The Topps: Clemente in 72

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This 1972 Roberto Clemente has always been one of my favorite baseball cards; it’s unusual purely on its own terms, and the tragic circumstances of Clemente’s biography give it a special power. It’s certainly underappreciated, no doubt because so many collectors can’t stomach the graphics of the set of which it is a part. For 1972, Topps junked its typical modernist design for a more playful and cartoony seventies graphic look. Like much in that era, it is polarizing. I happen to like the 3D typography and the vibrating colors—I just wish they were more team appropriate. (Blue and black for the Bucs?) The Clemente image is particularly idiosyncratic for a baseball card: It’s not the standard head shot or action photo we’re used to seeing from Topps. Instead, we have a player caught in a moment of quiet introspection. Time is literally suspended; the ball casually tossed by Clemente is forever stalled midflight, presumably at its apex. It’s a simple, innocent act, and it seems to capture the essence of the Hall of Famer: his dignity, his love of the game, his sense of isolation, his Latin identity—it is only the second card on which he is identified as “Roberto” and not “Bob.” In retrospect, it’s impossible not to read it as a prophetic metaphor for Clemente’s story; the following year he died tragically in a plane crash while on a humanitarian mission to Nicaragua. A baseball card with pathos—now that is unusual indeed.

4 comments… add one
  • great post, really interesting card. thanks for this.

    beth February 4, 2007, 3:13 pm
  • a classic card. still no billy ripken or tim flannery card though.

    sf rod February 5, 2007, 5:00 pm
  • i need price for this card plese contac me.

    CARLOS PERES September 4, 2007, 7:37 pm
  • This is actually the fith of six Topps regular issue cards that say Roberto instead of Bob. His rookie card 1955 & 1956, 1970,71,72 & 1973.

    Brendan October 26, 2007, 4:29 pm

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