Topps Project 70: Déjà vu, but better

Last year, Topps did a yearlong thing mixing art and baseball cards called Project 2020. The concept was that 20 artists from across the art/fashion/culture spectrum would be assigned 20 classic cards from the Topps catalog, and each artist would put their own artistic spin on reimagining those cards, and the resulting 400 pieces of mini sports art would be issued for purchase on, two at a time, for two days, printed to order, throughout 2020. The cost per card was $20.20, natch.

The responses to this project were varied. A lot of collectors slept on it at first, then piled in when a few key cards started garnering big prices on eBay, then piled out, disgruntled and dissatisfied, when further hoarding of these cards resulted in a market crash, leaving many selling their stockpiles for dimes on the dollar. From a purely cultural standpoint, it was a cool project, introducing a wide variety of artists to a much wider audience, and pulling fans from each artist’s coterie into the realm of sports card collecting. It was imaginative, it was homage, it was creative … but then it was also a little stale by the end, when we’d all seen 17 or 18 different takes on the same Tony Gwynn or Jackie Robinson card. The variety of takes was impressive, but a lot of collectors wanted to see other players, other artists, other card styles and designs represented. The 2020 concept was too restrictive.

So for 2021, the 70th anniversary of Topps baseball cards as we know them, they rewound the tape and started again, this time with Project 70. This time, there are 51 (this all started in 1951, after all) artists, rappers, graffiti masters, streetwear brands, and models-turned-painters involved and each trifecta of new cards (up from two last round) are available, printed to order at, for 70 hours. And this time, there are no real restrictions on the artists. Supposedly, each artist was allowed to select their favorite players and apply their favorite card designs from across Topps’s history. It seems likely there were SOME restrictions placed on artist’s choices, otherwise we may see a similar problem as Project 2020, where the same popular players pop up over and over and over again, but neither Topps nor the artists involved are saying if there are.

As a fan of Project 2020, I’m a fan of Project 70, too. I’m not buying the cards I’m buying to make money. I’m buying them because I appreciate the players, the designs, and the artists involved. I don’t have bottomless pockets, so each new release, I’m making careful decisions about which cards I should buy, which ones I may be able to pick up cheap on eBay later, and which ones I just have to pass up. The project just started up in the last month or so, and so far I’ve purchased two cards, and had two cards that “got away.”

The two purchases are Lauren Taylor’s gorgeous muralistic/realistic take on Yankee right fielder Aaron Judge, based on the Topps 1969 design:

And DJ Skee’s reimagining of a Satchel Paige Topps card as the cover to the classic hip-hop album “Illmatic” by Queens-born rapper Nas:

I bought both of those cards on sight. No hesitation. I did, however, hesitate too long on these next two cards, and I’m kicking myself a little bit. The first, this frankly mind-blowing, layered, dynamic interpretation of young Blue Jay Vladimir Guererro Jr. by Joseph Ari Aloi, aka JK5:

The other miss really haunts me. I saw it, I wanted it, and then I waited, thinking I still had time. The next day when I went to buy it, the 70 hour clock had expired. I liked it so much, I went and followed the artist, Alex Pardee, on multiple social media channels to make sure I don’t miss his next card. I present to you the radical, amazing, freaky, monstrous Atlanta outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., as depicted in an alternate universe in the year 1990, as something resembling Baraka from Mortal Kombat II:

This card, of course, now goes for well more than double what it would have cost me to buy it direct from Topps. Like I said, I’m not missing the next one from this mad artistic genius.

UPDATE 3/25/21: The second card from Alex Pardee dropped today, and he’s definitely got a theme going on here. The back story to this one is that Mike Trout helped repel an alien invasion at the ballpark, and put the skin of an alien’s face on over his own as a sort of trophy. Weirdly, this insinuates that Acuña, as depicted above, IS an alien, potentially subject to bat-based murder by earthling Mike Trout (?!) I did, in any case, buy it immediately:

As I hinted at above, there are already a few players with multiple cards barely a month into the project (there are at least two Acuña cards, two Fernando Tatis Jr. cards, two Ken Griffey Jr. cards, lots of New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, etc.), so maybe this will get old. There are projected to be at least a thousand cards by the end of it, with 51 artists doing 70 cards a piece, so how will it keep its momentum?

That remains to be seen, but for now, I’m still excited to see the new card drops when they pop up on Facebook.

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