1973 Most Valuable PlayersApril 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.