Mickey Mantle: How Hudson River Swallowed the Mick's Rookie Cards

Jim MorisetteCorrespondent IIIJune 17, 2012

AP Photo
AP Photo

To many baseball fans and collectors, Yankees legend Mickey Mantle is equal to a Greek God.

A seven-time World Series champion, this switch-hitting Oklahoma native was a human highlight reel.

Known for his ability to hit for both average and power, as well as for his ability to make spectacular plays in the outfield, Mantle was the ultimate man’s man.

While Mantle’s career numbers were impressive to say the least, it was his play in the clutch that thrust him into icon status. This was especially true during World Series games, for Mantle holds all-time World Series records for home runs (18), RBI (40), walks (43), extra-base hits (26) total bases (123) and runs scored (42).

More impressive, this Herculean figure achieved these feats while waging a life-long battle with chronic pain in his legs.

As noted in the book Slick by Whitey Ford (h/t baseball-almanac.com), "Hitting the ball was easy,” Mantle told one reporter. “Running around the bases was the tough part."

But what would you say if I were to tell you “The Mick” has perhaps thousands of rookie cards buried somewhere near the mouth of the Hudson River?

Sounds crazy eh?

Like one of those Jimmy Hoffa like conspiracy theories.

Like I just escaped the loony bin wearing a pink Tutu.

Photo courtesy of sodahead.com
Photo courtesy of sodahead.com

Disturbing image I know, but give me a moment and I will prove my theory to be true.

To start, let’s go back to 1952. At a kitchen table inside apartment in Manhattan, 28-year-old World War II vet Sy Berger and his friend Woody Gelman created the first modern baseball card set—1952 Topps.

True to current tradition, Berger and Gelman released this set in two series: a low-number (1-310) and high-number (311-407) set.   

Released in the spring of 1952, series one sold very well. So well in fact, expectations for release of the second series soared in the eyes of these two pioneers.

But to Berger and Gelman’s misfortune, series two did not fare well.

Per Larry Canale, author of Mickey MantleMemories and Memorabilia, “Topps issued its high series so late in the summer of 1952 that sales were a dismal disappointment.”

This was mostly due to kids turning their already short attention spans from baseball to football season.

Canale went on to say that Berger and Gelman tried diligently to rid of their stock of these overproduced baseball cards by engaging with carnivals and toy companies.

But frankly, the two men could not give these baseball cards away.

No matter the age, people were simply not interested.

Mantle's original 1951 Bowman rookie card
Mantle's original 1951 Bowman rookie card

Eight years later, Berger and Gelman found their warehouse still filled with hundreds of cases of 1952 Topps cards.

Having moved on from this failed business venture, and needing storage space, Berger and Gelman waved to the bullpen for a garbage barge.

Once it arrived, these men loaded these burdensome cases onto the barge.

Within a few moments, this barge waved farewell to the Jersey side of the Hudson.

And with hindsight screaming, “What the heck are you doing?” cases of ’52 Topps baseball cards met their fate at the depths of the historic river.

Mantle, who one year prior had posed for his “true” 1951 Bowman rookie card, was part of this set.

It was No. 311.

Combine this with an era where kids cared less about card condition and more about how baseball cards sounded in bike spokes, and one has the makings of one of the history’s rarest baseball cards.

Today, Mantle’s rookie card is second in Holy Grail status to Honus Wagner’s 1909 T206 baseball card.

Beckett Baseball Card Magazine’s book value of this card is $30,000 in mint condition.

Artwork by Phil Bartles (Basebook Baseball Social Network)
Artwork by Phil Bartles (Basebook Baseball Social Network)

However, according to Sports Collector’s Daily, this card can fetch well over $100,000 in highly graded condition.

So the next time you are on a beach hugging the coast of the Hudson, and you see an old crate floating toward you on shore—do not hesitate to take a look.

You might be surprised at what you might find.

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