Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The star treatment

This is one of those posts that when I am writing it, I can hear people yelling at me, "BUT THE WORLD ISN'T LIKE THAT ANYMORE!"

But I'm gonna keep going. Because I gotta get things out.

I received this 2014 Topps Saberstars insert of Clayton Kershaw from one of my main Kershaw suppliers, 2 x 3 Heroes. (May he and Nachos Grande blog forever). I kind of miss the days when "Saber" meant "sabertooth tiger, COOOL, he was like a real tiger except, you know, meaner!!!" And I just looked up "FIP" the other day and I have a lingering headache. But all of that is not where I'm going with this post.

What I'd like to know is where is the star treatment for Kershaw in the Topps base set?

You know what the star treatment is, right? Perhaps it was just perception on my part, but when I was a youngster, it seemed like Topps would reserve a special photo for the biggest stars of the game. If someone was the greatest or most famous or led their team to the World Series title, they might -- not all the time, mind you -- receive a card that looked a little special.

Reggie Jackson received this tribute to his fame in the 1976 set. Oakland had won three World Series and nearly made a fourth in the previous four years.

Mike Schmidt was bestowed with this card after winning MVP honors in 1980 for the World Series champion Phillies. It might not be much to look at in hindsight, but, trust me, it was special, especially after the static Schmidt photos of the previous years.

I was so aware of this perception when I was collecting then, that I actually was disappointed when Topps "didn't deliver". For example:

This is the card that everyone saw the year that Ron Guidry dominated the American League, winning 25 games against three losses with 248 strikeouts and an ERA under two. (His FIP that year was 2.19, by the way, and thank goodness I didn't have to calculate that).

Then the 1979 Topps set came out, the year after his wonderful, much talked-about season, and this is the card we got:

Jeeez, man, that's like the SAME PHOTO!

I was not impressed. As great as the 1978 Guidry shot was, as great as his '78 season was, I wanted something a little more memorable.

So this is where I'm coming from today and, yes, I realize that card collecting and card sets are NOT THE SAME ANYMORE.

Kershaw has won two Cy Young Awards in the last three years. He's doing things on the mound that people haven't seen in a long time. He's in that rare territory that dictates he should be treated in a special way when it comes to his cards.

So, after he won his first Cy Young in 2011, his Topps card was this:

It's a nice enough card. I like the scoreboard in the background. But there's not much that makes it stand out from any of the other photos that were issued in 2012 Topps.

So, maybe next year.

That's Kershaw's base card in 2013. I have way too many parallels of this card. But the dirty little secret is I don't like this card very much. It's boring. It was boring from the moment I first saw it.

But Kershaw didn't get a Cy Young in 2012, so maybe I had to wait a little longer.

This is Kershaw's 2014 Topps base card, sent to me recently by Cards On Cards. (It finally spurred me on to get all my 2014 Dodgers want lists updated and suddenly I have a lot of work to do).

This is after he won his second Cy Young Award. It is no more exciting than the previous card.

If I want to find distinctive Topps cards of Kershaw, I actually have to go back before he was winning Cy Youngs.

Those are Kershaw's cards from the 2009 and 2010 Topps sets. The '09 card stands out. Although it's in keeping with the look of a lot of the cards in that set, it's just different and interesting enough to make you think "this guy is something special." The 2010 card doesn't go quite that far, but the horizontal play makes it a little interesting.

But there is one other thing here, and I should add the 2011 Kershaw card just to complete the deck:

Each one of Kershaw's base cards so far (his '08 card is a pose but that's in the Traded set), all show the same thing: Kershaw on the mound pitching.

That's fine for what it is. That's what he does. He pitches and he pitches well. But honestly, these kinds of photos get pretty repetitive after a time or three.

Where's the star treatment? Where's the odd angle, or the up-close photo, or a shot of him chilling in the dugout? Or maybe that dive in front of home plate on the bunt play against the Brewers on Sunday?

But this is where the card world is different. Topps has so many different lines now that they can take care of different photos of athletes in their other brands. If you want a head shot of Kershaw, go to Heritage. If want some sort of portrait shot, go to Allen and Ginter.

And today, the star treatment doesn't even have to do with the base set anymore. The sign that you're a star in the card world now is if more cards of you are released in a given set than any other player AND that you get at least one (if not more) super-duper short-print card.

THAT is the star treatment today.

And now you know why I talk about the '70s and '80s all the time.


  1. Back in the 70s and 80s, getting the star treatment meant the player had a card in the Kellogg's and Hostess sets!

  2. Well, there is the wrapper on the cards this summer….

  3. Star treatment also used to mean that your card number would end with a 0. Didn't matter if you were card 100 or 620, it seemed Topps would always designate star players with a decent card number. I have no idea if that trend continued. I'm basing all this from memory from collecting cards in the 1980s. I just started buying cards again this summer after a near 20 year hiatus, but I haven't paid close enough attention to current card backs just yet.

    1. Topps still dedicates zeroes and fives to star players ... when they feel like it. For example, Kershaw is 600 in 2012 and 400 in 2014, but 22 (his uniform number) in 2013 because Topps was being cute that year.

      You also might be interested in this: http://nightowlcards.blogspot.com/2012/02/heroic.html

  4. If his '09 was horizontal, it would have been a beautiful card.

  5. I agree that there aren't enough special photos...and when there are they aren't usually of the guys who deserve them. So many photos are from the same angle.

  6. The '78 Guidry card deserves to be in the baseball card hall of fame... if there is such a thing. It's like looking at a piece of art.

  7. I couldn't agree more. It sure would be nice to be excited not just about who the player is, but also about how cool the card looks. And that sure hasn't been the case with Kershaw base cards. (Have to say that I kinda like the 2013 card, though.)