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Management material

Long before I became a manager myself -- I prefer the term "editor," thank you -- I enjoyed manager cards.

This has been brought up a time or two on this blog, including very recently.

But I firmly believe manager cards need to be a staple of every flagship set. Managers don't wear the same uniform as the players for nothing, you know. They're part of the team. Don't ignore them.

Unfortunately, flagship Topps has been ignoring them for the last four years. And there are lots of other years that I could cite where managers failed to show up, too. None of the other card brands have done any better over the last 25 years or so either.

It's time to start recognizing the folks who run, or mess up, our favorite team. At the very least, the old fat man keeps the players from choking the GM and vice versa. So that's worth noting, too.

I would also like it if Topps not only included managers in the set, but made the manager cards distinctive from the player cards.

During years when there are manager cards, they look pretty much like the player cards except for a few small alterations here and there. My two favorite examples of that are the 1984 Topps set, which you see above, where the team logo replaces the players' mug inset to create a very pleasing, colorful card ...

... and the 1988 Topps set, where the open photo space under the name ribbon is filled in with a different color, with the word "manager" written in script on it.

There are other examples of small design tweaks. More script writing in the 1987 set. A logo inset in the 1963 set. But there have been only a few instances where the manager cards are quite different from the rest of the cards in the set. In those cases, the manager cards are so distinctive that they are the most familiar manager cards of all-time.

I'd like to feature those six distinctive sets -- in reverse order of how I like them, of course -- and determine their assets and flaws. You know, like any good manager would do.

The red pen is out. Here they are:

6. 1961 Topps

Assets: Well, it's different, that's for sure. I also appreciate the red, white and blue background, although I'm not sure why it is there.

Flaws: The design on the manager cards in this set is so different from the rest of the 1961 set that I often incorrectly place these cards with the 1960 set or sometimes even 1959. The gold bottom portion of the card clashes wildly with the red, white and blue. I also have this strange desire to speak in French when I see these cards.

5. 1974 Topps

Assets: Topps included the coaching staff on the manager cards for a second straight year, but this time in floating heads form! Floating heads are fun! Not scary! Fun!

Flaws: The mustard-yellow background behind the coaches is plain lousy. But the bigger problem is how much space the coach graphic takes up on the card. All of the managers in this set look horribly squeezed into the design.

4. 1983 Topps

Assets: As the first Topps manager cards in five years, seeing managers again on cards was a delight. The photo was also the biggest on a manager card since at least 1972. You really know who your manager was in 1983!

Flaws: The most recent manager cards prior to 1983 were in 1978 Topps. In that set, Topps included wonderful black-and-white photos of the managers from their playing days. That was a great touch, and I almost expected to see it again with these cards, especially since the rest of the set featured a mug-inset design. But instead, we have the bottom photo lopped off with too-large lettering practically shouting the manager's name.

3. 1973 Topps

Assets: Wildly different for its time. Let's count the ways: 1. The first manager set that didn't look like the players cards since 1961. 2. All the manager cards are horizontal. 3. The coaches are included off to the side. Pretty cool to see Ernie Banks, Pete Reiser and Hank Aguirre popping up in card form after their playing days were through. 4. Gotta love that manager silhouette. 5. It's simply well-designed.

Flaws: Hard to find any. Not crazy about the orange choice for the coaches cards.

2. 1960 Topps

Assets: The first true manager set issued by Topps. Sure, managers had appeared in flagship sets previously. Some may have included every manager in the majors (I haven't researched that). But this was the first attempt to make a set that recognized managers with a design distinct from the rest of the set. The majority of the 1960 set is horizontal except for the manager cards. The pennant is a nice touch, and I like the alternating colors in the manager's name, which ties into the same technique on the players' cards.

Also, I can't ignore the cartoon backs. I went back and forth between placing the 1973 set and 1960 set No. 2. This is what swayed me to make 1960 No. 2.

Flaws: It's dated? I really can't think of any issues.

1. 1978 Topps

Assets: As wonderful and new as kids thought the 1960 Topps manager cards were, that's how us kids saw the 1978 manager cards. "Wow! What are THESE?" I believe is what we said. The first manager cards since 1974 features a memorable design. Once again, the manager cards are horizontal while the rest of the '78 set (except for team cards) is vertical. And the black-and-white inset of the manager as a player is genius upon genius. One of the best card decisions of the 1970s. Somewhere just below deciding to add action photos on cards.

The backs are great fun. Instead of putting the manager's record on the back, Topps lists the manager's playing record! Take it from the 12-year-old who saw these cards for the first time -- who knew that Chuck Tanner PLAYED? The managerial highlights in the corner are great, too. I always liked the graphic. In my mind, the graphic lit up like a scoreboard.

Flaws: I ain't seeing any.

As you can see, it has been ages since Topps issued a manager set that could be considered memorable.

I suppose a lot of collectors these days don't consider managers collectible. But I do. And I'd like to see them again. In the flagship set.

OK. Evaluation session is over. You can breathe now.


Commishbob said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Commishbob said…
The 1960 managerial cards have become my favorite Topps subset. I'm a few short of the set.

Fun post, N.O.

(I hope I typed better on this version of my comment)

Red Cardboard said…
Gah, get those floating heads out of here.

Excellent post.
Jamie Meyers said…
Uncorrected error on the back of the Alston card -- the Dodgers of course went from 7th in '58 to 1st in '59. Seems odd to me that they would mention the Dodgers won the pennant in '59 but not that they also won the World Series. I like the manager cards from '73 with the silhouette a lot, also the floating heads. Worked better than the team cards with the small picture of the manager on the front that they used later.
hiflew said…
I think you nailed it with the 78 as #1. I definitely appreciate the back.

From my era, I think it was 92 Topps that was the best. The fronts were basically the same as the players, but the backs switched from team checklist to managers stats (career w/l record) and manager as player stats.
Jeff said…
I liked seeing all the minor league stops on the back of Dave Garcia's 1978 card. Check that - loved it. My first exposure to the Wisconsin State League.
beefman said…
Love that 1960 Topps Alston card! I can see how (and why) Topps decided to re-use the pennant design on the regular cards in the 1965 set. Also, I agree on your #1. Every manager card in that set is gold, particularly to kids in the pre-baseball-reference days.
Fuji said…
Love it. Never thought to rank manager subset cards. It's a little to early for me to rack my brains, but based on your selections... I'd go with the 65T managers. That set is the epitome of vintage.
deal said…
Well done - I don't think you need manager cards every year, but going half a decade without them is too long. Although many years they are manager cards in the Heritage set.

Thanks for reviewing - I agree, The 1978 cards are definitely the winnner. But I do enjoy having the coaches on the 73 and 74 cards. now teams have so many coaches there wouldn't be enough room for the manager pix.

Fuji said…
Just realized that just b/c there's a pennant, doesn't mean it's a 65T card ;)

So my updated response would be the 60T managers, but just looked at some of the 65T manager cards and they're awesome too.
Anonymous said…
ah, I agree wholeheartedly!

My first experience with manager cards came with the 1983 Topps set, and they opened up wonderful vistas of baseball history (Billy Martin got two hits in an inning in 1950? "Amazing", I said to 8-year old self... I had a particular fondness for the not-too-experienced managers like Dick Howser, whose cards gave complete minor and major league playing records... )

I don't collect cards these days, but I'm dismayed to learn that the managers are no longer part of the equation -- hopefully, the pendulum will swing back in their direction soon...

Matthew Glidden said…
Still remember how impressed I was to see 1B-MGR on Pete Rose's 1986 card. "HE DOES BOTH THINGS! AMAZING!" Decent swing photo, too, considering his lingering pageboy haircut.

1986 Topps #1

What's your all-time favorite manager card, regardless of year?
night owl said…
It's got to be the 1992 Topps Tommy Lasorda.