Stay in this Hobby long enough and you’ll have your share of heartbreak. Carry your favorite cards to school in your pants pockets, and you’re bound to put some through the wash. Sell a prized card when you need the money, and of course the value triples before you can buy it back. Stock up on your favorite phenom only to have his numbers plummet right in sync with your retirement plans. These tragedies happen. The only question is whether we have the resilience and perspective to weather them. I know I didn’t.
It was 1983 and I was thirteen. Cards were my whole world. I’m not saying that to brag. To put things another way, except for cards, I had no life, which is why this book had so much power over me. (In truth, mine was the second edition, but I couldn’t find a picture.)
It was this book that could turn an ordinary (and below average in most ways if we’re being honest) kid into a first-rate autograph collector. Sure I had some autographs in my collection already: Mickey Klutts, who signed at a show, and Nolan Ryan who I wrote to through the Astros, but Hall of Famers?! I wouldn’t have believed it except for the fact that it happened.
I don’t know how it’s done today but back then it was important to me to write each player a personal letter, praising their career and letting them know why their autograph would mean so much to me. I wish I could say my motivation was mere kindness. Sadly, I believe the only reason I did it was to up my chance of a return. “Flattery will get you everywhere,” as they say. Either way, I spent the weekend writing about 20 letters by hand, which I sent off (with SASE and accompanying baseball cards of course) all at once.
Any question about whether anyone would write back was answered quickly. I believe the exact time elapsed was four days, and the return address has remained in my head all these decades later.
Hank Greenberg 1129 Miradero Road Beverly Hills, CA 90210
I don’t recall any note inside. Instead there was only a blank slip of paper folded to protect what was now the most amazing card in my collection.
Right in front of me was a 1983 Donruss Hall of Fame Heroes card of Hank Greenberg, signed in blue Sharpie, with an absolutely Hall of Fame quality autograph across the beautiful Dick Perez artwork. I stared at it for hours the day it came and then did the same just about every day after.
My second Hall of Fame autograph arrived a couple weeks later—I believe it was from Al Kaline—and from there it seemed every week another envelope would arrive: Stan Musial, Duke Snider, Charlie Gehringer, and so on. Even as the collection grew, the Greenberg still stood alone: first, best, and perfect.
Of course what happened next was unthinkable yet entirely predictable.
For the third time in as many years, I came home to find my mom had thrown out my entire collection, Greenberg and all. To be clear, this wasn’t one of those “mom threw them out” stories about a kid off to college or interested in cars and girls. No, baseball cards were my whole life. That’s exactly what it felt like too, like my whole life had been thrown out.
Over the next couple weeks, almost cruelly, signed cards continued to arrive. I should have been thrilled to land autographs from Ted Williams, Yogi Berra, and Eddie Mathews, but instead I just dwelled on what I didn’t have. It would be too mild to say I experienced anger or sadness. Rather, it was the feeling of hating my life. I know that sounds extreme, but how would you feel if baseball cards were the only thing you cared about?
I did resume my card collecting almost immediately. What else was I going to do with my time? However, even as autographs kept trickling in, I just couldn’t get myself to care. Despite having barely even started, I was done as an autograph collector. This I knew.
Haunted day and night for months by my lost Greenberg, I now hated autographs. And then one day the obvious occurred to me. Why not write to him again?
Sure enough, there was an envelope from Miradero Road waiting for me no more than a week later. There was only one problem. My card was returned unsigned. Along with it was a typewritten note letting me know Mr. Greenberg required that a $5 check payable to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (or maybe it was the Humane Society) now accompany all autograph requests. Like I even had a checkbook!
A couple years later, I saw the news that Hank Greenberg had passed away. I wish I could say my first reaction was sympathy for his loved ones or the legions of baseball fans who had lost a true giant of a man. Instead I was consumed by the thought that I’d blown my chance at an autograph. And yes, feel free to judge. Baseball cards were still my whole world.
About five years into my return to the Hobby, around 2019, I set up a saved search on eBay for a single autographed card: the 1983 Donruss Hall of Fame Heroes Hank Greenberg card. It had been 30+ years, for God’s sake! I thought I might be ready.
Only rarely did anything ever come up and most of the time when something did it proved to be an unsigned copy, misclassified by the seller or considered close enough by the eBay search engine. As it turns out, the bad results were a blessing. In contrast, it’s the truly autographed search results that strike me like daggers to the heart. Nonetheless, some self-destructive impulse, some bad mutation upon my collector DNA, compels me to retain this search, to keep looking.
Thankfully, the signatures on these cards are always black, not blue, ensuring at least some distance between the cards on the screen and the card I once had. Blue, that would probably kill me.
And then it happened.
A card came up last week that looked exactly like the one I had, the one I stared at for hours on end. Its blue Sharpie signature so uncannily matched the image burned in my head all these years that I now wonder if my mom really did throw away my cards or simply sold them to someone who sold them to someone who is now selling at least the best of them on eBay.
You might think I’d have already jumped at the chance to buy the card like some modern Ahab having at last cornered his White Whale. In truth, that would be confusing the hunter with the hunted. My journey back into the Hobby has been less about nostalgia than redemption, about rebuilding my collection without reliving its memories. Until now I have looked to the cards I buy to right, not revisit, my past. What happens then when one has the power to bring it all back?
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.
So it only took four years since Topps/MLB yanked the mascot logo for us to see our first non-Indians Cleveland card. I was expecting to write this post next year with Series 1 but this week Topps went ahead and put out the first Cleveland Guardians card.
It’s nice to see even just as a mockup. I’m not sold on the logo but it works in the 1953 design since it’s not the usual modern overly-slick branding. I know it’s not actually hand-drawn but it’s one of the first I’ve seen in a long time that has that essence. It, and the cap logo, are also huge improvements on the block C that’s been in use since 2017.
The turnaround is so fast that I’m now wondering whether there were any discussions about changing the logo in other sets like Archives, Stadium Club Chrome, and Holiday which all reflect trade deadline team changes. Yes I know this also brings in the question of changing uniform logos in a way that requires more messing around with a photo than the way Living involves individual paintings.
I’m curious how the Guardians rollout will continue on trading cards. The photo issue will remain through next year—especially as the lockout pushes back the chances to get photos of guys in uniform—and Topps will clearly have to make a decision about how much photoshopping they want to do.
What an unexpected thrill for me to see Gil Hodges finally “get the call” from Cooperstown. Among other things, his recent election provides the perfect occasion to showcase some of his most beautiful baseball cards.
If there is a single card to represent 1950s baseball, this might be it. Four beloved “Bums” in a classic baseball pose with the Ebbets Field outfield wall behind them in all its advertising glory.
The very first Topps World Series subset (if you don’t count 1948) is in my opinion the best. Obviously my love of the Dodgers plays a role here, but it’s really the look of the cards that grabs me. The Hodges card, in particular, is a true masterpiece of its time.
For many players, a card this beautiful would take first place without question. In truth, I’m not sure any other player of the era has a third place card even close to this one. I suspect it’s possible to look at it and see only a rather overused batting pose with a not particularly crisp stadium backdrop. Equally, however, it’s possible to look at it and see something more: perfection.
I know not all will agree here, but I regard Gil’s 1952 Topps card as the prettiest in the entire 407-card set. I love everything about it: the peach background, the landscape format, the shadows, the pose, the expression, the shoulder patch, the cut of the sleeves, the timeless Dodgers logo.
Though far more attention today goes to the pseudo-rookie cards of Mantle and Mays, I have to imagine this card when it came out was instantly one of the two or three most popular among the 12-and-under division of New York’s gum chewing elite.
What can I say? I’m a sucker for skies. For whatever reason the white and purple clouds and baby blue sky create not only a three-dimensional look to the card but practically trick my eyes into thinking the actual Gil Hodges (1954 version, not 2021) is looking right at me. It’s an illusion I normally only get from Graig Kreindler paintings. Note that this same image haunts the 1953-55 Stahl-Meyer Franks and 1953-54 Briggs Meats cards. Ditto for 1958 Bell Brand but in black and white.
Three other Gil Hodges cards that could have easily occupied any spot on this list are his 1950, 1952, and 1953 Bowman cards. I lack the image editing skills to do so, but I daresay adding some flourish to the bald sky of his 1953 card probably takes it straight to number one. Did I mention I’m a sucker for skies?
Finally, I would be remiss in ending this article without a single Mets card. After all, his time at the helm of the Miracle Mets may well have factored into his Hall of Fame nod nearly as much as his years as Dodger first baseman. In truth, I don’t think any of Gil’s Mets cards can compete aesthetically with his Dodger cardboard, but his 1972 O-Pee-Chee, noting his (then) recent death, is what I’ll end on.
Side note: I have to imagine a lot of Canadian youth asking their moms and dads what “deceased” meant and then getting really sad.
Hodges died suddenly at the very young age of 47. His 1972 baseball card is a reminder that none of us really know the days we have left, whether for ourselves, our loved ones, or our heroes. About all we can do, though it’s not a small thing, is to make the most of the time we have, living our lives with purpose and gratitude and making the world a little better where we can.
Author’s note: This post is dedicated to SABR member Donna Muscarella and the memory of her father, a Gil Hodges fan without equal.
One of the pre-war sets I’ve long admired is the 1910–1912 T218 Champions set. The cards are double-sized compared to standard tobacco cards and much of the artwork is spectacular. Unfortunately, there are no baseball cards in the checklist—ruling out obvious samples to pursue and rendering the set mostly irrelevant to this blog.
However, there are a handful of toehold cards to choose from. The big name is alleged Black Sox bag man Abe Attell who features in the boxing portion of the checklist. But there are also Platt Adams, Frank Irons, and Abel Kiviat who as track and field athletes also ended up playing baseball in the 1912 Olympics.
Last month Jason generously sent me a well-loved Frank Irons card. I’m not sure he was aware of the baseball significance as much as he wanted to make sure I had a sample, any sample, of the set.* I don’t care that it’s mighty beat up, I just enjoyed the excuse to go chase down internet reference links about baseball in the 1912 Games.
*I’m generally incapable of getting rid of any cards once I have them.
Not only is “Baseball” listed in the Table of Contents,* there’s a writeup of the game, a box score, and a half dozen photos. Not quite as much information as the RG Knowles book had but still a fun read. I’ve gone ahead and screenshotted the PDF so I can summarize here.
*Since the PDF page numbering is messed up due to bilingual pages sharing the same page number the fact that Baseball starts on page 823 doesn’t help you navigate the PDF a all.
Because this is an official report about the games, the summary centers the Swedish experience. This is actually awesome since baseball had only reached Sweden in 1910 and they were still grappling with some of the fundamentals—especially regarding pitching—two years later.
Specifically, they hadn’t figured out how to throw curveballs and were worried about their ability to hit them as well. They ended up borrowing three pitchers and one catcher from the US team in order to have a semblance of fairness in the competition. While they were concerned about hitting, they do appear to have been proud of getting five hits and took special pride in Wickman’s* double.
*I can’t find a first name for him anywhere.
Of the toehold guys, two played in this game. Frank Irons was the starting left fielder, went 1 for 2, and made one put out. Abel Kiviat meanwhile played the whole game at shortstop, going 2 for 4, hitting a triple, stealing a base, scoring twice, and making two put outs.* Platt Adams only played in a USA vs USA game** but his brother Ben was the starting pitcher for Sweden.
*Which didn’t make it into the official report and Wikipedia doesn’t have a source for the second box score. Jim Thorpe also supposedly played in the second game (the first one was the same day as the decathlon competition); no idea if he had found his shoes by then.
The report also has a half-dozen photos of the game. The team photo of the Swedish side is great and the other photos showing Swedish action in the game are a lot of fun too. As I noted earlier it’s clear that the Swedes took pride in their five hits since one of the four game highlights is Wickman’s double while another is Welin’s single.
I do wish we had more photos of the US players—or at least a team photo—but I can’t complain about what’s here.
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!)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
A friend recently sent me a surprise package of cards in the mail, highlighted by a new addition to my Steve Garvey collection.
The card was about one-and-a-half times the dimensions of a standard baseball card, featured what looked like a real autograph (see Author’s Note at end), and most notably was made from a ceramic material.
The back featured complete statistics, a serial number (430/1000), and some “Interesting Facts About Steve,” among them his favorite player being Gil Hodges and his nickname being Garv. There was also a 1985 copyright date in the bottom right corner, which in conjunction with Garvey’s stats, established a year for the card’s issue.
“Garv” was packaged in a tri-fold of corrugated cardboard, it’s front panel identifying the product as Armstrong’s Pro Ceramic Baseball Cards and indicating the full name of the player whose card was enclosed. The middle panel housed the card, and the back panel featured high praise from five of the era’s biggest stars: Reggie Jackson, Tom Seaver, George Brett, Pete Rose, and Steve Garvey.
According to no less an authority than Mr. October, these cards were “the epitome of baseball card collecting…Just like a classic car.” Meanwhile, Tom Terrific predicted the set to “soon become a bit of Americana” while Charlie Hustle declared the cards “winners.”
After doing some very light research I learned that the entire set of Pro Ceramic cards consisted of five players: exactly the ones who had hyped the cards on the back of the packaging. It was also evident that two different sets were released, one with autographs and one without. My gut sense from searches is that the unsigned cards are actually more scarce than the signed ones.
As nice a card as my “Garv” was, gold autograph and all, I toyed with the idea of pursuing the full set though I imagined at least the Seaver would be out of my price range.
Much to my surprise, I was able to nab all five cards for $29. And that’s total, not each! As good a deal as that seemed, my searches revealed other sets having gone for as little as $14.
On one hand it really is the “epitome of baseball card collecting” to see a high-end set from my collecting hey day fizzle its way into oblivion. On the other hand, it’s also the epitome of baseball card collecting to find bargains when you ignore “book value” and buy the cards you like.
After all, what really is oblivion but a hiding place for forgotten gems, a secret corner of the Hobby universe where ceramic baseball cards go not to die but only to await appreciation.
Author’s Note: A Pristine Auction listing for the set indicates the autographs as facsimiles. However, all look good to me, and they also vary from card to card enough to rule out an auto-pen sort of approach. For instance, here are two autographed Garvey cards with numerous evident differences in the signatures.
If someone faked these, I’d say they did a damn good job! That, and their ridiculously low price suddenly makes sense.
My most prized complete set is the 1963 Topps. Even with the ugly Pete Rose rookie and the equally unattractive 1962 American League E.R.A. Leaders with the brim of Whitey Ford’s card missing, I still love it.
Yet my set is a constant reminder of how stupid a 14-year-old can be.
I collected the ’63s from wax packs bought back then mostly at the local Peoples Drug Store in suburban Washington, D.C. That explains why I had the misfortune to be a fan of the Washington Senators. It’s where I grew up. Given how bad the expansion team was (those Nats lost 106 games that season, for instance) and how heart-broken I had been when the original Senators moved to Minnesota, it’s a wonder I remained a fan.
To make matters worse, my best friend John was a Yankees fan, or more precisely a rabid fan of a guy named Mantle. Of course, like just about every serious fan outside metropolitan NYC, I hated the Yankees, or more precisely, since 1961, a guy named Maris. How sad to follow the crowd and not even know it.
My hatred of Roger Maris was because – no surprise – he had broken Babe Ruth’s home run record. I knew enough about baseball to know that Maris wasn’t anywhere near the Babe as a player, nor was he even the equal of Mantle.
Members of this SABR committee who have seen Billy Crystal’s film 61* (I loved Barry Pepper’s portrayal of Maris) surely are aware of the venom directed at poor Roger, how his hair fell out and the pressure he was under. Heck, it wasn’t his fault Yankee Stadium had a short right-field porch or that Mickey got hurt. Or that Ford Frick wanted that darn asterisk on the home run record. Maris was just doing his job.
Still, one day during the season, when I got the #120 Topps card of Maris, I took a needle and punched a bunch of holes in it. For some reason, however, I kept the card. Perhaps in my subconscious, a voice was telling me what a mistake I was making, surely not because the card might someday become valuable – it has, but not ridiculously so – but because I was being really stupid, disliking someone I didn’t even know so much as to treat his card as if it were a voodoo doll.
A couple of years later, John and I got Mantle’s autograph as he got off the Yankees’ team bus outside of D.C. Stadium. We got Ford, Jim Bouton and Elston Howard, too. Maris walked by us unimpeded.
Fast forward to the early 1990s, when my wife and I were cleaning out the attic, I came across a bunch of 1963 Topps that I had forgotten I had saved. The discovery, which got me back into card collecting, include the defaced Maris card, reminding me what I fool I had been.
I grew up in the ’80s, and yet my favorite TV show – and certainly the one I related most to – was one set in the late ’60s and early ’70s: The Wonder Years. The primary reason was that the protagonist, Kevin Arnold, and the actor who played him, Fred Savage, were both my age when the show premiered after Super Bowl XXII in 1988. In many ways, what I watched on ABC each week was a mirror of my own experiences in suburban New Jersey.
One of the parallels – along with puberty, crushes and teenage politics – was baseball. Though Kevin may not have been as obsessed as I was, he was definitely a fan. The first image we see in the opening credits shows Kevin in the street, bat in hand, waving to the camera before calling his shot. He may have been known more for wearing his green New York Jets jacket, but baseball is not forgotten in the series.
In one Season 3 episode, “The Unnatural,” Kevin tries out for his junior high baseball team. The final scene shows him hitting a game-winning home run (despite missing third base; look for it), with Russ Hodges’ call of Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ’Round the World” playing in the background.
But the most notable baseball scene involves a different Giant, and a way of engaging with the game we’re all familiar with here: The Hobby. In an earlier Season 3 episode, “Odd Man Out,” Kevin and Paul discuss a baseball card trade centered around Willie McCovey. The episode aired in November 1989, meaning it was set in 1969 (events depicted in the show were meant to be 20 years earlier than when they aired).
It’s not clear which McCovey card they’re talking about. Kevin and Paul are 13 in 1969, and Kevin’s voiceover saying that they’d “been through this a hundred times before” indicates that it’s an on-going discourse, so it’s probably a mid-to-late ’60s McCovey card. Paul’s stern response – “McCovey is off the table” – carried enough weight to be included as a magnet in the deluxe edition of the complete series DVD released in 2014 and inspired an indie rock song.
The Wonder Years returned to TV this fall in a reboot set around the same time – beginning in 1968 – but with a Black family and a 12-year-old protagonist, Dean, at the center of it. Baseball has an even bigger presence in the first few episodes of this series, starting in the pilot when the climactic scene occurs during Dean’s Little League game. Subsequent episodes show pennants on the wall of the room he shares with his older brother (who’s fighting in Vietnam); the Cardinals, Phillies, Yankees, and Dodgers are all represented.
And, in a nod to the “McCovey is off the table” scene, a trading session among Dean and his friends outside of school pops up in Episode 3.
This time the names offered, in a much more elaborate negotiation involving at least four boys, are Jim Fregosi, Bill Freehan (mispronounced as “Freeman”), Hank Aaron, Bert Campaneris, Carl Yastrzemski, and Willie Mays.
DEAN: OK, Cory, if you trade Brad your Jim Fregosi, Brad can trade Sam his Bill Freeman [sic], and I’ll just take this Hank Aaron, I guess. I think we have a deal here, fellas.
BRAD: Wait, who are you giving up?
DEAN: Well, I really don’t want to do this, but I guess I could get rid of my Bert Campaneris.
BRAD: Who’s Bert Campaneris?
DEAN (chuckling in disbelief): Who’s Bert Campaneris? Only the utility infielder for the Oakland A’s that hit .232 with four doubles and six hit-by-pitches last season.
CORY: I don’t know, man. My mom told me not to trade with you anymore after you took that Willie Mays card off my hands because he “ruined it” by signing it.
DEAN: I’m sorry – am I trading with Cory, or Cory’s mom? Do you ask your mom to cut your steak, too?
CORY: Well, yeah, actually – she does it the best.
BRETT: I’ll take the Bert Campaneris!
DEAN: Finally! Someone who’s his own man. Now, let’s see who do I want in return. [Picks up a card, reading.] “Carl Yas-term-ski?” That’s a weird name. Guess I could take this one off your hands.
Back in 1989, before “high definition” was a thing, Fred Savage – who directed that 2021 episode with the trading session – was given 1989 Topps cards when talking about Juan Marichal, Luis Tiant, and Willie McCovey. In 2021, the props master (they really should rethink that title) at least managed to get reprints of 1968 (and earlier) cards, though the script writer made up a Bert Campaneris season that never happened. In ’68, Campaneris was an All-Star shortstop who finished 11th in AL MVP voting after hitting .276/.330/.361 in 159 games, leading the league in plate appearances and at-bats.
A 1965 Topps Bill Freehan is on top of the cards being held on the left; those shown in the grass include three from 1963: Earl Averill (near center), Jimmie Schaffer (far right), and Casey Stengel and Gene Woodling of the Mets on a card titled “Veteran Masters” (top right of the pile). The bulk of the rest are from ’68, among them (roughly from left to right): Hank Aaron, Dick Kelley, Ken Suarez, Dave Morehead, Adolfo Phillips, Gary Peters, Cal Ermer, Bill Monbouquette, Tom Phoebus, Dan Schneider, Bubba Morton, and – yep, alone at the top – Carl Yastrzemski.
I wonder how things would have gone if Kevin had offered a Yastrzemski for the McCovey. Seems pretty fair to me.