Friday, January 10, 2014

Where the action is

I just posted the 250th card in the 1971 Topps set over on my '71 blog. The set is so huge that I'm not even close to being halfway finished (don't think I haven't thought about that a couple times). But I am nearing one milestone that I bet only the most dedicated '71 collectors know.

In a few cards, I will have reached the third series in the set. As you may know, the set is divided into six series. But it is in the third and fourth series where the real action lies. Literally.

At the risk of undermining the surprise of what card is coming next on the '71 blog, here is the first card of the third series:

It is an action card, as you I'm sure you've gathered. And it is the kind of wonderful action that only exists in early '70s cards.

From that first card in the third series, there are 41 more action cards in series 3 and 4, excluding the World Series subset. That is more than any other two series in the set. The first two series in 1971 Topps have only nine combined action cards in the set -- excluding the championship series subset (albeit two of the more famous ones in Thurman Munson and Cookie Rojas). The last two series, well, I defy you to find an action card in the last two series. It doesn't exist.

No, the real meat of this iconic set is in the middle.

This is important because action cards, along with black borders and a funky font design, are what made the '71 set what it is.

This was the first time that live action was used on a player's individual cards (I suppose you could make a case for some of the background photographs that appear on '56 Topps). Before, the action was confined mostly to World Series highlights cards.

So Series 3 and 4 is where the action is, and I've got a few observations on the action cards in those series:


I know some collectors don't like sets that mix vertical and horizontal cards. I'm not that particular. I love the horizontal look (I've dedicated a couple of posts to it). And prior to this set almost the only time you'd see a horizontal Topps card (excluding mid-50s and 1960 Topps, of course) is with a team card. And although I love and adore team cards, let's face it, they're not cool.

But this card? It's very cool.


Maybe an action card hasn't been a big deal for two decades ever since the advent of all-action all-the-time sets. But believe me, as a kid growing up in the '70s there was nothing that would make you sit up faster this side of Farrah Fawcett than an action card.

This image may not be the greatest example because the tight posed shots seem to jump out at you. But in person your eyes gravitate to Action McAndrew there.


It pains me to say this, but there are no action Dodgers in the 1971 set. This is an outrage and I want to know who is responsible RIGHT NOW.

Why did other teams get such cool shots while the Dodgers were stuck lifting their gloves over their heads?

Some of the blessed teams included:

The Phillies.

The A's.

The Orioles.

The Angels.

The Yankees (of course).

The Mets (of course).

And the Royals might have been kings of them all. That's kind of strange for a team that had been around for just two years. These four are all from Series 3 and 4. There's also Lou Piniella and Rich Severson from earlier in the set.

The Indians, Cardinals and White Sox also benefited from Topps' decision to actionify its cards.

But not one Dodger.


Sure, I could mention that Thurman Munson is in his own action card AND in Vada Pinson's action card or that Joe Morgan is in his own action card AND Tommie Agee's action card, or that Pete Rose is in Chris Short's action card. But that's all been cited before.

But two cards from undoubtedly the same game? And the wonderful symmetry of a Cardinal throwing out a Met and a Met throwing out a Cardinal?

That's action, my man.

(No, I'm not going to tell you which game it is. I've spent all my time scanning cards).


By the time I started collecting in the mid-1970s, this was already an established truth. The stars get the action. The commons get the poses. But where do you think that started?

It started in 1971, of course.

Both of these epic players have epic action cards in Series 4.


Tommy John arrives at card No. 520. It's the last action card in 1971 Topps. Four cards later, Series 5 began and there was no more action.

This was depressing news for Matty Alou.

Alou shows up in Series 6, the very last series. And it's a simply head shot. Blazing red cap, but still a simple head shot.

Meanwhile, his brothers ...

... Jesus and Felipe were in series 3 or 4 and show up in marvelous action cards.

Because Series 3 and 4 is where the action is.

I didn't even show you all of the action cards from those two series.

Gotta save something for the '71 Topps blog.


  1. God I loved the Sox white stirrups. I really REALLY wish they would do the blues for a Sunday throwback some year.

  2. Thank you for adding a bunch of cards to my 1971 wish list!

    I think the Ron Wood and Roy White cards have to be from the same game... Certainly the same catcher -- Maybe Duane Josephson, assuming it's the White Sox?

    I love the shot of the in-play Yankee monuments and flagpole on Ken McMullen's card.

    It's also fun to look at all the "cameo appearances" on the cards:
    Vada Pinson's card has Thurman Munson
    Joe Morgan's card has Jerry Grote
    Chris Short's card has Pete Rose... I think. I smiled at the ALPO ad in the background.
    Tommie Agee's card has Joe Morgan... Same game as Joe Morgan's card?
    Jerry Grote's card has whoever was #5 on the Cardinals at the time.... same game as the other two Mets/Cards game?
    Bud Harrellson's card famously has Nolan Ryan... also the same game as Tommie Agee and Joe Morgan?
    Ken Boswell's card has Vic Davalillo

    ...there are others that can be figured out, but I could only guess as to who they are.

    Great stuff! Early nominee for "Best Post Of 2014". :-D

  3. A tie in to one of your posts a couple of days ago. An early Oscar Gamble card in series one was an action card.

  4. As someone who bought his first pack of cards in 1964.........I HATED the action cards. Look at the Tommie Agee card--the actual card, not some oversized scan--and tell me who the featured player on it is? It sure as heck isn't Agee; all you see is the back of his head. Real tiny back of the head. Just a tiny blue blob, really. I hated those cards then and I hate them now. It would take a whole decade before Topps actually figured out what to do with action cards (or hired decent photographers or employed better cameras) and then.....they were even worse. Now, they're worst of all. You, yourself (IIRC), have done posts on how every single pitchers card seems to catch them at exactly the same point in the delivery and they're all cropped exactly the same. I hated action cards then and I hate them now. I like my cards posed, thank you very much. You want action? Watch a game. For cards, I want to know what my heroes look like. I want to see their eyes. You Johnny-come-lately collectors of the 70s, 80s, and 90s think action cards are where its at. That's because you have no imagination. As a kid, I could stand in the back yard with a bat on my shoulder, cool concentration in the eyes and, just like that, I'm Mickey Mantle and it all flows from there. Seeing an action card, as a kid, was like Geena Davis doing the split in League of Their Own. I can't do that. Who can?

    Thank you. I feel a lot better getting that off my chest.

    1. Wow, Stubby, that's a mouthful. I guess I agree a little. The glut of action photos has removed much of the character and imagination that used to be in baseball card sets, without a doubt. But even as a little kid I gravitated to the action photos, no matter how lousy they were in the '70s (I didn't know any better). In my perfect world, card sets would be a mix of action and posed shots.

    2. Delivered somewhat tongue in cheek (not that you can tell); the sentiments are valid, but I'm not that angry about it. In retrospect, the 71s were the best of them; they certainly had variety.

  5. Night Owl…..this kind of post is why I love your blog. I never knew that '71 was where all the action started for our cardboard?! Great perspective and fantastic story-telling. Again. Thank you for the enjoyment! I can't wait to add '71 to my set-building list….one day!!!!

  6. Since at the time those action photos were not that common they sure deserve the highlight. Loved reading all the points but my favourite were 4. ACTION CARDS ALLOW YOU TO SEE COOL THINGS. Love observing cards and discover details like the one you mention. That shows they had payed attention to it and it makes the cards even more meaningfully.