By all accounts, Ted Williams was always a tough nut to crack.

Tough to talk to, at least if you had even an ounce of nonsense in your blood.

Tough to pitch to.

And, without a doubt, tough to pin down in a baseball card set.

Just ask Topps, who issued pasteboards for three long years before ever pushing out a Teddy Ballgame in their wax packs.

That was thanks to the limited nature of Topps’ 1951 sets, Williams’ absence from the MLB scene while serving in the military (again), and the Splendid Splinter’s sharp acumen when it came to managing the business of his image — his “personal brand” in modern parlance.

Heading into 1954, though, Topps finally landed Williams’ signature on a contract and took full advantage of the situation by making him both the first (#1) and last (#250) cards in their new set.

Meanwhile, rival Bowman picked up right where they had left off with Williams in 1951, issuing a ‘50s glam shot of the slugger:

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No one was more surprised by the appearance of this handsome devil of a baseball card than Topps themselves, who had exclusive rights to issue Williams likeness in cardboard.

That’s one theory, at least — another is that some sort of printing snafu snarled the Williams card. Sounds like a PR excuse to me.

Either way, Williams was pulled from his slot at #66, replaced by Red Sox teammate Jimmy Piersall — who just so happened to already have a card at #210.

In the end, then, we got the same Piersall card with two different numbers:

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The result was one of the most iconic baseball cards of all time, a white whale that some collectors spent decades chasing with nary a site of hide nor hair.

No, not the Piersall(s) — the Williams.

Indeed, the pantheon of scarce cards in the 80s lined up something like …

  • T206 Honus Wagner
  • 1933 Goudey Nap Lajoie
  • 1954 Bowman Ted Williams

That may be overstating the fact a bit, but not by much … there were some other T206s that we already/knew thought were extremely scarce, but the ‘54 Bowman Williams was definitely a big deal.

Today, with an ever-more connected collecting base and with every discovered rarity being sent in for grading, we know there are more than a few Williams cards out there (1000+ in the PSA Population Report as of September 2021).

Even so, this Teddy Ballgame lines up as a hobby classic, one that drove the market and dreams for years on end.

These days, it’s not impossible to find this iconic Williams card, as one or more pop up on eBay every month or few. And, while the Splinter was once considered nearly priceless, PSA 6s now trade for around $3000, with 7s ranging upwards of $6000.

Drop down to a PSA 1 or 2, and you *might* even land one for under a grand.

In the end, 1954 Bowman Ted Williams is proof that sometimes, even impossible dreams can turn out to be — if not realistic — at least a bit less preposterous.

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1954 bowman baseball cards, complete your set

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