By the time I started collecting baseball cards in earnest in 1983, Yaz was in his final season with the Sawx, which was totally amazing considering that he was 71 years old at the time. So it wasn’t surprising that he was all over the place that summer, from This Week in Baseball to Baseball Cards Magazine to an intriguing 1983 Topps Super Veteran card.
As I devoured every word I could find about the hobby, it became clear that Yaz wasn’t just an elder statesman of the game — he was a future Hall of Famer and a collector favorite.
In fact, Yaz’s 1960 Topps rookie card was the first rookie card that I can remember being hyped as such. It introduced me to the concept that older cards of a player were more scarce and valuable than his later cards, and they didn’t come much older than Yaz or his horizontal first issue.
I don’t remember exactly how much the card was pulling in that summer, but I do know it was several orders of magnitude greater than any pasteboard I was even considering adding to my own collection. I think it was going for around 50 bucks at local card shows, but it could have been 20 or 100.
Anyway, the images of the hobbling old man in the Red Sox cap at the All-Star Game that summer became intertwined in my collector’s psyche with the shy-looking young man encircled in a whole lot of orange ink on the front of his 1960 rookie card. How could any one player have held on that long?
Thanks to the tens of thousands of words written about Yaz that year, I was eventually able to piece together a big hunk of his story. Born and raised in the Bridgehampton, NY, area surrounded by the sea, Yastrzemski somehow found his way to the ball field instead of a fishing vessel and then found his sweet left-handed swing.
When he was 19, the New England boy was signed by New England’s team — the Red Sox — to a minor league contract
Two years later, he made his Major League debut — and stuck. That would have been 1961 if you’re keeping score at home, which means Topps added Yaz to their set a good year before he ever stepped foot on a Big League diamond.
As it turned out, that was pretty typical of Yastrzemski: doing things that others couldn’t.
There was his ability to step into the left field shoes vacated by Red Sox legend Ted Williams.
There was the Triple Crown in 1967.
There was the 23-year career that seemed like it might never end.
And there was the funny looking rookie card that helped jump start the hobby just as our cardboard dreams were starting to heat up.
Yaz was never my favorite player, but he is forever engrained in my collecting memory, and catching a glimpse of his 1960 Topps rookie card still gives me chills.