Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Jackie count

Last year, when Stadium Club came out of retirement -- again -- this card made the rounds as one of the best photos in the set. Strong words, because Stadium Club is known for its photos. But I went as far as calling it the best card of 2014, and I still think it is.

It's the best for a few reasons, but one of them is that I had never seen that picture of Jackie Robinson on a card before.

That instantly makes it fascinating.

This is because collectors have been buried in Jackie Robinson cards for the last five or six years. Robinson is in almost every set, either as a base card or an insert. My Robinson card collection has grown like a weed until I am now numb to most Jackie Robinson cards.

I'm numb not just because of the frequency but because of the repetition of the Robinson photos used. As you know, the same Robinson pictures have popped up over and over and frequently enough for me and others to rant about it. Repeated pictures is just about the most annoying thing about modern set collecting for me.

I know that Robinson has been gone for over 40 years and new and different photos must be difficult to come by, especially considering that he played in the 1940s and early '50s, when there just weren't a lot of photos taken of ball players in comparison to today.

But I DO see new photos of Robinson show up on cards every year. And then I see the same repeated ones popping up with such annoying frequency that I can barely collect them. So why are the same ones used all the time when I know that there are different photos available (at least that's what the 2014 Stadium Club card seems to indicate)?

I thought I'd figure out how frequent certain Robinson photos had been used. And how many different Robinson photos have appeared on cards over the years.

Herein this post lies my findings. Grab a snack.

This research pertains to only my collection. I know that limits it, but I do have nearly 200 different Robinson cards. I can at least make this interesting.

I went through all of my Robinson cards, eliminated the parallels, and began counting.

Notebooks are still the best way to count. I can't spend every waking moment in front of a back-lit screen.

I documented every different Robinson photo and was surprised rather quickly with how many different ones there were. The scan above is just 7 or 8 lines of a 16-line page. And there were six pages filled from top to bottom.

I counted at least 82 different Robinson pictures. I'm sure I duplicated a couple, so it's probably more like 79 or 80, but I was shocked that there were that many.

That's because I am accustomed to seeing this:

Or this:

You see enough of the same image over and over, you begin to think the world has actually run out of Jackie Robinson photos. "Oh, well, he did play a long time ago."

But that's not entirely the case.

A couple years ago, there was a Topps base set insert series called "Chasing History." It was kind of a ho-hum set, known mostly for being paralleled because who doesn't want a ho-hum set paralleled three different ways? I actually liked the look of the cards. And I liked this card, too:

That is not a Robinson photo that I have seen on a card. I'm sure it's been on a card somewhere, some year, but it hasn't ventured into my collection, so I know it hasn't shown up a lot. This card, and last year's Stadium Club card, proves that there are new Robinson photos to be had.

Almost every year there are new Robinson photos on cards. This one is from 2010.

So is this one.

And this one.

This, too. (2010 was a pretty good year for new Jackies).

Each of those photos are listed just one time on my Jackie count list. There is no other card like each of those ones.

Look that ball into the mitt, Jackie. These each showed up only once, too.

And this one.

And this one.

And this.

Which makes this ...

... all the more annoying.

(You're not fooling anyone, I know that's the same photo as the cards above it).

There are some images of Robinson that have shown up way too often and they just need to go away for a long time -- at least on cardboard.

I tracked the top four most frequently used images. But first some honorable mentions:

Here is Jackie Robinson walking in the dugout or through some tunnel near the clubhouse. He seems pretty happy. But I don't need to see it this many times.

Topps tried to fake me out by replacing the ballplayers with a grassy background. In fact, I was bamboozled for a minute there. But I caught on. That's the same picture.

Robinson on one knee, leaning on a bat. This was a standby photo in the late 1990s with Upper Deck. Then Topps used it 15 years later. I'm sure if I look around my collection some more, I'll find at least another card with this image.

Topps can chalk-up the picture or make it horizontal, but I know that's the same image of Robinson striking terror into the baseball headed in his direction.

One more honorable mention. I thought for sure I had more of this image than any other, but I guess not. The picture is so memorable, especially if you can see the scoreboard in the background, that it sits in your brain and doesn't let you forget.

This picture is very similar to the ones above, but it's not the same. This is from the Renata Galasso Greats sets from the late '70s (hands off those cards, I'm coming for them!). I saw this very early in my younger collecting days and it's been a favorite.

So why not use this picture a few more times if you're going to repeat pix?

OK, now on with the most repetitive Robinson images in my collection:

4. Robinson drills an opposite field double down the line past hopelessly overmatched first-sacker Whitey Lockman.

7 cards

Everything from mid-1990s Starting Lineup to the special Target set from this year that I'm still (shame washes over me) trying to complete.

One of the puzzling things about these most frequently used final four is the unspectacular nature of the images for all of them. If you're going to keep serving up the same old slop, at least make it tasty.

3. Robinson stares menacingly at the Yankee fan, bat on shoulder. A foul ball is coming the fan's way. Be alert.

6 cards

Yes, I know, six is less than seven. I'm getting to that.

This assortment includes the very creepy card of Robinson posing next to Matt Kemp even though Robinson had been dead for 40 years when this card was made. Wooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

I've added the sticker in this assortment of cards because I don't want Topps (or any card company) thinking they can get away with duplicate images on stickers because "who's going to know? They're stickers." I know.

OK, there is a seventh card with this image.

I'm counting this as No. 7 because someone tried to sneak around the back way and got caught.

2. Robinson's about to send a missile to Gil Hodges at first, hope the Epsom salts are stocked.

Wait ... not done yet ...

Now I'm done.

11 cards

This is not the greatest image, yet it's used incessantly to this day. The first two cards in the bottom row of the group of nine are positioned that way exactly in my binder (my binder is categorized by year, then by company, then by brand, then by base and inserts -- it's just goofy that the same image would be used in the same year for two cards that were considered somewhat "exclusive.")

It's interesting to me that this image, which is much like the image at No. 2, can be found on just three of my cards and from 25 years ago. It hasn't been used since, at least not that my collection can tell.

I know that licenses and photo rights and money are probably the answer to a lot of my questions here, but amuse the confused collector a little while longer.

1. Robinson pulls a double down the third base line past a woefully outwitted third-sacker Hank Thompson.

14 cards

The most-used Jackie Robinson image in my collection originally appeared on a card in the 1950 Bowman set. It was Robinson's last appearance in a Bowman set from the 1950s.

It's another one of those poses that I don't understand why it reappears so often. There's nothing exceptional about it except for the fact that the player pictured is exceptional.

But wouldn't you rather see this image on 14 different cards?:

Or this one?

Or this one?

I know, I know, you don't want to see anything 14 times.

Repetition kills the image. It kills the mood.

Consider that these Robinson cards are some of my favorites:

They've shown up once, maybe twice on cards. And that's probably why I enjoy them so.

We've been living in the retro world of card collecting for quite awhile now. As far as posthumous Robinson cards go, there wasn't a whole lot through the 1970s and 1980s and early 1990s.

But Robinson returned to major sets in 1994 with Upper Deck.

He was back in Topps sets in 1997.

Note that both of these images are the only times they appear in my collection.

After a low occurrence of Jackies through the late '90s, he emerged again with a force in 2001. Most of those pictures are new and different and enjoyable (most on Upper Deck and Fleer sets, too).

But by 2009, we were seeing the same pictures over and over and over.

And now that I know there is so many different photos to choose from, I wonder why the repetition of the same shots. It's got to be licensing, right?


Oh, one more thing.

This is the first Jackie Robinson card I ever owned. It's from the 1975 TCMA All-Time Dodgers set that I ordered from a catalog.

I've loved this image in all its purple glory ever since. Going on at least 35 years now.

I've yet to see this picture of Robinson on another baseball card.

But, for this one image, I think I'd like it to stay that way.


  1. In my personal obsession with having nine-pocket pages of matching elements, you think I would have at least one with a single photo on nine different cards, but I do not. At least I have something to do later on now. (eyes Gary Carter and Ted Williams collections for material)

  2. The tricky thing about getting new photos on Jackie cards is that Topps probably only has the rights to use a certain number of images -- There are lots of Robinson photos that come up on a google image search, but I'm guessing that only a fraction of those could be obtained for use by Topps... I was thinking of a similar issue with all the Harmon Killebrew cards that have been released in the last decade - there's really only two or three ways Harmon gets depicted: posed bat on shoulder, in the batter's box about to hit, posed headshot. He was not the best fielder, but he still managed to play the majority of his career in the field, why aren't there at least a handful of new cards showing him fielding?

    Anyway, it would have been great if Topps went out of their way to make the Jackie Robinson subset in this year's flagship feature only "new" images.

  3. Everyone check their collections to see what the record for most-used image is. Stands at 14 right now.

  4. Personally, this is the worst thing Topps does with their cards these days. It just feels really lazy. I don't care what the reasons are - it makes it less enjoyable to collect multiple products in the same year if you know you're going to get the same picture over and over again.

    At least with Jackie or Babe Ruth - it's somewhat excusable. There are a more limited number of photos. But if you just put together a list of all the Griffey cards since 2012 when he signed with them - you would find a similar trend. Tom Seaver had the same exact photo in 2011, 2012 and 2013 Gypsy Queen. That's just awful.