Best Topps Series of the Golden Age – 1956 or 1957?
November 1, 2007
by William Szczepanek
The golden age of baseball cards began in the early fifties with the release of the Topps set for 1952. Distributed in two parts, the cards represented the bulk of the players on the 16 major league teams at the time. It was at this time that these color photos put baseball players into the hands of a growing number of kids who were experiencing baseball for the first time in their lives.
These sets, along with those from 1953 through 1955, were consistent in their approach in how they portrayed players. Often the same picture was used from one year to the next with the only difference being the horizontal or vertical representation.
In the 1956 that all changed. Topps issued a complete set of cards with action photos of all the players. The action shots appeared like paintings at times, but they offered an experience that was truly amazing — seeing the player in action. Action photos of modern cards are far superior in quality, but we must remember that this was the first time cards had been issued showing players hitting, fielding or pitching on the field. Sometimes the pictures were faked with players images planted on the field in strange ways, but at other times they were very dramatic representations of the player in actual game situations. This is the primary reason why so many cards from this set are included in the greatest baseball cards ever section.
The Topps set from 1957 stands in stark contrast to this preceding set. Compared to cards of previous years and previous eras the photographs were crisp and clear. The players seemed to come alive, particularly those where the player posed for the shot. These cards appeared to be taken by the same photographer in various stadiums before the start of a game. The stands are usually sparsely populated, like at the beginning of batting practice, and the players were caught on the foul lines and asked to pose with a ball, a bat or to just stand there. Many of the pictures caught players in similar poses which looked staged, but some of the poses really brought the player to life. The good hitters usually gave a good representation of their batting stance before or after a swing. The good fielders were caught in crouched positions ready to catch a slow grounder or line drive, but the camera was so close that the details of the bats, gloves, shoes and uniforms of the players were caught in all their glory. The years following all seemed disappointing after these two classics.
Staged pictures of 1957 vs. the action portraits of 1956, which is better? I don’t know which is better, but they are my all-time favorites and I haven’t seen anything that compares to them since.