The Pasteboard Era of Legendary Charlie Silvera

It was a nice day. Sun was shining. Temperature wasn’t too bad. I was examining the yard when a neighbor asked if I would come over to their house in a day or two to look at some baseball cards he and his wife had collected. The neighbor was wondering what to do with them and how to sell them. As one who has collected the ‘poor man’s stock market’ material for years, I said I would. The day came and I dropped over.

When I sat down and began taking them out of their containers, the anxious rush of childhood enveloped me once again, full of anticipation that the next card would be that of the ‘big one’, Mickey himself. Naturally I want through the 1952 Topps first. And there it was.

The one card that nobody ever wanted to see in their pack, the pack that cost them a nickel which was everything in the world at that time, was that of one Charles Anthony Ryan Silvera, better know as Charlie Silvera. On this card was a brilliant yellow background behind the portrait of the back up catcher for Yogi Berra of the famed New York Yankees. For much of that summer of my youth, to avoid the Silvera card was the task. Every pack that was bought would be carefully peeled away at the back, slowly removing the folded wax paper wrapper to make sure we did not tear the wrapper, damage any of the cards and get the flat wide stick of sugary bubble gum and make sure it didn’t leave a stain on the card.

Then we would look at the first card.

Invariably it would be someone whom few had ever heard about except for his family and friends. This is where Charlie Silvera usually came into our lives. During the course of a year you could end up with five, six or seven Charlie Silvera’s which had absolutely no value in ‘kiddom’. You could only hope that there was a newbie who would move into the neighborhood and not know a thing about the value of these pasteboard wonders. Or, you hoped that a kid would come along and want to trade a card, any card, for a Silvera which he would usually put in the spokes of his bike, secured by a clothes pin to the front bike fork, and create a loud mechanical sound that represented a mad drummer banging at a  faster and faster rhythm against a metal drum the faster the kid peddled his bike.

Silvera was omnipresent. Two kids could go to the corner store and buy two packs of Topps. When they came out and unwrapped their packs, you had a very good chance of each pulling the dreaded Silvera yellow background card from their packs. Ugh……..

Silvera killed us that summer. Topps must have printed 10 Silvera’s for every star player card.

But it wasn’t the first summer he had done that. The 1950 Bowman packs contained the first sighting of Charlie Silvera. Card #96 was his true rookie card. In the 1951 Bowman set, he was missing. But the 1952 Bowman set contained a horizontal beauty. On #197, there he was in a throwing position, ball in his right hand cocked and ready to throw while his big pillow glove on his left hand sighted the way. With his cap on backwards and a stern, square-jawed portrait, it is one of the better looking cards of that era. But, it was a Charlie Silvera card and not that of Mickey, or Yogi or Whitey or ‘The Scooter’, ‘Willie’ or ‘Duke’.

That same year he made his way into one of the two greatest baseball card sets of all time…the 1952 Topps. (Along with the ’52 Topps, the 1957 Topps is one of the most popular Topps sets ever produced.) In fact, he was in every early Topps set from 1952 (#168), 1953 (#242), 1954 (#96), 1955 (188) to 1957 (#255) with the exception of the 1956 set.

Charlie Silvera played for part of 10 season in the Major Leagues hitting .282. However, he only played in 227 games. But he has two things he can tell his grandchildren: he hit one home run. And, although he was on six World Series teams, he only played in the 1949 classic and faced Preacher Roe of the Brooklyn Dodgers twice without a hit. But, he played in the Classic.

So there I was, once again flipping through memories of youthful dreams past, spouting off various statistics to my neighbors about the cards that I knew so well as I was flipping them over and WHAM!

There it was again, Charlie Silvera’s 1957 card, his last. Will this dreaded curse of Silvera never end?

It was a different place in a different time. Here’s to you, Charlie. Hope today in San Francisco you experience nothing but pleasure. I can only say that now. When I came across your image in those glorious days on the front steps of Lincoln Avenue unwrapping that treasured pack of baseball cards with Snookie, my next door baseball friend, seeing you was a dreaded reminder that we were all another pack away from collecting a quiniela of Silvera cards.

Play Ball!

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