Monday, April 6, 2015

The end of team cards as we knew them

This card makes my face scrunch up.

These 2015 Heritage team cards have been displayed here and there online as off-handed commentary about a picture of a fourth-place team celebrating: "Yay! We're No. 4!"

I tend to agree. But it bothers me on a professional level, too. I am forever striving in my newspaper job to make sure that the photo that we run with a sports story "goes with the story." That means that if Team A clobbers Team B, we don't show a photo of Team B doing something fantastic.

I even get into "discussions" with photographers over this, because some photographers tend to only see the photo and not the context. But there is always context. And you can't run a picture of players jumping up and down after a home run if they lost 10-2.

This is why this card bugs me. How are the photographers ever going to learn if Topps is pulling this?

But I can't put the full blame on our beloved and benevolent card master. At least Topps is trying.

Here is what I mean:

This year's Heritage pays tribute to the 1966 Topps cards. This is what the Reds' team card looked like in the 1966 Topps set:

A nice team photo. Nobody jumping up and down, pounding anyone on the head. Just everyone lined up in a row.

It's not the most exciting card in the world, but at least there is not the disconnect between the photo and the caption as there is in the 2015 Heritage Reds team card. The '66 card says "here is a team that finished in fourth." And we're on our merry way.

Teams that finished in first got the same thing. No celebrating, just standing and sitting.

That's the way team cards were for a long time. Not that they all mentioned where the team finished the previous year, that died out in the 1960s. But team photos for the team card were always understood through the early 1980s.

Then team photos disappeared from Topps sets until the early 2000s.

And when they showed up again, some of them featured something ... um ... interesting.

Some team cards displayed a photoshopped wall across the front of the team photo. The wall was added because some non-players featured -- namely bat boys -- could not be shown because of licensing issues.

This baffled me when I first found out about it and I still don't get it. Why do we have to get permission to show bat boys in a team photo? What lawyer thought up this?

But the wall started appearing over and over, and especially in Heritage sets.

Those are the Dodgers team cards for 2005, 2006 and 2007 Heritage. The first two feature a wall, the third is just the beneficiary of the 1958 team card design that listed the players' names on the front.

A majority of Heritage team cards featured those walls -- and they were not attractive cards -- all the way through the 2011 Heritage set.

Then the Heritage team cards disappeared.

Team photos were staples of Topps sets in 1963, 1964 and 1965, but you can't find a team card in the corresponding Heritage sets from 2012, 2013 and 2014. Heritage had done away with them.

I'm just guessing here, but I think Topps scrapped them because it was sick of those stupid walls. Photoshopped walls weren't in the spirit of Heritage, or the original sets. What was the point?

So they got rid of them.

But then there's another problem: team cards were prominent in sets from the '60s and '70s. If you're trying to be faithful to the set -- which Heritage usually is -- then you've got to have team cards.

Unable to show a complete team photo without putting a wall across the bat boys, Heritage came up with something else.

And perhaps Topps was getting us prepared for what was in store with their team cards in the base set:

Unfortunately, these are just as perplexing. "Yay! We finished 34 games under .500!"

I realize that some collectors might consider the traditional team photo cards dull, but I would much rather have those than a celebrating team that finished in last place.

And if Topps can't show a team photo without slapping a wall in front of the front row of the team, then there's got to be an Option C out there. Team cards were part of Topps sets between 1967-1981. That's Heritage 2016 through 2030. I sure hope we're not going to see fourth-place teams celebrating for the next 14 years.

If they get that issue figured out, then just maybe there's hope for finding a way around having to plaster trademarks all over their cards.


  1. I honestly don't mind these "you tried" type of team cards. At the very least the disconnect between celebrating failure/mediocrity is a lot more hilarious than the cardboard equivalent of the ribbons you give out at contests to people that says "Participant." At least IMO.

  2. I dunno... I kind of like them® They briefly take the boring out of an otherwise snoozer of a set™

  3. Even more nonsensically, in Heritage, Topps did not make team cards for all of the teams. It's not like they tried to make team cards only for teams that existed at the time of the original set either. Neither the Twins nor the Rangers get a card, but somehow the Nationals do. It's just another half-assed Topps gimmick done poorly.

  4. "Okay bat boys, step out so we can press click again." Problem solved.

  5. Just as annoying is that the fans are blurred out in the photos now in most cases due to licensing issues. It makes no sense because every fan waives their right to their image when they purchase a ticket (so says the legal copyright on the back of every ticket).

    1. I've seen people say this, but it's not the case. The fans aren't blurred out in photos, that's how they are in the raw photos. Here is the Reds card in Getty

  6. I don't like these new "celebration" team cards or just one or two players coming home team cards that are reminiscent of the late 80s Team Leaders cards that just showed one of the super stars from the team or two or maybe 3 of the players from the team. I prefer the old fashioned team photo. OK it is corny like the Sears family portrait, but those said TEAM CARD more to me than these modern ones do. It made them more special.

  7. Yeah, I chuckled when I saw these new team cards. 64-98! Ceeeeeeeeel-E-Brate good times, COME ON! LOL I love the team cards from the 70's. Tacky fashion in all it's glory. Case in point, A's team card from the 1973 set, guy on the left wears some sort of maroon pants, a wide stripped black and wide shirt and a big wide white tie, he looks like an extra from a Brady Bunch episode.

  8. They sure don't make team cards like they used to. Not a fan of the wall... and celebrating a losing season isn't much better. Give these bat boys a free box of cards and I'm sure they'd love to be featured on their team's team card. And if they don't... fire them and hire new bat boys.

  9. I can't stand the celebration cards. I have a really hard time believing the sole licensee of MLB cards couldn't ask the clubs to simply take another shot without the bat boys. Hell, something tells me the teams already do. But what incentive does Topps have if people will buy the product either way, and they can easily just swap in some random getty image of a group shot?

  10. I like the old style team cards. You know, the ones that show the actual team. And there is far too much "licensing" crap. Remember when cards could use the team name or logo without having a "tm" or "r" ruining it for everybody? That said, I'd settle for a team leaders card. You have your pitching star and your hitting star. There's tradition behind such cards, too, though not necessarily with Topps. Say, you don't suppose UD copyrighted team leader cards and now no one can use them anymore, do you? Who'd a thunk we'd be so litigious in the 21st century that you can't even make baseball cards without the threat of a lawsuit anymore?

    BTW, yes, it's maddening that only some teams get team cards and only some teams get manager cards. Topps has an opportunity to change that this year since the Heritage "Update" or "High Numbers" will be going out in packs this year. And that only works if you're pushing more than 100 new cards.

  11. Topps is really phoning it in with team cards and league leaders They're all becoming simple action shots that are completely interchangeable with individual player cards. If not for the name, the same horizontal photo could be the team card, a leader, or a single player. Bring back the full team photo, or even the stadiums like Upper Deck did the last time, or shots of the clubhouse or dugout or something. Make league leaders either close-up head shots or floaty heads again.

  12. I don't dislike them. It's a long season, and each team has their moments to celebrate, despite where they finished. I'm not an "every kid gets a medal" guy, but for some reason these don't bug me. I actually like the Team Leaders from circa 1987 most, like where Yogi Berra is laughing in his Astros jersey. I do think there is a way to do these cards in a way that's not all standing together during the anthem, bumping fists after a HR or double play, etc.

  13. Seeing bad teams celebrate on cards really doesn't bother me. Being a fan of the Pirates we had nothing to cheer for 20 straight years, so you have to pick individual moments in the season. I'm fine having a card showcase a walk off homerun even if it was meaningless. As a collector I could go "hey this was a shitty season, but that moment was fun."

  14. I disagree...this is exactly what a team card should shows the team...where they finished is irrelevant. That shouldn't even be on the card, in my opinion. There's never a season that has NOTHING to celebrate...even a terrible season has highlights and wins.

  15. Having cheered on a team that has lost 90+ games for the last 4 season, I'm glad the Twins didn't get a Heritage Team card this time around...

    I think finding the right photo that encapsulates the season your team had might take a little more work, but even I would appreciate the thought that went into making the card. There are plenty of examples to point out from Series 1 in which player's unique personality or a special moment from the season was featured, I think they could do that for the team cards too.

    Even if it means a Twins team card showing another pitching change...

  16. If the format of the 2015 Heritage cards is the path Topps that is now taking, there are plenty of "neutral" moments in a baseball game that could be used. What about all the dugout shots that Topps has embraced lately? Any number of them could be used for a "team card" and it would be a lot more appropriate than a "positive" photo juxtaposed with a poor record. I stand by the post: showing a 100-loss team celebrating is silly and could be construed as almost insulting.

  17. Funny you showed the 2002 Brewers. The worst team in franchise history. That wall should have covered the entire team.