Prehistory of the Topps World Series cards

The first Topps World Series card I pulled from a pack was bittersweet. On one hand it was Reggie, the biggest star in the game; on the other hand, it memorialized his merciless dismantling, five homers and all, of my hometown Dodgers. Though I wasn’t yet enough of a fan in 1977 to have watched the Series, I remember the gloominess and despair that took over the faces of my classmates. Tears were shed.

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Most collectors already know that 1978 was just one of many years that Topps included a postseason subset. For a complete catalog from 1958-1981, see this excellent post from Adam Hughes of Wax Pack Gods.

My goal here is to connect these Topps World Series cards to their long ancestry across the hobby’s history. Rather than jump straight in to the years before 1958, I’ll set the table by beginning at 1960, the year of the first true Topps World Series subset.

1960 Topps

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Though Topps would include single cards connected to the World Series in each of the prior years, the 1960 release marked the first year of an actual multi-card subset. The subset spanned cards 385-391, including the only Maury Wills card Topps would issue before 1967.

1959 Topps

There was no World Series subset in the 1959 Topps issue. However, the Hank Aaron card in its “Baseball Thrills” subset was dedicated to the Hammer’s game 4 home run and overall awesome performance in the 1957 Fall Classic.

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As we consider the ancestry of the World Series subsets, this card presents us with two “mutations” from the classic subsets that would follow.

  • It is the only postseason card in the set (and in fact from an entirely different subset)
  • It does not feature the prior year’s Fall Classic, instead reaching two seasons back.

As we go further back in time, most of the cards we look at will share these or other departures from the classic Topps World Series subsets of later decades. As usual, were we not to bend the rules a bit, there would be very little article to write!

1959 Fleer Ted Williams

I have featured this set in every one of my prehistory articles to date with the exception of Traded Cards. (And who the hell would even think of trading Ted Williams, right?) Sadly, it is impossible to tell the story of the Splendid Splinter without bringing up the heartbreak of the 1946 World Series, memorialized by card 31 in the set.

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As an aside, the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set comes across largely as a (justified) hagiography of the greatest freaking hitter who ever lived. It is odd then that their “Sox Lose the Series” card makes no mention of the fact that Williams played the series injured and instead attributes the Kid’s disappointing performance to a slump.

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1958 Topps

It is the Hammer once again in the 1958 Topps set, and this time he brought a friend. Okay, a foe! (As an aside, it would be fun to trace the use of the word “foe” on baseball cards over the years. We used to see it a lot more, and I worry we are lesser today for its absence.)

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Oddly the card’s reverse makes no reference to the World Series but simply finds (quite easily) nice things to say about each of the featured players.

1948 Topps Magic Photos

Though off the radar (and out of the price range) of casual collectors, the very first Topps baseball cards came four years before the iconic 1952 set. The majority of the set’s baseball checklist was devoted to all-time greats such as Ruth, Cobb, and Wagner. However, 5 of the 19 cards were dedicated to the 1948 World Champion Cleveland Indians. These cards are light on detail, but the two cards known as “Cleveland Indians 4-1” and “Cleveland Indians 4-3” reference games 2 and 7 respectively.

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1948 Swell “Sport Thrills”

Sorry, Dodger fans. Here comes another heart breaker. Mickey Owen’s dropped third strike from the 1941 Fall Classic was one of eight cards in this 20-card set to feature World Series highlights.

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The earliest World Series highlight featured is Grover Cleveland Alexander’s bases loaded strikeout of Tony Lazzeri to end the 1926 Series, and the most recent is the “Greatest Catch” by Al Gionfriddo in the 1947 Series. The other World Series years featured in the set were 1932, 1935, 1936, 1941, and 1943 (twice).

1948 Swell “Babe Ruth Story”

The Sport Thrills set wasn’t the only baseball set that Swell issued in 1948. They also issued a 28-card “Babe Ruth Story” set to go along with the movie of the same name. While the Bambino did appear on some of the cards, he was more often portrayed by William Bendix, the actor who starred in the film. Card 15 features Babe Ruth’s (okay, William Bendix’s) “called shot” home run from the 1932 World Series.

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1940 Play Ball

For a brief stretch from 1939-1941 Play Ball cards sat atop the cardboard universe. The 1940 Play Ball release is known mostly for the cardboard return of Shoeless Joe. A less ballyhooed aspect of the set was the pennant flags adorning the cards of the Yankees and Reds players. (Oddly, the managers and coaches received no such decoration.)

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Unlike the majority of the cards discussed so far, these “Pennant” cards also doubled as the main (only) card of each player in the set. An interesting comparison will be the 1933 Goudey set, where this is true for some but not all of the players.

1936 R312 National Chicle Pastels

My favorite thing about writing these articles is discovering cards I didn’t know about originally. In this case, the prize goes to these beautiful premiums from National Chicle. The full set contains 50 unnumbered cards with significant star power, including (arguably) a Joe DiMaggio rookie card. There are also a large number of multi-player cards, such as this one of Arky Vaughan receiving playing tips from the great Honus Wagner.

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Most relevant to our topic, however, are several cards that explicitly reference the 1935 World Series between the Tigers and the Cubs.

First, here is Gabby Hartnett after his World Series home run in game 4.

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Next, here is Schoolboy Rowe drawing a crowd, even in enemy territory. No wonder they call it the “Friendly Confines!”

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And finally, although Tommy Bridges pitched the Tigers to a 4-3 complete game victory in the clincher, here is Alvin Crowder looking very much like he just won it all for the Tigers. In fact,  the “General” is shown here following his own complete game to take game 4.

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Finally, there are four other cards, a disproportionate number for the set, that include multiple Cubs or Tigers. The photo sleuths among us might let me know if these photos are from the World Series or just “random” shots from during the season.

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1936 R313 National Chicle Fine Pen Premiums

Collectors had choices when it came to the 1935 Fall Classic. Among the 120 cards included in this 1936 release was at least one World Series card, #120, showing the throw from Lon Warneke to Phil Cavaretta arriving ahead of Goose Goslin.

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As with R312, there are also some multi-player cards that may or may not be connected to the World Series. Card 116, showcasing the “Fence Busters” on the Chicago squad, is one of a few examples.

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1934 Gold Medal Foods (R313A)

First a tip of the hat to Net54 member PowderedH2O for alerting me to these cards.

The parent company of Wheaties, Minneapolis-based Gold Medal Foods, issued a set of postcard-sized cards to commemorate the 1934 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the “Gas House Gang” St. Louis Cardinals.

The “Standard Catalog” lists only 12 players while PSA lists 19 while indicating the set has 22. This suggests to me there may yet to be cards discovered here, either to the delight or chagrin of Hank Greenberg supercollectors.

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1933 Goudey

Forgive Goudey for its numbering antics, but sure enough cards 107-114, 121-127, and 232-240 were created specifically to highlight the participants in the 1933 World Series. Those not as familiar with the set might wonder if 1933 was a typo. After all, this is 83 BTN (before “Topps Now”) we’re talking about. “Are you sure you don’t mean THIS World Series?”

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Sure enough, the folks at Goudey were hard at work in late 1933 pushing out the tenth and final release of their iconic baseball debut. The sheet featured twelve participants from each of the pennant winners (New York Giants, Washington Senators) and even included records and results from the Series, as evidenced by this card of Master Melvin.

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Something important to consider in assessing the place of these cards in our prehistory is that they weren’t merely cards issued late enough in the season to include tidbits about the Series in the bios. Rather, they reflected an explicit World Series issue, and a 24-card one at that! Quite remarkable really.

As a final note, nine of the Giants and nine of the Senators already had “base” cards in the set, meaning the World Series cards could be thought of as dedicated postseason extras for these 18 players. However, for six of the players, the World Series card reflected their only representation in the set.

1928 Fro-Joy Ice Cream Babe Ruth

Among the six cards in this 1928 set entirely devoted to Babe Ruth is this one, highlighting the first of his two home runs in the 1927 World Series against the Pirates.

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1919-1920 Cincinnati Reds postcards

Black Sox Scandal completists will want to collect this 24-card set of postcards featuring players from the 1919 World Champion Cincinnati Reds team. There are two variations of each card. Later printings include the caption “World’s Champions” whereas early printings include only “Champions of National League.”

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As an aside, Anson Whaley of Pre-War Cards just published an excellent five-part series on the baseball card legacy of the Black Sox Scandal. Part one is here.

1921 Koesters Bread (D383)

Hat tip to Net54 member brianp-beme for this one. This 52-card set uses the same card fronts as the 1921 American Caramel (E121) set but has different backs and restricts its checklist to only Yankees and Giants, the two participants in the first Subway Series.

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If you have a minute, you may want to look at the fantastic card of Hall of Fame hurler Waite Hoyt.

1912 Technical Book Publishing postcards

Not for the budget collector, but these postcards were sold at the World Series itself and doubled as scorecards on the back. The card on the left shows the Boston Americans, and the one on the right shows the New York Giants.

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1911 Philadelphia Athletics (E104-I and D359)

I’ll take some liberty here and merge what pre-war collectors would normally regard as two or three different sets. Certainly they will look more alike than different to the casual collector. In each case, I am a huge fan of the World Champions designator.

The first card, Frank “Home Run Baker,” comes from the 1910 E104-I (sometimes seen as E104-1) Nadja Caramels issue. Variations abound, including cards without the “World’s Champions 1910” banner. The next two cards, Charles “Chief” Bender and Harry Davis, could be construed as Baker cards as well, in that they come from the 1910 D359 Rochester Baking and Williams Baking issues respectively.

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For any of the card displayers or binder folks out there, I have to imagine the variety of background colors would make these cards look incredible arranged as a group.

1910 Tip Top Bread Pittsburgh Pirates

It’s funny how life works sometimes. Just as I’d reached the end of my personal knowledge, augmented by the easier digital searches available to me, I did what I always do: reach for my Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards. But this time I didn’t even have to open it. Here was the 1910 Tip Top Bread Honus Wagner right on the cover, with the caption “WAGNER, World’s Champions.”

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Indeed, this was a 25-card set honoring the 1909 World Champion Pirates team that bested Cobb’s Tigers four games to three. Here is team president Barney Dreyfuss from the same series.

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1910 American Caramel Pirates (E90-2)

This tough regional release of American Caramel focused exclusively on the 1909 World Champion Pirates team. Unlike the Tip Top set of the same year, the cards themselves do not refer to the championship. (Hat tip to Net 54 member steve B for this one!)

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1907 Geo. W. Hull Chicago White Sox postcards

These 16 postcards honor the 1907 World Champion Chicago White Sox, as noted by the “World’s Champions” caption below the player name. You might imagine the “Every One A Pennant Winner” title above the lines of hanging white stockings is another standard feature of the postcards in this set. However, that is just one of many titles used. Others include “A String of World Beaters” and “A String of Game Fish — No Bull Heads,” whatever that means!

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1905-06 Lincoln Publishing Am. League Champs

The Philadelphia Athletics lost the 1905 World Series to the New York Giants, but they did not come up empty on the cardboard side of the ledger. All 20 postcards in this set were devoted to the American League champs and featured the achievement prominently in the card design.

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1902-1911 Sporting Life Team Composites (W601)

For ten years, Sporting Life offered readers the chance to be individual team cards or the complete set as a bound volume. In addition to these very large poster-cards (13″ x 14″), postcard-size team composites were also offered some years.  Pennant winners and World Series winners were specially noted below the team name.

Readers may be puzzled by the “1904 National League Champions” marker here since the Pirates finished the 1904 season in fourth place, 19 games behind the Giants. One thing to note is that the “National League” portion of the marker simply indicates the Pirates were a National League team. This can be seen by comparing the Pirates composite against others in the series. Finally, the “Champions” portion of the marker should be read as “defending champs,” which is how the 1904 Pirates began their season, fresh off the first ever World Series of the modern era.

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At this point you might imagine we’re done. You can’t get much earlier than the first World Series, right? Not so fast…if you’ve read my other posts you know I love to go WAY back, even if it means bending the rules a bit, kind of like how a biologist might spend 58 minutes of the lecture talking about man’s descent from apes and the final 2 connecting us to amoebas or something.

1888 H.D. Smith and Company (formerly known as Scrapp’s Tobacco) die-cuts

Some recent detective work has added to our knowledge of this ridiculously old set and its origins. At first, you might just see too old-time ballplayers with caps you wished you owned.

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However, these aren’t just any players, though that had been my first guess. Thanks to the 1976 SSPC reboot, I now know these are the participants from the 1887 World Series between the St. Louis Browns and Detroit Wolverines! Here is a look at one of the 1976 cards. Kudos to SSPC for their work on this beautiful reissue, which admittedly is almost harder to track down than the 1888 original!

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Source: http://www.number5typecollection.com

1887 Tomlinson Studio Cabinets

If 1888 just isn’t old enough for you, you may be in luck. Even the “Standard Catalog” is stumped in terms of the reach of this set and the extent of the checklist, but here is at least one.

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1887 Old Judge Browns Champions

And for those of you saying, “Hey, was that even a baseball card?” I’ve got an even better one for you! (Hat tip to Net54 member Gonzo for this one.)

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It is at this point in the tour that the bus finally runs out of gas. As always though, I hope the result is an appreciation of some older cards you might not have known about and further reinforcement of the adage that “what’s new is old,” at least when it comes to the baseball card “innovations” of our youth.

As always, additions and corrections are welcome.

Appendix – Ancestry Report

Something I’ve toyed with and was encouraged to dig into more deeply based on a reader comment is an “ancestry report” that evaluates each entry against the key traits of the standard Topps World Series subsets. I won’t belabor the coding scheme or column headers unless asked, other than to acknowledge that blue represents mutations that go beyond the Topps standard. (In this case, I used blue for cards that feature the current-year World Series rather than the prior year.)

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Anyone wanting to play with the raw data can find it here. Let me know if it’s useful at all. If so, I can do similar for Record Breakers and other prehistory work I’ve done.

Prehistory of the Record Breakers

Introduction

One of my favorite posts on the SABR Baseball Cards blog is Matthew Prigge‘s “Like a Broken Record” (March 2017), in which he detailed the progression of the Topps Highlights and Record Breaker cards from their respective origins in the 1975 and 1976 sets. In what I hope will be my first of many posts for this blog, I will go backward instead and focus on the ancestry of these cards, following a prehistory that goes back to more than a century ago.

Before jumping in, I’ll give a few examples of cards I will not include, along with my rationale for omission, as sometimes the best way to define one’s scope is to identify what falls just outside it

World Series cards

The first Topps World Series multi-card subset was in 1960, consisting of seven absolutely beautiful cards that told the story of the 1959 Fall Classic between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox.

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If we consider single card subsets as a thing, then the very first Topps World Series subset came two years earlier with the 1958 Topps World Series  Batting Foes (Mantle/Aaron) card. Because Topps would continue to push out World Series subsets with regularity, even in years with Record Breaker/Highlight cards, we will exclude World Series cards from our study. True, they feature highlights from the prior season, but they are a large enough sub-genre to warrant separate treatment.

MVP subsets

The same logic will apply to the 1961 Topps (cards 471-486) and 1975 Topps (cards 189-212) MVP subsets. While MVP cards lacked the perennial quality of the World Series cards, they still feel more like their own category of cards than exemplars of the Record Breakers/Highlights category.

All-Stars, All-Star Rookies, etc.

Finally, while one could consider being named an All-Star or All-Star Rookie a highlight—at least very broadly—we will exclude these subsets for the same reasons as each of the others.

Pre-1975 Highlights and Record Breaker cards

Having identified what doesn’t make the cut, we are now ready to begin our journey, starting off where Matthew’s original article left off. As I like to do, we’ll proceed in reverse chronological order, though the article should accommodate a bottom-to-top if you prefer it that way.

1974 Bob Parker 2nd Best

It’s fitting that the first set we encounter on the way to the Topps run of Highlights and Record Breakers is a set honoring players who came in second! In addition to providing budget collectors with a shot at “Shoeless Joe,” the Vic Power card is a must have for “cards that say robust on the front” supercollectors.

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A major differentiator between these cards and the Record Breaker/Highlights cards Matthew profiles are that these cards reach back across the vast history of the game whereas the more modern cards focus on the season immediately prior. Were we to treat this distinction as fatal, this article would be very short indeed, so we’ll continue under the assumption that cards such as these are allowed into the ancestry.

1972-1974 Fleer

While newer collectors may imagine Fleer’s baseball origins date back only to 1981, there is an entire prehistory of Fleer baseball cards going back as far as 1923. Three sets in particular are of interest to us: Famous Feats (1972), Baseball’s Wildest Days and Plays (1973), and Baseball Firsts (1974). A card from each of these sets is shown here.

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1972 Laughlin Great Feats

In addition to the various Fleer sets he worked on, artist R.G. Laughlin also put out his own set of cards in 1972. There were 51 cards in all, along with multiple color variations.

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1971 Topps Greatest Moments

This 55-card release from Topps is without a doubt one of the toughest of the 1970s, and unfortunately for player collectors on a budget one that is filthy with Hall of Famers. Unlike the Fleer sets of the early 1970s the checklist consists entirely of (then) current players, but again the feats themselves span multiple years.

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1969-70 Bazooka All-Time Greats

Another fairly tough set is this 30-card issue from Bazooka, profiled in this 2012 article from Sports Collectors Daily. Boxes of bubble gum included player cards on a side panel and a “Baseball Extra” highlight on the back panel.

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1962 Topps

The nine cards from 311-319 in the 1962 Topps set are commonly referred to as “In Action” cards. Many of the cards, such as “Ford Tosses a Curve,” would strike only the most easily impressed baseball fans as highlights; however, this same subset does feature the biggest record to be broken in at least 20 years. In a move we might today regard as trolling, Topps chose this same year to dedicate a full ten cards to the previous record holder!

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As with the “In Action” cards, the “Babe Ruth Special” cards were a mix of Record Breaker and non-RB cards. Ruth’s card 144 (no, not THAT 144), titled “Farewell Speech,” is particularly relevant to this post in that the front featured a career-capping highlight–the speech–while the back listed Babe Ruth’s various records.

1961 Topps

The 1961 set marked second time in three years that Topps put out a “Baseball Thrills” subset in its main release. There were ten cards in all, including a mix of current (Larsen, Mantle, Haddix) and retired players.

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1961 Nu-Card Baseball Scoops

While the Topps set offered the opportunity to beef up ones knowledge of baseball’s greatest achievements, the go-to set that year for history buffs was put out by Nu-Card. Numbered 401-480 for reasons unknown to me, these 80 cards presented collectors with nearly the complete canon of baseball feats. Even to this day, if you could choose just one set to learn the history of baseball from, I believe this would be it.

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1960 Nu-Card Baseball Hi-Lites

This 72-card offering is similar in many ways to the set that followed it one year later, the most salient difference being their postcard size. Many highlights were reused from one set to another, as shown by the “Aaron’s bat…” cards in each set. (I believe the image on the 1960 card incorrectly shows Aaron’s pennant-clinching home run against the Cardinals, a problem which could have been solved by interchanging this images on his two cards in the set.)

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1959 Topps

While the 1961 Topps subset included long retired greats of the game, the 1959 “Baseball Thrills” cards exclusively featured active players. Between the immense star power of the players and the fantastic artwork, these cards crack my top two all-time for greatest vintage subset ever.

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1959 Fleer Ted Williams

This 80-card set really covers the gamut as far as Ted Williams highlights are concerned, including highlights from his time in the military and his off-season hobbies of hunting and fishing. As an aside, you can see many of the photographs these cards were based on in Ted’s 2018 PBS documentary.

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1954 Topps Scoop

A beautiful set off the radar of many baseball card collectors is the 1954 Topps Scoop set, which features 154 historical events, including a handful from the sporting world. The four baseball subjects are Bob Feller’s 18 strikeouts in a game, Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs in a season, the Braves move to Milwaukee, and a very long game between Brooklyn and Boston.

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As a quick spoiler alert, if you have not already seen the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” avoid purchasing this set. Card 82 completely gives away the ending.

1948 Swell

Though the name of the “Sport Thrills” set suggests other sports beyond baseball (and one card is even titled “Football Block”), all 20 cards in this set feature baseball highlights and records. A notable is the Jackie Robinson card, which I believe to be the earliest card front to refer to a player’s rookie season. (And if I’m wrong about that, it’s still a Jackie Robinson card from 1948!)

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The Sport Thrills set wasn’t the only baseball set that Swell issued in 1948. They also issued a 28-card “Babe Ruth Story” set to go along with the movie of the same name. Naturally, as this is the Bambino we’re talking about, the set includes several highlights. While some of cards include Ruth himself, it should be noted that the most common “Ruth” on the cards is William Bendix, who played Ruth in the movie. An example is card 15, which shows Ruth…I mean Bendix…calling his shot in the 1932 World Series.

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1938 Wheaties “Biggest Thrills in Baseball” (Series 10)

The back panel of Wheaties boxes featured a player from each major league team along with a highlight from the player’s career. While I didn’t include it here, the Wheaties “100 Years of Baseball” set from the following year could be said to feature highlights as well, though a typical example is “Crowd Boos First Baseball Glove!”

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1925 Turf Cigarettes (UK)

In 1925 London tobacco manufacturer Alexander Boguslavsky Ltd issued a set of 50 “Sports Records” cards. The very last card in the set featured American baseball and George Sisler’s recent batting record. (I’m not sure why they wouldn’t have gone with Hornsby’s record, but perhaps news traveled slow back then.)

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1912 T202 Hassan Triple Folders

I often end pieces like this with a wild card entry, one that may not meet the criteria applied to other sets but scores bonus points for its age. The middle panel of each T202 card features a great action shot, which is then described further on the card’s reverse. Most of these cards simply focus on a single play–exciting or not–that fails to rise to the level of a Record Breaker or Highlight.

However, the set does include some cards with narratives that do in fact rise to the level of a Highlight. An example of this is the Bergen/Barger “A Great Batsman” card, which on the back describes Napoleon Lajoie’s 227 hits in 1910 as breaking the American League record, even if today we no longer believe it! (At the time Lajoie’s 1901 hit total was thought to be 220, but he is now credited with either 229 or 232 hits, depending who you ask.)

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Another notable in the T202 set is the “Lord Catches His Man” card, whose action shot was recently discovered to include Shoeless Joe. Anson Whaley tells the story of this card and its dramatic rise in value on his Prewar Cards blog.

Honorable Mentions

A handful of other sets are worth mention here, even if they didn’t earn top billing. The 1972 Topps “In Action” cards and 1964 Topps Giants cards both featured highlights on the backs of the cards. Meanwhile, the very rare 1914 E&S Publishing postcard set includes background cartoons with captions that in some cases rise to the level of significant highlights or records.

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Conclusion

The 1975 Topps set marked an important innovation in the history of the hobby in that it was the first major release to dedicate baseball cards, specifically its “Highlights” subset, to the most important historical feats of the prior season. However, like all innovations, this one did not appear out of a vacuum. Rather, it drew–intentionally or by happenstance–on a long and rich legacy of cardboard that came before it.

I hope this article allowed you to enjoy the cards and sets profiled not only as fantastic in their own right but also as important evolutionary stops along the way toward the Highlights and Record Breaker cards so many of us collected in our youth, if not the Topps Now cards many collectors still collect today.

Jason joined SABR in January 2019. Collecting interests include Hank Aaron, Dwight Gooden, and Sir Isaac Newton. You can find him on Twitter as @HeavyJ28 or on the Web here and here. He lives in the Chicago area but originally hails from Los Angeles.

 

 

Barajitas estadounidenses: Bowman International

My seventh post featuring Spanish-language baseball cards released in the United States. Previous posts are:

  1. Introduction and 1978 Topps Zest
  2. 1993–2000 Pacific and Pacific Crown
  3. Other assorted Pacific cards and oddballs
  4. 1991 Kellogg’s Leyendas
  5. 1994 Topps and beyond
  6. Donruss Super Estrellas

I have to be honest, I thought I was done with these posts unless someone were to create a new Spanish Language set. But the wonderful thing about this hobby is that there’s always, always, more to discover. Which means I was quite pleased to learn that 1998 and 1999 Bowman International not only highlighted where a player was from but also included localized backs.

These aren’t one-off parallels but rather a complete set which includes a number of Spanish-language backs—including for players from Puerto Rico who are technically not international players. I haven’t gone on a deep dive looking at the Spanish language text on multiple cards and the stats on these are pretty thin (although Cuadrangulares, Carreras Impulsadas, and Promedio suggest that things are translated fully rather than using the more Spanglish terms like Jonron). Oh, and the #PonleAcento action on González is always nice to see too.

What did jump out at me is that height and weight are in meters and kilograms instead of feet and pounds. None of the previous cards I’ve featured in this series have made this translation but it makes sense here since this set is less about being aimed at the Spanish-speaking market in the United States and more about presenting international backs.

Which means that the set contains cards in other languages too. While at first I was interested in only the Spanish-language cards, I couldn’t help myself and began searching for other languages.

Japanese was the obvious next language to look for and I was pleased to find many on the checklist. I’m not going to comment at all on the language usage anymore since I can’t read them but I do have to highlight how Topps changed the units on the Kanji cards from meters to centimeters.

Also, using a non-Roman font is an impressive commitment for just a few cards in a set. Graceful language switching is something that really only became common with MacOSX and Opentype fonts which could contain a full complement of unicode characters. Neither of these were around in the late 1990s.

Designwise though I’m a bit sad that Yoshii’s Kanji signature is printed sideways.  Yes I know this is how he signed his Topps contract. But given that vertical space I’d like to think he’d’ve wanted the characters to be stacked vertically instead.

Skipping around since there’s no reason to provide exemplars for every language for every year. We also have Korean cards. In the 1999 design, even the name on the front is localized so you have to recognize Jung Bong’s photo or signature.

I’ve really nothing more to add here on top of what I said about Japanese except to note that I find Hangul to be one of the most brilliant things humanity has ever invented and it’s fun to have a US card which features it.

The Ntema Ndungidi card though is fantastic. There are so many good things going on with it. Topps didn’t go with the colonial language and print this in French. Nor did it select the obvious “name an ‘African’ language” choice and go with Swahili. Instead we’ve got something that stumps Google Translate but which appears to be some kind of Bantu—probably Lingala. I love it.

I also love how Topps typeset his height to be “1,85m” and replaced the decimal point with a comma. Topps also did this in the text where it mentions his batting average but didn’t do it in the statistics.

Another point of interest here is that Ndungidi was born in Zaire—a country which no longer existed in 1999 when this card was printed.* Topps still marked his origin as Zaire on the card front and on the back his birth information says “Ex Zaire (R.D. Congo).”**

*Quick quick history. Zaire ceased to exist in 1997 when the Rawandan war spilled into Zaire and the resulting Congo war forced Mobutu Sese Seko into exile and installed Laurent-Désiré Kabila as the new president.

**Note, his regular Bowman card just says Zaire and appears to be completely unaware that that was out of date.

I’m still looking through the checklists to see if there are any other languages I’m missing. I thought Sidney Ponson would be in Dutch but Topps used English for Aruba. Sadly, none of the Canadian players appear to get French cards nor are their vitals in metric units. Nor does Benny Agbayani’s card feature Pidgin or Hawaiian. But I’m plenty happy with what I’ve found and this was a nice way to expand on the Spanish-language posts I’ve been making on here.

Topps 3D!

 

As a photography junkie I’ve long been fascinated with the way that three-dimensional imaging has paralleled the history of the medium from the early stereographs through the Viewmaster toys I grew up with (and which my son still played with in his preschool).

That baseball cards have multiple examples in these genre* is fantastic. But it’s the application of lenticular printing to baseball cards in the late 60s with the 1968 Topps 3D release followed by the run of Kelloggs cards starting in 1970 which is particularly awesome.

*Stereographs; Dixie Lids with their stereoviewer; Viewmasters

Between the Kelloggs 3D cards in the 1970s and 1980s Sportflics magic motion cards, I’ve found myself developing a specific weakness to lenticular baseball cards and their low-tech magic.

distracted

Yeah.

I’m not explicitly chasing sets of these but they’ll always turn my head and getting samples of all the different sets* is something I’m enjoying doing. I only have a couple samples of 1970s Kelloggs so far but each and every one is a joy to get and hold and look at.

*Well besides the 1968 Topps 3D sets which is just insanely expensive.

Most of the time I’m able to keep things in-line with my main collecting interests but this is not always the case. For example, last summer Topps released an On Demand 3D set. I normally ignore their on demand offerings since even the nice ones seem to only feature the same handful of teams and players. Plus they rely a ton on design reuse but usually do an even worse job of executing the old designs than Heritage does.

Lenticular 3D though? Of course I bought a pack. I wasn’t expecting to wait quite as long as I did but they finally arrived the week before Thanksgiving.

 

It was awesome. While it would’ve been nice to get some Giants I’m not even upset that I got Cutch as a Yankee. They look great in hand and I’m kind of regretting not buying more than one pack. The only disappointment (and it’s a small disappointment not a major critique) is that the action cards only show two frames of movement.

I haven’t had a ton of experience with lenticular 3D cards and the ones I do have are kind of fragile due to the all-to-common cracking issues caused by aging plastic and differing rates of expansion due to the way paper reacts to ambient humidity and temperature much more than plastic does. So this is the first time I’ve had a chance to take a really good look at them.

 

One obvious note to make compared to the older cards is that the current 3D cards depict action and the 3D effect works really well on pictures where the pose has considerable depth to it. I really like the Carlos Martinez for this reason and even in an animated gif it pops.

I hadn’t thought much about the physics of the lenticular effect before either but making these gifs made me realize that the lenses have to go up and down in order to create the stereo effect. While tilting the card is the only way to get the impression in a gif, the vertical lenses split the image into two. As a result, each eye sees a slightly different picture and your brain assembles the result in 3D.

Which means that I’m surprised and impressed that Topps printed horizontal cards in this set since that means they had to do two distinct print and finishing runs in order to accommodate the two designs.

 

Of course this also means that I’m a little confused by the choice to do action with vertical lenses since every other lenticular action card I have has horizontal lenses and has to be tilted up and down for the effect. From Sportflics to Topps Screenplays, they’re all animated with vertical movement. The current Topps action cards are  the first lenticular action ones I’ve seen that get tilted left/right instead.

As I think about it, tilting up and down for action makes a lot of sense since you don’t want to confuse the eyes with combining two distinct action images into single still image. Which may be why the current action cards feature only two frames. Any more frames and your brain will try and combine adjacent frames into a 3D image instead of seeing things as action.

 

Note: that all the motion holograms I’ve see have been left/right tilt—suggesting that our eyes/brains process them differently than lenticular images. And I guess that makes sense too since holograms are 3D no matter what angle you view them at.

Barajitas estadounidenses: Topps

My fifth post featuring Spanish-language baseball cards released in the United States. Previous posts are:

  1. Introduction and 1978 Topps Zest
  2. 1993–2000 Pacific and Pacific Crown
  3. Other assorted Pacific cards and oddballs
  4. 1991 Kellog’s Leyendas

After Pacific’s 1993 Spanish-langauge release, Topps decided to release its 1994 set in a Spanish-languague version as well. From what I’ve seen, the Topps cards were only released as a set and came with a special 10-card insert set of Topps Leyendas featuring various Latino baseball stars.

First, the Leyendas insert set. The less said about the front design the better but I do like that this is one of the only sets with bilingual fronts. The back though is wonderful. There’s some peak-90s fonts and colors but I love that everything is translated. Compared to Pacific’s preference for English-language statistics this is a wonderful change of pace. Some stats like At Bats, Hits, and Home Runs are (or can be) the same in both languages but most are not.

The base 1994 Spanish cards featured the exact same fronts as the regular ones. Even the Future Stars and Rookies cards are the same. So the only thing worth commenting on is the backs.

As in 1978 and the Leyendas cards, Topps has bilingual statistic headings. Does it make things a little busy? Yes. But it makes these cards that much more accessible to everyone. The only thing that still confuses me is trying to figure out what “JS” translates to for “Games Started.” I’d understand “JE” or “JC” but the only way “JS” makes sense is if “Start” gets borrowed into Spanish.

I also like how Topps uses izquierda in the bats/throws information but switches to zurdo in the bio information. Izquierda is definitely the word I learned in school. Zurdo on the other hand is one I’ve learned through watching and reading about sports.

Anyway this is a solid effort at bilingual cards and makes me wonder what might have been had there been no strike. Would Topps have continued releasing bilingual cards in the following years? It would’ve been very cool if they had.

Instead, from what I’ve been able to tell, we’ve been limited to Spanish-language variants. There have been a few Spanish-language Topps Now cards from the World Baseball Classic which I won’t cover on this blog but Topps has referenced its Venezuelan issues a few times.

While the Topps Heritage Venezuelan variants seem to only focus on print differences between the US-manufactured and Venezuelan-manufactured cards, Topps Lineage in 2011 had a Venezuelan insert set that resulted in Spanish-language versions of the main Lineage cards.

Unfortunately, Lineage’s backs are pretty boring and just feature a biographical paragraph. The translation is fine, if a bit literal, but doesn’t offer much to comment on. Still, it’s nice to see that Topps didn’t completely give up on the market after 1994.

Uh oh

I’m not a huge Allen & Ginter guy. I don’t like it as a baseball card set but I do enjoy the way it incorporates and re-incorporates concepts from the early years of trading cards. All those animal, national, flag, etc. inserts and subsets remind me of the wonderful world of pre-war cards where trading cards allowed for people to experience and learn about the rest of the world.

This year Ginter has a Flags of Lost Nations insert set. On the surface this looks like a perfect fit for what Ginter does best. A way to learn about the past and a opportunity to imagine what other ways national borders could’ve turned out. As someone whose family lived in Hawai‘i before it was annexed by the United States* I was pleased to see that there was a Hawai‘i card in the checklist.

*This puts me in the small category of having Chinese ancestors who legally became residents of the United States during the time while the Chinese Exclusion Act was enforced and also puts me in the rare category of having Asian ancestors who never immigrated to the United States.

And then I took a closer look at the checklist.

Rhodesia

Gulp.

This is not good. Pre-Dylann Roof you could defensibly claim ignorance about this but now? Yeah. Topps has a full-fledged white supremacist flag on its checklist. I’ve been unable to find an image of the card yet but I know it’s going to be a stomach punch when I do—both in terms of how it represents a country which was founded with explicitly racist intent and how it’s used today as a symbol for how black people are inherently threatening and need to be subdued..

But that’s not all. If you look at the checklist there’s also a Nazi-puppet state on there in the Republic of Salo. I’m certain Topps wouldn’t go anywhere near a Nazi flag but this is pretty damn close.

SaloPart of me hopes that this is merely a function of Topps trying to spread things out across the continents and not doing proper vetting on what these countries stood for. In other words, a horribly unfortunate mistake. But then I look at the text on the back of the Salo card and I’m not so sure. Someone had to research and write that and someone else had to green-light it even with the reference to Hitler.

Is it good to know about these countries? Yes. Absolutely. Are these the kind of things you want people to be collecting and seeking and saving and displaying? I certainly hope not.

I know politics is something we try and avoid on this blog and in this hobby. But flags are political. Countries are political. And when you put out a 25-card set of flags you should absolutely expect for people to look at the list, wonder why you chose the countries you did, and expect you to be aware and responsible for how those flags may still be in use today.

Heritage and the Uncanny Valley

1969 Topps was a rough year as the player boycott plus four expansion teams put Topps in a major bind with the photography. As a result, many of the cards featured photos which had been cropped super tightly to obscure out-of-date photos, featured hatless players, involved unflattering low-angle shots to hide cap logos, or had the logos painted over. This, plus the numerous re-used photos overshadowed what could’ve been a great design.

Needless to say I was a excited to see 2018 Heritage since I expected that the 1969 design would look really nice if done well. The results have mostly confirmed this. Photos aren’t cropped too closely—more three-quarters length portraits instead of neck-up headshots—and are distinct from what we’ve seen in Flagship (though there does appear to be some reuse from previous years of Heritage). They’re also generally taken in better light than Topps took photos in in the 1960s. No more squinting in full sun or dealing with shadows across faces.

Many of the Heritage images use fill flash well and balance things nicely with the ambient light. Where in the mid-80s Topps went a bit overkill on the flash and turned many of the photos into impending thunderstorms, 2018 Heritage features sunny days that look perfect for a day game or sunsets that suggest it will be a wonderful night for a ballgame.

It’s a great demonstration of how good 1969 Topps could’ve looked and really illustrates the promise and appeal of the Heritage line. Topps also did very well this year in using photos which overwhelmingly feature white home uniforms or road grey uniforms. In previous years there have been a lot of colored alternates or spring training tops* which clash with the retro-esthetic of the designs.

*As a Giants collector this has been one of my biggest peeves about Heritage.

I’m also glad that Topps used the smallest possible ® and ™ symbols on the team names. In many of their retro sets (including this year’s 1983 throwbacks), adding those characters throws off the alignment and, to my eye, ruins the design. So kudos to Topps for getting it right here.

Being the type/design nerd I am though there are also a few things going on that really bother me about Heritage. One big one is that Topps chose to use the longest-possible position names—including “Outfielder” instead of “Outfield,” a choice I don’t think I’ve ever seen on a card before. This wouldn’t normally be an issue except that in order to fit the positions into the circle Topps had to compress the font. And even compressed, “Second Baseman” doesn’t fit well.

I have no idea why Topps did this especially since both last year’s Heritage and the original 1969 design use short position indicators like “2nd Base” instead.

I’m also disappointed, but not surprised, that Topps went with “Diamondbacks” instead of “D-Backs” since the extra-long team name pretty much breaks a lot of the 1960s designs. It is indeed cramped on these cards as well but still looks better and is easier to read than previous years’ Heritage.

While I’ve seen a bunch of complaints about changing the color of the Astros dot from light green to dark blue, that doesn’t bother me. I’d actually like to see all the dots updated to better match the team colors. What does bother me is that Topps went with black ink for the position name inside the dark blue dot. This is literally unreadable and an obvious design screwup. I’d love to see the positions in white or orange here instead.

This Gattis card though also takes me into the thing about Heritage that upsets me the most. While Topps has done a great job in updating the design with good photography they’ve also gone ahead and ruined a lot of the effect by post-processing many of the photos with a fake dot pattern which I’m assuming is intended to mimic a traditional halftone screen.

For a few years now Heritage has been printed using stochastic screening.* This results in much cleaner photographic images and generally improves print quality. Or at least it would if Topps didn’t add this silly dot pattern back into the photo. On the fronts of cards it’s especially visible in the skies and I suspect Topps intended it to replicate the vintage look.

*Why yes I do have a post on print screens and what they look like.

For the few of us who would even notice what Topps is doing it’s borderline close to ruining the whole product by sending it into an uncanny valley between looking “authentic” and being a wonderful update which modernizes the design.

This becomes especially apparent on the All-Stars cards. I’ve gone ahead and scanned details from a real 1969 card since it makes the comparison that much more obvious.

Topps, to its credit, has the greyscale background image printed in just black ink.  But the fake halftone effect is extremely obvious and extremely large. You can tell its a fake effect because the dots are all the same size—in a traditional screen the dots change size—plus the scale is completely off.

There’s also an artificially large trap where the black and white photo overlaps the red header graphic. This is also something that was done intentionally as it appears on all the All-Star cards and is way too large to have been introduced by the printing process.

Comparing to the 1969 card shows just how different the screening looks. The fake halftone in 2018 distracts from the image since it’s merely imposed on top of it as a texture. In the 1969, the dots are the image.

You can also see here how much better the modern screening is when Topps doesn’t screw with it. In Trout’s cap you can barely make out any noise from the printing screen and what you can notice looks more like film grain. On the 1969 card Hawk’s hair is full of the halftone rosette pattern.

On the backs of the All-Star cards—and from what I’ve seen, the Deckle Edge inserts—this is even more obvious because Topps only applied the fake screen effect to parts of the image. As a result it stands out even more. The Deckle Edge inserts appear to be very similar to this. Rather than improving on the originals Topps has tried a lazy approach to faking an old-time look.

This is especially frustrating because there was so much potential for those inserts to look amazing compared to the 1969 versions. Just printing black and white photos with a stochastic screen would’ve been a huge improvement. But Topps also could’ve considered making them duotones and getting them even closer to looking like real photographs.

There’s also something else weird going on in many of the Heritage photos. This Porcello is the most egregious of the ones I’ve seen but it’s happening a lot. The photos look like they’ve been printed out of register except that printing on the dot and the edges of the photo are all registered correctly.

In the Porcello example there’s severe magenta fringing on his right ear and elbow. There’s equally-severe yellow fringing around the red details on his jersey. I’m a total loss at guessing what’s going on since the rest of the card doesn’t look out of register.*  However I am crossing my fingers and hoping that this isn’t another attempt to create a retro look through post-processing.

*It almost look like the purple/green chromatic aberration you get from cheap photographic lenses but it’s not that either since the colors are off and chromatic aberration only shows up in the slightly-out-of-focus areas.

I want to like this set. I really do. Aside from all the short print nonsense* Topps is very close to having something wonderful here in updating old designs to show how good they are and how well they work today. Many of the cards in this set are extremely nice with their good photography, full statistics, and easy-to-read backs. The World Series cards with their box scores are fantastic. There’s so much going on that appeals to me.

*I can ignore the parallels and variants but having 20% of the checklist be intentionally short-printed just to create artificial scarcity is something that directly antagonizes me and the way I collect cards.

Yet this straddling of wanting to improve the original while simultaneously weighing it down with faked versions of 1969’s production keeps me from fully enjoying it. I’d love an update. And I’d love an all-period-details replicated set which is actually printed with a coarse traditional linescreen. Unfortunately those two goals aren’t compatible and trying to do both means Topps does neither. Did I enjoy my pack? Yes and it was fun seeing these in person for the first time. Do I feel the need to buy another? Not really.