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1974 Most Valuable Players

April 2, 2009

1974-mvps1

Through a special series celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Topps company’s baseball card production, collectors of the 1975 set were able to view samples of all the sets that had come before. I only have a few of the cards from that series, including this one, which features the 1974 set, the only cards I had any previous familiarity with, having bought a few packs the year before my first baseball card deluge of 1975. All the other sets from the past were new to me, as history itself was new to me. This sense of history, of there being a whole colorful, knowable world of facts and heroes that had preceded me, was part of the reason I fell so hard for baseball. I’m sure other sets before and since have found various ways to include the past, but I doubt it has ever been done with such brightness and immediacy and gravity as in 1975, when the biggest stars of each of the last twenty-five years were shown at the height of their powers, as cardboard gods.

Lord, is there any end to the blessings of the 1975 set that welcomed me to cardboard heaven? The 1975 set contained multitudes by reaching into the past, by bursting with a rainbow of colors, even by providing as many memorable wax figure still shots as it did. In later years, after I stopped collecting, the sets had so many action shots that they all blurred together into one moment of forgettable frenzy. The difference between the 1975 cards and the action-glutted cards of later years reminds me of a home DVD I recently watched. My mom put it together, quilting several videos of both my niece and nephew into their own separate DVDs. The video footage was great, but I found that I was much more affected by and emotional about the slide show of still shots that she also had on the DVD. Like photos, the 1975 cards stop time, allowing each frozen zombie of a baseball player their moment of immortality.

That’s one way to look at it. Another way is to see the 1975 cards as simultaneously lifeless and desperate. They lack action and seem to try to make up for it with garish colors. They are, considering that they followed the 1974 set, which I assume is much more widely celebrated, like the younger sibling of the kid whom everyone in the family loves the most. The 1974 cards don’t have to wear ridiculous clothes and slather on the makeup. The 1974 cards are brimming with life and yet also modest and reserved. The 1974 cards surprise you with innovations, such as the one seen here which features the sideways Steve Garvey photo. Whatever the situation, the 1974 card will not only adapt to it but will enhance it, make it special. Had the photo of Jeff Burroughs shown here appeared in a 1975 card, the technicolor frame would have shunted Jeff Burroughs into a moment of glum aftermath; but here, in 1974, the classically simple bordering reporting team and position and name makes Jeff Burroughs into a contemplative slugger pondering the fearsome punishment he is about to unleash on the opposition.

All this makes me think that if I had born one year earlier I would have held the 1974 set above all others. Even now, when I want to disparage it for thinking it’s better than me (“me” and the 1975 cards being interchangeable here), I can’t help but like it. It may help that I actually own the Jeff Burroughs card pictured here. Because of this, I am able to flip it over and view the greatest feature of the 1974 set, a feature that not even an embittered 1975-ophile could fail to love, the biographical cartoon. All the 1974 cards had them, but I doubt any of them would have drawn me to the player as much as the one that revealed the deep waters that flowed below the surface of the league MVP pictured on the front of the card:

burroughs-back

16 comments

  1. I was born a couple years earlier than you, Josh, and I *do* hold the 1974 set above all others, by far. Second place would probably be the 1973 set, because I dig the shadowy stick figure to indicate the player’s position. 1975 was a big disappointment to me in comparison, and I never collected cards as much again as I did in that ’74 season, when I was eight.

    Sad to think that in anything I’ve done, I peaked at age eight.


  2. I found the ’74 cards a bit bland. I like the ’75 set (I still think the ’76 and ’56 sets are the best). I guess it comes to whether you like the photos or the presentation on the borders. I tend to appreciate the borders, I suppose.

    I think the worst set of my childhood was the first year I really went hog-wild for cards, 1978.

    Those little cartoons are great, though. Burroughs’ card might as well say, “Jeff is a dumb jock with no interests outside of sports.”


  3. i loved those cartoons, the more random the better.


  4. I also have the 1973 MVPs card from this 1975 series, and when I consider that card and the 1973 set I’ll probably mention this then, but Shysterball had a great post a while ago about the ’73 set that paid particular attention to the cartoons.


  5. No Offense, but you’re all wrong. 1991 Topps were the best. It was one of the final years of the ordinary card, with an ordinary pricetag of 50 cents for a pack of 15 cards. Prices and style exploded soon after and I gave ’em up. I think it might’ve been the 40th anniversary of Topps too. I must have 3 sets of ’89-’91 Topps/Score/Bowman cards! The Bowman are in the worst shape, they were always too big for protective sleeves and sheets.


  6. In 1975 Burroughs hit only .226, but knocked in 94 runs. It makes me wonder which player had the lowest batting average in a season in which he knocked in 100 or more runs. I haven’t been able to find the answer.


  7. there’s a good article at http://tinyurl.com/ctwath that lists some of the lowest batting averages / most rbis in relation to ryan howard’s 2008 season at .246 and 141.


  8. I like to watch television, too.


  9. thunderfan- Tony Armas hit .218 with 107 RBI in 1983.


  10. For those who are wondering what’s going on with Topps today:

    http://www.engadget.com/2009/03/09/topps-launches-3d-live-baseball-cards-video-cards-on-deck/

    You can see they have new 3-D Hologram type cards of the future. I feel like Rip Van Winkle, emerging into a world of cards I no longer recognize. I don’t think I’ve held a card since 1983, where I went to a dealer, laid out money and bought a complete set and never looked at them again.


  11. It is weird that despite being crazy about baseball, I might have seen Burroughs play once a year. It was the days of the game of the week and since the Rangers weren’t good, the only time I can remember seeing him play was during the all-star game. Different time.

    I loved the 71 and 72 Topps, but that might have something to do with them being the first cards I ever bought.

    Hope you are well.


  12. Any of those old sets look good if you’re sifting through a bunch of them. The 1970 set is kind of ugly, but my complete set of Seattle Pilots is a beautiful thing.


  13. Scott Long:
    Good to hear from you. I have the League MVP card in this 1975 series for 1972, and I’m looking forward to taking a stab at an appreciation of those cards. To me, that ’72 set is like some wild Golden Age I just missed.

    sansho1:
    “my complete set of Seattle Pilots is a beautiful thing”

    That is about the most inarguable claim of aesthetic worth that I’ve ever seen.


  14. Remember the Kmart-Topps set that came in a box and pictured the cards of all MVP winners from each league over the previous 20 years? I picked a few of those up back around 1982 figuring I could cash them in later when they went up in value. Of course I’d be hard pressed to even get back the $1 I spent on them to begin with.

    However, that set gave me a great glimpse of the Topps cards going back 20 years as well as helping me memorize every MVP from each league during that time period. It helped me learn about guys like Zoilo Versailles and Ken Boyer and as an added bonus there was a Don Drysdale card included that talked about his scoreless inning streak in 58.

    I didn’t care for the 1974 set when I was a kid because some of the cards were sideways. It wasn’t until later I grew appreciation for the added possibilities of sideways pictures but back then I didn’t like having to turn the card to study the picture or read the name while sorting.


  15. My favorite set was 1969, the first year I collected. The lack of a border allowed the card to be nothing but picture (which, I’ll admit made the “BH,NH” cards look even worse *lol* BH,NH = Big head, no hat). What I really liked were the combo cards (such as “Bird Hill Aces” and “A’s Stars”) and the World Series cards were the absolute best. Because of the combo cards, I ended up going backwards to add to my collection as much as I went forward and I collected as many of the combo cards as possible. One of the best was from 1964 that had Mantle, Maris, Kaline and Cash (AL Bombers).

    The 1971 set was quite good as well with action pictures showing up as well as cards printed sideways. There were also little tidbits like the Chris SHort card which also showed Pete Rose on second base.

    I have to say I thought the 1973 and 1974 sets were a bit dull and I while I liked the color of the 1975 set, I was disappointed in the size (I lived in an area that had the “minis”) and I took a break from collecting. Once I got back into it in 1983, I ended up with both sizes of the 1975 set. 🙂

    My all-time favorite set? It was a test issue actually from 1967, a set of Red Sox stamps (the NL version was of the Pirates).


  16. Those MVP cards from 1975 are what got me interested in the older cards. As mentioned before, it was also fun to learn about the players and memorize who was MVP in which year. Even now, I can name off the MVP’s from 1951-1975, but I have a hard time with the ones before and after that time period.

    My favorite set from that time period is 1975 for sentimental reasons (it was the first set I ever came close to completing–a big feat for a 9-year-old).



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