The decade (or so) after World War II must have been an absolutely magical time to be a baseball fan in New York.
Tell you something you don’t know, right?
But it bears repeating … from 1947 through 1956, the New York Yankees represented the American League in the Fall Classic eight times.
In seven of those tilts, their opponents were either the Brooklyn Dodgers or the New York Giants.
Add in a Giants victory over the Cleveland Indians in the 1954 Series, and two more Yanks’ appearances in 1957 and 1958, and it’s easy to see where the hub of baseball was in the 1950s.
And that’s before you even get into the individual players who defined the greatness of those teams …
Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.
Whitey Ford and Don Newcombe.
Pee Wee Reese and Phil Rizzuto.
Jackie Robinson and Monte Irvin.
And on and on and on.
Maybe no crosstown duo paralleled their teams successes, though, quite like catchers Yogi Berra of the Yankees and Roy Campanella of the Dodgers.
Berra, after all, copped AL MVP honors in 1951, 1954, and 1955.
And Campanella got the National League nod in 1951, 1953, and 1955.
Not surprising, then, that the two backstops, and the rest of their big-name teammates, were the subject of all the cardboard love manufacturers and collectors could heap on them.
Of course, the 1950s couldn’t hold a candle to the late 20th century or the first 20 years of the 21st in terms of sheer volume of sets and cards, but folks were innovative with their releases, at any rate.
Take the New York Journal-American, for example.
Find 1954 American-Journal cards on eBay (affiliate link)
Find 1954 American-Journal cards on Amazon (affiliate link)
The New York City newspaper operated from 1937 through 1966, issuing multiple afternoon and evening editions daily.
Just about in the middle of that run (if you don’t mind flouting actual math a bit), the Journal-American rolled up their sleeves and rolled out a bit of that cardboard innovation I mentioned up there (^).
See, in 1954, the newspaper published a set of 59 baseball cards featuring — surprise! — players from the hometown Yankees, Dodgers, and Giants.
You could only get the cards as premiums with the purchase of a copy of the paper at newsstands (you know, unless you had a backdoor of some sort, or found a card or two laying discarded on the wet concrete because, why would Aunt Bertha or Mrs. Wallace or Banker Jim need a baseball card with their newspaper, anyway?).
Each card measured a healthy 2” x 4” (are you getting board with my puns yet?) and featured a grainy, newspaper-like black-and-white headshot of the player, and a six-digit number at the bottom of the card.
The text in between explained that they would be giving away $1000 each day for “lucky baseball cards,” and that you should check out their Daily and Sunday editions to find out if your card won.
So, yeah, those six digits were a lottery number.
Fitting, then, that the two MVP catchers showed up in this set (not that they wouldn’t have — they were Yankees and Dodgers, after all).
Here you had one guy, Berra, who even his own managers and team owners doubted could make an impact in the Major Leagues. He didn’t “look” like a big leaguer, and he certainly didn’t move like one.
And then you had another guy, Campanella, who didn’t make it to Brooklyn until he was 26 but spent 11 seasons before that building his reputation and his game in the Negro National League.
Who would have thought those guys would be the ones to take home so much hardware for their illustrious teams?
The Yanks and Dodgers must have felt like they hit the lottery.
Hobby Holiday Hots
As long as we’re talking 1954 and baseball cards and periodicals, how about taking a gander at this beauty on eBay …
It’s a complete first issue of Sports Illustrated, complete with the included sheet of 1954 Topps baseball cards.
These aren’t super rare, but they are always a nostalgic sight to behold.
Check out the full listing on eBay (affiliate link).