Do Brawls Belong on Baseball Cards?

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By Ryan Cracknell | Hobby Editor | Commentary

Less than 24 hours after the fact, Rougned Odor versus Jose Bautista is already one of the most famous baseball fights in history. The jury’s still out on whether it will supplant Nolan Ryan teaching Robin Ventura a lesson back in 1993, but the visual of Odor’s fist connecting with Bautista’s face is a one that’s tough to forget. Plus there’s the history that comes with the backstory of the Bautista batflip against the Rangers in the 2015 postseason.

It didn’t take long for people call on Topps to add the moment to their ongoing 2016 Topps Now Baseball set that creates cards the day after an event happens. I freely admit I’d buy one. And I have a hunch that I’d be far from the only one. Given the nature of the event and the buzz such a card would create, it’d stand a good chance of leaving Bartolo Colon’s home run card in the dust as far as print runs go.

Instead, the Topps Now offerings for Sunday’s games highlight Carlos Beltran, Danny Valencia and Kendrys Morales and their notable home runs.

Despite the obvious demand for an Odor-Bautista base-brawl card (at least in my Twitter feed), it never happened. It begs the question, should we be putting scraps and unsavory behavior on cards, no matter how in the moment they are?

Baseball isn’t known for its violence. Brawls pop up every now and again, usually stemming from mysterious unwritten rules. But it’s a sport that maintains an image of being family-friendly and heavy on sportsmanship. At least on the surface. Plenty of calls are argued and some dirt gets kicked every now and again. That’s what makes these moments so memorable. Because they’re out of character. Even when it came to guys like Billy Martin, most games he was on his best behavior.

I stand firm in believing that the best sports cards capture a moment. They’re a way of immortalizing an event.

2016 Topps 96 Jose Bautista

The near real-time nature of 2016 Topps Now does that like no set before it. That’s why there was such clamoring to see an Odor-Bautista card happen. Because we’ve seen the future and we want it good, bad and ugly.

I also see baseball cards as a kind of hero worship. We chase after cards of our favorite players and teams, filling boxes and binders along the way. They not only immortalize moments but players and careers as well. Do we want to celebrate our heroes in ways that, in many eyes, make baseball look bad? Do we want to honor violence in a non-violent sport? Like I said, I’d buy the card in a heartbeat. But I also understand where other people are coming from thinking the opposite.

Major League Baseball is a billion-dollar industry. As such, there’s an image that has to be maintained. I can’t speak for anyone at the company, but I suspect at least some in the office would have loved such a card. And the sales it might have brought in would probably excite another portion of the office.

But Topps just can’t put anything they want on a card. Everything has to be approved. Twice. Every image on every card requires the blessing of both MLB and the Player’s Association. So even if one of those bodies is okay with pushing the limits on such a card, the other can still squash it.

And let’s be honest, it’s fair. Immortalizing a moment that resulted in several ejections and will likely lead to some fines and suspensions isn’t in the best interests of baseball. No matter how much we want to cheer for these moments (like the guy in the red Rangers jersey in the background who was on his feet before Bautista’s sunglasses were on the ground), when you stop to think about it at its most carnal, it’s barbaric. Violence isn’t something we generally promote as a society unless it’s in a sanctioned forum like boxing and MMA.

That said, I fall in the same camp as the Rangers fan. I might not be getting on my feet to cheer or shake a fist in disgust but I have watched the punch over and over and over again. It led me to go back and watch Ventura-Ryan a couple of times as well. I even showed the brawl to my daughter — twice. For me to say I’m against baseball fights would probably seem a little hypocritical.

I’ll say I’m not against the occasional outpouring of emotion, as long as it’s not to the point where someone gets hurt.

But if MLB and the MLBPA would allow for a baseball card to happen, they’d not only be sending a statement that brawls were okay but it would undermine their rules and authority. That’s not good for baseball. And what would it be for? A few thousand dollars and a short time in the graces of some baseball fans and card collectors.

If you truly are disappointed that there’s no Topps Now card, the Internet didn’t disappoint. They gave us a few cards to enjoy and ask, “What If?”



As for the history of trading card violence, you don’t have to look far. Besides numerous entertainment licenses like The Walking Dead and other movies and shows, boxing, MMA and wrestling all display violent behavior. I think the difference here is their nature. MMA is violent. Boxers punch each other in the head all the time. And I’m pretty sure I have more than a few cards featuring HBK’s Superkick and Stone Cold Stunners (sorry, but I have a hard time classifying Hulk Hogan’s Leg Drop of Doom as violence). But that’s what these sports are about. As a result, we end up with stuff like this.

2009 Topps UFC Round 1 Forrest Griffin

A more fair comparison would be to look to hockey cards. It’s a sport that’s known for its violence but it’s still against the rules. A couple of years ago, In the Game released a couple of sets dedicated to Enforcers. However, these weren’t licensed by the NHL or NHLPA. There have been several licensed sets with inserts for tough guys and league leader cards for players with the most penalty minutes. But actual hockey fights on an NHL card? I can only think of one and it’s from 1973-74.

1973-74 OPC Phil Roberto

So even in a sport where a certain level of physically is accepted, that doesn’t translate into trading cards. One (and maybe a couple of others) out of the thousands of hockey cards that have been made since doesn’t establish a pattern of acceptability.

Am I disappointed there’s no card of Jose Bautista’s flying sunglasses? Selfishly, yes. Do I understand why it was never meant to be? Absolutely. Do fights belong on baseball cards? Probably not, but I don’t think many would complain if one popped up every now and again, even as a discussion piece.

Comments? Questions? Contact Ryan Cracknell on Twitter @tradercracks.

When you click on links to various merchants on this site, like eBay, and make a purchase, this can result in this site earning a commission.

Ryan Cracknell

A collector for much of his life, Ryan focuses primarily on building sets, Montreal Expos and interesting cards. He's also got one of the most comprehensive collections of John Jaha cards in existence (not that there are a lot of them). Got a question, story idea or want to get in touch? You can reach him by email and through Twitter @tradercracks.

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  1. Justin Vick 16 May, 2016 at 19:50

    I think it would be fun to collect an insert set of some of a given sport’s greatest confrontations, brawls and temper tantrums. A luxury brand catering to adults would work. Yea yea…MLB, NBA and NFL each care about their image. Yea yea…we gotta set a good example for kids.

    • Ryan Cracknell 16 May, 2016 at 20:05

      As the article states, it’s more than just a Topps decision. It requires approvals on multiple levels as well. It’s a lot more than a money decision.

  2. John Bateman 16 May, 2016 at 20:23

    I believe that a 2004 Topps Highlights card feature a fighting incident between the Red Sox and Yankees from the 2003 Playoffs.

  3. Larry 16 May, 2016 at 22:53

    Yes, yes they do if it’s a great moment in time. And the Odor TKO definitely was a great moment

  4. Mark Davidson 17 May, 2016 at 10:55

    What an unbelievably stupid idea and article. You might as well be arguing for Topps to make cards celebrating streakers and field invaders too. Fighting is NOT part of baseball, and MLB would never ever allow this to happen. Topps has the sole licensing rights from MLB, and MLB enforces very strict rules about what they can and cannot show.

    Children DO buy these, you know. Its not all about middle aged men pissing away their disposable income.

    You wasted a lot of bandwidth and your own time writing this. You really did. Grow up.

    • Ryan Cracknell 17 May, 2016 at 11:05

      Thanks for your opinion. The choice to pose the piece as a question was intentional as there are two sides to the discussion, which I tried to convey. Yes, I’d buy one but I also understand the image concerns, approvals and such, even touching on some deeper issues and repurcussions. If such a card were made, it would create a lot of controversy for sure.

      But if the card were produced as part of the “Topps Now” line, it would leave the choice up to the consumer. You’re choosing to buy or not buy the card. Also, because you need a credit card, it wouldn’t necessarily be targeting kids at all. The frameset of Topps Now is to also chart the big moments of the season. Good or bad, the brawl was a big moment that continues to be discussed and debated.

      There is no right or wrong answers with opinion, but a good discussion is always a good thing.

  5. DanM13 17 May, 2016 at 11:45

    A bit salty, aren’t we David? My opinion is, when I see boxing and wrestling cards obviously aimed for kids at Walmart and Target, then why can’t we see perhaps an insert set highlighting the game’s most famous scraps? (Also, while totally unrelated, if Hasbro, or whatever the company was, can create a Han Solo action figure including a torture device, aimed for kids to play with, then it seems reasonable to me that Topps can expose the fights that make the game interesting. Just my thoughts.)

  6. Richard 17 May, 2016 at 14:55

    There is a kind of difference in these images.
    The Ryan giving noogies to Robin Ventura is still one of my favorite baseball images. Yes, I did say is was baseball.

    Like it or not, it is an element of the game. One that could be eliminated if they truly wished to do so. All you need to do is punish the guy that starts it harshly like you do using illegal drugs. If throwing a blow cost you, quite literally, millions, you likely won’t do it.

    Thing is, the Ryan one is an image of a young pup getting taught a thing or two by the old man. It was not brutal and bloody, at least not from what we saw on the screen. It was a respect your elders or else type moment. :-)

    I both love and hate the next day card concept.
    I love it because it gives the people the supply they ask for. I hate it because I’m a set builder and putting this set together, even at the best price, is too expensive. Especially since I’m positive that Topps will come out with a factory set at some point, likely with a minor change to ensure they are different so as to preserve their ability to do this again next year.

    If they were smart, I see a way they could make even more money from this program.

  7. RJ 17 May, 2016 at 15:40

    All things being equal, since kids are hopefully still buying cards, maybe don’t insert them in packs. But if a grownup wants to buy one online of say, the Odor-Batista KO, I don’t have a problem with that.

  8. phillies_joe 18 May, 2016 at 12:08

    I as a parent, try to shield my kids as much as possible from any violence. I’m 100% against this in packs, but a Topps Now card would be ok,,,because as you stated, the consumer decides weather to buy or not a particular card.

    As a parent also, I like teaching my girls that for every action there is a correlating re-action (right or wrong, doesn’t matter….it happens. So think before you act). You fling your bat and stare a pitcher down… get plunked. You slide too aggresivly at somebody who is already mad at you and didn’t have the chance to hit you with a pitch, you get clocked. You clock somebody, you get suspended.

  9. David Brown 24 May, 2016 at 06:50

    I think if there are any cards made of this fight it should say to be continued on the back. If Texas makes it to the post season you can expect a WARM welcome from us north of the border.

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