Grand Cards: Commemorating The Past (Narrowly)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Commemorating The Past (Narrowly)

I may be alone in this, but I think that one of the coolest recent additions to Topps' repertoire are the commemorative patches that they introduced in 2009 and have continued in 2010. Unlike other manufactured patches/relics that are inserted as "Case Hits" or other coveted items, these patches are marketed for exactly what they are: fun little bonuses inside of retail blaster boxes.

I just happened to get the last card that I needed to finish the Tigers in the set, which--saints be praised--adhere to the Golden Ratio of card sets and fits perfectly on a single page.

It helps that the cards also (tend to) look great. When done right, the patches really pop out, with cool logos and designs pulled directly from the 1930s and 40s. Right, Hal Newhouser?

That looks like it was pulled right off of a WWII bomber jacket. Just a fun card to have.

Unfortunately, not everything translates into patch form so cleanly.

What, exactly, am I looking at here? This bronze-colored patch with jumbles of black thread to not effectively communicate that we're looking at something that is supposed to resemble the 1955 All Star Game in Milwaukee. The patch says the words "Milwaukee" on it--can you spot them?

Sadly, the Tigers have a mess of these really ugly patches. Al Kaline has two, Eddie Mathews has "two" more and even Hal Newhouser has one. When the whole point of the card is to have a nice patch commemorating some sort of event, it would be nice if the card actually looked cool, or had some color, at the very least.

So, now that I'm on record in favor of these cards and believe that they have been a fantastic addition to Topps Baseball, I feel as though I've earned the right to complain about a couple of things.

Checklist. There are 9 Tiger cards in this set, yet only five players: Newhouser, Kaline, Mathews, Hank Greenberg and George Kell. Why not commemorate events of 9 separate players--I'm sure that there is enough team history to recognize some other All-Stars or World Series performances. How about Kirk Gibson in 1984, Alan Trammell or Lou Whitaker at any of their million All Star Games. Cecil Fielder, anyone? The Tigers' 2006 World Series appearance? A little more diversity would be nice here.

Checklist. I hate to harp on this, but Eddie Mathews, Hall of Famer though he is, played on the Tigers for the last 67 games of his career, spread across 1967 and 1968. They were the two worst seasons of his career. He was presentable in his four plate appearances in the 1968 World Series (.333/.500/.833), but is that really worthy of a commemorative patch? You don't think that, say, Mickey Lolich? Eddie Mathews just seems like a really odd choice here.

Eddie Mathews Man, I feel really bad that I'm still going on about this. This is nothing against Eddie Mathews, per se, but he was really an Atlanta Brave, right? Does he need a patch in this set? Does he need two? DOES HE NEED TWO PATCHES THAT LOOK EXACTLY THE SAME?

I feel like Topps is a victim of its own size. Granted, I don't know how big the company actually is, but there seems to be such poor internal communication that there ends up being hilariously sad product decisions made as a result. Are you telling me that there is nobody in the entire company who questioned the wisdom of making two of the exact same commemorative patches of Eddie Mathews on the Tigers? Just poor communication, it seems, leading to a weak result.

The Hall of Fame paradox... Of course it wouldn't be the first time that such duplicities occurred:

Nice card! Hank Greenberg with a colorful patch commemorating a World Series victory for the Tigers. This is from 2010 Topps Series 1.

This one is from 2009 Topps. Sigh. First of all, the presence of one does not diminish the quality of the other. Other than the fact that I think the 2009 commemorative patches were on cards that were better designed and more attractive, the 2010 one is still fine. It's just, did we need it twice in two years?

Which brings me to something that may be the subject of a full post in the future: The Hall of Fame paradox. Topps is obsessed with Hall of Famers. Other than current players, there have been exactly ZERO Tigers cards made in the last three or four years of past players that aren't in the Hall of Fame. Maybe I'm wrong, and I need to do some more research on it, but at least in the main sets it has been a steady diet of Cobb, Greenberg, Kaline and Kell, with a Newhouser and Mathews thrown in on occasion.

This all seems to me like a symptom of Topps trying to satisfy everyone. The way I see it, there are a few different types of collectors. Those that collect Sets, Teams, Individual Players and Stars. Included in the "Stars" collectors are a subset of people who collect Hall of Famers. The idea is that by including Hall of Famers in the sets the cards will also appeal to the wider range of specialty collectors, whereas a Willie Horton or Rocky Colavito or Virgil "Fire" Trucks would be for the Tigers fans only.

Except I don't think that's true. I think we're not far away from people being sick and tired of the "same old" players in every release. I know that I've reached that point. Did you know that there are more Ty Cobb cards in 2010 Topps than there are of any current Tigers player? And that there were even more in 2009? Does that seem perverse to anyone else?


Boy that was really a digression, wasn't it?

Other than the fact that I wanted to celebrate my completion of this subset, I really do want to say that I think that these cards have been excellent additions to what Topps has offered over the last two years. In all honesty, I think that this is a concept that they could continue to utilize into the future. But man, if they don't start broadening what's being considered for this type of cards, you can count me out.


  1. I really like them as well. I picked up a few last year. I like the 2009 versions better than the 2010 versions. Here's a few of mine.

  2. This post was awesome... well written... and very informative. I have a few of these and think they're pretty cool.