Saturday, August 15, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: An Intro

I've been making custom cards for 12 years now, and while the usual model of old designs and new players has always worked for me, and I love doing it, the one thing that's always evaded me has been a signature style, like a custom design/method where people could point to them and go 'yeah, Jordan from Mint Condition did those'. The ones I make now are basic in design, and the Stars Are Out or Anyone Can Pitch ones are inspired, but not noteworthy enough.

And then there's this idea I've been kicking around for a while...

Topps' flagship set is imperfect. Always has been. They always leave out players and pieces of seasons for whatever reason, and collectors miss footnotes and odd chapters of longer careers, and you have moments in  time in baseball that go undocumented. And I always wanted to do something about that.

The idea of finding photos and making  custom Topps cards is not new. When Topps Had Balls' whole thing is filling in the cracks of 70s Topps sets, whether they're deserved or  not. You get  your Cards That Never Were types, GCRL did a few, White Sox Cards did some, but they all fit niches. They all fit to each collector's personal corner of interest.

The idea I had was a little more universal. Veteran players and stars from my era of collecting, 2007 to the present [an era where there are accessible photos of players in these eras], in uniforms they were never depicted in Topps cards in, due to licensing issues, cutoffs, or just plain indifference. I'm also including spring training stints that went documented in photos that never culminated in  seasonal playing time, cause it's nice to have the thought of these players in these uniforms.

We're going  to start this project, Topps Cards That Should Have Been, with two cases from one of my  first years of collecting, 2008, that intrigued me at the time, in that they both represented the last career gasps of two celebrated 90s stars.

Topps SHB Card #1: 2008 Juan Gonzalez, St. Louis Cardinals
I remember how weird it  was to me, in  2008, that Juan Gonzalez, who had retired 3 years  prior, was still trying to get  a playing job in the MLB. He was 39, hounded by steroid allegations, and was easing into a post-steroid game that didn't really  fit him anymore. But after a failed tryout with Boston in 2006, Juan Gone rocked  a stint with  the Long  Island Ducks, and thought it would be  a nice ramp back to the majors.

So he attempted to make camp with the St. Louis Cardinals, getting  some Spring Training  reps with them in 2008. Considering  that the actual 2008 Cardinals outfield consisted of Skip Schumacher, Ryan Ludwick and  Rick Ankiel, all of whom were 10 years younger than Gonzalez, I don't think there was ever gonna be any room for him there.

Still, I always wanted a 2008 Topps card of him and his Cardinals attempt. So I made one. The goal with these Should Have Been cards is going to be to also match likeness with the sets in question, and I think this card does that. I could see this in a 2008 Topps binder.

But that wasn't the only 90s star who tried to make a comeback in  2008:

Topps SHB Card #2- 2008 Hideo Nomo, Kansas City Royals

Hideo Nomo, whose control issues and loss of the strike zone post-2003 cost him gigs in LA and Tampa, signed a minor league deal with the White Sox in 2006, leading to one miserable start in Charlotte.  Nevertheless, he attempted another comeback in 2008 out of Royals Spring Training camp, and made the team. However, in 3 major league relief appearances, he allowed 9 earned runs and an 18.63 ERA, so clearly  his best  days were behind him. Topps made cards of Brett Tomko on the Royals that year, so they could have done a Nomo if they wanted, but he was off the team by May.

Topps didn't make a Rays card of Nomo in 2005 either, so maybe it was rights stuff.

Nevertheless, making both of these cards fills some cardboard holes I'd had, and I'm excited to do more of these on an intermittent basis for the blog. I already have a list of like 100 potential cards for this, but I will take suggestions. Veteran players who did brief stints in places Topps didn't bother to document, from 2008 til 2018 [that's what my photo source is able to cover].

Hopefully  this is a series I'll keep going. Customizing modern sets is a challenge I'd love to take on, especially  given how  easy 2008 Topps is.


  1. Probably not a rights issue with Nomo, as he did get a card as a Royal in, of all things, Triple Threads. Of course I know that from Nick's Short Terms Stops series--this series will fit well with his Short Terms Stops and Zero-Year Cards posts.