1965 was a pip of a year for baseball: The artists formerlyknown as the Houston Colt .45s changed their name to the Astros upon receipt ofthe lease to their new home, the Astrodome (making them the first major leaguebaseball team to play their home games in a venue named after a charactervoiced by Don Messick), the Braves finished up their tenure in Milwaukee beforeheading to the Land of the Boiled Peanut, and the Los Angeles Angels changedtheir name to the California Angels, presumably in preparation to change it tosomething even stupider in the 21st Century. The Angels’ roommatesat Dodger Stadium for the 1965 season – unshockingly, the Los Angeles Dodgersthemselves – won the NL pennant despite pitcher Juan Marichal of the Giantsattacking catcher (and former Sheboygan Indian) John Roseboro with a baseballbat during a late-season game, then overcame a 0-2 World Series deficit toupend the Minnesota Twins in seven games, largely on the strength of ace SandyKoufax – who famously sat out Game 1 due to Yom Kippur – and his complete-gamevictories in Games 5 and 7. Willie Mays hit his 500th home run,Mickey Mantle played his 2000th game (all with the Yankees), and theKansas City A's trotted Satchel Paige out to the mound at the grand old age of59 for his final MLB start in a tilt against the Boston Red Sox, where he gaveup no runs and one hit (a double to Carl Yastrzemski) in three innings of work.Zoilo Versalles of the Twins and Willie Mays of the Giants were the AL and NLMVPs. The season, as stated previously, was a pip.
Thepippitude of 1965 extended from the primary equation of the MLB season itselfto baseball's first derivative, baseball cards. The 1965 Topps set is arollicking and jolly 598-card assortment of bold shapes, bright colors, andmanly joie de vivre, one of the best-looking sets of a visually peerlessdecade. The most expensive card of the set, were one inclined to undertake aproject of this particular tenor, is, as usual, Mickey Mantle. Mickey Mantle isalmost always the most valuable card in any baseball card set that has MickeyMantle as a member (when there’s a set with a card that’s even pricierthan The Mick, you got big trouble [looking at you,1963 Pete Rose rookiecard]). Given the infernal pull of the Commerce Comet on the commerce ofsecondary market baseball card trading, this reporter often finds it moreinteresting to note what the second-most valuable card in any givenbaseball card set is, assuming that the most expensive item on that year’sto-do list is almost always Mantle. In the 1952 Topps set, the second-priciestcard is Braves slugger Eddie Mathews. In 1959, it’s the Bob Gibson rookie card.In 1964, it’s the Pete Rose second-year card, restoring the natural order ofthings so grievously uprooted in 1963. And, for the 1965 Topps set, the silvermedal – per the Beckett Baseball Card Price Guide, generally held to bethe industry standard – goes to neither Koufax, nor Mays, nor any othercelebrated hero of the 1965 season, but instead to a little-known righty fromNorthern Wisconsin: The immortal Fritz Ackley.
FlorianFrederick Ackley was born April 10th, 1937, in the fair hamlet ofHayward – a city of just over two thousand hardy souls, tucked away in theremote northwest quarter of Wisconsin, and home to the annual World LumberjackChampionships. Hayward’s most well-known landmark is the World’s LargestMuskie, conveniently located outside the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall ofFame (a photograph of the Parasites cavorting inside the creature’s mouth canbe viewed in the accompanying graphics to the Rat Ass Pie album).Possessed of one of the truly great unibrows of his generation (second only toDodgers utility man and part-time Dick Tracy villain Wally Moon) and signed bythe White Sox organization upon graduating from Hayward High School in 1954,Fritz began his world-beating baseball career with the Class D Dubuque Packersof the Mississippi-Ohio Valley League, posting a 2-3 record with a 4.76 ERA.Over the course of the next decade, Ackley spent time with the Superior Blues,Waterloo White Hawks, Duluth-Superior White Sox, Colorado Springs Sky Sox,Davenport DavSox, Lincoln Chiefs, Savannah/Lynchburg White Sox, capping off histenth year in the minors with a brilliant 18-win season for the AAAIndianapolis Indians. As a late season call-up for the big league team, Fritzmade his major league debut on September 21st, 1963 in front of araucous crowd of 4,291 at Tiger Stadium, giving up three runs over six inningsof work in a 4-3 White Sox (Chicago edition) loss to the Tigers (Ackleyreceived a no-decision, Denny McLain took the complete game victory forDetroit). Undeterred by this brief speedbump on the road to greatness, Ackley tookthe mound six days later for the second game of a doubleheader against theWashington Senators, scattering two hits and a lone run over the course ofseven strong innings of work, as the White Sox cruised to an easy 7-1 victoryover the Nats. This would be Ackley's lone big league victory that year... or,for that matter, any other year. Fritz stuck around as a reliever with theparent club for the beginning of the 1964 season, but, after three more gameswith the White Sox in which his ERA ballooned to an unwieldy 8.53, Fritz wassent back down to Indianapolis, traded to St. Louis, and assigned to theJacksonville Suns of the International League, never to return to the bigs.Ackley's lifetime record in the majors – consisting of five games spread out overthe end of the 1963 and beginning of the 1964 seasons – would be permanentlyfrozen at a pristine 1-0, with a 4.19 lifetime ERA, 17 strikeouts, and 11 baseson balls. Although the caption on the back of Ackley's 1965 baseball card reads“opportunity is tapping Fritz on the shoulder after ten years in the minors,”Fritz spent 1965 ringing up an 8-11 mark for Jacksonville, followed by a tradeto Pittsburgh, reassignment to the Tulsa Oilers, then the Columbus Jets, thenback to Hayward, where Fritz became a manager: Manager of the Chip-A-Flo Lodge,conveniently located on the Chippewa Flowage. Fritz Ackley's 1965 baseball cardis worth $200 in mint condition.
At thispoint, it might do to inject a little context. What, exactly, does it meanwhen a player's baseball card trades for two hundred bucks American? Well, forone thing, it means the player ain’t no Mickey Mantle: The Mick’s 1965 cardbooks at a hefty $600 in mint condition, triple that of FlorianFrederick Ackley (the collector appeal of Mantle-iana is so great that the cardcommemorating Game 3 of the 1964 World Series – captioned “Mantle's ClutchHomer” – is itself the eighth-priciest card of the 1965 set, listing at $80 inmint). That aside, baseball cards with that hefty of a price tag, unsurprisingly,are generally reserved only for first ballot Hall of Famers and the occasionalchronic gambler with HOF-level credentials. Per Beckett, there are twoother 1965 baseball cards which command the same dollar value as that of FritzAckley: Pete Rose and Roberto Clemente. Rose was a 17-time all-star, andremains MLB's all-time leader in hits (4,256), games played (3,562), at-bats(14,053), and plate appearances (15,890). The beloved Clemente was a 15-timeall-star, a National League and World Series MVP, racked up exactly 3000hits, and died while manning a relief flight for earthquake victims inNicaragua. Fritz Ackley's claim to fame is that he never lost any of the fivegames in which he appeared. Even some of the players whose cards’ net worthhasn't quite attained the lofty heights of Ackley-dom had fairly decent yearsin 1965: Willie Mays hit 52 of his 660 home runs that year, en route to hissecond NL MVP award and the twelfth of his twenty consecutive All-Star seasons,and his 1965 card books at a measly $150. Hank Aaron's home run record mighthave only lasted 33 years, but he still holds the all-time MLB records for RBI(2,297), total bases (6,856), and extra-base hits (1,477); his card is worthbut half an Ackley – $100. A hundred bucks is also the going rate for a mintcondition Sandy Koufax, pitcher of more victories in the 1965 World Series thanFritz Ackley pitched in his entire big-league career. Ernie Banks hit his 400thhomer in 1965, Tony Perez played his first full season in the majors in 1965,and Jim “Catfish” Hunter, bypassing the minor leagues entirely, made his majorleague (and baseball card) debut in 1965. None of their cards break the centurymark, dollarwise, let alone threaten the two hundred dollar plateau. At thispoint, one might be reasonably be forgiven for asking the obvious question:OKAY, SO WHAT THE HELL IS THE DEAL WITH THE FRITZ ACKLEY CARD???
The rootsof the deal can be, in a roundabout way, traced back to MLB’s 1960’s expansion:From the dawn of the 20th Century through 1959, the NL and AL eachfeatured eight teams. In 1959, ToppsBaseball was a 572-card set. Figuring around twenty-five players for each ofthe sixteen major league teams, and one card to a player, that’s still only 400cards – leaving 172 additional cardboard rectangles to fill. Thus, pretty muchanyone who could walk, stagger, or crawl in front of a camera got to be on abaseball card: Managers got a card, rookies and prospects got cards, all-starsgot two cards, World Series games got their own cards, even commissionerFord fricking Frick got a card. By the mid-sixties, however, the sixteenexisting teams had been joined by the Angels, Astros, Mets and Senators Mk. II,thrusting an additional hundred players into the mix. Meanwhile, reflecting a presumablyreasonably inelastic demand for baseball cards, the Topps series had expandedvery little – nudging up from 572 cards in 1959 to only 598 in 1965. By themid-sixties, there were a lot less extra cards to fill. As a result, therewould be no more cards for front office executive types, no more double cardsfor all-stars, and multiple rookies were squished together on a single card.The Catfish Hunter rookie card is a quad occupancy deal – the late A's hurler'spostage-stamp-sized mug sits among similarly-sized portraits of three othercan't-miss Kansas City prospects. This, too, is the situation for the duplexed1965 Fritz Ackley card: Florian Frederick Ackley's delightfully-unibrowedkisser occupies only the left side of the card bearing the half-correct heading“CARDS 1965 ROOKIE STARS,” while the right half is given over to a player whoactually wound up suiting up for the Cardinals. Between Fritz and his rookiecardmate, the two pitchers would combine for 330 lifetime wins and four CyYoung awards, which is because... the $200 Fritz Ackley rookie card is also...the $200 Steve Carlton rookie card. And that is the story behind the1965 Fritz Ackley card. Hey, at less than $67 an eyebrow, you might need oneyourself.