As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I have an article in the newest Beckett Vintage Collector magazine, which is the October-November issue. It should be on store magazine stands soon if not already.
I also mentioned that the article is about those famous "missing players" from Topps sets, those players active at the time when Topps issued a set without them. Virtually all of those cases came about because Topps and the player did not have an agreement.
I tried to find as many examples of these as I could. I've heard many of them before. The Bowman-Topps feuds that left players like Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella out of one set or the other. The famed Maury Wills absence from Topps sets until 1967. Rusty Staub and Mike Marshall in the '70s and more recent cases like Barry Bonds and Ichiro.
There were a lot more players who had licensing conflicts with Topps than I thought. Some of the lesser-known players include Dave Boswell, Arnold Early, Chris Short and Neal Heaton. And, of course, I saved a little section for Tony Horton.
In some ways I felt like I was traveling over well-trod territory with this story, rehashing collecting lore. But I was happy to find some new-to-me details. For example, by piecing together information I read in a few different places, I'm now thinking that Maury Wills' absence from Topps sets for the first half of his career was more due to bad luck by Topps than any grudge Wills had against the company, which is the often-repeated story.
Wills was a struggling prospect in the Dodgers organization in the late '50s and the big club wasn't high on him at all. In 1959, the Dodgers struck a deal with the Tigers, who were looking for any possibility at shortstop. LA said the Tigers could have Wills for $35,000. The Tigers didn't even want to commit to that, but the Dodgers added the Tigers could, if they determined they weren't interested, return Wills and nullify the transaction.
The Tigers brought Wills to spring training in 1959, quickly decided he wasn't for them and returned him back to the Dodgers' Spokane affiliate.
But during the brief time Wills was with the Tigers, a Topps representative was making the rounds of the Detroit roster, signing as many licensing deals as he could. When Topps got the paperwork back there was no Wills signature. The Tigers, very shaky on this Wills fellow who they barely knew, had told the Topps rep that "he was never going to make it."
But that same spring, Wills, who was experimenting with switch-hitting at the time, found his game and was called up to the majors by the Dodgers. He ended up playing in 83 games for L.A. in 1959. Fleer, meanwhile, swooped in and got Wills to sign an exclusive deal.
Even though Fleer wouldn't make a card set of current players until 1963, Wills was under contract with them and Topps could do nothing about it.
That was interesting because all I had ever heard was the "Wills grudge" story. It's possible Wills still had a grudge, and maybe he jumped at the chance to sign with Fleer because of that, but it's not like Wills was turning down Topps year after year like I thought.
The Wills case is also key in collecting because it's one of the few times in which a player's absence caused Topps to alter their cards and sometimes even their representation of history.
We all know this card and how the image of the 1962 Topps Wills card is not an actual card, no card like that appeared in the '62 set. This is a case of a card looking different because Topps did not have an agreement with the player.
This is another one, as Topps fudged a 1955 card of Roy Campanella, who was not under license with Topps that year. Get a load of Campy's "L.A." cap on what's supposed to a '55 card of a Brooklyn Dodger. Now that's altering card history!
There's another one of Campy in the 1975 Topps MVP set with the 1951 MVPs, as Campy wasn't in Topps' 51 set either.
Move a few years closer and there is this mind-blower ... at least for me:
I have loved this card for a long time, the ultimate ode to the Dodgers' power duo of the 1960s.
However, most of Topps' league leader cards from 1964 and 1965 were podium style with at least three players featured, first-, second- and third-place. Here there are only two.
Much as I'd like to think that Topps intended this to be a tribute to Dodgers pitching excellence, the only reason it looks like this is because the third-place finisher in ERA that year was the Phillies' Chris Short, and, like Wills, he was under contract with Fleer.
It's interesting to me that Topps also restricted the AL ERA leaders card that year to just the top two. These are the only leaders cards in the '65 set with just two people shown. The third-place finisher in the AL that year was Whitey Ford, and Ford has his own card in the 1965 Topps set so it's not a question of Topps not having a license to show Ford. I think Topps only did this so nobody noticed the 2-player NL ERA card.
Most of the time when a player is missing from the set the only impact on the card set is that there is no card of that player.
But there was another "altering card history" case when Barry Bonds decided to back out of an agreement with Topps around 2003-04.
Bonds was removed from a few Topps sets at that time. Then there were the 2003 league leaders cards:
Barry Bonds finished second in the NL in home runs in 2002 with 46. Lance Berkman and Shawn Green were tied for third with 42. Yet there's no Bonds on the front.
Here, Shawn Green shouldn't even be on the leaders card. He finished fourth in runs scored in 2002. But Bonds was third and Topps couldn't show Bonds.
These league leader cards would have looked different if Bonds and Topps had a deal.
I'm sure there are other examples of cards being altered because Topps lacked a deal with a player. That's all I have time for though.
Even though I knew a lot of these licensing stories, I learned a lot (like how the 1987 Topps Traded set is much more interesting than it should have been because it suddenly included several players who had never been featured on Topps cards before).
I hope if you read it, you find it as interesting as I did.
Also, I was able to purchase a couple of long-sought-after cards with the cash I received for writing the article.
Here is one of them: