1957 Topps Baseball Card Set - The Modern Era of Baseball Cards
April 8, 2010
by William Szczepanek
What were you doing in 1957? If you were alive at the time you were experiencing a very exciting time. If you were not yet alive, you missed it. It's not likely to happen again, but it needs to. If you are like many you were just being born, since this was the most productive of the baby boomer years. There was a shortage of doctors in 1957, so the U.S. created more. They were good doctors too. If you are old enough to have had kids at this time, you probably look back at it with some fondness, since it was a time of promise, a time of growth and a time of change, all fostered by a determination to be second to none.
Second to none was the goal of Ted Williams, card #1 in the first series for Topps in 1957. He approached the game of baseball the way the American people responded to the threat by the Soviet Union ─ by becoming the best at what we do through hard work, study and perseverance.
Topps was second to none after displacing Bowman the previous year and expanded on its monopoly by distributing another classic set of baseball cards in 1957. With no competition the set established another standard in baseball card design. Beginning with the 1957 Topps Baseball Card set, the size of the card was reduced to 2 1/2” x 3 1/2", the standard that is still in use today. The set expanded the statistics on the back by showing all years of a players career when space allowed. It often showed both major and minor league data.
In 1957 it seemed as if everything went high tech. Transistor radios became available, but initially were somewhat expensive. AA batteries become an electronic staple. Their popularity would explode in the early 60s as Japan specialized in cheap electronic merchandise. General Foods introduced Tang breakfast beverage crystals. Tang became popular after being used on NASA Space flights. Velcro was patented by George de Mestral of Switzerland. The Frisbee is renamed and nationally marketed. The first large-scale American nuclear power plant goes into operation outside of Pittsburgh. Modern photographic techniques supplanted the older-looking styles of painted baseball cards.
Automobiles looked like rocket ships with fins that could cut a tree down and grilles that would slice and dice anything that they happened to collide with. But, they were dramatic looking and everybody wanted a new car. Cars were remarkable in their garish design, like the swept wing Dodge, but it was amazing that people could actually drive them. The Ford Edsel was announced in 1957 and promised buyers the most technologically-advanced ride ever. The car received so much criticism for its looks that it became the biggest loser of any car ever manufactured. While the Cadillac had bullet bumpers that reminded people of a bra, the Edsel had an oversized grille that reminded people of... uh, well use your imagination for some other female body part. America would import just over 250,000 automobiles in 1957. The first Toyota arrived from Japan, but, the reception was awful. For publicity purposes Toyota staged a coast-to-coast endurance run from New York to Los Angeles. The car couldn't make it.
1957 was a good year for rookie cards with 18 in total and 7 rookie Hall of Famers with their first cards: #18 Don Drysdale, #24 Bill Mazeroski, #29 Whitey Herzog, #35 Frank Robinson, #312 Tony Kubek, #328 Brooks Robinson and #338 Jim Bunning. The 407-card set was issued in 5 series: 1-88, 89-176, 177-264, 265-352, and the final 353-407. Unlike many other sets the final set was not the most rare, but set 4 was the case of 1957.
The world seemed to be transitioning from black and white to color. New was really new and different, not just new and clean like a freshly washed pair of jeans. But new, like something you had never seen before. Baseball cards also went modern with full color, full-card photographic images that seemed to almost bring the player to life. They don't compare with the photography of today, but there was something about them that was very appealing. I think it was that the players posed for the pictures, usually along the foul lines before a game. They were the types of pictures that you would expect to get if you were right there and asked a player for a picture, and maybe asked them to pose with a bat or glove. No action shots, just good clean photography. Clean enough that you could get a good look at a bat or glove or even the shoes the player was wearing. You not only saw the grass of a baseball field in a major league park, you could see blades of grass, like in the classic card of "Little Luis" Aparicio. Why was this so exciting? Because it was never seen before on a baseball card. That's why these cards still seem so amazing to me. They brought the game into your hand with the same intensity that kids get from cell phones today.
Something new appeared in the skies in 1957 that woke up Americans. The Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first earth-orbiting satellite. The United States again felt threatened by a foreign country. Before the end of the year the U.S. would attempt to launch a satellite in space. It would blow up on the launch pad. U.S. citizens watched news reports on TV of future U.S. attempts. Rocket after rocket exploded on either the launch pad or in the air after careening out of control shortly after launch. The threat from Russia would send the U.S. into an all out educational effort to become the best in the world ─ and it worked. We responded with rockets that worked and moon walks and computer chips and new methods for amazing medicine. Why aren't these things still as important today?
As usual the Yankees were in the World Series, but this time they faced the Milwaukee Braves with pitching from Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette and power supplied by Hank Aaron and Ed Mathews. Lew Burdette stunned the Yankees by beating them 3 times in the series and moved the crown to Milwaukee, a team that had few players left from their days in Boston in 1952.
Television shows of the time were idealistic. Leave It to Beaver premiered and showed how the daily problems of a young boy could all be solved by the guidance and kind words of a caring mother and father. Father Knows Best and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett supported the same cause. While it was impossible in real life to achieve that level of sensibility, the programs did point the country in the right direction. Westerns like Gunsmoke and The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp continued to dominate the airwaves with comic book-like heroes who fought for good over evil. When did we start routing for the bad guys?
Our newscasters were calm, collected and thorough. Edward R. Murrow showed everyone how it was done and brought us into the living rooms and private lives of public people with Person to Person, a live broadcast that was both informative and entertaining, while also being controversial.
South Vietnam was attacked by Viet Cong Guerrillas and the U.S. suffers its first combat fatality in the region. President Eisenhower suffers a stroke and the nation wonders if Richard Nixon can handle the job.
1957 would be the last year for the Brooklyn Dodgers and New Giants to entertain the New York crowds as both teams deserted the area for the West Coast, extending the reaches of Major league baseball beyond Kansas City for the first time. California would continue to grow and show the rest of the country how to do things. Therefore, 1957 was the final year to see the Dodgers and Giants in their New York uniforms on baseball cards in Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds, though the Mets would premier in the Polo Grounds in a few years. Jackie Robinson retired.
One annoying aspect of 1957 baseball cards was the lettering. Because it was small and superimposed on the photograph the text was somewhat harder to read and could appear blurry. The condition of the cards varied tremendously with centering problems being commonplace and pictures of some cards were sometimes not as clear as others. On the positive side, the lettering did not overpower the picture, which covered the entire card, rather than competing with panels that contained the name of the player, the team and the position. With 407 cards it was the largest set to date. One big oversight was the reverse image of the #20 Hank Aaron card. It still remains a favorite of collectors.
For the really young, Theodor Seuss Geisel, under the name Dr. Seuss, introduced The Cat in the Hat. Prior to that children got their reading material in the form of fairy tales with straightforward morals that influenced their behavior. Along came a cat that appeared to break all the rules. It's not that the book did not have moral value. It's just that people didn't agree on what the morals were. The late fifties would become a controversial time with radical views, and the cat would enable kids and adults to look at things in different ways. These same kids, who were having these books read to them, would change America in the next decade when they challenged the rules.
With attendance figures getting lower and lower, behind the scenes owners talked about the possibility of a third baseball league. Football was becoming very popular in the U.S. and baseball owners worried that baseball may no longer be the most popular sport and be able to retain the title of "America's pastime".
In music it was evident that Rock and Roll was to dominate the charts. Some of the clean-look people continued their popularity like Pat Boone, Tab Hunter and Perry Como, but Elvis Presley was now King and would not be dethroned. Motown records began. The Cavern Club opened in Liverpool. American Bandstand gets a national audience on August 5, 1957 with Dick Clark as the host. The top ten songs of 1957 were the following:
1. Too Much ─ Elvis Presley
The popular movies were primarily the big productions:
1. The Ten Commandments
In 1957, Sophia Loren's star had begun to rise in Hollywood as she challenged Marilyn Monroe as the sexiest actress of the day with the films Boy on a Dolphin, Legend of the Lost with John Wayne, and The Pride and the Passion in which she starred opposite Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra. Unlike Marilyn Monroe, who at one time was married to Joe DiMaggio, Sophia had no close acquaintances in baseball. It always seemed that a Sophia Loren and Rocky Colavito match would look really good.
Big names dominated in both movies and in baseball cards.
Ernie Banks were some of the
relatively new big names.
Roy Campanella were names from the past that were
still competitive toward the end of their careers. A card for
Stan Musial was again conspicuously missing as he was not under
contract with Topps.
But, today the world is a much more complex place than in 1957. It's a computerized world with computer friends and more things to do than you can shake a mouse at. It takes a computer to really screw things up faster and better. This level of complexity is taking over our lives. We could use some simplicity. We really can't go backward and live like in 1957 anymore. It just doesn't work, and we probably wouldn't want to do that anyway ─ at least not to be trapped in that time. We need better rules for dealing with today's complexity, whether it be regarding financial systems or health care. Free markets might do the job if leaders were more ethical and could accept responsibility for their actions, but that's not in vogue today. If we can't face up to these challenges then we will end up where other civilizations have.
Poof! It's gone. Start over.
Baseball cards are good. Baseball cards are simple. But collecting them today is just too complex.