In 1956 Topps probably surprised a lot of kids who pulled a William Harridge or Warren Giles card from packs. Who were these guys? At the time, Harridge was president of the American League, while Giles presided over the National League. Kids likely chucked quite a few of these cards. Or because they were the first two cards in the set, they were often damaged from being bundled with rubber bands. As a result, these cards have become surprisingly pricey today. Topps continued to feature league presidents and commissioners in their subsequent sets, later joined by Fleer in showcasing non-player or managers. In this article, I’ll share a bit of baseball history, share these executive’s cards, and conclude by sharing a pair of commemorative cards released by Topps and Donruss in 1990, that you’re likely more familiar with, honoring Bart Giamatti.
1956 Topps #1 William Harridge
William Harridge was the president of the American League from 1931 to 1959 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 by the Veterans Committee. He played a big role in the creation of the annual All-Star Game, had a reputation for being fair and forgiving, and played a big part in a famous ruling in 1951 regarding the playing status of Eddie Gaedel, a 3ft 7inch player who walked on four straight pitches. Harridge voided Gaedel’s contract calling it a mockery of the game.
As the set’s first card, Harridge’s “rookie” is tough to find in high grade, and with two variations (white and gray backs), really expensive for set builders. A PSA 9 Harridge white back sold for $15k in Heritage Auctions Winter Sports Card Catalog Auction that ended in Jan 2022. Heritage also sold a PSA 9 gray back Harridge the next month for $15k.
1956 Topps #2 Warren Giles
Giles was a baseball executive, serving 33 years in high-level positions. He was the president of the National League from 1951-1969 and was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979 by the Veterans Committee. During this time, he presided over the Dodgers and Giants’ move west, the league’s expansion in 1962 and 1969, widened the league’s dominance over the AL in the All-Star game through the signing of African-American and Latin American players and worked hard to keep star players in his league.
His 1956 Topps card was double printed but still commands high prices, though not as high as Harridge’s. I saw the last PSA 9 Giles white back sold for just over $2k in February 2020, and Robert Edwards sold the lone PSA 10 gray in August 2019 for $6k.
Regarding the 1956 league president cards, PSA wrote, “Another addition to the 1956 Topps set is the inclusion of card # 1 of American League President William Harridge and card #2 of National League President Warren Giles. Two very neat cards that show a portrait shot of each president on the card front and an awesome card back that supplies info about that particular president. What is really eye catching is how the back information is framed by all eight team logos and full team names from that president’s league. As is the case with most beginning and end cards of vintage sets, the #1 William Harriage card demands more of a premium since it was more susceptible to damage as a result of rubber bands and first card exposure.”
1957 Topps #100 League Presidents
In 1957, Topps introduced the first combo cards like the Dodgers Sluggers, Yankees’ Power Hitters, and the Harridge/Giles League Presidents Card. Topps also gave the executives a premium card number (100). The card’s back is a highlight in the set to me, featuring a red-tinted stadium shot.
Mile High Card Company sold the lone PSA 10 League Presidents card in September 2017 for $2726. PSA 9s are a bit more affordable since there are 12 of them ($5-600), and then there are 113 PSA 8s.
1958 Topps #300 League Presidents
The 1958 Topps League Presidents card has my favorite front out of any on this list, though I think the backs of the 56’s are pretty nifty. For the third straight year, PSA gave the Presidents a premium card number, 300. From a grading perspective, PSA hasn’t graded one as a Gem Mint 10 yet, but there are nine PSA 9s and 96 PSA 8s. Memory Lane Inc sold a 9 for $600 in May 2022.
1959 Topps #1 Ford Frick
Topps introduced a new executive in 1959, Ford Frick, and in a departure from the previous few years, the first card in the set belonged to him rather than Ted Williams. He was the National League’s president from 1934 to 1951 and Commissioner of Major League Baseball from 1951 to 1965. He helped establish the Baseball Hall of Fame, kept players from striking in response to baseball’s racial integration, and expanded the league. The Veterans Committee elected him to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1970.
From a grading perspective, it’s a tough card, as most card #1s are. There aren’t any PSA 10s in the Pop Report, but there are ten 9s and 81 8s. Heritage Auctions sold a PSA 9 for $1860 in January 2022. PSA 8s sell for between $5-800.
1959 Topps #200 Warren Giles
Topps gave National League President Warren Giles card #200 in 1959. Harridge had retired in 1959, and Topps didn’t include a card for his replacement, Joe Cronin; perhaps the timeline of that change didn’t align with the set’s printing since Cronin was appointed in January 1959.
PSA shows three listings for this card in the pop report, gray back, white back, and ones without a designation. There’s a single PSA 10 for the white and gray-back variations, but PSA 9s sell for a more “modest” $3-500
1959 Fleer Ted Williams #48 Ted Returns
The 1959 Fleer Ted Williams card 48, Ted Returns, features Ted throwing out the first ball at the All-Star game in Cincinnati with Ford Frick looking on. The card has a single PSA 10 copy, 79 PSA 9s, and 280 8s. The 9s are ~$100 cards.
1960 Fleer Baseball Greats #73 Warren Giles
In 1960, Fleer released a dedicated card to Giles in its Baseball Greats set. The card has six PSA 10 copies, 24 9s, and 78 8s. A 10 was sold for $552 way back in 2011, but PSA 9s usually sell for between $50 and $75 these days.
1960 Fleer Baseball Greats #74 Ford Frick
I guess Topps didn’t hold exclusive licenses for league executives since Fleer included a card for Ford Frick in its 1960 set. From a grading perspective, this card is a little tougher than Giles’; the Pop Report has two 10s, 15 9s, and 96 8s. I don’t see any PSA 9 sales since November 2019, when one went for $96 on eBay, but before that, one had sold for $275 in 2018.
1961 Fleer Baseball Greats #29 Ford Frick
I doubt the inclusion of baseball executives excited kids much to induce them to buy the 1961 Fleer set, but once again, it featured Ford Frick. The set also featured Giles, whose card I will expand upon a bit next, but it also had a few other off-the-field executives like Clark Griffith, Ban Johnson, and Judge Landis. And while not the most exciting cards at the time, I think it’s nice that the hobby honored a few folks who altered the course of the game.
The Frick card, in particular, has a single Gem Mint 10 example but 30 9s and 76 8s. The 8s basically sell for grading fees, the last 9 sold for $83 in December 2022, and the 10 last sold for $1260 in April 2022.
1961 Fleer Baseball Greats #33 Warren Giles
Giles’ card seems to be a little scarcer in high grade, without a single Gem Mint 10 example, nine 9s, and 42 8s. Again, the 8s sell for grading feeds, and I see in the APR that a PSA 9 last sold in June 2017 for $200.
1990 Topps #396 and 1990 Donruss #716 A. Bartlett Giamatti Commemorative Cards
Angelo Bartlett Giamatti only served as Baseball Commissioner for five months before dying of a heart attack in 1989, leading Topps and Donruss to produce these commemorative cards. But, before that, he was the National League President from 1986-1989. Giamatti was also the president of Yale University from 1978-1986. As commissioner, he negotiated Pete Rose’s withdrawal from the game.
The league president and commissioner cards featured in Topps and Fleer’s early post-war sets offer a nice glimpse into the history of these influential figures. The backs of the cards themselves offer a wealth of information and, to me, are valuable pieces of baseball history.
I haven’t written a lot of posts directly linked to this one, but a few have touched on a couple of related topics:
- I wrote an article about Mickey Mantle that shared a lot of information about the 1956 Topps white and gray backs that I discussed earlier with Harridge’s and Giles’ cards.
- I also documented the Baseball Cards of One of the Worst Teams of All Time – The 1962 Mets and mentioned that the team got their membership certificate from Warren Giles, the National League President.
- And if I discover any other cards related to this topic, I’ll feature them in a future Post War Cards Newsletter.