Column: They have always been Topps, in my book | Professional: All sports
I can’t remember how long it’s been since I hit a baseball, and I guess if I tried to do that these days I’d be swinging and missing for an hour or so. two before giving up wisely.
But my hand-eye coordination is still good enough to perform a baseball-related skill – quickly finding treasure buried in a newly purchased baseball card deck.
After tearing off the wrapper and placing its contents in my left hand, my fingers deftly sift through the cards as my eyes instinctively spot anything worth removing from the pile.
I’m looking for Orioles and Stars – unfortunately these two categories are often mutually exclusive – as well as cards that represent interesting uniforms, like keepsakes, or include keepsakes, like a piece of the emery used by Joe Niekro.
I rediscovered the joy of doing this when I started collecting baseball cards again in 2011 after a 20-year hiatus. Like most middle-aged people reverting to a hobby that once consumed all of their free time and most of their parents’ disposable income, my return was motivated by nostalgia.
Which is why it was heartwarming to see that, despite all the changes that had taken place in the baseball card landscape while I was away, Topps was still producing cards.
When I first started collecting baseball cards in the early 1970s, Topps was essentially the only branded baseball card company. The only other cards I could find – and trust me, I did find them – came with food, like cereal cakes and snacks, or by mail order. But those non-Topps cards weren’t the ones I shrewdly traded with friends, who were often smarter than me, and they weren’t the ones I thought I would someday sell for a few million dollars.
And when MLB card packs from other companies like Donruss and Fleer first appeared in stores in 1981, ushering in an era that would see the hobby oversaturated with sets of large numbers of new entrants, I continued to regard Topps as the preeminent brand of baseball cards. .
So it was shocking to learn last Thursday that Topps would soon no longer have the right to print Major League Baseball cards.
According to the Associated Press, Major League Baseball and Major League Baseball Players Association have reached an agreement with Fanatics Inc., an online sporting goods retailer, to have the company exclusively produce MLB cards.
MLB’s current deal with Topps is set to expire at the end of 2025, and the Associated Press reported that MLB’s deal with Fanatics begins in 2026. So in less than five years, Topps will apparently not be a major player in the baseball market for the first time in over 70 years.
When news of this seismic shift first broke, I assumed Topps was just outbidding for the rights to make MLB cards. Who could blame MLB and MLBPA for taking the highest bid? It’s a good thing.
But the Wall Street Journal reported that the talks between Fanatics and MLB had been going on for months and that Topps had just learned about it last Thursday, when MLB and MLBPA informed the company that it would not extend its contract with Topps. .
“Not only were we unaware that Major League Baseball was negotiating with someone other than Topps regarding our rights beyond 2025, but we were abruptly informed yesterday at 2:00 p.m. ET … that the deal was concluded, finalized and exclusive with Fanatics, ”said Andy Redman, executive chairman of Topps, in a statement to the Wall Street Journal.
Given Topps’ position as the mainstay of the baseball card, a role he began to establish with his first full-fledged set in 1952, you’d think MLB’s powers would at least give him the chance. to surpass Fanatics’ offer.
When I think of the iconic baseball cards from the past 70 years, each one that comes to mind was created by Topps, starting with the Topps Mickey Mantle from 1952. It is telling that this magnificent card is more coveted than the card. Mantle Rookie Certificate, issued in 1951 by Bowman (a company later acquired by Topps).
With the exception of an upgraded Fleer Bill Ripken card for profanity and a TCMA minor league card from Bill’s big brother, most of the baseball cards in my collection that I really treasure were made by Topps.
Not just the so-called value cards, but also original gems like the 1975 Topps Herb Washington. This colorful card – its border is purple at the top and pink at the bottom – accurately lists the position of the world-class sprinter as as a pinch runner and aptly represents Washington taking the lead on first base in a bright yellow Oakland A jersey.
Am I going to get my nose at the baseball cards made by a company other than Topps in five years? Of course not. I am addicted to the hobby for life.
So hopefully Fanatics is launching itself as Topps, which has issued top notch baseball cards throughout its first decade in the business.
Still, Topps was uniquely qualified to cleverly tap into the very nostalgia that drives middle-aged people like me to continue to collect baseball cards. The company is releasing reprints of its classic cards as well as inserts or sets that use Topps designs from previous years to represent current players.
I guess I won’t be removing any of these vintage-style Topps cards from newly issued packs after 2025. They will be missed. They remind me of my youth, when I still had the realistic hope of hitting the occasional baseball.