Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Capt'n Crunch

Shiver me timbers.  For those not keeping score at home, today is National Cereal Day.  Like it or not, baseball cards have a long history of being paired with some consumer product.  Whether it's tobacco, gum, or cereal, today's hobby is a far cry from the days of trying to use cards to sell something else.

But my favorite pairing has to be cereal and cards.

There's just something about the two that feels right.  And when paired together, cereal cards pushed the envelope into new hobby territory. 

Whether it's the 50's Post cards or Kellogg's 3-D cards, the designs and style provided a fresh take on cardboard.  Topps' designs are iconic because they had a monopoly through the Golden Age of collecting, and their cards were the most widely and easily attainable.  A kid could save his nickel and go buy a pack of cards.  If you wanted a cereal card, you were probably going to have to wait for mom to go buy another box.

But the cards?  Absolutely amazing.

But it's not just the cards themselves.  Cereal cards touched territory that Topps never made it to, and for a specialty set had a surprisingly deep checklist. 

Want a Goose Gossage Pirates card?  Kellogg's was (and is) your only option.

Want a card of Vinegar Bend Mizell card?  Check Post.  Despite winning 13 games for the World Champ Bucs in 1960 and playing for the team through the '62 season, he never made the cut for Topps.  And with a nickname like Vinegar Bend, you know you want that in your collection.

 Even though I wasn't around for the prime years of cereal cards as Kellogg's pumped out amazing set after amazing set, to me they represent all that was once great about the hobby.  Baseball, and baseball cards, used to be everywhere.  Food issues.  Denny's Grand Slam cards.  Heck, you could even get you own baseball cereal.

The profile of baseball has fallen off the map.  The Commissioner can cite pace of play, commercial breaks, extra-inning games, or anything else he likes.  But in my mind, it comes down to the fact that the average family has been priced out of the game.  Want to go to a game?  Ticket prices are likely to be 100-150% higher than they were at the beginning of the century.  Hell, Pirate tickets are 100% higher than what I was paying at the beginning of the *decade*  Want to watch your team?  You'll need a premium cable package.  Want to watch a game on prime time TV on a major network?  Good luck.

I was discussing the changes to the game on twitter (@battlinbucs, if you don't already follow me), and thought about how often I was able to watch the Cubs on WGN and Braves on TBS as a kid.  I didn't love either team, and outright hated the Braves because of what that one-legged Sid Bream did to my childhood.  But watching games day in and day out was what made me fall in love with the game.  And being able to collect cards just doubled down that excitement.

The last cereal cards I remember were in 2002.  Food issues as a whole barely exist, thanks in large part due to the exclusive licensing that Topps has.  But don't blame Topps.  MLB started the exclusive licensing plague that has run rampant over the hobby.  Again, I'm putting this all at their feet.

While other leagues have taken cross promotion and leveraged it to make their game boom (I'm overlooking the NFL's recent struggles because their  absurd growth over the previous decade couldn't be sustained, and some slideback was inevitable).  MLB has grown their revenue, but the game's overall profile has been lapped by basketball and football. 
I don't know that we'll ever see cereal cards make a true comeback that isn't a one-off mini promotion with 15 or 20 cards.  I doubt it, even though it makes sense.  But for today we celebrate the great cards that used to fall out of our cereal boxes.


  1. I just want to see cards packaged with SOMETHING I can get at the grocery store, and none of the Walmart-only pizza brand things they did a couple years ago. I want something I can get anywhere, like Post cereal or Hostess products. I get why companies make certain cards exclusive to certain stores, but in the end it gets in the way of the universality a set like Kellogg's or Hostess had back in the day.

    1. The one plus to the Marketside cards was at least they had a distinct design. But I wasn't about to get 40,000 calories in pizza to get the Cutch card. I'd love to get a decent sized set (maybe 50? 100? cards) with a unique design that can be found at most stores, is on shelves for a while, and you might buy semi-regularly. With most of these short term promos, the promo cards are gone before I would ever want to re-buy. I'm not someone who goes through frozen pizzas or entire cases of Pepsi products on a daily basis, nor do I want to fill my garage with a ten year supply.

  2. Great stuff. Post cards of the 60's were awesome. But when it comes to cereal cards there's nothing like Kellogg's lenticular cards of the 70's and early 80's (IMHO).

    1. The lenticular cards are the best. And I find it crazy that they've never really been something that caught on with any of the major companies in any meaningful way. Aside from some of the Sportflics sets in the late 80's, they never gained much steam.