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Made the cover

 
Ever since I've been writing magazine articles for Beckett, it's been a goal of mine for one of those stories to make the cover.

I guess I'm never satisfied. It should be blessing enough to get paid to write about baseball cards and see those writings show up on store racks all over the country. But you've got to have goals, right?

I shipped off my article on 1991 Topps to Beckett's editorial director and Mike mentioned it would likely be going into the main Beckett baseball magazine, not the Vintage magazine where most of my articles appear. I've had one other story appear in the main baseball issue but that was a reprint of my 1975 Topps mini Vintage magazine story.

A couple of months later, Mike emailed me back, mentioned he liked the article and said it would make a good cover story. Score! The cover was mine. But, of course, I had to see it in person -- none of this digital-only crap for me.

So, the publication arrived yesterday and there was young Chipper squinting at me with words alongside that resembled the article I wrote!

Turn to page 7 and, yup, Chipper and I have made the cover!


As you can imagine, I was super-pumped.

I really worked for that story. The idea of the story was that this is the 30th anniversary of 1991 Topps and how it is the final Topps flagship set to have used the traditional gray cardboard stock that the company had been using for 40 years.

But '91 Topps has been covered so incessantly on the blogs and on this blog, too, and that has gone on for years. I have read so much about '91 Topps and talked so much about '91 Topps and, also, it's a junk wax era set that everyone knows about so thoroughly that it's burned in probably millions of collectors' brains.

So I decided I'd have to dig a little more for this story. This is a story about how relevant 1991 Topps is even to this day, how it has become a set that is all things to a variety of vastly different collectors. I was able to interview the operator of Junk Wax Gems, who provided plenty of insight into collecting '91 Topps.

Probably most exciting to me, I was able to track down stories written about 1991 Topps back at the time it was released and get a real look at what collectors were thinking in 1991.
 
So, just about anything you could bring up about 1991 Topps is covered in the article.
 
That means I struggled to figure out what else I could say for this blog post. Usually when I write about one of my magazine stories being published, I try to add something extra about the topic that wasn't included in the article. But everything I know was mentioned.
 
So, I decided to tackle one aspect of '91 Topps that has always interested me and collectors' reaction to that aspect has interested me, too.
 

1991 Topps was the company's first flagship set to feature horizontal cards for individual players since 1974.

With the exception of the 1960 Topps set, it had been tradition for Topps since 1957 to feature all of the players in its flagship sets vertically. That was the practice from 1957-59 and 1961-90, excluding subsets and one-off combo cards.

Unlike the 1960 experiment in horizontal cards, 1991's treatment lasted. Every Topps flagship since 1991 has included horizontal player cards in its checklist.

I am perfectly OK with this. I happen to think that horizontal cards are often more striking and beautiful than vertical cards. All you have to do is look at Stadium Club, which is full of horizontal cards.

I deal with newspaper layout and one of my jobs several times a week is to create a layout for the sports cover. The best-looking covers often utilize a horizontal photo as the main picture on the page. It is such a well-known design feature that it's somewhat unusual to see a vertical shot as the main picture (although that's what appeared on the sports cover of my local paper today).

Because that seems so obvious to me, I've often wondered why the heck Topps hasn't produced its first all-horizontal flagship set since 1960. Just think of how magnificent that would look!

But it's probably not going to happen. Because there are a significant number of collectors who don't like horizontal cards at all.

I don't know why that is. Yeah, I've heard the reasons: You have to tilt your head, they're awkward to shuffle through in your hand. They don't work in binders because you have to put the cards in sideways. All of this is OCD talk to me and I've never considered these significant problems. I don't mean to diminish people's opinions, but this.

Horizontal cards are so great that I can deal with all of the above issues with barely a thought. Shuffling the cards? Heck, all you have to do is reorient the hand position. No big deal. Tilting my head isn't an issue either. If it means I get cards like this ...

 
... then I'll go to the chiropractor once a week if I have to.
 
I do agree that there is a problem with the current use of horizontal cards and it's been a problem since 1991 Topps reintroduced them.

Topps mixes vertical and horizontal cards. They've done it for so long that I barely notice it, but if you focus, it doesn't look great in the binder. It looks so much better if every card is oriented the same way. And your eyes don't have to shift all around.

So why not an all-horizontal set just to see what it looks like?

I counted 39 horizontal cards in the 1991 Topps set. That's really not much when you look at a more modern set like 2015 Topps, which has 39 horizontal cards by the time you reach card No. 256.

This is what they look like grouped together:






To me, that looks great. There are only a few of those cards that I think would look better recropped as vertical cards (I don't know what they were thinking with Willie McGee). But there are others that are perfect as horizontal cards and remain among the most memorable cards in the set, such as the Weiss, Roger Clemens, Shane Mack and Dwight Evans.

Baseball is a horizontal game in many ways and I think you're missing a lot of what baseball has to offer using only vertical presentations.

Now, the problem is that baseball card pages for 2 1/2-by-3 1/2-inch cards aren't created for landscape cards.

So, if you have nothing but horizontal cards in a binder ...


You either have to go through each page tilting your head ...
 


... Or you have to tilt the binder.

And, yes, that is awkward.


This is me trying to look at the horizontal cards in a binder, without tilting my head, on my lap as I would with a bunch of vertical cards, or at least a mix of vertical and horizontal cards as is typical with modern flagship sets.

It doesn't work well. You need to balance the top part of the binder and so on ...

However ...

I know that we were able to solve this problem long ago for that era when Topps was creating nothing but horizontal sets.

In 1955 and 1956, all of Topps' cards were horizontal. They were larger, too. And for as long as I've been collecting, there have been binder pages for those cards, called eight-pockets. They allow you to present your horizontal cards in a binder, without tilting your head, and they look simply fabulous. I'm sure Ultra Pro could create a page to accommodate a modern-day horizontal set.

The 1956 Topps set alone will make me argue for the case of horizontal cards for hours and hours.

So, anyway, as you can see, 1991 Topps is still affecting us in the hobby today and that is the point of the article I wrote.

Beckett's Baseball magazine isn't really for me. It's mostly all price guide, which I don't look at, and an article or two. I much prefer Beckett Vintage, which is full of articles and interesting ones, too.

But it's sure great to see your story advertised on the cover, which will be sitting on Barnes and Noble racks and grocery store and drug store racks for the next month. That's simply a dream come true.
 
It's been a dream for longer than Chipper Jones appeared in 1991 Topps.

Comments

Bo said…
Congratulations! That is a great accomplishment.

Horizontal cards are better individually than in a group, I think.

Al the street vendor didn't want horizontal cards, said they didn't sell, not even players like Jeter or Mariano.
sg488 said…
Congrats on the cover,and I never cared for the horizontal cards.
Brett Alan said…
Wow, cover of the Beckett Baseball--that's great. Congrats, and well-deserved. If it weren't a pandemic I'd go to Barnes & Nobel to buy it tomorrow. (Wonder whether I can order it from Wal-Mart or something.)

I tend to be skeptical of horizontal cards, but you've convinced me--an all-horizontal flagship would be a very nice change of pace. Topps doesn't have ANY all-horizontal product, do they? If not doing it for flagship one year, maybe they could try it in one of the other products such as Big League or something. Maybe even a new brand.

I do have a binder that's all-horizontal, and in my player binders I try to give horizontal cards their own page.
Old Cards said…
Congrats on achieving the cover story and realizing your dream.
Jimetal7212 said…
Congrats! And as a Sox guy I absolutely love Dewey and Pudge were used on the article header. As for the horizontal nature of the cards it never really bothered me much. Better executed here than in some of the more recent sets that's for sure. Give 'em credit, they went somewhere they hadn't gone in awhile.
Congrats! I love the fact that a Dodger fan had to share the cover with a Brave. :)
Jeremya1um said…
Congrats on not only making the cover but making the cover of the main magazine. I’ll have to pick one up.
Congratulations! The '91 Fisk is one of my all-time favorite cards, and not just because he's a White Sox. There is so much awesomeness packed into that card.
Nick said…
Congrats on making the cover! I'll never tire of seeing '91 Topps talked about in baseball card circles -- bringing horizontals back is just one of the many reasons it's a hallowed set for me. And I'd be fully on board with an all-horizontal set these days.
bbcardz said…
Big awesome congratulations to you on this awesome milestone! Topps really stepped up it's game with '91 Topps. I don't remember all that many birthday presents that I've ever received, but I do vividly remember getting a box of '91 Topps for my birthday. Good times!
Nick Vossbrink said…
Congrats on the cover. 1991 Topps is one of my favorite sets ever and the horizontals are a large art of that. I do think that Topps should save the horizontals for images that are extra special (paging 1982 Fisk In Action) though. Although that said I like the way the 2020 design works with the horizontals in general since it's a side-design instead of a bottom-design.
Nachos Grande said…
Congrats on making the cover! Count me among those who love 1991 Topps - it's a great set. I think the next closest thing to 1991 Topps is the 2009 Topps Target Retro parallel set. For whatever reason, that set feels like a successor to '91 Topps to me (probably why I went so crazy after it when it was released).
kcjays said…
I will join the chorus of congratulations on your accomplishment! A well deserved honor, in my opinion.
Regarding horizontal cards, my first thought was 1973 Freddie Patek. A favorite of my Royals collection.
I have a complete set of 1960 cards (but would prefer a complete set of '56) and the horizontal nature has never bothered me.
I agree that it would be interesting if Topps tried a complete set of horizontal cards again. As was previously mentioned, not the base set, but maybe Big League, or one of the 500 different 100 card insert sets they produce.
Again, congrats. I hope that is the first one of many.
Big congrats!!! And I would LOVE to see an all horizontal flagship set. Even better if they would do is similarly to the 55 and 56 sets with 2 pics.
Doc Samson said…
Congrats on the cover, Mr. Owl! It's about time. 1991 Topps flagship brings back such memories. I remember opening quite a few packs of those, anticipating the excellent photography. I also vividly remember everyone in my neighborhood preferring Upper Deck over Tops at that time. In my neck of the woods, 1991 was also a turning point for Donruss as everyone really began to sour on them after their factory sets starting popping up everywhere.
Jafronius said…
Congrats on making the cover! Several iconic images on that 1991 Topps set. Now that you've got one, shoot for two!
Daniel Wilson said…
Congrats on making the cover! 1991 Topps is a great set and seeing all of the horizontal cards like that is fantastic!
Matt said…
Congrats on making the cover!! I hope to do another article someday but at least I got my one
P-town Tom said…
Just one more blogger wishing to congratulate you on the cover story. Well done!
My favorite card from the set is the Carlton Fisk card. There's just so much going on in that photo.
Lastly, I guess I didn't realize their weren't any horizontal cards in my collecting youth until '91.
gregory said…
Nice work, and congratulations! A lot of collectors feel the same way about '91 Topps, myself included. I even shared many of the same horizontal cards when I posted about the complete set on my blog a few months ago. Fantastic action shots, especially for Topps at that time.
Jamie Meyers said…
Congratulations! I'm sure it's in the article but I remember hoping to pull one of the older cards that were supposedly seeded into random packs. I opened probably six boxes' worth of that stuff and never got one. I've not been that enthused about an all horizontal set but all of the horizontal 91s together do look sharp. It helps that many of the card have great photos. Given the generally junky designs they have come up with lately I think an all-horizontal design would possibly be a step up.
CinciCuse Bill said…
Congratulations on the cover story!
I like horizontal cards, but I do wish that manufacturers would orient the card backs the same. The backs of Upper Deck cards are oriented 180-degrees opposite from Topps. So when I flip the sheet of a PC collection to read the card backs, the horizontal cards are all helter skelter (da da da da da da da :)).
Peace!
Chris said…
Awesome news, congrats on getting the cover! I'd run to Barnes & Noble to pick up a copy if it weren't snowing today (again)

I think you hit on a perfect topic, not just with the timing of the 30th anniversary but the fact that 1991 Topps was such a significant set to most of us who collect. The end of an era in one way, but the start of a new era in another way (the photography) - though I guess there are some parallels to the 1973 Topps set in that regard.

So many classic cards here - Evans, Clemens, Weiss.. the Fisk and Mack are fantastic as well. Quirk, McGee, and Merrill are the only ones that would work vertically. I'd be interested to see some of your favorites from the rest of the set (the Benny Santiago comes to mind for me)
Mark Hoyle said…
Congrats Greg. Still waiting for my copy
bryan was here said…
Allow me to join in on saying congrats on your cover!

I always considered the '91 set to be kind of blase design-wise, but it has grown on me over the years. It's aged well and looks far superior to the other major offerings from 1991. That was the year Topps photography took a quantum leap as far as quality of the photos, which was a nice teaser for the Stadium Club series later that summer. That Roger Clemens is still in my top cards of all time for photo selection, same for the Benito Santiago. I also like how the photos aren't limited by the borders, in the vein of the '88 set.
shoeboxlegends said…
Congrats on making the cover Greg! Can't wait to read what you wrote!
Jon said…
Congrats on being the cover boy! Hopefully they pay more for such stories :)
Sean said…
Congratulations. I agree about the horizontal cards, I had totally forgotten about it but I now recall how novel those cards were considered back in 1991.
Congrats on the article! I let my subscription lapse but I'll definitely be picking up that issue. Can't wait to read it.
Matt said…
Congrats! That's awesome! I always liked that set, and I'll have to keep an eye out for the magazine so I can read your article!
Fuji said…
Congratulations Greg! That's so awesome. Thank you for taking the time to scan all of the horizontal cards and putting them in one place. The Weiss is my favorite... followed by the Fisk and Evans. The Sandberg, Rickey, Billy, and Mack would round out my Top 7.

I've got next week off... so if I can get my lazy butt off the couch... I'll definitely hit up B&N and find your issue
gogosox60 said…
Funny I haven't purchased a new Beckett in 20 years and decided to pick up a new copy at a local card shop in Tucson, NOT knowing your article was in this issue. I would have picked up a Vintage but there were none for sale.

I had forgotten the the current monthly Becketts' covers baseball from 1980 to today. However loved the 1991 article!

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