Monday, July 21, 2008

1959 Fleer Ted Williams #5

Being one of the all-time greats, Ted Williams turns up on more cards than most. In fact, if you're not familiar with it, this set's all Splinter, all the time. The issue's unusual enough, but its #5 features something peculiar aside from the "hungry mouse" upper right corner.

Card front

The unusual: For 1959, Fleer signed Teddy Ballgame to an exclusive contract and created an 80-card biographical set based on his life, career, and military service up to that point. #5 "Ted's Fame Spreads" covers his growing renown as a teen-aged ballplayer.

The peculiar: Wait, Ted seems to be batting right-handed. Whaa? Although a natural rightie, Williams hit from the left side, perhaps to get an extra few inches toward first. (The Kid wasn't the fleetest of foot.) So did Fleer reverse a negative, Hank Aaron style? Was this a flirt with switch-hitting? Not so. Turns out he's pitching in this shot, a role I never knew he filled. Though a two-way star for his San Diego high school, Ted had little patience for mound men--and fielding, too--in the bigs. ("Ah, screw it," he'd famously say, "let's go hit!")

Card back

That Ted could carry a set on his own speaks to the heroic status accorded someone who proved his mettle for decades on the field and across two wars in the air. Fortunately for budget-minded folks, '59 Fleers are the cheapest way to get his career-era card. Some collectors like the color-tinted look, though it's measurably inferior to similar Topps sets from the early 1950s. I'd be more interested in the concept now if modernity hadn't rendered it passé with the explosion of flashy mod-retro issues. (I'm looking at you, Yankee Stadium Legacy.)

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