Sunday, January 16, 2011

1953 Topps Phillies

1991 Topps 1953 Archives #10, #146, #88, #79
I've always preferred Topps' "sophomore" effort over its inaugural freshman set.  (I'm not ignoring the '51 sets, but it's hard to hold them in the same class as the '52 and '53 sets.)  The 1953 Topps set is gorgeous.  It uses beautifully painted portraits of its subjects as Topps continued to battle Bowman for the hard-earned allowances of young baseball fans across the nation.  The '53 Bowman Color set is a classic in its own right, but there's something about the '53 Topps set that appeals to me a little more.  It's a shame Topps hasn't dipped back into this well more, as it's only reproduced the design in its 2002 Topps Heritage set.  I wouldn't mind seeing a Topps 53 set, showcasing portraits of the rookie classes of 2011 or 2012.

The Set
Number of cards in the set:  Although the set numbers to 280, there are only 274 cards in the set as six cards were never issued.
My very brief thoughts on the set:  When I'm rich and famous, I'd love to collect this set.  The only drawback is the lack of notable Phillies players in the set, which I'll get to in a a little bit.  The write-up in the Standard Catalog notes this is the first time the back of baseball cards featured a trivia question.
Notable competition:  Bowman issued two sets in 1953 - a 160-card color set and a 64-card black and white set.  Trying to keep up with Topps, both Bowman sets contained a line of prior year and career statistics on the back.
1991 Topps 1953 Archives #102, #140, #59, #136

1953 Phillies
Record and finish:  After winning 87 games and finishing in fourth in 1952, the record slipped to 83-71, but the finish improved to third place in the National League.  The Phils had finished the '52 season as one of the hottest teams in baseball, and they were primed to compete in the Senior Circuit in '53.  But it wasn't to be, as injuries and a red hot Brooklyn Dodgers team couldn't be overcome.
Key players:  Robin Roberts led the league in wins (23), strikeouts (198) and complete games (33) on his way to being named The Sporting News' pitcher of the year for the second consecutive year.  Richie Ashburn led the league in hits (205) while hitting .330 for the year.  Lefty Curt Simmons (16-13, 3.21) had another successful year and Jim Konstanty, who started 19 games for the Phils, made a nice comeback with a 14-10 record.  Left fielder Del Ennis (.285, 29 home runs, 125 RBIs) had another solid year.  Granny Hamner (.276, 21 home runs, 92 RBIs) was the starting shortstop for the National League in the All-Star Game, but he was moved to second over the summer to make room for rising prospect Ted Kazanski.
Key events:  Simmons cut off the end of one of his big toes in June, missing a month of the season.  Second baseman Connie Ryan had six hits in a game against the Pirates on April 16th.
1991 Topps 1953 Archives #311, #288, #318, #307

1953 Phillies in 1953 Topps
Cards needed for a complete team set:  There are only 9 Phillies cards in the '53 Topps set, which is well below the average for the 16 existing teams at the time.  Even worse, two of the nine Phillies featured didn't play a game for the team in 1953 - Howie Fox, who played for the AAA Baltimore Orioles all season, and Ken Heintzelman, who was released by the Phils on April 4th.  We're up to 36 total Phillies cards in Topps' first three years.
1991 Topps
1953 Archives #88 (Back)
Who’s in:  The Topps Company's ongoing disputes with Bowman over player contracts meant that not many Phillies were in.  There's only four of the regular position players - catcher Smoky Burgess, Hamner, third baseman Puddin' Head Jones and right fielder Johnny Wyrostek.  There's also two bench players (Ryan and infielder Tommy Glaviano) and just one lone pitcher who actually pitched for the Phils in '53 - Karl Drews.
Who’s out:  Just about everybody else - first baseman Earl Torgeson, shortstop Kazanski, outfielders Ennis and Ashburn, pitchers Roberts, Simmons and Konstanty and the entire bullpen.
Phillies on other teams:  Pitcher Johnny Lindell was purchased from Pittsburgh in August and he appeared in 11 games for the Phillies.  He appears on card #230 as a Pirate.
What’s he doing here?:  Fox and Heintzelman, as mentioned above.
Cards that never were candidates:  Ennis, Ashburn, Roberts, Simmons and Konstanty.
Favorite Phillies card:  I'm going with Willie Jones' card with its blue sky background with white fluffy clouds.  Although it would have been cool had Topps crammed in "Puddin' Head" on the front of the card instead of "Willie."
2002 Topps Heritage #30, #179, #246, #288

Other Stuff
Recycled:  Topps reprinted the '53 set in 1991, dubbing it 1991 Topps Archives, "The Ultimate 1953 Set."  Topps included 57 "cards that never were" featuring black and white photos and colored backgrounds, which completely failed to capture the look and feel of the original.  What could have been a cool concept was botched as the cards that never were looked absolutely nothing like the cards that actually were, save for the colored black or red box and team logo.  Had they done it right, the 1953 Topps Ashburn card would have looked like this.  As mentioned above, Topps used the design for its second Heritage set in 2002.
Blogs:  Check out this excellent entry on the '53 Topps set over at The Golden Age of Baseball Cards.
Did You Know?:  The Phillies logo used by Topps on its '52 and '53 baseball cards was never actually an official logo of the club.  The correct "official" logo in use at the time by the team on its publications and advertising materials was the logo featured here.  I've always wondered why the people at Topps generated their own Phillies logo for its earliest baseball cards instead of using the official logo.  Perhaps the thin blue line circling the Phillies' cap was too hard to replicate on a baseball card?  The official logo makes its long-awaited debut in the '54 Topps set.


Kevin said...

If I ever get bored enough, I could create an ultimate set for '52 through '55 using Topps and Bowman cards. Might be interested in trying, but I own none of these cards and wouldn't know as much about them. My dad was only 2 years old in 1952.

I wonder what happened to the painting used to make these cards...these are phenomenal paintings, unlike the Diamond King cards used in the sets that I am currently covering. I think the artwork is what makes these cards so cool.

Anonymous said...

The '53 set is a nice one. Nice write-up on the subject. The lack of Phillies, especially the stars, hurts it for me, though. And the Archives "cards that never were" is a joke. They completely butchered the job, I'm not even sure why they bothered? Why half-a$$ it like that? They didn't even follow their own rule of red box for AL teams and black box for NL! (see the Simmons card).

I'm a big fan of archive sets and reprints of old Topps gems, since I can't usually afford the real thing, but they just seem to mail it so much lately, even the CYMTO have non-matching fonts, and the Vintage Legends, while a cool concept, completely misses the boat on some design reprints (see the '66 Schmidt as a prime example). They need to spend more time on the design, and even study of their own cards and history. I get the sense they don't even know or appreciate their own history.

Anyway, sorry for the long post - just some thoughts on archives and historical reprints. Maybe some day they will go back and create a reprint set done the right way.

Jim said...

Kevin - I think Topps has made some of the paintings available via auction in recent years as part of their Topps Vault program.

Christopher - I completely agree with you. Topps needs some sort of quality control/historian on its staff to avoid atrocities like some of the recent retro-styled cards. It makes me crazy when they get the font or the color or the design completely wrong for cards from their own lineage. In today's day and age, they should be able to completely nail the look and feel of the original and too many of their recent offerings look like amateur hack jobs.