Monday, May 7, 2012

Topps' First Year

It was 1951, Topps’ first year.  They had a long history as a chewing gum manufacturer (ever heard of Bazooka?) and had even issued some cards (though of Hoppalong Cassidy).  Bowman, however, dominated the baseball card market.  Maybe that’s why Topps opted to go with some kind of odd baseball card game.  I’m not sure how it was played – and, actually, don’t really care. 

What I do like is how downright off some of these cards were.  I detect a couple of themes here.  One was really bad representations of eyes (see Something Wrong with the Eyes for more on this recurring theme).  Another was an oddly Japanese feel.  And, finally, you’ve got your typical collection of dumb looks, bushy eyebrows, and so on.

Oh, almost forgot …  Each card has one or two sentences describing the player.  They typically try to cover about 32 facts in the space of about 20 words.  Such compression makes them sound a little bit like haiku:
  1. “Clouting first baseman of the Dodgers, he’s the sixth player in baseball history to hit four homers in one game.”
  2. “Walloping the ball at a .321 clip, the left-handed Brooklyn Dodger outfielder hit 31 homers and 107 runs batted in.”
  3. “Tossing his right-handed slants for Cleveland, he led the A.L. with a low earned run average of 3.20 while winning 18.”
  4. “Long-ball hitting lefty, Gene playing the outfield for the Brooklyn Dodgers, finished the 1950 season with a .259 B.A.”
Can you guess who these guys are?  Answers at the bottom.

Ah, yes, the eye theme.  These hooded, beady little babies quite frankly give me the creeps.

Harry Brecheen, though pretty much forgotten today, had a great career with the Cards.  He won three games in the ’46 Series, posted an 0.83 ERA over three fall classics, and led the NL in ERA and K’s in 1948.

His nickname was “the Cat,” ostensibly for his fielding ability, though I’ve definitely seen those same eyes staring back at me in a dark alley or two.

On the flip side, here’s a positively goofy looking pair of peepers.

Billy Pierce was a genuine star in the ‘50s and should, I believe, get some consideration for the Hall of Fame.  He led the AL in wins, ERA, and strikeouts, all in different years. has him as the 83rd best pitcher ever.  His peers include Lefty Gomez, Chief Bender, and Catfish Hunter, all boys in the Hall.

Here's another look at Billy, a little later in his career.

Now, these are just bizarre.

Johnny Groth bounced around for 15 years, mostly with the Tigers, who hailed him as the “next DiMaggio” when he came up.   He was not.

More bizarre.

Gerry Staley had a 15-year career, successfully making the transition from decent starter with the Cards (winning 19, 17, and 18 for them three years running) to decent reliever with the White Sox.  He was a three-time All Star.

And these, oddly, seem totally natural.  No weird touch-ups here.  Bob Eliot seems to be able to scare young boys with his piercing stare solely using his own God-given talent.

Bob was known as “Mr. Team,” for his unselfish play.  He was the NL MVP in 1947, was an All Star for six seasons, and finished with over 100 RBIs six times.  He seems like he was a genuinely nice guy too.

Another straight-ahead stare, but this time, let’s take “scary eyes” and substitute “dopey expression.”  Hard to believe Dom was known as “the Little Professor.”  Except perhaps for the glasses, he’s not really looking too bright here.

You’ve already met up with Dom before, under Are You Sure You’re a Ballplayer?  Remember?

And here’s that Japanese look I was talking about.  Is it my imagination, or does Irv looks like some samurai in a 19th Century Japanese print?

Irv Noren managed over 3000 at bats over 11 seasons with six teams.  His main claim to fame was playing in the NBA for a year.

Del’s got that same kind of Eastern look, but maybe more sumo wrestler than samurai.  And is that kanji on his cap?

Del Ennis, a Philly native, spent 11 of his 14 big-league seasons with the Phillies, averaging 24 homers and 102 RBIs.  For some reason, though, he was relentlessly booed by the Phillie fans.  Well, they booed Santa too, didn’t they?

Switching now to just general ephemera …

Wow, those are some major-league eyebrows ya got there, fella!  You’ve already made Roy’s acquaintance, under Just Plain Ugly.  Sounds like this guy’s got a lot going for him.  And, of course, there’s a whole post about eyebrows, for those of you out there who are into that sort of thing.

Just plain goofy. 

You’ve met “Paul” before, where he sported a much more interesting pair of specs.

“Grrr!  I’m mad!  I pitched a no-hitter, and nobody’s ever heard of me.  Grrr!!”

Answers: 1) Gil Hodges, 2) Duke Snider, 3) Early Wynn, 4) Gene Hermanksi

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