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Baseball Sets Turning to Cameo Appearances

by Paul Angilly
April 6, 2004

A new trend seems to be emerging in the trading card industry -- companies using cards of people other than baseball players to help sell baseball card sets.

Late last year, the 2003 Upper Deck SP Legendary Cuts Hall of Fame edition included a limited number of cards featuring cut signatures from 14 former United States Presidents. The 2004 Upper Deck series one set included "First Pitch" insert cards that featured LeBron James, Gordie Howe, Army General Tommy Franks, and actors Ben Affleck and Halle Barry, among others.

In 2004 Topps series one baseball, one cut signature card from every U.S. President in history was included as random inserts. Topps will continue that "American Treasures" insert in series two with other prominent historical figures.

In 2001 and 2002, Topps offered a pair of "American Pie" sets, which featured baseball players along with other prominent historical figures, moments and trends from the 20th century -- with relic cards that included pieces of jackets worn by Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, a dress worn by Marilyn Monroe and even rubble from the Berlin Wall.

Now Donruss has announced a new "Fans of the Game" insert program that will run through many of its 2004 baseball products, starting with Donruss Elite in May. According to a company release, the new insert set "will feature autographed cards and rookie cards from some of the most popular and passionate baseball fans in the entertainment and athletic communities."

In other words, you might open a pack of 2004 Donruss Elite baseball cards and get an autographed (or non-autographed) card of Emmy award-winning actor James Gandolfini, who stars as Tony Soprano on HBO’s popular series "The Sopranos."

Other people in Donruss’ initial Fans of the Game offering are: young soccer phenom Freddy Adu, four-time gold medalist Olympic swimmer Janet Evans, soccer star Brandi Chastain and Summer Sanders, a four-time Olympic medal-winning swimmer. All five will be featured on standard cards as well as on autographed versions, linked with their respective favorite Major League Baseball teams.

Donruss plans to have more personalities in future Fans of the Game releases this year, with confirmed participants including: Regis Philbin, co-host of "Live With Regis and Kelly"; actor Charlie Sheen; actor/comedian Tom Arnold; actress Jamie-Lynn Discala, who portrays Meadow Soprano on "The Sopranos"; actor Corbin Bernsen; actor Steve R. Schirripa, who portrays Bobby Baccalieri on "The Sopranos"; actor Joe Mantegna; ESPN baseball analyst Peter Gammons; Jennie Finch, a member of the 2004 U.S. Women’s softball team; Jeff Garlin, comedic actor on HBO’s "Curb Your Enthusiasm" who also co-starred with Eddie Murphy in "Daddy Day Care"; Kerry Strug, U.S. Olympic gold-medal-winning gymnast; Dan Jansen, U.S. Olympic gold-medal winning speed skater; Bonnie Blair, U.S. Olympic gold-medal winning speed skater; Bode Miller, U.S. Olympic downhill skier; and soccer player Landon Donovan of the MLS’ San Jose Earthquakes.

Hockey Update from Topps: Although Topps had previously announced a couple of months ago that it would not be producing more than four hockey brands this season, the veteran card maker sent out a notice last week that it will release a 2003-04 Topps Traded & Rookies hockey set on April 26.

Although Topps has produced Traded/Update sets in baseball nearly every year since 1981 and has also issued a few football update sets over the years, this will be the first time it has issued a major update of its hockey set.

In recent years, Topps has offered some rookie cards through redemption offers and a few updated veteran cards as inserts in its Topps Chrome set. This year, an 8-card rookie redemption set was available with a card found in Topps packs, but there was no Topps Chrome set issued this season.

Topps’ only other sets this year have been C55, Pristine and Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects.

The Traded & Rookies set will be distributed in pack form ($3 per 8-card pack, 24 packs per box). Each box is guaranteed to include three relic cards.

The 165-card base set will include 47 traded players, with updated photos showing them with their new team; 37 update players who were not in the initial Topps hockey set but have emerged as essential pieces to their respective teams; and 81 rookies who did not appear in the initial set Topps set.

Parallels include Blue Line (numbered to 500), Red Line (numbered to 100) and Gold Line (numbered to 50). Relic cards include 25 Future Phenoms and 23 Franchise Fabric.

eTopps Begins 2004 Baseball Offerings: The eTopps line of cards from Topps, initially offered exclusively via online sales, began its 2004 baseball series last week with an eight-card offering -- including Alex Rodriguez in his New York Yankees uniform and 2003 American League batting champion Bill Mueller of the Boston Red Sox.

For the first time in any sport, eTopps also offered team cards, with the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians issued last week.

Topps plans to issue 120 different eTopps cards during the 2004 season (90 players and 30 team cards), with 5-8 cards available per week.

The company is also introducing an online "Playing for Keeps" game, in which collectors can use the players they’ve purchased through the eTopps program to compete in fantasy baseball games and tournaments.

In another new twist for 2004, eTopps now allows users to make real-time card trades. Details can be found at www.etopps.com.

About the author
Paul Angilly is a sports reporter for The Bristol Press in Connecticut, and has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia for 30 years. He is not a dealer, nor does he make a profit from buying and selling cards. His weekly sports card and memorabilia collecting column appears each week in The Bristol Press and several other daily newspapers in Connecticut.

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