Eye-searing polyester. Haircuts the size of minor moons. Villainous facial plumage. Doomed wife-swapping experiments.
No one ever gives the 1970s the credit they deserve. Those 10 hazy years between the hippie '60s and yuppie '80s may now be synonymous with disco, civilization-wide failure and shag carpeting, but the decade also bred a screwed-up genius of its own.
Author and long-time blogger Josh Wilker is determined to right this screaming wrong. In his rad debut memoir
, "Cardboard Gods," he chooses a perfectly off-kilter means to reflect on this misunderstood era: baseball cards
Plowing though his boyhood Topps collection in the same way he does on his popular blog of the same name
, Wilker uses these frayed, sugar-scented relics of pre-Facebook kid culture as a means to understanding just what happened to him and his fractured family during the '70s -- and in doing so, he pays tribute to that lost decade's zany awesomeness.
We asked Wilker to dig back through his card pile
and pick 10 specimens that embody the whacked-out excellence of the 1970s. The resulting weird beards and hallucinatory uniforms may hurt your eyes -- but the images will stir your soul!
Reggie Jackson, 1975
"I've written about Reggie as much as any other player," says Wilker. "I keep coming back to him as the central figure of the whole era. In the '70s, you just didn't see players all that much -- there was no 'SportsCenter.' So a player of mythic stature could really loom large.
"In the modern era, a superstar like Reggie would be a corporation in and of himself. Think about A-Rod
-- he's just so controlled. Reggie had freedom to move. With most players, this card would have just been a standard preseason shot. With Reggie, it's crackling with life and the knowledge that he was The Show."
Skip Jutze, 1976
"It's easy to mock now," says Wilker, "but every kid in the '70s loved that uniform. It was like Saturday morning cartoons -- just bursting with color.
"The Astros were always the team that I would fantasize leaving the Red Sox for, because they seemed to be everything Boston was not. Like, the Astros played in the future
. They played in these crazy rainbow uniforms. In a dome.
"Jutze doesn't really look like a guy who would ever wear this kind of shirt, but he's going with it, and the shirt itself pulls him out of his anonymity. I think something similar happened to a lot of people in the '70s, wardrobe-wise."
Oscar Gamble, 1978
"I'm always almost struck mute on the subject of Oscar Gamble's Afro
," says Wilker. "Not only was it kind of the height of self-expressive '70s fashion, but as a kid in Vermont, there was just about nothing more exotic than an Afro."
The Chicago Cubs, 1977
"This is just so weird," says Wilker. "You would never see this anymore. I mean, it's gruesome, really -- all these floating heads. I could go really deep and say that the '70s were a time when everyone's heads seemed to be detached from their bodies."
Jackie Brown, 1977
"In all the discussions of bad '70s uniforms, no one ever mentions the Indians," Wilker points out. "This one almost gives you a headache. It's emblematic of what was happening with uniforms as they got into polyester and the new looks.
"It's hard to imagine now, but people were into it. In my Little League, all but two teams had the old-style flannel uniforms -- which in retrospect were much better than the polyester uniforms.
"But all of us, to a kid, wanted the polyester uniforms. They didn't know what they had. It was new. They were experimenting."
Greg Minton, 1978
"I don't know if you can tell, but this is actually a painting," says Wilker. "Or, at least, it's a photo that's been painted over. I suspect that's because Minton was bouncing back and forth between the majors and the minors, and they had a minor-league photo that was black and white.
"When I think back to people I knew, this is what they looked like. Everyone had a little facial hair. You were either a hippie who was coming back to normal, or a straight guy who was branching out a little. Everyone kind of met in the middle.
"And those aviator glasses -- later they became kind of synonymous with the suicidal cult leaders of the era
, but they were in for a while."
Rollie Fingers, 1978
"Rollie Fingers: the winner of the mustache contest of the '70s, the greatest mustache contest ever held," proclaims Wilker.
"He's the guy who said, you know, I'm not just going to have a mustache -- I'm going to have a mustache that curls up at the end
like I'm about to tie a damsel to railroad tracks.
"One thing I love about the '70s is that there was this kind of opening up to the weird past. It's like it wasn't so great to be in the present, so everyone either wanted to be in this crazy, psychedelic future or this tough-guy version of the past, in the bar with peanut shells on the floor."
Mike Barlow, 1980
"Barlow's just hanging out, thinking about things," says Wilker. "There's no great urgency. He's just taking it all in.
"And you look at this and see, well, it's a 1980 card, which means the photo was probably taken in 1979. The '80s lie ahead, with all the go-go Wall Street craziness of that decade
. There wouldn't be time to sit around and think about things. And, you know, I mourn the loss of that."
Joe Wallis, 1980
"This guy was on the A's teams that lost just about everything," says Wilker. "There had been a terrible decline from the great teams of the early '70s, when everyone had mustaches and the A's won everything in sight. I find something really emblematic about the '70s in the fall of that dynasty.
"With this card, I think the team was saying, 'Let's try to get some of that old magic back. Let's all grow beards
!' The hippies I knew in Vermont were all kind of in exile from the action, trying to live these simple back-to-the-land existences -- and many of them had these beards.
"Wallis disappeared from baseball after that year, so I always kind of imagine that he went back to the land, too."
Tom Hutton, 1980
"The Expos were always my other fantasy team, because they were just as close to where I lived in Vermont as the Red Sox were," says Wilker. "Despite that, I never, ever knew an Expos fan. It was like the team played in another dimension.
"Hutton looks ghostly here, but sincere. He looks like he really wants to get in there and take his cuts, even though he's just a utility infielder/outfielder who has to choke up on his bat.
"He's been worn out by his lot in life, but he's still game. It's like he knows it's not going to last forever -- which is fitting, since he's on the Montreal Expos
. And the Expos didn't last forever."