If you read almost anything at all about the history of Topps and in particular Sy Berger, their one time Promotions Manager who ended up heading their Sports Department for many years, you will invariably run across the phrase "steak money." This is what Berger referred to as the initial payment to a minor leaguer who, in the eyes of Topps, had eventual major league potential. This was done in order to contractually bind the player to Topps, no small thing throughout the course of Berger's employment. This "stake" was always described as enough to allow the new signee to go buy a steak, which makes it a homonym in this context. The amount of this initial check? Five bucks!
Well, you can tell this is a tale reflecting prices from a long, long time ago as five dollar steaks at a decent restaurant haven't been priced at that level since the early 1980's (if not earlier). There is a famous story about Topps shunning Maury Wills, never offering him steak money, and the long standing grudge held by the 1962 National League MVP, who was also key member of three World Champion Dodgers teams, that led him to boycott the company until 1967. Wills is an interesting subject, who we will return to momentarily but first, why not show what these checks actually looked like.
The front is extremely precise, isn't it?!
The date this version of the check was used would be after 1963, when ZIP codes were implemented. The 254 36th St. address was in use for decades by Topps, starting in 1956 and I believe until they moved their corporate office out of Brooklyn and into Manhattan in the mid-1990's.