I’ve yet to experience the absolute joy that I suspect one would feel by opening a pack of 1972 Topps baseball cards. Instead of collecting baseball cards, the majority of my free time as a seven-year-old was spent trying to comprehend the jokes being served on television programs such as Sanford and Son, M*A*S*H, The Bob Newhart Show and Fat Albert – all of which premiered that year. What can I say? I was a kid and my priorities were unformed. In fact, chances are that I would still sometimes pretend to be sick in order to stay home from school on cold winter days- especially for a chance to watch the 5000th episode of Captain Kangaroo.
A full two years would pass between the point in time when the psychedelic 1972 Topps baseball cards were sold in stores and when I began collecting. That is not to say that I failed completely to own any of those cards while the players featured on them were still active.
I distinctly remember that the first time I saw any of these cards was during the autumn of 1975. Forced to accompany my family during a visit to the Pearson household in the small, midwestern town where I was raised, I had taken along a Velveeta cheese (product) box bottom filled with cards from my collection to entertain myself. Satisfied to be using the light from the television to read the backs of my baseball cards while the rest of the kids watched the Wizard of Oz, I was as happy as a bug on a shag rug.
Tom, the middle Pearson child, was a senior in high school- practically an adult, so we really didn’t have much in common. I recall thinking that Tom’s girlfriend, Diane, was very nice because she insisted that Tom turn on one of the lights in the family room so I wouldn’t have to strain my eyes trying to read in the dark. (MANY more years would pass before I came to the realization that her insistence that the light be turned on next to the recliner they were sharing was probably more of an effort to slow Tom’s rapid advancement in the field of biology than it was concern for my vision.)
After Diane went home, Tom told me that he hadn’t collected baseball cards for a couple of years, but was willing to bust the shoeboxes out of his closet if I wanted to take a look at some older cards. He had some crazy cards that I had never imagined in my wildest dreams, including a sizable stack of cards that his father had given him.
After declaring that all of his money was earmarked to be spent on his car and girlfriend, Tom offered me the sweetest deal in that he would be happy to trade any of his duplicates for any 1973 or newer cards of players from “his team”- the American League representative from New York City, or any other “star” players that I was willing to part with. When Tom informed me that I would run into a similar collecting roadblock myself one day, I was convinced I had discovered a sucker. He was, of course, correct.
I have seen a beautiful, hand-collated set of 72 Topps baseball cards on more than one occasion. Derek, the owner of one of the local card shops, never fails to plop the binder on his counter each and every time I stop in- even though I am usually only shopping for card storage supplies, browsing, or sleep walking. The set is as visually intoxicating as the price tag is sobering.
The 72 Topps design is the equivalent of Dock Ellis’ outlandish acid-“enhanced” performance of June 12, 1970. I have no doubt that while the rest of America was listening to the Eagles’ debut album and Don McLean’s “American Pie” on 9-volt transistor radios, the design staff at Topps was busy creating tiny masterpieces while spinning new vinyl discs pressed with Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy a Thrill, Lou Reed’s Transformer, and glam rock band Mott the Hoople’s All the Young Dudes.
The brilliant, neonic borders on these cards inspire me to imagine a jukebox-pinball hybrid that might just have well been created by a nuclear scientist gone mad in Andy Warhol’s Factory while in the process of overdosing on caffeine. Granted, the printing quality of many of the photographs utilized on these cards is a far cry from their modern day descendants, and alignment is often quite problematic, but they are what they are- cards worthy of the chase. The 787-card 1972 Topps set is loaded with intriguing imagery ranging from Ellie Hendricks’ timeless catching stance nowhere near home plate [card no. 508] to Joe Torre’s demonic pose [card no. 500] that (some say) Linda Blair used as her muse while preparing for the role of young Regan during the making of the Exorcist.
I recently picked up just over a quarter of this set as part of a blockbuster trade with Saint Dan of the Cheap Seats (along with a brick of 2008 Allen & Ginter minis). Although I will be looking to upgrade the quality of a number of the cards, it provides a fantastic kick in the pants to begin working on this groovy set in earnest.
What a long, strange trip it will be…
(I obtained the Tom Burgmeier [card no. 246] autograph in person, and the fantastic Bill Lee [card no. 636] autograph through the mail after reading The Wrong Stuff and Have Glove Will Travel. A collector from the Baltimore area obtained the Boog Powell [card no. 250] autograph for me in person in appreciation for me having done a considerable amount of 50/50 graphing service for him.)