What about Blob?

In case you missed it, SABR Baseball Cards Research Committee co-chair Nick Vossbrink published his “On Thinking about What Makes a Card a Card” piece a couple weeks ago, offering readers and collectors a framework for thinking about cardness.

In the comments I referenced a particular card (or non-card) genre likely unknown to much of our readership, so I thought a full blog post might be a better way to keep up the “what makes a card a card” (WMACAC) conversation.

Last year Topps launched Project 2020, in which twenty renowned artists, typically from the non-sports universe (e.g., fashion, jewelry, street art) put their spin on twenty classic Topps rookie* cards.

Brooklyn-based muralist and artist Eric Friedensohn, better known as Efdot

I put an asterisk because the Ted Williams, Willie Mays, and Jackie Robinson cards were simply first Topps cards (FTC), the Nolan Ryan was his first solo card, and the McGwire has its own debate surrounding it. One could perhaps quibble over Update set XRCs as well, and of course the Mariano Rivera is a Bowman. Still, you get the idea!

Early cards in the set tended to stay very true to the original RC, as shown by my Tyson Beck card of Dwight Gooden, which was card 12 of the 400 cards that made up the set. Later cards tended to drift a bit more as the artists took greater and greater license. For example, my Efdot Dwight Gooden, which was card 137 overall, retains none of the design elements of the 1985 Topps set but more than makes up for it with its timely tribute to healthcare workers.

One of my favorite cards in the set is the Efdot Sandy Koufax card, which deviates considerably from the layout and design of the original Topps classic but retains enough elements to be clearly derivative. (In general, this was my personal “sweet spot” for the project: very different from the original but not wholly unrelated.)

If we stop here and ask, “Is this a baseball card?” I have to imagine a nearly universal answer of yes. Granted, it might not be a card you collect personally, and it’s clearly not a card from Koufax’s playing career. However, it checks off nearly every category of cardness.

  • Standard baseball card dimensions of 2-1/2″ x 3-1/2″ (though it’s thicker than your typical card at 130 points, or roughly the same thickness of a pack of 1982 Topps)
  • Professional baseball player depicted on the front, along with name, position (it’s there, trust me!), and team
  • Issued by Topps and fully licensed
  • Non-blank back, though no stats are provided. Instead, we get a small write-up of the set itself and the artist who designed the card.

Where baseball cardness gets more interesting is with the collections of art pieces many of the artists issued independently as companion cards to their Topps releases. Unlike their official Project 2020 cards, these cards were neither produced by Topps nor licensed by MLB, MLBPA, or the representatives of any retired players.

As an example, here is Efdot’s Left Arm of Blob, based on a turtle-like Blob character Efdot uses in his murals and other designs.

This companion card has many features suggestive of Sandy Koufax. Among them are the left-handed pitching motion, the stylistic nod to Jewish artist Marc Chagall, and a healthy dose of Dodger Blue, even if non-exact. On the other hand, I don’t think many baseball fans would regard Blob as a dead ringer for Mr. Koufax. Furthermore, there is no name, team, or logo to assist.

If we accept the idea that even a generic baseball player is enough to establish baseball cardness then Left Arm of Blob definitely gets my vote for being a baseball card, even lacking the imprimatur of a card-making goliath like Topps, Upper Deck, or Panini. However, I believe a more fun question to ask is whether Left Arm of Blob is a Sandy Koufax baseball card.

While the answer is likely no on a technical level, I have always been of the mindset that the collector is always right. As such, I do consider Left Arm of Blob a welcome addition to my Sandy Koufax collection, primarily for two reasons. First, the card is clearly Koufax-inspired (or at least Koufax card-inspired). Second, the card was specifically designed to go right next to the real Sandy.

I know many collectors these days who prefer not to decide such matters for themselves but prefer to see how the Hobby establishment opines. For example, will we see Left Arm of Blob in PSA’s Koufax “super set” or as an entry on Trading Card Database’s Koufax pages? And before you say, “No chance!” to the former, here is a Babe Ruth card from PSA’s Bambino master set, batting righty no less!

Though there is precedent for nearly everything new in the Hobby, I’ll offer that the idea of a companion card is at least new enough in today’s consciousness to preclude consensus. However, many of this year’s Topps Project 70 artists are producing and distributing companion cards, meaning we will soon have a much larger sample size on which to equivocate. We will also be forced to reckon with companions as “a thing” rather than some flukey one-off that only happened in the weirdest year of our lives.

In the grander scheme, what we do know is that Left Arm of Blob is simply one of many novel card-ish objects that will continue to defy or at least challenge classification as the Hobby evolves into the future. Whatever boundaries we establish, save none at all, will be pushed for at least as long as imagination and innovation continue to assert a place in the Hobby. Any fuzziness and inconvenience that arise should be considered far better than the alternative!

Author: jasoncards

I mainly enjoy writing about baseball and baseball cards, but I've also dabbled in the sparsely populated Isaac Newton trading card humor genre. As of January 2019 I'm excited to be part of the SABR Baseball Cards blogging team, and as of May 2019 Co-Chair of the SABR Baseball Cards Research Committee.

11 thoughts on “What about Blob?”

    1. I am a big fan of many of them but definitely not all. My guess is when 2021
      comes to an end, my picks for the ten best looking cards of 2021 will all be from Project 70. Ditto my picks for the ten worst! 😀

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    1. They’ve added Cardinals team checklist cards to the Keith Hernandez PSA master set because they “have Hernandez in the picture.” I don’t mean the 1982 Topps Cardinals Team Leaders with him and Bob Forsch, I mean the team checklists with an entire team photo. It’s a little better than the Ruth because Hernandez is actually in those pictures (I think – it’s hard to tell in some of them), but I don’t call those “Keith Hernandez cards.” I’d be much more likely to call the Left Arm of Blob a Koufax card than a team picture card an individual player card, unless someone was highlighted on the team picture card (like the manager). But if they are able to add a card to a player checklist that will increase demand for the card from (some) player collectors. And that Parker Brothers Ruth is listed in the Ruth PSA Master set.

      And I know I once saw someone had collected checklists (I don’t mean just team checklists; I mean complete set checklist cards) because the player collector had essentially completed all the player’s actual cards and was looking for something else to collect of the player. So they went with cards that had the player’s name on them. I think the person was an Andre Dawson collector. Another indicator that what counts as a player card for some people doesn’t necessarily count for others.

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      1. Yep, every now and then I think about whether my Hank Aaron collection needs to add team cards. So far I’ve decided against, but the idea’s still out there. Now set checklists are another matter entirely–that’s a level of commitment I just don’t have. 🙂

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      2. Maybe not set checklists, but how about Topps NL Leader cards – not the ones on which Aaron is pictured (those almost certainly count), but the ones (like 1965 Topps NL HR Leaders and 1965 Topps NL RBI Leaders) on which he is listed as a leader on the back of the card but not one of the pictured players on the front. There are times it looks like Topps went 50 deep in listing the leaders.

        Or you would be a Hank Aaron super duper master collector – any card that has three As, an H, a K, two Ns, an O, and a R anywhere in the text could spell out “Hank Aaron.” At least with Keith Hernandez I’d be able to rule out a good bit of cards just with the Z alone, though Zenith and Prizm cards could cause problems.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. There have been examples in the past of cards portraying “likenesses” of athletes without naming them, I’m thinking of the ‘Cardtoons’ cards of the mid-’90s. For the Dodgers, I consider those cards of Hideo Nomo, Tom Lasorda, Brett Butler, etc., even with no name or pseudo-names. The Laughlin Fleer cards sometimes featured unnamed players, due to licensing issues but you knew who was being mentioned. If I was a player collector, those would be included with in my player collection. … The Left Arm of Blob is more vague but I’d still put it with the Koufax collection.

    The sheer variety of cards has grown so much in the last 10 years and continues to expand at a rapid rate. With no ability to “collect them all,” it’s completely up to the collector to determine what is a card and what is worthy of his or her collection, it’s no longer up to the card company to define.

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