A couple of months ago I was dicking around on eBay and I came across some interesting items. With no real intention of bidding on them , some quick thinking made me capture the images of these items up for bid. They've been sitting in a folder until today.
I am no stranger to the Topps Vault, and if I had more than a passing interest in some of the players included, I might be inclined to bid on these Topps file cards. This hilarious antiquated system of keeping records straight at the Topps offices seemed to extend well into the mid-1990s. While I'm sure this is done by computer now, it looks like this simple form was used to maintain an accurate record of each player's compensation, card number within a set, and other contract details. Let's look at the most recent, that of John Smoltz:
Everything's fairly straightforward here, just the production years, cards numbers, signing bonuses, as well as cash payments for each year Smoltz signed on with Topps. Five hundred bucks might not seem like much, but multiply this by let's say seven hundred players, and that cash starts to add up. (Nothing in comparison to today's autograph fees charged by the major stars, of course.)
If we reach back a few decades, however, the terms of the deal get a lot more interesting. Remember when contestants on "Wheel of Fortune" got to use their winnings to select prizes displayed on that old turntable set? Topps used to be kind of like that. Take a gander at the card for career journeyman Walt Bond, who played some non-consecutive seasons with the Indians, Colt .45s/Astros, and Twins:
Sweet Mother of Outdated Technology, look at that swag! Looks like rookies got a lousy tape recorder, but if you hung around The Bigs for long enough, the rewards improved dramatically.
1961 - RCA Portable Stereo
1963 - Bell & Howell Camera Projector
1964 - RCA Stereo Console
1965 - RCA Stereo Console (Why NOT two?)
Things start to go downhill when your career starts to peter out. In 1966 all Walt got was a Rogers 5-piece Tea and Coffee Serving Set. Ouch. Then for the "Summer of Love" poor Walt had to make do with a China Serving for Six. You gotta feel for the guy. All of his other friends got to go to the Monterey Pop Festival, and he's stuck with the ol' ball and chain scarfing down tea and crumpets, probably throwing his back out climbing a step ladder while putting away the "good china."
Did better-known players from larger markets get any better treatment? Let's take a look at the file card of Jim Bouton, long-time Yankee and well-known author of Ball Four:
I gotta say Bouton made out tons better. In '67 alone he got a Bell & Howell movie projector while Bond got some plates. And you know that if it's a Bell & Howell, that thing still works today. Shoot, I used one of those taking some film classes at the University of Wisconsin. It looked like it had been used to shoot newsreel footage during World War II, but it ran like a dream.
Full bedroom sets (1963), Samsonite luggage ('64), and a sweet-ass electric typewriter ('68): Does it get any better? Actually, yes it does, as in 1970 it looks like he opted for straight cash.
My favorite is the Thermos Camping Outfit Bouton got in 1965. I'm picturing clothing, but I'm sure it was a nice assortment of coolers, cookware, perhaps even a sleeping bag or two. But you know damn well that if Thermos made outdoor performance clothing, it would keep you cool on a hot day and quite toasty in the winter.
Right now, there are still some file card auctions going on. By a wide margin, the best one available is for Yogi Berra, but for about ten bucks, you can own a very unique part of history. (The only question left is, "How long before Topps effs this up and sticks pieces of these in cards?")