A Card Too Far

The vast majority of my collection consists of either (a) complete sets, or (b) sets I am working on. I completed 1968 through 1971 in the 1980s, and in the past 30 years I have managed to push it all the way back to … 1964.

I do not work on one set a time — I work (slowly and randomly) on a bunch of things, which gives me more flexibility when I see an affordable lot. I might go months without buying anything, and then see some 1954 Topps commons that look great. I have no timetable. I would be content not finishing another set. We shall see.

Here is where I stand at the moment on my 1952-63 Topps sets.

Year Total Have Need %
1952 407 33 374 8%
1953 274 42 232 15%
1954 250 56 194 22%
1955 206 46 160 22%
1956 340 207 133 61%
1957 407 243 164 60%
1958 495 300 195 61%
1959 572 360 212 63%
1960 572 348 224 61%
1961 587 472 115 80%
1962 598 508 90 85%
1963 576 543 33 94%

I have 23 1952 cards, and I have 543 1963 cards.

Logically, 1963 seems like the next set that I should finish — look how close I am! But it’s just not gonna happen.

One of the cards I need is #537.

169887

I have nothing against Pete Rose. Or, for that matter, Ken McMullen, Al Weis, and Pedro Gonzalez. Heck, I liked Pete Rose as a player, and I wish we had a player like him around today. He gambled a bit? Zzzzz.

But I consider this a rather ordinary card, perhaps even a bit ugly. I like the 1963 base design quite a bit, but I gotta be blunt here: the rookies and leaders subsets, both of which employ the “floating heads” technique, are pretty lame. (Do people disagree? Anyone?)

If I am patient enough, and compromise a bit on condition, I might be able to find this card for $500. We all have our budgets, but I just can’t see myself spending $500 for this. Its probably worth $5-10 to me as a card, and perhaps as much as $50 as a “I must complete this set!” card.

But if I have $500 laying around (spoiler: I really don’t), I could instead buy all of these 1955 cards (also “needed”) in the same condition.

Oh, and I’d have about $250 left over. Not really a difficult call for me.

I first heard of the concept of the “rookie card” almost 40 years ago, when a dealer explained to me why some of his cards seemed to be oddly priced. I thought, and still think, the whole thing is contrived. There was no increased demand for a Rose rookie card until dealers jacked the price up.

Dealers: “This card is scarce and desirable.”

Collectors: “OK, I must buy this card.”

Dealers: “Cool, its now actually a bit scarce.”

Its a not a card anyone would otherwise care about.

wpeE2

But even if there is additional demand for the first Pete Rose card, wouldn’t this be a better choice? For my money, this is actually Pete Rose’s first real card. Isn’t this, objectively, 10 times the card of the 1963 … thing? This is one heck of nice card, to be honest. And it is less than 20% of the price.

I like the multi-person rookie cards that came along later in the decade. They are a fun subset, like the World Series cards or the league leaders cards. But the “demand” for them is way overblown and makes set collecting unnecessarily expensive.

The Nolan Ryan rookie card is a cute little addition to the 1968 set. But the Bob Gibson (the best player in baseball at the time) is absolute magic.

 

 

 

The Game’s The Thing

The late 1960s and early 1970s were a golden age for kids who liked Topps inserts and separately packaged oddball sets.  You could dabble in coins, deckle-edged cards, posters, cartoon booklets, giants-sized cards, stamps, decals, and more.  All Topps.  Unlike the inserts of today, many of which are homages to this period, they were not used as “chase cards” or “short prints” — they were just more things to collect, and for the most part readily available.

The best Topps insert set — I will brook no argument here — were the “Game Cards” found in packs of 1968 Topps cards, specifically the 3rd series.  I was seven at the time, and a rabid collector.  As I have written before, I did not start collecting baseball cards because I loved baseball — it was quite the reverse.  I fell in love with cards first, and then thought, “Hey, these same guys are on TV playing too?  I think I’ll watch, and use my cards to follow along.”

With the 1968 Game Cards, I could not only play a game — with a friend, or even by myself — but I also could learn who the good players actually were.  The Topps base set was basically democratic — Paul Popovich and Roberto Clemente each got a card — but with this insert Topps was elevating 33 players to special status. Moreover, within those 33 players there was a method to Topps’ madness.  When it came to time to dole out the game events, Topps took the process seriously.

KChanceKLonborgKHarganKMcCormickKPetersHBPOsteen

I admit that there was a brief period when I thought Topps was insulting these six players.  Eventually I figured out these were PITCHERS, and being on these cards was a complement.  Strikeouts and double plays were, my TV announcers helpfully told me, pitchers’ best friends. As I pulled this Lonborg card, my region was praying for his recovery from a broken leg, which … never mind, I still can’t talk about it.

Those are the only six pitchers in the set, so happiness all around.  In the case of Peters, who allowed a stolen base on his strikeout, it was a bit of mixed bag.

FoulMcCarverPopGonzalezFoulSanto

As I worked it out, it made sense that McCarver, a catcher, would get the Foul Out card.  Again, this is a GOOD event.  Stretching things a bit, surely Santo caught a lot of pop ups in the Wrigley sun.  I am sure this card made him happy.  As for Tony Gonzalez, well, at least he got to be in the set.  Gonzalez was a fine player — which I knew, because he had earned the second slot on the NL Batting Leaders card (between Roberto Clemente and Matty Alou).  Nonetheless, he’d have to settle for a Pop Out this time around. Do it again, maybe we’ll give you a stamp next year.

GBCarewGBRoseGBTorreGBCepedaGBFregosi

These cards posed a bit of a problem for a kid learning the game.  Note that the Carew and Rose cards specify no runner advancement, while the others have the runners moving up.  How did that work?  You have runners on first and second, and a ground out advances no one? I eventually assumed Topps meant this to be a fielder’s choice with the lead runner retired.  Still, they could have made this clearer.

Carew and Rose would have many more go-rounds as Topps honorees, but in 1968 they were just establishing themselves as top-flight players.  Torre and Fregosi were stars, certainly, but there was tough competition for the big events to come.  Cepeda, the reigning MVP, wasn’t even getting respect.  Hey, the game needs outs.  This was 1968 for crying out loud. Its a wonder Topps didn’t just make them all outs.

FkyWynnFlyAlleyFlyMondayFlyKalineFlyStaub

Clearly Topps should have made Alley a ground out, and moved Rose into this group of outfielders.  The interesting cards here are Monday — because Topps always insisted on having at least one person from every team in all of their oddball sets — and Wynn/Staub, who are hatless because of the shenanigans with the Astros. This is one of best cards of Staub’s red hair.

Kaline and Staub, you will notice, get the RBI if there is a runner on third.

LineScottLineHowardLineAllen

When I played, I always loved turning one of these cards over.  Sure I just stranded runners on second and third in a one run game, but that ball was a ROCKET.  And Topps knew what they were doing, choosing three muscle-bound sluggers for these wonderful cards.

ErrorAlou

My first reaction, like yours, was “What did poor Matty do to deserve this?”  But I soon realized the, err, error of my thinking.  Obviously Alou got this card because his speed made the other team commit errors.  They didn’t throw the ball into the stands (note that the card specifies only one base of advancement).  It was more like the infielder got so anxious he bobbled the ball and likely burst out crying.  Safe at first!

9503-11FrHBPBRobinsonWalkDavis

Even as a child I was excited to get these cards because I knew that on base percentage was much more important than batting average and that the most important thing was not making hard contact, but avoiding making outs.

LOL, not really, I probably thought, “swing the bat Freehan, I have better things to do than waste time watching your weak crap.”

SingleMantleSingleYazSingleAaron

OK, now things are getting serious.  Mickey Mantle was no longer MICKEY MANTLE when I started watching the game, but I had plenty of people around me that let me in on what I had missed.  As a Red Sox fan, Yastrzemski was becoming my hero, and was coming off of one of the greatest seasons of all-time.  Aaron was, well, everything.  How is Topps gonna beat these guys?

9503-6FrDoubleKillebrew9503-7Fr

OK, not bad.  I would have put Clemente on the triple — he tripled more than twice as often as Robinson — but these were three top-flight stars at the heights of their powers.  You will note that Killebrew’s double cleared the bases; I assume that he and Robinson both hit the ball over the centerfielder’s head, perhaps in Tiger Stadium, but Killer had to lumber into second while Robby hustled around second with nary a glance to his right, and slid into third ahead of the throw.

And if you think I didn’t literally provide play-by-play to that effect while playing the game, we obviously have not met.

 

HRMays

 

You were expecting someone else?

 

What’s in a base set?

All together, the first 66 Topps base sets (1951-2016) included 41,892 cards (not counting variations), of which 35,911 (86%) are base player cards, and 5981 I have categorized as “something else.”

Over the past year or so I have been working on a spreadsheet to help me categorize all of the Topps sets. When I wrote my recent post on Topps multiplayer cards, I was able to identify these cards pretty quickly. If I want to know what years Topps had Turn Back the Clock cards (1977, and 1986-90), or Boyhood photos (1972-73), I have that information. What year did Topps have the highest number of non-base cards? 1972, with 206 out of a 787 card set.

1972-Fregosi-BP-214x300

The next time I want to impress the woman sitting at the bar, I will tell her that Topps has had 417 cards focused on the post-season, starting with 1960. (Fortunately, I am happily married.)

My information is a bit weaker (meaning: there may be errors) in the past 20 years or so. I only have a handful of the sets, and Topps has gotten a trickier with their non-base cards. You might see Mike Trout on a checklist, when it is really the Angels team card or something. It occurred to me recently that I might try to find some help (a) categorizing the post-1994 Topps sets, and (b) expanding the study to cover other brands. It might be fun to see how many sets we could break down.

If people are interested I would post the spreadsheet on Google, and people could help me update it.

What year did Topps put out the most “base player cards” per team? 1959, with 29.8 (477 cards for 16 teams). What about the least (not counting pre-1956, when they did not have all the rights)? 1999, with 12.6. That’s quite a spread.

BASE CARD
NOT A BASE CARD

I should be clear on what base player cards are. These are cards that have the standard front and back for that year — one card per player. No managers, coaches, executives. No Jackie Robinson in 1997. If the card has a trophy on the front, or a star, or text that says “Rated Rookie” that’s still a base card. The Carew above is a base card.

If the card has a completely different design — like the 1985 Olympic cards, or all the 1990s Draft Picks, those are not base cards and are categorized separately. There are grey areas to this, and I suppose I could be talked out of some of it.

Anyhow, here is a graph.

Untitled

It is possible that a more discerning look at the recent sets will dig into those totals a bit, but things have gotten better since the dreary mid-late 1990s.

Note: I do not wish to imply that the base player cards are the only cards that matter. Absolutely not. Only that if you make a spreadsheet of the set, you can pull out the teams and the managers and the league leaders, and give them their own columns.  The player cards are what is left — the cards you sort by teams and make rosters out of.

If this is of interest, let me know what else we can do with it.

 

The Me Decade: Results

Thanks to the 135 of you who participated in our first poll, to determine our favorite card set of the 1970s.

Click here to read about the poll and to see images of the fronts and backs of all of these cards.

This was so successful (read: heated) that we will be running more polls in the future. Hopefully you all know that there is no correct answer (except mine), just as there is no correct answer on the best LP of the 1970s (London Calling) or the best movie of the 1970s (All the Presidents Men). This poll says as much about us as it does about the Topps card sets.

One of the requests I could have made, but did not, was that people try to discount their “nostalgia” biases — the first card sets from the childhood, etc. The reason I did not request this is because it is impossible. Nostalgia colors everything, especially baseball cards. And why shouldn’t it? Bring it, nostalgia.

What follows is the composite score of all of us poll takers. As I noted on Twitter last night, all ten card sets received all ten possible scores — our “favorite” set got last place votes, and our “least favorite” got first place votes. Which is a fantastic result.

What follows are our results, with my comments. The average score is computed as a 10 for a first place vote, 9 for a second, etc.

1. 1971 (average score 6.72, first place votes 26)

This set got the most first place votes, and the least last place votes, so it would have won no matter how I framed the poll.

Personally I love the front of the cards, maybe as much as any set ever. As a ten-year-old, the backs were very bad, both for the content and because this was the year Topps switched from the white card stock (gloriously present from 1963 through 1970) to dark grey (used for the next two decades), making reading the text much more difficult. If you came to cards a few years later, you missed this sensation.

A few people commented that they disliked cards with signatures on the front (like 1971). If you like to get your cards autographed, the card will have two signatures on it, making for a mess (As someone who dislikes my cards being defaced, I never really thought of this before. But it makes sense.) I was fascinated with the signatures — especially Fred Wenz.

2. 1970 (6.52, 21)

I voted this number 1. A lot of people dislike the “boring” grey border, or the scripted name. The backs are spectacular, of course. Personally (warning: nostalgia ahead), this set was powerful as a kid because Topps had used so many old/repeated photos the previous two years (because of the player boycott).

3. 1975 (6.21, 19)

Sets with “loud” borders tend to split the group, with many people thinking it was the best, but many (14) thinking it was the worst. This was the first set I ever finished — I shudder to think how many packs of cards I opened when I only needed 20 more cards. The math was brutal, and I was old enough (14) that I didn’t have many collecting friends to trade with. The next year I bought a complete set in the mail, saving myself a lot of money.

Several people commented that they loved this set because of all the great rookie cards, or because they loved the mini set, both of which sort of violate the “rules” I advised yesterday. But, so what? This is a fine set, and here we are.

4. 1972 (6.08, 23)

Speaking of “loud” — 23 first place votes, 15 last place votes. In early voting I thought this set might actually win. The border, it is almost hard to notice, is actually white. Inside of the border is a large multi-colored (team-specific) frame. Inside of that, if you look real close, you will notice a small photo of a baseball player. I kid, 1972, I kid.

As a child this set got me to stop collecting. I was 11 years old, and it was time to move on with my life. (I started collecting again the next year). My biggest critique at the time, besides the frame, was the lack of position on the front. I “used” my cards — sorting by teams, making rosters, moving players around as they changed real teams. I really disliked this experiment, which Topps junked the next year.

5. 1976 (5.69, 10)

A personal favorite, with its nice clean border and cool position icon on the front. Let’s say you have something you want to frame — wedding photo, Escher print, child’s painting, college diploma, etc. Would you wrap that puppy in a 1972 Topps frame, or 1975? You would not, no. For elegance, how can you beat 1976?

The backs, it must be said, were brutal — the stats are literally black text on dark green. (Also used in 1974.) Seriously, Topps? I was looking at my set a few weeks ago, and tried reading them with my regular glasses, my reading glasses, or bare-eyed up-close. Nope, nope, nope. Even as a teenager it was tough.

6. 1973 (5.67, 9)

A huge about-face after the past two years, with Topps going to the height of simplicity. They put a position icon on the front (yeah!) but made team sorting harder by de-emphasizing the team name for the first time in several years (boo!). This seems to be a fairly uncontroversial set, with few huge proponents or detractors.

7. 1974 (5.51, 15)

11.2 percent of us voted this #1. This surprised me — I don’t dislike the set at all, I am just surprised that it rose to that level for people. I am glad it did, as it helps cement in my mind the idea that all of these sets are great in their own way.

On other hand, one guy on Twitter responded to my request for opinions on these ten sets: “Hate ’em all. Topps haven’t got it right since 1967… 50 years!” That is … something else.

8. 1977 (4.86, 6)

I worry about the age bias of our group, since our favorite three 1970s sets are the “oldest”, and the bottom three sets are the youngest. This set is 40 years old, sad to say, but many of us are even older.

I put a lot of sets above this one but there is a lot to like. The position pennant, the big team name — I preferred the team name to be prominent on the card. The backs were a big step up from 1976 because they made the stats background grey, making them more readable. It was not 1969 level awesomeness, but a welcome improvement.

9. 1978 (4.47, 5)

I like this set. The fronts are pretty simple, which I tend to prefer. The backs used orange as the primary color. Viva la change!

10. 1979 (3.43, 1)

Although one respondent placed this set first, its status in last place is pretty clear. 33 tenth place votes, and 28 ninth place votes — the two highest totals in the grid.

The design is a bit boring to most people, and many commented that they did not like the Topps logo, perhaps predating the coming end to their monopoly.

As I have said many times, I have all of these sets and I like all of them. I have my favorites, to be sure.

We will run more of these polls in the future. Feel free to contact me if you have any ideas of things you want the group to weigh in on.

The Best of The Me Decade

The fine folks at Baseball Prospectus recently polled their staff to determine the best Topps design of the 1980s. Which annoyed me because … what a great idea! I have been meaning to do some polls over here, but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. So, better late than never …

Rather than copy BP completely, I thought we’d run our first poll using the 1970s. See? This is different!

I would like to ask all interested observers to rank the 10 Topps set designs, best to worst.

CLICK HERE FOR POLL

Rules:

  1. I would like you to consider the design of the set, both front and back. If you don’t care about backs at all, ignore it. If you are someone who grew up memorizing card backs, like I did, please consider the back heavily in your ranking.
  2. Ignore issues of set content (too many rookie cards, no league leaders, etc).
  3. Please consider the set’s “peak value”. Do not judge it by the ugly airbrushed cards that all these sets have to some extent. Ask the question: How nice are the best cards? With this in mind, I have included an example of an attractive card from each set. Feel free to consider these (or your own favorites) when scoring.

The purpose of these rules is not to steer you in one direction or the other. The purpose is simply to ensure that all of us are judging the same thing.

OK. Use the below as an initial guide, and send me your votes.

1970

ARMOUR PART07 1970 BenchJohnnyFrontARMOUR PART07 1970 BenchJohnnyBack

1971

ARMOUR PART07 1971 CarewRodFrontARMOUR PART07 1971 CarewRodBack

1972

ARMOUR PART08 1972 MorganJoeARMOUR PART08 1972 MorganJoeBack

1973

ARMOUR PART08 1973 FiskCarltonFrontARMOUR PART08 1973 FiskCarltonBack

1974

ARMOUR PART08 1974 RosePeteFrontARMOUR PART08 1974 RosePeteBack

1975

ARMOUR PART08 1975 MunsonThurmanARMOUR PART08 1975 MunsonThurmanBack

1976

ARMOUR PART09 1976 BrettGeorgeFrontARMOUR PART09 1976 BrettGeorgeBack

1977

ARMOUR PART09 1977 SchmidtMikeFrontARMOUR PART09 1977 SchmidtMikeBack

1978

ARMOUR PART09 1978 RyanNolanFrontARMOUR PART09 1978 RyanNolanBack

1979

ARMOUR PART09 1979 SmithOzzieARMOUR PART09 1979 SmithOzzieBack

 

Update: The Results!

 

1964 Giants: Topps’ Photographic Pinnacle

I am just going to say it: the most attractive baseball cards ever created were the 1964 Topps Giant-Size All-Stars. The over-sized cards (about the size of a standard post card)  were sold in wax packs — three cards and a stick of gum for a nickel. You can buy these 60 cards in great condition today relatively cheaply considering the quality of the cards and the depicted players.The design is simple and elegant; my favorite Topps designs (1957, 1961, 1967, 1969, 1976, etc.) are minimalist, and this follows a similar ethic.

All 60 players are shown in their current uniform and hat, a blessing when compared to other Topps sets from the 1960s. How did they do this? They were still putting the set together well into the 1964 season, so they had plenty of time to react to off-season trades. Below you see Rocky Colavito, traded from the Tigers to the A’s during the winter, in Topps base set and its Giants set. Which are you gonna take?

The “Giants” did not hit store shelves until very late in the summer, around Labor Day. This allowed Topps to select the players and take photos well into the season. The back of Johnny Callison’s card tells us that he hit a game-winning home run in the All-Star game, which took place on July 7. (Several cards mentioned that year’s All-Star team.)  Getting the cards updated and onto shore shelves in a few weeks is impressive.

The card backs looked like a newspaper, highlighting one particular date in the player’s career but touching on the full story.

1964-topps-giants-3-sandy-koufax-back

The 60-card set was comprised of three players from each team, and Topps clearly intended these to be the “best” players on their teams, or at least players who had a claim to be. They were called “All-Stars,” after all.Let’s take a look at some of the selections and see if we can understand Topps’s thinking. I will assume that Topps made their choices in mid-summer of 1964. I am not interested in criticizing Topps for choosing among a group of comparably good players, but I will still point out choices that seem odd.

Baltimore Orioles: Brooks Robinson, Luis Aparicio, Milt Pappas

You could make an argument for Steve Barber or Wally Bunker as the third choice, joining the two perennial All-Stars. But this is a solid group.

1964-topps-giant-set-break-39-luis-aparicio-nr-mint-z16929-9555baaadf12c9c827006417eee8ee10

Boston Red Sox: Carl Yastrzemski, Dick Stuart, Dick Radatz

Stuart and Radatz were one-dimensional but famous, and Yaz was their best player. Tony Conigliaro came up that year and was showing promise, but I expect Topps spent little time debating these three.

California Angels: Jim Fregosi, Dean Chance, Albie Pearson

The first two were easy, but Topps had to struggle to find a third guy. Pearson had a fine 1963 which ended up carrying the day. Bobby Knoop probably might have been a better call.

Chicago White Sox: Pete Ward, Gary Peters, Juan Pizarro

They could have gone with Hoyt Wilhelm, or Joe Horlen, or Ron Hansen — the White Sox had a lot of good players. But I think this is fine group.

Cleveland Indians: Leon Wagner, Johnny Romano, Max Alvis

Sam McDowell and Luis Tiant were called up early in the season and became sensations, just a bit too late for Topps. The Indians had no obvious stars, and the three they chose were as close to qualifying as anyone I suppose.

Detroit Tigers: Al Kaline, Bill Freehan, Dave Wickersham

The Wickersham choice seems weird today, but he was in the midst of somewhat fluky 19-win season and Topps was suitably impressed. Norm Cash would have been a much better choice, even at the time. Dick McAuliffe too.

download-6

Kansas City Athletics: Rocky Colavito, Jim Gentile, Wayne Causey

These guys were arguably the three best players on a lousy team. By WAR, the best player on the 1964 A’s was reliever Wes Stock, but I’m not really going to defend that hill.

Minnesota Twins: Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Camilo Pasqual

Oliva was such a great rookie that he not only forced the Twins to move Bob Allison (a legitimate star) to first base, he probably also forced Topps to kick Allison out of his honored place in this set. “Thanks a lot, rook.”

59464_1265x2162

New York Yankees: Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Elston Howard

The toughest omission was Jim Bouton, but I suspect it took Topps about five seconds to settle on these three.

Washington Senators: Chuck Hinton, Bill Skowron, Ed Brinkman

It’s hard to see how Claude Osteen did not make this set given the competition. Hinton is fine, but Skowron was all reputation, and Brinkman was a glove-only shortstop, a type that seemed to be everywhere in the 1960s.

59493_1262x2162

Chicago Cubs: Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Dick Ellsworth

Don’t laugh: Ellsworth was positively Koufaxian in 1963. (Look it up.) Sure, that season stands out like a mountain over the rest of his career, but it was great enough to get Topps to pick him over Ernie Banks, the most popular Cub who was quite a bit off his great peak of a few years earlier.

robinson_card

Cincinnati Reds: Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Jim Maloney

A year later and Pete Rose would have gotten one of the slots, but these three stars are pretty easy picks. Guys like Maloney are my favorite part of the set — although he eventually got hurt, he was absolutely not out of place in this group of 60 players.

Houston Astros: Nellie Fox, Ken Johnson, Dick Farrell

In April 1964 Johnson pitched a nine-inning no-hitter and lost, still the only pitcher ever to “accomplish” this. This event was famous at the time, and was probably enough to get Johnson his card, along with two teammates who were also not stars (though Fox once had been).

Los Angeles Dodgers: Sandy Koufax, Tommy Davis, Frank Howard

Don Drysdale’s omission is odd — he was famous, and he really was a better player than Davis or Howard. For proof, he even started the All-Star game for the National League, the fourth time he had done so (he would start again in 1968). Maury Wills ordinarily might have warranted a spot as well, but Topps did not have Wills under contract until 1967.

Milwaukee Braves: Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, Joe Torre

Spahn finally collapsed in 1964, but Topps was not ready to give up on him, giving him this spot over over Eddie Mathews, who was in decline but still a very productive player. The other two were easy calls.

New York Mets: Ron Hunt, Galen Cisco, Roy McMillan

Hunt was the only actually good Met. Cisco enjoyed a pretty decent run in early 1964, the best run of his career, and this was just enough to get into the set. McMillan was basically a utility player at this point, but that was true of the entire team.

Philadelphia Phillies: Johnny Callison, Jim Bunning, Tony Gonzalez

Given the inclusion of Oliva, its hard to justify the omission of rookie Dick Allen, who was one of the best players in the NL from April onward. Gonzalez was a good player, but not in Allen’s class.

59453_1264x2161

Pittsburgh Pirates: Roberto Clemente, Bob Bailey, Bob Friend

Other than Clemente, the Pirates were transitioning in this period and Topps went with a guy on his way in (Bailey) and a guy on his way out (Friend). They could easily have gone with Bob Veale or Bill Mazeroski, but whatever.

San Francisco Giants: Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda

At first glance, Willie McCovey (the NL home run champ in 1963) seems like a shocking miss, but he was having a down year in 1964 and Topps chose three other Hall of Famers. Hard to complain, really.

St. Louis Cardinals: Bob Gibson, Dick Groat, Ken Boyer

The Cardinals acquired Lou Brock in June and he was their best player the rest of the year, but this was a couple of months too late for this set. With apologies to Bill White and Curt Flood, Topps chose well.

For my money, the biggest miss in the set was Drysdale, who lost out to lesser (albeit very good) players. There are many candidates for the “Least All-Star” because many teams did not have three good candidates. I might go with Galen Cisco for this coveted trophy, though.

As I have said, one of the reasons the set holds up so well is that the late release date allowed for up-to-date photography. The late release also likely hurt sales — Topps never tried a significant late summer release again. Fortunately, they printed tons of these cards, making collecting it today somewhat of snap.  It is a fabulous set, and well worth a little time and investment.

1970 Topps: Chillin’

I had planned on writing a full blown story about one of my favorite sets–1970 Topps–but I decided instead to just write about a single aspect of those cards: their “candid” (kinda, sorta) photography.

You are likely aware that Topps first used action photography on their base players cards in 1971. Some were great, others less so. Before that year, other than special subsets–World Series cards, record breakers–all player cards were posed.

What were these poses? Nearly all of them were either (a) head shots, or (b) photos showing the player pitching, batting or fielding. If you were an odd kid like me you could sort your cards by “pose type”. One of my personal favorites were catchers in their crouch getting ready to receive a pitch–usually squatting in some random spot, perhaps facing the stands with the field behind them. Sometimes the catcher had shin guards, though usually not.
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In 1970 Topps took their first step toward the candid photography that would soon dominate its set. Candid photos might occur when a photographer wanders around and finds players hanging out and snaps away. For example, to get this shot of Henry Aaron the shutterbug likely walked past the dugout and said, “Hey Hank!” Aaron looks up, “click.”
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Is this actually how it went down? No way to know, but its hard to imagine the camera guy, or Aaron, deciding on this pose. Either way, it was a breath of fresh air at the time.
Lou Brock is looking rather casual here, performing an Ichiro like back stretch using his bat. Hey Lou, ‘sup?
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The most candid shot in the set was a card that would look at home a decade later, showing Bud Harrelson signing for the hometown fans. For kids of 1970, Harrelson might as well have been streaking across the infield for the shock of it all. Where is a his glove? His bat?
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A related, though less risque, example is this gorgeous card of Harmon Killebrew, standing near the bat rack, picking out a bat, looking askance. Perhaps not totally candid, but one can imagine the lensman saying, “just act natural, Killer. Sure, keep the towel.”
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By itself, this card is interesting. What makes it more interesting that Topps had no fewer than nine (9) cards that year of guys standing near the bat rack, a structure that had barely ever shown up a card before.
Interesting exceptions: the 1961 and 1962 Wes Covington cards.
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In the first series in 1970 (cards 1-132) there were two such cards — one of Gerry Moses, and this one below of Juan Rios. When I first laid eyes on the Rios I had likely never seen a real bat rack before–I was playing Little League by this time, but we just tossed our bats in a pile. The Royals were obviously a pretty high class organization.
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Incidentally, Juan might have chosen his bats a little more carefully–he hit .224 as a rookie in 1969 and never played in the majors again.
Here is a pretty sweet card of Coco Laboy looking for some lumber. In his case, the impact of the high-class bright red bat rack is somewhat mitigated by the chain link fence. Where is this place?
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But for the true low-rent district, look no further than Del Unser, who looks undecided on his bat choice.
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The Senators only had a couple of seasons left before heading for Texas. Perhaps we should have seen their financial troubles coming, given that they were storing their bats in what looks like a grocery store shopping cart.