This is inspired by Night Owl but also represents a good opportunity to reflect on what’s taken shape in the year I’ve been back in the hobby and how different my collecting goals are from when I was a kid. I’ve previously mentioned how my childhood collecting consisted of trying to get a sample of everything—a pack of all current releases, a sample of every insert, one Topps card from each year, etc. So no real focus but I wouldn’t expect anything more from a kid either.
Now? I have more-focused interests which, while potentially huge, allow me to pick and choose what I want to spend money and time on. And yes of course I’m working on multiple projects. Many of them are listed on my general collecting page—as are the links to my want lists—but it’ll be fun to have a post dedicated to describing them in more detail.
One of the most-fun things to discover about the hobby is how much I enjoy putting checklists together. Many of these, such as the Lifers concept, are not intended to be real projects and are just checklists I’ve enjoyed making. Others though have become their own projects which I’m pursuing. We’ll start with the smaller projects and work up to the big ones.
Regional oddballs, food releases, police cards, stadium giveaways, etc. The wonderful thing about the 1980s and 90s is the because the baseball card industry exploded into an oversaturated, overproduced investment bubble, there were an uncountable number of weird cards produced as promotional items for stores, restaurants, food, etc. It’s amazing to see how many different sets there were and find out how few of them I’d ever heard of.
Oddballs are great because of how non-standard they are. They take risks in the form and the distribution. They’re limited to specific geographic reasons or demographic markets. They’re a wonderful way to learn about how different parts of the US were.
The best thing though is that they, more than any other genre of baseball card, are a direct link to the original baseball cards which were inserted into regional tobacco issues. The way that oddballs in particular tell the story of how baseball has been tied up with US consumer culture is why I love them.
Expansion and Moves
I covered this a little bit before since my batch of 1961 Topps cards included a number of first-year Twins, Senators, and Angels cards. It’s always been interesting to me to see cards from teams that no longer exist. But I also love the idea of seeing how Topps dealt with these changes. Yes the hatless airbrushed results are often horrible, but seeing the transition in the cards from the hatless ones in low-number series to band new uniforms in the high numbers is kind of wonderful.
This is also a project which really appeals to me from a history point of view. The idea have having a sampling of cards from the last year a team is in a city is as neat to me as having cards from its first year in a new city. It chronicles the way that Major League Baseball has changed over the decades and who has had direct access to games.
There’s no proper checklist for this project either. I’m trying to get a sample of first and last years in a location as well as any interesting things that also occur in terms of franchise identity. So far I’ve been mainly getting 1960s cards since there were eight new teams, three moves, and one name change during that decade. But I do plan to try and get samples from the five 1950s moves and for whatever reason I’ve been pretty slack on getting 1970s cards as well.
I will eventually move into the 90s as well but I need to check how many Marlins and Rockies cards are in my childhood collection first.
Photography and Design
In keeping with the rest of my blog’s focus, of course I would also collect baseball cards as samples of photography and design. Heck, baseball cards made up a significant portion of my visual literacy education. This is very much my beat on SABR where I’ve written about cards from the auteur theory point of view or done deep dives into the typesetting and design of a specific release.
I’m unable to not treat cards as a designed object and as much as I love baseball, I will respond to well-crafted cards regardless of the team or player pictured. I don’t usually get the “got to have it” urge but every once in a while I see something which strikes me as being especially well made or interesting from a craft point of view.
I started this as research for a SABR post but it’s been interesting enough for me to continue pursuing from a general photography and printing point of view. I love seeing how companies have tried to represent action on cards and, like with the oddballs, there’s a lot of experimentation which is extremely fun to see.
The 1950s and 1960s action cards are great because featured action photography were not common on baseball cards until the 1970s.* The 1980s and 1990s cards meanwhile are wonderful low-tech gimmicks which have managed to entrance my kids even in the age of ipads and touch screens.
*I’m not counting the background action on things like 1956 Topps.
While I’ve also started a series of SABR posts about these, I started collecting Spanish-language baseball cards as soon as I learned about their existence. Where O Pee Chee and Leaf were interesting in their bilingual French-Canadian way, they were still not made for a US market so I always counted them as foreign cards. The Spanish-language sets from 1993–2003 on the other hand are distinctly for US markets and the fact that they’re either bilingual or Spanish-only is extremely interesting given how much “speak ‘American’” is still a thing.
I don’t regret giving up on the hobby after the strike, I am sad though that I never saw these in the wild.
On to the big projects. I’ve introduced this one in a post already but it’s come a lot further since then as I’ve been using it as a way to learn about the trading card landscape which I missed in the two dozen years I was away from the hobby. Many of the Topps cards have been knocked off now and I’ve had to expand the searchlist to try and get samples of cards of the players in various uniforms.
Most of the players on this list either only had a couple seasons in the majors or, despite a long career, were the kind of bench players who didn’t make it onto many of the set checklists of the late 1990s and early 2000s. I quickly realized sticking just to Topps, while a decent way to keep the official search list under control, wasn’t going to give me a good representation of the players’ careers.
My largest project and one which will never be finished. There’s always more to collect. I grew up a Giants fan attending games at Candlestick. Giants cards have always been a major part of the appeal of card collecting and of course getting cards from the teams I’ve followed and the franchise history I devoured as a child is a wonderful way to both relax and to share the experiences with my kids.* At the same time much of this isn’t a specific searchlist. I am trying to get team sets of the entire Topps run up until 1993** but everything after that—as well as the non-Topps cards—is pretty much undefined.
*My 8-year old is devouring Giants and baseball history in very much the same way and it’s wonderful to watch. My 5-year old meanwhile is eagerly trying to copy his big brother and gets more excited finding cards of players I liked when I was little than he does about cards of current players.
**No I don’t expect to even do this since many of the cards on that list are way more than I ever expect to feel comfortable paying for a piece of cardboard.
All that said, I’m totally using the Giants and Stanford themes as a way to focus many of my other projects. Spanish-language cards? I’ll just make a checklist of the Giants and Stanford players. Same goes with Oddballs—though if it’s a Giants-specific Oddball set like Mother’s Cookies I’ll want the whole set. This allows me to not go too crazy with collecting everything while still giving me many fun things to look out for.
Many of the other “various project” posts mention various sets that people are building. I’m not quite in set-building mode yet but I did cross the 50% mark on 1978 Topps recently. I still plan on putting together needlists of 1986 Topps, 1990 Fleer, and 1991 Donruss too but those all require me to catalog my childhood collection once I visit my parents next summer. Once I do that I’ll have to put together a post of “childhood sets I’d like to complete” and add that to my next project list.