I recently watched a countdown of the best deli sandwiches available in an area in which I would be travelling. As each restaurant owner talked up his offerings, a common theme emerged. Each deli had a “pickle guy” that supplied the perfect sandwich accompaniment. I had always assumed these were either made onsite or sourced as an afterthought from a local grocery store. I was wrong. It turns out I’ve just eaten subpar pickles my whole life.
One of the more interesting aspects of early baseball is the effects of more pedestrian player compensation. Offseason jobs were commonplace and the variety of professions was impressive. Red Sox pitcher Ray Scarborough was well aware of the need for additional sources of income. He had missed out on a potential payout when his first minor league team folded before his contract could be sold, spent two prime years in military service, and was player representative in pension discussions. To augment his baseball income he became an offseason salesman for the Mt. Olive Pickle Company. Ray Scarborough became the pickle guy.
Scarborough’s Topps Debut: 1951 Red Backs
Unlike most players appearing in the 1952 Topps set, Ray Scarborough had already appeared on a Topps product. The prior year Topps had sold cards alongside taffy that became legendary for its inedible taste that was reminiscent of paint solvents. Topps switched to bubble gum the following year and the Topps/Bowman rivalry took off.
The ’51 Topps cards came packaged two cards to a pack and had to be separated through perforations along the bottom border. The cards came in two separate checklists, each corresponding to the color ink used on the back of the card. Red backs, which feature our intrepid pickle salesman, are the more common variety. The cards were intended to be used as a game where purchases could take turns acting out a simulated game based on the actions depicted on the cards. The idea did not really catch on and was quickly abandoned.
Scarborough looks a little concerned on his ’51 Topps card. Although he is a pitcher the action allocated to his card is a triple. The smile on his ’52 Topps card may be one of relief a discontinuing the card game.