Last August, I brought to light that Topps recycled photos on 20% of their vintage baseball team cards from 1951-1980. Then in November, I introduced a Who’s Who database highlighting players and staff featured in those 500+ cards.
Now, in an effort to tie up loose ends and put a bow on this enjoyable and enlightening project, I’m sharing with readers the team photos Topps missed during this vintage period.
To refresh everyone, Topps didn’t produce team cards for the 1952-1955 and 1969 sets, plus a handful of team cards were not created in certain years, primarily in 1951 and 1968. In addition, Topps reused an old photo over 100 times spanning the 502 team cards they made during this vintage period. No worries. I’ve once again performed a deep-dive on the internet and found team photos that Topps could have used to properly make these cards. A bonus from this additional heavy lifting I’ve conducted on the world wide web was that I gleaned more fun factoids to share in the following pages.
1. Topps started producing baseball cards in 1951, too late to include all-time greats like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Walter Johnson and so many other Hall of Fame icons during their playing days. But thanks to the 1951 team set, at least Topps slipped in 87-year-old HOFer Connie Mack as manager in the 1951 Philadelphia Athletics team card.
Topps only created 9 of the possible 16 team cards in 1951. Imagine if Topps had created a Pittsburgh Pirates team card that year. The Topps fan base would have been treated to none other than Honus Wagner, then a 76-year-old Bucs coach.
Not exactly a rare T206 worth millions, but it would have been oh so cool.
2. Thanks to Russ Hodges’ classic “The Giants Win The Pennant!!” radio call and the clip of New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson circling the bases, generations of baseball fans are familiar with Thomson’s 1951 “Shot Heard ‘Round The World” homer off Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca. There are reports of sign stealing by the Giants that now taint the occurrence, but nonetheless, here’s the golden moment link from The Best Damn Sports Show Period posted by Jim Murphy: Bobby Thomson Walk-Off, October 3, 1951
Had Topps created team cards in 1952, kids around the Polo Grounds may have been trading a Branca, an Andy Pafko or maybe even a Jackie Robinson for this gem.
3. Another historic baseball moment is Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski hitting the 1960 World Series winning home run off New York Yankees pitcher Ralph Terry. Enjoy this quick YouTube video posted by MrBuccos: Bill Mazeroski Walk-Off, October 13, 1960
Topps produced the 1961 Pittsburgh Pirates team card #554, but we now know the image was not that 1960 group, but rather the 1959 team.
Though Topps missed their chance to spotlight that 1960 squad in 1961, here’s a shot of the 1960 boys on a mock card.
4. After a brilliant 13-year run in the Yankees outfield, Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio would start to turn over the reins to Mickey Mantle in 1951, a year that ended with the Bronx Bombers as World Champs. Both Hall of Fame greats were together for just that one magical year. Here they are portrayed in a 1951 photo that could have been used on a 1952 Topps team card.
5. Two of the most colorful showmen in baseball history were Hall of Famer’s Satchel Paige and Bill Veeck.
The ageless Paige not only was a standout in the Negro Leagues and the first Black pitcher in the American League, he also threw 3 shutout innings for the Kansas City Athletics against the Boston Red Sox in 1965 at the age of 59, 12 years after he last pitched in 1953.
Hall of Fame team owner Bill Veeck once famously had 3’ 7” Eddie Gaedel bat in a 1951 St Louis Browns game against the Detroit Tigers. Hurler Bob Cain walked Gaedel on 4 pitches.
The 1953 Topps set could have included Paige, Veeck and even Cain, whom Veeck traded for the winter after the publicity stunt.
6. Chuck Connors made his mark in Hollywood with the hit TV show “The Rifleman”.
Check out the TV show’s intro posted by Crackle: The Rifleman
Before Tinseltown, first baseman Connors had a cup of coffee with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949 and over 200 at bats with the Chicago Cubs in 1951.
7. As highlighted in my August 2023 team card article, Topps used the 1959 Los Angeles Dodgers team photo on baseball cards 6 consecutive years, from 1960 to 1965. Had Topps used the 1960 team photo on the 1961 Los Angeles Dodgers team card, the hobby would have enjoyed a card for the ages, so to speak. Let me explain. A youthful Rene Lachemann made his MLB debut with the Kansas City Athletics on his 20th birthday on May 4, 1965.
Lachemann played 3 big league seasons and also held manager positions for 4 different ballclubs. He was born in Los Angeles and around age 15 was recruited by Dodger scout and eventual California Angels manager Lefty Phillips to become the LA batboy, a job he held from 1960-1962. The teenager was even shown in the dugout in an April 1963 article in Movie Mirror magazine about actress/singer Doris Day’s rumored affair with Dodger shortstop Maury Wills.
Had Topps used the 1960 instead of the 1959 team photo on the 1961 Los Angeles Dodgers team card #86, collectors would have been treated to a pre-rookie card, the first of its kind.
8. While Hall of Famer Leo “The Lip” Durocher was married to actress Laraine Day, they adopted daughter Melanie Michele and son Chris.
Chris became a fixture with the Giants as team mascot. Willie Mays even babysat young Chris on road trips.
Here’s the New York Giants wee cheerleader on a 1953 prototype card.
9. Walter Jacobson’s 2-year stint as Chicago Cubs batboy inspired him to become sports editor for his grade school newspaper.
Jacobson later teamed with Bill Kurtis for years in Chicago as top newscasters at CBS Channel 2 News.
10. The 1966 St Louis Cardinals team card #379 did not escape the clutches of complacency as the Topps art department used an outdated 1964 team photo.
A team-issued 1965 photo seemed readily available but was not used.
While this 1965 official team photo would have been a nice upgrade, I’m guessing class clown Bob Uecker and Hall of Fame teammate Bob Gibson had their fingers crossed that the following image would have been used instead.
The 2 batterymates were holding hands.
During a Johnny Carson interview years later, Uecker admitted this gesture resulted in a fine for both players. Here’s the link posted by Cardinals Nation 24/7: Bob Uecker on The Johnny Carson Show, September 23, 1971
11. Speaking of characters, there’s Denny McLain. He won 31 games in 1968 helping lead the Detroit Tigers to the promise land while racking up the MVP and Cy Young awards. He was quite the organ player, too. Enjoy this video posted by The Ed Sullivan Show: Denny McLain playing Girl From Ipanema, October 13, 1968. But the star also possessed a brazen, rebellious side that resulted in imprisonment for racketeering, gambling, mail fraud, embezzlement and drug trafficking and ultimately suspension from Major League Baseball.
Of course, McLain had some fun posing for the 1968 Detroit Tigers team photo. Looks like All Star catcher Bill Freehan (lowest left) got a kick out of the #1 salutes from McLain and teammate John Hiller.
A sure hit on the playground, but how many mothers would have thrown out this Tigers team card from their kid’s collection? It no doubt would have been a precursor to Billy Martin’s 1972 Topps card #33 and Billy Ripken’s infamous 1989 Fleer card #616.
12. Topps reclaimed a 1971 group picture on the 1973 Philadelphia Phillies team card #536, and perhaps for good reason.
Check out this 1972 Phillies team photo. I’ll take an educated guess photographer Roger Luce shouted out, “All right, how ‘bout a silly photo?!”
13. On the heels of that Phillies photo, it might be an appropriate time to bring up Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley’s College of Coaches experiment. Wrigley essentially reasoned that if one person in charge is good, 8 must be better. He thought the team management approach at his successful Wrigley’s Gum business might translate well to baseball. In 1961, he hatched a rotation of 8 coaches acting as lead for his long-suffering ballclub. The coaches would shuffle through the major and minor league levels and develop players along the way. Players got mixed messages on technique, management styles, playing time, etc., the press was mostly critical of the concept and after a couple years, the innovative experiment that resulted in 90 losses in 1961 and 103 losses in 1962 was deemed a failure.
There were pros and cons to the idea, and if you’re interested in learning more, I recommend reading Rich Puerzer’s fine SABR article that digs into the details. College of Coaches article, Rich Puerzer, 2005.
Topps again opted for an old photo for the 1962 Chicago Cubs team card #552, hence denying collectors a chance to see the 8 coaches in one shot.
Never fear, I dug up a 1961 spring training photo by Harold Filan, courtesy of Alamy. As Jim Lange used to say, “And heeerrreee they are!”
Hall of Famer Buck O’Neil, former teammate of fellow Negro League legend Satchel Paige, was part of the Cubs coaching squad during the 2-year Wrigley experiment. He was the first Black coach in the Major Leagues. However, as Puerzer points out, O’Neil was not part of the College of Coaches rotation. In one game in 1962 where the Cubs dugout and 3rd base coaches were thrown out of the game, O’Neil should have been next in line to coach 3rd base. Instead, the Cubs pitching coach replaced the ejected line coach and patrolled the 3rd base path while O’Neil remained on the bench. It was later learned that there was no intention of letting O’Neil coach on the field for fear of him taking over someone’s job, which reeks of racism.
Had Topps not reused the 1959 photo on the 1963 Chicago Cubs team card #222, O’Neil would have been spotlighted front and center on the 1963 team card.
14. As revealed in the August article, the 1963 and 1964 Topps Cincinnati Reds team cards (#63 and #403, respectively) do not include all-time hits leader Pete Rose, thanks to Topps reprocessing a 1959 photo. Collectors gobble up these 2 team cards on eBay, especially those with Rose’s signature.
I wonder how many buyers realize Charlie Hustle isn’t staring back at them in the photo. The Cincinnati Reds team card with a true Pete Rose rookie would look like this:
Or better yet, here’s an autographed version (Warning — it’s a fake):
15. Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck hired manager Tony La Russa in 1979. La Russa piloted the club to a 522-510 record with one division title until he was canned by ballplayer-turned-TV announcer-turned-Executive VP of Baseball Operations Ken “Hawk” Harrelson in June, 1986. It was the only time La Russa was fired in his HOF career that included 6 pennants and 3 World Series crowns. The competitive and outspoken Harrelson deployed his own Colleges of Coaches version by forcing La Russa to have multiple pitching and batting coaches. Hawk also openly toyed with hiring Billy Martin during the 1986 season, touting Martin as the best year-to-year manager in baseball. Writers claimed La Russa’s firing was due to philosophical differences and a personality clash with Harrelson. Harrelson and La Russa didn’t speak for years after the split, but eventually mended fences. In fact, Hawk was a staunch supporter of La Russa’s re-hiring by the White Sox in 2021, who was almost 10 years removed from his last managerial run with the St Louis Cardinals.
As for Harrelson, he resigned from the front office in September, 1986, admitting he had made mistakes that hurt the organization. Larry Himes, hired in October, 1986 to replace Harrelson as General Manager, successfully selected 1st round All Stars Jack McDowell, Robin Ventura, Frank Thomas and Alex Fernandez in four consecutive drafts. Hawk went back to the White Sox booth for decades, coined memorable catchphrases such as “He gone.”, “You can put it on the board…Yes!” and “Mercy!” and earned his place in the HOF by winning the Ford C. Frick Award in 2020.
Had Topps not used a 1961 photo for the Kansas City Athletics team card #151 and instead used a 1963 photo, La Russa and Harrelson would have been seen as teammates.
Here’s Himes on the 1963 Cincinnati Reds spring training team.
Both he and Pete Rose were in Reds camp that spring from the team’s AA affiliate Macon Peaches, though Rose was not present for this photo shoot. Rose made his exhibition debut against the Chicago White Sox on March 10th at Al Lopez Field in Tampa, Florida and, of course, became baseball’s all-time hits leader while Himes was sent back to Macon, toiled in the minors through 1969 primarily as a catcher and never made the big show as a player.
16. Par for the course, Topps recycled a 1962 group shot on 1964 St Louis Cardinals team card #87.
Here’s what the card could have looked like using the more appropriate 1963 team photo.
And, courtesy of Sports Illustrated Vault, here’s a behind the lens look at that photo session.
17. Another behind the scenes look, literally, was the 1968 Baltimore Orioles team photo session.
Their “Let’s get behind the Birds” marketing campaign team photo would have at least made it easy for collectors to know who’s who in the team card.
18. One of the most astonishing baseball records occurred in 1938 when Cincinnati Reds Johnny Vander Meer hurled back-to-back no hitters on June 11 against the Boston Bees, then just 4 days later on June 15 against the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Vander Meer, who’s last game was May, 1951, was never featured on a Topps card. Just because what he accomplished is so extraordinary and has yet to be replicated, I thought he deserved some face time on a 1951 fabricated Chicago Cubs team card.
19. First baseman Hank Agganis was an up-and-comer with the Boston Red Sox in 1954. Tragically, Agganis developed a blood clot, suffered a pulmonary embolism and died at age 26 on June 27, 1955. He was not pictured in the 1956 Topps team card #111 which featured a 1955 photo.
Agganis did sit for the 1954 Red Sox team photo, and in tribute to the rising star, here’s what the BoSox team card could have looked like had Topps produced team cards in the 1955 set.
20. As mentioned in my first article last August, not one female was ever included on a team card during the vintage era. Here’s a retro card Topps could have considered that puts these Minnesota Twins women in a league of their own.
21. Finally, as featured in the November article, Washington Senators batboy John Fealy lost out on trading and flipping cards of himself because Topps either chopped him out of frame or recycled an old team photo, like this 1964 Washington Senators team card #343:
I’d be remiss if I didn’t create a team card using the 1963 team photo that gives him bragging rights around his childhood chums.
Here you go, John. Long overdue and well deserved.
That wraps up a massively fun, year-long project that started with hunting for photos Topps used to make vintage baseball team cards, followed by documenting all the people in each Topps team card, and finished with identifying those missing team photos that could have been used. Since the vintage team card database was made public last November, 15 more first names have surfaced, reducing unknown first names to 53. If anyone would like an updated database with the 18,000+ names and the team photos that Topps used AND the ones they did not, I have all those images to share. Drop me a line at [email protected] and I’ll email them your way at no cost.
Finally, a standing ovation to my talented daughter Rose for aiding her pops with her Photoshop chops on the mock Topps.