At first glance, there was nothing about the 1965 Topps Tony Kubek card that told you big changes were coming.
There on the front, the Yankees star shortstop stands in a batting pose, basking in the sun, sporting his short-sleeve pinstripes.
Looks like he’s just getting ready for another season with Yanks, which he was.
But these were not the same Bronx Bombers the sport had come to expect. After dropping the 1964 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, New York dropped to 77-85 in 1965, “good” enough for sixth place in the American League.
That summer, Mickey Mantle appeared in just 122 games, never a good sign for the Yankees, and Kubek himself managed to take the field just 109 times. Even worse, he hit a career low .218, and he started at short only 81 times.
As the Yanks spiraled toward the second division that season, the New York faithful just might have had cause to search their baseball cards a little harder for clues about what could be going on.
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And, when they flipped over Kubek’s card, they found a trend.
After peaking at 153 games played in 1961, Kubek missed a big hunk of the 1962 season due to military duty, then played just 135 games in 1963 and dropped to 106 in 1964.
At the same time, his batting average marched south, from .276 to .257 to .229.
Then there was the fact that the 1957 American League Rookie of the Year missed the 1964 Fall Classic due to an injury.
As Kubek would later relate, he had suffered with neck problems for half a decade, possibly from taking a grounder to the neck, but more likely — according to Kubek — from getting “racked up” in a touch football game after the 1961 season.
Still, this was a young man, a multiple-time All-Star who would play the 1966 season at just 30 years of age.
There was still time to turn things around.
In January of 1966, Kubek dropped the bomb — he was retiring from baseball due to nerve problems stemming from an old injury, a previously undiagnosed broken vertebra in his neck.
Maybe Kubek broke the news just in time, or maybe Topps was good at reading tea leaves.
Because, just as there was no Kubek at shortstop for the Yankees in 1966, there also was no Kubek in the 1966 Topps set.
And so, collectors and fans were left to ponder that 1965 Topps Kubek card and the secrets it once held.
Though Kubek’s career was short and produced modest offensive numbers, he remains a popular figure in Yankee lore, which keeps his memorabilia in the hobby eye. Take this bat, for example:
That’s a game-used Kubek bat from the 1964 season.
Check out the full listing on eBay right here (affiliate link).