypsy Queen.   I was a huge fan of the inaugural release last year and I couldn't wait for 2012.   The set delivered and I am well on my way to completion of GQ (PLUG - please check out my NEEDS/HAVES lists to the right and see if we can help each other out with a swap!).

Okay - so I picked up a ton of Heritage, too.....only to nip that pursuit in the bud with a very reasonable and enjoyable transaction with BrentandBecca for a complete set.  A great experience and I can't wait to go through the set and enjoy each card.

But then I got the itch.   The guilty itch of ordering the set outright.....I am a set-builder by nature but I can  have a flare up of collector's impatience.   It got the best of me and I'm not sure if I can go that route again.   So, with GQ almost done - you could say that there was a bit of a void.

And then it showed up.

The blog posts and tweets and website articles started popping up ALL over the place about the release of 2012 Topps Archives.   I scoured the pictures myself and couldn't look away!   There they were - so many of my favorite card designs from decades past: 1954, 1971, 1980 and the first set to capture my imagination as a young collector: 1984 Topps.

I picked up a pack or two and was instantly hooked - I would chase the set.   I should have those lists up shortly - let me know if I can help  you with anything!

One of my favorite aspects of the Archives set are the Reprints.   These are (almost) exact replicas of some of the most famous cards from the Topps' timeline.   A little bit brighter, a lot more mint-ier and the curious odor of maple syrup replaces that great old-school cardboard smell......with a tiny gold-foil stamp to remind you that you're OH so close.

But they're still a great way to do a little role-playing and enjoy some of our hobby's true gems.   One of my Archives packs yielded a copy of a card that I am actually fortunate enough to own and thought this coincidence would make for a great lead-in to a post about one of my favorite cards of one of my favorite ballplayers.

Bob "Rapid Robert" Feller's 1952 Topps card, #88 from the set.

Bob Feller was one of the first legends that I reached out to as I re-entered the memorabilia portion of our hobby in 2007.   It was that fall that I began sending out ROMLBs to Hall of Fame legends via TTM requests in the hopes of building a collection to honor the heroes of the game I love.   I made sure to read up on each player before I penned there letter and I can say that it was some of the most enjoyable research I have ever conducted in my life!   

Bob Feller is an American Hero.   I talk about it quite often on here, but Mr. Feller was one of those legends from the Game's Golden Age that managed to save the world amongst making his mark on the pages of baseball's history.   He was a Navy man like me!   He was the first major league ballplayer to step away from the game and raise his hand to volunteer for service - combat service, to be exact.   Mr. Feller was a Gun Captain aboard the USS Alabama (Battleship) - which JUST SO HAPPENS to share the same namesake state as the submarine I served aboard during my time in the service.   In some weird, illogical way.....I like to think that this gives us some sort of bond?   I know, I know.....

One more quick fact - I grew up in the Florida panhandle and, as a young Boy Scout, spent several nights aboard the USS Alabama for 'camping trips' in Mobile, Alabama, where the good ship Bama is moored as a floating museum.   Bob Feller was a spark in my young collector's eye at that point in time, so I never noticed the bunk labeled with his name in the crew's quarters (or it could be the Goat Locker, as Mr. Feller left the Navy with the rank of Chief Petty Officer....and is the only Hall of Famer to retain that enlisted rank).   You had better believe that it is on my TO-DO Bucket List to make a return trip to Mobile for some great gulf seafood and an afternoon aboard that 'ol grey lady so that I can see where Chief Feller tried to find peace amongst the chaos of war.   Amazing....

"Bullet Bob" missed four potential seasons of his professional career while he defended the nation.   What might have been, right?   Well - turns out, it was anyways.   He finished his career with a record of 266-162 with an ERA of 3.25 and 2,581 strikeouts.   He never wore a different uniform than the Cleveland Indians threads that he donned off and on from 1936 to 1956.   There are many stats and milestones that I could review but I would like to save some of these for when I share my returns from that TTM request in '07.   For now, I would like to speak to the card above!

After re-entering the hobby last year, I quickly found the only - and soon to be extinct - Local Card Shop (LCS) in town, Rudy's Upper Deck.   I'd pop in whenever I could to chat with 'ol Rudy about the game, the players, the hobby and life in general.  It was great!   I was so sad to learn that Rudy would have to close things up last year but I am very grateful that I had the few months that I did to get to know Rudy and make some deals for some of the cardboard in his display cases.

One day I sauntered in to Rudy's and saw Mr. Feller's warm grin shining up from his 'vintage' display case.   Not only was it Bob Feller, but it was Bob Feller's 1952 Topps card.   1952 Topps is one of those legendary sets.   Sure, it's got the Mantle Rookie that we all know so well - but so many other cards from that set are incredible and timeless classics.   The design is simple but beautiful.   The background cartoon colors in some of the cards (like Bob's) are a bit odd.....but for the time period - understandable.   The old team logo's/mascots like Chief Wahoo above are fantastic.   Not necessarily politically correct for our times but they're a part of history and something to be understood.   My favorite part is the player's name and signature 'box'.   This rectangle, like the rest of the card, is very simple....but to me, the tiny yellow stars turn an ordinary box into a brilliant art-decco marquee - as in an old-fashioned movie theatre.   Think Jim Carey's "The Majestic".

I know....I'm a little weird.

So, I fell in love with this card and knew I wanted it for my collection - though I could never afford it and certainly couldn't afford the price that Rudy had marked on the card.   

BUT WAIT....what's that on the left-hand side?   A crease!

Yes, a crease often carries a negative connotation in our hobby.   We don't prefer to have the cards in our collection creased but for us mortals - these creases can become tickets to the possibility of actually owning some very epic, beautiful baseball cards.   Why?   Well, the creases detract from the card's condition and therefore - this 1952 Topps Bob Feller just garnered itself a severe discount from the 'Beckett High' price on the sticker.   I asked Rudy about it and pointed out the crease (along with the corners and slight stain on the back) for his consideration.   Rudy pulled the top-loader close to his thick spectacles and furrowed his brow.   I got the sense that he might not agree with my assessment, so I commented again on how nice the card was and went back to talkin' shop with Rudy so that he could make his decision in peace.   I talked about Bob Feller and the luck I had with him through the mail back in '07.    Rudy shared his favorite Feller story with me - the "Heater from Van Meter's" Opening Day no-hitter in 1940, against the Chicago White Sox.   Opening Day no-no?!?!?!   This day and age gives us pitchers with carefully monitored pitch counts and a middle-reliever system that makes it nearly impossible for starters to see the 7th or 8th inning.   Amazing!   

But what about this card, Rudy?

We all usually disparage the price guide mentality that governs the financial side of our beloved hobby. While it changed the game in so many ways, it DOES still provide a very useful and protective service by letting everyday collectors like ME know about what to pay in retail situations like this.  I knew the general condition descriptions along with the generally accepted percentage discount to be expected for the various degrees of degradation......

So I made an offer.   A low offer.  Not to be cheap or steal this thing away but an offer that could fit within my budget.   I was ready to let this '52 Feller go and walk away because I understood that Rudy had to make a living, too.   In fact, he even confided in me that he hadn't seen the crease when he bought it.   He shook his head on that fact and even let out a low whisper of self-deprecation, "Rudy!....."   It was truly charming.   You can't get THAT from!   I felt bad for him, but he wasn't, in fact, he said he was very appreciative that I pointed it out to him and thanked me for coming in to talk baseball with him when I could.

He took another $15 off my offer and I was going home with this legendary card!

And that's the story of my 1952 Topps Bob Feller.   Here's a look at the back for us to enjoy:

Classic design.   Biographical information, quick write-up (these were really good back in the day) and some playing stats to wrap things up.   Love it!   How about those four names, huh?

Thank you for your service to our country, Mr. Feller, and to your contributions to the game we love.   You are dearly missed but I can easily imagine that grin from the diamond in the sky.

As a side note - here are some images of the original '52 next to the reprint included in this year's Archives release.   A reprint will never be the same - but I feel like Archives and other reprint type releases provide a great way for collectors in the modern era to own a little replicated piece of history and get a sense of these hobby treasures for pennies on the vintage dollar.

The '52s were still the larger-sized cards so you can notice the difference there.  Then there's the golden archives stamp, too, of course.   Other than that, if you were to just fade some of that crisp white into soft grown......oh, and don't forget that smell and a crease or two!

Thanks for reading!


  1. Great post, Ryan! And thank you for your service.

    Such s great story on how you landed the '52 Topps Feller. I can easily see how that's one of your favorite cards. It's really cool to see the original next to the reprint.

  2. What a fantastic card, thanks for sharing!

    I have met Feller twice in my life, once as a 8 or 9-year old kid at a local card shop that he was signing at and then again as a 34/35 year old just two years ago. He was graciuos each time, and very enjoyable to be around. I wish that more of the past's legends followed his path.