Armour: The great Topps baseball card monopoly: Men without hats

From SABR member Mark Armour at The National Pastime Museum on April 28, 2016:

In December 1965 the Cincinnati Reds traded Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles, a deal that had a large impact on the baseball scene over the next few years. The good people at Topps, who were putting together the photos for their 1966 baseball card set at the time, had a problem on their hands. One of Topps’ primary goals every year was to show each of their 400 to 600 subjects fully decked out in the uniform of his current team. Topps likely had a few dozen photos of Robinson in their files but obviously none of them wearing an Orioles uniform. What to do?

For most of these years the bulk of the Topps photo archive was taken in Arizona and Florida during spring training. To hedge their bets, Topps took a few photos of each player without a hat. This would allow them to deal with team changes, and this is how they handled the Robinson trade. Robinson is very obviously wearing a Reds uniform, but without the hat Topps felt they could better pass him off as an Oriole to the nation’s youth. Topps could have chosen to leave Robinson a Red, or to delay his card until a later series and try to get a new photo in spring training—they couldn’t do this for every player, but Robinson seems more important than most.

The very next year Topps handled Maury Wills this way—he was traded to the Pirates in December, but Topps put him out in the seventh series the next summer in his brand new Pirates togs. (Coincidentally, this was Wills’s first Topps card—they had never been able to sign him, and when they finally did they might have wanted to do it right.)

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Originally published: April 28, 2016. Last Updated: April 28, 2016.