By Dan | @DGood73
Baseball history isn't always pretty.
The game's past is full of hate and deception and insensitivity, trends that occasionally emerged on cards. Roberto Clemente, a baseball legend and Puerto Rican icon, was identified as "Bob" on many of his Topps releases. Bob sounded more American.
In 1962, the Houston Colt .45s – named for a gun – began their first season. It wasn't the first or last time a sports team would adopt a weapon-inspired nickname. Basketball's Baltimore (and later Washington) Bullets won an NBA Championship and also introduced Gheorghe Muresan to the world.
But oh, those Colt .45s ... Despite rosters full of one-time or would-be stars such as Joe Morgan, Nellie Fox, Bobby Shantz and Jim Wynn, the Colts could never emerge from the National League's doldrums. After three 96-loss seasons, Houston's misfiring franchise moved into a then-revolutionary sports stadium and changed its name to the Astros.
Even with the team's short, unsuccessful run, or maybe because of it, the Colt .45s have achieved a cult status of sorts, with hats and shirts still popular. Astros players even wore Colt .45s jerseys in two games last season to commemorate the franchise's 50th anniversary. The uniforms featured a pistol logo across the chest.
While the throwback jerseys were adequate for use in official Astros games, they weren't cleared by MLB for cardboard inclusion. Topps planned to feature current Astros players in Colt .45 uniforms for a throwback variation in 2013 Heritage, a set that celebrates 1964 Topps.
It would have been intriguing and fun to see Jose Altuve and company showcased in 1960s attire.
But alas, Topps's request was denied – disappointing but understandable given recent gun tragedies. We're more considerate these days, more aware, and our cards reflect that. Roberto is identified as Roberto today. Gun nicknames are fading from use.
While it's not Topps's fault that the Colt .45 cards were scrapped, the company compounded the problem – and ignored its own cardboard past – by creating replacement variations showing current Nationals players such as Bryce Harper donning Washington Senators jerseys.
The mishmash reflects a troubling trend for a company that prides itself on its history, especially when the situation involves a yesterday-leaning brand such as Heritage. While the Colt .45s legacy lives on with today's Astros, the 1960s Senators and current Nationals represent two different franchises. The Frank Howard-led, Ted Williams-managed Senators moved to Dallas-Fort Worth after the 1971 season and became the Texas Rangers.
The Nationals franchise, meanwhile, began in 1969 with the Montreal Expos.
So Topps is creating Bryce Harper short-prints in pre-Rangers jerseys. What's next – Ryan Braun with the Milwaukee Braves? Eric Hosmer for the Kansas City Athletics?
When faced with a dilemma, Topps chose gimmicks over authenticity. While baseball's past isn't always pretty, Topps's revisionism is also troubling.