1975 Baseball’s Six Degrees of Separation Fuji Style

Fuji of The Chronicles of Fuji, threw down a challenge / contest with a post at the start of February. It’s a great idea – connect a player to another through cards by way of the six degrees of separation concept.

It’s been a tough month to find time to post but I was able to eke this out. So here’s my take on Fuji’s idea – a card journey that starts with 1975 Topps.

I start with Card #1 of 1975 Topps: Hank Aaron’s landmark setting record documented on a card. It’s the first place I’d start for many reasons. It had meaning not only for baseball but also for social reasons. Plus the event and the trying time leading up to it speaks to Hank Aaron’s character.

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The first connection is to Al Downing, the pitcher that Aaron hit his 715th record setting home run.

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Tom House is the guy who caught the ball – here’s his recollection about it. House was born in Seattle Washington and coincidentally he also made his last MLB appearance with the Seattle Mariners. House gave the ball back to Aaron, his Atlanta Braves team mate (there were players positioned in the stands to catch it).

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After retiring House coached for the San Diego Padres, the team that Dave Winfield started playing on in the majors. And out of all the players in the 1975 Topps set – Winfield’s the one who played the longest, retiring in 1995. Nobody from the set lasted until 1995.

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George Brett also started his MLB career in 1973. Here’s a young and older Brett. He played for one team during his whole career. He retired on October 3, 1993.

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And tying it back to 1975 Topps, Robin Yount retired on the same exact date that George Brett retired. Like Brett, he also played on one team, his entire career, the Milwaukee Brewers. He was the final 1975 Topps player (that was also Hank Aaron’s teammate) to retire.

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Card Spotlight: 1976 SSPC Countdown Charlie Williams 98 (#18)

Transformation.

When I think of baseball players from the 70’s, I picture them as seen in their photos from the 1975 Topps set.

And that’s the way it was… until I caught a glimpse of some SSPC cards that were unique in all sorts of ways. I got the whole set and my world view of how baseball players should’ve looked in ’75 changed.

The Charlie Williams that I saw at my local mini-mart had with straight hair but he’d already transformed into some serious curls that year. It took until 1978 Topps Charlie Williams to ditch the perm.

 

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This dusk shot of Williams captures the sun setting at the ballpark so well that it transcends being just a card.  It makes me feel like I’m in the middle of a warm summer night

Card Spotlight: 1976 SSPC Countdown Darrell Porter 232 & Jim Colburn 226 (#20)

Facial Hair.

When think of the 70’s, I think of facial hair.  And there’s a bunch of it in the 1975 Topps Set.

But there are players like Darrell Porter who are clean shaven in the Topps set but have a lot more hair on their SSPC card – like Darrell’s horseshoe mustache. If Topps Porter ran into SSPC Porter in a bar, I don’t think he’d want to start any trouble with himself.

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Like Porter and Munson, Jim Colburn was clean shaven on his 1975 card but sporting a twirly mustache on the SSPC.

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Finding the SSPC set was like unearthing photographs of people you’ve known all your life and discovering their wild and crazy side.

Card Spotlight: 1976 SSPC Countdown Jim Hunter 425 (#22)

Nickname appropriate.

Catfish Hunter’s SSPC card pictures him in a pose that matches his nickname.

If you bought a Topps card in 1975, his card showed him as an Athletic but he was really a Yankee by then. If you own the SSPC card, that covers both teams he played on (though technically he started as a Kansas City Athletic).

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Bake McBride is another player with an SSPC card that’s more nickname appropriate.

Card Spotlight: 1976 SSPC Countdown Rudy May 427 (#23)

Perspectives.

Some of the photographs in the 1975 Topps and the 1976 SSPC sets are so different it’s hard to tell it’s the same person. And others, like this one of Rudy May are more subtle.

I was used to the sullen Topps Rudy May that I’ve grown accustomed to for decades. When I picked up the SSPC recently, there’s familiar Rudy with the same glasses (a little crooked), a Yankees cap (not airbrushed), and sort of a grin. Plus he’s got a gold chain.

And there’s more. More of his Yankees uniform. More of the background with a stadium full of fans.

That’s what I like about this SSPC set. It’s a different perspective on familiar faces from the Topps set. And that’s pretty cool.

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Card Spotlight: 1976 SSPC Countdown Oscar Gamble 526 (#25)

Built-in Traded Set.

This is the last card of Oscar Gamble in an Indians uniform. The back of the card highlights his trade to the New York Yankees in exchange for Pat Dobson. In his career, Gamble switched teams eight times (including two repeats: the Yankees and White Sox).

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SSPC took full advantage of the timing of their release to include the trades after the 75 season. So the SSPC set is a base and traded set all in one. And that’s why this Oscar Gamble “Traded” card is among my 1976 SSPC favorites: to commemorate the coolness of that idea.

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Card Spotlight: 1976 SSPC

The 1976 SSPC set is one of my favorites: 630 photos that are candid and sometimes funny. It’s a great complement to my absolute favorite set (1975 Topps). This month, I’m starting a countdown of my favorite SSPC cards presented as 25 themes.

There’s occasional confusion about the true year of the 1976 SSPC set. It’s copyrighted 1975, but was released in 1976. A letter from SSPC calls it the 1976 SSPC set, and that makes it so.

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You may also see this set called the SSPC Pure Card set (named because of its clean design based on Bowman’s 1953 cards). I like the design, really like the photographs, and the cards are (mostly) ordered by team, which is a bonus.

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This set also has an interesting backstory:

TCMA produced oddballs from 1972 to 1987. TCMA stood for Tom Collier and Mike Aronstein (the co-founders). But shortly after starting the company, they started calling it The Card Memorabilia Associates.

Sports Stars Publishing Co. (SSPC) was a TCMA offshoot that published a magazine called Collectors Quarterly (edited by the Keith Olbermann we all know from TV).

Olbermann writes about his experience in this blog post: “I had written the backs for the first [1976 SSPC] set, and another fellow had taken most of the photos for them, only it turned out he didn’t really have any ballpark credentials and was only on the field because he’d been a batboy and knew all of the cops at Shea Stadium and they just let him sneak in.”

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Keith Olbermann’s contribution (writing the text on the back of every single card) is documented on the final card back.

The Winter 1975 Collector’s Quarterly had a two-page insert of 18 cards that are a precursor to this set.

It got interesting when Topps sued and blocked further production. After negotiations, SSPC was allowed to sell their existing inventory as long as they didn’t produce any more. According to Internet posts, the initial print run was 10,000 sets.

A second set was made from the negatives without permission and it’s unknown how many were printed (it contains a Nolan Ryan error card – with his name listed as Noland). So it’s unclear how many total sets made it to the public.

I’ve seen cards from both sets and it’s hard to tell which is which. And I don’t care enough to discover which one I have. And it doesn’t seem like anyone else cares because cards sold online don’t differentiate. At this point I think the inventories have mixed into the general population.

I mentioned a letter – it’s said to have been included with sets sold directly by SSPC, and it reads like this:

SSPC letterhead from 100 Ringgold St., Peekskill NY 10566

Dear Baseball Fan:

We are very happy to report that the lawsuit has been resolved. Enclosed you will find your set of 1976 SSPC cards that you have waited so long to get. These cards are being shipped to you by Renata Galasso Inc. This company is doing the sorting and mailing of the cards for us. If you wish to purchase any additional sets you may do so by consulting the enclosed flyer and ordering directly from Renata Galasso Inc. Thank you for all your support during the time it took to end the lawsuit.

Sincerely,
Michael P. Aronstein
President

I haven’t seen it personally, and I’d really like to get ahold of an original or a copy. So if you have one let me know.