December 14, 2006

Some Thoughts on the Seventies

So I decided a few days ago that the next set I would collect would be 1975 Topps baseball. Here's why: I was putting together the Holiday Shopping Guide and was thinking of featuring the Carlton Fisk from that know, the great one where it looks like he's either out in front of the team hotel or in the courtyard of a Le Corbusier housing project in Florida. Either way, he looks especially pissed off, like as soon as the photographer's done he's going to drop the bat and stop El Tiante from eating his lunch or perform some mind-and-afternoon-blowing Daniel Webster-esque filibuster on the proper way to chalk foul lines for the benefit of the spring training grounds crew.

That card got me thinking: this set, like many of its 1970s counterparts, deserve more attention. And not just more attention from me, but more attention in general. Take 1975. The cards give off the same warm mid-1970s feeling that ViewMaster discs do. The rounded edges. The trippy two color scheme. The 3-D team name lettering. Even the faux signature--all of it adds up to a snapshot-from-a-foreign-land feel. It's weird and it's great. And it's not even my favorite set of the decade. I know, that's probably a blasphemous thing to say, but in terms of pure design I'd take 1971 or even 1976 over 1975 and in terms of checklist I don't think the decade gets any stronger than 1978 (don't try to argue that '78 shouldn't be eligible for a 'Strong Checklist' contest just because it's at the end of the decade, because that argument's garbage. 1987 had a stronger checklist than both 1988 and 1989, and 1985 had possibly the strongest checklist of the decade (and look at 1957 Topps for the strongest checklist of the Fifties, in comparison to 1959 and 1965 to even just a year later, 1966). This argument depends on a number of variables, the most important being strong rookies (a strong checklist needs to boast a handful) plus super stars on the cusp of or entering their prime years, complemented by a wide mix of veterans still in their prime and a few guys playing out their last contract before tottering off to the Hall)).

My last attempt at a Seventies set was 1979. I lucked out because I found an Ozzie Smith rookie on the bottom of a box of books that a family friend had given me, and I got doubles of the Molitor in a box of commons in a trade, so I had a good starting point, plus commons of that set are wicked cheap, so when I was putting it together you could get something like fifteen for a buck. Then I realized that I still needed the Ryan and I said the hell with it and quit. I think I'm still about thirty cards shy of the full set, and I'm sure that it'll take me about twenty years to put together the 1975 set, and once I realize that I can't afford the Brett and the Yount, then those twenty years may stretch into forty. Anyway, all this talk about the Seventies and where things stand has got me thinking I should do a Seventies countdown.

Problems With Doing a Seventies Countdown

If you went to a party in the Seventies, Topps would've been the guy who showed up in the stretch white limo, chest mane let loose, peace medallion in full bling, completely tweaked out on coke. In essence, Topps was living large with little to no competition. There were the SSPC sets in 1975 and 1976, but I'd be very surprised to learn that Topps was scared by SSPC. And before SSPC, the last time Topps had any competitor was 1963, when Fleer put out a little 83 card set of superstars (and it wasn't until late 1980 that Fleer came back with Donruss in tow saying gimme gimme, forcing Topps to share).

The reason I bring this up is because while it's interesting to see how the competitors played off each other with their 1980s offerings, there's very little of that in the Seventies. Topps came up with an idea for a design, shoved it down the throat of the collector and then did the same the next year, et cetera. Sure, they had a traded set here and there, but things were pretty much smooth sailing for just about the whole decade. So that makes a 1970s Set Countdown seem kind of like a cop out, coming in just over ten sets total.

So what if we open it up a little bit? If you think about it, the amount of individual cards produced in the 1980s alone outnumbered those produced between 1950 and 1979. Check out these numbers:

# of Individual Cards Produced (by decade)

1950s: 4,733
1960s: 7,431
1970s: 7,055
1980s: 31,217

Sure, Eighties sets were bigger, there were more of them and there were more manufacturers. But add up all the cards from the previous thirty years and the Eighties still outnumber them by 11,998. It's incredible. You hear commentators always talking about explosions in the hobby. Well, there it is. There's your fuckin' explosion.

OK, so if we can realistically parcel the history of the hobby into decades and further still into Eighties and pre-Eighties, then would it be fair to judge the sets from 1948 to 1979 against each other? In other words, is someone going to have a hissy fit if I rank Topps' 1976 set ahead of its set from 1962? And what about smaller sets like the three off-shoots from 1954 Topps (Dan Dee, Red Heart and Wilson Franks)?>
I don't think it's entirely fair to include off-shoots, though that would mean also leaving off the Jell-o and Post sets, and some of those were large enough--larger than many of the Fleer sets from the Sixties--to be considered full series of a Topps set. And what about the Fleer Ted Williams set from 1959? Talk about know, it's almost fitting that Upper Deck picked up the Fleer name, seeing as UD and Fleer built their respective trading card businesses on the idea of hero-worship (much more than Topps until fairly recently). Fleer's Ted Williams set is a hallmark set, the first set from a company that would go on to be known more for its error cards than for its legitimate ones, but also for putting out a plethora of insert sets across the four sports in the early Nineties of just one player. Roger Clemens comes to mind, and Tony Gwynn, and Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls and Jeremy Roenick of the Blackhawks; ten card insert sets (much like the artistic 'Baseball Heroes' insert series of Upper Deck) featuring just one player--pretty goddamn boring, but an idea good enough to bank your business on over and over and over and over again--in Fleer's case, for nearly fifty years...

While you've been reading that last tangent, I've been thinking about this whole off-shoot set thing. Here's my ruling: no off-shoot sets, no third-party sets. So that means no Post sets, no Jell-o, no 3-D Kellogg's sets from the Seventies, no Salada Tea coins from 1964, no Wilson Franks, Dan Dee, Red Heart, or even that fold-out paper version of 1954 Topps (found in an early issue of Sports Illustrated). I'm still on the fence about the Fleer Ted Williams set, but it probably won't make it that high in the countdown anyway. But it also means yes to SSPC, yes to Leaf, yes to Bowman, yes to the Baseball Greats sets from Fleer, and of course, yes to partying like it's 1952 with our good friend The Topps Chewing Gum Company.

So I'll be damned, we're staring down the barrel of another set countdown. Well, what better way to celebrate one year of The Baseball Card Blog than with a list for all the post-war marbles? I think after I'm done with this list, some kind of master Top 20 is definitely in order, because you can't name your top 10 post-war card sets and not include at least three of the sets from the modern hobby's second-most pivotal decade (the 1950s being the first).

Coming Soon: Set Countdown 1948 - 1979

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