Sports Collectors

Remembering the Man Who Wrote 20,000 Baseball Card Backs

His death last month didn’t create many headlines beyond his Martha’s Vineyard home, but Les Woodcock is surely worth remembering. 

Les Woodcock

An acclaimed journalist and editor, Woodcock wrote the back of more than 20,000 sports cards during a “second career” in the 1980s and 90s. 

Born on Long Island and a Korean War veteran, Woodcock was one of the first employees at Sports Illustrated in 1954 and became writer and correspondent for SI and Time-Life for many years.  His name is among those inside the first issue of SI published 67 years ago this month–the one that has the 1954 Topps style pullout section that’s made it a collector’s item.

In the mid-1980s, Major League Marketing hired him and Woodcock spent 11 years writing the generally short, but informative bios that were about the best thing those Sportflics, Score and Pinnacle brand cards had going for them during the late 1980s and early 1990s.  It was quite an unappreciated coup for a sports card maker to have a noted writer who’d covered some of sports’ most famous events and personalities on its staff.  It was a job Woodcock took as seriously as he did writing a magazine piece.

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Remembering the Man Who Wrote 20,000 Baseball Card Backs

“I loved it more than anything I ever did,” Woodcock once said.  “I would devour five newspapers a day, keep 3-by-5 cards on every player, gathering quotes and highlights. It was fun, and I was working at home.”

Woodcock also helped decide which players should appear in various insert sets and worked with Pinnacle’s photo department on which young players were worth shooting in the event they were chosen to appear in the next season’s set.

For Score’s 1988 set, he was able to expand beyond the boundaries of a single card back when the company created a five-card Reggie Jackson tribute set (#500-504). 

Remembering the Man Who Wrote 20,000 Baseball Card Backs

“I was able to write a full back of five straight cards,” Woodcock said in 1994. “I could write at length and it could be cohesive.”

Remembering the Man Who Wrote 20,000 Baseball Card Backs

He’d occasionally attend baseball card shows and collectors would learn they were in the presence of a man who helped create the cards they were buying or selling, turning him into a bit of a hobby celebrity.

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An amiable sort who loved people, Woodcock connected with other writers who were curious about his decision to leave the magazine editing world to write snippets for the backs of cards.

“I’m my own boss with my own little office and I’m making a nice living,” he said in a 1988 Baltimore Evening Sun story. “I’m working in baseball, the best sport, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I used to sit in the dugout swapping small talk with Brooks Robinson; now I’m in front of my computer remembering and re-creating.”

Les Woodcock was 94.

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