Friday, October 16, 2015
The cardinal sin of baseball photography
I don't remember the first time I pulled a card featuring a player with no baseball cap on his head, but it's possible it was this card.
Tommy Davis got off scot-free with me because of his magnificent Afro. But I wasn't nearly as forgiving with other players who chose to appear on a card without wearing a basic part of their uniform.
From an early age, I recoiled in horror whenever I saw a player on a card capless. It was as if they suddenly became someone from another profession, say a mailman or a police officer or one of the other handful of professions that I knew when I was 9 years old.
I didn't collect cards of mailmen or police officers. I collected cards of baseball players. And baseball players wore caps. To me, the photo was violating the one rule of baseball photography -- make this person look like a baseball player. It was a cardinal sin. And a white sox sin and a twin sin and a pirate sin. Where was the cap?
And, so, to this day, it still bothers me to see a card of a player who isn't wearing his cap. This happens in Heritage sets all the time -- because Topps is paying tribute to an earlier set in which they thought nothing of photographing players without caps -- and it needs to stop. Get thee a cap. Immediately.
There is a certain era when appearing on a card without a cap was a frighteningly regular occurrence. I am talking about the 1960s, mainly. In 1958, there wasn't a single player in the Topps trading card set that was not wearing a cap. Not one. In 1968, there were 113 players.
Something went terribly wrong in those 10 years.
Topps isn't completely to blame, of course (although there must have been a decision made to go from 0 capless players in 1958 to 32 capless players in 1959), the '60s was a very volatile time for baseball, too.
There were two separate MLB expansions in the 1960s. And the rise of the players' union under new boss Marvin Miller had an effect on the photos displayed on baseball cards at that time, too. All of this contributed to the plague of unclothed heads that you saw on cards in the 1960s.
Which sets were the greatest offenders?
Well, I'm glad you asked. I did some research.
I went through the Topps sets that featured the most capless players and figured out percentages and will display the five sets with the most capless players.
I followed only a few rules. I did not count capless players in celebration shots -- such as World Series cards. But I did count players who shared card space with other players on the rookie cards of that time.
And now the most capless sets that Topps has ever made:
5. 1965 Topps - 91 of 598 cards feature capless players. 15.2 percent
Some people consider this the best set that Topps ever made. It's a good set. I ranked it 10th overall. But I could never put it at No. 1. Way too many dudes without caps.
4. 1961 Topps - 100 of 589 cards. 17.0 percent
Achingly boring design and capless. Not a good combination.
3. 1962 Topps - 108 of 598 cards. 18.1 percent
As I mentioned in the countdown, this set has a rather old-school look, as if it should have been produced at least 10 years earlier. Part of the reason is the number of capless players. With the wood frame and no cap, you could blow up the card to an 8-by-12, throw it up on the wall and convince someone it was your great, great, great uncle.
2. 1968 Topps - 113 of 598 cards. 18.9 percent
Another set hindered by design and capless players.
1. 1969 Topps - 147 of 664 cards. 22.1 percent.
A whopping 22 percent of all the cards in '69 Topps have people with no caps! That's almost criminal!
Thanks to the Players Association crackdown, Topps didn't have access to new photos of a lot of players. And throw in the expansion addition of the Expos, Padres, Royals and Pilots just before the set went to print, and kids took what they could get in 1969. And in a lot of cases that was blacked-out caps or no caps at all.
As weird as I thought blacked-out caps were when I was a kid, I still preferred it to no cap at all.
If you're wondering what the top 10 for this list is, I've got that, too:
1. 1969 Topps (22.1 percent); 2. 1968 Topps (18.9); 3. 1962 Topps (18.1); 4. 1961 Topps (17.0); 5. 1965 Topps (15.2); 6. 1966 Topps (14.6); 7. 1963 Topps (13.0); 8. 1960 Topps (12.1); 9. 1967 Topps (11.5); 10. 1970 Topps (8.8).
By the '70s, the capless trend had started to die off. After the 1970 Topps set featured capless players in nearly 9 percent of its set, 1971 Topps featured just under 4 percent. And the first set in which I bought packs, 1975 Topps, features just six players without caps. And three of those players are players in action, so they're excused.
But ever since I was 9, there has been no excuse for this. I don't care how awesome his hair is.