The other day, I was trying to explain Allen & Ginter to a friend of mine who knows almost nothing about baseball or baseball cards, and even I was surprised at how crazy I sounded.
It's these cards they make now, they're based on a set from the 1800s. But it's not all baseball players though. It's got historical people in it, too. Oh and weird current celebrities. Oh AND some inanimate objects. Not surprisingly, I got a quizzical stare in return, and pretty much stopped trying to make any sense out of it. Because, really, when you think about it, the whole thing is a bit insane. Why would anyone who collects baseball cards also want cards of ancient Greeks and movie stars? It's not logical.
While I was thinking about that conversation, I decided to have a sit-down with the non-sport A&Gs I own. All of us probably have cards we don't look at as often as we should - and these are near the top of my list. As I went through the strange stacks of A&Gs I've accumulated over the years, I was reminded of how diverse the selections have been, and how much fun they've been to collect. True, Topps's non-baseball picks have (mostly) ebbed in interest as the brand has gone on, but taken as a whole, there's still a lot of fun stuff in here.
At some point I had the idea to pick my favorite non-sport card from each of A&G's 15-year(!) history - and while I know there's a large community out there who don't care for A&G's non-sport stuff in the slightest, I truly hope there's at least one piece in here that grabs your attention, makes you say hm, never thought I'd see THAT on a baseball card.
2006 - Herman Melville (Card #341)
I actually remember the first time I opened a pack of A&G, way back in 2006.
Even though I was fully immersed in sports cards by that time, my reaction then was a bit like my friend's was the other day: why am I getting cards of Paul Konerko and Billy the Kid in the same pack? It was weird, and unlike anything I'd ever seen on cards before. But even then I knew I wanted to collect as many of those wacky non-sport heroes as I could. Billy the Kid, Abraham Lincoln, all of them. This was a set for me.
And while it took another decade or so for me to become a full-on book nerd/Lit major/general fiction fanatic (and a huge Melville fan!), it was obvious way back in 2006 that I needed the Herman Melville card, because what the heck is that guy doing in a Topps set?
(Runners-up: Billy the Kid, Takeru Kobayashi, Buffalo Bill)
2007 - Jack the Ripper (#228)
As if authors and hot-dog-eaters weren't enough, A&G hooked me even more by including Jack the Ripper in their sophomore set, and it remains one of the spookiest (and coolest!) baseball cards I own.
(Runners-up: Groundhog Day, Ken Jennings, Mark Twain)
2008 - Pluto (#233)
If I had to choose, 2008 was probably the pinnacle of A&G's non-sport selection - I remember these better than almost anything that was in the standard baseball portion of that year's set.
Tough to pick a single favorite out of such a prestigious lot, but the Pluto card remains a perennial legend.
(Runners-up: Billy Mitchell, Friedrich Nietzsche, Oscar Wilde)
2009 - Sigmund Freud (#158)
A great card, even with the obvious airbrushed cigar.
(Runners-up: Milky Way, Vincent Van Gogh, Beethoven)
2010 - Revolving Door (#286)
I feel like this is the standard by which all non-sport A&Gs are judged - whenever I complain about the lack inspiration in present-day A&G, I always find myself asking where are all the Revolving Door cards??
It's just such a niche and quirky object that I never in a million years would've thought to put on a baseball card, yet here it is.
(Runners-up: Betelgeuse, X-Rays, King Tut)
2011 - Dirk Hayhurst (#32)
I'm cheating a bit here - Dirk Hayhurst was a big-league pitcher for a couple years, and his famous Bullpen Gospels book series documents his climb through the minors.
A&G, however, chose to show him in his "Garfoose" alter-ego rather than a baseball uniform, and so he qualifies for non-sport inclusion on this list.
(Runners-up: Wee Man, Peter Gammons)
2012 - Kate Upton (#232)
I envy Justin Verlander.
(Runner-up: Curly Neal)
2013 - Abe Vigoda (#176)
Probably showing my youth and/or lack of classic TV knowledge here, but I best know Abe Vigoda for his role as an aging fry cook in Good Burger.
(Runners-up: Panama Canal, Death Valley)
2014 - Barbed Wire (#341)
Rehashing the A&G heroes of years past helped remind me of a few cards I'd forgotten about - Barbed Wire is definitely a high-quality Inanimate Objects Card.
(Runners-up: Helen Keller, Kevin Smith, Polar Vortex)
2015 - Mike Mills (#37)
Still waiting for the Michael Stipe card, Topps.
(Runners-up: Apollo Creed, Magna Carta)
2016 - Timothy Busfield (#227)
(Runners-up: Cuban Embassy, Jessica Mendoza)
2017 - Paris Locks (#143)
A&G can be educational, too - apparently for years it was a thing in Paris for lovers to place locks on a bridge as a memento, and over time it turned into a kind of shrine, which is documented on this excellent non-sport A&G card.
(Runners-up: Giant Panda, Harriet Tubman)
2018 - Tommy Wiseau (#228)
(Runners-up: Champ Pederson, Bomb Cyclone, Biz Markie)
2019 - Egg (#213)
A lackluster non-sport selection saved by one of A&G's all-time greatest cards (baseball or non-baseball).
(Yes, I know The Egg is currently going for crazy amounts of cash, but I'm not selling mine.)
(Runner-up: Mike Oz)
2020 - Ken Jeong (#167)
Last year's non-sport selection was by far the worst in A&G history - the only one I have is of an actor I kinda know from a couple movies/shows I kinda liked.
I've been thinking about it for a good week now, and I've gone through every single non-baseball A&G card I own, but I still can't come up with a sane way to explain this set to someone who doesn't collect baseball cards. If nothing else, maybe the Plutos and Jack the Rippers of the A&G universe show that sometimes there just isn't any logic to hoarding baseball cards.
I guess for now all I can do is tell people Hey, check out this card of a Revolving Door!...and let the confused looks fall where they may.