They were quirky and colorful, full of history, affordable and lots of fun.
Fleer tapped into baseball’s postseason past when it released its 1970 World Series set. This was a 66-card set that covered every World Series from 1903 through 1969, and it began a decade-long run of postseason cards produced by Fleer.
The cards had colorful cartoon drawings on fronts, created by artist Robert G. Laughlin. The Connecticut-based cartoonist had produced a set in black and white in 1967 that he marketed privately; Fleer commissioned him to produce the set in color for its 1970 release, and for the most part McLaughlin used the same artwork that he had created several years earlier.
Certainly, Fleer was hoping to capitalize on the buzz created by the New York Mets, who upset the Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 World Series. The box featured a cartoon drawing of a Mets player hitting, while the packs (which sold for 10 cents apiece) showed the same drawing. Both were embellished with the phrase “Exclusive … 1st Time Ever!”
There was no card for 1904 in the inaugural set, since the World Series was not played that year.
Laughlin was a talented artist and cartoonist with a long résumé. Born on September 25, 1925, in Leonia, New Jersey, Laughlin was a star pitcher in high school and served a two-year hitch in the Army (1943-45) during World War II.
For several years he was the final preparation artist for George Gately, who created the comic strip “Heathcliff.” He also published several comic strips, including “Freddie Fumbles,” which appeared in Mechanix Illustrated magazine; “Cuffy,” which ran in Cat Fancy magazine; Rufus, a feature in Dog Fancy magazine; and “Wowbow,” the dog who barked backward.
Laughlin, who died at age 80, on May 14, 2006, also was talented in watercolor art and woodworking. His artwork also would be featured in future Fleer sets during the 1970s, including the 1974 Wildest Days and Plays set and the 1976 Baseball Firsts compilation.
For 10 cents per pack, collectors received 10 cards. There was a baseball with the year of the World Series positioned between the seams. The drawings themselves were mostly generic, although a few depicted actual players. The 1916, 1923 and 1932 cards, for example, clearly showed Babe Ruth; the 1921 card was a nice likeness of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of baseball; and the 1955 added some flames to the already recognizable likeness of Johnny Podres pitching in Game 7.
Other cards were more cartoonish, while several of them showed team mascots as the main subject. The 1948 card featured logos as the “Indians” character dragged the “Braves” illustration in what now would be called a politically incorrect pose (plus the caption, “War of tribes won by Cleveland.”
At times, the winner of the Series isn’t even mentioned in the front caption, as the artwork depicts the losing team or a player from that team. The first card in the set shows Pirates pitcher Deacon Phillippe in an Atlas pose with the weight of a baseball on his shoulders. That baseball notes his statistics for that first World Series — three wins, five complete games and 44 innings pitched.
The 1925 card features Walter Johnson pitching in the rain, noting that “Luck and elements turn on Johnson.”
That did not detract from the set, as Laughlin set out to capture a key event or collection of moments from that particular postseason. Some of the cartoons are funny, and many contain a piece of trivia from that particular World Series.
The card fronts contained the team logos, and there are three credits on the back—one for Fleer, one for Laughlin and a copyright for the team insignias credited to Major League Baseball Promotion Corp.
The 1970 set card backs had blue lettering against a white background.
Encouraged by the success of the 1970 set Fleer issued a new set of World Series cards in 1971. Laughlin continued drawing the cartoons, coming up with different drawings. This set included a card for the World Series that was not played in 1904, and was a 68-card product. Instead of the year of the World Series contained inside a baseball, the 1971 set has the date positioned above the official logo of Major League Baseball.
The artwork for the 1971 set is less cartoonish and more closely depicts the star players. There are still some generic drawings, but the number is noticeably less in this second edition.
The text on the card back is also different, switching from light blue to black. After an explanatory paragraph, the game scores are summarized near the bottom of the card.
Several “extensions” were issued through 1978, with cards from the 1971 through 1977 World Series included. These seven cards are more difficult to find and carry more value, as evidenced by recent eBay auctions.
In 1980, Fleer issued a hybrid version of the 1971 set, including the artwork on card fronts from the 1940 World Series through 1979. These cards came five to a pack and sold for a nickel; there were 36 packs in a box.
The card backs featured a team logo sticker, with information about that team at the top of the card back.
Laughlin’s obituary in the May 18, 2006, edition of The Westfield (N.J.) Leader noted in passing that he “additionally created several collector series baseball cards for the Fleer Gum Corporation.” But the headline writer saw fit to note that he “created collector series baseball cards.”
The headline acknowledged that Laughlin’s contributions to baseball cards needed more than an aside; his achievements were more colorful than that.