Saturday, January 3, 2009

Seeing A Ghost

Today we look at a promising Cubs career cut short and an embarrassing Topps error that went uncorrected.

Unless you are a long time Cubs fan, Ken Hubbs is a name that you probably don't know. He had a brief rise to stardom with the Cubs, and then his career was tragically cut short.

Topps 1962 Ken Hubbs

Topps 1963 Ken Hubbs

Ken first came up to the Cubs at the end on the 1961 season as a 19 year old rookie. He got in ten games and hit an unimpressive .179. But the Cubs thought they had a prospect and in 1962 he won the starting second baseman job. He had a strong season, hitting a decent .260 and shining in the field. He set a major league record going 78 games without an error. He was voted National League Rookie of the Year, the second Cub in a row to win the award (Billy Williams won the award in 1961). Things were looking up on the north side.

In 1963, Hubbs suffered a bit of the sophomore jinks as his average dipped to .235. But his steady play still gave Cubs fans some optimism. Plus, he was only 21 years old.

During the offseason, Hubbs took flying lessons to help overcome a fear of flying. In January of 1964 he earned his pilots license. On February 13, 1964 Hubbs was piloting a small plane from Provo, Utah to his hometown of Colton, California. There was a heavy snowstorm in Utah and his plane went down, killing Hubbs and his passenger.

Topps issued this card in the 1964 set with the black "In Memoriam" band across the top. Although several active ballplayers have died since Hubbs, notably Roberto Clemente, Thurman Munson, and Lyman Bostock, it wasn't until 2006, when Cory Lidle died, that Topps issued another "In Memoriam" type card.

Topps 1964 Ken Hubbs

2006 Cory Lidle from the Updates and Highlights set

Eerily, the Ken Hubbs baseball card story does not end in 1964. Two years later, he appeared on another card, this time as part of an error. The 1966 card of Cubs pitcher Dick Ellsworth has the late Ken Hubbs' picture instead of Ellsworth. How could Topps make sure a colossal mistake? Looking at the card, you see a player in an infielders pose, not in the typical pose for pitchers. It wasn't the first time Topps switched players pictures on cards, but it is the first time they did it with the picture of a dead guy!

The 1966 card with Hubbs instead of Ellsworth

A 1963 card of Ellsworth in the typical pitchers pose.

The error went uncorrected. Topps did not reissure a card with Ellsworth's picture. I hope no one in the Hubbs family collected baseball cards in 1966 or else they might have thought they saw a ghost.


  1. Actually Cory Lidle also has an In Memoriam card in 2006 Updates & Highlights.

  2. Very interesting discovery with Hubbs. I was just looking at his 1963 card as I am currently writing about Glenn Beckert - because of Hubbs' unfortuante accident Beckert became a regular 2nd baseman in Chicago. Thanks for the memory.

  3. Hubbs was obviously before my time, but this is a very interesting post. Good luck on the new blog!