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.

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.

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.

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.

Topps in 1972, Part 1

Editor’s note: SABR Baseball Cards welcomes new member F. Scott Wilkinson with the first of his 10 articles on the 1972 Topps set, now approaching its 50th anniversary. This first installment focuses largely on the Hall of Famers and near Hall of Famers in the set.

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

There was a fine crop of 51 Hall of Famers in the major leagues in 1972 (42 players and nine managers)—all the more impressive since through 2021 only 336 people have been elected to the Hall (including 266 MLB and Negro League players, 22 MLB managers, 38 pioneers/executives, and 10 umpires, according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s website).

For fun, here are all the 1972 Topps Baseball Hall of Fame players and managers, with card numbers, organized by team (from teams with most Hall of Famers to least):

St. Louis Cardinals: Red Schoendienst (#67, the prototype fine player/accomplished manager; inducted as a player in 1989), Bob Gibson (#130), Ted Simmons (#154), Lou Brock (#200), Steve Carlton (#420), Joe Torre (#500)

Chicago Cubs: Ernie Banks (#192, HoF player, on the ’72 team card as a first base coach), Ferguson Jenkins (#410), Billy Williams (#439), Ron Santo (#555), Leo Durocher (#576, manager)

Minnesota Twins: Harmon Killebrew (#51), Tony Oliva (#400), Bert Blyleven (#515, on his 14th ballot!), Rod Carew (#695), Jim Kaat (#709)

Oakland Athletics: Dick Williams (#137, manager), Rollie Fingers (#241), Jim Hunter (#330), Reggie Jackson (#435)

Atlanta Braves: Orlando Cepeda (#195), Henry Aaron (#299), Tony LaRussa (#451, a bench player in 1972 but inducted in 2014 for his 35 years as a manager for the White Sox, A’s and Cardinals), Phil Niekro (#620)

Baltimore Orioles: Frank Robinson (#100), Jim Palmer (#270), Earl Weaver (#323, manager), Brooks Robinson (#550)

San Francisco Giants: Willie Mays (#49), Willie McCovey (#280), Juan Marichal (#567)

Los Angeles Dodgers: Don Sutton (#530), Walter Alston (#749, manager), Hoyt Wilhelm (#777, elected on his 8th ballot!)

Pittsburgh Pirates: Roberto Clemente (#309), Willie Stargell (#447), Bill Mazeroski (#760)

Boston Red Sox: Carl Yastrzemski (#37), Carlton Fisk (#79), Luis Aparicio (#313)

Cincinnati Reds: Tony Perez (#80), Sparky Anderson (#358, manager), Johnny Bench (#433)

New York Mets: Tom Seaver (#445), Gil Hodges (#465, Finally! nearly 50 years after his premature death at 47 from a heart attack on April 2, 1972 during spring training. Note: Hall of Famer Yogi Berra ended up being the manager of the Mets in 1972, but had no card that year).

Houston Astros: Joe Morgan (#132)

Cleveland Indians: Gaylord Perry (#285)

Kansas City Royals: Bob Lemon (#449, manager, on his 12th ballot!). Note: Lemon was a manager in 1972 (ending up with a career 430–403 record) but entered the Hall of Fame on his credentials as one of the better pitchers of the late 1940s and 1950s, winning at least 20 games seven times. A converted position player, he had a career batting average of .232 and won World Series titles as both a player with the Indians in 1948 and the manager of the Yankees in 1978.

Texas Rangers: Ted Williams (#510, manager). Note: Williams was a manager in 1972 but obviously made the Hall as of the best hitters of all time, with a .344 career average and all-time record .482 career OBP; he was less accomplished as a manager, with a lifetime record of 273–364.

California Angels: Nolan Ryan (#595)

Detroit Tigers: Al Kaline (#600)

For historical context, the 1972 class of Hall of Famers included Yogi Berra, Josh Gibson, Lefty Gomez, Will Harridge, Sandy Koufax, Buck Leonard, Early Wynn, and Ross Youngs.

At first, I had 52 Hall of Famers on the list, but then realized that somehow, despite all of his accolades and gaudy statistics, Pete Rose (#559) did not belong there. Being a lifelong Reds fan, all I can say is that we loved Pete, but only because he was on our team—otherwise we would have hated him. But having recently re-watched Game 7 of the 1975 World Series (Reds over the Red Sox in seven immortal games) I can say that Pete was the consummate professional player and is deserving of being in the Hall of Fame, even if it has to happen after he expires.

He was/is a wonder to watch, barely channeling that beastly energy, completely immersed in the game and looking like he was built to play baseball forever. Playing third base that year, allowing the Reds to put George Foster (#256) in left field and attain the true Big Red Machine powerhouse lineup, he’s in constant motion… popping his mitt, bending down to swipe the grass to better his hand grip, working the umpires and messing with base runners, chatting with a young Carlton Fisk and hectoring the home plate umpire when he’s up to bat, following every taken pitch into Fisk’s mitt with those eagle eyes and then staring down the ump. Damn! He never let up.

Pete would play wherever gave his team the best chance to win—he started his career in 1963 at second base, then went to the outfield before moving in to third and back and forth until eventually finishing his career at first base. For all his faults, and there were a ton, he epitomizes what it takes to play baseball the right way—full bore, with unbridled optimism. On that note, it’s interesting to learn how he got his well-deserved nickname “Charlie Hustle” (from his Wikipedia page):

During another spring training game against the New York Yankees, Whitey Ford gave him the derisive nickname “Charlie Hustle” after Rose sprinted to first base after drawing a walk. Despite (or perhaps because of) the manner in which Ford intended it, Rose adopted that nickname as a badge of honor. In Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball, Ford’s teammate (and best friend) Mickey Mantle claimed that Ford gave Rose the nickname after Rose, playing in left field, made an effort to climb the fence to catch a Mantle home run that was about a hundred feet over his head, according to Mantle. According to Mantle, when he returned to the dugout, Ford said “Hey, Mick, did you see ole Charlie Hustle out there trying to catch that ball?”

So that’s my plug for Pete. Surely, he’s no worse a person than Cap Anson and some others who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame but placing bets on your team while you are the manager is problematic, to say the least. Enough said.

Interestingly, in 1972 there were no future Hall of Famers on the Yankees, White Sox, Expos, Padres, Brewers or Phillies. Nowadays that seems a little off somehow—couldn’t the White Sox or Phillies have had one? (Sure—you can say that Steve Carlton’s “Traded” Philly card #751 counts). And the Yankees should have had at least two or three, right? Well, not really. Looking back fifty years later, it’s easy to believe—these teams were some of the worst at the time. Here’s how they finished in their respective divisions in ’72: (at the time all four divisions were composed of six teams): White Sox (2nd in AL West, a miracle, led by MVP Dick Allen), Yankees (4th in AL East), Expos (5th in NL East), Padres (6th in NL West), Brewers (6th in AL East) and Phillies (6th in NL East).

Seeing the Yankees on a bottom rung of the standings is unnatural, but manager Ralph Houk (#533) had lousy roster that year, saddled with players like Fritz Peterson (#573) and Mike Kekich (#138) who had been distracted since 1969 with their wife-swapping project. Leave it to a couple of left-handed pitchers.

These guys infamously went a step further and swapped their entire nuclear families in the spring of 1973, though the clubhouse drama ended later that year when Kekich was traded away to the Cleveland Indians. For anyone out there keeping score, the arrangement worked out astoundingly well for Peterson. He and the former Mrs. Kekich are still happily married today (as late as 2013 Peterson was quoted as saying “I could not be happier with anybody in the world. My girl and I go out and party every night. We’re still on the honeymoon and it has been a real blessing.”), while Kekich’s relationship with the former Mrs. Peterson fell apart almost immediately. Welcome to the early ’70s, folks.

It’s a miracle the Rangers had even one Hall of Famer (54-year-old Manager Ted Williams at that)—they finished 54–100 and 38½ games out of first in the AL West, with divided and disgruntled players (a worn-out Denny McClain (#210) among them), who turned on Williams, probably because of his exacting ways. Not difficult to imagine—how else could one possibly accumulate those career numbers and serve in two wars with honor?

Nowadays it’s a given that statistics have always been, and always will be a key part of baseball—volumes will always be written about those numbers and of course they’re critical to gaining entrance to the Hall. As such, it’s interesting that players are judged so objectively using those numbers, almost more by them than by their creative play and personal style.

All that said, one gets the feeling that we will not see another player or manager from the 1972 series elected to the Hall. The last were Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, and Tony Oliva who all got in on the Golden Days Era ballot in December, 2021. Unless voters go back and become newly enamored of these guys, it looks like 50 will be it:

  • Vada Pinson (#135) – 2757 hits, 1365 runs scored, 1169 RBI, 127 triples, 305 stolen bases, a 4-time All-Star
  • Darrell Evans (#171) – 2223 hits, 1344 runs scored, 1354 RBI, 414 home runs, a 2-time All-Star
  • Dick Allen (#240) – 1878 hits, 1099 runs scored, 1119 RBI, 351 home runs, .292 career batting average, Rookie of the Year (1964), a league MVP (1972) and 7-time All-Star
  • Tommy John (#264) – 288 career wins, 2245 strikeouts, 3.34 ERA, 2nd in Cy Young voting twice, a 4-time All-Star, named a career-extending arm surgery after him
  • Dave Concepcion (#267) – 2326 hits, 321 stolen bases, a 9-time All-Star and 5-time Gold Glove winner
  • Willie Davis (#390) – 2561 career hits, 1217 runs scored, 1053 RBI, 398 stolen bases, a 2-time All-Star and 3-time Gold Glove winner
  • Maury Wills (#437) – 2134 hits, .281 career average, 586 stolen bases, NL MVP (1962), a 7-time All-Star and 2-time Gold Glove winner
  • Thurman Munson (#441) – 1558 (clutch) hits, .292 career average, Rookie of the Year (1970), AL MVP (1976), a 7-time All-Star and 3-time Gold Glove winner
  • Mickey Lolich (#450) – 217 career wins, 2832 career strikeouts (4th all-time for lefthanders), 3.44 ERA, 3-time All-Star, hero/MVP of the 1968 World Series with three complete-game wins
  • Pete Rose (#559) – career hits leader (4,256), second all-time doubles hitter (746), 135 triples, 2165 runs scored, 1314 RBI, career .303 batting average, 3-time batting champion, Rookie of the Year (1963), MVP (1973), a 17-time All-Star and 2-time Gold Glove winner
  • Al Oliver (#575) – 2743 hits, 1189 runs scored, 1326 RBI, 529 doubles, .303 career average, a 7-time All-Star who won a batting title (1982)
  • Lou Pinella (#580) – 1705 hits, .291 career average, Rookie of the Year (1969), All-Star (1972), World Series Champion as a both a player (Yankees, 1977–78) and manager (Reds, 1990), 3-time Manager of the Year (including Seattle Mariners’ record-tying 116 regular season wins in 2001), 16th most career managerial wins (1835–1713)
  • Graig Nettles (#590) – 2225 hits, 1193 runs scored, 1314 RBI, 390 home runs, a 6-time All-Star and 2-time Gold Glove winner
  • Steve Garvey (#686) – 2599 career hits, 1143 runs scored, 1308 RBI, .294 career batting average, league MVP (1974; top 10 in MVP voting five times), a 10-time All-Star and 4-time Gold Glove winner; still holds the NL record for consecutive games played (1,207)
  • Dusty Baker (#764) – 1981 career hits, 242 home runs, a 2-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner, 12th all-time in managerial wins (still active with a 1987-1734 record), a 3-time Manager of the Year

The spirited Hall-of Fame arguments can be all kinds of fun…depending on whom you’re talking to…

What about Dick Allen (#240), the 7-time all-star and league MVP, about whom no less an authority than Willie Mays said: “he hit a ball harder than any player I’ve ever seen.”

Or Al Oliver, also a 7-time All-Star who batted .300 or better 11 times and was in the top 10 in batting average nine times? He’s still ranked 58th in career hits and 43rd in career doubles, with more of those than Frank Robinson, Willie Mays, and Ted Williams.

There’s NL ironman Steve Garvey (#686), a 10-time all-star, league MVP and four-time Gold Glove winner with 2599 career hits and six seasons with at least 200 hits. Isn’t that enough?

Thurman Munson was arguably the best catcher in the AL for most of the 1970’s and the best in all of baseball for a stretch in the mid-to-late ’70’s. And it’s not just me saying that – many of his peers, including Carlton Fisk, have agreed over the years. Rookie of the Year in 1970, AL MVP in 1976, World Series champion in 1977 and 1978…his case is a matter of longevity, not excellence.

Requirements for the enshrinement of managers are even more nebulous. Managers manage—they don’t play the games, so there is a bit of luck in what roster they have to put out there. Stellar managers may get stuck with a thin team while mediocre managers may be lucky enough to have so many star players that anyone could manage them to a Series win. Pennant and World Series wins seem to be the most crucial parameters, but do total wins matter? There seem to be some discrepancies, to say the least.

What about “Sweet” Lou Piniella—not in the Hall for managing, even though he has many more career wins than Hall of Famers Tommy Lasorda (1599–1439, 2-time World Series champion, 2-time Manager of the Year), Dick Williams (1571–1451, 2-time World Series champion), Earl Weaver (1480–1060, World Series champion), and Whitey Herzog (1281–1125, World Series champion). Lou only won one pennant, but got his one World Series title, same as Herzog and Weaver.

By the same token Ralph Houk also has more wins than those four Hall of Famers (1619–1531) and he won three pennants and two World Series titles…but somehow, he has not been seriously considered. Just look at poor bemused Ralph—deep down this is a man who knows he’s going to get screwed by the Veterans Committee.

Also, does it matter how good a player the manager was? For the record Lou was a better player than Williams, Lasorda, and Weaver combined (and much better than Houk and Herzog too), which should count for something. Perspective: Williams had a 13-year journeyman career, a .260 hitter with 768 career hits; Lasorda was 0–4 during his three-year, 58-1/3 inning pitching experiment; Weaver made just AA ball as a slick-fielding/no-hit second baseman before he turned to coaching and then managing. Sure, all these guys won more pennants than Pinella, and Lasorda and Williams won more World Series titles (two vs. one), but still…

Now consider that Dusty Baker was at least as good a player as Pinella, with over 150 more managerial wins, but he has not even gotten a whiff of the Hall yet. The problem with Dusty is that he hasn’t won the big one yet. He’s lost a lot in the playoffs and is now 0–2 in the World Series after the Braves beat his Astros in 2021; he’s mishandled pitchers, blown all kinds of leads, and offended more than a few people with his old-school ways.

But he’s still active at 72, and has a contract to manage Houston in 2022, which should see him sneak into ninth place on the all-time wins list for managers, ahead of Bruce Bochy, Leo Durocher, and Walter Alston. So maybe he can get it done eventually—we’ll see. Confidentially, I was rooting for Dusty this fall, over every other story. And I’m still wistful for his six years with the Reds (2008–2013)…somehow he guided them to a 509–463 record and two divisional titles. Like Cincy was going to find someone better.

Not that anyone cares, but for the record I’m aghast that Messrs. Garvey and Pinella aren’t in the Baseball Hall of Fame already and that Baker, Houk and Oliver haven’t been considered more seriously. Bottom line: it’s always interesting to see where they draw that line between the greats and the near greats and how they evaluate that longevity and those degrees of dominance.

Maybe even more interesting are the discussions of the players who shouldn’t be in the Hall but are. How did Bert Blyleven make it in? He won 20 games in a season once, was never even a runner-up in the Cy Young Award voting and made just two all-star teams. Feh. Ron Santo? He had 2254 career hits and a .277 batting average…though he was a nine-time all-star and won five Gold Gloves. Bill Mazeroski? He had 2016 career hits and a career average of .260, though he was a 10-time all-star, won eight Gold Gloves and was the Game 7 hero of the 1960 World Series. Harmon Killebrew? He batted .256 for his career (and never hit .300 for a season), had just 2086 hits (including ‘only’ 290 doubles and 24 triples; his 573 homers got him in), and struck out 1699 times. Hmm.

Sure, I know—who am I, of all people, to disparage and critique any of these great pros? It’s true. But let’s face it—that’s what stats-obsessed baseball fanatics do for fun. The more you look into it, critics seem preoccupied with thinking that Phil Rizzuto (1588 career hits, .273 batting average), may not be worthy, nor Jim Bunning (a 224–184 career record and winner of 20 games only once, though he did win 19 games four times and had 2855 career strikeouts), nor Bruce Sutter (68–71 record, 300 saves, 2.83 ERA, won a Cy Young Award (1979)), or Rollie Fingers (#241, 114–118 record, 341 saves, 2.90 ERA, won both a Cy Young Award and MVP award in 1981). And let’s refrain from piling on poor Rube Marquard for his 201-177 record and 3.08 ERA, compiled during a career (1908-25) mostly within the dead ball era (1900-1919). It’s old news.

Relief pitchers in general used to get little respect. Hoyt Wilhelm (#777) was the first reliever to get elected, and deservedly so—he was winner of a MLB record 124 games in relief, with a 2.52 ERA and 1610 strikeouts over 2254.1 innings. Nowadays no one questions Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and (finally) Lee Smith’s credentials. Dennis Eckersley and Rich Gossage are solid.

Could John Franco ever get in with his 90–87 record, 424 saves (5th all-time) and 2.89 ERA? Maybe he should, especially when compared objectively with some of the guys mentioned here, but probably not. Maybe he wasn’t “dominant” enough. And honestly, despite Sutter’s relatively short (12 years) career and his never having started a major league game, he and Fingers probably did have enough to get in there.

You just wonder where that line is. Apparently, that line’s not only about the numbers, as important as they are—Sutter and Fingers had losing records. There’s also that certain je ne sais quoi, or quality that can’t exactly be described. Call it “the eye test”—you can’t define it, but you know when you see it. Like Sutter’s live split-fingered fastball, Steve Garvey’s sweet compact swing and Popeye forearms, and Lou Pinella arguing a call like world peace depended on it. Inexorably, times keep changing and along with them perspectives keep changing too. Maybe we’ll come around to some of these guys eventually.


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 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, 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,  Baseball-Reference.com, Baseballhall.org, 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.

Check back soon for the next article in this series! 

View-Master Instructional Baseball

For a long time the 1953 Viewmaster set was the only Major League Baseball one I was aware of. Stay on Twitter long enough though and of course people will turn up more. I’ve recently discovered that Viewmaster made other sets in the 1970s and 1980s. Theres’s a 1970 which one is part of an instructional series and features the 1969 Mets. And there are a bunch of 1981 sets from various teams’* Spring Trainings.

*I’ve seen Dodgers, Astros, Phillies, Twins, and Yankees on eBay.

I’m not a completionist and decided to skip the 1981 team-based sets (if a Giants set existed though I’d’ve absolutely behaved differently) but the 1970 Mets se intrigued me. This is partially because it’s older than I am but it also looked to be shot a Shea Stadium so there was potentially a lot more of interest to look at in it. When I found one for under $10 shipped my hand was forced.

I went ahead and made composite scans of the discs this time so you can see both the printing and the images. I didn’t receive the booklet but these don’t look like they were really that instructional either. Anyway, the most fun part of these is scanning and making wiggle gifs so let’s get to those right away.

Disc 1

Pitcher “looks in” for sign from catcher.

The catcher gives the sign to pitcher, Gary Gentry

Grips for fast ball (left) and curve ball (right)

Pitcher winds up for the pitch.

Leg lift helps pitcher bring body and arm forward.

Pitcher’s forward stride is key to good control.

Release of ball on follow-through is up to pitcher.

The first disc demonstrates pitching and features Gary Gentry. Pretty basic instructions but some of the images—such as the catcher giving the signs—were unexpected especially for what works in 3D. I like that this disc is basically a complete sequence of how to throw a pitch and I can totally see how it would have worked as an instructional item.

Between the matchups on the out-of-town scoreboard in and the San Diego on the game-day scoreboard this set appears to have been taken on April 21 or April 22. Both games started around 2:00 pm while the photos look to have been taken in the mid-morning with the sun getting high but still enough in the East to cast a distinct shadow.

Disc 2

Infielder’s stance enables him to field or block ball.

Shortstop takes ball hit on his left and…

…tags second to force out runner from first.

The throw to first must be fast to get double play.

Shortstop play: second baseman to shortstop double play.

Sacrifice bunt gets runner to next base.

Fielder bare-hands bunt for hurried throw.

The next disc features fielding with Bud Harrelson. Unlike Disc 1 this disc doesn’t show a single sequence and instead depicts three or four distinct plays. The photos however are a lot of fun because a bunch of them show the ball in motion and as a result, really really pop as 3D. I especially like the dust clouds that show that the balls were actually being hit to him.

I really really love the fifth image showing Harrelson taking the throw from the second baseman. While the photo quality is technically inferior to the 1953 photos* being able to capture action like this creates a very different 3D experience. The pair of bunting photos is similarly fantastic this way.

*Color is worse and the sharpness of the images is pretty bad too.

The lack of a crisp shadow in this set of photos indicates either a different session or that the weather got a lot worse after the Gentry photos were taken. Sadly no visible scoreboards to help us either.

Disc 3

Batter takes one of three stances—open, closed, or parallel.

Cleon Jones meets the pitch.

Fielder watches fly ball all the way into his glove.

Fielder catches line drive with glove straight up.

Outfielder throws ball to infielder.

Harrelson makes a base hit.

Cleon Jones makes a score.

Probably the least instructive of the discs since it doesn’t include any real sequences but also the most interesting of the three since it includes three images of actual in-game action, all of which work pretty well in 3D. The last image of Cleon Jones scoring is clearly from the April 21 game against the Padres and suggests that the Gary Gentry photos were likely taken the same day before the game.

Jones scored the tying run on a sacrifice fly but the Padres rallied for two runs in the top of the ninth to take the lead. Harrelson did indeed single in this game so there’s a very good chance that his photos were also taken in this game. Where the Gentry photos were taken mid morning under a crisp sun, these are approaching twilight with the stadium lights on even though it’s only 4:30.

The photos  of Jones in the outfield have similar light to the Harrelson photos on disc 2 and the scoreboard there indicates that they were taken before a Pittsburgh game. The out of town scoreboard suggests April 16 as the most-likely date in this case.

It’s interesting to me that Viewmaster used generic shirts or jackets and plain caps for these photos yet was able to use images of actual in-game action which show the Mets trademarks. I’m not well-versed enough in intellectual property law to make a guess as to why this is though.

With the 1953 set, I turned my scans into actual cards and even sent some out TTM. I don’t see myself doing the same with these. Some of this is the photo quality just not being good enough. But there’s a larger issue in this case in how the images weren’t selected to be portraits. Still it’ll be nice to print something out to go with the discs in the binder. I just have to figure out what that might be.

Redecorating with Hostess Paneling

I ate more Hostess products than the average kid. I’m sure of it. Twinkies, CupCakes, Suzy-Q’s, Fruit Pies (which I told Karen, in our early years, was the perfect food, containing all the food groups), Snowballs (word to the wise – don’t put the whole thing in your mouth at once. Breathing becomes difficult), Chocodiles (chocolate covered Twinkies, of which my older cousin sang to the tune of “Never Smile at a Crocodile”). Chilled in the fridge was my preferred preparation. I didn’t eat Ding Dongs though. That’s what Yodels are for.

This was before they started putting cards on box backs in 1975. That year was amazing! A new set, rare in those times, and not that easy to build. Yes, I ate a lot of Hostess, but 50 boxes (150 cards) in one summer was too much even for me.

For some reason I cut those cards out. I knew better by then; I was already a serious collector. I can’t quite figure it out. A few years ago I realized I had almost half the set, 69 cards (or 23 boxes worth), and finished it up, with all variations except the Doug Rader spelled correctly one. It’s a bit pricey. Hand cuts are very forgiving, and the whole project was pretty cheap.

I was happy with that, my first complete Hostess set. I’d never seen them all in one place and it warmed my cockles. Now toasty, I set out to find the other sets, and stumbled upon two great deals; 1976 and 1977 hand cuts (nicer job than I did!) were now in hand, with lots of my original panels for doubles. I had wised up by  ’76 and left the cards intact.

Now, with two years left to clear the table, I searched for 1978 and 1979 hand cut sets, but first I checked my inventory. I must’ve been on a diet in 1978 because I only had 11 of 50 panels. Not so in 1979; I had 30 of 50!

While my leanings were toward building hand cut sets, I couldn’t bring myself to cut the cards after all these years. I’d kept them intact for so long it felt wrong. I had no choice (I did have a choice, but, so be it), I committed myself to panel sets, even though that would make it harder and more expensive.

There are various panels that I find acceptable:

I’m good with all of them, as long as the perforated lines are fully, or almost fully, visible. Some panels have marks/stains, some panels have some whitish scuffing. That all works for me, because that’s how they looked when my mother would drive me to the Hostess outlet nearest our house (I think it was Medford, Long Island). I’d get home with a bunch of boxes, dump all the cakes into a bowl, find room in the refrigerator, and cut out the panels. I wasn’t going to wait for box by box consumption to file the cards away.

I’m already down to needing only 6 panels for 1978 and 11 for 1979. (I’m not dedicated to getting the variations. 1979 has two – Carew, close up and far away, and Bailor, regular and reverse images). I’ve used my 1977 and 1978 doubles for trade, which has come in handy. I had an emotional twinge letting them go; they feel like a real part of my youth and early collection, but I had to get past that. They’re real assets, and there’s something nice about teenage me helping old me get some new cards.

There are two pricey items – 1978 Eddie Murray rookie, whose value should be lowered by the appearance of Gary Lavelle and Rennie Stennett, and the 1979 Ozzie Smith rookie, whose value is elevated by the appearance of Nolan Ryan and Willie Montanez, although I’m sure most of that is not from Willie.

Once I’m done, there’s a Hostess party to be had. CupCakes and Twinkies for all! I’m buying this round.

Further down the Rabbit hole

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” – Satchel Paige

My last three articles have examined the 1934-36 Diamond Stars set with the goal of establishing a more refined (e.g., monthly) release schedule for each year’s cards than anything previously documented. Having had success (apart from a “Rabbit hole”) in applying a particular technique to the 24 cards from 1934, I will now apply the same technique to the 60 new cards from 1935 and 12 new cards from 1936.

Specifically, a key to understanding the 1934 release involved associating each player’s age from his bio with the time interval where that age would have been accurate.

The question, then, is whether a similar analysis of the new cards from 1935 and 1936 will yield similar dividends, either in supporting or challenging my original timetables for each of these releases.

Careful readers may have noted the word new a few times already, and my use of it is intentional. The 1935 release included 84 cards, and I’m only looking at 60 of them. Similarly, the 1936 release included 48 cards, and I’m only looking at 12 of them. Why such an intentionally narrow lens?

Reasonably enough, when a player appeared in consecutive years, National Chicle simply bumped his age up by one from one year to the next. For example, the 1934 Al Simmons card presented his age as 31.

On cue, the Al Simmons cards from 1935 (left) and 1936 (right) present his age as 32 and 33 respectively.

This formulaic approach means that card ages for repeated players are simply perfunctory and not influenced by the specific timing of a card’s release beyond year. As such, they would only add clutter to an analysis that will already be messy enough without them.

1935

For the 1935 release this means we should ignore cards 1-24, which were reissued from the prior year, and consider only 25-84. Following earlier hypotheses that the cards were released in series of 12 or multiples thereof, we’ll examine the cards twelve at a time.

Cards 25-36

Here are the first twelve (new) cards in the 1935 release, sorted by when each player would attain his “card age.” As Pepper Martin was born on February 29, I used March 1 for 1935 and noted the date with an asterisk.

As was the case in our 1934 analysis, there are a number of dates that make no sense for a 1935 set of baseball cards. Row, Rice, and Traynor, for example, would have “aged out” the year before the cards came out, while Berger and Rolfe would not hit their card ages until after the World Series. However, this initial table is based on the Baseball-Reference birthdates for each player, which we’ve seen don’t always match the birthdates assumed at the time these cards were produced. A review of more contemporary sources offers three corrections:

Schoolboy Rowe

Rowe’s 1939 Play Ball card suggests 1912 rather than 1910 for his birth year.

Sam Rice

Rice’s 1933 Goudey card suggests 1892 rather than 1890 for his birth year.

Pie Traynor

Traynor’s 1933 Goudey card suggests 1899 rather than 1898 for his birth year.

We can now update our table to reflect these changes.

In my main article on the 1935 release, I conjectured that these cards would have been issued in late April or so. The age data here do not reflect that. While the first eight cards are compatible with a release anywhere from April 6 to May 20, the last four cards list ages pointing to much later in the year (i.e., July 20 or afterward). In fact there is no single window where all 12 ages would be correct.

I have no firm conclusion to draw here and will instead list some possible explanations for these results.

  • Someone goofed, either in their math or their typesetting
  • Austen Lake/National Chicle used reference materials showing different birth years than what I can find
  • Ages on the backs of cards are notoriously unreliable, so what do you expect!
  • The last four cards really were released much later than the first eight

Before moving on to the next dozen cards, I’ll simply note a commonality among the last four cards listed, though I don’t believe it to be significant.

You may recall that the 1936 release included the reissue of 24 cards from near the beginning of the set, twelve that retained their numbering (shown in orange) and twelve that were renumbered 97-108.

In passing I noted earlier that these 24 cards disproportionately consisted of cards requiring team-related or other biographical updates. For what it’s worth, the last four cards from my table were all among these reissues. 🤷

Cards 37-48

The good news here is there are three players with no ages given, hence we have three fewer things that can go wrong! The bad news is we once again have data largely incompatible with the late-April release window speculated earlier.

This time I am able to replace two Baseball-Reference birthdays with more contemporary sources.

Blondy Ryan

Ryan’s 1934 Goudey card suggests 1908 rather than 1906 for his birth year.

Rick Ferrell

Ferrell’s 1933 Goudey card suggests 1906 rather than 1905 for his birth year.

Still, as before, we are left with multiple entries that poorly fit a late April release.

The case of Jo Jo White is most interesting to me. Yes, I suppose one could argue that Hubbell, Dykes, and the four outliers from the previous dozen were part of some postseason release, thereby making their ages correct. However, it’s hard to stretch that theory far enough to encompass White, whose age only becomes correct in June 1936!

Cards 49-60

This next table is our messiest one yet, though I do believe Hank Greenberg’s age of 34 on his card was simply a typo and intended to be 24.

As before, we can update a few birthdates based on contemporary sources.

Oscar Melillo

Melillo’s 1933 George C. Miller card suggests 1902 rather than 1899 for his birth year.

Red Ruffing

Ruffing’s 1933 Goudey card suggests 1904 rather than 1905 for his birth year.

With the Greenberg typo corrected, the data now include only one rogue conflicting with the “mid-June or so” estimate from my earlier article.

I’ll take a very quick detour here that has zero to do with my main effort. Notice two of the names on the list for whom no age was given: John Whitehead and Cy Blanton. Both were rookies in 1935 who got off to very fast starts.

  • Blanton through 10 games: 7-2 with 1.00 ERA, 2 shutouts, 9 complete games, and a save
  • Whitehead through 8 games: 8-0 with 2.86 ERA, 1 shutout, and 7 complete games

You can almost hear the National Chicle execs yelling at the editors: “We don’t have time to find their ages. Just get those damn cards out stat!” Of course you’re now wondering if Glenn Myatt got off to a similarly sensational start. He did not.

Cards 61-72

The initial data for the next twelve cards again has some curveballs.

This time I can only make one “correction.”

Marvin Owen

Owen’s 1938 Goudey card suggests 1908 rather than 1906 for his birth year.

The result is seven cards compatible with my speculative “late July or so” release but four players very definitely in conflict.

I’ll take yet another detour to note that two of the names in yellow had what then would have been considered prodigious rookie seasons with respect to the long ball. (A third name, Wally Berger, was in the 1935 release as well but way back at card 25.)

Most HR by Rookie (pre-1935)

Cards 73-84

We at last come to the final series of the year, one that I’d originally pegged as early September or so. The first player listed clashes considerably with that, but all others seem to match up well.

Bill DeLancey

Happily, DeLancey’s 1936 World Wide Gum card suggests 1912 rather than 1911 for his birth year.

With DeLancey’s information updated, we now have a set of twelve card ages that would have all been correct from September 15 until October 14. Hallelujah!

This concludes our look at the 60 new cards from the 1935 release. As I noted at the top of the article, there may be no compelling conclusions to draw thus far. Across the 60 cards, a full dozen conflict with previously speculated release windows, and one, Jo Jo White, is incompatible with any 1935 release window. I will still offer one full-on conspiracy theory on this “dirty dozen” at the very end of this article, but it’s not one I take seriously.

1936

While the 1936 release included 48 cards in all, only twelve, cards 85-96, represented new players. A full 24 were reissues of previous cards that retained their original card numbers, and twelve others were reissues that adopted new numbering from 97-108.

Cards 85-96

Here are my initial data using Baseball-Reference as my source for dates of birth. Right off the bat, the first 3-4 players appear problematic for a 1936 release.

Fortunately, this is a group of cards that cleans up nicely.

Luke Appling

Appling’s 1937 Goudey card suggests 1911 rather than 1907 for his birth year.

Alvin Crowder

Crowder’s (first) 1933 Goudey card suggests 1901 rather than 1899 for his birth year.

Julius Solters

Moose’s 1938 Goudey card suggests 1908 rather than 1906 for his birth year.

Ray Hayworth

Hayworth’s 1939 Play Ball card suggests 1905 rather than 1904 for his birth year.

The revised table now has no conflicts at all with my previously speculated “early May 1936” release. However, a closer look reveals something else.

The full window when all card ages are correct is much broader, extending from April 2 through October 3. This is more or less the entire baseball season! So yes, the card ages support my supposed release window, but they would equally support just about any release window!

The first question you might ask is whether this outcome was intentional. Was it by design that all players would remain their “card ages” for the entire baseball season? Were the folks at National Chicle suddenly such perfectionists that they couldn’t chance a “card age” being wrong even briefly? Or were the birthdays of the players in question simply coincidence, even if the probability of nine randomly selected players having offseason birthdays is roughly…1 in 500?!

To follow this train of though to its conclusion, we should also look at the 36 reissued cards this same year. Do these cards show evidence of great care with respect to ages or are they largely haphazard? It took a while, but I checked it out.

Cards 73-84

This block is the one I originally theorized as leading off the 1936 release. As we’ve already seen, the window where all ages were correct ran from September 15-October 14. This brings up two possibilities:

  • National Chicle got the ages right and this series was a late-season rather than early-season release.
  • National Chicle didn’t worry about whether these ages were correct.

Cards 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 22, 26, 30, and 31

This block corresponds to the twelve cards from the early part of the checklist that were reissued with numbering intact. With Al Simmons (#2) “aging out” on May 22 and Jimmie Wilson (#22) not reaching his card age until July 23, there is no single window when all twelve players would have been their card ages. (Throw away Simmons and there is a brief window from July 23 through August 30.)

Cards 97-108 (formerly 11, 15, 19, 25, 27, 28, 29, 33, 34, 35, 36, 46)

This block corresponds to the twelve cards from the early part of the checklist that were reissued with new numbering. With Earl Averill (#100) aging out on May 21 and Red Rolfe (#104) not reaching his card age until October 17, there is again no single window when all twelve players would have been their card ages. (Throw away Averill and there is a brief window from October 17 through November 11.)

I am not at the moment an adherent to the idea that the driving force behind the 1936 release was ensuring correct player ages. However, it’s still at least mathematically interesting to me that Diamond Stars could have batted 46 for 48 by releasing the four series according to this schedule:

  • Cards 85-96: Anytime during season
  • Cards 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 22, 26, 30, 31: July/August
  • Cards 73-84: September/October
  • Cards 97-108: October/November

One footnote I’ll add to this discussion is that the release schedule above wouldn’t only produce incorrect ages for Simmons and Rolfe but it would also result in an incorrect team (artwork and bio) for Irving Burns (#75), who went from the Browns to the Tigers on April 30. Otherwise, whether by coincidence or design, it holds up remarkably well, too well if you ask me.

RETHINKING THE “DIRTY DOZEN

I promised I’d put forth at least some explanation for the twelve problematic card ages encountered in the 1935 set. While it feels most plausible, sensible, etc., to me to simply deem the card ages wrong, let’s at least consider the possibility that they’re correct (or at least all correct except Jo Jo White) and see where that takes us.

Offhand, the simplest way for these ages to be correct would be if they were not released in the series originally theorized but instead part of a late season sheet all their own. Such an approach would leave gaps in the earlier series, but we know from the 1933 Goudey set and others that leaving gaps could be an intentional tactic to boost sales, i.e., keep kids buying packs in hopes of finishing a run that can’t (yet) be finished.

The main reason I’m not sold on such a theory here is that only a very late release date for the “filler series” would solve the card age issues we’re attempting to solve here. If we include Jo Jo White, we would require a release date of June 1, 1936, or later, which creates more problems than it solves. White notwithstanding, we would still be looking at a release date of November 24, 1935, or later.

I also believe such a scheme would now be detectable on the PSA population report, probably in two ways.

  1. Non-star players among these twelve cards would have similar populations to each other.
  2. The earlier series would likely exhibit evidence of double-prints.

Checking the report, I don’t see either of these occurences.

I’ll also note that the sheet fragment we looked at in my 1935 article does cycle through all card numbers from 61-72 rather than exclude Foxx, Bonura, Medwick, and Trosky.

CONCLUSION

This sort of work isn’t an exact science but rather an arena where some clues point one way, some point another, and some point nowhere. When I began this article, I had some hope that an age analysis would either support or refute earlier assumptions about the 1935 and 1936 release schedules. Instead, I’ll liken the situation to a replay in MLB after a close play is challenged. Under the best of circumstances the review provides clear evidence that the original call was either correct or incorrect. Quite often, however, there is insufficient evidence and the call simply stands while not being confirmed. I think that’s where we are right now with Diamond Stars, at least absent any new angles not yet reviewed.

As always, let me know in the Comments what your own theories might be and especially if you know of information I’ve failed to consider.

Were the All Star FanFest Cards from 1994-2000 the Precursor for Topps Project 2020?

As a baseball card collector and enthusiast, I feel that I am living through the Renaissance era of baseball card art. My Twitter feed is filled daily with spectacular images of cards from many artists that are working with a variety of mediums to produce their own interpretations of what cards of past and present players should look like. A number of these artists are also using their artwork to support charitable causes.

There was certainly an undercurrent of fine baseball card artwork being produced long before 2020, but the Topps Project 2020 brought to the surface a tidal wave of beautiful cards from a wide variety of artists.

Was Project 2020 an original idea or was it a variation on a project from the Junk Wax era? A case can be made that Project 2020 can be linked back to the All Star FanFest Cards from 1994 to 2000.

The two projects are similar in that they have multiple artists and designers coming up with unique cards of a single player and they also share some common player subjects – Roberto Clemente (1994 – Pittsburgh FanFest), Nolan Ryan (1995 – Dallas FanFest), and Jackie Robinson (1997- Cleveland FanFest).

The other player subjects for the All Star FanFest sets were Steve Carlton (1996 – Philadelphia FanFest), Lou Brock (1998 – St. Louis FanFest), Carl Yastrzemski (1999 – Boston FanFest), and Henry Aaron (2000 – Atlanta FanFest).

Ray Schulte was responsible for the All Star FanFest cards from 1994 to 2000. At the time he was working as an event consultant for MLB Properties, and cajoled some of the major baseball card producers of the 90’s to design and distribute unique cards of an iconic player from the city that was hosting the All Star Game. To obtain the cards a fan had to redeem 5 pack wrappers of any baseball product of the manufacturer at their FanFest booth.

I was introduced to the cards when I attended the All Star FanFest event held at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston in 1999. I attended the event with my family and upon learning about the cards from a Fleer representative sent my two kids on a mission to purchase 5 packs of cards produced by each of the four manufacturers from dealers at the event so we could exchange the wrappers for the Carl Yastrzemski cards designed just for the 1999 FanFest.

Now let’s take a closer look at the All Star FanFest sets which feature players that overlap with the Topps 2020 Project.

1994 All Star FanFest Set – Roberto Clemente

1994 was the first year that FanFest cards were issued and with Pittsburgh hosting the All Star Game the player subject was Roberto Clemente. Topps, Fleer, Upper Deck, Donruss, and Pinnacle issued cards for the event.

Fleer and Topps decided not to mess with perfection and produced cards that were essentially reprints of Clemente’s 1955 Topps rookie card and his 1963 Fleer card with 1994 All Star logos. Upper Deck issued a metallic looking card of Clemente that contains career stats and accomplishments on the front. Upper Deck would utilize the “metallic look” design for player subjects for the next 6 years. As you would expect, an image of a Dick Perez painting of Clemente is on the front of the Donruss Diamond King card.

1995 All Star FanFest Set – Nolan Ryan

With the 1995 All Star Game being held in the home park of the Texas Rangers the logical choice for the player subject for the FanFest cards was Nolan Ryan who retired in 1993.

The 5 card manufacturers who designed cards for the 1994 All Star FanFest also produced cards for 1995 All Star FanFest event held in Dallas.

Topps produced a re-imagined 1967 Rookie card of by eliminating the Jerry Koosman photo and enlarging the Nolan Ryan image to fill the front of the card. In microscopic print, Nolan’s complete major league pitching record is on the back of the card. Steve Carlton got the same treatment a year later when Topps enlarged his airbrushed 1965 photo to produce a new version of his Rookie card. Fleer issued an Ultra Gold Medallion version of a Ryan card. Upper Deck continued with its metallic design for a Ryan card. The Pinnacle card featured a Nolan Ryan painting and Donruss produced a Tribute card.

Get out the magnifying glass. Back of Topps 1995 Nolan Ryan All Star FanFest card.

1997 All Star FanFest Set – Jackie Robinson

With the All Star Game 1997 marking the 50th year of his major league debut, Jackie Robinson was the correct selection for the player subject for the 1997 set.

Topps released a reprint of his 1952 card with a All Star logo on the front and his complete major league batting record on the back. Leaf distributed a reprint of Jackie’s 1948 “rookie” card with small All Star Game logo in the upper right-hand corner. Fleer choose a nice posed photo of Jackie looking like he is going to tag out the runner for its Ultra card. On the back of its Tribute card, Pinnacle included a great action shot of Robinson coming in head-first at home plate with the catcher about to make a tag. The photo leaves you wondering – Which way did the call go? Upper Deck once again used a metallic design for its Jackie Robinson FanFest card.

Other All Star FanFest Cards

1997 All Star FanFest Larry Doby Cards

Depending on your definition of a complete set, collectors should be aware that Fleer and Pinnacle released Larry Doby cards to coincide with the All Star game being held in Cleveland. Included below are photos of the Fleer Ultra card and the Pinnacle 3-D Denny’s card.

2000 Henry Aaron FanFest Error Card

For some reason Topps decided not to make a reprint of Aaron’s 1954 Rookie card part of the official 2000 All Star FanFest set. Instead, Topps designed a unique card that featured a spectacular color photo of Aaron in a posed batting stance. Topps did however print some of the 1954 Rookie reprints with an All Star Game logo. These Aaron Rookie reprints are considered “error” cards.

Costs

Almost all the All Star FanFest sets can be purchased for under $12 on eBay. The exception is the 1994 Roberto Clemente All Star FanFest set. Each manufacturer produced 15,000 cards for the event. Less than 10,000 of each card were distributed at FanFest. The rest of the cards were destroyed. A Clemente set will set you back about $60.

The Clown Princes of Baseball Cards

The Globetrotter-Baseball link is well known. The team’s founder, Abe Saperstein, was extremely active in Negro League Baseball (SABR bio here). Bob Gibson played for the Globies in the ‘50’s

and Fergie Jenkins did the same a decade later.

Lou Brock also played and Mookie Betts was drafted by the Globetrotters in 2020, but in a head-scratching career move stayed a Dodger.

But the Globie-baseball card connection? I’ve got it covered.

It’s hard to overstate the cultural pervasiveness of the Trotters during the 1970’s. In the first half of the ‘70’s, the Globetrotters were an ABC Wide World of Sports highlight, not to be missed. There were books about them

they had their own Saturday morning cartoon show

they starred in a Scooby-Doo movie

and they had not one, but two, trading card sets.

The 1971 Fleer Globetrotter set was 84 glorious cards, a simple photo on the front and well-written prose on the backs. They must’ve come in packs of 8. I just finished the set but started with 56 cards I’d bought back then (8 cards per pack is the best math I can come up with). Each pack had a team logo sticker, which I both don’t remember and, shockingly, have none of. If I bought 7 packs back then, I should have at least 6 intact stickers around, I don’t.

The second set is a shorter version of the first, 28 cards, but with facsimile autographs on the front and the Cocoa Puffs logo added to the back.

So what’s this got to do with you? I’ve written before about finding baseball cards in non-sports sets. The Fleer and Cocoa Puffs sets both have two cards of the Globies “Baseball Play” skit.

Card #70 (#3 Cocoa Puffs) is a complete baseball card. It’s got Meadowlark Lemon sliding and the back referencing the act.

Card #71 (#7 Cocoa Puffs) is half a baseball card, but it’s a great photo. The back has 1970-71 Highlights, no baseball stuff.

There are scads of hysterical Meadowlark Lemon memories, but I’m pretty sure my favorite may have been part of the baseball act. Lemon would slide and start howling “My leg! My leg!” The trainer and concerned teammates would come out and minister some aid to the injured leg.

“It’s my other leg!” Lemon would wail. A great punchline. It might be from a different skit, but I like it my way.

The Globies are still doing there thing . Here’s the baseball play, with a special Yankee guest.