Tattoo Me

On one of my frequent trips to Baseball Nostalgia, my favorite go-to card shop in Cooperstown, I was telling long-time collector, owner and friend Pete Henrici that I was going to try and complete the 1933 Tattoo Orbit set.

“Oh, you like ugly cards,” he said.

I kinda get it. Unlike, say, the 1933 DeLongs or, going further back, T205s, the Tattoo Orbits look a bit amateurish, a tad half-assed. They’re not particularly artful. Still, there’s something I like about the slightly colorized photos superimposed on the bright, generic backgrounds.


But let’s be real, aesthetics aside, it’s a set I can complete because there are only 60 of them, I already have 23 and commons can be had relatively cheaply. I’m looking for VG cards, though most of the cards I have are more EX. Actually, I’m looking for VG prices. For commons, I can usually nab a nice example for 1/3 to ½ of book. I’ve been pretty nimble at picking off stray bargains.

I’ve got a bunch of stars, though I still need Jimmie Foxx, Dizzy Dean, a few short printed cards and a handful of middle of the road Hall of Famers of the Chick Hafey variety. This one will take a while to finish, due to both availability and price. There’s no way I can get eBay type deals at card shows, so it’s going to take some time.

Making it even harder is my desire for raw cards. That cuts two ways, both badly. Cards of this vintage are almost always graded, regardless of condition, which sucks and limits the supply. However, I am a “price first” person, so if the graded card is attainable at the level I’m willing to pay, so be it. I have a few sets that are all in albums, save one or two graded cards. I don’t like it, but having is better than not having.


Raw cards carry their own risks. Trimming, miscuts, and other problems, come with the territory and scans alone don’t reveal all the flaws. I recently got a beautiful Smead Jolley card, but, though it had all the characteristics of a regular Tattoo Orbit – shiny feel, thin paper stock – something felt off. I compared it to all of the other cards I had and it’s either trimmed or miscut. The seller was very understanding and we arranged a suitable solution, but the uncertainty I fell around that card tapped into some fears I have about old raw cards.


Over the last two years I’ve been pretty quick on finishing sets. Either I was working on Topps or other hugely available cards or I was lucky enough to have such a head start on harder sets that what I needed I could grab. This Tattoo Orbit set is definitely going to be an exercise in patience (and, to my memory, I’ve never spent as much on a single card as I’ll need to spend on Foxx and Dean). It took me 18 years to finish the 2000-01 Topps Heritage Basketball set with all its short prints. The 1933 Tattoo Orbit set may take as long, but it’s bound to be much more rewarding to have.

Barajitas EEUUs: más Pacific

This is my third post featuring Spanish-language baseball cards released in the United States. Previous posts are:

  1. Introduction and 1978 Topps Zest
  2. 1993–2000 Pacific and Pacific Crown

Where the previous post covered Pacific’s “flagship” Spanish-language sets, this post will touch on some of their other Spanish-language sets. This isn’t meant to be a definitive list but rather a recognition that Pacific had other, smaller sets—general release, inserts, oddballs, etc.—which were also aimed at a Spanish-speaking market. These are what I’ve encountered so far and I know there are many more issues out there.

From what I can tell the 1997 Gems of the Diamond is a 200-count insert set for a 150-count base set—in this case Pacific Prisms. In 1994 Prisms were the insert set but from 1995–1997 Pacific Prisms was a 144-card set with all kinds of crazy stuff going on on the fronts and a sentence in Spanish about the players on the backs. In 1999 the mark returned but as an English-language set.

In many ways the Gems of the Diamond insert set is more interesting from a Spanish-language point of view since it includes a lot more text about the players. The copy on this Bonds card interests me because it feels like it was written in English first and then translated to Spanish since it uses evocative words like “smacked” and “tallied” in English while in Spanish it just repeats “conectó” (literally, connected) when describing his home run hitting.

In 1998 the Gems of the Diamond set became an insert for Pacific’s Invincible line. This was the same deal as Prisms where the insert set outnumbered the base cards.* It looks like Invincible took over from Prisms since the invincible line ran from 1998–2000 and featured a different flavor of over-the-top designs.

*While not the point of this post I’m beginning to wonder when an insert set stops being something I can conceive of as an “insert.”

Less biographic text this year and there are now stats on the back. Stats are in English which really stands out when the text references them in Spanish.

While I don’t have any of those tricked-out Prism cards I do have some Invincible cards. This one from 1999 has a weird translucent circle which features the player headshot so you can see him in mirror-image on the card back. Or maybe the point is you can hold the card up to the light and get a bit of a slide effect. I don’t know.

I don’t have much to note on the Spanish language usage here except to point out that the positions are in English. It’s weird, in many ways Prism and Invincible are both cards lines which would be better served by not having any text on the backs and just embracing themselves as two-sided graphic design. The only reason to have text on many of these is so you know which side is the front.

Be still my beating heart. In 1998 Pacific partnered with Nestlé on an oddball set. I’ve been unable to find out much about how the set was released but it’s a pretty good checklist featuring twenty Latino stars.

Five of the cards are a distinct design and function as something like inserts. The fronts don’t scan well because of all the foil but they’re distinct among all the cards I’ve seen in having bilingual position information. This is a pretty regular feature on Pacific’s backs but is a lot of information to include on the fronts. Sadly the team names are the English version as I would’ve loved to have had a Vigilantes card instead of a Rangers card.

The backs meanwhile continue to feature English-language stats. Given the size of the type being used for the statistic categories this is kind of a disappointing use of space and it would’ve been fun to see bilingual stats here too.

The other fifteen cards are what I guess you’d call the base design. No position information on these fronts and the same huge English-language stats on the back. I do appreciate how the smaller, italic font is used for English though. Still readable but very clear these are primarily for the Spanish-language market.

On Deck(le) in 2018 Heritage


Last year, I posted a piece on the 1969 Topps Deckle Edge inserts-which I’m sure everyone committed to memory. In case you flushed my masterpiece from your brain pan, I focused on the dated and poorly airbrushed photos, expansion team players, variations and the idea that kids would have been familiar with deckle edged prints from family photos. This post will compare the ’69 originals with the 2018 Topps Heritage Deckle Edge set.

The obvious difference between the two sets is size. The ’69 cards are 2-1/4 X 3-1/4, while Heritage is standard card size. Topps did the same thing last year when they produced the ’68 game card insert in the standard format. The decision to not use the same size as the originals is interesting considering there is a mini variation set in 2018 Heritage. Plus, Topps did produce deckle cards in the correct size in the 2012 Archive. Standard size does work better for 9-pocket pages, but authenticity should have been the driver.


Topps veered away from the original set as well by not including a least one player from each team. The 30 card set features players from only 18 different teams. Of course, the Yankees and Red Sox have three players each. This east coast bias results in no Mariners being “deckled.” I’m sure lack of winning seasons and a small national following had nothing to do with the decision.


The Heritage deckle edge cards are one of the most plentiful of the subsets with 1 included in every 10 packs. This makes collecting the 30 cards doable from packs. In ’69, every wax pack of 3rd and 4th series cards had a deckle edge insert. Obviously, the odds were better 50 years ago of collecting all 33 cards from packs. The two variations (Joe Foy and Jimmy Wynn) were short-prints, thus more difficult to obtain.

The 2018 Heritage and the 1969 deckles share the same back format as well: white with a blue, rectangular box containing the players’ names card number and the total number in the set at the bottom. The Topps trademark information appears beneath the box on both. The 2018 version contains the players team name in the box, while ’69 does not.


Topps Heritage mimics a unique aspect of the ’69 set: blue ink facsimile autographs. The blue ink was supposed to give the cards the look of an authentic autograph written with a pen. I discovered that Topps did a test run for deckle edge in ’68 that was never distributed. There are uncut proof pages and singles with blank backs that have blue, black and red autographs. Apparently, Topps wanted to see which color looked the most realistic. By the way, the O-Pee-Chee deckle cards used black ink for autographs.


Interestingly, the proof sheets contain nine images, only one of which was used in ‘69: Carl Yastrzemski. The rest of the players (Dave Adlesh, Hank Aguire, Sandy Alomar, Bob Johnson, Claude Osteen, Juan Pizzaro, Hal Woodeschick and Sonny Jackson–who is depicted on the Colt ‘45s–appear to have been randomly selected. Only Osteen could have reasonable been considered a star in 1968.

The Heritage base set does include players without caps and headshots that harken back to ’69. Why not include at least one deckle edge card that has badly airbrushed cap and uniform? Giancarlo Stanton is a prime candidate for this treatment.

I’m pleased that Topps included deckle edge cards, but disappointed in the sizing decision. As I’ve been telling my wife for 28 years, small is better.



“2018 Topps Heritage Baseball Checklist, Set Info, Variations, Boxes, Date.” The Cardboard Connection, 5 Mar. 2018,

Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards

My First Baseball “Cards”


The first baseball “trading cards” that I ever bought (or rather, my mom bought for me) were 1967 Topps, sometime in late spring.  But these were not my first baseball cards. No, my first “cards” were these guys right here.


Packaged like a standard deck of playing cards, they made a game where two players would take turns playing through an inning, and then handing the deck to the other guy.

They were made by ED-U-CARDS and the copyright on the box says 1957.  I got them a decade later — I assume they were purchased at the checkout line of a grocery store.

These cards were part of my education about the game and how the various events played on top of one another.  Although I am sure I enticed my brother or someone else to play on occasion, I also spent hours just playing the game by myself.  Like solitaire, except that I was learning how the game was played.  A few months later I got some Topps cards, and I began to learn about the actual players.  Both purchases were significant childhood events in by path toward full-on baseball nerd-dom.

The very next year, Topps inserted “game cards” into their 1968 packs.  I was predisposed to love these cards and I did — I still believe it is unmatched in Topps insert history, the absolute GOAT — but as an actual “game” the Topps version was far inferior.  There were fewer cards, fewer game events, and the ED-U-CARDS illustrations were classic.  The HIT-BY-PITCH alone was worth playing the game for.

In subsequent years I ran across similar games that came out around the same time.  If you grew up in the pre-video-game era, everyone had “card games” like this.  A house that did not have an “Old Maid” card game laying around was a house you could not trust.

What follows are other examples of card games that I did not own as a child but encountered later on.


Built Rite


The above game was put out by Built Rite (according to the box) and cost 29 cents.  There is no date.  I like the scooped edging — much easier to hold for a youngster.  In fact the box brags “Shaped Cards To Fit Small Hands.”  The game events are pretty much the same, but the game includes a “Diamond Card” where you are supposed to place coins to keep track of which bases were occupied.  That’s a nice touch.


Batter Up


This “Batter Up” game is copyright 1949, and is very similar to the other games.  I came to love the bright yellow cards, but I have to admit these have a classy look and the illustrations are really well drawn.  Also, it came with a set of rules which folded out to make a diamond for game play.



Earl Gillespie


Earl Gillespie was the voice of the Milwaukee Braves when this game was put out in his name in 1961.  It is a very classy box and set up, and the game plays out like all the rest of them, but the illustrations are pretty basic.  Gillespie emphasizes the game itself, rather than the fun drawings.  Its well done.

He also includes a handful of score sheets which is — probably taking things a bit far?  I mean, who are the players in this scenario? As a bonus, he includes a sample — a scoresheet (the Braves batters) from opening day in 1961.



The question “what is a baseball card?” is inevitably so tied up in personal memories of childhood that logic is no longer driving the bus.  You can classify these as you wish, but good luck prying them from my hands.


Sending a Transogram


Those collecting the 2018 Topps Heritage are aware of the subset featuring yellow boarders and blank backs. This format is an homage to the 1969 and 1970 Transogram cards. The fact that the original cards were distributed on the boxes containing toy player statues puts an examination of the topic squarely in my wheelhouse.

In ’69, Transogram-a long established toy and game company-decided to resurrect the baseball figure or statue concept. The figures have movable parts with team names and logos. No attempt was made to make the toy resemble a specific player except for skin tone. Each figurine is accompanied by a 2-1/2” x3-1/2” card on the back of the package featuring a black segmented line on the boarder, serving as a cutting guide. Sixty different players comprise the set.


Interestingly, Rusty Staub’s card has him still with Houston without an obscured cap logo. The early series of the Topps ’69 base set had the emblems airbrushed out, due to a licensing issue.

Gibson Trans Gibson 68 Base

As with so many of the oddball sets, production origins are murky. However, it is almost a certainty that Topps produced the cards for Transogram. This is obvious since so many of the images and the font are identical to Topps’ ’68 base set. In a March 2015 article on the “Sport Collector’s Daily” website, Adam Hughes wrote that Dave Hornish–referred to as a Topps expert–believed Topps was the producer, since they didn’t typically include the font rights when licensing their images to other companies. The fact that Topps included the design in the Heritage set may confirm this supposition.

3 card panel

Of course, when it comes to toy-related baseball cards, nothing is ever simple. Transogram returned with statues in 1970 but issued three players to a box. The three cards form a panel, much like the Hostess cards. Additionally, the cards have slightly larger dimensions (2-9/16” x 3-1/2”) if cut out individually.


The boxes are labeled AL or NL All-Stars, with five different sets for each league. Most of the 30-card set is identical to images produced in ’69, apart from Joe Torre. Boog Powell, Sam McDowell and Reggie Jackson are unique to ‘70.


Mets Box

But wait, there’s more! Transogram also produced a 15-figure set comprised of five different boxes titled: “The Amazin’ Mets: 1969 World Champion Collector Figures.” It will come as no surprise that the Nolen Ryan card or panel is the most valuable.

To further “muddy the waters”, each box had a small, head shot photo on the top flap. Kids often cut the image off the box to form a miniature card. These sometimes turn up on auction sites misidentified as Transogram cards.

Does anyone own Transogram cards or have figures?



Hughes, Adam. “Guide to 1969-70 Transogram Baseball Figures, Cards.” Sports Collectors Daily, Sports Collectors Daily, 25 Apr. 2015,

Trading Card Database


Heritage and the Uncanny Valley

1969 Topps was a rough year as the player boycott plus four expansion teams put Topps in a major bind with the photography. As a result, many of the cards featured photos which had been cropped super tightly to obscure out-of-date photos, featured hatless players, involved unflattering low-angle shots to hide cap logos, or had the logos painted over. This, plus the numerous re-used photos overshadowed what could’ve been a great design.

Needless to say I was a excited to see 2018 Heritage since I expected that the 1969 design would look really nice if done well. The results have mostly confirmed this. Photos aren’t cropped too closely—more three-quarters length portraits instead of neck-up headshots—and are distinct from what we’ve seen in Flagship (though there does appear to be some reuse from previous years of Heritage). They’re also generally taken in better light than Topps took photos in in the 1960s. No more squinting in full sun or dealing with shadows across faces.

Many of the Heritage images use fill flash well and balance things nicely with the ambient light. Where in the mid-80s Topps went a bit overkill on the flash and turned many of the photos into impending thunderstorms, 2018 Heritage features sunny days that look perfect for a day game or sunsets that suggest it will be a wonderful night for a ballgame.

It’s a great demonstration of how good 1969 Topps could’ve looked and really illustrates the promise and appeal of the Heritage line. Topps also did very well this year in using photos which overwhelmingly feature white home uniforms or road grey uniforms. In previous years there have been a lot of colored alternates or spring training tops* which clash with the retro-esthetic of the designs.

*As a Giants collector this has been one of my biggest peeves about Heritage.

I’m also glad that Topps used the smallest possible ® and ™ symbols on the team names. In many of their retro sets (including this year’s 1983 throwbacks), adding those characters throws off the alignment and, to my eye, ruins the design. So kudos to Topps for getting it right here.

Being the type/design nerd I am though there are also a few things going on that really bother me about Heritage. One big one is that Topps chose to use the longest-possible position names—including “Outfielder” instead of “Outfield,” a choice I don’t think I’ve ever seen on a card before. This wouldn’t normally be an issue except that in order to fit the positions into the circle Topps had to compress the font. And even compressed, “Second Baseman” doesn’t fit well.

I have no idea why Topps did this especially since both last year’s Heritage and the original 1969 design use short position indicators like “2nd Base” instead.

I’m also disappointed, but not surprised, that Topps went with “Diamondbacks” instead of “D-Backs” since the extra-long team name pretty much breaks a lot of the 1960s designs. It is indeed cramped on these cards as well but still looks better and is easier to read than previous years’ Heritage.

While I’ve seen a bunch of complaints about changing the color of the Astros dot from light green to dark blue, that doesn’t bother me. I’d actually like to see all the dots updated to better match the team colors. What does bother me is that Topps went with black ink for the position name inside the dark blue dot. This is literally unreadable and an obvious design screwup. I’d love to see the positions in white or orange here instead.

This Gattis card though also takes me into the thing about Heritage that upsets me the most. While Topps has done a great job in updating the design with good photography they’ve also gone ahead and ruined a lot of the effect by post-processing many of the photos with a fake dot pattern which I’m assuming is intended to mimic a traditional halftone screen.

For a few years now Heritage has been printed using stochastic screening.* This results in much cleaner photographic images and generally improves print quality. Or at least it would if Topps didn’t add this silly dot pattern back into the photo. On the fronts of cards it’s especially visible in the skies and I suspect Topps intended it to replicate the vintage look.

*Why yes I do have a post on print screens and what they look like.

For the few of us who would even notice what Topps is doing it’s borderline close to ruining the whole product by sending it into an uncanny valley between looking “authentic” and being a wonderful update which modernizes the design.

This becomes especially apparent on the All-Stars cards. I’ve gone ahead and scanned details from a real 1969 card since it makes the comparison that much more obvious.

Topps, to its credit, has the greyscale background image printed in just black ink.  But the fake halftone effect is extremely obvious and extremely large. You can tell its a fake effect because the dots are all the same size—in a traditional screen the dots change size—plus the scale is completely off.

There’s also an artificially large trap where the black and white photo overlaps the red header graphic. This is also something that was done intentionally as it appears on all the All-Star cards and is way too large to have been introduced by the printing process.

Comparing to the 1969 card shows just how different the screening looks. The fake halftone in 2018 distracts from the image since it’s merely imposed on top of it as a texture. In the 1969, the dots are the image.

You can also see here how much better the modern screening is when Topps doesn’t screw with it. In Trout’s cap you can barely make out any noise from the printing screen and what you can notice looks more like film grain. On the 1969 card Hawk’s hair is full of the halftone rosette pattern.

On the backs of the All-Star cards—and from what I’ve seen, the Deckle Edge inserts—this is even more obvious because Topps only applied the fake screen effect to parts of the image. As a result it stands out even more. The Deckle Edge inserts appear to be very similar to this. Rather than improving on the originals Topps has tried a lazy approach to faking an old-time look.

This is especially frustrating because there was so much potential for those inserts to look amazing compared to the 1969 versions. Just printing black and white photos with a stochastic screen would’ve been a huge improvement. But Topps also could’ve considered making them duotones and getting them even closer to looking like real photographs.

There’s also something else weird going on in many of the Heritage photos. This Porcello is the most egregious of the ones I’ve seen but it’s happening a lot. The photos look like they’ve been printed out of register except that printing on the dot and the edges of the photo are all registered correctly.

In the Porcello example there’s severe magenta fringing on his right ear and elbow. There’s equally-severe yellow fringing around the red details on his jersey. I’m a total loss at guessing what’s going on since the rest of the card doesn’t look out of register.*  However I am crossing my fingers and hoping that this isn’t another attempt to create a retro look through post-processing.

*It almost look like the purple/green chromatic aberration you get from cheap photographic lenses but it’s not that either since the colors are off and chromatic aberration only shows up in the slightly-out-of-focus areas.

I want to like this set. I really do. Aside from all the short print nonsense* Topps is very close to having something wonderful here in updating old designs to show how good they are and how well they work today. Many of the cards in this set are extremely nice with their good photography, full statistics, and easy-to-read backs. The World Series cards with their box scores are fantastic. There’s so much going on that appeals to me.

*I can ignore the parallels and variants but having 20% of the checklist be intentionally short-printed just to create artificial scarcity is something that directly antagonizes me and the way I collect cards.

Yet this straddling of wanting to improve the original while simultaneously weighing it down with faked versions of 1969’s production keeps me from fully enjoying it. I’d love an update. And I’d love an all-period-details replicated set which is actually printed with a coarse traditional linescreen. Unfortunately those two goals aren’t compatible and trying to do both means Topps does neither. Did I enjoy my pack? Yes and it was fun seeing these in person for the first time. Do I feel the need to buy another? Not really.

Typesetting ambition

As much as the 1980s is denigrated as the beginning of the decline into junk wax, over production, and, to a certain degree, the ruin of the hobby, it’s also the heyday of the regional oddball. One of the best parts of this hobby is being introduced to new regional oddball sets through people sharing things on twitter, blogs, etc. I’m not one of those people who tries to collect a little bit of everything. Instead I just enjoy seeing how many different sets were out there and the diversity of designs they offered.

A week or so ago I encountered a sample of the Mets Fan Club cards on Twitter. As someone who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, this was something I’d never seen before* and my reaction went from “oh interesting” to “holy crap” as I looked at the photos.

*Mother’s Cookies? Yes. Most other regional oddballs? No.

Especially the one of the card back.

In general, baseball cards backs don’t get the respect they deserve from either card companies or collectors. Yes, many of us grew up and learned our stats from there. But many of us also also stored cards back-to-back in binders and only checked backs to confirm whether or not the card was a rookie card.* Card companies meanwhile know that the card fronts are what move the product;** as a result it’s rare to see a back which has been considered seriously.

*Now get off my lawn.

**This is confirmed by the way modern chase cards have backs which consist of just “congratulations, you’ve found a certified relic/autograph/etc.” and no other useful information.

Oddballs and regionals are frequently extra bad here since the backs often involve branding or demonstrate that the people making the cards have only a passing understanding of what’s supposed to be on a card back.


My jaw hit the floor when I first saw the backs of the Mets Fan Club cards. They’re good-looking backs just in general. Besides being a strong design thought they’re extraordinary both in terms of their ambition and their execution.

First, the ambition. The text is set in a parallelogram-shaped box with a slanted baseline. The angle of the baseline was selected so that the ascenders on the italic font become vertical again. This isn’t straightfoward to do with computers and I can’t imagine doing mechanically by hand. It’s an impressive stunt on its own.

That this text grid is continued into the statistics panel is what blows my mind. Stats are hard enough to do well as it is. Just getting the numbers to align correctly is something that companies frequently mess up.* Doing it on a grid like this? You’ve got to be kidding me. Whoever laid this out was challenging themselves in ways that go far beyond the expectations for the usual baseball card backs.

*One of these days I’ll write a post about typesetting statistics.

That the execution of the backs is as good as it is is a testament to the skill of the designer and typesetter who put these together. There are still a few weird things like how the bold italic font has characters at a slightly different angle than the text font. But everything else including how the Innings-Pitched statistics head is aligned so that the decimals hang is done to near perfection.

And that doesn’t get into other wonderful things like the use of the Mets’s colors as the two spot colors and the way that the Mets logo interacts with the bare paper in the top box. Even the card numbering with the single non-italic font on screened-back orange ink in a circle that fits perfectly into the corner of the box feels intentional and correct.


I do have to point out though that while I applaud the ambition, typesetting multi-year stats ended up being too difficult. Davey Johnson’s card is having problems getting the verticals to line up. This also occurs in the text but it’s especially obvious in the stats where everything bends to the right as you go down the columns.

That this card is not nearly as well-done as the rest shows how much manual work went in to making all eight cards in the set. Each card’s type is set slightly different in a way that never happens with computer typesetting.

I love these because of what they intend to do, how they do it, and even the way they fail. It’s exciting to see designs which are inspired by the text itself—in this case the angle of the italic font. I just never expected to see this kind of thing on a baseball card back and I’m glad baseball card twitter continues to surprise me with things I never knew existed.

[It’s been pointed out that I should have mentioned how these are Topps-designed and manufactured despite not having a Topps copyright slugline. That Topps made these does explain how the designers could get away with being this ambitious. At the same time, that many of Topps’s oddballs in the early 80s consisted of slapping a corporate logo (Coca Cola, Burger King, and Nestle being the examples which come to my mind first) on the base design for the year means I didn’t feel like Topps being the manufacturer explained everything.]