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Altering card history

 
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:
 

I think it's pretty appropriate considering Campanella's history with Topps.

Comments

bbcardz said…
Great blog post--you brought up many things I did not know before, especially the "LA" on Campy's cap. The absence of players from some League Leader cards is fascinating (and new to me!).
Jafronius said…
Congrats on the new article!
Tell me more, tell me more.. dang it now I am stuck on Grease. See what you did. :) Congrats Greg on the article and the Campy acquisition.
bryan was here said…
That's funny, because I have that '55 MVPs card and never before noticed the LA on Campy's cap. I thought it was odd that it was black and white. Also, Campy never played for the LA Dodgers, as we all know.

I was always disappointed that Neal Heaton never had Topps cards with the Indians.
Zippy Zappy said…
That Wills story is amazing.
John Bateman said…
I think someone could write a book about all the missing players from Topps baseball and football sets from the 1950s to 1990s - (and more recent Baseball sets Mad Baum).

Though I don't know if there are any in Basketball and Hockey.
Billy Kingsley said…
Since I know Greg doesn't do basketball I'll field that question...there are MANY players in the NBA who didn't get cards every year it indeed ever. Topps limited many of their sets to 132 cards, which in the 70s included game cards, a checklist, league leaders and on occasion team cards. This went on in the 70s and 80s. In the 1990s and 2000s most players got cards but some did not, and then starting around 2004 the sets got smaller and fewer and fewer players got cards. Now a 525 man league, the largest set includes only 280 players. It appears to be card company choice since the CBA brings with it the automatic license for every active player.
cdorso said…
Great story! I'll have to go check out the magazine. For me, it was Kevin McReynolds, who's still my favorite player and my biggest PC. He didn't have any Topps cards until 1987 Traded (which means I *really* have to go see that article now), which confused the heck out of me as a young collector.
Very nice new card in your collection and an excellent use of the cash you got for your article, which sounds really interesting. Congrats on the publication!
Fuji said…
Great article. Like most collectors... I had just heard the story about Wills not signing with Topps. The thing about the Tigers and him telling the Topps representative he wasn't going to make it was completely new to me and very interesting. I also had no idea about the case of the missing Short. I think it worked out for the better because that Koufax/Drysdale card is one of my all-time favorite Topps league leaders cards.

P.S. Like cdorso Kevin McReynolds is one of the guys that comes to mind when I think of players who had some missing Topps cards from their career.
Bo said…
Why would Wills's Fleer contract have precluded him having Topps cards when many others players in the Fleer set did not have that issue? Or is that covered in your article?

It's funny you weren't aware of the '87 Topps Traded thing; it was pretty common knowledge for card collecting kids of the time.
night owl said…
I don't know all the specific details but Wills wasn't only one who appeared in just Fleer and not Topps at that time, I mentioned a few of them in the blog post. Perhaps Fleer got exclusives with some up -and-coming players.

As for '87 Traded, I was not a kid when it came out so I apparently am late to the party. Apologies.
defgav said…
Congrats on the Campanella pickup! That's a beauty.
Adam said…
Great story and great pickup! I’m definitely going to have to hunt down this magazine now because this topic definitely intrigues me.
Nick said…
A very interesting topic for sure. Love that you covered the Tony Hortons and Chris Shorts of the world, because I'm sure a lot of collectors have heard the possibly-mythical Wills story by now. I think it's great that even you learn stuff as you're doing the article - that's an overlooked joy of writing!
Bo said…
No need for apologies! Sorry if my comment came off that way. I certainly know you are from the earlier era, I often wish I was as well. I really should go find your article and read it.