Thoughts As To Why Morrow And Nunez Appear Twice In Heritage High #’s

There are people who are shouting about Topps’ incompetence after two players, Eduardo Nunez and Brandon Morrow, each appear on two different cards in the 2018 Topps Heritage High Numbers base set.

Now this type of thing is not completely unheard of.  In 2015, Casey McGehee appeared in both the regular Heritage set as well as Heritage High Numbers even though he did not change teams.

The same thing happened last year with Aroldis Chapman.

I know the easy path is to say that Topps screwed up, but I think there’s more to it than that.

The main thing to keep in mind is that Heritage all but requires posed photos, or at least candid portraits of players.  Topps can’t just go out to Getty Images and grab an action shot of a player and use it on a Heritage card, it wouldn’t look right and people would get upset.  Remember, action shots were still a few years away during 1969.

The way I see it, there are a couple of scenarios that might have caused checklist problems for Topps, and I’m going to run through those to show how their options may have been limited when the time came to finalize the High Numbers checklist.

At the beginning of Spring Training, Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman would be a decent bet for a list of potential High Numbers candidates… While he wasn’t good in 2017, he was only a year removed from a season where he had gone 16-6, 3.77 and was arguably the O’s best starter.

But guess what? 2016 turned out to be a trend, not an aberration, the O’s cut Tillman loose and he ends up spending the rest of the season as a Rangers minor leaguer. You might have photos of Tillman, but he’s no longer a candidate for your 250 card checklist.

This gets a reaction from our unofficial Topps spokesperson:

Eloy Jimenez is generally regarded as one of baseball’s top prospects, and with a long season ahead for the woeful White Sox, there may have been hope that the Southsiders would call him up and he could have a rookie card in High Numbers…


…But the White Sox stick to their guns and leave him in the minors.  That’s another player you’ve lost from your checklist.

Oh, but look at Jose Bautista!  He signed a minor league contract with the Braves over the winter and he’s going to make the team.  He’d be a perfect candidate for High Numbers!  We’ve got to make sure we’ve got a photo of him!

Oh, but the Braves cut him loose in May and the Mets pick him up (plus he’d be traded to the Phillies at the deadline).  You’ve got the photos, but they’re already out of date!

At the end, you find yourself two players short of a full 250 card checklist, and you’re running out of time. There are no subsets in the High #’s base set, so you can’t just fill in the space with a couple of extra “Topps News” All-Stars.  What do you do?  Perhaps the easiest course of action is to pick two players to duplicate in the checklist and hope that collectors see it as a sort of Allen & Ginter “quirky” rather than a failure.

Hold on… One of my staff  members just burst in the room with a piece of paper… It’s a question just in from the blogosphere…

WHAT ABOUT MAX MUNCY????

Muncy had signed a minor league contract with the Dodgers and has hit 35 regular season homers to go with 75 runs, 79 RBI and a .263 average while playing several positions.  He’s appeared on a number of Topps Now cards, but has not appeared on a single pack-issued card since 2015.  So, indeed… what *is* up with Max Muncy?

I have two thoughts on that.

First off, perhaps there’s some sort of contractual issue which prevents Topps from putting him on anything but on-demand cards.  Muncy may be following in the recent footsteps of Ichiro, Andrew Miller and Matt Wieters.

The other possibility?

OK, well, maybe Topps *is* incompetent.

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Custom Sunday: Moving In Twenty Different Directions

Things are a bit up in the air here in the Custom Card Department of The Shlabotnik Report. I’ve been working on bringing my 2018 TSR set to a satisfying conclusion, getting templates ready for the Hot Stove season, playing around with Football customs and brainstorming ideas for the 2019 design.

The end result is a lot of progress, but not a lot of completed customs. As a result, today’s post is a bit more disjointed than usual.

A little over a week ago I was weirding out about how Ron Santo had batted .267 in three of four seasons towards the end of his career (1970, 1972 and 1973). “What are the odds?”, I wondered.

Well the odds are somewhat less than batting .247 four seasons in a row, like the Athletics’ Khris Davis has done. For some completely unfathomable reason, this didn’t generate a Topps Now card, so I went ahead and did a ShlabotNOW card to fill in the void.

Statistically speaking, it might be more impressive to say that there have been only two seasons in his six major league seasons where he did *not* bat .247… and if he had 2 more hits and one more at bat in 2014, he would’ve batted .247 that season as well.

I mentioned before that I was wrapping up my 2018 TSR custom set. In that light, here is the last of the manager cards, the Mets’ Mickey Callaway.

All 30 teams have been represented in my manager subset, but there were a few managers who were fired before I got to their team (i.e. Bryan Price & Mike Metheny). There are currently five vacancies for manager jobs and interestingly enough they’re all in the American League.

I’ve been sitting on this “Pointless Pairings” idea all seasons, but I only recently finished the custom.

In a different type of pointless pairing, here’s another classically bad “combo card” featuring heavily hyped rookies; in this case it’s Ronald Acuna, along with one of last year’s rookies, Rafael Devers.

Finally, here’s one of those football customs I mentioned, a template I’ve been having fun with lately.  As much as the NFL has become about passing these days, it’s kind of nice to see a running back having success, so I created a custom for the Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott.

Elliott is currently leading the league in rushing yards, and last week he rushed for 152 yards and (yeah, OK, fine) had 88 receiving yards on top of it.

I don’t know if next week’s post will be any more cohesive, but I will say that I’m excited about some of the customs I’ve got coming down the road… I’m counting on the offseason to give me the time to do that.

2018 TSR: The Last Day Of The Season

With two divisions still up in the air and the last day of the regular season upon us – unless there’s a tie for the NL Central or West divisions – I naturally decided to focus on a couple of the other stories of the weekend.

First off… David Wright.  I had my doubts as to whether I would be making a custom of David Wright in 2018, given his physical issues over recent years. As things worked out, he will be declared medically ineligible to play, but before he went he got a nice sendoff from the team and from Mets fans last night.

Wright pinch hit on Friday night, and last night he got his final start, taking 3rd base next to long-time teammate Jose Reyes. He got two at-bats and one fielding chance, and came out on to the field at the top of the 5th when he was pulled in a defensive change which gave him another chance to tip his cap to the Mets faithful.

Fortunately for me, MLB.TV is free this whole weekend, so I got to watch the beginning and end of the game. A nice evening all around and a great way for David Wright to ride off into the sunset.

Next up is a custom in my new “ShlabotNOW…Or Later”, addressing those moments from the season which Topps NOW neglected to address.

The Orioles Chris Davis broke a record that nobody wants to break… Of all the batters in Major League history who qualified by having 3.1 at bats for every game his team played in a given season, Chris Davis now has the lowest batting average ever, finishing with a .168 average.

Although Davis is healthy, the Orioles announced that he would not play at all this weekend, so he’s not going to get a chance to improve on this saddest of achievements.

Orioles fans can take some slight comfort in knowing that their team is not the only one to lose 100 games this year; the Royals currently sit at 58-103

Ned Yost doesn’t seem about to take the fall for the 103 losses. FYI, this is my next-to-last manager card for 2018.

Here’s another custom in the insert set of classically bad combo cards featuring excessively-hyped rookies:

Speaking of excessively-hyped rookies, I’ll wrap up with an Ohtani custom I made back in May, but which stayed on the shelf… until now.

I only post this one because I like the way this turned out. I really wish we’d gotten a 1988-themed insert set this year.

I’m Trying To Think Of A Catchy New Name For My Sunday Custom Card Posts

For much of the time I’ve been doing this blog, I’ve treated my custom cards as if they came in virtual packs. I have my TSR custom sets which had their wrappers…

I have my “Hot Stove” Kellogg’s-style customs which used to come in a fake cereal box until I ran out of cereal-based jokes.

But lately I’ve been thinking of abandoning that pretense and just sharing a number of customs each Sunday, basically whatever unpublished customs I have on hand on Sunday morning.  I dunno, maybe I’m just burned out on the concept and need to take a break.

So I’m trying to think of something to call these posts… “Capricious Customs” came to mind, but I may just go with “Custom Sunday” or just no name at all… I’m sure you all can figure it out without a theme name.

With that being said, let’s move on to the customs…

All year long I’ve been toying with the idea of creating something to sort of poke fun at the Topps Now concept… A series of cards which would commemorate some sort of play or event which I appreciated, but which didn’t get the “Now” treatment.  I guess I finally got some inspiration on Thursday when watching the Mets and Nationals play, and Mets pitcher Robert Gsellman became the first visiting player to use the Nats’ bullpen cart.

…And yes, I know that the Diamondbacks brought the cart back before the Nats, but I never got around to doing one of that cart. 

I may do more with this “ShlabotNOW…or Later” concept… or maybe save it for next year.

One other quick thing of moderate interest:  Sean Doolittle, who’s depicted on this custom, rides in the cart, but Gsellman rode on the back.

Another new “subset” I’ve been playing with lately also pokes fun at Topps, and features some classically bad combo cards.  Topps has unleashed some bad ones in recent years, so I’ve tried to outdo them in that respect, while featuring TOP ROOKIES OF TODAY!!!!!!

I wonder if Javier Baez would sign a custom like this…

Speaking of hot rookies, I couldn’t resist this photo of Gleyber Torres in front of a Fenway linescore which does not reflect well on the visiting Yankees…

I’m winding down on the Manager customs, only two more to go after this one and then all of the teams will have been represented.

I have to admit, I was a little disappointed when the Phillies faded down the stretch.  I can’t help but wonder if they tinkered with their lineup too much at the deadline, or if they added too many Mets (Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Bautista) or if they just plain ol’ “ran out of gas”.

At any rate, I dislike the Phillies much less than any other NL East rival of the Mets;  I guess we’ll see what happens with them in 2019.

I’m going to enlist the help of my readers on this next subset… I’d like to do a few customs of players who are currently in Japan and had previously played in MLB.  I couldn’t resist Koji Uehara, but I haven’t taken the time to research who else would be a candidate for this set.  Any nominations?

And I’m going to wrap up with two TSRchives Football customs, featuring the 1968 Topps Football design.

After Week One I featured the Steelers’ James Conner, who had caught my attention while I was watching the Steelers and Browns, but a case could easily be made for me to have featured outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who also had a great game and blocked what would’ve been a game-winning overtime field goal by the Browns.

If I wanted to feature the outstanding Steeler of week 2, I’d feature the future HOF quarterback… but I really don’t like him despite his accomplishments, and I imagine I’ll have an opportunity to feature him later on.

On the other side of the field for Week 2, the Steelers faced the Chiefs and 2nd-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Mahomes threw six touchdown passes in the Chiefs win, but what surprised me was that it had somehow got past me that Patrick Mahomes is the son of former reliever Pat Mahomes.

Pat Mahomes, the pitcher, played 11 seasons in the Majors and made it to the postseason with the Mets in 1999. Patrick, the quarterback, grew up in MLB clubhouses so I would think he isn’t fazed by any top tier opponents.

As for the customs themselves… I’d never really did much in the way of football before, but I’m having fun with these so we’ll see how far this goes.

2018 TSR: Now With Football!

It’s been a long baseball season, and a fairly poopy one on many fronts. The Mets were 15-9 in April and are 10-4 this month, but they stunk in May and absolutely cratered in June. The Orioles… well, the only month where the O’s had a non-awful record was March when they went 1-1. Even on the minor league level, the weather kept me from going to anywhere near as many games as I usually attend, and the teams I did see were not particularly good nor promising.

So maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me when I watched a football game last weekend and actually got into it. I normally pay little attention to football until at least October (and hopefully November if I have a strong rooting interest in the MLB Postseason), but here I was on September 9th enjoying a Steelers/Browns matchup.

Well, maybe “enjoying” isn’t entirely the right word. It was entertaining, but due to rain and other factors, it wasn’t the best-played game you’ll see all year… and it ended in a tie (which, as far as I’m concerned, was a victory for the Browns).

But it inspired me to make some football customs, which may or may not end up being a series. This year has been filled with custom sets I started and never took as far as I’d originally intended.

I wanted to pay homage to a vintage football set, and after much deliberating I decided to be “Heritage-y” and observe the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Topps set.

With Le’Veon Bell holding out, Steelers’ running back James Conner got nearly as many carries (32) and yards (144) as he did all of last season, plus he scored two touchdowns and caught five passes.

Conner is a local guy who’s from Erie, PA and went to the University of Pittsburgh. Le’Veon is still sitting at home, so I would guess that Conner’s the guy again against the Chiefs this afternoon.

As for the Browns… Much to my surprise they didn’t suck. I have to admit, I liked seeing excited fans in the stands in Cleveland. I wasn’t sure who to feature on a Browns custom, so I let the availability of images dictate my choice to a large degree and I went with new QB Tyrod Taylor.

The Browns acquired Taylor from the Buffalo Bills for a 3rd round draft pick this past Spring.

OK, that’s it for football this week. I guess we’ll see how inspired I am to make more customs after today’s games… There are probably at least some more coming, if only to justify the time I spent on the 1968 template.

Moving on to baseball… Even though they went on a tear a bit too late for playoff contention (barring an epic collapse by the Yankees or Athletics), I’ve been rooting for the Tampa Bay Rays. They’re 27-13 since the beginning of August, and staff ace Blake Snell has broken out in a big way and deserves some serious Cy Young consideration.

Snell has a 19-5 record and a 2.03 ERA and leads the league in wins and ERA. He’s also third with a 0.982 WHIP.

A note to the Atlanta Braves: It doesn’t matter how many former Orioles and Mets you acquire, I will never root for the Braves.

…OK, well perhaps grudgingly if they’re facing the Yankees, but in that case I will not watch.

MLB announced recently that there wiil be an all-star team touring Japan this fall, and Marlins manager Don Mattingly will be in charge of that touring team.

I’m sure he’s looking for a distraction for what’s going on in Miami these days.

The Orioles recently called up their 2015 1st round draft pick, outfielder DJ Stewart.

After 10 plate appearances, he’s still looking for his first MLB hit.

Just for funsies, I’ll “reprint” the custom I made for him in 2015.

I have to admit, I was uninspired as to who to feature for the Mets, given that all of their best players have already appeared on one of my customs, so I just went with an action shot I like.

Gavin Cecchini is on the Mets 40-man roster but has played sparingly and has not appeared with the Mets this season.

Just to wrap things up with another sport… Congratulations to the Seattle Storm who recently swept the Washington Mystics to win the WNBA championship. Breanna Stewart was named the MVP of the finals.

I only saw a few minute of the final game, but I heard that the WNBA playoffs were very exciting this year. Did anybody watch any of it?

Predicting The Designs Used For 2019 Topps Archives

Back in 2017 I put some theories of mine to the test and made predictions about what 2018 Archives would look like. When the set was announced earlier this year, I surprised many – myself included – by getting two out of three correct.

(I confess that there’s a small part of me which would like to think that someone at Topps had read my blog and said “He’s right, we should use the 1959 and 1981 designs in 2018 Archives!”)

Now that the dust has settled on 2018 Archives, I figure it’s time to make my predictions for next year’s Archives set.

From analyzing Topps’ choices for Archives from 2012 to 2018, I have a few observations which I will use as guidelines to figuring out which designs they’ll use next year.

Observation #1: Challenging designs are not welcome
Topps doesn’t seem to want to take on challenges when adapting Topps designs for Archives.  By “challenges”, I mean that in terms of 1) re-creating the design, with all the proper artwork, borders, fonts, etc., and 2) in terms of implmenting that design for 100 different base cards. Topps seems to lean towards designs where they can effectively slap a border down over a picture, change the player name, team name and colors, and be done. It’s a bit more work when there are card designs where the player’s image overlaps with the team name or other part of the design…

…or where the player is shown in front of a colored background (requiring that the original background be removed).

Observation #2: Topps stops where the “real cardboard” stopped.
Archives has yet to feature a design from any later than 1992, the last year Topps used “real cardboard” for the cardstock.

Observation #3: There’s a 15-year “No-Fly Zone” surrounding each year’s Heritage set
I’m confident about this one, and the data backs me up. Topps doesn’t want Archives to step on the toes of the much more valuable property that is Heritage, so they will not use designs which had been used for Heritage in the prior 7 years, nor ones which will be used for Heritage in the next 7 years.

Here’s a table (updated from last year) which shows that the “No-Fly Zone Theory” holds up:

Year Heritage Archives 1 ArchiVes 2 Archives 3 Archives 4 “No-Fly” (+/- 7)
2012 1963 1954 1971 1980 1984 1956-1970
2013 1964 1972 1982 1985 1990 1957-1971
2014 1965 1973 1980 1986 1989 1958-1972
2015 1966 1957 1976 1983 n/a 1959-1973
2016 1967 1953 1979 1991 n/a 1960-1974
2017 1968 1960 1982 1992 n/a 1961-1975
2018 1969 1959 1977 1981 n/a 1962-1976

2019 Heritage will feature the design from 1970 Topps, so that means the “No-Fly Zone” will cover the years from 1963 (7 years before) to 1977 (7 years after).

OK, with those ground rules in place, let’s place a few more restrictions in place…

I would hope that Topps wouldn’t reuse a design which had been used in – at the *very* least – the prior four Archives sets. That eliminates 1953, 1957, 1959, 1960, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1991 and 1992.

I’m also going to assume that Topps will avoid designs recently used as inserts in Topps Series 1 & 2.  The 2017 set had a 1987 insert, this year we have a 1983 insert, and next year we’ll have a 1984 insert.

With all of this factored in, that leaves us 14 candidates for 3 Archives designs.  I’m going to touch on these in chronological order.

1952 Topps has never been used in Archives, but it seems like Topps regards this as almost too “sacred” for use in Archives.

The next three designs would, to my thinking, require slightly more effort and cost than Topps might want to take on.  In all three they’d have to use two images per card (so 200 images rather than 100), and also remove the background from those 200 different photos.

…And honestly, every year we complain about how Topps didn’t center this text right or didn’t correctly sweat some detail.  Do you think they want to sweat more details than they have to?

1954 Topps has not been used since 2012.

1955 Topps has never been used in Archives.

1956 Topps also has never been used in Archives, but it’s even more challenging than the others because the background photo needs enough extra real estate for the player portrait to sit in front of.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Topps just dances around this design and never quite gets around to doing it for Archives.

1958 Topps has never been used in Archives and is a classic design.  Yes, it also has the issue of requiring more time to remove the background from the player photo, but sooner or later Topps is going to have to get back to these.

1961 Topps also has never been used in Archives.

1962 Topps also has not been used in Archives and also has the upside of just having emerged from the bottom end of the “No Fly Zone”.  Ignore the solid background on this Casey Stengel card, that’s the exception rather than the rule.

It would also be very easy to produce, because the design is exactly the same for every card, no messing with colors or logos. The downside is that it is being used in this year’s Archive “Sandlot” insert, so I think that’s going to “ding” it just enough to remove it from this year’s consideration. I see this is as a strong possibility for 2020 Archives.

We jump ahead 16 years, across the No-Fly Zone, to 1978 Topps.

This has never been done in Archives and will enter the No-Fly Zone after 2019.  Because the team name is not a font and isn’t easily replicated for the 7 current teams which hadn’t existed in 1978, I think the next time we’ll see this design used is for 2027 Topps Heritage.

1980 Topps was used in 2012 and came back again in 2014.  The reaction to using two designs so close together was bad enough that I have to think they’d be hesitant to use this design a third time in the near (or not-so-near) future.

1985 Topps was used in 2013 Archives.

1986 Topps was used in 2014 Archives.

The 1988 Topps design has never been used, and I don’t know why… other than having the player’s head/bat/arm overlap with the team name might make this somewhat unpopular design more trouble than it’s worth.

Me, I love this design. On the other hand, they did make a Major League Soccer insert based on this set, so maybe the “heavy lifting” is already done.

1989 Topps was used in 2014 and was also done as die-cut minis in the same year’s flagship.

1990 Topps was used in 2013

One last observation…

Archives generally favors designs which fall after the No-Fly Zone, but that’s getting more difficult each year that the Zone moves forward. In 2019 there’ll be 7 candidates from before and 8 after, but that number will flip in 2020. I expect that we’ll continue to have one design from before the Zone and two designs after the Zone, but that could change before too long.


OK, prediction time!  As with the last time, I’m going to run down what I predict will be used, and what I would like to be used (if they did it well, of course).

PREDICTIONS:
For a 1950’s/early 1960’s design, I’m going to go with 1961.

It’s never been used in Archives before, plus duplicating a design doesn’t get much easier than this… to prove my point, I whipped up the above custom completely from scratch in about 20 minutes.

1970’s/1980’s Design #1: I’ll go with 1985.

It’s pretty popular, easy to re-create (I think this one took about a half hour from the ground up) and hasn’t been used in number of years.

1970’s/1980’s Design #2: No matter what I do with this, I feel like I’m going out on a limb to some degree. 1986 might be a candidate except I wouldn’t think that they’d use consecutive years. Last year I felt that 1988 was more work than Topps wanted to expend, but with that MLS insert using this design I’m going to assume that they’ve got everything they need in their magic bag of tricks.

I’m going with 1988 as the third design.

…and now…

WHAT I’D LIKE TO SEE

If it were me in charge of deciding which designs to use, I’d go with 8’s across the board: 1958, 1978, 1988.

And now it’s reader feedback time, and I am truly interested in your input…

Which designs do you think Topps will use in 2019?

Which would you pick if you were the “product manager” for 2019 Topps Archives?

2018 TSR: Just To Show It Can Be Done Right

The 2018 Topps Heritage All-Stars subset is like a badly remastered 1960’s album.  I’m sure many of you know the type of albums I’m talking about… You download “The Best Of The Cordial Kumquat” and when the first song starts you think “Wow, I can really hear the rhythm guitar and cowbell on this song!”, but then the lead vocalist comes in and you realize you can’t hear him because his voice is overwhelmed by the rhythm guitar and cowbell – all because the album was “remastered for digital download” by mixing each of the different tracks of a recording to the same apparent volume.

…and yes, I did make up “The Cordial Kumquat”, but admit it – you weren’t quite sure at first.

In the same way, the 2018 Topps Heritage All-Star cards have a headshot that’s no longer a headshot and a smaller action shot that’s no longer all that small and…

…hold on, I guess it’s easier to show you.

Bryce Harper should be next to the yellow circle, not behind it, and his head should be twice as large as it is.

Side Rant:  What is it with Topps these days where they insist of listing the position as “Outfielder” or “First Baseman” when the originals said “Outfield” and “1st Base”????

Now granted, it could be that part of the problem is that camera technology has advanced over 50 years so that one can zoom in on the subject and exclude all that worrisome ballpark stuff.  I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the reason for the change was that correctly “distant” photos are hard to come by.

Given that part of the jollies I get out of creating customs is attempting to outperform Topps, I decided to try my own card using this design, but rather than redoing a red NL All Star card or a green AL All Star card, I decided I was going to go in another direction, make the frame blue and call it “Shlabotnik’s Picks” (originally intended to be something of a series, although I don’t know if I’ll do it at this point).

The proof-of-concept I did was for a personal favorite, Michael Conforto.

Yes, it isn’t always possible to find a loosely-cropped photo that will work as the background… but it’s not completely unheard of.  There are also tricks that can be done to create more background than originally existed in the original photo. And, you know, you can always use an image of WIllie Mays sliding into home and say that it’s Justin Upton.



The majority of my free time this weekend has been spent on organizing the horrendous mess that is Shlabotnik World Headquarters, so I’m going to keep this post a bit short.

I’d promised myself at the beginning of the season that each post would contain at least one Met, one Oriole and one manager.  Since I’ve already got a Met, I’ll wrap things up with the other two.

Cody Carroll was acquired from the Yankees in the Zach Britton trade.  His overall numbers are fairly ugly, but he seems to either be good… or not good.

Looking over his game logs, he’s had five effective relief outings, but there were also three not-at-all-effective games which drag his numbers down.

The Manager Card Of The Week goes to Bruce Bochy.

I hadn’t realized this until I made the custom, but if you look under Bochy’s left hand, it looks kinda like he has three legs.