Sports Cards For Insane People: Topps Big, In Which Every Person Is A White Person

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Welcome to Topps Big, a set of too-big baseball cards that was artistically negligent to the point of racism. Did you know that Barry Bonds was white? Did you know that every baseball player ever was white?

I recently picked up a 15-year-old issue of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly that was waiting around in a box in my parents' house. Half the advertisements in the magazine stressed "collectability," which isn't even a word. That was the selling point: They were collectable.

That's so absolutely insane that we really need to discuss it at length at some point in the future, but I bring it up today because I'm going to talk about Topps Big. If it's possible for a set of cards to be "uncollectable" (my spell check accepts "collectable" but not "uncollectable," which is our surest sign that the entire idea is unfiltered bulls***), then Topps Big is certainly uncollectable.

Topps Big was a stand-alone set of baseball cards that was produced from 1988 to 1990. The Internet claims that they went over big in their prime, but I didn't get my hands on them until years later, when packs of them were crammed into those weird plastic cubes Wal-Mart sold with labels that claimed, "GUARANTEED TO CONTAIN AT LEAST $20 IN VALUE!"

We can, at least, concede that technically speaking, Topps Big came as advertised. The cards were 12 percent larger than standard cards, which is not nearly large enough to be especially awesome/cool/radical/whatever, but which is large enough to mean that they won't fit anywhere. They were too big to fit in sleeves, or baseball card binders, or anything else built for the purpose of storing baseball cards. These cards, then, were shoved into a shoebox or under my bed.

So that's that. Topps Big, a set of stupid cards that were completely worthless and not fun at all because there was nowhere good to actually put them. Oh, and also, they were racist!

Those who claim racism is everywhere are not exaggerating by much, and it's rare for a medium as prolific and long-standing as sports cards to have a history completely un-checkered by racism. As far as I can recall, even throughout the Jim Crow era, sports cards have committed no significant offenses... except for Topps Big.

The back of each card featured silly comics that acted out pieces of trivia. In these comics, every player was white. Barry Bonds was white. Barry Bonds' dad was white.

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Taking a black guy and being all like "yep nope you're white" is a fairly offensive thing to do. I don't know how it happened. My best guess is that Topps contracted the cartoons out to an artist who never watched baseball and didn't know who any of the players were. He was probably hip to the fact that some guys who played baseball were not white, but didn't take the trouble to identify which weren't. Upon receiving the art, someone at Topps surely let out a big old "WHOOOOPS," but the check had already been written.

Of course, they did this for three years, so... maybe they held an exceptional comic book-style obsession with continuity? Maybe? That's it, making excuses for you guys is too hard. I give up. Y'all racist as hell.

This bizarre quirk was only part of what makes Topps Big one of the dumbest card sets I've ever seen. It's fascinating to imagine what the creative process was like, so I have. Below are some notes from the editor to the artist.

* * *

Mike,

Thank you for submitting the Tom Barrett artwork (No. 177) to us so quickly.

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We were hoping, however, for a little more effort in the creative department. "A brother act"? What is that? Is that something people say? Also, I understand how it would be hard to illustrate a man hitting .327 in Florida, but I'd like to touch base with you at some point this week to explain to you what shadows are and how they work. Thanks!

- Ed.

* * *

Mike,

Have you ever been to Minnesota?

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It reminds me of many other places, in that there is a ground, but the ground stops at your feet. At some point in your life, someone apparently dropped you in a thigh-deep vat of green sludge and told you it was Minnesota. How was it? Did you enjoy it? Was there a sign there too? Was that how you got the idea to draw the sign?

I also enjoyed your interpretation of baseball physics. The trajectory of the ball makes no sense, unless it ricocheted off Mr. Hrbek's ding-dong. What a feeling!

- Ed.

* * *

Mike,

So Fernando Valenzuela threw eight complete game shutouts as a rookie. Incredible. That really is impressive. A lot of veteran pitchers would be happy with one or two. This kid took the league by storm. It's a great story, and the part of this story that really captures your attention is...

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...the number eight. The literal, actual number eight. FERNANDO VALENZUELA MAKES HISTORY, IS LITERALLY SWALLOWED BY NUMBER. I swear to God, dude.

Also, window panes don't just float there by themselves and wait for you to build walls and studs around them. Also, that house is not almost done. Have you ever been inside of a house?

- Ed.

* * *

Mike,

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I'm not being critical, I'm just genuinely asking: Is John Elway notorious for taking giant dumps or something? If not, you want to start that rumor? Seems like it would be fun.

* * *

Mike,

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A Native American headdress and a "sweetie," huh? Thank you for including casual racism and casual sexism in the same convenient location. I thought I was going to have to make separate trips!

- Ed.

* * *

Mike,

If you don't know what the Cy Young award is or what it looks like, no big deal. Seriously, next time, if you have a question, I won't bite.

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Now, if you draw one more comic suggesting that fielders catch baseballs by turning around, offering a quip, and waiting for the ball to hit them in the back of the glove, I might bite you. Like, literally bite you. I wouldn't have thought I could get so angry that the long-buried evolutionary impulse to indiscriminately bite things could be triggered, but here we are!

- Ed.

* * *

Editor,

I am very sorry for the quality of work I have sent you in recent weeks. You see, I live inside of a cave on an island in the middle of the ocean, and I don't know anything about anything. I don't understand what things are, and I am under the impression that "baseball" is an adverb. I am sorry.

- Mike

* * *

Mike,

That's terrible! I didn't know things were so awful for you. I'm sorry for all the mean things I said. To make it up to you, I would like to hire you for two more years even though you are terrible.

- Ed.

* * *

Editor,

That is so nice of you! I will happily do so.

- Mike

P.S. I have a question. Does anyone ever look different than anyone else? If not, how do you tell people apart?

* * *

Mike,

No. Hats.

- Ed.

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