1956 Topps Baseball Card Set - Topps After the War
January 13, 2010
by William Szczepanek
The spring of 1956 dawned with the smell of victory in the air. Topps had defeated Bowman in the Baseball Card War of the century. Now that Topps had control of the market what would they do next? Would they move forward with the full frontal assault that they had planned or would they choose a safer route and save the innovation for the future, if needed?
The U.S. was now at peace with the rest of the world. Remember this was the time of the B movie with weird aliens and Godzilla-like creatures that attacked the entire human race scaring kids to death. The U.S. military was busy fighting elusive monsters. Sounds a lot like today, except it seems to take a whole lot more to scare kids today. Just like it takes a whole lot more to get kids interested in baseball cards today.
Baseball cards were changing and so was America. While at peace the U.S. tested the first aerial hydrogen bomb over Bikini Atoll. The federal debt stood at $272.7 billion, unemployment was at 4.4% and the cost of a first-class stamp was $0.03. William Shockley invented the transistor. The first videotape recorder was previewed at a convention in Chicago. Later in the year the news with Douglas Edwards would be taped by CBS and then shown 3 hours later to West Coast viewers.
This was the time for firsts and a time of ones. Most people lived in one house, they had one car, they watched one television that was located in their only living room. They had one telephone that had one function, to speak with one other person remotely. Their houses had one bathroom that everyone seemed to be able to use without disaster. In general, there was one breadwinner and one homemaker, and roles were pretty well understood, though not without tension. Most people worked at one job for a long time, and most companies made one thing, be it cars or cigarettes. My mother worked in a factory and my father took care of the house and watched me when I came home from school. Families tended to have one religion. The most important of the ones was the family unit, which served America well by building a foundation for community to thrive and family values to grow. This time was short lived, but existed on a broader basis and longer than at any other time in our country's history.
This was also the time of one baseball card manufacturer. For the moment it appeared that Topps had pulled out all of the stops and now that Sy Berger had signed contracts with a large majority of players, Topps would make a move that would keep them at the top. A good offense is the best defense and Topps rolled out the first baseball card with action shots of the players in game situations. Most of the card backgrounds were composed of drawings taken from photographs with player's pictures superimposed on a background of a stadium or ball field. Some were highly dramatic and others were somewhat comedic. It appeared that when actual game photos could not be found then drawings of players were positioned in the picture. The pictures were planned very well but sometimes the implementation left something to be desired with the players looking awkward or out of place to an adult eye. The kids of the day were oblivious to this technique and were thrilled with the outcomes that showed their heroes in a dramatic fashion. This collection would set another standard for baseball card excellence and would be mimicked in the future more so than any other design before or after.
In other parts of the globe, events that would change the world unfolded. Soviet tanks were quelling anti-Soviet uprisings in Hungary. For the first time women in China wore brightly colored skirts in the May Day parade instead of the sexless, colorless jackets of the communist regime. The Chinese government wanted Socialism to be accepted.
Jean Mortenson legally became Marilyn Monroe and married playwright, Arthur Miller. Elvis Presley emerged as the first rock star at a time when Autherine Lucy, the first black student, was suspended after riots at the University of Alabama. The youth of this country were just beginning to change the world and the world was struggling to resist the change.
In baseball, Don Larson would throw the only perfect game in World Series history as the Yankees defeated the Dodgers for the championship. Some things never seem to change. Not so with music. Big change was in the air. The first five songs on the charts for 1956 indicate the direction of things to come, and yet, in many ways they still told the same stories of love, heartache and life, just in different ways.
Singing The Blues by Guy Mitchell
The Wizard of Oz was shown on television for the first time. As the World Turns premiered on CBS and would keep turning until 2010 when the show will be cancelled primarily because of social changes in our country. More women are now working in 2010 than men, and few have the time to devote to an ongoing TV series. The show actually began on the radio during the depression in the 1930s and is now ending during the most difficult economic times since then. Bob Barker made his TV debut as host of the game show Truth or Consequences and The Price is Right game show premiered. Barker recently retired.
Topps would produce 340 cards in 1956 capturing contracts for most of the players of the time. The set encapsulated the players and the times in artwork that brought the cards to life in a way never done before and seldom done since. Even with the superior photography and print processes of today, it is rare that the feeling of the cards get conveyed in such a meaningful way. The cards convey action, sometimes realistic, but not always in a complimentary way. When not realistic, the players almost seem to jump out of the card at you. For those who collected these cards, the players and their actions are remembered the best. More time seems to have been given to the art work for famous players than for the commons.
The great players are often shown in complimentary poses and actions. Some of the more common players have had their images plopped on the card in almost a random fashion with little sense to it. Though, over time these poses are remembered. If 1955 was the year of the batting pose and swing then 1956 was the year of action on the field. There are many shots of players sliding into bases in a cloud of dust, or crashing into catchers at the plate. For some power hitters like Banks, Snider, and Kluszewski the player is shown placidly trotting across the plate after a home run. Some of the greatest shots include those of Mickey Mantle, Harry Simpson, Elmer Valo, Roberto Clemente, Jim Rivera, Phil Rizzuto, Nellie Fox, Herb Score, Sandy Koufax, Bill Virdon and Whitey Ford.
The cards were able to seize the moment. For those of us who can remember going to games at the time, the cards almost enable you to smell the stadiums, which when crowded were shrouded in cigarette and cigar smoke, littered with spilled beer and peanuts. When not so crowded, which was often the case, the age-of-iron stadiums emitted the smell of cold steel from the occasional pillars that blocked your view if you were in one of the poorly positioned wooden seats under the stands. It was a time of no replays. You either saw it or you missed it... forever. It was a time when you paid attention closely. These cards help you remember those times ─ times of peace and joy when 50 cents could get you a pretty good seat on almost any day you chose to go to the game.
Shangri-La? Not really. It just seemed like it.