Collecting the 1972 Atlanta Braves

A look at the groovy and psychedelic 1972 Topps Atlanta Braves team set.

The 1971 Topps set, which I took a look at through the Braves team set last week, had a classic and timeless look. The black borders and unassuming text put all of the emphasis on the photography. Sure, it’s nearly impossible to find cards that haven’t been nicked, but even a 1971 card with a frayed border has endless character. Still, the 1971 set is not the most unique set that Topps has ever released. Black borders would make other appearances in Topps sets. Other than the black borders, the design was very much of a piece with many of the 60’s designs. None of this diminishes from the beauty of the set of course. I’m simply saying it isn’t the most unique Topps set.

The 1972 set is very much a set of its time. This set could not possibly have been released at any other point in time. The strange, bright colors and the eye popping 3D font used for the team name scream psychedelia. The set is bold, and it is also big. At 787 cards, it was the largest Topps set to date. The set also featured the first Topps Traded cards in the high number series. Many of the cards are nearly impossible to find in mint condition. It is a tough set to complete. It is the most distinctive design Topps has ever used. Very few designs of Topps are evocative of a specific time without a knowledge of card history. Opinions about the set are varied. I love it. Let’s look at the Braves cards in the set.

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In 1971, the photography was focused on both tight head shots and similarly tight posed shots. The 1972 set includes some head shots, but the vast majority of the posed shots aren’t as tightly framed as the previous year. Both the Hank Aaron and the Phil Niekro cards are representative of the photography in the rest of the set. (The Hammer looks to be in impossibly great shape for a player entering his nineteenth season in the big leagues. Knucksie is still looking young. I tend to think of knuckleball pitchers as old men because their careers last so long. I love seeing older cards of Niekro.)

To mix things up, Topps included In Action photographs featuring “in game” photography. Topps has occasionally used in game photographs in previous sets, but now they are bringing specific attention to the “in game” nature of the photos. The In Action cards mostly featured the best players in the game and appeared on the checklist immediately following a player’s base card. (The Hank Aaron card shows the Hammer in his home run trot.)

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It has become rare for Topps to include both a manager’s card and a team photo card in a set, but the 1972 set included both. The multi-player rookie cards in 1972 were issued by team. The most notable accomplishment by any of the three Braves pitchers featured was probably Tom House catching Hank Aaron’s 715th home run in the Braves bullpen at Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium. He pitched well out of the bullpen for a number of years, but his career was ultimately short and uneventful.

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League leaders cards are a great way to get cheaper cards of superstar players at an affordable price. In this case of these three cards, there are a lot of ties to the Atlanta Braves. The obvious ties are Hank Aaron and Ralph Garr. There’s Joe Torre who started his career as a Brave and would later manage the team into the post-season in 1982. (It should be noted that these cards were issued the year after Joe Torre won the MVP. It’s a crime that he wasn’t elected into the Hall of Fame as a player. He will most certainly get there as a manager.) Also featured twice on the three cards in Pirates great Willie Stargell. Pops would server as a hitting coach on the Braves staff and later as a roving instructor. One young man that he heavily influenced in the Braves system was a guy named Chipper Jones. You might have heard of him.

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How’s this for three great Braves? Each of the three remain popular with much of the Braves fan base. In fact, I’d bet Ralph Garr is among the favorites of most Braves fans from the 1970s. Every long time fan I talk to has fond memories of Rico Carty. (Of course, Hank Aaron does not. The two were like oil and water in the Braves clubhouse. He would rub some teammates the wrong way throughout his career.) Cepeda was the best player of the three and one of the all-time greats. I can even forgive him for having his best years with the Cardinals.

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Before he became a whipping boy for allegedly ruining Mark Prior’s career by asking him to, you know, pitch, Dusty Baker had a long career as a solid outfielder. He was a good young player with the Braves and later peaked with the Dodgers. So many people seem to hate Dusty, but don’t count me among them. He’s not a perfect manager, but who is? All I know is that he’s managed more good teams than bad teams over the years. Plus, he almost punched Tony LaRussa and if there’s any idea I can support, it’s punching Tony LaRussa.

Darrell Evans is one of those guys that seems to have been forgotten in baseball history, which is a shame. Not only was the guy nicknamed Howdy Doody one of the games good guys, he was also a very good player for a long, long time. He received MVP votes with three different teams, including the Braves. While most of the In Action cards featured established stars, Evans hadn’t accomplished anything of note in his career at this point. His best years with the Braves were ahead of him. Still, it’s a great action shot of him leaping in the air.

One interesting fact about Evans and Baker concerns Hank Aaron’s 715th home run. Darrell Evans was on base when the home run was hit and Dusty Baker was on deck. Do you think that moment ranks right up there with any of their own accomplishments in their memories? I’m betting it does.

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The best baseball book ever written is Jim Bouton's Ball Four. As such, I take special notice of any card that features one of the players who played a role in the story of the 1969 Seatlle Pilots. I have no idea what a diathermy machine is, but I know that Steve Barber spent a lot of time in it in 1969. His arm felt fine of course. (Read the book. Now.)

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If you want just one card of 1971 National League Rookie of the Year Earl Williams, you don't want his 1971 rookie card. You want this card, his first solo base card. That beautiful gold trophy graphic, indicating that he made the Topps All-Star Rookie Team, makes this the card to own. RIP Earl.

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I guess Paul Casanova's head shot on his 1972 card isn't the strangest I've seen, but it sure doesn't look normal to me. All of his facial features seem exaggerated and out of proportion. Casanova, who played a decade at essentially replacement level, did catch Phil Niekro's no hitter in 1973. That's not nothing.

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One of the great things to do with a baseball card is to try and figure out exactly why a player is posing as he is on a card. The Oscar Brown pose is a classic hitters pose that has been used on dozens of baseball cards over the years. Ron Herbel has just finished a pitch and is now standing in fielding position. (Shouldn't this picture have been taken on a mound?) I can't figure out what Jim Nash is doing. His right arms looks as if he's following through after throwing a pitch. I can't imagine a player ending up with his glove in that position after pitching though. It looks almost like he's ready to get the ball back fro the catcher immediately after he let the pitch go. If someone has a better explanation, I'm all ears!

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The little details in the background of a card photo matter. On George Stone's card, you can see the empty spring training stadium behind him. There appears to be a ton of activity going behind Mike Lum, but it's out of focus making sure that Lum stands out. The Pat Jarvis card seems strange to me. You can see other guys throwing behind him, and two of them appear to be framed in the shot as Jarvis is on the left side of the photo. I especially like the orange trees in the background. (If you are having problems seeing the cards, just click on them to open a larger picture.)

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As I mentioned last week, I'm a Ron Reed fan. His 1972 card is notable for being the last card in Topps largest set to date. It's a nice card of a fine player. This wasn't the first time a Braves player closed a Topps set. The most famous case is the legendary 1952 Topps set which ended with Eddie Mathews. Not only is the Mathews card a difficult acquisition, it is nearly impossible to find in a high grade.

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