Poses for baseball cards have been relatively tame through the years. In the 1950s and ’60s, stilted shots of players swinging a bat, or throwing or catching a ball, were commonplace. Mug shots of players were a dime a dozen. Those gave way to action shots by the 1970s.
But there have been those baseball cards that have caused collectors to pause and say, “What?” Strange poses on cards, offbeat subjects and oddball poses have broken up the thousands of ordinary cards.
So here’s a look at some of the more offbeat cards. These will not be error cards, like the 1957 Hank Aaron flipped negative, or the 1969 Topps Aurelio Rodriguez card that was actually Angels batboy Leonard Garcia. Or even the unzipped fly of Claude Raymond (the same photo appeared in both the 1966 and ’67 Topps sets) or the obscene bat barrel of Billy Ripken’s 1989 Fleer card.
No, these will be posed shots that range from the sublime to the ridiculous. And many of them were taken during the 1980s and 1990s, when a glut of card companies worked hard to come up with unique themes and angles for their baseball cards. Sometimes, the concepts worked. Other times? Well …
Gus Zernial: 1952 Topps, No. 31
This is one of the more beloved cards in the 1952 Topps set. Zernial is pictured with six baseballs attached to his bat while he flashes an “OK” sign. More astute baseball fans would have picked up on the fact that in 1951 Zernial tied an American League record with six home runs in three consecutive games. Zernial smacked his first two homers of the season in the second game of a May 13, 1951, doubleheader against the Yankees, and then hit two more on May 15 against the Browns; the first one he hit that day was an inside-the-park home run. He swatted two more homes on May 16 against St. Louis to tie the record.
On May 17, the day after the photo that would emerge on the ’52 Topps card was snapped, Zernial connected for his seventh homer in four straight games, tying the Yankees’ Tony Lazzeri. The six straight homers in six games would not be matched again until Manny Ramirez did it in September 1998.
Zernial would hit 33 homers during the 1951 season to lead the A.L., and then hit 29 in 1952 and a career-high 42 in 1953.
Jay Johnstone: 1984 Fleer, No. 495
Jay Johnstone played for eight teams during his 20-year major-league career, and he was funny at every stop. He couldn’t resist a prank, and he especially delighted in messing with unsuspecting media members.
I know. I was at spring training at Dodgertown in March 1981, a young sportswriter looking for interviews. In addition to writing, I also was carrying a camera — sportswriters at small newspapers were required to wear many hats — so I was snapping away when Johnstone spied me.
“Hey, you dropped a roll of film,” he said. “Behind you.”
Naturally, I turned around, and then Johnstone proceeded to guide me in a dizzying circle (“No, that way. The other way. You’re close.”). I finally caught on, as the other players stretching on the field heckled me.
So it didn’t surprise me when Johnstone’s 1984 Fleer baseball card showed him wearing a Budweiser beer rain hat. It’s a tightly cropped photograph and certainly a different kind of card.
Johnstone turned 70 last year, and I imagine he’ll still be pulling pranks if he ever has to be admitted to an old folks home. The 1984 Fleer card captured Johnstone’s fun approach to the game. But it wasn’t the only oddball card from that set.
Glenn Hubbard: 1984 Fleer, No. 182
Those photographers for Fleer were really thinking out of the box for the 1984 set. First, you have Johnstone with his beer rain hat. And next, there is Braves second baseman Glenn Hubbard with an 8-foot boa constrictor draped around his neck.
Hubbard was coming off his best major-league season, as he had career highs in home runs (12) and RBIs (70) in 1983. The ’83 season also was the only time he was chosen for an all-star team. Hubbard’s card was always a common, but the 1984 Fleer version at least made it a conversation piece.
And that card has not been forgotten. Hubbard, now a coach with the Class A Lexington Legends, will be honored again — along with the snake. Before a June 24 game against the Hagerstown Suns, the Legends will hand out bobblehead dolls that depict Hubbard’s Fleer card.
Now, that’s fame.
Jose Canseco: 1994 Upper Deck, No. 140
Sometimes, trying to understand the things Jose Canseco does is futile. Why he is posing with an oversized shovel for this baseball card is beyond me. And why Upper Deck decided to go with this odd shot is also puzzling. But it sure is a conversation starter.
Ozzie Smith: 1994 Fleer Pro Vision, No. 5
For this insert card to the 1994 main set, Fleer was playing off the “Wizard” nickname attributed to Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith. This is actually fantasy artwork at its finest, as all nine inserts have different themes. The cards were designed by Wayne Still.
When properly arranged, all nine insert cards produce one large image. The Smith card is actually cleverly done, and the yellow brick road and kingdom of Oz in the background is a clever touch.
Bip Roberts: 1996 Score, No. 38
Bip Roberts played 12 seasons for six teams in the majors and batted .294. He also stole 264 bases and had 25 or more four times. He stole 20 bases in 1995, his final season with the San Diego Padres.
There is no real explanation for the sombrero Roberts is wearing, although I will take a stab at it. Only thing I can figure is that it is a nod to that politically incorrect 1960s cartoon character, Speedy Gonzalez.
Mickey Hatcher: 1986 Fleer, No. 396
Like Jay Johnstone, Mickey Hatcher was a player with a great sense of humor. On Easter Sunday in 1987 (April 19), Hatcher persuaded a priest to sprinkle holy water on the bats of his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates. It must have worked, as the Dodgers collected 19 hits and three homers in a 9-1 victory against the San Diego Padres.
Hatcher also created the “Bust Your Butt” award, given daily to a deserving teammate. The “trophy” was a mounted photograph of Hatcher, mooning the cameraman.
In the photo for the 1986 Fleer card, Hatcher is making fun of his fielding ability, but he had a stellar season on defense for the Minnesota Twins in 1985. He only made four errors all season — two in 97 games as an outfielder, and two in four games at first base. The bigger glove did not help Hatcher in 1986, though, particularly at first base where he made 12 errors.
Rex Hudler: 1995 Stadium Club, No. 51
I remember interviewing Expos catcher Gary Carter in 1981 about his baseball card collection. At the time, Carter had completed every Topps set from 1959 to 1980. I asked him what he thought when he saw himself on a baseball card for the first and he gushed, “I was elated.”
I would be, too. I just wonder what Rex Hudler was thinking when a photographer snapped the photo that would land him on the 1995 Topps Stadium Club card. I also wonder why Topps used it — I mean, was this the best shot of Hudler they could get? Hugging a pole?
I am sure there is a story behind it, and I’ve read a theory or two, but since I can’t confirm those stories I am not going to repeat them here.
Brian Jordan: 1998 Topps, No. 287
Brian Jordan was a two-sport star, playing 15 seasons in the major leagues and also competing in the National Football League, most notably with the Atlanta Falcons. This card by Topps tries to capture the essence of both sports, although I wonder what kind of crazy bounces a football would take if the batter connected.
Jordan played in the NFL from 1989 to 1991, while he was rising through the St. Louis Cardinals’ farm system. In 1992, he signed a $1.7 million deal to stick exclusively to baseball. But that didn’t stop Jordan and the Topps photographer from having a little bit of fun.
Kurt Bevacqua: 1976 Topps, No. 564
A special card in the 1976 Topps card features Kurt Bevacqua showing championship form in the final of the Joe Garagiola/Bazooka Bubblegum blowing tournament in 1975.
The back of the card showed a bracket, like one might see for the NCAA basketball tournament. There were 22 competitors, one from each major-league team (except for the Pirates and Tigers, who decided not to participate), and there were separate brackets for the American and National leagues. Bevacqua reached the final and defeated Johnny Oates of the Phillies.