Wednesday, March 23, 2011

You've seen the best, now look at the worst Mets cards -- if you dare!

We’ve spent the last couple months looking at the best Mets baseball cards. But its time to look at the flip side, and I don’t mean the place with all the stats.

For every 1986 there is a 1979. Opening Day is nearby, and before we turn away from cards we need to consider the very worst Mets cards offered up by Topps and some of the others companies.

Several things determine a bad card. I’ll allow companies to have an occasional off design, especially when they were issuing dozens of sets for a while.

And you are going to find some dull, lifeless photos. Not every player is Mr. Charisma.

But the ones that get my goat tend to be the cards that show a total lack of caring. We’ve seen great cards, so we know what the companies are capable of. But here’s what happens when they just stop giving a darn.

In year order:

1969 Tommie Agee

Agee played 132 games as a Met in 1968, 61 of them at Shea Stadium, a short drive from the Topps offices. So why does the company show Agee in an old photo in an air-brushed White Sox uniform? It’s not even a classic Topps headshot here, someone airbrushed the uniform. The 1969 set is notorious for its use of recycled photos, even for stars like Tom Seaver. But this just terrible. Tommy deserved better.

1972 Jim Beauchamp

I’ll forgive the airbrushing since Beauchamp arrived in 1972. But couldn’t the photo at least find a shot with his eyes open? It’s not like headshots are all that tough to shoot.

1981 Bill Almon

Hey, Topps photog. When you twist the lens on the front of the camera, you can actually bring things into focus. Brutal.

1983 Rick Ownbey

This is one of Topps best sets, and the design is intended to have a big action shot of a player and a small headshot in the inset. Ownbey appeared in only 8 games in 1982 and 10 in 1983, so I’m glad he has a card at all. But the inset is virtually the same size as the posed shot, and it’s clearly from another shot in the same roll.

1992 Donruss Vince Coleman

Somebody forget to tell the person cropping the photo that we’d rather have a complete Vince in the picture than the complete number 3. This is like a photo of the outfield wall that just happens to include Vice Coleman instead of the other way around.

1992 Topps Stadium Club Bill Pulsipher

Topps did the high school yearbook thing for a number of young players in this set and the Bowman set. I have no idea why. There are too many of these for it to be a fluke, with the company caught without a photo. And the glove shows that there was some thought in the pose. But the shirt, the hair and the off-camera glance make this the worst of a bad bunch.

1997 Fleer Metal Mark Clark

I’m not panning Fleer for trying something a little – well, a lot – different with the fantasy inspired Metal sets. Some of them are pretty cool in an odd kind of way. But it seems like they forgot to include Mark Clark in this Mark Clark card. I look at this and expect to see the stats for the fire-breathing monster on the back.

2004 Upper Deck Play Ball Jose Reyes

This is an artsy painting of Jose Reyes. I know this because it says “Jose Reyes” on the bottom, and not because the painting above bears even the slightest resemblance to our favorite shortstop.

2005 Donruss Champions Roger Cedeno

I’m using this one card to call attention to an entire set. This was a premium issue. I know the companies were looking for some niche audiences. This must be the set aimed at people who didn’t want photos of baseball players cluttering up their bland background baseball cards.

2005 Topps Gallery Kaz Matsui

I suspect this might have been a nice painting of Matsui before some intern left it out in the rain. I know, the Gallery cards where supposed to be artsy fartsy. This painting might even work as a program cover or something. But it’s not a baseball card.

2010 Topps National Chicle Nolan Ryan

I know it looks like I’m down on the art cards. That’s not true, as you can tell from the previous posts. But I’m down on bad art cards. I’d say that it’s nice Topps hired Mrs. Cooper’s third-graders to illustrate a set, but I don’t want to be unkind to third-graders. This looks more like John Maine than Nolan Ryan. Heck, it looks more like me than Nolan Ryan.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Last looks at Topps' rivals in Mets cards

The folks at Topps must have felt too threatened by the first couple Fleer and Donruss sets, but it didn’t take all that long for the rivals to get better. By the time Upper Deck and Score joined the field, Topps was the choice for loyalists, but not necessarily those who demanded quality above all else.

This is not to say that everything issued by the newcomers was first-rate. But there were some glorious moments of Mets on cardboard, as we wrap up our look at favorite non-Topps Mets.

1990 Donruss Dwight Gooden and Sid Fernandez

The 1990 Donruss set has no business being as good as it is. Splattered paint, bright red borders, the drabbest possible backs, “error cards” and massive over-production is not a recipe for a classic issue. But somehow it works. This is one of my favorite sets.

Donruss filled this with great action cards, like this Dwight Gooden, and nice portraits, like El Sid.
1998 Donruss Don Darling.

Not the best Donruss design, but I like this Darling portrait because we get a great view of the script New York the Mets wore on the road uniforms for only the 1987 season. Am I the only one who likes that uniform?

1998 Studio Dwight Gooden, 2003 Al Leiter and 2004 Mike Piazza

I wasn’t too keen on the idea of a black and white set when Studio made its debut, but some of those portraits are beautiful. And Donruss soon found different ways to showcase the portraits, with backgrounds of lockers, cap logos, patches, stadiums and cityscapes.

2004 Donruss Team Heroes Kaz Matsui

Remember how excited we all were when the Mets signed Matsui? Our own Ichiro! Well, that didn’t turn out as we hoped. But I like this card showing Kaz after his introduction press conference posing in Times Square.

1999 Fleer Turk Wendell

Fleer had some great designs. The 1999 set wasn’t one of them. But I love this portrait of Turk and his tooth and claw necklace. Certainly one of the more colorful Mets, Wendell was actually a pretty good reliever, too.

2001 Fleer Ultra Todd Zeile

Ultra was Fleer’s answer to Topps’ Stadium Club, and was usually a decent set. Everything seems to work in this action shot of Zeile, with the pinstripes, the foul line and lots of Pete Flynn’s manicured grass.

Upper Deck Vintage Tom Seaver

UD tried to tap into the Topps devoted fan base by aping some of the company’s best designs for its retro Vintage sets. This set copies the 1965 design, and it gets points for showing Seaver from the 1983 homecoming season, which can’t be saluted enough!

2001 Upper Deck Legends Tom Seaver

Sometimes UD even used one of its own designs for veteran players. I don’t think I’d seen this nice, relaxed Seaver portrait before this issue.

1992 Upper Deck John Franco

I used to argue that that Mets should retire Franco’s number. Now I’m not so sure, but he should most definitely be in the Mets Hall of Fame.

2001 Upper Deck and 2008 Upper Deck David Wright

Now, I do think David Wright will earn his way on to the wall with Casey, Gil, Tom and Jackie – and someday Mike. This posed portrait is a little odd because he’s wearing a jersey with a 2000 World Series patch, a series he didn’t play in. In fact, he was drafted with the pick the Mets earned for losing Mike Hampton, one of the stars of that postseason

I like that Upper Deck used this photo from the All-Star Game, snapped after Wright hit his home run.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Wait, companies other than Topps made baseball cards too? Here are some of the best Mets

Now that we’ve counted down the Topps top 60 of all time and even added a bunch on to that, I think it’s fair to acknowledge that there are some amazing cards that were, in fact, not produced by Topps.

At the risk of completely beating the baseball card theme to death and then some, I want to point out some of the sweet Mets cards by other companies, all of which have since been banished. And it’s better than reading more about Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo.

This isn’t a countdown and is by no means exhaustive, but just some of the finest work from Topps’ vanquished rivals – part one.

1991 Score Dream Team Frank Viola and 1992 Upper Deck Bret Saberhagen.

Sweet Music Viola and Saberhagen were the two most heralded Mets hurler acquisitions prior to Johan Santana. Viola delivered, by and large, becoming the last Mets pitcher to win 20 games. Saberhagen, arrived in New York with two Cy Young Awards on his mantle, and well, didn’t add a third.

But both posed with big apples to show at least the appearance of devotion to our favorite city. Viola’s a New Yorker by birth and Saberhagen, well, likely did what the photographer told him to do.

True story: When people work for my newspaper for 10 years they are asked to pose for a photo that is used to make a little cutout figure that lines the walls of the cafeteria. I noticed that one employee posed in his Mets jersey with a big apple, a shot that might have been inspired by these cards.

2007 Upper Deck Endy Chavez

Endy’s NLCS Game Seven act of superhuman fielding is possibly the most glorious catch in Mets history, with apologies to Mr. Agee and Mr. Swoboda. Too bad Yadier Bleeping Molina had to go and ruin things. Topps used the photo for one half of a postseason card, but Upper Deck gave the moment the attention it deserves.

1984 Fleer Darryl Strawberry

To their credit, the folks at Fleer knew how to keep a design nice and simple, and not detracting from the photo. Sadly, the photos were often kind of lacking. But this card of a youthful Straw in his first full year is darn near perfect.

1986 Donruss Gary Carter

No design was too busy for Donruss, however. Sometimes it worked well, and the 1986 set was one of the company’s best. For some reason, the photos seemed particularly crisp. I love the lighting on this action shot showing Kid at the tail end of his swing, watching the flight of the ball before chugging down the basepath.

2008 Upper Deck Goudey Tom Seaver

I like retro sets, in theory. But some of the ones that have artwork instead of photos are pretty nasty, almost as if the task was delegated to Mrs. Jackson’s third-graders on finger-paint day.

But when the companies decide to make a set special, and not just something to justify the inserts, the results can be spectacular. This Tom Terrific card from Upper Deck’s Goudey set hits the mark and then some.

2007 Upper Deck Goudey Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado

Upper Deck had a good run with these sets. A year before the Seaver gem, the company used most of the artwork in the backgrounds. The Beltran card recalls the old-school ballparks. The Delgado card goes one step beyond, with the pose, the smile, the sun illuminating his face.