Grand Cards: Diminishing Greatness

Monday, March 29, 2010

Diminishing Greatness

In the last three years--basically, the three years since I've gotten back into card collecting--I have noticed a general trend among my Tigers. In addition to current Tigers players, there has been a steady stream of retired greats that have made appearances in my sets. However, that steady stream looks pretty much like this:

Ty Cobb
Ty Cobb
Ty Cobb
Ty Cobb
Al Kaline
Ty Cobb
George Kell
Ty Cobb
Al Kaline
Hank Greenberg

For a team that has existed for more than 100 years, it makes me wonder how the history of the great Tigers franchise has essentially been reduced to four players. Four. Seriously, try to find recent Tigers cards that show anyone else. There may be one or two, but that pattern above tends to holds.

Now some of this is attributable to the fact that MLB has contractually limited the degree to which retired players can be included in card sets. Part of it has to do with the rights to the deceased that Topps acquired prior to 2009, leading to Ty Cobb overload, but I'm pretty sure that part of it is this: If you can only have X retired players per release, why even bother with the "second-tier" greats. Hall of Famers are 1. Better Players and 2. Have a wider appeal than your general hometown heroes etc.

The problem is that people can only digest so much of the same thing. There are what, like a dozen photos of these players that the card companies can use? And for how many cards? I feel like I'm seeing the same thing over and over again. Well, no more. Courtesy of some 1993 Ted Williams cards I got last week.

Sure, you've got your old standbys:



But the photos are different from what you typically see nowadays, which is nice.

What's more, is you've got some greats (and goods) from the past too.







So I have two questions. The first is, given that 1993 was in the wheelhouse of my childhood collecting years, how did I not have any of these cards? The second, and more important question, is how many players--for any franchise, not just the Tigers--have essentially been relegated to the annals of history because they weren't in the Top 5% of players all-time? Mickey Lolich was a tremendous pitcher, and was a huge part of the 1968 World Championship Team. Yet, apart from some Sweet Spot autographs in 2004, there has been bupkis.

What ever happened to just good old fashioned baseball cards? Sure, autographs of these players are great, and very cool, but they tend to be rare, expensive and devoid of anything that is actually, well, interesting on them. So where's my Lolich base card now? Or highlight card? Or something that tells me, the collector, who Mickey Lolich was and what he did in his career? The beauty of hindsight is that it gives us perspective on where something fits in the context of history. I can look at vintage cards and see a player's stats in his day, or a neat cartoon factoid about him, but that doesn't mean anything to me when I'm trying to tie that player in to the context of baseball 40 years later.

I don't know. Maybe I'm just crotchety, or sick of having a million Ty Cobb cards from the last two years. And, honestly, I'd probably give an out-loud WTF if Darrell Evans was a short-printed Topps issue or part of an insert set. But please, can we get some context around here? Or are we going to be forced into believing that there are two tiers of players in baseball: the Hall of Famers, and everyone else? Has time really diminished their greatness that much? Or have cards betrayed the legacy of these former All-Stars, Hometown Heroes and Franchise Mainstays and, in so doing, veiled the character and context in which the game was played?

I'm sure I'm being overdramatic, but seriously, there's more to baseball than the Hall of Fame and I'm afraid that point is being lost in today's landscape. It is up to baseball cards, as much as it is journalists or media or whatever, to remind us that there were some great players who did great things beyond what is enshrined in Cooperstown.

4 comments:

  1. I tend to agree with you to some extent. For some reason Detroit has never been a media darling, despite some really good players and teams. There have been other great players, Gheringer, Cochran, Crawford, Newhouser come to mind quickly that seem to be overlooked. Now in the Topps era Detroit did not have a lot of superstars, but you can find Freehan and Horton in a lot of the insert sets of the time. But when companies look back on history the 68 and 84 teams get overlooked. It is almost like 68 was a fluke and 84 was to easy after the great start.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is pretty much the case with all the teams, not just the Tigers. I've noticed the same thing with the Dodgers:

    Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson.

    The Dodgers are a major market team AND have been around forever. But, licensing issues or not, Topps is overlooking a number of Hall of Fame Dodgers.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This post should be linked to your post about the Hall-of-Fame snubbing the Tigers have faced.

    ReplyDelete
  4. They should just stick with CURRENT players, and you wouldn't have this problem. :)

    ReplyDelete