1972-Most Valuable Players

April 21, 2009

1972-mvps1I am a citizen of the 1970s. I have resided in other decades, but I have always felt like a foreigner within them, or have mostly ignored them altogether, an expatriate with no interest in participating in the local customs.

Some of my favorite parts of my native land, which I can visit only in my mind, are the sections out by the decade’s yonder borderline. My personal memories of these early years of the 1970s are scant, narrow, low to the ground and close at hand, the hazy nearsighted glimpses of a toddler. Colored chalk on sidewalk. George of the Jungle and Ultra Man. A wooden giraffe and a soft yellow blanket. Mommy.

But as I got older I found myself being drawn to various ways to return to the early 1970s. I grew to love the movies of that time, recognizing the origins of my own imagination in the bleak, shabby, sprawling realism. I grew to love the music, too, so much so that I see it in its entirety as the highest peak rock ever reached with its strung-out odes to fading joy; its achingly beautiful Back-to-the-Land idylls; its ecstatic improvisational blues; its savage proto-punk freakouts; its nightmarish metallic dirges; and even, if you allow the decade to include some spill-over from 1969, its ass-shaking world-embracing funk.

Most of the movies and music of the early 1970s pointed back toward the tumult of the previous decade. How could they not? After the 1960s, what was left? This sense of aftermath, which I recognize and am drawn to in all its incarnations as if it was the accent of the people of my homeland, in some ways saturated the 1970s from beginning to end.

But at a certain point a kind of new colorful life began to arise within the decade, a straining garish need to assert itself as something vital, something worthy of celebration, something New and Improved. Cocaine, disco, customized vans. We’re going somewhere! We’re not stranded at all! We’re having a great fucking time!

I have a soft spot for all that is generally considered ugly about the 1970s. It tries too hard. It stays too long. It clashes. It stumbles. It seems like a monumental waste. It tries.

You can’t deny that about my temporal homeland: it tries. It straps on its platform boots and perms its hair and blasts a couple rails in the bathroom and gets out on the middle of the dance floor and tries. (And fails, of course.)

And that effort, that defining note of trying, may well have begun in earnest with Topps’ 1972 set of cards, as seen here in Topps’ 1975 celebration of the 1972 most valuable players. The contrast between the photos and the frames they are in is telling. The photos could have been, without the modest sideburns by both cleancut players representing the timid inching toward individuality, from any time in the 1960s or even the 1950s. But the frame speaks of a different dynamic, the colorful flying three-D lettering announcing that we are hurtling into a brave new era. The names at the bottom of the card subtly enhance this clarion call by leaving out any mention of the player’s role on the team. Roles are for the old world. In this New Age, there will be no such limitations. In this New Age, you’re a shining star, no matter who you are, shining bright to see, what you can truly be . . .


  1. I have a love-hate relationship with the 1970s. It seems odd to have a post about the 70s and not mention The Eagles, who seemed to personify so much of the decade. Anyway, “Take it To The Limit” seems like a good song about the 70s and the 1972 Topps set, which featured 787 cards, at the time the largest Topps set ever, a distinction it held until sometime in the 1990s, I believe.

    I love this set, especially the “In Action” cards. They weren’t content to just have action shots, they had many stars in a regular head shot and the next card in the series would be “In Action”

    This set also featured Boyhood Photos of the Stars, Award and Trophy cards and the initial traded set, which featured players with a large stamp across their photo that in capital letters said TRADED.

    Take it to the Limit, indeed.

  2. Fun to see this card again. This was Bench’s second MVP but what were the voters looking at in ’74. Obviously L.A. won the division but Bench led the league in RBI and total bases, was second in HR’s, runs, and doubles and won a gold glove while appearing in 160 games(137 at catcher). He finished fourth in the voting! While Garvey also won a gold glove, Bench beat Garvey across the board offensively while playing a much more demanding position. Garvey’s only significant advantage was in BA(312 to 280). Bench should have won his 3rd MVP to match Campy and Yogi.

  3. Josh, your start to this entry made me think of my favorite recently cancelled show – Life on Mars. This show captured the essence of the 70’s in fabulous form and I really connected with it. I am still sad it has ended, like a piece of me has been lost.

  4. Those ’72 cards are ghastly! I never noticed there was no mention of the player’s position, though.

  5. bjoura: Thanks for the interesting info on the ’72 set. I’ve never seen a boyhood photo card from that year, and the only “traded” cards I’m familiar with are the ones from ’74. As far as the Eagles, I guess I was focusing more on stuff from the very early 1970s. I’m not sure if the Eagles were soft-rockin’ by then.

    Batting average and hits were thought to be huge signifiers of worth in the 1970s, and Garvey had it over Bench in both regards. Bench had the last laugh over Garvey as far as how they’ve been treated by the ages.

    My condolences. I only caught a few minutes of that show, which looks like it had quite the cast. (Any cast including Harvey Keitel has quite the cast.) My most mourned-for cancelled-too-soon show was also a period piece: Freaks and Geeks.

  6. I remember the ’72 set for having a bevy of superfluous “In Action” cards,
    featuring blurry gratuitous photos of several of each team’s “stars” caught in the act of swinging a bat, running the bases, or the like.
    The backs of these cards usually contained a puzzle piece or some other uninteresting curio devoid of statistics or relevance.

    But boy… those ’72 graphics…Amen.

    And yes, sadly enough, the Eagles had indeed formed by the end of 1971, and were well on their mellow-marching way to airwave-polluting world dominance by the following spring.

  7. Josh, I’m something like three days younger than you. My first memories of something outside of my neighborhood or family were probably of the Watergate hearings interrupting whatever cartoon I was into at the time. It might of been Yogi Bear. Maybe it was Wally Gator (I just Googled that one to see if it really existed and I didn’t imagine it. It did.) Some consider Watergate to be the end of the 60s.

    I never got around to seeing Life on Mars despite it sounding like something that would be right up my alley. I just don’t get into TV much anymore and it isn’t east coast elitism (or is it?) I just don’t find it interactive enough.

  8. Rich Allen. Any relation to Richie or Dick?

  9. jt60 – I love how Topps sometimes randomly gave a player a nickname they didn’t use. My favorite is Bob Clemente.

  10. That is one of the uggliest sets I can remember.

    Josh, I too love and with forever remain in the 1970s mindset. The way the world was shaped, the way things should be. Alive. Baseball was better then, in my mind. Life was better then, in my mind.

    Here i am living in Costa Rica now, listening to spanish music, and I long to hear the best hits of 1974!

    Cheers brother, continue on with your inspiring prose . . .


  11. Shealives and Josh, as luck would have it, here’s a recent article on the 1974 MVP awards. Garvey was on a pennant wynning team, but his Toy Cannon teammate had a better overall season by a few measures.

  12. Ennui, thanks for the link to the MVP article. It is clear in that article that Garvey had no business winning the ’74 MVP over a handful of different players. Also, it would be interesting to see this type of breakdown of the ’88 race and see if Gibson really deserved to win the MVP with his 76 rbi’s.

  13. Josh, I am a recent follower of your site. I really enjoy your writing. My first baseball recollection was the 1972 World Series so I think we’re fairly close in age. Definitely check “Life on Mars” if/when it comes out on DVD. It brought back some great music from 1973, and I love the music links you provide in this entry. I may have to download those albums, not just the hits.

    Anyhow, for those who enjoy recollecting childhood memories pertaining to baseball, I invite you all to check out my baseball replay project at A Second Time through the Order. I am replaying baseball seasons using Diamond Mind Baseball beginning with my birth year, 1965. The project currently stands at April, 1967. A jukebox is included so you can listen to the top hits of the day as you surf the site. Thank you.

  14. Hey Josh…regarding Freaks and Geeks. The creator, Paul Feig, went to my high school in suburban Detroit. My father was his English teacher. The show was loosely based on his experiences there. My Dad mentioned that Paul was always interested in comedy/satirical writing…so he gave him a copy of Woody Allen’s “Without Feathers” to take home and read. Apparently it influenced him in his writing.

  15. The ’72 set was an interesting set. It kind of juxtaposes the cool ’70’s graphics with the photos mostly of clean cut, button up, wool flannel wearing players. Most of these pictures are probably from the 1971 season so you don’t really see the polyester multi colored uniform and long hair that would become standard throughout the decade.

    Just take a look at Dick Allen’s photo on this card and if you get a chance look at him on that sports illustrated cover from 72 with the mustache and afro and the red and white White Sox uniform smoking a cigarette.

    As far as the ’74 MVP, Garvey was a bad choice. Not one of the better selections by the BWAA. If they wanted to give it to a Dodger it should have gone to Jimmy Wynn. Just a much better season than Garvey’s season. If they wanted to give it to the best player it should have either gone to Morgan or Schmidt. Bench was probably the third best player in the N.L. that season.

    Warp 3:9.3
    Win Shares:39
    WAR: 10

    Warp 3: 11.3
    Win Shares: 37
    WAR: 8.8

    Warp 3: 11.2
    Win Shares: 34
    WAR: 7.5

    Warp 3: 9.1
    WIn Shares: 32
    WAR: 8.4

    Warp 3: 5.6
    Win Shares: 27
    WAR: 4.8

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