Armour: The great Topps baseball card monopoly: Rookie cards

From SABR member Mark Armour at The National Pastime Museum on May 5, 2016:

One fine day in the summer of 1979 my friend Lou and I were sitting in the grandstand behind first base at Fenway Park, when a plane flew overhead carrying an advertising banner. Nothing unusual about that, except that this plane was advertising Fenway Sportscards, giving an address on Commonwealth Avenue that we knew was right in Kenmore Square, less than a mile away. Lou and I had met early in our just-completed freshman year of college and had bonded over, among other things, our childhoods of collecting baseball cards.

A decade later there were card stores in every large town in America and probably 50 in the greater Boston area. But Fenway Sportscards was the first such place I ever entered and an early indication that my childhood hobby had become, literally, a business. The proprietor was older than us but was friendly and loved talking about baseball. (I returned several times over the next few years.) Cards were not as expensive as they would become later, but as a poor college student I had to satisfy myself with spending $20 or $30 on a few dozen cards from my youth that I had never managed to acquire.

In one of the display cases set aside for some of his better cards, the owner had one I had never seen—a “1963 Rookie Stars” card that showed the floating heads of four players, one of whom (on the lower left) was Pete Rose, one of the biggest stars in the game at the time I viewed the card. I had grown up with Rookie Stars cards—Topps had them every year beginning in 1962. By putting a player on a card like this, Topps was suggesting that he might break through this year and contribute. Topps often had many such cards, so they were anointing several dozen players, and only a few were ever going to become stars. Many of them, in fact, never played in the big leagues. But all of them gave hope to fans of their teams.

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Originally published: May 5, 2016. Last Updated: May 5, 2016.