Statistical History of Topps Baseball Card Backs
I think Toby Harrah said it best when he was quoted as saying, "Statistics are like a girl in a fine bikini. It shows a lot, but it doesn't show everything." It's true that statistics don't show you everything about a player, but they do tell you just about everything you would ever need to know about how affective a player is on the diamond. That is, if you're looking at the right stats.
Statistics have been a permanent fixture on the backs of almost every player card in the base Topps set since 1952. For 30 years, there was very little change to the ways stats were presented on baseball cards. Position players had the traditional stat lines (games, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, runs batted in, and batting average). Interestingly, in 1981 when Topps finally had some competition in the baseball card market, stolen bases, walks, strikeouts, and slugging percentage were added. Both Fleer and Donruss chose to go with similar statistics on their cards as well. Between 1981 and 2003, there was literally no change to the way statistics appeared on the backs of Topps cards. The only change that has been made since the 80s is the addition of OPS (On-base percentage Plus Slugging) in 2004. Overall, though, the backs of baseball cards have changed very little since the stat lines were first introduced back in 1952.
If I had my way, I would scrap the stats they're using and go with a whole new approach. I'm not saying that all of the statistics used on the back of baseball cards today are useless. Batting average, which has been used since the 1800s, is a good measure of the effectiveness of a batter. But instead of Slugging Percentage (SLG) I would like to see On-Base Percentage (OBP). While you're at it, why not throw in some sabermetric stats to make the backs of baseball cards really interesting? BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) is gaining traction as a “go-to" stat among many mainstream baseball analysts. WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is another stat that's measures a player's worth in comparison to a replacement-level player.
Armed with this new data on the backs of baseball cards, they would become a conduit to expose more people to advance statistics, thus increasing people's awareness (and in turn their enjoyment) of the game. Looking at it from a business perspective, these new stats on the back of baseball cards would draw some much-needed media attention to the hobby. Something like this could be a shot in the arm to help revitalize the business of trading cards. Someone just needs to convince Topps that this is a money-making idea.