Bartolo Colon: Free Agent

Topps Update has increasingly felt like a set consisting of several other set ideas all jammed together. All-Stars, Trades, Free Agent signings, and Rookie debuts are all things that used to be somewhat distinct sets or subsets. Update kind of throws them all into the same template and churns out something that’s kind of the Swiss Army Knife of cards sets: lots of things going on and handy to have but none of them particularly satisfying to handle.

This year of course threw Topps for a loop. No All Star Game. A season that started after the deadline for including new players. As a result the only traditional Update cards that made it into the set were players who changed teams during the offseason. Without Rookies or All Star cards Topps had to figure out how to fill the checklist.

One of their solutions was an “Active Leaders” subset which showed the active players who currently lead the league in various categories. This subset resulted in an amazing Bartolo Colon card. Colon hasn’t pitched  for two seasons now but since he hasn’t retired he’s still technically active and as a result, the active leader in Wins.

So despite not appearing on any cardboard as an active player last year. And despite not being on any teams’ rosters this year, Colon found himself with a real 2020 baseball card. The photo is at least four years old* and depicts him with the Mets instead of his most-recent team but what I find amazing is that he’s listed as a Free Agent with the Major League Baseball logo being used where the team logo would normally be.

*Actually over 6 years old.

We did a quick check of the hive mind on Twitter about whether Topps (or anyone else) has ever done something like this before and came up blank. As far as we know we’ve never had a card of an active player which depicts him as an unaffiliated player (let alone a free agent).*

*Suggestions that Curt Flood’s 1970 should’ve been done this way are noted and have me wanting to make a custom version which indicates how he was unaffiliated in 1970.

I usually just grab Giants cards from Update but I think I might snag one of these if I come across one because it’s so different. If Colon does in fact retire without playing in the Majors again this will become an especially interesting addition to Jason’s Ghost card concept.

I also can’t help but wonder if perhaps this might be a better approach to dealing with free agents in Series 1. Seems weird to commit to putting them on the wrong team if you know they’re free agents and now that the method has been established maybe we’ll see more of these in the future.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

10 thoughts on “Bartolo Colon: Free Agent”

  1. The burning question: if I buy a 2020 Topps Update Mets team set, will it have Bartolo? Or will he be in his own special MLB “team” set? For team set collectors who go by the team logo as the identifier, does Bartolo count as a Met because he’s not on another team? For me it’s easy because he is in a Mets uniform so I would want the card as part of a Mets team set, but I’m wondering how other team set collectors view the card.

    And while I understand that Topps is holding out on rookies because they want to load up the 2021 set (at least I think that’s what they are doing), there were so many players used in the short season who might never really have a good shot at a future Topps card that I think they are missing an opportunity to give them a card. The Marlins played 60 regular season games – and used 61 players. Are they going to give Brandon Leibrandt a card in 2021 or holding out hope that he’s going to drive sales if his rookie card is in the 2021 set? If not, why not put him in 2020 Update?

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    1. Checklists all list Colon as a Met. If it happened to a Giant I’d include the card but then I also happen to really like the card so any excuse is a good one.

      Regarding the rookies. Two things going on. One is that there’s an agreement with MLBPA that anyone who debuts after a certain date in June gets pushed into the following year. Topps has ignored this for Luis Robert and Shohei Ohtani recently but in general its this rule that resulted in Yordan Alvarez not getting into 2019 Update despite being the Rookie of the Year. (He missed it by a day. Tommy Edman was the last man in. Alvarez the first man out).

      The second is that Topps wants to be able to print Rookie Cards all year long and milk that cash cow as much as it can. Yes even though we all know that this approach renders the rookie cards uninteresting and unmemorable. There’s a reason why the Update RCs have tended to be the iconic ones in past years. Not nearly as much interference from other releases (basically just Heritage High Numbers). I once suggested that a December release of an MLB debut set for ANYONE who played heir first game in the majors would be a fantastic set for us team collectors who want a card of everyone and it got shot down by Topps insiders because it would ruin their RC manufacturing plans.

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      1. I understand why Topps wants to delay, particularly for the big name rookies, but I just don’t understand the point behind not giving some guys who really aren’t prospects a card in Update (for sure they could talk to the MLBPA and bend the rules for this season if they wanted). Leibrandt is one example – I can’t see that he’s a big time prospect (he doesn’t show up on any of the top 100 lists) so I can’t see him being a major selling point unless they think working the father-son angle will generate some buzz. And I can’t see him getting a 2021 card in flagship on the basis of 9 innings pitched in 2020.

        I just looked up Alvarez. He has 2600+ cards and 57 rookie cards (some are Panini). As you say, it would almost be better if he had fewer rookie cards because they would be more iconic. At some point (let’s call it the 30th rookie card) I imagine that fatigue sets in and people have moved beyond Alvarez rookies to whoever is hot at that point.

        They did have a Topps MLB Debut set in the early 1990s. The 1991 set (capturing 1990 debuts) seems to have captured everyone according to baseball-reference (there are 169 player cards in that set and 169 players listed as making a debut) even if the player had a regular 1991 Topps card (like Todd Hundley).

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      2. I’m right there with you. Especially since no one treats those early-1990s MLB Debut sets (which I loved) as “true” rookie cards anyway. As far as I can tell the Hobby still focuses on Flagship/Update/Heritage as the only cards that really matter.

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  2. This reminds me of 3 examples/situations (not the same but similar) the first is the 1974 Topps Washington National League error cards and the 1974-75 Topps Wilt Chamberlain which had him playing for the San Diego Conquistadors (player depicted with a team he never played for) and 1990-91 Score Hockey put Eric Lindros in its set without a team designation and just called him a future star.

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    1. Oh wow that Lindros card is pretty close. Where the Olympics (and college) cards are clearly of players before they become professional and affiliates them with an amateur team, the Lindros is definitely framing him as an unaffiliated player.

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      1. The Lindros mention reminded me of the 1990 Score baseball Lindros card, on which he’s listed as a Blue Jay. But then that reminded me of the iconic 1990 Score Bo Jackson baseball/football card with no team designation whatsoever and simply “BO” on the back. He’s not really affiliated with any team on that card, although the blue B and the black O for BO on the back of the card suggest Royals and Raiders.

        That differs from the football version of the card which clearly identifies him with the Raiders.

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      2. Yeah the Bo occurred to me as a non-team card but it’s also clearly not a “this guy is unaffiliated” card either between the fact that he IS affiliated and the subtle hints to the Royals and Raiders on the back.

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