Checklist Cards - Necessary But Not Appreciated
October 26, 2012
by William Szczepanek
Baseball card checklists, by that I mean those cards that were occasionally placed in packs to show which cards were available in a particular series. You know the ones I mean. The cards that you ruined by taking a pencil or pen and filling in the little squares to indicate that you had the associated baseball card. For those kids that eventually became accountants these cards provided a database for them to track which cards they had and which cards they needed. For the rest of us, these cards were usually a disappointment, because it meant you got one less real baseball card of an actual player.
Sometimes a checklist card would enable you to review what cards were out there and if there was one that you really wanted, you might fork over more nickels to see if you could get lucky. Often, when you finally did open the new packs of cards you would find that they were for the NEXT series, and the only way for you to get your missing cards would be to find a store with some old sets or to find friends who might have the card you wanted. Unless they had a double, getting the card from a friend would be difficult or expensive.
In the mid-1950s I remember scanning all of my checklists in search of Stan Musial only to find that again his card was not produced. That eventually changed with an All Star card in 1958 and his first real card in 1959.
Checklists were not offered in packs of cards in the early years of the 1950s. No one knew what they might get or who was under what contract with Bowman or Topps. Baseball cards were total shot in the dark, but in some ways that added to the mystery. It wasn't until Topps bought out Bowman in early 1956 that you could reasonably expect to find a card for most Major Leaguers. The first checklists did not appear until 1957 when 4 unnumbered checklist cards were randomly distributed in the packs.
Checklists took many forms with early team cards of 1958, 1959 and 1960 having a checklist on the back. These included some of the best teams cards ever were produced. In 1956 and 1958, each team card had a picture of the team on the front along with a row by row list of the players. In my mind a team card where you can't identify the players is really just like a card with nothing but the logo of the team on the front. What's the point?
Beginning in 1961 checklists became cards in themselves, popping up once in awhile in your packs. They had colorful action shots on a small part of the card with the rest of the card devoted to checklist information. Many kids threw them away, which helped to increase the value of these cards. Many put rubber bands on them and placed them in a corner of a shoebox, and others including myself would occasionally fill in the boxes for those cards I had obtained and ruin the card entirely.
In 1967 each team card had a star player as part of the card with an ugly no-neck head shot. In 1968 and 1969 the player pictures got better. In 1970 Topps went back to printing card devoted entirely to the checklist information for each series.
In later years Topps would include team checklists identifying all the players on a specific team along with their card number.
Checklists today mean something different altogether. In today's world where a paper and pencil is often replaced by a computer a checklist if often thought of as a listing (in a magazine, internet site, or software program database) of all cards from a particular year numbered in order and often containing error cards reprints and card differences. Obtaining all of the variations from a particular year can usually be left to the fanatical collector and the real value of these different cards is often controversial.
Let's just say that checklist cards of the past did serve a purpose before the age of the personal computer, but now they seem like an old adding machine ─ heavy and not quite as useful. They are a remnant of the past that takes us back to another time when things were slower and when people loved their cards for what they were, not for their monetary value. By and large back then checklist cards were considered a necessary evil ─ useful, but not appreciated.