Vintage Item Spotlight-Albie Pearson Topps #317 Rookie Card

preasonnumber-8By David G. Firestone

Albie Pearson played baseball in the Major League from 1958 to 1966. He played for the Washington Senators, Baltimore Orioles, and Los Angeles/California Angels. He was selected to the 1963 MLB All-Star game in Cleveland where he was a starter. Pearson was one of 3 outfielders to start the game, beating out Carl Yastrzemski, and Harmon Killebrew as starters. He is most well-known for his phenomenal 1958 rookie season, which he won the American League Rookie Of the Year honor, as well as The Sporting News Rookie of the Year Award.

In 1958, the Washington Senators were in the last year of one of the most ambitious uniform designs of their era, the legendary 3D Uniform. The home uniform featured a W and the back numerals in a 3 dimensional design. The design of the numbers was somewhat complex as illustrated by this similarly designed Eddie Yost number from the same year…yostnumber-2

As can clearly be seen, the red bottom layer is made of tackle-twill, which was and still is one of the most popular materials for baseball uniform numbers. The middle layer is the same cream-colored lightweight flannel that the uniforms themselves were made of. The top layer is a blue tackle-twill design, to give the 3D appearance. The uniform was featured in the 1958 Warner Brothers musical Damn Yankees, and the numbers can clearly be seen in the Shoeless Joe from Hannibal MO scene as seen here: The uniform lettering on the jerseys, while similar, is not as accurate as the on-field uniforms, as seen below…

This is the number 6 that Albie Pearson wore on his home jersey during his 1958 Washington Senators rookie season. preasonnumber-1 preasonnumber-3It matches the Eddie Yost number design exactly. I also found a photo of him wearing this number on the back of his jersey.preasonnumber-10Now when I do research on an item, photo matching is paramount. One of the first and best places to find photographic evidence is trading cards. So I looked up his rookie card. I found it was a 1958 Topps Card, specifically card #317. When I saw the card, I was shocked.preasonnumber-8

What was so shocking? Let’s take a closer look…preasonnumber-9Huh? Pearson isn’t wearing #6, instead he is wearing a jersey with a number 7. When compared to the photograph above, it also appears as though it is a two-digit number. I could not understand how something like this could come to pass, and felt it warranted more research. It would seem likely that he wore a different number in training camp. I wanted to go to the source, and ask Mr. Pearson himself.

Pearson did not spend any time in the minors for Washington, so that can be eliminated as the cause. He was traded to the Senators in January 1958. Through some more research, I learned that since his retirement, Albie Pearson has founded churches and orphanages in Zambia and Ecuador. He founded Father’s Heart Ranch, an 11 acre ranch for abused, abandoned and neglected 6-12 year old boys. He lives on the ranch and is in charge of day-to-day operations. I contacted Albie Pearson about this through Father’s Heart Ranch\,and I got this response.. “…I believe the #7 which you see on my rookie card was the number I wore during spring training with the Washington Senators. I cannot recall if the number was 37 or 7 that I wore during spring training. My true number that I wore when I was rookie of the year was #6.” Based on this insight, I checked baseball reference, and found that #7 had been assigned to Bobby Malkmus in 1958 for 25 games and #37 wasn’t assigned to any player in 1958 or 1957. Based on this, it appears that Pearson is wearing #37 in his Topps rookie card.

I have never seen this number design anywhere else. I don’t even think that there are throwback jerseys with this design. So I felt it proper to analyze these number for all to enjoy. In fact, this is one of my favorite sub-genres in the memorabilia hobby, jersey numbers.  Next edition of Vintage Item Spotlight, we will examine these numbers even closer.

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