Cards of Cards of Cards

As a kid few things sucked more than being dragged to Kmart by my mom. All that changed one day in 1982 when I saw these on the shelves by checkout.

I don’t recall the price, but it was damn low for a set that included Mantle, Mays, and Aaron, and it was even low enough for me to somehow twist my mom’s arm into adding it to our cart. On top of that, these were no ordinary cards. These were a Limited Edition!

Opening the box on the way to the car, I was pretty thrilled with the look of the cards, the first 41 of which featured images of earlier Topps baseball cards. At least that’s what I thought.

In fact, the set not only included cards of cards but also cards of cards that never were.

The set also gave me my first Topps Traded card since the designers smartly eschewed the 1981 Rollie Fingers base card in favor of his Brewers update.

However, the most intriguing cards in the set were these five. Even as a Dodger fan, I had to love the idea that these were cards of cards of Cards!

Thanks to some trades and card show visits, I already had some cards of cards from 1975 in my collection.

Three cards in the 1975 Topps MVP subset even included cards that never were.

The Wills card appears to be the same one used seven years later by Kmart, which leads me to wonder if a “real” 1962 Topps Maury Wills was created but never released or if someone in 1982 simply said, “Hey, wait a minute! No need to make a fake Wills. We still have that one from ’75.”

The 1951-style Campanella seems to work well, but the 1955 is a bit of an eyesore. Not only did Topps aberrantly go black and white on the head shot but they “capped off” the anachronism by placing Campanella in L.A. three years early. (Collectors of the 1958 or 1962 Jay Publishing sets may recognize the source of the 1955 Campy fauxtaux.)

But I digress. What you really want to know is were there cards of cards of Cards, and of course the answer is YES! As the set’s theme was identical to the Kmart set and the time frame wasn’t too different either, we see the same cards of cards of Cards as Kmart, minus Keith Hernandez who of course hadn’t won his MVP award yet.

And just the year before that Topps recapped the entire cardboard career of the Hammer with its five-card “Hank Aaron Special” subset.

North of the border, the same subset was issued but with some twists I never understood until reading Matthew Glidden’s terrific article on the subject. While the first and last cards are largely the same as the U.S. issue, the middle three cards were split into six.

On the heels of their 1974 and 1975 successes, Topps created another “cards of cards” subset for 1976. Though there were no cards of cards of Cards, the “Father & Son” cards featured five (then) current players along with the 1953 or 1954 Topps cards of their Big League dads.

I’m not aware of other cards of cards between the 1976 Father/Son cards and the Kmart set. However, cards of cards had a strong run from 1985-1990 thanks to another Father/Son series, featuring (yes!) a card of a card of a Card…

…and the five-year reboot of a classic Topps subset that debuted in 1977.

Where the 1977 subset used ordinary (or sometimes extraordinary) photos, these later sets adopted a Kmartesque cards of cards design. There were five cards in the 1986 subset, but none were cards of cards of Cards, nor were there even cards of cards that never were. The closest we come to a novelty is the use of Fernando Valenzuela’s 1981 Topps Traded card.

The 1987 subset again featured five cards but sadly no cards of cards of Cards. What it did include was the by now familiar Maury Wills card that never was.

Finally in 1988 were are rewarded with two cards of cards of Cards, and these weren’t just any old Cards but two of the greatest ever to wear the uniform.

The 1989 subset had just about everything under the sun: a card that never was of Tony Oliva, a card of a card of a Card, and a card of my cardboard crush, the Topps XRC of Dr. K. Oh, and Hank Aaron and Gil Hodges are in there too!

Following the subset into 1990, equipped with airplane bag to stomach its design, we find no cards of cards of Cards, but we do see a tighter cropping of the Kmart Fred Lynn, more closely matching his actual RC, and a card reminding Cards fans of recent postseason agony.

The 1986 Topps set also doubled down on the Hank Aaron Special design to honor Pete Rose’s breaking of Ty Cobb’s career hits record.

Where Topps had already turned the multiplayer RC of Fred Lynn into a solo card for Kmart (and would do similar for Oliva and Lynn again), Topps left Rose’s iconic 1963 rookie card in its original format. Also breaking with card on card tradition, Topps ran with Rose’s main 1984 issue rather than his update card on the Expos. In retrospect we might regard this as the beginning of the end for Montreal baseball.

Before closing the article, I want to highlight one more card on card that depending on the release date may in fact be the first of its kind. The same year Topps issued the Hank Aaron Specials, Fleer and Bob Laughlin blessed the baseball world with a 42-card set of Baseball Firsts. Card 12 in the set describes the first baseball cards and the front depicts a tobacco-style card that never was of Beaneater hurler (pardon the visual!) Kid Madden (SABR bio).

Oh how I would have loved it had Madden been a Cardinal so I could end with a card of a card of a Card. About the closest I can come is to note that the James O’Neill mentioned on the back of the card did spend seven years in St. Louis, but of course his team was the Browns.

I’m curious to know if you’re aware of any cards of cards earlier than 1974 or know whether the Fleer set beat Topps to the shelves (or mail order catalogs). For those of us trying to collect the baseball card’s rookie card, if not the master set, this kind of thing matters a lot!

From our readers

Thanks to @DonSherm for supplying us this “cards on card” card a year before the Hank Aaron Specials and the Fleer Kid Madden.

The card back shows several cards, though it’s impossible to know whether any are cards of Cards or even cards of cards of Cards!

Now going way back, I’m reminded that some very early non-baseball cards of cards were issued in 1906 (!).

I’ll let you read about this fantastic six-car set over on my co-chair’s blog.

Curiosities

Have you ever looked at a baseball card? Sure, there’s the players name, their position, the team … all the basics. On the back there’s the usual stats (batting average, RBI, HR, OBP, etc.) along with some of the players’ vitals. That’s what you see when you look at a baseball card.

If you look a bit closer, however, you’ll find a few curiosities. These curiosities could range from either a small variation like a different photo or a nickname instead of the players’ real name to something more of an oddity like players in odd uniforms (example: teams they never played for or teams they spent a very short time with) or players listed for teams that never existed (ex: 1974 Topps Washington cards).

While I was filing some cards away the other day, I came across several examples of cards of players in a uniform of a team they never played for. I don’t know if there is an official name for these cards. Some bloggers use the term “zero-year cards” as christened by a fellow blogger named “Dime Box Nick”. Nick runs the blog “Dime Boxes” and has been pretty good at keeping an ongoing list of these types of cards that are out there.

The question becomes then how exactly do cards like this, of players in uniforms of teams they never played for, come to exist? Well, the examples I found cover several difference instances of how these curiosities, for lack of  a better term, can happen.

preacher_roe

1. Retirement

Let’s start with one of the earliest known example of one of these types of cards, that being this 1955 Bowman Preacher Roe. Roe is best known for being a four-time All-Star with Brooklyn in the later 40s and early 50s with his best season during that time being 1951 where he went 22-3 over 33 starts. After the 1954 season, the Dodgers swapped him to Baltimore. Instead of suiting up for the Orioles, Roe decided to retire instead due to nagging injuries.

addy_russell

2. “Before They Were Stars” Trades

Bowman’s current focus is cards of rookies and draft picks and issuing cards of them in the uniform of the major league team that drafted them. Now, an argument could possibly be made for those types of cards classifying as a “zero” card but I’m going to focus this more on cards of those who have appeared in a major league game. With that, a more modern example of a “zero” type card is those who were traded before they were stars. Take this Addison Russell card for example, here he’s shown with the A’s who originally drafted him. But in July of 2014, he was traded to the Cubs and made his debut in April 2015.

ryan_madson

3. Injuries

Injuries are another modern example of how these cards come into existence. Let’s look at this Ryan Madson card. I’ll bet you didn’t know that Ryan Madson played for the Reds, right? Well, he actually didn’t. He was signed to be their closer in 2012 as Spring Training approached but suffered a shoulder injury during camp which led to Tommy John surgery. In turn, he never appeared in an official game for the Reds.

manny_ramirez

4. One Last Shot

If you take a look at the list I mentioned earlier from Nick’s blog, you’ll find one of the biggest causes of “zero” cards, that being players who are going for one last shot. Take for example this Manny Ramirez card. When I picked this up as part of a trade, my first thought was “I don’t remember Manny playing for Oakland.” Turns out, I was right. He never did. His last best shot at the big leagues came when he signed with Oakland in February of 2012. The closest he got though was 17 games at Triple-A before getting his release.

74wash team

5. Teams That Didn’t Exist

I’ve written about this previously and while they don’t fall into the direct pantheon of “zero” cards (as in players in uniforms of teams they never played for) they still have a place on this list. First, there’s the infamous 1974 Topps Washington error cards which feature several San Diego Padres as members of the unnamed “Washington Nat’l Lea.” team. Four years earlier though, in the 1970 set, Topps also printed cards of the Seattle Pilots. One small problem with that though, there was no Seattle Pilots team in 1970 as the ill-begotten Pilots packed up shop after one season in Seattle and headed east to Milwaukee to be rechristened as the Brewers.

I’m sure there are other variations out there of “zero” cards such as errors and what-not but I think I covered most everything else so I’ll pose two questions to the readers:

1. Besides error cards and the reasons I mentioned here, are there any other types of reasons a “zero” card could come into existence?

2. Is there an earlier example out there of a “zero” card besides the 1955 Bowman Preacher Roe?

A Little Gem

COMC has been a great resource for me as I plug away at older sets. These days, I’m filling the gaps on some football sets that I didn’t have – 1968-1971 Topps. COMC dealers usually have good prices, predictably liftable offers (that’s the old options trader in me – bids get hit, offers get lifted/taken). All in all I’ve been very happy with COMC, especially since they feed my occasional need for cheap autographed cards.

While searching for a 1968 Jack Kemp, a card I have that is in need of upgrading, I came across this:

Matt-Kemp

Wow! Frequent readers know I’m all over Kellogg’s 3-D cards, and while I don’t have any 1968 Topps 3-D cards, with no intentions of getting any based on prices, I quickly discovered that this was an insert set of 15 cards from the 2012 Topps Archives issue and pretty cheap. I bought all the cards on COMC for around $15 a little less expensive than I saw on eBay.

They’re wonderful cards, sized the same as the 1968’s, though not blank backed.

Matt-Kemp

Like Topps Archives, the checklist is a nice mix of current stars and all-time greats.

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73162357_10218022943039573_3922605915043266560_n

Go grab some. I’ve been looking at them over and over again.

One last football note: Topps missed out politically, by not having 1968 cards of these two:

 

Covering the Bases: 2018 Topps #US79

“Covering the Bases” is the title I am giving to my columns dedicated to a single card – which is most of my postings. Today’s deep dive is on a recent card that features an image I think we will see a lot this week.

IMG_20191012_101539

2018 Topps #US79 A Game for Everyone: Altuve & Judge

This picture is one that most baseball fans are familiar with even if they don’t follow the Astros or Yankees. Fortunately for collectors Topps recorded the image on cardboard. I say recorded because for the last 60+ years Topps has served as an unofficial record/history of the game and its players. There are base cards, subsets, inserts, leaders, record breakers, highlights, All-Stars and more. Each card is a photographic record of the game’s history which is accompanied by a back side that contains stats, demographic info, and if we are lucky a fun fact or two.

This is an All-Star card, however I also see it as a Multi-Player. I consider the multi-player cards a “hidden subset”. Lot of sets have them, but they are typically not sequential and rarely listed in any sort of checklist form.

These are nice to showcase any time we find the two players paired for some reason. That is the case this week when Altuve and Judge are featured players on the two teams facing each other in the ALCS.

The Topps copy team also came up with a perfect title for this card “A Game for Everyone.” This is the “size doesn’t matter” card. Baseball-Reference lists Jose Altuve at 5′ 6″ and 165 lbs. while Aaron Judge is at  6’7″ 282 lbs. The difference in height is over a foot, weight over 100 lbs.

Game Dating

It was pretty easy to find this picture in Getty Images. The information accompanying the photo gives us the date of May 30 2018. A game the Yankees won 5-3, Altuve and Judge each went 2-4, with only Judge factoring in the scoring collecting the go-ahead run in the 5th.

Aaron Judge was on 2nd base twice in the game once in the first and again in the fifth. Judging by the fact that the outfield seating appears pretty filled in, I suspect that this picture was taken in the first.

The Photo was shot by Erick W. Rasco who has done a lot of work for Sports Illustrated including a famous cover of a lot of other “photographers” witnessing the American Pharaoh winning the Triple Crown.

I have tracked a few dozen game dated cards, An index of these cards can be found here.

Sources and Links

Baseball-Ref

Getty Images

Sports Illustrated Archive

Erick W Rasco

Phungo Index of Game Dated Cards

The ghost of Gaylord Perry

As an eight-year old collector it was a thrill to pull this card (or any Record Breaker) from a pack.

Trivia question: Who were the two American Leaguers referenced in the card back’s final sentence?

An obvious thing the card had going for it was that it was of Brooks Robinson, who I’d already read about as the greatest fielding third baseman ever. A more subtle thing it had going for it was that Robinson had no other card in the 1978 Topps set.

“Can they do this?” I wondered once I’d figured that out. I checked all my other Record Breakers, and sure enough they all had base cards. Weird. The concept of an error card hadn’t yet entered my consciousness, but I tended to treat my Brooks Robinson card as something very special and prized, maybe even the one thing even better than a baseball card of a superstar: a mistake made by a grown-up somewhere.

My whole universe of baseball cards consisting of a thousand or so 1978 Topps cards, a rubber-banded stack of 43 cards from 1974 that I bought at a carnival for 50 cents, and the lone pack I bought at the end of the 1977 season, I was unaware that this Brooks Robinson Record Breaker card had precedent. For example, the 1976 Record Breaker cards featured a player whose previous Topps card (outside of Venezuela) came in 1964!

And just two years before that there was half the answer to my earlier trivia question.

Aside from a single card, Topps had no Highlights/Record Breaker cards in the 1974 set, but thanks to its World Series subset we hadn’t yet seen the last of the Say Hey Kid.

Though I’ve looked backward thus far, the Brooks Robinson card was hardly the last of its kind. Two years later, Lou Brock’s entry into the 3000 hit club would earn him a bonus card in the 1980 set.

Then came the flood. Gaylord Perry received two bonus cards, one of which doubled as a bonus card for fellow Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski.

I’ll take a quick detour here just to acknowledge what a terrific job Topps did with the final base cards of each of these three players.

After 1984 players who lacked base cards but earned last hurrahs practically disappeared. Committee co-chair Nick reminded me of one more from 1988 (the Phil half), and I hope you’ll let me know of others in the comments.

As for the very modern, I wondered if maybe Ichiro could be a 2019 example thanks to his #ToppsNow cards from the Japan series, but then I saw he managed 700+ other cards this year, just as he may well have 700+ cards next year and every year after.

Though I initially considered my Brooks Robinson card a fluke, if not a mistake, you can see here that at least for the 1974-1984 stretch it was practically a feature of the Topps sets to include bonus cards of players who had otherwise reached cardboard retirement.

Bonus cards like the Brooksie and Brock will always carry something bittersweet about them. On one hand, we get one last cardboard look at a legend of the game. On the other hand, we are staring at a ghost. The player’s main card has vanished from the set, and this specter is all that remains, as if to remind us of another season gone, another career in the books, and a fate that will eventually reach us all.

P.S. The other answer to the trivia question? Definitely not Gaylord Perry! It was Brooks Robinson! 🤦 Pretty tricky, Topps!

Extras from our readers

I’ll use this space to acknowledge all the additions to the list supplied by readers, either here or on our Twitter/Facebook sites.

1967 Topps Sandy Koufax – No base card but three League Leader cards as the winner of the Triple Crown for pitchers.

Author’s note: A few days after publishing this piece I stumbled upon a very similar article on the terrific Wax Pack Gods site. Had I seen it earlier I probably wouldn’t have bothered with my article. Still, I think mine does enough that’s different to keep it here. Either way, all credit goes to Adam at Wax Pack Gods for getting there first.

Under Construction

As a team collector I’m spared a lot of the worries that set collectors have because my search list is quite a bit more focused. I don’t need ~700 cards, I’m only looking for ~30. Sometimes though I’m jealous of the set collectors. Where my albums tend to consist of three to four page runs of cards that all have the same color scheme, set collectors have pages that are full of wonderfully different colors.

So I started thinking about ways to put a sample page together for each set which would give me some of that color without being prone to mission creep. After looking through piles of 1970s cards I realized that the theme I was looking for was pictures of Candlestick Park. As a Giants collector I would already have a number of cards taken at the Stick. But there’s something about putting a page together of other teams and getting a bit of the flavor of the larger set which is very appealing.

I’ve mainly been pulling 1970s cards for now. Yes there a few cards in 1959 to 1962 which were shot at Seals Stadium but through most of the 1960s it doesn’t appear that anything was shot at Candlestick. Then in 1972 it all changed.

Looking at the Giants cards from this year doesn’t really show anything interesting. There are a lot of photos showing that trademark chain link fence and the red seats. It’s only if you take a really close look at Frank Reberger’s card that you see something’s up in the stadium.

It’s not super obvious unless you’re familiar with Candlestick but there’s a lot of construction going on behind Frank. On the left side of the photo there’s a press box being built. On the right side there’s a glimpse of some unfinished second deck.

What’s going on? Despite feeling like a member of the multipurpose donut family, Candlestick was a baseball-only facility for the first decade of its usage. Only in 1971 did the 49ers move from Kezar Stadium. This move prompted the installation of artificial turf and enclosing the stadium with an upper deck that completely circled the playing field.

Much of the construction occurred during the 1971 baseball season. Meanwhile, for the first time in a decade Topps was taking photos at Giants games. The result? Lots of construction shows up in the backgrounds of 1972 cards. That new press box being installed behind Reberger? That would be the football press box, which overlooked the 50-yard line.

I didn’t notice the Reberger photo until I’d noticed more obvious construction on a number of other 1972 cards. In many of the cards throughout the set* the concrete skeleton is not only visible behind the player but is clearly a non-decorative yet also non-functional part of the stadium.

*Much to my relief they appear across each series. In other words, I should be able to fill up a page without having to deal with the high numbers.

As a Giants fan it’s interesting to me how much of the skeleton feels like the Candlestick I remember. The park obviously didn’t look like this when I was going to games there. But the beams were there, visible from underneath the grandstand whether looking up from the lower deck, the second deck concourse, or from outside.

Many of the card photos taken at Candlestick are of players from the National League West.  Lots of Astros, Braves, Reds, and Padres—all of which are teams I remember seeing a lot of as a kid.* There are also a decent number of Expos, Cardinals and Pirates in the mix. Every once in a while though I’ll find a card of an American League team that was taken at Candlestick.

*Yes I watched a lot of Dodgers games too but for whatever reason I’ve yet to come across a 1970s Dodgers card which was taken at Candlestick.

The 1972 Frank Duffy is one such card.* That it said “Indians” meant that my Candlestick radar was sufficiently dulled and I didn’t recognize either the stadium or the fact that it was under construction.

*Also on this list are the 1974 Denny Doyle and 1978 Goose Gossage.

I like seeing the American League cards since, despite the airbrushing, they offer a chance to add some real variety to my binder page. This Duffy is also a lot of fun because it’s a short-term stop card in disguise. Duffy’s actually a Giant here; Topps has just replaced the SF with the wishbone C. Since this is a high number he’s shown with the correct team but if his card had come out earlier in the season there’s a decent chance he’d be with the Giants and I’d have a card commemorating the George Foster trade.

It must have been a weird experience to be at a game in an unfinished park with all the exposed beams and concrete in the outfield. It certainly made for a few baseball cards that don’t have the usual stadium backgrounds.

A Curmudgeon’s Guide to the New Millennium

Starting in the late 1980s, I can no longer remember the year of Topps base card sets from simply eyeballing the design.  For the most part, I can only give you a ballpark estimation of the year based on the player.  This stems from buying the factory sets, sorting, putting them in binders, and immediately archiving them in the card closet.

Contributing to this “one and done” approach to collecting modern cards is my curmudgeonly insistence that current designs are either lame or too similar from one year to the next.  To try and break from my “old school” mindset, I took a fresh look at each of the sets from the first decade of the 2000s.  What follows is one old curmudgeon’s ranking of the cards based solely on design.

Bringing up the rear of the decade rankings is 2007.  This one falls in my pet peeve wheelhouse by using foil lettering. The letters are very difficult to read, due to insufficient contrast, which renders the whole purpose of identifying players and teams moot.  Also, what is with the corner dots?  They remind me of the test pattern from the field of vision test I routinely take as part of my glaucoma treatment. The black borders are acceptable but not the “day-glow” green statistics box on the back.  The entirety of design is a complete “excrement show.”

2001 falls into awful category as well.  First off, this is the 50th Anniversary year for Topps. A design that paid homage to Topps past glories seems like a logical approach.  Instead we get teal borders and gold foil lettering!  Teal?  You’ve got to be kidding me!  Sy Berger would have turned over in his grave had he been dead at the time.

At number eight I present 2002 in all its “puke” gold glory.  This is not an attractive color.  It reminds me of the color of my first car, a 1972 four-door Plymouth Valiant with a black vinyl top. Also, are the ribbons supposed to be “gonfalons” floating in the stadium breeze?  Well, the gonfalon bubble burst, and the design is weighty with nothing but trouble. “Stinky (Davis)-to-Stanky-to-Sauer”

2000 and 2006 both suffer from the foil legibility issue, but 2006 gets props for including a cartoon on the back instead of a photo.  Do we really need photos on the back?  This generally means fewer statistics and limited or no biographical information.  How are kids supposed to who led the Sally League in triples in 1998?

Topps stepped up its game in 2005 by introducing white borders and team names, utilizing team word marks. But, why did they put only the player’s last name in bold letters at the top? The vertical placement of the players position is weird as well.  Kudos for having lengthy biographical material.

2009 has some positive elements such white borders and logo placement, but the hard to read foil “foils” the overall aesthetic.

Because it harkens back to past sets, I like the 2003 set with the picture-in-picture look.  If only Topps had used black and white photos with poorly airbrushed logos like 1963, it would be the winner.  The back has most of the good elements, apart from a cartoon.

I must admit that 2004 is a great look.  The team name in foil is very visible against the white background.  I love the drawing of a player representing the position of the person on the card.

As nice as the design is in 2004, it must take runner up status to the “Curmudgeon Cup” winning 2008 design.  The alternating color balls at the top-forming the team name-is simultaneously innovative and retro.  The white borders help draw the eye to the team name as well.  Also, the facsimile signature warms the soil of the vintage collector.  The biggest downside is the lack of the player’s position on the front.

Before you fill up the comments section with vitriol and torch me on Twitter, there is a strong “tongue-in-check” element to this post.  I am not inclined to defend my choices, since I have no strong attachment to this era’s cards.  I will leave you with this though: “Get off my lawn, Topps, and bring back burlap and wood paneled borders!”