October 05, 2011

White Lies

Joe Carter, 1988 Topps Big

It’s difficult to go wrong with the fabulous head shot outlined in white next to a game time action shot. The pensive 80s-ness of the Joe Carter blank stare next to a picture of him hustling to catch what seems to be a short pop-up to the right side of the infield, combined with the simple yet dynamic color-scaled racing stripe slash lightening bolt that features the man’s simple yet dynamic name is all, in a word, brilliant.

So yes, it’s difficult to go wrong here. But not impossible. One thing about the front of this card is that it lets the cat out of the bag—Joe Carter is black.

Back of the card, do you concur?

No, you do not. Jon Bois over at SB Nation did an unreal and fantastic job of highlighting the less-than-subtle racism and/or mind-boggling mindlessness of the Topps Big series of cards, in which the cartoons on the back featured only white players. It’s a hilarious read, and it reminded me that I had at least one of these cards of my own.

Topps’ refusal to recognize races other than Caucasian in their cartoons is so unbelievable, I feel like they owe everyone an apology, even 20 years later. This defies explanation. I am tempted to ask the question, “How did they get away with this?” although I am truly uncertain whether or not I even noticed this as a kid. It is possible that I did, and reacted by joking about it with my friends during various trading sessions. It is less possible that I noticed and was offended—I don’t recall being that socially conscious at 10, and besides, who was I going to tell about this, the police? It is also possible that I did not notice, which makes me feel ashamed and forces me to question how many instances of racism I let slide because of my own youthful naïveté. If a stupid baseball card is causing introspection of your very soul, something went terribly wrong.

But hey, that said, black, white … whatever! Cartoons are fun!

Wichita State? Pfft. Big deal. I am actually the Wichita State all-time leader in doubles, and I never even went there. And how vain is Joe Carter that his favorite book is the Wichita State record book, simply because it contains several of his own records? Ever hear of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Joe? You’re not in it, but still. It's pretty good. Also, the first paragraph of the Wichita State record book begins, “Joe Carter, known as ‘the Amazin’ Caucasian,’ set several baseball-related records at this University.”

Oh, hey, also—Hank Aaron was white. Little known fact. Of all the African American baseball players to depict as white cartoons, I’m sure Hank Aaron, who experienced unimaginable racism that included death threats as he embarked on the hallowed home run record of a famous hard-drinking and carousing honky, would enjoy it the most. That Joe Carter’s favorite player wasn’t Jackie Robinson probably saved Topps several lawsuits and millions of dollars.

I also enjoy how Joe Carter, even after he’s made it to the bigs, tapes the photos of his favorite players to the inside of his locker as if he cut them out of Tiger Beat magazine. So not only is Joe Carter white, he is also an 11-year old girl.

Sigh. I am depressed. You? Good.


Anonymous said...

Grow up son.

...tom... said...

Seems like a harmless post to me.

The whole situation is a bit bizarre. Interesting take on it.


mkenny59 said...

@Anonymous: Is that you, dad? Also, did pointing out the bizarre and arguably racist decision on Topps' part to make black players into white cartoons expose my own immaturity? I am confused.

@...tom...: Harmless and interesting is what I aim for!

Thanks for the comments...

AG said...

lots of thought put into cards back then. super cool post.