Monday, December 3, 2012

Digging the dugout

The 1981 Topps set is known for a lot of things. The set with the tiny caps in the left-hand corner. The set with the first real traded set. The set with the first significant competition for Topps in decades.

It has personal interest for me, too. The first appearance of Fernando Valenzuela. The most colorful borders since the 1975 set. The avatar for my Twitter page.

But there is one defining aspect of this set that I don't think I've seen mentioned on the blogs.

The set is filled with photos of players hanging out in and around the dugout.

I just went through my 1981 set and counted 47 separate cards in which a player was either sitting in the dugout, standing in the dugout or, like Al Williams here, just outside of the dugout.

It's probable that there are more than 47 dugout photos in the set. I went only with the ones where I could be fairly certain that a dugout was involved.

I don't know if that's a record for a set. I seem to remember some of the early Fleer sets featuring a mess of dugout photos. The point is, the '81 Topps set is kind of known -- among some collectors ("some" defined as me and a former co-worker who used to discuss cards all the time) for its dugout shots.

I like dugout shots. A lot.

So, although '81 Topps isn't close to being my favorite set from the 1980s (that sickly green border it used killed the whole thing), all of the dugout shots make it fun to go through. Why when I took off for a few days for Thanksgiving, guess which binder I brought with me? (Yes, I bring binders with me on vacation. You don't?)

Yup. It was the 1981 set.

And guess what I did? I picked out my favorite dugout shots from the set. Right after sucking down cranberry sauce.

I've got my favorites right here. I didn't rank them or anything. I'm just not in the ranking mood. But rest assured, I could rank the heck out of them if I chose.

So have a look at some of the best photos of dudes hanging out at a little house on the field in the 1981 set.

I'll start with one of my personal favorites. The first solo card of Pedro Guerrero. Cropped to look like he was born with no arms.

Another one of the defining images of the '81 set is how many players are seen SLOUCHING on their cards. But that's because they're hanging out in the dugout. Where there are no rules! Where you can be a man and burp and spit and chew!

That's right, I said "chew!"

Chew. Chew. Chew!

In the dugout!

Too bad we don't have the next frame or two of each of these photo sequences. We could get some nice images of spitting on the dugout floor on a baseball card.

But like I said, a dugout is a baseball player's castle. He can do what he wants, when he wants. Even if everyone's watching, he thinks no one's watching.

Another example:

These cards are back-to-back in the '81 set. Card No. 373 and No. 374. It's a little secret mini subset of ear-grooming on baseball cards.

Topps didn't think anyone would pick that out. The players didn't think anyone would see them. In their little dugout world.

But I did. I saw them. Ear-grooming. And I know all about the Ear-Grooming Subset in 1981, Topps. I've blown your cover.

One of the best parts of dugout photos is that you can spot other players in the background. I believe that's Tom "Wimpy" Paciorek (What? That's his real nickname) taking fake practice swings behind Simpson.

I have no idea what Simpson is doing. Practicing his pensive serious look for a future broadcasting career maybe.

When I was growing up, I was told that there was a way a girl crossed her legs and a way a boy crossed his legs. I don't know who that was, probably some kid who was telling everyone what to do. But I do know that it stuck with me for a long time, and Woodie, that's NOT how you cross your legs.

But Fryman knows that this is the dugout, and no one can see him. No one would take a photo of him crossing his legs like a girl because it's the DUGOUT! A ballplayer's inner sanctum.

Until '81 Topps came along.

Sometimes Topps even got INSIDE the dugout. Look, Sid Monge can't believe what Topps did. What'cho doin' back there, Topps?

But it sure makes for a great photo.

Not even All-Stars could escape Topps' invasive ways. Paul Molitor and Steve Stone aren't the only ones resting their starry keister on the bench in this set.

George Brett, fresh off his .390 1980 season, is sitting his hemorrhoid-weary self in the dugout. Also, Rod Carew is pictured in a dugout, too. But unlike these three characters, Carew is wearing a cap. He at least has some decorum.

Nobody talk to him! He just gave up five runs in two thirds of an inning. Stay clear!

On days when Gorman isn't greasing his Harley or weighing murder-for-hire offers, he sits and ponders what it must be like to roam free.

This card has always freaked me out. The disembodied glove hand is about as creepy as it gets on baseball cardboard. What is going on there? And is Torrez making the last glance to the left of his life?

But the kings of the dugout shots in 1981 Topps are the Orioles. You've already seen Steve Stone. Guys like Mark Belanger, Rick Dempsey, Scott McGregor and Kiko Garcia are also pictured in dugouts.

And then there is Tim Stoddard. Back in 1981 we were all focused on Mr. 6-foot-7 Stoddard. Now, all we care about is that relic of a phone in the background. Is that a rotary dial? Does anyone even use the word "rotary" anymore?

Speaking of old-fashioned phones, there is a phone cord traveling behind Eddie Murray, so that it looks like it is coming out of his back pocket.

There is so much going on with this card that I could find something new viewing it five years from now. What I notice now is the splendid three-hand series on the dugout roof. Three different dudes in their best cavalier stance. One of them, directly behind Murray, apparently on the phone.

By the way, that is backup catcher Dan Graham at the far left -- probably on his way to the water cooler, which might be the real star of this card.

And finally, we have Benny Ayala. And some helmets. Plotting. The helmets. Not Benny. In fact, if I was Benny, I'd be worried.

A lot goes on in a dugout. This set showed me that.

It was all a secret until 1981 Topps came along.


  1. I never thought of this, but great post.

  2. Great post. I love the Murray card. What I like is that one can see enough of the dugout to figure out at which field the photo was taken.

  3. All I can say is I'm glad I didn't have a beverage when I was reading the Gorman Thomas line. That was one of most unexpected funny lines ever. Awesome post.

  4. Dugout shots were always interesting to me too, especially as a kid. When I was little, I felt like these cards gave me a feelin' of hangin' out with the player. I didn't realize the '81 set had such awesome ones.