Looking back at my life so far, it appears that 1975 was one of the most significant years of all. I turned seven years old that summer, but some parts of it are as clear as if they happened yesterday.
In May, my parents bought me a green-and-brown leisure suit to wear for my first communion. In the months that followed, I bought my first pack of baseball cards (the first time I ever bought anything on my own), went to my first ballgame with my Dad in St. Louis, discovered the Cubs and Jack Brickhouse on WGN, and watched as the Reds and the Red Sox competed in a ridiculously exciting World Series. In the span of six months, I went from knowing nothing about baseball to being hooked on the game for life. Nearly four decades later, it still has a powerful hold on me, too.
It’s reasonable enough to state that I’m emotionally predisposed in favor of all things 1975, particularly when it comes to baseball. That certainly was the year that the game revealed its secrets to me. But when it comes to baseball card designs, 1975’s Topps baseball set remains the most colorful, unique, and kaleidoscopic of them all. It’s just groovy, man, and there’s nothing that will ever be able to top it.
In a world where young boys wore green and brown leisure suits, the two-toned borders of these cards just felt right. Further adding to the cards’ construction-paper look was the team name splashed across the top of the card. And there were no trademark tags attached to the team names like there are today, either. No, it was “CUBS” (or the name of whatever other team you followed), spelled out in whatever third color the set designer felt like using. The louder the colors–and the more jarring the contrast—the better it looked. It was the baseball-card equivalent of shag carpeting, or maybe hanging out at Greg Brady’s pad.
The utter randomness of these color combinations make the 1975 Topps cards into a disorienting visual experience. The brown-on-orange color scheme with yellow lettering of the team’s name on the checklist card sets things into motion. The team is posed for a Sgt. Pepper-style shot, with a greenish foreground and ivy-looking background suggesting that the team is at Wrigley Field. However, the fake-blue-sky-and-clouds motif above a perfectly straight wall suggests that it’s more likely the team is standing in front of a brick wall in a parking lot somewhere. They’re not posing in Wrigley Field, that’s for sure.
The team checklist reveals that there were 28 of these Technicolor Cubs beauties available, while the set itself contained 660 cards in all. Having the complete set, or even a complete team set, is probably more than I could handle. The handful of cards that I do have, though, offers up plenty in terms of cardboard eye candy. There are more than a dozen different color combinations on display, from Jose Cardenal’s yellow-on-green with red lettering, to Oscar Zamora’s red-on-orange with blue lettering. Rick Monday is rocking the same brown-on-orange with-yellow lettering as the checklist card, while National League batting champ-to-be Bill Madlock sports the inverted look of orange-on-brown, with a reddish-orange lettering at the top of the card.
But the visual hits don’t end there. Not by a longshot. Cubs pitcher Ray Burris and first baseman Andy Thornton complete a rare look with a blue-on-green-with-red lettering, and their names spelled out in yellow letters along the bottom of the card. The next time you find yourself having to choose one of these four basic colors when playing a children’s board game, think about Burris and Thornton, too.
Topps’ visual array was narrowed with the card for pitcher Jim Todd. Not content to pit two solid colors against each other, Topps gave him a dark-green-on-slightly-less-green theme, resulting in a unique lime/avocado look. Throw in the blue sky and red Cubs logo on his cap and uniform, and the only thing left to do is add some orange lettering on top. Perfect!
Rick Reuschel’s card is also worth a look. He’s originally from Quincy, Illinois, and maybe that’s what inspired the orange-on-blue look of his card. Red lettering at the top isn’t quite the way I would have gone, but it’s probably no worse than any other color would have looked, either. But what’s truly unique is the white lettering of his name along the bottom of the card. All of the other cards that I have contain either black or yellow lettering of the players’ names, but Reuschel’s alone has white lettering. It complements the white jersey he has on, but that could also be said for most of the other players, as well. It just looks strange, on some level, and maybe that’s the point.
Cubs pitcher—and future announcer—Steve Stone has a look that’s almost as interesting as his very un-Stoney handlebar mustache. He’s got the same brown-on-top with yellow lettering that Rick Monday has, and the same black lettering of his name at the bottom, too. But where Monday’s card is orange on the bottom, Stone’s is sort of a tan color, instead. Maybe this was done to match the color of his forearm, which extends across the card right below where the colors switch. It’s strange how the coloring scheme is almost, but not exactly, the same as Rick Monday’s. But what about this set isn’t strange, really?
You’d have to be a much bigger Cubs fan than me to remember either outfielder Chris Ward or pitcher Tom Dettore. Perhaps you remember pitcher Bill Bonham a little bit better than either of those two. They all have a yellow-on-red with blue lettering color scheme, and Dettore has the added bonus of having had a Cubs hat airbrushed onto him. This was a common Topps practice in the 1970s, where a stock photo was altered to show a player appearing to wear the cap of another team. The red C on Dettore’s cap is a bit too uneven, and the solid white undershirt he is wearing is another indication that something isn’t quite right. The aforementioned Oscar Zamora also appears to have been airbrushed into the Cubs’ fold.
And then there’s Pete LaCock. I’ve sometimes wondered if the men who had to announce his at-bats ever had to suppress a giggle while saying his name. Pete’s coloring scheme is an interesting one, with its magenta-on-yellow color scheme and blue lettering added at the top. Several other Cubs players have yellow on the top, but only his card has yellow at the bottom. And nobody else on the Cubs has such an interesting top shade, either. A unique name demands a unique coloring scheme, as well.
I’m an admitted Cubs fan, but the White Sox are not without vivid color schemes of their own from the 1975 Topps set. Just take a look at Ron Santo’s orange-on-yellow color scheme with blue lettering on top, or Jerry Hairston’s yellow-on-blue look with red lettering on top, or even Eddie Leon’s green-on-purple pairing with what appears to be pink lettering on top. Like that leisure suit I once used to wear, I guess you had to be there for this to make any sense at all. But if you were there, you understand it all very well, indeed.
R. Lincoln Harris is a guest contributor for Wrigleyville Nation. He also writes for BlueBattingHelmet.Wordpress.com, ChicagoSideSports.com, ThroughTheFenceBaseball.com, and FiveWideSports.com. Thanks R. Lincoln for the contribution!