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Man, like the pack rat, collects things. Like the pack rat, he most enjoys collecting things that have no practical use. Things like cancelled stamps and old coins. Unlike the pack rat, he assigns arbitrary values to these things. A stamp that wouldn't carry a letter to Hoboken is worth a fortune to the stamp collector. And a bubble-gum baseball card that appears to have the same colors and the same texture and practically the same face as any other baseball card is the prize of prizes to the small boy who collects them.
There is a difference, however. To the small boy the rarity or the beauty or the history of the prized card is not as important as the prowess of the subject pictured. A Stan Musial card is worth more than a Bob Borkowski. A collection of New York Yankee cards is worth more than a collection of Pittsburgh Pirates.
Musial is worth more than Borkowski because Musial is the best baseball player in the major leagues and Borkowski is not. The Yankees are worth more than the Pirates or any other team in the major leagues because they are the best team and the others are not. Boys know this. They knew it in Babe Ruth's day when card #181 in the Big League Chewing Gum series (see cut) was the card to get, and they know it today. Oh, there are local favorites, sure, but over the country the New York Yankees dominate the world of bubble gum as emphatically as they long have dominated baseball.
This bubble-gum index of performance is probably as sound a measure of baseball reality as there is. Boys are unsophisticated. They cannot appreciate, as older and wiser men can, the splendor of a hopeless fight, such as the one Paul Richards and his Chicago White Sox are waging this year, or the fine humor that grew into a warm legend around the old Wilbert Robinson Dodgers, or the lonesome beauty of a really good ballplayer surrounded by fumblers with fingers of clay, like Murry Dickson with the hapless Pirates a year or two ago.
Boys have no time for such abstractions. They go for the team that wins, the heroes. No team has ever won the way the Yankees have won. No team has ever had the Ruths, the Gehrigs, the DiMaggios, the Mantles, the Berras, the Yankees have had. No team has ever been able to create the dynasty the Yankees have created, with one great crop of ballplayers rising as the old crop dies, picking up the cadence of victory and increasing the tempo.
Since 1921 the Yankees have won 20 pennants. In the same period the Cleveland Indians have won one pennant, the Chicago White Sox none. Since 1921 the Indians have finished fourth or worse 18 times, the White Sox 28 times, the Yankees just twice. Since 1921 the Yankees have never gone more than three seasons without winning a league championship. Since 1921 the Yankees have been the team to beat. And whenever baseball cards have been in circulation, the Yankees have been the team to collect.
The only thing is, it's just about impossible for a boy to collect a complete set of cards for the roster of any major-league club, let alone the Yankees. Reasons of economics and practicality oblige the bubble-gum companies to limit the number of cards they issue for each team, and reasons of law rising from the great bubble-gum battle ( SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Aug. 16) restrain some companies from printing cards for certain players.
Topps Chewing Gum, Inc., one of the leading gum-and-card concerns, issues an average of 15 cards per team, and this average holds for the Yankees. The 15 Yankee cards in Topps's 1954 series are reproduced front and back in color on the following foldout. They are, of course, prize items. But SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has added prize items of its own to fill out the Yankee squad to full strength: black-and-white "cards," front and back, of those Yankees for whom Topps?for one good reason or another?did not print cards. The result is a collector's dream: 27 Yankees, a collection almost beyond the highest hopes of the most avid gum-chewing, card-collecting boy.
But even when dealing with such steady perfection as that of the Yankees, you can get gummed up. Since we went to press with our foldout, old Casey Stengel, as hungry for his sixth pennant as he was for his first, kept shuffling the cards, got rid of pitchers Gorman and Kuzava, added pitchers Ralph Branca, Marlin Stuart and Art Schallock.