1958 Topps Baseball Card Set - Change Is Not Always Good
June 15, 2010
by William Szczepanek
Change isn't always good. Topps Baseball Card Sets from 1952 through 1957 were revolutionary. Each year they surprised young collectors with new formats, new looks, new technologies and dazzling improvements. But, change isn't always good. In 1958 Topps led off with their mainstay, Ted Williams #1. For those who saw this card and those cards that soon followed in set 1, the year began as disappointing. The look on Williams' face and on that of Bob Lemon, card #2 tell the story. Is this all that there is? Head shots upon head shots with yucky colored backgrounds. Why so much yellow and pink? It took well into summer for me to see my favorite player of the time, Bobby Thomson, but alas, another head shot with a yellow background. At least he smiled.
Today this set, like all of the others from the 1950s are considered classics, but don't think that kids from the time weren't just a little disappointed. Sure they continued to collect the cards, because it was the thing to do. They, like collectors of today, followed like lemmings and plopped down their nickels (dollars) to get their packs and look for their favorite players. Rather than go on and on in this article about the negative aspects of the cards from this year, just check out this article from Feb 2008 to get more along those lines. From this point I will try to be more positive about the cards and the year.
Yes, 1958 was a year of change. Like most of the 1950s, change occurred quickly and most of it was good. It was a time when, as a country, we felt that we could accomplish anything. Our leader, Dwight Eisenhower, evoked calm and confidence. I doubt that a person like Ike could get elected today. He was a very quiet person and a very dry speaker. His military experience gave peace of mind to the public. He did not wish to wage war. His goal was to end war. The closest we have today to match his background and beliefs is Colin Powell. The Powell Doctrine was a foundation for waging war, which was to exhaust all diplomatic alternatives before using decisive force to quash an enemy. Eisenhower and our Allies ended WWII in 4 years.
One of the more sobering events of 1958 was the fire at Our Lady of Angels Parochial School in Chicago. Lack of proper planning, sprinkler systems and fire evacuation procedures led to the death of 92 children and 3 nuns. But, the event exposed a need and most schools responded with improvements to fire and evacuation procedures that are still in place today. The kids were expected to respond in an orderly fashion and many assumed the responsibility of leaders in these situations. Imagine kids who can actually think on their own to meet goals that are important to all. Many schools today have retained the efficiencies learned back then. Many have not. Kids can still think. It's the adults who seem to have a problem now. These were the same kids who collected baseball cards, bartered and traded, gamed and learned from a system that they themselves created.
1958 was a time for solutions to problems. As a country we had plenty of those to work on, but solutions did come about. We had a recession with 7% unemployment, not too bad compared to today. Unemployment reached a high of 20% in Detroit at the peak of the recession. Auto sales were down 30% from the previous year, and it was the worst year for car sales since WWII. Travel improved as the first passenger jets streaked across the skies. For the first time in history the total number of passengers carried by air exceeded the total passengers carried by sea in travel over the Atlantic.
Production of the luxury Packard was discontinued, while Ford produced a four-passenger, second-generation Thunderbird. This car was considered to be the model that turned the Thunderbird from a sports car into a luxury car. This T-Bird is considered the personification of American culture in the 1950s.
Alaska was designated to become the 49th state in January of the following year. Alaska would be the first state to be added since Arizona in 1912. When Texas complained that they were no longer the biggest state, Alaska threatened to split into two states that would make Texas third. The nuclear powered submarine, Nautilus, would pass under the North Pole. We can now say that in a few years we will no longer need a submarine to achieve that feat. Is that progress? I'm sure someone will put a positive spin on it, or make money on it.
In 1958 the U.S. responded to the threat of the Soviet satellite Sputnik with the first orbiting satellite of its own, Explorer 1. It followed rapidly with others. Solar powered, Vanguard I, was launched in March of 1958. It is still in orbit today. The race for space was on; the word Aerospace was coined, and the NASA organization was formed. The Soviets followed with the launch of Sputnik III. Eleven years later NASA would put a man on the moon.
The world was growing in the wrong direction with the proliferation of nuclear missiles. Bertrand Russell launched the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. People forced the media and the government to recognize the real problem of the time. After years of nuclear testing the U.S., Great Britain and the USSR agreed to stop testing for 3 years. Progress.
At times, war seemed like a thing of the past. The USS Wisconsin was decommissioned, leaving the United States Navy without an active battleship for the first time since 1896. But, the threat of nuclear war was ever present. Nikita Khrushchev became Premier of the Soviet Union. A U.S. B-47 bomber accidentally dropped an atom bomb on Mars Bluff, South Carolina. Its conventional explosives destroyed a house and injured several people, but no nuclear fission occurred. It's a good thing we've learned how to avoid accidents like that. Makes a little oil spill seem like a drop in the bucket.
A shortage of food was occurring in 1958 and would not end until
1961. The shortage began in Shantung, China and spread to the
Southern coast. An estimated 30 million would die during the
Great Chinese Famine, but now the time is accepted by the
Chinese Government as a combination of natural disasters and
poor planning, when many peasant farmers migrated from farms to
steel factories. The famine was also caused by changes in
farming practices and a series of droughts and floods.
Elvis Presley was inducted into the Army and served his term with honor. His actions brought a newfound respect from the adults of the time. Elvis knew that his success was largely based on opportunities present in a free country. If all the girls didn't love him before this, they did now. In the picture Colonel Parker welcomes Elvis home after discharge.
Baseball moved to the West Coast as the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants played to good crowds in their new homes 3,000 miles away from New York. The Giants beat the Dodgers 8 to 0 in the first Major League game played in California. Ruben Gomez was the winning pitcher over Don Drysdale. The LA on the hats of the Dodgers on 1958 baseball cards looked strange. The SF for San Francisco mimicked the NY from New York and the change seemed more subtle.
Something new in baseball cards appeared in 1958 - The composite card showing multiple players of special interest. Today these cards are rare and often sought after, largely because most kids didn't really like them and threw them away.
The New York Yankees went on to even the score against the Milwaukee Braves and beat them in the World Series in 7 games. Ted Williams, at age 40, became the oldest player to win a batting title, hitting .328. Roy Campanella was injured in an automobile accident that paralyzed him and ended his brilliant career. Jim Bunning pitched a no-hitter on July 20.
The baby boom begins to turn down as the first of eleven years of birth decline hits the U.S. The Hula Hoop was introduced by Wham -O and hasn't stopped spinning yet. Intel invented the micro chip and it hasn't stopped whirling electrons since. Pope Pius the XII named St. Clare the patron saint of television. Pope John XXIII succeeded Pope Pius XII as the 261st pope later in the year. Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom gave her son Charles the title of Prince of Wales. The Bossa Nova swiveled out of Rio de Janeiro.
Some of the tension of the Cold War was broken when Van Cliburn won the Tchaikovsky International Competition for pianists in Moscow. Cliburn received an eight-minute standing ovation after his final performance, and Nikita Khrushchev, seeing that he was the best, allowed the first place award to be given to him. Cliburn returned to the U.S. to a ticker tape parade in New York City. Our culture will have to change significantly for us to again see a classical pianist get a parade.
In August the price of postage went up 33% as the price of a first class stamp was raised from 3 cents to 4 cents, but service was so good, no one complained.
Songs of 1958
It may have been predominately light rock, but music with a beat was taking over the charts and our hearts.
Controversial and still dealing a great deal with WWII in the Pacific there wasn't a really violent picture in the bunch. War of another kind was depicted in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" as Liz Taylor steamed up the screen, while Lana Turner still turned heads in "Peyton Place".
Westerns continued to be the most popular of TV shows with 7 of the top 10 in that genre. With all of these gunfighters on TV it was rare to see anyone killed.
"Kids Say the Darndest Things!" was the number one, non-fiction bestseller by Art Linkletter, who recently passed away. Does anyone today care what kids say?
Change isn't always good. But change is required to make things better for all. Many have suffered and died for us to have the opportunities to have better lives. What are we doing now to make things better for the future? What are the corporations doing to repay the country for the opportunity to exist. What are the rich doing to use their money to foster growth of the people and not merely the growth of their investments, for it is the growth of the people that will allow the companies to exist in the future.
Topps went on to produce many other designs that, in our opinion, were much better than that of 1958, but it wasn't until the 1980's that competition in the baseball card market resulted in better quality and graphics for all card manufacturers. Unfortunately, the glut of cards reduced overall interest in collecting, though more cards were sold. Change isn't always better and no one seems to know what is required for future success. Cardboard baseball cards do not seem like a twenty-first century product. What can be done to change that?
The quality of Topps baseball cards improved after 1958 and for many years thereafter, though Topps was no longer recognized as the pioneer for designs in the later years. We've been told that now is the time of hope and change. Can we do more than just hope that our country, the government and above all, we the people, can change things for the better? People in 1959 did not just hope. They changed things for the better. How are we different now? How are baseball cards different now? How are people who collect baseball cards different now? When we can understand the answers to these questions, we can better understand how to change things for the better in the future.