When I set out to tackle this 2019 Spring Training Baseball Card Challenge, I decided pretty early on that I needed to include a guy who wasn’t wearing a hat. There are a few reasons for this …
- It’s Spring Training, which means we’re seeing guys with their new teams for the first time. In the olden days, when Topps wanted to show a guy in his new uniform but didn’t have the requisite picture, they could airbrush the new togs in place (see 1988 Topps Traded Buddy Bell), they could airbrush away all identifying marks, or they could take a close up of the guy with no cap at all.
- It’s Spring Training, and guys who come south from winter climes might be working up their first good sweat in months, so stuff starts to come off.
- It’s Spring Training, and warm breezes blow — gotta let that hair flap.
OK, if I’m being honest here, I thought the first bullet point would hold sway when I started looking through cards to decide which hatless wonder I wanted to feature here in Day 20.
And there were some good choices, too, including just about all of the expansion team players from the 1969 Topps set, and that 1966 Topps Frank Robinson where he’s sporting a Cincinnati Reds jersey even though he would win the Triple Crown for the Baltimore Orioles that summer. When I first saw that card in miniature form in the 1982 Topps KMart set, I thought F. Robby was a basketball player — that Reds vest thing reminded me of the shoulder straps on a hoops jersey.
I digress, but only slightly, because Robinson spent that 1966 season, and a good handful more, toiling alongside a young pitcher by the name of Jim Palmer. Eventually, they’d both land in the Hall of Fame.
But before Cooperstown came calling, the O’s had some serious winning to do, thanks in no small part Palmer, who reeled off eight 20-win seasons from 1970-78, taking a breather-stumble in 1974 just to remind us how great he had been, and would be.
Palmer wasn’t just a great pitcher, though — he was (and is, I suppose) a real looker. And if you weren’t sure about that, you could ask him.
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But you didn’t really have to ask him, because Palmer showed up everywhere, including those famous/infamous Jockey underwear ads. You just knew he’d have a TV career when all was said and done, and he did/does, though I’m not sure how a prime time sitcom slot has eluded him all these years.
What didn’t elude Palmer was a head of the most luscious hair you’ll ever find on a dude, even if it eventually froze into a Shaun Cassidy 70s feathered sculpture of flow and stayed there. You could see Palmer’s hairdo coming from a baseball field away, and even today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a handful of players 50 years younger than him with better locks.
All of which is to say that it’s no surprise Palmer turned up on his 1980 Topps baseball card sans baseball cap. The Orioles were hot items, having narrowly lost the 1979 World Series to the “We Are Family” rendition of the Pittsburgh Pirates. And, even though Palmer slid to 10-6, he was still a superstar.
And still gorgeous.
So, yeah, his Topps card features him talking into a microphone in front of mostly empty stands, and his hair is a perfectly feathered capper to the whole thing.
But you know what’s even better than that hirsute card of Palmer?
His 1980 Topps Burger King card.
I mean, it has the same basic design as the base card, but it also has the BK hamburger logo in the upper left-hand corner, forty years before every website would have its own little hamburger thing. And the picture … well, it very well could have been taken on the same day as the one used for the base card.
But the BK picture comes later, after Palmer has worked up a sweat that imbues his tanned skin with a sun-kissed sheen. And his hair, though not quite as perfect in the “interview” card, has motion to it.
Like it’s fluttering in the Memorial Stadium breeze. No hat could hold it.
And if this card doesn’t make you want to head out to the ballpark or to a local diamond to smack some on your own, well, sir or madame, I’m afraid I can’t help you.
Check out the entire series of 2019 Spring Training Challenge posts here.