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 ...
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.