Ha! See what I did there?
I can find no information on who organized this day, why or when; I just know that it shows up on all of those national day calendars and such. No matter, it's really all just a big excuse to show off the latest oddball acquisition I've made and the research rabbit hole I soon fell into:
My girlfriend saw that I bought this and immediately got excited to add another game to our burgeoning collection, which made it incredibly difficult to tell her that I acquired it in order to separate the cards into my collection. I'm a jerk.
It's really for the best though, it's one of the few games I tend to beat her at; so, really I was just doing her a favor.
No matter, many moons ago, I saw this set at a local Five Below for, you guessed it, five bucks. I hesitated to buy it because I didn't think I'd have any use for it. Silly slightly younger Tony - there's always use for weird stuff like this. Unfortunately, I never did see it at a brick and mortar store again, so I eventually bit the bullet and got it for seven bucks. That's a two dollar tax for poor judgement.
The cards themselves feature all the major players from the infamous 2004 Cubs, the team that imploded in the last week of the season to blow an almost certain Wild Card win.
Ironic that they would then show up in card game set, huh? Sosa, Garciaparra, Wood, Lee... they're all here. Moises Alou, Todd Walker and Corey Patterson were also present.
Anyway, I love oddball cards like I love oxygen, so I was ecstatic to add them to various facets of my collection and funnel a few out to other collectors who I thought might have an interest as well.
Like many a post idea, my brain quickly started running wild. In the spirit of National Card Playing Day, let's take a deeper look at the intertwined histories of baseball cards and card games.
These natural bedfellows were blended together almost immediately after the National Pastime earned it's nickname. Amongst the earliest baseball card sets were games that simulated play the play of games using the portraits of ball players, real or fictional. Obviously I don't have any of these in my collection - we're talking the same era as Goodwin and such.
What I do have, are some examples of these from just a little while later, the turn of the 20th Century:
The Larry Cheney on the left is the real McCoy, a genuine 1914 Polo Grounds game single. The Jimmy Lavender on the right is genuine TCMA reprint.
Seeing as there were no video games to simulate our desire to play ball with real ballplayers, it's only natural that card games would arise to fill the need.The cards would have various baseball activies and situations alongside the player pictures and gameplay would be based off of them. Exactly how to play is lost on me, but that's no matter.
Here are the backs:
A beautiful shot of the Polo Grounds - what I wouldn't give to be able to stand in that historic ballyard for just 5 minutes.
Anyway, there were plenty more sets similar to this one:
Like the 1913 Tom Baker Baseball Game...
...or the 1906 Fan Craze card sets. As you can see from the backs of these last two, all of my examples from these sets are reprints - I'm not made of money you know.
This trend didn't stop in the pre World Wars era though - sets like these continued on into the Topps era. In fact, some of Topps' earliest works were card games of the sort:
I don't have any originals from these sets either, so these recent throwback products will have to suffice.
Topps very first baseball card release was, in fact, a baseball game played with cards instead of bats and balls. It came out in 1951 and featured red or blue backs. Meanwhile, the insert from 2015 Topps Archives on the left showcases the 1968 Topps Game cards were found inserted in packs of flagship from that year.
I don't think anyone is using these tributes to play the games though, just my guess.
These weren't Topps' last dalliances with blending trading cards and card games, however:
Just ordinary, run of the mill Flagship cards from 1978 correct? Well, there's a little something more to them than what meets the eye. If you flip them over...
...you'll notice that they featured a game known simply as "Play Ball" on the back side. Like the cards spotlighted earlier in this post, this game too used cards with actions seen on a diamond to make up a baseball card game.
This is the only time I can think of that Topps did this with their trademark release. That said, it was a concept that they revisited when they resurrected their Bazooka brand in 1996:
Now, since this is a baseball card from the 90's, I understand that it's overly crowded, gaudy and super busy. Hopefully you can see the commands, terms and numbers that make up Bazooka Ball, illustrated with characters from Bazooka Joe's group of friends. It just so happens that Metal Dude inhabits the backs of both cards I selected. Oops.
Upper Deck tried mixing their base cards with game cards in 1996. Their strategy differed from Topps in that they included special "You Make the Play" game cards as separate inserts into the Collector's Choice product, rather than incorporate the game onto each base card:
I have no idea how this game was actually played because this is the only such card I was ever able to track down. Obviously though, like the rest of games featured to this point, the cards used baseball terms/actions combined with player photographs.
Sidenote - it's a little weird to associate "Slammin' Sammy" with stolen bases at this point in time. Of course, Sosa hadn't yet ballooned into the monster of a man he'd become with the help of, ahem, Flintstone Vitamins.
It wasn't until about a decade later that one of the major card manufacturers decided to give the card game business another go:
Topps Total, a brand that needs to be resuscitated ASAP, again tried the card game on the back strategy in both 2004 and 2005:
Then the brand died out and the concept went with it. A few years later, Topps decided to again commit fully and offered a true, standalone baseball card game:
These particular examples were more for use with the online version of the game; however, there was a version that was intended to be played the old fashioned way, a set that was very similar in style and design to...
...Wizards of the Coast's famous MLB Showdown, which itself was trying to capitalize on the popularity of their other card game products like Pokemon and Magic: the Gathering. Unfortunately, after initial enthusiasm, the brand only lasted for 5 years, slowly sputtering to an end after the 2004 edition.
I guess those darned kids only like cards with magical monsters and wizards and stuff. Why, back in my day...
While I had many of these cards as a youngin', I never bothered to learn how to play the game. I was far too focused on the player pictured on the front. I bet that's the common problem and why none of these games ever really took off.
In fact, some of the longest-lasting and most popular baseball card games used cards that didn't actually feature any pictures at all; games like Strat-O-Matic, early Cadaco and...
APBA Baseball. Of course these sorts of games also involved other things like dice, a game board and a willingness to do serious math and strategics. You know, serious adult stuff with a Dungeons and Dragons like dedication.
See? This was no passing fancy to be played by bored six years olds on a rainy day. APBA Baseball required a deeper knowledge of the game and it's inner workings. These weren't baseball cards to be collected, they were baseball cards to be used as tools in a game of wits.
Yet, a healthy dose of them still ended up in my regular, ol' baseball card collection - even though they don't have any pretty pictures.
I bought a complete box of a game cut from the same cloth, just so that I could take the cards for myself:
I found this nifty box at a local garage sale two summers ago. but never got around to showing it off on the blog. For shame.
Anyway, it's another baseball strategy game, similar in style to APBA, Strat-O-Matic and such. Here's the set up:
Like I said, very similar to APBA - but what about the cards??
Likewise, they take the no-frills approach - no pictures, just names and the relevant statistical and game play information. Nothing to see here, move along...
Although the backs have very detailed player information, with a lengthy bio write-up that would make Keith Olbermann proud.
Furthermore, as you can see by the back of the Ron Santo card, this game is fairly old, seeing as the Cubs' legendary third-sacker was an active player at the time. So, I guess this qualifies as my only vintage card of Three-Finger Brown. Neat-o!
Much like these strategy games, sometimes baseball card games simply outgrew the confines of a deck and expanded into full-on board games:
Actually, this whole set-up is pretty similar to the APBA and Superstar Baseball games too, except this Milton Bradley creation used mini cards with pictures of the associated baseballers:
Like Dick Nen here. I do not have the game or any other examples of these cards in my binders. However, I was lucky enough to find this at my local flea market, amongst the stolen clothes and DVDs that seem to populate the sketchy establishment.
Interestingly, there seems to be some debate about which team Nen officially belongs to. As you can see by the airbrushed hats, the set was licensed by the Player's Union, but not officially endorsed by MLB. The game was released in 1970, two seasons after his single year tenure in Chicago came to an end. However, he'd been stuck in the minors since then, before coming up with the Senators to close out his career in '70.
It appears to me that he is wearing Cubs pinstripes in that photo (correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think the Senators ever wore stripes), so I consider it a Cubs card and that's that.
This wasn't Milton Bradley's only go-round with a baseball card/board game fusion. About 14 years later, they updated some info, partnered with Topps and, voila:
Championship Baseball was born. From what I understand, the game itself is very similar to their previous edition. The biggest difference in my eyes, as well as the most important to this card collector, is that the cards used for the gameplay were blown up to standard size:
Of course, though the set was produced by Topps, Milton Bradley did not have a full license from MLB. So, again, the team logos had to be airbrushed out. Nevertheless, this is still one of my favorite oddball card sets of the 1980's.
This game fused video games and the old-school baseball card board games to create a new simulated baseball product. Cards with barecodes attached to the bottom were scanned into the mini console to form baseball teams with which games could be played. Radical, dudes!
Each game came with a starter set of generic baseball cards which featured the names of real baseball stars:
However, instead of taking all that time to airbrush logos out of pictures, they decided to use boilerplate artwork on all of the cards and just type in some names. I'm guessing that the budget on this project was really low. At least they included some biographical info and stats though.
The bar codes came separate and kids were encouraged to affix them to their own baseball cards. However, since this was the late 80's, baseball cards were still seen as investments - no one was about to stick an ugly bar code on the back of their super mega valuable gold mine and the idea kinda died on the vine.
I found the above Benny Santiago card in a random $10 grab bag at the LCS, where they took a paper grocery bag and stuffed it with cards. Not the safest way to store cards; but, it made for a great bit of rainy day entertainment.
Baseball card board games weren't dead yet though:
During the early 90's, Classic burst onto the scene with their own brand of game. In their variation, game play was based more on trivia than it was on baseball simulation. In essence, this was almost perfect for kids who actually payed attention to the backs of their baseball cards - all that "useless" knowledge bouncing around in the back of their heads.
The product proved to be quite popular, lasting for several editions.
As you can see, for once the cards were fully licensed by both the Player's Association and MLB, so kids were spared the airbrushing and boiler plate artwork and instead treated to some visually appealing card designs. Of course, their border choice in 1990 couldn't be more quintessentially 90's, unless they added gratuitous amounts of unnecessary foil.
It was on the back of these wonderful oddballs that one found the trivia questions to advance game play:
They even included a spot for you to get autographs. Was there bonus points for getting a player's John Hancock? There would be if I were the game czar.
All this being stated, I have a feeling that the motives behind National Card Playing day were probably centered around more traditional card games - y'know Poker, Texas Hold 'Em, Egyptian Ratscrew, War, Go Fish... that sort of stuff. Games that require just your standard deck of playing cards.
Well, decks of playing cards featuring the mugs of baseball players also go back to pretty much the beginnings of the sport. Seeing as there are playing cards featuring pretty much any subject under the sun, baseballs cards and playing cards seem like natural bedfellows, no?
Some examples of the hundreds such collations in card history include:
The 1984 Jack Brickhouse deck, made up of cards that featured prominent players and moments in Cubs history. The inclusion of the all-but-forgotten Jimmy Cooney seems strange on the surface, until you consider that while in Chicago, he entered became the sixth player in the modern era to turn an unassisted triple play.
Additionally, this is pretty much his only baseball card - so, I'm quite glad he snuck in there.
We also have the 1990 MLB All-Stars deck, featuring, you guessed it, members of the 1990 All-Star teams. Unlike Cooney, there's little mystery as to why "The Hawk" was included in this set.
Similarly, there's 1992's MLB Aces, which features All-Star caliber players from around the Major Leagues. The full bleed photography on this set is fairly unique, as I haven't seen this on any other playing card sets before or after. It's a neat little identifying feature.
It should be noted that this is the first card without any Cubs ties to appear in this post. If anyone has any players with Cubs ties from this deck, I'd be willing to set up a trade.
Also from 1992, we have the 1992 MLB Rookies deck, which showcased the top rookies across the Major Leagues from the '92 season. Unlike we thought when Mr. May here initially came up to the Bigs, this and all of his rookie cards are pretty much worthless. Not every top prospect pans out, right?
Lastly, there's my favorite such set - HeroDeck's 2005 Cubs deck. Each card in this set features a caricature drawing of prominent players/personalities in the franchise's history, including fan favorites Shawon Dunston and Jose Cardenal. These look pretty cool when they're completely assembled.
HeroDeck has produced dozens of these decks for several teams across the major sports, the world of music, pop culture, military history, etc. etc. It looks like they stopped producing new sets in 2013; but, if your team has already been done, I highly recommend adding a set to your collection.
Of course, there are countless more sets that blend playing cards with baseball cards; however, what you see above is the extent of them in my collections.
That about does it for games that blend our love of baseball cards and our incessant need to compete; there really just aren't any such products floating around in today's Topps monopoly landscape... well, except for one more. The concept is still alive courtesy of a brand called Platinum Series Baseball:
I went into much more explicit detail with this product in an earlier post, but suffice it to say that this game is really just a newer, more updated version of MLB Showdown or Topps Attax. Here are the cards one needs in order to play the game:
This will be Jacob Turner's only card as a Cub, as he was claimed on waivers by the other Chicago baseball team over the winter. So, it's a good thing I picked this up.
It should be noted that the brand was initially funded by a Kickstarter/GoFundMe type fundraiser and appears to be doing fairly well. They've been able to secure distribution through Walmart at many of their stores nationwide and are currently campaigning for a full MLB license. Plus, they've already begun accepting pre-orders for their 2016 set of cards. Not bad for starting from nothing, huh?
Here's hoping that they can continue to grow and we'll have another alternative to the Topps machine in the coming years. Throw Panini a bone while you're at it Rob.
In the meantime, in the name of National Card Playing Day, while don't you dust off your old Showdown deck and play a round, or maybe test your noggin with a full-on game of APBA Baseball, still you could at least break out your HeroDeck and do a round of Solitaire. Show these games some love!
All of this researching and examining, just because I wanted a cheap Uno set I saw in Five Below a couple of years ago. Thank God I have a blog as an outlet for this sort of thing.