So you think showing a squirrel on a Skip Schumaker Topps baseball card is controversial? How about printing baseball cards for seven years between 1951-57 and never offering a Stan Musial baseball card?
In the first series of its 2012 baseball card set, Topps has printed two cards of St. Louis utilityman Skip Schumaker. The common card shows an image of Schumaker sliding. The other card, which has been released in limited supply (driving up demand and price), shows only Schumaker’s shoe as the so-called “rally squirrel” dashes across home plate.
Critics call the squirrel card dumb. Supporters find it fun. For Topps, the card has created publicity.
It may be the most controversy associated with Topps and the Cardinals since its seven-year absence without Musial.
Topps began printing baseball cards in 1951 when Musial was 30 and near the peak of his Hall of Fame career. Musial had a contract to appear on baseball cards produced by a rival company, Bowman.
Bowman produced Stan Musial cards in 1952 and ’53.
For the next four years (1954-57), Musial didn’t appear on any baseball card, even though he may have been the most popular player in the game.
In a 2001 interview with USA Today on the 50th anniversary of Topps baseball cards, Topps executive Sy Berger said Musial “just didn’t want to sign (a contract) for cards.”
The breakthrough came in time for Topps’ 1958 set. Berger said Cardinals owner Gussie Busch was raising money for charity and asked Topps for a donation. Berger said Topps offered to donate $1,500 to the non-profit of Busch’s choice if Musial would agree to sign a Topps contract to appear on a 1958 baseball card. Musial did. The retired Cardinals star continues to be featured on Topps baseball cards today.
(In the book “Musial: From Stash to Stan the Man” (2001, Missouri), author James N. Giglio claims “insufficient compensation” was the reason Musial didn’t sign with Topps until 1958.)
When Topps issued its first baseball cards in 1951, the look and feel were more like a deck of playing cards, or game cards for a baseball board game.
The 1951 cards came in two styles: with red backs and with blue backs. The front of the cards featured a player’s face bordered by a baseball diamond. The backs of the cards were colored either red or blue and offered no statistical information.
The red backs and blue backs were issued at the same time.
Two Cardinals _ pitcher Howie Pollet and outfielder Tommy Glaviano _ were part of the red backs. Six Cardinals _ pitchers Gerry Staley, Red Munger and Harry Breechen; second baseman Red Schoendienst; outfielder Enos Slaughter; and third baseman Billy Johnson _ were part of the blue backs.
The series had 52 red back and 52 blue back cards. There also were special-feature team cards and all-star cards. These included a Cardinals team card and an all-star card of retired Cardinals pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander.
In 1952, Topps issued a 407-card set that is the prototype for the traditional baseball card, with statistics on the back and designed images of players on the front.
The first Cardinal to appear in the 1952 set was catcher Johnny Bucha (card No. 19). Bucha played in a total of 24 games for the Cardinals over two seasons (1948 and ’50) but didn’t play in any games for St. Louis in 1952.
Previously: The story behind Stan Musial’s $100,000 contract