Tuesday, January 15, 2013

When the All-Star Game meant something

Everyone has had a lot of fun over the years with MLB's desperate "This Time It Counts" slogan. In an attempt to reclaim meaning for the All-Star Game, it awarded the winner home field advantage in the World Series and tacked on the much-derided slogan in a bit of  "See? We're Serious" posturing.

This maneuver was supposed to get players to play harder and managers to manage harder, I suppose, after that tie game in 2002. But all MLB had to do was just get a pitcher to pitch three innings in the damn game.

The fact that no one seems to care about the All-Star Game as much as they once did really can be blamed on many factors. MLB for eliminating league presidents, encouraging interleague play and swapping teams between the A.L. and N.L. Players for electing not to participate for whatever made-up reason. Agents for stressing that their client is a valuable commodity who shouldn't be strained in a "meaningless exhibition." And managers for cowering under the orders of opposing teams to go lightly on their pitchers.

And, finally, baseball card manufacturers for removing the All-Star logos from the cards of players who were elected to start in the game.

Yup, I'm lumping this injustice in with all the rest. How are fans supposed to care about the All-Star Game if the cards feature the game only in some willy-nilly fashion in the Update set? Or as an extra card in the base set? Or not at all?

As a card collector and fan of the All-Star Game, I'm outraged!

When I was a kid (oh, god, here he goes with "when I was a kid" again), players who were voted to start in the All-Star Game received a glorious announcement on their next year's card broadcasting to collectors everywhere that this player was indeed special. An All-Star. With a special stamp -- a banner, a shield, a star -- that no other player had, except for his fellow starting all-star cohorts.

These were cards to cherish, and we did cherish them. The glory days of the All-Star Game were the years 1975-81, not because of what happened in the All-Star Game (although the National League's domination was pretty sweet), but because of what happened on Topps' cards during that period.

Those were the years when Topps honored the All-Star starters from the previous year with a special treatment of their card. And here's my review of each -- with my color hang-ups included, of course -- during that wonderful time when the All-Star Game meant something.

1975: The previous year, Topps utilized special All-Star cards to recognize the All-Star starters. The A.L. and N.L. starters for their respective positions shared a card. Those were inferior cards. Especially when collectors got a load of 1975.

Topps went in with guns blazing in '75. For each starter, Topps decked out its card with a special yellow-and-red border with blue team-lettering and yellow name-lettering. No other player had cards that looked like this! Then Topps took the baseball with the players' position designation and turned it into a giant, five-point star. Turn off your telescope. You can see stars right on your cardboard.

A.L. starters received light-blue lettering inside their star. N.L. starters received magenta lettering inside their star. This is all screwed up to my way of thinking. Blue always goes with the N.L. But there were so many colors and bright lights going off in 1975 Topps that this was a small and forgivable thing.

There was no doubt according to these cards that being an All-Star was special.

1976: Thinking as a kid here, when I saw these cards for the first time, the stars were a little bit of a disappointment. Too small. But I got over that quickly because the bright yellow of the star really packs a punch. And comparing it with a regular player's card in '76, which featured the miniature "guy playing a position" drawing, it stood out much more.

This is what you wanted to do with All-Stars. Make them stand out. They were special. They could play the entire All-Star Game if they wanted. Or at least 7 innings. And if some bench player from the Twins or the Cardinals didn't get into the game because All-Star starter was playing 7 innings TOO DAMN BAD! He was an All-Star starter! Didn't you see that big yellow star on the card? Watch and learn, bench All-Star player.

As for the lettering inside the star, this meets my color rules. If you're going to use red, put it with the A.L. Green is fine with the N.L.

1977: In terms of colors, the 1977 All-Star logo gets it right better than any other logo. The A.L. is red and the N.L. is blue according to my brain. So nice job, 1977 Topps.

Otherwise, this was a come down from the previous two years when I saw these cards for the first-time. Yes, there were still stars on the logo, but the logo was now a bar, not a star. In retrospect, it's not that bad, but I didn't like it the time.

The main issue I have now is that each logo says "All-Stars," yet the logo is honoring one player at a time. Do you see more than one player on each card? This is a big-time gaffe, and nobody brings it up. Too busy trying to find a typo on the back of 1991 Topps.

1978: I remember being in shock when I saw the All-Star logo in '78 Topps. A shield? Wow, Topps was really thinking outside the box.

The shield brought with it a kind of cool vibe that I can't explain other than the cool kids who collected cards in 1978 thought the shield was totally wild. And, soon, although the shield took up much less territory than previous All-Star logos, was a favorite of mine. You couldn't help but look at '78 card with a shield and not see something special.

As for the colors, Topps subtly changed the order of the colors depending on the league. Blue-white-red for the A.L. and red-white-blue for the N.L. Personally, my brain would have swapped those, as blue should go on top with the N.L. But that's just my brain being difficult.

1979: Back to the banners/bars in 1979 Topps. The familiar was reassuring, but otherwise I wasn't a fan.

Brown and purple threw my brain out of whack. What was I supposed to do with those colors? The banner seemed to create a lot of repetition with the team name banner down below. If ever a set needed the All-Star shield, this was it.

But at least the banner didn't say "All-Stars" anymore.

1980 Topps: I enjoyed the All-Star logo in 1980 Topps the moment it came out.

For the first time, Topps placed the logo at the top of the card. But it was small, so it didn't overwhelm the card. The colors used -- purple and black -- were a bit different -- but no worries. The cards were still treasured.

1981 Topps: I'm still not a fan of '81 Topps and the All-Star logos don't help either. Big and blocky, it's a little off-putting. And diamonds instead of stars?

The red for the A.L. and green for the N.L. are the right colors, but the green Topps used with the N.L. is ugly with most of the team borders. The Dodgers had four All-Star cards in the 1981 set (Garvey, Lopes, Russell, Smith) and with the pink borders used with the Dodger cards that year, let me tell you, pink and green don't look that great.

After 1981, Topps ditched the special All-Star designation to give All-Star starters a second card, and that would continue through the 1980s. I never liked the extra card, because the base card of the All-Star starter was just like any other non-All-Star starters' card. Sure, the player was special because he had an extra card. But what if you didn't have that extra card and had only the base card? Bummer.

Pretty soon we had things happen like Whitey Herzog letting Atlee Hammaker stay in the game, even though Hammaker had lost it long ago, because Herzog apparently didn't care, and Fred Lynn hitting a grand slam. Before you knew it, the A.L. was winning All-Star Games again, and then people were squawking because their team's All-Star representative didn't get in, and eventually the All-Star Game became a "let everyone play" Little League fiasco.

Perhaps you don't make a connection between the end of the All-Star logo and the cavalier way people treat the All-Star Game today.

But I submit to you that everything changed that day when 1982 Topps hit the streets and there was no All-Star banner, bar, shield or star on Fernando Valenzuela's base card. Or Mike Schmidt's. Or Dave Winfield's. Or any of the All-Star starters.

The peak period for All-Star cards was gone. (I am aware that there were extra all-star cards for players in the late '50s and '60s, too, but I was barely born then so, nyah).

In recognition of that period from 1975-81, I am going to count down my 20 favorite All-Star cards from that era. So you have that to look forward to at some point.

That is, if you still care about the All-Star Game.

It's so hard to tell today.


  1. Have to agree with you on this one, I am a huge fan of the All-Star designation on the base card.

    My Top 3 would have to be:
    1. 1975
    2. 1978
    3. 1980

    They just look the best to me although I like all of them. In 1982 I was excited to see the second card of some of my favorite players but that wore off quickly. Think how cool it would be if Topps went back!

    Oh yeah, thanks for bringing up my worst All Star memory of all time (Atlee was never the same after Lynn crushed that ball) although the performance of the Giants in last year's game may have made up for it.

    Nice post.

  2. Looking forward to the countdown!

    For me, it's a toss-up between the '75 Dick Allen and '77 Fidrych for my favorite "All-Star" issue.

  3. Glory days of 1975-81?

    Meh! In 1968-70, each all-star got HIS OWN EXTRA CARD!

  4. Didn't read what I wrote, did you Jim?

    I don't care about the extra card.

  5. The All-Star designation always helped to generate a little something extra in trade, especially if someone wanted one from you.

    "I can't trade Carlton Fisk for just those 3 Yankees...he's an All-Star, I'm gonna need more than that."

    Great post and can't wait for the countdown!

  6. Amazing thing is that until looking at those 2 cards side by side, I never realized the '78 cards reverse the red-white-blue on the shields based on AL or NL.

    I always thought the '78 shields looked like something off of a Kellogg's card.

  7. I also consider the AL red and the NL blue. I wonder why that is?

  8. This is a total generational thing. I'm probably about 10 years younger than you (class of '98) and the Topps All-Star cards from '83-90 are some of my favorite cards of all-time.

  9. Strange how the all-star cards from the 60's are considered "lesser" versions of the player's regular card, (though they are usually at the end of the set, so they get a boost being short prints.)
    It's a common ebay trick to put up a "196x Mickey Mantle" for an amazing price, but you see it's an all-star card.
    All of the discussed years' all-star cards are better than the ones in the last few years. The only designation they use now is unreadable silver foil print in about 6 point font.