The 1954 Topps Guide to Life

How many times have you heard someone say, “Hey, life doesn’t come with an instruction manual?” Well, imagine my surprise when I actually found one last week! And not just any instruction manual but one with a vintage baseball card theme!

I’m referring of course to “The 1954 Topps Guide to Life: Beating the Odds, Getting the Girl, and Making the Team.” (Order here.)

As advertised the book was filled with great advice for ball-playing youngsters, and—even better—illustrated the various tips with baseball cards from the 1954 Topps set.

According to the book, 27 of the 250 cards in the 1954 Topps set have cartoons about players bouncing back from tough injuries. These cards offer a lesson in resilience.

For best results read these on a big screen rather than a teeny tiny phone.

Closely related to bouncing back from injury is bouncing back from failure. The trick, the book suggests, is to have a backup plan.

Though some of it might feel old fashioned to the modern reader, the book also offered advice on love and marriage.

There were also tips on dealing with rejection, which was the theme of six cards in the set.

Fittingly for a book that centered around advice, there is a section on accepting help from others.

Building a positive work ethic was the focus of 11 cards in the 1954 Topps set.

Coming off two recent wars there was of course a chapter on our men in uniform.

Alright, by now you’ve probably figured out there is no book. At the same time, there could have been. The 1954 Topps set was one where nearly every card seemed to moralize, educate, or motivate. Just do what your baseball cards tell you, son, and you’ll turn out just fine.

Oh, wait a minute. A reader has just stopped by, and he doesn’t look happy.

“Not a real book?!?!? NOT A REAL BOOK?!? Are you freaking kidding me, Jason?”

“Hey now, take it easy. It was all in good fun here. Put the bat down. No need for this to escalate…uh oh…this is getting serious. Okay, think, Jason, think. WWPMD? What would Paul Minner do?

Smile! You’re on Candid Camera (Part 2)

kaat

The 1962 Topps parade of men with goofy expressions and inept airbrushing is too vast for one post. Like Jim Kaat, you are probably thinking: “what the fu## is going on here?” Unperturbed, I plunge ahead with a look at more of the “curling bills” posted on the wood grain paneling.

chacon

Poor Elio Chacon was plucked off the defending NL champion roster by the Mets in the expansion draft. Topps crack airbrush specialist attempted to change his red sleeves to Mets blue by adding blue paint. This results in one green sleeve. The fact that the great Frank Robinson is in the background rendered the whole charade moot anyway.

Craig

Based on his wry smile, Roger Craig probably came up with the phrase “hum baby,” just as this shot was snapped.

The editors couldn’t decide whether Lee Walls had a “good side,” so they went with both left and right gazes.

Tebbetts

Birdie Tebbetts appears to be saying: “Hold it, what happened to my uniform lettering?

Gernert  

Dick Gernert’s age was calculated in dog years. In his ten-year career to this point, Dick aged from 20 to 65. This happened to many players who toiled for the Red Sox in the ‘50s.

koplitz

The oldest rookie in Major League history was Howie Koplitz. The only thing the 70-year old lost more of than teeth was games.

chiti

Harry Chiti is not amused as a fan loudly pronounces his name as “shitty” for the umpteenth time.

The second-year LA Angels needed their own “uni-browed” player to compete with the Dodgers beloved Wally Moon. Ken Hunt fit the bill.

minoso

In a case of complete shock, Minnie Minoso discovers that he is now in the NL with St. Louis.

woodeshick

Without comment, I leave you with Hal Woodeschick.

 

Smile! You’re on Candid Camera (Part 1)

Every Topps set from the ‘50s to the ‘70s is filled with questionable photo selections.  Many of the photos are so bad that one wonders if the editors selected them as an inside joke. More likely, the cost of film and processing meant photographers needed to conserve shots, resulting in a limited selection. Another explanation could simply be that baseball cards were for kids to collect and not thought of as works of art. In any case, the result is many memorable, quirky photos that will never again be part of the hobby.

1962 is loaded with “head shots,” due partly to the need to depict players on the expansion Mets and Colt .45’s. Channeling my inner Allen Funt, I will use this set to take a two-part look at some cardboard from the year of my birth.

Mantle

Apparently, the early ‘60s photographers decided that “head shots” would be more interesting if the players weren’t looking directly at the camera. This artistic approach worked spectacularly well in the case of this iconic Mickey Mantle pose (which is used on the ’68 game card as well).

62 craft

This concept didn’t work so well when the subject failed to grasp the need to turn the head, not just the eyes. Harry Craft, manager of the newly minted Colt ‘45s, appears not quite grasp the concept in this shot taken while coaching for the Cubs.

Ashburn

Future Hall-of-Fame inductee, Richie Ashburn, was already suffering the indignity of joining the ’62 Mets when Topps piled on with this beauty.

“Paranoia strikes deep” in the minds of Don Lee and Sam Jones. Apparently, something might be gaining on them.

Don Cardwell and Dick Stigman decided that somnambulism is the way to go for the most photogenic effect.

A bad hair day for George Whit and John Anderson was no impediment for the photographer.

The great Rocky Colavito and Bob Oldis appear to be experiencing confusion or angst. Perhaps “Trader” Lane walked by.

Existential sadness or clinical depression grips Barry Latman and Tracy Stallard. Latman is undoubtedly melancholy over having to play in Cleveland, while Stallard’s sadness stems from having recurring dreams of some guy with a crew cut and the number 61.

Thomas

Since the prospect of part-two is probably generating great anger in some of you, I’ll close with the pent- up rage of George Thomas bubbling to the surface.

 

 

 

 

Name Game

Whether intentional or not, my blog posts tend to bring down the intellectual level of discourse to disturbing depths. Continuing in this vein, I present a “cardcentric” look at players whose first and last names rhyme.

67 Schaal green bat  70 Schaal back

The seed for this idea was planted after receiving a Royals team-issued, 1969 photo of Paul Schaal, part of a recent card swap. Schaal has some interesting cards, starting with his ’67 “green” variation. Apparently, a printing error coupled with poor quality control led to Topps issue some cards with a “greenish” cast. In Paul’s case, the tip of the bat is green. The back of his ’70 card features a cartoon showing a player being beaned. Topps seemed to find humor in Schaal having sustained a skull fracture in ‘68. You will find him “in action” in ’71, ’72 and ’74.

70 Tovar   73 Tovar

Cesar Tovar is another rhyming name with a few unique cards. His ’70 photo appears to show his glove with a hole in the webbing. Perhaps his anguished expression resulted from this discovery. After starting–primarily in outfield–for the Twins from ’66-’72, Cesar was dealt to the Phillies in ’73. This resulted in one of the ineptest airbrush jobs of the era. Of course, I must mention that he played all nine positions in a game in ’68.

Lu Blue 1

This spectacular 1922 American Caramel E120 card of first “sacker” Lu Blue was distributed with candy. Lu was a serviceable starter for the Tigers, Browns and White Sox from ’21-’32.

Batts

Although not quite a perfect rhyme, Matt Batts must be included even if it is just to show this gorgeous ’55 Bowmen.

Parnell 53

One of the premier hurlers of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, Mel Parnell is featured on several classic ‘50s cards. On this ’53 Bowman Color, Mel strikes a unique pose with the glove hanging from his wrist.

Green

Some lucky kid probably cut this ’62 Post Cereal card of Gene Green off a box of Grape Nuts.

Sherry

1959 World Series Hero Larry Sherry probably needed the windbreaker in this ’62, considering the photo was taken at Candlestick Park.

braun

Being paired on the ’65 Braves Rookie Stars card with the Alomar family patriarch, Sandy, didn’t bring any luck to John Braun. He pitched in one MLB game for the Braves posting two innings, allowing two hits and recording a strike out.

Hahn

Quick. Who was the original Expos centerfielder in their first ever game (played at New York’s Shea Stadium) in 1969? The answer: Don Hahn, of course. After starting the first three games in New York and getting but one hit, Don was benched and eventually sent to the minors for the rest of the year.

Charboneau

Who can forget one of the most celebrated flops in baseball history? “Super” Joe Charboneau was AL Rookie of the Year for the Indians in ’80 and out of baseball by ’84.

Clark

A “rhymer” of more resent vintage is ’90s journeyman pitcher Mark Clark. No relation to the WWII general of the same name, I assume.

macdonald

I will conclude this “drive through” look at poetically named players by presenting Mets farmhand, Ronald MacDonald. This ’80 card shows him on the AAA Tidewater Tides, which was his highwater mark in baseball. Alas, “Big Mac” “clowned around” in the minors for six years, never to see his dream of crossing under the “golden arches” and into the big leagues come to fruition.

I will create a list on SABR Encyclopedia so additional rhyming names can be added.   I’m certain this will prove to be an invaluable resource for scholarly research.

 

It’s Hard

It can’t be easy being Dick Pole. Here’s a guy who was a major league pitcher for six years, including the 1975 World Series, then became a successful pitching coach, cited by Greg Maddux as a major influence. But his claim to fame is that his name is Dick Pole. Dick Pole! And then to be Dick Pole on the Beavers?  Come on, cut the guy a break.

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There’s a super cool 1981 TCMA Sandy Koufax card from when the great Koofoo was a roving minor league pitching instructor in the Dodger chain. TCMA put him in their Albuquerque Dukes team set but when word got out that they shouldn’t have assumed they had the rights to do so, the card was pulled. It’s not very expensive, $15-20, but it is relatively hard to find.

1981 Koufax front002

I’ve got a bunch of minor league sets, most I picked up in big lots years after they had plummeted from peak value. They’re fun, very goofy, and sometimes you come across a real gem. As I rifled through my 1981 sets, all in alphabetical order by team city, I hit upon this poor schnook.

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You’d think that with a name like Johnson Wood, to my ears even more ridiculous than Dick Pole, I’d have either heard of him or remembered him from when I got the 1981 Burlington Bees set. His card came as an incredibly funny surprise. I had to know more.

That’s when it became difficult. Wood had a nondescript minor league career, going by the name of John Wood to save his dignity, popping back up to manage in the Western League, guiding the 1998 Pacific Suns to a 28-62 record. Not so good.

I wanted to find out more about him but I can’t find much more online. I’m sure if I ducked to the Hall of Fame library I could dig up old articles and pictures. I’m not that interested. I thought I could find out some critical mass of information from my desk chair. No luck.  I also Tweeted out to Tom Candiotti, who was Wood’s teammate in 1983 in El Paso. I’m curious how much of a hard time his teammates gave good ol’ Johnson Wood. I’m still waiting for an answer.

Having a double phallic name has got to be tough, at least from the first moment of adolescent when your friends realizes that both of your names are synonyms for penis. I can’t imagine. I got a reasonable amount of shit with a last name of Katz!

I’ll probably stay on the Johnson Wood story for a little, maybe see what files the Hall has. I feel like this dude had it hard enough, what with his name, his less than illustrious minor league career and one horrendous season managing in the independent Western league.  We should all have a little empathy for the Johnson Woods of the world, doing their best to stand tall and firm against the stress and pressures that affect a lot of guys who, occasionally, fall flat.

 

Dr. Zaius, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and Thou – The Greatest Villains in Cinema History

Joan Crawford wielding an enormous wooden coat hanger. Blofeld stroking his fluffy white cat. “Blue Velvet’s” Frank Booth reaching out to touch Camilo Pascual on the AL Pitching Leaders card. You can almost hear him say, “Hi, neighbor!”

I love movie villains and the 1964 Topps, and thought it would be fun to combine the two to create a themed set. The Yankees and Dodgers are two of the most reviled teams, so they collectively house this rogues gallery.

Roll Call!

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Freddy

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Blofeld

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Role reversals would be interesting. The devout Bobby Richardson as Hannibal Lecter. Jim Bouton as the Wicked Witch of the West (instead of ending up in Munchkin Land, it could be the Pilots’ locker room, with Joe Schultz as the Mayor). Good ol’ Doug Camilli terrorizing teens in their dreams with a demonic catcher’s glove.

A few years back, Terry Cannon of the Baseball Reliquary invited me to share some of these as part of his “Son of Cardboard Fetish” exhibit at a local Los Angeles library. Suddenly, there was controversy. The librarian, a big baseball fan himself, scotched the inclusion of these villain cards in the exhibit. He deemed them too scary for soccer moms and their kiddies. Poor “Baby” Jane Hudson and Henry F. Potter would have to wait for their moment in the limelight.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed at Sports Collector’s Digest, who printed some of the cards for everyone to enjoy in their national publication. I do worry about those soccer moms, though.

Butch Wax

 

Mid-twentieth century men wore their hair short with some type of hair dressing. A tube of Brylcreem or a bottle of Vitalis could be found in medicine cabinets all over America. Those who wanted a real “clean” look opted for the crew, butch or flattop cuts. These extra-short styles often required a thick pomade–oddly pinkish in color–known as “Butch Wax” to make the short hair in front stand up. I know this first hand due to childhood trauma resulting from forced crew and flattop cuts in an era of increasingly longer hair styles.

The well chronicled emergence of the counter-culture in the late 1960s sparked a revolution in personal appearance with men sporting long, undressed hair, beards and mustaches. This movement toward the “Age of Aquarius” didn’t sit well with my parents and it certainly didn’t jive with the hidebound traditions of baseball.

Players were expected to be clean shaven with short-cropped hair. 1970 baseball cards started to show players with lengthening sideburns which served as a harbinger of the “hairy” poses we are familiar with as the ‘70s progressed. However even after the zeitgeist overtook baseball in the ‘70s–starting with the hirsute “-Swingin’ Oakland A’s–some teams, like the Cincinnati Reds, remained adamant when it came to “old school” grooming. A vestige of this school of thought still remains with the Yankees prohibition of facial hair.

But the “far out” and “groovy” new looks on display during the ’67 “summer of love” in San Francisco or at “Woodstock” in ’69 were nowhere to be seen in baseball card photos at this time. It was still “squaresville” as far as Topps was concerned. The players’ boycott of Topps in ’68, expansion in ’69 and many trades led to the use of older photos and many bare-headed shots. As a result, decidedly “un-cool” hair styles would greet the “tie-dyed” clad kid when he laid down some “bread” for a “stash” of wax packs.

Here’s a look at some “squares” you can really “dig.”

This ’68 Pete Richert shows off a great flattop. It appears that Pete was wearing cap before the photo was taken which resulted in a slightly “mussed” look. There had to be some Butch Wax in use since the hair still stands up in front. Pete would be a valuable lefty out of the Orioles bullpen during their ’69-’71 run as AL and World Series (’70) champs.

“Fat Jack” Fisher shares a similarly disheveled flattop look in his ’68 photo. The “level headed” look came in handy for Jack, since he could find barbers in all the cities he ventured to in his journeymen career who could “top him off and wax him up.” He served up Ted Williams’ final home run in ’60 and Roger Maris’ 60th homer in ’61.

Eddie Fisher’s ’68 card bares a striking resemblance to my high school baseball coach who we knick-named “Bristle Bob.” Eddie floated his “knuckler” for 15 seasons.

Another well-traveled hurler with Butch Wax in his locker was Stan Williams. The ’68 and ’69 cards show the freshly barbered hurler in all his “buzz cut” glory.

Perhaps this classic flattop in ‘68 kept Tony LaRussa’s head cool, allowing his brain to absorb all the nuisances of baseball in preparation for his Hall-of-Fame managerial career.

This ’68 Astros had a pair of “close cropped” relievers in Fred Gladding and Dave Giusti. Fred pieced together a decent career with Houston and Detroit. Giusti would go on to be a “palm ball” tossing bullpen ace for the Pirates.

In this ’67 Danny Cater shows off an impressive flattop. He was second in the AL in batting in ’68-“The Year of the Pitcher”- hitting .290 behind Yaz’s .301.

Hall-of-Famer to be Jim Bunning shows his adherence to the conservative baseball culture with this flattop in ’69, foreshadowing the conservative positions he would espouse as a two-term US Senator from Kentucky.

This ’70 card shows Jim Bouton’s foil in Ball Four, Fred Talbot, with his signature “waxed up” flattop. The conservative southerner took exception to the “mod perm” style worn by Pilots catcher Merritt Ranew in a memorable exchange in Ball Four.

Lou Piniella styles this “sweet,” “bristle cut” on a ’70 Topps Super.

“Tough-as-nails,” ex-Marine Hank Bauer has a “military ready” cut in this “sweaty” ’69 manager card.

Although he grew some sideburn during his time with the short-lived Pilots, Wayne Comer’s ’69 card still has a nice “burr” cut from his days as Senators property.

Phil Roof displays a really “high and tight roof” in this ’70 card. Alas, Phil would take his well-barbered noggin to Milwaukee.

The Yankees only got Charlie Smith and his “crew cut” in exchange for Roger Maris.

1969 World Series hero Al Weis is as “square” as it gets in this ’68 card.

Chuck Cottier’s look in ’69 would have made “Sergeant Carter” proud.

It’s time to stop “waxing nostalgic” and cut this “follicle farce” short. But no late ‘60s “short hair styles in sports” retrospective could be complete without showing the quintessential “flat-topped” athlete: Johnny U.!