Publisher: Stewart, Tabori & Chang
Publication Date: June 2012
I moved to New York’s Upper West Side shortly after graduating from Syracuse University in 1975, eager to put my journalism degree to work. I had grown up in Syracuse as a diehard Yankees fan, and like lots of boys during the 1950s and ’60s, collected Topps baseball cards, stacking them neatly in shoeboxes and clothes-pinning doubles to the spokes of my hand-me-down bicycle’s wheels. (And, yes, my mom later threw out my cards, too!)
My fandom had faded in high school and college — not entirely because those cards were long gone and the Yanks stank then — but my arrival in New York coincided with the team’s resurgence, so I was primed for a rekindling. Ignition came the night of Oct. 14, 1976, when Chris Chambliss blasted the walkoff homer against the Royals that propelled the Yankees back to the World Series for the first time since 1964. In fact, Games 3 and 4 of that Fall Classic were the first major league games I ever attended — in the newly refurbished “House that Ruth Built” (and George Steinbrenner rebuilt), no less. Even though Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine swept the Yanks, getting to see Chambliss, Thurman Munson, Lou Piniella, Willie Randolph, Mickey Rivers, Sparky Lyle, Ed Figueroa and the rest of the new breed of pinstriped heroes up close and personal cemented my rebirth.
Click below to browse a selection of classic cards from Bob Woods’ book:
While those Bombers surged to world championships the following two seasons and remained competitive for several more, keeping my fan fires burning brightly, my career as a magazine editor and writer wouldn’t converge for another decade, by which time the Yankees were mired in another prolonged slump. In 1989, now a full-time freelancer, I teamed up with a former colleague working for The Topps Company, to create a quarterly baseball magazine tied into the then-booming card-collecting craze. Topps Magazine rode that wave until it crested in the mid-90s, and provided me with the wonderful opportunity not only to venture into sports writing but also to recapture the fun of ripping open packs of baseball cards and hunting for yet another generation of Yankees stars. (Alas, Topps dispensed with the familiar slabs of bubble gum in 1992, denying me that sweet nostalgia.)
This time my card collecting took on a personal generational character. For the other happy confluence then was the rise of a new Yankees dynasty, right at the time my wife and I were sharing our mutual love of the team with our young son and two daughters. Thanks to my continued association with Topps, despite the magazine’s demise, our kids had amassed sizeable card collections. So when Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and our other Yankees luminaries won four World Series in five years, a familial circle of fan life was opportunely complete. (We still laugh about the older two playing hooky so we could go to the parade in Manhattan after the glorious 1996 run!)
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, specifically June 1, the day “Yankee Greats” was published. Aside from my byline on the cover, the book marks the latest point in my evolution as a Yanks fan. Our older daughter now lives in Brooklyn, and though she left her Bernie Williams poster and personally autographed Topps card at home, she still roots for Derek, Andy and Mo, and thinks Robinson Cano is cute. Her sister, a high schooler for another year, stills includes the Yankees among her BFFs and occasionally joins my wife and me on the couch to watch a game.
Our son, however, has broken the chain, much to our dismay. Our eldest went off to college in Florida and, following his childhood dream, got into the boat business in Ft. Lauderdale. All good by us… until he unexpectedly traded in the interlocking “NY” for the ever-changing and hardly classic Marlins insignia. Heresy, the four of us keep telling him, even as he feigns a continued affection for his former team.
But that’s just to appease me, I think, especially after he seemed thrilled (okay, he was sincere) when I told him last year that I’d signed a deal to write a book that uses Topps baseball cards — some from his abandoned collection — to illustrate blurbs about 100 Yankee superstars. Although the assignment proved to truly be a labor of lifelong love for the team I grew up adoring and have been fortunate enough to merge into both my professional and family realms, as another Father’s Day comes and goes, I have to admit a tinge of sadness that one of our own has switched franchises. While his new allegiance reminds me of old New York stories of family feuds fueled when the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants all called the city home, I have one very grateful consolation. At least our son isn’t a Red Sox fan!
Bob Woods, a freelance writer, is the author of “Yankee Greats: 100 Classic Baseball Cards.” Growing up in upstate New York during the 1950s and 1960s, Woods collected Topps baseball cards. He later moved to New York City and teamed up with Topps to create Topps Magazine.