Leader of My Packs

I like “What If” history and I’ve put my time in to back that up. I was published in a book called Play It Again, with a bit of historical fiction about Sandy Koufax. I wanted to know how Koofoo’s career would have played out had he undergone surgery, so I wrote it. Years later, I created a 52-story series of rock and roll “what ifs” called Maybe Baby (or, You Know That It Would Be Untrue). That was a hoot to write, a self-taught class on different perspectives and styles. I ended up with some worldwide readership on that one.


My penchant for “what ifs” is why I like Topps Archives (though doesn’t explain why I dislike Heritage). Multiple alternative history cards in one pack? I’m in.  And though Archives packs are expensive as hell, at least where I buy them ($5!), they’re still worth the occasional purchase. If you read my posts, you know I’m a sucker for packs and recently I got a good one.

Frazier 1

1992 Topps is one of the best, simplest designs. It’s right up there with 1957 and 1967 (don’t argue with me). Do I care about Todd Frazier? No. But the Toddfather in a 1992 card elevates his status.

Stargell 2

The Archives card of Pops is better than his regular ’82, not as good as his Action ’82. That’s not to quibble. Pulling a Willie Stargell card out of a 2017 pack is a smile-producer. Over the years I think Stargell has become undervalued, but if you were a fan during his heyday, there were scant few players more highly regarded. None were more loved.

Clark 3

I didn’t spend a moment thinking about Tony Clark when he played, but I’ve met him several times over the past few years and he is one of my favorite people – smart, engaging, a towering figure that commands your respect in subtle, but real, ways.  A Clark card for his union role? Sign me up! After all, I wrote Split Season about the players’ union battles against Cro Magnon ownership.

2017-Topps-Archives-Baseball-Base-Aaron-Judge-RC 4

I don’t even want to go into this. I thought I was selling a Judge card high and I turned out to sell it low. It’s no fault of his, but Aaron Judge makes me upset.

Auto 5


I’ve always collected autographs. Not at the level I’ve collected cards, but I was an incessant letter writer in the 1970’s and still pick up the occasional signed card. Pulling an autograph from a pack is a blast, my mixed Aaron Judge experience notwithstanding, but there are times when it’s a letdown. John Hirschbeck? Why? Where’s the demand for that? The one I pulled is a limited run of 25, but still, are their 25 people who want this?

Kershaw 6

Simply a terrific card.

Trout 7

A few months ago I was toe-deep in a 1960 Topps set. Now I’m up to my neck in them (about 100 to go), so the 1960 look is on my mind a lot. The Trout card could fit in to the original set nicely. There’s a falseness to the look of the color picture, but there are lots of 1960’s that aren’t photographic, more like hand painted photos. The black and white action is more kinetic than the usual 1960 static B & W, but it works. And it’s Mike Trout!

Kyle 8

Wrong Seager, great card.

Archives is very good and yet, for all their history and skill and budget, Topps doesn’t do nearly as good a job as the “cards that never were” producers. Chase down whentoppshadballs.blogspot.com, cardsthatneverwere.blogspot.com, @BottommsCards (on Twitter) for some incredibly solid work. Every time these guys post something, it’s like opening a pack of unexpected goodies, and they’re free.

Author: Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is the former Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.

22 thoughts on “Leader of My Packs”

  1. OK, I got my first ever Topps Archives yesterday — my kids got me a box for Father’s Day. I have generally not been a fan because — as a set collector — they are just so … random. A bunch of cards that are unrelated to each other. If I opened the pack you describe above, I would have a headache by the 3rd card — WHAT ARE WE LOOKING AT HERE? How do I sort them? What do my stacks look like? Where does Tony Clark go? There is an umpire?

    Since my kids bought them for me, and since I love my kids, I actually opened all the packs and looked at each of the cards for some time. And … I kind of see the point. They are not meant to be sorted into teams, and ordered into lineups — which is literally 95% of the reason I have done this for 50 years. They are more like a box of jelly beans of different colors to be looked at one a time and shoved into a box in some random order to be looked at again later. I am thawing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with the sentiment here. Archives is meant to be fun. The serious collector in me kind of cringes at archives. but The collecting should be fun twin counterpart actually enjoys Archives for it’s quirkiness.

      It actually may be the best product for someone to open who hasn’t thought about cards for the last dozen years.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t let the fact that a card company tacks a bunch of SPs on the end of the checklist dictate when you consider the set complete.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. That’s right Jeff! I think I am different than most readers of this SABR blog in that I don’t collect full sets. I collect individual players and cool cards. Archives is one of my favorite sets every Summer simply because of the unique throwback card designs AND because they throw in retired players as much as the current players. I LOVE Archives. I’m in the middle of opening my hobby box right now and it’s awesome! I typically open one pack a day for 24 days to prolong the enjoyment. I recently opened a pack (8 cards) that contained the Aaron Judge RC, a Yoan Moncada RC (I’m a ChiSox fan), and a Mike Trout card! What a great pack! Thanks for the column(s) and keep up the great work!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I wonder how much of Topps’ disadvantage (wrt “cards that never were” guys) is that Topps is using its own photos and/or licensing them, and has legal agreements with MLB and union, while (I assume — please correct me if I am wrong) the “cards that never were” guys are just finding cool photos, and stealing front/back designs with zero regard for legalities?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wrong Seager!!!! Them’s fightin’ words here in the Emerald City. You’re dissin’ my boy! I agree with Mark about the randomness of the Archives although I have seen some great cards.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A fun post to find upon returning from vacation. I’m sorta curious why that 1982-design Kershaw doesn’t have a facsimile signature on it.

    I also can’t stand the way Topps did the 1960-design name font. While I usually don’t like screwing with font widths to make things fit, for some reason the fully-justified type on the 1960 design and the way short names have stretched letters while long names get squished just works for me. Using the same font and aligning everything left on the Archives version just looks wrong to my eye.


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