Rollie Fingers, 1982 Topps


51COefRkv+LHow did this card happen?

As I have previously mentioned, I like to use old baseball cards as bookmarks. I reach into an old shoebox and blindly pull one out at the start of each new book. On the last fishing expedition I landed this 1982 Rollie Fingers.

The book, Stephen King’s On Writing, is as outstanding as everyone says. But a few words about this card. The back offered its share of curiousities. His hometown in recent years became famous for something awful—Steubenville, Ohio. Fingers is listed as 6’4, 195, which is not far from my current dimensions of 6’4, 205—oh, what an athletic career I could have had, if only I was athletic.

But the front of the card had me wondering, “Who chose this photo and why?”

There is nothing in-your-face atrocious about it, and there are literally thousands of cards that have been issued over the years with similarly bland fronts. But just look at it. It’s a photo of a man adjusting his hat.

In my time as an editor at Sports Illustrated and SI Books I have sat through many of what is called a “color show.” In a color show, representatives from photography, design and editorial sit in a dark room, looking at photo after photo projected on a screen, and select the best images to illustrate a story.

I am having a hard time imagining the color show that resulted in this photo of Rollie Fingers being chosen. It is not a standard portrait, of the kind that you see on many of those cards. This is an action shot, only of a static and unatheletic action. His face is in shadow, his expression unremarkable. My best guess is that pitcher’s jacket caught someone’s attention. At least the jacket gives a visual indication of his job

I wondered if Topps issued this card when it still had a monopoly on the baseball card market, as it had through the 1960s and ’70s, but no, Fleer and Donruss joined the fray in 1981. So Topps was actually facing competition, and this is what they sent into battle.

As a kid I was felt such anticipation when I tore open a pack of cards. Looking at this card, I sense that the excitement was not mutual on the part of the maker.