1971 TOPPS ART SHAMSKY
After getting head shots with no cap while wearing a Reds jersey in both 1968 and 1969, Topps made it up to Art Shamsky the next two years. His 1970 card has him in full Mets uniform, mock swinging a bat. And the card has METS in yellow letters, which really pop. But as good as his ’70 card was, his 1971 version was even better.
Topps took a giant step forward with its 1971 set. The black borders are a collector’s nightmare, as they show wear almost immediately, but man, they look fantastic when they’re in good shape. And the other thing that stands out is that this was the first year where Topps used action photos for regular cards in the set. They had used “action” images in the background of the cards in the 1956 set. Plus, they used it for playoff and World Series cards. But in 1971, they used them for stars, rookies and even platoon players like Shamsky.
Since it was the first year of these action shots, on some cards it’s hard to tell who the featured player actually is. On Bud Harrelson’s card, there are four players and the second base umpire in his action card. We know it’s Harrelson’s card, so we can surmise that it’s the shortstop making the tag who’s the subject. But the closest player is the pitcher, Nolan Ryan, seen from his back. The most-centered person is either the umpire or the second baseman, Ken Boswell, who is way in the back of the image. Because there are so many people in the card, it’s still a very interesting one, so long as you’re not looking for a closeup of Harrelson.
The ’71 Shamsky has multiple people in it, too, with the batter, the catcher and the ump. There are three other things which make this card stand out. First is the angle of the shot. It’s taken from behind and a bit to the left of home plate, as looking from the stands. It gives you more detail than an image shot directly behind the catcher.
Next is that we can see the catcher in a slightly elevated crouch, anticipating the ball – also visible in the shot – coming in high. Did the catcher start this way? Or, instead of being what he called for, is he getting ready to corral an errant pitch?
Finally, there’s Shamsky himself. Is he cocked ready to swing at the pitch? You usually think of lefties being low-ball hitters. Or, is he getting ready to bail on the offering, afraid that the pitch is going to be high and tight, one that might possibly hit him?
As a kid, my assumption was that he was getting ready to swing. Now, it seems the other way to me. Either way, the unknown factor is part of the beauty of the card.
Shamsky was very productive for the Mets in both 1969 and 1970, with a combined 125 OPS+ over 807 PA in the two seasons. Perhaps that’s why he got such a cool card in the ’71 set. But Shamsky was rotten for the Mets in ’71 and in the offseason, he was dealt to the Cardinals in an 8-player deal. His 1972 card again showed him in a uniform with a team he no longer played for but this time with his cap tilted upwards. It’s a Cardinals card but Shamsky never played a game for St. Louis, as he was cut right before the start of the season.
Old COTW author Doug Parker used to complain about Dean Chance getting Mets cards and other memorabilia appearances despite pitching just two innings for the club. Makes you wonder about how guys who write about Cardinals cards think about Shamsky getting one without playing a regular-season game for the team.