Baseball Photographer Trading Cards

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

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

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

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

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

They were even packaged with gum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lou Brock changes Topps again (with an assist from Campaneris): 1973 Topps #64

A few weeks ago we featured a posting on how the Stolen Base column was added as a statistical category to 1971 Topps. I believe that the impetus for the update was the base stealing ability of Lou Brock.

Two years later Brock would once again be a cardboard pioneer.

1973 Topps #64 League Leaders Stolen Bases Lou Brock & Bert Campaneris

 

Topps first produced league leader cards for their 1961 Set. There were five categories Batting (Average), Home Runs, ERA, Pitching (Wins), and Strikeouts. The RBI category was added in 1964. Those six categories made up the League Leader subset for close to a decade. In 1973 Topps updated the subset by adding two new statistical categories: Fireman (Combined Saves and Relief Wins) for pitchers and Stolen Bases for position players.

The stolen base king of the era remained Lou Brock. Appropriately, he and Bert Campaneris had the honor of being on the first Stolen Bases League Leaders card. The way we look at modern stats may have diminished Lou Brock’s Hall of Fame credentials, but it is notable that he was a stolen base trailblazer in not one but two editions of Topps cards.    

We documented a few of Lou Brock’s base stealing accomplishments in the previous posting which can be found here. Bert Campaneris put together pretty dominant base stealing numbers of his own. The 1973 League Leaders Card honors his last of six AL stolen base crowns. Those six seasons were part of a 14 year run in which Campy stole at least 20 bases. His 649 career thefts still ranks 14th in MLB history.

The depiction of both league leaders on a single card was also new in 1973. Previous League Leader cards were typically comprised of the top three players (sometimes two, or four) for each category and Topps had one card for each league. The switch in 1973 was likely due to the addition of the 2 new categories. Had Topps remained with a card per category for each league that subset would have ballooned to 16 cards. The eight League Leader cards in 1973 is more in line with the original 10 card subset that was produced in 1961.  

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1973 Topps #64 League Leaders Stolen Bases Lou Brock & Bert Campaneris (b-side)

The back of the cards feature the top 10 finishers in the category for each league. Always some fun names on these lists. It’s a shame about Dave Nelson, as the change over from three player leader cards to winner-only bumped him out of his chance to get on a league leader card. Freddie Patek eventually made it onto an LL card in 1978.

It is a bit of an oddity that Topps produced League Leader cards for Stolen Bases starting in 1974 but the SB column did not permanently make it onto card backs until 1981. The impetus would be a combination of competition for new card makers (Fleer & Donruss) and new base stealing legend, Rickey Henderson.

Sources and links

SABR Bio Lou Brock by Dave Williams

SABR Bio Bert Campaneris by Rich Schabowski

Baseball Simulator

Phungo Lou Brock Index

Baseball-Reference

 

SABR47 Gets Its Own Baseball Card

When I returned to collecting a decade ago I quickly learned that there are several different types of card collectors. To the outside world I guess we are all Just Baseball Card Collectors, but within the community there are several sub-types.

I think of myself as a Team Collector (Phillies), Set Builder (1959T, 1954T, 1971T maybe 1964T Jumbo), a bit of a Player Collector (Utley, Rollins, Thome, Garry Maddox, Ozzie, Matt Adams, Jamie Moyer, Mike Mussina, and many Others), and a Type Card Collector.

Mrs Phungo has another word for the type of hybrid-collector I am: “Hoarder”.

There is one other collection I have that is a purely narcissistic pursuit. I collect cards that represent games that I have been lucky enough to attend. The easiest to find are those cards which are related to noteworthy games: Opening Day, Postseason, or All-Star games. Sometimes it involves trying to find the photo on the card within Getty Images and tying that to a game. The collection includes cards that reference games on the back, perhaps a milestone home run or superlative pitching performance.

Thanks to #SABR47 in New York I was able to add a new card to the Phungo Games Checklist.

2017 ToppsNow #331 Jacob deGrom

Topps issued a card dedicated to the game that SABR members attended during this years convention. Jacob deGrom had a great night no-hitting the Phillies for the first several innings. The Mets won the contest 2-1, illustrating a point mentioned in a Dave Smith’s SABR presentation: the one run margin is the most common outcome in baseball.

Topps Now is basically a line of instant cards produced the day after a game and sold for just 24 hours. SABR Weekend was so busy that I never checked for the card the day after the game. However on Sunday I was checking Twitter while on the train back home from NYC and a Mets fan in my feed mentioned the card. The Topps Sale was over, but I was able to find the card on the secondary market.

The 24 hour window for Topps Now means the cards have a limited print run which Topps is happy to publicize. For deGrom the Print Run was 342 cards.

The photo on the card can be found in Getty Images. According to the information accompanying the photo it was taken in the first inning by Mike Stobe who is the team photographer for the New York Islanders.

42 over 92

2017 ToppsNow #331 Jacob deGrom (b-side)

The back of the card summarizes deGrom’s start followed by noting an accomplishment that revolves around some not so round numbers. In deGrom’s first 92 starts he gave up 1 run or less 42 times. The 42 successful starts matched a record held byDwight Gooden, a Met pitching star from the 1980s.

I took a deeper look at the 92 starts of the two pitchers and as you can imagine there were some big differences, much of which has to do with the changes in the game.

The big differences are in the Complete Game and Shutout categories. These differences are further reflected in the fact that Gooden averaged 1+ inning more per start than deGrom.

 

Sources and Links
ToppsNow

SABR47 David Smith

Retrosheet David Smith

SABR47 Game
Phungo Game Dated Cards Index
Baseball-Ref
Getty Images
LinkedIn

 

Thoughts on National Baseball Card Day: Phillies Wall of Fame #16 Mike Lieberthal

The give away item for the Phillies final game of Alumni Weekend was a special pack of Wall of Fame baseball cards.

2017 Topps National Baseball Card Day Phillies #16 Mike Lieberthal

Counter to the tired storyline that card collecting is dying I did see some signs of life for the Hobby on Sunday.

First off as I entered the game I saw a guy holding a sign that said “Baseball Cards WANTED Please & Thanks”. I didn’t see the guy get any cards but I hope he did after putting together the sign.

I also witnessed different groups of folks of varying ages opening packs and discussing contents – I even saw a guy in Mets gear that appeared pretty happy to be getting a pack.

Finally when I left the game I overheard someone asking an usher if there were any leftover packs, alas there were none.

 Ok back to the card. The Wall of Fame set is 20 cards, packs contained 15 cards each. While you don’t get a full set, I figure most folks attend games in groups of two or more. If one of the folks isn’t interested in the cards then building a complete set should be pretty simple.

The Design is pretty generic – something that allows for Topps Reuse in Football Hoop Hockey or even TV and Movies. Note that Toyota sponsors the Wall of Fame weekend and made sure to get their brand splashed on the cards.

I did a Getty images search and found the photograph on the card was from a game the Phillies lost 7-2 to the Mets. Unfortunately it was not a memorable game for Lieberthal who went 1-4.  He was the final out of the inning in the three ABs in which he didn’t record a hit.

Oddly the game in which the Phillies celebrated baseball card day was also a bad loss to the Mets this time by a similar 6-2 score. The only player common to both boxes which are separated by over a decade was Jose Reyes.

The picture was taken by Robert Leiter who is based in Santa Clara California.

2017 Topps National Baseball Card Day Phillies #16 Mike Lieberthal (b-side)

The backs do not contains stat lines but do have a nice summary of each players career.

On The Road

2017 Topps National Baseball Card Day Rockies Andres Galarraga

The Team Phungo Baseball Road trip for this year was to Denver to see the Rockies who happened to be having their trading card day when they hosted the Phillies on August 5. As you see, same design, however in the top right along with the Topps logo there is a “National Baseball Card Day 2017” flair.

I hope National Baseball Card Day works out well for Topps. It is a good hobby and hobbies are good to us.

Sources and Links

Robert Leiter Photography

Getty Images

A short list of Game Dated Cards

Baseball-Ref

 

Progress

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When I got back into baseball cards this year I had many things to get used to. The better-quality printing and photography. The commitment to all action. The thousands of parallels and short prints and set releases and inserts to either be aware of—even if it’s so I know to ignore them. One thing I didn’t note was the change to the Indians logo.

The DeChief movement has been going on for a few years now and I know that MLB has demoted Wahoo in favor of the block C. So it didn’t jump out at me to see that Topps was using the block C as the logo on its 2017 flagship set. It made sense with the general trend of things and I didn’t think any further about it.

It was only after discussing this a bit further on Twitter that I realized that Topps (and MLB since they control the logos) only made the change this year. I’d assumed it had happened a while ago but no, 2016 had Wahoo—as did all previous years where the Indians logo was used. I’m not sure why I’m so surprised given how the Indians wore the Wahoo cap in all their World Series games..

This feels like a big deal to me. While it seems to have been noted but not commented on in the card community, that Topps, as essentially the card manufacturer of record, has finally DeChiefed is important and both MLB and Topps should be congratulated for making that step even if they did it woefully late.

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Lindor2 Ramirez

That Topps has also been making that change on its old designs which used to feature Wahoo is especially welcome. It was only when I started looking through all my old cards that I began realizing both how often that logo showed up and how distracting I found it now. Where some logos cause me to feel nostalgia, every card with Chief Wahoo on it made me wince.

While many of the design anachronisms bother me in the reissues of Topps’s old designs, I’m pleased every time I see the big Block C on a Cleveland card. There are plenty of things to wince about without having to see that logo in a prominent position.

A lot of this is because of my growth in awareness of how damaging and inappropriate that logo is. And a lot of it is being reminded over and over and over again that as I get into card collecting with my sons, I’m going to have to continuously reinforce how there are problems with the old logo and how our cultural norms have changed over the decades.

That it’s clear that the logo still shows up in the photos means I’ll have to be vigilant about this with the modern cards too. Topps isn’t photoshopping it out nor is it limiting its photo choices to just those images which don’t have it. So I’m going to be in charge of talking about how while we’re making progress there’s still a lot of room for growth.

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And yes I figured I should look into the Braves as well. Their racist logo also occasionally resurfaces on hat designs and merchandise. Thankfully those designs don’t seem to make it out of the prototype stage but it’s noteworthy that it‘s still in the mix. I’m happy to see that Topps isn’t using it on the old designs anymore even though the same concerns about it showing up in photos are obvious.

To be clear, I’m not advocating that Topps should photoshop it out of the images—especially the old photos— where it’s present. That this was both commonplace and acceptable is as important a lesson to learn as understanding why it’s no longer ok.

Father’s Day 1976 Topps #69 Jim & Mike Hegan

Father’s Day is nearing and it got me thinking of baseball dads & sons who are on cardboard.

1954 Topps #29 Jim Hegan

As I mentioned last week, in preparation for the SABR 47 Jim Bouton panel, I recently reread “Ball Four”. One of the entries that reminded me of a Baseball card occurred on March 28th. The subject of the passage is Pilots outfielder Mike Hegan, who is a recurring character throughout the book.

The paragraph is interesting for several reasons. The connections between golf and baseball are pretty strong. Just last week Tim Jenkins mentioned that Hawk Harrelson retired from baseball to pursue a professional golf career. There are also several stories of mothers helping sons learn the game, and they are often noteworthy. But, to me, the most interesting portion relates to Mike Hegan’s father Jim. I knew Mike’s father played baseball because in 1976 at the heart of the collecting days of my youth Topps dropped a Father and Son subset.

1976 Topps #69 Father & Son Jim & Mike Hegan (b-side)

I want to start with the B-Side of this card because this continues the discussion of Mike Hegan’s parents. The text regarding Jim Hegan that is credited to Mike does mention his father being a great influence, however the younger Hegan is also careful to note that this is not just in baseball but in life as well. When Mike actually does mention getting tips on the game of baseball it is only in the context of other players including Hall of Famer Bob Lemon. Perhaps I am reading too much into this but this version of Mike Hegan does correlate with the observations of Ball Four. Jim Hegan was a Ballplayer but didn’t stress baseball at home. If there was an baseball influence there it came from elsewhere – quite likely Mikes mother Clare.

1976 Topps #69 Father & Son Jim & Mike Hegan

A real nice design for these cards, the vintage card of the father balanced with a contemporary photo of the current player is a perfect balance for the subset theme.

1976 is the third consecutive year that Topps included a subset that featured insets of earlier cards on a current card. In 1974 Topps the Hank Aaron Subset which leads off flagship includes several cards with four-up panels of Topps cards from the new Home Run King’s career. The following year 1975 Topps featured the 24 card MVP subset which will always be one of my favorites.

The 1976 Father&Son subset consist of 5 Cards that run from #66-#70. Two of the cards belong to families that would feature a third generation of MLB players and both of these cards have Phillies ties. First is Ray and Bob Boone (#67) who of course are related to Bret and Aaron Boone. The other is #66 Gus and Buddy Bell, and we know that David spent a few forgettable years with the Phillies. The other two cards feature the Sr./Jr. combos of Roy Smalleys and Joe Colemans.

1985 Topps

1985 topps #132 Father & Son Yogi and Dale Berra

Topps returned to the Father-Sons in 1985 with a 13 card subset. The Boones, Bells and Smalleys all made the cut for the second round. Other notables include SABR 47 Panel Subject Yogi Berra with son Dale, Tito and Terry Francona, and SABR 45 (Chicago) guest panelist Steve Trout with his father Dizzy.

One of the guests scheduled for the Yogi Berra Panel is journalist Lindsay Berra who is the granddaughter of Yogi and Niece of Dale Berra. Her father Larry played minor league baseball in the Mets organization.

Sources and Links

Jim Hegan SABR Bio Rick Balazs

Mike Hegan SABR Bio Joseph Wancho

Ball Four

Baseball Card Database

Baseball-ref

A’s cards and Cards cards

Growing up in the Bay Area, while I wasn’t an A’s fan, my local card shops had a lot of A’s cards in the cases. I remember noting even at the time how the team name tended to break a lot of Topps’s designs: “A’s” was too short, had punctuation, and required a lower-case letter. “Athletics” meanwhile was one of the longest team names.

As I’ve gotten older and gained more familiarity with the older cards I’ve realized that the A’s are not the only team whose name Topps messed around with. Throughout the 1960s, Topps referred to the Cardinals—another team with a long name—as “Cards” on many of their cards. So I’ve decided to go through Topps’s styled-text designs from 1964 to 1986 and see how they handled the A’s and the Cardinals and any other odd cases.

I chose to stop in 1986 because 1987 is the first year that Topps had just logos, no team names, on the card fronts. There are a few text-based designs which followed—specifically 1988, 1989, 1990, 2004, 2006, and 2008—but Topps has also used “Athletics” every since 1988.

Before 1964, Topps just used plain text to list the team name. Yes it’s part of the design, but it was never the distinguishing element. All that changed in 1964 when Topps began using styled text and team names as a key element of its designs.* This opened the door to having to create designs which worked for all name lengths. Sometimes this was successful, other times team names which were either too long or too short ended up revealing some problems in the design, and sometimes Topps just made some weird design decisions which I still can’t figure out.

*There are some earlier examples such as the 1960 manager cards which use pennants very similar to the 1965 design but nothing as part of the default set design.

For their first real foray into styled type 1964’s design is pretty robust. It works well with all the team names. It doesn’t feel too cramped and everything’s still legible with the nine-letter ones. If anything this design works better than the super-extended letters Topps used for the four-letter teams, although the extended font does have a certain 1960s appeal.

1965—while a design I love—starts to reveal how things can start to go bad. “Athletics” begins to get really pinched and hard to read in the point of the pennant. “White Sox” has the same issue but works a bit better. It’s easy to see why Topps decided to go with “Cards” in what would be the first year of six consecutive years where Topps used “Cards” instead of “Cardinals.”

I’m not covering 1966 except to note that Topps used “Cards.” 1966, like a number of years in the ’70s and ’80s*, doesn’t use styled text but rather puts plain text in a colored box. Since the box functions as the design element rather than the text the length of the word doesn’t bother me as long as it’s legible.

*1974, 1976, 1979, 1980, 1983, and 1985.

1967 continued with “Athletics” and “Cards.” In this case it’s clear that the design doesn’t quite work with nine-character team names. The font is too condensed, it’s too close to the edges of the photo, and the black stroke is too heavy for the letter sizes. Despite it being the consensus best design of the decade that it doesn’t work as well with long team names is a strike against it.

1968 meanwhile, while not exactly styled-text, presented a lot of challenges for how to fit the team names into that little circle. Topps opted to go with “A’s” and it’s a great fit. “Cards” works wonderfully too. Since eight-letter names like Pirates barely fit—you can see that Topps had to use a thinner font—Topps made the wise decision to put White Sox on two lines instead.

1969 is similar to 1967 except that Topps chose fonts which work better. Rather than using a super-compressed font with the long names, Topps used a completely different extended font for the shorter names. It kind of weirds me out how different these fonts are* but by using two distinct fonts the design itself works better for all name lengths.

*Look at the “C” and “S” and how in “Athletics” they’re parallel to the baseline but in “Cards” they’re at an angle.

I have no idea what Topps was doing in 1970. They stayed with “A’s” even though the design would’ve accommodated “Athletics.” It certainly looks fine with “White Sox.” This is the first—and certainly not the last—case of using “A’s” where the design just looks weird to me. The font is huge and bold and the lower-case “s”—especially with the right-aligned type—doesn’t fit.

But it’s not just the A’s thing I can’t figure out. In 1970 Topps released cards with both “Cardinals” and “Cards” AND both “Yankees” and “Yanks.” Besides the fact that I’ve not seen “Yanks” on any other Topps cards, the idea that Topps was just changing team names from series to series is bizarre to me. That Topps was doing this while not changing the Pilots cards to Brewers cards? I don’t understand. At all.

In 1971 I’m mainly surprised that Topps stayed with “Cards.” It looks fine, using such an extended font for the long names means that even the centered shorter names look good. And I’m certainly glad Topps didn’t stretch the short names to fit. But to my eye the design looks better when the team name fills the entire top of the card and if “Athletics” fits, they should’ve been able to get “Cardinals” to fit as well. In any case this was the last year Topps went with “Cards.”

In 1972, Topps swapped from 1971 and went with “A’s” and “Cardinals” instead. Since this is how things stayed for the next decade I’m mainly going to focus on the A’s cards from here on out. Topps’s designs going forward, including this one, all work with “Cardinals” so going with “A’s” is never a reaction to a design restriction and instead reflects some other corporate choice.

The 1972 A’s example is notable in that the “S” is also capitalized—heck even the apostrophe is huge. I still feel like it’s not quite enough text to really work in the space the way that all the other team designs do though.

  

1973 is non-styled text like how Topps’s designs were before 1964. 1974 and 1976 are text in colored boxes. 1975 and 1977 though are two examples where the “A’s” looks just awful—probably the two worst designs for the A’s in all Topps’s history. I appreciate white space in design but in these cases just having two letters centered on the text area doesn’t give the impression that Topps thought about the design at all.

In both of these cases, “Athletics” would’ve worked better. Although with 1977—and this is part of a more general critique of a design which I’ve come to actively dislike—if the text were aligned to the left rather than being centered I think things would’ve been ok. The off-center centered text thing is especially egregious.

1978 and 1981 though (1979 and 1980 are colored boxes with text in them) are two examples where the “A’s” works really well. 1978 in particular is fantastic in how Topps created lettering which fills the space without looking different from the rest of the cards in the set. Where 1975 and 1977 didn’t consider the design at all, 1978 is an example of how to do it 100% correct.

1981 meanwhile is an example where the A’s cards look better than every other team.* I don’t care much for those floppy hats. I was okay with them as a kid because I only really saw them on the Giants and A’s cards—two teams with two-color caps—but on every team with a single-color cap this design is already in trouble. Putting the team name on the hat? Who does that? So I enjoy that the A’s caps on the cards end up looking very much like their actual on-field caps.

*The only other contender is the Pirates with their pillbox cap and the special design exception Topps made for them.

  

Skipping around a bit now. 1983 and 1985 are color box years. We’ll get to 1984 soon. But 1982 and 1986 are two examples where things work okay. Not great, but okay enough. 1982 is very similar to 1977 in terms of how it’s handling the fonts. The difference is that the hockey sticks work way better than the position pennant. The team name is supposed to continue the color stripe across the bottom of the card. “A’s” is barely big enough to do it. That Topps used an almost-full-height “S” is a huge help here. As is the fact that the font is also somewhat extended.

1986 meanwhile is similar to 1975 in that the “A’s” is kind of small all by itself on the top of the card. The saving grace here is again how wide the font is. That A is wider than it is tall. It also has a ton of character with the triangular crossbar which, while not specially-designed like the 1978 cards, gives the team name a similar kind of presence.

Back to 1984 and the first year in over a decade which Topps used “Athletics.” It’s not hard to see why. Four-letter names are a stretch. Literally. “A’s” would’ve looked ridiculous. That nine letters is also a bit tight is part of why, while I liked this set as a kid, I’m less impressed by its design now.

Until the Diamondbacks came around, baseball team names were all between four (Cubs, Mets, Reds) and nine (Athletics, Cardinals, White Sox) characters long. Many years it feels like Topps’s designs were optimized for five to seven characters. Four and eight work okay. Anything longer or shorter is pushing things. I’m less surprised that Topps used “Cards” for “Cardinals” than I am that they stopped doing so in 1972.

About the Diamondbacks

With the Diamondbacks taking over as the longest team name, They’re now the more interesting example than the A’s. There’s not enough to really post here but it’s worth noting that Topps has used both “Diamondbacks” and “D-Backs” on the few type-based designs it’s had since 1990.

That Topps hasn’t used “D-Backs” on any of the Heritage designs shows how badly those designs work with long team names. The 1965 and 1968 team names are almost unreadable. And if I thought the 1967 Athletics cards looked bad, the Diamondbacks ones look even worse. In all these cases the cards would look way better with “D-Backs” instead.

So About Heritage

Oof. Maybe this is MLB trademark silliness* but, as with the photography, not respecting the original designs is one of the main reasons I’m down on the Heritage product. There’s no reason not to use “Cards” or “A’s” here. In all cases  the results are a downgrade—especially in 1968 where the ™ symbol throws off the centering and makes the name fit even worse.

*All the team names all have a ™ on them now. This started in 1992 but only became standard in 1999.

There are many reasons to like Heritage. It does capture a certain baseball card essence which the modern flagship sets no longer have. But for Topps to reuse designs like this and then not get the details right in ways which breaks the design itself? Infuriating.