Cardboard Typos and Gripe-o’s—Part 2

For nearly 30 years, editing has brought home my bacon. It wasn’t my desired profession; I fell into it like an open manhole—and I’m still trying to climb my way out. The grammatical, punctuational, and syntactic boo-boos I fix have been mostly in the medical and pharmaceutical fields, but they’ve been pretty easy to spot in my spare time as well—which means, to a degree, on the backs, and sometimes fronts, of baseball cards.

Years ago, I began jotting down factual errors and spelling typos (punctuation issues and lack of hyphenation are so rampant that chronicling them would be a never-ending and pointless task). I do not keep abreast of baseball card commentary as vigilantly as I once did, so at least one of the following errors has been posted elsewhere, which means that others—maybe many—in this simple and hardly comprehensive multi-part list might also have been documented in that long interim.

Here, Part 2 continues this absolutely uncomprehensive, and extremely random, list of baseball card errors (see Part 1 here).

  • 1911 T201 Mecca Double Folder Lefty Leifield (backed with Mike Simon): Unlike other pitchers in the set, the stats for this talented Pirates southpaw feature batting and fielding records—Lefty’s pitching ledger for the previous season has been mysteriously replaced by his work with the glove. Yet it’s not even Lefty’s statistics. Card-mate and battery mate Mike Simon—whose statistics are completely absent under his own name—appears at first glance to have his statistics erroneously replacing Leifield’s field work (note the inclusion of passed balls). However, the lack of quality control on Mecca’s part is even more out of control than this: Beyond problematic typesetting, the statistics listed are wildly incongruent with Simon’s (as well as all other NL catchers’) performance in 1910—none more so than his alleged .536 fielding percentage—a number that couldn’t keep a catcher on a sandlot field. Just as egregious is his 64 passed balls. In actuality, Simon was not charged with either a single error or passed ball during the previous season. Who knows how these numbers were conjured—the lowest fielding percentage registered by any catcher in the majors in 1910 was .875, and after the rule changes of the 1890s, no catcher had let more than 27 balls past him since the turn of the century. If some supercentenarian is still manning the phones at Mecca Cigarettes, somebody should call to get the lowdown—pronto.
  • 1912 T207 Germany Schaefer: It’s common knowledge that Jim Delahanty’s T207 contains multiple misspellings of his surname (“Delehanty”) on the back (though the front is correct), but that spelling miscue also appears on the back of Germany Schaefer’s T207 (the two were swapped for each other, along with Red Killefer, in 1909, accounting for the mutual mentions). Schaefer’s bio also contains a more personal blunder, stating that, “Since arriving at the Capital he has played first, second, short and third….” However, the utilitarian Schaefer never took the field as a shortstop after his days in Detroit. As a macabre aside, Schaefer, a renowned baseball prankster, died of tuberculosis in the same New York village where Christy Mathewson succumbed to the disease six years later. (It may have even been the same sanatorium; I’m not certain.)
  • 1954 Topps Vern Law (#235): Vern’s “Year” line denotes that he spent the previous season “IN MILITARY SERVICE,” yet “IN” is missing the “I.” I’m not familiar with an Idaho accent, but perhaps Topps was writing in Vern’s native vernacular. (I’ve largely avoided minor points in these lists, but to spotlight Topps’ sloppiness, in the right-hand cartoon mentioning Bing Crosby, “Pirate’s” is incorrectly singular possessive; it doesn’t need an apostrophe at all, but if one is used, it should follow the “s” to be plural possessive. Misuse of the apostrophe is one of the most pervasive marks of ignorance found in print.)
  • 1933 Goudey Tony Lazzeri (#31): Goudey took “Poosh ‘Em Up”’s games played in 1932 and pooshed ‘em down, stating that he played 141 games—Lazzeri actually suited up for 142 games in 1932. Perhaps unfairly, his bio begins that “coming to the bat in his first world series with bases filled, struck out.” This is a necessarily incomplete, almost Twitter-like, reference to Lazzeri’s inning-ending whiff at the hands of Grover Cleveland Alexander in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series, of course. To be fair, it was actually the fourth time in the Series that Lazzeri came to the plate with the bases full. Twice, he delivered important sacrifice flies, including the eventual game-winning run in the top of the 10th in Game 5—without which the Series might never have gone to a seventh game and given baseball that gilded moment.  
  • 1933 Goudey Burleigh Grimes (#64): Burleigh’s bio declares that he “[b]roke into baseball in 1913 with Ottumwa in the Central Association.” With apologies to Radar O’Reilly, who was born right about the time that this card hit the shelves in his native Ottumwa, Burleigh was no rookie in 1913, having pitched in 9 games for the Class D Eau Claire Commissioners of the Minnesota-Wisconsin League in 1912. Had Radar been old enough to watch Ol’ Stubblebeard on the mound, he might have remarked, “Uh-oh, spitters!”
  • 1933 Goudey Earl Averill (#194): More inaccuracy than error—and much like Lefty Gomez’s cards mentioned in Part 1—virtually all of Earl Averill’s cards denote his birth year as 1903, whereas all official sources, including his headstone, report it as 1902.
  • 1949 Bowman Bob Lemon (#238): Bob was anything but a lemon as a pitcher, seven times reaching the 20-win circle and earning a place in the Hall of Fame; however, his cards are a strange and recurring saga of geographical ineptitude on the part of multiple manufacturers. Beginning with his rookie card, Bowman misspelled his birthplace of San Bernardino, California, as “San Bernadino.” (Incorporated in 1869, the city’s spelling had been officially established for 80 years by the time Bowman inked Lemon to a contract.) For most of Bowman’s existence, it repeated this error. One might attribute this to the same biographical information being used rotely over the next 6 years—except that Bowman got the spelling correct in 1951 and 1952, then inexplicably reverted to the original error for the remainder of its run. So, defying any semblance of logic, Bowman printed “Bernadino” in 1949 and 1950, changed correctly to “Bernardino” in 1951 and 1952, and then went back to its mistake in 1953, 1954, and 1955. If that weren’t bizarre enough, all three of Lemon’s Red Man Tobacco cards (1953-’55) also misspelled his birthplace as “Bernadino.” (I don’t know if Red Man, which had long been only a tobacco company, made some kind of deal with Bowman for its baseball information when deciding to issue its own cards—some of their bios read similarly in places—but blame would still fall on Red Man Tobacco for not at least proofreading its product.) In contrast, none of Topps’ cards that list a birthplace erred on this spelling, and Lemon’s 1954 Red Heart and Dan-Dee cards also are correct.
  • 1960 Leaf Jim Coates (#35): A double-dip for Jim. “Binghampton” is a misspelling. Hold the “p,” Leaf. A bigger blooper is that Leaf was under the impression that Coates had never pitched in the majors before 1959—his “Past Year” totals are identical to his “Lifetime” totals. However, Jim appeared in 2 games for the Pinstripes way back in 1956, making the majority of those lifetime statistics incorrect.
  • 1960 Leaf Al Spangler (#38): Al’s home is listed as “Maple Glenn, Pa.” Leaf apparently turned over a new leaf and gave Spangler’s home an extra “n”—the town is spelled Maple Glen. To my knowledge, it never went by “Glenn.”

Rife with typos, Topps’ 1964 Giants subset contains more than its share. Among them:

  • 1964 Topps Giants Orlando Cepeda (#55): Cepeda is denoted as having laced 38 triples as a rookie in 1958. This is diamond hogwash. Did Topps think third-base coach Herman Franks waved a red cape every time Cepeda rounded first so that the Baby Bull came raging uncontrollably into third? Owen Wilson’s 36 triples in 1912 has never been bested, and, in fact, no player has legged out more than 26 ever since. Cepeda, of course, ripped 38 doubles, not 38 triples.
  • 1964 Topps Giants Billy Williams (#52): Topps really shortchanged Billy by stating that he clubbed “20 two-baggers” for the Ponca City Cubs in 1957. The sweet-swinging Williams swatted twice that many in pacing the Sooner State League in doubles.
  • 1964 Topps Giants Carl Yastrzemski (#48): In the right-hand column, Carl was cited to have “wrecked havoc” on opposing pitchers. This is a malaprop—the term is, of course, “wreaked havoc.” At least Topps spelled his surname correctly.
  • 1964 Topps Giants Harmon Killebrew (#38): Deceptive text, even if inadvertent, is a no-no to an editor, so I’m calling out Topps for Killer’s headline, KILLEBREW WINS 2ND HOMER CROWN. As evidenced early in his bio, “For the second consecutive season, the Minnesota Twins’ slugger was the American League home run champion.” This is certainly accurate, Harmon having claimed the crown in 1962 and ’63. However, the headline implies very strongly that these were his only two homer titles to that point—yet Killebrew had also topped the AL in 1959, meaning, of course, that he’d nabbed his third homer crown in 1963, not his second. If I didn’t call this out, I’d be negligent in my long-time occupation as an editor.

If the 1964 Topps Giants subset is something of an editor’s treasure trove, the 1960 and 1961 Fleer sets are a gold rush. Some of the most problematic assemblages of cards out there, they have often caused me to wonder if the company headquartered in my hometown ever employed a fact checker or proofreader. Many’s the time I fantasized about going back in time to be hired as Fleer’s text editor. With a primo job like that, how could a young Ann-Margret not date me?

  • 1960 Fleer Christy Mathewson (#2): Fleer failed to list that Christy also pitched for Cincinnati. Some may say “Big deal—he pitched only 1 game for the Reds.” Well, it was a big deal. That final game—a victory—ultimately allowed Mathewson to tie Grover Cleveland Alexander for most victories by a National League pitcher (even though his true victory total wasn’t discovered until many years after his death). Fleer rectified this oversight—sort of—in its 1961 set, stating that he pitched all of his games “except one” for New York, without specifying that other team. However, Fleer did picture Matty in a Cincinnati uniform—although neither is this definitely, because Christy was better known in red as Cincinnati’s manager for several seasons, which Fleer references.
  • 1960 Fleer Joe Medwick (#22): Fleer anointed Medwick with an RBI total of 1949—which, at that time, would have put Ducky fourth on the all-time list, a handful ahead of Ty Cobb. Now, Medwick was an excellent run producer and, in fact, stands as one of the few National Leaguers to top the Senior Circuit in RBI for 3 consecutive seasons, but the actual total of runs he drove across the plate was a far less robust 1383. Remarkably, Fleer repeated this huge blunder on Joe’s 1961 card (#61).
  • 1961 Fleer Rogers Hornsby (#43): The Rajah’s home run total is incorrectly listed as 302 (he hit 301); his triples total is also inaccurate: 168, though he actually hit 169. His hit total is correct, so I wonder, if among all of the other revisions to old-timers’ statistics, one of Hornsby’s round-trippers was downgraded to a three-base hit. (301 was, as long as I can recall, his established home run total, as can be seen on his 1976 Topps All-Time All-Star card—which is almost certainly from where I first learned the total.)
  • 1961 Fleer Ty Cobb (#14): One of the biggest statistical oversights I’ve seen occurs in Cobb’s bio, as Fleer denotes Ty as having led the AL six times in hitting. As any moderately informed baseball fan knows, Cobb snared an incredible 11 batting crowns (or 12, depending on which source you consult—the Hall of Fame still claims the latter). Regardless of which you consider the true count, Cobb’s run of double-digit batting crowns was, even then, long regarded as one of the most amazing feats in sports annals—and an inexcusable gaffe by Fleer, especially considering that his 1960 Fleer card denotes Cobb as capturing 12 batting titles.

  • 1961 Fleer Grover Cleveland Alexander (#2): Fleer goofs again, misspelling “immortal” in the opening line of Alex’s bio (and fails to include a period as well).
  • 1961 Fleer George Sisler (#78): George’s bio is almost cruelly ironic in its boast that he “played in six World Series.” Sisler, of course, is renowned among the game’s greats who never played in the Fall Classic. (George worked for Brooklyn and Pittsburgh as a scout and batting instructor in later years, but this certainly does not equate with playing in a World Series, and his attachment to pennant-winning teams in either of these capacities fell far short of six anyway.) How could such a false statement be written—and, worse, approved? Perhaps more than any other card in Fleer’s 1960 and ’61 sets, this colossal blunder indicates a shameful lack of commitment to its product and the consumer.

  • 1975 TCMA Red Russell: Typos among “quasi-professional” sets such as TCMA are plentiful. One example is from TCMA’s 1975 issue spotlighting the 1919 White Sox squad. Breaking in with the Southsiders in 1913, Russell crafted one of the best—and most overlooked—rookie seasons by a pitcher, winning 22 games for the 5th-place Sox. By 1919, his arm was gone, facing just 2 batters all season, in a June loss to Boston, which ended his pitching career at a fine 80-59 mark. Soon after this final appearance, Russell went to the Double-A Minneapolis Millers and reinvented himself as an outfielder. He returned to the majors in 1922 and put in a pair of partial seasons for the Pirates, thwacking 21 home runs in 511 at-bats. TCMA’s goof lay in labeling him “Red” Russell. Born in postbellum Mississippi and raised in Texas, he was well known as “Reb” Russell for his obvious Southern heritage. Even so, mild kudos to TCMA for including in the set the member who played least on the roster during the season (there are a few White Sox who played more than Russell yet were not included).
  • 1954 Red Heart Stan Musial: Stan’s bio claims that he has played in “9 All Star games as a Cardinal outfielder.” Through the end of the 1953 campaign, Musial had played in 10 All-Star Games. Yet even if this statement is taken literally—that is, counting his participation only as an outfielder, regardless of how silly it would be for Red Heart to ignore his other appearances in the Midsummer Classic—Musial had, to that time, participated once as a first baseman and once as a pinch-hitter, so the count strictly as an outfielder was 8—which still did not jibe with Red Heart’s claim. It’s also interesting to note that Red Heart, as late as 1954, referred to the Fall Classic as the “World’s Series”—an antiquated spelling that had essentially died out by the 1930s.

And just for good measure, I’m throwing in several hockey card errors:

  • 1957-58 Topps Jean Guy Gendron (#52): Between this entry and the following one, you will see that Gendron appears to have been the target of a systematic process of sloppiness and inconsistency, the likes of which the sports card industry has never seen. In the English bio of this, Gendron’s rookie card, Topps heretically refers to the Montreal club as the “Canadians.” Frankly, Topps should consider itself lucky that Montreal fans didn’t fly into a bleu, blanc, et rage, bus down to Brooklyn, and burn the plant to the ground. Despite being Gendron’s official rookie card, this also establishes a long and winding road of instability concerning his first name. Gendron’s first name appears to officially have been spelled with a hyphen, “Jean-Guy,” as evidenced by several official sources as well as the back of his true rookie card, the 1952 Juniors Blue Tint. Yet from 1957 to 1963, Topps always denoted him simply as Guy Gendron (although, as you can see, the reverse of his rookie card is “Jean G.” Gendron). He then became “Jean Guy” on his 1968 card (shown for a different reason in the following entry), was amended to “Jean-Guy” in 1969, then was stripped of the hyphen in 1970 and 1971, and enjoyed a restored hyphen for his final card, in 1972. (Gendron’s 1970 Dad’s Cookies card and 1970 Esso stamp also feature the hyphen.)

  • 1968 OPC Jean Guy Gendron (#185): The statistical record claims that Gendron was “Not in N.H.L.” during the 1967-68 season. Although the long-time NHL veteran had been dispatched to the AHL’s Quebec Aces in 1964 and remained there for 4 seasons, Gendron did suit up for 1 game with the phledgling Philadelphia Flyers—even picking up an assist—during his final year with Quebec. (Gendron would go on to play 4 seasons with the Orange and Black, becoming one of the team’s best forwards in its early years.) Furthermore, though not an outright error, Gendron’s bio begins that he, Andre Lacroix, and Simon Nolet “are counted heavily on this year by Coach Courtney.” This is a strange reference to Philadelphia’s inaugural head coach, Keith Allen, whose given name was Courtney. I’m inclined to believe that OPC mistook “Courtney” as his surname, because it’s difficult to believe that OPC was on an overly casual first-name basis with the little-known skipper of a barely established expansion club.

  • 1979 OPC J. Bob Kelly (#306): This is likely well known to all except the young’uns. Rather obviously—at least it should be—the player depicted is not J. Bob Kelly—better known in rinks as “Battleship” Kelly—but long-time Broad Street Bully, Bob “the Hound” Kelly. (The pictured Bob Kelly has his own OPC and Topps cards that year; J. Bob Kelly has no Topps counterpart.) As an aside (though not an error itself), OPC denotes that Kelly was “Now with Oilers”; however, Kelly’s last skate in the NHL occurred during the previous season’s quarterfinals as the New York Islanders swept Kelly’s Chicago Black Hawks. Battleship did split 4 games between the Cincinnati Stingers and the Houston Apollos of the Central Hockey League during the 1979-80 season, but he never played for Edmonton, despite the Oilers drafting Kelly from Chicago in the 1979 NHL Expansion Draft.
  • 1969-70 Topps (#59) and OPC (#59) Carl Brewer: Perhaps it’s something of an honor to be incorrect in two countries, as both Topps and OPC were in listing Carl’s home of Muskegon, Michigan, which is misspelled as “Muskegan” on both cards.  
  • 1971-72 OPC (#156) and 1972-73 OPC (#100) Rogatien Vachon: Errors north of the border get a little more complex with this pair of Rogie Vachon cards. Each errantly refers to Vachon as “Roggie”—the first card twice in the bio and the latter card in the cartoon. OPC then wised up and never again made this misspelling (the reverse of Topps/OPC 1978-79 cards, which feature the player’s autograph, confirm the spelling in Vachon’s own hand, as if confirmation were needed). OPC dropped the puck a second time on his 1972-73 card, botching Vachon’s first name as “Ragatien.” (Topps got the spelling right but featured the same erroneous cartoon.) A former coworker who is a cousin of Vachon responded to my request for Rogie’s comments on this with, “Jesus, Randy, I’m busy. Leave me alone!”

Topps in 1972, Part 5

Editor’s note: SABR Baseball Cards welcomes new member F. Scott Wilkinson with the fifth of his 10 articles on the 1972 Topps set, now approaching its 50th anniversary. Click here to start the series from the beginning.

I have explained many times that I am, by Profession, a Gambler—not some jock-sniffing nerd or a hired human squawk-box with the brain of a one-cell animal. No. That would be your average career sportswriter—and, more specifically, a full-time Baseball writer.

—Hunter S. Thompson

This post tries to make some sense of how all 787 cards of the 1972 set are organized, and takes a look at some of the sub-series offerings of the lot…

The ’72 Topps catalogue is divided into six distinct series, marked by canary-yellow checklist cards (numbered 4, 103, 251, 378, 478, and 604) that listed player cards in order so that collectors could keep track of their finds. These cards were losers when we were kids, but good luck finding them in mint condition today! From my experience, many a boy wanted to keep track of what they had (my old cards have pencil or pen marks in many of the square check boxes) and these days pristine cards seem to be somewhat rare and relatively expensive.

On average the first series seems to have the most cardboard in circulation (“commons”) and cards get rarer (and more valuable) as their numbers rise. By the sixth series there are many heavyweights that don’t seem as plentiful, like the last ever Topps cards of Hall of Famers Bill Mazeroski (#760) and Hoyt Wilhelm (#777).

Individual player cards make up most of all six series, but as usual there are trademark Topps theme cards within each series as well. The first series features statistics leader cards (#85–94), which have small photos of the top three leaders of a category (home runs, RBI, batting average, wins, strikeouts, and ERA) on the front and a listing of the top 10 leaders on the back. Even these cards have a distinct color scheme – the American League cards are blue with yellow piping and white lettering, while all the National League cards are green, with orange piping and yellow lettering.

The second series features 10 cards (#221–230) representing the 1971 postseason, all with the same design—bright red with yellow piping, a white border and black lettering. The first two cards of the series show scenes from the NL and AL Championship Series, won by the Pirates and Orioles respectively, with series totals for the two teams on the back.

The remainder chronicle the Pirates’ World Series victory over the Orioles in seven games, showing an action scene from each game on the front and the game’s box score on the back. Here are my two favorites – Brooks Robinson and Mark Belanger in Game 2 and Nelson Briles from his Game 5 two-hit shutout:

Card #230 perfectly captures the Pirates’ moment of victory, with a pack of delirious Pirates players—Manny Sanguillen (#60) smiling widely with arm raised; Luke Walker (#471), and Gene Clines (#152) to the right and third base coach Frank Oceak (wearing number 44 in photo) in the foreground. This card lists the cumulative Series stat totals on the back in tiny font and reminds us that Boog Powell hit only .111 (3 for 27) for the Series. Damn it! The O’s needed just a little more from the 1970 AL MVP.

The dominant overall theme (featured in all six series) is the “In Action” lot, which was just that—candid action shots with the same blood-red-with-yellow-piping design as the postseason cards. As a boy I never wanted to see these—they seemed less valuable somehow, just worthless filler. Bike spoke material. Today they’re far more interesting (and valuable), with some really capturing how intense, chaotic, and violent baseball can be – just look at #700 – Bobby Murcer’s devil-may-care slide into home.

Juan Marichal’s legendary high leg-kick delivery is perfectly captured too, (#568) while John “Blue Moon” Odom (#558) seems to be defying gravity. These are some of the best “In Actions.”

I never liked these next two, but they are pretty cool now. It looks like Seaver (#446) is laughing his ass off at something the catcher just said, but more likely he was having a bad reaction to a called ball he knew was a strike. Meanwhile, Clemente (#310) was maybe showing up the ump with a “that’s not a strike” look or possibly taunting the pitcher with a “No no, son – let’s try that again”. Who knows, unless you were there? Some day there should be a caption contest for these things. And how about The Great One’s big-ass hands with no batting gloves? Old school and fearless.

Each “In Action” card is numbered adjacent to the player’s standard card and there are 12 of these cards in each of the six series, all with the same front—players in various real-game shots—but with different themes on the back. The first series of IA cards has cartoon ads for other cards in the series—not too exciting. The second series has some of those silly ads, as well as some historical data, like a listing of National League pennant winners since 1900 (#178) and American League ERA leaders going back to 1913 when Walter Johnson led the league with a mark of 1.14 (#176).

The third sub-series has some of the ads as well as trivia questions about how to call some uncommon game scenarios. They’re titled “So You’re a Baseball Expert, by Harry Simmons” and here is a typically convoluted example, from the back of the Danny Frisella card (#294):

Scenario: Let’s say the Los Angeles Dodgers and Montreal Expos are tied, 4–4, in the sixth inning of a game at Montreal. With one out, the Dodgers have Maury Wills on third and Wes Parker on second. The Los Angeles batter runs up a count of two balls and one strike, but the scoreboard shows two strikes and one ball. On the next pitch, the batter swings, and misses. The Montreal catcher drops the ball to the ground, however, and the batter, thinking it is a fumbled third strike, dashes for first base. The catcher, confused, throws to first, but his throw is wild and the ball sails into right field. Wills and Parker score. The batter stays on first base. Actually, the batter has no business on first, and should not have run and drawn a throw as—except on the misleading scoreboard—it was the second strike and not the third. How would you untangle this situation?

Solution: The runs count, but the batter must return to bat with the count properly two-and-two. There is no rule to penalize him. The catcher bears the blame for throwing away a live ball when he should have known better.

“In Action” cards of the fourth series contain some history, with newspaper headlines of noteworthy feats on the reverse—one from the Ken Singleton card (#426) shows an article from the Chicago Tribune, June 3, 1971, “(Ken) Holtzman Hurls 2nd No-hitter”. Another, from the Bob Robertson card (#430), has a St. Louis Dispatch article from August 14, 1971, that reads “(Bob) Gibson Pitches No-hitter vs. Bucs”.

Here are two neat ones – the Tito Fuentes card (#428) has a Philadelphia Enquirer headline boasting “Wise No-Hits Reds and Hits 2 Homers” and the back of the Willie Stargell card (#448) features an article from The Montreal Star proclaiming “Hunt Hit By Pitch 50th Time of Season”, a record-breaking “effort” well before Rudy Stein and Michael Conforto were instructed to “lean into it”.

The backs of the fifth and sixth series are corny, the fifth being puzzle pieces that fit together to create larger pictures of Joe Torre (#500) and Carl Yastrzemski (#37) and the sixth featuring puzzle piece pictures of Tony Oliva (#400) and Tom Seaver (#445). Nice try, but these six-card pictures are goofy and staged and it’s safe to say that my friend Billy and I never bothered to assemble any of them even once. Still, we need to exercise our due diligence, so here’s Yaz! Looking just fine, actually.

For the hell of it, here’s a breakdown of all the players/card numbers of the “In Action” cards of each series. You’d think every card would be of an All-Star (the 4th series is loaded with greats), yet there are plenty of guys here who may have seemed destined for greatness, but ended up being (relative) scrubs:

First Series: Cleon James (#32), Billy Martin (#34), Jerry Johnson (#36), Carl Yastrzemski (#38), Bob Barton (#40), Tommy Davis (#42), Rick Wise (#44), Glenn Beckert (#46), John Ellis (#48), Willie Mays (#50), Harmon Killebrew (#52), Bud Harrelson (#54).

Second Series: Tug McGraw (#164), Chris Speier (#166), Deron Johnson (#168), Vida Blue (#170), Darrell Evans (#172), Clay Kirby (#174), Tom Haller (#176), Paul Schaal (#178), Dock Ellis (#180), Ed Kranepool (#182), Bill Melton (#184), Ron Bryant (#186).

Third Series: Hal McRae (#292), Danny Frisella (#294), Dick Dietz (#296), Claude Osteen (#298), Hank Aaron (#300), George Mitterwald (#302), Joe Pepitone (#304), Ken Boswell (#306), Steve Renko (#308), Roberto Clemente (#310), Clay Carroll (#312), Luis Aparicio (#314).

Fourth Series: Ken Singleton (#426), Tito Fuentes (#428), Bob Robertson (#430), Clarence Gaston (#432), Johnny Bench (#434), Reggie Jackson (#436), Maury Wills (#438), Billy Williams (#440), Thurman Munson (#442), Ken Henderson (#444), Tom Seaver (#446), Willie Stargell (#448).

Fifth Series: Ollie Brown (#552), Wilbur Wood (#554), Ron Santo (#556), John Odom (#558), Pete Rose (#560), Leo Cardenas (#562), Ray Sadecki (#564), Reggie Smith (#566), Juan Marichal (#568), Ed Kirkpatrick (#570), Nate Colbert (#572), Fritz Peterson (#574).

Sixth Series: Curt Blefary (#692), Allan Gallager (#694), Rod Carew (#696), Jerry Koosman (#698), Bobby Murcer (#700), Jose Pagan (#702), Doug Griffin (#704), Pat Corrales (#706), Tim Foli (#708), Jim Kaat (#710), Bobby Bonds (#712), Gene Michael (#714).

For the fourth and fifth series (cards #341–348 and #491–498), Topps thought it was a good idea to go with the theme of “Boyhood Photos of the Stars,” where you find a black and white photo of the player from their youth, often in their Little League or Babe Ruth uniforms, and a description of their youthful exploits on the back. Check out Jim Fregosi posing with his accordion (#346) and clean-cut Jim Perry, (#497) sharing a telling description of what it was like to play high school baseball with his younger brother Gaylord:

When Jim and his younger brother, Gaylord, were kids, they would get a hard rubber ball from their sister Carolyn, the kind girls use for playing jacks. They would wrap it in yarn and thread and cover it with black tape. Jim said, “it didn’t look like much, except it was sort of round. But it did the job and didn’t cost anything.” The Perry brothers played together one season in High School. “I’m two years older,” Jim recalls, “I was a junior when Gaylord was a freshman and I pitched, and he played third base. He had a strong arm and we needed another pitcher, so I worked with him and he became the second starter. When he pitched, I played third. If either of us got into trouble, the other would relieve. We won 7 straight playoff games and the state title, the only baseball championship the school ever won.”

As with most other Topps years there were cards for every team, with all-time team record holders for hitting/pitching listed on the back. Since the Pittsburgh Pirates won the World Series in 1971, their team card is #1.

There is a “Rookie Stars” card for each team sprinkled throughout the entire set, with two or three of the team’s most promising rookies pictured on the front and their minor league stats listed on the back. It’s interesting that Ed Armbrister (#524) shows up again on the 1975 “Rookie Outfielders” card (along with Terry Whitfield, Tom Poquette and Fred Lynn); understandably it was tough to crack that Big Red Machine roster. Poor Ed never got even 80 at-bats in a season and his last year in the league was 1977. But we digress.

For whatever reason, one of the two or three most valuable cards in the whole ’72 series these days is Carlton Fisk’s rookie card (#79), which he shares with Cecil Cooper and Mike Garman. I found one in my long-neglected boyhood collection with great color, nice centering…and one big crescent-shaped crease, probably from kneeling on it while it was laid out on the floor during a trading session. Darn kids.

Finally, late in the sixth series there is one nondescript “AL Rookie Stars” (#724) card and two “AL – NL Rookie Stars” cards (#741 & #761). Unclear why these were tacked on – I guess Topps couldn’t squeeze all of the “Stars” onto the 26 team rookie cards (the Astros and Twins had two “Stars” cards each). Here is the best one (#761), anchored by six time All-Star and 1981 World Series MVP Ron “The Penguin” Cey. Sans mustache!


Part of an ode to baseball and the early 1970s in general, and to the Topps Company and the special 1972 set specifically. Thanks for the memories, Topps—both the old ones and the new ones! Apologies for the pronounced wordiness, but the 50th anniversary of the set warrants some indulgence.

Dedicated to my sports-loving mom, Caroline B. Wilkinson, who never threw my cards away, and to all the players from the 1972 Topps Series, especially those who passed during the writing of this article: Henry Aaron, Dick Allen, Ed Armbrister, Glenn Beckert, Larry Biittner, Hal Breeden, Lou Brock, Oscar Brown, Horace Clark, Billy Conigliaro, Chuck Dobson, Paul Doyle, Ed Farmer, Ray Fosse, Bill Freehan, Bob Gibson, Jim Grant, Grant Jackson, Bart Johnson, Jerry Johnson, Jay Johnstone, Al Kaline, Lew Krausse, Angel Mangual, Mike Marshall, Denis Menke, Lindy McDaniel, Roger Moret, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Bob Oliver, Don Pavletich, Ron Perranoski, Juan Pizzaro, J. R. Richard, Mike Ryan, Tom Seaver, Richie Scheinblum, Rennie Stennett, Bill Sudakis, Don Sutton, Tony Taylor, Dick Tidrow, Bill Virdon, Bob Watson, Stan Williams, and Jim Wynn.

Special thanks to Baseball-Almanac.com, Baseballhall.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and Wikipedia.com for kindly compiling and sharing their vast treasure troves of data.

Extra special thanks to Jason Schwartz and Nick Vossbrink  for their timely encouragement and warm welcome into the SABR community.

Much gratitude to Mr. Larry Pauley, who gave this project direction when there was none.

Vida Blue, 1971

It has often been said, in the sense that I have often said it, that there is nothing more enjoyable for a baseball fan than the emergence of a great young starting pitcher. Depending on how old you are, you might recall 1984 Dwight Gooden, or 1981 Fernando Valenzuela, or 1976 Mark Fidrych. It has become much less common of late, because young starters are generally not allowed to pitch a lot of innings.

For me, 1971 is the year, and Vida Blue is the pitcher.

The Athletics drafted Blue as a 17-year-old pitcher out of Mansfield, LA, and he sped through the minors to reach the big leagues in July 1969. After an uninspiring trial with Oakland, the 20-year-old set Triple-A ablaze in 1970, finishing 12-3, 2.17 with 164 strikeouts in 133 innings. He only pitched once a week because he had military obligations in Oakland every Sunday through Tuesday.

Back with the Athletics in September, Blue made six starts, which included a one-hitter and no-hitter. He was 21 years old, and obviously one of the best prospects in baseball.

1970 Topps #21

Topps had put Blue on a Rookies Stars card in their 1970 first series but even as a 9-year-old kid I would not have considered that a harbinger of success. After all, my team had put John Thibdeau on such a card a year earlier and I had not heard from him since. There was a big difference between being a Rookie Star and being a rookie star. There were no prospect blogs back then, so most fans just had to wait to see what happened next.

1969 Topps #189

Moreover, no one would have considered that 1970 Topps card to have been a real Vida Blue card. It was a Rookie Stars card–there was no Vida Blue card in 1970. Years later, someone (presumably just a bunch of dealers) invented the “rookie card” as a way to inflate prices for a player’s first card, and, oddly, decided that the all these multi-player cards would count. Sigh.

In 1971, the cardless Vida Blue was a bloody sensation, the biggest story in baseball. By late May, he was 10-1, including five shutouts, and the star of this breathtaking cover of Sports Illustrated.

Following baseball in 1971 meant that you followed Vida Blue. All his game stories were highlighted in my hometown newspaper 3000 miles from Oakland, and on the local nightly news. Vida Blue in 1971 was like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998, like Roger Maris in 1961, a dominant daily sports story.

Vida Blue’s name was on everyone’s lips. (And what a name!) One day in May, as Oriole pitcher Dave McNally was headed to the ballpark for a start, his wife encouraged him by saying, “pretend you’re Vida Blue.” Thus inspired, McNally tossed a four-hitter to beat the Angels.

The fly in the ointment, at least for me, was that Vida Blue still did not have a baseball card. Every month or so Topps would release a checklist for the next series, and I would scour it to see if Vida Blue was coming up. The answer for the first series, and the second series, was no.

So why did America, this kid included, fall in love with Vida Blue? He did not have the goofy quirkiness of Fidrych or the lovable body and motion of Valenzuela, two pitchers who would have great breakout seasons in the years ahead.

Blue was simply beautiful. He was movie-star handsome, and he had a perfect motion, bringing to mind the wondrous delivery of Sandy Koufax.

(AP Photo)

He had one of the best names in baseball history. Team owner Charles O. Finley made a habit of foisting nicknames on his players–Catfish Hunter, Blue Moon Odom–and he soon told Vida that he wanted him to be known as “True” Blue. Vida’s comeback: “Why don’t you just call yourself True O. Finley.” But honestly, how can you improve on “Vida Blue”?

Blue was a breath of fresh air–the media loved him, fans loved him. He was hard-working, shy, modest. (His role model, he informed us, was Brooks Robinson.) He ran out to the mound, and ran back to the dugout when the inning was over. He also ran to the batter’s box when it was his turn to hit.

He was on the CBS Evening News, with Roger Mudd and Heywood Hale Broun.

He was on The Dick Cavett Show. I dare you to watch this and not fall in love with the guy.

On June 25, Blue shut out the Royals to reach 16-2 with a 1.37 ERA. (I will wait while you reread the previous sentence.) The team had played just 70 games, putting Blue on a pace to finish 37-4. Denny McLain had won 31 games just three years earlier, and tracking Blue against McLain was another regular part of his coverage.

He was phenomenally popular around the league. His first start in Boston (May 28) resulted in the highest Fenway Park attendance (over 35,000) in three years, with thousands in the street unable to get in. His start in Washington on June 6 drew 40,246, compared with 6,221 the day before for Catfish Hunter. And on and on.

But still, no card in the third series. Or the fourth.

Blue was named to start the All-Star game in Tiger Stadium, facing off against Pirates star Dock Ellis. A week earlier Ellis had suggested that he would not get the start because baseball would no allow two “brothers” in these prominent roles. (Aside: it is hard to imagine a game in which Dock Ellis was not the “coolest” starting pitcher, but this one was at least a close call.)

1971 Topps #2

Blue and the AL won the game, though it is most famous for all the home run (including two surrendered by Vida to Johnny Bench and Hank Aaron).

After beating the Tigers on July 25, his record was 19-3 with a 1.37 ERA. (No really, that was his record.). He had a couple of memorable no-decisions in July, including an 11-inning, no-run, 17-strikeout effort that the A’s finally won 1-0 in 20 innings.

On August 17 President Nixon invited the A’s to the White House–there was no reason for this, Nixon just loved baseball players. He made a habit of having a specific greeting for everyone, making it clear that he knew who everyone was. When he got to Vida he said “You are the most underpaid player in baseball.” Nixon was not wrong–Blue’s salary was $14,500.

Blue’s quest for 30 wins slowed down, though he kept pitching well. He won #20 with a 5-hit shutout on August 7, but later in the month he dropped two consecutive 1-0 games to fall to 22-6 which ended any hope of 30 wins.

He did, however, make the cover of Police Gazette.

(Note: Blue is pictured on the lower left.)

Blue closed out his season at 24-8, 1.92, with 301 strikeouts, winning the Cy Young Award and MVP for a team that won its first division title.

Topps finally issued his 1971 card (#551) in the fifth series, meaning it probably got on store shelves in July, maybe August. I never got it, and I did not even lay my eyes on the card for a few years. It is beautiful, with Blue looking like he had the greatest life on earth. He probably did.

1971 #551

The first Blue card I ever saw was in 1972, when Topps issued his real card and an IN ACTION card in its second series.

The Blue story would never again be quite the feel-good tale it was in 1971, thanks in large part to his “owner”, Charlie Finley.

Despite his polite and shy disposition, Blue was a proud man who believed he deserved a lot more money. After his wonderful season Blue asked for $115,000, the going rate for top starters at the time. Finley offered $50,000 and never moved.

A lot of people write about Finley today like he was a colorful kook, and he was that, but he was also petty, cruel, and generally despised by everyone. He screamed at secretaries, managers, commissioners, players. Blue called him “Massa Charlie”, and I am in no position to doubt Blue’s intimations of racism, but Finley treated everyone badly. He would hand out gifts to players when he felt like it, but it was always on his terms. His most publicly disgraceful act — the shaming and firing of Mike Andrews in the middle of the 1973 World Series — was still ahead, but Finley treated people like crap every day.

Heading to 1972, Vida Blue was the biggest star in the game, and everyone was excited to see what he was going to do next.

But Blue was nowhere to be found–he held out all spring while Finley ridiculed his ungrateful pitcher in the press. With no leverage and no hope, Blue finally signed a few weeks into the season, for a small bonus and Finley’s original $50,000 offer. (When doling out credit for players later attaining limited free agency, from Curt Flood to Marvin Miller to Andy Messersmith, don’t forget about Finley, whose players became increasingly militant in the face of his abhorrent treatment.)

For those of us who fell in love with Vida in 1971, it is difficult to sufficiently convey how much Finley cost us, cost baseball. Blue had a fine career — 209 wins, six All-Star teams, three World Series titles — but the funny quips, the running, the joy, all seemed to be gone. Blue has repeatedly said that Finley took all the fun out of the game for him. When Finley got all his players to wear mustaches in 1972, another form of paternalism, Vida refused.

Years later, like many players of his generation, Blue got messed up with cocaine and likely cost himself a few more years.

I hope Vida lives forever and has much happiness, that he can look back fondly on a career filled with successes. But make no mistake: Vida Blue deserves a statue in Oakland for 1971 alone.

I’ll never forget it.

1971 Doug McWilliams Postcard

Death and Taxes and Baseball Card Litigation [Part I]

A Very Brief History of the Right of Privacy

Although perhaps difficult to believe, individuals were once without legal recourse if their names or likenesses were used commercially without permission. The “right of privacy” was essentially without basis at common law in the United States before 1902. Emerging privacy rights, however, would eventually become a central battleground as trading card makers fought to secure the pocket change of (mostly) American boys after World War II. The resulting litigation would shape the baseball card industry and provide Topps with nearly unassailable baseball card dominance by the 1960s. The story starts, however, at the turn of the twentieth century with a teenaged girl’s surprising discovery in a Vermont tavern.

As an 18-year-old from Rochester, New York, Abigail Roberson visited an “out-of-the-way tavern” in Vermont while on vacation. There she discovered an advertisement for Franklin Mills flour prominently featuring her photograph. The shocking discovery made Roberson physically ill—Franklin Mills had used the photograph without her knowledge or consent and refused to disclose how they obtained the image.

Franklin Mills advertisement featuring photograph of Abigail Roberson

Roberson was humiliated by use of the photo (although admittedly flattering) and learned that some 25,000 copies of the advertisement had been distributed to stores, warehouses, saloons, and other public places. She sued to prevent the further distribution of the poster and asked for $15,000 in damages (approximately $475,0000 today). The trial court found in Roberson’s favor and the appellate division affirmed.

The case went up to New York’s highest court, however, where Chief Judge Alton Parker wrote for the 4-3 majority that Roberson had failed to state a cause of action because her complaint did not allege defendants acted maliciously or published a defamatory photo. They held that Franklin Mills was lawfully able to use Roberson’s photograph for its advertising without having to ask or compensate her.

Not surprisingly, a wave of public outrage followed Roberson’s loss. In the wake, the New York legislature enacted laws to codify the right of privacy, which allowed an aggrieved party to seek court intervention to enjoin use and sue for monetary damages if a photograph was used intentionally without consent. 

A Bat Fight: Hanna Manufacturing Company v. Hillerich & Bradsby Co.

The baseball world would first see a battle over privacy rights in 1935, when Louisville Slugger sued the Hanna Manufacturing Company alleging Hanna was infringing on its trademarks by selling bats bearing the names of players under exclusive contract to Louisville Slugger, such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

The bats at issue retailed “for as much as $2.50 each” (approximately $28.00 today) and were bought by customers who were “careful and well-informed.” Louisville Slugger took pride in crafting bats of the size, shape, and balance that each major league player preferred and for a small (undisclosed) consideration, these players gave Louisville Slugger the exclusive right to use the player’s name, autograph, and photograph in connection with the sales of baseball bats for a lengthy term, typically 20 to 25 years. The contract signed by the players did not require them to use Louisville Slugger bats, however. In fact, Lou Gehrig had used Hanna bats for two years despite having signed with Louisville Slugger.

Hanna promotional material

Hanna countered that the bats it sold bearing the names of “Babe Ruth” and “Lou Gehrig” were not sold based on the player’s name having been stamped on the bat, but because the purchasers (often college teams) wanted bats of that player’s particular shape and style. The district court found for Louisville Slugger, “baseball players, like any other individuals, have a property right to their names that has been assigned by certain players to Louisville Slugger, and Louisville Slugger used and advertised such right and has such right exclusively, irrespective of any trademark or unfair competition law.”  

The appellate court reversed, however, remarking that there were some “interesting discussions as to a ‘right of privacy’” ongoing but that a “public man waives his right so that the public becomes entitled to his likeness.” The court continued, “fame is not merchandise. It would help neither sportsmanship nor business to uphold the sale of a famous name to the highest bidder as property.” [Wow is this shortsighted when viewed in the modern athlete endorsement landscape!]

The court was further convinced that the “name on the bat” was commonly understood to refer only to the model or style of the bat and implied no endorsement by the player. The court specifically ruled that Hanna could market bats bearing players’ names as long as the descriptive mark included the words “style” or “shape” conspicuously, such that a Hanna bat marked “Babe Ruth style” would be acceptable. Ultimately, those Louisville Slugger contracts operated only to prevent the ballplayers from objecting to Louisville Sluggers’ use of their names and likenesses.

“No matter what may be said about the habits and nature of ball players, they are not naïve.” It would not be long before “right of privacy” claims would invade the baseball card industry.

The Big Cat Takes a Swipe

On August 26, 1941, Johnny Mize went 4-for-8 with a double and home run as his Cardinals split a Tuesday doubleheader against the Dodgers at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. That same day, Mize’s attorneys filed a right of privacy lawsuit against Gum Products, Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts alleging that it had used photos of Mize in its Double Play Gum baseball card set without his permission.

Double Play cards featuring Johnny Mize

In what appears to be the first baseball card-related lawsuit, Mize asked the court for a restraining order and damages commensurate with his appearance on some 140,000 cards issued by Gum Products. On September 5, the court issued a temporary injunction that prevented Gum Products from using Mize’s name or picture further in connection with the sale of gum. Mize’s “right of privacy” victory was short lived, however.

At a subsequent hearing on June 25, 1942, Gum Products admitted it had not directly obtained Mize’s permission, but had done so through the purchase of the picture from an agency. The defense also argued that as “a leading ballplayer of the country,” Mize had no right of privacy in connection to the publication of his name or photograph. On June 28, Judge Francis Good dismissed the case “without comment.” Despite their ultimate victory, Gum Products never produced another set of baseball trading cards.

Leaf: Blown Away

In 1949, Bowman Gum Company and a number of individual players, including Warren Spahn, sued Chicago-based Leaf Brands, Inc. and several east coast gum wholesalers for distributing cards featuring pictures of ballplayers under contract with Bowman. The lawsuit was filed in Philadelphia, where Bowman was based, and a friendly hometown judge issued a temporary restraining order that prohibited Leaf from selling cards with its gum anywhere in the United States (straining the bounds of enforceability). 

1949 Leaf cards of individual ballplayers who, along with Bowman sued Leaf

Leaf took the defeat seriously and reached a settlement with Bowman in which Leaf agreed to withdraw from the baseball card business until at least 1951. Leaf tried in vain to work out arrangements with Topps to share printing rights, but Topps was not interested.

Bowman v. Topps: Birth of the Right of Privacy

Topps first dipped its toe in the baseball card market with its Magic Cards release in 1948. The 19-card baseball series was part of a much larger modern Allen & Ginter-like set that also included cards of football players, boxers, movie stars, famous explorers, and dogs. The tiny cards (roughly 1” x 1½”) featured sepia-toned photos that would appear on the card when exposed to sunlight. The baseball checklist consisted of highlight cards from the 1948 Cleveland-Boston World Series and individual cards of Indians player/manager Lou Boudreau and Braves 3B Bob Elliott. The balance of the baseball checklist was comprised of retired greats such as Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Rogers Hornsby, and Joe Tinker/Johnny Evers.  

In 1951, Topps issued a set of baseball cards featuring current players in direct competition with Bowman, who had produced “Play Ball” sets from 1939-1941 and their own branded sets starting in 1948. To create their set (commonly referred to as “red backs”), Topps licensed rights to the players’ names, photos, and biographical information from a third-party company, Players Enterprises, Inc. This initial set of 52 cards was designed like a deck of cards and was intended to be played as a game. The cards were distributed in a rather nondescript box of “’Doubles’ Baseball Playing Cards” that identified Topps cryptically (and perhaps by design) only by “T.C.G. Brooklyn 32, N.Y.” on the bottom of the box and wrappers. When Players Enterprises merged with Russell Publishing Company in April 1951, Topps was given an additional stable of players under contract that allowed them to distribute a second series of 52 cards (“blue backs”) sold in a redesigned box as “Baseball Trading Card Candy.”

1951 Topps box and cards

Unhappy with the competition, Bowman sued Topps following their release of the red/blue back cards claiming trademark infringement, unfair competition, and impairment of contract rights. They sought to prevent Topps from selling any product having the appearance of gum with the word “baseball” connected to it.

Topps argued that they had lawfully obtained rights from Players Enterprises to use the names, pictures, and biographical data shown on the cards; denied there was any confusion with Bowman’s products; and  claimed that the contracts Topps had with the players constituted a waiver of the player’s right to privacy—but conveyed no rights on Bowman to sue Topps. Topps also argued that it had not infringed on Bowman’s contracts with players because it had inserted a caramel candy—not gum—with its cards.

The evidence established that Bowman had contracted with 340 baseball players through Art Flynn Associates for the right to use the name, signature, photograph, and descriptive biological sketch of each. In exchange, Bowman paid $100 and provided a wristwatch to each player for 1951. (The 1951 contract included the word “confections” for the first time, which seemingly presaged knowledge Topps was intending to issue a baseball card set with candy.) The players were also eligible to complete for the Jack Singer Annual Good Sportsmanship awards sponsored by Bowman.

Topps proved it had contracts with 248 active major league players through the rights acquired by Players Enterprises and Russell. These contracts gave Topps the right to use players’ names, pictures, and biographical data in connection with the sale of candy in 1951 and candy and chewing gum for 1952.

Following a bench trial, Judge Clarence Galston ruled in Topps’ favor and dismissed the case. He found it significant that there was no player biographical data on the reverse side of the 1951 Topps cards; the packaging between Bowman and Topps was different; and there was no record of any confusion between purchasers of the two products.

More importantly, the court (in reliance on § 51 of New York’s Civil Rights Law enacted in the wake of Roberson) held that the contracts Bowman made with the players conveyed no rights on Bowman to sue a third-party, such as Topps. Accordingly, only the individual ballplayer would have a cause of action for an injury to his person. No “right of privacy” was applicable to a business.  

Bowman v. Topps: The Appeal and Establishment of the “Right of Publicity”

Bowman took the matter up on appeal to the Second Circuit claiming their contracts were exclusive for use in connection with the sale of gum and that Topps deliberately induced the ballplayers to sign contracts giving Topps the same rights. Topps continued to argue that even if Bowman proved its case, there was no actionable wrong because any contract between Bowman and a ballplayer did not convey any right on Bowman to enforce those rights as to third parties.

Just prior to the start of the 1953 season, the appellate court formally established the “right of publicity” by way of recognizing an enforceable property right in each player’s name and likeness. This was huge. Accordingly, the ballplayers could grant exclusive rights to their pictures that could be enforced by third parties, such as Bowman. “For it is common knowledge that many prominent persons (especially actors and ballplayers), far from having their feelings bruised through public exposure of their likenesses, would feel sorely deprived if they no longer received money for authorizing advertisements, popularizing their countenances, displayed in newspapers, magazines, busses, trains and subways. This right of publicity would usually yield them no money unless it could be made the subject of an exclusive grant which barred any other advertiser from using their pictures.” That the appellate court recognized the right of publicity was an unprecedented hallmark for ballplayers’ ability to control (and cash in) on their names and likenesses.

The case was sent back to Judge Galston to determine  if Topps had knowingly used photographs of players under contract with Bowman. This was a complicated case-by-case task in that up to six separate contracts were now at issue for players who appeared in any of the 1951, 1952 and 1953 sets issued by Bowman and Topps.

Billy Pierce was 1 of just 24 players to appear in each set issued by Bowman and Topps 1951-1953

By May 1953, both Topps and Bowman had continued to issue sets of fluctuating sizes as their competition to ink players to contracts intensified. In fact, Topps pulled six cards from its 1953 set due to the ongoing litigation. The court also required Topps to remove the cards of players it was enjoined from using from stacks of cards printed but not yet wrapped, which allowed Topps to distribute any offending cards that had already been packaged. (Unfortunately, identification of these particular cards is not immediately discernable from the published decision.)

Bowman v. Topps: The Aftermath

The litigation continued, however, and on May 10, 1955 Judge Galston remanded the case to the New York state courts. This litigation was expensive for Bowman, which spent in excess of $110,000 in legal fees ($1.12 million today); it cost Topps only slightly less. Bowman had been losing money each year since 1952, culminating with a net loss in 1954 of $224,000 (approximately $2.3 million today).

In April 1955, Bowman was merged into cardboard box manufacturer Connelly Container Corporation. Connelly’s stewardship of the Bowman gum and trading card brand was fleeting, however, as it looked to shed the gum/baseball card line, which had averaged between 15% to 30% of total sales. On January 20, 1956, Topps settled the litigation with Connelly by acquiring Bowman’s gum-producing facilities, baseball player picture rights, and an agreement on the part of Connelly not to manufacture gum or picture card products for five years in exchange for $200,000 (approximately $2 million today). [Connelly was apparently much more interested in Bowman’s other business pursuits at the time of the merger, including an all-nylon squeeze bottle in development.]

All the while, Leaf wanted to get back into the baseball card business. After the Bowman litigation settled, Leaf again approached Topps with a proposal to share player rights. With main competitor Bowman eliminated, Topps had no interest in making any arrangement with Leaf. In fact, Topps sent a letter to the player representative of each ballclub on August 14, 1956, indicating it was not going to be sharing its baseball card picture rights with any other companies.

By 1959, Topps was the largest manufacturer of bubblegum in the United States with total sales of $14 million annually (approximately $133 million today). Leaf would eventually get back into the baseball card business in 1960 when it produced a black and white 144-card set that was sold with marbles.

Fleer Stirs the Pot

At the end of 1958, the Frank H. Fleer Corporation launched an offensive against Topps for control of the baseball card market by offering ballplayers contracts that would become effective upon the expiration any existing contracts with Topps. This started with a mail solicitation in December and followed up with visits at training camps in 1959 by ten of its sales and marketing personnel. Fleer was even able to enlist representatives who were active players on teams such as Charlie Lau and Chuck Cottier.

The Fleer contracts paid players $5 as initial consideration and $125 upon reaching the major leagues. Further, Fleer offered a monetary gift or reward for players who provided Fleer with copies of their Topps contracts. After learning of this practice, Topps stopped sending copies of its contracts to the players (but would provide information regarding the terms of the contract upon request). Topps was flooded with requests once they started offering $75 for the players to sign extensions.

Fleer successfully lured Ted Williams and produced an 80-card set of the mercurial slugger in 1959. The Williams set accounted for $250,000 in sales (approximately $2.4 million today), which was just a fraction of the $3.8 million (approximately $36 million today) worth of Topps baseball cards sold in 1959.

During the 1960 and 1961 seasons, Fleer issued sets featuring “Baseball Greats,” each of which featured Ted Williams and a cast of retired Hall of Famers and stars. Sales of these sets again paled in comparison to Topps’ baseball offerings. Leaf also issued a small set of current player cards in 1960, sold along with marbles. The 1960 Leaf contract paid the players $50 and provided for rights when distributed in combination with “marbles or other non-edible novelties such as charms made of plastic or metal.”

Fleer cards from 1959 Ted Williams set and 1961 Baseball Greats set

The Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against Topps on January 30, 1962—with Fleer’s enthusiastic support—alleging that Topps violated § 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which made illegal “unfair methods of competition in commerce and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in commerce.” This section also outlawed business practices that were “unscrupulous, oppressive, exploitative, or otherwise indefensible.” The FTC alleged further that Topps created a monopoly in the manufacture and distribution of baseball picture cards “contrary to public policy” and “to the detriment of free and open competition.” The Hearing Examiner made sure to emphasize that “[m]onopoly is condemned without qualification,” somewhat ironic considering that Major League Baseball enjoys the protections of a legally sanctioned monopoly.  

At the heart of the complaint was the allegation Topps had completely foreclosed Fleer from the baseball card market by entering exclusive contracts with almost all major league baseball players and practically all minor league players with major league potential. It was further alleged that Topps had the power to impose tie-in requirements and imposed retail price control on vendors because it “wanted to know about anybody who was not selling the cards at six for a nickel.” On the heels of the FTC filing, Fleer bombarded college coaches with correspondence attacking Topps’ contracts and accusing Topps of monopolistic practices that were under investigation by the FTC.

Page 1 of the 98-page FTC decision

Taking a page from their prior battle with Bowman, Topps began drafting their contracts to give themselves broader rights and further restrict the players from contracting with others. In 1957, the Topps contract gave exclusive rights to cards associated with gum and candy; in 1958, Topps added “confections” to the list; in 1959, the Topps’ contract extended to cards sold without gum in bulk vending boxes (despite the fact that vending boxes were an exceedingly small part of its total sales); and in 1960, the Topps contract included an agreement by the player not to enter into any other contracts while under contract with Topps. By May 1961, Fleer had contracted with only five major league ballplayers who had not contracted with Topps.

At the time the FTC got involved, Topps had exclusive rights with 95% of major league baseball players and contracts with more than 6500 ballplayers in both the major leagues in minor leagues. Topps first approached players in the minor leagues with a payment of $5 to sign a contract that would pay the player $125 per year for five years if he were promoted to Major League Baseball. Those players who reached the big leagues were paid regardless of whether Topps issued a card of the individual. (Topps would not have to pay if it decided not to market a complete series of cards, except they had to pay the Yankees either way.) Topps’ network included “agents” such as scouts, managers and players who were compensated as much as $100 a year, plus five dollars for each ballplayer signed, or other “gifts, tips or small payments” upon delivery of signed contracts.

Fleer claimed their representatives were physically excluded or intimidated from soliciting players at the Los Angeles Dodgers’ and Detroit Tigers’ training camps “by goon or similar methods.” In the face of Topps’ established network, Fleer had signed only 20 major league players by 1962 and 27 by 1963. Undeterred, Fleer issued a 66-card set (plus an unnumbered checklist) of active major league players in 1963, dwarfed by the 576-card set issued by Topps that year.

The FTC hearing examiner also considered evidence that Topps actively sought to impose market restrictions on other food and beverage manufacturers who used baseball picture cards as promotional devices. General Foods included baseball cards on packages of Post Cereal from 1961 to 1963 and Jell-O from 1962 to 1963. Topps took issue with the Post Cereal promotion that offered a sheet of ten cards (not attached to a cereal box) for two box tops and ten cents, alleging this was an infringement on their rights to sell cards individually. Topps subsequently entered into agreement that Post would pay a license and royalty fees in connection with its distribution of cards alone under the offer. Topps also objected to the set issued in 1958 by Hires Root Beer. Ultimately, Hires made a deal that allowed them to use photos of the players without having to pay Topps, but never issued another set.

The Topps “Monopoly”

Generally speaking, a monopoly is the control of “an economically meaningful market.” In the FTC matter, all that needed to be established was that baseball cards were economically meaningful, and that Topps controlled the market. There was no need to establish that Topps intended to monopolize; nor was it necessary to show Topps exercised its monopoly power.

Hearing Examiner Herman Tocker issued his initial decision on August 7, 1964, after a full evidentiary hearing. He found that Topps had “monopolized the sale of current baseball card picture cards both as separate articles of commerce and as a promotional device for the sale of confectionery products,” in violation of § 5 of the Federal Trade Commission act—even though Topps’ exclusive contracts and other practices were not unfair when viewed separately. Although it had not actually done so, Topps could have controlled the baseball trading card market and “had the power to increase or decrease at will the price when sold alone or when in packages of gum and cards.” Tocker found further that Topps was in violation of § 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act—a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $50,000 or imprisonment.

Topps was ordered to cease and desist from entering or extending exclusive contacts with ballplayers, coaches, and managers for terms in excess of two years and enforcing any contracts in effect after October 31, 1966, along with an order to provide copies of the contracts to the ballplayers. Tocker also opined “[o]bviously, a single picture card, in and of itself, has little value” and “last year’s cards without current statistical content are about as valuable as yesterday’s newspaper,” observations that have not aged well.

The FTC Appeal

Both sides appealed the Hearing Examiner’s decision and order. FTC Commissioner Philip Elman thoroughly reviewed the evidence on record and reversed, holding Topps did not have a monopoly in the production of baseball cards because they lacked economic significance and alone were not “meaningful in terms of trade realities.”

Elman specifically decided that Topps’ control over baseball picture cards used to promote confectioneries was not detrimental to fair competition and that baseball cards were not so unique and indispensable a promotional technique that other bubblegum manufacturers could not compete on fair and equal terms with Topps. Elman cited several examples of successful promotional trading card series such as football players, retired baseball players, and non-sport sets featuring the Beatles and “Spook Theatre.” Moreover, but for the fact that Topps was the largest seller of bubblegum, there was no proof of any correlation between its superior market share and the sale of baseball picture cards.

Ultimately, Topps’ business model—tirelessly signing as many minor-league players as possible with hopes they would become big leaguers—was not an unfair or monopolistic practice. Because no monopoly was proven, the complaint was dismissed on appeal.

Fleer in the late 1960s

Despite its failure to break Topps’ hold over “current baseball picture cards,” Fleer remained the second largest manufacturer of bubblegum in the United States. Before the 1966 season started, Fleer announced it would be issuing a 66-card set dedicated to Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale and had a representative, Bob Quinn, continuing to visit Florida training camps looking to sign players to contracts.

The “Drysdale set” Fleer issued in 1966, however, was actually the “All Star Match Baseball” game, with each of the game cards including a black and white puzzle piece of Drysdale on the reverse, such that all 66 cards were necessary to complete the puzzle.

1966 Fleer All Star Match card F35 (front/back) and wrapper

Fleer had also tried to get the jump on Topps by sending contracts and $25 checks to all players chosen in the newly implemented draft, which upset some college coaches who feared their players could jeopardize their amateur status by cashing those checks.

Despite Fleer’s continued efforts to erode Topps’ market stranglehold, Fleer ultimately acquiesced and subsequently sold all of its baseball contracts to Topps in 1966 for $385,000 (approximately $3.4 million today). This would not be the last we would hear from Fleer at the courthouse, however.

To be continued…

SOURCES/NOTES:

Websites

www.baseball-reference.com

www.retrosheet.org

www.tcdb.com

Cases

  • Roberson v. Rochester Folding Box Co., 171 N. Y. 538, 541, 64 N. E. 442 (N.Y. 1902).
  • Federal Base Ball Club of Baltimore v. National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, 259 U.S. 200, 42 S.Ct. 465, 66 L.Ed. 898, 26 A.L.R. 357 (1922). Major League Baseball has a legal monopoly, “[t]he business is giving exhibitions of baseball, which are purely state affairs. It is true that in order to attain for these exhibitions the great popularity that they have achieved, competitions must be arranged between clubs from different cities and States. But the fact that in order to give the exhibitions the Leagues must induce free persons to cross state lines and must arrange and pay for their doing so is not enough to change the character of the business.”
  • Hanna Mfg. Co. v. Hillerich & Bradsby Co., 101 A.L.R. 484, 78 F.2d 763 (5th Cir. 1935). Defendant Hillerich & Bradsby Co. will be referred to as “Louisville Slugger,” its more widely used tradename today.
  • Bowman Gum, Inc. v. Topps Chewing Gum, Inc. 103 F. Supp. 944 (E.D.N.Y. 1952). Topps also issued 9-card set of team photos in 1951 (Boston Red Sox, Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, New York Giants, Philadelphia Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Senators) and Major League All-Stars/Connie Mack All-Stars. These sets do not appear to have been subject of the litigation between Topps and Bowman.
  • Haelan Laboratories v. Topps Chewing Gum, 202 F.2d 866 (2nd Cir. 1953). In April 1952, Bowman Gum shareholders approved the change of the company name to Haelan Laboratories. Philadelphia Inquirer, April 9, 1952: 4. Accordingly, the ensuing litigation lists Haelan—and not Bowman—as a party.
  • Haelan Laboratories v. Topps Chewing Gum Co., 112 F.Supp. 904 (E.D.N.Y. 1953)
  • Haelan Laboratories v. Topps Chewing Gum, 131 F. Supp. 262 (E.D.N.Y. 1955).
  • In re Topps Chewing Gum, Inc. 67 F.T.C. 744 (1965). Baseball card sales in 1960: Topps $3,638,000 (approx. $34 million today), Fleer $300,000 (approx. $2.8 million today), and Leaf $100,000 (approx. $934,000 today); in 1961: Topps $3,475,000 (approx. $32 million today) and Fleer $355,506 (approx. $3.3 million today).  The second series of Fleer’s 1961 Baseball Greats accounted for an additional $85,000 in sales (approx. $778,000 today) for 1962.  Though distributed under the company name “Sports Novelties Inc.,” the 1960 Leaf issue is referred to in the hobby as “Leaf” and is referred to similarly herein. The FTC hearing examiner described the Beatles as “a group of singing troubadours imported from England”. Additionally, for football cards, the contract was made with the league and not the individual players. The players received no direct compensation—all money was channeled to league pension funds.

Articles

  • “The Week in a Busy World,” Atlanta Constitution, May 5, 1901: 42.
  • “Chewing Gum Stuck with Suit by Mize,” Daily News (New York), August 27, 1941: 284.
  • “Johnny Mize Asks Damages from Cambridge Gum Firm,” Boston Globe, June 25, 1942: 11. Mize appeared on two cards in the set: Nos. 39/40 with Enos Slaughter and Nos. 99/100 with Dan Litwhiler. It is unclear how many of each comprised the total.
  • “Mize of Cardinals Wins Court Test on Use of Name,” Boston Globe, September 5, 1941: 23.
  • “Mize Suit Against Gum Firm Dismissed,” Des Moines Register, June 28, 1942: 16.
  • “Spahn, Five Others Take Action in Gum Distribution Controversy, Boston Globe, May 4, 1949: 23. Although this case attracted little press, that Warren Spahn was involved is not surprising based on the battle he would have in the future regarding the publication of the “Warren Spahn Story,” which he contended painted him in a false (but positive) light and was published without his consent.
  • “A’s Stars Get Writ to Bar Use of Pictures on Gum,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 7, 1949: 16.
  • “Haelan Merged into Connelly,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 28, 1955: 30.
  • Bob Rathgeber, “Young Bob Quinn: Bubble Gum Exec,” Bradenton (Florida) Herald, March 17, 1966: 14.
  • Wayne Shufelt, “’Gummed’ Up,” Tampa Times, April 2, 1966: 10.
  • Paul Bedard, “Bubble May Burst in Baseball Card Suit,” Washington Post, June 20, 1979.
  • Rich Mueller, “1953 Topps Missing Numbers Revealed,” Sports Collectors Daily, July 29, 2014, https://www.sportscollectorsdaily.com/1953-topps-missing-numbers-revealed/, last accessed December 3, 2021. Numbers 253, 261, 267, 268, 271 and 275 were reportedly supposed to be cards for Joe Tipton, Ken Wood, Hoot Evers, Harry Brecheen, Billy Cox, and Pete Castiglione.

Special Thanks

Special thanks to Jason Schwartz for reviewing this article and offering many helpful suggestions.


Topps in 1972, Part 4

Editor’s note: SABR Baseball Cards welcomes new member F. Scott Wilkinson with the fourth of his 10 articles on the 1972 Topps set, now approaching its 50th anniversary. Click here to start the series from the beginning.

I have explained many times that I am, by Profession, a Gambler—not some jock-sniffing nerd or a hired human squawk-box with the brain of a one-cell animal. No. That would be your average career sportswriter—and, more specifically, a full-time Baseball writer.

—Hunter S. Thompson

And now for a swan dive into the spirit of the ’72 cards, with a look at some of the fun poses players struck for these things…and a quick peek at the backs…

All of the individual player cards are artificially staged shots of one sort or another. The sole exception  (aside from the “In Action” series) appears to be Norm Cash (#150), looking feisty during/after an actual at-bat (maybe a strikeout?), sporting his trademark no-batting-helmet and pine tar so far up the barrel of the bat that George Brett might be the only one to not take issue with it. Apparently, Norm skated.

One of the more popular player poses is the hokey, staged ‘action’ shot, most with a batter about to swing, or swinging, or swung and tending to look like he’s either, a) overacting, or b) barely even trying. How about the close-up stances of Johnny Bench (#433), Lee May (#480), Dave Cash (#125), and Cleo James (#117)? Despite campy nonchalance, these are glorious scenes with bright blue skies, framing players who almost have their game face on.

Check out Mr. Bob Oliver (#57) doing the splits in front of palm trees, looking skyward with hope, as if he’s expecting a baseball to drop miraculously into his outstretched mitt. I think there’s only one like this.

Many of the pitchers’ shots are even sillier and less convincing – get a load of Cecil Upshaw (#74) Jim Roland (#464), Lowell Palmer (#746), and a feeble-looking Jerry Reuss (#775) and…they all look like small town softball players posing at the team picnic.

Meanwhile, some pitchers already look old and worn enough to be managers (Ron Taylor (#234), Ron Perranoski (#367) and Steve Hamilton (#766)).

Come to think of it, most of the cards show spring training lollygaggers – lots of sluggers in easy poses with bats perched on their shoulders like props (Bill Freehan (#120), Ed Kranepool (#181), Johnny Briggs (#197), Boog Powell (#250) and Willie Stargell (#447)).

Most of the catchers look like they’re out playing catch with their kids (Ken Rudolph, (#271), Buck Martinez (#332), Jeff Torborg (#404)), though Ellie Hendricks (#508) is donning gear and appears to be tracking a phantom popup.

Pitchers are often captured at the top of a lazy delivery (Bobby Bolin (#266), Jose Pena (#322), and Don McMahon (#509)) or in a faux-stretch position, with their glove held at belly level (Sonny Siebert (#290), Ron Reed (#787)).

Worth mentioning of Ron Reed—he is the answer to at least three trivia questions besides “Who is featured on the last (highest-numbered) card of the 1972 Topps baseball series?”:

  • Who was the winning pitcher of the game in which when Henry Aaron hit his record-breaking 715th home run?
  • Name one of five pitchers in MLB history who compiled at least 100 wins, 100 saves, and 50 complete games (the other four are Ellis Kinder, Firpo Marberry, Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz).
  • Name one of the two players from the 1972 Topps baseball series who played in the NBA. (Reed played for the Detroit Pistons, 1965–67. The other player is Steve Hamilton (#766), who played for the Minneapolis Lakers from 1958–60).

With the help of that special ’72 artwork each card stands up on its own merit, whether it’s relative unknown Ron Klimkowski (#363, smiling deliriously, like he’s just happy to be having his picture taken) or Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda (#195, warily eyeing the camera, like he’s seen it all before).

I have to sheepishly admit that I’d never even heard of most of the players in the series…and it gets me every time when slowly cycling through the binders, happening upon players and swearing it’s the first time I’ve ever seen them. Sorry guys! Last time it was an early stretch of the sixth series: Luis Melendez (#606), Frank Duffy (#607), Joe Decker (#612) and Ted Uhlaender (#614). Who the hell are these scrubs? Well, they’re four of only 22,564-and-counting men who’ve ever made it to the Major Leagues. They’re better than all the guys who never made it. There’s something enchanting about having every player’s card close at hand so we can take measure of what the league looked like at the time. There they all were in 1972, each of them poised to take their best shot at greatness.

On the backs of each player’s card are factoid cartoons with spare, silly drawings of a prototype ballplayer, dropping esoteric bits of trivia via a quiz format, like, “Q: How much must a baseball weigh? A: Between 5 and 5.25 oz.”, “Q: What was Connie Mack’s real name? A: Cornelius McGillicuddy”, and “What was the original name of the spitball? A: The “cuspidor curve””. That, along with the player’s height, weight, birthdate, batting/fielding handedness (L/R), and hometown, all sit atop a detailed list of career statistics, including the minor leagues, no matter how long they spent there.

Somehow even those dry data are interesting and personal. You find that Ollie Brown (#551), Tito Fuentes (#427) and many others played “Midwest” minor league ball in Decatur, Illinois where both of my parents were born and grew up. Many Pacific Coast League and Northwest League players did time in towns I now find familiar, like Portland Oregon; Aberdeen, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, Wenatchee, and Yakima, Washington; and Vancouver, British Columbia.

One card (Walt Alston, #749) even has my little boyhood hometown (Oxford, Ohio) printed on it, though Walt actually lived next door to my friend, Sam Stewart, over in Darrtown, a tiny “census designated place” of about 500 people, five miles east of Oxford (population about 15,000 back then). Sam was one of the better ball players I knew growing up and he always liked to tease/torture us with his funny made-up lyrics to the 1981 Terry Cashman song – “Talkin’ baseball…Stew and Campanella…”…


Part of an ode to baseball and the early 1970s in general, and to the Topps Company and the special 1972 set specifically. Thanks for the memories, Topps—both the old ones and the new ones! Apologies for the pronounced wordiness, but the 50th anniversary of the set warrants some indulgence.

Dedicated to my sports-loving mom, Caroline B. Wilkinson, who never threw my cards away, and to all the players from the 1972 Topps Series, especially those who passed during the writing of this article: Henry Aaron, Dick Allen, Ed Armbrister, Glenn Beckert, Hal Breeden, Lou Brock, Oscar Brown, Horace Clark, Billy Conigliaro, Chuck Dobson, Paul Doyle, Ed Farmer, Ray Fosse, Bill Freehan, Bob Gibson, Jim Grant, Grant Jackson, Bart Johnson, Jerry Johnson, Jay Johnstone, Al Kaline, Lew Krausse, Angel Mangual, Mike Marshall, Denis Menke, Lindy McDaniel, Roger Moret, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Bob Oliver, Don Pavletich, Ron Perranoski, Juan Pizzaro, J. R. Richard, Mike Ryan, Tom Seaver, Richie Scheinblum, Rennie Stennett, Bill Sudakis, Don Sutton, Tony Taylor, Dick Tidrow, Bill Virdon, Bob Watson, Stan Williams, and Jim Wynn.

Special thanks to Baseball-Almanac.com, Baseballhall.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and Wikipedia.com for kindly compiling and sharing their vast treasure troves of data.

Extra special thanks to Jason Schwartz and Nick Vossbrink  for their timely encouragement and warm welcome into the SABR community.

Much gratitude to Mr. Larry Pauley, who gave this project direction when there was none.

Cardboard Famous

A reply to a recent SABR Baseball Cards social media post led me to think about the baseball players more famous for their baseball cards than for any of their on or off the field exploits. Here are ten who I believe fit the bill.

BILLY RIPKEN

Ripken lasted twelve years in the big leagues as an infielder, including an all-star caliber season in 1990. Today he is a frequent co-host on MLB Network. His brother is baseball’s ultimate Iron Man and one of the greatest shortstops in history. And still, say the name Billy Ripken and card collectors think only of one thing: his 1989 Fleer F*ck Face card.

BUMP WILLS

His career on the diamond lasted only half as long as Billy Ripken’s but he spent six years as the regular second baseman for the Rangers and Cubs, topping 30 steals four times while batting a respectable .266. Like Ripken, baseball also ran in his family. Of course any kid who collected baseball cards in 1979 will know him best for this seemingly impossible cardboard trickery.

BRANDON PUFFER AND JUNG BONG

Puffer played four years in the big leagues, appearing in 85 games for the Astros, Padres, and Giants. Jung Bong played one fewer season, appearing in 48 games for the Braves and Reds. The two pitchers combined for a WAR of -1.2. Though never teammates, the duo shared Future Stars cardboard in the 2003 Topps set on card #331, known to collectors (and chronicled by David Roth) as the “Bong Puffer card.”

OSCAR GAMBLE

Legitimately one of the best hitters of his time, scouted by the legendary Buck O’Neil, and the man behind the classic line, “They don’t think it be like it is, but it do,” Oscar Gamble would be remembered fondly even if he had no baseball cards at all. Fortunately that’s a hypothetical we need not ponder long when this pure cardboard gold is right in front of us.

SHERRY MAGEE AND JOE DOYLE

Magee built a borderline Hall of Fame career from 1904-1919 that included more than 2000 hits, four RBI titles, and 59.4 WAR. Even with those credentials I suspect many readers can only hazard a guess whether his name is pronounced Maggie, McGee, or Madgee.

Doyle, on the other hand, had a completely undistinguished career, seeing limited action on the mound over five seasons at roughly replacement level.

Whatever their on-field exploits, each of these players will forever be cardboard legends, with their error cards comprising half of the T206 set’s “Big Four.”

BENNY BENGOUGH AND ANDY PAKFO

Bengough was a career backup catcher who compiled 0.3 WAR over his ten seasons in the big leagues. When the 1933 Goudey set came out, he was already out of baseball.

Pafko, on the other hand, was a four-time all-star who batted .285 over 13 seasons with a career OPS+ of 117. His 1952 season (.287/19/85) was uncannily similar to his lifetime per 162 slash line of .285/19/85, and his midseason move from the Cubs to the Dodgers the prior year was one of the season’s biggest trades.

While neither player would top any list of all-time greats, each player topped many stacks of baseball cards, thanks to being numbered one in the 1933 Goudey and 1952 Topps sets respectively. Until the Upper Deck Ken Griffey, Jr., rookie card came along in 1989, I suspect these two players were the Hobby’s most famous set starters. Certainly both cards, in reasonable shape, carried a premium comparable to lesser Hall of Famers due to rubber banding, spills, and the myriad other ways stack toppers suffered disproportionate damage in collections prior to the advent of plastic sheets.

HONUS WAGNER

I’ll end the article with what may be my most contentious selection. Without a doubt, Wagner is a top shelf baseball immortal, considered by many to be the greatest shortstop of all-time if not the single greatest player of the Deadball Era. (In both cases, Pop Lloyd deserves consideration as well.) To an audience well versed in baseball history, therefore, Wagner is most famous for his tremendous playing career, even if most fans still pronounce his name wrong.

Yet whatever his accomplishments on the diamond, I suspect the Flying Dutchman is best known today, whether in the collecting world or the general public, for a single, transcendently pricey cardboard rectangle, our Hobby’s Mona Lisa.

Who else would you nominate for this elite club where ERR trumps WAR and even backup catchers can be number one? Sound off in the Comments!

Topps in 1972, Part 3

Editor’s note: SABR Baseball Cards welcomes new member F. Scott Wilkinson with the third of his 10 articles on the 1972 Topps set, now approaching its 50th anniversary. Click here to start the series from the beginning. This post takes a detailed look at the design of the 1972 cards, with a brief comparison to other Topps schemes of the era (1970-75).

I have explained many times that I am, by Profession, a Gambler—not some jock-sniffing nerd or a hired human squawk-box with the brain of a one-cell animal. No. That would be your average career sportswriter—and, more specifically, a full-time Baseball writer.”

—Hunter S. Thompson

If memory serves, it seemed like with a little help from the “Dick, Jane, and Spot” books I learned to read by studying Baltimore Orioles box scores at my grandparents’ house, and in those days they got both morning and evening editions of the Decatur Herald & Review – woohoo! Right away I was finding baseball books for kids and taking in old numbers like candy. Ruth’s 714 home runs, Cy Young’s 511 wins, Walter Johnson’s 3508 (now 3509) strikeouts, Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak, Ty Cobb’s career batting average of .367 (now .366), etc…all of those and many more are iconic, seared in there early. Who knows why they were appealing – they just were.

Then you start looking into things like Tris Speaker being the all-time leader in doubles (with 792) and Ted Williams being the last person to hit over .400; turns out he could have sat down for the final two games of the 1941 season (a double-header) to protect the number, but he played both games, went 6-for-8 and ended up hitting .406. Important stuff, right? Yep – because then it’s interesting when players like George Brett, Tony Gwynn, and John Olerud make a run at that .400 barrier.

As fascinating as the facts and figures are, they’re just numbers – entry-level and rudimentary. But baseball is famous for being a true statistician’s game, which ultimately led to Sabermetrics and a deeper analysis of the game by comprehensively crunching and evaluating the numbers ad nauseam, looking for a winning formula. And that’s all fine, but it gets us too far away from the feeling of the game…and the feelings those cards stir up…they’re not easy to describe…but let’s try…so, back to those cards…

There’s so much color and data to take in from the ’72 set – it’s any lifelong baseball fan, art aficionado and/or number-addled stat geek’s happy daydream fully realized. The palette of the series is otherworldly compared to every other Topps year and the design almost reminds of classic Art Deco, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters or pop artists like Roy Lichtenstein or Andy Warhol. If there was a singular influence, likely it was not as antiquated or highfalutin as these, but closer temporally and geographically to the Brooklyn-based Topps Company (like Lichtenstein and Warhol). Namely, this David Edward Byrd poster from the musical “Follies”, which debuted on Broadway, April 4, 1971. The font is a match and the stars on either end are uncanny too.

Whatever the inspiration, the series is defined by the look of the individual player cards which feature their team name bursting off the heading in black 3-D block lettering. The bold team name is highlighted with two colors that complement the main color of the card and is bookended with two small stars that share those complementary colors. Fancy fancy.

Here’s a prime example – the card of Dick Williams (#137), who managed his Oakland Athletics to a World Series win in 1972.

Oddly, the main color of a card often has nothing to do with the team’s actual uniform colors. Example: The Dodger cards are orange, with yellow and white highlights—no trademark Dodger blue anywhere. The Reds are green; the Cardinals and Orioles are blue, the Cubs and Indians are purple, and the Mets and A’s are both red. Still, it all works somehow.

There are 12 distinct color schemes, all bright primary and secondary colors (hues of yellow, blue, red, green, purple, and orange), and well-conceived for the most part. With 24 teams in 1972, Topps assigned each design to both a National League team and an American League team.

Each scheme has three colors, with a principal color for the body of the card, a second color (generally) making up most of the accent coloring of the team’s name in the 3D font, and a tertiary color for the remainder of the 3D accent coloring and the piping that frames the picture and text. All of that within an outermost border of white, with player names at the bottom, in capitalized black font on a small white placard. A simple, elegant design.

Collectors have called the 1972 cards “tombstones” for their unique border and it’s true—the colored portion is shaped like an old-time tombstone. They definitely have a groovy, psychedelic feel, even though the Summer of Love was five years past. Somehow they always made me think of paper trophies. They differ from other years in that the position of the player is not indicated on the front, removing some clutter and borders, and there are no sprawling player signatures either.

The result is so clean and perfect that some of them almost transcend baseball to look more like iconic artistic works than mere sports cards. Think of Andy Warhol’s silkscreened visions of athletes like Pele, Muhammad Ali and Tom Seaver. That’s an overstatement, but some of these look as fresh as any pop art there ever was.

Here are some nice examples including my personal favorite, Horatio Pina (#654), with blue sky and cotton ball clouds in his background. I swear all these look like artful, timeless portraits worthy of a silkscreen or framed oil painting. Really.

For fun here are all 12 color schemes, ranked from my most to least favorite, listing in order the NL team, AL team, first color (most prevalent), second color (majority of team name), and third color (piping). [Note: team allegiances may have influenced rankings somewhat!]

  • San Francisco Giants/New York Yankees – yellow, orange, red
  • St. Louis Cardinals/Baltimore Orioles – dark blue, yellow, light blue
  • Cincinnati Reds/Chicago White Sox – light green, blue, yellow
  • Los Angeles Dodgers/Detroit Tigers – orange, white, yellow
  • Montreal Expos/Boston Red Sox – green, orange, yellow
  • Chicago Cubs/Cleveland Indians – purple, green, yellow
  • Houston Astros/Texas Rangers – yellow, orange, blue
  • Pittsburgh Pirates/Minnesota Twins – light blue, dark blue, orange
  • New York Mets/Oakland A’s – red, yellow, orange
  • Atlanta Braves/Kansas City Royals – red, green, yellow
  • Philadelphia Phillies/California Angels – orange, green, blue
  • San Diego Padres/Milwaukee Brewers – dark blue, orange, light green

The ’72 set is defined by organization, with every player on a team sharing the exact same color scheme while the aforementioned 1975 cards have schemes assigned randomly, so that most players on the same team have a different look. This seems a little chaotic and purposeless, but maybe that was 1975 in a nutshell?

Before we get to those unruly ’75 cards, let’s rewind to 1970 to remind ourselves why the 1972 lot stood out so much from all the other Topps cards that came out between 1970-75 (let alone all the cards that came before 1970 and after 1975).

1970: Those gloomy gray borders and cards almost devoid of color. Earl Weaver, who managed the O’s to a World Series win in 1970, would probably be the first to say that he was no Flower Child, and here is proof. Earl looks more like 1960 than 1970.

1971: Similar to 1970, but much better – the black is bolder than the gray, there are showy signatures, and more color in the larger font. For me, Dock Ellis epitomizes the early 1970’s – the bold fashion statements, politics, fearlessness, and renegade demeanor. Plus, for a while he was a hell of a pitcher. If you don’t know why I picked his card to represent this pseudo-psychedelic year (and even if you do) please watch this

Again, 1972: Bill “Spaceman”Lee. Perfectly normal, right? Actually they are, for the most part – the (red-brown) backs saw a return to listing career stats and the pictures are mostly standard (more on that later) – it’s just the team name that’s gone crazy compared to other years.

1973: After the anomaly of 1972 there was a return to drab normalcy, but at least Topps didn’t exactly go backwards. Here’s a good one – one of my favorite pitchers ever (see the silhouette in the bottom right corner? that’s how we know he’s a pitcher!), with one of the most entertaining wind-ups of all time – borderline Hall of Fame prospect Luis Tiant, mugging like a Vaudevillian:

1974: There was some improvement with those banners at the top and bottom and the colored border piping. The cards are still mostly black and white and a little tame, but they almost have a classy look. Here’s another favorite – another borderline Hall of Fame candidate – Dave Parker in his rookie year, with sideburn.

Then came the 1975 set…which more or less amounts to a flaccid reprise of psychedelia. Though I’ve grown to appreciate the ’75 cards for the players they represent and the funky mid-decade style that’s on full display (Oscar Gamble, anyone?), the design feels lazy and simplistic, with one solid color on the top half border of the card, a second solid color on the bottom half, and a third color for the team’s blocky faux-3D name at the top. Overall they lack detail but at least got back to player signatures…and the little baseball with the player’s position is a nice try too.

The worst thing about them has to be the choice of color schemes, with some just damn ghastly compared to the 1972 lot: purple paired with pink and yellow lettering, salmon and teal with red letters, and poop brown with burnt orange and red font—ick. They look cartoonish and haphazard, with off-cuts aplenty. Mid-70s apathy.

And even with all that said…they do have a nice high gloss…and they’re more fun than what came out in 1973 and 1974…some pizazz after two years of relative stodginess.

Check out these gems found happily in my recovered collection—rookie cards of Hall of Famers Gary Carter, Robin Yount, and George Brett.

 Maybe they aren’t so bad after all? The jury’s still out!


This is part of my ode to baseball and the early 1970s in general, and to the Topps Company and the special 1972 set specifically. Thanks for the memories, Topps—both the old ones and the new ones! Apologies for the pronounced wordiness, but the 50th anniversary of the set warrants some indulgence.

Dedicated to my sports-loving mom, Caroline B. Wilkinson, who never threw my cards away, and to all the players from the 1972 Topps Series, especially those who passed during the writing of this article: Henry Aaron, Dick Allen, Ed Armbrister, Glenn Beckert, Hal Breeden, Lou Brock, Oscar Brown, Horace Clark, Billy Conigliaro, Chuck Dobson, Paul Doyle, Ed Farmer, Ray Fosse, Bill Freehan, Bob Gibson, Jim Grant, Grant Jackson, Bart Johnson, Jerry Johnson, Jay Johnstone, Al Kaline, Lew Krausse, Angel Mangual, Mike Marshall, Denis Menke, Lindy McDaniel, Roger Moret, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Bob Oliver, Don Pavletich, Ron Perranoski, Juan Pizzaro, J. R. Richard, Mike Ryan, Tom Seaver, Richie Scheinblum, Rennie Stennett, Bill Sudakis, Don Sutton, Tony Taylor, Dick Tidrow, Bill Virdon, Bob Watson, Stan Williams, and Jim Wynn.

Special thanks to Baseball-Almanac.com, Baseballhall.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and Wikipedia.com for kindly compiling and sharing their vast treasure troves of data.

Extra special thanks to Jason Schwartz and Nick Vossbrink  for their timely encouragement and warm welcome into the SABR community.

Much gratitude to Mr. Larry Pauley, who gave this project direction when there was none.

The Many Faces of the “Topps” 1954 Mickey Mantle

The steady stream of Mantle Topps Project70 card creations, along with the release of the Topps 2021 Mickey Mantle Collection card set, and the recent works of art from Lauren Taylor, MissTellier, and Daniel Jacob Horine have brought to the surface several memories of baseball games involving my childhood hero.

The good memories include attending my first major league game at a packed Fenway Park on September 24, 1961, with my father hoping to see Roger Maris hit home run number 60 to tie Ruth. I also got to see Mantle play at Yankee Stadium when my aunt and uncle took me to a daytime double header in 1963. As good as those memories are, the one that I can recall most vividly is from a close encounter with Mick at the end of his career in 1968. On that day Mantle, only an arm’s length away, sat behind a closed window on the team bus outside Fenway Park and ignored my pleas for an autograph.

Besides the trip down memory lane, the recent uptick in Mantle activity also caused me to splurge on a piece of Mantle memorabilia from 1954 with a Topps tie-in that I have had my eye on for some time.

Since this piece of memorabilia involves baseball cards, I did some research on interpretations of Topps 1954 cards (With Bowman having signed Mantle to exclusive card contracts in 1954 and 1955 kids had to wait until 1956 for number 7 to appear on a Topps card again).

There are plenty of roll your own “Topps” 1954 Mantle cards available, some with interesting backstories, and the number continues to grow with two additions in 2021.

Upper Deck 1994 – All-Time Heroes Card

In 1994 Topps released the 1954 Archives set that included nice reprints of the original ’54 cards on thick glossy card stock along with “new” cards of players that did not appear in the original set. Topps did not release a “new” Mantle card in 1994, but Upper Deck did release one as part of its All-Time Heroes set since it had an exclusive contract with Mickey. The Upper Deck ’54 is considered a “short print” and current prices on eBay range from $40 – ungraded to $149.99 – graded.

Upper Deck 1994 All-Time Heroes – Mickey Mantle Card

Topps 1954 Style Mickey Mantle Cards

Topps issued 1954 style Mantle cards in 2007, 2011 and 2012. This year they have also released two more 1954 style cards. One as part of the Project70 series and the other as part of the 2021 Mickey Mantle Collection set.

The image on the front of the card Topps 1954 style Mantle for the 2021 Mickey Mantle Collection set is derived from the William Jacobellis black and white photo of Mantle from the 1951 season. This photo was also the starting point for the front of 1952 Bowman Mantle card.

Topps 1954 Style Mantle Card from the 2021 Mickey Mantle Collection set – Front

Unfortunately, the Topps research staff were asleep at the switch and the back of the cards display Mantle’s 1955 stats instead of his 1953 stats. Does this make it an “error” card?

Topps 1954 Style Mantle Card from the 2021 Mickey Mantle Collection set – Back

The Topps Project70 1954 style Mantle was created by CES.

Topps Project70 1954 Style Mickey Mantle by CES

Bob Lemke – 1954 Topps-style Mantle Card

My favorite 1954 Topps-style Mantle card is the one designed by Bob Lemke, the founding editor for the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, who passed away in 2017.

In one of his blog posts that can be found here, Bob provides details on the origins of all the elements used in his Mantle card.

1954 Sports Illustrated Mickey Mantle

I have been looking for a reasonably priced – Sports Illustrated – second issue – in good condition for some time and recently found one on eBay. I knew that the second issue contained a foldout section with a “missing” 1954 Mickey Mantle card.

Foldout of Yankees Cars from 1954 Sports Illustrated Issue #2

Sports Illustrated used a beautiful black and white photo taken by George Silk for the card. The same photo was also used by Sports Illustrated for the cover of its August 21, 1995, issue that was published days after Mantle passed away. Weakened by the onslaught of new Mantle material released in 2021, I clicked on the Buy It Now button and purchased the 1954 Sports Illustrated issue.

1954 Sports Illustrated Mickey Mantle Card – Front
1954 Sports Illustrated Mickey Mantle – Back

Since they don’t teach this style of writing in journalism classes anymore, I will close with an excerpt from the Sports Illustrated article that accompanied the foldout of the cards.

“Topps Chewing Gum, Inc., one of the leading gum-and-card concerns, issues an average of 15 cards per team, and this average holds for the Yankees. The 15 Yankee cards in Topps’s 1954 series are reproduced front and back on color on the following foldout. They are, of course, prize items. But SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has added prize items of its own to fill out the Yankee squad to full strength: black-and-white “cards,” front and back, of those Yankees for whom Topps – for one good reason or another – did not print cards. The result is a collector’s dream: 27 Yankees, a collection almost beyond the highest hopes of the most avid gum-chewing, card-collecting boy.”

Topps in 1972, Part 2

Editor’s note: SABR Baseball Cards welcomes new member F. Scott Wilkinson with the second of his 10 articles on the 1972 Topps set, now approaching its 50th anniversary. Click here to start the series from the beginning. This post describes a serendipitous reunion with card-collecting, the 1972 set in particular.

I have explained many times that I am, by Profession, a Gambler—not some jock-sniffing nerd or a hired human squawk-box with the brain of a one-cell animal. No. That would be your average career sportswriter—and, more specifically, a full-time Baseball writer.

—Hunter S. Thompson

I was seven years old when the Topps Company issued their baseball cards for the 1972 season, pushed on us eager kids in their trademark wax packs, each with a chalky pink stick of gum sharp enough to cut the roof of your mouth. That was the year I began collecting cards and somehow they drew me in right from the first pack. My friends Billy, Ricky, and I would buy them uptown at Corso’s, a dusty little old family-run store with worn wooden floors where they sold all kinds of penny candy, soft drinks, and other sundries we didn’t care much about. I’d root those cards out when visiting my grandparents too and remember being darn disappointed after buying a couple laggard packs of ’71’s there when all I wanted were the ’72’s. It was love at first sight, instant infatuation.

A year or two later we were calling those 1972 cards “the colorful year” because they stood out so much compared to the stone-gray lot of 1970, the black beauties of 1971, and all the other staid black and white cards I collected through 1977. Sure, there were the ’75’s (one-off, incongruously colored, tacky-looking things…more on them later), but these babies were strikingly original and visually magical. To me, they still are.

Looking back they clearly smack of the early 1970s, a time that felt like an epilogue to the previous decade…the hangover from a years-long bender of excess, experimentation, social upheaval, violence, and weirdness. I only caught five full years of the 1960s and always felt like I’d missed out on something important. Maybe all kids feel like that? A feeling fed by always hanging around older people—my sisters, their friends and other neighborhood kids who were years older. Our neighbor Big Jim Miller was a good ten years older than me and when he played those new Three Dog Night records in 1969 he seemed to really be on to something. Our world was expanding and anything seemed possible so in retrospect these cards came along at the perfect time.

Today they look like the entire team of Topps designers and photographers (and a few of the players) stayed high on blotter acid and pure cocaine for weeks, jangling along feverishly until the whole 787 card series was finished. They were, and are, that vividly rendered. Of course, Billy and I didn’t think of any of that back then—we just thought they were cool looking and liked the way they made a neat, motor-like sound when we clothes-pinned them onto our bike frame and they hit the wheel spokes just right. Especially all the ones we had of Claude Osteen, “In-Action.” Apparently we didn’t have much respect for Luis Aparicio either.

Like many boys my age I collected cards and played baseball as much as possible, every day, and began playing organized ball around 1971 or 1972, first Tee-ball, and then Little League. Back when baseball was still America’s Pastime. Sports-wise baseball was the first love and some of my fondest boyhood memories are of Dad hitting fungoes to Billy and me in our back yard. I still want to play catch and work on my curve and knuckle balls. Like most ball-playing boys of that age and era I liked to get together to trade cards with my friends Billy, Jeff, Jimmy, and Ricky. We didn’t know much about what we were doing, but it was fun to try to get cards we hadn’t seen by offloading ones we were sick of or had way too many of—players like Horace Clark, Johnny Jeter, Ron Klimkowski, Joe Gibbon, Ike Brown, and Don Hahn. For some reason those guys seemed to be in every other pack.

That went well until one day when Little Ricky came over to my house and somehow made off with three of my most prized 1972 cards—a Frank Robinson, a Hank Aaron, and a Willie Mays. The 1973 Roberto Clemente card disappeared too…all of them apparently lifted while Little Ricky was left to his own devices down in our family room for a few minutes while I went upstairs to use the bathroom.

I still remember the panicky feeling after finding them missing once Ricky left. That sickly tingling nervous feeling in the belly. Even worse, what else could be missing? These were just the obvious ones…they weren’t kept straight with a list, I just categorized them and pored over them…and went with what my young head could remember. There were well over 1000 cards in my collection by the mid-1970s and I always wondered how many others he’d taken. Willie Stargell? Catfish Hunter? Tom Seaver? I did go over to his house one last time and got a peek at the ’73 Clemente to absolutely convince myself he’d done it—it had a telltale look—little ‘bubbles’—a uniquely poor print. Sure enough. Worst of all was seeing an erstwhile friend just sitting there, smiling like a toad. But at age nine or so I apparently didn’t have the emotional tools to confront Little Ricky, so I just cried a bunch and wrote him off passively rather than going deeper and challenging all four feet of him on the thievery.

That event left me so sour that I don’t think I ever traded cards again. It was devastating to my naive sense of permanence, and dope-slap shocking because the practice of stealing just wasn’t relatable. From then on Ricky couldn’t be trusted—he wasn’t allowed in our house, and we drifted apart. The episode chafed at me so much that eventually I didn’t even look at my cards anymore, not as an older boy or as a young man because it was sickening—all I could think of was that Little Bastard Ricky and those long-lost cards. Pathetic, but that awful feeling wouldn’t leave my gut so I put the little drama aside, went off to live a life, and didn’t think about the cards that remained there in my boyhood closet. Sure, I knew they were there the whole time; I just didn’t miss, want, or need them.

But on February 7th, 2019, all of those rotten memories permanently faded into the ether. What’s so special about that date? Well, ironically, that’s the day that Frank Robinson died. When the news came in I sat there shocked and saddened for a minute, then eagerly read his obituary and other articles, trying to hold on to the man and immortal player I’d admired for so long. I hadn’t considered him in years but it was still oddly devastating that he was gone so soon…so abruptly. It wasn’t right. But somehow as I sat there feeling old and lost, a thought slowly began to take hold… the realization that I had to have and hold his 1972 card…and there on eBay were hundreds of them, all bright blue and yellow, showing that smiling swing I hadn’t seen in decades. Then I realized how easy it would be to get the 1972 Aaron and Mays cards too, so those were found and bought. Phew. Next up? The ’73 Clemente card, of course.

Here it should be mentioned that aside from being way too materialistic, the reason I was so depressed when the cards first went missing was because they were just gone, with no way to reasonably replace them. Sure—I should have gone over to Rick’s, slugged him, and demanded them back, but at the time a bold potentially ugly confrontation wasn’t in my wheelhouse. Buying a slew of new packs might have worked too, but they weren’t affordable…so instead I opted for self-pity and distractions. Fast forward and nowadays we can find just about anything with a few keystrokes, for better or worse. Probably for worse – no personal interaction – but in this case eBay was my best new friend. Just knowing those cards were on the way to my house somehow left me feeling refreshed.

Not that I had dwelled on it in years but somehow my psyche felt lighter, healthier. After decades, The Ricky Caper suddenly didn’t matter…I’d finally gotten past it and was looking forward rather than backward—at least regarding that old kid card chase. But cards are colored paper…ornaments on a shelf…while Life is flesh and bones, work, friends and kinship…risk-taking and globetrotting. Big Ideas. It had to be worth trying this mindset with everything; be in the moment, don’t dwell on the past, least of all the episodes that dredge up those paralyzing, negative memories. That outlook was worth embracing.

After a while I almost wanted to go find Rick so we could talk about the old days, though we hadn’t seen each other since high school. It just didn’t matter anymore. Sounds silly as hell now that it ever did matter. It’s hard to believe that a few baseball cards could make such a difference, but for some reason an obscure yet critical internal valve had opened up and started functioning again. And after all those years, Mr. Robinson had been the catalyst.

Frank was special for so many reasons, they’re tough to track and list completely, but here are a few:

  • Still the only player ever to win the MVP in both leagues.
  • Triple Crown winner in 1966 (albeit with the lowest Triple Crown batting average (.316) in MLB history).
  • Two-time World Series Champion (1966 and 1970) and MVP of the 1966 Series.
  • Retired fourth on the list of all-time home run hitters with 586.
  • First Black manager in the majors when hired as player-manager for the Cleveland Indians in 1975.

He was meaningful to me personally because he had led the Baltimore Orioles dynasty teams of the mid-1960s to early ’70s. My sisters were born in Baltimore (1960) so my parents got to see and tell me about some of those early greats like third baseman Brooks Robinson, whom my mom said caught “everything.” So, they were my team from the beginning, even though I was born in Ohio four years after my sisters. And they continued to be my team even after we moved to the Cincinnati area in 1969, when I began to watch and learn about those fledgling years of the Big Red Machine.

Later in 2019 I went home to visit my mom (still a die-hard, long-suffering Reds fan after over 50 years) and was finally ready to get those cards and take them back to the West Coast with me. They were taking up space in that closet and my mom and sisters wanted them out of there. There they were in the same large, lidded metal box they had been in since the 1970s, organized alphabetically by team, with each team’s name printed out neatly in my mom’s trademark perfect cursive writing. I don’t remember why, but apparently I’d asked Mom for help, maybe to give the collection a classier look. Ha-ha. Early telltale signs of a budding curator and amateur sports historian.

Funny aside about my sports-loving mom: to this day she will poke fun at me for the time I came to her when I was eight years old, talking excitedly about “the Clemente Brothers.” “Clemente Brothers? What are you talking about?” she said. “You know, Bob, Robert, and Roberto!” I said eagerly. She just laughed. To my credit, I do have a 1969 “Bob” Clemente card and had probably heard him called “Robert” at some point, but even an eight-year-old should have been able to figure out they were all the same person. So it goes…

The first thing I went through at Mom’s house were the football cards that were collected/inherited contemporaneously—“they’re not all that interesting” I thought, but they were a jumbled mess in their brown “pleather” sticker-covered box, so needed to be organized; leave the baseball cards for dessert. Unexpectedly, it was a wonderful warm-up to go through those old NFL cards—I had completely forgotten what was even in there, so it was like a treasure hunt. They’re all from the 1960s and 1970s, a mishmash of well-known and obscure players, time capsules from an era when players looked entirely different than they do today, mainly because of the outstanding hairdos of the time—long stringy hippy hair, greasy handlebar moustaches, mutton-chop sideburns, Afros, comb-overs, etc. Different also because the typical constitution of any player looks stronger, with features bolder and broader, even though they were considerably smaller than the behemoths of today. All those looks reflect that sentimental favorite decade right there in my formative youth, the 1970s.

Coincidentally or not, 1972 happened to be a watershed year for change in MLB. For one it was the last season of the full-time hitting pitcher; the designated, or as we called it in the backyard, the “all-time” hitter rule was instituted the following year and after that baseball, at least in the American League, was never the same again. It was the year of the first-ever player strike, resulting in the first 10 days of the season being missed and varying numbers of games missed by each team. It was also the year when the old-fashioned wool flannel uniforms began to be phased out, replaced by new lighter synthetic materials like nylon and rayon. And it was the first year of the Texas Rangers franchise, when the expansion Washington Senators moved to Arlington (the original Washington Senators had moved to Minneapolis in 1961 to become the Twins), removing baseball from Washington D.C. until the Expos, based in Montreal since 1969, moved to D.C. in 2005 to become the Washington Nationals.

Yet even while change was afoot the divisions were arranged archaically, with Cincinnati and Atlanta in the NL West (along with Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego), though both of those cities lie well east of Chicago (Cubs) and St. Louis, both in the NL East. Similarly, at the time the Brewers were still in the AL East and the White Sox in the AL West, though Milwaukee is slightly west of Chicago.

After getting back home, I slowly, reverently, started plowing through all the precious baseball cards I hadn’t seen in decades. Part of me didn’t even want to…what if I just keep putting it off so I’ll always have that thing to look forward to? Take a page out of Uncle Larry’s Theory of Delayed Gratification. Right. Of course, once I did dive in – what a treat! So many warm memories came flooding back.

The bulk of the collection covers 1970-1977, with the 1975 cards most plentiful, probably because I had more paper route money by then; after that, the numbers piddle out. And yet…almost immediately I was struck by the recognition that all I cared about were the ones from 1972. Even finding a 1966 Whitey Ford, a 1968 Hank Aaron, and Colt 45’s cards of Joe Morgan (1967) and Jim “The Toy Cannon” Wynn (1966), all of which I’d completely forgotten about, didn’t excite me the way the 1972’s did. And it was oddly disappointing to see so fewer of the ‘72’s than I remembered. So…even before making my way a third of the way through all that original collection, I put it on hold and went back to eBay… knowing that I had to have all 787 cards from the 1972 series. Out of nowhere my inner 8-year-old was back, elbowing the boring late middle-aged self aside, hungry for those colorful cards like they’d nourish me somehow. No joke.

And so began the fantastic journey of not only finding and acquiring all those cards, but studying them, poring over them, and researching all the players and their careers. I hadn’t planned on taking all of that on—it just happened. I was energized beyond recognition and dove in like it would make me rich. Ridiculous? Kind of. Weird? Probably. Obsessive? No question. Unexpected? Surely. Materialistic? Uh huh. But in the end, was the process entrancing, fulfilling, cathartic and just plain fun? Well, hell yes! Stoked by those happy feelings I gave away loads of the best doubles to friends who might appreciate them, with pithy quotes cartooning out of the players’ mouths. Trying my best to spread that cool kind 1972 vibe, it was invigorating and incredibly fun. Who would have ever thought this could happen after tamping down all that bad card juju forever? Whatever the reason, I was just looking forward to getting at more of the long-lost hobby…


This is the most personal part of my ode to baseball and the early 1970s in general, and to the Topps Company and the special 1972 set specifically. Thanks for the memories, Topps – both the old ones and the new ones! Apologies for the pronounced wordiness here, but the 50th anniversary of the set warrants some indulgence.

Dedicated to my sports-loving mom, Caroline B. Wilkinson, who never threw my cards away, and to all the players from the 1972 Topps Series, especially those who passed during the writing of this article: Henry Aaron, Dick Allen, Ed Armbrister, Glenn Beckert, Hal Breeden, Lou Brock, Oscar Brown, Horace Clark, Billy Conigliaro, Chuck Dobson, Paul Doyle, Ed Farmer, Ray Fosse, Bill Freehan, Bob Gibson, Jim Grant, Grant Jackson, Bart Johnson, Jerry Johnson, Jay Johnstone, Al Kaline, Lew Krausse, Angel Mangual, Mike Marshall, Denis Menke, Lindy McDaniel, Roger Moret, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Bob Oliver, Don Pavletich, Ron Perranoski, Juan Pizzaro, J. R. Richard, Mike Ryan, Tom Seaver, Richie Scheinblum, Rennie Stennett, Bill Sudakis, Don Sutton, Tony Taylor, Dick Tidrow, Bill Virdon, Bob Watson, Stan Williams, and Jim Wynn.

Special thanks to Baseball-Almanac.com, Baseballhall.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and Wikipedia.com for kindly compiling and sharing their vast treasure troves of data.

Extra special thanks to Jason Schwartz and Nick Vossbrink  for their timely encouragement and warm welcome into the SABR community.

Much gratitude to Mr. Larry Pauley, who gave this project direction when there was none.

Progress

So it only took four years since Topps/MLB yanked the mascot logo for us to see our first non-Indians Cleveland card. I was expecting to write this post next year with Series 1 but this week Topps went ahead and put out the first Cleveland Guardians card.

It’s nice to see even just as a mockup. I’m not sold on the logo but it works in the 1953 design since it’s not the usual modern overly-slick branding. I know it’s not actually hand-drawn but it’s one of the first I’ve seen in a long time that has that essence.  It, and the cap logo, are also huge improvements on the block C that’s been in use since 2017.

The amazing thing is that this card could’ve come out even sooner. Triston McKenzie looks to have been scheduled for the December 1st only he got delayed because Topps asked Jared Kelley to change his artwork. Given that the Guardians logos and everything were only announced at the end of July this is a fast turnaround to get it all into production.

The turnaround is so fast that I’m now wondering whether there were any discussions about changing the logo in other sets like Archives, Stadium Club Chrome, and Holiday which all reflect trade deadline team changes. Yes I know this also brings in the question of changing uniform logos in a way that requires more messing around with a photo than the way Living involves individual paintings.

I’m curious how the Guardians rollout will continue on trading cards. The photo issue will remain through next year—especially as the lockout pushes back the chances to get photos of guys in uniform—and Topps will clearly have to make a decision about how much photoshopping they want to do.