In addition to career stats, the flip side of many Topps cards features stylistically unmistakable line drawings of ballplayers, say, pumping gas in full uniform. ("Bobby works at a service station in the off-season.") The subversive American artist Robert Crumb got his start at Topps. "All the old guys are gone now," says creative director Shu Lee, referring to the masters whose canvas was the card's back, "but we have a couple of artists who studied under them."
"Before SI and SportsCenter," says Silverstein, "a primary conveyor of information on an athlete was the back of his baseball card." Indeed, all I ever knew of Jim Fregosi was on the back of his Topps card: "Jim is a sales executive in the off-season." Fregosi was, to go by his line drawing, a door-to-door salesman of Fuller brushes, and he rang doorbells while wearing his baseball uniform.
The other day I bought a pack of Topps at a Target, peeled back the wrapper with a tingle of anticipation and felt the hair on my neck stand at attention before I saw—staring back at me, on top of the stack—not Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa or Pedro Martinez but (sigh) Giants pitching prospect Boof Bonser.
But then I pressed the gum to my nose and—for a moment, anyway—all was forgiven.