If you’re a baseball fan, you probably have memories of watching your favorite team battling to make the playoffs, or if you’re lucky, seeing them win the World Series.
I’m a Red Sox fan who grew up in the ‘90s watching the team disappoint in the playoffs year after year.
I was steeped in the Red Sox folklore associated with the Curse of the Bambino, and as frustrated as I would get watching the team fail in the playoffs year after year, I reveled in the rich history of the franchise.
I pored over books and documentaries detailing the handful of World Series appearances made by the Red Sox after trading the Babe in 1918 and loved the drama behind each near miss.
So when I pulled out my old baseball card collection this past year, I found all those players from the ‘67, ‘75, and ‘86 teams that came so close to winning it all – Carl Yastremski, Rico Petrocelli, Jim Longborg, George Scott, Tony Conigliaro, Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Louis Tiant, Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, and Dwight Evans.
As I uncovered these treasures, I envisioned displaying some of my favorite cards. But first, I had to fill in the gaps.
The 1946 World Series - Red Sox Cards
The first gap in my collection was the 1946 Red Sox team - the only Red Sox lineup featuring Ted Williams to make it to the World Series. My childhood collection didn’t reach this far back into the past, and my research revealed that not many baseball cards were produced in those years immediately after WWII.
Although the Red Sox did release an official set of team photos in 1946, the only true baseball card set available in 1946 was the “Salutation Exhibits” set.
These cards were unlike most other baseball card sets of the day in that they didn’t come in packs with chewing gum but were sold individually from vending machines.
Although these postcard-sized baseball cards are a bit different from the more popular chewing gum sets that came before and after, I’ve found them to be quite attractive.
All the star players from that 1946 Red Sox team are featured in interesting action poses, with pitcher Dave Ferriss seen amid his elaborate windup and the immortal Johnny Pesky reaching his glove high above his head to catch a ball.
Ted Williams has two cards in the 1946 Exhibits set with two different batting poses; one with his uniform number showing (shown below) fetches significantly more money ($6000 for a PSA 9) versus one with his number not showing, of which an equivalent card sells for $600.
I think the less valuable version with his #9 not showing is a more attractive card, and it can be found at a very reasonable price, especially compared to most other Williams cards.
High-grade examples aren’t easy to find on eBay, but a PSA 3.5 Ted Williams card recently sold for $275. Lower-grade examples typically sell in the neighborhood of $50 (to show how much prices for these cards have increased recently - the listed value on PSA’s website for a PSA 3 copy without a uniform number showing is only $8).
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I’ve had a lot of fun collecting these cards.
1946 was the last MLB season before integration began, so this was a league on the cusp of change. It was also Ted Williams’ only trip to the World Series - and Williams would never play on an integrated team, since the deeply racist owner of the Red Sox, Tom Yawkey, resisted integration until the year after Williams retired in 1959 (the Red Sox were the last team to integrate).
Williams used his Hall of Fame induction speech in 1966 to lament the lack of African-American representation in the Hall. Still, he failed to acknowledge the role that his team had played in reinforcing this disparity.
Interestingly, that 1946 Red Sox team featured slugger Rudy York in his last productive season in the major leagues. York, a seven-time all-star slugger who spent most of his career with the Detroit Tigers, was part Native American, a fact that sportswriters used to deride him as a player (calling him “part Indian, part 1st baseman”).
York had previously played in two World Series with the Detroit Tigers alongside fellow slugger Hank Greenberg, and he was the true star of the Red Sox team during the ‘46 series. Williams, who was playing injured, only batted .200, while York collected two home runs and 5 RBIs, including a game-winning home run in game one.
Unfortunately, no baseball cards documenting the events of the ‘46 World Series were produced at the time - these types of cards wouldn’t appear until the 1960 Topps set. To find cards that feature highlights from this series, one must look to more recent sets that look back at historic baseball moments.
The Fleer Laughlin World Series card sets produced in 1970 and 1971 feature cards celebrating the ‘46 World Series - but predictably, the cards from both the ‘70 and ‘71 sets feature Enos Slaughter of the Cardinals front and center, making his mad dash to home plate to score the winning run in game 7.
A better ‘46 World Series card for Red Sox fans is from Fleer’s 1959 Ted Williams retrospective set. This is a beautiful set of cards, and there’s one card that memorializes the Red Sox’s disappointing loss in the ‘46 series.
PSA 9 copies have recently sold on eBay for just over $100.
The 1967 World Series - Red Sox Cards
The year after the release of Fleer’s Ted Williams retrospective set, Topps included its first cards documenting the World Series as a part of its 1960 set.
Topps would continue to include World Series cards in each set through 1978 (and then again in ‘81).
The Red Sox didn’t make it to the World Series again until ‘67, and during that intervening period, the team suffered in terms of winning games and attendance.
Known by Red Sox fans as “The Impossible Dream”, 1967 was the year the Red Sox went from second to last to first on the strength of Carl Yastrzemski's triple crown season and Jim Lonborg’s dominant pitching.
The cards that tell the story of this series are a part of the 1968 Topps set.
Although the burlap borders from this Topps set aren’t my favorite, the World Series cards are more attractive, presenting black and white action shots as if being viewed from an old television.
Photographs taken from games wouldn’t appear on base cards in a Topps set until 1971, but here we see black and white action shots in the World Series subset from 1968.
These cards also feature some big stars - hall of famers Carl Yastrzemski, Bob Gibson, and Lou Brock are featured prominently on separate cards.
These cards sell for considerably less than the base cards for each of these players, with PSA 9 cards in the World Series subset listed at $125 for Yaz, $40 for Brock and $40 for Gibson. Although PSA graded cards sell on eBay for about double the listed value - a PSA 9 copy of the Yaz card recently sold for $350.
When collecting base cards featuring players from the ‘67 Red Sox team, I prefer the cards from Topps’ 1967 set instead of the burlap borders from ‘68.
The 1967 Topps set is a classic design, with great photos. The ‘67 Yastrzemski is one of his highest demand cards, as it represents his triple crown season - a decent condition card can be found for under $30, but a high-grade card will cost a lot more. A PSA 8 copy sold recently for $525.
The other hero from the ‘67 season was pitcher Jim Lonborg, and although his career stagnated in subsequent years, his ‘67 Topps card remains in relatively high demand. Lower-grade copies can be picked up for $5-$10, but PSA 9 cards are challenging to come by and will cost over $500.
Yaz was the only Hall of Famer on that ‘67 team, so all the other base cards are relatively easy to come by. The most valuable card after Yaz and Lonborg is the Reggie Smith rookie card - again, lower grade copies are pretty affordable, but high-grade cards are much more expensive. A PSA 9 will cost you over $200 (will Reggie Smith get elected to the Hall of Fame someday? It seems possible… and that could send the value of this card up).
Although I prefer the design of the ‘67 Topps cards, there are a few base cards from the ‘68 Topps set that are worth seeking out. Most important - catcher Elston Howard. Howard integrated the Yankees in 1955 and was the AL MVP in 1963.
He was traded to the Red Sox from the Yankees halfway through the ‘67 season. Although he didn’t do much at the plate, his veteran experience and expertise in calling games played an outsized role in the team’s success.
His ‘67 card shows him in a Yankees uniform, so that’s out of the question. He played in 71 games for the Red Sox in 1968, then retired at the age of 39 - his 1968 Topps card is his last card printed as an active player and the only one that shows him in a Red Sox uniform. A PSA 9 copy will set you back $60-$70, and lower grade cards can be easily found for $5 or less.
If you’re thinking about these cards from an investment perspective - think about the enormous fan base of the Red Sox. The 1967 “Impossible Dream” is a legend among Sox fans and marked a critical turning point for the franchise.
Attendance throughout the early to mid-’60s at Fenway Park was relatively low, but the ‘67 season turned things around. Although they wouldn’t make it to the World Series again until ‘75, post-“Impossible Dream” attendance remained high, and the team consistently remained in contention.
The 1975 World Series - Red Sox Cards
That 1975 series was one for the ages. Carlton Fisk’s game-winning home run that hit the foul pole and bounced fair, forcing a game seven, is one of the most iconic moments in baseball history.
Unfortunately, the World Series cards that Topps included in their 1976 set are a bit disappointing. Unlike in past years, when a card represented each game, the entire series was summed up with a single card in the ‘76 set. A second card summarized both the ALCS and NLCS series.
As a Red Sox fan who revels in the historic moments from this series, a single card celebrating the winning team - the Cincinnati Reds - is a disappointment. That hasn’t stopped me from picking up copies of both cards, however.
Nice-looking copies can be picked up for under $10 - but if you’re looking for a PSA 9, you’ll spend over $100. Two PSA 9 copies recently sold on eBay - one for $114 and another for $102. The card featuring the NL/AL champs sells for about half the price - PSA 9 copies recently sold for $55 and $50 (a PSA 10 also recently sold for over $300!).
Collecting cards that celebrate the ‘75 World Series is more about the colorful base cards from Topps’ 1975 set.
In addition to fun, and affordable cards from Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, and Luis Tiant, this set also features two prominent rookies - Jim Rice and Fred Lynn.
Rice went on to have a long, successful career with the Red Sox and was also a star of the 1986 World Series, while Lynn’s star power faded. But during the 1975 season, both rookies were red hot, and it was Lynn who clinched Rookie of the Year honors, in addition to the AL MVP award - the first player to earn both honors in the same year (the only other to have accomplished this feat is Ichiro Suzuki).
Rice’s rookie card is worth a lot more since he went on to have a Hall of Fame career. A high-quality example can be picked up for under $100, but if you want a PSA 9, you’ll have to shell out anywhere from $400 - $1,000. A decent copy of Lynn’s rookie card can be picked up for $20 or so, but a PSA 9 will fetch $200-$500.
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The 1986 World Series - Red Sox Cards
The Red Sox didn’t make it back to the World Series until 1986, and while that series was undoubtedly filled with drama, baseball card collecting had entered the junk wax era by this time.
While most of my childhood collection is made up of cards from this time period, it’s hard to get excited about collecting these massively overproduced cards. That said, I’ve held onto my Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs rookie cards, and by the time ‘86 rolled around, Jim Rice was a well-seasoned veteran and the team captain.
Topps wasn’t producing cards that documented the World Series in the mid-80s, but by this time, Fleer, Donruss, and Leaf were all producing baseball card sets in addition to Topps.
Fleer produced a World Series subset documenting the ‘86 series that included cards featuring Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, and Mets stars Dwight Gooden, Daryl Strawberry, and Keith Hernandez.
All twelve cards can be found easily on eBay for under $10, although they aren’t worth submitting to PSA for grading; an eBay search demonstrates this, revealing not a single PSA graded card from this sub-set.
The 2004 World Series - Red Sox Cards
Then, in 2004 everything changed, and the Curse of the Bambino was lifted.
While each of the previous four World Series that the Red Sox had played in were nail-biters that lasted a full seven games, in 2004, it was the ALCS that held ALL the drama.
By the time the Red Sox had completed their unprecedented come from behind victory by winning four straight games against the Yankees, they were ready to breeze through the World Series.
It was all the sweeter that they faced the Cardinals - the franchise that beat the Red Sox in the 1946 and 1967 series.
Although not a part of the base set, Topps did release a stand-alone 55-card World Series baseball card set commemorating the Red Sox’s historic victory.
The cards match the design of the 2005 Topps set and feature individual player cards and cards that show highlights from both the ALCS and the World Series.
It’s an attractive and reasonably inexpensive set, but it does have a striking omission - catcher Jason Varitek had not signed a contract with Topps and did not appear in the set.
While this omission might seem inconsequential in a set that includes much bigger stars like Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz, Varitek's role on that team should not be underestimated.
He was named team captain the following year - the first time the Red Sox had named a team captain since Jim Rice’s retirement in 1989. In fact, from the mid-1920s through the present, only four players have served as team captain for the Red Sox - Jimmie Foxx, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, and Jason Varitek.
So this omission from the set diminishes its value significantly in my mind.
The 2018 World Series - Red Sox Cards
Similar World Series sets were released representing the 2007 and 2013 Red Sox teams, and by 2018 Topps had launched the “Topps NOW” brand.
Topps NOW feels like it evolved out of those classic World Series subsets from the ‘60s and ‘70s - it features new action-based cards for sale online for a limited time only.
Print runs are determined by how many orders are made within the limited sale window - which creates an interesting situation where the least popular cards can sometimes be worth the most since they feature small print runs.
Topps NOW is really made for the postseason, and a look back at their archives from the 2018 World Series shows some great cards (with print runs listed for each one!).
A 20-card World Series team set had a print run of 2,213, while the smaller, 10-card set sold only 455 copies. One of the 20-card sets recently sold on eBay for $40 (the original list price was $49.99), so these cards can still be picked up for close to their original sale price.
The Future of World Series Baseball Cards
What will World Series baseball cards look like in the future?
That question looms large at the moment, with the news that Major League Baseball’s contract with Topps has come to an end after 70 years.
The news that MLB won’t renew its contract with Topps, but will instead work with the apparel company Fanatics to create a new baseball card brand, has left collectors reeling.
Almost certainly, this new brand will emulate certain aspects of Topps’ approach to the industry, and indeed that will include cards featuring exciting baseball action in the World Series.
Still, we’ll have to wait to see what those cards might look like. While the end of Topps’ 70 year run producing baseball cards certainly represents the end of an era, baseball cards did not begin with Topps, and they certainly won’t end with Topps.
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