A team by any other name

On December 1, 1970, the Red Sox traded infielders Mike Andrews and Luis Alvarado to the White Sox for shortstop Luis Aparicio. Red Sox trades were always somewhat startling to me at the time, much like hearing that we had traded our family dog for a cat on the next block over. Why?

Once I recovered, at some point in the next few days I got out my baseball card locker and moved my most recent Mike Andrews card (probably this one) to the White Sox slot, and moved Aparicio to the Red Sox. (Alvarado did not yet have his own card–for simplification, I will ignore him for the remainder of this post.) Then I got out the team stacks and tried to figure out who would play where. This was my childhood, basically.

As Topps was preparing its 1971 baseball card set, the relevant question for me: was this December trade early enough in the off-season for Topps to put the players on their new teams, or would they be left with their old teams?

The answer: “its complicated.”


Andrews (card 191) was in Series 2, too late for Topps to switch his affiliation, but Aparicio (740) was in Series 7 and got transferred. Today this seems ironic–the extra time allowed Topps to give Aparicio a worse card.

This has always been a problem for Topps, but especially in the days of multiple series — Topps’ team designation often depended on when the guy was traded and what series his card happened to be in. My favorite example of this was the 1969 Dick Ellsworth — the Red Sox traded him to the Indians in April, after the season started, but he still got onto a (hatless) Indians card late that summer.

When I got the Andrews/Aparicio cards in 1971, likely in April and August, respectively, I put them on their correct teams — my team stacks were always current. But the point of this post, and yes this post does have a point, is: how do I sort them now?

If you own a set of baseball cards — 1971 Topps, 1987 Fleer, whatever — you probably either store them in a binder of protective sheets, or in a long storage box. In either case, you probably either organize them numerically, or by team. (There are other ways to organize them — I will not judge.)

I am a “team guy.” When I look at my cards, I use them to immerse myself in a season, to recall (or imagine, if it was before my time) what the 1967 Cardinals or the 1975 Reds looked like, who their players were. Taken as a whole, the box or binder can represent a baseball season — with the league leaders, the post-season cards, the Highlights cards, helping to tell the story.

So that’s the first thing — the cards look backwards. Although I bought the 1975 cards in 1975, they do not (today) do a great job of telling the story of the 1975 season. The “Home Run Leaders” cards are the 1974 leaders. The stats on the back stop at 1974. My team was the Red Sox — how can I revel in the 1975 Red Sox with no true cards of Jim Rice and Fred Lynn? If I want to revel in 1975 (and I do, believe me), I need to be looking at these Rembrandts.

Excuse me, I need a moment.

OK, so that’s the solution — sort the 1976 Topps cards by team, and create a 1975 Red Sox starting lineup using the cards. Right? The 1976 cards depict 1975 teams. The end.

Well, no. We still have the Aparicio/Andrews problem. Although Topps placed both men on the 1971 Red Sox, they were two ships passing in the night. Looking at this from the White Sox perspective, you can’t use the 1971 “Topps team” to make a legitimate 1970 lineup (no Aparicio) nor a 1971 lineup (no Andrews). For the Red Sox, you can make a fake lineup with both players.

The solution, it seems to me, is to put the players on their correct teams. Either you organize by their actual 1970 team (putting Aparicio back on the White Sox) or by their actual 1971 team (putting Andrews on the White Sox). Pick one, but you cannot make them both Red Sox without promulgating a lie.

Since I already claimed that baseball cards look back a year, the best way to use the cards is to allow the 1971 Topps set to celebrate the 1970 season. So Luis goes back to Chicago.

If you look at my 1971 Topps set, organized by team, about 90% each team is the same as how Topps designates them, and a handful are mismatches. It looks a little funny, but my “team” depicts a group of players who played together in real life. So it works for me.

So you’ve got some work to do.  But before getting to all that, I leave you with Dick Allen of the 1970 Cardinals.




Author: Mark Armour

Long-time SABR member, founder and past chairman of the Baseball Cards Committee, founder and past chairman (2002-2016) of the Biography Project, current President of the SABR board of directors, author of several books and dozens of articles on baseball. See mark-armour.net.

17 thoughts on “A team by any other name”

  1. As a kid, I kept cards by team but never placing players with previous team. This strategy does showcase one’s baseball knowledge. I put team picture on top. By the way is that the leg of photographer in the foreground of “Rich” Allen’s card?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. At the time, I stored cards with current team. In July 1969 my Pilots stack included people who were actually on the Pilots at that moment. The issue is what to do in 2017. The best way to show the 1969 Pilots is to start with the 1970 Topps Pilots cards, and then move a few guys around to create the actual team.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As a Cardinals team collector, if the card indicates the player is a Cardinal in that particular year, he is a Cardinal even if traded. New additions to the team in that year are kept in the same chronological binder but in a separate section which I call “new additions” I also include in this section, players with minor league cards issued in that year that were called up by the team.


  3. I always sorted by series and # order, and used the Checklist cards to keep track of them. I would subscribe to Baseball Digest magazine, and each month, I would ” update” every team’s roster, by crossing out players who were traded, and writing in players acquired,or brought up from the Minors.


  4. I was the same way, as a kid collector in the ’60s: the cards had to be sorted by teams, using one of those plastic mini-lockers with a slot for each team. That was the thrill of collecting a single set by series over the course of the summer, putting together each roster bit by bit, scanning the next series’ checklist to see who’d be coming in the following weeks. If a player got traded, I’d move his card to the slot of his new team . . . but actually, I’d do worse: in 1967, I wrote the name of the new team in tiny letters somewhere on the thin white border of the card front. Because of that, my ’67 set would probably grade to no better than G-VG . . . but I wouldn’t trade if for a gem mint set, because of all the memories it rekindles.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love those DIY traded cards. No memories for them to rekindle. Just seeing, or having, those cards is a reminder that the former owner was a kid who really cared about the team and the sport and used the cards as a fan.


  5. This posts brings up and an intriguing question. Which sets do good and poor jobs of chronicling the season just past. At a minimum I think a good “Yearbook Set” would need a World Series and a Record Breaker/Highlights subset.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And team leaders, league leaders, all stars, and award winners would be even better.

      Granted, all of this was easier to do back when we had 26 or 20 teams to deal with. 30 teams with a 25-man roster (we all want at least a 25-man roster too right?) is already 750 cards before adding in any subsets.


  6. I know most of you folks aren’t into card grading, and we’ve been through that. I am, and have my sets on PSA’s registry. Yes, I like them in plastic slabs. I bring this up as it relates to the league leader cards. Back in ’63, the Senators had been fleeced into taking Jimmy Piersall (don’t get my started on that). As an Indian, he had been in the top five in batting in the A.L. in ’62. So I was a bit chagrined to find him as a required card in the Senators’ ’63 team set. A PSA rep told me it goes by what team he’s on the the current year’s card, even though he was ID’d as being with Cleveland on the A.L. batting leaders card. I know — it’s not Topps’ problem, but it almost as bad as Whitey Ford’s cap brim being chopped off on another ’63 leader irks me .


    1. Our committee’s official position is: who ever posts last. Please write a post (several posts!) about your experiences with grading/slabbing — what you like, what you dislike, what to watch out for, what kinds of cards one should grade (stars? Only NM quality?) My opinion is likely aided considerably by ignorance, so please educate me (and others)!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. As a kid in the 80s-90s I kept sets sorted by number. Now, as a team set collector, I find myself having to make these tougher decisions. I’ve, to-date, been sticking with whatever team name is on the card. This is mainly because I’m still starting out and all the team set checklists are organized that way.

    Once I’ve completed (or near-completed since as a Giants fan I’m pretty sure that Willie Mays + high numbers are going to be out of my price range for a long time) a bunch of years I’ll have to research each season and figure out who needs to be included in my “Traded” set for that year. While I understand Mark’s reasoning that each set looks back a year, the Topps + Topps Traded combination I’ve already got going on in the 80s is the model I’ll be emulating.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One thing I found helpful for reducing (monetary) cost when putting together my 1969 and 1971 Topps sets was buying and selling lots online. I picked up a good number of star cards that way, upgraded some other cards, and then sold off the duplicates (always only one copy of a card though in the lot) to make back a good portion of what I spent. It likely won’t work very well with some short-printed high numbers because those lots always went for a good bit, but I got a lot of lower series star cards that way. It might not work as well if you are only looking for one particular star. The good thing about vintage is that if you list it, it will sell.


      1. That’s pretty much what I’m doing. Like you say, it doesn’t work great with the high numbers. And the rare times Willie Mays shows up in a lot the entire lot behaves like a single-card Mays auction anyway. But yes I have been able to get many of the other stars (McCovey, Marichal, Cepeda, etc.) this way for decent prices.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Great article! I always preferred placing players by team in the “yearbook” style. This meant that yes – the 1976 Topps Lynn & Rice were put together showcasing the 1975 season. This also lead me into another hobby: creating update or missing cards to reflect the player in the proper uni from the year before. This way the backs of cards would reflect the season before.


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