Thorn: From Imagining to Imaging: Baseball cards and the growth of a National Pastime

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on July 3, 2019:

It is the cards of the 1950s that forever linked my generation with its baseball idols. Even today, on the dark side of midlife, I cannot hold a 1952 Topps card without feeling, in a sensual way, the heat of a Bronx sidewalk, the thrill of fanning the cards to see “who I got,” the taste of a Mission orange soda, the smell and peculiar feel of the pink slab of bubblegum, and the thrill of flipping my hard-earned prizes toward the wall of our apartment house, hoping to win my pal’s Jackie Robinson card.

Had we been alive at the turn of the twentieth century, we would recall not the cloying smell of bubble gum but the pungent aroma of tobacco. Cards were necessary to the distribution and sale of cigarettes — notably fragile items — as stiffeners. Adding images of baseball players — and other equally distant, exotic beings, from animals to admirals to actresses to Indian chiefs — to these prosaic inserts was a stroke of genius. It helped to create a nation — as would the post office and the telegraph, and, later, radio, Hollywood, and television — from disparate regional interests.

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Originally published: July 3, 2019. Last Updated: July 3, 2019.