I began this blog with a lengthy post about why I continue to buy Topps baseball cards. I’m not linking to it because, at the moment, I find myself vehemently disagreeing with it.
I was gifted a couple packs of Topps products for Easter, which cumulatively had more things wrong with them than I choose to enumerate.
(OK, I’ll list a few. How about old photos poorly digitized; new digital photos poorly and unconvincingly “aged;” and gimmicky subsets that seem to have no reason to exist?)
I am most ripped, however, about pulling the following card:
I did not realize this until today, but apparently, Topps has “retired” the No. 7 card in each year’s set in honor of Mickey Mantle. The No. 7 slot in each year’s card set is now devoted to a Mantle card designed in the style being used that year.
I’m not sure why they do this. But it feels like a wet kiss — and no, “wet kiss” wasn’t the first metaphor I thought of — to the Billy Crystals of the world, all those nostalgic sixtyish Yankees fans in the Tri-State Area. (Apparently they’re the target audience for cards now.)
Seriously. If anyone from that era deserves a tribute card, how about players who wrung every ounce out of their prodigious gifts — like Roberto Clemente, Bob Gibson or Frank Robinson? I doubt there was one day in 1,000 when Clemente or Robinson were too hung over to get around on a high fastball, or when Gibson had too much of a katzenjammer to throw one.
Or what about guys like Al Kaline and Carl Yastrzemski, whose careers were shorter on flashy moments and World Series rings but long on consistency, hard work and determination?
But no, we get the golden boy from New York, the center of baseball’s universe. Giving Mickey Mantle a tribute card is like filling a history textbook with dead white European males. It’s obvious, it’s pandering and it does a disservice to everyone else.
The card itself, meanwhile, does neither Topps nor its subject any favors. It appears to show Mantle cueing a foul down the third-base line to stay alive on a two-strike pitch. (That may be just my interpretation … but the position of his hands and his facial expression do not suggest to me that he’s just put one over the wall.)
You’ll notice that the Mick looks kind of pallid. That’s not the work of my scanner. He really does look pale, especially compared to the vibrant skin tones of today’s players as shown in the other cards in the pack.
Not sure how they might have punched that up — God knows Topps has a long record of misadventures in trying to edit pictures — but it doesn’t make Mantle look particularly healthy, or even particularly alive.
Speaking of which, the really weird part, IMHO, is on the back of the card:
If you look at the bio information at the top of the card — above the stats — you’ll see it includes Mantle’s birthdate, but no indication of his death.
Seriously: It says “Born 10-20-31, Spavinaw, OK Home: Commerce, OK,” as if you could mail your card to Commerce and get Mantle to sign it.
I have no idea why Topps wouldn’t include a reference to Mantle’s death on his card. (Surely they do not pretend that they are trying to shield young card collectors from the notion of death.)
To me, it suggests a warped, unreal sort of fantasy. Not only will Topps put yesterday’s hero on a card year after year, they’ll pretend he’s still alive. And we can all just close our eyes and imagine that he might come back, hitting between A-Rod and Mark Teixeira, patrolling center field at the New Stadium with speed, power, grace and an occasional country-boy smile.
One could argue that a mention of Mantle’s death might, in a few households at least, lead to a productive discussion between parents and children about the effects of long-term alcohol abuse.
And, one could argue that a little balance — not negativity, just balance — makes any tribute that much more well-rounded and complete. I’m not suggesting that they discuss his personal shortcomings, just that they acknowledge that he’s no longer alive.
But death does not become a hero. And so, in Topps’ alternate universe, Mickey Mantle is alive and (presumably) well in Oklahoma. He’s probably off the booze, and going to church every Sunday, and ruffling the tously hair of young Little Leaguers.
And all the other teams are just satellites rotating around the Yankees … and New York is where anything worth talking about happens … and talented young players are only a phone call to Kansas City away … and Dan Topping and Del Webb are beaming paternally … and a sudsy river of Ballantine beer flows without end, forever and ever, amen.
How ironic, and perhaps sad, that a card of Mickey Mantle should summon such images of pure, uncut Yankees Hell.