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The most furious trading in the U.S. nowadays goes on not in Wall Street or the Chicago grain market but among youngsters out to collect a connoisseur's fistful of baseball trading cards. The cards come as dividends with the purchase of a one-cent or five-cent package of bubble gum. But the dividend seems to have even more pull than the puff-and-pop stuff.
What the traders want is picture cards?backed with biographical and statistical facts about their heroes?such as the prized examples reproduced on the following pages. (The youngster who can match the pictures printed on this gatefold with cards from his own collection is entitled to be known as an Advanced Collector.)
Naturally the bubble gum manufacturers with large rosters of cooperating baseball stars are doing fine, thank you. (One company alone expects to sell 200,000,000 trading cards, plus bubble gum, this year.) And all this would be pure blue heaven for the manufacturers if it weren't for the sleepless rivalry to sign up the baseball players. As a result, two of the most enterprising gum manufacturers, Haelan Laboratories, Inc. of Philadelphia and Topps Chewing Gum, Inc. of Brooklyn have been deep in injunctions and counterinjunctions since 1951.
The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, doing the best it can, has figured out so far that Haelan can lay fair claim to at least 388 major leaguers, including Leo Durocher, Roy Campanella, George Kell, Virgil Trucks and the Yankees' Mickey Mantle, one of the few ball players outside the Little League who uses bubble gum in his work (see cut). The court has laid down the law, temporarily and subject to reconsideration when a referee has finished studying the situation, that Topps cannot sell bubble gum "along with any cards bearing the name, likeness, signature and/or biographical description" of the 388. Topps, on the other hand, newer in the field, has been sustained in its claim to 26 ball players. Cards on the following pages which have thus, in effect, been to court are those of Al Rosen, Gus Zernial, Ted Kluszewski, Ray Boone, Hank Sauer, Jim Hegan and Mel Parnell. In addition, Topps has contracts with ball players whose names are not in dispute, or anyhow not yet.
The whole business of who owns whom and how much his trading card is worth is as chewed up as a wad of the product itself. As the year turns, ball players come and go, and with them their usefulness to the traders. A man may start out hot with the White Sox in May and by August be coaching at first base in the Three-Eye League, where his value in the gum market is like that of an old share in the South Sea Bubble. There is the further fact that some ball players are but loosely grounded in the law of contracts and tend to sign what comes along, using their natural quick reflexes and a pen that writes under water if they should happen to be standing under a shower at the time.
"You could walk up to one of these ball players," a lawyer for one of the gum companies observes, "and offer him $50 to sign a contract to commit suicide. He wouldn't read the contract or ask what it required him to do. He'd just grab the pen and sign. Then he'd pick up his glove and run out for fielding practice."
In September, 1950 Wes Westrum, Giants catcher, signed a contract giving Haelan 1951-52 rights to his picture and agreeing not to let it be used with any other make of bubble gum or confections. For this he received a Longines wrist watch. Two days later he signed a similar contract with Players Enterprises, Inc., which represented the Topps people in such matters. About that same time he signed one with the Russell Publishing Co. which subsequently, in an effort to resolve confusions over contracts, joined forces with Players Enterprises. Came the following May and Westrum happily signed another contract with Haelan. He explained that a promised check for $150 from Players Enterprises had not reached him by March, 1951 and so he assumed that his contract with the agency had become void.
"I did not think," he told the fascinated court, "that Players Enterprises was the right type of company or firm to deal with, being that they did not come up with this $150."
Sid Gordon, Pittsburgh outfielder, testified about one of his bubble gum contracts: "The only thing I knew about this contract was that we were guaranteed a minimum of $100."
Meanwhile the trading goes on. Currently a boy with three Alvin Darks will be pleased to trade two of them for one Irv Noren, assuming he has no Norens. Some are loyal only to the American League and will have no truck with National League players. Others collect Baltimore Orioles exclusively. Some want nothing but catchers. And so on.