Thursday, November 7, 2013

Robbed of the sunset

Greg Maddux is one of the lucky ones.

In 2008, the future Hall of Famer's career came to an end. He split his "sunset" season between the Padres and Dodgers, hurling his final seven games in L.A. before calling it quits.

While they had to revert to photoshopping to do it, Topps did hit all of the necessary "sunset" checkpoints with Maddux.

Last career uniform? Check.

Full career stats on the back? Check.

Part of the Flagship base set? Check.

While I've only recently started calling them "sunsets", I've been collecting cardboard finales for as long as I can remember. During that time, I've realized something.

Not many are as lucky as Greg Maddux.

Topps and other companies aren't perfect when it comes to sunsets. In fact, they've made some huge oversights over the years with some of the game's biggest names.

One of my dreams is for Topps to whip up sort of a "Cards that Never Were" insert set (pretty much like what this guy is doing), one that corrects some of their past missed opportunities.

Like these, for example.

This will forever be one of the more confusing cards in my collection.

Brooks Robinson played in the final 24 games of his career with the 1977 Orioles. To their credit, Topps gave the HOF third sacker a spot in their '78 checklist.

However, it came in the form of the "Record Breaker" subset piece you see abive. And, as per my wacky rules, I don't feel subset cards should count as official sunset issues.

I've just never understood why Topps felt the need to give Robinson a spot in their "Record Breaker" series, yet not in their basic Flagship checklist.

It's so close to a true sunset card.

Yet, unfortunately, so far.

For the most part, many of my biggest sunset gripes involve the topic of specific teams.

These are both Duke Snider's and Warren Spahn's final cards. (The Spahn, I'm proud to say, is real, while the original Snider is high on my want list.)

However, despite what Topps would have you believe, neither rode into the sunset with the Mets. In a strange coincidence, both wound up their HOF careers in hugely unfamiliar stints with the Giants.

Snider played in 91 games for the 1964 Giants before hanging up his spikes. Spahn split his final '65 season between the Mets and Giants, pitching his final 16 career contests with the latter franchise.

Yet neither ever had an official card with the Giants.

It's one of the more glaring holes in Topps history, if you ask me.

I've long thought that Topps had some some personal vendetta against the Royals franchise.

Quite a few big leaguers have finished up their careers in Kansas City, yet failed to receive a card for their efforts.

Orlando Cepeda played for four different teams in his final three seasons. He had many cards as a Brave. He even had one as an Oakland A, despite only taking three at-bats with the franchise.

And, in what would become his sunset card, he was featured with the Red Sox on his '74 Topps issue. Yet, for whatever reason, Topps never chose to recognize Cepeda's 33-game stint with the Royals in 1974.

A decade later, Bucky Dent would be granted a similar fate. True, the man only played in 11 games with the Royals during his final season in 1984. But sunset cards have been issued for a lot less.

I'm still trying to figure out what Topps has against Kansas City.

Perhaps no player in history was robbed of the sunset more than Jim Bouton.

Hailing from the '68 checklist, the card you see above would prove to be Bouton's final issue.

As you might already know, the former Yankee was part of the ill-fated Pilots franchise. Topps issued a good amount of Seattle cards in 1969 and 1970, including obscure names like Gus Gil and Ray Oyler in the process.

But no Bouton.

His famous book, Ball Four, made him one of the more recognizable names in baseball around 1970. Bouton was still in the big leagues at the time, pitching in relief for the Astros. Between 1969 and '70, he appeared in 45 games with Houston.

Still no Bouton.

In one of the more extraordinary comeback stories ever, Bouton returned to the big leagues in 1978 after eight years away from the game. At the age of 39, he appeared in five games with the Braves. Surely something like that should get you a card in a Topps checklist.

But still no Bouton.

I just don't get it.

This isn't just limited to the older guys, though.

While Topps has done a better job with giving guys sunset cards these days, they've had their fair share of miscues.

One of the better stories from the 2012 season involved future HOFer Omar Vizquel. At 45 years of age, he managed to latch on with the Blue Jays for one last season.

Vizquel played in 60 games with Toronto before retiring. Topps had the entire year to print a card of him in Blue Jays gear.

And yet they didn't make a single one.

I was massively disappointed when his name didn't come up in last year's Update checklist. I was even more put out when Topps once again chose not to include him in this year's Series 1 release.

As a result, Vizquel's sunset card comes from 2011 Topps. Granted, it's not all that bad of a way to go out.

Even so, I can't look at it without feeling a twinge of regret. That shouldn't have been his last card.

Unfortunately, this is a fairly common tale. Many of the game's greats never received a true cardboard send-off.

Not everybody can be as lucky as Greg Maddux.


petethan said...

I think the (faulty) thinking in many cases was that, although a set is based on the previous season to some extent, Topps thinks of its flagship set as something pertaining more to the current year. The "new is better" concept. They're wrong.

I also wonder if contract issues (such as Matt Wieters currently) have anything to do with some of these, particularly with Bouton.

Fuji said...

Great post. I've been collecting cards for over 30 years and never took the time to think about "sunset" cards. I love it! It's nice to know Maddux has one. Time to start checking my other favorite retired players to see if they have them too.

William Regenthal said...

Cal Ripken not being in the 2002 Topps set is a pretty big oversight. I love the Brooks inclusion in your post. I also wished he had a '78. Oh well.

defgav said...

Great post. It's easy to get upset with Topps for all their slights over the years. I've also been thinking/writing about final cards a lot, specifically showcasing Willie McCovey's sunset card in a recent post..