Today, as usual I was letting my mind wander and realized a great topic would be cards you wish covered events or featured players at certain times in their career but were not issued for one reason or another. I’m not referring to players who signed with one company or another during Topps versus Bowman contract wars of the 1950s or similar situations such as Ted Williams landing with Fleer in the late 50s. What I was dreaming about were sort of missed opportunities that, in retrospect, would have been possible—and great to own today.
We’ll begin with Reggie Jackson in 1968. Was Jackson not under contract with Topps at that point, or did Topps just forget to include him In their set? We know he’d been a high-profile college star who quickly ascended to the big league roster with the Oakland Athletics near the end of the 1967 season. He was playing just about every day and by early 1968, he was established as the A’s starting right fielder where he would remain into the mid-1970s. Considering other prospects who were either featured on the two-player ‘Rookie Stars’ cards or, like Manny Sanguillen with approximately 96 at-bats, got their own card, it’s always a shock to realize Topps could have had Reggie in the 1968 set. Instead, his “rookie card” didn’t arrive until his third year in the big leagues.
Another group of lost opportunities would have been final “ceremonial” cards for players such as Hank Aaron, Willie Mays or Stan Musial, among others. Players who were incredibly famous and had announced their retirement the previous season would have still be on the mind early in the next season. While cards were aimed at kids and printing cards of retired players wasn’t on the agenda, perhaps to avoid confusion or simply to stick with tradition, a card with complete career stats on the back would have been great to see from a historical perspective. Ernie Banks was a Cubs’ coach following his retirement in 1971 and although Topps didn’t do coach’s cards, we know they shot photos of Ernie in spring training during the 70s because they’ve sold some of them in their Vault auctions.
For many years, Topps featured detailed highlights of each World Series game. Sure enough, the first time in many years that did not occur was the 1976 Topps set with just a brief recap of the 1975 World Series. With the base of adult and teen collectors now growing and the incredible popularity the 1975 World Series had, I know I was very disappointed at the lack of detail given to that phenomenal Reds-Red Sox series when the 1976 Topps set was released. I suppose it could have been a timing issue. With the Series ending later in the season and Topps now producing all of its cards in one series, I suppose the deadlines came too fast to get really creative with events that happened in late October. But how cool would it have been to see cards of Luis Tiant running the bases in Game 1 or Carlton Fisk jumping for joy in Game 6? Heck, they could have done an entire subset on Game 6.
There were a lot of ‘Season Highlight’ type cards in the 1970s, but not so much in the 60s. Sandy Koufax perfect games, Willie Mays home run milestones or even Mickey Mantle’s 500th homer on Mother’s Day would have made for great cards. We would have included the no-hitters and other fun events and think about the great history which could have been forever captured on primary source cardboard sets. Yes, I know, many of these great highlights were eventually available on cards issued much later but think about how cool those cards would have been with some 20-20 hindsight and historical foresight. Today, with so many memories captured on a day-to-day basis we might lose sight over what is truly important but back then, the event usually overshadowed the actual record.
And how amazing is it that as we approach the final month of the 2015 season both Texas teams, who were both prognosticated to be at the bottom of their division were actually competing for playoff spots? And we’ll throw in the Mets over the Washington Nationals as well. While we won’t know until the conclusion who really makes the playoffs, cards of Cole Hamels in a Rangers uniform or Mike Fiers no-hitter as an Astro down the stretch give us a living history today we only sort of had way back when. And if Hamels tosses another no-hitter this year imagine how cool a “split-screen card” would be.
Cards have always been a great way to recall players and moments from the past and card companies should always remember how important those touchstones can be when they sit down to design and chronicle what happens on the field for collectors today—and tomorrow.