What Were They Thinking: The Marie Antoinette Edition
February 15th, 2011 by slangon

Ever since I started this blog, and began to really take a good look at Topps card designs over the years, I’ve encountered numerous details of those designs that would sort of leave me scratching my head. I’m not sure if I puzzled over these specific things because graphic design is what I do for a living, or if it’s because I tend to obsess over weird details in general. Either way, all of these things that I’ve been obsessing over are weird little design quirks that have caught my attention for one reason or another. They’re the types of things that could just be one time instances that are the result of someone overlooking them, or they could have been a conscious decision on the part of Topps designers. It’s always kind of hard to tell. They always make me wish that I could sit down with someone who was involved with the creative process and ask them “What were you thinking?”┬áLike the man said, though, you can wish in one hand and shit in the other, and see which fills up first.

In the mean time, I’ll just sit here pointing out weird little things that I notice and coming up with my own theories, or more likely just pointing them out and not coming up with any answers at all. Who knows? Maybe someone out there who is smarter and better versed in the ways of the hobby will know the answer to some of these queries. Or maybe they’ll just go down in history as some weird thing that Topps did way back when.

The first topic I would like to cover in this hopefully on-going series is the topic of Cubs team cards from 1971 through 1981. I think anyone who knows anything about 1970′s Topps baseball cards knows where I’m going with this. If you’ve been living under a cardboard rock, or just are simply unaware, all of the Cubs team cards produced by Topps from 1971 to 1981 are not exactly like the team cards of other teams. I say all, but in actuality, the 1973 and 1975 versions are your run of the mill team card. What is it exactly that makes those Cubs team cards stand out from the pack?

Heads.

Heads.

And more heads.

All the Cubs team cards from that 11 year span (not counting ’73 and ’75) have these strange floating head collages rather than the traditional “class photo” looking team picture.

No other team is represented in such bizarre fashion even once, never mind on a consistent basis for 11 years. Well, that’s not exactly true, but we’ll get to that later. The question now is why exactly were the Cubbies team cards like that? I’ve come across several theories out there in interwebland, but no concrete answers. One theory was that the team owner at the time (various members of the Wrigley Family) was too cheap to hire a photographer to shoot the team and instead used the floating head composites, which were actually postcards sold as souvenirs at Wrigley Field. The most glaring problem I see with that theory is, as far as I understand it, Topps employed their own corps of photographers, so why would the owner, no matter how cheap he might’ve been, care about the team actually getting a regular photograph taken?

Another popular theory is that since all the Cubs home games at the time were day games, the photographer wouldn’t be able to shoot the team since they’d be getting ready for and playing the days game. That makes a little more sense to me than the cheap owner theory, but I still see holes in it. First of all, didn’t the Cubs ever had an off day that you could use to take the picture? Also, considering that you would probably want all the artwork in place for the cards as early as possible, couldn’t you have just taken the shot during spring training? Actually, I suppose the final roster probably isn’t really in place yet during the spring, so maybe you couldn’t take it then. Besides, a Cubs team picture would be so much better with that ivy and brick back there.

There’ another spin-off of the day game theory that states that since there were all day games at Wrigley, all the Cubs were too hung over to get to the park early to take the picture. That one is at least funny. If I were on a Major League baseball team, that sounds like the team I would like to be on.

Another variation on the “Cubs Moral Problems” theme is that so many of the Cubs at the time couldn’t stand each other and could never sit together to take a team photo. Again, a slightly humorous take on it, but I’m not buying it. Think about it. It was a period of 11 years. How many different guys were on the team during that time? You’re telling me that there was so much bad blood between so many of those guys over the course of so many years that the team couldn’t just sit down and take a nice team portrait? I guess ’73 and ’75 were “Golden Years” where peace and prosperity ruled supreme in the Cubs clubhouse.

Aside from the question of why, exactly, are so many of the Cubs team cards of the floating head variety, there is also the question of what happened in 1973 and 1975 that caused Topps to revert to the standard group photo?

One final question, which to me is perhaps the most mysterious, is why was it that in 1975, Topps not only bumped the Cubs back to standard group photo status, they also bumped the White Sox to floating head status?

Can it be coincidence that the year that the Cubs get a normal team picture, the one team that Topps decides to use to replace them as the Kings of the Floating Head happens to be the other team from Chicago? What the hell, Topps?

(By the way, the only 2 cards in this post that I’m fortunate enough to call my own are the 1973 and 1974 Cubs team cards. All others are courtesy of Checkoutmycards.com, although they probably don’t know it.)

2 Responses to “What Were They Thinking: The Marie Antoinette Edition”

  1. I’ve read something like your first idea, that Chicago chose not to take team photos for about a decade and Topps relied on franchises to supply their full-team shots instead of sending a company photographer (and thus saving money).

    Many 1970s card shots also came from spring training, which would prevent Topps from getting everyone in front of the Wrigley ivy for their own photos.

  2. I have asked the question about the 1975 White Sox team card over and over, and on my blog, and still have no idea why the Sox went with one year of floating heads.

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