Thursday, October 16, 2008

Years of practice

Today, when we talk about Topps and it not being up-front with its customers, we talk about "the gimmick," in all of its various forms of sneakery.

But Topps isn't new to the deception game. Back in the day, sneakery came in the form of the photo on the front of the baseball card. I'm not talking about mere airbrushing. I'm talking about Topps creating photographs for cards of events that never happened.

Take two examples from a year in Topps history that features countless examples of bizarre photography, 1973. Many of you know some of these beautiful disasters by heart.

There's the Frank Robinson card ...

... In which the only finger Topps lifted in order to celebrate Robinson's arrival with the California Angels was to white-out the word Dodgers across his jersey. "They'll never be able to tell!" the graphics people chortled, forgetting that the Dodgers wear one of the most recognizable uniforms in baseball and that their stadium is one of the most recognizable as well.

Then there are the "guess which player we're featuring" photos:

... That's a fine shot of the back of Rodriguez's head, and two other Brewers, and the ump's backside. ...

... And here's a card of Dave, um, Dave, um, hey, isn't that Davey Concepion?

But those cards are kind of the norm when it comes to 1973 Topps. You can find loads of those babies from that year. In order to see Topps deception at its finest, you need to look at these two examples, in which Topps was fooling kiddies all over the U.S. of A.

The first is card #263, George Scott, of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Scott appears to be fielding a pickoff throw from the pitcher, or maybe a throw from the outfield, as Oakland's Bert Campaneris slides back into first base. But this photo never quite looked right to me. If you look close at the photo, Scott and Campaneris appear to be cut out of some other photo and placed in this photograph.

Now look at the people in the stands ...  (I hope you can see them). None of the fans are looking at the play at first base. Almost all of them are looking off to the left of the photo. It seems pretty obvious that the play is at first base, Campaneris seems to be pretty urgent in his slide into first. I'm thinking that if this play did happen, it didn't happen in this stadium.

Now, here's example No. 2. #420, Tommie Agee of the Houston Astros.

This card is cited a lot as an example of '73 photo wackiness, because of the number of people in the photo. (They cropped George Scott into a photo, couldn't they crop around Agee and leave the other three people out of the shot?) But here's another thing: Agee was traded from the New York Mets to the Astros on Nov. 27, 1972, so there was no chance for Topps to get a shot of Agee in an Astros uniform for the 1973 set.

Instead, Topps airbrushed Agee into an Astros uniform (minus the word Astros on the chest). But they also AIRBRUSHED THE OTHER TWO METS INTO ASTROS UNIFORMS.

Look ...
The guy in the center of the photo is shortstop Bud Harrelson. Harrelson will tell you (and so will every baseball record book out there) that he played 13 years for the Mets, two for the Phillies and one for the Rangers. But not according to Topps. They say, that at least on this day, he was an Astro. I'm not 100 percent sure who that other player is. It could be right fielder Rusty Staub, and he quit playing for the Astros in 1968.

So, there you go, Topps playing fast-and-loose with reality. They've had a little practice with this deception thing. Years and years of practice.


  1. That last card of Agee is hilarious! I've heard of airbrushing but that's just over the top. Priceless!

    (Unless if you're Beckett and then it's worth .40 seriously...I checked.)

  2. i love the 1973 f robby card! and then there's garvey's card, which is really a card of wes parker's back.