The Golden Age of Baseball Cards™

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Topps 1953 Baseball Card Set - Where Have All the Heroes Gone?

April 9, 2009

by William Szczepanek

Topps Baseball Card Checklist - 1953

Most everyone knows that Topps created the first modern day baseball card in 1952, which we consider the beginning of the Golden Age of Baseball Cards. But, this fact wasn’t known at the time.  Topps and Sy Berger were still competing head-on with Bowman.  Now, after a very successful campaign in 1952, what could they do for an encore?  How could they make a future classic better?

The release of the newest Topps Baseball Card Set in April of 1953 coincided with the first TV Guide publication.  Howdy Doody, and Kukla Fran and Ollie catered to the needs of the very young kids.  Other shows which influenced the kids of the time included: The Roy Rodgers Show, The Gene Autry Show, The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok and Annie Oakley.

Westerns were really big at the time and the heroes in cowboy duds on the screen weren’t real cowboys.  They were hardly ever seen herding or branding cattle.  The use of guns was prolific, but killings were rare. Horses never got hit. The Hollywood Cowboys spent their time catching bad guys and rescuing cowgirls. Annie Oakley, played by Gail Davis, served as the role model for girls of the time, though I wouldn’t doubt that she had the attention of more boys than girls. These TV heroes played an integral role in shaping the lives of children of the time.  When asked by adults what I would like to be when I grew up the answer was always a cowboy or a baseball player. While these actors and actresses were merely TV personalities and had problems of their own, they were larger than life heroes and their screen presence never let kids down. In like manner baseball players were revered. What seems particularly interesting to me was that there was not a shortage of heroes.  Everywhere kids looked they found something good to emulate.

The videos shown are just a sample of TV show intros that were meaningful in and of themselves.  Today, these scenes look very corny and most would laugh at them, though if these heroes meant something to you, then you might feel a soft spot in your heart for them and the memories they evoke. If you get chills when watching them, then you also probably have a better understanding of what collecting baseball cards meant to young people in 1953.

1953 Topps baseball card artworkTopps appeared to be trying to create the look of the 1952 Bowman set, but they went one step further. The 1952 Bowman set was done with line drawings and the 1953 Topps set were prints from small color paintings done from black and white photographs.  Action poses were rare, with most of the cards being portraits of the players.  In taking this approach, each portrait was carefully rendered by excellent artists, including Gerry Dvorak.  There were no bad poses.  They were all carefully handcrafted. Ultimately, this set is recognized as one of the most beautiful baseball cards sets in history.  In some respects the portraits appear to be caricatures with facial idiosyncrasies gently emphasized, giving the set a unique flavor.  While I generally don’t care for baseball card head shots, these offer a sense of art that is unsurpassed in baseball card history.

The player name, position and team were on panels at the bottom of each card.  The panels were red for the American League and black for the National League.  The set included 280 cards which was much smaller than the previous year most likely because of contract competition form Bowman and because Topps still held unsold inventory from 1952.

The few action poses included:

1953 Topps 053 Sherman Lollar1953 Topps 167 Art Schult1953 Topps 174 Billy Loes

1953 Topps 175 Ron Kline1953 Topps 188 Andy Carey1953 Topps 199 Marion Fricano

1953 Topps 206 Ed Bailey1953 Topps 222 Vic Janowicz1953 Topps 228 Hal Newhouser

1953 Topps 253 John Hetki1953 Topps 238 Cal Hogue1953 Topps 243 Carlos Bernier

1953 Topps 244 Willie Mays1953 Topps 246 Roy Face1953 Topps 247 Mike Sandlock

1953 Topps 249 Ed O'Brien1953 Topps 252 Henry Foiles1953 Topps 255 Dixie Howell

1953 Topps 257 Bob Boyd1953 Topps 263 John Podres

Some of the best facial expressions include:

1953 Topps 001 Jackie Robinson1953 Topps 002 Luke Easter1953 Topps 003 Sam Jones

1953 Topps 027 Roy Campanella1953 Topps 041 Enos Slaughter1953 Topps 046 Johnny Klippstein

1953 Topps 052 Ted Gray1953 Topps 074 Joe Rossi1953 Topps 076 Pee Wee Reese

1953 Topps 101 Ted Wilks1953 Topps 111 Hank Sauer1953 Topps 128 Wilmer Mizell

1953 Topps 135 Al Rosen1953 Topps 148 Mickey Grasso1953 Topps 150 Harry Simpson

1953 Topps 169 Dizzy Trout1953 Topps 192 Wally Westlake1953 Topps 254 Preacher Roe

1953 Topps 258 Jim Gilliam1953 Topps 220 Satchel Paige

The features on #220, Satchel Paige, are incredible. Satchel is spelled incorrectly with two Ls, however.

The following card numbers (253, 261, 267, 268, 271,  275) were never printed probably because a contract wasn’t established.

The back of each card featured the player’s 1952 and lifetime statistics, the player’s full name and vital statistics including the player’s full name. The cards included a "Dugout Quiz" to help kids learn about baseball.

Collecting cards from that year was probably a very frustrating experience.  While cards arrived in four series’ (#1-85, #86-165, #166-220, and #221-280), some cards from each series were not distributed until later.  With certain numbered cards never produced and some cards showing up later and no checklists to know what was out there, serious collectors, meaning those over age 8, were as irate as 9 year olds could be. In all likelihood, it added a certain amount of mystery to the search for your favorite player.  These were the types of things that kids can deal with, but adults go crazy about. Can you imagine if blogs existed in the 1950s and people from all over the world were in search of certain cards they weren’t even sure existed?  Today’s adults would crucify Topps.  Kids then just continued to pursue their goals.

1953 Topps 082 Mickey MantleThe closing weeks of the 1953 season saw the Brooklyn Dodgers coast to first place over the first-year Milwaukee Braves.  The New York Yankees continued their domination with their 5th consecutive World Championship as Mickey Mantle electrified the baseball world with his tape measure shot out of Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC.

Today, when I ask young people who their heroes are I get blank stares.  In 1953 every kid would have 5 names come to mind easily, and not just baseball players or cowboys.
Where have all the heroes gone?
“Who was that masked man who risked his life to save our ranch?”
“He’s the Lone Ranger.”
“Hi Ho SILver. Away!!!

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