An old Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is getting a 21st-century revival from the US Postal Service.
Red Sox legend Ted Williams is one of four baseball players featured in the “Major League Baseball All-Stars Forever” postage stamps, a new stamp series set to debut in post offices Saturday.
Now, a competition for the most preorders for the stamps is pitting Williams against one of his biggest rivals from his days on the baseball diamond: the New York Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio.
Williams, in the lead until last week, now has 505,226 preordered stamps, trailing DiMaggio by a razor-thin margin of 5,060 stamps. The competition concludes Thursday at midnight.
Also in the competition are Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates, with 419,906 preordered stamps, and Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians, with 408,246 orders.
That competition has shattered Postal Service records for early sales for a stamp series, said Stephen Kearney, the US Postal Service stamp services manager. He credited the heated rivalry between passionate fans of the Boston and New York franchises for the blockbuster sales.
“This competition made it a lot of fun to see who would step up to the plate in terms of buying a lot of stamps for their home team,” Kearney said. The stamps can be ordered at usps.com/play-ball.
Williams, a left-fielder for the Red Sox from 1939 to 1960, captivated fans as the last player in Major League Baseball to bat over .400 in a single season. Twice, he won the league’s triple crown: the most home runs, runs batted in, and highest batting average by a player in a single season.
Williams was also a fighter pilot in World War II and the Korean War, an avid outdoorsman, and a philanthropist for nonprofits such as The Jimmy Fund.
“He wasn’t just a good baseball player; he was a great patriot,” said Dick Bresciani, vice president of publications and archives for the Red Sox.
Bresciani said the BoSox Club, the franchise’s booster club, pushed for years for a Ted Williams stamp that would coincide with Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary.
The Postal Service also chose Williams for recognition for a less obvious reason, Kearney said.
Williams was unendingly picky about the precise shape and weight of his baseball bats, often sending them back to the manufacturer if they did not meet his exacting standards.
He used a postal scale to help make his judgments, Kearney said.
While this series is the latest in a long history of baseball-
related postage, Williams, who died in 2002, could not be recognized on a postage stamp until recently because of a US Postal Service rule that people depicted on stamps must have been deceased for 10 years.
Originally, Kearney said, Postal Service officials planned to sell the stamps in sheets with a mix of the four players, five of each athlete per sheet.
But after some consideration, Kearney said, officials realized that they could capitalize on the longstanding rivalries.
“We thought particularly about New York and Boston,” Kearney said. “If I were a Yankees fun, I would not want a bunch of Ted Williams stamps.”
DiMaggio and Williams coincided as two of the biggest box-office draws for the American League, said Richard Johnson, curator of The Sports Museum of New England. In 1947, DiMaggio beat Williams for the Most Valuable Player by one point.
“They were the Magic [Johnson] and [Larry] Bird of their time,” Johnson said.
The Williams stamp will be officially unveiled at Fenway Park Saturday at 7 p.m., before the Red Sox game against the Blue Jays.
The Williams stamps will be available for sale in the concessions area.
Martine Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow her on Twitter