Monday, October 10, 2011

The awkward adolescence of baseball photography on bubble gum cards

I am currently residing with an awkward adolescent. She's actually a darling, intelligent, beautiful girl. But she doesn't believe a bit of it. You know awkward adolescents.

Right now, she's dealing with some physical pain that cropped up out of nowhere. There's been a doctor visit and X-rays, and I fully expect everything to be cool in a matter of days. It's literally a growing pains issue, something that's pretty common at this age, or so I'm told. But the uncertainty is killing all of us.

So, I'm here writing about baseball cards to ease the anxiety for a little while. And what better cards to address than 1973 Topps, an awkward adolescent-type set if there ever was one.

The '73 set gets picked on a lot, as most awkward things do. People bring up the same old faults and act like they're the first one to point them out. Sometimes collectors are nothing but bullies. And the '73 set is left to figure out why everyone is being so mean.

I don't dispute that there's many clunky cards in this set. The 1973 Topps Photography blog has displayed a bunch of them, some of which I have displayed, too.

Here are some of the more familiar, particularly painful:

Example 1
Example 2
Example 3
Example 4
Example 5

There are many, many others. Including several I received in a package of '73s sent by Matthew at Number 5 Type Collection.

There is the typical. A pitcher airbrushed into a cap that appears a bit too tiny for his cranium.

There is the airbrushed and off-center. Phil Hennigan shoved off to the side because we really MUST get that Pepsi advertisement in the shot.

There is the puzzling. Pitcher Joe Coleman posing with his bat because Topps could cite cards like this when Upper Deck started showing pitchers batting like it was something new.

There is the amusing. Tommy Helms trying his best to look like the guy on the Lucky Charms box, while posing with his bat AND his glove, because in the future, ball players are going to need to use both at the same time!

Oh, and his card is wonderfully miscut.

But where '73 Topps' inner teenager REALLY comes out is in the action cards:

A common photography growing pains issue. Make sure we know who the subject is. It is not supposed to be the Angels dude rushing back to first base.

This may be the ultimate example of this. It's a terrifically charming, awkward photo. It takes about five minutes to figure out who Dave Nelson might be. And you may need glasses by the time you're done. But, it's a wonderful photo, dear. Wonderful. You have quite a career ahead of you as a photographer.

And this is where teen-aged '73 tries a little TOO hard. Look, I know you're trying expose major league infielders as real men with real flaws and not as the superheroes they have been portrayed as over the previous 20 years of baseball cards, but Dick Green really WAS a great defensive infielder. You just can't show the guy dropping the ball. Go back and try again.

The early '70s was a time of experimentation with action photos on baseball cards. The '70s sets -- especially between 1971-74 -- are filled with awkward action photos, many of which didn't work.

I think the focus ends up on the 1973 set because unlike the set that preceded it, the 1972 set, there were no "In Action" cards. The '72 set has several strange photos in the "In Action" set, but they're excused somewhat because the "In Action" subject has a second "regular" card in the set. But in the '73 set, if Topps used an action photo with your card, that's all you got. One card. If it sucked, too bad.

Plus '73 didn't have the groovy '72 design to distract you from the photo.

Then, I think the action photos improved in '74. Still not great. But not as awkward.

But that's what growing up is all about. You try and fail, and try again. People point and laugh. But they don't know what you're going through. There is pain. Physical and mental and emotional. But sometimes -- through all the confusion -- you get it right.

'73 Topps got it right, too.

Example 1
Example 2
Example 3
Example 4
Example 5

OK, I threw in that Alvarado card, even though it's probably more awkward than anything.

And here are some more great examples from Matthew:

Even in the midst of this period of awkwardness, lack of confidence in your ability, your skills, your support system, your own body, sometimes you DO get it right.

Nowadays, Topps can take an action picture -- a good action picture -- with its eyes closed. It's about the only photo it takes today.

But it all began with a painful growing period, for all to see, on '71, '72 and especially '73 Topps.

It'll get better, honey. I promise.


  1. My own daughter just turned 13, and I am not looking forward to watching her go from being my sweet little Pumpkin to an independent person. While I'll be glad to see that end result, I know that there will be some rough moments as she grows up.All I can do is make sure I'm strapped in for the ride.

    And thanks for plugging my site.

  2. One more thing...

    There's the card of Joe Rudi, which showed a home plate celebration after a Gene Tenace homer. There are three A's, an Angels catcher and and umpire on the card...but none of them is Rudi.

  3. Great comparison of baseball's range. My 1973 Topps favorites are from their football set, given the dedicated avoidance of team logos.

    Franco a hat

    Joe a hat

  4. The one thing I noticed on Dave Nelson's card is that he's listed as a 3rd baseman, but if you ask me, that play is happening at 2nd base. Found that kind of interesting.

  5. Another good read. I do not have that Tommy Helms, I am going to go find me one! I have had that Epstein card forever, I believe I pulled it from a pack, or traded at an early age. I didn't want Epstein so much as I wanted Jim Spencer on there.

  6. i always think of two cards when i think of 1973 Topps. the Garvey because you can hardly see him, and the Clemente becaus of the erie-like shadowing on his case

  7. Good post. I actually really like the '73 set. I believe you sent me Bernie Allen from this set.

    Good luck and I hope everything ends up ok with your daughter.

  8. The '73 set is one of my favorites precisely because of the quirkiness. All those great play at the plate cards don't hurt either. I hope everything is ok with your daughter.