Thursday, January 12, 2012

Twinkies were fine, but the cards were better

I confess there was some sadness when I learned this week that Hostess was filing for bankruptcy.

It's not a love for Twinkies, you understand. I haven't enjoyed one in years.

But from 1975 to 1979, I'd rush to the Twinkies section of Dan's Supreme and Pathmark to turn over box after box, scanning the bottom for elusive Mets. There were cards issued in 1993, too, but that was different. We'll get to that.

But during the Topps baseball card monopoly, the company issued one set of cards. That's different from today, when the company also seems to have a monopoly but issues many, many sets.

But back in the 1970s, the only other cards out there were linked to the occasional food items, printed on the bottom of the box.

It wasn't easy to find the Mets. It was an epic search.

Consider that there 150 cards in the sets. These were some of the Mets “quiet years,” so there were not many of our players in the sets. There were three cards to a box. It's not like there were unlimited of Twinkies boxes.

On a great day, Mom needed something on the store when the shelves were stocked, and I could overturn the entire display searching for Tom Seaver, who was always the priority, or other Mets.

There were some difficult choices. Buying multiple boxes was not an option. And the stock was picked through pretty quickly given all the Mets fans in Massapequa Park.

On the bright side, I could make purchases confidently since the cards were plainly visible on the box bottoms. I didn't have to buy a box merely hoping that Bud Harrelson was nestled under a “golden sponge cake with creamy frosting inside.”

Let's look at each year's cards, starting with the 1975 set. The design in as plain as can be, which stood in sharp contrast to that year's wildly colored Topps issue.

The Seaver card is, of course, spectacular, even with the tape marks. Cut me some slack, I was 11.

I also rounded up a Harrelson and a John Milner. Tom and Buddy were snapped in spring training, and Milner has the beautiful Shea batter's eye in the background.

The Staub card was acquired later. Two years ago it was the subject of some magnificent sleuthing by my friends in the Crane Pool Forum.

I wondered if this was just the worst case of airbrushing ever. Topps back in the day would paint uniforms on traded players. And sometimes, well, let's just say no one was fooled.

There was a long-suspected photo connection between Hostess and Topps.

Note that the Expos logo is still clearly visable on Rusty’s chest. Topps often would leave collar trim in plain view, but never an entire team logo.

Then it appears an artist started adding Mets pinstripes on Rusty’s unstriped Expos jersey, then got distracted and stopped.

And keep in mind, this card is from 1975. Rusty was traded to the Mets at the start of the 1972 season.

Crane Pool Forum poster batmgadanleadoff offered a theory that maked great sense.

Rusty, it is known, had some kind of beef with Topps, because his cards do not appear in the 1972 and 1973 sets. His first Mets card is in the 1974 issue.

His guess is that the screwup with the Expos "elb" logo and pinstriping was not an artist's oversight, but that the photo was supposed to be cropped higher up, at around Staub's neck and through the shoulder line.

“I've seen several proofs of old Topps cards where the cap or helmet was airbrushed to reflect the player's brand new team,” he wrote. “In those proofs, the jersey top (former team) was left unaltered. The final card was cropped above the jersey.”

That makes sense to me. And I was convinced when the fine people behind the Ultimate Mets Database created this mock-up of what an air-brushed 1972 Topps Staub card might have looked like.

There are no such horror with the 1976 set, which we'll tackle next.

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