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Missing Jackie

Missing Jackie

by Mark Jent

As you can see, there is something obvious missing from the middle of this 1954 Topps Brooklyn Dodgers team set. Six years after I started down the path of piecing together this 16 card collection, it’s no coincidence what will complete the figurative cardboard puzzle. As I near the end of this particular collecting adventure, I want to share with you the story of my affinity for ‘54 Topps.

In 1954 the Topps baseball card company was only in its third year of existence. The ‘52 Mantle kid’s rookie card was a couple years in its rearview mirror and the battle with it’s fiercest competitor, Bowman, for exclusive player rights was heated. A pack of four cards each could be bought for a nickel, usually from the local Mom-n-Pop stores. Most kids would slap their nickel on the counter, go sit on the sidewalk to open their pack and often then slip the cards in their bike spokes for the ride home. (I’m cringing just merely thinking about it!) 

The colorful 250 card count 1954 Topps set has stood the test of time and is still one of the most desirable sets of cards nearly seven decades later. To read more about this iconic set, check out this story from PSA in 2005: A Breakdown: 1954 Topps by Jim Churilla.

Beginning when I was nine years old in 1986, I’ve collected several baseball items over the years – baseball cards, Starting Lineup figures, Sports Illustrated, bobbleheads, autographs I’ve obtained in person and more. But it wasn’t until much later when the idea of buying vintage cards from the 1950’s ever seriously crossed my mind. 

I became interested in the old pieces of cardboard thanks to my passion for the Boys of Summer, my Brooklyn Dodgers. It was early 2016 and the idea was that I wanted to put Brooklyn team sets together from 1954-1957, which was the last four years the Dodgers called Ebbets Field home. As I began on this new collecting journey, I decided from the outset that I wanted the 1954 team set to be the one that I focused my energy towards first. This 16 card team set featured Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider and a rookie southpaw named Tommy Lasorda. Yet there was a more personal reason that I wanted to complete the 54’s first.

My brother Jason and I started collecting cards in 1987. Shortly thereafter as we poured all of our allowance and yard-mowing money into our newfound passion, our Dad told us that he used to buy baseball cards as a boy in the 50’s. He knew he didn’t have the cards at our house in Tennessee and wasn’t sure if they were still at his childhood home in Kentucky. But he knew that if they couldn’t be located on 210 North 6th Street, then they had met the same unfortunate demise as thousands of other boys’ baseball cards from the 1950’s – thrown out in the trash by a decluttering mother. (Surely Ma wouldn’t have done that!)

On our next visit to the metropolis of Scottsville (pop. 4,000), my dad took me and Jason to scour his old upstairs bedroom. To get to the second floor we had to traverse piles of old magazines and newspapers stacked knee high on the crickety wooden stairs, while absorbing the aroma of moth balls. If there were any cardboard treasures left from his childhood, my dad hadn’t seen them in decades. 

We looked under the bed, looked through random boxes and in desk drawers. I don’t recall exactly which nook or cranny in which we found them that day, but I do recall the old plastic container where dad found them. As we flipped through them one by one, it was like we were traveling in a time machine with Marty and Doc. There were about 30 cards in total. There was card number one from the ‘54 set – Ted Williams, the Splendid Splinter, who had the unique distinction of having the first and last card of the set that year. There was a Whitey Ford, the Yankees left-hander who in ‘54 had missed as many years due to military service (2) as he had played in the big leagues. 

Out of those 30 or so baseball cards that survived my 12 year old dad’s bike spokes, the majority of them were from the 1954 Topps set. We walked downstairs that day to show Ma and Pa what we’d found and I can hear her saying now “Oh, sure enough?”

By now you can probably connect the dots on why I chose the ‘54s! And if you’ve known me for more than a few minutes you are not surprised at all that there is a sentimental component behind it.

When I started buying a few Brooklyn cards in 2016, I began by purchasing those from the 1954-57 team sets that would be deemed “commons,” allowing me to slowly build my inventory at minimal cost. Yet I have been very intentional to not complete any of the team sets before I finished the 1954 first! 

I purchased the first 12 of 16 cards in 2016 and 2017, then took an extended break. After the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, as the sports card market boomed, my interest in completing the team set ramped up. Although I only lacked four cards, it was the four cards that would cause me to slap down the most Ben Franklin’s – the aforementioned cards above. 

I found the Gil Hodges on eBay, bought the Duke Snider from a card shop in Sevierville (TN) and my friend Joe Curcio had an extra Tommy Lasorda. This left only one, I needed card #10 – I’m only missing Jackie.

I predicted the amount it would cost me and then saved up and put aside the money last year. Like the rest of the team set you see in the featured image, I want it to be ungraded, or “a raw card”, as the kids call it these days. 

Once it is in my possession, a 1954 Topps Jackie Robinson will immediately become the holy grail of my modest baseball card collection. I could find one on eBay and have it shipped to me in two days, but what’s the fun in walking to the mailbox to complete a quest such as this? My vision has always been to either buy it from a card shop, at a card show or make a road trip adventure once I’ve made a deal with a seller who lives within a reasonable driving distance.

I am confident the day will come soon when this mission will be complete. I won’t expect a surprise party to be thrown for me by family and friends for simply buying a baseball card (although I’m not opposed to it), nor will I blast Skylar Grey’s ‘Coming Home’ hit while pulling into our driveway (although that is tempting), but I will embrace the moment. 

It’s a moment that started long before I had the idea in 2016. Rather it’s a moment that began in that small Kentucky town when a little boy in 1954 bought a few packs of baseball cards down the road from his house, ripped them open, chewed the fresh sugary gum, attached a few of the cards to his bike spokes, tossed the rest in his bike basket and road home in time for dinner. 

I’m grateful that little boy kept some of his cards that give me reason to write about them today.

That’s my story of why I’m missing Jackie.

Here are other stories on the website written specifically about the Brooklyn Dodgers.
More Than 42, by Ron Rabinovitz (July 2018)
Vin Scully On The Ice Box, by Peter Trunk (January 2019)
42 Turns 100, by Mark Jent (January 2019)
Where Jackie Stood, by Mark Jent (April 2020)
Jackie 75 Years Ago Today, by Mark Jent (March 2021)

Below you will find the names of all the Brooklyn Dodgers I’ve met so far along with the dates we met. I have written stories about 5 of the 11, which you’ll find linked below as well.

Don Newcombe (met June 2009)Meeting Don Newcombe
Tommy Lasorda (met July 2013)Lunch with Tommy Lasorda
Carl Erskine (met Feb 2017)Breakfast with Carl Erskine
Chris Haughey (met Sept 2017)
Joe Landrum (met Oct 2017)
Tim Thompson (met Sept 2019): Finding Tim Thompson
Don Demeter (met Nov 2020): Don Demeter: One Swing
Bob Aspromonte (met May 2021)
Jim Gentile (met July 2021)
Bobby Morgan (met July 2021)
Fred Kipp (met July 2021)

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