Skip to main content

A slanted story

It's been mentioned a time or two that the photography on 1970s baseball cards was a bit primitive by today's standards.

One of the examples that is cited often is the slanted backgrounds in the photographs. Here, in this 1974 Topps card, the most impressive thing about Tony Oliva is not that he is an eight-time All-Star, but that he is some how remaining upright while the rest of the Oakland Coliseum slides into the Pacific.

There are so many instances of these slanted backgrounds that it's considered almost a standard look for 1970s baseball cards. While compiling my 1975 Topps blog, I'm constantly running into cards that feature tilted stands or fields or baseball equipment.

I'm waiting for one of the players behind Jay Johnstone to start clinging for dear life to the batting cage.

I'm no photography expert, but from what I've heard, the tilting appears when the photographer is a bit lazy in taking the photo. But that's as technical as I can get. I just know that there is a photographer on our newspaper staff who regularly does the "tilt" thing, and she gets ripped for it.

When I write the '75 Topps blog, sometimes I mention the slanted background and sometimes I don't. That's because it is such a common trait of 1970s cards that it gets a little repetitive. It was kind of a way of life.

As the '70s progressed and we continued into the '80s, photo backgrounds flattened out. In card photos, players stood on vertical terra firma, which is really how it should be on a baseball field (unless you're in center field in Houston).

And, with some distance between us and the '70s, we laughed and chuckled at how backward people were in that decade. Those fools with their photos all askew!

Were they tilting photos because everyone was high on coke? Brainwashed by disco?

They were crazy! Wearing their pterodactyl collars and their platform shoes!

Listening to Captain and Tennile and watching Sonny and Cher! They thought Pluto was a PLANET! They had ROCKS for PETS! Their PRESIDENT was a PEANUT FARM ...

... er.


Um, has anyone else noticed this?

All of a sudden Topps is slanting photos again.

I didn't come across any of this in Series 1 of the 2010 base set, but in Series 2 there is the J.J. Hardy card.

And then there are these ...




But wait, there's more ..


That's a lot of uphill climbing.

I notice that unlike most of the 1970s cards, the backgrounds are slanted UP from right to left. Most of the '70s cards are slanted DOWN from right to left. I don't know what that means. I would guess, in my very unphotographer way, that the photographer is trying some kind of effect since the slant appears to be going up in the direction of the action. But that doesn't explain the Chris Getz card. And it still looks weirdly sloppy to me.

Perhaps Topps is trying to go retro '70s with its photos?

Maybe someone on staff got a pet rock and is discovering how fascinating it can be? Maybe "Ring My Bell" came over the speakers in the break room?

Probably not.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting. And maybe we can stop making fun of the '70s for everything.

At least for this anyway.


Anonymous said…
I'm going to have to disagree with you a bit here: don't blame the photographers for the slanted photos. I'm going to guess that the lion's share were taken just fine, and were later cropped at a slant.
Paul Hadsall said…
Most of the 2010 ones look like they were slanted on purpose to work better in the card design.

Knowing Topps, we'll see them again sometime - maybe then we'll have a better idea if it was the photographer's fault. :)
night owl said…
Not necessarily laying blame here. In fact, I'd love to have a photographer weigh in on this.

My question is why did this happen so often in the '70s and then why did it disappear and then all of a sudden pop up again in Topps Series 2.
I did notice it on the Teagarden card. I was hoping Joe Girardi would slide down the dugout into Arod's leg, but then Lance Berkman came along and took care of that for me (I jest of course...or do I?)
Jeremy said…
I've noticed the slanted background more in the older cards rather than the newer ones, but maybe that's because I haven't bought a lot of 2010 baseball. The newer ones that you uploaded are really obviously slanted. I don't think it's because of any editing. If you unslanted them, the player woudl look like they are about to fall on their face. Most photo or video editors that I've met or have read always tell people to keep the horizon line straight. I've noticed that random people who use my camera and wedding/portrait photographers have no interest in keeping the background straight. Maybe the photographers who do the photos in the cards don't have a PJ background? I'm not sure, maybe they're just starting out and this is before they hone their craft? That sounds a little condescending and I don't mean it that way, I just can't come up with a reason for it.
Community Gum said…
I'm a filmmaker with a degree that's technically in "Cinema and Photography" so I'll pretend I'm qualified to weigh in.

It's almost definitely in the crop. The photographer wants the image as close to level as possible so that's how s/he takes it. The non-photographer designer and/or creative director and/or bigwig wants the subject to appear perfectly vertical in the final image, so when centering the image within the frame of the card and its graphics, straightens the player out. In Johnstone's case, the designer screwed up because the subject and the stands are both crooked in the same direction. In all of the modern cards, you're looking at images of players in action whose poses aren't conducive to being straight up and down (running fast, swing followup, etc.) so straightening them jacks up the orientation. Pop one of these in Photoshop (or GiMP- it's free!) and rotate the whole card until the stands are straight and you'll see what I mean.

There's no lens or in-camera technique that I know of that somehow cants the foreground and the background at opposite angles to one another. Only in ViewMasters and one make that happen.

Someone with more printing experience feel free to chime in! -Andy

Popular posts from this blog

Stuck in traffic with Series 2

In the whirlwind that has been my life this month, I found myself going absolutely nowhere for a portion of Thursday afternoon. I was in the middle of yet another road trip, the third one this week. This one was for work, and because it was job-related, it became quickly apparent that it would be a waste of time. The only thing that could save it was a side visit to the nearby Walmart to see if I could spot some Topps Series 2. I found it right away, which was shocking as I was pretty much in the middle of the country, where SUVs share the road with tractors and buggies. Who knew that the Amish wanted Series 2, too? The problem was getting back into civilization to open the contents of the 72-card hanger box I bought. The neighboring village is undergoing a summer construction project smack in the middle of downtown. It's not much of a downtown, but the main road happens to be the main artery in the entire county. Everyone -- and by everyone I mean every tractor trailer ha

Heading upstate

  Back in 1999, Sports Illustrated published an edition at the end of the year rating the top 50 athletes of the century for every state.   As a lifelong Upstate New Yorker, I braced for a list of New York State athletes that consisted almost entirely of downstate natives, that is, folks from the greater NYC area and Long Island.   We Upstaters are used to New York City trampling all over the rest of the state. They have the most people, the loudest voices. It happens all the time. It's a phenomenon unique to this state. Heck, there are still people out there who, when you tell them you're from New York, automatically think you're from NYC. They don't think of cows and chickens when they think of New York. But trust me, there are a lot of cows and chickens in New York State. Especially cows.   So, anyway, when I counted up the baseball players that SI listed as the greatest from New York State, six of the nine were from New York City or Long Island. I was surprised all

G.O.A.T, the '80s: 30-21

  I often call this current period of the television sports calendar the black hole of sports programming. The time between the end of the Super Bowl and the beginning of televised Spring Training baseball games is an empty void when I'm looking for something to watch on traditional television. I don't watch the NBA and the NHL on TV holds my interest for maybe a period. College basketball I can't watch until the tournament. This didn't used to be as much of a problem back when I could turn instead to my favorite sitcoms in February. Do you remember when February was "sweeps month"? (Maybe it still is, I don't know). Networks would make sure that every top show aired original episodes that month, no reruns. So you'd always have something to view during the week even when the sports scene was boring. (I know, people have multiple streaming viewing options now. But I find myself going weeks sometimes before I see something I want to view on Netflix or Am