A Topps 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card.

A Topps 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card. Credit: Courtesy of The Topps Co.

(This is an excerpt from a story that was originally published in the July 30, 1989, edition of Newsday)

Last year (1988) it was medical waste, but in the fall of 1952, Topps Mickey Mantle cards were washing up on the Jersey Shore.

The amazing tale of how it happened - and why even some common players from the '52 Topps set are so valuable - comes together in the catalog for Guernsey's upcoming auction of material from the Topps archives.

Lot BB458 is the original non-exclusive agreement between Topps and Mantle, dated July 14, 1952. Topps landed Mantle, already under contract with Bowman, well into the season but in time for the final series of the Brooklyn company's first major baseball card set. (Mantle was paid $50 for his signature.)

By the time the seventh series of cards hit the candy stores, the season was almost over and youngsters were exchanging their pennies for the new Bowman football cards.

Topps found itself stuck with cases upon cases of unwanted cardboard pictures of baseball players and decided to dispose of them. Sy Berger, now vice president of sports and licensing, drew the garbage detail.

"Unable to make arrangements at the incinerator, I had the cards loaded onto two big trucks, which took them - and me - to a floating barge and out to sea," Berger wrote in the catalog's introductory section.

"While I watched, and gobbled seasick pills, the cards were dumped into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of New Jersey."

No one at Topps has a guess on how many Mantles, worth $6,500 today, went to their watery grave.

But they went in good company. Other stars in the ill-fated series included Jackie Robinson ($725), Roy Campanella ($1,200), Pee Wee Reese ($500), Hoyt Wilhelm ($400), Bill Dickey ($500) and Eddie Mathews ($1,800). In mint condition, even no-name players fetch a minimum of $75 each today.

If this story leaves you feeling the way Berger did when Mantle, Campy and Pee Wee walked the plank, be strong. If not for Topps' beach party those cards wouldn't be nearly as rare today - and considerably less valuable. Mantle mania and the ensuing card craze might never have happened.

Editors's note (2010): A prime condition Mantle rookie card is presently valued at $30,000, according to Tracy Hackler of Beckett Media.

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