61 from ’64: Finishing the 1964 Topps Giants set

Sometimes it’s little things that make you feel good. For instance, have you ever hit the “perfect pump” at the gas station, releasing the pump handle just as the dollar amount clicks to a perfect, round number? It doesn’t really matter in this age of pay-at-the-pump, but it feels good, right? Like tossing a wad of crumpled paper into a wastebasket from 10 feet away. Yes!

For me, I feel good about completing my 1964 Topps Giants set. In fact, it’s the first complete sports card set I’ve ever put together myself. Of course, it’s only 61 cards, which is a 10th of the size of some of the sports card sets of my youth, and I started with a chunk of like 20 of them from a purchase of a friend’s collection, but still: I did that!

It doesn’t really put me in the mood to work on any other sets, mind you. It was tedious enough tracking down the “commons” in a 61-card set from almost 50 years ago, I’m not looking to do that for a 400-plus card set. But still, it’s done!

And it’s a pretty cool set. The oversized cards (the first set of its kind by Topps) feature a simple but fun design and some really excellent color photography, mostly portraiture.

Here I’ll share a few of my favorite cards from the set with some brief comments:

I talked about this Hank Aaron card (the first in my collection) before, but man, what an iconic image of a baseball legend.
Another legend with a legendary, crisp, clear portrait, but can we talk for a second for how old people used to look? I know Spahn was 43 in this picture, but if you told me he was 53, I wouldn’t bat an eye.
I don’t know much of anything about Roy beyond what’s on the back of this card, but you don’t see ballplayers in specs much anymore, unless they’re carbon fiber wrap around athletic ones. These clear plastic frames Roy has on are actually very much back in style right now. What a hipster.
Not all of the photos are portraits: Some are posed “action” shots like this one. Not only is this Callison fellow an absolute dreamboat, the colors and composition of this shot are so classic. About the only flaw is the dudes photobombing the shot in the background. Johnny even has dirt on his uniform!
One more posed “action” shot, this one of Albie Pearson, playing for the L.A. Angels, appearing to play catch somewhere in the vicinity of the lovely San Gabriel mountain range. If I was Albie Pearson or someone in the Pearson family, I would want this shot blown up and hung on a prominent wall somewhere.
Some of the cards are more memorable for what’s on the back. Each card’s back is made to look like a newspaper article, which means some group of Topps employees had to sit around and think up moments to immortalize on these “clips” AND think of headlines for them. I get that “hurl” is a slang/synonym for “pitch” but it’s still funny to think of Juan Pizzaro barfing at the All-Star Game.
One last one: Almost every one of the card backs memorialize something positive the player did at some point in the last few seasons before 1964 — indeed, for some, they go back several seasons, in some cases back to the player’s minor league experience. Poor Mets pitcher Galen Cisco’s headline was about a really long game that he lost. Hey, but he DID tie a major league record by striking out … four pinch hitters in a game? Oh, and his best season was five years ago … in the minors. Oof.

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