Goin’ Horizontal

When this blog did its poll of favorite 1970’s sets, I was surprised that 1974 was my #1. Before I truly thought about the decade’s offerings, I would have flippantly said 1972 or 1977. Maybe even 1971. When I really got to thinking about it, I found I loved ’74 the most.

A prime reason I’m fond of that year’s cards is the huge amount of horizontal cards, especially the subset of 13 player cards. It’s not really a subset; I just think of them that way. They are my favorite cards in my favorite series, and they should be yours too. They’re great.

Here they are – not the horizontal All-Stars, team cards, Hank Aaron #1, playoffs, World Series (although there are some spectacular horizontals there) and leaders cards. These are the special baker’s dozen (non-Dusty variety) players that made the recumbent grade.

#28 – Manny Sanguillen 

I’ll admit this is not the best card to start with to prove my point. It ain’t much, but it’s a start and, you’ll have to admit, has its own look. Manny looks as sad as the Clemente-honoring black armband on his left sleeve.


#80 – Tom Seaver 

Possibly my favorite card of my favorite player. Fierce Seaver follow through, big Shea crowd behind him. I always figured this had to be taken during the 1973 World Series, but there’s no Seaver started day game in Flushing. Maybe Game 5 of the NLCS? Sure, why not.


#86 – Joe Ferguson

Ferguson was a caveman with a rifle arm. He doesn’t look too imposing here, kinda dorky, but he had some power. Speaking of dorky, the Phillies’ batter is Craig Robinson. If it was Hot Tub Time Machine Craig Robinson, that would make a killer card.

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#105 – Carlton Fisk

Fisk’s second full card and was there ever a better one? The guy played 20 more years and 1974 may be the pinnacle of his card-dom.


#153 – Jon Matlack

The Seaver-Matlack 1974 combo was potent on the mound and unrivaled in this set.  Same looking day as the Seaver card, same looking crowd, but there’s no 1973 post-season Matlack appearance that fits. I have no idea, but it doesn’t matter. This card rocks.

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#238 – Fran Healy

No star, but Healy gets to go horizontal. Odd choice. I know nothing about camera technology, but the dark dark background is a signature period look. Plus, you get Thurman Munson, a future Healy teammate on the Yankees from 1976-78.


#270 – Ron Santo

Like Sangullien’s card, not solid evidence that the 1974 horizontal cards are the best, and yet there’s something to this. The askew helmet is so goofy, and so appropriate for often silly Santo. Though small, who should be centered but bald old Leo Durocher. That’s good stuff.


#386 – Gary Matthews

This is a great action card. I’ll hear no objections. Everyone’s doing their job – Wayne Garrett’s waiting for a throw, John McNamara is showing excellent third base coach clapping skills and Matthews is clearly busting it out for a triple. Except he’s not. It was August 25, 1973, Matthews had singled in the top of the fifth off Seaver and hustled to third on a Tito Fuentes single. He was stranded when Bobby Bonds ended the inning with a fly out to Don Hahn in center field.


#392 – Dick Green

Green doing what Green did best, guarding the keystone and turning double plays.


#490 – Vada Pinson

That Vada Pinson always had a handsome card and this latter day Angels’ action shot is a keeper. I’m a big fan of veterans finding themselves on the Angels in the 1970’s. Frank Robinson in the Halo uni is my favorite. Another vet is still to come in this post.

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#575 – Steve Garvey

Another non-star, but not for long. 1974 was Garvey’s breakout, MVP season. Good scouting Topps! Like the dark Healy card, this one has a classic sports photo look, with the out of focus crowd providing a gauzy backdrop. Unless early ‘70’s crowds were themselves out of focus. Lots of drugs back then you know.


#640 – Milt Pappas

Pappas had a late career revival in Chicago, with back to back 17 win season in 1971 and 1972 (when he nearly, and sort of did, pitch a perfect game. He was robbed). 1973 was his last season and this is his last card. A good one to go out on.

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#650 – Mike Epstein

In 1972, the Hebrew Hammer belted 26 homers for the champion A’s and finished 16th in AL MVP voting. Then he was traded to Texas to open space for Gene Tenace, then on to California. 1974 was his last year and, like Pappas, this was his farewell card. It’s a fine example in the washed up veteran on the Angels series.


Author: Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is the former Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.

12 thoughts on “Goin’ Horizontal”

  1. Horizontal debuted in 1971, continued in 1972-74, and then went away for many years. They were always action shots, which also debuted in 1971. The problem, for me, is that the photographer was (necessarily?) much further away, leading to blurry photos that Topps did not properly crop. The 1971 and 1973 horizontals included some of the worst baseball cards ever placed in wax. 1974 was better!

    My other problem is that I always sorted my cards by team and “played with” rosters/lineups (literally announcing them in a play-by-play voice, if you must know), and the horizontals cards messed with my mind when flipping through the vertical stacks. Fisk was one of my favorites players, but I hated this card. I have come to like it more and more as time goes by, however. If you compare it to a current action shot, Fisk (and Seaver, etc.) is less in focus, but the crowd is much more a part of the shot. Today’s cards the background is fuzzed out and the player is sharp.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. If you pull out your “action” shots from 71/73/74, you will notice that they were all taken in just a handful of games. 1971 was Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium — which is why there are so many Yankee and Met action shots. By 1974 they had a Bay Area photog so there were a few Giants and A’s games.

        Posed shots lend themselves to vertical (that is how bodies are shaped, after all), but going to action allows for a landscape. 1955/56/60 they used the second photo to justify horizontal.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Yeah posed shots are both more likely to be vertical or even shot (especially before 1970) with a square-format camera. It’s sad that they’ve not done a set of horizontal portraits since there is some good stuff in those early 1990s sets.

        Also, looking at the Garvey image above, that was taken with a mirror lens (you can tell by the doughnut-shaped highlights in the blurry section) which I’ve only really noticed in the early-80s cards (especially of the Giants) before this. It’s a super-dictinct look once you recognize it. I just haven’t seen it this early before.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Actually, I should expand on that Garvey comment since it’s related to Mark’s observation about blurry backgrounds and unsharp players. Super-telephoto lenses just didn’t exist in any practical way the early 70s. The mirror lenses were sort of the most magnification you could get and those, while they blurred the backgrounds a lot more because of the way that depth of field corresponds to the lens length, have that weird donut effect going on. In other words, if you ignore the donut stuff the Garvey image is much closer to what we have today than anything else pictured here. Mirror lenses though were slow (The 500mm lens had a fixed f/8 aperture if any of your are into cameras) so you had have a lot of light in order to get a shutter speed which would remotely freeze action.

        Modern lenses smooth the backgrounds out a lot better. No weird donuts anymore. They’re also much faster (f/4 minimum aperture at 500mm) so you can use both faster shutter speeds and blur the backgrounds even more. As a result you lose all of the background detail which gives these early-70s action a lot of charm. We also have autofocus, the ability to take a dozen photos per second, and camera sensors which require way less light than film did (so you can use an even faster shutter speed and stop motion).

        Liked by 3 people

    1. Commented on twitter but worth expanding here. As a child of the 80s these early-70s horizontal cards were always one of those novel things that stood out to me as being a distinctly interesting aspect of those sets. It was only in 1991 when Topps brought some of these back (with both MUCH better action photos and also some really nice posed photos) that I truly appreciated how much character they add to the set.

      Liked by 2 people

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