November 16, 2011

The air-brushed action photo on the 1956 Topps Dave Pope card leads to some interesting baseball history


While putting together my 1956 Topps baseball card set in the mid-1970s, I noticed an oddity on No. 154. The card was of Baltimore Orioles outfielder Dave Pope.

The 1956 Topps typically had two images, usually a head shot and also an action or posed photo of the player. The action shot of Pope was what caught my attention. I vividly recalled the photo. It was from the 1954 World Series when he played for the Cleveland Indians against the New York Giants.

Topps, in those days, often airbrushed uniforms and caps of players who had been traded to update the information. In the action shot of Pope, the Cleveland on the front of his uniform had been removed and no team name appears. It is also of note that Pope appears to have a ball in his glove, which wasn't the reality of the play.

The photo was memorable because Pope's leap was at the right-field wall at the Polo Grounds as he made a desperate attempt to catch what became one of the most memorable home runs in baseball history. The batter was pinch hitter Dusty Rhodes whose 10th inning"blast" off future Hall of Famer Bob Lemon went all of 260 feet and gave the Giants a 5-2 victory in the first game of the World Series. It was referred to, at the time, as a "Chinese Home Run."

That game lives in history not only for Rhodes' game winner but also because of the most famous catch in baseball history, the one you have seen numerous times. Yes, Willie Mays' over-the-shoulder grab of a Vic Wertz blast, which was far longer than the historic pop up Rhodes hit.

Pope, who also played in the Negro League, died on August 28, 1999 in Cleveland at age 78. His career began with the Homestead Greys in 1946. He did not break into the majors until 1952 when he was 31 years old. Rhodes had pinch hit for Negro League legend Monte Irvin, who went on to become a Hall of Famer.

Incidentally, the action photo on the 1956 Topps Hank Aaron, No. 31, is really Willie Mays who had a Milwaukee Braves logo airbrushed on his cap.

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