Saturday, July 20, 2019

1962 Topps Baseball #5, Sandy Koufax

As I write this, Cooperstown honors its 2019 inductees, including Seattle hero, Edgar "Light Bat" Martinez. He proved one of the most accessible, personable guys a fan could watch. Still remember learning in the mid-1990s that we shared the same favorite Thai restaurant.

Cooperstown came to mind today as I flipped through the type collection and stopped at my favorite 1960s #5, and baseball's youngest elected HOFer, Sandy Koufax. The Topps wood grain even matches his sun-kissed LA look.

I consider this "photos curling off a rec room wall" design the best of 1960s Topps, with 1964 running a distinct second. (Thanks to league leader cards, Koufax appeared on three consecutive Topps #5s, 1962-64.) 1980s fans will remember a lookalike popped up again 25 years later, before Topps made Heritage sets an official part of their lineup.

1987 Topps #460, Darryl Strawberry

If you like to scrutinize card backs, note that 1962s don't refer to "1961" by text in the stat boxes, just (previous) "YEAR."

1962 Topps card back detail

I think this date ambivalence served a business purpose for Topps, who expanded their foreign card relationships into Venezuela in 1959. (See related set profiles in my summary post.)

Topps licensed Venezuelan-sold card sets in some years (e.g., 1959, 1960, 1962, 1964) and skipped others (nothing in 1961 or 1963). I think this left room to resell remaining inventory in "skip years," so little went to waste. In other words, by tweaking this basic 1962 design, they improved sales prospects of international sets. If I'm right, winter league fans could find these "1962" cards during both 1962-63 and 1963-64 seasons, with their original issue date masked by "YEAR." (Much more about 1962 Venezuelan.)

Returning to Sandy himself, Koufax's card bio mentions the financial underpinnings of his erratic early career: Bonus Babies. Brooklyn first signed Sandy to an amateur contract that required he remain a MLB roster player for two full seasons. Without minor league instruction more suited to his youth, frequent wildness in 1955-56 let to a lot of time riding the pine. Frustration with on-and-off pitching duties, despite playing for some great Dodgers teams, led Sandy to almost quit baseball after 1960.

1961 Union Oil booklet for "The Left Arm of God"

Sandy's breakout 1961 season proved pivotal to the remainder of his HOF career. Without retreading one of baseball's many Koufax biographies, suffice to say he went on to throw the hell out of his left arm in an era that encouraged pitcher overuse. After years of extreme pain management (and extreme success), he retired due to arthritis at age 31, with HOF enshrinement following in his first year of eligibility.

Congrats again to the class of 2019!

Value: Key 1962 Topps stars like Koufax cost $10-20 for lower grades. Type card commons run closer to 50 cents.

Fakes / reprints: 1962 star cards appear in a number of Topps retrospective and retro-style sets, making them almost as easy to find in modern versions as from the vintage originals. While I haven't seen any actual fake 1962 cards in the marketplace, they could exist for its big names.

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