At a recent card show here in Texas, one of our loyal readers came up to the table I was standing behind and said: “I love reading your columns but really like the ones where you talk about older cards.” About the same time, fellow Beckett alum Jeff Allison posted a beautiful recent photo of Tempe Diablo Stadium on my Facebook page. There’s a large rock formation in the background and Jeff included a list of vintage Topps cards where you can see that same topography. You can also see it on this Topps negative of Joe Lis from 1977. It’s cool to know that spring baseball was being played in the same location it was 45 years ago. Rock formations don’t lie.
It also got me to thinking about the fact that we seem to have evolved to more action shots on baseball cards rather than the staged poses from the past. When you look at, say, the 1970 Topps Don Mincher card, you see not only a pictorial remembrance of the 1969 Seattle Pilots team but also the classic spring training photo.
Players do still pose for Topps at spring training but the practical jokes on the photographers seem to have faded, too. Sometimes they even got away with those pranks in which the player either batted the wrong way or put the glove on their wrong hand as noted on the 1959 Lew Burdette (which also spells his name “Lou”, the 1964 Joe Koppe or even the 1965 Bob Uecker.
Koppe has his glove on the right hand indicating he threw left-handed. Outside of Little League where the best athlete may end up at shortstop, when was the last time you saw a left-handed throwing shortstop?
And for at least the next decade, we continued the tradition of those spring training photos with, at times, really cool backgrounds. I think the 1981 Fleer Rod Carew was voted as the first Baseball Hobby News “Card of the Year” because it showed off some of those beautiful mountains near Palm Springs, CA. A nice portrait of baseball’s best hitter circa 1980 with that background makes the card nearly a work of art.
And for Fleer, such a card compared favorably with the photos of the following year. Just looking at the 1982 Fleer Jack Clark or Tommy John cards makes one wonder why Fleer did not stay with more posed photos until they got their action cards into better order and ensured they were attractive enough for collectors.
Even photos that weren’t taken at spring training had some great backgrounds. Photos for cards of the 1950s and 60s were often taken at big league ballparks there was often just enough of the structure visible in the card to keep us guessing which stadium was being used for the photo shoot. Sometimes it was obvious such as the 1957 Topps Roy Campanella (Ebbets Field). Many times one can see the old Yankee Stadium facade or Shea Stadium as Topps was located in New York and since every team came through the city, there was always availability to get photos of those players. Other times it took some detective work to find out where the photographer was stationed.
Of course, for the kids opening those late 1960’s to early 1970’s packs and seeing the posed shots from spring training, it was a sure sign summer was on the way and there would be time for playing outside, trading cards with our friends (being careful not to trade anything away we only had one of), playing ‘flip’ or seeing what loud sounds you could make with cards clothespinned to your bike spokes.
So here’s to the great backdrops on cards from all eras, which connect generations and offer a great excuse to do some traveling without ever leaving home.