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The big picture

This post may be inaccurate and out-of-date when 2016 Topps comes out, which is a reason why I am reluctant to comment on internet images, but this is where I put card thoughts, so let's go.

Topps released the list of players that would appear in 2016 Topps the other day. They call it a checklist, but there are no card numbers or little boxes to check, so it's not a checklist. It's just a list of names (Topps apparently withheld the numbers because they're going to announce later which card was voted to be at No. 1 -- so actually it's all a marketing gimmick).

I scanned quickly for the Dodgers. I counted a whopping 22 of them, although some are wrapped up in league leaders cards so I'm not sure about the actual number.

Along with the checklist were some more images of 2016 Topps. My initial thoughts on the look are pretty much what you'd expect. It's a bold move going to full-bleed, but kind of steals from Stadium Club's game. The design itself I call the "TV graphics design." You can almost hear those Fox sound effects as the team logo slash locks into place and the name bar pulls out to another metallic sound effect. (With the name bar, my local TV news actually uses the exact same graphic design).

The look is interesting, and the photos sure seem bold, but it's not my favorite. Periodic pack buying is all I see in my future.

But the part that disturbs me about these cards is actually the background.

For not every image that I've seen, but for most of them, the background is blurred out, seemingly much more so than in recent Topps sets. If I wanted to read what was on the scoreboard behind Aaron Nola, I couldn't.

Here you can see the fans in the stands -- sort of -- but they're blurred out, and it's almost as if Schwarber and the fans in the background are separate photos. All of the backgrounds that I have seen have a watercolor effect -- like what is in the background doesn't matter.

Each image also features a cloud-like effect in the corners as if the player is emerging from smoke to blast a titanic home run.

I'm sure this is all part of the design, perhaps an attempt to make the player look three-dimensional. But I don't care for it.

It puts too much focus on the player -- which has been a trend in Topps cards over the last five or six years with the zoomed-in shots and strange facial expressions. And the more I look at them, it's almost as if there's an attempt to turn the players into superheroes, which is something that I detest in modern athletics. Yes, these players can do great things with a baseball. But, please, don't forget that they're human.

This, to me, is human. This is baseball. I can see the background. Tom Walker isn't a superhero unto himself. He is part of the baseball atmosphere. There is a batting cage in the background, and a scoreboard (and I can tell it's a Mets scoreboard), and other players standing around. He is not one man, he is part of of an entire operation -- an operation that I love -- called baseball. I don't follow baseball solely for the players. I follow baseball for everything that it offers -- the grass, the scoreboard, the vendors, the smells, everything.

Here, this is a more recent card if you think I'm getting too crotchety on you. I like this because I can see the on-deck batter doing his thing as Casey Blake takes his swing. I can see the field-level fans and the other fans in the stands pretty clearly. Oh, and grass, I can see grass.

This? Henry Owens might as well be pitching in a gymnasium somewhere. There is no perspective because there is no background.

Remember, I don't actually know if the cards are going to look like this when they come out of packs, but it doesn't look promising.

Topps has been touching up the photos for the last few years (really for decades if you want to count airbrushing, etc.), so it's nothing new. There was plenty of this kind of background blurring in 2015 Topps, a set I like a lot. But with the full-bleed design, it's much more apparent.

Sure, the Harper image is bright and impressive. I loathe using the word "pop" in this manner, but the colors "pop." Harper looks very good on this card. But I don't collect Harper. I collect baseball. All of it.

The images look nice. But they're better suited for a non-flagship set, something like Gold Label.

When it comes to flagship, I want the big picture. I want to see the glove on the field, the clubhouse guy in the corner, the kid in the front row looking the wrong way, the batting cage. I want to see it all because I collect baseball, not just pictures of men.

I'm not collecting to find superheroes. If I want that angle fed to me, I can watch ESPN or the MLB Network, or the NBA All-Star Game, where they do everything in their power to convince you that these human beings can actually fly.

But they can't. Because in baseball there are errors and missed signs and balks and bad calls and gum on the dugout floor.

And there is downtime. So much downtime. Which is why I like baseball.

I need to see downtime on baseball cards again. I need to see the smells. I need to see the humans that are just cogs in a great, big, shiny, dirty, wonderful machine called baseball.

I need to see the big picture. Backgrounds and all.


  1. There can be a lot of interest in a wide shot, and I also fear that in a binder all these cards may look exactly the same. I am kind of bummed about it right now. Almost ever set Topps offers is the close up shots. STadium Club is going to be the only set with regular photos. Unfortunatey it has a large segment of former players on a checker that is already fairly small.

  2. Great observation on this, N.O. I especially think the "superhero" effect is what is evident here -- and it's probably exactly what Topps is going for with this design. As you say, though, that type of objectification is annoying and contrary to what baseball is about.

    The *characters* may be larger than life, but the players are just people.

  3. I agree with everything said here. I hope Topps brings back the borders to Flagship soon, because I think it takes a little something away from the uniqueness that is Stadium Club
    Secondly, Schwarber gets a rookie cup, but Bryant does not? Which 3B out performed him?

  4. Hadn't seen those images yet, but I second majpasqua, AMEN!

  5. They might as well be all digital cards.

  6. Just noticed ... is that Willie Mays in the background on the right in the Tom Walker card? I agree, give me those old cards every day.

    1. Good spot!

      Excellent post by Night Owl. I'm rather slow on visual stuff, so it would have taken me ages to figure out what was wrong wth these cards, but you nailed it. The backgrounds on a base set should definitely look real. Also dislike the partly obscured logos. Fix those two elements, and I think you'd have a nice design.

    2. Jamie beat me to it. There's also a 1979 Topps card of a pedestrian Minnesota Twin, taken during infield drills, with Rod Carew goofing off at first base waving to someone.

      There's definitely a set's (or a subset's) worth of "All-Stars in the background" cards...

  7. It is a shame they are shopping and blurring the background so much. It does take away from the joy of holding a baseball card in your hand. Just leave the base set basic and mess with one of the other 14 releases you put out.

  8. When I first saw the design it looked a lot like a sticker design. I had noticed the blurred backgrounds until you mentioned it. I know that the focus the last few years has been on the player, even "sharpening" the photo up in some instances. These cards do focus on the player and not the game. One of the things I like about baseball is the whole experience watching the game.

  9. Not sure I like this years set as much as last years. I am with you on the ghosting/fogging issue. I love sorting by teams, and thus I already dislike the way the logos positioning changes depending on each photo. A minor gripe, I know, but they surely would look better if every card in the set had the logo and nameplate in the same spot.

    Also, I haven't seen any evidence of horizontal cards in the set. Odd.

  10. You know what I just thought of??? What are they going to do for the metric ton of parallels they usually do since they don't have a border? Is it simply going to be a color change of that silver triangle in the corner? They could do a complete overlay of color, but isn't that usually reserved for Topps Chrome? I guess they could also do something with the white "dust" that N.O. mentioned. I think that would be the best idea, but I can't really picture what it would even look like. Anybody really good with photoshop that could fool around with that?

    1. It looks like there are gold parallels, but more in the style of Bowman Platinum in which the entire background is tinted gold, but with a stylized digital thing going on in two of the corners. It's different.

      As for horizontal cards, I've seen at least one example.

  11. The white cloudy area in the corners is going to be gold, black, etc. for the parallels. They show it on their series 1 sell sheet.

  12. To answer the previous commenters... From the images I've seen on various websites and such, there *are* horizontal cards, and the parallels look like they're going to tint the color of the background while leaving the player alone... kind of like the Wal-Mart black parallels they had from 2009 - 2011. Come to think of it, the colored background is probably part of the reason why the backgrounds are indistinct.

    Maybe we better hope and pray that Topps Heritage does justice to the 1967 design...

  13. I agree. They remind me of late 90s Score (and their upscale lines of the time)--which I thought were heinous. I still don't understand why a baseball card has to be something more or different than a baseball card. As the saying goes, "Keep it simple, stupid". It's good, though, because I don't have as much cash to play with as I used to. So I can get my Mets and ignore the rest. On the bright side, I'm really looking forward to this year's Heritage. Now THAT is what a baseball card should look like.

  14. The dinged corners should be easier to detect now at least...

  15. These cards all look like crappy ToppsTown inserts. Is there some worthless code on the back?

  16. Thanks for the info, guys, I ďid a quick search and found a picture of David Ortiz' horizontal card - it actually looks pretty good.

    Mr. Owl, I'm not sure if you keep track of where your blog gets page hits from, but if you do, you will have noticed a recent spike in hits from Australia. That's me - I have been re-reading your entire blog over the last few weeks - and it's even better the second time through! Thank you for doing what you do so well.

    Nick J.

  17. Part of the fun in collecting is the noticing the stuff in the background of the card photos. This makes me sad. They do look very "Insertish".

  18. I'm waiting for another 5 years when they make the base photos grainy to look like Gypsy Queen. Just wait, it will happen!

  19. Excellent post! I would've never noticed the blurring of the backgrounds and the zoomed in players but now that you mention it, the players do seem closer than normal. I don't care for the nameplate. I thought when the sell sheets came out that it looks like something on ESPN or a graphic you would see while watching a game and I'm glad some people agree with me. I also don't like the smoke effect. I think the cards with the rookie logo and rookie cup would look better without the smoke and the photo reaching the border. Last years base set was great and one of the best looking designs since 2009 in my opinion. The 2016 set leaves much to be desired and if things keep going the way they are, I'm voting for a set made by bloggers with the players we want. I'm sure many of the custom card makers out there could come up with a design better than this years piece of garbage that Topps feels is what the voice of the collector wants.

  20. As I read this I was nodding my head, thinking, 'Yup', 'That's right', 'A-ha'.....but when I clicked through the images in gallery form I'm thinking 'Darn, they look pretty cool'. I guess in the end i agree with you, NO. It's not that the cards are not cool looking, they just are not what a base set should be.

    Having said that I bet I end up buying more of these than I usually do (which shouldn't be hard considering two packs is my yearly average). scanner will be happy. It hated the whiter than white of recent Topps sets.

    1. "It hated the whiter than white **BORDERS** of recent Topps sets"

  21. I don't mind It.As long as they don't blur out the featured player.Could you imagine, all hell would break loose.

  22. Design: Reminds me of something Score or Panini would use for their flagship set.

    Photographs: Not amused. Yes I want to see what's in the background. But there's one more thing that bothers me even more than blurred background... chopped off appendages. Sure... it's cool to see grass and Ben Broussard in the on-deck circle... but the thing that makes the Casey Blake card so awesome is that no body parts were harmed in the cropping of that photograph.

  23. The players look like they're about to enter a steambath at the gym (Steambath set) or they're standing on the railway station platform next to a steam engine. I'm not impressed with the design but I'll probably buy 1 pack just out of curiosity and personal tradition.
    This is another good reason to stick with what I like which is the vintage cards. Sorry Topps, but I really do hope the few kids collecting today grow up liking this set.
    P.S. - the Sano card looks awesome. I hope I pull this one from the one pack I'll buy.

  24. As usual, you've perfectly painted the word picture. Previously, I couldn't quite put my finger on what was bugging me the most about the '16 platform. I knew I didn't like the smokey effect or the lack of borders. But not until I read this did I realize that the blurriness--or lack of--the background was a major burr in my boot. It completely dehumanizes the card and the player, you are so right. And it repaints the perception of the game in a light that I think most diehard fans reject (at least crusty souls like me). Bravo, sir.

  25. my favorite seven year old will love the superhero images. Topps flagship often disappoints me, and they've likely done it again. No doubt, I'll purchase a few packs.


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