The 1956 Topps baseball card set released during that memorable campaign perfectly mirrors the national pastime of that age. Even now these pasteboard images are a time capsule of their day.
The 1956 baseball season was one for the ages. Thrilling pennant races, exciting personal achievements and a sparkling World Series gem caught the nation up in diamond-mania.
In the American League, the perennially powerful New York Yankees raced to the championship, outdistancing the Indians and the White Sox by double-digit margins.
The Bronx Bombers were led, of course, by All-Star center fielder Mickey Mantle. The Commerce Comet batted .353, slugged 52 home runs and swatted across 130 RBI. The charismatic, blonde slugger won the coveted Triple Crown. Yanks' mounds man Whitey Ford led the league in ERA.
In the senior circuit, the Yanks' cross-town rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers, squeaked past the Milwaukee Braves and the Cincinnati Reds by margins of one and two games respectively.
The Dodgers' stellar center fielder Duke Snider led his league in dingers with 43, while twirler Don Newcombe led all NL pitchers with 27 wins. Big Newk and Mantle were their respective league MVPs.
The mid-season featured a thrilling power display by some of the sport's leading sluggers. The National League All-Star Game triumph featured home runs by Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle. It also sparkled with incomparable fielding by St. Louis third baseman, Ken Boyer.
At season's end, the seven-month long pennant races proved merely preliminary. The Bums and Yanks met for a memorable subway World Series. Brooklyn was the defending champ, having taken their first WS the previous year. In game seven Sandy Amoros sealed the victory when he made a miraculous running catch of a Yogi Berra drive down the left field line.
The Bronx Bombers were lusting for revenge. After the Dodgers captured the first two games in their home ballpark, Ebbets Field, tension soared. The Yanks leveled the series in games three and four with key efforts by pitchers Ford and Tom Sturdivant.
Game five was played in Yankee Stadium on a pristine autumn afternoon, October 8. Don Larsen, the Yanks' fourth-best starter, responded with the game of his life. He threw only 97 pitches in pitching the first (and still only) World Series perfect game. Mantle's third homer of the series was all that was necessary to seal the victory.
Brooklyn leveled the series in a tension-filled, extra-inning sixth game, by a score of 1-0. The run scored when Yankee outfielder Enos Country Slaughter misjudged a fly ball off the bat of Jackie Robinson.
Game Seven proved climactic. Johnny Kucks pitched masterfully, allowing only three hits. Yankee catcher Yogi Berra banged out two home runs to give the Bronx Bombers and himself redemption.
The 1956 Topps set is a favorite with collectors, even those too young to remember the season itself.
The oversized, 340-card pasteboard set features dual images in a horizontal format. Black and white head shots and action shots on card fronts were expertly tinted to look like color photography. Some of the player portraits are the same as the similarly-designed set released the previous year.
Virtually all the game's stars are present, and the set has become pricey today. Price guides value complete near mint sets in the high four figures. Top stars include the Yanks' Mantle, traditionally the highest-priced star in most sets. This MVP's card fetches upwards of $2,000 in top condition.
Other key cards in the set are Roberto Clemente, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson. Each of these Hall of Famers commands at least several hundred dollars for near mint specimens. Among stars, only Stan Musial does not appear in this large set.
Both Yankees and Dodgers team cards are also highly valued, selling for several hundred dollars in top grades. This was the first time Topps issued team cards as part of its regular set. Collectors readily pay hundreds of dollars for pristine checklists, too.
For the less affluent collector, commons in near mint are available for about $10 and up. Personal favorites from the set include the card of Yogi Berra, one of the World Series' heroes. His pasteboard's reverse pays tribute to his third AL Most Valuable Player award the previous year.
Berra's 1955 series nemesis Sandy Amoros is also in this set. The diminutive Cuban's real moniker is Edmundo Isasi Amoros. His card's reverse depicts his World Series game-saving catch.
The Berra card fetches about $150 from dealers in near mint condition. But fame is fleeting. Alas, the Amoros card commands only about one-tenth as much. The former series hero brings about the same as Scrap Iron Clint Courtney, a journeyman catcher for the late, lamented Washington Nationals (Senators).
Fred Reed is former News Editor of Coin World and Vice President of Beckett Publications. A collector for 40 years, Reed is a member of most national coin and stamp organizations. He is also Secretary of Society of Paper Money Collectors. SPMC awarded Reed its lifetime achievement award for his groundbreaking Civil War Encased Stamps: The Issuers and Their Times, one of his five books. Reed has also written on coins and currency, tokens and medals, stamps, comic books, post cards, Beanie Babies, sports cards and collectibles, engravings and lithographs, movie memorabilia, autographs, antique photography, and Civil War artifacts, all of which he avidly collects. He is currently at work on six more books.