The Other Mike Cameron: A 2009 Topps Mini-Mystery Sorta Solved

Like many card collectors, I have a touch of what R. Crumb called “compulsive series syndrome.” That is, the need to create a collection that is not only complete, but organized in a specific way. As a Milwaukee Brewers collector, that means lining up the flagship team set every year – base cards arranged by last name followed by subsets by number, then the traded or update series organized in the same fashion – in nine-pocket bindered pages. It’s a nice way to capture a season, but the last decade or so of Topps flagship sets has often been frustrating. Series one usually contains  handful of guys no longer with the team while series two begins to roll out off-season additions. Unlike the clean single-series sets of yore, it leaves a sort-of two-season amalgamation of players. It also resulted in one of the true quirks of my flagship Topps Brewers collection – the twin 2009 base cards for Mike Cameron that sit side-by-side in my “2004-Present” binder.

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Before the 2008 season, the Brewers signed Cameron to a 1-year deal with an option for a second. Cam was to take over in center field for an over-matched Bill Hall and, after serving a 25 suspension for amphetamines, was one of leaders of a team that won 90 games and broke a quarter-century playoff drought for the Brewers. Cameron had a good season, but he wasn’t an all-star, got no MVP votes, and led the league in nothing. He was certainly significant enough to get a spot in the upcoming Topps set… but two? So far as I know, the only other player honored with TWO base cards with the same team in a single set was Ted Williams, who was both the first and last cards in the 1954 set. (I need to make clear here, there may be other examples of this… I just don’t know of or know how to search for them. If you know of others, please mention them)

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So what gives? Well, the series one Cameron card is unremarkable. But the series two card offers a clue. While the series one entry correctly states that Cam was acquired as a free agent on 1-11-08, the second series card says “ACQ: TRADE WITH BREWERS, 12-15-08.” On December 11, 2008, it was reported that the Brewers were very near to a deal to send Cameron to the Yankees for Melky Cabrera. The Brewers had just picked up Cameron’s option year, but were looking at cheaper alternatives in center. Meanwhile, the Yankees were seeking a veteran upgrade from the 23-year old Cabrera. The deal was nearly official before the Yankees asked the Brewers to help pay part of Cameron’s salary. By December 17, it was reported that the deal was dead.

Piecing all this together, we can assume that Topps was finalizing its series two checklist right around the time of the rumored trade and prepared a Cameron-as-Yankee card. When the deal fell apart, they inexplicably kept Cam on the checklist as a Brewer, forgetting to change the ‘how acquired’ line. Why he wasn’t replaced altogether on the checklist remains a mystery. Several players who changed teams around the same time Cameron nearly did appear in series two in their new uniforms, so it’s not as though Topps did not have the time to make significant alterations to the series. And then there is the matter of CC Sabathia, who, like Cameron, was featured in the first series as a Brewer. Sabathia was the that off-season’s top free agent prize, and signed with the Yankees on Dec. 20. While Topps included a number of players who changed teams after Dec. 20 with their new clubs, they ignored the Sabathia signing – and any other player in series one who changed teams – until the update series. So, again, we’re left with to wonder what was so special about Mike Cameron.

So, in my quest to learn why my perfectly-aligned 9-pocket page had two Mike Cameron cards right next to each other, I ended up with as many questions as answers. Can anyone think of other two-base card players in Topps history? Does anyone have any similar petty-yet-maddening card mysteries?

Follow me on Twitter, @mjpmke and check out my blog on Brewers history.

Topps “Now” Card Program

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As Mark wrote about in Entry 4 of his 10-part series on the Topps baseball-card monopoly, a breakthrough in card design – although not always executed well at first – was the introduction of action photography in 1971.

It took 45 years, but Topps found a way to enhance the experience of viewing action cards, by letting fans choose the specific plays they wanted to immortalize, and do so with quick turnaround from order to delivery.

In 2016, Topps began its “Now” program, allowing fans to order specially made cards capturing action images of noteworthy events on the diamond, generally no-hitters and important home-runs. The idea is that, once a significant (in some fans’ minds, at least) development occurs, customers have 24 hours to go online and purchase an action-shot card of the milestone (as long as Topps has decided to make one).

I first heard of the Now program via this article on the runaway demand for a Now card of Bartolo Colon hitting his first major-league homer on May 7. According to the article, Topps “sold 8,826 cards of the 42-year-old pitcher hitting a home run on Saturday. The card went on sale at 11:30 a.m. ET on Sunday and stopped production exactly 24 hours later.”

Before the Colon card, the biggest-selling card (Jake Arrieta’s second career no-hitter) had attracted 1,808 purchases.

In August 2016, the sales figure for the Colon homer card was eclipsed by the Now card for Ichiro’s 3,000th hit, which sold 11,550 copies.

As a Cubs fan, I decided to look into Now cards commemorating the team’s World Series victory. Topps made several individual cards and sets available, with a one-week ordering window instead of the usual 24 hours.

I zeroed in on a single card, showing the Cubs’ celebratory gathering in the infield, immediately following the final out, which carried a $9.99 price tag. I’m pretty frugal, so $10 for one baseball card seemed a lot. But then I asked myself, “How often do the Cubs win the World Series?” and the decision to purchase a card became obvious.

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The card took about two weeks to arrive and came enclosed in a clear plastic case, not a flat one, but one big enough to hold a deck of playing cards. The back of the card contained a paragraph-length summary of the series, with an emphasis on Game 7. I would have preferred a more data-laden back (like regular baseball cards), such as a listing of scores of all of the Cubs’ 2016 post-season games. I can’t complain, though.

The Now program seems like an excellent way for fans to celebrate their favorite players’ and teams’ accomplishments, including those on the quirkier side, such as when a certain aging, not-so-svelte pitcher goes deep.

“It’s My Turn”

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On the subject of onscreen baseball cards, IT’S MY TURN (1980) is the story of Ben Lewin (Michael Douglas), a recently-retired ballplayer. The film may primarily be about the crisis of a modern woman (played by Jill Clayburgh) as she realizes she is no longer a child in her father’s house, etc. But if you ever wondered what Michael Douglas would look like on a baseball card, this is the movie for you… (In one of the film’s publicity stills,  Clayburgh’s right arm is around Douglas– and she is clutching a Topps Ben Lewin baseball card. It’s hard to make out the year.)

What Condition My Condition Was In

I’m not a stickler for condition. For the cards I’ve collected on my own, I like them Near Mint (NM), maybe EX-MT. It’s more important to me that the picture is sharp than that the corners are. I’m not bothered by off-center cards, slightly bothered by miscuts. All my sets are in pretty solid shape.

Then there are the cards I’ve gotten from other people over the years. Those tend to be more hit or miss. Not everyone put their cards straight from the pack into a shoe box or plastic sleeve. Some of the cards I’ve picked up from friends are nice, maybe EX or better; some look like they’ve been driven over by a car in a rough, cement-floored garage.

It’s the latter conditions I grappled with when I decided to finish my 1971 set. 1971 was the last year I let my mother (yes, let) throw out my cards. She would ask if I wanted them anymore and I, shockingly, told her no. Over time I reacquired a bunch of those, but in conditions that made me wince.

But when I looked and saw I only needed 57 cards to complete the set, I figured, what the hell, I’ll go for it, but I’ll go for it with cards in similar condition to the rest of what I had. Not only was pursuing 1971’s in Very Good (VG) condition a cheaper choice, it was also a liberating one. I didn’t have to worry if the corners were pointy enough, if the borders were as close to solid black as they could be (a notorious 1971 problem), if the cards were relatively well-centered. Once I finished the set, I was thrilled by it, happy to have them all, less concerned about the state of any individual card. I can tell you my Rich Morales (267) is a crime against collecting. Some slight upgrading is in order.

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With 1971 wrapped up, I turned to 1970, the last set I didn’t have that I was reasonably close to. In mid-July, I assessed the situation. I needed 187 cards to complete the set, lots of high numbers, some big stars too. Whoever at Topps put Nolan Ryan at #712 should be subject to enhanced interrogation.

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Again, I had some condition problems, but, if I went after VG or EX, I could get this done reasonably and that’s what I’ve done. Starting with a solid nab of 25 cards at the great Baseball Nostalgia in Doubleday Court, Cooperstown, I was well on my way. Then I tweeted that I was working on this set and, lo and behold, prayers, had they been said, were answered. Two friends (Chris and Mike) gave me significant piles of their 1970’s. Not only did these windfalls fill a lot of holes, but they allowed me to upgrade to a more EX set.

I’ve been working the old eBay machine for the rest. While I miss the fun of card shows (there aren’t any to speak of in the greater Cooperstown area), I don’t miss haggling with dealers. I’m eminently patient and will wait out losing auction upon losing auction until I get my price. There’s a fun to buying on EBay, a different entertainment than shows. Swooping in at the last moment to get a good deal makes me feel, for no valid reason, a bit smarter. With much good fortune, I picked up a lot of EX-NM cards at VG prices. I’ve also been selling some doubles and triples to subsidize the endeavor. I’ve had a lot of fun with this, which is sort of the point of card collecting.

As of this post, I need only three cards – Johnny Bench (660), Ron Santo (670) and the Pilots team card (713, Nolan’s neighbor). I’m almost there.

Yeah, yeah, oh yeah!

 

 

Josh Wilker’s Cardboard Gods

One of my favorite blogs is Josh Wilker’s Cardboard Gods.  Josh takes a different slant than most baseball card blogs, which are mainly nostalgia.  Josh uses one card to help tell some (often quite personal, sometimes funny and/or emotional) story about his own life, or about the world around him.

Several years ago he took some of his blog content, added several new entries, and turned out a book, also called Cardboard Gods. I highly recommend the book as well.

Note that we have a Blogroll over to the lower right.  If you have any other blogs that are worthy of promotion via SABR’s Baseball Cards committee, let’s add them.  Also, feel free to post about them as well.

— Mark

 

Bruce Markusen’s Card Corner

For those of you who don’t know, Bruce Markusen writes a column devoted to baseball cards (usually focusing on a single card) for the Hall of Fame web site.  He has a new entry today, which is on the 1968 Don Mincher card.

Bruce is a member of this committee, but even if he wasn’t I would recommend giving his column a read.  At the very bottom of the page there are some links to earlier entries, but you might need Google to find the rest.

— Mark