Art Market

We don’t talk a lot about value and sales prices on this blog. This is by design. Neither Jason nor I (nor Mark nor Chris) are interested in that stuff too much and we all agree that the primary interest of this committee is in card usage. Yes value maters when it comes to putting together a collection or knowing what to expect to pay. But none of us are in this committee to talk about how we’ve made (or lost) money on cards.

At the same time, when the market goes up and new money comes in, the results affect all of us. The past year in the hobby has been wild enough to result in numerous articles over the past year about the exploding market for sports cards. Most of these are nothing new to anyone who’s been collecting for more than a couple years. At their best they serve as decent primers to anyone who hasn’t thought about cards in decades. At their worst they end up being lazy analogies comparing card prices to index funds. Almost all of them mess up some key facts, such as calling the 1952 Topps Mantle his rookie card.

I read them because sometimes there’s something interesting. Usually I’m disappointed or frustrated but a recent article in the New York Times caught my eye because it made an explicit connection to the art market.

“This is the art of the future for sports enthusiasts who have money and don’t want to buy art,” Davis said. “Pretty much everything I collect now is because I think it is a good investment and because I like the player. The common thread is, I think it will be a good investment. It’s part of the fun.”

I’ve been making this point on Twitter for a while. While many people like to think of sports cards as analogous to stocks, it’s been clear to me that the better analogy is to the art market. From the way serial-numbered cards are basically art editioning to restoration issues and catalogue raisonné issues, the hobby has been moving in a direction which takes it out of the realm that most of us grew up in.

Becoming more like the art market means that extremely rich people are buying things as part of a portfolio. Some of them might be fans. Many of them though just like the idea. But the products they’re buying and selling are going to be products that the rest of us never see in person.

Most worrisome is the likelihood that the market will be manipulated as these investors seek to prop up the values of their cards. This kind of stuff is pretty common in the art world and, despite being a Potemkin Village, seems to skirt right by the press coverage which focuses just on the latest record-setting auction price.*

*It’s also worth watching the developing Non-Fungible Token art world here.

What the two dealers were apparently attempting to do was thread the needle on the two lesser Warhols. To bid high—as much as the consignor was hoping to get—might serve to prop up values for the Warhol market at large, but would be expensive and make the paintings that much more difficult to sell down the road.

Sure this might be fun for some people. But the fun is in the making money, not the medium which enables these flips.

The thing about the art market is that many museums have let the art investor/collectors drive the business. Some museums make a big deal showing one person’s collection. Often these feature a piece from all the prescribed big names and do nothing but allow for the owner to enhance the prestige of their collection. Other museums are basically showcases for a specific collection.

I don’t inherently dislike this but it’s important to realize that the immense platform we give the expensive stuff is only a sliver of the whole picture. As baseball cards move toward this territory it’s important for us all to remember that the art market side of things has pretty much nothing to do with the way we collect and that the focus on the expensive stuff tends to remove the hand of the curator.

In art, the museum curators are in charge of what museums display, illuminating why they’re on display, and considering how they interact with other items in the same gallery. There’s no similar position in trading card world. Instead, each of us is wears that hat and our collections are our personal curatorial projects.

The expensive 1:1 stuff is not only unattainable, it’s a distraction. It makes the focus just about value and turns a lot of heads. A collection of “these are expensive cards” is ultimately as boring as an art museum which only talks about how much the paintings are worth. There’s so much more interesting stuff to do with cards. There are so many more interesting ways to collect.

Pick themes. Tell stories. Run down a rabbit hole of weird stuff that interests only you.

Use your cards. Look at them. Share them. Display them. Talk about them.

Remember that this is a personal hobby.

New member honors Hinchliffe with card set

Author’s Note: The SABR Baseball Cards blog is pleased to introduce new SABR member Donna Muscarella, whose interests in baseball, the Negro Leagues, and photography led her to produce a Hinchliffe Stadium baseball card set.

What led to your interest in Hinchliffe Stadium?

I visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum during a baseball-themed vacation in 2016.  The experience left me feeling a range of emotions—from anger to awe and much in between—but mostly, it left me with a desire to learn more about the Negro Leagues players, owners, and teams.

When the Tip Your Cap campaign associated with the Negro Leagues’ 100th Anniversary started in June 2020, I wanted to have Topps do a small run of twenty custom baseball cards for me.  Initially, I planned for the cards to depict me tipping my cap in tribute to the Negro Leagues.  That’s a pretty dull card on its own, so I started thinking about places that would complement the theme.  With local venues closed, and my feeling uncomfortable traveling during a pandemic, every idea I had about location seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream.  I scrapped the plan.

In addition to limited or no access to venues of all kinds, 2020 also brought limited or no access to modern baseball cards (at least, not at prices I felt were reasonable, Project 2020 aside).  The lack of product led me to think about other hobby options, and I became enamored with the thought of building a collection of postcards depicting stadiums in which Negro Leagues baseball had been played.  The first step in that process was to compose a list of ballparks.  Imagine my surprise and jubilation when I discovered that a dedicated Negro Leagues ballpark—not a Major League stadium rented to a Negro League team—was still standing a little more than ten miles from my house!

What made you decide to turn your Hinchliffe photos into a baseball card set?

Once I learned about Hinchliffe, the plan for my Tip Your Cap tribute card was on again.  A bigger plan snapped into focus the second Hinchliffe came into sight.  There in front of me was a beautiful Larry Doby mural painted on the stadium wall.  My vision was to pose in front of the stadium gate, but as soon as I saw the Doby mural, I knew it was the perfect spot for my Tip Your Cap photo.  I felt compelled to get that stadium gate onto a card, though.  And if I was going to do a card featuring the gate, then why not a small set of cards showcasing Hinchliffe?  As I began to walk around the stadium with goosebumps growing on top of goosebumps, I knew it had to be.

Though the write-ups are brief, I learned a lot from the backs of your cards. How much was it a goal of yours to educate collectors?

The idea for the cards was born out of a desire to pay personal tribute to the Negro Leagues during its centennial year and to inspire others to learn more about the Negro Leagues.  I was moved by the thought that maybe, just maybe, each person that read the cards might be moved to not only do some research on their own, but also to invite someone else to explore all that the history of the Negro Leagues has to offer.  You know, kind of like that shampoo commercial from the 1980s:  “I told two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on and…”

The backs of your cards pay homage to 1933 Goudey. What made you choose that style for your card backs?

I thought it would be fun to incorporate some aspects of vintage cards into this set. After all, it showcases a venue that opened to the public in the early 1930s. I chose to model the card backs after the 1933 Goudeys because Hinchliffe Stadium hosted the Colored World Series in 1933. And the rounded font on the card fronts, while not exactly the same, is meant to be reminiscent of the Goudey font. The uncoated front and back surfaces are another vintage attribute I chose.

How did you decide how many cards to include and which cards/pictures to include in your set?

I wanted the card images to tell a story, to give a small sense of what it might have been like to visit Hinchliffe on a game day. The images chosen and the corresponding size of the set grew organically from the elements of the ballpark I was able to photograph from outside the gates that would support that journey.

How did you decide how many sets to make?

Being that I’m a first-time custom-card creator, I wanted to keep the print run small. Fifty was the minimum amount I could order using the card stock I chose, so I went with it. Should there be enough interest in my work, I would consider a larger edition for other sets.

You mentioned that you live very close to Hinchliffe. Do you see yourself traveling someday to other historic baseball sites to take pictures and/or make trading cards?

Absolutely!  Incorporating baseball into vacations is a tradition that my parents started, and as a fourth-generation baseball fan, I’ve taken it one step further by building many of my travel plans around baseball.  My discovery of Hinchliffe has made me want to incorporate even more exploration of baseball history into my travels.

I can walk down an ordinary New York City street or stroll through a nearby park and want to take photos left and right, but put me in the midst of baseball history with my camera and I’m like a kid in a candy store. It’s a pretty safe bet that more historic baseball sites will be visited and captured through my camera lens.

This Hinchliffe trading card project has been invigorating, and I hope to repeat that feeling by creating and releasing more card sets.

Aside from stadiums or places, what other baseball-themed card sets you hope to make?

I would love to do a set or series of sets that incorporate some of my favorite images of players that I’ve captured over the years. But without licensing from at least the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (and Major and Minor League Baseball if I want to include team names and logos), I can’t release those images in bulk, or even in duplicate. I can, however, use those images in one-of-one pieces of art. I have some ideas for combining my photos of players and stadiums with baseball cards to create unique artwork and plan to begin experimenting with them soon.

Nick Swisher photo by Donna Muscarella

My next planned project is a companion set to complement my original Hinchliffe cards.  The images included in the initial release were taken with a somewhat photojournalistic approach.  I wanted to convey the story of fans arriving to the ballpark (the gate on Card 1), purchasing tickets (the ticket windows on Card 2), heading to the seating bowl (the entry area on Card 3), and sitting down to watch the action (the stands on Card 4).  The anticipation contained in those moments are precious.

What I’ve found though, is that there is so much more to Hinchliffe!  I’ve begun capturing the character of the ballpark with more of an eye for detail.  For example, the sphere-topped flagpoles now sit bare against a blue sky—to think how majestic they looked when serving their purpose on a game day!  I don’t know what the final composition of the set will be, but plan for it to once again feature my photography and serve as a vehicle to share information about Hinchliffe and its relationship with the Negro Leagues.

Something that makes your set unique versus what I see from many other independent card producers is that you used photos you took yourself rather than found elsewhere. How long have you been a photographer and what got you started?

My parents tell me I was inquisitive almost from birth, and I am also very sentimental.  I believe my love of photography stems from a need to explore and a desire to preserve my discoveries.  This idea of exploration can take on many forms—for instance, it may involve visiting a new place or examining a familiar subject with a new perspective.  The possibilities are endless, especially with photography.

That said, I’ve enjoyed photography since I was a child.  My first camera, a 110 point and shoot, was the bonus I received when opening a new savings account.  There were other gift options available, but I wanted that camera!  When we’d get photos developed from family vacations, it was always easy to tell which rolls were mine.  All you had to do was look for the envelopes full of photos of clouds and flowers and animals and unusual takes on buildings or statues…

Do you have any photography tips for our readers interested in taking their own photos of stadiums or other baseball subjects?

  • Experiment! Digital photography is extremely conducive to it. You can immediately see your captured image and decide if you like what the image conveys or if adjustments are needed. Play with different vantage points, different use of light and shadow, and different fields of view.
  • Don’t be afraid to get lost in the details. Search for gems hidden in plain sight. It’s easy to be captivated by the sweeping expanse of a ballpark. There is tons of beauty there, and it is worthy of attention. But there also is beauty to be found in the details! Maybe it’s the scrollwork on the aisle seats or the way the sunset is glowing through the lighting panels mounted on top of the stadium or the way a small portion of the stadium’s exterior appears even more majestic when its backdrop is an azure blue sky.
  • If photographing a stadium on game day, arrive early and go inside as soon as gates open. Take advantage of location and experience opportunities that may exist only in the first forty-five minutes or so after gates open.
  • As for equipment, sure it’s nice to have a “fancy” camera. I shoot with a DSLR (currently Nikon D500) and a compact camera (currently Canon PowerShot SX730). But if your phone’s camera is the only camera you own, don’t let that stop you from photographic exploration. If you decide you like the photographic adventure enough to invest in a more advanced camera, do so when your financial means allow. Don’t feel like you need to buy the top of the line camera, or even a camera with interchangeable lenses (DSLR or mirrorless) right away.

What’s involved in turning your images and text into an actual baseball card? What parts were “DIY” and what parts did you use outside resources for?

I designed and composed the cards myself. Aside from image selection, I started my design approach with the back of the cards. I was determined to pay homage to 1933 Goudeys, so I wasn’t starting from scratch with my design template. I needed to find fonts and colors that would evoke a Goudey feel. Since I was printing on white stock (to best preserve image colors), I needed to select not only a color for the lettering, but also a background color that would mimic 1933 cardboard. The most challenging part was fitting all of the information I wanted to include onto the tiny backs of those cards!

Donna’s cards alongside 1933 Goudey

For the card fronts, I used desktop publishing software to experiment with different design options and color schemes.  My experimentation ended when I found the combination that best complimented all of the images I had chosen and paired well with the flip-side design. Once the layout and content were finalized, I converted the “pages” to press-quality PDFs and gave them to a professional shop for printing.

Besides making your own cards, tell us about your favorite baseball cards, either from when you were a kid or present day.

Dave Winfield’s rookie card (1974 Topps #456) always comes to mind when I am asked about favorite cards.  My love of this card has nothing to do with the card’s design.  It is based solely on a personal experience involving the card.

One Saturday afternoon sometime in the 1980s, I answered the phone and was surprised to hear my dad’s voice on the other end. He and my mom were at the mall. Of course, back then, calls from public places were usually made using pay phones and weren’t made just to shoot the breeze—a call from a pay phone had a distinct purpose. I couldn’t imagine why my dad would be calling from the mall and hoped that everything was alright.

In a very excited voice, Dad told me that Dave Winfield was at the mall for a free (!) autograph signing for another 45 minutes. He told me to grab a Winfield card and get there fast. So I grabbed my Winfield rookie and headed to the mall while my parents held a place in line.

When we got to the front of the line, Mr. Winfield extended his hand to greet us. I shook his hand first and watched my hand and wrist disappear in his. After he shook hands with my parents, I thanked him for being there and told him I would be honored if he would please sign my copy of his rookie card. As I placed it in front of him, he said, “Are you sure you want me to sign this? It’s going to ruin the card.” I exuberantly responded, “No it won’t, and yes please!” He asked again, “You’re sure?” “Absolutely!” He proceeded to sign the card and handed it back to me. I was beaming.

As I was shaking his hand again and offering my gratitude, my dad said, “Oh no! I just realized what shirt you’re wearing.” Mr. Winfield said, “It’s perfect. It’s a Yankees shirt!” “Yes,” my father responded, “but she’s got someone else’s name and number on her back!” As my father put his hands on my shoulders to turn me around, I let out a mortified “Dad!” as only a teenager could. Mr. Winfield laughed. I explained that if I had taken the time to change my shirt, I might have missed meeting him and apologized for the unintentional disrespect I had shown. He was the perfect gentleman. And so Dave Winfield’s 1974 Topps card will always be special to me.

Don Mattingly’s Topps rookie and the 1971 Topps Thurman Munson are also favorites from my younger years (although the Munson predates the start of my collecting by a few years).

In terms of modern cards, I am a fan in general of Topps Allen & Ginter and Heritage, including Heritage Minors, as well as Topps ProDebut. Stadium Club is another favorite because it features such beautiful photography.

Donna’s collaboration with Topps artist Blake Jamieson

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include some of my favorite artist cards here. Josh Trout’s Jackie Robinson from 2020 Topps Gallery is a beauty, and Efdot’s Mariano Rivera and Blake Jamieson’s Don Mattingly from Project 2020 are also standouts.

I understand you just recently joined SABR. What prompted your decision, and what aspects of membership are you most excited about?

My first non-statistical exposure to SABR came via an event in the late 2000s at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center. I recall fondly the sense of camaraderie amongst the panelists and gallery of attendees. So the first impression was a very good one. Fast-forwarding to 2020, I became more active on social media and found SABR’s contributions from both the master account and several committee accounts to be both interesting and informative.

I am most looking forward to meeting new people through SABR and participating in activities with fellow SABR members.  I am also excited about the tremendous amount of knowledge that sits with members of SABR and affording myself of opportunities to learn more about the greatest game ever:  baseball.

If our readers want to connect with you, what is the best way they can do that?

I’d love to hear from fellow baseball enthusiasts!  For longer inquiries or conversations, please email me at TheLensOfDonnaM@gmail.com.  I’m also on Twitter and Instagram:  @TheLensOfDonnaM.

Topps “Bunt 20” (E-Card) Year in Review

Now that 2020 is over, and with it my first full year using Topps Bunt digital cards on my smartphone, I wanted to share two things: (1) what I thought were Bunt 20’s most noteworthy developments regarding the cards themselves; and (2) some things I learned about managing one’s cards and account.

Card-Related Developments

One obvious thing that stood out to me was the large number of card versions that were created for some players (below, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.). This trend may well have begun prior to 2020, but as I said, it really captured my attention in 2020. A larger theme within the sports-card community is the increasing prominence of graphic artists in designing ever-more creative products.* This seems to me a likely explanation for all the versions of player cards.

Something I’m pretty sure originated in 2020 was “Free Pack Friday, with a nice-looking card of a leading player marking the date. These are some of my favorites…

Another new feature was the extension of the “Topps Now” concept to Bunt. Shown below (left) is a Now card for the September 13, 2020 no-hitter pitched by the Cubs’ Alec Mills. Other current events depicted in Bunt cards (although not apparently under the “Topps Now” heading) were the Dodgers’ World Series championships and Adam Wainwright’s receipt of the Roberto Clemente award for service to one’s community.

One last feature I enjoyed — though not unique to 2020 — were the retro cards of all-time greats, including two of the Hall of Famers who died in 2020 (Gibson and Kaline).

Managing One’s Cards and Account

Next, I discuss some issues from the user’s point of view in managing one’s cards and account (for background on some of Bunt’s features, see this earlier posting of mine).

I remain content to use the free gold coins as my Bunt currency and, therefore, I have maintained my record of not spending a single penny of my own. However, I did have my first experience getting to spend diamonds (which normally must first be purchased with actual cash).

Over the summer, Topps held a “make your own baseball card” contest. Users could go to a website and use the camera on their computer to take their own photograph, which Topps inserted into a baseball-card template. (Topps announces these kind of Bunt activities on its Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/officialtoppsbunt/ )

Users must supply their own jersey, as I did, if they want to be photographed in one. I chose number 62 for my year of birth and second-base as my position, as I once made a good defensive play at second in an intramural softball game in college.

For making my own card, I received a reward of diamonds, 150 of them, if I recall correctly. I don’t know if diamonds were given to everyone who participated in card-making, or just some people. As I learned, the packs of cards one can buy with diamonds contain more cards than the ones available for gold coins. Also, diamond packs are guaranteed to contain some minimum number of special cards, as opposed to gold-card packs, which carry only a small probability of containing a special card.

Two other things I learned more about were “Crafting” and “Missions.” Crafting might be better termed “Exchanging,” as one can give up two Tier 1 cards to receive a random Tier 2 card, give up two Tier 2 cards to receive a random Tier 3 card, and so forth, up to exchanging Tier 4 cards for a Tier 5 one. I lack a good understanding of what qualifies a card for a certain tier. In the comments to my earlier post, someone suggested crafting as a way to rid oneself of the voluminous unwanted duplicates one inevitably accumulates. In principle, yes, but once someone has accumulated thousands of cards, crafting to cull one’s collection would take too long.

Missions award supplemental gold coins for accomplishing small tasks, such as acquiring a certain number of cards, engaging in crafting, or initiating a trade. Rather than actively pursuing these goals, I take a totally passive approach to missions. Every few weeks, I check the missions area and see if I have inadvertently satisfied some of the tasks.

I still have not initiated any trades, nor I have I tried to learn the meaning of the point values on the back of some of the cards.

One final piece of trivia: Statistics show the Bunt app to be downloaded fewer than 5,000 times per month. Bunt may not be setting the nation afire, but I enjoy it.


*The SABR Baseball Cards Committee hosted a Zoom meeting on this topic (June 28, 2020). Here is the link to a YouTube video of the event.

My collecting story

Editor’s note: SABR welcomes new member Dylan Brennan of the Philadelphia area Connie Mack chapter. You can follow Dylan’s wonderful journey through the Hobby at his Twitter page @cardsstory.

For as long as I can remember baseball and card collecting has been a passion of mine since I ripped my first pack as a kid somewhere around the age or 8 of 9, idolizing legends like Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr., Albert Pujols, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and so-on. It’s always been more than a hobby to me, it’s been a way of life.

My first two best friends and I would run to the closest store that sold cards, which was a K-Mart about 500 feet from our front doors. Whenever we had some money in our pockets it was like Christmas. We’d all run over there. If we had $7, it all went toward baseball cards. We’d go straight to one of our basements and start ripping through pack after pack hoping for the games biggest stars and some hometown heroes.

It’s funny to think back to these times, when one of my biggest worries was when I could go out and play sports with my buddies and what players I was going to pull in a pack of Topps baseball cards, long before the real world inevitably hit me out of nowhere like a freight train. But what I didn’t know during those 30 seconds of ripping through a pack of cardboard, was that I was starting to form my deepest passions in life: baseball and card collecting.

Ever since those first packs I was hooked on collecting, having added thousands of cards in my childhood. As I got older and started high school, I collected frequently until about junior-senior year when I soon discovered that hanging out in the woods with my buddies and having a few beers was slightly more interesting to me at the time.

A few years later, I went away to college which to tell the truth, wasn’t really for me. I did about 3 semesters away at school then came home when I was 18 and went straight to work. (Ah, the American dream!) This is about the time I started getting back into collecting. I collected mostly autographs of any and all Hall of Famers, star players, and childhood favorites that I could get my hands on.

I’ve always had a keen interest in vintage cards. It’s a hard thing to explain, as a lot of things that we love can be. But seeing pictures of cards of legends like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Walter Johnson, and Christy Mathewson was like a short tour through the Baseball equivalent of the Louvre. I had to have them. And once I started to add some vintage to my collection, I quickly learned what I truly loved to collect.

There’s just something unique about vintage baseball cards. The feel, the smell of old cardboard that strangely enough has been one of my favorite smells in the world. Small pieces of art that have been passed around for 70, 80 or even 100+ years. I think that’s what makes some cards similar to a painting or any work of art.

Art almost always has a story to tell and often, the artist leaves it up to its viewers to interpret their own version of the story in their mind. Baseball cards are like that in a unique way. The feeling of holding a beautiful T206 card in your hand and wondering where that card has been for the last 110 years is what makes it so special. The hands they’ve passed through. The stories they could tell, I could only imagine.

I’ve been lucky enough add a lot of cards this past year that I never thought I would own. I’ve also been able to meet some truly great people along the way. I’m excited for what 2021 brings for my collection and I look forward to meeting more awesome people in the process.

Editor’s note: You came to the right place!

50 at 50

Sending out an alert for anyone who follows this blog but isn’t on Twitter or Facebook. SABR has been celebrating its upcoming 50th anniversary by having each committee contribute a 50 at 50 article on the SABR website. The Baseball Cards Committee’s contribution went up today.

Rather than making it a top-50 list or some other ranking, we decided to go a different direction and treat baseball cards as timeline that they are with a post of 50 cards for 50 years.

Baseball cards aren’t just something to collect. They mark the seasons and document the game as it happens. Looking back at them shows us the history of the game. Who played. What was important. What happened. How we analyzed things. Cards may fall under the category of “ephemera” but the ephemeral nature of what they record is what makes them such an important chronicle of the game.

Our list is not intended to be definitive or authoritative. Both the history of the hobby and the history of the game are way too interesting for each year to be able to be summed up in a single card. Instead we look forward to the discussion and critiques that always follow such lists.

While Jason and Nick are credited with compiling the contents, we wish to thank the multiple other experts who allowed us to pick their brains and challenged our choices.

Player Collection Spotlight – Ivan Rodriguez

My favorite players all share one thing in common: they are all great defensive players. Pudge Rodriguez is one of those, one of the best defensive catchers of all time. He came up with the Rangers in 1991 and went on to to become a 14-time All-Star, 13-time Gold Glove winner (MLB record for catchers), 7-time Silver Slugger, and the AL MVP in 1999 on his way to Cooperstown.

Pudge picked of an MLB record 88 runners in his career, and I was there for one of them in 1998. In the third inning against the Angels, he picked off Phil Nevin at first base. Rodriguez also had an RBI infield single in the first. I was so excited to see one of my heroes have such a good game.

Pudge signed with the Marlins in 2003 and went on to win the World Series that season. Then he went to the Tigers in 2004 and had another trip to the World Series in 2006.

Pudge was traded at the deadline in 2008 from the Tigers to the Yankees. He signed with the Astros before the 2009 season, then was traded back to the Rangers in August of that year. He then signed with the Nationals and finished his career with two years in Washington.

I have 39 cards in my Pudge collection, all of them from the Topps Flagship, Traded, or Update sets. These include All-Star, Gold Glove, and Postseason Highlights.

Most of my favorites show him in his catcher’s gear. I’m a sucker when it comes to cards showing catchers in their gear. I was a catcher when I was in Little League and if I played again I would be behind the plate.

Number one on my list is the 1994 Topps card. It shows him right after he released a throw to second base, with his mask falling to the ground. It highlights his legendary throwing ability.

His 2002 Gold Glove card shows him ready to receive a pitch. He’s wearing the blue Rangers uniform and gear with red trim. I like that color combination better than the all red that the Rangers wore for a while.

His 2009 Update card is excellent. Pudge is shown making a play at the plate with a runner crashing into him. It looks like the runner is getting the raw end of this deal.

Finally, even though there are several more that show Pudge in his gear, his 2005 card shows him standing on second, and it looks like he’s pointing to the scoreboard and showing the Tigers that they are either not out of it yet, or that they have the lead.

I have decided to add Fleer and Donruss to my player collections, so I went from having 100% of the Pudge cards, to having just 57%. Oh well, that’s what happens when you’re a collector, right?

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.

Lou Brock (1939–2020)

Baseball is a game which traditionally (if not stereotypically) is passed down from fathers to sons. My story is a little different. While I certainly have baseball memories shared with my dad, it was primarily my mom who passed the game on to me.

When I was six or seven years old, it was Mom who often threw me ground balls and pop ups in the back yard, just far enough from me that I had to dive to catch them—just like I wanted!

Lou Brock’s Statue Outside Busch Stadium

It was also Mom who took me to games at Busch Stadium in our home town of St. Louis. She had grown up watching the great Cardinals teams of the 60s, and her favorite player was Lou Brock. Naturally, he quickly became mine as well, even though he was, at that time in the late 70s, in the twilight of his career.

When we went to a game, Mom would always pack us lunches, and we’d make sure to get to Busch hours before game time. Seating in the bleachers in those days was done on a first-come, first served basis, and we wanted to make sure we would get to sit in the front row in left field, as close to our idol as possible. No doubt, countless Cardinals fans had done the same over the years, because we all agreed: Lou was the greatest!

While playing at Southern University, he had been discovered by the legendary Buck O’Neil, and signed to a contract with the Chicago Cubs, joining their St. Cloud team in the Class C Northern League. After just one season in the minors, Brock was a September call-up in 1961.

That leads us to the summer of 1962, the summer, coincidentally, portrayed in the movie The Sandlot. I mention this because Lou (kind of) makes an appearance in the film. You see, the kids in the movie were apparently as prescient as they were precocious. When they covered the walls of their treehouse with their favorite baseball cards, they included the rookie card of a certain Cubs outfielder who had yet to accomplish much of anything in the big leagues.

Those kids not only knew their baseball history, they knew their baseball future!

Though the kids from The Sandlot apparently started collecting Lou’s cards right from the beginning of his career, I didn’t get started until much later. Granted, you can’t really blame me—I wouldn’t be born for almost a decade after that rookie card came out! Unfortunately, that meant I couldn’t collect Lou until the end of his Hall of Fame career.

In the years that followed though, I picked up a Brock card here and a Brock card there, either buying them at a card show or during trips to my local baseball card store. I didn’t have a big budget for my collection (still true today!), but I was able to acquire most of Lou’s cards, especially if I wasn’t too picky about them being in perfect condition. Of course, I always wanted to get that Lou Brock rookie card from 1962, and eventually I found one that was in mediocre enough condition that I could actually afford it.

After collecting throughout my childhood, I stayed involved in the hobby for a few years after college, actually thinking at one point that I might pursue a career in the industry. Things went other directions—both in terms of career and collecting—and my cards largely sat boxed in the basement for a couple decades. A few years ago though, I decided to get back into the hobby.

One of the first things I did was bust out my Lou Brock cards, and though I thought I’d already acquired all of Lou’s Topps cards from his playing days, in looking through them, I came to the realization that I was missing two: 1963 & 1967.

I scanned eBay to see if there were any good deals on these cards, and stumbled upon an auction for 1963 cards of a pair of all-time greats who both wore the number 20. I was thrilled to win the auction, and add not only one of the two Brocks that I needed, but also a vintage Frank Robinson!

Perhaps even more typical of Lou than having a bat in his hands though, is him having a smile on his face. Lou ALWAYS seemed to be smiling, even over the last decade of his life as he faced numerous health issues. His warmth and his likeability as a person marked his life just as much as his great ability on the diamond. Sportswriter Tim Kurkijan put it well this past week, writing, “I will remember Lou Brock as one of the kindest, sweetest, gentlest men I have ever met.”

In the wake of his death, the outpouring of tributes on Twitter from players, media and fans alike have echoed Kurkijan’s sentiments:

Lou Brock was one of the finest men I have ever known. Coming into this league as a 21-year-old kid, Lou Brock was one of the first Hall-of-Fame players I had the privilege to meet. He told me I belonged here in the big-leagues. He was always willing to help and to share his unlimited knowledge of hitting and the game of baseball with me as a young player. Most importantly, he showed us all how to live our lives on and off the field with character and integrity. 1975 winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, Lou always understood his role in giving back to his community. He was a Godly man who lead his family with Christian principals and love. He was a dear friend to me. I loved him very much.

—Albert Pujols

Lou Brock was the first person from the @Cardinals organization that I met. I walked into the spring training clubhouse put my stuff down, turn around, and here comes Lou… walking right towards me. He hands me a ball and says, “Will you sign this for me?” I say, “Hi Mr Brock…I think you have that backwards.” He responds, “No I don’t. You’re going to be special and I want your autograph.” Lou always amazed me with how cool and calm and professional he was at all times. He was one of the best encouragers I’ve ever met. He was one of the main ones setting the example for all the Cardinals who came after him in how to play and how to live. I will forever be grateful for the times I got to listen to Mr Lou tell stories in that smooth voice he had. RIP Mr Lou…we love you and will miss you.

—Adam Wainwright

Mr. Brock had amazing baseball talent, but he was a truly great man. Lou was Humble, gracious, gentle & God fearing. He always made time for others. He cared about people. I am blessed to have known him. He will be missed. What a legacy. Prayers for Jackie & family. #RIPLouBrock

—Andy Benes

Deeply saddened by the passing of Lou Brock, one of the greatest people I’ve ever known. Toughest Cardinal ever. And the most gentle human being you’d ever meet. Lou loved people, loved the fans. He is everything you’d want an all-time player to be. I love you, Lou.

—KMOX Radio’s Tom Ackerman

There was a light inside of Lou Brock that brightened every place and space he entered. A light that warmed every person he encountered. Grace. Dignity. Class. Joy. His generosity of spirit touched so many. I’ve never known a finer man. #RIPLou … Long may you run.

—St. Louis sportswriter Bernie Miklasz

Lou Brock was my first favorite ballplayer as a kid. I had several chances to meet him and talk to him in life, and he could not have been more gracious, humble, and kind. A true gentleman and a great Cardinal. This one hits hard. 

—Cardinals fan John Rabe

RIP to one of the best Cardinals ever. A true gentleman and a revolutionary player. The game of baseball is better because of guys like Lou. Met him several times as a kid and I remember he was always smiling. Always. Rest easy to one of my heroes #20

—Cardinals fan RMcardsfan

Given the way that he is remembered by those who knew him well or had even met him, it’s only appropriate that throughout the heart of Lou’s career, he so commonly was pictured smiling.

As I mentioned before, almost Lou’s entire career took place before I started collecting. The first year I actually collected cards was 1978. I was six years old, and I can still remember when my grandfather bought me that first pack. It only makes sense that the ’78 card was the first Lou in my collection.

In 1980, with Brock having retired, Topps didn’t include a base card for him. But card #1 of that year’s set was a “1979 Highlights” card that spotlighted the fact that Lou Brock and Carl Yastrzemski (star left fielders for their respective teams and the two leading hitters from the 1967 World Series) had become the 14th and 15th players to enter the 3,000-Hit Club.

I was actually present at Busch Stadium the day BEFORE Brock would get his milestone hit of Cubs hurler Dennis Lamp. Twenty years later, I would pull off the same accomplishment with Tony Gwynn, missing his 3000th hit by a day as well!

Since Lou’s retirement, card companies have continued to produce Brock cards to the point that the majority of Lou Brock cards produced were probably made AFTER his career. I’ve been working my way through acquiring many of those cards, a few dollars at a time throughout this past year or so.

One of these cards stands out as deserving special notice. Graig Kreindler has for some time been my favorite artist. His portraits of old baseball players do an amazing job of bringing players to life who have long been dead. Recognizing his unique talents, Topps commissioned him to produce 20 portraits for their 150 Years of Baseball series.

Topps released these limited edition cards online one at a time, and I would invariably wait in anxious anticipation every few weeks until the next card was revealed. Imagine my joyful surprise when the 20th and final card ended up being Lou!

There’s one last story I’d like to share that isn’t really card-related. A couple decades ago when I was working for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Lou rented a van from us. I knew he was going to be coming in, so I when I came to work that morning, I brought a red Sharpie and the newspaper I had kept from when he stole his record setting 893rd base. When I asked him to add his autograph to it, his eyes lit up, that familiar smile spread across his face, and he acted as if I was doing him a favor by having him sign it. He genuinely got a kick out of the fact that I had held onto the paper all those years. I ended up meeting with him a couple other times as well, and each time he was nicer than the last.

I’ve heard it said that as an adult, you should never meet your childhood ideals because they’ll only disappoint you. Whoever it was that said that obviously didn’t have the same childhood idol I did. Rest in peace, Base Burglar.

Everything must be considered

Likewise, there is a vocal group of collectors who seek, nay DEMAND, perfection from Topps when it comes to retro sets such as Heritage and Archives. Any deviation from these unwritten rules results in an outcry in the blogosphere, Twitter and the various forums.

Cardboard Jones

I planned to respond to this as a comment but in hashing things out on Twitter realized that it deserved to be a blogpost. First off. I’m not feeling attacked by the statement nor do I even disagree with it. Expecting things like Archives and Heritage to match the originals is the most boring of positions to have. But as someone who frequently comments and calls out where Topps deviates in the retro set typsetting and designs I feel like I need to clarify when and why I do so.

When I approach a retro set it’s impossible for me not to notice changes. My mindset though isn’t “these changes are crap.” Instead I’m asking myself why Topps made them.

One of the chief mantras from my design classes was that “everything should be considered.” In other words, every part of the design should be a conscious choice with a reason behind it. This isn’t to say that you couldn’t leave things to chance, just that you needed to be as aware, if not moreso, of what you weren’t designing.

When it comes to the retro sets, too many of the choices feel like Topps has decided to copy the old design but couldn’t be bothered to do it right. When I cringe at a font choice or shake my head at a color selection it doesn’t reflect that I want the design to be perfect, it reflects that on that card, Topps feels like it’s trying to recreate the card and is doing it badly.

Let’s take a look at the 2020 Archives Luis Robert. In this case, the font used for Robert’s name is super small. 1974 used condensed fonts for long names* but for most names the font matches the font used to the city and position. As a result the font looks off compared to the other fonts on the card** and the space for his name looks super empty because these cards weren’t designed to have a big white space on the bottom.

* If this were a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. card then the font would be fine.

**Lucky for Topps the condensed font is also in use for “White Sox” else this would look even weirder.

There’s a reason I often refer to the uncanny valley when I critique retro designs. Changes like Robert’s font feel unconsidered and suggest a lack of awareness about how the original design works. The result is something that’s just close enough to the originals to feel incredibly wrong.

I don’t expect Topps to match the originals. I want them to make considered choices about how to honor the philosophy behind the original designs while updating them to the modern game and modern printing.

For example, sticking with the Robert card, 1974 is noteworthy as the first set where Topps tried to use team colors in the design. In 1974 the White Sox’s dominant color was red and as a result, the 1974 design used red.* In 2020, the Sox are a grey and black team and for me, updating the 1974 design to use those colors is the kind of change that I would treat as a considered choice.**

*That Topps stuck with red is yet another push toward reading these cards as remakes instead of updates and justifies critiquing the font choices along those lines. At the same time, that Topps apparently changed the colors on a lot of the cards in this set—e.g Giants in green, Pirates in red, Orioles in white—suggests that my initial reaction to the Robert was maybe giving Topps too much credit for trying to reproduce the original design. No I still have no idea what possessed them to make the Willie McCovey Giants card green and yellow and the overall reaction is still that Topps didn’t think about what they were doing.

**Along these lines, if Topps had had the lead time and creativity to do “Buffalo, Amer’n Lea” cards for the Blue Jays I would’ve been out stalking blasters of Archives at my local Target.

Topps has made considered changes like these before. Going back to my post about 2019 Heritage provides a great example. Where 1970 Topps (on the left) use a 50% black screen for the grey border, 2019 Heritage (on the right) uses a custom grey ink printed at 100%.

I don’t remember anyone complaining about this. I wouldn’t expect anyone to complain about this. Why? Because the change is the kind of thing that involves looking at the old design and consciously improving upon it. It’s not trying to recreate something, rather it’s showing the strength of the original design and how it would be produced today.

If Topps changed the retro set fonts to give the design a little more character* I wouldn’t complain. Same if they took the random colors of the 1960s and made them more team-specific.**

*A reliance on fonts such as Helvetica and Univers throughout most of the Topps’s history means changes like using Gotham in the 1981 design in 2018 Archives is something I was cool with.

**Something they did with some teams like the Astros in 2018 Heritage.

What I want to see is that the changes have a clear and obvious point. Changes that look intentional rather than accidental. Changes that indicate that Topps has truly considered the design and thought about what it’s doing with it.

Misery Loves Company

Now that Beckett has published a short post about this I’m sort of obliged to write a longer version detailing the Al Kaline debacle.

I don’t chase shortprints but I enjoy looking through them every new release. Very often the photographs there are more interesting and remind me of the variety that we saw in the 1990s. Plus the old players are always an interesting reflection of the kinds of players who still resonate today.

When Series 2 dropped, I did my usual look through. The Andrew McCutchen is awesome but what stopped me was the Al Kaline. I’m looking for good/interesting photos in the short prints. I’m not expecting to see a photo showing the wrong player.

Yup. That’s not Kaline in the photo. How do I know? Because I made this exact mistake with this exact photo only nine months earlier.

I enjoy writing Through the Mail autograph requests but I also refuse to send things through the mail which I don’t want to risk losing—say, for example, a vintage card of Al Kaline. Even though he was such a great signer (typically turning things around under 20 days and often closer to 10) I just refuse to tempt fate with the USPS like that. Instead I created a custom card by searching around around the web for photos I liked and dropping them into a template I had created.

Last November I sent a couple custom cards off to Al with a note asking him to keep the extras and hoping he enjoyed them. A week and a half later they came back to me. I was not expecting the result.

Gulp.

At first I was mortified. This is the most embarrassing kind of mistake to make when autograph hunting. Then I double-checked Getty* and confirmed that I’d done my homework. Did I make a mistake. Yes. But it wasn’t through either lack of caring or lack of effort on my part. I hadn’t just grabbed a photo, I’d made sure that multiple places including a somewhat authoritative source had identified the player.

*Note: As of July 17, 2020 Getty has corrected its database to reflect that the photo is actually of Don Demeter.

At this point I became much more comfortable with the humor of the situation. Did I trust Kaline over Getty? Absolutely. So I tossed it onto Twitter so people could laugh at both me and Getty while also hoping that the hive mind could identify who the mystery player was.

Many people—including many Tigers fans—confirmed that they’d always thought this was Kaline as well. Only after realizing that it wasn’t him did the hive mind quickly nominate Don Demeter. Similar build and swing. Same time period. He certainly seemed like the most-likely suspect.

Thankfully, Demeter is great responding to autograph requests as well. I acquired a card of him, wrote a letter explaining the screw up, included one of the customs, and asked him if he could confirm that the photo was indeed him.

While getting the card signed was fun, this was one of the rare autograph returns where the autograph request was always going to be less important than the response to my question. Much to my pleasure and satisfaction, Demeter answered my question and confirmed that it was him.

His response was actually this sketch. It’s pretty conclusive to me and makes a fantastic companion piece to the Kaline and Demeter cards in my autograph binder. I just wish there were a way to submit this to Getty so they can update their database.

As a custom card maker, it’s always somewhat flattering to see Topps select a photo that I’ve already used on a custom. In this case though, as soon as I saw the Kaline short print I started laughing. I recognized the photo instantly and knew exactly what had happened. While I’ve already made peace with my mistake, seeing someone else fall for the same thing just makes me feel even better about it.

While I’m sad that this is sort of a RIP Kaline card for Topps, I’m glad that he didn’t have to deal with being asked to sign it. I would however be thrilled to see someone ask Don Demeter to sign it. That would be awesome.