Ovaltine: A Cardboard Story

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Imagine being a child during the 1940s, running home each day through the snow and checking the mail with great anticipation. You had drank gallons of Ovaltine over the past few weeks in order to get the Ovaltine inner seal, which allows you to send off for the Little Orphan Annie’s Secret Decoder pin. But with each passing day that anticipation turns to disappointment. The mailbox is barren.

Finally, one day your perseverance pays off…big time. Your envelope arrives and you rush in to the house like a charging bull.

A congratulatory letter informs you that you are hereby appointed as a member of your favorite radio program’s exclusive “Secret Circle’ and are entitled to “all the honors and benefits occurring thereto.”  The letter is even signed by Little Orphan Annie herself.

Tuning in to this week’s episode, you catch Annie’s secret message at the end of the program. Pierre Andre, the radio announcer, reminds the listeners that *only* secret circle members can decode Annie’s secret message. And remember: ANNIE IS DEPENDING ON YOU.

Nodding your head, you get your decoder ring ready and quickly begin writing down each number as it’s read over the air.  Once the final number is read and a reminder of the secrecy of the message is given, you run to the bathroom and shut the door, sealing yourself off from those who aren’t a part of the club.

Getting down to business, you begin spinning the disk on your ring, deciphering the encrypted message, one letter at a time. B-E-S-U-R-E-T-O-D-R-I-N-K-Y-O-U-R-O-V-A-L-T-I-N-E.

 

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Ovaltine? A crummy commercial?

Son of a bitch!


 

If this post sounds familiar, that’s because it is based upon the holiday classic A Christmas Story. American humorist Jean Shepherd, who co-scripted the movie, had originally told this story in his compilation book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash. According to Wikipedia, the scripts for the Little Orphan Annie radio program were “initially written by Ovaltine’s Chicago ad agency staff. They shunned the overt political themes of Gray’s newspaper strips and concentrated instead on pitching Ovaltine, using almost seven minutes of each broadcast to do so.” The information site also goes on to note “the product placement and exploitation of premiums to retain and attract new listeners was notable.”

As our family watched the movie last night, it hit me like a brick: this is exactly what Topps is doing with some of its online exclusive sets (think Throw Back Thursday) and of course, the 582 Montgomery club set. 

 

Weren’t They Involved in an Actual Trade?

InvolvedinTrade

Trading cards with other collectors has always been a part of The Hobby- it just hasn’t always been a part of my collecting experience. While I’ve done a lot of trading with others over the past two years (thanks to the TCDB), there have been seasons where I’ve neglected this important element of the hobby.  The reason for my negligence- in part- had to do with my desire to be deliberate in my transactions. That’s to say, my goal in trading is to always acquire pieces that I need- something that is much tougher to do in ‘blind trades.’

Prior to signing up with the Trading Card Database, the most accessible means of conducting trades since my return to collecting in 2009 had been via blogs. I don’t know how many trades I took part in during those years but a good number of them were of the ‘blind’ variety. Did I receive some cool stuff that way? Absolutely. They also left me with a bunch of stuff that wasn’t needed or wanted. While there was certainly an element of fun in being surprised at what might be included in those trade packages, I soon discovered it just wasn’t for me.

Anyway, one of the trades I took part in on the database earlier this year included a few Topps Heritage cards to go towards my Heritage team sets. I feel really fortunate because a good chunk of the base cards needed to finish these sets are from the earlier years of the brand’s existence- and those can be a little more difficult to get in a haul than, say, cards from the past ten years (or of the junk-wax era). Two of the cards I received in this package were of players who came to the Mariners in a trade that sent Freddy Garcia to the ChiSox.

Desperately in need of offense, Seattle traded the two-time All-Star to the White Sox for Olivo, top prospect Jeremy Reed and utility man Mike Morse. None of the players acquired would make much of an impact for Seattle. Olivo spent about thirteen months in the northwest before being shipped off to San Diego; he would return for a second stint during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Reed- the primary return in the Garcia deal- had a decent debut season but failed to build upon that; altering the level swing that made him a line-drive hitter to an uppercut, Reed reduced his walk rate and raised his strikeouts. He was also atrocious on the bases. Morse spent five seasons with the Mariners, split between two different stints, and had a negative WAR for those seasons.

Like I said earlier, the trade didn’t work out so well for the Mariners. I, on the other hand, made off quite well in my trade involving Reed and Olivo.

Mistaken

Dexter

In recent weeks I’ve begun the slow (not to mention, expensive) process of moving my collection out of binders and in to top loaders- which are then stored in shoeboxes. The reason for this is twofold: It gets the cards out of binders, which, while easier to browse through, isn’t the best method for storing cards (or at least, that is my opinion). By placing them in penny sleeves and top loaders, it also allows me to look at my cards while holding them, just as God intended. I know- I’d have to get them out of the two pieces of protection for them to be literally ‘in-hand’- but you get my drift.

This decision might one day cause some confusion for any prospective buyers, should my wife or children try to sell off the collection once I’m gone. As a team set collector, a good chunk of the cards in my collection are considered ‘commons’. Thus, these pieces of cardboard stored in slabs of plastic appear to be something they’re not: valuable.

Paul Serna’s looks were a little deceiving, as well. I mean no disrespect to the man, but look at him. Does he look like a major league ball player? Especially a third baseman, as his Topps card indicates? If Topps had listed him as 2B/SS then it might be more believable. But this? No way.

Signed as an undrafted free-agent, Serna made a rapid rise through the Mariners system, starting at short-season Bellingham of the Northwest League in 1980, where he would get just 257 plate appearances over 59 games. Paul began the 1981 season at AA Lynn of the Eastern League, where he accumulated 56 plate appearances in 13 games. Seattle would then send the light-hitting infielder to Nuevo Laredo of the Mexican League, where he was able to squeeze in 282 at-bats (and hit .391) before getting a September call-up to the big league club. Against all odds- or at least against all stereotypes- Paul Serna had made it to the majors. Surprisingly, the 5’8″ Serna hit 4 homers in 94 at-bats over the course of his 30-game debut that September and October.

The team would go in to spring training of 1982 with incumbent Jim Anderson battling Serna and off-season acquisition Todd Cruz for the shortstop position. Manager Rene Lachemann came away from camp impressed with Cruz (who had played for four different teams the previous three seasons) and went with him as the starter as the team headed north. Management released Anderson and kept the younger, cheaper Serna.

Paul’s versatility was on display during the 1982 season- his final in the majors- as Lach used him at second (18 games) , short (31) and third base (15). At the plate, Serna accumulated 169 at-bats, slashing .225/.246/296 with 3 homers and 8 RBI. On the bases, the diminutive utility man was 0-5 in stolen base attempts, leaving him 2-10 in stolen base attempts for his career.

Seattle removed Paul from its 40-man roster and he would spend the 1983 and 1984 seasons at Double-A Chattanooga before finishing his professional career in 1985 at Triple-A Calgary.


Finding more recent information on players like Paul Serna, whose career was short and ended over 3 decades ago, can be difficult. The most common search results are that they’re either dead or they run (or are instructors at) a baseball academy. Serna was no different. In his case, the search revealed that he has been (or at least, was- in 2010) working as a guest instructor at the Hall of Fame Youth Academies, offered through his alma mater’s (Holtville High School) athletic program.

 

 

 

Richie Zisk Saves the Day

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As the June 12th deadline for the players strike approached, it seemed the only thing that would prevent Julio Cruz from tying the American League record for most consecutive stolen bases was not a man behind the plate but rather two men behind the scenes: Marvin Miller and Ray Grebey, lead negotiators for the players and owners, respectively, in baseball’s labor talks .

But just hours before the players would officially go on strike, another problem arose- one that looked like it would slow the speedster down before the clock struck twelve. While preparing to face the Baltimore Orioles, Cruz discovered that his cleats had cracked. And it’s kind of important to be wearing footwear while trying to steal bases. I mean, whoever stole a base barefooted? Fortunately, M’s slugger Richie Zisk wore a size 9.5 cleat- just a little bigger than Julio’s size 9. Without a second pair of his own, Cruz borrowed his teammate’s footwear and was ready to hit the ground running.

Entering the game, Julio had twenty-seven stolen bases without being caught to go with the four consecutive stolen bases he had to finish the 1980 season. During his current streak, fifteen different backstops had failed to throw him out and he now needed just one swipe to tie Willie Wilson’s American League record.

Leading off the bottom of the first with a single to left, Julio wasted no time in entering his name in the history books, swiping number 32 off the Orioles battery of Dennis Martinez and Rick Dempsey.

Despite reaching first base on an error in the bottom of the second, Julio wouldn’t attempt to break the record before the clock struck twelve. A balk by Martinez moved Cruz over to second before a Bruce Bochte groundout sent him to third. Tom Paciorek made sure Julio didn’t attempt to steal home, hitting a two-run shot to put the Mariners up 6-0. Three more at-bats followed, but the speedy second-baseman wouldn’t find himself on base again.


One day short of two months later, Julio finally got the chance to break the American League record, this time against the California Angels.

Julio’s double-play partner, shortstop Rick Auerbach, singled off Angels reliever Don Aase to lead off the bottom of the 7th. Cruz then grounded into a fielder’s choice, beating a throw to first that would have resulted in a double-play. With third baseman Lenny Randle at the plate and a green light to steal, Julio took off for second but would be denied the record as Angels backstop Ed Ott threw him out.

Rodney Craig

The halls of the Peoria Sports Complex- spring home of the Seattle Mariners- features “The Road to Seattle,” a 25-foot wall piece that celebrates the team’s scouting and player development departments and features the names of the 180 homegrown players who made their MLB debuts with the team. Among those names are franchise icons such as Alvin Davis, Ken Griffey Jr, Edgar Martinez and Felix Hernandez. Others are names that have long been forgotten, including the man who was the first homegrown prospect to reach the majors.

Rodney Paul Craig was born January 12, 1958, in Los Angeles, grew up in Carson, California, and graduated from Narbonne High School in Los Angeles’ Harbor City neighborhood.

A talented athlete, Craig’s first love was baseball. This love led him to Houston, Texas following high school, where he would play for San Jacinto Junior College. Ed Stevens, scout for the expansion Seattle Mariners, saw enough talent and athleticism in Craig that he signed him as an undrafted free-agent. And while the deal didn’t include a signing bonus, Stevens did give the youngster money for new clothes.

The Mariners had just two minor-league affiliates their expansion year: a winter rookie-level team in the Arizona Instructional League and one in short-season Bellingham of the Northwest League, where Craig began his professional career. While there, the speedy outfielder helped the ‘Baby M’s,’ as they were called, to the 1977 Northwest League Championship, where they beat the Portland Mavericks 2 games to 1. Rodney played an instrumental role in the Mariners’ game 1 win over former MLB pitcher Jim Bouton, plating 2 runs on a fourth inning double.

Seattle moved Rod up one rung on the ladder for the 1978 season, to Stockton, in the Class A California League, where he would play in 90 games and more than hold his own against players whose weighted age averaged 1.9 years older than the Mariners prospect. While there was still very little power in his game (.316 slugging), Rodney did steal 41 bases in 49 attempts and showed patience at the plate, drawing 39 walks (to go with 57 strikeouts).

For as much talent as Rodney displayed on the field, he was also beginning to show himself to be a troubled young man. While in Triple-A Spokane in 1979, where once again he was one of the youngest players in the PCL (over 4 years younger than the average player), the outfielder clashed with manager Rene Lachmann and some of his older teammates, and would eventually walk out on his team. This led to him being fined and demoted back to the California League. Still, Rodney would go on to slash .315/.378/.414 over 48 games. In his 204 plate appearances, Craig had 18 walks and 18 strikeouts, while stealing 16 bags.

Rodney became the first Mariners homegrown player to reach the majors when he was called up to the big league club on September 11, 1979, making his MLB debut against the Texas Rangers. For the rest of the month, the 21 year-old Craig impressed at the plate, slashing .385/.396/.577 over 16 games and 53 plate appearances. While he made a positive contribution at the plate that month, he was less than impressive on the bases and in the field, where his inexperience was evident.

Prior to the 1980 season, Peter Gammons of the Boston Globe wrote that Seattle would hand the prospect the starting right-field job if “his tempestuous attitude doesn’t ruin him.” Once the team broke camp and headed north for the start of the season, Craig was indeed on the opening day roster. His season got off to a fast start, as he went 3-5 and drove in a run against the Blue Jays on Opening Night. Two days later, he got another start against Toronto and, once again, went 3-5 with a walk, a double, a homer and 5 RBI.

After starting the season with a six-game hitting streak, Craig’s production would soon begin to plummet, with his average falling all the way to .230 by June 11th. After appearing in 44 of the team’s first 57 games, Rodney was sent to Triple-A Spokane to try and find his swing. Recalled in September once the rosters expanded, Craig appeared in 26 games that month and hit .248 in 118 plate appearances. It appears the Mariners had seen enough to discern that Craig would be nothing more than a fourth-outfielder, at best, and traded him to Cleveland in the spring of 1981 for a 29 year-old DH by the name of Wayne Cage (whom Seattle would sell to the Hankyu Braves of the Japanese Pacific League only a few days after acquiring him).

Rodney’s big-league time with the Indians was a short one, consisting of just 71 plate appearances (mostly after coming in as a defensive replacement or as a pinch-hitter) during the 1982 season. Terry Pluto, who covered the team for The Plain Dealer during the first half of the ’80s, would, years later, recall Rodney as a “very quiet, perhaps even a gentle soul,” whose teammates had nicknamed him “Bucket Head” because of the helmet size Rodney wore. Pluto also recalled some of those same teammates taking advantage of Craig’s poor skills at the card table, often winning his meal money on team flights. The outfielder remained in the organization for two more years- spending the 1983 and 1984 seasons at AAA Charleston and Maine, respectively. The team would release him in January of 1985.

The rest of Craig’s professional career was spent as a baseball nomad: 5 games in the Mets farm system during the 1985 season before playing south of the border for Dos Laredos in the Mexican League;  10 major league games for the Chicago White Sox in 1986; 13 games for Triple-A Rochester (Baltimore) in 1987.

By the beginning of the new millennium, it was quite evident that Rodney was suffering from mental health disorders. There’s no telling what finally broke him but it very well could have been the 2001 death of his mother. According to childhood friend Gregory Sampson, Rodney did not attend the funeral and when Sampson asked him about it, Craig refused to believe that she had died. While denial is a part of the grieving process, Rodney’s subsequent behavior pointed to deeper issues.

He soon adopted the life of a vagabond, drifting to at least three states over the next three years and finding himself in trouble with the law at each new stop.  There were arrests in Arizona (an assault charge that was later dismissed) and three separate ones in Florida. Rodney served three weeks in Broward County jails in 2002 after pleading no contest to trespassing charges. A 2004 fight in El Paso, Texas resulted in Rodney being indicted on assault charges after he had struck a homeless man in the head with a rock. Craig claimed self-defense and would end up being sent to a state psychiatric hospital after the court found him mentally incompetent to stand trial. Charges were later dropped after the witness failed to appear in court. At least one more arrest would come, in Miami-Dade county, on a 2008 trespassing charge. 

It’s unclear where Craig spent the next few years but we do know that by the summer of 2013 he had made his way back to Los Angeles, where his life would be taken from him on the 17th of August. Trying to set up at a homeless encampment near Wilshire Blvd and Hope Street, Rodney was met with resistance from homeless residents who did not want him there. At one point an argument ensued and, as he was leaving, Rodney kicked a dog belonging to one of the campers. Two men, Billy Morales and Anthony Johnson, chased down the former athlete and began kicking and punching him. The fatal blow came at the hands of Morales, who stabbed Craig in the heart with a knife. Morales would later be convicted (January, 2015) of second-degree murder in the death and sentenced to 16 years-to-life. Johnson was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading no contest to assault.


 

Sources:

Baseball Reference

Boston Globe “Rookie Ratings: Only Few ‘Can’t Miss'” January 6, 1980

LA Times “Two Men Charged in Stabbing Death of Homeless Former Ballplayer” October 24 2013

LA Times “Man Gets 16 Years to Life in Prison for Killing Former MLB Player” March 24, 2015

The Plain Dealer “Terry Pluto Remembers Former Cleveland Indians Outfielder Rodney Craig” October 26, 2013

The Sporting News, dates unknown

 

Not PeeChee (nor O-Pee-Chee)- but Topps

My daughter will begin her final year of high school in a few weeks, which means it’s time to get those senior photos done. To add insult to injury, new clothes and school supplies will need to be purchased, making our pocketbook noticeably thinner. But before dishing out those funds, I did get a little bit of spending money and was able to put it to good use on eBay. In this instance, even my hobby purchase had a school-theme to it.

I was a year out of school by the time Topps rolled out its first set of pocket-folders, so I never had the pleasure of showing off my nerdery. All my friends and I had known growing up in our earlier years was the PeeChee pocket folder that was ubiquitous in schools (and grocery stores) west of the Rockies. For those of you who are not aware of the PeeChees, they were a goldenrod folder (later available in blue) with illustrations on both the front and back- and were just ripe for student doodling. The genius of the PeeChee folders was that they contained vertical pockets- not horizontal, like the competitors products- which trapped the student’s papers inside. This design would later inspire the more well-known Trapper folders and the binders that would house them: the Trapper Keeper.

Anyway, the final few months of my senior year (Class of ’87!) coincided with the beginning of what is referred to as the ‘junk wax era.’ Phenoms such as Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Bo Jackson, Mark McGwire and Will Clark had already made their major league debuts and while they had also made their cardboard debuts, none- with the exception of Mac’s Team USA card- had been available in packs; the only way to have their cards were from the update/traded sets. That changed in ’87, when collectors were finally able to pull cards of these freshman and sophomore sensations, leading to the feeding frenzy of collectors and speculators alike.

Taking advantage of this new interest in baseball cards, Topps saw an opportunity to cash in on the craze and partnered with Sheaffer Eaton to create pocket folders for those whom its cards were originally intended for: kids.

Checking in at over 9x the size of the standard-sized sports card, the folders captured the front of its subject’s card, as well as the back of the card. Available in retail stores, the Topps/Sheaffer Eaton pocket folders were produced for two years and featured the 1988 and 1989 designs, respectively. I have yet to find a complete checklist for these oddities but with there being 5 Mariners, I’m guessing that might be a safe number available for each team, with perhaps more for the most popular teams?

 

 

Why is This Man Smiling?

Heaverlo

If losing takes its toll on you, as the old adage goes, then why is this man smiling? After all, from 1975-1980, Dave Heaverlo pitched for the Giants, Athletics, and Mariners, three teams with a combined record of 404-569 during that stretch (Oakland and Seattle were especially bad during those years, with 62 wins being the most either team would get).

Could that smile be the result of knowing he’s (numerically) the first Mariner in a Fleer set? Possibly. Perhaps Dave, known to keep things loose in the clubhouse, just pulled off an epic prank on a teammate. Or maybe he had some innate feeling that his days with a horrible Mariners team were numbered- that brighter days were ahead.

The beginning of the end happened during a stop on the team’s offseason caravan, when Mariners skipper Maury Wills was approached by a former college teammate of Heaverlo. Upon being asked what his plans were for the righty, Wills responded by saying that he would move Heaverlo to a long reliever role and give Mike Parrott the closer role that Dave once held.

News travels quickly in small circles and Dave wasn’t pleased when he heard this piece of information from his ex-teammate. Instead of approaching Wills about the changes, Heaverlo contacted Tracy Ringolsby, the Mariners beat writer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The next day, team officials woke to the headline that read, “Heaverlo Refuses to Carry Parrott’s Jock.” If Heaverlo was disgruntled, Mariners brass were irate.

Though he made it to spring training, Dave wouldn’t make it to Opening Day with the Mariners. As the pitcher was shagging balls in the outfield one day towards the end of spring training, he was approached by a clubhouse attendant, who informed him that he was needed in the manager’s office. The news came as no surprise: the team was releasing him.

 The release came as a blessing in disguise for Dave, who would land back in the Bay Area after signing with the A’s. This Oakland team was far different than the 100-loss teams of his first tenure. Now under manager Billy Martin, the A’s took the A.L. West in the first half of the split-season, qualifying them for the playoffs.

After defeating the Royals in the first round, Martin’s team ran up against their leader’s former club, the New York Yankees, in the ALCS. This time there would be no advancement for the team playing ‘Billy Ball,’ as they were swept by the Bronx Bombers.

Despite falling short of its goal of reaching the World Series, Heaverlo later called the year- his final season in the majors- the ‘most fun [he] ever had in pro ball.’ The reason? He knew that when he went to the ballpark each day that the team had a shot to win. Their mercurial manager would find a way to quench his thirst for victory.

 

Big League Expectations

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If you give me the opportunity to play every day, I think I’m the best shortstop in baseball…As long as I’m playing every day, I’m going to be a star player.” ~ Tim Beckham, in a 2018 interview with the New York Times

After an off-season in which the front office ‘re-imagined’ (to use Jerry Dipoto’s words) the roster, I found myself tempering my expectations for the Mariners 2019 season. Play fundamentally sound baseball, show some stability in the pitching staff (instead of the merry-go-round of the past couple of seasons), and play competitive ball. I don’t think that’s asking too much in order for a fan to keep his interest.

Well, my expectations were more than met early in the season but it didn’t take long for disappointment to settle in. Defense has been a problem since day one and the pitching, after that early success, has been atrocious. The sum of all of this is a team that seems to get blown out- or sees the bullpen blow a lead- on a nightly basis.

One of the main contributors to the Mariners early success is also one of the culprits of their shoddy defense. Signed as a free-agent to hold the shortstop position until J.P. Crawford is ready, Tim Beckham began the year hitting the ball like what one would expect of a former #1 overall draft pick. But enough at-bats, not to mention time out in the field, and a player’s weaknesses will be exposed. As of this writing, Tim’s errors have outnumbered his homers (12 to 11).


When Topps announced last year that it was replacing Bunt with a different entry-level product, my expectations weren’t set very high, either. I was not a fan of Bunt and thought its demise would usher in another yawner of a product. Thankfully, I was mistaken, as I was pleasantly surprised with Big League.

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Fast forward to earlier this calendar year when the sell sheet for 2019 Big League was released. Judging from the sheet’s very small sample size, I was not impressed. But upon further review, once the product started showing up on eBay, I decided to pick up the Mariners team set. The front of the card seems a little too busy for my liking (but I don’t hate it) and it reminds me of something you’d receive at a minor league stadium, or as a Stadium Giveaway at your local big league ballpark. What impressed me, however, was the back of the card. Beautiful design. Clean, with not only the vital and career stats, but it also includes a paragraph as well as a ‘Did You Know?” about the player. 

Hopefully this set will receive more than just a cup of coffee or two, and will become a regular in Topps’ lineup.

 

 

Fool Us Once…

Deke: “to fake (an opponent) out of place (as in ice hockey)” ~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary

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The spelling might be different, but the message still applies to this 1993 Topps Stadium Club Team Mariners card: we’ve been fooled. Somehow, Topps fooled us in to thinking that Brian Deak was (or would be) on the big league club for the 1993 season.

Looking for organizational depth, the Mariners signed Deak as a minor-league free-agent in November of 1992 and brought him to spring training, where he found himself in a battle to back up the Mariners starting catcher, Dave Valle

The former JUCO masher (and college teammate of Curt Schilling), whom Atlanta picked in the third round of the 1986 draft, had plenty of competition that spring: Bill Haselman, whose career at that point consisted of just 33 plate appearances and a .219/.242/.219 line; Chris Howard, another player with little experience at the major-league level (7 plate appearances at that point, all coming in 1991) and a veteran, Mackey Sasser, who was on the downside of his career. So despite his lack of experience at the big-league level, Brian had to like his chances at winning the gig for the upcoming season.

It didn’t happen.

Deak was optioned to AAA Calgary on March 22, where he would spend the entire ’93 season before being given his unconditional release in November.

Though he never would get even a cup of coffee in the majors, Deak wouldn’t be denied a trading card in a major league set. In all, Brian appeared on less than two dozen cards- all but one coming in minor league sets.

The Bigger They Come, the Harder They Fall

The 1988 card calendar saw Topps releasing a new major set for the first time since 1981, when it had introduced its Traded and Stickers sets. Unlike those sets, which were standard (Traded) and smaller than standard-sized (Stickers), this new release took on a different shape, as well as a different look and feel.

1988 Topps Big #107 Steve Trout

Paying homage to the 1956 Topps set, Topps Big was considered the first ‘Premium’ set the company produced. Featuring bright white card stock and a high gloss finish, Big was the first all-horizontal set since the iconic ’56 set was released thirty-two years earlier (the 1960 set was primarily horizontal, but did have a few cards with vertical layouts).

Like the vintage ’56 Topps set, Big came in at 2-5/8″ by 3-3/4″, larger than the standard 2-1/2″ x 3-1/2″ size that was introduced in 1957. This increase in the size of the cardboard hurt the set’s popularity among collectors, who found the cards too difficult to store.

1989 Topps Big #38 Mickey Brantley

 

One of the only shortcomings of the 1956 set is that, other than Luis Aparicio, there is a conspicuous absence of key rookie cards. This is also a problem with each of the three Big offerings. In fact, there are no rookie cards in the ’88, ’89, or ’90 sets. Because of the smaller number of cards on the checklists, Topps reserved space for only established players. As a Mariners fan and collector, I can’t help but think how much I would like to have a Big Junior rookie card in my collection.

 

1990 Topps Big #266 Dave Valle

 

Now that we’ve pointed out a couple of negatives things about the set, let’s look at what’s praise worthy.

By the time Big was release, the fun-element had been slowly phased out of the hobby. Tamper-proof packaging and counterfeit-proof cards were being introduced, signaling that this was no longer a kids pastime. You don’t get that with Big. No inserts. No high price points. No short prints. What you do get is a small, affordable set with plenty of color, cartoons that hearken back to Topps’ earlier days and simplicity that has sadly disappeared from the industry.

One final nod to vintage cards: distribution. Like its predecessors, Big came in multiple series. Remember, the flagship product at this time was released in one 792-card set, but this new set was released in three different series. For its Big debut, Topps offered three series, each featuring 88 cards. The card giant offered larger sets for the ’89 and ’90 sets, with 110 cards in each of the three series.

As far as my collection of the Big team sets, I have just eleven of the 34 Mariners cards issued between the three seasons.