Topps gum stick baseball card art by Matthew Lee Rosen

How a Simple Stick of Gum Became so Meaningful

As an 8-year old, I spent most of the summer of 1985 visiting my grandparents. The mornings took place in the basement, watching cartoons and baseball highlights on SportsCenter. That's where I'd play catch with a bouncy ball against the stairs... pretending to be Ryne Sandberg. By the afternoon, my imaginary baseball game moved outdoors, and I would eventually return to the basement to watch a few innings of the Cubs on WGN.
Interspersed between all of my ball-playing activities, my grandfather would randomly surprise me with wax packs of '85 Topps. He'd hide them throughout the house, or drop them onto the floor through his pants leg. He'd always have a mischievous, yet loving smile on his face... knowing how excited I'd be to open a new pack.

The smell of card stock and chewing gum triggers fond memories for anyone who opened wax packs as a kid in the 80's. I ate many hard sticks of gum that summer, even the ones stuck to the back of the card. 

When I started making my artwork a little over 12 months ago, I naturally gravitated back toward the '85 Topps set. The first thing you'd see when you opened up the back of a wax pack was that stick of gum. I'd start chewing right away while flipping through the cards.
Even if I didn't find a Sandberg, or a Ron Cey, or a Gary Matthews... I still got to chew bubble gum and go play ball outside. And, I didn't really care if the gum stained the back of the card or not... afterall, I was an 8-year old kid who just stuck all the cards inside an old cigar box with rubber bands wrapped around them.
By the end of the decade, I was growing out of the hobby. Meanwhile, speculative investors were throwing huge dollars at potential superstars. It was the height of the card boom, with new premium brands marketing upscale print technologies. Collectors didn't want gum sticks tarnishing their valuable rookie cards, so they eventually pushed Topps to stop including gum by 1992.
So... eventually greed, from grown men, reshaped a children's hobby for profits. Coming to that understanding, I've now decided to incorporate the gum stick into my newest work. It's an image I can look at to generate wonderful memories from my childhood. Yet, it also symbolizes the stains on the hobby... or more particularly on a tainted career like Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds.
Thank you for reading an original thought by baseball card artist Matthew Lee Rosen. The photograph featured for this blog post is a detailed image of my Barry Bonds '86 Topps Traded Gum StickYou can also like it on my InstagramLearn more about me by visiting my other sites: fortheartofit. & Matthew Lee Rosen.
Back to blog