By David Moriah
Mickey Mantle hasn't had a year like this since 1956! It has seemed as if collectors have been trying to will the Yankee hero back to life with a blizzard of new books, cards and assorted memorabilia devoted to the Mick.
Now a truly limited, and potentially high priced Mantle item is about to be issued in time for this year's annual Hall of Fame induction weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y. The 1996 ceremonies in baseball's mythic birthplace will take place the first weekend of August, and the legendary No. 7 will be a major star of the show..
How so? By virtue of being the lead name on this year's "retroactive set," the special press pin produced annually to fill in the years before 1982 when pins were first issued by the HOF. Mantle and teammate Whitey Ford were inducted together in 1974 along with four other players. The second pin in the set is 1945, a year which saw a whopping 10 players enter Cooperstown's hallowed doors.
By far, however, it is Mantle - and to a lesser extent Ford - who put the shine on this year's pins. Mantle collectors, who are as ubiquitous as dandelions in the spring, will likely be scrambling after the handful of retroactives which enter the marketplace each year.
The pins, produced by Balfour and sponsored by Chase Manhattan Bank (previously Chemical Bank), are limited to a production run of 500. Distribution occurs at a banquet in Cooperstown held exclusively for members of the HOF and their guests. Each living Hall of Famer receives one at the dinner; their guests and top baseball dignitaries receive virtually all the rest.
The result of this arrangement is a pin set which trickles into the collectors' marketplace by ones and twos. The occasional SCD ad which includes an retroactive pin set typically lists a price of $500 and up. Dan Lovegrove of Recollectics, a business which specializes in press pins of all sports, expects the few pins which become available to change hands in the range of $750, Lovegrove is excited about the idea of this year's pin.
"The Mantle pin should bring a lot of baby boomers into the press pin hobby," speculates Lovegrove. "The 1950s are definitely the most popular years for World Series press pins, and having Mantle's name on a pin will definitely attract attention."
Selecting 1974, the induction year for 1950s stars Mantle and Ford, was no coincidence. Charlie McCabe, the Chase Manhattan Bank marketing executive who has steered production of the retroactive pins since their inception in 1990, has made it a practice lately to select one living Hall of Famer each year to be the "star" of the set, In 1995 it was Stan Musial, in 1994 Ted Williams, and in 1993 Joe DiMaggio.
"When we heard last summer about Mickey's declining health we decided to feature him in the next year's set," McCabe reports. "Unfortunately, none of us knew how quickly Mickey would go downhill, and he didn't live to see the pin. We decided to go ahead with it and make it a tribute to Mickey, and of course, we do have Whitey Ford as a living Hall of Famer who can enjoy the honor."
The other names honored on the 1974 pin include Negro League great "Cool Papa" Bell, Cardinals outfielder Jim Bottomly, umpire Jocko Conlan, and a name only the most serious fans would recognize as a Hall of Famer Sam Thompson.
The 1945 pin features a veritable "Who's Who" of obscure Hall of Famers - Roger Bresnahan, Dan Brouthers, Fred Clarke, Jimmy Collins, Ed Delahanty, Hugh Duffy, Hugh Jennings, Mike Kelly, Jim O'Rourke and Wilbert Robinson. A recently released book, Slide, Kelly, Slide by Marty Appel, may shed some light on the career of Mike "King" Kelly, but for the most part, the class of 1945 goes down as an ay - avolanche of forgettable names.
Of course, there's only one name anyone will be looking for if they have the opportunity to hold one of these pin sets, the name that seemed to live in the headlines of American sports pages every summer from 1951 through 1968 - Mickey Mantle, the one and only.
Sports Collector's Digest July 19, 1996
Reprinted by permission Krause Publications, Inc. (c) 1996 Krause Publications, Inc.