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Inmates running the asylum

The topic of Scotty Bowman came up briefly on one of those other social media sites the other day.

I experienced a somewhat memorable encounter with Bowman, what would be a Brush With Greatness, many years ago but I've never written about it.

Part of the reason I haven't written about it is I'm still working on the BWG posts for non-baseball figures who I've interviewed and that involves acquiring cards of those individuals because I collect other sports only casually.

And Bowman was not a player when I talked to him. He was a coach ... um, or maybe a GM -- it was tough to say at the time, which is what the BWG will be about -- for the Buffalo Sabres.

Try finding a card of Bowman with the Sabres, probably the fourth team that people think of when Bowman's name comes up as a coach. They likely think Penguins, Red Wings and Canadiens first. Some old-timers probably even throw the Blues in there before they get to the Sabres.

And that's what's stopping me from that post. No matter what the sport, card companies -- Topps in particular -- love to ignore coaches and managers.

Topps' sets are a collection of inmates running the asylum. In Topps' world a team is comprised entirely of players. These players apparently create their own lineups, run their own practices, organize their own meetings and communicate with the GM individually. Because I see no evidence on cardboard of anybody else doing those very basic team activities.

Topps currently is not allowed to show managers in its sets. That development arrived around three years ago when managers disappeared off of Heritage sets. You know, those sets that pay tribute to a time when managers were a regular part of Topps' sets.

But managers' (and coaches') status in sets started to decline in the 1970s and they showed up only periodically, usually with their own design, separate from the players.

I arrived in the collecting world in 1975. I did have some 1974 Topps cards briefly but I don't remember seeing the manager cards from that set. Managers had disappeared off their own cards (and were relegated to an inset on the team card) in 1975 and that's the way it was for the next three years.

But we did get a preview of what was to come with two cards in the 1977 Topps set.

These two cards will show up again in a future post. But in 1977, they were the first "manager cards" that I knew. And, yes, I thought it odd that two managers for a team that had barely played their first games were getting large displays while all the managers of the other teams were positioned in a tiny box beneath their team on the team card.

These two cards set the stage for what I still consider the greatest occurrence of manager cards of all-time, the 1978 Topps manager cards.


I was 12 when these cards came out of packs.

I was at an age when the youngest phenom that made the biggest bang should have been all I cared about, at least according to today's standards. Andre Dawson or Eddie Murray or somebody else very 1977/1978.

But I adored these manager cards.

Even at that age, I could recognize the appeal and genius. The large photo of the current manager, the smaller, black-and-white, framed photo of the manager as A PLAYER. How cool was that black-and-white photo? How often did you see the manager's player photo? How many were aware that the manager even used to play baseball?

And -- look -- the manager's complete playing stats were shown on the back!!!

Oh, these were fantastic!

But I've already said that.

I could go on and on about the greatness of the '78 manager cards. The fact that they were so unexpected, the fact that they were presented in horizontal fashion -- which at the time was reserved only for team, league leader and postseason cards -- the fact that Topps included "managerial highlights" in a box on the back of each card.

Every manager from each club was treated in an appreciative fashion in the '78 set.

Except for one team.

This was the beginning of me feeling sorry for the Milwaukee Brewers. There is no Brewers manager in this set. The Brewers are left out of one of the best Topps subsets I've ever seen. The reason the Brewers manager doesn't show up is likely because they had no manager when the set went to press. Alex Grammas was fired as manager in late November of 1977. George Bamberger was hired as his replacement on Jan. 20, 1978.

But no other manager could complain that they didn't get star treatment in that '78 set. And I contend if Topps had been presenting the managers like this all along, they wouldn't have disappeared off current sets. You need to keep that relationship going, nurture it! Or it will die.

The very next year after 1978, managers were shoved back into their tiny inset box on the 1979 team cards. They wouldn't get their own cards again until 1983. That would begin a second golden age of manager cards that continued into the early '90s. But by then the rookie craze had hit full force and managers were considered dispensable. Why collect a manager? They weren't worth anything!

Managers have been a sporadic after-thought on sets here and there ever since.

And, yeah, managers and coaches aren't the main reason I collect cards. But a big reason I do collect cards is to see a proper and full representation of my team and sport on cardboard. People may not come out to the ballpark to see the manager or show up at the arena to see the coach, but they sure do talk about the person guiding the team. Sometimes, during one of those key games with one of those key strategic moments, that person is all they talk about.

It'd be nice to see them on cardboard again.

At the very least I could get my Scotty Bowman Brush With Greatness post out of the way.

(I can find plenty of Bowman cards of his time coaching the Red Wings and Penguins and even the Canadiens, but card companies were basically ignoring coaches during his Sabres stint).

Also, this is amazing:


Jeff said…
Good luck grabbing Bowman with the Sabres....

Nick Vossbrink said…
As I've been moving toward paging my cards by lineup it's been even more important for me to have manager cards in the team set. Team cards just don't cut it. The modern version with a team highlight even less so.

And yes as a child of the late-80s when proper manager cards were commonplace (and what distinguished Topps sets from the rest) those 1978s rocked my world when I discovered them. There's a reason I appropriated it for my customs. It's one of the best designs Topps has done.
This makes me really want to find a cut auto of Chuck Tanner now.
Elliptical Man said…
I did not know Cox was managing the Braves as far back as 1978.
steelehere said…
With the exception of the junk wax era in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, NFL, NBA or NHL sets have rarely had Coach cards in their sets. With respect to the 1970’s, the only card that comes to mind is Wilt Chamberlain’s 1974-75 San Diego Conquistadors player coach card.
One of my early collecting highlights was getting a 1971 Ted Williams card. I had a Ted Williams card!
I love those 78 manager cards, and I miss manager cards too. The back of Dave Garcia's tells a story in itself. Ten teams in a span of seven seasons, apparently fighting in WWII, putting up those gaudy numbers with Oshkosh while winning a league title as manager, but never getting even a cup of coffee in the majors.
simpson said…
is it true that topps cannot create manager cards, like something legal or whatnot? of course we've all noticed lately there haven't been any, but man I'd be curious what the backstory of this might be...
Old Cards said…
Great subject and nice cards from 78. There are some great manager cards from the 60's as well. Check out the 67 Wes Westrum. As I try to fill in my 60's sets, I sometimes wonder if I am wasting money on managers' cards that I can be spending on player cards. The aforementioned Westrum card will cost me $45 to $50 or more ...decisions, decisions.
Really like, and miss, manager cards and those 78s are the best. Random fact: the GF from Dave Garcia's 1941 season is Grand Forks, North Dakota. I have an ND player collection and one of his manager cards is in my binder. He just died 2 years ago. Was 97.
GCA said…
They're missing manager cards, but put out six different base cards of some guys...
Manager cards were crucial parts of my sets in the early 80's, I would put the team card first, all the update cards, then the manager, then the rest of the team and finally the rookies at the end where they belong.
Bo said…
It makes you wonder how decisions about subsets were made by Topps at this time. Were they doing any market research to see what kids like about manager cards? The differences from year to year, like between 1978 and 1979, can be quite varied.
Fuji said…
a. Manager as well as coaches should be part of the flagship team sets. I think that's why I enjoy picking up San Jose Giants team sets. They have the manager and coaches. Heck. They even include things like trainers.

b. I mainly remember Bowman for his time with the Red Wings. I didn't really start following hockey until the Sharks arrived in San Jose in the 90's... which is right about the same time he was with the Wings.

c. My favorite manager cards are the ones in the 1960 Topps set, but the 1978 cards are very cool too.
The 78 Managers cards were my first and I always wondered why they never did more in the next few years.