This week's What??! concerns the fact that Topps threw off many collectors when they ran their Mickey Mantle reprints as inserts in 1997 Topps.
As we all know, 1996 Topps included 19 reprinted insert cards of Mickey Mantle, from his 1951 rookie card to his 1969 final card. As we also know, his 1952 Topps card is not his rookie card. The label of rookie card belongs to Topps' chief rival at the time, Bowman. The 1951 Bowman has a painted picture of a youthful Mantle staring at the heavens, with his name floating within a black bar. Each year he had a card in his playing career was included in this set. His 1951 RC, 1952 Topps, 1953 Topps, 1954 Bowman, 1955 Bowman, 1956-1969 Topps. The two years that Topps didn't have a card of him was because Bowman signed him to an exclusive deal which kept him from appearing on Topps cards. As we finally know, Topps bought out Bowman in 1956, thus returning his rights to the Topps Company. Cards numbered 1-19 were found in 1996 Topps baseball.
In 1997, Topps decided to continue the Mantle series by inserting reprint cards from the Bowman series, along with some Topps All-Star cards, combo cards, and World Series highlights. There was only one problem. The second series of reprints were numbered 21-36.
Wait, so if the 1996 series ended with 19, and the 1997 began with 21...
Where was Card #20??? What was Card #20???
For those of us who didn't collect Bowman cards (and you'll be surprised that there are those kinds of people out there), we would have never known that card #20 (the 1952 Bowman reprint) was inserted into packs of Bowman at a rate of 1:48 packs. For those who collected Bowman only (and you'll be surprised that there are those kinds of people out there), it was a neat insert card. Because it was only one card, and no other cards to speak of it in packs of Bowman, this one card insert set was a nice supplement to those collectors of 1996 Bowman.
But what about those who were tearing their hair out in 1997 when they couldn't figure out where #20 could be? Remember, this was all happening around the time that the Internet was starting to appear in people's homes. Many would not have known to look for sites like eBay, or Beckett...heck, the word "blog" had not even existed yet. Not to many people would have thought to look in other sets to see if this card existed. So most set collectors would have given up and just considered a complete series 2 set as #21-#36. Even Beckett lists the set as complete at 16 cards.
For those that found out that the elusive #20 was in Bowman, it was only a matter of time before they found their prize at a card show or online. Once acquired, it was just a matter of trying to find a place to put it...with their 1996 Topps sets or their 1997 Topps sets. For me, I decided that 1997 was the Willie Mays year, so even though the second set of Mantle cards were found in 1997 Topps, I added them to my 1996 Topps binder. And that's where the above copy of my 1996 Bowman (the only official Bowman card in my collection) will stay.
There may be people still out there, more than 12 years later, who have long given up on their search for this elusive card. It is my hope that they eventually find what they are looking for and lock up this card for their sets. And throughout all their searching and hair pulling, they could probably be asking themselves...
Topps, what were you thinking??!