When most collectors discuss what makes sports cards collectible, the featured player is the most common topic of conversation. Occasionally, the artwork, a unique photo, the manufacturer’s location, or simply the age of the set are the characteristics that make the card desirable. However, many hobbyists overlook the back of the cards. Topps created single panel cartoons on several sets throughout their history, and some of those cartoons are pretty darn entertaining.
One of my friends pointed out a thread by the fine folks at net54baseball.com discussing the topic, and I thought it seemed like a great idea for an article. I also asked the WaxPackHero community for their input via Twitter, and you all shared several of your favorites, some of which were also found in the Net54 thread.
I’ve picked several of them that stood out to me, and I grouped them by theme.
Now That’s Just Funny
First up is the 1963 Topps Jim O’Toole #70. The cartoon on Jim’s card reminds me of some of those hidden adult themed drawings on a few Disney movie covers throughout the 90s. Apparently, Jim’s life at home was exciting!
He Almost Died, That’s Hilarious!
A couple cartoons seem to make light of some serious situations. This 1962 Topps Don Zimmer #478 points out that he was hit in the head by a pitch during a minor league game in 1953. What it doesn’t tell us is that this incident was a significant factor in Major League Baseball eventually adopting battling helmets for all players.
The 1970 set took a more irreverent view of injured players. We learned a head injury sidelined Paul Schaal for almost a full season. Apparently fractured skulls are hilarious! Steve Huntz was shown chasing the season that got away, and poor Billy Harris couldn’t catch a break, or maybe he caught too many?
Life Outside Sports
The interesting fact found on many cards simply told us the players hobby. Others pointed out the work they did in the offseason since some baseball salaries weren’t all that great at the time.
According to his 1970 Topps card, Pedro Borbon had an interesting hobby that definitely wouldn’t “fly” in today’s world. PETA would be all over this.
According to fellow blogger Bob Andrews, the cartoon on the back of the 1959 Topps Don Rudolph (179) only told part of the story. Yes, Don’s wife was a professional dancer in Baltimore. What the card didn’t tell us is that his wife was Patti Waggin, a well known performer of the adult variety.
Next up are some of the second careers and some more hobbies that stood out to me. The 1973 Joe Morgan (230) informed us that Joe Morgan loves to play pool, and it turns out Gary Wagner was a school teacher in the offseason according to his 1970 Topps card. Move over Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson. Steve Hamilton’s 1970 Topps card #349 tells us that before playing for the Yankees, Steve played for the Minneapolis Lakers!
Wow, Times Were Different Then
If the 1979 Topps Football Jim Langer (425) and 1973 Topps Luis Tiant cards taught us anything, it’s that the glorification of bad habits was also no big deal. Kids everywhere learned Jim Langer loved to drink beer. Luis Tiant liked to smoke Cigars! Smoking and Drinking for everyone!
For some reason, getting shot in the head with an arrow seemed to be a popular comic theme as well. A teammate of Joe Nossek (1967 Topps #209) looks more perturbed than dead after getting shot with one of Joe’s arrows, and in 1963, using an apple on the head of a terrified child was apparently the best way to depict Earl Wilson’s dedication to improving his control on card # 76. Children everywhere were rolling with laughter.
Not every card attempted to be humorous. Some covered more serious topics. This Dave Hoskins card from 1954 reminds us that even though Jackie Robinson broke the MLB color barrier in 1947, significant opposition to integrated baseball remained in 1952 at all levels. The cartoon highlights the fact that he received two death threats when preparing to pitch for the Dallas Eagles in a road game against Shreveport. Hoskins was the first black player in the Texas League.
And finally, some cards just shared some pretty cool baseball history. The 1970 Topps Chris Zachary card taught us that he faced a trio of big hitters in his major league debut. Can you imagine facing Mays, McCovey, and Cepeda as your first three opponents?
I really enjoyed both going through my vintage collection and reading the suggestions on Net54 and on Twitter. These comics are just one more aspect of sports card history that helps solidify their place in the story of America’s pastime.
I encourage you to dig out some of your vintage cards to see if you have any cartoons of note. Heck, I didn’t even look to see if any of the reused comics in recent Heritage releases had memorable captions of their own! These cards are all pretty cheap on eBay and COMC.com and could be a fun theme for a new collecting focus!
We just took a look at some cards from the 60’s and 70’s. The Jack of All Trades documentary takes another look at the hobby boom in the 80’s and 90’s. Read my review and then check out the film on Netflix!