Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Five Whys: 'Selected By The Youth Of America!'

This post follows my History of Topps According to 2016 Anthology, where Topps played loosey goosey with its legacy, nudging a collectors-first story to the forefront and their competitive business decisions to the back. Here's that blurb in full.

Notice how Topps called out the phrase, "Selected by the youth of America," without giving us more to chew on. Are modern collectors expected to know who "Youth of America" refers to? Is it these guys and gals?

Topps Winners proof sheet, via The Topps Archives

(No, that's a group of kids who won a 1971 Topps write-in contest. We need to go older.)

I traveled back to the 1950s to learn more about the "Youth of America" and why Topps highlighted their selection process. This led me to other questions, which led to others still. In all, I asked Five Whys, an approach some businesses take to finding the origins of something you want to know.

1. Why the phrase, "Selected by the youth of America?"

Topps used it on the 1960 All-Star Rookie subset of 10 players, #316-325, which I profiled in 2016. Willie McCovey's its biggest name.

1960 Topps #316

Check out McCovey's 1959 Baseball-Reference game log. He notched a 1.085 OPS and won NL's Rookie of the Year unanimously in just 52 games. Topps printed two 1960 "rookie" cards for Willie, both in subsets: All-Star Rookie #316 (above) and SPORT Magazine '60 All-Star card #554.

Most consider #316 Willie's "real" RC, as it came out in 1960 Topps series four (#287-374, released June-July). His #554 '60 All-Star is a high number from series seven (#507-572, released late in the season).

2. Why was Willie McCovey selected to multiple cardboard "All-Star" teams?

Willie didn't appear in MLB's "real" All Star Game in 1959 or 1960. In fact, McCovey made his first All-Star game three years later, in 1963. So who called him an "All-Star" in 1960?

1960 Topps #554

I'll expand on McCovey's #316 All-Star Rookie selection later in this post. His #554 '60 All-Star Selection proves easier to explain.

SPORT Magazine sponsored the first Topps All-Star subset in 1958, which I believe Topps added to their existing set because they'd signed Stan Musial to a card contract mid-season and wanted to take immediate advantage.

1958 Topps #476

No mainstream Musial cards existed between 1954-57, so 1958's All-Star card satisfied considerable pent-up demand. SPORT magazine chose these '58 All-Star Selections and perhaps also designed the cards, which look quite different from normal 1958 Topps. (See How and Why Topps Created the All-Star Set for more details.)

1959 Topps #561, Hank Aaron

Topps swapped periodical partners for 1959 and The Sporting News sponsored its Rookie Stars and '59 All-Star Selection (above) subsets.

1960 Topps #136, Jim Kaat

SPORT returned to pick lineups for the same 1960 subsets: #117-148 (1960 Rookie Star) and #553-572 ('60 All-Star Selections).

Note this SPORT 1960 Rookie Star subset remains distinct from Topps' own All-Star Rookie Team. That year's set contained two crops of rookies, The Sporting News early in the year (series two) and Topps All-Star Rookies at mid-season (series four).

1960 Topps #317, Pumpsie Green

As I covered in Comparing the Rookie Stars of 1959 and 1960 Topps, just two guys garnered real rookie cards in 1960's subset: Willie McCovey and Pumpsie Green, who broke the Red Sox color barrier. The other eight also appeared in 1959 Topps, so 1960 represented their second card.

So why did Willie McCovey get a second "All-Star" card in 1960? Because Topps dedicated their All-Star subset to SPORT magazine, who picked McCovey to recognize his great play, not because he made NL's All-Star roster.

3. Why didn't All-Star subsets show All-Star starters?

This has more to do with shenanigans that can creep into any voting process. Due to considerable ballot-stuffing by locals prior to 1957's All-Star game in Cincinnati, they claimed top spots at seven NL field positions; all save Stan Musial at 1B were Redlegs.

1959 Topps #1, Ford Frickin' Frick

MLB commissioner Ford Frick took a dim view of this lopsided outcome, with direct consequences for fans and All-Stars. He replaced two of Cincy's outfield starters with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron and removed the public's role in All-Star voting for an unspecified period. Players, managers, and the Commissioner's office, who'd always held a stake in the process, took over full team selection. I think this loss of fan All-Star voting for 1958 "lit the fuse" for what followed.

Baseball's All-Stars magazine, circa 1958, printed by SPORT

The loss of fan voting didn't dampen popular interest in "All-Stars," as the term served both formal and informal meaning for great players. Magazines like SPORT and The Sporting News picked their own All-Star lineups at the start of each year, as in the issue shown above. Being accessible to anyone with 35 cents, they also held bona fides to know who fans liked on the field better than MLB front offices.

Unlike today, 1959-62 saw baseball play two mid-season All-Star games in two different cities, further separating fan voting from the starting nine. Player availability and travel logistics impacted who took the field and Topps just wasn't in the habit (yet) of matching All-Stars on the field to All-Stars on their cards.

1982 Topps #339, Mike Schmidt AS

From our modern perspective, it feels right for All-Star cards to reflect last year's starting lineups. Mike Schmidt started at 3B in the 1981 game, so he's your NL All-Star at that position for 1982 Topps. As mentioned above, that tradition didn't exist in 1960: the Topps mindset seemed to be, let's see the stars of this year, now.

1936 National Chicle #8, with Austen Lake byline

Giving the long hours required to create each year's set, I'm not surprised Topps handed off All-Star subsets to magazine editors. It echoes how two prewar sets contracted back text to Boston sportswriter Austen Lake (1934-36 National Chicle) and sports agent Christy Walsh, ghostwriting for Lou Gehrig (1934 Goudey).

In summary, why didn't 50s and 60s All-Star cards show All-Star starting lineups? The loss of fan voting after 1957 and complications from multiple All-Star games encouraged Topps to leave everything up to writers at SPORT and The Sporting News. It took Topps until 1974 for All-Star cards to intentionally represent the prior year's starting lineups.

1973 Topps "Missing NL All-Star" Hank Aaron

If you enjoy other All-Star oddities, check out writer Rich Klein's Early 1960s Topps All-Star Mysteries and this Missing All-Stars series from the blog When Topps Had Balls.

Some of their head-scratchers make more sense considering sportswriters chose All-Star rosters, not Topps itself, and they didn't intend to match actual All-Star lineups. I assume writers sometimes picked guys they knew well as a personal favor. After all, it's just a baseball card!

4. Why (again) the "Youth of America?"

Soon after the 1957 All-Star voting ban, I think Topps saw the business opportunity to craft its own style of All-Star voting and pump up their Bazooka gum brand. This ballot shows the resulting partnership with NBC-TV's late September's "World Series Special" broadcast, with show details printed in red text.

1959 All-Star Rookie Team ballot (front & back)

Starting around mid-season of 1959, Topps distributed millions of mail-in ballots that asked kids to pick a favorite player and then watch NBC's "World Series Special" on September 29th to see who won. According to September 26's issue of Sponsor, a trade journal for advertisers, Prestone (named on the ballot itself) paid $90,000 to underwrite the 1959 show.

This wasn't Topps' first 1959 gum promo: the one below sold Bazooka Joe shirts! Close inspection of the scan shows the tee shirt insert shares a left edge "notch" with the All-Star Rookie ballot, so would've been packaged by similar equipment. It's logical that the shirt promo started prior to opening day, when baseball interest was lower. All-Star Rookie ballots took over by summertime.

1959 Bazooka tee shirt insert, via Bob Lemke's blog

I think Topps boosted Bazooka gum during 1959 because that's the same year Dubble Bubble maker Fleer cracked into the baseball card market with its own Ted Williams exclusive set.

1959 Fleer Ted Williams wax box and packs

Topps now faced Fleer on two fronts: gum revenue and card revenue. They responded with an on-box set of appealing, full-color cards you could trim off with scissors. By linking baseball to Bazooka and pumping money into its marketing, Topps showed Fleer it was ready to fight both battles. Topps buyers got gum with their cards and Bazooka buyers got a card with their gum.

1959 Bazooka baseball, Mickey Mantle

This sharp set, one player per panel, says it appeals to "Young America" right on the gum box. Given the size match and Bazooka branding, did All-Star Rookie ballots slip into Bazooka boxes as well?

Here's how Topps announced ballot distribution in a July 1959 issue of The Sporting News.

Kudos to Phungo's article about Willie McCovey's 80th birthday and the first All-Star Rookie Team for locating these Sporting News scans about the voting, complete with sample ballot!

Being part of NBC's "World Series Special" broadcast appears to be one Topps goal for their campaign. That list of awards for "Winning Rookies" connects to their second goal, a media-friendly All-Star Rookie Banquet planned for October 29. Let's cover both goals, in that order.

Check out that red text on the back of each ballot. The perennial "World Series Special" show made big money for NBC producers, so I bet Topps saw dollar signs from their year-long role in its advertising and as an "All-Star Rookie" feature of the show itself.

As fate would have it, a tie in 1959's National League standings required a best-of-three playoff between the Braves and Dodgers, so the World Series started later than predicted. I found three newspaper excerpts about that complication and apparent resolution.

LA Times, Sept 26, 1959: "NBC has set a World Series special for Tuesday at 9:30PM. Martin Stone, the producer, is having fits now that the National League race could end in a play-off, setting the Series back a couple of days. NBC had lined up an expensive show, but it may never happen. This thing is giving everybody fits."

Jack Brickhouse, longtime Chicago broadcaster (photo by WGN)

Chicago Tribune, Sept 28: "JACK BRICKHOUSE will interview fans waiting in line for World Series bleacher tickets [for the White Sox] on NBC-TV's World Series Special at 8:30PM Tuesday. The show will include interviews with managers and players, and highlights of the pennant races in both leagues."

Lowell Sun, Sept 29: "WORLD SERIES SPECIAL, with Mel Allen; host, sportscasters Jack Brickhouse, Howard Cosell, Vince Scully, Lindsey Nelson; former Dodger star Roy Campanella; stars of the White Sox; National league stars [of] the 1959 All-Star Rookie team." [my emphasis]

Tie those pieces together and it seems NBC worked things out to broadcast World Series Special as planned, complete with some All-Star Rookies. NL selections McCovey, Joe Koppe, and Jim O'Toole seem our best candidates for that broadcast.

UPDATE: Dave Hornish of The Topps Archives shared this World Series Special promotional coin for a Giants vs. White Sox matchup, implying Prestone's show producers created it prior to SF's late September swoon that handed a pennant playoff to LA and Milwaukee.

As of this update, you can find that anachronism on eBay for a cool $80!

Calling them the "First Annual" awards is classic Topps chutzpah

Topps' second successful end goal of all this balloting? The inaugural All-Star Rookie Banquet, held in NYC's Manhattan Hotel on October 29. Topps claimed they received 1.7 million mailed ballots. Eight of the ten rookies pictured on 1960 Topps cards attended, all but Jim O'Toole and Willie Tasby.

Sporting News team photo from Phungo's article

Former catcher (and future HOF broadcaster) Joe Garagiola hosted the proceedings. Given the pleasant tone of its New York Times news coverage, attendees had a good enough time that they decided to do it again in the future.

This, in the end, is why Topps said the "youth of America" selected their 1960 All-Star Rookie team.

5. Why didn't the "Youth of America" select All-Star Rookies every year?

Willie McCovey garnered most of 1959 banquet's event coverage, so I expect he also received the most mail-in votes. Jackie Robinson, now in business, led the 1959 advisory committee charged with tabulating and announcing the results. He served in that capacity for several years, since he's still listed on my 1964 banquet #5 type card.

1964 Topps All-Star Banquet #5, Election Committee

Topps continued to insert ballots into 1960 wax packs, again under the Bazooka mailing address. Thanks to The Topps Archives article Programs! Get Your Programs Here! for this scan.

Here's a 1960 Topps All-Star Rookie and future Hall of Famer, #35 Ron Santo. I believe he's part of the last crop voted for by the "youth of America."

Why would 1960 be the last year? Consider why a committee of marketing men would grapple with 1.7 million votes. Bob Lemke's "30 million wax pack inserts went 'poof'" article lists that group, circa 1959.
  • Tim Cohane, sports editor, Look magazine
  • Dan Ferris, honorary secretary, National Amateur Athletic Union
  • Ed Fitzgerald, editor-in-chief, SPORT magazine
  • Frank Frisch, Hall of Famer
  • Tom S. Gallery, director of sports, NBC
  • Dave Grote, public relations director, National League
  • Sid James, managing editor, Sports Illustrated
  • Carl Lundquist, public relations director, Natl Assn. of Professional Baseball Leagues
  • Bill MacPhail, director of sports, CBS
  • Joe McKenney, public relations director, American League
  • Jackie Robinson, vice-president, Chock Full O'Nuts
  • Marshall Smith, sports editor, Life magazine
  • J.G. Taylor Spink, publisher, The Sporting News

Given that committee's density of public relations and media muscle, I think Topps' 1959-60 All-Star Rookie effort proved their marketing clout to both print and television partners. After 1960, they no longer needed to pay for ballot inserts. They'd solidified a durable relationship with pro baseball, advertisers, and sportswriters during a transformative time for baseball itself.

"Sports Briefs," Madera Tribune, Oct 7, 1965

This 1965 newspaper blurb referenced 578 total All-Star Rookies votes, which strikes me as a combo of willing players, scouts, coaches, and/or sportswriters. (1965 also happens to be the year Topps regained its exclusive right to print MLB cards, after the Federal Trade Commission reversed a 1964 ruling that would've allowed more competition.)

1960 Fleer Baseball Greats box and wax packs

Speaking of competition, what did Fleer do after 1959? Fleer followed its Ted Williams-only set with this Baseball Greats set in 1960. Ted appeared as its sole active player, surrounded by legends, former greats, and off-field executives.

1961-62 Fleer Baseball Greats box panel

Williams retired after 1960, making Fleer the first to publish this "all retired" set, a somewhat dubious distinction, across 1961 and 1962. They tried to publish a full set of active players in 1963, before being stopped by legal action from Topps after just 66 cards.

Bazooka shrunk their single-card size starting in 1960, giving them space for three players per box panel. Topps continued to run Bazooka baseball sets through 1970, well after Fleer lost their legal fight to stay in the baseball market.

1961 Bazooka box panels

Remember that this whole Topps business opportunity started with the conceit that Ford Frick removed fan All-Star voting for 1958, which led to Topps creating the SPORT All-Star subset, which led to fan mail-in voting for Topps All-Star Rookies, which led to All-Star Rookie Teams that continue to this day.

At last, we know who the "Youth of America" were, how they voted for their selections, and why Topps set up the whole thing to start with. It's amazing to me that this Topps marketing phrase, pulled from 1950s Bazooka gum packs, proved durable enough to stick around into the 21st century.


Topps didn't just spend 1959 starting new revenue streams in the good ol' USA; they also partnered with South American publisher Industrias Benco to print a debut Venezuelan baseball set.

1959-60 Venezuelan #96, Lou Berberet

Benco's set replicated Topps' first two series, #1-198, on cheaper paper stock and with no protective surface gloss. They sold packs during Venezuela's winter league season, which runs October to January (more league history at Wikipedia). (I think Venezuelan sets should be tagged "1959-60" because their league season spanned two years, so makes more sense to treat like basketball or hockey sets.)

This repurposed 1959 set added a local touch to existing Topps practices for the 1950s, where the Brooklyn company shipped unsold cards south each autumn for sale to baseball-happy Venezuelan fans. Check out The Topps Archives article, Where Have You Gone, Dom DiMaggio?, for some great research and lingering questions about the fate of 1952's infamous high numbers.

If you're a fan of history or geopolitics, you might remember another baseball-related thing that happened in 1959: Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba.

It's hard to overstate the impact Castro's regime had on winter league baseball and America's relationship to it. To compress years of international action into a few sentences, Havana's image as the Western Hemisphere's casino-and-gangster party town presented an easy target for socialist change. Baseball owners used Cuba as a winter base of operations beyond American law, so felt considerable pain when Castro suspended its professional league following his rise to power. Dozens of star players left Cuba to seek paydays, flooding winter leagues of nearby countries. On the political front, America's revulsion at socialism just 90 miles from Florida sent MLB teams scrambling away from financial association with existing Cuban teams and partners.

Due in part to the influx of Cuban winter league "immigrants," Venezuela even canceled its 1959-60 postseason series. Hard to know what impact this had on the season's card market. I imagine Benco distributed and sold its 198 cards as best they could.

However 1959-60's set turned out, Topps continued to license their images for Venezuela printing and sale during 1960-61, 1962-63, 1964-65, and 1966-67 winter league seasons. Local sets made after 1967 strike me as too amateurish to be done with Topps involvement.

There's much we don't (or can't?) know about the history of Venezuelan sets and distribution. Given their multitude of 1959 efforts stateside, it appears Topps added this one more business deal overseas, perhaps to avoid complications with Cuba's new political climate.


I'm starting to think they didn't dump 1952 high numbers into the ocean! But why get mired in a complicated truth, when an "aw shucks, we should have known better" story will do? :-)


James B. Anama said...

This is AMAZING!!! I always wondered about the Youth of America thing for Topps' ASRT. I did not know there were cards (those ARE cards...right?) used as ballots.

Thank you for writing this. Great history lesson.


JayBee Anama

Matthew Glidden said...

Thanks JayBee, glad you enjoyed it!

Those ASRT ballots were regular paper, much thinner than card stock. I believe that made them easier to distribute in batches to youth organizations. Unused ballots pop up sometimes online or in auctions.

Fuji said...

Okay. This post needs to be published in Beckett or whatever hobby publications are out there. Very informative. Okay... I'm off to see if I can find one of those 1959 Bazooka cards... or at least find pictures of them.

Matthew Glidden said...

Good luck, Fuji! Those 1959 Bazooka cards are great cards to pick up, if on the pricy side. And thanks for the kind words on the article. :-)

Fuji said...

Way out of my price range. Oh well... I'll have to settle for those Archives inserts.