Friday, March 18, 2016

Title goes here

Now that the 2016 card season is in full swing, I have noticed that we have returned to title cards. By "title cards" I mean cards that have a title -- duh. This one here is titled "Hollywood Production."

I hold a special interest in title cards because writing "titles" or "headlines" is part of my job. We are forever trying to come up with something snappy in the sports newspaper world, whether it's a headline or a kicker or some sort of graphic element. It's not easy. It takes creativity and wit and there are a lot of days when I do not feel creative or witty. So sometimes I just spit something out that isn't offensive and take comfort in the fact that a newspaper appears every day and no one is going to remember whatever I mailed in that particular edition.

But baseball card makers do not have that luxury. Baseball cards are keepsakes for many people and they hold on to those things like the dickens. And they look at them over and over, obsess and analyze them, point out quirks and errors and ... yes, point out stupid sayings and titles.

It's not easy being a baseball card maker. And that's why I admire Topps for returning to the world of title cards, which is a world fraught with danger and basically offering yourself up for criticism. (Believe me, I know).

Topps' return to title cards actually began in the 2015 Update set with a few random items like this:

These cards come in many forms. Some feature a checklist on the back, some celebrate a particular moment, some are just there for the sake of filling out a set. The above is the latter category.

This is what I mean by opening yourself up to criticism. If you don't produce a title that sings with everyone, people are going to notice. I've read many a collector wondering when Albert Pujols picked up "the prince" as a nickname. Although he has been called "Prince Albert" during his career, if some people don't know it, they're going to jump on your heading a lot more than if you simply titled it: "Sluggers Meet".

That's the perils of writing titles.

Topps last produced title cards in its flagship set in 2009 and 2010. Most of those were checklist cards.

This was when the foil scourge still ruled baseball cards, so you can barely read the titles. The top one says "Brothers in Arms" and the bottom one reads, "Turning Two for Texas." I don't know how long it takes Topps' writers to come up with titles (speaking from personal experience it can range anywhere from 20 seconds to 20 agonizing minutes), but the second one appears to have been done just before quitting time.

There is a fine tradition of title cards in collecting history. You could almost split them up into eras. For me, the two best eras for title cards were the late 1950s/1960s and the 1980s.

Title cards probably appeared before the '50s, but here is an example of one of the earliest title cards I own:

Not exactly a catchy kicker. But Topps worked on its title writing in the years that followed. There was a boatload of title cards in the 1959 Topps set, and plenty of title cards through the 1960s.

The old Baseball Cards magazine once produced a list of such cards (also often called "multi-player cards" or "combo cards").

By 1967, title cards had reached their pinnacle. The Topps set that year, if you ask me, did these kinds of cards better than any other set.

There are three things that everybody loves in this life: puppies, gifts and sunshine. I'm going to add a fourth: alliteration. The safest route to an unassailable title is alliteration. And 1967 Topps is full of it.

That's very fortunate during this title-card year because Heritage is paying tribute to the '67 Topps set, and we're seeing title cards in multiple sets this year.

The graininess I don't get, but there you go. (The title is too small, too).

Title cards kind of dwindled away during the '70s, but they were everywhere in the '80s, thanks in large part to the re-emergence of Fleer.

Fleer placed title cards in its first major set in 1981 and that practice continued through the '80s with such famous titles as "Pete & Re-Pete" and "Carlton and Fisk." Fleer even put a title on its title cards, calling them "SuperStar Specials."

The titles were hit and miss. "Mr. Vet and Mr. Rookie" is fun but pretty painful. "Human Dynamos" just seems weird. If I ever thought of putting the word "dynamo" in a headline, I would hope somebody in the office would stop me.

When Score arrived in 1988, it filled the back-end of its debut set with title cards.

But Upper Deck in its 1993 set placed title cards near the front.

Most of these are great, although there are a few clunkers.

Not only are Ruben Sierra and Mark McGwire probably not even in the same shot, but these aren't the Bash Brothers ...

... THESE are the Bash Brothers.

You can see that there are titles that simply state the obvious, like "Oakland's Power Team" and those that try to be a bit more clever.

But no matter what you write for a title, those who read it are going to critique it and analyze it. That's the power of a title, I guess. It draws the reader in, it forces them to pay attention, and in many cases, it forces them to react.

I know.

(P.S.: This post is kind of a riff on an earlier post. Even some of the cards are the same. Just another sign that I'm running out of material).


  1. "There are three things that everybody loves in this life: puppies, gifts and sunshine. I'm going to add a fourth: alliteration."

    5. Posts about the 1967 combo cards!

  2. I love myself some alliteration. :D

  3. Alliteration ain't an awful addition... I know, I'm trying way too hard here.

  4. I never noticed how off the Sierra/McGwire looked until now..

  5. I used to live kind of close to Licking, MO. Every now and then our paper would have a headline that read something like, "Tennis Team Wins Licking Tournament".

  6. While, in the definition sense, "Tribe Thumpers" is an alliteration because each word begins with a T; to me, an alliteration is the first sound, and "tri" and "thu" don't cut it.

  7. I always thought all of those combo cards that do the same letter thing (Tribe Thumpers, Cardinal Clubbers, Red Sox Rippers) kind of mailed it in on the title when they could've done something with a different letter and had it sound way better. I am happy that the combo-type cards are back though. Now if Topps would just keep the rookie combo cards and bring back the team photo, coach, and manager cards.

  8. Heritage keeps Title Cards alive too

  9. Great post. Those 80's Fleer Superstar Specials were spectacular... as were those 67's.