Flashback to April of 1965: I'm looking forward to the last months of sixth grade, celebrating the ever-warmer spring days. Baseball season has already started, and my neighborhood pick-up softball team has already been routed a few times. (We weren't really all that good, but what we lacked in ability, we more than made up for with enthusiasm.)
On my way to and from school, I had a habit of detouring through the center of town to stop at the local stationery and candy store. I'd pick up a box of Red Hots, Jaw Breakers, some Necco Wafers or a wad of bubble gum to secretly indulge during class.
April also meant keeping an eye out for the latest packs of Topps baseball cards. My collecting enthusiasm had waned somewhat from my younger days, after my favorite team - the New York Yankees - had battled the St. Louis Cardinals valiantly in the previous year's World Series, only to go down to defeat in seven games.
With junior high school approaching, my interests were gradually shifting to rock music, guitars, sports cars and ham radio. Boy Scouts was taking up more of my time, too. But if I had some extra nickels left over, I'd always pick up a few packs.
And so it went that day as I entered the store. Lo and behold, a fresh box of 1965 Topps Baseball cards called to me from the counter. A quarter was quickly exchanged for five packs, and I was on my way.
I ripped one back open. "Hmmm... these are different," I thought. "Nope, no Yankees in that pack - wait a minute, there's a Yankee - Pedro Ramos? Who the heck was Pedro Ramos?"
I opened another pack, and another. "Finally, a Mickey Mantle!" Except he was sharing a "1964 AL RBI Leaders" card with Brooks Robinson. "Okay, there's Al Downing" - except he was sharing a card with Dean Chance and Camilo Pascual. Two more packs didn't reveal any more Yankees.
I tossed the wrappers, chewed up all of the gum in one mouthful (it didn't taste any better) and stuck the cards in my pocket. And those were likely the last packs of 1965 Topps I bought - going through my childhood card collection years later, there was nothing to be found after 1964. (My loss, as it turned outâ€¦)
Nineteen sixty-five offered plenty of newsworthy events to keep us busy with current events in our social studies class. Although the Vietnam War technically started in 1964, the first U.S. combat troops didn't show up in the country until 1965. While I was opening my first packs of 1965 Topps Baseball, U.S. troops were landing in the Dominican Republic to aid the government in a battle against insurgents.
It was a year of turmoil. Dr. Martin Luther King was arrested with over 2,000 demonstrators in Selma, Alabama, in early February as the Civil Rights Movement gained traction. The controversial but charismatic Malcolm X was assassinated at a rally in New York City in February, and Los Angeles' Watts section was devastated by six days of riots in August.
In one of the all-time "epic fails," a massive November blackout in New York City and eight northeastern states was caused by a power failure in Ontario (the butterfly wing effect, perhaps?), making for some unique nighttime photos under moonlight. Halfway across the country, almost 50 separate tornadoes ripped across the Midwest, killing over 250 people and injuring 1,500 more.
It wasn't cool to smoke anymore, as the first health warnings appeared on cigarette packs. The growing chorus of civil rights marchers was finally heard: landmark legislation came out of Washington, D.C., with passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in August.
NASA initiated the Gemini space program in 1965, launching several two-person spacecraft to orbit the earth, dock with orbiting objects and prepare for a mission to the moon. On August 21, Gemini V carried Gordon Cooper and Charles Conrad on an eight-day orbit around the earth, at the time the longest crewed flight in space.
Pop culture was alive and well in 1965. The Rolling Stones' hit, "I Can't Get No Satisfaction," hit Billboard's "Top 100" in June and remained there for 14 weeks, taking over the #1 spot in early July and hanging on until August 7. Rolling Stone magazine placed the song #2 on their "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" list in 2004. Oh, and that "other" British band - The Beatles - managed to release four albums between December of 1964 and December of 1965, including the classics Help! and Rubber Soul.
The miniskirt made its debut in 1965, along with longer hair, paisley shirts and the Carnaby Street "mod" look, thanks to avant-garde British designer Mary Quant and super-skinny model Twiggy. The Sound of Music topped all box office receipts for the year, although the Best Picture Oscar went to My Fair Lady (edging out Dr. Zhivago, Sound of Music, A Thousand Clowns and Darling.)
In the world of sports, dashing Scottish race driver Jim Clark won both the Indianapolis 500 and the Formula 1 driving championship. College basketball powerhouse UCLA edged out Michigan 91-80 for their second NCAA championship, while future New York Knick and later New Jersey senator Bill Bradley was named the Most Valuable Player in the tournament. In the pros, Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics (who else?) blew by the Los Angeles Lakers four games to one to win the NBA championship.
Alabama and Michigan State tied for the college football national championship, but there was no question about the best team in the National Hockey League - Montreal, by a 4-3 margin over the Chicago Black Hawks. The same can be said about the National Football League, where the Green Bay Packers topped the Cleveland Browns 23-12 for the NFL title. The Buffalo Bills were even more dominant, winning the AFL title 23-0 over the San Diego Chargers.
The world of baseball looked very different in 1965. Baseball's first-ever draft took place that year at the Hotel Commodore in New York City, with over 300 players divvied up by 20 teams. And the $31M Astrodome opened in Houston with an exhibition game between the Yankees and Astros - a game in which Mickey Mantle hit his first and only home run indoors.
Speaking of the Yankees; they fell to sixth place in 1965 with a 77-85 record, beginning a downhill slide that wouldn't reverse itself until the end of the decade. This left the door wide open for perennial contenders like the Minnesota Twins (four years removed from Washington, D.C.), Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles.
Over in the National League, things were just as muddled. Five different teams had won the Senior Circuit pennant since 1960, and any one of them could grab it again in 1965. The Pirates and Dodgers had the pitching, while the Giants and Reds had the hitting. And the Cardinals looked to repeat their 1964 championship.
The 1965 season had its highs and lows. Forty-four-year-old Warren Spahn retired with 363 victories and a career 3.09 ERA, posting 63 shutouts and 13 twenty-win seasons along the way. Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers won his second Cy Young award in one of his most dominant seasons, pitching 27 complete games with 26 wins, 382 strikeouts (let THAT number sink in for a minute!) and a mind-boggling ERA of 2.04.
In the American League, Mel Stottlemyre of the Yankees became the first pitcher in 55 years to hit an inside-the-park home run as the Bombers beat the Red Sox, 6-3. Bert Campaneris of the Kansas City A's played all nine positions during a 5-3 loss to the California Angels, allowing one run and two walks while pitching.
As expected, the National League pennant race went down to the wire, with the 97-65 Dodgers grabbing the flag by two games over 1962's champs, the 95-67 Giants. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati finished out of the running 7 and 8 games back, respectively. (The Cardinals finished a game under .500!) In the American League, the Twins coasted to a 102-60 record to finish on top by a comfortable 7 games ahead of the White Sox and 8 ahead of the Orioles.
Fans looked forward to the 1965 World Series with excitement: Would the Dodger's dominant pitching staff match up to the Twin's sluggers Harmon Killebrew and Zoilo Versalles? Would the Twin's first-ever Series appearance result in championship rings?
Things got off to an auspicious start when Game 1 pitcher Koufax opted off the mound to observe Yom Kippur. Replacement Don Drysdale lasted less than three innings, giving up four runs on two homers while Twins starter Jim "Mudcat" Grant won the opener, 8-2. Koufax returned against Jim Kaat in Game 2, but again the Twins prevailed, 5-1 for a 2-0 Series lead.
No such luck was bestowed upon the "Twinkies" in Game 3 at Dodger Stadium, where well-traveled pitcher Claude Osteen held them to five hits in a 4-0 shutout. And Drysdale regained his form in Game 4, striking out 11 and winning 7-2, aided by Ron Fairly's three RBIs and home runs from Wes Parker and Lou Johnson. Koufax returned in Game 5 and was in classic form, tossing 10 KOs and allowing only four hits in a 7-0 whitewash.
The Twins returned to the friendly confines of Metropolitan Stadium for Game 6 and, behind Mudcat Grant, tied up the Series with a 5-1 victory. Grant helped his cause considerably by smacking a three-run homer off the Dodger's bullpen. Finally, Koufax - on two day's rest - came back in Game 7 to twirl a three-hit shutout with ten strikeouts, winning the game and the Series for L.A., 2-0. (It would be the Dodger's last World Series win until 1981!)
In retrospect, 1965 Topps is one of the best designs that ever came out of the Topps art department. Granted, the 1963 and 1964 sets had greatly-improved photography over previous years: 1963 Topps made good use of bold, contrasting colors, but many cards were plagued with print snow. The 1964 Topps design was rather plain and uninspired, but clean.
In 1965, Topps got all of it right, combining nicely-composed vertical portraits with a solid color border and block behind the player's name and position. A small banner, featuring the team name and logo, overlaps the color block and the photo, resulting in a design motif as fresh today as it was 50 years ago. These cards in near mint condition look like they could have been printed yesterday, with only their thin, flimsy card stock a giveaway as to their real age.
There are 598 cards in the set, making it the largest Topps offering to date. As usual, the cards were issued in seven series, each with its own checklist. Continuing the format started in 1961, a series of League Leader cards opens the set, occupying cards #1 through #12. Each of the teams has its own card, and the team's position in the final league standings from 1964 is also shown on the obverse.
The #1 slot is occupied by "1964 A.L. Batting Leaders,"featuring Twins batter and hitting machine Tony Oliva, along with Brooks Robinson and Elston Howard. At the far end, Yankees pitcher Al Downing brings up the rear on card #598. Downing also appears on card #11, "A.L. Strikeout Leaders," along with the Twins' Camilo Pascual and the Angels' Dean Chance. The Leader series cards are loaded with Hall of Famers, including Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson.
For that matter, so is the set, which includes Robin Roberts (#15), Joe Morgan (#16 - his rookie card), Jim Bunning (#20), Juan Marichal (#50), Bill Mazerowski (#95), Ron Santo (#110), Frank Robinson (#120), Al Kaline (#130), Brooks Robinson (#150), Clemente (#160), Aaron (#170), Willie McCovey (#176), Casey Stengel (#187), Gaylord Perry (#193), Spahn (#205), Billy Williams (#220), Willie Mays (#250), Drysdale (#260), Hoyt Wilhelm (#276), Koufax (#300), Gibson (#320), Whitey Ford (#330) and Mantle (#350).
You will also find Orlando Cepeda (#360), Willie Stargell (#377), Carl Yastrzemski (#385), Killebrew (#400), Luis Aparicio (#410), Al Lopez (#414), Phil Niekro (#461 - rookie card), Yogi Berra (#470), Steve Carlton (#477 - rookie card), Nellie Fox (#485), Ed Mathews (#500), Ernie Banks (#510), Jim "Catfish" Hunter (#526 - rookie card), Lou Brock (#540), Red Schoendienst (#556) and Tony Perez (#581 - rookie card).
That's quite a list of superstars, and it nicely blends in a few players near the end of their careers with others just starting out. Not counting the League Leader cards, there are 38 Hall of Famers represented, or just over 6% of the set. That's a good reason by itself to collect the 1965 Topps Baseball set, particularly when you consider that four of the HOF players in the issue are rookies.
In contrast to the early 1960s, Topps kept things simple with themed card subsets in 1965. Aside from the seven checklists, there is an eight-card World Series set, commemorating the Cardinals' seven-game win over the favored Yankees in 1964. For some reason, Topps went crazy with the color red on these cards; in particular, #139 "The Cards Celebrate."(Talk about a crimson tide!)
Card #134, "Mantle's Clutch Home Run" - the most valuable of the World Series cards - depicts Mickey in a road jersey even though the game was played in New York. (The photo probably came from Game 6 or 7.) Card #138, "Gibson Wins Finale," actually represented the end of an era - Mantle's 18th and last World Series home run was hit in this game, a three-run shot in the sixth inning of a 7-5 loss.
Getting back to the rookie cards: This subset is enormous containing 55 entries, with two players typically featured on each card, always grouped by teams. (Some have three players, and some high-number entries have four.) Two cards (#577 and #581) buck the trend and showcase rookies from different teams in the American League and National League, respectively.
Most of these rookies went on to undistinguished careers, although a few rose above the crowd. Some even became coaches and managers later in their careers. Familiar names include Rico Petrocelli of the Red Sox (#74), Sandy Alomar of the Braves (#82), Tommie Agee of the Indians (#166), Cleon Jones of the Mets (#308), Larry Dierker of the Astros (#409), Paul Blair and eventual Mets/Orioles/Nationals manager Dave Johnson of the Orioles (#478), Ron Swoboda and Tug McGraw, both key members of the 1969 "Miracle Mets" (#533) and Red Sox ace Jim Lonborg, a key starter in the 1967 World Series (#573).
A few famous rookies wound up on cards of their own, including Tony Conigliaro (#74), Luis Tiant (#145), Denny McLain (#236), Campaneris (#266) and Mel Stottlemyre (#550). HOF outcast Pete Rose appears on card #207, while Berra's #470 card shows him as "catcher-coach" for the Mets. (The 40-year-old Berra only started two games as catcher for the 1965 Mets, finishing both and making 15 putouts. It was his last season as a player.)
ERRORS AND VARIATIONS
Despite Topps' quality control efforts, some errors and variations managed to escape from the factory as usual. There are two versions of Checklist #1 (#79): The first lists Mets catcher Chris Cannizzaro's as "C. Cannizzaro," while the second lists him as just "Cannizzaro." Meanwhile, Checklist #7 (#508) can be found with both large and small type fonts, with the smaller font version being extremely scarce.
Jim Kaat's name is misspelled "Katt" on card #62, while on Roberto Clemente's #160 card, Pittsburgh is misspelled as "Pittsburfh." Lew Krause's #462 card actually shows Pe