Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The best Dodger cards ever made countdown: 40-31

In my line of work, "context" is important. I'm not merely referring to sports figures who try to pass blame by claiming "I was taken out of context." I'm referring to "news value." Whether something is "news" or not has a lot to do with "context." When, what, where, why, who, etc., etc. You know the drill.

But a lot of people do not. I don't know how many times I've had to explain to someone why we did a certain story or why we didn't do a certain story. It all has to do with "context," and often the response I get back is a blank look or silence on the other end of the line.

This countdown has a lot to do with context as far as the cards I've picked. It's not merely the way the card looks. Although that does have a lot to do with it, if I was doing this countdown based solely on "look," there would be much different cards. It'd either be a countdown of all MOJO MAD HITZZZZZZZ or a bunch of cards from 1956.

But it's not that way. I've mentioned several times the reason for picking the card had to do with what was going on that the time, or where the player was at during that time. Sometimes that is what makes a card great.

And sometimes, it's just because the Card Looks Awesome.

You see? I can go either way.

As you'll see in this latest edition of the countdown.

Time for cards 40 through 31. Plus a little context:

40. Dave Lopes, 1976 Topps

Lots of reasons to place this card where I did. First, it is an iconic mustache card. I can't even think of what else would qualify as an iconic mustache card because I'm looking at this card and all I see is mustache. I am lost in mustache, in a totally heterosexual way. It's quite possible Lopes is actually smiling in this card (though I doubt it), but you'd never know. Throw in the fact that Lopes was coming off a tremendous, record-breaking season, and that Topps made him the last card in the set (something of a place of honor), and Davey is at No. 40.

39. Bob Welch, 1979 Topps

I have already made the case for this possibly being the greatest rookie card of all-time. That pretty much sums up why it's on this countdown. But the short version is: Game 2. World Series. Reggie Jackson. Two on. Two out. Ninth Inning. Whiiiffffffffffffffff. And five months later Welch's first baseball card appeared in packs.

38. Don Newcombe, 1956 Topps

I'm losing a bit of objectivity here because this card was probably the first BIG card I ever landed. But Newcombe isn't too shabby all by himself. Right at this time, he was at his absolute peak. In 1955, he went 20-5, led the league in WHIP (although no one knew it at the time) and finished seventh in MVP voting. In 1956, he went 27-7, led the league in WHIP again, and finished first in the Cy Young AND MVP voting.

That's context. You received mad props if you pulled this card in 1956. But no one said that then either. Or now, for that matter.

37. Ralph Branca, 1951 Bowman

More context. The most famous thing Branca ever did was give up a home run to Bobby Thomson in a playoff game. It was once the most famous postseason home run ever hit (as the years go by, it seems like the most famous postseason HR is getting to be Kirk Gibson). That happened in 1951, when this card came out. Oh, and 1951 Bowman happens to LOOK fantastic. So there's that, too.

36. Clayton Kershaw, 2009 Topps Allen & Ginter

The runner-up for my Card of the Year in '09, a lot of people wanted this card No. 1. I can appreciate that, although this particular pose has been used a lot, going back at least to the early '90s. But the angle that the photo was taken, the cropping, and the positioning of the ball, seems to make it extra special. I think. Or maybe it's just because Kershaw is my favorite current player.

35. Steve Garvey, 1972 Topps

More personal bias coming in -- sorry. This is the first big purchase I ever made at a card show. In fact, it was at my first card show. After I made that purchase, the card just kept going up in price, because it is a 1972 Topps high number and because it was the 1980s and every card went bananas. Having this card was a big point of pride for me -- probably the first moment in which I thought "I have an expensive card that other people want." It's also Garvey's second-year card, which means a little something.

34. Kirk Gibson, 2007 Upper Deck Masterpieces

Speaking of Gibby, here he is! One of the most classic celebration moments frozen in time on a baseball card. You can't beat that. Gibson has been featured on cards trotting around the bases before and since this card came out. But Masterpieces did it with a style that makes it stand out over all others. Or almost all others. Stay tuned.

33. Fernando Valenzuela, 1981 Topps Traded

So, there was this guy named Fernando who pitched five shutouts in the first two months of his rookie year. People went absolutely ballistic over him throughout the world. But there weren't hardly any cards of him. There was a three-player thing that Topps put out with him sharing space with some guys named Perconte and Scioscia. That was pretty good, but not good enough. Then Topps announced that they were going to produce a "Traded Set." And that set would have a card of Valenzuela. Unfortunately, you could only get the set via mail order and that prevented me from obtaining the card for like 25 years. And that's about how long I longed for the card before FINALLY landing it. It's a beauty.

32. Fernand(o) Valenzuela, 1981 Fleer

OK, which way you wanna go here? Fleer managed to produce the only solo card of Valenzuela in 1981. That's a point for Fleer. But the name is screwed up. That's a point taken from Fleer.

In the end, it's just too important that someone made a solo card of Valenzuela that came out during his amazing 1981 season. And that is worthy of honoring, despite the typo. Plus the photo really captures Valenzuela's quiet, somewhat confused look, which he wore just about the entire 1981 season.

31. Carl Furillo, 1957 Topps

I'm one of those collectors who isn't crazy about the 1957 set. Dull design. Lots of dark, drab photos. But, damn, for its time? They had to be fascinating to collectors. Full-color photos. For every player. For the first time. The Brooklyn Dodgers cards in this set look particularly great, just because they're the BROOKLYN DODGERS. And they played in EBBETS FIELD, which is where a lot of the Dodger photos in this set were taken. Add the fact that it's Carl Furillo and that he's carrying THREE BATS, and you've got card No. 31.

And that's another 10 cards down.

A little context there. But some cool-looking cards, too.

And 100 percent Dodgers.

Which is the best part.


  1. More great picks! Although I'm not usually huge on horizontal A&G cards, that Kershaw is an absolute beauty.

    Love the '51 Bowman Branca as well. I still don't have a single card from that set.

    I should probably try and change that.

  2. Actually, as of about a week ago, I've started thinking of Ralph Branca as a really good contestant on the game show Concentration:

    It isn't even a celebrity edition of the show, just a regular version where he played and ended up in their tournament.

  3. The groups keep getting better. I love the older cards. Not a big fan of the Kershaw, probably because it's so new.

  4. Those Brooklyn cards are sweet. The Branca looks to be a work of art.

  5. I still think the Thomson homer is the most iconic homer of all-time. Given the era and how New York dominated the landscape (the MANHATTAN Giants beat the BROOKLYN Dodgers to play the BRONX Yankees), it would be hard to ever top.

  6. Maybe. But I was referring to how often it's remembered.

    It's going to fade from memory for those fans who aren't big followers of baseball history. I've seen it happen with other sports feats or top players. If it didn't happen during their lifetime, it starts not getting mentioned anymore.

  7. Thanks for reminding me... I need to either pick up that 81 Topps Traded Fernando or just bite the bullet and grab me the whole set.

    Great list!

  8. These are getting really great now...can't wait to see which card tops the list.

  9. Context won’t keep my from saying my two cents…

    40. I wanted to say that it looks like a squirrel set up shop on Dave’s face but it is so much more than a squirrel. It is more like a bear set up shop on his face.

    39. If it wasn’t for cards and blogs I would have never had any idea who Bob Welch was. But I will probably forget it again by tomorrow. I’ll remember that Night Owl wrote a post on it if I ever need that fact to win a trivia contest in the future but won’t be able to find it because I wouldn’t use the correct amount of “I”s or “f”s in the word Whiiiffffffffffffffff

    38. I think you could have used evey 1956 Dodger in this countdown and not got a single argument.

    37. I love old Bowman cards. The mininess is part of what makes them so great.

    36. It is certainly a great card pose and you didn’t even mention the light pole lurking behind Clayton.

    35. I never really noticed how much yellow was on the 1972 cards until you put the word banana under it. Thanks, now instead of thinking of it as the cemetery set it is going to be in my head as the banana set and I will have to compare it to 1991 Fleer every time I see it.

    34. I would have moved this up the list quite a bit. I would think as a Dodger fan you would have too. You do have about 6 different colored bordered ones though sop maybe we will be seeing them on the list in the future.

    33. BLECHHH, pink!!! Fernando deserves so much better.

    32. That looks so much better than the last Fernand(o). Blue is greater than pink.

    31. I hear you on the 1957 set being dull. If 52 Bowman were not around it would be the very worst set of the 50s. Scratch that, 55 Bowman and 59 Topps.