Friday, February 17, 2017

The helmet king

A post earlier today from Wrigley Wax got my attention. I am a sucker for helmets on baseball cards and even did a post a few years ago trying to figure out why I liked them so much.

WW dug up the first Topps card to show a Cubs player wearing a helmet. I suppose if you run a Cubs blog that's what you got to do. I was surprised that there wasn't a helmeted Cub before 1963 until I considered that helmets weren't made mandatory for all players until 1958 (and not strictly enforced until 1970), and helmets most often appeared during games, which Topps didn't regularly shoot until the '70s.

I quickly went through my collection to find the first Topps card of a Dodger wearing a helmet. I came up with 1962 Topps Larry Burright here, an extra careful chap, wearing a helmet while fielding grounders. I wasn't extra careful researching this though, so I'll have to double-check for the next helmet post.

That's right, the next helmet post. I told you I like helmets on cards.

But for now, it's still Ron Cey Week. And I'm happy to reveal that there was no more masterful helmet-wearer than The Penguin.

I've always known this. But when I did the research I was a bit amazed.

In virtually all of Cey's cards issued during his career, he is wearing a helmet. That's a little bit mind-blowing, considering players in helmets did not appear in the majority of cards issued during Cey's career. For example, in 1976, only four Dodgers are wearing helmets.

But I think Cey is the helmet king. After a couple of years sharing a rookie prospects card with two other dudes and wearing a cap, Cey makes his solo card debut with a helmet:

A majestic card, no doubt made more grand by that hint of helmet. (I must link to the fantastic Gummy Arts rendition of this card made on Cey's birthday).

From there, it was either helmet or no hat at all, dammit.

Not a cap to be found. That was just too, too cool for a Cey fan, and another contributor to why he was my favorite player. And, conversely, why helmets were so awesome.

But now Donruss and Fleer had arrived and how would they treat Cey's headwear?

Amazing. Still committed to the helmet.

Topps featured two cards of Cey in 1982 and he's showcasing the helmet in each one.

Then Donruss and Fleer rocked my world by showing the first cards of Ron Cey wearing a regular hat since 1973. These were the first cards of Cey that I pulled in which he was wearing a hat. That's a nine-year period!

So, now, Topps' eyes were opened and for its 1983 set it did something it had never done:

Cey is wearing a soft hat -- although Topps hedged its bets by including the inset photo of Cey in a helmet
 (the first time he is in a visible flap helmet).

It was a whole new world.

So what do Donruss and Fleer do?

Go back to the helmet!

That's a fine Topps trolling job, you two.

By 1984, Cey was a Cub, and really who cares anymore? But his trend toward helmets continued in Topps. He's wearing helmets on his 1984 and 1985 Topps cards and no hat at all on his 1986 and 1987 Topps cards. (In Donruss and Fleer it's a mix of helmets and caps).

The only time that Cey is wearing a soft hat on a Topps card during his career are on the 1972 and 1973 rookie prospects cards, 1983, and the 1987 Traded set (as an Oakland A). But there is not one time in Topps flagship that Cey is wearing a soft hat only -- the headwear the majority of players wore on cards at that time -- on a solo card.

That, to me, is amazing.

And Ron Cey is the helmet king.

Of course, it would take another similar research project to find someone who exceeds or matches that. And it can't be any player from the post-1980s because there are too many action shots from which to choose.

I may be up for that at some point, but more likely not.

I don't want anyone knocking the crown from Cey's head.

Or more accurately, the helmet.


  1. I don't think anyone can dethrone the helmet king, but just as a data point, Jim Fregosi is pictured in a helmet in '65, '67, '68, '69, and '71 as an Angel.

  2. it should be ron cey week every week. i like this post and am impressed that you made it through a whole post about ron cey and helmets and no mention of goose gossage. i remember thinking that it was good to see the earflap on his 1983 fleer card when it came out. also, i immediately thought of reggie smith while reading this post - he's in a helmet from 1976 through 1981 on his topps cards, plus his 1981 donruss card, 1982 fleer card, and 1983 fleer card. that's a pretty good run, too. jeff leonard had a high percentage of topps cards with helmet photos, plus a couple with the backwards cap, and i thought that maybe willie crawford could give cey a run for his money, but a quick check of my collection shows him with a helmet in 1971 and from 1974 through 1978.

  3. Great post!! It gave me a flashback to 1975. When I first saw that Cey card, I was mesmerized. It might have been the first helmeted non-action player card I ever saw. I didn't realize that at the time. Something about it just seemed so cool, so different. Now I really think that's what it was.

  4. About the only person I can think of pictured with a helmet on more than Cey is John Olerud.. He took it to the field as well.. lol

    That is an interesting idea though... Something I hadn't noticed really

  5. Great post. Cey is truly the helmet king. But John Olerud has to be in his royal court, right?