Over the years, Darwin Day, a 70-year-old resident of Grand Prairie, Tex., had given away so many baseball cards from his childhood that he didn’t think he had any left. But one that he found recently paid off when he entered a contest from 1957: He won a new baseball glove.
What happened to Mr. Day is a tale of loss, sleuthing, whimsy and coincidence. It also features a curious and good-natured corporate executive at Topps, the baseball card company.
The story begins in February, when Mr. Day’s only sibling, a brother, died of cancer at 65 a few months after he learned of the diagnosis.
It fell to Mr. Day to tend to his brother’s affairs, including cleaning out his house in Virginia, he said in an interview last week.
The work was so difficult and time-consuming that Mr. Day was prompted to do his own housecleaning, so that when he died he could spare his survivors some of that chore.
He went into a closet to start what he called in an email a “search and discard or organize mission.” To his surprise, he found baseball cards tucked into plastic sleeves in three-ring binders, organized by year: 1956, 1957 and 1958. Back then, he used to root for the Yankees. Now, he’s a Texas Rangers fan.
Among the old cards was one that invited fans to enter a contest sponsored by Bazooka, the pink bubble gum that came with the packs of six baseball cards.
The contest card featured Bazooka Joe, the gum’s baby-face mascot who wore a crooked cap high on his head and an eye patch, and the enticement to “win these swell prizes”: a Gilbert #12062 chemistry lab, a Stellar 600 power microscope or a Spalding fielder’s glove.
To win, entrants had to predict the scores of two games to be played on July 19, 1957. Entries had to include five Bazooka gum wrappers “or reasonable facsimiles,” according to the contest.
Entries were due by July 11. But the contest said nothing about what year they were due.
Mr. Day said his brother was a bit of a jokester and would have approved of entering the contest as a lark. The cards also had a sentimental value: Mr. Day recalled spending a lot of time in the game of “flipping” baseball cards with his brother.
“It was a sad time in my life,” he said of entering the contest. “It was really intended to be for a laugh.”
Then came the sleuthing: An internet search turned up the scores of the games from July 19, 1957: the Milwaukee Braves versus the New York Giants (the Braves won 3-1); and the Baltimore Orioles versus the Kansas City Athletics (the Orioles won 4-2).
He also found an updated address to send the entry and discovered Tony Jacobs, the vice president and general manager of global confectionery for Topps.
Mr. Jacobs had once worked for Life Savers, a connection to candy dating to Mr. Day’s childhood. Mr. Day grew up in Port Chester, N.Y., near the Life Savers factory and could tell the day of the week by the aroma coming from the plant. (Cherry was the flavor on Mondays, for example.)
In another coincidence, Mr. Day had a baseball card for a pitcher who had the same name as the Topps executive. The pitcher, Tony Jacobs, spent his entire career in the minor leagues except for playing in two major league games in 1948 and 1955. Mr. Day included the card and addressed the envelope to Mr. Jacobs with instructions to have it delivered to him before July 11 — a nod to the contest rules.
The scores were easy to find, but the five gum wrappers were not.
He headed to the post office, prepared to mail the entry without the wrappers, and found a grocery store next door that sold a “jumbo size” box of the gum, he said. A woman ahead of him on the checkout lane tried to pay for her groceries with a $100 bill but the cashier said she could not accept such a large denomination.
Inspiration struck, Mr. Day said. He offered to pay for the woman’s groceries — which amounted to $20-plus, he said — if she would include in her purchase the box of gum, minus the five pieces he needed.
The woman’s 10-year-old daughter helped Mr. Day unwrap the first piece after he had trouble peeling it off. “After I saw her do it so easily, I had to give the other four a try to salvage a bit of pride,” he said.
As part of the mailing, Mr. Day included a letter that mentioned the Life Savers factory.
Mr. Jacobs, the Topps executive, said in an email he was intrigued by “what seemed to be a very mysterious letter addressed to me.”
“Three individual items were inside that didn’t necessarily have an immediate connection,” he said. “The first was a letter discussing the aroma of a Life Savers factory. The second, a baseball card with a ’50s player with my same name. And finally, what looked to be an old Bazooka promotional contest card filled out.”
He was not quite sure what to make of it but he pursued it. Mr. Jacobs, whom Mr. Day described as a “good guy,” arranged to send a pillow and T-shirt with the Bazooka logo, boxes of gum and a black Louisville Slugger glove with tan stitching.
Instead of rejecting the entry because it did not comply with the rules or relied on a loophole, Mr. Day said Mr. Jacobs responded in a way that was in keeping with the trusting ethos of the 1950s.
“Nineteen fifty-seven was such a pure time compared to what we have now,” Mr. Day said.
Mr. Jacobs returned the promotional baseball card and kept the Tony Jacobs card, which he said he planned to have framed and placed in his office.
The story of Mr. Day, reported by The Dallas Morning News, has gained national attention.
Mr. Day said that until now, he had never been able to do an internet search of himself without finding thousands of results for “Darwin Day,” a day
celebrated for the scientist and naturalist Charles Darwin.
Now Mr. Day — and his storied glove — can be celebrated.
By Christopher Mele
Sept. 21, 2016
New York Times