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Mudville: July 23, 2024 1:10 am PDT

Yogi Doesn’t Shower for Picture Day

By the time 1963 rolled around, Yogi Berra had accumulated two sets of brass knuckles made of World Series rings, thumbs included.

In the eighth inning of Game 4 of the 1963 World Series, Berra lined out to right as a pinch hitter against Don Drysdale and five outs later, his Yankee career was over. The Yankees were swept by the Dodgers and Yogi transitioned to become the next manager of the Yankees.

This allowed Yogi a way around a Topps loophole. Typically, if a player retired after the season, he wasn’t issued a baseball card the following year. The general thought was that Topps wanted to feature players who were active that coming spring to better separate kids from their nickels as they ripped packs to chase their favorite current stars. However, Topps included managers in their sets at the time, so Yogi found his way onto 1964 cardboard after all.

Yogi Berra’s 1964 Topps card didn’t capture his smiling mug the way his 1957 or ’58 card did. This year the Topps photographer went full-closeup on Yogi’s confused face, showing him giving an annoyed quizzical look.

It’s as if someone was reading aloud his famous sayings and this was the exact moment that he realized that he’ll be more remembered for his malapropisms than his ten rings. In 1964, Topps did this thing where they allowed just the tip of a player’s cap to extend ever so slightly into the white top border on some of their cards.

It was only a centimeter or so, but it allowed a lot of cards to have a slight 3D look to them. It was a neat little touch and it worked great.

They did this on Yogi’s card and it made him seem so close to you that you can smell the pastrami on his breath.

The extreme closeup allowed fans to examine Yogi’s face, beaten and weathered by days behind the plate and nights among the smokey alleys of the Berra-Rizzuto Lanes. When Seinfeld told Kramer his face looked like an old catcher’s mitt, this is what he was talking about. Like Jackie Chiles once said, “Your face is my case.” The latest the photo could have been taken was 1963, which meant Yogi was 38 at the time.

Not to pick on the iconic scamp, but this photo made him look no younger than 60.

A great subtle aspect of the card is the line of dried sweat visible under the bill of Yogi’s cap. There’s something relatable knowing that Yogi wore that cap through so many sultry Bronx afternoons, flipped backwards, underneath his catcher’s mask. He didn’t care one bit to change it.

It reminds me of finding that perfect hat as a kid and wearing it until it became a lice-ridden rag and fell to pieces. Or until your dad ripped it off your head in a fit of rage and flung it out the car window on the Long Island Expressway.

One of the great let downs as a kid was ripping packs of a new Topps issue anticipating that first glimpse of your favorite star’s new card, only for it to be a dopey posed photo. In 1988, I wanted nothing more than to see Mark McGwire mercilessly beating the life out of a baseball on my Topps card.

Instead, I got him standing around Tigers Stadium looking like Darrell Evans just crop dusted him. Disappointing. The 1964 Topps Yogi Berra card is a different story. It’s baseball card minimalism at its best. The photo is just a tad closer than other headshots, allowing Yogi to put his wrinkled furrowed brow, five o’clock shadow and sweaty cap right in your face.

But it gets late early. So we put our cards away.

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book was released in April of 2021.

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