Forty-five years after purchasing a pack, I finally completed the 1974 Fleer “Baseball’s Wildest Days and Plays” set. This is one of several sets in which artist Robert Laughlin used cartoons to illustrate some aspect of baseball history. This set is often listed as having been issued in 1973-which is printed on the backs as the copyright date-but the packs didn’t appear in stores until 1974.
The cards are of the “tall boy” style, measuring 2-1/2” x 4”. The set is comprised of 42 cards, which were distributed five cards to a pack, along with a slab of gum. Interestingly, Laughlin had a mail order business in which he “hawked his wares,” as evidenced by this advertisement in a 1974 “The Trader Speaks.” This ad clearly shows that the “Baseball’s Wildest Days and Plays” cards were new for 1974.
Card #1 in the numerical sequence provides a feel for Laughlin’s concept and art style. A cartoon is used to symbolize the event. The accompanying tagline helps set the stage and provides context. Finally, the narrative on the back fleshes out the whole story. Essentially, each card offers a baseball history lesson.
By all rights, the following confession should get me drummed out of SABR. Until I acquired this card a few weeks ago, I was unaware of the “Unglaub Arc.” In 1907, Red Sox first baseman Bob Unglaub proposed a rule designed to increase scoring. He advocated for an arc to be painted in the outfield 240 feet from home plate. The outfielders had to stay to the infield side of the arc before the ball was hit. Thus, the sluggers of the day would have a better chance of reaching base. Of course, today’s speedy athletes routinely play at a shallow depth and run back once the ball is airborne.
Action on the diamond isn’t the only subject matter. Senators catcher Gabby Street’s famous catch of a ball dropped from the Washington Monument in 1908 is an example. After several attempts, Gabby was able to snag a ball dropped from the height of 555 feet. According to the SABR Bio Project piece by Joseph Wancho, the ball fell with 300 pounds of force. Although Street is depicted in uniform, he was in street clothes when he made the “monumental” snag.
The murky legends of baseball get a turn with William “Dummy” Hoy and the origin of umpire signals. According to esteemed SABR researcher Bill Deane in a July 24, 2010 New York Times article, no contemporaneous evidence exists of hand signals being added by umpires to communicate balls and strikes to the deaf Hoy. As with many baseball innovations, the evolution is nuanced and not centered on a definitive moment in history.
My favorite “Wildest Days and Plays” cards use the actual
likenesses instead of just a generic player.
An excellent rendering of Jimmie Foxx is used to tell the story of the
“Beast” being walked six consecutive times in a game. Also, a very recognizable Babe Ruth was drawn
by Laughlin for another card.
The card for the Eddie Gaedel stunt is an excellent example
of Laughlin using imagery to enhance the story.
A little guy perched on a giant baseball automatically conveys Gaedel’ s
Likewise, a towering Jim Thorpe conveys the outsized status
of the great athlete. Besides, hitting
home runs in three different states in the same game is an “outsized”
Even owners show up in this set. Pirates mogul, Barney Dreyfuss, is depicted firing Bill Abstein for striking out 10 times in the 1909 World Series.
I will exit with the card that tells the tale of the rise and fall of Joe Borden. In 1875, Borden (playing under the name Josephs) recorded the first no-hitter in professional baseball history with Philadelphia of the National Association. In 1876 he joined the newly formed National League with Boston where he proceeded to win the first game in league history. Sadly, Joe’s status as a “phenom” came crashing down with each subsequent, poor performance. By the end of 1876 season, Borden was fulfilling his contract by serving as the Red Caps groundskeeper. Charlie Weatherby’s SABR Bio Project entry provides the full scoop on “Flash-in-the-Pan” Borden.
A common complaint among vintage collectors who run across newer issues is that we miss the good old days when baseball cards had borders. Looking at cards like these 2017 Astros leaves us feeling (ahem!)…cheated.
The borders we overlooked as kids have come to symbolize all that was right about baseball cards. Joni Mitchell had us pegged. You really DON’T know what you’ve got till it’s gone. No, we’d never pave Paradise to put up a parking lot, but we sure wouldn’t mind a thin cement edge around it.
The borders on our cards have taken on almost a spiritual significance with “meaning of life” level implications. We ponder koans such as, “Is a card without a border even a card?”
The sages teach us that without nothing there could be no something. Cardboardismically speaking, the border is the yin to the image’s yang. Form needs outline.
The vintage collector therefore must find “border in the chaos,” else risk serenity and sanity alike. Should he even consider collecting cards post-2015, his best, nay ONLY, option is Heritage!
Whatever you hear on TV, friends, THIS is the real border crisis, but fear not…
Tengo un plan para eso…and it won’t even raise your taxes! (Checks new eBay policy. “Okay, so maybe a little.”)
Add just THREE CARDS to your collection and you’re gonna win on borders so much you’ll be tired of winning on borders.
1960 Fleer ted williams
Let’s start with Ted Williams. Compare his 1960 Fleer card with that of Hack Wilson or any other player in the set. That’s some serious border! Where some perfectly centered cards are said to have 50-50 centering, Teddy Ballgame comes in at 150-150!
Back in the day you might have found this card an eyesore, but that was then. Now you probably look at the card and wish the borders were even bigger!
1936-37 World wide gum Lou Gehrig
The second must-have for the border hoarder is the 1936-37 World Wide Gum card of Lou Gehrig. (Note that this issue is catalogued as 1936, but Matthew Glidden makes a compelling case that 1936-37 is more correct.)
At first you may shrug away Larrupin’ Lou’s border as nothing special, no different than that of teammate Dickey. Look closer though and you’ll see that Gehrig’s image comes to a refreshing end more than a quarter inch from the card edge. After unremarkable offerings in 1933 and 1934, World Wide Gum definitely put the Border in “North of the Border!”
1934 Butterfinger Paul Waner
Finally we come to the 1934 Butterfinger card of Paul Waner, the card that I believe sets the standard when it comes to border-to-image ratio.
While the Dizzy Dean image from the same issue flirts tantalizingly close to the card edge, the Waner card has more margin than Gould selling hammers to the Pentagon. If the card had any more border we might forget it was a baseball card altogether and assume it was a Home Depot paint sample for Gotham Gray. If Big Poison were any smaller on the card he would have been Little Poison.
Teddy Ballgame, the Iron Horse, and Big Poison. Three players who made the Hall of Fame by a wide margin, but even more importantly, three cards who made the wide margin Hall of Fame. Border crisis averted, at least for now.
Interesting that Jason, our Committee co-chair, should highlight this card in his recent post of cards on cards.
Interesting, because the post hit right as I was acquiring two lots to get close to finishing the set. It’s the 1974 Fleer Baseball Firsts set, a 42-card issue of R. G. Laughlin’s great work.
I’ve written before about Laughlin sets. I’ve been able to complete some that I had a head start on (1972 Famous Feats, 1973 Wildest Days and Plays). Others I had – 1971 World Series and 1974 Pioneers of Baseball. One I picked up super cheaply – 1972 Great Feats (red). Still more are pricey as hell, but I’m playing a long game.
I knew I had some of the Baseball Firsts cards from buying packs. I dug them out and found I only had 17 of 42. Not enough to really work with, but I started checking out some lots. I found one with 7 cards I needed and, in a co-bid with Mark Armour, picked up 37 of 42. (20 are headed to Mark, 17 stayed with me).
Here they are (sorry for the sheet glare):
I find it amazing that, in 1974, the earliest days of intense labor strife in major league baseball, Fleer would issue a Players’ Association card. Brave, and maybe a big middle finger to MLB and Topps, who kept Fleer at bay (and would for 7 more years).
The Carl Mays card is creepy AF, capturing Mays’ delivery, shrouded in black, with the Grim Reaper peeking out behind the pitcher’s mound. On a lighter note, the Helmet card seems to feature scrubbing bubbles.
None of these cards should really run more than $1-2, and having a somewhat anonymous Jackie Robinson helps. I have no doubt that if the front of the card had his name, it would cost $10.
The Farm System card looks like a scene from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The empty spot on this page is reserved for Landis, on reserve at COMC.
The one I need, #6, is this:
If anyone has it, or an extra, let me know. I’ve got its final resting place already prepared:
As a kid few things sucked more than being dragged to Kmart by my mom. All that changed one day in 1982 when I saw these on the shelves by checkout.
I don’t recall the price, but it was damn low for a set that included Mantle, Mays, and Aaron, and it was even low enough for me to somehow twist my mom’s arm into adding it to our cart. On top of that, these were no ordinary cards. These were a Limited Edition!
Opening the box on the way to the car, I was pretty thrilled with the look of the cards, the first 41 of which featured images of earlier Topps baseball cards. At least that’s what I thought.
In fact, the set not only included cards of cards but also cards of cards that never were.
The set also gave me my first Topps Traded card since the designers smartly eschewed the 1981 Rollie Fingers base card in favor of his Brewers update.
However, the most intriguing cards in the set were these five. Even as a Dodger fan, I had to love the idea that these were cards of cards of Cards!
Thanks to some trades and card show visits, I already had some cards of cards from 1975 in my collection.
Three cards in the 1975 Topps MVP subset even included cards that never were.
The Wills card appears to be the same one used seven years later by Kmart, which leads me to wonder if a “real” 1962 Topps Maury Wills was created but never released or if someone in 1982 simply said, “Hey, wait a minute! No need to make a fake Wills. We still have that one from ’75.”
The 1951-style Campanella seems to work well, but the 1955 is a bit of an eyesore. Not only did Topps aberrantly go black and white on the head shot but they “capped off” the anachronism by placing Campanella in L.A. three years early. (Collectors of the 1958 or 1962 Jay Publishing sets may recognize the source of the 1955 Campy fauxtaux.)
But I digress. What you really want to know is were there cards of cards of Cards, and of course the answer is YES! As the set’s theme was identical to the Kmart set and the time frame wasn’t too different either, we see the same cards of cards of Cards as Kmart, minus Keith Hernandez who of course hadn’t won his MVP award yet.
And just the year before that Topps recapped the entire cardboard career of the Hammer with its five-card “Hank Aaron Special” subset.
North of the border, the same subset was issued but with some twists I never understood until reading Matthew Glidden’s terrific article on the subject. While the first and last cards are largely the same as the U.S. issue, the middle three cards were split into six.
On the heels of their 1974 and 1975 successes, Topps created another “cards of cards” subset for 1976. Though there were no cards of cards of Cards, the “Father & Son” cards featured five (then) current players along with the 1953 or 1954 Topps cards of their Big League dads.
I’m not aware of other cards of cards between the 1976 Father/Son cards and the Kmart set. However, cards of cards had a strong run from 1985-1990 thanks to another Father/Son series, featuring (yes!) a card of a card of a Card…
…and the five-year reboot of a classic Topps subset that debuted in 1977.
Where the 1977 subset used ordinary (or sometimes extraordinary) photos, these later sets adopted a Kmartesque cards of cards design. There were five cards in the 1986 subset, but none were cards of cards of Cards, nor were there even cards of cards that never were. The closest we come to a novelty is the use of Fernando Valenzuela’s 1981 Topps Traded card.
The 1987 subset again featured five cards but sadly no cards of cards of Cards. What it did include was the by now familiar Maury Wills card that never was.
Finally in 1988 were are rewarded with two cards of cards of Cards, and these weren’t just any old Cards but two of the greatest ever to wear the uniform.
The 1989 subset had just about everything under the sun: a card that never was of Tony Oliva, a card of a card of a Card, and a card of my cardboard crush, the Topps XRC of Dr. K. Oh, and Hank Aaron and Gil Hodges are in there too!
Following the subset into 1990, equipped with airplane bag to stomach its design, we find no cards of cards of Cards, but we do see a tighter cropping of the Kmart Fred Lynn, more closely matching his actual RC, and a card reminding Cards fans of recent postseason agony.
The 1986 Topps set also doubled down on the Hank Aaron Special design to honor Pete Rose’s breaking of Ty Cobb’s career hits record.
Where Topps had already turned the multiplayer RC of Fred Lynn into a solo card for Kmart (and would do similar for Oliva and Lynn again), Topps left Rose’s iconic 1963 rookie card in its original format. Also breaking with card on card tradition, Topps ran with Rose’s main 1984 issue rather than his update card on the Expos. In retrospect we might regard this as the beginning of the end for Montreal baseball.
Before closing the article, I want to highlight one more card on card that depending on the release date may in fact be the first of its kind. The same year Topps issued the Hank Aaron Specials, Fleer and Bob Laughlin blessed the baseball world with a 42-card set of Baseball Firsts. Card 12 in the set describes the first baseball cards and the front depicts a tobacco-style card that never was of Beaneater hurler (pardon the visual!) Kid Madden (SABR bio).
Oh how I would have loved it had Madden been a Cardinal so I could end with a card of a card of a Card. About the closest I can come is to note that the James O’Neill mentioned on the back of the card did spend seven years in St. Louis, but of course his team was the Browns.
I’m curious to know if you’re aware of any cards of cards earlier than 1974 or know whether the Fleer set beat Topps to the shelves (or mail order catalogs). For those of us trying to collect the baseball card’s rookie card, if not the master set, this kind of thing matters a lot!
From our readers
Thanks to @DonSherm for supplying us this “cards on card” card a year before the Hank Aaron Specials and the Fleer Kid Madden.
The card back shows several cards, though it’s impossible to know whether any are cards of Cards or even cards of cards of Cards!
Now going way back, I’m reminded that some very early non-baseball cards of cards were issued in 1906 (!).
I like autographs. During the 1970’s, I wrote a lot of letters, to athletes, movie stars, politicians, everyone I liked.
I love cards. No need to explain that at this point.
Autographed cards? I more than like, less than love. I have hundreds and hundreds, but I don’t pursue them with any kind of passion or goal, except…..
From 1997-1999, Fleer partnered with Sports Illustrated for base sets and inserts. Of course, signed cards were key. The 1997 set had a 6-card “autographed mini-cover” insert set with a stellar checklist – ARod, Ripken, Puckett, Mays, Frank Robinson, Aaron – but it’s the 1999 Greats of the Game autographed cards that piqued my interest.
The 80 card GOTG is a great smattering if superstars, stars, and cult heroes, and they’re wonderful. Actually, not all of them stand out. The basic look does nothing for me:
The cards that feature Sports Illustrated covers do it all. The white signature strip on the bottom, part of all the GOTG cards, stands out against the cover photo above. I went after this type hard, ending up with all of them (though there is one variation – Reggie has a “Mr. October” and an “HOF 93”). From Mays to McDowell, Ryan to Wynn, the players that constitute this smaller group tell the story, through SI, of the game from the 50’s through the 80’s.
For the autographed cards, the backs doubled as certificates of authenticity.
Prices are as wide ranging as the player quality, and, as some guys have died, formerly cheaper cards have popped. “The Bird” was once less than $10. Not anymore. However, the Campaneris, under the 1973 World Series cover, is out there for less than $10.
I do have some of the full bleed covers, as you can see here, but they don’t tug at me as much, though arguably aesthetically more pleasing. Some are from 1997, some from other years. All have an embossed stamp of authenticity, which adds to the overall look.
I loved these so much that I went after the football issue as well. I still need a few of those – Starr, Bradshaw and Montana – but they’re a bit pricey. If they were baseball, I‘d grab them, but I don’t care much about Joe Montana and never quite have the urge to pay $150-200 for the pleasure of having his autograph.
Author’s note: I originally planned this article in two parts, the first of which was published earlier in the week. I’ve since decided it works better combined into a single article, so here it is all in once place. – J.A.S.
In the nearly 120 years of the great Dodger-Giant rivalry, more than 200 players have suited up for both sides, either as a player or manager, including 22 Hall of Famers. For most of these men it is an easy undertaking to find cards of them as Dodgers and as Giants.
Most often their Dodger and Giant cards come from different years or different sets, as in the case of the two Frank Robinson cards pictured, eleven years apart. However, it is sometimes possible to find these Dodger-Giant pairings within a single set.
When this happens, the player (or manager) achieves true “double agent” status, turns from hero to villain (or vice versa) among the team faithful, earns the double-takes of many a collector, and most importantly attains immortality with a spot in this article.
In the sections that follow, I will present a chronological list of the nearly two dozen Dodger-Giant double agents I could track down in my research. Please let me know in the comments if I missed anyone.
On December 12, 1903, the Brooklyn Superbas sent Bill Dahlen to New York for Charlie Babb and Jack Cronin. As a result, Dahlen can be found with both squads in the 1903-04 Breisch-Williams (E107) set and has the honor of being the first ever Dodger-Giant double agent.
Here is one that really doesn’t count but is interesting enough to include nonetheless. On August 31, 1915, the Brooklyn Robins claimed Hall of Fame hurler Rube Marquard off waivers following his release by the Giants. Look close, however, and you’ll see Marquard’s 1915 card puts him with the other Brooklyn team, the Tip Tops of the Federal League!
I originally thought the fine folks at Cracker Jack had simply erred until Ralph Carhart helped explain things.
As Ralph noted, Rube’s “Tip Top flip flop” may offer us a clue to the Cracker Jack production calendar. I’ll further offer that the NYG still on Marquard’s uniform could signal that “the drama was playing out” after it was too late to change art but not too late to change type.
On June 16, 1933, the Giants traded Sam Leslie to the Dodgers for Watty Clark and Lefty O’Doul. Clark had only a single 1933 Goudey card, which depicted him as a Dodger, while Leslie had no 1933 cards at all. O’Doul, on the other hand, had two cards in the Goudey set: one as a Dodger and one as a Giant.
The first card came early in the year as part of the set’s third sheet while his second card, along with those of numerous other Giants and Senators, was something of a bonus card as part of the set’s World Series (sheet 10) release.
In July 1948 Brooklyn general manager Branch Rickey and New York owner Horace Stoneham came to an agreement that allowed Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher to take over the Giants. The 1948 R346 “Blue Tint” set noted the update and may well have inspired future Topps airbrushers with its treatment of Durocher’s cap.
A part of my childhood was destroyed when Reggie Smith left the Dodgers and signed as a free agent with San Francisco on February 27, 1982. A giant (okay, pun intended) setback in my grieving process came when Topps pushed out its Traded set for the year and documented the move in cardboard. But alas, at least we still had Dusty!
As a side note, the Traded card presents an interesting blend of numbers for the man who formerly wore #8 with the Dodgers and would wear #14 with the Giants. His jersey shows him as #60 while his bat has a 30 on it, which I take to mean it belonged to teammate Chili Davis.
No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o! They got Dusty too?! Sadly it was no April Fools joke when the Giants signed fan favorite Dusty Baker as a free agent on April 1, 1984, and this two Traded/Update sets were there to ratify the trauma.
A rare trade between the Dodgers and Giants on December 11, 1985 produced two more double agents. The first was fan favorite Candy Maldonado, who like Baker before him made both the Topps and Fleer sets.
And on the back end of that same trade…
Oddly, neither Trevino nor Maldonado cracked the 660-card 1986 Donruss checklist despite the set including 21 different Giants and 24 different Dodgers. In Trevino’s case, he was San Francisco’s primary back-up catcher behind Bob Brenley played in 57 games. As for Maldonado, he played in 123 games, leading all reserve players and ranking eighth overall on the team.
Fast forward to 1991 and the number of baseball card sets had reached absurd levels. Therefore, it should be no surprise that when free agent superstar Gary Carter signed with the Dodgers on March 26, 1991, he would set new records for cardboard double agency.
First here’s Topps.
Next up are the Kid’s two Fleer cards. Warning: Sunglasses may be required.
Upper Deck was of course also in the act by now.
And finally, Score put out two Carter cards as well, ridiculously similar to each other to the point of almost seeming impossible.
A similar octet of cards belonged to Brett Butler this same year, with Bugsy landing in Los Angeles via free agency on December 14, 1990.
Dave Anderson signed with the Dodgers as a free agent on January 28, 1992, but this time only one company, Score, seemed to take notice.
It was Fleer and only Fleer on the job when Todd Benzinger headed north to San Francisco as a free agent on January 13, 1993.
Meanwhile, Cory Snyder got three times the cardboard love when he took his talents to L.A. on December 5, 1992. Score Select was particularly ambitious, dropping Snyder out of an airplane for their photo shoot.
On June 19, 1994, following his release from the Dodgers, the Giants signed Darryl Strawberry to a cup of coffee. Little used by both teams in 1994, Darryl hit double agent status with only a single cardmaker, Fleer.
On December 8, 1997, infielder Jose Vizcaino signed with the Dodgers as a free agent after playing the regular season with the Giants. However, the baseball card production process was by this time so fast that nearly all of Vizcaino’s base cards already had him as a Dodger. As a result, his double agency was limited to the 1998 Fleer Tradition set only.
On January 11, 2000, F.P. Santangelo signed with the Dodgers as a free agent. While very few companies even had a single card of the oft abbreviated Frank-Paul, Upper Deck came through with cards on both sides of the cardboard rivalry.
The Giants signed Gold Glove centerfielder Marquis Grissom as a free agency on December 7, 2002, leading to a pair of Fleer Tradition cards based on Fleer’s sharp 1963 design.
Curiously, the Fleer Tradition Update cards (not just Grissom’s) omitted the city from team names. If there’s any story to it, let me know in the comments.
On January 3, 2006, pitcher Brett Tomko signed a free agent deal with the Dodgers. If nothing else, the move gave Topps a chance to show off how far they’d come since their drunken airbrush days. Scary good if you ask me.
Tomko’s Dodger card above came from a Dodger-specific team set, but he also earned a card in the Topps Updates and Highlights set for good measure.
When the Dodgers signed all-star right-hander Jason Schmidt on December 6, 2006, no two companies went the same route. First up, Fleer simply turned back the clock to the days of 1981 Donruss.
Meanwhile Topps ventured back to 1983 and the Fleer Joel Youngblood card or Eddie Murphy movie with this special insert…
…while also going full Tomko across their Pepsi and Opening Day releases.
Upper Deck came through with a nice pair of landscape Schmidt cards, though neither is a true Giants card since both go with Dodgers in the header.
Would I be remiss if I didn’t report that the first of the two Schmidt cards is also available in Gold, Predictor Green, and First Edition? Take your pick I guess!
Brad Penny signed as a free agent with the Giants on August 31, 2009, following half a season with the Red Sox and a longer stint before that with L.A. This landed Penny cards on three teams in 2009, including double agent status with Topps Heritage.
The final player (as of 2019) with a Dodger and Giant card from the same set is Brian Wilson, who signed as a free agent with the Dodgers mid-season on July 30, 2013. Lucky for you, Topps was there to document the before and after in pretty much every possible color!
On one hand, Dodger-Giant double agents reflect an oddball phenomenon of at best passing interest to fans of either of the two teams. However, their distinctly non-random occurrences over the years also point to important changes in the game and the hobby.
Just looking at the graph, it is possible to see all of the following:
Prevalence of multi-year issues in the early days of the hobby
Increased player movement with the advent of free agency
Introduction of Traded/Update sets
Increase in the number of companies issuing sets (1981-2008)
Reduction in the number of companies issuing sets (2009-present)
I will leave it to others to identify the cardboard double-agents of baseball’s other great rivalries (e.g., Yankees-Red Sox), but I’ll hazard a guess already that a graph of the data would look very much like mine.
Last year (a year and a month to be exact), I posted about my Laughlin regrets, how I missed my chance 40 years ago to buy those wonderful card sets of the ‘70’s. While I did finish my 1972 Fleer Famous Feats set, that seemed to be the end of it. No way I was going to get any of the other sets I wanted, prices being what they are. [NOTE: COMC lists the Fleer set as 1973. I think it may have been both years, based on shaky memories of buying them in candy stores and ice cream trucks.]
Still, I never gave up, keeping a futile eBay search alive for Laughlin sets. Last week, I finally succeeded, with the 1972 Laughlin Great Feats set for less than $50. I assume these came out before the Fleer ones though I’m not sure [Editor’s note: Correct!], and I was fascinated by both the slight differences in the cards that appear in both sets, and the fantastic drawings of players/events that I’d never seen before.
First of all, there are two versions of this set. One is in red, with simple black and white drawings. The other, in blue, has flesh tones colored in. Here’s the different looks (yes, my blue Mize is signed.)
The cards common to both the Laughlin and Fleer sets are identical, save for color. At first I thought there were cropping differences, but it was an optical illusion brought on by the Fleers being oversized. The art space seems the same size.
Some of the feats in the Laughlin set are obvious, and, in retrospect, it’s hard to believe DiMaggio’s hit streak and VanderMeer’s two no-hitters didn’t make the Fleer issue.
Others are of lesser renown, though the all-time pinch-hit record used to be a big deal. Smoky’s record has long since been surpassed (I had to look up who’s first – Lenny Harris with 212), but Burgess is still fourth on the list. Glad he topped the record book in 1972, because this card rocks.
These three are spectacular as well…
…and prove that Laughlin would have made an excellent Simpsons animator (check out Casey’s hand).
I was struck by the Mantle card. It’s wonderful, for sure, but it stands out as being the only card signed by the artist. I wonder why? Did he need to make his mark on one card to stake his claim, or was he a big Mantle fan and wanted to be associated with The Mick? Perhaps Mike Aronstein or Pete Henrici at Baseball Nostalgia know. I’ll have to check.
The last six cards of the set, all unseen in the Fleer issue, stand out. They make for a perfect page.
There are other Feats sets: a 40-card Fleer set from 1980 with blank backs and a 22-card Fleer set from 1986 with logo/sticker backs. A good idea is hard to leave behind.
Editor’s note: More history on the connection between the Laughlin set and the Fleer set is available here, including this Laughlin ad that explains how his first Great Feats set came to be self-produced.
Name, Team, Position. Those are the three most standard pieces of information conveyed on the obverse of a baseball card. Of the three, position is the one that is most often left out. While it is certainly isn’t hard to find examples of cards not bearing the name or team on the frontside, position is the only piece of this trio that feels kind of optional. Player positions were included on many of the earliest cards sets ever issued and remained a staple of card design until the fabled T206 set – which listed a player’s name and team home city only – seemed to put the designation out of style. Over the next few decades, many of the most iconic sets – Goudey, Cracker Jack, Leaf – ignored the position as an element of design. Bowman hit the scene in 1948 and went even more minimalist, rarely going so far as to even include the player’s name on the front of the card.
But then Topps took over, aside from their 1951 and 1952 issues, included a position on the front of each of their sets until 1972, and again for each set between 1973 and 1986. The indicator vanished between 1987 and 1990 and was an on-and-off feature until 2014, when it returned for seven straight sets (including 2020) – Topps’ longest run of position-indicating since the 1980s. Donruss included a position on every one of its designs until 1998 and Fleer did the same, using the indicator on every flagship set the brand issued. Upper Deck ignored the position on just two of its flagship sets (1992 and 2004).
This is not information that most collectors would have at the ready. Most collectors probably take the position bug for granted. I know I usually do. But being so ubiquitous (even in its absence), an unusual position indicator can make for a pretty memorable card. Herb Washington’s 1975 “Pinch Run.” is probably the most famous of these. But there are others that I recall standing out to me as a kid – Pete Rose cards where he was listed an “MGR-1B” seemed other-worldly, the 1990 Score John Olerud listed him as an “OF-P” (all while shown playing first base) made him seem like some kind of top-secret government project, and the 1989 Topps Kirk Gibson All Star that listed him as a “PH” was as jarring as it was confusing (this was done, I assume to give the NL team a DH player without using the league-inappropriate term).
A particular player’s position listing can also convey some emotion. Robin Yount listed as a shortstop or George Brett as a third baseman make them seem as though they’ll be young forever. But finding Reggie Jackson or Henry Aaron or Dave Winfield listed as a DH will bring a note of sadness that the end is near.
But of all the weird positional quirks that have happened over the years, there is nothing so fascinating to me as what happened with Paul Molitor in 1991. That was the year the versatile Brewer was listed at FIVE different positions on various cards and appeared with SEVEN different position indicators. This is, I believe, the greatest positional variety for a player in a single year ever (ignoring THIS, of course). So what happened here?
Well, Paul Molitor had historically been a trick player to pin down position-wise. He came up as a shortstop, getting his first change in the bigs when Robin Yount left the Brewers during Spring Training 1978. He only played 33 games at short that season, but it was enough to have him listed as a pure SS on his 1979 card. He played 10 games at short in 1979 and 12 in 1980, but maintained a dual listed as an “SS-2B” on Topps 1980 and 1981 issues. After spending all of 1981 in the outfield, Topps gave him the rare “2B-SS-OF” listing on his 1982 card. Molly moved to third base in 1982, and played there primarily for most of the next five years. Topps reacted in kind and listed his as either a 3B or 3B/DH through the end of the decade.
Donruss and Fleer, entering the market in 1981, both listed him as a 2B in their debut sets. Fleer gave him a pure (and accurate) OF tag in 1982, whereas Donruss went with the very broad “OF/IF” brand. Both brands followed suit with Topps and used 3B and DH marks exclusively through 1990. Upper Deck and Score did the same.
But Molitor had returned to his utility player roots by the late 1980s. He appeared in 19 games at second base in 1987 and 16 in 1989. Late in 1989, regular second-sacker Jim Gantner suffered a devastating knee injury on a wipe-out slide by the Yankees Marcus Lawton and Molitor took over regular duty at the position until Gantner was able to return mid-way through the 1990 season. Molitor, who suffered a number of injuries of his own that season, ended up playing 60 games at second base in ‘90, 37 at first base (the first time he’d manned that spot), and a handful at third and as a DH. Gantner ended the season as the regular second baseman and Molitor at prime man at first. After the season, the Brewers traded Dave Parker, who had been an All Star for them in 1990, opening the door for the now-34 year old Molitor to become the team’s regular DH for the first time.
So, the long-time third baseman who had been playing second but was also being used at first, where he was now expected to see more time when he wasn’t DHing. Got all that? Card makers sure did.
By my count, Molitor appeared on 21 different base cards in 1991 (I’m ignoring sets like Topps Micro and OPC here that merely reproduce other sets). All but Classic listed a position on their cards. He was most commonly listed at 3B, a dubious claim considering he’d only played two games there in 1990. But strong is the power of tradition. Topps listed him there, using that mark on the Bowman, Stadium Club, and OPC Premium sets as well. Fleer also considered him a 3B, as they had at least in part since 1983. Even Score listed him at the position, despite taking the rather bold stance of being the only card maker to declare him a pure DH on a 1980s issue (1988). Those two games in ’90 got a lot of mileage, I guess.
Five cards listed him at 1B, a nice compromise between his audition there in 1990 and his projected role in 1991. Magazine cards were fond of this mark, as Baseball Cards Magazine, Sports Collectors Digest, and Sports Illustrated for Kids all used it on their in-mag cards, as did Donruss and (curiously) Fleer Ultra, which ran against the flagship’s opinion that Molitor was still a 3B.
Three cards gave him a generic IF designation: two Brewers-issued sets (which used the frustrating device of considering anyone who played in the infield an IF) and the Score Superstars stand-alone set, which also broke with its parent brand and made its own positional distinction.
A pair of sets were forward-looking enough to list Molitor as a pure DH, Leaf and Studio. I recall these as later-year issues and were probably a reaction to Molitor’s role early on the 1991 season, in which he only appeared in the field once before late May.
Then, we have some true outliers. Upper Deck, showing that rebel streak that remade the hobby, boldly listed Molitor as a 2B in their set, and even used a photo of him playing the position. The semi-obscure Petro Canada Standup set also listed him as a 2B, but you had to actually stand the card up to discover this fact. Panini, in its sticker set, was the only brand to use a hybrid mark, listing Molitor was a “1B-2B,” his only 1991 card to accurately reflect upon his 1990 season.
And then there is 1991 US Playing Card set. In here, Molitor (as the Eight of Hearts) is listed as a centerfielder.
At this time, Molitor hadn’t played the outfield since a handful of games in 1986 and hadn’t been in center since 1981. Were they boldly expecting Molitor to take over in center for Robin Yount in 1991? My guess is that this is probably just an outright error. None of the other outfielder cards in the deck are given a specific OF spot (LF, CF, RF), and I can’t find anything that indicated they were acting on some of weird rumor of an unexpected position change. But nonetheless, the card exists and only adds to the positional confusion.
Oddly enough, all this positioning and repositioning for Molitor quickly became a moot point. Following the end of the 1990 season, Molitor would play first base and DH exclusively. His cards reflected this. For the most part. For 1992, Topps again branded him at a 3B across most of its sets despite his not having played there regularly since 1989. And, not to be outdone by their 1991 goof, the US Playing Card company issued two decks with Molitor cards in 1992 – one listing him at 2B and the other at SS – where Molitor hadn’t appeared since 1982 (his 1993 USPC card has him mercifully listed as an IF). At least it’s a consistent decade-long lag time, right? For 1993, only the Post Cereal Company still listed him at 3B. Card makers had finally accepted him for what had become – a DH and part-time 1B.
For his career, Molitor was listed on cards as a 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, IF, OF, CF, DH, 1B/DH, 2B/SS/OF, 2B/SS, SS/2B, 3B/DH, OF/IF, DH/1B, and DH/3B – not to mention post-career cards as a coach and manager. That’s 18 different listings (and perhaps more that I have missed) to describe a single remarkable career.
Okay, I admit it. I’m kind of a collecting snob. As a vintage collector I tend to thumb my nose at modern and recoil instantly at anything that shines, refracts, redeems, rainbows, or retails for more than 30 cents a pack. So what was I doing this past weekend up to my ears in junk wax?!
The plan hatched innocently enough. Following my baseball card presentation at our last SABR Chicago meeting, a few of the attendees and I were in the parking lot chatting about cards. One of the members, Rich, mentioned that he had a lot of unopened 1989 Fleer from the early (uncensored F*Face) print runs and would happy donate a cello box to the right occasion.
Meanwhile, one of my best buddies from high school, a guy I opened thousands of packs with back in the day, was up from Los Angeles on a work assignment. Abe no longer collected cards, but I knew there would be plenty of room for at least one evening of waxing nostalgic.
After some pizza and a few innings of Astros-Yankees on the main floor, we headed down to the basement, and Rich brought out the 1989 Fleer. How he had resisted opening the packs all this time was a mystery to me, but it worked out well for us. Or more specifically, it worked out VERY well for Abe, who managed to land all three of these gems!
As for my own stack of 1989 Fleer, it’s possible not a single card is worth more than a quarter (if even!), but it didn’t stop me from being excited any time I pulled a good player. Eddie Murray, Kirk Gibson, Dave Parker…the hits just piled up. As much as I love cards of the 1930s, the truth is it was THESE cards where I knew all the players, saw many of them play, and remembered the feeling of finding them in packs. Junk or not, nostalgia is in the memories, never the value.
From there we went on to 1981 Fleer, which brought back my age 11 memory of pulling the “C” Nettles at a card show and literally fainting! Riding his earlier hot streak, Abe (of course!) was the one to pull a Nettles, but it was the corrected Graig Nettles version. Of course he still managed the best hit of the box, the Fernand [sic] Valenzuela rookie card. Yes, I know the card is available on eBay for $1, but I still couldn’t help being insanely jealous of the pull.
One thing that caught our eye with the 1981 Fleer box to retailers informing them of the two free packs (hence 60 cents extra profit!) contained in each box. And sure enough, there were those two extra packs, crammed sideways between the main stacks of wax. As card-obsessed as I was as a kid, this was wholly uninteresting to me back in 1981 but today reveals an important marketing strategy Fleer used to establish a foothold in the newly competitive baseball card retail space.
We also had some fun opening my 20 or so assorted 1988 Score packs and a box of 1988 Donruss. Every 20 minutes or so, one of us would run up to see if my 1981 Donruss box had been delivered, but sadly it never did arrive on time. Still, opening packs was only half the fun we had planned for the night.
At least partly to troll John for his recent article on the worst baseball card set ever, I brought out my never-been-played, had-to-empty-my-TV-remotes-for-batteries 1989 Main Street Baseball game. Of course there was no way we were using the ugly cards that came with the game, not when we had heaps and heaps of 1980s wax sitting right in front of us!
For what must have been the next 90 minutes, we proceeded to dig through our stacks of freshly opened cards, trying to find actual baseball cards of each of the players on our team. One fantastic attribute of junk wax became immediately apparent as readily handed off our Nolan Ryan, Tony Gwynn, and George Brett cards to whichever guy had the adhesive stat strip for the player. WE COULD GIVE THESE CARDS AWAY FOR FREE AND NOT CARE AT ALL!
Yes, the fact that many cards in our collections are worth money can feel like a positive sometimes, and the fact that we can probably flip a $80 card for at least $75 down the road makes us feel a little less crazy spending nice-dinner-out-with-the-family money on a little square of cardboard.
But let’s face it; the value of our cards is also the single greatest barrier to enjoyment. When your cards are worth money, it’s hard to give them away, it’s hard to even make trades, you’re not going to flip them, they won’t go near a bicycle tire, and you might not even want to touch them! What kind of hobby is this?!
Meanwhile, here we were with our junk wax not only sharing them freely (except Billy Ripken!) but even…YES!…putting stickers on them! (Side note: Did Puckett’s 1988 Score bio really say, “Sporting a shaved head and a chunky body shaved like a bowling ball…?” YES!)
I’d say the game was anti-climactic after all the fun we had finding the cards we needed and affixing bar codes, but would that really do justice to a 4-3 thriller featuring a lead-off homer from Rickey, 8 strong innings from Orel Hershiser, and an oh-so-close ninth inning rally that left the tying run on third and winning run on second?
Sure the graphics were little red blips and the game seemed to skip an inning on us randomly, but the truth was this 1989 electronic baseball technology was far superior to anything I actually played as a kid!
Back to the cards, though, here is what the evening brought home to my snobby collecting self. There is a place in EVERY collection for worthless cards, the kind you can trade, give away, keep in your wallet, put stickers on, or—as Rich did at one point in the evening—use as a beverage coaster. There really is a certain kind of fun you can only have with worthless cards.
Junk wax connects us to the purity of the hobby in a way that no other cards can. It allows us to know the feeling of opening a pack of 1933 Goudey or 1952 Topps. Yes, the players are different, but more importantly the experience is the same. Like our hobby ancestors, here we are opening packs of cards for no other reason than a love for little pieces of cardboard with baseball players on them. That, my friends, is winning!
Mickey Mantle was the quintessential “baby boomer” icon in
post-war America. His good looks,
athleticism and strength personified the American concept of
exceptionalism. “The Mick” was the
ultimate hero for the white American male, who controlled all the levers of
power. It is not a stretch to state that
Don Drysdale was the pitcher who complemented the slugger.
To commemorate the SABR Baseball Committee’s 400th blog post, members were tasked with coming up with a post that tied in the number 400. In 1969, Topps assigned Drysdale card number 400 in the set. Many of you know that Topps gave superstar players the “hundred” numbers. The card turned out to be Don’s last regular issue card. This post celebrates our blog’s milestone by examining the Big D’s cardboard legacy.
Most of you remember that 1968 was a record-breaking year for Don-while 1969 had a tragic ending. 1968 saw him set the record for consecutive scoreless innings with 58-2/3 (since broken by Orel Hershiser with 59 in 1988). Unfortunately, starting 35 or more games for nine straight seasons finally caught up to Drysdale. Ongoing shoulder issues culminated with a diagnosis of a torn rotator cuff. After 12 starts in 1969, Don was forced to retire.
Standing 6’3’ and weighing 190, Don was a prime physical specimen and the epitome of the sun-splashed, California athlete. Being handsome, well-spoken and playing in Los Angeles resulted in advertisement opportunities and TV appearances. People of a certain age remember the Big D as a guest on “The Donna Reed Show,” “Leave it to Beaver,” “Beverly Hillbillies” and the “Brady Bunch.” The alliteration of the double D’s in his name contributed his recognition in and out of baseball.
My favorite Drysdale card was issued in 1967. The posed, follow through shot at Shea
Stadium exudes confidence and command.
Don had mid-century America by the horns, and he knew it.
The early cards depict a young man still developing into a prime athlete. Drysdale’s first Topps card in 1957 shows him with the Brooklyn “B” in the “Bums” last season in Ebbets Field. The shift to LA in 1958 results in an airbrushed “LA” on the cap. The Hires Root Beer card from that year makes him look rather cherubic.
1959 and 1960 are great, mostly due to the backdrop of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The massive football stadium-turned ballpark is certainly distinctive.
Drysdale shows up on specialty cards as well. In 1959, Don joins teammates Johnny Podres and Clem Labine on a cool, multi-player card captioned: “Hitters Foes.” Podres is back in 1963, but this time Drysdale’s fellow superstar teammate, Sandy Koufax, joins him on the card titled: “Dodgers Big Three.” Additionally, Drysdale has 1960 and 1962 All-Star cards and is on numerous league leaders.
Fleer attempted to break the Topps monopoly in 1963. Topps successfully sued to stop future production, but Fleer managed to put out at least a portion of its set. Don plays in “both ends of a double dip,” showing up in both sets.
Topps chose Don to represent the Dodgers in the 1967 poster
insert and the 1968 large posters, which were sold individually, one per
pack. Both are excellent photos and the
designs are superb in their simplicity.
As one of baseball’s top stars, Don is featured in every Topps insert or test issue set. He shows up on Bazooka boxes, Post Cereal, Salada coins and many other oddball sets.
Receiving a “hundred” number in a Topps series in 1960s was to be recognized as a true icon. Don is a man certainly worthy of our 400th post. I’ll leave you with a photo of my Drysdale shrine in my memorabilia room.
To learn all there is to know about Don Drysdale, I highly recommend Joseph Wancho’s BioProject entry.