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Baseball, It’s What’s for Breakfast:
Serving Up the Kellogg’s 3-D Super Stars

Scott Ferkovich reminisces about the Kellogg’s 3-D Super Stars baseball card series. Notably, he details the background behind the 1972 All-Time Baseball Greats collection of 15 cards.

By Scott Ferkovich, November 22, 2017
This classic-looking Bob Gibson card comes from the first Kellogg’s 3-D Super Stars set in 1969.

When I first starting collecting baseball cards back in the 1970s, Topps had a virtual monopoly on the industry. There were a few other companies putting out their own cardboard collectibles, but they made up a microscopic portion of the market. Hostess, for example, occasionally printed a trio of “panel” cards on the bottoms of Twinkies boxes. Even Toys-R-Us and K-Mart tried to get in on the action.

One of the more interesting secondary players in the card market, however, was the company from Battle Creek, Michigan, known for its breakfast cereal and sugar-frosted toaster pastries.

It all began in 1970, when Kellogg produced a 75-card set it called the “3-D Super Stars.” Unlike Topps, which had always gone with a traditional look, the 3-D Super Stars cards were hippie-era groovy. A thin plastic coating gave them a vivid sheen, and when you tilted them back and forth, the background took on a wavy psychedelic effect.

Kellogg had a name for the funky photo process: “Xograph.” At the time, it was a trademark registered to a company called Visual Panographics (probably staffed by a bunch of acid trippers). Whatever Xograph was, it was far out, man. If space aliens ever printed baseball cards, they would look like the 3-D Super Stars.

Breakfast would never be the same again.

A young Reggie Jackson from the 1972 set. The short bio on the card back reads, “Jax has hit eye-opening homers in Minnesota, Boston, and New York, showing a marked preference for the distant right-centerfield bleachers at Yankee Stadium.”

Rare Jewels in a Cereal Box

After 1970, the number of cards in a full set varied from year to year, anywhere from 54 to 66. The 3-D Super Stars came one to a box of cereal. Some scientists claim that certain smells can often trigger strong emotions and memories. I will vouch for that, because to this day I cannot take a whiff of a freshly opened box of Frosted Flakes, with all that sugary, corny goodness, and not think back to the Kellogg’s 3-D Super Stars.

Inserting a solitary baseball card in a cereal box may be a nifty marketing gimmick, but it definitely made it hard for kids to acquire more than a scant few 3-D Super Stars over the course of a summer. After all, how many boxes of Raisin Bran can you safely consume during one baseball season?

It was that rarity, however, that made the 3-D Super Stars such prized possessions. There simply were never many of them to go around, and they usually commanded a high return in trade talks with friends.

The backs of the cards revealed the standard statistics, along with a brief player bio sprinkled with mundane morsels: “Despite a tendency for striking out, Kingman still thrills the customers with the longest homers in the game.”

Certain years, Kellogg also listed each player’s hobby on the back. Hunting, fishing, golf, or just “sports” were a common leisure activity. A few players, however, had wider-ranging interests. Johnny Bench enjoyed singing. Dave Winfield liked reading and art. Chet Lemon was into Greek mythology. Slugger Gorman Thomas’s hobby was “drag racing.” Surely, Brewers General Manager Harry Dalton would have been thrilled to read that.

Chet Lemon’s hobby was Greek Mythology. Here he is in 1981, looking like Adonis in the White Sox’ classic ragtime uniforms.

On this 1980 card, “Stormin’ Gorman” Thomas listed his hobby as “drag racing.” Brewers’ General Manager Harry Dalton probably would have preferred he stick to stamp collecting.

The Greatest Ever, Looking Groovy

The cool thing about the 3-D Super Stars was that most of the players really were stars. Not all were true super stars, but there was nary a dud. This set it apart from Topps, a company liable to insert doubles of, say, Chuck Scrivener in the same pack. Occasionally, however, there were some questionable inclusions to the 3-D Super Stars sets. Nothing was more frustrating than digging through a new box of cereal only to pull out a Wayne Nordhagen or Mario Guerrero, players who were barely replacement level, to borrow a modern phrase.

Mario Guerrero’s career highlight was his inclusion in the Kellogg’s 3-D Super Stars set in 1979. In eight seasons in the majors, his Wins Above Replacement was -0.0.

In 1972, Kellogg took a bold step outside the box (no pun intended). In addition to its regular series, it issued a separate 15-card set (also available in cereal boxes), calling it “All-Time Baseball Greats.” The mind-altering 3-D look paired surprisingly well with the mostly Deadball Era stars. It was the only time the company ever issued such a set, and it was a real beauty.

You may naturally ask who drew up the list of 15 players that made up the set.

For the answer to that question, we have to go back to 1969, when the professional game was in the midst of its centennial. To commemorate, Major League Baseball instituted a campaign to determine the greatest players ever. Fans collectively drew up a pool of choices, and from that group, baseball writers and broadcasters narrowed it down to a final 10: one player at each position, plus a left-handed and a right-handed pitcher. They also had to vote for the greatest manager ever, as well as the greatest player of all-time, period.

It was hardly a scientific tally, and many writers in 1969 acknowledged this. “The whole idea is ridiculous,” carped the esteemed scribe Leonard Koppett.

The voting results were predictable, with a few surprises, and three years later Kellogg put all the players together to produce what is perhaps the most exclusive baseball card set ever.

Greatest Right-Handed Pitcher: Walter Johnson

Greatest Left-Handed Pitcher: Lefty Grove

Greatest First Baseman: Lou Gehrig

Greatest Second Baseman: Rogers Hornsby

Greatest Shortstop: Honus Wagner

Greatest Third Baseman: Pie Traynor

Greatest Catcher: Mickey Cochrane

Greatest Left Fielder: Ty Cobb

Greatest Right Fielder: Babe Ruth

Greatest Manager: John McGraw

Greatest Ever: Babe Ruth (who else?)

Oddly, the man that the baseball writers voted as the greatest center fielder ever, Joe DiMaggio, was not included in the Kellogg set. Could it be that the Yankee Clipper had demanded too much money for his likeness? Instead, there is Tris Speaker, the “Center Fielder Finalist.” Perhaps to counterweight this awkward exchange, Kellogg rounded out the 15-card set with “First Baseman Finalist” George Sisler; “Second Baseman Finalist” Eddie Collins; and “Pitcher Right-Handed Finalist” Cy Young.

The DiMaggio omission is not the only clunky feature. Two historical anomalies are particularly jarring: The background of the Walter Johnson card shows what appear to be the stands at the Oakland Coliseum, which opened in 1968. Cy Young, meanwhile, appears to be chucking the ball before a backdrop of empty seats at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium.

Walter Johnson would appear to be pitching here at the Oakland Coliseum, which cannot possibly be true. With the Kellogg’s 3-D Super Stars, however, reality and illusion often blurred.

The Kellogg’s All-Time Baseball Greats set of 1972 remains one of my favorites. What other set, produced by any other company, can boast that every player in it is a Hall of Famer? It is an affordable option for folks who want to experience the fun of collecting an entire series.

Even in today’s world, with such advanced visual technology, the Xograph process still has a certain quirky mystique. The images included in this article do not really do the cards justice. Like a fine diamond, a Kellogg’s 3-D Super Star card has to be manipulated in one’s hand to appreciate fully the shimmering brilliance. If you don’t believe me, just ask Tony the Tiger.

In 1983, Kellogg issued its final 3-D Super Stars set. Perhaps coincidentally, that was also the same year that I more or less abandoned the hobby. These days, when I pull out my old cards for a dose of nostalgia, the Kellogg’s 3-D Super Stars still look as modern as they did four decades ago.

By his expression, Steve Carlton must have thought being a Kellogg’s 3-D Super Star in 1982 was as exciting as…well, Raisin Bran.

 

All images are courtesy of Scott Ferkovich.

 

 

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