RIP Sy Berger

NBC News is running a story on the death of Sy Berger. You probably never heard of him. I certainly hadn’t. But he’s important to every baseball fan. He invented the modern baseball card.

Apparently in the 1950s he worked for Topps and came up with the idea of putting six cards in a pack with a stick of gum. Baseball cards weren’t new, but they weren’t common and you didn’t get six with a stick of gum for a nickel. He sat at his table at home and created the first ones using scissors and cardboard. He put stats on the back, a short bio, the team logo went on the front, and of course there was a picture of the player on the front. His most famous card is the 1952 Mickey Mantle.

Berger was 91 when he died yesterday. Anyone who collected baseball cards owes him a debt. I still have a handful. I think I’ll take a look at a few of them, but I won’t miss the gum. The gum was awful, the cards sublime. RIP, Sy, and thanks.

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8 Responses to “RIP Sy Berger”

  1. steve Says:

    Thanks for the heads up v. A good night to burn a candle and look at some cards. The book “Mint Condition; How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession” by Dave Jamieson does a great job describing the contributions made by both Sy Berger and Woody Gelman in designing those early Topps sets as well as other non sport sets. A great book in my opinion that does an amazingly thorough job covering the baseball card topic from so many angles.

  2. glenrussellslater Says:

    V, I bought packs of cards mostly from 1970, 1971, and 1972, which was about when I discovered other more (um) INTERESTING things than baseball cards.

    Now, I want to ask you this, but I’m not sure. Maybe my memory is going. But I could swear that there were more than six cards in a pack, at least in the years I was collecting. Is my memory serving me wrong? Weren’t there TEN in a pack, or am I remembering completely wrong?

    Nicely written, especially the line “The gum was awful, the cards sublime.” That pretty much summed it up! Do you remember how the card on the top, the one right underneath the gum, always had kind of a dullness to it because of the sugar from the residue from the rectangular piece of crumbly, hard-as-a-rock bubble bum that was on top of it for so long?

    I wonder if there were any kids that collected the gum and threw the cards away?


    • verdun2 Says:

      By 1970 my card collecting days were over. I remember packs with 5 and with 6. I think they went to 10 about the time I quite collecting. I also seem to recall that the price jumped to 10 cents.

  3. glenrussellslater Says:

    That should have been bubble gum, not “bubble bum.”

    I guess I was thinking unconsiously of my “gravatar”, which is of the book “Bummy Davis vs. Murder Incorporated”. He was otherwise known as “The Brownsville Bum” and he was my cousin. Bummy Davis, real name Abraham Davidoff, was the greatest boxer ever to come out of the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.

    By the way, it’s an excellent book, even if you’re not into boxing. I recommend it.


  4. wkkortas Says:

    Sy, I’m sorry about cutting all those rookie cards in half. Rest in peace.

    • glenrussellslater Says:

      I used to do the same thing, WK. There “Rookie Stars” of the years I collected were usually three players per card, and by team, and when they ended up playing on some other team, I’d cut it in thirds. Then I’d put it in with, say, the Royals team. Like Amos Otis, for example. He was in “Mets Rookie Stars 1970”, or something like that, and when since he now played for the Royals, I put them in with the Royals team. I kept each team together by rubber band. Like a million other kids did, I suppose.


  5. glenrussellslater Says:

    Or maybe there were two players per card. I don’t honestly remember.

  6. glenrussellslater Says:

    Yeah, V. The first I remember, the cards were ten cents per pack. And Bazooka bubble gum was still a penny per gum. I think it must be some communist plot that Bazooka bubble gum is now more than a penny. First time I saw this, that it had gone to about five cents per piece of gum by the time I was in my twenties, I thought, “Is ANYTHING sacred????”

    Can you buy ANYTHING for a penny, anymore, let alone ten cents? I wonder.


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