El Doble Apellido

A month ago I picked up a box of ~800 late-1970s cards. I didn’t have many of these as a kid so as I started sorting through the box I found myself taking the time to really look and get used to the cards. One of the first things that jumped out at me was how the 1975 cards included not only the full player names but the latino players’ double last names. This is something which, even with the increasing numbers of latinos in the US, confuses a lot of people today so I was a bit surprised to see it in the 1970s cards.

I appreciated that it was in parentheses too. While that typesetting isn’t the way the double name is used in Spanish, it’s a nice visual way of including it while also marking it as optional.

Anyway I figured I’d take a quick look through the rest of my Topps cards and check to see how they managed the issue. This ended up being a quick tally of which years Topps used the players’ complete names on the back and which years they didn’t. But in each year Topps used the complete names, most of the latinos’ cards had the double last name on it.


While 1975 was the last of a three-year run of full names beginning in 1973. Topps had previously used full names in 1970. Then I have to go back to 1955 to find the next example.

1970 and the pre-1956 cards are why I said “most” have the double last name. I didn’t do an exhaustive check of the 1970 cards but I did see enough to come across a few examples (like Juan Marichal) which should’ve had the double last name but didn’t.

In the 1950s only about half of the few latino players had their maternal names included. Some of them use parentheses, others have an “y” (and) between the two names. It’s even more interesting to me that the Topps’s 1950s cards are this aware of the double name. It’s just a shame that Minnie Miñoso’s cards fall don’t include “(Arrieta)” since he’s the most-important latino player from this era.*

*At least they do say that his first name is Orestes.


I also looked forward from 1975 to see if I could find any more-recent examples. I was unsuccessful with Topps—none of my cards have full names for anyone. But I looked at other brands too. When I was a kid in the 1980s Donruss was notable for always having the full names on the backs but they don’t have the double last names (well except for José Uribe who, as the “ultimate player to be named later” is somewhat of a special case.)*

*Note. Speaking of Uribe and Donruss I did notice that his 1990 Donruss has the accent on “José,” a detail I never saw when I was a kid.


And I had to take a look at how Topps behaved when it reused designs which originally had full names. Topps hasn’t used a lot of these very often but I did find a 2005 Archives Fan Favorites which uses the 1973 design including the double last name.

By 2014 though it seems Topps had given up on maintaining that level of authenticity in its design reuse. 2014 Topps Archives used the 1973 design again but this time there were no more middle names or maternal names. Which is kind of a shame since that kind of information is both good to have in general and is a way of learning about different naming customs around the world.

I’m hoping that with all the Ponle Acento movement going on, by the time Topps Heritage gets around to the 1970 design in 2019 we’ll have complete names for all the latino players. Maybe we’ll have accents and won’t even need the parentheses either. And bonus points if they list the Japanese players’ names last name first on the backs.

Cahiers des Cartes


The Conlon Project reminded me that despite being in many ways about photography, baseball cards almost never credit the photographer who took the photo. While we can often figure out which cards were shot by the same photographer based on the location, putting a name to that photographer often required putting the pieces together from other media.

We know that Richard Noble’s portrait of Bo Jackson was used in 1990 Score because of his lawsuit against Nike. And we know that Ronald Modra shot the photo of Benito Santiago in 1991 Topps because Sports Illustrated used a different photo from that session on its cover. But there’s no credit on the cards themselves even though anyone can see that they’re above the usual standard of baseball card photography.

Where we did have photographer credits is in the Broder card realm. I don’t just mean Rob Broder’s sets either. There were a number of photographers at this time creating their own unlicensed sets—all of which are known in the hobby as Broder cards.And there are even some licensed photographers like Barry Colla whose sets have the same “Broder” look and feel. On the surface these cards look very similar to each other and remind me of Mother’s Cookies* with their emphasis on the photo and the plain Helvetica text.

*I’ve been led to understand that Colla shot a lot of the Mother’s photos.

Often the photo is more of a function of someone who has access to a telephoto lens and a field-level press pass. It’s nice to see these photos but most of them aren’t anything portfolio-worthy. Sometimes though they’re clearly part of a portrait session and those are much more fun to see. Even if they’re standard baseball poses the portrait session is a more accurate gauge of the photographer’s abilities.

The backs remind me of the backs of mass-produced 8×10 photos. Name and numbering and not much else.* So they’re more like 2.5″×3.5″ photos rather than baseball cards. In many ways this makes them a wonderful artifact of the 1980s/90s freelance photography hustle where self-publishing was a feasible approach amidst the junk wax boom. The Barry Colla cards at least have some more information but the overall design still feels like an afterthought.

*That this is so close to my self-designed backs suggests I shouldn’t give my nine-year-old self such a hard time.

All of these sets—if you can call these packets of a dozen or so cards sets—were very much created to capitalize on whoever was rising on the Beckett hot list. Multiple cards of the same star player. Hot rookies. I’d snark more but it cuts very close to what I’ve seen going on with cards today where Topps is releasing an uncountable number of cards for Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger.

The Conlon cards exist in that same late-80s, early-90s ecosystem as the Broder cards. The earlier releases are very much in the same vein of treating the cards as photographs first and cards second. I very much appreciate how they’re printed as duotones* and it’s charming how the text is an afterthought and no one thought to even provide numbering.

*Yes there’s a post with more information than you ever wanted about printing. And much to my surprise many of the cards Topps released in 2017 are actually duotones or use spot colors for the black and white images.

By the early 90s the set has been redone as proper cards. More stats. More design. Set numbering. A large set count. In many ways they’re not really about the photo anymore.

Which is a shame since one of the things I did as part of the Conlon Project was check out Baseball’s Golden Age from the library. Where the Conlon cards have somewhat generic player information and stats on the backs, the book includes some of Conlon’s stories about photographing the players. These stories—such as Lefty Grove refusing to let Conlon see how he gripped the ball or how in that famous Ty Cobb photo Conlon was more worried about the well being of the third baseman than whether or not he got the shot—are fantastic and suggest another approach that these photographer-based cards could’ve gone.

Thankfully Upper Deck did exactly this in 1993 with its Walter Iooss collection and again in 1996 with its V.J. Lovero collection. These cards are great in how they’re so clearly photo-focused* but also allow us to see how the photographer approaches the game and his subjects.

*Something that mid-1990s Upper Deck excelled at in general.

The Iooss cards are also a wonderful demonstration of what makes Iooss’s work so distinct. The lighting relies on off-camera flash and underexposes the background. But unlike the “every sky must be dark and rainy” look that dominated Topps in 1985 and 1986, the Iooss photos balance the light temperatures well. The skies aren’t that weird grey blue color and the players all have a wonderful warm glow.

And the stories are great. Most of them are interesting—Albert Belle’s refusal to pose and Iooss’s subsequent having to take an action photo stands out—but I like the comparison of Paul Molitor and Will Clark.

Lovero’s photos don‘t have a clearly-defined look the way Iooss’s do. If anything it’s that they have a tendency to be shot extremely tight—similar to Topps’s current approach in Flagship except that I think Lovero shot this way and Topps just crops things this way.

What I like about the Lovero cards is that their backs often get into the technical side of the photography. The Caminiti card talks specifically about how to shoot tight action. There are others that talk about trying different angles for shooting. Reading them you get a real sense of how Lovero approaches photographing baseball action.

His stories about the posed shoots are closer to the Iooss stories except that they’re often about the context of the shoot rather than the player himself. Combined though, both the Lovero and Iooss sets offer a wonderful look at how a professional had to approach sports photography in the 1990s and offer a lot of pointers to anyone who’s interested in shooting sports action now.

AM vs FM

In my Topps Archives Snapshots post I had to write about duotones and include a brief note about how printing works in general. I’ve come to realize that this should be a much longer post of its own. I’m not enough of an expert on pre-war cards to cover the way they were printed,* the post-war era where cards are mainly printed with process inks and offset lithography is pretty standard.

*While I can write about photography on old cards, printing is much harder to discuss without being able to actually see the card under a loupe.

CMYK Process

Printing at its basic level involves putting pigment on paper. We’ve standardized to using CMYK process—four different ink colors, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and blacK—in order generate all the other colors. Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow are the official versions of the blue, red, and yellow primary colors we all learned in grade school (black is referred to as K because many people will refer to cyan as “blue”). Any color can be broken into CMY components or separations. Because of the nature of how the inks don’t combine into a true black and how putting three full layers of ink on a piece of paper can cause issues with drying or wrinkling or sticking, we also use a distinct black separation to provide the full contrast and tonal range of the image.

The black separation in particular is also very useful for text as text will be printed in just black ink, often overprinting the other colors so there aren’t any issues with registering it and it’s easy and crisp to read.

This is why when the black separation is missing or damaged we have variations like the 1990 Frank Thomas missing name or the 1982 no-autograph cards. Those are technically print defects which would normally indicate a below-grade card that should’ve been destroyed in the factory. However, due to the nature of how the black separation behaves, they ended up being desirable errors because they only look like printing mistakes to those of us who are print geeks.

The black separation is also one of the common tells of a forged card. It’s very difficult to generate the correct black separation from a scan so black text on forgeries is frequently printed as CMYK instead of just black. The results are often obvious due to the absence of a crisp black edge on the text when you look closely.

Spot colors

Sometimes the card design will use what’s called a spot color in addition to (or instead of) the process colors. Topps’s card backs until 1992 were always printed as spot colors. The silver inks used on early-1990s Leaf are a spot color. The neon orange in the logo on early-1990s Stadium Club is also a spot color. The border colors in a lot of early 2000s Topps cards are spot colors.

Usually spot colors are printed at 100% and used to create a solid color which either can’t be printed with CMYK process (like metallics or fluorescents) or which if printed in CMYK would be hard to keep consistent over multiple print runs (eg 2001 Topps and that grey-green border). Sometimes though they’re used for images and photos. If it’s used by itself the result is called a monotone. If it’s mixed with other colors—typically black—we have a duotone (or tritone, etc. depending on how many inks are being used).

Duotones can either look like tinted black and white images or they can look truly black and white with more depth and contrast. Each ink you add allows for additional levels of depth and contrast in the resulting photos.

The downside with spot colors is that each one you use requires a special setup on the press. Process inks are standard and you can go from one job to the next pretty easily. Spot inks? You have to set up another print station before running the job and thoroughly clean it up before you can move on to the next one.


Which brings us to screening. While the rise of spot inks through the 1990s and 2000s is noteworthy, one of the biggest changes in recent years has been that the pattern of dots used to print the cards has changed. I did a quick loupe at my cards and found that until 2008 traditional screening was pretty universal.

Traditional screening involves lines of dots which create a pattern called a rosette on the printed page. Since the size of each dot is what changes the color traditional screens are also called AM (Amplitude Modulation just like on the radio).

After 2008, Topps increasingly used Stochastic screening. Stochastic screening is unpatterned small dots where the number of dots changes the darkness of the color. Yup this is also called FM (Frequency Modulation) screening. Because it’s only really doable with computer-generated printing plates there’s a reason it only started showing up en masse in the late 2000s.

FM screening results in images which look more like photographs and are less prone to showing misregistration. It allows printers to use less ink and is generally a higher-quality result. The downside? It does weird things (to my eye) in graphic elements like lines or solid blocks of color because the random dots are more visible there.

Anyway, I’d made the assumption that by now Topps was printing everything with FM screens. Then, when I was looking at some of my cards with a loupe* I discovered I was wrong and went down the rabbit hole of louping ALL of my 2017 Topps cards.

*I was curious how they were printing the black and white cards as well as some of the monotone-looking parallels.

Since that rabbit hole was too good for me to keep to myself, here it is on blog form for everyone else to enjoy too. My apologies for the fact that these are almost all Giants cards but it’s what I collect and most of these products are not interesting to me outside of those cards.



Flagship_PoseyScreening: Stochastic
Colors: CMYK Process

We’ll start with flagship since I always refer to it as the card of record. This crop shows exactly what to expect from FM screening. Lots of random dots which are all the same size. No crisp edge on the graphic elements.

You can see the distinct CMYK dots in the mix here and how what looks like a neutral grey color in in fact made up of multiple different colors.

Opening Day


OD_BeltScreening: Stochastic
Colors: CMYK Process

Opening day is exactly like Flagship. I considered excluding it from this post but I realized I should include it once I saw Chrome. Anyway in this crop you can tell how not even the white section of the design is completely without printing.



Chrome_BeltScreening: Traditional
Colors: CMYK Process

This surprised me. A lot. I found myself wondering is the chrome paper couldn’t be printed with FM screening. Anyway, the crop is from about the same portion of the card as the crop of Opening Day and demonstrates how different the dot pattern is.

You can see the halftone rosettes and how crisp the edge of the graphic is here. You can also see how regular the ink pattern is in the graphic elements. And you can see how the dots change size depending on the darkness of the image.



Heritage_CrawfordScreening: Stochastic
Colors: CMYK Process

That Topps uses FM screens for Heritage is one of the reasons why I thought they were using it everywhere. The rosette pattern is part of the look of old printing. It’s what we expect to see and there’s something comfortable about it. Topps even recognizes this and has been adding it back in to the Heritage photos. That grid in the sky is designed to look like a halftone rosette and be part of the retro feel of this set. Rather than being a rosette though in the crop you can see it’s just denser clusters of cyan dots.



Archives_BeltScreening: Stochastic
Colors: CMYK Process

Topps isn’t faking the rosette pattern here but you can still see how different FM screening is in the solids. On the original 1960 cards most of the bright colors are solid and won’t show any dots. The red for example should be 100% magenta + 100% yellow and as a result look totally smooth. You won’t see any random blue or black dots in it.

Similarly the 1960 design would be a traditional black-only screen for the small photo. With the FM screen however you can see that it consists of the other process colors too.

Allen & Ginter


AG_PenceScreening: Stochastic
Colors: CMYK Process

Where Heritage and Archives are copying cards from the 1960s, Ginter is aping a look from over a century ago. Those cards predate the standard CMYK process colors and were often printed in many more inks.

That they also predate traditional screening and are artifacts that many of us are not entirely familiar with gives Topps a bit more leeway here. The oval graphic and the text are not in the crop but neither of them are printed in solid ink the way they would’ve been a century ago. I chose instead to crop a section which shows how the blue ink splash in the background  has a pattern which is meant to look like engraving lines in it.

Gipsy Queen


GQ_SamardzijaScreening: Stochastic
Colors: CMYK Process

I’ve not much to say about Gipsy Queen except to point out how the FM screen makes up the graphic elements. The lack of a crisp edge really bothers me although with thin curly elements like these a traditional screen isn’t the best choice either. Ideally these would be in their own spot color but that’s a lot more setup than I’d expect from Topps.



Bunt_BeltScreening: Traditional
Colors: CMYK Process

Another with traditional screening, I was not surprised to see it in a low-end product. The orange panel in this crop really shows off exactly why we call traditional screens “line screens.” The patterns of dots are all set in a grid, each color at a 30° difference from the others (yellow is 15° off) so as to minimize moiré. It’s these 30° angles which create the rosette pattern.


Bunt_Blue_CrawfordScreening: Traditional
Colors: Cyan, Black, spot blue tritone

The Bunt blue parallels are very interesting. I think they‘re tritones. I also think that Topps is using two of the process colors and only adding one new color to the mix. But it’s hard to tell for sure.

I can see that the black dots are at a distinct angle from the blue dots. And I think there are two distinct shades of blue in this image. Anyway this is an example of what non-process inks look like up close.

Stadium Club


SC_SpanScreening: Traditional
Colors: CMYK Process

I was surprised to se that Stadium Club uses a traditional screen since it’s supposed to be the photo-centric product. That it still looks great shows how little a difference this stuff can make to the naked eye.

Still that Stadium Club might have have looked even better with FM screening is something to wonder about.


SC_Sepia_SpanScreening: Stochastic
Colors: Spot Sepia monotone

The Sepia Parallels though are printed completely differently. Compare this to the crop of Bunt and it’s worlds different. The FM screen here makes the sepia parallels look a bit more photograph-like than they would if they were printed in a traditional monotone. And the way that Topps has gone with a lower-contrast look means that the single ink isn’t limiting.


SC_WilliamsScreening: Traditional
Colors: CMYK Process

One more Stadium Club note. There are a number of “black and white” cards in the set. None of the are actually black and white. As is visible in the crop they’re all printed in all four colors and have been carefully balanced so the results look neutral.

Archives Snapshots


TAS_BaergaScreening: Traditional
Colors: CMYK Process

As with Stadium Club, it’s a bit disappointing to see these printed traditionally. Although as a more nastlagia-feeling product the line screens here aren’t out of place. Also, with the crisper graphics, even while they’re small, the traditional screens are preferable. I still wish it were easy to do FM screens for the photos only and let traditional screens do the rest of the graphics.


TAS_GlasnowScreening: Traditional
Colors: Black and grey duotone

And a proper duotone. Where Bunt is heavily tinted and the black and white Stadium Clubs are really just process, the Archives Snapshots black and white cards are printed with black and a neutral grey ink. This gives the images a much-better tonal range of good shadows and highlight detail while still maintaining midtones and contrast.

The crop is indeed in color. I chose this particular section because you can make out the distinct screens by the angles of the dots. Other sections are more interesting under a loupe but on screen it’s nearly impossible to see the different inks.

Topps Archives Snapshots

So I took a punt on Topps Archives Snapshots. As someone who’s into photography I was extremely intrigued by a product which was literally just about the photos. Where Topps Archives and Topps Heritage both feel very much about the designs, Archives Snapshots is a super-basic set which looks like the team-issued postcards and 8×10s from before the days when everything got a corporate sponsor.

I can’t review the set itself since, as a small-run, small-checklist photo-centric thing each card sort deserves its own writeup. So I’ll do that with the cards I got.


My favorite photo of the bunch. I love the wide angle portrait and how this is a variation of a standard baseball pose yet the photographer has managed to make it distinct. It feels comfortable but also different and distinct and that’s a rare combination for a medium like baseball cards.


Pretty standard pose but the sunset light in the background takes this from basic to very nice. Sometimes professional competence is really all you need. Everything is exposed perfectly here both in terms of the right amount of light and the right temperature.

TAS_Judge TAS_Rizzo

These both look more like paintings than photographs. Something about the flatness of the light and the lack of contrast anywhere suggests that these were originally part of photo shoots which were intended for a retro product (the Judge actually appears to be from the same shoot as the photo used on the 2017 Archives Bazooka card).

That these photos are in the archives this way suggests that the processing isn’t being done in post and that instead Topps is setting up a lot of its Heritage photoshoots to look like this. For me it’s more of a look which fits with the 1950s cards which often colorized black and white photos than the late-60s designs in current Heritage.

TAS_Betts TAS_Machado

Comparing these to the previous two photos shows lighting which just feels more natural. Baseball is hard to photograph because the caps cast shadows in faces. Finding a way to properly expose the faces without making the rest of the composition look weird isn’t the easiest thing to do. These cards both do it well.


Actually a very good black and white conversion. The thing with the black and white parallels is that converting a color image to black and white isn’t that straightforward. It’s very easy to blow the contrast and color mix. It’s nice to see that Topps got this right.

It’s even nicer to see that Topps printed this as a duotone.* It wouldn’t have surprised me at all to see this printed as either black-only or a four-color process mix which ends up looking neutral.** Both of those options are much easier on the printer and would’ve looks just fine to the majority of collectors. Going with the special, second medium grey ink to get better tonal range in the image is a nice commitment to quality.

*Most cards are printed in process (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) inks. Sometimes you’ll have a special spot ink in addition to those. With black and white photos though they’re frequently printed in just black ink. Duotones use a second ink on top of the black to provide a greater range of tones. If the second ink isn’t neutral it will also make the photo have a color tint.

**The black and white 2017 Stadium Club cards are printed this way.


My “hit.” I’ve never been a huge fan of the faded out effect Topps uses for autographed cards but I’m pleased that this one is subtle. The photograph itself though could be better. It’s never a good look to have a player squinting into the sun.

TAS_Baerga TAS_Galarraga

Two classic baseball poses which would’ve been at home on 1985 or 1986 Topps for sure. The Galarraga card is my second favorite of the pack. It looks like what a baseball photograph is supposed to look like but has the added benefit of those Expos uniforms and a young Big Cat.


Yeesh. The worst photo of the bunch. By far. If there’s not enough contrast on Judge and Rizzo there’s too much here. The sunlight blows out the details on his leg and we’ve got chromatic aberration all over his cap. If this were properly focused it’d be salvageable but the entire image is blurry too.


Photo is fine. Boring but fine. It’d fit right in on any late-1970s Topps design. The scan however is horrid. Just awful. I’ve never seen Newton’s Rings on a baseball card before; I hope I never see them again. Plus the rest of the image is way over-sharpened. There’s weird edge enhancement and haloing around his helmet and on his shoulder.

For all the good that Topps did in the Glasnow black and white photo, this Cey is the polar opposite. I can’t believe someone signed off on this for printing. I really hope this isn’t how Topps is digitizing its archives because it’d be an absolute disgrace to treat all their photos like this.

TAS_Judge_B TAS_Langston_B

And the backs. While this set isn’t about the backs, I appreciate that they’re not an afterthought. These don’t feel like full-stats kind of cards but I’m glad they have lifetime Major League (or Minor League in the case of the rookies) stats along with the short bio. That’s a detail I’d’ve liked to have seen on Topps Bunt.

I’m less keen on the card numbering. Topps is doing this a lot with inserts and hits and it’s increasing weird to me each time I see it. I understand that these aren’t intended to be collected as a set. I also see how having some kind of identifying code makes sense. But treating that stuff as a card number? Silliness.

Lights, Camera, Action!



While baseball cards often depict action, I’ve become interested in the ones which try to depict moving action. In both 1959 and 1962 Topps released a couple of multiple-image cards which showed frame-by-frame action. Some of these were devoted to special plays like Mays’s catch in 1954 but a lot of them feel like their just trying to show action in an age where closely cropped action shots were impossible.



The 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set also has a number of these cards. I especially like the overhead angle on the batting shot but the 4-panel landscape card is also pretty cool.

ripken1985 schmidt1985

Fleer did much the same again in 1985. This makes sense as there wasn’t any other way to do this and the only major difference between these and their counterparts 23 years earlier is in the quality and sharpness of the photos.* The Fleer cards however do make for interesting comparisons between different hitters and how they swing the bat.

*I’ve asked around on Twitter and the like and no one seems to remember anything similar except for the 1968 Bazooka box panels. Those panels, while relevant to the discussion, aren’t really the same thing.


In the late 1980s though Sportflics came on the scene. We’d had lenticular printing on cards before with the Topps 3D and Kelloggs All Stars which used the lenticular effect for three-dimensional purposes. And we’d had other oddballs like the mid-1980s 7/11 discs which used it to flip between multiple images.

Sportflics though realized that this kind of thing could reanimate the still images on the Fleer cards. The resulting three-frame animation of baseball action very quickly became one of my favorite things. Despite being always 🔽 in the Beckett hot list Sportflics was always 🔼 in my heart. I recently showed them to my kids and they thought they were super cool too.

It’s also worth noting that Sportflics realized that it could animate the text as well. One box of text on the card front could display twice as much information and give us a larger picture as a result.

ryan1989 blyleven90

In 1989 Upper Deck came around with some very-cool multiple exposure cards. These were crisper images than what you could see in Sportflics and there was something about the multiple images which told the story of a standard motion—typically pitching—in the way that Doc Edgerton’s photos do where the resulting layered images become their own beautiful thing.

Upper Deck had these for a lot of years and even played with the form a bit with their Deion Sanders card which took the action thing and turned it into a transformation.



By 1994 other brands had started doing similar multiple exposure cards. Donruss’s Spirit of the Game inserts in 1993 had a bunch of these and Topps flagship went the Upper Deck route and just used this effect on select base cards. Because of my age I tend to see all these as copying Upper Deck but it was also interesting to see the approach get more diverse in the different ways that the multiple exposures were layered.

At the same time Upper Deck launched there was also a product called Flipp Tipps which, while not exactly baseball cards, totally deserves to be mentioned here since they’re collectible flipbooks. Lots of frames and I like the concept of making them somewhat educational as a way of breaking down how Brett Butler bunts or Will Clark swings.

*Copyrighted 1989 but given how they include Kevin Mitchell’s barehanded catch I’m inclined to say they came out in early 1990.


Sportflics meanwhile found its gimmick to be outdated in the mid-90s once motion holograms were invented. These showed up on Denny’s 1996 Pinnacle Holograms and have the benefit of many more frames to animate motion. Unfortunately they’re even harder to see than that Sportflics. The light has to be perfect and there’s no cue as to what direction you have to tilt the card.

Still, the Ozzie Smith backflip card beyond cool. Instead of being standard baseball action they’ve captured one of Ozzie’s trademarks.  That this set also includes Hideo Nomo’s windup and Gary Sheffield’s menacing swing shows that the designers really thought about which players had distinctive movements which were worthy of motion capture.


Topps also released its own version of these with Stadium Club instavision in 1997. It’s a smaller hologram but much easier to see. These cards were about specific highlights instead of capturing a general sense of the player.

It’s also worth noting that in 1997 Topps also went back to lenticular motion with Screenplays. Unlike Sportflics these had 24 frames of animation. Unfortunately I don’t have one of these available to GIF.

The ultimate action card though has to go to 2000 Upper Deck Powerdeck. Rather than being a motion card this was a baseball-card-sized CD-ROM with effectively a miniature website on it when you inserted it into your computer. Anyway the YouTube video speaks for itself. It’s a neat idea though sadly one which is already obsolete and unviewable while the 1959 Topps Baseball Thrills cards are as interesting as ever.

Baseball Photographer Trading Cards


This summer when I was in San Francisco I visited SFMOMA and was able to see an exhibition of Mike Mandel’s work. I’ve already blogged about the show in general but his Baseball Photographer Trading Cards are worth their own post here too.

This project sits at the intersection of photography and baseball cards which I love to think about. It’s relevant in terms of our consumption of images and in how we conceive of photographic products. It provokes a lot of questions about value—this is a set of 134 cards which runs $2000–$3000 on Ebay because it’s Art™ rather than a collectible and as such, is worth a lot more to certain people.

We’ve got star photographers who everyone knows, photographers’ photographers who aren’t appreciated as much as they should be, and “common” photographers who’ve kind of been forgotten now. It’s very much a proper baseball card set in this way.

Like I can’t find an Ansel Adams card at all on eBay. Other middle-range important photographers are listed for up to a couple hundred bucks. Commons meanwhile are like twenty dollars. As with baseball card sets the range of desirableness is what makes collecting fun. Without the common cards none of the stars are as exciting to find, chase, or trade for. And among the commons there will always names that someone specifically wants.

That these are mass-produced offset lithography is also cool. Where photography is almost always obsessed with process and image quality, these recognize how the photography that most people consume on a daily basis isn’t in the form of quadtones, fancy-shmancy superfine linescreens, silver-gelatin prints, or archival inkjets. Even as baseball cards have gotten more expensive, they’re still produced at a scale which dwarfs art production. Mandel’s cards, while still produced at a much smaller scale, have the same production characteristics. They don’t feel like art objects. They’re the same cheap cardstock, dodgy printing, and slapdash trimming we’ve come to know and love about mid-1970s Topps production.

They were even packaged with gum.


This project says a lot about the degree to which baseball and baseball cards are part of the American vernacular. That SFMOMA displayed Mandel’s cards with 1958 Topps cards is especially noteworthy. I’ve not liked that set much* but I now see it in a very different light after this. The 1958 designs when paired with Mandel’s cards serve as a way of highlighting posing tropes. How bats are held. Which pitching motions get photographed. What angle a player tends to look off into the distance.

*I’m not a fan of cards where the backgrounds have been painted out whether with colors like the 1958 design or with crazy graphics like so many special parallel cards are today. And yes, I know that the 1958 design is also a direct connection to the early Crackerjack cards which I do like but I guess I feel like this particular design concept is best left to the pre-WW2 days.

The colored backgrounds work as a way of silhouetting the pose to the point where we recognize the shape and posture as baseball card. These are poses we’ve grown up with and seen since the 19th century. They’re the poses my kids make as soon as they try on their Little League jerseys.

And yes they’re the poses we’re all missing when we look at and complain about the current photography in the Topps Flagship set.

Looking at Mandel’s contact sheets shows how quickly people eased into mimicking those poses. That he’s using a medium format camera helps a lot too. Where by the mid 1970s we were seeing Topps increasingly use 35mm cameras to take more and more unposed photos, these medium format shots require working in the same manner as the posed photography of the 1950s and 1960s—the era which Topps Heritage is trying to evoke and which many of us still treat as the golden age of the hobby.

The card backs meanwhile are really interesting. First, of course they’re numbered (yes there’s also a checklist card so you can keep track of your collection). And of course we’ve got the usual height/weight and where they were born information.

But instead of statistics we have Favorite Camera, Favorite Developer, Favorite Paper, Favorite Film, and Favorite Photographer. I love that Mandel realized that one of the chief purposes of baseball cards is comparing the back of one card to the back of another card. That he created a completely-appropriate set of standard information with which we can compare photographers is wonderful.

But he also left half the card blank for and allowed the subject of the card to write anything—or nothing—in the space. Some of the statements are serious. Others are jokes. Others play with the form itself. This is something that I’ve not seen in baseball cards and makes me wonder what would happen if players were allowed to include something of their own creation on the back.

Maybe it could be a statement to their fans. Maybe a selfie they took on their phone. Maybe a shout out to a personal cause. Lots of possibilities (and possibilities for awfulness whatwith every player having endorsement contracts now) that I’ve been enjoying thinking about. But I suspect the most we’ll ever get in this department are Twitter and Instagram handles since wrangling all that personal information is a logistic headache in terms of acquisition and copyright.

Mother’s Cookies

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From 1983 to 1998, Mother’s Cookies released baseball cards both in their cookie packaging and as stadium giveaways. I, as any kid would, believed the these were universal but discussing on Twitter this summer has shown that they’re anything but. This was a distinctly West Coast release of a West Coast brand* which made cards from San Diego to Seattle and East as far as Houston and Minneapolis.

*Formed in Oakland in 1914. My grandfather used to tell stories about being able to go to the factory and fill a pillowcase with broken, unsuitable for retail, cookies for a quarter. By the 1990s it was no longer owned locally although production was still in Oakland until it got subsumed by Kellogg’s and wiped out by the financial crisis in the 2000s (RIP Flaky Flix, my personal favorite). In the 1950s Mother’s also made PCL baseball cards—a completely different beast and project than the 1980s/90s cards in this post. They also released a Presidents set in 1992.

The cards were quite nice. Some of the early Giants releases in 1983 and 1984 were different but, until 1997, the basic design was simple and elegant. A nice glossy full-bleed photograph—sometimes action but most of the time a classic baseball pose showing off the stadium in the background. Crisp white card stock with rounded corners—probably the most distinct design element. Just the player name and team in small Helvetica Bold text. The early cards often used the team logotype—a really nice design touch I wish Mother’s had kept—instead of Helvetica and 1986 had script lettering instead, but starting in 1987 the design was unchanged for a complete decade. And for good reason; it was pretty much perfect.

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Aside from the stadium giveaways you could find single cards in cookie packages. I seem to recall them only in the bags of Iced Animal Crackers but that might only be what I managed to convince my mom to buy. These cards were typically part of four or eight card player-specific sets. Until the early 1990s I only found either Giants or A’s cards—suggesting that Mother’s produced their inserts to cater to the region the cookies would be sold in. In the early 90s Mother’s must’ve simplified their production and I started to find cards of the Griffeys, Nolan Ryan (three different sets for 5000Ks, Seven No-hitters, and 300 wins), and even Tim Salmon instead of local stars.

But it’s the stadium giveaways which I liked best. It was originally for kids only and I made sure to get to Candlestick HOURS early to ensure that I receive my packet of 20 cards. The sets are 28 cards and in the 80s you received a coupon you could redeem for eight more cards in the mail. Eight cards which you’d cross your fingers and hope for the correct ones to come back, It never worked out like that for me. I always got a random extra no-name or two—thankfully the stars were guaranteed in the 20 you got at the park—and all my early sets have a few holes where I’m missing someone like Mark Wasinger or the trainers.

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That’s right, card 28 (and in some years, 27) might include all the coaches or the trainers or the broadcasters. Which was awesome since you never saw them on cards but they were important parts of the team too.

Then, in the early 90s Mother’s changed everything. It was wonderful. Instead of the frustration of the coupon you now received 28 cards in your pack. Not a complete set though. You got the base set of 20 plus eight copies of the same fringe player (or coaches or trainers, etc.). And right there on the outside of the package were instructions to go trade for your missing seven cards.


So for the hour or so before the game, the stands were crawling with kids calling out who they had and and who they needed. Young kids who were petrified of strangers suddenly came out of their shells. Older kids could coordinate more-complicated trades. The first year this happened I had to walk two very young kids through a three-way swap which completed all three of our sets. I don’t think they fully realized what I did until their sets were suddenly complete.

After the 1994 strike killed my card collecting habit the only set of cards I still collected were the Mother’s Cookies giveaway sets. Going to the games was fun. Trading with other kids—and eventually other adults once the kids-only aspect of the giveaway got dropped—was fantastic. It’s the rare giveaway which not only encourages fan interaction but also manages to capture the soul of the freebie. As I look at the current set of National Baseball Card Day promotions, it appears that the trading card day is not longer about actually trading cards. And that makes me sad.