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MICK IN THE MINORS: Uncovering minor league baseball cards featuring Mickey Mantle, New York Yankee greats

Even the most dedicated Mickey Mantle card collectors probably did not know that Mantle once appeared in a minor league set produced by a New York Yankees farm team.

Let me start by saying that I am not a gambler. We all know that making wagers in the world of baseball is not looked upon favorably. Just ask Pete Rose.

But for the sake of rhetoric, let me pose a question: Did you know that Mickey Mantle had two minor-league trading cards that bore his name and likeness well after his retirement?

Well, it’s true.

Also See: Which sports card will be next to top $10 million 

If you followed the career of Mantle, you probably knew that he was first scouted, by accident, in the summer of 1948 by a relatively unknown Yankee scout by the name of Tom Greenwade.

Greenwade, who was in town to evaluate the Whiz Kids’ third baseman Billy Johnson, was in for the surprise of a lifetime. What Greenwade witnessed that day in Baxter Springs, Kan. was an unbelievable performance by a young shortstop named Mickey Charles Mantle, who just happened to be Johnson’s teammate.

Yankee great Mickey Mantle, shown here in 1951, became the face of one of the greatest baseball cards of all time.

Yankee great Mickey Mantle as a rookie in 1951. 

In that game, it was Mantle who stole the show. By crushing three mammoth home runs, Greenwade had a new player in his crosshairs.

Mantle, who was only 16 years old at the time, was still in school at Commerce High School and would be entering his senior year in September.

Evidently, Mantle’s young age was not a deterrent. Greenwade kept an eye on the young Mantle and returned to sign him the following May on Mantle’s high school graduation night.

Also See: All things Mantle 

Mantle was suddenly a professional baseball player. He was sent to Indianapolis to play for the Class D Yankees. From there, it was onto Joplin, Mo. for the 1950 season, where he was promoted to play for the Miners.

While there, Mantle played shortstop and won the Western Association batting title with a .383 average. With stats like that, the next step was New York.

As far as memorabilia is concerned, there was very little. Individual photos, game programs and even homemade postcards exist from those days in the minors, but there were no cards issued in any of those three stops.

The 1951 season was an up-and-down year for The Mick. He started the year in New York, was sent down to Kansas City for 40 games, and then returned to the Bronx for good. While in Kansas City with the Blues, once again there were no cards to collect.

Once in New York, Mickey enjoyed a Hall of Fame career that lasted until 1968.

So, you may be wondering: Where does a minor league card of Mantle fit into the puzzle? The answer is quite simple. It didn’t, at least not yet. It wouldn’t happen until 1974.

In that year, the Syracuse Chiefs, the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate, issued a 25-card team set that featured seven Syracuse Chiefs and 18 New York Yankee players, including Hall of Famers Mantle, Babe Ruth and Whitey Ford. It also included current Yankee players such as Thurman Munson, Roy White, Mel Stottlemyre and others. Why these stars from yesteryear were added with the current players is unknown.

Mickey Mantle card from a 1974 Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs team set.

Mickey Mantle card from a 1974 Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs team set.

Also See: Rare Mantle memorabilia highlights Guernsey's Legends auction 

These 25 black-and-white cards are all blank-backed with only the name of the player in the lower left corner and the player’s position in the upper right. All cards measure 3.5-by-2.5 inches, with no identifying or reference markings.

Because of the rarity of the set, it is unclear as to whether this set has ever been photographed, identified or catalogued. Authenticators such as PSA, SGC, and Beckett should now be able to add these cards along with the Mickey Mantle card to their respective registries.

The 1974 Syracuse Chiefs team set was sold at MacArthur Stadium and was very limited in terms of production.

1974 Syracuse Chiefs set featuring such future big leaguers as Bobby Cox, Tippy Martinez and Scott McGregor.

The following players make up the set and have no identifying number. All Chiefs players are shown wearing their Syracuse uniforms with the letter “S” on their caps, while all Yankees are shown in pinstripes with most wearing the interlocking “NY” on their caps.

Syracuse players from the set include:

1. Bobby Cox, Manger

2. Tippy Martinez, P

3. Scott McGregor, P

4. Terry Whitfield, OF

5. Rich Sawyer, P

6. Billy Parker, IF

7. Jerry Kenney, IF (This card is an error that has not been corrected. The card shows Kenney’s name as “Gerry Kenny.)

The Yankee Checklist includes:

8. Thurman Munson, C

9. Graig Nettles, 3B

10. Dave Pagan, P

11. Babe Ruth, OF

12. Fred Stanley, IF

13. Mel Stottlemyre, P

14. Otto Velez, OF

15. Bill Virdon, Manager

16. Roy White, OF

17. Mickey Mantle, OF

As far as value, due to the scarcity of the issue, the entire set of 25 is in the $1,000-$1,500 range. The Mantle card has the highest value followed by Ruth and Munson.

MORE YANKEE MINOR LEAGUE CARDS

In that same year, a second Mantle card was issued by the Triple-A team that has gone relatively unnoticed by many advanced Mantle collectors. Even card authenticators such as PSA, SGC and Beckett have yet to grade any submissions. Whether this is because of the card’s scarcity or lack of information, hopefully this will shed some light on the set and be the first step toward getting these cards graded and put on their respective registries.

In 1974, the Chiefs issued a second set of black-and-white, glossy photo cards that were inserted inside Syracuse Chiefs home game programs. The set consists of 29 current and former Yankee players, including Mantle, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio.

Another 1974 card set issued by the Syracuse Chiefs featuring New York Yankee greats such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio.

Another 1974 card set issued by the Syracuse Chiefs featuring New York Yankee greats such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio.

Measuring 4-by-5 inches, all the cards show a black-and-white photo of the player with name and position located at the bottom of each card. The Mantle and Ruth cards simply list their names at the bottom with no mention of position.

The Gehrig card has “Greatest Player Ever” and “First Base” written above of his name. The DiMaggio card has the notation “Greatest Living Player” and “Greatest Player Ever,” Center Field and his name. All cards are blank-backed and show no identifying information or markings.

A 30th card of Fred Frazier exists but is not part of the regular set. The Frazier card could be exchanged for a bicycle, and it is said that only six were made. The Frazier card is a much-coveted card among collectors of minor league memorabilia.

A 1974 Syracuse Chiefs card set featuring New York Yankees stars.

Here is the complete list of the 1974 Syracuse photo card inserts:

1. Mel Stottlemyre

2. Rich Bladt

3. Pat Dobson

4. Roy White

5. Gene Michael

6. Fritz Peterson

7. Elston Howard

8. Fred Stanley

9. Celerino Sanchez

10. Ron Blomberg

11. Sam McDowell

12. Tom Buskey

13. Whitey Ford

14. Thurman Munson

15. Mickey Mantle

16. Graig Nettles

17. George Medich

18. Mike Hegan

19. Dave Pagan

20. Rick Dempsey

21. Lou Gehrig

22. Babe Ruth

23. Bobby Murcer

24. Sparky Lyle

25. Bill Virdon

26. Otto Velez

27. Joe DiMaggio

28. Roger Hambright

29. Steve Kline

30. Fred Frazier (promotional card)

The 1974 Syracuse Chiefs Yankee set is very scarce and poses problems for even the most advanced collector, simply because of the nondescript nature of the black-and-white cards. Value for this set is in the $800-$1,200 dollar range.

Like the Syracuse baseball card set, the Mantle card is highly sought after, along with the Fred Frazier promotional card.

Kelly R. Eisenhauer of Lehighton, Pa. has been a fan and collector of Mickey Mantle memorabilia for more than 50 years. He owns and operates a Mantle website at www.hofmemories.com and Mickey Mantle Cards and Other Memorabilia on Facebook. He can be reached at mrike@ptd.net

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