Winter is one long old son of a gun, and I’m pretty convinced it gets longer and harder every year.
And I’ve been convinced for decades that winter is longer and harder for die-hard baseball fans than for just about anyone else on the planet. Our game belongs to the summer, after all, where hot temperatures bubble our blood and moisten our brows. Where green outfields make you feel like the world is just fine and always will be, even if “always” turns out to be just a few hours.
Winter is also disjointing — we go to sleep in early October (or early November if you’re the @#*A!!@#%!!!!!!!!%! Boston Red Sox) with our teams looking and feeling one way, and then they show up at Spring Training four months later as something else entirely.
It’s all OK, though, because we’ll learn to love whatever rendition takes the field this year, won’t we? I mean, sure, we’ll gripe about player moves and second-guess the manager and even turn up our little noses when certain players fail to hustle, but we’ll love them all through the whole hot, grimy season to come.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate what has come before. You know, get the guys from last year together one last time and thank them for a job well done. Or a job done, at least.
One way that baseball card collectors used to be able to do just that was through the Topps team cards that started to find their way into our hands just as the new versions of our teams were taking shape. It’s a tradition that’s been killed by “advances” in the hobby and folks wanting their cards to be “worth something,” but it’s still one we can roll back to each spring and remember the good old days (yep, I’m officially getting long in the tooth).
Of course, even in those good old days, many of us dreaded actually pulling a team card because it was wasted cardboard — I mean, why couldn’t I have another Wayne Krenchicki card instead of one that shows 50 (or however many) tiny faces?
Now? I love them.
I love them so much that I knew I had to include a team card here in Day 21 of my 2019 Spring Training Baseball Card Challenge, so that’s what I’m doing now.
Problem is, there are just so many to choose from over the 25 years or so that Topps made team cards, how do I pick just one?
I could have gone with one of the first ones, from the 1956 Topps set.
Or I could have gone with the epic 1959 Topps New York Yankees team card.
Or I could have gone with one of the colorful choices from the mid-1960s.
Or one of the expansion teams, like the Montreal Expos, in the 1970s.
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In the end, though, I landed on one card that really does give us a snapshot, not only of the team depicted, but of the era in which they played …
For most American, the summer of 1976 will always be remembered as the Bicentennial Summer. But for baseball fans, and especially for fans of the Chicago White Sox, the summer of 1976 was just another summer in the saga of Bill Veeck.
By the time that Olympic year rolled around, Veeck was renowned as a showman who introduced the world to jerseys with player names on the back, but also as a forward-moving dude who signed Larry Doby as the first black player in the American League history when Veeck owned the Cleveland Indians.
In 1976, though, Veeck was busy trying to get fans to come out and see a wreck (rhymes with Veeck) of a team that went 64-97 to finish sixth in the old American League West. A master of promotion and gimmickry, Veeck came up with something that was perfect for the sticky Chicago summer — shorts.
As in, he replaced his players’ pants with shorts. And they wore them during games.
And … well, Topps managed to gather the guys — in their shorts — and snap a team picture, you know, for posterity’s sake. Or maybe for ridicule’s sake.
Because, like many Veeck schemes, the shorts trick has been panned mercilessly over the years. And if you take the time to dig up some pictures of the players wearing the shorts, or some quotes from the players wearing the shorts, you’ll see just how much they enjoyed wearing the shorts.
Sorta like a Randy Johnson fastball to the nethers.
But none of that matters for us, because the 1977 Topps Chicago White Sox team card shows an entire Major League Baseball team mugging for the camera while wearing their cute little shorts.
And it’s just precious.
Check out the entire series of 2019 Spring Training Challenge posts here.