Sunday, April 26, 2015

Credit where credit is due


Everyone knows this card, I presume. It's a famous card from a period when everyone collected cards. It's probably one of the best cards from the 1993 Topps set, and Topps thought enough of it that it made this card No. 200.

But I have looked at Kirby and his oversized bat repeatedly over the years, and the first thing I think of is not "get a load of that bat" or "what a great card" or anything like that. The thing I think of is the thing I thought of the first time I pulled this card:

"I know I've seen this picture before."

It's actually a picture from a Sports Illustrated shoot -- the 1992 baseball preview edition, to be specific, and the cover photo, to be exact.


My first thought when I noticed the similarity was "how could Topps do that?" I knew the power of Sports Illustrated and how their photos were the most familiar and interesting sports photos in the world. How could Topps just swipe a photo -- a cover photo, at that -- from Sports Illustrated?

Well, as the years went on, I figured out that Topps doesn't exactly produce its own photos, that it makes deals with photographers all the time, and this is probably what happened with the '93 Kirby Puckett photo.

It just seemed so odd to me that it would be a photo that had already appeared all over every living room and doctor's office for more than a year.

But it turns out it's not the only example of the relationship between SI and a card company. Or, make that an SI photographer and a card company.

The person who took the Puckett photo for Sports Illustrated is Ronald C. Modra. Modra is a famous sports photographer who worked for Sports Illustrated for 23 years and his work appeared on more than 70 SI covers. He's photographed just about every sport there is, but he's most famous for his baseball work.

As I was tracking background on the Puckett photo, I noticed that Modra's work has appeared on other baseball cards, too -- ones you know and love.


This card gets a lot of credit for being one of the best photos in the 1991 Topps set. It's a Ronald Modra photo.

It comes from the photo shoot for this cover:


It's not exactly the same photo, but it's from the same shoot. And all you have to do is go to Ronald Modra's site, click on "gallery," click on the "action" tab and go to photo No. 48, and you'll see another Santiago photo in nearly the same pose from that shoot.

Modra put out a book of his photo work, which Sports Illustrated profiled a couple of months ago.

I noticed one of the photos right away.

It's a click away from this card:



And then I saw something familiar in another photo.

It comes from the same shoot as this card:



And this photo, has to be related to this card:




And this photo, connected to this card:



I have to admit, I feel a little bit duped.

I -- and a lot of other collectors -- have been giving Topps (or Donruss) credit for these great photos when we should be crediting the person who took them, Ronald Modra.

How many times have I said "what a great photo -- great job, Topps!" when the picture, or a picture from the same photo shoot, had already appeared in a publication a year or more earlier?

This doesn't mean I wish that these photos didn't appear on cards. Of course, I do. And good for the photographer arranging some sort of deal to get those pictures on cardboard.

But it all goes back to what I thought when I first saw this card:


Aren't you going to explain this?

You just show Kirby Puckett with a giant, Babe Ruth-model, novelty bat and you don't say nothing?

A little blurb on the back would have been so much more helpful. Something like, "This photo was taken during a Sports Illustrated cover photo shoot by photographer Ronald C. Modra."

You know, credit where credit is due.

What I guess I should have been doing all these years is not saying "great photo by Topps (or Donruss)" but "great photo selection by Topps (or Donruss)."

And adding a thank you to Mr. Modra for all those memorable baseball cards.

9 comments:

  1. Those are great photos, and Mr. Modra did an excellent job with those shoots. Thanks for picking up on that.

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  2. I agree, Even if the photo isn't credited on card - how about putting the photographer's name on the Topps Website. Same goes for the author of the text on the b-side of the card - and what about the illustrators involved in the cartoons.

    I have a similar complaint about Donruss who stomped on the portrait artist of the Duante Culpepper card in this post http://phungo.blogspot.com/2015/04/topps-ignores-all-named-hudson-and-swag.html Cmon don't put the logo atop the artist signature.

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  3. I loved that UD put out the Walter Iooss insert sets. But I agree - put a little designation on the back of the card of who took the picture.

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  4. Being deliberately contrary... Don't you think it was incumbent upon the photographer (in this case, Mr. Modra) to seek such credit in his contract with Topps? And if it wasn't that important to HIM to be credited for them, should it really be a concern of mine? I'm quite certain he was well enough compensated or he wouldn't have made the deal, right? You don't think Topps photographers took all those World Series shots used in the sixties sets, do you? I have stacks of uncredited photos (fairly standard poses, mostly) from the early 80s from free lance photographers. Some of the shots, its clear, were from the same shoots as photos that were ultimately purchased by either or both card companies and/or MLB approved 8x10s. Don't those photographers deserve credit also?

    As I say, I'm being deliberately contrary. But what I'd like to see, someday, is the creators of the border and back designs "credited", so we have the opportunity to let Topps know who deserves a raise and who deserves the boot.

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    1. I think sometimes people think I'm being more serious than I actually am on this blog. But to answer the contrarian:

      I'm sure the photographer was happy with whatever deal he received and I know that photographers are familiar with and sometimes OK with not getting credit in many circumstances (I work with photographers in my job). I'm also aware that Topps, Fleer, etc., have depended on free-lancer pix for decades without a word to the public about it. In other words, I'm saying I've thought of everything you've brought up.

      To repeat, ideally, I would like to know that in the case of an extraordinary photo, one that repeatedly draws praise, who should be getting the compliment. And I think other people would like to know that it's not necessarily Topps who took these famous photos. I've seen bloggers and collectors, including myself, credit Topps when Topps didn't have anything to do with taking the picture. The photographer may not care who gets the credit, but I'm kind of stickler for making sure people get credit for good work. It's unrealistic, sure, but you know, sometimes I get people to think about something for a little bit.

      Crediting a photographer on a card is not anything I expect to happen, this was just another post pondering the question I ask a lot on this blog -- "wouldn't it be nice?" That's all.

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  5. That Hershiser shot is fantastic. What set is that from?

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  6. Modra has at least one card in the 2014 set (Jake Marisnick). Before my hiatus from the 2014 Topps blog, I was tracking the photographers that Getty Images gave credit to in the captions in the source photos.

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  7. This makes me think of a couple things, but most importantly it reminds me that Topps used to buy pictures in a different way. Now they just have an exclusive contract with Getty Images. While Getty has a large selection of photos, it's far from all-encompassing. And this leads to the biggest issue in today's cards for me - the reuse of photos.

    I agree that it would be in the "nice to know" category about which photographer, but it isn't high on the list. And I wouldn't want it to take up much space. The website thing would be a good idea.

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