Monday, July 7, 2008

1964 Bazooka Baseball #5, Warren Spahn

I'm almost finished reading A False Spring by Pat Jordan, available at finer libraries everywhere. This autobiographical and engaging book covers Jordan's life as a talented but erratic pitcher transitioning from "big fish" prep school life to the Milwaukee Braves farm system in the late 50s and 60s.

Card front (blank back)

Early in the book, the author describes a 10-minute photo shoot with Warren Spahn that followed Jordan's bonus baby signing. The final product looks casual and friendly, the veteran and greenhorn rookie immediately at ease with each other. Ten years removed, the pitcher-turned-writer describes how the photo decorates his attic's writing desk. It hints at the artifice of his sporting life, a slice of brilliance to banish the shade of unfathomable wildness.
Spahn spent 20+ years blowing horsehide past and around batters of every age, even after three years' service in WWII. Maybe being a one-of-a-kind pitcher maintained his sunny disposition and jocular approach to life, or vice versa. This 1964 Bazooka gum #5 catches him apparently unaware of the camera, hard at work on a warm-up baseball. Pictures like these brought kids onto the field with their superstars and become essential pieces of the diamond fantasy life. How many squeezed ten tiny fingers around the ball like a mystic, searching out Warren's secrets? Did their legs fly to the sky without knowing why?

Bazooka (under Topps' aegis) started printing cards in the 50s and continues fitfully to this day, but the 60s proved their best era. The traditional Topps set filled the card pack market and remained relatively static in size and distribution. On the other hand, the larger boxes of Bazooka gum were free to try out a variety of concepts, like three-card panels, baseball playing tips, all-time greats of the game, and even story cards that highlighted great individual performances.

A complete run of 1960s Bazooka would probably be more interesting than normal Topps, if less valuable. It's certainly fascinating to compare scissors skills from year-to-year! Maybe Spahn is smiling because he found a kid with hands as good as his own, who left nice, sharp corners.

1 comment:

Steve Gierman said...

That's a great looking card of Spahn! I'll have to check out that book the next time I'm at the library.