OK, is it just me or does Topps have a thing against Vlad Guerrero? On the cards I get of him, not only is he never in the field, but he always looks like he's ready to pick a fight. I wrote about a Cracker Jack card of his late last year where he appeared to be a stalking zombie (or homeless drunk), and now here he is in Topps 2007, wielding a bat in the dugout with a studious 'I'm-gonna-kill-em' look on his face.
And that's just the front of the card. On the back Topps' checklisters have assigned him #300, a huge compliment and a testament to his ability as one of the game's greats, but they've done something more, something that undermines all that comes with the importance of that hero-worship spotlight. It comes in the form of a quote:
"Vlad is known for swinging at everything -- and hitting everything on the nose. 'He doesn't have a strike zone,' says veteran pitcher Jamie Moyer. 'He is -- and I say this respectfully - he's a freak.'"
So, I get it, the quote is saying a nice thing about him. But it's the juxtaposition of the quote and the choice of the quote with the photo that irks me. Just for a moment let's recognize Topps for what it is in the world of baseball: a gatekeeper. Its editors and photographers, writers and executives shape the game that's presented for our consumption. Mickey Mantle? He's just a good ol'boy, hard nosed and a winner. One of the game's greats. You'll never see any innuendo about Mantle being a 'freak'. Or what about A-Rod, David Ortiz, Ryan Howard or any other superstar from the handful of superstars playing today? I invite you to show me where Topps has so greatly skewered our views of any one of these elite players by referring to them as anything but wholesome individuals. It's very clear to me that Topps wants me to believe that Vlad Guerrero is crazy. Crazy as in he'll eat a live chicken and then go 5 for 6 with 3 doubles and a stolen base crazy.
I have to be honest, I don't know Topps' history of use of the word 'freak' on its cards, in a quote, as a descriptor, headline, or in any other use, but I don't think it's something they should be able to get away with using lightly. Sure, it's a punchy quote to use, but they must have had other quotes about Guerrero. If anyone is going to be a called a freak, it should be Pedro Martinez–at least he's a weirdo both on the field and off.