Imagine that you are in a position to rescue an important hobby institution, a genuine treasure that played a vital role in the growth and expansion of the hobby for nearly two decades but now is likely to disappear forever if somebody doesn’t step in pretty quickly.
That is pretty much where we are at with the acclaimed Perez-Steele Hall of Fame Postcard Series, gone now for a decade and most likely a casualty of a hobby/industry caught up in so many other things that it runs the risk of forgetting what’s really important.
Topps and the Baseball Hall of Fame are in the curious position of jointly being the last reasonable hope of that important series being revived in this new millennium. More on that in a bit.
For those keeping score at home, what Dick Perez created and Frank and Peggy Steele marketed and distributed from 1980-2001 is arguably the most significant non-mainstream card issue created in our lifetime. That’s a broad statement, but not, I would insist, hyperbole.
Frank Steele’s vision and Dick Perez’s remarkable artistry produced the 15-series Hall of Fame Art Postcard issue that instantly became a hit with collectors in the early 1980s and just as quickly helped drive the modern autograph industry with the arrival of a spectacular, elegant baseball card issue that would look more at home in an art gallery or a CEO’s office wall than it would in a shoebox. And that’s precisely what happened.
A cottage industry quickly developed centered around the creation of an autographed set of cards that would link more than 100 years of baseball history. And then, sadly, events conspired to seemingly bring it to an end.
I say “seemingly,” because I can’t shake the belief that the HOF Postcard Series is way too important to be allowed to fall by the wayside. Too much of that has already happened in our hobby over the last tumultuous three decades. For the hobby to have strength and survive into new generations, the truly venerable institutions (here meaning card sets) have to survive.
What have we to show for the 30 years that roughly coincides with the notorious hobby boom that brought baseball card collectors “out of the closet” even before that term would have a different primary usage within the culture?
Topps is still issuing cards, but the other companies – Fleer, Donruss, Score, Pacific, Upper Deck and others – are not, or at least not in the conventional sense of a mainstream baseball card set produced every year. Anybody who loves this hobby at all can see the importance of the connective tissue of a traditional Topps set being produced every year as an important way to bridge one generation to the next. The same can be said about the Perez-Steele franchise.
So here goes.
As many serious hobbyists already know, the amazing Dick Perez has been producing the artwork of all the new Hall of Famers just as he did during the 21-year run of the HOF Art Postcard Series. That seems to me to be a most important key, maybe the most important, certainly in an artistic sense.
What that means, of course, is that the series could be restarted in a New York Minute, assuming that the logistical – meaning player and league authorization and licensing and marketing and production – obstacles could be addressed.
That’s no small consideration, and the simplest thing in the world is to say that it’s too complicated, too involved and messy, too expensive, and then throw up your hands and move on to the tepid and insignificant and unimportant stuff that isn’t complicated, involved, messy or expensive. And the minute we do that something vital in our hobby is lost.
So my idea is that Topps and the Baseball Hall of Fame would jointly undertake to rescue the most important non-mainstream baseball card issue ever produced. The Hall of Fame already has links to the Perez-Steele principals; Peggy Steele has been an active force at the Hall for more than a decade in promoting the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program, and the iconic Dick Perez artwork continues to be prominently displayed in Cooperstown.
That’s reason enough to suggest the involvement of the Hall of Fame, but there’s another aspect that’s just as important: the Hall is presumably in a position to avoid or at least cope with some of the vast player authorization and league licensing issues that likely spell the demise of so many worthwhile card projects.
Indeed, it was Frank Steele’s entree to the Hall of Fame that helped create the franchise in the first place. Steele, the loquacious Irishman and hobby pioneer of the first order, died in June of 2000, but as noted above, the linkage between the Perez-Steele artwork and the Hall continues to this day.
Obviously, a collaboration between the Hall of Fame and Topps could produce an almost endless array of promotional and marketing opportunities, but even if such a proposal were strictly confined to the purpose of reviving the suspended Perez-Steele HOF Postcard Series, it would be worth it.
(Part II of this entry will appear tomorrow, Oct. 1)