Baseball cards influenced Andy Warhol. They hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They go at auction for more money than many classic paintings. They're pop art in your back pocket.
And now, Topps has decided to embrace that for its brand new collection, Project 2020. They asked 20 artists to each offer up their interpretation of 20 iconic cards — 400 cards in all — ranging from Jackie Robinson's 1952 card to Mike Trout's 2011 rookie card.
These are the cards collectors salivate over, the ones you can picture when you close your eyes, the ones that are just as famous as the men they depict.
Card by Naturel
Starting on March 25, Topps will release two cards a day, and they'll be available for 24 hours. The first pair: Jacob Rochester's take on a 1955 Sandy Koufax, and jeweler Ben Baller's version of Ichiro Suzuki's 2001 card.
Rochester, a Yankees fan from Connecticut, wrote in an email that his style is "referential, but still highly personal. My subject matter is often things that have interested me in the past, and translating them in a way that speaks to me now. I think that's why my work is able to resonate with a lot of people because they can relate to it in some way, whether they pick up on the reference or not. Flipping an old baseball or basketball card is a perfect example of that."
For an example of that style, check out this self-portrait Rochester made months ago that he shared on Instagram:
He tried to follow a similar style for each of the cards he worked on, which you can see in the process image he shared with MLB.com:
"There were definitely certain cards that I had an easier time knocking out than others, but overall it was fun figuring out how to reinterpret each one," Rochester said. "… I really resonate with the color palette I used for the Ken Griffey and Sandy Koufax cards for whatever reason."
Baller approached the cards in a very different way. Which makes sense — after all, while Rochester is primarily a visual artist, Baller is a jeweler whose clients have ranged from Kanye West and Drake to Matt Kemp and Juan Uribe (he's currently at work on a piece for Joc Pederson).
The lifelong Angeleno and Dodgers fan — his first visit to Dodger Stadium was during the 1978 World Series — grew up a baseball card collector, so he jumped at the chance to work with Topps.
"When I was a kid, baseball cards were currency," Baller said in a phone call. "That was the original barter item. When [the project] was presented to me, I was like 'Are you kidding me?'"
As someone whose day job requires him to work closely on "specifics and certain details," he was surprised to find designing the cards more difficult than his jewelry. But he did have a specific aesthetic that he wanted to get across.
"I wanted to give them a vintage futuristic look," Baller said. "For Ichiro, I wanted to give this a modern Blade Runner-ish aesthetic."
Baller noted that he wanted to update the card, without reinventing it. The jeweler loves similes, and he compared his process to how the Porsche 911 has only made small stylistic shifts in the entire history of the car.
"It's more personable when someone can walk up to someone and say, 'Oh, you trimmed your eyebrows?' or 'Oh, you sharpened your mustache. I just wanted something like that."
That the project starts with his Ichiro card is also important to Baller.
Screengrab via @BenBaller on Instagram
"I was the first Asian-American person in my university to play football and basketball. I got a scholarship to play football at a Division I college, and I can't think of one Asian person that played ball," Baller said. "After my era, I started seeing people playing basketball, there were football people, there were guys that made the pros. Ichiro was one of the early guys. Now there's [Hyun-Jin] Ryu and other people, but I was happy there was an Asian in the choice of [cards] I could do. Ichiro was someone that stood out."
Each card will be available for 24 hours, with Topps printing each card to order. Go to Topps.com/project2020 to check them out. The first two will be available beginning at noon ET.