Looking back at the history of Topps baseball cards, it’s always interesting to see the oddities that can be found from decades of sets.
You know, the players whose cards had the same photo for a couple straight years or unusual things like the 1985 Topps card of Gary Pettis which actually features his brother.
There are countless examples of these types of cards through the years — for all companies (see Billy Ripken and his 1989 Fleer infamy) — which reaffirms that producing sports cards isn’t all mylar and bubble gum.
It’s hard work. (And the rigorous process of league approvals? We’ll leave that for another day.)
Sometimes things happen in the production process that provide collectors with some unusual cards. Sometimes, it’s a mistake. Sometimes, it’s a requested change or a last-minute adjustment.
And sometimes it’s a mystery.
And with one player this year, I noticed an unusual turn of events — nothing outrageously out of the ordinary — just something I noticed because of my own collecting habits.
Call it the mystery of New York Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher and his 2009 Bowman card.
Swisher’s 2009 Bowman card (up top) shows him in a portrait with his new team. The set arrived in the spring not long after the season began, so it’s definitely a photo from his first spring with the club. It was likely a last-minute inclusion that’s not so surprising given the not-so-subtle ties between Topps and the Yankees through the years.
Just recently, though, 2009 Bowman Chrome arrived with its upgraded versions of the cards — essentially a smaller selection of the same cards printed on plastic “chrome” stock.
But Swisher’s card has a different photo.
It’s one where he’s in pinstripes, too, but it’s definitely a digitally altered photo of him in a Chicago White Sox uniform from last season. Again, that’s nothing out of the ordinary in the sports card world, either, as manufacturers know that collectors want their cards to be as accurate as they can be — and players’ new fan bases will have a lot more love for their new player and, in turn, the memorabilia, if he’s pictured with that new team.
But what’s interesting is that the newest card uses an altered photo from a set that was released early this year (before Bowman), 2009 Topps Heritage, which was a Swisher White Sox card. The wrinkles on the blue backdrop are the same — as are the beaded necklace, Swisher’s expression and the position of the bat and the pinstripes themselves. (It was the slightly over-sized Yankee logo on the cap that gave it away to me besides recognizing the image. You notice those things when it’s your favorite player.)
Which leads me to wonder… why would Topps revert back to an older image, albeit a digitally enhanced one?
It got me looking more closely at the ball and bat on the Bowman card — since it was such an unusual pose — with visions of Billy Ripken or something else odd dancing through my head.
I contacted Topps’ director of product development Clay Luraschi — just for fun, more of an atypical, not-so-serious question — but he couldn’t provide anything definitive.
Chalk it up to just being one of those mysteries of baseball card production. Sure, it could have been changed by Swisher’s (or someone else’s) request. Or it could have been a simple mistake where a readied digital image for Bowman was used for Chrome instead of the newest photograph.
We’ll probably never know.
And the real irony of all this, though? Swisher is not currently slated to have a new Yankees card in Topps Heritage High Number, the updated end-of-year capper to that popular set which arrives in October. (That, of course, is based on the preliminary checklist — and we all know that those things can change.)
Imagine that, a notable Yankee not getting attention from Topps, which is based at 1 Whitehall Street just off Broadway right smack in the heart of Lower Manhattan. In one of the company’s most-popular products, too.
That surprised me — just as much as, if not more than, the photo change. If there’s one rule when it comes to modern-day baseball cards it’s that checklists change all the time.
The photos typically don’t.
Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball and Beckett Graded Card Investor. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an e-mail to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.