Airbrush with Destiny

When it came to their baseball cards, frequently traded players in the ‘50’s and ‘60s suffered the indignity of the blacked-out cap insignia or a bare head shot, when Topps or other companies affixed their images to cardboard. Of course, the ‘70s saw Topps go “over the top” with whole caps and uniforms unartfully altered by the overzealous art department. No player suffered a worse fate at the hands of the airbrush artists than the late Ken Brett, who went under the airbrush six times.

69 Front69 Back                                

Brett had a spectacular start to his career in ‘67. A late season call up by the Red Sox, the 19-year old pitched effectively in two World Series games. After two years in the minors, Ken received his first card in ‘69 — coupled with Gerry Moses. I must draw attention to Ken’s short bio on the back. The writer was very excited by the fact that Ken was left handed.

After being featured on the Red Sox in ‘71, Brett’s vagabond odyssey begins. Traded to the Brewers in October 1971, the next spring Topps gave him a traditional traded pose, featuring an upturned bill to obfuscate the cap insignia. However, part of the Boston script is visible on his uniform. Then the fun begins. A trade to the Phillies results in an airbrushed classic cap and poorly altered jersey trim in ‘73. Ken is on the move again ‘74, resulting a true masterpiece.


His trade to the Pirates necessitates an airbrush job using a mustard yellow palate. Apparently, the “air brusher” forgot that the Pirates cap featured a black bill. The spectacular all yellow cap has a nice velour look, reminiscent of Dock Ellis’ flocked helmet in the ‘71 All-Star game.

1971 All Star Dock Ellis Batting Helmet

After two unaltered cards, it’s back to the paint jobs. Ken has a “Traded” card in ‘76 with drawn on Yankee pinstripes. This is followed by an ersatz Angels cap in ‘78, Dodgers in ‘80 and Royals in ‘81.

There may be another player with six or more airbrushed cards, but I’m crowning Ken Brett “King of the Airbush Era.”

Author: Tim Jenkins

Sports memorablilia collector with Seattle teams emphasis. HOF autographs, baseball cards and much more. Teacher for over 30 years. Attended games at 35 different MLB parks.

11 thoughts on “Airbrush with Destiny”

  1. Ken Brett’s legacy also includes three consecutive cards- 1978/1979/1980- whose photos were taken at the same time in 1977.


  2. If yo think the mustard color on the ‘74 Brett is bad, check out the 1975 Chris Cannizzaro card. As a Yankee fan, I was always annoyed by the 1972 Rich McKinney card. They airbrushed his cap but left the uniform alone. His name was on his back which the Yanks never did. But they did a pretty good job airbrushing the A’a uniform in 1973 when he was traded again.


  3. Mr. Jenkins your teachable moments on cardboard history are always insightful and interesting! For some reason, possibly because Brett had a famous brother and played for the Angels and Dodgers, I was always interested in his cards as a boy. Although Ken Brett maybe the Topps airbrush king I still like his cards and how they turned out in the late seventies and early eighties. Here’s to the Brett boys!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ken was the color commentator for the Mariners one season. He was funny and insightful. I’m not sure the reason for his itinerant career. Thanks for the kind words.


  4. blackout caps were horrible, I thought. Quite common in the 1968 and 1969 sets when the players struck against Topps and there were no new photos for traded players or for the expansion Royals, Pilots, Padres, or Expos until the seventh series of 1969. As kids, we disliked the BHNH shots (big head, no hat). We prized the properly-togged expansion players of 69 and then the terrific new artistry in the 1970 set. Not many BHNH in that set. And Topps Heritage will be replicating the design next year, thankfully.

    Liked by 1 person

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