Sometimes, you just can’t deny destiny.
Sometimes, two things just have to come together.
I mean, those old Reese’s commercials were cute and all — “you got your peanut butter in my chocolate/you got your chocolate in my peanut butter” — but the concoction was destined to come to life somehow or another.
How could peanut butter not find chocolate, or vice versa?
It was sort of the same way with baseball cards in general — here you had little cardboard heroes with a primary audience consisting of baseball-playing boys. How could bubble gum NOT end up in the picture?
And so, Topps and Bowman just stepped into the line of cosmic hobby forces. So, too, did Bazooka, eventually.
Of course, Bazooka took a slightly different tact, maintaining the focus on the gum as their primary product by building their cards into the very fabric of their boxes. The result was magical, especially in that inaugural 1959 Bazooka set.
Just look at that beautiful Henry Aaron and tell me you wouldn’t trade your stash of Benny Distefano rookie cards just for a real-life glimpse!
Bazooka kept at it all through the 1960s, too, and even into the 1970s.
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By 1971, though, they were rounding the bend … were looping back on themselves, really. It was the end of the line, and they decided to go out with a confusing rustle by issuing 12 three-card panels on gum boxes, unnumbered, but also a numbered proof set with an extra 12 cards.
The numbered set, naturally, has some mystery around it, and the whole thing is still sort of muddled, but we at least have various hobby resources like this one to help us make sense of it.
For our purposes here, though, the 1971 Bazooka set is just another stepping stone in the river of destiny.
Bazooka — a big gun.
Baseball — home of bigger-than-life stars and performances.
Sam McDowell — reigning Pitcher or the Year entering 1971, having run up a 20-12 record with a 2.92 ERA for the 76-86 Indians in 1970. Led the Majors with 304 strikeouts, too.
And it wasn’t a one-year thing, as McDowell had run up a 103-80, 2.73 ERA line from 1964-70, with 1829 strikeouts in 1736 innings.
That’s 9.5 Ks per nine innings.
McDowell’s left arm was a gun, in other words. A cannon.
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How could he not be included in the 1971 Bazooka set? And so he was, right there on a panel between Rico Petrocelli and Clarence Gaston.
But even before Bazooka rolled out their final set (for awhile, at least), things started to fall apart for McDowell.
He held out for more money in the spring of 1971, signed a contract MLB didn’t like, got suspended a couple of times during the season, got traded after the season.
Things didn’t go well for McDowell with his new team, the San Francisco Giants, who had to watch from afar as the dude they traded, Gaylord Perry, won a Cy Young Award for the Indians in 1972 while Sudden Sam landed at 10-8, 4.33 ERA.
The Giants tried McDowell in the bullpen for awhile in 1973, then sold him to the Yankees. Things improved marginally in the Bronx, but only for awhile, and New York released him after the 1974 season.
McDowell caught on with the Pirates in April 1975, but they released him before June was through, and that was it.
It was a fast fall from best in the game to perceived troublemaker to journeyman to … gone.
And so it was that the last Bazooka set in their 13-year run also coincided almost exactly with the last great stand for the guy with a bazooka left arm, a guy who once seemed destined for the Hall of Fame.
As it turns out, that 1971 Bazooka panel featuring McDowell, Petrocelli, and Gaston is the only one one the 36-card unnumbered set to not show at least one Hall of Famer.
Maybe even destiny can’t always predict the whims of baseball.
Wow! Wax of the Day
This entry pretty much had to be a Bazooka box, and this eBay listing (affiliate) link more than fits the bill — it’s a complete 1971 Bazooka box, with the RandyHundley-Willie Mays-Catfish Hunter panel intact. “Wow!”, indeed.
Check out the full eBay listing right here.