Thumbing through a stack of old baseball cards can lead you to all sorts of stories, all sorts of diamond treasures, you never knew existed.
And all it takes is a pixel here or there to set you down that path.
Take card number 514 in the 1961 Topps set, picturing Detroit Tigers second baseman Jake Wood, for example.
Now, unless you’re diehard Tigers fan, chances are pretty good you don’t remember Wood at all, or at least not very much.
And you might be tempted to just slide right past his smiling young face, but then … what of that yellow star in the upper right-hand corner that says “1961 ROOKIE”?
That’s the same star you find on the 1961 card of Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski — has to mean something, right? Has the be significant?
In Yaz’s case, Topps had already invested a 1960 rookie card in him, so they wanted to juice that Boston fruit a little more for his real rookie campaign in 1961.
When it came to Wood, it didn’t take a master scout to see that the youngster was poised for big things.
Signed as an amateur free agent by the Tigers in 1957, Wood used his combination of speed and power to push through the Detroit system and light up Triple-A Denver in 1960 to the tune of .305, 12 home runs, 76 RBI, 18 triples, and 101 runs scored.
Heady stuff for a young second baseman in the early 1960s.
It was enough to prompt Topps to give him his “rookie star,” but more importantly, it was enough prompt the Tigers to make him their Opening Day keystone man in 1961.
Topps predicted as much on the back of Wood’s RC:
With Frank Bolling having been traded during the winter, Jake is making a serious bid to win his job at second this year.
Wood stuck, too, appearing in all 162 games and batting .258 while smacking 11 homers, driving in 69, stealing 30 bases, and leading the American League with 14 triples.
That performance earned Wood a sixth-place showing in the AL Rookie of the Year balloting that fall.
His playing time fell off a bit in 1962, along with a batting line that slid to .226 with eight dingers, 30 RBI, and 24 stolen bases. There was some encouragement in those numbers, though, as that power and speed came in just 111 games, and he cut down his strikeout rate from 19% in 1961 (when he led the Majors with 141 whiffs) to less than 15%.
Wood was back on track, and then some, in 1963, but a finger injury in late July ended his season, leaving him with a .271 batting average, 11 home runs, and 18 steals in just 85 games.
He would never reach double digits in either category again and would finish his Big League career with half a season in Cincinnati after the Tigers sold him to the Reds in June of 1967.
Wood gave it another couple goes, though, spending 1968 in the Cleveland Indians’ minor league system and 1969 with the Tigers’ Double-A Montgomery Rebels.
Along the way from minors to promising rookie and back, Wood made appearances on a handful of baseball cards including one of those multi-player deals in 1962 called, “Bob’s Pupils.”
But it was that 1961 rookie card of his, which collectors could pull while he was still a rookie, that told you right off the bat this kid might be something special.
And he was, even if you have to dig a little to find the whole story.
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