(This is Day 5 of our series on the “Best Card From” each year, 1960-1989. Read all the entries here.)
They say that you can’t choose who you love and that art is subjective.
While that’s an oversimplification of two complex areas of human emotion, the basic sentiment seems to play out in many areas of life.
And maybe nowhere do love and art and subjectivity come together more clearly than in our baseball card collections.
Why do some people love the 1962 woodies but hate the 1987 Topps set?
And the 1990 Donruss and 1991 Fleer base sets — just, why?
You can’t really answer those questions with any reasonable certainty, but it usually comes down to personal experiences and how a card makes you feel.
Favorite is Not Always Best
I’ve written in gory detail, both in the original 30-Day Baseball Card Challenge and on the Topps blog, about how and why the 1964 Topps Pete Rose pasteboard became and remains my favorite card of all time.
Part of my infatuation with that hunk of cardboard is based on aesthetics — I think the card looks good, with a young Rose and colors that blend really well together.
But most of the card’s allure was built through a series of personal events that are tightly intertwined with my family and my childhood memories. To be dramatic and corny about it, the card is part of my soul and can never, ever be extracted.
No amount of bad design could dissever that sort of bond.
But if I look at that card objectively, I can admit it’s not the greatest one ever issued. In fact, the rest of the 1964 Topps set leaves me cold.
The design is both sort of boring and overpowering at the same time — the huge block letters of the team name eat up valuable real estate that could have been used for bigger pictures instead.
It’s the same problem I have with the 1986 Topps set, though I find the ’64s to be slightly more stylish thanks to player photos that protrude slightly above their upper borders for a slight 3-D effect.
In general, though, I can do without the 1964 set other than as an indispensable piece of baseball card history. You may not agree with my assessment of the issue, and many don’t, but that is my evaluation.
So, when it came time to pick the best card issued in 1964, I had two basic choices.
I could wheel out the Topps second-year Rose card again, which I sort of did above.
Or I could look outside the bounds of the base Topps set to remind myself what else was available to collectors that summer.
It’s been awhile since I poked around the edges of the mid-1960s hobbyscape, but it didn’t take long for the memories to come flooding back:
Crane Team Pins …
Meadowgold Dairy …
Topps Giants …
Topps Stand-Ups …
Topps Venezuelan …
I would welcome any and all of these cards into my collection with open binders.
But when it comes to beautiful cards that also strike an emotional chord for me, there is no beating the 1964 Kahn’s Wieners set.
The Cards the World Awaited
Kahn’s was established in Cincinnati, so it’s not surprising that their initial black-and-white baseball card issue, in 1955, focused solely on the Reds. That debut issue came sans hot dogs, distributed instead at a promotional event.
By 1956, though, the cards were packaged with wieners, and I remember reading about Kahn’s cards very early in my collecting life.
I was amazed that any of them could have survived and only slightly sickened by the unsightly stains that decorated the few examples I could find at local card shows.
By 1964, the Kahn’s offering had been colorized and expanded to include players from other teams. What’s more, card fronts had been stripped of all design elements except for the large (3″ x 3-1/2″), nearly square photo overlaid with a facsimile autograph.
Card backs were pretty raw, showcasing player biographical information plus a block of text atop the Kahn’s motto: “The Wiener the World Awaited.” All of it was rendered in a font you might have found on a typewriter in your dad’s (or granddad’s) high school typing class.
Those choppy backs lent a campy quality to the cards that made them feel very “vintage” and admittedly encouraged you to turn back to the card fronts.
That’s OK, though, because all the magic happens in those blue-sky images of young men in the primes of their lives, doing what they love. Heck, they’re doing what we all love — playing ball.
In 1964, Harper was just 23 years old and coming off the first season in which he saw regular playing time. Most of his starts came in right field during 1963, and he’d flip to left for 1964.
The results were just OK, but by 1965, Harper was the Reds’ starting left fielder, no questions asked.
On that 1964 Kahns’ card, though, he’s mock-fielding a ground ball at third base, stopping to pose and smile for the camera on his way up into his throw to first. His Reds’ pinstriped vest, pants, and hat are perfectly accentuated by his red T-shirt.
The stands are empty behind him, but the sky has just the right amount of puffed little white clouds to make you think that maybe you’re dreaming the whole thing.
Could this baseball paradise really exist?
Could a young man really get to spend his days on the ball field rather than in an office or a factory or a classroom?
Tommy Harper’s big, gleeful grin tells you he’s had the same moment of doubt but has already pinched himself.
In that instant, he’s wide awake and living all our dreams.
And Kahn’s caught it all on the best baseball card of 1964.