February 13, 2006

Fuzzy Photos of Giants (not to mention Cubs, Brewers and whatever the heck an Expo is)

Have you ever noticed that the photos from the 1982 Fleer set are all out of focus? Not just the action shots (which I could understand if they were, because I’m sure it’s pretty hard to bankroll a fledgling operation trying to compete with the Topps Chewing Gum’s arsenal of photographers—though who are we kidding? Fleer had been around since the Sixties, with their classic 1963 series and that other series of old-time stars…I think they even issued the Ted Williams series in 1959 to coincide with his retirement, though I’m going to have to double-check that), but even the close up portraits are out of focus.

You’d think that because they were trying to launch a competitive alternative to Topps, who, let’s face it, mailed it in from 1981 until 1985 in terms of design (except 1984 did have a sense of the Elvis Presley/London Calling aesthetic going for it, what with the team name running down the side, and the Ozzie Smith from that set is a great card…he really kind of looks like Fozzie Bear in his close-up), you’d think that Fleer would’ve invested more in its product. Okay, there are 660 cards in the set (an homage to Willie Mays perhaps?), so if we figure at least a 24-picture roll per player, then that’s like—hold on—that’s like 15,840 total photos. I guess that kind of ruled out affording professional-grade cameras. I think the big meeting at Fleer went a little like this:

Executive 1: Wow, 1981 went great. I mean, really great card stock, nice clean white backs. Just really nice. How can we out do it in 1982?
Executive 2: I’ve got it all figured out: color team logos on the card backs.
Executive 1: I like where you’re going with this.
Executive 2: Yeah, and listen to this—baby blue backs.
Executive 1: I love it! But what about the photo?
Executive 2: I’m two steps ahead of you. Did you know that Kodak puts out a child-friendly camera? With little flash cubes that are so cheap we can buy them in bulk?
Executive 1: Child-friendly cameras, huh?
Executive 2: Yeah! So we can bribe children to take our photos…but you’re paying too much attention to the photo, and nobody cares about the photo. Or the player, for that matter. Just the color team logo. On the frickin’ sweet baby blue back.
Executive 1: You’re a genius, you know that? A genius. G-E-N-U-I-S. We’re going to flush Topps down the crapper with this one.

Yeah, it took Fleer a little longer than expected to out do Topps. And when they did (in 1984 with their Update set, and then in 1987 for real), it was for real and Topps didn’t get its mojo back until 1991 with the premium Stadium Club set. But that’s not the point. The point is that 660 photos made the cut in the late summer or fall of 1981 in the Fleer offices and every single one of them is out of focus. And that’s ridiculous.


Eric B. said...

This set holds great memories for me, because it was one of the first ones I started collecting as a kid. I remember noticing that at the time, too, but didn't really understand why they looked that way.

But now, as an adult who works in graphic design, I know the reason. It's not that the photos are out of focus, it's that the color registration is out of alignment on the printing. Trading cards, like most other color publications, are printed in a four-color process which requires four passes through the press. So, if things aren't aligned properly, poor product like this results. It's the same reason so many of the cards from that series were trimmed off-center.

The bottom line is horrendous quality control at the printing plant. Why Fleer went ahead and released them like that, rather than re-doing the job right, is beyond me. There's just no excuse for such half-assed work. At the very least, I hope the foreman got fired.

Anonymous said...

UGH. You need to bomb this set worse, bud. For both of us. I used to stay with my grandparents on weekends, and for some reason the drugstore on the corner only carried Fleer in 1982. I knew they were crap and I bought them anyway because I was bored and it was all that was available. In fact, I want to go home right now and burn them all.