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Junior year cards (with some 'art work' at the end)

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*



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.


Zippy Zappy said…
"Easily Trout's best Topps card to date and possibly since."

Think 2016 Topps where he's climbing the wall, 2017 Topps where he's running out of the dugout and 2019 Topps where he's leaping and stealing a dinger away have made it very hard to say this definitely.
Wonderful post. I like you foray into junior year cards. They are all very memorable. One of the things I've been collecting, on the super cheap (for example you can go from roughly Class of 1984 to Class of 2020 for less than .20 cents a card), by and large, are the last Topps cards for Hall of Fame players. You get a good variety of images, but seeing--for the most part--all of their stats in one place is really fun.

Your "art" (it honestly has to be in quotes) made me laugh out loud. Those Trout eyes!
night owl said…
2016: No, because it's 2016 Topps.

2017: It's interesting, but I think 2013 is more interesting.

2019: It's up there, still like 2013 better.
I'm all for the sophomore cards myself (especially those with the Rookie Cup!
Chris said…
I love what you did with the '82 Rickey card.
Wow! Great idea to look at third year cards because these are awesome.
Anonymous said…
Where do I send the $19.99???
Sascards67 said…
The Trout art card is both awesome and terrifying. I don't own that card but I have 2 of the variation cards and a blue sparkle parallel.
Fred Pike said…
Gotta love that Trout card. Very entertaining post. Thanks.
Old Cards said…
Agree there is too much emphasis on rookie cards. After 75, I can't name a rookie card, so you had me stopping and looking at the rookie cards for the players from the 80's. The 90's and after forget it. Don't blame you for trotting out that Koufax and Williams card. Such nice looking cards! Great observation about George Brett. You had to like the guy. As far as the art work? are good at writing.
Tim B. said…
Very creative and enjoyable read!
Elliptical Man said…
Cool idea with the background photo on the Gwynn card.
Fuji said…
Rickey's 1982 Topps card is a thing of beauty. So glad to see it land so high on your list. I even think the custom you made is the best among all of the customs. As for another classic "junior" card... I'd give my vote to the 1974 Topps Carlton Fisk. Beautiful action shot.
Nick said…
My problem with the Topps Project cards is that 95 percent of the ones I've seen are just plain ugly to me. And that's not even factoring in the fact that they're $20 a pop, and who knows how much on the secondary market.

My #1 on this list would easily be the '82 Rickey (I actually like it better than his rookie), but I like the description of the '92 Frank Thomas as a "friendly" card. I'll have to go through my binders and see what other cards qualify as "friendly" to me.
Jongudmund said…
Glad you included the 85 Tony Gwynn card. That sprang to mind reading your intro paragraph.
Bo said…
That first photo you posted shows the problem with Topps's project - other than the Rickey card, all the others look basically the same, just childish scribbling on the cards.
Jafronius said…
Glad the Thomas made the list...that 92 Topps set has many great posed shots
GCA said…
I can see you doing your best Bob Ross and putting "some friendly puffs of color right in there"...
Just another attempt by Topps to separate suckers from their money.
bryan was here said…
I love your take on what is fast becoming a tired thing. You forgot the '85 Doc Gooden, one of THE most boring cards, rookie or otherwise, in that set. Surprised they didn't use his '84 Update like they did with Ripken.
I would purchase your versions of Brett, Rickey, and Tony Gwynn in a minute.
dfv said…
For me, I actually like the P2020 cards but am loath to buy any because I don't feel I have a good way to display them around my home as art. The last thing I want to do is stick them in a box or safe. Why couldn't they just be released as prints?
Jeremya1um said…
Those things that Topps has been putting out lately are 90% crap. If you buy them, I'm not going to dog you, but most of them aren't for me.
I think the cards you made are better than most of what they've put in the set so far. There are so many things collectors can do better than Topps.
William Hessian said…
I actually absolutely love the Topps Project 2020 series personally. But this was a really cool post, and I laughed really hard at your artistic renditions. I think some are really good (cards I kinda want), and others reference different art styles Sophia Chang or Gregory Siff and it was really entertaining.

Thanks for the laugh and your take on the series. I also really enjoyed seeing the cards you choose for each artist and hearing your thoughts on why.

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