By Doug Koztoski
Margate, N.J., 1954: Fourth-grader Jeffrey Gitomer followed the World Series opener at a friend’s house on a still relatively new item for the average household – a television set.
In Game 1, he saw “it” as history unfolded in the eighth-inning. With two runners on base in a 2-2 game, Cleveland’s Vic Wertz, who would get four hits that day, ripped a 460-foot liner that New York Giants center fielder Willie Mays converted into “it,” a sprinting, over-the-shoulder, perhaps game-saving, catch. You know “The Catch.”
Fast forward about a half-century and Gitomer attended the National Sports Collectors Convention and bought a full set of the somewhat obscure 1960 Nu-Card Baseball Hi-Lites, the No. 2 set on the PSA Set Registry at the time, which includes a card featuring “The Catch,” or as the pasteboard’s headline blares: “Willie Mays Makes Greatest Catch.”
After several upgrades over the years, Gitomer turned the 72-card collection into “The Set” from the card maker, ranking No. 1 on the Registry.
“I love the cards for the 1960 set, the size of the card and a historical headline of what happened that year in baseball,” said Gitomer.
The 1960 Nu-Card issue leans more toward a postcard size at 3-1/4-by-5-3/8 inches and covers decades worth of baseball history – a good mix of the famous moments with some fairly out of left field, but all with a black-and-white photo and a summary in a newspaper-style format.
About one-fourth of the set “Hi-Lites” a Fall Classic. In fact, the issue starts off with “Babe (Ruth) Hits 3 Homers In A Series Game.” A handful of cards later (No. 16), the Babe appears again, this time with his 1932 World Series clout and the headline “Ruth Calls His Shot.”
Among the others superstar cards that appear in the set (some more than once): Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams.
The first 18 cards in the 1960 Nu-Card set come with either red and black (the most common) or all black headlines. There does not seem to be any premium placed on the entirely black headline versions. All card backs come with a quiz question and answer.
Card No. 17 ranks as the headline that likely brought many a chuckle to collectors in 1960 – and through today: “Merkle Pulls Boner.”
In 1961, Nu-Card put out a similar set called Baseball Scoops, covering many of the same events as in the previous year’s issue, plus they freshened up the collection with some 1960 season highlights, including the third card in the issue (No. 403), “Mazeroski’s Homer Wins Series For Bucs.”
Again, around one-quarter of the cards spotlight World Series action, but the Scoops are standard size, with 80 in the issue and featuring the write-ups on the card backs.
The Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards mentions that counterfeit versions of the ’61s may be in the hobby, with heavily blurred photo images a firm clue.
Gitomer, who also owns the top-ranked set of the ’61 Nu-Card baseball issue, said that collection is much more prevalent compared to its big brother.
“And, the ’61s have all kinds of (PSA) 10s, while the ’60 set has very few 10s in captivity,” he said.
The PSA Population numbers bolster the collector’s case:
- 1960 Nu-Card Hi-Lites 1,656 graded with seven PSA 10s
- 1961: 7,194 graded with and 235 PSA 10s.
Gitomer said cards of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and those featuring the likes of 1957 and 1958 World Series play are among his favorites in the 1960 set. A pair of his other top picks from that issue include Robin Roberts (No. 44) and Warren Spahn (No. 63). “That is a great picture of him,” Gitomer said of Spahn.
The hobbyist noted that the Mays “Catch” card in each set is tougher to get than slipping a fly ball past the legendary centerfielder. He added that the 1960 Harvey Haddix card (No. 9) is “hard as hell to find.”
“I prefer the 1960 set (over 1961) because they are bigger and more unique with more diverse headlines,” Gitomer said.
Gitomer, who is auctioning off his Nu-Card sets in December via Steiner Sports (www.steinersports.com), said, generally speaking, he considers the 1960 and 1961 Nu-Card baseball sets “way underrated.”
Jay Swartz, meanwhile, gravitates toward the Scoops. Swartz said the Nu-Card issues “were not that easy to find (back in the day), but Topps cards were everywhere.”
Swartz, who is working on a graded ’61 Nu-Card set, said he recalls the Scoops packs as a kid, “but I do not remember seeing the Hi-Lites.”
“I thought it was cool to have a little newspaper in my hand,” said Swartz, a former sports journalist. “I love the set because it highlights the best things about the ’50s, my childhood.”
The Chicago native, and loyal White Sox fan, said a card company could not go head-on with Topps in 1960 and 1961 and expect much of a market share.
“I do not even know about the commercial success of these sets back then, but I know Nu-Card ended their baseball cards with the ’61 set.”
Two of Swartz’s favorite ’61 Scoops focus on Hall of Famers from the 1959 American League pennant-winning “Go-Go” White Sox: (No. 471) pitcher Early Wynn and (No. 472) infielder Nellie Fox.
The Scoops set ends with one of the most dramatic hits in MLB postseason play: Bobby Thomson’s 1951 bottom-of-the-ninth round tripper to capture the N.L. flag and break Brooklyn’s heart.
Although the card headline reads “Thomson’s Homer Sinks Dodgers,” you would think that perhaps a more eye-catching entry would have been used, such as the “Shot Heard ’Round The World!” – as that home run has been labeled – or maybe borrow a portion of radio announcer Russ Hodges’ famous call on Thomson’s home run: “The Giants Win The Pennant! The Giants Win The Pennant! The Giants Win The Pennant!”
But, you can’t always get what you want – just ask any Brooklyn Dodgers fan for much of that team’s history. But in the 1960-61 Nu-Card baseball sets, there are many solid choices covering several teams – and that is always great news for collectors. Or perhaps the headline should read: “Great Nus For Collectors!”
On the secondary market
The following are recent auction results – rounded to the nearest dollar, with shipping for Nu-Cards.
- 1960 Hi-Lites No. 1 Babe Hits 3 Homers in One Series Game, EX (raw), $13
- 1960 Hi-Lites No. 21 Stan Musial Hits Five Homers In 1 Day, PSA 8, $329
- 1960 Hi-Lites No. 50 Mantle Hits Longest Homer At Stadium, PSA 6, $46
- 1961 Scoops, lot of 89 with a Mantle, mainly EX (raw), $90
- 1961 Scoops No. 403 Mazeroski’s Homer Wins Series For Bucs, NM-MT (raw), $18
- 1961 Scoops No. 427 Willie Mays Makes Greatest Catch, PSA 9, $90
- 1961 Scoops No. 455 Babe Hits 3 Homers in A Series Game, PSA 7, $35
- 1961 Scoops No. 462 Aaron’s Bat Beats Yankees in Series, PSA 10, $253.
Calling it “one of the most oddball cards in baseball card history,” Swartz just might be on to something when he spotlights No. 436 from the 1961 Nu-Card Scoops issue.
The headline reads: “Umpires Clear White Sox Bench.” As the collector put it, “It shows two guys sitting on the Sox bench, and there are no umpires in the picture.”
The backstory to this relatively unknown baseball tale: The Pale Hose had been “riding” the host Red Sox that day at Fenway in July 1946, and the umps sent all members of the Chicago team that were not in the field to the showers. The two people shown on the card in Sox dugout were their manager and trainer.
Doug Koztoski is a frequent contributor to SCD. He welcomes comments on this article at firstname.lastname@example.org.