Well, sort of.
The Zappalas have put the iconic baseball card set into book form in a colorful, coffee table-sized format that includes photographs of all 407 cards and interesting sidebars. That includes the first Topps card of Mickey Mantle, one of the most coveted cards of the post-World War II era.
In Baseball & Bubble Gum: The 1952 Topps Collection (Peter E. Randall Publisher; hardback; $35; 236 pages), the Zappalas, with assists from Collectors Universe President and CEO Joe Orlando, sports columnist John Molori and Collectors Universe photographer Christina Good, have put together a book of memories that should resonate with older collectors and give new collectors a different perspective.
The book can be ordered through Amazon.com.
That is not a surprise, because the Zappalas have already published books about other iconic card sets, The T206 Collection: The Players & Their Stories, The Cracker Jack Collection: Baseball’s Prized Players, An All-Star’s Cardboard Memories, The 100 Greatest Baseball Autographs, and Legendary Lumber: The Top 100 Player Bats in Baseball History.
The ’52 set, as Orlando writes in the book’s foreword, “changed the game” and “ushered in a completely new era of collecting.”
Tom Zappala, born in 1952, grew up in the Boston area and began collecting baseball cards in the late 1950s. While he never collected the 1952 Topps set as a child, he had a respectable collection of cards from 1959 to 1966.
That is until his mother tossed them.
“I think mothers across the country must have attended a card trashing convention and voted unanimously to throw out the baseball cards in every home in America,” Tom Zappala writes.
I’d have to agree.
Zappala is an enthusiastic guy whose passion for card collecting comes through on “The Great American Collectibles Show,” a national weekly radio show he co-hosts with former Red Sox shortstop Rico Petrocelli.
In Baseball & Bubble Gum, Tom and Ellen Zappala have broken down their book into four, distinct chapters: The Hall of Famers, The Uncommons, The Commons and A New Era Begins. All are self-explanatory, and the cards are presented in alphabetical, rather than numerical, order.
The cards, photographed by Good, come from the graded collection of John Branca, which is rated No. 4 in the PSA registry. Branca is the nephew of Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca, who probably couldn’t wait for the 1952 baseball season to begin. Ralph Branca had given up the “Shot Heard ’Round the World” to Bobby Thomson the previous October at the Polo Grounds, giving the New York Giants the 1951 National League pennant.
John Branca has a PSA 9 graded card of his uncle, by the way. He also has a PSA 8.5 of Mantle, which is card No. 311. John Branca also has six PSA 10 cards in this collection, including Hall of Famers such as Pee Wee Reese, Bob Lemon and Hoyt Wilhelm.
In the book, each card is featured with a photograph and a short biography, with Molori contributing to the research and narrative for every player. Each player listing also includes a box that lists the player’s notable career statistics, and there is a listing of the teams he played for and when he played for them.
Readers will find out which player was a prisoner of war during World War II (Mickey Grasso), the player whose grandson, Rick Porcello, won the Cy Young Award in 2016 (Sam Dente), the infielder who scored the first major league run for the Baltimore Orioles (Bobby Young), and the player who became a sheriff in Texas after his baseball career ended (Ray Murray).
Topps was always noted for interesting facts on the backs of their baseball cards, but Baseball & Bubble Gum takes it a step further. Baseball trivia nuts will rejoice.
“This book was certainly a labor of love for us because this wonderful collection brought back memories of our childhood,” Tom Zappala told Sports Collectors Daily last month. “Unlike the T206 collection and Cracker Jack collection, the 1952 Topps set was part of the fabric of our youth. That is what made writing the book so appealing.”
Orlando returns in the final chapter to break down the major elements of the 1952 set, from its composition and design to its place in pop culture. He writes about the bookend cards in the set: Andy Pafko, whose card No. 1 is graded PSA 8 in John Branca’s collection; and Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews, whose card landed a PSA 8.5 grade in the same collection. Orlando writes that the card was featured in the 2010 movie, Cop Out, which starred Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan.
Orlando also delves into the never-ending appeal behind the Mantle card, noting that “no single card elicits more emotion from an entire generation of children.”
Also included in the book is the story of Sy Berger, the driving force behind the 1952 set. Berger had the vision to pit Topps against rival Bowman in the 1950s, a war Topps eventually won after the 1955 sets for both companies were released. Of course, the venerable story about Berger hiring a barge to dump a huge pallet of cards off the New York City coast in 1960 is included. Berger’s son adds a sentimental tribute to his father in the book.
The book also goes through the many variations and errors in the 1952 set, which was broken down into six series. Addressed are the card back errors of Johnny Sain and Joe Page, the different colored Tigers logos for Detroit catcher Frank House, and the overprinting of a star on the back of Washington Senators outfielder Frank Campos. Also discussed are the minor imperfections about the Mantle card, which readers should find fascinating.
And finally, there is a note about the players who never made it to the 1952 Topps set, although their inclusion would have made an already valuable set even more expensive. The Hall of Famers were Whitey Ford, Stan Musial and Ted Williams, and collectors can only sit back and wonder what might have been.
The wonderful thing about Baseball & Bubble Gum is that the reader can open the book to any page and be informed and entertained. If you love baseball cards, or just baseball history in general, this book is a keeper. It’s informative, sentimental and simply a blast to read.
Tom Zappala notes that he finally forgave his mother for throwing out his cards when he was a kid. In a response typical of Italian-American parents, Zappala’s mom “looked at me like I had two heads.”
“Forgive me for throwing out those worthless pieces of cardboard?” she said, as her son looked at her and smiled.
Bless you, Mrs. Z.