Top 10 Athlete Stamps in U.S. Postal History

May 14, 2012 – 8:51 pm by Matthew Glenesk

Three flights of stairs separate me from my mailbox, so I have plenty of time to ponder the world’s greatest mysteries in transit.

On one of these jaunts I was thinking, “When was the last time I actually mailed something? Sure I get mail, but when was the last time I actually put a stamp on an envelope and physically mailed something?”

Bills? I pay online. Letters to pals? Come on, email. Greeting cards? I have engreet do it.

No wonder post offices across the country are under threat. And while I grieve for the postmen and women, they aren’t the real victims. The truly aggrieved are stamps. Yup, stamps.

I know I’m not the only one who collected stamps as a kid. Doesn’t mean I was a stamp nerd. It was just some common ground for a kid and a dad. (I was probably a stamp nerd.) But I had books of them. And being a sports fan, I always tried to make sure I had most of the stamps athletes featured on.

In 1981, golf legends Bobby Jones and Babe Zaharias were each put on an 18-cent stamp. (Though to call Babe just a golfer is an injustice.) I had both. The 1983 Babe Ruth 20-cent stamp, had that one too. I even had a 1961 James Naismith four-cent stamp.

Most of the athlete-related stamps have been issued well after my collecting days. (I cannot emphasize how well after.) But now that mailing and stamps are becoming obsolete, who weeps for the stamps?

I do. I weep for them.

So in their honor, I present you with the Top 10 Athlete Stamps in U.S. Postal History.

10. Josh Gibson (2000) - In 2000, the U.S. Postal Service issued a slew of old ball player stamps, so I just plucked my favorite of that lot. “The Black Babe Ruth” certainly looks the part in the picture. Dude’s face looks like he’s 12.

9. Jack Dempsey (1998) - I’m a sucker for pugilism. Plus, it looks like he’s about to kick some ass.

8. Babe Ruth (1983) - “The White Josh Gibson” has a few stamps. And sure the 1998 Ruth Stamp is more aesthetically pleasing, but I owned the ’83 stamp and one common factor in my Top 10s is sentimentality. Sorry for your troubles ’98. (Not really. Celine’s heart was going on and Will Smith was getting jiggy wit it. Good riddance to that year.)

7. Babe Zaharias - Chauvinism took a backseat in the stamp collecting game. Plus, her name was Babe and she wasn’t fat…and there’s the chauvinism…Zaharias was a three-time All-American in basketball, who in 1932 won Olympic golds medals in javelin and the 80-meter hurdles, and would have won a third had she not been disqualified in the high jump. Then golf came next and she dominated. She won two titles after cancer surgery in 1952.

6. George Halas - Didn’t I mention the whole sentimentality thing? While the Vince Lombardi stamp has an argument, it’s falling on deaf ears. Another recurring theme in these Top 10s: F@*k the Packers.

5. Arthur Ashe (2005) - The picture may look familiar to Sports Illustrated subscribers. It’s the picture SI used for the cover of the 1992 Sportsman of the Year issue. The stamp was issued in at the U.S. Open in August 2005 and was dedicated on Arthur Ashe Kid’s Day at the stadium bearing his name. Pretty. Freaking. Cool.

4. Joe Louis (1993) - Some argue that Louis was the first boxer to be honored with a stamp by the USPS, but that distinction belongs to Eddie Eagan, an Olympic gold medalist in both boxing and bobsledding. Eagan’s stamp, which features both him boxing and sledding was issued three years earlier. However, Eddie’s stamp lacks the intimidation factor of Louis’.

3. Jackie Robinson - Naturally, Jackie has been featured on at least three stamps, which I believe has him tied with Babe Ruth for most by an athlete. However, as I can’t state loudly enough from the rooftops: I am not a stamp expert. I barely like them. I swear. The stamp is the iconic image of Robinson stealing home plate, and for that reason alone it gets the nod over the other two Robinson stamps.

2. Red Grange (2003) - Issued in 2003 as part of the USPS’ “Early Football Heros” series, Grange is this high on the list for one reason, and one reason alone. The look on his face. It says, “I’m the baddest motherf@#*er out here, so go ahead try me.” Respect.

1. Roberto Clemente (1984) - One of two stamps featuring Clemente, the 1984 20-cent version was among my collection. It commemorated what would have been his 50th birthday and was first issued in Puerto Rico, which was well represented on the stamp with a flowing Puerto Rican flag in the background. As a kid, you were taught of the story of Clemente’s death trying to assist earthquake victims in Nicaragua and he was an athlete parents didn’t mind choosing as a role model. Therefore, his stamp was a must.

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