Baseball cards have always served as one of the primary ways kids learned about their favorite players and one of the most underrated aspects is the back. It was especially true in the 1950s,60s,70s and 80s when we carefully looked through the stacks and imagined ourselves as Johnny Bench behind the plate or Mickey Mantle in center field but we also committed to memory all of those arcane details on the back. As adults, we get to rediscover them and maybe pickup on a few little nuances we might have missed in our youth.
To me, one of the best examples comes in the 1962 Topps set and those little cartoons in the upper right corner. Who knows what kind of job it was year after year in a pre-electronic age to come up with creative ways to fill the back. The cartoons were great but they still needed a story.
Here are some examples from that set which resonate for various reasons and yes, there are many more.
We’ll began with #49 Hal Jones, who had some brief cups of coffee in the majors. But for my old friend Wes Seaman who moved from New Jersey to Minot, North Dakota, that card was super popular because the cartoon on the back actually mentioned the great season Mr. Jones had in Minot.
This is, obviously, one of the few references to that Upper Midwestern city on a card of any kind and Wes was now a proud Minot man (Minonite?).
We learned a lot from reading the back. Even if kids who collected cards the year after Roger Maris’ 61st homer (yes, another North Dakota guy!) thought they knew everything about him, Topps chimed in with the fact that Maris’ first World Series hit was also a four-bagger.
COMC.com offers a 21st century opportunity to thumb through cards by publishing both the front and back of every card in its stock and they helped us find Dick LeMay’s 1962 card, which references “Dick’s Dazzling Debut”.
Indeed. LeMay retired the first eight batters he faced in his first big league outing Although his career only lasted parts of three seasons, he can always remember getting those eight Los Angeles Dodgers out to begin his career.
Topps often used the player’s name to create some kind of catchy headline for its cartoon. On Jerry Lumpe’s card, the headline was “The Pitcher Gets His Lumps” with the reference to two of his three homers being game-winners.
Card #355 Steve Barber says “Steve Cuts out Minors”, mentioning how he made several jumps in the system in just one year. Barber. Cuts. Get it?
Chuck Schilling’s cartoon is titled “Schilling Makes a Killing” and references how he led Double A second basemen in fielding in 1960.
There was also Marv Breeding=”Marvelous Performance”. Ken Hunt=”Hunting for a New Job”. Moe Drabowsky=”Mowing Them Down”. Earl Battey=”Earl Drives Pitchers Batty”.
Sometimes they were a bit of a stretch. Joe Adcock’s four homers were “Something to Crow About”.
Having to come up with something for over 500 cards sometimes led to a little duplication, sometimes in cards that were neighbors. #131 Pete Richert got “Whitewashing Wonder” for his minor league shutout propensity. #134 Billy Hoeft was called “The Whitewash Expert” for his seven 1955 American League shutouts. Roger Craig is…you guessed it…a “Whitewash Specialist” for his four N.L. shutouts in ’59.
And the cartoons themselves are a trip. #154 Lee Thomas shows Lee and (presumably) his wife celebrating his “trophy” as a member of the Topps All-Rookie team.
Have some favorites backs or other card quirks? Let me know.