Folks who’ve only been buying sports cards for the last 20 years or so missed out on an era when what you knew about the players on the front is what you read on the back. You could buy a magazine and they might have a feature story on a star player. The Sporting News occasionally provided little nuggets on the players’ off the field activity but not much.
It’s part of what we loved about our cards. Each pack revealed something about a player you didn’t know, whether it was how he looked (there were no nightly national highlight shows) or what the little cartoon told you. To their credit, Topps has brought back those little comics via its Heritage brand and in a few other places. However, those vintage cards of the 1960’s and 70’s often revealed that baseball was not a 12-month occupation for many players. Oh, many of them made a good living but they knew when the gig was up, they’d need to find a real job. Multi-million dollar contracts were still a long ways off.
Many of them needed off-season jobs—or just wanted to work. Remember, the thought back then was that lifting weights wasn’t a good idea for baseball players because it made them “muscle bound”. Weird as it sounds, it’s one reason why guys took other jobs just to keep their bodies and minds active.
Those little cartoons revealed a lot about a player’s interests (although some probably fibbed just for fun). Steve Rushin (a terrifically funny writer, by the way) took a trip back in time with the 1974 Topps set as part of this column for SI.com.