Have you ever looked at a baseball card? Sure, there’s the players name, their position, the team … all the basics. On the back there’s the usual stats (batting average, RBI, HR, OBP, etc.) along with some of the players’ vitals. That’s what you see when you look at a baseball card.

If you look a bit closer, however, you’ll find a few curiosities. These curiosities could range from either a small variation like a different photo or a nickname instead of the players’ real name to something more of an oddity like players in odd uniforms (example: teams they never played for or teams they spent a very short time with) or players listed for teams that never existed (ex: 1974 Topps Washington cards).

While I was filing some cards away the other day, I came across several examples of cards of players in a uniform of a team they never played for. I don’t know if there is an official name for these cards. Some bloggers use the term “zero-year cards” as christened by a fellow blogger named “Dime Box Nick”. Nick runs the blog “Dime Boxes” and has been pretty good at keeping an ongoing list of these types of cards that are out there.

The question becomes then how exactly do cards like this, of players in uniforms of teams they never played for, come to exist? Well, the examples I found cover several difference instances of how these curiosities, for lack of  a better term, can happen.


1. Retirement

Let’s start with one of the earliest known example of one of these types of cards, that being this 1955 Bowman Preacher Roe. Roe is best known for being a four-time All-Star with Brooklyn in the later 40s and early 50s with his best season during that time being 1951 where he went 22-3 over 33 starts. After the 1954 season, the Dodgers swapped him to Baltimore. Instead of suiting up for the Orioles, Roe decided to retire instead due to nagging injuries.


2. “Before They Were Stars” Trades

Bowman’s current focus is cards of rookies and draft picks and issuing cards of them in the uniform of the major league team that drafted them. Now, an argument could possibly be made for those types of cards classifying as a “zero” card but I’m going to focus this more on cards of those who have appeared in a major league game. With that, a more modern example of a “zero” type card is those who were traded before they were stars. Take this Addison Russell card for example, here he’s shown with the A’s who originally drafted him. But in July of 2014, he was traded to the Cubs and made his debut in April 2015.


3. Injuries

Injuries are another modern example of how these cards come into existence. Let’s look at this Ryan Madson card. I’ll bet you didn’t know that Ryan Madson played for the Reds, right? Well, he actually didn’t. He was signed to be their closer in 2012 as Spring Training approached but suffered a shoulder injury during camp which led to Tommy John surgery. In turn, he never appeared in an official game for the Reds.


4. One Last Shot

If you take a look at the list I mentioned earlier from Nick’s blog, you’ll find one of the biggest causes of “zero” cards, that being players who are going for one last shot. Take for example this Manny Ramirez card. When I picked this up as part of a trade, my first thought was “I don’t remember Manny playing for Oakland.” Turns out, I was right. He never did. His last best shot at the big leagues came when he signed with Oakland in February of 2012. The closest he got though was 17 games at Triple-A before getting his release.

74wash team

5. Teams That Didn’t Exist

I’ve written about this previously and while they don’t fall into the direct pantheon of “zero” cards (as in players in uniforms of teams they never played for) they still have a place on this list. First, there’s the infamous 1974 Topps Washington error cards which feature several San Diego Padres as members of the unnamed “Washington Nat’l Lea.” team. Four years earlier though, in the 1970 set, Topps also printed cards of the Seattle Pilots. One small problem with that though, there was no Seattle Pilots team in 1970 as the ill-begotten Pilots packed up shop after one season in Seattle and headed east to Milwaukee to be rechristened as the Brewers.

I’m sure there are other variations out there of “zero” cards such as errors and what-not but I think I covered most everything else so I’ll pose two questions to the readers:

1. Besides error cards and the reasons I mentioned here, are there any other types of reasons a “zero” card could come into existence?

2. Is there an earlier example out there of a “zero” card besides the 1955 Bowman Preacher Roe?

Author: Adam S.

Hi, I'm Adam! I like writing about sports cards and pro wrestling! Also, an occasional short story writer. Writing is my jam...and I like jam, especially on biscuits. Mmmm, biscuits.

8 thoughts on “Curiosities”

  1. Not sure if it’s a subset of Injuries or Retirement, but another potential source is Death.

    1993 Pinnacle Tim Crews includes Indians photo on the back but Crews unfortunately passed away before the 1993 regular season.


  2. Not only do I have a new category for you but I am also providing an earlier Zero Year than 1955.

    As explained in my earlier post on the 1949 M.P. & Company set, the 1943 Stan Hack art was recycled to produce the 1949 Bob Lemon. The recycling was so complete that it extended all the way to Hack’s Chicago uniform, thereby rendering Bob Lemon as a Cub.

    This puts us at 1949 and perhaps suggests the new category of Error. (FWIW the Lemon card was eventually corrected.)


  3. Would team name changes (without moving) count? I’m thinking about changes such as Devil Rays to Rays.

    And I would expect that somewhere along the line, you had a player traded in the off-season, getting a Series 1 card in the new photoshopped uniform, and getting traded again (or cut and signed by a new team) before Opening Day.

    Antonio Brown just did that in football.


  4. Matt Bush’s early cards (2004) have him with the Padres. Card companies tend to make cards of players drafted number 1 overall and when they don’t make the majors for over a decade it tends not to be with the same team. Dansby Swanson has cards featuring him with the Diamondbacks but he was traded to the Braves before making it to the majors. Brien Taylor probably fits the “before they were stars” category.

    Nick has similar cards for other players (Josh Hamilton, Adrian Gonzalez) listed.

    The 1969 Topps Donn Clendenon when he is listed with Houston doesn’t really fit with any of these categories – he refused to report to Houston. More famously, Curt Flood refused to report to the Phillies but has a 1970 Topps card where he is pictured with them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Zero-year cards were among the first things I posted about when I started my blog, and even then I thought interest would mainly be an audience of one (me). Never in my wildest dreams did I expect them to spawn further blog posts! Fantastic post — I never thought to categorize the various causes for zero-years. I don’t know what you’d call it, but Johnny Estrada’s 2008 Heritage card is a good example of another zero-year variation — he was signed by the Mets but non-tendered that same offseason, never actually appearing in a game for them. Maybe a kind of “career crossroads” theme or something?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. 1993 Donruss Brad Ausmus He is pictured as a Yankee (team initially drafted him) and listed as a Rockie (Expansion draft) but never played with either of the 2 teams. He debuted with the Padres


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