Laughlin to Keep from Crying

There’s been a bit of a debate on the SABR Baseball Cards Facebook page the past few days on the merits of “fake” cards, DIY imaginary cards that people love, or hate, or are confused by. (I weighed in on this earlier in the month). Andrew Aronstein, son of TCMA founder Mike, posited a pretty solid theoretical – “What is a “fake” card? Let’s start there.”

I bet we all have answers to this, but I think all of our answers end up wrong. The real question, to me anyway, is “What do we like and how does that effect what we buy?” From the late 1960s to the early 1980’s, Robert (R.G.) Laughlin, artist/illustrator/cartoonist (I don’t know anything about him), produced wonderful sets. From the 1968 World Series set that he self-marketed,


to the official Fleer issues (there are many), each Laughlin subject was a joy. I bought a 1971 World Series set, a 1975 Fleer Pioneers of Baseball set


and packs of Fleer issue – Famous Feats, Baseball Firsts, Wildest Plays and Days. I never, never, bought sets Laughlin issued on his own.

It’s a shame, really, that I was mired in what my young mind thought was a “real” card (i.e., something put out by a company), and what I liked. Talk about being brainwashed by corporate branding! McLaughlin’s Super Stand-ups, All-Star Games, Diamond Jubilee, Long Ago Black Stars, Great Feats (God, there are so many) were not a secret. Dealers I got catalogs from would sell these sets for $5 (I’m guessing. Most were issued in the $3 range), and, though they looked incredible, I demurred. They weren’t “real” cards. Topps was real, Fleer was real, Laughlin wasn’t.


I rediscovered my Famous Feats cards when I was making a trade and I’m working on the set. It’s a manageable cost, and I have Ruth, Gehrig, and Cobb, which command a bit higher price. Why, I don’t know. Much to my dismay, the other sets are pretty pricey. I’ve been casually looking for random sets but, when they come up, they go for a lot, from $50 – $200. I think I’ll eventually grab a few if I can get a deal, but I feel the ship has sailed on many of these.


A card is a card. Some made by card companies and some are not. Are old Laughlins any less “fake” than a current DIY card? Or any less “real?” They’re both made by fans with an eye for something unique, created to fill a void. I see now that that’s good enough for me.


I attended SABR 48 in Pittsburgh last week. It was a great convention – excellent presentations, great conversations. One of the nicest parts of my Wednesday to Saturday attendance was the outpouring of thanks from fellow SABR members about my blog posts. I wasn’t expecting so much enthusiasm, but it was intensely gratifying to know people enjoy my posts as much as I enjoy writing them.

Now go buy some cards, join SABR (if you haven’t already) and share your stories.

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.

10 thoughts on “Laughlin to Keep from Crying”

  1. Personally, I think there is a big difference between designing/producing a set of cards (like Laughlin) vs. creating cards using soneone else’s design of a well-established set with a specific checklist. You can like either or neither, but they are not the same thing IMO.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I equate “fake” with “counterfeit” – someone trying to sell their own production of a 1952 Topps Mantle as an actual 1952 Topps Mantle. A forged autograph – that’s fake.

    On the other hand, I have a bunch of 1952 Topps Mantles that are not “fake” because Topps has “reissued” it in many of their insert sets. It’s not a 1952 Topps Mantle, but it’s a 1952 Topps Mantle reprint in a 2006 (or 2007) 52 Topps RC set or some other such thing. Then the question is, why is that okay?

    I think the difference is licensing, and a better term for the types of cards you mention might be “unlicensed.” The Broder cards (including non-Broder cards that get lumped in as Broder) from the 1980s come to mind. They were really nice cards, some using pre-war designs with new players. They are not fake because no one was trying to pass them off as a 1985 Topps Gooden or a 1986 Donruss Canseco (for one, they looked nothing like those cards), but they are unlicensed.

    Buying an unlicensed card has its own set of issues, but I think that’s more along the lines of these DIY cards. I have bought a few custom cards if the price was right (a buck or two) and I liked the design. A few years back there was a really well done custom figure of Keith Hernandez, and I almost bought it except … except his batting helmet had ear flaps. Hernandez never wore a batting helmet with ear flaps as far as I can tell, so I didn’t buy it despite how good it looked and a reasonable price.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A while back I had a very nice set, minus one — you can easily guess which one — of the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set. Card 68 of Williams ostensibly signing his ’59 contract at a desk next to Bucky Harris was apparently withdrawn early in the run and now is outrageously expensive. Thus, many “fake” versions exist. I bought one of these (it still cost 10 buck or so), just to have a version of the card. This card was in no way intended to fool anybody (like some of the ’63 Rose rookie cards, for instance) as it was clearly not an original (and I believe may have even said so on the back), but i still was glad to have it as i wasn’t prepared to spent $500 or more for a real one (I’m talking graded versions here) in good condition.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Fakes shmakes, I think it’s cool when individuals get creative. What is not cool are forgeries. I see a very big difference between someone having fun and possibly sharing or selling their (fake?) creations, and someone who deceives people about a card’s provenance in order to steal the customer’s money.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: