1974 Most Valuable PlayersApril 2, 2009
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: