The 1989 Topps Pete Rose baseball card always struck me as trying to be something more than what it was … which was, of course, just a manager card jammed right into the middle of the Junk Wax Era of the hobby.
My first impression of the card, which lasted for years, and which still strikes me from time to time, was that the thing was a painting, or at least that Pete’s Cincinnati Reds uniform was airbrushed on.
See that soft, gloppy shading on his jersey?
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On closer inspection, it’s not that hard to figure out it’s all a trick of shadows and light, aided by the way the cartoony “Reds” and name banner sort of swirl into the white-grays of Rose’s pajama-top road shirt.
And Rose had been back with the Reds for more than four full seasons by that point. What need would Topps have had to whip out that trusty paintbrush gizmo of theirs?
Sometimes when I see the card these days, it still feels like a throwback to the 1960 Topps manager cards, where each skipper stood or sat under a team banner, and where color enhancement made the whole thing look like a high-saturation painting of some sort.
It might even have the feel of a 1930s gum card or a 1910s tobacco card — depends on the day and my mood.
All that cardboard anachronism has been in place from the beginning.
It’s easy to look back now, though, and wonder what else is going on with that 1989 Topps Pete Rose card, and to make yourself think it was a seer of sorts.
After all, Pete looks kind of sour, not all that happy to be there, despite the fact that his Reds were four-time runners-up on the National League West (in a row) and probably again favored to take the flag in the season just ahead (1989, that was).
Maybe it was all that close-but-no-Buffalo-Bills anticipation and inevitable disappointment that had Pete’s face scowled up.
Or maybe he was thinking about what lay ahead, or what might lay ahead — discovery, disappointment, scandal, disgrace.
Did Pete know beforehand that his gambling gig might be up any day? That the baseball powers that be would hold his feet to the fire for committing baseball’s cardinal sin?
It’s hard to say for sure, but when you consider that Rose wouldn’t even finish out the summer with the Reds — or in the game — and that he’d be barred from Hall of Fame consideration within two years, his posture on 1989 Topps card #505 takes on new meaning.
What’s he hiding there with his right shoulder?
Is there a slip of paper somewhere in front of him?
Is he doffing his cap to fans, and the Reds, and the game itself, bidding us a bitter adieu?
It’s all silly, revisionist history, of course. There’s no way a simple baseball card could have told us all that before the bottom fell out of Charlie Hustle’s world.
The Dowd Report is one of the most infamous document in the history of Major League Baseball, and it sealed Rose’s fate. So it’s always a bit jarring to see something like this:
That’s a copy of The Report autographed by Pete himself.
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