The Bono View of Cards

I feel I’ve been gone a long time since the last post. I’ve been buried under boxes of cards, in the midst of a full search and seizure of sellable doubles and triples (or how about five extra 1975 Topps Pete Maravich cards in NM condition?) in my collection.

1975 Maravich front043

Before I dove into that colossal project, I ordered my 2017 Topps set. I always get my factory set at the end of the year. I used to not be able to wait that long and, in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I ordered all the sets – Donruss, Fleer, Score, Upper Deck, Topps – as early as they were released.

Two Wednesdays ago I put my factory set in numerical order (it drives me crazy that they are not already that way, but it does give me a couple of hours to go through each one, the longest time I’m ever likely to spend with any recent set). At the same time, well, not exactly at the same time but on the same day, I put away some new 1968’s and 1969’s, and a 1960 Don Zimmer, in sheets. The contrast between new new and old new was striking.

The differences, and what I like and dislike are not really in the designs. The 2017 Topps is nice enough and I’ve always found the 1969 set atrociously boring. The differences are in the times we live in, how we all process information and what we require in stimulation.

The 1960 cards confidently deliver simplicity – a portrait, a posed action shot, some stats, long or short, and a cartoon. The mix of colors and varied detail, like the L.A. Coliseum behind Zim’s giant noggin, give an OK set a lot of character. If 1960 is simple, 1969 is atavistic. It is beyond basic, and that would be OK if the pictures weren’t so mind-numbingly uninteresting. How many 33-year-olds who look 70 do we really need?

1969 Clay Dalrymple (f2)

The 2017 cards are a bombardment of foreground and background, bright constantly changing colors and a flurry of things to take in. They represent their time as much as some capless ancient did almost 50 years ago. This card gives me a headache, and many others left me feeling seasick.


There are nice cards for sure, like this Puig,


and I’m glad to have the set to keep my consecutive year streak alive. Still, I was left feeling that there is a happy middle out there for Topps, photo-wise. What makes the 1971-1990’s set so fulfilling is the mix of still life and action. Now you have to buy two different sets to capture the blend that was standard back then.

I don’t have any real conclusion to make. As I march toward completing the 1969 set I’m not overly enthused by the cards, though happy about getting close to the finish line. And now that my 2017 set is filed away, it’s unlikely I’ll refer back to it much. I buy out of obligation. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for in a contemporary card set. Maybe that’s why I’m having so much fun going through stacks of doubles from 40+ years ago. Beyond the nostalgia, those cards bring a more interesting and enjoyable viewing experience.


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.

12 thoughts on “The Bono View of Cards”

  1. I agree and have voiced my unhappiness on the monotony of modern cards. I think there are 2 factors 1) A fixation on the availability of great photography. 2) Heritage, Stadium Club, & Stinking variations take a lot of shots that would give the base set variety. I think Problem 1 will sort itself out – photographers can take great action shots today but they require less imagination than 40 years ago. problem 2 is on topps. Put a couple of headshots from heritage in flagship.

    I was just paging 2003T which isn’t that old and was really surprised by the variety and quality of the pictures. There is no reason why that cannot be part of a base set today.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Those “stinking variations” are almost always an improvement on the original photo. Maybe not when comparing the two cards but in terms of giving the set some variety they’re a breathe of fresh air.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m glad to see someone older than me snarking about the 1969 design. I thought it was dreadfully boring when I was little. I like it better now but it needs stellar photography to work well and yeah, between the boycott and expansion Topps had some pretty dire photos. I’m interested to see what Topps does next year in Heritage since as much as it would amuse me to have blacked-out caps and awful hatless photos it’s a real opportunity to showcase some portrait photography.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m not a “things were better back then” type, so it’s easy for me to diss older sets. I’m only finishing 1969 because I had a good head start and made a couple of trades that got me within shouting distance. It’s still fun to pursue, though my enthusiasm level is fairly low.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I like the 1969 design quite a bit. HOWEVER, The set itself had massive problems because of the boycott — there were many dozens of repeated photos from 1968, lots of head shots — and they also had to deal with four expansion teams leading to a record number hatless photos. Over 100. I really like 1969 once you get to the fifth series, because all four expansion teams are represented with uniforms, and the boycott had ended. The photos were really top notch, and include some of my favorite childhood photos. In fact, I can honestly remember the feeling of opening up some of those packs late that summer, and getting all those fresh uniforms from spring training. I look forward to next year’s heritage, which will be a design I like without any of the issues Topps faced back then.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I find it impossible to find a nice design with a crappy picture a pleasing card. True enough on the later series though. Since I’ve only seen a bunch of them recently, I never realized how much the photos improved.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Like Donn Clendenon, there are two versions of Clay in the 69 set: one on the Phillies and the one you depicted on the Orioles. The early series are boring, but the high numbers have spring training shots, which include players from the expansion teams in the new uniforms. 69 will always be special to me because of the Pilots.

    I’m sure Mrs. Dalyrmple thought Clay was quite handsome for a 3o-year old going on 60. His trade from the dreadful Phillies was fortuitous, since he served as the Orioles 3rd string catcher on 3 pennant winners and one WS champion.

    As a first grader, Clay Dalyrmple and Rumplestiltskin were one and the same. I remember picturing Clay’s card on the Phillies when we read the story. Yes, I was a weird kid.

    All of your observations of modern cards are spot on.

    Finally, is that Pete Maravich or Ken Burns? Mitch Miller with a wig?

    Liked by 1 person

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