1969 was a lot of things to a lot of different people.
The moon landing. The ongoing war in Vietnam. Woodstock. Joe Namath and the Jets.
For me, it was the year I discovered baseball cards and one in particular that brought them to life. When I opened one pack, staring at me was a guy named Lou Brock.
At age seven, I really didn’t know much about him, even though he’d already been to the World Series three times and become one of the best players in baseball. I just know the 1969 Topps Lou Brock card was about the most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen.
We read our black and white newspapers, still watched a lot of black and white TV and listened to games on the radio. But this card showed a kid that baseball was best served in living color.
The card oozed hues that seemed otherworldly.
The bright red cap atop his head. The bright red sleeves, serving as a contrast to his clean jersey with that ultra-cool Cardinals “birds and bat” logo. Was he really wearing a red belt too? You could almost see the pine tar on his Louisville Slugger and the myriad of colored clothing worn by those in the large crowd behind him. The brown dirt. Now that was big league dirt.
It was also a time when the backs of the cards were really important and the bright pink back of 1969 seemed like an extension of the gum that was inside the nickel pack. Looking at it made you want to pop another piece in your mouth but you needed another nickel to do that and you didn’t have a nickel. It told me he was “the spark which ignites the Redbirds’ attack!” and the cartoon stated he’d led the league in stolen bases the last three years.
I looked at that Lou Brock card over and over and carried it around on top of the little stack of cards I thumbed through when the mood struck. It was in that summer that I decided to become a Cardinals fan…and a Brock fan. As my reading skills improved, I began to devour everything about them I could find in newspapers, magazines and most of all, on the baseball cards that were most accessible. I squealed when a pack contained a Cardinal. A few years later, my mom even wrote to a St. Louis newspaper telling them what a big fan I was and they sent a four-week subscription. I got the paper three days after it was published but, hey, who else on the block was reading the St. Louis Post-Dispatch?
I grabbed a transistor radio and found out I could actually pick up Jack Buck broadcasting the Cardinals games on KMOX, a station located 450 miles away that had a powerhouse signal. Who needed TV? I had the radio and a vivid color picture of what my favorite player looked like.
To a kid, the impression we had of a player often came from the image on his card. Did he look like a nice guy? Determined? Goofy? Maybe a little nasty? Lou’s expression on that 1969 card made him look like about the friendliest player you could ever meet, and of course, I later found out he was both friendly and funny.
Later on, I abandoned the Cards and switched allegiances to my home state team, the Brewers. I later upgraded my 1969 Topps collection, building a complete set in near mint condition. But I’ve kept that original Brock card, dog-eared corners and all. Ditching it would be like destroying the reason I became a collector–and a baseball fan.