Sunday, June 24, 2018

'56 of the month: Rance Pless

This card has lived in my scan folder for several months. It turns out it was waiting for the right time. It's now going to serve as the jumping off point for two posts.

You'll see the other one later this week. It has to do with Rance Pless' position in the 1956 Topps set. At card No. 339, it is the penultimate card in the set.

But Pless is also part of a group of cards in the 1956 Topps set that has long fascinated me.

When my brothers and I received that treasure trove of mid-1950s cards -- the vast majority being 1956 Topps -- from my father's co-worker when we were kids, I began to notice when first going through the '56 cards that there were precious few cards numbered in the 300s.

I had looked up the set in one of those early '80s Sport Americana baseball card price guides (by Dr. James Beckett and Dennis W. Eckes) and discovered that it totaled 340 cards. I didn't know anything much about sets being issued in series at the time, but why so few cards from No. 300 forward?

(As I write this I am discovering that I covered this territory already. But it's too late to quit now).

I assumed for years that this was a case of nasty high numbers and that the 300s in 1956 were more difficult to obtain. But that actually isn't the case. It was more likely a case of a kid getting bored of collecting baseball cards late in the summer and not being interested when the 4th series, cards No. 261-340 arrived in corner stores.

Or it's possible that kids were just bored with what was in the 4th series.

Have you seen who is in that 4th series?

Guys like Rance Pless.

If we break down the 1956 set by series, you will see that it is front-loaded with stars.

Cards 1-100, or series 1, contain Ted Williams, Warren Spahn, Ernie Banks, Al Kaline, Ted Klusewski, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Al Rosen and Sandy Koufax (who was certainly not a star at the time).

The first series falls off on stars after card No. 35, but it peaks with the second series, which is cards 101-180.

In that second series is: Roy Campanella, Eddie Mathews, Enos Slaughter, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Nellie Fox, Richie Ashburn, Minnie Minoso, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Herb Score, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Harmon Killebrew, Red Schoendienst, the Dodgers team card, Hank Bauer and Robin Roberts.

Cards in the third series are considered slightly more difficult to obtain than others in the set. But it's not as top-heavy with stars as the first two series.

Between cards 181-250 are: Early Wynn, Carl Furillo, Monte Irvin, George Kell, Bob Feller, Lew Burdette, Carl Erskine, Don Newcombe, Whitey Ford and Larry Doby.

That brings us to the fourth and final series. It starts off fairly well with basically the same star power as the third series. Before the series hits card No. 300, there is the Yankees team card, Bob Lemon, Pee Wee Reese, Jim Gilliam and Luis Aparicio's rookie card.

Then card 300 -- Vic Wertz -- hits and the rest of the set is a litany of WHO?

The only notable is Hoyt Wilhelm at No. 307. Sure there are recognizable names on the downslope of their careers like Andy Pafko (312) and Jim Konstanty (321), but the majority are guys like Lou Berberet, Al Aber, Jack Crimian and Karl Olson.

For me, it's the only disappointing thing about such a wonderful set. It goes out with a whimper.

Pless, as one of those 1956 no-names, received his only Topps card in 1956. He hadn't even played a game in the majors before 1956 and his only big league season was that year when he recorded 85 at-bats and hit .271.

Pless, who died last November, served in the Navy during World War II and toiled in the Giants' minor league system for nine years before getting a major league shot. Later, after his career, he scouted for the Braves.

I will never complain about guys with just 85 at-bats getting a card. They should get a card. Always.

But if you want people to buy the cards, perhaps don't issue an entire series of guys like that. I think Topps found that out with 1956 Topps, Series 4.


  1. This is one of those '56s where the back outshines the front. At least in my eyes. Especially like the left side of the cartoon box that shows ol' Rance greeted by his adoring wife and kids. Good stuff.

    I'm always interested in Topps' distribution of the different series each year. '56 is before my collecting time but by the early 60s my friends and I were well aware of the scarcity of late series packs at places like EJ Korvettes and Shop Rite (super market). I was lucky though. Our corner candy/newsstand/soda fountain store owner always got late series cards delivered and my uncle's pharmacy had them as well.

  2. I feel like I should know who he is since he played for the Athletics... but I've never heard of the guy. But thanks to this post... that's all changed.

    1. Man oh man. Imagine some generous person offers to give you a single pack of 1956 Topps and you get to choose which series to open. Which would you choose? Do you go for the $$$ card and pick Series 2? I think I'd go with a Series 1. How cool would it be to say you pulled a 56T Jackie Robinson from a pack?

  3. I've had similar thoughts about the '56 set but haven't been able to put them into words the way you have. It sure is a top-heavy set, and that might explain why so much of my set build is concentrated in the first 120 cards or so. The Rance Pless card seems to be a tough one to find in high-grade, for those that care about such things. I've been dreading it, but thanks to your post I'll have a little more appreciation for card #339 when I do fork over the cash for it.