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Mudville: June 22, 2024 6:46 am PDT

The Cards We Loved to Hate

From the first days we started to collect cards, there were always those cardboard rectangles we didn’t quite know what to do with… you know, those extra cards that noted the end of the season playoff and awards. Peeling back the wax paper to see a non-player card was always a disappointment.

Like so many, I sorted my cards out by teams, thus leaving me with a small pile of these cards in the corner of my shoe box. Along with the “check off” and team picture cards, these cards would find their way to the spokes of bikes when paired with clothes pins that gave us that revving motorcycle sound. Ah, the sweet clicking sound of cardboard on bicycle spokes made our Schwinn sound like a Harley.

Oddly enough, with age, another glance at the cards gives a different look at our game.

Here’s one of our favorites from the 1969 Topps set that shows the Detroit Tigers celebrating their ’68 World Series Championship over the St. Louis Cardinals.

The card “Tigers Celebrates Their Victory” brought us inside the clubhouse for the wild celebration as Denny McLain shouts out to the clubhouse manager to get Willie Horton some deodorant.

Meanwhile, on the left, it looks like Felix Unger (Jack Lemon) from the Odd Couple movie has joined in on the jubilation, probably due to Oscar Madison sneaking him into the clubhouse. We wonder if Murray the Cop was working security that day.

It really is embarrassing nowadays to see the players equipped with ski goggles for their celebrations. The modern-day softness of players—ugh.  Give me those Tigers who after grinding out a 162-game season and seven tough games against the defending World Champion Cardinals were tough enough to feel the burn of champagne in their eyes. Anyways, it was a simpler game back then and that’s why we loved it.

We also had those playoff cardboard slabs such as these 1971 Topps cards bring us results from Games 1 and 3 of the Pirates-Reds National League Championship Series of the previous season. With expansion came a round of playoffs and we guess there was a clamoring for these highlight cards from Topps.

These cards gave us career highlights for Ty Cline, both of them. A .270-hitter off the bench for Sparky Anderson during the 1970 season, Cline made the most of his two appearances in National League Playoffs versus the Pirates.

The lefty swinger would hit a pinch-hit triple to open the tenth inning and eventually score what would be the deciding run in Game 1 of the Playoff Series.

The backup outfielder would then strike again, landing on cardboard a second time as Cline plated the winning run of Game 3 of the 1970 NLCS. With two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning of a 2-all tied game, Cline would pinch-hit and draw a walk off Pirate starter Bob Moose. He would later score from second on single by Bobby Tolan on a close play as seen on the card— as the Reds swept their way to a World Series date with the Baltimore Orioles.

Not bad for a guy who appeared in just 48 games for the Reds in 1970.

In the ’70 Fall Classic, Ty Cline would rap out one hit (a single off Moe Drabowsky in Game 2) in three pinch-hitting at-bats as the Reds lost to the Orioles in five games.

Cline would hit .238 in 892 games from 1960-197 and seemed to be wearing a different uniform each year during the 1960s and early ‘70s; as Cline would play for the Indians, Braves, Cubs, Giants, Expos and Reds, and is an under the radar name for the Immaculate Grid. (insert link to past article here)

These also found the spokes of our bikes, though we have a hunch that Cline carries these cards in his wallet to this day.

Yet somehow, Topps dropped the ball on their 1970 World Series cards when they recognized the outstanding play of Brooks Robinson as they showed the third baseman on all fours. “The Human Vacuum Cleaner” is seen either looking for a contact lens or maybe clamming in the Baltimore infield in preparation for a post-game meal with shortstop Mark Belanger. Bet Brooks made a mean white clam sauce for his linguine. Either way, it’s not a very flattering look for the 1970 World Series MVP. That’s okay, the vision of Robinson making the backhand play and long throw to first base to nip Reds slugger Lee May will always be in our memory.

Digging into the 1962 Topps set we were treated with the “floating heads” of the league leader boards. Hard to say how many nightmares these cards caused kids during the early 1960s.

Here we see Camilo Pascual take center stage when he led the American League in strikeouts in 1961 with 221. The Cuban hurler would see his head float on cardboard again in 1963, before a fully uniformed picture of the diminutive righty with a devastating curve ball surfaced in 1964 as Pascual would lead the Junior Circuit in strikeouts for three consecutive seasons, 1961 through 1963. P.S. Juan Pizarro just looks happy to be included on a card with future Hall of Famers Whitey Ford and Jim Bunning.

Yes, this ’62 cardboard was a managers’ dream – and a nice one for collectors now who saved the slab of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, as the #18 card brings in just over $200 on eBay ungraded.

We will say this; back in 1968 Topps hit a home run with these cards that allowed us to play a game. Willie Mays with a home run, but only a single for Mantle? Yaz looks to own a single card, though shouldn’t he have had a double card for all the times he banged one off the Green Monster of Fenway Park? After all, Yastremski led the American League in doubles for three seasons during the 1960s.

How about that Rod Carew card on the lower far left, with what looks to be a ground out? The Panamanian could really handle the lumber and absolutely should have been given a hit card. However, we could envision Tony Gonzalez weakly pop up and Tim McCarver foul out because he was busy talking to the umpire during his at bat.

And here was one for the spokes, as what the frick were we supposed to do with a Ford Frick card? Did the Commissioner of Baseball pressure Topps to include him in the 1959 set? And how about that first name of Ford? Who names their kid Ford? We wonder if Ford’s best friend in the neighborhood was Chrysler?

With that, it’s time to frickin’ move on.

So, as we enter 2024, we can only guess at what Topps has in store for us in the next collecting season. If they follow the Nerds, we can expect to see a Strikeout Leaders card for hitters, highlighting the swing-and-miss abilities of Philadelphia’s Kyle Schwarber (215) and Seattle’s Eugenio Suarez (214).  Hey, strikeouts are just another out in the Nerds’ eyes. Better yet, a card that highlights Yankee slugger Aaron Judge and Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna for leading their respective leagues in xwOBA. Not sure what that stat is, but the card would make a great Christmas present for our BallNine colleague Kevin Kernan.

C.J. Carlson is a freelance baseball writer residing in the Midwest and raised on Chicago Cubs baseball, while collecting cards along the way.

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