A Love Letter To A Season

It’s Valentine’s Day, and so what better time to share my labor of love from the past year. I’m talking about my entry into the ring of “what if we made our own Documentary / ToppsNOW sets” – a crazy project that a few of us actual saw through to completion. There are several posts over at the SABR Baseball Cards blog, written by our wonderful companion Nick Vossbrink, and I’m sure that before long a (condensed) version of this post will make its way there as well.

So let’s talk about this stupefyingly large project which I finally finished last week. I’ve shared a few glimpses (well, several if you follow me on Twitter) and teased it in a recent post after completing the page layouts. So without further ado, I present it to you:

2018 Starchives

The Name

Documentary felt stiff, and my cards weren’t made immediately so the NOW nomenclature was definitely out. I wanted something that denoted the temporal nature of the set, but there’s already a Chronicles (Panini), and Daily felt weird (plus there’s already a lovely Astros Daily website), and while there were a couple other contenders in the running but I eventually settled on the portmanteau.

The Design

I’m an 80’s baby and a child of the 90’s. If you’ve followed this blog at all, you’ll know I love my late-90’s cardboard. It certainly doesn’t hurt that that period involved the first run of successful Astros teams in my lifetime (well, ’86 doesn’t predate me but it does predate my fandom). 1998 is one of my favorite years in baseball cardboard – there were a ton of great designs, and I wavered between several options before settling on 1998 SP Authentic as my basis. It’s a sublime set, and allowed me to do something photo-centric while affording me an easy headline space. I was also able to utilize the same design for both my roster cards and highlights. I’ve included a scan of the original Bagwell card that endears me to the design. Also, I really liked the idea of it being a 20 year-old set.*
Foil printing was obviously not feasible, but with a little help from Nick I managed to put together a mask that mimicked the rough-edge darkroom print photo borders. I decided to rotate the mask so as to not have identical borders on each card, as the SP set does.
* Nick used ’93 Upper Deck as his design basis, so he hit the 25 year mark.

The Backs

I have to give a massive amount of credit to Nick here. I was stuck, and thought this might be the downfall of my set. I briefly thought about recreating the SP backs, then decided they weren’t all that great. I researched other card backs from the 1998 sets, and nearly went in on an extra panel of stats and complex bios like Score* before coming to my senses and realizing that I was adding an immense amount of work to what had been an already significant project.

So, I reached out to Nick and asked for a copy of his highlight backs. I made some design tweaks, changed colors and fonts, and gave it my own twist, but they are by and large his creation. I kept his vertical format, something which I think looks really neat when you flip through the pages in a binder.

For the roster backs, I began by adapting the highlight design. I moved the boxscore down and transmogrified it into a statline. Because it was a set specifically designed to chronicle a season, I went with single-season + career lines, leaving me room for a quick few sentences to summarize each player’s year.

I had to decide what exactly I wanted to showcase – I like to add a little bit of advanced stat** flair on my customs. I had briefly thought about making these backs vertical as well before deciding I wouldn’t be able to cram all the numbers I wanted into those narrow columns. For the player cards, I also added a “Stat Blast” below the statline, something that highlighted a more unusual statistic that was often pulled from Statcast or the Splits page in Baseball-Reference.

* They were still doing this in 1998! Go check one, there is a panel of fielding stats and splits!
** I used BRef’s WAR stat.


The Roster Cards

As a team collector – and someone with an audacious autograph project for said team – one thing I often lament is the lack of cards for the non-stars and bit players in a season. “Give me middle relievers! Give me third and fourth string catchers!” I cry. So, every single player that made an appearance with the Astros in 2018 – all 41 of them – has a card in this set. This proved a bit hard when sourcing photos, and I had to pilfer a couple 2017 photos* to finish these off, but I managed to get it done.

What’s more, I didn’t stop with the players, either. Yes, there’s a manager card – and I could have left it at that, but I made individual cards of the entire coaching staff, so that was another 9 cards. You want a challenge? Try finding a photo of the bullpen coach for your team in action. I had to settle for a photo day shot of Doug White.

* A.J. Reed (1 game) and Reymin Guduan (3 games). I did manage to find a shot of James Hoyt in his lone appearance, though.

The Highlights

While Matt (from the Summer of ’74 blog) and Nick chose the route of sane persons and simply made cards for the highlights (and occasionally lowlights) from the year, I decided to go whole hog and make a card for every game. I was bound and determined to get this done, and sometime in mid-January I finally finished that task.
It was not always easy, and not always fun. Sure, there were plenty more wins than losses, but there were several fairly uneventful games in there. After a while, it becomes tiresome, but once you’ve already done a third of the season you can’t just quit. So, I made 162 game recap cards, plus another 8 playoff games. The ALDS games were more fun than the following ALCS contests.

The Filler

If you’ve been keeping track, that’s 41 roster cards, 9 manager/coach cards, 162 game cards, and 8 playoff cards. But that number is only 220, and that’s not divisible by 9 – I was in a quandry. 162 is divisible by 9, however, so I wanted to make sure the highlights started on a fresh page. So, this required a little bit of filler. I rounded out the player + coach section of the beginning of the set with a card of the stadium and the mascots. The broadcasters were also an option, but the card of Lil’ Bit – Orbit’s occasionally seen inflatable buddy – was just screaming to be made, with the photo featuring a pair of windbags (I’m looking at you, Country Joe).

The Inserts

With Houston having another excellent season, there were several All-Star cards to be made, which brought another 7 cards to the set: Altuve, Springer, Bregman, Morton, Verlander, Cole, and Hinch. I probably wouldn’t have shoehorned these in, but I got excited just prior to the game and decided to tackle another design for these. In the end, I reworked the great Future Watch rookie subset from SP into its own All-Star design. At first I thought I was crazy to try it, but once I figured out the layout I became really proud of these.

That still left me with 3 spots to fill to bring the set to another full page, so I made a few achievement cards as well. Again, I went back to the source for inspiration, and lifted the design from the Chirography autograph inserts in 1998 SP. Those feature a square photo with the autograph below, so I just extended the photo frame, making the picture larger. Altuve’s Silver Slugger award finished off the playoff page, while Bregman’s All-Star MVP and Home Run Derby appearance finished my All-Stars page.

The Checklist

I don’t expect you to have kept track, so here’s a breakdown of the checklist.

  • Card 1: Minute Maid Park, with team leaders listed on the back.
  • Cards 2-42: Players, in order of appearance. We opened on the road, so I put the Opening Day lineup in order of their position designations.
  • Cards 43-45: Orbit, Lil’ Bit, Bobby Dynamite (the train engineer)
  • Cards 46-54: A.J. Hinch and the coaching staff.
  • Cards 55-216: The full season, games 1-162
  • Cards 217-224: Playoffs
  • Card 225: Altuve Silver Slugger
  • Cards 226-232: All-Stars
  • Cards 233 & 234: Bregman All-Star highlights.
Yes, I made a 234-card set. I’m certifiably insane.

The Process

I’ll spare you the gory details, but my process of making the cards involved creating individual Photoshop files for each card. My photos came primarily from the Astros own photo blog and the Houston Chronicle slideshows, with Zimbio and the local papers filling in occasionally for the road games.
Once my individual files were complete, I made full page 9-card layouts in Indesign, and then I took those to the local print shop. Due to a printing error (gross negligence on my part), I actually wound up with a rather happy surprise. I didn’t catch that the PDF had been sized down to fit the page (my files were full pages with trim marks), and the entire first run came out as minis – and they do indeed match the 1975 size! Fortunately, the lovely woman at the print shop had pity on me and charged me a fraction of the cost to run everything again at the right size.

The Lessons

The main takeaway was that this was entirely too large of a project. Otherwise, it was also an immense amount of fun to see these to fruition. When I hand-cut all 26 pages into their respective pieces, my heart swelled with joy. These are just so damn neat.
But I won’t do this again – never on this scale. What I will do, however, is make another roster set, and possibly a handful of highlights for the 2019 season. Because it’s really fun to make a fun card of one of the guys like Tony Kemp – a key player in the season but certainly one who will get left off many checklists – and have him think that card is super-cool when you give him a copy. He even offered to sign a second one for me.
So please, join us in our quest in 2019. Nick has whipped up a common template, and you certainly don’t need to take this as far as I did. But you might have a lot of fun.

0 Replies to “A Love Letter To A Season”

  1. Awesome set! Love the way you cropped the Altuve Silver Slugger card and the Bregman Home Run Derby card. They're gorgeous! This would be a fun project… especially since it'd keep me on top of my beloved Athletics. But I'm not ready for another commitment right now.

  2. You should do the Cubs this year! Just roster cards. Nick and I can supply a template, and you'd just drop photos in. Or you could even just select photos and one of us could make the cards.

  3. Even though I've seen the progress of the set on Twitter, I still can't believe someone was able to create it all by themselves! Congratulations on the achievement.

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