Highlights and heartbreak. Duke Snider experienced much of it firsthand for the Brooklyn Dodgers-oh, did he ever.
"The Duke of Flatbush," as he was also known, debuted in the big leagues in 1947 and for several of the next few years he made a name for himself patrolling center field and blasting many home runs for Brooklyn.
Yet Edwin Donald Snider and the Dodgers also felt the bitter taste of defeat the first half of his career, particularly in the 1951 pennant race to the New York Giants (via Bobby Thomson's homer). Losing the World Series to the New York Yankees four times between 1947 and 1953 did not help matters, either. The mantra for the Bridesmaid Brooklynites seemed to permanently be "Wait 'til next year."
But in 1955, Snider and his Dodger teammate Jackie Robinson, who likewise hit the majors in 1947, helped make "next year" a reality for Brooklyn when the team finally won a Fall Classic-and they just happened to do it against their crosstown rivals, the Yankees.
"Dem Bums" had finally become "Da Champs."
So maybe it was fitting that the last card in the 1955 Topps Baseball card set pictures Snider (#210). It took some time, but the Dodgers finally had the last word.
That season a teenage-themed movie titled Blackboard Jungle featured a song that had bubbled in a "rock pot" for a year or so: Bill Haley and His Comets' smash hit "Rock Around the Clock." That bouncy song was like an early and large shaft of rebar in a fresh and quickly-expanding musical superhighway construction project called "rock 'n' roll."
The world of baseball cards was taking a different path that year too; call it the "Cardboard Jungle"- but more about that on this article's flip side, Daddy-O.
The Road More Heavily Traveled
The 1955 Topps Baseball set, distributed chiefly in penny (1-card) and nickel (6-card) wax packs and cello packs, starts off with what some might consider a questionable choice at first glance: Dusty Rhodes of the New York Giants.
Dusty who? Let's just say Mr. Rhodes ripped some clutch homers in the 1954 World Series to help the Giants sweep the heavily favored Cleveland Indians, so on that alone Dusty earned strong "street cred" consideration for the #1 card spot.
Ted Williams, the bookends of the 1954 Topps issue, followed Rhodes in the 1955 set, so collectors did not have to wait long to get a much-established star card.
Jeff Barris started collecting baseball cards in 1953. By 1955, Barris was a seasoned veteran in accumulating Topps pasteboards, and he has a strong connection to that issue. "It is a unique set – the first full horizontal set by Topps," he said, "and with some great rookies."
The collection also features a colorful front design, with a close-up image paired with a full-length shot of each player, along with a facsimile autograph. Card backs come with basic player information, some statistics and a trivia question, all with an eye-catching look.
Barris completed the offering in the 1950s, but about 25 years later, he made a tough choice with his 1955 Topps set. "I sold it to help obtain money to start my own pharmacy business." As his business gained traction, Barris found himself, at times, thinking about his 1955 Topps cards. "I really missed the set," he noted, "so I decided to start collecting it again."
After "a year or two" Barris had reassembled the issue that reminded him of his youth. Next, the collector started exploring the grading route. And then, for some time, he continued upgrading. "I've always loved baseball cards; it's always been a passion."
That passion has led him to a top ten Current Finest ranking of the offering on the PSA Set Registry.
When asked about his favorite cards in the issue, Barris trotted out an all-star cast: "Koufax (#123), Clemente (#164), Kaline (#4), Ted Williams (#2) and Jackie Robinson (#50)." As a child, living in California, the collector watched those players on TV. "Jackie Robinson," he added, "is my favorite player of all time."
"I enjoyed the whole team," Barris said of the 1955 Dodgers. So when "No. 42," "The Duke" and Company ultimately grabbed a Fall Classic flag that year, the collector found it all "very exciting."
Count Tom Altrui, as well, among the Brooklyn faithful from their days hosting at Ebbets Field. Altrui also collected the 1955 set when first issued and includes Snider (his idol), Gil Hodges (#187) and a certain left-handed pitcher from that squad as his top three Dodgers from the set.
But while one might guess the Koufax rookie as Altrui's first choice, it is actually the Johnny Podres pasteboard (#25). "That is a beautiful card," said the hobbyist, "and Podres won two games in the 1955 Series."
Altrui began his quest for a PSA NM-MT 8 grade set around a decade ago, submitting about 50 cards from a mid-1990s auction buy. Many of those qualified for PSA 8s and later on "some were 8.5s," he cheerfully recalled.
In 2013, he filled the final slot in the collection. "I went after the last card with a [sense of] purpose," he said. And when the price and condition meshed, he tossed down some $8,000 for a PSA 8 of Roberto Clemente's first card, a high number and the key to the set for most. "The Clemente rookie is often found off-center or with a diamond cut," he noted.
Incidentally, Koufax's initial card was the second-to-last Altrui needed on this particular collecting journey. At publication time, the hobbyist's choices have earned him a No. 8 Set Registry position among the Current Finest 1955 Topps collectors.
No M-i-c-k-e-y in this Topps Set
Although at #210 Snider rounds out the 1955 Topps issue, the full collection only contains 206 cards, the difference being four in the high numbered second series (#161-210) that were supposedly left out because of contract issues.
At the 2005 National Sports Collectors Convention, celebrating the set's 50th anniversary, Topps issued what they claimed were the four missing cards: Stan Musial, Whitey Ford, Bob Feller and Herb Score-some excellent talent that would have been great to have in the set the first time.
That same 1955 season, meanwhile, Bowman, Topps' key rival, released one of their most distinctive sets: It featured card fronts with a wood-grained color TV console design and their high numbers also included several umpire cards.
In that 320-card issue, Bowman provided collectors with many big name players, and that season, they had the only regular cards of Dodgers' star catcher Roy Campanella and Yankees' slugger Mickey Mantle.
See You Later, Alligator
The Dodgers finally delivered the knockout punch in the World Series in 1955, and not long afterward Topps did much the same when they bought out Bowman.
Starting in 1956 Topps became the only mainstream baseball card manufacturer, to any degree, for the next generation, and they were often the big player in football and other sports, too.
Given the fact the company had really only just entered the sports card game with any major offering starting with their 1952 baseball set, some might say their desire to beat out Bowman made Topps a "rebel with a cause"-a bit of a wink and a nod, of course, to the title and car race scenes of James Dean's classic 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause.
And the 1955 Topps set, with its stylish design, strong rookies and general collectability, certainly played its part in steering the company towards market domination. Barris placed the issue, at times, among the decade's best sets, namely the "Holy Grail" 1952 Topps offering and their timeless 1957 set. Essentially, the collector labeled the 1955 set after another iconic mid-1950s Dean flick: Giant.
Duke, Jackie and the rest of the 1955 World Champion Brooklyn Dodgers; that season's Topps Baseball set; Haley, the Comets and their vinyl vault classic all share a kinship of sorts. Like the last few words of the legendary song, memories of all of them are "gonna rock, gonna rock around the clock tonight," for many fans and for many more nights and days to come.
For more information on the 1955 Topps Baseball set, please visit http://www.psacard.com/CardFacts/Set/162/1955-topps-baseball-cards.
Doug Koztoski has contributed to SMR for several years. He welcomes comments and questions related to this article at [email protected]. Please note that all images have been provided courtesy of PSA.
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