Friday, May 24, 2024

1969 Topps Team Posters and A Padre To Be Named Later

Introduction

In mid-May 2024, Sports Collectors Daily published Roy Carlson's deep dives into 1969 Team Posters, one of my favorite vintage sets for sheer size and displayability. I profiled its #5, the Baltimore Orioles, back in 2012.

12"x20" at full, unfolded size

Each of Roy's articles shares original design mockups and quantifies how Topps coped with an absence of fresh photos for that year's cards.

Close inspection of Roy's work highlights how Topps made the best of an expansion era defined by rapid player movement. 1969 posters impress both in size and breadth of lineup, even for new squads in Montreal, KC, Seattle, and San Diego.

1969 Topps issues: Which came first? The chicken, egg, or team posters?

Topps added every animal to their barnyard in 1969, if you include standard and test issues.


I bet fan interest during an expansion year inspired this burst of marketing enthusiasm, in spite of the players union refusing to pose for new photos in 1968, pending better compensation from Topps. Their boycott led, in part, to infamous goofs like batboy Leo Garcia (left) standing in for Aurelio Rodriguez (right). Check out #653's profile from Collecting 1969 Topps to learn everything worth knowing about this card.

Keith Olbermann shared similar insights into 1969 images for SCD in 2010. If Topps bought their rookie Reggie Jackson and "Aurelio Rodriguez" photos from legendary photographer George Brace, #653's mistaken identity could stem from his own goof.

San Diego's expansion year poster shows further impact from players refusing to pose for Topps cameras: 10 hatless headshots and one airbrushed bill for Ron Davis. The Padres even traded Ron to Pittsburgh on March 28, so a proper hat logo would've been out of date by opening day.

The circled Padre, Bill Davis, achieved a measure of hobby fame by appearing on five straight multiplayer "rookie stars" cards, 1965-69, an unbreakable record given how Topps handles RCs today. Bill remained on the verge of breaking out for years, thanks to minor league power and fan popularity. Read Hope Springs Eternal for a look at every Davis base card.  (Don't confuse 1966 cardmate Tom Kelley with Minnesota's manager of similar name.)


San Diego acquired Bill in October 1968 for the classic "player to be named later" (PTBNL). This 1969 cardmate, Clarence "Cito" Gaston, is the future manager who led Toronto to back-to-back titles in 1992-93.

That Padres poster marked Davis's final Topps appearance, once again sharing the spotlight with (many) others. San Diego waited six weeks before sending former AL MVP Zoilo Versalles to Cleveland as their PTBNL, creating some interesting 1969 checklist anachronisms.

 

Note Zoilo's 1969 stamp says "San Diego shortstop" and his autograph graces their album, if upside-down. That tells us Topps designed and produced this set before they could react to late 1968 trades.

 

His first series card (#38) splits the difference, with Padres on the front and trade to Cleveland on the back! This shows Topps locked series one card fronts by December 1968, when San Diego sent him to Cleveland, and back text sometime later. (It should also say "N.L." under league, since Zoilo played for the Dodgers.)

Zoilo's hatless image from his "S.D. Padres" stamp appears on Cleveland's poster, so these came together sometime after that December swap. In echoes of Ron Davis, Cleveland shipped 😮 Lou Johnson to California on 4-April, so his poster and card team became out-of-date by opening day.



Card #367 fails to mention Johnson's trade, so Topps locked their poster layouts and third series of cards sometime between December & April. Zoilo and Lou each appear in multiple 1969 sets as players on teams they never quite played for.

Why did Topps invest in such gaudy team posters?

I think 1969's lack of fresh photos exacerbated a general laziness Topps showed toward their 1960s team cards. This 1961 White Sox card offers one mediocre option. So many shadows! Such red background!


Did someone realize there had to be a better way? Perhaps Topps hoped a larger, headshot format could satisfy fans, at least in regional markets, even as they dropped team cards from 1969's otherwise huge base set of 664 cards.


Also consider how 1969 marked the end of Mantle's career, a mainstay for Topps since 1952. He appears on the Yankees poster, its stamps and albums, rub-on decals, Super baseball, 4-in-1 stickers, and base card #500, all of them released after his April retirement announcement.


I wrote before about how Stan Musial & Ted Williams inspired Topps to launch All-Star cards in 1958. Good odds that they knew Mantle cards sold lots of gum, so wanted this 1969 farewell tour. If you gotta go, these shots serve as terrific salutes!


Other legends like Hank Aaron received no such capstone, apart from being a post-retirement figure on 1977's Brewers team card. Just one more way Mantle stands out in Topps history.

In summary

I think 1969 team posters served at least three purposes for Topps.
  • Test alternative looks for team photos in lieu of cards in their base set
  • Help fans in expansion cities get familiar with new rosters
  • Give more Mick to Yankee fans during an otherwise moribund era for their franchise

Peccadilloes of offseason transactions like Bill-for-Zoilo show how Topps did their best to match current lineups to a production schedule that took several months to prepare 1969 releases. All these extra sets helped dust off dozens (hundreds?) of hatless photos from company archives, distinguishing that year from any other in hobby history. Thanks again to Roy's work for inspiring further research. If any other details stand out to you, let me know in the comments.

Friday, March 22, 2024

1956 Topps baseball #171 "Jim Wilson, if that is your real name"

I researched game situations for several 1956 Topps cards in my 17-March post, including #171 Jim Wilson. This post revisits and revises my initial take and then updated it again on 2-May. This might be the most ink spilled about his card since Jim's retirement in 1958.

Baltimore purchased Jim from Milwaukee a few days into the 1955 regular season and he proved their most dependable pitcher, even if going 12-18 meant leading the AL in losses.


I guessed this #171 action photo shows Richie Ashburn running to first, with someone other than Jim catching that high throw. Pittsburgh's Paul Smith, perhaps?

Another writer encourged me to look at the Giants instead, given Topps penchant for photos in New York stadiums, so #25 Whitey Lockman could be a better choice for that fielder. Compare "Jim Wilson" to Whitey's own card of Dodgers #3 Billy Cox trying to beat out a throw to first.

1956 Topps #205, Whitey Lockman

Our runner's sleeve stripe means Brooklyn wore road jerseys, placing us at Giants home turf, the Polo Grounds.


Pittsburgh fielders wore safety helmets in that era, as on #116 Ed O'Brien (left). I think the first baseman reaching behind Ashburn for an errant throw lacks that headgear, so Whitey Lockman seems our guy instead of Paul Smith.

Fielding helmet on Pirates 2B

No helmet on Giants 1B

Lockman and the Giants hosted Philly many times in the 1950s, so picking out a single play will be tough until we locate this card's original photo. Their long undershirts imply a chilly spring evening, making the second game of a doubleheader on April 25, 1954, our possible match.


Topps #171's action shot might indeed be Giants 3B Hank Thompson tossing wide of first on Richie Ashburn's grounder from 1954. Our peripheral evidence supports that location and play result.

One other game, a 6-5 Giants win on May 30, 1955, shows Ashburn legging out a leadoff single to third that became Philly's first run.


Either scoring decision could fit this leaping throw to first, so correcting its players proves more satisfying than nailing an exact moment in time.

Did Topps make twice the error?

My earlier post showed how an artist added anachronistic red details for Pudding' Head Jones. Philly's used sleeve and neck stripes on pre-1950 uniforms, which also featured blue hat and stockings. Topps painted those details in red for his 1956 card.


Consider the action shot for #171 "Jim Wilson" one more time.


Since Topps card editors worked from black and white photos, that could be Brooklyn's #1 Pee Wee Reese (blue sleeves) instead of Philly's #1 Richie Ashburn (red sleeves). Dodgers uniforms would look similar on contemporary pictures, unless dated or described well. They already struck out on player identification, so retain a critical eye.

MAY 2024 UPDATE: Did Topps make thrice the error?

Mea culpa! I missed this lookalike card (#91 Gail Harris) during my initial research into #171 Wilson, which uses our same image apart from its runner wearing a blue cap.


Gail did play first several times for New York during his 1955 rookie season. Our problem comes down to that uniform number, #25 Lockman vs. #15 Harris. Blue cap or not, #91 also got our first baseman wrong.

Confusion conclusion

1956 cards #91 and #171 feature a Hall of Fame cameo either way, with Ashburn or Reese dashing past Giants first baseman Whitey Lockman.


Thanks to several resources for research help.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Identifying background photos in 1956 Topps baseball

Introduction

I spent this week inspecting 1956 Topps baseball cards in more detail than usual. Many cards with background action show actual games and some contain enough context to suss out date and situation.

Play at the plate for ol' Puddin' Head, but which one?

Today's post investigates several of them, seeking clear dates and situations. I rely on Baseball-Reference.com for box scores, Dressed to the Nines for uniform design, and compare my take to the 1956 Topps blog, which wrote in detail about all 340 player cards.

Things to consider when investigating 1956 cards

Photos for 1956 cards came from wire services or professional photographers. As a New York company, pictures from Yankee Stadium, Ebbets Field, and the Polo Grounds could be convenient for Topps, so I lean toward New York ballparks when location's otherwise unclear. Spring training, regular season, postseason, and staged photos all appear, with many taken before 1955. 

Card editors touched up images as needed, such as this terrific shot of Pope's leap for a game-winning drive by Dusty Rhodes in 1954's World Series opener, one best known for "the catch" by Willie Mays two innings earlier. (Rhodes earned 1955 Topps #1 honors thanks to his postseason heroics.)

Topps removed "Cleveland" from Dave's jersey and painted that ball onto his glove as partial redemption.

1956 Topps #154 Orioles OF, Dave Pope

One wonders what Pope himself thought of the change, as I bet he remembered that moment!

#132 Bobby Avila and the hidden Hall of Famer 

Bobby Avila's enjoying post-homer congratulations. With all those numbers crowded around home plate, can we nail down what just happened? Easy enough, it turned out, based on Avila's home run log and teammate uniforms.

That's #6 Bill Glynn and #32 Al Smith greeting Avila after his game-tying home off Baltimore's Don Larsen on August 14, 1954. #14 Larry Doby waits on deck for his chance to chase Larsen from that game. (Cleveland won 4-3 in extras.) 

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The 1956 Topps blog post about #132 agreed on this play and its cameo by Hall of Famer Larry Doby.

#42 Sandy Amoros: Yogi and the Series

Sandy's about to score Brooklyn's first run of 1955 World Series game four, a preface to overcoming the Yankees 8-5, as Yogi Berra receives his relay too late to make a play.

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Alternate angles expand our scene to include #1 Pee Wee Reese (on deck) and batboy Charlie "The Brow" DiGiovanna, who collects Flash Gilliam's bat after his double scored Amoros.


Umpire Frank Dascoli left no doubt about his call and the 1956 Topps blog agrees on this play.

Sandy's card back calls out his catch of Yogi's game seven drive against the left field fence and key hitting in that series.

#26 Grady Hatton: Two more Hall of Famers

Grady's wearing his road uniform and sliding past Yogi Berra in Yankee Stadium, which tells much about how to identify the play.

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Hatton spent less than three years in Boston, so I checked each game he reached base in Yankee Stadium for contested plays at the plate. One candidate stands out, July 7, 1954, when he scored from first on a bases-clearing double off Marlin Stuart.

While the 1956 Topps blog leaves #26 open to showing Detroit based on the catcher's uniform, I'm confident we see New York and Yogi again. Home umpire Nestor Chylak reached the Hall of Fame in 1999, adding another cameo from Cooperstown. This proved its final play before rain the game with New York ahead 17-9. If correct, Yogi's plate block either failed to stop Grady or Berra missed his tag.

#130 Willie Mays: Out at home

This sweet slide went for naught, as Cardinal catcher Bill Sarni tagged Mays out attempting to score from first on a Don Mueller double, Sept 13, 1954, at the Polo Grounds.

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This photo from a split-second before shows Sarni making the bang-bang play. Their box score reveals Willie already scored in the first inning and Johnny Antonelli's shutout made it stand up for a 1-0 Giants victory. This time, the 1956 Topps blog for #130 proved inconclusive, and I used wire photo research to locate a similar shot with helpful details.

Back to #127 Puddin' Head


The striped collar and sleeves on Willie tell us its original photo comes from 1947-49, when Philly wore that kind of jersey flair. His socks, hat, and undershirt all show up as solid red, which points to 1949, yet exposes a problem. Dressed to the Nines claims they went with blue!


Puddin' Head's problem could be the age of its source photo. Compare his 1956 card to this 1949 slide behind Cardinals catcher Joe Garagiola.


How would a Topps artist add color to this black-and-white scene for their 1956 card? You might look at Philly's latest uniforms.


Paint that 1949 uniform (left) with 1955 colors (right) and you get his 1956 slide. Now consider that catcher's uniform, dugout, and umpire.


Ebbets Field used a square dugout design, backing up my earlier lean toward New York stadiums.


Brooklyn's 1949 catcher looks more like Bruce Edwards than Roy Campanella, narrowing us to two games with Jones, Edwards, and a reason to slide at home, each sacrifice flies.
My gut says we're looking at August 17 because rookie Mike Goliat advanced to third, implying a play elsewhere: at the plate. Puddin' Head beat Gene Hermanski's throw en route to Philly's 11-7 win.

#171 Jim Wilson: Lost on Arrakis

Check out on the second player on Wilson's card. Those red sleeves and #1 jersey belong to Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn, who ducks by on his safe dash to first base.


In context, it looks like the first baseman fielded a ball away from the bag and threw to second for a force out, followed by a wide return throw to Wilson covering. Where would Baltimore and Philly face off, though?

City Island Ballpark, 1940
Baltimore's 1955 spring training site

These teams held spring training in Florida for 1955, whose parks contained enough infield sand to support Jim Wilson's background image. A problem for this scenario: Baltimore aquired Wilson two games into the regular season on April 13, 1955, after he played all of spring training as a Brave.

Coverage of Wilson's first game for the birds

Look closer at the fielder and his partial "2" jersey number, plus piped uniform pants.


Wilson wore #19 for Milwaukee and #36 for Baltimore, so I believe they misidentified its team as well as its player. His pants piping looks more like the Pirates or Giants. Which works better?


Summary

That's six or seven 1956 cards identified, depending how you count Pope. I'm sure to go after more in the future! Any that you've wondered about?