Years ago, before we had early access to what would be in the new sets of baseball cards, newly opened packs offered the first revelation of some of the little subsets and creative touches that were included.
Who knew that the 1971 set would have such a unique look? Who could have guessed that some players would have “extra” cards in 1972 when the “In Action” cards made their debut? And who knew what baseball players looked like as kids until that same year, when Topps began a “Boyhood Photos of the Stars” series?
It was especially fun for young collectors to chew the gum and then chew on the story of how the big leaguers grew up.
We got to see Tom Seaver as a Little Leaguer, posing (it seemed) in his Fresno, CA backyard. There was a young Joe Torre, a sharp-dressed lad in front of a very old car. Bob Bailey and his dog. Wilbur Wood, looking like Huck Finn in his baggy pants, holding a freshly caught fish.
There were 16 cards that first year, it turned out. Brooks Robinson and Lou Piniella were also part of the checklist.
Topps continued the idea in ’73 but produced only six more cards with Jim Palmer, Catfish Hunter (on the farm) and Gaylord Perry among those featured.
Today, the cards are cheap, with all but the biggest stars selling primarily at common prices or slightly above.
You wonder why such a fun little set was so limited. The answer, not surprisingly, was that players were not exactly thrilled about having the photos from their childhood used on the front of a card. Paging through a 1992 issue of Topps Magazine revealed the struggle.
“The players were reluctant to cooperate at first,” recalled Sy Berger, Topps’ Vice President of Sports in that issue. “Then one day I was on the Pirates team bus with Willie Stargell and he agreed. Once I told the other players that Willie was doing it, everyone fell into line.”
Everyone being a relative term, of course.
Topps continued the Boyhood subset in ’73 and expanded the idea to football but in all, could muster only 22 cards out of the two-year baseball project. It wasn’t an easy task, especially in an era before easy electronic transfer of files.
“Those photos came from everywhere,” Berger said. “From the players, their mothers, their grandmothers, their wives. We went right through their families to see what we could get.”
It was worth it, especially when you didn’t know it was coming.