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How Much For That Card In The Window?

1952 Bowman
Mickey Mantle

There Once Was A Time

When Every Town Had A Team

Every Team Had A Star

Every Boy Had A Dream


Author’s Introduction:  For me, baseball cards are a combination fountain of youth/time capsule. That musty bubble gum cardboard aroma transports me. When I hold one of my cards in my hand, I’m back on a baseball field, oiled leather mitt on my left hand, scuffed leather ball in my right.

It’s the bottom of the 9th, two outs, winning run at the plate. I’m staring in at the batter, trying to mask late inning fatigue in a snarl, fielders chattering behind me.

   This is the first in a series of six baseball card themed stories. I am planning to post one story a week. These stories are not intended to simply be about baseball cards. I will feature only certain select cards from my personal collection in this effort. Cards that I have a special attachment to, how I acquired each of them, and the stories behind all of them. I hope folks enjoy reading these stories as much as I have enjoyed living and writing them.


     I thought I’d begin with a player most folks have heard of. What better place to start a baseball card story series than with legendary Hall of Fame New York Yankees Center fielder, Mickey Mantle, a.k.a. “The Commerce Comet”, a.k.a. “The Mick.”

       Mickey Mantle first came up to the New York Yankees as a rookie outfielder in 1951. Joe DiMaggio, “The Yankee Clipper” was in his final season as New York’s center fielder that season. It is pretty well documented that the two future Yankee Hall of Fame legends never really got along.

  An interesting note that most folks might not know; although Mickey Mantle made uniform #7 famous through his Hall of Fame Yankees career, that’s actually not the uniform number he was assigned when he first came up. In early 1951, Mantle was assigned #6. There is a photograph of him in his #6 New York Yankees uniform in the August 1951 edition of Baseball Magazine.

A young #6 clad Mickey Mantle struggled badly during his initial call-up and was sent back down. It was not until his return in August of that year that he donned #7.

     The rest is history: 536 career home runs. 3x AL MVP, 16 x All- Star, 1956 Triple Crown Winner (.353 Batting Average, 52 Home Runs, 130 Runs Batted In), 12 AL Pennants, 7 World Series Championships. The list goes on and on. I believe he still holds the career World Series marks for RBIs and Home Runs.

     Mickey Mantle was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.  He passed away in 1995 at the age of 63.

     Mickey Mantle’s 1951 Bowman and 1952 TOPPS rookie baseball cards are to this day two of the most valued and sought-after cards by collectors worldwide. While his 1952 TOPPS card is one of his two “rookie cards”, since the Bowman Gum Company first issued a Mickey Mantle card in ’51, his ‘52 Bowman card is not. Still, as Mickey Mantle’s second year cards, his 1952 Bowman and 1953 TOPPS cards to this day remain among his most sought after.  Baseball card collecting can very quickly get complicated.

     This is the story of how I acquired my 1952 Bowman, to this day, my favorite Mickey Mantle card.

1952 Bowman Mickey Mantle
Card Front

1952 Bowman Mickey Mantle
Card Back


     It was spring, 1992. Robin and I had been married a little under two years.  We still lived in our apartment on South Massey Street. Our oldest daughter Chelsea Rae was on the way, but not born.

     After five and a half years in college and another five and a half at Fort Drum, the spring of 1992 rather unexpectedly found me back on a baseball field. I was no longer an officer in the regular Army. I had recently exchanged my 10th Mountain Division insignia for a Captain’s commission in the NYS Army National Guard, where I was serving as Battalion Intelligence Officer in a mechanized infantry unit based in Auburn.

     I had recently returned from successfully completing the Infantry Officer’s Advanced course at Fort Benning, Georgia. The money Robin and I scrimped and saved while I was there proved to be enough for the down payment on our soon to be Watertown homestead family headquarters, just barely.

    Robin was pregnant and working at the hospital. I had just begun my civilian career as a caseworker with Jefferson County.

     About two years earlier while I was still a 1st Lieutenant at Fort Drum, I had been assigned an “additional duty” as our Battalion’s “Recreation Officer.”  Translation: I was in charge of the Battalion intramural softball league.

     We did everything by the book. I had a budget. Every company’s team got equipment and uniforms. We had a schedule, kept standings and books. We even contracted locally for some umpires.

     One of those umpires, a red headed guy, I think his name was Ed. He spotted me pitching baseballs to our catcher on the sidelines on day before a game.  He said something like “Lieutenant, where’d you play your college ball? If you don’t mind me saying so, you throw pretty good. If you wanted to, you could still play. There’s a semi-pro team in town. I can give you their manager’s phone number if you’d like me to.

     I was flattered. Truth is, I barely made my high school varsity baseball team my senior year, let alone played in college. I hadn’t pitched in a game of baseball since a cameo appearance with The Altona Blues, a Champlain Valley League town team, in 1981, the year I graduated from high school.

     However, armed with a name and a phone number scribbled on a scrap piece of paper by a redhaired intramural softball league umpire named Ed, just before I left for Georgia, I had made a phone call, left a message.  Freshly returned from Fort Benning, husband, soon to be father and homeowner, just starting my new career as a caseworker, I got a call back. It was from the manager of The Semi-Pro Watertown Athletics baseball team’s manager, a guy named Jeff. They were holding tryouts at the Jefferson Community College baseball field the next week. I made plans to attend.

     I was a bit baseball rusty at that point, but my arm was in great shape. I was strong. Far stronger than the boy who could barely make his varsity baseball team his senior year of high school.

     I was also a good bit older than any of the others there that day trying out for the team. Most of them were either still in or just out of college.

    Jeff was player/manager. He was the team’s catcher.  Jeff was a big, gregarious guy. He could hit a ball a mile. His brother Brian pitched for the team, which was made up primarily of local talent. There was “Goose”, who played third base, and his brother “Alice”, a starting outfielder.  Then there was “Tony P”, “Whitey”, “Chad” who later morphed into Watertown High School’s Athletic Director, “TR”, “Strappy”, “JB” who would someday get elected Watertown’s Mayor, “Branche”, “Beaner”, and more.

     Nearly every man on that team had a nickname. Mine came immediately. It’s funny how nicknames work. My true nickname is “Dick”. Seems like that should suffice.  Apparently, it doesn’t.  In the vintage Saranac Lake Redskins community, my nickname is “Monk.” Not so in Watertown. Even to this day, in certain baseball circles in the greater north country area, my nickname is “Dickie”. The same nickname bestowed upon me many years ago by our trail crew boss in the Adirondack high peaks.  

     There was a lot of talent on that Watertown team my first season. Most of them had played baseball in college. Somehow, I managed not to get cut during tryouts. I got issued a uniform.

     I didn’t play a great deal that first summer, but it was official, I was a member of Watertown’s semi-pro baseball team, The Watertown Athletics.  That was all that really mattered to me. I was back living my boyhood dream, on a baseball field. Something I’d given up on ten years ago.

    We were part of The Canadian American League, made up of two divisions, each playing a thirty five game schedule. We generally played single nine inning games on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with seven inning double headers on Saturdays and single nine inning games every Sunday.

     Syracuse had three teams in the league, The Sherman Park Phillies, Syracuse Braves and Cardinals. There were three Canadian teams, The Kingston Ponies, a team in Kanata, and the Ottawa Nationals.  Booneville had its own team, as did Watertown.

     We played our home games at The Watertown Fairgrounds, scheduling our games opposite The Cleveland Indians Class A franchise. We carpooled to away games, crashing during weekend road trips in team blocks of hotel rooms. Those weekend road trips frequently got pretty wild.

     Semi pro players weren’t allowed to be paid. We were all still technically amateur players, governed by a national men’s amateur baseball association, with its own codified set of rules and by-laws. Teams could provide meal and hotel money. There were rules about how many former pro players could be on each team. They were called “journeymen”. There weren’t any on our team at the time, but the Syracuse and Canadian teams each featured several, including a few former major leaguers.

     On the road I room with Pat. One of the few players with no nickname. He was a full-time grocery store manager, part time DH/outfielder. I was listed as a pitcher on the roster, but for the most part I kept score, and warmed up other pitchers in the bullpen.  That would change as the season wore on, but for the first half of the season, I mostly pitched batting practice while I threw my pitching arm into shape and worked on my overhand curve and a few minor control issues.

     Robin came to almost all of the home games, most of the wives and girlfriends did. They would sit under the netting behind home plate and cheer us on.  Very few wives ever travelled to away games, which, looking back now, was probably a good thing.

     I had my baseball card collection at our apartment on South Massey Street. Compared to today, it was still in its early developmental stages. I bought most of my cards at local card shops in Watertown. There were several good ones at the time.  “The Square Lion” was my favorite.

     One weekend we had a three-game weekend road trip scheduled against Kanata, double header Saturday, single game on Sunday. We had downtown hotel rooms for the weekend. As usual, Pat was my “roomie.”  Pat was a good guy, solid ballplayer, hit for some power, played more than I did. He had one big fault as a roommate though. He loved full blast air conditioning.

     For some reason that Saturday’s double header was split, day night, second game under the lights. Instead of sitting in our hotel room all afternoon between games, Pat and I decided to take a stroll through downtown Kanata.

     Kanata felt like more of a city than Watertown. Its downtown shopping district was bigger. Pat and I walked a few blocks from our hotel taking in the sights, window shopping. One store in particular caught both of our eye, a small sports type shop. We went inside to browse.

     They had an array of jerseys, framed wall photos and hats, catering mostly to hockey. A display case next to the cash register quickly caught my attention. In it were several neatly displayed rows sports cards. Most of them were hockey cards, which I cared absolutely nothing about. But one row was baseball cards. I recognized them immediately, 1952 Bowmans.

      For the most part, they were pretty beat up, nothing I was much interested in for my collection.  One card, however, was in a screw down plastic case by itself., a 1952 Bowman Mickey Mantle.

     I looked at the cards through the case for a moment, then asked the proprietor to take them out of the case, which he did.  The exchange rate was pretty good at the time. I didn’t generally carry any Canadian Currency with me. I’m sure he knew we weren’t Canadian.

      I could see the disappointment on his face when I handed the cards back without buying any of them.  I remarked in an offhanded way as I did, “That’s a nice Mantle card you’ve got there”.  Then we turned to walk out.

      I heard a sudden “clink” on the counter as we did.

     “I thought you were interested in that Mantle, eh?”  

     I turned around. The Mickey Mantle card was now lying on the counter.

     “Yeah, I responded, it’s a really nice card, but unfortunately, I did not come equipped with that kind of jack. Thank you though.”  Pat and I turned once again to depart.

     The proprietor pressed further.  “Well, would you give me a hundred bucks U.S. for it?”

     I stopped and turned. I walked back to the counter. I picked up the Mantle, looked it over, taking my time.  After a moment, I put it back down.  “I’ll give you eighty dollars U.S. if you’ll take a check.”  

   “Payable in U.S. dollars, eh?”

    “Yup.” Mantle’s new contract was signed. A forever mine deal, for eighty dollars American. Quite a cross-border bargain!

     Later that evening, I got into my first game as an Athletic.  I took the mound for one inning in relief.  I walked my first batter, then struck out a pair and got the final out on a lazy fly to center field. We won. My first save.

     I will always remember two things from that game; one of the opposing players coming up to me after the game and commenting, “Shaking a bit of rust off, eh?”  Then our center fielder, Tony P. came trotting in from behind me out in center field.  He was the Athletics leadoff hitter and one of our star players.  He sized up my performance with a nod and a shrug, “Decent fastball, little deuce…maybe”. I took that as validation. His way of saying, “Welcome to the team.”

     I went on to start a couple of games later in the year, ended up 1-1, with a save. Our Watertown Athletics team made the league playoffs.  My first season in what ended up being an eight year semi pro baseball career on that team.

     And that’s how I came to own one of the most treasured baseball cards in my entire collection. My 1952 Bowman Mickey Mantle.  Every time I look at that card, all those memories come flooding back to me.

     The moral of the story?  No matter the currency, the true value of any baseball card can’t be measured in dollars.  And Canada may be a great place to drink beer and play baseball, but their national pastime is hockey. Eh?


Until Our Trails Cross Again:

Live Your Dreams


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