Baseball Cards on Steroids
January 9, 2008
by William Szczepanek
With the steroid controversy clouding up the image of baseball, what can be said of baseball cards that have been enhanced so as to give a particular card an unfair advantage over others? Injecting cards with bat chips and uniform material certainly puts those cards on a different level. Are people buying the card or the bat chip? It’s hard to tell.
Other enhancements to cards include images of wood grain framing of players, trophies to indicate accomplishments, imitation metallic finishes or backgrounds of stars. Sometimes the enhancements outshine the individual player’s image. The purpose of the enhancement is to make the card seem more special compared to other cards. Right now there are more specialty cards on the market than regular cards. All in a days worth of marketing, I guess.
In modern times, what would we consider to be the first cards on steroids? We can go back to the Bowman set of 1955 where players were shown inside a wood-grain color TV set. As a youngster my first encounter with one of these cards made me wonder. Why a picture of a head on a TV set. It wasn’t as if you ere watching action on TV. The cards were just player images, usually head shots, in a TV screen. Very appropriate for the times, but also interesting enough that Topps produced a Heritage set in 2004. Most comments from both kids and adults were that they never liked these cards, though they were unique in that they included umpires.
The next occurrence of cards on steroids occurred at the end of the 1958 season when the final Topps series included All Star cards with the players surrounded by a field stars, a blue background for the National League All Stars and red for the American league. They were very ugly cards but did give you a chance of getting a really good player. In 1959 Topps did the same thing but added even more glitz to the cards by encasing the National League players within an outline of home plate and an image of an eagle in the background. The American League version went one step further displaying the player image in the form of a plaque. That year Topps also included rookie cards for the first time with red white and blue stripes behind the player. Gaudy is the best word I can use to describe those specialty cards that year. In 1960 the All Star cards again completed the series with a selection of players with a large number 60 behind them which seemed to portray the players in a more professional image, but still hyped. The rookies were also depicted with a red, white and blue ribbon behind them. All of these cards made the players look more like presidential candidates than baseball players.
These examples bring us back to the question of what constitutes a great baseball card. I contend that great photography and layout, combined with images that depict the player for what they bring to the game are the greatest factors, and that added features tend to reduce the overall quality of the baseball card. Call me a purist.