1973 Most Valuable Players

April 13, 2009


The 1973 cards featured here within this 1975 card are both familiar and excitingly foreign to me. I don’t own any cards from that year but they are closer both in time and in style to the cards I do have, especially the 1974 and 1976 cards, than any of the other older cards featured in this celebratory subgroup of Topps’ 1975 set. Also, this glimpse into the 1973 style features two supremely iconic players who continued to be a huge presence throughout my childhood, allowing me to make a personal connection with the cards that I wouldn’t be able to make when considering, for example, the card from this series featuring the 1963 versions of Sandy Koufax and Elston Howard.

The immediately accessible, classically simple design features a couple of unfamiliar flourishes that I love, including the way the names are presented at the bottom left of the card, the last name larger than the first, and, more significantly, the silhouette fielder at the bottom right, which may be my favorite feature in any Topps design. The 1976 cards also had fielder icons, but in being more detailed than the 1973 icons they actually lose a little something in comparison, lacking the gravity of the 1973 silhouettes.

The action photos in these 1973 offerings seem somehow different from the photos featured in later years, adding an additional note of strangeness to these cards. The Watergate hearings occurred the year these Reggie Jackson and Pete Rose cards came out, and there seems, coincidentally, to be an echo in the cards of the anomie that must have been seeping from sea to shining sea as the evidence of corruption from the top down began to mount. Instead of capturing the superstars in heroic poses, the Watergate-era edition shows Reggie Jackson and Pete Rose in moments that seem oddly inconsequential at best, and perhaps even tinged with failure. 

On the right, Rose, perhaps the greatest subject of photography the game has ever known—a perpetual action shot, a man who, as he would later say, knew very well that “seats are made for asses” and that he knew how to put them there—is shown here making a weak, easy out. Is there any question about this? He won’t even be able to sprint to first to try to beat out a throw. And in the background: far more empty seats than seats with asses. It’s an odd tableau for Rose to be a part of, though it does reinforce certain unavoidable truths about the game—everyone makes outs, for one, and everyone is subject to empty moments, even the game’s greatest magnet for action this side of Ty Cobb.

Rose’s cohort on the card, Reggie Jackson, was just as at home in the spotlight as Rose or anyone who has ever lived, which makes his photo on this card oddly dissonant in terms of his essential nature. Later cards providing a clearer focus on his face better show the prodigious confidence the man felt in his own abilities. This is impossible to see in this card, as all that can be seen is that he is grimacing, struggling. The photo is blurred almost to the point of bordering on abstraction, as if the Topps photographer was an acolyte of the Futurist movement of the early part of the century and so wanted to highlight the inevitability of transience and force and motion rather than the obsolete concept of a static, unchanging individual. Because of the blurry moment depicted, what made Reggie a superduperstar is lost, and on top of that—and this is the very first thing I noticed about this card so it’s a shame and a damnation of my skills as a baseball card celebrant that I’ve waited until now to get to it—Reggie, who in fact had a powerful throwing arm, seems here to be someone who, well, in the parlance of my youth, “throws like a girl.” The effect he is about to produce on the game is apparently going to be even lamer than the one Rose has just produced. The ball will loop up in a short soft arc and bounce a couple times before coming to a stop in the grass, and the second baseman, sighing in exasperation, will have to come all the way out into the outfield to get it. 

As for the back of the 1973 cards, I’m afraid I’m not able to have any insight, not having anything from 1973 to take a look at. Fortunately, Craig Calcaterra of Shysterball does, and better still he turned his keen attention there back in December 2007 in two great posts that celebrate the arrival of the cards into his life and celebrate the cards themselves, particularly the back-of-the-card cartoons.

I can offer some thoughts about the back of this card, and on all the cards in this 1975 subset. They all feature bulleted lists of the accomplishments for the given year of the players pictured on the front. Each list begins with a standard introductory line—”For Reggie Jackson, 1973 was a great year because:” It becomes incantatory when read repeatedly in the various cards in the series: “was a great year because, was a great year because . . .” Every year was a great year; every year featured greatness, stretching all the way back to the beginning of the cardboard universe. I loved this celebratory subset of the 1975 series for that reason: history was vast and brilliantly lit in every year with greatness. The gigantic span of twenty-five years mentioned on the front of these cards included whole worlds of wonder, superstars and stories as far as the eye could see. This notion lent gravity and wonder to these cards and to baseball in general, helping to not only pull me toward the game but to fix me irrevocably within the game’s orbit.

Last night, maybe because these cards had embedded the concept of a twenty-five-year block of time in my mind, I realized that next year will be my twenty-fifth high school reunion. Twenty-five years used to be impossibly vast. Now the notion of twenty-five years leads me to imagine myself at a cocktail party staring in shock at the ravages of time evident in the faces of my former classmates and responding to the inevitable questions about the past twenty-five years with an incoherent mumble because the years have all blurred together. I snapped my fingers, more or less, and 1985 jumped to now. Without baseball cards, the years are lost.


  1. The 1973 set is underrated as far as design and those silhouettes are pretty cool. They have a different one for each position on the field. Even the manager cards have the silhouette.

    However, if you have ever seen action shots from this set, you will think Topps was short on photos that year and used whatever they could get their hands on. The Pete Rose “popping up” shot is indicative of the style used that year. Several “action” shots are in-game photos that feature multiple players and it’s not always obvious which picture is the featured player.

    As a Steve Garvey fan, I always looked at his card in this set with regret. It actually is a better shot of Wes Parker than it is Garvey.

  2. I’ve got that Jackson in my collection, although mine pictures him with a red mustache magic-markered on (I am almost certain) by my neighbor, Chris Walsh. I also admired this subset — though we never used that word. The term we used for non-player cards (special sets, leaders, etc) was “Rooks.” Is that a term everyone else used?

    Agree with the other commenter on the sometimes odd choice of photos for the 73 set but applaud that they were mainly action shots. The manager siloutte is kind of funny: wide stance, one hand on his hip, the other pointed out at something. I guess, the pitcher. And a yellow background circle.

  3. That looks like a pitcher instead of Jackson. Maybe I should wear my glasses.

  4. Great entry, Josh (great closing line, especially). I, too, the same about the passage of time. I’m shocked to see my peers for the first time in years. I always imagine time blissfully passing over my head, leaving me untouched, and seeing people I knew twenty or twenty-five years ago reminds me my perception is probably off a touch.

    I always found those ’73 cards kind of depressing. It seems that, like the Rose card, every game was played in a cookie-cutter turf stadium in front of mostly empty seats. (If it weren’t for the name on the card, I would never had recognized that was Reggie Jackson pictured.)

  5. Been trying to figure out the day of the Rose shot. It’s guaranteed ’72 because that was the first year of the new Reds unis with the built-in belt. (Though die-hard Giants fans would know the shot from the shorter fence which started in ’72–8 ft high, compare to this with the white extensions.)

    The Reds played several day games at Candlestick that year, but only one weekend series, which was in September. Since late-season and weekends seem to be common for Topps, I’m narrowing it down to that–Sat, 9/9 and two games on Sun 9/10.

    Plus, in all his games at SF that year, Rose did not hit one pop-out or fly out to the right side of the field. I would think the ball he hit here fell harmlessly into the seats on the right side. However, one could make a case for this being his single to right field in game one on 9/10, leading off the seventh. It would’ve been a bloop, obviously–and yes, he would’ve been batting left-handed off of righty Randy Moffitt.

    The old farmer’s almanac shows this series took place on 70 degree days with high visibility and no precip, which matches the card it seems.

    Johnny Bench’s card from the same year (where he’s catching a pop-up right in front of the Giants dugout) is probably from the same day, as he caught two foul pops by righties in game one and another in game 2.

  6. livnlegend:
    Shysterball also mentions that Garvey card as evidence of the lackluster image cache of 1973. I wanted to get a look at it, so I found an image of it, and, whew, it’s pretty lame:

    Thanks for the description of the manager silhouette. I was wondering what that looked like.

    Nice work. Could there really be a chance that the Rose card is showing him hitting a bloop single? My thought was that the craning of his neck was such that the ball had to be hit too high to have a chance of falling safely.

  7. Regarding the Rose pic I’d have to think it was a foul popup with no chance of being in play, if it was a high pop close to fair territory Rose would certainly have dropped the bat and started hustling to 1st and not looking up with bat in hand to see where it was headed.

    That Garvey photo would have been better had it been taken a second or two later from the exact same spot, he’d be crossing the plate after a HR being congratulated and you’d see his whole body.

  8. On second thought it may have been a pop in foul territory that was caught by the 1st or 2nd baseman. Rose has that look to him like he’s hoping the ball will go into the stands down the 1st base line.

  9. “On second thought it may have been a pop in foul territory that was caught by the 1st or 2nd baseman.”

    I liked your first thought better–like I said above, he did not pop out to first or second, or fly out to right field in any of his at bats in Candlestick in ’72.

    I do think it just went out of play, as he is looking way to the right, but it could be a ball he took a bad cut on, popping it down the line, paused to see fair/foul, and then immediately took off, and reached first as it fell in. I checked articles from that weekend and I saw no mention of his hit to right field at all, to tell if it was a bloop or not. I was hoping for a “Rose’s bloop single proves inconsequential in Reds win…” headline.

  10. Okay, wait–I did find a fly out to right he had in the Thursday June game that year. It could have been that, if Topps was there in mid-season on a weekday. Anything’s possible. (He also had a line out to right in a May game but that was a night game, second game of a twi-night DH, so that one’s out.) But those were the only two balls he hit in the air to the right side–none to infielders.

  11. This card reminds me of the love/hate feel I had about these two players as a Mets fan.
    I hated them both but I knew how important they both were to baseball as a whole. As a result, when I see them now (or many other players) I have nothing but good memories.
    I don’t think kids today look at players that way.

  12. Yeah, these guys took turns killing my team, and I didn’t like them because of it, but if I ever met them now I’d thank them. They did as much as any two players to make 1970s baseball a beautiful world.

  13. Wondering if, due to the empty seats in the background of the Rose picture, that the pic from his 1973 card may have been taken pre-game, possibly during batting practice or during a fungo drill.

    The Reggie Jackson picture from that year is definitely unique. It reminds me of a late-’80’s era Orel Hershiser card (sorry, I can’t remember the maker…Donruss, maybe) that had him posing with a bat. Somewhere in the demilitarized zone between the sublime and the ridiculous.

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