Monday, March 4, 2013

The Team Card

One of the things I enjoy doing most on this blog is featuring the cards that many collectors don't give a second look.  Card forums, and to a lesser extent the blogosphere, is populated by people showing off their latest high dollar pickup.  Don't get me wrong, I have some nice cards in my collection that my fiancee would wholeheartedly agree I paid way, way too much for.  But rarely are they my favorite cards in my collection.  You see, unlike fine art the card world doesn't offer anything resembling one to one correlation between price and artistic merit.  Instead of chasing shiniest, most patch-speckled autographed, I like to take the time to appreciate the more subtle, simple aspects of collecting that we so often flip past in packs checking see if we got a "hit" or not.
And what can be more forgettable than the team card?  Jam thirty plus guys into a photo, and then reduce the size of that photo to a mere 2.5X3.5in, reducing the array of faces to a nearly indistinguishable blur of pixels.  Sure, it's Roberto Clemente on a card, but is it a Roberto Clemente card?  Still, the team card is the one place that captures the entire roster, from the superstars to the guy who just happened to be around for one of his three major league games on team photo day.

Topps introduced the team card in 1957 (though the card above is from the '57 series), and the feature would be a mainstay in Topps sets through the 1980 season.  While most team cards are relatively mundane, I must admit it's great to see the entire championship team from 1960, 1971, or 1979 appear together in the next year's set.

After 1981, the team card disappeared from base Topps sets for the next two decades, replaced for a time with team leader cards.  It wasn't until the 2001 50th anniversary set that team and manager cards returned to the base set.
The return of the team card would be short lived, disappearing again after the 2007 season.  However, team cards should continue to be included in Topps Heritage sets for years to come, mimicking both the design and composition of the vintage Topps sets in chronological order.

Though Topps has largely maintained a monopoly on team photo day team cards, other companies have tried creative approaches to the team card. 

Perhaps my favorite is from Upper Deck's 2001 Upper Deck Vintage, a set notable for having the first Rangers card of Alex Rodriguez, first Ichiro rookie, and for blatantly ripping off the 1963 Topps design.  Upper Deck flipped the script a bit, including the team's starting nine (I assume based upon 2000 playing time/projected starting rosters) in the always popular, and never creepy floating headshots.  This is a unique take that allows a large number of players to be prominently featured with name and position, without having the individual players being overcome by the sea of humanity that is team photos.

The 2001 Fleer Tradition set, again ripping off vintage Topps designs in a vintage-inspired set tried a similar approach, this time using the creepy floating head concept for the team's leaders in major stat categories for the previous season.

This design could work.  But as you'll notice in the upper left corner, Fleer was apparently unable to find a headshot for 2000 Pirate wins leader Jose Silva.  That is only half as depressing as this cardboard reminder that Jose Silva led the team in wins for an entire major league season.

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