Tuesday, September 11, 2012
The demise of the league leaders
I've always been a little indecisive when it comes to multi-player cards.
When done right, they can be absolute things of beauty.
However, I've seen a good deal of multi-player atrocities over the years.
For the most part, "league leader" cards fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.
I just got done browsing through my modest "miscellaneous" collection. I'll probably go more in-depth on those in a future post.
For now, all you need to know is that a good number of those "miscellaneous" cards are of the aforementioned "league leader" variety.
This '62 Topps issue of hurlers Warren Spahn, Jon Jay, and Jim O'Toole is the oldest "leader" card in my collection. It's not the greatest vintage issue of the sort, but it's still a pretty darn nice card if you ask me.
Simple design, floating heads, and Warren Spahn. What more do you need?
After taking a ride through the annals of my "league leaders" collection, I can't help but have one question.
Do any collectors even care about them anymore?
Judging from the looks of some of the more recent "leader" cards, I'd have to answer in the negative.
It wasn't always that way, though...
They knew how to make 'em in the '70s.
I'd bet that this was one of the "cards to get" among the card-collecting kids of 1971. If you were lucky enough to pull this one, there's probably a good chance that you'd instantly have about ten of your friends lining up a trade offer for it.
I know I would've been one of them.
The famous black borders of the '71 set translate fantastically to the "leader" format. The leader in the particular category got a good half of the frame, while the second and third-place finishers shared the bottom quarter.
Simple, but brilliant.
For me, 1973 was the peak as far as these "leader" cards are concerned.
In fact, this is most likely my all-time favorite card of the sort. It's got to be, given that Dick Allen is on it and everything. (And Johnny Bench, of course.)
This is the way to do it.
A nice, big frame, one that has more than enough room to give each of the players the recognition they deserve.
While most of the "leader" cards of the past only featured players from one league or the other, these mashed up the National and American Leagues into one.
With these, the collector got the best of both worlds.
The '80s would be the last time "league leaders" would be properly honored on cardboard.
While they weren't even close to their '70s glories, Topps was still doing a nice job with these by the time 1984 rolled around.
These reverted to the '71 style, giving the top "leader" the biggest frame while flanked by the others.
This card is a great example of just how far the "closer" has come in the game of baseball. At the time, Bruce Sutter barely had a third of the career saves of today's leader in the category, Mariano Rivera. (He currently sits at 608.)
Sadly, it would only get worse for the "leaders".
During the late '80s and early '90s, Topps came out with the "mini leaders" inserts.
Unlike the years before, "leader" cards were no longer part of the Topps base set, something which had been a staple of many previous issues. (Although I'll admit that the "mini leaders" aren't all that bad.)
Unless I missed something, the concept wouldn't be re-introduced to the hobby until 1999, when Topps slipped a small "leader" subset into that year's subpar release.
These were fairly ordinary and only featured a single player, something that wasn't done with as much regularity in previous days.
I could never get used to a "league leaders" card that only featured one guy. It just doesn't look right.
Because of this, it was fairly obvious that these were on the downswing by this time.
But just when you thought it couldn't get any worse...
As much as I might like the 2005 Topps set, the "leader" cards are awful.
In fact, 2005 was probably the first time I came to view them as "extras". Ever since then, I've tossed them aside without much of a thought.
None of these three shots would've looked that great on a full-size issue. All of them look atrocious in a squished frame, especially the armless Jon Garland.
It's obvious that Topps has tried to emphasize the design in their recent "leader" issues.
When you're trying to fit three guys into one baseball card, there's just no room.
I think most of us can agree that this year's "leader" cards were just plain awful.
While I'm a fan of 2012's "surfboard" design, it doesn't work at all with these. It hides a good portion of each of the shots, especially with whoever was unlucky enough to garner the middle frame. (In this case, Albert Pujols.)
Plus, I still have no idea why Topps chose to use a shot of Andruw Jones in a Dodgers uniform. I'll bet a lot of Dodger fans don't even remember him playing for the franchise, and the ones that do are probably trying their best to forget.
In today's hobby, Topps Heritage is the last hope for the "leaders". Even so, the only reason that's true is because they're simply reproductions of the old vintage designs we love so much. (Although they're now equipped with those ugly trademark logos.)
I want to get excited over "league leaders" again. I really do.
However, with the effort (or lack of) that Topps has put into them in recent years, I don't see that day ever coming back.
Deep down inside, I feel that there's still room for a "leader" revival. There's still room for a comeback.
Until then, I can only hope.