by Drew Pelto, AKA *censored*

Good news: I survived the trip to and from Washington and only had to drive the U-Haul for 2 hours from Baker City, OR to Wilder, ID. I managed to force a semi onto the shoulder at one point and it was decided that perhaps driving large trucks is not my forte. Next stop: Portland, OR for a week, this time flying. I hope to post a few more articles in that time, but am not counting on it.

Back to the reason we’re here: Part 17 of the Countdown.

In 1966 the Hough Riots shook Cleveland. It took only 20 years for a once-prosperous street of millionaires along Euclid Avenue to turn into the border of a nightmarish slum.  Once it was the place to be seen. Even now, 45 years later, the Hough neighborhood is more a place you don’t want to be seen. After Watts, and before 12th Street, the Hough Riot was the first racial violence in Cleveland, a city known more for racial progressivism than racial inequality. The Browns signed two black players in 1946, beginning the reintegration of pro football. The Indians were the first American League team to feature black players, with Larry Doby taking the field in 1947.  And two years after Hough, Carl Stokes became the first black mayor of a major American city. Two years later, his brother Louis was Chairman of the House Select Committee on Assassinations.  1966 was a year of transition in Cleveland before everything truly hit the fan in for the country as a whole in 1968.

And for Topps, 1966 was also a transition year– when the classic baseball card company began to fade a bit. It was the baseball card collector’s only option and the company realized it. While Topps would put out some great sets in the following years, 1966 was a year of laziness, of a company just going through the motions and putting out a below average product.

 

Yeah, it’s the best card in the set, but it’s like going to a museum and hearing “In this exhibit, you will see the Crown Jewels of Moldova.”

The design of the set was different, but not necessarily good. But not really a bad different either. Other than the ungodly awesome 1962 set where every piece of information was placed there, Topps hadn’t really used the corners of their cards for holding text. In 1966, they placed the team name in the top left corner on a banner. I like the placement, honestly. The name and position sit at the bottom, typical, but not bad by any means. But what I don’t like are some of the colors used. Take a look at Jim Palmer’s rookie card in this set. The flaming snot (if you get that reference, you win ten internets) color used for the name bars reminds me of the back of that 1990 Topps set. And magenta for the ones on the Red Sox cards? Or is that fuchsia? Either way, no please no, not on my cards. Why not make the name bars in the same color as what the team wears? Black and white may be kind of boring, but red and yellow goes with a Yankees player about as well as peaches go with a steak.

Boring portrait? Check. Ugly colors? Check. Big ol’ wad of chaw? Check. 1966 Topps, summed up in one card.

The photography was a little bland as well. Posed shots of a pitcher holding his glove and pitching hand up in a wind-up? Yeah, that’s original. Repeated head shots are boring. After a while, the photos all seem to kind of run together. There aren’t any that truly stand out except for Don Mossi. But we’ll get to him in a bit.

In terms of players, the 1966 set features the usual 1960’s crew: Koufax, Mantle, Maris, Mays, Aaron, Rose, Drysdale, Frank Robinson, Yaz, Cepeda, you know them all by now. Really any 1960’s set is going to have a solid representation of players in it– hence why I talk a lot about whose rookies are in a set in order to break ties and aid in ranking. In 1966, there were actually three Hall of Famers debuting in the set, and two of them had their own cards. Jim Palmer, mentioned and shown above, is one, Fergie Jenkins is a second, and Don Sutton with Bill Singer is the third. That’s a pretty decent group of rookies, honestly. Bobby Murcer, Tito Fuentes, Fritz Peterson, Nate Colbert, and Don Kessinger also debut for at least some regional fan favorites as second-tier rookies. Decent grouping. It was also Joe Morgan’s second year.

And who can forget the previously mentioned iconic Don Mossi card? Did his facial cartilage ever stop growing? Most of the time, guys in their 60s have those huge noses and ears. But Mossi was only about 35 when his photo was taken. He’s still alive today, 82 years old, living in Wilder, Idaho. Just think of what those ears must look like now. If he can wiggle them, he could make some money by:

1. Providing enough wind power to turn a big windmill and give electricity to half of Norway.
2. Taking flight, offering low-cost earline… err, airline service to half of The Gambia.
3. Moving to Arabia and fanning the Sultan, instead of those belly dancers with palm fronds.

“Don Mossi was the complete five-tool ugly player. He could run ugly, hit ugly, throw ugly, field ugly, and ugly for power. He was ugly to all fields. He could ugly behind the runner as well as anybody, and you talk about pressure… man, you never saw a player who was uglier the in clutch.”
–Bill James

Oh. Good. Heavens. Sir, here is the number of a good plastic surgeon.

Maybe I’ve just seen his card too much and it brings this set down because of it. But the bland photography and really bad color choices bring this set down for me in spite of a strong rookie group.

About the Author: Drew Pelto is a 2002 graduate of University School in Cleveland‘s east suburbs. Carl Stokes’ son was the first black student at the school in 1963. Drew currently works as a broadcaster in the North American Hockey League and saw Don Mossi’s ears from an I-84 last weekend while making the transition from driver to passenger of a U-Haul.