Tony Oliva was an “old” prospect when he debuted for the Minnesota Twins in September of 1962, having already turned 24.
It would take him another full season in the minors, minus another brief call-up, in 1963 before the Twins deemed him ready to take over right field in Metropolitan Stadium. But when he did, in 1964, he tore the place up.
As a soon-to-be 26-year-old, Oliva scorched American League pitching to the tune of a .323 batting average, with 32 home runs and 94 RBI. That performance netted him an easy win in the AL Rookie of the Year balloting over Baltimore Orioles hurler Wally Bunker, and Oliva also finished fourth in the MVP race.
While his epic season was unfolding, collectors could find the young(ish) Cuban on a Topps “Rookie Stars” card, right under Jay Ward. The next spring, Topps would honor the award-winner with an all-time classic 1965 Topps issue that featured a sparkling golden Topps All-Star Rookie trophy (though with the wrong year — 1963 instead of 1964).
Topps didn’t leave collectors in the lurch in between those issues, either.
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For one thing, Oliva was part of the 1964 Topps Giants set, consisting of 60 cards. Despite the name, this issue did not feature just members of the San Francisco club, but measured an oversize 3-1/8” by 5-1/4”. The Oliva card shows a smiling superstar-in-the-making on the front and a newspaper-style account of his rise on the back.
Less visually appealing, maybe, but certainly much harder to come by, is Oliva’s 1964 Topps Rookie All-Star Banquet card.
Yep, Topps actually held a banquet for their rookie award winners, beginning in 1959. And, in 1964, they issued a 36-card boxed set to commemorate that year’s event.
The black-and-white run began with a cards featuring key Topps employees, followed by multi-player cards showing past honorees, and — finally — the class of 1964 … along with some teams’ PR guys (?!?).
(Well, not finally finally, as the trophy itself nabbed the last card in the set. Still …)
Right there among the new luminaries was Tony Oliva, at card #27.
And so, right off the bat, (a few) collectors had one of the scarcest Olive pasteboards to ever see the light of day. As of this writing, just five of these babies have made their way to PSA for grading.
But hey, at least it got the year right!
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