by Drew Pelto, AKA *censored*

1964 was the start of the “Hey wait, we’re the only company left, so we can crank out bland sets and the people will STILL buy them” phase of Topps baseball cards. Besides, who has time for baseball cards when Topps has to be there to cover the Beatles’ arrival in America and put them on cards?

Yep, it kinda started going downhill from here for a while.

Yes, 1964. The Beatles arrived in America. Finally, a musical group that it was okay for everyone to like! The girls loved how cute Paul was. The boys could respect their musical abilities. And parents appreciated their clean-cut image because, well just look at them with their jackets and ties! Boy howdy, they couldn’t possibly be into those evil things like smoking the reefer! Right. So, maybe 1964 was the beginning of the end of the innocence, or whatever cliché you prefer. For more on the end, see 1968.

I briefly considered trying to hide Beatles’ song titles in this article in various places and offering up a prize to the first person to find them all, but figured that would be a little too hard to do without sounding too stilted in my writing. So if any make it in, it’s total coincidence. And there is no prize.

Anyways, the 1964 set was a bland looking one. Similar to the equally-bland 1988 set, it starts with a team name across the top.  It’s huge. It’s great if you want to go through quickly and find cards of a certain team, but it just feels a little too plain.  Apparently the drop shadow had not yet been invented, or at least not yet been perfected. The name and position are at the bottom in a bar as well. Functional all around, but yet… it’s just so bland! At the least, it’s not offensive to the eye. It’s clean, it’s efficient, it’s just not exactly exciting.  The photo quality was typical of a 1960’s set, with lots of head shots, and a bunch of posed faux-action. Batter holding bat. Batter following through on swing. Pitcher lifting arms to start windup. Pitcher following through after a pitch. Fielder leaning down for grounder while looking back at camera. Casey Stengel auditioning for the LifeAlert “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercial. It just gets repetitive.

“We’re sending help immediately, Mr. Stengel!”

One of the unfortunate highlights of the 1964 set is a memorial to Ken Hubbs. The 1962 Rookie of the Year winner had a fear of flying and tried to overcome that fear by taking flying lessons. Eventually he got his pilot’s license.  In the winter of 1964 just before spring training, Hubbs was killed in a plane crash, as the plane he was piloting crashed in Utah. Topps created a memorial card for him, similar to the 1959 Roy Campanella card. It’s a nice touch that too few companies use. Topps didn’t create a memorial card for Steve Olin, Tim Crews, or Cliff Young in 1994.  Lyman Bostock never had one. Nor did Thurman Munson. Nothing for Darryl Kile. Even the great Roberto Clemente went memorial-less. But somehow Topps felt like making one for Mickey Mantle in 1996, 27 years after he retired. Huh, okay.

By the way, who is the only Rookie of the Year winner to have his name rhyme with his team name? That would be Ken Hubbs of the Cubs.

Good card, just bad that it has to exist.

A big positive for the 1964 set was that it was absolutely loaded with rookie cards. I mean tons. Like back the dump truck up, we’re unloading the whole nine yards of ‘em. 587 cards, 76 rookie cards. And of those 76, a good 40-some had multiple players on them. So we’re talking over 100 players making their debuts in this set.

Unfortunately, of those 100-plus, there’s only one Hall of Fame player, a probable Hall of Fame manager, a few members of the Hall of Very Good, a handful of regional favorites, and a bunch of schmoes, mooks, and fungi. Phil Niekro is the highlight here, followed by Tony LaRussa, Tony Oliva, Tommy John, and Lou Piniella. Not exactly awe-inspiring. Now follow it up with the likes of Dick Allen, Mickey Lolich, Tony Conigliaro, Rico Carty, Wilbur Wood, Willie Horton, Dave Duncan, Jerry Grote, and Hawk Harrelson. Oof.

Also, it features the last card of a New York legend, Duke Snider.  Without you, Terry Cashman would have had to sing of “Willie, Mickey, and the Chooch.” Thanks for the autographs you signed for me, and may you rest in peace.

So it’s a bland, yet non-offensive design with an average player crop. Nothing bad, just nothing really good either. And so, with this ranked as #42, we begin to venture into the “solid, yet unspectacular” category of Topps sets; the sets that are the Bob Grich of the card world.

About the Author: Drew Pelto thinks Paul McCartney was far superior to John Lennon both as a Beatle and as a solo artist. He lives in Texas and is sweating his face off in the oppressive summer heat, and still has to deal with it for another two months.