Sunday, March 17, 2024

Identifying background photos in 1956 Topps baseball


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 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.) 


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.


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.


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.



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?


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?


night owl said...

Sure love stuff like this. I admit I haven't looked too carefully at the '56 action shots.

Matthew Glidden said...

It remains one of the best sets for identifying details as yet unknown. Imagine having that many vintage baseball game photos to work from!

Bo said...

Love these! I've gotten a lot of '56s lately and have been doing some of this myself, mostly trying to ID the cameos.

Mark Zentkovich said...


Fuji said...

Great stuff. Love that you found the exact photo of the Pope, so we can see how the painting was altered.