Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Art of Design (plus a trade with Jeremy)

Despite having moved a decent amount over the years and made several larger purges of various items for the sake of space, I have managed to retain a decent amount of things from my childhood. For the most part, my saved bags of stuffed animals, dinosaur figures, and cars handcrafted by my grandfather do not serve a practical purpose. However, simply looking through those meager caches never fails to bring back waves of positive nostalgia, so one can fairly argue that they are far more purposeful than most things whose roles are based around practicality. While I am not great at the tidying aspect of Marie Kondo's tenets of organization, at least the concept of keeping things that bring me joy has taken hold.
2003 Topps - Rusty Greer
(Custom by Jeremy)

That said, there are definitely a few things from my youth that I wish that I still had on hand. I have previously mentioned that most of my cards from the late 1980s and early 1990s were worn out to the point that they were discarded due to me being wonky about cards with major dings. This occurred in large part due to the fact that I often changed how I organized my collection - by set, then team, then individual player, then in batting orders for sim teams, then something else no doubt. On the positive side, I derived a lot of enjoyment from all of those efforts, so they served a strong purpose before effectively being worn out and I can understand why they are gone.

I am less sure of why I threw out a few other things, though. One was a massive collection of animal information cards that were designed in a manner very similar to recipe cards and stored in a similar type of container. Much like Lisa Simpson's attempts to teach Maggie that nature doesn't end at the barnyard, the monthly arrival of these cards were highlights of my young life as they informed me in great visual and written detail about the axolotl, aye-aye, and other fun animals - some of which did not start with the letter "a"! This collection disappeared between our move from Ridgefield to Bethel, although it still puzzles me as to why given that the storage container was not overly large and the cards themselves were in fine shape. Similarly, my collection of notebooks is almost totally comprised of items recorded since I moved to Danbury in 2010, which is fairly unusual since I have been writing - and drawing - in notebooks since I was very young.


It might be for the best that Baseball-Reference.com did not exist when I was a kid, as I might not have ever logged off of the website had it been established at that time. The amount of random statistical data that I have recorded in the last decade for the purposes of simulations, data tracking for my teams, fantasy sports, or simply entertaining myself in some small way has been staggering enough that I can only wonder what the grand total of time and effort has been put into these various projects. While some may consider these efforts to be pointless and/or wasteful, they often provided a calming influence for me while also deepening my education about baseball itself. By running per-600 PA statistical conversions for career statistics, I was able to recognize the differences in offensive eras before era-adjusted stats were formally introduced, while running simulations with historical batting orders versus ones that, say, did not have the very fast guy with the very low OBP leading off demonstrated the value of lineup construction.
1996 Topps - Mackey Sasser
(Custom by Jeremy)

While those old projects are fun to think about, the notebooks that I wish that I still had were those in which my friends and I designed our own baseball card sets. In the early 1990s, more and more companies were entering the trading card arena, which led to a wider array of graphical, photographic, and creative styles hitting the market. This inspired me, along with my neighbors/friends Katie and Jimmy, to try our hand at coming up with our own designs and player roster construction. From a technical standpoint, Jimmy's designs and illustrations were always going to be the "best." It was hardly a surprise that he would wind up putting his creative skills to work as an architect, as Jimmy's ability to capture personality and key details were evident in the brilliant cartoons that he drew while in middle/high school. Take the judgment of a 10-year-old for whatever it is worth, but card companies would have been wise to utilize Jimmy's designs had, you know, they actually been privy to the designs' existence.

Although I tend to be very critical of my own artistic abilities, I have a very positive memory of the various drawings that all three of us made over two decades ago. While said memories are somewhat cloudy, I do remember a few things from the card sets that I designed. One was that, no matter how small the set was, I always included Mackey Sasser in the roster. I mean, 1992 Upper Deck failed to include either Sasser or Rick Cerone in their set despite the duo combining for over 120 games played behind the plate and over 500 PA, so I was justifiably righting a wrong. Except for including Cerone. Sorry, Rick. ;)

The second detail was that I very shamelessly ripped off aspects of current designs. The home plate on the back of 1992 Triple Play cards? Let's just take that and put it on the front of the card. Pinnacle's "Shades" subset? Those look cool. Into the set they go! I am fairly certain that each drawing of a player looked basically the same in terms of facial construction and features, as I could kind of handle the logos, but was not willing to get into depicting individual physical details. Nonetheless, these little exercises were a fun way to spend creative time with friends and with things that I loved, making it disappointing that those sketches are lost to time.


I was fortunate enough to work out a trade with Jeremy from the amazing blog Topps Cards That Never Were, a site at which Jeremy has posted literally hundreds (if not thousands) of customized Topps cards, including massive projects to create cards for literally every player and coach to appear in certain seasons. Given that well over a thousand players appear in the majors each year and older Topps sets only included 792 cards, these are huge undertakings and really amazing accomplishments - particularly when finding photos of obscure players in the proper uniform proves impossible.
1995 Topps - Matt Merullo
(Custom by Jeremy)

Jeremy's player collection section is brilliantly organized and inspired me to amend my own trade page in a similar fashion. Given the vast amount of players both major and minor in notoriety that Jeremy collects, it was quite fun to go through my collection to see if I indeed had cards of former Lakeland Tigers, members of the Dutch National Team, or any of the other intriguing subsets of individuals that were listed. There were so many players on which to check that I did not actually get to all of them before the storage box that I was using was full, which leaves some potential fun discovery for a future swap.

Jeremy was kind enough to offer to help me finish up the 1992 Topps set that I had largely built thanks to the previously-blogged swap with Tom and did just that. While I can still use a few condition upgrades, a set that would have probably at best been 20% completed with what I had on my own is now at 100% after just two trades, which is so incredibly cool. Thanks, guys!

Jeremy also included several cards of Mackey Sasser, a few of others players that I collect, and some Upper Deck illustrated checklists, all of which are great. The real highlight, though, was the inclusion of several customized cards, which would have made for an awesome swap on their own. In addition to the Mackey Sasser and Rusty Greer customs that are posted here, there were also four of Matt Merullo. For some background information, Merullo is the only player from Ridgefield, CT (he played in RLL for a coach, Dave Scott, who later coached me and then coached with me) to reach the major leagues. His father, Lenny Merullo, is the son of former Chicago Cub second baseman Len Merullo, himself played in the minors before suffering a career-ending injury, and currently coaches with me at RHS. While Matt played for parts of six seasons with three different clubs, including getting some solid playing time with the Twins in 1995, his scope of MLB cards is very limited and only depicts him as a member of the White Sox. To see Matt's career fully covered is exceptionally cool and is something that I will show to his father, as Lenny will surely get a kick out of the designs and creativity. Thanks again, Jeremy!

1 comment:

  1. I've heard a lot about Kondo from my co-workers. She should make a video on how to organize sports cards. If she did, I'd watch it.