Appel: Sy Berger’s baseball cards

From SABR member Marty Appel at The National Pastime Museum on February 23, 2015:

When Sy Berger died at his Long Island, New York, home in December 2014 at age 91, the story ran everywhere—from the front page of the New York Times to NBC Nightly News, and even “Weekend Update” on Saturday Night Live.

Surely, a lot of people were scratching their heads over this one. “Who in the world was Sy Berger?” they must have thought, feeling the next step would surely be a monument of equal size next to the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington.

The answer, of course, was that he was the man who sat at his kitchen table in the Brooklyn in 1952 and designed what has come to be known as the first modern baseball trading cards.

The fronts would have color photos of the players, a team logo, name, signature, and position. The back would have his “vitals”—birthdate, birthplace, height, weight, bats, throws. There would be his yearly statistics in a precise order—G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG—and, of course, a little cartoon explaining his offseason hobbies, which it seemed were “hunting and fishing” for almost everyone.

There had always been baseball cards, back to the days when they were packaged with tobacco products—but never would they catch on like this.

And that is why Sy Berger’s product—whether one knew his name or not—became an important part of American culture for the baby boomer generation. It was a connection between young fans and the National Pastime, a look in full color (!) at what the players looked like up close, long before 80–1 ratio camera lenses took you up close and personal into the color of Max Scherzer’s eyes.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: February 23, 2015. Last Updated: February 23, 2015.