Back in February we talked about what a hot mess Topps baseball cards have been in recent seasons. For me, the design of this year's cards isn't terrible, but the shot selection, which seems to have been made with an emphasis on players exerting themselves -- evidenced by distorted faces, grimacing with eyes bulging, cheeks bulging, tongues protruding. Sometimes the old headshot is just fine, thanks.
In choosing to feature players in extremis, Topps has made the fundamental error of confusing a baseball card with a television screen or computer monitor. An inferiority complex is implied, but the truth is that cards can do things that televisions can't, and vice-versa. With the ubiquity of screens in modern life, we are never far from a highlight clip; if we want to see Ben Revere dive for a ball (or Delmon Young misplay one), we can gratify that desire 24-7. We have far fewer images that capture a player's personality, that convey that he's (clockwise below) a thinking man's pitcher, intense to the point of anger, or just hostile. The still photo can do that far better than video can -- you can look at it and try to suss out its hidden meaning in the same way you would a painting on a gallery wall.
Instead of revealing character, the last couple of years we've gotten exertion:
Rather than telling stories, the cards give us a photo essay on the dangers of extreme constipation. No two players have the same personality, but they all strain to perform to the highest level. We get that; it's part of what they do. It's not who they are.
Hustle, Freddie! This is the rare card that does show something beyond strain 'n' pain, since Freeman seems to be having a good time. Check out that grin: There is a guy who enjoys hurrying after a grounder, who is enjoying an afternoon in the sun being paid to play a kids' game.
More than that, he also raises the potential of becoming his own parallel-Earth comic-book crossover, since he's precisely emulating the posture of the Silver- and Golden-Age Flash on the cover of 1961's Flash #123. In this issue, the Flash revival character of 1956 met the original, who had debuted in 1940 and been discontinued in 1949:
It's pretty easy to imagine the all-Freeman version. Here's a very rough approximation:
Actually, as The Flash #147 demonstrated in September, 1964, what we have above is the good Freddie Freeman and his evil opposite number, Professor Freeman, the sinister Reverse-Freddie:
Now that they've whetted our appetites, I look forward to further adventures of Freddie "Flash" Freeman on Topps cards, including Freddie tied to a giant boomerang...
Freddie experiencing inexplicable weight gain...
And breaking the fourth wall:
"Stop! Don't pass up this ballgame! My LIFE depends on it!" The possibilities are endless -- infinite, you might even say. Maybe when the editors at Topps feel they have fully explored the world of grunting, agonized exertion, they'll give it a shot.
For more covers, visit the Grand Comics Database.