Tuesday, May 1, 2018

What Could Have Been: 1974 Topps

I've always enjoyed playing the "what if?" game when it comes to sports.  What if the Pirates hadn't selected Clemente in the Rule 5 draft?  What if Ryan Leaf had been picked ahead of Petyon Manning.  It's an endless rabbit hole to explore.

And the same applies to cardboard.  What if Topps had made a 1997 Traded set.  What would a Mark McGwire Cardinals card have looked like?  What if they hadn't phased out manager cards through most of the 90's?

So seeing mockups of designs that never made it out of the design room opens up a world of possibilities.

In my first attempt, I brought to life what was likely a 1972 Topps mockup.  There were some interesting challenges.  The reference photo was black and white, leaving a lot of room for guessing on the color scheme.  And the photo was fairly small.

This time, I decided to take a crack at what is likely a 1974 or 1975 Topps mockup.  The Berra photo is similar from one in the 1973 World Series program.  So there's a good chance the photo was available was they would have been preparing the 1974 set in mid '73.
In my first try, I matches the neon colors used in the photo.  It's definitely a design that catches your eye.  But it's just a mockup.  Maybe the artist didn't wasn't aiming for the bright neons, but just happened to have some markers in those colors handy.  For comparison, I also tried out a version that used the colors from the team's color palette, which is at the top of the post.  It's a little more reserved and works really well with the Mets colors.

But the challenge with recreating these designs is imagining what the design would look like if spread across all the teams.  There's definitely some guesswork involved.

Going off of the team color style, I played around with a Lou Brock.

 Even though they had switched to power blue uniforms, the Cardinals logo still retained the signature red and dark blue.  The color scheme didn't work nearly as well with the dark blue bleeding into the black background.
And inverted you get the same issues at the bottom of the card.

 So what about pulling the colors directly from the 1974 Topps design, which fit the theme of muted neon colors that would be used for accents in '73 and '74 before getting the full border treatment in '75?
The softer blue definitely works better

 The cards never integrated powder blue into their color scheme, but it was definitely the most memorable look they wore from the mid 70's through the 80's.  What if I work in some powder blue into the card design?

Alright, that's more like it.

Just for good measure, let's take another look at a team in the same situation.  The Pirates 1974 cards featured a fairly vibrant yellow, even though the team was wearing their famous mustard colored hat and jersey accents at the time.  The bright yellow is too loud for my liking, while the mustard-gold just seems like a natural fit.

I don't know much about printing processes from the time.  Was it more difficult to print in the nuanced colors we get today?  The Pirates mustards definitely come out more yellow on Topps cards from those years.  So maybe Topps was just working with the primary colors available to them.  I'm not sure. 

But I can pretty safely say that if the set had been produced, I definitely prefer matching to the tones of the jersey.  So there you have it.  What do you think?  What color combo works best?  Would this design have been more iconic than the rather drab '74 design?


  1. These are wonderful - I would buy these by the box! There's a new set idea from Topps: an Archives like checklist made up of rejected designs from their archives.

    1. I love the position font. '74 just felt like such a bland set sandwiched between the craziness of '72 and '75. I think something more colorful like this set would have fit better with the designs of the era.

      I'd love to see Topps revisit some unused designs. I'm sure there are many, many more that we've never seen in their archives that would make for a cool set. But hey, if they won't do it, I will.

  2. I actually like the Parker on the left, the yellow is loud (and normally that would be bad) but the black letters shield it well enough. And while the gold does match the photo better, black and yellow just screams "Pittsburgh" to me.

    Also, I think Topps was still abbreviating to "Cards" in the mid 70's. Not that you have to do what they did, but it might be easier for you.

    1. I agree - the yellow and black just pops so well. And the brighter style definitely fits better with the Topps style from that era.

      St. Louis had Cards in '71, but they spelled out the full Cardinals in the '72 and '75 sets. I like the idea of using the shortened names though. The full name just looks so awkward in the window, so I may play around with that a little more especially if I make any other teams.

  3. Colorwise Topps relied on a super-limited palette consisting of solid inks and just a few screen colors until well into the 1980s. This is easier on the printer in many ways. If you're designing at home though those bright colors can be a bit too bright in the RGB workspace. You might have better luck doing things in CMYK (so using the 100% Yellow there) and then converting to RGB for the photos.

    Also this design has a ton of potential and I really like the ones where the team name is the same color as the border and just the negative space is colored.

    1. I was hoping you'd chime in with some info on the printing process. I assumed there was a reason we see the same limited colors coming up from the late 50's through the 70's.

      I originally have just been playing around with the original Topps styles on from these mockups, but I think you're right that there is a lot of potential in this design. I may play around with it some more and see where things go.

  4. I totally feel you on the manager cards. That’s why I have added them to the sets I am doing customs for.
    I like what you have done here and can’t wait to see new ones you have come up with.

    1. It just seems like such a glaring omission. I've really enjoyed seeing the manager cards you've made. This has been a fun little project, so hopefully I'll have a few others to show off soon.

  5. These are all fantastic, but I especially like the yellow-and-black Parker. That's always a good color combination.