Thursday, May 7, 2015
'56 of the month: Del Ennis
Shame on you for not clicking on this link because the title mentions an old card of a player that you don't know! I've got some valuable information here to tell you! Especially for you young baseball fans (there are still young baseball fans, correct?)
I own this card, and have owned it for more than 30 years, because I knew baseball history as a youngster.
I wasn't a fanatic or anything. Every once in awhile I'd stumble across one of those baseball quiz books that asked which four players in 1894 hit the most doubles and scored the most runs on their team. They also used old-fashioned baseball terminology, like "bingle" for single, just to make you feel even more stupid. And I did feel like the dumbest baseball fan alive.
But in general, I tried to read what I could about baseball and I couldn't help but absorb some historical knowledge because of that. A subscription to Baseball Digest and grabbing the Sporting News at my grandmother's house every week went a long way.
This was important to my baseball collection whenever I ran into old cards, which wasn't often but just enough to make me feel smart.
When my friend inherited his older brother's baseball cards, I did what I could to deal for late '60s heroes like Pete Rose, Al Kaline, Roberto Clemente and Bob Gibson. And I was successful. Because my friend didn't know his baseball history.
When my father's co-worker bestowed us with a shopping bag full of mid-to-late 1950s cards, I was ready, because I knew the names.
Anyone can pick out Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider -- and, sure, they are the most valuable cards in every set that they are in -- but there are other great players that nobody remembers anymore.
That's why I jumped at '50s cards of Enos Slaughter, Don Mueller, Robin Roberts and Ken Boyer. These people were stars, that few talked about anymore, even back then in the early 1980s. And I could have them, because fewer people know who they are.
If you're reading this, chances are you know all those guys. But you're also the privileged few. And, keep in mind, I was in my early teenaged years without the benefit of the internet. How many 15-year-olds now know who Larry Hisle or Jimmy Wynn is?
One of the other cards that I selected on that wonderful night when my brothers and I took turns adding ancient cards to our collection was Del Ennis.
You rarely hear Del Ennis' name anymore, and if you do, it's someone calling him "Dale Ennis." Outside of Philadelphia, who's paying tribute to Del Ennis? And when are you ever going to see Topps roll out a bunch of Del Ennis tribute cards in a current product like it does for Koufax and Gibson and Bench?
But Ennis hammered pitchers for at least a decade starting in the late 1940s.
I know we're not supposed to care about RBIs anymore, but it's almost an injustice that someone who knocked in at least 120 runs three times isn't common knowledge.
Of course, if he was, I probably wouldn't have been able to snag his card so easily.
My ability to stockpile vintage cards of older stars when I was young has certainly saved me a lot of money now that I collect as an adult. The older these cards get, the more the prices rise, even if they're not superstars.
Landing a '71 Nolan Ryan before he became an iconic superstar in the early '90s, snagging a '75 rookie George Brett only a few years into his playing career were wise moves and helped by my knowledge of baseball, its history and collecting.
(I suppose, in a lot of ways, this is what happens with Bowman collectors. They know the stars before they become stars and capitalize).
Let's take a look at that card again:
The fencing behind Ennis' leaping grab makes it appear as if he's playing ball at a horse farm. Even Ennis appears to me mildly amused by that.
The back brags about his hitting prowess even more, although in the final cartoon, Topps calls him "El".
I have a long way to go in my lazy quest to complete the 1956 Topps set, and the cards I'm missing are very expensive (Clemente, Williams, Mays, Aaron, etc.).
But at least I got a running start decades ago on some of the second tier stars, just because I paid a little attention to baseball history.
Thanks Baseball Digest. Thanks Sporting News. Thanks TCMA. Thanks evening newspaper subscription.
Knowledge is power in collecting, too.