Despite it’s best intentions, this subset featured some of the most boring action shots ever taken. This one of Barton is classic Topps for all the wrong reasons: there’s more action on the sidelines than there is on the field.
Throughout the 1960s, Topps routinely published sets without any regular-card action shots—all headshots, or bat-on-shoulder shots, posed on one knee, or pitchers thrusting the ball at the camera from the sidelines in an attempt to simulate action. They saved the action shots for the special World Series subsets, so at the most that would be 7 action cards out of roughly 598 cards per year (on average). And even then, one of the WS cards inevitably would be called ‘The Champs Celebrate’ showing a panicked Bobby Richardson or Hank Bauer in the crosshairs of a police spotlight during a flophouse raid. Even the years where there were two shots per card (1960 and 1963), the cards featured one big posed headshot and one smaller batting or pitching pose; never an actual, in-the-field-during-an-actual-play action shot.
1970 was no different. All of the cards were posed, but their compositions started creeping towards the actual field of play, or the dugout, or other places where other players might wander into the background of the shot. Because of this, the aesthetic changed. Gone was the posed player in a vacuum. Instead, though the player may still have been posed, he existed in a ‘real’ setting. I put the word ‘real’ in quotation marks because all of it was posed, in that none of the shots were taken during actual games. It may not seem like much of a transition, or even may seem more like a cop out on Topps’ part, but really it was a very big step towards using actual action shots, taken during actual live game play.
Topps debuted the action shot regular card with a big splash in 1971: Thurman Munson’s horizontal #5. At a play at the plate, an Oakland A (it looks like Joe Rudi) kicks up a cloud of dust as he tries to slide around Munson’s tag. Not counting special subsets, Topps used action shots on 52 regular player cards in 1971, good for a total set percentage of 6.91%. Not bad for just starting out.
So then you’d think that because 1971 was such an awesome set (one of the best of the decade), the number of regular player action shots would increase exponentially in 1972, right? Wrong. If we count the In Action as a subset, which it was, that leaves only one true action shot in the whole set, and it’s of Norm Cash arguing balls and strikes with an unseen umpire. The IA subset had 72 cards in it, but there’s no way to consider those regular player cards, as they feature no stats on the back. No, the regular player action card wouldn’t really start up until the 1973 set, when the cinematic, landscape-oriented card was brought back. You’d think that Topps would’ve also used this orientation in some of '72's In Action shots, as the border harks back to the old moviehouse marquees of the 1930s, which definitely would’ve given the action a cinematic flair on the level the company achieved in '71 with the letterboxing black borders.
But they didn’t.