The National Pastime: A Philatelic History – Part 1

An article by posted on February 21, 2011

The United States Postal Service has recognized our National Pastime on many occasions over the past 72 years. In 1939, the USPS issued the very first baseball stamp to commemorate the first 100 years of the game, and since then they have continued to produce commemorative baseball stamps through 2010.

As a child growing up, I collected stamps for a few years – something I picked up from my uncle who was, and still is, a huge philatelic enthusiast. I always thought of them as little works of art, and sports stamps were always my favorite.

In all, there have been 55 commemorative postage stamps issued with a baseball theme. Most of them were part of a special series such as Baseball Legends, Black History Month, and even Baseball Parks. However, 14 of them were single issue stamps covering a variety of baseball-related topics.

In the first of a two part series, I will cover the 14 single issues.  

The very first baseball commemorative was issued on June 12, 1939 to honor baseball’s centennial. The artwork features boys and girls playing on a typical sandlot in Anywhere, USA.

 Issued in 1969, this stamp honors 100 years of professional (salaried) baseball. Can you see the similarity to the original MLB logo? Well that same year was when MLB began using the red, white and blue silhouette logo.

Also issued in 1969, it commemorates one of America’s best known and beloved artists, and one of her most famous works which depicts residents of a small town in rural America gathering to watch kids playing baseball.

In 1982, Jackie Robinson became the first baseball player ever to appear on a postage stamp. This stamp was part of the very popular Black Heritage series that also commemorated Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Scott Joplin.

A year later in 1983, Babe Ruth became the second iconic baseball player to be commemorated. The Sultan of Swat wore what was a resemblance to a Yankees uniform, but no official markings were used.

Issued in 1984, this stamp pays tribute to the legendary American athlete, Jim Thorpe. Known best for his Olympic and football achievements, Thorpe played in the Major Leagues for six seasons mostly with the NY Giants.

In 1984, Roberto Clemente was commemorated ten years after his HOF induction and eleven years after his tragic death. He was the first foreign born baseball player to be commemorated and the Puerto Rican flag is featured prominently.

In 1989, Lou Gehrig was honored, and MLB finally granted permission to use a team logo for the first time. It coincided with the 50 year anniversary of the Baseball Hall of Fame and was officially released in Cooperstown, New York.

Baseball debuts in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Unfortunately, Team USA got shutout of the medal rounds. Cuba won the Gold led by phenom Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez. USA stars included Jason Giambi and Nomar Garciaparra.

The very first fictitious baseball player, and the most famous, gets his day in the sun in 1996. This was part of a set commemorating American folk heroes. Other stamps in the set depicted Paul Bunyan, John Henry, and Pecos Bill.

Issued in 2000, this baseball stamp was part of a set four stamps that commemorated “Youth Team Sports in America”. The other team sports featured were basketball, football, and of course soccer.

The most popular baseball song of all time, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2008. The song was written in 1908 by Jack Norworth, who wrote it after seeing a sign about an upcoming game at the Polo Grounds.

Issued in 2010, these two stamps commemorate Negro Leagues Baseball, and Andrew “Rube” Foster, who is considered to be the “Father of Negro Leagues Baseball.” The left stamp shows a classic scene of a close play at home plate.

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Tomorrow, I will complete this series with all of the spectacular Baseball Series that have been issued over the years by the USPS.

Thanks to  Collectibles Stamp Gallery, Stamps. Com, Mystic Stamp Co. and the United States Postal Service for their assistance in putting together this post.

About the Author ()

I'm a lifelong Mets fan who loves writing and talking about the Amazins' 24/7. From the Miracle in 1969 to the magic of 1986, and even the near misses in '73 and '00, I've experienced it all - the highs and the lows. I started Mets Merized Online in 2005 to feed my addiction and interact with other passionate Met fans like you. Follow me on Twitter @metsmerized.

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