Fake News, Alternative Facts

Like all of you, I can instantly identify cards from my prime collecting/pack buying years. For me, that’s 1970-1977. I can more easily name and ID the 1973 Mets than the 2018 Mets. The cards from that era stuck with me, permanently.

When I started seeing “what if” cards, custom jobs made with original templates and period perfect pictures, I did Ritz Brothers burlesque double take. “How could I never have seen this 1978 Ken McMullen? Is my memory going?”


Nah, all these self-made cardboards are brilliant frauds, one-offs of guys who never got their own card, had to share a multi-player rookie slab, or, unlike some other players, never had a career capping card.

The two guys I follow religiously are Bottomms Cards (@BottommsCards) and Gio/wthballs blog (@wthballs). Their Tweets are a joy.

Gio does a great job with players who, I’m shocked, I’ve never heard of and who never even sniffed their own card. These guys didn’t even get to bunk next to Dave Freisleben in a quartet of rookies.


The other category Gio does well is the career summary cards. That’s a rare thing. A player had to either retire after his card was issued (1969 Mantle) or die (1973 Clemente) to have his entire career stats on the back of his card, yet a summary card, a tribute of sorts, is a solid idea. Here’s that McMullen card.

Bottomms does cool stuff, but lately he’s been doing something amazing – making “cards” of players where their picture mirrors the generic player icon. So great, in conception and execution. Here are two, but there are others.

I love this genre, which is purest online. I have seen that people sell their custom cards but that’s not my bag. It’s cool to have cards of a unique design for sale, but to sell a faux-1972 Topps card seems wrong. I know one of my friends hates these “cards that never were.” It messes him up. “Wait, do I need this card for my Hall of Fame album? Did I miss this card for my rookie album?” I have no such worries, they’re just cool.

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.

24 thoughts on “Fake News, Alternative Facts”

  1. That’s very interesting, Jeff. The faux cards for ballplayers makes me uncomfortable, too, like your buddy. I wouldn’t want to own any. But faux cards involving historical figures might be fun. A ’72 Topps In-Action with John Dean slapping the tag on Nixon would be cool.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve never made the jump into buying a faux card. No need for that, The online versions do it for me. Love a Watergate series in the 1972 Topps baseball design!


  2. Its all good in my book. However, by far my favorite faux cards are: (a) actual physical cards with fronts and backs, (b) cards that are plausible cards for the time (no 1971 Mickey Mantle), and (c) players that Topps did not do that season. Players that did not make the set but could have.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I’ve been reading the WTHBalls blog every day since I returned to the hobby, but I wasn’t familiar with Bottoms Up. That Murcer card is absolutely brilliant!

    In many cases the people selling these online are NOT the creators. I don’t mind people who sell their own work, but profiting off other people’s work without their permission is not cool.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yeah, the Murcer is unbelievable!
    The whole idea of selling these faux-cards is murky to me. Doesn’t Topps own the designs? Doesn’t someone own the photo rights?


    1. I would assume someone owns the photo rights.

      The design may be a murkier area. Upper Deck produced sets called “Upper Deck Vintage” from 2001-2004. The 2001 set is basically the 1963 Topps design with the circle flipped to the left side, the 2002 set is basically the 1971 Topps design with the team, player, and position information on the bottom instead of the top, and the 2003 design is … well, it’s the 1965 Topps design. I would assume 2004 Upper Deck Vintage is based on another design, though I don’t think it’s a Topps design (maybe a pre-war design). Perhaps Topps sued Upper Deck which is why they stopped using a Topps design with 2004 Vintage.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The only lawsuit I’m aware of is this one from 2009 specifically over the 1975 design.

        I do remember someone on Twitter asserting that when Upper Deck acquired the O Pee Chee license it supposedly claimed that that meant it could use designs from O Pee Chee’s past. (yeah I don’t buy it either)

        And that 2004 UD Vintage design kind of reminds me of the Red Heart Dog Food design

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I knew the 2004 Upper Deck Vintage design looked like something I had seen. The 1954 Red Heart Dog Food design is probably its basis – good call.

        Forgot about those 2009 O-Pee-Chee cards. Even the backs are almost identical to 1975 Topps. Apparently Upper Deck also borrowed the 1979-1980 Topps Hockey design for an insert set in that product as well.

        I thought that perhaps the Upper Deck Vintage line was in response to the success of Topps Heritage in 2001, but apparently Vintage hit shelves before Heritage.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey Jeff, were you really the mayor of Cooperstown, NY? I’m heading to Cooperstown this Summer. I haven’t been there since I was a kid back in the 80s. What are the best hotels? I don’t think I can afford the Otesaga. Where should I stay? Thanks!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Funny about Ken McMullen. As an old Senators fan, I would like to have a decent rookie card of him, but of course, he is one four heads on the Pete Rose ’63 Topps rookie card, so as we say in Jersey, Fugedaboutit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was reading about guys who try to collect their own cards, or family members looking to put together binders of their relatives cards. Imagine being McMullen’s family and not being able to get your dad/granddad’s first card!


    2. Ditto on your thoughts, except that I substitute “Al Weis” for “Ken McMullen” and am an old White Sox -rather-than-Senators fan. Same frustration, though 🙂 It’s the only Topps White Sox card I don’t own . . .

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Agreed about Gio’s blogspot; his creations are outstanding. He also does actual, very-short-printed card sets inspired by period designs that are truly excellent. Bob Lemke was sort of the godfather of these endeavors, and the cardsthatneverwere blogspot was one of the best until the fellow that created the site stopped posting new designs about a year ago.

    But as for physical representations of “cards that never were.” I’m going to take the contrarian point of view: if they’re well done, not infringing on anyone’s photo copyrights and easily distinguished from cards from the actual series, I’ve got no problem with them, and own quite a few of them. I don’t buy the arguments that there’s something blasphemous about them, or that they’re confusing to the collector (in this day and age, with the resources available, anyone who can’t distinguish an original release from an imagined version of a player not originally included in a set really isn’t trying).

    My favorite, by far, is Max’s Cards That Could Have Been. Created by a retired Texan who’s both a long-time collector of baseball photography and an expert in the field of printing, the CTCHBs are blank-backed and printed (not ink-jetted) on a sturdy card stock slightly thicker than the original Topps cards. He used to sell on eBay and now is at Etsy with a store named HomeTeamSports. Even collectors without an interest in buying should take a look . . . there’s some really great specimens there. And for those who worry about rights, Max once got a call from someone at Topps who complimented him on the cards . . . as long as he wasn’t using photos to which Topps owned the rights. Which he doesn’t . . .

    Liked by 1 person

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