Baseball cards weren’t just a part of my childhood, they were the defining object of my childhood, along with superhero comic books from Marvel and DC. But the cards were more important to me than anything else: they were my passport to baseball.
In the 1968 Mel Brooks film, The Producers, one of the characters, Franz Leibkind, expresses his joy at the realization of one of his life’s goals, “Oh, day of days! Oh, dream of dreams!…” Last week I repeated that incantation when I put my hand on a rock a decided I would produce a set of my own baseball cards.
Why? I thought it would be a fun way to promote my latest baseball documentary project, The Sweet Spot: A Treasury of Baseball Stories. The Sweet Spot is the first streaming TV channel dedicated to baseball to launch on multiple streaming outlets (you can find it on Roku, Vimeo on Demand, and, very soon, on Amazon Prime); it features our signature original documentary series, which features people from across the baseball spectrum to take the pulse of the national pastime in the 21st century. Players, coaches, bat boys, artists, fans, actors, authors, umpires, etc. share their baseball stories…it’s kind of a cross between The Glory of Their Times Meets Studs Terkel’s’ Working.
The conceit was to feature some of the subjects I’d interviewed on cards with sexy graphic design on the front and a mini-bio on the back. I had some interesting subjects to choose from: Mudcat Grant, Dodgers superfan Emma Amaya, Topps photographer Doug McWilliams, pioneer Justine Siegal, umpire Perry Barber, and official scorekeeper Ed Munson (the “Iron Man” of scorers, who went 2,003 games without missing a game).
I’ve been collecting cards since 1965 and enjoy keeping many cards from the 1950s up until today. I have some strong opinions on my favorite Topps designs (1959, 1965, 1972), as well as many horrible designs (the 1981 set comes to mind) that resemble a dog’s breakfast. This card’s design had to reflect a vintage, nostalgic feeling, promote our brand, and feature The Sweet Spot logo.
As a producer who’s worked with world-class graphic designers and artists much of my career, I knew exactly how to get this job done, but there was a wrinkle. The designer I like to work with is not built for speed, and I needed to get the card designed and printed in 7-8 days in time for a presentation I was making about the project on SABR Day. I turned to Upwork.com to hire a freelance designer. I hire freelancers all the time, but this was a new and different method. I posted the scope of work, noting “being a baseball fan is helpful”, and got ten quick replies. A couple designers were fans, and the one I hired had been designing for over 20 years and had his own card collection.
I prepared reference/inspiration images of some of my favorite Topps designs from my youth: the woodies of ’62, the dual image fronts of ’63, and the wondrous Peter Max-infused ‘72s. We met daily to hammer out thumbnail designs for the front and back, starting with the front. I wanted to make sure we tied in the colors of the logo into the design, and how can you go wrong with the good ol’ red, white and blue? I love bunting seen in the post-season, so we integrated that notion into the design via a banner atop the card.
I allowed a couple of days of design iteration in thumbnail form until I arrived at a direction I liked and then we could dial in the rest. We arrived at the “archway” design inspired by the 1972 Topps set and the text bounding box at the bottom from the 1963 set. I wanted a banner at the top to make the card seem special, sort of like those MVP cards Topps would issue in the sets of the 60s. The card front would proclaim our featured “players” as “Heroes of the Sweet Spot”. There was always something heroic about the presentation of those players in those cards of the 50s and 60s, so that concept seemed a good fit.
A key component to the front of the card was a good photograph of the individual. I felt we had good photos for most of them, and the rest would work well enough. One of our interviewees was Doug McWilliams, with whom I’ve become friends, and Doug was kind enough to allow me to use a fantastic photo he’d taken of Mudcat Grant in 1957 when Mud was on the PCL San Diego Padres. Doug is also in this set of cards, #14 of 15.
I was very pleased with the final design of the front, so we moved on to the back of the card.
Again, we referenced the backs of cards from the 1960s, and I liked the idea of rounded boxes to display the text. While producing a major attraction about the life of Walt Disney for Walt Disney Imagineering, one of Walt’s designers, John Hench (whose first gig was Fantasia) told me the reason Mickey Mouse succeeded over another character of the day, Felix the Cat, was that Mickey had round features, while Felix had points. We went with a red, white, and blue color scheme to make the text pop and tie to the design scheme, tell a story, and sell our brand. The artist, Brian Kruse, came up with the smashing idea of balancing the baseball with the card # with a sphere on the right side of the top featuring a black and white image of our hero. I decided to keep it black and white to simplify the integration of that asset into the overall design.
We had thirteen cards designed, and it was now time to meet with my printer, who has done all manner of work for me over the years–promotional postcards, DVD covers, movie posters, and my business card, which is, of course, a baseball card. Key was finding paper stock that was stiff enough, as I did not have time to do special order cardboard (which likely would have been pricier). I settled on 14 point white paper, and, a couple of days later, voila!
Once the cards were done, I realized that the haste of taking on the task produced the inevitable errors:
- there were supposed to be 15 cards in the series, but I omitted two of them. I did not adjust the numerical order of the cards, and the set was produced as if cards #6 and #9 are missing.
Official scorer Ed Munson’s “position” on the card from and rear is stated as “scorer” when it should be “official scorer”.
- There’s a grammar punctuation error on the rear of artist Mark Ulriksen’s card.
I’ll be fixing the Munson and Ulriksen card for the second series, which is due to come out end of March.
Here’s our first series:
#1 – Umpire Perry Barber
#2 – Baseball Pioneer Justine Siegal
#3 – Artist Mark Ulriksen
#4 – Superfan Emma Amaya
#5 – Jim “Mudcat” Grant
#7 –Author Jennifer Ring
#8 – Author and former catcher Jim Campanis, Jr.
#10 – Catcher Jimmy Campanis, Sr.
#11 – Team USA player Lilly Jacobson
#12 – Actor Norm Coleman
#13 – Official Scorer Ed Munson
#14 – Photographer Doug McWilliams
#15 – Producer-Director Jon Leonoudakis
One of my favorite cards features octogenarian thespian Norm Coleman. Norm caught the acting bug late in life after a stellar career as a studio photographer. A life-long baseball fan, he took to Ty Cobb, feeling the Georgia Peach was a complex, misunderstood man, who was being subjected to a mythology that wasn’t accurate in Norm’s eyes. He decided to write a one-man show with Norm portraying Cobb. Years later, Norm has performed the show around the country, including shows at Tigertown, the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum, and the Ty Cobb Museum. When I interviewed Norm, I took his picture inside his home. I thought it would be fun to find an image of a Tiger game or practice circa 1908 and matte that in behind Norm. I found the right image, the artist popped it in, and suddenly Norm is back in 1908! If you look closely, over his right shoulder is a player leaning against a bat, looking a bit like Cobb himself.
Another fave is the card featuring Lilly Jacobson, who was said to have a swing like Will Clark. There she is on the front of her card, drilling a double down the line, adorned in a glorious Team USA uniform. When I met Lilly, she was a polite, bright, unassuming young woman who had traveled the globe playing the game she loved. It was pretty shocking to hear all the guff she had to put up with just to play on teams with boys and men.
The last card in the set features yours truly. I figured the guy driving the sled should get a card, and I decided to use an action photo taken during the 2016 San Francisco Giants Fantasy Camp at the team’s spring training facility in Scottsdale. It was captured by photographer Andy Kuno during my first relief appearance: 1 IP, 2 Ks, 2 hits, no runs allowed. We won’t mention the other two outings that were grease fires.
I started sharing the cards on my facebook page and got requests from people to purchase them (you can get one, too, for $20, includes tax and shipping). There are many other folks I’ve interviewed for the project, so there’s going to be a few more series of cards produced at the end of the day.
One of the key pieces that makes this set unique is the number of women featured: out of thirteen cards, almost half are women. A couple of card fiends who like to collect women in baseball cards told me how excited they were to find them. Another fun note is that the set not only features a father and a son (Jim Campanis Sr. and Jr.), it has a mother-daughter connection (author Jennifer Ring and daughter Lilly Jacobson).
I have joined the ranks of those specialty sets that saw the light of day and people are adding them to their personal collections. We sold out the first printing of the first series, and are printing more as demand has increased. The second set will go into production in a few weeks for a release just prior to the start of the 2017 season. It will have fixes to the error cards and introduce a couple of “In Action” cards showing the crew shooting a story for the series. We’re in the midst of adding a product store to our web page at www.thesweetspot.tv, but you can contact me directly if you’d like a set @ firstname.lastname@example.org.
2 thoughts on “Dream a Little Dream: the Day I Became a Baseball Card Manufacturer”
Jon, very proud of you and your work.I would like to order your DVD’s and some shirts,Card sets. See ya soon!!
Thanks, Mike! I’ll PM you shortly!