March 08, 2007

All New Cards and No Old Cards
Make Ben a Dull Boy

Man, I’m sick of new baseball cards. Actually, that’s not entirely true. The new Heritage set is the early winner of 2007, and I have a lot to say about it, but I guess for the moment I’m just really Topps-ed out, what with all the crap about the Jeter, the rash of other errors, the base set’s horrible blocky design and now the takeover bid from Eisner and Co. Let’s face it: none of this makes collecting cards more exciting. If anything, it makes it more depressing; I want to find the bomb shelter that I know still exists in my pre-war apartment building and get in there with my copy of It’s Good To Be Alive for a couple of days and forget about the world.

But before I go banging on every wall and hoping for a loose panel, there are a few cards that I find myself returning to when I feel a weakness in the force:

Boyhood Photos of the Stars Don Mossi is historically the most popular answer to the question ‘Who was the Ugliest Ballplayer?’ But the last time I checked, ugliness was not a popularity contest, so that’s why, for my money, you really can’t get any uglier than Joe Torre. And lucky for us, Joe had a ballplaying brother (Frank) who was not really all that ugly (Frank looked more like Casper the Ghost with eyebrows and hair), so we could see that ugliness was not a family trait. So who cares? I’ll tell you who: why the hell did Topps include the Phantom of the Opera posing for his junior prom? Why traumatize little kids like that? Sure, Torre was a great hitter, but c’mon. The other Boyhood Photos in this series (and the series within the 1973 set) are pretty great, with a young Jim Palmer in the pool (1973), Jim Hunter out in the barn (1973), FrankenPerry in a zip up (1973) and Mel Stottlemyre in what looks like the photo for his tractor license. Just a great subset. So good, in fact, that Topps did it in consecutive years.

Team Cards I’ve been thinking a lot about team cards lately and whether or not it’s possible to do a Tournament of Team Cards, complete with college basketball-style bracket. The gist of it would be to determine the greatest team card ever. Cards would go up against each other in a variety of categories, and the winner would become the logo for The Baseball Card Blog, or something like that. The categories would be as follows:

Teamwork How well does the team work together in the photo…can they all keep it together? Or, conversely, are they so hapless that it creates a ‘Rag Tag Misfits vs. Rich Kids’ vortex, pushing the photo to inspirational heights once never thought possible? Extra points for symmetry (even if the symmetry seems entirely coincidental)
Coach Attire Leisure suits? No shirts? Sunglasses? Is one of the coaches or manager holding a gardening hose or a cane? Stuff like that.
Uniforms Self-explanatory, though a bad uniform does not a bad team card make. In fact, it could mean just the opposite.
Background Spring training stadia are pretty boring as team photo backgrounds, so this category will normally be a push. But sometimes they’re taken in the field, and sometimes they’re not in a field or a stadium at all.

Personnel Different from the Teamwork category, a card gets points in Personnel if there are famous or notorious players on the team and those famous or notorious players happen to be picking their noses during the photo (I’m thinking of you, Bake McBride/1978 Topps Phillies Team Card #381).
Floating Heads A number of team cards feature floating heads (and not all of them are of the Cubs). A team card would get points for how well it presents its floating heads (extra points if the presentation constitutes a borderline religious experience).
Card Design
Photo Quality
Number of Players Not the same as the Floating Heads category, this gives special consideration to how many players did or did not show up for picture day.
Special Notation of Futility A card only gets points in this category if the card makes mention of just how bad this sorry bunch of players fared the year before.
World Champions A card only gets points in this category if the card makes mention of how this fantastic bunch of players won the World Series the year before. If the stars aligned, this system is system is devised so that an Expos team card from the late Seventies could win a match-up with one of those World Champs cards Topps began their sets with in the early Seventies.

Talking about all of this really makes me want to do this. I wonder if I still know how to use Illustrator to do a Tournament bracket.

Cards That Topps Had to Create Just So They Could Feature Them on Other Cards I just picked up this card from the 1975 MVPs subset and it’s already one of my favorites, not because it features Campanella (quickly becoming one of my favorite players), but because it features Campanella on a 1955 Topps card that never existed. Campy only had a Bowman card that year, no Topps. That’s why his head shot not only appears to be post-accident (that’s a LA Dodgers emblem on his cap—a team he never caught for), but it also looks like it’s been Xeroxed from a newspaper wire photo. What makes this so fantastic is that Topps presumably had a few photos and paintings from photos of Campanella (in a Brooklyn cap no less) that they could’ve used, right? Or were their digs so small that they couldn’t hold onto proofs and other materials from years past? Someone should ask Shorin before he sets off for the sunset.

Topps did this with another card in this subset: the 1962 MVP card of Mantle and Maury Wills. Wills wasn’t under contract with Topps in 1962, so the card pictured was never made. But at least the photo fits with the design (even if the font’s a little too big on the team name and position). This fake card of Wills shows up again down the road in the 1987 Topps set in the Turn Back the Clock subset for the 25 Years Ago… card.

Autographed Cards That May or May Not Actually Be Autographed By Famous People I really like cards that are autographed. I should qualify that statement, because I don’t really like certified autographs. I like it when it’s kind of a toss up: is it real? Is it not real? Like this card of Joe Morgan that I picked up at a show about a month ago. I only just noticed that there’s a ‘Joe Morgan’ scrawled across it in ballpoint pen. I have no idea if it’s actually Joe Morgan’s autograph on it, or if the previous owner was just practicing on his doubles. I have another card like this, of Kevin McHale. I have no idea if it’s his signature, but frankly, I’m happier not knowing.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I feel better already. Look for my in-depth review of the new Topps Heritage ’58 to be posted in a few days.

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