Saturday, October 2, 2021

Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball!

Count Basie & Co. said it first but back when the song debuted in 1949 you either had to catch the Dodgers in action at Ebbets Field or another NL park, or find a TV in a year where only 172,000 were sold nationally, to actually see Jackie hit that ball.  As the 1950's  kicked off though, another method allowed kids to do just that.  All you needed was was a "Pocket Television Theatre" as shown here by Adam Warshaw:

This reverse is from a different flipbook but appears to be from the original issue (getting to that kids)  as, per Friend o'the Archive Tim Begley, the "How To Bunt" book was never produced:

The books were also issued with blank backs, excepting the copyright indicia. At a point after that, a mailer card was prepared with the  "How To Bunt" title excised on the checklist:

The back of this mailer tells the tale though and you will quickly see why I am bringing this up in a Topps-centric blog:

Yes, Topps did indeed issue a skip-numbered series of 40 Flip-O-Vision "movies" in 1949 and they have been covered here previously.  I will however, point you to the most comprehensive overview of that issue I have ever seen, over at Drew Freidman's blog.

OK then, what is going on and why are we here?  Well I'm beginning to think that, despite PR to the contrary, Topps just licensed the Flip-O-Vision name and that Flip Book "Television," Inc. a year or so later just issued their own, otherwise unrelated, flipbooks. But wait, there's definitely more-Topps originally got kick-started in the baseball card game by establishing an in-house agency called Players Enterprises in July of 1950 to sign ballplayers to a contract allowing the use of their image in connection with candy (and later, gum) products. Their first signees were inked in December of that year and they had by then bought or acquired licenses for the photgraphic images of 248 Major Leaguers from an entitity called Russell Publishing, which had one year player contracts in hand for a planned series of--wait for it--flipbooks (!) beginning in October of 1950. So in the midst of all this, Bowman issued Robinson cards in 1949 and '50 while Topps was just beginning to navigate the flipbook and baseball fields.

Jackie was, of course, a Topps subject from 1952-56 as we all very well know. So what of the fact that he had no 1951 cards available from either Topps or Bowman? It's really just inexplicable that neither company issued a card of him in 1951. The two companies had many legal issues between them of course but players with disputed contracts always seem to have appeared in at least one issuer's sets, if not both, whereas players with exclusive deals with another confectionery company or ones that had a full non-compete with a product (Stan Musial for a good many years in the 50's for example was tied up by Rawlings) did not

Examining things a bit more closely, the 1952 Topps Jackie Robinson wasn't issued until August of that year and with the infamous high numbers at that. So he was not even considered as a Topps subject until June of '52 after Sy Berger allegedly convinced management to issue a "second series" beyond the originally planned 310 cards. Remember, this was in a year where they were in a huge push to sell their new "Giant Size" cards and stomp all over Bowman!  When Topps ultimately decided to produce the highs in June/July of 1952, they seemingly would have known Robinson was available to them as they were clearly in tight with the Dodgers clubhouse (Ebbets Field was practically in the Shorin's familial Crown Heights backyard) for the high number cards; witness 16 of the 97 subjects therein being Bums.  

If we go back to 1949, Flip-O-Vision was issued prior to Oct. 1st (it's captured in the same-dated issue of Card Collectors Bulletin) and even had a televison ad campaign attached to it.  I suspect it was a summer product as there were movie theatre tie-ins with the FOV in in New York City via  a "Mystery Star of the Week" contest and boy, kids went to the movies in droves back then when school was out to cool off. However, Topps was blowing out overstock and returns of Flip-O-Vision by early 1950 as part of "Fun Boxes" they advertised for several months in Billboard magazine through the final week of May 1950, then abruptly dropped their ads showcasing same and started hawking Bozo gumballs in the first June issue instead.  

I suspect Flip Book "Television," Inc. and/or Sylvan had Jackie's rights locked up from May or June 1950 until May or June 1952, passing from one firm to the other it seems. The flipbooks probably did not sell well, given how scarce they are today or perhaps the promotion just ran its course. It's unclear how they were sold originally but it looks like the overstock got dumped either by or to Sylvan Sweets.

Perhaps Sylvan obtained, the Flip-O-Vision license (doubt it) or just said "screw it, let's just steal the name" (there ya go) and off they went with their own promotion, which I believe, ut cannot yet prove, included a sample pack of candy cigarettes. Robinson is a low # in 1950 Bowman to boot, so his card was issued well before June that year. The timing of the 1952 Topps highs certainly ties in to this.

Jackie was a star on the field and a celebrity off, so it makes sense that he could have signed an exclusive deal with another company that wasn't Topps or Bowman, almost certainly for more than he could extract from either of them.  Therefore, it would seemingly explain his absence from the two major BB card sets of 1951 in a hugely competitive marketing and sales space. Seriously, why would he not have a 1951 Topps or Bowman card otherwise?

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