Thirty years ago, Smokey the Bear posed with Phillies reliever Steve Bedrosian on an oversized baseball card. And why not? Both excelled at putting out fires. Bedrosian saved 29 games in 1986 and would lead the majors with 40 in 1987. Smokey, meanwhile, was the symbol of awareness of the damage that could be caused by fires.
In 1987, the U.S. Forestry Service and Major League Baseball combined to promote National Smokey the Bear Day. It came in the form of a 31-card set, called “Smokey Bear’s Team,” that measured 4 inches by 6 inches. There were 16 American League cards and 15 National League cards.
During spring training, “Smokey” would pose with several players, and the expressions on their faces ranged from bemused to totally bored. Still, it was a fun set that included future Hall of Famers like Ozzie Smith and Kirby Puckett, and all-stars like Steve Garvey, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy and Jose Canseco.
The set was conceived to boost public awareness of forest fires.
Each numbered card featured a photograph of a player standing next to Smokey the Bear, in some cases shaking hands with the fire-fighting bear. The card backs included vital information about the player: his team; position; how he bats and throws; height and weight; birth date; and hometown. A cartoon at the bottom offers encouragement and helpful hints. In the case of Expos catcher Mike Fitzgerald, the cartoon’s caption is written in French.
Approximately 25,000 sets were issued to each major-league team via uncut sheets meant for a stadium giveaway. Predictably, two of the most valuable cards in the set are of the Hall of Famers, Smith and Puckett. The price of obtaining this set is modest, but those two cards are the most coveted.
But there are two photo variations that also fetch a higher price. Card No. 2N features Braves slugger Dale Murphy. The Atlanta outfielder is shown in photographs with his shirttail tucked in and one with it out. The latter card is the more valuable of the two. Card No. 3N, of Jody Davis, features two photos of the Cubs catcher — standing (the rarer version) and kneeling next to Smokey the Bear.
The U.S. Forest Service partnered with MLB and several teams for a variety of different fire safety sets in the 1980s. Over the course of a few years, multiple team sets were given away by the Padres, Angels and Rangers on promotional days. The Forest Service also produced some football sets, mostly for west coast NFL franchises, some of which are quite rare today. You can see some of those other sets here.
The 1987 Smokey Bear baseball set was a fun product, aimed toward kids. It’s still among the fun-oriented sets from the 80s, and complete sets are inexpensive. Plus, it created public awareness for controlling blazes; while Bedrosian could put out rallies in baseball, it was much more important for citizens to know how to prevent fires.