Friday, May 27, 2011

1954 Bowman Baseball #5, William Hunter

1954 marked the third year of direct competition between Bowman and Topps, as both companies fought to make and sell the definitive "gum card" to kids. Each side tried out new design ideas, signed popular stars to exclusive contracts, and made year-to-year strides in overall quality. They stood less than two years from Bowman's failure and sale to Topps, but I doubt anyone would've predicted it when this set hit the street.

Today's card relates a similar baseball struggle between St. Louis's two franchises, the AL Browns and NL Cardinals. After the city's only crosstown World Series in 1944, pitched competition for fan dollars ultimately escalated into both sides trying to drive the other out of town. Business strategy played a large role, as the Cardinals went for wins and the Browns for "entertainment," so their outcome said as much about sports as an industry as baseball as a pastime.

When the Cardinals "won" this business battle, the Browns (a.k.a., "the Brownies") moved to Baltimore after the 1953 season and became the Orioles. Bowman card editors must've written the back text prior to 1954 and then retouched Bill's jersey from BROWNS to ORIOLES just before printing. (Squint and you can still see BROWNS in there.) Find a shot of their "real" opening day jersey at The Baltimore Sun.

The legendary Bill Veeck owned those Browns prior to their move east and made some enemies in his failed struggle to drive the Cardinals out of town. They must've written a book or two about that era, but check out Wikipedia's entry in the meantime. Fascinating stuff!

Many sets today seem laid out in random order, but not 1954 Bowman. It started with Yankee Phil Rizzuto at #1 and then went through the same 16 teams, in order, for the entire set. Ted Williams originally appeared as #66, but was withdrawn and replaced with teammate Jimmy Piersall due to Ted's exclusive contract with Topps. (Catalogs call Williams #66A and Piersall #66B.)
  1. Yankees (...American League teams follow)
  2. Red Sox
  3. A's
  4. Indians
  5. Orioles
  6. White Sox
  7. Tigers
  8. Senators
  9. Giants (...National League teams follow)
  10. Dodgers
  11. Pirates
  12. Reds
  13. Cubs
  14. Cardinals
  15. Phillies
  16. Braves

When you hit #17, this order restarts with Tom Gorman, a Yankee.

1954 Bowman baseball #17, Tom Gorman

Player trades led to a handful of exceptions, but they're rare birds overall. Almost every card reliably fits into its place in this 16-team rotation.

1954 Bowman #66a, Ted Williams

This infamous #66 became Bowman's "temporary Ted Williams." It's believed Topps threatened legal action due to an exclusive card deal with the Splinter and forced Bowman to replace his spot. Both companies signed a number of players to the exclusive right for cards, with Bowman often getting the better end of things. This time, Topps turned the tables on them.

I assume Bowman's adherence to their checklist order explains our "switch-hit" for Piersall at #66. Ted Williams first took up a "Red Sox" space (#66), so would need a Boston replacement. If we assume Bowman created most of their 1954 layout in advance, Piersall sat much later at #210, the final "Red Sox" space for a 224-card set.

1954 Bowman #66b, Jimmy Piersall

Since Jimmy stood furthest from #66 when he took over for Ted, perhaps Bowman thought they'd pull a double swap and find an alternative player for Piersall himself by the time they printed his sheet. If they did plan such a move, it never came to fruition. Card text mistakes led to numerous mid-set revisions, so perhaps Bowman scuttled any full-card swaps in favor of fixing their bevy of smaller problems and stuck with Piersall at #210, giving him two cards that year.

UPDATE: Found front and back scans of 1954 Bowman's wax packs!

I'm a little surprised to see a label as simple as "Bowman's Baseball," but perhaps they put so much money into the card art, there wasn't enough time or budget left for the wrappers.

Value: Low-grade singles cost a few dollars or even $1 each in lots.

Fakes / reprints: Ted Williams stature makes his #66 card a common target for faking or reprinting.

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