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The Magic of Vintage Rub-Offs

Following MLB’s lead in the ‘60s, Topps expanded—doing so with unique inserts

Squeezing the 1961 Major League Baseball season into one word it would be: Expansion.

1961 Ernie “Bingo” Banks. Photo: Dave’s Vintage Baseball Cards

1961 Ernie “Bingo” Banks. Photo: Dave’s Vintage Baseball Cards

Somewhat like the upstart American Football League challenging the NFL beginning in 1960, the Continental League of Professional Baseball made efforts to take on MLB in the same era. Stemming the tide against a rival endeavor in 1961, big league baseball expanded the American League by two teams: placing a fresh franchise in Los Angeles, the Angels, and moving the “original” Washington Senators to Minnesota, where they became the Twins.

Meanwhile, a newly created Senators squad started the season for the baseball faithful, including the recently inaugurated U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

So, with the AL going from eight to 10 teams in ’61, the junior circuit’s regular schedule grew from 154 to 162 games. The NL followed suit the next season by adding the New York Mets and the Houston Colt .45s, and growing its schedule by eight games, too.

1961 Yogi Berra. Photo: eBay

1961 Yogi Berra. Photo: eBay

In 1961 the New York Yankees handily won the pennant and the World Series, with Yankee teammates Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle chasing Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. Maris ultimately raised the bar from 60 to 61, needing some of those extra games for the milestone.

The Topps Company jumped in the expansion game, too, growing its regular baseball set from 572 to 589 pasteboards, and it also started placing inserts in baseball packs. Inserts included stamps or “Magic” Rub-Offs. The stamps showed basic head shots of some 200 ballplayers; the rub-offs featured colorful illustrations for all 18 franchises and 18 players, one for each team, plus the athlete’s inserts came with nicknames.

Vintage rub-offs—this article’s focus—were not usually quite as magical as hoped for due to centering and registration issues, but the ‘61 insert backs direct collectors to “Place transfer against any surface and rub this (instructions) side with a coin. Presto! Picture transfers completely.” Well if it says “Presto!” you know there must be some magic involved.

1966 Roll strip. Photo: Heritage Auctions

1966 Roll strip. Photo: Heritage Auctions

The unnumbered issue lists alphabetically and begins with the Baltimore Orioles pennant, and unofficial logo. The next two inserts represent the only Hall of Famers within the playful offering: “Yogi” Berra, who sits on a bed of nails, and Ernie “Bingo” Banks, representing the Yankees and Chicago Cubs, respectively.

Other ’61 rub-offs worth highlighting: Frank “Tower” Howard, a Dodger then, but a few years later he won a couple of AL home run crowns with the Senators; Billy “The Kid” Martin shown on the Milwaukee Braves, one of his teams for ’61; Harvey “The Kitten” Haddix, known for pitching 12 perfect innings against Milwaukee in 1959 only to lose the game in the 13th; and “Pistol Pete” Runnels, the American League batting leader in 1960 and 1962 while with Boston.

1961 “Pistol Pete” Runnels. Photo: eBay

1961 “Pistol Pete” Runnels. Photo: eBay

With Runnels having his solid run gathering up hits in the AL in the early ‘60s, Gary Beals began his collecting “run” in 1960, so he saw the rub-offs the next year in their freshest pack-related state. Beals now owns an impressive batch of the inserts that rank No. 2 “Current Finest” on the PSA Set Registry.

Beals placed Martin, Berra and “Sad” Sam Jones among his favorites in the pack promotion offering, but said the Henry “Dutch” Dotterer was his most difficult to track down in high grade. “I just couldn’t improve on my PSA 6,” Beals said, “but after many attempts success finally prevailed,” (now with a PSA 8).

1961 Frank “Tower” Howard. Photo: eBay

1961 Frank “Tower” Howard. Photo: eBay

“I do believe the set’s general popularity is below average,” he said, but there is an upside to that scenario. “There are some bargains to be had.”

Abracadabra!

After several other different types of baseball pack inserts from 1962-65, Topps brought back the “Magic” rub-offs in 1966, this time with 100 color player photos and 20 basic-illustrated team pennants. Player nicknames, meantime, had been “rubbed-out.” Poof.

Jim Standohar knew about the ’66 rub-offs from early on, being a ‘60s kid, but did not really start pursuing the inserts in any high condition way, much less graded, until about a decade ago. “I’m a sucker for stuff like this,” Standohar said, “because it reminds me of my childhood.” He also noted other factors the ’66 inserts have stuck with him over time: “I like their physical appearance and that they are a little bit different.”

1966 wrappers. Photo: Dave’s Vintage Baseball Cards

1966 wrappers. Photo: Dave’s Vintage Baseball Cards

Now the collector searches for PSA 9s of the ’66 inserts, noting extremely hard ones to find in Mint or better shape included the likes of Willie Horton, Bert Campaneris, Dick Farrell, Curt Flood, Dick Radatz and Hank Aaron. Among the tough ’66 rub-off team pennants: the Reds, Indians, and Yankees.

The Yankees had been perennial pennant winners most years from the late 1940s through 1964, but by 1966 their recent dynasty sat somewhat tarnish-tinged, with a last-place finish. At least this set includes Yankee legend Mickey Mantle. Other all-time superstars in this offering: Ernie Banks, Bob (Roberto) Clemente, Sandy Koufax (in his last season), Willie Mays, Brooks and Frank Robinson (who led Baltimore to the ’66 World Series title), Pete Rose and Carl Yastrzemski.

1961 Yankees team logo

1961 Yankees team logo

While Mantle normally leads the pack with the rub-offs prices, Standohar has noticed, in general, these inserts selling at healthy levels. The collector noted that a few months ago a PSA 9 Harmon Killebrew went for $90 on eBay and more recently another of the same player and grade went for upwards of $200. “The prices have really gone through the roof.”

That’s saying something for a set that Standohar characterized in overall hobby terms as having “moderate popularity.” He added that the (PSA) Population for this set is low (about 5,900 samples). Mantle leads that Pop report with some 600 examples, about 150 in PSA 9.

1966 Mickey Mantle. Photo: Dave’s Vintage Baseball Cards

1966 Mickey Mantle. Photo: Dave’s Vintage Baseball Cards

Whether the rub-offs come from Topps’ initial year of baseball pack bonuses, or after they had more experience in the promotion arena, these vintage inserts bring a much different look and feel to a collection, certainly with a spot within the hobby.

Perhaps Standohar said it best, about the ’66 rub-offs anyway, when he noted: “I have to believe because of the novelty of them, because of the player list, since the set is full of stars, the popularity will only go up.”

Maybe so, but probably not quite as quickly as Berra on his ‘61 rub-off, when he plunked down on a bed of nails.

Doug Koztoski is a frequent SCD contributor. He can be reached at dkoz3000@gmail.com.

1966 Ron Swoboda. Photo: Doug Koztoski

1966 Ron Swoboda. Photo: Doug Koztoski

Inserts with Stick-To-Itiveness

Here are some recent auction prices realized for 1960s baseball rub-offs. Prices are rounded to the nearest dollar and include shipping.

1961

Raw

Lot of 20 (assorted, mostly teams) (VG+), $42

Billy “The Kid” Martin (EX+), $18

Omar “Turk” Lown (EX), $17

“Farmer” Ray Moore (EX), $10

“Yogi” Berra (VG), $8

Graded

PSA 8 Twins, $69

PSA 8 Braves, $59

PSA 4 Ernie “Bingo” Banks, $30

PSA 6 Red Sox, $12

PSA 5 Jim “Professor” Brosnan, $9

1966

Raw

Mickey Mantle (NM), $59

Earl Battey (NM), $36

Hank Aaron (NM), $25

Bob Gibson (EX+), $24

Commons (VG-VG+), $1-$3

Graded

PSA 10 Mickey Mantle, $687

PSA 7 Bob (Roberto) Clemente, $162

PSA 8 Bill Skowron, $60

PSA 9 Dick McAuliffe, $32

PSA 9 Angels team, $25

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