Thursday, October 11, 2012

Friends Don't Let Friends Airbrush

Two weeks ago Topps released its third and final installment of its base product for the year.  The Update set included the usual assortment or rookies and traded players from the baseball season, but also included one curious baseball card of Brian Fuentes.

2012 Topps Update Brian Fuentes 

Any guesses as to what is wrong with this picture?  It would appear that Topps placed Fuentes in a Cardinals uniform wearing the uniform number 57.  The 57 jersey number has not been worn by a Cardinals player since June 22, 2002 when the late Darryl Kile died in his hotel room in Chicago.  Buy a Tony LaRussa book and you can read about the whole thing.  Now, the number is not on the left-field wall where all the retired numbers of the Cardinals are recognized.  It's not even listed on the website.  However, there is a plaque in the Cardinals bullpen and more curiously if you try to buy a customized 57 jersey from the Cardinals or MLB the website will turn you down.  

Obviously some people were a little steamed that this card was issued and Topps acted about two or three weeks too late and issued a statement:

"We do our best to include all traded players and call ups in product, in effort to do this sometimes requires us to photoshop and made decisions upfront to get done. It appears we made mistakes on this card in effort to include. We apologize, Thank you."

So, in other words the quality and historical accuracy of the product means very little to Topps these days.  It's more important to get those cards in the packs and get them into the card shops and Target as quickly as possible.  A discussion ensued one morning on Twitter with a fellow Blogger and a highly respected collector when an employee of said card company wondered into my end of the conversation when I asserted that Topps would probably not make these types of errors with Yankees players.  Struck a nerve indeed.

The direct message read "This is about getting a product out by a deadline and it can't always be perfect.  Just look at Mark Mulder.  We messed up that airbrush and only some people got upset"

I knew of no such error on an airbrushed Mulder card, so I had to go look for myself.  Now, to the calendars credit the Cardinals and A's surprised everyone that offseason with the trade on December 18th, 2004.  The first series of Topps was released a month before the trade and prevent Topps from doing their usual airbrush butchering of a card.

2005 Topps Mark Mulder Series 1

Now, Topps clearly had time to issue a butchered version of Mulder in series 2 which released in April of that year, or heaven forbid got a current picture from spring training.  Luckily, they left Mulder out of series 2 and issued a picture of him during spring training in their Update set in late October.

2005 Topps Update Mark Mulder

That covers the base sets.  However, it doesn't cover some of the other releases from that year.  For example, this quality piece of air brushing.  

Clearly airburshed.  Note his cleats have somehow turned into low top Moon Boots.  You can also make out that Mulder is wearing the number 20, which is another retired number in St. Louis.  That number has not been worn by a Cardinals September 30, 1979 when Lou Brock retired from the sport. Curiously, Topps is not the only guilty company.  Donruss also placed Mulder in a Lou Brock uniform for at least two of their card releases in 2005.  They do have a better airbrush artist then Topps though.  

2005 Donruss Team Heroes Mark Mulder

2005 Donruss Classics Mark Mulder 

Now, for all the history talk that Topps spews out in their press releases and sets its funny how they seem to not respect it very much when it actually comes down to the cardboard.  This is one team and two different instances, but Topps should take note that there are better ways to handle players changing teams other than airbrushing something randomly at the last minute.  Let's take a look at how Upper Deck and Fleer handled that same trade.  Fleer first.

Now, at the beginning of 2005 Fleer was actually going through bankruptcy.  They had one final release to make in April which was their Fleer Platinum release.  They issued a great card of Mulder in his A's uniform in the follow through of his throwing motion.  Note the card places him on the Cardinals in the bottom right hand corner.  Overall, the card has a clean look with a nice picture.  

2005 Fleer Platinum Mark Mulder

Seems like a pretty sensible way to handle the Mulder trade.  How about Upper Deck?  They did release several Mulder cards that year.  Their first two card releases of 2005 were the Upper Deck ESPN and Upper Deck Artifacts sets.  Just like Fleer, Upper Deck steered clear of airbrushing Mulder in either set.  Instead, they used a picture of Mulder wearing an A's jersey and simply used the Cardinals markings and logos on the cards.  

2005 Upper Deck Artifacts Mark Mulder

2005 Upper Deck ESPN Mark Mulder

Mulder was not included in the early Upper Deck base sets as a Cardinals, but they did include him in their series 2 release during the summer.  Note this card features Mulder in an actual Cardinals uniform and not airbrushed.  

2005 Upper Deck Mark Mulder

So, what can we take away from all of this?  Sure, Topps wants to include players that have changed uniforms in their products and give collectors a chance to see all of the players from their teams in their new uniforms.  However, with the number of card releases that occur every year I don't see why this cannot be done without airbrushing and make absurd inaccurate cards.  Do I want a Brian Fuentes Cardinals card?  Sure, but if it means I have to wait until spring to see the uniform displayed the right way I can live with it.  Topps also should realize that they are the only card company that can display logos and uniforms on their cards.  Do it the right way.   


  1. Ugh, seeing that 57 hit me in the gut. I'm not mad at Topps about it, but any Cardinals fan who's been around since 2002 is going to see that card and know immediately it's wrong. I suppose it's actually more excusable than a #20 Mulder, since there's plenty of places to look up retired numbers, and nothing is official about 57.

    1. These cards are completely inexcusable given the cards companies know they should pull this stuff, but it's just a matter of sheer laziness. Kile died in the middle of the season and he has had one card, a 2002 Upper Deck 40 jersey card, produced in the last ten years. I don't know whether it's his wife's decision, the player's union, or what. If they could make cards of him I don't see why he wouldn't have been in the back half of the 2002 releases or in some of the Fan Favorites releases Topps has put out in the years since. In some of the Twitter circles it's been pointed out that Topps only ignores jersey and number traditions with certain teams.

  2. Great post. I agree with you on most of the points you made. I'm not a fan of airbrushing since most of them turn out comically bad and in Fuentes' case, inaccurate. I also don't particularly care for Donruss and Upper Deck's solution of not airbrushing the jersey but notating the team change with the new logos and wording. I'm A-OK with just waiting for the correct photos to be taken and then used on the cards. I don't think Topps employs a lot of photographers anymore to take photos of the players.

    1. They could easily live without photographers and just buy the rights to photographs from people. I spent the last couple of years watch Justin Ruggiano play for the Durham Bulls and was happy to see him get a chance with the Marlins this season. A week after they called him up I tried to put a picture of him on the background of my computer at work. I literally had 50 choices of an updated Marlins picture of Ruggiano between Google, Yahoo, ESPN, and different photo sharing sites. If I were a business like Topps it wouldn't be hard to buy one of those photos and have an update card available quickly.