Monday, April 6, 2015
The end of team cards as we knew them
This card makes my face scrunch up.
These 2015 Heritage team cards have been displayed here and there online as off-handed commentary about a picture of a fourth-place team celebrating: "Yay! We're No. 4!"
I tend to agree. But it bothers me on a professional level, too. I am forever striving in my newspaper job to make sure that the photo that we run with a sports story "goes with the story." That means that if Team A clobbers Team B, we don't show a photo of Team B doing something fantastic.
I even get into "discussions" with photographers over this, because some photographers tend to only see the photo and not the context. But there is always context. And you can't run a picture of players jumping up and down after a home run if they lost 10-2.
This is why this card bugs me. How are the photographers ever going to learn if Topps is pulling this?
But I can't put the full blame on our beloved and benevolent card master. At least Topps is trying.
Here is what I mean:
This year's Heritage pays tribute to the 1966 Topps cards. This is what the Reds' team card looked like in the 1966 Topps set:
A nice team photo. Nobody jumping up and down, pounding anyone on the head. Just everyone lined up in a row.
It's not the most exciting card in the world, but at least there is not the disconnect between the photo and the caption as there is in the 2015 Heritage Reds team card. The '66 card says "here is a team that finished in fourth." And we're on our merry way.
Teams that finished in first got the same thing. No celebrating, just standing and sitting.
That's the way team cards were for a long time. Not that they all mentioned where the team finished the previous year, that died out in the 1960s. But team photos for the team card were always understood through the early 1980s.
Then team photos disappeared from Topps sets until the early 2000s.
And when they showed up again, some of them featured something ... um ... interesting.
Some team cards displayed a photoshopped wall across the front of the team photo. The wall was added because some non-players featured -- namely bat boys -- could not be shown because of licensing issues.
This baffled me when I first found out about it and I still don't get it. Why do we have to get permission to show bat boys in a team photo? What lawyer thought up this?
But the wall started appearing over and over, and especially in Heritage sets.
Those are the Dodgers team cards for 2005, 2006 and 2007 Heritage. The first two feature a wall, the third is just the beneficiary of the 1958 team card design that listed the players' names on the front.
A majority of Heritage team cards featured those walls -- and they were not attractive cards -- all the way through the 2011 Heritage set.
Then the Heritage team cards disappeared.
Team photos were staples of Topps sets in 1963, 1964 and 1965, but you can't find a team card in the corresponding Heritage sets from 2012, 2013 and 2014. Heritage had done away with them.
I'm just guessing here, but I think Topps scrapped them because it was sick of those stupid walls. Photoshopped walls weren't in the spirit of Heritage, or the original sets. What was the point?
So they got rid of them.
But then there's another problem: team cards were prominent in sets from the '60s and '70s. If you're trying to be faithful to the set -- which Heritage usually is -- then you've got to have team cards.
Unable to show a complete team photo without putting a wall across the bat boys, Heritage came up with something else.
And perhaps Topps was getting us prepared for what was in store with their team cards in the base set:
Unfortunately, these are just as perplexing. "Yay! We finished 34 games under .500!"
I realize that some collectors might consider the traditional team photo cards dull, but I would much rather have those than a celebrating team that finished in last place.
And if Topps can't show a team photo without slapping a wall in front of the front row of the team, then there's got to be an Option C out there. Team cards were part of Topps sets between 1967-1981. That's Heritage 2016 through 2030. I sure hope we're not going to see fourth-place teams celebrating for the next 14 years.
If they get that issue figured out, then just maybe there's hope for finding a way around having to plaster trademarks all over their cards.