A long-held theory of mine is as follows: The biggest problem with unlicensed cards is not so much that they don’t have MLB logos, but more that they don’t have logos at all.
A logo-less cap looks like the equipment manager made a run to an Army/Navy Store and bought a bunch of $2.99 caps. A blank jersey looks like a salesman’s sample.
Nobody at any level, pro or amateur, wears blank caps and jerseys. As a result, it looks completely wrong. I think your visual cortex immediately just slaps a “WRONG!” label on it, and by the time it gets to your consciousness it’s already been red-flagged.
Fake logos have been done before, but not always with the greatest of effort.
This is kind of odd, because they made the effort of shading the left side of the “N”, but the angle and perspective is off, so it just looks fakey fake.
Since I never need much of an excuse to play around with custom cards, I decided to put my theory to something of a test. To give myself a context for my experiments, let’s say that the MLB Players’ Association has given me a license to produce a set, but MLB has not. As the MLBPA is my sole licensor, I will emphasize the PLAYER. The card should feature the player’s name and position, and feature a photo which lets you see what the player looks like… No “catcher wearing his mask and chest protector” or “batter with his back to the camera” shots.
The 1988 Score design is ideal for a set like this… appealing, colorful, classic (to me, anyway), and with no reference on the front to a team. Perfect!
…And look at that, without even trying, Score had made this Willie Randolph the perfect unlicensed card… Not a logo in sight! (Unless the Yankees regard navy pinstripes as part of their trademark, which wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest).
I know from experience that it’s not an impossible task to photoshop a player so that he appears to be on another team, so it seems obvious that we should be able to do a reasonable job of photoshopping a player into a fictional uniform.
But what kind of logos should be used on a card like this?
My initial thought was just to have an arbitrary symbol featured on the cap. Silly me, my first thought was that an asterisk would work well… but then I realized that some players who have been tied to pharmaceutical improprieties would not look favorably on being depicted with an asterisk on their hat.
I played with the idea of a set called “Hashtag” which would feature the word “HASHTAG” on the jerseys and a “#” on the caps, but I wasn’t satisfied with the results.
This is where I started to merge in another idea that’s been rattling around in my head for a couple of years…
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a guy who calls himself “Joe Shlabotnik” has a soft spot for the underdog. One particular type of player that intrigues me are the ones who constantly show up on the “Transactions” page on mlb.com. Those guys who haven’t quite proven themselves enough to stick on a 40-man roster, but who show enough promise that they are quickly claimed on waivers.
Some of these guys get shuffled around from organization to organization, never staying in one place for too long. I think of guys like this as “The 41st Man”, and if there were ever a group of players who were perfectly suited to appear on cards that are unlicensed by MLB, it’s these nomads.
After I’d settled on the “41st Man” theme for the customs, I whipped up a logo for the cards, one which used the original Score logo as a starting point…
…And I also whipped up an all-purpose “41” logo that can be used on caps or other places.
With template and logos in hand, I whipped up customs for two guys who have been well-traveled in 2016.
First attempt, pitcher Donn Roach. Roach has made a career out of playing “musical organizations”.
He was drafted by the Angels in 2010, traded to the Padres in 2012, made his MLB debut in 2014 and was lost to the Cubs after the season. In 2015 he pitched one game for the Cubs before being claimed on waivers by the Reds in July. That August, he was claimed on waivers by the Blue Jays. After the 2015 season, he became a free agent and signed with the Mariners. This year, he pitched some for the M’s, mostly in AAA, before being claimed on waivers by the Tigers. A few days ago he was claimed by the Athletics, and last night he was the starting pitcher for AAA Nashville in the Pacific Coast League playoffs (and took the loss despite giving up just one earned run in 5 innings).
The second attempt features outfielder Oswaldo Arcia. After the 2012 season, Arcia was ranked by Baseball America as the Twins’ #3 prospect and the #41 prospect in all of baseball. His stock has fallen a bit since then.
Arcia has power potential, but hasn’t fielded well or hit for average. Back in June, the Twins gave up on Arcia and traded him to the Rays. Two months later, the Rays put Arcia on waivers and the Marlins claimed him. Four days and two games later, the Marlins put him on waivers and the Padres claimed him. For the season he’s batting .219 with 8 homers, 17 runs and 23 RBI. Is he David Ortiz all over again, as some Twins fans fear? Time will tell.
Getting back to the original subject… I’ll admit, doing something like this would require additional effort for each card, perhaps more than a card company is willing to put into a set… but this isn’t about “is it feasible?”, it’s about “is it better?”
I think it’s a definite improvement, but I’m still not sure that having fake logos is going to make anyone forget that the card is unlicensed.
What do you think? Is this idea an improvement on the unlicensed cards we have, or does it just make for a different kind of crappy-looking unlicensed card?