When Fleer entered the baseball card business 58 years ago, the first-year sports card manufacturer turned to the greatest hitter who ever lived. Ted Williams not only established new slugging standards, he also changed the way the sports collectibles hobby was marketed.
During this era, Topps was the exclusive baseball card manufacturer, so Fleer — the only other major trading card producer at the time — had to take a more creative approach with its products. Facing the daunting task of going head to head with the mighty Topps Co., Fleer, a longtime bublegum manufacturer, signed Ted Williams away from Topps. The result was 1959 Fleer “Life of Ted Williams” — an 80-card series capturing a medley of snippets detailing Williams’s legendary career.
One of the more popular cards of the set (#2) pictures Ted in his Red Sox uniform gripping a bat with his idol, Babe Ruth. The card back chronicles Ted’s time at Horace Mann Junior High School in California. Card #5 details Ted’s brilliant high school career for Herbert Hoover High School (San Diego, California). He was considered one of the top amateur players in California, drawing the attention of big league scouts.
Card #14 highlights his amazing rookie season (1939) in which he became the first AL rookie to lead the league in total bases. A favorite among collectors is card #41, which displays a head shot of Williams above the title “1941 — How Ted Hit .400”. The card back discusses how Ted played both games of a doubleheader on the last day of the season to raise his average from .400 to .406.
The Fleer set also features Ted’s distinguished military career. Card #24 titled “1945 — Sharpshooter” shows a concerned, but anxious Williams taking the Naval eye test. According to the card back, “Navy doctors said that eyesight like Ted’s occurred only six times per thousand persons.”
This set includes three of the hobby’s hardest-to-find All-Star cards. Card #34 pictures Williams sliding into second base in the 1947 All-Star Game. The card back details the new runs scored record established by Williams that year.
Card #40 shows Williams crashing against the wall to make a spectacular catch in the 1950 All-Star Game at Comiskey Park. The card back tells the story of how the catch destroyed the Red Sox Pennant hopes and nearly ended Ted’s career. Williams didn’t realize that he had broken his elbow and gamely played for 8 more innings, hitting a single and driving in a run.
Card #48 features Marine Captain Ted Williams throwing out the first ball and serving as an honorary member of the AL team at the 1953 All-Star Game in Cincinnati while still serving on military duty. The card back expressively reads, “Not only was he a baseball hero of the finest magnitude, but he was in two wars within the short span of one decade.”
The Williams set successfully put Fleer on the sports collectibles map, but not without incident. Card #68 pictures Ted preparing to sign a contract with Red Sox general manager Bucky Harris, who was one of the handful of baseball executives under contract with Topps at the time. Rather than face a lawsuit from Topps, Fleer withdrew card #68 by defacing the lower right corner of the card on the printing sheet, and then destroying the cards after they were cut from the sheet. A very limited amount of mint #68 cards were packaged before Fleer started its disfiguring process, making this one of the most sought-after Williams cards.
The back of the Harris card reveals just how much times have changed: “Ted signed his 1959 contract in Boston for a reported $125,000. He has been baseball’s highest paid player for several years.”
This affordable set details the extraordinary career of the legendary Ted Williams. Much of the history written about the Splendid Splinter came directly from the backs of these cards. Every card — except the Harris card, which commands $1,000 — can be found on eBay in decent condition
for under $25.
New Red Sox president/GM/baseball czar Dave Dombrowski is bold, decisive, and clearly the man running the show. By signing left-handed ace David Price to a seven-year, $217 million contract, Dombrowski was able to persuade owner John Henry to make a complete philosophical change in how to build a baseball team while laying the groundwork for the next Red Sox championship run.
Last offseason, Jon Lester took his two World Series rings and boto Chicago after Henry told the world that spending lavishly on a 30-year-old pitcher was not sound business. Today, the 30-year-old Price is on the verge of becoming the highest paid pitcher in the history of baseball.
Dombrowski has been preaching the need for an ace since he landed at Logan
Airport wearing Red Sox gear. Henry opened his wallet and Dombrowski has his man. Price is a bonafide, card-carrying, innings eating front of the rotation ace — arguably one of the game’s top five pitchers. His resume includes a Cy Young Award and two runner-up finishes to go along with two ERA titles. A true workhorse, he ranks fourth in the majors in innings and strikeouts, and third in wins since his first full season in 2010. He was arguably the AL’s best starter in 2015.
The Red Sox get Price at the peak of his career and durability has not been an issue He has only one minor injury in his career, sitting out six weeks in 2013 because of a sore triceps. He’s also been transitioning from a power thrower to a more complete pitcher over the last few seasons. While maintaining a mid-90s fastball, Price has become more reliant on curveballs and changeups, which accounted for 25% of his pitches last season. Not having to rely on the heat pitch after pitch will limit the wear and tear on his arm.
Price has also had tremendous success against stacked AL East lineups of recent years past and is 6-1 with a 1.95 ERA at Fenway Park over his eight-year career. With the best defensive outfield in the league covering his back, Price has positioned himself well for continued success.
The one drawback? And it’s a big one: Price is 0-7 as a starter in his playoff career with a 5.27 ERA. At $31 million annually, the man signing the checks and the win-at-all-costs fan base will have much higher expectations over the next seven years. Clayton Kershaw, the game’s top pitcher is also trying to figure out the winning formula for October. Both have been consistently strong early and late in seasons. Both are accustomed to performing in the spotlight. Both are aces instrumental in getting their teams to the playoffs. I’m guessing that both will figure out how to win in the postseason with age and experience.
A bigger concern may be the opt out clause that will allow Price to enter the free agent market again in three years. If Price performs as expected, the Red Sox will likely have to shell out even more money to retain Price or explore other pitching options. In short, we may be looking at a three-year, $93 million contract. A World Series title or two in that time period would satisfy everyone.