#CardCorner: 1959 Topps ‘Baseball Thrills’ Roy Sievers
On more than one occasion, I’ve written that the Topps Company debuted action photography in its historic black-bordered 1971 set. So when you see this 1959 Topps shot of Roy Sievers, a card that is now 60 years old, you might ask, “What gives?” After all, Sievers clearly appears to be “in action” during this game at old Griffith Stadium.
Have your name listed on a plaque on one of the high-capacity card drawers within the Shoebox Treasures exhibit with a gift of $5,000 or more. Also includes autographed baseball card and name listed on exhibit credit panel.
Receive a baseball card autographed by a Hall of Famer with a gift of $1,000 or more. Your choice of Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage or Ozzie Smith.
Well, let’s clarify. When Topps included 52 action shots as part of its 1971 set, it was indeed the first time that the company featured full-color action photography. But for many years prior to’71, Topps had featured cards of players in action, only without the use of color film. What Topps did during the 1950s and ’60s was take black-and-white action shots, and then colorize them – with varying degrees of success. Some of the colorized shots were very good – so good that they closely resembled color photographs. Others were not done quite as well, making them look like drawings, or in some cases, take on a cartoonish hue.
Up until the early 1970s, it was very difficult to take color photographs of players in action, mostly because of the existing technology, specifically the low speed of the film being used. That begin to change in the 1970s, when high-speed color film allowed photographers like Doug McWilliams and others who freelanced for Topps to take quality shots of players as they moved on the playing field.
So why did Topps include Roy Sievers, with his bright blue cap, a red No. 2, and those gaudy red, white and blue stockings, in its subset of Baseball Thrills? The banner at the bottom of the card, declaring “Sievers Sets Homer Mark,” actually refers to two different statistical milestones from 1957. First, Sievers’ total of 42 home runs set a new single-season franchise record for his team, the Washington Senators. Second, Sievers’ home run total led the American League, making him the first Senator to do so. That was an especially impressive feat given the presence of other premier power hitters in the AL, principally Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams.
Sievers’ home run output becomes even more notable in light of the ballpark he played in: The double-decked Griffith Stadium, an old-time park that can be seen quite easily on the ’59 Topps card. The dimensions of the park did not favor a right-handed slugger like Sievers; the distance down the left field line measured no less than 350 feet. Yet, Sievers hit so many of his home runs into the left field bleachers that the media dubbed that area of the ballpark “Sieversville.”
Regarded as a can’t-miss prospect, Sievers quickly emerged as an outfield regular, splitting his time between center field and left field. Sievers more than justified the Browns’ belief in him as a high-grade prospect; he hit 16 home runs, batted .301, and compiled an OPS of .869. Those numbers earned him the Rookie of the Year Award, along with some back-of-the-ballot support in the league’s MVP race.
“This is the crossroads for me,” Sievers told sportswriter John Steadman. “Twice in two years, I have wrecked the same arm. Maybe I’m all through. Who knows for sure?”
After muddling through the 1952 and ’53 seasons, Sievers had even more reason for worry. Then came a major change in his career path. After the ’53 season, Browns owner Bill Veeck sold the team to an ownership group that moved the franchise to Baltimore. But Sievers never played a game as an Oriole. In February of 1954, the Orioles traded Sievers to the rival Senators for left-handed hitting outfielder Gil Coan. The deal would become a boon for both Sievers and the Senators.
In each of his first five seasons with Washington, Sievers played well enough to receive consideration for the American League MVP Award, even though his team never contended. His power numbers and overall offensive production were simply too good to overlook.
He hit 29 home runs that summer, but a series of nagging injuries cut down his playing time. With young sluggers Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison on the way up, Senators general manager Calvin Griffith decided that the 33-year-old Sievers was expendable. That winter, he traded Sievers to the Chicago White Sox for a package of catcher Earl Battey, slugging first baseman Don Mincher and $150,000.
In 1961, Sievers put up nearly identical numbers for the White Sox and made his fifth All-Star Game. But the White Sox were an aging team, and one that was facing an imminent ownership change. When Veeck sold the team to the Allyn brothers, the Sox shipped Sievers to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher John Buzhardt and infielder Charley Smith.
Sievers did not stay out of baseball for long. In 1966, he joined the coaching staff of the Cincinnati Reds. He then managed in the New York Mets’ system for two seasons before moving on to the Oakland A’s organization. Ultimately, Sievers felt that his salaries as a minor league manager would not allow him to support his family, so he left baseball and took a job with a freight company in St. Louis. He worked at the company for 18 years before retiring.
Over the years, Sievers maintained a connection to baseball by attending reunions of the St. Louis Browns. A member of the Browns Historical Society, he enjoyed retirement in St. Louis until 2017, when he passed away at the age of 90.
Like many standouts from the 1950s, Sievers has become somewhat forgotten by time. Perhaps that’s because he starred for two now-defunct franchises. Another factor may have been the bad fortune of never playing for a team good enough to reach the World Series. He was also a quiet and modest man, one who didn’t do much in the way of bragging.
But at one time, Roy Sievers thrilled the fans of Washington to no end, as we’re so well reminded 60 years later by his surreal, colorized action shot on a vintage Topps card.
Bruce Markusen is the manager of digital and outreach learning at the National Baseball Hall of Fame
For the first time in the Museum’s history we will take a comprehensive look at the history of baseball cards, collecting and the connection generations of fans have had to these Shoebox Treasures. We are in the midst of a public campaign to “get us home” and make Shoebox Treasures, the name of this exciting new exhibit, a reality. Will you consider making a one-time gift to help us reach our goal?
You can donate at www.baseballhall.org/shoeboxtreasures to help ensure that Shoebox Treasures will open in 2019.