By Larry Canale
In recent weeks baseball lost two of its all-time greats: slugger Frank Robinson and pitcher Don Newcombe. Let’s revisit “Newk” here, and Robby below.
Newcombe had a 122-48 record in his first six seasons—but within that span, he gave up two years of his prime years to serve in the U.S. military. After 1956, he lost more time due to injuries, and he wound up retiring after the 1960 season with a record of 149-90 and a 3.56 ERA. His best year: 1956, when he was 27-7 with a 3.06 ERA. Newcombe was also that rare good-hitting pitcher, compiling a .271 average with 15 HRs and 108 RBI in 988 at-bats.
The prizes for Dodgers collectors are Newcombe’s 1950 and 1951 Bowmans, both of which have sold in recent months for $200 to $500 if in PSA 8 condition. Those are reasonable prices, and they haven’t shown much “spike” since Newcombe’s passing. A higher-condition (PSA 9) of Newcombe’s 1952 card sold last month for a far higher price: $1,096.
Newcombe has been a generous signer for decades, so there’s a healthy supply of his autographed baseballs. Leading up to his passing, they were selling for bargain prices—between $50 and $150.
Frank Robinson left an indelible stamp on baseball. The tall, lanky power hitter made an instant impact as a 20-year-old rookie in 1956, batting .290 and leading the NL in runs (122). He went on to win the NL MVP award in 1961 and the AL MVP in 1966. Robby also won a Triple Crown with the Orioles in 1966, clubbing 49 HRs to go with 122 RBI and a .316 average. He was named to 14 All-Star teams in his 21-year career.
Upon retiring, Robinson had amassed 586 homers, 1,812 RBI, 1,828 runs, 204 stolen bases and a .294 average. Significantly, he also broke the color barrier for MLB managers, taking over as skipper for the Indians in 1975. He would manage for 16 seasons total, guiding the Indians, Giants, Orioles (for whom he won Manager of the Year honors in 1989) and Expos/Nationals. Ultimately, he may be the most accomplished player ever to manage.
Naturally, there’s a wealth of Robby-related memorabilia out there. Among the prizes:
• 1957 Topps card: This one is Robinson’s rookie; it depicts the young Cincinnati star in a hitting pose, choking up on his bat and staring past the photographer with an almost unsure look. It’s hardly an overpriced card, considering Robinson’s accomplishments. Two PSA 8-graded specimens recently sold on eBay at prices of $2,001 and $1,900.
• 1959 Topps card: For this set, Topps opted for a fielding pose of Robby—and why not? He won a Gold Glove the previous season, playing mainly left field (he spent the bulk of his career as a right-fielder). This is another undervalued card: An example in PSA 9 condition sold for $885 on 26 bids in mid-February. The price clearly reflects sentimentality; last November, another 1959 Robby also graded PSA 9 sold for $652.
• 1962 Topps card: This one has a more confident-looking Robby in a batting pose—a beautiful portrait framed by the 1962 set’s wood-panel border. Robinson was coming off a .323, 37-HR, 124-RBI season and, at 27, was in his prime. A PSA 8 example of this classic sold for $2,075 in December. Graded 7, it can be had for $150 to $200.
• 1967 Topps “The Champs” card: Here’s a nice one to have in your collection—a group photo of the Orioles’ manager, Hank Bauer, standing between Frank and Brooks Robinson. Topps made it card #1 in its 1967 set as a tribute to Baltimore’s 1966 world championship. A PSA 9 specimen brought $711 in January.
• 1968 Topps “Bird Belters” card: Yes, Topps recycled an alternate take from the 1967 “Champs” photo shoot, this one omitting Bauer. It’s normally a card you can get for under $100—unless it’s Gem-Mint-graded. A PSA 10 version showed up on eBay in late February and brought $565 on 27 bids. Another PSA 10 sold for $500 in December.
• 1972 Topps: This was a great year for Frank collectors—Topps issued two Robby cards. One of them is #100 and depicts him with the Orioles. The other is #754 and shows him in a Dodgers uniform with “TRADED” stamped on the front. Both are affordable additions. The Orioles card can be had at sub-$75 prices in 8 or 9 grade, while a PSA 9 specimen of the Dodgers card recently sold for $202.
Like Newcombe, Robinson was a generous signer for a long span, so his autograph is plentiful. You’ll find authenticated baseballs at a wide range of prices, from as low as $50 to upwards of $300, depending on condition and authenticator.
SPIRIT OF ’69
If you’re old enough to have been around in spring 1969, then you’re well aware of the hobby’s big anniversary this year. Yes, it’s been five full decades since Topps issued its colorful 1969 baseball set. During this baseball season, we’ll pop in regularly on that forever-fresh 664-card set to see which items (including the wonderful subsets and insert sets) are attracting attention.
This time out, we bring you an exceedingly rare find that kicked off a bidding war on eBay: a 1969 Topps box bearing 24 unopened packs. The box’s rarity, appeal, and hobby significance inspired 78 bids and a winning price of $16,600.
Consider that Topps’ single packs cost a nickel each in 1969. So if you had the foresight back then, you’d have paid $1.20 for an entire box. What an investment it would have been!
The seller of this particular ’69 find writes in the description that their cousin, now 60, owned the box when he was a child. It was recently found in his parents’ home while cleaning and clearing out their house, and he decided to sell it.
How many of us would have torn into that box on the spot? The thought of pulling a Reggie Jackson rookie would be too much to resist. The wrappers note that an “autographed photo”— referring to the deckle-edge insert—appears in every pack, so this is a Series 3 box (cards #219–#337). The Reggie rookie (#260) has been a hot ticket by itself. In January, a PSA 9 specimen of the card sold for $14,500. And in February, another PSA 9 example brought $15,800.
Other potential finds in Series 3 include Hall of Famers Frank Robinson, Steve Carlton, Jim Hunter, Bobby Cox and Tony Perez. Minor stars in the series include Felipe Alou, Bill Robinson and 1968 World Series hero Mickey Lolich. And there could be rookie cards of a number of minor stars, including Sparky Lyle, Andy Messersmith and Dock Ellis.
And how much are single sealed packs of 1969 Topps drawing? Recent eBay sales show prices of $535, $290, $283, $256, $214, $203, $202 and $199. Wow!