Topps provides baseball's celebrity showcase Set focuses on fans from outside the sport


July 12, 1992|By Ruth Sadler | Ruth Sadler,Staff Writer

In the years after World War II, Topps established itself as the dominant player in baseball cards. From 1956 (after the demise of Bowman) through 1980 (when Fleer and Donruss sued for the right to produce cards), Topps was the only player.

Topps entered the market in 1951 and established itself with its 1952 set, long a collector favorite and valued for its beauty as well as card No. 311 (Mickey Mantle). A testament to the enduring popularity of that set is that the Mantle card commands value more than three times that of the real rookie card, the 1951 Bowman.

Despite competition in the early '80s from Donruss and Fleer and the innovative designs of Score and Upper Deck in the late '80s, Topps remained its gum-stained old self.

Last year, Topps took its first tentative steps into the late 20th century of cards with a premium line and a 40th anniversary celebration that included improved designs. This year, Topps continues to shake some of its stodgy ways. Last week, Topps attended its first National Sports Collectors Convention (it skipped the first 12) and did so with a splash.

It issued baseball cards of 12 celebrities, most of whom have well-known sports interests. Each celebrity got 500 cards of himself or herself for personal use only as well as a blow-up of the card. Five thousand uncut sheets of the cards were sold by Topps to dealers at the convention. Each celebrity autographed a second blow-up of a card, and those were auctioned last night at the convention. All profits from the sale of the sheets and autographed blow-ups will go to charities chosen by the celebrities.

In true Topps style, card backs are filled with trivia (no worry about statistics taking up all the room). Sportscaster Nick Charles, who once worked at Channel 13, caught a Roberto Clemente home-run ball at Wrigley Field. Pro golfer Nancy Lopez's favorite current player is Nolan Ryan, but her favorite cards have husband and former player Ray Knight on them. Basketball star Ann Meyers' favorite player is husband Don Drysdale, but her favorite card is Mantle. When he was a child, artist LeRoy Neiman's favorite player was Babe Ruth, who hit 60 home runs the year he was born. Olympian Wilma Rudolph is an Atlanta Braves fan, but her favorite park is Fenway.

Card fronts have color portraits and carry the notation "Stadium of Stars." Lopez is swinging a golf club, one-time Maryland jockey Chris McCarron is ready to ride and Meyers and John Wooden are holding basketballs, but the others don't strike athletic poses. The rest of the lineup is sportscaster Bob Costas, Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, former Olympian Bruce Jenner, talk-show host Larry King and morning TV hostess Joan Lunden.

The cards have another form, a big souvenir sheet from the convention. It may soon be at a card show near you.

Collectors have a little better chance of picking up Upper Deck's limited-edition collectible. The FanFest set contains 54 cards, 44 All-Stars and 10 future All-Stars. Sets were given out at the national convention and also will be available at All-Star FanFest (a show in conjunction with the All-Star Game), which ends Tuesday in San Diego and through television shows originating from FanFest.

NBA's Class of '91

Upper Deck's Rookie Standouts are randomly inserted in the company's high series NBA jumbo packs and Locker Series boxes. The 20 cards feature top NBA rookies from the past season, including Larry Stewart of the Washington Bullets.

Smith, Kramer autographs

There are 2,000 special cards in NFL Pro Set Series I packs -- 1,000 autographed and embossed cards each of Emmitt Smith and Erik Kramer. The cards are identical to the regular cards except for the embossed NFL Pro Set logo and autographs. Each special card also carries a series number on the back such as 1/1000, 2/1000, etc.

Upcoming events

Today, baseball card show, Security Holiday Inn (I-695, Exit 17), 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., (410) 922-8366.

Saturday, baseball card show, Comfort Inn-Airport (I-695, Exits 5 and 6A), 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (410) 922-8366.

July 19, baseball card show, Towson Quality Inn (I-695, Exit 26 S), 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., (410) 239-7446.

July 22, baseball card show, Towson Sheraton (I-695, Exit 27A), 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., (410) 922-8366.

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