Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A meandering look at Game 7 and baseball cards

Tonight is Game 7 of the World Series, which means no one will be reading this. But I don't care. I've done a bunch of half-assed research and I must spill it somewhere.

There have been 36 Game 7s in World Series history. Tonight's game between the Cubs and Indians is the 37th.

I know fans are bracing themselves for an epic battle, the so-called "instant classic," but Game 7s produce dramatic games about as often as regular-season games. And that's why we constantly repeat the Game 7s that are memorable, because what we actually wished for came true. Other times, it's the Tigers beating the Cubs 9-3 in 1945 (I know you don't remember that, but it happened).

Fans looking for a close Game 7 may or may not get their wish. There has been just one more extra-inning Game 7 (1924, 1991, 1997) than Game 7s that ended 11-0 (1934, 1985). There have been 12 one-run Game 7s and seven decided by more than four runs. Surprisingly, there have been nine shutouts in Game 7, although none since 1991.

The players who have made their mark with a standout Game 7 performance range from the truly greats to the merely goods: Mickey Mantle, Garret Anderson, Jack Morris, Ralph Terry, Luis Gonzalez. And then there are players who are forever famous because of what they did in Game 7: Steve Blass, Johnny Podres, Bill Mazeroski, Edgar Renteria.

As for cards' recognition of Game 7, it's been more hit-and-miss than Game 7 becoming something we all remember.

I've complained many times about card companies -- particularly Topps -- ignoring the World Series. Because of this, we don't have nearly the number of cards that recognize Game 7 as we should.

Currently, we're in a period where World Series cards have made a resurgence. And there are even some Game 7 cards from the last few years. Between the Topps flagship set and the Heritage brand dedicating itself to the '60s (when World Series cards were prominent), there is little danger currently in Game 7 not being recognized.

I hope this trend continues, because I still think a card set -- particularly the flagship set -- should be a diary of the previous season, and you don't get a bigger "dear diary" moment in the baseball world than the World Series, particularly Game 7.

The 1960s and part of the 1970s recognized this. And that's why when someone wants to know what Game 7 was like during that period, you can pull out the card to show them:

The above are from the 1969 and 1974 Topps sets, respectively, and contain photos from each of those Game 7s from the previous year.

But by the mid-1970s, recognition of that crowning moment of a baseball season began to disappear from cards. There is no obvious recognition of Game 7 of the 1975 World Series, and absolutely none for Game 7 of the 1979 World Series.

I'm still waiting for a card featuring the Pirates in their glorious golden banana uniforms and the Orioles in their radioactive orange uniforms, which is what each respective team wore in Game 7 of the '79 World Series.

By the 1980s, Topps' dismissal of the World Series became downright frustrating and even carried over to the players' individual cards.

I'll start with Bret Saberhagen, for an example. Saberhagen made his name in 1985 by pitching the Royals to the World Series title. He won Game 7 with a five-hit shutout, taking Series MVP honors.

Obviously, Saberhagen's card in the '85 set arrived before anyone knew the Royals would be the Series that year. But it became rather apparent how early Topps was producing its cards in the '80s when the 1986 Topps set showed up.

For starters, you don't give the World Series MVP card No. 487 the following year. The guy needs a card number ending in "0" or at least "5". Also note that any highlights mentioned pertain to 1984. I don't know when Topps worked on its 1986 card backs but it's looking like they were put to bed the second after the '85 regular season ended.

It took until 1987 for Topps to recognize Saberhagen's World Series feat. By then, he had endured a difficult 1986, but at least card collectors knew Saberhagen used to be a big deal. Look! His card number ends with a zero!

There are other examples of Game 7 snubs on cards. Willie Stargell springs to mind. The hero of the 1979 World Series did not have his feats mentioned on Stargell Topps cards in 1980 or 1981. It took until Stargell's In Action card in the 1982 Topps set for his exploits to reach cardboard.

But to me, the biggest snub for a World Series Game 7 hero might be Joaquin Andujar.

I didn't like Andujar. He was temperamental and a plain jerk in Game 7 of the 1985 World Series. But in Game 7 three years earlier, he won Game 7 for his second victory of the 1982 World Series. His ERA for that Series was 1.35. He didn't win MVP honors (Darrell Porter won), but he was one of the main stars of that Series for the Cardinals.

So 1983 arrives and is there any mention of any World Series heroics? Of course not, whatever, Topps probably had to get the '83 cards printed before the '82 postseason even started.

But how about in 1984?

Nope. Nothing. Just some random game highlights from 1983.

Let's go to 1985.

No. Andujar is a 20-game winner now, but that's not even recognized, just that he played sports in high school. Imagine that.

It's 1986 now. Andujar has now appeared in TWO World Series and won 20 games in back-to-back seasons. But let's go back to his first major league win.

In 1987, we get some factoid about how Andujar's uniform is "blended in design of his home."

In 1988, we get: nothing.

And that's it. Andujar doesn't have anymore Topps cards. So his achievement in the 1982 World Series goes without mention the rest of his career. No wonder he was so bitter and testy.

To find mention of Andujar's World Series feat, you have to go to other sets. Donruss mentions his '82 World Series exploits repeatedly on the back of his cards. Score also mentions it on his 1988 card.

In fact, the World Series found a new home with companies that were not Topps in the 1980s. Beginning with Fleer in 1987, the World Series re-emerged on cards. Game 7 was recognized again, starting with the Mets' Game 7 victory over the Red Sox in 1986. (Topps also recognized it with a set in partnership with Woolworth's).

In the years that followed, you could find recognition of Game 7s on one set or another, including the Game 7s in 1991, 1997, 2001 and 2002.

Sometimes you can find mention of a player's World Series success on the back of his card, but it's not a given like it was back in the day.

A cartoon and everything the very next year. Imagine that.

I imagine tonight's Game 7 will be recognized on cards in 2017, both in flagship and in the Heritage set. It would be nice if the World Series hero tonight would have his feat mentioned on the back of his card, but I'm not setting high standards.

Just like tonight. I just want Game 7 to be well-played.

Enjoy the game.


  1. I'm watching and reading. Half-assed research my arse, hehe. Great game 7 post.

    1. How many Topps Now cards will there be from tonights' game?

  2. Good to read during the commercials. Great info, good stuff. So far this game 7 does not disappoint.

  3. Game 7 will be recognized tomorrow in TOPPS NOW... One of the few post 1980s Hobby idea that may be good.

  4. Rain delay? Really? Aaarrgh. As though there wasn't enough to remember this game and series by.

    Good post, except for that Mets game 7 loss card, you could have ignored that one.

  5. I think this will go down as one of the good'uns. Extra innings. One run game. And, oh yeah, Cubs win after 108 year drought. The curse is over! Either that or its a sure sign of the impending apocalypse. Yeah, I think folks are gonna remember this one.

    1. Yep, definitely memorable. To update the post: there have now been four extra-inning Game 7s and 13 one-run Game 7s.

  6. Couldn't have asked for much more than that game had. Interested to see if David Ross gets a sunset card next year.

  7. Great post! I need to make a point to read more card backs.
    As forgettable as it looks, I suspect more than a few Cubs fans would remember that one-sided game 7 in 1945 (since it was their team's most recent appearance in the World Series prior to this season).

  8. Nice post. I got a tweet from Topps that said you can get all 89 Topps Now cards from the playoffs for only $800. If I had $800 to spend on baseball cards I think I'd find some other way to spend it.

    1. Doesn't that kinda blow the whole "24 hours only/limited print run" idea? And I think if I'd been buying them every day, I wouldn't be too happy about that.