The 1961 season was such a heady summer for the New York Yankees that even their old-time stars got in on the act.
In the Bronx that year, of course, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris waged a battle with each other and with the record book, taking dead aim at Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs, which he set waayyyy back in 1927.
All through the summer, the Raj and the Mick traded blows, elevating them and the Babe to new heights.
And you can bet that cards of the M & M boys were the prize draws from wax packs all year long.
But Topps wasn’t the only game in town when it came to baseball cards in 1961, despite their apparent monopoly.
For one thing, Fleer was back with their second consecutive issue featuring all-time greats, which naturally included Ruth.
For another, Nu-Card issued a set of newspaper-themed (but card-sized) cards that heralded big baseball moments of years past — Ruth and his 60th dinger in ‘27 made the cut there, too.
And then there was Golden Press, who issued a booklet containing 33 die-cut cards of “Hall of Fame Baseball Star.”
You guessed it — the Babe was featured prominently.
But Ruth wasn’t alone among great Yanks of the past, joined in the colorful set by Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, and Home Run Baker.
Oh, and someone a bit more contemporary.
Someone who once shared the Yankee Stadium outfield with a young Mantle, and who also made the Nu-Card cut — one Joseph Paul DiMaggio, checking in at card #9:
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That slot was supremely appropriate, too, if slightly obscure, given the Joe DiMaggio broke in with the Yankees wearing #9 in 1936.
Who could have predicted then that a blink-of-an-eye 25 years later, with a relatively short but brilliant 13-year big league career under his belt, that Joe D. would have built the bridge from Ruth to Mantle.
But the Yankee Clipper was much more than a bridge, of course, cementing himself as one of the greatest to ever lace up the spikes with centerfield play that was among the most graceful the game has ever seen, and with batting exploits that included that amazing, impossible 56-game hitting streak in 1941.
So, where else would you have found Joltin’ Joe in the summer of ‘61 than right there among all the other Yankees greats?
Nowhere, that’s where.
Today, the Golden Press DiMaggio is a pretty steep buy, fetching $200 or so in PSA 9 condition, and more than a grand if you can find a perfect 10.
But even in raw condition, and at a much more reasonable $30-50, the Golden Press DiMaggio is pretty much a “10” when it comes to cardboard beauty and hobby swagger.