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Go Back Forums > Net54baseball Postwar Sportscard Forums > Postwar Baseball Cards Forum (Pre-1980)

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Old 03-28-2024, 11:24 PM
Cliff Bowman's Avatar
Cliff Bowman Cliff Bowman is offline
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Default Part Five Of Keith Olbermann's Topps Proof Series - 1978-1984

The epic history of Topps baseball proofs - preliminary versions of the issued cards that varied in some significant way from what the public would eventually see - had evidently begun with the simple test printing of the last series from 1957. Within three years, late player trades meant trying to change the team logos on the front of some cards, just before they were printed. By 1968, photos that showed up on some of the proofs would not show up on the issued cards. And in 1977, three players would be dropped from the set entirely - but not before their phantom cards were created on the proofer's press.

And there was still much to come as the '70s became the '80s, and the Topps monoploy became a victim of the Fleer suit, and the proof itself gave way to technology.

1978 - There is only one major proof variation, but given the team change it references, it constitutes an irony of historical proportions, and counterbalances the otherwise inevitable anti-climax after the 1977 cornucopia.

In proof form, Mike Torrez (#645), is shown in a Yankee uniform with a Yankee team assignment. On November 23, 1977, a month after he claimed the second of two victories in the Yanks' World Series win, Torrez signed with the Red Sox, and his card was updated to reflect this. On October 2nd he gave up a certain home run to ex-teammate Bucky Dent. The Torrez/Yankee cards appeared on at least six fully-printed sheets sold at the Topps Guernsey auction, and the company has auctioned off a couple of nearly-total versions on eBay, suggesting the total number extant may be in double figures.

There are several color variations created by improvements on the proof, none more striking than #676 Bob Myrick, framed in yellow on the issued card, but purple on the proof. Alas, the Eddie Murray rookie (#36) appears on at least one uncut proof sheet without the "Topps Rookie Award" bowl - even though cards with the same bowl appear on the same sheet.

1979 - There's an outstanding - even historic - team card proof variation and one sheet full of prosaic screw-ups.

The issued version of the Chicago White Sox team (#404) shows Don Kessinger - the game's last full-time player-manager - in the inset photo as the club's skipper. The proof card, however, shows Larry Doby, who finished the 1978 season in charge of the White Sox, as baseball's second African-American manager.

At least 24 of the 26 team cards (all but the Blue Jays and Expos) feature proof variations of some kind. Each was proofed with the manager's and team's names printed in yellow letters against a green background - a color scheme that wasn't used on even one of the issued cards. The lone issued team card to even feature the green background (#381 Astros) has "1978 Houston Astros" lettered over the photo on the proof card, but removed from the issued version.

The mistakes include several dozen pairs of switched identities (as an example the card reads "Dusty Baker" but shows Len Barker, Texas Rangers, the card reading "Len Barker" is labeled shows Baker). Team names have been left off the cards of #10 Lee May, #393 Scott McGregor, and #89 Dick Tidrow, and the photos have been left off the Blue Jays (#282) and Expos (#606) team cards, and #239 Willie Horton. #442 Doyle Alexander exists - not on cardboard but printed on acetate plastic - in a series of proofs with the Angels incorrectly identified as his team.

It is not a national Topps proof per se, but one of the last cards "pulled" from a set is included in the Yankees series the company produced that spring for Burger King. #5 was apparently supposed to be Paul Mirabella, a left-handed pitcher the Yanks had hyped after his off-season acquisition from Texas. But by the time the cards came out, Mirabella had gone down, and was evidently replaced in the issued series by Jay Johnstone.

It's also appropriate to state for the record that while it does not appear to have literally produced - nor produced a final design of each card - Topps clearly supplied the photos (and even the airbrushing) for the Hostess baseball series issued annually from 1975 through 1979. Unissued Hostess proofs, complete with printed backs and even card numbers ranging as high as 170 (each issued set ended at 150) were created in 1976 (twelve cards), 1977 (thirteen), 1978 (twelve), and 1979 (seventeen). Stretching a point just a little bit, these could be considered Topps proofs.

1980 - Topps pulled not one but two cards out of the issued set after they were produced on the proof sheet - and also gave an indication of just how early, in the final year of their national card monopoly, they were preparing the cards for the season ahead.

After an abortive return to the place from which he had helped to launch modern free agency, Andy Messersmith had been released by the Dodgers on August 28th, 1979. Yet there he was on the first proof sheets for Topps' 1980 card set.

So too was the ultimately tragic relief pitcher Donnie Moore, depicted with the Cubs, even though Chicago had traded him to St. Louis the very day the Pirates beat the Orioles to close out the 1979 World Series.

The existence of the Messersmith and Moore cards was not known until the Guernsy's Auction, and it's unclear which players replaced them in the issued set. The sheet bearing them both sold uneventfully for the minimum bid ($200) and a Topps Vault eBay auction of a series of three-card proof panels bearing second copies of each, went off with similar disinterest and low prices.

In addition to a spate of color, autograph location, and player position variations, there is also a wrong photo proof (#384 Joey McLaughlin shows, in proof form, Frank LaCorte), and like the Doby/Kessinger switch of 1979, a managerial photo change that summarized one era of New York baseball.

The issued Yankees' team card (#424) correctly shows Dick Howser as the club's manager for 1980. The proof card - of which quite a few are known - features none other than Billy Martin.

There are at least two bizarre proofs in which somebody's gone crazy with the red. #97 Bill Lee and #298 Ken Holtzman exist with a color scheme as jarring and unnatural-looking as the"pink-toned" cards issued in the Old Judge set of 1887-1890.

Additionally, there is another peripheral group of Topps proofs - in this case, an entire set prepared for national distribution by Pepsi. The project never got off the ground, but individual cards, complete with printed backs and identical to the parallel issued 1980 Topps versions save for the Pepsi logo, made it into the hobby within a few years - and more arrived two decades later as Topps cut up some freshly-discovered sheets and sold them through eBay. Counting ready-to-go cards and partial-color versions, there are around six or eight full sets floating around of the never-issued 1980 Topps Pepsi 33-card series.

1981 - There weren't many proof varieties, but the most prominent of them gave remarkable insight into airbrushing at its finest - or worst.

The proof card of Joe Pettini shows him in a Expos uniform, slightly in profile, to about the level of of the ribcage. The issued version looks like one of those tragic excesses at a plastic-surgeon-to-the-stars. The photo has been blown up to the tightest possible portrait, the background washed away, and Pettini's garish Montreal uniform painted over with a still more garish, almost glowing, Giants cap and shirt.

The other prominent change is on Tim Raines' rookie card (#479). In the proof, not only are the negatives of the three Expos' youngsters reversed, but they've been gotten out of order. Thus a backwards Bobby Ramos is identified as Raines, Raines is labeled as Ramos, and while the picture of Bobby Pate is indeed he - he's backward.

There are several other minor changes - the proof cards of the Expos and Blue Jays have "1980" where "Topps" is, in the issued versions. The baseballs on the fronts of at least three Blue Jays are missing the stitches, and Tippy Martinez's card is missing the name.

Again, Topps ancillary products led to proof variations of note. The company issued a series of 11-card regional sets for Coke. The cards were prepared before Dave Kingman was traded back to the Mets by the Cubs, thus a Coke version of Kingman exists in proof form in that series, even though he's missing from the issued series. There was also an entire additional Coke regional cancelled at the last minute - of the New York Yankees - with at least three different cards and a "header" card produced in sufficient quantities that they could be advertised by at least one major dealer.

1982 - For the first time since 1965, not even a minor proof variation surfaced. Instructively, the proofs of #383 Pascual Perez shows his position listed (as do other proofs of the cards for which 1982 issued "blackless variations" exist), suggesting those printed variations are not design changes, but simple printing errors."

The paucity of Topps alterations stands in stark contrast to Topps' then-new rival, Fleer, which produced a couple of dozen significant variations, ranging from a Cal Ripken rookie identified as Dave Ford, to about fourteen unissued cards depicting such obscure major leaguers as Steve Christmas, John Lickert, and Gil Patterson (misidentified as Mike Patterson).

1983 - The calm of the previous year was shattered with three cards utterly changed - giving a new indication as to just how early Topps had begun to compose the next year's series - and dozens more with minor but intriguing alterations.

The issued version of #693 Sparky Lyle depicts him in the uniform of the White Sox, with whom he had concluded his big league career after being sold by the Phillies in August of 1982. But the proof card still shows him in a Phillies uniform. The same vestigal team identification shows up for #735 Tommy John, dealt by the Yankees to the Angels on August 30th, '82. His proof card which only recently showed up in a three-card proof strip sold by Topps on eBay - has him with the Yanks while the issued card features two new photographs of John with California. The third major change is of #516 Bill Virdon. The issued card of Montreal's newly-hired skipper for 1983, the proof version shows the man he replaced, the Expos 1982 manager, Jim Fanning.

The other proof variations are focused on the circled inset portrait photo on each player card, and literally number in the dozens. In some cases, the image size of the player's head has been made larger or smaller. In others, the proof versions show the backgrounds to these shots are as they were originally photographed, while on the issued cards they have been "washed" to neutralize details like stadium landmarks or trees, to focus the eye on the player's face.

1984 - The swan song of the "true" Topps Proof features exactly 66 variations, all on the same sheet, all of them readily available within the hobby since the year they were created. One of these sheets sold for $150 in 1984, and, on an eBay auction for $180 in 2007.

The most notable card is another vestigal team identification - #180 Manny Trillo - and it again underscores that to meet the publication and distribution deadlines of a time when a full set of 792 cards had to hit the stores by January to try to beat equally ponderous rival efforts by Donruss and Fleer, production of one of these early '80s sets actually began no later than August of the previous year. It was that month when Trillo was dealt by the Indians to the Expos, yet on the proof sheet he's identified with Cleveland and shown in an Indians' uniform.

Two proofs (#70 Gary Matthews and #780 Steve Carlton) have the inset head-shot photos switched. And the other 63 cards on the sheet show a minor design element that was changed before the issued cards were produced. On the proofs, the player photos are completely contained within the borders of the inset box. On the issued cards, the photo's top edges bleed over on top of, and slightly outside, the upper frames of that box.

There's also an anomaly card from 1984 that while not truly a proof, turns up from time to time and merits some explanation. It depicts a somewhat gaunt Atlanta Braves outfielder named "Darryl Palmer" and comes complete with a printed back, and card number 801. There was no Darryl Palmer - the cards were props from the movie "The Slugger's Wife" and the gentleman in in the photograph is the actor Michael O'Keefe. The cards leaked into the hobby well before the movie came out (and bombed) in the Spring of 1985 - priced, I believe, at $50 apiece by dealer Doak Ewing in October, 1984.

Although there would be unissued "mini" cards - complete with fronts and backs, in the same dimensions as the 1975 mini test issue - by 1985 the Topps proof was history. The company began test printing its cards on first a kind of acetate plastic which hardly resembled a card at all, and then, as computer design began to take over, on glossy stock slightly thicker than paper.

Like 1984's "Darryl Palmer" there would be aberrations not listed on any checklist - a special 1990-style card produced for President George H. W. Bush depicting him in his 1944 Yale University uniform (a handful of which somehow got into the card packs this year, and one of which turned up on eBay in 2006), and a rash of 1992 cards featuring dealers and collectors who posed in Braves' uniforms at the Atlanta National, plus a commemorative sheet from the same event featuring cards of everybody from basketball star Ann Meyers to Larry King.

But gradually the entire process cut out the printer - and thus the whole concept of the "proof." Topps product designers and managers have only to press "print" on their desktop computers to get a sense of what a card will look like. Occasionally the glossy sheets - usually featuring no more than a dozen cards or so - will be sold off into the hobby via eBay (examples from a Fan Favorites set came complete with variations and indeed complete card fronts not seen in the issued set). And in 2007, a full sheet of 132 Topps Heritage designs, on the thin glossy stock, was seen being carted around company headquarters.

In some senses, then, the proof has come full circle. The first we've found, from 1957, aren't proofs per se - they're "pre-prints" on glossy, thin, paper. And half a century later, after a much more mechanical and cumbersome process created an entire genre of exciting and mysterious cards, the proof is once again just a flimsier, shinier version of the issued card it precedes.
“interesting to some absolute garbage to others.” —- “Error cards and variations are for morons, IMHO.”

Last edited by Cliff Bowman; 03-28-2024 at 11:35 PM. Reason: Fixing my grammatical errors
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Old 03-29-2024, 06:49 PM
Cliff Bowman's Avatar
Cliff Bowman Cliff Bowman is offline
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Here are some scans I "borrowed" for the years 1978-1984.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg 78 proof torrez.jpg (99.3 KB, 141 views)
File Type: jpg 83 proof inset.jpg (47.4 KB, 138 views)
File Type: jpg 84 darryl-palmer-84-topps1.jpg (36.9 KB, 143 views)
File Type: jpg 81 proof raines.jpg (111.1 KB, 140 views)
File Type: jpg 83 proof tommy john.jpg (114.6 KB, 141 views)
File Type: jpg 84 ecased trillo.jpg (141.7 KB, 139 views)
File Type: jpg 84 ecased carlton - matthews.jpg (150.7 KB, 139 views)
File Type: jpg 83 proof fanning.jpg (101.7 KB, 140 views)
File Type: jpg 80 pepsi guidry.jpg (137.7 KB, 139 views)
File Type: jpg 80 holtzman.jpg (95.8 KB, 139 views)
“interesting to some absolute garbage to others.” —- “Error cards and variations are for morons, IMHO.”

Last edited by Cliff Bowman; 03-29-2024 at 08:58 PM. Reason: Added photo
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Old 04-03-2024, 01:14 PM
JustinD's Avatar
JustinD JustinD is offline
Ju$tin D@v3n.por+
Join Date: May 2009
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1985 is my favorite year for the 80's as the proof/tests were so plentiful.

The 85' Mini's were available in so many versions (complete, blank white, blank tan, red back). However, much like the 1988 Topps Cloth, I do consider them more of an individual test set (the blank backs would be proofs of the Mini in definition for thought). I think an argument could go both ways.

For what I would consider a true proof, I think the often overlooked issues are the "Acme varnished" and "Fuch varnished" blue backs that were brought to auction in 2017. I would have to to some digging to find my examples.
- Justin D.

Player collecting - Lance Parrish, Jim Davenport, John Norlander.

Successful B/S/T with - Highstep74, Northviewcats, pencil1974, T2069bk, tjenkins, wilkiebaby11, baez578, Bocabirdman, maddux31, Leon, Just-Collect, bigfish, quinnsryche...and a whole bunch more, I stopped keeping track, lol.
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Old 04-03-2024, 03:56 PM
ALR-bishop ALR-bishop is offline
Al Richter
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I have a set of the 85 minis in regular backs and blank backs, but mixed in tan and white. Have about half the set in red back. Not not sure if there are multiples that way. Have a couple of swoosh backs where the colors are blurred together. The 82 Blackess, 84 Encased, 85 Minis, 88 cloth, 89 Big Head Suckers and Double Header Yankee proofs were the toughest Topps sets of the 80s for me
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