I'm sure many of you have heard about the Topps Project 2020 that's all the rage right now.
Topps is selling "artistic renderings" of some of its more famous cards, as one of its many online ventures, for $19.99 a card. The cards, which have been designed by several different artists -- some well-known, I guess, I don't follow artists -- are available for a couple of days on the Topps site and then you can find them on the secondary market for god knows how much.
For me, it's an interesting idea but not interesting enough to buy any.
As a creative type, I appreciate art and new ways of looking at the familiar. I also believe in supporting artists. But I'm not going to pay $20 for a modern card, even if I know it costs that much because artists need to get paid.
But I think the biggest reason for my tempered enthusiasm is I looked at the subject matter for the cards and my first reaction was:
*groaning noise, followed by gagging noise, followed by yawning noise*
THESE CARDS AGAIN?
THESE (MOSTLY) ROOKIE CARDS AGAIN?
Come on guys, there ARE other cards out there.
I am so sick of seeing these cards. Frank Thomas' rookie card. Sick of it. Cal Ripken's rookie card. Sick of it. Sandy Koufax's rookie card. Sick of it. Fortunately, some of the artists have revamped the cards so much that the too-familiar card is unrecognizable.
But in a lot of the cases, I don't know why I'd want yet another version of that card. How many take-offs on the 1952 Topps Jackie Robinson do I need? Because I'm at like 16 or 18 now.
But overall, this is more about the never-ending overemphasis on the rookie card. What about a player's second-year card, his sophomore card? Those are fairly interesting. Or how's this? What about the much neglected third-year card, the junior year card?
This intrigued me so much, I wanted to go through and find the best third-year cards/junior year cards in my collection to give a little attention to that overlooked category. But that would take far too long.
So I decided to use the players that are being represented in Topps Project 2020. Which of those players have the best junior year cards in my collection? I whittled it down to a top 10.
So let's see those:
10. 1986 Don Mattingly
While everyone is hyperventilating about Mattingly's 1984 cards, his 1986 card is his first one where you can actually SEE that Mattingly is in action. The '84 and '85 shots are super tight shots. Also, this is Mattingly's first card where he's at bat -- you know, hitting, the stuff that he did super well. It's also -- and this counts for everything -- his first Topps card in which he's wearing a mustache.
9. 1991 Ken Griffey Jr.
One thing Topps has going for it is its first Ken Griffey Jr. card isn't nearly as "overplayed" as the 1989 Upper Deck Junior card. But I don't think the Griffey '89 Topps Traded card has anything on his 1991 Topps card. Like the Mattingly '86 card, it is also Griffey's first Topps card where he's visibly in action.
8. 1977 George Brett
This card will always remind me of sixth grade and trading with my many classmates who collected cards then. This was one of the prize gets as George Brett had become an All-Star and look how smug he is about it.
7. 1984 Cal Ripken
Does Cal Ripken's 1982 Topps Traded card -- his rookie card, the card being redrawn by for Topps Project 2020 -- show him in a batting cage? It does not. Advantage 1984 Topps.
6. 2013 Mike Trout
After seeing a few of these Junior Year Cards, I'm starting to come to the conclusion that it takes Topps a few years to figure out what they've got with these rookies. By the time they really know who they are, then they can produce a card befitting a superstar. That moment seems to be when the player's third card shows up. I mean look at this. Easily Trout's best Topps card to date and possibly since.
5. 1985 Tony Gwynn
I've been a fan of this card for a long time. Instead of Gwynn's booty on display, like on his 1983 Topps rookie card, his stylish shades are on display. This card gives some collectors pause given Gwynn's chaw and what led to his demise, but I like it because it's quite unusual but also fun.
4. 1957 Sandy Koufax
I wouldn't have been able to include this card on the Junior Year Card countdown six months ago because I didn't own it then. I'm glad I do, because there needs to be justice for that '55 Topps card. Honestly, that '55 does not look anything worth regenerating over and over again. But a smiling Koufax? That is a rare sight to behold.
3. 1956 Ted Williams
What I said about Koufax's card? Same goes for Williams as nine months ago I didn't own this either. This actually isn't Williams' Junior Year Card. But Topps considers itself the center of the universe so it trots out Williams' 1954 card -- his first with Topps -- and pretends it goes with the other rookie cards. But Bowman knows better doesn't it?
2. 1982 Rickey Henderson
I will never say that Rickey Henderson's 1980 Topps rookie card is overrated. I think it might be the greatest-looking rookie card ever made (I haven't thought about this very much at all, so don't get uppity). But his 1982 card is as well-timed as anything in the Henderson catalog. The very year Henderson broke the single-season stolen base record, his Topps card shows him doing his thing off of first base, very well on his way to stealing a base. That is nice work.
1. 1992 Frank Thomas
I like friendly cards. This is one. And it is miles and miles of 1992 Topps commons better than that thing in 1990 Topps that serves as Frank Thomas' rookie card. Come on, now, this is a card that befits a major league slugger.
My apologies to the 1961 Bob Gibson as it would surely be on the list. Possibly the 2003 Ichiro as well. But I think even without those cards, the Junior Year Cards collectively look better than the repeated ad nauseum rookie cards.
And that's basically my only issue with the Topps Project 2020, other than they're too expensive for my taste.
I'm not a professional artist, nor even a good amateur one. But anyone with a creative streak and a phone filter can create their own artistic renderings of past baseball cards.
Since the same old rooks are getting all the artsy love, I thought I'd try my hand with the Junior Year Cards that I just showed. This is what I came up with in a half hour of playing with an app that I never use:
Cut them out and trade them with your friends!
Maybe not the greatest art work. Pretty crappy in some cases.
But nobody's spending $19.99 for these.