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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
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Pocketmags Digital Magazines

DRAWING FROM HISTORY

From the early 1950s to the early ʻ80s, cartoons on the backs of Topps sets let us in on the lives of our favorite ballplayers, whether they played the piano, dug graves, worked as body guards or hunted snakes.

For those who grew up in the 20th century, that heyday of ink and paper, funnies and strips, the news in July that Mad magazine would no longer appear on newsstands or off er original content must have felt like the last brushstroke on an epitaph.

The nearly 70-year-old humor magazine with comic book beginnings arrived in 1952 and stood at the forefront of the comic world’s golden age, which influenced a wide spectrum of absurdly drawn characters on printed pages, from newspaper comics to movie posters to, yes, the backs of baseball cards. Both the magazine and baseball cards appealed to kids in the 1950s and in some cases the same artists that drew Mad magazine’s parodies also sketched the cartoons on Topps’ baseball card backs. Jack Davis, whose illustrations appeared in the first Mad magazine issue, began working for Topps in 1959. From 1953 through the early 1980s, collectors could turn over their baseball card and find a factoid, either about the player or baseball history, packaged with a humorous illustration that made the information more appealing to the young collector. In that cartoon bubble, pitchers threw so hard they put a hole in the catcher’s mitt. Forty-six-year-old players wore white beards down to their cleats. And managers skipped rope (he’s a “skipper,” get it?).

Those illustrations recall a time when players worked off season jobs to make ends meet or served in the military either before or during their baseball careers. Turning over a card and entering that cartoon bubble, you never knew what you would find. But you knew that information would stick, like the bubblegum that came with the pack.

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