It Falls Between the Lines

68 Lines Front68 Lines Back

All collectors have experienced the disappointment of opening a pack and finding mostly cards you already possess. The joyous anticipation of peeling open a wax pack or tearing the Mylar wrapper is quickly extinguished when only duplicates appear. Equally frustrating is getting numerous cards of the same player. Of course I only have anecdotal evidence, but occasionally it seems the random sorting process goes awry and the same player ends up in most of the packs.

70 Syd O'Brien

In 1970, I remember getting five Syd O’Brien cards out of six or seven packs I purchased. I can still see him with his arms spread in a mock infielders pose. But the multiple “Syds” pale in comparison to the deluge of Dick Lines cards I received in ’68.

1968 was my first year collecting which probably explains why I vividly remember opening pack after pack containing the Senators reliever. After acquiring a few more from my brother and friends, I ended up with 10. I must have derived some pleasure from hording the Washington southpaw. The card left such an impression on me that I still remember that the answer to the cartoon trivia question on the back is Darold Knowles. Dick’s pitching follow though pose at Yankee Stadium may be more familiar to me than memories of my wedding or birth of my son!

Ironically, Lines didn’t even pitch for the Senators in ’68 and never appeared in the majors again. He did have a great year in ’66, appearing in 53 games, winning five and losing two, with a 2.28 ERA and three saves. Dick’s two year major league totals include: seven wins, seven losses and a 2.83 ERA. He spent 11 seasons in the minors, retiring after the ’69 season. 1967 is the only other year a card was produced for Dick.

Lines 67

According to Baseball Reference, Dick was born in Montreal and is still living at the age of 78. Perhaps I should contact him and let him know what an outsized impact he’s had on me. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Dick’s short, mediocre career may have contributed, psychologically, to my own general mediocrity. Perhaps at six years of age, Dick Lines’ career line on the card’s back convinced me of life’s limitations. If only Henry Aaron had been in all those packs, I might be rich and famous. Curse you, Dick Lines!

 

The Game’s The Thing

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

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

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

KChanceKLonborgKHarganKMcCormickKPetersHBPOsteen

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

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

FoulMcCarverPopGonzalezFoulSanto

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

GBCarewGBRoseGBTorreGBCepedaGBFregosi

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

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

FkyWynnFlyAlleyFlyMondayFlyKalineFlyStaub

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

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

LineScottLineHowardLineAllen

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

ErrorAlou

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

9503-11FrHBPBRobinsonWalkDavis

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

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

SingleMantleSingleYazSingleAaron

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

9503-6FrDoubleKillebrew9503-7Fr

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

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

 

HRMays

 

You were expecting someone else?

 

What’s in a base set?

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

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

1972-Fregosi-BP-214x300

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

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

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

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

BASE CARD
NOT A BASE CARD

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

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

Anyhow, here is a graph.

Untitled

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

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

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

 

Veale Revealed

Recently, my son purchased two “hobby boxes” of 2017 Topps Heritage cards which feature the 1968 template. Within each box there are “buy back” cards. These are original cards with a special stamp applied. In a strange coincidence, the two cards he received were Pirates pitchers Tommy Sisk and Bob Veale.

Veale 68

The Bob Veale jogged my memory of his ’68 card which depicted him in a mock- pitching motion with two fingers extended to simulate the pitch grip. There is much to like about this card besides the “two-seamer” pose. Veale’s distinctive eyewear, the classic Pirates vest uniform and “410” marker on the outfield wall all add up to a great image.

Veale 62

Almost all of Bob Veale’s Topps cards are distinctive. The primary reason is his variety of safety glasses worn from year-to-year. The ’62 “Rookie Parade” card marks Bob’s Topps debut. His disembodied head provides the first glimpse of his gold-rimmed googles.

Veale 63Veale 67

The ’63 and ’67 cards feature the googles again and appear to be from the same photo session since Candlestick Park is the setting.

64 VealeVeale 65

The ’64 and ’65 feature different frames in spring training photos.

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In ’66 we find Bob at Shea Stadium with yet another new set of spectacles.

Veale 69'67 Veale sticker

1969 has Bob with the same “specs” but he has donned a letterman style jacket. The ’67 “test issue” sticker is the only Topps product with a photo of Veale sans glasses.

Veale 70

A new decade meant new eyewear as Bob changes styles once again, sporting aviator glasses.

Veale 71Veale 72

He seems to have settled on the aviator look since they reappear in ’71 and ’72. The Pirates have entered the “mustard” gold era as his cap clearly indicates. Veale really “styles” in his warmup jacket with great leather sleeves framed by the “mod” look of the ’72 card design.

73 Veal

A radical change occurs in ’73 as Bob is now with Boston and he has added a mustache. His last card features Bob with a windbreaker under the Red Sox double-nit, sans-a-belt uniform. He reprises his ’68 pose with the two fingers extended in a delivery simulation.

65LL66 LL

67 LL69 LL

In Veale’s BioProject profile Joseph Gerard stated that, “Bob Veale was one of the hardest-throwing and most intimidating strikeout pitchers in the National League from 1962 through 1972.” This is supported by the fact that Veale led the NL in strikeouts in ’64 and posted a career best 276 in ’65. His command issues coupled with poor eyesight put fear in the hearts of even the best hitters. The 6’6,” 212 pound lefty would finish with 120 wins. He worked mostly out of bullpen in the ’70s as arm and back injuries took their toll. On September 1, 1971 Bob pitched in the first game that featured an all-minority starting lineup for Pittsburgh.

 

Is It the Cards, or Is It the Baseball?

“Beatle cards, Beatle cards!”

Beatles

I was a late talker, but somewhere between two- and three-years old, I got it. My Great Aunt used to tell me that I would howl about Beatles’ cards from my crib (Are two-year olds still in cribs?). The love of cards was strong with this one from early on.

Yes, this is a baseball card blog and, partially, this is a baseball card post, but it’s clear from what I gather of my own personal history that my love of cards began with Topps’ Fab Four, not ’64 baseball, cards.

Baseball cards are absolutely the vast majority of my cards. The sets are bigger, I’ve been buying them longer and continuously and, when I became the recipient of the card collections of friends, their shoeboxes were always dominated by baseball cards.

So what came first, the baseball or the card? That I’ve always bought lots of cards, of all sports and some non-sports, means that, for me, it’s always been the cards first, the baseball second.  Cards are talismans, direct memories of the past, but they can also be indirectly evocative. When Munsters’ cards came out in 1996 and 1998, I bought them. When Twilight Zone cards came out from 1999-2002, I bought those sets too. Same for the 2001 Planet of the Apes cards. Though not the original issues ( the 1964 Leaf Munsters and the 1967 Topps Planet of the Apes cards are a tad pricey), the recent sets were good fun, brought back great TV and movie memories, not so much from the time like a 1972 Gary Gentry would, but looking backward. They were definitely as much fun as those year’s baseball cards. The ’96 Grandpa Munster cards were as good, if not better, than the ’96 Derek Jeters.

s-l300

Is this off topic? Kinda, but I’d like to know what is at the core of the card collector. How many readers of this blog only collect baseball cards? How many collect other sports? How many collect non-sports? I want to know who’s harboring a secret Partridge Family set.

These days I am fully immersed in baseball cards, but that doesn’t mean I’m averse to picking up the occasional 1959 Fleer Three Stooges card, if the price is right.

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Momma Took Topps’ Kodachrome Away

Clemente

Anyone who collected cards in 1969 remembers opening a pack and finding a glossy, black and white card that resembled a photograph. Topps “Deckle Edge” inserts were designed to mimic the photo print style of snapshots. This type of print goes back as far as 1930 but was most popular for a 20 year period starting in the ‘40s and concluding in the late ‘60s.*

I distinctly remember a shoe box full of decal edge photos that my grandma kept in cupboard. My brother won a camera as a prize in ’67. The first set of blurry photos it produced were printed on decal edge paper. I mention this background information to demonstrate that most kids in 1969 would have been familiar with this type of photo print.

 

This subset contains 33 cards with two variations and measures 2 ¼” x 2 ¼”. The backs are white with a rectangular box containing the name and card number in blue ink. The cards are ordered alphabetically starting with the American League. The set features 11 future Hall-of-Famers and players representing the ’69 expansion teams. The two variations are result of trades. Card 11b, Jim, “The Toy Cannon” Wynn, was added because the Houston card featured Rusty Staub, who was dealt to Montreal. Joy Foy is card number 22b and was included to represent the Royals after Hoyt Wilhelm was sent to the Angels.

The deckle edge is unique and we should give Topps kudos for originality, but the photos are mostly retreads. As Mark Armour recently detailed, the player boycott of Topps resulted in old photos being used in ’68 and ‘69. Several cards simply had shots from previous regular issue cards. For example, the Juan Marichal picture was used on his ’65, while Rod Carew and Maury Wills are reprised from ‘68.

The insert set depicts several players wearing their previous team’s uniform with the current club’s cap insignia airbrushed on.  Ken “Hawk” Harrelson has a Boston “B” drawn on his cap though he is clearly wearing a KC A’s vest uniform. Tom Haller’s Giants lettering is airbrushed off his chest and an “LA” added to his lid. Frank Howard has the Senators curly cue “W” on a Dodgers helmet. Also Topps put “Sox” on Luis Aparicio’s two-toned Orioles helmet. Since Luis was with the White Sox originally, why not use an early ‘60s photo?

There are a few interesting poses. The Bill Freehan card shows him in a classic catchers crouch with coach, Wally Moses, hitting “fungos” in the background. The Boog Powell shot has bunting in the background indicating opening day or an All-Star game. The hat style precludes it from being the ’66 World Series.

Black and white photography can be used artistically to great effect, but there is very little artistry demonstrated in these inserts. Dull as they are, the cards are memorable. The images have been etched in my mind for close to 50 years. Then again, I’ve been told I’m not playing with a full deck(le).

1974 Allen front Jackson Back

Topps resurrected the deckle edge design with a “test issue” in 1974. The 72 cards are 2 7/8” X 5.” The set had limited distribution and featured 21 Hall-of-Famers to be. On the back, in script intended to imitate hand lettering on old photos, is the date and location of the photo session. Here is a link to Rich Mueller’s post on “Sports Collector’s Daily” that provides all the particulars of this rare set.

*Krentz, Anna (2014). A Study of the Deckle Edge in the North American Snapshot (master’s thesis).   www.digital.library.ryerson.ca

Like a Broken Record

Of all the junk wax era subsets, I’ve always thought that the Topps ‘Record Breakers’ series was underrated. They don’t carry the prestige of the All-Star Rookies or Diamond Kings, or have the kitsch of Turn Back the Clock, or inspire the misguided investment allure of Rated Rookies, but I love how they represent real events from the previous season – some historic, others not so much.

Topps issued a kind-of precursor to the Record Breakers set in 1961 with “Baseball Thrills,” a subset that honored various baseball highlights – many involving record-setting feats – from the previous 40 years or so. In 1974, Topps issued a special base card for Hank Aaron, proclaiming him as the “New All-Time Home Run King,” even though he hadn’t actually broken the record yet. 1975 saw the debut of the “Season Highlights” set, that honored the homer record, along with Lou Brock’s single season SB record, the first time records from the previous season were so honored.

In 1976, the first Record Breakers set appeared. The series opened up the set, number-wise, and featured Hank Aaron’s breaking of the all-time RBI record on card #1 (the fourth straight year Aaron appeared on card #1). Record Breakers appeared about every-other year through the 1985 set, alternating with the Season Highlights set, which usually contained a few record-breaking moments itself. In 1979 and 1981, the set started with card #200, but otherwise opened with card #1. This led to one of the less-distinguished “first cards” in Topps history, the 1983 opener featuring Oakland’s Tony Armas, the brand new holder of the esteemed mark for most putouts by a right fielder in a single game. Card #2 that year was Rickey Henderson, who had just broken the single-season stolen base record, obviously a much bigger deal. However, the numbering of these sets was (mostly) done by alphabetical order. The lone exception was Reggie Jackson’s 1978 RB, which honored his 5-homer World Series. The card appears at the end of the RB set, card #7, although by the letter, it should have been card #3. One can assume that the card was a late addition to the checklist and Topps chose to bump a base card from the #7 spot rather than reorder the RBs.

The 1983 Aramas #1 card is hardly the only RB to feature a less-than-historic achievement. In 1979, Topps paid tribute to Mike Edwards of the A’s for recording two unassisted double plays in a single game – tying a mark for AL second baseman. They also honored Mets backstop John Stearns that year. Stearns stole 25 bases (against 13 times caught) in 1978, hardly an earth-shattering total, but a new record for NL catchers. The 1981 set paid tribute to a couple of at-bat kings – Willie Wilson for a new single-season mark and Pete Rose for totaling the most consecutive 600 AB seasons.

In 1985, the Record Breaker set became an annual feature. That year saw 10 RB cards, the most ever in a single set (that feat alone could have garnered its own card), and featured five future Hall of Famers (Fisk, Morgan, Ryan, Sutter, and Sutton). In 1986, aside from the card honoring Pete Rose’s new career hit record, the pickings were a bit thin, prompting Topps to begin considering being the youngest or most elderly player to achieve a feat as a broken record. The ’86 RBs thus included Doc Gooden (youngest Cy Young winner), Phil Niekro (oldest to toss a shutout), and Tony Perez (oldest to hit a grand slam).

Rose’s 1986 RB card was his fifth, extending his own record for most RB appearances. That mark would be tied in 1992 by Nolan Ryan. Other players with multiple RB appearances include Cal Ripken (2), Carlton Fisk (2), Davey Lopes (2 ), Dwight Gooden (2), Rickey Henderson (3), and Vince Coleman (3). Of the 26 MLB teams that were around during the RB era, only the Mariners and Braves did not appear in the set. The New York Yankees were featured eight times, the most of any team.

The fact that Henderson, Lopes, and Coleman all made multiple appearances speaks to the high-speed era in which most of the RBs came from. Of the 85 Record Breaker cards Topps issued between 1976 and 1992, 13 dealt with stolen base records, more than all but strikeouts (15) and home runs (16). Surprising, Hank Aaron’s ’76 RBI Record Breaker was the only card to ever honor an RBI record.

In 1989, Topps went with a NNOF (no name on front) design for the Record Breakers – the rare occasion in which they issued player-specific cards without IDing them on the front (perhaps the only time they’ve done this, now that I think about it). The 1990 and 1991 sets would be NNOF as well. In 1990, the RBs were bumped back to accommodate Nolan Ryan’s #1 base card and a 5-card Ryan retrospective set honoring his 5,000th strikeout. Ryan also took the top spot in ’91 and ’92, followed immediately by the RBs – which each featured a Ryan card, making him the rare player with multiple “first page” (cards 1-9) appearances in a single year.

In 1993, with an expanded set and a new dual-series format, Topps dumped the Record Breaker subset.

Matthew Prigge has just launched a new card blog detailing his quest to complete a signed 1974 Topps set and his other collecting adventures. Check out Summer of ’74!

Double-knit Double Takes and False Flannels

 

Back in 2015 Rich Klein wrote an article for “Sports Collectors Daily” examining Topps cards in which the player appears wearing their previous team’s uniform and cap. Topps’ didn’t follow the usual practice of using headshots without caps or air brushing out the insignia. Meeting a print deadline seems the most obvious reason for the existence of all these anomalous cards. I could not find any definitive explanation. Mr. Klein concluded the article by suggesting readers send in other examples besides his ’74 Glenn Beckert and Jerry Morales, ’61 Johnny James, ’62 Don Zimmer and ’63 Stan Williams. So, I decided to search for more of these oddities in Topps sets from the ‘50s-‘70s.

I will start with the before mentioned Beckert and Morales cards since they are the first examples I collected. I distinctly remember Jerry Morales being clad in his bright, yellow Padres uniform but shown as a Cub. Beckert is wearing his home Cubs pinstripes. An additional anomaly is the variation card that has Beckert listed as “Washington Nat’l Lea.” This is the year Topps jumped the gun on a Padres possible move to DC. The backs of Morales and both Beckerts include a line indicating the players were traded on November ’73. Since Topps was not averse to airbrush painting whole uniforms in this era, the most likely explanation is the trade occurred too late for the printing deadline. As Mark Armour and others reminded me recently, ‘74 was the first year Topps distributed the whole set at once nationwide. There was no longer an option to alter the cards and include them in a later series.

The backs of the ’64 Don Demeter and Gus Triandos inform us that both were traded in December ‘63. They were both part of the deal that sent Jim Bunning to Philadelphia.  (Bunning, it should be noted appeared that year without a hat but identified as a Phillie, his new team)

The ‘62 Willie Tasby and Bob Buhl each have a variation with the cap blacked out. Topps was able to correct the error in a later print run. The airbrushed variations are worth considerably more, likely due to a shorter print run.

56 doby60 Cash

61 Klu

63 Perry64 Alou

The most prominent players to escape the airbrush treatment are: Larry Doby in ‘56, Norm Cash, Johnny Callison and Frank Thomas in ’60, Ted Kluszewski in ’61, Jim Perry in ’63 and Felipe Alou in ’64. Notice that in many of the ’60 cards Topps did paint the correct emblem on the hats in the black and white “action” shots.

57 Ditmar 60 Hadley and Siebern

57 Ditmar60 Hadley60 Siebern

The late “50s and early ‘60s saw a flurry of trades between the Yankees and Kansas City Athletics in which the Yankees often got the better end of the deal. The ’57 Art Ditmar, ’60 Kent Hadley and ’60 Norm Siebern were part of the KC/NY shuttle.

 

Here are the rest:

53 Groth

’53: Johnny Groth

’54: Johnny Lipton and Al Sima

58 Aspro

’58: Ken Aspromonte

60 Dailey60 Foiles60 Lepecio

’60: Pete Dailey, Hank Foiles and Ted Lepcio

61 Farrell

’61: Dick “Turk” Farrell

’64: Willie Kirkland and Julio Navarro

If you are aware of other examples, please mention them in the comments or on Twitter. Also if you know of an explanation besides printing deadlines for the existence of these cards, please let us know.

The Me Decade: Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. 1970 (6.52, 21)

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

3. 1975 (6.21, 19)

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

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

4. 1972 (6.08, 23)

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

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

5. 1976 (5.69, 10)

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

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

6. 1973 (5.67, 9)

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

7. 1974 (5.51, 15)

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

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

8. 1977 (4.86, 6)

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

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

9. 1978 (4.47, 5)

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

10. 1979 (3.43, 1)

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

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

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

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

The Best of The Me Decade

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

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

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

CLICK HERE FOR POLL

Rules:

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

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

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

1970

ARMOUR PART07 1970 BenchJohnnyFrontARMOUR PART07 1970 BenchJohnnyBack

1971

ARMOUR PART07 1971 CarewRodFrontARMOUR PART07 1971 CarewRodBack

1972

ARMOUR PART08 1972 MorganJoeARMOUR PART08 1972 MorganJoeBack

1973

ARMOUR PART08 1973 FiskCarltonFrontARMOUR PART08 1973 FiskCarltonBack

1974

ARMOUR PART08 1974 RosePeteFrontARMOUR PART08 1974 RosePeteBack

1975

ARMOUR PART08 1975 MunsonThurmanARMOUR PART08 1975 MunsonThurmanBack

1976

ARMOUR PART09 1976 BrettGeorgeFrontARMOUR PART09 1976 BrettGeorgeBack

1977

ARMOUR PART09 1977 SchmidtMikeFrontARMOUR PART09 1977 SchmidtMikeBack

1978

ARMOUR PART09 1978 RyanNolanFrontARMOUR PART09 1978 RyanNolanBack

1979

ARMOUR PART09 1979 SmithOzzieARMOUR PART09 1979 SmithOzzieBack

 

Update: The Results!