Commanders-in-chief rub elbows with the boys of summer

A president card might sneak into your collection of baseball cards

Material World

October 05, 2003|By Meredith James | Meredith James,SUN STAFF

They didn't necessarily hit for average, but they all knew a little something about defense and power. And while that won't get America's presidents into Cooperstown, it has gotten them into an exclusive new batch of baseball cards.

Next month, each of America's 43 commanders-in-chief will join the immortalized cardboard ranks of Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Kerry Wood in the 54th installment of the Topps Company's baseball card series.

But don't plan on snapping them up, trading them - or, God forbid, putting them in your bicycle spokes. These are true collectors' items: Only one card for each president will be produced. The 42 cards - the two George Bushes share a card - each featuring an authentic signature taken from a historical document, will show up sporadically in packs labeled "2004 Baseball Series 1 American Treasures."

It might seem an odd pairing, but presidents and the nation's pastime seem to fit together like a hand in a well-worn mitt. There is a "tie between the presidents and baseball that is more than just throwing out the first pitch," says Clay Luraschi of Topps.

According to Topps' research, for instance, George Washington, John Adams and Andrew Jackson all played "rounders," a game considered a founding father to baseball.

Abraham Lincoln used the front lawn of the White House to play baseball with his kids. Benjamin Harrison was the first president to officially attend a baseball game in 1892, and 18 years later, William Howard Taft became the first president to throw out the first pitch at a major league game. More recently, Ronald Reagan was a radio announcer for the Chicago Cubs, and George W. Bush owned part of the Texas Rangers.

These and other facts about the presidents show up alongside the authentic signatures embedded on the 2 1/2 -by-3 1/2 -inch cards, each hand-labeled "one of one." It took Topps nearly a year to compile the needed signatures for the series, the most tedious part of the production process, Luraschi says.

While some presidents, such as Harrison, were in office only a short time, their political careers produced an abundance of signatures. Both Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt had routinely large signatures, which made it difficult to find any that would fit on the card and look uniform with the others.

Although Topps has previously released cards with authentic athletes' signatures, the American Treasures series is the first of its kind to provide such a potentially valuable collection. While the suggested retail price for a pack of 10 cards is $1.59, the value of a single signature card could exceed $10,000.

And while Boston Red Sox fans have hoped their team might finally lift the Curse of the Bambino and win a World Series this month, card collectors might not be so lucky. The 42 president cards will be inserted into the 2004 Series run, which totals some 50 million cards.

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