Everyone knows this card, I presume. It's a famous card from a period when everyone collected cards. It's probably one of the best cards from the 1993 Topps set, and Topps thought enough of it that it made this card No. 200.
But I have looked at Kirby and his oversized bat repeatedly over the years, and the first thing I think of is not "get a load of that bat" or "what a great card" or anything like that. The thing I think of is the thing I thought of the first time I pulled this card:
"I know I've seen this picture before."
It's actually a picture from a Sports Illustrated shoot -- the 1992 baseball preview edition, to be specific, and the cover photo, to be exact.
My first thought when I noticed the similarity was "how could Topps do that?" I knew the power of Sports Illustrated and how their photos were the most familiar and interesting sports photos in the world. How could Topps just swipe a photo -- a cover photo, at that -- from Sports Illustrated?
Well, as the years went on, I figured out that Topps doesn't exactly produce its own photos, that it makes deals with photographers all the time, and this is probably what happened with the '93 Kirby Puckett photo.
It just seemed so odd to me that it would be a photo that had already appeared all over every living room and doctor's office for more than a year.
But it turns out it's not the only example of the relationship between SI and a card company. Or, make that an SI photographer and a card company.
The person who took the Puckett photo for Sports Illustrated is Ronald C. Modra. Modra is a famous sports photographer who worked for Sports Illustrated for 23 years and his work appeared on more than 70 SI covers. He's photographed just about every sport there is, but he's most famous for his baseball work.
As I was tracking background on the Puckett photo, I noticed that Modra's work has appeared on other baseball cards, too -- ones you know and love.
This card gets a lot of credit for being one of the best photos in the 1991 Topps set. It's a Ronald Modra photo.
It comes from the photo shoot for this cover:
It's not exactly the same photo, but it's from the same shoot. And all you have to do is go to Ronald Modra's site, click on "gallery," click on the "action" tab and go to photo No. 48, and you'll see another Santiago photo in nearly the same pose from that shoot.
Modra put out a book of his photo work, which Sports Illustrated profiled a couple of months ago.
I noticed one of the photos right away.
It's a click away from this card:
And then I saw something familiar in another photo.
It comes from the same shoot as this card:
And this photo, has to be related to this card:
And this photo, connected to this card:
I have to admit, I feel a little bit duped.
I -- and a lot of other collectors -- have been giving Topps (or Donruss) credit for these great photos when we should be crediting the person who took them, Ronald Modra.
How many times have I said "what a great photo -- great job, Topps!" when the picture, or a picture from the same photo shoot, had already appeared in a publication a year or more earlier?
This doesn't mean I wish that these photos didn't appear on cards. Of course, I do. And good for the photographer arranging some sort of deal to get those pictures on cardboard.
But it all goes back to what I thought when I first saw this card:
Aren't you going to explain this?
You just show Kirby Puckett with a giant, Babe Ruth-model, novelty bat and you don't say nothing?
A little blurb on the back would have been so much more helpful. Something like, "This photo was taken during a Sports Illustrated cover photo shoot by photographer Ronald C. Modra."
You know, credit where credit is due.
What I guess I should have been doing all these years is not saying "great photo by Topps (or Donruss)" but "great photo selection by Topps (or Donruss)."
And adding a thank you to Mr. Modra for all those memorable baseball cards.