All Them, uh, Astros? 1964 Topps Giants

It’s certainly no secret that I have a tremendous backlog of stuff about which I’d like to post. That’s due to, well, a steady lack of effort around these parts coupled with an unceasing stream of neat pickups, be they via purchases or trades. I thought I might even hit the big TriStar show in February this year, which would have made my first card show in two years thanks to the apocalypse, and have a pile of fun stuff to show off from there.

The key word in there is “thought,” of course. I never did make that show, thanks to a surging variant and a newborn at home. When it became clear that the show was not going to be a possibility, I started pouring my card show budget into a Sportlots order. Boy did I fill that cart before whittling it down, then building it back up again.

So I do have a pile of acquisitions to show off from my virtual card show, so to speak. One of my goals was to put some of my older Flagship needs to rest, as well as some other Colt .45s items. If I was going to build a pile, I wanted to get some things I’d really like to cross off the list.

That’s how this Ken Johnson wound up in my stack. The best part about this oversized beauty is that it completes the team set from the 1964 Topps Giants, which means it’s time to resurrect the All Them Astros – er, Colt .45s – series. Ken’s warmup shot is stellar. Someone with more knowledge than I could probably name the stadium in the background – it’s not Colt Stadium, that’s for certain. I can say with some confidence that appears to be the handsome Jim Golden in the background. I know Nick V. will appreciate that Topps got the seams right on the baseball.

There are two more Houston players in this set: Hall of Fame second baseman Nellie Fox and fireballer Dick “Turk” Farrell. All three have finally been united in a four-pocket page. Which, of course, leaves me with an empty slot. Perhaps it’s custom time.

I also picked up a Cepeda for a scant five bucks in this Sportlots haul. It’s not totally on topic, but what the heck, let’s show that off as well! The large format (3 1/8″ x 5 1/4″) really allows some of these portraits to shine, and cards from this set can be a means for adding a gorgeous and typically affordable Hall of Famer piece. That affordability may not hold for the heaviest hitters, but I think there can be some bang for your buck here, especially given how great these look and how big they are.

The backs operate a bit like newspaper articles, with an inset photo and some text about an event. I really like what’s going on with the number and tagline up in the corner. It’s interesting to me that this functions like a highlights set, but the cards are not necessarily bound by the timeline one would expect. Johnson’s is a true highlight in real time, a card devoted to the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter and lose. There have now been six instances of a team holding their opponent hitless and still losing, with the Reds “accomplishing” this feat on May 15th. Johnson’s performance is still a unicorn, however – the only one in which a single pitcher threw an official no-hitter* and lost. I really like that he may be the first and only baseball player ever to accomplish such a feat.

*Three of these performances used two pitchers, and three of them – including the other single-pitcher performances (Andy Hawkins and Matt Young) – only went 8 innings because the pitcher’s team was on the road. A no-hitter is not official under 9 innings.

Fox and Farrell’s highlights are throwbacks to their 1959 MVP season and 1958 All-Star Game performance, respectively. They’re not exactly recent when you consider that 5 or 6 years is half a career for a semi-star. Yes, I have chuckled at the phrase “Dick’s Clutch Performance” far too many times.

As for that empty slot, there are a few options from which to choose. I either need one or five, because I’m a completist and despise the thought of making something which won’t page out properly. Utilizing the fuzzy timeline that Topps has employed in creating the set, I decided to look back across 1962-1964 to see what else from the team history might qualify.

Bobby Shantz fires the first pitch in team history.

The slight problem here, however, is that there are two no-doubters begging to be made. The obvious one is Bobby Shantz going the distance in the Colts first game, an 11-2 drubbing of the Cubs in Houston, with Shantz striking out future Hall of Famer Lou Brock for the very first out of the game. I think that’s an important one, and it also doubles as the first Major League game** in Texas.

There are a lot of firsts, but memorializing the truly sensational stories should be a priority with something like this. That’s why the other one just calling to be made is the tale of young Bill Bradley imploring his hero Bob Aspromonte to “hit one for me” not once, not twice, but three times!!! There’s a more detailed account tucked into the middle – about the dead center – of Bob’s SABR Bio. Little Billy lost his eyesight to a lightning strike in 1962, and by the time the third homer rolled around he had actually regained some of his sight and was in the stands to see it.

**It should be noted that the Newark Eagles moved to Houston prior to the 1948 season, and so there were indeed “major league” games here, although baseball has not recognized them until recently validating and co-opting the history of the negro leagues. Edited: the Newark Eagles moved after the 1948 season, not before. The Houston Eagles played in the West Division of the Negro American League for the 1949 and 1950 seasons, but that is not considered “major league” baseball at this time.

The addition of those two big moments means I need three others to round out another four-pocket page, if I do make these customs. Here are a few options in my quick glance through club history.

  • On May 10, 1962 Roman Mejias logged the club’s first inside-the-park home run. Mejias was the start of that inaugural squad, leading the team in batting average (.286), homers (24), RBI (76), and steals (12). The shipped him to Boston at the end of the season, and unfortunate mistake. This could be a good event to acknowledge his fine season.
  • On May 17th, 1963 Don Nottebart authored the first no-hitter in team history in 4-1 win over the Phillies. NoNos are fun, and while it lacks the unique novelty of Johnson’s game, this one did occur at home. It could fit the bill.
  • On September 27, 1963 the club started an all-rookie lineup, including Jimmy Wynn, Joe Morgan, Rusty Staub, and Jerry Grote. This one is complicated by the need for a defining portrait. They got drubbed by the Mets, 10-3, with the lone extra-base hit coming from Joe Morgan. It’s a novelty, but not exactly something to celebrate.
  • Two days later on September 29, 1963 – the final game of the season – John Paciorek became mister perfect. In his major league debut he went 3-for-3 with two walks and 3 RBI, reaching base in all 5 of his major league plate appearances. Yes, you read that right: all of his major league plate appearances. Paciorek would have surgery for his neck in the offseason and never make it back to the big leagues. This one has strong potential, although I know it’s hard to come by a color portrait of Paciorek.
  • Johnson’s unicorn is the main highlight from 1964. Also of note was the September 22, 1964 debut of franchise icon Larry Dierker on his 18th birthday, a start in which he lost to the San Francisco Giants. Dierker would go on to spend a lifetime with the club in several different roles.
  • The other option from 1964 would probably be the final game at Colt Stadium, a 1-0 win over the mighty Don Drysdale and the Dodgers on September 27th. This took twelve innings, and Bob Bruce went the distance as the not-quite Astros squeaked out a victory.

Wow, this post stretched on quite a bit further than I intended! Looking at the list, I think the answers for the remaining three are probably Mejias, Paciorek, and either Nottebart or Bruce. That’s dependent on available photos, however.

Topps did revisit this set in 2020, issuing a 30 card insert set full of stars and legends in the Archives release as blaster premiums. I’m working on that full set, and there are two Astros in it, which I have now bound myself to collect in double: Jose Altuve’s entry celebrates his homer to clinch the 2019 ALCS over the Yankees. Yordan Alvarez closes the checklist with a more dubious “fun fact” with too many qualifiers. His three-homer game on August 10, 2019 game him 51 RBI through his first 45 games, the most by a rookie in their first 45 games – a “record” previously held by Ted Williams (47). To date I don’t have either. Let me know if you’d like to change that! Or if you have other spares from the set – I have a dozen of them, which still leaves plenty of holes.

1964 Topps Giants team set
Total Cards: 3
Last Card Acquired: 3/1/22
How Acquired: Sportlots

Related Sets
2020 Topps Archives – 1964 Topps Giants

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