Faux Cards

I first started collecting baseball cards, at age 6, in 1967. As I have written elsewhere, this was before I knew anything about the real players and teams. The cards were my baseball school. Although my family was all Red Sox fans, I have no memory of the fabled 1967 season. Did I watch the World Series? I don’t know.

I became a real fan — watching games, following the standings — sometime during the 1968 season. I again collected cards, probably from the start of the season, and gradually learned what was up. The 1968 Red Sox were my first “team”.

Carl Yastrzemski was the big star, the most famous person in New England, but several Yaz teammates had excellent seasons. Ken Harrelson led the league in RBI and Ray Culp and Dick Ellsworth won 16 games each, decades before we learned that those stats were bullshit.

I might not have been bright enough to tell you that my heroes were wearing the uniforms of the Senators, Cubs and Phillies, respectively, and certainly not enough to have told you why. The reason, since you asked, is that all three men were recent acquisitions — the two pitchers joining up in the off-season, and Hawk the previous August. The photo boycott killed whatever chance Harrelson might have had to be donning Hub togs.

All of these guys were sorted with my Red Sox, and when I made batting order and pitching rotations I had to deal with all of this. Honestly, how I didn’t turn to a life of crime is a mystery.

Looking ahead to the 1969 season, baseball had become a full-blown obsession. I bought all the preview magazines I could, and even wrote my own essays about all the Red Sox players that forecast their seasonal statistics. (Spoiler: they were very bullish.)

Because of the MLBPA Topps photo boycott (of which I knew nothing), I still did not get Red Sox photos of my heroes. Topps provided some variety by using a different previous team for two of the three players. Complicating things further, a week into the season Harrelson and Ellsworth were traded to the Indians — Ellsworth’s late-series card reflected this change, so that his Cubs uniform was actually *three* teams ago by the time the card hit the shelves.

Culp remained in Boston for a few years, but Harrelson (an extremely popular player) and Ellsworth never did get a Topps photo showing their Red Sox days. I am not blaming Topps here, just illustrating that this was a frustration that kids used to go through, especially during the 1968-69 years.

As I will always believe you should “play with” your baseball cards, in the same way you should “play” your record collection and not just leave it sitting alphabetically on the shelf, I still keep my cards by team. So this issue remains.

In recent years, a number of people have been creating what I call “faux cards”. The card at the top of this post is a faux 1967 card of Rod Carew.

The late Bob Lemke was one of the first to make these seriously — he called them “Cards That Never Were” — creating fronts and backs and selling them on his web site. I am unaware of anyone today doing faux cards with both a front and a back, although I could be wrong. Today you can find a lot of people selling “front-only” faux cards, with blank backs. There are also a lot of great artists creating electronic versions of the cards, so you can create your own with a good printer and paper cutter.

Here are a few.

I am fairly certain that I would have had a happier childhood, and a happier adulthood for that matter, had I pulled these cards out of my wax packs in 1968.

Of late I have been dabbling in these faux cards, and it has reminded me of why I fell in love with cards in the first place. It wasn’t to find a VG-EX card of someone who played before I was born; it was to find a great photo (with accompanying cartoon/quiz/stats) of Dick Ellsworth, or Julian Javier, or Roy White.

I should mention here that I have certain criteria for what makes a good faux card. These are rules for me, so you can feel free to make your own rules. (Including: they are all bad. You be you.)

  • Players who, for whatever reason, did not have a Topps card that year. When I was creating imaginary games involving the 1968 Oakland Athletics, I got tired of pretending that Reggie Jackson had the flu.
  • Players who were on Topps’s multi-player “rookie cards”, always inadequate but especially when you are one of the key players on the team. This Thurman card would have been badass. I should mention here that I also want the photo to have been taken either during or prior to the relevant season. This faux 1968 card of Bench (which Lemke made) shows a photo from 1969 which is a mistake in my view.
  • When you have a Topps card, but it shows you on the wrong team. This is not Topps’s fault, you got traded too late, but Alex Johnson won the 1970 batting title for the Angels so it is nice to see him in his correct livery.
  • When Topps gave you a card with the right team, but because of a recent trade or franchise move you are shown without your proper uniform.

For me, I don’t really have any need for a 1975 Mickey Mantle card, or the like. I am not passing judgment, it’s just not my thing. Similarly, I don’t need a faux card of Willie Mays in 1970 — Topps already made a perfectly good Mays card, I don’t need a new pose. The vast majority of Topps cards need no improvement.

I realize that most people don’t get the same joy out of using the 1970 Topps cards as a conduit to the 1970 baseball season, that they think of the cards as mere checklists to be completed. And that’s cool. The faux cards that work for me complement the Topps cards, and are a similar nostalgic teleport.

At the moment, I am considering taking that faux 1968 Aparicio and putting it in a sleeve with the Topps Aparicio “back” to create the perfect card that this wonderful player deserves. I have not done this yet. I am awaiting the right moment.

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.

9 thoughts on “Faux Cards”

  1. I agree that the photos need to be prior to the year of the card. Never understood why Topps didn’t reach back to Aparicio’s first stint with the White Sox.


  2. Mark, it’s eerie how similar are our experiences in card collecting. I also got my start in 1967, so my introduction to baseball was perhaps the greatest pennant race that ever took place (although, as a fan of the Chicago White Sox, my experience was colored a bit differently than that of “The Impossible Dream” crowd).

    That ’67 set has remained my favorite over the years, but I’ve recognized all the shortcomings that card sets of that era possessed. And that’s made me a fan of faux cards.

    The possibilities that Photoshop afford a creative baseball fan are truly amazing, and there are a number of people on the web creating a lot of terrific images. But here’s the thing: most of them don’t create physical versions of their cards, and a lot of the people who DO sell such cards steal the work of others and do a cheap ink-jet printing on flimsy card stock.

    Bob Lemke was of course the Father of the Modern Do-It-Yourself Faux Card . . . he meticulously created card backs in the correct style in addition to making great card fronts, and he shared his creations in his Sports Collectors Digest column for years. But with his passing a couple of years ago, I think his mantle has passed to Max Sullivan of Houston, maker of Max’s Cards That Could Have Been. In retirement, he’s taken his knowledge of baseball photography and his experience in the printing industry to create faux cards that fill in the blanks in card sets from 1957-74, on sturdy card stock that’s slightly thicker than the Topps cards of the era.

    I think you’d like his work, in part because the cards he makes are only for players in the four categories that you listed above. And he’s done well over a hundred ’67s, including all but two of the Red Sox players who qualified for a “Card That Could Have Been.” The cards are all blank-backed, on white stock, so there’s no confusing them with the real thing.

    Just the idea of faux cards can be divisive in the hobby. Some collectors see them as out-and-out blasphemy, and I can understand their point of view. But, like you, I see these cards as a way into the baseball seasons that had me enthralled as a kid, rather than just another mark on a checklist. For instance, being able to own a physical card for each year of Tony Horton’s career is a real treat, given how frustrating it was to not have him featured in any Topps set back in the day.

    Max’s cards are inexpensive, but even if you wouldn’t consider buying a faux card, they’re fun to look at. You can find most of the nearly 2,000 cards he’s created at eBay (https://www.ebay.com/usr/backattheranchh). Or for other creative images, there’s Giovanni Balistreri’s 1970s-oriented site at http://whentoppshadballs.blogspot.com/, or the reimagining of Topps designs at http://cardsthatneverwere.blogspot.com. Or you can view the work of Bob Lemke at http://boblemke.blogspot.com/

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The 1914 CJ Al DeMaree depicts him in a Giants uni and notes he’s a Giant. 1915 uses same image with “Philadelphia – Nationals.” As a Giants collector who will likely never own a 1914 CJ this is frustrating, of course.


  4. Another oddity in the ol’ Giants collection is 1951 Bowman card #200, Jack Kramer. Front depicts him with the Giants but back claims he’s a Yankee. Does he belong in the Yanks or Giants team set?? We may never know.


Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: