Friday, March 18, 2011

Kill it with fire

I have broken out of jail and am free to post as often as I like.

It's been a long week and I've missed plenty. Family developments, world developments, blog developments. People have been coming up to me constantly, saying "did you hear about so-and-so?" and then looking at me cross-eyed when I say, "I don't know what you're talking about. I've been seated for 12 hours in a windowless room the last four days, dumb-ass."

I actually didn't realize it was St. Patrick's Day until the day was half over. Someone in the computer department had a birthday Thursday and they handed out cake with green icing. I'm just now realizing why it was green.

If I didn't work in the sports department, I probably would have forgotten that the NCAA Tournament started Thursday. As it is, I'm way behind in figuring out what happened -- although I have seen people jump off of three story buildings screaming "Morehead State!" After all, they did let me out of my windowless room for a 15 minute break.

But enough whining about the job. All work and no play makes Night Owl a dull bird. The fact is that even in my overworked state, I've done a pretty good job keeping up with this week's card activity. People who are a little more free and easy this week have made it to their neighborhood retail or hobby store and put a whole bunch of 2011 Heritage on display.

I have no idea if Heritage made it to my town. I haven't been able to get to any kind of store all week. But I plan to find out today.

I won't be collecting the set. I said no to the Heritage scene two years ago. But the '62 design is interesting enough to get me to buy a few packs. Some of the cards look pretty good, Brian Wilson excluded, of course.

What I have found a little bit annoying about the set is the return of two all-time greats who have worn out their welcome.

Babe Ruth has a subset in 2011 Heritage. I know that is Topps being faithful to the original set, because the '62 set also had a Ruth subset. But I am so sick of pulling Ruth cards. I don't want to see any more Ruth cards. Ever. Unless they're really, really, super old.

Jackie Robinson also has a set in 2011 Heritage. It's short-printed. I am hesitant to say this because I am a proud Dodger fan and Jackie fan, but I don't really care that it's short-printed or that I may never see all of these cards in my possession. Because I think Topps has killed the thrill of a Robinson card.

This complaint usually pops up with Mickey Mantle cards, which have become a legitimate plague on the hobby. Topps needs to take any future temptation that it has to print new Mantle cards and put it in a burn barrel, light the match, and kill it with fire. Kill it dead. Forever.

But Ruth, Robinson and Mantle aren't the only all-time greats that have suffered from Topps overkill. There are actually a whole bunch of players. It's getting so there is no excitement at all when I pull these players' cards out of packs. It's as exciting as if I pulled a card of Ramon Hernandez or Seth Smith.

I've narrowed down the 10 players that I wish Topps would omit from all future sets for at least a decade, maybe more. There are actually more that I could pick, but I'd be happy if we could start with these 10. It's time to put these players on the shelf for awhile.

Presenting the Topps Overkill 10: Diluting the Legacy of Baseball's Greats.

10. Nolan Ryan: It was kind of a toss-up between Ryan, Mike Schmidt, Robin Yount and a few others for the final spot. But the sight of seeing Ryan in a Rangers uniform put him over the top. There were so many Rangers cards of Ryan during the overproduction era, that there's no need to have even more cards of this guy, as bad-ass as he is.

9. Roger Maris: It's possible Maris doesn't belong on this list. It's just a knee-jerk reaction when I see an old-time Yankee player in a current set. I automatically think Topps is shoving the Yankee legacy down our throats again.

8. Cal Ripken Jr.: I don't like it when players who retired only 10 years ago suddenly pop up in sets again. Give me some time to get the warm fuzzies about the player before you kill the buzz.

7. Duke Snider: I know the Boys of Summer are beloved by everyone (I sure have enough competition for their cards). But it's time to kick it back a notch. Either that or Topps needs to discover who Clem Labine was.

6. Tony Gwynn: Did anyone have any trouble finding Tony Gwynn cards during his career? I can't imagine they did. Aside from his rookie card (which was quite plentiful in 1983), it's no great feat landing a Gwynn card. I don't need any more of them.

5. Johnny Bench: I do not own the 1970 Topps card of Johnny Bench. But I do own three or four different versions of his '70 card that were issued in later sets by Topps. That shouldn't happen.

4. Roy Campanella: I love Campy. But it's a joke that out of the 55 cards I have of him, 48 were produced in the 1990s or later. It's great of Topps to make sure that everyone is lucky enough to own a Campanella card, but it can stop now. The whole world has one.

3. Jackie Robinson: Every Robinson card looks great, but it's hard for me to believe that Topps has a photo of Robinson that has never been used before. So it combines his photos with coins and other stuff that I don't care about in hopes collectors are gullible enough to care. Unfortunately, they are.

2. Babe Ruth: When I pulled a Babe Ruth card from a pack of Topps cards in 1976, THAT was cool. Ruth keeps showing up, but the moment can't be recreated again.

1. Mickey Mantle: You know that joke I made earlier in the post about a burn barrel and a lighted match? I'm not kidding about this one. When it happens, I'll let you all know. We'll have a big party. And send the pictures to Topps.

Each one of the cards in this top 10 came from my 2010 Topps binder. And I had my selection of multiple cards of each player, half of whom are dead.

But I'm not going to be like so many people who complain about a problem but don't offer a solution. My solution is simple. There are many past players that deserve cards who you rarely see in current sets. Let's start seeing them. Oh, I know what people will say:

It's a licensing issue.
It's a photo availability issue.
The MLB will allow only so many retired players in a current set.

But all of those are excuses. Perhaps there's not a solution to all of those issues right away, but beating collectors over the head with Mantle is definitely not the right answer.

So here's a list of some past greats that I would be more than happy to see in a set of current cards. Some of them may have been in sets recently, but it hasn't happened enough for me to notice. And that's a problem:

Ted Kluszewski, Lou Boudreau, Robin Roberts, Sam Rice, Eddie Plank, Ducky Medwick, Joe McGinnity, Rabbit Maranville, Ernie Lombardi, Chuck Klein, Carl Hubbell, Gabby Hartnett, Lefty Grove, Goose Goslin, Don Drysdale, Bobby Doerr, Larry Doby, Sam Crawford, Stan Coveleski, Mordecai Brown, Jim Bottomley, Richie Ashburn, Cool Papa Bell, Luke Appling, Early Wynn, Hack Wilson, Zack Wheat, Mickey Cochrane, Jack Chesbro, George Kell.

I'll stop there.

If cards of these players or any other similar players, many of whom are Hall of Famers, showed up in current set, replacing some of the players we see over and over until our vision blurs, I would be a lot more interested in collecting a set like, say, oh, I don't know, Heritage again.

As it is, I'll just take all the Dodgers. Yes, even the Jackies.


  1. Totally agree! I would add Luis Aparicio to that list. I love Little Louie to death, but if I pull another new card of him, I think I might puke. He and Fox are most often used, followed by Appling and Wynn for token past White Sox players. Now Frank Thomas is starting to creep into that category. There are so many other players from a team which spans over 100 years and counting the minors, parts of three centuries.

  2. Another solid post. I wrote in one of my posts about my disdain for the Yankee Stadium Legacy cards that were in every recent Upper Deck product. I'm a Dodger fan and I'm even getting sick of seeing the same Dodgers. The Dodgers have many more legends that deserve to be on cardboard.

  3. Outside of separate deals with Babe Ruth (estate), Mickey Mantle (estate) and Sandy Koufax. The majority of the long retired HOFers Topps' put on their cards come from the deal they have with CMG.

    The link below shows a list of their clients.

    It's interesting that some of the players you mentioned that you'd like to see more often in card sets are on their roster (Zack Wheat, Lefty Grove, Don Drysdale) yet Topps prefers to stick with the old tried and trues (Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Mantle, Ruth) even though they have a deal with CMG that allows for their usage.

  4. Agreed, I just posted tonight a small rant about Mickey Mantle in the Opening Day set. I never honestly wanted a Mickey Mantle card even as a kid, before there were 2,500 "different" in the last 10 years.

  5. I love the comment about Topps finding out who Clem Labine is. Here's where I'll point out that the last player Rocky Dennis (in the film Mask) needed to complete his '55 Dodgers set wasn't Campy or Jackie, it was Rube Walker. At least the scriptwriter remembered that the collectors back then usually had to chase down the commons, not the stars.

  6. Preach on, brother Owl! Since you mentioned the NCAA Tournament, did you know that Temple University started as a night school? That's the origin of the "Owls" nickname.

    Anyhow, I couldn't agree more. I plucked some Fleer Greats and Upper Deck Legends from the early 2000s out of a box at a recent card show, and from your list I walked away with Grove, Hartnett, and Hack Wilson (as a Dodger!). I also picked up Home Run Baker. I like to pick up cards of him, Grove, and Jimmie Foxx since all three were born in Maryland.

    Topps' hero worship just smacks of laziness. As an Orioles fan, I would never turn down cards of Palmer, the Robinsons, Eddie Murray, and Cal, but come on. The O's have had a rich (until recent years) 57-year history. Dig a little deeper. Give me Ken Singleton, Dave McNally, Lee May, Milt Pappas, Gus Triandos, Paul Blair, Stu Miller...

  7. It sort of makes me wonder whether the target market is an audience that doesn't really know baseball in great depth. A casual fan wouldn't know Lefty Grove from a hole in the wall - but he'll know Ruth or Mantle.

  8. Case in point - I came back to baseball after 19 years out, so I missed all of these subsets. As a result, Heritage looks really interesting to me.

    Outside of the old OPC I've been hacking away at, I started to pick up a handful of "real" vintage cards. My first was actually Jim Bouton. After that? Mantle, Robinson, Koufax.

    (I do know who Clem Labine was, though. I read.)

    It's not different in other sports, either. In hockey, you can count on a bunch of new Bobby Orr cards every year, same with Gordie Howe. Want Cyclone Taylor? Good luck.

  9. I'm also tired of seeing reprints of certain sets, '52 and '55 Topps come immediately to mind.

  10. Amen, brother!

    New 2012 insert set - The Cards You Threw Out Because You Were Sick Of Seeing The Same 24 Players. Nothing older than 2008 reprinted.