California is the Place Topps Oughta Be

The relocation of the Dodgers and Giants to the West Coast after the ’57 season not only broke the hearts of fans but meant Topps didn’t have a NL base in New York at which to photograph players. So, Topps decided to follow the departed clubs and shoot the National League teams in sunny California. This results in several sets of cards with photos taken at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Seals Stadium in San Francisco.

I’m sure most of you know the story of the Dodgers initial plan to use the PCL Angels facility (Wrigley Field) as their home turf. But the prospect of selling 60-70,000 seats per game instead of 20,000 caused Walter O’Malley to select the cavernous Coliseum, despite its track and inflexible football field configuration.

There is no mistaking the Coliseum cards since many clearly show the Peristyle from which burned the Olympic flame during the 1932 Olympics (1984 too). Also the arches are apparent in numerous photos. The haziness may be a result of the infamous LA “smog,” which was particularly bad in the days before auto emission control devices came along in the ‘70s.

59 hodges59 Burgess   60 Robinson

The ’59 card of Gil Hodges is a prime examples of a card with the Peristyle and arches in the distance. The ’59 Smokey Burgess and ‘60 Frank Robinson clearly show that the visitors were also photographed in the Coliseum.

60 Zim  61 Drysdale  62 Koufax

The shots continue to show up over the next three years-as attested by the ’60 Don Zimmer, ’61 Don Drysdale and ’62 Sandy Koufax.

After the move west, the Giants were content to use Seals Stadium, knowing that a new ball park (Candlestick) was scheduled to open in ’60. Additional seats were added to bring the former PCL venue’s capacity up to around 22,000. This single deck stadium in the Mission District is very distinctive with orange box railings.

Sauer   61 Antonelli Bazooka   61 Alou   59 Robbie   61 Aaron   62 White

Former NL MVP Hank Sauer in ’59, Johnny Antonelli in ’60 and Felipe Alou in ‘61 are all at Seals Stadium. The ’59 Frank Robinson,’61 Aaron and ’62 Bill White are opposition player examples.

Seals Seat

When Seals Stadium was razed after the ’59 season, the wooden seats along with the light towers made their way to the new Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Washington. The seats remained in use until being replaced in 2005. I purchased one, which is now displayed in my memorabilia room. I have at least one piece of memorabilia from all the San Francisco and Tacoma teams displayed on the seat.

 

 

 

Leader of My Packs

I like “What If” history and I’ve put my time in to back that up. I was published in a book called Play It Again, with a bit of historical fiction about Sandy Koufax. I wanted to know how Koofoo’s career would have played out had he undergone surgery, so I wrote it. Years later, I created a 52-story series of rock and roll “what ifs” called Maybe Baby (or, You Know That It Would Be Untrue). That was a hoot to write, a self-taught class on different perspectives and styles. I ended up with some worldwide readership on that one.

486799

My penchant for “what ifs” is why I like Topps Archives (though doesn’t explain why I dislike Heritage). Multiple alternative history cards in one pack? I’m in.  And though Archives packs are expensive as hell, at least where I buy them ($5!), they’re still worth the occasional purchase. If you read my posts, you know I’m a sucker for packs and recently I got a good one.

Frazier 1

1992 Topps is one of the best, simplest designs. It’s right up there with 1957 and 1967 (don’t argue with me). Do I care about Todd Frazier? No. But the Toddfather in a 1992 card elevates his status.

Stargell 2

The Archives card of Pops is better than his regular ’82, not as good as his Action ’82. That’s not to quibble. Pulling a Willie Stargell card out of a 2017 pack is a smile-producer. Over the years I think Stargell has become undervalued, but if you were a fan during his heyday, there were scant few players more highly regarded. None were more loved.

Clark 3

I didn’t spend a moment thinking about Tony Clark when he played, but I’ve met him several times over the past few years and he is one of my favorite people – smart, engaging, a towering figure that commands your respect in subtle, but real, ways.  A Clark card for his union role? Sign me up! After all, I wrote Split Season about the players’ union battles against Cro Magnon ownership.

2017-Topps-Archives-Baseball-Base-Aaron-Judge-RC 4

I don’t even want to go into this. I thought I was selling a Judge card high and I turned out to sell it low. It’s no fault of his, but Aaron Judge makes me upset.

Auto 5

 

I’ve always collected autographs. Not at the level I’ve collected cards, but I was an incessant letter writer in the 1970’s and still pick up the occasional signed card. Pulling an autograph from a pack is a blast, my mixed Aaron Judge experience notwithstanding, but there are times when it’s a letdown. John Hirschbeck? Why? Where’s the demand for that? The one I pulled is a limited run of 25, but still, are their 25 people who want this?

Kershaw 6

Simply a terrific card.

Trout 7

A few months ago I was toe-deep in a 1960 Topps set. Now I’m up to my neck in them (about 100 to go), so the 1960 look is on my mind a lot. The Trout card could fit in to the original set nicely. There’s a falseness to the look of the color picture, but there are lots of 1960’s that aren’t photographic, more like hand painted photos. The black and white action is more kinetic than the usual 1960 static B & W, but it works. And it’s Mike Trout!

Kyle 8

Wrong Seager, great card.

Archives is very good and yet, for all their history and skill and budget, Topps doesn’t do nearly as good a job as the “cards that never were” producers. Chase down whentoppshadballs.blogspot.com, cardsthatneverwere.blogspot.com, @BottommsCards (on Twitter) for some incredibly solid work. Every time these guys post something, it’s like opening a pack of unexpected goodies, and they’re free.

Action-packed Packs

A recent post by Jeff Katz provided a look at horizontal Topps cards from ’74, comprised mostly of game action photos. Of course Topps previously used horizontal orientation for entire sets and specialty cards (league leaders, world series etc.). This brought to mind some of the great “colorized” action shots from the classic ‘56 set, which utilized the horizontal design. The photos were used as background images behind the portraits. Let’s take a look at a few.

seivers

Prototypical slugger, Roy Sievers, could apparently “flash some leather” as well as pummel it. This shot shows him making a great catch-or attempting to- while wearing cool “shades.”

Pope

Dave Pope makes a great leaping grab against what appears to be the Grand Coulee Dam. The “blue” Orioles cap rounds out this cardboard oddity.

Bridges

Peering into the future to channel “Charlie Hustle,” Rocky Bridges “flies” into second in spring training- complete with an airborne helmet.

reese

Executing a fantastic aerobatic leap to avoid an aggressive slide, Pee Wee Reese fires to first for a “twin killing.” The ball frozen in mid-air adds to this wonderful image.

Minoso

The great Minnie Minoso seems to defy gravity as he hurls toward second base.

Killebrew

A very young Harmon Killebrew has either made an error or is picking up a foul “dribbler.” Not exactly the most scintillating of action shots.

Schoonmaker

Perhaps Topps wanted to depict the moribund Nationals in their continued state of ineptitude as outfielder Jerry Schoonmaker appears to be chasing a misplayed ball.

Piersall

Fear “struck out” once again as Jimmy Piersall shows no hesitation in taking on Yogi in a play at the plate.

hodges

The great Gil Hodges kicks up some dust as he heads into third.

Smith

Although this is a staged photo, I could resist include this Mayo Smith image. Managers often coached 3rd base in this era, so Mayo is apparently giving the “stop sign.” I suppose it is possible that he is demonstrating the size of fish he recently caught or showing how far the Phillies were from being a contending team.

Valo

Elmer Valo makes a spectacular over the fence grab.

Rivera

“Jungle” Jim Rivera “runs one down” in the corner.

66739

roberto-clemente-photo

I’ll end with the phenomenal Roberto Clemente making a spectacular grab against the Ebbets Field wall in right. I’ve included the original photo Topps colorized.

There are many more classic shots from this iconic set. A surprising number of the original photos can be found online.

Father’s Day 1976 Topps #69 Jim & Mike Hegan

Father’s Day is nearing and it got me thinking of baseball dads & sons who are on cardboard.

1954 Topps #29 Jim Hegan

As I mentioned last week, in preparation for the SABR 47 Jim Bouton panel, I recently reread “Ball Four”. One of the entries that reminded me of a Baseball card occurred on March 28th. The subject of the passage is Pilots outfielder Mike Hegan, who is a recurring character throughout the book.

The paragraph is interesting for several reasons. The connections between golf and baseball are pretty strong. Just last week Tim Jenkins mentioned that Hawk Harrelson retired from baseball to pursue a professional golf career. There are also several stories of mothers helping sons learn the game, and they are often noteworthy. But, to me, the most interesting portion relates to Mike Hegan’s father Jim. I knew Mike’s father played baseball because in 1976 at the heart of the collecting days of my youth Topps dropped a Father and Son subset.

1976 Topps #69 Father & Son Jim & Mike Hegan (b-side)

I want to start with the B-Side of this card because this continues the discussion of Mike Hegan’s parents. The text regarding Jim Hegan that is credited to Mike does mention his father being a great influence, however the younger Hegan is also careful to note that this is not just in baseball but in life as well. When Mike actually does mention getting tips on the game of baseball it is only in the context of other players including Hall of Famer Bob Lemon. Perhaps I am reading too much into this but this version of Mike Hegan does correlate with the observations of Ball Four. Jim Hegan was a Ballplayer but didn’t stress baseball at home. If there was an baseball influence there it came from elsewhere – quite likely Mikes mother Clare.

1976 Topps #69 Father & Son Jim & Mike Hegan

A real nice design for these cards, the vintage card of the father balanced with a contemporary photo of the current player is a perfect balance for the subset theme.

1976 is the third consecutive year that Topps included a subset that featured insets of earlier cards on a current card. In 1974 Topps the Hank Aaron Subset which leads off flagship includes several cards with four-up panels of Topps cards from the new Home Run King’s career. The following year 1975 Topps featured the 24 card MVP subset which will always be one of my favorites.

The 1976 Father&Son subset consist of 5 Cards that run from #66-#70. Two of the cards belong to families that would feature a third generation of MLB players and both of these cards have Phillies ties. First is Ray and Bob Boone (#67) who of course are related to Bret and Aaron Boone. The other is #66 Gus and Buddy Bell, and we know that David spent a few forgettable years with the Phillies. The other two cards feature the Sr./Jr. combos of Roy Smalleys and Joe Colemans.

1985 Topps

1985 topps #132 Father & Son Yogi and Dale Berra

Topps returned to the Father-Sons in 1985 with a 13 card subset. The Boones, Bells and Smalleys all made the cut for the second round. Other notables include SABR 47 Panel Subject Yogi Berra with son Dale, Tito and Terry Francona, and SABR 45 (Chicago) guest panelist Steve Trout with his father Dizzy.

One of the guests scheduled for the Yogi Berra Panel is journalist Lindsay Berra who is the granddaughter of Yogi and Niece of Dale Berra. Her father Larry played minor league baseball in the Mets organization.

Sources and Links

Jim Hegan SABR Bio Rick Balazs

Mike Hegan SABR Bio Joseph Wancho

Ball Four

Baseball Card Database

Baseball-ref

The Bad Choice of a New Generation

As an aficionado of “odd ball” sets, I’ve accumulated many over the years. Amongst the quality commemoratives, reprints and regional sets lurk some real “clunkers” that make me question why I collected them in the first place. The “Pepsi Griffeys” is a prime example of a real “stinker.”

Mother's cookies

91 Star

90 Star Aqua

The unique aspect of a father and son playing together coupled with Ken Griffey Jr.’s emergence as a super-star resulted in at least four sets featuring dad and son. Mother’s Cookies produced a nice four card set with regional distribution in ‘91. The cards were imbedded in bags of cookies. The Star card company made two sets (aqua in ’90; red in ‘91) each with 11 cards.

Pepsi Jr.    Senior Pepsi    Pepsi Jr & Sr

The ’91 Pepsi sponsored set contains eight cards, which were included in 12 packs of Diet and regular Pepsi and distributed in the Northwest. Each set depicts the Griffeys singularly and together.

Outfitting the Griffeys in Pepsi themed uniforms creates a terrible aesthetic. The uniforms are devoid of lettering with only a number on the front. A Pepsi script or “Griffey” would have looked more natural. The sleeves and caps feature a Pepsi logo patch. The caps would be right at home on the head of a delivery truck driver.

Pepsi Back    Pepsi Jr. #3

The card design is basic with only the names appearing on the front. The backs are white with black lettering and contain various statistical information and highlights. The tight shots and blurred backgrounds make it impossible to determine the location of photo shoot with the possible exception of card #3 which could be the Kingdome center field wall. Incidentally, the 12 pack boxes had a 6”x7” picture of Jr. identical to card #3.

Many advertisers have issued sets with logos and scripts eliminated to get around paying royalties to MLB. This creates a bad look, but it is definitely better than product placement uniforms.

Are there other sets out there featuring players in product themed uniforms? Please comment or tweet.

A’s cards and Cards cards

Growing up in the Bay Area, while I wasn’t an A’s fan, my local card shops had a lot of A’s cards in the cases. I remember noting even at the time how the team name tended to break a lot of Topps’s designs: “A’s” was too short, had punctuation, and required a lower-case letter. “Athletics” meanwhile was one of the longest team names.

As I’ve gotten older and gained more familiarity with the older cards I’ve realized that the A’s are not the only team whose name Topps messed around with. Throughout the 1960s, Topps referred to the Cardinals—another team with a long name—as “Cards” on many of their cards. So I’ve decided to go through Topps’s styled-text designs from 1964 to 1986 and see how they handled the A’s and the Cardinals and any other odd cases.

I chose to stop in 1986 because 1987 is the first year that Topps had just logos, no team names, on the card fronts. There are a few text-based designs which followed—specifically 1988, 1989, 1990, 2004, 2006, and 2008—but Topps has also used “Athletics” every since 1988.

Before 1964, Topps just used plain text to list the team name. Yes it’s part of the design, but it was never the distinguishing element. All that changed in 1964 when Topps began using styled text and team names as a key element of its designs.* This opened the door to having to create designs which worked for all name lengths. Sometimes this was successful, other times team names which were either too long or too short ended up revealing some problems in the design, and sometimes Topps just made some weird design decisions which I still can’t figure out.

*There are some earlier examples such as the 1960 manager cards which use pennants very similar to the 1965 design but nothing as part of the default set design.

For their first real foray into styled type 1964’s design is pretty robust. It works well with all the team names. It doesn’t feel too cramped and everything’s still legible with the nine-letter ones. If anything this design works better than the super-extended letters Topps used for the four-letter teams, although the extended font does have a certain 1960s appeal.

1965—while a design I love—starts to reveal how things can start to go bad. “Athletics” begins to get really pinched and hard to read in the point of the pennant. “White Sox” has the same issue but works a bit better. It’s easy to see why Topps decided to go with “Cards” in what would be the first year of six consecutive years where Topps used “Cards” instead of “Cardinals.”

I’m not covering 1966 except to note that Topps used “Cards.” 1966, like a number of years in the ’70s and ’80s*, doesn’t use styled text but rather puts plain text in a colored box. Since the box functions as the design element rather than the text the length of the word doesn’t bother me as long as it’s legible.

*1974, 1976, 1979, 1980, 1983, and 1985.

1967 continued with “Athletics” and “Cards.” In this case it’s clear that the design doesn’t quite work with nine-character team names. The font is too condensed, it’s too close to the edges of the photo, and the black stroke is too heavy for the letter sizes. Despite it being the consensus best design of the decade that it doesn’t work as well with long team names is a strike against it.

1968 meanwhile, while not exactly styled-text, presented a lot of challenges for how to fit the team names into that little circle. Topps opted to go with “A’s” and it’s a great fit. “Cards” works wonderfully too. Since eight-letter names like Pirates barely fit—you can see that Topps had to use a thinner font—Topps made the wise decision to put White Sox on two lines instead.

1969 is similar to 1967 except that Topps chose fonts which work better. Rather than using a super-compressed font with the long names, Topps used a completely different extended font for the shorter names. It kind of weirds me out how different these fonts are* but by using two distinct fonts the design itself works better for all name lengths.

*Look at the “C” and “S” and how in “Athletics” they’re parallel to the baseline but in “Cards” they’re at an angle.

I have no idea what Topps was doing in 1970. They stayed with “A’s” even though the design would’ve accommodated “Athletics.” It certainly looks fine with “White Sox.” This is the first—and certainly not the last—case of using “A’s” where the design just looks weird to me. The font is huge and bold and the lower-case “s”—especially with the right-aligned type—doesn’t fit.

But it’s not just the A’s thing I can’t figure out. In 1970 Topps released cards with both “Cardinals” and “Cards” AND both “Yankees” and “Yanks.” Besides the fact that I’ve not seen “Yanks” on any other Topps cards, the idea that Topps was just changing team names from series to series is bizarre to me. That Topps was doing this while not changing the Pilots cards to Brewers cards? I don’t understand. At all.

In 1971 I’m mainly surprised that Topps stayed with “Cards.” It looks fine, using such an extended font for the long names means that even the centered shorter names look good. And I’m certainly glad Topps didn’t stretch the short names to fit. But to my eye the design looks better when the team name fills the entire top of the card and if “Athletics” fits, they should’ve been able to get “Cardinals” to fit as well. In any case this was the last year Topps went with “Cards.”

In 1972, Topps swapped from 1971 and went with “A’s” and “Cardinals” instead. Since this is how things stayed for the next decade I’m mainly going to focus on the A’s cards from here on out. Topps’s designs going forward, including this one, all work with “Cardinals” so going with “A’s” is never a reaction to a design restriction and instead reflects some other corporate choice.

The 1972 A’s example is notable in that the “S” is also capitalized—heck even the apostrophe is huge. I still feel like it’s not quite enough text to really work in the space the way that all the other team designs do though.

  

1973 is non-styled text like how Topps’s designs were before 1964. 1974 and 1976 are text in colored boxes. 1975 and 1977 though are two examples where the “A’s” looks just awful—probably the two worst designs for the A’s in all Topps’s history. I appreciate white space in design but in these cases just having two letters centered on the text area doesn’t give the impression that Topps thought about the design at all.

In both of these cases, “Athletics” would’ve worked better. Although with 1977—and this is part of a more general critique of a design which I’ve come to actively dislike—if the text were aligned to the left rather than being centered I think things would’ve been ok. The off-center centered text thing is especially egregious.

1978 and 1981 though (1979 and 1980 are colored boxes with text in them) are two examples where the “A’s” works really well. 1978 in particular is fantastic in how Topps created lettering which fills the space without looking different from the rest of the cards in the set. Where 1975 and 1977 didn’t consider the design at all, 1978 is an example of how to do it 100% correct.

1981 meanwhile is an example where the A’s cards look better than every other team.* I don’t care much for those floppy hats. I was okay with them as a kid because I only really saw them on the Giants and A’s cards—two teams with two-color caps—but on every team with a single-color cap this design is already in trouble. Putting the team name on the hat? Who does that? So I enjoy that the A’s caps on the cards end up looking very much like their actual on-field caps.

*The only other contender is the Pirates with their pillbox cap and the special design exception Topps made for them.

  

Skipping around a bit now. 1983 and 1985 are color box years. We’ll get to 1984 soon. But 1982 and 1986 are two examples where things work okay. Not great, but okay enough. 1982 is very similar to 1977 in terms of how it’s handling the fonts. The difference is that the hockey sticks work way better than the position pennant. The team name is supposed to continue the color stripe across the bottom of the card. “A’s” is barely big enough to do it. That Topps used an almost-full-height “S” is a huge help here. As is the fact that the font is also somewhat extended.

1986 meanwhile is similar to 1975 in that the “A’s” is kind of small all by itself on the top of the card. The saving grace here is again how wide the font is. That A is wider than it is tall. It also has a ton of character with the triangular crossbar which, while not specially-designed like the 1978 cards, gives the team name a similar kind of presence.

Back to 1984 and the first year in over a decade which Topps used “Athletics.” It’s not hard to see why. Four-letter names are a stretch. Literally. “A’s” would’ve looked ridiculous. That nine letters is also a bit tight is part of why, while I liked this set as a kid, I’m less impressed by its design now.

Until the Diamondbacks came around, baseball team names were all between four (Cubs, Mets, Reds) and nine (Athletics, Cardinals, White Sox) characters long. Many years it feels like Topps’s designs were optimized for five to seven characters. Four and eight work okay. Anything longer or shorter is pushing things. I’m less surprised that Topps used “Cards” for “Cardinals” than I am that they stopped doing so in 1972.

About the Diamondbacks

With the Diamondbacks taking over as the longest team name, They’re now the more interesting example than the A’s. There’s not enough to really post here but it’s worth noting that Topps has used both “Diamondbacks” and “D-Backs” on the few type-based designs it’s had since 1990.

That Topps hasn’t used “D-Backs” on any of the Heritage designs shows how badly those designs work with long team names. The 1965 and 1968 team names are almost unreadable. And if I thought the 1967 Athletics cards looked bad, the Diamondbacks ones look even worse. In all these cases the cards would look way better with “D-Backs” instead.

So About Heritage

Oof. Maybe this is MLB trademark silliness* but, as with the photography, not respecting the original designs is one of the main reasons I’m down on the Heritage product. There’s no reason not to use “Cards” or “A’s” here. In all cases  the results are a downgrade—especially in 1968 where the ™ symbol throws off the centering and makes the name fit even worse.

*All the team names all have a ™ on them now. This started in 1992 but only became standard in 1999.

There are many reasons to like Heritage. It does capture a certain baseball card essence which the modern flagship sets no longer have. But for Topps to reuse designs like this and then not get the details right in ways which breaks the design itself? Infuriating.

C’mon Get Happy!

Why 1971? Yes, ABC’s Friday night lineup was ( in order, starting at 8 PM EST), The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Room 22, The Odd Couple and Love, American Style, but I don’t think that’s it (though, as sung in Dayenu, “It would have been enough.”)

MemorabiliaPFCardBox

My reentry into serious collecting started a year and a half ago, when I realized I needed 57 cards to finish what would end up a VG-EX (mostly) 1971 Topps set. As I thought about what other sets I had enough cards to build around, I was pleasantly surprised to find I had 19 of 75 1971 Kellogg’s 3-D cards. Then, last month, out of the blue, I started thinking about the 1971 Topps coins. You can read my sad story about them here, but as with the others, I had a lot of the set (2/3 in fact) and figured it was worth pursuing.

1971-dell-books-2

One of my most favorite things is a complete set of 1971 Dell stamp books. I’ve got them all AND the divisional folders to store them in. I found out about them when I bought the Today’s All Stars book. As with the ’71 Topps coins, 8-year-old me made a dumb decision. I had all the player stamps in their team books, so I figured I could take the All-Stars book apart, removing the perforated player stamps. For what reason? Who the hell knows? They came out of the book and went into a box, where they stayed. It would have been easier to put the intact book in a manila folder with all the rest. Lurking in the back of mind has always been the wish to buy the book and I did, last week. Now I can sell all the individual stamps as a complete set and remove that blight from my memory.

1971 Dell front #1008

But, again, why 1971? Why buy the Dell book now, on the heels of completing the Topps set and midstream on completing the Topps Coins and Kellogg’s 3-D sets? Is it as simple as the math, that I had more than enough of each set to go the distance? I don’t think so.

I’m not one for personal nostalgia, for my own golden era or innocent youth, but 1971 is a pivotal year in my life. We moved from Brooklyn in December, from a middle class Canarsie neighborhood where I could walk to P.S. 114 and stop at a candy store called Paulino’s (not sure of the spelling) on Glenwood Ave., a wondrous place of cases full of candy and boxes of 1971 Topps cards, regular and Super. From there, I was transplanted to the middle of Suffolk County, where I had less freedom and was thrust back in time. Believe me, my long curly hair and David Crosbyesque fringe jacket didn’t play well with the Wenonah Elementary School crowd in January of 1972, kids who still had buzz cuts and never had seen a Jew. Not that it was all bad, by any means. I had my own room for the first time, which was liberating, and, within short order, I fell into a nice Long Island groove.

So why 1971? Somewhere in the creases of my brain, there’s a little Jeff Katz who longs for that year, before real life hit the fan. It could be that. Or maybe 54-year-old me simply thinks this is awesome.

3a0572ec5d578b6b08e6ef082f1d5855

After all, I am a man of simple and consistent taste.