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The Bad Baseball Card Tournament: Day 4

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It's time once again to laugh at some of the ugliest cards ever made, as we prepare for next week's Sweet 16.

new photo next week, I promise
new photo next week, I promise
Patrick Dubuque

After an unfortunate delay, the Tournament returns for the final bracket of the opening round, this time a combination of subset cards and miscellaneous issues. Basically, these are cards that didn't even need to exist, even compared to all baseball cards that don't technically need to exist.

Wednesday's voting resulted in a couple of upsets and the emergence of a strong contender for the crown in Skybox's Dial 1 subset, which finished the day with the exact same dominating percentage (89%) as early favorite Metal Universe. But there's still plenty of time to make this a triumvirate.

In case you missed the first three days, the rules are simple: look at the pictures. Read some comedy jokes if you want context. Vote for the design (not the player) you think is uglier. Then go buy yourself a cinnamon roll at the local coffee house, because you deserve it.

Round four: fight.

#1: 1993 Topps Commanders of the Hill vs. #8: 1991 Topps Micro

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In 1991, Topps created a special type of card with a small foil-stamped corner and distributed them to soldiers in Kuwait during Operation: Desert Shield. Most of the soldiers didn’t care much about them, maybe because they were distracted by the war thing going on, but the few that made it back stateside became quite valuable. In 1993, Topps did the same thing with these monstrosities, which are worth as much as human excrement in the palm of one’s hand. Plus, there’s always the worry that if you drop it on the ground, you’ll never find it again. (Note: the COMC.com logo is a watermark, and is not part of the card.)

Overcompensating for their 1989 Bowman blunder, Topps issued this parallel set with cards measuring 1" by 1.375". I actually was given this set for my birthday as a kid. Even with a brighter color scheme, the backs were unreadable, they were impossible to store or even to hold properly, and after a week they scattered throughout the house like sand. I kept opening up boxes and finding Fred McGriffs and Fred McGriff All-Stars lying around, even after college. I wonder if the rest got thrown away and the two hidden Fred McGriff cards just found a way to breed, copulating silently in the back of a junk drawer.

#4: 1991 Score Master Blasters vs. #5: 1998 Fleer Ultra Pizzazz

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Age is hard on culture. All great things inspire imitation and all imitation ultimately dilutes and degrades its progenitor. We’ll never be able to watch Groucho Marx without instantly thinking of Bugs Bunny, or Fire Joe Morgan free of the tinge of every other baseball blogger since. So too is the case with the Master Blasters subset, which seems downright tame compared to the holographic ruin porn of the earlier cards of this tournament. But when it arrived, when we first saw this thing do something no card had done before, we stopped and thought: "Oh. Oh, Score. No." And that deserves something, even if it’s a first-round loss.

Look, I’m no artist. The last time I received money for a piece of art, I was six and won a ten-dollar coloring contest. But I believe there’s some little tab in each of our brains, some little warning mechanism that looks at something we’ve created and says no. No, this is not good enough. No, maybe I should take an ounce of goddamned pride in the occupation I am somehow paid for, at least make an attempt not to look like the fraud I am. I should iron my pants, or at least throw them in the extra dry cycle for ten minutes. I should print out a copy of my resume before going to this meeting. I should proofread this article.

Some people are missing this little tab. These people are psychopaths.

#3: 1994 Collector's Choice What's the Call vs. #7: 1995 Stadium Club Statistical Xtreme

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I spend too much time thinking about how humor works, and I can never really talk about it because dissecting humor is the worst. But then there’s this card. Caricatures, in general, are supposed to be either satirical or amusing – they’re supposed to exaggerate features in an attempt to jar, to create something unsettling and dissonant and thought-provoking. It’s not really my kind of art, but it’s been around for centuries, so it must be on to something. But I don’t think this card does this. In fact, I don’t know what it does. I do think it conflates being funny with being fun, almost excusing its own ugliness through its silliness. It’s that lower standard that got to things made for children in the old days, the kind that brought us Scrappy Doo cartoons and Horatio Alger novels. It’s awful and I hate it a little.

It’s a tragedy that we can never confer honor upon ourselves; in order to be considered a good person, that title must be bestowed on you by someone else. So too is the case with being extreme, Topps Stadium Club. If someone asks you what kind of person you are, it is unacceptable to answer: "Well, I’m pretty extreme." We all get to decide for ourselves what is extreme and what is not extreme. Trying too hard is not extreme. Multiple faces of Carlos Baerga is a little extreme, but not in the way you want to be extreme.

#2: 1985 Topps 3-D Baseball Stars vs. #6: 2001 Fleer Team Leaders

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Fun fact: the three-dimensional printing that created these cards was not developed via the archaic presses of the time, but rather by trapping restless, vengeful souls who sought revenge against the living. It is best not to look too closely at these cards, or to discuss the dark necromantic secrets of the Topps Baseball Card Company in public, lest you too be ensnared in an effigy of Dan Quisenberry’s face for all eternity, having a mouth but not being able to scream.

Maybe it was the hangover of Y2K, but the baseball card industry suddenly turned retro, choosing to mine nostalgia rather than Xcitement. That’s why there are so few post-millennial issues in the tourney; designs became more tasteful, on average, but they also became less creative and daring. Companies simply aped Sy Berger’s early designs over and over, when they weren’t outright plagiarizing them. But not all things were better before than now, and one instance is this: the tiny floating head look that once adorned Pete Rose’s rookie card. This should have stayed buried. It makes you realize how underrated, aesthetically, necks are.

After these votes, the Sweet 16 will be set. The easy choices have been made; beginning Monday, we'll begin to look deep in our hearts.