Rich’s Ramblings: Long Live Big Sets

When I was reading the email from reader JJ Saenz that was part of this week’s mailbag, I realized in another very important way just how much the hobby has changed over the past generation. Back in the day, we used to argue why a few players were not in the big Topps (and then later Donruss, Fleer, Score and Upper Deck) sets. That’s correct, there was a time if a player was missing from a Topps set for seemingly no reason, collectors and dealers both thought that was a very important topic.

Rich Ramblings 2014Sometimes, those missing players were important such as Maury Wills, who did not make a scheduled appearance in Maury Wills 1967 Toppsa Topps set until 1967.  But did you realize Wills was not even the only player of some baseball importance to have their first rookie card in 1967 after a “long” wait.

The second biggest name I remember who had a rookie card years after his rookie season that year was Chris Short and my memory seems to remember Doug Clemens and Arnold Earley also getting rookie cards in 1967. For all those players, looking at their career, the question remains why the delay? We know the answer for Wills, but does anyone know why Clemens and Earley had to wait so long?  The sets were certainly large enough to accommodate established veteran pitchers, even if they weren’t front line starters.

Now today, if a player such as Doug Clemens came up to the majors and missed having a rookie card (and that does occur occasionally) he night never get a major league card. A fifth outfielder such as Clemens is the equivalent in a roster spot to a left-handed reliever specialist in 2014.  But the question remains, why did he miss so many years in the 1960’s as a Topps card?

Flash forward about 35 years and the hobby world had flipped over. There were now signatures on cards (and not the ones we got in person at the ballpark) and pieces of clothing or bats were embedded into some. And yes, the “base sets” had seen their sizes significantly decrease.

As the world of inserts and then “hits” became important, the sizes of base sets were reduced by all the manufacturers. There was a time where probably 12-15 players per roster were featured if you counted all the card sets. Unlike football where most people don’t care if all the o-lineman or special teams players are included, most baseball card set collectors like getting a pretty representative version of their team with perhaps 20 players pictured.

Derek Jeter Topps TotalUpper Deck 40 ManTopps Total and Upper Deck produced a product called 40-Man.  The 2002 Total set included a whopping 990 base cards. Now these releases did not have a ton of bells and whistles as the goal was to include as many players as possible and so there were not a lot of inserts or other hits compared the very large base set.

Sadly, despite the great concept and the popularity among dedicated collectors who had clamored for these products, neither issue met with any long-term success. And since this hobby is a business to the card companies, these all-encompassing issues are no longer being produced.  Within three years, these issues were not being produced any more. And that’s a shame because if you are a major leaguer, you do deserve some cards to be produced.

A great recent example of this is Dirk Hayhurst. Now Dirk did not have much of a major league career but he has written a few books and is also an announcer for the Toronto Blue Jays. He had a few minor league issues and then after his career concluded Topps did issue an Allen and Ginter card but wouldn’t it have been nice to have a card of a guy now very familiar to fans even though his major league career was short?

And that’s what JJ is really getting at with his comments about getting cards to a wider audience and going back to the 1980’s style sets. What he is really saying is that Hayhurst and countless others deserve to be in these sets so we as fans can really get closer to the game with people more like us instead of just the biggest stars.