Checklist release day is always a fun one, especially when it’s a Flagship related set like Update where I’m curious which players made it into the “permanent record.” Yesterday was such a day. I woke up, noticed that the checklist had been released, and proceeded to click on multiple preview posts hoping to find an HTML list instead of an XLSX one.
I eventually did so but it took me about four tries and on each page I saw the exact same sell sheet sample images. The sameness of the images wasn’t a surprise—Topps obviously sends the same sell sheet to everyone—but the presence of one image caught me on every page.
I didn’t recognize at first that all the previews were originally written and posted in May. And I totally understand how easy it is to just tack on the new information at the bottom of an already-existing article. But still just a quick scroll through the article is enough to make me shake my head and doing that multiple times made me really sad about the state of the hobby.
This was a high-profile case which resulted in a player being suspended in early July and having that suspension extended to encompass the entire season. I don’t feel like discussing the details of the case here (Google is your friend if you somehow missed it but suffice it to say that I was not expecting to have to have baseball prompt an in-depth discussion about consent and its limitations with my sons) but his suspension and the way that Major League Baseball and the Dodgers have pulled his merchandise says more than enough.
He’s completely non-viable as a marketable part of the league yet Topps, despite a three-month lead time, was not only unable to pull him from the product but wasn’t even able to update the sell sheet. This is massively irresponsible. The new sell sheet should’ve gone out in July instead of relying on card bloggers and writers to edit their old posts.
That so many hobby publications completely missed the problem is also completely dismaying. This hobby already already skews heavily male* so stuff that feels almost designed to make women feel uncomfortable is embarrassing. It shouldn’t be hard to catch something like this. **
*Including this blog. I think the closest we have to a post authored by a woman is Jason’s interview with Donna. And yes Jason and I are acutely aware that this is is a problem.
**By the end of the yesterday multiple sites had actually edited their previews and removed the image. I’m fully aware that I’m using that image on this blog but it’s not the image itself which is a problem but rather its usage as an advertisement for the set.
And yes it’s absolutely embarrassing. I got some crap on Twitter accusing me of being upset but my reaction to the initial posts was more just being appalled at how normalized this kind of thing is. I wish it made me angry* but the sad state of this country is that we’re so good at condoning and excusing violence against women that the most emotion I can muster is a facepalm and rueful headshake.
*The tweets I received did succeed in pissing me off.
Definitely not the buzz I wanted to feel about a new set. But the wake up call is worth listening to. The hobby has got to do better here. The same goes to us as men.
This will be a short post but I just received a copy of the 2021 Stadium Club Will Clark reprint. It’s a striking portrait of The Thrill. In 1992 Topps treated Clark, Matt Williams, and Kevin Mitchell all very similarly. Black jackets and a black background with just enough light to expose their faces and one other feature—glove, ball, etc.—while everything else receded into shadow.
They’re striking cards and I figured it would be fun to compare the Clark reprint with the original card that I have in my collection.
Starting off with a side-by-side pair of scans. I scanned and processed these together before splitting them into different images so the differences in color reflect actual differences between the two and not anything I introduced in post-processing the scan. In this pair, and the other pairs of images in this post, the original 1992 card is on the left and the 2021 reprint is on the right.
Two obvious differences. 1992 is a bit darker and yellower. 2021 has lower contrast and better shadow detail. First off, the yellowness extends to the white point of the paper and is very likely an effect of aging. Maybe the paper is getting old. Maybe the UV coating* is yellowing slightly. The contrast and shadow detail differences though suggest that a lot more is going on.
*UV coating is the high-gloss finish that Topps started using in 1991 Stadium Club and which took over the hobby in the 1990s. It’s called UV because it’s cured with ultraviolet light. It can yellow with age and, as many of us have found, can stick to other UV coated items as well.
Yup. Time to look closer. The print screens shows that Topps recreated the original cards and that they have, someplace, the original images that they used in 1992. How can I tell? The two different cards use different line frequencies—1992 is around 125 LPI, 2021 is around 170 LPI—and there’s no evidence of rescreening.*
*Poorly done reprints often scan and rescreen on top of the older screen and the result is often a mess.
LPI stands for lines per inch and refers to how many rows of dots occur in each inch of printing. A higher number means you have the ability to show more detail in the image but also requires better quality paper and a better press to hold that detail. Printing too fine a line screen can actually produce a darker image than expected if done incorrectly since the dots are closer together and can “plug” if the paper or press is wrong.* In the 1980s and 1990s, anything over 120 LPI was high quality. Nowadays things are routinely printed around 170 or higher.
* It’s my opinion that 1989 Upper Deck suffered a bit from this as it would completely explain why so many of the images are darker than they should be.
More importantly though, I can see in the blacks that the screen on the 2021 card is a lot more open. At the top of this pair of images, the 1992 version is almost solid black. There are occasional dots of color but it’s mostly plugged with ink. The 2021 version though is clearly a mix of inks. Not only is the linescreen much finer, Topps kept it from plugging up with ink. As a result, there’s a lot more visible detail in the cap, jacket, and even the background texture.
There’s also a lot less yellow being printed in 2021. Looking at Clark’s eye shows that even if the UV coating in the 1992 is yellowing, there’s actually a lot of yellow being printed as well. I see way fewer yellow dots in the 2021 card.
This pair of images shows off the difference in detail that we can see in the glove but what caught my eye is the way the Stadium Club logo is printed. This wasn’t clocked by most people in 1991 but in addition to the full-bleed images, glossy finish, and foil stamping, Topps also used a spot-color ink* for the first time on the front of its cards.** This continued in 1992 and in the scans here the difference between the pink stadium seats is pretty obvious.
*I’m not going to explain spot colors in much depth here since I’ve already done so elsewhere on the blog but in short, full-color printing uses four process inks (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) and any additional ink that’s not one of those four colors is a spot ink.
**1991 Stadium Club is the first full-color plus spot color I can think of for Topps. 1990 Leaf with the silver ink if the first full-color plus spot color I can think of in general. Adding a spot ink to the four process inks was a serious premium step up in production.
No screening at all in 1992. Clear magenta and yellow screen patterns and even some slight misregistration in 2021. I can’t show this in images but the 1992 spot ink fluoresces under a black light as well.
I know why Topps chose not to use a spot color in 2021 since that would be a lot of extra production for an insert set that no one was really excited about anyway.* At the same time, that they didn’t strikes me as being as wrong as if they’d replaced the foil stamping with a gold color ink mix.
*Seriously, does anyone like Stadium Club inserts? I’m pretty sure we all just get Stadium Club because the base card photography is so great.
Still, it was fun to do a dive into the printing differences so I can’t complain too much. While things like Heritage or Archives often play a bit loose with adapting old designs to modern usage, a reprint is supposed to be the same and when it’s not I’m glad the differences give us a look in to how Topps’s production quality has changed and, for the most part, improved.
I took the kids out the other day to hit some balls. It’s been a bit of a frustrating summer in terms of weather—stifling humidity, or thunderstorms with leveling winds and torrential downpours—but we hit a sweet stretch of sunny, high-skied days, so we grabbed one by the lapels and the four of us headed out shortly after breakfast. We had four gloves, nine balls, and four bats: two aluminum, my old ash Slugger with Junior’s signature burned into it, and a bamboo Mizuno I picked up this spring. We had one batting helmet to pass between us. We also found a half-finished pouch of Big League Chew in the bottom of the old gym bag we use to carry our stuff. All signs pointed to this being a good day.
We do this pretty often. In this house taking the kids to a diamond to play catch, field grounders, shag flies, and thwack balls on hot summer days is as non-negotiable an aspect of the season as eating fresh cherries, sleeping with the windows open, and canoeing across smooth water to take a cooling dip in the buggy, violet dusk.
On this particular day I was wearing a Pirates tee with the old grinning pirate logo—the one that looks like a lobby card for a swashbuckler starring Dean Martin—and my son’s cast off Peterborough Tigers house league cap, mesh and adjustable, which he abandoned the moment he made the rep team, whereupon I swooped in to claim it. I finished off the ensemble with cut-off Levi’s and a pair of shabby running shoes. The kids all pretty much follow my sartorial lead, though given that they’re fifteen (my daughter) and eleven (her twin brothers), it doesn’t read for them like the cry for help it probably is for me. Among the hard lessons of adulthood is that what plays when you’re a kid doesn’t necessarily retain its currency as you age. I still haven’t fully internalized that one, as evidenced by my eBay search history.
We drove to a nearby diamond hemmed by a pair of busy roads and a construction site. A crane towered over centerfield. But the outfield grass was a thick, brilliant green—all that rain—and the freshly-raked dirt of the infield promised true bounces. Taking the first step onto that groomed and untrodden earth felt a lot like tearing open a brand new pack of cards. Maybe that’s why I hesitated.
Unopened packs are some powerful stuff, psychically, spiritually, precisely because you just don’t know what’s inside. I mean, you know what’s inside in broad terms—the packaging tells you, if it’s doing its job. But the specifics elude you, and that’s when the imagination takes over, making room for hope and anticipation. The box of 2021 Topps Series 2 that sits on my shelf tantalizes by virtue of its newness and the possibilities it represents, and that’s why, though I love opening cards with my kids, taking turns drafting until all the cards are gone, I also relish holding off on even telling them that I’ve picked up a new box or pack. Part of that is the joy of surprise, but the bulk of it is that hope, ephemeral and addictive. Maybe Tatis, Jr. waits to be taken, or Soto. There might be an Ohtani. There might even be a Vlad, Jr. In our house, that’d be the first card chosen. We’re a little crazy about Vlad.
Less exciting for the kids, by virtue of simple math, is the hanger pack of 1990 Donruss that I’ve been holding on to for a couple of years. It’s funny that I should be so reverent of that set, which I collected, but did not love, in its year of issue, with its funky and immodest Memphis Milano design cues, and the fact that I was at the time primarily obsessed with Upper Deck’s offerings. But I found this cellophaned relic in a junk shop a few years ago, where it was underpriced, sitting next to NASCAR models and board games marked “MISSING PIECES,” so I brought it home, and it has rested within arm’s reach of my desk ever since, waiting for a day that seemed to beckon toward the finality of tearing open its brittle envelope and revealing its contents.
That those contents might underwhelm is both a statistical probability and a compelling argument for leaving the packaging untroubled, and the mystery it cradles intact. Already there are indications that the cache could disappoint; the three cards visible through the clear wrapper are Jose Uribe (SFG), Clint Zavaras (SEA), and Brian Holton (BAL). I mean no disrespect to any of those men, but short of family has anyone ever longed to see those names when they crack open a fresh pack? You’re looking for Griffey, Bo Jackson, Barry Bonds, a Larry Walker rookie card, not commons and filler.
Hope for one outcome and the suspicion that another is all that awaits; this is the fine tension that fuels the excitement of an unopened pack of baseball cards. The only thing preserving this delicate balance is the packaging, be it waxed paper sealed with glue, a foil pouch, rectilinear cardboard, or clear plastic. Once breached, the mystery—and the promise—evaporates. Maybe Vladdy’s in there, maybe he isn’t, but knowing he is, or knowing he isn’t, isn’t as interesting as not knowing that he is, or isn’t. Ignorance is bliss, while hope is divine.
The kids didn’t hesitate to step onto the dirt, of course. Theirs were the first footprints on the unspoiled infield. They charged ahead and I followed, and we lay all our stuff at the foot of the chain-link backstop. We put on our gloves and started tossing a ball around. When the ball hit the dirt it left round impact craters and, from rollers, long runnels like sandworm tracks. Before long we’d collaborated on an original work, an abstract in dirt, a study in forms.
Then the bats came out. I walked to the mound and lay down a cluster of balls, most of which were worn and scuffed—last year’s crop, from the box I ordered to give us something to replace all the balls we were losing over the backyard fence during early pandemic games of catch. Of that batch of a dozen there are now six left untouched, gleaming and beautiful in their box, other iterations of promise, threats of diminishment. On this day I brought two of those fresh pearls, smooth and white, because there’s nothing like hitting a new ball. My son stepped in, waggled his bat, and I began serving up fat cookies right over the heart of the plate, which he hacked and whacked all over the field, leaving more craters and lines. His siblings fielded the balls and tossed them back in.
The kids took turns at bat and sullied the new balls, and it was glorious. Dribblers, stingers, high pop flies. The orbs picked up grass, dirt, scratches in their soft hides. They’re still brighter than the other balls, but a little less clean, and in time they’ll show evidence of heavy use, which is as it should be. An unused baseball is, I think, a tiny crime against the universe.
The cards, too, will eventually be opened. Let’s face it, I lack the willpower to hold out forever. The balance will tilt until it overwhelms me, and I’ll succumb to a moment of high-grade hope, and maybe there will be a gem or two buried within. Vlad, or Larry Walker, or Andre Dawson. And if no superstar appears, no Hall of Famer, or member of the Hall of Very Good—or even the Annex of Guys Who You Know Aren’t Very Good, But You Root For Them Anyway—the disappointment will dissolve nearly as soon as it sets in. There are no real stakes in this, and that’s what’s so wonderful about it.
This summer I’ve been fortunate to be part of—okay, co-organizer along with Mr. Shake of—the very cool Josh Gibson MVP “Card Art” tournament. The tournament includes more than 70 artists from five countries and was created to help make the case for naming MLB’s (nameless since 2020) MVP trophies after Josh.
Many of this blog’s readers no doubt roll their eyes at the concept of “Card Art” and prefer to stick to “real cards” thank you very much, but here’s the thing. These are real cards. I don’t mean this in any philosophical sense either. The majority of the cards in the tournament are being produced with the support the Josh Gibson Foundation, which not only approves the cards but has provided certificates of authenticity.
The result is that Josh Gibson, whose sky-high profile among baseball’s pantheon received a serious boost last week from Baseball-Reference, now has several dozen new, independently produced, licensed trading cards, many of which are downright stunning, to go along with the recent Topps Project 70 offerings from artists Efdot and Chuck Styles.
The tournament, hosted by the Negro Leagues Baseball Marketplace, began May 10 and is expected to run through July 12. The first phase of the tournament consisted of a series of weekly competitions, with weekly winners determined by a combination of Twitter engagement and website voting. (Feel free to follow the tournament at the NLB Marketplace twitter account.)
Ultimately the overall winner will be selected through a Tournament of Champions, itself consisting of two phases. The first will be an NCAA Tournament-like bracket to determine the Final Four. From there, a panel of celebrity judges ranging from MLB All-Star Al Oliver to Dodger EVP Janet Marie Smith to a who’s who panel of top artists and entertainers will crown a champion.
As a participant in the tournament, a practitioner and collector of Card Art, and a super-fan of Josh Gibson, yes, I’m biased, but I tend to think the Josh Gibson MVP Card Art set is hands down the set of the year. One could quibble with whether the 70+ cards truly form a set since every card has a different design and has been produced by a different artist/studio. Additionally, I should note that a few of the cards are not being released in physical form, such as this 1988 Score-inspired, HTML/CSS-generated rainbow from Baseball-Reference savant Adam Darowski, making the full tournament set an impossibility to complete.
For cards that have been made available to collectors, distribution has generally ranged from 10-50 cards per artist, based on agreements between individual artists and the Josh Gibson Foundation. To my knowledge the card with the highest production run, 100, is card #12 from Montreal-based artist Josée Tellier. Notwithstanding print runs of zero, the lowest print runs are attached to various handcrafted 1/1 cards such as this stained glass piece from Indiana artist Joel Hofmann.
…and this original pencil drawing (!) from Manitoba-based artist Robb Scott.
The set’s most recent weekly winner, from accomplished Topps artist Josh Trout, will be another very challenging card for collectors to add. It will only be available as a 1/1 card as part of the 2021 Topps Canvas Collection.
The tournament was open to all interested artists, and some used the Tournament to make their (at least public) debut into the world of Card Art.
“Having a seat at the table of trying to incorporate Negro League history into the baseball mainstream,” is what motivated Arizona-based Roger Nusbaum to join the tournament, citing his participation in the Josh Gibson MVP campaign as “an honor and a purposeful endeavor, a chance to try to achieve something important.”
Other artists, such as SABR member Mike Bryan (aka Obi-Wan Jabroni) of Tallahassee, connected with the Josh Gibson MVP campaign on an even more personal level, cherishing the “opportunity to be involved in such a worthy movement and show my own interracial daughter that for every crazy look she gets when we’re out in public, there is someone willing to stand up and fight for what’s right.”
Mike is far from the only SABR member with a card in the set. Andrew Wooley of Millburg Trading Cards, who was also the official card artist of the late Dick Allen, put out this fantastic card week one.
SABR Chicago member John Racanelli has one of the few cards released through the first seven weeks that is not already sold out. (In case you’re wondering a $10 donation to the Josh Gibson Foundation is all it takes to add this card to your collection, while supplies last.)
That same week of the tournament also featured SABR members Adam Korengold, who paints directly onto existing baseball cards, and Donna Muscarella, who combines cut Allen & Ginter cards with her own original photography.
SABR member and water color artist Michael Lewis (aka Mighty Lark) had an entry back in week three of the tournament.
This will be a big week for the Josh Gibson MVP Card Art set as nearly 20 new cards will drop, setting the table for next week’s Tournament of Champions. Winning the tournament will undoubtedly mean a lot to whichever artist takes home the trophy, but a common theme among the artists is that they are much more teammates than rivals. The real prize, if it happens, will be seeing Josh Gibson’s name on Baseball’s MVP trophies.
“I can be quite competitive, but to be honest, its been nothing but an honor to be a part of this tournament,” says Daniel Kearsey of Sixty-First Street Cards. “I was up against some amazing artists the week I submitted my art. It was so awesome to see everyone’s work. It didn’t matter if I won or lost. What mattered is getting Josh the recognition he deserves.”
As Dom Czepiga (aka DINK), a card artist who has collaborated with Orioles star Trey Mancini puts it, “My vision was for a highly respectful simple yet regal feel befitting one of the best baseball players in the history of the sport. It had to be exceptional as it will take its place in history as part of the campaign to rename the MVP Award the Josh Gibson Memorial MVP Award.”
The card art entry from Atlanta-based pop artist Scott Hodges, produced one of the tournament’s most memorable images, one of Josh the Basher “breaking through the barriers of the past” as a Joker-like Commissioner Landis looks on.
However, the last word on the MVP campaign goes to Sean Gibson, whose hand-signed statement accompanies the back of John Racanelli’s special edition card 1/50. This, more than anything else, is the goal of the set and the tournament.
Here is the Project #JG20MVP set’s complete checklist of 75 cards, not including SP and SSP variants, along with a pic of the cards I’ve managed to collect so far. (UPDATE: You can now see all 75 cards thanks to this video!)
The formula for Topps Project 70 is a seemingly simple one. An artist, typically from outside the sports card world, chooses a player, chooses a design from among the “70 Years of Topps,” and combines the two, adding in their own artistic style and spin.
The Brittney Palmer card of A-Rod (1980 design) and Jonas Never card of Justin Turner (1982 design) are good examples of the concept in action.
Occasionally, however, an artist adds a third dimension. In the case of DJ Skee, it’s a curated Spotify playlist of music and storytelling. In the case of Alex Pardee, there’s an epic comic book-like plot unfolding, and in the case of Eric Friedensohn, (better known as Efdot), there is that complex but omnipresent realm many collectors only begrudgingly stomach: real life.
We profiled a couple of Efdot’s cards last year when he was part of the Topps Project 2020 lineup. His Jackie Robinson card was influenced by the protests and national reckoning following George Floyd’s senseless murder, and his masked Dwight Gooden card, a nod to the worldwide COVID pandemic, not only made a real doc out of “Doc” but made our “SABR 50 at 50” list as the defining card of 2020.
This year, readers of Apple News were treated to a sneak preview of yet another Efdot card that is meeting the moment.
On May 24 (TODAY!), Topps is releasing the first (but hopefully not only) Josh Gibson card of Project 70, which not only pays tribute to the legendary Negro Leagues slugger but also calls attention to an effort underway to name Baseball’s MVP trophies in Josh’s honor.
The card will only be available thru May 27 at noon ET, after which point no additional cards will be released. (Pro tip: Do NOT show up at 11:59 on the last day. Allow for at least a few minutes of captcha hell before Topps.com lets you complete your purchase.)
There’s a lot to unpack, but let’s start with the choice of Josh Gibson, a player Topps did not initially make available to Project 70 artists. For insights into the card and the story behind it, I checked in with Efdot, the card’s artist, and Sean Gibson, the executive director of the Josh Gibson Foundation, not to mention the great-grandson of the Hall of Fame slugger.
UPDATE: You can also tune in to Beckett Live Presents for a live discussion with Efdot and Sean. (If you miss it, the same link will take you to the recording.)
Jason: Eric, your earlier cards in the set were of Mike Schmidt, Ozzie Smith, Ronald Acuña, and Wade Boggs. What led you to choose Josh Gibson?
Efdot: Leading up to Project70, getting to choose my own players was incredible. I knew I wanted to illustrate a diverse group of both retired and young current players. I had not seen many cards representing Negro League players, and knew they deserved more recognition for their contributions to baseball.
I had done extensive research on Jackie Robinson last year for Project2020 and learned more about the athletes that were forced to play only in Negro Leagues, never making it to the Major Leagues. I dug deeper and got inspired by Josh Gibson’s images, his story and the positive, engaged community around the Josh Gibson Foundation.
Jason: Once you knew you wanted to do a card of Josh, what was the process to make that happen?
Efdot: I worked with my friend, writer/editor Matt Castello, to help me finalize my player selections. Topps told me I could request players outside of the given list. Josh Gibson was at the top of my list for players that I wanted to illustrate, so I asked Topps if they could make it happen. I’m not sure what negotiations happened between Topps and the Josh Gibson Foundation/Estate, but after a few weeks, Topps informed me that I was able to make the first Josh Gibson card for Project70.
Jason: Sean, what did it mean to you to have an artist select Josh Gibson for this project?
Sean Gibson: I’d like to answer here not just for myself but on behalf of the entire Gibson family. Number one, it’s always exciting to see Josh Gibson on a baseball card. In addition, it’s particularly exciting for the card to be done by Efdot. I’m a big fan of his work, and I’ve really enjoyed the cards he’s done in the past. So yes, having a Josh Gibson card from Efdot is very special.
Jason: Eric, you had your choice of designs from seven decades of Topps baseball cards. What motivated you to choose 1972 for this card?
Efdot: I was initially interested in 1972 Topps from a design perspective, because it seemed like it would work well with my style. I found out that the 1972 set’s informal nickname among collectors is “the psychedelic tombstone set,” which is a reference to the design’s outer border and how each picture is presented within an arch.
The way the team name is written across the top of the card, almost looking like a marquee sign shining bright. I recognized the font from comic books and art deco-style buildings that I’ve seen in Midtown Manhattan. (I had also created multiple lettering pieces in the past, referencing this same type style.)
Once I learned that Josh Gibson’s Hall of Fame induction happened in 1972, I decided it was the perfect pairing.
Author’s note: The 1972 design also proved fortuitous when Topps let Eric know much more recently that they wanted to add a “chase card” to the Josh Gibson release. Here is “Josh Gibson MVP…In Action!”
Jason: Eric, many of your cards feature small “Easter eggs” that help tell a broader story when found by the collector. On this card, the letters “MVP” are too prominent to qualify as an Easter egg, but there is still a story to them. You’re specifically referencing the Josh Gibson MVP Award campaign that’s underway right now, correct?
Efdot: Yes. I don’t recall exactly when I found out about the Josh Gibson MVP campaign, but it was something I resonated with immediately. Right away, I had the idea to change that marquee sign to say GIBSON MVP, loud and proud, instead of the team name. I wanted it to line up with the #JG20MVP campaign as a powerful combination of messaging and design.
Josh Gibson is such an important player with a rich and unrecognized history of accomplishment in home runs, batting average, and sheer power that deserves to serve as the standard across the league.
I believe the naming of the MVP award should be given to someone not only who represents the accomplishments in sports through their performance on the field, but also a good role model for young athletes and current players alike.
Jason: Sean, you had a peek at the card early. Tell me what it was like to see your great-grandfather brought to life by Eric’s artwork?
Sean Gibson: When I first saw the card I thought it was amazing. Now the most important part of the card is the lettering that reads “MVP.” When I first spoke with Efdot about the Josh Gibson MVP campaign he was the one who suggested putting MVP right on the card.
After that, I love the colors and the details. I particularly like the glove and how Efdot has the addreess of 2217 Bedford Avenue. For the readers who might not know, 2217 Bedford is the location where Josh first started playing baseball for the Pittsburgh Crawfords sandlot team. The field there is known today as Josh Gibson Field.
Jason: Eric, how does it feel to have created this special card, and what place do you hope it has in the Hobby?
Eric: I knew from the start that working on this card wouldn’t be like any other. I was so grateful for the opportunity to work with the Josh Gibson Foundation and Sean Gibson directly to help me truly understand the importance of Josh’s legacy and to help create a piece of work that will hopefully be used to celebrate that legacy for years to come.
Jason: And finally, Sean, what would it mean to your family and the families of other Negro League legends to have baseball’s MVP trophies renamed for Josh?
Sean Gibson: I would say this. The Hall of Fame is Josh’s biggest accomplishment. That said, I was three years old when Josh was inducted, so I have no recollection of the experience. For the younger generations and the rest of the Gibson family, this would be the most significant accomplishment of our lifetimes with respect to Josh.
Overall, it would be the second greatest accomplishment of Josh’s career, with the Hall of Fame being the first. However, this award would not only honor Josh but acknowledge and recognize the other 3400 men who were denied the chance to play Major League Baseball solely due to the color of their skin. Josh would be carrying all of these players on his shoulders.
Jason: Gentlemen, my genuine thanks to both of you for taking the time to talk to SABR Baseball Cards. Best of luck with the card and of course the MVP campaign! Finally, on a personal note, now that Josh finally has an official MVP card I can stop making my own! (But I probably won’t.)
I had to see it with my own eyes to believe it, but there he was: Albert Pujols in Dodger Blue.
Following the Pujols signing, baseball savant Jay Jaffe was quick to point out that Albert was in good company.
Ditto Chris Kamka.
While late to the party, I’ll carry on the theme with the baseball card angle. We’ll blow right past Jackie, Sandy, Pee Wee, and the Duke and focus on the players you don’t normally think of as Dodgers.
THE BROOKLYN ERA
There’s a great reason you don’t think of Bender as a Dodger. He never was. Yet, here he is in the 1916 Mother’s Bread set representing the Brooklyn National League club!
Without doing a ton of digging, I’m going to assume this is simply an error card. The same set also has Bender (same image) as a Philadelphia Athletic, which would have been equally incorrect. (Bender was a Baltimore Terrapin in 1915 and a Philadelphia Phillie in 1916.)
The Great One, as is well known, never suited up for Brooklyn. Instead he was smartly and fatefully signed by the Pirates after the Dodgers left him unprotected in their farm system.
The 1994 Topps Archives set chose to include Roberto as a “1954 PROSPECT” of the Brooklyn Dodgers, depicting Clemente in a Montreal Royals uniform and aping the 1954 Topps design.
Okay, now you know there’s something funny going on here. The Mechanical Man as a Dodger? Heavens no! However, the uniform must have looked close enough that someone logged the card this way in Trading Card Database. (And don’t worry. I’ve submitted a correction.)
Still, it may well be that your Albert Pujols Dodgers card looks this jarring 50 years into the future. (Perhaps your Albert Pujols Angels cards will as well!)
Here’s one thing we know. If a player even spent a minute as a Dodger the 1990 Target Dodgers megaset took note.
Lazzeri wasn’t the only member of the Murderers Row to have a Dodger baseball card. The Bambino, who coached for the squad, had several, beginning with this one from the 1962 Topps “Babe Ruth Special” subset.
If my eyes don’t deceive me, the next time Cody Bellinger steps to the plate for the Dodgers (hopefully soon!) his uniform number 35 will take on new significance.
Thanks to Don Zminda for reminding me in the comments that Big Poison also had some Dodger cardboard.
Vintage collectors will prefer his 1941 Double Play card, shared with the season’s most ill-fated backstop. However, if beauty is what you’re after then this 1973 card will fill you will “Glee.”
Perhaps the only thing that could have diminished the thrill of my fellow SABR Chicago member John Racanelli landed his “holy grail” Hack Wilson card was flipping it over to see the team on the back.
Like Pujols, Wilson had his best seasons behind him, though he did knock a total of 38 homers for Brooklyn across 2+ seasons.
THE LOS ANGELES ERA
This Dick Allen card is better known as the first major release with a mustache since T206 but is more importantly a must in any Dodger collection.
Unlike Pujols (at least we assume!), Allen’s best years weren’t behind him at all when he joined the Dodgers. He would of course win the American League’s MVP award in 1972 as a member of the White Sox, where he would also garner back-to-back Topps All-Star cards in 1974 and 1975.
Don’t worry. I didn’t remember this either.
Three wins, one loss, and a respectable 3.36 ERA.
Wait, what?! The Chairman of the Board? Yes, if his 1962 Post Cereal (Canadian) issue is to be believed.
Don’t panic. It was only an error card.
While it seems like Rickey played for just about every team at some point, it sometimes takes cardboard proof to reassure me I wasn’t just imagining him in Dodger Blue.
So thank you, 2003 Fleer Tradition…I think.
Buy the time Maddux came to L.A. in 2006, by way of the Cubs, the Dodger faithful may have worried he had little left in the tank.
As his 2006 Upper Deck Season Highlights card reminds us, he could still get outs, tossing six no-hit innings in his first game as a Dodger. The magic didn’t last long though, as he went on to surrender 28 hits over his next three games.
Of course the Target Dodgers set was there for it, but we’ll go 1983 ASA instead.
The picture is sure to feel like a dagger to the hearts of Giants fans, but they could of course parry with an equally blasphemous Jackie.
Robby may have entered the Hall as an Oriole, but that didn’t stop SSPC from immortalizing him as a Dodger.
Naturally, many other cards include Frank Robinson’s Dodger stint, including his 1973 Topps flagship issue.
Hall of Famer Jim Thome (or J M H M if your eyes are as bad as mine) had a brief pinch-hitting stint for the Dodgers in 2009, batting 17 times in 17 games with 4 singles.
Still, that cup of coffee was enough to make him one of THREE 600 HR club members Dodgers collectors can claim, along with Babe Ruth and now…
Man, remember when we had to wait a year for this kind of thing!
I’ve been looking forward to 2021 Heritage for a couple years now. This is partially because 1972 was the first set which stood out as the oldest cards in my childhood collection, but the main reason is because it’s just an incredibly challenging design to reproduce. Up to 1972, Topps’s designs are pretty restrained. Nothing complex is going on with the fonts and even the colorful sets feature solid blocks of color.
1972 though. Hoo boy. Custom type for the team names. Bright and colorful with different-colored borders. I could see the potential for a major trainwreck and I was split between hoping for such a wreck and hoping that Topps instead got it all right.
The reality of course lies between those two extremes. For the most part 2021 Heritage looks about right and the differences aren’t really worth complaining about. Those differences though are however the kind of thing I happen to find really interesting.
So let’s start out just comparing a bunch of 1972 Topps cards with their 2021 Heritage equivalents. Not a whole lot worth noting. Some color differences but most are really just shifts in darkness. Only the change from magenta to red on the Indians and Cubs cards is particularly noteworthy.*
*Side comment here but I’ve yet to see anyone post a tribute to the Billy Cowan card and that seems a massive missed opportunity. I am however not at all surprised that there’s no tribute to the Billy Martin card.
Zooming in though shows the usual interesting (to me at least) comparisons between printing technology in the 1970s and today. Or in the case with most of the Heritage cards, they show how the design workflow is different.
So let’s look at some details. 1972 on the left, 2021 on the right. I’m not going to look at the pairs in order, instead I’m grouping them based on how they differ colorwise.
Or, as is the case with this first group, how they don’t differ. The red, yellow, and greens are all solid. These all feature 100% yellow ink. The red also features 100% magenta and the green features 100% cyan. The difference in color between the two greens is a reflection of how heavy the cyan ink was printed.
In the borders and text sections you can see how the trapping and registration differs between 1972 and 2021. This is especially obvious on the 1972 red card since the black plate is a bit misregistered and doesn’t cover up the transitions between yellow, orange, and red.
And in the white text on the 2021 green card you can just make out the faint yellow screen that Topps printed to warm up the white card stock.
There’s also some weird stuff on a couple of the 2021 cards—a yellow edge in the S on the yellow card and a white edge between the green solid and black hairline—a which suggests that something else is going on. Since this oddness continues in the other examples I’ll wait until the end to address it.
The oranges are also pretty close. Still 100% yellow but now you can see the magenta screen. 2021 Heritage uses a much much finer line screen which could account for some of the color shifting.* The blues are completely different but we’ll cover those later.
*Also the bottom of the S on the Tigers card is yellow instead of white but I think this is just a mistake.
The oddness in the blacks—both the S and the hairline borders—in the 2021 cards continues here. The edges of the black components of the design just aren’t crisp. This is similar to the black edges in 2020 Heritage but has a very different shape in the way that the edge is screened.
The blue cards show the most-serious changes since they’ve gone from being just cyan ink to being a mix of all the inks. In 1972 the dark blue is 100% cyan and the light blue is like 40% cyan. In 2021 you can see multi-color halftone rosettes.*
*These changes can also be seen in the green and blue details on the Angels cards I showed in the previous orange section.
Nothing new to note in the blacks except that to my eyes the edges on the blue are even rougher.
To the last two pairs. Not much to say about Topps changing pink to red except to wonder if they had the same problem printing magenta-only that they had printing cyan-only and in the same way hat the blue cards ended up being a richer blue, maybe the pinks became more reddish until someone decided they should just be all red.
What’s weirder is that the In Action cards do not feature solid inks and instead the Magenta ink is screened. This is the definitive tell of a computer trying to match a target color instead of printing the input color* but the fact it only appears on this one color mix could just be a fluke.
*Back in the days before computer-generated print screens, it wasn’t just easier to print colors as solids, that was how the entire workflow went. For most things you picked the simple screen mix you wanted and what came off the press is what you got. With computers, the process is reversed. The designer picks the final desired color and then the computer decides what physical screen mix will achieve that.
Instead, I need to point out the difference in the black edges between the “In Action” text and the player name since this highlights how differently Topps created each element
If I had to guess I would say that Topps created the design of this set as continuous-tone artwork instead of linework. Continuous tone art consists of individually colored pixels such as you’d have in photographs or other Photoshop creations. They don’t scale well and the transitions between colors often end up being dithered and fuzzy instead of clean and crisp. Linework is also known as vector graphics and consists of shapes—whether simple like a box or complicated like a font—which the computer draws via a formula. Such shapes can be scaled and maintain crisp edges at multiple sizes.
The edges of the blacks in the team names, as well as the way that the ™ and ® symbols are fuzzy, suggests that Topps produced the borders in Photoshop instead of Illustrator.* This isn’t the way I’d want to design these since the flexibility of linework would allow for much better printing in terms of the crispness of the edges, control of the color, and trapping along the color transitions.
*They also provide an example of one of the first things to look for with counterfeited cards. Those kind of fuzzy edges are an obvious sign that something has been scanned and reprinted.
While I’m pretty sure that Topps produced the artwork using Photoshop, I’m a bit confused at how they created the text in the team names. While the type in the 22 team names that existed in the 1972 set* looks correct, the type in the eight new names** is a disaster.
*There were 24 teams in 1972 but the Expos became the Nationals and the A’s became the Athletics.
**Six expansion teams plus the Nationals and Athletics.
The arch effect in 1972 is simple vertically-arched lettering.* All the vertical lines are supposed to remain vertical and only the horizontals follow the curve. The 1972 font highlights this by having the engraved lines which should all be parallel. None of the eight new team names are able to do this however.
*For you custom card makers out there, in Illustrator, using “Type On Path” with the “skew” option instead of “rainbow” will do this with zero effort. And yes I’m assuming Topps has the font for this.
The least offensive is the Rays where only the stem of the Y really shows how things are going bad. The others have multiple letters (or in the case of the Marlins and Blue Jays, all of the letters) tilted incorrectly. On top of this, some letters—all the Es for example—are bizarrely malformed and there’s also the backwards first A in Diamondbacks to contend with.
This all feels like some one tried to warp things in Photoshop and failed miserably and the end result shows off all the worst things about Heritage. A shame since there’s a lot of good stuff going on otherwise and I do like the 1972 design.
Oh and the postseason card is included here because the choice to mix italics into the arched lettering is such a bad choice that it ends up looking like the same kind of warping weirdness that bedevils the team names.
Moving to the backs. Yes there are legitimate problems with the font size Topps used on some of the cards. But that’s a basic choice (or lack of caring) and isn’t that interesting. What I did find interesting is how Topps is printing the backs using 4-color process instead of just black and orange ink and how the actual paper “color” is now a printed design element.
This faked grey card stock thing is why the back colors are different card-to-card. Keeping that kind of color consistent is really hard. A slight deviation in any one of the ink densities throws the whole color slightly warm or cool.
I scanned these two cards together so that the color differences came form the cards and not my scanning. Zooming in shows no discernible difference in the screening so the final color differences are just printing variations. These zooms also show how all three colors (the only black in appears to be in the text and lines) are also present in the orange portions of the design.
This is something I’m used to on Archives but it’s a bit of a disappointment to see shortcuts like this in Heritage. Especially when it results in visibly highlight printing differences in a stack of cards.
My main purpose in writing this very short blog post is to make this spreadsheet available to other collectors, bloggers, and researchers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to know the answer to a simple question like “How many times did Mickey Mantle have an All-Star card?” only to find it a slow process to arrive at the answer.
Among the kinds of questions you can easily answer with the spreadsheet are–
How many times was the Mick a Topps All-Star? (Five: 1958-62)
How many Topps All-Star cards have featured Dodgers? (80)
Has one team ever had all three All-Star outfielders? (Yes, 1980 Red Sox with Rice, Lynn, and Yastrzemski)
Who was the first ever Topps All-Star in the history of the Pilots/Brewers franchise? (Don Money, 1979)
Who has the most appearances as a Topps All-Star? (Rod Carew, 13)
Which players have 10 or more Topps All-Star cards? (Rod Carew, Barry Bonds, Derek Jeter, George Brett, Carlton Fisk, Cal Ripken, Ken Griffey)
I’ll plan to add the rest of the years soon enough, but in the meantime let me know if you have any special requests or comments around the usability of the selected format.
Thanks, and we’ll look forward to the many Topps All-Star articles that follow!
NOTE 1: If the spreadsheet is in an annoying order when you open it, feel free to sort on the first column (Sort ID) to reset it to chronological order.
NOTE 2: The spreadsheet is being shared as read-only to prevent any accidental introduction of errors. However, if you want to modify it you are able to save an editable copy to your own Google Drive.
NOTE 3: From 1997-2002, it became a bit murky whether certain cards should be considered “All-Star” cards since Topps neither used the term “All-Star” nor selected one player per position per league. You may wish to filter some of these years out of your results depending how you view these cards.
NOTE 4: From 2006 onward (aside from 2020 when there was no ASG), Topps awarded an All-Star card to 50+ players, including not only ASG starters and reserves but occasionally players who were replaced on the team.
NOTE 5: The 2020 Topps Update set included an All-Star Game set composed primarily of active players plus some retired greats such as Griffey, Rivera, and Ortiz. I chose not to count these cards since the spirit of the set seems to be past ASG highlights rather than any indicator of All-Star status for the current or prior year. (Recall also that there was no 2020 ASG.)
As we start the 2021 baseball season, Minor League Baseball is now firmly under the control of Major League Baseball. This has already brought about significant change.
A few low-level minor leagues – like my sentimental favorite, the Class A New York-Penn League – have been folded entirely. The others have had their time-honored names stripped from them, rearranged and rebranded with bland, waiting-for-sponsors titles. For instance, the century-plus of heritage behind the International League name has been discarded in favor of “Triple-A East.” Minor-league teams are now “licensed affiliates” who make a point to announce that their schedules have been provided by MLB.
It feels to this lifelong minor-league fan like any vestige of the old MiLB could be ripe for elimination, if it doesn’t make MLB money or burnish the parent organization’s brand in some way.
And one of the purest manifestations of the old MiLB is the trainer’s card.
Big-league sets don’t include trainer’s cards; you don’t find them in St. Louis or Los Angeles. (The best a big-league trainer could typically hope for, card-wise, was to appear as a small, golf-shirted dot on the fringes of the team picture.)
Instead, you find trainer cards in Wausau and Pawtucket, in minor-league card sets, adding bulk to the team set alongside the mascot, the stadium, the general manager, the owner, or occasionally even the chaplain. (He bats and throws righty!)
They’re not tremendously sexy cards, from a design standpoint, and they’re certainly not the most sought-after. If you were to sweep through a minor-league ballpark at the end of Team Set Giveaway Day, you’d probably find at least a couple of trainer cards, cast aside by kids whose solitary interest lies with uniformed on-field personnel.
Still, these cards are a tradition in many minor-league sets. And they serve a purpose, beyond filling out a set. They provide some small token of recognition to men and women whose work is necessary, even crucial, but unglamorous and almost certainly not lucrative.
These people work hard to keep the minor-league armies marching. They deserve these tips of the cap – whether they carry the old-fashioned title of Trainer, or newfangled, health-related handles like Strength and Conditioning Coach or Physical Fitness Coordinator.
I have no difficulty imagining a future in which MLB brings all minor-league card production into a central operation and discards the trainer card. They’ve junked bigger traditions, after all. Plus, trainer cards always have a touch of the podunk about them – and MLB isn’t in the podunk business.
It certainly won’t kill anybody if they do that, but it will be a loss, just as the New York-Penn League is a loss. It will be one less homespun touch, one less glimpse behind the polished facade.
Of course, the pendulum could swing the other way. With interest in cards at an almost absurd high, maybe MLB will want to churn out cardboard on anybody they can think to photograph. Trainers? Groundskeepers? Racing mascots? That self-appointed superfan in face paint who makes an annoyance of himself blowing a vuvuzela and is thisclose to being banned at the beer kiosks? Bring ‘em all on; someone can be convinced to buy.
If we get trainer cards in chrome or refractor style, with multiple color variants, I might just be convinced to love the brave new world.
In honor of Women’s History Month, I wanted to shine a light on some notable female baseball card artists, past and present. I make no claim that my list is exhaustive, so please use the Comments area to let me know about the artists I’m missing.
2021 Topps Project 70
Though Topps seems to shy away from regarding it as a sequel, Project 70 follows in the footsteps of the prior year’s Project 2020 while opening up the selection of players and years and increasing the number of participating artists to 51. Notably, five of the artists in Project 70 are women. Here is the Topps bio of each, along with one of the first two cards released by each artist. (Check back soon for a full-length SABR Baseball Cards interview with Lauren Taylor!)
2020 Topps Project 2020
Five female artists out of 51 total may or may not feel like a big number to you, but either way it represents a significant jump from Project 2020, in which Sophia Chang was the lone female creator.
Chang’s cards cracked the coveted 10,000 print run threshold three times, led by Mike Trout at 14,821 and followed closely by Roberto Clemente (12,077) and Willie Mays (10,480).
When Sophia released her debut Project 2020 card, Mariano Rivera, I wondered how many female artists had preceded her. As it turned out, I didn’t have to look back very far.
2019 Montreal Expos
Montreal-based sports artist Josée Tellier, who may well be the world’s biggest Montreal Expos and Andre Dawson fan, created her own set of Expos greats in 2019 to honor the 50th anniversary of the franchise.
While the set was not an official release, her cards spread quickly on social media and became one of the Hobby’s hottest underground releases. Definitely don’t be surprised to see Josée take part in an official Topps product sometime in the future.
2018-present Topps Living Set
The Topps Living Set, which began in 2018 and continues to this day, combines current and former players into a single set based on the 1953 Topps design.
For the first three years of the Living Set, all artwork was done by Japanese artist Mayumi Seto. Beginning this year, Jared Kelley will join the Living Set team and share the artwork duties with Seto.
2016-2018 Various other sets by Topps
As the back of Seto’s 2019 Allen & Ginter card shows, Living Set was not the first baseball card set to feature her artwork.
You can also see her art in at least three other sets: Museum Collection (2016), Transcendent (2018), and Gallery (2018).
2000 Upper Deck
In 2000 the Upper Deck Company, still riding high, held a promotion where collectors could submit their own artwork to be used in the Upper Deck MVP “Draw Your Own Card” subset. Ultimately, 31 cards were chosen, with this Frank Thomas by Joe Dunbar, age 36, leading off the subset. As the card back notes, Mr. Dunbar was one of ten artists in the 15 years and over category.
This particular age category featured three female artists in all: Linda Marcum (age 34), Kat Rhyne (age 23), and Melina Melvin (age 32).
The set’s most notable creator–man, woman, or child–was Alexandra Brunet. At age 6, she was the youngest artist in the set, beating out her brother and a few other 8-year-olds by two years, so there’s that. However, Brunet’s card was particularly noteworthy for reasons wholly unrelated to her age.
Where other artists gravitated toward established MLB stars such as Sosa and McGwire (hey, it was 2000!), Alexandra chose instead to feature…herself (!) as the Yankees first basemanwoman of the future.
In lending her artistry to a baseball card set, Alexandra was also continuing a tradition that began at least 25 years before she was born. However, before we get to the oldest cards I’m aware of, we’ll look at some wonderful postcard series issued from 1988-91.
1988-91 Historic Limited Editions
Some of the most attractive cards of the 1980s and early 1990s came from the brush of Susan Rini. Her artwork was featured in multiple series of limited edition (usually 10,000) postcards from the appropriately named Historic Limited Editions brand. The earliest set I’m aware of is a 1988 set of Brooklyn Dodgers (ultimately the first of four Brooklyn Dodger releases), and other work included the 1961 Yankees, 1969 Mets, and various player sets including Nolan Ryan, Thurman Munson, Roberto Clemente, and Lou Gehrig.
Backing up 20 years more, we come to a set that was not only pioneering in terms of “girl power” but also for its place in the history of one of the Hobby’s great enterprises.
1968 Sports Cards for Collectors
The prehistory of TCMA begins with another four-letter acronym, SCFC: Sports Cards for Collectors. While Hobby pioneer and SABR Jefferson Burdick Award Winner Mike Aronstein was the originator and distributor of the 1968 SCFC set, the artwork fell to two other relatives: Mike’s Uncle Myron and Aunt Margie.
Per Mike’s son Andrew Aronstein, the drawings initialed MSA were done by Myron S. Aronstein, and those initialed MA were done by Margie.
Was Aunt Margie the very first female baseball card artist? Our Hobby has a long history, so just about any time the word “first” is used, it ends up being wrong. What I will say is that Margie Aronstein is the first female card artist that I’m personally aware of. I will also offer that the industry is sufficiently male-dominated that any female card artist–first, last, or anywhere in between–is a pioneer of sorts.
The combination of artists and baseball cards is experiencing quite a boom these days. Congratulations to today’s female artists leading the charge and the past artists who paved the way!
Read about photographer and SABR member Donna Muscarella and her baseball card set honoring Hinchliffe Stadium
Read about the “Decade Greats” sets issued by megadealer and card producer Renata Galasso