I used to be a major baseball card collector. I still have tens of thousands of them in the basement, but almost none of them are newer than, oh, 1990 or so. Just kind of lost the thread. Girls and stuff got more interesting for me in the late 80s. And then the companies all decided to come out with 27 different sets and special editions and things. It was just too much pressure for a guy who prided himself on being something of a completist.
It’s a totally different baseball card world now than it was 20-25 years ago, but I have a lot of friends who have continued to collect. One of them is Cee Angi, the newest contributor to The Platoon Advantage. But she, like several others I know, are poised to give it up. The reason? The Topps monopoly is leading to crappy cards:
Ever since Topps monopoly began as the “Official Card of Major League Baseball” they have really jumped the shark on card quality, creativity, but especially photo-selection and editing. One would assume that the improvement of technology would lead to a better baseball card, but they seem to be on the decline at a rapid pace.
Cee hates the 2012 set. A lot of cards have pictures taken with obstructions and — inexcusably for a company that has the official imprimatur of Major League Baseball — feature pictures taken through the screen behind home plate, with visible net.
The last time Topps let quality slide like this was in the late 70s and early 80s. It led to Fleer and Donruss getting in the game and cards becoming awesome for a good while. Let’s hope that happens again. Because the beauty of baseball cards, even in a digital age, is to bring us closer to the players and give us something that sitting in the stands and watching on TV just can’t do.
And the 2012 Topps set just doesn’t seem to be too interested in that.
All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.
The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.
It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.
It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.
Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉