Tuesday, June 16, 2015


In the beginning…


There may not have been a sports collector’s world had it not been for the efforts of Sy Berger. Berger passed away late last year, and I was unaware of his passing until I received an article in that regard from my sister.



Berger was born in 1923 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and moved to the Bronx at a young age. He was a passionate baseball fan, naturally siding with the Bronx Bombers, the New York Yankees. His favourite player, however, was Wally Berger. Berger played for the Boston Braves, but was not related to Sy Berger. He did spike Berger’s love of the game. Before an afternoon game at the Polo Grounds, home of the Giants, Berger took Sy through the gates and sat him down in the dugout while the players warmed up for the game. How thrilling would that have been!



Sy Berger collected cards as a kid. There were baseball and hockey cards prior to the 1950s. They were not terribly popular, but were collected by a few stalwart fans. Berger had all of the cards in the set, with the exception of a Jesse Petty card. One of his pals had the card, and would not part with it. Berger challenged him to a game of “Flips” for the card. Cards were flipped towards a wall, and closest to the wall won the cards that were thrown. The other game kids played was called “Topsies”. Cards were held against the wall, and allowed to flutter to the ground. Once a card landed on top of an opponent’s card, the winner gathered all of the cards.



Berger managed to win not only the Jesse Patty card, but also his pal’s entire collection. It took him four or five hours, he remembered. “The last card I won was his Jesse Petty card.”



In the 1950s, Berger drove the sports card hobby to its greatest heights. The 1952 Topps Baseball Series was his pride and joy. In 2004, Berger told the Society for American Baseball research: “We came out in 1952 with a card in colour, beautiful colour, and a card that was large. For the first time we had a team logo. We had the 1951 line statistics and their lifetime statistics. No one else did it.”



The card that really captured the imagination of baseball fans was the Mickey Mantle card. It became the most sought-after card at that time, and still is the most important baseball card in the hobby today. Ralph Branca’s Brooklyn Dodger card was also in the set.



Branca was a pitcher for the Dodgers in the 1950s, and was warming up in the bullpen in the final game of the season between the Dodgers and the New York Giants. Also warming up was Carl Erskine. Many of Erskine’s pitches were in the dirt, and he didn’t seem to have his best stuff. The coaching staff elected to send Branca to the mound with two men on in the ninth inning. At the plate was Bobby Thompson.



Thompson drove the ball over the fence in the hit forever known as “The Shot Heard ‘round the World”. The Dodgers had lost the pennant. It was not long after that occasion that the team was moved from Ebbets Field to the West Coast, as were the Giants.



Great memories from the world of sport.



And yes, by the way, the Chicago Black Hawks are the 2015 Stanley Cup Champions!!



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