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Threads (the first 40 years)

I was watching the latest About The Cards podcast, which this week featured Twitter friend Nick, and I remembered that I had a brief discussion with him a while back about one of those card topics that is very "inside baseball," as they say -- namely the depiction of a baseball on a baseball card.
You would think that showing a baseball on a card would not be that difficult, and generally it hasn't been over the years.
But there is a particular area of the baseball that sometimes trips up card illustrators.
Here is a typical baseball.
It's the only one I have in the house. It's from my dad. Bob Feller signed it, I've mentioned that before. The signature is almost gone now, but it was pretty faded when my dad gave it to me.
But enough about the signature, I want you to look at the stitches.
Notice that in this view, the most common orientation of a baseball on a baseball card, the stitches "point" in opposite ways. The stitches on the top are pointing to the left and the ones along the bottom are pointing to the right.

I have no knowledge of how baseballs are stitched but I do know that if you stitch a round object like a baseball, then those threads will appear to be traveling in opposite directions when two paths of threads are shown from one ball.
Here is another orientation of the baseball. Note that one side is pointing up and another is pointing down.

OK, now, have baseball cards noted that?

For the most part, yes.

Topps hasn't shown a baseball in the front of its cards terribly often, but when it has, it's gotten it right.

The most famous example from the first 40 years is probably the 1975 Topps set.

And you can see that the stitches are pointing in opposite directions as they should.

Topps returned to a baseball in its design in 1979 and again, the stitches are pointing correctly.
One of my favorite examples is the Topps Giants from 1964. You can see a correct representation of the baseball with the corner and if you study the stitches on the baseball in Davis' hand you can see them going in their natural direction!

Topps has featured a baseball illustration far more often on the backs of its cards, usually related to where it positions the card number.

It did this throughout the '50s and '60s and in 1973, '76 and '77, too.

In each case, it got the threads correct (through much of the '60s, Topps showed only one line of stitches in its design as the card number and Topps wording took up the rest of the baseball "space").

But there is one example where it did not.
Yup, 1952 Topps. Its first major set, it goofed up the stitches. Both lines are pointing in the same direction.
Honestly, this is one of the few examples in the first 40 years of cards that I've seen this error.
Just about every set that dared to show the stitches on an illustrated ball drew them correctly.

(I know some of the examples are too small to determine, but trust me, they're correct)
What are examples when they goofed it up?
Well, Fleer is the big one.
The first major-issue Fleer set didn't get the stitching correct. Those stitches on Lasorda's card, and every other 1981 Fleer card, are moving in the same direction.
Fleer was so scarred by this development that it did not use an illustrated baseball in any of its flagship sets for the next decade.
Interestingly, when Fleer issued its stickers in the 1980s, its baseballs were stitched correctly. 

Meanwhile, Donruss went all in with the baseball in its second-year set in 1982. And it's correct.
Donruss also used the baseball with its card number beginning in '82 and that continued through the remainder of the decade.
All of those baseball stitches are correct as well.
Any other examples of incorrectly drawn stitches through the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s?
Just one that I found.
You have to look close, but Jiffy Pop's late '80s discs didn't get it right. Each line is pointing up.
OK, I wanted to get all of this baseball study into one post, but I did so much searching and scanning that I'm going to have to make this a two-parter.
Join me then for more baseball card minutiae, from the 1990s to present day.


Great post, NO! Some of my favorites are when you write about an off-beat, usually overlooked aspect of cards and collecting.

I have to admit, I've been looking at 1981 Fleers for almost 40 years, and this is the first time I've noticed the backwards stitches.

By the way, I love the smiling skyscrapers on the back of the Amoros card.

Fuji said…
Wish you had written this post a few months ago when I assigned this project where my students share things that they like and dislike. I always create a sample project and of course I included a baseball. Sadly... I had my stitches all facing the same direction. Won't make this mistake next September.
Nick Vossbrink said…
Awesome. I've had a post titled "A Huge Balls Post" sitting in my drafts for two and a half years (actually longer since I last saved it on 2/27/2018) as I haven't had the momentum to scan all these and write about them. I'm so glad you saved me the hassle.

For posterity, the contents of my draft wasn't even a draft but rather the barest of bare notes.:

1951 front
1952 back - bad
1953-58 backs
1960 back
1961WS front - bad
1961 back weird
1962WS front
1962 back - weird
1964-68 backs
1968 Game
1973 checklist front
1973 back
1975 front
1976-77 backs
1978 front
1979 front
1979 back - impossible to tell but looks more like a tennis ball.
1981 front
1981 back
1991 front
2011 front - not sweet spot

1982 front

1981 front- bad

Upper Deck
1992 front
Lol! The stiching pattern was the least of Fleer's problems in the 1981 set.
NPB Card Guy said…
You know this is going to compel me to do a similar post about Japanese cards now...

The first set I thought of offhand that used baseballs in the card design - the 2012 BBM Hawks set - has the stitches incorrect. I'll have to do some more looking around although I don't think baseballs have been used in the card designs all that much.
Sean said…
Nice post. If anything I'm surprised by how few screwed that up, seems like an easy mistake for a designer to make unless they were looking at a baseball when they drew it (and perhaps that is what made the difference).