Many of us can open a binder or box and pull out a “Smoky” Burgess or Walter “Smokey” Alston card. Some “pre-war” collectors may even have a “Smoky” Joe Wood from the 1915 Cracker Jack set. But, as unlikely as it may seem, the most prevalent “Smokey” in the hobby may be Smokey the Bear.
The ‘80s and early ’90 saw numerous regional sets sponsored by the US Forest Service. The cards had the iconic bear logo or featured a “real” bear posing with a player. The backs often imparted a message on how to prevent forest fires. Most were given away at games. This post will examine some of the “ursine” sets, but it is not intended to be a complete list.
The first MLB Smokey cards I found were Angels and Padres sets in ’84. The card backs commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Smokey the Bear. Notably, the Padres set has the “rookie card” for Umpire Doug Harvey. Both clubs continued to issue annual Smokey sets through ’91 for the Angels and ’92 for the Padres.
Other teams jumped on Smokey’s “fire wagon” as well. The “brave bruin” shows up on cards featuring the Dodgers, Athletics, Cardinals, Royals, Astros, Braves and Rangers. The Royals and A’s had sets featuring players’ caricatures
As a vintage collector, I find the commemorative sets to be the most “bearable.” I own the ‘89 All-Star Angels, which has players from the Angles early years. There are several photos I’ve never seen in any other context. Also in ’87, the Dodgers issued a 25th Anniversary set and ‘89 saw “A Century of Dodgers Greats.” A retrospective set for the ‘62 Houston Colt .45 came out in ’89 as well.
The US Forest Service really “bared it all’ in ’87 by producing 3” X 5” cards featuring AL and NL All-Stars. Each card has a star player posing with the “grizzled” grizzly.
MLB teams were not the only baseball clubs who came “bearing” cards for fans. In ’85 the Fresno Giants caught Smokey on a “fire break” and produce the earliest minor league set I found. Somewhere near Salinas, Smokey found his “bearings” and made a set with the Salinas Spurs set in ’87. College sets exist for UNLV, San Diego State and USC.
Other sports embraced Smokey in a “bear hug” as well. The LA Kings, Golden State Warriors, 49ers and the USFL’s Oakland Invaders issued cards.
Please remember: “Only you can prevent cardboard fires.”