BRJ 46-2: Andres Galarraga Blast – Topps vs Upper Deck

The latest issue of the Baseball Research Journal has an interesting (and….complex) article concerning on a May 31 1997 Grand Slam hit by Andres Galarraga during an 8-4 Rockies victory over the Florida Marlins .

Left: 1998 UD Tape Measure Titans #2 Andres Galarraga

Right: 2015 Topps Update Tape Measure Blasts #TMB2 Andres Galarraga

The Home Run was initially estimated to be 529 feet by the Florida Marlins. However, later Greg Rybarczyk of ESPN’s Home Run Tracker posted an updated estimated distance of “only” 468 feet.

In the BRJ article a panel of authors (Jose L Lopez PhD, Oscar A Lopez PhD, Elizabeth Raven, and Adrian Lopez) set out to determine which of these estimates was correct. They put together a thorough analysis which of course included significant math and physics, and less expectedly factors such as weather, wind and humidity. The Lopez Lopez Raven Lopez team concluded Galarraga’s Home Run travelled approximately 524 feet. The article is a SIGNIFICANTLY more involved – Go Read It!!

Topps vs UD

The length of the blast makes the Home Run one of the longest in MLB history and I have found the event was captured on cardboard at least twice.

UD Tape Measure Titans

The first time was in the 30 card 1998 Upper Deck Tape Measure Titans insert set which included sluggers McGwire, Bonds, Bagwell, Frank Thomas, Sosa, Junior, Manny, Thome, Piazza, A-Rod, Chipper and others.

Upper Deck went with a retro feel for this subset. I like the Tape Measure graphic at the bottom of the screen. UD went with the 529 foot calculation provided by the Marlins and we can see the gauge dropped at the proper point.

Now on to my dislikes, Andres Galarraga hit this Home Run as a member of the Colorado Rockies, during the following off-season he went to Atlanta via free agency. Unfortunately that leaves us with a player in a uni that does not represent the accomplishment. UD Also elected, on a hitting related card, to use a fielding pose.  However for me the most egregious violation is that the “Upper Deck” logo absolutely dwarfs Galarraga’s name.

Topps Tape Measure Blasts

Tape Measure Blasts was a 15 card insert set in 2015 Topps update. Notables in this set include Reggie, Clemente, Ted Williams, Josh Gibson, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Giancarlo, and a Ryan Howard card that should really be in my collection.

The Topps card has the benefit of being produced 17 years after the UD original. By 2015 Galarraga was a retired player. At this point Topps could put the Big Cat in whatever threads they wanted and fortunately he is with the Rockies here. Topps gets bonus points for getting the Marlins stadium of the era, Pro Player, on the card.

Of course the big difference in the cards is that Topps went with ESPN’s figure for the distance.

Flip

The Retro theme carries through to the back of the Upper Deck card (Top) and they did a nice job. This is as solid as some Heritage designs.

The text on the Topps card gives us some good copy on the Home Run including name dropping Hall of Very Good pitcher Kevin Brown.

Phungo Verdict

Despite the Topps card using the discredited distance I prefer their card. Too many things annoy me with the Tape Measure Titans – and I didn’t even mention that I really don’t like that name.

Sources & Links

SABR Baseball Research Journal Fall 2017

Bob Lemke – Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards

Game Dated Cards Index

Baseball-Ref

eBay

MLB

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.

Lights, Camera, Action!

snider1959

mccormick1962

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.

Williams1959_2

Williams1959_1

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.

Valenzuela_Sportflics

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.

lofton1993

Sandberg1994

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.

Smith_Dennys

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.

Bonds_Instavision

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.

SABR 47 Checklist

In preparation for SABR 47 which is just a few weeks a way I have been trying to put together a checklist of cards related to the panels and presentations scheduled for this years conference. The use of the term checklist is a bit of a misnomer here, as this list is nowhere near comprehensive. It is more of a selection of cards that I find interesting that are also related to the subjects at SABR47.

Jim Bouton

Once I saw Jim Bouton was on the schedule re-reading “Ball Four” jumped to the front of my to-do list. I have read the books several times, once as a teenager, again in my 30s, and currently on the edge of my 50s. The book is the most interesting to me now – a large part of that is I have learned more about the Bouton/Seattle Pilots era via card collecting. Also today a lot more information is at your fingertips, I have checked into box scores, stats, and SABR Bios on a few dozen players while reading the book. As a more mature reader I have found parts of the book a little disconcerting, Bouton’s brashness that I found attractive in my youth now seems self-centered and arrogant. There is also the objectification of women which sometimes makes me cringe. The tell-all aspect of “Ball Four” may have been shocking at the time, to a young person today the books revelations may seem trivial – but I can easily see Bouton’s teammates getting upset with the books revelations. In some ways I think he did break some locker room ethics.

1962 Topps #592 Rookie Parade

I picked out Jim Bouton’s rookie card to represent the Pitcher and Author. The card is shared with another player noted for his off the field behavior Bo Belinsky. For the first time, Topps elected to put rookies on shared cards. It is a good idea to squeeze more players into the set but one of the unfortunate results is that the RCs of many future HOFs end upon shared cards (Stargell, Schmidt, Molitor, Rice, Carew, Sutton, Joe Morgan, Gary Carter etc.)

The 1962 Rookie Parade cards run in sequence as an eight card subset that runs from #591 – #598. While none of the cards contain Hall of Famers they do reside at the end of the final series of 1962 Topps and are somewhat scarce. The Bouton card at #592 is the second card in the subset – If you think in terms of numerical precedence this means he is featured on the 2nd Multi-player Rookie card issued by Topps. The Biggest Name on the first card #591 is Sam McDowell. That card also features Ron Taylor, Dick Radatz, Art Quirk, and Ron Nischwitz. Other notables in the set include Bob Uecker (#595), and a couple of Ball Four Luminaries Joe Pepitone (#596) and Denis Menke (#597). The full list can be found at the bottom of the checklist at Cardboard Connection.

1965 Topps #137 Bouton Wins Again

My favorite Bouton Card is from the 1965 Topps World Series Subset. You can read my thoughts on that card here.

Orlando Hernandez

1998 Bowman Chrome International #221

The Latino Baseball Committee is hosting Peter Bjarkman who was featured in the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Brothers in Exile” about Cuban brothers Livan and Orlando Hernandez. I picked out a fun one here. One of the insert sets common to Bowman features the player photo overlaying an image of a map of the country or state from which the player hails. Topps has also done this with flags in the background rather than maps.

flip

1998 Bowman Chrome International #221 (b-side)

In addition to the map of Cuba, the international flavor of the card carries through to the back which is written in Spanish.

SABR 47 Checker

Those are just two of the cards I thought of when perusing the schedule for SABR 47. A check of other cards would including the following and many more. If you have other favorites post them in the comments. It will give collectors the opportunity to look at their collection from a different angle and in context of the SABR convention.

1953 Topps #1 Jackie Robinson (Jackie Robinson Panel)

1954 Topps #104 Mike Sandlock (RP18 Charlie Dressen’s Pacific All Stars Tour of 1945)

1961 Topps #472 MVP Yogi Berra (Yogi Berra Panel)

1970 Topps #1 New York Mets (George Vescey)

1976 SSPC #37 Dennis Eckersly RC (Keith Olbermann)

1981 Topps #291 Ken Landreaux (Olbermann)

1988 Topps #267 Billy Bean (RP24 Emasculating Rituals of MLB Players)

2002 UD Vintage Day at the Park #DP2 Derek Jeter (A Day at the Ballpark Special Session)

2010 Topps #41 Dodgers Franchise History (RP26 Happy Felton’s Knothole Gang)

2014 Topps #273 Mark DeRosa (MLB Now Panel)

 

Sources and Links

Phungo

Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards – Bob Lemke

Cardboard Connection

Check Out My Cards

Ball Four

Baseball-Reference

Future Stars: Seldom Stars, Sometimes Not Even Future

They say you can’t predict baseball, and the folks who make baseball cards surely agree. Off and on for the past several decades, Topps has made a practice of predicting which players would be future stars and slapping the “Future Stars” label right on the cards. Sometimes they do a pretty good job — Cal Ripken and Tim Raines are among the Future Stars who became Hall of Famers — and sometimes they don’t — just ask Bob Bonner, Jeff Schneider, Roberto Ramos, and Bobby Pate, the four guys who shared those Future Stars cards with Ripken and Raines.

bo-jackson-tim-pysnarskiThe same year that Topps nailed it with Gary Sheffield and (to a lesser extent) Sandy Alomar Jr., they also dubbed Steve Searcy and Mike Harkey as Future Stars. I’ll see your 1987 Bo Jackson and raise you Tim Pyznarski.

So anyway, the point is that predicting which baseball players will become stars in the future is a losing game. That’s why I have so much respect for Upper Deck, who in the mid-2000s made a bold decision: If the Future Stars hardly ever turn into “Stars,” they reasoned (I assume), then why are we so beholden to the “Future” part of the equation?

I recently came across the 2007 Upper Deck Future Stars set. It jumped out at me because I was surprised to see Johnny Damon and Matt Cain in the same Future Stars set. It turns out I was right to be surprised.

I won’t go through the entire checklist, but let’s highlight a few of the players who, in 2007, Upper Deck was willing to go out on a limb and predict stardom for, along with their career accomplishments before they were named Future Stars.

Miguel Tejada. Age 32. Winner of the 2002 American League Most Valuable Player Award. Four-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger, and receiver of MVP votes in each of the previous seven seasons.

Andruw Jones. Eleven-year veteran. Nine-time Gold Glove winner. Five-time All-Star.

Chipper Jones. Age 34. National League MVP in 1999. Five-time All-Star. MVP votes in nine different seasons.

Manny Ramirez. Eight consecutive top-ten MVP finishes. Nine straight All-Star appearances. 470 career home runs.

Ken Griffey Jr. American League MVP in 1997. Twelve-time All-Star. Ten-time Gold Glove winner. 563 career homers.

Okay, this is just getting tedious at this point. Others in the set include John Smoltz, David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, Jim Thome, Ivan Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Piazza, and Greg Maddux, among (many) others.

In 2007.

griffey-sheffieldI’m sure there was some rhyme and/or reason to this set. They did a similar set the year before, and they obviously didn’t think they were actually fooling anyone. I’ve looked at several of the cards, trying to find a wink or a nod or some indication that they’re messing with us, but it’s not on the cards themselves. There doesn’t appear to be any “throwback” aspect to the set — Johnny Damon is pictured as a Yankee, Griffey as a Red, Sheffield as a Tiger, etc.

It can’t possibly be true, but it seems, at least to the eye of the casual observer who happens to come across some of these cards ten years later, as if Upper Deck just really wanted to make sure their Future Stars set included some actual stars.

To be fair to Upper Deck, the set also included several players you would traditionally find in a Future Stars set. You know, rising stars like Mike Schultz, Sean Henn, and Jamie Vermilyea. For every Andrew Miller or Ryan Braun, you have a Rocky Cherry or an Other Ryan Braun.

Once you get past the first 100 cards, most of which feature established stars, there’s the usual hit-and-miss assortment you’ve come to expect from Future Stars sets. And now Zack Segovia and Devern Hansack will be able to tell their grandkids they were in the same set as Greg Maddux and Derek Jeter.