Monday, March 21, 2016

Wacky lite

I am the target audience for the latest version of Wacky Packages -- I am a team collector, I remember the originals -- but I wasn't going to buy any until I found myself in Walmart the other day.

At the bare-bones card section, I grabbed a pack of Heritage and looked for something else to go with it. Flagship is out. There was plenty of new Opening Day, but since it looks just like this year's lousy flagship, that was out, too. I even contemplated some 2016 Donruss, but instead grabbed this.

If you read the blogs, you know what the deal is here. Topps blended Wacky Packages with MLB products to form a Wacky Baseball set. And although the artwork resembles those familiar, fantastic Wackys of the '60s and '70s, this is strictly Wacky lite. The soul of Wacky Packages -- which is parody, a little satire, and poking fun -- has been removed.

I'll show you how.

Here is a Wacky Packages card from back in the '70s:

It turns a familiar character, the Triks rabbit, into a practical-joker. Your cereal is going to burn your tongue off! It's fun. It's poking fun -- gently -- and it's what made these stickers appeal to kids.

Here is an MLB Wacky Package:

What are we poking fun at here? The Yankees are from New York and New York is known as the Big Apple. Apple juice is made out of apples. OK, I get all that. So does a 10-year-old. What else is there?

There isn't anything else. That's it. And that's not a parody.

Another part of the original Wacky Packages' charm is that most of the stickers from the '70s presented the implausible. Your cereal was not going to be a bowl of brains ("All-Brain"). Your cleanser was not communist ("Commie Cleanser"). Your coffee was not filled with nuts and bolts ("Chock Full of Nuts and Bolts").

But a Detroit Tigers flea collar that gets rid of fleas? I half expect to find that in the Tigers' souvenir shop. It's entirely possible and therefore not parody, not Wacky, not anything, except capable of producing a blank look from me.

What is this supposed to be? Yeah, I get it. Florida has oranges. I need you to go farther than that. Are you saying that the oranges are actually baseballs? I'm a little unsure because none of the words makes any sort of clever reference to that. All I see are things I'd find on an average orange juice carton (get a power surge of calcium and Vitamin C!) or a baseball-play on words (these Wackys are filled with those). That is not amusing, and I'm pretty sure today's kids -- who I'm constantly told are far more savvy and aware than we were -- wouldn't think so either.

This had potential. But if it were a true Wacky, the snake would actually be biting the player's back and the player would be making a horrified face in the most cartoonish way possible. Wackys don't imply relief! They imply pain and agony! These are not Wackys!

Out of the 22 stickers I received, these two came the closest to the spirit of the original Wacky Packages. Batter-covered bat sticks and cheese steaks with bases for rolls are more in line with Wackys. They still don't exactly capture the subversive imagination but I'm grasping here.

Because this is a set issued in 2016 and not 1975, there are plenty of parallels and other things I didn't pull (autographs and rare back parallels, etc.)

That was my grass parallel.

These -- I am assuming by the baseball-stitching background -- are some other sort of parallel. I find the Pirates one a little amusing. But as with all of them, I sense that we're trying very hard here not to step on any toes. (I don't know if these are supposed to be the "2 exclusive stickers" mentioned on the wrapper).

Every sticker has a puzzle piece on the back and who knows how many puzzles there are to complete, but you probably have to buy 1,000 cards to complete them all.

The stickers in the set also include minor league teams -- I pulled five of those -- and baseball food -- I pulled three of them.

A couple of hot dogs that illustrate both.

Here is another minor league sticker that baffles me:

You want a product that eliminates doggie breath? So does every dog owner. Welcome to the real world. I'm also pretty sure there is a doggie treat out there that is shaped like a baseball. This sticker is entirely based in reality and therefore the opposite of Wacky. Call this a Reality sticker. With a cute cartoon drawing. That's what most of these are.

If this were a true Wacky, the biscuits would make your dog's breath smell even worse! With wilting flowers or flames coming out of the dog's mouth. Must I illustrate everything?

So, where did this set go wrong? Is this a case of political correctness overrunning a sticker set? Are we so over-careful of unintentionally damaging some unnamed child or organization out there that the whole set was sanitized?

Well, yes. And, no.

The Wacky Packages name -- pre-2016 anyway -- was still strong and proud as recently as a couple years ago. There are posts on this blog featuring new Wacky Package stickers that are as devilish (and in fact even more bloody than the originals) as anything issued four decades ago.

And Topps isn't shy about putting out current tributes to the past Wacky sets either.

So, why are these MLB Wacky Packages so bland and inoffensive (not that I would think anyone with even the most limited sense of humor could be offended by those original Wackys)?

Why are they so tame?

(Marshmallows in my cereal??? Why, I never!).

It has to be Topps' MLB license. MLB must be so skittish about offending something or someone or tarnishing its product in some nefarious way that only a lawyer could think up, that they dictated this particular strategy to Topps and consequently the Wackys are not wacky.

Are these stickers fun? Sure, they're fun. But the original Wacky Packages offered a little more.

When I first heard about these, I thought the pairing of Wacky Packages and MLB clubs was a bit odd and didn't know how it could work. I suppose I'm proven right by these stickers. But I think, after viewing them in hand, these had potential and could have worked with more daring -- or if someone simply had a spine.

Just another case where vintage is better. Even with stickers.


  1. You hit it on the head that these Wackys don't work because of the MLB license. It's the same reason, Topps came up with the smoky background in this year's base set as well as often blurs the images in the background on cards. They're essentially afraid of upsetting anyone or using an image of someone without their permission.

  2. Bah humbug! I love the vintage Wacky's, I even sort of liked the ANS Wacky's (sort of- they really needed to be totally different from the past, and have someone ELSE coming up with the parodies). Then they had to go parallel crazy, frustrating. I still collect them, as they are the very first "things" I collected as a kid. I think we (collector's everywhere) should consider commissioning DefGav to re-boot the 2016 MLB 90 card set (if you know what I mean). I bet that would be a SUPER COOL set.

  3. Thanks for a fun article. We all experience little let downs like this all over society as we tiptoe, looking the other way and trying our hardest not to offend. It is sad to see it here with baseball stickers for sure. I'll have to grab a pack of Garbage Pail Kids when I hit the card shop this week. If I'm really feeling edgy I'll splurge for the latest copy of Mad magazine too.

  4. Ah, the corporatization of the hobby continues.
    From grading, that put high end cards out of reach of the average collector,
    Trademark and copyright symbols plastered all over cards,
    Exclusive contracts that require eliminating team logos and stifling creativity,
    and now censorship to completely dilute the humor out of a product.

    Ultimately, we are headed for black and white cards of only the faces of players in generic uniforms standing in one of three dictated poses, created by suits in committees, which will be allocated by federally regulated distribution centers online on certain days of the year, only given to particular age groups.

  5. I agree with you Night Owl. I need a little more than cute Wacky Packages. I recall some vintage stickers with flies. Imagine the Marlins sticker with flies. That would bring that particular sticker closer to the spirit of the vintage sets.

  6. I think you put in to words, much better than I could, what I thought when I saw the preview stickers in Series 1 and the Spring Fever packs. I think the word I would use is Meh.

  7. I was always more of a Garbage Pail Kids collector over Wacky Packages, but I kind of dig this year's MLB WP set. Yes, you bring up some very valid points, but since the set is small and I'm bored with the current selections at retail I'm building this set. That said, if you aren't keeping any of those let me know and I'll swap you some Dodgers (assuming I have something you need/want).

  8. I believe the Rays sticker is a reference to Tropicana Field, hence "Home-Field style" instead of homestyle.

  9. I think it's just the way of the world now. The world is way more PC than it used to be. Not just in baseball cards, and I think the change has really been in the last 20 years (not back to the 70s). In someways, it probably means the world is a better place, but it doesn't always seem that way because it rears it's head in ugly ways. It's cliche to say - but we are a litigious society.

  10. True. Vintage is better. But personally... I'm hoping 99% of the hobby hates this stuff, so it'll go on clearance. That's when I'm going to swoop in and build this set.