#CardCorner: 1972 Topps Billy Cowan
Hall of Fame staffers are also baseball fans and love to share their stories. Here is a fan's perspective from Cooperstown.
Billy Cowan was the consummate journeyman. That might not sound particularly flattering, but it should not be interpreted as an insult either. For a player to last eight seasons in the major leagues, when the average career is only about four seasons, that is an accomplishment in and of itself.
It’s true that Cowan was never the best player on any of his teams and was never an All-Star. Yet, he receives more autograph requests through the mail than most journeyman outfielders of similar vintage – if only because of his amusing 1972 Topps card. Opting to have some fun with Cowan, the Topps photographer lined his head up perfectly within the confines of the old halo at Anaheim Stadium, now known as Angel Stadium of Anaheim. At the time, the ballpark still featured a large halo at the top of a tower within the perimeter of the ballpark. The Halo still stands, but is now featured in one of the stadium’s parking lots.
One thing collectors have always wondered about the Cowan card is whether the outfielder was actually aware of what the photographer was doing. It certainly looks like the photographer intentionally set up the photo so that Cowan’s head was right in the middle of the halo, but it’s not certain that Cowan realized that. Either way, Cowan has maintained his sense of humor about the unusual pose, along with his willingness to sign the card whenever it’s sent to him in the mail.
The 1972 card, by the way, was the last one issued for Cowan, who was finishing up his career with his sixth different team. Signed by the Chicago Cubs in 1961, Cowan made an immediate impact as a minor leaguer, hitting 19 home runs as a rookie in pro ball and then winning the Pacific Coast League MVP Award in 1963. That September, he moved up to the Cubs’ roster and made his big league debut. By 1964, he had assumed the starting center field position, taking his place next to Hall of Fame left fielder Billy Williams. Cowan showed promise, hitting 19 home runs and stealing 12 bases while playing a capable center field.
Bruce Markusen is the manager of digital and outreach learning at the National Baseball Hall of Fame