Friday, October 6, 2017

G.O.A.T., the '70s: 80-71

Time to establish one thing before the countdown gets any farther.

I've tried to hold fast to my definition of "great" in this exercise. Granted, it's a broad definition, but the rules do exist.

I am picking cards that impress me. They are made well, or the photograph is thought-provoking, or the card is unique. The card is interesting because it is great.

To me "greatness" doesn't include screw-ups. There are several famous cards from the '70s that are famous because they either include mistakes or aren't well-done. Maybe they listed the wrong person (the 1973 Joe Rudi card, the 1975 Steve Busby card) or maybe they screwed up painting on the logo (the 1974 Ralph Houk card). While I enjoy those cards, they don't make this countdown.

When you put "greatness" in the title, you have to think about things like that.

So that's enough about definitions. It's time to kick back, play the theme to the Rockford Files, crack a few teeth with a BB Bats banana taffy sucker, and ponder how love can be like oxygen.

It's the greatest cards of the '70s, numbers 80-71:


Nolan Ryan, 1975 Kellogg's, #26

I discovered Nolan Ryan in 1975.

I don't remember exactly how. My guess is I saw his Topps Highlights card from that year, the one where he appears to be towering over every mere mortal as he raises his arms over his head. I didn't really know who Nolan was, but got the impression he was good.

However, the Topps Ryan cards from that year leave me a bit cold. Ryan shows little emotion (which is very much like Ryan, of course). To draw my attention I need a card like this.

Ryan appears to be leaping from the card and I'm sure a few impressionable kids jumped back when they found this card in their cereal box. 3-D action was as wild as any current video game during the 1970s. It is the ideal image to use on a 3-D card.

Watch out. Nolan's comin' at ya.


Steve Ontiveros, 1976 Topps, #284

Cameos are the gateway drug into 1970s cards. There are enough of them that collectors can't help but notice in retrospect: hey, isn't that Thurman Munson? Isn't that Davey Concepcion? Isn't that MIKE SCHMIDT?

Yup, that's Schmidt turning to determine exactly where the heck that ball is as Steve Ontiveros, someone who is much less well-known than Schmidt even in 1976, chugs around third base so vigorously that I can hear his huffing and puffing coming off the cardboard.

Bonus points for having a third baseman rounding third base.


Oscar Gamble, 1973 Topps, #372

Speaking of Davey Concepcion, there he is, trying to determine exactly where the heck that ball is.

Several players show up several times in this countdown. They are the major card stars of the 1970s. And Oscar Gamble is definitely one of them.

This is our first view of Gamble's widening afro. Kept under control during his earlier cards, the helmet is off and the hair cannot be contained. Adding to the fun is all of the dust and disarray. The dirt appears to be evaporating the Reds' second baseman.

Finally, I must mention that Gamble is listed as being with the Cleveland Indians. Yet, he is sliding into second as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.


Woody Fryman, 1976 SSPC, #345

I have mentioned several times how 1970s baseball cards don't do the best job of capturing everything that was great and unique about 1970s baseball. They usually go as far as the uniforms and stop there.

I have lamented the lack of '70s-style bullpen carts on cards (thank you, 1974 Topps Mike Schmidt).

Of course, SSPC doesn't know what the hell I'm talking about.

Can't I see the bullpen cart? Hell, the headlight almost steals the show, which of course is that Woody Fryman has commandeered a bullpen cart while wearing a satin jacket. A Montreal Expos satin jacket, I might add.


George Foster, 1978 Topps, #500

It's amazing what puts a card over the top.

You people who were youngsters when Maris was chasing Ruth or when Bonds was chasing McGwire probably don't know what I'm talking about, but George Foster was an absolute giant in 1978. Pulling his card the year after he hit 52 home runs in a season -- 52! -- was like acing three tests in a row.

We kids had never heard of someone coming close to 50 home runs. Maris? Didn't he do that before they invented fire? It had been so looooong since anyone had hit 50.

So the card was phenomenal because of that. And it was great because of the All-Star badge. And it was tremendous because of Foster's look, his devastating sideburns.

And then, there was the bat.

Just a hint of the bat. But it was there. George Foster's black bat.


This card was genius.


Darrel Chaney, 1973 Topps, #507

When I think of action shots and 1973 Topps, my mind goes to distant panoramas. Players so far away that their faces are difficult to distinguish.

This card is an achievement for that reason alone. It's not distant. It's as close as one can get to a play on the basepaths while still capturing the emotion of the event. Darrel Chaney appears to be in the midst of being called out. It still hasn't registered with him. He's hopeful. He thinks he beat the tag. In an instant, he'll know he didn't. He won't like the ump. He'll remember that he's a career .218 hitter.

But that moment isn't here yet.


Joe Morgan, 1971 Topps, #264

Growing up in the '70s, watching baseball once a week -- twice if I was lucky -- we didn't have our pick of camera angles.

The one they showed all the time is the one they show all the time now, the view from the outfield camera. One of the only other options was showing the game from behind the backstop. I hated that angle. Anytime they showed it I pleaded with the TV to change it back to the outfield camera. I couldn't see anything.

That's how I envision some people looking at this card. But in this case I don't agree.

This photo, to me, is art. It captures a moment in baseball -- the crack of the bat -- from an angle you don't normally see. Everyone at the plate is in view, Joe Morgan, Jerry Grote, the ump in black. I even like where the signature is placed, as if Morgan has signed off on this image. "Damn good picture," said Joe Morgan.


Ron Guidry, 1978 Topps, #135

As we collected the 1978 Topps cards, we began to notice that almost all of the Yankees cards featured action photos. No other team had more than a handful. Yet virtually every Yankee was out there on the field -- doing.

As a Yankee hater, this annoyed the hell out of me. Why did they get all the good cards?

I let it slide for only one player, Ron Guidry. In 1978, Guidry was assembling a phenomenal season, en route to winning 25 games and a 1.74 ERA. I had never heard of such numbers in my young life as a fan.

This Guidry card became hot property (later I found out it was one of the double-printed cards in the set, which explained why I still had it in my collection while all my other Yankees disappeared quickly, sucked up by the abundant Yankee fans in the neighborhood). Every time he pitched another win, this card would flash in my mind. It began to symbolize what Guidry was actually doing.


Vida Blue, 1973 Topps, #430

Here is another card star of the '70s.

Blue's 1973 card gives the collector a batter's eye view of what is coming. The batter -- Cesar Tovar, perhaps? -- chokes up because he knows whatever Blue has in mind will be difficult to handle. Blue, who sent his pitches at nearly 100 mph, is hiding the ball so well we can read the number on his back and his name, too. Meanwhile, the leg kick is a delight.

Blue and Tovar are the only players in the photo, giving you an inside view of the mano-a-mano battle that is a repeated part of every baseball game. We take it for granted.


Dave Kingman, 1977 Topps, #500

It was tough being a Mets fan in the late 1970s.

If you were the glass-is-half-full type you could look at some of the Mets youngsters, players like John Stearns, Mike Vail and Craig Swan, and hope they were leading to something good. But as for the present? There wasn't squat.

Except for Dave Kingman.

Kingman, considered a joke by many in baseball because of all of his strikeouts and low batting average, found a home in New York, delivering prodigious blasts in between whiffs. He hit 37 in 1976 and was selected a starting outfielder for the All-Star game in Philadelphia.

Growing up in New York, I saw Kingman on TV a fair amount. I saw this stance by Kingman. But it looked so much more impressive on a baseball card. Kingman seemed 8 feet tall. His bat seemed 8 feet tall. And you knew that the first-time All-Star had just launched another one.

OK, that's all for the third installment. I hope you liked it. And I hope you didn't actually bite into that banana taffy sucker. Ow.


  1. Reading your description of Foster reminded me of Cecil Fielder's break through in 1990...

  2. I wonder whose head is rising out of the cloud of dust behind Davey on the Oscar Gamble card?

    1. If that game is in 1972, then I'd say it's Darrel Chaney because he's the only non-Joe Morgan guy who played 2B against Philadelphia at the Vet. Joe Hague is in RF, which matches the card. I think it's in the bottom of the 1st of the June 4 game. Gamble singled and then advanced to 2nd on an IF hit by Greg Luzinski (?!?). The play doesn't look quite right, though. I'll let someone else take it from here.

  3. Yes!!! Oscar with his first appearance.

    Another superb selection of cards.

  4. George Foster is my favorite card and story of this lineup. 1961 was the first year I followed baseball. The excitement of watching Maris and Mantle chase Ruth was unbelievable to a wide-eyed kid. I remember bringing in the wood for the fire (that had just been discovered) and checking the box scores etched out on granite slabs. Fast forward to 1978, it was great to see someone reaching the 50's level again.

  5. The action shots from this series are hands down my favorites. The Morgan, Guidry, and Blue are fantastic!

  6. Dear Topps: Please bring back the 1978 All-Star badges. Thank you.

  7. If you asked 12-year-old me what a ballplayer looked like, I would've handed you a card of Dave Kingman. The guy looked so big and athletic, the 1970's version of "Casey At The Bat" (In more ways than one).

    I hate to argue with your Dave Kingman comment, because it WAS extremely hard to be a Mets fan in the late 1970's... But there was never a time in the 1970's when it was just Kingman and a bunch of kids. Kingman was traded to the Padres the same day in 1977 that Tom Seaver was traded to the Reds. That "Midnight Massacre" was the moment when the Mets franchise went over the edge like the "Yodely Guy" in the Price Is Right Cliffhangers game.

    1. I suppose I was lumping the Mets teams from post '73 WS to 1979 together. I ain't a Mets fan, so the teams kind of blend together.

  8. Tough choice on which card I like best. Flip a coin!! Vida Blue, 1973 Topps, #430 or Joe Morgan, 1971 Topps, #264. Both great cards.

  9. The second basemen coming out of the cloud of dust on the Oscar Gamble card is Darrell Cheney it is a game from June 4 1972 ...Gamble advanced to second base on infield single

  10. I love that dust cloud monster with a human head, on the Oscar Gamble card. And the Ontiveros card has always been one of my favorite cards since I first saw it (probably somewhere on this blog)

  11. I love the Oscar Gamble card. Once again thanks for taking the time to do this. Maybe I'll do something similar with 1998 Pacific :) "This Jeter card is nice because it has 47 different colors in the background and is diecut"

  12. Not that most 70's sets aren't saturated with all my PC guys, but it's fun to see three in a row to end your segment, plus Foster in all his bad-assness.

  13. That Vida Blue photo is magnificent! Wonder if Stadium Club ever did something similar with Randy Johnson /Clemens/Nolan Ryan/other dominant & intimidating pitcher...

    Looking forward to the next episode.

  14. Did you ever notice George Foster and Ken Griffey had matching sideburns in their 1978 Topps photos?